Chautauqua: Rooted and Growing, 21.1

Page 1

chautauqua Rooted & Growing Celebrating 150 Years


Chautauqua 21.1

Editor jill ger a rd

Advisory Editor diana hume george

Managing Editor ja me s k ing

Editorial Assistants meliss a cripe conner digiacomo ba rret giehl s ayer k irk k aylin ma rga ret morga n mitchell ma rcus mudd

Cover & Book Design

r achel nichol son

gillian pribicko

s ydney nor man

Assistant Editor s

s a scha sizemore

is a belle a ltman

Chautauqua Institution Archives

jana c a rver

jonatha n schmit z

kris ten dor sey

W i t h S p ec i a l T h a n k s t o

c a ssidy irvin ma rie ma rrinan je sse cl a rke s aw yer

emily carpenter michael ramos emily louise smith sony ton - aime jordan steves chautauqua institution

university of north carolina wilimington , department of creative writing

Copyright © 2023 Chautauqua Institution

Chautauqua is published each December and 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: Munger Garden, 1922-1924, Chautauqua Institution Archives Oliver Archives Center Dancing Flowers, 2023, Jesse Clarke Sawyer Below photos courtesy of Chautauqua Institution Archives: Painting Model, 1945-1955, Lloyd S. Jones Panama Rocks, 1907, Fred. L. Yagear Elementary School Outside, 1920-1929, Chautauqua Institution Archives Oliver Archives Center Splendid Chautauquan, 1965, Charles Nash Other Photos: Fuku, Good Fortune, Lee Armfield Cannon, September 13, 2021, Mohammed Taseen, July 28, 2018, Altınay Dinç Untitled, Jay Holinger Kanuga, 2017, Jesse Clarke Sawyer, July 19, 2021, Jeremy Stewardson, October 28, 2015, Annie Spratt, September 13, 2020, Fabe Collage Watering Can, 2023, Jesse Clarke Sawyer

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

The Chautauqua Way


or more than a hundred and thirty years, Chautauqua Institution has served as a stage and a classroom for leading figures of the times, including Ulysses S. Grant, Booker T. Washington, Alexander Graham Bell, Susan B. Anthony, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. The Chautauqua way is a habit of living in a state of continual enrichment: learning on vacation, finding intellectual stimulation in leisure, imbuing all activities with a passion for art. Learning and art should not be confined to separate spaces or designated hours, nor spirituality expressed only within sacred walls or books of prayers. Chautauqua is a literary manifestation of the values and aesthetics of Chautauqua Institution. Each volume is a portable Chautauqua season between covers. The sections loosely reflect the categories of experience addressed during those nine summer weeks, playing one writer’s vision off another’s in the spirit of oblique, artful dialogue. The Chautauqua way is also reflected in how we make this book. Each year, in partnership with the Chautauqua Literary Arts, graduate and undergraduate students in the Department of Creative Writing at the University of North Carolina Wilmington work as members of the editorial team, guided by professional editors and an advisory board. They read and discuss submissions, fact check and edit, search for art, and participate in the artistic process of building a book, to be released at the start of the summer season. In our editorial sessions, we read aloud excerpts or even entire works, listening for the music of great writing, searching for the piece that eloquently addresses the issue’s theme through some facet of the life in art, spirit, or play, or a life lesson. Writers, ages twelve through eighteen, enjoy that same respectful attention through Young Voices. So settle back on a couch or a comfortable patch of grass and spread this book open like a tent. Immerse yourself in the world of ideas, imagination, and language that lives between its covers. For as many minutes or hours as you like, you are part of the Chautauqua community. Jill Gerard, Editor Chautauqua Institution

Contents V III

life in Art

life at leisure

life lessons


philip gerard Chautauqua: A Moveable Feast

lee armfield cannon Shaping the Kanji and Leaving

the Land 30 31 34 37

pamela wax Prokofiev's First Violin Sonata

40 51 53 55 56

richard holinger Wet and Dry in the Driftless

60 62 64 66 86

lissa batista North Bay Village Ghazal

life 90 of the 92 94 spirit 104

kimm brockett stammen Breakfast on Bainbridge alfred encarnacion At the Tattoo Studio fred zirm Walking the Meditative Labyrinth

john gifford Running Through the Seasons sara moore wagner Dirge julie phillps brown Breakers noah davis Tick Triptych

ann e . wallace Lessons I Learned This Summer claire breslow The Sun Is Very Far Away melanie s . smith Heart Hoarder marisa p . clark A Late Freeze

linda albert The Essence of Shirley nicole dufalla Pennsylvania melanie bryant When I Was California bryn grey Shore Leave

113 115 116

noah evan wilson The Mind Like Water


Contributors Notes

peter grandbois Pond of Bells angie macri Habitat


chautauqua: a movable feast Philip Gerard This essay first appeared in the 2008 issue of Chautau­­­ qua: 20th Anniversary of the Chautauqua Writers’ Center. We repub­lish now as it celebrates the roots of Chautauqua Institution—and stands as a testament to our ability to grow and thrive.

i. a moveable feast Teddy Roosevelt famously called Chautauqua “the most American thing in America.” In an age of globalization, defining a national identity may seem anachronistic, and yet the opposite is true: a nation secure in its own identity can look outward to the wider world for culture, art, literature, and ideas, broadening its intellectual and artistic palette, incorporating fresh ideas and aesthetics. As Booker T. Washington observed about our language, “We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.” Lacking all but a few centuries of our own history, we have always been a nation that takes in new ideas, whatever their source, and puts them to good use. Such a nation is guided by a healthy, true, and accurate idea of who its people are, what they want from their government, and how best to achieve their collective ambitions in a peaceful manner. Such a nation is not governed by fear or blinded by pathological delusions of grandeur. Thus it is also with personal identity—and nations, after all, are made up of people, each of whom in some small way contributes to that amorphous thing called “the national character.” A person who has reached some accurate sense of who he or she is at the core—what


beliefs inform his actions, what principles underlie her behavior, what aspirations underlie his ambitions, what knowledge informs her decisions­—that person can approach the world with the confidence to try out new ideas, to test principles against experience, to question received wisdom, to interrogate the culture and contribute to its evolution. To listen, and to read—deeply and broadly. Honest self-knowledge is the foundation on which character builds. And self-knowledge derives from knowledge of the world in all its complexity. From its founding, Chautauqua has been as much a philosophy and an aesthetic as it is a physical place, a 750-acre village of houses and cottages, theaters, stages, artists’ studios, recital halls, practice rooms for musicians, churches, seminar rooms, and lecture halls on the shores of Lake Chautauqua in western New York State. Its soul lies in the American passion for self-improvement—the drive to enrich oneself culturally, artistically, morally, and intellectually. This is the spirit that residents and visitors experience during the nine-week summer season. it is no exaggeration to say that the founders of Chautauqua, Levis Miller and John Heyl Vincent, intended to help shape the American character by democratizing the pursuit of knowledge. But they could hardly have anticipated just how influential a force for enlightenment Chautauqua would turn out to be. When it began in 1874, it aimed to provide “vacation learning”—first as a kind of Methodist Sunday school but almost immediately broadening its scope into secular studies of all kinds, especially science, education, and the arts. Nowadays, each season more than 150,000 people attend public events on the grounds and 8,000 students enroll in courses. Self-improvement was the original impetus for Chautauqua. Ambition in its best sense—not for career advancement or commercial gain, but ambition as a way of completing oneself, to understand, to be better, to live more fully in the culture that nurtures and unites us. The educational mission has defined Chautauqua from the beginning. It is, after all, the act of teachers teaching that ensures the survival


Chautauqua of culture, the vibrancy and relevance of its ideas, its aesthetic and history, the continuing refreshment of it with new art and thought, across generations. It's an essential transaction for civilization. Chautauqua, now a world-renowned and revered institution, became a national movement through an ingenious enterprise that was essentially a way to “broad-cast” that transaction, in the sense of a farm­­er sowing seeds. It did so by means of a very special book club— the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle. The movement—a logical extension of vacation learning—was directed toward women, who could study in their homes and meet with other Chautauquans in any of the 10,000 local "reading circles" around the country. All of them completed a course of prescribed reading and writing about the books they had read. Graduation—called “Recognition”—was, and still is, held on the grounds of Chautauqua. The graduates are marched under a golden archway, constructed especially for the ceremony, into the Hall of Philosophy, a spacious open-air pavilion resembling a classical Greek temple. There they are formally inducted into the society. In the old days, festivities included numerous sermons and speeches and, as at any other summer camp, always ended with a ceremonial campfire. A belief in the value of education as an end in itself and as a tool for progress and active citizenship has been a mainstay of American values since the days of the Founders. Legions of immigrants have embraced education with an almost religious zeal. Chautauqua—the place and the movement it created—took that faith in education one step further. Rather than make education separate from life, it sought to integrate it into daily life. People did not have to go to some separate place to learn—they could learn at home. If they chose to travel to Lake Chautauqua, their vacation could incorporate learning. Selfimprovement was portable, a moveable feast. Art and ideas and spirit­ ual questing would become a part of the daily routine,a way of living. They would not be an embellishment of life but a practical part of it. Soon “Chautauquas” traveled to every corner of the nation, often operating under tents during the summer season. Many thrive to this day.


Philip Gerard ii. the exemplary life For more than a hundred and thirty years, Chautauqua Institution has served as a stage, classroom, and pulpit for leading figures of their times, including Ulysses S. Grant, Booker T. Washington, William Jennings Bryan, Alexander Graham Bell, Susan B. Anthony, Helen Keller, Charles Lindbergh, Jonas Salk, and Thomas Edison, who understood both the stuff of dreams and the stuff of the world: “To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.” In 1918, during the rise of world socialism, John D. Rockefeller lectured on capital and labor. In 1936, with a second world war on the horizon, Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered his “I Hate War” speech. In between, in 1929, Amelia Earhart landed her aeroplane on fairway 14 of the Chautauqua golf course and delivered her account of being the first woman to fly across the Atlantic to 5,000 spectators at the Amphitheater, then four hours and fifteen minutes after landing, took off again into the wild blue. Of all the luminaries who have left their stamp upon Chautauqua, Teddy Roosevelt—TR—is in some ways an exemplary figure to keep in mind when contemplating its mission, history, and aspirations. For one thing, he delivered a speech there—as did seven other Presidents. And he spoke to many other “Chautauqua Societies” around the country that had sprung up in emulation of the original, including the Jewish Chautauqua Society of Atlantic City, New Jersey, to whose members he spoke on his favorite subject, Americanism: You are not to be excused if you do not have a high ideal. You are not to be excused if you permit yourself to accept the view that anything that is base or mean or unworthy is to be pardoned; that you are to pass by with a laugh civic corruption or social misdeed. You are to have a high ideal, just as high as you can raise it, but you are to strive to realize it in a practical fashion. That's the American spirit—idealism realized in practice. One could almost say that this is the Chautauqua spirit: don't just admire art, go


Chautauqua ahead and make some. Don't just understand democracy, participate in it. If you have faith, then act on it. Notice too that TR didn’t hesitate to admonish, to lecture, to educate, even to preach in his own secular fashion. Again, Chautauqua from its inception has been about education. He embodied many of the best and noblest American virtues and also exemplified important flaws—the very flaws that arise out of our peculiarly American vision of the world. Because he was larger than life in almost everything he undertook, his triumphs are more obvious and his failings more catastrophic. In that way, he is like a Shakespearian figure—not entirely tragic, though surely knowing despair at the end. More the protagonist of one of the historical plays. He put his own life on the line for his principles. He was the very incarnation of the “can-do” attitude, a champion of the underdog, a believer in progress and the virtues of technology. He was the apostle of self-improvement, physically, intellectually, and spiritually. He began life as a sickly boy in a household divided by the Civil War (his mother’s family owned slaves, his father was a Lincoln man) and wound up the epitome of the “strenuous life” of the outdoorsman, leading a country that probably never again will enjoy such unity. He took on every challenge of his life with spirit and gusto. He was a voracious reader and a best-selling author and a famous naturalist before he became a celebrated political reformer and the hero of San Juan Hill and a legendary president who left the greatest stamp of any individual in history upon the physical landscape of America by creat­ ing both the National Park system and the Panama Canal. But he also struggled with his own racist tendencies and habits. He was perhaps too quick to resort to armed force to back up national prestige—a failing we have not outgrown. He was impatient with complexity and tended to cast the personalities of the world as heroes or villains. He embodied most of the contradictions of American culture. He was physically brave and a Nobel Peace Prize winner who also helped drum up two wars—the Spanish-American War in 1898 and what was called The Great War, until it was superseded by a greater one and had


Philip Gerard to be designated simply as World War I, leaving ample latitude to add numerals to denote future wars. The Great War took his beloved fav­ orite son, Quentin, as the second great war took his namesake son, a general who landed on D-Day. Both were renowned for boldness that amounted at times to foolhardiness, in the manner of the father who had trained them. He was called the “Peacemaker President,” but he made his political fortune the day he charged up a hill in a Third World country leading a band of volunteer Rough Riders in a war that seems, in retrospect, unnecessary, even trumped-up. He was a family man who sent all four of his sons off to war and agonized over their fates. He had unbounded faith in America, as an idea of democracy no less than a place, and yet he founded an American empire that at times ran roughshod over the peoples of less powerful nations. He placed tremendous trust in Providence, yet experienced a long dark night of the soul after his wife and mother died only hours apart on the same day. He retreated to a ranch in South Dakota and remained inconsolable for almost two years afterward. When he lost the 1912 Presidential election for the Bull Moose party, he again retreated to lick his wounds, this time to South America to visit his son Kermit. I've always found it fitting that his last great adventure—a trip through the Amazon rainforest that nearly killed him—was a journey down the River of Doubt. iii. a season between covers Chautauqua carries on the American experiment as TR—and thousands of others over its long existence—envisioned it. For nine weeks each year, in churches of all denominations, faith wrestles with doubt. Politicians and statesmen stand up in lecture halls or the amphitheater to argue the virtues of their worldviews. Artists, musicians, and actors explore the limits of their crafts in theaters and concert halls while pass­ ing on their wisdom to chosen apprentices. And writers synthesize all of this robust activity of the mind and senses and soul: artfully addressing pop culture, personal trials, family matters, religion and rituals, ethics, history, and social issues, while they


Chautauqua ponder the nature and aesthetic aims of their poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. The original Chautauqua inspired a national movement of such energy and optimism that even Roosevelt, himself a human dynamo, as impressed by its force. Traveling tent shows imitating the program presented there brought theater, opera, classical music, art, theological debate, and literature to the hinterlands all across America. It’s hard to imagine a movement of such determined, democratic idealism and faith in education sweeping across, say, autocratic Germany or class-conscious France. There may well be a class system in America—many critics have made cogent arguments—but there also exists a naïve, national optimism that denies it vehemently as a first principle: any little boy or girl can grow up to become President. There’s no civic problem so intractable it can’t be solved by citizens of good will hashing it out in a town meeting. One person, one vote. Politics is meant to be rowdy and disorganized, a regular donnybrook of conflict­ ing opinions. A free press is essential to democracy. So is freedom of religion and conscience. Every child can be taught—none will be “left behind.” Genius is one part inspiration and ninety-nine parts perspiration. 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 is our mythology, a glorious one if you ask me. My parents were not college graduates. Their parents, mostly, could barely speak English. They left their villages and journeyed thousands of miles to take part in that mythology, whose clearest expression is Chautauqua—where many seasons ago I listened to Elizabeth Von Trapp, granddaughter of the ref­ ugees celebrated in The Sound of Music, tell family stories and sing “My Favorite Things” as a thousand people sang along. In one remarkable moment, a young folk singer, a terrifying escape from the Nazis, a family legacy, and a canonical Broadway show and movie all melded together in a single experience. It was a complicated, thought-provoking, and joyful moment—as such moments must always be—at one private and communal.


Philip Gerard Reading poems and stories and essays is like that—a profoundly individual and private experience but also one that carries a reader into the great stream of literature, a shared experience after all.



Chautauqua Rooted & Growing

“You have to roll up your sleeves and be a stonecutter before you can become a sculptor—command of craft always precedes art: apprentice, journeyman, master.” —Philip Gerard

Life in art

広島 Shaping the 広島 Kanji and 広島 Leaving the Land 広島 Lee Armfield Cannon 広島 20


Today I made paper cranes, helmets, and little men in kimonos out of origami paper with Tokunaga Keiko-san. Then we made paper airplanes out of newspaper advertising inserts and knocked stuff over in her house with them before going outside and flying them up and down the path to her house. We lost one over the railing; it picked up a gust, veered, and sailed off. When I tried to find it later, it was gone. The wind must have blown it away again, or someone picked it up. How many times in one lifetime can a person say she has sailed paper airplanes off a man-made cliff with a survivor of the atomic bomb? How can I leave this land? That was the ending of the entry I made in my journal on Monday, November 17, 2008, nine months before I left Hiroshima, Japan, to return to the States and fulfill my dream of pursuing a master’s degree. I was pouring massive amounts of time, sweat, and will into graduate school applications and my efforts to leave Hiroshima, Japan, and my job teaching English. In the midst of all this, I went over to the home of my calligraphy teacher for a lesson that particular afternoon.



