VOLUME 48 | ISSUE No. 1 | Winter 2019
Phoebe (Vol. 48, Issue No. 1, ISBN 978-0-9843867-4-1) is a nonprofit literary journal edited and produced by students of the MFA program at George Mason University. We are open for submissions in fiction, poetry, and nonfiction twice a year. Our print edition is available for $7. Back issues are available for $5. For complete submission guidelines, please visit www.phoebejournal.com.
Cover Art: Bill Wolak “Gathering the Smile of Light” Design and Composition: E. Rhodes Thompson Phoebe is indexed in Humanities International Complete. © 2019 Phoebe email@example.com www.phoebejournal.com
EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Kate Branca ASSISTANT EDITOR Rachel Purdy FICTION EDITOR ASSISTANT FICTION EDITOR Michelle Orabona Lindley Estes Thomas NONFICTION EDITOR ASSISTANT NONFICTION EDITOR Kyle FranÃ‡ois Abi Newhouse ART EDITOR ASSISTANT ART EDITOR Kate Branca Rachel Purdy POETRY EDITOR ASSISTANT POETRY EDITOR Andrew Art Blake Wallin WEB MASTER SOCIAL MEDIA MANAGER Jenna Kahn Millie Tullis FACULTY ADVISOR Jason Hartsel READERS Alaina Johansson Chris McGlone Ana Pugatch Kyra Kondis Caely McHale Sarah Wilson Janice Majewski Dave Stroup Joshua Sackett Hannah Straton Martin Mitchell Elizabeth Piper Board Shane Chergosky Alexandra Ruiz Tommy Sheffield Carol Mitchell Casey Lichtman Caroline Oden Stephanie Buckley Devon Nelson
Grace Taber Heather Osial Jarrod Clark Jennifer Strong Joseph Massa Julie Iannone Laura Handley Lynique Pettaway Madison Gaines Mary Winsor
Melissa Wade Rose Chrisman Samaria Moss Shayna Vozniak Shirley Shields Soshinie Singh Su-Ah Lee Tara Fritz Zachary Barnes
SPECIAL THANKS TO Jason Hartsel, David S. Carroll, Kathryn Mangus and the George Mason University Office of Student Media, Gregg Wilhelm and the George Mason University Creative Writing Program. VOLUME 48 | ISSUE No. 1 | Winter 2018
TABLE OF CONTENTS FICTION MAC MCCASKILL
The Robot Mom
In Eden They Whistled
ART GALLERY I CAROLYN GUINZIO
Leaves in my Soul
Witness to the Seasons
Watering the Leaves
The Last Promise
NONFICTION JESSICA KINNISON
AMANDA E. GOMEZ
My Missing Pieces
ART GALLERY II MELINDA GIORDANO
Plastic Photography 5
Plastic Photography 7
POETRY BILLIE TADROS
Twenty-Six Words for Vulva: A is for Aperture
Guess My Name
The Stripe of Trees
[there is a man]
Sonnet with Emergency Room and Skillet
Landscape Where I Forget My Father
How to deal with your first death
to the window
your dream of lions
Again the Mockingbird
Who Gave Them Bones
KAMAL E. KIMBALL
“What you doin’ on that horse?” “Goin’ for a ride.” Mabel Yazzie’s cataract plagued eyes gave her a permanent squint, but she could still make out her useless nephew sitting astride the gaunt beast. She also saw the old .30-30. “Why you got that?” She said, pointing her chin toward the rifle across his lap. “Coyotes. Thomas seen one.” He jutted his chin up in the same fashion toward the dirt road. “Shouldn’t ride him anymore.” “Costs too much to feed if we’re not at least gonna ride him.” She wondered how much he’d actually fed the swayback horse lately. More from feel than sight, she knew the animal’s ribs had started to show. It was too expensive–was because he couldn’t hold a job. Neither could his wife, who was a lot more worthless than the old nag Jimson was clearly setting out to shoot. “He’s too old,” she said. “Yeah.” While they agreed on the fact, they evidently didn’t about the consequences. He hadn’t even bothered to put a blanket over the horse before he climbed up. They stared at each other, Jimson’s feet dangling and Mabel from a battered wicker and wood chair resting in the dirt next to the hogan. There was a time when he would have gotten off the horse and never said another word. But that time was gone. He’d go ahead and do what he intended, which she calculated was to shoot the horse and leave it in an arroyo for the coyotes and crows. Why Jimson hadn’t learned more from her brother was a mystery. They were meant to work the land and livestock to sustain life, as a way to honor their connection to the beauty way. But he never took care of the animals properly – didn’t feed them, didn’t FICTION | 3
water them, didn’t monitor their health at all. The sheep were well past sheering this season, and the dogs were near to feral. Jimson, his wife and friends, were sustained by government checks and trips to Basha’s Market or Walmart. He always looked for the easy way, the path of least resistance. And right now, her dead brother’s last horse was about to carry Jimson down that path to its own slaughter. But Mabel didn’t say anything. Tired of fighting, she sat there and didn’t twitch a muscle. Claiming victory, Jimson reined the horse around and rode away. He came back several hours later, on foot. *** Assistance checks were waiting in the post office box in Crownpoint. Outside what the monthly trip represented, Mabel enjoyed the drive over Dalton Pass on Rocky Canyon Road. Bouncing along in the passenger seat, she ignored Jimson’s wife sitting next to her on the truck’s bench seat. Thomas and his three boys rode in the bed. Chevrolet never marketed their pickups as multi-passenger transports, though they were used that way on the rez. Looking out the window, she remembered a time when she herded sheep through the scrub oak and juniper. Riding through the desert, the mesquite scratching her legs. Tending to the corn patches on the canyon floor. Jimson inched the pickup over the craggy trail, barely cracking fifteen miles an hour, even on downhill straightaways. The tires sometimes creeped too close to the canyon drop-offs before gaining traction and sliding back to the center. Climbing the last hill to the road’s acme, Mabel saw the near starved roan horse stumbling through the canyon. It was headed for a dead maple tree dangerously perched on the ravine’s face. Even with barren limbs, the tree was out of place, a titan among the scrub. But if the animal was hoping for shade from the punishing summer sun, the ghost tree was well past its days of offering relief. 4 | PHOEBE 48.1
Jimson glimpsed the movement. He probably thought she hadn’t seen the horse with her failing eyesight. To make sure, he gunned the already struggling engine and hurried the truck over the hill. Mabel had seen. When he had returned without the horse, he told her it had fallen over dead while he was riding. “It was old. You even said so,” he argued. The truth was he didn’t even have the strength to put the animal down properly. Leaving the reins and lead attached, he’d left it to starve. *** The next morning, Mabel rose quietly for a change. Usually, as the sun bled through the thin window coverings, she groaned and coughed her way into a sitting position. Stoking the previous night’s smoldering coals, she clattered fresh wood into the barrel stove in the middle of the hogan and banged the rusty door closed. She shuffled along the packed dirt floor, to the entry hall, which also served as a kitchen, past the bed Jimson shared with his wife. Making more noise than necessary, she washed her face and prepared the ancient coffee percolator to sit atop the stove. The mismatched pipes, with duct-taped seams, constantly leaked piney smoke into the one room dwelling. Mabel conspired with all of these sounds and smells to force Jimson out of bed every morning. And every morning, he resisted, eventually falling back asleep for another five or six hours when she assumed her throne outside to drink coffee and stare at the horizon. Every morning except this one, at least. This morning, she stole the truck keys from Jimson’s pants, which she found in a heap next to his bed. After a couple sips of coffee, she tossed the rest onto the ground. It soaked into the dirt, barely leaving a dark spot. Then, she climbed behind the wheel of the truck. The two mutts saw the opportunity to go for a ride and leapt at the driver’s window, barking. Rather than let the dogs wake everyone, she opened the door and let them crawl under the steerFICTION | 5
-ing wheel onto the bench seat. They snuffled and panted, happy for an excursion. She tried to adjust the seat to reach the pedals but couldn’t move it. Instead, she scooted herself up to the seat’s edge and drove away to look for the horse. She intended to capture it, tie it to the back of the truck, and lead it back to the house. Jimson could either nurse it back to health or put it down properly. Either way, she resolved to see him deal with this problem. He’d see what she had left in her. Puttering up the canyon road, she searched the eastern horizon for that singular tree rising bald into the sky. The horse wouldn’t have gone far from that point since yesterday. The truck sputtered out about a mile from where she judged the tree stood. She didn’t know why it died. It could be out of gas or broken in some serious way. Whatever the underlying cause, her nephew was to blame for neglecting the truck like everything else. Muttering to herself about his laziness, Mabel set off up the hill. If she found the horse, she could lead it back to the truck and tether it. Someone would eventually pass by and give her a ride home. She’d make Jimson come back to fix the truck and sort out the horse. Trudging up the hill, she kicked up dirt which stuck to her sweaty, leather-brown face. The sun pummeled everything, especially Mabel dressed in a full denim skirt and long-sleeved cotton blouse. The two skinny mutts tracked her slight form, keeping their distance but within sight for fear of being left in the desert like the horse. She caught sight of the tree’s withered, bare branches as she crested the final hill on the road. Sticky with sweat and dirt, she scanned the landscape for the old horse. Standing on the edge of the road, she shaded her eyes looking down into a wash that flowed down from the tree. The dogs burst into a run down the steep hill, probably hot on the trail of a rabbit or a bird. After a few minutes scanning the wash and the hills beyond, Mabel heard the dogs growling and barking like they did when they played tug of war. She’d forgotten about them in her concentration. Thinking they might have found the horse’s carcass, 6 | PHOEBE 48.1
she walked up the road a little farther and saw the dogs excavating earth beneath the tree. The larger of the two, a heeler mix, stopped occasionally and buried his nose in the ground. The other dog, mostly collie, stopped to sniff also. With their trenching stopped, an ashen stick was visible in the dirt. She thought it might be a dead branch from the old tree which had splintered off and fallen to the ground. When the dogs resumed their digging, they unearthed a tattered cloth, what looked like a shirt sleeve. Mabel descended into the desert without thinking. “Here. Get away from that. Stop that,” she shrilled at the dogs. Neither dog had ever heard her voice reach such a pitch or volume before. The initial shock moved them back from their burrow and they stood with their heads cocked in confusion. Continuing to shout, she grabbed whatever rocks she could find, hurling them at the dazed dogs. The rocks didn’t carry far enough but the dogs retreated up the opposite hill away from her. Reaching the spot where the dogs had dug, she bent over holding her knees to catch her breath. There were more stick looking things in the uncovered earth. They weren’t cracked, or pitted, too smooth to be dead branches. In the middle of the hole was a large, gray rock. She broke off a juniper branch from a nearby tree and used it to brush away more dirt. The pale dome shape was different from the other jagged, colorful rocks scattered around the wash. She kicked at the object. When it came from the earth, it rolled over. Staring up at her were the empty sockets and bared grin of a skull. Mabel turned and began climbing the hill toward the truck, hoping the dogs would follow her. After a few hundred yards, she heard them tentatively padding the dirt behind her. She glanced back and they stopped, hanging their heads low to the ground. When she continued her climb, they followed with wags, forgetting their quarry in the arroyo. Reaching the broken down pickup, she collapsed into the front seat, the horse forgotten. The dogs crawled underneath the frame of the truck, pawing at the dirt to uncover a cool spot, and laid down with a contented sigh. She would tell Jimson she had taken the truck to visit her FICTION | 7
old friend Nellie in Crownpoint. She hadn’t spoken to Nellie in years but he wouldn’t know the difference. And she didn’t want him to know about the bones. That was the kind of thing that would put him in motion – something weird and grisly. He’d rush out to the burial ground for an adventure, even though it was bad to mix with the dead. Before the sun dropped far from its noontime pinnacle, an orange Navajo government truck labored over the pass and stopped at the broken down pickup. Clive Benally, another Mariano Lake resident, offered to “ride her home” with the dogs and she accepted. Driving through the Yazzie gate, Mabel saw Jimson emerge from the hogan door, shirtless and scowling. Probably worried about trouble from the housing office over the place he and his wife had been evicted from. Once he recognized Clive, he relaxed and opened the passenger door for her. “Thanks for bringin’ her home. She ran off with the truck this mornin’ and we been worried about her.” “No problem,” Clive said, with a nearly imperceptible nod. And then he drove away. “Where’s the truck?” “Broken, up the road.” She thrust her chin north. “What were you doin’ anyways?” “Goin’ to visit Nellie in Crownpoint.” “We were just there. Why didn’t you say somethin’?” But Mabel was already walking towards her chair. “I know you seen that horse and went after it. Look, I shoulda told you. It got away from me and I couldn’t catch it on foot the other day. I been tryin’ to find it but that’s the first time I seen it since it run off.” She stared past him, defiant and unbelieving, hoping he would just drop the subject. “When I go for the truck, I’ll find it, okay?” Jimson started to walk away, thinking she was done talking from the set of her jaw. “You stay away from the arroyo.” If Jimson knew about the bones, he’d be up there in a flash. Like most of his friends, he had long since given up paying attention to the old ways. 8 | PHOEBE 48.1
“I know where you’re talkin’ about. Near the top of the hill, right?” Mabel didn’t respond. “You see a skinwalker?” he said with a cockeyed grin. “Just stay outta there.” “Whatever.” Mabel knew she’d overplayed things. Her nephew never gave up so easily. He usually kept on begging and complaining while she stared at him, until he’d talked himself into doing what he wanted. Like when he asked to move in with her. She shouldn’t have told him to stay away. She should have let him walk away, resigned to fixing the truck and looking for the horse. At least that way, he wouldn’t be digging around, trying to figure out what had caused her outburst. But saying more at this point would just make it worse. So, she sat back in her chair and watched the sun droop towards its resting place. *** Jimson got started uncharacteristically early the next morning. He woke, as always, hearing her cough awake. But instead of going back to sleep, he dressed and slid past her as she began the morning symphony of pots and pans. No words passed between them. She didn’t need to speak for him to feel the contempt and disappointment steaming off of her. And this morning, the tension between them boiled higher because Mabel knew where he was headed. As she watched from her chair, Jimson gathered tools into a bag. She doubted he would know what to do with any of them. He wasn’t much of a mechanic. He siphoned gasoline from an inert, old tractor into an empty gallon milk jug. Once he gathered what he thought he needed, he leaned up against the hogan next to her drinking coffee. She could have tried to warn him away from the arroyo again but held her tongue. Thomas’ purple, Dodge Neon slalomed through their gate just as Jimson finished his coffee. The two dogs followed him over FICTION | 9
to the car, eager for another adventure. He opened the rear door, letting them bound inside, and wedged the milk jug on the floor board with the tool bag. He glanced over his shoulder at Mabel, the grim frown puckering her wrinkled face. “What’s got her sour,” Thomas asked, resting his arms on the car’s roof. He didn’t think she could hear them. “She’s mad at me.” “Yeah, but she looks really pissed this mornin’.” “Lost that old horse of Dad’s the other day. Got away from me when I was out lookin’ for coyotes,” repeating his lie. “Didn’t look like that thing could get away from a gentle breeze.” “It did,” Jimson offered, but he didn’t sound convinced himself. Mabel figured he didn’t want Thomas to know that he hadn’t been able to shoot it. Thomas chuckled. They got into the car and it fishtailed away, groping for purchase on the soft dirt road. *** Mabel had finished off two pots of coffee by the time Jimson turned through the gate in the truck. There was no sign of the horse. Before the pickup dieseled to a stop, he was out of the driver’s door with a big smile. The dogs barked a chorus from the truck bed. He reached back inside the vehicle. When he emerged, he lifted the skull over his head in triumph.
