quick brown fox the five college literary magazine 2012
issue 02 - spring 2012
Editorial Board Editor-in-Chief: Rhian Sasseen, Smith ‘12 Managing Editor: Madeline Zehnder, Smith ‘13 Layout Editor: Holly Mitchell, Mount Holyoke ‘14 Web Editor: Emily Morris, Smith ‘12 Events Coordinator: Grace Critchfield, Hampshire ‘13 Secretary: Jenna Lempesis, Mount Holyoke ‘12 Additional staff: Emma Binder, Hampshire ‘15 Chase Berggrun, UMass ‘13
Quick Brown Fox is the literary journal of the Five Colleges, founded in 2010 and dedicated to publishing the bestemerging talent in the Five College undergraduate community. We seek to bridge the barriers between the colleges and to promote our generation’s voice by providing students with space for writing, discussion, and a collaborative intellectual experience. Contact us: firstname.lastname@example.org facebook.com/pages/Quick-Brown-Fox http://qbfquickbrownfox.tumblr.com/ This publication is supported in part by grants from Five Colleges, Inc. and the Amherst local cultural council, a local agency supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency.
Contents Shadow Boxing / Lauren Abbate / 4 Thinking Thoughts of You as my Mind Drifts in the Moonlight Jacob Ehrlich / 5 Panamerican / Holly Mitchell / 6 Cattle / Alida Dean / 9 Echo Park Lake/ Ellie Gordon / 14 Threnody / Chase Berggrun / 15 The Rug Doctor / Lindsay Stern / 17 How to Stay Occupied After the Floor Has Left You Emma Binder / 19 The Shopgirl / Rhian Sasseen / 20 Mama Catches Me Talking to Her Dead Aunt and Cries for Days / Jamie Samdahl / 25 Dead Air / Rachel Simmons / 26 Lower Ninth / Jenna Lempesis / 35 Ripe & Wanting / Anna Meister / 36 New Hampshire Missed Connection Michael Samuels / 38 The Snow / Nik Shumer-Decker / 40 Commencement / Rachel Richardson / 46
Shadowboxing Lauren Abbate The way you look at me makes me think that maybe I never transcended that childhood phase in which I’d hold my breath each time we drove past the refinery even though I couldn’t smell a thing through car windows clenched jaw-tight and the perfume of my mother’s assurances, makes me think that maybe I spent years forgetting how to breathe back out, my lungs seizing shut with self-preservation at the thought of rolling down the windows and drawing in lungfuls of risk, blind gasps of trust—and the way I can’t look back at you makes me think that maybe all those Friday nights I spent at football games just so I could hide my breaths in spectator screams or all those rides through the city with a boy whose car held a Jesus-shaped air freshener (irony-scented) suspended in holy ascent from its rear-view mirror were just evasions, exercises in avoidance, shadowboxing matches I could pretend to win until my knuckles were raw and bruised from pounding the empty air.
Thinking Thoughts of You as my Mind Drifts in the Moonlight Jacob Ehrlich Massaging my foot soles, They are rank, tender and juvenile, like Youâ€”unwashed and lovely.
Panamerican Holly Mitchell You are a leopard, trailing your mother after Riverdance practice. You are Andromeda in glittery black boots. You take Harry Potter to Cotillion. You wave in the wave pool. You are a professional video store fucker-upper, switching cases from town-to-town. You call your mother “woman” because you are a very young piano and make money off Pac-Man. You play left wing like Pelé, and on Sundays you are a Roman Catholic. Your incense seeps from some silver thing like nunchucks. Bonus: you can’t read the Bibles, anyway. You are a pigeon in the youth district of Berlin. And a wine taster. You suck wine and spit it out. A primatologist, you hook pinky fingers with chimps and wear no makeup. You massage race horses. You stick their ports with needles long as your calves. Still, sometimes you are Jim Morrison and eat more chicken any man ever seen, yeh. You meant to write down your name for Rob’s prom table, sending his girlfriend into a firework of Carolina Tar Heels blue. You said “ashe” when James Baker Hall and Michael Jackson died but you would never sacrifice a goat. You talk with Nath though you copied his calculus project. You two cock eyebrows at each other in class and you run with him, feet against the beat of Sufjan Stevens’ “You Are the Blood.” 6
You are Hitler’s favorite architecture, the close shave of the Hygeine Museum in Dresden. Your grill reads PSALMS. And your back is a thoroughbred mid-gallop. You are a leatherman, a Greek active, a spy in the secret police. You are a lawyer’s geological consultant, paid to know “skeletal lime,” and the word “pussy” sounds like nothing to you, especially not floss and sweat. Summers, you are a Reedie, a roadtripper, and Ayn Rand is not chieftess of female chauvinist pigs but tattered in hand. Your spine wriggles away from Ani DiFranco songs. You are Gillian Welch and you don’t want to go downtown. You have to impale vampires tonight. You have to write “Savage Love,” and blog in defense of Megan Fox, for you are a redneck, salty forearms and heavy tits. And, BFF’s with Alison Bechdel— together, you feed hummingbirds and shave your heads. You read to her feminist theory in the woods behind her house, and she calls you smart, like she says a lot. You write letters. You are a letter writer. You name ice cream flavors. You can hold down olives and sweet tea like a responsible Southern girl. You are part of an omniscient hive mind. Computer code wakes you up in the pants. You feed your dog baby mice. 7
Wire-thin thoughts away from detonating with the 1,000-pounder, you are a sapper. You are your parents, so tired of living like this, an undead rooster, unworn wools. Made for the word â€œalmond,â€? you go by Katie and swim and shave your legs every morning. It seems like no one calls you a slut, bitch, dick, fat dyke, or stupid cunt. But they do. You are the middle school girls I am afraid of. You are a music ethnologist. Better yet: Bob Dylan, a rank and pointed cigarette given the tricks to speak and make Joanie Baez feel like she is as unmade as the ponderosa you seed-bombed and rabbit-bombed, you ecoterrorist, you. Pick up.