My teacher, Keiko—who was also my English conversation student—lived up on the side of the mountain behind the station, near a beautiful shrine. It looked like a very old shrine, but it really wasn’t; it was merely built to look that way. Almost nothing in Hiroshima is old. If I hadn’t already bought a gift for her, I would stop at a shop in the station and pick up some cookies or cake, or—after I found out she was a cancer survivor and shouldn’t really be eating sweets—cashews or nice cheese or dried fruit. Every month when we had our lesson, I brought something. If I didn’t, she would take me to the cake shop near her house, a branch of the chain called Backen Mozart, and she would buy me a little Mont Blanc almond paste cake or piece of baked cheese­ cake, and I would feel guilty she was spending her money on me. The lessons were already free, even though I used up expensive paper prac­ ticing my awkward and wobbly characters. But that was just Keiko’s way. If I brought some kind of delicious cake or snack, though, she would relent and serve that during our break time, along with whichever new variety of tea she was currently drinking. This was our reward after an exhausting hour of concentrating on painting well-formed and bal­ anced characters on a practice board with water, then on rice paper sheets with ink. I have some skill with oil painting and watercolors from art lessons in my teen years, but that didn’t seem to translate into beautiful kanji. I suppose my remarkably hideous handwriting had more influence on my calligraphy than any decade-old painting techniques I knew. Calligraphy is penmanship at its core, though at its most sophisticated level, it is also art. Keiko was so patient with me, though, and believed I could improve. And I did, I suppose, but she was hoping for a repeat of her previous student, also a foreign woman, who had become very skilled at calligraphy under Keiko’s teaching. I believe that woman had stayed in Japan longer than I had up to that point. I suspect her handwriting in her native language was also superior to mine in the beginning. Few people I know have seen odder handwriting than mine. Still, Keiko encouraged


Lee Armfield Cannon

me, teaching me the proper way to hold the brush, how much I needed to fatten the brush with ink, the proper way to write each simple letter of the phonetic hiragana alphabet—the part of the Japanese written language that separates it most from written Chinese. We practiced simpler kanji, my name, 里 or 理井, ‘month,’ 月, ‘day,’ 日, ‘summer,’ 夏. When I started talking about applying to graduate school and leaving Japan—after she gave me a chagrinned face and a little wail at the idea—she sadly taught me ‘success,’ 成功 , and ‘good fortune,’ 幸福. Her disappointment at my leaving surprised me. I knew we were friends, but in some ways, I still thought I was replaceable and forgettable. Students at the Station School were used to seeing teachers come and go. My own students at my former school had only contacted me off and on when I left. Keiko seemed so distraught, though, that she said during one lesson she would probably quit coming to the school after I left. There was no point, she said. Of course, my reflex was to encour­ age her not to quit, to keep studying, and to keep up her English until I returned to visit her. Why should it be such a shock to find myself mattering? Seven months after Keiko had learned I was planning to go, after that particularly memorable November lesson with the paper airplanes, I would begin to tell my other students I had been accepted into a master’s program and was going back to the States. Two high school girls and three grown women would openly burst into tears. Others would go from smiling faces to looks of horror in the three to five seconds it took them to process the English: “I’m leaving Hiroshima soon and going to school in America.” Years before, all my American friends and relatives had lit up at the adventure and opportunity of my going to Japan to teach. In Hiroshima, faces fell and I was not prepared. Rain fell, too. All month. How can a person long so much for a place that isn’t home? How can a person choke up and grow heavy-headed at the memory of the view from a train window in a place that doesn’t belong to her? Hiroshima is not mine. The city does not belong to me, but I made myself belong to


Chautauqua it. Maybe I am the city’s pet, or its doll in a kimono, its child playing in grown-ups’ clothes. Maybe I am Hiroshima’s adopted granddaughter, its coddled darling. All I know is I had the distinct impression the city was angry at me for leaving, when it rained so hard that summer I left, in 2009. The rainy season was supposed to be over, but the clouds refused to budge. For a month, it poured all day, all through the night, nearly six days a week. The trains ran late or stopped every evening, the tracks slick to the point of danger. People waited on the platforms or milled around in the covered areas of the station, hot, soaked, miserable, but largely silent. The trouble for me was, if the trains stopped, I couldn’t get to the post office to mail the possessions I was packing back to America and clear out the apartment for the incoming teacher. I was due to leave August 5 and that date was fast approaching, whether I was prepared or not. But that following day, August 6, was to be the day of the Peace Memorial Ceremony for the sixty-fourth anniversary of the atomic bombing. That was it. I was leaving too soon. The city had a right to feel abandoned, to demand, “How could you?” through the rain. Rain. So much rain. It raced through the streets, gushed in torrents along the curbs, forced crossing pedestrians to leap. It drenched my skirt and shoes, despite my umbrella. I felt I was being rinsed away. Japan has a culture of restrained impulses, decorous behavior. People do not typically make grand displays of their emotions. Still, the rain pushed me into such a strange state of mind that, one day, I stopped impulsively in the center of a bridge and shouted, like a madwoman, “Why do you hate me? Don’t you know I love you?” into the swollen Ota River. That was the day the rain stopped. Hiroshima heard me. Everything settled down. I was able to finish my packing and clear­ ing. To speak to the rivers is to speak to the city. The city has always been known for its six rivers, which slice it into sashimi-strips of land, some


Lee Armfield Cannon no wider than a fifteen-minute walk. The name itself, “Hiroshima,” means “wide area of islands.” If memory serves, one of my first calligraphy lessons with Keiko found me brushing “Matoba-cho, Minami-ku, Hiroshima-shi,” 的場町, 南区, 広島市—my address—onto sheet after sheet of rice paper. That was far too complex for my skill level at the time, which is why we switched to simple phonetic characters soon thereafter, but I wanted to know how to write my return address on letters. At least, that’s what I thought, until I noticed it had become my fixation to write the name of Hiroshima. The balance of the characters was so tricky, I had to ask those around me again and again, “How do you write it?” So many kanji I learned to write, practiced, gained a decent proficiency with, then laid aside to focus on the next character, the next challenge. But not “Hiroshima.” Writing means something in Japan, something more than writing in English can ever mean. Japanese characters are pictures derived from the meaning. The character for “tree” looks just like a pine tree, 木, and “fire” resembles flames leaping off two logs, 火. Since the way to write about an object came from the object itself, the act of writing is an invocation, a claim of relationship with the object represented. To write is to call on the thing written, to speak with the gods most closely associated with it. An old charm for warding off stage fright is to write “person,” 人, five times in the palm of your hand, then make a motion like you are eat­ing the words. The act of consuming the characters imparts the strength and courage of five people. Writing is creation in Japan, calling yearnings into matter, into the physical world. The Buddhist priest writing sutras in accordion books for devotees, the young woman floating a strip of paper with her secret love’s name in a holy pond in the mountains of Shimane, women and men and children of all kinds writing wishes on wooden tablets at the Shinto shrine—all these write to attract the attention and favor of the gods.


Chautauqua Life closes and begins again through writing, as well. When a person dies, the surviving relatives cremate the body and write a specially chosen spiritual name of that person on a narrow, wooden plaque almost the height of a man. That plaque is placed in the graveyard near the family’s reliquary monument, which contains the ashes. Smaller plaques are taken into the home and placed on the Buddhist altar. That plaque has then become the missing person and is treated with rever­ ence. The act of writing is a resurrection, a calling home. Is this why my teacher, Keiko, was drawn to calligraphy? She had certainly lost things she might want to resurrect. Lost people. Her young­er brother died in the atomic bombing, crushed beneath a neighbor’s garden wall that crumbled in the blast wave. He was three. Keiko studied calligraphy all her life as she rebuilt her world, married, raised her three sons, then sent them forth into their own lives. She became very skilled, qualifying for a teacher’s license and showing her work in many exhibitions. She also composed her own poetry, in a form called tanka, for a monthly poetry magazine. The lesson when she told me about her poetry, she was only able to locate one magazine in her house to show me. It was the magazine with her poem about undergoing surgery for cancer. She wrote of feeling like a fish lying powerless on a cutting board. Keiko carried her belief in the power of writing into her English study as well. When she told me she might give up studying after I left, I tried to persuade her not to quit. Finally, she resolved to continue. She would study somehow, even if she stopped spending money on the expensive classes at my school. As a seal of her decision, she wrote a statement of intention in English on a beautiful piece of paper, saying how she resolved to study the language every day and to carry that dil­ igence with her throughout the remainder of her life. She posted it on her refrigerator, where she could see it each day. She even asked me to check if the English was correct. In America, we are embarrassed to do this kind of thing, write out and post a resolution. It smacks of self-helpy psychobabble. It offends our jaded sensibilities, but more than that, it admits weakness. Keiko was not afraid of showing weakness; she was writing a new strength


Lee Armfield Cannon into existence with her note. With all this writing and invoking and creation occurring around me, one would think I would be perfectly at home. Not entirely. Perhaps that’s why I hold Hiroshima so tightly to me, because the claiming was not easy and I had to fight. It took a long time and wide learning to find my footing in the city. My journal from the early months in my stay is full of discontent and loneliness. Six months into my time in Hiroshima, a student invited me to a traditional tea ceremony in Shukkeien Gardens, an extensive traditional garden with a beautiful tea house. Another friend accompanied me and showed me how to handle the tea bowl and drink in the ceremonial manner. Best of all, I went in a kimono—freshly bought and my pride and joy. Looking at the photos from that day now, I realize I had put the thing on all wrong; every fold and tuck was sloppy. But I didn’t know enough to realize that at the time, so I was congratulating myself on having gotten the thing onto my body at all. It only deflated me a little when the host of the tea ceremony told me his honest opinion of what I was wearing, when I asked. “Well, perhaps it’s just a little bit hot-looking for summer, don’t you think?” he said. I had run afoul of a rule of kimono culture and tea ceremony; cloth­ ing should emphasize the positive aspects of the season and counteract the negative aspects. A kimono for summer should not be red, or purple like mine, since it made other people feel hot just looking at it. My friend bought me ice cream on the lawn after the ceremony, as a reward for my efforts; perhaps as a consolation prize, too. While I ate the ice cream on a bench outside the tea house, a middle-aged woman approached me and complimented my kimono. I must have looked silly with my crooked clothes, but the woman appreciated my effort anyway. She said, “I have fallen in love with your kimono,” and presented me with a handkerchief, worried that I might drip ice cream on the precious garment. Of course, I thanked her profusely for the gift, bowing time after time, but I did not catch she had embroidered the handkerchief herself; my friend translated that fact later. Suddenly her gesture was too much,


Chautauqua and my gratitude, not great enough. My kimono was very tight, but my body found a way to sag anyway. Japan will someday drive me away. I can’t stay here forever, this is not my home, I remember hearing clearly, over the noise of other emotions. As it turned out, my own lifelong dream of going to graduate school beckoned and Hiroshima tried to rain me out of leaving. Two years after that first summer tea ceremony in Shukkeien Gardens, shortly before I left, I attended the same event—shamefacedly wearing the same kimono, but tied on much more skillfully—and I was the hit of the garden. Sunday strollers and picnickers photographed me. Not just one but many middle-aged women in kimonos complimented me. When I told them I had dressed myself, they exclaimed in amazement, impressed a foreign woman would take the time to learn such a complex process. I was Japan’s child; my adoption was successful, but I already had a plane ticket home. I was leaving Hiroshima. On Thursday, August 6, 2009, back in America, my journal reads: Today is the anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing. I wish so much I could have gone to the ceremony, but I just sent an email to Keiko-san saying how sorry I was for what my country did sixty-four years ago. In my jet-lagged state, I had actually forgotten about it until John called and said there was a documentary on TV about the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bomb­ings. Mom and I dropped what we were doing, forgot dinner, and just wept together. There were some people on the documentary with horribly disfig­ uring scars. The flesh on one man’s side had been blown away. Today, the skin has grown back over it, but if you watched for a while, you could see his heart moving under the skin. What have we done? That was a heavy burden for the evening, but it was really surreal to see a panning shot of the city I just left, the place I made my home for two and a half years. That’s MY city! MY home! Why was it destroyed? how is it possible to come to be part of a place to which you have no right? Doubtless some survivors of the atomic bombing would be enraged that an American, some upstart girl, would lay a claim on their


Lee Armfield Cannon city. This is the ground where their flesh burned off and fell. Their skin and blood were sacrificed to the ground in Hiroshima, not mine. My audacious feeling is an insult to those truly invested in the land, who walk its streets and raise its children, rooted to the city of wide islands. Still, when I called out to the city, it forgave me and sent away the rain. The trains ran again. The postal workers took my packages. They put them on trucks. They put them on ships. My packages circled the world. Then I followed, circling the world even faster. My flight left Tokyo Narita International Airport at 3:30 p.m. on August 5 and arrived—because of the 14-hour time difference—in Atlanta, Georgia, at 2:30 p.m. on August 5. I had flown back in time. If only. This is only a guess, but it seems to me, in all that writing of “Hiroshima,” something still remains. The name is still on me, surer and more lasting than any tattoo of a Japanese character I could put on my skin. Instead of five times writing the character of “person” on my hand and eating the strength, I have written “Hiroshima”—very carefully, though never perfectly—held my hand to my mouth, and swallowed. Or perhaps without remembering, I have knelt, like a young woman at the holy pond in Shimane, on the bank of the Ota River. Perhaps I have floated the name of my secret love, “Hiroshima,” down that river. If Keiko can write her resolve into being, could I as well? Could I someday pick up a wooden tablet from a shrine, take up a brush, and write my way back to Hiroshima?


Prokofiev’s First Violin Sonata Pamela Wax For Julie My friend anchors the violin with her chin, her head turned slightly left, bow in her right hand. She nods to the pianist to begin. She calls upon her own despair to interpret the composer’s intention. The notes of the score— steeped in the gore of gulags and wet kisses from Judas— foreshadow tyrannies that still subsist on iron hands and cold sweat. My friend plays the slithering scales like wind in a graveyard. She hears the bones rattle in the hall.


Breakfast on Bainbridge Kimm Brockett Stammen


he 12:20 to the mainland hooted in the distance. The brunch crowd straggled out of Bainbridge Cafe, jittery from caffeine, stuff­ ­ed with buckwheat pancakes, smeared with apricot jam and grease from thick-cut peppered bacon. And the screen door slap-slap-slapped behind them. We who were staying, or at least leaving by a later ferry, settled into a sudden wood-paneled, sun-dappled quiet. A girl in spectacles read in a corner booth, salt and pepper shakers weighing open her paperback. Two tourists with bulging backpacks unfolded a map—an old-fashioned paper map!—over their syrupy plates. Next to me a middle-aged couple sipped from thick-handled mugs and deconstructed the Sunday Times. And I, a still-kinda-young single guy, finished my buttermilk biscuit and my monthly email to Gran. In other news, Cissy and I broke up. I know you don’t understand about living together before marriage, (or after, you have to admit), and you may be right after all, because really it tears your guts out to go to all the trouble of mov­ ing in with someone just to move out again six months later. But how else would I have discovered that she cooks only oatmeal? Doesn’t clean the sink after she spits into it? Phones up old boyfriends late at night? These are things people don’t tell you; you have to do the reconnaissance. The worst of it was that after a while of living together and arguing about it all (especially the phone thing), there was really nothing left to say. That’s kinda how it ended. We talked less, and it got awkward, until one day we looked at each other: I shrugged; she nodded. At the table next to mine a page turned with a slow-motion crinkling sound like a tiny avalanche. Headlines—politics, technology, scandal, billionaires, scientific discoveries, pandemics, war, downturns—flopped


Chautauqua over the couple’s table. She adjusted her reading glasses, he stirred his coffee, the spoon clinked. Sandra came out from the kitchen with a coffee pot in each hand. Through the opened door, I heard the cook’s spatula rasp as he cleaned the griddle. The girl in the corner waved and ordered more toast. The tourists quizzed Sandra about parks and trailheads and their bill; then, rising and bumping their chairs as they heaved their packs, they trudged out, leaving their chairs shuddering behind them. The newspaper couple still didn’t speak, and I began to despise their silence. Probably they were both just sitting there, waiting to break the other’s heart. Contemplating how to make a break for it. Sandra took my plate away, refilled my cup, poured another for herself, and sat down at a nearby booth, the vinyl cushion whooshing softly under her butt. She just nodded. Without saying anything. I knew her a year before we mov­ed in together, and we always had things to talk about. And then six months in this town—full of tourists and wineries, museums and shops and beaches and trails and the smell of seaweed and cannabis—and whoosh, everything we had to say was said. I write to my Gran more intimately than most people do, I suppose. It’s because she raised me, on her own—like she did my mom before me—in a house near the highway along with three pet raccoons. How I’d ended up living on an island across the country from her I wasn't quite sure. The usual, I guess: following work and women. Although it was true, I didn't miss the racoons. At the next table, the husband poured a bit of cream into the wife’s cup; she stirred. The girl in the corner turned a page and toppled her pepper shaker. She tried to catch it, exclaiming, but it rolled, rolled, rolled off the table and crashed to the linoleum, popping its top. Pepper spilled all over the floor. Gran, I am never getting hitched.


Kimm Brockett Stammen Sandra came with a broom and dustpan and swept up the mess. And then suddenly there was a loud creaking; the man at the next table leaned back in his wood chair, balancing on the two back legs. He crossed his hands in his lap and looked purposefully across at his partner. He was going to tell her he’d gotten lonely and bored and started talking to old girlfriends late at night. For sure. I had been waffling, my lone bag of stuff nudging my calf under the table, but in that moment I decided yes, I would be on the next ferry; island life wasn’t for me. I stopped typing to listen, and into the silence the man said, “You’ll be happy to know I cut my toenails this morning.” The wife’s back was to me, so I couldn't see her face, but I could tell she stopped stirring her coffee. In the distance another ferry blared its horn. The girl in the corner glanced at her wristwatch and stuffed her paperback into her purse. I watched, openly now, as the wife lay her spoon carefully onto the table. Her wedding ring glittered in the sunlight. She put her hand over her mouth. Her shoulders began to shake, she looked up at the man. She put her hands flat on the table as if to steady herself, and she didn't giggle, she laughed. Then she threw her napkin at him. His eyebrows raised, and he began to laugh, too. Her shoulders shook until she leaned sideways, clutch­ing the table, crumpling some of the newspaper. She let laughter fall out of her like pepper, and then they laughed together until they had to stop, sighing, and wipe their eyes. I took my last sip of coffee. So much shit happens, Gran. Including what happened to you. And to mom. But OK. Maybe. If I meet the right person. Someone who hates oatmeal. And laughs at dumb stuff. Someone who kinda knows the right thing to say. And who is just quietly there through the rest of it. Then maybe.


At the Tattoo Studio

(Bakunawa, Mythical Dragon of the Philippines)

Alfred Encarnacion The bearded tattooist assures me there’s no discomfort even though I haven’t asked. He begins on my calf, a smooth tracing of form that slowly assumes shape & color: slithering blue underbelly purpling to the back’s black shimmering scales, festooned body armed with fangs, claws, folded wings about to spring open while I sit watching his needle extract a dragon as if trapped beneath my skin. Released, the beast emblazons a lost mythology my dead father never thought to share: Cebu in the ancient time when seven moons, one for each night


of the week, lit the sky & brought forth good fortune. But Bakunawa the serpent dragon, craved the lovely moons, sweet as mangoes, and gobbled them one by one until only a single moon survived. Islanders prayed to Bathala to punish the moon-eater that rose each night from a sea cave to climb the wind in search of prey. The pagan god banished the dragon from sky, land and sea until he learned repentance. I close my eyes, breathe in the scent of dragon blood, that soothing incense which fills this room, slide back on the black recliner



and remember Bakunawa crawling my father’s leg, emblem of his otherness, remember the shame I felt when a schoolmate blurted, “Your dad’s a gook?” during Parent Teacher Night. Bowing my head, I slunk away pretending not to know the man who followed. But now I wear the dragon, almost believing Bakunawa vanished into the hearts of men who betray, repent, and seek forgiveness, lurks there to this day, rising only in the tribal tattoo that bears his name


Walking the Meditative Labyrinth Fred Zirm It is not the maze the myths made it out to be, not a tangle of false starts and dead ends but simply the single recursive path captured on Cretan coins, a compact pilgrimage, leading to a still center— and there, no monster but a mirror, a moment of reflection before taking a fresh breath and heading back the way you came, meeting again whatever you had passed by before, counting yourself lucky to reclaim some of the things you had left behind, as if Theseus could retrieve Ariadne from Naxos, finally realizing the magic thread that saved him from being lost was love.


