and ﬁction from BARBARA BARROW, SHANNON L. BOWRING, WHITNEY COLLINS, RYAN NAPIER, AND SARAH SCHIFF
“he moved as if he had control / of every atom in his body. / Maybe that’s what I was after — / to feel the spirit settled, whole.”
new poetry by HANNAH DELA CRUZ ABRAMS, EMMA AYLOR, SAMUEL CHENEY, MICHAEL DHYNE, LAUREN GREEN, BETSY JOHNSON, CHRIS KETCHUM, ASHLEY SOJIN KIM, DORIANNE LAUX, MIGUEL MARTIN PEREZ, RILEY RATCLIFF, MARY ANN SAMYN, AIMEE SEU, ISABELLE SHEPHERD, CHEYENNE TAYLOR, ANNA TOMLINSON, AND TIANRU WANG
— FROM CHRIS KETCHUM’S “STAG” WINNER, LAUX / MILLAR POETRY PRIZE
featuring the art of ANNIE BATES-WINSHIP, ZWANDA COOK, KEN GARBER, SANDRA DUCOFF GARBER, SUSAN GEFVERT, DAVID GILMAN, PETER KENT, AND TOBY TOVER
9 780990 752288
vol. 11.2, Fall 2021
$20.00 ISBN 978-0-9907522-8-8
vol. 11.2, Fall 2021
vol. 11.2 fall 2021
RALEIGH REVIEW VOL. 11.2 FALL 2021
assistant fiction editor
assistant poetry editor
Rob Greene Bryce Emley Landon Houle
fiction editor Jessica Pitchford
Leah Poole Osowski
visual art editor Ruby Newman
editorial staff / fiction
Heather Bell Adams, Chas Carey, Madison Cyr, Susan Finch, Christine Hennessey, Robert McCready, Jeff McLaughlin, Erin Osborne, Daniel Rottenberg, Daniel Tam-Claiborne, Chris Wiewiora
board of directors
Joseph Millar, Chairman Dorianne Laux, Vice Chair Landon Houle, Member Bryce Emley, Member Will Badger, Member Tyree Daye, Member Rob Greene, Member
Shelley Senai Tyree Daye
consulting poetry editor Leila Chatti
book review editor Lindsay Lake
editorial staff / poetry
Ina Cariño, Lindsay Lake, D. Eric Parkison, Sam Piccone
layout & page design John Patrick McShea Leah Poole Osowski
literary publishing program interns Chris Ingram Jeremee Jeter Da'Jah Jordan
Raleigh Review, Vol. 11, No. 2, Fall 2021 Copyright © 2021 by Raleigh Review Raleigh Review founded as RIG Poetry February 21, 2010 | Robert Ian Greene Cover image “Colorful Nude” by Geri Digiorno. Cover design by John Patrick McShea ISSN: 2169-3943 Printed, bound, and shipped via Alphagraphics in Downtown Raleigh, NC, USA. Raleigh Review, PO Box 6725, Raleigh, NC 27628 Visit: raleighreview.org Raleigh Review is thankful for past support from the United Arts Council of Raleigh & Wake County with funds from the United Arts Campaign, as well as the North Carolina Arts Council, a division of the Department of Cultural Resources.
table of contents
raleigh review art david gilman
2 52 66
Orchid Dahlia Fuse Box
Dancing Trees Love to Dance
Tree Cathedral Rockface Emerging
sandra ducoff garber
Sunflowers and Plums
The Joy of Birds
fiction cont. barbara barrow
A Classical Shape
shannon l. bowring
Epitaphs for Almost-Strangers
Passing Time First Job
take all the get-well time you need
mary ann samyn
6 7 8
Here's One Literally and Figuratively Life After Life
hannah dela cruz abrams
I Passed This Way Once Long Ago
24 25 26
Praise Song Alma Orpheus
Ode to Winter
First Love Cape May Church Retreat: Thirteen
ashley sojin kim
poetry cont. dorianne laux
miguel martin perez
Ode to Youth
You Can Tell Where the Fire Starts if You Know Where to Look Everything was Beautiful and Nothing
Something Like a Dove
raleigh review vol. 11.2 fall 2021
from the editor the last time i wrote one of these notes, we were deep enough into the realities of COVID-19 that we understood the “end” of it (whatever that might mean) was nowhere in sight. As of now, many of us are finally trying in varying degrees to return to something resembling normal, pre-pandemic life. But I don’t think we can go back. It’s been clear for a long time that our idea of “normal” needs recalibrating. This is something I think we often look to poetry to do—give us new eyes for seeing the same world differently, or show us we never really saw it to begin with. This year’s Laux/Millar Poetry Prize winner and finalists do just that. “The recaptured world is not the world that was before,” Lauren Green writes in “Orpheus.” I don’t know that this is exactly what the poet had in mind in this dreamy, Cocteau-esque rendering of the myth, but the line is prescient in the way poetry often is, both agnostic of the times and entangled in them. Green had a second poem named as a finalist this year as well. The mournful “Alma” is packed with images that are equally visceral and surreal, tinging the familiar landscapes of childhood with the subtle melancholy of nostalgia. In “Living Room,” Michael Dhyne considers the imperfect way that memory and imagination bring the dead back to us. Returning contributor Aimee Seu’s “First Love” casts youth into a kind of remembered mythology in short vignettes, mirroring the way any of our recollections of the past are as much history as they are legend. So much of the world still feels tenuous, breakable, unable to be predicted. Chris Ketchum’s prize-winning “Stag,” which interweaves the seemingly separate narratives of an encounter with a deer and a brief expat friendship with a dancer in Prague, may seem at first to be deeply personal, but it also shows us how we can go about living in a world
like that, uncertain of our place and unaware of our complicity, learning how to arrive even as we move through it. ◆
Bryce Emley, co-editor
passing time By my sickbed I kept one small flower in a jam jar. At night the sky widened above the flickering bats. The white lawn chair faded clamshell to bone. The firs sometimes whispered. Each evening I promised I could survive the next day. My life a white cloth, sheet worn to gauze. Around me summer lingered into river clay. The blackberries by the roadside rotted sweetly. Runners bright as tanagers ground gravel by my window. I took one breath after another. For pain, a small red pill. For sadness, a leaf veined like a heart.
david gilman | orchid, ca 1915 14" x 14" | photograph
first job All summer I served strawberries mashed to pulp, stirred with sugar until the gritted crystals gave in to goo. Strawberry flecked like blood on my wrist, whipped cream canister at my side: what would you like? Sunburned faces, old men especially, leaned stubbled chins close, slipped dollars in the tip jar. All summer I smiled; the long strip of lost skin on my forearm tautened to scab, and at home my father tightened and re-tightened my bike tire to the frame to avoid another moment of flight: suspended above the speed bump, caked lines of paint in the school parking lot, summer grass losing its hue, brother and I specks against the asphalt, field, grange building. My young flesh healed, but for weeks red and shiny and new, as each weekend strawberries became a rhythm to live by: flip biscuit open to flaky white, ladle mush, spray cream with a quick press of thumb. With each pull I thought of the long space between ground and sky. I took the bills, rubbed and folded to soft cloth, faded presidents staring out at the sunflower fields where women in dresses wandered with scissors and white buckets, astounded at the blooms. Was I astounded too? I tied my apron strings
twice again around my waist, pulled down my sleeves, never showed what I knew.
take all the get-well time you need may a quiet suet. put a beautiful flesh on your domain. for the light plain of you holds. a puckered screed. scars in. and out. so breathe. winter as trees do. every leaf hides. every gnat sleeps. all the better. to give the dreaming turtle time. fuss not the valley’s cold haints. willows will rock. their hairband ant -thems again. you be lantern. in-skin.
mary ann samyn
here's one The Book of Grief trails off, or I lose my place. What I wanted wouldn’t have worked for me anyway. I sketch a new plan. Lilies of the valley here and here. The cemetery is so pretty: it’s easy to get lost just looking. I still don’t have words for things that matter most— Climbing the stepstool to look in the library’s dollhouse; holding my father’s hand in the car on the way home. I can see it so clearly; there’s nothing to do now. Last blue in last light. Don’t let this pass you by. Same thing my sister says to worms she moves, kindly. End of time—what ever will I do with myself? If you want a story, I’m probably not the right person.
literally and figuratively A bad feeling sets up camp. Pretty soon a whole town where none had been. I lie awake listening to the buoy in the harbor. Self-forgetfulness requires a self. Eliot said same, in his fussy way. For her part, the lady slipper can’t be bothered. I returned for a second look.
mary ann samyn
life after life For some time, there had been no way out. He knew, but loved us so; so he stayed. I see that clearly now, as church bells really do chime in the background; as a barge goes, empty, upriver; as fireworks light up the winter sky for no reason I can think of. If he could have talked—. Some people can and they tell what they see. When I think of a beautiful, choiceless moment, I think of driving in the dark, trees on either side, snowy woods; I wonder if my father felt that way.
zwanda cook | dancing trees, 2019 24" x 30" | acrylic, modeling paste on canvas
hannah dela cruz abrams
i passed this way once long ago Back when we called my cousin Cloud 9, and it was all about slow driving, cruising, so people could hear the music. Cloud 9 said, Feel that bass jump your heart. And my heart did jump, and I bet the spirits, skinny and crowded in the bamboo by the red dirt roads, I bet their translucent hearts beat harder in the see-through coops of their ribs. Because it’s all we had, the dead and the living. It was like, wherever they played the right music, boys would show up looking for a king. It’s been over twenty years since I’ve been home. The roots push the red dirt roads I wandered as a child.
whitney collins yardstick after isaac’s father left Isaac and his mother for a flight attendant named Deidra, Isaac and his mother went back to the town his mother was originally from, a place as nondescript and predictable as she was, somewhere in Missouri. For two plane tickets and a deposit on a rental duplex, Isaac’s mother sold her used Plymouth and the small gold watch her grandmother had given her when she’d graduated from high school. She cried in the pawn shop as she slid the watch across the glass case, showing, it seemed to Isaac, more sorrow for the watch’s predicament than her own son’s. While the broker counted out twelve fresh twenties, Isaac went and stood by a gumball machine, wounded. For the first time, he allowed himself to see his mother as his father had, a villain instead of a victim, and in doing so, Isaac felt an unexpected but immediate relief,
like a yawn or a sneeze. Out in the pawn shop’s parking lot, when the transaction was complete, Isaac did not take his mother’s outstretched hand. Instead, he put his fists into the pockets of his tweed car coat and looked up at the sky. He imagined his father and Deidra above clouds, laughing and as close to heaven as two alive people could get. When Isaac and his mother arrived in St. Louis, Isaac’s grandfather picked them up at the airport and drove them to a diner where he bought them both omelets and announced that the meal and the car ride were the last favors he’d be doing for them now that they’d gotten themselves into their predicament. To punish his grandfather for considering him an accomplice, Isaac refused to eat his eggs. He also refused to speak, even when they arrived at the little duplex three towns over and his grandfather attempted a goodbye. When the landlady—who lived on the left side of the house—came out smiling and waving and smelling of coconuts to show Isaac and his mother the right side, Isaac kept his vow of silence. “Isaac, can’t you say hello?” his mother said, squeezing his upper arm in a way that felt like further betrayal. “I don’t think he’s going to talk,” she explained weakly as they stood in the cold front yard. “He’s had a tough time.” “Haven’t we all,” the lady said cheerfully. “Well, I’m Ms. Glisson and I’m glad you’re here. I’m never more than a knock away.” Isaac saw that the lady’s auburn hair was piled on her head like a towel and fastened with a thousand black hairpins, shiny ants in a nest of red earth. “I just had the carpets shampooed for you and the grout cleaned as best grout can be cleaned. And tonight I’d like you to come over for dinner and a craft project. I’ve made moussaka.” Isaac didn’t know what moussaka was, and he knew his mother didn’t either, but he knew she’d say yes, both to start things off right and for a free meal. “Thank you,” his mother said more weakly than before. “We won’t say no to that.” Inside the spartan duplex, Isaac and his mother set down their four suitcases. Two mattresses had been delivered, both twins, and they were propped against the living room wall like a pair of teepees. There was a cardboard box of dishes that had been sent from Montgomery, as well as
a card table and two folding chairs that Ms. Glisson had unfolded. On the table was a bowl of apples with a handwritten note. I got you apples instead of bananas! it said. Because bananas, like men, never stay good for long! Then there was a smiley face drawn in ballpoint, with one eye open and one eye closed, like it was winking. It was signed with a big and dramatic MS. G! Isaac’s mother crumpled up the note and threw it into a corner of the room. “We don’t even have a trash can,” she said. “I’ve had to go and sell a family heirloom for things like trash cans, and what do you think he’s doing right now?” Isaac’s mother turned and looked at her son as if he knew the answer. “Her. That’s what he’s doing. Her, her, her.” Then she went and locked herself in the bathroom and turned on the tub. Isaac could hear his mother crying as he stood in the living room in his car coat. I even had it engraved! he heard his mother say. Isaac wasn’t sure what to do, but eventually he ate one apple and then another. When he was done, he went outside and threw the cores into the front shrubs, then he came back in and retrieved Ms. Glisson’s crumpled note. He smoothed it with his hands and refolded it with care and put it into his pocket. When his mother finally appeared wearing the red turtleneck she’d worn to the divorce proceedings, he noticed it matched her eyes. “Shall we?” his mother sighed. Isaac gave a loose shrug. ms. glisson’s door was hung with a tinsel shamrock, and she opened the door wide before Isaac and his mother could even knock. “Buena Noches!” she exclaimed. “Benvenuto!” Isaac and his mother stepped inside and stopped on the miniscule square of parquet flooring. The left side of the duplex was nothing like the right side. Ms. Glisson’s side smelled of lamb and cinnamon. The walls were papered in a metallic trellis design. There was a birdcage filled with ferns, a couch the color of wine, a coffee table made of stained glass and piled with craft supplies. The carpet was as white and deep as a February snow. “Here,” Ms. Glisson said. “I hope you don’t mind.” She handed Isaac and his mother each a pair of paper sandals. “I learned this trick in Japan,” she said. “The Japanese. They’re light years ahead of us. At least in this regard.” She motioned to her sock feet. “Feet and photography.”
