VOLUME 48 | ISSUE No. 2 | Spring 2019
Phoebe (Vol. 48, Issue No. 2) 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, nonfiction, and visual art 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.
Phoebe 48.2 is dedicated to this year’s
Spring Contest Judges
RACHEL Z. ARNDT-- author of the essay collection Beyond Measure (Sarabande, 2018).
JON PINEDA-author of the poetry collections Birthmark (2004), The Translator’s Diary (2008), and Little Anodynes (2015); the memoir Sleep in Me (2010); and novels Apology (2013) and Let’s No One Get Hurt (2018).
JOS CHARLES-author of the poetry collections Safe Space (Ahsahta Press, 2016) and feeld (Milkweed Editions, 2018), which was a finalist for the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in poetry.
Cover Art by JEAN WOLFF “Plaid Painting” Colored Pencil on Rice Paper on Canvas 14 x 14” 2018 Design and Composition: E. Rhodes Thompson Phoebe is indexed in Humanities International Complete. © 2019 phoebe firstname.lastname@example.org www.phoebejournal.com
phoebe EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Kate Branca ASSISTANT EDITOR Rachel Purdy FICTION EDITOR ASSISTANT FICTION EDITOR Michelle Orabona Lindley Estes NONFICTION EDITOR ASSISTANT NONFICTION EDITOR Kyle Franรงois Abi Newhouse ART EDITOR ASSISTANT ART EDITOR Kate Branca Rachel Purdy POETRY EDITOR ASSISTANT POETRY EDITORS Andrew Art Blake Wallin & Millie Tullis WEB EDITOR SOCIAL MEDIA MANAGER Jenna Kahn Millie Tullis FACULTY ADVISOR Jason Hartsel READERS Julie Iannone Ana Pugatch Kyra Kondis Joshua Sackett Su-Ah Lee Soshinie Singh Isaac Lewandowski Grace Taber Janice Majewski Sean van der Heijden Joseph Massa Melissa Wade Chris McGlone Blake Wallin Carol Mitchell Mary Winsor Martin Mitchell 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. 2 | Spring 2019
Zach Barnes Stephanie Buckley Shane Chergosky Rose Chrisman Mansoor Faqiri Madison Gaines Laura Handley Shaun Holloway
TABLE OF CONTENTS FICTION
TYLER BARTON CHRISTIAN WINN
The Haunting of Ill House
ART 68 69
Blue Fold White/BlueLines Plaid Painting 5
Play, in Progress
JANE AKWELEY ODARTEY
Akutu LX, 2018
POETRY 76 78 79
Monkey Treachery Epiphyte Mrs. Wrightâ€™s Dream
Vorhandenheit Aftermath of a Picnic
Alabama, I Knew
Where There is Air
The Skyway Palimpsest
Iâ€™d like to have an empty cupboard Reasons I Am Not An Octopus
from Dear Wallace
Refusal to see the rotting kitchen floor
i began to love u when you failed to respond to my will
AUMAINE ROSE GRUICH
The Question of the Importance of Image
The Idler CONTEST WINNER South Dakota stretches out like a cold, brown, made bed. It’s been two years, but I still can’t find comfort here. And no, I haven’t seen the state’s more alien places—those Badlands, Black Hills, all crag and moonscape. Mainly I’ve stayed here, in Pierre. Whose fault? I won’t point fingers. Going places makes me nervous. I don’t claim to be made for better things, but I can’t help talking a little shit on Pierre. My fiancé will sigh, Did we not make this decision together? It’s pronounced Peer, like staring, but I prefer to say it French. Sometimes, when I make it to one of his humanities department parties, I’ll even roll the double “r.” I’ll even spit a little. ______ The idler returns during our quiet fight about the future. I’m playing a cell phone game with the sound loud, a swiper called TAGASSASSIN where you slice the tags that jut up from people’s shirt collars. It’s very trying, this game. Many necks bleed. It’s ten at night, December—a dirty, crisp winter. Earphones in, my fiancé reads for his thesis, which was due last month. Move out by Christmas was the plan, but now we’ll be here through May. I have not yet told Dad. I wait, slice tags. The dog whines. The idler idles. The idler’s been outside our apartment nearly every night since November. What idles is a fatass, cobalt F-250. I think the word for it is lifted. Exhaust pumps out via chrome pipes that jut up like devil horns. A rear window decal reads, This TRUCK is an Answered Prayer. Around eight its engine fires, but it goes nowhere, just sits still in the frost, releasing white exhaust, the rattle of its idle seeping through the carpet. I mean, you can literally feel it in your feet. I pinch the dog’s pink rubber chicken from under the FICTION | 9
couch and whip it in the direction of the kitchen, which, yes, is in the direction of my fiancé’s head. It soars. The dog scrambles. “Your aim’s way off,” he says, one earphone popped out. His thesis is about how no one knows anymore what the divine is. And when he started it, two years ago, he was a hard, true non-believer. An atheist with a grudge, and sideburns, like the men in cop dramas. He had that hot confidence only a 22-yearold can love. People praying, the pledge of allegiance, mangers— these things grated him. He faulted religion for all the world’s ills, and in a rush to become the Dick Dawkins of his generation, we whirlwinded out here from Santa Rosa on his first and only offer. But now, he’s read so damn much about holiness, ritual, and deep breathing that God enters our talks as often as the dog. It’s all we discuss: the dog, the frequency/shape of the dog’s shits in freezing temps, and God. Or—he talks. I nod. I proof his pages. I do dishes. Listen, it’s not like he’s Christian. Not even Universalist, yet. We don’t do church, but his eyes fix on the stained glass anytime we pass one of the twenty in town. It’s all theory at this point, but it scares me—how a place plus enough time can morph a person wholly. I chuck the chicken again, and it nips his bald spot. Okay, I know I’m more creative than this. My first and only prof—Photography 1 at Napa Valley College—said I had, a wild eye for detail, but no focus. To think I told Dad I’d be out here taking photos. Photos of? Ice? Trucks? “The idler’s set a record,” I say now to my fiancé. “Two hours straight.” He says: nothing. Recently he said this thing while I cooked our quinoa: Man is his God. Meaning, I think, that whatever strikes in us a divine mood—say, the dog’s tongue between your toes—those moments are the foundation of one’s true, unmalleable self. Or maybe it means nothing. Maybe he still believes that because he’s eight years older, everything he says sounds prophetic to my ears. Maybe it did, once. Point is, I should find something new to do—I stew, I swipe, I smoke, I work at Triple Thrift. My Nikon gathers dust above the fridge. Maybe woman is her boredom. “Did you hear me?” I say. “I’m concentrating,” he says, earphones back in, eyes glued to the Mac’s holy glow. 10| PHOEBE 48.2
At first, the idler was a blessing. What a thrill it is to have a new topic. Together we’d bitch, theorize, and rail against the idler. What’s the point of sitting in a truck? Is he selling drugs? Global warming, hello? That’s bad for the engine, right? With a subject to re-unite us, we were snappy, buzzing, fun. Motherfucking idler. But tonight solidifies the truth. We’ve gotten to that inevitable point: the idling isn’t interesting. We no longer ask the rhetoricals. We don’t sing the word “idle” to the tune of pop hits. It’s been weeks since we’ve gotten on our knees at the front window to spy clues, watch the white exhaust slip through the frost. We don’t escape to bed together and hide from the sound under the covers, don’t wrestle ourselves into a kind of 69 until our hairy legs muff each other’s ears. We no longer fuck above the growl of the idle. The dog grumbles, impersonating the truck. My fiancé opens a book. It is winter. It is dry, but the engagement ring feels tight around my finger. I slice a tag, make a gash in the nape of an old hag’s neck. My phone battery hits 10%. I don’t care if it’s cliché to be homesick for the Pacific. I miss seeing people barefoot. I’d kiss—no, I’d lick—a rock outcropping at Gualala. I haven’t left our place much since my Pap died last winter. He’d lived in my father’s house for twelve years. At the funeral I promised Dad (an addicted, hippy widower) that we’d be back in Cali soon. I tucked his drunk-ass into bed that night, and we shook hands like a deal. “I want to leave,” I say, though I’m not sure my voice carries above the idle’s murmur. “Huh?” he says. “I thought every time you leave the house you get sick?” “That’s not what I—” but the idler does this thing where he must be juicing the gas. The sound of the idle surges in waves. The warm floor beneath me swells. I’d hold my breath for a month under ocean water. I would. I want to tell my fiancé this, but the idle, the idle is scream, and I can’t take it anymore, can’t hear myself think. So instead what I do is I put on my boots. I put on my biggest, darkest coat. ______
FICTION | 11
From our driveway, the sheer size of the country seems to rise up and flash me. Hulking, huge, it lays bare its breast, as if taunting: Stab here. Hit heart and anywhere blood runs, you can go. This is what we fight about, because now he might stay on for a teaching certificate, might adjunct here next fall. He’s not sure, doesn’t want to talk about summer. He only wants to talk about now. This very moment. As if now is enough. I want answers; he wants us to meditate. There’s nothing exactly wrong with this place: it’s our building, and behind that is a shuttered Dairy Queen and a beaming gas station called Kwik Stuff. Pierre has 11,000 people but feels like four. The air is brittle. I step through snow littered with dogshit and cig-butts, to the idler. With my ungloved knuckle I tap the frozen window. The truck’s engine surges, but the wheels don’t spin. I breathe into my red, raw hands and wait. Okay, so he can idle. And I can play chicken. I’ll stand here until the tank’s out of gas. I’ll drink snow, live off grass. In the distance, I hear a voice crackle through a speaker. A streetlight dies, flickers, holds. I knock again, and the window slides down at a crawl. I can see someone with long blond hair leaning across the cab toward me. She’s cranking the window down, manually. Woman is her hands. “Help you?” she says, the window now half-mast. It’s dark inside the cab—a glowing green stereo the only light. Faintly, I hear a pop song about the answer to all questions being No. “You’re idling out here,” I say. “You’re observant out here,” she says. It’s unnerving that I can’t make out her face. Mine I’ll bet shines in the street light beside me. I wonder what that picture looks like. “I live here,” I say. “And the idle, you know, we can hear it clearly.” “A warm noise,” she says. “Don’t it sound like a soup on boil?”