“You have to open yourself to the world and let it amaze you.” —Philip Gerard

Life at Leisure

Wet and Dry in the Driftless

Richard Holinger


y 10:15 in the morning, maple trees on the opposite bank still shade most of the stream. Their fall colors have yet to fully blossom by the first of October, and the forested hills sweeping up from the valley show off, at best, an occasional parmesan, cinnamon, or blush. The sun breaks through gray-blue clouds rolling eastward, the smooth current dappled like black-spotted coats of dairy cows seen grazing lazily since leaving the four-lane highway northwest of Madison, Wisconsin. “Let’s go upstream,” says my son, Jay, thirty-three, as he guides Jim and me, septuagenarians. Fifteen years ago, a Colorado guide showed Jay and me how and where to fly fish a small stream near Winter Park. Since then, Jay has learned the trade and nailed the look: brown trout-spotted cap; head and neck gray buff (only eyes, nose, and mouth open to sun and wind); polarized sunglasses perched on the visor if not shielding his eyes; vest with required accoutrements (forceps, dry fly spray, etc.); lightweight long-sleeved camo shirt; waist-high waders; waffle-soled lace boots. We’ve already walked a quarter mile through woods from where we parked our cars beside a farmer’s gravel road. Posted on a tree trunk near the grassy area meant for two or three vehicles at most, a sign declares this private property, and if fishermen don’t respect it, the access will no longer be available. Not one bottle, can, or McD ona ld ’s


wrapper taints the scene; fly fishermen know what they can lose because they’ve lost so much. We start along the narrow path where milkweed pods have explod­ ­ed open, their cotton stuffing and brown seeds clinging to their husk or dropped like unwanted cotton on a hospital room floor. Waist-high Little Bluestem grass burnished to copper and Indian grass spears turned a deep bronze have been beaten down, but their long stalks and over­ arching stems claw at my brown wader boots. Switchgrass, its feathery tips light and airy as mosquito legs, waves alongside us. We are in the Driftless, named for the absence of glacial drift, leaving a landscape more like the forested rolling hills and deep hollows of the Berkshires than horizon-to-horizon rural Midwest corn, soy, and wheat fields. Ironically, farmers make our visit possible, the land in these valleys rich for crops and grazing. Two years ago, casting from shore, I watched my wet fly go unheeded past maybe twenty indifferent trout as a dozen dairy cows—curious, cautious, but not contentious—meand­er­ ­ed upstream to within a cast of a caddis fly. Cushioned by thick juniper blades of Common Wood Sedge, Jay stops on a bluff three feet above the water. Upstream, the mirrored surface turns to ripples tumbling over small rocks, the runoff bubbling into an earthen bank hooking around to where we stand. “Throw one where the water flattens out,” Jay says. “There’ll be some­thing there. When you see your grasshopper dip, you’ve got a hit.” I used to take Jay fishing; now, with an encyclopedic knowledge accrued from hours of watching YouTube videos and talking to Western and Midwestern fly store owners and guides, he takes me. After we parked, he switched out my short, heavy-weight leader for a leader and tippet he lined


Chautauqua with an indigo-and-orange-wrapped copper-beaded Spanish Bullet, a pink Hunchback Scud Muffin, and a Feth Hopper Tan Foam Body High Visibility Grasshopper, the latter the only dry fly; he knew trout here mostly fed underwater. “Do I really need three?” I ask. With my average fly-casting skills, two additional barbs on my line meant two more ways my line could snag while casting or hook on vegetation behind, above, or before me. “It’s what you need here,” Jay assures me. The grasshopper is a given; with three or four hopping out of our way with every step we take along the trail, the trout must be feeding on those unlucky enough to fall into the water—or picked off a low-slung blade of grass. I tug off several feet of yellow line that coils on Tufted Hair grass like discarded film footage. With each false cast, the line slips farther out, the flies finally landing near, but not near enough, to where Jay wants them. “Damn,” I say, letting him know I know I screwed up. “Try nearer the bank. Right there.” He points his rod below him. I draw in line until I can bring the flies out of the water and sweep them behind me, again making a large S multiple times until I believe enough line has been played out. Then, I release the rest of the unharnessed line. “Nice!” exclaims Jay as the Spanish Bullet drops precipitously close to the bank. “Perfect.” The only feeling more rewarding than being praised by my son comes two seconds later when the grasshopper dips out of sight. I set the hook and feel the glorious tug-tug-tug of a fish shaking its head, darting right, then left, the rod tip a Geiger counter measuring waves of ecstasy. “He’s huge!” Jay yells. “At least huge for here.” I see him. Twelve inches. Maybe, in the right light, thirteen. It cuts back and forth over the rocky bottom, its spots like dark snowflakes. Fearful of pulling in too fast, too hard, I cajole the line through my right thumb and forefinger. The fish rolls on its side, a flashbulb popping silently.


Richard Holinger “I’ll go down and land him,” Jay calls, leaping down a two-foot incline to wait at the water’s edge for me to guide the fish to him. “He’s beautiful. Look at him! Large as you’ll get here. Man, Dad!” A minute later he lifts the brown from the water and unhooks the fly while Jim fishes in his pocket for his phone to take photos. He takes one of the trout in Jay’s hand and then, the fish given to me, takes me, surrounded by fuzzy caterpillar-tipped Bottlebrush grass: toothy smile, wide-brimmed safari hat, brown vest, denim shirt, palmed trout; behind me, the stream, the far bank’s Virginia Wild Rye wheat stalk look­alikes, a grove too far away to identify individual trees, but include oak, hickory, ash, or cherry trees, above which curves the faintest line of a forested hill’s summit. Jay hands the trout back to the stream. “You nailed it,” I tell Jay. “You tied the flies on, told me where to cast, then landed it. We both caught it.” He smiles, appreciative of the credit. “Okay,” I add, reeling in my line. “I’m done. Let’s go home.” Jay and Jim laugh, but I’m half serious. It’s not going to get better than this. At least I’m pretty sure it won’t. And it doesn’t. But you don’t drive four hours from St. Charles, Illinois, with your friend to meet your son who’s spending the weekend up here to spend only five minutes on the water. However, I know I will not improve on the cast or the fish. Stop while you’re ahead, I insist silently. Before you fall in, before your waders drag you under, before the grasping grasses trip you, before your line wraps itself in knots tighter than a sailor’s. If nothing else, I stay for the countryside, the lush prairie and farm fields, the wooded hillsides, the blue creek zigzagging through. On the drive up here, Jim told me about a long-time friend and neighbor, now deceased, who “fly fished all over. Patagonia, Alaska, Iceland, New Zealand. Every year he came up here. He said this was his favorite place—the most beautiful and the best fishing.” “What kind of work did he do?” Jim took his eyes off the road to look at me. “He didn’t have to work.”


Chautauqua “Best kind,” I said. Now, Jay says, “I’m heading upstream,” and is soon lost from sight. Jim remains, stands close by, perhaps wanting to see me clear another giant. Jim, a year older than I, is retired too, and after leaving his medical equipment sales career, he began growing a David Letterman mustache and beard. A long-time outdoors enthusiast—gardener, hunter, angler—Jim has a face darkened and creased by sunlight. He once fly fished, but an arthritic hand ended his casting. Jim drives up here to enjoy the setting, the camaraderie, the catches, if any; he doesn’t care if we land none or a hundred. Two years ago, the last time the three of us walked a Driftless stream together, he saw a snapping turtle whose gargantuan shell he never tires of illustrating with two outstretched hands two, sometimes three, feet apart, the same story-telling technique anglers use to hyperbolize fish they release. “Come on, let’s see you get another one,” he prompts. “That’ll probably be the only one of the day, but it’s a hundred percent more than I caught last time.” Jim laughs and watches me cast two or three times, again landing the three flies within range of where Jay promised the trout nosed upstream. The grasshopper bobs. A hit. Tip up. A pull, though not a heavyweight like last time. Feisty. We see the smaller brown—maybe six or seven inches, the norm for the Driftless—streak toward the left bank just upstream from my promontory, directly under where Jim is stand­ ing. I try pulling the fish back to midstream, but he’s already outwitted me, spinning the line around a thick bouquet of grass dipping into the creek as if thirsty. I pull on the line, then tug. I raise the rod over my head, hoping to win this tug-of-war. No movement. If I yank the rod too hard, the line will break, and leader, flies, and fish will be lost. “I need to go in the water,” I call to Jim. “Looks kind of deep.” “These waders come up to my chest. I should be okay.” He looks doubtful, but at the same time rather pleased that he can look forward to me taking a swim. “Can you come here and hold the rod while I untangle the line?”


Richard Holinger Jim walks over and I hand him the rod. “Be careful,” he says, knowing it won’t help my balance or help me see any better the underwater rocks that might trip me. Studying the same slope down to the stream that Jay jumped easily down, I tentatively set one wader boot in front of the other three times, reaching the stream without slipping and falling. Once in the water and moving upstream, I spot the larger rocks to avoid, my footing secure on smaller stones. When parallel to where the fish swims back and forth beneath the line twisted around the clump of grass, I leave the solid bottom and step into the soft, almond muck. My right foot sinks down, deeper and deeper, into a muddy berth. I lift my left leg forward and step down, simultaneously pulling up my right leg—or trying to. Because I can’t. Because it’s stuck. Bending forward on my left leg, even though the mud pulls it too, lower and lower, I haul my right leg up as if through lava, slowly, slowly, unsure if the bottom will ever relinquish it. The mud finally releases the right boot, but while my mind prepares for the next step forward, my body, not ready for the foot’s sudden escape and freed from the necessity of tugging upward, begins to bend backward. For an instant, the future tips me over, autumn’s frigid water fills my waders and drags me under, nose and mouth waterboarded, eyes blinded. It doesn’t happen. I somehow right myself, lean forward, place my right foot down, and, this time, anticipating the drag, free my left foot with the same effort but with slightly more aplomb. I can reach the tangled line. “That was close,” Jim says. “I would have given anything to see you go over.” I think about telling him to go fuck himself, but instead I work the line free of its grass garland, grasp the trout, unhook the fly—stuck somehow in his pectoral fin—and watch him glide away. “You can reel in,” I tell Jim. “Don’t fall coming back,” Jim says. I almost do. Walking downstream, my boots stir up muck, clouding the water. I can’t see rocks that can trip me. To Jim’s dismay, however, I make a dry landing.


Chautauqua Climbing back up the slope to the trail, I realize the immersion, even though only thigh deep, has reminded me why the bank, even with its slick slopes, hidden holes, and horizontal prairie set to trap and trip the unobservant boot, is preferable, safer, than a creek bed with lurking rocks, gluttonous quick mud, and occasional snapping turtle. Jim moves on, looking for Jay, looking for the next hooked and landed trout. Undeterred, I try a few more casts where the big brown once lay, but I’ve stirred up their nest, and they’ve moved on, too. Ten minutes farther upstream, I find Jay and Jim at a wide bend, the stream spreading out into a large blue-green pool beneath them, the current slow and wide. “There’s a big one down there,” Jay announces, letting his flies glide down the pool’s length. I’m hot and tired. It’s late morning, and the temperature must have risen into the lower 70s. The sun is cooking my chocolate waders and polyester pants underneath. At home I filled one of my wife’s Pure Leaf Iced Tea bottles with water and stuck it in one of the side pockets of my vest along with a can of Trader Joe’s sunblock. Those things, plus bug spray, reading and sunglasses, boxes of flies, knife, forceps, and other mostly unneeded paraphernalia, weighs me down. I walk on alone. We’ve been out for maybe an hour, and although the 73-year-old part of me wants to strip and lie down for a nap, the spiritual part, the sporting part, wants to show my son and my friend that I have some of the old stamina and passion for fishing left, some of the excitement Jay inherited when going out at five o’clock in a rowboat under a cloudless blue sky as the sun begins its climb through towering Norway pines to begin to burn off the mist swirling above an ice-silent lake. Incredibly, as though dreamed, the prairie trail widens into a closemown path. Nearly skipping for joy along the smooth, close-cropped path, I find it leads to a narrowing of the stream where a waterfall splashes into a basin perfect for feeding. Upstream, the water widens into a small pond where the current crawls, barely noticeable. Scanning the far shore, between a fallen tree and a mossy boulder humped like a


Richard Holinger Volkswagen’s roof, I spot tell-tale ripples where a trout is surface feed­ ing. Unreeling plenty of line, I cast over the slow water but come up short of where the rings roll out in perfect circles every couple of minutes. Again and again, I pump my right arm and finally drop the fly close enough to perhaps interest whatever is feeding. The grasshopper sinks, I pull up the rod—and the empty line flies halfway back to me. By now, Jim and Jay have caught up, and Jim reports Jay having pulled in one or two trout from below the rock-rippled water. When they stride over to where I’ve given up and hauled in my line, I tell Jay, “There’s one or more over there. Between the tree and rock, near shore. See? He just rose.” I want revenge. Ridiculous, I know, but a natural reaction from a fly fisherman made a fool of, made to doubt his skill, talent, and experience. I want the fish who frustrated me to understand not all of us lack the artistic acumen it takes to hook him. Three casts later, Jay has the fish on. “You got him!” I yell, vicariously triumphant as the brown jigs and jags above the stony bottom. “Nice cast.” I’ve never been—I hope—a Great Santini, furious when my son outpaces me in soccer, tennis, or fly fishing. Instead, I’m nearly reverential. I want to touch the fish that eluded me, fed off my dreams, now sitting in Jay’s palm, hooked more than he will ever know. When Jay releases him, lets him slide, slither, from his fingers, the fish is free to once again swim and rise for insects on the other side of the slow-moving water, but he’ll forever be netted in memory. We push on. Jim and Jay walk farther, faster. My gait has slowed to a slog. The seam where my left boot meets the rubber scrapes against my shin. If possible, the prairie grasses and pods have grown thick­er, making for a narrow, barely beaten-down path. Tall, erect Prairie Coneflower pods perch like bristly mocha hard candy rings on six-foot stalks. The waders weigh me down like a rubber blanket burning my chest, legs, and feet, but I need the attached boots for walking; this terrain would not be kind to feet wearing socks.


Chautauqua When I catch up to Jim and Jay, they’re passing a dead, lifeless tree, the top limbs bridging the stream. “Watch out, there’s a huge hole here,” Jay warns, standing next to the fallen tree. “Thanks!” I’m ready, like Alice, to descend into it and take my chances with whatever lives there. While they’re still in earshot, I yell to Jim, “How we doing on time?” He wants to get back to Viroqua by 1:30; the Driftless Café closes at 2:00. He and Jay have been there before and rave about its fried chicken sandwiches and double cheeseburgers. I know Jay will push to fish if he can cast a fly into water, looking for that elusive pool or auspicious eddy. His announced “Last cast!” never is. “We’re still good,” Jim calls back. I step over the dangerous hole, pass the fallen tree. Jay comes over and tells me he wants to lengthen my leader. “Really?” I’m fine with what he’s given me. But I give up my rod and five minutes later he hands it back, the longer leader holding three flies and a gray weight smaller than a BB. I try a cast. By my third false cast, the flies have bunched together. I begin the tiresome chore of undoing what could soon become insoluble knots. “I can’t do this, Jay!” I call, but he’s nearly out of sight. “Takes practice,” he yells back. “Don’t cast long. Make short throws.” Then he’s gone, along with Jim, beyond the Daisy Fleabane and Goldenrod still holding onto their yellows, beyond burnished Queen Anne’s Lace pods, beyond long shoots of sapphire Big Bluestem. I don’t go after them. After the fifteen or twenty minutes it takes to untangle my knots, I settle for a small whitewater rapid. Lifting the rod over my head, I carefully swing it back and forth two or three times— when the leader again swirls into a flying bird nest. I start back. The waders bake my chest, thighs, legs, and feet, and the wide-brimmed hat presses into my forehead like a tightened tourniquet. My vest feels like every pocket is loaded with shotgun shells. It crosses my mind that I may be dangerously dehydrated—which is when


Richard Holinger I remember the bottle of water. I stop and unzip the vest pocket where I put the sunblock and plastic tea bottle. I drink half the water, then tramp on until I reach the mown grass. There, at the lip of the pool where I missed the trout that Jay caught, I unsnap the waders and pull them down until they accordion around my calves. The black nylon pants underneath drip worms of sweat. Pulling off my vest, I unbutton the denim shirt and pile it next to the vest, leaving me in a long-sleeved t-shirt. It feels like standing under a cold outdoor shower, the soft breeze bath­ ing my parched torso and legs. That’s when it hits me—how vulner­able I am to circumstances that can be catastrophic. I’d decided on bringing water at the last moment, unsure about wanting to carry more weight, doubtful I’d need it on a breezy, 70-degree day. I upend the bottle and drain what’s left. I don’t know how close I’ve come to overheating, heat exhaustion, heat stroke, or severe dehydration, but I promise when I get home to google their definitions and symptoms. I’m tired and hot enough to want no more fishing today. But there, in front of me, is that gurgling, fast-flowing water dropping into a cobalt pool where earlier Jay pulled out a couple. So, with my waders still bunched at my ankles, I shuffle over within throwing distance. Remembering Jay’s instructions, I sweep, not cast, my line, looping it over the fast-flowing water and letting all the three flies float downstream, curve to the far bank, and return to the near bank in an endless circle. I won’t stay here long, won’t wait for another fish or another knotted line. Instead, I’ll pull up my waders, click them in place, tie my denim shirt sleeves around my waist, put my arms through my vest, and trudge back to where the cars are parked next to a corral holding three horses, an Appaloosa and two caramels. Because both cars will be locked (I haven’t asked for either key before heading back), I won’t be able to access my duffle holding my walking shoes or my backpack holding a book of short stories. My phone will be useless—no signal and an empty battery bar—so no speaking to my wife or listening to a recorded book. I might lie down on the slight rise where the wooded path meets the gravel lane to the farmhouse, put my hat over my face to block the sun and close


Chautauqua my eyes. Soon I might hear the brittle timpani of leaves meeting in mid­ air and settling down among others. For now, my rod tip maneuvers the yellow line into the fast current, the leader sweeping out from the shore where nettles and underwater sticks threaten unwanted catch, spreading into the stream’s main flow where the fish wobble to stay in place, wobble to hold themselves steady.



