C h a u t a u q u a 19.3 Editor s J ill G er a rd Philip G er a rd
Assistant Editor s J a me s K ing G illian P ribicko
Advisory Editor D iana H ume G eorge
Editorial Assistants S a r a h A rcher A J B achmann W e s ton H er sey L auryn J ack son V a lor a M c R ae K atherine W at ter son
Managing Editor S a r a h J. S tephens Cover & Book Design G a bi S tephens Proofrea der s G illian P ribicko J a me s K ing
Chautauqua Institution Archives J onathan S chmit z W i t h S pec i a l T h a n k s E mily C arpenter M ichael R amos E mily L ouise S mith S ony Ton -A ime C hautauqua I nstitution
Copyright © 2022 Chautauqua Institution
Chautauqua is published each June by Chautauqua Institution, a not-for-profit corporation under section 501(c) (3) of the United States Revenue Code. The opinions expressed in Chautauqua are not necessarily the opinions held by the editors or by Chautauqua Institution. On the Cover: Triangles, 2019, Bryan McGinnis, archival marker, textiles, blended fabrics sewn to paper 17” x 23” Below photos courtesy of Chautauqua Institution Archives: Library Flagpole, 1980-1999, Silas G. Wertz Sculpting Heads, 1965, Josephine U. Herrick Female Painter, 1985, photographer unknown Student Gala—Dance, July 20, 2007, Michele Roehrig
Other Photos: Family Photos, Diana Hume George https://unsplash.com/photos/XYFpx1ErGOU, December 8, 2019, Hans Veth https://unsplash.com/photos/dO5quaqAYg0, April 26, 2019, Zhen Hu https://unsplash.com/photos/vy_cVJCAVG0, May 9, 2019, Thom Milkovic https://unsplash.com/photos/TDGRwyJ8sSY, April 5, 2022, Jason Bonnicksen https://unsplash.com/photos/4ymY4ptz0kc, February 8, 2021, Luca Vercellio Audubon Plate 21, Mocking Bird, John J. Audubon’s Bird’s of America Audubon Plate 51, Red-tailed Hawk, John J. Audubon’s Bird’s of America Audubon Plate 201, Canada Goose, John J. Audubon’s Bird’s of America
Produced by The Publishing Laboratory Department of Creative Writing University of North Carolina Wilmington 601 South College Road Wilmington, NC 28403-5938 www.uncw.edu / writers
The Chautauqua Way
or more than a hundred and thirty years, Chautauqua Institution has served as a stage and a classroom for leading figures of the times, including Ulysses S. Grant, Booker T. Washington, Alexander Graham Bell, Susan B. Anthony, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. The Chautauqua way is a habit of living in a state of continual enrichment: learning on vacation, finding intellectual stimulation in leisure, imbuing all activities with a passion for art. Learning and art should not be confined to separate spaces or designated hours, nor spirituality expressed only within sacred walls or books of prayers. Chautauqua is a literary manifestation of the values and aesthetics of Chautauqua Institution. Each volume is a portable Chautauqua season between covers. The sections loosely reflect the categories of experience addressed during those nine summer weeks, playing one writer’s vision off another’s in the spirit of oblique, artful dialogue. The Chautauqua way is also reflected in how we make this book. Each year, in partnership with the Chautauqua Literary Arts, graduate and undergraduate students in the Department of Creative Writing at the University of North Carolina Wilmington work as members of the editorial team, guided by professional editors and an advisory board. They read and discuss submissions, fact check and edit, search for art, and participate in the artistic process of building a book, to be released at the start of the summer season. In our editorial sessions, we read aloud excerpts or even entire works, listening for the music of great writing, searching for the piece that eloquently addresses the issue’s theme through some facet of the life in art, spirit, or play, or a life lesson. Writers, ages twelve through eighteen, enjoy that same respectful attention through Young Voices. So settle back on a couch or a comfortable patch of grass and spread this book open like a tent. Immerse yourself in the world of ideas, imagination, and language that lives between its covers. For as many minutes or hours as you like, you are part of the Chautauqua community.
Jill Gerard and Philip Gerard, Editors Chautauqua Institution
On the cover Triangles, Bryan McGinnis archival marker, textiles, blended fabrics sewn to paper 17" x 23"
he art on this cover was provided by Chautauqua School of Art alumnus, Bryan McGinnis. While searching for the cover art for this theme, I kept coming back to the resilience of textiles—the combined strength and softness of something woven together by human hands, how it can serve to both protect and comfort. McGinnis’s work exemplifies this dynamic by combining tradition and innovation through exciting colors and mixed materials. The result is work that is at once playful and reverent—a weaving together of traditions past with an eye towards the future. Triangles is currently available for purchase. To inquire about purchasing this piece and to learn more about McGinnis’s work, you can visit his website, mcginnisart.com, or find him on Instagram @mcgiggles14art.
Gabi Stephens, Designer
Chautauqua thanks Chautauqua Institution and the Department of Education for their support of the journal.
Contents life at Leisure
life of the spirit
2 9 8 12 14 26 28 29
diana hume george
The Secret Power of a Mountain Man
The Woman From Another Century bethany reid My Mother’s Birthday in Ireland clara silverstein Twigs for Mother karen paul holmes Driving Behind Rose in North Carolina douglas cole Spirit of the Waves james k . zimmerman Ode to a Meyer Lemon michael garrigan Where Eels Spawn ash good same day, afternoon
33 lori jakiela Prayer to The Patron Saint of Companionship 37 miriam bloomfield Deluge 46 suzanne tyrpak Haiku for Times Like These 48 janis hubschman Please See Me 60 john jacobson If There Are Answers 62 dick westheimer When Colors Are Stories Before They Are Told 64 B ryce E mley Mary and Child with Saints Felicity and Perpetua (Sacra Conversazione). Anonymous. Tempera on wood, circa 1520. 65 c . w . emerson Sonnet Found on a Post-it Note
life in art
68 judy mcclure The Heavy Book 70 noah davis The Mockingbird & Rattlesnake, Audubon Plate XXI 72 Red Tailed Hawk, Audubon Plate LI 74 Canada Goose, Audubon Plate CCI 76 jalina mhyana May You Carry the Broken World 81 lauren camp Alzheimer’s: Unfinished Disorder 82 c . w . emerson To J, with Regret, Twenty-five Years After 84 d . dina friedman Yo-Yo Ma in New Jersey 86 vasilios moschouris Next Times 92 105 110 111 112 123 125
Paterson’s Curse carla riccio Thursday carson colenbaugh Grandpa Mentions Hobo Stew judith sornberger The Muse, as Nurse Log, Lets Herself Go m . h . perry This Side of Paris kenneth jakubas Flaming Skulls jane zwart I have learned to love dailiness, georgia english
128 Contributors Notes VII
The Secret Power of a Mountain Man Philip Gerard
efore there was the cowboy, there was the mountain man, that towering solitary hero of American mythology, celebrated in stories and songs and tall tales, larger than life, braving the western wilderness alone in search of furs, adventure, and freedom from the civilizing restraints of towns and cities. And no mountain man looms larger in lore than Hugh Glass—the survivor of an extraordinary and brutal odyssey that has been told many times but truly understood by only one writer, Frederick Manfred, in his historical novel Lord Grizzly. To say the novel was painstakingly researched is an almost laughable understatement, but we’ll get to that. For now, we begin with Hugh Glass himself, emerging full-grown on the banks of the Missouri River in 1823—fifty-something years old, six feet-two, powerfully built, head crowned by a shock of long gray hair, face shrouded by a thick gray beard. He has signed on to an expedition of a hundred hand-picked adventurers under the command of General William Ashley of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, whose mission is to follow the river into the great untrammeled expanse of the Rockies. Like any good mythological hero, Glass arrives cloaked in mystery: he might or might not have been kidnaped by the Louisiana pirate Jean Lafitte and forced to raid and plunder on the high seas, before escaping and finding refugee in a Pawnee village. Before that, he might or might not have abandoned a wife and child back East for a life of solitary adventure. What is known: the Ashley expedition ended in a disastrous battle with Arikaras in which Glass was wounded. With a dozen other survivors of that ambush, Glass struck out to meet up with another fur-trapping party. By August 1823, they had advanced as far as the forks of the Grand River in South Dakota. There Glass went off on a solitary hunt and stumbled upon a mother grizzly with cubs. The bear attacked him, clawing his face and scalp to ribbons, raking his back down to bone, breaking his leg, and tearing off a large chunk of his buttocks. He did not die. His companions found him, killed the bear, and stood watch over Glass as he lay dying. But though he lay unconscious for days, he did not die. The party grew anxious, fearful of attacks by native tribes in the area. At last, a decision was VIII
reached to leave Glass behind in the care of two men—seventeen-year-old Jim Bridger and an older man, John S. “Fitz” Fitzgerald, who would receive a bounty for their trouble. Once he died, they would bury him and catch up with the rest of their comrades. But day after day, as they kept their increasingly restive death watch, Hugh Glass wouldn’t die. Yet the two did not believe he could possibly ever recover. So at last they abandoned him where he lay, absconding with his horse, his knife, and his treasured long rifle—the three necessities for staying alive in such wild country. What happened after that is known only from the accounts of other mountain men, many later published, presumably based on the stories Hugh Glass told about his own ordeal: He straps his useless leg into a travois made of branches so he can drag it behind him as he crawls and eventually hobbles with the aid of a crutch-stick some two hundred miles across the wild prairie and broken Badlands of South Dakota to Fort Kiowa. During his agonizing two-month-long trek, he survives on insects, grubs, rainwater, snakes, cactus, and carrion. What life-force drives him to such a determined and heroic triumph? The obsession to revenge himself upon the men who left him to die alone. Manfred did his best to imitate Glass’s epic journey and so be able to write about it authentically. He concocted a travois out of saplings and grapevines, strapped it onto his leg, and crawled around his own backyard above the Minnesota River—witnessed by his nine-year-old daughter, Freya. In an introduction to the 2011 Bison Books edition of Lord Grizzly, she writes, “A few days later he was tasting ants (‘they’re tart, sweet and sour’) and grub worms (‘somewhat sweet, like stale white sugar candy’) and canned rattle snake (‘stringy’) and the ‘surprisingly moist’ flesh of the prickly pear cactus, difficult to extract but ‘worth the trouble.’” Though most writers have focused on Glass’s amazing resourcefulness and almost superhuman powers of endurance, it’s the ending of the saga that so beguiled Manfred—and that inspires me. When Glass arrives at Fort Kiowa on the Missouri River, appearing like a ghost to some of his former compadres, who have long since given him up for dead, he learns that Bridger and Fitzgerald are elsewhere. Still fueled by a desire for revenge, he tracks young Bridger clear to Montana and finds him at a trading post on the Yellowstone. Now he will have his reckoning. In Manfred’s recreation of the scene, Hugh’s anger relents. He is softened by Bridger’s youth, persuaded that he and Fitzgerald had been left in an impossible situation, awakened to troubling memories of his own failings as a IX
Chautauqua runaway father and a brigand, and aroused to empathy and finally compassion. Hugh Glass doesn’t kill young Jim Bridger. Whatever the reason, the telling gibes with the other accounts: Glass forgives Bridger, who goes on to his own fame as a mountain man. But Glass isn’t finished. He backtracks southeast for several hundred miles more and at last confronts Fitzgerald at Fort Atkinson, Nebraska. From Fitzgerald, he retrieves his cherished long rifle. But instead of killing Fitzgerald with it, he leaves him, too, in peace—forgiven, perhaps, or at least pardoned from execution. Hugh Glass walks out of the frame of the story and resumes his adventuring career for ten more years or so until his death. Forgiveness—for Manfred, this was the hard, priceless kernel of the Hugh Glass saga. It was the most difficult thing for the author to research, the twist in the standard tale of righteous vengeance, the unexpected outcome to a months-long buildup toward a violent reckoning. “What was really hard was to make convincing the act of forgiving in the end,” Manfred admits to the editor of The New York Times Book Review, as Freya Manfred recounts. “And it took me some nine years of waiting and watching before I caught a hint of how it should go. . . I had to come around to doing some forgiving myself.” I love that last line—I had to come around to doing some forgiving myself. The act cannot be imagined. It is not logical or earned. It can only be felt through experience. It is a mystery—as Flannery O’Connor might say—that lies both within and beyond character. You have to do it to know it. And when you do it—if you do it—it will likely surprise you. Forgiveness—that was Hugh Glass’s true secret power. In the end, he does not allow himself to be ruled by either the bear-mauling or his abandonment by the comrades charged with his care. He lets them go. He lets all of it go. His act lies entirely within his own discretion. It doesn’t matter if Bridger or Fitzgerald deserves forgiveness. Forgiveness is not fair, does not rely on being deserved. It is an act of grace: not earned but given. It is not up to Bridger or Fitzgerald: it is up to Glass. Hugh Glass moves on, freed from the weight of his enormous grudge. It’s a joyful turnabout and a profound lesson: we all carry the weight of our own grudges—the unfair treatments we have suffered, the slights we have endured, the injustices that have robbed us of success or careers or love. They are real, and we have every right to feel wronged by those who inflicted them on us. But the weight of the grudge is also real, the burden heavier the longer we carry it. And that burning will for payback can drive us forward only so far until it burns us up. The burden of the grudge can become so heavy it X
Philip Gerard paralyzes our capacity for empathy and optimism, without which life spirals into a meaningless, drudging crawl. Hollywood always gets this wrong. The true hero is not the blood-spattering killer who gleefully cuts down a slew of deserving villains in the final reel. It is the one who can empathize with other imperfect characters—people—and, against all the logic of justice and the nearly irresistible pull of emotion to the contrary, forgive. Freya Manfred writes, “And even now, in a time of extreme political divisions and hatred, Hugh Glass’s act of forgiveness is the maturing of the American spirit, the final destination of the American soul. Let it be so.
C h a u t a u q u a 19.3
“Sometimes you wake up. Sometimes the fall kills you. And sometimes, when you fall, you fly.” —Neil Gaiman
Life at Leisure
The woman from another century Diana Hume George
n French director Olivier Assayas’s Summer Hours, youngsters run through backyard greenery in pursuit of treasure. We don’t know who they are, but we immediately understand their sense of belonging, even of ownership. They’re innocent, but they’ll be in charge within a few years. They’re at their grandmother’s country house, where everyone gathers for the matriarch’s birthday. Helene, in her early seventies, is ready to talk about her eventual death. Her adult children are not. They don’t yet feel a vested interest in ascertaining the value of certain objects passed down through the family, or Helene’s efforts to see how best to divide her most precious possessions. Everyone just wants to enjoy the celebratory meal. And get on with their busy lives. From the opening frames of the children running and climbing, I recognized them as sure as if they’d been my own clan at my Lake Erie cottage of almost three decades, on an acre and a half of cliffside lawn, woods, creek, and field, with stone and wood stairs down to the private small beach where for years, my now-adult children, then my grandchildren, now my great-grandchildren, have dodged big waves, thrown sticks for the dogs, collected beach glass and driftwood. We’ve gathered there for every occasion in the warm months, sitting by the bonfire my son continually tends, cooking out, running back and forth between cottage kitchen and the picnic table near the firepit. The cliff is vulnerable and the front door mere yards from where we sit watching sunsets. It’s possible that the cottage will fall into the lake much earlier than anyone now knows. Restoring it has taken years. I didn’t have much money, but I had energy and friends, and my kids grew up clearing brush and felled trees. My son got married decades ago on a huge rock down at the shore. Last summer, my Florida daughter introduced it to her husband. Her own daughter, my eldest grand, has taken to setting up a tent there for days at a time. My stepson, a writer like I am, climbed its cliffs with one of my granddaughters throughout 3
Chautauqua his youth, and even some of his friends from high school long ago, think of it as one of their own precious places. A daughter-in-law lived there one season, planting flowers and combing for beach glass. After a friend built the first stairs years ago, a grandson finished them all the way to the beach. The season opens early each year with another granddaughter celebrating her birthday there while winter winds still batter the walls. I found it for sale for a song right after my mid-life separation from my mate of twenty years, when having Virginia Woolf’s room of one’s own didn’t seem enough. I couldn’t yet buy another house of my own, but I could buy an uninsulated stone cottage without running water, the land turned into a veritable junk yard by the previous owner’s son. Over the ensuing years, anyone who wanted to be around me was part of weekend-long gatherings that involved memorable food and fine singing. Some nights there was dancing on a big picnic table. Wine may have been involved. Friends surely were, so the high point was when I married two of them in the early years, our definition of marriage being simply fine conversation and reading good books. We three lifelong friends still have our wedding-wear, handmade by one of us, for a shindig officiated by yet another buddy. So we’ve had two weddings there, one legal and one not. My son’s, the legal one, ended in divorce years later, but mine didn’t. You can’t run out of good books, any more than a stone beach will run out of good sea glass, of which we have endless jars. that was decades ago now, but I’m one of those boomers who doesn’t age gracefully into place. I don’t look or move or think like any 70-something person from my own family history. They seem ancient in my memory. I still do everything I ever did—writing, working, reading, traveling. Yet there is nothing that makes me feel like an elder, a clan matriarch, as much as watching my great-grands at the cottage, at least eight last I counted, two born last summer and others ranging from toddlers to almost teenagers. Another granddaughter announced her pregnancy last month. This one will be born just in time for the coming summer season. Great-grands? I never had the slightest knowledge of my great-grandparents, who remained remote and ancestral, only one or two available in fading photographs, and I’m properly ashamed that I’m not sure of their names. But me? I text my great-grands on the phone, and I can watch their TikToks and gossip with the oldest ones about their parents, especially when said parents are our mutual enemies. That happens. Recently I helped the almost-teenager with a term paper. Asked to write about a place that’s special to her, she picked my house, a restored 19th century roadside church. For a while she couldn’t 4
Diana Hume George decide between that and the cottage. I know why she’s drawn to both places, and it isn’t really about me. It’s that in both places, there’s a sense of history, of passing generations. Sitting at the cottage in an Adirondack chair at the fire, I spot three greatgrands swinging on the hammock at once, another two sprinting across the lawn, while the generation above theirs—the grands, ranging from their teens to their thirties—answers questions for their young or their cousins, on their way to and from the stairs to the beach, where they’ll leap with abandon into the lake.
Chautauqua and i think: Which of you will care about this place? Which of you will wonder who I am, who I was, what mattered to me, what I believed in, how I found this haven—a story not one of you knows—that you were born into, that you own so easily, this inheritance of sunsets that turn from yellow to blood red, ducks in the lake and geese overhead, resident bald eagles shadowing low, coyotes howling and fisher cats screaming at night from the woods, waves breaking rock-hard against the cliff in summer, stunned into ice flows in winter? I’ve recently passed on the deed to my son, retaining my lifetime use, hoping to keep our family’s ownership going through his generation into the next. Bernie loves it even more than I do, and when he’s there, he’s awake for sunrise and never misses sunset. But I know better than to think anyone, least of all I, can know what will happen when I am gone and he grows old. Because these lovely kids, my grands and greats, the ones I peruse—searching their faces for recognition that one of them herself will carry my own legacy into a future—are free of me, in ways I will never be free of them, nor do I want to be. They might want to keep Nana’s lake cottage in the family, be willing to divvy the costs and the care—or maybe my son’s or daughter’s own children, grandchildren now in their twenties and early thirties, might have to sell it before their own children come of age. No one can know which difficulties and changes might occur in my people’s lives—times are hard—or the life of this land, where storms change the face of the beach and the cliff season to season. I will not know. I may imagine the lake cottage in the hands of my inheritors, but I will be gone. I’ll be just one more ancestor, one more woman in a fading photograph, a woman who looks like she came from a previous century—because I did. I didn’t own it anyway. I was only its guardian for a moment.
Twigs for Mother Clara Silverstein
I never thought I was a mother who deserved my children – warm heft of their miniature hiccups, flailing arms, ruckus of cries and ma-ma-ma, the depth of trust to hold leaves and acorns they bring me – treasures I don’t recognize. I expected to keep treading lonely gravel by the river, fists clamped against privation but my children call me to the fallen nests of the world, safety woven from twigs carried high over the plague-ridden city. I cup in each palm the dirt they scoop so carefully, the offering of each shovelful.
My Mother’s Birthday in Ireland Bethany Reid
t is October 8, 2017, my mother’s 85th birthday, and I am in Ireland, 4,500 miles away from her. Ireland is eight hours ahead of our clocks back home, so even though my travelling companion, Carla, and I oversleep on the morning of my mother’s birthday, my mother is still safely abed. After ten years with Alzheimer’s and several strokes, Mom can’t possibly know that I am not with her, nor that I wake thinking of her. Traveling is disorienting, and this trip has been especially so. Disorientation, or so it strikes me, is one of the reasons we came; a disruption from routines and a desire to map something new. Carla and I landed in Dublin on September 30, and since then have visited Castletownbere, Inch Beach, Dingle, Cork, Limerick, Clonakilty, Listowel, Sligo, and Galway. We wanted to meet the poets, and we’ve managed to meet eighty or so of them. We’ve listened to their poetry and read our own at open mics in four Irish cities. Time has stopped making much sense to me, and, given the miles we’ve driven from end to end and side to side of this island, geography’s gotten muddled as well. But the poetry has been a constant, and the food. Last night we had a late dinner—scallops and vegetables in a buttery sauce, thick crusted bread—and afterwards emerged to find Galway’s sidewalks crammed with young people carrying pints of ale, laughing and singing. The sky was dark, and a “mizzling drizzle” fell. But the streets were festive and lit up like a carnival. The shops were open late, too, and I bought a blue Aran sweater and a beautiful greenish blue shawl. I bought a scarf for each of my three daughters. I didn’t buy my mother anything. My mother’s birthday this year is on a Sunday, and Carla and I meant to find a church to attend. But we’ve slept too late for it. I have a headache, perhaps a slight hangover, but I drink a cup of coffee and take some Tylenol. We get dressed and leave without breakfast, then find nothing open on the drive out the coast. We see a Catholic church sitting on a hill and we stop. We’re not in a town exactly, only on the road in the region of Connemara, in County Galway. The church has a labyrinth behind it and we walk the labyrinth and I meditate on my mother. Her strokes. Her Alzheimer’s. Her decline. A white-haired woman suddenly appears, apparitional, smiling a welcome. In 9
Chautauqua Irish “welcome” is Fáilte, pronounced fall-cha, as a Limerick poet explained to me a few nights ago. “Walking our labyrinth, are ye?” the woman says. In the field behind the church, a pied wagtail—a black and white bird about the size of a towhee—sings, stretching like a good choir member for a high C. In a little seaside town on Galway Bay, Spiddal, or, in Irish An Spidéal, we find a café that will open in another half hour. While we wait, we walk down to the shore and snap pictures of small colorful wooden boats moored at low tide. We come across a historical marker that directs our gaze out to the Atlantic and explains the myth of Hy-Brasil, a phantom island that legend says is visible every seven years, “cloaked in mist,” populated either by cattle wading in clover or an alien civilization. It appears on some maps, variously as Brasil, Bracile, O’Brasil, and other names. (When Emily Dickinson put “Brazil” in a poem, a symbol of the fantastic, was it this island that she meant?) But, as the marker explains, today there’s no actual island to be found. An Spidéal lies at the heart of the Gaeltacht, where such things seem more likely than elsewhere, where we might hear people speaking Irish still, where phantom islands ought to haunt the coastline. For breakfast, I eat a bagel with scrambled eggs and lox. I think my mother would like the legend of Hy-Brasil. She’d like An Spidéal where our waitress looks so familiar to me she might be a cousin. Our beds tonight are in Belfast, and it’s a long drive, so after breakfast we turn the car around and begin again. Our GPS ignores the presence of modern highways, directing us down narrow lanes where two cars can’t easily pass one another. By that means, we find ourselves in the town of Fenagh, pronounced Fen-nock (Irish: Fiodhnach). At a pub called Quinn’s, Carla orders a sparkling water and I order a Pinot Grigio. Three men sit at the other end of the bar, nursing pints of Guinness or stout. We are surely ten or twenty years older than they, but they’re happy to flatter us with some conversation. They want to know if we’re Americans, and we tell them we’re poets, come to find other poets. “Then you’ll have to see our ruins,” one says. He whips out an iPhone and looks it up. Fenagh is old, one of the oldest settled places in the West of Ireland, with Bronze Age standing stones thought to have been boundary markers or burial tributes—or Druids, miraculously transformed by St. Caillín in the 600s. Fenagh’s ruins were once an abbey, built in the 1500s on the ruins of an even older monastery. The Old Book of Fenagh was written here, in Irish, in St. Caillín’s day, and rewritten in the 1500s. Like Hy-Brasil, Fenagh seems a place outside of time. The man walks us outside the pub and points us in the right direction. “Just across the turlough,” he says—it’s another word a poet taught us, tur-lock, 10
Bethany Reid a field with watery places. The old abbey is dark stones tumbled on stones in the middle of a stony graveyard, hedged by a stone fence. Carla and I walk amid the graves. I think about the labyrinth we walked just this morning. I’ve never been told that my family has any Irish in it, but I look for family names anyway. Like almost everywhere else we’ve been in the Gaeltacht, it feels like a place I’ve been before. There is something about the inflection of people’s speech, something about their foreheads and their eyes, their gestures, that makes me feel like a child again, watching and listening to my elders, to my mother. Horses graze outside the stone fence. We’re in County Leitrim now and no longer on the coast. Even so, I can smell salt on the breeze. That night in Belfast, though we can’t find the poetry open mic that Carla had planned for us, we go to a pub where four musicians play Irish music. It’s crowded and noisy. We ask a young man if we can sit at his table with him. He’s happy to share. He’s a private tutor in London, home to see his family. We tell him we’re both teachers. “We’re here to meet poets,” Carla tells him. He orders us a round of Irish whiskey and recites Yeats to us, leaning close to our thirsty ears, shouting over the music. That night, I can’t sleep. Since my father’s death, seven years ago, I’ve spent each of my mother’s birthdays with her. I get out my phone and open Facebook. At my mother’s nursing home, it’s two in the afternoon. My brother-in-law takes photographs and a video at her birthday party and posts them for me. My mother wears a party hat and eats two pieces of cake. Seeing her is grounding and disorienting at the same time. She seems better, stronger than the last time I saw her, only a week ago. She’s not the mother I grew up with, the mother I knew for fifty-seven years before her stroke. She’s lost eighty pounds. Her hair is straight and not permed. I can’t understand her when she talks. But when she laughs, her eyes dance in the same old way. She points a bony finger at the camera, as if to scold me for not being there. When I finally fall asleep, I dream that I am sailing and my GPS speaks only Irish. In my dream, my mother brings me a slice of cake and I pour her a glass of Irish whiskey. I set our course back through Fenagh, through the 15th century and the 6th, toward Hy-Brasil, toward poetry, and she laughs and sails along with me.
