FEATURING WRITING AND ART BY:
VANDANA KHANNA STACY PARKER LE MELLE JENNIFER LOTHRIGEL CATE MCGOWAN DANIEL NEFF MARTIN OTT SUZANNE RICHARDSON TRAVIS TRUAX JUSTIN WELLS BILL WOLAK JEAN WOLFF SHELLEY WOOD
BOBBY NEEL ADAMS DANIEL BIEGELSON DMITRY BORSHCH TERRI BROWN-DAVIDSON ROGER CAMP HARRISON COOK GENEVIEVE DEGUZMAN MICHAEL FULOP SARAH GRIDLEY DIANA HURLBURT MICHAEL HURLEY ALYSSA JEWELL LESLIE JOHNSON
Phoebe - 49.1 - CoverRootsatTop.indd 1
12/13/19 11:53 AM
VOLUME 49 | ISSUE No. 1 | Winter 2020
Phoebe (Vol. 49, Issue No. 1, ISBN 978-0-9843867-7-2) 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, and nonfiction twice a year. Our print edition is available for $7. Back issues are available for $5. For complete submission guidelines, please visit www.phoebejournal.com.
Cover Art: Bill Wolak “With Eyes Steeped in Mist from the River” Design and Composition: Timothy Johnson Phoebe is indexed in Humanities International Complete. ©2020 Phoebe email@example.com www.phoebejournal.com
EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Rachel Purdy MANAGING EDITOR Melissa Wade FICTION EDITOR ASSISTANT FICTION EDITOR Lindley Estes Zachary Barnes NONFICTION EDITOR ASSISTANT NONFICTION EDITOR Abi Newhouse Sarah Wilson ART EDITOR ASSISTANT ART EDITOR Rachel Purdy Melissa Wade POETRY EDITOR ASSISTANT POETRY EDITOR Blake Wallin Millie Tullis WEBMASTER SOCIAL MEDIA MANAGER Jenna Kahn Millie Tullis FACULTY ADVISOR Jason Hartsel Kevin Binder Stephanie Buckley Kathy Callahan Ian Cappelli Keene Carter Ro Chand Meaghan Clohessy Kathleen Colvert Lena Crown Frannie Dove Mansoor Faqiri
READERS Jenny Fried Tara Fritz Amanda Ganus Laura Handley Julie Iannone Ben Inks Timothy Johnson Jenna Kahn Kate Keeney Kyra Kondis Su-Ah Lee
Chris McGlone Jace Smellie Christian Stanzione Leah Sumrall Grace Taber Meagan Trammell Sean van der Heijden Katherine Vinogradoff Melissa Wade Andrew Joseph White Mary Winsor
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 49 | ISSUE No. 1 | Winter 2020
TABLE OF CONTENTS FICTION
Last Days of Men
In a Religion Where God is a Horse
Hold On, Just So
ART GALLERY I DMITRY BORSHCH
36 37 38
Hand studies 1 Hand studies 2 Hand studies 3
39 40 41
Deteriorated Gravestone, Paris Gals, Paris 13.10, Paris
STACY PARKER LE MELLE
Ferry Cross the Mersey
Itchiku Kubota’s Kimono
ART GALLERY II JUSTIN WELLS
BOBBY NEEL ADAMS
Wolf from “Memento Mori”
History Erodes Us
83 84 85
Naxos I CanvasDrawing2018 DoublePaperCutStudy2018
The Destroyer Is Pretty Sure The Marriage Counselor Likes Him Best
Close Encounter at Dance Party
Spring: Driving I-29
So Far Out
Georgia Oâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;Keeffe Makes a Life for Herself
You are a Small Town in a Documentary Film about Endings
The Book of Summer
Elegy for Camille Monet
This is how you end up at a party where you shouldn’t be— your cousin Nina is wild and has been sneaking out since she was 14, slow dancing with boys with one syllable names at every house party she can get to without making the aunties suspicious. She knows there’s a good Indian boy waiting for her at some prep school in Maryland that she’s never met but has been a shadow in every room she’s entered since she was 15. He’s a ghost with thick, wiry hair, a Krishna in a Brooks Brothers suit, with flute in hand waiting for her under the mandap at the wedding hall three years into her future. If she’s lucky, he might not descend to earth in his father’s Mercedes until after she’s done with college, but by then she’ll have been so used to the idea of him haunting every doorway that she’ll agree to anything just to stop the not-knowing. Nina thinks this must be what her parents mean by dharma. *** The aunties in their cotton saris and Nikes have been strategizing every Tuesday at 9:00 a.m. at the mall, plotting as they make their third loop past the skinny, white models at Abercrombie and Fitch and the pink-hued air of Victoria’s Secret. They are hoping for a doctor or an engineer. The girls all have good families, clear skin and high GPAs. They deserve the best and the boys will have to deliver—late nights studying AP Physics and no Friday football games. A definite “yes” to academic decathlon because they won’t be looking at the girls on that team. But a “no” to drama club and French club, both indicators of a boy who isn’t serious. And nobody wants a boy who isn’t serious. *** So you lie to your parents and hitch a ride with Nina in her friend’s white Toyota Corolla without power windows. Do a quick scan of the crowd and find no gods haunting the corners, only FICTION | 3
mortal boys in polos whose numbers you will have tucked into your back pocket by the end of the night. And when the boy with cropped hair from the Catholic school asks you to say something in your mother tongue, to use the same words you’ve been trying to forget your whole life, pretending not to understand the Hindi your grandmother speaks over the phone, long distance and echoey from a Delhi post office, the only word you can think of is bhuka. It’s the only word you remember saying over and over to that same grandmother that one, long summer your parents sent you to her so they could work double shifts. It’s the only one that lands on your tongue heavy and thick, filled with sugar and salt and desire. It’s the one you’ll pretend means beautiful because that’s a much better word to say out loud, the only word boys and ghosts want to hear coming out of your mouth.
4 | PHOEBE 49.1
Last Days of Men I glanced past my soon-to-be-ex-husband to the dead grass where he’d sprayed weed-killer, and then beyond, to the kidney-shaped pool burping with algae. He lit a cigarette, and a yellow butterfly the size of my thumb landed on a leaf above his head. We watched the insect, transfixed by its at-rest twittering motions. Ben was moving the last of his stuff across town to his new apartment and had stopped in for his final load, stacking shirts and blazers into his backseat, the hangers jangling onto the driveway. After he loaded up, we stood shoulder to shoulder on the yard and glanced across our property. The butterfly moved to another leaf. “I wonder, what gives a creature value? Beauty? Or grace?” I asked. Ben only shrugged. Then I blurted out what I’d avoided asking for months. “How’d this happen to us?” “All this,” Ben waved his hand through the air, cigarette ash flying, “isn’t worth it.” I followed his stare, glanced over our discolored roof and the full gutters. I nodded. “Yes, it’s just stuff...” And before I could continue, he interrupted. “That sky, now that has possibilities.” Ben’s voice trailed his last exhale, and the smoke, a gauzy legacy, drifted across the neighbor’s fence. And then, as they had all spring and summer, the flying men entered the scene, a cluster lofting from behind a stand of oaks, kicking their legs like swimmers, paddling humid air. Ben leaned back to shield his eyes, chuckled as he followed the flight patterns of men coasting alongside blinking jets. After the planes traversed twilight and disappeared, the men continued to weave through ribboning contrails in the sunset, dimpling the vista. *** No one understood why the men flew. Nobody could find a reason. In the early days, we witnessed male neighbors leave everyFICTION | 5
thing behind—they scudded toward the clouds, their tiny specks sailing downwind as if they were colorful kites too high to tug back down. We watched fellows fetch the daily post from their curbside mailboxes or water their lawns or flip burgers on their backyard grills or feed stray cats in the underbrush. Then we watched the men rise. Those initial ascents were not a fluke. At first, I found the hovering males a comfort—almost like angels watching over me. I knew others felt that way, too. However, the stream did not stop; the men continued to rise up and away. Their numbers mounted as the days passed. They rose in pairs, then clumps, then whole parties. After a month or so, earthbound folks grew alarmed as more flying guys up-drafted from both hemispheres, amassing daily into thickets, lending the skies a dark cast. If a dude stepped outside for a smoke break or a few buddies went to the corner bodega for a sixpack, they sometimes disappeared for good. During the last sad summer, when I faced the sky, I came to resent all that omnipresent masculinity navigating above me. *** In the early-aughts, I met Ben at the tapped-out keg of a sprawling harvest party. He wielded the beer spigot, unsuccessfully tried to re-fill my cup; I brushed his elbow, and I wasn’t thirsty after that. We huddled away from the crowd and made small talk in a corner, and then he gestured toward the door. I followed. That night, something compelled us to drive away together like two fugitives speeding down a state route, looking for darker roads, dodging cops, searching for empty parking lots. When we found a 7-Eleven, Ben maneuvered to the back of the property close to looming woods and parked; We climbed into his backseat and peeled off our clothes, tried to touch as much of each other as we could. I lay on my back, gazed at the stars through strands of Ben’s disheveled hair, the Milky Way haloing his silhouette. As he came inside me, I spotted my first flying man through the rear windshield. I tracked that lone airborne figure, a black apparition spectering 6 | PHOEBE 49.1
through half-moonlight, a missile who connected all the constellations’ dots. I traced the phantom’s flying pattern across nomadic clouds for a few minutes, then fell asleep under Ben’s spent weight. I didn’t see another flying man until that last spring. *** There was no order to the men’s inexplicable exodus. No departure warnings, either. Sometimes they dissipated while indoors, then re-appeared in the firmament. Poker games went abandoned, pop flies uncaught, executive minutes forgotten. And the soldiers! They whorled upward, too, still wielding their loaded weapons, plucked off battlefields into the ozone as if by the very fingers of God. The men’s numbers grew by the thousands, then the hundreds-of-thousands. During those long, sweltering days and sticky evenings, we went outside to view the phenomenon, to marvel at the flying men as if their antics were an airshow. We sure enjoyed the spectacle— the airborne aces were hams, cheerfully waving when they zoomed past. We gasped, “Hey, will you look at that!” “Wow!” “That’s really something!” There were different types of flyers, too. There were fat, purposeful aviators in bespoke attire who rose like mylar balloons, drifting passively, avoiding power lines, bowing to greet each other. I preferred the chandelling bombers tricked out in tracksuits and running shoes, daredevils who bounced on low cloud trampolines and nosedived, hurling toward innocent birds before untucking and swerving through the city’s skyline. *** On that last day, I sat alone in a café and nursed my coffee, watching September shadows stretch across the tile floor. I picked at the corner of a manila envelope in front of me. My divorce papers. I’d practically memorized the entire document, but I wouldn’t sign anything, not until Ben did. Sure, it wasn’t like any FICTION | 7
of this was a surprise—I’d known for years our marriage wasn’t working. We’d had opportunities to heal ourselves, but hadn’t. A comfortable silence wedged between us; I had no idea how to fill it. The café’s only waitress walked by and slid my check across the table. “Need anything else, hon?” she asked, but didn’t wait for an answer—she topped off my mug anyway. Someone in the kitchen turned up the volume on the sound system, and a radio station’s female DJ muttered dystopian claptrap before she introduced the next song. I gazed out the smudged window, watched pedestrians promenade past. Homeward-bound females trudged in their practical sneakers and flats, their impossible pumps stowed away in totes. Secretaries, receptionists, teachers. They purled by in bunches through traffic fumes. Above the crosswalk, a stoplight phased on its rush-hour clock, sequencing through green, yellow and red. Time marched forward as always, and if I didn’t look higher than street-level movement, nothing was different. I continued to sip my coffee and wait, but Ben never showed. *** Everyone became inured to the flyers’ murmurations, the groups’ coordinated movements as they muscled through stiff breezes, jumbled flocks skeining this way and that. But it was nonetheless thrilling to witness rare shuttlecocking outliers as they flung themselves through fancy aeronautical tricks, diving and dipping at the edges of their home swarms’ peripheries. The news was turning grimmer by the day; it became apparent that the flying men were not a temporary thing. Males forsook terra firma, vacating their partners and families who wondered if their men would ever come home to gravity. Did the Y-chromosomed deserters ever sleep or eat or check on their children, on their aging mothers or beloved pets? Not really. No one on Earth could determine any flying man’s tendency to move groundward. No, those in the atmosphere never returned. 8 | PHOEBE 49.1
*** I stirred the sludgy sugar in the bottom of my mug, and I reminisced about his mastery. I once believed he could do anything. Except for relationships, maybe. Ben was terrible at relationships, but he did excel at everything else. He was a natural athlete, a walking metronome. On sunny days, Ben could sniff the air, perceive an imminent storm when there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. He’d lick his finger, swipe it above his head. “Rain’s coming,” he’d say. A few minutes later, I’d have to pop open my umbrella to walk through a downpour. Unlike Ben, I’d never known luck or possessed uncanny skills. Nothing ever came easy for me. I had no idea what it meant to maintain perfect-pitch or possess a green thumb. I’d never pulled a one-armed bandit and lined up three bells. One time, when we went bowling, Ben hit seven strikes in a row, and then, after his eighth, I was up next. Of course, I guttered my ball. “At least I have potential,” I said and shrugged as I sat down. Our friends slapped me on the back and giggled. But Ben scowled. “Potential’s not actual, you know. Yeah, only perfection’s actual,” he said. “Whatever the fuck that means,” I responded, shrugging again, and everyone laughed. Everyone but me. *** It was the only story anyone talked about. There was much debate over what force was pulling men into the stratosphere. Some joked that the men had escaped earthbound boredom, that it would be better to leave life’s problems behind anyway. We, on the ground, however, felt helpless, uncertain why men kept rising. We could find no cause. That summer, the laws of physics didn’t apply. The words “cataclysm” and “apocalypse” were bandied about. Some Christian theologians asked, “Is it the Rapture?” But the atheists countered believers with basic logic: “No, the men haven’t gone to paradise. They’re still here, just not technically walking around.” FICTION | 9
*** I waited, but I knew it was hopeless. For weeks, I’d left countless messages for Ben, and I’d gotten no callbacks, no emails. He hadn’t shown for any of our lawyers’ appointments; he’d left me alone to make small talk in a conference room with two bored attorneys and an expensive transcriptionist. Yeah, he’d probably already joined the swarm. I reckoned he was one of the natural flyboys up there, loafing along on thermals one minute, pitching like a nimble falcon the next. I stood and paced between the café’s empty chairs, went to the window again and pressed against the glass, stared down Main Street to catch sight of the sunset far to the west. A maelstrom of swanning men swooped around the tallest skyscrapers; all the downtown corporations’ choppers were grounded on those edifices and had been for days on their rooftop helipads. So many males plummeted in the cathedral limits as far as one could see, and I imagined they were like the locusts in the Old Testament, but in this real-life story, a plague of men terrorized the suburban wastelands of mini-malls and chain restaurants, soccer fields and mega-churches. I hadn’t heard birdsong in months. As I leaned over a table to peer past the casement, I spotted a parcel of barren sky close to the horizon, an emptiness bookended between buildings. Such a rarity to not spy a single man anywhere up there. And then, after a minute, the flying men invaded that violet emptiness, too. Thankfully, darkness would soon descend by degrees into a deep purple evening, and with the new moon, the men up there would disappear—at least from sight. I sat down again just as a warning from the Emergency Broadcast System yawped over my phone and the dining room’s staticky speakers; it was followed by an urgent news bulletin: “Today, the last of Earth’s able-bodied men ascended. Please make your way to the city’s shelters for your own safety. Do not travel alone.” The waitress, who stood at her service station, yanked the pencil from behind her ear, untied and tossed her apron to the floor. The chef emerged from the kitchen, slid off her cap and pocketed it. I grabbed my purse but abandoned my unsigned divorce papers, left them right there on the table. 10 | PHOEBE 49.1
The three of us exited the café and joined the slow-motion evacuation already underway as women walked toward the outskirts of town, shooting frequent glances up at the flocks of guys rocketing over us, the men trying to outdo one another, the cacophony at times deafening, as some laughed and commanded us to “Smile, baby!” I heard one lady wistfully proclaim to her friend, “I’m so glad we’re not up there.” We women ambled along the sidewalks. With each step, more females joined us as we vacated apartment buildings and grocery stores, some even abandoned their cars along the road, motors still running, doors open, swinging in the breeze. Our numbers swelled as we spilled onto the streets and paraded away. We were a deliberate herd with no true end-destination, no one elbowing or pushing, no one striving or angling for perfection or attention.