Running Through the Seasons John Gifford


relish the challenge of those frigid afternoons in January, February, and March, when running can seem irrational, even counterproductive. But I do it to test myself. To see if I still have what it takes. When the barometer drops, when the wind whips out of the north, when my neighbors huddle inside their homes with fires crackling in fireplaces, the streets deserted and quiet, I dress in layers—sock hat, gloves, windproof jacket—and head outdoors for few miles. Given the cold, it takes a mile or more to find my rhythm. Eventually, I hit my stride. The cold falls away and I begin to feel like I could run for hours. Wow! says a man pushing his trash can out to the street. You’re dedicated! Really, though, I’m just curious. How’s my body holding up? How strong is my resolve, my mental muscle, my determination to will it to hold up? I test myself to find out. I test myself because I want to know if I’m going to be able to do it again this year. When the big storms roll off the Rocky Mountains and tumble across the Great Plains in April and May, turning the sky purple and dropping hail stones on homes and cars, I lace up my shoes and wait. After the rain stops, I get out on the country roads and meditate to the rhythm of my breathing, metronomic footfalls on the wet pavement, the low rumble of thunder in the distance. Birds chirp and sing. The grasses and weeds are hard-washed and fragrant. I fill my lungs with the clean air. I used to jump over the puddles to keep my shoes dry. Now I run around them. It’s easier and, given the mileage on my ankles and knees, safer. Nearby, a scissor-tailed flycatcher flutters through a field, happy and free. Each stride brings me nearer to this ideal way of being, that I see and feel most clearly when I’m out on the road. When it’s sunny and hot and ninety-nine degrees in the shade, I slather on the sunscreen, pull on my visor and sunglasses, and head out on the road, feeling the heat soak into my bones, massaging my muscles,


Chautauqua keeping my body supple and strong, and pain-free. Gone are the aches of an injured knee. With the gift of sunshine, the blessing of heat, it seems I may never stop running. I pass a man jogging in the opposite direction. Looks like we’re the only two crazy enough to be out here, he says. At least we know we can do it, right? I say between breaths. He doesn’t re­ spond. Or maybe he does and I just don’t hear him. Either way, it’s too hot for talking. I keep moving. The heat is very much like a weight on my shoulders. It’s also a test. Can I still? Yes, I can. Who doesn’t like being outdoors in autumn, on a sunny day when the fields are transforming from green to gold? I especially enjoy being out on the road on Saturday afternoons, during college football games, when others are at home watching television or in frenetic stadiums, cheering, leaving the roads empty and quiet and seemingly forgotten. I love these conditions. This may be the best time of year for running, for thinking, for just being present and savoring the moment. With each stride, each mile, I listen to my body, feeling for the signs of resignation that I have heard about from so many others, that I suspect may be com­ing for me, that I openly challenge and against which I test myself as frequently as possible as a way of measuring my resilience, my resolve to ignore the signs if and when they do come. Defiant. Defiance. My aer­ obic revolt against compliance. As the miles accumulate, my concerns fade into indifference, into the contentment of a steady, sustainable pace and lungs ballooning with fresh air, contracting with relief. At some point I forget them altogether. I keep running.


dirge Sara Moore Wagner

The clouds bend into an eye. There, the cyclops of the afternoon watches even when I am on my back on the roped off biking path. He’s trimmed his beard into a meadow, decorated his eyes violet; all of the grass is long enough to flower, is false wheat. How like Galatea I’ve become, sea nymph loved by Polyphemus, head in the lap of the world. He’s shaved all the sheep to make a blanket for me, trained the turkey vultures to swoop low enough they look like angels. Where is that angel and saint of clover— low to the ground, everything stalks, shakes, is planted, is hopping from place to place—blooming slender, tender and lovely as ice in a glass of wine, how watered down this world is. How clear and ripe: I am unruly. I am a violence and shiver, crushed wasp. I am a rotten strawberry. Unpluck me with your one eye, sun eye, sea eye, yellow eye of evening, shoulders bending down. I am uglier



than you think, a stripped tree, a pocked leaf; carry me past my grave to the river, past the river to the lake, past the lake to his empty cave, the one where he sleeps. Hang me on the wall like a frying pan. I am useful like this. I am a woman who knows how to milk the sky, will bring it to his lips—drink, o smoother of shadow, drink.



Breakers Julie Phillips Brown


he first thing she emphasizes is the size of the surf that morning, and I guess it must have been early dawn because she has always been a morning person, and she was probably at Ove’s beach stand/on the boardwalk/on the beach/in the shallows when she saw the man drown. The man was young, handsome, his longboard tucked under one arm as he walked out, his girlfriend holding his other hand. It happened quickly, so I’ll just tell you: sets of breakers started coming in swift­ly, one on top of another. The man and woman lost their footing. She was pulled under. He dove to save her. He pushed her slick body onto the board, and then the dark swallowed him. She clung to the board while my teenaged mother ran to call the police. The woman lived. Years later, I observe that my mother always seems to be the hero of her own story. My brother shrugs, says, But that’s what everyone does. No, I say. I’m a writer. There’s always more than one way to tell the story. So let’s see. My mother was young once, and when she was young, many things frightened her. When she had her first child, she grew more afraid. Her love lived inside a pillar of fear. The child grew, and her fear grew. When the child was old enough to listen to her stories, she remembered the man she saw drowned. And these were the lessons she wanted to teach: The man should never have gone into the ocean that day. Hold the ocean in fear and awe. Never turn your back. Terrible things can (will) happen. If a man does go into the ocean on a stormy day, his reasons should be sound. A man saves a woman. That is his purpose. A woman lives with her sorrow forever. We try to help anyway. Do your best. I am not the hero of this story. I am drowned with fear. I didn’t know what to do. Sometimes, a woman can’t save a man.


Tick Triptych Noah Davis

I. I’ve checked my father’s body for ticks every day this May, and again, tonight, I press my forefinger against the mole on his left hamstring below the buttock, and again, it is not ridged, nor legged, and again, I find my father’s body unfamiliar, the same way my body must be to him, grown far from the part of himself he left in my mother. II. Out of fear and our own want to feast, my beloved and I strip in the bathroom. I search her ginseng-flower flesh and she inspects my trout-backed skin for parasites that would take the blood we’d promised each other that morning, as we had every morning since the mild winters began and we realized how difficult this promise would be to keep with the woods wrecked full of waiting mouths.


Noah Davis

III. The swollen tick dangles like a fat earring from my lobe. In drinking, the tick is now more me than it, but still I crush the part that is not me.


“You can't regret your life.”

—Salman Rushdie

Life Lessons

North Bay Village Ghazal Lissa Batista

Mother with a bowl of thawed shrimp, a sand bucket, and two fishing rods. She dresses the hook in bait, shoots the line from the first rod. Her body curves out, reels in, the line’s over the horizon—a contrail in the sky. I see her exhale, the bobber in the water; a shrimp hits rock bottom, corroding. Me and Andy race on the deck; I slide like an ’80s song in socks. My mother catches a lobster; a lionfish nibbles, teases, leaves the rod. Our sand bucket stays empty, Mother reels in the venomous ones. I flick the hook through Andy’s belly button with the second rod. Andy’s belly button, a fish mouth; he brags he’s Christina Aguilera. Mother’s hair, a flag wavering; tugging the line in a lullaby, she loosely rods. Mother relaxes, her thoughts in waves, her eyes shore far away from here. The bay lights flicker on; my feet hurt; Mother reels in the rods.


Lissa Batista

I can’t walk. I sit on a plastic pool chair as Mother slides off my socks. Li, your feet filled with splinters; my mother holds Andy over her shoulder, I hold the rods. In another life, Mother would hold me in her left arm, my brother cradled in her right. The bucket of poisonous fish would be dumped, a push with her foot; left on the deck, the rods. Instead, I’m face down in bed, one foot on my mother’s lap, the other on my father’s knee. Andy’s piercing heals; I stop wearing socks; the bowl of shrimp, forgotten in the fridge, eroding.


Lessons I Learned This Summer Ann E. Wallace

If you hold a detested spotted lantern fly in your closed fist, then throw it on the ground, it will become disoriented long enough for you to stomp on it. But first you must not be afraid to catch it. Wipe your shoes and do not despair— you are helping save the trees.

• Overwhelm has been transformed from a verb into a noun by self-care gurus peddling master classes and high fives online. It names the swampy place that holds you fast, there in front of your screen until you find the power to log off, go outside, and listen for your own soft voice too long silenced by the din.

• To reclaim the sanctity of a space, you must be ruthless, rip out the invasive, and replant with seeds and tender shoots that have always sat quiet and overlooked on this bit of earth. You need not do this all in one day.


Ann E. Wallace

The boldest step is the first step, small but intentional, of your feet pointed off the crowded path into the untrampled understory. Trust the next steps to come more easily.


The Sun Is Very Far Away Claire Breslow


ey, K,

Your window is open again—even though it isn’t yours—and the glass still hasn’t been cleaned and that green paint is out of style and it’s also chipped on the left corner and there is dirt and dust and spider webs accumulating in the cracks between the bricks and you can see the tiny little red bugs crawling in and out of the new cement because of the light streaming in, like streamers that hang on the school library doors. I don’t know very much about you, but I know you don’t read much. You are probably somebody who thinks that nothing makes any sense and every single thing written is absolutely incomprehensible, but you are wrong and I think you probably know that if you just try to under­ stand then you will and every single thing about what happened will fall into place and suddenly you will know how more yellow connects to owls in that poem they read you. Actually. I’m just kidding. I don’t get it either. Like how I don’t get how the toilet paper sticks to the floor tiles in the girls bathroom that stay sticking because no wet shoes had trod on them since yesterday’s volleyball meet. Or why the wood that I’m sitting on is so cold even though the sun is beating down on it. I guess the sun is very far away. You would also be very far away. If you are sitting where I’d thought you’d sit— Senora Something’s second period class, two desks to the right of the windowsill—then the sun would be hitting your face. I don’t think you get a lot of sun, although you are outside all the time when you aren’t here. Sometimes I think you think you’re a failure. You’re not, but I think you’ve heard that too many times. And if I’d known you and I’d told you, you would probably not believe me. Or you would be too stupid to care. They say you shouldn’t judge books by their covers, but that’s how I choose which verses I should be confused by next. Based on life, you are probably older than me. But I feel older than you. I’d like to stay here on this ledge for my entire shorter life sometimes. Sometimes               I wonder what I’m doing wrong, K.

r e d r a o H t r Hea nonfiction


he first title of this essay was “All the Men I Love Are Hoarders.” But that wasn’t quite right because some of them are collectors, and some are not. It evolved into “The Men I Have Most Loved Are Hoarders,” which is closer to the truth but leaves out an essential piece: the obsessive collecting of supposedly useless things is—surprisingly— often entwined with a keen sensibility. But this essay is not about men; it’s about me. I fall in love with societal outcasts. What appears to others as a pathology is—to me—an atavism to earlier time when ancient people ingeniously charred the end of sticks to draw on cave walls. That’s as close to an explanation as I have. There’s an urge to have, to hold, and to leave a mark, or if not to leave a mark, to build an enclosure for the self. A fortress of stuff gathered up the way children use their arms to sweep sand into fragile walls and castles. It’s guilelessness I understand. material hoarding is the stuff of reality TV. A compulsion so disturb­ ing, we want to look away but cannot. They fascinate us, the piles, the filth, the way a home is more mouse-midden on steroids than human habitat. Goat paths, they call the narrow pathways that wind through piles of papers, bags of refuse, collapsed and stained cartons,


Melanie S. Smith

and unidentifiable rot. All my associations are horrific. Thin-limbed children outside Mumbai scrambling over a Sisyphean mound of steaming garbage for salvage or food scraps. My obese aunt’s refrigerator, crammed so tightly with spoiled food that snow had formed around the freezer door. Even the inside of a Walmart, smelling of off-gassed petrochemicals and piled with discount plastics that will be in landfills within a week. I can’t help but think of Job’s suffocating ordeal on the dung heap. A hoarder’s habitat often barricades its resident from the outside world, or perhaps more accurately imprisons them. What kind of a person would elect to live in such an environment? I remember Rose, the octogenarian across the street from the house in which I raised my now grown son. Tiny and bent, Rose nonetheless crept around her English-garden front yard to prune flowers and trim the hedge. Once she even climbed out on the roof to scoop rotten leaves out of the gutter, until I telephoned the man next store and had him go over to coax her back from her precarious perch. Still, she was the embodiment of moxie, and I was curious. The November day my son and I were making gingerbread and ran out of baking powder, we crossed the street and knocked on Rose’s door. She opened it barely a crack, releasing a hot fetid wind. Yes, she had baking powder, she said, and shut the


Chautauqua door to fetch it, leaving us on the stoop outside. Later I opened the halfempty can to find a concrete pebble of unusable powder. The expiration date on the can was 1987—the baking powder was over ten years old. One frigid night the following February, we were awakened by the sound of a fire truck. I looked out the window to see the red engine and an ambulance. “I hope she hasn’t died,” I told my son when Rose’s front door opened and two EMTs emerged bearing a figure on a stretch­er. But a minute later, Rose followed, wrapped in a blanket and supported by a firefighter. I had lived on the street for three years, never once having seen another person enter or leave Rose’s house. The next day, it bore a crisscrossed barrier of yellow crime scene tape, and the neighbors wandered out to share what they knew. Rose, it seemed, had an elderly wom­an companion who had fallen and been found on the floor next to a stopped-up toilet, having lain there for days before an ambulance was called. There was no more information than that. A few days later, seven white trucks pulled up and men in hazmat suits got out. They ripped open the tape and entered the house, emerging one by one with enormous black bags full to near bursting. This ritual lasted three days, and when they had finished, one of the men told me they had filled 700 bags and four trucks. “She had newspapers from World War II,” he said. “Wall to wall stuff. The kitchen is pristine, exactly the way it was built in the 1930s. But the whole place stinks.” A year later, Rose’s niece had taken over the house, clipped back the flowers and restored the lawn, and I never saw Rose again. there’s the obvious freudian response: “Your father must be a hoard­er too.” But my father is a purger, the anti-hoarder, unless you think of his discarding things as a hoarding of space reclaimed from my mother’s boxes of old photographs, dried out tubes of paint from her art school days, basketry and dried flowers, and freebie knickknacks and mugs acquired at the casino. My mother wasn’t a true hoarder though when she died, my sisters counted sixty pairs of unused slacks in her closet and several dressers full of unworn shirts and sweaters in


Melanie S. Smith a variety of sizes, under which she had stashed the scattered contents of our baby books: cards, envelops with locks of our first haircuts, and an occasional knit bootie. The rest of the house was like a 1970s spread from House Beautiful. Ethan Allen furniture, matching drapery, cut crystal candy dishes, and a reproduction grandfather clock. All except the attic, which my elderly father routinely tours to complain about all the boxes of “shit” up there. Occasionally he goes on a tear, particularly since my mother died, and trashes irreplaceable family heirlooms along with the baskets and crumbling flowers. His dislike of useless things is equal in measure to the hoarder’s love of the same, and so they share one reference point, like two mirrored faces on the same locket’s hinge. My first love was not my father but my maternal grandfather, a wiry Sicilian whose head was encircled by a wreath of smoke from the cig­ arette that dangled perennially from a yellowed lower lip and whose oversized hands, best suited for boxing, were gentle to the touch—except when they were flinging dishes of food he thought my grand­mother had improperly prepared. Nonno had a volcanic temper—he had grown up in the shadow of Mt. Etna before immigrating to the United States—reserved for Nanna alone. He treated me, his first grandchild, with nothing short of devotion. “You are the apple of my eye,” he proclaimed when I was about four, what the poet Gwendolyn Brooks de­ scribed as a “gobbling mother-eye” and that I had to ask my mother to explain. I knew that I need only ask and the child sitting on his knee would be nudged off so I could take the throne. The aromas of tobacco and shaving cream and sweat, and sometimes sawdust, clung to his yellowed white undershirt and his polyester pants were slippery under my legs. Collectively, a thrilling elixir, particularly when Nanna put on a Dean Martin or Frank Sinatra record and Nonno danced me around the room, each of my feet on each of his and those big warm mitts hold­ ing me close. Unlike my father, Nonno did not have a pickup truck in which to carry his tools. He drove an emerald green station wagon crammed with tools and hardware: hammers, rotary saws, drills, levels, glass cutters, nails, screws, putty, and so on. A two-story ladder was affixed to the roof. I loved being in that car. It smelled of stale cigarette smoke and hot


Chautauqua vinyl, and whenever he made a turn, the entire contents of the back audibly shifted and the ladder on the top swung slightly like a pendulum from one side or the other. But his talk rather than his car proffered evidence of hoarding. He amassed longstanding grudges and equally long­ standing misinformation, and it came out in a consistent stream even years later, when he suffered from dementia. The grudges were against the fat cats, the Republicans, Nixon, the “chiselers” (‘big business’), the Cincinnati Reds (the baseball analog of Republicans) and, of course, my grandmother, who could never seem to cook, drive, or play a game of cards to his satisfaction. His encyclopedic misinformation was fascinating and often nauseating. A bit of charcoal on the tongue helped with indigestion. You could remove a boil from the back of the neck by pressing it with a warmed glass bottle that sucked out the pus when it cooled. Cats always land on their feet, which he demonstrated by dropping my kitten a few feet (an experiment I copied by throwing our cat out a second-story window—it ran away). Drinking a raw egg in red wine fortified one’s constitution. Olive oil cured everything from excessive ear wax to toenail fungus. The ship that had carried him to America had lost its power in an Atlantic storm and when it entered New York harbor a week late, his favorite meal of pasta with chickpeas was prepared at Ellis Island for the half-starved passengers (I have never found historic documentation of this disaster). Hysterical women could be calmed with a knuckle punch to the chin, which he had delivered when Nanna freaked out during her first driving lesson. And so on. I begged him to tell his preposterous tales—except for the ones about abusing my grandmother—again and again. Now I think about where these fabulous threads were spun. In Sicily, where cats dropped like rain? In a tenement in East Boston, where people poured olive oil into ears and swigged raw eggs? Each is a bit of color in the textile that is my grandfather, a fiery, stinky, would-be pugilist who withheld nothing from me. His best wisdom, his weirdest stories, his authentic self—including his confessed rage—was an open book. my mother’s brother, Nonno’s son and my only immediate uncle, was an ordinary postal worker by night and a philatelist, collector of Bette


Melanie S. Smith Davis memorabilia, and expert on the French Revolution the rest of the time. In his later years, he created small sculptures with clay, shells, buttons, glitter, and paper clips, and painted them with acrylic paints. The last time I visited him, he drew out from under his bed an enormous tray of rocks—a hundred or more—that he had painted with bright colors and shellacked. “My little friends,” he smirked with a knowing wink. His creations were his therapy, he said; as a child he had been relentlessly bullied by school mates for what was then called “crossed eyes” and—according to my uncle—by his father for being a “mama’s boy.” I adored my uncle for the same reasons I loved Nonno and because his divulging a trauma history earned my trust. When in my lonely thirties, suffering from depression so severe I contemplated suicide, I telephoned him and he scooped me up in his car and drove me to a beach that we walked, headlong into bracing wind, as I cried and he urged me, “That’s right, get it all out.” Then we visited Nanna’s grave so he could talk to “Mama,” with whom he was close. Afterwards we people-watched from a café window, and he made me laugh by pointing out the “throwaway people” who were far more pathetic than us. Cruel, but it worked. A collector of stamps and art books and 78 records of Italian opera, sad songs in a language I didn’t understand except that, sitting at a table with my uncle as he fed me a plate of olives, anchovies, and crusty bread, I understood: the undertow of melancholy, briny and bitter, that is lost love. What makes all of this hoarding is the insistent quality of the accumulation and how, over time, the stuff itself—the sounds, the textures, the olives, rocks, and window putty—become a tide of singularly evocative experience, the physical and sensory embodiment of what T.S. Eliot called the “objective correlative,” but attached to an indi­vidual rather than to words. my college boyfriend and first love was a bearded Quaker entirely ill at ease with tools, but he knew American roots music because he had been collecting it since adolescence. Chuck Berry, Aretha Franklin, and Jimmy Rogers among others crammed the shelves that lined his bedroom. I developed music appreciation sitting on the floor, listening as he spun old vinyl on a turntable. Not surprisingly, after college, he