10 | PHOEBE 48.1
House Rules She is a stranger, a woman, but on this mountain and therefore in Leete’s house, even though he is alone, his wife away at her sister’s, she is a guest, and must be welcomed. Leete takes her weapons, hangs them on a hook, then brings in wood from the pile at the side of the house to where she sits warming herself in front of the stove. As he places the smallest logs at the woman’s feet and she leans past him for the iron poker, he remembers the coffee grounds in his cup this morning, how for a fleeting moment they formed the letter a. Within minutes, she has the fire raging. When his wife is away, Leete tries to get by with minimal resources. A whimpering hiss in the stove, beans at mealtime, little drink, though he often fails at one, if not all, of these efforts. Inevitably Ana comes home complaining of his indulgences, accusing him of having guests when he so rarely does. But now. Coffee is taken first by the guest and then by the master of the house. These are the rules of the mountains. From the kitchen, Leete watches the woman stretch, one arm in the air, leaning in the manner of a young tree. When she exhales, the sound is wind soughing through the pines. He grinds the coffee loudly in the mortar. She does not take her eyes from the fire, and Leete is grateful for this. The fur vest, the intricate bronzework of her belt, the leather of her boots— his woman is used to certain wealth. She does not need to see the mice droppings peppering the floor. The holes in the couch. Leete fetches the kettle from the stove. Because the woman does not move from her perch, he has to bend his body awkwardly around her. Even though he keeps as much distance as possible, the smell of summer closes the space between them. Hot grass, roses, sweat. It terrifies Leete, this scent, midwinter on the mountain. “I’m in your way, I beg your pardon,” the woman says, FICTION | 11
touching Leete’s arm in apology. The contact summons a chirr in his skin. He returns to the task of making coffee, pours water on the grinds, stirs. Sits on the couch hole so she will not see it. “Thank you, on this bitter night especially. I owe you much for the hospitality.” Leete feels the woman is waiting for him to look at her. Finally, he extends a cup. The master must look at the guest when offering food or drink. “Have some coffee,” he says, and for the first time takes in her face. He would never pick her out from a crowd. Unfreckled skin, two eyes, nose unbroken, mouth full of what seem to be teeth. She is unremarkable, he tells himself, in the second’s catalogue. But when she drinks the coffee, her wheaten eyes darken, as though in sating her, the drink changes her. Leete notes she is sitting on the couch with him, though he does not remember her moving from the fireside chair. “Do you keep sheep?” she asks. “Three generations.” “Have you ever left the mountain?” “Once.” Leete holds onto the story, does not let go. She has an appetite for his words, but he feels sure that to give them to her is unwise. The woman finishes her coffee, eyes now the color of the bog. “Shall we have raki?” she asks. “That is up to the master of the house,” Leete says, trying to sound firm. But the confession swells in his mouth. “We have no raki,” he admits. The shame of it! She turns away and he says no more—let her think he is so poor he is unable to keep the accoutrements of welcome in house. Truth is, he drinks every bottle clean within days of it crossing the threshold. He will have to offer something else: that is the rule of the mountain. The guest walks to her weapons. From a sack she pulls out a bottle and hands it to him. “Where I come from,” she says, “the guest brings the raki.” *** 12 | PHOEBE 48.1
The fire lasts longer with her in the room. Leete watches the birch log shed its burning bark, curled and charred like an ancient document, a rescinded pledge. The woman adjusts the flue with the dexterity of a musician at her instrument. Why has he never been able to do that? Her ease, her skillâ€”the knowledge of it begins to smolder in him. Only then does he see that she is remarkable. The guest must be the first to stop drinking, and the woman keeps pouring. Leete flinches. She asks him if anything is wrong, and when he responds that he will go outside to fetch more wood, though clearly more fuel is unnecessary, worry catches at his voice, and she laughs. Outside the moon glows the snow blue. Trees monstrous with it, the saplings phantoms. Leete wants the woman to leave. No improper action has occurred, but with each glass he feels the possibility of it weigh him down, heavy as a ramâ€™s mature pelt. And to look upon the woman, it makes him lonely. He longs for his wife. A storm of wings in his face interrupts his brooding. The movement rises to the birches, and the trees whisper, receiving. An owl, unblinking, stares down at him. Back inside, Leete finds the woman unfolded on the couch. Asleep. Not until the guest leaves or slumbers may the master of the house rest. But for Leete, reprieve does not come easy. Alone in his bed, he cannot distinguish between dream and waking vision. He is in the birches, looking down to the woodpile, a stooped old man beside it, stacking meticulously and maybe with joy. Leete watches until morning breaks, as though his life depends upon the vigil. Of course she is gone. No trace, not even an impression in the couch. No raki, no sack on the hook. She never even told him her name. Ana returns home the next day so heartened by the visit with her sister she says nothing of the embers carpeting the stove. Leete raises his face to the beamed ceiling, not sure what or whom to thank. FICTION | 13
*** When, weeks later, Leete is the one to travel, his wife the one home alone, she too has a visitor, a man needing rest before facing the mountain pass. Ana follows the rules of guesting. She welcomes him inside. Hangs his weapons. Lets him stoke the fire. Grinds and brews coffee. All of it makes her uneasy, the man waiting and watching the whole time. Without raki, she must offer the guest something else. While he warms himself at the stove, Ana claws around the sitting room, searching for something. A bit of silk thread, a spare button, anything. Last month, just before she left to see her sister, she had found, in the riverbed behind the house, a small statue—half owl, half woman. She had been tempted to bring it inside, but left the statue among the smooth stones, where it seemed to belong. Though Ana does not reprimand herself for the decision, she wonders if taking the figurine, offering it to the man, might have saved her from the discomfort to come. But then, groping beneath the couch, she finds a halfdrunk bottle of raki. She looks to the cobwebbed rafters, utters a prayer of gratitude. How hungrily the guest looks at her, Ana the meal on offer. But now—the raki. The guest smiles as she pours their drinks. He must stop drinking first, and he must know the rules for he looks at her in preemptive triumph. But what he doesn’t know is that Ana will drink the guest dumb. He will be so mortified he will leave before the night is out. What the man thinks is his strength is in fact hers. After three glasses, the guest fixes his eyes on Ana’s collarbone as though it is the Polar Star, a marker for his destination. After six, his voice thickens, an ice-slowed brook. Suddenly, a current of hooting, deep and insistent, floods the room. “You keep owls?” he asks. “They’ve been known to alight in these parts. A symbol of luck,” she says, though she knows no such thing. “Have you ever seen an owl eat?” 14 | PHOEBE 48.1
“No.” “Vicious.” Ana feels the unblinking focus of the birds through the walls of her house. “Well. They do what they need to survive.” She goes to pour him another glass, but the guest twitches. Ceremoniously, he palms the mouth of his cup. “I should leave.” “It is night.” She lets a little challenge seep into her voice, knowing it will shepherd him closer to departure. And it does. Later, in her bed, Ana cannot tell dream sound from waking sound. A feast of bone and muscle in the woods, wings batting the rafters, or simply the wind. She feels the creep of fear, but also senses its steady withdrawal, a delicate balance kept in check by what? She wakes thinking of the old women of the mountain and their rules that generation after generation all inhabitants have followed, and then the bottle of raki. She reminds herself to thank her husband for his restraint. Perhaps she can depend on him after all.
FICTION | 15
Ghosting “The problem with ghosts is that it’s so hard to tell.” I am peeling through the rows of color-coded t-shirts that line the bargain basement. I’m only at orange, but I know I’m not getting anything. I still haven’t forgiven The Garment District for the Hollister waffle shirt that gave me scabies in tenth grade. Hannah reaches for the stained camisole behind me, “Yeah, like vampires.” She raises a wry eyebrow, “You never know until it’s too late.” A pile of distressed jeans and army coats hang off of Hannah’s arm. Unlike me, Hannah is not worried about scabies. Hannah is protected from scabies by a forcefield of perfect skin and WASPiness. “It’s just so cowardly.” I say. “I can’t believe he won’t even fucking text me.” “I know.” She lifts up a flannel smock she never would have worn when she was straight. “Guys are the worst.” Hannah became a lesbian last year when she realized she wanted to make out with the tattooed butch bartender at work even when she was sober. This is fine but annoying because feminism used to be my thing and hand-eye coordination and parties and emotional intelligence and makeup tips were her thing, but now she’s a lesbian which makes her a better feminist than me, too. She spends her Wednesday nights with her girlfriend at events called The Klituation and The Monthly Blood while I spend mine weighing the possibility of some fiberoptic glitch that is preventing Bobby Ryan’s text messages from reaching my phone. We squeeze into one shuddering stall. Hannah dumps all her hangers on the floor while I try not to touch the walls with my bare skin. “Lizzie was telling me about this dating podcast she heard,” Hannah pulls off her tank top. I glimpse a large, dripping stain on the opposite wall. Is it blood? I force my eyes back. “Lizzie listens to dating podcasts?” 16 | PHOEBE 48.1
“I don’t know. Maybe it was just a regular podcast talking about dating…” “She is such a secret nerd.” I usually hate Hannah’s partners but Lizzie is different. She wears studded belts and smokes unfiltered Camels and got a man in Waltham to tattoo a cobra skin around her forearm. “Anyways, the lady said millennials treat dating like real estate. They’re afraid of commitment and don’t want to deal with the broken boiler so they keep shuffling through fifth floor rentals... Will you pass me those?” I toss a purple flannel at her head. “Who’s the landlord?” “Huh?” “Who fixes the millennial’s boiler when it breaks?” “Oh, I don’t know. Therapists?” “That is idiotic.” Hannah cranes her neck into the mirror, “Do these look good?” Hannah is impossible to offend because she has the attention span of a goldfish, which is probably how we’ve managed to stay friends for so long. “Yeah.” I say, “But the pockets are kind of weird.” I was supposed to get an internship this summer because it’s my junior year, but I got rejected from the law clinic and then I was too depressed to apply anywhere else so now I tell everyone I needed to stay home and take care of my dying grandfather which isn’t really true. I mean, he’s definitely dying but I don’t need to take care of him. It makes people look at me like I’m deep and sort of tragic though. I look at myself in the mirror. My hair is all frizzed up from the humidity, and my jean shorts have come unrolled. I look like a nature camp counselor after a bad lunch. “I don’t want to be a fifth floor rental.” “I know.” “Do you?” “No.” “Do you think we are?” Hannah turns around cranes her neck to look at her butt. FICTION | 17
“No. You’re my only long-term relationship.” She turns back to me and crinkles her nose, “Ever since that Peter Pan play in first grade when we were the only girls who wanted to be Lost Boys.” I bend on one knee and clasp my hands, “Say, Wendy, could you be our mother?” Hannah nods. “You nailed that line.” Hannah was my first friend to get her own apartment. She got it our senior year of high school when her mom was in the hospital and her dad was in Bermuda with his law partner’s daughter. I thought emancipation was only for child actors or foster care kids but if your family is fucked up enough I guess they let you do it. Her first place was an awful basement apartment on Huntington Street. We stayed up till five the night before our high school graduation painting windows on the cellar walls. Hannah leaves to go to work and I wait for my dad to pick me up at the Alewife T stop like I’m in middle school. I hear his truck before I see it. He needs to replace the muffler but he got into a fight with the mechanic last month over an inspection sticker so now he just drives it with ear muffs like it’s a lawnmower. I unlatch the rusty door and climb up into the cab. He doesn’t uncover his ears until we hit the traffic jam at Fresh Pond. “Think tonight’s the night?” It sounds cold to talk about death like that, but it’s not because it’s been almost three weeks of this, and as I wrote in my Psych 201 class: Speculating, with money or poker chips or lives, is what humans do when they’re bored. “I don’t know.” I shrug. “I downloaded the Whitman one.” Books on tape were one of the recommended visiting items on the hospice’s FAQ. I thought The Odyssey because my grandfather was really into the Greeks, but my dad said not to get anything he would like too much because then he might perk up, so then I thought Virginia Woolf because my grandfather always said she was an overrated mental patient who ought to be locked in a room of her own, but my dad thought it was disrespectful, so I decided on Leaves of Grass. 18 | PHOEBE 48.1