FICTION | 11
In a Religion Where God is a Horse You’re 9-years-old on one of those bad weekends when your aunt and uncle shuttle you off to the racetrack at Mahoning, winking now we just won’t tell your mother when your $5 of hoarded allowance disappears through the mutuel window. It comes back so fast, fast as the horses running home, $5 and then 17 plus an ice cream cone. You could grow up to be a bettor, a horseplayer is the proper term, not that you ever realized something with play in it could be a serious thing, a job like your parents have jobs. Your uncle plays horses and pays bills. Your aunt buys horses and pays rent, whispering prayers that they win, that the purse is big enough to cover the check newly written. It all seems like a snake biting its tail, a picture you’ve seen in a book of myths your mother gave you last Christmas. A circle with no beginning or end. People hurting themselves in order to reach Heaven. A little while later, after you have not grown into a horseplayer, you realize it’s sympathetic magic. The racetrack is lousy with it. If you set a lock of hair on fire, the horse will burn. There was another picture in the book of myths, a centaur firing arrows of gold. The small people on horseback seemed to you, then, centaur-like. There was no sign of their separation from the animals, not right away, no marker of sex or gender. Jockey was a meaningless word coming from your aunt’s lips. It settled onto your head like a halo, accompanied by her lips brushing and then her hand. Later it takes on real weight, a name descending and cloaking and revealing, in perfect time with weight you shed. A pound of gravitas for every pound of flesh. Lighter and lighter, every unnecessary thing scraped off and discarded. Taunts exfoliated, slurs clipped away for burning so that no one may use your own essence against you, confusion vomited up and flushed. No more opportunities 12 | PHOEBE 49.1
for the furtive glances of museum guides on your class trips, boys bathroom and girls bathroom and then your teacher murmuring, pointing. No more call for curious fingers beneath the hem of your t-shirt, grasping, seeking. No more reason for anyone to look at you and see something beyond what you are, what the horse denotes. The horse is code, reason and reason enough. You’re 15 when you receive your first concussion, a coming-ofage event far more significant than sex. Seventeen when you lose the bug, 18 and traveling to a track outside Ohio, a plane for the first time. Twenty brings a shattered femur, another bone in the growing litany. You learn what horses feel, coming from the lay-off. A hospital room has four walls and restraints and shitting where you sleep, same as the quarantine stall. You ache for someone to turn you out. Green grass, physical therapy, your body in proper usage instead of pain, when when when. No proof the track will be waiting for you, your cubby in the jocks’ room unadulterated, the dirt oval raked and ready. They might forget your name, not that they ever knew it. They don’t recognize you off the horse, out of the silks, a jock is insensible without these trappings, tools, armor. Goggles and jacket, boots, whip are extensions of your body, not a uniform but a skin. It’s what the chisel-jaw hero in those movies never realizes, all the monologuing about what makes a human. The horseplayers want you to know you’re not human. You’re something more than human. Cyborg. You’re a master sculptor: wire-jointed skeleton, lean muscle, cheekbones and ribs in their definition, pectoral mass redistributed and organs rearranged, bodily processes refitted. A jock is a jock; Thistledown or Keeneland, an array of blood and muscle, all of them the same as you. Iron-wrought New Yorkers, hardened by Aqueduct and gilded by Saratoga, exist to be taken apart and reassembled. There is not an inch of you in existence that you haven’t made yourself. You’re 33 when the greatest jock in three generations retires, this time for good. Your parents, evangelical to the core, believe 33 to be the age at which Christ died for mankind’s sins. It always grates at you, this placeholder, mankind for humanity. Everything stands in for something else. To be a man among race-riders is to FICTION | 13
serve one function, displayed through whips and hard riding and trash talk. You’ve never wanted to be a man. To be a woman and same—choose a cocoon, a man’s body drawn over yours protectively, or provocatively. One-man girl or one of the boys. You aren’t a woman. On the dirt, on horseback, there’s no telling; there is only style, tendencies, a sharp eye from horseplayers spotting the signature move deep around the backstretch turn. The luminous they. You gave up, long ago, the brittle fighting, the praise shout that racing placed men and women together at every point—that, therefore, those whom are neither/both/something else again are tailor-made for it, God’s own children in a religion where God is a horse. Horses are herd animals. The jocks’ room is a hive. In your book of myths, the ancients read fortunes in the movements of birds in flight.
14 | PHOEBE 49.1
Hold On, Just So I met Suki in my life-drawing class, back when she’d already quit her job and had all that other shit happen, but still had both boobs. I figured she was working on improving herself — taking some classes, traveling, doing the things she’d always wanted to do when she retired. You really shouldn’t put those things off, that’s what I was always telling her. Because you never know. I wasn’t an artist myself at the time; I was working. You probably think you need to be pretty or skinny or hot to be a life-drawing model but that’s total bull. All you really need to do is keep still and hold it. Not everyone can do this. When I was first learning to model, someone told me: you don’t go to the art, you let the art come to you. I liked that. And that’s the hardest part: learning to hold yourself as you are, just so. Not that I’ve never had a problem keeping still. I once watched all three Lord of the Rings movies back-to-back with my boyfriend—Neal I think that was, or maybe Mark—and he had to keep getting up to stretch, saying his ass was numb, or his foot had fell asleep, but I was completely fine, no problemo. Suki wasn’t the best artist in the class, not by a mile. But she’d gotten her best drawings framed real nice and had them hanging in the hallway of her home like some kind of gallery, like some real artist had done them. There’s something about a frame that just makes art look more like art. People see some squiggly lines or blots of color all mounted and framed and they just think, well, that’s the real thing. That’s art. How much does that cost? I don’t think I’d really noticed Suki, drawing me, until the week she came up after class and went, “Hey, do you want to go for coffee?” I didn’t answer straight away because her smile was almost too wide, like her upper lip might split if it tried to close back over all those white teeth. Then she went. “C’mon, my treat.” We walked over to the Bean Scene, cold trying to shiver down FICTION | 15
my collar, and Suki’s face turning the color of skim milk. I ordered a hot chocolate and a health-nut vegan cookie—nothing too expensive. Suki got a muffin and an Americano and then hunched over it like it was a campfire. She’d yanked her wool hat off and static was making her hair waft upwards like smoke, but she didn’t take off her coat. She was always cold, she said, always freezing. She said, “I hate winter.” So I went, “This isn’t winter. Winter is Northern Alberta.” Suki said her job was marketing for a bunch of the local wineries and I said, “Wow, you must get lots of free wine!” She laughed a little—she could actually look a bit pretty when she laughed. She said she quit drinking when she got cancer. I went, “Cancer is a bitch.” I’d seen that on a T-shirt. Suki didn’t laugh this time, she just nodded real slow and went, “Ya, it is. Cancer’s a bitch.” After that, she shook her head like there was something loose and rattle-y in it and said, “But hey, how about you, Kaylee? What do you do?” She’d say my name like it was two names, Kay-Lee, with an emphasis on both. I kind of liked it. “Tell me about you, Kay-Lee.” Not much to say, really. My mom still lived in Fort Mac with my brother and I’d come out here because I was fed up with the guys there, plus I was sick of the cold and flies, plus I wanted to make something of myself. I’d dropped out of school after I almost failed grade 11 because what did I need school for when there was plenty of good money to make right away? So I worked in the Mac for three years and got some money saved away and here I was now, wasn’t I, living the dream. And no one was going to make me move back home when I was here, doing just fine, thank you very much. That’s what I told Suki. I also told her I had a good job working the till at Quality Greens and I was really happy I’d stayed in Kelowna and not gone back when my brother said he could get me work as a cook out at his camp. And that was all mostly true because I was happy, and my brother had said he could get me that job. The only thing was, I didn’t have my job at Quality Greens any more, which is why I needed the life drawing classes. But who knows, maybe I 16 | PHOEBE 49.1
could get it again. Life’s like that. I think the night manager kinda overreacted. I should just ask if they are hiring. Crazier things have happened. Suki was 36 and she didn’t have any kids and that was a good thing because she and her husband had split last year and he’d moved to Vancouver and now he wanted a divorce so he could marry someone else. I was like, “Whoa! You have cancer and your husband ditched?” And she was like, “I know, right?” Then she went, “No, no, it wasn’t like that. This is something we both wanted. Besides,” she went, “I got the house.” Then she started prying the chocolate chips out of her choco-banana muffin with a long, pink thumbnail. *** In the spring, I got a job helping a lady who sold quilts and baby booties at the farmer’s market, so that was something. Plus the director at the gallery said he thought I was doing great as a regular for the life model class, although it doesn’t pay much. For the drawing class, they like to rotate different people through to give the artists the chance to draw different bodies. But by then I was modeling for a painting class and for that they need to paint the same person each week, standing the exact same way each time. It actually gets easier and easier. After a few weeks, that pose was pretty much my resting position. I’d be in line at Safeway or waiting for the bus and I’d notice I was cupping my right elbow in my left hand, and resting my chin on the knuckles of my right hand my gaze fixed solemnly on the middle distance, as the instructor put it. It was pretty comfy. The amazing thing was all the places people were painting me. One guy had me standing naked in a leafy jungle with big, bright birds and an archway of flowers over my head. Someone else had me standing in a window of an apartment building, high, high up, looking out over New York City with the Statue of Liberty in the background. An older lady in the class was painting me from behind so I was looking out over the ocean at night-time, the big ol’ moon trying to spill all its yellow into the black sea with the stars winking down, like they were in on the joke. Imagine me, Kaylee Stuart, gazing out over the ocean, visiting exotic lands. I’ve never even been to Vancouver. FICTION | 17
Suki wasn’t taking the painting class, but I’d still see her when I modeled for beginner drawing and we’d go for coffee. By the time fall rolled around, we’d gotten to know each other pretty well. When I got kicked out of my apartment at the end of September, Suki offered for me to stay with her for a few days until I found a new place. Let me tell you, Suki’s place is amazing. It has four bedrooms, five bathrooms, a pool and a hot tub. Suki and her husband built it when they first moved out from Toronto. It’s right on the water with a view straight down Okanagan Lake, a big dock jutting out from the lower patio like a tongue trying to lap it all up. Suki said she’d never leave that place, not for love or money. She’d die there if she could. They could just roll her down the ramp and off the end of the dock with stones in her pockets like a virgin wolf. She said all that after I’d talked her into smoking up with me. “Smoke pot?!” she said. “Marijuana?!” You’d have thought I was suggesting we cut off some body parts and make them into slushies. I figured, the thing about Suki was, she’d married so damn young. She was pretty much my age when she’d met Douche-Bag Dan, and they’d lived this perfect little life together all those years, but they hadn’t actually lived. I said, “Well, you don’t drink Suki, don’t you want to have a little fun?” We were lying out on the deck beside the pool before supper watching the bats zigging and zagging after the bugs where the water was stroking the beach. It was almost October but the day had been hot enough that the concrete underneath our towels was giving back the heat it had been hoarding all day. Suki sat up and looked at me. “Did you bring marijuana into my house, KayLee?” She let her bottom jaw hang open. “You’re telling me you’ve brought drugs into my home?” Watching Suki trying to smoke was funny as hell. Everything she did was like something she’d seen in a movie, screwing her eyes shut when she inhaled and pinching the spliff to her lips. “Hell, Suki,” I said. “You don’t need to hold it like you’re picking a zit!” It kicked in pretty fast for Suki and I had to take it away from her and tell her to go slow. After a few minutes, she sat up, pulling the towel over her shoulders and reached her hand 18 | PHOEBE 49.1
towards me, her fingers curling open and shut. Gimmee, gimmee. I passed her the joint and she took a toke, closing her eyes again, her face going all blissed out and soft. She looked retarded. I said, “Jeez, Suki, do you two need to get a room? She started giggling and that set me off and soon we were laughing so loud you could probably have heard us all the way down the other end of the lake. Suki had a dog named Butch Cassidy who was so ancient he barely ever moved, but we were hooting so loud, Butch Cassidy dragged his ass out of his nasty basket and waddled out on the deck to check on us. Suki reached over and pulled Butch Cassidy into her lap, bending her face to kiss him on the wrinkly patch between his ears. She told me she and Dan had got Butch Cassidy after they found out they couldn’t have kids. I could scarcely stand that dog, he just smelled like he was half in the grave. But for Suki, you could tell, he was everything. “You know what I’m telling myself these days, Kay-Lee?” Suki said. “I’m saying, Suki, you need to seize every opportunity that comes your way. You need to leverage all the chances you get. Because they might never come again.” “Jesus, Suki. “ I reached over to take the joint from her before it started to smell like dog. “This is just B.C. bud, Suki. Not a night with Ryan Gosling. I have more of this in my bag.” “Seriously Kay-Lee. I’m not just saying this. I need to start taking action. I need to seize the day. I need to live my life.” I exhaled. We were veering into cancer-talk, I could tell. “True,” I said. “Have you ever gone skydiving? Or how about rock-climbing? You have the body.” I rolled on my side to get a better look at her. She was pretty hot for her age. “Maybe you should be a life-drawing model, put your goods on display for others to enjoy.” Suki snorted and lay back down, Butch Cassidy curling in the scoop beneath her rib cage. “I was thinking more like going to Bali,” she said. “You know, like in that book. You know the one I mean.” Her hand reached up to stroke the dog, who had started to snore. The heat was gone from the cement beneath us and I was FICTION | 19
getting hungry, but I still didn’t want to go inside. The sky, the hills, the lake—they were a dozen shadowy shades of blue all blurring into one. I should be the one painting, I thought. I had the eye. “Dan and I never travelled much,” Suki said. Her voice was smoky. “Dan hated flying. We mostly took ski vacations, or we’d drive to Palm Springs.” I was thinking of the painting of me in the jungle. Bali sounded jungle-y. “You should go,” I said. “I can look after your place. And Butch Cassidy.” My nose went wrinkly without me even meaning to do that, although Suki couldn’t see. But she sat up again when I said that, sending Butch Cassidy tumbling and grumbling back into her lap. She looked over at me. “You would do that?” “Sure,” I said, and I stubbed out the roach on the pool deck. *** I met Joe a few days later when I was taking Suki’s recyclables to the bottle depot for cash. It’s actually not as bad as you’d think, Suki not being a drinker, because she only drinks mineral water and organic juice, plus she only buys milk out of glass bottles and those are worth $1.50 a pop. Joe was a chef who’d just quit his job at Original Joes, which cracked me up so hard when he first told me. After that, Joe could always make me laugh just by saying, “Whaaaaat?!?” Then he’d start rolling up his sleeves, clenching his hands into fists, and beating his chest, and say, “Hell no, I’m the original Joe!” Joe lived in a real nice carriage house downtown with two other roommates and they were looking for someone else to split the rent, so I moved in when I’d only known him a week. Suki said it was the same thing with her and Dan. When you know you just know, she said. I introduced Suki to Joe when we went back to collect some of my things at Suki’s. One of Joe’s ideas was to hold cooking classes in people’s homes and Suki told him she had just done a cooking class exactly like that, only it was at a winery on the West side. She thought it was a pretty great idea. “You’re really lucky,” she told me at drawing class a few days later. “He seems like a good guy.” 20 | PHOEBE 49.1
The way I saw it, Joe and I both had brains that did their thinking the same way. I’d had boyfriends before who got jealous and didn’t like my line of work, taking off my clothes in front of a bunch of artist-wannabes. But Joe got the gist of it right away, even getting me to put his name down if they ever needed a male model, which I told him I’d done even though I didn’t. I knew Joe better than that. He couldn’t sit still for 30 seconds without getting twitchy. He’d never make it in the art world. Joe’s big dream was to do pop-up restaurants. He’d read about these in Vancouver and Calgary and said he was going to bring them to Kelowna. “We’ll be the first,” he’d say, hunched over the coffee table in his boxers, jotting down ideas for menus and making lists of things he’d need. I had to get him to walk me through it. “What do you mean by pop-up?” I asked. “How can a restaurant just pop up? How do you get tables and chairs? Where do you actually cook? How do people know where to go?” Joe explained how you build up a network of people using social media and then just give them the date of the next dinner, but don’t tell them where until the very last minute. He’d start small, he said; maybe try a few at our place or maybe at City Park while the weather held. I couldn’t tell anyone, Joe said, because in order for pop-up restaurants to work they had to be secret until the very last minute. That was part of their mystique. Joe also knew everything there was to know about computers and the internet. When his roommates, Jake and Feather, bought an old Volkswagen van and went camping for all of August, he showed them how to put their bedroom on Airbnb.com, then they split the money they made 50-50 because Joe had managed the bookings. Then in September, when they got back, they put the camper van on Airbnb for $40 a night, just parked in the lane behind the house. Suki by then had gotten real serious about Bali, and Joe was all for helping her book a good place through Airbnb. “These are real people’s homes,” he told her, “All over the world. You’d get the real experience.” Suki wasn’t so sure. “Thanks Joe,” she said, “but I think I’d rather be in a hotel so I can meet some other people.” FICTION | 21