Isaac took off his sneakers and put on the paper shoes. As he walked, his socks slid on the paper, and the paper slid on the carpet. It was like ice skating, even though he’d never been ice skating—in Alabama or anywhere else. “I figure we’ll eat first, craft second,” Ms. Glisson said, and Isaac and his mother did as they were told. They each took a large yellow plate when it was handed to them, and they each let Ms. Glisson pile the plate with moussaka and salad. “Do you like Catalina?” Ms. Glisson asked. “I don’t mean the island owned by the chewing gum people, I mean the salad dressing.” She picked up a big plastic bottle and shook it as proof. “It’s like French but more agreeable.” Isaac gave another flimsy raise of his shoulders, and Ms. Glisson poured the dressing over a mound of iceberg and shredded carrots. “Really. They should just call it British.” Isaac and his mother took their loaded plates and sat at the dining table which was in the same room as the wine-colored sofa and the kitchen. “These duplexes aren’t big,” Ms. Glisson said. “But I’ve had big—very big, actually—and it’s overrated.” She winked at Isaac’s mother. “If you get my drift.” Isaac watched his mother turn pink. He looked back and forth between the two women and then down at his plate. “Take men for what they’re good for, I say. Their seed and wallet. Nothing more, nothing less.” Ms. Glisson reached for a crystal bottle with a stopper that looked like a giant emerald. She poured herself a glass of something the color of syrup and did the same for Isaac’s mother. “I got my son Johnny and five thousand from my first marriage, and Rhapsody—my daughter, not the emotional state—and one hundred thousand from the second.” Ms. Glisson took a long sip and refilled her glass. “It doesn’t look like you made off with much. But you’ve got this young fellow here and maybe he’ll grow up to be one of the good ones. Or gay ones.” Ms. Glisson smiled at Isaac with encouragement. “Plus, I’ll go easy on the rent until summer. No sense in a child starting school this late in the year. And no sense in you running ragged looking for work until it’s warm.” Isaac looked at his mother. She was good and pink now, but her eyes were no longer red. She drank what was in her glass and Ms. Glisson refilled it, and then they all pushed their dishes away with gusto before gathering around the coffee table.
“We’re going to make yardstick holders,” Ms. Glisson announced. She knelt as easily as a child and clapped her hands together once. Her dress dipped low to show her cleavage. Between her breasts, Isaac could see some sort of pendant sleeping. “I even bought you a yardstick to put in the yardstick holder because I figured you might need one.” Ms. Glisson spread out burlap in front of Isaac and burlap in front of herself. “Isaac and I will do the work, Cora. You just sit and drink.” Isaac had never known his mother to have more than a single cold beer at a cookout, but Ms. Glisson kept refilling her glass, and his mother didn’t refuse. Ms. Glisson showed Isaac what to do by pointing to her work and then pointing at his supplies. “Here’s the truth, Cora,” Ms. Glisson said. “Women live in a constant state of shock. We can’t believe men are as heartless as they are, but they are and we spend the first thirty years of our lives just not believing it’s possible.” Isaac saw he was to cut a plum from purple felt and an orange from orange felt and an apple from red felt. He worked a pair of shears larger than he was normally allowed to operate around the thick felt and produced three lopsided circles. “When we finally admit that men are incapable of love, it’s a big relief.” Ms. Glisson showed Isaac where to squeeze three generous squeezes of glue. “Well, grief, then relief. You have to give yourself some time to cry about it, I suppose, but don’t get stuck there. At some point, you’ve got to get off the couch and take the garbage to the curb.” Ms. Glisson folded Isaac’s strip of burlap in half. The fruit he’d cut out dotted one side like a crude and narrow stoplight. “In the craft world, we call this sort of thing a cozy,” she said. “It’s like a sleeping bag. I’ve made them for toasters, coffeepots, blenders. Speaking of sleeping bags,” Ms. Glisson said. “I have two for you and your mother to use until we get you both some decent bed linens. What sort of linens do you like, Cora? Cotton? Flannel? Polyester?” Isaac looked over to see that his mother had fallen asleep. “That’s what I was hoping for,” Ms. Glisson said and smiled. “Leave your burlap for me to sew, and head on home, Isaac. I’ll walk your mother over and then come back with the sleeping bags. Your mother will likely feel poorly in the morning,” Ms. Glisson said. “So play quietly until she wakes up. At some point tomorrow, I’ll bring your yardstick
holder over. You can hang it on the wall of your new house, and your mother can take the yardstick out once a month to see how tall you’re getting.” ms. glisson was right. The next morning, Isaac’s mother felt terrible. She spent a good deal of time in the bathroom coughing and crying before coming back out to the living room and curling up on her twin mattress. “That woman,” she moaned. “She should know better than to do that to someone so vulnerable.” But then, at ten, Ms. Glisson was at their door with the finished yardstick holder and two shopping bags filled with new towels and bed linens. “I also have breakfast for you,” she said, beaming. “I’ll be right back.” Before Isaac’s mother could refuse, Ms. Glisson was returning from across the way with a big bamboo tray of coffee and bread. “These are French,” she said, breaking open a roll and handing it to Isaac. “When I went to Paris on my second ex’s dime, I discovered real bread and real romance.” She handed Isaac’s mother a cup of coffee. “Mind you, I didn’t say love, I said romance. I’m talking about the loins, not loneliness. Don’t bring your heart into the bedroom, Cora, and you’ll have a good go at things.” Ms. Glisson went to her purse and brought out a bottle of aspirin. She shook out two and handed them to Isaac’s mother. Then she clapped her hands together as she had the night before. “Now let’s hang the yardstick holder, Isaac. You pick the place.” Isaac crammed what was left of the roll into his mouth. He walked around the small duplex and finally chose a narrow strip of kitchen wall for his narrow strip of burlap. Before she hammered a nail, Ms. Glisson took the yardstick and measured Isaac’s height. She took a pencil out from behind her ear and drew a line and then wrote the date. “How old are you, Isaac? Nine?” “Seven,” Isaac said. “And a half.” “Well, you better measure yourself twice a month then. Seven is a busy year.” Ms. Glisson hammered a small nail into the wall and hung the holder right where Isaac had asked. “Measure yourself until you’re a man, and then there’s no point in measuring at all.”
for the rest of that first month in missouri, Ms. Glisson came over at least twice a day. She brought metal bed frames from the Goodwill and an old dresser that she helped Isaac’s mother paint purple. She loaned them four of her big yellow plates and four yellow mugs and four yellow bowls. She brought them beach chairs to use in their living room until they could afford a couch. One afternoon, she wheeled in a cart full of African violets. One weekend, she got them both library cards. And every few days, she went and made too much soup for herself and had to bring them several quarts to eat or freeze. Most importantly, it seemed to Isaac that Ms. Glisson knew just what to do to keep his mother from crying. “Now, now,” she’d say, when Isaac’s mother would start to look bereft. “That’s not how we handle liberation, Cora. Do we need to do a craft? Is a craft in order, Isaac?” To which Isaac would nod, more for his own sake than his mother’s, and Ms. Glisson would go back to her apartment to retrieve the supplies that struck her fancy, as well as the crystal bottle with the emerald stopper. Isaac’s mother would drink—sometimes until sleep—while Isaac and Ms. Glisson made whatever she decided they should make. At first, the crafts were benign, boring even—birdhouses and toothbrush holders and oven mitts. But as Isaac settled in, and Isaac’s mother settled down, Ms. Glisson showed up with coins and candles, hunks of rocks and bowls of salt, as well as a second crystal bottle with an emerald stopper. While Isaac’s mother sipped and sniffed, Ms. Glisson would sing songs in a language Isaac didn’t know. She’d mark their foreheads with oil and ashes. She’d lay out cards in a willy-nilly pattern and ask Isaac to turn them over. One night, he turned over a card with a picture of a man who had a rope around his neck. “Oh, me. It’s the Hanged Man,” Ms. Glisson said and sighed. “No surprise there, Isaac. It’s your father. But also my father. It’s ALL the fathers. The universe is telling us to steer clear of men.” Isaac looked to his mother to see what she thought of this. He expected her to frown, to maybe even ask Ms. Glisson to leave. But instead she smiled slow and sleepy from her low-slung beach chair and whispered: “Fuck fathers. Fuck them all.” Isaac’s breath escaped him. Ms. Glisson clapped her hands together in
delight. In the glow of the candles, while Isaac pressed his stomach, Ms. Glisson’s eyes went bright at some new idea, and she got up from her place on the floor. Her pendant swung out from between her breasts as she rose, out into the night like a pendulum counting the seconds, and then back into the dark valley by her heart. “I need to help your mother to bed, Isaac. You stay here and let me get her to where she needs to be.” Ms. Glisson pulled Isaac’s mother up from her chair. The two of them walked slow and unsteady into the second tiny bedroom and closed the door. Isaac sat in the living room as he had that first day in Missouri and listened for his mother’s muffled emotional state. He heard her laugh. He heard her gasp. He heard her call out for a God she’d recently told Isaac she no longer believed in. And, after some time, after the candles had burned themselves out, Ms. Glisson reappeared in the blue glow of moonlight to gather her things. Isaac could not see her face, but the hair that she normally wore up on her head like a towel had been let down, and her voice was one Isaac had never heard before, stern and unflinching. “Your mother isn’t feeling well, Isaac,” she said. “I’ve gotten her to bed and I think you should leave her alone until the sun is nice and high.” When Ms. Glisson was gone with her two empty bottles and bag of supplies, Isaac, defiant, went into his mother’s bedroom to see for himself what sort of state she was in. He found her face-down and sprawled like a star, snoring quietly. Her back was bare and the sheet was caught around her waist. Isaac remembered when he’d been allowed to come into his parents’ bedroom in the night. When he’d been allowed—invited, even—to sleep between the two of them, hot and still and safe. Isaac reached out to touch his mother’s back, but decided against it, and when he turned to leave her as he’d found her, his bare foot landed on something cold and round. A coin he figured, or a circle of spilled water, but when he reached down to see, he found it was the pendant—Ms. Glisson’s—rogue and unchained. Isaac took it with him into his bedroom and turned on his overhead light. The pendant was silver and worn, engraved with two overlapping circles, and when Isaac put his fingernail along its edge, the pendant became a locket and opened to reveal a single curl of black hair. Isaac’s breath escaped him for the second time that night. He closed the locket at once, only to open it again and close it again. He did this four or five
times, his heart quickening with each repetition, until he eventually convinced himself—was wholly certain—that the hair inside was his own. Isaac lay on his mattress for a long time, trying to think of where he could hide the necklace in the barren apartment. There was no place he could think of that it wouldn’t be found. Finally, before dawn turned the black sky blue, Isaac went to the refrigerator. He opened one of Ms. Glisson’s quarts of soup, and he dropped the pendant into it. Then he got one of the folding chairs, and he brought it to the kitchen so he could reach the freezer. He put the quart of soup behind all the other quarts, in the freezer’s coldest, farthest part. When he was done, Isaac went to bed. He couldn’t say if he slept or not. the next day, Ms. Glisson came to visit earlier than usual. She started off sly and sweet about the necklace, but once the right side of the duplex had been turned inside-out and the left side of the duplex had been turned upside-down and still no pendant had been found, Ms. Glisson turned surly. “I can’t do a thing without it,” she said. “It’s sentimental and important and I haven’t taken it off since the day I received it. This will not do.” “Is it from your children?” Isaac’s mother asked. “The man in France?” “No and no!” Ms. Glisson snapped. “It’s none of your business unless it is your business and you or your boy has put it somewhere secret.” Ms. Glisson glared at Isaac as she said this, and to Isaac’s delight, his mother came close to glaring at Ms. Glisson. “I know Isaac and I have accepted nearly everything you’ve graciously given us,” Isaac’s mother said. “But we aren’t crooks. We don’t take things without asking.” Ms. Glisson crossed her arms and tapped her foot on the small parquet entry. “Is that so?” she said. “Do you remember anything of last night?” Isaac looked at his mother and his mother looked at the floor. “There you go,” Ms. Glisson said. “There you have it.” ms. glisson didn’t come by the whole next week. Isaac’s mother began to worry about what she’d do for food and what she’d do for rent, and Isaac began to worry about the soup. He feared that now they would go
through it sooner rather than later, and his mother would find the pendant in the slush of some thawed chowder and the bond that was once again growing between them would break for a second time. “Maybe I should go to school,” Isaac said. “Then you can get a job.” But then, that afternoon on their doorstep, Isaac’s mother found a fresh crystal bottle with an emerald stopper, and she came inside and drank until she was happy and then until she was sad. “Maybe we should call Grandpa,” Isaac suggested. “Maybe I should write Dad.” But those ideas were the worst ideas that anyone could have, and Isaac’s mother told him so. “Those are the worst ideas anyone could have.” She staggered to the front door and opened it. The spring night came in like a way out, until Isaac’s mother set the empty bottle on the welcome mat and shut the door. “Didn’t you hear anything the landlady said?” Isaac’s mother steadied herself with one hand on the folding table. “We have to take the garbage to the curb.” every morning, Isaac and his mother thawed a quart of soup, and every afternoon there was a new bottle on the doorstep, and every night his mother drank the entire thing. When there were only two quarts of soup left in the freezer, Isaac let his mother thaw the next-to-last one, and when she went to bed, he thawed the final one in a sink filled with hot water. At the bottom of the chowder, he fished out the pendant. Then he rinsed it and shined it, and with much trepidation opened it. The hair inside had been ruined by the soup. Before it had frozen, or while it had thawed, the broth had seeped into the pendant’s small crack and made the lock of black hair into an oily mess. So Isaac did what needed to be done. He rinsed the old hair down the drain and dried the locket’s insides and then went into the bathroom and used his mother’s nail scissors to cut a new lock—a twin to the one he’d ruined—and he tucked it inside. When the pendant looked as it had the night he’d found it, he set it on the floor of his mother’s bedroom, right by her bed, so she could be the one to find it. ms. glisson took the pendant from Isaac’s mother with skepticism. She squinted at its front and back. She held it to her nose. At last, she
turned from Isaac and his mother, and Isaac could hear her click the pendant open and shut. She stood with her back to them for quite some time. Then she turned to face them, expressionless, and asked. “Why now and not sooner?” Isaac’s mother put both of her hands on Isaac’s shoulders and shrugged innocently. “Because now is when I found it,” she said. “I got out of bed this morning and there it was. On the floor. I nearly stepped on it.” Ms. Glisson smiled in a way that Isaac recognized as forced and false, but his mother did not. When his mother went to make everyone tea, Ms. Glisson got down on Isaac’s level. She put the pendant back on its chain and let it slide down to its home between her breasts. She gave it a pat and then gazed up at Isaac, in what appeared to be approval. “A man,” she said plainly. “That’s what we have here.” Soon after that, Isaac’s mother brought out the tea and the tea was had by all three, and by the end of the day things were as they once had been with Ms. Glisson. There was not just soup but also cookies and two crystal bottles with emerald stoppers. There were stories of France and stories of Japan and a promise to bring over a set of skillets and a raincoat Ms. Glisson had long outgrown. That night, no one was a villain or a victim. when summer came around, full and lush and green, and Isaac started feeling tall, it occurred to him that he hadn’t been measured in a while, but when he went to get the yardstick, he found that it, and its holder, were gone. The nail was gone, too. Even the hole the nail had made was nowhere to be found. Isaac’s previous heights and the dates, the ones that had been recorded in pencil, had vanished. Isaac stared for some time at the empty narrow strip of kitchen wall, looking for a fleck of eraser, or a speck of paint that filled the hole, but he couldn’t find anything of the sort. At first, he was perplexed, but later, as the sun warmed his new yard and new life, he didn’t think much about it, not really at all. He went on doing what he did. He let Ms. Glisson and his mother do what they did down the hall, and he imagined what his father and Deidra might be doing and he let them do that, too. It wasn’t until the fall, when Isaac went to school and his mother got a job and they were finally able
to buy a couch, that Isaac really thought about the yardstick. One night, he dropped something behind the sofa, and when he realized that the yardstick would have been the perfect thing to reach that which was just beyond reach, only then did he feel its absence. Only then, on his knees, looking into a dark space, did he see what he’d never get back. ◆
zwanda cook | love to dance, 2018 12" x 16" | acrylic, modeling paste on canvas
praise song Yesterday I walked far away from home, and my shoes passed like moonlight over windswept prairies from not so long ago. Every hour the same pretty states cycle through my mind— Tennessee with its jarfuls of blue dawns, girls named Anna taking cover in farm towns from men named Tom. I forget where now. I wanted to write you a love poem, but all I had was this morning’s emptyhanded waking. All I had was a road, and a country hilltop terraced in wheat. A song ago my hair was blond, and I believed that was enough, just as I believed I might be buoyed by the smallest admission, and so traveled up the mountainside asking to unburden myself over its cold back. Every time I declare my life is something, it discloses itself as something else. Like the missing diver at seabottom, sealed in the closed chamber of the bell. My days furtive as the tiny animals gathering their harvest before sleep. Prayer stings. So how to orient myself? Yesterday the blackbirds flitted inside the fisherman’s memory of an October’s passed morning, in whose breeze his father still lived, whistling all his way back from the market.
