Chautauqua: Chance Encounters 20.1

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Chance Encounters 20.1

Chautauqua 20.1

E ditors

jill g E rard

philip g E rard

a dvisory E ditor

diana hum E g E org E

m anaging E ditor

jam E s king

C ov E r & B ook d E sign

ga B i st E ph E ns

a ssistant E ditors

kat E lyn korn E gay

lu C as C ardona

grant kins E y

jana C C arv E r

krist E n dors E y

mari E marrinan

gillian pri B i C ko

E ditorial a ssistants

E r smith

mylan park E r

audr E y hargrov E

aidan h EBE rl E

m E lissa C rip E

B arr E t gi E hl

ra C h E l ni C holson

sydn E y norman

sas C ha siz E mor E

C hautauqua i nstitution a r C hiv E s

jonathan s C hmitz

W ith s p EC ial t hanks to

E mily C arp E nt E r

mi C ha E l ramos

E mily louis E smith

sony ton - aim E

C hautauqua institution

univ E rsity of north C arolina W ilimington ,

d E partm E nt of C r E ativ E W riting

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: CAA Gallery Show, 1970, Josephine U. Herrick, Chautauqua Institution Archives

Below photos courtesy of Chautauqua Institution Archives: Girl and Canvas, 1995, photographer unknown Golden Dragon Acrobats, July 6, 2006, Christopher Hanewinckel

Blowing Bubbles, 1966, William I. Siegfried Art Student, 1983, photographer unknown

Other Photos:, October 31, 2020, MChe Lee, August 12, 2018, Daoudi Aissa, August 4, 2018, Julie Tupas, November 27, 2018, charlesdeluvio Personal photos provided by contributor, Kristen Dorsey

ISSN 1549-7917

Produced by The Publishing Laboratory

Department of Creative Writing

University of North Carolina Wilmington

601 South College Road

Wilmington, NC 28403-5938 / writers

The Chautauqua Way

Formore 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 What Comes Next?

life in art

erin pesut Endings

jennifer sauers Somebody Said

joanna theiss Rules for Visiting the Virginia Museum

Museum of Fine Arts

brian beatty The Saxophone

christopher mohar Make Alice Famous

james king Love Poem with Statue of Juno

sue william silverman The Poetic Sentence

kristina erny The Aliens Sift Through Stacks of Kid

Artwork All Depicting the Same Moon

life at Leisure

charlotte matthews Prayer Flag

rick kempa The Church of the Chance Encounter

karla linn merrifield #33: Okey Dokey, Long Island

nancy mccabe Searching for Mt. Fuji

cammy thomas Midnight

adam scheffler Tamiami Trail Signs: A Collage Poem

mary birnbaum Good Morning

brian beatty The Glass Eye

life Lessons

emma paris Flowers For Angela

vincent casaregola As If Secrets Would Spill

a . s . cordova Between Our Walls

justin hunt Walking at Dusk

brayden titus Bleak Waves at Night

olga - maria cruz Questions for Srojan

holly pelesky Solitaire

life of the spirit

connemara wadsworth Apparition

louise kim I take my soul out on a walk

kristen dorsey Hive of Sisters

nancy mccabe Stuck Together

jak emerson kurdi At the LISD Eastside Aquatic Center Regional Swim Meet

10 21 24 25 27 39 41 45 50 51 55 57 59 61 62 63 66 68 71 82 83 84 85 96 97 99 117 130
V Contributors Notes 146 131 135 139 140 tricia gates brown Love When No One is Looking taylen huang The Woman of Kherson olga - maria cruz SDF: “Semper Fi” jim daniels Forgotten Schenley

What comes next?


the leaves have turned coastal North Carolina colors— muted red of the dogwood, slightly golden river birch, rusty orange bald cypress. On my commute to work, I pass over the Northeast Branch of the Cape Fear River. At this time of year, the water is still. Sometimes it reflects the trees in the darkly brown-green water, sometimes mist and fog rise from its glassy surface. The water itself flat calm.

Just this morning, a great white heron arrives to fish in the marsh. The bird is a patient hunter, standing unmoving in the chilly water. Its neck extends from its rounded body, a graceful line, then its small oval head, and long golden bill, sharp as the tip of a spear. With two small steps, it readies itself for the strike. The neck becoming sineuous, strike accurate. One, two, three fish in a row before it disappeared into the grasses at the bend in the shallows.

The fall offers us moments of stillness. I find myself wondering about what comes next, what new opportunity is out there beyond my control, waiting. In this season of stillness, what is readying itself? Sometimes, the wondering is exhilarating. Sometimes, it causes angst. Sometimes, it is a quiet hopeful expectation.

Each morning when I head out the door and into the world, my path will intersect others—there are people, of course. But so much more waits for me—the sun rising over the river, a rabbit emerging from tall weeds in the garden, the writer spider in her web.

as late summer turned to fall, a host of writer spiders spun their webs between the pecan tree and the lamp post in the front yard, the lady banks rose arbor and the house, the magnolia and the longabandoned climber. The spiders have a sense of industry. They clean and tidy their webs each day. The concentric circles can stretch out for several feet, the thick and visible zig-zag providing stability.

The spiders have an odd life—or so it seems to me. They shake those webs. The smaller male plucks the strands of the female’s web. Imagine him, a troubadour wooing his mate. But his life is short— the

VI introduction

mating for him results in s seizure and a slow death. The females shake the webs too, sometimes to dislodge predators but more often to firmly catch prey in the sticky capture threads.

The female grows larger and larger over the fall months, molting her skin, until she is as big and fat as my thumb.

I pause and watch the spiders. Sometimes I speak to them, reach out to touch one of the tough and stretchy lines of silk. One evening when I arrived home, Philip told me that two larger female spiders had pulled apart one of the smaller males who lived in the space between the two centers. It must have started with that wooing. But ultimately, it was not a good day for the spider. The two black and yellow females were getting noticeably bigger—and the mate was gone.

i like to watch the small creatures in the world. Years ago, I sat on a friend’s porch with her son, Avery, watching a praying mantis that had appeared on the half-wall between the porch and the garden. We both commented on its beauty—the brightness of the green, the perfectly folded elliptical wings, the oddly robotic triangular head, and those small front legs folded up so neatly. It sat so quietly, so stilly on the brick porch wall.

Further down the wall, near a wooden post, six or eight large black ants were busy carrying small white spheres, likely eggs or larvae being relocated. The moved with purpose, across the top of the wall, then down the side, disappearing into a crack at the base.

Watching insects requires its own quiet patience. Avery was a curious child. He and I sat close together on a bench facing that wall, whispering about the movement of the ants, the quiet stillness of the mantis. One black ant broke off from the group and headed down the wall. Soon enough it was in the vicinity of the mantis. The mantis did not move at all until the ant was close enough, then the front legs flashed and the ant was in its grasp.

Green mantis, black ant. The startling contrast of color on the red, ruddy brick. The mantis did not rush its meal, slowly eating one part at a time until all that was left was the head. Then that was gone too.


not all my observations end with such finality. Once while walking at the park, I paused to watch a group of young boys kick the soccer ball around. They were quick and precise on their feet. The white ball dribbled deftly down the field, passed to a team mate for a shot on goal. The ball went high over the goal and landed close to me. I nudged it back to the field and then kicked it to them. The boy, his blue and yellow jersey bright among all the shades of green in the park, smiled and raised his hand before turning back to his game.

Their laughter carried through the park, and I smiled to hear them cheer as I continued walking. Such a small thing—a morning walk, a morning practice, a stray ball connecting me to their group even if just momentarily.

The other day I drove through a Wendy’s, grabbing a late lunch before my commute home. At the window, I asked the worker how much the order was in the car behind me. She told me and I handed back my card. “Can you put it on my card?”

Soon, I had my food and the bank card was tucked back in my wallet. I pulled forward and waited to merge back into traffic. From behind, I heard the toot of a car horn. In my rearview mirror, I saw someone waving from the car behind. Then they gave a thumbs up. I waved in return—happy that they had a moment of unexpected happiness, albeit a small one.

Those smiles and waving hands stay with me—reminders that what we do in a day might not change the trajectory of the world, but it just might improve it. Imagine the energy building from all those small moments in a day, in a week, in a month.

one of my favorite poems is james wright’s “the blessing.” I appreciate all the layers of the poem and its making—the story of how Wright arrived in Minnesota, how he broke free into a new way of writing, how a life-changing friendship developed, how a moment in the world—a moment when you observe in such fine detail the beauty of living creatures, the world in which they live—can change you, can allow you to “break into blossom.”

We have a small cottage just outside Charlottesville, Virginia. One spring morning Philip called to me from the yard. A deer had


emerged from the woods, pawing at the ground, trumpeting. She did not come close to us, but warned us not to come any closer to the woods either.

We watched her—dusty brown of her coat, dark almond eyes, a bit of white around her muzzle. Then she turned and with two bounds disappeared into the brush white tail flashing. From the ground, just behind her a fawn rose, the white speckles across its back looking so much like bits of sunlight falling through the branches. The fawn followed the doe. The quickly disappeared into the woods and it was almost as if they had only been figments of our imagination.

Then we stepped forward. The fawn had been snuggled down into a bed of leaves, oval shaped, tamped down in the middle, but rough on the edges to make it hard to spot. In that moment, I felt perhaps as Wright did, as if something light and life-changing was breaking forth.

all these moments have something to offer—the awful and awesome beauty of the spider, the devastating spectacle of the mantis, the carefree delight of boys playing soccer, the spirit-filling arrival of ponies in a pasture, the fierce determination of the doe protecting her fawn.

Our days spin by sometimes faster than we wish, the world turning, dawn to dusk to deep of night and again and again. Some days perhaps you also wake wondering what lies ahead, to welcome what will be or to shed off the weight of the current moment. William Stafford’s poem, “You Reading This Be Ready,” opens by asking us what we want to remember. It closes with these words: “What can anyone give you greater than now,/starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?”

We need to be ready—to greet the spider, watch the light rise over a tree line and illuminate a river, kick back the soccer ball, smile at a stranger, tell the one you love that you love.


Chautauqua 20.1

“Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth.”
—Pablo Picasso

life in art


Take this one time, for example: when my phone did ring. For years Gabriel has had his very own ringtone, Night Owl, and suddenly it was all around me in the Westside Market on Broadway. I dropped everything, furiously unearthing my cell phone from the bottom of my backpack. I couldn’t just leave. I was still shopping, but I dashed out anyway abandoning my grocery basket on the floor near the imported cheese. I dipped into 98th Street and leaned into the silence of a brick wall. People were passing, horns were honking, sirens wailing, steam cropping out from the manholes. Hello, hello, hello? There he was. I just wanted to say hello. My team won phone privileges. That’s all I have time for. I have to go. I love you. The call lasted less than two minutes. He was there, then gone again. I wasn’t sure it had even happened. No one could give me proof. My phone reverted to the home screen. Back inside the store, my basket was gone.

pretend there’s a raindrop rolling down your shoulder and off your middle finger. Radenko Pavlovich had all sorts of visual cues to teach us ballet is as of the body as it is the mind. I started dancing at his studio on Forest Drive in Columbia, South Carolina, just as soon as I could walk. I began with tap, then jazz, but settled on ballet. Maybe it was the shoes: I liked the soft pinkness of my leather ballet slippers and how quiet they were compared to the clicky clack of tap shoes. I preferred when no one could hear you cross the floor.

Radenko was from Sarajevo and had studied at the Vaganova Institute in St. Petersburg, Russia. He went on to study under Rudolf Nureyev, the Soviet-born ballet dancer and choreographer, at the Royal Ballet School in London. I’m not sure what brought him to South Carolina, but I loved how he walked the length of the barre correcting our arms, lifting our elbows, and placing our fingers, his cigarette-musk rolled in with him. Inside the studios, the walls were white and the maple sprung floors always swept clean. Framed performance posters of infamous pas de deuxs lined the worn and walked-on gray carpet to the dressing room. There were two dance

10 nonfiction

studios, one smaller and one larger, but I adored the high-vaulted ceilings, the width, and the floor-to-ceiling mirrors of the big one. That’s where we had the company-wide rehearsals for ballets like The Nutcracker, Coppélia, and To the Wizard, an Oz-like rendition where the girl who dances as Dorothy wears these beautiful red-and-sparkle-in-the-spotlight pointe shoes they made special just for her. When I had finished my part of rehearsal, I watched the older dancers from the doorframe near the rosin box, marveling at their crisp spotting during their turns and their sky-high leaps across the diagonal space. I loved their layers, their legwarmers, their garbage bag sweatpants. I loved the way they stood with their hands on their hips, catching their breath and drenched in sweat. I remember Radenko wore these tasseled brown leather loafers without any socks. This meant when he was ready to give corrections, he could kick off his shoes, face the mirrors, and show a dancer just what he meant in his bare feet.

as for gabriel and the phone, it felt like it was the only connection we had. In a sense, it was. I dialed his number when I walked across Manhattan, knowing it would go straight to voicemail. Hello. You’ve reached Gabriel. I will be attending United States Army Training until late December. Please leave your name and number and I will call you back as soon as I am able. I’d hang up. I’d look both ways before crossing the street. I’d dial again just to hear him say something.

gabriel, my husband, enlisted in the United States Army with an 18X (Special Forces) MOS contract while I was a graduate student studying fiction at Columbia. I was halfway through the two-year Master of Fine Arts program when he signed on the dotted line and handed in his paperwork. I had one more year to go. We got married in Central Park next to where the rowboats are, a small wedding with just our families. It had poured rain the day before and my mother had asked me if we had an alternate location—“You know, in case the weather doesn’t clear, Erin.” We did not. The sun shone on all of us that day, the air as clean as could be from the storm the day before. After the ceremony, we all crossed the park for dinner at the Loeb Boathouse, my parents’ wedding gift to us. Gabriel and I had known each other for four years, and now we had 16 days. He was leaving. The clock started ticking as soon as we said our vows.


after gabriel left for basic training, we were only allowed to communicate by writing letters. It seems old-fashioned, but it was modern day. It was 2014. I sent him off, kissed my husband goodbye at Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn. I stood at the edge of the room and watched my husband take his final vow before they left, he with his shaved head and all the other recruits with their hands straight along the side seams of their pants, swearing to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, and then watched him, my husband, and other much younger soldiers load into a van that would take them all to the airport. I walked back to the subway along unfamiliar sidewalks and past neighborhood bodegas I’d never venture into and endured a long and silent train ride back up the spine of Manhattan to our home in Harlem.

on saturdays a pianist joined us for dance rehearsal, but mostly we danced to the vinyl records of classical music Radenko kept in a yellow milk crate at the front of the room. He’d show us the combination once at the barre and again, more quickly, demonstrating with his hands as if they were feet, and then he’d walk to the record player, lift the tone arm, and start the track. We were ready at the barre, waiting for the music to begin. There were crinkles, cracks, and pops as the stylus worked through dust to find the music, and when the first few notes came through, it marked a moment: one world falling away and another taking its place.

with ballet, I loved having an edge to push against. You spend years learning how to use your body to play with the appearance of perfection. I didn’t hate that. It’s athleticism disguised as artwork. During grande battements, the last “big kick” exercise at the barre before we came to the center of the room, Radenko would often hold his hand up higher than any of us could reach. We finished each combination with an épaulement, tilting our head and looking out beyond our body to the high corner of the room. There wasn’t a feeling that beat that. My blood felt like champagne. Good, he said. Other side.

before i could reach gabriel, he needed to fully in-process at Fort Benning, about an hour outside of Atlanta and become a number.

12 Chautauqua

For the longest time, he was held in what is called reception, a black hole where no one has an address. That didn’t stop me. Gabriel, I can’t stop writing to you. I still don’t know your mailing address and yet this is my fifth letter. When a letter from him finally arrived, it was a halfsheet of graph paper. He wrote: Erin, I’m in a sea of mad movement right now. Here’s the address again for reference. Check Back!!! And on the flip side of the half-sheet of lined paper he wrote: Tell people to send letters only. Just about everything else is contraband.

his letters did not come very often, but I wrote him every day. Gabriel, I am on the train to New Haven. Gabriel, I just finished reading this book called, Life on the Refrigerator Door, all correspondence between a mother and daughter, the whole story told in their notes to each other. Dear Gabriel, I’ll be honest not speaking with you regularly is hard. It hurts. Dear Gabriel, my hair is getting longer. I noticed this morning. Dear Gabriel, it’s my lunch hour. It’s Tuesday.

he could not have books sent to him, so I included pages of quotations. I wrote out quotes from Montaigne, Anthony Doerr, Ann Zwinger, Ezra Pound, Michael Bernard Beckwith. The Dalai Lama’s, “The enemy is a very good teacher.” James Baldwin’s, “I really do believe we can be better than we are. I know we can. But the price is enormous—and people are not yet willing to pay it.”

as a young girl, I was desperate for pointe shoes. Desperate. I had this book, a thin, hardcover book The Young Dancer by Darcey Bussell, that I’d pull off my bookshelf routinely in my bedroom and flip through. The cover was cold against my lap, and I inhaled the glossy photographs of girls about my age with their sea-shell-pink pointe shoes already, satin ribbons tied up and around their ankles. At Radenko’s, I watched the older girls sew the ribbons on their pointe shoes together in the corner nursing their blood blisters with medical tape and padding their shoes with lambswool. I watched them measure out long pieces of thread that they cut with shining silver scissors, a needle between their teeth. They worked quickly. Then they slid their feet into their shoes, adjusting the elastic and flexing their ankle. They wound and wound and wound until they made a small


knot they tucked inside. It was like choreography. It was a movement so memorized it became like dancing.

erin, he wrote, It’s in the boots and cadence. Motivated, motivated, downright dedicated—ooh ah I want to kill somebody—ooh ah I want to shoot ‘em in the face. Brutal maybe, but it will wake you up. And the boots make the uniform. The baggy ACU pants can now be tucked and rolled over the upper of the boot—we seem closer to becoming soldiers. We do not always form well, we talk too much, and there are even some who are trying to drop out. But the boots and the cadence wake me back up.

during one registration period at Columbia, an advisor told me I had extra credit hours and could tack on an elective. I walked home wondering what I might take. Art history? Philosophy? Some fitness class out of the gym? Back home at our studio apartment which seemed much too large for just one person, I sat at my desk and typed one word into the search bar: ballet. There it was: Advanced Beginner Ballet through Barnard College, which happened to be right across the street from the School of the Arts. I had to dig in our closet to find my black leotard, my pink tights, my split-sole ballet shoes that had been worn through in the toe from my dancing through the years. I’d never been able to give ballet up. Whenever I moved or if Gabriel and I travelled, I’d drop in for a class. While Gabriel wandered around or had a beer by himself at the bar, I’d go dance. I loved how in those moments, like, say, at the barre in an adult ballet class at Boston Ballet, my body would start talking again. It was muscle memory, like sorting through old storage boxes in my brain. During a tendu, I’d recall a song, a smell, the name of someone I used to dance with. It spurred me on. What else could I remember by just being at the barre? It was like going back to church. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been away, it’s nice to come back and realize you never forgot the words to the prayers.

when i walked in for the first time, I felt as if I had come home. The dance studio at Barnard was all white and wide with a high ceiling and big windows looking out onto Claremont and a thick heavy


curtain you could pull all the way across to cover up the mirrors at the front.

the barre became a place for me to show up to every Tuesday and Thursday. I just had to get there. It helped to mark the time. It helped the weeks go by. By the end, I’d be three silent months without him. I changed out of my street clothes into my leotard and tights in a small, usually unlit bathroom at the end of the hall. I stood in front of the mirror and porcelain sink and put my hair in a high, tight bun, raking my hands through my scalp to smooth the bumps, bobby pins in my teeth until I used them all up. At the barre, my muscles recalled what they once knew. Like always, forgotten combinations came back into focus. My flexibility deepened. For two hours, I forgot who I was. Early in the semester, our teacher, Kathryn, who adhered to the same Vaganova technique I had learned in South Carolina, and who showed correct body positions by referring to an anatomical chart of a dancer tacked up onto the wall, stopped to adjust my neck and hands and said, “I see you’ve danced before.” Each class I chose the same risky spot at the barre: on the end. If I needed to remember the combination, I could keep my eyes on the person in front of me, but when we turned to the other side, I was face-to-face with myself in the mirror. This was another edge. This was a test. I had one person to rely on and that was me.

i sent gabriel song lyrics from Tegan & Sara’s “Closer” or Electric Youth’s “A Real Hero,” songs we listened to a million times together, writing out the words with music notes drawn around them so he could catch the beginning and let the music unfurl in his head. In New York, I wrote stories for workshop, I paid our bills, and I trudged from Harlem to Morningside Heights and back again. When ballet let out on Thursdays and my body was still warm from dancing, I worked at Hawthorne Valley’s stand at the Broadway GrowNYC farmers market right outside the gates of Columbia selling sauerkraut and organic bread and pastured meats and ground-grown vegetables rubber banded together and displayed on wooden crates. I kept my phone in my pocket at all times, just in case he might call. He did not.


radenko had pulled me aside after ballet class a number of times and told me to come and face the barre. “Relevé,” he said. He felt around my ankles and pushed my arches forward. “Passé.” Balance. I balanced and focused on a smudge on the wall, hoping, literally praying. Please God let me be strong enough. Please. God. Please. Each time after his assessment, he would shake his head. One day he did not shake his head. He looked at me and said, “You are ready. Your calves are strong and the muscles in your feet are fully formed enough. Next week we’ll talk about where you can get your first pair of pointe shoes.” But it was too late. My heart sank. We were moving. My family was moving to Indiana. I had just been told at dinner a few nights before. There was a brochure with Indianapolis all lit up at night that my parents had slid across the dinner table. My father was taking a job at the university. My older brother and I were each in charge of packing our suitcases, of telling our friends. Movers carried out my family’s furniture, our fake ficus tree from the dining room, our piano, our couches, our dishes, our books, our beds. When it was time to go, the wheels of my suitcase banged down each brick step of our porch.

as i wrestled with my new identity as a wife, it felt as though Gabriel was some dead man in my world. Was I married? I had pictures to prove it. But could I talk to him? No. I couldn’t. I would ride the MTA bus and feel envious of people texting or talking on their phones. I eavesdropped on conversations of people telling the person on the other end of the line where they were, where they were headed, why Sean was a bitch, what they’d need to pick up if they still wanted them to make those Rice Krispie treats for the party tonight. I didn’t talk much about this new aspect of being “a military spouse” with my writing cohorts. I mostly stayed quiet, fearing they wouldn’t understand.

erin, he wrote, I’ve never sweat so much every day and every moment. My bowel movements are erratic, and I don’t know which way is up. But we got our M4 Carbines today—our rifles—and I was finally able to organize my locker a little.

16 Chautauqua

erin, he wrote, We went to the Post Exchange the other day to resupply on toiletries. I bought a bigger notepad, some new socks, baby wipes, and some razors. When I walked by the food section, with a gas station-style coffee bar, I could think of nothing else but coffee and Snickers. It’s seriously every day that I think of the items and experiences I took for granted. Donuts. Ice cream. Thai noodles. Late lunches with your wife in New York City while the rain gushes outside.

once you learn the basics of ballet, you lean into embodying what you know. Combat, I suppose, is the same. At a certain point, they both go beyond language. “You should be very proud of your Soldier’s selflessness and courage to serve our great nation in a time of prolonged combat operations. His military training will be demanding: it includes physical fitness, rifle marksmanship, tactical skills training, field training exercises, first-aid, and other basic combat skills. We strongly encourage your Soldier to write home as often as possible and share their experiences with loved ones. Please do not be concerned if you do not hear from your Soldier as often as you desire, his military training is very challenging and will sometimes consume all of his personal time. Therefore, always assume no news is good news.”

ballet is equal parts focus and surrender. War is forward momentum and plans of attack. They both exist in motion. Then they evaporate. It’s all imprint. It’s shadow. When they’re over, they become whatever gets left behind.

after i helped pack up the farmers market stand, I caught up on homework in Butler Library and went to my class dedicated to the art of editing that ran late into the night. Most days I was still wearing my ballet tights and leotard underneath my jeans. Our teacher, an editor at Grove Atlantic, proofed our stories in real-time on a big TV tacked onto the wall. I could see the blue of the screen reflected in the windows that looked out onto the quad. After class, I waited in the dark for the M60 bus that gushed to a stop, crossed town, and dropped me in Harlem. I walked the rest of the way down 125th Street,


hoping for a letter from him. I unlocked our front door, the second door inside the foyer, and walked up the 14 creaking and carpeted steps to our studio apartment. Maybe there would be one.

erin, he wrote, Everyone got a big letter dump yesterday, and people would say to me “bro how many did you get from your girl?” I’d say seven. One would be sufficient but many is exciting. Eat a doughnut for me and sip a cup of good coffee. Your words are precious to me here.

at a particularly low point, I reserved a ticket to see the New York City Ballet. I went by myself and wished almost distractedly throughout the entire performance that I had brought a pen and a piece of paper so I could have written things down. Ideas ricocheted through my body as the dancing rose in swells and I squirmed in my seat and had to swallow each idea down like it was a big rock. Afterwards, my throat was dry. My ticket included a backstage tour, and we all met our guide in the rich and red-carpeted hallway of the theatre and he took us back. The stage and the wings were all emptied out. It smelled like dust, hairspray, sweat, and vanilla. There were sequined costumes in crates and an American flag tacked up high on the cinderblock wall. Rosin boxes were askew. Show notes were taped to the scaffolding. Our group moved as a herd, but I cut out to stand alone at the edge of the stage. I looked out at the jeweled chandelier hanging from so high up. Life had turned out to be so different. Never really a dancer. Never even on pointe. Once we had moved, there hadn’t been the money. A writer, okay, but could I hold onto that? Would I keep writing as the years dragged on? And married—ha!—but somehow barely a wife. Our guide called out. Look! Hope burst in my heart. What could it be!? He had a lone pointe shoe from Sara Mearns, one of the principal dancers. We gathered around him. He pulled out a paper towel wedged into the toe box. It was wet and crumpled. A paper towel. He held it above his head saying she must have used it to pad her toes, this paper towel, some bland artifact. It was nothing close to a treasure for all of us to see.