Before booking her ticket, she went to the doctor for a whole bunch more tests then spent the next week worrying she’d be getting bad news. Eventually, the doctor said everything looked fine and she was good to go. No more excuses. Joe and I drove her to the airport the day after Remembrance Day. The temperature had dropped below freezing so the road was slick out by Suki’s. Frost had given some spiky hair-dos to the scruffy grass along the highway. Suki was chewing her lip so hard I thought she might eat it by accident. She sat in the back seat with her luggage because Joe’s chef stuff took up the whole trunk. She kept playing with the zipper on her big suitcase, open and shut, open and shut, mumbling things to herself and then saying, “Oh, Suki!” I got out to say goodbye to her outside the departures door. “Everything’s gonna to be fine,” I said. Suki bit her lower lip and made her eyes bug out and popped her eyebrows up so that her forehead looked like Butch Cassidy’s. Then she nodded and said the same thing she’d been saying for weeks now. “Suki is seizing the day.” Then she marched into the airport yanking her big bag behind her. The first thing we did was clear everything out of our room in the carriage house and move into Suki’s so we could put our room downtown on Airbnb. Then we realized we could probably get much more if we rented out the whole carriage house, so Feather and Jake moved out to Suki’s place too. They were stoked. Feather loves animals, so she could look after Butch Cassidy and scoop up his gross yellow shit, which I was happy about. Then someone, Joe probably, pointed out that we might as well rent out the two other rooms in Suki’s place, because they were just sitting empty. They even had their own bathrooms. I emailed Suki and told her I was thinking of having Lonnie, one of the other life-drawing models over for dinner. Would Suki be okay with that? Her email came back in the middle of the night, which just goes to show you that the world really is round after all. Of course, Suki wrote back. Mi casa es tu casa. Joe said that means: my home is your home. That was good enough for us. Joe made up a fancy page on the Internet, then posted the dates for the pop-up dinner on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. But 22 | PHOEBE 49.1
first he unfriended Suki, not because he didn’t consider Suki to still be his friend, just that he didn’t want her to feel she was missing out on anything at her place while she was away experiencing a completely different culture. We also invited the older man and the couple who were renting the extra rooms at Suki’s. They all said yes. We already knew: they were having a wonderful stay. They had already said so in the review we’d asked them to write for Airbnb. The older man had brought his husky-mutt cross to stay at Suki’s, because Joe had said on the website that our property was pet-friendly. That dog was pretty hyper and had done some humdinger shits on the beach. “We should keep the dogs shut away downstairs during the dinner,” Jake suggested. Fine by me. I’d have been happy keeping them down there all the time. Joe whistled when he saw me in the silky dress I borrowed from Suki’s closet. It probably was long and loose on her but on me it was pretty tight and sexy, especially after eating half of the minicheese toasts Joe made up for appies. I found Suki’s jewelry box beneath some scarves and belts in the bottom drawer of a second dresser at the back of her closet, so I accessorized with a necklace and some earrings that I bet Suki bought to go with that dress. I felt like a movie star. She has a huge shoe collection too, but try as I might, I couldn’t find any heels that I could cram my feet into. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten anything so yummy as Joe cooked that night. He was super stressed, I could tell, and sometimes got a bit chippy with me when I was chatting too much and not carrying things out to the table lickety-split. But after dessert was done and me, Jake and Feather had cleared things back to the kitchen, Joe came out and sat with everyone. Then we all moved on to the living room, turned up the music, cranked up the fireplace and opened more wine, this stuff on the house. I figured, Suki wasn’t drinking any more. With her job, she probably got all that wine for free anyhow. It got hot in that living room with that big fire roaring. I was the first one to jump in the pool, but pretty soon everyone else had peeled off their clothes and was floating around in the dark, all of those stars twinkling down on us like they were glad to see people happy for a change. FICTION | 23
By the end of the night, after the other guests had left, everyone staying at Suki’s was pretty high or pretty hammered, especially the older guy on his own. I found him leaning against a wall in the corridor, his stubby finger hovering over the pictures, tracing the curves of the bodies Suki had done in life-drawing class. I stood and watched him for a bit, cupping my right elbow in my left hand, my chin on my knuckles, until he stepped in front of the sketch of me, his finger stroking the air above my boobs. I couldn’t keep quiet. “Those are mine,” I said, giggling. His finger paused and he turned to look at me. “All yours?” he went, glancing down the hallway. I knew what he meant, but it just struck me as hilarious because I am actually quite well endowed. “All mine,” I went. “Every last one of them.” I did a little twirl in the hallway, my socks sliding like skates on the wide-plank floors. My wide-plank floors. “All mine.” Feather didn’t think to check on the dogs until morning. By then the big dog had done two of his huge turds on the carpet and there was a big wet patch by the door. Worse, he and Butch Cassidy had had some kind of scrap. Butch Cassidy had blood matted in the fur below his throat and barely moved when Feather went to pick him up. “Fuck,” I said to Joe when I got home from the vet’s. “Fuckfuck-fuck. What am I going to tell Suki?” Joe was pretty hung over and just put a pillow over his head. “It’s the middle of the night in India,” he said. “Email her after you’ve had some sleep.” And wouldn’t you believe it? Suki got a blood clot in her lungs in Bali. We got a call from the hospital in Denpasar that evening, after we’d finally gotten out of bed and were starting some of the clean up. When they finally let Suki out of the hospital, she emailed me and told me to get Joe to set me up on Skype, so we could talk properly, face-to-face. By the time we got it working, it was almost dinnertime for me and mid-morning for Suki. “I’m okay now,” she said, “but I was having all this trouble breathing for days. I thought it was anxiety. They found the clot just in time. I probably got it because of my cancer drugs, or maybe 24 | PHOEBE 49.1
because of the long flight. But I’m so lucky. That could have been it for me. Curtains. Kaput.” She did that pop-out thing with her eyes. It was funny being able to see Suki, looking all skinny and pale, millions of miles away. I just nodded and looked as serious as I could. “Who knows when they’ll let me fly home,” she said. “I just can’t believe it.” Then she said: “How’s Butch Cassidy? I thought he’d want to see me. Can you get him? Let’s see what he does when he hears my voice.” *** Joe and I moved to Fort Mac to find work that winter, but I headed back to Kelowna after we broke up and I had some money of my own. Last I heard, Joe was actually doing pretty good with his pop-ups in The Mac, which just goes to show, you should always go after what you want. Back in Kelowna, I got a job working again at the art gallery of all places. The director, Jason, remembered me from my modeling days—I always knew he had a thing for me. I don’t do any modeling any more; he got me a job working at the ticket desk. It didn’t pay so great, but one of the perks was that you could take any of the classes for free. I took painting, of course. I’ve always liked colored art the best. And Jason says I’ve got real talent, my abstract work especially. He’s sent photos of my stuff to some of his art buddies and a couple of them actually bought some paintings. Jason is pushing me to get together enough stuff for an exhibit, the kind with prices listed underneath each piece. Wouldn’t that be something. And here’s the crazy thing. Suki is now a life-drawing model at the gallery. I saw her name on the list of special subjects. Last week she must have posed for the advanced charcoal class because some of their best sketches are tacked up on the walls in the classroom. I’m absolutely positive the drawings are of Suki, still scrawny as all get-out, stark naked and just the one boob. It’s been months since I’ve seen her for real. I’ve wanted to talk to her ever since that situation last December when she finally got back from Bali and she made a big scene on the steps of our carriage house FICTION | 25
downtown, yelling Kay-Lee, Kay-Lee and banging on the door. Jake finally let her in, just to shut her up, and he got her to calm down. He said I wasn’t home, but really I was hiding in Feather’s closet. “Did. They. Think. I wouldn’t. Find out?” She was heaving out the words, like she’d just surfaced from a deep dive. I could imagine her chest puffing in and out like an Olympic swimmer. “Joe invited the winemaker, from House of Rose, to his fucking dinner, for Christ sake. Did they think I wouldn’t find out about people, strangers, in my house? Joe is a scumbag, a scumbag. And KayLee…” Her words trailed away. She was sobbing, I realized. For a moment I considered going out and confronting her. I even went so far as to turn the knob and push open the closet door, just a crack. Then I thought, she was calming down, wasn’t she? She’d stopped all that shouting. Me walking into that living room wasn’t going to make anything better and would probably make it worse. What I’ll probably say to Suki now that some time has gone by, and if I ever bump into her at the gallery, even if I’ve been trying not to, is that I’m sorry about her dog. I didn’t mean for him to die. But I’d also remind her: she was the one who kept saying, seize every opportunity, chances come along for a reason and they may not come again. All those things are true. Maybe I’ll duck into the back of the class while she’s modeling some time and see what happens. I’m sort of curious about what the scars look like where her other boob used to be, and also whether she’s any good at modeling. Would she twitch if she saw me? I wonder. You really can’t move even a quarter-inch when you’re a life-drawing model, not if you’re good at it. Like I’ve always said, keeping still takes real talent, real skill. That’s the work of it—being you. Being the shape that you are, then holding it, just so. Letting the art come to you.
26 | PHOEBE 49.1
Air People Keera closes her eyes and then opens them because if she doesn’t close her eyes first they won’t, Mom won’t, come. When she opens her eyes, she always pokes a piece of her own body, like her leg or her bellybutton under her PJ shirt, to prove she’s awake because Grandma says Keera’s sleeping when she sees the people at night. But she’s not. She’s awake. She’s awake right now. She opens her eyes, but no one’s there. She’s in the extra room, and it’s dark except for the light line at the bottom of the door and the air around Elsa’s blue skirt. Princess Elsa is a nightlight because she’s a Disney doll with a light under her dress where her legs should be. One time her blue dress turned dark and Elsa almost disappeared into the air and Keera screamed and cried and Grandma said “damn it to hell” because they had batteries but not ones called Triple A. Double A! Double A! Where’s the freakin’ Triple A?! That was Grandma screaming and banging drawers open and shut in the middle of the night. But then Keera didn’t care because her door was open. When Elsa’s blue dress lights up, that means Keera’s door has to be closed because Grandma and Carl watch shows on Netflix and they don’t want Keera to hear bad words. Or the news. The news is nothing for children these days. Carl says. Grandma and Carl have a condo in New Jersey with an extra room. An extra room for an extra special sweetie. Grandma said. The extra room used to be only a big squishy yellow chair and a white table with a computer on it and a white chair that can roll, but now there is a bed called a twin folding cot in the middle and all close together. In the day Keera can jump from the big yellow chair to her foam-top bed to the rolly chair, careful, up to the table with the gone computer without touching the floor. Standing on the table she’s a giant and her foot probably could crush Elsa but she doesn’t because Elsa is plastic and pointy and in the day she looks like a regular doll. FICTION | 27
Keera likes the way the light around Elsa’s blue skirt goes into the air a little so Keera can see the edges of the table and the rolly chair and end of the bed. The light in the air wears out in the dark space by the closet so Keera tries not to look over there, but sometimes she can’t help it. And sometimes she looks at Elsa, too, at her face, she can’t help it, even though she doesn’t want to. She has to like Elsa because of the light under her skirt, but she hates her too. Only at night. At night Elsa’s eyes are way far apart and way big like ET but not nice, like nice is only pretend for the daytime. Keera looks. She can’t help it. In the blue light Elsa’s bare arms are tiny thin and white like Mom’s arms, and her hands are folded in a white triangle on her skirt where the top of her legs would be. Her hair is swirly yellow-white like the wig Mom stole from the Halloween store. It was practically the same as a wig from a real place. Good enough, anyway, for what I need. Mom said. Elsa’s slanted eyes turn black like rubber Alien mask eyes and her eyebrows are worms. Keera stares at Elsa’s black eyes in the blue glow. I hate you. You spoiled brat. Elsa says with her eyes. Her eyevoice is screaming and hush at the same time. It makes me sick to look at you. Keera hears her own voice groan as she hides under the covers. She waits. Her mouth makes a wet spot inside on the blanket from breathing and the dark presses on her head but it can’t stop Elsa’s eye-voice. Look at the closet. You baby. It’s in there. I can let it out to get you. Get you. Elsa says. Keera breathes harder and the blanket sucks in and out of her mouth and she pushes it away, her heart pounding when the air hits her face. Elsa’s voice is imagination. Keera knows this. Imagination things at night are scary things. She looks through the dark air at the closet and can see something pushing it from the inside, making a crack, squeaking, she hears it, right? No, no, that’s an imagining thing. Her heart jumps up and down like Keera on the squishy yellow chair in the daytime. Sometimes Keera swallows up air as big as she can and jumps out of bed and runs fast, fast, over the dark space in front of the closet to the hall door and down the little hallway to Carl and Grandma’s room and sometimes the door slams open and some28 | PHOEBE 49.1
times it’s locked and she bangs and bangs on it, and once she hurt her hand on the pinky side. But she can’t do that anymore. Because it’s been three weeks now and enough is enough. Carl said. That’s why I bought you Elsa so if you keep running in and waking us up, I’ll have to take Elsa away. Grandma said. Because there’s still three months or even more maybe till Mom can come back and get Keera, which is many weeks and days. She can’t do that anymore, can’t run. She closes her eyes, and the air moves like invisible worms around her face. Elsa’s eye-voice and the closet thing are imagining, and dreams are stories that happen when she’s sleeping. Keera knows. She gets it. She gets it. When she’s old like Mom or real old like Grandma, she will never say that kids don’t get it. But the air people are different. Not imagination, not dreams. They’re real. They come sometimes when Keera is awake with her eyes closed and they sit on the end of her bed, waiting for her. The last time was three nights ago, but it wasn’t Mom. It was Miss Kim from the car that picked up Keera from apartment-home in Tampa when Mom stayed away too long, and the policemen waited outside until Miss Kim held Keera’s hand and walked her to the car and Keera peed in the backseat when Miss Kim buckled the seatbelt over her stomach. No prob we’ll clean it later. Miss Kim said. Three nights ago when Keera opened her eyes, Miss Kim’s hair was fuzzy black-silver poofy and her ears had golden hoops and her mouth pink lipstick that matched her pink dress and her arms bare brown and squashy soft. Keera wanted to touch them, but she made herself wait. Why are you all dressy, Miss Kim? Where you going? Miss Kim’s smile went away, her big cheeks sliding down to the bottom of her face, and Keera crawled two crawls on the bed to touch the skin on Miss Kim’s neck, and when she did, zaaa, Miss Kim disappeared. Now she is holding still with her eyes closed, and in her nose is a smell like new Princess Elsa just coming out of her box with plastic snowflakes all around her body, holding her tight. She counts to 10 with her fingers under the blanket, and again, and then she opens her eyes and there is Mom. FICTION | 29
Mom is sitting almost up to the middle of the bed, criss-crossapplesauce, and her eyeballs are shiny blue but under them are two purple smudges like Mom pressed her thumbs there too hard and too long. Her chin and nose are pointy like Elsa’s but Mom’s hair is shaved on one side like a boy and floppy long orangey-brown on the other side, hiding one of her ears. She’s wearing cut-off shorts and a white shirt that’s called a spaghetti strap and a purple bra. Mom’s mouth goes pinchy-pinch but then it opens, and Keera’s heart thumps, thumps, thumps. Mom’s mouth keeps opening like a yawn and then she leans back on her elbows and stretches out her legs. Her shoes are the gold glitter Keds with no laces, no socks, they are her fun shoes, not her dress up shoes. Mom lifts her legs up and down, one then the other, scissor legs. That’s an exercise. Her legs are skinny and that is good for legs not pudgy-pudge like Keera’s legs, and under the blanket Keera pushes up her nightgown and pinches the top of her own leg, hard, till it hurts. She is awake. Awake. Mom sits cross-legged again. Her shoulders crunch up. Her one side of hair drops down. Keera sits up, too. They are so close, if Keera reaches out her hand she will touch Mom’s knee. But she doesn’t. Mom is crying. Keera can tell by the way her pointy chin is shaking in little shakes behind her hair tangle. So, so softly Keera puts one finger on Mom’s hair and then she’s gone. Mom! Keera screams it but just in her head. She hates herself now because she knew, she knew what would happen when she did that. Why didn’t she wait? Why didn’t she wait forever? They only, Mom only, disappears when Keera touches, and she knows it but she can’t help it. Why can’t she help it? Keera grabs her blanket and bites it and tries to rip it. She stands up on top of her bed and the air goes all around her legs as she steps like a giant on the rolly chair, careful, and up to the table. Stomp, stomp, and she kicks Elsa onto the floor, baakkk, but her skirt light stays on, and Keera feels sorry. She wants to go get Elsa, but she’s all the way over by the closet, and Keera’s feet would have to go on the ground, so she can’t do it. She can’t. She jumps down to the bed and sits under the blanket like a tent, like a tent held up by her head, for a long time before she lies down. Her eyes close. 30 | PHOEBE 49.1
Her legs are outside of the blanket and then she feels something in the air by her feet. Not touching her, but close. She makes herself wait. It’s never happened before. They’ve never, Mom’s never, come before two times in one night. But maybe now. Maybe it’s Miss Kim or Mom’s friend Raina or maybe Mom. Maybe. She counts with her fingers, three times. Four times. She opens her eyes, but nobody is on the bed. Nobody’s there. Keera breathes and turns to look at the closet, and he’s standing in the space by the closet that’s very dark but Elsa’s skirt light is on the floor not too far away, and she can see Carl standing there. Not his face, but the whole shape of him. All the edges. Probably he is one of them. One of the air people. Probably. Yes. Because the hallway door didn’t open or close. It didn’t. She would have heard it. Keera’s heart is bouncing again. She’s getting ready. Breathe, breathe, and then breathe so big her chest hurts enough to jump out of bed and touch the ground with her feet and run with her hand like a sword to slice through him and make him disappear, zaaa, except her arm hits his leg hard like a tree that doesn’t move, and then Keera knows. She gets it. The air people are gone away. His hand, his fingers, two of them, press down hard on the place between her neck and her shoulder bone. Get away from me. Keera says.