Driving Behind Rose in North Carolina Karen Paul Holmes
I follow my friend after the memorial of our mentor. We pass tarpapered fishing shacks along Brasstown Creek, where I’d be too prissy to stay but can imagine fishermen happy as trout. The backbone of the highest ridges beyond us is still brown— thinner air hanging onto winter. But down here, fallow fields bloom yellow. Rose would know what it is—she who relishes bare feet in soil and communes naked with the midnight moon. There’s the decayed mill declaring KEEP OUT, then a makeshift Boiled P’Nuts stand with its bubbling 55-gallon drum and the occasional red-dripping REPENT nailed to a tree, which always gives me, though I know better, the every-hair-on-my-head heebie-jeebies. In the last ten minutes, I’ve seen three over-zealous groundhogs, dead, so I tell the live one on its hind legs in the ditch, don’t cross, honey. Curls of razor wire glint in the jail yard’s sun, and a white-steepled church proclaims: Cars aren’t the only thing recalled by their Maker. We see fewer Confederate flags these days, thank goodness. But here are some draped on a rusty truck by the roadside, $10.
Before Rose and I met, friends kept claiming you’ll love each other. I know she’s recording the valley’s life too— the way our poet-mentor taught us. The way our words outlive us. Rose and I hug the curves like best friends, a cord from her car pulling mine past black cows in grazing posture, white faces down, her listening to Prince, me to Pavarotti—voices rising from the same marvelous mind that greens these farms and mountains come spring.
Spirit of the Waves Douglas Cole
hey ate lunch in a roadside diner with trucks and semis pulled up in front of it among men with plaid shirts and John Deere caps who smoked and drank endless cups of coffee. And then they were back on the road, driving through the corridor of trees again. The clouds had burned off and sunlight came piercing through the trees in fierce light. The radio jumped between stations in static blur, so his father switched it off. They opened the windows and the cabin was filled with air, the sweet pine smell of the forest, the heat of it rising rich and wonderful. And slowly, through turns and far from any town now, the road began to descend, the light coming down from straight above, and the trees began to change with different kinds of fir and oak giving way to cedar, thinning out as they dropped and rose and dropped again winding out towards the coast. “Smell it?” his father said. “What?” “The sea.” It came through like a living thing. And Gabriel was awake and attentive to it like a vision coming towards him. He gazed hard through the trees, and they seemed to part and close in a frustrating and magical weave which seemed to reveal it, seemed to suggest and infer and show forth in tantalizing glimpses which may have been, which probably were, yet were still uncertain. Was it the silver flash of a wave? Was it the glittering of light bouncing along the surface? Was it the blue gleam coming through from its distance? Still he was unsure, even as they came to a turnoff down which his father drove, bumping and jolting to the road’s end. His father switched off the engine and said, “Here we are.” They climbed out and unloaded their gear. His father helped Gabriel put on his pack. It was heavy, but he would not complain. His father pulled down the straps so that it was cinched tightly around his shoulders and waist and pressed close against his back. Then his father put on his own pack and tugged the straps down tight and stuck his arms out and lifted them and worked his shoulders and then said, “Let’s go.” His father led them up the trailhead and into the woods. Gabriel followed, 14
leaning forward and back, striking for that balance of position which would put the weight of the pack right. Sometimes he felt it pulling him back, and so he leaned forward. Then he felt it pushing him forward so that his steps were a kind of catch-up to keep the weight from pushing him over, and so he leaned back. Like a drunken sailor he weaved and stumbled along the trail, toe-stumping into roots and rocks when he did not pay attention to his footing. Gradually, he found the right stride, hooking his thumbs under the shoulder straps and keeping his eyes on the path before him. His father strode far ahead and out of sight. Occasionally Gabriel would catch a glimpse of him through the trees or when the trail curved back on itself, and from time to time his father would call out, “You all right back there?” Gabriel would summon the breath to answer in a steady, tough voice, “I’m all right, are you all right?” And he would hear his father laugh. And that became the call and response of their hiking, his father calling back, “Are you all right back there?” And Gabriel answering, “I’m all right, you all right?” The straps of the pack began to cut like blades into Gabriel’s shoulders. It was a pain that went to the bone, and he felt himself grimacing. But he did not say anything and kept up the call and response with his father. He was hot, and wished he could take off his coat, but he did not trust himself to get the pack back on, and he did not want to lose track of his father or make his father have to stop. He was thirsty, now, too, his mouth blown dry by fierce breathing. But he pushed himself, pushed to follow his father along the path through the woods, pushed to keep up and not appear weak. The trail was perpetual descent, treacherous at times as it switched back and forth. Sunlight flooded down in dusty rays, and a few feet off the path, the forest floor was thick with moss-covered fallen logs and thistles and nettles and rich banks of ferns. Fat banana slugs stretched their way over the ground and sometimes onto the path, and sometimes Gabriel came across one that had been crushed by his father hiking ahead. Gabriel tried to avoid stepping on them while keeping his stride even. He had found a working rhythm, a kind of groove that was less awkward and that allowed him to move forward with some surety and grace. And he was careful to keep his concentration on the path, on his footing, even as he sought in quick glances for a glimpse of the sea. And at last he saw it, he thought. Then it was gone. He listened and heard a whispering from the distance. He watched his footing. Then he looked again, but it was not there. Then he saw it again, a glitter. He was certain of it now. And the whispering of it was coming to him now, constant. His father called back, “You all right back there?” 15
Chautauqua And Gabriel answered, “I’m all right, you all right?” Then he saw it, full flooding through the trees, rich, cobalt, dark glittering through the trees. He came down to where the path leveled out and saw his father standing there, hands on his hips, smiling, not even breathing hard. “How you holding up?” his father asked. “Good.” “Thirsty?” “Yeah.” His father stepped over to him and tugged on his pack and pulled out a water bottle and handed it to him. Gabriel drank deeply, keeping his eyes to that strange and real gleaming through the trees. His father reached back to a side pouch on his own pack and pulled out a water bottle and drank and then poured some of the water over his face and shook his head and said, “Ahhhh…not much farther, now.” “Really?” “You done with that?” his father asked, pointing at Gabriel’s bottle with the tip of his own. “Yeah.” His father took the bottle and slipped it back into Gabriel’s pack, then put his own water bottle back into the side pouch and said, “Last leg, let’s go.” They followed the trail as it wove through the trees. They were descending very gradually, now, and the sea was coming to them, giving itself to the land as the trees seemed to stand back to its revealing. Gabriel heard seagulls crying. Then the trail dipped down and the sea was gone, although he could still hear it voicing to him with its whisper of a thousand tongues. The trail rose again and the sea was before them fully, open, only a few thin and windblown trees stood before it. Gabriel felt the full rush of it, the surge of the wind with its salt smell and taste, the waves high rolling in, huge breakers coiling high and cobra-bent, suspended only briefly then crashing and tumbling and roiling in a fierce churning of white foam that stretched itself out at last thin and green and glassy as seagulls with their wings in perfect hard arcs rode the wind currents over the breaking waves. Gabriel stood rapt, transfixed before the enormity of it, his first vision of the ocean. they set up camp in the grass behind the tangle of driftwood where the last few firs and pine trees blocked some of the wind and where a little creek flowed gurgling down and fanned out shimmering onto the beach. His father pitched the tent and built a fire ring while Gabriel gathered firewood. They shook out 16
Douglas Cole the sleeping bags and tucked the packs into the foot of the tent, and his father hung a bag from a tree limb to keep their food. Then he spread a blanket out before the opening of the tent and the campsite was set. His father started a fire and blew on it and fanned it into a steady self-sustaining burn. Gabriel drank some water and walked out along the driftwood, stepping along the logs and into the sand. He looked out at the ocean and it still impressed him with its vastness, the far curve of its horizon. No ships were visible, only the sea. He went down to where the water came in sliding fast over the flat stretch of shore and the wet sand shining like polished stone. The sun was past its high arc and now in descent, warm, the wind wild off the sea and full of intensity and force. Gabriel could lean into it and feel his body suspended by it, as if a hand were pushing him back. A sun line shone down on the water so bright he could not look directly into it. He sailed sand dollars and they came alive. Gulls scanned overhead. He knelt down near a tide pool and overturned a rock and saw the scattering of black shelled crabs. He picked one up and it dug its stony tined legs into his fingers. He looked into the orbit of its white-tipped, milky eye. “What do you see, my little friend?” He put it back in its home and replaced the rock and continued down the shore. Then he came upon a group of towering rocks that seemed as though they had consciously broken away from the mainland and were marching out to sea, a few scraggly pines still embedded in their isolated plots of earth, and he wandered among them, feeling himself now like a crab among giants. He picked up a long stick and dragged it through the wet sand, leaving a long, unbroken scroll of meaningless script; then, he wrote out his name in cursive lettering, and then shapes of obscure meaning, and at last a giant cross. Then he threw the stick into the waves and watched it plunge and rise drifting in the water, seeming to try for return. He turned and headed back towards camp. He was now facing into the wind and the sand came at him stinging with speed and serpentining low along the beach. He turned his face and looked up to where the land rose again in a cliff face of sandstone, serrated rock grooved by wind into profiles which grinned and frowned and laughed and shifted and gazed back at him. The forest was thick, and he could not see into its depths, back going back into a land woven around the penetrating waters of the sound, as if land and sea were in endless face-off, circling each other like fighters. And then he saw it rise, too big to be a gull, moving slowly in powerful soar on the currents of the wind, using that wind with a kind of liberty, feathers glinting as it moved in a circular path skyward and on. The eagle rose with the light of late 17
Chautauqua afternoon and cruised along the tree line and higher. And as Gabriel followed it, running along the shoreline with it, he stepped off the end of a strippedclean and white-bleached log and leaped with it. He flew in that moment and knew in that moment a truth of air as he took it deep in his chest and with its buoyancy floated and climbed. He made his body hold to sky with his will alone and the air held deep in his lungs, and he held to that trajectory with his mind as he followed the path of the eagle. When he returned to the camp, the sun was already flattening out, shifting shape, blood burning as it plunged itself wavering and searing into the body of the ocean. He dropped down onto the blanket. His father had a campfire going hot with one side pushed back from a large flat rock he used as a cooking surface. He had a blackened camp pot on it with beans bubbling away inside. He tossed in a couple of hotdogs and they sank in and burbled and it all smelled good. He cut up some bread and cheese and apples and laid out a fine little meal on some paper plates and handed one to Gabriel. he food was steaming hot, and Gabriel blew on each forkful as he ate. “This is good,” he said. “Not bad for a camp cook. My grandfather used to cook bacon on a piece of wood. Smokey, that tasted good.” “What was his name?” “My grandfather? Your great-grandfather? His name was Thomas High Bear, too, just like me, just like you. He was the first High Bear.” “What do you mean the first?” “He got the name, acquired it you might say, hunting up in the mountains. He was with the Crow. That’s what my father told me, anyway, before he died. I don’t know if we have relations there or not, but that’s how he got the name.” “What do you mean Crow?” “You never heard about that?” “No.” “The Crows…they’re people, Native Americans” “Native Americans? No way.” “Yeah.” “And how did die?” “Great grandfather or father?” “Your father.” “He drowned, in the ocean, just a little north of here, actually. It was a freak accident, my mother says. He was always a strong swimmer, a powerful man. They were out here on a holiday, and he went in for one last swim that evening and drowned. He got caught in a rip tide, she says. Some of the folks 18
Douglas Cole from the tribe up there searched for his body using their fishing boats. It was a boy riding a horse along the top of the shoreline who spotted him.” “And how did great grandfather die.” “He died an old man. He moved out to Lake Chelan when he was a young man and ran a hotel there. We visited a few times. He never talked about his past to me, but then I was just a kid when he died. I didn’t get to ask him anything about it, and my grandmother moved back out in Montana and I never saw her, so…I asked my mother about him some, but she just said he was a hardworking man, a good man, the best man she ever knew.” “How did they meet?” “My parents?” “Yeah.” “In school. They were sweethearts in school. Ask her about it sometime. She likes to tell that story.” “So, you never learned about the people that were Crows.” His father laughed a little, “Nope.” “So, how come you and mom call me Gabriel?” “That’s your middle name.” “Yeah, but how come I don’t go by my first name?” “So we won’t get confused when she calls us to dinner. Finish up there.” And his father tossed his own empty plate into the fire where it sputtered and steamed and then burst into flame, burning from the center out. Gabriel ate the rest of his food and tossed his plate into the burning flame of his father’s plate, and there it caught quickly. His father lit a cigarette and leaned back against a log and smoked with one hand behind his head. Gabriel lay flat on his back looking up at the stars as if he had never seen them before. He said, “Wow, the stars are really bright out here, and so many.” “Yeah, the city lights don’t obscure the view here. See that white streak there?” His father pointed with his cigarette. “Yeah.” “That’s the Milky Way.” “Yeah? What’s that?” “That’s our galaxy. It’s like our galaxy is a spinning crab and what you’re seeing is an arm of that crab. Our planet is on another arm of that crab. And see that big collection of stars there, with the square and the part curving back?” “I think so.” “That’s the Big Dipper.” Gabriel looked into the mystery of the stars and saw something flare-out in 19
Chautauqua a quick and silent streak. “What was that?” he said. “A shooting star. Actually, they’re not stars. They’re bits of matter hitting the earth’s atmosphere.” “Wow.” “We’ll probably see some more before the night’s through.” “Tell me some more stars.” “That’s Orion there,” his father said, running his hand back and forth over a constellation. You can tell by the three stars of his belt. And that’s the little dipper and the little bear. “That sure is a high bear,” Gabriel said. His father laughed. “And that’s great grandfather riding on his back.” “Looks like he’s smiling,” his father said, clamping the cigarette between his teeth and putting both hands behind his head. “He’s laughing.” “At what.” “You and me.” “Why?” “Cause we’re looking at him.” “All right.” Gabriel could not remember ever having a conversation with his father. It seemed to him that in some way, out here, disconnected from the shop and his woodworking and his job worries, his father was different, open, lighter, happier. Before they left, Gabriel thought that the purpose of this trip had something to do with Stuart’s death and his responsibility in it, that somewhere along the way he was going to be lectured and questioned and browbeaten for his sins. He believed sincerely that they were sins, but so far his father had said nothing about it. Strangely, he felt guilty that he was enjoying himself so much, and he wanted to tell his father about this, but he did not want to spoil the feeling they had now. And he knew what his father’s response would be regarding the idea of sin. They lay there a long time with the stars all around them. Sometimes they saw the quick cutline of a shooting star, or something falling, and Gabriel thought this might be how the writers of the bible imagined angels falling. His mind was crowded with them, and crowded with all the new impressions he had gathered this day. He felt alive and strong in a new way he could not explain but which he knew he would have forever, as though he had found some secret energy source to which he could connect whenever he had to. That was purer because for whatever reasons and whether conscious of it or not, his father had shown him. And again, he wanted to ask his father if this 20
Douglas Cole was why he had brought him out here and if this was what he felt himself. But he said nothing. He knew if he asked his father would either say nothing or laugh. He knew his father’s spoken beliefs, but he believed that in some way his father had other beliefs that he wouldn’t or couldn’t speak, and that coming here was the way he spoke them perhaps without knowing from some place deep in his heart. After a while his father rose and went out beyond the fire light, and Gabriel waited and listened and wondered. Then his father came back and tossed his cigarette butt into the fire and said, “Well, I’m turning in.” And he yawned and stretched and climbed into the tent. Gabriel listened to the rustling as his father slipped into his sleeping bag. Then Gabriel rose and went out to the creek and dipped his hands in and brought the cold water to his face and listened to the snapping of the fire and to the waves coming in on the beach below. He looked up through the fierce burning stars. Did he hear something else? Did he see something else as another white flare burst into a line in the sky above? Then he went back and climbed into the tent and lay down there in his sleeping bag beside his father, hearing the sounds of fire and sea and his father there beside him breathing in the dark. he stood before it, naked but for the cross on the little black cord around his neck, facing into it, into wind and wave upon wave. The sun was behind him, coming up over the trees and casting his shadow forward on the slick black water. He stepped forward and felt the first touch of it on his feet, the cold bite of the water in and then the inrush of the wave flattening out smooth and green and clear. He went forward until he stood with the water up to his knees, felt it surging forward then surging back, felt the seemingly solid ground beneath him shifting and dropping away in circles where his feet were planted as though it were trying to suck him down into it. He went forward, and the incoming water hit against his chest with its cold body-wracking force. Then he dove in. He had learned to swim in a pool. Now he was swimming out from the edge of the land into a boundless body of water. The waves came in and as they came he dove down under them and felt them break across hit back, felt the fast sweep and lunge of them and then the brief suspension in which the water seemed not to move at all. And he rose and broke the surface and breathed and saw the sky above and the line of the horizon and turning back saw the diminishing curve of the shore. He swam beyond the breaking waves into the outer swells and felt his body rise and fall with their force, but he didn’t have to dive down to avoid the crash of the waves. And he swam 21
Chautauqua parallel to the shore, and outward too, feeling a new kind of fear and freedom as he pushed his body forward and at the same time was propelled in thousands of ways he could not control or even tell. The waves came in at an angle and he swam in the same direction as the flow, which pushed him fast along the shoreline. He felt good and strong and dove down and swam underwater in that green-hued and spiraling world. Then he rose and curved out and caught an incoming wave and rode it as it rose and surged and gathered like a fist and then broke forward. He turned back and lunged out to catch another wave and rode it for a short while before it left him. What a beautiful game he had found, and he went out to wave after wave and had a string of good rides, hitting just as the waves were giving their full force, riding them towards shore and gliding out in the rippling shallows. It was a game to play with the ocean. Then there was a lull during which he floated and waited and watched as the swells came in, and he tried to gauge which ones would rise and carry him. He caught a few too early as they were gathering themselves so that by the time they rushed forward he was too far back and they passed him by. He tried to find a better spot from which to enter the waves, and as they came he turned and swam with them hard to try and catch just as they broke. He caught a few more, finding that place where he was not too high up and behind the force of the wave nor too far forward and hammered by the break. Then he found himself trying for one too late. It was already breaking, and he was caught up in its explosion which was violent and punching downward. He could not control himself and was thrown down and dashed in the shallow back-draw then over swept by the churning and choking water. He rose to his feet in the foaming, broken wave and coughed and shook his head and leaned onto his knees. Then he dove back in and swam under the next three waves and sought a deeper place to tread water and choose the next perfect wave. He rode the waves, catching some, losing some, diving under some that seemed huge and frightening. In the lulls he swam back and forth or dropped down to a pinging depth by letting the air out of his lungs, and when his feet struck bottom he bent his knees and lunged back surface ward to break gasping into the air. It was another game of the sea, and the deeper he went the sharper he felt the pressure in his ears, the darker the water became, the closer he came to a feeling of danger. And when he rose, he re-entered the world with a kind of relief and renewed force. Then he came up into another wave that was starting to break. He surfaced and saw it only for a moment and barely had time to take a breath. It pounded down on him and sent him swirling under. When he rose, he was facing another wave and could only 22
Douglas Cole gasp once before he was thrown back under in its the whirling force. Then the wave gathered back, and it was as if the wave had him in some terrible grip. He came to the surface only to see another towering wave in full crest about to fall upon him, but it did not carry him in. Instead, it seemed to be drawing back, as if gathering from its own collapse the force and energy for its next rise and fall. And Gabriel was inside it. It swept forward and he was carried with it, rolling inside of it and completely lost. By luck alone he rose and caught a breath but was hit again by another wave. And again, he broke the surface and gasped for air, and another wave came down on him. And when it hit him and threw him under he lost his direction, and for long, heart-throbbing and chest aching moments he could not tell how to get back to the surface. There was no surface and there were no rays of light to guide him to the surface in the dark and inward coiling chaos of the wave. The he was back at the surface and taking a quick breath only to be subsumed again. He lost count of the number of times he had been thrown under, but he knew that he was weakening, and he knew he had to get to shore. Then there was a moment, a strange suspended moment after the wave had just hit and drawn him under and was about to draw itself up again, when Gabriel, with no idea of surface or depth, only the dark drift between wave-breaks, felt something near, felt as though something were near him though he could see nothing. His mind became still, and the thought struck him that he was drowning, that this was how his grandfather had drowned, in this way, in this very sea and nearly in this very place in these same waters surging against the shore—and it was as if the thought brought his grandfather near, as though his grandfather were there, inside his mind, seeing this over again, witnessing his own death by drowning again in the body of his grandson and saying in a silent way, No, not you. Gabriel swam as hard as he could in the only direction he could, wave after wave breaking upon him, taking him under, erasing the world. But he kept on swimming, his thought going forward in one direction, taking with him whatever breath he could steal back in the brief intervals of wave-crash and slamming violent momentum, until he at last reached the shore and crawled out of the grip of the sea. He collapsed on the sand beyond the reach of the incoming waves, and it was as if he sank down into the sand, dissolving into the sand, breathing hard but his mind deep down and dreamless and completely at ease. He felt nothing. And he passed out. When he awoke, he sat up. His limbs were shaking, tingling, weak. He did not know if he could stand. He looked around. The beach was empty. Where was his father? The sun was high. The warm air flowed over him. The salt 23
Chautauqua had crystallized on his skin. He rose to his feet and stood on trembling legs. He looked down at his body and saw no injuries. He was fine. He was amazed. He wanted to call out to someone and say, did you see that? But there was no one to call to. He laughed aloud and shook his head and looked out at the sea which now glittered calm and beautiful. He lifted his hands and looked at them, he lifted his feet. “I’m all right,” he said. He placed his hands on his chest and took a deep loving breath. The he felt with his hands and realized that his cross was gone. he put on his clothes and hiked back along the empty beach. The eagle swept along the upper edge of the tree line, and Gabriel raised his head and let out a sharp and piercing sound unlike anything he had ever heard come from his throat before. He leapt over the fallen driftwood and called every branch and every stone and every swirl of sand and swale of grass brother. He followed the creek with its glittering alluvium back into camp where his father was packing up the tent, a cigarette dangling from his lips. He said nothing to his father about his experience in the waves. He helped collect up the last of their things and set his own pack against a log and slipped it onto his back by himself. He stood up, pulled the straps tight and said, “I’m ready.” “Well just give me a minute, there, cowboy.” His father smiled, took a few last drags on his cigarette, then tossed it into the fire pit and kicked some dirt over it. He scanned the site and the sea one more time, then lifted his pack onto his back and cinched it and said, “All right, lead the way.” Gabriel leaned forward into the slope of the hill and used the weight to propel him. It was hard, but he kept up a pace as fast as he could. He was breathing hard and had to concentrate on each heavy step, but he felt clear and crisp and strong. When he reached the first sharp switch-back he turned and took one last look at the sea. It was glittering hard and blue through the trees, and the waves were singing up to him with their infinite voices overlapping and faint. He turned and hiked on, and gradually he could not distinguish the sound of sea waves from the sound of the wind coming through the trees. Eventually both sounds funneled down as he went deeper into the forest until the only sound he heard was the sound of his own breathing. Gabriel kept the lead the entire way and pulled his water bottle from the side pocket to drink, which was only once, at the same spot where they had stopped to drink on their hike in. And he called back from time to time, saying, “You all right back there?” 24
Douglas Cole “I’m all right, his father would call, you all right?” And they would both laugh. When they reached the car, Gabriel unhooked his pack and dropped it and stood breathing hard as his father came up. Then they loaded the packs into the truck and climbed in. Well, said his father. Let’s go home. And he started the truck and pulled around and headed out, the sun shining through the branches in a rhythmic and hypnotic fluttering of light.
Ode to a Meyer Lemon James K. Zimmerman Torn from golden flesh, buried in a terra cotta pot, I thought I had lost you. It took weeks for you to peek a timid cotyledon beyond the musty womb of soil, breathy and green, to greet a world replete with shadows and chill nights, your tiny leaves reaching for the light, the solicitous warmth of luminous morning sun. Now I feed your hunger, slake your thirst, brace you with a bamboo stake so you will stand tall— no bowing to the east, no slumping to the ground. I know the risk you take to burrow roots, to reach your leaves like hands in prayer to a graying sky, unsure how you will stretch out stem and branch, dangle
bee-buzzing flowers, bear sweet acidic fruit, in the time you know will come when I am no longer here.
