RED CEDAR REVIEW IS AN ANNUAL LITERARY MAGAZINE PUBLISHED IN THE SPRING BY MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY UNDERGRADUATES WITH SUPPORT FROM THE MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY COLLEGE OF ARTS AND LETTERS AND DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH. COVER PHOTO BY ABIGAIL KING. COVER DESIGN BY JORDAN POLL.
© 2014 MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY BOARD OF TRUSTEES. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
RCR 49 Staff Greg Beamish, Managing editor (2014) Jordan poll, Managing editor (2014) Eliza Foster, Typesetting and design (2014) Andrea Jeannotte, Typesetting and Design (2014) Leslie Zimmerman, Typesetting, Compilation (2014) Readers: Sarah AndersoN, LeeAnn Connelly, Justin Cook, Michelle Danaj, Emily Ferraro, Erin Gray, Andrea Jeannotte, Janine Mator, John Nelson, Emalie Parsons, Phillip Russell, Evan Sherbert, Stephanie Takacs, Ian Terry, Sarah Vandrie, Kelsey Weyhing, Connor Yeck, Leslie zimmerman Faculty Advisors: Robin Silbergleid & Kathryn Houghton
CONTENTS 1 Editorsâ€™ Note
GREG BEAMISH, JORDAN POLL
3 Poppies of Gauteng 12 Snare
13 Eating in Anatolia
15 Washed Away Onnyx Bei 16 Mourning Breakfast Onnyx Bei 17 Cycles
27 Popeye Abigail king 28 The Comforts of ceremony 33 Chicken in workShop
34 Footsteps Jacob Cumiskey 35 for Lipstick Virgins
37 Sestina For His Suicide Attempt
39 Defibrillated chloe Hanson 40 Fingerprints Mason Hayes 42 Departed Abigail king 43 ON the cable car Ana Quiring 51 On inspiration Mark Burr 53 Untitled Abigail king 54 interview with julianna Baggott Kaitlyn Canary and Leslie Zimmerman 61 Contributors
GREG BEAMISH & JORDAN POLL
Dear Loyal Readers, We would like to extend our warmest gratitude to you for your interest in our publication. Like you, we are interested in taking a glimpse at the up-andcoming writers of the twenty-first century. We have mindfully selected a group of creative pieces from various universities across the country that we feel best represents the finest of American undergraduate writing. Your support in this venture adds to our passion to create a compilation of the best written and visual work possible. In 2013, we began work on the forty-ninth volume of the Red Cedar Review. Amidst initiating a new staff of readers, editors, and typesetters, finishing Volume 48 from the previous year, and working with a new publishing medium, our time frame to complete Volume 49 was relatively small. However, with the help of typesetters Andrea Jeanotte, Eliza Foster, and Leslie Zimmerman, as well as the counsel of Professor Kathryn Houghton and Professor Robin Silbergleid, we were able to finish this polished issue for you, the readers. It has been an absolute joy to work together and finally see this volume finished. This year we are proud to be a part of Red Cedar’s switch to a digital publication. This issue has been converted to an entirely online format in order to expand its presence among other literary journals. Furthermore, we are working to make the archived volumes of the Red Cedar Review available for free on our website, redcedarreview.com.
1 EDITORS’ NOTE
Of course, we need to extend our thanks to our reading and editing team. Without them we would not have an issue to distribute. These are the individuals who spent their time doing what they love to bring you this volume: reading and editing. We receive hundreds of submissions each year from undergraduate writers across the country and our team of readers use strive to select the best of that writing for our publication. Thank you for your patience, hard work, and dedication! Sincerely, Red Cedar Review Managing Editors, Greg Beamish & Jordan Poll
EDITORSâ€™ NOTE 2
Poppies of Gauteng BERNADETTE EWING
Johannesburg, 1973 God looks down from a hotel window--not quite interested in opening the sliding door to the balcony just yet. Below, men are marching in white-collared, shortsleeve shirts and khakis, pleats moistening and easing in the heat, releasing the smell of starch, clean sweat, and Transvaal bar soap. They carry signs. English. Afrikaans. Zulu. Anticipation hangs thick in the air, pulsating with energy, cloying like the heady scent of jasmine. Something about the day is similar to a violin string, stretched taut and close to snapping. God sighs from full lips, lets the soft towel around Her fall to the floor. Thick chestnut hair, still wet from the shower, hangs like ropes down Her back. She walks to the closet and surveys the clothes, selecting a white, cotton sundress, sleeveless, just above the knee, and slips it on over Her head. She steps into
matching heels, pruned toes fighting the leather, and looks in the mirror. A small, round pot of rouge, no larger than a quarter or deeper than a die, sits on the wardrobe, and God dips a delicate finger--slightly tanned--into it, and paints Her mouth a deep red. That’s better. She leaves the room--no purse, no keys--and takes the lift down to the lobby. The doors open in a fluid manner, and She steps out. Heels clicking on the parquet floor, God’s footsteps echo throughout the corridor and beyond. Somewhere far off, in a hot, wet jungle perhaps, the azure wings of a butterfly pause in their beating; elsewhere a child stops crying. Sap drips from a tree. God knows this and sees it. God is this and feels it. She walks languidly, yet with purpose, to the lounge. Men are sitting in leather armchairs, smoking Time brand cigarettes. Jazz plays softly from a record in the corner. The notes seem to curl upward, blue, like the smoke, twisting, unfurling and disappearing the higher they go. God likes the jazz. She takes a seat at the bar, not interested in the rules governing proper etiquette for women. “I’d like a brandy. Neat.” The barkeep is unaccustomed to such boldness but he is hypnotized by Her long, lustrous hair. He blinks, dabs newly formed sweat from his temple, and obliges. The slippery amber liquid swirls in the glass. It tastes French. She tells him so. “Camus?” She asks. “Just so.” But it’s not what she came for. The men behind Her, Americans on business judging by their expensive clothes and fair skin pinked by the unforgiving African sun, speak freely. “You know, Jack, it’s my fourth trip to this godforsaken country, and I’m still not used to the heat.” “Don’t I know it. Shit, I’ll be glad when we get word from Pretoria that Kukumele’s happy with the order, and we can get on the first plane back home.”
