The Red Earth Creative Writing MFA Oklahoma City University July 2019â€©
© Red Earth Review 2019
All Rights Reserved
RED EARTH REVIEW
2018-9 Editors Debra Chandler John Dixon Stephen Kovash Ross Peterson Jayne Shimko
THE RED EARTH MFA
Write in the middle of it all Faculty Advisor
Jeanetta Calhoun Mish
Red Earth Review is published once a year in July. For submissions, consult our website for guidelines and deadlines. Please email questions or comments to email@example.com. We do not accept print or email submissions; directions for using our submissions engine may be found on our website: bit.ly/RedEarthRev. Submissions sent outside our open period or sent by mail or email will not be considered or returned. Red Earth Review is available in print and as a PDF document. Print copies are $12 each and the PDF may be downloaded for free at our web site bit.ly/RedEarthRev or viewed at Issuu: http://issuu.com/ redearthreview. Contact us by email or by post to order print copies. Red Earth Review The Red Earth MFA @ OCU English Department, WC 248 2501 N Blackwelder Oklahoma City, OK 73106-1493 firstname.lastname@example.org Cover Art: Golden Days Gone By © 2019 by Michael Dixon After first publication in Red Earth Review, all rights revert to the author/ artist. The views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of the Red Earth Review staff, The Red Earth Creative Writing MFA Program, or of Oklahoma City University.
CONTENTS EMMA LEE The Bridal Dresses in Beirut
QUINN CARVER JOHNSON AND TODD FULLER The 42nd Verse
QUINN CARVER JOHNSON A Bouquet of Warblers
KEVIN TOSCA Bush + Tree + Sun = ?
MARK A. FISHER Reparations what if I told you
MW RISHELL A Crooked Crown Autumn Abandons Eloy, Arizona New Jersey Gustav Freytag suggests a structure for a poetry reading
11 12 13 14
KEN HADA In Kyoto Rim Shoals in the Dark What Gandhi and Christ Have Over Me
15 17 18
RICHARD DIXON Sea Change
DAVID M ALPER Neglected Ashes Color By Number
NATHAN MANLEY Great Plains Triptych Modernity
MICHAEL J GALKO What the gravedigger knows and how he knows it Dawn at 4th and Bleak Electric Eel A Lazarus Dream
24 25 26 27
JEFFREY ALFIER Entering Greenwood Over Yalobusha River Near Seventh Ward, New Orleans
Coda for Bayou Lafourche Breaking with Still Life at the Ranch Motel A Page from Saint-Martin-de-Ré
30 31 32
TOBI ALFIER Wake for Ernie at Delilah’s Tavern Ghetto Heroes Square of Lost Gloves Annie’s Escape
33 34 35
THEODORE C. VAN ALST, JR. Sunshine
ALEXANDER WEIDMAN What the Russians Overheard
CLAIRE SCOTT Six Whole Days Green Bananas Late Night Poet
53 54 55
JENNIFER KIDNEY Painting Oklahoma PBR
JILL HAWKINS Fearing Hunger in Oklahoma
BENJAMIN GOLUBOFF Green Men On a Photograph of John Hammond with Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble, 1983 John Hammond, Mythmaker
60 61 61 62
LEIGH FISHER You’ve Heard Enough
SUJASH PURNA Temple Juniper
7. RENEAU, JR. X-File #E11649 their cell-phones at 90 degrees to their strides, like gravity pulling to a molten core, The Fortress of Sleeping Butterflies
65 67 67 68
MICHELLE BROOKS Pretty in A Hard Way
ALESSIO ZANELLI By The Dining Room's Door Window
ADAM PENNA Suckling Fools
NATALIE GASPER Measuring Time in the Sonoran Desert
FRANK SCOZZARI The Yosemite Bear Bandits
SANDEEP KUMAR MISHRA The Death of the Seas
RON WALLACE Sanctuary Mickey Mantle and Chinaberry Trees Rider The Flight of Raptors
99 101 103 104
RICHARD KROHN Security Jump
LYNN LIPINSKI Not the Best Baptist Family
LENNART LUNDH Pilgrimsâ€™ Progress plus les choses changent No Safe Anchorage
120 121 122
ANASTASIA JILL Bomb
JOEL SCARFE Fine Occasional Rain Happisburgh Mirror-Ball Victory
126 127 128 129
TERESA MORSE Exposure Sourdough Nocturnal
130 131 132
ANDREW LAFLECHE the white speck dancing by the window in relapse or recovery so it goes prisoner of my own chains lost angels
133 134 135 136 137
LIS SANCHEZ aubade: at the marine refuge Advanced Equations Diagnostic Mammogram
139 140 142
DAVID SWERDLOW Those Woods
CARL BOON Dragonman On a Long Field On Neruda’s Birthday Something Happened in the Ocean
146 147 148 149
JASMINE HANLEY in ostkreuz
LYDIA MCDERMOTT Tiny Over Sleepover
151 153 154
T. CLEAR The Poem Who Drank Too Much Wintering With Bees
SHAWN ANTO Rat Fever (after the Kerala floods)
KELLY O’ROURKE Prep Welcome
MAGGIE EDWARDS of land and sea Tracing the Sun
SARAH DECKRO My Red
EMMA LEE The Bridal Dresses in Beirut Each dress hangs from a noose. One is plain satin with scalloped lace, another an orgy of tulle, dreamy organza with applique flowers hanging from wire strung between palm trees. One is short, a shift with a tulip skirt, the sort of dress picked in a hurry to satisfy a shotgun or Article 522. The breeze breathes through them, bullies the dresses into ghosts, brides with no substance, angels bereft of their voices.
[Part of a protest against Article 522 of the Lebanese Penal Code which exonerates rapists if they marry their victim. The Article has now been repealed.]
QUINN CARVER JOHNSON AND TODD FULLER The 42nd Verse Time, that cagey escapist, will surely yawn this morning before repositioning itself upon its throne and dozing off to sleep, pupils painted over eyelids to contest with every man or woman, every civilization, species, every star that dares challenge it / them / time to blink, cards up their sleeves for those who would sit before Time’s table and bet wages against them. They doesn’t / don’t speak much, gives nothing away.
QUINN CARVER JOHNSON A Bouquet of Warblers
Buzzy notes ending in a higher pitched trill, "zee zee zee zizizizi eeet." —a description of the Cerulean Warbler’s song
There is a blue bird living in my rib cage, perched in my chest, pumping his wings to keep my blood flowing. And when you kiss me, when your smile turns into song and harmonizes with my smile, it sounds like all of the butterflies in my gut scattering, chased by a song bird, like my body is filled with wings and frantic feathers. You turn my stomach into a bouquet of warblers, a bloom of blue. My brain starts singing, zee zee zee zizizizi eeet, a joyous screaming. Once, I emptied an entire balloon of helium into my lungs— I felt lightheaded; my toes started to tingle; I felt taller. When you kiss me, I feel the helium from your breath fill my lungs, my body feels like it could float away were it not for your lips tethering me to the ground. When I pull away for air, my voice is so high-pitched all my words come out like,
zee zee zee zizizizi eeet.
KEVIN TOSCA Bush + Tree + Sun = ? Absentmindedly shaking the ice cubes in his glass, Ivan was debating how best to profit from the upcoming night when Roxanne, who had left to “wash her hands,” returned. “I saw you,” she said. “What?” “Don’t ‘what’ me. You couldn’t keep your eyes off it.” Ivan pictured Shoshanna’s (the bride’s) unconventional dress, how much leg dazzled when she walked away, how much mouthwatering breast was visible from every conceivable angle. She was stunning, one of those women whose reality cheapens dream, but Ivan hadn’t spent any more time looking at her than any other woman (or man for that matter) at the party. He also noticed the pronoun slippage, the “it,” but figured Roxanne made an innocent mistake. “Don’t start,” Ivan said. “Start what? You’re the one. How do you think it makes me feel?” Ivan sighed. “I wasn’t even looking at her.” “Her?” Roxanne raised her arm, extended index finger trembling. “It!” “There’s nothing there. A rose bush. What are you—” but Ivan didn’t finish. Looking from Roxanne’s face to the roses and back, all he could say was: “No.” “Yes.” “You can’t be serious.” “I know what I saw.” “Then you’ve lost your mind. There’s no other explanation.” “I know what I saw.” * Ivan decided to kick off the evening with a small museum they had never visited together. On the way, the silence felt like a new and preposterous level of pressure and control, a cockamamie rope wrapping itself around his already raw neck. He tried to relax. Told himself he must have been mistaken. No way did his wife just accuse him of looking inappropriately at a rose bush. It’s true, he had been looking at it. And why not? A plant’s beauty deserved appreciation. But it’s equally true he could’ve been lost in thought, eyes fixed in a general direction, seeing nothing. He used that argument before to defend himself against the women he was supposedly eye-raping in the bars and restaurants and airports and everywhere. Eventually, and after much effort, Roxanne would say she understood. !4
Now, his hand in hers and praying the storm had passed, Ivan took any lingering frustration out on the collection. Tenth-rate, shithouse, Chamber of Commerce ship it back to the Artists’ Co-op stuff. All of it except for a small, red, remarkable Bonnard nude he dared not stare at for too long. Outside, in the museum’s backyard, as it were, large and beautifully manicured gardens overlooked the St. Johns River. It was a serene, romantic spot where life’s absurdities got to feel a little more removed as you enjoyed a glass of wine and munched on some artfully prepared finger snacks. The couple did just that, and before leaving to seek dinner, Roxanne went to use the ladies’ room. While she was gone, Ivan focused on the oak tree dividing the Italian from the English gardens. It had an enormous trunk and spider-like limbs that kissed the ground then climbed skyward again. Had to be one or two hundred years old. Ivan was admiring it (trees were, to his way of thinking, superior beings) when the phrase “tree hugger” sprung to mind. How disparaging —how scornful—it sounded. Why? He decided the next time he heard someone say “tree hugger” he’d admit to being one and see what happened. Certainly being a tree hugger was better than being a tree killer. Ivan believed in his logic. On the way to the restaurant, he felt another change in the air—a heavier, unimaginably more ominous atmosphere than when they had driven to the museum. “Now what?” he asked. “You know damn well ‘what.’” Trying to muster the appropriately firm yet accommodatingly patient tone of voice, Ivan remained silent for a few seconds. “No,” he said. “I do not, in fact, know ‘what.’” “Just after the party, too. You’re out of control.” “Roxanne.” “I don’t even know why we bother going out together. You’re never with me. You’re always with them.” Ivan felt like accelerating very, very fast. Or slamming on the brakes. He did neither. He was a calm man. A logical man. An open and forgiving man. “I didn’t want to bring this up,” he said, injecting light-hearted notes into his speech to prove just how open and forgiving and calm he truly was, “but back there, at Bill’s party, you accused me of being unfaithful to you with a rose bush. You were, in effect, jealous of a rose bush, and now, well, I have absolutely no clue what you’re talking about.” Ivan stopped at a red light, turned and stared at Roxanne. “We went to the museum. We looked at the crappy collection. We had a glass of wine— outside and together—you and me, me and my wife. That’s it. End of story.” !5
“What about when I went to the toilet?” “When you went to the toilet?” “When I went to the toilet, I didn’t really go to the toilet.” “You didn’t?” The light turned green and Ivan accelerated flawlessly. “I watched you through the windows. I saw everything.” “Okay,” he said, “but only because this can’t be happening to me: What did you see?” “You’re going to sit there and tell me you don’t know?” “Yes.” “You’re going to sit there and lie to my face?” “I swear to God I am at a complete and utter loss here.” “The tree, Ivan.” “The tree?” “The tree,” Roxanne said. “The tree?” Ivan, dumbstruck, repeated. “The tree,” Roxanne said with even more finality. Ivan pulled into the parking lot of the restaurant overlooking Doctors Lake. He left the engine running for an extra five count, pictured how hitting the gas would propel them into the water, might even precipitate drowning. “And what, may I inquire, do you think I was doing with that tree?” “You know exactly what you were doing with that tree.” “Am I not allowed to look at trees now?” “No, no, go right ahead, live your life.” “Am I not free to look at all the beauty that surrounds us?” “But it’s not going to be my life.” “You… You do, don’t you? You think I want to fuck that tree.” “I saw them,” Roxanne said. “Them?!” “Your eyes, Ivan.” “My—” “Your roving faithless inconsiderate egotistical self-centered MAN eyes.” * They both ordered the mushroom risotto, but instead of the usual glass or two of wine, Ivan asked the waiter to deposit a bottle of Dewar’s on the table for himself, a bottle of champagne for his insane wife. And that’s precisely how he said it: “And will you please bring my insane wife a bottle of champagne? She adores bubbles.” “Certainly, sir,” the waiter said. “You’re funny,” Roxanne said after the waiter left, but she didn’t say it in a mean way, she said it as if he really were funny. Went so far as to chuckle. This undecryptable, capricious, downright infuriating system of forgiveness was enough to make a logical man’s head explode. Was she mad at him? !6
That, now, was beside the point, because in addition to all of his other qualities, Ivan was a man who could hold a grudge. True, he had to be pushed to a certain extreme and hopeless point before the grudgeholding kicked in, but—rose bushes and trees?—he had been thus pushed. It was bad enough the hell he took for the unavoidable existence of all the succulent women sharing his earth, but plant life? What was next? What wasn’t he going to be able to look at and appreciate? Still, he wanted to be a better man, and he had read that attitude, when eating, is as important to the digestion and health as what is eaten, so he remained calm and let the Scotch and the sun—setting over the western edge of the lake—do their subtle work. When the mousse arrived, he began to speak in what he felt was, under the circumstances, a prodigiously rational tone of voice. “Okay,” he said, “so”—he was going to go wholistic here, come in through the proverbial back door—“I would like to know what you believe a man’s relationship to the world outside of himself—” “You can stop right there, Professor.” “Pardon me?” “We’re not having this conversation.” “Roxanne, we need to have this conversation.” “Not after what you’ve been doing to me this whole dinner.” Ivan’s head spun. “Doing to you?” “Besides, we never have conversations, you just beat me down with all of your clever little word tricks till I’m so sick and nauseated that I agree to all of your bullshit.” “Roxanne.” “I wish you could see yourself. I thought I married a man, but it’s like somebody just tossed a big bloody T-bone into your bowl. Can’t you at least wipe that drool off your face?” “Rox—” “Stop!” she said, standing. “For once in your life. Just. Stop.” “I don’t understand you.” The sentence rang so staggeringly true in Ivan’s head he swiftly followed it with: “Believe it or not, that is the most honest thing I have ever said to you. So let me repeat it slowly, and clearly, and distinctly: I do not un-der-stand you.” Roxanne nodded vigorously. “Now I know—now I’m positive—why all those other women left you.” “What women?” “Right. Listen, when you’re done with him, don’t bother coming home.” Ivan looked around, desperate. “There’s no one here. No women, no bushes, no trees.” Did she say “him”? “All I can see is a fat man wearing a bib and waving a lamb chop around. And the sunset, which is spectacular, by the way, which we should be appreciating to-gether.” !7
“You shameless bastard. I kept telling myself you’d change, kept secretly hoping… What a waste. I wish—No. You know what? What do I care? Go right ahead. Get it. Get your fill. You’ve been watching him the whole time anyway with that goddamned gaga face of yours.” “Him? Who?!” “Him!” she said, pointing toward the horizon. “The sun?” “Him!” “The sun’s a him?” “It’s a simple equation.” “You’re killing me,” he said. “Then hurry up and die already!” * Ivan glanced at the fat man’s table. The fat man winked, nibbled his lamb chop. A little while later, the waiter returned and started clearing dishes, cleared them silently and awkwardly the way two men can be silent and awkward together when deep empathy exists. When he was through, Ivan asked if he would care for a drink. “Thank you,” the waiter said, “but I’m not allowed. The rules...” Ivan knew about the rules, so he didn’t insist, but when he turned back toward the window he realized he had missed the finale, that the sun had set and the end, as always, had come too soon.
MARK A. FISHER Reparations old white woman clutching hard on her fifty dollar bill shuffles slowly up the casino’s handicapped ramp “muggy, ain't it” she says just twenty minutes later coming out clutching only her “free” soda spilling air conditioned darkness and cigarette smoke out into the hot Oklahoma breeze spinning Styrofoam cups in lazy circles around the hot asphalt as she shuffles down the ramp beige building just next door Choctaw go in to their cakewalk party in t-shirts and jeans laughing with frybread tacos and country music bought by the casino
MARK A. FISHER what if I told you that slowly like seasons changing one day to the next imperceptibly until it was well past begun yesterdayâ€™s tomorrow was sold off for pennies on the dollar giving us this our own on layaway timeshared WalMart paradise
MW RISHELL A Crooked Crown Our brothers and sisters live in heavy darkness. Those disordered and scattered, those on their way to future madness, an accident in slow motion. Our birthright is a crooked crown to rule our destiny. We are touched, beyond ourselves at our very core. But we do know how to love, we embrace the birdâ€™s song, and we hold onto love as tightly as we can. We are playing with a sharp stick. We will flirt with leaving the known. We will contemplate death in ways seductive. We will die from this specialness, this splendid joy, this overwhelming sorrow. We are beyond. When the down becomes despair, sadness squared, it attacks the body. Our bones hurt, our muscles seize, our scalps go tender, and all we want, all we can do is sleep. Just the same we canâ€™t get enough, and we do everything and all. We are jealous of bliss. We know too much. We feel things deeper than deep. Hate and anger, love and joy. The birds sing for us a knowing tune. March 2014
MW RISHELL Autumn Abandons Eloy, Arizona (As it did James Wright and Martins Ferry, Ohio) In the falling bleachers I think of those in el Norte Those who donâ€™t work the fields Y aquellos que hablan lo suficientemente bien para Trabajos de telemarketing. None of us want to go home Todo lo que hacemos es para nuestras familias Though we may never see them again The dreams are only that, mostly Great goalies keep away the hat tricks Take our beautiful sons To college to continue Nuestro abandono de la familia
MW RISHELL LINE BREAK ISSUES New Jersey Those bound for elsewhere stand and stare, waiting for a train to favor Soldiers travel in uniform, hoping for better seats. New Jersey welcomes you as New York spits You into their green swamp bosom. With the Secaucus water tower and the Pulaski bridge With the Ironbound in its newfound glory With the slums and the suburbs, not knowing which is which First stop, Newark, with young Indian college girl baring A Berkeley jersey and a graceful stretch to put her bag above Abandoned New Jersey â€“ Elizabeth â€“ such a lovely Name for what used to be Could it be hers? Trenton makes, the world takes New Jersey you are ours With your fake evergreen cell tower, Duty free prices without the airfare, the devil of the pines Paul said he was counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike I found America a long time ago From its supersized shakes to its god without question From patriotism with no cause and no reason Darkness comes and our New Jersey is hidden Please mind the gap
MW RISHELL Gustav Freytag suggests a structure for a poetry reading Perhaps the biggest challenge, I, as a dramatist, have ever faced is how to order the delivery of poems at a poetry reading. I like to start with some action, make it rise to a climax and then have it fall toward a nice and tidy ending – a denoument if you will. So many poems – put together, in a row – make this hard. I knew of a poet who started out sad, went down with depression, and then killed himself – at the reading! Yikes – he had the climax at the end and left the denoument to me! Perhaps I should not have much hope – so much expectation – for these poetry types. Perhaps it would be a victory to keep everything steady and to have my pyramid become just as flat as Kansas. Perhaps I will save the lives of poets. Perhaps I will save poetry!
