Chautauqua: Chance Encounters 20.2

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jill g E rard

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sas C ha siz E mor E

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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

Philip Gerard April 7, 1955–November 7, 2022

Every conversation is a story, and every story is an adventure, and every adventure takes me out of my small life into a larger one, and I love that. I love that it catapults me out into the world, outdoors, in all seasons, to places I have only dreamed of going—or maybe never dreamed of going—places where they speak in different accents, different languages even. Where the air smells different, and the skyline is unfamiliar, and the landscape is a brand new map.”

Copyright © 2023 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: Guardian, Samantha Wall, Ink on Dura-Lar, 84" x 40"

Below photos courtesy of Chautauqua Institution Archives: At the Ranch, 1899, Robert A. Miller Bell Tower by Night, 1983, Rogers Bicycles at the Girls Clubhouse, August 7, 1969, S.G. Wertz Painting Model, 1945–1955, Lloyd S. Jones

Other Photos:, January 15, 2020, Justin Campbell Unsplash, 1js7b9_sRJI, Chuttersnap Adobestock_299480836, July 19, 2022, Ben Wicks, November 18, 2020, Sahand Babali March 2023, Gillian Pribicko, September 19, 2020, Roberto Delfanti Stray Cups, Linda Vasconi

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

For more than a hundred and thirty years, Chautauqua Institution has served as a stage and a classroom for leading figures of the times, including Ulysses S. Grant, Booker T. Washington, Alexander Graham Bell, Susan B. Anthony, and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The Chautauqua way is a habit of living in a state of continual enrichment: learning on vacation, finding intellectual stimulation in leisure, imbuing all activities with a passion for art. Learning and art should not be confined to separate spaces or designated hours, nor spirituality expressed only within sacred walls or books of prayers.

Chautauqua is a literary manifestation of the values and aesthetics of Chautauqua Institution. Each volume is a portable Chautauqua season between covers. The sections loosely reflect the categories of experience addressed during those nine summer weeks, playing one writer’s vision off another’s in the spirit of oblique, artful dialogue.

The Chautauqua way is also reflected in how we make this book. Each year, in partnership with the Chautauqua Literary Arts, graduate and undergraduate students in the Department of Creative Writing at the University of North Carolina Wilmington work as members of the editorial team, guided by professional editors and an advisory board. They read and discuss submissions, fact check and edit, search for art, and participate in the artistic process of building a book, to be released at the start of the summer season.

In our editorial sessions, we read aloud excerpts or even entire works, listening for the music of great writing, searching for the piece that eloquently addresses the issue’s theme through some facet of the life in art, spirit, or play, or a life lesson. Writers, ages twelve through eighteen, enjoy that same respectful attention through Young Voices.

So settle back on a couch or a comfortable patch of grass and spread this book open like a tent. Immerse yourself in the world of ideas, imagination, and language that lives between its covers. For as many minutes or hours as you like, you are part of the Chautauqua community.

on the cover

Guardian, Samantha Wall Ink on Dura-Lar, 84" x 40"

Theart on this cover, Guardian, was provided by the artist, Samantha Wall. It appeared, alongside other drawings by Wall, in the 2022 Chautauqua Visual Arts exhibition “All that Glitters.” Her work in this exhibition is described as “slippery yet impeccably rendered,” and a reminder “of the complicated importance of human connection.”

Wall’s golden drawings in this exhibition are representative of figures shaped by more than one culture. The metallic quality in each piece is a nod to the Korean celebration of Dol, or a child’s first birthday, during which gold rings are given as gifts to the family in hopes of funding the child’s future endeavors. For Wall, who was born in Korea but has lived most of her life in the United States, the tradition “became a point of entry to explore family history and cultural identity.”

In thinking about the cover art for Chance Encounters, I kept coming back to the importance not only of instances of human connection that shape our lives, but also our encounters with culture, art, tradition and the divine. I was interested in how those experiences allowed for a deepening of connection and understanding between people as well as with oneself. Wall’s drawings in this exhibition are a shining example of how encounters with art, family, and culture can shape a person and their creative practice—the way they show up in the world.

To see more of Wall’s work go to or find her on instagram as @samanthawall.

Chautauqua thanks Chautauqua Institution and the Department of Education for their support of the journal.


roger hart The Strong Force

john hoppenthaler After Listening to the Weather, I Pull into a Bar

susan polizzotto Tree Frogs or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Hurricanes

tricia bogle Bronx, 1995

geraldine connolly Two Foxes

janice e . rodríguez Miles to Go

chun yu The Pink Balloon

doug ramspeck Six Omens in Six Days

polly brown Parsley Caterpillar / Black Swallowtail

barbara west Satsuma for Cherie

mary gilliland Revealing the Passenger List

elizabeth garcia Japanese Bathtub

whitney hudak Most Beautiful Thing

quincy gray mcmichael Farming After Death

joanne m . clarkson Crossing Midnight

paul pedroza Criterion No. 1: He Took Himself to the Lake

xiaoly li Horn Pond in May

xiaoly li You Need to Be a Good Hunter or a Born Goddess to Get Out of It

ann aspell Intermission

michael quattrone Eastbound on I-80

michael quattrone Night Traveler

george drew Talbot’s Chance

jimmy kindree Emerging

michael colonnese Half-life: A Poem for my 45th Birthday

life Lessons 14 27 28 30 32 33 52
of the spirit 56 57 58 62 74 78 80
life at Leisure 94 95 105 106 107 113 114 116 117 119
diana hume george This Library Still Stands
life in art 122 123 136 138 140 142 145 geraldine connolly To My Ideal Reader sharon lacour Ringel, Ringel, Reihe susan nusbaum Sarabande, Bach Cello Suite #4 charlotte wyatt Futurama marjorie maddox Invitation joanna acevedo Someone Wants To Be Your Friend! jessica guzman Match Girl Contributors Notes 148

This Library Still Stands

Diana Hume George

Years ago I interrupted Philip and Jill Gerard’s marriage preparations just off the grounds of Chautauqua to ask them, on behalf of the Writers’ Center literary arts board, if they’d accept the board’s invitation to edit the institution’s journal. It would have been more decent to let them get married and leave on their Erie Canal honeymoon first, but the board was in a hurry to obtain their commitment. They said yes, but if I’d waited even an hour, it might have been too late—they were about to disappear. There’d be no reading business emails on that honeymoon vessel, and who would call a couple on the phone during their honeymoon? So for years thereafter, Philip would now and then lean over to me and in a Marlon Brando godfather rasp he’d say, “You come to me on the day of my wedding”—he’d pause—“and you ask me to edit a journal...”

Starting with the next issue in 2008, Philip and Jill Gerard’s indelible imprint has marked every subsequent page of Chautauqua. In the wake of his suddenly leaving us all, I recently wondered with Jill at how Philip—who so often wrote about war and loss, violence and racism, and was unafraid to confront forces of true evil inside the covers of more than one book and steadfastly in his civic life—remained at heart an inveterate optimist. With Martin Luther King, Jr., he seemed to genuinely believe that the arc of the moral universe ultimately “bends toward justice.” Revisiting his editorial introductions to the issues of the journal, I see why.

Here, perhaps more clearly than any other single place, he recollected his early adventures, his immigrant family’s love of America, his sense of wonder, the landscapes of his youth, “the clean white arc of a baseball flying across a powder-blue summer sky,” and “the golden territory of his boyhood, now a landscape of memory and words.” He believed in the human story, “still unfolding, still an idea and an ideal.” He meant America, but the entire human project as well, because “All


the great ideas of philosophers, the sublime experience of art, the literature of the ages, are available for the taking: a person must simply make the effort. It’s our mythology, a glorious one, if you ask me.”

During the first years of our acquaintance as mentors at Goucher College’s MFA program in creative nonfiction, Philip and I regarded each other from a respectful distance. I’d used his texts in my courses at Penn State, and he’d read (and, I later learned, taught) a couple of my essays, but we weren’t pals. All of our outward signifiers were at odds—he was an imposingly Hemingwayesque guy, I an aging ex-earth biscuit swathed in scarves. He was a journalistic-facts fellow, and I was (wrongly) associated only with memoir. Both were cases of mistakenly narrow identities, but between new colleagues, those stereotypes kept us fairly formal with each other.

One August in the first years of the new century, in the middle of the night I wandered outside to the front steps of the Sheraton Hotel in suburban Baltimore where we stayed during Goucher residencies. I can no longer remember if he was already there, or if it was the other way around, but suddenly there we were, both sleepless with personal issues, both aware we had to be up in a few hours to be fully present for our students. That much we knew of each other, that we were dedicated to the task. Quietly, tentatively, line by line—“What are you doing out here in the middle of the night in this heat?” and “I was about to ask the same of you”—we confided one small thing, then another, then another, until we’d exchanged confidences that surprised us both. He was in love and missing Jill. He’d soon become a stepfather, and I had experience in step-parenting. I was concerned about a grandchild’s addiction and my own enabling tendencies—and he was great at setting boundaries. Our perceptions were useful to each other.

A friendship now two decades old was born there, and we both knew that if not for that chance encounter, we might never have seen through the thicket of each other’s contrasting personas. Thus did we graduate from seeing each other only at Goucher College to gathering together yearly at Chautauqua. Jill, with whom I immediately connected, had grown up going to Chautauqua, so when I asked Philip to teach nonfiction at The Writers’ Festival that I co-directed, he’d already started to


know the place with Jill. Later I’d go to UNCW to teach for a term. I also visited the publishing lab and editorial meetings where Chautauqua still comes into being.

Quite simply, it is beyond belief that Philip Gerard is no longer with us. It is literally beyond belief for Jill, and so many of their friends and fellow writers are trying to hold Jill in a cocoon of supportive love, because we too cannot suspend our disbelief, lesser though it be. I have moments of accepting his absence these several months later, but not many. What the African philosopher Amadou Hampâté Bâ said of any death of a distinguished personage—that with their passing, a great library burns down—would be true of Philip, but it is not burned to the ground, because much of that library still stands in the form of his many essays and books, his songs and talks and interviews. So I hope you’ll indulge me in the way I can best continue this, which is by speaking directly to him, a thing I do each day.

Philip, I write this as if you were still here, because it feels as though you are. No, not “as though.” You are. I can feel your presence. We all do.

I don’t usually feel presences from beyond this life, but you are more certainly present than anyone near me who has died in these recent years, even though there are suddenly many of them. All the recent others, when they left, were gone to me, even my brother, whom I loved.

You, Philip, you’re still here, whatever that means. I mean to figure out what you’re doing here. It’s not the same as how they say a soul lingers, hovers a while not understanding what’s happened before going on its way toward a next place, a next form, or a saving oblivion. Your presence feels different. It has to do with your powerful writing, your place in the lives of hundreds of fellow writers, students, peers. For so many of us, you’re still here speaking.

But where is this here? All the tributes to you online are in the past tense: what you meant to someone, the great lessons you taught. I have internalized you long since. This is the case for others as well. As our colleague Maggie Messitt returned from South Africa after nearly a decade, she was forced to re-envision her trajectory, one already grounded in telling true stories, and it was you, the writing life you exemplify


and embody, that she had in mind when she decided to craft a life writing books and teaching writers.

Within a few years, even though you are slightly younger, you became for me the ethical summit of what it is to live as a writer for one’s entire time on earth, book upon book building a purpose-driven life, one that must wrest meaning from every experience, especially every tragedy, such that you became a voice of transparent moral authority itself—what our mutual colleague Dick Todd called authenticity. I always cared what you thought, and when you expressed approval or respect for my words, I knew I’d done something right.

Unlike many who reach such a place in life, wherein existential struggle is joyous and determined, restless and wrestled to the ground, you’ve never stopped wanting to bring that example to apprentice writers. Your focus on whatever you research and write has always been laser-like, and you certainly have no time for fools, but you always share what you know, convey it, communicate it endlessly to those in our field. And what is our field?

We believe in telling true stories, reported or from our own lives, as a way to make meaning, to thrive, sometimes even to survive in ways we can respect. You came to narrative nonfiction from fiction. You were a novelist before you literally wrote the book on Creative Nonfiction, then Writing a Book that Makes a Difference, a perfect title for the goals you continued to meet, fully embodied in your historical nonfiction about World War II or racism in America through regional history in the Carolinas. The made-up stories were always about the real stories as well, the way that Cape Fear Rising came to rest literally decades later with The Last Battleground. Your writing was always in pursuit of large truths, whether personal or historical, those being something you believed in much more than I. You’ve always seen words as the way to search out truth—uncover it, hunt it down, even create it. Your stories that tell truth took the form of music as well as print, and lord, how you made us sing through summer Baltimore nights and at Chautauqua.

I used to think you were wrong when you told our apprentices that they, too, could write not only essays, but books that would end up between covers. But you were right. I have a wide shelf of books that we

Diana Hume George

and others helped bring into being, books one atop another. So often it was you who first planted that seed in them, made them believe that they could do it, told them they were writers. You have often believed in apprentice writers before they believed in themselves. Certainly before I did. You are so generous that the grave cannot contain you. Your belief in what we can learn from the stories we tell, the stories we listen to, is an eternal kind of verity.

You and Leslie Rubinkowski go back even farther than you and I do, so although at first we could barely speak, now we turn to each other to stay grounded. We have to decide what to make of this, your strange disappearance from this plane, your lack of mortal form. It’s our responsibility to do something with your absence in our own lives. What Leslie says applies to me as well:

“The day after Philip died I sat by a window in a restaurant staring out at traffic, staring into space, scrolling on my phone, where I fell into an essay Nick Cave wrote about his son Earl, whose twin brother, Arthur, died without warning. Arthur died over a school break, and on his first morning heading back to school Earl told his parents, ‘What happens now is for Arthur.’ That’s how it is, how it will be, because what had happened the day before made no sense I could see. But what happened every day after would, at least in one way, because it would be for Philip.” Yes, you mean that much.

Muriel Rukeyser’s poem “Double Ghost” ends with “Do I move toward form? Do I use all my fears?” You were, you still are, always moving toward form in our minds. I think you used all your fears as part of your creative fuel. I wrote on the back cover of your Patron Saint of Dreams about your nuanced integrity, the way you view writing as a calling, arising from the conviction that words can matter to the sacred duty of figuring out what we’re doing on this earth. They are such great essays, especially those that address mortality. I think you were, and are, as prepared for death now as you would ever be—that is, fully, and not at all.

We are all headed where you’ve gone, and if we could back up far enough for deep perspective of the kind you always championed, and see our place in the firmament of storytellers, and contribute our share

XIV Chautauqua

of making plain-clad mortals into a mythography of the remarkable ordinary, we’d see that there’s not much time between your departure and ours, as those of us who are your peers work our way through the stories we tell, and the truths those stories contain, and make room for the incoming generations of writers who want to find their own best ways to be, like you, kind, compassionate, generous, and brave.

When the poet Anne Sexton died, her friend Maxine Kumin felt “remaindered in the conspiracy,” and we—those of us who worked alongside you, read you, listened to your voice, exchanged Al Swearengen monologues from Deadwood or lines from The Three Stooges, sang along with you and your guitar, discussed great essays and great battles and renovating histories—we will remain in that conspiracy the rest of our own earthly days. You’re right here with us, inside us, until we too move along. I have compared the aura of authoritative wisdom in some of your essays to Wordsworth’s “spots of time,” spaces the poet said contain a virtue that can “lift us up when we are fallen.” In “Bear Country,” about almost dying when you were 19, and then again 25 years later, the epigraph you chose from Wordsworth says it all: “And all that mighty heart is lying still!”

Or not. Those of us who loved you have your heart transplanted into us, Philip Gerard. Steadily it beats.

Diana Hume George Diana Hume George, Advisory Editor, Chautauqua, Venango, Pennsylvania, March 2023
Chautauqua 20.2
h a n c e e n c o u n t e r s
Our destiny is frequently met in the very paths we take to avoid it.” “
—Jean de La Fontaine

Life Lessons

The Strong Force

Cass and I put polonium’s final neutron in place and stepped back to admire our work. The model, made of eighty-four black marbles (protons) and one hundred and twenty-six white marbles (neutrons) glued together in a sphere the size of a mini soccer ball, was beautiful. Despite sweat running down our faces, we lingered inside the garage to admire our work. We’d been building atomic models for several days.

I’d read books about Marie Curie discovering radium and polonium, and, as a nerdy boy about to enter the eighth grade, I was already working on my fall science project. Some atoms, like polonium, fell apart, others did not. Nowhere could I find the reason why, and I hoped, if I built enough models of different atoms, I might discover the answer.

I explained to Cass that the strong force held the nucleus together, but sometimes it didn’t. “The glue,” I said, pointing at our model on the workbench, “represents the strong force.”

“They should call it the love force,” she said. “Love holds people together.”

We were standing shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip, and I didn’t know if she was talking about us or atoms. We’d known each other two weeks and had skipped the dating phase and gone directly to something unnamable.

“Marie and Pierre Curie worked side by side in a hot lab,” I said, hoping she might see the connection between the Curies and the two of us working in a hot garage.

Cass threw her arms wide. “Well, Pierre,” she said. But before she could finish the thought, her outstretched arm knocked a stack of old newspapers off a cardboard box on the workbench, revealing a half empty bottle of Old Grand-Dad whiskey.

She looked at me. I looked at her, and we both looked at the bottle. “My dad’s,” I said.

On Easter, I found a bottle on the back porch when I was hiding Easter eggs for my cousin. A bottle sometimes rattled beneath the driver’s seat of the car, and one was often hidden behind the jug of floor wax under the kitchen sink. Until that day, I’d kept my father’s drinking a secret from Cass. Discovering the bottle made me angry. I was embarrassed. His drinking had invaded our time and place.


Cass reached for the newspapers and was about to put them back on the box when I grabbed the bottle. I don’t know what I was thinking or trying to do. Maybe I wanted to show her how I felt. Maybe I was trying to get even with him for the nights he was drunk. I carried the bottle to the alley and poured the smokey, sweat-smelling whiskey into the gravel. I tossed the bottle in the trash.

“Will you get in trouble?” she asked.

If one element could transform into another, say polonium to lead, then alcohol transformed my father from nice guy to dangerous. I felt good dumping it out, but I could tell from the look on Cass’s face that she worried. “No,” I said, “I won’t get in trouble. Well, maybe.” He had other bottles stashed away, and I hoped weeks would pass before he discovered this one was missing.

i made my escape the next morning before sunrise. Afraid the kitchen floor would creak, or the back door screen would groan, I slung my backpack over my shoulder, dropped out my bedroom window, and tiptoed through the wet grass to the garage. As I lifted my bike off the hooks, I glanced at the workbench to admire our atom, but the polonium nucleus had been smashed and marbles were scattered across the dirt floor. My breath caught in my chest. Our work destroyed! I started picking up the marbles, dropping them in the box that once held my father’s liquor and quickly realized if I continued, I’d be late meeting Cass. I turned back to my bike. I didn’t dare push it out the gravel drive, which ran by my parents’ open bedroom window, so I rolled it through the yard to the alley and from there, jumped on and rode as fast as I could.

The morning was warm and sticky, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky when I arrived behind the lumber yard where Cass was waiting. The town was quiet, so we whispered, afraid to wake a sleeping dog or be heard through an open window.

“Ready?” I asked, doing my best to hide how upset I was over our smashed model.

Her ponytail hung from the back of a red baseball cap, and a hint of pink colored her lips. Visible beneath her white t-shirt was a bra, which I pretended not to notice. I felt sloppy in my faded Ohio State


T-shirt and worn Converse shoes. I wished I’d worn something better, although I had no idea what that might be.

She nodded. “You?”

Cass had been living across the street with her grandparents while her parents managed their move from North Dakota to Florida, and we’d been seeing each other daily, shooting basketball behind Doc McMullen’s garage, playing Hearts on her grandparents’ back porch, studying constellations from a blanket in their backyard, and riding our bikes along the Hocking Canal. For several afternoons, we’d been building atoms that were now smashed and broken.

The sun rose above the railroad tracks on the horizon, and crows cawed from the trees. What we were about to do had been planned for a week. It was her birthday and her last day with her grandparents before her parents arrived and took her to their new home in Tampa. We were going to celebrate. Just the two of us.

“I’m ready,” I said.

She took off on her bike and I followed close behind.

i’d seen my father throw a plate of spaghetti at the wall during an argument with my mother. There was a hole in the bathroom door from his foot, and he’d once been so mad at the car for overheating that he floored the gas until we were flying down the road at over ninety miles per hour while he screamed at the engine, daring it to blow. But I’d never seen him as mad as he was the previous night when he came back from the garage where he discovered his empty bottle in the trash.

He accused my mother of dumping the contents, and they got into a fight, yelling at each other, tossing threats back and forth and slamming doors. Overcome with guilt and hoping I could end the argument, I confessed I’d poured the whiskey in the alley. I tried to think of an excuse as to why I’d done it, but none came to mind, none that I could share.

My father pulled the belt out of his pants. “You stole my stuff!” he yelled. He took a step toward me, and I braced myself against the wall next to their wedding photo, a photo in which they are both smiling.

My mother stood with her arms crossed and didn’t say a word in my


defense. Maybe she was thankful his anger had turned on someone else and given her a break.

Then, a miracle, the doorbell rang. Someone, I thought, had heard them and was coming to warn my parents they were calling the cops. My dad scrambled to get the belt back in his pants, but when he got to the door it was a high school boy selling raffle tickets to support his American Legion baseball team.

I ran to my room and closed the door. A short time later it exploded open, and my father stood there, red-faced and panting. “If you ever, ever, mess with my stuff again…” His chest heaved like he was having a heart attack. “You’re grounded. Don’t leave this house. Don’t leave your goddamned room until I say so. Hear?”

I nodded.

“Hear?” he yelled.

“Yes,” I said.

“I’ll show you what it’s like to have your stuff destroyed,” he said.

cass didn’t ask if I’d told my parents where we were going or if my father had discovered the empty bottle. I wondered if his yelling had been heard across the street. I didn’t mention what had happened to our atomic models.

We stuck to the alley that ran behind the feed mill and the creamery and then followed the railroad tracks out of town. Gravel crunched beneath our tires. An approaching train thundered past. Just beyond the high school, we turned right and pedaled down a short hill to the towpath that ran along what was left of the Hocking Canal. We’d successfully made our escape.

Butterflies swirled up from milkweed and goldenrod as we raced where plodding mules had once pulled barges. We were flying. Cass led the way, although I could have passed her if I wanted, if the path was wider, but I was happy to follow, happy to watch the strip of exposed skin between her shorts and shirt. She stretched out her hand as we passed through clouds of butterflies and whooped with delight as the bikes bounced over dips and bumps on the path. I patted my pocket, double- and triple-checking I had the money.

18 Chautauqua

We worried about getting caught, about an unknown force stopping us or pulling us apart, but the farther we got from town, the safer we felt.

Twice, we crossed a road that bisected the canal and towpath. Rows of knee-high corn grew in the field on our left and old sycamore and oak trees had taken over much of the canal, which no longer held any water. When the path widened, I moved up next to her, and we rode side by side.

Paranoid, I glanced back to make sure we weren’t being followed. To avoid getting caught I’d mapped a roundabout way down dirt roads and along the canal to our destination. It added miles to our route, but we’d be safe. We were in no hurry.

“My grandfather worries about us spending so much time together,” she said. “He worries that we might have sex, so I didn’t tell him about today. Are you obsessed with sex?” she asked. “Boys often are.”

I wondered how she knew boys were obsessed with sex. “Not obsessed,” I said. “Curious. My father threatened me, said I had to wait until I was married, or I’d ruin my life.” I didn’t mention that he’d disown me if he knew I was out of town, riding along isolated woods and quiet backroads with a girl.

“My mother gave me a book with color pictures,” she said. “It seemed…”

I waited.


I didn’t know what to make of that. “And?”