Cattle Alida Dean When I was a young girl, I dreamed of raising cattle. My fantasy was born in the town of Bainbridge, New York when my father and I stopped at a farm there one summer morning. We were driving back to Massachusetts from visiting his parents in upstate New York. Rolling over the crest of a sunny green hill in Bainbridge, my father saw a hand-lettered sign at the road’s edge that said, “Fresh Milk.” He parked our car on the side of the road and told me we were going to have a treat. I was not yet old enough to read. There was no farm stand or store so my father walked up to the whitewashed farmhouse, me tromping on his shadow, and knocked on the door. A pretty red-haired lady came to greet us. She had freckles on her nose and flour on her hands. As my father spoke to her I marveled at everything going on in the front yard. There were a couple of white ducks preening themselves beside a plastic kiddy pool full of dirty water. Beside a busted tractor a shepherd dog was gnawing on an old ham bone. Somebody’s white underwear was dancing on the clothesline. The pretty lady sold my father a glass bottle of milk and told us we were free to walk around back to look at the cows. There were about a dozen of them, fat Jerseys with long dark eyelashes. They were chewing on clover and lackadaisically flicking their tails at the flies. Later, I would learn that although Jerseys do not give as much milk as other breeds, their milk is known for its richness. Their pasture behind the farmhouse stretched all the way back to a small creek in the distance. Beyond the creek there was a forest of tall trees. Don’t ask me what kind of trees they were. I did not know then and I do not know today, but I know they were tall, tall enough to tickle the blue underbelly of the sky as they swayed in the wind. Back in the car, my father and I passed the milk back and forth between us, taking long swigs straight from the bottle. There was a layer of cream on top. That cream was the softest thing I ever tasted. *** Soon after I mastered the art of reading, I began researching cows 9
at the library in my hometown. This was before we trusted in computers, back when we still believed in paper. The librarian, Mrs. Montessi, filed hand-written index cards in little wooden drawers behind the circulation desk. Each card listed a call number, a title, an author and a publication date, corresponding to a book in the library. If you wanted to find all the books about cows you had to ask Mrs. Montessi to help you. I thought she was a frivolous woman because she wore red lipstick and perfume and decorated herself with fake gold necklaces and bracelets. But she was also a kind woman and I did like her. She didn’t understand my obsession with cattle and she tried to entice me with books on other subjects, books about evil stepmothers, jewelry making, a frog who became a prince, a perky girl who solved mysteries. I wasn’t interested in any of this stuff, but sometimes I checked out a book she suggested just to please her. What I really wanted to know was, which breeds are for milking and which are for slaughtering? How do you castrate a calf ? In The Essential Guide to Calving I read, “Force the testicle upward in the scrotum and cut off the lower one-third length of the scrotum with a sharpened jackknife. This will expose the testicles from below. Grasp both testicles and pull them out clear of the scrotum. Next, open the jaws of the emasculator.” I walked home from the library, kicking stones and crunching leaves, chanting to myself, “Open the jaws of the emasculator, open the jaws, the jaws of the emasculator.” *** After one long, lonely year of college, I left the East Coast and got a job on a ranch in eastern Arizona. It wasn’t a job exactly because I did not get paid, but I was given plenty to eat and a bed in the bunkhouse. While there, I learned how to trick a horse into believing I wasn’t scared by yelling and gouging my heels into his sides. I learned how to flank and castrate calves, and how to brand them with an iron rod that I heated over a crackling fire in the corral. I will always remember the smell of their fur and their flesh burning. (I heaved and up came a mouthful of the scrambled eggs I had eaten for breakfast the first time that acrid smoke reached my nostrils, but I swallowed it back and nobody noticed.) I will always 10
remember the smell of their fur and their flesh burning. (I heaved and up came a mouthful of the scrambled eggs I had eaten for breakfast the first time that acrid smoke reached my nostrils, but I swallowed it back and nobody noticed.) I will always remember their red eyes rolling back in their heads when I touched them with that hot iron, how they wailed and wailed for their mothers, wailed for mercy. On one of my first nights, as we ate bowls of chili in the bunkhouse kitchen, Eric, who had worked at the ranch for many years, and got paid to do so, told me a story. The ranchâ€™s twenty thousand acres were bisected by Highway 78, a road that began to twist and turn like a rattlesnake in the easternmost part of the ranch, where it commenced its long climb into the Gila Mountains. Eric told me that several winters ago two men had driven a truck off the highway on one of the switchbacks, straight through the guardrail and down, down, down, into the gulf below. There were no cattle in that pasture at the time because they had just been moved to lower ground, out of the mountains for the winter. When the Highway Department workers saw the tire marks and the broken guardrail they repaired the guardrail but, out of either stupidity or heartlessness, they did not look for the vehicle that had caused the damage. Next spring, once flashflood season had passed, the cattle were herded back into the mountainous pasture, but still no one discovered the truck. In May, when Eric was out there mending fence, he saw a young bull with a manâ€™s leather boot in his mouth. Thinking perhaps there were squatters nearby, he searched the area for signs of a campsite. Wedged between two giant boulders, he found the truck, at last. Hungry coyotes had dragged the two men from the vehicle. All that was left of them was scraps of clothing and bones. Disregarding the vertical drop, the truck wasnâ€™t one hundred yards from the highway. Eric laughed a lot, bean skins flecking his teeth and grease filling the craters of his chapped lips, as he told me this story. He thought it was funny how dumb the men who worked for the Highway Department were. He thought it was funny that a bull would chew on a boot made from the hide of his kin. He thought it was funny that he lived in a place where two men could disappear for 11
six months without anybody missing them. I laughed along with him, but I was haunted by the thought of those men’s white bones, which, I imagine, are still out there in that pasture, drying in the sun. *** The summer after my father graduated from high school he was supposed to begin working full time at his parents’ hardware store in Syracuse, New York. Instead, one June morning, he shouldered his canvas duffle bag and headed not into the city but west, as far west as he could go. He hitchhiked from Syracuse all the way to Oregon. Doing his best to avoid all interstates and other major highways, he stitched his way across the northern states—Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, back into Minnesota again—until he arrived at a small dairy farm on the opposite coast. Picture him landing on a square of green fabric dappled with white cotton cows. It was while working there that he acquired a taste for fresh milk. He told me all this while we drove back home together that day after stopping in Bainbridge, but he didn’t know then how much his words would come to mean to me. *** Catching rides in the Southwest was chancy at best. Most people don’t travel the thin roads that slice through that desert unless they are headed somewhere far away. Sometimes I’d walk for hours beneath that piercing sun without a single car passing me. The man who picked me up in Winkleman, Arizona was at least twice my age. I was never in love with him specifically. I was in love with the Sonoran desert—its cruel and vacuous beauty felt too boundless to fit in this world—and he was a small part of the landscape. Our trailer was tidy but only because I cleaned it. It was a mess when I moved in, half-eaten cans of hominy with spoons poking out of them left on the kitchen counter for days, dirty socks hiding in the bed’s tangled covers. I used to go for long walks in the early morning, when he was still asleep and the sky was still cluttered with stars. Most of the land in Arizona is not private but owned by the state. The Forest Service—I don’t know why it isn’t called The Desert Service—leas12
es out to ranchers, whose bony cattle eat Prickly Pear Cactus or Saguaros or whatever they can find. On one of my walks, I remember seeing a heifer with the long barbs of a Jumping Cholla imbedded in her nose. She looked up at me, mournfully. I reached my hand towards her, thinking perhaps I could pull out the barbs, but my sudden movement frightened her. She bolted. It struck me then how little in common I had with that child transfixed by the sight of those fat Bainbridge Jerseys, in their clover pasture dotted with warm cowpies. Lean and nimble like the heifer Iâ€™d just lost sight of, I was a prowler of the dry earth now.
Echo Park Lake Ellie Gordon That summer, everyone wanted to know how many bodies were going to show up. Some said 10, 3 – there had to be a few. They were draining the Echo Park Lake. First the boat house closed down, the sparkling pink and aqua paddle boats stolen from us, the shack boarded off making the water untouchable. All the little Tortugas vanished a long time ago, a whole race died out in what seemed like a day. Where will all the birds go?? I am afraid the only ones left will be the birds who feed from the foul smelling embankments; the meat eaters, the ones with rubbery phalluses on their heads, gummy mohawks jerking to and fro. They eat their own, feeding on piles of noodle strewn guts seeping out of unbirthed rotten eggs. After the muddy basin is uncovered, bits of heavy debris will gleam into the sun like pieces of a broken tooth stuck in a hollow gum. Yes, those will be the creatures to stick around man. Also at the Lake A homeless man in brown corduroy pants and a tattered, pale, yellow sombrero got down on his hands and knees and hunched over an almost full 40 oz. bottle and raised his two palms in prayer for either apology or gratefulness for the fullness in front of him. He sung under his breath, voice lost – too beaten into the softest dust. He got up and leaned on a shopping cart. His companion called out to him: “You leaving cowboi? God loves you cowboy! There’s the only answers!”