KEN HADA In Kyoto I. I climbed a mountain more lush than anything I have seen, slowly ascending in silence. At the top, a shrine, where I felt awkward in a familiar way discovering something beyond. II. A yellow-robed novice guided us down into the dark earth, a hidden path twisting into a cave, turning narrow, tightening, swallowing me. I bent my height to fit, shuffling close in absolute darkness, a hand on my shoulder and then English words pronounced ritualistically in a Japanese accent: Groping in Darkness, Groping in Darkness and I felt the metaphor squeeze me, choke me until finally, I began to emerge from darkness, like Platoâ€™s cave-dwelling prisoner, the welcomed light, by degrees, enlightening me even as it disorients, remaking me for life above ground. III. Outside, once again, atop the green mountain, upright, breathing clean air, feeling the ghosts all around me in cautious approval, I wrote a prayer request on provided white paper and placed it on a tree, as custom dictated. I donâ€™t remember what I prayed. I only slightly recall descending the mountain, slowly returning.
IV. Now I see myself standing alongside Basho’s boat writing a haiku and placing it in a metal box by the river – hoping Basho would approve. V. Back in Oklahoma (in quiet, imperfect song) Dad, in overalls and plaid shirt, moves around his shop, tinkering, fixing, locating parts and tools only he could know – a liturgy of discovery. VI. On the plane home from Japan (with a stop in Korea and two sunrises) I felt trapped, panicked and longed for earth, the prairie grass, the post oaks on dad’s place, the casual, careful way he tends his garden: Not quite a monk, sequestered in silence, but not unlike Basho, making something that may outlive itself.
KEN HADA Rim Shoals in the Dark for Megan We are leaving darkness. We load the truck – packed bags, our migratory lives bundled into compartments, safe for the road. Out there is dark; in here is light Out there is a river; in here is a memory. Out there is a world we can hardly know; in here is imagination. Somewhere between two realms we plan and pause, ponder. We are travelers, always leaving not quite pilgrims – more fortunate than refugees, but always looking for home. We pack and unpack – load, unload – camp in twilight – feel for a familiar darkness until we move again looking for home – take to the road leaving what we love looking, always, for home.
KEN HADA What Gandhi and Christ Have Over Me I am not the change I want I am a crow picking at roadkill all my acumen flutters in darkness
RICHARD DIXON Sea Change The wind today as gusty as March allows â€“ assorted plastic bags, leaves and scraps of paper, all formerly earthbound floating, now fly unhinged Two feathers hover, quills gleaming points in the noonday sun The wind shifts â€“ I am for a moment framed between the two feathers both blue but one indigo, the other robin-egg, not from the same bird A few seconds both are gone turning the corner as they reach the end of the street, but in different directions, borne on the stiff breeze as if to a sea change Decades ago Neil Young sang Comes A Time, and that is what it feels like, standing here Stress used to be no more than the bare branches above me swaying in this strong wind But that has changed, sea changed and for no other reason than it has simply come a time and time is at this moment no less the great equalizer it has always been Before heading inside I look at the weaving branches again and notice that while all bend deeply, one breaks
DAVID M ALPER Neglected Ashes Hate takes over the lovely and minds have no power. Shadows inhale the poison light shackled to rocks and flung into black brooks of ache. Rosy paths cover the saintly angels' silence, leading the way. The tombs rest in ruins and a mistress passes by chanting a child's song for those who have died: ash like snow cover the untold secrets
DAVID M. ALPER Color By Number You unabashedly annotated my new copy from Hatchards. I just wanted to read “Woods etc.” but you were all over it, completely. Deliberating about Alice Oswald, Chatting about Nabokov's Pale Fire. You even pronounced it like that, With a long “boh.” He looked at numbers, and saw colors. He saw our condition: color by number, the confined are captivated, as we were, your coquettish fingers curtained over my hand in your London flat's foyer, seats 24H and 24K on a flight the day prior, August, twenty eighteen.
NATHAN MANLEY Great Plains Triptych Where lithe flesh once leapt and stirred the prairie handsome with motion, an antelope’s ghost patrols the tufted crests of hills above the six-laned tarmac that seethes toward Denver— a pale sentinel, listening, perhaps, still for the distant melancholic blast of a Union Pacific train: that god, dread earth-shaker, though rains now oxidize his engine’s husk—a fossil in a park, a monument to the world unarrived. Bereaved even of winter, I pray for a visitation of snow—white spirit— to color hills whose emptiness conjures the formless reach of interstellar space, where motors howl like wind between the stars.
NATHAN MANLEY Modernity Perhaps it began in Paris amid the crowds of the Second Empire or in St. James’s library when its books shuffled to life and, sardonically animated, waged war—critics at the throats of sages. Perhaps in the asphyxial air of factories our ancestors manufactured it; men, worshipping the machines they manned, became like them— cogs, spokes, spools, and spindles, the heart coal-fed. Perhaps scholars will trace its shadows to a Victorian dusk when Form stopped Meaning’s mouth with a handful of dust, hounded madness down decades, and found it. Then again, perhaps Aristotle, parsing Homer’s archaisms, knew it too, and sought asylum in an amphitheater— an imagined past a catharsis.
MICHAEL J GALKO What the gravedigger knows and how he knows it His hip flask chews a hole in his thick earthen pants; his boots sponge into the pocked and fleshless mud. The worms, in their resentment at the spade and the casket walls, whisper the details of every violent death. At reddest dusk he drags himself home to his cabin at the edge of the chiseled stones. There, among his bottles hidden from no one, he dreams of burial at sea.
MICHAEL J GALKO Dawn at 4th and Bleak The sun first a mesmer then a blinder, rising over the locked warehouses. The smell of urine. A truck rattles by carrying something to somewhere. The rustling of the few leaves left on the few trees echoes the urgent shuffling of the alcoholics slinking into the dark paneled bars.
MICHAEL J GALKO Electric Eel Have you seen his teeth? Real crushers, they embody the purpose they actually have. He doesnâ€™t go out much, stays tucked in his grotto, curled, a high tensile spring. Is he too sensitive? Touch himmaybe he can turn it all offâ€Ś When he does swim, the many esses of his long spine leave the water stunned.
MICHAEL J GALKO A Lazarus Dream Spooky, but peaceful. Who is this interloper that rolls stones like dice? What man would wake me from an insecure peace to an unwanted fame? Let me sleep onâ€Ś
JEFFREY ALFIER Entering Greenwood Over Yalobusha River I hit town beyond the almost-gone of crumbling firewood, falling barns, the needy paint of farms without futures. Behind Goodwill Grocery, crossties of abandoned rails field nothing but switchgrass and bindweed. Streets named for polite trees stitch neighborhoods together. The river slides in its ungainly green. Down a boulevard shaded by blackbirds, a slammed door jolts a photograph from its frame. Glare from the falling sun slips down the sides of houses, scouring the windowpanes.
JEFFREY ALFIER Near Seventh Ward, New Orleans Days mark a slow exit over low roofs, summer tasting of lightless dust, bluestems and decay rifled by crows. Across raddled asphalt, mongrels loiter a mall the town gave up on with padlocks and soaped windows â€” faith underspent in nail salon and donut shop. A teen speeds past on a rusted Schwinn. Balmy wind billows her skirt, its pattern of roses faded as if defeated by the sunâ€™s bourbon glow touching the mirror still waiting to be gone from the vacant boutique.
JEFFREY ALFIER Coda for Bayou Lafourche Early June or barely. Wind hustles down a back road flanked by live oak, raising a scent of crushed wildflowers. Sky over the causeway seeps a rationed light that lines the wings of a curving hawk to score the horizon gray. Airboats pour their weekend drone under Spanish moss. A sunburnt fellow fisherman lists hard to port from booze. A feral odor hovers like a nimbus above bayou and marsh. Daylong shadows drag like hands over blues guitars where you listen to the water drift past, drop by drop. Twenty miles north in Belle Rose, the house you inherited sits below the streetlights of Route 70 in the shadows of hackberry and elder, of starlings and thrashers that flutter through beams of unfinished houses rising above cane fields that flood the distance.
JEFFREY ALFIER Breaking with Still Life at the Ranch Motel Opelousas, Louisiana 3:20 am, and the widening horn of Acadiana Rail seeped through my window, softly breaking my sleep like the touch of a night nurse. From my bed, I lean toward the window, listened to the sound drift to silence, the way late-comers finally did, a few doors down. Between two notes of the horn’s retreat, the hard slam of a door. Someone startled out of sleep, realizing they never went home. Their footfalls hurried over pavement, as another in the room they shared rolled over, only to wake to the next train, 8:10 am — an alarm they did not set, how they’d slumbered so deeply as to nearly miss that sudden sound.
JEFFREY ALFIER A Page from Saint-Martin-de-Ré The world is a blue-noir room in a city not your own. You take to the maze of nightfall streets, crowded with seawind. One alley ravels into another, into an ugly choir of gulls. Streetlights flicker above a tobacco shop like lanterns in a gale. A woman leaves Café de la Paix, brushes past, the sweet charge of rosé on her breath. Few trees grace the quay, branches reaching out like arms of sleepwalkers, bare as bones lost at sea. Small craft drift in from the wider quiet of Biscay. On the harbor wall an old woman draws smoke through her lungs, her thin body the bent wire of survival. The moon finally arrives — the usual voyeur, sieving through what windows it can. You turn away from a beggar’s palm, claiming her words too foreign to grasp.
TOBI ALFIER Wake for Ernie at Delilah’s Tavern Ernie and my daddy was best friends, their dogs was best friends too. Mornings, still dark, plaid thermos of coffee in a basket and a flask in their pockets, they’d sit in the duck blind by Ernie’s lake for hours, braggin’ ‘bout Bigfoot or big birds, whichever came first. When the shadows of late afternoon marbled breeze on their faces, the coffee cold and the flasks empty, they’d set off for Delilah’s, to talk smack with the others till a call to the bar warned someone to head home. Hounds sorted, they all went off to change shirts, break bread and squeeze their women. Ernie was the first to go. He’d brought in wood, played cribbage with Maisie, his wife of forty-three years, kissed her good-night like they’d just met yesterday… The wake was well attended, paid for by Delilah herself. Barmaids covered up in deference to the wives, wore shirts instead of their usual, not a tattoo in sight. Many teary hugs in the Ladies—wives and barmaids all. It was happy, and sad. Maisie had casseroles in her freezer for months. Church had two collections, one for the orphans in El Salvador, one for Maisie. She had wood chopped and brought in by the buddies at Delilah’s, and wine on the house for always. Didn’t bring Ernie back though. His booming good morning voice was gone forever, his clothes at the Help Yerself Thrift, we took his dog, and Bigfoot never stopped by. !33
TOBI ALFIER Ghetto Heroes Square of Lost Gloves Sixty-eight metal chairs placed precisely in the square surrounded by cafes and tenement apartments, the odd hotel, bell-shaped streetlights and bright orange crosswalks, a place for tourists and those living commonplace lives. In summer, the dark of rust against gray cobblestone looks like wood, ancient as the doors on any church where almswomen lean, their silent prayer for change much like the silent prayers sung in fear by those now called Heroes. Randomly in sunlight they take on a quiet emotion, a heart-feeling of sorrow, even if history has stolen its way from you, landed elsewhere. You feel it here. In winter, this becomes the Square of Lost Gloves. Look up into the wind, feel the gentle whoosh of snowflakes land on your lashes. Your cheeks redden, one hand in the pocket of your lover—out to smell the beauty of weather with you before going in for a coffee. One glove is always dropped without fail, in the exchange from lover to loved, from parent to child. One glove placed upon a heroes’ metal chair as you touch the cold iron. Snow camouflages all, does not call out as you turn to leave. One glove placed upon the hood of a car as you wait—for those having private conversations with many years passed. Nuns in coats and watchcaps gather them for those less fortunate. They are collected, make their way into baskets, wait like limp dolls until claimed by anyone, their prayers for summer mix with all other prayers, and are heard just the same. Soon it will be the Ghetto Heroes Square again, warm hands, sad hearts, metal and rust, cobblestones shining in sun.
TOBI ALFIER Annie’s Escape Annie’s the new barmaid in this podunk town. She’s on shift, wiping happy hour spills, nails clicking against the bar top as she makes it all nice for the dinner rush. There’s a joke for ya— six people on a Friday night, she just hopes one tips good. Her old man thinks he dumped her here and left for good. She’d prayed on many a shooting star for it to happen. Gotta get her things in order before she lets anyone know—mama and daddy can’t see her in old clothes sullied to bled-out gray. And though barns lean into a future they’ll never have, there’s kindness here. Another month or so and the sideways looks will disappear. Annie won’t remember when she didn’t live here, second floor of the boardinghouse, faded beige wallpaper with fat white roses, lovely armoire, no closet, no rules, no boozers creeping around at night, rough hand over her mouth, the smell of breath mints and bourbon, nothing to do but watch the stars spend their last light on her windowpane. Here in this town the days and nights heal, crows weave themselves into autumn reds, circle the alders in winnowing light. Blossoms litter the breezeways, left there for their loveliness, and lovely Annie, also left there, out in the field on break, plaiting clover into crowns.
THEODORE C. VAN ALST, JR. Sunshine I’m just trying to get out the door of this joint with some spicy chicken and these rice and beans, but then I really look at the person who just took my order and my money and I see a yellow-haired girl with "DORITOS" tattooed across her pale, thin wrist. Holy shit they like to smoke weed in this town. The tattoo thing is weird. When I was a kid, not too many people had tattoos. All right, really, only three kinds of people—carnies, ex-cons, and gangbangers. That’s it. So if you committed to tattoos early on and you didn’t grow up next to a freak show, ok, to the official freak show, then you were a crook of some kind or another. But now, everyone has tattoos. It’s kind of embarrassing, really. I look down at my own tattooed hands, the ones I thought would never live past thirty (because who the fuck would tattoo their hands for christ’s sake? Most tattooists wouldn’t touch your hands or face back in the day) and I think about my old limo driver friend Vassily. Vassily and me are friends. We didn’t start out that way, sure, but it’s ok. He’s a linguist, a professor who took the Russians up on their détente-inflected offer to leave the Soviet Union and eventually settled in West Rogers Park, somewhere near (I always picture him there, anyway) the sign that read “Save Soviet Jewry,” except here in the States, instead of teaching bored rich kids how to diagram sentences in Old Norse or whatever, he drives a limo. Once he was just my driver for a night in Chicago, took me where I needed to go and made me laugh. These days, though, we hang out and shit, drive around in his limo together. I still like to sit in the back sometimes. He usually doesn’t care when I do, and uses the opportunity to smoke much weed, which is Vassily’s thing, but not mine. Whatever. This Tuesday, though, he seems super-high, and I’m a little worried, even for him. We’re sitting in the parking lot of a crappy hamburger place on the North Side, White Castle, or Rally’s or something, anyway, on one of Chicago’s sensible streets, the ones that angle out like spokes from downtown. Elston, Milwaukee, Archer, Ogden, all of those streets that started out as “Indian Trails,” and whether they’re Potawatomi, or Illinois, or Miami, they’re the best way to get around town quick. I’m in the back seat drinking beers and he’s up front, coughing from the cheap paper he rolls his joints with, and brushing the floating ash off his cheap, black suit coat. “Hey, Vassily. You hungry, man?” I say, trying to cut through his buzz a little. I want to buy my friend lunch. “This trick fucking question you are asking,” he says. “I am from Soviet fucking Union, man. I stand in line one time six fucking days for a !36
molded grape. Yes. Vassily is hungry, jackass greasy face sometime best friend. But, this shit, this ‘hamburger’ inside roach motel here not even edible for poor Vassily ugly fuck dog back in Odessa.” Guess he’s not that high, just super pensive. “Deep Thoughts with Vassily.” I shudder a little. I laugh and say, “Head up Elston. Let’s go eat for real then.” “Up Elston? To where fucking Polacks live? So Vassily can die young and beautiful? Why TeddyBear so mean poor Vassily? Have only tried to be friend, but no, it is now death for Vassily. Death by jealous Polack hand. Such sad ending.” “No. It’s a hillbilly place.” “Oh. Why didn’t just say so?” We drive slow, take it easy. The sights slide by, and we don’t talk, just take it all in. The neighborhoods go from a little grimy to a lot of dull, post-war construction in all its utilitarian that glory that rages up and down blocks full of delis with potato sausage packed windows, and bars swinging Zimne Piwo Old Style signs out front. We make a quick right after about fifteen minutes of travel agencies and Western Unions splashed in Polish and Spanish that eventually fade back into English and park this big black Lincoln kind of in the bus stop in front of our destination, a little big-glassed place that sits at the end of one of those weird corner buildings. Vassily hangs the checkerboard hatband from a cop hat off the rearview mirror and locks the door. “Fuck it,” he tells me. “My sister doesn’t blow this fat married piece of shit in squad car on last day of each month so that Vassily can pay for parking.” We look around, eyes adjusting from the greyed out but still bright snow banks and the not as weak as you’d think winter sun. The floor is that so small white six-sided tile with the black grout, and there’s fake spoiled-pudding-colored paneling under the counter where seven or eight red vinyl stools sag under the sad and solid weight of a thousand Chicago sausage-bred asses, and there’s paneling on the walls above the booth where we sit, and it runs down the wall into the hall and darkens the bathrooms and the stock room but no, it’s all just old brown woodgrained contact paper peeling under the haze of the shitty fluorescent lights that always give me a headache so I swallow something out of my change pocket to fight that ahead of time and I slouch into the booth and struggle out of the coat I should’ve taken off when I was still standing. Vassily looks at me and just shakes his head. “For smart guy sometimes make dumb decision, Feo.” “I know, man. One of those days.” “Talk to Vassily.” “Hold on. Here comes the waitress.” "Waitress? All these fucking chicks you call ‘waitress’ have hand tattoo like harden Moscow criminal, man. What the fuck kind place taking Vassily to? Thought Vassily and Feodor have agreement. Vassily !37
drive slow around corner so Teddy not spill horrible malt beverage, and Vassily not perish by fist of treacherous American redneck girl." “Shit. They won’t hurt you. You won’t die today,” I say. “The ’waitress’ girls?” Vassily makes dramatic quote marks in the air with his oddly scarred hands when he says “waitress.” “Vassily not afraid of ‘waitress’ (again with the quotes) in this joint. Vassily afraid of place in back that yell around and make ‘food’ (he loves an air quote) for unsuspecting customer.” “Come on, Vassily. Don’t be a dick. They have jelly omelets on the menu and they deep-fry most of the shit they serve. Or grill the piss right out of it. You ever have scrambled eggs and fried bologna?” “Only when first come to this deprive capitalist funhouse and forced to, like ill-behave dog. Why Teddy eat like some kind wild hillbilly?” “You better hush that pretty mouth of yours, Vassily,” I say. “Big Verdell gone come out from behind that counter and fill it with something you might not like.” “Stop salty talking, Feodor writer asshole. Vassily not comfortable with easy American sex conversation. Have no boundary this country.” “Hahahaha. Fuck you, Vassily. How’s that?” “Asshole.” “Okay. Here she is. Knock it off.” It’s Misty. She eyes us up. Appears to be in the mood for zero shit. I look over at Vassily, duck lip it, and roll my eyes up and over. He shakes his head a little. I worry about this guy’s social capabilities. “Uh, Vassily have eggs, but no goddamn bologna. Toast bread. Coffee.” “Sweetie,” the waitress says, “I don’t know who the hell Vassily is, but that ain’t him across from you and you’re gonna have to speak English if you want me to put in an order for you.” I look in her face, maybe for a beat too long. Wow. What a life. I say, “Sorry about that. He’s a little foolish.” “Oh,” she says. “Sorry about the cussing, then.” “No worries, dear,” I say. “Can you give us a few more minutes? And a couple of coffees?” “Sure thing, hon,” she says. “I’ll be right back.” Vassily gives me this look. “What the fuck does ‘foolish’ mean?” he says. “This mean retard?” “No man. Don’t worry about it,” I say. “Oh, Vassily worry about it. Is she some kind strange Polack? One having weird American hillbilly accent? Vassily felt very judged. Is not comfortable. Probably two minute until giant Stanislaus brother come, make Uki jam poor Vassily.” “This ‘not comfortable’ thing,” I say (yeah, full air quotes). “You’re like a delicate flower here, Vassily. What the fuck has happened to you?”