“But I understand the mechanics.”

I’d never talked with a girl, with anyone, about sex, but with Cass it was as natural as our nightly discussions about basketball, school, science, and art. This was the day she turned thirteen. Maybe that was why she was talking about it.

“I’m wearing a bra,” she said. “It’s not a trainer.”

No girl in my class would’ve ever announced she was wearing a bra, not to me anyway. “A trainer? What was it training?”

Cass laughed so hard she stopped her bike, got off, and let it fall to the ground. She held her sides. She said something I couldn’t understand although I caught the word training.


I wanted to repeat my question just to keep her laughing, but I was laughing, too, and couldn’t get out the words.

“Well,” she said, when she eventually gained control. She picked up her bike and we were off again. She led the way and I’d call out, “Turn left up here,” or “Take the next road.” From time to time, I could see her shake her head and hear her laugh. I didn’t know what was so funny.

Although there was a small café back in town, we wanted to be alone, and I’d decided the safest place was the Sonic Drive-in outside Nelsonville, about a ten-mile bike ride if we stuck to the back roads. We’d eat at one of the picnic tables in the park next to the river then ride to the bakery where I’d pick up a small cake. I thought I knew the back way that would take us off the main roads, but everything looked different from the bike, and I’d been distracted by that strip of exposed skin on her back. The canal abruptly ended, and we turned onto a narrow country road that passed through a covered bridge. We briefly stopped and watched the muddy creek run beneath our feet. Ducks swam along the bank and dragonflies darted over the cattails. “Nature’s art,” Cass said.

Returning to the road, we resumed a steady pace, hugging the berm although there were few cars. The day was getting hotter, and the sun should have been behind us but was off to the side. We flew down a long hill and slowly pedaled up another. Despite my careful plans, I had no idea where we were.



“I’m lost.”

We stopped, got off our bikes, and stretched our legs. The air felt as hot and steamy as the boys’ locker room after gym class.

“Well,” she said, plucking a blue chicory blossom from beside the road and sticking it in the back of her cap, “you’ve taken us to a pretty place.”

“Do you want to turn back?” I asked.

She looked at me as if I’d suggested something unthinkable, something like having sex. “No! Let’s keep going.”

“But I don’t know where we’re going.”

20 Chautauqua

“I think you do,” she said.

We drank from the water bottles in our backpacks and looked at the surrounding hills for a clue as to where we were. Satisfied we were lost, she jumped on her bike and began to pedal. We went around one curve and then another. Despite the heat, I was in heaven. I didn’t want to ever go home.

We didn’t discuss the future, my father’s threats, or her grandfather’s warnings. We didn’t moan about it being our last day together—that we would meet again was understood. She acted as if we’d landed in a foreign country the way she oohed and awed at the wildflowers, the tall trees, and the big fern growing alongside the road. A pileated woodpecker flew over our heads, and a fat groundhog stared as we passed. We welcomed the cool shade as the road ran beneath a canopy of leaves. Then, just when I thought we were hopelessly lost, I smelled bacon. Cass smelled it, too, and let out a hoot that sounded like an owl. Around the next curve, in the middle of nowhere, we saw a diner sitting back in a cove of trees.

“Magic!” she said, letting go of her handlebars.

We leaned our bikes against an old oak. “Hope this place is okay,” I said. “I’ve never been here.”

“The Dew Drop In,” she said, reading the small sign nailed to a post next to the road. “It’s perfect.”

There were two cars, several pickups and a couple motorcycles in the parking lot. I took a deep breath, stood straight, and pretended I was older than I was.

“We should hold hands,” she said as we approached the door. “Couples do that when they go out to eat.”

I took her hand and a warm buzz ran through my body.

Inside, the restaurant smelled of fresh baked bread and coffee. A waitress carried plates stacked with pancakes, waffles, eggs, sausage, and ham. Small pitchers of maple syrup waited on every table. A waitress standing near the front door, looked behind us as if expecting our parents to follow.

“You waiting for someone?” she asked.

“No,” we answered in unison.

“You here to eat?”



“Go ahead and sit wherever you like,” she said, smiling as if amused by our presence.

I was taller than my brother, who was going to be a senior, and Cass—with her lip gloss and bra—looked like a high school girl. But we still attracted the attention of the curious sitting at the counter as we walked past a display of pies to a corner booth.

Cass loved everything about the place, the purple coneflowers in drinking glasses on the tables, the sports memorabilia on the walls, and the view of the trees across the street. She was in love with life and the moment.

While we waited, I scanned the restaurant for familiar faces, hoping I didn’t see any. The last thing we needed was someone telling my parents or her grandparents they’d seen us here, wherever here was. I shuddered to think of my father’s reaction. Isolation? Banishment? The belt?

A waitress brought two menus and asked what we’d like to drink. After we ordered Cokes, Cass and I traded facts, art for science. It was a game we’d played one night while rocking in the swing on her grandparents’ front porch.

“The sky gets a lighter blue as you get closer to the horizon,” she said.

I tried to think of the scientific reason, air scattering blue light, but she said it was my turn before I could come to any conclusion.

“Okay,” I said. “Try this. Marie Curie named polonium after her home country, Poland.”

“Good one,” she said. “Georgia O’Keeffe was still painting when she was in her nineties, even though she was almost blind.”

I nodded in recognition of an interesting fact. “Here’s one. When Marie and Pierre Curie married, there wasn’t any special ceremony. They just bought each other bikes.”

“You’re kidding.”


She looked out the window at the tree where we’d leaned our bikes. “Nice,” she said, grinning.

Then, after the waitress brought our Cokes and we ordered pancakes, Cass mentioned the color of Jesus, which, I assumed, had something to


do with art. “You can tell your brother Jesus is white in North Dakota,” she said.

My brother was at church camp. He wanted to become a preacher.

“What?” I asked.

“Yeah, when we lived in Texas there were billboards all over the place with paintings of a brown Jesus. That’s the way I thought Jesus looked. Brown. Then, when we moved to the airbase in Minot, North Dakota, Jesus was white on the billboards, I mean really white, like he was albino. Don’t you find that strange?”

Although I didn’t go to church with my parents and brother—long story—I agreed to tell my brother about white Jesus.

Our food arrived, stacks of pancakes and links of sausage. First thing I did was stab at one of the little sausages with my fork, and it bounced off my plate and onto the tile floor. Before I could pick it up, a waitress came along, swooped it up, and brought me a new one. I was embarrassed, and then Cass tried to stab her sausage with the fork, but the skin was tough, and the sausage flew off the table and landed in the same spot as mine seconds earlier. “Quick,” she said. “Get it.”

I picked it up, wrapped it in my napkin and tucked it under the edge of my plate. I noticed that the two sausages left a significant spot of grease on the floor.

As I ate my pancakes and talked with Cass, a waiter on his way to the kitchen with a tray of dirty dishes approached our table. I could see what was going to happen and wanted to shout a warning, but it was like trying to yell in a dream. No sound came out. His heel hit the grease spot, his leg shot out from under him, the tray went up in the air, and he went down, followed by crashing glasses and plates.

It was the funniest thing I’d ever seen. For a brief second the waiter, a tall guy, was suspended in air, and then boom. He wasn’t hurt and quickly got to his feet. Soon, Cass was laughing, too. We were acting immature despite our efforts to look and act like adults. I thought we’d get kicked out, but I couldn’t stop snorting and shaking. I put my head down next to my plate. I wanted to crawl beneath the table. Every time I thought I’d gained control, I’d look at Cass, and we’d both start laughing again. Only when the mess was cleaned up and our water glasses refilled


did we settle down and resume eating our pancakes. We didn’t touch the remaining sausage links.

The waitress stopped to ask what kind of pie we’d like. Before we could answer she rattled off the possibilities.

“No dessert, thanks,” we said.

“It’s already paid for: your meal, dessert.”

We looked around the diner, the muscled guys sitting at the tables and the old men sitting at the counter, a couple my parents’ age in a booth where a waitress and cook were singing “Happy Birthday.” No one gave any indication of having paid for our meal and a slice of pie. “Who?” I asked.

The waitress shrugged.

I started to mention that it was Cass’s birthday, too, but Cass caught my eye and shook her head. She turned to the waitress. “Blueberry.”

“Cherry,” I said.

Getting our meal paid for by a stranger made the morning and getting lost, finding this place, being together, even more special.

I leaned forward, whispered. “Who do you think it was?”

She scanned the diner. “The couple in the booth. It’s his birthday or hers and they see us as a younger version of themselves.”

I studied the couple. They were sharing a large slice of pie and chatting away, but they didn’t return my look. “Maybe,” I said.

A deep rumble shook the window. At first, I thought it was a train, but we hadn’t passed any railroad tracks and the second rumble, which closely followed the first, sounded like thunder. The trees outside blocked the view of the sky, but it appeared darker than it had been only minutes earlier.

“Think we should be going?” Cass asked.

What I wanted was to sit in the booth with Cass all day. Milkshakes and Cokes and slices of pie. Had we been older, I’d’ve asked her to run away with me.

She reached across the table and put her hand on mine. “Me too,” she said, apparently reading my mind.

“As soon as we finish our pie,” I said. “Maybe there’s a shorter way of getting back. I’ll ask.”

24 Chautauqua

Another loud boom shook the diner, and everyone looked out the window, although there wasn’t anything to see. It wasn’t raining. The leaves weren’t stirring, and a paper cup and straw lying in the road had not moved.

When the waitress—her name tag said, Ethel—returned to see if we wanted refills on our Cokes, I asked for directions. “We got lost on the way here,” I said.

“A lot of people do,” she answered. After asking where we wanted to go, she pulled a pad out of her apron pocket and made a map, and then went over it with us, the turns and where we were to be careful. “One nasty hill,” she said.

And then we were on our bikes. “I think the rain will go around us,” I said.

And then it began to rain.

“Your future in science isn’t forecasting the weather,” she said.

We’d gone a mile, maybe a little farther, when the sky opened, and what had been a steady drizzle turned into a torrential downpour. The wind rocked our bikes. The rain stung our faces.

“You okay?” I asked. I was soaked. My shoes, socks, underwear.

“I’m good,” she said.

At the first intersection, I pulled the map out of my pocket. The ink was smeared, and the map fell apart.

Lightning flashed and an instant later the crack and boom of thunder echoed in the surrounding forest. “Let’s look for shelter,” she said.

There was no shelter, just trees and empty road. I thought we might be killed.

We rode on.

A few hills and curves later, with the rain coming down in waves, an old pickup truck pulled up beside us, and the passenger side window came down. A woman my mother’s age, the woman I’d seen sharing the slice of pie in the diner, motioned for us to stop. “Throw your bikes in the back and climb in. No room up front but you’re already wet. We’ll take you home.”

I didn’t know her and didn’t get a good look at the driver, but we were desperate.


“You know where we live?”

“We’ll find it.”

I lifted my bike on the truck bed and then Cass’s. We stepped on the bumper and climbed over the tailgate, gave the driver a thumbs up, and we were off.

“That’s the man and woman from the restaurant,” Cass whispered although whispering wasn’t necessary what with the noise of the rain beating against the roof of the cab and the bed of the truck.

We sat with our backs against the cab. The warm rain felt good. When lightning flashed, we scooted tighter against one another. Cass threw one leg over mine, and we held hands. The couple in the cab sang along to classic rock songs on the radio. “Since we’ve been together… Loving you forever.”

She had a good voice. His was deep and gravelly and he added flourishes that made us laugh. I turned and saw the backs of their heads. A baseball rolled back and forth on the dash.

They dropped us off behind the lumber yard. I wondered who they were and how they knew where to take us. Had Cass told them when I was lifting the bikes onto the truck?

“A perfect day,” Cass said as we walked our bikes through puddles. The rain was like a curtain, and it was easy to believe it hid us from the rest of the world and what would come. We didn’t know when we’d be seeing each other again. We stopped inside her grandparents’ garage, wrapped each other in a tight hug and held on as long as possible.


After Listening to the Weather, I Pull into a Bar

Sometimes, miles from home, you find wings just the way you like them. The beer is cold and cheap; the bartender doesn’t care about you and things you might say. These are small blessings: a dive that takes you in this way, comfortable enough to pay you no mind until your lager runs dry. Pool balls clack, a wager is made, and you decide to pray

to the bones piled up on your plate, thank them for all they’ve given you. A local feeds a buck into the jukebox and it’s not late yet,

you think. It’s a song you don’t hate from the nineties, full of pity and regret. The tender shimmies, putters with the liquor bottles. Her body language won’t prattle, show those things you’re not meant to see.

In the parking lot, you feel drizzle on your face, just as predicted.

Soon it turns to rain. Planted, still you fail to leave. Trees begin to sway.


Tree Frogs or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Hurricanes

My husband and I moved to North Carolina in 2015 after retiring from the military. We bought a house, the first we had purchased together, two blocks from the Intracoastal Waterway. No strangers to hurricanes, having been stationed in the Florida Keys and other Hurricane Alley locations before, Jim and I knew how to prepare for them and that often the best option was to evacuate.

Just because I knew how to prepare for hurricanes and survive them didn’t mean I liked them. Summer after summer, I braced for Matthew, Irma, Maria, and other big storms, some named, some not. The annual onslaught started to feel personal, as if climate change had me in its crosshairs.

In 2018, the mother of all storms came calling. Jim and I evacuated and Hurricane Florence swept in with a vortex and deluge that pummeled our town for four days. She devastated Topsail Island, which sits across the Intracoastal Waterway from our neighborhood, and breached the roofs of houses in our cul-de-sac, saturating and destroying everything inside of them.

When the highways and roads were clear of debris, we returned home. Expecting the worst, I was surprised to see our house standing and mostly intact. Planks of siding were loose here, pieces of trim were broken there. Water had intruded under the front door and through two windows. We lost a beloved river birch about thirty feet tall. In a final act of grace, it had collapsed on the lawn, parallel to our house but not touching it.

Jim and I did what humans do—set emotion aside, carry on, reacclimate. We repaired the siding and trim, had the floor refinished, and had several windowsills replaced. We planted a red maple where the river birch made its last stand.

In 2020, when Hurricane Isaias rumbled our way, I felt like an old hand. Tempting fate, we did not evacuate. As the wind howled and fat

28 nonfiction

raindrops soaked the young red maple, we sat on the front porch in rocking chairs, beverages in hand, and marveled at the drama of Isaias. Inside the gutters and downspouts, a chorus of tree frogs was singing. Absent the usual suburban sounds of dogs, lawnmowers, and kids on scooters, I tuned in to the frog soundtrack. Over the rain, I could just make out the lyrics.

tree frogs are chirping tonight in the hurricane water is water…


Bronx, 1995

The Bronx is like this: stray things show up at the door— menus, Mormons, someone else’s morning paper.

And now an insistent cat circling the stairwell, demands echoing on cracked marble, tail an erect counterpoint to dirty paws.

It’s like this everywhere— even in Missouri, where I was born. Does everyone know how these things end?

Feline in the apartment, on the bed, the couch; fall light slants through the window to warm him, turns his whiskers golden.

Shadows lace in, too, from the fire escape, where sparrows crowd over stale baguettes, hopping like brown leaves tossed in the wind.

In this late light, the cat’s fur under my fingers is soft and rich. And I know the color, but cannot name it. Butternut, I say, honey, ripe wheat.

All things I moved here to get away from. Beyond the fire escape, beyond the traffic, miles beyond— my mother in her flat, wide yard uses suet to bring birds to her.

She sends me pictures in which they are small specks, and the surrounding fields swallow them up, resolute and golden.


She won’t visit me, but when the phone rings, she answers, and her voice is warm and soft. Champagne, she says—

the word a small gift offered across a line that hisses like wind in cornfields— The color of your cat is champagne.


Two Foxes

Geraldine Connolly

I watch from my window as the crystal axe of winter shatters the yard’s blank mask into luminous frost stars.

Sudden ribbons of muscle and fur, two red foxes, tails on fire, erupt from their house of snow. Across the channel of unknowing,

a restless wish rises, an urge to escape my body’s border. Across the yard the foxes surge. The sky lets loose its white shrapnel. Leaves shiver, numbed into tatters. Wherever I go, I want to leave, I suffer.


Miles To Go


“Ihearit’s flat where you come from,” the apartment manager says, tapping my driver’s license.

“So flat,” I reply, “that you can watch your dog run away for two weeks straight.”

As flat, I keep to myself, as the lines on vital signs monitor when they don’t have anything to keep track of anymore.

Like most folks around here, she’s got buckets of friendly chatter. “They say the sky’s big out there.”

I was brought up polite, so I don’t tell her Montana’s the state that nabbed that slogan. And I don’t tell her how big the bowl of the sky can be—so big it curves down to swallow up the roads on which the man you wanted to grow old with will never drive again.

She swings open the door of the furnished studio. “What brings you east?”

The studio’s balcony overlooks a hill alight with fall leaves. “I didn’t start out going east. I almost made it to the Rockies, but Beulah didn’t like the steep grades.”

She asks, “Who’s Beulah?”

“My hatchback.”

There had been no point in staying after the funeral, so I filled the tank and put mile after mile behind me, driving west as far as the foothills, where Beulah groaned and whined and threatened to overheat. I changed course; it didn’t matter where I went, so long as it was away from where I was before.

Navigating on the east side of the Rockies was simple. I kept the jagged line of peaks on my right shoulder. I stopped somewhere in Colorado to buy a suitcase; I was tired by then of keeping my things in a plastic bag. But Colorado wasn’t far enough away, and I kept driving.

I’d glance in the rearview mirror to check the progress of the gray hairs—so few that I had a name for every one of them—that tangled with the dirty blonde ones. There were new and faint fans of lines at the corners of my eyes.


Fraser’s eyes were the lightest of blue, the color of a June sky at nine in the morning. One day as he stared at the bedroom ceiling, I realized that, side-on, his pupils were as clear as glass.

“I can see through your eyes!” I exclaimed.

He rolled over and drew me close. “That’s what it’s all about, seeing the world through each other’s eyes, don’t you know?”

It was so perfectly poetic that I figured it’s what I must have meant all along.

The sound of ruffling papers calls me back to the present. The apartment manager flips through documents and says, “We’re almost ready to sign, but you didn’t fill in the emergency contact.”

Fraser was my emergency contact, but I wasn’t his. He never replaced Sierra’s name after he moved out of their house, so she was the one the police called that day.

“Let’s go to Seattle or somewhere out there,” I had suggested the week before at Larson’s Fin Dining.

He pushed couple of fries through the gravy on his plate.

“Nothing’s keeping us here,” I reasoned. “Everyplace needs bartenders.”

“You think?” he asked.

“And hotels always need someone for evening shift.”

We, the only night people in town, were made for each other—we loved pancake-thin pillows and the dark edges of overbaked cookies but dreaded perky morning people, mayonnaise, and the tuna hotdish that Larson’s Fin Dining prided itself on. We were orphans, too. Fraser was orphaned by misfortune. I was not an orphan in the legal sense, but it was less complicated to say I was than to explain how much sunnier life was out from under my folks’ corrosive and endless disappointment. Away from them, I became almost as easygoing as Fraser.

Sierra was nothing close to easygoing, and only the diminished romantic opportunities of a pocket-sized county seat in half-deserted farm country could explain why Fraser ever married her.

There were a couple of million reasons why they separated, but only two reasons they never divorced.


The first he said out loud, “It’d cost me too much in alimony.”

He never spoke the second, but it was understood by all: It was his nature, one that seemed at odds with his imposing ruggedness. He coaxed ladybugs off the inside of his window screen and onto his fingertip to release them outdoors; he absorbed the deep hurt and brittle anger of drunken bar patrons with compassion, and he avoided confrontation at all costs.

i met sierra before I met Fraser on my third night working the reception desk of the Wanderon Inn. Laughter and off-key singing of “Happy Birthday” poured out of the everything room—the day manager, Ernesto, had christened the room; it did stints as a trade show center, meeting venue, banquet hall, and just once, in 1999, a ballroom. The cash bar at the birthday party was enough to put the motel into the black for the month, and the music had already been turned up twice.

I was checking in our only guests, an older couple who had pulled off the interstate, when Sierra came to the reception desk, arms flailing.

She inserted herself between the man and woman, rested her hand on his arm, and said, “This is important.”

Turning to me, she demanded, “Call your events manager. Right now.”

Once or twice a month, when Ernesto managed to book something into the everything room, he asked Darlene to stop by and take care of the details. It was gig work she did for a few extra dollars, not for the glory of being an events manager.

Sierra spoke as if I were hard of hearing. “I requested pink napkins. The napkins on our table are salmon.”

I put on the bland, corporate smile recommended in the training video and gave the bland, corporate response, “Thank you for letting me know about that.”

I tapped the keyboard of my computer, found keys for a room as far from the birthday party as possible, and handed them to my guests.

“Room 134. Would you like help with your suitcase?”

“No, miss, but thank you kindly.”


The cheekbones of Sierra’s heart-shaped face were splotchy with anger. “My mother’s dress is pink. So is the cake.”

“I see.”

“This is completely inappropriate,” Sierra said. “She doesn’t have to put up with this for her sixtieth birthday party. What are you going to do about this?”

“Our events manager isn’t here right now,” I said, sliding my glance to the clock, which read ten-thirty. Darlene had been gone for hours, had no doubt cooked supper for her grandkids and put them and herself to bed.

“Do you have any idea how much money we’re spending here tonight?”

The offending napkins had been on the table, glorying in their ability to clash with pink, since the beginning of the party. It would have been easy to swap them if Sierra had spoken up then. One corner of her mouth hinted at an ugly smile.

I said, “I’ll be glad to share your complaint with the day manager.”

A man emerged from the everything room, his dark auburn hair damp with sweat. He tugged at Sierra’s elbow and said, “Come back to the party.”

“Fraser, the napkins…”

“Don’t matter,” he chided her gently. “Your mom doesn’t care.”

“She’s not paying for this party. Dad and I are.”

“Your dad doesn’t care, either. Come back and have a beer.”

“I don’t want a beer, Fraser!”

“Your mom says she’s going to cut the cake in five minutes.”

“Without me?” Sierra shrieked. She turned a fierce eye on me. “You need to give me your name, and you can be sure that I’ll be calling your manger about this travesty.”

“Rose White,” I replied.

He pulled her away, and I nodded my thanks to him.

He winked at me and said, “Nice name! I’ve got a plant name, too.”

Sierra made one more trip to the reception desk, right before leaving, to let me know that she’d known Ernesto her whole life. For a few dark


moments, I imagined it would have been better if I had never left home. But there wasn’t even a main street there, not a single traffic light, no motel or anywhere else to work if you didn’t want to farm or commute eighty miles to a fast-food joint. In the quiet hours of the night, I rehearsed some excuses and calculated how long I could stretch my savings until I found another place. I dragged myself out of bed early the next day to report the napkin fiasco to Ernesto before Sierra did.

“She texted me last night,” Ernesto said.

I twisted the damp tissue in my hand.

“She texted Ben Larson, too, about the placement of ‘happy birthday’ on the cake. Ignore her.” He pushed back his office chair, turning philosophical. “Rose, life is all about when we peak, and Sierra peaked at the wrong time. Some people peak in high school and spend the rest of their lives trying to recapture the glory of the homecoming court or the basketball team. The failure-to-launch people never even get started. What’s best is to always be a month away from peaking, always nudging those goalposts and striving for them.”

I wasn’t about to tell Ernesto that his advice sounded like a recipe for an ulcer. I asked, “Sierra peaked in high school?”

“Worse,” he said. “Junior high. She’s a clique queen and always needs to feel like she won. Ben’s going to offer her a free cake; I’ll refund twenty-five symbolic dollars. Then she can look for the next thing to have a cow about.”

My grandfather had advice about the clique queen in my school. He told me to kick her in the shins, just once, but good and hard.

larson’s fin dining, where Fraser tended bar, was the only place in town that was open late, so that’s where I spent my Tuesday nights off. The barstools were newly upholstered, and the beer selection was decent.