Threnody For A.T. Chase Berggrun In a garden of olives two hands sink down the sweep of this year: a story. When I knew you trumpets were raised in the arms of giants, in dreams, you told me of the way swamps linger on your mind. You drink from a tall goblet only I can offer, And yes, and thanks, and someday will you write my name where I cannot travel. Adam in caves, Adam where stories begin not once upon a time, but with the sound of smashed windows, and twice. I told you, again-and-again: let the voice of your rage syncopate and shrink, let the voice that washes the world wipe the blood from your lips. Let voices fade and replace them with your own selfstrong tongue. Adam, your sisters are the delicate stems of Godâ€™s glass iris, thirsty and white. 15
Adam, your fatherâ€™s face breathes heavy before the fall of your fist. Adam, time took me by the hand and you by the hair: but you are with me when time shuts its eye. You are with me on Saturdays as a flowering axe. You are with me to dig so that I do not have to. You are with me as my pains drip slow and quiet, mineral-dense, and become the thick teeth of the earth. All of paradise wants to grow old with you. Please listen, I write to remind you that this life is needlenew and it is waiting.
The Rug Doctor Lindsay Stern Pierre awoke to find he had lost his shadow. He is still sitting by the window, whistling hymns through two teeth. Beside him are a crinkled slip of paper, a flute, and a little tin cyclist painted red. He is naked. His wife Selma will not notice because she is blind. She is also mute, as she lost her voice cheering in the war. Even so, he can tell she is ashamed of him. He is always losing things. Pierre keeps his autobiography under the sink. It reads: Pierre January: Birth. February: Childhood. March: Pierre is a boy of ambitions. April: Pierre makes his living extracting salt from seawater. May: Wedding. June: Pierre and Selma buy a house with daffodil wallpaper. July: A chandelier falls on Pierre. August: Pierre recovers. September: Pierre learns to play the flute. October: For Halloween, Pierre is a frayed hem. November: [unwritten] December: Pierre becomes a rug doctor. Selma has not read the autobiography. Neither has Pierre; he knows the plot. Selma is a novelist. She communicates through blinking. In November, she wrote a book about a town in which nobody died. Pierre disliked the story. He thought it absurd, and told her so. Selma was furious. She spat on him. So Pierre apologized: “My words are like toothpaste, Selma, simple to emit but difficult to retract.” “You are an idiot,” Selma blinked.
Pierre knows that he is crumbling. After the chandelier in17
cident, he began finding shreds of himself around the house. First came the nail slivers. Then the lashes, and finally the tears. Lately his footprints have vanished, too. This is for the best, he thinks. Grubby carpets are difficult to stitch. Pierre is a collector of trinkets. In the parlor are rows of metal figures and a china cat. Pierre has composed a flute concerto for each. Before playing, he arranges his audience on the windowsill. He hopes his music sounds like a child clearing her throat. Today he will perform for the cyclist: Fugue in D. Pierre stores his tools in a bassinet. On the pillow is a family of needles. Pierre owns a needle of every size. Last night, he found constellations of rips in the rug. Rips are not unusual, so Pierre is constantly on his knees. Sometimes he leaves a needle on the floor. Selma does not appreciate this. No matter, he thinks. There is nothing worse than a wounded carpet. Pierre has been mending since noon, when he woke without a shadow. Now he is finished searching. There is one more rip to sew. He steps across the carpet to the lavatory. Downstairs, the kettle is whistling with Selmaâ€™s tea water. On the way Pierre glances in the mirror, and sees only daffodils.
How to Stay Occupied After the Floor Has Left You Emma Binder I am working with machine projects. There has been a remarkable discovery concerning the world’s potential end, and we are interested in potential. In many windgrown isles I’m a thousand-limbed shadow with patterns of underthing-leaves on my crossbow; I am interested in being a widow. Or braiding my glances like one, at the furtive least, or taking on projects like someone thumbing staples to keep busy. At the desperate least, we must keep busy. In the moon my stapler catches quilt-squares of light, which flights from my sweat, because I’m expending my outflow body-weight in attention. I’m unbending warped paper-clips to mend my body. I’m a tiny, wet tornado, and I depend on emissions. Behind my face my brain glows like carp, and that headlamp weighs a rain barrel. This untried seawall thinks I’m due for a headache. This productivity can be measured in annual rainfall.
The Shopgirl Rhian Sasseen
Despair?—Of course / I’ve felt it
Moons as huge as dinner plates. One moon, singular. The one moon, reflected and reflecting over and across the train’s windows, obscuring the outside. On Huntington there are students everywhere, phlegming the sidewalk. It is nighttime. The train has just emerged. They call it a subway, but this is a half-truth that ends as soon as Symphony. Immediately after, the train speeds forward into the clear and open Boston air, where the cold hangs clean as a pearl necklace. It is January; there are students everywhere. When the train pauses, I pick one out. A girl, hair bleached white and vulgar, the pose a careful nonchalance, a study in bohemianism. She is walking very fast, a look of concentration on her face. Very quickly; the doors are closing. The girl tries to run, her heels preventing speed, and the doors close and the train sputters forward and I watch from the window as she is left behind. Past Longwood the train empties. There is me in the corner, and a cluster of old Asian women near the front, speaking loudly in their coded tongue. In the window I see the street and I see my reflection; I try not to stare. The flatness of my face—who would ever find me attractive? Flushed with anonymity, I let my vanities get the best of me: I begin to stare. To study. Reflected behind me is a man, a student, tall and angular, and I want to glance back but I can’t, it would be too obvious. He is standing. If I lay my head against the window and strain I can see him clearly, and so I watch as he coughs at Brigham, checks his phone at Fenwood Road, and begins to fidget at Mission Park, but then I know no more. It’s my stop. I get off. Students everywhere—not me. How red was Catherine’s hair at lunch today, how red and long and obvious. Hair that I always found everywhere: stuck in clumps to the shower curtain, clustered in corners amongst the dust 20
balls, lingering at the bottom of the sink’s basin. Does the curtain match the drapes; how sophomoric; once I found one wiry curled hair near the shower’s faucet, glinting; red, it was red. “Spanish latte,” the barista called. “That’s me,” she said, and stood and walked away. Six months ago at graduation I stared at that hair for nearly half an hour, waiting for our turn to cross the stage and walk along the border of adulthood; thin and porous as it might be, we had not yet slipped across. We moved to Boston, a group of three and then me, and when I needed work and realized that I had no money left for graduate school I got a job where I spent my days selling two hundred dollar pens to businessmen bored on their lunch breaks. I figured that this was at least tangentially related to my literature degree. A few red hairs clung to the collar of her coat, hung crooked on her chair back. I tried to think again of what she had just told me, to understand the mess that I had somehow missed brewing in my own apartment. How does an affair start?—Pointed glances, fingers brushing, the supposition of reason with need. I had never noticed, never saw the warning signs; all the whispered jokes and laughter between Catherine and Adam down the hall; she told me, “I’m sleeping with Adam and Ian found out. All three of us are leaving.” “How am I supposed to find three other roommates on such short notice?” “Don’t worry.” She gave an easy shrug. “We’ve already found replacements.” “Where are you moving?” “Home.” “To Ohio?” She nodded, and then: “That’s me.” She returned with her coffee. “How’s work today?” “I can’t believe you’re moving out.” She shook her head. “Frieda,” she said, stopping. “Frieda.” And then she said no more. I picked at my sandwich, the green of the avocado now 21