“Did you see her have burn on hand like has been used for ashtray. This bullshit, I say, because beautiful flower tattoo now burnt. Did Teddy not see this? Mr. Writer, Mr. Observant?” “I told you I’m not a writer, man. You’re just trying to make some shitty Russian connections with your man Dostoevsky because my first name is Theodore, not Feodor. And you know I’m a Gogol fan anyway, so knock it off.” “This Gogol thing, weak, Feo. This ‘Overcoat’ love you have, not good. Short story for weakling. Men write novel, not tiny cute story.” For the second time in about five minutes I say, “Fuck you, Vassily.” Vassily must’ve scared her off, or it’s time for a shift change because all of a sudden, we’re gonna get a new waitress. I see her from behind at first, looking at Misty pointing over at us, and shaking her head. The new girl, I wonder if it’s that one waitress I had last time I was here. That waitress had had an accident, one that left her with an eyepatch. On which she had drawn a butterfly, a mourning cloak to remind her of the eyelash thing she used to do with her daughter at bedtime. She had been putting on makeup doing that weird thing girls do when they put on makeup, wiping at her eye while pulling down at the lower lid. And that's when the other car hit. I know this because I asked her. Unlike Vassily, I really have no filter. But it’s not her. It’s someone newer, someone else. She’s beautiful. Truly beautiful, the woman I always fall for, the one just less than the perfect that can only be made by the Creator, like the single black ten cut in the beadwork, the one with the fucked up teeth, not all crooked, but like the canine is trying to mug the lateral incisor, and that number 10 tooth just ain’t having it, and when she smiles just right, you can see their enameled struggle going down in a way that makes her absolutely perfect to you. She is that last flower, that one that's running on Indian time, the bright pink whorl on the brown-grey rosebush, the one with the coppery leaves, and the barky shadow sketched outline, its last, lone bud making it all the more achingly beautiful. The most beautiful. I can’t talk. Goddamnit. But my eyes can move. I look over at Vassily. He jumps in: “Wait. Do you know this man?” She looks at him. Looks at me. I shrink a little further into the booth. “Obviously you do not know this great man,” Vassily continues. “He is literary giant, is great writer, is famous. How you not know Feodor?” She says, “What’ll you have? You changing your order, or are you still good with eggs and the ‘toast bread’ (she gives him the air quotes)?” !39
“No. No. This man deserve introduction. Please, miss. Miss. Hear poor Vassily humble words.” Humble words. This motherfucker, Vassily. I’m embarrassed. Vassily, though, he’s tryna. For me. What a guy. Except she’s not buying it. Yup. Of course, now I’m even deeper in love. “Vassily. Let’s go.” “What, man? Are talking such bullshit, now.’ “Dude. It’s ok. Let’s go,” I say. “But Vassily working Ukrainian love magic. Teddy will be having the sex any minute now, while poor Vassily sadly but happily eating toast bread, and waiting to warm up car, while greasy face friend making humpty hump in back room.” She gives him the death stare, but he keeps smiling like no one is there but me and him. “Nah. I’m good,” I say. “What the fuck talking about, man?” he says. “It’s cool.” “No. Is not cool. Fuck you, man. This brooding bullshit too much sometime.” She’s clearly uncomfortable. I want to tell her it’s ok, and please don’t freak out and when do you get off work, and have you ever been to Italy or the Badlands or even fucking Muncie anywhere but here because I want to take you there and never come back, but I don’t do any of that because I’m incapacitated. Vassily goes on. “Well fuck this then,” he says. “Let’s go to car.” I put a ten on the table, because, fuck, I don’t know what else to do. “Let’s go, idiot,” he says. She looks into my face, judges my past, calculates my future, maybe sees something I missed. She walks away. I watch her do it. “Hey, idiot. Want get high?” Jesusfuckinchrist. I can’t believe this. “No,” I say. Shit. “Sit. Shut up.” “Oh no. Not telling Vassily shut up sit down. You be fucking quiet right now, mister. Put money back in pocket. Vassily stepping outside to hit this joint, then coming back to decide rest of beautiful day plan. This stand up sit down shut up giving Vassily headache.” He heads through the door and I turn away, look for her immediately. She leans on the gold-flecked white formica counter, reads over her order tickets. Of course that piece of hair falls from behind her ear and over her eye when she does it, that piece that you’ll always remember when you describe how you fell in love with your grandkids’ unci the day they met, the story they’ll never get tired of hearing, as long as you make that moony face and laugh like you do when you tell it. “What on paper, Mr. Not Writing?” Vassily returns, smells like a skunk pissed on his red, white, and blue shoes. Just so you know, Vassily !40
has worn bowling shoes since moving to America. “Is nothing this comfortable ever made Russia,” he tells me. “Or beautiful,” he likes to add. “Nothing. Just a note.” “Shut it. Stop this bullshitting of Vassily. Give to me.” He reads it. Out loud. The fucker. In that accent of his. Hahaha. He reads: “We make our way to the front, now bearing these gifts at the head of the room. When we share, we do our best to give everything we have, but in those moments when all of it is rejected, when the world says this is not enough, our eyes widen, not from pain, but from searching for that littlest bit of light that's just been lost. Sometimes, in that deepening of the eyes, the sharing of the soul, the love comes back to us, and then, too, our eyes widen, but the better to receive that gift, that return of heart, that reason, that hum, that scratch on the paper in the night in the dark, in the weakest of light, the why we do what we do.” He looks at me. Eyes a little wider. And says, “You motherfucker. Now making Vassily want punch Feodor face. And self balls. You are asshole.” I laugh. We eat. Vassily eats the grape jelly omelet I talked him into. “What the fuck! This delicious!” he says, high as a fucking kite, choking on “toast bread” and asking for more tea. I pick at my fried bologna. The thing is, you have to eat it quick, right when you get it, or it turns weird, things congeal, desire…slips. I smoke cigarettes instead, drink coffee. Pretend I’m looking out the window when all I can do is slip glances of her sideways in the smudgy glass, her face lightly overlaying the underlying snowbanks, crusted in black on their uneven tops, tiny copies of the Alps, salted rivers and ash defining their peaks. Vassily talks under his breath, compliments the food, misses his Mom, speaks Ukrainian words whose meaning I’ll never know, but translations will always be insufficient when we work to describe love. If I had a Mom to miss, I would, right along with Vassily, but instead I wish it was July, because for some of us, the only warm hug you get is from a slow summer rain. We finish eating. Well, Vassily finishes eating, and I drink coffee, steal away looks at my future wife, kill a pack of Newports. It sleets a little, and the sun tilts quicker than I thought it would, the darkened light of a late North Side winter pushing against the buzzing fluorescents here in the restaurant. “Sit in front seat with poor Vassily.” “No.” “Goddamit, Feo. Am not your fucking driver today, man.” !41
Shit. “Alright, man. Calm down,” I say. I hop up front with Vassily. It’s a fuckin’ pig sty. There’s chip bags and shit, pop cans and candy wrappers and everything is covered in ash, like maybe Vassily is the Uki word for volcano. “What the fuck happens up here, Vassily?” I ask. “Jesus Christ, man. This place is a fucking dump. You need to clean this shit up.” “Think of this as proof Vassily success. This trash Vassily pay to have picked up by other less fortunate lumpenprole, contribute to American dream for other miserable fuck somewhere, have car detailed Bensonville, Franklin Park. Hell, maybe Berwyn.” I turn left, look at his not-smiling face, reply with my own slitted stare. “Hahahaha! Vassily joke! Fuck Berwyn. Just kid!” I laugh too. “Ya motherfucker. Just drive.” Vassily heads east toward the lake, takes Foster all the way down. It’s dumpy, dumpier, dumpiest. By the time we get over by Edgewater Hospital, the boarded-up site of my birth, it’s just fucked. “You’re bumming me out, man,” I say. “Hang a left up here and take Clark Street up toward Rogers. We can go to Leone or Jarvis Beach or something.” “Teddy needs to stop drinking so much day time,” he says, leaning into the turn. “Am not going to fucking beach in winter. Vassily might be from Soviet Union, and once try to fuck polar bear, but is not swimming Lake fucking Michigan wintertime. This crazy talk.” I crack the window and light a smoke from a fresh pack. “No. We’re good. No swimming, man. Just looking,” I say. “Who is bumming out who now,” Vassily says, “with a visit to cold lonely beach for ‘looking’ (air quotes)? Looking what? Sadness? Is already much sad here in front seat right now. Does Teddy need ride back to diner; back to booth so can moony-face over new waitress? How come did not talk more? Get phone number? Use writer-man charm? Vassily much worried now. Does not like friend maudlin bullshit.” “Fuck, man. Just drive. Let’s cruise.” “Smoke a joint?” “No thanks. Pass,” I say. “Suit self,” says Vassily, and he pulls one out from the elastic band on the driver side visor, the one that’s supposed to hold your parking receipt, or a valet ticket, or some kind of memento from a life someone else will get to live. It looks like he rolled this joint in the cheap newsprint from the free weekly. I watch him dig for a light for a minute (“Having matches somewhere,” he says, patting his side pockets and digging deep into his black polyester blazer), and when none appears, I pull out a lime green Cricket and hold it lit to his face. He jumps a little, and then pulls the flame to the joint. Acrid paper smoke fills the car, and !42
then heads toward the window I have vented over on my side, giving me a chance to huff up all that nasty smell on its way out the crack just above my head. Vassily coughs like he’s got the consumption, takes another quick hit, holds it in, and then rolls his eyes over my way while he keeps his head straight in the seat, never moving it a hair. He’s glazed and blazed out, has that grin going on. “Pay attention to the road, man. Stop looking at me.“ I say. “You’re freaking me out.” “Worry too much, Feo. Have got this. Vassily is professional driver, man. Relax.” I do. We move north pretty fast. No one really wants to be stuck in this neighborhood as the sun heads down, and I think I saw the bus driver change his sign to read “Out of Service” just because. But Clark is a big, wide street, and up here, when it’s deserted this way, the sun setting out in the suburbs somewhere, the light hitting the top floors of the yellowbricked buildings and slashing off the glass windows while the purpled darkness pools in the wide canyon floor below, it’s just beautiful. We pass Devon, and Pratt, Morse, and Touhy. I point over to the left, “Vassily. Check it out.” I show him some graffiti on a wall that I did. It was supposed to say:
with Kings written upside down (as a mark of disrespect), but I was so drunk and so used to writing it upside down that I accidentally did the Kings a solid when I hung off the roof and tagged the building across from Zayre’s in fine fashion where it stood for so long they eventually took over the neighborhood and it fit right in:
with the cross and the bunny painted over at some point. Fuck. Vassily laughs at me. Eats the roach that’s left from the joint he’s been smoking on again off again. I lean my arm out and lob the quart bottle of Old Style backwash I’ve been nursing over the top of the car at the offending building and then we’re quick at Jarvis so I yell, “Take a right!” and we gun it toward the lake. I can smell the water before I can see it, the dying sky out over the lake like unpolished steel, still sooty and flat, but with sharp edges that pick up the last bits of light in the day. Vassily is so high that I’m not sure !43
if he’s awake, so I poke him with my finger, the one with the cross tattooed on it and say, “Hey – got any of that coke left from last night?” “Sure,” he says. “Feo and Vassily do nice fat line.” And we do. Four or five more times. Vassily grabs an old plastic cup out of the holder in the door and finds the fixin’s for Greyhounds down in this magic console between us in the front seat. I finish off a couple Mickey’s Big Mouths. We listen to the water, watch the light leave the day for night. After a while, I tell Vassily let’s go, let’s head south, pick up Lake Shore Drive and go down to Michigan Avenue and look at the lights or something. We head out in the now shadowed night, kinda fucked up, kinda listening to the radio, kinda singing too loud to whatever classic rock they’re playing on the Loop, the limo and its fine sound system wasted on this shit. We make the turn at Hollywood and hit the Drive. We cruise and both try to see the last light off the endless glassy lake, see what’s out there that’s better than whatever’s here. I think we drift a bit. Then me and Vassily, we hit the embankment and roll that limo, the big Linc turning in the cold iced air, windows shattering and safety glass tinkling down and we come to rest on our side looking out at the lake, our breath steaming out into the night’s winter dark, one wide beam pouring down from the moon onto the water, the glow it throws back laying bare our petty sins for all to see, transgressions long and dark, but the evening rush tears past, caring even less than we do. We just laugh, alive in the moment, so sure that sun’s coming up tomorrow.
ALEXANDER WEIDMAN What the Russians Overheard Evgeny and Yefim were making their way down Highway 1, just north of Fort Bragg, in their 2006 Ford Econoline van. It was big and white. The word “FLOWERS” was stenciled on both sides. There wasn’t a single flower inside it. It was untrustworthy, certainly, though it was rare for anyone to give it a second look. It was pure coincidence, honestly, that the two Russians had managed to make it so stereotypically a cover that no one thought it really was. When they bought it they had no way of knowing Americans found white vans unpredictable. Evgeny and Yefim had been driving this van all across the United States for the last six years. They’d worked in almost every state by then, and California was their favorite. The two were relaxed along the coast. No one seemed to care about much out there. They never got secondlooks or sideways glances. In California, paranoia was a personal problem. Unlike in the Midwest or the South, out here it was largely directed inward, to the self. This was quintessential America to them. This is what they had imagined it would be like when they learned they were being sent here. The middle of the country was bubbling over with tension in their assessment. They were never asked for their assessment, though. It wasn’t their job. Behind the wheel, Evgeny was watching the sun sink beneath the Pacific. The sunset was throwing pink and orange over everything, and Evgeny felt nostalgic, though he couldn’t imagine being able to see a similar view anywhere in Russia. He wondered whether the Californians knew that the quality of light one was surrounded by could dramatically influence one’s emotions. The light out there really was astounding. He figured that was something they were aware of, probably. He wondered why neither he nor Yefim had yet to get in the Pacific Ocean. At least, he couldn’t imagine a time Yefim would have been able to. They were together basically 24/7. In the back of the van Yefim wasn’t thinking about light or water. No light from the outside came into the back of the van, naturally, as it was totally enclosed. Instead, he sat under a couple florescent white lights, watching a collection of computers and monitors and radars. Yefim was busy. He was searching for signals. Along the coast the van was passing a couple worn out motels. They were both painted the same desert pink and off-white trim. One was called The Sun & Sand and the other was the Beachsitter. They weren’t more than 30 feet apart. Evgeny wondered whether they were owned and run by the same person or company. Why were they so similar and so close together? On the inland side was a trailer park called Sleepy’s Adult Mobile Home Park. Evgeny tried to imagine just how poor the people who lived there could actually be, living less than a hundred yards !45
from the ocean and all. As he was wondering about these residencies, a red light beside his steering wheel came on. Yefim had got a signal. The ease with which Evgeny had been driving evaporated. He got instantly into work mode. He turned left into the trailer park’s gravel entrance, just underneath the big sign. He looked around. He didn’t see anyone, so he slipped through the door between the seats and into the back of the van. “What have you got?” he asked, in Russian, as he took a seat beside Yefim, who was wearing an enormous set of headphones. Evgeny put on a similar pair. “Phone call,” Yefim said. For a couple of seconds static and interference came through the big headphones. Behind the static one could just hear hundreds of stray voices and scraps of conversations. Evgeny always questioned these ghostly hints of conversations. They began every new signal, varying in density depending on the surrounding area’s population. He was never quite convinced they were actually there or real. He sometimes found it easier to think they were an accidental byproduct of all the radio waves floating around, coincidentally mixing into what only sounded like words. Or other times he would even imagine a horde of green spirits somewhere, mingling and talking all over each other in a confused ball of communication. Talking about being dead or something. It was hard for him to imagine all those voices coming from real people. So many people constantly talking, but talking about absolutely nothing it seemed. Yefim would always tell him that what he was having trouble understanding was the abundance of this modern phenomenon, talking on the phone, and the absurd form it takes when zoomed down to the individual level. Yefim knew about these things. In front of all the monitors and screens Yefim was pressing buttons and turning dials, concentrating very hard. From all the voices out there Yefim could pick out any one he wanted. The one Yefim chose became more and more clear as the other interference retreated. Eventually the two were sitting there with a single voice coming in over the wire, as if Yefim had melted the rest of the world away. For the past 6 years Evgeny and Yefim had been intercepting American communications for various Russian intelligence agencies. They were not intercepting the communications one might expect, however. For the last 6 years the two had been intercepting the communications of normal, everyday Americans. Phone calls mostly, but also text messages, emails, tweets, DMs, status updates, comments, Grindr messages, anything really, you name it. They were in fact specifically barred from intercepting more important communications, such as those from the state or military, considering they’d get caught instantly. But everyday Americans never suspected anyone was listening in on them, despite being told again and again that someone always was. And so the two Russians were able to take just about anything and !46
everything coming from these people. They weren’t sure what the Russian government could be doing with random American conversations, but they didn’t care about that. They just did what they were told. When the signal was clear Yefim gave Evgeny a thumbs-up, as if to tell him the signal is clear, as if Evgeny couldn’t tell. The voice coming through was quiet and slow, punctuated by long pauses. It seemed dejected and, to Evgeny’s surprise, English. He looked at Yefim and mouthed, “Angliyski?” Yefim shrugged his shoulders. “Hello… Hello?” the English voice was saying. “Hello? Hello? Are you still on the line, love? Hello? Are you still there? Are you still listening? Well… okay. Well, I’m just going to assume you’re still there, love. I’m just going to assume you’re still listening. I know sometimes you like to be silent, and I know you must not have anything to say to me right now, with all that’s happened. I don’t blame you. And, anyway, I think I can hear you breathing on the other end, unless that’s just the static of a dead line. I’ll just keep going. I’ll just keep talking about how the meeting had gone well, and about how I was feeling good after it, since it had gone so well. We had made a lot of progress, made a lot of deals. Business was looking good, and since I was feeling so well and things were looking so good I decided to go to the beach after the meeting. I figured I couldn’t go out to Los Angeles without visiting one of their famous beaches. And it’s so hot out here, as you can imagine. I spent all evening out there, on the sand. I can’t remember which beach it was, but it was so hot. I might have sweat off a couple pounds just sitting there. And mind you, I didn’t remember to bring any bathing gear. I was just out there in my slacks, which I ruined, and my undershirt, which I eventually ditched. But I was feeling quite all right. I knew I looked silly, but I felt all right just watching the water and the beautiful Americans lay around. It’s true, by the way, that everyone out here is beautiful. They really are… “But anyway, when the sun was beginning to go down I must have dozed off. I missed the sunset completely, though not that I was waiting for it, exactly. I woke up when the sky was red and getting dark. The streetlights in the parking lot had come on. I got up and brushed myself off. I was very hungry by then. Instead of getting in my car and going back to my hotel I decided to walk a little ways back into the city. I know I probably looked like a beggar with my ruined slacks and without a shirt, but I figured I’d have no trouble finding a place that would serve me. I probably fit in I figured. I was completely at ease, and of course, dear, I did have zero trouble. I found one of the food trucks that are so famous out here. There was a small line. No one cared about me. No one seemed the least bit interested. I don’t know if anyone even looked at me. I could have been anyone, anything… “After I got something to eat I started back to the car. I was watching the buildings get shorter and shorter as I got closer to the beach, until !47