He turns to me when we pull onto I-95. “Listen to me carefully, Eddy, I want you to roll me off the dock.” I wipe my fingertips against each other. “We’ve had this conversation before.” “As soon as I hit eighty-five, eighty-six, just push me out to sea.” “What if you say you want to live?” “Don’t listen!” My dad slams the steering wheel. “Wrap some duct tape around my senile mouth. I’ll tell you what, my father would have put a bullet in his temple a long time ago if he knew he’d wind up in this place.” My dad is one of those self-educated libertarian types who reads a lot of biographies of Albert Einstein. He’s technically a housepainter, but I can’t tell if he ever works. He mostly makes sketches of flying machines and takes a lot of naps. My dad’s naps were one of the things that drove my mom crazy. She used to say she was married to Garfield the cat. Now she’s living in Oaxaca with a retired financial consultant who doesn’t seem to do much either. “I just want to go into the woods on a January night when I’m ready. Like the wolves do. And wander around until I get delirious from hypothermia.” “Yeah.” My dad agrees. “Hypothermia is a good way to go.” He pulls into the hospital parking ramp. “Caution: Low Clearance,” I read just as my father’s roof rack scrapes against the yellow bar. When we get to the room, there is an oldish nurse with yellow hair fiddling with my grandfather’s wires. She gives us a surprised smile which makes me feel guilty for all the times she comes in and there’s no one here. He’s hooked up to a machine but he’s not on life support or anything; the machine just measures his heart rate. My dad says the problem with modern technology is that we can now measure more things than we will ever use. I think the problem with modern technology is that you can see someone’s cute Halloween costume on Tinder, and then exchange above-averagely witty messages about Snowpiercer and memes and tacos, and then go out for drinks at the outdoor bar on Broadway, and then have mediocre-to-good sex and then hang out again the next FICTION | 19
weekend at the arcade bar and meet his surprisingly intellectual friends and have slightly better sex that even involves butt stuff and then make vague plans to get Korean barbecue and then he can just never text you again ever. My grandfather is stretched out in the hospital bed. When he was a teenager, he smuggled guns for the Haganah. At least, that’s what my uncle told me. I believe it. He seemed like he would be good at keeping scary things hidden. The hospital band stretches tight around his massive, limp wrists. “It’s weird.” I say. “He looks strong and fragile at the same time.” “Hmm.” My dad squints his eyes. “Like glass.” “Or spider webs.” My dad offers. The yellow-haired nurse smiles up from the IV port, “Or skin.” “Spaghetti.” I say. “Spaghetti?” my dad asks. “Yeah,” I say. “It’s hard to break when it’s in a bunch.” “It’s not that hard.” My dad rubs the place on his temples where the ear muffs left an imprint. Everything is boring except for death. But death is also boring. My dad and I play Pull the Plug: “What if I got hit on Memorial Drive while I wasn’t wearing a helmet even though you’ve told me to wear one a thousand times and I had a fifty percent chance of recovery?” I ask. “I wouldn’t pull.” “Forty?” “I wouldn’t.” “Twenty percent chance of any regained brain function?” “I would wait and see.” “What if it was from riding a motorcycle?” “Maybe.” We stay with my grandfather for an hour and a half, because that’s how long it takes us to not feel guilty when we leave. My dad mostly does Sudoku. I look at the clock a lot. The Bluetooth speaker vibrates with an actor reading the poems Whitman 20 | PHOEBE 48.1
spent forty years revising, Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all poems I am nodding off in the truck on the way back when Hannah texts me a picture from her work. It’s dark and blurry, but I can make out pixels of a greased cowlick and an embarrassing curb chain. Guess who’s here? I turn to my dad. “Will you drop me off in the square?” *** The Jeffrey House Tavern is one of those new Harvard Square restaurants that tries to look old. Harvard freshman bring their midwest relatives here on parents’ weekend and they think they’re at some Boston clubhouse but really it opened in 2009 and all the wood panels and fireplaces are fake. The place is full of hairy ankles and polos. It’s disgusting. But last week Hannah got tipped one hundred dollars on a sixty-dollar tab by some drunk and drooling businessmen. So there’s that. I don’t see him at first. I feel stiff and shaky, like all the water in my body is swirling towards one point. I keep peeking around the boxy booths expecting to see his dumb Sox hat, but I only see other dumb hats. Hannah comes up behind me, “He left, I think. Sorry. He wasn’t in my section, I didn’t see him till he was paying. I looked at him like he was less than trash though.” “Oh. It’s whatever.” I don’t feel sad, only the release of adrenaline. And stupid for coming. “Let’s pretend he never existed. I wanna get out of here.” “Ok, give me like thirty minutes. I bet I can get Sandra to cut me early.” Hannah brings me a diet coke with four lemon slices, and I drink it at the bar while I watch her work. There are two kinds of servers. Servers that make their tips from personality and servers that make their tips from being invisible. The first is more risky, the second is more work. The four years FICTION | 21
I worked at the seafood place, I took pride in meeting my table’s needs without them even having to notice me. Once a man dumped a whole wine glass across my chest because I was so quiet refilling his water. Hannah is the other kind. I watch her chat up a table of middle age ladies, “Yes! That book changed my life! It made me want to go to India and Italy!” My freshman year of high school, I decided I couldn’t be friends with Hannah anymore because she did things like go to the mall and wax her eyebrows and I wanted to live in a cabin without electricity. One afternoon, I dropped off a huge box of the magazines and clothes and jewelry she’d given me over the years. That was the year I tried to widdle my possessions down to one hundred objects, after I’d painted a shaky Emerson quote across my door frame: SOLITUDE, THE SAFEGUARD OF MEDIOCRITY, IS TO GENIUS THE STERN FRIEND. I told Hannah I would still see her at school but it would probably be hard to get in touch with me from then on because I was giving up my cell phone and fossil fuels. She sent me postcards for a year. Hannah disappears behind the swinging doors. No one’s texted me so I scroll slowly through Instagram. A girl from my sixth grade drama camp is eating fried cheese curds in North Carolina. Someone slaps the part of my ass that’s hanging over the bar stool. I turn around. Fedora and snake tattoo. “Yo Rosenberg!” “Hey!” I squeak. I still get kind of nervous around Lizzie because she doesn’t seem to realize how much cooler she is than me. Also, when they were first hooking up, Hannah told me that Lizzie likes to get her nipples clamped and now that’s all I can think about. “Is she off yet?” “I don’t think so. Last I saw she was quoting Eat, Pray, Love for a table of Cambridge housewives.” Lizzie snorts and leans against the bar stool next to me, “What a flirt.” We are quiet for a second and I worry we don’t have anything to talk about without Hannah. “Hey, does this look like a 22 | PHOEBE 48.1
rash to you?” I show her the part of my hand that’s been itching all evening. “Hannah dragged me to one of those gross thrift stores and I think I got fleas.” Lizzie holds my wrist close to her eyes and squints in the dark bar light. “Doesn’t look like fleas. Fleas leave a ton of red spots. Like chicken pox.” I laugh. “You have a lot of experience with fleas?” Lizzie shrugs. “We raised border collies, like when I was a kid? Itchiest sheets ever.” “You raised border collies?” “Back in Wisconsin. You can make more money on dogs for rich people than dairy cows.” How have I gone this long without knowing that Lizzie is from Wisconsin? She just seemed like one of those people, like Mr. Rogers or Paul Bunyon, who didn’t have a childhood. “Wow, do your parents still live there?” “I don’t know.” Lizzie’s jaw flinches. “I bet.” Just then, Hannah appears between us and shimmies her shoulders. “Guess who just got cut!” Lizzie wraps an arm around Hannah’s filthy apron. “Yeah babe! Should we go swimming?” *** We drive to Walden Pond. Not cause of them. It’s just the closest spot. I check my phone again while Lizzie parks the Camry in the secret place. Nothing. It’s bright on the street but black as soon as we step into the woods. Hannah holds Lizzie’s arm and I hold the belt loop of Hannah’s cut offs and we make our way down. I stick my free arm out in front of me, like blind people do in movies but never in real life. “Isn’t it weird how fast our eyes adjust?” Lizzie turns. The woods smell like moss and rot. I hear a weird scraping noise. I lock my neck straight ahead. I don’t tell them my eyes haven’t adjusted to anything. “How’s your grandpa?” Hannah whispers. FICTION | 23
“The same,” I say. I talk loudly to drown out the axe murder sounds. “No change. I kinda feel like he’s already dead.” I jump at the dark thing before realizing it’s just a stick. “And then, like, I think about all the other people in my life who could basically be dead too for all I know.” Lizzie laughs. “Harsh.” “No, I get that,” Hannah says slowly. “Everyone acts like death is the Big Deal, but people leave all the time.” She starts speaking faster. “I mean, there are hundreds of people who could have been dead for years for all I know. Everyone I worked with at Bertucci’s last summer: dead. The girls from softball camp: dead. The entire state of New Hampshire: dead. That kid Ben Bouche, who I kissed in middle school? He could have died years ago.” I snort air out my nostrils. “I wouldn’t know my mom was alive if she didn’t call me once a month to tell me how a garden hose symbolized her therapist’s penis in a dream.” They laugh. “Except for Facebook,” Lizzie says after a while. “That’s how I know people are still alive.” “Yeah, that’s true.” I kick a pine cone back into the woods, “Except for Facebook.” We get to the beach. An abandoned lifeguard chair juts out of the sand. Lizzie and Hannah strip down in the darkness. Lizzie is wearing men’s boxers and no bra. The pocket where the penis would go flaps a little when she walks. Hannah turns to me. “You coming?” “I’ll meet you,” I say, though we know I won’t. I sit down and begin to pile the cool dark sand over my bare feet. Some highschool kids are making noise across the pond. They keep telling each other how fucked up they plan to be. “We’re getting blackout tonight, fam.” The lights from Boston make a hazy cloud. I keep plunging my fingers into the cool sand. When I’ve buried myself up to my calves, my cell phone goes off. It’s my dad. It’s 1:45. I don’t answer. I fall asleep for a moment. When I wake up, Hannah and Lizzie are chasing each other across the beach. “Come here!” “No!” Hannah grabs the empty air and they collapse laugh24 | PHOEBE 48.1
-ing. They pull the blanket towards me. “Get in!” Hannah commands. “No. You’re wet.” “Edith!” Hannah reaches around me and drips of water fall off her bare shoulders. I try to push her away but she holds me anyways. “What’s wrong?” “My grandpa died.” “Just now?” “I dunno. Maybe not.” “Maybe not?” “My dad called.” “Do you want to call him back?” “In a minute.” We all look out at the glassy pond and we’re silent for a while. Then Lizzie bends past Hannah to look at me. “Should we like... say Kaddish?” I turn to look at her. “You’re Jewish?” I feel inexplicably disoriented by this. “I thought you were from Wisconsin.” “My mom’s family is.” “Well, you have to have at least ten people for the Mourner’s Kaddish.” It’s two o’clock in the morning and the steam is rising over the pond where Thoreau may or may not have written his masterpiece and my grandfather is dead, and I’m still an insufferable Hebrew School Know-It-All. “There has to be a minyan.” “Oh yeah.” Lizzie stares out into the flat sky. “Why is that?” I don’t remember so I pretend to be busy picking at my toe callus. “It seems like a nice rule,” Hannah offers. “After someone dies. Like an anti-loneliness clause.” “I think I remember actually…” I strain to recall the Hebrew School lesson from the greasy rabbinical student who ate graham crackers from his pocket. “It was Sodom and Gomorrah, that city with all the sinners? And God wanted to kill everyone. And Abraham asked God if he would spare the city if there were fifty righteous people inside of it and God said he would. And then FICTION | 25
Abraham was like, Yeah, but what about forty? and God said O.K. And then he was like, Yeah, but what about thirty? What about twenty? What about ten? And he stopped at ten. So I guess the rabbis decided that’s how many there have to be to make anything worth saving. Ten good people.” Hannah flings her arms around me and Lizzie. “But you two are the only ones I like in the whole world.” “Yeah,” Lizzie sighs. “Everyone else is trash.” “What about your sister?” I ask Hannah. Hannah shrugs. “She’s kinda a bitch now.” I poke a stick into the sand around where I think my feet are. “Three isn’t enough.” “Hey—” Lizzie says, “three is a lot.” “Yeah.” I look out at the water. “Yeah,” Hannah echoes back.