finalist for the laux / millar poetry prize
After, we learned to wade through frail shadows in our heaviest sweaters. All of youth beneath us molting, girlhood a stubborn anther stain. We lay our baby teeth across the steel bridge. Filed our nails on hill-pumice. The pinlights of my mind illuminate what they wish to see. How wide the runway for mourning someone not entirely your own. Hello operator, hello sky with punch-swollen eyes. These days, I travel only so far as I can walk. She was a road covered in leaves, then only asphalt. She fell outside of life. Outside, she could see it was beautiful, or at least benign. Silver threads of rain on the tall sweetgrass. Trees asway in pews.
Yesterday we painted the fence, and a bird landed against it, confusing it for a cloud. Yesterday we painted the fence, and now there is an outline of a bird in white. Is there a table not near the birds is what the woman who sat beside me at the coffeeshop asked. I was afraid of telling her wrong, of providing incorrect quantities of self. Little one: it’s been a while since I saw you. The recaptured world is not the world that was before. Yesterday was many yesterdays ago, humming still, and every ineluctable tomorrow is a shimmer on ink. October and dreary, your letter read. Weak-starred light strung over a stainless raven’s night. To become two things. To become the years that accrete in silence and task the soul with nothing. Every day you took me to the dock. Every day a summer we lacked the foresight to mourn. Tedious presents—I would trade them all. Salt-blue lips, commerce, you,
finalist for the laux / millar poetry prize
Heedless, surged to the edge, with no thought of pulling back. Reason’s cape concealed from me what I did not wish to see. It did no good. Fish in the black undertow, strange tangents of ourselves— By what mechanism do they know to change course? In my hands, your hands, and easeful autumn beneath our feet. Bronze bell with no tongue I could feel small inside of. Every window in the house faced outward in seasons of tapering promise. Somewhere in time, birds bank into the wind. Somewhere in time, rain falls like jacks from an open palm. Somewhere in time, you are ahead of me, looking back. Nothing shifts in the desert of my body. In my hands, your calluses. In my hands, an ebullient barn, with sparrows fluttering for the beams.
annie bates-winship | tree cathedral, 2011 11" x 16" | acrylic, modeling paste on canvas
ode to winter We scooped out ripe persimmon flesh with metal spoons and breathed to give the dust a better home. The dust settled by the radiator, and we, but still the cold air frightened our lungs. We could barely go out into the streets where men and women walked dark dogs half their size and, squatting in corners, set papers ablaze. One evening we went to watch the lanterns by the lake. We were wrong. There were no lights, only flames the whole way home. Being young, our throats tickled when we drank the good red tea. Or did the man who sold it to us lie? How would we know? Chewing days-old date cake, my teacher talked about how he once drank two bottles of baiju, ten bottles of beer in one night. He drove an hour and a half to another city for breakfast, finished his jianbing, then came back. He drove through deserts and loved the sight. The morning calls: we wake up to see fire stains outside of the elementary school. A girl pushed back her tears as her mother told her to score above a 136. I am sorry to be a gossip; I am too interested in the sounds of dry leaves
crumbling beneath my feet: maple-oak-locust. Nostalgia perches on the branches of the pagoda tree. A poem nestles behind my sternum. Silence, again.
finalist for the laux / millar poetry prize
living room I wish there was another way to remember this, but grief has rendered my past illegible—your blood flowering the tarmac, my name falling through a body without form. What’s left for me to hold? A pile of ash? An image of you that can’t get any older? When I tell people, It was Father’s Day, I always laugh a little, because it’s a joke— it has to be. Then I remember the night before. All of us on the couch in the living room laughing about God knows what. And I think, if I try really hard, I can live in this moment forever. I say, Dad, tell me a story, and you tell me about the first time you and Mom made love. How it didn’t feel so different
from the way you feel now. How you could feel along her ribs your own death, as if something inside her might open up and overtake you, like a flood of light. Maybe this is what she means when she says she can feel you in the room.
peter kent | rest, ca 1975 9" x 7" | photograph
ryan napier anton chekhov for a long time, I measured my life against fiction. I was almost always disappointed. In the fall of 2008, for instance, I read “The Lady with the Little Dog.” At the end of the story, the main character reflects on his affair with the lady with the little dog, whom he has come to love. He realizes that he is leading two lives: one visible and one hidden. The visible life—his marriage, work, and friends—he finds false and empty; only in the hidden life of his affair does he truly live. “Every personal existence,” Chekhov concludes, “was upheld by a secret.” One afternoon, a week after I read “The Lady with the Little Dog,” I sat at a desk on the third floor of the library and worked through the first part of Discipline and Punish for my theory class. Between para-
graphs, I found myself staring out the arched window next to me, which looked onto a tree-lined path and a rusty Richard Serra sculpture. It was raining, and solitary figures hurried across campus beneath umbrellas and the hoods of their jackets; watching them, I could believe that everyone really did have a secret. One of the figures—a girl in a striped shirt and black leggings—came up the steps to the library; when she closed her umbrella, I recognized her. N. and I were in the same introductory fiction workshop—the one that had assigned “The Lady with the Little Dog.” We had barely spoken, but I had caught myself looking at her across the table; she had a short haircut that emphasized the severe lines of her nose and jaw. A minute later, N. was circling the third floor, looking for a place to sit. Our eyes met; she stopped at my desk. “Did you read the story we’re workshopping this week?” I shook my head and held up the Foucault. “Not yet. How is it?” N. rolled her eyes. “The usual.” Hot panic rushed over me. What was the usual? I groaned, and hoped that my face would not betray me. N. settled at a desk on the other side of the atrium; if I leaned forward, I could see her frowning at her laptop. I put Foucault aside and took out the story that one of our classmates had submitted for that week’s workshop. It was about a young tennis player struggling with his parents’ divorce amid a big match; at the end, the player lost the ball in the sun, accepted that the match—and, by implication, his parents’ relationship—was beyond his control, and waited to hear the umpire call fair or foul. The story did everything our instructor said that a story should do: start in the middle; use strong verbs and specific details; show, don’t tell. If I had read it on my own, I might have liked it. But my thoughts had become inseparable from the sharpness of N.’s profile and the little scowl on her lower lip. I didn’t know what made her roll her eyes, but I wanted to know—to be someone who knew. Before I could overthink it, I walked over to where she was working. “You were right,” I said. “About the story.” She looked up from her laptop. “I’m so sick of descriptions,” said N. “The endless specificity. It can never be just a ‘car’ or an ‘orange:’ it has to be a ‘sea-green Volvo’ or a ‘glossy mandarin.’”
I quoted from the tennis story: “‘The lemony Wilson.’” It was N.’s turn to groan. “Exactly. They would have called it ‘The Lady with the Four-and-a-Half-Pound Cream-Colored Pomeranian.’” A librarian asked us to take our conversation outside; we were disturbing others with our laughter. Two days later, the workshop met around the carved oak table in the English department’s seminar room. Instead of my usual spot, I took the one across from N. She acknowledged me with a grimace—a sign of our mutual chagrin. The discussion began; as someone complimented the story’s details, I noticed a twitch of N.’s right eyelid, and told myself that only I understood it. we developed a routine. While our classmates discussed the stories, N. and I exchanged glances across the table, and when the workshop was over, we went to the café below the student center, drank small cups of burnt coffee, and said everything we’d held back. I was nervous, in the beginning, but I followed her lead, and soon, I figured out what made her roll her eyes: symbols, metaphors, attempts at lyricism, resolutions. During the week, I scoured our classmates’ stories, trying to see them with her eyes, copying down the words and phrases that I hoped she would hate. Why did I want to impress her? Who was this person? Over coffee, I learned that she was an only child, born and raised a few hours away, in a suburb west of Boston. Her parents left the Soviet Union before it collapsed; one grandmother still lived in Moscow, while the other had moved to Israel. Before college, N. attended the private high school where her father taught calculus; when I promised not to laugh, she showed me a picture of herself, with longer hair and a rounder face, looking morose in a blue blazer and gray skirt. She had edited the school’s newspaper and interned for a summer at the Boston Review. “So you always wanted to be a writer,” I said. She shrugged. “Everyone wants to be a writer.” In addition to “The Lady with the Little Dog,” our instructor assigned us other classic stories: “A&P,” “Cathedral,” “CivilWarLand in Bad Decline,” “A Temporary Matter.” These stories ended with their main characters discovering something deep within themselves, a truer existence beneath the life they had been leading. Our instructor called
it an “epiphany” and, at least once a week, quoted the line about “possessing perfect knowledge” from the conclusion of the George Saunders story. This knowledge, said the instructor, was the goal of the short story: “Bring your character to that moment of understanding—that place where the truth erupts.” “Have you ever had an epiphany?” N. asked me. It was October; we were coming down the marble steps of the English department after a workshop. “I don’t think so,” I said. “Or if I have, it was too boring to write about.” “When I was fifteen, I read Simone Weil and decided I was a Christian,” N. said. “It lasted for three months. Short stories don’t account for people being stupid.” I laughed and tried to remember who Simone Weil was. The days were getting shorter; the sun had already sunk behind the mountains. N. said that she didn’t want to pay for a coffee and offered to make us tea in her room. We crossed College Street, took the steep path to the upper campus, and arrived breathless at Tyndall House, one of the women’s dorms. The windows of N.’s suite faced east, toward the town and the valley; from her bedroom, I could make out, amid the reds and oranges of the trees, the granite Union soldier on top of the monument in the square. N. boiled water in an electric kettle, poured two cups, and sat cross-legged in an armchair. Behind her was a white IKEA bookshelf, heaped with novels that I didn’t recognize or hadn’t read. As I skimmed the titles, the hot panic returned. I had forgotten—or allowed myself to forget—the basic inequality between us: my disdain was just a reflection of her own. I could only fool her for so long; eventually, she would find me out. I clutched the hot mug until my hands stung; the pain brought me back to myself. My anxiety wasn’t unreasonable, but it wasn’t unsolvable either. I had learned once; I would just have to keep doing it. I walked over to the bookshelf and paged through a broken-spined anthology of Weil’s writings. “I can’t see you as a Christian,” I said. “Neither could anyone else,” said N. She described her attempts to join a Catholic church in Newton. As I listened, I scanned the bookshelf, memorizing as many of the titles as I could. That evening, I stopped at the library and checked out an armful of
books. I chose the ones on her shelf that looked well-read or that N. had mentioned over the past month—The Company She Keeps, The Ghost Writer, The Portrait of a Lady, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Over the next week, I ignored my classes (except, of course, the workshop) and consumed the novels, finishing Roth and Spark in a day each, Mary McCarthy in two, and James over a long weekend. By the end, my brain felt waterlogged; my eyes had grown so used to tracking the lines of prose that the rest of the world looked out of focus. But beneath my fatigue there was an aching exuberance. At night, I lay in my bed and thought about Isabel Archer and Nathan Zuckerman, seeing in them a reflection of N.’s own intelligence and freedom, a key to her personality. Life and literature tangled into each other, and I took this for knowledge. I returned the novels to the library and borrowed others. I didn’t mention my reading to N.; I avoided any references that would show off my work. But the next time N. invited me to her room for tea, I looked at her shelf without panic; the books were just as much mine now as hers. N. sat at one end of the bed; I took the other. As we talked, she stretched out her legs, and her feet came to rest in my lap. Soon, it was my turn to submit a story to the workshop. I tried to write a draft, but nothing worked; behind every word, I saw the twitch of N.’s eyelid. I decided to make it a parody—a private joke between N. and me. On a cold night at the end of October, I brought my laptop to Tyndall House; N. and I sat next to each other on the floor, drank rum and cider out of mugs, and wrote a story that used all the workshop clichés we could think of. The narrator drove and thought and smelled the tang of gasoline in the pale dusk and drove some more; the grandmother had cancer; pools were limpid; eyes were lambent. “He needs to stare into a mirror,” said N., “and have a painful memory.” “His own face reminds him of someone else’s.” “I looked at my reflection in the windshield and saw, staring back at me, my father’s eyes.” “My father’s iron-gray eyes.” Toward midnight, N. turned off all the lights except for a string that she had hung along the molding; Tyndall House was one of the oldest buildings on campus, and its high Georgian ceilings—and the rum— made the glow of the lights feel distant and starry. The only thing left to