they were mostly little shacks and huts by the sand, as if buildings naturally grow less near the water. I imagine the ocean is going to swallow those small shacks soon, and then the small buildings farther inland, eventually. I imagine the Americans will just keep building further inland, higher and higher, following some natural slope, until the whole world is underwater and there’s nowhere left to build. That’s what I was thinking while walking back to my car, the whole world being under water. I probably could have known I wasn’t feeling all right anymore … “Next thing I knew I was across the street from the parking lot. All I had to do was cross one more street and I would have been in my car and on my way to the hotel. And then I would have been on the plane the next day, going back home. And then I would have been back with you, dear. You, my love, who I assume is still listening. I still think I can hear your breath, unless I’m tricking myself, unless it’s just the air of no one listening, and I would have been back to my life and my routine, which had been serving me so well lately, as I’m sure you had noticed, as I’m sure you’ve been just as grateful for as I was, since it all had been working so well. But then, just as I was about to cross the street, out of the corner of my eye I see this dark figure walking towards me. I hesitated for a half second. Just one half second, as if it were destined. I turned to look at this figure approaching. In the shadows and the streetlights I saw this face, this beautiful, familiar face, and it walloped me right in the gut.” Evgeny and Yefim had been silently listening to this sad, English voice, but finally Evgeny turned to Yefim and said, in Russian, “What is he talking about? What is this? He is clearly not American. We should find a new signal.” Throughout the years the two had naturally captured their fair share of non-Americans. They were entirely useless to the intelligence agencies. Yefim, as if rediscovering the person next to him, jumped, and quickly said, “No, no!” After 6 years of eavesdropping on the private conversations of Americans, something had happened to Yefim. He had come to care deeply about the detached voices he captured over the wire. He felt as if he understood exactly what the intelligence agencies could hear in the random conversations. He felt he could understand the Americans. He was almost spiritual about their meaningless conversations. He thought he knew what they were actually telling each other when they talked about things that happened at their child’s school. He thought he knew their worries and their fears when they yelled over the phone about what the neighbors were doing in their yards or their garages. He thought he knew what made them happy when they couldn’t figure out who had called who, or what kept them going, not only as a people but as individuals, when they told each other the wild conspiracy theories they read on the internet. Even though he knew the intelligence agencies were !48
using the calls for nefarious purposes, he couldn’t help but feel connected to the people he eavesdropped on. They were a people who, like him, struggled to make sense of a world in which all the progress had shattered the meaning of everything. They were a people who struggled to find purpose in a world in which anything seemed possible, and yet so much was still so unattainable for so many. The world was so open and so closed at the same time it could make someone dizzy. And that’s how these people often seemed: dizzy and confused. Yefim could feel it. Yefim was often dizzy and confused himself. Evgeny was slightly taken aback by Yefim’s quick reply. Yefim knew Evgeny didn’t care about anything they heard and only wanted to finish the job they’d been sent here to do. Not that Yefim blamed Evgeny, either. Evgeny didn’t care about the calls, nor did he care about the mission anymore. They both knew by now they were too deep to ever get out again, and Evgeny couldn’t help but place a lot of the blame on the Americans. He hated them for it as much as he hated his own country for it. Still, though, Yefim couldn’t bring himself to disconnect this call. It was a strange call. The two had gotten their fair share of strange calls, too, and Yefim had come to cherish them the most. “He mentioned a business meeting,” Yefim said. “He must know something about an American business. Don’t you think we should keep listening for that?” He glanced at Evgeny. Evgeny looked back at Yefim. Evgeny knew Yefim liked listening to the calls. He knew Yefim found some kind of meaning in the random and often whiny conversations. Evgeny found it childish, but in a friendly, sweet way. And he liked Yefim, so he said “Fine,” but seriously, so as not to let Yefim think he was getting soft. When the two concentrated on the call again, they were surprised by quiet, easy sobs coming from the Englishman’s end of the line, and still nothing, or mostly nothing, from the other end. Finally he sniffled a bit, however, and seemed to gain some composure and started again. “I don’t know what happened when I saw her. She was beautiful. Her hair shone off the streetlights. It was so strange to see her walking by herself, but then again I guess that’s not strange at all. She had a long coat on over some fancy dress. I don’t know how I’d describe it. She looked elegant and misplaced, which I guess is an understatement, as you’ll see, because what doubled me over, love, what really hit me hardest, was that she was familiar. I knew her, dear, do you understand? And I knew where I knew her from. When I saw her face, and her round, light eyes, which had glanced in my direction just so slightly, it was like a shock went through me. Something very serious happened. It was like a glitch, or like something short-circuited, and suddenly things started rushing back to me. I instantly recognized her as a woman I dated when I was a young man in the university. And she had died not long after we both got out, just as we were beginning to make a life together.” !49
The Englishman let out a long groan the seemed to stretch and warp in the two Russians’ headphones. They looked at each other. “What the hell is he talking about?” Evgeny asked. “What is this?” Yefim didn’t know what to say. It was not what he had been expecting. “Turn it off,” Evgeny said. He had no patience for such sentimentality or displays of imagination. “No. Please,” Yefim said. They were looking at each other. Evgeny’s eyes were almost angry. Yefim’s were desperate. They both wore enormous headphones. “You think you have found something that is not actually there, Yefim. You are reaching for meaning that doesn’t exist. These people are whiny, and desperate, and fat. They are the enemy. They are everything that is wrong with this world. They talk horribly, about horrible things. They tell each other terrible, terrible things Yefim. There are no secrets in their conversations. When they tell each other that they want kill their mother or their father, they mean it. When they tell each other about their illnesses and diseases they aren’t being profound, they are being disgusting!” Yefim was silent. Evgeny was pounding the desk now, letting his anger out. Funny enough, though, Yefim couldn’t hear the sound the pounding made. He watched for a second as Evgeny used both fists. They both knew they’d be eliminated before getting back to their country and their families, by one government or the other. Finally, however, the Englishman made another noise. “ARRRRRGGGGGGGHHHHHH!” It was a noise that caught both their attentions. Evgeny stopped pounding the table. “I was transported back, love. I saw it all before me again, in a flash that I can hardly describe. She and I were back on the streets of London. We used to walk so much late at night, after she’d get off serving at the restaurant she worked at, and long after I’d gotten off my day job working construction. I don’t know why we were never tired. I think I’ve told you about my construction days, love, those miserable days of hard, hard work. Everything was the same. The second I had gotten out of the university life became tedious and repetitive, a slog, but those walks with her were what kept me going. There’d still be so many people out, so much light everywhere, and we’d just walk and walk. The police would be out in pairs, harassing the boys in their cutoff shirts and spiked hair. In the nooks of every late night shop was a group of men who got quiet as you walked by, as if they were all talking about something criminal. So much color back in those days it seemed. Marquees for every little building. She would talk about everything. She had so many plans. Quite unlike you, dear, who are so silent, who takes in everything silently, evenly, with so much care I’ve noticed. Not like her, she was the kind who tried to fill everything with her energy, with her life. She reflected off those nights, in my memory. I couldn’t help but follow her. We were so young !50
and everything was so real on those nights. Anything she said could have come true. And then she had an accident. It just happened the way those things happen. She was driving through Suffolk to visit her parents. As if that place couldn’t be any gloomier, you know? A man who had been walking along the road had tried to blame himself. Some poor old man said he’d probably distracted her, or that perhaps he hadn’t been far enough to the side and she’d had to swerve. Neither was true of course, it’d just been an accident and a coincidence that this man had been walking through the country at the same time…” He breathed deeply for a few seconds. The Russians waited. “When I came out of that vision I followed her. I was so sure it was her. I didn’t know what else to do. The whole thing had lasted a mere moment, the amount of time it took her to pass in front of me. I wanted to call out but I didn’t. I kept to the shadows. We walked up the highway that ran along the beach for a handful of blocks. Nothing changed the whole time. Nothing became evident, one-way or the other. There was nothing to indicate it was all real or all fake. Finally she got to a bus station and I waited. I waited for what seemed like hours. I wasn’t sure what I was waiting for. She was waiting for a bus but what was I waiting for? Finally a bus came and it said ‘Fort Bragg’ and I realized that’s what was it. I drove through the night and got here this morning. I’ve just been sitting here in this motel all day, not sure what I’m supposed to do. Love, dearest, I’m so sorry. Do you know that?” Evgeny immediately realized that the Englishman was almost certainly just across the street, at one of the two identical desert pink motels. It sent a chill down his spine for a reason that wasn’t quite clear to him. He knew despite how close they were, simply across the street from each other, they were never going to see each other. He was going to forever remain an invisible observer to this event. Yefim was thinking that it’d probably be best to never send the intelligence agencies this call. He knew they’d think either both of them had completely lost it, or that they, as Yefim insisted, completely understood. “He is just across the street,” Evgeny said. “He is?” Yefim asked. “I am here for some kind of conclusion, my love,” the Englishman said. “Yes. I saw the motel he mentioned before we pulled over.” “I am here to meet something, my dearest one, though I know I’m not going to see her again.” Yefim began typing something, and the two of them watched a bullseye swing around a map of the area on one of the computer screens in front of them. It came to a stop right along the coast, just next to the van. Evgeny was right. “I have a feeling that what has dogged me my whole life is going to reveal itself here, in this place. I’m coming face to face with the truth of my reality. The thoughts and ideas that have plagued me for so long, and !51
that I’d thought we’d finally gotten control of, are going to finally form the conclusion they’ve been building toward my whole life.” Yefim began typing something else. “I’m tracing the other end,” he said. “I’m going to find out who he is calling.” “NO!” “You’ve probably already guessed I won’t be coming back, love, and I’m sorry. I’m sorry for what I’ve done to your life. I will surely endure the punishment for what I’ve done now in the next life. You, who have been so sweet to me, and so kind, did not deserve this.” The bullseye swung around the computer screen again. The map zoomed in and zoomed out all across the digitized globe. It crossed the Atlantic toward Europe, then swung back across the U.S. toward California, where it centered over Fort Bragg. It zoomed in on northern Fort Bragg, right along the coast. It zoomed in on a stretch of road between two motels and a trailer park. It finally came to rest square over the van. In that moment Yefim realized that perhaps we are entirely alone in this world, and Evgeny realized how disastrously open reality could be. Outside of the van, still parked and idling, was a man. He was pounding on the side of it, yelling to whoever was inside that they weren’t allowed to park there.
CLAIRE SCOTT Six Whole Days how could he have stapled the world together so terribly wrong perhaps the instructions were in Swahili or Mandarin or he was holding them upside down or he had had a few too many or a fight with his son how could people have only one heart yet ten fingers & toes why not people with stripes & dots of every hue such a profusion of color, no two ever alike what of testosterone exploding into weapons and wars while women weep & children cower under bridges he had six whole days to get it right but his big moment just walked on by as he sat with assorted pieces completely perplexed could we petition for a do over? we will gladly supply multiple pots of paste
CLAIRE SCOTT Green Bananas No more green bananas no drawers bulging with coupons ten cents off a box of detergent that washes two hundred loads a half price car wash at Samâ€™s me whose keys were snatched by nosy children who discovered stacks of traffic tickets behind the bottle of bourbon I buy milk a pint at a time two oranges one apple I am an old lady a pacemaker keeps the beat tick tock my back bent my fingers stiff and swollen shaking to unheard music dentures sealed in place click click when I speak which I do less and less no use mentioning constipation insomnia incontinence boxes of Depends in the back of the closet hidden from nosy children today I wake stunned to see sun streaming across the patchwork quilt sewn when my eyes were strong and my heart was light maybe I will inch my way to Luckyâ€™s shuffling along the sidewalk shrish shrish maybe I will buy a few green bananas maybe !54
CLAIRE SCOTT Late Night Poet climbing to the attic in midnightâ€™s shadows avoiding the squeak of the second stair her turn after isosceles triangles & spelling tests after protests about quinoa stew with spinach salad laundry folded, dishes stacked Sam and Dana sound asleep dreaming in a world she never knew cold coffee skinned with cream stubs of halfsmoked cigarettes white robe cinched against attic chill she taps out poems from another life flashing fists a fetal ball secrets spill in the attic swelling bruises under thick sweaters she pulls on her cigarette red glow in a dark room her turn
JENNIFER KIDNEY Painting Oklahoma This subtle landscape pleases the painter's eye: dusty greens, shades of mauve and russet, gentle hills resembling burial mounds. These prairies once were Indian hunting grounds. Now, as summer ends, only the sun singes the grass yet smoke pervades the air like a ghost. Natives harvest gold from the red earth where the painter sees unnatural eruptions of tiny towns and sprawling farms. To the east, hues of green increase. In the west, eroded into mesas and ravines, the sky blushes and spreads a palette of flame and ash. The darkening sky explodes into frozen fireworks overhead as the painter packs up tubes and brushes and furls the landscape into darkness.â€Š
JENNIFER KIDNEY PBR I am tired of wrestling with the wind gusting at 40 miles an hour from the south on this east-west stretch of highway, tired of driving through the smoke of wildfires whipped up in the tinder-dry landscape, of dodging cows escaped through a wind-downed fence, so I check into the Best Western in Eufaula— no pets, no smoking, no liability should I break a limb or lose my earrings. I arrive in sync with a crew of oilfield workers, their assortment of equipment haulers filling the back of the parking lot, their hands and faces dark with grime against the neon green and orange of hats and vests. I retreat to my room and sleep to heal my aching hands and arms still cramped from gripping the steering wheel. The next morning the oilies' vehicles are already gone, and in their place is a black pick-up truck with a trailer twice its length emblazoned with the sign, “Professional Bull Riders,” a 1-800 number, and logos for Resistol, Jack Daniels, Bud Light, Copenhagen, Wranglers, Justin, Tony Lama, everything a cowboy needs. In the breakfast room off the lobby a disheveled fellow scowls into his coffee while an elderly pair of snowbirds from Illinois en route to Kerrville, Texas, dine on make-your-own waffles. I settle for a bagel and cream cheese and strike up a conversation, wondering what the bull riders' trailer might contain. The coffee drinker has vanished, but the elderly man speculates some kind of gear, ropes and such, surely not bulls, or else the trailer would be rocking. !57
I know those bulls are specially bred to buck and heave, often of Brahmin stock, which I find odd, those descendants of the gentle sacred cows of Hinduism. The couple tells me of their travels, wherever they have children, siblings, cousins far-flung across the country. We watch to see who'll claim the fascinating truck and trailer when here comes the scowling man, not even wearing jeans or cowboy boots but shapeless blue work pants, lace-up shoes, a hooded sweatshirt and windbreaker, toting a schoolboy's backpack that he tosses behind the seat, then climbs into the cab and drives away. We're all disappointed with our unanswered questions. What was he hauling, where is he going and where has he been? I suppose I could call 1-800-BULL to ascertain his itinerary.
JILL HAWKINS Fearing Hunger in Oklahoma on a shotgun row crocheted blanket Christmas toned at that Uncle Con got down on his hands and knees just slightly picking at the puffy rosettes thinking he was picking taters, greens, and red peppers Momma Mae summoned Doc from the land line but no longer than the last digit was making its rotation to dial, the kettle went to blowinâ€™ Con and Momma Mae had tea and never talked on it
BENJAMIN GOLUBOFF Green Men This one declines to drink privatized water, and packs in city tap, which he husbands, self-cherishingly, until he finds a seep, spring, or sink. Another will hear no music on a platform that returns royalties, plays unsigned mix-tapes when he drives you to the backcountry. Here's one who claims he caught a Rufous Hummingbird in a snare of filament and picture wire. That was in his wild days, he tells you, before he came here for his degree.
BENJAMIN GOLUBOFF On a Photograph of John Hammond with Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble, 1983 Shannon, the drummer, is leaning down to get into the shot where the other three are seated. Layton, the bass player, is next to Stevie and a little bit out of the frame. His smile, like Shannon's, looks composed. Hammond, on Stevie's other side, is looking directly to camera and serving up a big professional grin. Only Stevie, who is looking at Hammond, is smiling for real; the photographer gets him open-mouthed, laughing. The picture, which would become the back cover of their debut album, Texas Flood, records an anointing.
BENJAMIN GOLUBOFF John Hammond, Mythmaker When Robert Johnson died, poisoned, after three days in great pain, Hammond, who had booked the blues singer to perform at Carnegie Hall for his landmark concert, From Spirituals to Swing, had to fill the dead manâ€™s place. The death of Bessie Smith, who was also expected to appear at Hammond's concert, is beyond the scope of these remarks. So Hammond brought in Big Bill Broonzy who'd begun recording that year, 1938, on the Vocalian label. Broonzy performed "It Was Only A Dream," and brought down the house. We are putting Bessie Smith's death in brackets as too painful to discuss here. Hammond wrote a short biographical note about Johnson for the concert program, played recordings of his "Terraplane Blues" and "Come On In My Kitchen" during intermission. Bessie's death remains outside the frame.
LEIGH FISHER You’ve Heard Enough I can’t confess anymore when the walls start collapsing and my mind is trapped beneath rubble I made I can’t tell people when I’ve switched since the stability of this mind shakes ceaselessly on an active fault line flipping faster than a gambler’s coin
SUJASH PURNA Temple Juniper Outstretched and sandaled brown feet push on the chipping away banister like the spiderweb the memory of a quaint evening hangs in the mind by the juniper tree, a family of three lay out their plans, how to call this land their home someday how much time and money to flow between the time the juniper grows in the camera and the time itâ€™s another thing that doesnâ€™t die in the winter. They wait until the orb of the street light resembles the moon and the juniper cradles into view dimly lit by a decade old lightbulb They swing some more and then walk back home, done with their duty: replenishing the platter, respect to a temple of time spent by the side an American dream, an evergreen tree.
7. RENEAU, JR.
X-File #E11649 Nevada County Sheriff’s Office—08.21.14 1:15am—A woman from Connie Drive reported people peeking through her windows. November 7, 2015: Los Angeles, CA—Millions witnessed a strange light in the evening sky. The government said it was a missile test. But was it? We must ask ourselves' “Are we truly alone, or are we being lied to?” The truth is still out there. —X-Files series ad for 2015 6-part mini-series We always thought that alien life would come from the stars. Slow motion city-sized saucers, breaching the constellationspattered night sky, a plummet of bio-luminescence from the exposed motor of eternity. We imagined Leviathans shearing like lightning from sepia-hued thunderheads, from the darkness they would fall: a great cloud with fire enveloping it . . . a wheel within a wheel. The wonder of it all: pulsing, multi-colored lights, & Tectonic bass boom, an ominous reverberation echoing like bronzed smoke from the silver glass of awe. Would they come? Ghostly-pale & naked. A veiled intent of hooded, reptilian eyes, like a malevolent stealth of wolves. Their lip-less language, a telepathic infinity of nuance between each otherworldly utterance, & emaciated arms, outstretched towards us. Would we welcome them, or 911, please state the nature of your emergency, spread panic? Would our war machine stumble— at a loss for protocol? & only a distant, fictional hope that Mulder & Scully would soon arrive !65
to FB-eye the alien blue illumines— the X-ray-ed neon of forest between the trees. Would the aliens from Elsewhere finally unveil the mystery of us? Explain why? Our predatory ways only spoke to something furtive & feral: the real Enemy actually us, our morality, a bleakness in need of some instruction. Our earthward pointed spy satellites & weapons platforms. Our patriotic Trump stance of xenophobia, that speaks to something fearful inside us all. Our longing, for fame & fortune, heard echoing from temples like a perpetual 'ibādah of obsession. The squalor of hunger & dispossession—the unending, hemophiliac canon of war, shaping itself into a question mark. Despite, our always believing, that evil alien life would come from the stars.
7. RENEAU, JR.
their cell-phones at 90 degrees to their strides, like gravity pulling to a molten core, the concertina-wired lullaby of a 5Ă—3 cubicle waiting to engulf them, & from the distance, the monotonous prostration, the bodies splayed on inner city streets. their glossy-paged longing, praying to their one true God in a church of voodoo dolls, as neurotic as, a kaleidoscope hummingbird, flitting meticulous through status & competition, the polar dichotomies of black & white, the way all deadly things can be reduced to a financial formula. their casual compliance, trying to fit in. they learn to keep still, & like it, or, in the wake of a frivolous text, the passing sandalwood seduction of beauty on a congested street, where they shuffle to avoid each other.