The other man grunts. “Not so sure I wanna be there, either.” “Eh?” “Wife and I haven’t had sex in four months. Think she might have a thing going on with Bill.” “From the Dartmouth branch?” “That’s the one.” “Well, you could always get even. Grab a fuck before heading home. Hooker or something?” “Here?” He laughs. “Sure. Her, maybe? White dress, red lips, up at the bar? She’s gorgeous. Anyone is a prostitute for the right price.” God smiles, Her back still to the men. As if she’s ever received anything in exchange for the love She gives. “Nah, things are too… volatile here. Those schoolboys in the street? I’ll toe the line for now. Never want to get caught in a place like this. Throw me in some jail cell, never hear from me again…my kids at home wondering where the fuck Daddy’s gone… they don’t even have television here, for Christ’s sake!” His voice grows louder, betraying the alcohol. He’s red-faced and yelling. He removes his horn-rimmed glasses and cleans the fog. “I’m no revolutionary, Jack, but this place is a hellhole for those blacks.” An uneasy silence falls over the rest of the room. When had the jazz stopped playing? His friend glances around at the stares, stubbing out his cigarette, nervously. A man has shouted in a country of whispers. God listens carefully, taking a sip of the brandy. “Keep your voice down, Peter. What are we gonna do about it, anyway?” “You’re right,” he sighs. “This fucking heat… still… people should know. Americans should know. Maybe we can’t do anything, but...” “But what? They do know. What are you gonna tell ‘em? That South Africa’s hot, and its people are tired of burning? That black men are abducted, their wives
raped in front of their kids, all for using the wrong toilet? They know all that. They don’t care. Black people aren’t really people to them. Not like whites, anyway. Plus, it’s all the way over here. They can’t relate to that…” “If only something would happen. Something they can relate to. Something they can’t ignore.” “From your lips to God’s ears,” says Jack. The seed. Somewhere, someone has planted it. Watered and nurtured, it begins to take root, blossoming quickly. God knows this and sees it. She finishes Her drink and walks to the hotel entrance. The eyes of the men follow Her. The sun is hot, even at 5pm, and opening the solid oak and glass doors lets in heat, as well as the sounds of the riots. (Where were the door attendants?) Screams, the smell of sulfur, the two-toned triad of an ambulance fill the vestibule. A hissing noise, like that of a great and terrible serpent is released, as canisters of tear gas erupt amid the whoosh and flames of Molotov cocktails. Women shriek, injured, terrified. (Unkulunkulu-ungangisizia na? God! God! Won’t You help me?) Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop! Bullets fly from all directions, ricochet, damaging cars, buildings, hope. A body lies across the steps--the door attendant. The men rush out of the lounge, the concierge from behind his desk--hotel staff run about, frenzied; yell; grab phones; call for more staff. “Close the doors! Close the doors!” God kneels near the body. Closes the eyes. Kisses the cheek. Pop! Pop! Pop! A man behind Her bellows, “Jesus Christ!” Through the smoke, She looks down, sees She’s been hit. Jack drags Her through the doors. Peter supports Her head, begins shouting. “Someone call for an ambulance! Oh, shit…” They lay Her on the floor; a crimson stain blooms in the middle of Her white dress, like a beautiful yet eerie flower. The strangers cradle Her, apply pressure to
the wound but to no avail. She is bleeding too quickly. Outside the world has gone to hell. People begin rushing out of their rooms to demand answers and comfort. Part of the hotel is burning. Within minutes, Her eyes are glassy, and something of a strange smile plays about Her lips. “Shit,” Peter says again. He moves to close Her eyelids but somehow can’t. He is transfixed and feels as though he finally knows something he has always wondered. The same realization dawning on his friend, they look at each other across God’s body. “Jack…” Images form before their eyes. Senators, lobbyists, diplomats scrambling to action. Nightly news reports talking outrage, progress in far-flung and unpronounceable corners of the world. The Great White Devil, at long last, giving a damn. A nation of power now a people of energy. Jack and Peter gaze in awe as the woman in their arms turns as white as Her dress.
© Abigail King, “Snare”
Snare KING 8
Eating in Anatolia CONNOR YECK
Like two old generals, roasted pigeon and minced lamb cannot help but howl at the thought of a girl from Thessaloniki sitting next to a boy from Ankara. They watch from porcelain hills, waist-coats of garlic rippling on char-slicked shoulders, and mumble a tantrum at the horror spread upon the table below. Olives, soaked in lemon and mint, are cushioned without mercy against honey-burnt figs. Pine nuts, soft with oil, are flattened by a beached aubergine that is split open like a whale to reveal feta, heart-red currants, and limp onions that burst in streamer bands. Chickpeas, lentils, swollen shrimp in crackedcumin breastplates, all tangle beneath shoals of steam. Somewhere, in the clutter, a heaped sugar-flaked dish is set: half baklava, half loukoum, a nightmare with sweet almonds that bulge like tombstones beneath sesame crust. This is the end, the hilltop patriots shout: careless mingling, traitorous proximity. Think of what they did to your motherâ€™s mother!
Do you remember when the Greeks were at Smyrna? cries one. Do you remember Turk boots on Christian necks? wails the other. But the forms around the table cannot hear. A braceleted hand pours Frankish whiskey, rough thumbs unwrap glinting forks. No one thinks of a time when Alexander reached the edge of the world, or the year a sultan knocked on the gates at Vienna. Worn knives come down, and old ideas think themselves martyrs as they are diced, smothered, and well-forgotten.
Washed Away ONNYX BEI
Washed away in the salt-bearing hills of the Dead Sea— the remains of Lot’s wife. As I taste the briny air my fears wander with the seafaring winds, my doubts drift with the low tide. I walk the sand resolved to one day join the remains of yesterday— washed away in the salt-bearing hills of a dead sea.
Mourning Breakfast ONNYX BEI Each morning I awake to the soft haunting murmur of diamond doves outside my window. Their sullen coos consume my sorrows. I eat my breakfast by the window dropping crumbs for them to peck. Their beaks chip the sill, eating like tomorrow will not come. They leave me like a locust shell on a dying fir wondering: what will tomorrow be like without my yesterday?
© Abigail King, “Cycles”
Cycles 13 KING
spaceman KIT HAGGARD
He woke up every morning in the windowless dark, with the pale earth perpetually on the rise over his bed. It was not the famous Apollo photograph, in glossy color, the inverted globe hanging like a blue marble in the velvety black amniotic fluid of the universe. It was twenty-six years older; the grainy black and white photo showing the slight curvature of the earth around California, and one triangle of spaceâ€™s total darkness, taken on a 35-millimeter camera strapped to a rocket designed by the Nazis. Other than the cover of Coltraneâ€™s Blue Train, beside the kitchen sink, it was the only thing hanging on his walls. His alarm broke the white noise of pipes and radiators. He ran eight miles before the streetlights had gone off, his breath milky in the cold. In the suburbs, dew still clung to the flowerbeds, mist congregated in the cul-desacs, cars sat in front of the two-door garages like Jurassic hulks in the dark with frost clouding the edges of their windows. Through the steam from the shower, in his yellow bathroom, he looked at the changes to his bodyâ€”the leanness of his legs, his arms, the skin of his face beginning to show the shapes of bones underneath. He pulled on his blue coveralls and knotted the sleeves around his waist before cooking a yokeless omelet under the mournful gaze of John Coltrane. In the parking lot of the apartment building, sixteen floors down, behind the dumpsters, he left out food for the stray cat who rubbed against his legs and stalked him through the industrial park and the gardens of dark houses, halfway to the bus stop. She paused at the invisible edge of her territory, one paw lifted in a lavender bed, and appeared to grow bored. He caught the number 32 and sat in the white fluorescent light while the sun pushed a
watery dawn through the cloud cover. At the factory, men stood smoking their cigarettes in the cold. Their coveralls were grease-stained and knotted around their waists. They wore bomber jackets or faded Levis that belonged to their grandfathers. They carried thermoses and brown paper bags. They looked tired. “It’s the Spaceman,” one said. “Hey, Spaceman. What’d you do with the truck?” “Sold it,” he said. “Hey—the ’65 Chevy?” “Chrome fenders, original wheels and hubcaps, plush interior,” one recited, with the reverence they reserved for car parts, boxing matches, and the Bible. “Good condition.” “Sold.” “For how much?” “A thousand.” “A thousand? Fucking Christ, Spaceman, did you think maybe one of us would have wanted it if you were giving it away?” The man called Shepard turned back to them, heaving smoke like an engine. “Why’d you sell it?” “Don’t need it anymore,” he said. From 8:00 a.m. to 10:30, he fit electronic consoles into the plastic arms of airplane seats. At 10:30, they stood in the cold with their cigarettes and coffee. The Spaceman didn’t smoke, he drank decaf from the vending machine in the lobby; he didn’t say much. 12:30 was lunch. The men filed away from their stations and ate sandwiches
their wives had packed. They talked too loud in the dry, industrial heat of the canteen. The Spaceman didn’t eat lunch; he went out behind the factory, where the boys had built a bar to see if anyone could do more chin-ups than the Spaceman. The metal was icy beneath his bare hands, the kind of chill that crawled along his bones and through his joints and down to the base of his spine. His bear trap ribs closed tight on his stomach. They watched him through the windows of the canteen, down in the cold, at the back of the yard, among spare parts and the discarded airplane seats. “It’s cold as fuck out there.” “What’s he doing?” “Training.” “For what?” “Mars.” “Bullshit.” “Nah, he’s really doing it.” “Can they do that?” “Some special program. They’ve got a place out in Arizona, he says.” “I heard something about that.” “I thought it was called off.” “Bullshit. He’s going to Mars?” “He seems to think so.” “Hey—why do you think we call him the Spaceman?” Outside, he counted to ten, paused, then began again.