Where Eels Spawn Michael Garrigan
For years no one knew where eels went to spawn once they left their rivers. For years they disappeared. For years they simply vanished then reappeared as small slivers sliding back into their freshwater homes. Finally, someone tracked one and found them in the Sargasso Sea where the four Atlantic currents collide— the Gulf Stream from the east, the Canary from the west, the North Atlantic and Equatorial from the North and South—and drop the detritus of their land, clockwise, growing into a clear blue ocean graveyard gyre of seaweed and eel. I bet you could find the DNA of every living thing in that sea. Something died, something ate it, something decomposed, water came, washed it to sea. Eels spawn where our deaths lie, bringing back a little bit of us when they return to their rivers. We forget just how much water we are made of and perhaps it’s our shared faith in it that keeps us afloat. We are maps of each other. The Sargasso Sea’s bordered by holy currents holding all of us.
same day, afternoon Ash Good
what is your relationship to ocean? you who planted a small beached log upright coiled in kelp with leafy bits long & lifted in this hideous wind? we bear the wind don’t we? & the lava-burn underfoot? i am mourning a jellyfish freshly beached clear-as-glass anatomy suspended electricity imminent matter puddle—but when were you here unknown artist? & furthermore would you balk at the title or revel? either way i—like sand—am absorbing your wake of beauty. we all have our own go of it & i do wonder was this hello or i love you or i was here or i’ll be back or i honor you or i can’t help myself. i found your prayer as i needed my own altar but let this marker do. may it notice what lives & decomposes & regathers in our gravity & i’m comforted to know stranger you walk this border too.
“It is really wonderful how much resilience there is in human nature. Let any obstructing cause, no matter what, be removed in any way, even by death, and we fly back to first principles of hope and enjoyment.” —Bram Stoker, Dracula
Life of the Spirit
Prayer to The Patron Saint of Companionship Lori Jakiela
hy would you bring a child into this world?” people liked to ask back in the 1900s. Why would anyone ask such a thing?
“Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the wordsand never stops - at all -” That’s Emily Dickinson. Emily Dickinson never had children. Emily Dickinson wrote beautiful poems, which are their own legacy of course. I once misread the poem, and via some brain slip, inserted the world coul for soul. I am, by title at least, a writer and college professor, so I spent hours looking up the word coul. It means a few things. In this case I thought—in my delusional way—Dickinson meant a chimney cover, though coul is also a term in fencing, as in swords. Forget swords. For a flammably-feathered bird to perch in a chimney and risk flames is hope enough. Some days I believe my version more than Emily’s. Birdbrain, people say, meaning stupid, but birds are some of the smartest animals on the planet. Ravens and crows, for instance, are both great at holding grudges, second only to humans. Don’t fuck with crows. They remember your face. 33
Chautauqua for seven years, I worked as a flight attendant for a major airline, where I learned a little about human/animal traits. Did you know birds are designated support animals? But some birds and animals are more designated and acceptable than others. Most airlines are cool with cockatoos. Most airlines are flexible with parrots because parrots talk back, maybe, which makes them seem more like human passengers, though most flight attendants dream of human passengers who don’t talk back unless those passengers have some kindness to give. Be nice to your flight crew. Please and thank you. Recently, United Airlines denied boarding to Brooklyn artist Ventiko who wanted to travel with her emotional support peacock, Dexter. Dexter hated the subway but was somehow cool with planes. Ventiko put Dexter on a baggage trolley, where other passengers could admire him. Ventiko offered to put Dexter through the x-ray scanner, because no peacock had ever been identified as a terrorist or a weapon. Ventiko offered to buy Dexter his own seat on the plane, but United declined. Have you ever heard a peacock scream? It’s impressive. It goes on for days. The echo of that. It’s not something that would do well in the test-tube of an airplane cabin. Ventiko and Dexter eventually opted to drive, On the Road style, for the betterment of all human- and peacock-kind. Ventiko kept a log of their journeys and Dexter ended up with more than 17,000 followers on his Instagram. “Peacocks represent infinity and immortality,” Ventiko told the LA Times. Ventiko painted Dexter many times. He shows up in her work as Santo Dexter, Patron Saint of Companionship, and in a series about Dexter’s resistance to the Trump administration. there are so many other airline vs. animal stories: Gizmo the marmoset who was 86’d for pooping on board; Daniel Turducken Stinkerbutt, a duck who was beloved on his American Airlines’ flight; Coco the bunny, who earned a coveted upgrade to business class for his classy bow-tie. Daisy the Squirrel, denied boarding, because squirrel. But the saddest and most interesting to me is Pebbles the hamster, who died an untimely death when her owner, a college student, tried to board a Spirit Airlines flight with Pebbles. The student was trying to get home to deal with a medical issue. Later she 34
Lori Jakiela said someone from the airline told her she had two choices—she could set Pebbles free or flush him down the toilet. No airline person I know, and I flew for seven years, would ever suggest killing an animal, though they may think of creative ways to hurt humans from time to time. After trying for hours to find another way home, the student flushed Pebbles and got on the plane. Spirit Airlines has denied ever offering the toilet option. If your support animal is your support animal, how do you flush it? How does anyone let go of the things that tether them to this life? RIP, Pebbles. one time when i was still flying, a man tried to smuggle his Chihuahua on board. TSA agents boarded the flight just before we were ready for takeoff. “Excuse me sir,” one TSA agent, a loaf of white bread in a tight red blazer, said. “We know you have a dog in your pocket.” The man, 38B, wore a leather jacket, zipped up tight. This was July, in Orlando, Florida. Florida, the punchline of so many jokes. Florida man, Florida man. Florida, the birthplace of Dexter the peacock. Florida, the place everyone I knew back home in Pittsburgh thought of as heaven—the place to go to retire, the place to go to die. 38B said, “What?” He said, “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” and fiddled with his jacket zipper. My parents built a house in Florida, but had to sell it when my mother, then my father got sick, cancer, cancer. “Some goddamn joke,” my father said back then. “A real kick in the ass.” The house was lovely, pink stucco, across the street from a canal filled with flying fish that seemed to leap from fairytales. I remember shopping for furniture to fill the house. I remember buying silverware, extra sets of knives and forks and soup spoons, though who eats soup in Florida? I remember lizards, chameleons maybe, who’d latch onto the screen doors, their green skin glistening, their tails coiled into question marks, their long nails like hooks, holding on. I remember my parents fighting. Always that. I thought maybe, if they could have just made it to Florida to live, they’d stop fighting. 35
Chautauqua Florida’s official state slogan is, “In God We Trust.” The unofficial slogans: The Sunshine State, God’s Waiting Room, America’s Wang. “We know,” the TSA agent on the plane said, and jerked a thumb toward 38B’s jacket. “We should have known,” my father said, meaning the world wasn’t a place designed for him and people like him and my mother to dream Florida dreams or have access to lives they weren’t born into. “A place for everyone and everyone in their place,” my mother, who loved to mix metaphors and clichés, used to say. “We saw the skeleton, sir,” the TSA agent on the plane said. 38B, in a moment of pure Florida-man-inspired genius and hope, had tucked his tiny dog into his leather jacket and sent it through the x-ray machine, figuring his jacket—thick, squeaky, probably not real leather at all—would block it some. The Chihuahua, when 38B pulled it out, wriggled and squeaked. It was tiny, just a puppy. 38B looked guilty, apologetic, then just sad. The TSA agent escorted 38B and his tiny dog off the flight and I felt bad about everything. Having a support animal on board is expensive. Not everyone who needs a little help can afford the luxury. Some dreams are so small they seem within reach, even when they’re not. The dog could fit in the palm of my hand. He wouldn’t have hurt anything. Maybe my parents would have been happy in Florida. Maybe they would have lived. As for birds, sorry Dexter. I’ve seen Hitchcock. Those birds knew exactly what they were doing. there are a lot of birds in Emily Dickinson’s poems, but even more Death. Living with Death as a roommate in your brain may have made the thought of children unbearable to anyone, but even Emily Dickinson got lonely and adopted a dog. She named the dog Carlo and called him Baby. Carlo lived for 16 years. Dickinson, that lover of death, was by all accounts devastated when Carlo died. I love animals. The loss of anything and anyone we love is an aberration. There is no such thing as a good death. 36
DELUGE Miriam Bloomfield
north arkansas, 1965
orning brushed the sky on Caleb’s return, the light starting high and lancing down through autumn hickory and oak as he neared the cabin. He didn’t need to sleep outdoors when his father drank, but it always proved safer. In the small dark kitchen, Caleb cleaned and fried up his fill of trout. He’d had luck with decent browns, and they tasted sweet and tender with the salty crisp of skin cooked just right in the cast iron. Merle was in a nasty state, thumping and banging from his room. It was Sunday and Caleb’s pa always hated Sundays on principle. Being that God had let him down so thoroughly, he resented a whole entire day dedicated to a traitor on high. It happened to be the day Caleb’s mother left, or so Merle said whenever he got an appetite for that particular complaint, which was often. She left on a clear Sunday morning before the roosters started. Barely light for her to see a path, without pause to wake anyone, without word or warning. Without bothering to take her lone child along, even if that child was only four. Merle went on about it fifteen years later and each time he wailed that old song, Caleb gained a small amount of sympathy for his mother. A very small amount, seeing as she left him with this railing bitter coot. Maybe she figured he was weaned, could walk enough to keep some distance. Maybe she wondered how she’d manage and at least there in the woods, Caleb would be fed. Still, she’d done wrong condemning her son to Merle’s disposition, and by leaving no note or clue about why he shouldn’t take it personally. Caleb’s memories of her were moonlit. She carried him snug-bundled on her back, and when he grew, he toddled behind as she roamed the land, seeking and foraging in the silver light. She spoke in stories and elements, sang to him of origin and family and ghosts. But he was too small and lost what little he’d understood to begin with. 37
Chautauqua Just the music of her remained. Her voice like the night breeze and owl calls and whispers of tall trees. Her presence like the deep roots and moving waters and thunderstorms. The stillness of her absence. “didn’t make me no meal?” Merle sloughed into the kitchen, rubbing his hind end. They seldom crossed words these days. If one had an early rise, the other waited until the first was clearly gone. If both had a mind to leave early, there was stored jerky or eggs Caleb harvested from the hens and cooked in advance. Less contact, less conflict. Outhouse trips didn’t count, they could ignore comings and goings then. Only on cold winter nights did they share a common room for longer stretches, owing to the woodstove. The crack and flare of logs provided a plain enough focus to coexist. Caleb collected his platter and set aside bones for the soil. Merle eyed the plate, then sat atop the kitchen table which, along with the benches, had been rough-chopped before Caleb’s birth. “Least you could do.” Caleb stopped salt-cleaning the cast iron and left it for his pa to use. “There’s two fresh in the icebox.” Merle grunted, which was not a bad reply for a Sunday. “We need propane from town, next run.” “Expect you’ll be wanting me to do it,” Merle grumbled. “I did the last run.” Caleb gazed out the room’s single window. The dog was barking, trying to herd hens. Time to get them into the coop before something ate them for breakfast. “’Sides, I’m staying away from town for a spell.” Wolcott, Arkansas: a bit place with loud talk, stone walls, stiff rules, and a sieve of belonging that some fit through while others didn’t. “You in trouble, boy? What you done now?” Merle stood like he meant to threaten. His raised arm didn’t scare like it used to. The old man was scrawny and tipped over easy. Caleb was tempted to push and see if he fell. No point getting into it. The damage had been done long ago; this creature just housed the hollow remains. “Not me,” said Caleb. “A town boy gone and disappeared. People asking questions. Thought you mighta’ heard.” Anything amiss drew scrutiny to them, but this boy was notable. Best to keep Merle out of it. “I been in the hills,” Merle said. “Into Booner Johnson’s business?” “None a’ your damn concern what I do up there.” Merle rubbed at his 38
Miriam Bloomfield specked stubble. Hard to tell what was beard growth and what was dirt. “How you think we pay for expenses?” Caleb shrugged. He found earnings by selling to bait shops, extra catch and kill for those without time or inclination to hunt and fish. He tended chickens, grew roots and greens for the household. They both bartered and scavenged and scratched out what they could. “I might do business in town,” Merle conceded. “Get us some propane alongside, maybe.” “You buying sugar and shit for them?” Caleb knew for a fact Merle rotated in to help Booner with white lightning. They always looked to network outward. Take notice off the center. “Booner’s boys are startin’ something new. Planting crop. You should join ’em.” Brethren in poverty and flint, they trusted Merle with their secrets. He’d never betray them. “Nah,” said Caleb. “Don’t want to be latched to them sons.” “They’s the next generation of the Johnson operation. Profitable. Why not follow their example? What kinda sorry offspring are you?” “I’m nobody,” Caleb said. “I’m your son.” “Lucky you across the room, boy. My fist oughta teach you manners—” “You tried, old man. I lived through it.” The shovel scar only hurt in deep winter now, or when he sat too still for too long. The limp was permanent. “Lived with a roof above, you mean.” Merle gripped the kitchen table with both hands. “You want me gone? I got no problem taking off.” His overnight duffel lay ready on the bench opposite Merle. It wouldn’t require much to load the rest. “Don’t be a stubborn-ass idiot. I’m just sayin’ they’ll have big money coming—you can get in on it.” Merle had sprouted from that cabin buried deep in the hills, with six brothers and a sister, most of whom had died and the rest scattered. He got the house by default. Their only valuables were weapons: a number of hunting pieces and an assortment of knives. “Could be a chance for you to redeem your worthless self.” “Booner and his lightning fit okay for you.” Caleb started for the door. “I go it alone.” “Damn Chevy’s giving me grief again. Needs parts.” Merle scraped salt from the cast iron and added oil before pulling trout from the icebox. Booner Johnson might have a soft spot for Merle, but his sons were different animals. They were older and larger than Caleb and any debt to them, monetary or otherwise, was a heavy affliction. They’d look after Merle as long as he came through, but Caleb was bound to get on their bad side. His track record 39
Chautauqua with sane people was none too good. Those crazy-ass hoppers would have him decomposing in a ravine no one would find. “Sunday damn morning and I got to make my own damn breakfast,” Merle started in. Caleb knew what came next about his mother’s desertion and how Merle’s divided attentions between homecare and revenue prevented him from making anything of anything. And now he’d add a new verse about the no-good son refusing opportunity. Caleb heard the old man carrying on long after the screen door slammed behind him. Scratch from the shed lured four hens back who hadn’t found their way, and Caleb spread seed inside the coop too. Last, he put out food and water for the hound, Rory. It could’ve been to strike back at Merle or maybe on behalf of Josh Collier— the town boy five days gone—that Caleb marched up the porch stairs and called through the screen. “Somebody asked after you. Man named Collier.” “What you mean, asked?” Merle’s voice twisted. “What he want—Dale Collier?” “Said he knew you from school. When you was small. Mighta’ run together, a group of you.” Josh’s father had grown desperate enough to hunt out Caleb on Bass Lake’s far shore. The man pleaded, but Caleb could offer nothing that full countywide searches hadn’t yielded. Which was nothing. No leads, no explanations, no words of comfort. Caleb had come up empty for all three even before the father found him. Merle shuffled to the stove. “Yeah, we was in class. Heard he’s a numbers man for the factory—lucky for some.” When he flipped his fish, the oil splattered and Merle jumped away, cursing. Fish guts littered the counter. “He asked after his son, boy that disappeared.” A boy about to graduate high school. Coltish, overeager, green. Caleb played with the swing of the screen door, rocked it without letting the dog in. Rory was trying to get at the fish smell. Dry kibble couldn’t compete. “Boy gone missing was his?” Merle’s poking fork paused in the air. “Hmph.” He turned stoveward and nudged the fish to keep it from sticking. “I’m headed out.” Maybe Caleb would take one more look around North Parker Ravine. “A boy tried sweet-talking Booner few days back. Clean cut. Don’t suppose that’s him.” “Couldn’t say. He’s bound for college…popular, sports hero.” It came out tart, even though Caleb didn’t hold that against him. Josh showed up 40
Miriam Bloomfield in the backcountry beginning of summer, lanky, agile, trailing close by. Said he wanted things simpler, that he admired Caleb’s directness. While Caleb chased him off the first few times, the kid nested into a person’s company. After some weeks Caleb didn’t mind. More like a dog he didn’t own hanging around. Reliable companionship during tasks of digging and casting, chopping and harvesting. Josh knew how to be still, didn’t upset the atmosphere and didn’t want anything from Caleb, which sat okay with him. He didn’t shun Caleb either, which was more surprising. They mainly shared the quiet. “Yeah, that boy said all sorts of communist shit.” Merle loaded his plate and pushed past Caleb to sit outdoors on the spring metal porch chair. “Quit dog. I swear.” Caleb caught Rory’s collar before Merle could kick him, and tied him by the coop near his bowls. He retrieved the skillet and poured fish scraps over the kibble, which made all the difference to Rory. “Collier’s alright. Wouldn’t be Collier’s boy spouting draft-dodger trash,” Merle said. Per usual, he hadn’t boned the fish proper and was picking spikes from his mouth, cussing. “Why you call him communist?” Caleb set the skillet on the porch deck edge. “He’s asking Booner about secure routes to Canada, shirking his patriotic obligations. Said it was for research, but nobody goes to Booner unless they mean business.” “That boy’s a cautious type.” Caleb walked to Rory and patted his torso. Rory was wolfing down the rest of his food, as was Merle. “He coulda’ been gathering facts.” Just last week, Josh convinced Caleb to try senior year again, said he’d help Caleb graduate this time. “You know my daddy served. And two ’a my brothers killed in the Kraut war.” “I know.” Caleb often wished his uncles had come home and rounded out the family. They might’ve made life bearable, or at least broadened the target field. Then again, he might be running from three assholes. “Well, they beat the tar out of that boy.” “What?” Caleb yanked the dog rope and Rory barked. “When was this?” “The Collier boy oughtn’t a’ been there. Started mouthing off about morals and talk got ugly. Crazy cuss. Don’t he know Booner Johnson’s oldest got drafted—is over there in Nam right now?” Merle took another bite off his plate, extracted three ribs. “Goddamn fish. Why you feed me this shit, boy? You tryin’ to kill me?” 41
Chautauqua Caleb would be far away gone if it weren’t about Josh. “What came of it?” “You know Johnsons. They’s not much for talking things out. Just beat him and told me go on, so I did.” “When—more than five days ago?” “Don’t recall, really. I got reimbursed in product and lost track of time and such.” Caleb set Rory loose and hauled out of there. He kicked the gate open and could hear Merle shouting at him and then at Rory all the way to Broad Fork. He skirted stacked hay bales and faded plots of corn into the western hills. Mid-day birds filled the air with raucous noise: jaybirds and nuthatches squawking, the ongoing gripe of a butcherbird, and then woodpeckers tapping all around like they were pounding on his head. Resin rose from smashed needles underfoot. The electric hum of insects drilled at his ears as he lumbered down the path toward Grove’s Lookout. He needed to run, to get far from Merle and the notion of Joshua getting beat. Josh had no business there with Booner’s people. Pure stupidity on his part, walking headlong into trouble. For someone going to college, he was dumber than the hens. If he’d asked straight out, Caleb would’ve said stay clear. People believed Booner’s sons should get shipped overseas with the rest of Arkansas’ poor. Word was he tried to bribe the draft board, but they had no use for him. Caleb got skipped over on account of his limp and because people thought he was touched. That’s what he’d told Josh since he had some trust of him. But Booner’s boys were touched in a killer way and folks figured the war would be the right outlet to aim those tendencies. Though murder, even for Booner’s crew, was an unthinkable extreme, one that could take them down—the whole operation, the whole clan. A boy that well-liked, a family that respected? Doubtful. Caleb got glimpses of his friend’s thinking. End of August, Josh asked about places to disappear or live quiet on land without being found. He trusted Caleb with the question. The kid was working something out, maybe wrestling with the draft deferment they’d give in exchange for school. Josh made him promise not to say anything. Caleb might be touched, but he wouldn’t break a promise. Not to his only friend. Then again, he shouldn’t weigh loyalties. He was on his own and always would be. Rory had finished harassing Merle and caught up crossing Four Corners. They carried on uphill through thickets to where walnut and red maple huddled close and canopies fought for sky. Clouds had formed while he tramped. Dark gray pockets folded overhead, and the trails dissolved into soggy mulch as rain spit down. He hadn’t brought 42
Miriam Bloomfield spare covering. Stupid, stupid. Just ran outta there like he didn’t know the country. The highlands could turn on you in five minutes. Not even. Caleb’s red shirt, drying on the line, would be soaked by now. Dense forest loomed all directions, and he knew it reckless to stomp around without a bright color. Plain risky in wilderness peopled by trigger-happy Johnsons. One son could spook easy and shoot before looking. The other might shoot out of spite. Hazards lay there in the wilds, but he wouldn’t get sent to Nam and for that Caleb found traces of gratitude for his mother, who taught him to meld with the land and be safe, at least within limits. Maybe things balanced out. Maybe there’d come a time when he could stop measuring everything to counter her absence. The air was heavy with damp. He and Rory forked left along muddy trenches skimming the hillside. He climbed fast and direct, slipping some as he went. There were wood fires burning; the winds carried the scent. Caleb hated this place, and then it was all he knew to love, too. The uplands looked careless and heartless now, a big open cage for him to be trapped in and find nothing more from this life but the same as come before. What else could he do? What other place would have him? Leaves would soon drop and turn to moldy decay. Mud gained and pulled at his boots with each step. one day last month Caleb had trekked nearby, to his favorite spread of country a few patches deeper in the wilds. The granite crags and cascading tree vines gave him extra ease. A fierce storm broke off the squall line, rumbled and crashed through, surrounding him in a hurry. He took cover under boulders, where an overhang buffered him from gusts and wet. He remembered peering out, the whole view matted and muffled, everything all the same slickness with hard drops hitting stone and blending into waterfalls that raced downhill. He could see clear to the lake and how rain torrents played patterns on the dancing body of water. Water into water into water. He stayed there, protected, watching it dance—him and the low clouds. When Caleb was young, he used to wish he was deaf, so not to hear all the yelling and hollering and none of that noise. Especially when skin got struck. He didn’t want to see it either, but didn’t fancy being blind, so he thought deafness would take away some of the awfulness. But then he knew he’d miss the rain sounds and the rivers, winds chattering the leaves and thunder tumbling down and across the mountains. Silence in his mind, that’s what he wanted. That day last month, he’d settled into the crest of the storm, when up out of Hades came Joshua, walking as easy as you can. As if it weren’t the most 43
Chautauqua unlikely place for him to be, in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of a deluge, unfazed by winds. He looked like part of the fog rolling upward. He smiled when he saw Caleb, then hesitated, out of regard for his solitude. Caleb scooted over to make room under the ledge. “Summer storms are the best kind,” Josh had said. “Lets you know you’re alive.” Caleb took his meaning but grew shy with the nearness. “So does frostbite. And snake venom. Same with earthquakes.” Josh had the luxury of assuming positive outcomes, not him. A close strike sent thunder humming through the boulder and into their backs. “Those pure elements, they make you feel expanded and insignificant all at once.” Josh flushed with the thrill of it. “You mean make you feel puffed up or squashed like a bug.” “Put another way.” Sheets of water slashed and swirled around them, electricity sliced blue, piercing land and lake. Still, they sat motionless in the alcove, silent, protected, together. After a time, Josh said, “You’re really lucky, you know.” This from a boy with clothes washed and food made for him, with shoe soles intact, and bills paid, whose whole family and every neighbor cheered him on. Josh’s world, from its foundation to each fleck of mortar reeked of luck. It was the kind of remark he’d tolerate from no one else. “Which part’s lucky, you think? The hobbled part, the dirt-poor part?” Caleb lifted his chin. “Must be the plentiful, secure home base.” “Right, sorry.” Josh nodded, accepting the jab. “It’s just that you’re free.” “You got too many options, that’s your complaint? I got less than none.” Caleb would’ve taken off if not for the bruised core of longing he heard underneath Josh’s words, something he recognized, knew too well. “I’m chained here to this life, to this place. You’re the one breaking free.” “I don’t mean on the outside. I mean inside yourself. You’re free in there. You’re not chained, you’re wedded.” It confused Caleb, but like most things Josh said, he had to chew on it awhile instead of rejecting it off-hand. He wondered if that web of belonging pulled and tangled his friend in invisible ways, if it carried a price even Caleb wouldn’t forfeit. “You know you’re an idiot,” Caleb said. “Yep, I surely do.”
Miriam Bloomfield now the clouds held steady and as Caleb reached the overhang, the view grew clearer. Against all sense, Caleb found himself scanning the landscape for Josh—across and down forested slopes, along the bluffs, into hollows and over the lake’s surface—listening for his certain footsteps or him whistling a tune. Caleb came to the sheltering boulders and hunted around to check no one was camouflaged asleep under the ledge. And after all that, he leaned into the stones, crouched down, and he wept.