write was the character’s final epiphany, but the laptop disappeared under one of our tossed-aside sweater or jeans. However, as N. wrapped her fingers around my head and guided it down, I remembered the phrase “possessing perfect knowledge.” In that moment, it didn’t seem so ridiculous. that fall was unusually cold; the trees were nearly bare by Halloween, and in early November, the first snow fell. From the window of N.’s room, where I was spending more and more nights, I watched the valley turn from orange-and-red to white and a little pillar of snow rise from the Union soldier’s cap. Tyndall House’s antique radiators struggled to heat the lofty rooms: “I’m keeping you around,” N. said, “mostly for the warmth.” It was a joke, I think, but I was glad nonetheless that I was able to give her something that was my own. N. was due to be workshopped the week before Thanksgiving. As the deadline approached, she shut herself in her room and turned off her phone. Her story, “Eager,” appeared on the course website in the early hours of the morning. It was about a young woman’s relationship with her immigrant parents; the characters had no names—only “the mother,” “the father,” “the daughter.” In long, meticulous sentences, N. analyzed the contradictions of the daughter’s character—her self-consciousness and her pride, her need to please and her desire to disappoint. The story had little action, but propelled itself with a driving logic, more like an argument than a plot. Though I recognized elements of the books on N.’s shelf—the anxieties of Roth, the precision of McCarthy—there was something in the tone of the story that was entirely her own. I couldn’t describe the effect; all the terms that I thought of—“ironic,” “piercing,” “unsparing”—seemed like the kind of pretension that the story itself would cut through. I loved it, of course. For days afterward, I found myself thinking in the voice of her fiction, subjecting my life to its tone. Though I hadn’t seen N. since the last workshop, I felt that we were closer than ever. When I sat down to write my comments, however, I realized what I had forgotten: the rest of the class. At the beginning of the semester, our instructor had given us a list of questions to ask ourselves as we read our classmates’ stories: How well does the plot stage the character’s internal
conflict? Does the writer anchor the scenes with action and details that are concrete and vivid? Does the dialogue sound natural? N.’s story had no plot, details, or dialogue; instead of an epiphany, it ended with the implication that its analysis could go on forever and change nothing. Our classmates would see these as mistakes and flaws: N.’s story would be for them what theirs were to her. I would defend her. I saw myself, alone before the workshop, batting down their comments, unfolding the genius of her work, which only I had seen. But what had I seen? I had learned to criticize from N., but we rarely talked about good fiction. I reread the story and took notes, but I still couldn’t say what N. had achieved. Her skill, I decided, made my explanation superfluous; if I could express in a sentence what she had done, then the story wouldn’t need to exist. This made a certain kind of sense, but it didn’t solve my problem. The night before the workshop, I lay awake for a long time. The heat in my dorm worked too well; the sheets clung to my damp skin. Phrases from N.’s story drifted through my head, repeating themselves until they became meaningless. After a while, I unlatched the window and let in the freezing air, hoping it would shock me into an answer. I couldn’t arrive at the workshop empty handed: the instructor would call on me, and I would open my mouth and reveal the inability that I had worked so hard to conceal. I wanted a word that would justify our intimacy; if the word didn’t come, what then? When my room got too cold, I shut the window, returned to the bed, and listened to the pipes sputter and cough. An hour before class, I texted N. to say that I was sick and wouldn’t make it to the workshop. I felt my forehead throughout the afternoon and evening, and for a few minutes, I managed to convince myself that I had told her the truth. I waited for her to reply and let me know how it had gone; I texted her again before bed and when I woke up, to no response. I didn’t merit a response, but that didn’t keep me from wanting it. I spent the next day at my usual spot in the library, working on a presentation for my theory class. I had to explain Lacan’s essay on the signification of the phallus. Its language—“the passion of the signifier,” “the dialectic of the demand for love”—glimmered with obscure mean-
ing; I knew that the essay was saying something important, but it wriggled away just as I was about to grasp it. It didn’t help that after every sentence, I checked my phone, which continued to show the same string of unanswered messages. I regretted my lie: N.’s silence was worse than her disappointment. As the library was closing, I sensed someone at my shoulder. I guessed who, but couldn’t make myself turn. N. leaned in and read from my notes: “‘Men want to have the phallus. Women want to be the phallus.’” She paused. “Which is better?” “It evens out in the end: we’re both castrated.” “Too bad.” I looked up. N. was wearing her glasses, a black parka, and a knit hat. I was surprised at how small she seemed; she had loomed so large in my mind that I had forgotten her actual scale. I asked about the workshop; the corners of her mouth wrinkled. “I wasn’t surprised,” she said. “Or shouldn’t have been.” As we left the library and walked to the upper campus, N. described the class’s suggestions—more details, have the character learn something at the end. “I don’t know what I expected,” she said. “I mean, I’m over it.” “I should have been there,” I said. “You were sick.” After the workshop, N. continued, the instructor took her aside and told her that the story showed potential. “He’s not as bad as he seems,” she said. “We talked about different ‘sensibilities’ in writing. He teaches his sensibility, but he gets that it’s not everyone’s.” The instructor encouraged N. to apply to the advanced fiction workshop in the spring; it would be led by the writer-in-residence, a novelist whose name I recognized. “The workshop only has eight spots,” N. said, “so I doubt I’ll get in.” “Of course you will,” I said. The tightness that had gathered beneath my ribs began to uncoil; I understood how I could deserve her. “When is the application due?” “The end of the semester.” Along with a personal statement, she had to submit two short stories. “I’ll help. I’ll do whatever you need so you can write—your laundry, your papers, anything.” “Anything?”
I made increasingly ridiculous promises; by the time we reached her room, I had agreed to cut her nails and shave her legs. N. laughed, and so did I, though I knew that I meant it all. during finals week, N. holed up in her room and wrote. One evening, I brought her coffee and a hot sandwich and sat with her while she ate. She admitted that she had forgotten to have lunch; at noon the next day, I arrived with a cup of vegetable soup. “You shouldn’t,” she said. “I want to,” I said. She tasted the soup. “You’re going to feel stupid when I don’t even get into the class.” “You will. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t know that.” N. said that she drew the line at having me do her schoolwork, but the night before it was due, she confessed that she hadn’t started on the paper for her Shakespeare seminar, and she still needed to revise her second story; could I write the essay? I stayed up until dawn and produced ten pages on gender and performance in Twelfth Night. I was happier than I had any right to be. For months, I had feared the difference between us; now, I embraced it. I didn’t have to pretend that I was her equal; I was free from myself. The day after N. submitted her application, we went walking in the state park near campus. All that time in her room, N. said, was making her fat and weak. It was two miles from the visitor’s center to the summit; the path was narrow and icy, so we went one after the other, steadying ourselves on trunks and branches. Throughout the day, N. muttered about the tightness of her snow boots, and that evening, when we got back to her room, she peeled off her wet socks and, grimacing, rubbed her soles. I eased her onto the bed and took her feet in my hands. “They’re gross,” she warned. She was right; her skin was clammy, her heels cracked, her nails uncut. But this was what I could give her. N. woke us up earlier than usual the next morning; her parents were arriving after breakfast to drive her home for the winter break. As she walked me to the door of Tyndall House, I made her agree to call me as soon as she got accepted to the workshop. “If I get accepted,” she said. I assured her that she would; I didn’t want to imagine what would happen if she didn’t.
I spent the holidays at my mother’s house, a thousand miles away. The time passed quickly. I slept a lot, and when I was awake, I was dreamy and inattentive; I drove my mother’s car to the store with the parking brake on, and I couldn’t follow the plot of It’s A Wonderful Life, even though we watched it every year. My mother worried that I was sick; my aunt blamed college. In fact, I just didn’t care. This was my visible life; I was waiting for the other, truer one to resume. a week into the new year, N. received an email from the novelist who was running the workshop; he said was looking forward to working with her in the spring. “He sent me the syllabus,” she said. “The readings look amazing: Kafka, Barthelme, Renata Adler, Lydia Davis.” But, she added, it would be a lot of work; the first story was due by the beginning of February, the next, three weeks later. A warm, dissolving sensation rippled from the center of my chest; I was still needed. I wished that I were there to celebrate with her. N. asked what we would do; I told her. (My mother was in the yard, talking to a neighbor.) N. held me to it when we returned to campus later that month; the string-lights glowed in her high, cold room, and as the sun rose over the valley, the spire of the chapel threw its long shadow toward the hills. At noon on the day after classes began, hundreds of us packed into the student center to watch the presidential inauguration on a big screen. As we waited for the speeches to begin, N. talked about her plans for the semester. “You can’t do everything for me. I have to take better care of myself.” Over the break, she said, her mother made multiple comments about the oiliness of her skin. “She always does that, but this time, I think she’s right.” I said that her skin was fine. “Trust me. I was right about the workshop, after all.” As I said it, however, N.’s cheeks went bright pink. She pointed with her eyes to a man standing a few yards ahead of us in the crowd. “That’s him,” she mouthed. After a moment, I understood that she meant the novelist. He seemed too far away to hear us, but when N. spoke again, it was in a whisper. Soon after, the workshop met for the first time. It was strange to think of N. sitting around the table without me—and strange too to hear her
describe a fiction workshop without irony or scorn. “We talked about voice,” said N. “But not in a watery, ‘finding your voice’ way. He says that voice isn’t something you ‘discover.’ It’s how you control the reader’s attention and teach her how to read the work.” We had planned to go to a film society screening of Rushmore that night, but N. asked if we could cancel; the class had inspired her, and she wanted to work. It started again. N. wrote, and I did whatever she would allow me to. We were in the same postwar literature class, and before the section, I briefed her on the readings that she didn’t have time to do. I even looked up articles on the best foods for healthy skin and chose her meals accordingly. One evening, I brought N. a takeaway box of salmon and broccoli from the dining hall. I came to the front door of Tyndall House at the same time as one of her suitemates, who unlocked the door and saved me from having to call N. In the common room of her suite, N. and a tall, blonde girl were drinking tea and laughing. N. introduced us; the girl lived on the first floor of Tyndall House and was also in the fiction workshop. I gave N. the salmon, which was getting cold. “He brought you dinner?” said the girl. “That’s adorable. Where do I sign up?” She was English and honked out her vowels. I sat with them as they talked about the workshop. The girl insisted that N. should go to the novelist’s office hour. “He’s really lovely.” “Does it bore you?” said N., after the English girl had left. “Listening to us go on about the workshop? I think it would bore me.” It didn’t. Hearing them made me realize how much I missed the conversations that N. and I had had in the fall. The next time I climbed the stairs to N.’s room, I found myself hoping that the English girl would be there. She could call me adorable as many times as she wanted, if she let me into that part of N.’s life. “Do you speak in the workshop?” I said. N. was in the shower; I sat on the edge of the sink and moved the toothbrush around in my mouth. “What do you mean?” she said. “Of course I speak.” “You didn’t in our workshop.” “Yes, I did. We all had to give a comment at the beginning of class.” “But besides that. Do you participate in the discussion?” “Sure,” she said. “It’s a better discussion.” “What do you say?”
“What do I say in class—is that the question?” “I guess.” “I tell them that they need more details.” She shut off the water and reached out for her towel. Later, when we were pressed together in her small bed, I felt that we weren’t close enough. I tried to kiss N. more deeply; my teeth clinked against hers. I turned, as usual, to fiction. Last semester, our instructor stressed the importance of meaningful choices; a good story should bring its character to the moment when he or she has to make a decision with real consequences. I wanted to make this kind of choice, but I didn’t know what it would be. I was already doing anything that N. would let me. N., of course, would scoff at this idea of fiction. Her story ended, after pages and pages of analysis, with its character feeling “exactly the same, but also much worse.” The point, I gathered, was that there were things that no amount of choice and self-knowledge could overcome. Which was probably true—but didn’t change my desire to overcome them. What else could I do but choose? I bought a copy of the novelist’s latest book, What We Have Is What We Bring, from the college bookstore, which had a pyramid of them beneath a flyer for his upcoming reading. I couldn’t make it past the first chapter; I kept flipping to the back cover, which included a long list of the novelist’s awards and a photo of him as an unsmiling young man with a neat beard and round tortoiseshell glasses. The following week, I saw the novelist going down the stairs of the English department and took a queasy satisfaction in finding that he was grayer and puffier than in the picture. Thick hair covered his forearms and the backs of his hands and fingers; it curled over his wedding ring and the rolled-up sleeves of his flannel shirt. I waited for N. to mention this discrepancy; it was the kind of thing, I thought, that we would have laughed about in the fall. When she didn’t, I left my copy of the book in her room with the back cover up. the novelist gave his reading in March. It was held in the chapel; N. and I arrived early and got seats on the ground floor. “Won’t this be repetitive for you?” I said. “You see him every week.” N. didn’t look up from her phone.