looking sickly against the salmon’s pink. How do they do this, these people who move through life so easily, unafraid and assuming everything, and always in possession of a fluid, inborn self-assurance? —And then there is me, so clumsy-tongued and weak. I can always feel myself subsuming, and being subsumed. Faceless. I acquiesced and changed the subject. “According to another one of the shopgirls, they haven’t changed the music in eight years.” “She’s been working there for eight years? She’s not really a shopgirl anymore then, is she?” Catherine peeled the skin off her orange and smiled. That would not be her. But what if it were me? I expelled the thought, I refused the notion, and when it was time to go we hugged and kissed and smiled, and she told me she’d be gone by the time I returned that evening. The hill continues on. Right on Sunset, left on Eldora. Frozen snow banks half as tall as I am ring the streets, pale and dirty; what if I fell in one, I think, what if I fell asleep, and asleep is where I end, the operative word; nothing more. The effacement of the everyday. A woman bought a thousand-dollar chair today at work; I sold it to her. Ice coats the top layer of snow, leaving it peaked and jagged. I only want to hide a little. The hill continues on. My mind moves back to the student on the train, and the bareness of his throat, scarf-less in the cold. The hook of it, the hollow—the throat, where sound originates, the warmest spot on the body, oh, the hollow of his throat. I am walking up the hill alone. As I turn onto Sunset another group is coming down, loud and drunk. A few idiots in baseball caps, and little girls tottering in cold legs and too high of heels, wobbling down as their boyfriends hurry; one girl grabs at one of the boys’ jackets and almost slips – her fingers catch air and then the shoulder of another of her friends, and they all hurry past me, not noticing me while barely noticing each other. Students, all of them. And me. May. The ache of morning light peering through his win22
dow. Ours the bodies that have always existed, hidden from view, and now known to each other as “man” and “woman,” each word so loaded and so necessary. The borders have been redrawn, shifting and erasing us both into an adulthood that neither of us wants. No more the arms of children but instead myths unto themselves; the night prior, my limbs laid across his bed like bent lilies, drawing him in. “Are you excited to move?” he asked me. “That’ll be interesting, living with Catherine and all of them.” “Yes,” I said. I felt like I had no other words inside of me, only yeses and affirmations and hopes. We had graduated and somehow this had happened. How does an affair start—? Hands, two hands, wrapped around the other. He moved closer; two dark heads turning towards the other. The paleness of his throat, the darkness of his hair. “You should move in with us,” I said. “We’re looking for a fourth roommate. You should move in, Adam.” My hands, moving over his. His feet, stroking mine. He had laughed. “Maybe.” I was on my back again, and he was laughing over me. “Really,” I said. “We’d all love to have you as a roommate—Ian would love it, Catherine would love it, I would love it—” He cut me off. “Do you ever get sick of lying?” Three flights of stairs. I open the door. It’s true—they’ve left. A note on the kitchen table tells me of the new roommates, who will move in later in the week; two girlfriends and a man who went to high school with Adam. The handwriting is Catherine’s, loopy and huge, the words scrawled so thoughtlessly that they begin to run off the page. Names, numbers; I could stalk them online, but I don’t. Instead I wander through the empty bedrooms, sit in all the private corners that had been covered by things. Chairs, pens, beds, and desks. There are no other notes; they have left me with only my own thoughts, ghost-stuff, of them. 23
In Adamâ€™s room I pull my blouse off, then my skirt, and in the hall everything else. A crumb trail of self-respect. Howâ€”and in my bedroom I slink to my bed, ready to hide my face forever. Nighttime, and now finally there is only me, the catastrophe, lying lonely and sweet amongst my bed linens.
Mama Catches Me Talking to Her Dead Aunt and Cries for Days Jamie Samdahl Mama, I want to be Bess. It’s not enough to have her name or nosebleed. I’m up nights smoking into her silk scarves, dreaming her hands and unremembering her face. I wait by the window three and a half seasons for the lilacs to bloom. I want to sit in silhouette, sit with the lilacs like Bess— in my wheelchair and in my youth. Mama, how have I come from a line of old maids? Each of us wearing the other’s rings, none of us feeling like believing in God, it’s so clear that we’re all the same and more delicate than anything completely natural— ceramic-faced and bone-wristed with eyes like desert scrub, all except mine: tradition broken down blue. Dusty as crushed pearl on darkwood heirloom, the lot of us half-crossed into death already, Mama, I can’t stand to be last. Let’s bury each other in the dead fern field we dreamt, both of us, the night just after I was born. Your first nightmare was my last.
Dead Air Rachel Simmons Mark was cleaning his gun again, the wooden one that made him reek of cosmoline. He’d been sitting at the table for hours since he’d gotten back, running swab after swab through the barrel, running his hands over the worn curves of the stock. He hadn’t spoken a word to her since this morning. Once Mark had returned from the woods with rabbits, tiny limp furred bodies dangling from his massive gloved hand. She’d refused to clean them herself. There were lines, she liked to think, that she wouldn’t cross. There used to be meat packaged in plastic. There was a time she could cook without soft rabbit insides all over her sink, their blood draining away in soft red spirals. Mark took them straight to the smokehouse now, and came back into the house smelling of gunpowder and blood and cold. “You should come with me next time,” said her husband, the hunter. The supermarket was 30 minutes away, but Mark preferred not to rely on “the larger food supply” for their meals, venturing into the woods habitually to kill their meals. Precautions, he said. “Mm,” she said. It was not a commitment. She tipped the carrots she had been chopping into the pot that would be venison stew, and turned on the fan to banish the cosmoline smell. “I can’t be the only one to provide for this family,” he said. “What if a Major Event happens?” He smiled, as if every couple routinely had this conversation. She should have known how things would turn out the first time Bess growled at him. Dogs are always the best judges of character. “I need some potatoes from your panic pantry,” she said. He swept his gun things up, and crossed the kitchen to the basement door. His steel boots echoed on the metal stairs all the way down to the bunker. “You’ll appreciate it when the zombies come over the wall,” he called as he went down the stairs. She doubted it. She wondered who she had married. Lilah slipped out of bed when Mark had fallen asleep. She 26