Haiku for Times Like These Suzanne Tyrpak Seedlings buried deep dreaming of some other world just beyond their reach
Am I invisible to those in some other world as they are to me?
expelled from heaven yet determined to bounce back resilient hailstones
bowing as it prays inchworm makes its pilgrimage through each holy leaf
Imagine kindness, not just in some other world, here on planet Earth
never giving up despite its size, dung beetle keeps the ball rolling
Please See Me Janis Hubschman
i. two weeks after Ginger buried her mother-in-law, she felt listless and blue. But she wouldn’t call it grief. Definitely not grief. Eileen’s death, following a year of mental and physical decline, had been—in so many ways—a relief. She stood over the kitchen sink dressed in a neon pink cycling jersey and shorts, eating burnt toast. Tawny autumn light poured through the window, warming her face. If she hustled, she could catch her cycling group before they rolled out of town at 9 a.m. But only if she hustled. It stupefied her, this thing that wasn’t grief. Her cell phone buzzed on the countertop. She picked it up. “I did what you told me,” her mother said. “I saw my doctor, and he sent me for tests.” Ginger heard irritation in her mother’s voice, and she worried that she was somehow to blame. “And now they’re saying I have leukemia.” “Leukemia? Are you sure?” she said, aware of how idiotic that sounded, but some childish part of her hoped her mother was mistaken. All those vague maladies last summer: the fatigue and canker sores, the cold that lingered through June and reappeared in August. She must have tuned her mother out at some point while she was dealing with her mother-in-law’s crises. Joe came whistling into the kitchen. He stood before her, his face slack and questioning. A silver-haired man in his mid-fifties, her husband gained weight this past year in his face and neck. His shirt pulled tight across his belly, which embarrassed her for some reason. “Hold on, Mom. Sorry.” She covered the mouthpiece. “What is it?” “Meet me at my mother’s after your bike ride,” he said. “Two o’clock?” “Closer to three.” “Should be done by three,” he said. “Come earlier.” He left before she could respond. “Mom? Sorry. Joe was just—” “I’ll let you go, Ginger. You’re busy.” “No, it’s just—so, what happens next? Did they mention treatment?” “They want a biopsy on my lymph node,” her mother said, exhaustion leaking into her voice. “Your father can tell you more, but he’s at the Stop & Shop.” Ginger took some comfort from this. No caring husband would leave his 48
wife alone the day after a terminal cancer diagnosis. Unless he wanted to shield her from his own distress. She choked up at the image of her eightyfour-year-old father, pushing a shopping cart and blinking back tears. “You shouldn’t leave it all up to Dad,” she said, wondering why it was easier to feel sympathy for her healthy father. “Wouldn’t you like to know what’s going on?” she said. “If it were me, I’d be taking lots of notes.” “Okay, Ginger. I have to go.” “Come on, Mom. You’re not mad at me, are you?” “I’m tired. I’ve been sick since June, remember? I’m eighty-three. What’ve I got left?” her mother said. “My looks are gone. My children don’t need me. Your sister lives halfway around the world and never calls. And you, forty-five minutes away. I never see you—” “Work’s crazy, and we’ve got Eileen’s house to clean out.” “—but you have your own life. I won’t keep you.” “Wait,” she said. “Bye, Ginger.” Her mother was gone. ii. on weekends, Ginger’s cycling group met in front of the senior center, a restored nineteenth-century train station. The women often lingered, hashing out their route or waiting for stragglers. It was no surprise they hadn’t waited for her. She rarely responded to the group texts even though her part-time land surveyor’s job at Joe’s engineering firm left her with plenty of time for riding. In truth, she was losing her cycling mojo at fifty-five. She hated that everyone had to wait for her after a difficult climb. Not that long ago, she had been the one waiting for slowpokes, and she’d be lying if she said she hadn’t felt annoyed. She pedaled through town and headed north on busy Piermont Road, holding her line and her breath whenever the landscaping trucks, with their clattering trailers, sped past. Last summer, a cyclist had been knocked off his bike and killed when one of those trailer doors came unlatched. That was life: you were rolling along, minding your own business, when your mother phoned to say she had leukemia. It was somewhat reassuring to know Ginger’s father, a retired E.P.A. chemical engineer, would read up on medical advances and ask all the right questions. Maybe now wasn’t the best time, after all, to criticize her mother’s overdependence on him. Eight miles later, she crossed over into New York State and navigated the narrow, winding, potholed streets to reach Clausland Mountain County Park. The main road meandered through woods ablaze with scarlet sumac, golden 49
Chautauqua maple, and birch. Two weeks ago, the leaves were green when she and Frances, her only child, hiked on the marked trails after Eileen’s funeral. At twentyeight, Frances had a wholesome, effortless beauty. Tall and athletic, she had been a competitive pole vaulter in high school and college. For their spurof-the-moment hike, Frances wore her mother’s baggy track shorts and her father’s neon orange running shoes. Fashion never interested Frances. She had a PhD in biomedical engineering, specializing in heart devices like pacemakers and implantable cardioverter defibrillators. She worked long hours at Boston’s Mass General dressed in shapeless scrubs and surgical masks. “A waste of your beauty,” her grandmother had told Frances at Eileen’s wake. Eavesdropping on their conversation, Ginger was stunned, but Frances had laughed—thought it was a joke. iii. ginger’s mother worked as a model in the early ’60s—catwalks and photo shoots, catalogue contracts, and auto shows. Her stories were repeated like family lore: the French photographer who begged her to return with him to Avignon, the car dealership owner who dangled a new Cadillac in exchange for a weekend together at his Sagaponack beach house (which she’d refused like a good girl). After Ginger had taken a women’s studies class her freshman year in high school; after she’d read Germaine Greer’s pronouncement that a woman would never know how far she could walk or how fast she could run, unless she took off her high-heels, her mother’s stories had made her uneasy—angry even. At thirteen, it became clear that Ginger would never enjoy the kind of male attention her mother valued. Ginger took after her father: pale and plain, sturdily built, a Bavarian milkmaid talented in math. It was her sister, Kim, older by ten years, who had the Paris modeling career. Kim’s father, a freelance photographer, wooed Diana with dinners at the 21 Club and promises of a Vogue fashion shoot before “luring” her into the Plaza Hotel. Twenty and pregnant, Ginger’s mother moved back home to sleepy New Milford, New Jersey, where she had been forced to work in a high-end dress shop after Kim’s father disappeared. But the story had a happy ending, her mother always insisted. She married Ginger’s father: little Ralphie Osterhaus, the boy next door who had worshipped Diana since the seventh grade. iv. halfway up clausland mountain, the road leveled out briefly. Ginger caught her breath, unclenched her death grip on the handle bars. The air was unusually warm and close, but the good weather couldn’t last. November 50
Janis Hubschman would bring an end to the long light-filled days and cool morning rides. She looked up, sensing someone watching her—a white pickup truck, parked on the shoulder, seven hundred feet in the distance. She saw sunlight flash on his wrist watch before she saw the man, standing outside the truck, naked from the waist up. The lower half of his body, hidden behind the truck bed, she imagined as furry goat legs. But he was no satyr, she discovered, as he moved closer to the road on pale, scrawny legs under cutoff denim shorts. Should she make direct eye contact? Ignore him? As she came closer, she noticed his opened fly, his erect penis poking out. She stood up out of the saddle, making herself look larger as if confronting a bear. The sound of women’s voices behind her startled Ginger back into her seat. She glanced over her shoulder and was relieved to see three women from her cycling group—Radha, Peggy, and Vanessa. They surrounded her, panting hello, before pulling ahead. Ginger tried but failed to catch up, watching helplessly as they crested the hill and disappeared from view. At the summit, she shifted gears and began the long, twisty descent. Trees passed in a blur of green and gold and red. The breeze dried the sweat on her skin. She leaned into the turns, feathering the brakes, looking ahead to where she wanted to go. The women waited for her at the crossroads, straddling their bikes, chatting. Peggy and Radha were in their mid-forties, and Vanessa, early thirties. Radha and Peggy had propped their bikes against trees and were walking stiff-legged in their cleats towards the woods to pee. “Way to charge the hill, dude,” Radha told Ginger. “Impressive stuff,” Peggy added. “Thanks!” She blushed with pleasure at their praise. “Did you see that guy?” Ginger asked Vanessa. “That flasher?” “Oh, him,” Vanessa said, eyes on her phone screen. “He’s here all the time. You don’t have to worry, he’s harmless.” The young woman’s fierce appearance—the eyebrow piercing, the gaudy tattoos covering her toned arms from wrists to shoulders—led Ginger to expect a more outraged response, not this insulting reassurance. What had given Vanessa the idea she needed it? “He’s breaking the law,” Ginger said with more vehemence than she felt. “Someone needs to report him.” Vanessa looked up from her phone. A subtle shift in her expression suggested she was taking Ginger’s measure for the first time. “Maybe if he tried something?” She tucked her phone into her jersey pocket. “He just wants you to look at him. Don’t give him the satisfaction.” 51
Chautauqua Vanessa’s advice made sense: ignore him, defuse his power. Ginger knew firsthand—working in the engineering field and moving through the world as an older woman—how disorienting it felt to be made invisible. Radha and Peggy emerged from the trees, adjusting their shorts, asking where they were headed next. Vanessa suggested they cycle north to Rockland Lakes. This would extend the ride at least another twenty miles. Ginger decided to join them, though it would mean she’d be late to help Joe clear out his mother’s house. As they rolled out, she positioned herself behind Peggy and in front of Vanessa, where it would be harder to get dropped. After a few leisurely miles, Peggy cranked up the speed to twenty-two miles an hour. Ginger strained to stay on her wheel, spinning her legs, gasping for air, and feeling euphoric. Not for one moment could she forget Vanessa, drafting behind her, inches from her wheel. Everything depended on Ginger holding the line, maintaining the pace. One wrong move and they’d all fall like dominoes. v. “she kept everything,” Joe said, lifting and dropping papers on his mother’s coffee table. “A&P receipts, canceled checks going back to the ’90s, coupons, bank statements.” Old news, Eileen’s hoarding. This was her least offensive quality when compared with her flashes of anger, her weepy self-pity, and her sharp, insulting tongue. As Eileen’s dementia and heart condition had worsened over this past year, Ginger and Joe had commandeered her car and hired around-the-clock home care. “Look, here’s what we’ll do,” Ginger said, ripping a leaf bag from the box on the couch. “Official papers in one bag—personal stuff in the other. No reading today, okay? Just sorting.” She sat next to him on the couch; after hours of being in motion on the bike, she felt her eyelids grow heavy, her energy flag. The sagging cushions forced them to sit close. She felt heat coming from his body. Their arms bumped and their thighs rubbed, but she didn’t move away. The closeness felt nice. Slanted sunlight fell through the bow window and lit up the dust on the old TV console, the matching maple end tables, and the tall brass lamps. It showed the blotchy stains on the white carpet. What stubborn optimism—or recklessness—inspired her mother-in-law to choose white? Tomorrow, the estate-sale people would tag Eileen’s books, kitchenware, furniture. Whatever remained. After a one-day sale, the real estate agent would put the property on the market. All orderly and predictable, so unlike Eileen’s life. When the light dimmed, Ginger got up to switch on the lamp. Her fingers came away coated with dust. Eileen’s sloughed-off skin, she wondered? The 52
Janis Hubschman thought made her queasy. And unto dust thou shall return. Eileen was gone, but she was everywhere. Joe had cried at her funeral: soft choking sounds that had frightened her. She was sorry to dump more bad news on top of his grief. “Why haven’t you asked who was on the phone this morning?” she said. “I figured your mother,” he responded. “You sounded aggravated.” “Why would you think I was aggravated?” “Twenty-nine years of marriage. I know when you’re aggravated.” “Well, I was upset, not aggravated.” She opened a grimy folder and yellowed greeting cards spilled out onto the floor around her feet. “My mother has leukemia.” “Oh, no.” Joe slumped back on the couch, pushing his reading glasses to the top of his head. “I’m sorry. It makes sense I guess. She was sick all last summer.” “If only her doctor had taken it seriously.” “So—what now? Chemo?” “Who knows? She hung up on me.” “Because you were aggravated,” he muttered, leaning forward to pick up an insurance statement from the pile. Ginger had been annoyed, but she couldn’t remember why. She gathered up the greeting cards and shoved them into the folder; silver glitter came off on her hands. She glanced over at Joe, running his finger down a column of numbers, and it came back to her, how the conversation with her mother had gone wrong. “Actually, it was your fault she hung up on me. I couldn’t focus with you standing over me. My mother was telling me really bad news, and I couldn’t hear her.” “I’m sure that’s how you see it.” “Yeah, because that’s how it happened.” Joe stood and stretched his arms over his head. His T-shirt lifted to expose a slice of his belly. He ate his feelings, when he could be sharing them with her. “Let’s get out of here,” he said, bending to swipe the remaining papers into one bag. “That’s it? You’re done?” she said, annoyed at the way he’d shut her down just when she was close to understanding something important about her mother, about herself. vi. in august, Ginger’s parents had invited her and Joe to their house for brunch. Minutes after their arrival, her mother hustled Joe outside to inspect 53
Chautauqua the spot along the property line where she wanted to build a garden shed. Ginger’s father invited her into his study to look at the old topographical maps of coastal New Jersey he found at a yard sale. While he searched for the maps in the closet, she went to the window and pulled back the curtain. In the yard, Joe held her mother’s hand as they painstakingly crossed the sloping grass. At times, Ginger envied their easy relationship, but she had never trusted it. The way Diana stroked Joe’s ego, complimenting his appearance and his business acumen, seeking his advice on financial matters and home repairs, made Ginger feel as though she’d been pushed aside. But now, watching them alone together in the yard, she realized their relationship—whatever it was— had nothing to do with her. “Thanks for coming today,” her father said. “Your visits cheer your mother up. She hasn’t been feeling well.” She turned from the window to see her father walking with cautious, measured steps to his desk, where he unrolled the brittle-looking map. He wore those orthopedic sneakers that looked like moon shoes. Her parents’ old age felt like another planet: a frightening and faraway place she waited for them to return from. vii. when ginger was out in the field, directing her two-man surveying crew, she often thought about her mother. This life Ginger had chosen for herself was so far removed from anything in her mother’s experience. She’d given up trying to make her mother understand it or even appreciate it. So much separated them it seemed. Today Ginger was staking out a kitchen addition on a client’s property. It rained overnight, leaving the ground muddy and porous. When she discovered run-off towards the house, she felt energized. Another problem to be solved. The straightforward jobs bored her. She returned to the firm with drainage questions for Joe, but he had someone in his office. She stopped in the hallway to listen. Her face heated up when she realized it was Ben Ciardi, the real-estate lawyer in his late forties who had a sideline flipping houses. Ben flustered her—made her feel unsure of herself. He had the sort of craggy good looks she liked: strong jaw and brow, broad crooked nose, but he lacked a sense of humor. At least he’d never responded to any of her biting rejoinders. He certainly had none of Joe’s warmth, humor, or intelligence. She hurried past the door, feeling self-conscious in her baggy gray McCabe Engineering sweatshirt, cargo pants, and muddy steel-toe work boots, but Joe called out to her. The men looked up when she entered the office. In Joe’s eyes, there was sly amusement. In Ben’s—nothing. He sat across from Joe at the desk, imposing in a well-cut, dark gray suit, an open-collared blue shirt, and no tie. His legs were spread, of course. 54
Janis Hubschman “Ben’s got a problem with the extra surveying charges on his bill,” Joe said in a subtly mocking tone only she would’ve picked up on. Clients haggling over their bills was the most aggravating part of their job. “He says he didn’t agree to the setting of the property corners.” Without a word, Ginger rounded the desk. Joe leaned out of her way so she could reach his keyboard. She felt his warm hand grab her calf as she pulled up the contract on his PC. She tossed her hair over her shoulder before turning the screen to face Ben. “Your signature,” she said, presenting the evidence with an upturned palm. Ben leaned forward to peer at the screen, his mouth slightly open, which, unfortunately, only emphasized his animal appeal. “What did I tell you, Ben?” Joe said. “Ginger’s on top of her game.” Ben threw himself back in the chair. “Okay, all right,” he said, addressing Joe. “Let’s talk about the load bearing wall.” Feeling dismissed, Ginger went into her office and sat at her drafting table. Why had she tossed her hair? Mortified, she replayed the scene in Joe’s office. Maybe she could’ve toned down the gloating a bit? Nah. The jerk tried to put one over on her. She’d let him off too easy. Ginger found an elastic band in her drawer, pulled her hair back into a tight ponytail, and got back to work.
viii. ginger and joe were reading in bed together. Joe closed his book and turned to her. “I’ve been looking through those bags of my mother’s stuff. The personal stuff,” he said. “Find something?” She saved her place in her book: Anne Sexton’s 45 Mercy Street, which she’d found on her mother-in-law’s bookshelf among celebrity biographies and British mysteries. “I found this envelope with some letters and CDs. It was returned to her by some guy.” “When was this?” she said. His parents had been divorced since he was fifteen. In all the time Ginger knew her, Eileen had never been with another man. “From what I can make out, they had something going on twenty years ago,” he said, avoiding her eyes. “She tried to start up with him again maybe four years ago, but he sent everything back, asked her to stop contacting him.” “What were the CDs?” She sat up, propping her pillows on the headboard. “Nothing disturbing, I hope.” “If you think Celine Dion is disturbing, yes,” he said, and she laughed. 55
Chautauqua “They went to a concert in 2000.” “How did we not know about this?” she said. “So, who was he?” “Doesn’t matter.” He closed his book, a James Patterson thriller he’d been reading for months, and put it on his night table. “What do you mean? Of course, it matters.” And, then she understood. “You know him, don’t you?” she teased, poking his shoulder. “Stop.” He jerked away from her. She felt ashamed for making fun of him. Neither spoke for a moment. “Nick’s father,” he said. She felt stunned. Nick Galanis had been Joe’s best friend since the third grade. In August, they went to Nick’s son’s wedding. She vaguely remembered the squat, bald father, but Nick’s mother was unforgettable, a striking woman in her mid-seventies—tall and rangy, like a rock climber, with a mane of silver hair. “What happened?” she said. “Did his wife find out?” “No idea.” He reached to turn off his lamp, and then slid under the covers. “I don’t want to talk about it.” “All right,” she said, knowing he would eventually. She shut off her own lamp and snuggled up behind him, her hand resting on his thumping heart. This revelation about his mother’s life reminded her of Escher’s staircase drawing: ascending or descending? One Christmas Day, many years ago, she had glimpsed her mother and Eileen whispering on her staircase landing before dinner. At the time, Ginger had assumed they were commenting on her soggy store-bought canapes or what her mother-in-law called her “loosey-goosey” approach to childrearing. She rolled onto her back and stared at the ceiling. The startling line from Muriel Rukeyser’s poem surfaced: “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life?” She tossed and turned another hour, trying to remember the poet’s answer. ix. eleven-thirty, friday morning. All the lights were switched on in the kitchen. The sky outside the windows darkened a purplish, bruised color. Ginger cancelled her morning jobs. A storm was coming. Low air pressure made her head ache behind her eyes when she bent to unload the dishwasher. She held a warm drinking glass to her cheek before placing it on the shelf. Her mother promised to phone after her 9 a.m. oncologist appointment to discuss the results of her recent bone marrow biopsy, but when Ginger’s cell phone rang, it was the estate sale agent calling. “Good news,” Natty reported. “All the clothes, jewelry, china, and silver got sold. The furniture, too, except for the upholstered pieces. Bedbugs freak 56
Janis Hubschman people out.” The woman seemed happy with the day’s profit, but discussing the figures made Ginger uncomfortable for reasons she did not have the energy to examine. After she hung up, Ginger paced from the dining room to the living room to her upstairs office, looking out the windows at the darkening sky. The quiet unsettled her. No roaring leaf blowers and lawnmowers. Only the lonely sound of cars passing below her window on the road. Her phone rang. She rushed downstairs to the kitchen. Too late. A voice mail notification popped up on the phone screen. “Guess you’re working,” her mother said on the message. “It’s raining cats and dogs here. So, I met the new oncologist this morning. Dr. Handsome.” She giggled. “Your father’s name for him. He looks like Cary Grant. And what a flirt! He told me I have lovely eyes.” “You do!” her father said loud and clear. He must’ve been sitting right on top of his wife. “The treatment will give me four or five good years,” her mother continued. “I’ll be eighty-eight. Who wants to live longer than that?” “Not me,” her father said, and they both laughed heartily. They sounded drunk. At eleven thirty in the morning! Her parents were practically teetotalers. “Anyway,” her mother said, suddenly sounding sober, “chemo starts next week. Your father has the details. You can ask him later.” Ginger called back and got a busy signal. Her mother was probably calling Kim in Paris. A recovering addict with thirty-five years sobriety, Ginger’s sister would not be spooked by dark or uncertain territory. Ginger left the kitchen and climbed the stairs to her home office. She had clients to call, drawings to complete. She sat at her drafting table and tried her parents’ phone again. This time, it rang three times before the answering machine clicked on. Ten minutes later, Ginger was driving west on Route 80 under a gloomy, threatening sky. All the cars and trucks in the eastbound lanes had their headlights on. x. her parents’ cars were in the driveway. The yellow Dutch Colonial, Ginger’s childhood home, showed its age: the foundation crumbled, mold and moss patched the roof, and the front steps were missing a few bricks. She rang the bell to give them time. Her mother despised drop-ins. “I want to be ready for you,” Diana would say, and Ginger imagined her mother, hiding behind a door, brandishing a pistol, defending her privacy. The mailbox was stuffed— store circulars, a few bills, and the November Vogue, thick as a dictionary. She yanked it all out and clutched the bundle to her chest as she bent to deadhead a few brown chrysanthemums in the clay pot. She straightened to 57
Chautauqua face a closed door. She tried the knob. Unlocked, as she knew it would be. She entered the shadowy living room, vibrating with Vivaldi on the CD player. A library book was butterflied on the couch where she’d expected to see her parents sprawled out, tipsy, celebrating their “good” news. “Hello?” she called out. “Mom? Dad?” No answer. In the kitchen, breakfast dishes sat on the table: hardened egg yolk, smears of jam, and dregs of coffee and congealed cream; sticky jam on the floor; the newspaper, still in its blue plastic sleeve. Ginger took all of this in, feeling more and more alarmed. Vivaldi’s frantic strings playing in the next room did not help. She dropped her parents’ mail beside the dirty breakfast dishes before heading to the screened porch. She stopped outside the doorway. On the wicker loveseat, her mother lay face up across her husband’s lap, silently weeping. Her rumpled blouse was pulled out of her slacks, and her red flats had been kicked off onto the floor. Tenderly, her father stroked his wife’s tousled hair, singing, in a low, tuneful voice, “Red River Valley,” the same song he’d sung to Ginger when she was a girl. She felt like a child, helpless and lost. Her mother was seriously ill. She backed into the hallway and leaned against the wall, her arms wrapped across her middle. She longed for someone to hold and comfort her; she longed, she realized, for her mother. Overcome, she headed for the front door. The heavy rain thrummed the roof of her car, swept across the highway in sheets, and slapped at her windshield. The wipers could not keep up. For miles, Ginger followed the blurry red taillights on the SUV in front of her. Crawling along at twenty-five miles an hour, she switched lanes when the other driver did. A tractor trailer, rumbling past in the next lane, sent a spray of water across the windshield, temporarily blinding her. What she knew about her mother—the thrilling modeling career, the satyr’s seduction, the unwanted pregnancy, her return to her childhood home, and her marriage to the homebody neighbor—were fragments, vague and disconnected, out of reach. She never had the whole picture. Muriel Rukeyser had asked the wrong question. Instead, it should have been: what would happen if one woman knew the truth about her mother’s life? She pumped the brakes. The SUV in front of her slowed at the exit and left the highway. She felt unmoored suddenly, set adrift. She pulled onto the shoulder and turned off the wipers. Rain slid down her windshield in silver rivulets. She reached for her phone in the cupholder to call Joe but changed her mind. How could she describe what she witnessed—her parents’ love story, the ordinary tenderness of a long and loving marriage—without somehow diminishing 58
Janis Hubschman it? She couldn’t. She would keep the memory close to her heart, an image to return to in the ebb and flow of her life with Joe. Outside, the traffic continued without her, the whooshing tires sounding like the pulse of blood in her own ears.
If There Are Answers John Jacobson
ur black pug, Pepper, and I walk down the ramp from our door to the street. It is still dark. Orion and his dog look down from the southern sky. Pepper is in no hurry. He stops on the sidewalk and yawns. He gazes at the blinking stop light reflecting on the School Crossing sign. “Come on, Pep,” I finally say, tugging on his leash. He shuffles slowly through fallen leaves to the lichen-speckled maple tree in our front yard. He pees, then runs toward the ramp with his ears flapping. Inside, his toenails click on the wood floor as he follows me to the kitchen. He sits at my feet, looking up as I measure out coffee. Claudia is asleep in her hospital bed in our living room. A steel triangle hangs by a chain from a chrome-plated arm above her head. A fingertip oximeter dangles by its black lanyard. A life alert button hangs next to it. Spider plants are in each window. I sit on the futon across the room as the coffee perks. I can’t begin to count the number of days I have spent with her in hospitals. She has suffered from Neuromyelitis optica for nearly fifteen years. It is a rare and unforgiving disease. We have been through crisis after crisis. She has been in several ICUs. She has been on a ventilator. We’ve met doctors and nurses who made heroic efforts to save her life. Aides have given extra for pay that is too low. Our hard times stand clear in my memory. Now it is quiet. How do I tell this part of our story? we want stories with narrative arcs and crescendos that quicken our pulse as we turn the pages. We like stories with plots. We prefer that they are in some sort of order. We want them to have a beginning, middle, and end. We want epiphanies and expositions. A struggle between virtue and vice always catches our attention. We like heroes. We want heroes to be like us, though. We want to watch them face the same limitations we do. We hope for a moment of apotheosis, when our hero is just who is needed. We want him to save someone. We want him to transform from ordinary to saintly. We may not say it, but we all want to be a hero. 60
Most of the time, though, a caregiver’s story doesn’t work that way, especially when their loved one’s illness is long. Life seems to move with the speed of a glacier. We give pills, cook, clean, give insulin injections, and change catheters. We push wheelchairs. Everything takes forever. We get frustrated. We have vices. We try to be virtuous. Sometimes we fail. There is really nothing saintly about us. It becomes so ordinary. We lose track of time. One day blends into another. We live moment by moment, losing track of each one as it passes. Days that pass quietly are easy to forget. These are not the times we learn. It doesn’t feel heroic. Often it feels tedious. sun is streaming through the window by Claudia’s bed. She wakes. I put two pillows on her lap and lift Pepper. He scurries over the pillows and sniffs her face. “Good morning, little guy!” Claudia says. Pepper makes snorting sounds. He circles in her lap, then lies down. Soon he is asleep. we want answers. Who is satisfied if we are left with questions? We want stories to give us reasons and truth. After fifteen years, though, I know no reason why Claudia got sick. The truth I’ve found is that the world simply is what it is. We are powerless to bend it to our ideals. claudia sips coffee from her pale green hand-made mug. I have brought her toast, hummus, and a slice of our last homegrown tomato of the season. Sparrows dart through fading lilac leaves outside the window facing the street. Archie, our yellow cat, lies curled in my lap. He is thin and old, but his fur is silky. His eyes are half closed. His front paws are folded. His chest rises and falls slowly. His left ear twitches. His tail is draped over my right ankle, which is crossed over my knee and falling asleep. I finally move. He leaves my lap. I rest my foot on the floor. He comes back, curls up again, and falls asleep. I feel his precious warmth. if there are answers in this story, they are not ones I hoped for. Hard times teach us. Quiet times sustain us.