FICTION | 31
ART GALLERY I
Gallery List DMITRY BORSHCH “Hand studies 1” Ink on paper and collage page 36 DMITRY BORSHCH “Hand studies 2” Ink on paper and collage page 37 DMITRY BORSHCH “Hand studies 3” Ink on paper page 38 ROGER CAMP “Deteriorated Gravestone, Paris” Archival pigment print page 39 ROGER CAMP “Gals, Paris” Archival pigment print page 40 ROGER CAMP “13.10, Paris” Archival pigment print page 41
36 | PHOEBE 49.1
ART | 37
38 | PHOEBE 49.1
ART | 39
40 | PHOEBE 49.1
ART | 41
Every time I ask my mother about my broken neck, how it happened and in what order, I know she and my family share a memory I don’t have. Every time I pass that boundary and come up on the other side, seeing the baby boy, seeing her baby boy, in third person, held pieta in her arms, Mom describes me as someone other than and separate from myself. There is a pause, there is a breath, and then she corrects me. Missing, Mom says. Parts were missing—you were never broken. She tells me she didn’t hold me right away. I didn’t cry when I was born blue barely breathing. Blue like the pages of the oceans in an atlas. The blue the body produces in the absence of oxygen must be the same all-consuming blue I see in the windows of my seventh-floor apartment. My panoramic view of Lake Michigan, where there is no separation between lake and sky. At twilight, the blue splashes down the slate-gray walls. I don’t know if it’s the plaster or the lack of insulation causing the temperature to dip below the city ordinance. I tell my property managers, and they tell me to put on more clothes. I tell the city, and they come out and check my apartment and agree it’s too damn cold. They send papers to my property managers, who send the hammers pounding on the roof at 7 a.m. Construction workers block my view, climbing up the creaking iron-pipe structure and shimmying across solo boards of wood between each level—and when they’re finally on the roof, re-shingling, their steps sound like the clopping of hooves in a barnyard hootenanny. When the workers climb past my uncurtained window, I wonder, what’s their take on every dirty dish stacked in the sink? The origamied laundry covering the floor? The tower of trash? Could they get a whiff of the masturbation pit smell? I throw on the same jeans, same gray t-shirt, same pair of purple socks I’ve been wearing, scoop my uncombed hair into a baseball cap, and swing on my backpack. I pause at the door when the unwelcomed, no-bodied thoughts NONFICTION | 45
that speak through images remind me I am jobless, useless, and I want to kill myself. The set of instructions pre-recorded in my muscles suggesting I’d follow through. I look at the sink and the knife is half-thawed. My phone rings, but I won’t answer. No, I have my therapy appointment at 3 p.m. It had been fifteen hours since his mother was stitched back up. Her son would go into surgery at noon. Glass divided them. She hadn’t held the baby she saw in front of her. The machine coils, IVs, and monitor patches slithered over her son’s chubby arms and fat legs. The breathing tube snaked down his throat, forcing the in and out of his diaphragm, filling and emptying his chest. Doctors had known her pregnancy was high-risk. She had seven miscarriages before he was born, too big for her birth canal. She passed through her own reflection—the shark-gray skin, blonde mop, the cabbage-green eyes staring back at her—to see his forced breaths, while lying in a row with all the other sick babies. So big, so blue. She remembered the flick of the knife, the slow-reaching claw, the doctor’s hands on the forceps, pinching her baby’s head, yanking and yanking, pulling so hard she saw their hands shaking; the doctors breaking his clavicle. She looked down at the gown she wore for his delivery and her subsequent surgery to reverse the episiotomy, or how she puts it, Two holes open into one right quick. The front of the cloth, spattered with blood, piss, plasma in the shape of a black butterfly. Its wings started at the groin and reached all the way to her tie-up-back. How long, God? She asked. How long will this one last? During his mother’s twelve hours in labor, his father was there to see his son come out head-first. After she had her surgery and their son was admitted to the intensive care unit, his father went home, just thirty minutes away. But an ice storm coated everything outside with a thick armor the night before, so the drive took two hours. When he got back to their apartment, he slept until she collect-called him from the hospital. He’s going into surgery, she told him. Why? He asked. She relayed what the doctors told her: a double-bilateral tes46 | PHOEBE 49.1
ticular torsion, meaning that both testes side-winded on their own cords, which cut off blood flow and oxygen from the organs. One was so green, she said, it looked black. If he were born a day later, he would’ve been stillborn. On my way, he said. He might not make it, she said. Again. The café bathroom’s pitted mirror makes my mantis green eyes ripple, the same way a rock skips across Lake Michigan, breaking the surface before it’s sucked under the water. I lather my hands all the way up to my forearms and smell the lavender soap. Gravitating toward the mirror, I see my father’s overgrown eyebrows, stray stalks of black hair between them. My eyebrows are blonde, the same as Mom’s. I have his rounded cheeks, her mayonnaise coloring, his pencil lead stubble, her sharp nose and heart-shaped nostrils. Yellow bruises run from the corners of my eyes and tears drop to the tops of my cheeks. The version of myself looking back at me looks terminal, and to be honest, I’m not far off. Sitting by the wall with the geode wallpaper, I cycle through it all: reworking my resume, applying for jobs, finding someone new to sublet my apartment (if I get that far), organizing unemployment, writing desperate emails to college professors and staff for advice, expecting no reply, or when they do reply, it’ll read, There are so many people willing to back you up. Then the barista calls my order. Nowadays, I go to this café right off the Bryn Mawr stop on the Red Line in Chicago. It’s the only place within walking distance where I can get a scone and a bottomless cup of black coffee for less than six dollars. The same barista opens the bakery portion at 7 a.m., and I scuttle in shortly after. When I grab the plate and the mug, the barista recognizes me, nods at me, says Cheers. When I nod back, now within his proximity, I see how he wrinkles his nose, how his eyes widen, how when I start to walk away, he turns to the side and covers his mouth. I turn around, Excuse me? About what? He asks. Just noticed you are acting kinda weird. I mean, he pauses. It’s pretty strong, man. NONFICTION | 47
It’s your lavender hand soap, I say. I go over to my spot in the corner by the window and the wall, thinking about the short story I’ve been jonesing to write. The one where the protagonist quits his first job out of college. I watch a café goer stand out of their seat and I’m flashed with thought, not about my novel, but about this version of me that I try to remember: when the entirety of my neck contorted in such a way my lungs shut off and my face grew white and my lips bloomed blue, my body drifted toward a far-off archipelago of light or dream. The buckshot of islands glowed, and every time I stopped breathing, I went somewhere filled with light. Everybody emits light, invisible to our own eyes—chemical reactions breaking down our food to sugars to fuel our bodies, which synthesize warm colors, spreading from the epicenter of the body like topographical maps summing up planes of heat. Thermal vision. Snake vision. Like the myth of Heracles’ birth: shortly after he was laid to sleep, twin serpents slide their way through the bars of his crib. The next morning, his mortal mother wakes to find him shaking the snakes like a pair of breathless rattles. My mother found the snakes wrapped around my neck. When the person reaches the other side of the café, and the walls fishbowl around them. Breathing in and out, emptying my lungs as quick as they’re filled, my vision spins, the static crawls, and propping my forearm on the table I take my other pointer and trace the main gutter from my wrist down to my inner elbow, slow, as if my other hand were the hand of a lover. That easy, the whispers say. My appointment is still at 3 p.m. Before the surgeons made the first cut, they pumped his ninepound body with an anesthetic called chloral hydrate. In seconds, his eyes rolled back into his head, and his body began its unwilling anaphylactic jig. Once he was stabilized and re-sedated, surgeons clipped the black testis and severed the cord. The other testicle, however, was pinker, worth saving. The surgeons waited thirty minutes for the blood to start flowing. Nothing happened. So, they took that one, too. His mother came to the hospital every day during his recovery. His father came, too, but not every day. The doctors wanted to keep their son at the hospital, because the above average apnea spells were symptomatic for a condition called Big Baby Syndrome. 48 | PHOEBE 49.1
During an episode, her son’s muscles responsible for inhalation left the volume of air in his lungs unchanged, which is symptomatic in bigger babies who have underdeveloped lungs and who are unable to push oxygen to the rest of their bigger-than-average baby bodies. When they finally took their son home, they saw their $64,000 hospital bill and only had to pay their deductible of $250.00. His father threw the bill on the kitchen table, walked to the couch and fed his son like any father would feed his baby. His mother used the restroom, and when she looked at herself in the mirror, washing her hands, she thought, Christ, I look like they fed me through a wood-chipper. When she got back in the living room, his father was fast asleep. The baby had the bottle in his mouth, his face white, and his lips blue. His father would say he never fell asleep. He supported the neck—the topmost vertebrae called the atlas, named after the titan who bore the weight of the sky—the atlas, the axis, then the cervical vertebrae. He kept it cradled in his palm. But to his mother, his father was never careful enough. His hands were misplaced, he never burped his son, or if he did, it was half-assed. This is when the father started to disappear. Where he moved to the other side of the painting. He took on more substitute teaching jobs: world history, U.S. history, geography—then decided to get his master’s to pay for the medical bills. He picked up weekend shifts at the National Guard base. But the day their son was brought back, his father held him while watching TV. His son threw up and stopped breathing in his arms. He didn’t realize his son had stopped sucking on the bottle until his mother came in from the bathroom, saw her son’s lips, and screamed. To her, the ambulance was never fast enough. After the walls flattened and the static ceased, I find myself stuck in a memory of a neighborhood at night. The first time my parents called the ambulance, there was no sound. Blue. The house with the porch and the tree with the branches, hanging over the roof. Red. The stone church behind the house with a rose wheel the size of a swimming pool. Blue. Light outlined the neighborhood. Then red. NONFICTION | 49
Blue. Mom ran out the door, carrying my little body into the ambulance. Red. Dad locked the front door, got into their car, and followed the ambulance when it left the driveway. I remember the blue and red lights sweeping the neighborhood. Covering my nose and mouth, the strap was pulled behind my head. I remember the oxygen mask’s steady hush. That’s not the first time we called the ambulance on you, Mom says. The house in Bellevue had the porch and the tree, not the apartment. When was this then? You were one or two, Mom says. The doctor diagnosed their son with his first cold. Your son is fine, the doctor said. Next time, you can save a little money by driving him here yourself. He wasn’t breathing, his mother said. All first-time mothers make every molehill an emergency, the doctor said. Somewhere between myself and my family breathes the real story, but without pressing both threads, meaning is lost. Even if what I remember was false, it was another instance in the timeline of every time I almost died. It’s five till 2 p.m., and it takes forty-five minutes to get downtown. In between the freak out and the hour writing break, I copied, pasted, posted, zapped, and sent fifty job applications to positions in and outside the greater Chicago area. I’m banking on the latter to get me out of here. Another Hello? pops up on my phone. I’ve been dodging my mom’s calls and texts. She’s been clingy since I went home for Thanksgiving break, and for good reason. I told her I didn’t want to go back. We sat in the downstairs movie room. We talked about my senior year of college. How it seemed I was at the top of my game, and now I was just present. I mentioned that I had unwelcomed, no-bodied thoughts, how I wanted to kill myself, but didn’t know how. Mom bites her lip when she is about to cry, she blinks more, her sea-glass eyes grow wetter and wetter. That night she swallowed and said, You know that’s not an option, right? 50 | PHOEBE 49.1
I know, Mom. Say ‘Yes, I know, Mom,’ Mom says. Yes, I know, Mom, I say. Driving to her son’s six-month checkup, his mother looked in the rear-view mirror. Her niece was laughing in the back seat, playing with the pink of her sweater. His aunt sat passenger, complaining about her daughter’s coughing. She goes all night and it just keeps me up. God, how do you manage? his mother asked. She rolled her eyes. By now, his mother didn’t sleep, fearing she’d wake to her eighth dead child. Looking in the mirror again, she checked on her baby. He investigated the sleeve of his dinosaur sweatshirt, hiccupped, opened up his mouth, caught a breath, and cried in his car seat. She pulled over to the shoulder of the road. Sis, you can’t keep stopping for every tear and turd, his aunt said. Or we’ll never make it. Her son stopped breathing on his father, but he wouldn’t stop breathing on her watch. He wouldn’t turn that blue again. When the meter spit out their ticket for the parking garage, he stopped crying. She tilted the rearview mirror, catching a glimpse of him in the back. He flashed her a toothless grin. They parked the car, got out, and stretched from the three-hour drive. His aunt took the stroller from the trunk. In the letter in the middle of my scrapbook, Mom wrote how she thanks God for looking down on us that day by sparing one of his angels. Her cursive sweeps the page, cathedrals above, and valleys below each blue baseline. If there was an angel there that day, then its light-made body appeared when her son’s vision feathered, in and out, in columns of shafted light pulled back like arrows in a bow. There was no sound. His mother opened the car door and screamed. The angel screamed. His baby cousin screamed, because everyone was screaming. Her son sat limp in the car seat, vomit dripped from his ocean lips, his face alabaster. His aunt ran inside the hospital. His mother unbuckled his still body from the seat. Her back pats turned harder and harder into NONFICTION | 51