In the afternoons, he practiced thinking about nothing. He had gotten very, very good at the blankness, repeating words over and over until they didn’t seem to mean anything anymore. Phillips-head. Bolt housing. Audio/visual display. At 5:00 the last bell rang and movement stopped. It got quiet on the floor, the heavy breathing of the machines falling silent as, one by one, the engines drew rattling death gasps and their belts and cogs juddered to a halt. It was already dark as an oil stain outside, the winter sun slipping away in the middle of the afternoon. You could find men by the orange lights of their cigarettes in the dark. “’Night Spaceman,” someone called. He raised one hand without looking back. It was cold in the flat on the sixteenth floor. The radiator in the kitchen rattled and hissed, but never seemed to warm the room. Wind pushed through the gaps between the window and the sill above the sink. He cooked eggs, beans and spinach, huddling close to the warm burner. He nibbled on a tiny piece of a dark chocolate bar. The sugar made him feel sick. He did pull-ups on the bar in the doorway of the living room, under the blue eye of the television.
On Thursday, twenty-five minutes before the afternoon break, the Spaceman collapsed on the factory floor. It took almost fifteen minutes for someone to notice that audio/visual panels were not being fitted into their plastic polyurethane housings, and by that time, he was beginning to come around. “Hey, should we call someone?” “Yeah, you okay, Spaceman?” “I’m fine,” he said. “Just got lightheaded.” “You need a hand?” “Someone get the Spaceman some food.”
“No, no. I’m okay. Really, I don’t need anything.” The manager sent the rest of the men early to their break and took the Spaceman into the glass office on the factory floor. The light was yellow; the room was covered in papers and the warm smell of grease. He sat in a folding chair while the anvil-mouthed manager leaned against the desk. “Look,” he said, “I don’t want to believe everything the boys say out there. They’re full of shit most of the time. But I keep hearing them say that you think you’re going to Mars. Is this true?” “Yes, sir.” “Yes you are, or yes you think you are?” “Yes, I am.” “Is that even possible?” “Yes, sir. A private company’s arranging it.” “And they’ve been in contact with you?” “I have a letter from them.” “Does this have something to do with why you haven’t been eating? Why you passed out on my floor?” “I’m about to lose bone and muscle density. I’m trying to prepare.” “Well, I can’t have you skipping meals and keeling over. What if you had been operating the drill press? You’ve got to eat.” “Actually, sir,” he said, playing with a ragged hole in his coveralls, small as a cigarette burn, “I’d like to give my two weeks’ notice.”
The white, static earth, pockmarked with grainy storm fronts, rose over his bed.
He lay perfectly still in the wake of his alarm, staring up at the ceiling. He ran eight miles in the predawn flicker between darkness and the orange circles of streetlights. At home he peered at himself through the yellow steam in the bathroom. Instead of breakfast, he looked at the letter again. It had been printed on heavy cardstock, as though the weight of the contents had leached into the paper. The logo, the red orb of Mars, was printed at the top. He had read it enough times to know what it said by heart. Once, the promise had gone through him like a drill press, rattling his ribs and lungs, but now, his chest felt too hollow for anything to resonate right. He folded the letter, put it in the pocket of his coveralls, and went to sit with the black cat behind the dumpster in the parking lot. The ground was freezing, frosted in a thin layer of ice. “You’re looking a little fat,” he said softly. He pulled her into his lap and felt her stomach, distended around a handful of globes like walnuts, moving slowly with her heartbeat. His fingers froze in her soft heat. He stood up quickly. “Fucking cat,” he said, and when she tried to follow him to the bus stop, he clapped at her until she backed away. At the factory, it looked as though the men had not moved. Their bodies, like the heavy machinery seemed bolted to the floor. “Hey, Spaceman.” “You feeling better?” “Yes—thanks.” “Is it true you’re quitting?” “I turned in my two weeks yesterday.” “Wow,” one of them said, the vowel stretching out into several words. “Wow.” “Is it because of Mars?” He nodded. “I’m leaving soon.”
“Shit, Spaceman.” “When will you be back?” The Spaceman looked away, toward a carbon monoxide dawn that was white and blank and strangled in the clouds. “I don’t think I will be,” he said. Before the first bell, he took the letter to the manager, who worked his jaw as he read it, as though the words had to be struck down and beaten flat before he could swallow them. His eyes snagged on the smeared ink of certain letters, dark halos around words like, “permanent settlement,” and “food supply.” “You’ve read the terms of this waiver they talk about?” he asked. “Yes, sir.” “It says, ‘Due to the low gravitational field, changes may be rendered to muscle and bone density that are effectively irreversible, making a return to earth impossible.’” “I said I’ve read them.” The manager set the letter on his desk and pinched the bridge of his nose, where the skin was heavy and tired. “Do you have any family?” “No, sir.” “Any close friends?” “No, sir.” “And you believe this is real?” “I know it, sir.” “And you’re sure about it?” “Very sure.” The first bell echoed out of the belly of the building, and he stood up. “Unless there’s anything else—?”
“Be careful, and let me know if there’s anything I can do.” “Thank you, sir.” The Spaceman repeated the same words over and over. He fit audio/visual panels into the dark guts of airplane seats between the intestinal maze of wires and the steel bones of armrests. He did his chin-ups in the cold and drank decaf coffee on the afternoon break. He walked to the bus stop, shivering, feeling the letter burn a hole through the front of his blue coveralls. … He reduced his ration of eggs and went for a run. He paused in the suburban dark to catch his breath against a lamppost then collapsed. He woke up on the ground. The winter sun glared in his eyes. He was covered in morning dew, and was bleeding weakly from his forehead. Quick footsteps approached him and a woman in a purple tracksuit leaned over him. “Should I call someone?” she asked. “No, no, I’m fine,” he said. “Just training too hard.” The Spaceman began to erase himself from the apartment on the sixteenth floor—leaving his TV and the John Coltrane poster for a man downstairs. He folded up the photograph of earth and his spare coveralls and left them in the center of the bare bed. That morning, he looked around for the cat, but she was gone. He had nothing left to feed her anyway. His replacement at the factory was a new man, Armstrong, whom they began calling Prettyboy for his baby face and small, delicate hands. He smoked with them all the same. At the end of his first day on the job, his wife showed up in XK-E Jag, leather interior, six-cylinder engine, about five miles of leg below the hem of her flight attendant’s uniform, and they started calling him Armstrong again. One day, as the men ate their lunches in the canteen, Spaceman came up in the conversation. “Spaceman?” Armstrong said. “Weird nickname.”