When Colors Are Stories Before They Are Told Dick Westheimer
Dear Friend, when you write of daffodils springing to yellow life after years of gray, I can see the story of your mourning, clear as clouded wine. I feel the weeping that for you turns autumn leaves into falling blackbird wings— makes bluebird days into pewter hues. I know that sense of yellow well and the grey, too. But for me the others are like dreams I can’t recall— except the one that is Lilac. I know it well from the day ten years ago, the day I returned home after I nearly died, when my clock ran down to its last tick, until nurses’ needles and their antic orders wound the key, pulled the pendulum back, set me in motion, kept time again. They sent me away after a few days, home to where I beheld a lilac bush by our front door, burning, blooming, each petal and stem and leaf branding me with its image, a thrumming now as much of me as me. Though I’d seen that color before and knew its name, until then it was only a name. Now it is the one I truly know. The rest, when I see them make no names in me, though they sing 62
and tell me stories. But, because of you, from now on, I will hear the yellow of daffodils as an unveiling, a story told when a shroud is lifted by a spring wind, a brightness set against a lingering grey, a harbinger of an old story made new.
Mary and Child with Saints Felicity and Perpetua (Sacra Conversazione). Anonymous. Tempera on wood, circa 1520. Bryce Emley
o each have arrived with their undoing: Mary with her baby boy, and Ss. Felicity and Perpetua their beautifully impractical swords. A litany of vines praise the shoulders of Ss. Felicity and Perpetua—Mary is a vastness between their vastnesses. The angels look like children, busy at the work of dressing their saints in gold. As Mary angles to be crowned, Ss. Felicity and Perpetua scratch their heels on mountains. They are the distance bridging the earth to the emptiness beyond the gilded horizon. They are like the great myths we call religion. The saints are so mythic they call this gossip. Their hair falls like rivers of lacework, like night itself ribboning, like a plague of immaculate spiders. Nobody touches them. The little men crowded at their ankles cower back into the simple lives of little men. In one hand, Mary holds a fruit, presented as if an offering to us, a suggestion, as beside her Ss. Felicity and Perpetua are posed for address: Felicity’s hand at her waist, Perpetua’s holding open a book that tells the story of how their blood became a world, immense and brimming with all the gravity of a god.
SONNET FOUND ON A POST-IT NOTE C.W. Emerson
To all my poems, my wild-fire-flowers, Red-headed stepsons, orphan daughters: You stutter your way into this world, Bleak, bad-tempered, indifferent to praise— So painfully slow to find your tongues The milkman leaves you out in the rain. I’ve kept you safe, away from the critics, Swaddled in vellum, free from harm— But I leave you now to your own devices, For I am called to the capital To reveal my sources, tell what I know. Farewell, adieu, my impertinent loves: Let callous time and fickle chance Bring fame or ruin, dirge or dance.
“Art is something that makes you breathe with a different kind of happiness.” —Anni Albers
Life in art
The Heavy Book Judy McClure
carried the box of books upstairs and opened it eagerly, not quite remembering the order I placed several weeks earlier. On the bottom of a box filled with novels and nonfiction, my usual reading choices, I found a heavy hardcover collection of poems spanning fifty years. The weight and size of it delighted and surprised me; when ordering I envisioned a slim paperback volume. During a cool, rainy Boston spring, illness and uncertainty swelled, while visits with family and friends diminished. The Internet pulsed with tales of rampant creativity and unexpected successes, but my writing felt slow, labored, and uninspired. Shakespeare wrote King Lear during a plague I learned. What was wrong with me? I felt a familiar sense of inadequacy springing from my lack of productivity. Remote opportunities flooded my inbox. An internal voice chided me, there’s opportunity here, get going. Instead, I turned to the thick book of Mary Oliver’s poetry and started reading and copying a new poem each morning, the warm shawl of her writing draping my shoulders. The luxurious words slid off my neck, down my arms, and onto the floor, taking my tense thinking mind with them. I responded in my journal next to each poem I copied, seeking solace, hoping for inspiration and guidance. I rode the rhythm of Oliver’s writing, relished her focus on nature, mindfulness, and peace. Poetry, once a challenge, became a balm for an unfathomable time. Ease entered my life as I sat at my grandmother’s wooden writing desk, my notebook opened flat against the worn green felt glued to the slanted surface. I watched my neighborhood emerge from quiet stillness on those mornings. The sidewalk woke gently at first, feeling the massage of narrow stroller wheels across its back, then the staccato stomping of children eager for the beginning of the day. A neighbor tossed his keys to his wife standing at the top of the stairs, with an elegant underhand, like a shortstop to second base. Runners moved swiftly along the narrow street’s empty center. Mary Oliver encouraged patience and I sensed courage slipping in underneath my uncertainty. The overnight rain refreshed the plant across the street, its white blossom trumpets heralding the dawn. Some days the sun 68
made a rare appearance, breaking through heavy clouds, ushering in the hope of warmth, a reprieve from worry. I heard the regular rattling rhythm of the commuter train behind my house. I studied the steady arm of the recycle truck, lifting, emptying, and replacing the sturdy blue containers holding our bottles, our plastic, and our neatly pressed piles of carboard boxes. I accepted the invitation to linger and luxuriate in poetry. I dropped myself into the cadence of the wave, floated buoyantly on the dense sea of words below me. Mary Oliver encouraged valuing others for their humanness, not their productivity. She wrote of quiet observation, contemplative movement, and mindful awareness. I released the deep need for understanding and analysis, and instead let the mysterious beauty of poetry wash over me. I wondered if our collective grief might become a resting place and the visceral knowledge of mortality a launching point for compassion. When surfacing from illness, grief, or sorrow, the world often insists that we crave a return to normal. We are urged to move forward, release the strain of the past, and forget our losses. Instead, I prefer honoring what I learned from my forced quiet—empathy, gratitude, poetry’s comfort, and my neighborhood’s graceful awakening each morning.
The Mockingbird & Rattlesnake, Audubon Plate XXI Noah Davis We cannot mimic your tongue or scales cooling in the shade of these petals you’ve climbed to our nest like the moon up a bramble of stars, but your wet pupils are of the same well we peer from. We will steal all we can fit in our throats.
Red Tailed Hawk, Audubon Plate LI Noah Davis Beloved, we and our blood and the rabbit’s blood are the only red here in the sky. I’m on my back and the fear in the rabbit’s eye stirs in my eye for you. How long will I hold this body? The rabbit’s fur tears like air around us.
Canada Goose, Audubon Plate CCI Noah Davis Her chest is a tunnel I’ve followed like deer down every fold etched in a ravine, and each time I’ve surfaced from her breast, I can’t break the hiss in my neck that cuts this reeded air clean as feet on ice, black web cleaved blue.
May You Carry the Broken World Jalina Mhyana
t seems incredible to me that I can just turn up at Canterbury Cathedral, say I’m a pilgrim, and the church will give me a pilgrim’s credential and a stamp in my passport and send me on my way—a genuine certified pilgrim. But I guess no one is born a pilgrim. The congregation is settling in for Evensong; quiet murmurs, creaking pews. The air is slightly cooler than outside, and mustier, as though damp moss grew between the flagstones under our feet. I fan myself with my new pilgrim’s passport. Gothic columns rise and fan out in ribs of limestone arches on the ceiling, elaborate scrimshaw the color of cloud. I feel a tug of ascendance, spiritual vertigo. The choir sings “Rise, Heart,” and “Lift Thine Eyes,” both songs urging the body toward transcendence and lightness. I lift my eyes toward the vaulted ceiling in which songs and prayers find no limit and spin slow circles beneath the sacred architecture. The arches, delicate as filigree from where I stand, swirl and reorient themselves as though viewed through a kaleidoscope, multiplied in perfect symmetry. I visit gothic cathedrals as often as I can. This awe isn’t new. But it’s the first time I’ve visited a cathedral with the heart of a pilgrim, a heart alive with fear and desperation. The awe is tinged with terror. The vertigo again. I stare at my boots and take deep breaths. This kind of disorientation always precedes a fainting spell. But this time it’s more like if I’m not careful, I could fall upward. If there is a heaven, it is surely vaulted in stone. The Italian cielo signifies both sky and heaven. Certainly this cathedral houses both. How can something so heavy seem to fly? i wait for the deacon on the sidelines of the congregation, trying not to look as awkward as I feel. I smile at each person who passes me by and hold their gaze a little longer than usual, looking for a sign of recognition. Without my backpack, will they know I’m the pilgrim awaiting a blessing? I try to affect an air of tranquility and goodwill: to appear worthy of a blessing. What do blessings look like, anyway? I imagine divine rays emanating from the deacon’s palms and into mine. 76
So many questions and misgivings. Do I have to be Christian to receive a pilgrim’s blessing? Would I be committing an act of spiritual fraud? I’m not sure if I’ll be blessed by a man or a woman, so I keep making eye contact with each person in a robe, which for a person like me is a small torture. I feel like a blessing would be too much for me to handle, like I’m not pure enough and they’ll see right through me; they’ll see that I’m already so broken, a blessing is futile. Or maybe I’ll break down, leaving all of my bits and pieces at his or her feet before they even begin. Once I’m blessed, how long does it last? Could I burn through my blessedness too quickly on the trail, or will it last forever? Is there such a thing as a squandered blessing? Do I need to believe in it to make it work? I read on the Canterbury Cathedral blog that one of their deacons works as a window cleaner by day. I wonder if he or she could clean the pane of glass between me and the world with a single blessing, to swipe away this awful agoraphobia and social anxiety. It would feel like a baptism of sorts, submerging my head in a perfect glass reflection like Narcissus, then coming up for air. I continue to make eye contact with each deacon, priest, or curate who walks by, which is a small torture for people with Asperger’s like me, who are usually so much more comfortable alone in a room with thoughts, obsessions, and reveries, like medieval anchorites built into the stone walls of churches, cut off from humanity in a state of revelatory bliss. a female deacon gestures and guides me to a side chapel—St Anselm’s chapel. Anselm was a monk/philosopher who was called “the most luminous and penetrating intellect between St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas.” It’s a good omen, I think, to have my blessing overseen by the spirit of a man who loved reading Boethius and St. Augustine, who was exiled from England twice for his resistance to the monarchy and fled to Italy. A rebel who read what I read, who fled where I fled. My blessing begins. The deacon is bright and friendly like a National Trust guide, all benevolence. She places her hands on my arms reassuringly, gives a radiant smile and explains the basics of pilgrimage. She says if I lose my way, or if I have difficulty finding lodging, I am perfectly within my rights to call the mayor of any village along the route and demand lodging for the night. The mayors are committed to safeguarding the welfare of pilgrims. I’m told that I can stay in monasteries in exchange for 10 euro donations and that if I lose my way I can look for the little yellow pilgrim stickers along 77
Chautauqua the route. She also said not to expect a pillow softer than stone on my journey. I have no idea what a pilgrimage looks like, how to envision it; where does the path lead? Is there a path to walk along? Never has there been a more clueless pilgrim. I imagine myself turning off the side of the road and walking into the wilderness with a compass and heading south until I miraculously arrive at the Vatican. But I could easily make a wrong turn on a forest path or a neurodivergent synapse and end up so lost, I might never find myself again. She asks if I have any questions. I ask if it’s okay that I’m not a Christian. She smiles as if she expected this, as if she’s been asked this a thousand times. You silly lovable heathen. Of course you can. Secular pilgrimages are popular, actually. “What matters is that I’m looking for something,” she says. She places her hands on my shoulders and looks searchingly into my eyes. “What are you looking for?” I break down crying before I can formulate a reply, even in my own mind. It’s not so much what I’m looking for as what I’m escaping. “It’s okay, take your time…” she says, but she’s already running late. I’m grateful for the choir behind me, grateful that Evensong drowns out my sobs and hiccups. She sees that I can’t possibly answer, so she hands me tissues from somewhere deep within her flowing robe and skips to the next part of the blessing. “We like to read a special poem to pilgrims before we send them off.” I wipe a sleeve across my snotty nose and she begins to read. “May flowers spring up where your feet touch the earth…” When she’s finished, she hands me a printed version of the poem. It’s entitled “May You Carry the Broken World.” I cry even more at the thought of it, how lovely and implausible it is. Can one broken thing carry another, like the blind leading the blind? She says she has to go, clasps my hands, and we exchange a hug. She’s gone before I can ask about the brokenness paradox. i walk out of the cathedral thinking of the broken world. Just how broken is it? Fault lines, mine shafts, fracking scars, poisoned oceans, pesticide-perfumed crops, WWI trenches in fields. My body has withstood a hundred insults: shaving scars, a motorcycle accident, drug addiction, sexual abuse. But all it took was one innocent question to break me. 78
Mhyana What are you looking for? If there are enough pilgrims, and we each carry just a single shard of brokenness, maybe it’s possible to carry the broken world. Or maybe we’re the broken parts? In which case it’s a small act of heroism just to carry ourselves through the days. medieval pilgrims were besieged by bandits, plague, and animals. Surely my fear is irrational. Though people warned me of the perils of women traveling solo, of wolves and wild boar, the only bandits I fear are those in my mind. I have no idea what dangers are in store for a female traveling solo, either criminals or my own neurochemistry. Would there be monsters, land mines, ambushes, a broken ankle, a lost wallet? I vowed to do this—to shed my footsteps from Dover to the French alps to Milan to Pavia to Siena to the Vatican–outrunning my shadow and the wild animals that inhabit it. the medieval poet geoffrey chaucer, author of the pilgrimage story The Canterbury Tales, introduced over 2,000 new words into the English lexicon— words such as “wildness,” “border,” “horizon,” “latitude,” and “absent.” These words hold special meaning for me given my struggles with immigration, a struggle that set this adventure in motion four years ago, walking toward a new horizon each day, feeling the absence of my husband and my children by my side. Chaucer also coined the word “universe”—a word that encompasses all worlds known and unknown; all borders, horizons and latitudes. I could carry Chaucer’s universe on my back. A single word written on a slip of paper? That feather-light word would hold the weight of all worlds, whole and broken, past and present. Imagine Atlas struggling to hold the world on his back? Chaucer has reduced the whole world to a slip of paper. Even so, to be honest, I don’t know if I can carry it. Sometimes I surprise myself, though. I mean, didn’t I carry my children for years, one on my back and one in my belly, and later, both on my breasts? In a foreign country, often alone? My body has great intelligence that I don’t; it has engineered ribs as grand as gothic fan vaults in utero, echoing my own, taking on more and more minerals, more earth, protecting the virgin lungs and their birth song. I have carved my signature in the DNA of transcendent architecture: naves of soft 79
Chautauqua vertebrae, transepts of infant arms, stained glass windows of iris and cornea. My daughters’ cells proliferated in sacred masonry while I dumbly hosted the miracle. i will do this. There’s always a first step, and in this case it’s at the Kilometer Zero stone marker outside the cathedral, the setting off point. That’s the only real, true thing so far. That stone. Everything else is hope and conjecture. What soothsayer, seer, looking glass, telescope, gyroscope, sextant, compass, or map can guide these feet, this heart? Where is the road to Damascus? I will take my first steps—the first steps of my new life—on the pilgrim trail and hope to find a true north inside of myself. I write “Chaucer’s universe” in the margin of the poem from the Deacon, zip it into my backpack, and set off.
Alzheimer’s: Unfinished Disorder Lauren Camp
From the car we could see the next shopping mall a hundred times. He read us words on signs & each pause was a destination, his mouth straight, the sun wiping the dashboard. All these ordinary minutes depended on us: toothpaste & pinky & roof. We understood the ravenous future when the lack was at full capacity but still expected to shrink. His suitcase held lake & tree, sandal & melody. Arriving, his hands moved to routines. They smoothed back the sheets, ran a razor on stubble to bleed. Eight sprawling marks on his unarmored face. We took each perseverance—the shirt, food, food, decision, moon—let them usher us against night, when his mind will have gone entirely to thieves. Time to sleep: we fold over the fate of the fate. Climb in.
TO J, WITH REGRET, TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AFTER C.W. Emerson
Old friend, first love, if you remember me, ever think of me, please forgive me. I was not yet myself in those days, young and brash, knowing nothing— yet those were the amber days that spun themselves out like comb honey, days lit by rays of slanted light as we walked along the Tujunga Wash. • Near the Magnolia crossing that October afternoon, when you said to me, “I choose you,” I thought you meant there and then— it stunned me, plain and simple, left me unsure what to say or do— so, foolishly, I came to you, in the leaves, on my knees, as the light cast a copper veil across your startled face, I watched you turn away from me, step back into the shade. 82
How much time has passed since then? Months, then years, whole seasons— your words, “I choose you,” etched in my mind. I heard that you met a man, made a home, a life with him. I’ve made my life in books and letters, crisp as parchment, dry as bone. • What have I learned after all this time of love and its mysterious ways? I would know to lay a bed of roses down, and send bunches of smooth-lipped callas day after sun-swept day.
YO-YO MA IN NEW JERseY D. Dina Friedman
From Yo-Yo Ma’s Official Video: Bach Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major, Prelude I. He’s on a roof near the dueling grounds where one founding father shot another. Across the river, the Empire State Building: icon of progress, or something… Prosperity? Something. Red-white-and-blue lights? King Kong? II. I’m taking baby steps across the piano’s black and white, erasing old fingering to find a new path. Can aged thumbs jump? Or must the wrist twist to let the fingers turn? How to create that smooth cascade of sound? Yo-Yo Ma’s prelude floats under the Lincoln tunnel, his bow a swimmer’s arm.
III. He played for refugees at the border. Chair facing the wall, sound escaped through the slits. IV. The images cut to a henna’d hand, Chinese teens dancing with fans, a narrow alley where women with scarves and weathered skin sit on stone steps, and a kid spins circles in an empty field, before we return to Yo-Yo in New Jersey on a bare roof, irrepressible endpin on the hot dried tar.
Next Times Vasilios Moschouris
y brother and I sit with our toes curled on the edge of the motel pool, still in our baggy street clothes, staring deep into the water. We are exhausted, baking in the sun—we have both neglected to pack our bathing suits in our get-away bags. “Next time,” he says. “We’ll make sure to grab them.” I can’t tell if he’s joking or not. It is our third escape attempt, and he has never made such comments before. Yet the past few weeks have been full of them: when he failed to swipe the keys to his foster father’s Mustang and had to settle for the mother’s Town & Country; when he pulled up to my foster home in the dead of night, and I lost my grip on the windowsill and fell into the bushes underneath; when we realized we hadn’t brought hats or sunglasses or anything to disguise our faces. Next time, he always said, we’ll fix that next time. I look up at him now. Streams of sunlight dance across his face, reflected off the water. He sits like me, his knees tucked under his chin, his arms wrapped around them. But his eyes are on the parking lot surrounding us, on the highway beyond, on something even further than that. We’ve always talked of where we’ll go, what we’ll do—how we’ll look back on this time and mark it as a great memory, a daring escape. But now he talks of next times, next attempts, as if there is only failure in our future, as if he can see it out there, swimming in the horizon’s haze. The water churns at my feet, a perfect shade of bottle-blue. In the heat of this day, with the sunlight beaming through it, it looks like a dream. I tell him as much, if only to distract him, to set him back here with me. He looks down at the water, skims its surface with his toe, but that distant look does not leave his eyes. “This isn’t real water,” my brother says. “Real water isn’t this blue.” I ask him what he means; it looks real enough to me. 87
Chautauqua He replies, “Real water has no color, which means it’s actually every color. The ocean is real water, and in its shallows it’s green, like the Coke bottles they drink from in old movies; like the shards of those bottles washed ashore, their edges blasted away, ground back to sand and stone. When the sun sinks into it, it’s red: burning like mountain leaves in the fall, and when it’s blue, beyond the shore, where the horizon meets it, it’s darker, deeper—not the shade of the sky but of the veins in our arms. And even further than that, the blue at the ocean’s heart is black as the blood in ours, and the fish that live there are just as the water—no color and every color, with scales like glass, swimming invisible through the dark.” He stops speaking, and I am awed, in that way that younger brothers are— awed at all he knows, at all I have left to learn. The fake water churns at my feet. I look into it, searching for a change in its color, for its heart, but I cannot find it. I have only been to the ocean once, that I remember—our whole family took a beach trip just after I was born, long before the separation, the foster homes, the parade of next times. It must have been at least ten years ago; my brother couldn’t have been any older than six or seven, myself no more than one or two. I remember the rush of the waves in my ears, the salty air on my lips, but nothing else. There is a picture of us on that day, out there somewhere. Somewhere far behind us. We watch as a swimmer, our only fellow guest here, paddles past, slicing through the sunbeams. Beyond the fence separating the pool’s concrete island from the parking lot, a police car pulls into view and rolls to a stop in front of the motel office. We see it and pretend we don’t. An officer emerges from it, casting his eyes around the place; the manager walks out to meet him, indicates the pool with a slight jerk of the head. My brother bristles beside me, but doesn’t move. This must be what he was looking for, I think. “I’ll take you there one day,” he says. “To the ocean. We’ll get there together. Next time.” The officer approaches the pool. The swimmer emerges from the water, unaware. I reach without looking for my brother’s hand, and our fingers meet, magnetic. “No,” I say. “Let’s go now.” And without another word, we slip into the pool, dive down to the very bottom, holding the rungs of the ladder to keep ourselves there. The water is cloudy and sun-warmed and clings to me like a sheen of sweat. Through its fog I see my brother, his cheeks bulging with bated breath, look up towards the surface, towards the man we know we can’t escape. I shut my eyes, and in that perfect darkness we are there, we’ve made it, all the way to the ocean, to its very heart, where there will be no more next times, no more failures, no 88
Vasilios Moschouris more horizon-haze; where everything is black, and silent, and certain; where no one will ever find us. But then, a tug at my collar—someone grabs me from above, heaves me out of the pool, and as I lay splayed out on the concrete, the water rushing from me, my vision blurred, my ears still stoppered, the world strikes me all at once—an inscrutable, impartial blob of sound and color and sensation, of which I can glean only the vaguest shapes: the sharp heel of a black, polished boot, the curve of a half-heard word in my ear. But even in this, my brother is here, next to me. I catch his eye, just for a second, as the officer heaves us up, shuffles us into his car, the both of us still sopping wet, and in that look something passes between us, something that we know will persist through everything to come, that we will cling to like the rungs of the ladder: the fact that a part of us is still there, waiting at the bottom of that motel pool. Waiting for our breath to burn like the sunset in our lungs, for the current to wear us down, beat away all our edges; waiting to become glass fish in a black sea—to become that nothing that is everything.