7. RENEAU, JR.
The Fortress of Sleeping Butterflies 1. Racism: the white-oriented fear of darkness, the animal clawing from the Constitution of democracy. War: the human determination to murder one another in pursuit of New World Order. Greed is personified in its most virulent form of apathy by the homeless & dispossessed (Does all have naught have color?) who populate our peripheral vision, is the defining characteristic of Amerikkkans— a freedomland dichotomy: the most frightening monsters are all around us & we cage as much rage as they liberate hate. 2. Rac·ism /ˈrāˌsizəm/ Noun Nigger is not a meta-phor blackness, nor an adjective of quantification— less than— simply because of the color of our skin. Nigger is not the lump sum of the value of them who are deemed the least of those among us. 3. War /wôr/ Noun Armies are for people who think they are right: the drone pilot eating hot pockets while he blows up a hospital in Kabul, the satellite killers, former X-Box gamers, given plausible deniability, & the smoke, cinder & ash of God on their side.
4. Greed /ÉĄrÄ“d/ Noun The Crown & Company, synonymous with corporate personhood. Trump Tower, casting a shadow the size of a black hat gunslinger at high noon. The Twin Towers at the center of the dollar sign, crushing the masses between them. 5. Mama said: Watch what they mouth say, but listen to what they hands do. What I heard was: None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free. It took me years to realize what she meant was: If you shit in your own backyard you'll carry your nasty ways next door.
MICHELLE BROOKS Pretty in A Hard Way The ground moves with snakes, and the sky bleeds red streaks, as if the night couldn’t leave without a fight, and all your dreams are tragedies where no one dies, but everyone suffers. In your past life when you woke up hungover, you’d think, Anything is better than this. You were a confection, a little dead around the eyes, the kind of woman people describe as pretty in a hard way. And you refuse to go gently into that good night. And let’s face it. Not all of them were good ones. You don’t care. There is nothing you can do about it now. Gather the pieces as best you can even if they cut you.
ALESSIO ZANELLI By The Dining Room's Door Window for mom What happens in the world to her is of no interest anymore. The TV screen is always blank, newspapers have been piling up unopened in a nook for quite some time. She much prefers to spend her hours by the dining room's door window, watching mornings, noons and evenings come and go while daylight's getting longer and appears to carry back familiar views to hold on to when shadows lengthen, such as could allow her mind to bind both near and distant memories before they slip away for good. Because when autumn tempests rage the wind blows near just doubts as blowing over sureties one by one. And in the end some winter comes that brings along appeasing storms to gather each and all of them and firmly bury everything in thickly falling snow.
ADAM PENNA Suckling Fools I “I’m not getting any younger,” his wife said. “We don’t even have a house,” he said. “I’m barely employed. Besides,” he said, “I don’t know that I ever want children.” “You’ll regret this,” she said. They had been driving home from his brother’s house, where they had just spent three days over Christmas. It was unusually warm, and she kept opening the windows as they drove. That was how he remembered it anyway. But she often had to correct him about the little things, details, like who, what, when or where. For instance, it wasn’t Christmas, but New Year, and it was very cold. It was true that she kept opening the windows. It was also true that he seemed surer of himself than he had any right to be. She blamed him for that. “You’ll never forgive me, will you?” he said, later. She didn’t have to answer. He knew, she knew. She wouldn’t forgive him for that and for a great many other things. * He eventually did come to regret it. They had been at a friend’s house for dinner. Justine wasn’t exactly a friend but someone he knew from work. She and her husband lived nearby. It was an evening that shouldn’t have been. Justine had said to him, “Oh, we live so close. We should have dinner,” and he said, “Sure, that sounds great,” but he didn’t mean it. “I don’t know why we’re even going,” he said. “People believe you when you speak,” she said. “That’s why.” She was driving, and he leaned back as far as he could in the passenger seat. “I could call right now and say you’re sick,” he said. “I’m not sick.” “So.” “Say you’re sick, if you want to. Leave me out of it.” “I saw her at work today. She’d know I’m lying. It’d hurt her feelings. ‘We’re so looking forward to seeing you and your wife,’ she said. I’d feel guilty.” “Is she pretty?” “I don’t know. No.” “What’s her husband’s name?” “Jeff. Todd. Something.” “You don’t know her husband’s name?” “She told me. I don’t remember.” “You don’t listen to people.” “She told me. I just don’t remember.” !72
“Same difference.” His name was Geoff. “That’s gee ee oh eff eff,” he said, and shook hands and welcomed them in. * On the way home that night, she was unusually quiet. They had stayed later than they had planned. Maybe that explained her mood. “Those kids are cute,” he said. “Yes. They are.” “Especially Kayla. She’s smart. Bright. Like there’s something going on up there. Like she’s figuring you out.” “She liked you.” “And the little one. He was—” He interrupted himself. “You ok?” “I’m just tired.” “Did I do something?” “Besides talking about work the whole time we were there?” “Yeah.” She looked at him and smiled. She touched his hand. “No. Nothing.” * Looking back that was the moment he knew she was still chewing on the baby thing. All the distance that had grown between them now made sense. He resolved that night to tell her as soon as the chance presented itself. He wanted children, too. Isn’t that why people marry? He felt stupid for failing to understand sooner. He understood, but he didn’t understand. Now he did. “What’s changed?” she said. They were standing in the kitchen. She was still dressed for work at the nursery: an old sweater, clogs, distressed jeans a little too loose for his liking and soiled at the knees. “Nothing,” he said. “I have.” “I have, too.” “You don’t want children anymore?” “I do. It’s just that this is a big thing. A really big thing, and it’s not just about you and me. It’s about something bigger than us. Something outside us.” “If you’re worried whether I’m ready, I told you. I saw the way you were with those kids. I couldn’t make a worse father than Geoff.” “Geoff seems like a good father.” “Then I’ll be a good one, too.” She put down the envelopes she had been shuffling and touched his face. Her hand smelled earthy still. “You’d be a great father.” “Yes?” “Yes.” * !73
Often, but especially after all their efforts failed, he wished to travel back to the time of their early marriage and advise the foolish bridegroom to answer differently. If nothing else, he’d tell him to sound less certain of himself. Maybe then she wouldn’t have thought his answer so final. He used to joke that he’d rather be wrong than uncertain, but jokes like that attempt only to hide previous foolishness and avoid current guilt. It was his fault they didn’t have children. Nothing he did in the aftermath could absolve him of the responsibility. “You don’t understand what you’ve done,” he said to his younger self. “She was over forty when you met her.” “Maybe so,” his younger self said. “But I made the best decision possible with the information I have. That’s all a man can do, right?” “Except I’m telling you, you’ll regret this.” “And you should know.” “Yes. I should.” * He would also imagine someone older, a very old man, gray and hunched and yellow-eyed, looking back. A bare room. A vase of flowers. The dusty mirror. The view from the window, a parking lot of cars. “How are they treating you?” his younger self said. “Who are you?” “I’m you.” “I see.” “Does that surprise you?” “Nothing surprises me anymore.” “I see.” “Am I dead?” “No.” “Are you an angel? A ghost?” “Sort of.” “It’s almost time for lunch.” “I need to know something.” “Speak into my good ear.” “Can you forgive me?” “Forgive you?” “Yes.” “I don’t even know you.” Then he would sit with the old man, while he slept or ate a few bites of his lunch, soft noodles, clear broth, or stared out the window over the parking lot of cars. “Do you ever wish things were different?” “I’m an old man. Of course I do.” “But?” “But I also know they are different. I don’t know anything. Leave me alone. It’s time for my bath.” !74
Then he’d dream he was the kind orderly sent to bathe the old man. He’d note the sagging flesh. The feminine breasts. The drooping, confused eyes. The painful crooked hands. “I prefer the other one. The pretty one,” the old man says. “I know. Me too.” “Will she be here tomorrow?” “Maybe.” “She smiles more than you do.” “I can smile. See.” “Maybe you shouldn’t.” “Is the water warm enough?” “Yes.” “Can I get you anything else?” “No. Leave me alone.” “I could sit with you longer.” “Why?” “To keep you company.” “Do what you want.” “I’ll be quiet. I’ll wait with you.” “For what?” “Until someone else comes.” “Like who?” “I don’t know.” “I don’t need you to wait.” “I know.” “This isn’t for me.” “I know.” “This is for you.” “Yes.” “There’s nothing you can do for me, and I can’t help you.” “Ok.” Sometimes they’d sit in nervous silence, and sometimes the younger man would leave. Sometimes a smiling nurse would come with a paper cup of bright pills. Though her English was heavily accented, the old man listened, understood and obeyed. To the younger man, the nurse’s speaking sounded more like birdcalls than words. * Maybe it was Justine and maybe it was Geoff who said it first, but whoever said it, he remembered how it struck him. It was as if he had walked into some secret room in the house he had grown up in. He thought he had known that house so well that nothing about it could surprise him. Then, walking in the darkness, he found or was introduced to a door he had never seen and, when he opened it, the room flooded with bright light. It took a long moment for his eyes to adjust. In that confused interval, he couldn’t tell the dimensions of the room, whether it was furnished or not, or what its purpose was. !75
“What about adoption?” one of them said. “You mean an orphan?” he said. “I mean a baby, a child,” the same one said. “I don’t know,” his wife said. “My mother was adopted. I have an adopted cousin, too. She lives in Phoenix—no, Tucson. She’s very happy and well-adjusted,” one of them said. “Well-adjusted?” he said. “I don’t know. We’re not there yet. We haven’t exhausted the other possibilities. I don’t know. We’re not there yet. I don’t know,” his wife said. “No. Of course. But it is an option, and that should—” “What?” he said. “Give you hope. There’s always something. You will be parents.” “An orphan?” he said. But maybe it wasn’t Justine or Geoff, who first said it. Maybe it was his wife. Maybe it was in bed one night, lights out, the night sound of crickets singing in the grass. Maybe it was on a long drive. Maybe they were coming home from somewhere. Maybe they were leaving for a funeral or a wedding. He was dressed in his dark, handsome suit. She with her hair blown out, a little dull usually, but brilliant tonight, touched by the last few rays of sunlight before dusk. She seemed ethereal, when all the light was drained from the car, a disembodied voice, and then only the sound of wheels. “Yes. What else? An orphan.” * The nurse at the fertility clinic always smiled when she took his wife’s blood, and she always said encouraging things. But it was hard to feel good about anything when, in the waiting room, lonely, troubled women or clutching couples sat. He couldn’t look them in the eye. He felt especially sorry for the would-be mothers, who fawned over the one or two occasional children playing with toys. He felt sorry for the successful mothers and couples, too, who seemed ashamed to be pregnant before all those barren women. The men emerging from the sample room only made him laugh. That was the part that didn’t make him feel ashamed. “At what point?” she said. “At what point what?” “At what point do we call it quits?” “When you’re sitting in the waiting room by yourself.” “Or you are.” “Or I am.” “I don’t want to be like that woman today.” “No.” “It’s hopeless for her, and no one will tell her.” “She wouldn’t listen anyway.” !76
“Would you?” “I doubt it." “Why?” “I wouldn’t want to quit too soon.” “What about too late?” “Is that possible? To quit too late? What’s the harm there? It seems if anything is, this is worth risking. No?” “Even us?” Another door swung open in the house he thought he knew. Suddenly it seemed this wasn’t his house after all, but someone else’s. He was just a guest who oughtn’t be poking around in the dark. Who knows what he might find or what he might lose in the finding. “Even us?” he said. They were eating lunch at a diner. Omelets. The bandage where the blood had been drawn was still attached to her arm. Soon they’d return to finish the procedure. “I can’t eat,” she said. “You should.” The waitress was sweet to them, so he tipped her well, almost thirty percent. The parking lot was unbearably full. The car felt unbearably warm. The world unbearably green, alive. * She lay on the examination table. Her feet in the stirrups. “I don’t like the name Taylor,” she said. “Ok,” he said. “I know I said I liked it yesterday.” He opened a drawer then closed it. The technician came in. She was pleasant enough and smiled less frequently and less genuinely than the nurses, who were always all smiles and enthusiasm and sympathy. “This is going to be a little cold, and you will feel some pressure,” she said. His wife let out a squeal. “Ok?” the technician said. “Yes.” A fuzzy image appeared on the screen. The technician searched and mapped. She entered certain keystrokes on the keyboard and measurements elsewhere. “Are those the eggs?” he said. She smiled. “The doctor will be in shortly.” She printed the results. “Can I get dressed?” “Not yet,” she said. When the doctor came in, he was all business but he wasn’t cold. “Well?” !77
“Well, what?” the doctor said. “I like your chances. Everything is coming along nicely. You can get dressed.” But the insemination didn’t work, not this time or any of the ones before or after this one. Still, while they drove home, it felt the same. They said little and hoped in silence. And didn’t hope, too. But they prayed or doubted. “I don’t like him,” she said. “From what I’ve read…” “I know but…” “He should’ve…” “But isn’t that why we went to a doctor, because he knows? If you don’t trust him…” “It’s not that. It’s…” “What?” “Can we just drive?” “Isn’t that what we’re doing?” “I don’t want to go home yet.” “Where to?” “I don’t know.” “The ocean?” “Forget it. Let’s just go home.” “I don’t mind. I’ll take you wherever you want to go.” “No. Take me home. I’m tired.” “Ok. But I’ll go…” “Never mind,” she said. “Really.” “I love you,” he said. “Everything is going to be fine.” “Ok.” “If you want to switch doctors, we can. I don’t mind. It’s not important.” “What do you think? Do you trust him?” “Trust him? He’s a doctor. I don’t see why that matters. He’s either good at what he does or he isn’t.” “I think it matters.” “So we’ll change. I’ll call tomorrow.” “No.” “I don’t understand.” They drove a while in silence, past the school, past the post office, through the village center. “Can we go to the ocean after all?” she said. “Whatever you want.” “That’s what I want.” It was cold and empty at the beach. But the sky made an awesome spectacle, and the waves crashed silvery blue on the hard beach sand. “I like looking at the waves,” she said. “I don’t know why.” “That’s nice. That’s good.” “And you?” “They’re waves. I don’t know. They make me feel…” !78
“What?” “Ashamed. Like looking someone I’ve wronged in the eye or something. I don’t want to look.” They walked up the beach first together then he a little ahead, when she lingered to dig her toes in the sand. “It’s cold,” she said. A woman jogged by. “Hello,” he said, but the woman jogging said nothing. “Come here,” his wife said. He came to her. “You know it might not work.” “So we’ll keep trying.” “It might never work.” “What do you mean?” “Listen,” she said. So he did, as best he could, because it never occurred to him that she might change her mind. But she sounded so clear. Not merely reasonable, but like she understood things more deeply than he. And now another door of that strange house opened to reveal yet another strange room. Her voice coupled with the surf. A few gulls cried somewhere close. The summerhouses were empty still, but soon they would be teeming with happy families, and the beach full, too, and it would cost them to park in the spots, which now were free. * It must have been the week after Easter that they gave up the first time. He remembered that they were sitting in that diner again, when he agreed. “If it doesn’t work this time—” But she corrected him when he told the story and misremembered. They weren’t at the diner but at a place called The Porter, a much nicer restaurant in downtown Bellport that boasted very good food and exceptional service (which explains why he wanted to go). “If it doesn’t work this time—“ He couldn’t remember who said it. She said he did, and he took her word for it because, for details like this, he had no memory. What he did recall accurately, and she confirmed later, was that the waiter or waitress brought the wrong soup and that, though he remarked, “This isn’t what I ordered,” he ate it anyway. He couldn’t remember if he liked it or not or whether, if there were any leftovers, he took the leftovers home. It was puree of ginger and carrot. In the center of the bowl were a swirl of cream and a sprig of parsley. * The second time they gave up—and this they both remembered with perfect and painful clarity—it was she who said it. They were at the park with Justine and Geoff and their two small children. It was late September or early October. After a picnic lunch, they went for a walk, away from Justine and Geoff and their kids. She was cold. He said the weather was refreshing. Fall almost always seemed to him like the beginning of something new. “I can’t anymore,” she said. !79
“We have to.” “There’s nothing that says we have to.” “You can’t just decide for me.” “I’m deciding for me.” “How long have you felt this way?” “Since the last time we stopped. Last year. I didn’t want it to be true, but it is.” “So you lied to me.” “I wanted it not to be true. There’s a difference.” “I don’t see one.” “I wanted to be sure before I said anything. You can’t blame me for that.” “I sure can.” “We discussed the possibility.” “That was theoretical. If, if, if it didn’t work.” “I’m forty-six years old. It isn’t supposed to work. I can’t bear another disappointment.” They had walked to the edge of the park without knowing it. Beyond the cyclone fence, the woods began. A short walk, and there the highway lay. He could hear the cars and trucks racing by. “Let’s turn around,” he said. “It’ll be dark soon, and you don’t have a sweater.” “I have one in the car.” “Oh.” “Are you ok?” “Maybe you can ask that later because I don’t know. I feel like I’ve just witnessed something terrific. A car accident. A surprise birthday. I don’t know how I feel.” They had reached the car. He searched his pocked for the keys. He patted himself down. “Do you have them?” he said, and she said, “You drove.” * What saddened him most was that their lives went on. They limped through their daily, weekly, monthly routines. Sometimes, while fixing dinner or attending a party, she would throw him a sad look or he would come into a room and catch her crying. He didn’t know what to do then, especially then, because inside he was torn. On the one hand he wanted to comfort her, tell her everything would be ok though he wasn’t sure of that himself. And on the other, he hoped the tears meant she hadn’t been certain. Maybe she regretted her decision, but was too proud or stubborn to recant. “I don’t know what to say to her,” he said to Justine. “When?” Justine opened the car door and removed the sleeping child, car-seat and all, from the cradle. The child’s cheeks were rosy and the hair around her face matted with perspiration. !80