Chautauqua would grow an even longer beard and a ponytail and create a job for himself as college archivist, collecting letters, photographs, and memorabilia from the institution’s founding fathers. My first husband was a wealthy hoarder of money, which is not useless, but for him was a means of power and control. In the ninth month of my pregnancy, he got the crazy idea that I would abscond with his thousands and bear our child in some unknown location; this fantasy was the culmination of months of his increasingly paranoid and narcissistic delusion. He deposited all our savings in a personal account so that I had to request money for groceries, gas, and other necessities. Years later, he dragged out custody proceedings that I was certain to win solely to bleed dry the retirement account with which I intended to pay my attorney. By then he was a millionaire many times over, and I had nothing but some equity in a house and my 401k, which is all to say, along with his money he hoarded hatred, perhaps the most useless possession of all. My second husband was the son of the kind of hoarder on TV shows, and he inherited all her stuff. It moldered in a garage so chock full, the door could not be raised: old furniture, silver, and rotting photograph albums reached all the way to the ceiling and blocked the garage door mechanism. The marriage didn’t last because, among other things, he loved his antiques more than he loved me. My third husband hoarded the fleeting joys that are the province of those who die too young. A butterfly wing, a sunflower, a tidal pool, sunlight on the cheek of one’s beloved. I know because I gave him a tablet on which to jot estate-related tasks for me, but instead he recorded moments of happiness and dropped them inside a decorative pitcher. Cancer claimed him five months after we married, and I inher­ited the bewilderment of those who are left behind, too young, along with a jugful of folded notes that were more like psalms. “I loved hearing you sing in the shower this morning,” said one, and another, “I’m glad you are writing again.” The notes were a reminder: love life as the dying do. Three marriages is a lot by some standards, including those of the youngest sister who thinks but never says that I am a “slut.” “You’ve


Melanie S. Smith had so many boyfriends,” she’s said with more than a hint of disapproval. I think of it differently. A person who, despite relational trauma as it’s politely called, continues to seek love is one somehow undaunted by the prospect, which is to say, a person who wants to heal. The beloved husband who died too young loved me with a singularly fierce devotion, and I returned the same. The experience changed me for the better…though it also left me with the wisdom that death defines life. the “affair” began innocently enough six years after my husband died, the way most romances do today, through an online dating site. I had scrolled through hundreds of male profiles, most sporting an I-justcaught-a-fish photograph, second only to pictures of motorcycles. But not this one. A handsome mustachioed man in rubberized overhauls knelt in briny water looking at a tray of seed clams or “baby bivalves,” as he would later call them. His face was partly turned toward a second man, but his expression was nonetheless visible: pride and even joy. Later I would learn that he had no children, had been married once for mere months, and lived an eremitic life surrounded by books and tools. But what I saw was the biblical Joseph, kneeling and reverent. I've landed on your profile a bunch of times and I like it. I’ve just come from Nova Scotia, where my father's people were fishermen and blueberry farmers. It's a no-bullshit place, where they are from, with thrifty people who could take care of themselves. I love it there. So I thought I'd say hello. If I could take a year off and do what I like, I'd hang around a boatbuilding place. Dories maybe. I also confessed to a dislike of the way men name-dropped kayaking as a signal of virtue before signing with my real name, which was concealed on the site. I was completely surprised when he wrote back. Hello interesting Melanie. Actually, my father's people were from Cape Breton, at least my grandmother. A mad lot, I'm told, not having been there I only have my father's tall tales to go on. Don't get me started on plastic kayaks— I'll make an exception for double-paddle lapstrake canoes which are sexy little things, but those injection molded speed bumps on the water, argh. May I commend to your attention John Gardner's The Dory Book, if you're not familiar with it already? My old man was a carpenter, and cabinetmaker, furniture guy, Naval


Chautauqua architect/marine engineer manqué, and a boat-builder. He trained me. With a love for tools, some skills, and a curiosity, I've spent my life chasing to the det­riment of everything else. My specialty was wooden commercial boats. 40 feet and up. Usually a one-man show, training helpers as I went. And there's a couple others around here, small boat guys mainly. And some of us like to row. He directed me to a photograph of a pretty boat and an ugly guy…Neanderthal posture and the hands like baseball gloves. And you can see the seats and the tracks [the boats] run on, like a Head of the Charles shell, so it’s not just arms and shoulders but rather legs, back, arms, recover, using the strength of the legs to add in quite a lot of power and endurance. You can’t see the oars…The blades are tiny but you can pull them hard so they flex and twang just a little. They sing to you. A boat whose oars sang, bearing a guy—this guy—with hands made for building them. The oars sang to the boat, and though he didn’t know it, “Micky” was singing to me. Poetry. Maybe it's historic memory or having just returned from the foggy coast of Nova Scotia, but …is it possible that a dory can express longing? They are quiet poetry, not to be too stinky fartsy about it, but it's like the bucket of old tools my father gave me that I take out just to hold. Like fuck, I'm in suburbia where dreams go to die, but my peeps practically lived in boats, and maybe it's in my DNA? He wrote back within hours. Rediscovering who you may very well be is priceless and never too late. I sometimes sing while I row. I row better than I sing, but the songs keep me on regular pace. And keep the gulls at a distance. I replied: My father was born near Digby but grew up on the Argyle Sound and in a little village called Sandford, which boasts the world's smallest draw bridge. I used to hate going over that bridge to get to the boat, so Grampy would haul me under his arm. The place hasn't changed. Two roads, two churches, and a wharf with boats. I remember scanning for Grampy’s boat with a telescope mounted over the kitchen sink so we'd know when to have supper. Nova Scotians speak more slowly, move more slowly, and say a lot less. I like it that way. Last time I came, my uncle took me clamming. It was morning but


Melanie S. Smith we drank beer and dug for hours, then filled up a pot with sea water and set it over a fire. Sat with blankets over our laps and ate steamers, pickles, and beer. A perfect day. My new friend wrote with emergent tenderness: I can picture you as a little girl on the waterfront, with your wee boots and your wee slicker, setting out. We have clams here, of course. We also have mussels and fish and lobsters and crabs and ducks and geese and more. I have a boat not unlike that red one in your picture, though mine is white, and depending on the tide and the season I will load on what’s needed and set off. There is the Inlet, where the tide rushes through to fill or empty the marsh. Some days the seas come in and you don’t want to get caught there, instead making your way through the channels to the inside of the spit, the barrier beach, where you can nap and cook and eat, pitch­ ing the shells back into the water where they came from. They have an oyster festival here in October, once a nice little hometown thing it’s now a nightmare of jammed streets and crowds, as an epidemiologist you’ll understand why I avoid it… I used to grow oysters for a living. Fried oysters, lovely, oyster stew simple, creamy and rich and delicious, grand, roasted over coals, sublime. Raw with handling I can’t really trust, as I am surrounded by drunken plague rats in colorful t-shirts and foolish hats as they stream in and out of the beer tent…I will give that a miss. The first hint of prickle, but—I wrote—“with a sensitive underbelly.” “Prickles—like those on a thistle—are there for a reason,” said Micky. Like the baggage that so many want to avoid; if you don’t have them, just what the fuck did you do with your life, that you went through it so serenely that there are no scars, no aches when you move a particular way? Nothing but carefree happy-happy-joy-joy? Give me a fucking break. If you really give a damn, you’re going to get hurt. And get scarred. Hopefully, the hurts aren’t like full thickness burns, where the sensation receptors are gone and no more feeling is possible. Ah! He had waded into a topic of shared ire—the commonly confessed preference for companions with “no drama,” a phrase I interpreted as “I lack emotional intelligence and do not know how to do relationship repair.” If you’d lived, you’d had drama: births, illness, deaths;


Chautauqua tragedies, traumas, angers. The notion that life should be “happy-happy-joy-joy,” as Micky put it, was childish. And the second ah! He was direct and unafraid to speak his mind, in writing, no less. On a whim, I sent him my latest essay, a travelogue of my body, including thinning hair, scars from brain surgery, and an ample “Italian bum.” The title page bore a black-and-white photograph of my back; mostly muscle, nothing titillating. Or so I thought. I’m a fool for a nice back, the definition on either side of the spine denoting strength. Good shoulders, interesting earlobes. Nice neck. Fuck style, and fuck makeup. One of my litmus tests is “Does she spend more on books or her nails?” Give me ‘striking,’ ‘arresting,’ something that holds my attention. You pass. I have a bony ridge on top of my skull, side to side. Trophy of a collision with the top of a bus doorway, absent mindedly leapt from the top step to the ground rather than the bottom. I call it a trophy, not a scar. You have trophies, too. I suck at taking care of myself. Both parents died at 60, cancer. I had no plans for making it this far. Hell, I had every expectation of finishing up in a rice paddy in 1973 so I made no plans. If you want an explanation of the madness that overtook young men in the ’70s, we didn’t expect to live past 25. The third ah. Melanie and broken men. There was a history. I had thought about it, how working-class men are crushed under the foot of bigger businesses, how they struggle to house, clothe, and feed their families, and how, when they are of immigrant stock, as both my parents were, they have a high bar to jump, as if cutting lumber or digging earth were a proving ground for their value as Americans. And prove it they did, at some cost. Ill health, physical or emotional violence, countless lottery tickets, and as they neared life’s end, a belief that they have somehow failed. They didn’t golf, join country clubs, have second homes, or trav­ ­el abroad. They cut their own grass and shoveled their own snow, and when a tool or appliance broke down, they fixed it themselves. America is no longer a proving ground for thrift, even if it attests to a resourcefulness once necessary for survival. Perhaps that’s why I identified with my forebears and not the rich husband I married and divorced. The


Melanie S. Smith kind of man who would call a fix-it guy for a stopped drain or a radiator that bangs. The kind of man whose success exists but for the reliability of the lesser but more resourceful laborer. If the broken man is the resourceful one, that’s the guy I want. I would have guessed that you don't take good care of yourself, like the word fuck—it’s—a good word—maybe have a motorcycle, and are wicked smaht, as we say. That you eschew bullshit (eschew is a good word too). It sort of radiates from your photograph, which has a “Fuck you if you don't like it” undertone. The kind of guy who runs toward the spears, as I like to say. Something I wrote elicited “a roar of laughter. You’ve done a good job of figuring me out so far.” Yes, I go towards the danger, often the safest way out. Always been lonely. Lived in my own world, maybe, or was outside looking in. Brief moments of fellow feeling, perhaps, when I could let it down, but most of the time the line of retreat was open and screaming at me to run away. Been on my own…since I was about seven, when my father was driven away. I won’t say I embraced loneliness, more like a dog that always walked alongside me, sometimes a pain in the ass, sometimes it’s the only thing there is. Which is why there were always books and learning. This I also understood. My loneliness was a vulture that robbed me of sleep. How many men not only understood but could express such pain? I was so enamored of Micky that I checked my email multiple times a day, a smile creeping over my face when I saw his name. We wrote to one another so often that I created a folder solely for our correspondence. I had one other folder like this, the contents of which consisted of the first emails from my beloved husband. I don’t remember how, just that at this point, Micky and I exchanged photographs. His was a selfie, but not the kind from a smart phone; the image suggested a smudged and more primitive lens. And from the looks of it, he was sitting on an unmade bed in a room whose battered furniture was draped with clothes. More important, he was shirtless, an interesting choice since there was almost nothing overtly sexy about him. His hairy shoulders were round and strong, and his chest was hairy too,


Chautauqua with pecs that had softened but not yet become feminine. There was a hint of belly with darker hair, as if ageing had started top-down and hadn’t yet reached his midsection. Or the hand that touched his face. Brown and thick and beautiful, a seemingly ageless hand both sensual and competent. I studied the hand, and lastly, the face. Surrounded by wild white hair and a beard, and with a handsome nose, he stared back from even wilder eyes—dark, with points of fire in the center. Mirth or self-deprecation, I couldn’t tell. Perhaps the smudgy lens and the messy room should have been the first clue. But the eyes and hands transfixed me. Can one’s hands transmit a writing sensibility? Weirder still, I imagined that meaty hand in my mouth, fingers glid­ ing over my tongue, and I shivered. Micky had found a visual essay on making sourdough bread that I posted to my blog; there were no photographs of me, only of my hands mixing the slurry and kneading the dough. He boldly wrote, I like your hands to a degree that’s almost perverse. Sexy, competent, prob­ ably taste pretty good too. The photos you have with your writing: It seems a little, oh, disingenuous perhaps, for lack of a better word at the moment, that you’re not nude. Your writing, well, it leaves you naked, completely open to whoever sees it. Am I getting protective or selfish? A few hours passed before I got another message, raunchy and bold and thrilling. You on your back. Starting at your forehead, kissing and licking and nibbling my way down, special attention to the breasts. And further, navel, and further, pulling panties down and following them, one leg then the other, with my mouth. And then coming back slowly, insides of the thighs, legs spreading wider. You know what comes next…tell me what it is. What came next was that I laughed and laughed and laughed. I noted also that he said “breasts” and not “tits,” though selective profanities followed. He understood the power of the forbidden to titillate. So did I. Most men go straight to the fucking and miss the good stuff. The unbut­toning,


Melanie S. Smith unzipping, the peeling. The insides of elbows and ankles, the backs of knees. I laughed again when he wrote back as an afterthought, “Oh, by the way—tell me that you’re not actually covered with tattoos.” Email sex. I hadn’t ever engaged, but it set me on fire. Alone in my little house, I made what he had described as “sounds that aren’t words.” Loudly. So loudly, I scared the cat. what comes next is I drove two hours to meet him at a midpoint; I got out of my car and he got out of his truck, and we practically ran to one another. He touched my face and searched my eyes, and we kissed with such passion that I thought I would break. Except that’s not what happened. There were more emails…many more. And presents—a boat-build­ ing book and an apple peeler—that suggested Micky better knew me than the rich former husband whose gifts of jewelry and a fancy car had failed to elicit the requisite obsequy, not because I was ungrateful but because of my utilitarian aesthetic. Then I suggested we meet, and Micky replied that he needed to take things slowly. So slowly that the emails were sapped of their juice and evolved into grocery lists—poetic, yes— but long and detailed annotations of the Market Basket weekly flyer. Then recipes, sometimes three in a day, and detailed descriptions of the contents of at least two freezers, filled as a bulwark against lean times. Updates on the jammed guns, shattered keyboards, three-legged tables, and dull-bladed knives he was cleaning, fixing, and sharpening. Micky, it seemed, was not only retired but also disabled by crippling pain. He lived off a combination of retirement income and an inheritance, and in almost indiscernible increments, revealed another kind of scar. Macbeth ‘…this petty pace, from day to day” ; I’m not just boats and unbridled lust, you need to know. I’m not rich. So, food stamps, freebies. I also get most of my clothes from the local charity shop, I hit the dump for this and that, top end pots and pans and such, power tools that people chuck out because they are not flavor of the month. If I have a hobby, it is fixing and restoring tools. The excess, and I include kitchen stuff, I give away—kids starting out, that sort of thing.


Chautauqua But I wasn’t quite ready to accept it. Half the things in my own home were pieces I found on the curb—chairs and trunks and even fully functioning lamps. People are not their stuff or lack of their stuff. I am not my stuff. I've given away a lot of it. I have a rich sister who wouldn't help me pay my rent when I was having a tough time. I have another sister who wasn't rich at the time, and she wrote a check, no questions. It's the rich who are stingy. Then I added, I do hope I have the chance to lie next to you so you can speak into the darkness, then kiss me. He replied, with the poetic brilliance that I had grown to expect, about the hour before dawn. That’s my favorite part of the day, as the light grows in the East. Best, steer­ ing a big boat Northeast, stars dimming and the sky changing from black to yellow to blue, a swell to climb and then ease down, sea slick calm. Nothing on the horizon. Being the only thing in the world. It was the lyric version of something he had written earlier: I’m not an everyday man. I need time alone. Time alone was a necessity I had demanded from any man I had ever tried to love. Time to write, to putter, to sing to myself. As a new mother, I rose several hours before dawn so I could sit at my laptop and write. Solitude was an intimacy I craved; that stretch of time sift­ ing through words for exactly those that expressed my interiority, as I called it, wasn’t a luxury. As both writer and trauma survivor, my interior place was like a windswept desert at night, a black dome pierced by stars overhead. There I felt comforted by the knowledge of my own insignificance and with darkness I did not fear but welcomed. There had never been another person in that place, not even my beloved husband. I had been thinking that Micky was that one. And Micky was thinking that I was that one, too, I guessed…because he never said so. When I told him I thought I could love him, the emails stopped. Radio silence, so big it was loud. It hadn’t occurred to me that love could feel like fire to a person who’s been burned. That a person could run from a thing precisely because they so badly longed for it.