padded downstairs, settling in the dull brown armchair next to the bookcase with the photo albums. She pulled one into her lap. Snapshots of San Francisco filled her cold Alaskan night with windy streets and flowers and real people moving through their real lives. She stopped at a picture of her and Mark at a bar years ago. Easy camaraderie, she thought. He looked normal. Certainly not an alarmist then—dressed like a regular person, not yet having donned his customary camo fatigues and heavy boots. Cynicism had not yet become his defining feature. She flushed, moved to anger at the sight of this imposter. She blamed him. She blamed herself. Foolish youth. His eccentricities were tolerable when they met—endearing, even. He wooed her with beautiful promises of a life apart, the two of them. The idea was nice: a house in the woods and the breathtaking Alaskan wilderness to fill her inner emptiness. Natural beauty, he crooned, without the distractions and crime and the troubles of city life. Away. Don’t you want that? He would ask her these things, planting kisses on the freckle on her right ear, whispering sweet snowy nothings, pulling her into his icy web. She stared at these antiquated, colorful versions of herself. Once she wore dresses and purchased cranberry heels. She dated men and fell for them, hard, when they promised her things. She ignored the seeds of character flaws: an occasional coldness, a distance. She chose not to notice when they took her for granted and built fortresses to keep themselves from the world. She slammed the photo album shut and startled Bess, who had long ago crawled into her lap and rested her great scruffy dog head on Lilah’s arm. The clock read 3:42. She had spent three hours reviewing a catalog of her poor life decisions. She walked up the polished wood stairs and into their Spartan bedroom where her husband slept with a pistol under his pillow. Mark was on the roof early, when the sky was still purple and the air was still cold enough for Bess’s paws to freeze to the porch. He had designed the house for utility, but Lilah had insisted upon the porch. He had whisked her away from civilization, and she wanted to rock, with a mug of tea and a Bernese mountain dog 27
at her feet, she had said. “What are you doing?” she asked, shivering in her robe, a mug of hot chocolate halfway to her lips. “I’m aligning the antenna. It’s fail-safe,” he said “We’ll know something’s happened if the Survivalist Network goes off-air,” he said. “They broadcast 24/7. Someone in this household has to plan for these sorts of contingencies.” They didn’t have Internet access, or TV. Neither Lilah or Mark worked—thanks to Mark’s well-to-do parents—and Mark was convinced that the internet was just a way for the government to monitor its citizens. Not under his roof, he said. “Do you want an omelet?” “No. Spam’s fine.” He hammered something. “You know, you shouldn’t get used to that gourmet stuff. Nuclear fallout could wreck the plants for years.” Lilah went inside, Bess slipping between her legs. She put a tomato from the greenhouse and two eggs from earlier in the week on a cutting board, frowning at her husband’s breakfast preferences. She walked across the cold tile in her bare feet and rummaged in the pantry for Mark’s beloved Spam until she came up with two expired cans. She hid them under a 25-pound sack of sugar and cracked 3 more eggs for his omelet. He would just have to settle this morning. When Mark came in, he hung his wet things up in the hall to drip all over the wood floor, and then walked straight to the pantry. His boots clomped on the tile. He never took them off now. “Well, that’s done,” he proclaimed. “We have no more Spam, so I made you an omelet,” she said, sauntering over to the table with a plate in each hand. Once, she sauntered frequently. Now she did it when she wanted something from him. Mark looked at her cooking, walked past her carefully garnished plates and disappeared into the stairwell down to the bunker. He re-emerged a moment later with a can of Spam grasped triumphantly in his fist. “There’s about 100 cans downstairs,” he said. He opened the can with his hunting knife, spearing a slice of the foul processed 28
meat on the tip. Lilah had no words. She slid the plate with the bigger omelet onto the floor where Bess was waiting. They ate in silence. After breakfast, Mark left, probably to go kill something with his bare hands. Lilah barely saw him during the day anymore. He filled his days with splitting wood and killing animals and preserving meat and working towards his grand, self-sustaining apocalyptic vision. He had to be the man that could do everything himself. He bought things, wind-up radios and gasoline and expensive monitoring equipment. Gas masks and combat boots had been creeping into their closet, choking out her prettier dresses that were too light for Alaska. He used to wear snappy suits with those dresses. They used to complement each other. Lilah marched outside, her feet crunching on the permafrost. She retrieved a pair of wire cutters from the shed – always left unlocked in the event of a Major Event—and climbed the ladder Mark had left propped against the house. His meticulously oriented antenna gleamed in the low sunlight, next to a neatly arranged box of wires. She pried the box open, cut several importantlooking wires, tucked the ends in for stealth, and replaced the cover. It looked the same, she thought. She replaced the wire-cutters in the shed. If she knew what she was doing, Mark wouldn’t be able to receive any transmissions on any frequency. Her transgression would go unnoticed. She hated Mark’s paranoia and their lack of Internet connection normally, but right now, her success hinged upon it. She snuggled down on the sofa with Bess and watched the Star Trek DVDS she had smuggled from San Francisco, the snow starting to fall outside. After breakfast, Mark left, probably to go kill something with his bare hands. Lilah barely saw him during the day anymore. He filled his days with splitting wood and killing animals and preserving meat and working towards his grand, self-sustaining apocalyptic vision. He had to be the man that could do everything himself. He bought things, wind-up radios and gasoline and 29
expensive equipment. Gas masks and combat boots had been creeping into their closet, choking out her prettier dresses that were too light for Alaska. He used to wear snappy suits with those dresses. They used to complement each other. Lilah marched outside, her feet crunching on the permafrost. She retrieved a pair of wire cutters from the shed – always left unlocked in the event of a Major Event—and climbed the ladder Mark had left propped against the house. His meticulously oriented antenna gleamed in the low sunlight, next to a neatly arranged box of wires. She pried the box open, cut several importantlooking wires, tucked the ends in for stealth, and replaced the cover. It looked the same, she thought. She replaced the wire-cutters in the shed. If she knew what she was doing, Mark wouldn’t be able to receive any transmissions on any frequency. Her transgression would go unnoticed. She hated Mark’s paranoia and their lack of Internet connection normally, but right now, her success hinged upon it. She snuggled down on the sofa with Bess and watched the Star Trek DVDS she had smuggled from San Francisco, the snow starting to fall outside. Mark wandered in from the woods sometime later, his heavy canvas coat stiff in the cold, pressing pounds of deer meat into her arms for immediate refrigeration. Visibly exhausted from his exploits, he sank down into the brown couch in the living area while Lilah assembled a roast for dinner. She smiled; her back turned to him, and grabbed a potato from the large pile on the counter. Lilah heard Mark turn on the radio. She peeled a potato vigorously and listened to his socks brush against the wood floor. “There’s something wrong with this,” he said. The dial clicked as Mark tinkered, adjusting settings, trying to fix the problem. Lilah chopped an onion. “Really?” she asked. “I was using it this afternoon and it was fine.” “There’s no signal,” he said. “Every channel…it’s just static.” 30