“Ever.” “That’s bad.” “I know.” The child slept through lunch. “She won’t do it for you?” The empty plates hadn’t yet been bused. “Have you asked her?” “Not like that. No.” “Maybe you should try talking to her. Candidly.” “What if she says no?” “So what? It doesn’t have to be an ultimatum.” “Excuse me,” someone said. It was the woman from the booth behind them. She was large and looked larger because of her blouse, which was patterned to resemble porch furniture. “I just want to tell you what a beautiful baby you’ve got there.” “Thanks,” Justine said. “She looks just like her father.” “We’re not married,” Justine said, but that only confused the woman, so she said, “Her father’s at work.” This happened every time they went out together. Eventually, Justine stopped explaining. Instead, they’d both nod, smile and politely thank the parade of well-wishers and admirers. He’d feel bad, like he was betraying his wife when this happened, but it also made him feel, if only for that moment, what it would be like to be a father. Finally, they paid the check and drove back to Justine’s house, where his car was parked. He said goodbye and went home. When he got there, he paced the house. It would be three hours until his wife arrived home from work. He was going to ask her: Please, do this for me. He realized he couldn’t bring it up as soon as she walked through the door. She’d feel ambushed. He’d have to wait. Maybe over dinner he’d say something. Maybe after, cleaning up. Maybe before turning out the light. She was late getting home. “Where have you been?” “I took a drive.” “Anywhere special?” “No.” “I made dinner.” She lifted the pot top. “Smells good.” She sat at the island near the place setting. “I’m not really that hungry, honey. But I’ll have a taste.” “Eat what you want.” Two, three heaping ladles. “That’s too much,” she said. “Can I ask you something?” “Is this beef?” !81
“Lamb.” “Tastes like beef. It’s good. What do you want to ask me?” “I know what you said. But you have to understand my point of view.” “I do.” “Then,” he said. “Then I want you to consider this.” “What?” “Do it for me. Can you? Will you do it for me?” “There’s nothing to do, Dee. Even if I wanted to, I can’t.” He recoiled. He had been leaning into the island where she sat, lovingly, earnestly. They hadn’t been so close, unless asleep, in months. Maybe longer. And he recoiled. “I knew I should’ve waited. We’ll talk tomorrow.” “What’ll be different tomorrow? Tomorrow comes, and I’m another day older. You ask me to consider how you feel. You ask me to do it for you. Don’t you think if I could I would? Don’t you know that it kills me to have to be here, where we are?” “Does it?” She seemed stricken. Her mouth hung open a little. Her lips parted. Her hair was gray, streaks of it framing her face. People said she was a pretty woman. No one said, “once,” or “must have been." Even her numbers were the numbers of a woman twenty years younger. “Are you serious?” she said. “That was cruel.” She dropped the spoon back in the bowl. “Thank you for cooking. It was good. I’m going to bed.” She slid the bowl, contents and all, into the sink. “I’ll wash the dishes in the morning,” she said. But he couldn’t wait until the morning, and so he began. He tupperwared the leftovers and scrubbed the pot, the dishes and the silverware. Before long the kitchen was clean. He didn’t want to go up to bed but he didn’t know what else to do, so he climbed the stairs and was grateful to find, when he arrived, that she had already fallen asleep. * He imagined meeting the child he didn’t have somewhere: a crowded shopping mall, an elegant restaurant, a cave, the Mojave Desert. Sometimes it was a little blond boy who appeared, sometimes a nineyear-old girl. Once it was an imposter—either someone sent from his unconscious to do good or a version of himself come for mischief. He considered whether it was his wife perhaps. The conversation, however, was more or less the same wherever they met, though the setting was always different. Here they walked through an exhibition at the Museum of Natural History. “I don’t blame you, Daddy,” the boy said. “Call me that again. Please.” !82
“What? Daddy?” “Yes. I like the sound of it. It breaks my heart.” “Then I’ll stop.” “No. Don’t stop. This heartbreak is good heartbreak.” They came to a glass case, in which an Anglo-Saxon helmet, shield and sword were displayed. The boy pointed wide-eyed. “Notice,” the would-be father said, “how intricate the scrollwork is. It was meant to represent the ideal connection between man and man. But also between father and son, from the present moment back through the ages.” “Do you know who your father is?” the boy said. “Yes.” “And his father, too?” “Sure.” “And your father’s father’s father?” “I never met him but I’ve seen a photo.” “Daddy?” “Yes?” “Where did you learn that about the shield and the helmet and the sword?” “I don’t remember. College I suppose.” Then it was night. A pleasant night, so they walked a tree-lined street. They must’ve been close to the sea, because he could smell it. The girl walking beside him pointed to the moon. “It’s so big tonight, Daddy. Look!” “It lights the world,” he said. “When I grow up I want to be a poet,” she said. “I’ll write poems only about the moon. They’ll say, ‘She is a moon poet,’ and I’ll point out that every poet, every real poet, is a moon poet. Then I’ll read them a poem about a walk I took with my father on a moonlit night. How it was just the three of us—he and me and the moon. I’ll call her mother-moon because she gave birth to me. She caused me to be a poet.” “What about your real mother? That poem might make her sad.” “I don’t care.” “You mustn’t blame her,” he said. “It’s not her fault.” Now they stopped. “Can you hear it?” he said. She listened. “It’s the sea. Should we go?” “I can’t. I’ll be washed away.” “I’ll protect you.” “I love you, Daddy.” By now they were walking the beach. It was cold. The moon’s reflection lay on the surface of the sea, far away. The real moon hovered like an egg in the sky. The summerhouses stood empty and aloof beyond the dunes. He walked with the old man. !83
“You can’t be mine,” he said to the old man. “But the others—the boy, the girl. They could?” “Yes. They could.” “But not me?” “No.” “Why? Because I’m old? Because I appear old to you?” “I don’t know.” “You think that makes a difference? That’s ok. I did once, too. We all belong to each other,” the old man said. He gestured toward the sea. They walked in silence up the beach. The shoreline went on forever, having neither beginning nor end, only a curve in the distance and behind them another swerving out of sight. Also the sound of the surf, monotonous, indifferent. “I’m getting tired,” the would-be father said. “I want to stop.” “Already?” the old man said. “It’s not far if we keep going. Look.” But when he looked where the old man pointed, he couldn’t see to what the old man was pointing. “I don’t remember where we parked. Whose houses are these? Where is my wife?” “Are you still worried about those things? Get up. It’s ok.” He had dropped to his knees in the hard wet cold sand. “Where is the moon? It was following us.” “It’s gone. Dissolved into the sea.” “My girl?” “Gone.” “He?” “Everything, gone.” “What will I do?” By now he was alone and had to make the long trek back to the car himself. He couldn’t get lost because there really was but one way to go. He met his footprints as he went. Some were clear and deep. Some were washed away. His were the only pair. II The cottage, where they lived now—a home much better suited to a childless couple than the cape with its three bedrooms—was only a short walk from the beach and, during the winter months, when the other houses were empty even on the weekends, they were often the only two people for miles. If he were disturbed enough, on the loneliest nights, he might go out walking before bed. The sensation of setting out was always the same. He felt wonder: perhaps it was the rustling of the leaves, perhaps a deer nosing the browse, or perhaps, on a clear night, the stars which seemed from the surface of the dark island twice as bright, twice as close. Later, when he became too cold to go farther or too tired to take another step, the return—which seemed to take twice as long as the setting out—caused him to wonder, too, but this wonder was different. !84
There were no stars or leaves or deer. Only, in the distance, the glow of the porchlight. The one luminous object in a dark and hostile wood. “Is that you?” she said. “Who else?” “Your feet are cold. You’re freezing.” “I’m sorry.” “It’s ok. Come here.” She never asked him why he went or why he was gone so long. * Spring came early that year. The last snowfall encroached on April and buried the crocuses and the snowbells. But the summerhouses filled, at first on the weekends only, and then by early June, all week long. The snowbirds returned, followed by wives and children, and, finally, fathers whose weekends extended, the longer the summer wore on, into midweek. He sat on the porch, while she weeded in the garden. He watched the houses fill and watched her weed. Now and then he watched cyclists, colorfully dressed, speed by. Geoff and Justine arrived at six. The coals already white hot in the Weber. “How do you do it?” Geoff said. He popped open his beer. “What?” he said. “It’s beautiful here but so isolated.” In the kitchen, she and Justine shucked the six ears of corn. “We miss you guys. It’s been too long,” Justine said. “I know.” Over dinner, they toasted to friendship. The dessert, a coconut cake Justine had made, tasted delicious. Geoff, who was a little drunk, ate two pieces. When they left, there were hugs all around and promises of doing this again soon. Everything might have ended perfectly, an ideal evening with friends wrapped up without incident, had Geoff not leaned out the truck window and said, “Next time we’ll bring the kids. They miss their aunt and uncle.” That night in the bright narrow galley kitchen, they talked. “Geoff was drunk,” he said. “Justine was embarrassed.” “He doesn’t mean anything by it.” “At least he’s a happy drunk.” “At least.” “It was good to see them,” she said. “We should entertain more.” “We should.” “Why don’t we?” “I don’t know. But we could if you wanted to.” “I want to. I think we should.” “Do you think they’ll last?” “Geoff and Justine?” “Yes.” !85
“I think she’s unhappy,” she said. “Did she say something?” “No.” “Then why do you think that?” The dishwasher was temperamental, so they washed the dinner dishes by hand. He scrubbed, she rinsed and dried. They were almost done. The really caked utensils soaked in a large Tupperware bowl. “They barely talked all evening, and they never touched. He seems so bitter. The way he talked about her like she wasn’t there. Did he say something to you?” “No,” he said. “But he wouldn’t. I’m Justine’s friend as much as I am his.” “More,” she said. The kitchen was clean, and everything was back in its place except the soaking utensils. They would have to wait till morning. Meanwhile, she undressed for bed, and he washed and readied himself, too. Now they lay side by side, the cat curled between them already asleep. Her bedside lamp was on, but to keep the light from bothering him, as she read, she draped a dark t-shirt over the shade. “We should have a garage sale,” she said. “Get rid of some of our junk.” “Ok.” “We don’t need so much stuff.” “No. I guess we don’t.” “No.” “No.” She pressed the book face down in her lap. Her glasses perched at the end of her nose. “We’re ok, aren’t we, Dee?” “Yes. Sure,” he said and rolled to face her. “Sure.” “Goodnight, love.” “Goodnight.” * One day that winter, a few minutes after she left for work, he heard a knock at the door. When he opened it, he saw his wife standing there on the stoop, clutching something close to her chest, under her coat. “They shot it,” she said. She opened her coat to show him. It was a duck, and it was terrified. It snapped wildly at her nostrils. “What happened?” he said. They brought the duck into the house. He peeled back the lapels of her coat to get a better look. Every morning around sunrise they listened to the gunfire. Sometimes she would curse the hunters. Now he understood. “Help it,” she said. !86
He took the duck. It was still warm, but it was going limp. “I think it’s dying.” “It was flapping around in the road,” she said. “I don’t know what to do? What do you want me to do?” She looked at him. Together they took the duck to the local vet. On the way there, she showed him the spot where she found it. Blood on the snow. He would have known without her pointing it out. “I think it’s a she,” he said. “How can you tell?” “The males are more colorful.” The vet received the wounded duck and said if it looked like she would survive, he’d dress the wound and transfer the animal to the wildlife refuge. If not, he’d euthanize her. When they got home, he made them scrambled eggs. She called work and told them she’d be late, and followed up with the story of the wounded duck. Then she went to change. He brought her a cup of hot coffee. She stood in the middle of the bedroom in her blood-soaked bra. “It’ll be all right,” he said. He stood before her with the steaming mug cupped in his hands. “How do you know?” “You did a good thing. “Does that matter? “Yes.” “Maybe,” she said. “Maybe I should have let her die. Or killed her myself. Maybe that would’ve been the kinder thing.” “You couldn’t do it.” “No.” “Could you?” “Could you?” “I don’t know.” “I don’t want to talk about it anymore.” “Ok,” he said. “Do you want to stay home with me today?” “It was just a stupid duck.” She was bare breasted now. Half-naked. The room was cold, and she began to cry. He set the mug down on the dresser and tried to embrace his wife. She resisted. “I can’t do this.” “What?” “This.” “You mean us.” “Yes.” “What did I do?” “You didn’t do anything. It’s just how it is.” “I thought it was getting better.” “Why? Because you can stand to sleep with me?” !87
He didn’t know what to say to that. So he let go. Several days later he mustered the courage to call the vet. The wound was superficial. The duck survived, and the wildlife refuge had picked her up. He was given the phone number of a contact person, but he never called. Over dinner, he told her the good news. She seemed relieved and said so. Then he said, “And what about us?” “Do we survive?” she said. “It seems absurd, but yes.” “I don’t know if surviving is enough.” “What do you want?” “To be happy. Don’t you?” “I am happy.” “No, you’re not. Don’t be a coward. Not now. If there’s anything left for us, it has to be the truth.” “How do you know what the truth is?” “You always know the truth. For us, it’s what we haven’t said yet. It’s the last thing we talk about. So. Here we are. At last things,” she said. Then, “Can you be happy with me?” “Can you be happy with me?” “Not like this I can’t.” “Me neither.” “So?” “So.” “So. What’s left?” “Forgiveness?” he said. “What’s to forgive? No one’s to blame.” “I’ve blamed you.” “I know.” That night they cooked dinner together, shoulder-to-shoulder. He chopped the onions. She sautéed them. He butterflied and pounded the cutlets. She breaded and fried them. He rinsed the greens, and she tore the leaves into uneven pieces and arranged them in the bowl and dressed them. They ate in silence, and didn’t bother to clear the table or wash the dishes, when they were through. “I’m tired,” she said. “Me, too.” “Like I haven’t slept in years.” They went to bed. They lay next to one another in the dark, an inch or so between them. He could hear her breathe. He wanted to touch her, but couldn’t find a way. He thought he might find one soon. Or maybe she would make the first gesture. Not everything would be healed between them, but at least they could begin examining the wound.
NATALIE GASPER Measuring Time in the Sonoran Desert Earth stretches into sky, a fatal kiss on the horizon. Three steps towards the sun is six steps away from the moon. Empty landscape broken only by prickly, water-starved guardians, some that wave at distant, passing cars, some so squat they are crushed underfoot by wicker sandals without a second thought. To be lost among a hundred thousand sparkling grains of sand is also to be found. Thereâ€™s more life here than the name implies, but nothing moves. If I stand still long enough, I can feel the land as it inhales and exhales, its heart beating with the rise and fall of the sun. The sun, which makes things tougher here, is also a magnanimous paintbrush, sweeping across this expansive canvas with its energizing rays that dabble in pinks and blushes I didnâ€™t think could survive in a land with so little rain. The clouds dance in vibrant water colors, pulsing across the skies, the trailing blanket of the sun as it falls asleep.
FRANK SCOZZARI The Yosemite Bear Bandits The silence of the midnight valley was broken by the patter of running feet. Then came the cry, “Bear!” And again, a different voice, “Bear! Bear!” And then a chorus of “Bears!” Lantern lights came on, flashlight beams cut through the darkness, and my two buddies came shuffling past me, grinning. “Tea time,” Rob said. He was on one end of an ice-chest and George on the other, each holding a handle, moving awkwardly. I turned and watched them disappear into the dark forest behind me. Then I turned my attention back to the campsites, where the door of a nearby camper opened. A man dressed in long johns poked his head out and glared into the darkness, but he was looking in the wrong direction. From a large tent in the adjacent campsite two children emerged. Their parents quickly grabbed them and held them back. One little boy had a brownie camera with a flash on top and held it up and ready. The other boy held a toy tomahawk. The man from the camper now came fully out and walked in my direction. He carried a lantern in one hand and a hammer in the other. He looked like he wanted to tangle, but stopped at the edge of the forest. “They took my chest!” he yelled. “Goddamned bears took my ice chest!” Neighboring campers emerged from all different directions, gathering at his campsite. The man glared into the darkness for a minute, his lantern held high, then lowered the lantern and the hammer and walked back to his picnic table.. “It was sitting right there,” he explained to the others, pointing. “It was sitting right there on the table. They just carried it off! Goddamned bears carried it off!” “I’ll be damned,” one of the other campers said, shaking his head. Flashlight beams searched the forest beyond the lantern light while I ducked low behind a large Douglas fir, snickering. None of the campers were brave enough to venture beyond the light, and even if they did, I would just pop my head out and claim to have come from the next campground upriver. They just stood there, all bewildered, like a herd of wilderbeests looking at the carcass of a fallen comrade. Dumb asses, I thought. I watched for several entertaining minutes before I turned and followed the path of my companions, back along the dark trail to Happy Isles.