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The Robot Mom
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In Eden They Whistled As a pale dawn awaits the lazy sun, a low hush is heard throughout the backyard. It is a secret—whisperings of bread crumbs, crushed saltines, bits of sunflower seeds, and coffee grounds. It slips from the lips of a dimpled tin pail that the old woman holds in her right hand. In her left, a battered cue stick she uses for a cane. A cigarette dangles from the corner of her mouth— the old woman rolls them herself. She flicks her bony wrist and the pail rustles again, drawing the hens from their hiding places. They love to gossip. The hens come from everywhere. An overturned wheelbarrow. A pile of wicker lawn chairs. A yellowed ivory bathtub. A heap of old mattresses. The birds rush around the old woman’s feet like autumn leaves kicked up by the wind. She tosses out the provisions, and the hens burst into an excited chorus. It is barely bright out but the old woman cups a withered hand over her brow. Her clouded eyes can just barely make out the twin pecan trees towards the center of the yard. She decides that the last meal she will ever eat is a bowl of glazed pecans—roasted and covered in molasses. Her tired tongue pushes over the soft grey mounds where her teeth used to be. She could suck on them at least. Some glazed pecans and some gin. The old woman feels a small prick at her calf. It is Queenie needling her for more scraps. The old woman swats at the bird with her cue stick. The fat black hen doesn’t flutter out of the way. Instead, it jerks its thick neck back and forth and watches the old woman with a beady yellow eye. The old woman turns her back on the bird and begins to ease further into the backyard. There are plenty of worms and grubs for Queenie to find. Besides, the old woman has her own breakfast to think about. As the old woman walks away, Queenie puffs up her breast and crows. It is a squawk that stings like nettles, and the old woman chuckles. A whistling woman and a crowing hen never come to any 36 | PHOEBE 48.1
good end. A crowing hen is an omen of bad luck, death even. And only fast women whistle. Respectable women, like her mother, hummed—and Lord, they moved slow. They seeded cotton steadily even as the bollworms stung their hands. They broke a chicken’s neck the same way they wrung out wet laundry. The old woman grunts at the irony as she ambles deeper into her yard. When she was a girl, she looked forward to the day her legs would grow long and thick as hams, carrying her from Moultrie with its red dirt and sharecroppers and slow women. Those legs that had been stretched, whipped, pried open, and occasionally caressed as she jetted up and down the eastern coast. Tallahassee. Jackson. Augusta. Charlotte. Gaffney—even managed to dip a toe in the Virginia hills. The old woman ambles past a bushel of Camellias nestled around a pink toilet. Their green leaves so waxy they look wet. The old woman had been in the Mississippi Gulf when Camellias came—at that point, her legs so long and worn that they were no more than a tangle of muscle and sinew and bone. After that storm, the old woman decided she was much too tired to run from anything—hurricanes and crowing hens included. Now she she strolls and plots. Eggs, perhaps scrambled. With some diced tomatoes, onions, and basil. The vegetable patch— though it is no more than just a tangle of vines and stalks— is by the sunken shed in the northwest corner of the yard. It will be a walk, but the old woman’s knees feel good today. The tin pail, now emptied of feed and waiting for more secrets to tell, will carry it all. She first moves up the east side of the yard where many of the hens like to set their eggs. She does not need many, two for breakfast and another three for the egg soak that she will use to fry fish later. She walks slowly, waiting. She listens for the eggs to call out to her—within the torn cushion of an old love seat. Underneath the sagging metal belly of a broken tractor. Wedged behind an overturned refrigerator covered in kudzu vines. They are far more generous with their hiding places than she or her siblings ever were. Every morning they fled to the cornfield out back. Orders to chop wood or shell snap peas did not reach them there. FICTION | 37
The deep timbre of Daddy’s voice could not shake the thick stalks, and their razor leaves sliced Mama’s calls to ribbons. Her sister Dorcas was always the first to be discovered because she didn’t run. She would just pick her spot, sit down, and read. And when Daddy finally found her, there would be no fear behind those sleepy lids. Even as he broke a thin switch from the birch tree next to the porch. As the old woman turns west to look for more eggs in the center of the yard, Queenie crows again. It sounds like singing to her. Oh Death he is a little man. And he goes from do’ to do’. The old woman hums along, and for a moment under the heavy blanket of her voice she hears the small pitter patter of feet. It comes from behind a rusty bed frame turned on its side. Maybe it is one of the neighborhood children; they like to scramble all over her yard. Sometimes when she is out looking for eggs or going to cut a few leaves of wild ginger for tea, she sees a wiry body flit by. On occasion she catches one by the elbow as they scurry past. She holds them firm and tells them to go to the Shell gas station down the street and buy her a couple of scratch-offs. As she pushes a fold of bills into the tiny hand, she holds on with a tight grip. She looks into their eyes and tells them to either come back with the scratchoffs or with the exact amount of money they left with. Then she takes the small switchblade that she has tucked in her back pocket and clicks it open. She tells them that she will skin them like a rabbit if they do otherwise. The children scamper away, and they always come back with one or the other. Recently, it is harder for the old woman to discern shadow from substance. Oh Death he is a little man. And he goes from do’ to do’. And at her age, she is more certain than ever that death is neither little man nor shadow, but a frightened child who must always return with what he was sent for. As the old woman passes through the center of the yard, she sees the twin pecan trees. Both have thick trunks that split off into branches intertwined like laced fingers. At the base, there is a lone honey colored egg with brown spots. The old woman knows that the pattern on the shell depends on what you feed the parent. Cooked rice darkens the eggs to deep amber. Potato peels turn 38 | PHOEBE 48.1
them ashen gray. She was the darkest of her siblings because her mother swallowed spoonfuls of russet Georgia clay to calm her stomach during her first pregnancy. The city of Decatur sent the old woman several letters requesting to dig up one of the trees in her yard because its roots ran too close to an underground water line. But the old woman refused. She knows that if you kill one tree, you will ruin the other. The same way that after the family mule kicked her brother Gabe in the chest and crushed his lungs, his twin Elias never breathed another word for the rest of his life. The city sent another letter saying they couldn’t be held responsible for any flooding that occurred in the yard. And that was fine for the old woman. The water prevailed more and more upon the earth, so that all the high mountains everywhere under the heavens were covered. Her Baptist father made sure that she knew of floods well before the city of Decatur stuffed those pink envelopes with squares of plastic like sweet-wrappers into her mailbox. The old woman looks up at the pecan trees and smacks her lips. She will pour some bourbon on those glazed pecans as well, the way that Daddy used to do on Easter. She eyes the heavy fruit dangling from the branches. They will drop in late September or early October. The old woman hears another crow. This one louder. Searching. Maybe Queenie is expecting an answer. She will not get one. This is the only house in this cul-de-sac—the only one the contractors finished before running out of money and enthusiasm. She had picked this house after settling back in Georgia because she found the dirt yards and bare-boned structures that surrounded her familiar. Her only visitor is the fire marshal who reminds her that the piles of junk in her yard are a hazard. That the property is unliveable and should be condemned. But if she ever let him into her house, he would find that the insides smelled of ginger and lemon. He would hear salmon cakes crackling on the stove. He would feel the slick polish of the wooden floors underneath the pinks of his feet. Pine—the same type of wood that her father cut and sanded into a crib for his first child and a coffin for his last. The old woman smells her mother as she steps through a FICTION | 39
patch of deer tongue. Her mother used to rub the vanilla-scented leaves behind her ears and on the thin shelves of her collar bones. The bright sprigs of green swarm around a rusted Lincoln. It has no doors or fenders—the barbed tongues have licked the skeleton clean. Just like how the loss of her youngest boy picked her mother’s soul dry and left only bones. Bones that still hung up the laundry on the line, and mended torn hems, and drew water from the well. It is a sweet destruction. The city even sent a representative from a nursing facility down the road to try and convince the old woman to leave. The representative told her that a woman her age shouldn’t be alone. But the old woman remembers how six bodies—living, dead, and in between—had crawled over one another in that one room cabin in Moultrie. Now that she lives in a low-level rancher with more rooms than she had childhood toys, she doesn’t need anyone in it. The representative asked her what she would do if she fell and hurt herself. The old woman’s yard is full of tired things that one day sat down and never moved again. She is in good company. The old woman finally reaches her garden. She picks some tomatoes, Vidalia onions, sprigs of basil, and parsley. She grows other things too. A rusted bicycle with the back tire missing looks like it is clawing its way out of the earth. A set of cracked china cups the color of bone cries for water. Next to the shed, clusters of milkweed crowd around an abandoned cement mixer. In a few weeks, the pearly white heads will combust into hues of orange and black as monarch butterflies flee the northern cold. A fire hazard indeed. With all that she needs, the old woman turns back the way she came. The sun has moved higher in the sky, feverish and bloated. It will be a long walk. As she makes her way back towards the eastern edge of the yard, packs of green-and-golds howl at her on both sides of the path. From the corner of her eye, she sees wild indigo lurking. Queenie has emerged from the brush and now clucks at her heels. The old woman decides to whistle.
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ART GALLERY I
Gallery List CAROLYN GUINZIO “Current/Undercurrent” Digital photo collage. page 45 KAREN BOISSONNEAULT-GAUTHIER “Leaves in my Soul” Digital photography with layered multi-media experimentation. “Witness to the Seasons” and “Watering the Leaves” are examples of the artist’s layering of color and texture to make the images more than just double exposures. They become a layering of frames, which changes their depth of field and focus. page 46 KAREN BOISSONNEAULT-GAUTHIER “Witness to the Seasons” See Above. page 47 KAREN BOISSONNEAULT-GAUTHIER “Watering the Leaves” See above. page 48 BILL WOLAK “The Last Promise” Digital collage. page 49
My neighbor’s grandson, Pal, is two. Every day, he meets me at my door to flip me off. Dead in the eye—he looks up, makes his signal, then toddles away on his brand new legs. Hitting the pavement too hard, each step a victory over the crawl. His brother and cousins hold court in my yard while I’m at work. I imagine them, five, seven, nine years old, with ankles crossed, propped up on the wrought-iron table I spray-painted sea glass blue with vigor one hot afternoon. Harold would likely be wearing his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle shirt, but, in my vision, he’s wearing an old man’s shirt, shined shoes. I imagine the boys from my desk at work, they puff on cigars and swig Ten High as they reminisce about the women in their lives with bodies they don’t much notice yet, or notice, but don’t know the story of. Then they shoot the breeze about the long, brass knuckled lives they’ve already lived: The hide-n-seek games in the garden. Terrell’s father dead in a car crash last year. The way their moms and aunts and grandmother fixed one another’s hair in front the house, singing, while some of the older boys broke cars’ windshields with rocks. This whipped up posse of neighborhood boys only just discovered their own bodies and became obsessed with cause and effect. How my mail slot opens and closes, opens and closes. Slam. Slam. Slam. The unluckiest among them gets all the fingers. It was him, not me, they say, pointing away. They drop leaves in my mail slot. Sticky Fla-vor-ice casings, Cheetos bags, pinecones, sticks. I find them on the other side, in NONFICTION | 55
my house. An archive for posterity of what the dream team ate, and the weapons they made in 2016, after they climbed out of my garden and tumbled into the next game of chase, or handlebar bike rides, or open palm slap battles. Life moves on. The older boys play basketball between our houses. The girls dance it out to Nicki Minaj or Lil Wayne. Uncles drink 40s after work. The little ones play house and hide-n-seek. Pal continues to flip me the bird every day for a year, as he grows steadier on his feet. Pal—the Baby, I call him when I describe him to my friends—is committed. I’ll give him that. Committed to extending his wet arm straight out at me. Tough as he might. Lately, as the days grow longer, his skin, his arm, his finger are blazing jewels covered in sticky sweet blue goo from Snoballs, in the street of late April, under the wide-open sun. Some days I try to be adult, strict. I say, Why are you doing that, Pal? Look him square. He runs off. On my worst days, I mutter What did I ever do to you? With my nose to the wood, forcing open the door’s swollen edge with elbow and hip, feeling sorry for myself. Pal’s finger is remodeled homes and the water line at the bottom of a 1980s Professor Longhair Jazz Fest Poster hanging in my friend’s bedroom down on Bartholomew. It’s the body burning in an abandoned car by the river. It’s not being able to spell your own name. It’s how I can remember a time when I couldn’t spell my own name. It’s color blindness and how color blindness makes me question how any of us know what’s real, how any of us make sense of patterns and symbols and hand gestures at all. 56 | PHOEBE 48.1
It’s when my friend said truth is everlasting and I could have sworn she said, teeth. Teeth is everlasting. It’s those dentists who pull teeth instead of fixing them. It’s the woman shitting in the alley behind Hank’s. It’s the tarp flapping against my gate that sounds like an intruder. Pal’s finger is laughter that ricochets into gunshots. Last Sunday, I found pink roses on the floor under my mail slot. I sat and fingered them for a long time. Rubbed them between my palms; careful not to crush their bloom. Later, I took out the trash and Pal wanted to open and close the lid just to see how it worked. He stood beneath me, between my body and the tall can, and pushed up on his tiptoes to the sky as I gently flipped the lid on and off. Again! he said. I want to do it myself. The girls asked me if I got the flowers. I said, Yes, they were beautiful, and I meant it. After I finished watering the plants and putting the trash on the road for pickup, I turned to see Pal, casual cool, leaning against my magnolia tree facing the street, a miniature cowboy hero in a plaid shirt and faded jeans, barefoot, a Camel ad, an album cover. There with his ankles crossed, facing the street, flipping off everyone in the world who happened to pass him by.