My first time there, Fraser greeted me with a draft IPA, on him, he said, to make up for Sierra’s napkin meltdown.

I thanked him and said, “I looked up your plant name. Fraser means ‘strawberry’, right?”


“Two points for you.”

I ordered cheesy potato skins. When he served them, he told me that a man at the end of the bar had paid for them. The man tugged briefly at the brim of his gimme cap, nodding.

Fraser said, “That’s Bob Wagner, Sierra’s dad.”

It seemed that lots of people in this town went out of their way to compensate for Sierra.

I settled in to watch the game with the other bar patrons. Their cheers changed to angry shouts and then to mutters. After a bad call and a worse fumble, some of the old-timers paid their tabs and left. At the final score, those who remained swallowed the last of their beer and their pride and trickled out of the bar. Fraser turned the television off and the music down.

“Why does everyone in town call this place ‘Larson’s Fin Dining’?” I asked. “Does the restaurant serve fish?”

Fraser’s warm chuckle rippled as he wiped the worn oak bar. “Nah. There used to be neon sign that read ‘Larson’s Fine Dining’, but the E busted.”

Three weeks in, the other Tuesday-nighters already treated me like a regular, and Fraser had my IPA cold and potato skins hot when I arrived. I was always the last to leave, and conversation improved considerably once everyone else cleared out. He and I talked about everything. We talked about nothing.

“One more for the road?” Fraser asked one frigid February night. “Nope. I’ve got to get going, and you should get home to your wife.” I said it to remind myself that he was married.

Which he was, I learned, and he wasn’t. They had separated three years before. I did the math as he told his story; they’d spent more time apart than married.

For our first date, we strolled through the town park on a late March afternoon. The ice that remained in the middle of the lake was pocked and mottled. We tossed pebbles at the wind-driven ripples near the shore.

Fraser turned up the collar on my coat and snugged my hat down over my ears. “Don’t get cold.”


We started walking to warm up, avoiding slush puddles.

“Well, would you look at this?” he asked, stopping at trashcan. He plucked a stuffed elephant from the trash. “Now who’d leave this behind?”

“Gross, Fraser. Leave it alone.”

“Look, he’s got a big hole in his leg.”

He took it home, tenderhearted as he was, and stitched up the tear. He stood the elephant up. It leaned. He tilted his head and asked, “What’s your name, little guy?”

“You’re kidding. You’re naming it?” I asked.

“Says the woman who named her car.” He smiled and cleared a space for the elephant on the coffee table. “He looks like a Steve.”

I moved into Fraser and Steve’s apartment before the corn was knee high. It was a one bedroom with hand-me-down furniture, a view out the kitchen window as long as a summer day, perfectly flat and thin pillows on a new queen mattress, and Fraser’s two neat lists on the refrigerator— stuff to buy and things that needed doing.

One of those things was Sierra’s shutters. Three years separated, yet she had the nerve to ask him to repaint the shutters because they were too orange for her new crimson car.

“Fraser, why in heck are you fixing her house?”

“It’s too pretty a place to let it fall apart,” he answered. “She doesn’t know how to keep it nice like her grandparents did.”

“You’re going to paint the shutters?”

“Oh, yah. But I’ll need to buy new shutter dogs and hinges first,” he answered.

I said, “I think what would fix things would be if you told her where to get off.”

He cupped my face in his palms and kissed me. “That’s a hornets’ nest no one wants to poke. Besides,” he added, twisting a hank of my hair into a soft rope and brushing the tip of my nose with it, “I like her folks.”

“You and everyone else.”

“Come to the lumber yard with me?” he asked.

I passed, preferring an early start at work. I picked up coffee and


cupcakes at the truck stop—decaf for Ernesto because he was finishing his shift, regular for me because I was starting mine.

He had an opinion on Sierra’s request that Fraser be the one to paint her shutters: “Now that you moved in with him, she needs to assert her ownership.”

“What? Like a dog peeing on a lamppost? Ernesto, that’s immature.”

“She is immature.”

I offered him a cupcake. “And this whole town of too-too nice people never thought it part of their civic duty to help her grow up a little?”

Ernesto pinched the paper away from his cupcake. “It’s not our business. You know, her parents tried a long time until they had her. My wife and me, we always said no to our kids, and they say no to our grandkids. But Bob and Bobbie Wagner were so happy to finally have a baby that they couldn’t bring themselves to set boundaries.”

“Somebody might want to do that for her one day,” I said.

fraser and i always locked our doors. Sierra didn’t, and it was one of the things that she and Fraser fought about when they were together. He’d lock the house; she’d unlock it; he’d lock it again; she’d tell him that her grandparents never locked the house back when they lived in it.

Most people around town didn’t bother to lock their doors, either. Some of the old-timers were, in fact, not altogether sure where their house keys were. That’s the world they grew up in, or at least that’s how they remembered it—a smaller, friendlier world that existed before the interstate, one of trust and neighborliness. The crops went in; the crops were harvested. The four seasons rolled around and around.

“Not Southern California,” Fraser said one day. He had just emerged from the shower after spending the afternoon taking the shutters off Sierra’s house.

I gave him a puzzled look.

“When we go west,” he said. “Let’s not go to Southern California. I’d miss the change of seasons if we lived there.”

I hugged him so hard that he mimed gasping for air.

40 Chautauqua

“Washington or Oregon, maybe?” I asked. “I’ve never seen the ocean. When should we go?”

“I ought to finish that porch first.”

I groaned.

The next day was the most miserable one of the summer, the kind when everyone said that it wasn’t the heat that got you, it was the humidity. Either one on its own was enough to lay you out that day. Fraser drove to Sierra’s to make some progress on the shutters before going to work.

I made him lemonade, the real thing, with lemons that I trekked to Walmart for. Soon enough, I learned why my grandmother preferred the powdered stuff that came in canisters. First off, you need a mountain of lemons to make more than a glassful. Second, if you drop them, they roll a lot farther than you’d think. And if you cut yourself, fishing the seeds out of the lemon juice sets your fingers on fire.

But I triumphed. I poured the lemonade over ice into an empty apple juice bottle and drove it to Sierra’s. I parked Beulah in the shade. Shutters in three different shades of green leaned against the house, quart-sized cans of paint next to them. Fraser was frowning at the shutter he’d rested on a sawhorse and a fourth can of paint to swatch.

“Lemonade!” I announced. The bottle was sweating almost as much as I was, not half as much as Fraser was.

In under ten seconds, he chugged most of what had taken me an hour to shop for and make.

“You’re the best,” he said, giving me a lemon-flavored kiss.

“I am, aren’t I?” I kissed him back. “Take a break. It’s hot.”

Sweat had glued his tee to his torso. He drank the rest of the lemonade.

I waggled my phone at him. “I found some places in Oregon and Washington. They’re beautiful. Want to see?”

He tried to make out the images on the screen before giving me an apologetic smile. “Maybe later?”

I perched on the porch rail and watched as he returned to the sawhorse and began to scrape the shutter.


“Don’t sit there,” Fraser said. “Part of the rail is rotted out. I need to replace it.”

“For crying out loud, Fraser!” I exclaimed. “Are you going to build her a whole new porch?”

“Ah, Rose, don’t be like that,” he said. “I love this old house. This is like my parting gift to it. Then we’ll head out to see all those places you bookmarked on your phone.”

He stripped off his tee and hung it over the rail. The previous day’s sun had turned his skin pink under its tan. As he worked, the muscles of his back tensed and relaxed under his new tattoo—a rose in bloom.

“You still have a key to this house?” I asked.

“She doesn’t lock her door.”

“So how about if we go inside where it’s air conditioned and have sex right on the kitchen table?”

He wiped sweat from his forehead, and, for a moment, I thought he might be considering the idea.

“That thing’s not too sturdy,” he replied. “She bought it for its looks.”

“The couch, then.”

He took a slow breath. “Rose, don’t. It’s not me you want right now. What you want is to mess with Sierra.”

I felt small, like I’d been caught somewhere I didn’t belong, and I knew he was right.

“It’s air conditioned at our place,” he offered, his eyes kind and clear and so deep I could have drowned in them. “We’ve got a couch, too, don’t you know? So let me finish up, and I’ll be home soon.”

“Okay. See you there.”

He added, “I’m gonna get that divorce. I’ll let Sierra know tomorrow.”

he kissed me and pulled the sheet up around my shoulder before getting an early start for Sierra’s the next morning. Ernesto rang the doorbell a few hours later.

“Why aren’t you at work?” I asked.

“Bob Wagner called,” he answered. “Put on your shoes. We’ve got to go.”


“Go where?”

It was 180 miles to the trauma center, and Ernesto stopped trying to distract me with small talk after the first ten. Flashing police lights dotted the place where the endless straight of the highway met the sky. The dots grew larger.

“Don’t look, okay?” Ernesto said. “He’s not there. They took him in a helicopter.”

Fraser’s pick-up was on its side; nearby, an SUV teetered upside down. A semi was parked on the median, its load of pipes scattered like pick-up sticks.

I could not help but stare.

“Rose, don’t look. Rosita! Why don’t you think of things to tell Fraser when you see him?”

I imagined us sitting on beach in Oregon, a cloud-streaked sky and majestic waves, pillars of rock standing guard offshore, gulls wheeling overhead. We’ll go there, I would say to him when I saw him. We’ll walk that beach together.

The trip to the hospital seemed to take hours. The walk down the shiny, brightly lit corridors seemed longer still. I held the image of the beach in my mind, ready to share it with Fraser. In our imaginations, we’d be together in a place of peace and beauty.

I stared at his vital signs monitor, uncomprehending. It was silent, no green lines on its black screen.

Fraser was somewhere under the bandages, tubes, and tape. His eyes were closed; what I could see of his face was slack.

“What is she doing here?” Sierra demanded.

Bob answered, “I asked Ernesto to bring her.”

“I don’t want her here.”

“Be polite, sweetheart,” Bobbie admonished, taking Sierra’s elbow and guiding her to the door. “It’s not about what we want. It’s about what Fraser would have wanted. Let’s get something to eat.”

Ernesto asked. “Do you want me to stay?”

I must have shaken my head no, because I found myself alone with Fraser.

The beds of his fingernails were a dusky blue, his hand pale and cool.


I held it to my cheek. Someone had combed the part of his hair that wasn’t swathed in gauze.

A tiny woman knocked at the door and introduced herself as the chaplain.

“How are you bearing up?” she asked.

“I should bring some clothes for him.”

She rested her hand on my shoulder. “He doesn’t need clothes anymore.”

“Oh,” I said, the reality forming in my mind. “I was too late.”

“Do you want us to pray together?”

I shrugged and said, “He promised he’d be with me forever.”

“And He is, even to the end of the world.”

“I didn’t mean God, Reverend.”

After a time that was either too short or close to forever, Bob and Bobbie returned with Sierra, who stared at Fraser as if she didn’t know him.

She whispered, “Cremation.”

I said, “I’d like to buy the urn.”

Ernesto drove me home. He and Ava made me stay at their place. She made tomato soup that I wasn’t hungry for but ate anyway.

Sierra texted me after breakfast the next day:

You can have half the ashes.

What’s the password for his phone?

Ava took me to the apartment for clothes. Without Fraser, the place was as neutral and antiseptic as the furniture display in a department store.

“Want me to pack some things for you?” Ava asked. “You sit on the couch and take it easy.”

A pair of his socks was on the floor, his coffee cup in the sink. Steve, listing to one side, stared at me with sad little eyes.

Ava hummed and puttered for a few minutes before emerging from the bedroom with my overnight bag.

She said, “Sit there a little longer if you want, and I can wait in the car.”



“You’re ready to go?” she asked.

“You bet.”

I took Steve with me. He smelled like Fraser and kept me company when the world was asleep. He was in my hands when I awoke every night, disoriented, standing in one room or another of Ernesto’s house.

i ordered a handmade raku urn with iridescent blue glaze above, the green of endless fields below, and had it sent, at Sierra’s request, to her house.

She sent more texts that week:

The urn arrived today.

I’ll arrange the funeral.

Ushers will seat you.

Don’t wear navy.

Not only did she arrange the funeral, she starred in it—picked music that Fraser hated; held court in the first pew next to his only living relative, Uncle Leo; carried on like she was the one that Fraser wanted to spend the rest of his life with; murmured to other mourners and pointed at me, in the back pew, where the usher had been told to seat me. I wore my defiance in the form of a head held high and a navy dress.

I balked at the thought of attending the funeral lunch in the motel’s everything room. I walked to Larson’s Fin Dining instead. Ben Larson unlocked the door and let me in.

He said, “I offered her this place for free, you know.”

He poured me a coffee and topped up his own cup. I stood at the bar, more than a little lost. He led me to a booth.

“You know why she didn’t want this place?” he asked. “Because I don’t have round tables in the dining room. Jeez. Have you ever heard of such a thing?”

“Did you tell her off?”

“Yeah, no, course not. That’d be rude,” he answered. “How are you getting on?”


“I’m sleepwalking for the first time in my life. Sometimes I take pictures off the wall or open drawers.”

Ben stared into his cup. I stared into mine. We let the creaking and settling of the building do the rest of the talking. Two cups of coffee later, I walked to Ernesto’s and found him and Ava back from the interment.

Their sympathetic looks and overflowing kindness had grown, suddenly, to distress more than soothe me.

“I’m ready to go back to the apartment,” I told them.

To the apartment first, I thought, and then to Sierra’s to get my half of the ashes so I could say my own goodbyes to Fraser.

Outside the apartment door, I dropped my overnight bag, blindsided by what she had done: the lock was changed; my possessions were in an oversized garbage bag that slumped in the hallway.

My knees gave way, and I slid to the floor. For the first time since the accident, I cried. I cried loud and long enough that the neighbors cracked their doors to stare.

Shirley, who lived across the hall, came to pat my head with her knotted, arthritic hand. She was wearing her funeral clothes but had changed into aqua slippers. She nodded at the plastic bag. “It was there when I got back. So uncalled for! I saw her talking to the manager yesterday.”

I didn’t need to ask who Shirley was talking about.

“You weren’t at the luncheon. Have you had anything to eat?” she asked. “Come on over. I’ll make you tea and a sandwich. You’ll feel better with something in your stomach.”

“Thanks,” I said. “But there’s something I’ve got to do.”

The hinges squeaked when I yanked Beulah’s hatch open. I shoved in my overnight bag and the plastic garbage bag. I did something I had never done before—gunned the engine—and instead of dispelling my anger, fueled it.

Sierra was home; her car was parked out front. Fraser’s toolbox was on her porch, the sawhorse near the rail, the shutters and paint cans where he had left them.

She opened the door before I knocked. “Did you need something?” she asked with a saccharine smile.

46 Chautauqua

“I’m here for my half of the ashes and the urn.”

She disappeared inside and returned with the urn. “Here you go. I’m so glad you came to your senses and stayed away from the luncheon. What would people have said?”

I swallowed the retort that was forming on my lips and walked away. I made it halfway to the car before growing suspicious of the urn’s lightness. I pried off the lid.

It was empty.

I spun around and glared at Sierra, who wiggled her fingers at me and said, “Have a nice life.”

I stormed back up the steps and hammered on the door until she shot the deadbolt. I moved to the window and slammed the glass with the flat of my hand. She pulled the shade down. I wailed in protest and rained down on her all the curses I knew. Wrung out, I sat on the top porch step, the urn still cradled in my left arm.

The need to be somewhere—anywhere—else took hold of me. My hands strayed over the urn, and I wondered where. But I intended to burn some bridges first.

Sierra’s car was unlocked. I pried open the cans of paint and poured Lincolnshire Loden onto her leather upholstery, Mediterranean Olive into the gear shift, Forest Primeval over her engine block, and Manifestly Matcha on her roof. I wiped my hands clean on her shearling steering wheel cover.

I buckled Steve into the passenger seat of my car and said, “Let’s see the ocean, little guy.”

The insurmountable Rockies stood between us and the Pacific, their profile as jagged as fresh pain. I turned south, skirting the foothills, searching for a place to call home.

The hypnotic straights of interstate sent my mind back to the accident. I abandoned the interstate to thread truer landscapes, those rich in relics of the people who had lived, loved, and died there. I held my own memorial for Fraser by a stone-choked stream, settling his urn in the shade of a silver-leafed tree. I opened an IPA, took a sip, and poured the rest out on the ground. I told Fraser that I missed him. I told myself it was time to let him go.


Still, I awoke every night to find myself standing, bewildered, inside a motel room.

a month and a half into going wherever the wind blew me, I came to a small city that lazed by the curve of a wide and glassy river.

“Should we stop here?” I asked Steve, and he nodded a yes as we rumbled over railroad tracks.

Half the businesses of the main street were shuttered, but the barbecue joint was crowded with lunchtime patrons. Their overheard laughter and conversation kept me company as I ate. When I emerged into the afternoon sunshine, I saw a woman seated under a sign—Mo’s Tattoos—sketching, a dripping glass of sweet tea next to her lawn chair.

“You’re far from home,” she said, peering over her reading glasses and pointing at my car.

“I’m on my way to a new one,” I said.

“Where’s that?” she asked, running purple fingernails over her tattooed left arm.

I looked through the window of her studio. “I don’t know.”

“Come on in,” she said.

The exposed brick walls were nearly covered in photos of tattoos. The floorboards squeaked as I crossed to a corner of memorials—portraits, crosses, lilies, and a saint or two. The other walls showcased patriotic tattoos, Celtic knots, flowers, cartoon characters, lotería.

“Can I get one today?” I asked, surprising myself.

“Not after a damned, greasy barbeque lunch at Jimmy’s,” she said. “That stuff slides down easy, but it comes up just as easy once you’re in the chair. But we can do a consult and maybe set you up for tomorrow.”

“That’d be great, Mo,” I said.

“I’m Rella. I bought the place when Mo died.”

She led me back to the memorial corner. “Do you want people to ask you about him or her?”

“Him. And no, not yet.”

“Then let’s choose a design that means something only to you. Maybe the place you met. Or we could do some script. Did he have a favorite quote?”


“Not really.” Then the words came without seeming to stop in my mind first: “I want a strawberry, with leaves and flowers.”

Rella showed me photos. She asked probing questions about my aesthetics and life. By the end of the afternoon, she knew me better than my mother ever would.

“Come back tomorrow at nine,” Rella said, “Wear comfy clothes.”

“Don’t you want to know the date he died?”

She hooked two fingers in the neck of her tee and slid it down, exposing an exquisite tattoo portrait of a freckled teenager. Framed in an oval, it rested like a locket over her heart. “See the pearls on her necklace?” she asked.

Six black pearls, seven white ones. I was standing close enough to feel the warmth of Rella’s skin.

“June seventh,” she said. “The day they come into this world matters a damn sight more than the day they leave it. When was his birthday?”

“February fifth,” I said.

“See you tomorrow,” Rella said. “Have breakfast before you come, but not a big, damned greasy one.”

The next morning, she transferred the stencil to my forearm and waited for two long minutes, to see if I’d change my mind, I supposed.

“Is it going to hurt?” I asked.

“Sure as you’re standing there. But I’ll talk you through.”

“Let’s do it,” I said.

Rella pulled her salt-and-pepper waves into a ponytail. I reclined in the chair and held my breath.

“How long have you been on the road?” Rella asked.

“Six weeks, two days. And seven weeks, four days that he’s been gone.”

“Seen a lot of this land of ours?”

The tattoo machine chattered. I grimaced before continuing. “You betcha. I figured I’d keep a list in my head of the places I stopped. I forgot the names pretty fast, though, so I made up new ones, like Western Movie Town and Nothing-to-See Town. The people in Green Enchilada Town were nice. But it looked too much like what I left behind—prairie and big sky. Did you know there’s a town with a cow statue?”


Rella laughed. “There’s at least ten of those.”

“I hated that place. That’s where I was the day I forgot to count how long it was since he died. Pothole Town is where I learned to always put the chain on a motel door.”

“Why’s that?” Rella asked.

“I started sleepwalking after he died. In Pothole Town, I was opening the door when I woke up. Since then, I always put the chain on the door, so I don’t wake up in some parking lot.”

“Bless your heart. You know what? You’re looking for him.”

The truth of it rumbled through me long and deep, like summer thunder. I grunted as Rella began the zig-zagged edge of another leaf.

“You’re doing fine, buttercup,” she said. “This is nothing compared with what you’ve been through.”

She finished outlining the leaf and a flower bud before I could speak again: “The next place was Three Church Town. Three churches, five bars, standoffish people, no reason to stay.”

After that, I drove for two days past fields of sorghum and stubs of harvested corn to anyplace, and anyplace was Rella’s and the purifying pain of her needles.

I was out of conversation. Rella, true to her word, led me through the rest, her voice guiding me over the pain. She told me about the strawberry shortcake she made when her kids were little, named the colors of the ink in her palette, talked like the artist she was about shading and placement.

“I’m starting on his birthday now,” she said. “Two dewdrops on one side for February; five on the other for the fifth. Not that you’d ever forget.”

I started to think that Rella’s town might be home, and I told her so when she had finished her work. She took my hands in hers, and her slow and deliberate pronouncement transfixed me: “You are not yet home. But the wandering is almost complete.”

“How do I know when I find my place?”

“You will receive signs.”

in vain, I sought those signs in abandoned farmhouses strangled by kudzu, in towns idle from humidity, on an Atlantic beach pounded by


storm-driven waves. I turned back inland and then north. I drove part of US 1 three times one day—about thirty miles from Great Waffle City, back again for Steve, who’d rolled under the motel bed, and then a new start north. I stopped at the first town I came to after sunset and pulled into a motel parking lot.

I realized upon waking that I had not walked in my sleep.

“Can you believe that, Steve?” I curved the corners of his mouth into a smile before hurrying to catch the motel’s breakfast buffet.

“Sorry,” the manager said. “We’re starting late today. Would you like a cup of coffee a while?”

Coffee cup in hand, I strolled by the brick homes and small shops clustered on the main street of Town Cupped in a Valley. Geese honked as they sailed the small, intimate sky. I could see my breath; I’d need my gloves soon.

My growling stomach sent me back to the motel for breakfast.

“Thanks for waiting,” the manager said as I walked by her desk. “Our evening desk person just quit, and things are a little upside down.”

I put bread in the toaster and opened the minifridge. There were dozens of small containers of yogurt, every one strawberry.

If those aren’t signs, Rella, I thought, I don’t know what are.

the apartment manager jingles the keys and hands them to me. I jingle them back.

I carry my bags inside, nestle Steve onto the couch, and slide open the balcony door, inhaling the scent of autumn leaves and earth broken for winter wheat.

“He’d have liked this place,” I say to Steve.

A meandering stream winks beneath time-smoothed hills that abide in melancholy peace. I wait, held in their embrace, for spring to come again.


The Pink Balloon

Chun Yu

Thefirst time Father told us about his childhood he said that when he was eleven, after eight years of war, the Japanese surrendered. The day the news came, the city erupted into wild celebration. In a crowd drunken with joy, he saw a giant pink balloon rising above the ancient city wall by the Yangtze River. Telling the story, his eyes glowed with a light, rising and expanding in the sky.

It was New Year’s Eve. Father had just come back from his reeducation in the countryside. He’d been gone for eight years. We children did not know him, until the light of his pink balloon began to shine upon us that night.

I was also eleven then, secretly believing that I could make it, the pink balloon, stay high and above, glowing for Father, and us all. I set out to work.

Winning competitions from math to English, being a champion student, going to the best university in the capital, as years went by, I saw that balloon rising higher and expanding in Father’s and everyone’s eyes. Each New Year’s Eve, Father told the story of the pink balloon as we gathered around the banquet that he, Mother, and Grandma spent days preparing with the rationed meat, fish, and eggs that my older brother gege, little sister meimei, and I stood in lines at shops for hours to buy.