punches. She remembered his aunt appearing with the medics trailing behind. The medics took her son and placed him on the ground. One medic crossed two sets of fingers over her son’s heart and began the downward plunges of CPR. She didn’t remember the admission. His aunt grabbed her girl. Everyone ran inside, the angel stayed, her memories stopped at the opening of glass doors. The sliding doors of the train are about to touch when a guy turns his body sideways, spearing his right arm through the door. His body slides through, pinched at the waist. The doors open and close three more times, like two fingers strung together by gum. He puts his hands on both doors and tries to pry them open. The conductor finally opens the doors all the way and he scrambles in. The rest of the train looks at him like he just broke through a burning wall, like he’s the Kool-Aid Man and everyone’s waiting for a strung-out, jazzy, Oh yeah. I’ve been that guy. He takes the seat next to me, breathes in, crinkles his nose, gets up, and goes through the door to the next car. It’s fifteen stops from Thorndale to Lake, where the line would spit me out a street from my building. Though today, it’s seventeen stops to Jackson; and then a ten-minute walk to the highrise around the corner. When I traveled hour-and-thirty minute commutes back and forth to work every day, I ate through three-hundred-pages a week. Stops would zip by, and once, I even missed mine. The Jackson stop appears as if by space-time travel. I dog-ear my page, zip up my coat, and fly out before the doors close. Stepping onto the platform, infused with pack-down dirt, I wait for the train to leave the station, creating a wake of wind in its exit whine. The underbelly of the tracks is exposed, rusted, lead, leaked. I remember that in our last session, the therapist said, This time of year people drop like flies. I’ve never seen someone jump, but a friend of mine sat on a train when someone decided to lay down in front of the tracks, and when the train came to its full stop a mile later, the person was still alive, lying along the L’s underside. I know looking down at the tracks that it’s not the first or second bar that carries the volts, but the third. So, my friend said, If you’re gunna do it, aim for the third track. 52 | PHOEBE 49.1
*** Another time, after the initial hospitalization, after he arrived at the E.R. blue, he was in the doctor’s arms, laughing. Your son has stopped breathing twice now? A doctor asked. More than twice, his mother said. Perhaps his throat isn’t developed? The other doctor asked. His chromosome tests came back fine, the first doctor said. That’s good, right? His grandmother asked. Yes, ma’am, the second doctor said. Who else was with you when your son stopped breathing? The first doctor asked. His mother said, It was just me the first time and me and his aunt the second. How do you take care of your son? The first doctor asked. What is that supposed to mean? His grandmother asked. We’ll need to take a bronchoscopy, the second doctor said. Were you there very long with your child? The first doctor asked. I’m with him twenty-four-seven—I—I—don’t fucking sleep, his mother said. Ma’am, you don’t want to see this procedure, the second doctor said. You’ll need to go out to the waiting room. His mother and his grandmother gathered their coats and purses. The first doctor said, It’s a coincidence that this always happens when you are with the baby. The door slammed behind them. Out in the waiting room, his mother replayed the doctor’s questions. She looked up at the TV while his grandmother flipped through Home & Gardening. Another report surfaced of a mother drowning her child in a bathtub for attention. She looked at her mom and said, The doctors think it’s me. I press the button, hear the click, and it glows rainbow, letting my therapist know I’m here. I sit down before a 5,000-piece puzzle of the periodic table, brought to life by Cheeto orange and slime green for radioactive isotopes, Smurf blue—both dark and light— notate the noble gases, flaming red hydrogen and oxygen, the rare earth metals highlighter yellow. Since my appointment last week, someone has finished the border, and someone else roughed out the NONFICTION | 53
first column. Outside of that, pieces lie on the surface as if propelled by opposing magnets. I pick up a Cheeto orange and place it with another Cheeto orange. Slime green with slime green. Smurf blue, Smurf blue. Highlighter in the pile of highlighters. I take my time with the puzzle to sort pieces out by color and category. Picking up the first piece, I see what I think to be an 11 with the first one hole punched out, looking for the other N piece, I find it, and fit the two together. I sit back, knowing that’s enough, that I helped someone else with the fitting of those two pieces. On the operating table, the doctors tried to stick a tube down the baby’s lungs with no success. So, they settled for a lung sample. If we consider how the trachea sprouts into two stalks of lungs like a tree, the primary bronchi, where the doctors took the sample, is the spot right before trunk turns to roots. If the baby’s throat wasn’t developed, food would show up in the sample. If this wasn’t the case, the doctors would investigate his mother further, because through their biomedical lens, her son was normal. They put him under medical sedation. The doctors inserted a bronchoscope, a gun-metal black, dexterous instrument thick as a pencil. It wormed down the baby’s throat, down the trachea, shifting the alignment of the vertebrae in his neck. His lips turned blue. His face turned white. He stopped breathing on them this time. I look over and see my therapist standing in the door. How long had she been there? I look down and see the organized piles of pieces, tall as ant hills. Come on back, she says. On her couch: Words lost meaning for a while, I say. Weaponized. What have you done to get those words back? She asks. I’ve been writing, but then I fall into the trap of, hey if I have time to write, then I have time to write a cover letter, send out my resume. You feel guilty for relaxing, she says. Yes. Were you relaxed messing with the puzzle out front? She asks. I was organizing the pieces for others to come along and finish. 54 | PHOEBE 49.1
Did you do little tasks to help others in your office? She asks. Yes. You’re a healer, and healers can only be healed by other healers, she says, repositioning herself in her chair. You know, when animals don’t clean themselves in the wild, they know they are going to die. I’m not going to die, I say. Though there is the history of suicide on my dad’s side. After I heard what I said, I knew I’d named the invisible force inside of me. I knew I should speak up. I see flashes of images of bodies hurting themselves. Not of me, though. Take a shower, she says. Start treating yourself like you are worthy. The boy’s neck hung, backlit by the light board on the wall. Here, the misty shapes are muscle, where the skull poured out into the spine, through the “Great Hole,” or the magnum foramen. The brainstem was naked, ethereal. The atlas, the axis, C. three and four. Underdeveloped, anterior and post anterior, front and back, left his brain stem exposed and unsupported like a parallel set of parentheses. Every time he turned his neck, when the twist hit the critical angle, the vertebrae weren’t there to keep the brainstem in place. When the esophagus kicked back into the brainstem every time he threw up, the pons, the lizard part of the brain, told the lungs to stop taking breaths. The lightboard flickered. His father looked to his feet, wanting his son to be normal. His mother looked to the ceiling, imagining the moment her son would quit breathing and she wouldn’t be around. Their son wriggled on the baby scale. The doctor explained the halo. Screws bored into the skull. Once a bone marrow match was found, a donor’s hip could be set into the buckshot of bone and fused to the spinal column, shielding the brain stem. With one shift, the man-made vertebrae would need resetting. In 1996, the spinal fusion had a thirty percent success rate. How long will it take for the scars to heal? His father asked. Oh, there won’t be any scars, the doctor said. Not if I can help it. On the train ride home, around 4 p.m., Mom tries to Facetime me. I decline and think about how every stop brings me closer to the elevator that will take me up to my apartment, to the knife in the sink. But NONFICTION | 55
for now, I trace the smooth steel of the L’s window, distracting myself. I cycle through the blur of my senior year of college—the lit mag internship, running the undergrad lit mag, getting the chapbook published, the journalism thesis, having the play produced, the sociological study, working 20 hours, along with 18 credit hours of classes, and finding a full-time job before I graduated. My senior year I exhausted every opportunity Iowa City had for me. I did everything humanly possible and it landed me in a job that paid well for my writing major, but sucked my soul right out of my body. Sitting at that desk, as a news aggregator, I rewrote the news eight times a day, until I couldn’t anymore, until I couldn’t keep up. I was let go the day before my birthday. Dad texts, Chin up son, You’re a free agent! Mom tries to Facetime me at 4:50 p.m. I decline, get on the elevator and with every bump, every passing floor, I’m coming closer and closer to the knife at the bottom of the sink. Two days ago, when my skin felt like a magnet that would only attract knives, I had to evaluate all the sharp objects in my apartment. I didn’t want them around. I found a bread knife; a wicked scimitar, sickle thing. This is the knife I used to cut meat and vegetables, almost anything other than an actual loaf of bread. Out of sheer utility, I didn’t want to get rid of it. So, I placed it at the bottom of a plastic container, filled it with water, and put it on the top row of the freezer. Mom tries to FaceTime me at 5 p.m. I decline, opening my apartment door. The smell of month-old laundry, of bedding and dishes, of take-out and garbage, of dust and dead skin and musk and body, hits me. I raise my arm and give my pit a sniff, and the rose-colored glasses dissolve. Disgusting. Closing the door, turning the lock, I peel off my pit-stained shirt, the greased jeans, invert each sock, wad up the pair of underwear, and shoot it over to the trash pile. Flipping on the shower faucet, I remember my therapist said, If you won’t challenge yourself, then I challenge you. Show yourself you’re worth a shower. The needles of water hit my body, crashing down the slope of my head and neck. I close my eyes, imagining light traveling down my spine, the water hitting the outside of my skin, and the light’s glow unwavering inside. The unwelcomed, no-bod56 | PHOEBE 49.1
ied thoughts bring me flashes of a human skull blooming inward, the plate of the mouth splintering to the back of the head. I turn the faucet to cold, trying to extinguish the thought, focusing the locus of control back to me. Goosebumps flare up all over my wet, shivering body. Though I’m clean, I don’t feel safe, having lost some sort of armor. Towel around my waist, I walk three feet to the kitchen, six feet to my desk, two feet to the bathroom, another foot to my bed. I pace around my apartment in search of cleaner clothes. I open the plastic tub sitting on the counter. Rolling my wrist so light bends across the wet blade. I swear I hear the hum, the current, the volts coming from the third track, then I blink. I cry twenty-three yearsworth of tears like windblown rain. Water spills down my cheeks. I feel guilty for contemplating suicide, for rationalizing the irrational, for seeing suicide as an option when dying wasn’t an option for the mother when she fought to keep her baby alive. The overnight of the surgery, another night in the hospital, another night in another recovery room, another night with her baby strapped to monitors, linked to a machine that watched him breathe, his mother didn’t sleep. Sitting on the cold hospital floor with her back against the wall, her husband in the cot, her son laying in his crib, she ran over how the doctor explained they’d wrap his stomach around itself to limit the reflux, where he said they’d insert the duct to drain the stomach of the gird. On her son’s left side was a red weeping hole that she wiped. The gird traveling inside out smelled like burnt hair tossed in an omelet, but this way he wouldn’t throw up, leaving his neck unaligned, sending him into another apnea spell. The surgery stopped the reflux, the kickback, the torsion of his neck. And with the brace holding up his neck over the next five years, the cartilage started to set, filling in the missing bone. Her mother convinced her daughter, You’ll regret it if you don’t hold him. She would. Then, the nurse let them pass the glass window. You can’t hold him, the nurse said now. He’s critical. In myth, Heracles held up the sky for Atlas to run an errand, NONFICTION | 57
and when finished, Atlas would return and once again bear the heavens. The weight of the world leaving one pair of hands for another. She remembered the first time she touched her son. She held out her finger, and he grabbed for hers. Forever in her memory lives the suspension of their touch. I throw the knife in the pile of trash, bend under the sink, take out a bigger black trash bag, and fill it with five weeks-worth. I fling it in the dumpster when Mom tries to FaceTime me again. I decline, thinking, Not yet, and make a call. Soon, my screen reflects how the barber shaved my head on the sides, cut inches off the top, and faded them together. My phone buzzes five times before I accept the FaceTime. Is there a reason why you’ve been ducking my calls, stinky? Mom asks with a virtual clown nose, rainbow wig, and cheek pulled smile. We both laugh like we haven’t laughed for our entire lives. I had to get some things in order, I say. I had to get a haircut— You took a shower, didn’t you? Mom asks. Yes, Mom, I showered before I went to the barber, though I’m pretty sure the barber spit shines all of his instruments. Show me how dirty your place is, Mom says. I flip the camera. WOW, it’s spotless. And still suffocating, I say. Turn me back! Mom says. It has been a month. Business time is not real time. How was your session? It was good, I say. I like my therapist. It’s only your second session, and I can already tell a difference, Mom says, scrolling through the virtual mask options, landing on a bunny that blows a gum bubble every time it opens its mouth. I thought I’d get a call telling me I’d have a dead son. I don’t know what to say, I say. Yes, you do, Mom says. That’s not an option, I say. After we end our phone call, silence hangs around my apartment like stalactites in a cave, dripping minerals to the floor, and over the thousands of years it seems since Mom’s phone call, and 58 | PHOEBE 49.1
bathing in that silence, stalagmites grow toward the ceiling, and I’m pressed in the maw. On the other side, I see Mom and Dad sitting in the hospital room talking to another doctor, even though they aren’t there. I’m leaning crib-side seeing what she sees. Revisiting all of the converted energy from finger touches, sweeps of skin, long lost, but now remembered. Mom looks down into the plastic crib, thinking there would always be another doctor, another apnea episode, another time her son almost died. The doctors wanted to hold him one more night for observation and if there weren’t any problems, they could go home tomorrow. They could finally go home. Up on his father’s shoulders, he ogled at the passing figures of the hallway and the world around him, his neck held by the hard foam of the collar. When they left the hospital together as some impression of a family, the sun was so bright and hot, because the sky opened just for them. At bath time, without his collar on, he was stiff in her arms. Afterward, he reached for the collar, and only once it was in place did he thrash like other babies thrash. In bed, the curve of the brace kept his head upright while she slept. A pair of hands holds up the head where he makes sense of it all, where he pieces it all together, where the ocean once weighed him down.
NONFICTION | 59
STACY PARKER LE MELLE
Ferry Cross the Mersey “Slavery is both the thing that can’t be transcended but also what can never be remembered.” – Greg Grandin “We don’t think there is such a thing as the Mersey Sound...It just so happened we came from Liverpool, and they looked for the nearest river and named it.” – John Lennon 1.