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erin, he wrote, I was on flag duty this evening which means I assisted in lowering the flag at Brigade Staff Headquarters. At 1700, the brigade plays “Retreat” and “Taps” to signal the lowering of the flag. The flag, as a symbol and the philosophical points for which it stands has been a huge part of my decision to enlist, you know this. So it was an important task for me to help with if very modest. I like standing at attention and saluting the flag. It is one of the moments here when I think people’s egos dissolve and we find ourselves in some better union.

once while Gabriel was siphoned away in the dim silence of Basic Training, my mother came to visit. This was the first time I’d seen her since our wedding. As her daughter, I wondered, was I somehow different now that I was also a wife? We slept in the same bed and wrapped scarves around our head because of a drafty crack in the window insulation. We went to MoMA and came home at night to roast sheet trays of root vegetables in the oven. After being unmoored for so many months, I loved moving through the city with someone from my own family beside me. The day before she left, we ate dim sum and decided to go to the ballet. We walked to Lincoln Center, bought our tickets in the marble lobby, and went to find our seats. I flipped through the silky program until the orchestra finished tuning and the lights went dim. A hush spread among us. Then it happened: a feeling rose fast and sharp in my chest. I couldn’t breathe. I could barely make its shape. Could I name it? Was it grief? Her leaving? Him being gone? Whatever I was mourning, my mother was no protection. What in this world can we really call our own? Even love is a borrowed thing. I sat there and felt every single ending. They crashed upon me. Up on stage, the curtain began to rise. The ballet: it was just beginning to start.

Erin Pesut

Somebody Said

Dadand I sat side-by-side on straight-backed chairs in the kitchen while Mom rinsed dishes in the sink. I stared at my 8th grade algebra textbook, the symbols and letters floating like the tears escaping my eyes. I worried about tomorrow’s test. “I’ll never understand algebra! I’m gonna flunk!”

“No, you won’t,” said Dad. He tapped the pencil against the worksheet with a steady beat of impatience. “Now pay attention and let’s try it again.” Our grim moods escalated like the ascending line he drew on a Y-axis.

Hearing the fuss, Mom swooped in front of us. As if she was on stage and had trained with the Royal Shakespeare Company, she bellowed, “Somebody said that it couldn’t be done,” and then paused, lifting the crook of her index finger to stress the next words. “But I with a chuckle replied…” She continued her recitation of Edgar Guest’s 24-line poem about overcoming obstacles while I rolled my eyes, crossed my arms, and slumped, “Stoppp,” I moaned. “You’re not helping.”

Mom was an elementary school teacher and had memorized an assortment of epigrams and poems to help her pupils surmount defeat and discouragement. Her other favorites were “Good Better Best, Never Let It Rest / Until Your Good is Better / and Your Better is Best!” and the phrase “Carpe Diem!” (Seize the Day!) Mom delivered those lines like an old country doctor dispensed tonics and tinctures. She repeated them before tests, recitals, and athletic games. Eventually, the mere words “Somebody said” or “Good, Better, Best” paired with her confident gaze was enough to elicit eye rolls from her recipients. We knew what those few words implied.

In May 1984, I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and prepared to take a two-day licensing exam. All summer I slogged through prep courses and crammed my brain with every disease,

21 nonfiction

body system, and procedure I’d learned, yet the practice tests warned I teetered on failing. Would I pass and become a Registered Nurse?

The day before the exam, I drove two hours to the testing site. Mom came along for support, and I studied in the hotel room until bedtime. As I switched off the lamp on the nightstand between us, I wondered how I’d be able to fall asleep.

“Are you ready for your test?” Mom uttered from the next bed.

“I’ll never feel ready. Watch me fail.” I let out a sigh and imagined myself telling my supervisor I flunked.

The room grew quiet with a pregnant pause. And then Mom stage-whispered: “Jen, just remember that…” she began, the inflection of her voice rising, “Somebody said.”

I was relieved the room was dark, so I could conceal the smile crossing my face, despite my dour mood.

Her voice grew fervent. “She started to sing! As she tackled the thing! That couldn’t be done, and she did it!”

Yes, I passed the exam and proudly ordered a new nametag with the designation “RN” behind my name. And through the decades when I interviewed for jobs, made presentations, or ran 5K’s, I heard those words in my head, “Somebody said.” I still groaned at the quiet injunctions. But sometimes those words were uplifting.

Now, Mom struggles with Primary Progressive Aphasia, a dementia that snatched her word recall skills in its initial assault. It commandeered swaths of her speaking, language, and memory. She feels defeated and listeners look befuddled when her short sentences come out conflated and choppy. One day in her kitchen, as I struggled to engage her in conversation, I asked, “What’s that poem you used to recite when we got stuck?”

She stared quizzically, not remembering the phrases she used to say.

“Somebody said…,” I prompted, cueing the first two words.

A flicker of recognition sparked in her eyes as she grappled with disconnected thoughts. “Somebody… who?… somebody said… it…. Wait, it will come back.”

Long moments passed as her mouth formed a few silent words. The refrigerator hummed in the background. She fumbled with her

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hands. She stared at the ceiling. I tamped my growing impatience and glued a smile on my face.

Then her voice, a clarion call, retrieved from the depths of her brain proclaimed: “Somebody said that it couldn’t be done / But he with a chuckle replied / That ‘maybe it couldn’t’ but he would be one / Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.”

A few seconds passed as we stared at each other, unblinking. And then both of us grinned.


Rules for Visiting the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Joanna Theiss

Stand at least four feet away from the artwork. Use your inside voice. Hold in your thirst, your growing limbs, your longing for a snack-sized bag of Cheetos.

Gather around a painting of a milky princess in a tissue paper dress. Listen to the teacher say, Children, look at how lovely she is, how the artist has captured the light that strokes her shoulders, the carnations that bud on her cheeks.

Watch the teacher turn chiaroscuro when you point at the painting beside the princess, a ruder, harder, realer painting of a centaur gripping a lady by the ribs. This lady, she’s trapped, her gown is slipping from her rounded hips. This centaur, he’s winning, bucking off her chances at rescue. No one’s stroking that lady’s shoulders, no one’s planting flowers in her face.

Endure the teacher’s scolds that are crowded, outside-voiced. Come away from there, children, that’s not a nice painting, and you, you’re wrong, it’s not realistic, it can’t be, not with centaurs.

Don’t ask if the lady is realistic because you know that she is. She is the realest, universalist lady in the museum, in the world, the lady’s voiceless mouthing, the lady’s body belonging to the monster. She is all the milky ladies, the tissue paper girls.

Get away from there. Hold it all in.

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The saxophone

Brian Beatty

Hurley wasn’t shopping for a saxophone. He already played fumbling bluegrass banjo. But when he took his banjo to the music store for a tune-up, he noticed the old horn hanging on the wall. Its bell was dented and its brass dull, like Hurley figured he would look if he happened to be a saxophone. And the price on the tag strung to the keys was surprisingly low, so he bought it.

“As is,” the clerk told Hurley more than once. “No returns, no refunds.”

The clerk eyed Hurley’s bib overalls, tie-dyed t-shirt and sandals. “I mean it, old man.”

Hurley listened to jazz on the college radio station sometimes. How difficult could it be to play some of those romantic ballads? He would work his way up to the fast, chaotic numbers.

The music store clerk showed Hurley how to moisten the reed before affixing it to the mouthpiece then sent him home with the old, caseless horn and a spiralbound book full of note fingerings and basic beginner tunes like “Three Blind Mice” and “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”

That first night and the weeks that followed, Hurley’s attempts to force music out of the horn sounded more like a goose in terrified distress than anything he’d ever heard on the radio. Hurley’s aged hound Monroe bayed along in sympathy with this invisible, tortured goose’s pain. When the dog’s added racket got to be too much for him, Hurley took his horn and music stand out to the woods behind his house.

In the woods, angry crows made it impossible to practice. Nothing went according to Hurley’s admittedly half-ass plan. After a month, he still couldn’t play a scale without mistakes. Simple songs from the front of his beginner’s book were still beyond him.

Hurley’s honking squeals were neither sweet nor sexy.

He’d imagined himself surprising his former beau Marjorie with a front yard serenade. Even with three divorces behind her, he was


certain no man had ever done that for her. Such an idea was ridiculous with his banjo, but with a saxophone it would have been romantic indeed.

Soon it was late spring. That Easter Sunday, Hurley got up early to go outside for a look at the tulips that always came up beside his house. Their blooms looked so bright and cheerful, he cut all the flowers down at the base of their stems.

Their bouquet filled the saxophone’s bell in a way Hurley’s tone wouldn’t have for years.

He left the saxophone full of tulips in Marjorie’s yard without a note or even a knock at the door. Driving away Hurley was pretty sure nobody had done that for her lately.

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Make Alice Famous

Christopher Mohar

WhenFilbert Brownstone finally got arrested, he was so fat the cops couldn’t fit the handcuffs around his wrists and had to use two pairs at once, opposite sides locked like mating chromium insects, radiant in the streetlights. “Fat” was his word, not mine—the self-identification he preferred versus “overweight,” etc., because it reflected more clearly his mission statement and the effort required to accumulate all that adipose tissue. Earlier that night Filbert had emerged from his bomb shelter, and we’d shared a meal again for the first time in a long while. We sat at the battle-scarred folding table observing the utter non-motion of his supersized soda cup, inert beside a pile of crumpled burger wrappers. Filbert said, “I think it moved.”

“I didn’t see anything.”

“Well, is it glowing? It’s supposed to glow.”

I suggested telekinesis might be easier with a small sized soda, but Filbert insisted mass didn’t matter.

“Even a millimeter would be nice,” he said. “Just a vibration to let me know I’m on track.”

“I didn’t realize you’d passed the BMI threshold yet,” I said.

“There may be some uncertainty in my bathroom scale. I think it’s maxed out.”

Which is to say that everything seemed to be going perfectly. But this is too fast. Let me start from the beginning.

this all happened back in the aughts, back when I dropped out of college. It wasn’t long after 9/11, and I guess I needed to believe I’d find something more in life than researching vanadium alloys for corrosion-plating Navy battleships. I’d been working for a professor under this big Defense Department grant, and when I quit, he said, “Think of your résumé.” Pretty soon, Clarissa dumped me and moved her stuff out of our apartment. I scavenged a mattress off the curb and lay pressing my nose into the unfamiliar sheets, their smell vaguely chemical. I had no plan for how to pay rent. Unable


to sleep, I went out to buy some pills. In the parking lot of the Unkle Sam, I encountered an enormous man stapling pink flyers to a telephone pole. He was substantial in every direction, as if he’d started out big-boned and then been zapped with a growth ray. I approached timidly, as one might a rhinoceros.

His flyer featured a Xeroxed image of a girl in a bathtub, nude save for strategically placed bubbles. Her eyelashes were preposterous and giant mascara tubes had been superimposed at her feet. The original ad copy said Available in Chocolate and Midnite but below this the man had written stop starvation imagery. Indeed, the model’s body was basically skin shrink-wrapped around bones. The bottom of the poster had those little tear-off fringes with the phone-number.

“Excuse me,” I said. “Are you hiring?”

So at 9:00 a.m. the next day I found myself reporting for duty at a featureless brick building behind the Nature’s Bagels factory. The air smelled like yeast. I couldn’t see through the frosted-glass windows and had the feeling no one would answer, but Filbert opened at first knock. A computer desk rested anemically against the far wall, accompanied by a stack of the stop starvation imagery flyers. Filbert handed me a box wrapped in colorful paper, like a birthday present.

“Go ahead,” Filbert said.

I opened it. Inside was a staple gun.

“Thanks,” I said.

“Do you like it?”


“Huzzah!” Filbert said. “Let’s go make Alice famous!”

The act of flyering was perversely satisfying. I navigated the maze of city blocks, leaving bright squares hanging in my wake like PacMan in reverse. Filbert’s supply was endless and I did my damnedest to post to every single telephone pole, billboard, tree, or otherwise staple-able surface in the whole downtown. A map hung on our office corkboard to be marked with highlighter for each completed street. When my hands blistered from the staple gun, I tore rags from my shirt to bandage them. As fit as I was in my youth, my efforts paled beside Filbert’s. He’d go all day without a break, munching Cheetos from a hip pouch in his carpenter’s belt, horizontal lines

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of sweat spanning his globular belly like meridians. Our day began at false dawn and ended early, too, around 3:00, when Filbert grew hungry for his second lunch.

After flyering, Filbert put me to work on other manual labors— scraping the avocado-colored paint from the office walls, pulling trim, hanging drywall to partition a new room in back. I stenciled “Brownstone Nutritional Consulting” on the front door and established a P.O. Box for the same.

One morning I arrived to find the office crammed with bulk food—Trinkets, Wingers, buffalo sticks, RealMeat, instant gravy powder, 2-liter jugs of habanero salsa. I helped Filbert load it all into an illegally-parked white van, and he drove off without explanation. Another time, he said, “I need you to go to Unkle Sam and get as much orange juice as fits inside the van.” He handed me $600 cash. I never knew what I’d be doing next. I’d show up to work and Filbert would say, “Use this crowbar to rip out the floorboards,” or “We’re going microwave shopping.” The only guarantee was lunch. We’d be sweating away, and he’d drop his paintbrush or close his computer and say, “Are you hungry, Peter?”

filbert’s parents had died young in a tragic car crash, rendering him sole heir to the EasyOpen™ processed cheese fortune. His father had invented the very idea of individually-wrapped slices. When I expressed my awe at this, Filbert just shrugged like, “Someone had to.”

“do you know what the biggest lie of our lifetimes is?” Filbert asked, tiny globules of Rocket-Sauce launching from his lips. It was afternoon at the office, working on a to-go lunch from Burger Militia while installing a complex filtration system for the faucet in the back room. Filbert insisted on have “pure” drinking water, free of mind-warping fluoride. “The food pyramid.”

“You think the food pyramid is worse than invading the Middle East on false pretenses?” I asked, my voice an echo around me inside the plumbing cabinet.

“It affects more people.”


I rotated a transparent filter canister, trying to picture the flow of water through its coral reef innards. “No way. Even if that were true, what exactly is wrong with the food pyramid?”

“It’s propaganda.” Filbert submerged a fistful of fries in mayonnaise, salted it thoroughly, and injected the entire construction into his mouth. We did not yet, in those days, have the term “Fake News” in common parlance but I suspect it’s one Filbert would’ve approved of. “Everything about the pyramid—which, also note the shape, Illuminati, eye, Masonic hand of God—everything about it is designed not to promote wellness, but to scare you into submission. For example, do you know how the Center for Disease Control defines obesity? Body Mass Index, right? Weight divided by height squared, times ten thousand square centimeters per kilo.”

After some mental math, I estimated my BMI as 29, which is to say overweight but not quite categorically obese, which I already knew. I dumped out the cardboard filter package, searching for a missing part amid the molded plastic tubes and form-fitting Styrofoam.

“The CDC isn’t the government’s health initiative, it’s their propaganda arm. All this fearmongering about obesity-induced hypertension, coronary disease, gallstones, gout, incontinence, depression, diabetes, blah blah blah, as if it wouldn’t happen otherwise, like the only factor is diet. The subtext is: eat what we say or die. But I’m a red-blooded American. Don’t tread on me.”

“Could you be maybe taking it just a tad too seriously?”

“You can’t take Freedom too seriously, it’s impossible.”

“Eat what we say or die? Come on, why would anyone say that, who benefits?” I fitted the valve onto the water line in the wall but still had no connection to match the filter.

Filbert used the four-footed tip of his cane to flick through the disheveled parts beside me. “Eat what we say, or die,” he repeated. “Drink what we say, breathe when we say, sleep when we say. Vote for Dear Leader, if you have a vote at all.”

“You’re saying it’s a form of discipline?”

Filbert eased his bulk down beside me.

“Not mere discipline.” He took the filter from my hands, slotted on the adaptor, and screwed it into place. “It’s slavery.”

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once filbert started training in earnest, he no longer came into the office every day. At first he’d call with instructions: “Take these biscuits to the food pantry,” or “Call each school board member at home to whip votes for the hot lunch referendum,” or “Go to the pet store and buy a traveling dog crate large enough for several live chickens.” But after a while he stopped with the small potatoes and left me one big ongoing project: to convert the basement into a bomb-shelter-like survival bunker. I installed shelves and stocked them with non-perishables. If things got slow, I could always make more copies of the stop starvation imagery flyer and hang them around town. This was the part of the cause easiest to believe in. My ex, Clarissa, had gone through some body-image issues, as had a disturbing number of past girlfriends and girl friends. It was easier to overlook Filbert’s quirks if I told myself there was goodness at the core of it all. Mostly the posters were ignored, but sometimes they’d make an impression. “What exactly does ‘starvation imagery’ mean?” callers would ask, and I would take down their addresses to mail them Filbert’s informational packet, complete with vivisected food pyramid graphic and annotated bibliography. In this manner, I’d passed two or three weeks without seeing Filbert when suddenly he burst into the office like a shoehorned balloon, expanding out of a doorway that seemed hardly wide enough to squeeze through.

“How goes the good fight?” He pulled paper clippings from his briefcase and hung them around the office: scientific study casting doubt on the cancer-preventing potential of broccoli; a newsprint photo of a jack-knifed semi-trailer surrounded by smashed organic produce, pulpy bodies strewn across the pavement like blood-soaked vestigial organs discarded in some back-alley surgery; a dispatch from the scene of a structure-fire at a Whole Foods Warehouse with karmic justice penned in red across the margin. The effort winded him, and Filbert sank into his computer chair, cheeks flushed.

“How you feeling?” I asked.

“I’m great!” Filbert said. “Thanks for noticing. I’ve been pushing myself this week, trying to speed up progress. My goal is four hundred.”



“By the end of the week. Not my final goal, obviously. The finish line is closer to five and a half, but Rome wasn’t built in a day.” His neck fat quivered as he spoke.

“Look,” I said, “I applaud your ability to live your ideals, and I get why you’d reject the pervading culture of thin-obsession, but I worry you’ve gone too far. Think of your health.”

“Peter, Peter, Peter,” he said sadly, “you’re a good disciple, but you’re not there yet.” Filbert rocked gently in the office chair, which emitted a sort of metal-on-metal screech, which he ignored.

“I show up every day and work my butt off. What else do you want from me?”

“To be ready. To have faith. To be capable of belief.”

He sent me to the van for a half-dozen grocery bags of papers and library books. “Xerox every page I’ve bookmarked, two copies—one for me, one for your bedtime reading.”

Filbert microwaved a half dozen Hot Pockets while I got to work. The papers ranged from Nutritional Science journals to the obituaries of former FDA directors to building permits for local grocery stores. There was a whole section on “banned foods,” ortolan bunting and foie gras and the like, over which Filbert had scrawled a note to self: first amendment violation? contact aclu / harber harber & davis re: potential class action?

I felt exhausted just looking at it.

“Filbert,” I said, “there’s five billion pages here.”

“Good,” he said. “I’ll pick them up tomorrow.”

it wasn’t filbert’s fault that I got evicted, not really—I was the one who neglected to cut my own rent check—but during his long absences from the office, Filbert had grown increasingly forgetful, so in my anger I called him and yelled, “Goddamn it, Filbert, why haven’t you paid me this month?”

I explained, said I’d need time off work to figure out where to live.

“No,” he said, “stay there.”

Fifteen minutes later his white van was outside my place with two wheels up on the sidewalk. I didn’t have much to pack. The living room was still bare from when Clarissa moved out. We strapped my

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scavenged mattress to the roof of the van. Filbert moved slowly but had no problem lifting three boxes at a time, while I struggled to heft one. Watching him work made me think of how gravity has a greater effect on elephants and dinosaurs, but their stout bones evolved perfectly to bear it. Maybe Filbert lifted weights or exercised on his own time, and/or maybe my surprise was proof that I’d bought into baseless societal prejudices about bigger people, like everyone else.

As we waddled to the van carrying my dresser, I locked eyes with the familiar flyer on the telephone pole, the nude girl with the preposterous eyelashes.

“Why’d you call her Alice?” I asked.

“I didn’t,” Filbert said, “our parents did.”

“She’s your sister?”

“When our parents died, I became guardian of the cheese money, so it fell to me to take care of Alice, too, at least until she ran off to LA at sixteen and started modeling.”

“So is she still off in Hollywood? What’s she think of us using her picture to demonize the fashion industry?”

Filbert set down his end of the dresser beside the telephone pole, traced a finger along the emaciated body on the poster. “Too late for her to feel a damn thing about it, anymore.”

We finished moving in silence. Whatever didn’t fit in the van went in the dumpster. I climbed into the passenger seat, unsure of where we were going next.

“Filbert,” I said, “I’m so sorry.”

“Why? Did you give her a heart murmur? Did you give her a potassium deficiency?”

“No, I only meant—”

“I know,” he said. “Anyway, you’re part of the solution now.”

once i was living in the office, I worked constantly. I spent whole days writing to government officials and mailing informational packets. Sometimes I’d catch a movie after work, but most nights I stayed in reading selections from Filbert’s eclectic literature: interviews with celebrity chefs, encyclopedia articles on carrageenan and soy protein isolate. Surely the thread that unified their contents was


lucid in Filbert’s mind, but I couldn’t re-trace it. And when he finally explained it, I didn’t believe him.

“Bullshit,” I said, putting the van in park. Filbert descended the accessibility ramp in his new electric wheelchair, humming along like a remote-controlled car.

“It’s documented by Guinness World Record holder Darnell Johnson. He didn’t get out of bed to fix meals. He’d simply concentrate, and food would travel out of the cabinets and prepare itself, knives floating through meat as if wielded by ghosts. Observers reported seeing a faint blue glow around his body.”

“No way,” I said.

“I knew you weren’t ready to hear the truth.”

“Where did you learn about this?”

“It’s everywhere. Chophouse Radio, The Star, Facebook, Twitter.”

“Tabloids and social media? Come on. Then why is every couch potato in America still using a remote control to change the channels?” I followed after him lugging a bloated carryout bag from FuelPit, hefting it to a hip to dig for my keyring.

“All humans are natural emitters, but only the extremely overweight can achieve Body Mass Resonance. The psychic energy accumulates in fat tissue, and a critical threshold must be overcome. Remember the Body Mass Index?”

“Sure, weight divided by height squared, etcetera.”

“Insiders at the CDC suggest that BMI is a percentage. Body Mass Resonance begins to occur at the fifty percent threshold. Full potential is reached at one hundred.”

“You can’t honestly believe that?” I dug food from the sack like Christmas presents. Filbert parked himself at the table with whole pile of DieselDogs. I was having a Green Energy Super Salad and for dessert we’d split a box of Yellow Cake UraniYums.

“It’s no coincidence. The CDC system is designed to use BMI as a warning sign. I am forty-three percent toward actualization, and they know they need to stop me before fifty. There’s a reason why those who near one hundred percent BMI tend not to survive very long afterward.”