Melanie S. Smith It hadn’t occurred to me that Micky had never actually intended for us to meet because he didn’t want to be known. Living behind walls, actual or metaphorical, was necessary safety, and a person—a woman, a lover—who breached that enclosure was a clear and present danger. One day on a whim, I looked up his address, then typed it in an in­ stant street view finder. His was a small house behind overgrown shrubbery, the shrubbery itself obscured by piles and piles of junk. It didn’t change the way I felt. The man could quote Kipling in one paragraph and in the next, give instructions on rewiring my thermostat. The day he wrote, “A dory speaks poetry to water,” I swooned. What kind of woman would discern within a hoarder’s den of de­ spair a heart so true, so piercing in its clarity of feeling, unbroken in the ways that most count, that I could not help but fall in love? I had seen hoarding on TV. The piles of clothing, broken furniture and appliances, and trash. And maybe that’s the difference between them and the hoarder I would discover myself to be—a hoarder of glimmers of light, flickers of color, hints of warmth. A woman who seeks any glimpse of a loving heart and stores it away like a chickadee, who gathers seeds all season long and hides some away not solely for the upcoming winter but for winters beyond. Chickadees are hard-wired for the promise of tomorrow. Loneliness is born of daring to want, which like seed-gathering, is attached to a future. I could love micky because I was a hoarder, too. Of words, of memory, of image and insight. In writer’s craft workshops we speak of “killing the darlings”—the pieces or sections in a written piece that we cling to most fiercely, and yet, that need to be axed for sake of better work. Surrendering the darlings is painful, so much so that I have pages and pages of excised work that I keep in a folder on my laptop. Actually, so many folders that I can’t keep track, as if the discarded memory, image, or insight is one I will need again. I save the piece before and after semantic surgery, renaming the shrunken file and backing up all my work. Perhaps I should call my zip files “zip piles,” because if they were pages, they’d form a maze. Someone would one day find my lifeless body fallen


Chautauqua among the printed copies of essays I published and the many essays— and half a dozen novels—that I have not, as well as poems, journal entries, work that I began but did not finish, notebooks with craft notes and story ideas, and—yes—emails so rich in meaning that not to preserve them would be a literary crime. The writer Peter Scheldjahl speaks of the writerly obsession in “The Art of Dying”: Writing consumes writers. No end of ones better than I am have said as much. The passion hurts relationships. I think off and on about people I love, but I think about writing all the time. Material hoarders are hoarding all the time. That wooden knife handle that should not be discarded—it just needs a blade. The shirt we haven’t worn in years may well be the exact one we need at some future date as yet unknown. The yellowing carpentry books we have cracked not in service to building anything but because we love running a fingertip over the century-old etchings of tools and techniques, nothing short of art. A glass jar collection, because glass is glass, goddamn it; it gave us eyeglasses, windows, and medical equipment, and fucking changed the world. Jars are the heirs of the artisans of Mesopotamia in the same way volumes of poetry on a shelf are a permanent salon of bygone writers. Both remind us: There is nothing more important than the work. Writing hurts relationships. The collecting and amassing of words is a kind of spiritual undertaking in service to “the great book I will write one day.” And while many of us pray for a fat book contract, we know that, even with that, we would continue, perhaps obsessively, to write. Because writing is also a deeply intimate mining of our own interiority for riches we hope to share. It is a selfishly unselfish pursuit, much like the karma yoga of which Krishna spoke in The Bhagavad Gita: the path of dedicated work: renouncing the results of our actions as a spiritual offering rather than hoarding the results for ourselves. It is such a razor-sharp path that few will stick with it. “Get up, wake up,” says The Katha Upanishad. “Sharp like a razor’s edge is the path, the sages say, difficult to traverse.” And there is “In the beginning, the Word was God, and the Word


Melanie S. Smith was with God.” Subject to much debate about translation from the orig­ inal Greek, but I think of it as reasoning and consciousness as God; “the word” as the means to communicate our emotions and thoughts, and in so doing, to evolve a more compassionate humanity. Seen that way, a collection of words is analogous to Jacob’s ladder, taking us not to a biblical heaven but to the ultimate belongingness, what The Upanishads calls “the imperishable,” Brahman, the peace that passeth understand­ ing. Writer as seeker—ironically, a solitary one—on fire to know and be known. i lay awake at night, thinking. A writer is a hoarder. A writer is a seeker. A hoarder is therefore a seeker. Micky wrote beautifully; what was he seeking? I closed my eyes and conjured the mental image of an inert figure frozen in no-man’s land, the narrow stretch between two opposing trenches. A soldier down in no-man’s land dares not move; if he is shot, a pitiless death is certain. But if he stays put, he bleeds to death, an equally pitiless death. Those on the sidelines risk their own deaths if they attempt a rescue, and the anguish of powerlessness if they do not. For me to remain in contact with Micky, I’d have to sign on to staying in the trenches rather than crawling out to pull him to the safety of human attachment, assuming he’d even let me. I knew he wouldn’t. I’d have to surrender not only need, but the ability to express it. The most perplexing piece of all: he would never tell me to get lost. He’d never say “I love you,” but he wouldn’t say “I don’t love you,” either. Deciding what to do was left entirely up to me. I thought of Rose’s companion, found near death on a bathroom floor. I thought also of another house, confiscated by the town, for space to build a new fire station. The male inhabitant received a hefty sum to vacate, but the house was crammed so full of stuff, it could not be emptied. The Department of Public Works brought in an excavator and


Chautauqua crushed it while the neighborhood gathered across the street to watch. “I hope there’s no corpse inside,” I said darkly as the bucket made its first plunge. “There was, years ago,” said a woman behind me. “The mother of the guy who lived there died, and he kept her dead body in the house for years.” It was the son and not the mother, stuck in no-man’s land, but she had opted to stay, able neither to rescue him nor walk away. That wouldn’t be my choice. I’d worked too hard to accept a life of inertia. I walked away. Months after falling in love with Micky, I met another man who developed an interest in me. Paul loved wood; he could look at a piece of old furniture and identify the tree, when the piece was made, and even where, by the kind of bug that had chewed through it. A carpenter by trade, he had a shiny red pickup truck that he weekly drove to the dump, primarily so he could look for wooden things. He brought me an antique dough board that he had sanded and rubbed with walnut oil, “to cover the smell of chopped onions,” he said. “Did you use it too cook something?” I asked, sniffing but smelling nothing. “No, someone else did. I can smell the history in wood.” Another genius, this one a confessed hoarder who had been forced to confront his compulsion when a fire consumed his workshop and sent its contents—tools, lumber, furniture he had made, and countless bits and parts of broken things—up in tarry black smoke. His protection destroyed, he crawled toward the trenches and was now, in his seventies, working to heal. I fell in love not with him but with his neurodivergent affinity for wood. “I want to follow you around with a tape recorder,” I said, “and write down everything you say.” Because I am a hoarder, too, though while a true hoarder’s midden becomes a monumental armor, my writing is a monument to love.


Melanie S. Smith hoarding is the collection of so-called useless things, but hearts both physical and metaphoric are not useless. Perhaps the title of this essay should be “I’ll Take the Hoarder.” Perhaps all that collecting and fixing of broken things—like my search for the best words—is the symbolic fixing of the broken self and the merest wisp of a reason to be hopeful. Somewhere out there may be the collector who sees in me the boon of his ilk—a thing passed over by a predecessor lacking the discernment to recognize riches—and is ready to brave escape.


A Late Freeze Marisa P. Clark

Winter waited until its end to throw down snow that heaped in yards, frosted streets and sidewalks, and stacked on branches that sagged with the weight. A string of bitter days, all at once becoming commonplace. In a driveway a car idles, tailpipe blasting exhaust. A man scrapes ice from the windshield. A woman looks on. When will the world give back its warmth, its birdsong? Birds huddle, feathers puffed, bodies plumped. All of us do the best we can to stay warm. The woman pulls on boots, treks into the yard, shakes seed on top of snow, fills the feeders. When they’re ready, the birds will feast. The clouds: a barricade to light. The sun’s best effort: perpetual dusk. Inside, the woman rubs her hands to bring heat. They’re ruddy, chapped. She should moisturize. Repay herself with love for all the work and care her hands provide. She was a mother once, she was someone’s wife. She wants warmth, to give


Marisa P. Clark

warmth where it’s wanted, the way she wants. She lights a fire. The kindling smolders, slow to take. She zips her sweater to her chin, smooths an afghan on her lap, sips tea so hot it scalds. She can’t decide what she wants to do with the day, but wanting reassures. Wanting means the day won’t go to waste. She will make herself useful in some way. She rises, like the first blue wisp of smoke rising from the chimney, signaling warmth even if no one sees.


“I am the sum total of everything that went before me, of all I have been seen done, of everything done-to-me. I am everyone everything whose being-in-the-world affected was affected by mine. ” —Salman Rushdie

life of the Spirit

The Essence of Shirley Linda Albert



hirley is a woman of the earth. That’s what distinguishes her. Tall and lithe, she strides rather than walks—Paul Bunyan style—wher­ ever she goes. There is a loamy smell to her, always a hint of the garden in her hair—a leaf, a twig—or maybe it just appears so. She gives the feeling she is young, almost a girl, except her hair has hints of gray in it, and there are laugh lines around her mouth. Her gray-green eyes are softened by creases that radiate from the corners. But it is her hands you notice—long fingers, yet square. Strong hands. Hands you can tell at a glance have kneaded dough, chopped wood, changed diapers, tended the sick, caressed a lover, comforted an old person, and closed the eyes of the dead. It is these hands that mesmerize me as I sit in her garden and visit with her. It is a desert garden. The predominant color is adobe brown. But the saguaro cactus and hints of lemon and crimson flowers tucked into the crevices of rock—reflected in the cobalt sky and framed by the mountains beyond—feed my eyes with their hints of passion and graphic testimony of repose. I have asked her to tell me again about the early days, gathering more nuances—her girlhood in Minneapolis, her first marriage, her move to the New Mexico, being widowed the first time at thirty-eight, the way she learned to cope. She describes her life with her hands—weaving, painting, encircling the events as she talks. I see the past described through her fingers as though I am a deaf person, and she is telling me her life story in signs. I never tire of watching her tell it. She is wearing a long cotton dress—perhaps muslin—brick-colored,

like the adobe beyond her. Her strong feet are clad in sandals. The toes are long and supple and almost as brown as the earth. She has just celebrated another birthday. She is eighty-eight years old, and has already out-lived three husbands, all her sisters and brothers, a brain damaged grandchild, and too many friends. Her only daughter lives in another state. Now, she chooses to live alone. Though in actual truth, it is hard to imagine aloneness in one so whole as she. “At my age, there are plenty of ghosts for company,” she tells me, including them in her smile. I feel taken into her very body by the openness of her words, connect­ ­ed at the core, and somehow more complete. It is nearly dark. I am expected elsewhere. I stand to leave, gathering my things reluctantly: my stylish white straw shoulder bag, the muffins she has insisted I take home with me, the goddess-shaped rock I found on the path leading to her house. “Come again,” she chuckles. “Soon. By tonight, I’ll forget I told you those old stories and be all fired up to tell them again.” She walks with me to the car, telling me I feel like a daughter to her. “They must have gotten the babies mixed up in the hospital,” she declares, for the umpteenth time. “The mothers, too,” I think. No matter that Shirley’s marriage to my father-in-law—five years after the death of his first wife, my cold, strange mother-in-law—had been so difficult and so brief. It turned out to be a blessing for both of us. We agree for the millionth time how lucky we are. She gives me a quick hug. I feel the pressure of those gifted woman’s hands and leave feeling anointed, as though now, finally, I can blossom, as though now, I, too, can endure.

Pennsylvania Nicole Dufalla

Pap’s tiny Carpathian town, sequestered in rocky, green mountains: shepherds & farmers. Snug wooden churches, hewn from the forest, her gifts; he dreamt of piercing steeples & raising palaces. Not while sheep were hungry. Not while there were fields & pigs & chickens. So he left. Left for Penn’s woods, land of Slavs making good money in steel & iron & coal. No English, no papers, strong backs. twelve-hour shifts: clanking, buzzing, yelling, smoke. Air, thick with black dust, miles from sun & time & wind & light.

• But there was money. & deep black woods & a slim aluminum boat for sitting in silence for hours up Tenmile Creek. Fish pacing through muddy waters. Sometimes the boys came, waiting for tugging lines. Doh-matz, they called it. When your thoughts get lost in the trees & memories


Nicole Dufalla

of the mine dust slip away from your lungs. When your hand connects to the rod connects to the line connects to the water & you forget the blackness sitting forever under your nails coats your lungs, your woods & water. Just to build highways & skyscrapers & docks for a gently bobbing boat.

• But there was food. Five pounds of Redstone on Christmas & the boys slept with full stomachs knowing how to build bridges & towers. While fish shrunk at Tenmile, smaller every time Pap pulled in the boat behind flat mountain tops, dun & naked against the hazy, gray sky; dust lined Tenmile’s silty banks. Black woods shallow, smooth matchstick trunks, hemlocks pulled up by the roots & wrung dry, carcasses discarded on creek beds. Pap tried to remember the crystal rivers & craggy peaks in the Carpathians, but there was only a millstone, forged of steel.



When I Was California Melanie Bryant



wondered: How could a person become a place? I once lived in California halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles where each spring, the hills turned vivid and velvety green and rolled languidly toward the sea. On a map, it was a tiny dot nestled between highways and state roads, parks and forests, a place among other places, but once, that place had been me. Going north from there, I was not Paso Robles, or San Miguel, or Monterrey, or Mill Valley, or even Healdsburg. But I was the places inbetween. I was Big Sur. I was that narrow two-laned stretch of Highway 1 that snaked precariously close to the edge, where the earth stopped being the earth and gave way to the rocky metamorphic cliffs that tumbled into the waves below. I was the resinous perfume of the Redwoods and the peppery scent of the wet Bay Laurel and the churchlike quiet of the path into the wood. I was San Francisco, too—or at least how it lived in memory from when I lived there long ago. I was the winded walk up Stockton Street, the mechanical rhapsody of the cable car as it crested California Street, the savory aroma of boiled Dungeness crabs and the rafts of sea lions that barked along the wharf. I was San Francisco in the way a woman falls in love to the sounds of jazz that reverberates from Pearl’s in North Beach on Monday nights, and on the long walks back to an apartment in Nob Hill, where from the rooftop, I watched as the fog rolled in and the city disappeared. I was San Francisco in the way the light segmented through the stained glass windows of Old Saint Mary’s Cathedral and fell into prisms and where once, I was a bride. I was Santa Rosa, too. It was where I once lived, a newly minted wife, and watched tourists float overhead in hot air balloons and drank wine on summer afternoons. Santa Rosa was where my new husband bought


Melanie Br yant me a mountain bike and taught me how to let off the brake, let go of caution, and let myself fly fearlessly down rock-strewn paths and around uprooted trees. It was where I learned to feel my fast-beating heart in my throat, and then, how to set it free. Going south, I was no place; I was no place in-between. I was not Arroyo Grande. I was not Santa Barbara. I was not Ventura, though once I had lived there, too. I was not Santa Monica, though it was there where one story of myself ended and another had not yet begun. Once, I had been California, but I’m not California; not anymore. 2. it was a monday when the plane crashed into the Pacific Ocean off of the California coast. Witnesses recounted how the plane rose and fell before it disappeared from the sky and then slammed into the moody winter swells near Anacapa Island, slipping forever into the murky depths below. When I first heard about the crash, I recalled how I had hiked the trails of Anacapa, stood in silent reverie at Inspiration Point and looked westward at the rocky outcroppings that rose from the sea like stepping stones running toward the horizon. I thought, too, of the magnificent beauty and wonder of the natural world and how for the first time in my life, I understood what it meant to be awestruck. Later, as the news unfolded, I wouldn’t be able to stop thinking about the Clemetson family—father, mother, and their four children—or any of the other families lost on that flight. How could I grasp how someone could be watching an inflight movie one moment, and then headed to the bottom of the ocean the next? It was another Monday when, up the coast from me, in the small town of La Conchita, Jimmie Wallet left his house to buy ice cream for his wife and three daughters. Maybe his wife walked him to the door with their baby on her hip, their two dogs at her heels. Maybe, after she closed the door, she opened it again and called out to him because she had changed her mind on the flavor of ice cream she wanted, or asked him to pick up something from the market. Jimmie was barely to the


Chautauqua sidewalk when he heard the earth give, heard the rush of water, and the ungodly swoosh of mud that swallowed half a block, swallowed whole his house with his entire life inside. Later, he told how he raced back and called out for his wife, had heard his wife’s last screams and then… silence. In Spanish, la conchita means shell. I often wonder if Jimmie Wallet slept with a shell next to his ear, and in the resonant cavity that amplified his every breath, listened for his wife’s voice. It was late on a Sunday night when the first 911 calls reported a fire burning outside of Napa. Who knows who made the calls—a local res­ ident, a couple making their way back to the city after a weekend of wine tasting, a trucker driving his load to some unknown destination? But the fire was traveling fast, too fast, faster than anyone could ever have imagined. Armando and Carmen Berriz, married fifty-five years, were vacationing in wine country when the fire started. There was nothing to slow their escape, no family photos to collect or other mementos to gather, so they took off in their car, racing over the hills, headed toward safety, when a burning tree fell onto the road and blocked their path. Armando knew there was no chance for them to drive away from the fire, so he turned the car around and drove into the fire, back to their vacation home, where their only option was to climb into the pool and hope for the best. It was a Monday morning when the rescuers found them in the pool. They had been there through the night, as the flames rose and raged around them, crossed over hills, raced through neighborhoods and down streets, devouring everything everywhere. Armando was barely conscious, still clinging tightly to Carmen, who, at some point during the night, had died in his arms. Later, when his family was interviewed, they recounted their sadness over Carmen’s death, but expressed grat­ itude that Armando had survived. I wondered if what Armando felt was gratitude. It was another Monday when I had coffee with my husband before he kissed me goodbye and headed to the gym. We had already spent hours over the paper, emptied the coffee pot, talked about a weekend getaway, planned our dinner. I walked him to the door and then, before


Melanie Br yant he pulled away, I ran out onto the porch and called after him, reminded him of an errand, told him one more time that I loved him. I blew my customary kiss into the air and watched him drive off. I was barefoot, the cement cold beneath my feet. I remember stepping into the garden on that one January morning, still in my pajamas. I was halfway down the garden path when I heard the lone buzz of a single bee. It was winter and the garden was suspended between the autumnal harvest and the promise of spring. The Japanese maples were bare; their limbs silhouetted against the blue-grey sky and the quince slumbered still, while the roses, not yet in bloom, stood guard. But the rosemary—she was in her splendor. Her sil­veryblue branches were covered with small purple flowers, her heady perfume thick in the air. As I edged closer, that single buzz multiplied until it was a crescendo of buzzing; every branch was alive, teeming with bees that danced their way from flower to flower. I stood there mesmerized, marveled at the minute workings of the world. I did not know it then—I could not know it then—but too soon, those bees would belong to an­ other world, a world called before—the same world that everyone who survived loss and grief lived in—until they didn’t. I didn’t hear the phone the first time it rang, or even the second time. Later, I would learn that I had missed a half dozen calls while I wandered the garden. When I finally answered, the voice was steady and somewhat agitated. It was a nurse from the local hospital, telling me that my husband had suffered a seizure. A seizure? I couldn’t wrap my head around it. I tried to correct her, tell her that she had to be mistaken, but she cut me off and told me firmly, “You must come immediately.” I was still in my pajamas when I arrived at the hospital. I was quickly ushered through the crowded hallways, too terrified to ask whether or not my husband was still alive. Even after my escort pulled back a curtain and led me into an empty exam room, I couldn’t find the words. At some point on that Monday morning, I would think back to how that plane had disappeared from the horizon. I would think of the Clemetsons, strapped into their seats; of Jimmie Wallet and how he walked away from his house just before losing everything; of Armando