12| PHOEBE 48.2
It does. And there’s ice forming on the fine but not unnoticeable hairs of my upper lip. “Why is it you’re always out here,” I say, “idling?” “Waiting for the storm to pass,” she says, pointing to a house downstreet. “Listen.” She kills the engine. First I find a fading voice on the Kwik Stuff loudspeaker, a cashier yelling, Go ahead pump 3! Pump it up! Then, it’s the rattle of traffic over the Missouri River. Finally, I hear yelling. I see lights in what must be her house flipping on and off, flares flashing bright like a brain hooked up to a computer and you’re watching it think, or sleep. “Why don’t you leave?” I say. “Go somewhere.” “Here works. Plus, who’s got gas money?” The wind blows into my ear. I shift weight to feel my toes. “So, you just gonna stand there and freeze?” she says. “It’s unlocked.” I sense a face in the window behind me, watching as I climb into shotgun. The song plays, and I sit, idle. I wonder how I’m here. And why. I feel anxious, like I might puke. Then I look— the face in the window is the dog’s. All that snout fog. It doesn’t show, but she’s an ancient, regal breed, companion of choice for Egyptian queens. “I got gas money,” I say, reaching for my wallet. “Gin money, too.” ______ On the thirty-second drive from our block to the Kwik Stuff, I learn her name—“Kareen, like when the car goes off the cliff”—and, thanks to the glare of the red-light on her crow’s feet, I learn that she might be fifteen, twenty years my senior. The last time I went out, over a month ago now, I left the grad student soiree halfway through, took our Civic home alone, my coat covering the passenger seat like a tarp for my climbing vomit. I don’t know what it is, this dizziness that’s been hitting me each time I leave the house. Triple Thrift has no health plan. But here, with the idler, I feel strangely fine, even hungry. “What’s your name mean?” I ask. “Like, how’d you get it?” FICTION | 13
“Oh no,” she says. “You don’t get off on talking about the past do you?” Half the U is out on the sign, so it looks like Kwik Stiff. We pull up to a pump where a taped paper sign says No CARDS, but then the next pump says, Not HERE either, so we hop out of the truck. “You ever meet the kid in here?” Kareen says as we approach the shop, and for some reason I look to see if she’s pointing at her torso. The child inside. ______ But I remember him as soon as we enter the store. “Ladies!” he says, holding a spent lotto card. “Did I just win the frickin’ jackpot?” Julio is five foot nothing with a smooth, greasy face and exhausted eyes. You could guess him anywhere between age 16 and 36. The southern accent might be affected. He’s the night manager, which on a Tuesday means he’s the only one in the store, and he just has a blast. You have to love that, and I do, somewhere, but it’s this thing that happens even with my happy lady co-workers—their snappy energy seems to sap mine. It feels like a challenge, a taunt, a brag. “Anything at all,” he says as Kareen picks an aisle. “My employee discount is yours.” Once, in my fiancé’s first semester here, I came to the Kwik Stuff stinking of reefer to raid the taquito rollers. Julio was behind the register dribbling a basketball painted to look like Earth. At the checkout he took the bag full of scabby taco-hotdogs from my hand, leaned across the counter, and whispered, “Ma’am, if you wait here six minutes, I’ll make you four of these fresh.” He gave me a chair. We talked about our favorite highways. He asked if I had seen him in the local Kwik Stuff commercial, said he hates the idea of Hollywood but he’s saving up anyway. At the counter now, I tell him to give me twenty on Pump Three. He salutes me, rounds the counter, pushes out the doors, jogs over to the pumps, drops down on the ground bright with frost, and starts doing push-ups. His breath against the concrete makes a cloud around his head. After Kareen quits laughing, it 14| PHOEBE 48.2
gets quiet. You can hear him out there, counting each one out. She reaches over the counter, steers the bendy mic toward her face and says, “Enough already, Jules. We got drunk to go get.” When he comes back through the door, panting and smiling like a dog, we clap. He rings up Kareen’s Doritos and my pack of gum, puts the money on the pump. “Your name tag’s spelled wrong,” I tell him, maybe rubbing it in. “It says ‘manger.’” “That’s because I’m the manger,” Julio says. He frowns when I don’t laugh. Kareen leans forward. “That mean you have a baby inside you?” Their laughter is stupid loud. I wish she wouldn’t, but Kareen tells Julio to meet us at Skiv’s when he’s off. He gives two thumbs up. We leave with the bell above the door jingling. In the parking lot, I turn back to our apartment’s kitchen window, which you can see above the Kwik Stuff roof. My fiancé washes a dish, his eyes sinkward, lips moving like he’s singing, praying, or maybe cursing my name. “Why’d you get so much gas?” Kareen says, climbing into shotgun. “Skiv’s is a mile.” She’s left the keys on the hood, for me. ______ “I’m just talking about a feeling,” I say, driving slow, taking great care not to let the truck stall. “Yeah, but in between your toes?” You can tell Kareen has a real knack for laughter. The drive to Skiv’s Bar & Off Sale is quick. Behind the wheel, I take it in. Dad taught me to drive stick when I was fifteen so I could be his and Pap’s ride home from the Legion. Pap—my mother’s dad—moved in with us after she passed in ‘04. He and Dad were like shitty big brothers through my adolescence, chock full of advice and bluster, but with zero will to cook or clean the house. I kept order. I drove them home to pristine beds, sheets tucked tight so no one would roll off to the floor. I wonder who does this for Dad now, or does he have a bed at the bar? FICTION | 15
On Sioux Avenue we pass a man in a snowsuit with a trash bag slung over his shoulder. “I didn’t know a town this small could have homeless,” I say. “Oh, yeah,” Kareen says. “Everywhere.” In the side mirror we get a look at how big and grey and frostbitten his beard is, and he looks just like my Pap. It’s a red light, so I pull out my phone. I ignore the missed calls, open the camera. The last pic on here is from months ago, my fiancé holding a journal he had a paper in. I’d sent it to Dad, no reply. Turns out, the blurry photo I take of the man at the corner is artistically/morally fucked. My phone dies in protest. “Feel like I should pull over and bring him to the bar too,” I say, a little bitter and annoyed she invited Julio, nervous he’ll burst into Skiv’s smelling like hotdogs and gas, demanding us to dance. “I could just collect all the town misfits, deliver them to sanctuary.” “Wait,” Kareen says, “if anyone’s the collector, it’s me. Whose truck you think this is?” ______ Skiv’s is nothing special. Is anything? The taps total two, the pool tables are so un-level your beer slides down the runner, and the bathroom’s all puddles. But it feels like the Legion out in Windsor where Dad and Pap would eat broasted chicken, pound Coors, fight over the video bingo, and then call. I won’t say Skiv’s is like home. But it’s something. It’s a deep breath. Kareen and I pick a wobbly high-top. Behind the bar, Skiv shakes an alarm clock like a piggy bank. He’s Lakota. Oglala, I think. The chip in his tooth looks like the notch in a salad fork. “I’m no delivery boy,” he says, pointing to our drinks, so Kareen goes and grabs them. It’s five quiet men at the bar and one other lonely table— graduate students by the looks of them. They don’t make a peep, seem sad, just sitting there like the cursed sons of Abraham. “To making our husbands worry,” I say, raising my gin to meet Kareen’s Bud. 16| PHOEBE 48.2
“Oh honey,” Kareen says to me in a tone too motherly. “That ain’t my man.” “Well then who was that…storm?” “That’s my old man.” Three years ago she moved here from Fargo to see him through his dementia after he’d been ejected from a nursing home for stabbing an orderly with a fork. She’s got two brothers but neither offered to move home. Anyway, Kareen was always the favorite. “Meaning, I’m the only one he never hit,” she says. “The brother whose truck we’re driving—he’s been visiting for a bit, his first time here in two years, but now all the sudden he’s leaving before Christmas. Can’t hack it.” She spits in a napkin. “I don’t want to talk about this. To answer your question: no husband.” We both take gulps. “Me either,” I say. “Not yet, at least.” I hold up my hand, show my subtle ring. It’s exactly the one I wanted, and I received it exactly when I thought I wanted it, and I even like the look of it still. But two years in, this thing has disappeared into my hand, another part of myself I forget about, like a useless extra knuckle—so why do I take it off? When I hand it to Kareen. she feels the band like it’s silk. A long time she holds my ring, gently, like it’s a tiny animal, and I don’t know why I’m expecting her to, but she never tries it on. Behind the bar, Skiv flicks the small, blinking alarm clock with his middle finger. “Where’d the time go?” he keeps saying to its face. “Piece of shit. You had one job.” When Kareen hands the ring back, I don’t put it where it belongs. I set it on a napkin. “I’ll give you ten dollars for it,” she says, laughing. We listen to Tom Petty singing. “Fuck it. Let’s go to the Badlands tonight,” I say. “Absolutely,” Kareen says, knocking back her pint and heading to the restroom. “Not.” I follow her in, keep my eyes from the mirror. There’s nothing wrong with forsaking makeup, but I hate to be reminded of things I’ve forgotten. I try to picture my ring on the table. “So, never?” I say. “No marriage for you?” FICTION | 17
“Eh, once,” Kareen says from the stall. “It was—we had a good one, far as marriages go. You know, if there’s such a thing as a good one. Which, yeah, you know. Well, there ain’t.” “What happened? Boredom? Disrespect? He a drunk?” I can feel the sweet gin squeezing the back of my brain. “He fuck the milkman? You still have them around here, right?” “Tell me you’re not one of these women who wants to get away from certain things just to go someplace else and bitch about the things she left,” she says, emerging from the stall. Back in the bar, there’s two men standing in the doorway—an old, tired guy and a younger, angry one. Kareen goes to greet her family. “Keys are in it,” she says, hurrying out after them. We say bye with a brief wave. I swear to get a cab home. I check my dead cell. ______ When he asked me to leave California with him, I was just learning to surf. I’d wanted to do it forever, had finally started, had even saved up for a camera you strap to your head. I was taking stills from those films, making a kind of collage. My then-boyfriend loved it. Ironically he used the words “sublime” and “divine”. We were in love. He showed me the first chapter of his book. I flipped through it, so proud, but never read a word. I trusted him. He got into grad school—he got us here. We became fiancés. I followed him, was going to be his photographer, archivist, sounding board, treasurer, chef, wife, distraction—but what I became was nothing. “This place isn’t all that bad,” I say to Skiv. “Still, you couldn’t pay me to stay.” “Important to remember: most of us didn’t choose to live here,” he says. “Point taken,” I say, toasting no one. “Dude, will you take me to the Badlands?” “Welcome,” he says, and pushes into the kitchen. As I was leaving the apartment tonight, there came a moment where I almost turned around. At the bottom of our stairs stood the door—ice had not only grown on the inside of the 18| PHOEBE 48.2
windows, which I have seen before, but it’d crawled through the knob, spread across the wood panels, and the whole door was one slab of crusted cold. When I wrenched the deadbolt to open, the squealing, nail-on-glass sound made my teeth ache. I thought I was trapped. But I acted. An impulse to confront the truck had led me to the foot of the stairs, and a weird fear of frost was not going to stop me. I opened the door. Impulse is a place. Maybe that’s what here is. So, I do it again. I get up and head for the table of grad students, all of them looking sleepy. They wear those hats with the flaps that hide your ears, but none of them fit. “Any of you know my husband, Corey? Corey Westerling?” “Uh,” says the girl, her glasses foggy from her hot cider. “The God guy?” “Yes,” I say, putting a hand on her shoulder. “Can you convince him not to stay?” “Stay? Wait, why would he stay here?” “In this backwoods shithole?” says a guy with an accent I can’t place. “Well,” I say. “I wouldn’t call it that.” “Don’t they have God everywhere?” someone says, and then the door behind me opens. ______ Kareen—it’s been all of thirty minutes—returns, smiling with her eyes closed and head shaking. “Whatever,” she says. “They took the truck.” “Sure they’re not just sitting out there idling?” She orders, and we regain our table, become the talk of the grad student booth. “Okay, so let me try another,” I say. “Jesus, we’re back to twenty questions?” The neon digital jukebox by the door comes alive with Queen. “You think anything’s holy?” “Not anything,” she says and drains half her glass. “But most of it.” FICTION | 19
______ I end up pouring a lot on Kareen—the coast, his thesis, my dog, anxiety, my dad, his dad. Though the paper said “natural causes,” it was an overdose with Pap, his pain pills—I think they were crushing them up. Dad denies it, but he does them too. Kareen’s not asking for any of this, and she doesn’t pretend to like it, but she listens, nods. Mom was gone before I knew what guidance was. At this point, I’d try a psychic. I’d read tea leaves. I’d take notes from God. “Okay, okay,” Kareen says, finishing a glass. “I don’t know why you look at me and think, she’s got advice. But, a diagnosis: if you run back to the west, won’t it just be taking care of a different man? Your father’s an adult. Anyway, seems all the same to me— here, there.” In order not to bawl, I turn my head to the back of the bar, and how did I not notice this before? On the dance floor stand eight Christmas trees, each decorated by a different local Business-of-Promise, and you’re supposed to vote. My money’s on the Vacuum Repair spruce, all wrapped in tubes, ornaments made from mangled coins, combs, a little Lego cowboy hat. The travel agency’s one is cerulean—is that spray paint?—like they were going for ocean but missed. Kareen asks Skiv what the winner gets. “A bar.” Kareen laughs, and I try, I really do try to join her, but still it doesn’t take. ______ At midnight Julio comes through the door in a gust of wind. “You ladies look El Niño drunk.” Kareen shrugs, “We give up.” “Kind of drunk only comes once every seven years.” And I want to blink his happy face away, but he turns it to me. “I feel like the world’s worst neighbor—I never got your name.” “Blair,” I say, “like the witch.” 20| PHOEBE 48.2
“Wait a second,” he says. “Turn around.” And I don’t know why, but I do. He touches the top of my shirt, and he’s about a foot shorter than me, so I imagine him back there, reaching up like a sapling. “Your tag is out,” he says, flipping it down into my shirt collar. “So what?” “You know, it was just what I expected…” “Julio,” Kareen says. “Don’t do it, you fucker.” “What?” I shout, too loud, spinning around to look at both of them, like they’re dogs and the room suddenly smells. Kareen’s looking at me. Skiv’s looking at me. The grad students— all eyes on Blair Dunn. I feel like I could puke, like this is why I should never go out. I can see my reflection in the one un-fogged window near the bathroom—I’m a tree full of holes and light. Julio grins down into his coat collar. “Made in heaven,” he says. For the first time in this time zone, I laugh without trying. Somebody puts a rap song on, the one about the windows and the wall, and everybody’s on their feet, even the grads, and we each pick a gaudy pine to dance beside. ______ I will go. It’s what happens. But first, I’ll forget my ring on the table, have someone take me home, where Corey and the dog are in a panic and I’ll plead to him, drive us to the Badlands, tell him I’m fixed, I can go places, I’m fine, I love you, I’m ready, it’s one a.m., but let’s go to a national park and watch the sunrise, we won’t take pictures, we’ll enjoy it in the moment, we’ll say a mantra, I can do this, I can savor things now, I want to discuss who runs the world, and eventually I’ll wear him down, we’ll even get the dog in the car, he’ll start the engine, and with my hands on my head, he’ll see it, my naked finger, and he’ll break the silence with sobs, and he’ll march back inside, hysterical, because some things are sacred. He’ll leave me with the dog, lights beaming, keys in the ignition, the future. I’ll get all the practice I need to leave him, my family, my self. I take the wheel. First I drive to Skiv’s, and it’s waiting beneath an overturned pint glass, like the ring is a roach. I put it FICTION | 21
in my pocket, leave, head south, stop at Get&Go to puke and ask the rude attendant what a Badland is, and if the sun really rises over those hills of perfect dirt, pink-gold spires, bison, a moon landing, a cleavingâ€”I end up on an empty road, squinting into darkness through the open window, seeing nothing, but knowing full well itâ€™s all here.