“Obviously,” I said, and punched a straw into my Texas Tea.

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“But I’ll be ready when they come for me.”

“Wait, what? Someone’s coming for you?”

“Sure, you think they don’t pay attention? Medical records for one, but they have counter-ops psychics on to detect your aura, too. You hit resonance levels, and next thing you know the brakes mysteriously fail on your car. Or they poison your water, give you one of those quote unquote heart attacks.”

I thought of all the time we’d spent installing the water filtration system.

“Even if it were true, why would they care if you can get the newspaper without walking outside?”

“It’s not just telekinesis, it’s telepathy as well.”


“How many times must I spoon feed you, Peter? It’s about control. Imagine standing outside the Pentagon and bathing in a waterfall of hidden truth—how Kennedy died, who Castro really is, the location of the Hollywood basement where the moon-landing footage was faked, exactly which novelist is concocting the headlines this week, the identity of the man behind the throne whispering into the president’s ear. This is how nations are broken or made, not by warfare but by knowledge—concepts so confidential they necessitate the removal of words from languages to remain hidden—burning books, narratives sinking with Atlantis to the ocean floor. This is why the powers-that-be fear body mass revelation more than dirty bombs or terrorist sabotage.” There was conviction in his voice. He truly believed it.

“And what does any of that do for you?”

“Not for me. For Alice. We expose the lies used to scare us into conformity. The lies that my sister ingested so completely she starved herself into a heart murmur.”

“No, this can’t be for her sake. I know you’re grieving, I know you want things to be different for people like her, but listen to yourself, you’re not even making sense.”

“I’ve got to find out,” Filbert said. “And you’ve got to help me. We’re arriving to the most crucial point in my training. I may reach a point where further growth becomes increasingly painful, where I


am physically immobilized. I’ll need you to keep motivating me, keep bringing me food, keep me on track. Roll me so I don’t get bedsores.”

I looked down at Filbert’s Diesel Dog. My mouth had been watering at the aroma only moments ago, but now I saw it for what it was: a greasy tube of meat slathered in chunky neon green sauce. I’d lost my appetite.

“No,” I said. “I won’t be complicit in your suicide by heart attack.”

“I thought you were different, Peter. I thought you were smarter. But even after all this time, you’re still brainwashed by the mainstream. But me? I have faith. I am prepared to martyr myself for the cause, if need be. I’ve made peace with the reality that those of us who fail to conform must eventually be put to death. It’s the American way.”

a few nights later, a cop showed up at the office. I was doing laundry in the sink and feared he might hit me with squatting charges or some residential versus commercial zoning ordinance type thing. What he really wanted was Filbert.

“He’s not here,” I said, drying my hands on my jeans.

“May I come in?” The officer helped himself to a seat at the folding table. “When was the last time you saw Mr. Brownstone?”

“Maybe Tuesday. We had lunch at SteakShake.”

“Down on Madison Street?”

“Yeah. They make a fine Ribeye Smoothie.” I joined the officer at the table. By muscle memory more than conscious choice I found myself stuffing informational packets into pre-addressed envelopes.

“And where were you between the hours of ten p.m. and one a.m. last night?” he asked.

“I was here, working late.”

“Anyone else present to verify that?”

“No,” I said, pausing to lick an envelope. “What’s this all about?”

“Why don’t you tell me?”

“Because I have no idea.” I turned on the Xerox machine to run more copies. The cop watched me, worrying at the edge of his mustache with his fingertips.

Chautauqua 36

“You may be endangering yourself or others. Just cooperate and you can still come out of this okay.”

The Paper Jam LED blinked and I opened the side panel to investigate, tore a crumpled paper from the copier’s guts. “I wish I could help you, I really do.”

The cop jammed his thumbs in his utility-belt. “I’ll leave my card. It’ll be in your best interest to call us next time you see Filbert.”

in the wee hours of the night, Filbert snuck in. I awoke to the revving of his motorized wheelchair and peered around partition at him, my eyes unfocused in half-sleep.

“I’m not here,” he said. He parked his wheelchair at the top of the stairs and more-or-less rolled down to the survival bunker. The vault door closed behind him with a lethal click like the sound of a knife on a butcher block. I lay a long while listening to the hum of the electric can opener ringing up through the floorboards.

when next i awakened, it was 5:00 a.m. Police sirens sounded outside, and red and blue lights flashed outside our frosted windows. I flung open the door and saw Filbert standing in the Nature’s Bagels parking lot with his hands in the air, a red gas can dangling overhead, surrounded by three squad cars and a half-dozen officers on foot. Filbert could not run. Behind him, flames licked from a cracked window in the bakery and a furnace-like glow shone out the gaping back door.

“Peter,” he yelled, “I’ve made it! Body Mass Resonance is real!”

In that moment, I saw him as the authorities saw him. I’d always known he was “different,” of course, but how had I been blind to his true nature? How had I failed to recognize that the newspaper articles he hung around our office—the truck crashes and structure fires labeled karmic justice—were his trophies? He was not some bold philosophical revolutionary, but a petty domestic terrorist.

It took several officers to wrestle Filbert to the ground. Two held each arm while a cadre of backups worked the handcuffs over his fat wrists. I started toward them. The officer who peeled off in my


direction was the same mustachioed cop from yesterday. Flames reflected in his eyes as he flexed his nightstick in my direction, saying, “Easy now.”

The whole time I’d worked for Filbert, I’d never really believed him. Even now, looking back, I have my doubts. But in that instant, I felt it—a feeling halfway between dreaming and touching an electrified fence. Filbert spoke to me without words.

Tell the world about Alice. Make her famous. It’s in your hands now.

Chautauqua 38

Love Poem with Statue of Juno

James King

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Her head a later addition, made of different marble than her body. I know the feeling. Love, have you ever thought,

touching the tenuous connection of your neck, that someone in a pith helmet might have plucked you from the rocks

and stuck you onto yourself, spirited you under cover of night from the homeland of your soul? If you were here,

we’d be muddling like philosophers in the white shadow of a thirteen-foot-tall goddess, or trying to

poke her toes. Because you’re not, I roam the Greek and Roman wing, stealing for you

pictures of red and black pots, painted with bleeding heroes— like a bowerbird, like an Englishman—and of Juno, imperious, impervious, dream woman. All the signs say don’t touch and I want to touch you. I want your thighs which are nothing like stone. The rule is against me. I stand beneath the queen of the gods with her substitute crown, her stony gaze, her robes like rainfall around her knees. Some part of me is always somewhere where it actually belongs.


The Poetic Sentence

Theskin on the men’s forearms appears tender. Over-exposed. Frail. Chaffing against starched orange jumpsuits. The men, about fifteen of them, sit at school desks in a room called the Library, though few books line the shelves. Here, in the Floyd County Jail, they seem scared of me, afraid to make eye-contact, though I’m only armed with paper and pencils. And a poetry anthology.

The inmate population is always in flux. Therefore, every Tuesday evening when I arrive, I introduce myself, first name only, as instructed by the warden—a man who doesn’t want me here in any event.

He believes poetry—he says the word with an emphasis on “po,” without the “e”—is a waste of time on these “crimnals.” You got nothin’ better to do than waste time teachin’ potry to crimnals?

Which leads me to consider why these men committed crimes that landed them in prison in the first place. Because no one taught poetry to them in this poor Georgia county? Because of emotional poverty? A poverty of love?

when i first asked the warden permission to teach, he accused me of being “a bleedin’-heart, do-gooder liberal.” I nodded and let it go at that, though my decision to apply was spur-of-the-moment. I’d been aimlessly driving around the countryside, along Calhoun Highway, when I spotted a trail of orange jumpsuits behind a razor-wire fence. I parked my car, entered the lobby, and asked to speak to the warden.

And while I am a bleeding-heart liberal, especially in this conservative county, my reasons to teach here are more complicated. I’ve seen these men on the outside. Not these particular men, of course, but close enough. I’ve been robbed at gunpoint on a late-night street in DC. I was threatened by a man and his knife in Boston. I was assaulted under a boardwalk at the Jersey Shore. Those men were

41 nonfiction

never caught, never locked away in prison. Maybe this will give me insight, understanding.

Besides, teaching a poetry class will help pad my thin résumé.

“Right,” I replied to the warden. “I don’t have anything better to do.” I smiled, waiting for him to not smile back.

i teach during magnolia springs, rusty autumns, humid-green summers, but seasons are obliterated by cinder block walls, sweat, and unrelenting fluorescent lights too scared to flicker. Most of the men attend class to see a woman—any woman. Others, because it’s slightly more entertaining than the desolation of their cells.

i begin the evening by reading a poem. I ask them to tell me what they like, how it makes them feel. In truth, they don’t like any of the poems. They shuffle feet in their white paper slippers as if they are scared of me. Scared that I am a woman who understands jagged lines of words? Scared because, in their macho world, poetry is, or should be, at best, a jingle on television? Or a love song on a three a.m. country-western radio station?

Or are they scared because I don’t seem scared of them?

After a halting discussion littered with silence, it’s time for them to write a poem attempting to replicate an image or feeling from the one I read.

As the men struggle to compose their confused feelings, eyes mist. They stare at the ceiling; they bend over pieces of paper. Each grips a pencil as if never having held one before. Or never held one to write about them, themselves…who they are.

Or who they want to be.

Who they will or won’t be after steel doors finally slide open. After they’ve served their sentences.

Regardless of whether I recite Emily Dickinson, Amiri Baraka, Ralph Ellison, Lucille Clifton, or Walt Whitman, their own poems are tattooed hearts pierced with arrows.

These men—drug dealers, embezzlers, rapists, murderers—all miss girlfriends, mothers, children, wives.


as much as the men don’t understand their actions on the outside, I’m not sure I understand mine here on the inside. I don’t know the answer to the warden’s question: nothin’ better to do? In addition to padding my résumé, am I here because I feel satisfaction witnessing dangerous men locked up? Maybe, used to violence, I deliberately seek it, or its origins? Is it curiosity? Who are these men who cause such mayhem on the outside? Do I want to see them here, where I hold the power, and they have none?

Or do they?

Sure, guards watch us, but what would happen if the inmates lunged at me? All I carry is a little pink briefcase containing ungraded essays and books for the community college where I teach part-time. I am always checked before steel doors slide open, then clang closed behind me.

I have no mace or pepper spray, no knife. But here, in this finely calibrated ecosystem—a balance between victim and predator—if one inmate makes a move toward me—roles switch. He would be doubly punished.

But that isn’t what I want.

do i actually think a few poems will make a difference?

the men are more interested in me than in poetry. Every Tuesday they ask questions about my husband (they’ve noticed my wedding band), whether I have children, where I work, where I live. Their voices, unlike when struggling with poetry, are animated and desperate—desperate to hold on to what I represent: the outside world.

The warden forbids me to respond to anything personal.

Still, they ask.

And every week the men urge me to mail their poems to girlfriends, mothers, children, wives.

Just send it this once to my baby’s mama.

They know I’m not allowed, but maybe they hope this time a reprieve will be granted. As if thin pleas with smudged words of love could fly out into the world.

43 Sue William Silverman

“No,” I say, my smile momentarily freezing. As if I’m saying no, don’t, get away from me, stop. “You know I can’t.”

Maybe I come here seeking my own reprieve, a release from anger and fear that tattoos my own heart. A commutation of my own sentence.

Toward the end of the evening, some of the men read what they’ve written. Their words, spoken aloud, do not exactly confess or ask forgiveness, but come close as they dare.


The Aliens Sift Through Stacks of Kid Artwork All Depicting the Same Moon


We wake from our hibernate state and move as one, as we always do, down to the warm center of our ship. The children have been up for hours, the sleep patterns of these fish, ellipsis, not our own.

Often we find them tucked into unknown shipslips, hiding in vague shadow.

They love this game of seeking. Our skin whispers as we move under them, hear them softly cluck. As we pass, their moon-pale and burdock legs dangle out of crevices above our heads. We are moved by the legs’ amniotic swing. Our fur tickles their toes as we go. We are hollowed out by their laughter. Their bright simple joy.

When we do describe what we observe, it is easy for us to forget that this, too, is science.


Rifling through these documents we’ve realized they’ve sewn us somehow to themselves. Threaded fingernail to tentacle, twisted hair to hair, strung us all together until we cannot ever be alone or separate.

ii. As we passed the new moon, we uncovered their undiluted record of it. Shuffled through left behind stacks of papers passionate with loved marking. The capture of the moon’s spirit, scrawled, raw image.

How they seem to know to curate an edge in such a way as this. Shape penciled marks which make a world. How they fixate like we do on the smallest detail. How they try again and again and again, their prior record,

Chautauqua 46

perceived failures strewn towards the wall.

How they continue to look. See?

Just as we do, desperate to get it right.

Guard well your spare moments. They are like uncut diamonds.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson

life at leisure

Prayer Flag

Charlotte Matthews

It’sMay, warm and so bright it almost hurts. Spring can tear at your heart, take you back to when you were five and knew less, back to when it all had a radiance. Just home from first year of college, Garland’s left a heavy-duty leaf bag filled with clothes on his bedroom floor.

Even though my rational side knows I shouldn’t, I choose to regard it as a kind of gift, a mission, something I can do that will reconnect the two of us, take us back to wiffle ball afternoons. I drag the bag to the basemen—plop plop, plop plop—and sort by color. I start the first load and press my ear to the washer’s drum as months of dorm life churn into the warm water. It’s dank down there, barely enough room to stand up, the metal ductwork, innards of the house, suspended like gargoyles inches from my head. This is when it dawns on me that his leaving, his coming home, the sheer fact of this manchild of mine, the whole way time spun forward, is outlandish. He is more alive now than I’ll ever be again. There’s really no comparison for it, nothing like it.

The clothesline’s beside the field where afternoons we practiced for the years he was in Little League. I’d throw wiffle balls while he taught me the moves to the game. It was where I learned the most about his life. That the woman who always wore a whistle around her neck at school was not the gym teacher. That the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz really did have a brain. That he was going to catch the biggest fish ever known to man.

I hang the clothes on the line, pinning both sides of each shirt, the cuffs of his pants, the waist of his shorts. I step back and admire the prayer flag resplendent in the May sun: green, grey, red, blue. Earth, air, fire, water. Some of his clothes are even the color of fishing lures, brighter than bright. They wave, not a promissory note, but a confirmation: Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself.

Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness.”
— Kahlil Gibran

The church of the chance encounter

Rick Kempa

Ina park in downtown San Francisco, a boy is standing on a milk crate. Around him, the city swirls: buses belching exhaust, taxis jolting and shrilling, businessmen and women powerwalking, bicycle couriers threading their mad weave. From his heels to his shoulders, he stands perfectly straight. Black pants and a purple t-shirt droop from his skinny frame. His head, however, is bent sharply down. He’s peering at a heavy hardbound book that he cradles with his left hand to his waist.

Lisa and I have come here to eat lunch, and the only bench not being used is right in front of him. Bummer, I think, but he doesn’t seem to notice our arrival. His eyes are following his forefinger upon the page as he works to shape his mouth around each word. Twenty feet away, we have to strain to hear him:

“You must gather … all the wealth … in the public square … and set fire to … the town and all …its goods …”

He might be fifteen, sixteen at most, we decide. But his reading level’s half his age. We wonder why he’s not in school.

“Think of how tired he must get, standing here like that,” Lisa whispers, and I chuckle.

“Serves him right. He ought to be doing this in his living room.”

“Maybe this is his living room,” she says. On the bench to his right, a huddled shape begins to move, flip-flops, becomes a body with a face, a flash of teeth and two small wells of white. They are empty at first, then slowly come to life as they focus on the boy.

“You must eat …nothing that is … detes- … detestable. These are the …animals you may eat. ox …»

The man sits up, leans forward, plants his palms on the torn knees of his jeans.

“Gazelle … roebuck …”

“Hey kid. Yo. Hey, you,” the man rasps. He coughs and spits.

The boy eyes him, loses his place, gropes with his finger to find it. “Ibex … antelope … oryx …”


“Listen here, kid. You tellin’ me I can eat a roebuck? What the hell’s a roebuck? You talkin about Sears Roebuck?

Lisa lets out a guffaw, then claps her hand over her mouth. The man looks over our way and grins; he struggles to his feet, swaggers over to the boy.

We can hear the boy draw breaths between words. A syllable catches in his throat; his voice comes back half an octave higher: “You may eat any … animal that has a … divided and … clo- cloven hoof.” The man grabs hold of his elbow.

“What you readin’, kid?”

“Deuteronomy,” he squeaks.

“Deuteronomy!” The man yells. He looks over to us, but we’re pretending not to notice now, we’re examining our lunch. “Why you readin’ Deuteronomy?”

“It’s just where I am. I’m reading the whole thing.”

The man pulls him closer and says into his face, “You talkin’ about food. I ain’t got nothing to eat. You got anything for me to eat?”

He shakes his head, “Uh uh.” But then a thought comes to him: “You know the Bible says …”

The man shakes the kid by the elbow until he topples off the crate. “The Bible says you got to feed me.” He’s yelling now. “The book in your hand says feed me.”

“All right,” the boy says. “You’re right. I’m sorry.” He pulls a crumpled bus transfer from his pants, uses it as a bookmark and places the book on the crate. Then he kneels before a plastic sack, takes out a bruised banana and a lumpy sandwich, and lays them next to the book.

“Aw, come on, no,” the man says. “You know I can’t eat that. That’s … detestable.” He looks our way and grins. The kid is staring sadly at his lunch.

“Tell you what.” The man is leaning into him again. “Just give me a dollar. Give me a buck and I’ll give you something too.”

A smile like a sunrise breaks across the boy’s face. He’s figured something out. “That’s a good idea! I’ll give you more than a dollar, and you don’t have to give me anything.” He digs a wadded bill out

Chautauqua 52

of one pocket, a couple of coins and a bill from another, hands them over.

“Whoa. That’s cool. That’s enough,” the man says.

“No, wait. I got some more somewhere.”

“Here kid, here, take this.” The man opens his palm on a skinny little joint. “It’ll help you read. Go on, take it. I gotta go.” The boy picks up the joint and sniffs it, looks at the back of the man hustling away.

“No, wait! Hey wait!” Now it’s the man’s turn to stop. “Wait. You got a match?” The man throws back his head and laughs. “Yeah, why not? Right here in the middle of everything. Safest place in the city.” He comes back, fires up the joint and they get smoking. They smoke it down to nothing, and the man starts moving off again, but again the kid calls out. “Wait. I want to thank you. I want to hug you.”

He runs up and, standing on his toes, throws his arms around the other’s neck. The man rolls his eyes towards us and grimaces. We’re smiling now. But when the boy doesn’t let go, when he lays his head on the other’s shoulder, the man gives in, folds his arms around him, closes his own eyes, and for a long moment they are like this before he says, “Okay, kid, Okay.” He eases the boy away, and leaves. Alone now, the boy wanders over to the crate, picks up the book. It opens, and a gust of wind sweeps the bus transfer to the sky. He watches it, then lets the book slap shut and puts it down. His eyes come to rest on us. Suddenly, he points a finger at us and in a fierce and joyous voice, yells out, “You, sitting over there. You have seen all this. Now do you believe?”

Lisa groans. “Holy shit. Now we’re in for it.”

But I leap up, point right back at him and shout, “Yes I do. I do believe!”

The boy throws his head back, lifts both of his arms skyward and with a look of pure bliss, cries out over and over, “Thank you! Thank you!”

Lisa is gaping at me; either I’m joking or I’m crazy, she’s thinking, but I’m neither. There are things I believe: That this boy here with his eyes closed, his pockets empty and his transfer gone is better off

Rick Kempa

than he was before, for he has both given and received. That the man who visited him was not just a shyster but an angel too, who did good work here. But most of all and more than ever I believe in the Church of the Chance Encounter, its services held always and everywhere, in the hallways, the town squares, the bathrooms, the elevators, wherever the arcs that describe our lives cross paths. We become each other’s ministers, we find and lose ourselves, intimate strangers making peace together.

Chautauqua 54

#33: okey dokey, long island

Seattle Cowboy comes howdy-doin’ it into a south shore saloon. Dig it: Chicalino’s on a Sunday afternoon. The babes play country tunes, cigarettes fall to ashes and it’s been many moons since there’d been a stranger in their weary midst.

Then Seattle Cowboy comes looking like he’s never been kissed. Point Lookout, end of the line and first on the list. The lady has a caper to complete. Slip her a nickel’s worth, ’cause it’s been a long, long time since there’s been a stranger in our salty midst.

Seattle Cowboy comes leatherbacked and lookin’ around—hold it, folks, the Lido Street hero is on the town. Eye the women, sip a beer, sit down, sit back, ’cause it’s been at least a year since there’s been a stranger in this hungry midst.

Seattle Cowboy comes coolin’ in on a faux strut, and all of us, damn it, are foiled again, unlucky to have met as if in an urban myth, much less one at its end, where it’s only once-upon-a-time, no comin’ back for more.


Searching for mt. fuji Nancy McCabe

At Nihonji, we climb toward a skyful of clouds scanning the horizon for the tip of Mt. Fuji which proves as elusive as the face of my baby playing a perennial game of peek-a-boo in the face of my daughter, who cracks jokes, striding ahead, bearing all my good fortune.

At Sensoji Temple, vendors sell charms and fortunes. I follow my daughter through clouds of steam that ward off evil. She doesn’t crack a smile as I point out, past souvenirs and Fujifilm, charms for wealth, romance, traffic safety. The peak of her brow rises. She’s a stranger, not the baby

I pushed in a stroller like these women with their babies through music that plays in every corner, at least four tunes. A monsoon is expected, we may never catch a peek of that mythical mountain, a rumor behind clouds. On a clear day, says our guide, you can see Mt. Fuji doubled in a pond like the one at my feet, surface cracked

by rain and wind, smothered by lotus, turtles in cracks of rocks, carp with bloated lips, rising like babies demanding to be fed, and my daughter fidgets, and this trip feels like a cookie without its fortune unlike that long ago China visit, when the clouds parted, someone handed me a baby, my life peaked.


Today the crowds are thick, hydrangeas at their peak and all my jokes belly-flop in the cracks between generations, her face a dark cloud. In a museum diorama, a mother births a baby surrounded by a family reveling in their fortune. They take this for granted, like the view of Mt. Fuji.

I may only ever see on the 1000 yen bill how Fuji towers at the sky’s tip, snow-covered peak ethereal, as if lighter than the four tons that weigh on my heart, wishing for a crack in her armor, remembering the soft skin of my baby, her hair a wild fluffy cloud.

But in a flash of fortune as elusive as Fuji majesty peeks through clouds. No baby but a woman appearing through the cracks.


Windows rattle against the sills of the old rented house in Provincetown— scrubby beach to the flat gray bay.

Frothy mind blows, every part of me aching.

I stumble to the bathroom, breakneck shallow stairs with a sharp turn half way down.

My heart tumbles over with effort as I climb back up to the lumpy bed and turn my back to the door.

Icy spine, fingers curled, something behind me buzzing.

Against the dim nightlight a raggy white creature strikes and strikes.

Midnight Cammy Thomas


Tamiami trail signs: a collage poem

(US-41, Florida)

modern beauty–> Post Office

Lord of Life, Foot Specialist

vanity Alterations Center

Injured? Walk-ins Welcome, Enter

Authentic Hair, Wings, Goodwill

pik n run & wigs 2 thrill

All Day Happy Hour, Hearing Aids

Pay Day Loans & Summer Shades

jackheartjill, Free Parking Here

Valentine Cards & Bondage Gear

Summer Spa: Come Find Your Bliss

Vapes, Detox, Dialysis

24-7 shooting range

Cash 4 Gold & Need Spare Change

National Cremation, Chakras Store

Psychic, Bail Bonds, Glocks & More

Easter Service Tickets Sold: now just sit back, reax, behold


Good Morning

Mary Birnbaum

I arrived as Robert Lowell was just leaving the Arnold Arboretum after a run, clad in athletic gear, tiny drops of sweat on his forehead. He was gazing past me, seemingly into a critical heaven.

At the far end of the Willow Path, a poem was rising splendid into the sky, flashing in the occasional patches of water, that, even in shade, appeared to be separate from the earth.

I passed dog walkers, noticing in the precise morning light how they were joined to their companions by taut leash, sharing one soul and one attention.

I was only an observer, invisible, but I was there

to be refreshed, to understand, only the intimacy of dew brings color into the universe.


the glass eye

Brian Beatty

Hurley found the glass eye on one of his merchandise tables when he was breaking down his tent after a flea market.