One day, I felt I could change the world for the better, so that the pink balloon would always stay above, for us all—our family, our nation, and the world. I marched on the streets of the capital with fellow students, and the people, a million strong. The whole country cheered us on for the pink balloons we all saw in the sky, until one day, tanks rolled in and bullets were fired. All the balloons were gone.

I came home. We stood in the dark. There was nothing up in the sky. Father did not mention the balloon for years. It took me a long time to look in the sky again, alone.

Marriages happened, grandchildren born and raised, marriages went awry, money made or lost, seas and oceans crossed, back and forth,


hopes and losses came and went in different weights and shapes. A few years ago, Father began to forget what he had for breakfast just minutes ago and if he had taken his medicine for the day. In his forgetfulness, his face became rosy and the roots of his gray hair grew dark. He began to smile at whatever happened in our family and the world, “good” or “bad,” always saying, “Good, good…” His lack of distinction made us laugh and fall silent.

This New Year’s Eve, we all managed to come home, crossing the pandemic and the ocean. During dinner, Father suddenly glowed, “When I was eleven, the Japanese surrendered. A giant pink balloon rose above the city wall...”

As if seeing the balloon in the sky with him again, I smiled, “Yes, Father. What a day it was…”

... the moon rises, so beautiful it makes me shudder …”
—Mary Oliver, “The Sweetness of Dogs”

life of the spirit

Six Omens in Six Days

Doug Ramspeck

This bear that keeps climbing the oak tree outside my window and feeding loudly on acorns

created my world when he carried me as a child on his shoulders up to bed or closed himself into

his office and drank himself into a torpor and once passed out on the back porch steps so that

my brother and I prodded him with a foot to see if he still lived. And there was bear scat this morning

by the tomato plants and a huff in the bushes and the crunching of sticks in the woods and a lightness

to the house whenever my father wasn’t in it, a buoyancy like the moon floating on its raft across the sky

while my brother and I lay on our backs on the roof and watched the black bear of night keep climbing.


Parsley Caterpillar / Black Swallowtail

Polly Brown

When you hitchhike down from the garden on my sandal, you’re a pale moon-sweet green, embroidered yellow and black. The parsley I offer in a jar, you ignore:

it’s become irrelevant. You rest, dream, choose a likely stem. At first,

the capsule you spin glows emerald. Soon it shrivels brown, a curled leaf,

dry sarcophagus. Life hums inside. Finally you break through, unfold wings—

black silk, white clouds, bits of blue—and the sky lets you in.


Satsuma for Cherie S

Cherie had been dying of cancer for a while; she was getting the hang of it. I’d met her once or twice before, when her regular hospice nurse was on vacation. She was comfortable in the present moment, even though the one she inhabited would have frightened most. She lived on a quiet country road in a studio apartment facing an almond orchard. Satsuma mandarins were ripening on her backyard tree.

Barbara West

Cherie was in the bathroom, so I sat on an ottoman, squeezed between her bed and table, balancing her three-ring chart on my knees. I heard the toilet flush; she hadn’t bothered to close the door.

Cherie appeared, holding onto the door jamb, black chin-length hair streaked with gray. Skipping the pleasantries, she told me she couldn’t eat anymore. Her voice was husky; dehydration bringing ease to this late stage.

“Barbara, I have a favor to ask you,” she said as she let go of the doorway, stooped to the bed, and sat facing away from me, bouncing her voice off the white wall. “Feel free to say no. I was going to ask one of my friends, but I think you’re someone who could really do it, without feeling any guilt.”


My mind flashed to my home-health mentor Peggy, back in Oakland, years before: a friend had been dying. She had a plan worked out, but wanted Peggy there in case of a snag—with the barbiturates, the plastic bag, or the elastic around her neck. Peggy was there. Things went more-or-less as planned, but Peggy still felt uneasy, needed to tell me the story.

“OK,” I said, “ask me. If I’m not OK with it, I’ll tell you.”

“Good,” she said. She cupped one hand under her thigh and lifted it to the bed. She gathered the slack from the other leg of her jeans into a makeshift handle and brought that leg up too. She rolled onto her side, facing me.

“You seem to be someone who knows how to enjoy things, really taste things,” she said, teeth glowing against her tan. “Would you be willing to eat one of the Satsumas for me? If you sit very close and eat one right here next to me, and really enjoy it, I think I’ll feel it.”

“OK,” I said, relieved.

“The important thing is that you don’t feel bad about it—that you don’t feel sorry for me because I can’t eat it.”

“I think I can do that.”

“I thought you could.”

I stood up, turned to the bowl of Satsuma Mandarins on her table, and picked one with that oversized, loose skin. Cherie scootched herself up to the bed’s near edge. I sat on the carpet and held the Satsuma up between our mouths as I started to peel. She reached her hand out, so I ripped a strip of it free, which she pressed to her face, inhaling. My thumb worked itself in, between flesh and the peel’s inner dome—a small, cracked cathedral. Then I held the naked fruit.

Cherie nodded.

As I separated the sections, she pulled my fingers close to receive the small sprinkling. I pulled one section free and carried it into my mouth. I bit down slow, curbing the impulse to close my lips—this wasn’t the time for manners, for containment. Eyes closed, small explosions of color unfolding between my teeth, Cherie and I were on the receiving end of a telegram sent months ago by the Central Valley sun, a time capsule balancing sharp and sweet, no room for anything blunt or mundane.


I felt all that trickle down my throat, remedying whatever suffered from winter, pulled another section free, settled it on my tongue, then rolled it from one set of crushing molars to the other, tiny orange teardrops relinquishing juice. I continued with the next glowing section, and the one after that. Whenever self-consciousness arose, I tuned back in to the tang of nectar, inside my cheek, under my tongue. My faith in her request, her faith in me. This wasn’t something I could do wrong. I finished eating it. She rolled onto her pillow: “That was it.”

Barbara West


Mary Gilliland

here i am absent belongings, gazing into space where my long-departed taxi-mates from Dallas

and Seattle who begged the airline with flight after incoming flight to say was I on it, then

without the blessed assurance that I would ever arrive, nabbed a slightly more expensive cab

to the conference hotel dozens of miles from arrivals. Will someone save the night? Someone tall

gestures intrepidly near my curtained cheeks beside a suspended luggage belt near midnight in

Thessaloniki. She calls herself Angheliki Lemonidou.

Flight delay is to be piecemeal, harrowed, deterred. Flight delay's saga mind is purgatorial displacement. Flight delay: not monks massacred nor prisoners paying their own cost nor trees girdled felled and trimmed. Flight delay is a missing belvedere. A flight delay is to be nurtured: an internal immigrant, a score settled, a spontaneous unlikely friend.

Thanks to Angheliki my head will lift past the dark surround that's lost its velvet radiance, past


those storms that delayed me in Philadelphia, past the customer representatives unable to represent the lost era of human kindness. Angel of the lemons! My angel strides with her clean approach. My shoulders will overlook Kalithea on the peninsula Kassandra where I'm going.

She will be my native speaker, my belvedere. •

her ring finger loops my hair over one ear then the other. At the office she must labor over

details in order to cut through them, neither pessimist nor optimist but realist. Her knees lift with a syndication of resilience. As in most countries including my own I had been finding too many

people when I don’t greatly need them and not enough when I do. With slim valise she strides

then turns to ask if I might...—yes please!!—I bark the Greek reply to anyone yes anyone at all who is approaching your counter or your shop.


in her yard my sister had a lemon tree. She liked where she settled, a town where you could know

each other like where we grew up. There was a diner, the ocean wasn’t far away. She

always rented, never bought. One apartment had a fireplace that wasn't really needed. Imagine

strolling out to grab a lemon at your doorstep for a squeeze on the salad or some fish. She came

home from work one day to find someone had stolen her boxes of new checks from the mailbox

on the porch. Straightening that one out took her some doing. Although there was a time we

could not get our hurts and needs on the table without attacking, her card last week had a P.S. —

You’ve had long hair forever — I’ve only had it again for a short time — how do you keep the knots out?

when we were little it was exotic to board an airplane. Passengers in regular seating were treated like first class. Instead of footlockers used when you actually moved one place to another, say


college, sets of 4 color-coordinated matching bags were mass produced. Rule number one: lock

your checked bags. Twenty or more years of that. Then someone took the New York towers

down, you tell me who, just sayin’. I've hardly flown overseas, you think I grew up wealthy? My

generation’s kids are the ones who de rigeur take a semester abroad. That wasn’t us.

we would complete each other’s sentences in our shared room with its maple dresser, glow-in-

the-dark religious figures, and her bed reversed against the wall. Was it she or my mother found

the key to my diary? I would read books, she could read people. When with unheeded warnings

the bells of our vowels twisted the path forward we would tear open shaking as though the

distance between us had never been roofed and our every encounter was the blue hour before light would appear in the sky.


angheliki lemonidou taps me on the shoulder, wheels me toward an Olympic Air luggage

supervisor who has the same black hair but longer. It is said that eyebrows mirror personality and

this woman’s have no gap between them. Her eyes could not be more tired. At a rarely used X-

ray stand my black checked bag lies in solitary after quite early in the twenty-first century being

nuked. She stands stock still beside it and her mouth enunciates through an unchanging

upside-down smile You locked it?! with the resigned tone of O Mary do something useful! my

mother's comment when I dropped pre-med for creative writing.

you dumb cluck! my mother barked at one of my crew-cutted 2-foot-high siblings. Undoubtedly

also for something I had done ineptly with small hands. As though the birds would never sing

before dawn. Phrase channelling her German father? or having to pull rank on so many children

dropped like foals and no chance to go bowling with more restrained mothers? Yes—mumbles


my transAtlantic mouth from the feet of a 2-foothigh naked shaven inner self and the word travels to the woman in charge—without please. Now it’s the door to the taxis, well past midnight, the few still at the curb able to insist on all you’ve got. My angel of the lemons, my belvedere, rapid-barks Greek with Nikos then Iannis then Giorgos then gives me the fare quote in

English having saved me many euros.

tomorrow angheliki may have her short hair trimmed after checking petri dishes at her daughter’s lab, blessed assurance for that on-vacation post-doc. Then to the office to evaluate

data: project manager not of cleaning solvents’ credibility nor flavor enhancers’ punch but of comparative water resistance in possible new fibers in German outerwear. Then she may bus

home a little early not to work the evening but to relax with a magazine brought from Frankfurt in her slim valise for she is one who can take in little and yet flourish everywhere.


my sister had a knack for choosing gifts that reached my heart: Songs To Mary composed across

the continents, the eons, Accordion Girls whose fingers tapped vivacious chords of joy. The US

Mail would present these presents on my birthday. My sister's gift for selecting gifts applied to

everyone, a chord of sympathy inside her. Evidence of her gift for giving at her service 15 years

from this night on a day 2 months after her death will be Our Lady of Lourdes Church just before

the lockdown filled to capacity with practitioners of gratitude. How could it be, after recounting

to Angheliki the wanderings between sessions at my previous conference in dusty Athens, the

covered market by a miniscule stream, the collegial conversations about silence in the writing

process, I have altogether forgot the simple melody of asking my Angel for her card?

the furthest prong of Halkidiki’s 3 holds Mount Athos which itself holds no Mercedes nor soccer nor cause for honking nor a beauteous belvedere. Its towering rocky outcrops befit


mortification and prayer but offer no no no fertility, this mount a model for reducing

overpopulation. Neither my angel nor her daughter nor myself nor any girl doll we dress even in

boy’s clothing could set a foot there. Gender delay: a desert thorn, a marker on the longer haul.

But flight delay is not the mere 50% chance for survival of the 6-foot full grown ‘hooked-nose sea pig’ Hali-choerus grypus 400-pound mother who delights in gregarious singing when the pod hauls out to sun on a sandbar at low tide. Flight delay is not grappling with hidden causes of disease while the mind tends its anger, anxiety and fear.

Angie’s trim professional manner will keep me grateful all the way to tomorrow morning’s

belvedere overlooking the pool from my room in Kalithea on Kassandra, most fertile peninsula

of Halkidiki’s 3: kali the Greek for good plus Thea mother of Selene Helios Eos the moon the

sun the dawn. Eos with her husband god of the dusk bore the four winds and the twilight’s visible

bodies: morning star, evening star, just two of the wandering stars aka the planets. Ours must be


quite a sight from some where out there.

my mother sent my verses into print in the local weekly when I was 6 years old and showed

them around the Rosary Society and the K of C ladies' auxiliary, and would have brought them to

the DAR if she could have undone her ancestry and qualified for membership. Anglo-Saxon,

modern Greek, scriptural Tibetan in voluntary language classes and of course required high

school French, anyone might have imagined me destined for a top translation job at the UN or at

least a doctor.

i vowed not to have children during Bio 101’s unit on population explosion the year someone invented Earth Day. Much later it dawned that most students felt no such concern or expected

our new steam engine or cotton gin or some such to come along just in time and run away with

the problem. Perhaps like nuclear waste the situation was something for their textbooks. And


what will my correspondent Jessica say if at this conference one of us deciphers the other’s

name on our little plastic shield? Hey, Harry and Melvin were worried but we got to know each

other waiting for you. You were at this last panel? Want to grab some lunch?

a dark hilly experience, the road from Salonika, radio full blast. Iannis asks do I mind all his

honking. Oncoming cars whoosh up the pitched road dark as the pitch night while his horn

cheers on or perhaps laments each Greek nearmiss at the World Cup semi-finals. South, south

speeds the coast road destined for the landmass Halkidiki with Kassandra first prong of the

trident, the once-forested footing for a rearrangement of the way things are: the mythical clash of

the Titans—Thea and those others in their world before the world of the gods. The world that we least hear of.

Just a flight delay. Not cluster bomb falling mid family at table while the spared daughter has stepped into the


kitchen for a bowl of peas. Just a flight delay. Not endsville cool daddy beautiful people riding a wooden carousel in masks acquiring faith and giving it a rest.

To this day I give thanks to Angheliki Lemonidou paragon of the commanding for she was returning late from a conference herself, my chemical engineer. She says what’s on her mind and

for all I know breakfasts on milk with cinnamon. With a humane script for ugly ducklings, she has followed her dreams and no doubt her nightmares. Tonight she may be a bit tired, my little

red hen, and rightfully so, my lemon angel, svelte piper who could safely lead the town

musicians out of Bremen. Or was that their destination?

and i thank my dear mother who gave birth and gave birth and took to her trousseau with

scissors and pins. Brown corduroy hooded cloaks with black velvet piping and faux-crystal

buttons stitched over the snaps, soft small pink pajamas where yellow lambs pranced, bluets


flowered, the new summer dress fabric—rayon— in navy blue splashed with oversized flowers

stark white and hot pink—the intrepid patience of someone not a seamstress edging short sleeves

with rickrack, bodices with quarter-inch lace—

and pale one-piece sleeveless powder pink jumpsuits with matching sunbonnets fitted with

elastic chinstraps. The belvedere commands a wide view and is of course roofed. Endlessly

dressed and undressed were our Revlon dolls by Mary oldest of eight and Helen next younger

whose namesake is a heroine a goddess even older than mine.




To fit inside one, forget relaxing. Condense like a garlic press.

Swear your solitude is intentional, a kind of faith, with tenets like make lemonade or remember who you are. Count: you’ve now eaten

rice-less sashimi (mouth of wet cotton), endured the bathroom squat, sat through the Geisha show (two hours of watery singing) lectured to four bored students The Temple of the Golden Pavilion next to The Freaking


Temple, sun glaring off its gilded walls, the one burned by the Buddhist

priest with a stutter (so said Mishima), walked through the love stones, eyes closed,

where Kannon presides— at Kiyomizu-dera, the clear waters—all

merciful, fortytwo-armed Kannon, wandered through more darkness: Tainai

meguri, Buddha’s mother’s womb, sanctum (maybe) of sanctums to find

a big rock, to find one sacred symbol (what did it say?) to pray. So:

when your fingertips have shriveled, you’ve lost feeling in your lower legs,

forget how Euclid might frame regret, how one should circumscribe one’s life.

Towel yourself down and sleep, inured against that which you will never

know: the open mouth of the hot springs on your back, its sulphurous breath; without dousing your towel, how to submerge one’s naked body, no

escaping nipples— you still have to assign grades! Thank the monks years back

for stopping all that leaping off Kiyomizu stage for just one wish,

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their bodies churning forty feet of air, churning with desire. Forget

the Hungarian on the train, tall with blue eyes, clear as present tense,

the blue of future waters. Detach from the dream of going with him

to Muroto where the loggerheads hatch, to lie on the sand for hours

in the dark, lying side by side, listening to waves, infinite cradle, breathing, waiting for the sand to shudder, to gasp, then ex nihilo,

a hundred slick black heartbeats struggle from the pit, all bellies, all arms.

Elizabeth Garcia



Sea air is heavy. We lie down in it, bake our skin, rest our bones on the edges of oblivion.

Wave after wave, closer with the tide. Beachballs, lobster rolls, searching for seaglass for the bowl in the entryway. Whatever jewels the ocean coughs up.

No trash islands here where we scatter the ashes of our beloveds.

Filled with our mistakes, ill-fated ships, decommissioned subway cars as artificial reefs—we ache for you, have what we can no longer use.

Clouds of microbes consume the iron, drip rust. Bivalves, snails, unreal urchins, anemones somehow colonize.

The kelp forest sways. Rockfish, sculpin. Crevicedwellers, bottom-feeders. The tuna. The sharks. From a subway car that barreled commuters, riders home


from the worst first dates, the homeless guy sleeping, dreaded mariachi band, kid selling fruit snacks, the people ignoring him. Universes reclaimed. Made new. One way or the other.


One day our bodies will be finally free of us. No more resistance. Our insistence on day creams, face yoga, bleach and razors, dissolved.

Free to unlace itself, give in to the warm lift of the air as it carries away molecule after molecule, repurposed. Grass the grackle pecks and pulls. The worm she finally grabs that nourishes, becomes the chick. The shell. Broken pieces fallen to the driveway. Discovered, worshipped for a while on a kid’s desk with her other treasures before disappearing the way things do when our marveling wavers. One day just gone. Though we can picture it there. Right where we left it in the dust-moted sun. Our most beautiful thing.



Dead animals are a part of farming, but when a friend who is helping with morning chores calls me to report a dead skunk near the barn, I am nonplussed. “Has it been eaten?” I ask, reckoning rabies, “Or just killed?”

“I think the dogs killed it. It looks fine otherwise. It’s by the gate.”

“Okay, then—just leave it, please. I’ll take care of it when I get home,” I decide.

Later, when I find some time alone with the skunk, it is undoubtedly dead—and unbelievably fragrant—but also a bit more worn than I expected. Skunks are no joke: I would not want to fight one, given their propensity for carrying disease. Their long claws, while not as famous, are no less fearsome than their perfume. The dual threats of slice and stink, though, are minor deterrents to dedicated farm protectors like my Karakachan livestock guardian dogs, descended as they are from the formidable resilience of their Bulgarian forebears. In the first century, Pliny the Elder wrote of the breed’s superior strength, noting that Karakachans were well-matched against the most powerful animals, even lions and elephants. My pair once tested their mettle against two horny, raging boars and I know they would not hesitate to fend off a bear or pack of coyotes.

As I lift the limp skunk with my gloved hands, I am surprised at the lightness of her body. The skunk’s claws curve into long curls at the end of each petite paw, like obsidian—shiny and black, to match her coarse, hairy hide. I wonder about the kits she has raised, where her den is located, and how many years she walked this piece of land before death caught up with her. Life has its seasons, and if ever an occupation can be described as seasonal, farming is that.

80 nonfiction

for the farmer, winter is the trickiest season. No wonder so many choose to raise annual vegetables, or seasonal livestock, both of which allow for a much-needed break in the cold months: time to sit close to the wood stove, pore over seed catalogs, dream of next year’s projects and gardens—hopeful of ways to climb, triumphant, over the peaks that proved too terrible this season. For the farmer, the coming spring always beckons, its promise a mirage.

While West Virginia is in the South, it is admittedly “Up South”—a regional distinction, much in the same way my Maine family refers to southern Maine as “North Boston.” The remote Appalachian land I farm is both geographically up from the states to our South and closer to the sky, given the mountainous inclination of most of West Virginia. Each of these factors increases the winter chill. We have proper winter here, with frequent freezes tempered by the relief of an occasional thaw.

During the years I lived for livestock, I witnessed the brunt of death in winter. Precious litters of piglets were born, always on the most frigid nights of the year. Many of these piglets survived, thanks to the hulking sows’ innate maternal sense and my stubborn, soft-hearted insistence on setting alarm after alarm before hiking into the back pasture every hour or two, overnight. Swaddled in layers to combat the blowing wind, I trudged the frozen hill to count and catch and realign each wetly warm piglet as it was born into the whipping chill.

Even some of those who were spared that first night did not survive. Occasionally, mothers lost interest in nursing, or did not care to make the effort to clear a path with their sensitive snouts before laying down, instead flopping fat and muscle onto whichever members of the brood were slow in the slightest, in the wrong place at the worst time. Such sows did not bear future litters.

When times are hard, trauma comes in with its whisk broom and dusts days into one another, mixing memory and metaphor in the mind. I trust my body to take care of me—she always has—but the brain is another story, and sometimes its lines blur. This is especially true when a trauma, however minor, occurs in repetition. I weathered this, year upon year, with the deaths of piglets, the occasional lamb, and rabbits— all delicate creatures, whether by reason of nature or age.


I cannot be sure whether the rabbits started to die in January, shortly after my former husband blessed my thirtieth birthday with a demand for divorce—his third, and final such request—or if they waited until the killing chill of February to begin to give up. I do know that I buried multiple rabbits per day that winter, as I began my fourth year as a farmer. The rabbits seemed to die for weeks on end, sometimes with a break of one day—even two—between deaths. But as soon as I started to feel hopeful, I would find a cold, twisted form frozen in place the next morning.

Raising rabbits—for meat and pelts—was my idea, just as my former husband had suggested pigs. In the warm season, when mixed clovers curled high among the grasses and plantain in our yard, which was the rabbits’ pasture, I loved nothing better than sliding the slatted-bottom field houses to fresh ground so that rabbits of all ages could nibble at tender greens. I watched expectant mamas dragging their low bellies along as they snatched straw and leaves to make the perfect nest, feathered with silky fur that they plucked from their own hides. I relished the way a steaming bundle of naked, mousy kits could fend off the cold of a frosty morning, tucked inside the den their mother had made. When harvest time came, I did not love killing them, but felt sure that I would grow less unsettled by slaughter as my dexterity with the knife improved. Watching the rabbits die for no reason felt worse.

I remember that last winter on my first farm as a particularly bitter and disheartening time. I tried everything I could stomach. Separation of the sick, echinacea and pau d’arco infusions in their water bowls, expensive herbal tinctures that arrived in slick packaging and promised what would never be delivered. The rabbits kept dying, and the farm kept on turning.

My father came to stay, to help me pack and plan for my solo farming venture, and he dug holes alongside me, feeling his shovel pierce the frostline in time with mine. We tucked bedraggled rabbits—juniors, seniors, kits—into those cold holes and blessed them, thanked them, begged their eternal pardon, before covering them with stone-like clumps of soil and standing, heavily, on their graves. It seemed that the


rabbits were declining in a dead heat with my marriage, expiring faster than I could pack boxes that winter to leave.

winter is the great revealer. What can be held together by gumption and grit and the willingness to work without end in the warm season begins to show its age, to wear, once the freeze comes, and stays. If my water bucket harbors cracks, ice will force them apart, breaking open what was formerly concealed.