Lilah said the news was depressing anyway. “No,” he said. “You don’t understand. The Survivalist Network of North America isn’t broadcasting. Something must have happened.” He sat down on the bottom step, smoothing his hands over his scalp. “It’s just the radio. Look, it’s snowing,” she said, pointing the knife to the darkening landscape, which was now covered in a good deal of snow. “It’s probably just a grid outage.” Mark grabbed his jacket from its peg and stepped outside. Lilah ran after him, but he didn’t get in the truck. He climbed onto the roof without a ladder, scrambling up from the porch handrail, and examined the antenna before climbing down. “There’s nothing wrong with it,” he said quietly. “It’s supposed to be fool-proof.” “Oh my god,” Lilah said dramatically. She rearranged her face into a mask of fear. Mark seemed to have caught it, too – color was rapidly draining from his face. “I’m going to town,” he said, his hands running over each other, his anxiety written on his face. He crossed to the overhang, where the truck sat with its snow chains. Lilah went inside, watching him drive off through the kitchen window. She hadn’t considered him going to town. He returned not long after, his face drawn and pale, removing his boots with great deliberacy. His eyes stared at nothing particular, unfocused, wide. His hands wrapped around his arms in a childlike gesture of security as he settled on the edge of the stairs. “Mark?” “It’s real,” he said. He looked down at his boots. Lilah wiped her hands on a towel and walked over to where he sat. She rested on the step next to him, lamely patting his right knee. She couldn’t remember the last time she had touched him. She thought that once, in another life, they had held hands just because they could. “It’s real,” he repeated, helpless. “What do you mean?” Lilah injected fear into her expression. “I couldn’t get to town, the road was out, but there were no lights. No power. Something’s happened. Not even the truck radio 31
picked anything up.” This was too absurd even for him, she thought. Storms happen all the time. But it was too good an opportunity to pass up. “What are we going to do?” she said as theatrically as she could manage. She prodded him to get up, pulling his arms. He was shaking. “Mark!” He vomited on the floor next to the step. The buzzer on the oven rang. “We can’t face anything on an empty stomach. You should eat something,” she said quietly. “It’s not like we’re not prepared.” She soaked up the puddle of vomit with some paper towels. Mark followed her to the table, where he settled, his head in his hands, staring intently at his fork. Bess snored as they dined. “But we aren’t,” he said simply. “The venison, it’s from town.” He said he had been thinking, without meeting her eyes. He was terrified. He didn’t actually want the world to end. Deer are too hard to shoot. They bolt. They didn’t have enough supplies for more than a week, he said. It was self-deception, he said. People need to think they’re stronger than they are. Lilah burst into tears. Mark looked at his stew. “It’s ok. I think I have a solution,” he said. Lilah wiped teardrops from the rim of her plate. Mark leaned across the table to hold her hand. “I don’t want to live in a world like this,” Mark said. “Neither do I,” she said, squeezing his hand. The remnants of their dinner abandoned, they went down to the bunker. Mark had supervised its construction personally, from excavation to the gray fleece blankets piled on the hard beds. Mark placed his feet carefully, gripping the banister with white knuckles. His boots dragged across the ridged metal steps. Lilah held him around the waist to steady him. Bess followed, her tail held jauntily high. There was a case in the bunker that held cyanide pills Mark had purchased at a sketchy flea market. The seller had claimed inheritance from his father, a fighter pilot during World War II. This was a perfectly natural thing to keep in a bunker, Mark had 32
purchased at a sketchy flea market. The seller had claimed inheritance from his father, a fighter pilot during World War II. This was a perfectly natural thing to keep in a bunker, Mark had said once. What if things get to be too much to handle, he asked. Wouldn’t you rather go on your own terms? Lilah had missed the signs then, in the excitement of ordering solar panels and heirloom vegetable seeds. She would make up for it now. They sat facing each other over the stainless steel table in the back room. Mark produced shot glasses and a bottle of whiskey. “To life before,” he said. They drank. The case was opened. With a shaking hand, Mark drew out two capsules. “What about Bess?” Mark asked. Lilah said she would get along fine. There was plenty of food. The door was open. She was a smart dog. Lilah looked at her husband, who was examining the tiny pill in his palm. She regarded hers for a moment before placing it delicately on her back left molar. Mark seemed surprised that she should be the first to show such initiative, but did the same. They looked at each other. Bess whined. Mark grasped her hand. Lilah felt the edges of his callouses catch on the soft skin of her palm. “On three,” he said. He did not squeeze her hand. “I love you,” she said. He nodded and counted to three. Lilah did not bite her capsule. She watched as Mark did. He stared at Lilah as his body convulsed, his breathing irregular before he slumped back in his chair. When he was still, she reached into her mouth and very gently pulled the capsule out. She sat, her late husband’s hand still reaching for hers across the table. His eyes were open. She didn’t close them. Lilah returned to the upper level, alone. She washed her shot glass and put it away. Bess followed her around as she cleaned up dinner and fixed the antenna and called 911. The house felt normal without Mark in it. She would be able to plant things inside now, maybe flowers. Mark was allergic. The police determined Mark’s death was a suicide. They asked if he was depressed. She said probably. They asked how she 33
found him. She told them she had woken up from a nap and found him in the bunker. She cried at this point; it seemed appropriate. She caught a glimpse of the body, briefly, after they carried him up and into the ambulance. His skin was blue, the same shade as the cover of her photo album. He smelled of almonds. She thought she would roast some, later. The ambulance drove away as Bess watched from the window, wagging her tail.
Lower Ninth Jenna Lempesis In the path of her destruction: You. One man in a wasteland. And so, you find parts of you that are missing. Your heart is made of Bolts and boxsprings Three boys and a bashful woman Godandhislove and Your house in splinters on the ground. Your heart beats phrases: Faith-ful, a-ble, bi-ble, build-ing Building with the sinew of three boys by your side Your womanâ€™s eyes watching from the broken porch steps. Your heart knows The text of two thousand years stays true to its rhythm That those words teach you time and space And so you show the naysayers what deafness really is. Your heart gets tangled In weeds and wild things Walls without walkways Boys blinded by the winds and a quieted woman. Your heart gets tangled.
Ripe & Wanting Anna Meister find yourself in a dirty basement, humming like a subway station, full of that piss sweet smell & stick of beer to the concrete floor, the floor to your boots, dribbling down your dress front. all around, the empty sound of plastic cups flipping over & falling to the ground, sloppy. everyone shouts & bangs their calloused hands on the wooden table. in the corners, riotous laughter, bodies folding over feet. & then he comes up behind you, whispers hot sweat in your ear, something about your ass, & your cheeks already flushed from chugging too much bloom redder still as the liquid sits & sloshes in your belly like sopping winter rain. rain that catches the two of you moments later, spits you wet over a split cigarette. rain that makes you 36
peel away clothing like fruit, sticking to your bodies like the beer to the floor & you to the floor. & you both understand what is happening, a pile of clothes soaked through by the dresser & no last names, but then the sur- prising softness of his skinâ€”like almond butterâ€”jars you all too awake. & you sud- denly notice your sinking sway and liquor limbs, wish you could wring your tongue dry for you are certain he can taste you ripe & wanting, near rot.