The prosthetic was cold to the touch and heavier than it appeared. It was more oblong in shape than round.

Where it had come from, Hurley didn’t know. Likewise what he would price it at his next sale. The hippie junk man specialized in smalls, but he’d never bought or sold medical devices.

For safe keeping Hurley put the glass eye in an old-fashioned canning jar full of marbles, then almost immediately forgot about it.

Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.”
—Scott Adams

life lessons

flowers for angela

She sits like an earthquake in the sky, more vibrant than any bones of ours.

I think that we’re all dying.

We’re all connected, but today I’m too fragile to see.

I’m standing neck deep in a pool and that pool is the grief of my community.

We lined the whole street with vases but it rained and they all overflowed: calendula, marigolds, daisies rolled down the street. The feathery petals guided, as if by her hand, toward salvation.

We found them, flushed and salty, in the strainer of the gutter, all of them reversing inside of me, turning the ring of my belly into a weeping garden. I thought I would carry this sorrow

young voices

in a water skin and instead I am swimming across it

and I am always halfway.


As if secrets would spill

Vincent Casaregola

Of course I look, just as you, though neither will admit to it— as if secrets would spill, or some message might appear from the icon of a body stretched silent on the pavement.

We are drawn in, first, by lights that ring the scene like a tragic Christmas wreath in red, blue, yellow and green, making me blink so strong their contrast to the night— a cluster of EMTs still hovers like frightened birds near a broken nest.

I see only the prone form, spread-eagled, art for passers by, an elegy in the making— if I could draw closer, I would, to see a final look in the eyes that might be seeing something “new and strange,” or to hear, a last broken gasp of revelation—

but nothing, now or later, but harsh light and cluttered sounds, and customers still passing through the Shell station— nothing, but the stories we may craft from shadows, to be echoed by the morning news—“he died crossing against the light and wearing dark clothing.”


Officers cordon the area with long yellow ribbons of warning, while others measure distances, to solve the calculus of death on a dark street— they, too, can gather only facts, no solace, no insight, no comfort for those who drive past in search of more.


Between our Walls

IhatedMolly Munley from the day she and her husband and their two girls moved into the rowhouse next door, and we started sharing what I’d quickly learn was a very flimsy wall. I hated her peasant dresses. I hated her bangs and her whimsical eyeliner and the carefree way she let her roots creep out from under her white-blond hair. A makeup artist, she claimed to have worked with Jennifer Lawrence, who she referred to just as “Jenn.” She planted tropical-looking flowers in their window boxes, placed a welcome mat that read “Hello Darling” by their front door.

Her husband David was a food writer for The Inquirer. They fit in right away, joining the other young parents that congregated on one end of our narrow, cobblestone street in South Philadelphia. They’d run the children ragged out there until sunset, all standing around drinking Molly’s cocktails, garnished with little sprigs of rosemary from her potted garden. No one explicitly said we weren’t invited to the daily happy hours, but without the excuse of kids, it felt forced and awkward the few times we joined.

I dreaded our run-ins outside my front door. Molly would overshare the details of their personal lives, adopting a fake sort of intimacy I’d hear her put on with all the neighbors.

“Lila only wants to wear the Elsa dress,” she’d once sighed over their five-year-old, a pile of teal sparkles and taffeta on their stoop. “David doesn’t think I discipline enough. He says I don’t want to do the hard part.”

“Ugh,” I’d said, like I got her. I’d just wanted to get inside and take my shoes off.


Or there was the time we were late for a reservation, when she intercepted us on the sidewalk to lament how she missed “those spontaneous, sitter-free date-nights.”

“It should be a good time!” I’d said, edging Paul towards our waiting Uber.

“We’ll see how good in nine months, right?”

She’d actually winked at me. How I hated her and her life and the casual stupidity of her assumptions. This comment was three days after my fifth miscarriage. The blind idiot was adding insult to injury. In that moment, I thought I couldn’t hate another person more than Molly Munley on my sidewalk.

It was an October Tuesday, six months into the pandemic, when my loathing for Molly began morphing into pity—albeit pity tinged with a shameful sort of sick delight and curiosity—when I first heard her husband fucking another woman through our walls.

I wasn’t working at the time. My boss at the ad agency had offered me the option of taking unpaid time off, to get some rest, and I’d taken her up on it. She’d been through IVF, she said, so she “got it,” though she’d never known the gruesome cycle I was caught in— two pink lines, then the nausea and exhaustion, then the ultrasound technician reaching for the tissue box, the merciful pack of Camels I’d allow myself after each one, a few months off to let my body heal, then starting over. Paul was doing well enough that we could manage without my salary, and it seemed like a good idea to take a break. I’d decided I’d use the time to read Proust, a long-held ambition, and it was in my bed, halfway through Swann’s Way, that I first heard them.

I dogeared my page, kneeled up in our bed, and cupped my hand around my ear against the wall. At first, I thought maybe David was watching pornography loudly, but I became certain it was a live event. I could hear the woman groaning. She sounded like an animal, and he, too, like it had been years since he’d felt such pleasure, which, maybe, it had. We’d never heard Molly and David having sex, though we often heard their two-year-old crying at night. Their bedroom and ours were parallel on our third floors, as I knew from the tour Molly gave me the one night they had us over.

It couldn’t have been Molly. She’d lost her job in early April, and

Chautauqua 72

when she found another gig doing makeup on the set of a teen vampire drama, it took her up to New York twice a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays. I’d seen her drive off in their car that morning.

When it stopped, my heart was still pounding, secondhand embarrassment for David coursing through my body, and if I’m being honest, a little bit of glee.

“Could they be in an open marriage?” I suggested to Paul that night.


“And where were the kids, then? Napping? Watching TV?”

“Maybe with the sitter.”

“Maybe it was the sitter.”

Paul laughed. “Do they use one, now that he’s not working?”

I wasn’t sure. David, we’d heard, had been laid off. The food scene wasn’t much to write about, those days. We spent the rest of the night gossiping, theorizing about the identity of the other woman, giddy with the drama of it. It disgusts me so much now, to think of our behavior.

that weekend, I convinced myself I’d misheard. Molly, David and the girls were sitting on their front stoop in matching reindeer-patterned pajamas when I went out at 10 a.m. to get us bagels. The twoyear-old wore a tiny Santa hat. Her big black eyes like juicy olives, she stared directly into mine, laughing. Another neighbor was taking their photograph, her own kids scampering around us.

“We’re doing our Christmas shot,” Molly said. “Some of us more willingly than others.”

She put her arm around David’s waist and her head on his shoulder. David was handsome in an understated way, with a dark beard and a perpetual aura of intense concentration. He’d always seemed quiet to the point of standoffishness, but we chalked it up to Molly filling all the empty airtime. He didn’t seem like a cheater to me, there in his adult-sized footed jammies.

“Mol made mimosas. Want one?” he asked.

“I’m good,” I replied. “You guys are too cute.”

“Something to share?” Molly asked me, grinning, and I laughed

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the forced little laugh I reserved for questions about the status of my uterus, which, as a childless 35-year-old, I was practiced at fielding. I shook my head.

“Enjoy,” I said, and as I walked away I glanced back at David. He did seem to have a glint in his eyes. But probably it was nothing, I thought. Probably I was reading too many novels. Probably it really had just been very realistic porn.

the next tuesday, though, it happened again. My pulse quickened as soon as I recognized the sound. It went on for longer this time, and afterwards I heard a female-sounding laugh, and David’s deeper one. There was no mistaking this for pornography. She’d moaned “David, David” while their headboard thumped against our wall.

It started happening every Tuesday and Thursday around noon, each day that Molly was on set. I made sure I’d be home, so I could try to catch a glimpse of the woman stealing her husband, coming or going. I wasn’t doing much else with my sabbatical—reading, going on little runs, trying not to think too hard about the future.

I was failing at this last part. I often thought about Paul’s childless aunt and uncle. They spent their free time traveling and had beautiful, well-trained German shepherds. They conversed interestingly about the books they were reading, the movies they’d seen.

“They seem happy, right?” I’d said to Paul, one night, when we were curled up, watching TV. I teared up, and he went wordlessly to the fridge to get us beers.

I saw the woman only once. Hearing them finish one afternoon, I ran out to our roof deck to see if I could catch her leaving. I suspected she exited through the Munleys’ patio door, which butted up against a quiet alley, so she could come and go undetected. I was right. Pretending to water our deck plants, all I could see before she disappeared down the alley was that she was brunette, wearing a beige trench coat and white Nikes.

Once or twice, I saw David on the day of their rendezvous. I’d study his behavior for awareness that I knew what he was up to.

Outside the coffee shop one Thursday afternoon, he seemed flushed and cheery, pushing the two-year-old in the stroller. He showed an

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uncharacteristic interest in the events of my morning, nodding vigorously when I told him I’d been to the car mechanic.

“Is Molly liking the new job?” I asked.

“Well enough, I believe. Lila likes that she gets extra TV time on Daddy days,” he replied, and I laughed, a little too loudly. Lila ran up and grabbed him around his pantleg.

“Do you have a favorite show?” I said, hoping that if I engaged her in conversation, she might let something slip about Daddy’s new friend, but she didn’t reply, hiding behind David: sensing my evil motives, I guessed.

I saw Molly, too, throughout this period, when she wasn’t working. She seemed distant to me. She said she was tired from commuting, but something else felt off. I heard her yelling at the girls more often through the walls.

She must know something’s wrong, I thought, and I waited expectantly for an explosive fight to break out behind the walls, for David’s possessions to be hoisted out the windows over the Munley’s flowerboxes for everyone to see. But the weeks went by, fall turned into winter, and nothing happened. Molly kept going to her job, the woman kept moaning on Tuesdays and Thursday, the two-year-old cried through the night, and three days before Christmas, we got their holiday card through our mail slot.

“I don’t get why she thinks we want this,” I said to Paul, passing the image of them all in their matching jammies. “I saw the live version. I see the live version every day.”

“They’re so happy,” he said, sarcastically, turning the card over. “And so fertile.”

He held up the back of the card so I could see it—an image of an ultrasound. My stomach flipped. It read: “Baby Munley #3, coming July 2021!”


christmas came and went, and I avoided the Munleys as much as possible. Pregnant women generally make me uncomfortable, and I’d made the calculation; Molly would have been eight weeks when we received the card, barely six when she’d probably had them printed.

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I found this offensively early to announce, a personal affront, an impudent confidence in the life growing inside of her that reinvigorating my hostility. I texted her congratulations, never wanting to seem the jealous, barren type. But then if I saw them out front, when I needed to run an errand, I waited inside until they’d cleared.

David’s affair appeared to have run its course, too. The sounds had stopped, not long after the Christmas card, and I figured, for better or worse, he was recommitting himself to the marriage. He seemed like a decent guy, overall, and infidelity aside, like a pretty good father. It was for the best, Paul and I agreed, that he’d gotten whatever it was out of his system before their third. Privately, I missed the drama, but I could still relish my secret knowledge of their flawed marriage, a little consolation prize David didn’t know he’d given me.

it was mid-february 2021, a night so cold you felt it between your teeth, when Paul and I decided to start trying again. Okay, I’d said. One more time. Paul suggested he make a final batch of cocktails, “to celebrate,” and we both laughed darkly. One more time. Where had we heard that one before?

The doctors said it was just a matter of time. We had no trouble getting pregnant, there were no issues in my bloodwork, I had a normal shaped uterus, an appropriate BMI, and I was on the right side of forty. Eventually, most women like me would take home a baby. That’s what they said.

I had a sense from the beginning this time might be different. My nausea was worse; I was laid up with the most horrible fatigue. Suffering the symptoms of pregnancy, without confidence that there’s a living baby in store at the end—it’s a special kind of gut punch I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.

At the first ultrasound at eight weeks, we saw a heartbeat, and I almost got excited. But, we’d been past that point before. When we got our testing back, confirming my instinct that she was female, confirming she was genetically normal, I started letting myself feel a little hope. We passed sixteen weeks, the farthest we’d made it before, and I caught my mind drifting to strollers and binkies and cribs, how we might turn the sad spare bedroom into her nursery. I wouldn’t

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dream of planning a shower, but I started a secret registry, selecting tiny objects no one could see except myself.

When I returned to work, I was visibly pregnant, and my boss cried when I stood up to show her my belly on the Zoom screen. People wanted us to succeed. My mom—who’d had no trouble with me and my sisters, who’d told me I should start journaling to deal with the trauma, who didn’t understand it, but felt my pain, I knew, like it was hers—she was in her church every other morning for us, begging God that this time it would be okay.

There came a point when I couldn’t hide it from the neighbors, anymore, though it terrified me to let them in on our news. The more who knew, I’d learned, the more I’d have to share my grief with if anything went wrong. I knew the pain, too well, of other people’s embarrassment when they asked how I was feeling close to a once-meaningful due date—a store clerk who’d sold me ginger lozenges, Paul’s college friend he texted but forgot to update. It was awkward all around.

Filled with dread, I accepted the neighbors’ gleeful exhortations of “another girl on the block!” The moms all warmed to me, offering hand-me-downs and labor tips. Molly Munley was especially ecstatic. Our girls would be best friends, no doubt, just a few months apart and sharing a wall. She started asking me to take walks with her, and I agreed. Her pregnancy no longer felt like an existential threat, and though it was hot, the walks were a welcome respite from the weird tentativeness of indoor socializing that second pandemic summer.

In typical fashion, she opened up too widely for my comfort on our first walk. She told me she and David were fighting. He’d left the other day for an entire day and wouldn’t say where he’d gone. I couldn’t bring myself to ask her what the problem was. It had been a long time since I’d thought of the other woman, but I worried my expressions might betray my once insatiable curiosity, my secret knowledge of David’s betrayal. Molly being Molly, she volunteered more, anyway, unasked.

She said it was always about sex. She said they rarely did it, that her sex drive was way higher than his. “And I’m the one who’s been pregnant or breastfeeding for like six years straight now.” I nodded,

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hoping my cheeks weren’t visibly reddening. I said I could imagine how hard that might be.

We walked past a park with children playing. She became unusually quiet, and I wondered if I should change the subject to fill the void. With the new baby coming, she finally said, there’d be even more pressure on them, money-wise. David just needed to find something, any kind of job. He was waiting for the perfect thing, something that probably didn’t exist anymore, but it was getting so hard, being the only one to pay the bills. She stayed up late worrying about their future.

I felt a wave of renewed pity for her then, but she quickly pivoted, as if disoriented by her real vulnerability, to a B-list celebrity playing a sexy new vampire character on her job. She told me about how funny he was, how he’d invited the Munleys to his house “out east,” though she didn’t think it was a good idea to travel that close to her due date.

She stopped walking for a minute to show me the picture on his IMDB page.

“Yes, he’s wearing blush, and yes, I applied it.”

We continued walking, side by side.

in july, molly had her baby, and three months later, I had ours. It was a c-section, and the doctors told me there would be shaking, when they pulled her out and the hormones crashed. I think my hormone crash was bigger than usual, because I shook and cried when I heard her screaming, and didn’t stop, Paul tells me, until the next morning. Those early days are a fog to me. She was fat and red-faced and healthy and strong. We named her Emily.

i was rocking emily, just weeks old, in our living room one day when I heard through the walls the most awful wails. Molly was crying. I couldn’t make out any words, but her tone was so desperate and pleading, I’d thought it was Lila throwing a late-night tantrum at first. The door slammed after a while, and I peeked through our shutters to see David getting in their car and driving off.

On Thanksgiving, a few days later, I saw Molly corralling her girls down the block. We were heading to my parents’ house across town.

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I had Emily in a onesie that said “My First Thanksgiving” on the front with a little knitted turkey.

“Oh, that’s adorable,” Molly said. She looked unusually wan without makeup on and smelled like she’d already started drinking. I asked her where they were headed, and she let out a weird snicker, though I wasn’t sure what the joke was.

“Down to Zoe’s,” she replied, referencing another neighbor.

When I didn’t ask where David was, she must have known I’d heard their fight, because she stopped and just looked at me, as if her gaze could bypass my eyes, reaching deep into my head to the secret I’d been keeping. She rubbed her baby’s back through her chic body sling, the kind I could never get right with Emily, and hastened the girls along.

david returned a few days later, and I guessed the marital discord had resolved itself, because Molly invited me over for a “playdate” with the infants while he cooked dinner with the older girls.

The two of us sat in their basement while the babies lay next to each other on their white, faux-fur rug. Molly was on her third glass of wine, she said. Did I want one? I said yes, to be polite, and she started telling me about the fight with David I’d heard, in a loud voice that undoubtedly carried upstairs.

Molly had slept with the B-list actor, she confessed. It was after the new baby was born, and she’d had to go back to work right away, and she just wanted to feel like she was alive and like someone actually appreciated how quickly she got her body back. I made a mental note about how Molly must have seen my post-baby body, like a blow-up snowman peacefully deflating, though it didn’t bother me or Paul, I didn’t think.

She said she felt she had to be honest with David, that honesty about how unhappy she’d been and how she’d acted out would bring them closer, but it was a miscalculation. David would have preferred to stay in the dark, she said, but confronted with her cheating, he’d had some kind of come-to-Jesus moment about their marriage.

“It didn’t matter to him all those years we didn’t have sex except to procreate. It was this thing, this stupid fling, something I totally

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owned up to, that set him off,” she said. I looked towards the staircase, nervously.

“Don’t worry.” She sloshed her wine glass upwards in the direction of the stairs. “He’s already heard this. At the end of the day, he can pretend this is about infidelity, but we both know it’s an excuse for his loss of interest in his family, and his own issues of sexual inadequacy, and all sorts of other types of inadequacy.”

She set the wine glass on a side table, teetering close to the edge, above where the babies were noisily gnawing on the Munleys’ collection of wooden toys. I pushed the glass back a few inches, and she started sobbing, the same plaintive wails I’d heard weeks prior. We heard David turn the speaker up higher from the first floor. He was playing Peppa Pig songs for their girls.

That was the moment. That was the moment in time when I should have told her what I’d heard. Maybe it would have gutted her. But maybe it could have saved her marriage, provided leverage in the fight, guilted David into staying.

Instead, not knowing what to say, I just hugged her. When I went upstairs on my way out, she stayed in the basement. David pretended to busy himself with dinner, not making eye contact as I walked out their door.

he moved out, and then later she and the girls did. The tropical flowers in their window, unmaintained, withered quickly. They listed the rowhouse, and it sold quickly for ten thousand over asking, a tribute to Molly’s stylish finishings. But even with the money, she’d told me, she would have to rent. She couldn’t get a mortgage on just her income, and David wouldn’t be able to offer much support. She said she was taking the girls to LA, back where her family was, where she’d have better job prospects, where they could find a nice place by the sea. It broke my heart thinking about those three girls, that far from their father.

“How could he not stop her from doing that,” I whispered to Paul, one night, rocking sleepless Emily in my arms while he sat bleary-eyed across from me on our bed. “How could he let her be that tempestuous?”

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“Maybe it’s for the best,” he said. “He cheated and got away with it, and then he blew up their family, anyway. He must have been toxic.”

I made a loud shushing sound to quiet the baby, holding her in a position like a football some Youtuber suggested might help her sleep. I told Paul I felt responsible, like my inaction was just as much a cause of the disintegration of their marriage as their own cheating hearts.

“But just because we’re happy now, and they’re not, it doesn’t mean we took it from them, right?”

“You’re tired,” he said. “You should stop thinking about it.”

I looked over at him, and then down at the baby. I wondered whether someday, I’d get a holiday card from Molly, maybe with a new man, with a return address in a wealthy neighborhood.

“Right,” I said.

I knew then I’d hope for the card every year. Emily slept, finally, and nothing but silence passed through our walls.

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Walking at dusk

Justin Hunt

At a streetlamp corner I spot them: a child’s bicycle tracks trapped in a sidewalk poured years ago— two tires crisscrossing, threading to a future long since passed.

I follow the tracks until they are lost to shadow—and I to an older dark, where I stumble upon my red Schwinn on its kickstand, tasseled and fat-tired, still my size as I grab its handlebars and sling myself up, then race along Clines’ yard, ears scouring, eyes blurring winter-cold. Past leafless elms laid out by settlers, through juts of limbs scraggly and black against a faint maroon of sky, I slice the night and fly above flat and endless fields— towards Venus and a scythe of moon.


bleak waves at night

Brayden Titus

The sea watches and waits for the soothing night to fade into shadow, waits to suck daylight into the great blue depths as silence comes from the whispers of the ocean, tides collide and crash swallowing the sound and the creatures. Water surrounds the terra firma like thoughts.

Waves wait to drown things afloat and come alive at the sound of fire. How many miles may they last? The water contains monsters within … melancholic tones unlike the frothy aura that they once had. By the shore, waves swallow, gulp, and choke— how protective the water once looked. Now the waves leave dusk and dark behind at twilight. They have to meet with peace at sunrise.

young voices

Questions for Srojan

Olga-Maria Cruz

Inspired by the website Window-Swap

What are those hills, Srojan, in your view of Sarajevo? Whose statue is in the square outside your open window? What is the five-story building, pale yellow stucco with dark finials on its minarets? Just a church? Apartments? Or a monastery? A hospital? How are the streets so quiet as the bells strike one? Do you often hear birdsong from the stand of pine trees just outside your home? Can you smell the pines? Is that why you opened the window? Why are the birds so quiet now? How old are you, Srojan? What was it like—do you remember?—when our bombs rained down on Sarajevo?


Idon’tknow how to say this, Chuck, so I’m just going to say it. I think it’s been long enough now that I can tell you this without you getting mad. Someone came into the store while I was doing my morning Sudoku—I looked up from the jingle of the bell and immediately, I got that feeling. That feeling I got when I met you at the Miller Pool all those years ago. I still remember the water pressing the hair flat against your chest, that crooked grin across your face when you saw me looking at you. It was like that: my insides all jumbled up like the cords in my junk drawer.

“Hey there,” she said, more cautious than friendly. Even so, those two words caught me off guard.

“Yes, um, hello, hi, welcome to my store.” I swear to god, Chuck, I almost said auf wiedersehen, I was so out of my head.

“I’ve never heard of a Divorce Store before.” She was wearing a scarf but not a hippie scarf, rather a warm scarf that looked homemade. It’s not even cold yet, just the beginning of fall, the end of September.

“I like your scarf,” I said, which was neither true nor untrue: just something to say to show I was noticing her. I’ve been out of the game a long time, Chuck, and you know I’ve never even thought that way about a woman before. Well, okay, I’ve thought it but I’ve never acted on it. I was always faithful. And since you, celibate.

“Do you want it?” she said.

“Want what?” I asked, startled.

“The scarf. I’ll sell it to you. You can sell it here.”

“Oh, no, I’m not a pawn shop. I just meant it looks nice on you.”

“If you’re not a pawn shop, what are you?” She had been standing still, her arms hanging by her sides, but now she crossed the store and began picking up tchotchkes on shelves and running her hands along fabrics.


“I’m so glad you asked,” I said. “I’ve been practicing my elevator pitch to the mirror. I’m thinking about franchising.”

“Then pretend I’m an investor.”

My first role play. I was ready for it. I said, “This place is logistical and practical. It’s good advice from that kooky aunt. It’s all the things freshly divorced people haven’t thought of. We carry power strips and box fans, paper plates, vibrators, modems, toilet brushes, wax kits, snowblowers. We’ve got toenail clippers and condoms and spice racks, spatulas and tool boxes already filled. Yard gloves, first aid kits, crock pots, pot holders, those little rubber things to open jars. Day planners, to do lists, umbrellas. Floss. Candles that smell like men, candles that smell like women. I keep the place stocked with necessities: little things the other person has now; things my shopper never considered—that were just there or things they didn’t need until now or weren’t allowed. I like to think of this place as the answer to the question, ‘Where do I begin?’”

When I finished, she clapped. She said it was the best pitch she’d ever heard for a divorce store.

I chose to take it as a compliment. I blushed and moved the service bell to the left for no reason but to give my hands something to do. When I looked up, she was turning a deck of cards over in her hands. “What are these for?”

I have an unmarked area of the store I call Deeply Divorced. It’s things like decks of cards, zipper helpers, dollies. The freshlylaunched divorcees don’t make the connection. They haven’t tried to move a bookshelf alone yet, or worn that dress from when they were proposed to or had the loneliness set all the way in yet.

“Solitaire,” I said.

“Hmm,” she said without appearing to give it thought. “Speaking of cards, why don’t you sell Hallmark cards here?”