Each of these small losses, these deaths, weighed on me—even as I dashed from one project to the next, from chores to market, from hauling feed to planting young trees. I have killed many trees, too, in my overworked negligence. Once, when my friend Bill deadpanned: “You really only know a tree after killing it three times,” my laughter marked our grisly affinity. These repeated occurrences fall within a common theme, eventually begging the sentient question: when I try to carry too much, what do I drop, and do I notice when it shatters? Today, my primary work is not the task itself, or production, but the quiet cultivation of moderation.

When my mother, Sarah, thinking of my full schedule one week, meets me in town with a quart of soup—chicken and okra, or lamb with quinoa and sweet potato—I enjoy that meal as if it is the best I have ever tasted. My sister-in-law, Jessica, crochets a neck warmer for me to wear, and I stay toasty once I pull that wool sheath over my head, even during chores on the coldest winter nights. When I am the recipient of slow, mindful work done with a generous heart, I sense how this attention transforms the result, strengthens it. Why would this same principle not apply to my own work, here on the farm? Shit, as they say, rolls downhill.

On winter evenings when the temperature hovers above freezing, I rub an herbal salve into my chickens’ feet and legs. I do not have a pet chicken type of flock—none of my birds are happy when I swoop them from their roosts for a quick pedicure. Nor do I delight in the process, as the hens grumpily climb to the farthest roosts and flap their wings, hoping to avoid capture. Regardless, well-moisturized feet are clear


insurance against leg mites, and a little plantain-and-lard rub fends off dry midwinter skin for birds as well as humans.

When I make time for discretionary acts of care—like oiling the chickens’ feet, or sprinkling food-grade diatomaceous earth (pulverized fossils that protect against parasites) in their nesting boxes, or feeding them the fermented fruit left over from making apple cider vinegar— the hens, in turn, offer their best eggs. I know that taking care with the chickens’ feet will make them happier and healthier, but I do not grease their legs because I want rich, orange yolks in my skillet. Instead, empathy—for the spiky discomfort of scaly skin, the imagined itch of uninvited mites—urges me to prioritize this endeavor. The generosity of spirit with which I tend each part of the farm system, in turn, is reflected in the gifts the farm offers to me.

Ambition, then, has no place here. The idea that more is better—that success is measured in quantity, or by the dollars that farm products generate—is out of step with the way that I now farm. In the years before I began to cultivate this awareness, I missed many chances to slow down, to pause before acting, to lie on the ground with a dog as my pillow and watch the night sky. These days, I plant fewer trees, but I dig more mindfully—better to plant ten trees well than one hundred without care. The way I work today determines this farm’s future viability.

morning chores draw me out of my wood-warmed cocoon, protesting but also propelled by compassion for the hungry creatures in my care. I trudge up the hill, cats in tow—first one, then two, and now three: young Kita’s tones of gray and green belying her old feline soul. From the top gate, the sweep of the pasture appears, anemic and crystalline. The greens have muted to beige and buff, with spikes of the whitest frost crowning each clump of grass. Getting through the gate is a trick, with the dogs eager for whatever hot slop I bear—perhaps bone broth leavings, the meat mostly picked, ligaments melted, even stout turkey femurs crumbling from high pressure and heat.

First, I feed the guardian dogs, then give the cats their pittance— to supplement whatever rodents they ought to be catching around the

84 Chautauqua

farm and in the barn. The hens, too, call for me to unmold their fermented grain into the tall, layered cake it becomes after a hard freeze, to kick the ice from their water bowl, to chuckle with them as they discover a sprouted pea, or sweet barley pearl, set like a gemstone in the side of their golden brick of breakfast. Once presented with food, the chickens emanate contentment, as if, through pecking their frozen breakfast, they regain hope that this day will be a bright one.

Truly bright days in winter, however, are rare in this part of the world. I celebrate snow, when it comes, my heart grateful for the first clean wash it brings, before rain pools it into slush and mud soaks through from below. Cloudless skies follow heavy snow, and sunshine, too—at least for a day. The sight of bare winter forest sandwiched between an expanse of white pasture and the wide cerulean ceiling reminds me of my first winters in the comparative tundra of the Maine woods. The unending blue and fierce sunshine somehow tempered the cold, as did the snow and arid climate. Here, days like that come perhaps once, or twice, per season.

More often, West Virginia sees currents of damp Gulf of Mexico air meeting the cold masses blowing down from Canada, causing dramatic weather changes. The Allegheny Mountains, which mark the eastern boundary of West Virginia, bar this dense, moisture-laden air from continuing to flow east, over Virginia and toward the ocean. In this place, just west of the Alleghenies, clouds prevail—more than three hundred days per year. Ask any West Virginian, and they will tell you that winter is nearly as dungeon-like as Merle Travis’s “dark, dreary mine.”

when the light of spring arrives, these hills awaken with such vernal ferocity that the bleak winter is immediately forgotten—until those hard April frosts blaze through, nights in the teens nipping the buds of any possible peach or apple harvest. Every early morning, I stand, ready to spray the trees with a veil of water just as the first sun hits, hoping to melt the frozen fruitlets during the one slim moment that can prevent frost damage. Praying that such an unusual intervention can even help.


I hold the hose in one hand, and then the other, as the inevitable drips from the nozzle leak through my warm gloves, freezing insulated fingers to the grip, biting the skin inside. I arc my aim toward the upper branches, mist filling the space between twig and bud, timing my spray to meet the sun as it first touches the top of each tree. I move my way up the hill, nozzle threatening to freeze up as I work it, on and off, between trees. An hour later, I am done. I have made my best effort, laid my comfort down on the cold ground in hopes of round balls of fruit this summer, whether soft and downy and impossibly juicy, or waxy-crisp, tart, and speckled.

The line between spring and the full-throated West Virginia summer is not a hard bar—the surviving buds bloom and drop, sure, and jonquils meet their end, but one green day unfolds into another until, somehow, it is nearly July. In the meantime, I eye my neighbors’ fast-popping garden plots as I whiz into town on delivery days, bearing parcels of wild sorrel salad, rich bone broth, and live-fermented pickles. From the ever-greening herb beds, I fix little wax satchels, packed fat with garden mint, lemon balm, lovage, rosemary—each of which tints my fingers with fragrant oil.

The asparagus crests its peak. Thick spears break the dirt with their smooth force—ever upward, winding toward the sun. I eat all I can— which is all of it—some snappy and wet, straight from the soil, taut skin giving under the gentle pressure of my teeth. The rest, I steam ever so quickly, burning myself on the brass handle of my mother’s petite copper pan—her mother’s small saucier—as I yank it from the heat just as the green becomes verdant and purple tips turn emerald. Asparagus is lunch, every day, with cold, homemade mayonnaise and hot boiled eggs, sliced lengthwise, their sunset yolks just touching the soft side of hard. And this is how I notice, eventually, that summer has come—the long-offering asparagus wanes, the dogs rest in the shade of the barn instead of along sunny paths, the greenhouse begs to stay open overnight.

my garden work begins in earnest. In winter, work feels harder because the cutting cold complicates projects small and large. In summer, work


pulls me outside from the light of dawn and whispers for more until I come to, headlight ablaze, tucking one last seedling into soil, long after the dark mountains have swallowed every pink lick of dusk. When bedtime and dinnertime conflate without urging, I know that summer is here. I fix a big plate of salad and send myself to bed. The few fearless peaches begin to ripen in late June. Other fruit—blueberries, blackberries, early apples, tomatoes—carries me through days and into happy evenings: picking, sorting, cooking, canning. I now give myself permission to spend lazy after-dinner evenings on the porch with my sweetheart, Richard, or parked around a fine outdoor table—sawhorses and plywood, dressed with my grandmother’s damask—eating dessert on full bellies with visiting family. Trailing the song of the whippoorwill, fireflies spark the summer night.

on the day i carry that skunk, stiffened by the rigor of death, along the fence, autumn has crowned and bent. The first strong yellows came in October, blending toward red as the nights gathered chill. Then, the shock of frost, which so often feels like a slap: the rude cold moving in without consideration for the tender nightshades and slow-to-ripen melons, still on the vine. Like any practiced overachiever, though, I have been watching the forecast. I keep thick old quilts at the ready and I heft the stack through my garden at the first report of mid-thirties overnight, draping them over rhubarb—surprisingly tender—and cucurbits, tomatoes, sweet potato vines. I hang covers over the forest of hot peppers, careful not to break any juvenile fruit from the plants. I double-wrap anything sensitive, such as turmeric, or figs—with their still-green teardrops hanging on. Often, in the morning, the grass outside my bedroom window shines green as July, under the leaves, and I lift and haul and fold the quilts, leaving them leaning against the greenhouse wall in a fat stack, ready for tomorrow night, or next week.

The apex of autumn always arrives with a list. “To do, outside: pick apples, harvest squash, groom dogs, check orchard, dig sweet potatoes, plant garlic, move chickens, clean chicken house, start winter seedlings, plant goldenseal…” and on. When presented with such a list, my first


reaction is to do what I have always done—turn on the adrenaline spigot and get to work. But, as a wise friend reminds me: “First thought, wrong; second thought, maybe,” and so I set the list aside, or spend a minute dividing the work between the coming days and weeks, giving myself time to live between the many, never-ending tasks.

Though I used to think that I needed to complete every scrap of work before I could allow myself to play, repeated nudges from wise loved ones—and some notable, solemn losses—helped make me ready to find time for play without the dreary cloud of future obligation pouring on my parade. As it turns out—surprise—the work will still be available once the afternoon nap, or tea date, or weekend away wraps. Even better, I find that my work is improved with a more balanced lifestyle. So it was on the day when the dogs slaughtered the skunk: I was away from the farm, practicing play.

livestock guardian dogs, like the two that live here on Vernal Vibe Rise, are hardwired to protect their territory—from land, sea, and air. Mine also seek out potential underground invaders, digging until sunlight floods the bunkers of moles, voles, and groundhogs. These two— Buck and Read—are a mated pair, though Read birthed their final litter a few springs ago. Their partnership now consists of the watchful work they have done daily since arriving on my farm. Then, the dogs were thin, and cautious, but each wore vigilance thick, like their matted coats.

Yet, Read and Buck soon made a place for themselves. The ease with which they made my farm their home reinforced my prickly instincts about the circumstance from which they had been adopted. Here, their help was sorely needed, as well as appreciated, and they have become my eyes and ears in the pasture. Despite the skunk, and an occasional vole, the dogs kill relatively few intruders. Their bite is grim, but their collective bark is so convincing that they rarely need to employ anything more vicious.

In fact, death brought them to me, and to this land that they never leave, land they protect with their lives when necessary. Before these


two, my livestock guardian was a Great Pyrenees—an untidy white giant with a thick neck ruff and impossibly soiled pantaloons. She, too, was adopted from a rescue situation of sorts, and never came to trust others the way she confided in me. Cleonice arrived with terribly matted fur and, no matter how many hours I worked on her outer tangles, always maintained an impenetrable undercoat. In time, I grew to accept it as an unchangeable reality. I have, since then, wished that I had overruled her sensitivities and sheared her alongside the sheep, just once, down to clean, mat-free skin. That might have saved her life.

When my desperate marriage finally ended and I set out to make my way as a full-time farmer on my own, I was not really on my own at all. I had Cleonice by my side, having traded my stake in the barn cats as exchange during the divorce. I named her after the irreproachable bistro on the coast of Maine that, sadly, would close its doors at the end of that same year—lifetimes away from the thirty acres that I would reimagine as Vernal Vibe Rise.

After my post-divorce move, I resisted the inclination to hide out at my new farm, working away at the endless projects needed to equip this fresh land to hold pigs, chickens, geese, sheep, rabbits. I worked on-farm most days, especially after being fired from my day job, but also drove to town a few days per week, to sell at the farmers’ market, or deliver products to customers who had ordered online. Naturally, curious conversations arose during that period. As small-town acquaintances adjusted to my new solo-farmer status, they asked me: “Well, who is helping you with the work?”

Sportingly, with disguised pride, I would answer: “My dog—Cleonice.” We were a true team. One of the great benefits to farming with livestock guardian dogs is that they, innately—and with a bit of training—understand the rhythm and habit of the farm. When the farmer is away, or asleep, the dog acts in her place as best the dog can, without opposable thumbs. Cleonice and I shared a deep bond, a partnership.

Three years, nearly to the day, from the date she set foot on the new farm, I found Cleonice dead. She was killed by fly strike, a condition that mostly affects sheep, wherein the early summer flies found her

Quincy Gray McMichael

damp, matted fur and laid their eggs, which turned to maggots, which are insatiably ravenous creatures. She had been afflicted with fly strike before, the previous spring, and I had quelled the infestation, rotten as it was, with time and care. But the flies had returned to nest, I had not been attentive enough, and their voracity ended her life.

In my brooding moments, I wonder if I killed her—by staying too busy, running from one project to market to another project, trying to keep my plates all a-spin. On that day, I saw that she seemed lethargic, but it was hot for late May. I had been away from the farm often, working. I examined Cleonice and, finding evidence of fly strike, I scraped and cleaned and dressed her wounds before leaving again, this time for a local farm event that I had promised to attend. When I last saw her, she was resting in the shade of the barn, under the stairs, as she preferred. That evening, upon my return, she was laying in the same spot, dead.

Trauma shapes us in the way an underground river, washing through the soft sandstone of the unconscious, changes trickle to tributary to confluence. Cleonice’s death was a singular event, both traumatic and transformative. I lost my teammate and the protector of my farm all at once. I hauled her heavy body, hand-dug her a gaping grave, wailed and flogged myself for my failure. I grieved long enough that the local foxes, bears, coyotes, and other predators that had previously kept their distance began to test the fence, stalking in for a sniff of chicken, or even a lick. Duty compelled me to find a solution, if not a replacement, and soon. Through my smothering grief, I thought to myself: a pair might be nice.

as a child of the woods, I carry an innate caution against peering too closely at any wild animal’s face, dead or not. After the skunk’s funeral cortege to the far forest, though, an exception seems fitting. I turn her still body over in my hands. The skunk’s classically conical snout points at the sky, instead of the lively downward motion that it, no doubt, maintained during life. I see, in its perfect form, the mold that fixes coneshaped divots in the soft ground. Even through my gloves, the skunk’s


pelt feels rough, feral—yet also drained of essential force, empty. After our short time together, her scent is—impossibly—imperceptible.

At another time, perhaps in years prior, I may have hauled a shovel with me, dug a hole, tucked the lifeless skunk inside, and buried her with forest soil. Today, it feels right to lay her small black form curled against the base of a wide oak at the top of the ravine that marks farm from forest, her thin white wisp just touching the bark as I climb back through the fence. I hike toward the barn and the dogs, who are eager to sniff my gloves for traces of their former quarry.

I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.”
—Douglas Adams

Life at leisure

Crossing Midnight

The Orcas are passing in more than a dream. Their great night-and-moon bodies rising from darkened seas to breach and breathe. At this late hour

through open windows, we hear, not see, them. So like ourselves, gasping after the headlong dive, born from water into another oxygen. Lungs synchronized with tides.

Travelers, always a pod, elders surrounding the precious young, their wake etches fortunes on the shore

something my mother might have said, is saying. The sound of a fountain. A horse after a long gallop. A rough, rogue surf, generated on an island where the earth shook, waking lovers

from a nap, even as it grants us sleep, this peaceful tribe crossing midnight beside us.


Himself to the Lake

Inthe summertime, the road that David follows is a smooth dream. Their ten-year-old SUV takes the curves better than those new machines in their optimistic commercials, the pine copses undulating as he drives, lapping against the hills that boast the best skiing this far south of Colorado. It’s a far cry from the winter gauntlet, the challenge of navigating this asphalt when it’s licked with crusty snow and black ice, the season he avoids because there are no guardrails for some insane reason, likely budgetary. Lucky for them, it’s summer, and the drudgeries of teaching high school English lay somewhere in the calendar’s hazy horizons, and it’s the time of year that David feels most like his children, whose own miseries will resume almost the very same day. At least they don’t have to sit through professional development seminars.

Heidi, She of the Green Mountaintops, riding along on their wellworn dream trip, scans her GPS program now and then, as if they hadn’t made this same drive ten, twelve years running. “Maybe you should slow down a little,” she says, pulling an eye from the app’s guiding light long enough to cast a doubting glance at the kids, tucked and buckled. They’re lost in their own phones, have been for a couple of hours, starting exactly two minutes after the trip began. “We’re fine, we’re fine” is what David wants to say, but instead, he manages a nod and a painful release of the accelerator as soon as they’re topside of yet another incline, the road like ocean waves, until they crest the mountain. Smooth, I say, David thinks but doesn’t say.

Heidi hates it when he calls her “She of the Green Mountaintops,” so he usually doesn’t when they’re heading back to the lake. They usually plan for at least a month and let whim decide whether it’ll continue and for how long. With David free from teaching and Heidi’s remote consulting work, they can afford the time, and Heidi just loves for Molly and Greg to soak up as much momma nature as Thoreau prescribed that summer after her sophomore year in college when she fell in love

Criterion No. 1: He Took

with Walden. David, sometimes convinced she fell for him mostly because he and Thoreau share a name, doesn’t feel her burning devotion so strongly when he suggests a fun winter break ski trip—anywhere else but at the end of this particular road—but that’s something else he won’t bring up on these drives.

And wouldn’t you know it, for summer fun, they don’t make it anywhere near the mountain top, staying right instead of veering left and beelining it for Lake Zia and it’s numerous though spacious and thoughtfully spaced cabins. The final approach is when David’s most anxious, not really sure that he’d packed everything: adequate clothes for four, adequate snacks to soothe cranky kids, lanterns and flashlights, chargers and batteries, things for fishing and for hunting (though it takes a lot of self-motivation for David to lift the mantle of hunter, and most trips he won’t), real food for healthy meals, books, handheld gaming systems, and et cetera. The et cetera is where he can lose himself, and it has happened a time or two that doing so almost made him veer left. Not today. Soon, they’re parked and unpacked, David taking the brunt of the work so the rest could enjoy the mountain air and sun before the afternoon burns away. Sunblock? Yes, he thinks, here it is. All is well.

They spend the first hours in different ways, the parents and the kids. While the kids are now playing games on their phones in the great outdoors, David and Heidi are arranging bedrooms and kitchen, Heidi humming while she works, both confident that a great trip starts with everything in place just so. When the work is finished, it’s nearly dinnertime, and David regrets his premature plan of visiting the cabins to their immediate left and right to meet the neighbors, and when Heidi gently teases him and tells him there’s plenty of time, he asks if she might want him to cook tonight. She makes a deal with him and promises she’ll cook if he rounds up Molly and Greg and settles his travel and summer work break nerves sooner than his usual. “That sounds reasonable,” he says, sounding even to himself like he’s back in a faculty meeting, wasting time over coffee funds or something. When the sun sets, they light a small fire for s’mores and talk about another forest summer around the lake ahead.

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david, warmed by grilled bagel and coffee, checks his enthusiasm for a couple of hours, trying to mind common courtesy, though he’s sure things and people get moving much earlier in the wilderness. He wants to wake Heidi just to check on what Thoreau had to say about it, but he won’t dare. Instead, he dumps out the rest of the coffee he’d wanted to save for her, because it was twenty-five dollars a pound and earthy and delicious, leaves out a few more grilled bagels—now with more mesquite flavor than your average toasted bagel!—and sees about meeting their neighbors.

And when he decides left before right, he finds that that cabin is unoccupied—of course it is, genius, he thinks, there’s not a single vehicle in front—and fighting a hint of regret, tells himself that it’s possible a real jerk could’ve annoyed them the whole summer, so it’s just as well. Heidi and Thoreau enjoy(ed) their isolation a little purer than David’s, but they could be right about that, as well. So, David heads right, and just as he’s about to mount the wide concrete porch, he’s met by an opening door.

He catches the man’s instinctive flinch, as if he’d like to retreat and slam the door behind him, but the man catches himself, and his reluctant smile, one surely meant to receipt the toothy one David wears, reassures David. Maybe it’s just too early, he thinks. Anyway, now that he’s on the porch and offering a hand, David knows he can charm the man into appreciating the new family who has moved in to his left.

“Hullo, I’m David.” The man shakes the proffered hand but hasn’t moved from the doorway. The concrete is so cold that David can feel it through his hiking boots. “Good to meet ya.” The door is open noticeably wider now, David can’t deny. The man just doesn’t seem to have anything to say. He watches David, who takes the opportunity to look for the sky beyond the treetops. And with a deep inhale of fresh air infused with pine resin, David defaults to his charming smile, which brings forth from the neighbor the slightest of nods.

“I’m Miguel. Glad to meet you, too.” But he offers nothing more, so David just starts talking. He tells Miguel about his family, their drive, their tradition of summers at this lake. He believes it somehow ancient,

Paul Pedroza

their tradition, never mind the GPS and gluten-free snacks. Miguel, for all his silence, seems amiable, and at any rate, lets him talk. When they part eight minutes later, Miguel needing to collect some kindling, they promise to meet up again, your porch or mine. David enters his cabin to the sight of his family chewing cold grilled bagels, and it warms him somewhere deep, where no warmth can reach nine months out of the year.

they fish as a family, but they catch nothing. (“This is why I made a grocery run,” David reassures.) They rent a paddleboat and burn because Greg forgot to grab the sunblock. (“At least we all burned together!” David reassures.) But when he suggests a trip next door with storebought cookies, David finds himself alone.

“Don’t take this the wrong way,” Heidi says, “but it seems like he just wants to be left alone.”

David scoffs. “No idea where you’re getting that from. We had a nice talk just the other morning.” When, incredulous, Heidi asks if he means when they met, he says absolutely. She can’t help a smile, a gentle stroke of the wispy beard he always starts for these trips, and a gentle suggestion that maybe he should take those cookies over by himself and see if it’s okay if they visit as a family, whenever Miguel is up for it. David knows that She of the Green Mountains is wise, and so he grabs a baggie-full and heads over, though it’s midmorning and he expects the man to be out.

The man isn’t out, however, and worse for David, the awkward start to their first meeting repeats itself, though this time David manages a knock first. As soon as Miguel opens the door, he scowls at the cookies, and as David fights an urge to hide them behind his back like a ninth grader caught with the candy bar that he swore to Teacher he wasn’t eating in class, he preempts the offer with a dismissing wave. “Never been much for sugar,” he says. So, David does hide them behind his back, hoping he won’t be the next dismissed. This time, he tries on a “hi, neighbor!” that’s so faux casual that even he winces, and maybe this is going to be another short one, so David plays his trump earlier than he’d planned. “Care to do a little fishing?”

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Miguel looks behind David, and though David knows he’ll find nothing there, the shift in his guts tells him that anything that could appear to complicate things just might. He might be weighing his options, he thinks, all those options out here in the middle of nowhere. Miguel laughs, “You could relax a little.” It’s not a command, not even really a suggestion, just a statement, but the laugh relieves David, and when Miguel agrees, he’s to and back from his own place within five minutes, loaded down for whatever’s the aquatic equivalent of bear in a small-to-mid-sized lake in the woods in the middle of New Mexico. The cookies he left on his own porch, confident that his kids will sniff them out long before any actual bear.

the afternoon passes as quiet pastoral afternoons do, but it’s been a little too quiet for David, who really must connect with this man. Later, when Heidi presses, he’ll mention how Miguel’s alone, and when Heidi suggests that a lot of people do that, that that’s maybe the point, David will scoff. He’ll say, no one wants to be that alone, and Heidi will leave it, will pick up the small messes the kids made, will take the porch cookies inside before the bears come.

But gripping his fishing rod, the sun feels two feet away from David’s retinas, and he, sunblind, is feeling a feeling he’d long thought repressed, good teacher and friend to the common child that he is. He’s feeling frustrated. Miguel sits next to him, fishing and occasionally sipping from a blue thermos that’s sweating almost as much as they are in this heat, and not saying much. He’s frustrated, while Miguel seems… well, like his you-could-relax-a-little statement, he’s hard to read, so he’s setting his hook and casting without much enthusiasm, keeping an eye on Miguel. There’s always a way in.