“He leaves for Mars this week.” “No.” “Yeah, program in New Mexico or something.” “Arizona.” “I heard he eats nothing but one egg a day.” “It’s training.” Armstrong looked out the window of the canteen at Spaceman, thin and shivering against the fence, too week for chin-ups. “Well, shit,” he said, putting out his cigarette and turning away, walking with the rest of them to the line of machines. “Shit.” The Spaceman knew that he had begun to fall into the space between memories, wide and dark as the distance between stars. He walked away from the factory that evening, breathing weakly, with an empty duffle over his shoulder. One voice called out, “Hey, ‘night Spaceman,” from the spangled dark, and then he was gone.
©Abigail King, “Popeye”
Popeye 23 KING
The Comforts of Ceremony PATRICK MOREY
Though George Darkwater was still alive, his family had decided that the time was right to have his funeral. To begin with, the old man had had the same rattling cough for over a year, which probably meant that some soon-to-be fatal disease had claimed his lungs. Additionally, whenever the family took him to a public place, he inevitably called a black person within earshot a Negro or an Asian a nip. This caused many people discomfort, and though no one in his family had any background in geriatric psychology, they concluded that his
mind had deteriorated beyond repair. The funeral home was very accommodating. What the family thought would be a strange request was greeted with enthusiasm by the representative they spoke to. The practice of holding a funeral for someone who had not yet died was gaining popularity, especially in their area—soon everyone would be having precocious funerals for their loved ones. Without question, after Mr. Darkwater’s service, the whole neighborhood would be positively scrambling to schedule their own, the representative told them. They picked a nice cathedral downtown for the ceremony to take place in. All the young children in the family had miniature suits fitted for them, fancy ones, complete with vests and ties. For many, this was the first time they ever dressed up, and their parents took plenty of pictures to commemorate the occasion. But planning such an event was stressful. Arguments amongst Mr. Darkwater’s children broke out over matters such as the choice of flowers and the location of the reception lunch. These particular disagreements resolved themselves somewhat quickly, often after a coin flip, but one conflict continued to rage: whether or not to invite George Darkwater to the ceremony. One side said it would be inappropriate to have him in attendance—very personal things would be said, and they wouldn’t want any of the speakers to feel uncomfortable. The opposition argued that he might as well be there. After all, greater attendance would reflect well on the family’s standing in the community, which was of central importance to them. Besides, what else would he do during that time? If left home alone he would no doubt get himself into some form of trouble that the family would, of course, have to fix. Finally, the two sides came to a compromise: George would be invited to the ceremony, but he would have to find his own ride there. The day of the wake arrived. This was more of a formality, but a necessary one, as not everyone could take a day off for the Thursday morning ceremony. Despite the obligatory attitude some participants took, it turned out to be and overall successful evening. George’s children were particularly impressed by the undertakers’ solemnity in how they collected everyone’s coats and offered their condolences; they were also impressed by the soft, ambient lighting in the venue. Some of George’s friends showed up, after seeing his obituary
printed in the newspaper, but they remained confused about why there was no coffin or body. The family tried to explain, but the mourners only became more perplexed. Eventually the family gave up: what was the use in trying to convince the elderly to accept new trends? This was simply out of their grasp. The next day was the anticipated date of the funeral. The youngest family members relished being pulled out of school; George’s children felt a similar delight, when a few of them received fruit baskets from their bosses. Another satisfying thing was driving through red lights behind an empty hearse. Pedestrians and fellow motorists gave them sympathetic glances, as they crawled past. One woman even crossed herself. The pews in the cathedral filled up quickly. George, arriving only a few minutes before the start of the ceremony, had to sit in the way back, so far away he couldn’t make out the picture of himself on display, in lieu of a casket. Nor could he hear the words of the priest very well. For the whole funeral, George did his best to look disgruntled, but no one was able to see how upset he was. Fortunately, George’s opinion did nothing to prevent the event from being a success. All agreed that the program, from beginning to end, was a model for how funerals should be carried out. The priest took a classic approach to his sermon, reminding his audience that their loved one was in a better place, that despite the inevitable shortcomings of every man, God was infinitely forgiving, even toward the most heinous of sins. Following this, balanced carefully between hymns and prayer, friends and relatives of George shared fonder memories of the man in vignette form. They spoke of him in past tense. Leaving the church, the Darkwaters drove to a well-reviewed Italian restaurant for a large midday meal. George was decidedly not invited. They ate through their grief, and around the third or fourth course, they forgot their sorrow and laughed without restraint. George was walking home from the ceremony when, as per arrangement with the funeral parlor, two undertakers waited for him in a white van. It idled at the side of the road, spotlessly white and shining, two faces keeping watch behind tinted windows. There was no talk between them, as they kept lookout. When one finally spied the old man, he let the other know with a tap on his shoulder. Neither had to exercise that much enthusiasm for the assignment—they had known where he would pass by, and at what hour, though he was few minutes
behind schedule. Their black skin startled him when they approached, but it took only a polite nod of hello to assure him of their professionalism. They had been instructed to be gentle, and they took the utmost care in seizing both his arms before he could escape. But the old man hardly moved at all; the only resistance he offered up was a few throaty grumbles. Moving to the van, they addressed him as sir and asked him how his day was. As he was responding, they seatbelted him into the far back of the cab. The interior smelled of plastic and was upholstered gray. Leaning his head against the window, George watched the buildings of downtown fade into the distance, as the van turned down unfamiliar roads. A few times he coughed as if to clear his throat, yet he never said a thing. “You’re a quiet one,” the undertaker in the passenger seat said at last. “Usually they’re more—frisky. Not that being quiet’s a bad thing.” “Nice change of pace,” the driver agreed. George mumbled something, possibly to himself. “You’ll have to speak up,” the undertaker in the passenger seat said. “It’s hard to hear all the way up front.” But George did not restate his thought. “Ah well, it doesn’t matter. Just as long as you’re not blaming us for this,” said the driver. “We’re in tough economic times. You get a job, you do it, no questions asked. You understand.” The undertaker looked over his shoulder to their occupant, perfectly still except for what was either a small nod or a tremor. “He gets it,” the undertaker whispered. The driver shrugged. “We don’t like this any more than you do. But your family paid quite a bit for this.”
“Consider it an honor,” added the driver. “Not everyone is lucky as you.” At this, the van passed through cemetery gates and up a hill to where a large mausoleum overlooked the grass and gravestones. There was a convenient parking space in front of it. Carefully, the undertakers unstrapped him from his seat and led him to the building. Two massive bronze doors stood in their way; the hinges shrieked as the undertaker pulled them open. Inside, several other people who had already had their funerals watched him enter, their hands over their faces to block the sunlight outshining the overhead fluorescents. Otherwise, no one said a word of acknowledgment at his entrance; the only sounds were his shuffling feet and the buzz of the lights. Someone coughed two or three times. They led him to a bed already made for him, affixed with a tray for when an attendant would come to feed him once a day. The undertakers also assured him that a casket and a nice suit were kept ready for when he passed on. Finished with their brief introduction, they propped him up in bed and exited, slamming the door behind them. The other inhabitants closed their eyes and slumped back into bed, wrapping the blankets around their heads to block out the light. George understood—the lights were making him sleepy too. Before he took off his shoes and lay in bed, he mumbled a thanks to his undertakers.
©Abigail King, “Chicken in Workshop”
Chicken in Workshop 29 KING
Footsteps JACOB CUMISKEY
It’s been a dozen years since I cupped these ears to better see the world outside my bed— since I held my breath waiting for footsteps to die past the broken doors and hardwood floors of first love’s warmth reborn. This fear of being caught is the strangest of blessings.