“They don’t really make cards for this occasion.”

“They should.”

“Oh, I agree. They would be a huge seller.”

“You know,” she said, pausing thoughtfully near the weighted blankets, “I make cards. I could make you some.”

“What do you mean, you make cards?” I’ll admit, I was picturing


some real arts-and-craftsy, amateur stuff. Glue sticks, glitter in big clumps, maybe even stickers.

“Do you want to see some of my stuff?” she asked. She rummaged into the bag at her hip and pulled out a notebook. She walked up to the counter and as she approached, I could smell her lotion. It was something sensible: Cetaphil or CeraVe. You know me, Chuck. I was positively aroused.

Then she opened up her notebook. The first thing I saw was pubes. Then I noticed thighs without a gap: bitable, demurely crossed. I love the curve of your thighs, it read on the left. The script was too curly, in my opinion.

“I’m so sorry,” she said. Her cheeks were reddening. It was cute; she was cute.

“This isn’t my normal stuff. This is just recent doodles. My partner and I broke up recently and it’s been—” she looked around, searching for something. “Hard. It’s been hard.”

I almost made a joke, but the atmosphere felt too tender and I would’ve hated to spoil it.

“I write for Hallmark,” she says, flipping quickly to another page. The next page was expected greeting card stuff. A sketch of a girl on a picnic blanket beneath a big dark sky full of stars. You can do anything, it said.

“That’s more Hallmark’s Signature,” I said, nodding. She laughed at that. Chuck, she understood even my most niche jokes. I’ve never met anyone who understood my nuanced humor before, except you.

“But I was thinking …” she pulled a pencil from my countertop and erased the words from the center. Then, in perfect letters she wrote, The world is so big without you.

When I saw it, I gasped. The words my mind wasn’t capable of forming: right in front of me.

“how are my cards selling?” she said two weeks later, dropping her bag onto the counter. She had a dress on: flowery, fluttery. God I’d hate to be such a cliché and say she looked like an angel, but I’ve been reading greeting cards as poetry lately. She cradled her face in


her hands, her elbows greasing up the woodgrain I’d just finished polishing.

“You know, the cards have been great. Some people really love them.”

“Some people,” she said, too slowly to be comfortable.

“I mean some people don’t,” I said.

“How could anyone not like them? I have cornered the divorce card market.”

I propped the broom I’d been holding against the door to the storage room.

“Well, all the options are a bit …” I paused, carefully choosing how to say it.

“A bit what?” This woman was so fucking cute but had the patience of a squirrel on meth. Not that I’ve ever seen one.


“Sappy,” she repeated.

“Yeah. I mean, some people find exactly what they’re looking for in what you have here. But it doesn’t resonate with others.”

“How could that be? My cards are full of longing.”

“Sure, longing for someone. But there are all sorts of things people long for.”

She was picking something out from underneath her fingernail. I could tell I was losing her, and the profit on these cards was astronomical. I was selling them for $7 apiece and getting them from her for $2. She was getting ripped off, honestly. I felt a little bad, in fact.

“Your cards are incredible. They speak to a specific experience that I believe is close to your own. But I’ve run this store for twelve years now and I’ll tell you, people come here not only in mourning but also in celebration, in melancholy, in fear, in tepid joy.”

She didn’t say anything, but I could tell that she was thinking. She traced her initials into the counter with her fingertip.

“You know what I think?” she said finally.

“I have no earthly clue.”

“I should work a few shifts. Get to know the range of divorce. Understand the nuances. I mean, if I’m trying to corner the market on divorce cards—”

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“Which you will. You’re building an entire empire.”

She smiled. “What do you say, Diana? Want a day off?”

I didn’t take a day off. I was ready, at long last, for some company.

for her first shift, I put Catherine behind the counter. I figured it’d be good for her to make change and small talk. She is much friendlier than I am. Some days I’m afraid I’ve become curmudgeonly, and I know I’m only a few years away from downright surly. Catherine’s first customer came up to the counter without bothering to look around the store and laid a gun down on the counter. A Ruger P90. Looked like it had only been used once, maybe twice.

“How much?” she said.

“How much what?” Catherine said coolly.

“Money. How much money will you give me.”

“Honey,” she said (and I grimaced: it sounded patronizing, even I would admit), “I’m not paying you for an unregistered gun. This is a legitimate business.”

“What makes you think it’s unregistered?”

“What makes you think that’s the kind of business I run?”

I bit my tongue but inside me there was a girl shouting with a bullhorn to her lips, This is my store, my hard work. You just make the cards, some of them with pubes.

“I saw the sign.”

She meant the sign outside with the changeable letters. I’ve taken to putting a new little pop culture quote on it every day. Today it said Conceal, don’t feel / don’t let them know / Well, now they know / Let it go, let it go.

“The sign has lyrics from a Frozen song. It doesn’t say to bring me your weapons.”

The woman with the gun looked around wildly. She must’ve seen the practicality of the place, the items wrapped in cellophane, new and smelling still like factory. “I’m sorry,” she said, dropping the gun back into the bag she’d brought it in. “I saw the sign and next door is a windshield repair shop and I just figured.”

“It’s okay,” I piped up from the dishes shelf. “Happens all the time.”


“So how often do people think this is a pawn shop?” Catherine asked after the door closed.

“I’d say three out of every four customers.”

“Well, I know you’re just paying me for a shift, but what about if I offered some business advice?”

I hadn’t agreed to pay Catherine, but I suppose that was the ethical choice.

“What’s the advice?” I asked.

“When they bring in stuff that you know you could resell, offer them cash. You’ll be able to resell it at a giant markup. People would basically give away their ex’s shit. You give ’em a few bucks, turn around and sell that toolbox for $100. No getting price gouged from manufacturers. You be the price gouger.”

She had a point. I scratched at the rash on my arm.

“And if people aren’t after used stuff, we wrap it up, make it look new. Isn’t that stage two of divorce anyway?”

Catherine was wearing a low-cut shirt today, I noticed. Push-up bra probably, for them to look like that at what I assumed her age must be.

“Okay, we’ll try it. I’ll figure out the logistics.”

i’m not sure if there is a formal application to be a pawn shop or registration or whatever, but I know Catherine’s idea was genius. It doesn’t matter what I offer; they take it. No one is in the mood to argue here. I’m happy to take their record players and hand saws and rice cookers, unburden them: let the tools become useful again. I’m happy to give new home to the abandoned.

I told Catherine what a great idea pawning was, and now she has a dozen more ideas. She suggested marketing the windshield repair shop next door. We slip a coupon into the bag with the receipt. Herb next door reports his business has tripled since. Maybe it’s coincidence though. You’ve been behind a gravel truck before.

I’ve been letting Catherine make a lot of choices around here and she’s taken to calling herself my business partner to customers. I don’t let on that I mind because she’s good with people and she has expanded her card line and my bank account is brimming and she’s

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still wearing those shirts and she put on a few pounds which means now I can tell she has a dimple and Chuck, I swear to god, she’s so fucking cute.

On days she doesn’t come in, I find myself mindlessly sweeping the floor over and over, forgetting I had just done it. She keeps suggesting new merchandise. Some of them were misfires. Wedding rings or weapons or picture frames, how to books, booze. Sometimes I think this is just a business opportunity for Catherine, whereas I know its necessity.

I made her head of purchasing because she is a little younger and trendier than I am. I cringed when she added party favor stuff to the shelves: plastic shot glasses and balloons and those little paper horns. She even gave out little champagne shooters when customers walked in. I told her we should probably get a liquor license but she shut it down pretty quickly anyway. I think she’s realizing what I was trying to tell her about her first cards: we shouldn’t be telling people how to feel. We shouldn’t be leading with a “celebrate” narrative. I remember my era of inspirational second chance framed quotes, knitted Kleenex box covers from my nostalgic phase, when I was watching a lot of Meg Ryan. My narrative doesn’t define my store’s. I think Catherine is learning that. She might not be a bad business partner after all. I invited her to dinner to discuss on Friday after close.

catherine seems to think this dinner is just about business. She keeps talking about adding a photo booth. She says if we raise our sign outside above people height, then duplicate it inside, we could start making money off the people who take pictures by it with their tongues out or their fists balled up by their eyes or kissing someone new. “Monetize, Diana!” she said at least five times since the soup came.

“While we’re talking about business, I have an idea,” Catherine said apropos of nothing but her own sentences birthing new sentences. I feel like I haven’t said anything in three months now.

“What’s that?” I ask and I realize my voice comes out tired.

“We should sell weed.”


“Don’t we have to become a dispensary for that?”

“Yeah, I don’t know. Probably. You can take care of that part. You’re so good at all that back-end stuff. I’m the CCO. You’re the COO.”

Actually, I’m the owner, I thought but didn’t say.

I’m selling glass pipes at the counter and marijuana if you’re a regular customer I can trust. Chuck, I love this shit. Every day I look forward to lighting up my pipe and chilling the fuck out. Today I got really stoned and remembered that time we did this and your smile split so wide it looked like a halved orange. You laughing so loudly, I was paranoid you’d get arrested for disturbing the peace. Yesterday I thought of you bringing me two towels straight from the dryer when I stepped out of the shower and my body turned warm and soft.

It’s hard to believe I started this store right after you left. In twelve years, no one has ever asked me about my story, although they love to tell me theirs. I’ve heard it all, mundane to outrageous, and it’s always the same refrain, although they never say it. They don’t know where to begin again.

I want to tell Catherine about you. She must wonder. How couldn’t she? Today she is dressing a mannequin. She has big ideas of sprawling her diagonal across a double bed. I think the bed takes up way too much floor space for what it’s selling (a single nightstand) but Catherine said people come here for the aesthetic. I can’t argue with her. We are untethered people looking for something to tether ourselves to here, anything. Even something as small as a yoga DVD or a fruit bowl that hangs bananas is a place to start, a direction to point ourselves into.

Chuck, I should tell you, I signed papers with Catherine. Made it official. She’s my business partner. That’s what makes me feel comfortable enough to tell her about you. That I’m not divorced. I don’t want to get into the details, but maybe it would be helpful for her to know, what with her putting all her energy into this place, what happened to you.

Lately something has been happening where I feel like I’m slipping into invisibility behind this counter. I feel only like a store owner now. Correction: half store owner. I’m playing a lot of solitaire


again. Did you know it was made up by a man who lost his wife in a fire? I don’t know if that’s true. Actually, I know it’s not, but I tell the people who pick up the deck of cards and start to cry that as if it’s true. Truth is, there are a lot of widows and widowers who come in here but they don’t say it. I can read it in their trembling fingers, their faces crossed with cloud. All the things I carry here could be useful to them too. After all, it’s all the things I learned to need after you died. I think you’d be proud of me, how I’ve made myself a life.

“Find ecstasy in life; the mere sense of living is joy enough.”
—Emily Dickinson

Life of the spirit


Pines and sky frame rippled water in the mid-morning’s quietude. I am alone in our cove, deep in the pages of The City of Fallen Angels when a small rustle interrupts my idyll. A sturdy woman in a head-wrap and long skirt stands at the clearing’s edge. I’m just looking for mushrooms, she declares, her accent unfamiliar, Is that okay? and places a few chanterelles in her basket. After a rain there are many. I’m visiting friends, over there, her hand sweeps across the pond. I know not where she points. My interest opens as she talks and plucks, talks and plucks. I would ask where she’s from, how to tell which mushrooms are safe but like the mushrooms she gathers she leaves as silently as she arrived.


I take my soul out on a walk

I take my soul out on a walk. a moonlit road, a stray cat in passing, a world quiet and uncaring. the tragic beat of a fleeting world, a world of dew, where we live until we don’t. we expire and evaporate with ease. deep within our hearts our souls cry out for rest. every yellow lamp gazing back at me is a dewdrop

in a world of struggle. I sit on a street bench and imagine a world where there is peace instead of pain. a sanctuary of overflowing joy. a place of no struggle.

young voices
golden shovel after Kobayashi Issa

hive of sisters

Iexperiencedmy first honeybee swarm in the summer of 2000—my second year on the farm. Tim and I were still crazy in love then: with each other, with life, and with renovating the small, weedy, Martinsburg, West Virginia homestead we’d purchased the previous year.

Tim and I were working outside in the late afternoon sunshine— he was repairing the old, cranky riding mower he’d dragged to the gravel driveway. I was pulling weeds in the front yard from the flower gardens we’d planted around the wavy stone foundation built in 1930.

A low vibration invaded the reverie of my repetitive, relaxing work. I ignored it—probably a distant neighbor’s chainsaw or weed whacker—but it got louder. I stood and wiped tendrils of hair from the sweat on my forehead. What is that sound?

Turning in a semicircle, I homed in on the humming and walked around to the driveway side of the house. The hum was louder there, sounding somewhat like the drone of a powerful, smooth-running engine.

“Tim,” I called, “can you hear that?” He stopped clanking his wrench against the mower deck, detached from the rusty machine and overturned on the gravel, and looked up. He cocked his head, nodded, and stood. We walked toward the back of the house on intersecting paths.

Clustered on a low, thick branch of one of the arching twin maple trees that grew between the farmhouse’s back door and the small barn was a writhing mass of bees. I grabbed one of Tim’s sun-hot arms and gasped. The hum increased in volume as we approached until I could feel it in my chest, like the bass of a too-loud stereo.

The swarm was the biggest I would ever see. The mass bubbled

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and churned, shape-shifting with the movement of the insects. We gaped at that spectacle of nature, me clutching Tim’s wrist and peeking over his shoulder from behind.

“They won’t hurt us, Kristen,” Tim said, pulling me into the circle of his arms and resting his chin on top of my head. “They are only interested in their queen right now.” We watched them reverently until the sun dropped behind the edge of the distant Blue Ridge mountains. The cooling air calmed the bees, and the few still flying around joined the cluster for the night. Tim and I made a wide circle around them to the back door.

Honeybees—both wild-living and domesticated—swarm when the queen runs out of space to lay eggs and needs a bigger home. Occasionally, a new queen is born and needs to find a new hive lest the current monarch kills her—only one queen can rule each colony. Either way, a queen takes flight, and her sisters fill their stomachs with as much honey as they can carry and follow her. Scout bees roam the area searching for a new home, but until they find one, the bees cover her where she lands and stay clustered around their queen. Her pheromones ensure they can think of nothing but protecting her and finding her a new palace.

In the morning, the swarm of bees in the maple tree was gone.

Later that day, we noticed bees flitting in and out of the rickety farmhouse chimney. The old brick fireplace was not functional—it had been sealed off and drywalled over years before—but the chimney poked up like a crooked tooth over the roofline. I was nervous about bees living so close to us then—I wouldn’t choose to keep bees for many years yet—but Tim was sure they were good luck. He insisted we let them stay.

At that time, Tim was still my gentle husband who fed scruffy stray kittens the bologna from his lunch sandwich; still the barrel-chested cinnamon-eyed man who often brought me wildflowers gathered and presented from his thick-knuckled hand.

Those bees stayed in the chimney for the fifteen years I lived on the farm. They were my housemates through every frigid West Virginia winter, even when my store-bought bees starved or froze. When I finally sold the farm in 2016, I made the new owners promise never to kill or evict those bees.



Did I choose to keep honeybees because they reminded me of the sweetness of the golden years with Tim before he became sick—and ultimately died—from addiction to OxyContin? Did those bees mirror the parts of me that survived the winters of our shared pain?

Sometime in 2002, Tim fell off a ladder and injured his back. We owned a thriving contracting business—time off didn’t happen. He went to a walk-in clinic and brought home a chunky yellow pill bottle stuffed with OxyContin tablets. A new nonaddictive pain killer, he told me, and he felt better already.

Two years later, on our June anniversary in 2004, this addicted and unrecognizable man handed me back his wedding ring.

A few weeks later, following one final violent confrontation, I watched the angry red taillights of his pickup swerve away for the last time. I’d declined to give him access to the locked shed where I’d hidden the remainder of the company tools and equipment he hadn’t yet sold or pawned. He smashed his fist into the drywall beside my head, and I slid to the floor, crouching and cowering, and threw the key across the room.

The county magistrate declined to issue a restraining order—it was all marital property, and I was reminded Tim was still my husband.

Tim failed to appear in court for our divorce proceedings in October. The court returned my name, and granted me the farm and all the business debt.

The honeybees looped and twirled like living smoke from the chimney above the farmhouse roof.

i had a farm, a shattered heart, and a mountain of debt. I was forty-one, single, and alone.

After a time of deep mourning and mind-twisting confusion, I chose to surrender to my circumstances. If life gave me a farm, I’d farm to the best of my abilities.

In March of 2007, I drove to Pennsylvania to pick up a ten-week-old Lakeland Terrier—one of the best beings I’ve ever known. I named him Aengus McKee Dorsey.

I took the West Virginia Eastern Panhandle Beekeeper’s Association’s beginner’s beekeeping class early that year as well. I spent hours learning


from a local beekeeper named Mark that summer, helping him with his hives.

During the late winter months later that year, I spent my spare time in Mark’s cluttered, dark, unheated warehouse workshop, putting together two wooden beehives with parts I’d purchased from him.

It was hard work building those hives, but I couldn’t afford to pay Mark to make them for me, so I bundled up in multiple layers and labored beside the bear-like, mid-50ish, taciturn beekeeper and West Virginia Highway Department worker. I blew warming breath across my aching, bloodless fingers as I stapled and screwed together hive bodies, nucs, and supers and strung wire across honey frames to prepare them for wax foundation panels. Mark never wore more than jeans, a flannel shirt, and a down vest, no matter the weather: something that always astounded me.

Mark and most of the beekeepers in North America use Langstroth-style hives, invented in the 1800s by Reverend Lorenzo Langstroth. These tall hives, made of stackable, 16” x 20” wooden boxes, contain removable vertical frames for storing honey and pollen and raising honey bee brood.

The Langstroth hive consists of deep, medium, and shallow boxes. The “deeps,” or hive bodies, are ten to twelve inches high and used at the bottom to raise the hive’s brood. The subsequent layers include the “supers,” which come in medium and shallow sizes for storing the honey that the beekeeper will harvest. Between the deeps and the honey supers is a “queen excluder” screen, made of a mesh large enough for worker bees to squeeze through but too small for the larger queen to breach. Since only a mated queen lays eggs, this keeps all the brood confined to the lower-level hive bodies and ensures that only honey and pollen get stored in the upper-level supers.

As winter continued, my hives got built and painted. Finally, I loaded them into the Jeep and drove them to the farm. I stacked together the parts that made the tower-like hive—the bottom board, the wide boxes of the deep hive bodies, the narrower-sized honey super, and finally, the inner and outer covers. The hives were ready for my new spring bees.

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i picked up two vibrating packages of Carniolan honeybees (Apis mellifera carnica) from Mark in April 2008. Mark had mail-ordered hundreds of the three-pound packages of honeybees for several local apiaries, orchards, and hobby beekeepers.

I’d had to show a property that Saturday morning—I now worked as a sales agent for a real estate company—and I arrived at Mark’s combination junk lot/bee yard/warehouse just after. I’d picked my way in black patent pumps along the rutted dust and gravel path to the open double doors of his squat, rusty warehouse. Stacked beside the doors was a hill of bee packages, their hum audible from the parking area, and Mark squinted at me in the morning sun as I navigated over twisted metal and slalomed around old tires.

He waited, holding my two bee-boxes in his ham-sized hands.

“You sure you’re okay?” he asked in his slow drawl. “I could swing by in a few hours and help ya.”

“I’m good,” I said, wobbling around a final crater and smoothing my skirt. “I’ve got this!”

Mark pursed his lips, gazed at me under raised, bushy eyebrows for a few seconds, then handed over the bees.

“Alright, then,” he chuckled, “give a call if you need.”

I could feel his gaze burning my back as I tiptoed to my Jeep, the droning of the bees vibrating my arms.

Driving with two packages of mail-order honeybees on the passenger seat of my Jeep was both nerve-wracking and exciting. I headed back to my farm, bumping along Martinsburg, West Virginia backroads. The bees’ communal humming spiked momentarily louder each time I lurched over a pothole, as if in criticism of my driving.

Each mail-order bee package contained about ten thousand gentle Carniolan honeybees and a young, newly mated queen. The wooden-framed containers, each about the size of a shoebox, had a can of sugar-water suspended inside to feed the bees during shipping, a small-mesh screen stapled across the open front and back sides, and a second, tiny wood-and-wire cage that housed the queen.

A plug of pliable candy blocked the round doorway to the queen’s cell, and it would take several days for the worker bees clumped in a crawling, shifting ball around her to chew through the candy plug


and release her. The artificially inseminated queen hadn’t been raised or mated by these bees, so the delay ensured that the bees would be exposed to the queen’s pheromones during shipping and accept her as their new matriarch. Additionally, it gives the beekeeper (oh my Goddess—me) time to install the young community into their new wooden hive.

My heart fluttered and my hands shook as I suited up in my new, snowy-white long-sleeve beekeeper jacket with the wide mesh bonnet. The non-crushable veil of the bonnet won’t fold down against the wearer’s face, protecting the beekeeper from angry honeybees that target an intruder’s eyes, nose, and mouth. The protective jackets are tough cotton cloth that sit just below the hip line. The elasticized cuffs and waist keep the bees from crawling under the coat. I pulled on yellow rubber gloves and carried the bees to their new high-rise apartments.

Spring sunshine warmed the morning, and wisps of steam rose from the dew-jeweled grass. I paused to take deep, calming breaths— bees respond to their beekeeper’s mood and I needed to stay serene and focused. I opened the hives’ lower-level large box—the deep hive body—and placed the upper-level supers beside me in the wet grass. I rapped the package of bees against the ground to dislodge them from the feeder can and the queen cage attached beside it and gently pried off the stapled wooden cover. I wiggled the can out from its circular hole. Bees dripped off the end of the can and began to fill the air around me.

I placed the queen in her cage in the bottom of the deep box of the hive and then upturned the package of bees and shook them—all 10,000 annoyed, humming bees—through the circular hole into the hive box, over top of the queen cage. They poured out of the hole. Most tumbled into a writhing heap atop the queen and stayed there, but many of the bees took flight. Bees clung to my mesh bonnet, dotted my arms, and crawled up my legs.

I repeated the process with the second package of bees, installing them into the second hive.

Bees looped through the air around my veiled head, then landed on the hive towers and found their way inside within minutes.

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Honeybees live for their queen, and her pheromones call them to her with a magical, insistent pull. After freeing the young queen, the new beehive would begin its wondrous collective—gathering pollen (and pollinating our food crops and flowers), raising baby bees, and building mathematically astounding hexagonal combs filled with golden honey.

I didn’t expect a honey harvest the first year, as the young hive needs all the honey it can produce to get through its first winter. My bees would be busy making wax and honeycomb for their first several months. Honeycomb houses their brood and stores pollen and honey—their food. After that, there wouldn’t be much time left in the season to produce extra honey for me.

My bees spent the spring building the colony. In June, the irises opened their bearded purple faces, locust tree blossoms perfumed the air, and dandelions turned their golden faces upwards, reflecting the gold of the sun. I suited up, puffed calming smoke into the hives, and opened the top.

Nothing on earth smells like the inside of a beehive. Wax, honey, propolis, and wood give it a warm, sweet, earthy, slightly astringent smell, and I breathed it in.

I slipped a metal hive tool, specially designed for just this purpose, under a wood and wire frame covered with brownish-yellow wax cells and pried it loose, pulling it up to take a look. The girls were doing fine, building wax comb and raising babies. I closed up the hives and left them to their work.

I often sat on the grass, just outside guard-bee range, watching my bees come and go, their shiny black legs encircled in giant yellow pom-poms of pollen like fancy show-ring poodles, then exiting again, clean-legged, to fetch more.

I smiled as they greeted each other at the hive’s entry door. The guard bees checked I.D.s like nightclub bouncers, bumping their black, glossy heads against all incoming bees, sometimes stroking each other’s antennae. Once, I even saw the honeybee “waggle dance”—a mysterious, mathematical communication of sun angle, gravity, and distance by which one bee expertly shares the location of a new food source with her sisters.


I fell in love with those bees. I marveled that the workers were all females—even the guard bees. Honeybees only keep a handful of male drones around in case of the ultimate emergency—the death of their queen. If that occurs, the nurse bees quickly raise a new queen by feeding a baby bee a unique substance they make called “royal jelly.” Then, the newly hatched queen requires a one-time, virginity-busting love-making session, after which she exits the hive, drones in tow, and flies straight up into the air as fast and high as she can. The drone who catches her gets to mate with her, and the hive has a new, strong matriarch.