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AMANDA E. GOMEZ
Project / Object Have you seen the fool that corrupted his own live body? Or the fool that corrupted her own live body? For they do not conceal themselves, and cannot conceal themselves. —”I Sing the Body Electric,” Walt Whitman
The summer when I was eight, my father and I began taking nightly drives around our neighborhood. It was our attempt at simulating the existence of normal temperatures, a lame mind trick most southerners employ as a second sense in summertime. Though not as severe as places like Arizona or California, where temperatures typically peak at 120 degrees or more in summer, Texas often records temperatures in the 110s, earning a top spot in the upper echelons of this heatstroke-inducing collective. Thus, for native Texans, the struggle to feel comfortable is eternal. We resign ourselves to our cars and homes, to our cutoffs and box fans, these spaces and mechanisms of safety. I’m certain we drove to combat this restlessness, the oppressive humidity always forcing us indoors. But my sense is that, for my father, this ritual became something of a kinetic confessional of the corporeal divine, a daily devotional to speed and song and spirit. Unlike most developed neighborhoods, ours was readymade for joyriding and other unvirtuous forms of recreation. At some point the developers of our north Houston enclave stopped granting contracts to builders and other interested parties, a choice which resulted in an incomplete master plan and a no man’s land of empty lots. In effect, this part of the neighborhood became a haven for debauchery. Neighborhood kids rode bikes and partied in remote cul-de-sacs, druggies slung their best product, and still others co-opted the area for further practical use. The tall overgrown grasses of the lots were a perfect wasteland for unwanted goods—furniture, guns, once an entire jungle gym—peoples’ lives predicated on their regenerative and disposable power. The peak of this renegade 58 | PHOEBE 48.1
period came when my father built a fort in our backyard out of two-by-fours, a convenient lookout point for observing the evolution of this tangled landscape. Collectively, we became surveyors of the land: it was ours and we tended it carefully. Of the nights my father and I ventured out, there’s one that stands out from the rest. There was nothing exceptional about this night, the preparation for our drive the same as any other. While David Letterman and Jay Leno lulled my mother to sleep, my father poured Merlot into a coffee thermos and selected a few of his favorite CDs for the ride. The music we listened to varied between classic rock, jazz, and funk. That night it was Frank Zappa’s Strictly Commercial. As my father drove, I belted out the lyrics to “Don’t You Eat that Yellow Snow,” “Dancin’ Fool,” “Dirty Love,” “Montana,” “Valley Girl,” and my favorite, “Muffin Man”—I knew them all. It was the perfect soundtrack for our half hour of transcendence, of performative purge. It was our most pure theater. That night we departed from our usual route and decided to explore another undeveloped subdivision across the bayou that bisected our neighborhoods. We drove to the very last street and crossed the small bridge that connected the two sides. As if a switch had been flipped, my father pressed down on the gas, slingshotting us forward at speeds of sixty, seventy, eighty miles an hour down sharp bends and straightaways, the sky and trees coalescing into murky watercolor. It was something he’d been doing more and more, mounting and releasing these bursts of momentum. I assumed my role as faithful copilot and played along, throwing my hands up during quick turns and impressive intervals, cheering him on with every new trick. On this side of the bayou the trees were taller and the grasses more jungle-like, a mix of wild palmetto, Spanish moss, and oak. The dense overgrowth of the area made it feel more isolating than the backroads of our neighborhood, which made our nightly marathons more exciting. We’d officially gone incognito, our sprees seemingly untraceable in this Wild West of the suburbs. Out there we felt truly alone, and though the area harbored herds of deer and NONFICTION | 59
other fauna, we rarely saw them. How odd it is to sense something around you and not see it. In a place as public and expansive as Houston, this seems almost impossible. But my father has always preferred staying out of the way. A child of the sixties, he is counterculture incarnate, a term lost on the social milieu of today, where action is often reduced to what feels most safe—to what we can contain. What my father really champions is grandeur, the grotesque. Indeed, he is a man of profound contradictions: decidedly masculine with a predilection for the avant-garde—artistically, literarily, sexually. I’ve always identified with my father and our stubborn way of clinging to desire—this pull of touch and heat, the chance to attach oneself to something that feels transcendent, even if it means destruction— this is what we really live for. Most of the time it’s enough. But sometimes the pleasures I derive from the body and the spirit are as simple and divine as the thin blond hairs that encircle the freckles across my partner’s pale arms, arms so different than my own. These small delights are enough. Like Whitman, we sing the body electric, drink in communion and of communion, our bodies vessels for things to break and bend within—our bodies vessels for observing what breaks around. *** Of course there was a deer. There’s always a deer. I remember its face clearly: its narrow jawline and hooded eyes, its ears dark spades in the night. I’ve memorized the contours of its nose, reflecting shiny and black in my father’s headlights like a piece of wet coal. My father says he pumped on the brakes to avoid hitting it, a tactic northerners evidently use to avoid sliding on snow. The strategy sounds logical enough and might have worked in any other case, but not here. Before we knew it the Mazda was sliding sideways, fishtailing leftward into a patch of woods before finally slamming into a tree. We never saw the deer. Things were calm for a while, the car, forest, our bodies 60 | PHOEBE 48.1
still. Everything around me suddenly felt bright, as if illuminated by an imaginary spotlight. I remember looking behind me in search of the source and seeing that the back window had been spared by the impact, despite all the others having shattered. Though it was intact, its surface had started to crack, revealing fine fissures in the glass. The pattern reminded me of a spider’s web. From the driver’s seat I could see my father’s eyes were closed, but his chest was pulsing, sustaining a slow rise and fall. He tried to mumble something but I couldn’t understand him. He fell silent after a few attempts, dazed and defeated. Because we’d hit the tree from the driver’s side, he’d suffered the greatest impact and had been pinned inside his seat as a result. I stared at him for a few moments before finally climbing out through the backseat window. I’m sure the door would have sufficed just as well, but something told me I needed to be out of the car, it didn’t matter how. I stood silently beside the car, taking in the scene we’d created together, puzzled by our ability to transform joy into destruction, to reduce intense energy to nothing. Throughout his career, Frank Zappa would often refer to what he called project/object, a concept he coined to describe the larger project of his work. He referred to the idea as a “conceptual continuity,” a notion intended to allude to the various intersections of ideas and characters across his works and mediums. When I recount this event, I can’t help but think that these drives—this accident—were our grand project. For thirty minutes, our spirits reached new heights, the object of our desires an ever-moving target of passion and possibility. We’d managed the impossible and harnessed great energy, believed we had control over it, but it was too much, an unbearable weight that ultimately drove us into the ground. A few minutes passed before my father attempted to speak again. I asked him if he was okay and he tried to respond, mumbling more to himself than to me. He took a deep breath and in a matter of seconds he was crawling over the front seats and over the passenger side window. Finally on his feet, he stood next to me, staring as I had at the ruined car. For a moment, we occupied our NONFICTION | 61
own separate spaces, retreated into them, protective of their sanctity—protective of these bodies that still belonged to us. The distance between us was a palpable force. I could sense my father’s capacity for compassion was limited in this state of shock. He didn’t appear particularly concerned about me. To any passerby I would have seemed perfectly fine, but his lack of distress still amazes me. Instead, he simply turned to me and offered a brief synopsis of what happened—We hit a deer and that’s all. We hit a deer—the implication being that the accident was merely a coincidental encounter with a deer. Our speed and pleasure had no bearing on the outcome. Even at that age, I understood that my father was constructing his own reality and to speak it aloud was to acknowledge it as truth. I understood my father’s position and registered my expected role in the matter—in the lie. He did not elaborate or clarify why this was the way things were and I didn’t question it. I resigned myself to his silence, felt the weight of its impenetrability. The mechanics of story and truth had been newly presented to me and I obeyed. It was the nineties, cell phones were still rare and my parents had never owned pagers, so we had no way of contacting my mother or a tow company, though who’s to say we would have. After all, my father’s intent was to conceal what had happened and control its aftermath. So instead of calling for help, we set out toward home. We decided to take a shortcut along the bayou to get back. I trailed silently behind my father, the chirping of crickets the only discernible sound around us. As night is wont to do, everything was coated in deep purples and indigos, the surrounding woods a dense thicket of black. It was strange to think we’d caused a disturbance here, a place that thrived on its estrangement from the standard commotion of our neighborhood. After twenty minutes we finally spotted our street. While it was a much faster route, our shortcut also provided a bridge between both sides of the bayou in the form of a thick red sewage pipe. This is what we would use to cross over. Like the obedient duckling I was, I followed my father as he scaled the pipe, scooting 62 | PHOEBE 48.1
along closely behind. I wore my usual driving outfit which consisted of a pink frilly nightgown and purple cotton slippers, the perfect ensemble for falling into bed after night’s end. I remember looking up at the stars and studying them intently, trying not to look down into the dark marshes of the bayou. Once across, all we’d need to do was clear the small patch of overgrown grass separating the bayou from the street and we’d be home free. However, as we crossed through this assumed safe zone, we noticed a neighbor watering his lawn. He noticed us, too, and waved us over. I don’t remember his name because we rarely saw or spoke to him, but he was a neighbor, nonetheless, permanent and there. As we neared his front yard, the floodlights lining the exterior caught the side of my father’s face, revealing a faint constellation of nicks and cuts, presumably from shattered window glass. His face was a mess and his hair was matted with sweat. The neighbor spoke calmly, making small talk about the weather and his yard, handily concealing his suspicion. As conversationalists, we were fairly useless, passive listeners eager to cross the street and be rid of him. At one point he turned to face me, snapping me out of my midnight haze. And Miss Amanda, how are you? The question made me uncomfortable, and though I couldn’t understand why at the time, I can imagine the theories that ran through our poor neighbor’s head. He did not see a father out for a nightly walk with his daughter, but instead a young girl out at night with a middle-aged man. The implications are unmistakable. In our neighborhood, which was predominantly Latino, Black, and Vietnamese, my father was an outlier. People did not walk the neighborhood at night—not with their young daughters. And they certainly didn’t take them on drives. The rules of my father’s utopic existence simply didn’t match our neighborhood’s cultural codes, where too much leisure and independence came with consequences, and where feelings around gender roles and acceptable behavior were enshrined in the uber-masculinity of the mid-nineties. This was not Fairfield, Connecticut. I must have said Fine. NONFICTION | 63
The conversation didn’t last long and soon we crossed the street to our house, my mother’s Honda Accord the only car left in our driveway. The scene felt ominous, my mother’s car a symbol for who truly belonged in this domestic space—her. That night I fell asleep as I always did, leaving my father to share our news with my mother, to tell her our truth. Looking back, I see this incident in sharp relief, a moment when I understood my femaleness and youth as a means for manipulation. I was an accomplice to my father, a man, implicated in a lie that would be told to my mother, another woman. These dynamics between men and women, husbands and wives, fathers and daughters were newly crystallized. *** On my first day of high school I noticed my father’s car in our driveway, an odd sighting given that he was never home before six. Inside I found him in the kitchen, a cold beer in hand, the only participant in this impromptu happy hour. He greeted me, asked about my day, and told me he’d lost his job, one he’d held for more than ten years. We talked for a few more minutes before I went upstairs, not realizing that this day would define the next decade of our family’s life, a decade plagued by chronic unemployment, unexpected deaths, crippling debt, and a string of encounters I wish I could forget but can’t. With my father out of a job and home most days, I grew accustomed to returning home to unpredictable circumstances. It was only a year later, after my father had decided to pursue freelance painting and piano full-time that I came home early one day, post-fall semester finals, to my father frantically barricading our front door with his naked body. He pleaded for me to leave and come back later. He apologized. He said he’d been bad. He said he’d made a mess. It was eleven o’clock on a weekday in winter. I said OK and left. I had no car, so I walked a few blocks to our neighborhood park and didn’t go home until it was dark. 64 | PHOEBE 48.1
Sure, I was shocked, but I understood my father’s impulse for pleasure, having indoctrinated myself to masturbation well before then. Still, the idea of enabling my father’s pleasure in this way—enabling any man’s—riddles my patience, for it is often an expectation, not a choice. This same impromptu interruption happened again a few months later, but I’d made peace with my father’s actions by then, chalked it up to unfortunate timing and simply went upstairs to my room. It wasn’t his actions that bothered me, but his culpability for the way things had turned out: for this time of unwarranted leisure with little income to speak of, for my mother’s selfless sacrifice at a crappy office job, day in and day out. *** In the last year, my father has started seeing a therapist. On Wednesdays he slogs through the last sixty years of his life, shedding decades of family taboo, personal trauma, and everything else in between. The progress has been slow, but my family chooses to believe his journey is one of patience. I found myself acutely aware of this state of gridlock during one of my most recent visits home. It was a typical evening. We were winding down from dinner and watching some throwaway primetime show. As the night wore on, my father drank too much and became more distant, downing three tallboys, the beer appallingly cheap. I remember sitting next to him at our dining table. My mother had already gone upstairs to bed and my younger brother had been in his room most of the night. It was just us, and I could tell my father was edging toward a state of belligerence. Earlier in the night, my mother and I had tried to convince him to stop drinking, but he’d merely scoffed at our request. Now sitting there, I took the opportunity to speak to him honestly, invite him to consider our collective struggle. But he wasn’t listening and when I broke down crying there at the table, not more than two feet from him, he didn’t even blink an eye. He was stumped, unable to pro cess emotion other than his own. He mumbled sorry and turned up NONFICTION | 65
the music we’d been listening to. He poured himself another drink. Now this is fucking music, he said, toasting to David Liebman’s iconic Lookout Farm. I wanted to keep crying, but his abandon was entrancing and my feeling of helplessness seemed to disappear. Watching him lose his grip on reality to a song was too much to bear. I felt my heart explode with a deep, painful love. I could only stare and listen as he bobbed his head furiously to melodies and chords that were asymmetrical and sprawling and perfect in the ways that only jazz can be. It was an exhilaration I wanted my father to feel again— behind a steering wheel, before a blank canvas. I wanted him to experience joy again, even if that joy was dangerous. Forbidden. In the midst of this exaltation he stood up, his eyes bloodshot and roving, his legs shaky. He wanted to go for a walk along the bayou behind our house, something he did each night. I urged him to stop but he was already out the door, lost inside the bongos and sax and pounding piano, this manic carnival of sound drawing him out and away from me. No, Dad, I called, but he’d already gone, unlatching the fence lock and stumbling forward. He was gone, immersed in the electricity of his own making. *** Sometimes you take walks at night behind our house after you’ve finished all your stolen tobacco and that glass of blush you could do without. You stumble when you walk. I know because I’ve watched and followed you, my hands trailing behind your soft back as your own hands guide you forward, the both of us like blind cats in the dark. You like to edge close to the bayou, playing a game of chicken with yourself— a silly impulse because you’re already playing with me. Your sneakers catch the tough reeds and sharp stickers as your legs wobble forward, backward, and then you’re okay again. You keep moving toward our unknown destination. There’s a new gas station at the end of our street where the bayou ends. A few men gather around a car as one pumps gas, all laughing with full happy mouths, their backs relaxed, their backs softer than yours. You stop, 66 | PHOEBE 48.1
stalled by the neon blaze of lights and I try to catch your eye, redirect your gaze, tell you to behold the moon, Father, to behold yourself.