“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” —Confucius
Paterson’s Curse Georgia English
he lambs were born in spring, even though spring was not an actual season in Australia. Spring was a month of delightful rain and frosty mornings, but as quickly as it came, it succumbed into the eagerness of the summer heat. Heat that lasted for eight months and hammered at your head and drained the moisture from your skin with a merciless intensity that dulled the senses. The lambs signaled the start of the heat and end of the rain, and when this happened, we thought about empty water tanks and short showers and brushing our teeth with a swig of water. It was my favorite time of year. The early sunrises meant long days of endless hours spent on horseback, riding through fields of weeds disguised as flowers, watching kangaroos stooping to eat, the heads of their joeys also nibbling the grass from the safety of their mother’s pouches. In bands of twenty or more, the kangaroos leaped and paused when they saw me, freezing in place, their ears twitching, their paws hanging like commas near their chests. The long-tailed lambs skipped around the paddocks bleating for their mothers, the steadfast ewes who ate the new sprigs of glassgreen grass and suckled their babies with a faraway look in their almond eyes. I spent every moment that I was not at school on my grandparent’s farm. It was a five-hour drive from my home in Sydney, but it was where my mother had grown up, where my grandparents lived, and it felt like the place I belonged. There are photographs to prove it. There’s one of me at age three, nestled in front of my grandfather, his left arm around my waist, my tiny legs dangling across the withers of a big bay horse. From under a wild shock of curls, I am grinning. My grandfather is also grinning. There are photographs of me and my sisters standing on the back of the farm truck with four sheep dogs lolling at our feet, their tongues pink and their gums serrated and black, and beyond the truck in the stretches of paddock are thousands of dusty merinos all milling and bunching in the shade of a single eucalypt. And there is me, aged four, all slick and tanned, jumping from the side of the swimming pool leaping to my waiting grandfather’s arms while my grandmother and mother are in the background, stretched out on plastic banana chairs with mirrored sunglasses and cigarettes. But when I was five, my grandfather died and my uncle came to run the farm and my grandmother was moved to a smaller house on a hill in the distant paddocks. 92
Once my uncle was in charge, he began to invite the college-aged sons of distant Englishmen he knew to come stay and experience the Land Down Under. These men knew nothing about the farm, although some pretended. They were usually from Eton College or Cambridge—boys sent to the rugged Australian bush to toughen up and learn something about farming. Some worked hard, but more often they’d hide in their books, feigning heat stroke or pulled muscles, eventually creeping back to England with nothing but sunburned forearms, wild tales of Australian snakes and dingoes, and the unsettling memories of being alone on a horse with no one around for miles, the horizon shimmering and stretching in such a way that finding their way back to the homestead seemed impossible. None of them liked the flies. I hated them, too, but pretended not to care. I pretended a lot of things back then. It began when I was eleven, and I pretended that I was not scared of snakes or frisky horses or the way my body was changing, that I was as strong as my male cousin and that I had no interest in the opposite sex. When I had to stand our horses, halt near a gate, or block a lane way, waiting for the sheep to come over a hill with my uncle or cousin behind them, I thought my horse would stomp itself lame. The flies bit the horse’s forelegs, gathering on the thin hairless skin around the tendons along the cannon bones and digging in until they drew blood. The rhythmic picking up and pounding of foreleg after foreleg in the vain attempt to disperse the flies became the hypnotic soundtrack as I watched for the sheep to crest a hill or trickle down the lane. My horse shifted and pounded the earth and twitched his flanks as the flies rose and landed and landed and rose, and I rocked in the saddle and tried to still the dangers in my heart while my temples burned as though hands gloved in velvet were holding my face. Out of two thousand acres, we reserved three distant paddocks of about thirty or forty acres for serious drought conditions. They were in the far back of the property and they sat untouched—a swath of weeds with innocent-looking purple flowers that bunched around rocks and filled the valleys. This purple flower was an invasive weed called Paterson’s curse. It got its name from a family of early settlers who grew it in their garden as a pretty flower unknowingly and let it spread through South Australia and New South Wales. We knew, as every Australian farmer knew, that the weed was significantly dangerous to livestock, especially horses. The deceptively beautiful plant, with its purple rosettes bobbing in the breeze like the delightful plastic flowers on my grandmother’s swimming cap, was so brilliant and pretty amongst the dull yellow grasses and grey rocks, it was hard to imagine how toxic it was. Sometimes called Riverina Bluebell, it is alluring and plentiful 93
Chautauqua and dangerous. The weed contained pyrrolizidine alkaloids that causes liver damage. It’ll kill a horse. It might kill cattle. Sheep, because of the rumen— their first stomach—can break down some of the weed’s toxic alkaloids, but it is something sheep can only eat once or twice in their lifetimes. Paterson’s curse is a last resort for farmers when they have nothing else to feed their sheep. During this time, when the weed is used to keep stock alive, it is called Salvation Jane. Never, in all my years on the farm, and even before I was born apparently, had we ever moved the sheep into the back paddocks. When the Englishmen came each year, they would ask about the purple paddocks. “Are those fields part of this property?” Pointing at acres of flowering weeds. “Yes.” I would sigh, and then depending on if I was in the mood to be friendly or not, I would explain the phenomenon of the plant growing there and how it could kill a horse and eventually, through a cumulative effect, a sheep. “So the rest of the property is barren but these fields you save?” “Yes. They are toxic.” “You don’t get much rain here it seems.” “Depends on the year. We don’t have the seasons like you do in England.” “What do you mean?” “No summer, autumn, winter stuff. Usually three years of drought and four rainy years, something like that. Something the Aboriginals knew about.” “Well then how do crops grow here? How do animals survive?” they would ask in incredulous tones. “By being tough.” lambing time came with the excitement of shearers. The novelty of their presence was an intense relief to the monotony of our days. They were jolly men who joked and made the thick heat seem lighter with their bulging muscles, sly grins and armpit hair hanging down from their blue cotton singlets. They worked long hours in the shearing sheds and the surrounding yards. Women folk, my mother, my aunt, and my sisters delivered sponge cakes, oatmeal and honey cookies, and sweet black tea to the shed for morning and afternoon tea. After I turned eleven and could ride and work outside all day, I was having no part of the kitchen or household duties and worked with the men. My cousin, Henry and I, rode the sprawling acres of the outer paddocks, mustering the sheep and bringing them closer to the yards to be herded by the dogs and one or two of the college boys, and my uncle sorted them. Lambs to the left pen. Ewes to the right. The large holding yard filled with small leggy lambs, their bleating plaintive and incessant, as they huddled and squirmed, 94
Georgia English hoping their mothers would come. And on the other side, the mothers, bereft, their long mournful baaing, and the older ewes who called up the history of the years and years they had lost their lambs. Birthing, losing, forgetting. It was noisy in the yards. Dogs barked, sheep bleated, and men shouted and laughed at their own jokes. The men grew more vocal and more raucous as more sheep filled the yards and circled and bunched, girding and whirring and stirring the dust which hovered and flushed the air with a haze that was both dreamlike and harsh. I was fifteen that summer, and my cousin Henry was fourteen, and we were old enough to oversee the moving of the mobs of sheep from paddocks to yards and back again. We wrangled strays who tried to run back to the fields. Our horses cantered back and forth along the line of sheep until they funneled in through the final gate where the yard men sorted them and pushed them up the wooden race and either into the sheds or into the area for lambs. It was a big day for the lambs. So many changes in one day. I tried to block out the knowledge of what the lambs were about to go through because it was hard to imagine being separated from your mother. I thought about the fact that sheep have small brains as Henry and I sat for a minute, leaning forward in our saddles, letting our horses breathe as we waited for our next instructions. Jacaranda trees shaded the yard and the odd peppercorn tree with its willow-like tendrils made a good place to wait. We’d hold each other’s horse and take turns peeing behind the tree, stretching and twisting our jeans, stiff with sweat. The peppercorn was an invasive species; a member of the cashew family that had come from South America and threatened our native trees. My grandmother had once told me this with a tone that would curdle milk. I grew to understand we supported Australian things and rolled our eyes at everything from somewhere else. Billy tea, not Earl Grey. Lamingtons, not scones. Eucalyptus, not peppercorn. Lunch was the best part of the day. We loosened our horse’s girths, and then tied them up in the shade and joined the men for cold lamb sandwiches, my aunt’s homemade tomato chutney on hunks of white bread, then hot tea and biscuits from an Arnott’s assorted tin. No one wanted the orange cream biscuits, but I ate them, as I was often the last one to get the tin. We closed our eyes for fifteen minutes while the men, smelling of sweat and lanolin, leaned against the trees and rolled their smokes and sipped their tea. We heard but didn’t mind the distressed cries of the lambs in the yard. They had been weaned from their mothers, their tails docked, their balls banded, and then thrown to the ground before they had time to blink. After lunch, we mounted our tired horses and brought the wobbly-legged, lamenting lambs back to a paddock. It was slow going. They were weak from 95
Chautauqua shock and loss of blood. The older lambs could handle the trauma better and walked along, their heads swinging with resignation. But some of the lambs were very little. Born only two or three weeks before, their spindly legs quaking and their little sides heaving, they often collapsed. When this happened, we dismounted and picked them up, then climbed back into the saddle and straddled them across our horse’s withers, their legs dangling against the horse’s neck, their little boiled eggs knees bare. They lay sweetly, their eyes closing to the rhythmic motion of the horse, our hands resting on their backs. I would whisper to them that they would soon forget this day. We took them to the paddocks that lined the driveway, close to the homestead where the grass was lush, the troughs full of water, and the lambs easy to watch over. The lambs could lie down and sleep in the shade of the big, white-trunked eucalyptus that lined the driveway. Dingoes, which were a hazard and preyed on weakened livestock, roamed the distant paddocks, and sometimes at dusk we saw them skulking and sniffing the air or running fast, their lean coats flashing pale yellow against the grey rocks and red earth. They didn’t like to get close to the house. They feared the working dogs that we kept on chains or in long kennels near the homestead, but they had been known to maul sheep in the paddocks far from the house. Many a day we rode those distant paddocks to discover a mangled ewe carcass with its throat pierced, its neck exposed and bitten, its head flung back, its eyes closed. The body and organs were usually gone, leaving the head, with the front legs attached to the back legs by a length of bloodstained wool. And all around, in the blood crusted dirt, were scattered tufts of wool and bones covered in swarms of black flies as though a piñata had exploded. That summer, another young man arrived from England on his break from Eton College. His name was Phillip. He was put in the cook’s room off the kitchen in the main house where he dumped his little leather suitcase and a bag that resembled a briefcase. I slept at the other end of the house in Henry’s room. After my grandfather died of melanoma, my grandmother was eventually moved from the main house, which she had lived in for thirty years, to a smaller home—a rectangle shoe box on a hill a few paddocks away. Sometimes I liked the camaraderie of my cousins and the hectic drama of the main house, and sometimes I needed to retreat to the solace of my grandmother in her house on the hill and sit quietly reading while she enjoyed her gin and Asian rice snacks taken in the garden to the strains of James Galway on the flute. She had scary paintings which I covered with hand towels in the evenings and uncovered in the mornings with my eyes closed: large pelicans hung above the guest toilet; the pelicans, with their globular white heads and coal black 96
Georgia English eyes, stared into my soul and saw the shame of my lies and stolen biscuits and frequent sex dreams; and in the hallway by the bathroom, a lifelike portrait of my grandmother with a gilded halo of permed hair, stiff lips, and eyes that followed you as you moved. When Phillip arrived, I understood him to be weak. I saw his luminescent skin and his stick-insect body and groaned inwardly at his shiny new Chelsea boots and crisply ironed jeans. Useless, I thought at first, but as I watched his slender fingers and admired his milky-clean fingernails as he buttered his toast at the breakfast table, I felt a strange protectiveness toward him. My uncle teased Phillip. Like everything that was not Australian, we were to mock it and compare it and ridicule its foreignness. But at school, I was learning about things beyond the farm. Places that were cooler and easier on people and like in the hymns we sang at school, these places—places that Phillip knew—had pleasant pastures green. After my uncle teased, I spent a great deal of time atoning for his teasing. “Go take your horse and find the five sheep we left in the dam paddock yesterday,” my uncle would tell Phillip. And then as Phillip rode away, my uncle would turn to me and say, “There are no sheep in that paddock.” Then he would double up with laughter and look for someone else to share his hilarious trick with. I would canter off after Phillip and explain that there was nothing to find and risk enduring my uncle’s scorn for ruining the prank. One time the farrier came to trim all the horse’s feet. He laid his tools out on the tailgate of his white vehicle and set to work under the shade of a peppercorn tree. I watched with a sinking heart as my uncle winked at his old mate the horse shoer and said loudly to Phillip, “To get a horse to stand still we often have to shove our fingers up their anus.” I could not bear to look at Phillip as my uncle explained further; I stared hard at my feet listening to his Australian drawl. “Georgia, you hold the mare,” my uncle said loudly, “and Phillip, you lift the tail and shove two fingers up the mare’s ass. She’s a bloody pain, this one, and it’s the only way we can get her to stand.” The farrier’s face was crimson from trying not to laugh. He busied himself with his tools and kept his eyes averted. My uncle crossed his arms and pursed his lips. Phillip glanced at my uncle and my uncle raised an eyebrow, which sent Phillip to the back end of the chestnut mare. I shook my head at Phillip, but it was only when the farrier exploded into laughter, slapping his thigh and doubling up, that Phillip hesitated. My uncle and the farrier were wheezing and gasping and wiping at their eyes as Phillip stepped away from the back end of the horse. Henry, and his twelve-year-old sister, took their father’s side and addressed 97
Chautauqua Phillip in an imitation of their father’s scornful tone, but I defended Phillip. My cousins knew me to be awkward and quiet, and although I held strong opinions on things, I mostly kept them to myself. I often appeared rude and indifferent, staring at the distant hills and not answering when someone addressed me, but standing up for Phillip against the rest of my family made my cousins roll their eyes at me and whisper things to each other at mealtimes. The only person more disturbed than I was Phillip. I vacillated between helping him and taking everything out on him. He was just counting the days, I thought, until he could return to the old country and get back to his turtlenecks and Wellies and the smell of wool drying on the radiator in his old dorm room as he read Tennyson. From the looks of him—alabaster skin, a painfully protruding Adam’s apple, his prominent and flaring nostrils—Phillip hadn’t had much experience with the ladies. His eyebrows were black and unruly. Despite his daily shaving, hair darkened his top lip like a smear of coal. His lips clung like the pink underbelly of a sea urchin to his tombstone-sized teeth. His hair was black and greasy, and he wore it raked across his forehead in oily streaks. My teenage brain thought he was marvelous, a young T. S. Eliot. I was full of brooding and frenzied ideas about love and romance. Though my fantasies were mainly of American cowboys or Latin salsa dancers, I directed my attention toward Phillip simply because he was the opposite sex and in close vicinity and not related to me. I convinced myself that his spaghetti arms were refined and lovely. That his incessant blinking was charming and that he was probably from a wealthy family who lived in a historical three-story manor house with a massive library of rare books and with rambling gardens and a deceptively easy hedge maze. I made excuses to ride beside him. Showing him how to open gates, the way we did it, so the sheep would not get stuck behind them. I helped him adjust his stirrups on his Australian stock saddle, which was an arduous task, one that he had to reverse each evening in case my uncle decided to ride in that saddle the next day and found the stirrups too long. The steel stirrups were wide on the bottom and thin on the top where the leather looped through, and the leather and the holes punched to adjust the length was stiff and difficult to manipulate. Phillip’s hands were pale and his fingers like reeds. I pushed him aside after watching him struggle for minutes to ease the metal spike out of the hole, wiggling it and muttering under his breath. With a brutal force, I hefted the buckle and released the spike from the hole, biting my lip, my head bowed over the saddle. Most things my uncle told us to do were tests. And we failed often. Opening 98
Georgia English gates the correct way, finding lost sheep or letting certain dogs out of the working kennels while trying to contain the other dogs who squirmed and sidled between our legs in their desire to escape the kennels, becoming impossible to catch without involving my uncle. One of us, usually me, would stay near the kennels while the other one, Henry, summoned him either on the twoway radio kept in the hallway of the homestead that went to his vehicle or by finding him in his office and knocking on the door and explaining how we had messed up. It was never easy to summon him. Mistakes delayed his day. Messing up slowed him down. My uncle moved at a frantic pace, as though there were not enough hours in the day to get everything done. Calling him to help us catch a dog or find a missing clump of sheep involved him driving toward us at high speeds and slamming the vehicle to a shuddering halt. He would hurtle from his truck, doors left flung open, yelling and swearing at us while leaping toward an unsuspecting animal, grabbing it by the collar or the scruff and shaking it as he punctuated his words with spit. When we tried to explain how the incident had happened he held up his large hands to silence us and began a long diatribe. A public announcement of our faults, punctuated with swearing. We were called stupid, cotton-headed, ignorant, spoiled idiots. We were accused of being too busy talking and daydreaming to pay attention. We were told we were lazy and self-centered and clumsy and we either moved too fast or too slow depending on the situation. It would have been funny if it hadn’t seemed so dire. Wasting my uncle’s time was the worst thing we could do. Fixing our mistakes was an intolerable aberration from his plan for the day. phillip stayed two months. He ate with us and went on outings with us. Sometimes to get our boots resoled in town or buy a pair of new jeans or to pick up minerals for the sheep or more farming equipment. He came with us to picnics in neighbors’ paddocks, where we sat on tartan rugs amongst the rocks, and where I watched his face contort with despair as the flies landed on his lunch of a sausage wrapped in white bread. When polite country folk asked him about his plans to see more of Australia or more of Europe, he often replied that he had seen enough. My younger sister and my female cousin sniggered about him behind his back. They had names for him: Alabaster Baby, Milk Toast, Broom Handle. I had my own names for him: Heathcliffe and Boyfriend. I tried to sit near him on these outings without arousing suspicion. I told him I was reading Byron or Shelley or how I felt The Tempest was rather the best of Shakespeare’s plays. He did little to encourage my foolish 99
Chautauqua utterings but would nod and consider the distant hills as though he saw something remarkable there. I was usually clad in jeans and an oversized T-shirt of some sort and either a ball cap or my felt hat. I wasn’t pretty. My curls were tied into braids or a ponytail to disguise their unruliness, my face was often red and splotchy, my nose running from allergies, my hands dry and leathery and my nails short and full of dirt. But he did not entirely dismiss me. Phillip would nervously whisper questions regarding the sheep or the intended duties for the afternoon ahead, and I would boldly answer, spouting forth all sorts of unprompted knowledge. It was my upper hand. It was my diamond, the fact that I could remember the names of the paddocks and the instructions that were barked at us, and I could therefore help him shine. Well, not shine exactly, but at least avoid a public berating. We were both drunk the night we kissed. Everyone was drunk. It was someone’s birthday. I can’t remember whose, but my mother and uncle and aunt and a neighbor or two were in full swing on the gin and tonics. They’d started by the pool in the relentless sunshine, then moved to the courtyard for the evening, where the jasmine vine that grew over the iron pergola released a heady fragrance into the air and the sky softened into pale shades of amber and rose on the horizon. Even my little sister and cousin acted crazy, drinking unmonitored amounts of soda. They sat on the edge of the courtyard giggling uncontrollably only to periodically get up and turn cartwheels on the lawn when the build up of sugar was too great for them to sit still. The adults picked at their tapas, the cheeses and olives and meats, and told loud stories about their childhoods, interrupting one another and laughing at things that they couldn’t get out from between their lips without doubling up with hilarity, tears pooling the corners of their eyes. I was repulsed by them, and I was worried that Phillip might be repulsed, too. They were so loud and uncouth. Their voices ringing out like nasal trumpets into the night. I was sure adults in England did not behave this way. My cousin and my sister snorted and choked, then flashed their underpants as they twirled, and I turned my body away from them. I sat quietly swigging gin, clinking the ice, loving the condensation on my hand. Phillip sat near me, his legs stretched out, crossed at the ankles like two very long fence posts. He looked handsome after his shower. His hair was wet and combed to one side. His lips full and rosy on his crystal glass. I tried not to catch his eye, yet I yearned for him. I wanted to get him alone. I knew I had to be stealthy. But the adults were careless and caught up in their own raucous letting go, and so when he rose and went inside the cool dark house, I followed him. He went to the bathroom. I went to the kitchen and waited for him. The mixers and the gin and the ice bucket were on the counter near the bar, and I 100
Georgia English quickly poured myself another drink. I slugged it back and leaned against the counter to steady myself as I heard him emerging from the bathroom. Knowing he would have to pass me to get back outside, I sucked in my cheeks and let my curls fall across my face as I began to mix another drink slowly, pretending I was having a hard time twisting off the top of the tonic bottle. “Would you mind helping me?” I asked him as he appeared. I handed him the tonic bottle with a smile. The night was inky blue outside the kitchen windows, and I pretended to see something out there as he stood beside me, the aftershave he wore filling my head with desire. He twisted the lid off and found his glass and moved to the counter in front of me so that I was behind him, trapping him as he mixed our drinks. He turned then. He smiled and his teeth were revealed in all their large and yellow glory. I heard a door bang. Someone was coming. I panicked. “Come on, I want to show you something,” I told him, and I hurried toward the door that led out to the other side of the house, away from the party and into the night. We were outside then. I moved away from the view of the kitchen window and up into the gardens that bordered a small patch of lawn. “My grandmother planted these roses from cuttings she brought back from England,” I said. I touched the petals in the darkening light and sipped my drink, in what I hoped was in an elegant manner. I tried not to slur my words. “Yes, you mentioned that a few weeks ago,” he said. I was desperate then. I had nothing to offer him that he didn’t already know after weeks of being here. He hesitated. Thinking I might miss my chance, I grabbed his arm, my fingers clutching his bony elbow and tried not to register the surprise, and something else, on his face. I pulled him into the roses and pretended to look for something. Then I turned, drink in one hand, the other still tight around his arm, and stared at him with what I hoped was a look of devastating beauty. For whatever reason—the alcohol, the lack of judgment, the notion that I had him cornered—he fell for it. He leaned in and kissed me on the lips. Our teeth collided. I was unsure whether to open my mouth or how to show him I was willing, so I did everything. Dropping my glass onto the grass, I embraced him fully and opened my lips and stuck out my tongue and he stood and let it happen. My heart raced and the blood rose to my cheeks, and I made a muffled cooing noise. His lips were fleshy and sponged at my lips and his tongue poked through into my mouth like a sharp, warm blade searching for something. I never wanted it to end. But he pulled away and said, “Sorry.” He swallowed hard and said, “There’s a girl back home.” He looked at his feet and added in a muffled voice, “I think we best return to the party.” I dismissed him. “Please go ahead. I’ll come in a while,” I said. My heart 101
Chautauqua was clamoring against my chest and my knees felt shaky and I turned away from him. I heard his footsteps crunching on the gravel and the door closing. I crouched amongst the roses, elated and mortified. Patting the grass, in the dark, when I found my glass I felt lucky and excited. It seemed imperative to not be me right then. I adopted a persona to survive, as though it were not me who had been humiliated. I talked to myself in a British accent and said, “darling you really mustn’t crush the roses,” as I sat heavily between four giant bushes, my eyes close to thorns, my nose between flowers. Holding the cool glass, I sat very still and looked up at the stars that were arriving like dazzling guests in the swath of sky. I wanted to lie down but there was no room, so I craned my head back and sighed. I put a hand on my heart as though to still its erratic beating. The scent of the roses intensified in the dying heat. The stars gleamed like silver clues in the night sky, and I could hear the strains of an orchestra coming from the stereo at the party on the far side of the house along with the night creatures rustling in the bushes behind me, the distant hooting of an owl, the cicadas beginning to drone and chirp, the odd whine from the dogs in the kennels, and finally, the soft and repetitive bleating of the new lambs in the nearby paddock. It was the sound of the lambs that mattered most. Their bleating matched the aching in my heart: a lonely and pathetic sadness that stretched out into the night. As I listened, a weight descended on my shoulders then down through my chest and plummeted into my stomach. My heart felt sickly, my mouth sour. My skin prickled in the coolness, and I coiled inward, hugging my knees, resting my forehead on them. I chewed at the ends of my hair and tried to quell the rising sensation of shame. Heaving and quaking, my chest was full of shards of glass. The earth whispered as it kept turning. The roses rustled with disdain. I heard the humming of the world coming to life, and I stayed still. The bleating went in through my ears and down to my soul and froze in needles so that breathing became hard. I heard myself sob. The sorrow was too much. It was bigger than rejection. It was as though all the anxiousness and pretending to fit in, pretending to be braver and stronger than I was and the guilt of hating the harshness of everything swamped me all at once. Time seemed to be a stagnant, aching thing. As I sat there in my huddled state, paralyzed with loneliness, I understood that this feeling would be with me always, and like the distant bleating of the lambs, it would rise when I was quiet and fall when I was busy, but always, always it would remain inside of me, hastening forth again, again, and again.
Georgia English the weeks until phillip left were excruciating. I danced around him like a vague shadow that had no feelings and was unaware of my former self. I was indifferent. Cold. I explained little to him and he seemed to understand that things had shifted. When the girth on his saddle looked loose I said nothing. When he dropped a rein, I did not halt and wait for him to gather it but rode by staring into the distance. It took all I had to get through the days until Phillip left for England, leaving a small black comb in the bathroom and a pile of balled up tissues near his bed. I was relieved but also inexplicably sad. Phillip heading back to those pastures green had taken something from me. I could not name it. There was a hollowness inside me now. A restlessness that fluttered up in the evenings into my ribcage and almost brought tears to my eyes. At lunchtime, I rejected the orange cream biscuits at the bottom of the tin preferring nothing. Instead of feeling the delightful preemptive giggle from knowing how a joke would end after years of hearing it told and drawn out by the shearers or the neighboring farmers, I would roll my eyes and scratch at my skin. Searching the skies for clouds that might offer rain became pointless and desperate, not hopeful and symbolic. I barely thought of Phillip after a few months; I thought of horses and the sheep and escaping the heat. The rain did not come that year. Nor the next. The dry earth cracked under the reddening sky. Dust rose and fell and settled over everything that did not move. The sheep were coated with the brick red powder and lay in clumps under the brutal sun like piles of panting pillows. We checked the troughs daily and watched as the water in the dams receded, becoming large empty craters riddled with dry fissures like eggshells. My uncle borrowed more money from the bank to feed the sheep. There was no grass. The crops withered and died. The bright yellow of the reap faded to a burned gold. The wheat failed to grow. After two years of drought with no rain in sight, and with the inexorable red dust powdering everything, my uncle decided the sheep had to go before they starved to death. They were gaunt. All shoulders and hips as they stood panting, heads hanging toward the desiccated earth. We rode around them and checked them until my uncle decided that they would not survive much longer and they needed to go. And that’s when we moved all two thousand sheep, ewes and wethers alike, into the distant purple paddocks to fatten them up before the spring sales. I was eighteen now, and growing restless and less fulfilled by working on the farm. Henry and I spent the day on horseback pushing the entire flock of sheep down the lanes and through the barren paddocks toward the back of the farm.