Those few larger male drones don’t work—they eat and hang out, waiting for the opportunity to mate. In the fall, the female workers kill any remaining live male drones. No need, it seems, to feed mouths that have nothing to contribute over a long winter. They’ll raise more drones in the spring when food is plentiful.

I was single and wholly self-supporting for the first time in my life, working two jobs and tending the farm, and this hive of sisters inspired me. I admired their orderly focus and accepted the wisdom of their ways.

The swan-necked summer goldenrod gave way to the vermillion, lime, and orange hues of autumn, and the bees began to stay inside the hive. When the air temperature drops below the upper fifties, the bees gather in a communal cluster around the queen, where they eat their stored honey and shiver their wing muscles to generate heat. The internal temperature of a honeybee cluster is about ninety-three degrees, and it takes a lot of pollen and honey to fuel the colony. If the bees break away from this warming cluster, they’ll die if it’s too cold outside. Having honey inside their hive is their only way to feed during cold winter days.

on february 6th, the Mid-Atlantic experienced a powerful snowstorm now popularly known as “Snowmageddon 2010,” which brought blizzard conditions and more than two feet of snow to the Eastern Panhandle and other parts of the Mid-Atlantic. Roofs collapsed, cars piled up on impassable highways, more than 50,000 homes (including mine) lost power, and the government and public transportation systems shut down for days.

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On the farm, the wind blew snow into drifts that reached hip height. I had to pull my legs up out of the snow hills with my hands and throw them over the barely recognizable landscape.

It took days to struggle through the drifts to the barn, chicken coop, and beehives. The chickens needed the coop dug out to get water, their feed was in the barn, and the bees needed fresh air and a way out of the hives on warmer days. Bees will not relieve themselves inside—they will literally die before pooping in the hive. The beehives looked like snow cones poking up from the yard.

Pipes froze. We had no water—the farm was on a well run by electricity, which was out for four days.

My long driveway was impassable, and no amount of money could buy the services of a plow, as every truck with a blade was recruited to clear emergency routes throughout the county. About a week after the storm, plows made it to Divine Drive. The street sign was just visible above the snow left by the plows, as if someone had planted a flag on a mountain summit. Eventually, my closest neighbor, who farmed small lots of beef cattle, took pity on me and plowed my long driveway with his tractor.

After a few weeks, I had cleared small circles of snow away from the coop, hives, and the barn and had narrow footpaths to each of them. Aengus thought it was fantastic fun, and he raced through the snow path maze, running horizontally up the curved sides like a racecar on a track and leaping onto the now-crusted surface of the snow, skidding and skating across the shining moonlike expanse of the landscape.

We waited for spring.

I saw the bees at the end of that hard month. A milky sun warmed the day up just enough for a “cleansing flight.” They crawled groggily from the hive boxes, spiraling up toward the sun to relieve themselves, then tumbled down to bask on the hive and the small circle of brown grass cleared for them.

March pulled its usual cruel stunt, and it got cold again. Puffy snowflakes twirled from crouching, blue-gray skies, and I worried about my bees.

I called another local beekeeper, Herb, whom I’d met at last fall’s Beekeeper’s Association meeting. Herb was a dark-haired, cranky,


older man who owned a local apiary and had given a talk about winter hive management. Herb, Mark (from whom I’d bought my bees), and a small group of local apiary owners were the Eastern Panhandle Beekeeper’s Association’s core members.

“There’s nothing you can do but pray they have enough honey left,” Herb said with frustration when I called with my concerns. “This is the time of year when many hives starve,” he continued. “The whole lot of ‘em.” I heard the strain in his voice—he was worried about his bees, too.

“But why,” I asked the old man during that call, “are the bees dying now when they used to survive the winters?”

“Well,” he growled into the phone, “it’s the Colony Collapse Disorder. What it means is that the bees just ain’t as strong anymore, and weak bees can’t survive a long, cold winter.” I heard him banging on something as he spoke. “And it ain’t just us,” he continued, raising his voice over the background noise, “even the Southern bees are dying. Bees are dying all over the world.” He shuffled around, his voice going from muffled to clear as he shifted the phone between hand and shoulder.

“Can’t I just give them more honey?” I asked. “Just open a jar and pour it into a bowl?”

“Well, it ain’t just the honey,” he said, his voice sharp with frustration. “The damn mites are eating their brood, pesticides are poisoning them, and there ain’t enough flowers anymore with all the construction and lawns and dandelion haters moving in.” He grunted and muttered. “Sure, you go ahead and try feeding ‘em. If it works, you let me know. Bye now.”

I warmed my hands on a cup of hot chai tea, fragrant with cinnamon and cardamom and sweetened with honey from a jar in the pantry, and gazed out the window. Bony trees, black against a bruisedlooking sky, nodded solemnly in the forceful wind that streamed, icy cold, down the sides of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The following day, I chose a pretty serving bowl painted in cheerful red poppies and dumped my jar of raw, unfiltered wildflower honey into it. Cheap honey—like the kind that comes in a plastic bear from the grocery store—is primarily sugar water imported from China and isn’t good food for bees or people.

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The raw honey oozed into the bowl—golden-brown lava smelling of flowers and hot summer days. I pulled on my bright pink Carhart coveralls, plaid-patterned rubber boots over two pairs of thick socks, and wrapped my head, face, and neck in a wool scarf.

I trudged down the slope to the beehive, Aengus leaping ahead, gazelle-like. The grass crunched and shattered under my boots like upside-down icicles. I placed the honey bowl offering atop the hive and then knelt at the tiny front door opening.

“Hello?” I removed my glove and tapped the wooden side three times with a fingernail. The sound was hollow and lonely. Nobody came to the door. I hoped the girls were snuggling in a bee-ball, vibrating their wing muscles to stay warm. No matter what I offered them, it had to get above fifty degrees before they could break away from their warming ball to eat it. I sent them a prayer for luck.

Spring arrived later that month, and it grew warm enough to open the hives. I draped the hat with its attached veil over my head—I hoped I’d need it—and walked to the hives. The bowl of uneaten honey was a swamp of debris and petrified ants. I dumped the dirty honey on the greening grass and set the bowl against the base of the Maple tree. I pried the top from the hive—it gave way with a loud crack. Bees seal out all light with a remarkable substance called propolis, which is as durable as glue and so powerfully antimicrobial that people gather it for medicines.

No bees popped their little black faces between the frames of brilliantly efficient hexagonal wax cells to see who breached their home. There was no low warning hum of wings.

When I pulled out the frames, they were vacant—no honey, pollen, or baby bees. Beneath the frames, piled inches deep, dead bees curled their black legs around empty bellies—hundreds of tiny little C’s.

I scooped up a handful. They were light and dry, and a few of the bees at the top caught the breeze and rolled away like tumbleweeds. My other hand lifted the worthless veil from my face. You may kiss the bride, I thought, strangely, as I sank cross-legged to the cold, soggy ground. The wet soaked through the seat of my pants. I stirred the tiny bees in my palm, tenderly exploring their papery, translucent wings and stiff legs.


Eventually, I rose on numb limbs and retrieved the bowl that had held the uneaten honey meal. I wiped out the last of the honey with a handful of brown grass, which I flicked off the end of my fingers.

I dipped into the hive, ladling every bee from the dark interior, tumbling them down the sides of the pretty, red poppy bowl. The mounded bees resembled popcorn, and I jiggled the container to level them.

I studied the bowlful of bee bodies.

The sun warmed my back as I bent to gently arrange the bee-barrow amongst cheerful daffodils that swayed and nodded on the cool spring breeze.

In April of 2010, I tried again.

I purchased two new packages of Carniolan bees from Mark and installed them into my vacant hives. This second batch had an advantage: last year’s bees had already built out the wax honeycomb between the frames, and these new bees would save months of work. They could focus directly on filling the wax cells instead of spending months building them.

I filled the top feeder with sugar water to give the gals a food source until the dandelions and locust trees could provide natural nectar and pollen. The spring of 2010 was luscious with abundant sunshine and fragrant flowers. I’d stopped mowing my front and back fields by then, and the wild plants—a.k.a. weeds—that grew in mad profusion added to the bees’ food supply.

In June, I suited up to check on the bees.

I puffed smoke into the hive’s front door, cracked the propolis seal from the top cover, and peered inside. Using my frame-pulling tool, I wiggled and tugged until I could lift one free—beautiful, healthy bees crawled across the frame. The girls were already stuffing the comb with honey and pollen.

My bees grew strong in the hot summer sunshine that year. I let the bee girls keep all their honey; I bought two half-gallon mason jars of honey from Mark instead of harvesting. I wanted them to have as much food as possible to survive the winter.

My hives were dense and healthy by September, and bees from the chimney and hive boxes filled the air, buzzing past my ears and

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clinging to my arms and legs as I worked around the farm. I’d lost all fear of them. Only the guard bees are quick to sting—the pollen-harvesting bees are gentle and sweet-natured. I believed they recognized me as well, and we worked side-by-side in fond companionship.

That year, my garden produced more herbs and vegetables than I’d ever dreamed possible. The bees would swirl around me in contented camaraderie as I rustled through the gardens, bent or kneeling, plucking and digging buckets of herbs, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, beans, and potatoes.

Cooling autumn breezes slid down the sides of the Blue Ridge Mountains into our valley, and winter approached. The bees snuggled into their well-stocked home. I stacked bales of hay around the tall hives to block the sharp mountain winds and wished them well.

Over the winter, nestled in an overstuffed armchair with a quilt, Aengus, and a cup of honey-laced tea to warm me, I read dozens of books about natural beekeeping. The snow fell gently that year, painting the farm in monochrome shades of gray and white.

The year turned, and my bees took to the air on a warm day in February 2011 for a cleansing flight. I raced to offer them a bowl of Mark’s honey before the day cooled and they had to retreat into their warm box. I knew by now that late winter is the most precarious time for bee survival. They landed on the edges of the bowl, crawling down to lick the amber honey with tiny black tongues. Aengus ran in circles, barking and leaping up to snap at the twirling, swirling bees, a habit he never outgrew, despite many stings over the years by irritated bees. I watched the happy activity, laughing and cheering in the milky light.

When the overgrown forsythia bushes exploded in ladders of yellow blossoms and the black limbs of the redbuds bloomed purple, the bees emerged again.

They’d survived.

That year, I began using holistic, organic practices with my bees. I stopped using the chemical treatments encouraged by the Beekeeper’s Association to treat varroa mites, hive beetles, and tracheal mites. These pests, along with chemical pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers, are the primary suspects of Colony Collapse Disorder, which


is decimating the honey bee population on a global scale. I’d already gone organic with my gardens and chickens and never used chemical sprays or insecticides on my land. It was natural for me to extend these practices to my bees.

I moved the hives to the East-facing corner of the front yard, where the rising sun warmed them in the morning and kept away dampness that leads to bacteria and fungus problems. Raising the hives onto two cinder blocks and spraying beneficial nematodes in the soil around the hive base discouraged hive beetle (Aethina tumida) infestation. Hive beetles lay their eggs in the hive, and their larvae hatch and feed on the hive’s honey and pollen stores. A thick mixture of wood ash and diatomaceous earth sprinkled around the bottom of the hive helped keep ants away.

I fed my girls watered-down raw honey—a more nutritious alternative to traditional sugar syrup—but only until the yard was full of spring flowers. I laced the honey with lavender essential oil to reduce varroa mites (Varroa destructor), nasty parasitic bugs that suck the bee’s body juices, leaving them weak and even killing them.

Grease patties replaced chemical miticides to control tracheal mites (Acarapis woodi), which live and reproduce in the bees’ breathing apparatus, eventually clogging and suffocating the bees.

Finally, I began spending time sitting quietly near the hives, singing and sending them good, healing vibes as they flew to and from the colony. I’d been learning about energy medicine, and while I wasn’t sure the bees found it helpful, I found it very rewarding.

That year, I had two colossal honey harvests, gathering seven five-gallon buckets of sweet, golden honey and still leaving the bees with plenty for the winter.

When I stopped by Mark’s warehouse/apiary in July to sign out the Beekeeper’s Association honey extractor—a benefit of membership—for a second harvest, he was surprised.

“Well, now,” he said as he pulled a clipboard from the top of a dusty metal file cabinet, “my bees didn’t make much honey this year. How’d you manage two harvests?” He handed me the clipboard with a nubby pencil attached by a string and black electrical tape. “You’re not stealing their winter supply, now are ya?”

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“No,” I said with enthusiasm. “Last week, when I opened the hive, there was so much honey the bees were making honeycomb on top of the frames.” I scribbled my name across a line. “Mark, I’m using holistic practices this year.”

“Hole-is-tick?” he replied, scratching his head through short grey hair. “Now I’ve heard of that and the organic stuff, but those aren’t approved beekeeping methods.”

I nodded and continued as Mark helped me haul the bulky honey extractor to my Jeep. “I know, Mark, but I’ve had amazing results. I didn’t use any medicated supplements or miticide strips this year, and I didn’t spray any pesticides around the base of my hives.” I described my raw honey, essential oil, and natural pest control methods. Mark listened attentively as I lifted the gate of the Jeep. “And I’ve started singing to my bees, Mark, like the ancient beekeepers used to do.”

Mark shoved the honey extractor in the Jeep with one hand and turned to face me.

“You sing to them?” he asked solemnly. “Like, ‘Twinkle, twinkle, little star’ or something?”

a few days later, I had to go to Mark’s warehouse for some woodenware I’d ordered. Mark greeted me in his typical taciturn way as he dug out my order from his cluttered shop. I took the supplies, paid him, and turned to leave.

“Better quit singin’ to them bees,” he said, “or we’ll be calling you the witch on the hill.” He chuckled and raised his hand in goodbye as he turned away.

The witch on the hill.

I decided to own the title. After all, “witch” was a name given to many powerful women throughout human history. Lucky for me that it was currently illegal to burn one at the stake.

Perched on my hill, I continued to appreciate my bees. Honeybees are magical creatures, and I saw my second honey bee swarm in the early morning of June 2012.

That morning, I took my coffee and Aengus to the front porch to warm ourselves in the early sun. In a garden to my left, a small


swarm of honeybees, about the size and shape of a basketball, clumped around a slender branch of a butterfly bush.

At first, I was afraid my hive bees had swarmed, which is something every beekeeper works hard to avoid. An empty hive makes no honey. But my bees were busy buzzing to and from the hive in their usual morning commute. However, the chimney bees were in an uproar, twirling and whirling through the air between the chimney and the branch.

I pondered the swarm. I had an extra hive body. Should I capture this wild-raised, West Virginia native swarm and install the queen and her cluster into one of my hive boxes, where she or her daughter queens might interbreed with my purebred Carniolans?

Of all the things I’d done as a rogue, holistic, beekeeping witch, this would be the worst. Unthinkable.

The old-guard beekeepers I was learning from always used specific “races” of bees, and my hives were “pure” Carniolans. Honeybee races occur globally in areas isolated by natural barriers such as seas, deserts, or mountains. This geographic isolation results in close breeding, giving each race a set of unique characteristics. Carniolan honeybees originated in Eastern Europe, and are well-suited to cold, wet weather, thereby considered an excellent choice to survive overwintering. They are also said to be amongst the gentlest bees with strong resistance to parasites and diseases.

I loved the idea of feral, native bees. These bees had survived every winter cohabitating in my chimney for twelve years, whereas I had to buy new packages of non-native Carniolans every few seasons when they died over the winter.

Are imported, lab-bred bees better for my local ecosystem than the native bees chosen through natural selection? Breeding “pure races” of bees seemed another contrivance of the patriarchal system of power that I’d been swimming upstream against my entire life. Wouldn’t I eventually end up with more robust, healthier bees if I let the natives mate with my Carniolans? And wasn’t that a kinder, gentler way of keeping bees? My trust in Mother Nature’s wisdom was outweighing my adherence to the status quo as I worked in partnership with the land.


Throughout the day, I watched this small swarm between showing houses, working at the computer, feeding the animals, and harvesting eggs and vegetables for my dinner.

Finally, I decided that if the swarm was still on the butterfly bush in the morning, I would offer them a home in one of my extra hive bodies.

The cluster was still there in the morning, and I suited up, grabbed a hive body and a pair of pruning shears from the barn, and marched to the front yard. I arranged the hive body atop cinderblocks beside my current hive of Carniolans.

Using the pruning shears, I grabbed the base of the limb the bees were clustered around and squeezed and sawed at the wood—sleepy bees, still lethargic in the cool morning air, buzzed in protest. When the branch broke free with a jarring crack, many bees took flight around me, vibrating the air with their iridescent wings. They followed me—well, they followed the irresistible scent of their queen— to the hive body.

I stretched the limb across the opening of the square box, centering the writhing ball of bees, and thumped the thick end of the branch near my gloved hand hard against the box’s wooden edge. The clustered bees plopped as a group into the bottom of the hive box and then streamed into the air like living smoke. Only a fistsized ball remained in the bottom—the bees who were touching and stroking their queen—and I was sure then that I’d gotten her into the box.

Most of the airborne bees settled back around their queen inside the box. A small group wandered back to the branch where Her Majesty had left some scent behind, and I placed the limb onto the grass beside the hive body, beneath the slit at the bottom of the box that served as the front door of the new palace. I gently placed the wooden lid onto the box, and it was done. My hive sisters and I had gone feral.

Both hives—my purebred Carniolans and my native bees—survived the winter of 2012 and gifted me with surplus honey in 2013. I used much of the honey I extracted for food, made herbal medicines, and sold the rest to defray the cost of keeping the bees.


I caught another swarm in 2013, this time with less internal debate and more confidence. I was hosting a drum circle that day—a community event where people come together to enjoy rhythmic drumming, dancing, and friendship—when I noted a small swarm under the maple at the curve of the driveway in the front yard. I instructed the group to stay inside to avoid potential stings, suited up, and installed the bees into a hive.

The group watched in wonder from the windows, and we talked about honeybees all that evening. I told them that one worker bee makes only about a twelfth of a teaspoon of honey in her tiny stomach during her life. We discussed that three-quarters of all flowering plants, including thirty-five percent of global food crops, need insect pollination to reproduce. I brought out a jar of amber honey, and we all ate some in celebration as I explained Colony Collapse Disorder and what we could do to help our bee sisters.

“Stop spraying your dandelions,” I said, “and using chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Reduce the size of your lawns and plant native flowering species in your yard.”

In this way, bees gained some new protectors that day by sharing the magic and wonder of honey bees and discussing the perils they face.

Winter came early in 2013, with the first snow falling in October. It snowed several times in December, and in February 2014, the skies dumped more than a foot of snow across the farm. Finally, the air warmed enough to check my hives.

The girls in the Langstroth hives didn’t survive that winter. The bees in the chimney did, growing ever more vital and vibrant.

I sat beside the open crypt of wooden hives on the chilly grass and leaned back on my elbows. Aengus curled against my ribcage, and one of the resident barn cats climbed aboard and purred like a rusty engine across my belly. I watched the chimney bees twisting into the cyan sky.

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Nancy McCabe Stuck Together

I’vetold my daughter the following story before, maybe more than once; she says I repeat myself. In it, I’m twenty-two or twenty-three, in a Dillons grocery store with my mom, who releases her hold on her cart to gesture toward her ear. It’s the same motion my daughter will someday make to indicate that I have ink on my face or something green in my teeth.

“There’s a Band-Aid behind your ear,” my mom says when I ignore her gesture.

“Oh, I know.” I wave her off impatiently. I’m always sticking BandAids in the place where my ear connects to my head. My glasses are heavy, and the frames tend to dig in.

“But—” My mom waves frantically toward her own ear, where her round hearing aid is tucked.

I ignore her, stalking off down the bread aisle. She follows me, looking resigned. Is my mother pained at the way I ignore her, the way I will be someday when my own daughter does the same thing? My mother peers at me skeptically several times through watery blue eyes that have come to look bluer than ever in contrast to her hair, which has changed from stone gray to knifeblade silver and now to cloud white. Age has dulled her sharp edges, started to vaporize her. She follows me to the car, lips flattened together, damming up the words, or maybe the laughter.

I glance in the rearview mirror. A glob of piled bandaids has come loose and is dangling from my ear. I’ve been trooping around with a contorted bandaid earring like a demented woman who’s mixed up her first aid kit and her jewelry box.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” I ask my mom, who just shakes her head, lips pressed together, chagrinned and amused. Not long after, a graduate school classmate mistakes the bandaids piled behind my ear for a hearing aid.

My daughter just shakes her head at these stories. She knows that I didn’t have hearing aids. I didn’t have hearing loss. Sometimes I

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just refused to listen to my mother. Maybe I was getting back at her for all the ways she refused to, or could not, hear me.

I don’t tell my daughter this. I don’t want to be giving her any ideas. She already rolls her eyes and treats me like I’m a little bit feeble.

my dad’s uncle Joe hopped a train when he was twelve and was never seen again. My mother’s greatest fear was that one of her children might do the same thing. “I’m afraid that you’ll leave and never come back,” she once said to me. I was twenty-one. We were at a mall, standing by the railing, watching the endless flow of crowds below. I hadn’t called my mother in more than two months.

“I’d never do that,” I insisted, but there was a little part of me that thought maybe I could ruthlessly uproot myself. I felt bound to my mother by guilt. I wasn’t sure if I knew how to make choices or have feelings apart from that.

Now my own daughter is in her early twenties. She has moved away. Sometimes she texts every day or two and sometimes weeks go by between phone calls. I think of my mother. I wish I could talk to her about this now. I listen to other mothers. The thin edge of grief of mothers whose children have drifted away. The relief of mothers whose children come home for weekends now and then. The secret fears beneath the scorn of mothers who avoid talking about their children.

“Some mothers and daughters are best friends,” my mother used to say, sadly. I was never sure what she wanted from me, and none of my words or actions seemed capable of dissolving her disappointment.

“You’re my best friend,” my daughter has always told me. Now, though, she is financially independent. She has a serious boyfriend. When time goes by without contact, I understand my mother’s persistent doubt and fear. “We’re different,” my daughter sometimes says, as if our own relationship is stitched together with a stronger thread, stuck together with a stickier glue. And it’s true: we’re closer, which also means more volatile. More prone to misunderstandings and expectations and eruptions. When she criticizes me or vehemently

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thrusts me away when I try to connect with her, I cringe, thinking about my own karmic debt, how merciless I was toward my own mother. Is payback inevitable? What if my daughter distances herself the way I did?

at twenty-three, because of persistent tachycardia, my daughter has to wear a heart monitor for a month. “This is a pain,” my daughter says on the phone. She’s three hours away, in Pittsburgh. “These things are designed for sedentary people in their eighties. How am I supposed to run with this thing on? And I can’t take a shower because the stickers that attach to my chest keep coming loose.”

“I know it’s inconvenient, but I wish you wouldn’t be so cavalier about it,” I respond.

“How can you say I’m not taking this seriously?” Her tone is defensive. “You’re treating me like I’m a child.”

How often did my own mother want to say, maybe you’re not a child, but you’re my child?

How am I supposed to not worry about my daughter’s heart?

my mother and i were never fully estranged, though when I was in my twenties, there were entire seasons when I had no contact with her. On a couple of occasions, upset that she put my brothers before me and her other grandchildren before my daughter, I even wondered if I was capable of severing our connection. Our bond always felt fragile, makeshift, like the duct tape I once used to repair things around an apartment: a dresser that had come apart, a plug that kept falling out of an outlet. Like slapping Band-Aids on wounds rather than fixing the underlying cause. And yet, somehow, it still felt as if we were stuck together in some profound way that could never be pulled apart.

i don’t want a relationship with my daughter that feels patched together like that. My mother raised her children not to need her, she often said, and I didn’t. I’ve always encouraged my own daughter’s independence, but I don’t want her to stop needing me. During the teenage years, when most kids are gradually withdrawing into their

Nancy McCabe

own lives, my daughter suffered from a mysterious immobilizing illness that interrupted the normal detachment process. I wanted her to need me, but not like that. Not in a way that made it harder for her to go, harder for me to let her go. We were each in a perpetual tug of war, wanting to stay connected, afraid of being confined. It was the classic push pull of fairy tales: fear of abandonment alongside fear of being smothered.