New Hampshire Missed Connection Michael Samuels Dear Deer – m4m – 21 (Deerfield) You were a mounted deer head at the town dump. I was a college student home for the summer, recycling my glass bottles. I looked over my shoulder and saw you, in the hands of a furious woman, her hair huge from days and days of being furious, striding, stomping, toward the dump attendant’s office-shed. The late-August sun struck one of your dark marble eyes and made it flash. As if you were winking at me. The dump attendant, leaning against the frame of his open door and surveying the dump-goers from under the green brim of his hat, barely looked at you. He looked at the woman, the way she was stomping and her furious hair, and tilted a bored thumb toward the trash chute. By the time he realized how your antlers might damage the compressor (or did he notice your proud neck, that flash in your dark-glass eyes, the slight, secretive smile some angel or taxidermist gave your lips?), you were already sailing through the air, tracing the arc of the divorced woman’s pitch. She had such an arm. When your wooden mounting cracked against the side of the chute, I felt it as if it had been my own chest, the flat part where the ribs all come together, splitting. I almost shouted, almost howled, almost dropped all of my glass on the ground to free my hands to reach like helpless, stunted claws, but the attendant beat me to it. “Stop!” he shouted. His voice was low and thick, wobbling out from his pendulous cheeks (I’m telling you because you might not remember, since you were sliding down, spinning and rolling onto your ears and the tips of your antlers, and it must have been loud down there, you must have been pretty occupied). “Nobody throw anything in the chute!” and he ran into the shed for something, anything with a long handle (maybe there was a pole with a hook for emergencies just like this!) as you kept sliding, sliding now that you were back on your wood base and the sides of 38
the chute arenâ€™t steep and probably not very smooth. The attendant tried to reach you with a shovel (no pole, or maybe he was too panicked to find it) but you, gaining momentum, a victim of a broken home, on a trajectory you never chose or deserved, descended. On the verge of hysteria (or already there, sliding down with you), watching the attendant strain, I would have offered to be lowered down by the ankles to retrieve you, to slide down the rough side of the chute with its trash juices and its invisible slime, but I knew that I was powerless, that the glass recycling where I stood was too far away. Instead, like Orpheus, I watched you tumble out of sight, my Eurydice, swallowed by the square hole at the bottom, claimed by the compressor. If you survived, letâ€™s get drinks.
The Snow Nik Shumer-Decker In the winter, the wind whips across the cow fields that stretch between the edge of the woods—where I move into the open, headed towards school—and the farm buildings, barns, houses and greenhouses clustered and spreading out from the road. Every night, the surface of the snow is fouled by wild animals and then reborn by the wind, smooth and pristine in early morning. I walk with my face down, leaning forward and always regretting, while pushing through the deeper drifts, that I have not tied my boots. Like an avalanche the snow pours in, melts against my ankles and refreezes into those hard ice balls that you throw only if want to hurt someone, that can take an eye out, etc. At the far end of the fields is a fence and then another field, then a path through the farm with paddocks on both sides filled with the shit and piss of livestock frozen in muddy colors. From the farm it is a short walk to my school, directly across the street, up a short path to the front door. Inside, the heat makes my skin prickle and itch, I take off my shoes in class, empty out the ice balls and let them melt in sloppy puddles in the back corner. At the end of the day, I walk home, and the same wet cold seeps in, but at least the wind is at my back and when I get home I can strip down, curl up under a comforter and watch movie after movie after movie. There is no furniture in my room. It is on the second floor of my father’s house and the windows look out on the driveway, our small tool shed and woods on all sides. One of the windows is still cracked diagonally from when I shot it with a BB gun for no reason at all. There is that feeling, when you stand at the edge of a cliff and start to think that you might jump but do not want to, and the fear wells up and starts pulling at you like rip tide, closer and closer and then over the edge—until you back away slowly not trusting your own body. I did not really want to shoot my window but then it was all I could think about until I did, and now the cold gets in through the crack. Sometimes it is too cold to fall asleep at night, not because of the window but because the whole house is heated with one wood stove. After the first blizzard, when the car 40
got snowed in and my father decided to blockade the doors against the winter, we stopped using the stove. There was a good quarter mile of unplowed road between the house and the road that was plowed so there was no way to get wood delivered. Sometimes we would haul dead branches inside and burn those, but for the most part we relied on space heaters. I sleep on the carpeted floor of my room under a comforter with a small space heater pressed up against my body, and although the blanket is warm and the heater is warm the cold comes up through the floor. Lying under the comforter I watch movies, my face close to the TV so I can turn it off without getting up, and when I am tired of watching movies I lay in the dark and toss and turn trying to fall asleep. Outside in the dead of night, mammoths roam alone across the cow fields under the moon, looking for food. Sometimes the wolves get one of the old ones or very young ones or those that are sick or weak with hunger. The wolves wait in the woods. And every night two of the mammoths battle over a mate, smashing tusks, trunks, and foreheads into each otherâ€™s gigantic furry bodies. The white snow is trampled, torn up and made brown. When it is over, the winner walks onward across the glowing fields and the loser limps back to the woods not knowing that the wolves lay waiting. In the dark of night I can hear the wolves tearing at its ankles until the mammoth falls, then swarming its face and biting and biting. Through the night the wind blows and blows, and, when I walk to school the next morning, nothing of the behemoth is left. When I get to school, the doors are locked. The snow around the school is undisturbed, no tire tracks, no foot prints. At first I think that it must be the weekend and that I have lost track of the days. Then I see my friend Will standing by the bus stop. Staring through the heavy snow it is hard to tell whether it is really him, but I walk closer and he yells my name. When I get close Will is smiling and giddy. He asks me if I have heard and tells me that all of the parents got a call last night. He knows that we do not have a phone at my house so he just tells me. Everyone is sickâ€”a whooping cough epidemic, and school will be shut down for a while, a month, maybe even longer. Then he starts to laugh, all those parents in the Valley 41
who thought immunizations were toxic and now this. I start laughing too, even though I am not immunized either, and neither of us can stop. Standing in swirling snow we laugh and laugh. I need to walk back to my father’s house and tell him, even though all I want to do is wander. When I get home he has gone out. He doesn’t get back until dusk, out of breath and exhausted, carrying two bags of groceries he got from town. Then the dark sets in, and I do not want to go out alone, so I curl up under my comforter and try to go to sleep even though it is much too early. Outside, the mammoths move through the trees looking for food. They travel together, fan out like a search party and the wolves stay back. The moon shines through the branches and casts textured gray patterns on the mammoths’ fur. I can hear their quiet footsteps, dampened by the fluffy snow. Lying in the dark trying to sleep, I can hear them breaking branches, bending saplings, softly moving through the trees like the wind. My father’s house is a sturdy shell, a two story log cabin made of heavy white cedar trunks because cedar does not rot. It rests in the thick woods halfway up Fern Hill, two miles from school, the only house at the end of a dead end dirt road. There are four doors into the house, one on every side, facing each of the four cardinal directions. Long ago, most of the handles fell off the doors. We never remembered to tighten the screws that held them in, so they got looser and looser until the handles fell out and the screws got lost and there was nothing to be done. When my father withdrew for the winter, he blockaded up all the entrances except the front door. He piled trash in front of the north door, put a book case in front of the east entrance, and piled sticks and branches outside the west one. He locks the front door by wedging a log between the door and the staircase so he can only lock the door from inside. The snow keeps falling. During the day I venture out to meet Will on the road between our houses. After meeting up we walk along the snow-covered roads toward his house. We walk and walk and although my face and hands start to burn, the cold can’t get in deep. Will tells me that he overheard his mom talking on the phone. A doctor has been brought in, he tells me, and they have set 42