Chautauqua We walked our horses very slowly behind the tired and famished sheep who moved in a daze, their eyes dry and lowered, funneling toward their death. A funeral procession. A mass of listless livestock in a weakened state shuffling toward their demise. In the paddocks full of Paterson’s curse, the sheep would eat and gain weight, gorging on the toxic weed until they were fat enough to sell for slaughter. It was like the final meal before an execution, except this meal would last several weeks. The nutrients in the plant would build fat but also slowly deposit pernicious alkaloids in their liver. I rode out to check on them daily and watched as they munched the plants. I sat on my horse as they chewed, purple flowers dangling from their lips, then wandered about, then rested in the shade of the grey rocks with bloated bellies, their eyes closing. In four weeks, they had stripped the paddocks bare. Five weeks later, we loaded the lazy, bloated sheep, with their copper-poisoned livers, onto four lorries that sat with diesel engines humming in our stock yards like disgruntled men. I sat on my horse under the peppercorn tree, reaching up and stripping the red berries from the slender branches, scattering them at my mare’s hooves like the rain that should have come. The peppery scent lingered on my fingers and mixed with the smell of the manure on the ground, the metallic dust in the breeze, as my horse shifted her weight beneath me. I searched the sky for thunderheads, but instead my eyes filled with the black and irritating swarming of flies looking for moisture. A skittish thought travelled through my mind and down into my limbs. I took up the reins and my horse snorted. As the last ewe was loaded and the trucks rumbled slowly down the road with dust billowing from their tires, I understood it was also time for me to leave. I wanted more than this life of desperately trying to keep things alive. Just like the dead-yellow crops withering in the incessant spectral sunlight, flickering silver with dehydration, there was a parching inside of me. Nothing of substance could grow here. I was ready to see what was beyond shaggy pale hills.
Thursday Carla Riccio
t’s 7:15 on a Thursday morning and for a moment you find yourself entirely alone. Your husband crept downstairs a half hour ago and the kids—you can hear them across the hall, playing with the dog—haven’t burst into the room. Your body is pinned beneath the winter blankets; it feels good. You could pull your arms out to check your phone, could get up and start tea but you don’t—there’s plenty to do here. You watch the rise and fall of your chest, the wand of orange light glowing at the foot of the bed. And you think about breakfast. In another life, another bedroom, you thought about other things at this hour—if you had time for a walk before work, what you’d wear that day, what you’d accomplish. You were a sleek thing then, rivering through the city, assured of your ability to bend the world closer to your vision of it in a single day. Today you’ll switch from pajamas to sweats and figure out what to feed your kids. They’re tired of eggs, bored with pancakes, and, according to them, are the only kids on the planet who don’t eat cereal because of dietary choices you and your husband more or less agree on, though he is the more and you are the less. You think pancakes are fine for growing children but you can feel your husband—last year a carnivore, this year a nutrivore—glare whenever you slide them on the plate, can hear his silent refrain: That’s not food. Once or twice a year you have shouting matches over what the kids eat, always with the same result. For two consecutive days your husband whips up gorgeous omelettes and frittatas, then storms off when the kids pick around the eggs. For two consecutive days, you get your morning walk back, and eat great leftovers when you get home. Last week you paid $300 to talk about the breakfast issue in couples therapy. To be clear, you’ve been seeing this therapist for months now, ever since that night at your favorite Mexican dive, when you said out loud a thought that had been forming for years: Maybe we should separate until the kids go to college. You fired off an email to the therapist the very next morning, because you knew that sentence, the way you said it clearly, drily, while the waiter poured water, meant your marriage was in trouble. Your friend Tara went to this therapist with her own husband, now her ex, and told you that after just three sessions, the therapist leaned forward and said There’s nothing I can do for you. 105
Chautauqua Tara repeated the therapist’s words to you like a koan, a revelation she could not have discovered on her own, a blade that cut her free and you wonder why you feel this is the only therapist for you but inside you know—you want that clarity. You want someone to lean forward and tell you, one way or another: Stay. Go. Three months in, you love this therapist. She is short and smart and agile, with liquid brown eyes that read what you are saying and what you are choosing not to say and she’s not afraid to call either of you out on your contradictions, the places where you want change without the work. She leans forward often in that tiny office, not with declarations but with handouts: The Four Horsemen of Divorce, Stress Reducing Conversations, The Gottman Repair Checklist. You can tell she doesn’t want to talk about breakfast, would rather stick with emotional bids and family rituals but breakfast has come up so many times over the last three months that last Friday she finally said Okay, let’s do this and handed you each a blank sheet of paper. Make two columns she said, one labeled Not Flexible, one labeled More Flexible, and gave you five minutes to fill in the columns as it pertained to your kids’ first meal of the day. Under “Not Flexible” you wrote Must bring pleasure, because you’re sure if your husband had his way he’d give them chopped liver on celery sticks and get mad when they didn’t eat it. And because, once you surrendered to the fact that you’d be making breakfast every day for the next ten years, you decided to get creative about it. Now, in the hour of stress seemingly required for the school day to begin, breakfast is a plate-sized island of calm, order, maybe even joy. You use your favorite plates, arrange the pancakes next to the sausage and sautéed apples. Rule of three. Sure, the kids might complain—pancakes again?—but you imagine them forty years from now, when they’re your age and you’re dead, wondering—Did she really make us breakfast every day? Under “More Flexible” you were surprised to find what your husband had pencilled in the narrow, upright print that reminds you of the three love notes he’s written these past 25 years: Pancakes ok 2x week. You can work with that. The dog enters the room first. A click of nails down the hallway, a sniff at the door, the jangle of his collar as he leaps onto you, thirty pounds of glee, glossy and black. You love this dog. He’s the only one in the house who licks your neck, the only one who knows you like it. Usually, you turn and scoop him close, your elbow pressed in the hot hollow of his belly, your palm cupping the ribs over his heart. He’s not a lover or a baby, but the feeling you get from his spine against your chest is similar, and he doesn’t keep you up at night. Today, though, you’re not ready to break the blanket’s tight cocoon. And you still haven’t come up with breakfast. Your son comes in next, or leaps in, his body mid-air from the door to 106
Carla Riccio the opposite side of the bed as he dive-rolls over you. He’s ten and has two modes—bear cub or gremlin—and you’re never sure which you’ll wake up to. Today, he is softness and play, one half of the boy-dog blur beside you. You’re grateful for the dog, the extra minute he’s given you to lie still and think. You remember one morning a few years ago, when you got tired of making pancakes, threw the batter into muffin tins and voila—pancake muffins. Your daughter loved them, tore them in half and dragged their steaming insides through the lake of syrup on her plate, and for the rest of the day your hand scudded over a trail of invisible imprints she’d left in her path. She ambles into the room now, a tangle of limbs and hair, a tree waking up. She climbs on top of you, lines her body up with yours nearly inch per inch, and lets the brown ropes of her hair fall around your face. She forgets to brush it, refuses to blow it dry, and you know without seeing there’s an eagle’s nest at the nape of her neck, that she’ll beg you to untangle it the next time she washes her hair, that you’ll swear it’ll be the last time you’ll do it, just like the last time you did it. She reminds you of a mermaid, but a vagabond one. One who hasn’t seen the movies, or has but doesn’t care. Your daughter turns 13 next week; this is the year she’ll outgrow you, in more ways than you can imagine now. She has her father’s bones, long, narrow, heavy as cement, but you don’t complain, don’t ask her to move or shift. Just a few months ago she wept every night as you held her, as she tried to describe to you the shape of her lack. I need something that loves me and only me, something that needs me, something that won’t move on if I die. One day she drew a picture and showed it to you: a grey, U-shaped hole, a girl falling backwards into it, her hair streaming behind her, a bubble of speech floating up: I’m falling and no one can hear me. That night and dozens afterward you lay in bed with her, stroking her back, and asked about the hole—when it first appeared, how deep it was, what might fill it up or raise its floor. In August you brought home a hamster and for a week she was happy, building its home, tending to it, until she realized that nocturnal meant she’d never see it and prey animal meant she’d never hold it to her chest. The hole opened wide. In September you visited the local animal shelter and walked out with an abandoned mutt from Texas who met your baseline requirements—he was part schnauzer and didn’t shed. For three days the dog tuned itself to your daughter’s voice, her body, her every movement, and for three days your daughter was a wind chime, twinkling through the house. But when school started and the dog became yours the hole opened again, wider this time, its shadow spilling into school, friendships. In October, when she buried her face in the dog’s neck, wept into his fur and said, bunnies, bunnies will fill the hole, you were afraid enough to say wait. 107
Chautauqua Your therapist recommends a therapist—I’d trust her with my own kids—and on a crisp fall morning you and your husband meet this woman at a picnic table under a tree in the park where she meets all her clients. She is thirty-something, with folk singer hair and eyes darker than your own therapist’s. You tell her about the hamster, the dog, the weeping, sleepless nights. She nods and slides a piece of paper across the table. It’s a picture of a pyramid divided into neat horizontal layers and inside of each layer there’s an amoeba-shaped blob in a different color—pink, red, purple, blue—like a puzzle piece missing its puzzle. Each layer, she says, represents a basic need—survival, safety, worth—and each puzzle piece is a place where your daughter, somewhere in her 12-year journey, may have gotten stuck. The therapist explains that right here, in this park, under this tree, while talking to your daughter, she will climb inside each of these layers, one by one, to see what she can find. She moves her hands as she talks, and when you see her fingers, the slender bones and deep wrinkles around the knuckles, like the hands of a potter or a pianist, the hands of someone who makes something useful, you trust this woman, trust she will find the pieces and carry back the news they hold. You fold the paper in half and tuck it in your purse. On the drive home you close your eyes and imagine the pyramid inside of the hole. You see it is taller than the hole is deep, that its tip rises just above the edge. You imagine your daughter placing a foot on a puzzle piece, hoisting herself to the line above. You imagine the therapist there with her, making sure she doesn’t fall. At home you slip the pyramid into the drawer below the measuring spoons, tuck it under the Gottman Repair Checklist and Pancakes ok 2x week. Now, in the bedroom with the boy, the dog, the light, you say to your daughter, Remember pancake muffins? and her blue eyes, an inch from yours, light up. Oh yes I loved those! Yes momma can we have those please oh yes I’m going to make them right now, a declaration that strikes fear in your heart. No no wait for me you say but the bright weight of her has lifted and flown. Your morning is over. It’s time to get up. Downstairs the kitchen is empty, your daughter nowhere in sight. You call her name: no answer. Maybe she’s on the phone, you think, maybe she’s feeding the bunnies. You don’t call her again, or go searching—without her, the kitchen is a room on dry land; with her, a ship at sea. Your son slides next to you, the top of his head just above your shoulder. You hand him the eggs and tell him to whisk because you’re not tired of what comes next: the way his whole body curves over the fork, the way he pours himself into the bowl for a solid minute, then hands it to you, eggs spinning, and says, look, all one color. When you tell him to add the eggs to the flour, he 108
Carla Riccio stops and says, she won’t eat these if I make them. You find yourself searching for the words that mean just because something has been true doesn’t mean it will always be true but your brain isn’t fully awake so instead you say, don’t worry, she loves these. Quietly, side by side, you whisk and fold and just when you’re spooning the batter into the pan your daughter appears and the look on her face lets you know you’re in for it. Mom, she says, and like that you’re backpedaling, explaining that you couldn’t find her, thought she was downstairs or talking to friends, that you called her, though you don’t say maybe not as loudly as you could have. She stomps off, your son slips away, and as you scrape the eggshells into the compost you think about the daughter you are raising or the one that is pushing up through the floorboards no matter what you do, and instead of thinking impossible or maddening or insatiable like you used to when she was three, you pull other words out of the air above your head, words like fierce and demanding and clear, and you think maybe she is raising herself to be a woman who won’t need help 25 years into a relationship. Here’s what you know: the muffins come out, pale gold, studded with inky blue craters. You’re showing the kids how to lift them out of the pan when your husband walks in. Your jaw clenches, the kids go quiet, but when he stops at the counter he sniffs the air and says Is one of those for me? Your daughter eats three on the spot, then grabs another whenever she walks by. What you don’t know. The dog is not part schnauzer and when winter hits will shed like a cat. One of the bunnies is male and by Christmas you’ll have five instead of two. The breakfast issue isn’t over, and neither is your marriage. When you head to the dog park this afternoon, your husband will ask to come along and you’ll say okay. Halfway through the first loop you’ll link arms and talk about your daughter, the different person she is, the one you suspected might be in there, while the dog bounces along ahead. You’ll think of the picture of him you found yesterday, the one from the shelter in Texas, a blurry photo of a creature you barely recognize, so skinny he looks lopsided, his fur patchy as a bad lawn. It’s 3:00; the winter sun is sliding down the foothills. To your left, the shadows of you and your husband are tall and soft. You keep your eye on the dog in front of you; you follow his trot and gleam.
GRANDPA MENTIONS HOBO STEW Carson Colenbaugh —all the time over the phone. Usually he says the weather is nice though he seldom crosses the grass to the sheds, too old to work with delicate tools. Last week he shot a red woodpecker, pulled the trigger against the orders of Parks & Wildlife and tore through its beak. He can’t feel the trigger against dry fingers but he knows how to operate the shotgun; he remembers the blued metal well; From Germany, the 50s, cold mortar-holes, this bleak reward for surviving the impoverished belly of the Depression. Long hours on trains with boxes of wrapped fried chicken, hot Tennessee summers in the rafters of the tobacco barn. Then back home in the Windy City, pacing down the sidewalks for fresh greens: hobo stew over the slight heat from the stove. “Dandelions, you can use those for wine but we made salads, and Dad used leftover potatoes to make beer in the tub.” Today driving to get tomatoes and squash from the supermarket, a man with a sign said God loves me and the end times near. And they do: cries of warnings murmur through the air daily just as they did before Grandpa’s first journey into winter. Dandelions shoot out of the hellstrips, and he reminds me to boil the pot, add the potatoes, squirrel, top it with greens. I can grow a potato, I can find dandelions, I can learn to forgive myself for bullets, and he thinks I’ll make it out all right.
The Muse, as Nurse Log, Lets Herself Go Judith Sornberger
from the oil painting Spring Ramps and Hepatica by H. M. Levan Once home to the voices of orioles and thrushes, the Muse’s green crown is long gone, as she lays herself down on the forest floor. Though roots no longer feed her, she offers sustenance to all that creep over or sleep beneath her. As her skin decays, a new velvet one covers her in a full palette of green— emerald, chartreuse, olive—holding moisture for jade ferns springing from her, while, nearby, translucent tongues of celadon sing her goodness. She allows her heartwood to be humbled into humus, opening a cave spilling petite white blossoms like the first stars into the woods’ dark cosmos. She invites you to lie down beside her, to inhale the sweet scent of rot as she feeds microbes and wakes seedlings, calling forth what waits for life within you.
This Side of
paris by M .H. P er ry
hree years ago, my husband and I decided to retire earlier than we’d planned to. This meant downsizing, but since we’d inherited a craftsman-built home and a hundred acres of land in the country, we were able to sell out and move to the farm. It was something we’d been dreaming of: land we would restore, planting native forbs and grasses rather than corn and beans. A garden and orchard we’d keep chemical-free. A pond for fishing and paddling. An apiary. Woods in which we’d pick mushrooms and blaze hiking trails. And when it was too cold or too rainy to be outside, a small, cozy home with huge, double-hung windows, white plaster walls, and oak floors. Our new life would be idyllic, except for one little thing: it was in Paris, Illinois. I have nothing against small towns, blue-collar towns, towns named after great cities that use the Eiffel Tower as a logo and call community events “fetes” and “soirees.” It’s just this town I can’t abide. Abide, as in “to live,” something I swore I’d never do again once I graduated from high school. Paris is ten miles away from our farm—I can see Indiana from my back door, but I can’t see Paris. I know it’s there, though, just as I know there are wheel bugs lurking in the garden mulch, waiting for a blood buzz, indifferent as to what or whom they bite. 112
my mother’s favorite hang-over cure was a tall glass of milk into which she crumbled half a sleeve of saltines. My father’s was hair-of-the-dog, usually another Schlitz or Pabst. I was a freshman in high school, the only one of three children still at home, and I did not find it unusual that they were sitting at the breakfast table in their night clothes, a sleeveless cotton gown for my mother, a white, V-neck T-shirt and a pair of boxers for my dad. I did not find it unusual that they looked gray as putty. I liked them best that way, in fact, saying nothing, doing nothing. It meant I wouldn’t be called to the principal’s office that day and told a) to go home because the neighbors had reported a domestic disturbance and the police were at my house; b) to go to the tavern where one or the other of my parents had fallen off a bar stool or passed out in a corner banquette; or c) to go to the hospital, because my father had tried to kill my mother or she’d tried to kill herself again. On days like this, I could get away with anything. Maybe I’d cut school early. Maybe I’d go with Jeanie to hang out with Seth, who lived in the back of the auto supply store where he worked, slept in a hammock, and was happy to share his stash with freshmen. Or maybe I’d meet up with a boy who had his own car and go parking at the lake. 113
Chautauqua as i am writing this down at the farm, a flock of blackbirds wheels past my window, over the apple orchard and pond, settling into the trees on the edge of the woods. The birds say, Hey, you! Look away from all that, look out here, look up! It’s okay, I tell them, waving them on. I’m okay. I’ve had forty years to sort through all of this. Except that I haven’t done it. I’ve piled up my dirty laundry for so long that it’s starting to climb the basement stairs. i do not go to paris for several weeks after the move back. There is a much bigger town only twenty minutes across the state line, and this is where we shop, eat out, go to movies. But one afternoon I am making a black walnut cake, and I realize I have no butter. Since I am in a hurry, I drive west to the Paris Kroger, which now sits in a strip mall near the edge of town. I am expecting the store to stock the basics—butter, milk, bread, eggs, lettuce in a bag. I do not expect to find organic milk or local, free-range eggs, or organic baby greens, but I do. I also do not expect to find an adult beverage section, period. Not even generic wines and domestic beer, but here they are. And there is Maker’s 46 and Bombay Sapphire, too. I can shop here, I realize. My parents never bought booze at Kroger. There is no history here. I grab a bottle to celebrate just as I notice the man stocking the freezer section to my right. Colin. Colin, whose parents used to rescue me each week by taking me to church with them in their big boat of an Oldsmobile. Colin who taught me all the words to “American Pie” in a month’s worth of these trips. Colin, with whom I used to hold hands in the bleachers at junior high basketball games. He looks older than he should, his red hair faded to a streaky gray. His parents are long gone, as is the musical career he’d dreamed of. But he is one of the good guys. He married a nice girl and raised two children, making a living by working in a factory until it closed. I, in contrast, am the fuck-up (daughter of drunks, a druggie, a skank) who dumped him for the older boy I went all the way with while he was gone on summer vacation. But I pulled out of my nosedive, went to college, got a job that paid enough to finance my early retirement. At fifty-five, Colin is stocking shelves at Kroger. “Colin.” I say his name, stepping around the cart to block his view of my bourbon. He smiles and gives me one shoulder short of a hug. “I heard you were back in town.” 114
M.H. Perry It wasn’t a Dan Fogelberg “Auld Lang Syne” reunion. We didn’t sit in the parking lot, sipping the Maker’s and speculating about where we went wrong. But for a moment, my worry that others might think I still wasn’t good enough for Paris was gone. i don’t get back to town for a while. We are busy with renovations meant to make our country home more like our city home, and our farm more like a park. We gut the bathroom and the kitchen and install ceramic floors and granite countertops and stainless-steel appliances. Turn the unheated, paneled breezeway into a cozy sunporch with leather chairs and quilted throws and a wall of green plants. Paint the redwood siding white, hang shutters, replace the roof. Mow. Weed. Mulch. Plant a hundred acres of native plants and watch the big blue stem and Indian grasses, black- and brown-eyed Susans, butterfly milkweed, lance leaf coreopsis, and New England asters take back the prairie. When friends come to visit, we teach them to fly fish, identify wildflowers, ride the four-wheelers. They pick blueberries or apples or linger in the garden, watching the monarchs and hummingbirds and honeybees. I set out jars of wildflowers, light white candles, and feed them meals that come mainly from our garden and orchard: salads with fresh herbs and lettuces, homemade pasta with roasted Roma tomatoes, blueberry pie. At some point in the visit, they tell us they never want to leave. Our renovations include a wall of built-in bookshelves in the living room. This is all the space my husband plans to give me for my books, which means that after they’re filled and the shelves in the sunroom begin to bow and the stack on my nightstand is taller than my head, I must borrow them from the Carnegie Library in Paris. The library opened in 1904, and it still looks much as it did then, though it is missing the flagpole that appears in old picture postcards, and it sports a new addition, built long after I graduated from high school. It is a beauty of a building: Neoclassical, two pairs of ionic columns flanking the entrance and crowned by an ornate frieze and a triangular shaped pediment. Most of the building is brick, pale as sand, broken up by two rows of huge, leaded windows. Eight concrete steps lead to the double doors and the marble landing. Upstairs, the teen room is to the right; it is where I first discovered the S.E. Hinton books, filled with characters like the teenagers I knew. The reading room, reserved for adults, is on the left, and it is furnished with big, soft chairs, current magazines, and newspapers hanging from wooden dowels. The reference desk has been shifted: It now faces the research room, so that the librarians have a good view of patrons using the computers. 115
Chautauqua In my day, the research room was filled with tomes, literally, big dictionaries, encyclopedias, bibliographies, genealogical resources, perched on shelves around a long, oak library table big enough to seat a dozen people. I was on a mission the last time I remember being in the library. It was a Saturday; there were no students there, just two older people at the opposite end of the table, poring through birth and death certificates. I eased a medical encyclopedia off the shelf and hefted it onto the table. When I opened it, I covered the headings at the top of both pages so that anyone looking over my shoulder would not know what I was researching. Symptoms of pregnancy: missed periods, morning sickness, weight gain, breast tenderness. I had them all. It was there in the Paris Carnegie Library that I learned I had crossed over the line so far I could not turn around. I do not recognize the woman who sells me a library card, and after she glances at my information without comment, I am relieved—after all these years—that she does not know me or my name. She asks if I would like a tour, which I decline. Instead, I walk through the fiction section, looking for something I have not read. In the “H’s” I find my favorite Jim Harrison novel, Dalva, which I own an autographed copy of and read at least once a year. It never occurred to me until now to make the connection: Dalva had a baby when she was sixteen, too. On my way to the car, I look over at the high school across the street, all that dark brown brick, imposing as a prison. The school stands empty now, replaced by a state-of-the-art facility north of town. six weeks before my son was born, I waltzed into the high school office to break the news that I was taking the rest of the semester off to have a baby, something I am sure came as no surprise to anyone, though I thought I had hidden it well underneath the smock tops I’d been wearing since December. I had told my parents about the baby the day before, while they were sober, so that I wouldn’t have to do it twice. My father cried, incredulous that his baby daughter would do something like that to him. My mother slapped me, saying she knew I’d been lying when I said I was a good girl. After all the months of the big worry—am I pregnant? Will my parents kill me? Will the father marry me? What will my teachers think?—I was steeled by the reality of the baby inside me. I crossed my arms over my stomach and said, without saying it, “Fuck you both.” In the office, I was ushered in to see the assistant principal, a man who used to be a guidance counselor and in that role had told me I’d better learn to type, since the only occupation available to me was that of secretary. (Yes, I 116
M.H. Perry admit it— I hedged my bets and took typing in summer school.) He was a thin man who chewed gum while he reviewed my transcript, leaning back on two legs of his chair. I was a good student, and I already knew I’d only have to pick up one more class the next fall to stay even with my classmates. I told him that while I was taking a break from my classes, I intended to finish Driver’s Ed. He snapped his gum in surprise, lost his balance, and crashed forward onto all four chair legs. I am curious about the conversations that occurred after I left. I imagine the staff huddling together in the principal’s office, all of them nonplussed, maybe not so much by my pregnancy as by my chutzpah. I suspect someone came to my defense, and I like to think it was my Shakespeare teacher, maybe because I was the only student in her class who “got” Shakespeare, maybe because she knew my father in better days, when he was a handsome young basketball player with a drunk for a father and no mother at all. In any case, I was allowed to finish Driver’s Ed. I showed up in the alley outside the high school, sliding my big belly under the seatbelt while the football coach hunched into the passenger seat, his big foot on the safety brake. I kept my eyes straight ahead, so I never noticed who the student drivers in the back seat were. Someday, one or the other may reveal himself to me, maybe at the new bar next to the vacant lot where my parents’s favorite gin joint used to be. I’d like to think I am impermeable enough to joke that it was a good thing I got my license, since I was the only one in my family sober enough to drive to the emergency room when the baby came. But I’d never say that. I shouldn’t need to say anything. Everyone’s life is a circuit of screw ups, right? Some of them are more public than others, and some of us just get up—or get up more often—and move on to the next one. gradually, i make other forays into town. When the cats pee on our kingsized comforter, I go to the laundromat on the west edge of town to use the industrial-sized washer. I learn that there is a wonderful fabric store on the north end. I visit the east side when my only living aunt is placed in a nursing home there. I go downtown when a branch of our bank opens near the pharmacy we’ve transferred our prescriptions to. I used to travel through Paris by foot, and forty years ago I could name and place every street. Not now. Now I relearn the town by driving it, circling from the outside to the center, inserting black pins to set the memories. There is the white house Tom, the football player, lived in, and the basement windows through which a girlfriend and I used to watch him shower. There is the cemetery where Aaron and Steve tried, unsuccessfully, to de-pants me, 117