Chautauqua and Carmen Berriz, holding hands as they made their way into the pool. I would remember that with each of their stories, I had thought it could have been my flight, or my family, or my spouse. At some point on that Monday morning, I understood what it felt like the moment the plane began to lose altitude, or how the earth sound­­ed when its weight shifted. And I understood what it felt like to cling on tightly to the one you loved, as flames raged and roared and rushed straight toward you. 3. tom petty died one October day and suddenly, summer was over, and the weather turned blustery and cold. I felt a loss of innocence that I couldn’t understand, so I went into the garden and pulled the last of the tomatoes from the bushes and heaved them as hard as I could over the fence and into the eucalyptus grove beyond. Golden yellow and coppery orange leaves tumbled from the trees and fell soundlessly to the ground and then blew into the drifts of leaves already along the hedges. Autumn was fading into winter and my life felt unsettled in a way I couldn’t account. With each day, I felt a deepening sense of angst; my gut tumbled and roiled. I sensed that something terrible was headed my way. I couldn’t explain how I knew, but I had to tell my husband. He listened intently as I ticked off a list of recent events: the Tubbs Fire in Santa Rosa, the Thomas Fire in Ventura, the Montecito Mudslide. The fire in Santa Rosa burned through our old neighborhood. The fire in Ventura burned through our old neighborhood. These weren’t random places; these were places that we knew; these were places where we had lived. The mudslide happened down the coast—we had been there the week before. “Montecito was a place we knew,” I said as my husband nodded; he remembered the news. “And Tom Petty is dead, too,” I said. He paused, then slowly nodded again. I could tell by the way he paused that he was recalling the night we saw Tom Petty at the Fillmore in San Francisco. We were newly engaged and deeply in love, and when the band started playing and the rifts to “California” filled the air, he leaned in close and whispered in


Melanie Br yant my ear, “This is our song now.” “Yes,” he said. “It’s all so close to home.” “Do you see it, then?” I asked him. “It’s as if it’s happening to us, too. It’s as if we’re being erased from California.” My husband sensed my distress and pulled me in for an embrace, but I could tell by his weight, how he leaned into me ever so lightly, that he didn’t see it. Not at all. There was something else, too, something I didn’t tell him, something I couldn’t admit to myself: there was a leak in the roof of our old house. I discovered it only days before—paint bubbled and peeled on the din­ ing room header. Water was slowly coming in—and the rainy season had yet to begin. I couldn’t tell my husband that it was quite possible that our house would come down, too. The next morning, I woke to the smells of freshly brewed coffee and roasted pork. The aroma of rendered fat, musky and acrid, hung in the air. I found my husband in the kitchen, but he didn’t see me when I came in. When I realized I was invisible to him, I stopped mid-stride to take in the scene. He was stooped over the countertop, tearing meat from the bone, two forks in his hands like prehistoric claws. There was something untamed in his actions, something wild and unrecognizable about him, and I recall how, for a fraction of a second, I stood there and thought to myself that he seemed different to me, as if he were someone else. But, no, I told myself—that can’t be—and so, I swept in and kissed him on his cheek. Two weeks later the rains came, violent and sudden torrents of water. I had forgotten about the leak in the roof, the bubbled and peeled paint on the dining room header. My husband was in the hospital. My husband had a brain tumor.

4. we were in Santa Monica at Providence Saint John Hospital. My husband was scheduled for a second craniotomy, an attempt to remove more of the deadly brain tumor that doctors had discovered only weeks before. There was no chance for his long-term survival, no hope for a happy ending, but there was a chance that it could buy us more time.


Chautauqua We checked in for the surgery just before 5 AM and then sat hold­ ing hands while we waited. When his name was called, there was our goodbye before we parted—that wink he gave me—his trademark gesture—a kiss and an I love you—and then he disappeared behind a door and into the hospital. But, then quickly reappeared—he had forgotten to give me his glasses. There was that one last embrace, that one last kiss and then, he was gone. That day is blurred in my memory, but I recall how hours later a nurse found me and led me through that same door and beyond, into a maze of hallways, until finally, I was at my husband’s side. I recall how still he was, suspended in some silent place. I wanted to ask when he’d wake, but when I looked at him—the color absent from his face, the rise of his chest barely discernable beneath the thin cotton fold of his hospital gown—I already knew in my gut that the surgery had gone wrong. There was a single moment when time stood still, a moment of clarity; I knew my husband would never again be the person he had been only hours before. I can still recall the weight of knowing, of how that knowledge felt as it slammed into me, recall, too, how my legs buckled and suddenly went hollow, and lastly, this: I still recall how terror truly felt. Days later, I left Santa Monica alone late on a Sunday afternoon and headed home. The sky was fading magenta, burnished orange as the sun began to set. In the rearview mirror, I watched as the city grew distant and small. Somewhere behind me, my husband was still there, drifting in a subterranean world. Too quickly he was becoming an exit off of the freeway, a speck on the map. I turned up the radio. Tom Petty was singing “California.” It was random, serendipitous; it was a sign. I knew I would find my husband again. I knew I would bring him home. I knew our story wasn’t over. Not yet. 5. on a quiet afternoon just before Christmas, I took my husband for a spontaneous drive to the ocean for lunch. We rode out on the old twolane highway on a beautiful California winter’s day. The thickets of


Melanie Br yant trees were mostly bare, but a few still held onto the last of their vibrant fall leaves, so starkly contrasted against that incredibly blue sky. The sun was bright, the landscape illuminated, everything shimmered like gold. Our favorite beach town was deserted, so we went to a beloved restaurant where unobserved, my husband could slowly navigate the din­ ing room on his own. He felt his way across the tile floor with the tip of his cane, stopping every few feet to steady himself against the empty tables. That afternoon, we sat overlooking the Pacific, ate crab cocktails, and drank beer. There was no conversation, there were no words. My husband had long ago lost the ability to speak. Our language was one of gestures, a knowing smile, a wink; our two hands, fingers interlaced, holding on; still. The last picture that I took of us was impromptu, my phone held at arm’s length. Our faces were pressed together so tightly that we shared the same smile. My husband wore his wool cap, pulled over the twist­ ing scar that traveled from his temple and rounded down behind his ear. He was wearing dark glasses, but in the picture, his eyes, the palest shade of moss green, were still visible, were still smiling. The picture didn’t reveal how he held my hand, still clutched it as we rode up the coast. By then, the landscape had shifted in the fading light and was cast in a coppery sheen. The sun was beginning to set, shades of orange and deepest scarlet and golds so resplendent they lifted from the edge of the horizon and hung like fire in the stillness of the day. Soon, everything would fade sepia into a winter’s night. 6. nearly two years had passed since I lost my husband. I was in the harbor at Point San Luis when my friend asked, “Do you remember the story about the two women kayakers?” But before she could retell the story of the two women who had been kayaking right here when they had been surprised by a breaching whale and almost swallowed into its gaping jaws, I was already nodding my head. It was an unseasonably warm Saturday morning in January and we had planned on kayaking out, but instead, found ourselves surprised


Chautauqua by high tides and rough swells. We were half-sitting-standing on the open tailgate, our faded red kayaks stretched out, their noses pointed westward. We watched as the waves hit the jetty with such a fury of force that rocks disappeared in their wake. I thought about those other two women kayakers. What had they been thinking, I wondered, when they went out hoping to see a whale? Finally, I decided that what they had really been after was to know something greater than themselves, bigger than their own lives; they wanted to know something so otherworldly that it would forever leave them reel­ ing in awe—they wanted to get up close to one of the great mysteries of life. Maybe, I thought, they knew that the only way to do that was to push off into the choppy waters, not retreat. My friend told me about the half-dozen people who had recently been swept off to sea. One woman was swept from the rocks up the beach from where we sat. She pointed up the coast, but the rocks were out of view. We both turned our attention back to the horizon. I wanted to make my way in and was charting my own course when she asked, “Are you ready?” I nodded and then we discussed the best strategy, how we could navigate those first brutal waves. But we both knew there was no way to lessen their impact. Suddenly, I could see myself as I waded into the ocean, imagined the cold sting of the water as it pelted my skin and surprised me. I could see myself as I steadied my kayak and climbed in. I knew the water would be choppy. There would be that initial fear, my heart rising into my throat, and then longing to be set free. I imagined how I would be surprised by my own strength—I always was—as I navigated my way around the jetty and into the open sea. I would settle comfortably into the silent rhythm of my paddles as they sliced into the waves, and finally, into an uneasy understanding with the ocean that there were nev­ ­er any guarantees. I knew that I would look westward as far as I could see, to that place where the horizon met the sea, into what I had always imagined was infinity. I would think of my husband, how I remembered him still, how he would forever be alive in my heart.


Melanie Br yant As I imagined myself paddling out, it struck me—without my husband, I wasn’t California. Not anymore. The realization left me empty and hollow inside and even the beauty of the ocean couldn’t unbreak my heart and make me whole again. 7. i left california one Monday afternoon in April on the last flight out. From the window, I looked below. Wildflowers carpeted the earth in a brilliant shimmering hue. For a moment, gravity eluded me and I floated above the landscape of Golden Yarrow and Johnny-tuck and orange poppies, swayed along with the bronze-faced fennel. I recalled with joy the Indian Pinks and the deepest violet of the Lupine, recalled how they raced along the ravines in the afternoon wind. I looked down from my window and onto that California landscape one last time and took in the vivid green hills, soft and velvety, as they rolled endlessly toward that blue California sky and then disappeared into the sea. Then I turned from the window and settled back into my seat as the plane gained altitude and headed north. Once, I had been California; but I wasn’t California anymore.



Shore Leave Bryn Grey


hat was one of my tamer Mardi Gras. I did not bed a stranger, black out, chip a tooth. Burgundy Street didn’t twinkle by the psychic light of a psilocybin chandelier. I didn’t grind my teeth back to life around jaws numbed by bad, overpriced cocaine. I minded my manners that time; I constantly chastised myself. This is going to be your last one. You’re going to want to remember it. After nearly eight years New Orleans still doesn’t strike me as home, yet melancholy comes when I think of leaving. The genial haze of the city, made of equal parts humidity and day drinking, lies over me in a suffocating blanket of ease. I miss ethnic food and public transportation, functioning roads and affordable groceries, but I can walk less than half a mile from my house and be on Saint Charles Avenue, canopied with live oaks and Spanish moss, each branch its own biodome of miniscule ferns and tiny clusters of black acorns, festooned with colorful beads of Mardi Gras past, all part of the same strange symbiosis. in the early spring we gathered on Mardi Gras Day to cast off our dead from the banks of the Mississippi. Ashes mixed with confetti. Bright ribbons whipped in the river breeze as we said goodbye, awash in joyful tears and libations. To stand on those banks is to be immersed in the fellowship of a thousand unknown fellow mourners, in the strains of “Just a Closer Walk” played by a pick-up brass band. All those infin­ itesimal bits of carbon erupting in a short, cumulus burst, then settling anonymous into the rocking arms of the water. “I’ll Fly Away” promised the hymn gone rogue and raucous. It’s a useless task to try and conjure on the page the colors of the Mississippi River. It’s not that quenching blue we see on maps, the cool septum cleaving the ventricles of the country. The shingles of water that roll by are brown, are green, are the color of shale or eyes. In the


Br yn Grey moment I extended my hand to release the box I held, the water paled briefly. Then the immutable greys of the water whorled around my cargo. I watched the words “Dry Rosé” slowly moisten, watched the vessel sink, bobbing downriver as it descended. “What was in your box of wine?” The couple behind me, sitting on the craggy rocks, were Carnival androgynous: leggy, in bright patchwork costumes, both slathered in glitter and grease paint. I was unsure which of them spoke. They cocked their heads, craned their necks curious and friendly, wondering over the reliquary I’d set free. “My dog.” They nodded. The woman frowned a little. I saw it in her manicured brows, the furrow that appeared on her pancake painted forehead. She raised her go cup, poured out some of her drink onto the rocks. It trickled toward the sucking mud below us, and I couldn’t lift my eyes for fear of tearing up. Instead, I tilted my drink back to her, grateful for a stranger’s assent in this private moment. Behind me, my friends cheered “To Titus!” and mashed plastic cups of tepid beer together, rim to rim to rim. I plunged my thumb into the spigot on the bladder of wine in my purse, let the liberated dry rosé run, listened to its alcoholic chuckle sing counterpoint to the river. i never intended to be tethered to New Orleans. My high school friend Rachel went to grad school here and I started coming down every year for Thanksgiving, an annual pilgrimage to Po Boys and Pimm’s cups, grinding on strangers and drenching the floor of the Maple Leaf with my sweat and spilled beers at the Tuesday night Rebirth show. It became my happiest break from New York: a week in her ramshackle shotgun house, joints passed back and forth on the bayou and lazy Quarter rambles. Popeyes turkey and cheap shiraz. The mule manure and vomit stink of the Quarter doesn’t faze me, is just one more queasy note in the intoxicating perfume of the place. Creole cottages tucked neatly together, all oblong glass windows floor to ceiling, painted whimsical colors with eye popping shutters. Wrought iron and gas lamps all stitched together with bright threads


Chautauqua of bougainvillea and confederate jasmine. Alleyways of mossy cobblestones, trickling rivulets of slightly fetid water staining the cement algae green, beckoning you back to secret courtyards ripe with banana trees and chipped cement fountains, cool oases in the glaring shadow of former slave galleys grossly gone luxury condo. No small part of why I love it here is because I find it like Nantucket, where I worked the two happiest summers of my life. Seasonal economies powered by people on holiday from reality, adults abjuring all the rules of normal society, convinced they’re in Never Never Land, as though there aren’t functional working people watching them. Too much drinking on both sides, everyone exhausted from trying to navigate one another’s insistence on existing on their own inflexible, shitfaced terms. The fact that neither place gives up their ghosts. Prim Nantucket is thirty miles out to sea, and in the mists that hold it close every night you can sense three hundred years of its citizenry, whalers and Shakers, watching you from the diaphanous folds of fog. New Orleans is at the bottom of the Mississippi: the delta, God’s own fish bowl. All the detritus of America washes downstream to this place where countless bodies were bought and sold. You can still feel the earth thrum when you walk through Congo Square, the cobbled over swampland retaining the mem­ ory of a million dancing feet, as many gods and loa. Thermodynamics don’t lie: neither created nor destroyed, the energies of flood dead and sugar barons mingle here, brush your skin with palpable fingers disguised as river cross breeze. You can, if you like, reach out and touch those phantom digits: intertwine your hands with that history and let it lean you into the city, float in its abundance. But you can never forget that this city, she who is already so many times drowned, doesn’t care if you know how to swim. my ghost followed me here. C., the man I had intended to marry. We’d worked together in Nantucket, one of those happiest summers. He’d followed me back to New York and within a year I’d find him dead of an overdose on my bathroom floor, the morning after we’d finally seem­ed to agree on an engagement ring. In life he longed to come


Br yn Grey to New Orleans—gators and Voodoo and étouffée beckoned to him— and now, as the specter who haunted me with manifestations of PTSD treated only with aggressive drinking, he was solidly entrenched in the city, in me. Getting a dog was supposed to fix all that, task me with something to care for since I refused to care for myself. Despite the fact that C. died years before Titus was whelped, I was fond of telling Titus he reminded me of his daddy. They had the same demeanor, the same devotion to me. They shared a hard headedness and a penchant for snacks, partic­ ularly carrots. And when Titus was diagnosed with terminal cancer at just under three and a half years old, I learned they shared a certain impermanence. there was no brass band, when I left C.’s ashes in the waters of Nantucket sound. I slipped them almost secretly into the ocean at night, ritual gone all wrong. All of us naked in the too cold water, no moon, chattering teeth, nostrils gummy with cocaine. Tears burned tracks down our cheeks flushed with shot after shot after shot, a trembling, submerged coven whose sacrament was the glorification of our own grief. Like the fairy tale boy that he was, C. had music wherever he went, but not because he had bells on his toes. He did have rings on his fingers, some of which I’d slipped idly on after the paramedics pulled them off his cooling body. One fell off my finger that night in the water as I released a palmful of his promise into the sea. On the riverbank on Mardi Gras Day I thought of that lost ring, property of a boy now long dead. I grieved for the lost loot as the city chortled around me, eyed her citizens as we spilled our drinks and tipp­ ­ed our hats. New Orleans winked at all of us who would begin our Lenten purge in the morning regardless of our spiritual affiliations. The office kitchens would strike the left-over king cakes. We’d collectively shake our foggy heads of hangover, scour ourselves of the persistent glitter tacked into our nail beds, glitter that casts a queer shimmer to the lint scraped off of dryer screens for weeks. The rest prescribed by the Christian calendar is forty days; many of us take or leave this precision,


Chautauqua meting out our own private excursions to the proverbial desert as we deem necessary. humans are greedy creatures, particularly when it comes to things we love the most. and while i am not much one for optimism, and was cowed by the data on Titus’ cancer when he was diagnosed, I secretly believed we were out of the woods. Every three months his x-rays came back crystal clear. His irrepressible good nature was in no way changed by his missing leg, removed shortly after the damning report from his vet Dr. Hartdegan, who had told me as she entered the room with his x-rays, “I can’t cry because it’s not professional, but you’re going to.” Titus, at approximately three and a half, was diagnosed with terminal osteosarcoma. The leg where I assumed some tendon snapped like a rubber band housed a tumor on its distal femur. The prognosis was grim: with amputation of the leg and aggressive chemotherapy, he would likely have a year. With amputation alone, six months. Pain man­agement? Six weeks. I knew something was wrong the night before, after the walk. It wasn’t just his leg, I knew it. He lay beside me chuffing away with fever dreams, not his normal sighs and huffs, the little underwater burbles of dream barking. I often joked that Titus was boyfriend sized, but he was merely boyfriend inconvenient, bisecting the bed with his massive sprawl, but that night he lay exactly by my side, tucked up against me. He did not kick in his sleep, his paws didn’t have their normal restless trembling from dreams of running zoomy laps around the backyard. He lay still, hot and silent beside me as I spent a restless night trying to convince myself it was nothing more than a bad sprain. I slid to the floor and Titus hobbled over, panting, grinning. He headbutted me, delighted to have me at eye level, noticed I was crying and lapped the tears from my face, huge slobbery kisses. Because he was an animal and he was in pain and I couldn’t bear it, I scratched his head and rubbed his ears and told him ardently in a pitch half an octave too high what a good boy he was. Hartdegan slumped beside me and Titus