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My Missing Pieces It is difficult to write about my mother. I find her in ellipses, quiet rooms, in darkness I can only describe with her name. She is not so much a missing piece as she is a vacuum, a force pulling in toward herself even in her absence—especially in her absence. The gap she left behind means more to me now than her presence had when she was alive. It is hard for me to write about my mother because she is dead. She cannot be interviewed. She did not keep journals, nor did she have a creative life. She was more a woman than a mother. When my father was no longer a pastor in America, she was no longer a pastor’s wife. She wore tight t-shirts, four-inch heels, and a smile. She struggled with English and had a heavy Bulgarian accent, but her smile—when she smiled—made up for the language barrier. My mother died in 2001, ten days before my tenth birthday, ten days after the Twin Towers fell. She was bipolar and clinically depressed. I knew about the times she had tried to die, but I thought she was just trying to hurt herself, to prove some point, or to hurt my father. We lived in Walnut Creek, in Northern California, at the time. She had signed an anti-suicide contract with her psychiatrist promising that she would not kill herself before October 4, 2001. I found the contract years later in a safe with my father’s Bulgarian passport and various documents. I found such a contractual agreement ludicrous. I wanted to rip it up. How could a piece of paper stop someone from dying? After she died, we moved to southern California. I realized I could not tell a coherent story about myself, especially now that we’d moved back to Irvine, one of the cities we lived in before she died. I felt like the outline of a person, my insides a jumble of overlapping pieces, some negated each other while others created confusion. Grandma Irma, my father’s mother, moved to America to help take care of my younger siblings and me. 68 | PHOEBE 48.1
My grandmother dyed her hair brown in our bathroom with L’Oréal. She was harsh and neurotic, but her presence was comforting. She stood by the door when we left for school and was cooking dinner when we returned. It was something I had never known before, that steadiness. My father worked long hours as a salesman by then. My first meal with my Grandma Irma was either on top of a card table or a cardboard box, but I can’t remember for sure. I didn’t know that using card tables as dining room furniture was strange until my sorority at Berkeley held a casino night fundraiser. I shriveled as I helped carry one out of the storage closet, recognized it, realized what they were meant for, and understood what it said about my family, that we would eat our meals on a card table. I felt proud to be eating real Bulgarian food. My mother had cooked Bulgarian food, too, but this felt closer to the source. My mother was an immigrant like me; my grandmother was a real Bulgarian. We ate smoky lentil stew, bread we broke off in hunks from the round loaf she baked, and a thick slice of raw onion between spoonfuls. “You like Bulgarian food! Very good,” she said. “Now teach your brother and sister.” As I got older, I felt like a painter staring at a canvas, uncertain what the first color should be. My father suggested I become a lawyer to become wealthy and independent in case my hypothetical husband left me. So I went from wanting to be an explorer, then an artist, to wanting to be a lawyer, short-lived as that was. Writing was more of an impulse than a dream. I attempted my first novel at age fourteen, listening to Led Zeppelin’s “Over the Hills and Far Away” on repeat to drown my fear of typing out the wrong word, or any word at all. My other impulse was to collect evidence of my memories. We moved so often that it was difficult to keep track of even sacred things: I took the lead in arranging our old photos in photo albums. I dug elbow-deep in old VHS tapes to find our home videos from Pennsylvania and California. I played them and narrated my memories to my little brother and sister. But there were still years NONFICTION | 69
missing; we had only a few photos of Bulgaria. I clung to my disjointed memories like they were dreams I was afraid to forget. *** I was three years old. Leaves crunched under my feet as I walked hand in hand with my grandmother Choni, my mother’s mother. Grandma Choni had been teaching me to recite my first poem, the war poem, “Radetsky,” by Bulgaria’s most famous poet, Ivan Vazov. We practiced: Tih byal Dunav se vulnoova, veselo shumi. The quiet, white Danube ripples, making cheerful noise. We walked to the neighborhood bakery. The bakery was lodged into a slab of concrete in the labyrinth of buildings built during communism. She purchased banitsa and boza for both of us. We ate on a bench near a playground made of metal. The banitsa was warm, flaky, and buttery, the paper-thin layers of phyllo dough cupped feta cheese made from goats’ milk, sourced from villages just outside the city. Boza is a milkshake-thick fermented wheat drink, served cool or warm. Coca-Cola was my favorite drink, but boza was a close second. What does a Bulgarian baker care whether his ingredients are fresh, so long as they sell? Maybe it was a crappy version of these foods, but from my visits over the last several years, my nostalgia remains when disillusionment creeps in. Even store-bought boza, whether from the tiny ProMarket in Sofia or an Iranian grocery store in California, still tastes as sweet as that day. These days, the chickens reside in warehouses, not the fields, and my grandmother’s apartment block is the same except for the walls crumbling dangerously. But that autumn morning with my grandmother when I was three casts the light through which I see. My other memory is looking at a Bulgarian children’s book. The children in the book looked more like dolls than classic American cartoon characters. They were painted with thick black lines and muted autumn colors. I practiced how to hold a colored pencil in my left hand, then my right. I drew on everything, the walls of my relatives’ apartments in Sofia, our many apartments in America, my father’s Bible. Drawing was uncomfortable with both 70 | PHOEBE 48.1
hands. I picked up different colors, became distracted, and stopped paying attention to which hand I used—then began favoring my left. We moved to America, and the sources of these early impressions were gone. And the colors in books changed, and the shapes of the letters changed. *** My cab driver had a stripper’s calling card tucked in front of the plastic window next to a statuette of the Virgin Mary. He was my first impression of Bulgaria the night I returned. I was in college, visiting Grandma Choni, fifteen years after my family and I left. The next day, I saw my mother in every woman. My god, my mother was in every woman. She lives replicated in Bulgaria, with her dark eyes and vague Eastern European nose—not flat, not pointed, but with a little bump on the ridge, like a molehill. I noticed that most Bulgarians’ skin is not very dark, not very light—though my skin is darker than most, probably because of my mother’s side, as my grandfather was rather dark-skinned. And I am told we have Romanian blood, too, and Thracian—very noble, ancient Bulgarian. We descend from the Slavs as well, and the root of the word “slave” is Slav. But I hadn’t found that out yet. I wanted my being Bulgarian to mean I was special, not less-than. The rest of the country seemed to think the same way, either with a disregard to Bulgarian history entirely or focusing on the highlights of the past even though the highlights were ancient. The apartment was the same as I’d left it at three years old: the brown coffee table, and the plush chair covered with yellowed sheepskin, where I used to hide during hide and seek with my grandfather. It was a cocoon. There were drawers full of photos in the living room. I spent hours there on each trip to Bulgaria, looking for pictures that proved that I once had a place in that world. On later trips, I focused on pictures of my mother, then my father, to prove they NONFICTION | 71
existed there, too. I looked for photos of my grandfather who died when I was eight. I looked for photos of my grandmother, who was alive, to see if any of her had died since she was young. I set about collecting what my family and I lost. The missing pieces are Bulgaria and my family’s experiences of that place. It is the part of my history that is no longer relevant. The irrelevance feels tragic to me. It doesn’t matter that I don’t know how to make boza, or Bulgarian yogurt, or that I don’t bathe in mineral baths flowing from hot springs. It doesn’t even matter that Greece has more hot springs than Bulgaria, or that Romanian women are more beautiful. In a practical, daily way, it does not matter, because I don’t need any of that to survive in America. A few weeks into my trip, Grandma Choni and I traveled to the Black Sea coast to visit my grandmother’s friend, Ginka, and her daughter, Annie. Their house was nestled close to the sea, lush with plants that Ginka, a retired chemist, could not only name, but could list healing properties of each, like the anxiety-soothing qualities of lime flowers brewed as tea. She was also full of laughter and youth. She was in her seventies but still looked great in a bikini. As we walked the path to the sea, Ginka and Chona were discussing how to make rakiya, a 100 proof Bulgarian whisky. They described the massive copper kazans once steaming in the larger villages, where people could go with their plums and apricots and have it distilled, and the smaller kazans every family in the village had in their backyard. My grandmother said she’d heard on the internet one can find plastic whisky stills. I listened. I realized that Americans don’t know about this, and don’t care. Even many young Bulgarian people simply didn’t care that once there was copper, something better, stronger, more beautiful, and now there is plastic. I felt a sudden dearth of history, an erasure, and I became afraid of my own half-erased history. I felt the same way when we returned to Ginka’s house and she showed me her annotated books on the region’s herbs and their curative properties. I thought of how, in the wrong hands, the books would simply be thrown away. *** 72 | PHOEBE 48.1
As an immigrant, I am, by definition, out of place. I am Bulgarian, but when I go to Bulgaria, it takes only a few words for a stranger to understand I do not live there, that I am not a local. In fact, they understand more about me than I do about myself: they see that I am privileged; they believe I got lucky; my family took me to the promised land, and now I am an American. They assume I am wealthy. The average Bulgarian takes home five-hundred dollars per month; I am wealthy. When I was growing up in America, however, we were broke. Once, in an argument with my father when I was twelve, I used the p-word. Poor. He got upset and I felt afraid and ashamed, ashamed of being poor and ashamed that I had said what was so clear to me. He said we were broke, not poor. He said broke is temporary, but poor is a state of mind. Every time I leave Bulgaria I sigh with relief, ready to rest in my Americanness, until I land in America. In America, people call me exotic: Mexican, Persian, Native American. Once, at dinner, a waiter asked me if I was Amazonian. When I fill out a form in America, I exist in the gray area between being a person of color and, because I’m European, checking the box marked white. My nationality is misleading. I am only American when you come to know that I was born in Bulgaria; I am American only by virtue of the piece that is no longer there. My parents and I came to this country as refugees. After years and piles of paperwork, we received our blue, eagle-stamped passports. I became a white American. Of all my self-declarations, that was one I’d never thought to make. At twenty-four I spent the summer in Bulgaria after a year teaching English in Thailand. My first week back in Sofia, I met up with my uncle, my father’s brother, for coffee downtown. We walked down Vitoshka, a wide boulevard with the center of Sofia on one end and Mount Vitosha on the other. We entered the first floor of a large bookstore and sat at the café. It looked like any chain bookstore in America, but in Bulgaria, it was a sign of progress. We drank down our Turkish coffee. He leafed through books on homeopathic medicine, a hobby of his, while I waited in line for the bathroom. NONFICTION | 73
Two middle aged women struck up a conversation with me in Bulgarian. I was fluent, but I read slowly and my vocabulary wasn’t up to par. I also made the same grammatical errors over and over; I could sense that something was wrong but unable to remember how to say it right. The women asked me where I was from. “Az sam Bulgarka!” I said. I’m Bulgarian. I understood what they meant, and told them I had moved to America when I was three. “Ah, so you’re American,” one of them said. I felt aghast. How could she not recognize me as one of her own? I disagreed with her, then ignored them the rest of the time I was in the bookstore, simultaneously wanting to be as Bulgarian as they were, and wanting nothing to do with Bulgarians. By chance, a group of my parents’ friends from their past life found out I was in Sofia. They invited me to join them as a surprise orchestrated by two women, Monica and Bobbi. Monica was the connector. She was dynamic, gesturing with such force that her blonde hair flew away from her face with each sentence. She did not, however, remember whether or not, my grandfather had died, or where exactly we lived in America. But she served her purpose. The first time we had lunch, Bobbi reached across the table to take my hand. She corrected Monica on every point, filling in information that she could only have received firsthand. Bobbi’s eyes seemed to be in a perpetual state of shy surprise, especially as she cradled my hand in hers. She handed me a photograph as a gift. “This is very important to me,” she said, clutching the picture to her broad chest. “I want you to have it.” It is a photo of my mother and me at the beach in Primorsko. My mother’s face is turned toward me as I point to something beyond the camera. My straight black hair is pushed out of my face. I am wearing nothing, sitting on a towel amid picnic food. There is sand. My mother’s brown hair is pinned up, but a few curly strands cascade across her face. She is smiling. I smiled back at the photograph. And then I realized something new, something no one had 74 | PHOEBE 48.1
told me before. I look like my mother. Not sort of like her, rather, mostly like her. I took the photograph home, clutching it to my chest, and I brought it to my grandmother’s cabinet full of photo albums for further inspection. The smile, and the prominent chin, and the ample cheeks of course, but not only that. A certain softness in her eyes, especially in candid photos, and when she looked up, her whole face dropped and she looked like a child again. Had I spent my life imitating her smallest gesture, or could it be inherited? If it was inherited, what else was my face hiding, what was inside me, waiting to surprise me? The following week, Monica invited me to another lunch to surprise one more person, Alex. Alex appeared at the Turkish restaurant an hour late, arriving curly-haired, and in a breathless frenzy. Every tooth was showing in her smile and I liked her immediately. She looked at me, holding my gaze, yet putting me at ease. She looked down for a while. Monica asked if Alex knew who I might be, referring to me as a momitchentse, a little girl. Alex looked up again. She was crying. She said, Of course I know who she is—she has her mother’s smile. Bobbi served her purpose as well, rewriting history for me. She described my father as both funny, and as the greatest leader she’d ever met. She told me that the church fell apart after we left, she said they were all so young that they didn’t have a chance of building something that could last. She told me how much my mother loved me, how she couldn’t bear to have me out of her arms. She told me that my mother had an angelic spirit, an aura of purity around her, and she knew how to make someone feel better in the subtlest ways. My mother led the women’s ministry and focused on building a strong family. I told her I didn’t know the woman she was describing, but, privately, I treasured every word. I replaced the beatings, the screams, and the broken glass with this new woman. I replaced my mother with this new woman. My relationship with my parents’ old friends became agonizing for me. It was frozen in time. They remembered me as a toddler and could only bear to reminisce for so long, just as I could NONFICTION | 75
only be an object of wonder for so long. They wanted to see my father, to remember their days in ministry together, to ask him why he left and if he believed that going to America ruined his life. After our last lunch, I went home and Googled my dad’s name in Bulgarian. There were some forums covering Warriors of Christ. Most of it was gossip: the church’s cult status, my dad’s whereabouts, the way my mother was taken by the devil. Some of the forum participants called him strange, arrogant, selfish, a thief. Rumor had it they ran off to America with the church’s donation box and their three-year old daughter, knowing they would never return. *** At the end of that summer, my great-aunt Maria, my mother’s aunt, returned from visiting her son and his family in America. Grandma Choni and I took the metro to their apartment to visit them for coffee. When I walked, in her husband, Radoslav, scooped me up in a hug. I know my great-uncle Radoslav as Diado Saff, what I used to call him when I was little. He guided us into the living room while Maria, hands and feet twisted with arthritis, hobbled in and out of the kitchen with plates of food. He turned on an old cassette player and a Russian composer blasted through the speakers. His wispy white hair danced on his forehead as he pretended to conduct the orchestra. He kept his eyes scrunched as though winking with both eyes. When we sat down, I tried asking my grand-aunt questions about her trip, but Diado Saff kept muttering to himself, then moved from subject to subject, sweeping me with him to discuss topics from the Turkish war to ancient Bulgaria to American politics. My grandmother and her sister left to talk in the kitchen. When Maria reemerged from the kitchen, her arms were full with gifts from the trip. They were delights from a faraway world: microwave pockets for steaming potatoes, brownie mix, Jim Beam, and an ear of real Midwestern corn. We laughed as she set 76 | PHOEBE 48.1
the corn on the counter—there is plenty of corn in the region— next to the new tablet, a gift from Stefan, their quantum physicist son who was teaching at Brown University. I couldn’t help but wonder how he and his family had made it in America. Then my grand-aunt brought out one more gift for her husband. Diado Saff’s clubbed fingers fumbled with the tape. A cheery ah, as he unwrapped the gift. It was a miniature Statue of Liberty. I turned to ask my grand-aunt in Bulgarian, “Did you love New York?” but I heard a growl. At first it seemed like he was talking to himself, then to the statue. He got up and turned off the music. “Taking my grandchildren away…for what?” He barked at no one in particular. “And you,” he thrust the Statue of Liberty at my grand-aunt. “What did you give me this for?” He held it up to her face like a middle finger. He hates America, he said. He hates the country that has taken his loved ones away. He mocked the name in singsong: “America, America, gati ti America.” Screw you, America. Maria was silent. She stood up with the sugar bowl and returned it to the kitchen.