Chautauqua unprepared for how hard I could kick or how fast I could run. There is the dead-end alley Mike walked me to after the spring dance, cornering me so that he could shove his hand down my bra. There is the little gray house where Scott lived, an older boy I tried to impress by sleeping with him after his girlfriend dumped him, a girl whose name he’d written over and over on poster board tacked to his bedroom wall. I remembered her name for at least twenty years, but it is gone now, and I am grateful, though I know not everything will stay in the past: when my husband takes me to his 45th class reunion, a sixtythree-year-old woman I have never met hands me a drink ticket, hissing the word “slut” under her breath. One by one, I also pass the homes of the three closest friends I had in high school. Barb—a tall girl with long, dark hair—lived down the street from me in a very small house (the cut-down console piano had only 61 keys) with her mother and her mother’s boyfriend, at least when he was on the wagon—and when he wasn’t, he sometimes slept on our couch, a fact I never shared with Barb. Jeanie, the bubbly blonde, lived several blocks away on the northwest edge of town with her parents, who spent their free time partying at the American Legion, and her older brother Sam, whom I remember—and then I squeeze my lips together as if I’ve eaten something sour—as the first boy who tried to French kiss me. Sandy, who had blue eyes and short, curly brown hair, lived on the west side of town and was the last daughter of parents who were old enough to be her grandparents. In fact, her mother looked like my grandma, with her large, low bosom and habitual perch in a rocking recliner. I had gravitated to each of my friends for a different reason. Barb lived close by and so made for a convenient escape. She also had an older sister just out of high school, and thus Barb knew everything about everybody, who had dated whom, who had broken up with whom, who was or had ever been on the cheerleading squad and the prom court. Jeanie was a wild child who did drugs and slept around, and on occasion, she took me with her. I admired her wiliness: she would tell her mother she had a babysitting job and that I was going to keep her company, but most of the time, there was a party, not a job, and to make her night out look legitimate, she would pass the hat and present the money to her mother as her earnings. Sandy was studious and solid, like me but so unlike me. We were in the same honors classes, liked the same books and movies and music, and when we hung out, we talked. As far as I know, Sandy never drank or did drugs or had sex during high school. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I wanted it to be that way. Maybe I needed to be the foil to her light. The four of us came together for other reasons. We were the youngest 118
M.H. Perry children in our families, and given that our siblings (sisters for Barb and Sandy, brothers for Jeanie and me) were at least seven years older than we were, we likely were mistakes. In any case, we were unwanted, or at least unplanned for, but no one told us we should lower our expectations, that there would be fewer pictures of us, fewer celebrations for us, less of an urgency to bond with us— parental energy was finite, and our parents already had run out. Our fathers were veterans and blue-collar men. Our mothers worked, too. We lived from paycheck to paycheck, but our parents always managed to pay the bills: to feed us—at least on a bacon and eggs, cream chipped beef, grilled cheese and tomato soup kind of budget; to keep a roof over our heads (there was a one-year exception at my house, but I was too young to notice or to remember living with my grandparents); and to buy us new clothes and shoes at the beginning of the school year, three outfits and gym class attire and a winter coat. Our homes were run-down but neat: we girls kept them clean, disguising their shabbiness with shiny wood and linoleum floors and strategically placed doilies, cushions, and throw rugs. My greatest trick was to invite new friends into the living room but not to turn on the lights: they would see what looked like a crystal chandelier, silky floral wallpaper, and damask drapes, but they would not notice that the chairs were naugahyde or the tables covered with cigarette-burned vinyl or the couch permanently stained by our incontinent dog. That we were the same in the socio-economic ways that counted at the time—working class, a few ticks above the bottom, no one in our families having ever gone to college—helps to predict what happened to us next. Barb, Jeanie, and I got pregnant and married before we were eighteen. The two of them dropped out of high school, though they later earned their GEDs. They never went to college, and they each had a second child not long after the first. Sandy, in contrast, didn’t get pregnant. She went to college, married her high school sweetheart, and then had two kids, about fifteen years after I had my first. What made the difference? I suspect the answer is that neither of Sandy’s parents was an alcoholic. She felt safe at home. She didn’t need an escape route. Sandy and I still are close, and she and her husband come to the farm, too. They haven’t retired yet, and they won’t be able to for several years, since they are raising a grandson who just turned four. And so I refuse their offers to help cook or clean up, make sure their glasses stay filled, and pack up treats for the little boy. We end the evening with mugs of hand-picked chamomile tea and a fire in the chiminea. Sandy twists a graying curl and says, “I don’t ever want to leave.” 119
Chautauqua The farm is wonderful. What we’ve accomplished has all been according to plan. But the unspoken truth is that what we have created here, so near the town I grew up in, is the home and home life I never had. my first favorite teacher in college was a man about my father’s age, also a veteran, who taught American literature. This was before computers, when students still hand-wrote themes on blue-lined paper, and the writing had to be good but also legible. He thought mine was both. My second favorite teacher also was a veteran, a New Yorker with a posh accent and a set of tennis whites. He thought my essays were poetic and innovative. My third favorite teacher—you know where this is going. I had a dozen professors who’d been able to go to college because of the G. I. Bill, men no wealthier and no smarter than my father was, just less broken by life. From one of these men, I learned that the house is a symbol of the human mind. It can be well-kept, or not. Well-lit, or not. We spend most of our time on the lower floors, seldom visiting the attic or basement, except in dreams. My old house is on Madison Street, a shortcut through town that allows me to avoid the traffic at Walmart and McDonald’s. It is a story and a half, the wood covered with vinyl siding, the foundation made of glazed orange brick. Two wooden columns flank the steps to the front porch, also wood and always in need of paint. Some summer nights, I would sit on the banisters and watch the cars go by, typically with Barb, who knew which boy drove which car. The front door opened into the living room. French doors separated it from the dining room, where there was another fake chandelier and a secondhand dining room suite my mother had painted antique green. We never used the room except on holidays, though the curtained window seat was a handy place to hide, as well as a portal to the normal life being lived by the family next door: a chubby four-year-old named Eddie; his short, darkhaired mother, who was always smiling and always greeted guests with her arms open; and her husband, a taxi driver who played the banjo on the front porch. Each of them moved so fluidly from one end of that little house to the other, setting nothing in their way to stumble over. In my house, the last room on the west side was the kitchen. It was where trouble always started, at the gray Formica table where my parents gathered to drink. The kitchen chairs were chrome, the floor linoleum, and the sign that everything was about to fall apart was the grate of metal against the floor as my father suddenly pushed away from the table. There were three bedrooms and a bathroom on the east side of the first floor. My bedroom had twin beds with paisley bedspreads and black light 120
M.H. Perry posters from the headshop uptown. I installed the hook-and-eye lock on the door myself. Anyone could have broken in, but they’d have to make a lot of noise to do it, and if that happened, I planned to be long gone. Just to be safe, I practiced my escape, scraping away paint to ensure I could raise the window, stretching out my legs to test the distance from the sill. A four-foot fall onto soft ground, and I’d be long gone, through the back yard and down the alley. when i drive by the house on Madison Street today, I slow down and look. It is much the same, though the roof over the porch is sagging, and sections of the white vinyl siding are peeling off like giant pieces of Juicy Fruit gum. I learned recently that a classmate’s parents had bought the house after my father died and my mother sobered up for good. They were nice people who raised big, kind-hearted sons and grandsons, and though I cannot tell it from the outside, I am sure the house is better off with them. I notice that the upstairs windows are open, and I wonder if they have discovered they can get to the roof from there. It is another escape route, though not one that ends with a soft landing. My mother tried to use it herself once, lost her footing, and broke several bones when she hit the concrete below. The hospital ruled it a suicide attempt, and since it wasn’t the first one, they locked her away for six months. I was fifteen. I had to raise myself for the rest of the year, while she was cared for and cleaned up and taught to paint with oils. Later, I would take over the top floor of the house, turning it into a place of my own, a studio whose study and sleeping areas were separated by a small living room where my son, a beautiful boy with a mop of blonde hair, could play and watch TV. When I wasn’t caring for him, I was doing homework for the college classes I was taking. I’d just gotten him to sleep one day when I heard my mother scream my father’s name in a tone I knew meant “Come here!” rather than “Get the fuck away!” When I ran down the basement stairs, I saw raw sewage pouring into the house through the toilet, the backflow carrying enough shit to cover the basement floor to a depth of four inches. Let’s work through this: house as a symbol of my parents’ shitty minds or cosmic pay-back for all the shit they’d put me through? I can’t decide, even now. On that day, I just turned my back and went upstairs where my life was waiting. i spent forty years away from paris. I may not be the only woman who had a baby at sixteen and went on to earn a PhD from a Big Ten school, but since none of us would ever admit it to one another, it feels that way. In that time, I divorced and remarried, had a second child, lost my parents to diseases 121
Chautauqua traceable to their alcoholism, and my middle brother to violence, his murder the logical end of the trail he staggered down under the canopy our parents planted. I think about others I know who were the children of alcoholics. My oldest brother is an engineer with six children and twenty grandchildren, a success by so many standards, and yet when we get together, all we can talk about is the past, which still clings to us like dirty cobwebs. My friend Jeanie is dead now, from complications of smoking. Barb is newly single again, after a series of lovers and husbands I have lost count of. One of her step-siblings is a respected physicist at MIT; the other is a meth addict who, as I read in this week’s paper, has been arrested again. On the way back to the farm, I drive past the hospital where my son was born, its new additions sprawling over the block like the arms of a big brown octopus. Forty years ago, my son decided to come two weeks early. My mother wasn’t home, but my father was, sweaty and shaking from having gone twenty-four hours without a drink. When I began to shriek in pain, all he could do was cover his eyes and sob. I don’t know how I got to the hospital. I do know the doctor gave me ether and used forceps to free the baby. When my mother showed up, drunk, she saw the marks on my son’s face and called the doctor a quack. He tried to quiet her down. She tried to slap him. Someone from security escorted her out of my room. While I wailed out sixteen years worth of hurt, the doctor—whom I had met only a month before—sat on my bed holding my hand, calling me “Sweet pea” and promising me everything would work out. “In time,” he said. Everything would work out in time. The moments that change the lives of people like me are those in which someone shows us compassion we did not dare believe we deserved. There are people like this in every town. It may not feel as if they outnumber the monsters and ghosts. But from this side of Paris, I promise you they do.
Flaming Skulls Kenneth Jakubas
start treating this dying man more like his best friend Bobby treats him. Bobby calls midway through the morning to talk to Doug, the man I’m sure is dying, talking to him like it’s any other day, which I admire. When the call comes in, Doug’s eyes dart open and he accepts it, then his eyes drift back into themselves. They behave like coins thrown on a table. He survives the conversation with simple phrases, each one a miracle. He looks like shit. He knows it, I know it, and we look at each other. Bobby doesn’t know—he’s too busy talking like it’s any other day. You wouldn’t know what Doug looks like in this hospital bed, how slight the breathing, eyes moving around like marbles in a pan. He’s in and out of sleep, even while Bobby goes on and on over the phone. Car parts. I stay within arm’s reach and hear everything. His lungs a small fire. I hold his hand when it touches the IV or the oxygen in his nose. His legs don’t move, but they have the impression of wanting to move. Sometimes, what if the dying just want to die a little faster? I’d like to ask Bobby this, but it’s part of my job not to let Doug die, to watch him. During the two o’clock call, I lock eyes with Doug and he communicates how full of shit he knows he is, telling Bobby, “I’m better.” Bobby sounds optimistic, the scary kind, full of sincerity. Bobby thinks Doug will get better, but Doug and I know better. While Bobby talks and talks, Doug steals glances at me, gesturing to lift the head of his bed, begging me with his eyes to put an end to the calls. He has a big beard and a spider web etched in fading black around his elbow. Just the one. I imagine him and Bobby riding large motorcycles just this past summer, before it looked like it does outside, before the virus and the ice. An aide drops off a package that was mailed to Doug, who is dying pretty well at this point, given that he isn’t responding to my prods. The only thing he does is yank at his oxygen. I rub his chest and let the package sit on his bedside table, but I keep sneaking glances at it. I tell Doug, “Hey let’s open this thing.” When I manage to make his eyes open, I flash a hot rod magazine in front of him, tell him, “Ang sent this and your phone charger. Let’s charge a 123
Chautauqua phone.” Also in the package is a Christmas card. When he’s tired and wants you to know it, all he says is quit fuckin. He says, “Quit fuckin—” But I think he does hear. It feels good to prod him awake, give the dying the impression they’re important, or that it’s any other day. Do I tell him he looks septic, that I’m having trouble believing his legs have anything to do with the rest of his body? I do not. I sit a few feet away and watch him dream. I start sounding like Bobby, my voice full of hope, full of the everyday. I try to think of what their leather jackets would smell like, what the flaming skulls on the back of Doug and Bobby’s leather jackets would look like if they were riding side by side on an empty highway. I say, “Once you’re out,” like it’s prison and there’s a date.” Sometimes my hand comes in to plug his oxygen back into his nose. He takes it out, I plug it back in. “Quit fuckin’,” he says. I take his hand, and he squeezes it.
I have learned to love dailiness, Jane Zwart and I will forget to love dailiness; it is not a lesson one can keep by conning. For some this order of epiphany requires a brush with death, a scythe or skeletal trifold finger pulled down the cheek like a Schick, but for me pain has been enough. • Pain has been enough. To stand afterward peeling clementines, body unclenched: I could juggle. To stoop for the spill, I could penché, and sorting the kids’ clothes, I tug the contortionist joggers apart expectantly, as if untangling the frippery to trim a tree. • I tell myself to stay amazed, to prod the houseplants’s soil hoping they thirst, always. Always my wonder comes out in the wash, the bluing undoing less and less of these worn things’s wear. I have learned to love dailiness, but water will turn the towels I pull from the Maytag into crushed velvet only once. 125
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Contr ibutor s Note s Miriam Bloomfield attended Pomona College and graduated from Stanford University with a History degree. Her poetry and fiction have been published in Blue Guitar and SandScript literary magazines. She’s a multiple finalist for the Tucson Festival of Books Literary Awards and received Honorable Mention in the Lorian Hemingway Short Story Competition. She recently completed a novel set in North Arkansas. Home is the Sonoran Desert near Tucson.
Lauren Camp is the author of five books, most recently, Took House (Tupelo Press). An emeritus fellow of the Black Earth Institute, she has received the Dorset Prize and finalist citations for the Arab American Book Award, North American Book Award, and New Mexico-Arizona Book Award. Her work has appeared in Kenyon Review, Witness, Poem-a-Day, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere, and has been translated into Mandarin, Turkish, Spanish, and Arabic. laurencamp.com.
Douglas Cole has published six collections of poetry and the novel, The White Field. In addition to the American Fiction Award, he was awarded the Leslie Hunt Memorial prize in poetry, the Editors’ Choice Award for Fiction by riverSedge, and has been nominated three times for a Pushcart and Best of the Net. He lives and teaches in Seattle, Washington. His website is douglastcole.com and he is on twitter as @TheShadow_man.
Carson Colenbaugh is an undergraduate student of horticulture and forestry at Clemson University. His work appears or is forthcoming in Poetry South, Delta Poetry Review, Pine Mountain Sand, Gravel, and elsewhere.
Noah Davis’ Of This River was selected for the 2019 Wheelbarrow Emerging Poet Book Prize from Michigan State University’s Center for Poetry. Davis earned his MFA in poetry at Indiana University and has published in The Sun, Best New Poets, Southern Humanities Review, The Year’s Best Sports Writing, Orion, Southern Humanities Review, and North American Review. Davis was also a Katharine Bakeless Nason Fellow at the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference and the recipient of the 2018 Jean Ritchie Appalachian Literature Fellowship from Lincoln Memorial University.
C.W. Emerson’s work has appeared in journals including Crab Orchard Review, Greensboro Review, december, New Ohio Review, The New Guard, and The American Journal of Poetry, and has earned awards and honors from the Atlanta Review, The Comstock Review, New Millennium Writing Awards, New Letters 128
Press, and others. Emerson is a winner of Poetry International’s C.P. Cavafy Poetry Prize and a Pushcart Prize nominee. He is the author of a chapbook, Off Coldwater Canyon (The Poetry Box, 2021), and Eyewear Publishing, LTD, an imprint of The Black Spring Press Group, will publish his first full-length collection of poetry, Luminous Body, Glittering Ash in early 2023.
Bryce Emley is the author of the prose chapbooks A Brief Family History of Drowning (winner of the 2018 Sonder Press Chapbook Prize) and Smoke and Glass (Folded Word, 2018). A Narrative 30 Below 30 poet and a recipient of awards and residencies from Aspen Autumn Words, the Edward F. Albee Foundation, the Glen Workshop, the Wesleyan Summer Writers Conference, and the Pablo Neruda Prize, Bryce works as a content writer and is co-editor of Raleigh Review.
Georgia English is a published fiction writer with stories in the Gettysburg Review and a few other periodicals. She has a Master’s in Writing from Johns Hopkins. English lives in Colorado but half her heart is always in Australia, riding horses amongst the sheep and the dust. Paterson’s Curse is a noxious weed prevalent in Australia. This essay is set against the backdrop of the harsh Australian countryside and the inexorable heat. It is about death, sex, and yearning. It is from a collection of forthcoming essays about her life.
D. Dina Friedman is the author of one book of poetry, Wolf in the Suitcase (Finishing Line Press) and two young adult novels, Escaping Into the Night (Simon and Schuster) and Playing Dad’s Song (Farrar Straus Giroux). She has published widely in literary journals including The Sun, Crab Orchard Review, Cider Press Review, Hawaii Pacific Review, Cold Mountain Review, Lilith, Negative Capability and Rhino, and received two Pushcart Prize nominations for poetry and fiction
Michael Garrigan writes and teaches along the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania and believes every watershed should have a Poet Laureate. He is the author of two poetry collections—Robbing the Pillars and What I Know [How to Do]. He was the Artist in Residence for The Bob Marshall Wilderness Area in 2021. You can find more of his writing at mgarrigan.com.
Ash Good is a queer/nonbinary poet, designer and activist in Portland, Oregon They are a cofounding editor at First Matter Press (501c3 nonprofit) and a reader for Frontier Poetry. Their newest collection, us clumsy gods, will be published by What Books Press in 2022. Their poems are forthcoming or recently 129
Contr ibutor s Note s appear in Faultline, deLuge, Bird Coat Quarterly, Wild Roof, Gulf Stream Magazine, Voicemail Poems, Willawaw Journal, Cathexis Northwest Press, The Timberline Review and elsewhere. ashgood.com.
Karen Paul Holmes has two poetry collections, No Such Thing as Distance (Terrapin, 2018) and Untying the Knot (Aldrich, 2014). Her poems have been featured on Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac and by Tracy K. Smith on The Slowdown. Publications include Diode, Valparaiso Review, Verse Daily, and Prairie Schooner. She founded and hosts the Side Door Poets in Atlanta and a monthly reading with open mic in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Janis Hubschman’s stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Southern Humanities Review, Cimarron Review, West Branch, Michigan Quarterly Review, Colorado Review, StoryQuarterly, Pleiades, Green Mountains Review, and elsewhere. Her stories have won Bellingham Review’s Tobias Wolff Award and first place in Glimmer Train’s Fiction Open contest. Her work has been supported with the Bread Loaf-Rona Jaffe Fiction Scholarship and a fellowship from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.
Diana Hume George is a writer affiliated with Goucher College, Penn State, and Chautauqua. She’s written books of literary nonfiction, poetry and criticism. As an activist, she writes and works toward social justice (with training from RaceForward), participation in Color of Change campaigns, and diversity through Works in Progress. She doesn’t truck in “cancel culture,” but the other cancel culture has temporarily cancelled those activities, so she got this chance to look at her own legacy.
John Jacobson lives in the Catskill Mountains of New York. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in many publications including About Place , Aji, The Dewdrop, Intima Journal of Narrative Medicine, Impermanent Earth and Talking Writing. His work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net and a John Burroughs Nature Essay Award. His essay “Between Grief and Hope” was a finalist for the 2021 Barry Lopez Creative Nonfiction Award.
Lori Jakiela is the author of several books, most recently the memoir Belief Is Its Own Kind of Truth, Maybe, the essay collection Portrait of the Artist as a Bingo Worker, and the poetry collection, How Do You Like It Now, Gentlemen? Her next book, They Write Your Name on a Grain of Rice, is forthcoming in fall 2022 from Atticus Books. Her author website is lorijakiela.net. She directs the undergraduate Creative & Professional Writing Program at The University of 130
Contr ibutor s Note s Pittsburgh at Greensburg and lives in her hometown, Trafford, Pennsylvania, with her husband, the author Dave Newman, and their children.
Kenneth Jakubas holds an MFA from Western Michigan University, where he served as poetry editor for Third Coast. His poetry and prose has appeared or is forthcoming in Dunes Review, RHINO, december, Passages North, and Birdcoat Quarterly, among others. He is currently at work on a mini-series, Reliever, for shitlitfic.com. He lives in Battle Creek, Michigan, with his wife and son.
Judy McClure writes creative nonfiction about nature, relationships, education, grief, and identity. You can find her work at WBUR’s Edify, 805LitMag, and HerStry. She is the winner of the 2021 Friends of the Chautauqua Writers’ Center prose prize, is a graduate of GrubStreet’s Essay Incubator, and lives in Boston with her wife.
Jalina Mhyana is the author of four volumes of poetry and creative nonfiction. Her work appears in The Southeast Review, The Cincinnati Review, Lunch Ticket, ROOM, and others. Mhyana won the University of Oxford’s History of Art essay prize which enabled her to research superstition and talismans in Vienna, and her second poetry chapbook was awarded publication with Pudding House Press. A graduate of the Bennington Writing Seminars, Mhyana was the founding editor of Rock Salt Plum Review and a columnist for the Herald Union in Germany. She currently works as a freelance editor and graphic designer in France where she and her husband are renovating their 300-year old home. To learn more, visit jalina.fr.
Vasilios Moschouris is a queer writer from the mountains of North Carolina, a prose reader for The Adroit Journal, and a first-year MFA candidate at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. In addition to Chautauqua, his work has appeared in Press Pause Press and on (mac)ro(mic).org. When he’s not writing, he’s fantasizing about the tattoos he probably isn’t going to end up getting, and memorizing the lyrics of French pop songs. Unfortunately, he can be found on Twitter @burnmyaccountv.
M.H. Perry is Master Naturalist in Residence at the Perry Farm, where she grows organic fruits and vegetables and tends a hundred acres of native plants. Her poetry collection, The Country We Live In, was published by The Heartland Review Press, and her poem “Fragile Animals” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her work also has appeared in venues such as Boulevard, The Crab Orchard Review, december, and The Penn Review. 131
Contr ibutor s Note s Bethany Reid’s Sparrow won the 2012 Gell Poetry Prize, selected by Dorianne Laux. Her poems, essays, and short stories have recently appeared in One Art, Passengers, Persimmon Tree, Constellations, and elsewhere, and her chapbook, The Thing with Feathers, was published in 2020 as part of Triple No. 10 by Ravenna Press. Bethany and her husband live in Edmonds, Washington, near their three grown daughters; she blogs about writing and life at bethanyareid.com.
Carla Riccio teaches creative writing at Boulder Writing Studio in Boulder, Colorado, where she lives with her family. This is her first publication.
Judith Sornberger’s full-length poetry collections are Angel Chimes: Poems of Advent and Christmas (Shanti Arts, 2020), I Call to You from Time (Wipf & Stock, 2019), Practicing the World (CavanKerry, 2018) and Open Heart (Calyx Books). Her prose memoir The Accidental Pilgrim: Finding God and His Mother in Tuscany is from Shanti Arts. She is professor emerita of Mansfield University where she taught English and Women’s Studies. She can be found at judithsornberger.net.
Suzanne Tyrpak has been a fan of haiku for many years. First introduced to the form in elementary school, she wrote a haiku comparing the world to a chestnut. She has written and published poetry, short stories, and novels. Currently, she’s an editor for Clark Strand’s online Haiku monthly newsletter, 17: Haiku in English. Originally from New York, Suzanne has lived in Colorado for many years. Connect with her via Facebook, Twitter, and her blog, When Haiku Rains: suzannetyrpak.blogspot.com/
Dick Westheimer has—with his wife and writing companion Debbie—lived, gardened, and raised five children on their plot of land in rural southwest Ohio. His most recent poems have appeared or are upcoming in Rattle, Paterson Review, Anti-Heroin Chic, Pine Mountain Sand and Gravel, Minyan, Gyroscope Review, and Cutthroat. More can be found at dickwestheimer.com.
James K. Zimmerman is an award-winning writer and frequent Pushcart Prize nominee. His work appears in Carolina Quarterly, Folio, Lumina, Nimrod, Pleiades, Rattle, Salamander, and Vallum, among others. He is the author of Little Miracles (Passager, 2015) and Family Cookout (Comstock, 2016), winner of the 2015 Jessie Bryce Niles Prize.
Jane Zwart teaches at Calvin University, where she also co-directs the Calvin Center for Faith & Writing. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, Ploughshares, Threepenny Review, TriQuarterly, and (once before) Chautauqua—as well as other journals and magazines.
In this issue “He sits like me, his knees tucked under his chin, his arms wrapped around them. But his eyes are on the parking lot surrounding us, on the highway beyond, on something even further than that.”
—Vasilios Moschouris, “Next Times”
“Can one broken thing carry another, like the blind leading the blind?”
—Jalina Mhyana, “May You Carry the Broken World”
“I tell myself to stay amazed, to prod the houseplants’s soil hoping they thirst, always.”
—Jane Zwart, “I have learned to love dailiness,”
“If your support animal is your support animal, how do you flush it? How does anyone let go of the things that tether them to this life?”
—Lori Jakiela, “Prayer to The Patron Saint of Companionship”
“But I know better than to think anyone, least of all I, can know what will happen when I am gone and he grows old. Because these lovely kids, my grands and greats, the ones I peruse—searching their faces for recognition that one of them herself will carry my own legacy into a future—are free of me, in ways I will never be free of them, nor do I want to be.”
—Diana Hume George The Woman From Another Century