Finally well enough to wrench herself away, my daughter went off to college. I suggested that we establish a time to talk each week, but she was having none of that, and later I figured out why: she wanted to be free to text me every day when she felt like it, and not at all the rest of the time. There were few days that we weren’t in touch, which gave me lots of opportunities to say the wrong thing.

my mother used to call me every Sunday. She’d follow the same script every time, asking few questions, delivering her health update, retreading old memories. On the rare occasions she’d veer off script, I’d shift into alertness. “When you were a baby, I affixed tape to your arms and legs because picking it off kept you occupied for hours,” she said once, a story I’d never heard. I laughed at the wicked humor that she usually hid behind Bible verses and clichés and her fervent wish that I remember her as a saint. When I was six months old, she’d weaned me abruptly and given me over to the care of aunts while my older brother was sick. Maybe that’s why we’d never really bonded.

But I understand the all-consuming experience of having a sick child. I wished I’d talked to her more about that when I was grown. And I’m weirdly touched by this picture of my mom keeping me occupied by tearing off bits of tape and slapping them onto my skin.

I kind of wish I’d thought of that when my daughter was little.

someday, maybe my daughter will have a child. She’ll struggle when her own child leaves home. Even if I’m around, will she talk to me about it? If my mom were around, would I talk to her? Or would I stay as defensive as I was when I was young, deflecting any possibility that she might criticize me even though she was never especially

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critical? I would like to say my own daughter isn’t afraid of that. But she so often hears criticism when I don’t mean any.

there are times i wish i could call my mom and say, what was it like for you? How did it feel when your children left home? I want to say, remember this, remember that, remember the time when I was little, how you taped tan construction paper labels to all of the furniture, like museum labels, intended as reading aids for me or one of my brothers? couch, closet,mirror. I thought of Sunday school stories about Adam naming the animals. How labeling things can help you suddenly make sense of them.

I think of how my mom gave me language, gave me this tool for making sense of things, for cobbling together my memories and worries and fears, to reach out over time to some future version of my daughter, to reassure both of us about the ways we are stuck together.

my daughter is complaining on the phone about the heart monitor again. “These stickers are leaving permanent scars,” she says, sounding overly dramatic though in fact this is not an exaggeration. Her skin is so sensitive that sweat and tears cause swelling and rashes. Her skin is so sensitive that sometimes mosquitoes leave marks that fail to fade with time. She had to have laser treatments to reduce the scarring left by allergy shots. So I mean to sound sympathetic when I say, “You’re probably the only person they’ve ever treated who has this problem—”

My daughter interrupts. “Why would you say that? When you say that I’m the only one who’s ever felt that way, you diminish my experience.”

“That’s not what I said. That’s not what I meant,” I try to explain, but we’re still tangled up in a frustration that feels unknottable when we hang up.

sometimes i wish i could call my mother and say, remember how I used to twist my hair around my finger into tangles you couldn’t unsnarl, so when I was nine, you made me get a pixie cut? I hated that haircut the same way my daughter looks back and hates the

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bowl cuts hairdressers persistently gave her. Remember how when I was older, I’d say to my mom, you’d place tape across my bangs to trim them evenly? It was one of the few things we did together. One of the few things I needed her for. in my twenties, when i returned home for visits, my mom and I talked nonstop for two or three hours, catching up and exchanging family gossip. Then the talk died down. It was like my mom just ran out of energy, and after that, her attention drifted, and she started delivering platitudes and shifting into stories that she’d already told me a million times. There was only so much intimacy she could stand, I thought, though now, looking back, I wonder if in fact listening to me took more out of her than I realized. Maybe she retreated into rigid routine, repressing all spontaneity, to disguise or compensate for her hearing loss.

My daughter and I have, by contrast, always had a million things to talk about: books, politics, fashion, TV shows, friends, relatives, health issues, memories. When she was in college, those conversations began to taper off, be cut short, our interactions mostly texts that pinged in: she needed more contacts, another pair of glasses, she needed to make a doctor’s appointment, she needed to pay for allergy shots, her rent was due. “I’m stressed,” she’d say. “I have so much to do. You have no idea how much I have to do, Mom. Can’t you call the doctor for me/pay the rent/mail me my favorite shampoo?”

Now we have fewer of those exchanges: a positive development, I guess, but I miss hearing from her. When she comes home, we talk nonstop for a couple of hours and then she drifts away to go for a run or call her boyfriend. She goes to bed early now instead of staying up with me to binge watch a show or pick out a movie. She doesn’t like to go shopping anymore or out to eat. The things that have always connected us feel like they’re gradually dwindling away.

not long ago, i found a story that I wrote when I was about twentythree. A mother and her grown daughter are in a car together, the unfocused road blurring by, the mother’s face dwarfed by her oversized Eighties glasses. The mother and daughter both have fair skin.

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Blemishes tend to resurface whenever they’re upset, scars where cold sores or cuts or pimples have healed suddenly blazing bright red. As she drives, the mom keeps saying things she’s said a million times: “I’m afraid to say anything because you’re always snapping my head off” and “I try so hard to please you, but you are never pleased,” and “Sometimes I think you could go away and never come home again,” and “I hope you feel guilty for the rest of your life about the way you’ve treated me.”

I’ve vowed never to say these things to my own daughter, yet sometimes they threaten to rise to the surface. Not the one about feeling guilty. I don’t want her to live with that blurred confusion of love and guilt that tangled up my relationship with my own mother. But my daughter is always snapping my head off. I try hard to please her, and often she is grateful, but maybe I remember more the times that she is critical. Once a couple of years ago, in the heat of an argument, my daughter said, “I don’t need you and I’m never coming home again.” My own submerged fear rose up, my memory of my own moments when I imagined severing ties with my family. Now, I read the story I wrote years ago, and am struck most of all by the cruelty of the young, the singleminded self-sufficiency of the daughter, both the character and the story’s writer who can’t recognize her mother’s grief.

when i was a child and I didn’t want to listen to adult conversation or long sermons, I patted my hands fast against my ears. That made people’s words sound like “quack quack quack.” Or I put my fingers in my ears and kept my eyes from focusing, pretending that I was underwater. Sometimes I also distracted myself by rapidly pressing one eye closed, then opening it and pressing the other closed in quick succession, watching objects in front of me jump around. Sometimes, as a teenager, I’d put my fingers in my ears, so that water pouring down in the shower sounded like rain on the roof. Is ceasing to listen inevitable, evolutionary, a way the young survive and keep pushing into their own lives, refusing to be suffocated by anyone else’s cautionary tales or hard-earned lessons?

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in the story i wrote at twenty-three, the mother sets the cruise control and lifts her foot from the accelerator, then lets the car slow to twenty miles an hour before she gives up and speeds up again. She has an unlined face, a halo of white-gray hair. Out the window, trees and porta-signs and fruit stands blur by. Unfocused, they warp as air does above a barbecue grill or through the smoke of a bonfire. The speedometer hovers just below fifty-five, then moves again gradually down to thirty-five, twenty-five.

In the rearview mirror, the daughter counts three cars backed up behind them. “Mom, you can go faster,” she says, and her mom starts to accelerate. Then, passing a police car parked on the shoulder, she slows to twenty again. Reading this now, I’m a little irritated by the daughter’s persistent focus on speed. Now I understand a little more the mother’s desire to slow things down.

at twenty-three, my daughter visits, and though we try to recreate old rituals, we can’t get through a single TV show. She’s been renting a room in Pittsburgh on a month-by-month lease, cheap enough to manage on her Starbucks paycheck. She pushes pause on the remote sitting on a tray between me on the couch, her in a wide chair. “Should I move?” she asks.

We discussed this topic a week ago. We agreed that she needed to find a job first. Or I thought we agreed on that. It’s as if the conversation never happened. As if she hadn’t heard me.

“It’s just that the guys I live with are gross,” she says. “They never clean anything.”

“But you really can’t afford anything else on your current income.”

“It’s not that much more expensive. But never mind.” She punctuates the end of the sentence by stabbing at the play button on the remote.

in the story i wrote at twenty-three, the daughter dodges the mother’s questions. “How are things going?” the mother asks. The daughter says, “What things?” “Your life,” her mom says. “Just in general.” The mother won’t ask whatever it is that she really wants

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to know, and this irritates the daughter. “Sometimes you act as if you don’t want to be around me,” the mother says. The daughter explains that adult children are impatient with their parents, are trying to achieve independence from them, as if her own mother never experienced this same transition. “Sometimes I think you’d be happy if you never saw me again,” the mother says, and the daughter answers, “I’m here, aren’t I?”

i would never say to my daughter many of the things my mother said to me, but sometimes I have similar thoughts. I try to push down the words that rise up in moments when I most keenly feel the loss of all the time we used to spend together. There are so many moments these days when we can’t seem to meet in the middle of the stages where we find ourselves: me aging and appreciating slow routines, her young and rushing headlong into her own life.

Sometimes I don’t think she listens to me. But maybe I’m not hearing her. So after my daughter has brought up the subject of moving to a new apartment, I grab the remote from a tray between us and push pause. “I just don’t understand why this is still an issue,” I say. “I mean, when we talked about this a week ago, you decided that moving right now wouldn’t make any sense.”

“You’re treating me like a child,” my daughter responds, and pushes play again.

i used to have more confidence about the ways that my relationship with my daughter were different from that with my mother. But so often, just as I used to, my daughter tunes me out, accuses me of repeating myself, asks me why I let her walk through the mall with eyeliner smearing a cheek. She’s impatient with me, says to me, “You’re so deaf, Mom.” I cringe, not just because it’s insensitive, but because I’m pretty sure I said equally cruel things to my mother, despite the fact that she actually did suffer from hearing loss.

my daughter is squished down in the chair and a half in the middle of the room, half-sitting, half lying, legs flung over the side. She keeps tapping on her phone. I don’t think either of us is paying attention

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to the TV show. I pause it again. “I just don’t think you’re thinking this through,” I tell her. When she doesn’t answer, I storm off to the kitchen to wash the dishes.

I mean, is it so wrong to want my daughter to make responsible decisions?

My own mom was good at backing off. At letting me make my own mistakes. A child of the depression, she did worry to an unnecessary degree, I thought, about how poor I was in my early twenties. I thought that being poor was just part of being young, something you got through until you had a decent job. Why can’t I allow my daughter to take her own risks?

“Let’s just watch this,” my daughter calls. She sounds defeated. Conceding. I huff back in, and she pushes play. I flop down on the couch, barely attending to the show. Push pause.

“I’m just worried,” I say.

“All right.” My daughter’s inflection suggests she’d do anything to put a stop to this conversation. She clicks to resume the show.

But I pause it a second later. I cringe inwardly. My own mother never let an argument go. She’d poke her head in the room periodically to make a new point, then storm off. “I mean, as soon as you get a job, you can move right?” I say.

“Okay, Mom.” She pushes play.

during her last years, my mom called me every Sunday and monologued about her doctor visits, tests, diagnoses, dialysis treatments, prescription side effects. I’d jump into a pause, tell her about a funny comment of my daughter or an award she’d won in school.

“You’re such a good mother,” my mom said, shutting down the conversation, returning to her litany of medical issues.

Often I just stopped listening. I rationalized: I had given up after a lifetime of her not listening to me, of her changing the subject when I told her anything about my life, reverting to recounting some story I’d heard a million times before. Maybe it wasn’t that she wasn’t interested, I told myself. Maybe she was just masking her inability to hear me.

“God, Mom, you’re so deaf,” we used to shame her, as kids,

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irritated that she was always mishearing us, as if hearing loss was something she’d chosen. After years of denial and embarrassment, when she finally turned to hearing aids, it was still hard for her to make out words over the phone. Sometimes I thought she just wasn’t interested. That she didn’t want to hear me.

I used to vow to be different. To hear my own daughter.

all of a sudden, my daughter sits up in the chair, grabbing the remote and pressing pause. “It’s just that this other place is such a good deal,” she says. “Not that much more than what I’m paying now. And the roommates there are women who are older than me. Quiet, with jobs, not people who party or are messy. But never mind.” She pushes play.

I push pause. “But won’t you have to put your dreams on hold again if you sign a year’s lease?”

“Well, I’d be taking over the lease for someone who’s breaking it. I’d just find someone else to take over mine.” She pushes play. She slides down in the chair, legs up on the arm, once again blocking my view of her face.

I wonder: could it be that my daughter’s not stubbornly clinging to some childish fantasy but has weighed her options and concluded that moving is a good idea? She’s had ten interview requests this week. And why wouldn’t I want her living in a cleaner apartment with mature female roommates?

Does some part of me secretly hope that my daughter will move home and let me look after her, ensure that she stays healthy? But I know that’s a bad idea. I know she has to learn to take care of herself, and is getting better at it, keeping medical appointments, watching her diet, getting exercise. I know that she is perfectly capable.

Maybe my mother never really understood who I was, but it’s also true that she managed to keep quiet every time I broke a lease or moved to a new apartment or quit a job. She kept quiet when I married and then divorced young.

My mother wanted me to remember her as a saint, an aspiration I couldn’t fathom, but despite her flaws, I see that there were times that my mother had a wisdom I fail at. If she were here, she’d remind

127 Nancy McCabe

me that I have to let my daughter make her own decisions, and not all of them will be mistakes.

I remember my own first apartments, things duct-taped and stapled together without the world collapsing. Do I want a relationship with my daughter like the one I had with my mom, like a house patched together with makeshift tools, Band-Aids slapped over old wounds, no reliable keys to open the doors between us, only loose coins and butter knives? I look at my daughter, and I think, why wouldn’t I help her open her own doors?

I push pause and she heaves a sigh, slumping even further down into the chair as if she wishes she could disappear.

playing nearby, my daughter only used to hear bits and pieces of my side of phone conversations with my mother, and I’m afraid that what’s embedded in my child’s memory is the way I tuned my mom out when she deflected spontaneity. My mother never really knew who I was or what mattered to me. But is that fair? She was there when I first brought my daughter home. I was there a few years later for her mastectomy, went to Walmart afterward to buy her surgical tape, thick, strong strips that stayed firmly in place. Did I ask her how she felt about that loss?

“maybe you’re right,” I said. I felt like I was speaking to empty air, my daughter completely out of sight in the deep cushions of the chair. “Maybe I just wasn’t getting it. Maybe you should move.”

My daughter’s legs swing to the floor. She pops up and stares at me. “Wait, what?” she says.

“What you’re saying makes a lot of sense.” I reach for the remote. “I think you should take it.”

My daughter snatches back the remote. “That’s not fair. I was so sure I wanted it when I thought you didn’t want me to. But now that you’re encouraging me to take it, I’m not sure it’s the right decision after all. Is this reverse psychology?”

above our heads on a shelf is a row of photo albums from my childhood. The tape holding in the photographs has turned yellow and

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fallen off, leaving marks where it used to be. I think that my daughter doesn’t know yet how things disintegrate over time.

I remember a friend whose mom had Alzheimer’s. “We can’t take her to Walmart anymore,” my friend said. “She gets too obsessed with peeling stickers off the floors.” That was the first time I noticed the smiley faces flattened in the entryway, smudged by footprints. I remember believing that I didn’t really have to listen to my mother. I remember believing that she’d be there forever to repeat herself, until she wasn’t.

“i guess a part of me wants you to tell me what to do,” my daughter says.

“So that you can do the opposite?” I tease.

She rolls her eyes. Sinks back down into the chair, disappearing. I hear her stabbing keys on her phone, e-mailing the new roommates that she’s decided to take the room.

when my daughter was little, she sometimes said mean things to me. “Why do you do that?” I asked her once.

“Because I know you’ll love me anyway,” she said.

By that logic, her pushing me away is a kind of affirmation, just as my distance from my mother meant I took her presence, her place in my life, for granted. I didn’t fully comprehend the firmness and fragility of our bond, but somehow, underneath, I did understand the inescapable, unpredictable ways we were stuck together.

129 Nancy McCabe


The latex grip of the swim cap creases my earlobes, dampening the thwumps

of bodies entering deep water around me as I tug out phantom wrinkles. Bundled bunches

of long, dishwater blonde strands I don’t want form the knot bulging underneath, and a rubber

pinch snags eyebrow hairs as I lower my goggles. Through the tint and muffle, the world is all dark

blue hues and I can hear my breath. I step up and hook the balls of my feet to the Velcro

block, but before the first beep tells me to bow, to get set, my gaze drops. The ripples

had found peace from the crashing bodies and ironed their surface into a mirror for me

to catch a glimpse of my own outline—naked and cap-bald, but still rendering my slightness, an hourglass frame, congenital softness— and I wonder if Eve, transfixed by her

own divine image in that Eden pool, was ever truly sinfully vain, as they say, or if she was like me—innocently hovering over the details of her feminine form, questioning

how she became she despite having Adam’s bones.


Someonefamous said having children is like having your heart run around in someone else’s body. Then here’s this heart of mine, frolicking off in the runt-body of a barn kitten I’d name “Eloise”—a creature barely the size of a rat. Love is always risky, but the perils of falling for something so vulnerable seem pronounced. With kohl lining around her eyes like an Egyptian queen and orange-and-white candy-striped legs, Eloise is the most beautiful cat I’ve seen. The rest is a piebald of calico ordinariness: black, white, orange. As a kitten, she grew to be so desperately—heart-crushingly—affectionate toward me that at times she would knead the air as she looked at me, before reaching up to stroke my face. She’d converse more than any cat I’ve known (my older cats use voices mainly to kvetch). Eloise and I talk.

When my partner discovered Eloise and her four litter mates, they were tucked into a hay-bale cubby outside the henhouse, crying for their mother with voices almost inaudible; and I went to them immediately. Touching my lips to their hard, marble heads and holding them to my chest, I reassured: “she’ll come back.” And fortunately, she did. Within hours, Mama-cat was moving them to a safe, ground-level hutch at the back of a pullet pen one barn over. Yet I found the runt alone in the hay bales, bereft. Perhaps because I cuddled her when she was abandoned, Eloise and I bonded. That instance was only the first time I found her alone as Mama relocated the family (apparently, runts are left for last). Both times, I held Eloise in the warm jet stream of my breath, hushing her and praying Mama-cat would return.

Each morning, I visited the kittens in their new digs, day-by-day watching them grow. Because they slept in a tight pile at the back of the hutch, I threw down an empty feed sack and wiggled on it— snake-style—into the space. Each morning the pile broke up as they crawled up my arms and eventually, as they strengthened, onto my shoulders and back and legs. They knew my voice and scent, and I theirs. They knew the feel of my lips and fingers running over their little paperclip ribs. There are occasional predators on our farm, and

Tricia Gates Brown
Love when no one is looking

I worried of a racoon or possum finding the stash of kittens, so I whispered incantations of protection.

Who would not fall in love with a kitten? The creatures are, as one friend put it, ridiculously cute. The way they notice their shadow and leap to catch it; the way they stalk one another around corners of a feeder and pounce, then do the arched-back Halloweencat side jump. The way they find their tail like it’s a novel instrument or turn a sibling’s tail into such; the way they vault and hang off the rungs of a hayfeeder like Olympians or wriggle their bottoms before pouncing, as if winding up for attack. Even watching them exercise brand-new, mundane skills like cleaning themselves or going to the bathroom in the wood shavings is surprisingly enchanting.

But one fall evening, from the window of my sewing room, I watched a coyote traipse across the farmyard, heading for the henhouse. I alerted my partner, who hurried down the path in time to scare it away, but from then on, I went to the kittens each morning with trepidation—each time, relieved to find them safe and well. Meanwhile, they grew bigger and more active, eventually outgrowing the short walls of the pullet pen, so I moved them one space over, to a horse stall with sturdy, opaque walls. Mama-cat approved, and they were safe.

Early in the summer of 2021, the broader Portland area experienced a blistering heat wave. At our farm, temperatures reached the high 110s, but only after I’d ushered the kittens to safety in the farmhouse bathroom. Yet with the bathroom door closed to dogs, the room is out of reach of air-conditioning. So I devised a low-tech AC, with huge ice packs and fan, managing to keep the place moderately comfortable. And for two days, the kittens wrestled and played, gathering dust bunnies beyond reach behind the clawfoot tub. At night, they slept huddled in front of the fan as the heatwave gradually lifted. But it was after this that I began to bring Eloise indoors for part of each day. Even as weeks rolled on, she remained tiny, notably more vulnerable than her brothers—and I determined she was not destined to be a barn cat. Within days, the brothers had figured out how to escape the horse stall, leaving runt Eloise alone. So I brought her in full-time. (Truth be told: eventually all three unre-homed kittens came indoors.)

Chautauqua 132

Slowly, she and I fell in love. It seems funny to say this—funny to describe oneself as “in love” with a kitten. Then again, I’m not sure why. Many aspects of our relationship strike similarities with affectionate human love. I think of her when I’m away from the house. I miss her terribly while on a trip. Randomly, I recall funny things she’s done, and no matter where I am, I smile. It is a variety of infatuation—this love. We have a relationship—something surely familiar to many who have loved pets (I’ve seen it in dog owners). As I work, she crawls into my lap and sleeps. As I sew, she naps in the windowsill, inches from my machine. As I sleep, she crawls under the covers between me and my partner, and I feel the vibrations of her silky purring body, still just inches long. She is wide-eyed at the world and learning. When I bathe, she stands on the rim of the tub clearly contemplating joining me, unfamiliar with the consequences of water.

However, there are questions of risk. How could I love her as much as I think I do and still let her play outside, which I did at about four months? Eventually she’d use the cat door and come-and-go at will as do my older cats. Generally, the cats frequent areas far from our rural road, and in general, that road is quiet. But twice a day, workers at the nearby organic mushroom farm speed past—heading to work and home. Even semi-trucks visit that farm, traversing the road just beyond our front garden, not far from the cat door. With the presence of predators and cars, how can I let Eloise escape the safe confines of our house? The reason is her ecstasy at being outdoors. She is an animal, closer to nature in many ways than I am. And if I was cooped up in a house unable to escape, I would protest.

Our relationships with humans seem often, inevitably, clouded by ego—whereas there’s something unvarnished about our love for animals. Even when we give love to a small child or elderly person who can give little back, part of us tries to cultivate a relationship that says something about us. We want the person to love us; we find ego-affirmation in the way they respond to us and bond with us, or even in our self-sacrifice; often we have the pay-off of admiration from that person or others because of the relationship. But when we love an animal when no one is watching—especially an animal in the wild, we receive little ego-gratification in return. Somehow the

Tricia Gates Brown

way the animal responds doesn’t define us the way the return-love of a human does. We are less likely to use that love to prop ourselves up.

Trust is also pivotal to cultivating relationships with animals. To animals, we are huge, scary beings. We must assiduously avoid doing things that reinforce fear in them or raise their distrust. When I start a relationship with an animal, I’m aware that every time I touch them, every time I lift them or set them down, I either cultivate or compromise trust.

More than any animal I’ve known, Eloise’s love seems commensurate to my love, reciprocal. I’ve never known a cat to stroke my face. It would be easy to think: This makes me special. But the singularity of the relationship emanates more from good timing than anything—that I was in the right place at the right time, when Eloise needed me. I have cultivated her trust, yet once she was underfoot and I stepped on her. And once she darted through the back door as I closed it on her. The injury didn’t do visible damage, but she must have been bruised.

And so I choose to love this cat—unreservedly—in a world not without peril, hoping to God she never comes face-to-face with a coyote or a car or my own clumsy foot.

Chautauqua 134

The Woman of Kherson

Taylen Huang

Thereis a woman who spends her time wandering the streets at all hours of the day, hands in her pockets, my brother told me. Sometimes she sifted through them, feeling their contents, and nodded to herself, seemingly reassured by their presence. Other times she scooped up whatever was inside and held it up towards her face in cupped hands, sneaking peeks at it through the gap between her thumbs, and exhaled a tiny sigh of relief that sent her loose, chin-length curls fluttering.

You knew this because you watched her closely between drying dishes and scribbling down orders each day from the restaurant where you worked. Otherwise, she blended in well with the tan-themed scenery in her beige-brown attire and patent shoes—one size too big, which made her walk with a slight shuffle.

More often than not, she could be found pacing by the patisserie’s windows, gazing at the golden scones and ruby-studded pastries, drawn to the decadent display like a hungry child. Occasionally she sat at one of the tiny round tables under the shade of the red umbrella. It was too small for the tanned young couples who were regulars. Sometimes the manager would come out to chat with her about mundane things like the weather and the stock market. She would merely nod, never uttering a word, only breaking into a rare smile at the mention of the man’s granddaughter. You speculated that she had probably lost a child of her own. Why lost? Why not had?

You never wondered about the practical things. You know: How did she make a living? Where did she live? Did she have a family? Friends? If so, why weren’t they with her?