But there isn’t. Beyond offers to share water, observations on the size and species of David’s scant catches, and the positioning of the sun, Miguel avoids chat. When it’s offered, David drinks the water, letting it run from the pull tab four inches from his mouth in deference, just to feel a little closer to Miguel. “When the sun’s two feet from the treetops,” Miguel, breaking his silence, pointing a finger tattooed with grease, “we pack it in.” It feels like a race to diffuse a bomb, this last shot

Paul Pedroza

at a real conversation, maybe even one he can replay back in the cabin around the dormant fireplace, this last shot at the real catch, something he might even resurrect the fireplace just for a proper mountain man experience. But he catches nothing. He’s left with three juvenile catfish banging around in his basket like stones in a sneaker, and Miguel packs up in silence. They head back. Just as soon as Miguel starts to veer left, David senses something coming, something groundbreaking, a new in on a potential long-term friendship. Miguel peeks over his shoulder and mutters, “Bye, now.” David veers right, fighting against a frown in case Heidi and the children are watching.

it goes on. Just like this, for a couple of weeks, not that they see one another every day. Miguel has rejected all of David’s plans since the fishing, has taken to staying in his cabin more than David thought a man would when he took himself out to the woods. “It’s nature, for crying out loud,” he pleads, but it’s a plea that She of the Green Mountaintops shrugs off.

“Maybe he just likes being left alone.” And with that, without leaving David any time for riposte—one of David’s favorite index-finger-raised words—she whisks off with the kids, Molly and Greg excited to finally do some kayaking, and there have been moments when David’s surprised that they’re out here with him. The shock burns like the noontime sun over the lake, which even he hasn’t seen in days. Is this her summer mantra, he wonders.

So, with no idea how to bring down Miguel’s defenses, and no taste for solo excursions into the nature he spent months missing as he lesson-planned and ate the doughnuts staff were offered just to be polite, David takes to hovering around the cabin like a May horsefly. As he stares out the clouded window, he realizes that he hasn’t been present for his family, but he’s lost now in how to remedy that.

he offers to make lunch, and after wearing Heidi down about options, after they’ve picked and pecked, he offers to make another, raising all the eyebrows in the room. The kids take to their shared room, shifting comic books and games in the honey glow of the varnished pine walls,

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fine with their doses of shadow and shrub in pixelated pocket monster hunting form. Heidi starts sighing, cannot stop, it seems. “I should chase you out of here,” she jokes repeatedly, each time it loses a little more of its patina of harmless humor.

With no other choice, she chases him out of the cabin, but because he’s so considerate and only wants to capture happy moments in more than just posed photos clicked into their phones, she constructs elaborate schemes. Cobwebs and special meals and cookies baked and something special with the fancy coffee that he bought to help the adults feel more away, and it’s these schemes that encourage David to keep trying with Miguel, to find the Rosetta stone that will bring mutual understanding, maybe even friendship. Cookies got him nowhere, and the regional craft IPAs he walks over one late afternoon only earns him a seat on Miguel’s porch. When he finds himself drinking alone, Miguel breaks the silence, the late afternoon fading into an unseasonable chilly air. “Not much of a drinker.” And that’s that.

one morning, another that’s just as unseasonably chilly, David drinks his coffee while leaning over the kitchen island. His sips break the only comfortable silence he’s felt during the entire trip. Silence has become an antagonist, and he now loves the blips and bells that ring from the games his children play instead of going out and doing forest things. Heidi walks in, and he can sense that she senses his mood, or maybe it’s just permanent now.

She sighs, “David, what is it about this man? Why can’t you just let him be and enjoy the trip before work starts again?”

Now David’s sighing, something he can’t remember ever doing before, which has got to be—index fingers raised now!—hyperbole. But it feels so foreign. He shakes his head, more to clear it than to express the disbelief that has rooted his feet to the hardwood floors.

“Can’t say, really,” but he knows that isn’t true, so he just keeps on talking, “I just can’t stand the thought of it.”

When she asks for him to just say what he means, he heads outside to their own cold-floor porch. Before he can slam the door behind him, Heidi raises her voice to be sure he hears, “We’re not going anywhere,


you know,” not a question, but a final sober statement with which to leave the room.

What else is there to try? Cookies, beer. Fishing, and especially conversation, has failed, and he doesn’t dare try hunting as gun-shy as he is. Besides, Miguel clearly isn’t a hunter because hunters leave their cabins to hunt. There’s not much more to offer, they came to play halfhearted Luddites for a month, and there’s no way he could pry his kids’ games from their hands as a wild Hail Mary. All that’s left is maybe the coffee he’s sipping, but man, is it good. I can make a pot, he thinks, and I can fill a Thermos, and I can share it like he did his water, and maybe… but he cannot finish the thought. By the time he’s knocking on Miguel’s door, his hope is as warm as the coffee he cradles like an old cat.

Miguel’s suspicion melts as soon as he spots the Thermos and pair of camp coffee mugs, enameled in azure and pine. They sit in the Adirondack chairs Miguel pulled from under their seasonal tarps, dusty from the extra months they lay ignored. It takes a good half cup of silence before Miguel relaxes. “This is good,” he says, “I appreciate you bringing it over.” David says there’s nothing like good coffee, and Miguel grunts, and they let that hang. The day brightens, the air warms, and the grackles in the dust screech. When Miguel asks where David’s family is from and learns that they travel from Denver, he asks why they don’t camp out somewhere in Colorado.

“Ask Heidi. She doesn’t appreciate crowds. Says there’s unspoiled peace still out here. I don’t know. I mean, yeah, there aren’t so many people here in the summer, but we come here. What does that make us?” When Miguel asks whether he’s told this to Heidi, David admits that he wouldn’t dare. With another grunt, Miguel lets that one, too, hang in the late morning air.

They talk about cabins and trips they’ve taken. They talk about good coffee and bad coffee. They talk about fishing and kayaking. They talk about Miguel’s job out here as a caretaker, how the owners of the resort pay him to mostly keep to his own pursuits, how light labor is during the offseason, how in summer and fall he pays a little more attention. David’s surprised to learn that Miguel’s a resident, but he’s more

102 Chautauqua

surprised at his surprise, especially now that he suspects that Heidi knew all along. They sip coffee and talk about David’s family life, but they say nothing about Miguel’s. David wants to but doesn’t dare; there’s just no easy in. The afternoon wanes, and the sun is in their eyes, and it’s when David’s most blinded that Miguel sighs.

“You know, it’s tough. I mean, keeping them fed and sheltered, that’s the easy part. Some will disagree, but compared to the other stuff, man, that’s a breeze.” David leans in, though he cannot catch any sort of look in Miguel’s eyes. “Time passes, they grow, you grow, your spouse. I guess you never really think you’re running out of time until you do.” A pause. A sip. David sips.

“I ran out of time. I made mistakes. I guess we all did, and maybe this is an old-fashioned thing to say, but mine were the worst. They were depending on me.” Sip, sip. “I let all of us down. Now, I’m out here.”

Through almost total sun-blindness, David fights an urge to reach for Miguel’s hand. Words evade he who teaches them. Anything that bubbles up from deep, he chokes down. Miguel refills their mugs without asking, and David is disheartened by the earthy smell mingling with the strong pine that rests like fog around the property. After managing to ask what happened, he slides back down his Adirondack as though exhausted. Miguel chuckles. “I drank a little. I never laid a hand on any of them, never would. People like to praise you for things like that, but I deserve none. I was absent. Even though I was there in the house every night, I was gone. They grew up, and then they grew apart.

“As the years passed, I gave up drinking. It never meant that much to me, which is about as sad as it gets. I could’ve taken or left it whenever, but maybe that’s hindsight blinding me. Anyway, I found myself someone to talk to. More than a few, truthfully. They all told me the same things. When my wife heard about all that, she reached out, but I kept that door closed.” They sip. “I kept on talking, but only to strangers. My kids, they reached out, too, but I just… couldn’t. Something inside, I don’t know. The thought of letting myself back into their lives, my stomach would knot up. I couldn’t stop picturing them walking out again. It ruined my sleep. It affected my work. So, I came out here.”

Paul Pedroza

David closes his eyes and swims in muted pinks, peaches, and oranges. He feels like a sunbather at a beach resort, far from the worries of state exams and classroom management. When he searches for the right words, he comes up with nothing. He’s as silent as Miguel when they first met. He has nothing to offer. He sinks into his failure, blinded more than just in his eyes.

“I talked for years. They made diagnoses, and some of it even made sense. Hell, a lot of it makes even more sense now. But it’s too late. I will find a way to ruin everything again. I will chase them away, this time forever, and I can’t live with that. As things stand, the questions comfort me more than the answers. This way, there isn’t a final word on who I am.”

They sit side by side in the warm air, but David has never felt more distant from someone. As they finish their coffee, he can’t help but wonder if Heidi’s right, if he’s nothing more than a people-pleaser, someone whose surface-level concern masks something deeply wrong beneath his own surface, though she never would put it that way. All he knows is this moment, the one where a man has finally laid himself bare in the way that David thought he was waiting for until he realized that he has no words and is now looking for an escape. He squirms, stuck against the Adirondack like a burglar against an alley wall. He wonders how his family will spend their time in their own little bubbles tonight, separate too.

The sun finally sinks below the treetops, and David finally listens to the words from Heidi that’ve stayed with him since the morning, “we’re not going anywhere,” and although his need for escape tickles his throat, he says them out loud, to Miguel, “We’re not going anywhere, Miguel.” And when Miguel nods, David does the mental math about how long they can comfortably extend their trip, how many more sunny mornings are left to make breakfast and coffee, to hike and collect pine cones, to chase monsters and demons on small screens to make it to another level, to gather his family and Miguel around and just enjoy the silence of the pines before any clouds collect again.

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Late, yet arrives, warm light. Red beak, white royalty, wiggled her body to stir the mud for eight cygnets to feed.

Only three today, in less than one month. I curse the snapping turtle, who bubbles on the water’s surface, his wrinkled, fierce face.

But do I know of God’s beauty? Or how humans, not webbed in this chain, sometimes prey on each other, and many other.

Crowded dam. Cannons of cameras aim at tall blue herons, stocky night herons.

Their red eyes stare into the water. We catch them striking, seizing fish.

Wa! Beautiful! Who notices the last twists of the fish?

On the cherry tree beside the pond, four hatchlings come out of robin blue, open

mouths as I pass by. Now only the nest remains, woven with dry yellow hay, sea blue plastic mesh, white tissue, wafting in the wind, my half-smile.

Xiaoly Li Horn Pond in May

You Need to Be a Good Hunter or a Born Goddess to Get Out of It

Along the canal, a silver-haired woman walks with a service dog. She stops to greet me.

My dog is fifteen years old, still good at reminding me to stop before I realize I’m exhausted, said she.

I was in a wheelchair for fifteen years. Her dog circles around her, both in their winter season.

Am I luckier? But who hasn’t been broken, draining day by day or year by year? How? Invulnerable in the vulnerable.

Now I can stroll longer and longer with his help. Her big laughter draws others to look at us.

I’m always blessed by God, no matter what you believe. My trust leaves me with no fear.

Wow. How? Mending the unmendable. A shred of light touches my brokenness, yearning for welding.

She recalls another story. One time in the woods, I stood with my bow and arrow aimed at three men threatening me, and shot over their head. They retreated.

This is Dianna—bare-footed, aiming high. A gust of wind ripples the woman’s

reflection on top of the red maple tree in water. No shadow on her face or in her voice, only a layer of autumn sheen.


Theo thought the boys were too young, but I got the tickets anyway. My anxiety was starting to infect our sons, who were keeping more to themselves, sleepy and out of sorts, as if they were coming down with colds, and I thought a novelty, noisy and colorful and outside the carefully maintained calm of the house, would help them shake off the contagion. They might not be able to appreciate the skill of the performers, but there would be marvels enough to redirect everyone’s attention from my needs. As though family dynamics had a reset: remember that time at the circus, they would say.

under the big top, early arrivals were already restless, their pleated programs fanning expectations of the marvelous, the promise of European artistry. Klezmer music spiraled from the wings; jugglers roamed the aisles. Theo chose our seats, halfway up, halfway across. Hemmed in. As gymnasts began tumbling round the ring, Ollie climbed into my lap, shot a triumphant look at Sam, who started to cry.

My triggers were never more than that. The aura, a smell, like pennies in a sweaty fist, followed by a shimmering in the air. For the first half of the show, I forestalled the attack, concentrating on stimuli outside myself: the hapless clown swooning over the ingénue, the fire-eaters and contortionist. But at any sign of the boys becoming restless, of Theo suppressing irritation, the coppery smell returned. When the ringmaster announced intermission, I told Theo I needed a walk. He knew I meant alone.

“You’re coming back?”

I nodded, and he hoisted Sam onto his shoulders.

“Who wants cotton candy?” he asked. Ollie hooked an index finger through one of his father’s beltloops as they wandered off—a graceful man in rimless glasses, and the boys, only a year apart, fair and freckled like me.


as the crowd spread out toward concession stands and portalets, I cut across it, heading for the river. The path began at the far edge of the town’s softball field, near the high school; Theo and I used to walk there when we first met. An accordionist was dogging me as I dodged loose children, oblivious lovers. I shook him off, remembering how the sunsets caught like pale gold netting in the treetops above the banks. Fifteen minutes would be enough, I thought, to regain my equanimity, but by the time I reached the edge of the grounds, it was too late. The sun was dropping below the tree line, and the path, knobbed and slippery near the water, was dangerous in the dark. Theo had always brought headlamps.

At that point, I thought of looking for my family, but I knew the boys would be wanting it all—clown noses, light sticks, propeller hats—everything a negotiation. I wasn’t ready. Nearby, a barker was broadcasting, “Ivan the Impervious, starting in five.” I merged with the others funneling into the sideshow tent, worked my way to the front, where there was more room to breathe, just as great fieldstone of a head was emerging from a canvas flap. Ivan (presumably) leapt onto the makeshift stage to pose, stoic, beside a bed of nails. A boxer’s robe draped his sculpted chest. An assistant in harem-girl dress placed her palms together and beamed.

Theo would love this, I thought. As soon as he saw the bed, he’d be explaining the physics, that the muscles had nothing to do with the nails. The science teacher educating the English teacher. I didn’t mind; his lectures were like looking through a telescope at the moon.

The assistant, Daria, left the platform, calling for a volunteer. Many were offering themselves, but she came straight for me, ignoring my protests. She leaned close (I could see the crow’s feet under the curlicued ends of her eyeliner), whispering, “It’s all good,” as she grasped my elbow. The decision had been made.

On stage, she asked my name. Then, “Renée, will you inspect for the audience Ivan’s bed?”

It was waist-high, with a low rail on either side; the spikes elegantly menacing. I tried to wiggle a nail, pressed my palms onto the points,

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mouthed a silent ow for the crowd. It was true, they did hurt, but I was beginning to relax. Performing had never bothered me. As Daria ushered me to the sidelines, I plumped the pillow at the head: everything shipshape.

The robe slipped from Ivan’s shoulders. Using the bars, he vaulted into a sitting position above the nails, legs straight and feet stretched, hovering there to prolong the suspense (veins standing out on his arms). The audience quieted as he eased his weight onto the points and loosened his grip, unrolling his back smoothly, like a spatula laying down frosting.

Daria positioned a step stool beside the bed and beckoned. “Remove your sandals, please.”

Barefoot, self-conscious in my skimpy summer clothes, I ascended into the dust-flecked light, squinting toward the mass of expectant faces. A wand appeared in Daria’s hand. “Gently,” she said. A tap guided my right foot onto his stomach; another, to my left heel and Ivan was bearing my full weight. Glancing down, trying to read his expression, made me dizzy, so I fixed my gaze on a tent pole, splaying my toes, feeling his muscles tense beneath them. I tried to stand taller, as if it would make me lighter. One step and another; the ground rose and fell, his heart beating against my arch.

Daria made a circling motion with the wand. I pretended to lose my balance as I turned, whirling my arms, eliciting nervous laughs from the audience. Then it was over. I was on the step stool, bowing to whistles and applause. Ivan swung himself off the bed, flexed his lats for the crowd. The nails had left a pattern on his skin; he caught me looking—a snag in his movement as he retrieved the robe. With a final nod toward the rapidly emptying tent, the pair disappeared.

I lingered, going down on one knee, then the other, to buckle my sandals, and caught a perfume on my soles from something on his chest—makeup or talc. Like unpacking a suitcase and finding the smell of the sea still in your clothes. Nearby, the band was starting up again, signaling the start of the second half; Ollie and Sam would be asking for me, and their father scanning the aisles. But I’d already ruined the

Ann Aspell

evening, there was no reason to rush back. I exited through the flap used by the performers and found Ivan alone, leaning against a trailer, sipping from a water bottle. He straightened, smiling when he saw me. His teeth small, like rows of new white corn.

I said, “I want to try it.”

“Hello again.”

to solve an equation correctly, Theo says, is to vanish into the beauty of universal truths. I think he’s talking about us: family is a universal truth. Mistakes, on the other hand (according to Theo) have an individual signature, which is to say, the mark of personal failings. A lack of resilience, for example.

It came as a surprise, my fragility. With the birth of each child, I’d felt myself unfurling—limitless in my capacity to love and remarkably serene. A baby cried and I went to him, never a thought in those years that I might fail someone. But the April before, as I was making dinner, meticulously accommodating each of their preferences, the boys started to bicker over the tablet; Sam wrested it from Ollie who let out a howl, which Theo, coming home late, heard and responded to with a mock roar of his own, what’s going on?

Nothing unusual, nothing dire, but panic startled awake in me. It was as though I’d been removed from the scene, isolated behind glass: the boys’ chatter barely audible, Theo’s movements jerky. Like watching a stuttering reel of family life. Not wanting to scare Ollie and Sam, I crept upstairs and into the tub, the way the dog used to during a thunderstorm. My lungs wouldn’t fill; I unclasped my bra. That was how Theo found me later, undone, chin on my knees, tracing my feet with the soap crayons.

for my safety, I’d agreed to do as Ivan suggested, but in his arms, I was suddenly shy, unsure whether to clasp my hands around his neck or cross them demurely on my chest. It was dark, only a little light leaking in where poles connected to canvas, so I could barely see his face, only breathe in his powdery scent. I would have liked to savor the

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strangeness of finding myself there, but he was already laying me down, like a sacrifice on an altar. I laughed at the image, flinched as the nails took my weight.


“Of course, yes.” I’d known all along there wasn’t any trick to it. Or the trick was the even distribution of pressure over a thousand small threats.

i stopped at the end of our row to watch. A tightrope artist, blindfolded, was traversing the wire on a unicycle, pulling petals by the handful from her hat, tossing them toward the stands where half the county, shiny-faced and not yet sated with spectacle, strained upward to catch. I marveled at her invention and nerve, wondered which was exhausted first: the imagination or a body’s willingness to comply.

The clown reappeared, continuing his clumsy pursuit of the girl. Everyone could see his giant heart thumping against his boutonniere before he tripped, landing hard in her wake. Sam, curled in Theo’s lap, took no notice, but Ollie, hanging on his father’s back, was laughing. He’d be wound up for hours, keeping his brother awake. They’d need their own rooms soon.

“Mommy!” Ollie had spotted me.

“Better?” Theo asked as I scooted into place. “I texted.”

In the ring, coiled ropes danced out of baskets to a sinewy clarinet. They rose toward trapezes—the final act.

“I left my bag in the car. Sorry—” Ollie moved between my knees, patted my cheeks with fingers stained blue from spun sugar.

Two aerialists had climbed the ropes and were doing handstands on the trapeze bars, symmetrically folding their bodies. Unfolding. Bright as jewels.

“We’ve been talking about how much everyone must practice.”

“Good point, don’t try this at home.”

If he asks, it will be later, I thought, when we’re in bed. And if he does, I’ll describe a moon breaking free, light skipping down-river to the bend.


The acrobats had lowered themselves, were hanging from their knees. They flexed and straightened, their trapezes swinging higher and wider.

Over the drum roll, I said, “See how they’re moving faster and faster? What do you think will happen next?”

And for a moment our minds were in perfect congruence, transfixed by the question of who would let go.


White pickup parked with hazards flaring— four men bent in tan camo, orange vests, drag a tarp onto the shoulder from the wooded hill.

On it, a mass of black fur, bigger than my mountain dog. Another small god, discovered and escorted out. Some things pass too suddenly to grieve.

I’m home now, having chased a river of pink taillights— the dream of salmon I hope splashed a trail to whatever Afterland awaits wild things like you.

Rest easy, bear, remembered at a distance from the acceleration of my selfish life.

Eastbound on I-80

Night Traveler

The stringy flesh of jellyfish, spectacular elongated tentacles and nebulae of organs borne from somewhere deep in underspace, it, seeing nothing with no face, cascades gelatinous regalia, suspended in the salt-dark motion of bewildered grace, a shock of white caught dancing near the surface by the boat, more bridal veil than body streaming behind itself—

what self—except the strangest lace elapsing where my hand had plunged to disengage the errant line I’d wound around propeller blades, no knife to free myself, no light to pilot past the buoyed lobster traps that laid in wait, adrift at night, a wakeless craft, the sting of visitation.


Stopping by the table over which my head is bent over some poems about cosmology, Talbot leans off axis on his wooden cane, the hand that he thrusts into mine hard and pocked from too many years of wrestling with engines and body parts. It's his hip, he acknowledges, time to face the unearthly music of the surgeon's art. Much better than knees, I offer as encouragement, at which he snorts Oh, those are going, too, much as his house has gone to back taxes and slow erosion over time, its timbers rotted and foundation crumbled. Teeth missing like solar panels, he half smiles and All you can do, he says, is move along, adapt. Take care, he adds, and wobbles off to orbit whatever body seizes him.

“Make sure you have all the parts.”
— John Harn

WhenI told nobody about the fifty Rana tacetimorae that had emerged as though through a thin slit in reality, I panicked. Someone would discover, would say I smuggled them to this marsh from their protected sites three hours south—a headline: Self-Styled Naturalist Traffics Locally-Extinct Frog. I envisioned my bald head in the paper, bright red as the amphibian’s wet skin.

But I hadn’t told anyone (the university, the press, not my neighbor who owned the land that I was hiking through that night) about this portentous encounter in order to stave off worse fears of people at my door with questions and with cameras, qualified scientists asking for reports. I knew anxiety would swallow me. The certain truth was worst of all: the frogs were moving north for climate change, another fraying filament in this emergency of the great ecosystem’s snapping web.

I set up watch with a tent and sleeping bag, a camp stove, rubber boots. I watched their silhouettes at midnight: larger females, males with vocal sacs expanded catching dim moonlight at the marsh’s reflective edge. I found their iridescent eggs that clung to floating reeds, and instead of discovery’s bright joy I felt a pounding, tightening chest for fear of fish. I asked the audacious frogs, “Why didn’t you lay them nearer shore?”

They lived with blasé confidence: croaked so loud anyone could hear, courted dehydration while exploring the dry woods. My fears might board me up away from the human world, but I kept calm and safe. There’s a reason Rana tacetimorae is endangered: hereditary deficiency of common sense.

One night a snake struck from the brush and took one up mid-croak. I yelled out, shone my light to see the reptile’s distended jaw like the scaly sepal of a flower, eyes white with a protective sheaf as though possessed by all the ill will in the world. Fangs wreathed the frog’s sleek face as though it was being born. It did not fight, stared calm as water back


at me and parted its thin mouth. The tongue leapt out to take some insect, one satiating gulp before the frog sank back into the maw. It never asked in croaky voice, “Do I belong here?” for it simply knew.

The summer waned. I watched them cloak in mud before the marshes froze. Spring brought drought and trapped them under a layer of dried earth. Tadpoles flailed in the vanishing pools, and the five adults I ferried overland to a new pond I never found again.