22| PHOEBE 48.2
Americans Outside our motel room a heavy woman hula-hooped in the gray early morning. It was August. Omaha, Nebraska. 1995. Jenny and I moving back to Des Moines. If anyone asked us why, the answer was my mother’s slipping health, Jenny’s need for family close, the crap weather in Seattle, but the fuller truth was that our attempts at a big life out west lost momentum a few months in, and against our deepest hopes and wishes, it all crept toward failure over that year we tried to escape the gravity and menace of the Midwest. In Seattle, Jenny got a few gallery shows, but her paintings didn’t sell often enough, and the band I moved us there for wound up recording two albums that Sub/Pop showed heartfelt enthusiasm for, yet we never signed. In the weeks before we left, as we quietly admitted that maybe we hadn’t quite made it around the corner and into the new life we’d dreamt up, that maybe that life never existed, Jenny and I began selling or gifting to our new peripheral friends patio chairs, a leather loveseat, an old church pew, two bookshelves, a garage-sale weight set I’d picked up, a velvet painting of Jesus that creeped Jenny out, silently measuring what was essential, what was expendable, and what would fit into the confines of a moving truck. We had to sell my cargo van to finance the U-Haul and gas, but we held our heads up, threw an apartment cooling party, bought a couple of half-racks and a liter of Vodka, stayed up all night playing music and promising our new friends and neighbors we’d be back, we’d write, we’d write and be back, don’t worry. Yet, as we might have expected, out on the road there had been a sense of gloomy reluctance and defeat to our traveling, our return east. But, this hula-hooper, as the first thing I saw that morning in Omaha, Nebraska, she seemed a sign of good fortune, hope. We were in room no. 12 of the Good Knights Inn, and the woman was maybe five steps from me, swaying and smiling, manipulating the bright pink hoop gracefully beside a black Chevy FICTION | 23
pickup. She held her bare wattled arms out wide. The hoop hushed and crackled. Her face was a welcome joy. She wore a Walkman and hummed loudly with her eyes shut. I thought I recognized the song from the tape Jenny played us in the U-Haul all the way across Wyoming and most of Nebraska, though on that side of the dusty bottom-floor window it was hard to tell. “Come have a look at this,” I whispered. Jenny was folded into the sheets, breathing steady and warm, her light red hair draped across those round, freckled shoulders. Jenny and I had met as undergrads, sophomore year in Art History, precisely at the time in our lives when we’d both begun to believe we had what it takes to make the art that was important and big, art that people like us right then at Des Moines Community College, might study one day in a classroom like that cold cinder block space, a space not terribly unlike the Good Knights Inn in Omaha, Nebraska. She was an idealist. A kind and artful soul who brought me along with her. Or maybe it was the other way around, that I’d drug her my way. This was 1995–Jenny twenty-one, myself twenty-two–so Seattle seemed right. If not us making it there next, then who? We started making our escape plan the first night we slept together. A year later we packed up the van and made the move. “Hey,” I whispered louder. “Sweet girl, come check this out.” But Jenny didn’t hear me, or chose not to, so I stood watching for a minute longer, waiting for this woman to open her eyes and catch me marveling as I stood shirtless in Levis. Her flowered skirt pulsed, bloomed. I lit a cigarette, sat on the round fake-wood table and tugged the window just open. A moment later Jenny stood beside me quietly saying, “Wow.” “I know.” She set her cheek on my shoulder. “How long has she been doing this?” “Years, I’m sure.” I pushed my cigarette out the window onto the walkway. Jenny rubbed my neck, and I felt her thin naked leg up and down. 24| PHOEBE 48.2
She leaned against my back, laughing, “She’s perfect. And this…this is Nebraska?” “We’re in Omaha.” “How far do we drive today?” “Maybe we should just watch this all day,” I said, squeezing the dimple above her knee as the woman took one step forward, one step back, the hoop never faltering. “Get ourselves some beer and a bottle. Have a little vacation.” Jenny smiled into the hush of morning like she could–melancholy and joyful. I loved that smile, and I loved her, and I wished so much we could hold right there, never have anything but what this moment asked of us. “You should paint this,” I said, as the hula-hooper spun a slow circle, an oblong oval of sweat widening between her breasts, coloring the halter top the deep gray of wet cement. Jenny made a camera with her hands. “Click.” “It’s only a few hour’s drive, but tomorrow might be a better day for it.” “Um,” Jenny said, standing up straight, tension filling her skin as she leaned toward the window. “Um. Where did you park the U-Haul?” “Just over there,” I said, pointing toward the corner of the lot where our U-Haul no longer was. A gull hovered above a small dark wad of garbage. An old couple in matching sweat-suits rolled suitcases toward a maroon sedan. The hula-hoop looped and looped. “Oh,” I said, thinking in that deeply wishful, instinctual manner that I had simply been remembering wrong, and that our U-Haul was parked in the lot’s opposite corner. Not so. Or, perhaps someone–the Pakistani manager of Good Knights Inn?–had needed it moved in the middle of the night? Also not so. * Jenny was dressed and out the door before I could get my own shirt on, running barefoot to that blank parking spot and FICTION | 25
standing looking to the oil-smeared asphalt for answers. Traffic scrolled behind her, getting heavy now with commuters, that hush and blurt mingling with our hula-hooper’s humming as I stepped out and attempted to get this woman’s attention. “Hey. Hey, Hoop Lady,” I said loudly, but she kept her eyes shut. It was a rude voice I was using, but the implications of losing everything were settling in, and I was scared. “Hey. Fuck. Hello!?” She took off her headphones, let the hoop rattle to the ground. “Yes? Me?” “Hey, listen. Did you see a U-Haul, a twenty-five footer?” I pointed toward Jenny who was walking in circles, stomping and swearing. “Parked there, where my wife is.” “Yes,” she said, bending at the waist to pick up the hoop. I could see now that she wasn’t as old as I’d first thought. “But, it’s not there anymore.” “When,” I said. “When did you see it?” “Your fly is undone.” She pointed at my crotch and smirked, gestured like she was zipping me up. “Jesus,” I said, buttoning. “Someone stole our fucking U-Haul, lady. Our whole goddamned lives were in there.” “I know,” she said. “And, I’m sorry.” * The manager called the Omaha PD and put Jenny on the line to explain while the hula-hoop lady and I helped ourselves to mini-boxes of cereal, bear claws, coffee and orange juice. The small lobby smelled like curry and cigarettes and yeast, but the coffee wasn’t too thin and there was a microwave for the bear claws. “Continental breakfast,” the manager said, smiling, nodding. “First-class accommodation.” I raised my coffee cup, tasting warm sugar and bread as the manager raised his empty hand. “Delicious coffee,” the hoop lady said. “Fresh ground,” the manager said, as Jenny hung up, then thanked him. * The Omaha PD took their time, and the four of us stood 26| PHOEBE 48.2
waiting in the Uhaul’s former spot with our coffee. The morning was warm and already approaching humid, the crooked tar lines drawn over the asphalt cracks softening beneath our strides. “Do you see clues of theft?” the manager said. “Footprint? Wallet drop?” “Wallet drop?” Jenny looked pretty, but sad. She wasn’t really my wife, though most of those months we were together I wished she was. We’d even talk about children, a home, a long life together. But, we were young then, hopeful and willfully blind. “Clues,” Jenny said. “It happens,” he said. “World’s dumbest criminals.” “There is not going to be any goddamned wallet.” I lit up and shook my head and started adding up the things in our U-Haul–one Gibson, two Fenders, leather sofa, leather jacket, leather boots, Jenny’s portraits, a three-foot bronze statue of Chief Seattle we’d bought for my mother. I whispered, “Fuck this.” “Language, sir,” the hoop lady said, and the manager smiled and mouthed “fuck” my direction, winking. “It’s probably just a joyride anyhow,” the hoop lady said, back spinning her hoop into the middle of our circle where we watched it skid and zip back to her. “Someone stole my truck last year. Kids on a joyride. Cops got it back the next afternoon.” “Joyride a U-Haul?” Jenny said. “Who joyrides a U-Haul?” I said. “Assholes,” the manager said, chuckling. “World’s dumbest assholes. That is who.” The hoop lady huffed, shook her head, slipped her headphones back on and began gyrating the hoop into that graceful motion once more. The manager held up his palm, saying, “I am sorry to joke.” “All my paintings. All my books.” Jenny came to my side and I hugged her trembling shoulder. “Your Beatles collection.” * When Omaha PD finally got there the two female cops said they believed they’d located our U-Haul. They had sympathetFICTION | 27
ic, business-like faces. The hula-hooper started up again, and the younger, prettier cop looked at her with a joyful sympathy. Jenny stepped away from me, reaching to the cops. “Really? Oh, thank you.” “But, wait,” they said, writing notes into small notepads, “there’s been a fire.” * We rode in the back of the Omaha PD Crown Victoria about a mile to what I will always remember as the saddest apartment complex I’ll ever see–a 70s-built outcropping of shingled two-story buildings, bent American cars lined up beneath a long carport, our U-Haul smoke-blackened and leaning sideways on a lawn beside a pool filled in with gravel. Two cops guarded the remains from a cluster of kids on motocross bikes. “Someone burned it?” I asked. “What kind of people live in Nebraska?” “All kinds,” the plain officer murmured. “Too many of all kinds, maybe.” “I’m afraid this is it,” the prettier officer said, pointing with both hands. “We figured someone would call soon enough, claim it. We see horrible people’s decisions every day.” “This is a shitty song you’re playing for us, you know that?” Jenny said, squeezing my thigh with nothing like affection, laughing angry. “It’s worse than the worst song at the worst show on the worst rainy night, in that shit city we’re moving from.” “You folks didn’t take the full insurance out, I’d guess.” The plain officer eyed me in the rearview, and I wished the manager were there at her window to mouth the “everybody fuck off” I was thinking. The pretty officer said, “We’ll make a report no matter. See what we can do.” “The fire truck left about fifteen minutes ago,” the plain officer said. “After they doused the son of a bitch.” Steam and the trace of smoke lifted from the U-Haul’s open compartment. I could smell the sour carbon through the closed windows of the Crown Vic. 28| PHOEBE 48.2
“Fucking heroes,” Jenny said. “Americans,” the plain officer said. * We were going through our wet and charred belongings when the hoop lady showed up with the manager. She’d driven them in her Chevy. They seemed happy about something secret between them, but they were willing to be sad for us. I cocked my head, ran my tongue over my teeth, squinting. The manager pointed my way through his open window. “Police scanner. I listen all the time.” The hoop lady shifted into park, lowered herself to the lot. “There’s all kinds of chatter about your U-Haul. Arrested some meth head with a gas can up off the interstate.” “We bring sandwiches for all,” the manager said, stepping down from the truck, holding up two brown paper sacks. The hoop lady had her hands on her cheeks as she walked the perimeter three times, repeating, “The gall, the evil, the gall.” “Perhaps,” the manager said, setting lunch at my feet, “this is the new beginning that so many of us desire.” I could only nod and nod as he set his hand on my back. “But,” he said, “I am optimist.” The cops had left, and a tow truck was on the way. I was trying on my damp vintage motorcycle jacket, which seemed could be salvaged. Jenny stood in the back of the truck, and was rubbing one of her singed paintings with a soaking wet bed sheet. All around her was the life we had taken out west, and now were bringing back home, a home we weren’t even certain we wanted to be ours. That would soon become clear enough, and we would not last there long, not together at least. I will always be sorry for this. Beside Jenny, Chief Seattle was melted into a comical disfigurement. My Fender was cinders with steel strings attached. The TVs seemed to have exploded. A mound of clothes and couch and throw rugs and mirrors and shoes and records and playing cards and lamps and photos were scattered black and acrid and dripped an oily discharge. Jenny stood gorgeous and broken with that painting in FICTION | 29
her hand. She never looked more beautiful to me, like every other moment I’d been near her had been in preparation for right then, up in that burned-out truck, turning slowly to us with a smile so small and honest that I was certain we’d make it, that we could start anew, again. I was so fucking certain, looking from Jenny to the manager leaning against a pile of charred boxes, to the hula hooper who stopped swaying and looked my way coyly, happy, then back to Jenny who smiled wider as she turned the painting toward us. The portrait was of me, and only burned at the edges. Jenny bit her lower lip, cocked her head, saying, “I don’t think I ever showed you this. I was going to surprise you.” “That is you,” the manager laughed, and I huffed out a laugh, too, stepping forward to inspect. “Yes,” the hula-hoop lady whispered as she began swaying her hips like her hoop was there, though it was not. “That’s a very good likeness.” The background was a blue wash to match my eyes. I wore my favorite black t-shirt and seemed to be gazing beyond the painted scene at something, or someone, more interesting. I held a wanting, serious look, just short of contentment but not unhappy. I looked like I was about to say something important, though I have never figured out precisely what that might have been–maybe it was to simply say, “I’m sorry we ever tried for more, because this other side is so hard to live within, and I’m sorry we came to this end, and I’m sorry to be the culprit, and I’m sorry to be the only real witness to this end.” “Thank you. I like it a lot, too.” Jenny held the portrait up like it was the last thing that would ever matter. “It’s my favorite. I was saving it … for a gift.” “You are the talent! You are the gift!” The manager laughed round and full, clapping four times, the sound rising into the wide bell of sky above Omaha, Nebraska. A siren whined in the near distance. The hula hooper sighed and shook her head. Jenny smiled, happier this time, said my name quiet as I tried to stare myself in the eye in that painting, but couldn’t quite. I was a culprit in the portrait. I had broken what we were 30| PHOEBE 48.2