Triangles knell like steel bones when struck in the music room. Triangles are math, vectors forever in formation. Triangles make centuries of abduction and sale of humans from Africa to the Americas orderly. Trace the triangle, from Portugal, to Benin, to Brazil and back. Or from Britain, to Senegal, to the United States and back. Triangles make a million brutalities seem elegant. Look, we say, there’s a system. During the 18th century, the English port town, Liverpool, grew prosperous on the transatlantic slave trade. Men built, repaired, and outfitted ships at her docks. Men sailed with Manchester cloth to West Africa and traded the cloth for humans, and in the colonies, they traded those humans for molasses and tobacco. Traders brought cotton home to feed the mills. Slave trade profits built other businesses, too, built buildings of brick and stone, built grand halls that stand today. The International Slavery Museum in Liverpool reports on its website that the most voyages to Africa made between 1695 to 1807 originated in Liverpool. Here are the numbers they report: Liverpool: London: Bristol: Other European ports (Amsterdam, Barcelona, Bordeaux, Cadiz, Lisbon and Nantes): 60 | PHOEBE 49.1
5,300 3,100 2,200
I lived 43 years of my American life not knowing these numbers. Emphasis on the how in how we got here, of course, takes remembering. Takes slipping past the invisibility spell hung between us and our history. Honestly, I never pointed fingers at the English for slavery, despite the numbers, despite their establishment of chattel bondage on these shores. Despite the fact that I write, speak, and dream in English. Lust in English. When I fault slavers, I fault Americans: they’re my closest kin. Liverpool, what has this American woman ever known of you? Until recently, The Beatles. Gerry and the Pacemakers. The Mersey Sound. You were a dream place. Working class, they said. Docks. Water. I barely knew that the textiles made in nearby mills clothed the world, that the cotton to make those textiles came through Liverpool Bay. That this was the same cotton picked by enslaved, tortured people in the Southland of my country. That the Lancashire mills kept children and adults working dusk ‘til dawn in near-captivity conditions. That our triangle is not just an energy between us. Our triangle is saltwater, earth, and blood. And songs. Songs like ferries crossing rivers. 2.
The hymn “Amazing Grace” was written by Liverpool slave ship captain John Newton. Later, much later, he’d repent and write an important pamphlet against slavery. He’d live just long enough to see the slave trade abolished amongst British colonies in 1807. Cut to our first African American president Barack Obama in 2015 singing “Amazing Grace” at the funeral for nine Black people murdered by a white terrorist in a church in Charleston, one of the great triangle ports. I wish I could say I always knew the provenance of “Amazing Grace” but that would be wrong. As far as I knew, this song began and ended with American religiosity, especially Black vocalists rooted in the Black church. How Black Americans have spent centuries taking material found here and infusing it with their own genius so it becomes exceptional. But there’s the matter of profit. As historian Robin Blackburn wrote on British history for BBC, the profits of the transatlantic slave trade had long arms: NONFICTION | 61
Slave-owning planters, and merchants who dealt in slaves and slave produce, were among the richest people in 18th-century Britain. Profits from these activities helped to endow All Souls College, Oxford, with a splendid library, to build a score of banks, including Barclays, and to finance the experiments of James Watt, inventor of the first really efficient steam engine. Liverpool merchant bankers, heavily involved in the slave-based trades, extended vital credit to the early cotton manufacturers of its Lancashire hinterland. There’s the story re-told of an actor, reportedly drunken, getting hissed at by his Liverpool audience. In Thurlow Weed’s Letters from Europe and the West Indies, 1843-1852, we read the actor responded this way: It is hard enough to submit to the degradation of such a profession as that in which I appear, but it is the lowest depth of disgrace to play the buffoon for the amusement of a set of wretches, every stone of whose streets, every brick of whose houses, every block of whose docks, is grouted and cemented by the blood and marrow of the stolen and murdered African. Grace is the sweet sound that saved a “wretch like me.” That is the promise of Christianity. But how to account for earthly justice? How to remember properly the men, women, and children who gave up their blood and marrow to build the structures that remain? 3.
I should have had Arthur Alexander’s 45s in my childhood collection. I should have his remastered CDs on my shelf. But I didn’t know this Black American pioneer of country, rock, and soul music existed until a few years ago. When I studied how megabands The Beatles and The Rolling Stones got their starts I saw his name, repeated. Alexander wrote the song “Anna (Go to Him).” I only knew The Beatles cover. Alexander’s most famous song I’m told by the Internet is “You Better Move On.” Here is a sampling of those who covered that song: The Beatles The Rolling Stones 62 | PHOEBE 49.1
Bobby Vee Johnny Rivers The Hollies George Jones & Johnny Paycheck I research and discover that “You Better Move On” was recorded in a former tobacco warehouse with Rick Hall in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Dot Records released the song. Dot Records was out of Nashville, but the creation of “You Better Move On” is part of the creation story of Rick Hall’s FAME studios, and all we’d come to associate with the Muscle Shoals sound. How Hall and Alexander crossed the Tennessee River, going from Florence to Muscle Shoals to conjure magic together. As rock historian and former disc jockey Len O’Kelly wrote: There’s no question that “You Better Move On” is what put Florence Alabama Music Enterprises – [FAME] – on the national map. But do you know Arthur Alexander? I read that there were other albums and songs, including Dennis Linde’s classic “Burning Love” that Alexander recorded first, but rode nowhere, and Elvis Presley recorded and rode to No. 2 on the Hot 100. There’s my favorite song, Ava Aldridge’s and Eddie Struzick’s “Sharing the Night Together,” that Alexander blipped to No. 92 on the R&B chart but Dr. Hook cruised to No. 6 on the Hot 100. Despite Alexander’s efforts, he never broke big like the other musicians who sang his songs. In the ’70s he quit Nashville and the music business and returned home to Alabama, taking a job as a social services bus driver. In 1993, Alexander recorded a comeback album, but a month into the tour he died. He was 53 years old. I wish I’d known Arthur first. Arthur’s “Anna” came out in 1962. The Beatles covered “Anna” and included the song on their 1963 album Please Please Me, inaugurating what would forever be known as the rock “British Invasion” of America. Arthur’s “Anna” came first but I only hear the white mop-tops singing his song. God I love the sound of those white boys singing back to me what Black sweat and genius created in our heartland. I hear John Lennon sing and suddenly I’m in a New Orleans apartment, a young woman of color ironing in a white slip, lovesick in that swamp city, as I imagNONFICTION | 63
ined myself in a previous life, as I feel myself connected to people through time through music. Was that my fate growing up in the white suburbs past Motown? We can’t help who we love, that’s true. But that doesn’t mean no one else has a say. 4.
The 2013 documentary Muscle Shoals details how Rick Hall, a white man who clawed himself out of hardscrabble Alabama farm life, started FAME recording studio. Hall and his session players, the “funky” and “greasy” white men who’d later be known as the Muscle Shoals Swampers, would make classic hits with top American and British talent that made the trek to their town on the Tennessee River. Aretha Franklin’s “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)” was born in Rick Hall’s Studio A. But Aretha’s then-husband, Ted White, a Black man, told Rick Hall, a white man, he needed to start firing people who he thought were hitting on his wife. A trumpet player got sent home. Hours later, Ted White wanted someone else fired. Vodka was involved. So was race, gender, and power in this deeply fraught space of creation in 1967 small-town Alabama. Later, Rick Hall decided to go to the hotel to “straighten things out” with Ted White. Instead of resolution, whole dissolution. Ted White left town. Aretha Franklin, sabotaged and abandoned, followed him. Jerry Wexler at Atlantic was livid. The whole project was dead. Then it wasn’t. The Swampers, sans Rick Hall, finished the album with Aretha that gave us “R E S P E C T,” and then started their own operation: the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. Until I saw this film, I had no idea that the musicians backing up Aretha Franklin on “Respect” were white men from Alabama Behind white singers, Black backups are, as the great documentary suggests, 20 feet from stardom—and that twenty feet might as well be a moat with sharks—I cheer when all of the resources, when all of the talent, including white talent, is deployed to support extraordinary Black talent. The men, from trumpet player, to husband, to Rick Hall himself, almost sabotaged everything for Aretha, but somehow enough of them came through. 64 | PHOEBE 49.1
Throughout Muscle Shoals the filmmakers ask: How could all of this amazing music come out of this town? One answer given is the river. U2’s Bono connected the Mersey River, the Mississippi River, and the Tennessee River when he said, It’s like the music comes out of the mud. I cock my head. What does Bono mean “the mud”? Is his mystifying talk obscuring the real origins? The songs came from a lot of people and places. Mud is one way to say that, metaphorically. But, as we’ll see in the film, one can mean “mud” literally. One can literally mean the water and earth at the bed of a river, at least according to the family tribe folklore recorded by one Alabama man. At the beginning of Muscle Shoals we follow local resident Tom Hendrix through the sun-shadowed trees. We follow him to the memorial he built out of stones for his great-great-grandmother who in 1830 was forcibly removed from the Muscle Shoals area by the US Government. Hendrix’s great-great-grandmother Te-lah-nay, a teen at the time, was forced to walk from Alabama to Oklahoma. Hendrix says Te-lah-nay spent five years walking back to Muscle Shoals because “there [were] no songs” in the rivers and streams of Oklahoma. Her people believed there was a young woman who lived in the Tennessee River, who would sing songs to them and protect them. Hendrix says the great dams of the last centuries have softened the songs but they can still be heard. The Tennessee River was so life-giving that Detroit’s Henry Ford once dreamt of building big there. Decades later, of course, after the first people had been removed. Hendrix wanted to honor Te-lah-nay. He used stone. In the end, Hendrix built a mile-long wall with 8.5 million pounds of stones, a wall without fill or mortar. Known as the Wachahpi Commemorative Stone Wall, or as Tom’s Wall, this is arguably the largest memorial ever constructed to honor and remember a woman, the only known indigenous person to directly return home after being forced onto the Trail of Tears, though that “known” refers only to non-indigenous history keepers. The journey took Te-lah-nay five years. She traveled alone to get back to what nourished her: the river and her songs. NONFICTION | 65
So maybe Bono was on to something. Maybe the mud’s the thing. If I’ve learned anything from the wetlands of the South, it’s this: mud loves life. All kinds of life. Yet, don’t you see the triangle, Bono? Look closer and you’ll see the constant flow of people from Europe to Africa to the Americas, the constant flow across oceans and up and down rivers. The people already here. The constant forced migration. The driving away, the driving to, and sometimes, the triumphant return. The constant give and take of any creative process, even between partners. If the songs came out of the mud, what comprises the rich detritus of the dirt carried by ships port to port? Answers live in the marrow of those on the triangle, connected so deeply even if they never left home. In 1963, The Beatles’ Please Please Me and With The Beatles featured ten covers from a mix of Black and white American songwriters. Of the songs my stepfather played in my youth, the ones I liked the best were “Please Mister Postman,” “Money,” and “You Really Got a Hold on Me”—all Motown songs. Yes, the Motown studio was only a few miles from the Detroit River. But if you ask me about mud, I’ll credit Berry Gordy. If you push, I’ll say I hear knells. 5.
An incomplete list of artists who influenced the Beatles: Lead Belly Lonnie Donegan
I know of Lead Belly but not Lonnie Donegan. Lead Belly, who they say knew 500 songs, who was born on a Louisiana plantation in 1888 and was serving time at Angola, which was known as “The Farm,” a plantation functioning as a prison in Louisiana, when the Lomax musicologists discovered him. I read about Donegan and learn that he was the premier musician of “skiffle,” the English music that evolved from local musicians loving and performing Black music made in America, particularly New Orleans jazz or what the British called “trad jazz.” Lead Belly sang blues and folk, much of which were, as one album title denotes, “Southern 66 | PHOEBE 49.1
prison songs.” Donegan covered several Lead Belly songs. Lonnie Donegan influenced the Beatles. There was such a direct line that George Harrison once said: No Lead Belly, no Beatles. How did English youth come to love this Black music? Look to the river, and those who sailed it. In a 1988 Rolling Stone article, music journalist Parke Puterbaugh described the early Beatles milieu this way: These Mersey bands played a souped-up form of beat music—essentially amplified skiffle with a heavy R&B influence, a style inspired by the records imported from the States by Liverpool’s merchant seamen. A 2017 NPR Fresh Air interview interview with British musician Billy Bragg credits Lead Belly, but also shouts out Black diaspora that rarely gets credit: It starts with Lead Belly’s repertoire, really. Lead Belly was probably the greatest folk musician America produced...but what happened was when British kids got hold of that, they also started introducing some of their own folk music—sea shanties, calypso music. There was a large migration of people from the Caribbean from 1940 and onwards. They brought guitars with them—and a lot of cowboy songs as well. Listen to the triangle knell. If this is mud, this mud sure loves life. 6.
Triangles alone don’t show the shape of empires. They don’t do justice to world history, or even the reach of rock and roll music. My stepfather Rufino loved The Beatles and played them often in our suburban Detroit homes. He came from Manila, the capital city of the Philippines, a country that knew colonizers, both Spanish and American. His full name, Rufino Villas Lamoste, signifies how much the Filipinos are the Latinos of Asia. That my stepfather made it to America also exemplifies exemplifies Ambalavaner Sivanandan’s aphorism: We are here because you were there. Rufino excelled at the University of the Philippines School of Medicine and won a visa to undergo his residency in anesthesiology at Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia, a specialty decision dictated by visa availability, not professional preference. Rufino said later he mourned this choice, wished he could have been NONFICTION | 67
a primary care doctor, not the doctor you saw once you were already on the gurney going in or out of surgery. Yet, he was a beloved figure wherever he worked. Friendly, joke-cracking. The nurses loved Rufino. To our amused chagrin as his family who, while loving him, had to live with him, we realized that inevitably, no one who is lived with can be wholly heroic. Rufino was a serious, hard-working man, and perhaps unexpectedly, every memory I have of him, lived or received, has a pop soundtrack. The Beatles played in our living room, but also in the family store, as he helped his mother by selling newspapers before school, and generally took on all that’s expected when you’re the eldest son and your father dies young. I hear, “Help.” I could have heard Freddie Aguilar’s “Anak,” the profound “Child,” but I don’t remember any Pinoy rock played at home. If he played Filipino music, he kept it a private pleasure, or a heartbreak. When Rufino felt sentimental around us, he’d listen to “In My Life.” Beatles songs as emotional lingua franca. I still ponder these songs like seeds in Rufino’s heart. He heard Gerry & The Pacemaker’s “Ferry Cross the Mersey” and felt the pull of a song that promised belonging, of never having to leave one’s homeland again. How that song must play to the immigrant in his new country, that pretty song sung by men who left their city to tour the world. Men who came from a town that made itself prominent by international shipping and trade, so much of the trade being human beings ripped from their homelands. My stepfather never spoke of song meanings. He sang the songs. He whistled them. Reworked their lyrics for comic effect. He took what he liked, thoroughly enjoyed it, and kept back at his work. 7.
Consider “Penny Lane,” the nostalgic feel-good song written primarily by Paul McCartney. He recalls his childhood in Liverpool, in particular the kinds of people—the barber, the banker—and the kinds of shiny things—the fire engines—he and John Lennon saw in their youth. Penny Lane itself was a street they knew well, often where they changed buses to see each other, often a place they hung out. As it turns out, Penny Lane was 68 | PHOEBE 49.1
named for James Penny, a Liverpool man who grew rich on the slave trade and spoke up in its defense when the forces of abolition gained strength. He reassured the Lords of the Committee of Council, established to investigate the slave trade, that great improvements had been made in shipbuilding, given the concerns of protecting their cargo and crew, saying: The slaves here will sleep better than the gentlemen do on shore. Parliamentary notes also record him warning the leaders of Liverpool that the town’s wealth rode on slavery. [S]hould this trade be abolished, said Penny, it would not only greatly affect the commercial interest, but...particularly, the Town of Liverpool; whose fall, in that case, would be as rapid as its rise has been astonishing. Contemporary activists have since rallied to take Penny Lane and other streets named after prominent slave-traders and rename them after either abolitionists of the period, or prominent Black residents since. In 2006, Councilor Barbara Mace moved to rename Penny Lane. However, she faced defeat from those who protected The Beatles’ legacy and the continuing tourist trade, as well as from those who argued we shouldn’t “airbrush” history—that people should know the truth. 8.