The blonde English girl that I had met in N.’s room stopped at the end of our row. She and N. talked about their portfolios until the chapel bells struck seven. As the lights went down, the English girl asked if we could slide over and make room, but the pew was full, so I gave her my spot and leaned against one of the wooden pillars by the door. The chair of the English department thanked us for coming; the novelist read a chapter from What We Have Is What We Bring; people from the audience lined up at the microphone and asked questions. I was aware of all this, but I spent most of the hour trying to gauge N.’s responses from what I could see of the back of her head. The reading was followed by a reception in the faculty club. The novelist was delayed; a long line formed in front of the table where he would be signing books. N. and I stood near a bronze bust of a nineteenth-century president of the college and drank red wine out of small plastic cups. “I’m surprised you’re not in line,” I said. N. swallowed the wine in her mouth. “I see him every week.” I was used to hearing this irony applied to other people’s words. I told her that I hadn’t meant it like that, though of course I had. The room stirred; the novelist was being escorted in by the chair of the English department. As they passed us, the novelist noticed N. “I have to do this,” he said, tilting his head toward the line in front of the table, “but my wife’s home, so go over whenever you want.” He must have seen her glance dart to me because he added, “And bring your friend!” “It’s a party,” said N. “For some of us in the workshop.” “You didn’t mention a party.” “I didn’t think you were invited.” “Apparently I am.” The novelist lived in the white clapboard house on College Street reserved for the writer-in-residence; clumps of hard snow remained in the yard, and smoke rose from the brick chimney. The novelist’s wife took our coats and led us into what must have once been the drawing room, which was lit by soft lamplight and a large fireplace. The English girl sat on the couch with a bearded grad student who was explaining why she should read 2666; a poet who taught at the college was showing a pair of undergrads how to remove a cork that had broken off in a wine bottle. Soon, there were fifteen or twenty of us—students, faculty, others I
didn’t recognize. The house became stuffy, but everyone agreed that the fire was too nice to put out, so the novelist opened the windows, and the crisp night air mixed with the smell of the burning wood. Small groups formed throughout the room. N. went to refill her wineglass and was pulled into conversation with the novelist and another student; I was left with the English girl, the grad student, and the novelist’s wife. I had said little all night. Pitying me, the novelist’s wife asked what I studied. “Literature,” I said. “What kind?” I mumbled the first things that came into my head—gender, performance, the signifier, castration. It didn’t matter; I was focused on N. She was listening to the novelist and nodding. She replied, and the novelist raised his palms, as if to say “of course.” The other student laughed. Their group was on the other side of the fireplace, but if I concentrated, I could make out what they were saying. The novelist called over a woman and introduced her as a friend who had driven in from upstate New York for the reading. “These are your writers?” she asked. “My best,” said the novelist. He briefly described N.’s writing. As I listened, I experienced a wave of almost painful sweetness. He had found it—the word that I wanted, all those months. N. said something in response, but the fire popped, and I missed it. But her eyes were large and bright, and the corners of her mouth turned up in a way that I had never seen. And why not? She was understood. The novelist’s wife, meanwhile, had moved off, and the English girl and the grad student were arguing about Zadie Smith’s essay on Netherland. I thought about leaving; I knew that if this were a short story and I were its protagonist, I would take this as my epiphany and go out into the significant night. But I couldn’t do it. I lingered, straining to hear the words across the room. ◆
finalist for the laux / millar poetry prize
first love The opposite of shoes thrown over the wire is a pearl in a pocket. When my brother was seven he pretended to have growing pains so that our mother would touch him. Our mother believes in the seven loaves that fed thousands and the jar of flour that never ran out but I’ve seen my brother walk to his car with a duffle bag and a sawed-off shotgun because everything has to come from somewhere. The smell of something burning woke me so I rolled over and went back to sleep. My sister pricked her arm on the spindle of a spinning wheel and slept for two years. Waking, she once told me, was like trying to coax her soul, a stray cat out of the crawlspaces of the cosmos. Those days the grime was made of diamonds and the filth covered everything. And it was beautiful even when it was disgusting. I had a friend who threw up all over herself so we ran through the sprinklers. There was a night you didn’t have money for the bus so you rode your bike through the snow
and you didn’t have any gloves so you wore socks over your hands and my house didn’t have heat so I snuck you in and we climbed under heavy blankets and we were so rich.
/ And each day we’d swim far enough to drown out their voices. / They’d rise, books half open at their hips / other hands to their brows shielding the frypan sun. / Your mother in a sheer cover-up / mine with freckles surfacing on the pale flesh of her shoulders / like anti-stars. We laughed a little / as they walked to the edge of the water and yelled. Worried what we could be saying out there / in the buckling, lightplated water beyond their reach. Sanctuary / teal and marbled. / Barrier of noise we knew they wouldn’t brave. From where we were they looked / like strangers. / Could have been some other swimmers’ moms. / Each set of eyes a black slash / in all that gold.
I still think of us standing at the mass grave of the ocean / pink two-pieces tied in bows or blue-rainbow siren scales / shimmering. I picture myself prettier then / as all gone things are pretty. Our mothers among the dunes, chairs unfolded / in the soft burning sand, reading. How they pit us against each other / their little fighting doves. / Our race of endurance to see who could go longer / without mentioning dinner. / Your overdose unimaginable then. Our girlhood / to learn the skill of whispering / something cruel. The sky in perfect counterpart to the Atlantic / wind-shredded clouds / like its own foam.
cape may church retreat: thirteen
ashley sojin kim
choate, 2011 Fifty-nine inches of snow fell in January the first year I lived in Connecticut, shattering the forty-five-inch record. The headmaster issued the first snow day in seven years. Snow boots were backordered, so I walked through the knee-deep powder with three pairs of socks under my rainboots. Wet hair froze into stiff, black icicles. Home, where fifty degrees was considered cold, seemed far away. The thaw was slow. Spring was equally eventful. I discovered black carpenter bees and pollen allergies. Juniors complained that the trees with white flowers smelled like vaginas. Obsessive dieting was praised: I wish I had her willpower. My best friend was expelled; her crime—cheating on a take-home test. Whispers of older girls hooking up with the young math teachers floated through the dorms. I secretly wanted to be chosen. I turned fifteen in Wallingford.
david gilman | dahlia, ca 2015 14" x 14" | photograph
geri She was an exemplar of a woman: sister, mother, artist, friend, a ledger of hard years etched on her face, the grandmother I never had. One of nine daughters she knew how to make do, cutting up old magazines gleaned from the library dumpster, tearing and snipping the glossy pages to make art. She was an alchemist, scraps of cardboard and Elmer’s glue, her long sleeves spattered with paint, glitter in her sparse white hair. We sat with her in her backyard garden chairs, crab apple trees and potted plants fallen on their sides while she talked about her long and storied lives, the men she married and the one who finally took then up and died. Her favorite day was Friday the thirteenth, her favorite drink a pink martini, her favorite place the homeless shelter where she taught collage to the men who lined the tables, naked wires in a chamber of gloom, until she brought out the paper and glue, the blue-handled snub-nosed scissors, and they bowed their heads in unison, shoulders wedged, their concentration and communal silence a kind of smoky prayer. She was a square peg in a round hole
who forced her way in. She was a female Buddha, all wisdom and giggle, her ample body jiggled like overripe fruit. She died with her boots on. She lived like a migration of snow geese, uncontained beauty, noisy as hell.
sandra ducoff garber | passing through, 2015 12" x 9" | acrylic on board
barbara barrow a classical shape she saw him every morning at the café, and each time he said the same thing: “You have a classical shape. Like the Venus de Milo. But with arms!” He laughed. She laughed, too. She understood it was not really about her. It was about the monotony of the job, and the familiarity of her face, the regularity of her face. Still, one morning when he wasn’t there, she asked about him, and the next day she waited for him by the rack of newspapers at the door. Over lunch, he told her that his name was Eliot, he liked biking, and he was taking night classes in art history. He teased her and said, “What about you, Venus?” and when she told him about her townhouse, the law office, her side hustle selling knit bags online, something seemed to lengthen and expand in his expression, like a passenger settling in for a
long trip. She told him that it calmed her to knit because she was a junior attorney, always getting bossed around, and he shrugged and said he was the youngest of six, that he was used to it. She thought he was affable, handsome, good-humored, but not passionate. It didn’t matter. Passion dies; gentle camaraderie remains. The next week she came again at noon, and a year later they were married under a gazebo in the city park, surrounded by family and friends. He left his studio behind and moved his few things into her townhouse, where his bicycle and sketch pads vied for space with her law books and overflowing baskets of yarn. When she saw how he bore it all, her busy schedule, her preoccupations, she marveled that he could ask for so little. Gratefully, she gave him one child, then two. They were both girls. When she came home from work, she found him on the floor, coloring, covered in stickers and marker and glitter and candy necklaces and bits of fabric their daughters had showered upon him, his lanky body the cumulation of all of the imaginary games they had played throughout the day. The townhouse carpet like the floor of the circus tent when the performance is over. When she made partner, she told Eliot she wanted to move. It was an old argument. “I like it here,” he said. “It’s a short bike ride to class.” “There’s no room,” she said. “And you’re not even going to class anymore.” “But I will. When the girls are in kindergarten.” He didn’t. Instead, they moved into a bigger house in an outer suburb that wrapped around an artificial lake. Now and then he made little noises of protest at leaving the city and the art classes, but she let him talk it out, and they decided it was for the best. The girls went to school in a better district, and it was less of a commute for her, and he agreed, of course he agreed! One afternoon, coming home early, she found two empty glasses sitting on the nightstand, one of them blotched with lipstick, and felt a mixed pang of jealousy and relief that she would no longer have to schedule sex in her weekly planner. They outlasted everyone. By the time they were in their forties, the rounds of divorce had begun, the marriages crumpling and fading under the weight of elderly live-in parents, shrieking hormonal teenagers,
and feckless home repair. But they survived. At happy hour her friends talked about the endless sacrifices they had made. Her best friend’s wife made her spend all her savings on a greenhouse; her coworker’s partner threatened to leave him unless he got a vasectomy. “What about you?” they said. “Eliot? He never asks for anything.” They looked at her for just a second too long, and then they said, “Well, thank God for that.” She smiled into her drink. Eliot really was not demanding like that, she thought, except that maybe there was a thin beam of anger when he looked at her sometimes, a sideways sadness, a time-biding. Still, that long second bothered her for years afterward, and when the girls were grown up and moved out, she suggested she and Eliot take a real vacation, just the two of them, to go see the Venus. “Just think that we’ve never seen it!” she said, even though he had told her once, in a fit of melancholy, that there was no point in looking at originals, that now with the Internet everything in real life was a rerun. On the first day they walked down the Champs-Élysées, grateful for the traffic that made it impossible to talk, and on the second they went their separate ways at the Palace of Versailles. By silent agreement, they waited until the last day to see the Venus. Together they walked slowly around the statue, admiring her white eye sockets, the rightward bend of her muscular torso, her full chin. Up close she could see cracks in the marble that gave a tough, resolute texture to the Venus’s skin. She loved the strong, confrontational front of the woman, the detached, downward tilt of her gaze, the bent, shapely knee. On a whim, they bought a twenty-one-inch bust of the Venus from the gift shop, and back in the hotel room they quarreled over the best way to send it home. She prevailed, and they drank with elegiac fanfare, the Venus on the nightstand. She undressed, her blood light with wine, and caught that sideways look in his eyes again, that smothered glint of mutiny. “There’s something I could do for you,” she said, suddenly sorry. She stood next to the Venus, affecting the same posture, and felt her flesh glow in the light. She looked at Eliot, at his loose slacks and his too-large button-down shirt, at his greying ponytail. He tilted his head and returned her gaze, hungrily.
They took the metro to the nearest hardware store, swapping a bottle back and forth. On the way back, as they stumbled and drank, she swallowed a few Xanax, and felt her body rise above the city, above the lights and the crowds of revelers. He swung the heavy package, grinning. It was like when they first met. Giggling, conspiring. Like children trading secrets. But later that night, her arms stretched out as he raised the axe, she met the aloof white gaze of the Venus and knew that it would not be enough. There is nothing you can give to redeem a lifetime of not giving, she thought, of not coming to each other nakedly, in all of our tattered pieces. To love, she decided, in that instant before the first blow landed, we must come to each other already in ruins. ◆
annie bates-winship | rockface emerging, 2010 10" x 15" | photograph
miguel martin perez
ode to youth The beach in sudden dawnlight gleams, and from our perch—this sandy bluff— my friends and I can see what seem to be the fins of sharks. With proof enough of recklessness, we pile our clothes amid the marram grass and slide as we were born: into the rough and merciless waters. The tide creeps cold, and still, we dive in side by side.
winner of the laux / millar poetry prize
stag By the time I notice him in a copse of aspen, grinding the velvet of his antlers against a sapling, the stillness of the forest has returned me to the quietest parts of myself— body filled by absence, as if by the air light passes through to make its luster on the reservoir. For a long time I was desperate to avoid this calm—mistaking it for emptiness. Watching the buck in his fever, I think of my distance from the boy I was when I met Jan in Prague, getting drunk together under willow shade at Letna Park. I liked him. He was bold enough to push me off a park bench when I had too much. Pretended to be outraged if I paid it back by pelting him with goose shit. But then he’d laugh, and glide off like a swan on the Vltava. A dancer in the national ballet, he moved as if he had control of every atom in his body. Maybe that’s what I was after— to feel the spirit settled, whole. To be nothing like the buck who strips the aspen of its bark,
pale and darkly-veined as the underside of a man’s arm. One night, Jan invited me to his apartment and played a video of his boyfriend undressing. Jan entered the frame, already naked. I could feel him watching me watch as the men pressed their cocks together, Jan jerking them off, unsure what I’d done to make him think I’d wanted this. Eventually, it was time to look up. Now the buck stamps in leaf fall, flicking his tail. Abrasions in the bark expose the tree’s red heartwood. Getting close, I can make out droplets of sap rising to the surface like blood to a shallow wound. When I take another step, the buck turns. Black eyes. Antlers the yellowish-white of polished bone. I lift my hand as if to say I won’t come closer. Or to bless him. Or both.
susan gefvert | sunflowers and plums, 2015 14" x 11" | oil on canvas
quality inn Tarmac birds warm up their grievances. Someone in the breezeway fumbles with their unlocked door, clocking out from a night, and half-asleep inside the curtain’s gap I pick my fingers, restless in light. A day’s no more a day because we savor it, but one likes to lick the spoon of a grasse matinée—time tastes better alone. By and by, waking comes for the wastebasket, whose little mouth dribbles love notes and loose threads. Good dresses packed, I step into my body like a stocking. I was promised many things: WELCOME HOT BREAKFAST FREE / LATE CHECKOUT. Still, a Chevy pickup shakes the lobby where, tucked up to card tables, people eat. Grits and yogurt, eggs and oranges. At reception, I unspell my given name and count out wrinkled bills, soles stuck to the carpet. I have always been afraid.
david gilman | fuse box, ca 2015 20" x 16" | photograph
sarah schiff at sea loosed from the world of nations and borders, my anarchist parents were raising me on a catamaran at sea because they knew no other way to live with themselves. But it’s hard not to feel the smallness of your impact when things just keep getting worse. No doubt my young age had slowed them down initially, but as I grew older, I could be of more use to them, a partner rather than a sidekick, an asset rather than a liability. After my thirteenth birthday, they allowed me to take the lead on our upcoming project, and I was glad. Bearing burdens was much preferred to being one. It even made me wonder if this life would be enough for me, or if I should follow through on the idea that had recently lain down in my head like an exhausted old man: that I should get out of here. I tried to push out of my mind the thought that this promotion was just one of my parents’ ploys enticing me to stay.