They slipped out of the world as they’d come, back through reality’s fine threads like they had never been but for the thing they left in me: their maddening self-assurance, their refusal to ask permission. They never asked for anything, or if they had, they would have asked for the whole world without batting a glistening yellow eye. I reach out my tongue. I’ll take something little for myself here in the world.


Half-life: A Poem for my 45th Birthday

I'd been hitchhiking aimlessly all summer, drifting from town to town, often sleeping in tall weeds along the Interstate and so filled with unarticulated rage I felt (and probably looked) radioactive. And my memory

of that half-forgotten road is such that I remember only that I'd spent the morning drinking wine under a railroad trestle

with some old drunk I'd met, stumbling around in shadowed dankness as if I meant to prove to someone

almost but not quite myself that I, too, had known some loss or sorrow beyond the scope of language to assuage.

"Once," he said, "I kicked a rotten stump that came up by its roots––I felt the ancient, holy energy inside it, old sunlight slowly dying."

“Every artist was first an amateur.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson

Life in Art

To My Ideal Reader

Geraldine Connolly

You love chocolate at midnight, shadows of wrens, white sails across a cloud-strewn lake.

You love words like pedestal and samba.

Strange dogs delight you. You’ve never seen a crossword you didn’t like.

You hear messages everywhere, shadow meanings, implications.

If only I could please you with foxes and rain-soaked branches, the word petrichor.

If only I were you and you were me. What knotted strings we might braid.

What forgotten tongues we might remember. To dream of that kind of oneness, a blizzard of connection— the reader as oneself.


Ringel, Ringel, Reihe

Marie waits for Dietrich, as she has every day for two years, on a crumbling stone bench facing the Burgplatz in Essen. It is warm for November, and she wears only a light wool coat and beret. Behind her sits the ruined cathedral of Saints Cosmas and Damian whose bells have been silent all this time. Since the war, the charred stone arches are open to the grey-white sky, the symmetry of stone and stained glass shattered by bombings, and the structure is a heap of rubble overgrown with weeds and vines. Marie waits for Dietrich, but she is not convinced that he will come, or even that he is still alive. At her apartment on a table by the door, sits a collection of letters that she has written, to Dietrich’s family home, all returned to her, marked unable to deliver.

Near Marie’s bench a group of children begins a circle game, singing a chant, Ringel, Ringel, Reihe, Ring around the Rosy. Marie’s eyes close and the scene around her is gone. In her head is the opera Wozzeck whose last scene includes a circle of children singing that very song. The haunting tune in the horns and strings opens the scene, and the children’s chant begins after an eerie harp glissando. In the opera the children clasp hands while a little boy circles them riding on his toy horse, his meager ethereal voice echoing: hop-hop, hop-hop, hop-hop. He continues his shrill song even after they tell him his mother is dead, murdered, of course, by his father, since all opera is overwhelmingly tragic.

Marie puts her hands over her ears. “Ringel ringel reihe, wir sind der kinder dreihe, sitzen unter’m Holderbusch, machen alle husch, husch, husch.”

It is as if the orchestra is right next to her with the pained voices of the characters and the deep moaning cellos. “Dein mutter ist tot.” “Your mother is dead,” and the little boy’s high clear voice rings out, “hop-hop, hop-hop, hop-hop.” Marie imagines her fingers on the violin studying her parts of the opera, and she hears the haunted echo of the murdered mother. She had continued studying the music even after the Nazis


banned it in 1933. She and her friends used to meet in the depths of the cathedral crypt to play. She longs for the feel of the violin in her hands, for the sound of the strings around her filling her ears.

A ball bounces three times and rolls into Marie’s foot, breaking the spell of the incessant music in her head. A little boy follows it bump, bump, bump along the broken cobbles of the courtyard. He is wearing old fashioned knickers ending below the knees into dark socks and twotoned leather shoes. Bowing his head, he stares at his feet and bounces, heel to toe, heel to toe, in a motion like rippled waves. Marie enjoys the supple plumpness of his body, the soft contours, and she imagines holding him.

“Your ball?” In her confusion she thinks he is the same boy from the opera, not the little boy who played the scene, but Andres, the character who learns his mother is dead. The boy approaches her, his dark eyes deep with expression, and rests a hand on her knee. Marie is startled by his penetrating gaze. He leans against her black woolen tights and, without uttering a sound, reaches up on his toes and kisses her cheek. Marie realizes then that the boy is not a phantom, but a real boy who visits the bakery every week with his father.

She touches her cheek where the boy kissed her. He picks up his ball and runs off in the direction of the chant. The boy’s father watches from across the street and Marie waves to him with her hand still resting on her cheek. He waves back and smiles.

Dietrich could imitate the child’s voice in the opera perfectly. He had played the opera many times, like Marie, and thought the child’s voice was the saddest thing he’d ever heard. On their walks they talked about music and art, and about their dreams for their careers, pretending that they lived in a normal world. At the end of three months, they were holding hands and the day before Dietrich left for the army, they kissed. Soon after, she left school to begin making bullets at the munitions factory. By the next year the sky was in flames day and night, and the Ruhr River rained blood. She lost track of Dietrich altogether. Her heart was broken.

Herr Spielen approaches her wearing his old blue woolen cap. He reaches with his cane over the uneven bricks. “Marie, dear Marie, still

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waiting.” He drops down next to her on the bench. He teases her every chance he gets and tries to make her laugh. “Your mouth will stay in a permanent frown you know, if you never smile.”

Marie has known Herr Spielen her whole life. She sticks her tongue out at him. “Sometimes I think God has sent you to torment me. I survived the war to be tormented by you.” The old man often smells of coffee, tobacco and cabbage. “You smell of cabbage again.”

“You will grow old waiting, Marie. You have to move forward.”

In the mornings when she looks in her mirror Marie sees the little age lines forming around her eyes. “I wait because waiting gives me hope. Hope for my life. The world.”

“That is a wasted hope. As is your hope for your Dietrich coming back. He is dead or in a prison camp somewhere in Russia.”

“I don’t know when I will stop waiting. Maybe someday.” Her memory of those brief months with Dietrich is the only thing that keeps the nightmare memories at bay. She is unable to move out of her dream world of music and waiting.

“You will stop one day. I know. It is your humanity.” He points to his head with his free hand and nods. “The world keeps going, even with all this.” He waves his cane. “All this death and destruction. We have you and me here on this bench, we have the sun.”

“It is not enough,” she says wishing he would go away. She waves a hand and shifts over on the bench.

“You are a silly cow if you think this is not enough.” He laughs showing his yellowed teeth. “This winter we are not starving. Last winter and the winter before that we starved. We are surviving. It is all there is. It has to be enough.”

Marie feels an affectionate tug for the man and wraps both her arms around his shoulders. His white-blue eyes are level with hers. “Yes, yes, you are right of course, it has to be enough. If only I could get this music to stop playing in my head. And if only you did not smell of cabbage.”

He laughs again. “And your hair smells of vinegar,” he says, leaning into her.

Marie had been proud of her hair. A few snowflakes lick her face and she reaches up to touch the dull strands. Before the war she would

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get ready to see Dietrich and fix her hair so that the curls fell on her shoulders and caught the light of the sun when she tossed them back. He would touch her curls and her cheek with the back of his hand. Now she has no eggs for the hair rinse so she uses only vinegar.

“You’re a horrible old man,” she says.

He just laughs, “Yes, yes,” waves his cane at her and moves on. “I will stop by your rooms one of these days to pick up that violin. I will have it fixed for you so that you can play again.” Marie’s violin, ruined in an air raid, sits cracked and broken in her rooming house where the old woman caretaker sweeps the steps whenever she is not washing or cooking or cleaning. She says that the dust of the war still settles on the steps every day. For some reason, Marie connects the broken violin with the missing Dietrich, and believes that when he is found, she will be ready to play again, not before.

In October 1943, when Marie emerged from the basement of the building hours after the first bombing, people wandered the streets as though they had blinders on, unwilling or unable to acknowledge the destruction. Some went on with normal tasks: cleaning windows, walking the dog, hanging clothes. The next day she witnessed the ticket taker at the movie theater cleaning up the rubble in front of her booth with a coal scuttle to prepare for the two o’clock matinee. In those days Marie wore a scarf to block the smell and deflect the clouds of green iridescent flies that had taken over the city. She had walked straight ahead, refusing to look at the bodies in the street of those who had been incinerated trying to get to a shelter.

Marie dispels the memories by shaking her head. She leaves the bench and walks to the train station two blocks away. Several newly whitewashed shops line the street: a pork butcher, a pub, a grocer, a bookstore. The shops have been painted bright colors inside and in the new windows there are Christmas wreaths. A group of British soldiers stands smoking at the corner. A year ago, she would have shrunk away at the sight of the soldiers, afraid of their leers, or worse. Things are better, but she still imagines their continued disdain for her country and cannot look them in the eye.

She climbs the broad stone steps and enters the train station which

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feels like a cathedral with its painted dome, gold edging, and the stripe of high, shattered windows circling the walls near the ceiling. The main room smells of paint and plaster, damp and mildew. In one section segments of the missing roof are held up by wood scaffolding, and the columns nearby have a new growth of fresh green moss on their sides. The scaffolds are filled with workers repairing cracks and replacing stones, plastering walls and ceilings. The men appear like tiny sticks and the sight of them gives Marie shivers the same as the hop, hop of the toy horse.

A different theme, this from Act One, starts up in her head, a funeral dirge that turns into an upbeat military march. Then the idiot’s refrain: Ich rieche Blut, I smell blood, and poor Wozzeck at the end, Der Mond ist blutig, the moon is bloody. Marie thinks that, in 1925, Berg wrote a film score for a future war. The opera spoke to their greatest fears.

A shiny brass coffee machine glows from a stainless-steel counter at the new café in one corner of the station. Marie orders a coffee and sits with her flowered china cup and saucer at a table covered with a white cloth. Behind the café, hidden from sight, the trains come and go. The sound reminds her of the trains that had started coming through town in 1943 confirming the horrible rumors: train cars crowded with sick and emaciated Jews on the way to the Bergen-Belsen camp nearby. Yet the civility and propriety of china cups and brass coffee makers has returned as though none of it ever happened.

She met Dietrich here before the cafe was bombed. He had managed to get to Essen one last time near the end of the war, and he was thin and worn. His eyes had changed, lost some of their fire, and had become fearful, less determined, less convinced. “The things I am seeing,” he said, “I don’t know anymore.” He had held her hands in his, and his eyes, once filled with promises, were empty.

In the spot where their table had been a worker with a black stocking cap sits on a pail and eats sausages out of greasy paper which she smells as she passes. She begins to say hello, but he glances up at her and his eyes are hollow and dark. He looks weary with grief, like everyone else. Marie wonders if the hunger and guilt of the German people will ever go away.

Sharon LaCour

Marie leaves the café after her dinner break to head towards the cathedral square where she will work the bakery stall at the Christmas market. It is late afternoon, workers are heading home, shops will close soon. She stops at the only remaining section of the cathedral, the Westwork, where a small makeshift choir has gathered in the chapel in honor of the season. They sing carols accompanied by an oboe, English horn and cello, so melancholy that Marie longs for a waltz.

The music ends, the crowd applauds, and the smell of cabbage hits her nose. Herr Spielen says, “Will you play again, Marie? Or will you wait for the rest of your life?”

“You are back to torment me? You know my violin is broken.”

“You give up the true love of your life to wait for a ghost. You cannot give up music, Marie. It is too much a part of you.”

Marie does feel an itch in her fingers, and the place on her neck where her violin would rest always feels cold. “I don’t know. When I imagine playing, a cold shiver comes over me. Then the smells and the noise.” She rubs her arms together.

“The orchestra rehearses in the crypt of the cathedral amongst the coffins and skeletons.” He laughs. “I come to listen. Twice a week. They will start rebuilding the cathedral next year, Marie, next year!”

“Yes, yes, I know,” she said. “Perhaps I will go.” Her cellist friend urges her every week to join them at rehearsal. There are extra violins to be found until hers is repaired.

Marie stands. “Right now, I have work. At the market.”

“I know a man who can repair your violin. I will pay. He is a fine craftsman. Let me take it to him.”

Marie is not listening to him because she has decided this minute to leave the next morning on her day off and travel to Darmstadt, where Dietrich lived. Before she plays again, she must know more. Until lately, travel was discouraged while the tracks were repaired and dangerous debris removed. She has waited long enough to make the journey. She takes Herr Spielen by the hand. “Come with me. I’ll give you a lebkuchen.”

The next morning, she prepares with care, wearing her best dress and shoes, packing slices of brown bread for the journey. The day is

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cold and windy and smells of snow. A woman is traveling with two young boys, in another seat an old woman sits with a young girl. There are several others, but the train is half empty. They pass through towns filled with rubble followed by pristine forests and snow-covered hills.

She knows his parents’ address and heads there first. Perhaps the house is no longer there; she is prepared for that, from the returned letters. Not only is his house missing, the entire Grafenstrasse is leveled, nothing is left, not even the remains of houses except for a few objects. Marie walks the length of the street, six blocks or more. There are apartments and trees, even a small garden one street over where a worker shovels snow from the sidewalk. At her feet, a blue and white ceramic house number is buried in the dirt, and a bit further ahead, a few empty cans lie around a burnt-out fire. A black dog sniffs at the cans.

She will ask at the Musikschule where Dietrich studied and at the tailor shop where his father worked. She wipes the snow off a bench in the small garden and eats her bread in the cold before making her way to the town center and the music school. The sound of instruments draws her to the building, horns and strings, pianos and voices, all in a blissful cacophony. The building has stones missing and workers climb scaffolding on two sides. Inside it smells dusty, but is clean, and a young woman sits at a desk off the main lobby.

“We have not heard from him,” she says shaking her head. “You were his friend? Since he left, we have heard nothing. His parents did not survive.” She offers Marie a cup of tea and says she is very sorry; she does not know where else Marie can ask.

Marie wraps her gloved hands around the warm teacup. She turns her head in the direction of the scales and etudes emanating from behind the closed doors of a long hallway. Someone plays a violin passage of Mozart, The Magic Flute, and she shakes her head. No, that is not right, she thinks. A great chandelier is suspended from a cracked stucco ceiling. In her mind and fingers, she corrects the passage and hums along silently.

The girl speaks a bit louder. “Are you a musician?”

Marie hesitates. “Yes,” she says, “yes. Violin.”

Marie arrives in Essen late in the afternoon. She is not eager to go

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back to her apartment and stops to eat at a café near the cathedral. She is surprised that the most vivid memory of her day in Darmstadt is not the devastated street where Dietrich once lived, but the school where the music inside the closed doors of the practice rooms swirled together into one lively noise.

In early December, Marie is on her way to the Christmas market to work. She runs into Herr Spielen who follows her to her stall for another lebkuchen. The market is lit with lanterns and candles and people begin to gather as it grows dark. A band sets up, brass and woodwind, an accordion, each warming up his instrument with his own favorite tunes, little bits and pieces of melody. The accordion begins a light waltz and the horns pick it up. Marie feels her heart lift as she walks past the dozens of wood stalls lit with candles, oil lanterns and little coal fires. Chestnuts roast and pots of chocolate are stirred. Sausages cook on gas stoves. Children run in the grassy middle of the square around the statue of the golden Madonna.

Snowflakes begin to fall on her face. Marie pulls on the warm cap her mother knitted for her and her gloves with the fingers out. At the stall she pushes open the wood covering, lights an oil lamp and places baked goods on the counter.

Then her breath stops.

The sounds of the Christmas market recede as though Marie has stuffed her ears with cotton. A young man stands nearby, at a coffee stand, she sees his profile, the sharp nose, pronounced chin and full lips. He wears a thick wool coat and military cap down over his forehead. His lips and chin are lit from an oil lantern hanging from a hook on the stall. One arm of his coat hangs empty and half the leg on the same side is gone, replaced with a metal post. He holds a crutch in his remaining hand and linked with that arm is the arm of a young woman. Their heads are touching, the woman’s face close to his, smiling, and he laughs.

Marie shakes her head back and forth. It is Dietrich. Yet it is not. He is not the boy she knew, and not only because his body is changed. As the couple moves from stand to stand, coming closer to the baker’s stall, Marie has time to observe him. His laugh has changed. He has lost hair

130 Chautauqua

and what is left is greying already. His face has lost its freshness and innocence as, she is certain, has hers. Suddenly she feels that she is much older than he, as though she has turned into a wise old woman.

“My lebkuchen, Marie, have you forgotten it?” Herr Spielen’s voice sounds like an echo in the deep caves by the river. “Why do you stare like that? I cannot see that far. What is it?” He taps his cane on the stones like an impatient child.

“Es ist er. It is Dietrich.” She turns around quickly and places one hand against the back of the wood stall and the other on her stomach. For a moment she is dizzy and sees black spots behind her eyelids.

“Marie,” says Herr Spielen. His voice is strained. He reaches his hand towards her.

The woman in the next stall looks up. “Marie,” she says, “are you ill?”

Marie gives a nervous shake of her head and turns back to face some new customers who block her view of where she saw Dietrich. She adjusts the green woolen scarf around her neck. The scarf is the only thing she has from him.

When the customers move, Dietrich is there in front of her. Again, her breath stops and there is a pause before she asks if she can help him. “Guten abend,” she says finally. The girl is pointing to the different shapes and sizes of lebkuchen and to the tins with pictures of the city on them that are filled with sweets. They are laughing together.

He raises his eyes from the counter and meets Marie’s gaze. He tilts his head and frowns. “Guten abend,” he says. He seems confused as though trying to remember something or to find words. “We’ll have two of these,” Dietrich says, pointing at the iced ginger cakes on the counter. His wedding ring shines in the light of the oil lantern.

He gazes at her again. “Marie,” he says finally.

“Yes.” Marie releases a long breath. She realizes that although this is Dietrich, he is not the boy she knew, nor is he the boy she has hoped for these years. That boy was the ghost of a hope for a normal life and future, neither of which had been possible.

Marie hands him the ginger cakes. Dietrich stiffens. The girl pauses and looks at him, then at Marie. Herr Spielen whistles a lively carol,

Sharon LaCour

Kling Glocken—Ring, Little Bell—and taps along with his cane.

Marie holds out a hand to the girl at his side. “Hello,” she says. She has to clear her throat, her voice is hoarse. “We were friends once. Before the war.” They shake hands and the girl looks at her husband.

“Yes,” he says. He stands as snowflakes gather on his hat and coat. “We played Wozzeck together.”

More customers approach the stand. Marie says to Dietrich, “It was good to see you again.” She nods to the girl and turns to help another customer.

Dietrich limps away with the support of his wooden crutch and the girl at his side who brushes off snow that has collected on his collar. He turns his gaze back to Marie, his eyes sad and wistful. She smiles and nods to him, then looks away and pulls a handkerchief from the pocket of her jacket. She wipes her eyes and nose.

“What will you do, Marie?” Herr Spielen says.

She shakes her head and takes a deep breath. “He is with his wife,” she says. “He seems happy. At least now I know.”

Slowly the sounds of the market emerge again for Marie, the band, people talking, children laughing behind her. Through one of the skeletal arches of the broken nave, clouds open and a star appears where a stained glass window used to be.

The rest of the night the music from the band fills her head and when she gets back to her room, she hears it still. She lights a fire in the grate, sits on her bed, and takes off her boots. Her actions are slow and deliberate. As she unwinds the scarf Dietrich gave her years earlier, her calm state of shock dissipates. She pulls the scarf to her face and sobs into it for a long time, until she is exhausted and the fire has gone down. She crawls into bed covering with her quilts and realizes that for once the music of the opera is silent.

The next morning Marie gets out of bed and goes to her mirror. “What a fool I’ve been all this time,” she says aloud to her image. What a fool to have had any sort of expectation during those unstable, horrible years of war. She looks at her gold hair, now more like straw than silk, and pulls at it with both her hands until her scalp hurts. She goes

132 Chautauqua

to a kitchen drawer for a pair of scissors, and begins to cut it off bit by bit. Clumps fall to the floor and drop around her feet on the white tile.

Instead of her usual wool jumper, Marie chooses to wear a pair of her farm trousers, dark green wool, and tucks them into tie-up boots. She pulls over her head a white sweater with a pattern of tiny roses around the neck and sleeves.

She is no longer a child who wears jumpers, curls her hair and waits for a ghost. Now that the veil of sleep is removed, she is forced to see everything for what it is, even the things that she would prefer had remained buried with the dead. Yet she sees it now with some distance, as though she has ascended to a new level on a staircase. The war is on a lower level, farther away and not as big.

Out her window the sunlight is making sparkles of the snowflakes. Her poor violin sits dusty in the corner. She puts it into its case and brings it to work with her. At noon she finds Herr Spielen in her usual waiting place, and they walk together to drop off her violin.

That evening at the market she sits with her hot chocolate in the center of the square where tables are set up under an awning. Christmas will be in three days and Marie will go home to visit her family. A wood fire burns in a metal grate, but it is cold and snowing. The little boy with the ball comes into the tent with his father, a teacher who walks with the aid of polio crutches. They sit next to Marie, the man nods at her. The little boy cradles his cup of chocolate. His cheeks are pink with cold and the chocolate leaves a dark ring above his lip.

“I am Leif, this is Max,” the man says. “We see you often at the baker’s, but we have not met.” He holds out his hand. “Have you cut your hair?” He gestures around his neck.

“Marie,” she says, and they shake gloved hands. She realizes that her hair used to drape over her shoulders. “Yes, I cut it last night.”

The man used to come in with his wife holding Max in her arms. Marie has heard that he lost his wife in the war. The boy asks if he can play with the other boys who make a snow castle in the center of the square. The band begins a light waltz. Max hands his beloved ball to his father and runs out of the tent.


“I used to see you sitting on the bench every day,” says Leif. “I don’t see you anymore.”

Marie says, “I used to wait for someone, but I don’t wait for him anymore.” She frowns for a moment, then smiles and nods her head.

“Ah.” He waves at Max who is showing him the foundation of the snow castle. Magpies descend and devour crumbs in the snow.

Marie takes a drink of chocolate and Leif’s face is blurred by a plume of steam. Leif’s face is lined with worry, but kind, and his eyes are lighthearted. He bends his shoulders to lower his head to her level and his shoulders are broad beneath his dark wool coat. One of them touches hers.

Leif says, “What will you do now that you are no longer waiting? You can play in the orchestra; it has started again. I remember seeing you in the concerts.”

“That’s what Herr Spielen says.”

“Der Kohlmann? Cabbage man? That’s what Maxi calls him.”

“Because he smells…”

“Yes, of cabbage.”

“Always of cabbage,” Marie laughs and the unpracticed sound is foreign to her, like little icicles tinkling against each other. She clears her throat and promises herself that she will practice her laugh. “Yes, I am having my instrument repaired.”

“Good, that is good.” Leif has a quiet peaceful expression, and Marie wonders how he fares alone with Max, if he feels the pain still of losing his wife. They are interrupted by Max who has fallen and runs to his father in tears. Leif lifts the boy in his arms. Marie and Leif shake hands again and she goes back to work.

In late January, Marie arrives home from work and the violin case sits outside her door. Inside she hangs up her wool coat, Dietrich’s scarf, and her knitted hat on the coat rack and leans the case against the wall in its corner by the window. Later, she is eating dinner at a small table near the stove. A gentle stream of snowflakes reflects the dim light of a gas lamp outside the window across the room.

Marie gets up from her chair, goes to the corner and opens the violin case. The polished violin rests against the dark red lining of the case.

134 Chautauqua

The new rosin smells of pine. She closes her eyes and breathes in the pine smell, leaves the case open and returns to her meal. The snowflakes swirl like tiny lanterns.

Sharon LaCour

Sarabande Bach Cello Suite #4


Susan Nusbaum

The music would have been enough.