and wanted most, in ways I have never told her. And there outside our burned-to-shit U-Haul, smelling the heavy linger of carbon and wet wool, I was remembering how, that’s all. * A morning the first month we’d moved west. I was on this health kick, all wound up with the energy of a new life and surety of success. I had quit smoking, was juicing carrots and beets, up early five days a week jogging this five mile route through Ballard and Fremont and lower Queen Anne. One Tuesday I’d woken, dressed, tucked Jenny neatly beneath the comforter and kissed her warm cheek and neck, then took off for my loop. Half hour later I’m running up Westlake approaching the Aurora Bridge, the sun peeking above the rim of the eastern hills. My breath billows in the cold wet air of April. Traffic is somehow nonexistent, just the glossed asphalt, the bracken smell of the ship canal and Lake Union, and me striding along feeling a halo of peace. As I get closer to the bridge I see there’s this rubble strewn across the street, bits of clothing and shoes along the road and sidewalk, and I’m thinking someone lost part of a load of laundry out their open window. But, as I get closer I see the distinct shapes of an arm, and another arm, and a socked foot, and a torso with long blonde hair–none of these pieces connected. It’s a body, someone has jumped from the bridge. I slow my run and stop maybe twenty paces from the mess and look up at the dark, wet crisscrossed arc of steel-girding and the thread of Aurora Avenue spanning the ship canal and the hills of Fremont and Queen Anne. I feel a vertigo, a rising, the inverse ghost of that long fall this human took, and I see this person rising, too, their body reassembling and lifting and returning to its rightful grounded place alongside the slow morning traffic of Highway 99. I shut my eyes listening for approaching traffic, but still no cars or buses or cops or ambulances are coming, it’s just me and this body and the cooling sweat across my chest and down my spine. I don’t want to look, hope it’s some kind of runner’s hallucination, but of course it’s not. I take a blind step or two forward, and open FICTION | 31
my eyes to look too intently at the contorted and regretful splay of what once was an old man, a young woman, a poor sad housewife? –and the surreal distills into the real–as I think of Jenny, sleeping peaceful in our bed, maybe having a dream of me out here running, her believing I’m thinking of the pale turn of her thigh and convinced everything we came to this city for is right and evermore. “Hey.” I hear a woman’s low voice behind. “What’s happening here?” I turn to see her, another early-morning runner, a slight and pretty girl with black hair and long graceful limbs. “Pretty sure it’s a body,” I say, pointing toward the rubble of flesh and clothing. “Somebody jumped.” I nod up at the bridge span. “What?” She comes up close beside me–I can smell the salt of her skin–and we stand shoulder to shoulder. A siren winds close, then closer, and a cab rolls toward us down Westlake Ave. on the other side of the body, the tall black cabbie stepping out to look at us and shout, “Another goddamned jumper–fuck this life, right!? Fuck this life!” Then the cops are there, and an aide car is there, and this girl and I are being asked questions and we look to each other to ask what the fuck did we just come across? “Did you see that shoe?” she says, after the cops are done with us. “I mean shoes.” “A black wingtip, there,” I say, pointing to the sidewalk as we walk the periphery toward the Fremont Bridge. “And there,” she says, pointing to the muddy path beside the heaved sidewalk, where a smudge of broken leather poses as what once was a shoe. Her breath is redolent with coffee and adrenaline. “Is this real?” “Yes.” I set my hand on her shoulder. Then we are conferring, and she has a pen and scrap paper somehow and we exchange numbers, saying we should meet, talk, what the fuck happened here, how are we the witnesses, we shouldn’t let this dark moment go, we should try to make sense of it. 32| PHOEBE 48.2
We hug beside the Fremont Bridge and I say my name, and she says hers, though I cannot remember her name now, these years later. We used those exchanged numbers and we met for coffee and drinks and something far outside of Jenny and me, and that this girl–she was twenty years old with a fake ID–came to my band’s shows five times and stood close to Jenny and they both danced like angry strangers as I played muddy rock songs, and I never told Jenny who this girl was, and I never told this girl about Jenny, and I never told Jenny about the scattered rubble of that body and what this girl and I had shared and how all of it cast a kind of doom over our days in that city, places we wanted to leave, and had left–and whatever–the girl, she was with me that morning, another witness, and over the months I loved touching the velvet of this girl’s skin and smelling the citrus of her breath and finding the high turn of her hip and running my lips along the S of her waist and thighs and feet–and goddamned I loved these things with Jenny, too, so what do we ever know? What will I ever know? Why didn’t I ever tell Jenny–about the girl, about the body beneath the bridge that morning, the fucking ruined body? I tried. At least I felt like I tried. But I am weak, a culprit, and I was once in Omaha, Nebraska and by then I knew I could never tell Jenny, that wise kind woman, about any of it, because there she was holding that portrait rescued from the charred U-Haul in that broke-down piece of the world, and she’d taken hours to paint that portrait, of me, already disquiet beneath the two dimensions, already disloyal, already a person I wished I were not. I remember Jenny’s smile, and soot draping the air. I remember Jenny shrugging with an unexpected buoyancy, leaping from the back of the U-Haul with the portrait held above her head. She walked to my side. She said my name two times, held her head to the flat gray sky and whispered narrow words I could not decipher as she smiled once more and walked into the quiet lot. * We rented a crap PT Cruiser with my nearly dead Discover card, and drove east that afternoon, the back seat and trunk filled FICTION | 33
with remains, that portrait staring me down in the rearview. Rain started up at the Omaha city limits, and we didnâ€™t talk much as the strip malls, car lots, mazes of storage units, wounded beige apartment buildings and truck stops gave way to ash-gray fields left and right and a parade of tired billboards all welcoming us. The wipers chugged. Tires hissed. The Cruiser drifted over standing water and traffic was light. At times I held Jennyâ€™s bare forearm and wrist feeling her tremble as she quietly snored against the fogged and rattling passenger window.
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The Haunting of Ill House CONTEST WINNER
“laughter is possible laughter is possible laughter is possible” –Shirley Jackson Once upon a time, Shirley Jackson lived in a shambling Vermont house and between sandwiches and screaming, baths, diapers, and stories, she wrote. Shirley Jackson walked around her neighborhood feeling perilously close to disintegration. Shirley Jackson had four kids and dirty hair, plus psychic tendencies. It’s that house, she said. I can’t drive past it in the daylight again. Next time make sure it’s dark, ok? What is it about motherhood and ghosts—the two just seem to go together, maybe because you love someone so much you can’t imagine losing them, but you do imagine it. Once upon a time I lived in a hundred-and-nineteen-year-old house. I had two children, two mouths to feed. They weighed on me like cinder blocks, stultified me like pounds of dead leaves in my gutters. First, I housed them in my body where every night trains rattled by with such fervor, I lost my bearings and forgot whose children they actually were, then my husband reminds me, They’re ours, and I sit up in bed and sigh with relief, if only because few things in life are real—one being that a train conductor lived here once upon a longer time ago with his sad-eyed wife and they come to me in my dreams, telling me this house of ours is ill, and that I’d better wrap my arms around it and soon before it all comes down.
NONFICTION | 39
// Shirley Jackson’s most famous novel is The Haunting of Hill House. It’s about a sick house—sick with relentless reality, with the relentless fact of its realness. There is the realness of child abuse, of abusive religion, of the basic fact of family. There is the realness of relentless child care, the care of elderly parents, of diminishing returns. There is the reality of loneliness. There is the reality of a hand belonging to—who knows—cold-gripping yours at night for lack of a body of its own, a body of fiction, a body of magic, a body of dreams. Shirley Jackson writes in The Haunting of Hill House’s opening paragraph, “No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream.” The house’s illness comes from its abolition of imagination. Even the art, the carefully staged furniture, the fabrics, the damasks and toiles, the gourmet kitchen and well-stocked linen closet—are meant to induce absolute reality. The house’s horror isn’t its history but its lack of one. It is the approximation of a life lived, of a dollhouse no one plays with. It typifies repressed rage or—not even rage—disappointment. Eleanor in Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House speaks the ill house’s language when no one else seems able. They’re reading the signs differently, but to Eleanor, the house is just misunderstood. The house is just clinically depressed. The house is just a droopy teenager without sense of direction or a bellicose college roommate lying moribund on her bed when you get home, so you ask, What’s 40| PHOEBE 48.2
wrong? What’s wrong? but she just groans and rolls over. The ill house feels our infinitesimal movements inside her and ignores them, which is worse than violence. // Once, before I was a house when I was simply a woman, I met the writer Jonathan Franzen over dinner. I am a woman who writes too, mind you, and a mother at that, and therefore a ghost. Despite this fact, I came prepared to fight Jonathan Franzen over E.M. Forster because Jonathan Franzen dislikes Howards End and I adore it. It is a book about a house and the house is a woman’s province, so it’s my province. Instead, we talked about other houses—not Howards End—, specifically a certain house he remembered from childhood that by its very Scandinavian nature, and by its very Midwestern location, he said, was haunted. And I told him, I don’t think Scandinavians have cornered the market on ghosts. I told him, however, that I had a Scandinavian great-grandmother who ghosted herself away from her family. Born in Finland, raised in Boston, then wrecked in Ohio, the poor woman couldn’t exist as matter anymore. She fretted in her mind, all the while running smoothly and on time like a Swedish train. Her love was frank but also—like a cloud—limited. Then she up and left one day after breakfast. Now that’s a ghost, I said to Jonathan Franzen. Now that’s one hell of a ghost. Because it isn’t her body which she took with her, but the lack of one she left behind. // Houses are made of trees. Sure, some houses are made of stone or brick or peat or snow or animal skins, but let’s face it, the house NONFICTION | 41
you’re in right now is mostly tree. Once before I was a house or a tree or a mother or even a woman, I went to a party in a nineteenth century monastery up on a hill that overlooks the Ohio River. The monks that used to live there made wine, prayed. Some were from Germany or were the children of German immigrants. They had cells on the topmost floor and a chapel in the basement. Yes, they made wine, wore oversized robes cinched with ropes, prayed, died, and went away, the residue they left behind—vaguely sinister—was like the chemical orange smell of floor wax in a Catholic school gymnasium. A doctor bought the place and took his family to live in it. Once he’d done it over, he threw enormous parties to show it off—Halloweens, Christmases. There were concerts in the chapel and we would all gather there for musical interludes, to wonder at the altar, once sanctified by God’s anointed, and now just an eccentric way to pass the time. The doctor who lived in the monastery had a lion cub for a pet. He flew airplanes. He wore a bomber jacket everywhere at any time of year. He also had a little family—a daughter about my age who padded across the black-and-white-tiled floor of the old vestibule with a stricken look on her face. Once, when I was just a ghost, a young woman tried to burn a fire in a closed fireplace. She was living in the oldest wooden building in Cincinnati. Of course, the flue was closed, so the fire licked up the walls, left a smell like the fall—ancient smokehouses and dung. Her illegal fire made the spirits in the place angry; they seemed to “come out of the walls,” she said. After that, she pretty much avoided the living room. Once before I was even a ghost, I held the doctor’s baby lion while someone took a polaroid of me. The cub felt like gristle, taut, like a spasmed muscle in my arms. Its claws did not retract. I didn’t have 42| PHOEBE 48.2
time to look it in the eye. The photo never developed When I returned the lion cub it was with great relief—as if handing back a screaming baby. Not for me, I thought. Wild animals are not for me. Once, before I was a house or a tree, a ghost or a woman or even a girl, I lived in an old apartment in German Village, and my tortured imagination would throw books off a shelf up in the loft office. One of the books that repeatedly landed on the floor was The Tao of Pooh, a battered copy an ex-boyfriend gave me. Now my son toddles up to the bookshelf and casually knocks off Corduroy, The Cat in the Hat, The Pigeon Needs a Bath, Baby Beluga. This may explain something about ghosts. // Common wisdom dictates, if you want to know how fucked up someone is (or is not), make them draw a house, a tree, a person. This is called the House-Tree-Person Test. These three things, psychologists say, dictate the nature of our respective realities. How many rooms? How many branches? Is there a front porch, a back garden? Is this person smiling and wearing a triangle dress? Is this person gesturing hello or leave me alone? What kind of tree are we talking about here? And what kind of house? When a child draws a house she always draws a door, and when she draws a door she hardly ever draws a keyhole. Houses can wait forever. If a room is removed whole-cloth and rebuilt somewhere else, it’ll retain its primary impressions, what meals were taken in it by what people, which trees were used to make it. It’ll rise to the level of consciousness on the regular, float above a single-line meant to stand-in for earth, and what it loses in reality it’ll gain in metaphor. NONFICTION | 43
The house in E.M. Forster’s Howards End is a woman’s house, that’s why Henry Wilcox has no real use for it. It once had a meadow and a pony. Its homeliness is also its wealth—small and bricked, perhaps no longer functioning in its original capacity as a home to farmers but retaining a gift for earthy pleasures by keeping green, by keeping humble. And when Margaret proposes Helen to stay there—one night! one night only! as she’s pregnant and in disgrace, the house’s femininity absolves her, ignores what Helen’s peers would say is shame, in particular the basement which, as Gaston Bachelard says, is “first and foremost the dark entity of the house, the one that partakes of subterranean forces.” It was where Christmas decorations waited in boxes, pictures moldered, where my school uniforms were hung to dry on overhead pipes. It was the dark hole out of which my mother wrestled two suitcases in a dramatic show for my father, where a painting of a man in a uniform faced the wall, where the floor swelled with tree roots. “When we dream there, we are in harmony with the irrationality of the depths,” Bachelard tells us. A child draws an oversized doorknob on her crayon door and a roof more like a head with its hair parted down the middle. A friendly lamb’s tail of smoke curls from the chimney. “…a key closes more often than it opens, whereas the door-knob opens more often than it closes. And the gesture of closing is always sharper, firmer, and briefer than that of opening,” says Bachelard in The Poetics of Space. He writes, “When the house is happy, soft smoke rises in gay rings above the roof.” But for children whose lives are rife with discord, violence, pain— even the drawn fire is dead, stiff, and its smoke rigid. The trees look like they’re closing in.