For Lipstick Virgins JACOB CUMISKEY This is no attempt to generate sparks between skeptical brows. This is it not some college experiment in sexuality. You may have been raised by teenage girls, but the film of your lips has no gender: You are kissing no one. This is throwing a pebble into your skin and counting the space between ripples. This is sculpture and turning over rocks. This is the neglected side of your pillow, a health kick, a fact to share at game night. I look good in drag: words you donâ€™t need, but keep in your wallet next to old gift cards. This is revenge for monster truck Sundays, and always being bought the blue balloon even though blue can go die in a corner. This is not a cry for attention; this is owning the box of your body. You look inside and find a calm epiphany: you are still you.
© Abigail King, “Untitled”
Untitled KING 32
Sestina For His Suicide Attempt CHLOE HANSON
He sees his heartbeat in a synesthetic symphony; silver, cerulean, pinwheel-curls. If I cracked his clenched jaw, if I lifted his dead tongue, I’d find a coin for the ferryman. In bed he spasms like a lung’s last breath.
Acubens and Altar scatter with God’s breath, align in a Cancerian symphony. He was born under Cancer, brought by the ferryman, baby hair in womb-wound curls, the black taste of Styx on his tongue as he sailed past Cerberus’ snapping jaws. Sharp as a faultline, his Heracles-jaw was set to keep his secrets in with his breath. He disguised the amphetamine tang on his tongue: robin’s-egg, violet, gold prescription symphony. Sensation unwinds in him like ribbon-curls and he thinks he can fool the ferryman. He says he knows the ferryman, he thinks he can close his coin-heavy jaw. The stench of Styx rises from him in smoke curls expelled from a fire’s dying breath, the crash and roar of substances is his symphony, the sound decrescendos on his tongue. I trusted his talented tongue, his knowledge of the fickle ferryman, silver, cerulean, his synesthetic symphony came lilting from his diseased jaw soothing me with lotus-breath. I slept like a star in glittering galaxy curls. I awoke from sleep soft as baby curls, the taste of constellations on my tongue, warmed at the neck by his shallow breath, once more he’d bested the ferryman. Cancerian, crustacean, hard-set jaw, beating heart, working lungs, a symphony. A sigh unwinds like a symphony, soft as starlight, hums on his tongue, echoes in his jaw the ferryman’s far-off refrain.
Defibrillated CHLOE HANSON
It seems there’s something dead stirring in me, like Lazarus it rises with His call, I marvel that nobody seems to see. It reeks and shrieks and writhes between my bones, this Worm, this Abaddon, Mephistopholes, It seems there’s something dead stirring in me. I am no cage, no master to this thing, it snaps me at the spine like a soft white tree, I marvel that nobody seems to see. And when He comes, wrapped in a robe of fire, light streams through me like morning between blinds, It seems there’s something dead stirring in me. This dead thing thumps and thunders to a beat, a tick and tock that animates my flesh, I marvel that nobody seems to see. He reaches between ribs and strokes the beast, the red and rotten thing I can’t defeat. It seems there’s something dead stirring in me. I marvel that nobody seems to see.
Fingerprints MASON HAYES She held my hand to the electric stove, pressed the pads of my fingers to the red rings, saying, You don’t want an identity, to belong to this world. Now you are free. She leaned against a barred window, ducking every time a car drove by. She opened a can of chili certain to be my dinner, the only thing she could afford with coins swiped from donation jars. She led me to the basement and turned off the lights. I felt my way through the musk, held the pan in my lap for warmth, and dug in with charred fingers. I heard her moving dirty dishes in the kitchen above, kicking cans around the house. What’s my real name? I asked her once. My name can’t be baby, I’m not a baby anymore. She said, You don’t have a name. No one knows you exist. The only time she wasn’t watching over me was when she passed out drunk on the couch, shoes on, in case she had to escape. But she wouldn’t escape like her mother did, she said, and there’s no way in hell she would end up like her dead end drunk father, she said.
I asked her what I do if we have to escape, she said, If I run, you run. I watched her run once, but I didnâ€™t run. A policeman came to tell us someone had knocked over our mailbox, and she disappeared out the back door. They saw our decaying house, chased her down, and took her away. A man crouched into the corner I shivered in, warmed my protruding bones, grey body, and asked me who I was, to which I said, I donâ€™t know.
© Abigail King, “Departed”
Departed KING 38
On the Cable Car ANA QUIRING
The Tube runs along low and wet miles of clotheslines when we leave Heathrow. We are above ground—I don’t remember that from last time I was here. I am tired and yet I am quaking; my blood is super-charged. Julia sits across the aisle from me. I haven’t called her Aunt Julia since I was young. “Aunt Julia was a character in ‘The Dead,’ by James Joyce,” she said to me once, because those are the kinds of things she knows. “I am not very old or Irish. I want to be your aunt, but I do not want to be your Aunt Julia, not like that.” That was back when her voice sounded like my mother’s, light and pressed thin, like linen. Now it has thickened with England. When she called me and said, “Won’t you come visit?” I heard fog and bridges on her breath, both loveliness and betrayal. In a cloud of absentmindedness ten years ago, she left my mother, who had two small children and scars on her arms where she had been struck. Julia was torn up about it, but Max—he was waiting on a bench in Hyde Park. She had to go.
When Julia asked me to visit, I thought of my mother. Despite it all, she missed Julia, told me stories about her, and said I could go. So we are here in the Tube, her hand on my suitcase to protect it from falling. I watch the long brick suburbs sink into the ground. With her eyes lowered to my sneakers she says, “Max is so excited to see you. He’s cooking a whole big meal for you.” “Really?” “He was mad he wouldn’t have time to take you up to Edinburgh. He said, ‘London’s not the whole picture, Julia.’” She takes on a quavering version of my uncle’s fading brogue. “‘The girl’s got to get some real Scottish culture.’ He said something about haggis, but I’m not sure he meant it. Oh, darling, don’t look so worried. You don’t have to eat anything you don’t want to. I’m sure he was teasing.” “I’m not worried,” I say but can’t prove that this is true. England is crushing me. I am exhausted. I have not seen this woman in four years; she is my aunt, and I have forgotten my earrings on my bedside table. I want to tell her that I read “The Dead” this year in school, and that she is nothing like Aunt Julia, but I realize I am basing the comparison on their hair, their smiles. I know Joyce’s Aunt Julia better than mine. She left us in the midst of our crisis. Which is over, I remind myself. I think of my mother: smarter now, with a better boyfriend, sharing her “journey” at church, still wearing long sleeves. She divorced my father a long time ago. She is better; she misses Julia. “Auntie did what she could, Sara,” she told me once, braiding my hair on the sectional couch. “She didn’t know how to deal with it. She loves you.” But I’m not sure I can forgive Julia. “I’m sorry,” says Julia on the Tube, laughing, “You must be so tired. I’m chattering. I’ll let you alone for a while.” She crosses one smooth leather boot over the other. The ‘r’s of tired and chattering have been washed out of her voice. I wonder if she left all the slang, that accent they used to call “valley girl,” in California with my mother. I imagine calling my mother. “I left my favorite earrings, and I wanted to wear them to dinner. Would you ship them first-class? Overnight?”