It was the summer of ’73 and the hippies were in Yosemite in full force. They were there to celebrate living and nature and the human spirit and the hope for world peace. That high tide mark that Hunter Thompson talked about hadn’t crested yet and beautiful spirits roamed freely, sometimes nakedly, through the meadows and along the Merced. It was commonplace to hear strumming guitars and serenading voices coming from the forest. The hippies held nightly love-ins at Happy Isles and you could hear the music echoing all the way down the Valley. And if you looked up at Glacier Point you could see the shadows of celestial dancers stretching high on the granite walls. Everywhere you went in the Valley you could find peace and love and anti-war slogans and music and celebrations of nature and the human spirit. Bead-laden sun worshippers lay out on the granite boulders along the river; hippie goddesses bathed beneath the waterfalls; guitar strumming and flute playing troubadours strolled the Park’s roadways; and there was a Jimi Hendrix lookalike in a dusty black suit carrying a beat-up suitcase in one hand and a beat-up guitar case in the other. He could often be seen wandering through the Village in a drug-induced daze. I think I even saw Joni Mitchell’s child of God walking along the road with a bong pipe strapped to his back. A blissful feeling was everywhere, except for the ranger stations. Back then, the rangers were crew-cut, red-necked Korean War vets looking to smash some free-spirited heads. This was before Mork & Mindy. And there had been a battle royal going on between the hippies and the rangers. There had been an incident in a meadow where baton-welding rangers had stormed a love-in on horseback. Many of the hippies were hospitalized, but it only made them more resolute and more antigovernment and anarchical. That was the Yosemite we stumbled into, four trail-worn kids looking for food, essentially anything that was edible. Marmots had raided our food stash at Florence Lake, so we had been improvising ever since. And improvise we did, very well. When we first arrived in Yosemite Valley, we relied on the hippies. They welcomed everyone in communal fashion. Into a huge pot everyone added something—a can of Campbell’s tomato soup, a can Dennison’s chili beans, Spaghetti-Os, chicken broth, etc., etc.—and anyone with a Sierra cup or an empty can or a somewhat-clean hand could dip into the pot and pull out dinner. We had made our camp only a short distance upriver from Happy Isles—a cave-like hideaway along the Merced beneath a large granite overhang—which made this arrangement with the hippies very convenient. We partook several times, contributing nothing, yet dipping our Sierra cups into the hippie-stew, often multiple times. And they were liberal with their alcoholic spirits as well. Pull an empty gallon jug from a trash can, go from one hippie campsite to the next, get half a beer here, some wine there, the last drops from a whisky !91
bottle, a little rum, or whatever, and four teenagers had enough brew to get an army drunk. Each evening of our first several days in the Valley, we’d return to our cave, full-bellied, and we’d sip and lay flat, and fat, in the pine needles. But thing were going well, and we became discontent. We got bored. The hippie soup concoction got old. We craved something better, and as boys do, we planned and devised and schemed. So it became our daily routine to scour campsites for unattended ice chests, and our nightly routine to commandeer these ice chests. The way we saw it, we were providing a service to the weekend adventurers, all those L.A. urban dwellers who ventured into the wilderness only one week per year. It was a once-in-a-lifetime-into-the-wild experience we bestowed, the telling of which could be passed down through the generations. We weren’t bad kids, we convinced ourselves. We were just hungry. The rangers, of course, knew bears don’t carry-off ice chests—bears simply demolished them on the spot. So they sought out us human bears, but could never figure it out, or find us. And the evidence of our labor piled higher beneath the overhanging rock we called home in the form of a pyramid shaped of ice-chests, stacked six high. On top was our prize— a red, white & blue stars-and-stripes, lacquered-finished, custom Coleman. Now we examined the bounty of our nightly catch and found the pickings to be slim. The ice chest contained only half a package of Oscar Meyer hot dogs, five to be exact, mustard, no buns but a quarter loaf of bread, three cans of coke, and a ton of ice. “Looks like they were ready to leave.” “Why all the ice?” “Who knows.” “Maybe they were planning to go to the store, but hadn’t gone yet?” “Maybe we need to be more picky?” Willie, the youngest among us, who had stayed back at the camp, had a fire going when we arrived. He had made it correctly this time, keeping the flames low beneath the encircling-boulders so they could not be seen from the trail above or the road down at Happy Isles. Rob proportioned the catch evenly. The morsels handed out looked pitiful. One-and-aquarter hotdogs each, one-and-a-half slices of bread each, and a few ounces of coke poured evenly into our Sierra cups. We stuck our dogs on sticks and cooked them. Then we stuck them in between a slice of bread, added tons of mustard, and washed them down with the divvied-up coke. After we were through, George carried the empty chest to the back of the den and stacked it with the others. Silence prevailed as the campfire burned down. The glowing embers lit our hungry faces. Somebody’s stomach growled. “It’s hit or miss,” George finally said. “We need to be more particular,” said Rob. !92
“We need to stick with the best tents or the Winnebago’s,” I said. “If they have a luxury tent, and good equipment, then they’ll have good food.” “That’s what I mean,” Rob said, and he stuck his stick in the fire and moved the coals around. “I don’t want to eat that hippie shit anymore.” “Me neither,” said George. Rob looked around at our glowing faces. “I want more steak.” (We had gotten steak in one of the stolen ice chests, and it was our best feast yet.) “Hamburger will do,” George said. “I saw a campsite with a Cadillac and an Airstream yesterday,” Willie said. “Where?” I asked. “Upper Pines—I think.” “Was it Upper Pines or not?” “I think so. We passed it on the bus.” “Okay, we’ll ride the bus again tomorrow. We’ll take a double-decker and stakeout the best campsites.” “Yeah,” Willie said, “and maybe I’ll find that Cadillac again?” “We’ll look for campsites with multiple tents, good tents.” “And a lot of children,” said George. “Children need food.” “And parents usually have beer or wine,” I said. I looked over at Rob, who was strangely shaking his head as he stirred the coals with his stick. “What’ya thinking?” “We’ve hunted and scavenged and begged,” he said. “We’ve gotten lucky sometimes, and sometimes we don’t.” “Yeah.” “We’ve eaten hippie shit.” “Yeah, what’s your point?” “Why scavenge when we have a shitload of food right here at our feet?” George and Willie exchanged glances. I looked at Rob with a bewildered expression. “The snack bar, Dummies!” He was referring to the concession stand at Happy Isles, which was open during the day and boarded up at night. It was loaded with all the kinds of junk food teenagers love. No one said anything. We were all aware of the snack stand. We passed it every day on our way into the Village and had watched, covetously, as tourists purchased and ate hotdogs and ice-cream bars and drank Dr. Pepper and Crush. We had never considered busting into it. Breaking the law stealing ice chests was one thing; breaking into the snack stand would be felony larceny. Rob slowly glanced around the campfire, stopping on my face. With the end of his stick he flicked a little coal in my direction. “Well?” !93
“There is food there,” I said, matter-of-factly. “They’ve got hamburgers,” said George. “And ice cream,” said Willie. “And they have cigarettes,” said Rob (he was the only smoker). And I think we all thought of the Snickers bars, boxes of them. “I could cut the cable with my axe,” Rob said. We all knew what he was talking about. The stand was secured each night with plywood boards secured by a cable-wrap, which could be cut with a sharp axe. We exchanged interested glances. “When?” I asked. “Now,” said Rob. “Now?” “Yeah, now,” George said, nodding. “All the rangers have gone to bed and there’re no hippies tonight.” He paused. “And I’m still hungry.” “So am I,” said Rob. I thought about it. It was past midnight. Happy Isles was the ghost town it should be. And there were no hippie music festivals going on. “You think you can cut that?” Rob stared at me. Then he got up, went to his pack, took out his axe, and came back to the campfire. He took his seat and ran his finger over the blade. When he was being mischievous, he could put on one of those shit-eating grins, the kind that only Jack Nicholson could make, and he did that now. “Yep. I think I can cut it.” He hacked the air twice for dramatic effect. Willie grinned widely too. “Yeah, that should do it.” “Okay, then,” I said. My mind was already racing ahead. “George and Rob will take the snack-bar. Willie will stand guard out back (meaning a cautionary watch of the unoccupied Ranger cabin), and I’ll watch the road. Once you’ve got the cable cut, you come get us.” Rob chopped the air with another practice swing of axe, and grinned again. “Certainly.” We immediately assembled into a unit, heading down the dark trail together along the white-flashing Merced. There was starlight, but where the forest was thick it was nearly black. Only out in the river we could see white. And we could hear various echoes down-Valley—a garbage truck slamming dumpsters and some shouting voices—but they were distance sounds. None of which were of any concern to us. We all took our positions and Rob and George got started at the snack stand. From the road, I could hear the action but couldn’t see it. The first chop of the axe had a muted sound and the second a little louder. The third echoed off the granite base of Glacier Point. Then the chopping became a flurry and, reaching a crescendo, there was a pause and one last loud bang! !94
Then nothing. I tried to look in between the trees back toward the snack stand, but could see nothing. And I was getting nervous. I was expecting someone to come get me, but no one came. There were no lights on the road. The only light I could see was up high at Glacier Point. Finally I left the road and walked back to the snack stand to see what was going on. The snack bar, which was a four-sided building about fifteen-foot square with a back door and an open counter facing the river, emerged in the starlight. What I saw, or thought I saw, was the bar open for business, as I had seen it so many times in daylight. Behind the counter, where the plywood had been removed, stood an attendant wearing one of those center-creased white café caps with two pointed ends. It was Rob. “How can I help you?” he said, sporting that crazy Jack Nicholson grin. George was already inside rummaging through boxes. I could see his backside bobbing up and down as he was going through the inventory. Willie suddenly appeared in the back door, which was now open. “Yeah!” was all he said. “Take those,” George told him, and Willie grabbed some boxes George had set aside and carried them out. Rob grabbed the point of his café hat and tossed it out the opening. “C’mon, get in here and help!” I went in through the back door. Willie was walking away with what I now saw to be a case of ice cream sandwiches. We didn’t handle this very systematically. We were more like pirates pillaging, or rats in a cheese factory. We took whatever and as much as we could. By the time we left, it looked like the bears had been there, for real. Boxes tipped over, some ripped open, shelves disheveled and emptied, refrigerator items unwrapped, bitten into, and carelessly discarded. We even left the damn freezer door open. And I’m sure our fingerprints were all over the place. We really didn’t think about that kind of thing, nor did we care. Exiting the back door with arms filled, I saw Willie sitting there at the base of a pine tree in full-lotus position gorging on those ice cream sandwiches. He had white ice cream all around his lips. “Come on,” I yelled at him. He wiped his mouth, got up, picked up the boxes, and followed me. I let him go ahead. As we walked back up the dark trail, Rob carried a stack three boxes high. The box on top was a case of Salem cigarettes. He had jerky strips and pepperoni sticks stuffed in and hanging out of his back pockets. George was equally loaded. Being the biggest of us, he managed four boxes, the top one pressed up against the side of his face. He had to eyeball the trail through a slither between boxes. Willie had two big !95
boxes. He was still munching on ice cream sandwiches. I know this because I could hear him and every once in a while an empty wrapper would drop to the trail in front of me. “Hey! Don’t leave a trail!” I’d picked it up. He’d looked back at me and shrug, and then do it again. We reached our cave-like hideout exhausted. We set all the boxes down and took inventory. We had boxes of hotdogs, hamburger patties, bums, cases of Snickers, Almond Joy and Mounds, cookies, and even a boxful of ketchup in those small little packets. Rob’s prize was the case of Salem cigarettes, and he took to smoking one right away. Everyone had already eaten something, either back at the snack-bar or on the way returning to the camp. But we ate more now. We ate as many ice cream sandwiches as we could before they melted. What was left was set afloat downriver in a box. We ate some raw dogs, some pepperoni sticks, and some Snickers. Afterward, our bellies were feeling it. Willie was moaning all night and eventually threw up, which caused a chain reaction. I remember, at one point, three of us were lined up along the river bank. The next day, ranger trucks were all over the place. They stretched police tape around the concession stand. Tourists and hikers stopped and gawked. We spied on them from a distance, but stayed at our camp for the next two days, keeping out of sight, sunbathing on the large boulders along the riverbank, barebacked with big bellies. We had no need to go anywhere. We had more food than we could eat. We utilized the ice chests to preserve the food and also rigged a line in the icy river, at the end of which was a huge plastic bag full of perishables, weighed down with some stones. But truly, we had taken too much, and much of it was spoiled in the heat of the summer valley. On the third day, we all headed into the Village. We slipped by the ranger’s crime line, acting shocked to see the concession stand still closed and taped up. We spent the day lounging around the Village. At one point, I saw Rob sitting at the entrance to the Village Store selling half-priced cigarettes. Yes, he did that, and somehow didn’t get caught. We heard some word about the snack bar break-in at Happy Isles. Rumor had it, among the day-hikers anyhow, that bears had done it. Yeah, right, we thought, bears with axes. We were all snickering at the news of this. The rangers, of course, knew better. We spent our last day in the Valley riding around on top of one those double-decker buses, sliding jerky strips to one another, trading Almond Joys for Mounds bars, enjoying the sunshine and the breeze. I remember looking at Willie’s face, which had been gaunt after the long trail, and noticing it looking fuller. We went back to Happy Isles for our packs, and left with some misgivings. This granite overhang, nevertheless, had been !96
our home for several weeks. We set the red white & blue custom Coleman ice chest afloat downriver, hoping its return to its true owner. All the other ice chests we left stacked beneath the overhang, figuring someday someone would find them. The postscript to all of this was a sad one, as the hippies were blamed for the snack-bar break-in. The baton-wielding rangers banned them from Happy Isles. They could no longer hold music festivals there, or for that matter, anywhere in the Valley—the crackdown became parkwide. It’s funny how the sins of one can fall upon another—maybe not so funny, but that’s what happened. We knew of this before we left the Valley. I remember that last night we stayed at our camp there was no song or music echoing down the valley. Nor did we see the shadows of celestial dancers high on the granite walls. Nor, on that last bus ride, did we see the tie-dye T-shirts and long dresses celebrating out in the meadows. We had crashed that long beautiful wave Hunter Thompson had wrote about—maybe not for the rest of the country, but certainly for Yosemite Valley. In reflection, I would say, we had gone pretty low, and we were not really starving. As with the sixties and seventies, we faded into responsible (and law-abiding) adults. The craziness of youth was gone, but not the memory of it, not entirely. I can still see Rob lounging in the last seat on top of the doubledecker, bare-backed as usual, smoking one of those stolen Salem cigarettes. He’s grinning that crazy Jack Nicholson grin, like he’s in on some joke the rest of the world didn’t know about. I can’t see his eyes because he’s wearing dark sunglasses, but when he notices me looking at him his grin widens, his lips move slowly, and he says one word, loudly: “BEAR!”
SANDEEP KUMAR MISHRA The Death of the Seas My mental wire renders Images of worn out routes, After a short circuit happened In the pathways of daily burdens; My diseased body quiver with its weight The hard stitch rubbles skin snatchers; Leeched of life force I have little energy to breath; The voice I hear is not my own, They dictate notes in familiar tone But full of foreign phrases, Which they disguise as invitation; I wish I could dissolve from memory Or hide in my skull cave; But it is not wise to stifle; Then an unlearned laughter came A spring emerging into sun rays A river emerges from the death of the seas There are two ways to live a life I can pursue the difficult one
RON WALLACE Sanctuary Indian grass mingled among the Bermuda, not yet ready to mow, and a few round bales from an early cutting stood in the south corner of the pasture where I was walking, seeking remnants of the old house. In my memory the ruins had lain just past a stand of blackjacks and bois dâ€™arcs grown heavy in the northern edge of childhood. Moving parallel to the abandoned railroad track, west of the field I saw the bright orange flame of Indian Paintbrush splitting coyote bones returning to earth fertilizing the flowers all around the decaying, grey remains of the predator. Half a century away, the unroofed walls stood two-storied with a crumbling chinaberry tree pressed to its western wall. I had climbed the limbs more than once to swing inside an empty window and stand on a delicate fraction of a second floor, mostly fallen to rubble below me.
June was exploding as I sat on an unreliable edge of 1968, peering into the blue future collapsing faster than the eastern wall of my embryonic nest among the ruins with Creedence rocking my transistor radio, blasting the summer like a detonation of distant claymores. But this June, fifty years flown, finds me crossing a dry streambed to stand in knee-high pasture grass, unable to find a trace of the place that did its best to shelter my teenage self from the death and destruction living in a black and white television. Nothing remained of my former sanctuary. Even the antique chinaberry had fallen into the past. Only the menace of the twenty-first century that I first glimpsed five decades ago and the bright orange flowers grown through coyote bones remained the same. â€ƒ
RON WALLACE Mickey Mantle and Chinaberry Trees As October descends like a feathering of dust in an empty room, the color of fireflies fades from my summer nights beneath a moon, white as polished bone. This cooling of air this shortening of the sun has always bothered me. I remember when I was twelve, sitting in the shade of a chinaberry tree grown to the fence next to where my grandmotherâ€™s house had stood before she was gone rubbing neatsfoot oil into the laces, the palm and pocket of my Rawlings glove. The golden tan darkened around the Xâ€™s that stitched the fingers together connecting pocket to thumb weaving a web of leather designed to take a baseball from midair. I can still see the practiced cursive of Mickey Mantle branded in the palm as my fingers measured the oil to apply on the leather where it was stamped.
If I try really hard half a century flown like a great horned owl into the night, I can still smell the leather as I work the oil meant for Dadâ€™s saddle into the folds and crevices of the glove, knowing I am soon to surrender it to the coming of winter. Long before I understood metaphor and simile, somehow even as a boy, as I leaned back against that chinaberry, and felt the rough bark through my tee shirt, I knew this season of beauty this time of turning leaves marked endings I did not wish to see and I sensed a sadness that I could not explain, watching two kids next door, throwing a football back and forth across the dying grass of their front lawn.
RON WALLACE Rider On the last day of November the world drunk with color, spun like a carousel horse ready to break its bonds and run. Orange, red and gold set the sky on fire flickering before a field bluer than a broken heart hanging high above a buckskin mare. And the cowboy he stood alone, looked one long, last time, then stepped up into the stirrup and rode away out to where, no one really knows. What lies between a rider and the sunset is a mystery to most, a swirl of dark in the distance, covering an untraveled road. But sometimes thereâ€™s no other choice a manâ€™s simply gotta saddle up, trust his horse and go.
RON WALLACE The Flight of Raptors A pair of Mississippi Kites rose from the oaks and struck into the northern blue of New Orleans. The summer sky still bore the marks of ghost white contrails written in a language neither hawk nor crow could read by an F-18 Super Hornet, screaming now above Lake Ponchartrain. Their grey wings dart eastward down the River in pursuit of fleeing cicadas where my eyes follow their flight, and find the black, hanging like funeral parlor drapes above the ragged Mississippi. Soon the rain will be on us; we will collide with water and darkness, washing us in its downpour before we emerge shining in the aftermath looking east, still seeking the flight of raptors in a vacant summer sky.
RICHARD KROHN Security You fumble laptop bags convey your carry-ons In plastic tubs you dump your wallet-belt-&-keys the unlaced shoes you had to shuck while to the left apart a man holds arms aloft as if the wand the magic of its random scan had martyred him by nailing hands to air above Golgothan walls or lashed him to Ulyssesâ€™ mast in fear heâ€™s heard dark Siren calls as you clutch tight your boarding pass.
RICHARD KROHN Jump You jump-starting the whole hospital? I tease, and he smiles, eyes closed, his wires and tubes like cables clamped to our â€™59 Olds after Iâ€™d left the lights on or let the cells run dry, battery reeking burnt eggs, he, revving, yelling Try it now!, thick right wrist toggling an imaginary key, and me, all crank and roar, releasing teeth from terminals, slamming his hood, then my own, he now free to go.