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Examples of House-Tree-Person Test follow-up questions: After the House: 1. Who lives in this house? 2. Where do we go when we are not here? 3. Where does the house go when we are not there? 4. Whose window is/was that? 5. How many children per room, head to foot? After the Tree: 1. What kind of tree is this? 2. How much of it was cut down to make the house 3. And how much to make the fire 4. And how much to make the maypole? 5. Does it have fruit or flowers or leaves or nothing? After the Person: 1. Who is she? 2. Is she young the way we remember her, the way we remember certain books we read when we were young? 3. Isn’t it true that the books we liked as children seem so narrow now? 4. And isn’t it also true that once-in-a-while, a person strikes us as being the house and the person and the tree simultaneously, 5. And shouldn’t we admit that this is just another holy trinity? // A house can transcend its foundations and menace the street like a naughty kid. A house can show you its legs. A house can drape itself in lace and light a candle inside its skull. NONFICTION | 45
“The forest is my house,” says the tree. But a person lost in the forest asks, “Am I walking toward something I should be running from?” A house can be something. A house can be a woman’s body haunted by the ghost of her children who are haunted by the ghost of her imagination. A house can have—stuffed in the recesses of a closet once used for storing milk and eggs—the body of a woman. The family who lives here now say they try not to think about what happened—the murders, the exterminated, undetermined stars after a punch to the face and no one cares. Still, at various times they all sometimes wake in the middle of the night to the invisible sensation of desperate love and exclaim aloud, “God! Whose hand was I holding?” // Bachelard says, “In every dwelling, even the richest, the first task of the phenomenologist is to find the original shell.” Virginia Woolf begins her novel about a house—Orlando—with Orlando him/herself up in the attic taking whacks at the strung-up head of a dead North African. If, as Bachelard says, the attic of a house is our conscience, it takes centuries, several reincarnations, and a few gender changes for Orlando to rid him/herself of the conscious that tells them to repeat their family’s insane reality—of war, colonization, murder, xenophobia. At the end of the novel, Orlando is outside the house and outside of time because, as J.W. Dunne shows us, our dreams are a conflation of the past, present, and future. Orlando sees their house from a distance below them, small as an opalescent shell. It’s 1928, but the house is lit for a visit 46| PHOEBE 48.2
from Elizabeth I, “There stood the great house with all its windows robed in silver. Of wall or substance there was none. All was phantom. All was still. All was lit as for the coming of a dead Queen.” If the ill house is a house that can’t imagine beyond reality, I’m riding shotgun with Shirley Jackson past that house again, and she says, Never in daylight, so I place one hand over her eyes and another over her mouth to make believe darkness, and I whisper instructions into her open ear, turn here, and, the house itself is a blind in snow. Once upon a time it was the kind of house filled with people too hard for dreaming except this one dream—of travelling back in time until the house is just a dark cave in some distant countryside down some ancient corridor. Let’s go back, Jackson says, meaning to the house of magic, with its moon-colored brick, shot-through screen door, fruit in the centerpiece ripening to rot, the house of fiction in its deepest iteration, its truest self, where Shirley told her daughter, You were here all along. My body was just a tree you were hiding behind.
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Pretty Hate It’s good to hate something when you’re going through chemotherapy. The pain, the noxious poisons grabbing hold of what used to be me, craves something to detest. Hate gives me a focus, keeps my heart pumping, and distracts me from chemo’s latest side effect: layers of skin falling off the bottoms of my feet and the tips of my fingers. Oh, I know, hating is not evolved. Hate is starless and cramped. It’s deemed spiritually incorrect and un-enlightened, for God’s sake. But since mouth sores traversed to mid-esophagus last week, turning food into bits of gravel when hitting that aforementioned halfway point, and since gagging while drinking water is the new norm, I don’t give a shit about spiritually appropriate convention. Currently, I hate squirrels. They frighten the birds I’ve taken to watching in the backyard, wrapping their portly bodies around the feeders and gorging on birdseed like they’ll never eat again. And when the squirrels congregate to eat the seeds they’ve rudely knocked to the ground, they turn on each other—the meatiest squirrel habitually dominates. Basically, they’re fat rats with bushy tails. I used to despise fleas. Before the cancer verdict, I discovered a raccoon nesting in the cellar. Every time I entered the cellar, fleas caught a ride into the house via my ankles. Soon a flea fest bloomed into full swing and I was the host. Fleas, fattened from my blood, gave birth to colonies of baby fleas staking outposts that eventually reached my second-floor bedroom. I scraped both ankles raw, my skin stung and popped with real (and imagined) bites, causing me to stop whatever I was doing, strip to my panties, and hunt the suckers down. Every mole, speck and freckle was suspect. Even when I caught sight of a wingless creep, he’d soar with a proNONFICTION | 49
digious leap Nijinsky would have envied. Like fleas, squirrels dart, becoming airborne for moments at a time. I know, since immediately following the prescribed chemo-cocktail injections, I can’t walk for approximately a week to 10 days, forced to sit semi-inclined like an inert toad on the couch, staring at my rental Portland-ish yard overgrown with budding rhododendrons, stout azaleas, sky-high Douglas firs, and the squirrels pirating birdseed I specifically offer to the birds. My morning ritual used to include sipping coffee and watching pumpkin-colored thrushes show up at dawn with their brisk nips beneath the feeder. Soon flocks of rufous flanked spotted towhees and dark-eyed juncos arrive, politely taking turns at the feeder along with the Steller’s jays. Now waves of nausea rear at the very smell of coffee, so I sit, just sit and look out the window at the winsome birds. And it’s soon obvious: birds don’t represent freedom—their day involves scrounging for food and water. Feeding birds is more of a visceral occupation for me: observing the symmetry of hollow bones beneath feathers—plus they’re scions of lofty perspectives and pragmatic beak-to-grub table manners. They’re without guile. Hating squirrels gets me up and moving, enough to pitch empty bottles of Pellegrino out the kitchen window when the gourmand rodents raid the birdfeeder. So. I borrow a pellet handgun. Not that murder is my objective. I just want to patently discourage them by loading dot-sized pellets into the orange-tipped airgun, take aim out the kitchen window, and fire. Unfortunately, it’s transparent, and I can see how the dinky springs inside the under-powered gun shoot the pellets with a lyrical arch, landing soft as a butterfly kiss. I ask Santa for a BB gun. (He fails to provide.) Hate is powerful. It’s easier to curse a squirrel than to hate the nausea big as a ballroom with my body anchorless inside, or hate the exhaustion stripping my desire to live, the fear I won’t survive this cancer treatment, though I understand most do. The tango between chemo, meds, and pain claws and burns, then howls its way through skin to heart, beyond tendons, belly, spine, and marrow to a bruised pain-body inside, where sometimes I bump into bloodied puzzle parts (lost islands, some uncharted, others 50| PHOEBE 48.2
forgotten) and find sinewy fear pulsing while imagining itself more real than me-in-the-mirror, and then landing where edges of me vanish. Boundaries simply cease. It’s quiet here. Devoid of music or pretty pictures. And it’s dark—this slow dance with cancer—like a movie theater with scenes cutting in, but no soundtrack. I long for my former body, smooth as the rind of a river, my four-chambered heart riding kite-high. Hating helps me survive this odyssey’s tilting labyrinth, since chemo keeps me gagged and shackled. Scraps of me have gone missing since my seal-skinned tongue is too swollen to speak. I choke. Cry. Without berth, I am a memory washed ashore twice upon a time. Except. Have I mentioned my sanguine tendencies? And how this stubborn bent fuels me to make room for something fierce? It’s simplistic to consider hate the flip side of its perceived opposite: love. After a lifetime of wanting only beauty—creating something pretty via choreography or painting or writing—it’s finally okay to be ugly, to hate. The day before another round of chemo, I rally when the Pacific calls. A recent storm leaves a slew of dead seabirds amid strands of seaweed and broken sand dollars. In the past I would have avoided the lifeless birds by choosing a broad swath past, eyes purposely held in the opposite direction. Too ugly, too miserable, to witness. Now I want to see them. And one by one I lean in to photograph each bird’s final berth, their floundering obvious within a tumultuous squall beyond the ken of words. Their fight inside that storm, whose salvo of uproarious wind, rain, and mountainous waves left each bird broken, resides in me still: a sandy testament etched like a scar across my chest.