My mother would reply, “Don’t be ridiculous, baby, that’d cost thirty bucks,” with a bite of carrot in her mouth. I would answer, “And Julia sends her love.” Even in the imagining, I would not have the serene cruelty to add, “How have I never noticed that she is more beautiful than you are?” I used to think they looked just alike, elbow to elbow at the sink, or in the Buick’s front seat. I cannot forgive Julia, but I cannot stop watching her, either. When we reach their flat near Lancaster Gate, I remember that my Uncle Max has no California to abandon; he is Scottish and has a full beard. “This beard is my child,” he tells me, and everyone who asks him about babies. “It’s plenty work for me.” “It gets in trouble for leaving its things everywhere,” says Julia, over his shoulder. “We still haven’t taught the beard to clean the sink after itself.” Their flat is on the top floor. I can see the scrubby tops of trees in Hyde Park, four blocks away. The decor is sleek, glossy, and hard, like the pages of a Swedish interior design magazine. Uncle Max scoops me up at the doorway, and I am dizzy when he puts me down. The room smells of Sweden too: clean and starchy. Uncle Max wears a denim apron over his plaid shirt. “Sara,” he says, “I bet Julia’s been talking your ear off. Come and sit down. Long, long flight. Don’t like it myself. Why would I ever want to leave the UK? Why?” “You’ve never been to meet my family,” Julia reminds him. I think of Uncle Max and Julia in San Francisco. There is nothing sleek and English in that whole place—it smells of pizza and gasoline and pot. My mother sits on the cable car next to a man with garbage bags who is screaming to himself, up the hill to Coit Tower, down to the Mission District. Julia and Max would probably adapt with perfect aplomb. It would be a cultural experience. But I don’t think my mother would ever come here. “It’ll be a cultural experience,” she said at the airport, untwisting my backpack strap. “They love you.” She wore scrubs then; she would change before Rick took her out for Thai.
“I’m not going for cultural experiences,” I had told her but did not add, I am going for surveillance. I want to see if she knows what she’s done. Because I’m not sure Julia understands. She laughs so lightly and wafts through everything with a soft, organized smile. I float through my exhaustion, intrigued, angry. “I haven’t been back there in so long,” says Julia, pouring wine. She leans back for a moment against the white refrigerator. “I feel terrible.” “Oh, Jules, you’ve been busy.” Max runs a long blade through rolling, dirty vegetables—potatoes, carrots, and rutabagas. “You’ve been writing.” “You have?” I am determined to make conversation, but I am only questions and collections of one-cent words. “Oh, I’m always writing. Just for little journals and things. I think I have a novel in a drawer. Mmhmm. That sounds so poetic. Or is it cliché?” I want to tell her, both. It’s both, and you’re both. This is the high life of London, and it’s a bomb shelter against real life, against crime-ridden suburbs of California. You are beautiful, and you are my mother’s sister. I say instead, “It sounds romantic and tragic.” “Tragic! Listen to Sara. She’s discovering her taste for drama, Max. Do you hear that? You and your niece are kindred spirits.” Uncle Max winks at me. “Don’t let Julia tease you. It’s just the old Scottish spirit. I’d like to think you’ve inherited it.” In expansive lumberjack handfuls, he drops cubed vegetables into the boiling water. “I don’t think I got your side of the family too much,” I say, “I’m all Mom.” It’s a paltry declaration—I don’t know if it’s true anymore. I came to defend her, and I am being coaxed into Julia’s orbit. “Your mother,” says Julia. She sinks down beside me at the white kitchen table. She looks at me and then out the window, toward the park. She is a smooth, gleaming column of leather, a dark riding boot. She used to wear them even
on warm days, when my mom brought out her old Tevas, ridged slightly with dried sweat. Julia’s hair is dark, her shoulders muscled with fine, minute craftsmanship. It is inconceivable that she is related to my mother. But I have half her blood—she is a glimpse into what I could have looked like. These two women are the only family I have, and I must be the sum of their parts, scattered and mixed up, somehow. Perhaps that’s the real investigation—but I am so busy untangling my reasons for coming that I barely listen when Julia speaks again. “Your mother,” she says, “I hope she’s well. It’s been too long.” I cannot tell Julia that my mother rides the cable car and eats carrots out of a plastic baggie. She is divorced, and she wears long sleeves. Anyway, survival is very different from victory. I am not brave enough to make Julia listen to this. I can’t bring myself to say she eats carrots on the cable car because you sold your car when you went transatlantic and left her in that steep, windy place. He hit her, Julia, and she struggled on her own. I say, “She’s perfect,” although I’m not sure if it’s true. Survival is strong, but it does not smile like that over Hyde Park, sometimes it goes to the grocery store and buys only Pop Tarts and baby carrots. Of course it’s haggis he’s making. Uncle Max beams, as he crushes the potatoes and rutabagas into color-blocked mortars to be smeared in stiff shapes on my plate, next to the sheep. I know it’s sheep, but it tastes like salt and meat, laced lightly with metal. While I eat, I feel the pressure of their want for me, their anxious eyes searching out a good time on my face. I am drowning at the table—I have sheep intestines in my mouth—they love me, and I feel we have never met. I say at last, “It’s good. I like it. You guys like living in London?” The word ‘guys’ embarrasses me. I am not the only American at the table, and I feel I am the only American in the world. Julia blooms at my interest; she smiles and says, “Yes. More than anything.” “It’s not Edinburgh,” says Max, but only because he has to. “Is there anything you especially want to do while you’re here? Julia only has her writing, so she can take you anywhere, and I can get at least an afternoon off. We’re at your service.”
I am chewing the inside of a sheep; I have no energy to decide if the haggis is good—I’m responsible, suddenly, for alleviating their guilt. They have no children and have run away from their families to Sweden-on-Hyde. The rutabaga that was so ugly on the cutting board is thin and starchy in my mouth, tastes like earth. “I’d love to see the Tate Modern,” I say, as my teeth root out a bit of gristle, an edge of hardness in the fine grind. All the next day, we are so suffused with red telephone booths and post office boxes and flags that I have no time to stop and think. When we reach the Tate Modern, though, we slow down. It is full of skulls—today, at least. “Every time we come they’ve come up with something weirder,” says Julia, holding Uncle Max’s hand. “I mean, I get it, absurdism and everything. But I like things to be pretty too. Is that so bad?” He looks up at the wall beside him where two stuffed birds are pinned to the wall with arrows, mid-flight. The wall has a flat building design sketched on with charcoal. “I start to get the point of it, though. Even if it’s not pretty,” he says. “Am I real? Or is this more real than me? It’s profound, right?” “I think you’ve had enough art for today.” “Come on!” he persists, grinning, “There’s the Picasso room. Don’t you want to look at dozens of crooked purple breasts?” “Not today,” Julia says. “Sara, are you tired? We’ve been walking all day. Do you want to sit down?” I realize I have been called upon to say something. All day I have been walking and watching the rooftops and my aunt and uncle. They are witty, and it gives them a buzzing glow that reeks of happiness. I want to ask them, “But are you happy?” I asked my mother the same thing in the duplex in Fremont, while she took the pasta off the stove. While her fingers steadied the colander, I said, “Mom, are you happy?” Abandoned and healing, certainly, but anything more? “Well, babe—” she said, and her other hand slipped and dropped the pot, scalding her to the elbow. At the Tate, I do not feel any kinship with the birds.
“It’s sort of a heavy-handed metaphor, though, isn’t it?” says Uncle Max, framing the display with his hands and squinting. “I mean, birds shot down in flight?” “I know,” I agree. “Birds are sort of impossible that way. It’s been done.” “Exactly.” We are not like the birds (we are in London; we are wearing overcoats and scarves), but I am exhausted so I say, “Could we go up to the café?” The top floor of the Tate is a restaurant with a wall of glass that overlooks the Thames. We sit on barstools and swing our legs against the window. I eat a packaged brownie in small bites and watch St. Paul’s bubble up across the water. This trip has been nothing but watching, as I knew it would—I am not a flowering tourist but a flattened observer, disappearing against walls smattered with placards. They are both beautiful cities, but London is different than San Francisco—it does not fade so quickly into artichoke fields and riots—at least not to me, a tourist. “It’s beautiful,” says Julia at my elbow, “isn’t it?” “I wish the sun would shine,” says Uncle Max, “But I guess that’s too much to ask.” “Look at it, Sara. St. Paul’s is one of the most iconic buildings in the world. We can go for a tour if you want. They probably have one more before it closes. But are you too tired?” “How would we get there?” I ask the leather boot and the beard, who are crowding me. “Can’t you see it? Just there. That’s the Millennium Bridge. I guess it wasn’t built the last time you were here. We can walk straight across. Has it stopped raining?” Julia is juggling a small menagerie of leather goods—her long, low purse, the tall boots she’s still wearing, worn-in gloves that have an extra sheen in the palm. I remember that weathered shine from my mother’s palms. “Let’s do that,” I say. “Let’s walk across the bridge.”