In response to my assignment, I’d begun reading up on maquiladoras— as much as I could, at least. There wasn’t much information available, either in the public libraries we visited or the underground publications we subscribed and contributed to. In our travels, we’d watched as the sweatshops had sprung up along the Mexican border with the US. They were notorious for underpaying their laborers then spurning them when medical problems developed from the unsafe working conditions. I picked a factory in Matamoros that manufactured remote controls for an American electronics corporation. My suggestion was to cut the power supply and sabotage the trucks, but Cap (what I called my father) argued that the company had invested so much in the building they’d soon have it back up in full working order. It needed to be destroyed. Mom had inhaled sharply at his words but said nothing. In early October, we sailed down to Laguna Madre, a hypersaline lagoon separated from the Gulf of Mexico by a narrow strip of islands. I was accustomed to being surrounded by ocean air, the way it leaves layers of salt on your skin, but pulling into that lagoon was like entering an alien atmosphere, nearly crispy with its high salt content. After docking on a tiny island, we waded through seagrass to the coast, seeing no people but plenty of prickly desert plants that seemed out of place. Nestled among them were ducks with dull gray bodies but striking heads the color of match tips. Bird after bird would fly across our path, and my father named them all: pelicans, egrets, falcons. “And that must be the horn-genitaled clapparilla,” I said, mimicking the authoritative voice of my father. “No, that’s a spoonbill.” “Even better,” I said. “Than what?” “Nothing. I was just kidding.” “I don’t get it,” he said. I was glad to see at least Mom was smiling. One small bird, yellow and brown with a tail the length of its body, set to chirping alongside us, an alarm clock with no snooze button, until we reached the pathway to the mainland. We’d recently stocked up on shore so were outfitted with jerky, raisins, a collapsible propane stove, flashlights, portable urinals, some tools, wiring, and guns. At a roadside produce stand, we purchased tomatoes, cucumbers, and yellow peppers,
which we snacked on as we walked, the seeds dripping down our chins and stinging. Once inland, we came across a strip club with a full parking lot, but no one in sight. My parents looked on while I hot-wired a car. I wanted to take a yellow convertible, but Cap scoffed and pointed out a Honda, dark gray and boring. When I asked to drive, Mom worried that a thirteen-year-old driver, even one as tall as I, would invite unnecessary attention, and she wouldn’t give in to my desperate pleas. Sailing a ship across open water was easy, but the task of navigating through a clutter of cars piloted by unpredictable and distractible people seemed an exciting and necessary skill to master. “Next time,” Mom said. If there is one, and with that thought I told myself this job could be the last if I wanted it to be. Was the daring I’d been storing up over the lonely years enough to jump ship? We drove by a forgettable-enough-looking motel, tucked between a tow yard and a used tire store. A half mile past it, we turned off the road into a gravelly field, and waited. Once the sky had turned orange with the coming night, we headed back to the motel, staying several yards off the road. We had to weave between bristly bushes and walk slowly to avoid glass shards and other trash. The motel, Casa Natural, was pretty ramshackle, mildewed and dark, but it also had a small pool. “What a waste,” I said, assuming my parents would agree. When you grow up on a boat, the idea of a pool seems both excessive and insufficient at the same time. “People long for the water when they don’t have the luxury of living on it, Sim,” Cap said. “Maybe they should move to the coast rather than artificially rip into the earth like that,” I said, thinking, again, he would approve of the comment. “There’s only so much coastline for all the people on this planet.” Cap looked in the direction we’d left our boat. “And it’s dwindling.” “Plus, what’s scarce is reserved for those who can afford it,” Mom said. I gripped my hands at their corrections, feeling inexcusably naive. It was a familiar sting, that needle to the heart, one I wanted to get away from, but it also made me wonder if I was ready to be on my own after all. That night, in the stillness, with the missing motion, anticipation
kept jerking me awake. Cap’s snores seemed to vibrate the room, and I sensed that Mom was keeping a troubled vigil with me. Before sunrise, we left the hotel on foot and stole a battered Toyota truck parked at a convenience store that hadn’t opened yet. My parents didn’t like taking the vehicle of someone who probably depended on it. For the most part, our thefts were from people who wouldn’t miss what we’d taken. But we couldn’t afford the visibility of a shiny new vehicle, and there weren’t many options. Cap drove us beyond the outskirts of the city where the road turned to gravel, then tire-flattened sand. When the factory came into view, a hulking silver square shaking in the morning heat, Cap pulled onto the side of the road and dropped off me and Mom. We hid behind some palmetto trees while he drove away, the tailpipe puffing out dirty plumes in his wake, until a line of white and beige vans drove past us and through the gates. We followed quickly, and as the workers, all women, stepped down from the vans, we fell into line behind them, marching through the empty courtyard. I guessed I was the youngest person there, but not by much. The double doors of the factory were opened for us, peons awaiting our millstones, and as we stepped over the threshold into the harsh lights, each of us looked down. I plucked a smock from a cart at the entryway then shuffled in line with the columns of moving women, mimicking their gestures, worrying that even a subtle movement, a hair flick, a tooquick step, could give me away. With its high ceilings and giant square layout, the factory felt empty, even though there were hundreds of workstations where the women stood as they maneuvered little buttons into their slots and ran wires through crevices. And it was eerily quiet. The place seemed to swallow up any murmuring or humming made by the women or their work. In the center was an open cubicle on an elevated platform where two managers wearing white collared short-sleeve shirts and patterned ties looked out with hands on hips, boys playing at men. On a giant steel block of a desk between them was a telephone and typewriter, but neither man sat to work. Mom and I stayed close to the walls and, when it seemed no one was looking, slipped into the mechanical room. With the door closed behind us, we were jammed up against the whirring generators and each other.
“It’s like the underbelly of Stepford out there,” I said. “Where’s the bright and spunky journalist when you need her?” Mom winked. If Cap had been here, he would have told us to be quiet, not understanding what our jokes were for. After climbing on top of a generator, Mom removed a tile from the drop ceiling. Even though the factory was new, black mold was blooming across it in firework-designs. After passing me the tile, Mom pulled herself onto a narrow steel catwalk. I passed her the tile so we could replace it behind us. Then she reached down, my hands sweaty, hers inexplicably cold, and I jumped on the count of three. “Don’t lean against the walls,” she said after hauling me up. The interior of the place was as flimsy as particleboard. I could have easily broken through the plaster walls separating us from the workers below and swooped down, like a bat breaking free from its turn-hole. A skimpy spiral stairwell then led us to a mesh tunnel. “Quick now,” Mom said. We shuffled across it like worms, the surface we crawled on notched like a cheese grater. Through the tiny holes, I could see the shimmer of the workers’ movements below and hoped no one looked up. It occurred to me then that if this project didn’t work out, it would be my fault, and I wouldn’t be trusted with spearheading another for a long time. But why did I care? I would just leave, I reminded myself. But could I? We reached a small enclosure containing pipes for the emergency sprinkler and part of the ventilation system. There was an opening above, like an escape hatch, to the roof. The whole place was hot and hard, like a crucible above the flames, and the air left a metallic taste in my mouth. In that space, with a view of the open floor through the vents and enough coverage to shield us, we were going to spend the night. Our task was to figure out how many people remained in the building at the end of the workday. As disruptive and outraged as my parents were, they never had any intention of spilling blood. While we waited, I found a loose nail on the floor and used it to etch my initials into a low corner of the aluminum wall. Then I drew a maze. A peace sign. When Mom saw what I was doing, she shook her head, and I rolled the nail away from me. On my skin, I kept feeling the sensation of tickly little steps and hoped
they were just my imagination, or else a fallen stray hair or maybe dribbles of sweat. When I definitely felt something small-footing its way up my front, I lay down on my side, blocked the vent with my body, and shined the flashlight down my chest onto a cockroach the size of my thumb. Stifling a scream when you’ve made eye contact with a roach is a lot to ask of someone, but my scream stayed in my throat as I swiped the bug away, heard the thump of its body against the aluminum, and whispered “la cucaracha” to my mom, who said “ugh,” then shone her light and bobbed her shoulders as if to the song. For nearly nine hours, we watched those women work, their hands motioning in a compulsive choreography, a sleeping sign language. If they hadn’t been slick with sweat, if they hadn’t all been wearing the same drab-tan smock, if their coughs hadn’t sounded so dry, the vision might have been beautiful, like the mathematical harmony of an ant farm. At the end of the day, they left as routinely as they’d come, only hunched deeper now. I dozed while a cleaning crew came and went. Then my mom nudged me awake with a smile; the factory was empty excepting one lone guard. He was probably in his mid-twenties, and when he arrived, he opened one of the lockers, where the women had stored their personal items. Inside was a heavy barrel Smith & Wesson, which he tucked into his holster without checking the chambers. He then strolled around the building turning off the lights, and the place that had once blazed with harsh fluorescence now simmered eerily in near-darkness, shadows thrown from the guard’s movements as they were caught by the emergency lights. He spent the next few hours pacing the floor, whistling, fiddling with the leftover metal and plastic scraps on the workstations, doing the kinds of things you do when you think you’re alone. Eventually he settled in at the enormous desk where the managers had stood throughout the day like tin soldiers. As he slept, his head tilted on the back of the chair, the tendons in his neck straining, my mom snuck down. The place was quiet, but Mom was quieter. When she pulled the revolver from his side, he didn’t flinch, but I kept holding my breath, focused on her nimble movements in the glowing red light. After she slid the rounds onto her palm, she put the gun back, and his nose twitched, but he continued to snore. Then Mom removed the batteries from his radio, which he’d
never turned on. I felt like I was watching a great showman, both envious and in awe of the grace and talent. When she came back, I thought about how amazing she was but didn’t say anything. Cap never did. I think we both assumed she knew. For the rest of the night, Mom and I alternated sleeping and watching the guard. When there was an hour before the workday was to begin, we returned along the ceiling, back down into the mechanical room. I peeked my head out to make sure the guard was still asleep, and then we stepped quietly, hugging the walls, to a back door Mom had seen the managers leave through. We found ourselves in a parking lot, where several semi-trucks were huddled together, as if in hibernation. If we were successful, it wouldn’t be long before they’d be without purpose. We then headed around to the front of the plant, its aluminum side smooth and windowless. It seemed to keep going, a cruel optical illusion. Around us, the desert land was pale and dotted with sickly shrubs, the moon above like a plate in the pale dawn light. Once we’d made it into the open and empty courtyard, I willed myself not to run. If it had been a nightmare, there would have been a sniper on the roof with his sights on me. Finally, we scaled the chain-link fence and walked until we spied Cap in the same spot he’d dropped us off almost twenty-four hours prior, in an even older, even more rusted pickup truck. He’d brought a sack of egg and cheese tortillas, but even though I was starving, I couldn’t eat. While we’d been scoping out the maquiladora, Cap had broken into a farm supplier about ten miles away. In the covered truck bed were four drums of fuel oil and sacks of ammonium nitrate, reeking of shit. That night and all the next day, in the dankness of our motel room, Cap taught me how to assemble a fertilizer bomb. The metal tip of the detonation cord, one of several my parents had stolen years ago from a mine complex in Texas, looked like a long and narrow bullet, and Cap smacked my hand away when I reached for it. “That’s got condensed powder in it. Commercial grade. Without it, we’ve got nothing.” “Just a shitty situation,” Mom said quietly. “Shit and gas.” Cap took off his shirt and used it to wipe the sweat from his forehead and chest. Then he brought out an old alarm clock, one with two bells on top that looked like boobs, and programmed it to go off at midnight.