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Porches “Guys, it’s happening again,” I said, staring at a slant down the steps and into the window directly opposite—our neighbor’s apartment. “Jesus Christ, how much does this guy masturbate?” Speen said. Everyone leaned in to get a view of the scene. Our neighbor kept his blinds closed but he always turned them inward, parallel to the gaze of an audience viewing from a slightly elevated vantage—sitting on steps above, for example. If he had just turned the rod in the opposite direction, the slats facing outward, his room would have been impenetrable. But as it was, we saw nearly everything. Our neighbor hadn’t figured it out, we thought. His bed was directly under the window, and he was on his side facing away from us, his bare ass on display, his left arm moving rhythmically. His iPad was propped up on a pillow in front of him, displaying a woman sucking a small penis. The man in the porn was not in frame. There were subtitles in a language that I didn’t recognize but that Todd, a linguistics major, explained was Japanese. “Poor Dick Dude,” Marla said. “He has no idea.” “We see him masturbate three times a day,” I said. “And that’s just on smoke breaks.” “Maybe you guys shouldn’t smoke here,” Art said. “You could smoke in the yard instead.” “You guys,” Marla said, rolling her eyes. “Don’t try and wiggle your way out of this, wormy boy. You’re complicit. You’re looking too.” “Sure, but I’m not smoking. I’m just here for the times.” “It’s his own fucking fault,” Speen declared. “I have no shame. He’ll never know so who gives a shit.” “We should leave little notes against the glass,” I said. “Sleep tight, sweetie.” NONFICTION | 53
Marla laughed, coughing up a few wisps of smoke. “God, we’re assholes.” On the railing outside of our apartment, there were four glass Coke bottles lined up, each filled with cigarette butts. I always thought that they seemed like an art installation—a monument to our blistering addiction and the passage of time. There were clear layers in the bottles. They were core samples, evidence of when we strayed from our standard Marlboro reds—menthols, golds, green-banded Newports. Each had a stratum, a few days, a week, maybe a month, fossilized in glass. “Don’t you guys think this is a little sad?” Art said, shrugging toward the bottles, hands in his pockets. He was the only one of us that hadn’t picked up the habit. “A little?” Marla said, raising her eyebrows while taking a long drag. “You guys smoke more than I do now,” Todd added. “We’re quitting,” I said. Art snorted. “When’s that going to happen?” “We already have two more empty bottles,” Speen said. “It would just be wasteful not to use them.” “You could plant flowers in them,” Art suggested. “I’m not even addicted,” Todd said in mock indignation. “I can quit whenever I want. You guys, on the other hand.” He stopped to take a drag. One of my favorite qualities of cigarettes is their ability to cut a sentence that you don’t know how to end. Take a drag and let the audience’s imagination fill in the blank. It’s like the scolding or else of a teacher or parent. Maybe they don’t even know what that else is, but their authority stands firm in the interim. Art asked if we were done and began creeping toward the door. I smoothed my skirt against the backs of my thighs as I stood up and carefully clutched at the hem, trying to hide it from view in case he was watching. It was too dark, I thought, he couldn’t be certain of what I was wearing. I pinched stray ash from the velvet as I walked toward the door. Inside, my roommates retreated to their rooms, both of 54| PHOEBE 48.2
them independently preparing for interviews with Google. Marla and Todd said goodnight soon afterward, crossing the backyard and into their building. Our apartment was decrepit—sunken floorboards, chipping paint, and cracked plastic blinds that we kept closed always. But for all its defects, it retained a certain feeling of comfort and home. It was slippery as to why—maybe the worn leather furniture that I had shipped from my parents’ disremembered storage unit in Seattle. Maybe it was the soft yellow light that cast shallow shadows. Or perhaps it was because it seemed like it was mine. I returned to an essay for a class called “Issues in Contemporary Horror,” now in its final stages of review before submission. It was about Rear Window. I could have chosen Night of the Living Dead or Cat People, but I was particularly pitched toward themes of voyeurism and the proximity and distance of strangers in close quarters. The crimes of sight. The coincidence of Dick Dude’s arrival three weeks earlier, only a few days before our class’ screening of Rear Window, was miraculous. The movie revolves around a professional photographer, Jefferies, who is laid up with a broken leg and spends his weeks recovering looking out bay windows at the back of his apartment. He overlooks a shared courtyard, with several apartments in view. The audience glimpses snippets of all his neighbors’ lives through his binoculars as the narrative focuses in on Mr. Thorwald, a man who Jefferies believes is a killer. As I rinsed the essay, I realized that Dick Dude was my very own Miss Torso—the promiscuous dancer in a second-story apartment that is constantly in various states of undress. Rear Window was produced in the 1950s, and as such, her character is played for laughs. She is the coquettish harlot of Hitchcock’s era—the loose woman who might have been portrayed as liberated or as a hippy, if only the movie was shot in a later decade. In this comparison, I imagined myself to be Jefferies. Or, more accurately, our merry band of degenerates from the Suzanne was the ensemble version of the laid-up photographer. This sapped the suspense and peril from the situation—Jefferies was vulnerable because of his isolation and his injury. I didn’t consider until much NONFICTION | 55
later that perhaps I was Mr. Thorwald, the predator in our web of gazes. Even later, I realized that I could be Mrs. Thorwald, the bedridden wife, the murder victim buried in the garden. ****** By the middle of winter, the four bottles on the back-porch railing became six, and then entering January a party guest accidentally bumped three of them into the gap between us and Dick Dude’s window. The glass shattered, leaving anthills of filters on the gravel below. Around that time, he raised his blinds entirely, eliminating the pretext of privacy. We debated errantly about whether he knew we were there, watching, even though we all knew in the backs of our minds that he did. We weren’t very subtle, laughing and interrupting each other behind thin glass. Aside from those detached conversations, we rarely ever talked about him anymore. The novelty had faded. His performance was a rerun of an episode that we’d already seen hundreds of times—a presence that got lost in the background as I prepared dinner or patched an article of clothing. Even so, we still saw him every night in the periphery of our collective vision. And I couldn’t shake the idea of how our presence outside his window would be composed as a scene in a horror film—lens fixated on the window, slightly off-center, a group of shadowy strangers enter the frame from behind the camera and stand still, looking in. The focus transitions from background to foreground, intensifying the intrusion of space. Dick Dude’s room was the only one in the apartment that was visible to us, and it appeared fairly depressing, equally as decaying as our own apartment but mostly bare. He had a box spring and a twin mattress, and employed cardboard boxes as furniture. It was a three-bedroom place, I figured, but we never saw anybody else. I imagined him as an international graduate student. No matter what his situation, the circumstances were clear—he was very alone. But he showed no signs of anguish. His expression and behavior were usually so vacant they were indecipherable. He was a character of contradictions. He retained a sense of stoicism even while mas56| PHOEBE 48.2
turbating for an audience at least twice a day. At once he could be pathetic and have a mysterious power. I even believed that he could know we were watching in one corner of his mind and not know in another. Being who I am, this quality of ambiguity, of slipperiness, fascinates me. It must have been a day in late February when we finally saw another soul in his apartment. Marla and I were home in the afternoon, passing time before we both had class, and went out to smoke. Sitting on the steps as usual, we saw that Dick Dude’s bedroom door was open, revealing a hallway and part of a living room that we had only caught quick glimpses of before. It didn’t seem he was home. “Do you want another one?” Marla grinned with a note of shame. I sighed. “The thing is, I do.” She pulled two out of her pack and handed me a square. We had reached a lull in conversation and sat staring ahead. We both periodically checked our phones. Marla grabbed my shoulder. “Did you see that?” I looked at her, sitting up straight, alarmed by something. “What? I wasn’t watching.” “There’s somebody in Dick Dude’s apartment.” “That’s weird—I’ve never seen anyone else in there before.” I looked back down at my phone, answering a message from my mother. “It must be his phantom roommate.” “No, something’s wrong. It was this guy in a black hoodie and a black hat—he had this black duffel bag too.” Finally, I caught the scent. I got up and walked around, trying to get different angles into the apartment. “Are you sure?” “Don’t ask me that question.” Marla was always sensitive to that class of question—the certainty of reality. “I saw him. He made eye contact with me and ducked out of sight.” “I believe you,” I said. “Maybe it’s a maintenance worker.” In retrospect, I subconsciously knew this wasn’t true. Dick Dude’s building was under the same property management company as ours, and they only had a few maintenance workers on staff, all of NONFICTION | 57
whom I knew because of how many service notices I placed for my apartment that always had one squeaky wheel. She looked at me, eyes wide. She looked frightened, and long after that moment, I wondered why I hadn’t been frightened. I still don’t have a good answer, but my response in these situations has always been doubt—skepticism and disbelief in my perception of reality. “What do we do?” she asked. “It’s probably normal.” I recalled countless scenes in haunted houses, a parent assuring a child that doors close because of drafts, the walls bang because of old pipes. We went inside after the second cigarette and made a French press of coffee. We drank quickly and left for class together. The entrance to Dick Dude’s apartment was around the corner from ours and I inconspicuously glanced down the cross-street as we passed. Nothing. No strange cars. No black-clad man with a bulging duffel bag furtively making his escape. When I arrived home, it was gloaming and there were two police cars parked on that cross-street. My chest tightened. I rushed in the front door and out the back. Two police officers were inspecting Dick Dude’s room. He was barely visible in the living room. A police officer caught a glimpse of me through the window and I retreated. I thought about talking to them, giving an account, but I hadn’t even seen anything, and Marla wouldn’t be home for another couple of hours. My testimony, I figured, wouldn’t mean anything, and would only draw questions. There wasn’t much to steal, I thought. His room looked essentially the same. The bed, the box spring, and the boxes were all in the same places. The walls were still blank. For a few days after, I smoked in the backyard instead of on the steps. He had never made eye contact before, but I don’t think I could have looked him the eye after that. Something I internalized working in various neighborhoods in Chicago is that neighbors look out for neighbors. A community is knit of that material. A betrayal of neighbors is one of the gravest disgraces possible. I’m still ashamed of this incident. As my father would have told me, character isn’t about doing the right thing when you have 58| PHOEBE 48.2
something to gain, but when you have something to lose. I still believe in this high-school-basketball-coach platitude, even though I don’t care much anymore if the type of person who recites them thinks I have character or not. Returning from class a few weeks later, I passed Dick Dude while he was on a jog. He was wearing shorts that barely covered his pubic hair and was soaked through with sweat, despite advancing at about the pace that I do walking. My gait stuttered but he didn’t disclose any expression of recognition. I wondered if he knew instinctually. I wondered if he pondered on the bond between neighbors and my transgression. I still wonder sometimes. ****** One night in mid-March I was home alone. Everyone was either at study group, or out with friends, or working in isolation. I was in a moment of stillness of the quarter, and I used the afternoon to shave everything, put on my favorite amethyst-purple velvet dress, and finish sewing a couple of shirts that I was working on. Something about this act of care, of presenting myself to myself, of self-service, made me more productive. I suddenly did my homework before midnight, researched job opportunities, and finished my personal projects. I went to the back porch to smoke several times, and Dick Dude was there, in his room, all day as well—alternating between masturbating and checking emails. I went out for a cigarette around eleven at night and sat on the steps. He had glanced in our direction before, but it was never me, just me, and never in such an exposed state. He had just ejaculated, leaving a little puddle on his stomach, oozing into his belly button. He stood up and removed a ragged, age-washed T-shirt from the hamper, perfunctorily wiping it across his belly. Then, he turned. There is so much potential for horror in a cold, well-paced turn. He was looking in my direction. I ducked slightly out of instinct. But he can’t see me, I thought. He approached the window, his pants and boxers still riding below the hips, his penis out, buttressed on top of his waistband. His nose was to the glass NONFICTION | 59
and he hadn’t broken focus on the spot where I was. I became immediately aware of myself and took stock—the dress, velvet, the queerest of fabrics, my panties with a tag that read “be sexy be you,” the long stretches of rash on my thighs from clearing coarse, curly hair. His blinds were almost entirely raised, but he reached to the rod, twirling it as if to open or close them. And he was just looking blankly. All pretensions of distance collapsed. Big cities can fool you into believing that people standing next to you are faint figures on the horizon, but sometimes the illusion shatters. Dick Dude and I were ten feet from each other, a fact I had never realized before sitting in the exact same spot. That sheet of glass between us suddenly revealed how thin it was, how much he must have heard, how much he had already seen. His expression was vacant, as if he were looking at nothing at all. I grabbed at my dress and pulled it up to obscure it. To me, this was horror—not because I felt imperiled, although I did, but because of the scene’s composition. The cruelness of being seen, laid bare. Horror is transformation—turning the secure into the vulnerable. Transmogrifying the catholic child, the family house, the neighbors. Taking bowers and making them a witch’s heath. Turning Small Town, USA into a warren of hillbilly cannibals. In many ways, this could be why women lead horror movies at a higher rate than in any other genre. In the collective imagination, they are more foreign and destabilizing to the audience, alien to the role of protagonist and evocatively vulnerable. This is especially true of the home invasion subgenre. Home is the ultimate subconscious ideal of security. Many of the protagonists in these stories are in a debilitated state, throwing them further into the deep end. In Wait Until Dark, Susy’s abode becomes a hell house because of murderous intruders, but the danger is heightened because she is blind. At the end of Rear Window, Jefferies is imperiled when Mr. Thorwald slinks into his apartment. The shot is unforgettable: Jefferies’ binoculars repose on his chest. The door opens in the background. The cast on his leg is foregrounded. Without these debilitations, perhaps there would be a fair fight. Nothing drains the potential for horror from a scene 60| PHOEBE 48.2
more than the direct conflict of prey and predator as equals. He had found my injury. This was my gimp as I ran from the killer. Women’s clothing has always made me feel safe, even when I was a small child, united with some alternate version of myself that feels truer, more real. On the porch, I was who I wanted to be. It seemed so far from my father’s bedroom, where he white-knuckle yelled at me for crossdressing, as he called it. You want to be a girl, is that it. It wasn’t a question and I knew it. The back porch seemed far from the basketball court on Vashon Island. Hammer that faggot, shouted from the bleachers. These moments collapsed on top of me. I remember shaking, which I find funny now. Shuddering seems like such a cartoonish reaction to the situation that I can’t help but laugh at myself. Dick Dude brushed his teeth still standing at the window, small penis trampolining on his waistband. Maybe this was an act of solicitation, or blackmail, or perhaps even an attempt at solidarity—we were both complicit in each other’s improper secrets. I stubbed out my cigarette and threw it off the porch rather than finagling it into a bottle. Grasping at my dress as I rushed inside. I must have moved rather awkwardly given the restriction of movement. I’m sure it appeared that I was mincing. No matter what his true intentions were, the image, the color, and the feeling of that confrontation burrowed into my head. I don’t know how to shake it. ****** Dick Dude moved out in April, well before the end of the academic year. We almost didn’t notice him packing, since many of his belongings were still in boxes scattered around his room. He threw a party a week before he left, which I’d postulated was for his birthday, but later realized was a sort of going-away celebration. Eight or nine people gathered in his room and sat, backs against the wall or against his bed. They placed three boxes of Sarpino’s pizzas in the middle and periodically picked through the slices while chatting and laughing. It was a shocking sight—seeing that NONFICTION | 61
he had friends and colleaguesâ€”a full life outside of his fish bowl of a room. We saw the evolution of the party in fragments during smoke breaks. I reframed him that day, not as pathetic and lonely as he appeared. I looked at the bottles on the railing. What qualifies as pathetic? After his guests left, he climbed into bed and started masturbating again. A few days later, his bed disappeared, and we finally knew he was leaving. My roommates and friends and I never discussed him with an air of sentimentality. Perhaps we were too preoccupied with the end of our final quarter in college. We threw away the Coke bottles full of cigarette butts, at that point seven total, a few days before graduation when families started arriving for the ceremony. When I left 5345 South Kimbark, I moved in with my parents. Dick Dudeâ€™s apartment was empty for the rest of my time in Chicago. I read that essay about Rear Window again after he moved out. It is one of the more middling essays I wrote in college, over-purple and derivative. Reading again, it became obvious that I was mapping the movie over my life before considering my place fully in the narrative. In the essay, I portrayed Jefferies as a predatory figure, and mostly ignored the idea that any of his neighbors could have drawn the curtains and pinched off the source of his power. Maybe they knew and didnâ€™t mind his gaze. Maybe they thought he was pathetic. I glorified his position in the narrative because I aligned myself with him. Upon further review, I think I was probably Miss Torso to Dick Dude, if he had seen the movie. I had given Dick Dude a show. Had he ever laughed at me, as a child does when Bugs Bunny puts on a dress and heels to escape Elmer Fudd? Or did he cringe like the audience is prodded to when Buffalo Bill dances in the mirror in The Silence of the Lambs? I wonder whether he still thinks about the moment when he looked me in the eye. Does he snicker about it. Does he wince.