When we leave the museum, it is pouring rain. Julia, pulling her collar up, suggests we find a cab. But when I see the curve of the dome far ahead, I walk toward the bridge. It is nearly empty because of the storm, and all that’s left is a man begging at the entry point. He is so bundled up he is invisible, and he bows his scarfed chin to his chest, examining the ridged gray surface of the bridge. It is raining harder now; my hair sticks to my neck and slides around my ears. Uncle Max, right behind me, is intact with his strong beard, but Julia is drowning. Her eyes are bright and beautiful in the water, but I see I am frightening her with my silence, running ahead. I do not want to stop. She does not understand me and my guarded quietness. She doesn’t know why I want to stand at the apex of the structure, with big arching steel supports jutting out above the river. I want to find London’s seam, where it dumps its trash and parades its most gullible tourists, where there used to be sewage and bodies, but now there are big seat-filled boats floating past The Globe. I look back and forth, tasting the acid ugliness at the corners of my mouth, hearing my aunt and uncle go silent, thinking that if San Francisco and London were really the same, the River Thames is where they would put the cable car, and I would punch my ticket alongside my mother, and we would consider how we had survived and more. She had a new boyfriend, and I abandoned that cruel father. We knew how ugly the city was and how beautiful we felt in it because we had stayed, bought baby carrots, never glamorous, but always moving forward—our wallets full of coupons, closed with velcro that never comes unfastened. San Francisco and London are not the same; even if the Thames is dark and dank, you can cross it on the striking blue arcs of the Tower Bridge— but I no longer care. I stand against the frozen railing with Max and Julia, the beard and the leather boot, and I, the rutabaga, rolling dirty and uncooked through the city, decide I’d better call up my mother and say, “Never mind, I don’t want my earrings anyway; these people are nothing compared to you. When I get home, I’ll transfer to the Market Street car, and I’ll come meet you when I get off the 5:22.”
ON INSPIRATION MARK BURR
Write, just write, until: Brilliance strikes hard like heavy hands. A light flashes puce-hot, the sky is purple; royal, royal. Grandma Death spreads her oily milk fingers across an electric moon. All livid light, pomegranates burning, amethyst fire; A crown, royal, royal crown, crown royal. A king without a kingdom,
a page without a poem, a light without a dark. Just space, negative space. Just empty eggshell sky. Just buoyant brilliance. Let inspiration strap iridescent irons to your aching back, and hope it burns an image in your brain. A poem on a page of fire-foxes, enormous elephants. Inspiration, inhabit and incite indignity. Illuminate the eclipsed negative. Bring dark to light (no white, no light).
© Abigail King, “Untitled”
Untitled 49 KING
Interview with Julianna Baggott BY KAITLYN CANARY AND LESLIE ZIMMERMAN
Julianna Baggott began publishing short stories when she was twenty-two years old and sold her first novel, Girl Talk, while still in her twenties. A critically acclaimed, bestselling author, Baggott has published nineteen books in just over twelve years. With three pen names, Baggott delves into various genres of writing such as fiction, essay, poetry. Under the pen name N.E. Bode, Baggott publishes novels for young readers. Her pen name Bridget Asher, however, is reserved for speaking to contemporary women. Baggott has also written three collections of poetry, essays, and her Pure trilogy under her own name. Julianna Baggott came to MSU in March 2013 to read excerpts from the second installment of her Pure trilogy, Fuse, as well as poems from her collection Lizzie Borden in Love such as â€œMonica Lewinsky Thinks of Bill Clinton While Standing Naked in Front of a Hotel Mirror.â€? This transcript is from an interview conducted by Kaitlyn Canary, an alumna of MSU. The interview took place at a student lunch where Baggott addresses her use of multiple pen names, writing styles and motives, and how she relates to other female authors.
Kaitlyn Canary You use different pen names: Bridget Asher and N. E. Bode. We were wondering – is there a reason for that? And do they mean anything significant to you? Julianna Baggott Well, I published three novels in three years and so it was just too fast for the literary genre. If you’re outside in westerns or thrillers or something, a book a year is great but not for literary fiction because literary novels rely on reviews as an engine to drive sales. If you’re competing with yourself for review space then you’re not going to get as many reviews. At one point, I wanted to write the kinds of books that I first fell in love with and was reading again to my kids. My husband made up N.E. Bode because of The Anybodies by N.E. Bode, you know. We just spell it slightly different so kids could be excited about getting it. And then Bridget Asher came about because I had gone on tour with Steve Almond for a book called Which Brings Me to You which we had written together. And I saw what it was like to have a career where you write with a singular, unique voice. Love or hate Almond books, you know what you’re getting into when you pick one up. So I thought it would be good to have some books to build one name that people could rely on, a certain audience could rely on because I had a lot to say to contemporary women my own age. At the time, my editor had said to choose a pen name, just let me know what you come up with; I won’t interfere. And so I sent her a list of names and she said my names were ridiculous, they sound like a Jane Austen character. And I was like, but it’s so personal. I think you said it’s like naming a baby, remember that? And she said they don’t work. So I kept sending her names until she finally said okay to one and I was like okay, great, whatever. Bridget’s always been a favorite name of mine and I picked Asher because it’s early in the alphabet. Canary So you write fiction, poetry, essays, and what transitions do you make between those genres? And how does the process change? Baggott It depends on what I have to say, to whom and what project is fighting me. If I’m working on a novel and it fights me, I stop and work on something else. If I’m working in a trilogy, that feels like a marathon and I want to sprint, then
I can write a poem where I’m working out my own stuff. If I’m mouthy and frustrated about something, I might write for NPR. And then sometimes I have stories, where I think, the best thing about this story is that it’s true. And if that’s the best thing it has going for it, then it has to be an essay. Something comes to me and because I’m transgenre, I can fit it into whichever one I think best exploits the idea. Marie Howe, and Brigit Kelly are two women poets who tend to write about the body – the woman’s body – a lot more and a lot more frankly than female fiction writers do. In general, I’m drawn to the way those female poets attack and use those images the way fiction writers don’t, me included. I condemn myself in that. Canary Do you feel like poetry opens up that arena for you to write about that and be more aggressive with it? Baggott Yes. Try to find someone having a period in fiction and then try to read a book of poetry where somebody doesn’t have a period. You know what I’m saying? It’s a real line in the sand. Canary In your poetry collection, Lizzie Borden in Love, you write persona poems from inside the minds of other women. What’s it like to put yourself in the minds of those other women? Is it something you enjoy doing? Some of the characters you choose are very offbeat. Baggott Lizzie Borden scared me when I wrote her. I was doing research at night and so I made a rule that I could only do Lizzie Borden research in the morning. She’s very scary. And her sister actually – I think her sister’s even scarier. What’s interesting about it is that you think you’re picking these very different people, and you get to explore these obsessions that are not your own obsessions and get into ideas that are not your ideas and have nothing to do with your life and it’s nice to not be Baggott. So you write them. And I read a ton and I write. It’s really my own obsessions that led me to be fascinated by this person and not that one, and writing this poem helps me get at deeper issues that are rummaging around
in my subconscious or even in my conscious life, but allows me to get at them without knowing I’m getting at them. Which I think is always good because to take an author out of authority is a good position to be in. Canary I’m curious, did that book start with Lizzie Borden? Baggott It started with Mary Todd Lincoln. And Mary Todd was a pretty early poem of mine. I wrote it 2-3 years before I knew I had a theme. I wrote that one and it was picked up for Best American Poetry 2000, edited by Rita Dove. I looked back on it and I thought, well I really enjoyed writing it and then some other life was bubbling in my head at the time. And then I did another little group of them. I’ve always been fascinated by Norman Rockwell’s wives so those might have been next. Once I did that many, I was like maybe this is a book, keep going, and I pawed my way to the next. Canary Going off of that a little bit, the majority of your novels and poetry and essays speak to women and for women, I would assume. What would you say was your main message as a woman author? Baggott I never think about it in terms of message, I never think in terms of theme, and I never think about my political agenda. I usually don’t know theme until I’m on tour. I don’t know how political something I’ve written is until I’m in France and the French are like “This is so political. Feelings of American government in it” and I’m like “it is, it really is”. I do have a lot of political issues and I have a lot of issues with religion. Pro-faith, kind-of anti-religion in a lot of ways or anti-thisaustere-church. And a lot of that is what I want to say about feminism but it all comes out sideways and it’s nothing that I’m very conscious of until later. I just did a whole radio show with this group called the Story Men who wanted me to talk about the Pure trilogy and faith and religion. Oh yeah, I could do that. It’s all in there, but it’s not something that I think about.