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ART GALLERY II
Gallery List MELINDA GIORDANO “Inside Outside” Pen and ink drawing using India ink and crowquill pen. page 81 ANA JOVANOVSKA “Plastic Photography 5” Conceptual photograph. page 82 ANA JOVANOVSKA “Plastic Photography 7” Conceptual photograph. page 83 RACHEL LINN “Secondhand” Ink, watercolor, and embroidery on coldpress paper. page 84 SHAHRYAR MEDI “MEVLANA” Calligraphy painted by painting knife; an embossed work. This painting shows a dimension of the manifestations of the thoughts of international poet Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Balkhī, famous to mevlana. page 85
Twenty-Six Words for Vulva:
A is for Aperture
Departure as a part of her
the door abjured
(The most jarring partâ€” how many holes, the human body: socket
Then she was a darkroom, spoke of depth of field and splay (close:
her screaming eye begging
through passage like a wound.
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Overlook Swans dislodge pounds of pondweed from sea beds. Everyone points at that tip-down they do. Men too hang over the sides of their boats: half-in, half-out, unsnagging catch from knotted nets. Above the feed and tangle, walled up to the rail, birders crowd in on me. A chorus that wonâ€™t stop saying what a treat this is. Get a little closer girl distinctly untaken by what plows around in the weed-choked water. Notice me remove my glove with the open fingertips. Toss it to sea. What assessment will be made of this new bird in the fat earth underwater where wood overhangs.
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Guess My Name This is my girly time! I was a boy for so long and now I’m taking it all off! I’m mooning Rumpelstiltskin. I’m weaving gold bars apart into spidersilk complete with real mechanical spiders. These are futures—these webs diverging. Some of them are coming, gushing out of holes I’ve made in my body just by looking too hard. I’m like the superhero. I want no face! I’m eagerly awaiting the whoosh. I love myself so much I’m like I’m in magic school. What am I terrified of? Ran San Fransisco in a day. My toes kiss the cold floor of my house. I’m freezing in here! There’s so much to be delivered. I’m the lovebot’s midwife. I’ll cut off my past. I’ll eats lots of purple ice cream. I’ll be as skinny as a fly. It will taste like orchids! I’ll fuck like an elephant! I’ll tongue every crack in the wall. I’ll take lots of trips down the quarry ravine. I’ll swim in the dust pools. I’ll eat raw perfume. Anything can happen!
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Appointment Enzymes and histamines at rest a lighthouse in the living room plaid couches and magazines no one would ever read I had mistaken a goat voice for a tropical bird thatâ€™s why I was here I waited under a tented light A celadon table lamp saying China Four photos each showing internal organs disguised as cypress swamp boat afloat tropical resort sunset in palms all framed in black as a warning In the future we will not have x-rays we will see through the body directly the moon will teach us how to cook in low gravity There will be no birds only memories I heard a toucan I was sure of it
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Nimbostratus You are sad for yourself. When one body blocks light, the movement of the second slows. It is the way of animals who rely on the sun to organize their time. What I am giving you is a commodity — or will be. It means I am still in love with you. It means I have no choice against what you release from billowing columns. The world is exhaust, which is what we’re doing to each other. Your dwellings fill with breath. Step outside to remember that singular smell — against asphalt, my collapsed body.
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The Stripe of Trees My feelings are beige. Awestruck coins of layered glamour. I’ve underproduced my life in a way I hope you can appreciate. I’ve created this series of misnomers for you. Pad of not, my ulterior neat. The air and not-air of it all. I like it best when we think of nothing. When knobs of bread freeze some youth. Here’s to one final drunk autumn and afterwards, the healing.
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Juice Moon How I fell all five eggs. Egg as years. Felt the hemisphere overturned, the blonde dog breaking in two. Whoâ€™s keeping you sharp? Not the garden gnomes. Bright terndermellons, lemon squares at your block eyes. Hens camp on the porch, our dearness hangs in the trees. I walked home and found you here. Part mine, sour phantom. Part something good. You gave me a handful of orange roses that laughed up at me. Our fertile method sprang at the night yard.
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[there is a man] there is a man vomiting in the cafe and he is smiling at me thanking me for being and I am being here right now and I wonder how long my body has been placeless
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Sonnet with Emergency Room and Skillet The three of us got back from the ER and popped corn. Your roommate had cut the bulb of her thumb, that most and least erotic zone. She was afraid that later that night you and I might fuck unless she went us one better, and it worked, and we cooked it in a cast-iron skillet—lots of butter. She’d used a fancy pair of poultry shears and flirted with the doc. What did she think we’d do behind the chipped paint of your door, witnessed only by your mute blue blanket? She didn’t want me, or you, but a third thing we didn’t have, though we smacked of it. No one is ever loved as they deserve.
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And when the last one falls, claim his hat, backpack, wallet. Claim the holy book scorched in his back pocket. Claim his blue jeans, shirt, the boots he wore for days, believing, even when his skin lost faith, quickly rotted, that his trek would soon end, and that where his face now melts would become, as if by fate, a stretch of highway, town, the edge of a parking lot where he and other men could wait, forget, as shadows of trucks serrate the pavement, the weight his feet felt, and how, when a man fell, heaved expired prayers on the ground, heâ€™d stop and kneel, accept, like you and all the rest, what the body was compelled to pass down.
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Landscape Where I Forget My Father The four corners of my eyeline are rich with distraction. An aquarium, a library, a fun park, a creek. In this scene, a shrike crosses the sky, spears a frog on some barb for later. He looks like a songbird but is known as a butcher. In the map-center, is a half-acre with dead dogwoods, a blue spruce, a fence built flush with another fence. The dogwood trees are so dried out that they fall
from just a push.
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The Windfarm We were sweeping the garage for tacks, odd scraps of shingling when she told me she’d still go to the zoning meetings if it didn’t cost a slashed tire every // fuckin // time. That garage was a barn, I think. Milorganite. Deer-corn. The slithering braille of birdshot beneath our steps. This, the truth of it, she said, & what beside it, & in the delta of a vacant palm offered me that ravaged past, half-life of car wrecks & Labor Days & godchildren gone in church-hall games of tag. Forty year neighbors, some of them. Now, the macheted politesse of severance. Now, the bitter hitching of porch clasps on a caravan of workers clearing land, distant truck-treads the mucked utterance of sellout. She does not ask me on whose side I’ve been standing, & I would not know. It has felt like a shittily-cut documentary since the fights began. Front-yard // backyard fictions. Wooden road signs stolen & burned & bought & burned again & what I think I am trying to say is : when the turbines went up, half the county suddenly cared for birds. 102 | PHOEBE 48.1
It was an awful thing, they said, this bird-strike, as if the death of birds had only now begun, & orioles hadnâ€™t always sung themselves into windows & electrical towers & the harbor-like stomachs of patient tabbies. I am held, at last, by knowing I will never live this again: a brawl for lake, water, for air, for cherries, & a clearer view, the somersault deduction of the dayglo banner that nearly annihilates meaning, demanding We Want Safe Setbacks. I tell her before I leave that I have listened for the sound the blades are said to make. What some say inspires tinnitus, nausea; rattles highways from their beds. Parked along the shoulder, I mark our vacancy over the peachless trees. How the wind pulls its own oar above the ridge of lights. Such certainty, this botching of the orchard stars.
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The best people to talk to about death are people in a Lenard Cohen song. Yesterday a poet said he’d gotten close to God lately. Who can blame him? On my way home today I realized I love my students more than I love my poems. My students are more fun because they don’t know I’m dying. My poems all know, even when I try to hide it from them. Thus: thus. Thus: thus. Yesterday my friend and I talked about being on balconies and bridges and feeling as if we will be thrown off or we will jump off by accident or something will cause us to leap. An odd sensation. Turns out I only have it when I’m suicidal, but my friend has it all the time. Meanwhile, I know someone right now who is threatening to shoot himself. I’m tired of guns. Death should be a peaceful thing, if possible. I talked to my doctor in Aurora about assisted suicide and she said it’s important to have your wits about you when you make your plan, gather your loved ones, take the medicine that will kill you. That way, when your last poem eases out of you and flies off into the world, you’ll be ready.
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Incest Sonnets 1 This is the first incest sonnet, not the one where the dad weds his daughter in some demented ploy of patriarchy. Not the brother swears it was consensual sonnet, although who can say what twisted the mind of the perpetrator before, during, after? We count on so little from the great divides of memory— who can recall the whys and wherefores? Not the one preyed upon, at least not in this case, which is one among millions. You don’t believe me? I don’t blame you. I don’t believe myself, after all. Who would want to annihilate a child? 2 In a few, maybe a hundred years, we will all have died and this madness will no longer exist. We evolve or yearn toward what we might call divine POETRY | 105
or what we might call providential or a love that keeps its faithful tollâ€” the clock of the entire universe. My sister opens the book I send her in the second sonnet. Her heart freezes at the introduction. Go slow, I text her, my sister, my sister. So much can change in an afternoon. Oh, in a split second thereâ€™s one slice of light, and the body opens the mind to the unthinkable. 3 A swan is shot by a man with a rifle that grows from his hand like a ray of light. A pigeon totters on a broken leg toward five lanes of oncoming traffic. A baby sparrow falls into my lap and dies on the Upper Westside. I place a robin in a box and race it to the wildlife center in Albuquerque. Thousands of redwinged blackbirds fall lifeless from the Chicagoland sky. This is the third sonnet. (Not the last.) A barn swallow swoops low and peaceful over Highway 18 in Pine Ridge, SD. I find it dead in the grill of my car. 106 | PHOEBE 48.1
Leap In every womb there is a baby. In every baby, a womb. In every stone there is a stone. In every stone, a stone. On every bridge there is a jumper. In every jumper, a word. When words fail to come for a season—seasons stretching into seasons—there is no choice but to look away from the baby, the stone, the bridge with its suicidal poems. Language stops its pandering. Silence arrives in a cab, pays its fare, and rings the bell. In every womb there is a baby. This is not true. There is no baby. There is only a stone. You can lift the stone and throw it in the river that flows beneath the bridge. Do not follow the stone in. Leap in another direction. Yesterday I wrote a song in C Major and played it, as if I’d never heard it before.
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How to deal with your first death Find the only climbable tree on your property Recall the book of the greedy boy who took from the tree until she was naked alive without a head Decide to undue
the narrative gift by gift Someone has told you that anything which gives is female Anything pillaged too That gutted cabin had at least a stove its mouth slack tongue raisined with rat turds a wooden-handled pot on the back burner That was just yesterday and tomorrow a slab From the tallest branch you can see your one neighbor raking pig shit from the wire pen his splitting maul half buried in dirt Wonder how many times any of us will walk the rutted road Now focus See these holes? The sapsucker is spreading his skull-rattling news a thousand strikes per word Hang crushed beer cans in her branches 108 | PHOEBE 48.1
Try to finish the sentence Woman before you were a tree Swaying can-light in the evening will remind you of a sudden scent of blood Wince
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to the window
after Melanie Noel
Window, I said, I can see you in my mind as well as ever. And I believe this glass was already in me, and the light was going back to the place it began; the light was always a function of the mythmaking. I was just trying to get to you. And you said you were already there and would I be there around five, with the sun? Of course I will, of course I want to know how you’re going to do that again— that thickening thing, I said, the thing where you let the world take over for a moment. As glass—you know. You know what I mean when I say yes to the same thing, to the same thing over and over again, so deep down the hill of it runs out and we are stuck at the bottom of the world, of course, with our hands of light, our hands of light like a good day gone and yes. I’ll let you do it again.
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Your dream of lions One day, the lions come back. The air in your August kitchen thick as a bruise. Now the rot creeps up the seams of the onions, now the moths try the linen tablecloth you have finally dared to smooth and lay. For years, youâ€™d won. For years, stitched the hours closed over the terrible ends of the day. Now, seconds eat themselves into fat threads, now time burrows into your open, hoping palms. Somewhere you parents plant peas and beets in their rocky garden. Old wood keens on the fire pile, and bitter snakes show themselves, sleep on flagstone, and fatten. Now at last there is time: for milk and flies, for compost. Even the lions are changed. They gather at the winter gates, crunch the beets your mother tosses like icicles, like hearts.
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woman house when i realized my art would still exist even if no one liked me, i sank ankle-deep. i felt another atmosphere atop my feet bare beneath the boards and then i feel another floor until i was a corporeal braid alone on the oaken floor. A voice disembodies as soon as it speaks, i mean sound has no gender but when i am touched in the invisible place all the air around me exists right before the moan; prearticulate as a fingertip on the uvula of an old bell. Blood amplified; the technology of the seashell injecting the heart ‘s beat back into the earshell. i can already hear what i will sound like in the future. i already know i’m going to echo. i point my toes like a ballerina made of dust dancing on dust. vince, i do not worry how much i whirl or shriek. i’m already here. i opened my mouth and out came the house.
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Juniper Questions How the word sounds like universe and why two shrubs cut down decades ago persist in the mindscape, prickly heaps between driveway and perennial bed, two bluegreen castles shadowing the peony, branches drooping, resinous brooms, drapes hiding backyard rabbits, roses, trees and the Pumpkin Man leaned up against the wild cherry between the house and creek. We built him every year using the same old blue clothes stuffed with new fallen leaves, lit his skull that grinned into the night. Between us and the creek, the trees along it we called woods but after leaves fell we could glimpse the lit windows of country houses through them.
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Again the Mockingbird riffing on local bird themes, wind chimes, cars rounding the corner, each bit repeated twice like wise thrush then tweaked and turned into the next one, slide lilt twice, ripple and shave note and then another, mocking bird gets around to everything again.
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KAMAL E. KIMBALL
Who Gave Them Bones What does it mean when the word for a thing is the same word for its disappearing? While the gumbo simmers, bone the meat I am that wishbone on the windowsill, when dry I split like legs. Another meaning of bone is to fuck. And they call the thing they fuck with a bone, too. What does it mean when you name the act of love after your appendage? I am renaming Justice pussy. Truth uterus. I free the bones of men, incise the malleus, incus, the stapes from their ears, place them on my tongue like pills and clack my teeth so loud any man could hear it in his marrow. The sound of bone going home, going down my throat. They forget it means who gave them bones can take them back.