I lay in bed and think of Ms. Earl-Jean Reavis née McCrea. How could I not know you? I look up Mersey Sound bands on the internet and I see your name. You were a Black woman who sang lead for “The Cookies.” You took “Chains” to No. 17 on the pop chart. Then The Beatles covered it. I know The Beatles version. I’d never heard of yours. When I think Herman’s Hermits are from Liverpool I fact-check and learn no, they were from Manchester, and that their greatest hit “I’m Into Somethin’ Good” was originally yours, too. Gerry Goffin and Carole King wrote that song, as well as “Chains,” but you were the first to have both songs on the charts. Yet, I only hear Peter Noone, from Herman’s Hermits, in 2019 telling his rock and roll glory stories on Sirius-XM radio. And what I hear about you, well, the last line in your Wikipedia entry says you opened a day care center. We need day care centers. But your “I’m Into Somethin’ Good” peakNONFICTION | 69
ed at No. 38 on the Billboard chart, and Herman’s Hermits version went number one. Number one songs get played. They get remembered. What would be different if we all remembered you? 9.
“The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” wrote Langston. Cut to narratives of white men copying plantation dances witnessed, or forced, on Southern nights during slavery days. Cut to Black dances mocked as animal, then taught to paying white customers at Arthur Murray studios. According to the history page of the Arthur Murray studios website: During the 1930s, the studio introduced such dances to the public as the Lambeth Walk and the Big Apple. It was the Big Apple that turned Mr. Murray’s one studio into the largest chain of dance studios in the world today. Frankie Manning was a Black dancer, instructor, and choreographer. As the Frankie Manning Foundation website notes, the Big Apple dance started in a Black nightclub in Columbia, South Carolina. Once it was discovered by local white teens, the dance spread like wildfire. And the Big Apple choreographed by Frank Manning is popular with many swing dancers today. Cut to minstrel, black face. Minstrel, black face. Minstrel, black face, white hands jazzy. Cut to white artists recording Black artists’ songs, making the money the Black artists would not, gaining the renown and recognition they would not. Cut to who gets royalties and who gets flat fees. Cut to us singing along with Paul Revere & The Raiders “Indian Reservation (‘The Lament of the Cherokee Reservation Indian’)” thinking What a shame, then leaving out the testimonies of those who were here first. How, if my step father weren’t Filipino, I might not have included anyone who wasn’t African or European in this essay, the way our 400-year-old struggle can suck all of the oxygen out of discussion. Cut to us actively trying to see more, to hear more. Cut to us trying to pay proper respect. 10.
I get why the girls screamed. Listen to The Beatles sing “Baby It’s You.” The Shirelles had this Burt Bacharach, Mack David, and 70 | PHOEBE 49.1
Luther Dixon song first. A glorious heartfelt rendition. Now listen to John Lennon’s lead vocals. If you’re a teenage girl with your records and the door closed, how are you supposed to survive in your bed clothes listening to this song and not feel achy, if not outright aroused? I read stories of white teens and adults going to clubs where Black bands played, but not all teens and young adults did this. They could, however, maybe, get to a Beatles concert. How kids could get away with loving The Beatles, or The Stones, but if they started bringing home too many of those race records, those soul records, if a white girl put up a promotional still of Arthur Anderson on her wall and lay in bed getting achy to his songs, how long until the whole record collection gets burnt up in the backyard? This is not to say Black performers never had white listeners. Of course they did. I’m just saying it must have been easier to fight with your parents over The Beatles than with any soul act. 11.
Look how The Beatles started. They wore those suits. So did Gerry & The Pacemakers. Look how manager impresario Brian Epstein made his boys look nice, like young people you might allow inside your foyer, despite the Scouse accents, despite the threat rock and roll posed if it made teen girls scream with pleasure. Catch the end of Gerry & The Pacemakers 1965 Top of the Pops performance, where a backstage interviewer asks a charming Gerry Marsden what Brian Epstein means to him, he says what sounds like Money. He says, Seriously…he’s done a lot for us…he tells us a lot what to do…made us wear these suits. Gerry smiled and fingered his collar as he spoke, acknowledging the costuming. John Lennon talked about the imaging, too, later on, but made the point that where it mattered, they did not change: We were the first working-class singers that stayed working class and pronounced it and didn’t change our accents. Accents matter. They reveal origins. They unlock respect and they unlock contempt, depending on the listener. No one earns quicker derision than the person accused of changing his accent to fool a listener, to claim origins that aren’t his. NONFICTION | 71
At age 22, I won a scholarship to study at Hertford College, University of Oxford. I remember how for the second time, I believed that if I wanted to wholly slip into a new self, I could, that this was an option. I first believed this at 18, driving to Washington, DC, to begin college. Maybe I’d become someone brand new, I thought. Why not? England was…a motherland. A place I felt kin to, without ever once stepping there, but having listened to English music my entire life. England as a site of erasure and the fight against erasure. Yes, the British Invasion acts. But Johnny Rotten growling “Anarchy in the U.K.” and George Michael strutting the streets in black leather. On The Wall, Pink Floyd singing aloud my fears of being targeted as both a minority and a dissident, of being thrown against the wall and shot. While not English, Bono is here in my imagination, too, his power vocals staking their claim for peace rooted in justice in “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” and showing earnest love for Martin Luther King, Jr. in “Pride (In The Name of Love).” How my high school bedroom was covered floor to ceiling in their posters, repeating pictures of bandmates from U2, The Cure, The Smiths, and New Order. How my teased hairstyle, black eyeliner, and red lipsticked lips didn’t copy any American woman, but copied Robert Smith. Why would I not think, for a moment, on that transatlantic flight, that maybe I could, if I wanted, choose Englishness? The joy of this freedom, that I, unlike so many before me, could dream in this way, could dream in freedom, of personal reinvention. Then, I arrived. And learned, as the twelve steps tracts teach: wherever you go, there you are. I spoke aloud and I immediately knew what British listeners knew: I was American. The minute I spoke. They knew. To change that would require radical revisions on my part, starting with an accent change that I knew was abhorrent. I didn’t know yet the politics of Englishness versus Britishness, how people who looked like me from the colonies had fought for rightful space in these home Isles, how much they’d won, and how much they’d lost. I just knew I was Stacy Parker and I came from Detroit and her suburbs. That was complicated enough, rich enough. I was proud to be placed. 72 | PHOEBE 49.1
Learning, again, how leaving home can make you love it more deeply, feel the belonging you discounted before. And how I knew, immediately, a certain heartache. That to love this place too much would mean a certain destruction inside me. A disappearance, as if literally into a flame. I felt the danger, and dumped the fantasy for good. 12.
Happiness really is Paul McCartney and John Lennon compositions. Happiness is Abbey Road. Play Abbey Road and I’m seventeen again in a minivan full of friends on spring break crossing the Everglades in big sky daylight. We head east to Fort Lauderdale as we roll past the sawgrass to “Here Comes the Sun” and drive until “Golden Slumbers” slips into “Carry That Weight” slips into “The End.” We cruise the vast expanse happy, unbothered. I pass through, barely aware of how much swamp life the greens and blues hid. How much survival, how much crime. Miami murderers dump bodies in the low flowing river according to folklore and the news. Then there’s the true crime of history. How the Spanish decimated the indigenous here with disease. How American insistence on breaking treaties and “Indian removal” led to the long Seminole Wars of the antebellum 19th century. How American military killed indigenous people, or forced them down Trails of Tears, and how others remained unconquered and pushed to this watery land, these cimarrónes, these runaways, and how they called themselves “yat’siminoli,” the free people of Florida. How we came to call them all “Seminoles.” How escaped enslaved Africans found refuge with them. How the big sky expanse out the window was so much more for those who study. How there’s just so much out here to feel if you listen.
NONFICTION | 73
Itchiku Kubota’s Kimono He asks to walk to the museum. We are adrift in multicolored thread and silk. Kubota once said his art went against his nature. Why don’t we do that? Go against what feels natural? (But I already know why: it doesn’t feel good.) Patterns in the silk are deliberate. Repetition, part of the art, the language of fabric. Patterns in my life: addicted to addicts. I collect sleeves of them. When I was young, my American literature professor wrote THANATOS DRIVE on the chalkboard in very large print and then pointed at us half-joking, half-accusing: Which one of you is drawn to death? Which one of you makes decisions that draw you closer to death every day? I was 20 and a virgin, not connecting to this lecture in my mall-purchased jean jacket. But maybe even then death was there drawing me towards it like a smell trail in a cartoon wafting under my nose, lifting me out of my seat, invisibly floating me towards its source. Ahhh, death, let me drink from your pockets. Sometimes I think I am only attracted to people that are close to death. Even nonaddicts I’ve loved: one with brain cancer, one with myocarditis, one hypothermic by the railroad tracks. Sometimes I think it is me who brings them closer to death; I’m a portal. The kimono has many knots and folds. We observe them together. He is next to me but he is hiding. There are things he isn’t telling me. I know because I Googled him. Forging signatures, stealing pills, larceny, crashing his car. They perp-walked him. Maybe we’d be better if we went against our nature. Maybe we would overcome our nature. When he’s making fun of me he lifts his nose in the air like a dog searching for a smell story. When we’re walking, he bumps into me. I don’t know if this means he wants to be closer? He is inviting even with secrets. 74 | PHOEBE 49.1
Part of making a kimono is called the “resist.” I like that a part of the cloth resists, remains untouched, doesn’t want to be created, doesn’t want to be anything other than it already was. Kubota intuits what parts don’t want to be made, protects those parts. I wonder if it’s human nature to resist and that’s the part of the cloth the artist feels closest to. I wonder if in forcing himself out of his impatient nature he understands the resistance more. Loves it more. The resist does not live, does not go on a journey like the rest of the cloth, and therefore it cannot fail or die—it was never born. Kubota dies before he is finished creating. We all do. We move towards a table and sit on our knees to make Origami as the exhibit encourages. We look like we’re performing a ritual. He folds paper. Rituals. Something about this guy reminds me of my ex in New York who took a lock of my hair like we were in a desperate, letter-writing Victorian romance. He also liked rituals. Heroin. Order. Stripes. Lines. Cleanliness. Me. My hair. My Thanatology. After the exhibit I let him run his fingers through my hair, let him put his tongue inside me. My pillows smell like him for a week. I wake up reaching for him. I try to remember the difference between a ritual and a cycle. Intention? Which one is in your control? Which one do you create? Which one do you perform? He has cycled through jail and rehab, or maybe he has ritualed. Months after the exhibit he goes missing. The cries from his friends and family rock the shores of his social media. But he does not answer. He has disappeared from his own life like someone plucked him out of it with tweezers. He has folded up. He is hiding in the creases of his secret, cycle, ritual; barely moving; closer to death.
NONFICTION | 75
ART GALLERY II
Gallery List JUSTIN WELLS “Yeti Crab” Pen and ink and acrylic on paper page 80 BOBBY NEEL ADAMS “Wolf from Memento Mori” Photograph of arranged elements page 81 TERRI BROWN-DAVIDSON “History Erodes Us” Altered photograph page 82 JEAN WOLFF “Naxos I” Intaglio and hand coloring, acrylic and colored pencil on paper page 83 JEAN WOLFF “CanvasDrawing2018” Cut canvas mounted on primed linen and graphite page 84 JEAN WOLFF “DoublePaperCutStudy2018” Collage of cut paper on paper, two pieces page 85
80 | PHOEBE 49.1
ART | 81
82 | PHOEBE 49.1
ART | 83
84 | PHOEBE 49.1
ART | 85
The Destroyer Is Pretty Sure The Marriage Counselor Likes Him Best The Destroyer asks questions when his spouse goes to the bathroom to gain insider knowledge. He barely listens, but watches the dance of body language and raises his eyebrows to silhouette his best feature. The Destroyer does not care if the counselor is a man or a woman, just that they are stuck in a job that barely pays the rent. He uses the words that trigger his wife ‘accidentally’ and looks confused when taking his lumps. The battlefield is their family and their kids are casualties for the taking. The Destroyer acts hurt when his invitation for coffee is mistaken for a flirt. He ends up blowing in his cup and the counselor’s ear in nearly the same breath. Separation is won with lips locked and his signature mirrors a distressed EKG. The Destroyer looms large in the mirror. Years of winning leads to years of loneliness.
POETRY | 89
Close Encounter at Dance Party This close to the glass my auto-breath obscures everything but the slow burn in your eye. After years of genetic blueprint and buckets of bonsai-ed flank bits and rib-eye nuggets, have you lost all memory of how to kill? To dirty your paws and tear apart a braying throat? Tiger, kept fat by khaki-ed jailers, have your claws become dull or sharp or manicured? Disappointment murmured through the crowd as the booze swaddled among us moved on to the next dazzle display, something indoors out of the night’s frost quiver. It has been calculated that the chance of intelligent life emerging in the universe is 1 in 10^229. A probability so small randomness can’t explain why I’m here tonight asking a tiger about the soul. What are the odds I fall inside this enclosure and bleed for you? For a few Planck moments, I remember the taste of blood brining a rough rake tongue, and the urge to follow the music, my tin can anatomy hunkering for a drum
90 | PHOEBE 49.1
beat heart beat. Then another sound lashes the air, pulls me out. Someone clanks at a CD player artifact. Articulated fingers will a song to repeat. We pretend to dance. I try again but the tiger doesnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t see me in front of its eye anymore. Doesnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t see that we breathe together, that my slow blink matches his.
POETRY | 91
This morning I realized there are spiders living behind my bathroom mirror. I was applying blue eyeshadow when one crawled out and walked along the edge. I let it live. I let it crawl back to safety. I’ve crept along the dark backside of reflective surfaces before too. Once I wore a clown suit to lunch and no one would look at me. The waitress stared at the table with a straight face while I ordered fried tofu. Lately I’ve felt very round, like a portal to the past, but since it’s in my own body I can’t quite slip into it. I feel reversible, but one side is gold lamé and doesn’t match anything. My eyes just spill spiders, then retracts them. 92 | PHOEBE 49.1
When Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m not looking, they have made their way to a corner, but I never remember to look up.
POETRY | 93
Spring: Driving I-29 All across the flooded plains there were herons in the fields. Pelicans too. And in some places the interstate closed where a river spilled too close, where a farmer wept nearby, unable to till, unable to work. Emptiness or absence, and of course, surplus: they are all possible killers here. Early June with the birds moving, the land drenched, I drove through a livelihood on pause, chasing summer south to Oklahoma as all the birds from out of state cherished freely this pretty feeling of excess that felt so close to pain.
94 | PHOEBE 49.1
So Far Out Light lipped off the mirror’s leafy border. The flower arrangement fell apart. The dog was chewing a rosary with a patience too gentle to mind. The careful bubble of the spirit level split and split. Could the rose say what the summer lightning said. Who doesn’t fail. Who doesn’t fail at this. I dreamed, I woke, I rose. At dawn, a bliss of silver on my neighbor’s pond.
POETRY | 95
Georgia O’Keeﬀe Makes a Life for Herself Bees in the desert wing the horizon’s line: gold weeds, gold brush mounting up then drifting hollow to abandon the noonday. Here is where my stomach drops out of my body because appetite is tied to memory and there is no water to drain from my churning dreams that persist from hours spent loving a ghost. I’d hike up my skirt: little burlesque-- little beginning-- only to find myself faded into the sickled moon: motionless above the earth. It’s better this way-to lift oneself into the late hours with a steady trust, and if I so choose, to move about the snow and chill on my own terms: to fan over Midwestern cornfields in rows of mist or as cold white light sifting among the stars sewing their own field in which to work or to rest. There is no loneliness in the magnitude of gravity-in the supernova’s collapse: black void carving down into another multiverse that is only somewhere else to dine.