But this time as I watch Yo-Yo Ma’s performance up close

I can see how movement and sound meet in the act of music spiraling across centuries

into the body choreography of shoulders drooping dissonance resolution a quivering head lowered

And this time I can see

Bach and Ma joined in dance fingertips touching eyes locked.


Charlotte Wyatt

Itis 2010, five years before my grandmother Jeane’s death. We stand at the threshold of Nashville’s former post office. Built when she was a child, its heavy façade is as obsolete as the letters it once guarded. The cavernous interior is split into galleries that make up the Frist Museum. She leans from her wheelchair to touch a metal panel, so its glass entrance swings wide.

The lobby is decorated with symbols of progress. Planes, trains, and cars, cogs and wheels, have been installed in place of original grillwork. I wonder, not for the first time, if Jeane is disappointed by this future we share. What marvels, what prosperity were promised when she was young, when serious men sculpted silver Futuramas for World's Fairs?

As we round the corner to the main gallery, the voice of a docent is magnified by a speaker hung from his belt. He points to a triptych of infant Jesus and the Virgin Mary flanked by kneeling saints. We pause to listen. Jeane adjusts the thick cord hung around her neck. It holds a red plastic button which will alert emergency services should she ever press it. Over the next several years, she will press it many times.

It is a Sunday morning, a time she used to reserve for worship and its own promise for the future. Jeane no longer attends services, is too embarrassed by her frail body to reveal it to other congregants. I know she prays still, but I will not be brave enough to ask what about or what she sees when she imagines death. The closest I have come to worship are a few college courses in theology, but Jeane has never tried to save me from Hell.

I ask her if she’d like to see something else. We head to the elevators where a sign advertises the small, upper gallery with an image that looks like a satellite. My father, Jeane’s son, claims there is a gap in understanding between my generation and everyone who came before, that the world has grown so connected since my birth, that an idea or device can prompt instant global change in a way never seen by history. I have also


heard Jeane remind him of the night they held each other in their small backyard while Sputnik blinked overhead.

Upstairs, the elevator doors open into darkness interrupted by intricate metal sculpture. I am reminded of the man-made orbits cluttering our modern sky. At school, I was a student of ethics and spent more time with Borgmann’s device paradigm than any religious text. It says technology obscures us from each other, that it tells a lie about how the world works, how connections are made between people and places and time. That it has created a future where it is easy to believe the right machine, the right button, will solve all our problems.

My grandmother will need many devices: heart monitors, morphine pumps, and the button around her neck, but also a digital radio she will use to play music from her youth, and a microwave she will use to make solitary meals when she is too embarrassed to ask for help. And later still, at the hour of her death, when I am three thousand miles away, my father will hold a phone to her ear. I will pray, trusting that my voice in her probably deaf ear—I will always wonder—is relayed by a network of wire and invisible waves.

In the gallery, an enormous silver blossom opens and closes and opens in the dark. It is made from aluminum and circuitry, like objects sent into space. A docent leans in a doorway beyond it and silently beckons us forward. I hear a sound like feathers brushing metal, heavy lashes blinking. In the final room of the exhibit, a trellis rife with silver petals is connected by wire veins. This garden pulses warm light between lustrous flowers, blooming over and over, like hands waving, inviting our approach. Jeane lets go of the cord around her neck as the docent leans close to whisper, “Now. Imagine what heaven is like.”



after Stray Cups by Linda Vasconi

Bone of china, spine of late afternoon that curves in and out of caffeine and a stray teaspoon or two of sunlight, join me.

Sideways hunchback hungry for biscuits and conversation, let’s uncurl our soldered self—nonverbal vertebra by vertebra—and splinter on summer’s rough shelf into fragile stories of campfire coffee and brandy, of hot chocolate and peppermint licked clean from the cup of your curves and mine just in time for tea beside the old cabin and garrulous stream.

Someone Wants To Be Your Friend!

Lately I’ve been sleeping so deeply I’ve been forgetting where I am, that I’m even a human being. It’s a hard feeling to describe. The dreamworld is so compelling, so all-consuming, that when I wake up I’m surprised to be just me, present day, lying sweaty and tangled in the bedsheets.

Recently, I’ve had a hard time remembering people’s names, faces. It all smears together into one flesh-colored blur, and I have a difficult time picking out who is important, and who is simply background noise. I also have a hard time picking out background noise. Everything is humming, and I can’t tell what’s the important conversation and what’s the drone of the car alarms outside in the street.

Your phone can remind you to call your mother, drink water, make doctor’s appointments, but it can’t remind you to be a better person. It can’t remind you to be a good friend, a conscientious voter, a port in the storm. We put all our trust in these systems, but what happens when these systems put their trust in us?

I get a Snapchat alert: someone wants to be your friend!

Maybe the problem is that I’m a narcissist. I’ve always believed writing involves a certain level of narcissism, at least personal writing; with the level of self-obsession needed to do self-reflection integral to the process. Etgar Keret, at a talk I attended at NYU early in my graduate-level education, commented that being a writer doesn’t imply having more knowledge than the general population. Actually, he said, being a writer means that one knows less than most people, because you’re voluntarily choosing to sit in a dark room and think about the human condition for hours at a time. “I have less answers than you do!” he crowed, a small man with gray hair, gleeful in his ignorance. I laughed along with the rest of the room, but the prospect disturbed me.


Don’t let anyone tell you your poetry is too confessional, someone told me at a poetry reading recently. You’re working in a tradition: Sylvia, Anne, Robert. No one had ever told me my poetry was too confessional; this woman was drunk. I wondered if she was indirectly telling me just that, but I smiled and showed her the Anne Sexton line tattooed on my chest. I had just read a poem aloud, at a well-attended reading, about my summer suicide attempt. I felt like I was wearing a big sign on my head that said: crazy. It’s amazing what you can share with strangers, what socalled civilized people will put up with.

Later, at a different reading, I watched a woman pull her own manifesto out of her vagina to read it. At least I’m not doing that, I thought to myself, thinking of the confessional woman again. Too confessional? People congratulated this woman on how provocative and thought-provoking her performance was. I left the room, called my mother, and said: I could have done without that.

People continuously confess their secrets to me. I’ve always had a satellite dish quality, a kind of open-bookishness that makes people want to tell me things. It all goes into the writing, like it’s been directly funneled into a meat grinder, a kind of karmic vomit I can neither control nor explain. Family dramas, relationship woes, cancer diagnoses, it all gets swirled together, running down into the toilet bowl of my creative enterprise.

I’m constantly looking for lucky charms, good omens. I’m superstitious. I try not to step on the cracks in the sidewalk. I don’t walk under ladders. I knock on wood. The world is so random and surprising, I want some kind of order, some way to govern the way it works. This is an illusion. There is no way to create order. But as Anne Carson once told me: “A blessing is just another way of looking at a curse.”

What if I just kept reading, and never stopped? joked my friend R— at a literary event recently. It played into all of our deepest fears as literary


citizens. His poems are beautiful, but all of us were worried. Without some contrast, beauty and ugliness, the ambient noise of the city around us, the grinding of someone’s buzzsaw in another backyard, his poems would have less weight. There needed to be a beginning and an end. We needed to be able to bracket his reading within our own lives to understand that sometimes, good things finish, and new things begin.

At the bookstore McNally Jackson last week, one of the presenters claimed she was a lesbian who primarily dated men. Laughter floated up to the ceiling. I love a good contradiction—it keeps me on my toes. People are primarily made up of these juxtapositions; it’s called cognitive dissonance. How much you make sense to yourself is dependent on how much you can bore through the noise.

I get a Co-Star alert: Share your poetry with others.

I’m always looking for answers. How to write, how to live. In a taxi cab on Flushing Avenue, the world passes me by in a slurry of neon. I’ve heard that the moon holds all the answers in her mouth; I can see them if I squint my eyes after too many cups of liquid gold.

Once I told you I would write something that wasn’t about you. I’m still working on it.


Bless the long-legged errand boy with the body of a scorched fruit. Bless the traveling salesman who tipped on the rounded cent, every sandwich he ordered topped with a burnt egg. Bless the floorboards’ splintered planks, plates lying across the diner’s front step. The Match Girl walked the shorefront blessing everything that once was, a red cigarette tray hanging from her neck.

She set herself on fire a Tuesday evening. Her boyfriend shot rum from the porch of a woman he met in jail, people say. The Match Girl stepped into the middle of the street, poured gasoline over her head, lit the penultimate match in her hand, and stood until she didn’t.

As a child, the Match Girl lived with her grandmother in a room filled with statues of Our Lady of Charity. In canon, Our Lady was found on a fishing trip by three Juans. Wind and rain shook their boat vigorously. They prayed, and the statue parried the lightning with her halo. Bless the crescent moon on which she stands. How the halo stretched below Our Lady’s waist, dress and baby bedecked in gold, the gilded gowns a foil to her brown face. With a rag, the Match Girl would wipe the dust away. The day her grandmother died the Match Girl saw her wearing Our Lady’s gown, floating above the pyre where a cousin roasted a pig. That night, she dreamt she stepped in and out of leaking boats.

After a hurricane, the diner where she waitressed closed, and the church where she babysat weekends needed roof repairs. Her father crushed an orange in his hand, warned her not to come home penniless. Her boyfriend looted the general store. A neighbor, owner of a bar spared the worst of the storm, offered her a job selling branded matches. Six days a week she paced the boulevard. Though they knew her name, the cigar-smokers of the neighborhood called her Girl. Bless the tobacco that tempers their hands. Though they knew her name, people kept it from their daughters.


The day she set herself on fire a wind cooled the city. Rain came, but no one purchased a matchbox all day. Bless the chicken feathers on the butcher’s stoop. On the corner of Libertad and Caballero, children dropped jacks under a rickshaw. Palm fronds like doll arms hung aslant. To warm her hands, the Match Girl sparked a match. People say the children were hers, but they call her Girl anyway.

On the sidewalk, light spread, and from its thin veil, a ripple rattled her legs. The current swung grey to blue to ink. Something blinked below the surface like a star; she dipped a foot into it. Elsewhere, glass slipped from her boyfriend’s hand. The Match Girl lit the match, watched her grandmother’s veined arms reach out from its bright head. Bless the smoke that cuts the hair’s orange scent. Heat blushed her skin like a kiss. People say she would do anything for a kiss.


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contributors notes

Joanna Acevedo (she/they) is the Pushcart nominated author of the chapbook List of Demands (Bottlecap Press, 2022) and books The Pathophysiology of Longing (Black Centipede Press, 2020) and Unsaid Things (Flexible Press, 2021). Her work has been included in or is forthcoming in Hobart Pulp, Apogee, and The Rumpus. She is a Guest Editor at Frontier Poetry, Associate Poetry Editor at West Trade Review, and runs interviews for Fauxmoir and The Great Lakes Review. She received her MFA in Fiction from New York University in 2021 and is supported by Creatives Rebuild New York: Guaranteed Income for Artists.

Ann Aspell is a book designer in Vermont. Her fiction has been published by One Story, and her poems have appeared in a variety of journals, including Hunger Mountain, La Presa, Magma Poetry, Poetry International, and Spillway, as well as the anthology The Traveler’s Vade Mecum (2016).

Tricia Bogle is a NYC-based poet with deep roots in Missouri. She holds a B.A. in Creative Writing & Philosophy (Loyola Baltimore), an M.A. in Political Theory, and a Ph.D. in Philosophy (Fordham). For over a decade, she taught advanced courses in bioethics at Montclair State University, exploring various ways to understand what is human in a world increasingly mediated by technology.

Polly Brown’s collection, Pebble Leaf Feather Knife, was released in 2019 by Cherry Grove Collections. She has two chapbooks, Blue Heron Stone (Every Other Thursday Press) and Each Thing Torn from Any of Us, (Finishing Line). She has taught and read widely in eastern Massachusetts, where her favorite poetry teaching gig was at Stanley Kunitz’s boyhood home in Worcester, sitting near the pear tree that appears in several important Kunitz poems. Brown has received awards from the Worcester County Poetry Society and the Massachusetts Artists’ Foundation. Recent poems have appeared online in Canary: A Literary Magazine of the Environmental Crisis, and in Appalachia, the journal of the Appalachian Mountain Society.


Joanne m. Clarkson's sixth poetry collection, Hospice House, was accepted by MoonPath Press and will appear in 2023. Her poems have been published in such journals as Poetry Northwest, Nimrod, Poet Lore, Western Humanities Review and Beloit Poetry Journal. She has received an Artist Trust Grant and an NEH grant to teach poetry in rural libraries. Clarkson has Masters Degrees in English and Library Science and has taught and worked for many years as a professional librarian. After caring for her mother through a long illness, she re-careered as a Registered Nurse working in Home Health and Hospice. See more at

Michael Colonnese is the author of a hard-boiled detective novel, Sex and Death, I Suppose, and of two poetry collections, Temporary Agency and Double Feature. He lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains, near Hendersonville, North Carolina.

Geraldine Connolly is the author of four poetry collections including Province of Fire and Aileron. Her work has appeared in Poetry, The Gettysburg Review, ONE ART, West Trestle Review and The Georgia Review. She received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, Breadloaf Writers Conference and The Cafritz Foundation. She lives in Tucson, Arizona. See more at

George Drew is the author of nine poetry collections, most recently Drumming Armageddon (Madville Publishing, 2020), a recent chapbook, Hog: A Delta Memoir (Bass Clef Books), and a book of essays Just Like Oz (Madville Publishing). He has won awards such as the South Carolina Review Poetry Prize, the Paumanok Poetry Award, the Adirondack Literary Award, the St. Petersburg Review Poetry Contest, the Knightville Poetry Contest and in 2020 the William Faulkner Literary Competition. Drew was a recipient of the Bucks County Muse Award in 2016 for contributions to the Bucks County PA literary community. In 2019, Drew collaborated with singer/songwriter Rick Kunz on a CD of original poetry and songs entitled A Triumph of Loneliness (KBW Music).

Elizabeth Garcia's most recent work has appeared in Tar River Poetry, Portland Review, CALYX, Tinderbox Poetry, and Anti-Heroin Chic, is the re-


Contributors Notes

cipient of the 2022 Banyan Poetry Prize, and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. She is the author of Stunt Double and serves as the current Poetry Editor for Dialogue: a Journal of Mormon Thought. Read more of her work at

Mary Gilliland is the author of The Ruined Walled Castle Garden and The Devil’s Fools, with poems anthologized most recently in Rumors Secrets & Lies: Poems on Pregnancy, Abortion & Choice, and Wild Gods: The Ecstatic in Contemporary Poetry and Prose. She’s received the Stanley Kunitz Fellowship from the Fine Arts Work Center and a Cornell University Council on the Arts Faculty Grant. Ember Days is forthcoming in 2024.

Jessica Guzman is the author of the poetry collection Adelante (Switchback Books, 2020), selected by Patricia Smith as winner of the 2019 Gatewood Prize. Her poems have appeared in 32 Poems, Shenandoah, jubilat, and elsewhere. She teaches at Widener University and lives in Philadelphia.

Roger Hart’s stories and essays have been published in Natural Bridge, The Tampa Review, Passages North, Runner’s World, and other magazines and journals. His story, “Mysteries of the Universe,” won the McGlinn Fiction Prize and was published in Philadelphia Stories. He recently moved to Montana where he writes under the supervision of his wife and two big dogs.

John Hoppenthaler’s books of poetry are Domestic Garden, Anticipate the Coming Reservoir, Lives of Water, and the forthcoming Night Wing Over Metropolitan Area, all with Carnegie Mellon UP. With Kazim Ali, he has co-edited a volume of essays on the poetry of Jean Valentine, This-World Company (U of Michigan P). A professor of Creative Writing and Literature at East Carolina University, he also serves on the Advisory Board for Backbone Press, specializing in the publication and promotion of marginalized voices. His poetry, essays, and interviews have appeared in Ploughshares, Virginia Quarterly Review, New York Magazine, Southern Review, Poetry Northwest, The Literary Review, Blackbird, Southern Humanities Review, and many other journals, anthologies, and textbooks.


Contributors Notes

Whitney Hudak is a CNM and poet living in Newport, RI. She has work appearing or forthcoming in Hunger Mountain, One Art, and Westchester Review among others, and has been nominated for The Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. She holds an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars and a DNP from Columbia University.

Jimmy Kindree is a queer Minnesotan writer currently living and teaching in Norway. His work has appeared in Electric Literature: The Commuter, Sycamore Review, Hunger Mountain, J Journal, and PIF Magazine. He also spins yarn and knits with it, makes pottery, cheese, and bread, and plays banjo.

Sharon LaCour was born in New Orleans and most of her writing takes place there and around the Gulf Coast. She has also spent time teaching music in Germany. Her novel, Light in the Woods, unfolds within the rich Acadian culture of the Louisiana coast in the 1920s. Her stories can be found in the Xavier, Arkansas, Blue Lake and Sheepshead Review among others. Most of them are available on her website at She lives with her husband, dog and cat and works as a piano teacher.

Xiaoly Li is a poet and photographer in Massachusetts. She is a 2022 recipient of the Massachusetts Cultural Council Artist Fellowship Grant in Poetry. Her poetry has appeared in Spillway, American Journal of Poetry, PANK, Atlanta Review, Chautauqua, Rhino, Cold Mountain Review, J Journal and elsewhere; her work has been featured on Verse Daily and in several anthologies. She has been nominated for Best of the Net three times, Best New Poets, and a Pushcart Prize. Her photography has been shown and sold in galleries in Boston. Xiaoly received her Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute and her Masters in computer science and engineering from Tsinghua University in China.

Marjorie Maddox, English professor at Commonwealth University, has published 14 collections of poetry—most recently Begin with a Question (Paraclete) and the ekphrastic collections from Shanti Arts, Heart Speaks, Is Spoken For (with Karen Elias) and In the Museum of My Daughter’s Mind,


Contributors Notes

a collaboration with her artist daughter ( In addition, she has published the story collection, What She Was Saying (Fomite), four children’s/YA books, and an anthology on Pennsylvania. Please see

Quincy Gray McMichael, when not at her writing desk, stewards her farm, Vernal Vibe Rise, on Moneton ancestral land. Her writing, both creative nonfiction and poetry, has appeared in Salon, Assay, Appalachian Review, Yes! Magazine, Burningword, and The Dewdrop, among others— and is forthcoming from Full Bleed. Quincy holds an MFA from the Naslund-Mann Graduate School of Writing at Spalding University. She is a recent Pushcart Prize nominee, serves as Contributing Editor at Good River Review, and is completing a hybrid memoir that explores obsession and overwork through a blend of poetry and prose.

Susan Nusbaum, born in Rochester, NY, received her BA from Smith College and her law degree from the University of Buffalo Law School. She lives in Buffalo, NY, where she has worked as a musician, teacher, arts administrator, and most recently as a criminal prosecutor. Her three poetry collections, What We Take With Us, Open Wide, the Eye, and Alive in this Place, were published by Coffeetown Press. Her work has appeared in numerous publications including The Connecticut Review, Poetry East, Nimrod International Journal, Chautauqua, Harpur Palate, and many others. She has presented her work in solo public readings in numerous communities in the Northeast and Florida.

Paul Pedroza was born and raised in El Paso, Texas. He received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His story collection, The Dead Will Rise and Save Us, is available from Veliz Books. He has completed his first novel, and he is currently working on a second and on a collection of essays. His work has appeared in Rattle, make: A Chicago Literary Magazine, Palabra, Confluencia, Inquiring Mind Buddhist Magazine, and in the following anthologies: Critical Storytelling in the Borderlands (Brill Sense Publishers, 2022), Our Lost Border (Arte Público Press, 2013), and New Border Voices (TAMU Press, 2014).


Contributors Notes

Susan Polizzotto is a writer, haiku teacher, and a former Coast Guard officer who lives in coastal North Carolina. She writes on themes of family, ancestral heritage, nature, travel, and the sea. Her work appears in Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, Sky Island Journal, and As You Were: The Military Review. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of North Carolina Wilmington.

Michael Quattrone (he/him) is the author of the award-winning chapbook, Rhinoceroses (New School, 2007) and the songs of One River (Wolfe Island Records, 2018). Recent poems appear in The Night Heron Barks, DMQ Review, and the Best American Poetry Blog. His work is included in Incredible Sestina Anthology and Best American Erotic Poems. He lives in Tarrytown, New York, where he reads for the Westchester Review and Slapering Hol Press.

Doug Ramspeck is the author of nine poetry collections, one collection of short stories, and a novella. One recent book, Black Flowers, was published by LSU Press. Six of his books have received awards: Blur (Tenth Gate Prize), Distant Fires (Grayson Books Poetry Prize), The Owl That Carries Us Away (G. S. Sharat Chandra Prize for Short Fiction), Original Bodies (Michael Waters Poetry Prize), Mechanical Fireflies (Barrow Street Press Poetry Prize), and Black Tupelo Country (John Ciardi Prize for Poetry). His individual poems have appeared in journals that include The Southern Review, Kenyon Review, Slate, and The Georgia Review. He is a three-time recipient of an Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award.

Janice E. Rodríguez grew up with her nose in a book and hasn’t ever taken it out. Shortlisted for the Tillie Olsen Short Story Award and the Chester B. Himes Short Fiction Prize, she moves her paragraphs around the same way she does the perennials in her garden—as if they were furniture. When not writing or gardening, she’s in the kitchen working her way through a stack of cookbooks. Find her online at


Contributors Notes

Barbara West’s second book, a work-in-progress memoir, What the “Others” Are Here For (And What If I’m One of Them?) explores tension between Christian/Buddhist directives to “help others” and her 12-step program’s directive to “focus on yourself and stop bothering everyone else.” Her work has appeared in Intima, Bellevue Literary Review, Another Chicago Magazine, American Journal of Nursing, Shambhala Times, and others. Her performance videos have won awards in festivals around the world. A descendant of Pennsylvania Dutch activists, she has recently moved to Corvallis, Oregon where she’s resumed working in hospice after a decade of wound/ostomy/continence nursing.

Charlotte Wyatt is a writer based in Las Vegas, Nevada. Her work is in or forthcoming from the Potomac Review, Joyland, Electric Literature, Gulf Coast, and others.

Chun Yu is an award-winning bilingual (English and Chinese) poet, graphic novelist, scientist, and translator. She is the author of the multi-awarding winning memoir in verse Little Green: Growing Up During the Chinese Cultural Revolution (Simon & Schuster), and a historical graphic novel in progress (Macmillan), and more. Her poetry and stories are published by the Boston Herald, Orion, Poetry Northwest, MIT Tech Talk, Xinhua Daily, Poem of the Day, Arion Press, Koa Press, and more. Her work is taught in world history and culture classes. Chun is a Library Laureate 2023 of SFPL and an honoree of YBCA 100 award (2020) for creative changemakers.She has been awarded grants from San Francisco Arts Commission, Zellerbach, Poets & Writers, Sankofa Fund, and more. Her poetry and translations have been recently nominated for Pushcart Prize. Her Two Languages/One Community project connects Chinese American and African American communities with poetry writing and storytelling. Chun holds a B.S. and M.S. from Peking University and a Ph.D. from Rutgers University. She was a post-doctoral fellow in a Harvard-MIT joint program. Her websites are and


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:

All you can do, he says, is move along, adapt. Take care, he adds, and wobbles off to orbit whatever body seizes him.”

—George Drew, “Talbot’s Chance”

When I am the recipient of slow, mindful work done with a generous heart, I have no doubt that this attention transforms the end product.”

—Quincy Gray McMichael, “Farming After Death”

The Bronx is like this: stray things show up at the door— menus, Mormons, someone else’s morning paper.”

—Tricia Bogle, “Bronx, 1995”

Heat blushed her skin, like a kiss. People say she would do anything for a kiss.”

—Jessica Guzman, “Match Girl”

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