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Gallery List JEAN WOLFF “Blue Fold White/BlueLines” Acrylic and Colored Pencil on Canvas 36 x 42’’ 2017 pg. 68 “Plaid Painting 5” Acrylic on Canvas 64 x 54’’ 2018 pg. 69 ELIZABETH LEVERTON “Play, in Progress” Acrylic on Denim pg. 70 FABIO SASSI “Drops” Digital Photography pg. 71 JANE AKWELEY ODARTEY “Akutu LX, 2018” Digital Abstract Photography Akutu LX, 2018 is part of a series of work created through blending colors, shapes and textures in Photoshop. pg. 72
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Monkey Treachery Maybe I had a baby with my father. Maybe I’m lying. Maybe I wish I had a father, then a baby, then another baby, then a break— what use is a child, or a finger? If we had just one finger, what kind of people would we be in the garden, eating violets at Susanna’s private party in the bible? Maybe we would catch Susanna being eyeballed
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by the elders at her bath, watch their fingers go inside her, gone to powder, catching wrath.
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Epiphyte What use is a child? Some of them are soft all over. Was yours? Did he leap? Lick dirt? Was he a likeable kangaroo? What toy did he choose for heaven? His mother’s fluttering wheel? What venue did he choose? Galapagos? His left head turning right as it ran out of air— was of use? And his doom? It gave pleasure? Like a zoo? 78| PHOEBE 48.2
Mrs. Wrightâ€™s Dream The white bowl howls at whiteness. Howls at pubescence, at the twinkling of it, as far as the eye can see. Being open to openness is not a good build for a home. Not if your daughter is a rabbit, and your son, a cracked gnome. And you, in truth, are a garden addicted to winter, to blows.
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Vorhandenheit CONTEST WINNER
This broom is an odd way to talk about architecture. Its labor is to break between two hands. As a shelter from the rain the broom is useless. What an interesting world in which taxis Drive along the course of history. Someone I had married traveled to Rome To look at the ruthless river. I ask the taxi driver to surprise me And he takes me to the mouth. The light enters my skin, here and here. See how light can derange a mind. See how a mind gathers to itself Like a clutch of yokes under a Columbian Blacktail. We thought the world was lit from within. You said, I possessed nothing in confidence. You touched everything of mine there was to touch. You would take no for an answer. You are thought to be a form for holding shapes Like my new oval breasts in a brassiere. You were questioned sternly about innocence. You protested, Iâ€™ve never even seen a child! You became skinny and anxious. I have several childhood memories That have been caught on tape. The long afternoon struggles Like a foal trying to stand up or a drunkard trying not to fall down.
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Aftermath of a Picnic I spent hours sitting in a quarry with the memory of my sister. We both pick flowers and shake them. The weeds look like theyâ€™re dressed in shawls. We pour tea and pass blossoms back and forth. We place petals on our tongues and sugar. There is the sound of rain Like someone at the backdoor. Whether or not someone is there, This cloud must pass eventually. She volunteers for the future. She holds out a dusted petal. Try this one, itâ€™s delicious. What does it taste like? Annihilation.
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HONORABLE MENTION i am young but old enough to understand incessance like you know iceberg lettuce or gravity or men another deli sandwich insists on a tasteless leaf & wow what a privilege to be both empty & everywhere once i held an unrequited man by the hand called him relentless & he said thank you once i was told some food has negative calories & wow another bland body demands my consumption only to eat me back i try & talk myself out of my own history i open my mouth & all the old boys fall out the audience i imagine yawns him again him again him again
as i do him
a waiter smiles my date scoffs as i ask about a saladâ€™s composition i have stopped taking at face value whatâ€™s supposed to be good for me i am old but young enough i am young but old enough that
to understand incessance i no longer aim to be ceaseless
it is my birthday again & my ears ring still i ache to heimlich my name from once-familiar mouths
lineage is just the charting of all the things i come from like my mother or the midwest or the ringing once i called a head of lettuce a meal & wow to eat & to swallow are not the same thing 82| PHOEBE 48.2
once i called a house plant a bandage & wow to recover & to neglect are not the same thing i am young but old enough to understand like you know the past or the scarring or
incessance the call to heal
today I pull the ghost of a vegetable from my bread sometimes my love is so small but at the same time everywhere tonight in a dream i hold the man by the hand tell him love stops pouring when the glass says when once here
in another life i affirm the water
I died by the flood i rise
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from Interred To reason with your poverty and tell it “I will not back down I will plant you in the ground so you will become a more plentiful poverty” My family’s village was considered better than most because we had more than twenty families living
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and a school
As a child I understood you were wanted if you appeared akin to leather furniture
glossy and permanently installed
Consider how a rigid way of life may reduce anxiety propelled off a bridge
Consider what it means to win daily and be
The body continuous in its repetition a river pouring into ruined bedding How might a prairie be planted how the willow trees
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Genderless the plume of the sky without shape but brimming over Sweetness will attest to the allure of desire smelling like lemons
You will know
exactly how the garden appears before you have seen it
It is what your
hands have worked and worked until you are sure what you had will never return again
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Alabama, I Knew what you wanted from me even then, i knew you needed a back rub. i was ten when my best friend needed a speech for the D.A.R. banquet, and me being good with words, desperate to help, fashioning myself necessary i wrote a paean to your liberties, your bbqs, your fragile plastic toys, sea to shining see see me. and she loved it so much, that me on white paper, she loved me so hard that she read my words aloud on a stage in your old white mansion before an audience i couldnâ€™t enter since i have never ever been born american, never once was i birthed in alabama or new york. without worth or what you deserve, there is no justice i have wanted (still wanting) to be yours, to belong, to be your fawning immigrant help.
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Where There Is Air where there is air there’s smoke so today the game is watercolors waterbeads in the water table if we sit on one end of the bathtub and spit watermelon seeds can we stick them to the wall? I shove towels under the door and the boys ask why why towels why isn’t the air safe why so many fires and anyway why do we have doors in the first place why locks why are some people bad their whys curl into fiddleheads into brush I can’t clear fast enough the fire department advises we create a defensible space around ourselves to minimize risk why doesn’t clearing the husks of dead poppies help me sleep why do I bolt the locks when home invasions are on the decline why am I not more terrified to gather in a public space my body near so many other bodies waiting to be cut down
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The Skyway Palimpsest The first question obviously is how and where to enter. The poem the memory yes but first which street to turn down from Hennepin one with lights or pigeons, maybe a good window, or do you be boring and enter through Hennepin like anyone would expect. My cousin says he knows how to enter old tunnels and so I blame him for my little obsession with knowing where everything is knowing everyone with a key. Because it drives me mad in this Midwest hinter how it’s tunnels just everywhere, cold war tunnels, sunken city tunnels, secret altar boy candle tunnels and I’m always too scared to plunder their depths, even when I have the security code or the key or vital schedules memorized I don’t take that unexplored moldy turn so I’m entering first through sky bridges and a desperate eleven miles worth, too. Where I would take you first if you ever trusted me to guide is the sandwich shop in Crystal Court where it’s all windows, and you have to wonder POETRY | 89
in the heart of the city if the skyway’s really a different city after all or a hundred vortexed cities, if time is static and stale and business body manipulated or maybe the heart’s an inexhaustible swallowing either or it’s really great. Because there’s maybe sunshine and you can finally think about it. Good to sit for otherwise you might feel like a little skyworm, chewing fluorescences shitting out dirty conclusions. Sometimes I walk by skyway art exhibitions and feel really rotten, because I won’t talk to the artists because maybe I want to be the only artist stuck in here maybe have a damsel in distress complex about it, or I’m terrified to come so close to those indigo assimilations, my delusion shattered that any other weirdo is simply occupying this time and space by chance. One exhibit is called Make The World A Better Place all paper hearts and neon bubble wrap, next door is something-about-Goethe who I’ve never really read maintained by man-in-red-hat-likean-overturned-flower-pot, he’s there Monday replaced Friday by an emerald circuit board tapestry, and woman-with-baby
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sitting in the chalk-white-outline of a body. The terror I think comes from a writing residency offered by Mall-Of-America, where a poet might have the privilege to write in a glass box and then your poems are owned by of course the Mall Of America, which really is a way for rich people who’ve never worked retail or cleaned malls feel lonely as this, ennui and undercover as this. When I steal language in my skyway store how is it any different other than I’d fight for what’s owned with even my candy-softened teeth. Am I insulated from that post-Iraq family trauma here or is it panopticoned. Work benches for weaponry stock brokers, I imagine, shallow and full of bright light, empty now but at a busier time,
crushed blue velvet chairs not quite right for sitting. Everywhere I go a memento regarding not what my father killed for he’s not the victim here but for what and who it’s all killed
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with blood money, all the plazas crenellated earth diced to fit in wires, glass gothic, other worlds echoing everywhere. I should listen. I walk around feeling maybe normal again, impossible my body anywhere. Feels like I could get kicked out just for breathing when I breeze with the riffraff, everyone underneath you in the polar vortex waiting for the bus, magnificently cold and curling industrial steam nearing beautiful from building corners the ones that watch you, everything tessellating on glass everywhere even your own body blocks away. Some days I’ll find myself in the Medical Arts Building like I’m actually in the 1800’s not in the way Wells Fargo Tower constructs grandeur with marble columns and a meaningless ephemera museum featuring a coffee pot or maybe another coffee pot and nothing truly interesting like a bit of limestone or cornerstone or bullet from The First Wells Fargo Bank Robbery just pristine official coffee pots which is how you know you’re in a simulacrum terrible as Las Vegas. If you walk south though you’ve maybe truly tumbled into the 1800’s, cracked baby dolls in exhibit cases, no explanations as though
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they were always there and you’re the weird one for looking. I’ll find an elevator and some lady asks what floor and I’ll think, maybe she’s really nice or hitting on me which is unfortunate since I’m fucking someone who works at Wells Fargo, and I feel weird about that, considering my quartered blood and how that bank funds the pipelines poisoning my family further with sludge and slurry. I follow her into the elevator anyway she suddenly shuts a cage door behind me pulls a lever the butterflies in my stomach float up my throat my mouth the buttons warm round and glowing. In order to love again I need to feel organic, submerge myself in lavender, rose petal, lemony waters, stay in one place in one room for hours. But no matter how hard I try I can’t wash that air off me. It clings to my sleeves like a grasshopper tuning her attentive belly ear, and one famine away from locust.
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Mockingbird In the thick air of Houston I walk my Pekingese, two blocks to the dog park; itâ€™s as far as she can go. In the tree, a plagiary; a mockingbird swoops against my long hairâ€” I have come too close. My dog protects her own territory: the futon we share. When I have guests she pees ridicule in the spaces they leave.
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One gun per family. And one painting. One gun and one painting.
One stitch for you, one one stitch and no cheating. Daguerrotypes of stretching, stretch marks. More than any divine cut. I have another magnanimity: singingâ€” the accident of trembling. One blanket per family. One blanket and one street cleaning each mid-morning. Go under, be brave, under the bed. Slip the coins into the folder of skin, baby hurry.
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I’d like to have an empty cupboard the way I like how I don’t fill the pouch in men’s underwear, a lonely nest void of muscle, hooking like a hand at life’s little figs. I want a space to hold a dream, to rent storage just around a corner. I am proud of this empty sack, the way it surrounds me, naming its place, pulling in fantasies I’d like to swallow. I offer myself to your imagination, put something tender inside.
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Reasons I Am Not An Octopus I do not need three hearts, all in my head, pumping copper blues, one of them halting every time I slow to a crawl. And why would I let sex be a tragedy? I know where I stop and the swimmers caressing my soft body begin. When I enter small gaps, I expect to get lost. I will not live a life of solitude, hiding under the shell of a large coconut, changing color in hope that someone might notice. You do not have to wait for me to move to know I am not deadâ€” my blood runs fiery in my fist. I will not live outside of my body, feeling obliged to eat my own limbs because theyâ€™re going off in all directions like snakes coiling around anything warm. I tell you, I will not touch a human hand without wanting to. Do not seek comfort in me; I will not morph for you, let you spread me flat as a blanket. I have spent years growing these bones. I am not willing to leave this world a globular splat.