96 | PHOEBE 49.1
You are a Small Town in a Documentary Film about Endings after CD & FG Out by the highway past the blinkered lights of the basketball courts the outline of a missing cross above the double doors of the Super Inn suggests a ramshackle wedding. By the bay shells of clams abound. My oyster ear closed to the closeted ground. You pull each as if feeling the red of a rose petal. What else do you trace. Why is culture other. Lately, I’ve come to expect more out of reality than reality. This is the problem with finitude. Twilight returns over the infinitesimal houses. The coral increase on the underbelly of sheepish clouds hungers to be an aural blush. Sheer the night. I don’t want to call you canvas. Perennial metaphor. Even in aggregate you are like the masked trees that multiply the moving shadows. You are constantly constative. I am in septic shock. Not beautiful. If it matters. The rattling pronouns remain with you long after the lyric fevers. Do you see the way she eats the finely tuned slice of apple. Two rounded hands that leave a crescent peel. This is our fruit. Serrated. So simple the truth hurts. And we wear it all thin. Our lives forever ending. The conjunctions forever failing us. The body’s love erasing the form of your body. A mirror that isn’t a mirror.
POETRY | 97
Dear Maddie. Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve been thinking a lot about camping lately because I am thirsty for trees in that old way we talk about. They always seem so alien when you stop and look at them, like ticks, which terrify me. I made up a dream I had last night for the purpose of this letter: My right armpit was filled with ticks, and you took me to a backroom away from all our friends so you could use a q-tip to smear their tunnels in my skin with shiny Vaseline. They emerged one by one, crawling backwards out of me trying to breathe again like the prairie dogs out west popping their heads up out of their vast networks of holes
98 | PHOEBE 49.1
or a large landscape of gurgling geysers boiling over randomly and each less impressive than the last. I read this morning on the internet this doesnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t actually work.
POETRY | 99
The Book of Summer There is so much green in the summer. It is like a book with green pages. And on the pages a script of green writing. The words at first are difficult to make out. But then you see. The writing says: In the summer the trees have green eyes. In the summer the violins are green.
100 | PHOEBE 49.1
Elegy for Camille Monet There always comes a point when it doesn’t matter what I’m looking at, you or I or the animals or the artist starts to cry. This what happened in front of the Monet: simple to admit and yet harder to twist between fingers. We went looking for Impression, Sunrise of course. See it whenever you get the chance, you said. How many trees have you climbed? How long can you hold your breath? Longer underwater than above? What do you hear when you close your eyes? At what time every night do you dream the owl is eating away your tongue? Do you mind still being referred to as human? —I remember: it was you who cried. * His father could have exempt him from war but refused. Punishment for being an artist. Later his aunt paid 3,000 francs to rescue him from duty. The pamphlet tells us to imagine the burning sand and how it peeled away the skin from his feet, nothing underneath, not even blood. Not even guilt. POETRY | 101
Folding the museum map into a paper airplane, you said, Not to be confused with Manet. * One day, before Impression, I showed you the Calendar Gardens. You stood on that day’s brick and tried to name the plants in bloom. The owls flopped in the dusty earth once before ceasing. Their bodies something of a breast covered with a hand. I hear the start of the conversation: Can I tell you something serious? And maybe that wasn’t quite it: So we found out why I’m so tired. I was wrong: it was me at the museum crying—simply grief. Enough of the ends. What about the way I stood naked, another month and another year, at the window in the Day’s Inn, backside sagging south like eyelids, and tried to describe to you the leavened and bloated glow of the northern lights and how rain hides everything vestigial? When will our fates become novel again? Brief reminders on bridges maybe—but fate’s become a constant inundation: the water lilies are less married to earth than you. * Camille died before Monet painted waterlilies and before his willows. Weak after her son’s birth, she must have known for months. Uterine cancer or maybe tuberculosis or a botched abortion. Accounts vary. They named him Michel. * “Why can’t we forget the sadness in Monet’s eyes, or simply acknowledge it as something personal to him…Are we not running the risk of explaining the history of Egypt as the consequence of Cleopatra’s smile? Let us run the risk… The painted lilac tree is both more precise and more vague than any painting you have seen before. 102 | PHOEBE 49.1
[Monet] went on to say, I one day found myself looking at my beloved wife’s dead face and just systematically noting the colours according to an automatic reflex!” * I believe Monet’s portrait of her death reflects the same port as Sunrise but at dusk: the sky darker. Water flooding her bed as her face passes under streaks of foamy cold evening current to rest at the basalt. * You and I searched out Impression, Sunrise. I felt feathers in my shoes fraying along the vane. He made his best art after Camille died, you said. Not to be confused with comfort—last words are less like the first than one might expect. Maybe it was Alice’s influence. Art is a body minus the blood flow and synesthesia—it’s that easy sometimes to track our fucked-over bodies: teeth yellow to touch, perforated stomach detached over the toilet, swallowing sandpaper every morning— * Where do your eyes go first in that painting? Orange glow, smoke stacks, rower standing in the bow of the boat, the almost flighty signature? All of this conveys loss—I think I know that much. Me: wading in the river and fishing for the skeletons of trout. Banal watercolor is still watercolor, POETRY | 103
I suppose. Every city is more beautiful in the rain. In sunrise. Only impressions and residues. I swear I’m in the painting somewhere. * So nobody can ever lose anybody so long as you construct a viable and healthy new relationship that does not require both parties to be alive. This is why we plant flowers, build headstones, or tattoo our flesh: it’s the relationship. Still as strong, as real, and as human as always. The tragedy is in the (non)belief that our relationships with others are just a fabrication of a cognitive desire to make order from chaos. * Claude’s body is buried in Giverny. Camille in Vetheuil. And you are ash under the earth. She wanted to be buried at sea, perhaps drunk, perhaps naked, perhaps with varicose veins. * Sometimes I’m afraid to ask questions because I wonder what your last words to me will be: let me put antlers on for once—it’ll make us laugh, I swear. Art is a deformity of one’s own body. Display it now before this erosion becomes self-inflicted. Before we understand this too has a source.
104 | PHOEBE 49.1
Contributors BOBBY NEEL ADAMS’s series “Memento Mori” pays tribute to the loss of animal life due to dwindling living space and the lack of clean water that has caused the unhealthy decline of our planet. Like our current Commander in Chief, his work is popular in Russia. Adams doesn’t like greedy people, including most of the population and lives with his dog – Roy Orbison Junior and his cat - Ms Nina Simone on the US/ Mexico border. His photography has been published and exhibited worldwide. DANIEL BIEGELSON is the author of the chapbook Only the Borrowed Light (VERSE) and the director of the Visiting Writers Series at Northwest Missouri State University as well as an associate editor for The Laurel Review. His poems have appeared in or are forthcoming from Denver Quarterly, DIAGRAM, FIELD, Grist, Interim, TYPO MAGAZINE, Mid-American Review, and the minnesota review among others. DMITRY BORSHCH was born in Dnipropetrovsk, studied in Moscow, today lives in New York. His drawings and sculptures have been exhibited at the National Arts Club (New York), Brecht Forum (New York), ISE Cultural Foundation (New York), the State Russian Museum (Saint Petersburg). TERRI BROWN-DAVIDSON’s first book of poetry, The Carrington Monologues, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Her first novel, Marie, Marie, Hold On Tight, received excellent reviews and was featured in the magazine The Writer. An avid visual artist and photographer as well as writer, Terri has received scholarships and fellowships for her drawing and painting, as well as a “Fresh Ideas” award for her photography from the site 1x.com. Her poetry, fiction, and essays have been published in hundreds of journals and anthologies, including TriQuarterly, Denver Quarterly, North American Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review among others. 106 | PHOEBE 49.1
ROGER CAMP is the author of three photography books including the award-winning Butterflies in Flight (Thames & Hudson, 2002) and Heat (Charta, Milano, 2008). His work has appeared in numerous journals including The New England Review, New York Quarterly, and the Vassar Review. His work is represented by the Robin Rice Gallery (New York). HARRISON COOKâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Gay Mag, Slate, Atlas Obscura, The Matador Review, and onstage. His chapbook Warby was selected as a winner of the Iowa Chapbook Prize. He is the Deputy Managing Editor at Guesthouse. GENEVIEVE DEGUZMANâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s poetry appears in Cider Press Review, Cimarron Review, FIVE:2:ONE, Folio, Hobart, Iron Horse Literary Review, RHINO, The Puritan, Uncanny Magazine, and elsewhere. She has earned fellowships from Vermont Studio Center and Can Serrat in Spain. Born in the Philippines and raised in Southern California, she currently lives in Portland, Oregon where she is constantly perfecting her hygge. Find her on Twitter @gen_deg and at genevievedeguzman.carbonmade.com. MICHAEL FULOP lives a little north of Baltimore with his wife and two children and works as a psychiatrist. He has previously been published in The Antioch Review, Green Mountains Review, The Hopkins Review, LIT, Poetry East, Poet Lore and Prairie Schooner. SARAH GRIDLEY is an associate professor of English at Case Western Reserve University. Her poetry collections include Weather Eye Open (University of California Press), Green is the Orator (University of California Press) and Loom (Omnidawn). Forrest Gander selected her new collection of poems, Insofar, for the 2019 Green Rose Prize. It is forthcoming from New Issues Press in spring 2020. A recipient of the 2018 Cecil Hemley Award and the 2019 Writer Magazine/Emily Dickinson Award from the Poetry Society of America, she holds a B.A. in English from Harvard University, and an MFA in poetry from the University of Montana. CONTRIBUTORS | 107
DIANA HURLBURT is a librarian, writer, and terminal Floridian in upstate New York. Selections of her short work can be found at Memoir Mixtapes, Luna State Quarterly, and saw palm, and in the anthology Equus. She also publishes the racetrack literature newsletter, Readers Up!, and tweets about iced coffee @menshevixen. MICHAEL HURLEY is from Pittsburgh. His work has appeared in or is forthcoming from The Cincinnati Review, Spillway, Sugar House Review, The Massachusetts Review, Copper Nickel, jubilat, Prairie Schooner, Alaska Quarterly Review, North American Review, FIELD, Blackbird, Washington Square Review, Guernica, and elsewhere. His chapbook, Wooden Boys, is available from Seven Kitchens Press. ALYSSA JEWELL coordinates the Poets in Print Reading Series for the Kalamazoo Book Arts Center and is a recent graduate of Western Michigan University. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Best New Poets 2016, Colorado Review, Haydenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Ferry Review, North American Review, Poet Lore, Quarterly West, Tupelo Quarterly, and Washington Square Review, among other publications. She lives and teaches in Grand Rapids, Michigan. More information is available at alyssajewell.org. LESLIE JOHNSONâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s fiction has been broadcast on NPR, selected for anthologies, and published in literary magazines including The Threepenny Review, Glimmer Train, Colorado Review, Third Coast, december, Cimarron Review, and The Flexible Persona. Winner of the 2017 Pushcart Prize, her work appears in the best of Pushcart prose anthology, Love Stories for Turbulent Times (Pushcart Press, Jan. 2018). Leslie teaches at the University of Hartford and conducts writing workshops for the Connecticut Office of the Arts. She is a recent recipient of the CT Literary Arts Fellowship Grant. VANDANA KHANNA is the author of two collections of poetry, Train to Agra and Afternoon Masala, and the chapbook, The Goddess Monologues. Her work has won the Crab Orchard Review First Book Prize, The Miller Williams Poetry Prize, and the Diode Editions Chapbook Competition. Her poems, essays, and fiction have 108 | PHOEBE 49.1
appeared in publications such as the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day, New England Review, Fiction Southeast, Guernica and Prairie Schooner. She is a poetry editor at the Los Angeles Review. JENNIFER LOTHRIGEL is a poet and artist in the San Francisco Bay area. She is the author of the chapbook Pneuma (Liquid Light Press, 2018). Her work has also been published recently in Arcturus, Yes Poetry, Dash Literary Journal, Night Music Journal, and Riggwelter among others. CATE MCGOWAN is a fiction writer, essayist, and poet. Her work appears in Glimmer Train, Norton’s Flash Fiction International, Crab Orchard Review, Tahoma Literary Review, Crab Fat Magazine, Barrelhouse, Shenandoah, Into the Void, Louisville Review, Atticus Review, Vestal Review, Unbroken, Ellipsis Zine, and elsewhere. A Georgia native, McGowan is a fiction editor at Pithead Chapel and is pursuing her Ph.D. in interdisciplinary studies. She won the Moon City Short Fiction Award for her debut short story collection, True Places Never Are. Her novel, These Lowly Objects, is forthcoming from Gold Wake Press. DANIEL NEFF’s poetry has won an American Academy of Poets Prize and has been published in Diagram, ZYZZVYA and Ninth Letter, among others. Daniel has also taught creative writing and English composition at the University of Michigan and with the InsideOut Literary Arts Project in Detroit. Daniel lives in Ann Arbor, where Daniel bakes bread, keeps a few plants alive, and is establishing a chapbook prize for undergraduate poets. MARTIN OTT is the author of nine books of poetry and fiction, including Fake News Poems (BlazeVOX Books, 2019). His work has appeared in 20 anthologies and more than 200 magazines, including The Antioch Review, Epoch, Harvard Review, North American Review, Prairie Schooner, and Zyzzyva. STACY PARKER LE MELLE is the author of Government Girl: Young and Female in the White House (HarperCollins/Ecco) and is CONTRIBUTORS | 109
a contributing editor to Callaloo. Her recent narrative nonfiction has been published in The Offing, Apogee, The Nervous Breakdown, Entropy, Cura, The Atlas Review, and The Florida Review, in which her essay was a finalist for the 2014 Editors’ Prize for nonfiction. Originally from Detroit, Le Melle lives in Harlem where she curates the First Person Plural Reading Series. SUZANNE RICHARDSON earned her MFA in Albuquerque, New Mexico at the University of New Mexico. She currently lives in Utica, New York where she teaches English and creative writing at Utica College. Her Twitter handle is @oozannesay, and you can find more about Suzanne and her writing here: http://wwwsuzannerichardsonwrites.tumblr.com. TRAVIS TRUAX grew up in Virginia and Oklahoma and spent most of his twenties working in various national parks out west. A graduate of Southeastern Oklahoma State University, his work has appeared or is forthcoming in Salamander, Quarterly West, Bird’s Thumb, The Pinch, Raleigh Review and Colorado Review. He lives in Bozeman, Montana and blogs at writingfromhere.org. JUSTIN WELLS is referred to by most as the “Dilettante of the Hinterlands.” He studied fine art and environmental science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and eventually dropped out of the creative writing program at the University of California, Los Angeles to pursue a life of forestry in the Pacific Northwest. He has since returned to the Appalachians of North Carolina where he spends his time with the trees, his ink pens, and a surly canine named Yeti. His drawings and paintings are imbued with stygian humor but tend to favor the beauty of the natural world rather than strictly providing social commentary. It must be noted that it is in fact he that is surly. Yeti is a loving marvel. Find more of his work on Instagram @whalesinkart. BILL WOLAK has just published his fifteenth book of poetry entitled The Nakedness Defense with Ekstasis Editions. His collages have appeared as cover art for such magazines as Phoebe, Harbinger Asylum, Baldhip Magazine, Barfly Poetry Magazine, Ragazine, Cardi110 | PHOEBE 49.1
nal Sins, Pithead Chapel, The Wireâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Dream, Thirteen Ways Magazine, Phantom Kangaroo, Rathalla Review, Typehouse Magazine, and Flare Magazine. His collages have appeared recently in the 2018 Naked in New Hope exhibit, the 2019 Seattle Erotic Art Festival, Poetic Illusion, the Riverside Gallery (Hackensack, NJ), the 2019 Dirty Show in Detroit, the 2018 Rochester Erotic Arts Festival, and The 2018 Montreal Erotic Art Festival. 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. Jean has had group and solo exhibits in various galleries in New York City and internationally, has published works in 58 magazines, and is part of the artistic community of Westbeth in Manhattan. Her workspace studio is in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. For a complete exhibition list and bibliography, please visit her website at jeanwolff.com. SHELLEY WOODâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s short stories and creative nonfiction have appeared in a range of international journals and magazines. Her first novel, The Quintland Sisters (William Morrow), was published in March 2019 and spent several months as a No. 1 bestseller in Canada. She lives in Kelowna, BC. www.shelleywood.ca
CONTRIBUTORS | 111