“Isn’t that rather dramatic?” I said. “Fine, you pick the time.” “Midnight’s fine.” “Where’s the car battery?” As Cap fiddled with the wires and cables, instructing me which to snip and where to wrap, Mom explained the chemical process by which oxygen, fuel oil, and ammonium nitrate merge to create destruction. Though exhausted from our sleepover at the maquiladora, I was rapt. When we returned to the factory late that night, I clipped the links of the fence with thick pliers, each bite sending a shock through my arms, until I’d made a gap large enough for the barrels and fertilizer, which my parents wheeled through on dollies. Then, with bandanas over our faces, we strolled right up to the towering double-doors. The sound of Cap’s knock echoed inside, and it took longer than I expected to hear the jangling steps of the guard. When he cracked open the door, he looked more disheveled than the previous night and not cagey enough. I prayed in that moment to whatever was out there that this guard was a man of routine. He reached for what was hopefully an unloaded weapon, but even before he could pull the trigger, Mom had already grabbed open the door, and Cap had disarmed him with a knee to the stomach. Meanwhile, I’d pulled my own gun and aimed it at his head. I’d killed animals before, and I’d shot at a diverse assortment of inanimate targets with various heads-of-states’ faces taped to them, but this was the first time I’d ever held a gun so close to a living person. There was the time a year or so prior when my parents and I had wandered onto the claimed territory of a cattle poacher in Texas. The mangy cowboy had had Mom in his sights, but he’d let us go when he saw Cap and I covering him. After he’d turned his horse and trotted away, I was tempted to shoot him in the back for the scare he’d given Mom. And the one he’d given me. Now, the guard was doubled over, his head bobbing as he caught his breath. I worried inanely that my finger might pull the trigger, without my conscious mind willing it to. What if I just— As Cap bound the guard’s wrists and ankles with duct tape, I picked up his Smith & Wesson and showed him the empty chambers. He made a puling noise and wobbled like an armless scarecrow. It made me ashamed, ashamed that a grown man was crying, ashamed that we had
made an innocent man cry. I reminded myself of what Cap often said, that shame was just one of society’s most effective means of propaganda, even if he would never have admitted that it was also his. Before I put a piece of duct tape over the guard’s mouth, I lifted the bottom of my bandana and turned my own lips in so he’d imitate me and not get the skin of his lips ripped off later. Then I wondered if there was another way we could have done this. But no, I thought. This wasn’t even that bad. Sometimes there had to be tears. Cap and Mom left me with the guard outside while they hauled in the barrels and sacks to each of the two front corner I-beams, then situated sandbags so the destruction would be directed back toward them. The dense, flopping sounds made me think of someone piling corpses after a disaster. With half an hour left, I motioned with my gun toward our truck, but the guard wouldn’t move. I was supposed to lock him in, then go back to ignite the charge—I was willing to play the role of guard of the guard if it meant I could do that. But something had sparked a jolt of energy in him. He was bouncing up and down, almost falling over from his restraints, and trying to yell through the tape. His cheeks puffed to the point where I thought his skin would tear, so I ripped off the gag, and he winced. “Esposa,” he said, along with some other words in Spanish, hopping toward the entrance. “Esposa, Gloria.” Was he praying? “Gloria. Esposa.” I looked at him, my gun pointed at his belly, telling myself I might have to shoot after all. How quickly illogic takes hold in times of panic. He was too heavy for me to drag to the truck, and the threat of a bullet seemed to have no effect on him. “Esposa,” he begged. The word sounded familiar, but I steadied my arms and aimed between his eyes. “Shhh,” I said, sounding like a kid imitating the chug of a train, my voice was shaking so much. He pointed his chin toward the factory, and the tone of his voice came at me, seeking pity. “Esposa.” I ran inside. Mom was shifting the barrels into a tighter huddle, and Cap was fiddling with the wiring at the clock. Everything seemed to be as it should.
But, no. The desk in the center of the factory was arranged differently. The typewriter had been shoved to a corner, and when I went closer, I saw two short, dripping candles, candles that hadn’t been there the night before. “There,” Cap said, backing away from the clock. “Everything’s hooked up and ready to go.” “Wait.” “Nine minutes ‘til midnight.” Then Cap noticed me. “Sim, is the guard in the truck?” “No. He keeps saying ‘esposa.’ And ‘Gloria.’” “He’s praying. How could you have left him alone?” “I think his wife’s inside.” “Esposa,” Mom said. “Shit,” said Cap. “Shut it down,” Mom said. “It’s going at midnight or not at all.” “Shit.” “She’s probably hiding. Freaking out,” I said. “Señora,” Cap started calling, then “help me look” to me and Mom. We peered under tables, raced to corners, but even though the enormous room was so open, designed to be surveilled, there seemed to be a million possible hiding places. I returned to the guard, hovering at the doorway. “Tell your wife to come out.” He looked like he partially understood, and I repeated it, slowly, ridiculously. Then Mom was behind me, making as if to bellow, but, in a subdued voice, she said, “Esposa! Gloria!” holding her hand up to her face to illustrate what she wanted the guard to do. He nodded with the assurance of someone girding up his loins for battle and yelled into the cavernous space, “Gloria! Gloria!” Then he followed up with some words in Spanish, the only one I caught, bomba. When Gloria popped her head up, it looked like my father was giving birth. She’d been hiding under the desk and now raced out between his legs wearing just a bra and short skirt, which was tucked into her thong underwear in the back. If her husband’s arms hadn’t been bound, she would have run straight into them. They made a good couple, and I felt the envy hardening inside, luring me toward something hurtful, even as I longed to save them.
We’d probably made it half a mile away when we felt the impact of the detonation urge the truck into a hop on the road, followed by a rain of dusty pebbles on the roof. The sound and the pressure, even though far behind us, seemed to be coming from my insides. As we drove, I noticed that the doorways of several homes had already been decorated for the Day of the Dead. Oversized skulls festooned with orange flowers and ribbons witnessed our escape. After we dropped Gloria and her husband off at a bus station, we switched cars one more time and headed back for the boat. We were at sea before the sun came up. There, lying in my berth, I wondered how much of an impact we made. I couldn’t have known it then, but I was right to wonder. It was several years before NAFTA went into effect when we destroyed that maquiladora. After that, they started popping up along the border like cold sores. Last I checked, there were over 3,000 of them. I wondered too if Gloria and the guard would last. At least we gave them a story to tell. And, unlike us, they could be the heroes of it. Yes, the daring I had would have to be enough. Time to go. ◆
toby tover | unity, 2021 24" x 24" | collage-acrylics on canvas
toby tover | mothers, 2021 24" x 32" | acrylics on cradled panel
you can tell where the fire starts if you know where to look I’ll trace heat shadows while you burn every candle. You’ll have the chardonnay on ice. We’ll have the same dream over and over: headfirst into shallow water, no longer afraid of lifting from the ground. It’s not a gentle process, pleasure. Our hands on the planchette, anticipation at the end of the tether. Our dogs licking at heat patches all summer.
everything was beautiful & nothing Somewhere, over the sound of fist on a child’s cheekbone, the sound of a lock clicks shut. It makes a difference whether we call it a crash or an accident— sound of glass in wet leaves, everything glinting if given a chance, even glass caught in the throat of the animal that learned to swallow anything. In the alley, someone’s proverb left for someone else: Everything was beautiful and nothing— overgrown weeds cover the last word: hurt. I’ve tried loving this world. Tried finding the abandoned kittens pawing at abandoned clouds.
shannon l. bowring epitaphs for almost-strangers mother She baked a lot of soggy-bottom pies and always smelled of egg yolks and cigarettes. Everyone at the nursing home where she worked as an aide loved her. Always there to listen to their same-old stories, never mad when they needed a sheet change late at night. It was different with me. Sometimes her bony knuckles left wasp-like stings on my cheek, temple, collarbone. “I never wanted a girl,” she told me more than once. “You weren’t supposed to be a girl.” When they found the cancer, my father sent me the images of my mother’s withered lungs. They made me remember that time she cut me a slice of custard pie after slapping me so hard I saw purple-pink spots on the ceiling, and to spite her I hid the plate under my bed until the pie
turned to lumpy yellow jelly it was so rotten. Ruined. Dark scum on the surface, nothing good left underneath. first grade teacher Her voice reminded me of warm maple syrup. She kept her short fingernails painted a pretty pearl pink and read picture books out loud in all sorts of accents from places I’d never known existed. “Where’s Roo-mania?” I asked her. “Can I walk to Dublin from here?” Here was a nowhere town in northern Maine, but she never made me feel dumb. She just smiled and gave me the answers. When I was six, I thought she was old, but years later I realized she must have only been in her early twenties when she was teaching me. The funeral was huge and silent. A big stone church with all the sound blown out through tiny cracks of stained-glass windows. Someone, her husband maybe, cried without noise in the front pew. The official report said it was an accident, but some of her neighbors swore they saw her jump right in front of the log truck as it sped past her little brick house. Said they saw her bolt from her front porch to catch it in time. Said she was never the same after her baby died of SIDS. Poor thing blamed herself, they said. Wouldn’t you? postmaster I was fifteen. I looked outside and didn’t understand. My father never stopped mowing the lawn for anything. But there was the ride-on mower, seat empty, and there was my father on the shaggy July grass, huge shoulders pumping up and down as the mailman lay still beneath him. White envelopes strewn around his head like a halo. Just heat stroke, turns out. The mailman came to with a terrible shriek. Imagine passing out and waking up to an enormous, bearded man straddling your chest, blocking out the sky, nearly cracking your ribs to try to bring you back to a life you never left. But the postmaster—she rarely left the fluorescent-lit sanctuary of the post office. She had a bad heart, undiagnosed. Died alone in her double-wide out on County Road. Our mailman told me about it when he delivered my mother’s Guideposts magazine. He was a petite thirty-some-
shannon l. bowring
thing with a birthmark on his cheek like spilled red wine who spoke in little squeaks and starts. “I don’t know, maybe they’ll give me her job now.” He rested one foot on our decorative rock wall. “It’s probably bad to think like that. She’s only been gone a few days.” They gave the job to someone else. This was six, seven years ago. The man still delivers my father’s bills. He walks with a limp now, slightly bent over to one side as if punched continually by a strong wind. Sometimes on hot days, my father brings him a glass of lemonade, and the two of them stand in the driveway while he drinks it. They never mention the time my father could’ve cracked the guy’s sternum into a hundred tiny pieces trying to save his life. “About time I take that maple down,” my father says. “Once that rot sets in, it’ll sure go fast,” the mailman says. The postmaster, or maybe I should say postmistress, was a meanfaced woman who never married. She kept parakeets. Sometimes, a lot lately, I worry I’ll end up just like her. celebrity My first semester at Orono, I rarely left my single dorm room. I missed my mother and hated that I missed her. When we spoke on the phone, her smoker’s cough made me angry. When she told me she was tired all the time, I was annoyed. “Don’t you want to hear about school?” I asked. She didn’t. My father called me around Halloween and said she’d been to see the doctor. “It’s worse than you think, kiddo.” When I went home for winter break, I holed up in my old bedroom. I lay in my twin bed and ate Doritos until my fingers were orange and spent my afternoons watching a talk show featuring a woman with dark hair that reminded me of an oil spill. Satin voice, pretty fingers. She talked about positive affirmations and life-changing makeovers. Sometimes she surprised women in the audience with organic cleaning products or sets of luggage I could tell they’d never take anywhere. Whenever my mother got into a coughing fit in her bedroom down the hall, I turned the TV up louder. After a few days of this, my father stopped asking me to rub her feet or read to her from her book of daily devotions. It was a strange feeling—he’d never given up on me before. It felt
a little like the clawing emptiness in your belly when you wake up from a nap after a big meal. You think, I shouldn’t be hungry, not after that. But you are, and it’s eerie, as though that quick drop into sleep stole an entire life-sustaining event from you, as though you never fed yourself at all. My father almost cried when I stood at the front door with my bags of clean laundry at the end of the week. “You’ll come home for spring break?” I tried not to hear the desperation in his voice. My mother staggered into the kitchen, red-rimmed eyes blinking like a rat let out of a hole. She’d lost weight. Her skin was waxy, gray. When she hugged me, all I could smell was stale urine, and all I could feel was the weird sharpness of her newly brittle bird bones. My father asked me again—Please come back home. Of course, I lied. I’ll be back soon. About a week after I returned to school, the talk show lady died in a private plane crash along with three other celebrities I didn’t care about. I joined her online grieving fan club, skipped all my classes, cut my hair off at the chin. I blocked the freaks in the online grieving fan club. mother “Hold onto your good memories of her,” my father tells me. A picnic. Gingham blanket under backyard trees, green-skin apples sour from the branch. Chicken-on-the-bone. A light blue dress made by her hands, inner hem stained with her blood—accidental needle-prick. Otis Redding. Flash of skinny white legs as she scissor-kicked away from the dock at our family camp on Moosehead Lake, body fluid under clear water, polka-dot pink one-piece, puffy clouds in forget-me-not sky. “She loved you,” my father tells me, and I almost believe it. But then I remember how quickly she swam away from me as I stood there on the dock. How she swam farther away even as I called her name. tow truck driver It was only a fender-bender. Just me not paying close enough attention, but I told the insurance man I was blinded by the February sun. So low in the sky, so big and bright. I turned too wide, smacked into a guardrail, crumpled my car’s gray hood like a handful of balled-up tinfoil. The tow truck driver’s name was Mack, and I’d never met someone
shannon l. bowring
who fit their name so perfectly. A middle-aged man, tall and solid, with a mane of tawny hair that joined up with a bushy beard of the same color. His eyes were that silver-blue you see on the Penobscot River sometimes in early winter when ice is just starting to skim the surface. “Happens,” he said. “Coulda hit another car, so I’d say you done pretty good.” His smile took away my urge to cry, something I almost always do when I’m embarrassed or angry, but rarely when I’m sad or lonely. We listened to a Billy Joel CD that kept skipping whenever Mack drove over a bump or frost-heave. Sing us, sing us, sing us a song; you’re the, you’re the piano man. The truck smelled like diesel and Old Spice. We left my broken car at the garage, and then Mack brought me back to campus, where he dropped me off in front of the student union. “You like school?” he asked. “I like saying I like school,” I said, and he laughed. Not much later I saw his picture on the local news. A hit-and-run, the reporter said in a rehearsed-condolence voice. He was changing a tire in the breakdown lane of I-95, right outside Bangor. The driver Mack was helping, an old woman with pink-permed hair, said it was one of those fancy muscle cars the young kids drive. Didn’t even slow down, just kept on speeding through the night like Mack was nothing but a skunk or deer. Roadkill. I thought about going to the memorial service, but decided against it. If I went, he’d be Michael Allen Desjardins, beloved husband and devoted father of five children. Something about him as Mack seemed to belong only to me; I didn’t want to lose that. townie Overdose. The only surprising part of it was the fact that it didn’t happen sooner. He was two grades above me, and as early as middle school, everyone in town knew what he’d become. The same as his brother, father, uncle. He lived a few streets away from me, in a trailer that teetered on a cinderblock foundation. When I was eight and he was ten, he started walking me home from school—nothing planned, just something that happened. He told me he wanted to be a magician. I asked if he knew any magic tricks. He didn’t.