Br yn Grey took turns nudging us both with his huge cow-spotted snout, rakish pit bull grin never faltering even though his leg gave out twice and he slipp­ ­ed on the slick cement floor, claws scrabbling wildly as he tried to right himself. When he failed and crashed into me, he rolled onto his back and gave me a wink: this was always the plan, Mom, don’t worry. It was just my ebullience that felled me, not the burning agony of the bone in my back left leg that is turning into a cancerous, ossified powder before your eyes and there is nothing you can do about it except scratch my belly. I’m dying! But I love you! Hartdegan and I talked treatment, talked about how much this suck­ ­ed, which inevitably turned into how much the world sucks. Her cat was getting old and she’s recently been dumped, she told me. So while I felt vaguely malicious for one upping, I told her about the last dog I fostered and tried to adopt, back in New York. How the rescue group had lied about his history, obscuring how damaged he was. How I did my best, hired a trainer and took him to classes, but couldn’t care for him and had to give him up. How I called Rachel after the deed was done, told her nothing worse could possibly happen, nothing could ever feel as awful as leaving that poor animal at the sanctuary felt. How the Gods love a bet and less than a month after I gave up that dog, the Universe said “Hold my beer” and I awoke to find my boyfriend dead on the floor of my bathroom. Hartdegan broke protocol with this news, and we cried together on the floor. buddy. Who calls their dead lover buddy? I don’t think I’d ever called him that in life. Titus, surely, was buddy. Was angel bean, was angel bear, was sweetest beast. Was monster, was snuzzle face, was angel pup, was smoochy, was my only love. For the years he was with me this was true: C. lost the sanctity of being the only creature I wanted to wake up next to. Dogs are far more comforting than junkies, or their memories. Titus was, the vet in the emergency vet clinic far from home told me, ready when I was. When the slight front limp had turned to hobble in a matter of hours, as we lay in a tent in a heatwave camping in Vermont


Chautauqua for a friend’s wedding. I knew my dog was dying, and as he lay trembling and panting next to me in the tent in 90 degrees at four a.m., I downloaded a dating app and anxiously searched for men nearby who might be awake, who I could fuck in exchange for air conditioning that my dying dog could rest in. I’d sucked dick for worse; I’d stayed physically and emotionally leeched on to a twenty-two-year-old, my hubris letting me believe that with enough love and encouragement, enough blowjobs, C. could somehow love himself enough to want to get well. Titus deserved at least that much consideration. despite the amputation and chemo Titus got stronger, stayed joyful. His jolly determination charmed strangers on any street we walked. Every vet who saw him (and there were many) looked at his files and declared him a miracle. I didn't disagree. Perhaps that's why the sharpness of his decline felt like such a betrayal. What began on a Friday morning as a slight limp in his front leg became by Monday a near inability to walk. This time the X-rays weren't so enchanting: a new osteosarcoma bringing furious lysis to his front right elbow, and those once miraculous lungs mottled with too many cancerous nodules to count. Titus was still eating and drinking normally, still pulling obstreper­ ously on his leash demanding further walks even though only two legs were still wholly functional. But it was evident that his capacity to go on with his doggy life would be gone very soon in spite of his tenacity and my coddling. He would be, as that somber rural vet informed me, ready when I was. I could never be ready. Titus died in my arms, the tip of his pink tongue optimistically protruding for one last lick, his huge and mighty heart slow to stop beating. how do we know when we’re ready to let go? Especially when we think we’re prepared, and then the limbs and the lungs fail simultaneously, and suddenly? Or when we surround ourselves with our coven in dark water to release a few ounces of the person we once considered our destiny, soothe our spirits by buying into the notion of a circular and


Br yn Grey intentional universe, only to have their ring slip off our still unmarried finger? How do we release them, even if they are reduced to mere ash? Standing by the Mississippi on a February afternoon moments after, years after, doing the very act of letting go, I discovered no answer. Titus fought valiantly and hard, and he deserved to pass in relative comfort, still in possession of his dignity and his faculties. Thus he walked to his well-earned rest with his head high and his pride intact, knowing that he fulfilled his duty of being my kind, generous, and brave companion until his very last day. C. passed with no such valor but an equal measure of unprepared loss. I called Titus buddy the day he died too, I recollected after his ashes melted out of sight. Many of those last days, I had lifted Titus from the back seat tenderly, as had become necessary that last ten days or so of his life. Even though he would charge forward the minute his three paws struck the ground, eager to spume streams of manifest destiny piss over every surface, I would lift his rapidly withering frame from the back seat instead of letting him clamber out. That morning I choked on our newfound mantra, spoke into his neck so that his fur would catch and stanch my tears as I scooped him up and placed him tenderly on the ground not six hundred feet from where he’d soon die in my arms. Buddy, are you ready to fly? Hallelujah, by and by. As I stood and surveyed the river one last long moment on that final day of carnival, I cradled in my hand my own waist, phantom twin of the heart shaped seashell hip bone I once clasped hard enough to not feel breath but not hard enough to hear the ocean. It was by then mid-afternoon Mardi Gras: the revelry, with the grieving, was waning with the sun. here in this city where I never intended to stay, I haunt my own house with memories: the boy who couldn’t follow me here, the dog who never came home. Here where I see in every febrile inch tinges of endless life, I hold fast to the kaleidoscope I make now from their memories and


Chautauqua my grief: the shades I conjure them in, the many hues of my repeated reflections. I cling to these imagoes, for the clutch of their actual beings I cast into the water can no more be recovered than they, themselves. They swim before my eyes while sleeping; in dreams I submerge with them in waters I shall never ford. Outside my own drowned heart they don’t exist. But they possess colors beyond possibility; like New Orleans herself, when I paddle alongside my memories of love, I am doused and drowsy and I am freed, however briefly, from the constraints of the land where they no longer live. Together we can float, abide. It doesn’t matter, the hue of the actual waters where my beloveds reside. That batwing ocean? The churning silt shades of the Mighty Mississip’? There’s no color to water that can slake my guilt or my grief. By the palmful or by the pound, those ashes were nothing but grey. And beside the shore of the river in the city I now call home, I lift my dusty hand in reverence, in gratitude, in farewell.


The Mind Like Water Noah Evan Wilson


ay One: These were the last words Sara said: “Here goes nothing.”

day two: If she had an epiphany, it was how comfortable she already was with silence. day three: Just as Alexis had said, Sara’s mind, like water, stilled, a translucent blue, enough for the sediment to settle, clear enough for it to catch the light. It was only supposed to be ten days, Sara’s vow of silence. Even the word “vow” seemed overdramatic. At their wedding, Sara and Roy had opted for the term “best intentions” despite their families and friends making road-to-hell jokes until they were too true to be funny. She was invited to the meditation retreat by Alexis, her chattiest friend, who attended the year before. Alexis spoke of it constantly—“the vow,” she called it—began vlogging, and made it part of her personal brand. There were videos titled How the Vow Saved My Marriage, A Vow for New Direction, and The Mind like Water. Sara clicked the latter. day four: New memories began taking shape, rising as if some volcanic force below was pushing, pulsing. day five: An epiphany—Sara was never comfortable with silence, just with not speaking. Sara had told Alexis she would go for her marriage, and Roy that it was for new direction, but this was what convinced her to register: in the video Alexis says, “after day three, memories arose that I didn’t know I had…it was like wading through a wild part of my mind—a wilderness of forgotten things…by day ten, so much had surfaced it seemed my whole life was at my fingertips…I could reach into a mem­ory and feel its texture...”


Chautauqua It bothered Sara how much this inarguably pretentious video affected her. It touched a nerve, a deep-seated fear of forgetting that she could neither explain nor put away. And so, she registered. Roy drove her to the retreat. Getting out of the car, Sara said, “Here goes nothing.” day six: Sara realized she meant to say, “Here I go. There is nothing left for me here.” day seven: She remembered walking beside train tracks. It was spring and smelled of petrichor. Behind her, a nurse pushed her grand­mother— her Nana, the first woman who raised her—in a wheelchair. A frail voice summoned her to a boysenberry bush. Sara stayed behind while the other retreaters hiked and swam. She didn’t want to break the connection, to stir up the sediment again. day eight: She plucked a boysenberry and sucked before biting into it. The tiny hair-like pistils tickled her lips. The frail voice of her Nana, clear as day, called her by her name for the last time, before drowning in the depths of the present tense. day nine: The berry burst into a spectrum of sour and sweet, and Sara began remembering in the same way, in distinct shades of loneliness, joy, loss, regret—how sweet even the regret, because to regret is also to remember. day ten: Another epiphany: We are our stories, as much as our bodies are water. If the mind too is like water, Sara had been living in routine like a life raft, so remote from the stories that made her. And so, she renewed her vow to go on silently into herself to find them, to find them all.


Pond of bells Peter Grandbois Not the thistle down floating across the yard or the body stepping between voice and prayer not the path that leads deeper into the woods or the mouth that asks for stone to weigh down its grief not the letter taken from the mailbox before it’s sent But the mountain that floats within the conversation that didn’t happen the hand stirring through wet sand demanding the answer that’s not there And today, in the distance, a pond of bells, another echo, calling you home


Habitat Angie Macri

Burden, as in to bear, what women do, carry words, children, cares that they sing to lay down. Go to sleep, baby, go away, fear, go out of mind so a savior can hold what’s too much. The word turns in its sleep, cries, hungry again, and we say hush. The bears are walking again in and out of stars.

Donations to the Chautauqua Literary Arts are tax deductible through the Chautauqua Fund.

Support the Chautauqua Mission Learn more about the Chautauqua Writers’ Center at chq. org / season / literary-arts. To support the Chautauqua Institution, we invite you to join the Friends of the Chautauqua Writers’ Center. To support the educational mission of Chautauqua, please consider making a donation to the Department of Creative Writing, The University of North Carolina Wilmington, 601 S. College Rd., Wilmington, NC 28403, or on the web at uncw. edu / writers / support.html.

Contributors Notes linda albert is an internationally published award-winning poet, essayist, and former theater director. A certified Jungian Archetypal Pattern Analyst and communication coach with a Master Certification in Neuro­linguistics, Linda’s poetry is influenced by her interest and academic training in those areas as well as by the changing roles of contemporary women and her personal joys, struggles, and insights. Linda's awards include the Olivet and Dyer-Ives Foundation Poetry Prizes and the Atlanta Review’s International Merit Award for poetry. She is a 2021 recipient of the Florida Authors and Publishers Association President's Book Awards gold medal for her poetry collection, Charting the Lost Continent. Visit her online at

Lissa Batista earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Florida International University in Miami. Her works have been published or forthcoming by New York Quarterly, Bellingham Review, West Trade Review, New Note Poetry, and others. She received an honorable mention from the Miami Book Fair’s Emerging Writer’s Fellowship in 2022 and won FIU's annual Student Literary Awards 2021 in Creative Nonfiction.

Claire Breslow is a ninth-grade student in New York. She dabbles with novels, poetry, and screenplay. Her writing is centered around personal relationships, how one thinks, and the city of New York. She hopes that everybody who is reading this is having a wonderful day.

Julie Phillips Brown is an interdisciplinary poet, visual artist, literary critic, and editor. She is the author of The Adjacent Possible (Green Writers Press, 2021), winner of the Hopper Poetry Prize, and a recipient of the Freund Prize from Cornell University. Recent poems have appeared in Ariadne, The Rumpus, Twyckenham Notes, Vassar Review, and elsewhere. She lives in Lexington, Virginia, where she teaches creative writing, literature, and studio art. Find her at


contr ibutor s note s

Melanie Bryant has been a finalist for both the 2021 Annie Dillard Creative Nonfiction Contest and the 2022 VanderMey Nonfiction Prize. Her work has appeared in Ruminate, River Teeth/Beautiful Things, Honey and Nonno, Curvy Magazine, among others. Hers was the narrative voice behind the blog "You Had Me at Butter," and she was a regular contributor to Edible San Luis Obispo as The Preservationist. Bryant received a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of New Orleans. She calls the Pacific Northwest home and is currently working on a collection of narratives exploring grief and identity.

Lee Armfield Cannon received an MFA from the University of North Carolina Wilmington in 2012. She owes a debt of gratitude to the Graduate School of that institution for awarding her a 2010 Ralph W. Brauer Fellowship and a 2011 Graduate School Summer Research Award, which supported her return to Japan two summers for research. Cannon is now a science writer living in the Triangle area of North Carolina.

Marisa P. Clark is a queer writer who grew up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and came out in Atlanta. Her prose and poetry appear in Shenandoah, Cream City Review, Nimrod, Epiphany, Foglifter, Prairie Fire, Rust + Moth, Sundog Lit, Texas Review, and elsewhere. Best American Essays 2011 recognized her creative nonfiction among its Notable Essays. She lives in New Mexico with three parrots, two dogs, and whatever wildlife and strays stop to visit.

Noah Davis’ poetry collection The Last Beast We Revel In is forthcoming from CavanKerry Press. Davis’ first collection, Of This River, won the Wheelbarrow Emerging Poet Book Prize from Michigan State University’s Center for Poetry, and his poems and prose have appeared in The Sun, Southern Humanities Review, Best New Poets, Orion, The Year’s Best Sports Writing, North American Review, and River Teeth among others. His work has been awarded a Katharine Bakeless Nason Fellowship at the Bread Loaf Writers Conference and the 2018 Jean Ritchie Appalachian Literature Fellowship from Lincoln Memorial University. Davis earned


contr ibutor s note s an MFA from Indiana University and now lives with his wife, Nikea, in Missoula, Montana.

Nicole Dufalla teaches engineering in Virginia where she enjoys writing and getting lost outside.

Alfred Encarnacion is currently the director of the Stratford Public Library in South Jersey where he promotes poetry through book clubs, workshops, author visits, and literary readings. He has taught writing at Temple University, published poetry, short stories, essays, and reviews in journals such as Crab Orchard Review, Florida Review, Indiana Review, North American Review, and the Paterson Literary Review. His work has been nominated four times for the Pushcart Prize. His poetry collections include The Outskirts of Karma and Ambassadors of the Silenced. A chapbook, Library Suite, was a finalist in the Annual Moonstone Chapbook Contest. Precincts of the Passion-Dragon: Selected Poems appeared from Kelsay Press in April 2023.

John Gifford’s nonfiction has appeared in Big Sky Journal, Southwest Review, The Atlantic, and elsewhere. His books include Red Dirt Country, Pecan America, and a forthcoming creative nonfiction title, Landscaping for Wildlife.

Peter Grandbois is the author of fourteen books, the most recent of which is Domestic Bestiary. His plays have been performed in St. Louis, Columbus, Los Angeles, and New York. He is poetry editor at Boulevard and teaches at Denison University in Ohio. You can find him at

Bryn Grey is a graduate of Boston University’s College of Fine Arts and the University of Southern Maine's Stonecoast MFA program. Grey lives and writes in Brooklyn, NY.

Richard Holinger’s books include the essay collection, Kangaroo Rabbits and Galvanized Fences and a poetry collection, North of Crivitz Poetry of


contr ibutor s note s the Upper Midwest. His work has appeared in Southern Review, Witness, Chicago Quarterly Review, Hobart, Iowa Review, Boulevard, and has garnered four Pushcart Prize and one Best of the Net nominations. “Not Everybody's Nice” won the 2012 Split Oak Press Flash Prose Contest, and his “Thread essay” was designated a Notable in Best American Essays, 2018. He earned a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Holinger has taught English and creative writing on the university and secondary school levels and lives northwest of Chicago far enough for deer, fox, and turkeys to cross his lawn.

Angie Macri is the author of Sunset Cue (Bordighera), winner of the Lauria/Frasca Poetry Prize, and Underwater Panther (Southeast Missouri State University), winner of the Cowles Poetry Book Prize. An Arkansas Arts Council fellow, she lives in Hot Springs and teaches at Hendrix College.

Melanie S. Smith teaches in the Writing Program at Boston University. She graduated from Grubstreet Writer’s 2019 Memoir Incubator in 2019. Her work has appeared in Ruminate, Blue Mountain Review, and The Common, among others.

Kimm Brockett Stammen's writings have appeared or are forthcoming in Carve, December, The Greensboro Review, Pembroke, Prime Number, and over thirty others, and her work has been nominated for Pushcart, Best Short Fiction, and Best Microfiction anthologies. She holds an MFA from the Naslund-Mann Graduate School of Creative Writing at Spalding University.

Sara Moore Wagner is the winner of the 2021 Cider Press Review Editors Prize for her book Swan Wife (2022), and the 2020 Driftwood Press Manuscript Prize for Hillbilly Madonna (2022), and the author of two chapbooks, Tumbling After (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2022) and Hooked Through (2017). She is also a 2022 Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award recipient, a 2021 National Poetry Series Finalist, and the


contr ibutor s note s recipient of a 2019 Sustainable Arts Foundation award. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in many journals and anthologies including Gulf Coast, Sixth Finch, Waxwing, Beloit Poetry Journal, and The Cincinnati Review, among others. Find her at

Ann E. Wallace is Poet Laureate of Jersey City, New Jersey and host of The WildStory: A Podcast of Poetry and Plants. Her second poetry collection, Days of Grace and Silence: A Chronicle of COVID's Long Haul, is forthcoming from Kelsay Books in 2024. She has published work in One Art, Halfway Down the Stairs, Gyroscope Review, Wordgathering, and other journals. You can follow her online at and on Instagram @annwallace409.

Pamela Wax is the author of Walking the Labyrinth (Main Street Rag, 2022) and Starter Mothers (Finishing Line Press, 2023). She has received a Best of the Net nomination and awards from Crosswinds, Paterson Literary Review, Poets’ Billow, Oberon, and the Robinson Jeffers Tor House. Her poems have been published (or are forthcoming) in literary journals including Barrow Street, Tupelo Quarterly, The Massachusetts Review, The MacGuffin, Nimrod, Solstice, Mudfish, Connecticut River Review, Valparaiso Poetry Review, and Slippery Elm, among others. An ordained rabbi, Pam offers spirituality and poetry workshops online and around the country. She lives in the Northern Berkshires of Massachusetts.

Noah Evan Wilson is a writer and musician based in New York City. His stories have been published in Prime Number Magazine, Beyond Words, Dreamers Creative Writing, and the anthology, Ten Ways the Animals Will Save Us, from Retreat West Books. His latest record, The View from the Ground – EP, is now available on all major streaming platforms.

Fred Zirm is a former English and drama teacher who has continued to direct plays and also focus more on writing during his retirement through, in part, his involvement with Chautauqua’s Writers’ Center. His poetry and flash fiction have been published in more than a dozen


literary magazines and anthologies. His first chapbook, Object Lessons (Main Street Rag), came out in 2021, and his second, Rescue Dogs (The Poetry Box), is scheduled for 2024.


C h a u t a uqu a 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: Maybe I am the city’s pet, or its doll in a kimono, its child playing in grown-ups’ clothes. Maybe I am Hiroshima’s adopted granddaughter, its coddled darling. —Lee Cannon, from “Shaping the Kanji and Leaving the Land”

He’s shaved all the sheep to make a blanket for me, trained the turkey vultures to swoop low enough they look like angels. —Sara Moore Wagner, from “Dirge”

The boldest step is the first step, small but intentional, of your feet pointed off the crowded path into the trampled understory. —Ann Wallace, from “Lessons I Learned This Summer”

I see the past described through her fingers as though I am a deaf person, and she is telling me her life story in signs. I never tire of watching her tell it. —Linda Albert, from “The Essence of Shirley”

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