Canary I was reading about your recent trilogy and some of those theme questions were coming up. Did you intend it to be so political? Baggott The difference between post-apocalyptic and dystopia. To write a dystopian novel is a political act, so I didn’t really think about that. But I did have to create, or write, a political condition in the United States of America that was ripe for someone to come into power with these very austere ideas and he used the religious right against people to create a ripe condition for an apocalypse. So that was something I had to do. I mean, there are a lot of apocalyptic novels. Margaret Atwood’s tend to be environmental. She’s an environmentalist. So there are a lot of different ways to look at it. So that’s the first question you ask and that’s what I thought was going to be the hard question. The hard question is after that – what endures the apocalypse and does faith endure and does God endure? Does love endure? Like romantic love? Does art endure? All these bigger questions that ended up being much harder. Canary Would you say that was what you wanted to focus on more with the trilogy? What is the lasting aspects after? Not so much the destruction and the political themes, but what comes after? Baggott Yes. And you know, my main job is world building and having to do this big cinematic landscape, but at the same time, my job is always to tell an intimate story. And so my job is to know the characters so well that they’re real and that they become so real that they start doing their own thing. And then I follow them. I am bossy – I do have a map and I always think I know where my stories are going but I’m always wrong. Canary You completed your second book in the trilogy?
Baggott The second one’s out and the third one’s just put into production. The major edits are finished. The first book took a number of years. The second book took one year because of my contract. And as you’re rewriting the first book, you have to be writing the second book because you have to know enough about it and the details of it to plant the seeds in the first book before it closes in production and then while you’re writing the second book, you have to be thinking about the third book. It’s a lot of architecture in your head. Canary You achieved some success at a young age. In your 20s you were published and since then all the genres of your work including your latest trilogy has received a lot of attention. The trilogy has attracted film rights. So over the years, has your idea of what it means to be a successful writer changed? Baggott I fail constantly. What you don’t know is that there are a lot of books that I have ended at page 150 or 165. I’ve been published by almost all of the big six publishing houses but I have also been rejected by all of them too. When you’re as prolific as I am, and you put out as much as I do, you still get a huge percentage of rejection, so, rejection is part of my everyday life. Also when you publish as much as I do, you get a huge amount of criticism, so I’ve never been completely comfortable. I’m not a very outgoing person. I think a lot of writers look at me as somebody who really markets my material, is really savvy, but in fact, going public with my work, I’m always extremely uncomfortable with it. And the arm waving and the look at me that has become the writers’ job even more so in the last ten years, it’s exhausting and awful and makes me feel like a bad person. They never let you have it too good.
Baggott I mean, I was raised Catholic. I mean, you have to be humble all the time.
Canary Right, you’re not supposed to talk about yourself or feel successful. Baggott Also, I can speak to a room of whoever comes here today and I will notice the person in the back who’s not paying attention and I’m always obsessed with why? How could I fix that? I only ever fixate on what I’m doing wrong and what I can do better. I walk away and nine people say it was great and one person says “uh huh” and that’s the only one I hear. So not only do I get rejected and get criticized a lot but I also seek it out and want to understand it. I’m drawn to it. I need it as my process. Canary What is something that is unique to your writing process? Baggott I don’t know. Dark chocolate and sea salt. It’s a health food really.
ContRibutors ONNYX BEI is a senior at University of St. Thomas in Houston, where he majors in English literature and minors in Creative Writing. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Midtown Journal, Laurels, Glass Mountain, Columbia: A Journal, and others. Literary accomplishments include the Susan T. Scanlon Scholarship in Creative Writing and the Danny Lee Lawrence Writing Award for Poetry. MARK BURR is a poet residing in historic Columbus, MS. He studied under the poet Kendall Dunkelberg. He likes squirrels, J.D. Salinger, Sylvia Plath, and movies about weird people. He is originally from Ocean Springs, MS. JACOB CUMISKEY is an undergraduate at Warren Wilson College. He enjoys the ways in which writing helps him connect to his surroundings, and how poetry helps to give the untouchable both name and form. He is a junior and a Creative Writing major. Jacob enjoys playing Magic: The Gathering in his free time and hopes he is making progress in his creative works. BERNADETTE EWING is a 24 year old university student, writer, and humanitarian living in Michigan. She is passionate about travel, language, and making the planet a better place. This piece is part of an anthology on the topic of war and social conflict around the world. KIT HAGGARD grew up in Southern California, but currently lives in New York. Her work has appeared in The Mays Anthology, and Four Chambers, among other places, and is forthcoming with The Kenyon Review; she is the 2013 recipient of the Rex Warner Prize. CHLOE HANSON is a recent graduate of Utah State University’s English program. She hopes to begin work on her Masters in Literature and Writing in August of 2014. Chloe is primarily interested in writing poetry that incorporates Greek and Biblical mythology into modern settings, and is currently working on a full-length book of poetry examining toxic interpersonal relationships drawing on mythology and folk tales from around the world. MASON HAYES, originally from California, is a senior at Oklahoma State University. She’s earning her Bachelor’s in English with an option in Creative
Writing and a minor in Philosophy. Her writing interests include dark, unnerving, and witty poetry. PATRICK MOREY is a junior English major at Ithaca College. He hails from the suburbs of Medford, Massachusetts, where he taught himself once he discovered that his teachers would have preferred him to take notes. Common topics in his short stories include bananas, simulation, death, and semiology. Currently, he is the fiction editor of Ithaca Collegeâ€™s Stillwater Magazine and is researching an honor thesis on the works of Flannery Oâ€™Connor. ANA QUIRING will graduate from Whitworth University with a degree in English in spring 2014. She plans to pursue her PhD in Literature at UC Riverside in the fall. Her creative work has also appeared in Connotation Press. CONNOR YECK is a student of English and History at Michigan State University. He has plans to attend graduate school in the near future, with hopes to teach Creative Writing at the collegiate level. This is his first publication of poetry.