I can’t remember when we stopped walking together, but it was probably because of something my mother said. She’d always hated his family. “No-good junkies,” she called them. “The whole damn lot of them.” One day on our walk home, I tripped and sprained my ankle. He slung my bag over his shoulder and then scooped me up in his arms like we were newlywed grownups. I was skinny, but it was slow going. He kept asking if I was okay. He smelled like bubble gum. librarian That spring of my freshman year at college, I started walking early in the morning. The sun peeked above the trees, and mist from the steam plant’s cylindrical stack hung low by the river. Everything smelled like mud, or, depending on the wind direction, rotten-egg toxins from the mill one town over. I took the same route every time even though they say you shouldn’t. Predatory men learning your patterns and all that. But I liked seeing the familiar trees change their faces as the season went on. Up past the Hilltop dorms, right toward the campus police station. Down across the parking lot behind Murray Hall, a shabby building with rectangular windows and brown metal siding, straight past the back of the union. By the time I got to the granite steps of the library, I’d be ready for a rest. I’d sit for a while. Look out over the quad, the budding oaks and maples. There was a librarian who showed up every morning to unlock the doors. She had long, wavy black hair. She wore practical flats and big earrings, usually turquoise or something feathered. She always smiled, said good morning. I liked her voice. It was nothing like my mother’s voice, which had started to sound like the frantic shrieks my clarinet reed used to emit whenever it cracked down the middle. My father said it was the treatment. Something about the radiation. Every time I called home, which wasn’t often, I made excuses to get off the phone quick so I wouldn’t have to hear that voice. Sometime in April, the librarian stopped showing up. I wanted to find out what happened to her but didn’t know who to ask or what to say. Maybe she died. Maybe she got sick. Maybe she said fuck it and quit her job, her whole life, and took to the road alone, equipped with a bagful of costume jewelry and sensible shoes. Either way, her existence was
shannon l. bowring
erased as wholly as the sun gets swallowed by sudden storm clouds. It was a rainy spring. And it always seemed to be an unpredictable rain, blowing in violent from nowhere, disappearing just as fast. mother She only ever hit me when my father wasn’t home. He hauled logs for a living, until his back was so trashed the doctors said he had to stop. By then I was sixteen, and my mother had already left her mark. I didn’t tell my father what she was like when he was gone. I don’t know what I was more afraid of: him thinking I was a liar, or him believing me and confronting her. She never hit him—he was nearly a foot taller than her, built with muscle. Instead, she took him down with words, silence, blame. It was like that story where the mouse gets the elephant to step on a thorn—devious and effective. “Why’d you stay with her?” I ask after the funeral, in that raw time where we say things we never would have before and never will again. “I thought I was supposed to,” he says. “Because you loved her?” “That’s not what kept me around.” And then I remember that while my mother swam away from us on that long-ago afternoon, my father sat beside me in a vinyl lawn chair on the dock of our camp. A can of PBR in his hand. At his feet, a transistor radio set to the oldies station. As I called out for my mother, as she kicked toward the lake’s cold belly, my father sang along with the Temptations. A sweeter song than the birds in the trees. And then my father took my hand and waded with me into the green water, where my mother was just a dark head bobbing in the distance beneath a yawning yellow sun. And then my father, beneath the summer clouds, taught me how to swim without her. ◆
three brick steps and a sidewalk.
He says some nights he thinks he hears
because they rattle all night as the trains go by. She doesn’t know where exactly the tracks sink below the street or where the trains go, but she knows the rail’s hiss before the chuckling cars.
She tells him she’s had to start taking the shades off the lamps in the house
Not yet spring but a day that puts it on the tongue. Wishes of spring mixed with lime in tumblers, in the sunlight still wearing its VACANCY sign.
They sit on what porch they have,
raleigh review And sometimes a plane is a motorbike.
and heads back in the house for more.
As he walks into the kitchen the plates in the cupboard start to shake.
it’s nice to have these beautiful dependencies
where invisible things bounce off one another and days feel like past known versions of themselves, like favorite recipes. He says
She shuts her eyes and lifts her chin into the light
their far-off whistle, until it holds and nears and is a plane dragging its drone across the sky. The ice pings against his glass.
something like a dove Warm untended cars and loose cicadas porch lights long-dead honeycomb compelled I leaned too far into your doorway, followed by the summer-padded night, to say goodbye again. Then I’m just walking around talking to a friend, and find my tongue stapled to yours the same headache wherever whoever has walked through this spot where once we could have met. It’s like no one else can hear that bird you’ve tried so long to describe.
ken garber | the joy of birds, 2014 25" x 15" | acrylic on panel
equilux This isn’t the first cold night, but it’s up there. The air isn’t thick enough, unsuitable for scrying. I can only think of a certain kind of sentence to share with you to the south and sleeping and in time two ticks off. The sentence is simple, often, and amounts to little. Like: Wine on my teeth narrows the edges of the light like an old TV turned off. Like: I am awake. I shouldn’t be. Like I feel the shape of the seabird climb in the wide night, pressed above all the other press. We crack our joints. We trouble our hands. The hair on our heads gathers short white lines. Some, it occurs to me, know to move without change. You open your mouth and you shift in your sleep. On the earth, this one moment, it is not raining anywhere.
from the publisher as i overcome some personal obstacles and struggles, it’s rather exciting to put myself in the backseat while our talented collective is so very capable of driving our magazine forward. Leadership to me is knowing when to ask for help and advice. Leaders know when to get out of the way. Leaders know when to change direction, we know how to change our minds and we know how to map out a better way. Ingenuity and know-how are must-have skills at Raleigh Review. We all know it is fine to criticize. And I know our website could benefit from a sharper, premade template, rather than the design I produced, though Raleigh Review has amazing visual art, and this makes the design of our website easy. There is a right tool for every job, and we have the right tools. All one has to do is to take a look at our print issues to see that Raleigh Review is carrying out a collective mission. From story, visual art and poem selections to copyediting, layout, design, and editing: we are delivering these issues together. The reason Raleigh Review is still here is because we have team members who see where we are weak and then offer solutions. We all have other jobs and responsibilities and know that Raleigh Review is the culmination of a shared passion to promote the power of empathy through literary works. While we work on the magazine, we put the work of others first and foremost with our art and creativity at the forefront, and this is what drives us through these issues. There’s no room for inflated ego here, and there’s no room to look out for our own interests by exploiting our magazine for self gain. We are steered by ethics, and we are compelled as artists to produce. The most talented people I know are generous, and they make up our team. I said in an earlier interview that “we all can’t be takers in the arts,
some of us have to give too, and we at Raleigh Review all give so much of ourselves to put the art first.” Our mission is greater than any of us individually, as we believe great literature inspires empathy among neighbors everywhere in the world. Collectively with our mission as our guide, we are making Raleigh Review move forward. We make this happen together with our poets, writers, visual artists, reviewers, and past and present team members with thanks and appreciation to our subscribers. So, hop on. The ride will be worth it. ◆
Rob Greene, publisher
contributors hannah dela cruz abrams is the author of The Man Who Danced with Dolls and a memoir-in-progress The Following Sea. She has received the Whiting, the Rona Jaffe, and an NCAC Fellowship. Her work has appeared in the Oxford American, StoryQuarterly, Orion, and elsewhere. Abrams lives in Wilmington, North Carolina.
whitney collins received a 2020 Pushcart Prize, the 2020 American Short(er) Fiction Prize, and her story collection, Big Bad, won the 2019 Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in AGNI, Gulf Coast, American Short Fiction, Slice, and Catapult's Tiny Nightmares anthology, among publications.
emma aylor’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in 32 Poems, New Ohio Review, Pleiades, Colorado Review, and Cincinnati Review, among other journals, and she received Shenandoah’s 2020 Graybeal-Gowen Prize for Virginia Poets. She lives in Lubbock, Texas.
zwanda cook considers herself a late bloomer creating art. Working as an artist model she developed an interest in creating art. She enjoyed watching artists create whether it was drawing, painting, or sculpting. She eventually had the desire to make art. She began taking art classes and workshops. Before creating her art she first thinks about a particular theme. Once she decides on a theme she allows the theme to always be present with her as she creates her art.
barbara barrow is the author of a novel, The Quelling (Lanternfish Press, 2018), which won Gold in the Literary category of the Foreword Reviews Indies Awards. Her short stories have appeared in Cimarron Review, The Forge Literary Magazine, Folio, and elsewhere. Her Twitter handle is @bannbarrow. annie bates-winship tends to shoot photos intuitively, much like keeping a visual journal. Photography is her way of connecting to the world around her. She loves what the camera does and how important it is for her to continue making photographs. She’s always felt it is something she “can’t not do". shannon l. bowring’s work has appeared in numerous journals and has been nominated for a Pushcart, a Best of the Net, and was recently selected for Best Small Fictions 2021. Shannon is pursuing her MFA at Stonecoast, where she serves as Editor-in-Chief for the Stonecoast Review. She lives in Maine. samuel cheney is the winner of a 2021 Pushcart Prize. He is from Centerville, Utah and lives in Baltimore, where he is the Reginald S. Tickner Fellow at Gilman School and is at work on his debut collection.
michael dhyne holds an MFA from the University of Virginia. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Denver Quarterly, Gulf Coast, The Iowa Review, and The Rumpus, among others. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he volunteers as a grief support counselor for children. After receiving graduate degrees in Art History and Ceramics, ken garber taught studio ceramics in a community college in Los Angeles for thirty years. After retirement, he switched from clay to two-dimensional media. His work has often had a whimsical quality to it. sandra ducoff garber had one career curating the UCLA art department visual resource collection and a second career in a private psychology practice. She then returned to her first love, playing with color, line, and surface and exploring the beauty of imperfection. susan gefvert has worn a lot of hats. BA Studio Art, MA Art History, San Francisco State University. Peace Corps Tunisia, 1966-68, Gal-
lery Director, Zara Gallery, and Schroeder Gallery, San Francisco. Antiques Dealer for decades now in Sonoma County, Vintage Bank Antiques. She always circles back to painting eventually, especially people she knows and loves and things she grows in her garden. lauren green’s work has appeared in American Short Fiction, Glimmer Train, Ninth Letter, Conjunctions, and elsewhere. She received her MFA from the Michener Center for Writers and is currently the Marguerite and Lamar Smith Fellow at the Carson McCullers Center in Georgia. betsy johnson's work has appeared in The Iowa Review online, Hayden's Ferry Review, Columbia Poetry Journal, Boulevard, and Prairie Schooner. She records meditations for Insight Timer and has her own yoga website: willowyogaminnesota.com. peter kent lives in Asheville, North Carolina. An adherent of class struggle, he portrays the lives of workers. Kent retired in 2015 from Clemson University, where he served as a public information director for the agriculture experiment station and South Carolina state livestock health inspection service. He is a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill graduate (Class of ‘71). chris ketchum is from northern Idaho. He received an MFA from Vanderbilt University, where he served as the Curb Creative Writing Fellow and as a poetry editor for Nashville Review. His poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Beloit Poetry Journal, Copper Nickel, Five Points, RHINO Poetry, and elsewhere. ashley sojin kim received her MFA from the University of Florida and her BA in Writing Seminars from Johns Hopkins. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Literary Matters, RHINO Poetry, Spoon River Poetry Review, and others. Her honors and awards include a Pushcart Prize nomination and a Kundiman fellowship.
dorianne laux’s most recent collection is Only As The Day Is Long: New and Selected, W.W. Norton. She is also author of The Book of Men, winner of the Paterson Poetry Prize and Facts about the Moon, winner of the Oregon Book Award. She teaches poetry at North Carolina State and Pacific University. ryan napier is the author of Four Stories about the Human Face (Bull City Press). He lives in Massachusetts. More at ryannapier.net and @ ryanlnapier on Twitter. miguel martin perez (he/him) is a queer Afro-Dominican poet from Harlem and the South Bronx. He is an MFA alum from the University of California, Riverside and currently resides in Los Angeles. His work appears in Santa Fe Writers Project, Beyond Words, and Riddled with Arrows. riley ratcliff is a writer from San Antonio, Texas (Yanaguana), currently living in Durham, North Carolina (Mánu: Yį Įsuwą). Their work can be found or is forthcoming in Two Peach, Wax Nine, and Sporklet. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. mary ann samyn’s most recent book, Air, Light, Dust, Shadow, Distance, won the 2017 42 Miles Press Prize. She teaches in the MFA program at West Virginia University. sarah schiff earned her PhD in American literature from Emory University, but is now a fugitive from higher education. She currently writes fiction and teaches high school English in Atlanta. Her stories have appeared in such publications as J Journal, MonkeyBicycle, and Fiction Southeast, and her nonfiction can be found in Biography, Arizona Quarterly, and American Literature, among others. aimee seu is the author of the forthcoming collection Velvet Hounds, winner of the 2020 Akron Poetry Prize. Her work has appeared in Ninth Letter, Pleiades, BOAAT, Redivider,
contributors cont. Diode and Minnesota Review. She is a current Poetry PhD student at Florida State University in Tallahassee. isabelle shepherd is a poet from West Virginia. She now lives in Wilmington, North Carolina, where she received her MFA from the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. Her work has appeared in Diagram, The Journal, Ninth Letter, Redivider, and elsewhere. cheyenne taylor is a poet based in Birmingham, Aalabama. She received her MFA from the University of Florida and her BA and MA in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Birmingham Poetry Review, Cimarron Review, Cincinnati Review, Poet Lore and TLS, among others. anna tomlinson grew up on Sauvie Island, Oregon and now lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. She holds an MFA in poetry from the University of Virginia. Her poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Ploughshares, The Adroit Journal, Frontier Poetry, Salt Hill Journal, Tupelo Quarterly, Cimarron Review, and Minnesota Review. toby tover’s color-rich paintings are a personal narrative on the human experience. Embodied with humor, her “clip shot” portraits capture the inner characters of her subjects. Whether with the flick of a cigarette or a sideways glance, her subjects speak to us in volumes. tianru wang’s work has appeared in Poetry Magazine, Indiana Review and SupChina, among others. She visited China in 2019 after fifteen years away and graduated from Yale in 2020 with a double major in English and sociology.