You cared more about her gait, her expression, her nose, and her coordinates throughout the day. It’s kind of on the bigger side, a bit curved—aquiline, I believe they call it—and slightly crooked, like it’s been broken before. Her nose, I mean. By now, I am so intimately familiar with these details that I feel like I’ve met her, albeit carelessly—a family friend who I maybe met at a reunion two or three years ago,

young voices

exchanged four words with, and realized that our shared qualities did not extend past five adjectives.

Most importantly, you wanted to know what precious treasure lay in those pockets of hers. Definitely something small, or at least flat, because her pockets didn’t bulge. Not sharp because she could hold it in her bare hands. Relatively malleable because you sometimes caught her kneading it absentmindedly with her fingers as she gazed up at the sky, contemplating something or maybe just looking at the clouds.

It always rained after she did this, you told me. A light rain, no longer than five minutes—like tiny silverfish that darted down from the gray ocean overhead, tickling necks and sticking to car windows. If you stuck your tongue out and happened to catch one, it would taste exactly like the salted fish from the seafood market around the corner.

That’s just regular rain, I protested. All rain comes from the sea. No, this is different—it’s bloodier.

I said you were crazy. You didn’t argue, just looked at me with laughing eyes, as if I were the one being ridiculous. We were like that a lot: you making outrageous assertions in a calm fashion, me halfheartedly trying to refute your claims, giving up when I saw that glint surfacing in your eyes. Not your typical sibling dynamics. You liked to joke that our personalities were accidentally inverted in the womb. I’d point out that we weren’t even in the womb at the same time, and we would fall back into the same pattern.

But back to the woman.

If you care so much about what’s in her pockets, why don’t you just ask her? I didn’t understand why anyone would dedicate so much of their time and energy to ruminating over such a simple problem, one that they could resolve within minutes. Plus, you had a habit of striking up conversations with random strangers you met—the lady at the convenience store, the bushy-eyebrowed birdwatcher at the local park who would mulishly wait for hours on end without spotting even a sparrow, and even the unattended eight-month-old at the barber who had yet to utter his first word (and whose mother was convinced you were trying to kidnap her son when she returned from her dye job).

Chautauqua 136

It’s less fun that way, you said, frowning as if I had said something offensive. A moment later, you confessed that you thought the object(s) were personal. Like how some people keep a photo of their deceased loved one in their wallet? I asked.

Yeah … something like that. Your eyes had already drifted elsewhere, to a foreign land in your mind that only you could access.

Two days later after that conversation, you burst through the door of our rented apartment, your breaths ragged and your chest heaving. She—seeds—I s-saw them! you said, one hand still resting on the doorknob. Your body trembled with the effort it had taken to run the block home plus the two flights of stairs. We stood like that for five full minutes at least, you recovering from the exertion, me bewildered by your words, and that was when I realized how poor your health was. A news report was blaring on the radio, a man’s staticky voice describing a military occupation someplace faraway. Neither of us paid it any attention.

I saw what was in her pockets, you said. Your panting had diminished to a high-pitched, raspy croak that came from your throat when I least expected it, like the whine of a boiling kettle. Berry seeds. But she never plants them.

It was inevitable that you were there with her when the bombs fell in Kherson. Trailing her, as you liked to call it, as if you were a spy in a detective novel.

When I think about the bombing, I imagine the sky painted with napalm, the soldiers’ eyes, dark and cold like the sea—but never the explosion itself. You had just put down a greasy rag, gazing out the window out of habit to see if she was still sitting at that tiny round table, even though your shift was already over and the stream of consumers had thinned. I often think: had she never existed, would they have bombed our town?

In my mind, she became the source of the tragedy. Not a spiteful condemnation, but a matter of fact. It was true that she was the reason you were re-wiping already-shiny tables and not at home, safe in the musty cellar that we shared with our neighbors. It was true, therefore, that she was the reason you were fractured into the same indistinguishable pieces that she became, sparing the authorities from using two extra body bags.

Taylen Huang

Strangely, it does not bring back terrible memories for me to visit the scene. In fact, it has almost become routine for me to stroll past the galleria on the weekends, arm-in-arm with my fiancé, but usually alone because he does not understand the history of the place. Today, the main street is riddled with thousands of gaping holes, hungry gray mouths open in permanent, toothless yawns, and the sight stops me in my tracks. It does not make sense. How could such a wild and reckless cataclysm create such small and perfectly circular scars, like mere cigarette burns? When I stoop down for a closer look, however, they are merely crushed berries. Hundreds of them, crowding out the fissured ground with their angry, bitter color, the ink of their juice seeping into the cracks of the pavement.

She said that when the soldiers came, she would ask them to fill their pockets with berry seeds so that when they died, the berries could grow, providing rich fruit for the people. It was the very least they could do, she said, for killing a town of people and themselves in the process.

Chautauqua 138

SDF: Semper Fi

Olga-Maria Cruz

December 27, 2001

The crew of rangy boys waits quietly in the airport lounge. Newly shorn recruits, the Marine Corps has sent them signing bonuses for Christmas, a peaceful holiday at home, and now, two days later, is shipping them off to training camp in South Carolina before Iraq. Boys from Seneca High School, boys from Male and Central, seventeen-, eighteen-year-old, soft-faced skinny boys, never flown before; some of them, it’s their first time in an airport.

They gather and smile for the veteran who’s taking their picture. Instead of “cheese,” he tells them, “Semper Fi.” A few boys laugh nervously boarding the plane, claim to each other they’ll feel better on the boat.



Schenley Park, Pittsburgh

Today on semi-toppled slippery stone steps shaded dark by summer greening up from Panther Hollow to the drinking fountain in front of the conservatory, I stopped. On the landing before the final turn toward sunlight, where even kindness seems calculated today, woozy and exposed in sudden heat, even fountain water a tepid mockery of relief—a woman near my age, sixty, took photos with a tripod camera and lenses that only people our age still use.

I don’t talk to strangers on the trail— a wave or nod. At sixty, my inside trails are diverting enough. But this woman, short white hair like mine, drew me into focus, intent on getting something seriously right. Hey, what you got there, I asked, stopping on the step below to not disturb. Phlox, she said, or something—a name I did not recognize. More of a weed

I’d walk right past. Kids with phones shoot everything instead of just living life and remembering it, damn it! Saying TMI for Too Much Information but all I think is Three Mile Island. I date myself like ink price stampers before UPC codes. I have early onset dementia, she said.

I’m shooting a series called “Forgotten Schenley.” We run out of excuses for not telling the truth.


My mother, 91, has no filter, I explain to my kids when she comments on somebody’s weight or a fond memory of sex on a lazy afternoon. I was going to write, all I could say was good luck. In the interest of truth, I could have said any number of more sympathetic things. I sincerely meant good luck, not that sarcastic good luck with that kids say in response to insane optimism or blind naivety.

She didn’t thank me—on her tickingclock mission with memory. I hope it’s ticking like those clocks on bombs in bad movies, endlessly extended in the name of suspense. For her, the bomb is already exploding in slow-motion. A lot for her to forget about Schenley—456 acres of it. I’ve already told my family I want my ashes spread there—in memory of trails, the playground, swimming pool, picnics, soccer games, and on, and on, right, my photographer friend?

The steps can take your breath away if you’re not in shape or careful. Will my memory be in shape, not putting on pounds? At 91, my mother has few friends left to confirm or contradict memories.

Just last month she told me a neighbor had abused her as a child. She’d spoken up about it then, but nothing was done.


No comfort that he’s dead now, is there, Mom? The bar for comfort lowers as we age. After all, we don’t want to trip on that bar and crack all our expensive lenses.

Since I turned sixty, strange things bring me to tears, and I’ve never been much of a crier. Not something we do in our family. When you lose a brother and sister before you’re out of high school, you go, fuck tears; right, Dad? At 91, he still won’t talk about them though now he blames failing memory. He got a new car and a hearing aid, so things are looking up for him. My blind mother capitalizes Memory.

The woman might still be out on the trail— healthy enough to do those steep steps to bend to the tepid water at the top— covering and recovering ground. At the top, I saw something she missed, so I want to fill her in. We’ve got more bridges than anywhere except Venice, according to Pittsburgh, though they’ve been fudging facts to keep millennials from abandoning us for hipper Burghs. Like in Paris, young lovers latch locks of love onto the Panther Hollow Bridge. Both Pittsburgh and Paris begin with P and you don’t have to go all the way to Paris to be a romantic fool, right,

Chautauqua 142

Mom and Dad? They celebrated their 60th in Detroit by re-creating wedding pictures outside the Belle Isle Conservatory minus all the dead people. My mother couldn’t bend to sit on the grass like in the old photos. She couldn’t see them anyway, so did it matter? It mattered a lot. Lots of kinds of blindness, and we all suffer from at least a couple.

I crossed the street to the lock-laden bridge. A car double-parked, and a girl ran out and clicked a lock, ran back to where her boyfriend sat, engine running. As if a cop was going to ticket them for that. They drove off into traffic, past the museum famous for dinosaurs and a steam smokestack known by literary romantics as The Cloud Factory. I waved. I wiped away tears. Maybe I’m starting to lose my filter. I’m not saying Paris isn’t nice, but I’ve got a new slogan for Pittsburgh: Fuck Paris. Maybe that’s why the city wouldn’t hire me. I shed a few of my ashes.

My wife and I clicked on one of the first locks. You can’t even read our initials on it now, but that’s okay, isn’t it, my Forgotten Schenley friend? The lovers should have taken their time and done it right, putting the lock on together and smooching a good long while. I hope they weren’t on their way out of town.

Jim Daniels

If you get a ticket for double parking on the bridge to click on a lock, appeal the fine. If the cop shows up to testify, the only thing I’d have to say to him is Good luck with that.

Chautauqua 144

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contributors notes

Brian Beatty’s flash fictions “The Glass Eye” and “The Saxophone” come from a sequence-in-progress tentatively titled Smalls. Other stories from this series have appeared in Cowboy Jamboree, The Drabble, Floyd County Moonshine, Hoot, Paragraph Planet and SoFloPoJo.

Mary Birnbaum was born, raised, and educated in New York City. She has studied poetry at the Joiner Institute at UMass, Boston. Mary’s translation of the Haitian poet Felix Morisseau-Leroy has been published in The Massachusetts Review, the anthology Into English (Graywolf Press), and in “And There Will Be Singing”: An Anthology of International Writing by The Massachusetts Review, 2019 as well. Her work is forthcoming or has recently appeared in Lake Effect, J-Journal, Spoon River Poetry Review, Soundings East, and Barrow Street.

Tricia Gates Brown’s essays have appeared in various publications, including Oregon Humanities, Portland Magazine, Still Point Arts Quarterly, and Rathalla Review. Her novel Wren won a 2022 Independent Publisher Award Bronze Medal

Vincent Casaregola teaches American literature and film, creative writing, and rhetorical studies at Saint Louis University. He has published poetry in a number of journals, including 2River, The Bellevue Literary Review, Blood and Thunder, Dappled Things, The Examined Life, Lifelines, Natural Bridge, Please See Me, WLA, and Work. He has also published creative nonfiction in New Letters and The North American Review. He has recently completed a book-length manuscript of poetry dealing with issues of medicine, illness, and loss (Vital Signs).

A.S. Cordova is a beginning writer living in Philadelphia. Her fiction has never been published, but a short story she wrote received an honorable mention from Glimmer Train magazine back in 2008. Since then, she has spent her twenties pursuing a professional career and only recently refocused on writing fiction.


Olga-Maria Cruz (she/her/ella) is a Latinx poet and essayist whose work has appeared in journals including Poetry East, Pen & Brush, Carolina Quarterly, and Bellevue Literary Review, and anthologies, Same Time Next Week: True Stories of Working Through Mental Illness (In-Fact Books) and The Louisville Anthology (Belt Publishing). Her chapbook, A Philosopher Speaks of Rivers, was published by Finishing Line Press. She has received poetry and creative nonfiction grants from the Kentucky Arts Council and Kentucky Foundation for Women and residencies at Hopscotch House and the Weymouth Center in North Carolina.

Jim Daniels’ eighteeth poetry book, Gun/Shy, was published by Wayne State University Press. Other recent books include his fiction collection, The Perp Walk, and his anthology, RESPECT: The Poetry of Detroit Music, co-edited with M.L. Liebler, which was a Michigan Notable Book and received the Tillie Olsen Prize from the Working-Class Studies Association. A native of Detroit, he lives in Pittsburgh and teaches in the Alma College low-residency MFA program.

Kristen Dorsey is a USMC veteran, award-winning visual artist, and MFA candidate within UNC Wilmington’s Creative Writing program. Her writing has appeared in Chautauqua, Collateral, Press Pause Press, and Atlantis. Kristen’s essay, “Semper Fi,” was a 2020 Pushcart Prize nominee. Writing and art samples can be found at

Kristina Erny is a third-culture poet who grew up in South Korea and elsewhere abroad. She holds an MFA from the University of Arizona. Her work has been the recipient of the Tupelo Quarterly Inaugural Poetry Prize and the Ruskin Art Club Poetry Award, as well as a finalist for the Coniston Prize. Her poems have appeared in The Los Angeles Review, Yemassee, Blackbird, and Tupelo Quarterly, among other journals. She currently lives and works in Shanghai, China, where she teaches at an international school with her partner and their three young children.


Contributors Notes

Yueyi Huang (going by Taylen) is a 15-year-old writer from Shanghai, China. Other than writing nonstop from noon to early morning, her interests include reading, basketball, debate, and photography, as well as figuring out ways to make avocadoes actually palatable. She has been published in Inlandia: A Literary Journey and was winner of the 2021 Writing for Peace Young Writer’s Contest.

JUSTIN HUNT grew up in rural Kansas and lives in Charlotte, NC. His work has won several awards and appears in a wide range of literary journals and anthologies in the U.S., Ireland and the U.K., including, among others, Five Points, Michigan Quarterly Review, New Ohio Review, Solstice, River Styx, The Florida Review, Arts & Letters, Bellingham Review, Crab Creek Review,, Southword, Live Canon and The Bridport Prize Anthology. He is currently working on a debut poetry collection.

Rick Kempa is a poet, essayist, and editor living in Grand Junction, Colorado. For more info, please see

Louise Kim is a student at the Horace Mann School in The Bronx, NY. Their writing has been published in a number of publications, including Et Cetera Magazine, Girls Right the World, and The Star Collective Zine, and is forthcoming in Ricochet Review. Her work has been nationally recognized by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. In their free time, Louise enjoys practicing archery, studying French, developing their spiritual practice, and reading and writing.

JAmes King is a poet from New Hampshire and an MFA candidate at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. His short stories and poems have appeared in The Foundationalist, Humana Obscura, and High Shelf. His poem “Our Respective Squares” was the winner of the 2020 Academy of American Poets Prize from Dartmouth College. He currently serves as Managing Editor of Chautauqua and as a coordinator for the UNCW Young Writers Workshop. He lives in Wilmington, North Carolina.


Jak Emerson Kurdi is a master’s student at Texas Tech University, concentrating in creative writing. If he has a weekend to spare, you could find him hiking in the New Mexican wilderness or pretending to like craft beer with his friends on a restaurant patio. His work has also been published in Inklette Magazine and The Dillydoun Review.

Charlotte Matthews is the author of four poetry collections, a memoir, and a novel. An Associate Professor at the University of Virginia, she teaches writing to adult learners. She lives in Crozet, Virginia.

Nancy McCabe is the author of six books, most recently Can This Marriage Be Saved? A Memoir (Missouri 2020). Her work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in ACM, Entropy, Manifest Station, the Brevity blog, and Salon; her Salon piece was chosen for their Best of 2021 list. Her work has also appeared in Prairie Schooner, LARB, Massachusetts Review, Newsweek, Michigan Quarterly Review, Fourth Genre, and many others. She’s the recipient of the Pushcart Prize and eight recognitions in the notable sections of Best American Essays and Best American Nonrequired Reading.

Karla Linn Merrifield, a nine-time Pushcart-Prize nominee and National Park Artist-in-Residence, has had 1000+ poems appear in dozens of journals and anthologies. She has 15 books to her credit. Following her 2018 Psyche’s Scroll (Poetry Box Select) is the 2019 full-length book Athabaskan Fractal: Poems of the Far North from Cirque Press. Her newest poetry collection is My Body the Guitar, inspired by famous guitarists, and published in January 2022 by Before Your Quiet Eyes Publications Holograph Series. Her Godwit: Poems of Canada (FootHills Publishing) received the Eiseman Award for Poetry. She is a frequent contributor to The Songs of Eretz Poetry Review, and assistant editor and poetry book reviewer emerita for The Centrifugal Eye. Find her at:;

Christopher Mohar is the author of The Denialist’s Almanac of American Plague and Pestilence, winner of the Etchings Press Novella Prize.

Contributors Notes

Contributors Notes

He has been the recipient of a Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing Fellowship and The Southwest Review’s McGinnis Ritchie Award for fiction, and has previously taught writing in a men’s correctional facility. Selected works can be found in X-R-A-Y, The Mississippi Review, North American Review, Creative Nonfiction, Arts & Letters, Gastronomica, and New Stories from the Midwest (Indiana University Press).

Emma Paris is a homeschooling junior living in Putney Vermont. Some of her most recent publications have been with Scholastic Art and Writing Awards where she received two Gold Keys for her poetry, she was also accepted into an intensive poetry retreat this was summer, Next Galaxy Poetry Retreat with Bianca Stone and Arisa White.

Holly Pelesky writes essays, fiction and poetry. She received her MFA from the University of Nebraska. Her prose can be found in The Normal School, Okay Donkey, and Jellyfish Review, among other places. Her collection of letters to her daughter, Cleave, was recently released by Autofocus Books. She works a librarian and writing center consultant while raising boys in Omaha.

Erin Pesut received her MFA from Columbia University. Her work has appeared on Vermont Public Radio and in Poetry South, Camas Magazine, CityView, The Peal, Legacy Magazine, and HeartWood Literary Magazine, among others.

Jennifer Sauers co-founded a personal history business after a 20+ year career in clinical research. She is working on a nonfiction book about a mid-20th century black concert artist who rose to fame in Europe during the 1930s, but struggled with acceptance when she returned to her native Cincinnati, Ohio. Jennifer graduated from the University of Georgia’s MFA in Narrative Nonfiction Writing program in 2019. She lives in Cincinnati.


Contributors Notes

Adam Scheffler is the author of two books of poetry: Heartworm, which won the 2021 Moon City Press Poetry Award, and A Dog’s Life, which won the 2016 Jacar Press Poetry Contest. He teaches in the Harvard College Writing Program.

Sue William Silverman is an award-winning author of seven works of creative nonfiction and poetry. Her most recent book, How to Survive Death and Other Inconveniences won the gold star in Foreword Review’s Indie Book of the Year Award as well as the 2021 Clara Johnson Award for Women’s Literature, sponsored by The Jane’s Story Press Foundation. Other nonfiction books include Love Sick: One Woman’s Journey through Sexual Addiction, which was made into a Lifetime TV movie; Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You, which won the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Award; The Pat Boone Fan Club: My Life as a White Anglo-Saxon Jew; and Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir. She teaches in the MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts, and is the current creative nonfiction editor of Hunger Mountain.

Joanna Theiss (she/her) is a lawyer turned writer living in Washington, DC. Her publication credits include flash, short stories, articles and essays in literary and academic journals and popular magazines, and her microfiction won Best Microfiction 2022. Twitter: @JoannaVTheiss.

Cammy Thomas’s newest poetry collection, Tremors, came out in fall 2021. Her first book, Cathedral of Wish, received the Norma Farber First Book Award from the Poetry Society of America. A fellowship from the Ragdale Foundation helped her complete her second, Inscriptions. All are published by Four Way Books. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals and in the anthologies Poems in the Aftermath (2017), and Echoes From Walden (2021). Two poems titled “Far Past War” are the text for a choral work by her sister, com-


Contributors Notes

poser Augusta Read Thomas, premiering at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC in 2022. She lives in the Boston area.

Brayden Titus is a student in Valencia, California. A sophomore high school student with an interest in writing and art. Find him at

Connemara Wadsworth’s chapbook, The Possibility of Scorpions, about the years her family lived in Iraq in the early fifties, won the White Eagle Coffee Store Press 2009 Chapbook Contest. Her poems are forthcoming or appeared in Prairie Schooner, Solstice, San Pedro River Review, Chautauqua, and Valparaiso. “The Women” was nominated for publication in Pushcart Prize Best of the Small Presses by Bloodroot Magazine. Connemara and her husband live in Newton, Massachusetts.


Chautauqua is open to submissions from any writer. The editors welcome original, previously unpublished works of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction, particularly those pieces that embody the vision of Chautauqua Institution, as much a philosophy and an aesthetic as a physical place whose soul lies in the American passion for self-improvement—the drive to enrich oneself culturally, artistically, morally, and intellectually. Check the website for information on themes and reading periods: / season / literary-arts / readers / literary-journal.

General submission guidelines are also available on the web at / season / literary-arts / readers / literary-journal. Book reviews, interviews, and profiles are by invitation only; please query the editor before submitting. Other queries may be addressed to

In this issue:

Ballet is equal parts focus and surrender. War is forward momentum and plans of attack. They both exist in motion. Then they evaporate. It’s all imprint. It’s shadow. When they’re over, they become whatever gets left behind.”

—Erin Pesut, “Endings”

This is when it dawns on me that his leaving, his coming home, the sheer fact of this man-child of mine, the whole way time spun forward, is outlandish. He is more alive now than I’ll ever be again.

—Charlotte Matthews, “Prayer Flag”

… if I could draw closer, I would, / to see a final look in the eyes / that might be seeing something / “new and strange,” or to hear, / a last broken gasp of revelation—”

Vincent Casaregola, “If Secrets Could Spill”

Our bond always felt fragile, makeshift, like the duct tape I once used to repair things around an apartment: a dresser that had come apart, a plug that kept falling out of an outlet. Like slapping Band-Aids on wounds rather than fixing the underlying cause. And yet, somehow, it still felt as if we were stuck together in some profound way that could never be pulled apart.”

—Nancy McCabe, “Stuck Together”

Articles inside

contributors notes article cover image

contributors notes

pages 152-159
FORGOTTEN SCHENLEY article cover image


pages 146-151
SDF: Semper Fi article cover image

SDF: Semper Fi

page 145
The Woman of Kherson Taylen Huang article cover image

The Woman of Kherson Taylen Huang

pages 141-144


pages 136-140
Nancy McCabe Stuck Together article cover image

Nancy McCabe Stuck Together

pages 123-135
hive of sisters article cover image

hive of sisters

pages 105-122
I take my soul out on a walk article cover image

I take my soul out on a walk

page 103
Apparition article cover image


page 102
Idon’t article cover image


pages 91-100
Questions for Srojan article cover image

Questions for Srojan

page 90
bleak waves at night article cover image

bleak waves at night

page 89
Walking at dusk Justin Hunt article cover image

Walking at dusk Justin Hunt

page 88
Ihated article cover image


pages 77-87
Between our Walls by A.S. Cordova article cover image

Between our Walls by A.S. Cordova

page 77
As if secrets would spill article cover image

As if secrets would spill

pages 74-75
flowers for angela article cover image

flowers for angela

pages 72-73
Hurley article cover image


pages 69-70
Good Morning article cover image

Good Morning

page 68
Searching for mt. fuji article cover image

Searching for mt. fuji

pages 63-65
#33: okey dokey, long island article cover image

#33: okey dokey, long island

page 61
The church of the chance encounter Rick Kempa article cover image

The church of the chance encounter Rick Kempa

pages 57-60
Prayer Flag Charlotte article cover image

Prayer Flag Charlotte

page 56
The Aliens Sift Through Stacks of Kid Artwork All Depicting the Same Moon article cover image

The Aliens Sift Through Stacks of Kid Artwork All Depicting the Same Moon

pages 51-54
The Poetic Sentence article cover image

The Poetic Sentence

pages 47-50
Love Poem with Statue of Juno article cover image

Love Poem with Statue of Juno

page 45
Make Alice Famous article cover image

Make Alice Famous

pages 33-44
Hurley article cover image


pages 31-32
Rules for Visiting the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts article cover image

Rules for Visiting the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

page 30
Somebody Said article cover image

Somebody Said

pages 27-29
Endings Erin article cover image

Endings Erin

pages 16-25
What comes next? article cover image

What comes next?

pages 8-11
life in art life at Leisure life Lessons life of the spirit article cover image

life in art life at Leisure life Lessons life of the spirit

pages 6-7
The Chautauqua Way article cover image

The Chautauqua Way

page 5
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