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Contributors KAREN BOISSONNEAULT-GAUTHIER is a visual artist, writer, and cover artist for Wild Musette, Existere Journal of Art and Literature, Vine Leaves Literary Journal, Gigantic Sequins and Ottawa Arts Journal, to name a few. She’s been featured in WebSafe2k16, Scarborough Big Arts Book, Five Two One Magazine, Long Exposure, The Lunch Ticket, SmokeLong Quarterly, Telepoem Booth, Dek Unu, and Ottawa’s A Caged Mind. Recently, Karen’s short story “Toast Crumbs” was performed in London and Cork’s, 2018 Solstice Shorts Festival for Arts Council England’s National Short Story Day. Karen also designs for ShopVIDA, supporting ‘Literacy for Life’. Visit www.kcbgphoto.com and @KBG_Tweets for more. ELLIE BOZMAROVA was born in Sofia, Bulgaria. Her work has appeared in TIMBER, FlyPaper Magazine, Humanities Fund, and Cal Literary Arts Magazine. She is an editorial intern at McSweeney’s and is working on an MFA in Creative Nonfiction at Goucher College. LATON CARTER’s Leaving (University of Chicago) received the Oregon Book Award. His poems recently appear or are forthcoming in Iron Horse Literary Review, Jet Fuel Review, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, and Shift: A Journal of Literary Oddities. Laton teaches in the BFA program at Portland State University. LILA CHERNEFF is a freelance writer in Providence, Rhode Island, where they currently attend Brown University as a nontraditional student in the RUE program. Prior to enrolling in college, Lila worked as a dairy farmhand, a butcher’s assistant, and a public radio producer. Lila’s written and audio work has been featured by narrative.ly, 99% Invisible, and Autostraddle. MEREDITH CLARK is a poet and writer whose work has received Black Warrior Review’s Contest in Nonfiction. Her poetry has been 116 | PHOEBE 48.1
published in Poetry Northwest and The Dusie Kollektiv, and she has been named a finalist for both the 2017 Tarpaulin Sky Book Prize and the 2017 Noemi Press Book Award. AISHA DOWN is a journalist at the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, and has previously been a reporter at The Cambodia Daily. She has published translations of poems and stories by Tararith Kho in The St. Petersburg Review and Asia Magazine. LESLEY FINN was born and raised in Baltimore, and currently lives near New Haven. She holds an MFA from the University of British Columbia at Vancouver and was a 2018 Artist-in-Residence at the Audubon Trail Wood Sanctuary in Connecticut. Her writing has appeared in Litro UK, She Said Notes, Prism International, and Hallowzeen. MELINDA GIORDANO is a native of Los Angeles, California. Her artwork has appeared in magazines such as Pearl, Amelia, New Renaissance, The Altadena Review, Stone Country, The Bellowing Ark, Cactus Heart Press, Written River, and The Sonder Review. Her work has recently been included in the Pen & Ink exhibit at The Union Street Gallery. She values the architectural properties of the small things—plants and shells: subjects as vast and complex as any cityscape or countryside. They are the loveliest of blueprints. AMANDA GOMEZ teaches at Texas State University where she also serves as Faculty Advisor of Porter House Review, the university’s graduate literary journal. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Gulf Coast, Crab Orchard Review, The Common, and Word Riot. CAROLYN GUINZIO’s sixth book is, How Much Of What Falls Will Be Left When It Gets To The Ground? (Tolsun, 2018). She is also the author of Spoke & Dark, (Red Hen, 2012), which was awarded To The Lighthouse/A Room Of Her Own Prize; Ozark Crows (Spuyten-Duyvil, 2018); and three other collections. Guinzio’s writing or visual work has appeared in The New Yorker, Agni, Beloit Poetry Journal, Bomb, December, Harvard Review, New American Writing. CONTRIBUTORS | 117
Phoebe, Vassar Review, and many other journals. Her website is carolynguinzio.tumblr.com. L.I. HENLEY was born and raised in the Mojave Desert town of Joshua Tree, California. Her second full-length collection, Starshine Road, won the 2017 Perugia Press Prize. She is the recipient of The Academy of American Poets University Award, The Duckabush Prize in Poetry chosen by Lia Purpura, and two prizes through The Poet’s Billow. You can find some of her poems at Glass, Rhino, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Rust + Moth, River Styx, DIAGRAM, Waxwing, and Entropy. Her newest poetry collection, Whole Night Through, will be available in October of 2019 from What Books Press of Santa Monica. She edits the online literary and art journal, Aperçus. AUBREY HIRSCH is the author of Why We Never Talk About Sugar, a short story collection. Her stories, essays, and comics have appeared in The New York Times, The Nib, Black Warrior Review, American Short Fiction, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. You can learn more about her at aubreyhirsch.com or follow her on Twitter: @aubreyhirsch. ANA JOVANOVSKA was born in 1991 in Macedonia. She received her master’s degree in Printmaking from the Faculty of Fine Arts— University Ss. Cyril and Methodius, Skopje in 2016. Upon receiving a scholarship, she spent a semester attending École supérieure d’arts & médias de Caen/Cherbourg in France. She has had ten solo shows and over 90 group exhibitions around the world. She currently works as an artist and a graphic designer. KAMAL E. KIMBALL is an Ohio poet whose work has been published in Hobart, Rattle, Forklift Ohio, Sundog Lit, Bone Parade, and elsewhere. A reader for Muzzle Magazine and Associate Poetry Editor for The Journal, she is currently an MFA candidate at The Ohio State University. More at kamalkimball.com. JESSICA KINNISON’s stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Juked, Fiction Southeast, Entropy, and Southern Humanities Review, among others. She was a Kenyon Review Peter Taylor Fellow in 118 | PHOEBE 48.1
2018. Her story “Bone on Bone” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2012. She serves as Director of Programs at Project Lazarus, a nonprofit housing facility for people living with HIV/ AIDS. She currently teaches creative writing in the New Orleans Writers Workshop and co-produces the Dogfish Reading Series in New Orleans, Louisiana. KIMBERLY LAMBRIGHT’s debut collection, Ultra-Cabin, won the 42 Miles Press Poetry Award and was published in 2016. Lambright has been awarded fellowships to the MacDowell Colony and Sou’wester Arts Colony. Her poems appear in the Columbia Poetry Review, ZYZZYVA, Sink Review, Bone Bouquet, The Boiler, Wicked Alice, Big Bridge, Little Patuxent Review, Texas Poetry Calendar, Not Very Quiet, and The Burnside Review. She lives in Brooklyn. KAYLA LIGHTNER is a Georgia native, podcast junkie, lover of horror, and leftie. Recently graduated from Vassar College with a B.A. in English, she now works at a literary agency in Manhattan where she gets to indulge in her love of books and creative writing. When Kayla isn’t writing (and consequently berating herself for not writing), she can be found at the Strand Bookstore on East 12th and Broadway, searching for the latest addition to her swelling collection of dystopic novels. Some of her literary idols include Toni Morrison (of course), Zadie Smith, Victor Lavalle, and Nalo Hopkinson. RACHEL LINN holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Washington, where she received the Eugene Van Buren Prize for her thesis project. Her writing and illustrations have appeared or are forthcoming in the St. Louis Arts in Transit Metrolines & Metroscapes programs, Rivet, Storm Cellar, Coachella, Pacifica, and elsewhere. She is a recent recipient of a St. Louis Regional Arts Commission artist support grant and is helping plan the 2019 St. Louis Small Press Expo. JENNIE MALBOEUF’s work is found in the Virginia Quarterly Review, Oxford Poetry, The Hollins Critic, AGNI, FIELD, Prairie Schooner, Epoch, Image, New American Writing, Best New Poets 2016, CONTRIBUTORS | 119
Poetry Northwest, Hunger Mountain, Sugar House Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, New South (nominated for a Pushcart for 2019), Alaska Quarterly Review, Barrow Street, Poetry Ireland, North American Review, The Collagist, The Journal, Third Coast, Memorious, The Moth, ZYZZYVA, and elsewhere. MAC McCASKILL is a law school graduate, former US Army bomb disposal tech, and has been an FBI Special Agent for twenty years. His work can be found in Carve Magazine, West Trade Review, The MacGuffin, and Slush Pile Magazine, among others. He was shortlisted for The Fiction Desk’s 2017 Newcomer Prize, and he’s finished his first novel. SHAHRYAR MEDI was born in 1980 and graduated from the University of Tehran with a major in Human Geography. But he always was interested in the arts, especially in fine arts and literature. Shahryar is a painter without master, but has had a lot of practical exercises and background studies. He paints by knife painting with the philosophy that it may be difficult to undo all the layers of perception that have formed on the mind. His work is a paradoxical art between objective fact and realistic subjective. He expresses this paradox via composition and texture and form. Shahryar’s technique is abstract, but his style is not simply abstract. In fact he also uses objective elements in his work. He tries to reach into his conceptual mind by creating an experience between the abstract and the objective. RAINIE OET is a nonbinary writer. Their most recent chapbook is No Mark Spiral (CutBank Books, 2018). Their work appears in Yale Review, jubilat, The Adroit Journal, Colorado Review, and Poetry Review, among other publications. They are an MFA candidate in Poetry at Syracuse University, where they were awarded the Shirley Jackson Prize in Fiction. Say hi at rainieoet.com! ALLAN PETERSON is the author of five books, most recently Other Than They Seem (Tupelo) and Precarious (42 Miles Press). “His Fragile Acts” (McSweeney’s), was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. This Luminous: New and Selected Poems, is 120 | PHOEBE 48.1
forthcoming in early 2019. He lives in Florida and Oregon. ESTEBAN RODRÍGUEZ is the author of Dusk & Dust (Hub City Press, 2019). His poetry has appeared in The Gettysburg Review, New England Review, Washington Square Review, and Puerto del Sol, with new poems forthcoming in TriQuarterly, Blackbox Manifold, and Southwestern American Literature. He currently lives with his family and teaches in Austin, Texas. LAURA ROMEYN was born and raised in western Wisconsin. A former Wallace Stegner Fellow in Poetry at Stanford University (20152017), her poems have appeared in AGNI, Black Warrior Review, Crazyhorse, Ninth Letter, and The Yale Review, among other journals. She currently lives and teaches in the San Francisco Bay Area. MAUREEN SEATON has authored twenty poetry collections, both solo and collaborative, most recently, FISHER (Black Lawrence, ’18). Her awards include the Iowa Poetry Prize and the Lambda Literary Award, an NEA fellowship and the Pushcart. Her memoir, SEX TALKS TO GIRLS (U. of Wisconsin Press), also garnered a “Lammy” and was reprinted in paperback, June, 2018. Seaton is Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Miami, Florida. BILLIE R. TADROS is the author of two books of poems, The Tree We Planted and Buried You In (Otis Books, 2018) and Was Body (forthcoming from Indolent Books). She is also the author of three chapbooks, Containers (Dancing Girl Press, 2014), inter: burial places (Porkbelly Press, 2016), and Am/Are I (forthcoming from Francis House). Her work has appeared or will appear in Black Warrior Review, The Boiler, Bone Bouquet, The Collapsar, Crab Fat Magazine, Entropy, Fairy Tale Review, Gigantic Sequins, Horse Less Review, Lavender Review, Kindred, Menacing Hedge, r.kv.r.y., Tupelo Quarterly, Wicked Alice, Word Riot, and others. You can find her at: www.BillieRTadros. com and on Twitter at @BillieRTadros. ERIN TAYLOR is an American writer based in Brooklyn. Her favorite place to cry is Ronald McNair Park in Crown Heights. Her work CONTRIBUTORS | 121
can be found online at erintaylorisalive.com and she tweets @erinisaway. ROBERT THOMAS’s most recent book, Bridge, was a lyrical novella published by BOA Editions and received the 2015 PEN Center USA Literary Award for Fiction. His first book, Door to Door, was selected by Yusef Komunyakaa for the Poets Out Loud Prize and published by Fordham University. His second collection, Dragging the Lake, was published by Carnegie Mellon. Robert has received a poetry fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and a Pushcart Prize. His poems have appeared in Field, The Iowa Review, New England Review, The Southern Review, The Yale Review, and many other journals. BILL WOLAK has just published his fifteenth book of poetry entitled The Nakedness Defense with Ekstasis Editions. His collages have appeared recently in Naked in New Hope 2017, The 2017 Seattle Erotic Art Festival, Poetic Illusion, The Riverside Gallery, Hackensack, NJ, the 2018 Dirty Show in Detroit, 2018 The Rochester Erotic Arts Festival, and The 2018 Montreal Erotic Art Festival. CANDICE WUEHLE is the author of the full length collection, BOUND (Inside the Castle Press, 2018) as well as the chapbooks VIBE CHECK (Garden Door Press, 2017), curse words: a guide in 19 steps for aspiring transmographs (Dancing Girl Press, 2014) and EARTH*AIR*FIRE*WATER*ÆTHER (Grey Books Press, 2015). Her work can be found in Tarpaulin Sky, The Volta, The Colorado Review, SPORK, The New Orleans Review, and Prelude, among others. She is originally from Iowa City, Iowa, and is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Candice currently resides in Lawrence, Kansas, where she is a Chancellor’s Fellow at The University of Kansas. Find her at candicewuehle.com CONNOR YECK’s poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Best New Poets, Columbia Journal, JuxtaProse, Southern Poetry Review,The Southampton Review: Online, and Crab Orchard Review, for which he received the Allison Joseph Poetry Prize. An MFA candidate at 122 | PHOEBE 48.1
Western Michigan University, he currently works for New Issues Poetry and Prose, and is upcoming Poetry Editor at Third Coast. MARGARET YOUNG’s poetry collections are Willow from the Willow (Cleveland State U. Poetry Center, 2002), Almond Town (Bright Hill Press, 2011), and Blight Summer (Finishing Line Press, 2017). She has also published translations of Sergio Inestrosa’s Espacio Improbable de un Haikú and Luna que no cesa and a translation of Luna que no cesa is due out in fall ‘18. Young is on the faculty of the Global Center for Advanced Studies and lives in Beverly, Massachusetts.
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Fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, and art selected for phoebe's Winter 2019 issue.