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from Dear Wallace Dear Wallace, Fortunately, my kid was wrong when she said the squirrel is up in the tree, eating a raven. I take her very seriously as she is careful and it was like a sign of the end times. Of course, I don’t believe in end times. But I am pretty sure that I’m baking a ruined bread that’s not rising as I write this – a poor fungus in the envelope. It is a treat to be taken seriously. Beloveds so often dismiss one another. Boredom invents sex, then mothers.
Yes, I meant a hawk. *
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Refusal to see the rotting kitchen floor The tile is brown floral The tile is pealing up The tile is above dark wood The tile is a list of shadows The tile is crypt-topped The tile is you can’t be thirsty The tile is agape at noon The tile is star-lit rheumatism The tile is dirty cups, dirty cups The tile is a history of blue The tile is my mom isn’t home The tile is a little purple relish The tile is splintered by the sink The tile is don’t knock at the door, don’t knock The tile is open like unmet crescendo The tile is cross like undergarments drying The tile is not my father’s fireflies
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i began to love u when you failed to respond to my will duck duck goose u became the world & cut the glass across its reflex u were fast & did not sink into the lake /were as sudsed as a surfactant doing lifting and a holographic pleasure was the kind that yours would be like the vermilion-flinging sequins of Renée Fleming ‘s operatic pink champagnely dress— like feathers ripping from the sofa a sun that plunges down into the TV
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AUMAIN ROSE GRUICH
The Question of
My vices are avocados and noticing you notice me. Friends collapse into chairs and I could kiss them for the way they expose our collective uncertainty. It’s visual tyranny, we decide, as if any item in millennial pink could calm me before dreams where my voice is replaced by programmed babble that spools from my mouth like tape measure. Mother’s mother called her habits taste and father’s simply kept her mouth a thin line, ordered herself like her set of varnished coasters in their case. But my name suggests honesty, means this is true, so in my two-tone outfit I wonder what’s to gain from image, that hard external shell of the world, reducible, I think, but to what? There might be some value in the perception of it, the days I walked next to you in the street, caught your eye like the sparkles emoji was in the air, but then we lived in the cracked hubcap of beauty, which you broke to show me how. O to always be so close to free.
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the Importance of Image As an antidote to these filtered days, I’d shed the corporeal, go all sensey, safeguard against the urge to palm my phone, milk each moment in search of a winning caption. Try to mine the crowd, it seems, and before long, the crowd’s way mines thee. Anaïs Nin claimed to touch filth and not be defiled but what about the pristine? Beauty excites me in a way that feels wrong. The skin of green fruit leers an unsmooth perfection inside its wicker bowl. It begs interaction. And now I’ve let my slip show—
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Contributors SHAY ALEXI is a poet and writer based out of Atlanta. Alexi’s work explores the intersections of healing, reclamation, and the mythology of girlhood. The author of Diary of a Ghost Girl from Glass Poetry Press, Alexi’s writing has been featured by The Rumpus, Tinderbox Poetry, FreezeRay, Alternating Current, and Button Poetry, amongst others. TYLER BARTON is the co-founder of Fear No Lit, the organization responsible for the Submerging Writer Fellowship. He is the author of the flash fiction chapbook, The Quiet Part Loud (2019), which won the Turnbuckle Chapbook Contest from Split Lip Press. His fiction is forthcoming in Paper Darts, The Iowa Review, and Meridian. Find him at tsbarton.com or @goftyler. KELLY CALDWELL is a trans woman writing and working at Washington University in St. Louis. Her prose and poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in a number of print and online publications, including Fence, Small Po[r]tions, Entropy, PopMatters, Make: Magazine, Slant, Pacific Standard, The Rumpus, and VICE. She is the winner of an Academy of American Poets University Prize. Her manuscript, “Letters to Forget,” was previously a finalist for the Dorset Prize by Tupelo Press. She is the Co-Editor-in-Chief of The Spectacle. JULIE CHOFFEL’s poems have been published in The Tiny, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, The Seattle Review, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, Divine Magnet, and elsewhere. Choffel’s book The Hello Delay (2012) was chosen by Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge for the Poets Out Loud Prize. Choffel teaches creative writing at the University of Connecticut.
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HOLLIE DUGAS lives and teaches in New Mexico. Her work has been selected to be included in Barrow Street, Fugue, phoebe, Pembroke Magazine, Potomac Review, Under the Gum Tree, and CALYX. Hollie’s poem “As You Are Drying the Red Chili Peppers” was a finalist for the Peseroff Prize at Breakwater Review. Most recently, Hollie’s poem “A Woman’s Confession #5,162” was selected as the winner of Western Humanities Review Mountain West Writers’ Contest (2017). In addition, her poem “The Secret Lives of Figs” received Honorable Mention in the 2017 Rash Award Contest sponsored by the Broad River Review. She is currently a member on the editorial board for Off the Coast. DANA FANG is currently a second-year poetry candidate at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Fang’s work has been published in Black Warrior Review and Gigantic Sequins, among other places. Fang is a queer, nonbinary, Asian-American poet who lives in the Midwest. MAGDALYN GOULD is the poetry editor for Brine Literary and winner of the Hoyt Jacobs Memorial Prize in poetry. Her work can be found in Newtown Literary and SurVision. The Spanish Surrealists and Russian Absurdists have her great affection. She lives with her boyfriend in a surf town outside New York City. They are expecting their first child, Alma, who will live sweetly by the sea. AUMAINE ROSE GRUICH has work published or forthcoming in Court Green, inter|rupture, and Ruminate. She has been a finalist for Ruminate’s 2016 Janet B. McCabe Poetry Prize, the recipient of a 2018 Chautauqua Writers’ Center scholarship, and a winner of the 2019 Hobart L. and Mary Kay Peer Memorial Award judged by Dean Young. She works as an editorial assistant in poetry and creative-nonfiction for Ninth Letter. Originally from Los Angeles, MICHAEL HARDIN lives in rural Pennsylvania with his wife, two children, and two Pekingeses. He is the author of a poetry chapbook, Born Again (Moonstone Press 2019), and has had poems published in Seneca Review, Connecti106| PHOEBE 48.2
cut Review, North American Review, Quarterly West, Gargoyle, The Texas Review, and Tampa Review, among others. He has recently finished his memoir. VALERIE HSIUNG is the author of three full-length poetry collections, the latest of which is efg (Action Books). Individual poems can be found or are forthcoming in The Nation, The Believer, jubilat, Gramma, Tagvverk, So & So Magazine, Denver Quarterly, Sonora Review, Pinwheel, PEN Poetry Series, American Letters & Commentary, Berkeley Poetry Review, Poetry Northwest, No, Dear, and beyond. She has performed her little poetry theater at Treefort Music Festival, DC Arts Center, Common Area Maintenance, Leon Gallery, Poetic Research Bureau, Rhizome, Shapeshifter Lab, and The Silent Barn. Born and raised by Chinese-Taiwanese immigrants in southern Ohio, Hsiung is nowadays based out of New York. KIRSTEN IHNS is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and is currently a Ph.D. student and Neubauer Presidential Fellow in English at the University of Chicago, where she studies texts that seem to want to be images, co-curates the emerging artist/poet series Plexiglas, and reads poetry for Chicago Review. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Hyperallergic, Black Warrior Review, The Iowa Review, Bennington Review, Prelude, Yalobusha Review, and elsewhere. She is from Atlanta. LESLEY JENIKE’s poetry and nonfiction have appeared in At Length, The Kenyon Review, Poetry, The Bennington Review, Verse, Rattle, Waxwing, and many other journals. Her most recent collection is Punctum: a chapbook of poems published by Kent State University Press in 2017. She’s currently blogging for Ploughshares on issues literary and teaches literature and creative writing at the Columbus College of Art and Design in Columbus, Ohio, where she lives with her husband and two small children. You can find her at www.lesleyjenike.com.
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EMMA JOHNSON earned an MFA from the University of Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program in 2009. Her essays have appeared in Southeast Review, Drunken Boat, Two Hawks Quarterly, The Iowa Review, DOLLFEEDER, and in an anthology published by NCTE titled: Reinventing Identities in Second Language Writing. Since organizing the first free writing workshop for veterans in Iowa City, Ms. Johnson has also conducted workshops at Eastern Kentucky University, the Writers Place in Kansas City, and for military children with parents serving overseas. Writing My Way Back Home—A Writers’ Workshop for Veterans is a nonprofit organization committed to helping U.S. military personnel finding their way back home through writing. HALEE KIRKWOOD is a descendant of the Fond Du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and a current MFA student at Hamline University where Kirkwood is wrapping up a thesis in poetry. Kirkwood is a mentor for the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop, served as assistant editor for Runestone, and has poetry published in Muzzle Magazine, Cream City Review, Grimoire, and others. DANA KOSTER is the author of Binary Stars (Carolina Wren Press 2017). She was a Wallace Stegner Fellow. Her poems have appeared in EPOCH, Indiana Review, Southern Humanities Review, Vinyl, Muzzle Magazine, Radar Poetry and many others. She lives in Modesto, California with her husband and two sons, where she works as a wedding photographer. Mainly a folk artist with a sewing machine, ELIZABETH LEVERTON sews handbags, hats, journals, boxes, guitar straps, and some custom belts and clothing under the name CrookedBags. She also sews with mixed media cloth that she creates using paper, words, dye, and acrylic paint. She rarely use patterns, but prefers to create her own or to sew from scratch without one. When she comes to a roadblock in her writing or art, she goes back to fingerpainting cloth. Her focus is on making small pieces of cloth with bright, beautiful combinations of color on them, for use in larger 108| PHOEBE 48.2
works later. This could be considered in line with what Carl Jung called Active Imagination. It is â€œPlay, in Progress.â€? It is painting: and for Leverton, painting breaks down mental blocks and barriers. When inspiration lands things in her lap, Leverton counts them as spiritual gifts. A part-time sales associate at Staples, she also writes poetry and songs and plays guitar. A portfolio of her past works can be found at www.facebook.com/crookedbags/. JANE AKWELEY ODARTEY is a Ghanaian American writer, poet, photographer, artisan and educator. She blogs at janethroughtheseasons.com and her visual art has featured at the Sidney Mishkin Gallery in New York City, Verity La, CALAMITY, and elsewhere. FABIO SASSI makes photos and acrylics using what is considered to have no worth by the mainstream. He really enjoys taking the everyday and ordinary and framing it in a different way. Fabio lives in Bologna, Italy and his work can be viewed at www.fabiosassi.foliohd.com. ALINA STEFANESCU was born in Romania and lives in Alabama. Her poems and prose are recent or forthcoming in DIAGRAM, New South, Mantis, VOLT, Cloudbank, Prairie Schooner, NELLE, and others. She serves as Poetry Editor of Pidgeonholes, President of the Alabama State Poetry Society, and co-founder of the Magic City Poetry Festival. Her first poetry chapbook, Objects in Vases (Anchor & Plume Press, 2016) won the ASPS Poetry Book of the Year Award. Her first poetry collection, Stories to Read Aloud to Your Fetus (Finishing Line Press, 2017) included Pushcart-nominated poems. Her debut fiction collection, Every Mask I Tried On, won the Brighthorse Books Prize and was published in May 2018. More online at www.alinastefanescuwriter.com or @aliner.
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LARISSA SZPORLUK is the author of five books, most recently Traffic with Macbeth, and she is a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship. S.G. VEIL is an ESL instructor in Oaxaca, México and a writer for EDHREC.com. When he isn’t with students or fiddling with Magic: The Gathering cards, he thinks about single words for hours at a time and makes weird sounds as he walks down the street, formulating strategies to teach pronunciation. He enjoys writing about gothic monsters, bugs, identity, and desires, as well as explaining the untranslatable word, cozy. “Porches” is his debut publication. CHRISTIAN WINN’s fiction has appeared in McSweeney’s, Ploughshares, Glimmer Train, TriQuarterly, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row Journal, Gulf Coast and elsewhere. Winn’s short story collections, NAKED ME and What’s Wrong With You is What’s Wrong With Me, were recently published by Dock Street Press. Winn is a fiction writer, literary event producer, and teacher of creative writing living in Boise, Idaho. Born in Detroit, Michigan, JEAN WOLFF studied fine arts at the Center for Creative Studies in Detroit and at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, receiving a BFA in studio arts. She then attended Hunter College, CUNY in New York, graduating with an MFA in painting and printmaking. She’s since had group and solo exhibits in various galleries in New York City and internationally, published works in 52 issues of 38 magazines, and is part of the artistic community of Westbeth in Manhattan. To view more of Jean’s work please visit www.jeanwolff.com.
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Fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, and art selected for our 2019 contest issue.