up a clinic in the school auditorium. Only three families brought their children. Most families went to the doctors a town over, but these three families wouldn’t hear of it. The Lanes made Chris go, and poor Chris; the doctor has been using leaches. I ask Will if the leaches are working and he pauses for a second then tells me that well no, not yet. When we get to Will’s house, tree trunks and branches are piled up long ways across the end of their driveway. My dad made a blockade, Will says, he’s also been firing our guns into a stump in the backyard to let people know we’re here and that this is private property. Their garage is overflowing with firewood, so much wood that there is no room for the two cars, which sit in the driveway covered in snow and completely stuck. A wave of heat covers me as we walk inside. Will’s dad is sitting at the kitchen table in a bathrobe, listening to Riders on the Storm on repeat and drinking a glass of red wine. Hi boys, he says, I’ve been listening to the Doors today, and smiles. It feels like it must be at least eighty-degrees in the house. Upstairs, Will’s mother and two younger siblings are sitting around in T-shirts and soccer shorts, eating cereal and watching episode after episode of Friends. When his mother walks out of the room, Will’s little brother asks me if I heard that Chris Lane’s parents took him to the school to get leached. I would hate to have Chris’s parents, he says. Will and I stay for a while, warming up by the TV. Then we pack up some food, a lantern; we sneak a bottle of whiskey from his dad’s liqueur cabinet, and head out. As we walk along the road the sun sets and we light the lantern. We pass others on the road heading the opposite direction. You can see their flashlights from far away, like floating candles. Their outlines remain unclear, their faces indistinguishable in the dark, and everyone makes sure to pass everyone else at a wide breadth, silent, shuffling, and afraid. We do not take the forks in the road that lead to the school, but we do not go in the opposite direction either. We stay at a certain distance, almost circling, oriented toward the center of the Valley, the school, but not walking right at it. We walk and drink and talk about this or that. Between the school and where we walk is Fudd Hill. We take a right at the fork 43
and now we are on Wolfhill Road. I know the road circles around Fudd Hill, which is directly to our right, and comes out of the woods right-smack-dab in the middle of the valley. We plod along and, at some point, we decide to leave the road and cut into the woods facing directly toward the school. Off the road the snow is deep, and we move slowly, straining ourselves, climbing steep and slippery inclines. It is hard to climb in the dark while carrying the lantern, and sometimes I fall or fumble the light. Sometimes the ground flattens before shooting up again, and for a second we catch our breath, mutter profanities, and then move on. When we finally reach the top, we are exhausted, sweating, and our lungs ache. Looking out from the top of Fudd Hill at night, you can see the lights of distant towns shining up from the horizonâ€™s hard dark line. Johnstown is off to the left and Millerton to the right and behind Millerton the towns of Tinseltown and Copake. Closer in the foreground is a horseshoe outcropping of hills. Sheltered on all sides, nestled at the bottom is a stretch of farm land and at the center a cluster of buildings, the Valley, the school. We sit down in the snow and look down from atop Fudd Hill. A bonfire has been made, and although it is hard to tell in the dark, it looks like it is blazing in the field behind our school. They are burning the clothes, Will says, to kill the germs. I nod and take a sip of whiskey. I am still too out of breath and burp up stomach acid. I spit and cough and then say that the wolves are afraid of fire and that maybe they are just trying to keep the wolves back. We sit for a while looking across the dark earth, at the housesâ€™ lit windows which look like stars, and the one tall fire in the Valley. Will asks if I think we should head home. On the way down, I slip and fall, and the lantern goes out for good. We move down the hill, grabbing saplings to slow our momentum and passing the bottle back and forth when the ground flattens out. Will talks about making hot chocolate once he gets home and asks if I want to stay over, and at first I say yes, I would like to. We walk for a while down the road talking about nothing, about video games, hot chocolate, and a warm house. There is no one on the road now besides the two of us. As we walk, I notice more and more that I cannot see Willâ€™s features; both of us are 44
silhouettes. I think about something my father once told me, either some kind of proverb or joke: If you walk at night down an unlit dirt road, drunk with a good friend, and he says he is sometimes afraid that when you come into the light you will not be yourself at all but someone different, What next? Maybe I should go home and see how my father is doing. Will asks me if I am sure, and I say sorry and that I will see him tomorrow. We walk together for a while and then he heads home one way and me another. Looking back, I see his body like a ghost, moving down the road, a dark and fuzzy silhouette against the white snow. I scan the woods on both sides of the road, but it is dark and I cannot see past the first line of trees. I walk quickly, face down, hands in my armpits trying to warm them, telling myself not to break into a run. The whiskey has left my head, and I feel sober and cold. When I come close to my fatherâ€™s house I can see lights from the living room and that my father has made a fire in the stove. I enter quickly, shaking with cold, and sit down. Next to the stove is a large pile of sticks and branches. My father is asleep on the couch, his face red from the fire light. I blockade the front door and pull up a chair by the stove. When I close my eyes, I listen and at first all I can hear is the crackling and whoosh of the flames. Then I hear it. Through the woods, out in the cow fields, the mammoths move on in pairs bathed in moonlight. Throwing back their heads, they call to each other before walking on, out of the Valley to the woods and fields beyond.
Commencement Rachel Richardson I learned from my father that one’s linguistic capacity is one’s deifying factor— potentially. Do not make the mistake of ignoring an altar and missing creation, the muscle altar of possible God fumbling somewhere between your teeth, hand, and accord. However, and I’m sorry, but certain possibilities lack creatability. In blitheness whet your temples with the hot fluidity of seasons, some light, some traveling shadow, Pythagorean music, and once vastness— these the pure delight of being. Move in amidst the risks of becoming expecting only to become, of anything, dispossessed. And for the sake even of chosen gods— If you’re going to be, be well. 46
Contributors Lauren Abbate, Mount Holyoke ‘13, is majoring in English and minoring in Gender Studies. She is Co-Editor of Verbosity, Mount Holyoke’s literary magazine. Holly Mitchell, Mount Holyoke ‘13, is an English major. When she ate books as a child, she ate Hermann Hesse’s Poems. Alida Dean, Smith ‘12, studies English at Smith. She is from Massachusetts but she feels more at home in the desert. Jacob Ehrlich, Hampshire ‘15 Ellie Gordon, Hampshire ‘13, is a poet and fiction writer. She hails from Los Angeles, California. Chase Berggrun, UMass ‘13 Lindsey Stern, Amherst ‘13, lives in New York City. Her first book, a novella, is forthcoming from Scrambler Books in 2012. Emma Binder, Hampshire ‘15, is studying creative writing and literature. Rhian Sasseen, Smith ‘12, is a senior English major from Smith College whose writing has received both local and nationally-ranked awards. She is the editor-in-chief of Quick Brown Fox, the copy editor of the Sophian, and has previously worked at the literary journals Ploughshares and The Common. Jamie Samdahl, Smith ‘15 Rachel Simmons, Smith ‘14, is a goatherdess, canoeist and occasional prophet from Pennsylvania. She is majoring in History and Russian Civilization. She enjoys zombies, the northern lights, and, occasionally, running with wolves. 48
Jenna Lempesis, Mount Holyoke ‘12, is a Politics major. When Jenna was little, she had to take a special class because her hands didn’t work very well. She still spills a lot. Anne Meister, Hampshire ‘14, studies Poetry and Critical Media Studies at Hampshire. She is a lover of mangoes, good lighting, the Midwest, disposable cameras, and expensive gin. Michael Samuels, Hampshire ‘13, is from Deerfield, New Hampshire. He studies Creative Writing and Literature, focusing on ideas of place and regionalism, and is currently on Student Exchange in Madrid. Nik Shumer-Decker, Hampshire ‘13 Rachel Richardson, Smith ‘12, is graduating this spring with a degree in English. She loves to steal and talk about German philosophy, often simultaneously. Her favorite flavor is blackberry.
The Literary Magazine of the Five Colleges