LYNN LIPINSKI Not the Best Baptist Family The knock on the door came at ten-thirty the morning of her father’s funeral. Sheila could see the surprise on her older brother’s face that she was not just awake, but also dressed and ready to go. Perpetually low expectations constituted the main benefit of being the family’s black sheep. It was also possible that Andrew’s astonishment sprung from seeing her in attire other than jeans and a black T-shirt. Sheila had chosen a vintage black suit, reminiscent of what Jackie Kennedy wore to JFK’s funeral, black gloves and a black straw hat with a tiny sweep of a net veil covering her forehead. She had put her own spin on the vintage look with jewelry: a silver nose ring and gothic cross pendant of garnet stones. “You smell like weed,” Andrew said. By the look on his face, Sheila knew this did not surprise him. However, he was violating their unspoken agreement that he overlooked her drug use and she didn’t lecture him about sleeping with waitresses and the more attractive female members of the congregation. His dirty little habit had sent his wife to live in her family’s lake house last summer, though they’d somehow patched things up since. “I burned some incense, that’s all.” She raised the tone of her voice along with her eyebrows. He dropped it. “Did you take a look at the reading?” “I got this, don’t worry,” Sheila said. “Say Ecclesiastes.” “Ecclesiastes,” she said perfectly, and they laughed, back on the easy footing of sibling private jokes. They walked in silence the rest of the way from her little house across the church campus, which consisted of three buildings: a meeting hall with a stage, an L-shaped building housing the pastor’s office and classrooms, and the church. All the buildings were painted grey with white trim, and tangerine accents. The color combo had been one of her few contributions to the church her grandfather built. Down a long driveway she could hear sputtering motorcycle pipes speeding down Fifteenth Street toward Tulsa’s busiest strip club, The Lay-Low, which opened at eleven. Sheila still felt the ghost’s presence walking alongside her just as she had all morning. She glanced at her brother’s face to see if he detected the shimmer of Nell’s blue dress or the black abyss of her eyes. He kept his eyes forward and focused on some distant point, shoulders rigid. Maybe Nell wanted to see who came out for Evan Udell’s funeral. Her own funeral years ago had been a small, plain affair, presided over by Evan. The Udells were the only family Nell had. Had Andrew not been with her, Sheila would have asked. She often talked to Nell’s ghost !107
whether or not she’d seen the stencil of her presence or smelled the rose scent she sometimes exuded. They walked by the swings, teeter-totters, and slides of the church’s playground, now empty of children and joy. Their footsteps awakened a lazy gopher snake, sunning his brown and tan scales in the morning light, his midsection bulging with a field mouse breakfast. Already people stood in the gravelly parking lot next to the church, huddled in groups of twos and threes and fours, waiting for the orange doors to open. The white hearse their father had requested in his will sat parked parallel to the church entrance, not quite blocking the three handicapped spaces closest to the door. Andrew’s wife stood talking to old biddy church member Jean Radner. Christine wore one of the stretchy knit Lalda Jo dresses she peddled as part of her stay-at-home-mom pyramid scheme cult. She’d filled their guest room with racks and racks of print leggings and T-shirts adorned with Kermit the Frog faces and dancing tortilla chip patterns so unflattering and vile that they could only be sold through the company’s brainwashing techniques that Christine was happy to employ. Christine called every print “cute” or “fun” and sold them with a straight face, encouraging her customer-victims to mix prints and layer on the pieces for head-to-toe awfulness. Sheila never heard her once say anything negative about the clothes, making her wonder if Christine actually believed it or was simply the best liar in the family. That would be an accomplishment. Andrew and Christine’s two boys Jacob and Joshua, ages five and eight, ran forward to give Sheila a hug and she gently squeezed them. They looked like adorable tiny men in blue blazers and white oxford shirts. Lalda Jo didn’t have a clothing line for boys. “Pastor Evan was taken too soon,” Jean Radner murmured, shaking her head. The words came with the odor of dental decay. Platitudes. Couldn’t people think of anything authentic to say, Sheila wondered. “Everyone dies at the right time,” she said. “Don’t you see how that is true?” Sheila saw the sunglass-shaded exchange of knowing glances that Christine and Andrew thought they concealed, and she also saw Jean Radner look down and squint hard at her soft-sole sandals worn with pantyhose. Christine smiled her smooth pastor’s wife smile and patted Sheila on the arm. No one would argue with her today. It was like the Family of the Living Spirit congregation had made some pact to be tolerant of her weirdness. A one-day only gift in honor of her father, who’d always been undogmatic about her belief in the supernatural. Their reactions didn’t matter much to Sheila. She was accustomed to people losing patience with her. Their derision was the price she paid for being a sensitive soul, one in tune with the machinations of the larger universe. No one in this !108
closed-minded church community saw the world as she did, and her job was to keep pulling the curtain back for them. Everyone looked grim and spoke softly, and out of the corner of her eye, Sheila saw the doors open wide. The man from the mortuary, clad in a dark suit, white shirt and black cowboy boots, came down the five steps to Andrew and said that the church was ready. Sheila pipped up the steps and into the church, her black maryjanes echoing from the parquet floor to the brass chandeliers dangling three stories overhead. Long rectangles of light from the narrow, stained glass windows painted the floor and wooden pews in stripes of red and blue and yellow. She only faltered when she saw the coffin at the back of the church, her father’s nose pointing beaklike toward heaven. She pulled out one of the cannabis-infused breath strips that Randall, her boyfriendwho-was-also-married, brought her from his trip to Seattle last month and slipped it under her tongue. Cold air bit at her nose and bare legs, and she shivered as she stepped closer to the casket, a shiny, dark wood fitted with silvery metal handles that seemed to absorb the light. “Dad, I’m here,” she said. Nell had vanished from her side, and she was disappointed as she looked more closely at the face of the man in the casket, who seemed to only resemble her father rather than to be him. No life force animated his cheeks, mouth and eyebrows. His eyes were closed, and his hands folded over his chest, in them a copy of his dogeared Bible. She leaned in to smell him, but the faint smell of chemicals repulsed her. She cleared her nose by sniffing deeply into the spray of white roses on a stand next to the casket. “He’s not in there,” she said to herself, but her voice must have carried over to Joshua, who had bounded in the church ahead of his older brother and mother. “But I can see him right there,” Joshua said. He stood a respectful distance away from the casket and pointed. “I know you can see him too.” Sheila drew him to her for a hug and said, “I can see his body, Joshua. I meant his spirit isn’t there.” “He’s gone to heaven.” Christine approached, her face determined. “We need to line up to greet people as they arrive, Sheila. They expect to see us as a unified family.” Sheila’s older sister Dawn appeared, dark sunglasses still on, regarding them all like aliens from Planet Okie that she’d come to observe and write a screenplay about when she returned to L.A. More likely, another of her poison-pen personal essays about the idiots living in flyover country. Andrew took the place closest to the door, so he would be the first to greet the mourners. Sheila leaned into Dawn, who startled a bit at her closeness. “Do you want me to remind you who people are as they come up?” !109
“I haven’t lost my memory,” she snapped back. “I remember people.” “Lighten up! Hey, do you want a breath strip?” She held out the round tin emblazoned with a Celtic symbol and the words “breath slips.” “Are those edibles?” Sheila smiled. “Okay, give me one,” Dawn said. Jean Radner glanced their way before cooing to Christine that she loved her dress. “I meant to ask you earlier. Is that one of the new Corinne’s?” “It is. You know I love how Lalda Jo dresses can be dressed up or down,” Christine said. “Thank you for coming.” Sheila marveled at Christine’s ability to move from perfect pastor’s wife to clothing saleswoman as though Jesus wouldn’t have driven her out with a whip of cords shouting “do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” “I’ll message you about it,” Jean said. “I need a new dress.” Sheila saw Andrew wrap his arms around their father’s secretary Candy Brewer, whose shoulders hiccupped with sobs. “Do you think people expect us to be crying?” Dawn said. Sheila shrugged. “Grief is a really personal thing,” she said. “Everyone does it differently.” Candy Brewer, the church secretary who had been in the office with their father when the stroke overcame him, made her way to the sisters, her brown eyes a little out of focus behind metal-rimmed glasses. Her plump cheeks and nose were flushed red, and she hugged Dawn, then Sheila. “I was telling your brother, I don’t think I can go to the burial part,” Candy said. “I just can’t hardly take even seeing him in there.” She gestured weakly at the casket. “You do whatever you need to do,” Dawn said. The church foyer filled up, with people bypassing the receiving line bottleneck to find seats in the church. A few stopped by the casket to pay their respects, but many hurried by with only a furtive glance. By the casket, Sheila saw Nell’s outline materialize. She elbowed Dawn, curious to learn if Dawn could see Nell too. “Look, over by Dad. Do you see her?” Dawn turned her head. “I see Mr. Eddington.” Nell’s presence shimmered next to Mr. Eddington’s round form, a tan windbreaker zipped tight over his pot belly that gave the impression of a baked potato. “Maybe you could come over there with me. Show her that you’re glad she’s here.” “Who? Nell? Do you see her right now?” Dawn aimed her phone at the place where Mr. Eddington stood and Sheila heard the sound of !110
camera shutter. Nell disappeared, as Sheila knew she would. Dawn waved the phone at Sheila’s face. “See, no one’s there but Mr. Potato.” Sheila didn’t even pretend to study the picture. She knew it didn’t matter. “You scared her off,” she said. “Why can’t you just be nice, Dawn?” When the last of the receiving line made its way past the family, hundreds of nods and hand squeezes and hugs later, the man from the funeral home pulled the doors shut. Becky Decker stood at the microphone in front of the old-fashioned church organ. Andrew, who had lobbied their father unsuccessfully to replace the organ with a drummer and guitarists, had chosen “Ave Maria” as the opening song. Becky sang and Sheila marveled as usual that such an angelic singing voice could emerge from a woman known for a social media feed filled with foul-mouthed and angry rants about immigrants, liberals, and gun control advocates. The man from the funeral home, along with two others Sheila didn’t recognize, rolled her father’s casket along the aisle to the front of church. Andrew trailed a few steps behind, his eyes downcast and his hands knitted in front of him. Christine, Jacob and Joshua followed. The boys looked into the faces seated in each pew as they passed, and Sheila thought that perhaps they’d never seen the church so full. It had certainly been years since she’d seen every pew taken. The men parked the casket to the right of the lectern, and Sheila took her seat in the front row between Dawn and Jacob. Someone had thoughtfully placed a box of tissue on the pew. Andrew ascended the redcarpeted steps to the dark oak pulpit. Above his head floated the massive bronze cross that Sheila used to like to imagine was held in place by angels. In the morning light she could see the thin wires suspending it from some wire hooks on the ceiling twenty feet above. After Becky trilled the last notes of “Ave Maria,” Sheila heard the sounds of muffled crying in the church. Andrew did his welcoming thing, and then introduced her for the first reading. Sheila took the podium, faltering slightly to see her father’s reading glasses resting in a cubby underneath the microphone. She thought she could smell a trace of his soap and shaving cream. “From the Book of Ecclesiastes, Chapter Seven,” she read from the white binder of readings Andrew had left on the podium. She looked up and saw hundreds of eyes upon her. A few of the church women cried openly, patting the skin under their lower lashes with balled-up tissue. Most of the men sat stone-faced. In the back of the church she spotted Randall, in a dark polo shirt emblazoned with the logo of the mobile home dealership where he worked, and her heart swelled with affection for his gesture. “A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death better than the day of one’s birth. It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all !111
men; and the living will lay it to his heart. Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better. The heart of the wise in in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.” Sheila hadn’t bothered to read the Scripture before the services but reading it aloud now it struck her as a perfect description of her own views on death. She decided to go off script. “I can testify to the truth of this,” she said. “Death clarifies life. Seeing the death of another person teaches us something. It puts an exclamation point on their life and ours. A few of you think that Dad was taken too soon, I know, but he was taken at the right time. And though I can’t see him here, I think he is with us, his sins now open for all to see, just as we all will be.” Andrew materialized beside her, his right arm wrapped around her shoulders and fingers digging into her arm. “We’ll have time later in the service to offer tributes, Sheila,” he said, in a pleasant and comforting pastor’s voice. His fingers bit her arm. “This isn’t a tribute. I’m sharing my learning, just like Dad would have. Isn’t it true that each of us bears witness? We’re all sinners, Andrew, but yet each of us is made in God’s image and can bring some truth to the world,” she said. In the audience, she saw heads bowing together, lips moving, and meaningful looks exchanged. They knew what she meant, she could feel it just as clearly as she felt Nell’s presence once again near her. To Andrew she said, “I’m not saying anything shocking.” “There’s time later,” he said with a smile for the congregation. Sheila wondered if he would muscle her from behind the podium. No wonder he liked preaching so much, she thought. All these people, sitting in place, ready to hear your teachings. Having an audience felt great. “Death allows our soul to take wing, like a bird from its cage. That cage is sin. We are supposed to fly in harmony with the world, not be bound by the technology and the pornography and the psychology. These things are like an illness to us, they keep us from looking at one another and really seeing each other. And from seeing the spiritual world around us.” “Sheila, stop this,” Andrew hissed in her ear. “Andrew, you’re as blind as the rest. Am I the only one in this church who sees Nell’s spirit standing right next to Dad’s casket?” The people in the church gasped in unison, like an enormous, manyfaced beast that had, in fact, seen a ghost. Every eye turned to the casket for a few beats, then back to Sheila, skeptical and a few horrified expressions slowly forming over the adult faces. Jacob’s jaw hung open in surprise, and Joshua stood up, as if to get a better view. Sheila could see that the adults, by and large, thought she was crazy. She wondered how it was possible that no one, not one person in this church full of at least two hundred people, could also see Nell’s spirit form, shimmering and sparking in front of the entire church, as though she was laughing. !112
Dawn stood up and walked to the podium, her face delicately posed in a friendly, non-threatening expression that Sheila found patronizing. She continued to speak into the microphone. “People who have near-death experiences hear a bell or a buzz, then they see a panoramic view of their lives. A figure beckons them from the light. Most people think that’s God,” Sheila said. “Why don’t we go outside for a while?” Dawn said in a low voice. She reached her hand out to clasp Sheila’s. “You don’t see Nell, do you?” “I do not,” Dawn said. The sisters walked down the middle aisle, holding hands, a hundred eyes watching them, some with sneers and others with shock. As they passed the last row, Randall swung out of the pew and followed them out. None of them spoke until the church doors shut behind them and they stood on the gravel driveway. “You’re batshit crazy, aren’t you, Sheila?” Randall laughed. “Give me some of whatever you’re on.” Dawn shot him a dirty look. “Who the fuck are you?” “Dawn, this is Randall. I took care of his mother. She died this week. Randall, this is my sister Dawn.” “Sorry for your loss,” Dawn said. She groped in her purse for her big black sunglasses. “Sorry for your loss too,” he said. “But man, Sheila, you’re crazy as shit. I’ve never seen anything like that at a Baptist funeral.” “Well, we’re not the best example of a Baptist family,” Dawn said. “Some of us wear our crazy right out in the open instead of behind closed doors. All part of the show here at Family of the Living Spirit Church.” “Living spirit?” Randall said. “That’s pretty funny.” “Should we go back in there?” Sheila said. “Maybe we shouldn’t have left.” “We definitely should have left,” Randall said. “You got any beer at your place?” “I feel like we should hear Andrew’s eulogy,” Sheila said. “Much as I’d like a drink, I think we should go back in. Maybe just stand in the back,” Dawn said. Randall glanced around. “Look, I’m gonna take off,” he said. “You kind of made a big spectacle in there and I don’t want to get too much attention on me.” “You don’t want to get too much attention on you?” Dawn repeated back, her eyebrows arched above the black frames. “What makes you think this is about you?” “Don't worry about it, Randall. I understand. I’ll talk to you later,” Sheila said. “Nice to meetcha, Donna,” he said. His cowboy boots crunched gravel to his massive Chevy truck. “Seriously, Sheila,” Dawn said. !113
“I know. But he’s not so bad.” “In bed, you mean? Come on. The guy’s a toad.” They stood for a moment in the morning sun, facing the church. Sheila read the bronze plaque affixed to the right of the door for what felt like the millionth time. FAMILY OF THE LIVING SPIRIT CHURCH PASTOR EARL UDELL, FOUNDER 1936 “UNTO HIM THAT LOVED US AND WASHED US FROM OUR SINS IN HIS OWN BLOOD” – Rev 1:5 DEDICATED JUNE 5, 1966 “So when you said you saw ghosts, you meant Nell?” Dawn said. “Ever since I moved into the shack, I’ve seen her. What’s that been, about a year?” “Huh.” “You don’t believe me, that’s fine. She’s family, you know, just like me and you.” “Yeah, sure, I guess, I get that. I mean, I hardly ever spoke to her but you seemed to take a liking to her. And Dad certainly cared for her.” “No, Dawn. I mean, she’s family. Related by blood.” “What?” “It’s true.” “Sheila, you’re telling me that the ghost of Nell, the church caretaker, not only haunts the house you’re living in and attends our father’s funeral, but that she is also related to us? Did the ghost tell you that? Do you know how ridiculous that sounds?” “Doesn’t matter how it sounds. It’s true. I have her journals.” For the first time since her arrival in Tulsa, Dawn looked at her sister with real interest. “Journals? I’d love to see them. Are they at Nell’s shack?” “Yeah, I found them at the top of the closet shelf, pushed all the way back. I don’t think Dad knew they were there.” “I want to see them,” Dawn said. Sheila imagined her calculating the movie rights and regretted telling her about them. “I thought we were going to go back in the church.” “Later, I meant. Anyway, how’s she related to us? Someone’s love child?” “I don’t think much about her conception had to do with love, Dawn. She says she’s the product of a rape. She never names the father.” “That’s awful. This family has skeletons a mile deep. So, who’s the mother?” “I’m not sure. Look, are we going to go back in?” Andrew’s voice rose and fell in full sermon mode when they took their places leaning against the decorative brick wall at the back of the church next to the sprays of flowers sent by friends and church members. Sheila pressed a thick white petal of a lily between her thumb and forefinger and felt its waxy texture. Yellow powder from the stamen !114
sprinkled into the tiny crevices in the webbing between those fingers, and she gently blew the dust off her skin. Andrew’s voice grew louder. “It was not always easy, having a father with such a singular mission of saving souls. Of course, he’d say it was not always easy having kids like Dawn, Sheila and me, either, who questioned him and his faith, as children can do, innocently and as part of growing up. The man you saw at church was the same man we saw at home. He loved us, but he also believed in the word of our Lord, as found in the Bible. He lived those words, he taught all of us what those words meant. He taught us to love the sacrifice Jesus made by dying for our sins. “I looked at his Bible one last time before I gave it to the funeral director to be placed in his hands for eternity, as he wished. Dad had crammed that Bible with sticky notes and slips of paper, nearly doubling that book’s thickness. I opened the book at random, and it fell open right away to Romans chapter one, where he had scrawled a note in that terrible handwriting of his—” Andrew paused while the congregation gave a small laugh. “That note said ‘Let the Word speak to me today, that I may hear its wisdom.’ Near those humble words, I read this: ‘For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth. “And what does that gospel say? That eternal life is God’s gift to us, freely given. Heaven awaits us, not because we earned it or deserved it or because we followed the Golden Rule. It awaits us because of God’s grace. And that is because his ways are better than ours. The Bible says this: “There is a way which seemeth right unto man but the end thereof are the ways of death.” God’s thoughts are on a different plane than ours, and his grace and forgiveness tower above ours. In Romans chapter six, verse twenty-three, we read these words. “For the wages of sin are death but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ.” The gift of life is eternal life. Isn’t that an amazing gift?” Sheila let her brother’s voice fade into a rolling static. Her back starting to ache from walking more than a few steps in too-tight vintage shoes. She bent over to touch her toes, feeling a few joints along the bottom of her spine crack and pop with the exertion. When the service ended, Andrew and Christine made a point of pretending not to see Dawn and Sheila as they passed by. They followed the men wheeling Dad’s coffin down the side ramp and out to the breezeway. Jacob slowed his steps to let his parents get ahead. “Aunt Sheila, do you still see the ghost?” She shook her head. “I think she left.” “What does she look like?” Mr. and Mrs. Lindeman, part of one of the few charter families to the church, were first out of the pews and into the foyer. Mr. Lindeman walked by Sheila, shaking his head and looking at the ground. Mrs. !115
Lindeman, their former fourth grade teacher, gave Sheila the stare she had reserved for boys making farting sounds in her classroom. “Hello Mr. and Mrs. Lindeman,” Dawn called after them. But they kept moving along like the sisters were soliciting donations for Planned Parenthood. Behind them came Cathy Gold, the church’s former Bible Camp organizer and now chief busybody running the prayer circle. She had hair the color of a brass lamp and a body the shape of a lampshade, the resemblance enhanced by her pleated beige skirt and sensible beige shoes. She patted Dawn on the shoulder. “I’ll tell you about the ghost later, Jacob,” Sheila said. “Go find your parents. Hello, Mrs. Gold.” Mrs. Gold ignored Sheila. “I’m so glad you’re here, Dawn. I think of you often out there in L.A. Do you go to church out there?” “I’m afraid I do not,” Dawn said. The woman winced, as though Dawn’s answer was a fork poked in her gut. She made a tch-tch sound. “Well, I know for a fact they have churches out there. You should go, for your mother.” “Okay, Mrs. Gold. I’ll think about it.” “Hmm.” She turned to Sheila, looked her outfit up and down and smirked, then said, “Sheila Madeline Udell, your mother looked down from heaven to see your behavior today, and she was ashamed. You should be too, acting like that in our Lord’s house.” Sheila opened her mouth to disagree, but Mrs. Gold held up her hand, her crooked, curled in fingers resembling a raised fist more than the stop sign she probably intended. She sniffed loudly. “Otherwise, it was a lovely service,” the older woman said, her eyes resting on no one. She cut through the slow-moving crowd like a wedge. April from the funeral home appeared at Sheila’s side, clutching a black leather-ish portfolio tight against her black blazer. “We have the limo here for you to go to the graveside.” “Are you coming with us?” Sheila asked. April’s presence might stave off Andrew’s angry reaction to her testimony earlier. “No, I’ll be right behind you in my own car,” April said. Damn. Sheila wrapped her hand around Dawn’s forearm and tugged. The sisters followed April outside to the black stretch limo. Andrew, Christine and the boys were already seated in a line along the bench seat at the rear, facing forward, leaving only the bench with its back to the driver open. Sheila ducked her head into the limo passenger compartment. “I’ll get car sick if I have to ride facing backwards,” Sheila said. Andrew kept his eyes focused on something outside the window, and Christine poked at her phone. Jacob fiddled around with one of those finger twirlers, and only Joshua looked back at her. “I mean, I might throw up,” she said. !116
“Jacob, Joshua, move to the other seat,” Andrew said. “We don't want Aunt Sheila to throw up on us, do we?” Joshua’s eyes widened, and he wiggled up to switch seats, Jacob following close behind. Sheila slid into the seat next to Christine, and Dawn sat between the two boys and got out her phone. “Thanks,” Sheila said. Christine glanced up from her phone to give a quick acknowledgement, but Andrew continued to glare out of the window, his jaw flexing. “When you’re mad, Andrew, you look just like Dad,” Sheila said. Andrew didn’t respond, and Sheila slipped off her vintage shoes and rubbed her pinky toe. She could already feel a blister forming from where the shoes pinched. “It was a nice turnout,” Christine said. “I can’t believe how many people came out. Not counting ghosts,” Dawn said. Christine squinted at Dawn for a moment. “Probably two-hundred and fifty people, don’t you think?” Christine said. Dawn shrugged. After a pause, they both went back to looking at their phones, and Sheila watched as Christine’s thumbs and forefingers flew over the keyboard typing messages having to do with Lalda Jo leggings. Commerce never rested. “Are you proud of yourself, Sheila?” Andrew’s words popped the tension like a pin into a fat balloon. Five sets of eyes watched him look out the window. Sheila heard Dawn mutter “here we go,” as she sat her phone down on her lap, colorful shapes still flashing from her game of Candy Crush. Sheila sat up straight in the seat and squared her shoulders. She didn’t see any reason to lie to him. “Yes, Andrew, I am quite proud of myself.” “Oh, that’s terrific. You hear that everyone? Sheila’s proud of herself. Great!” Sheila felt frustrated not to be able to make eye contact with Andrew, who continued to stare out of the window. She could hear his teeth grinding over the sound of tires on the pavement. “My boys have more impulse control than you do, Sheila,” Andrew said. Sheila saw Jacob give a small smile at the compliment and nudge his brother with his elbow. “Impulse control is a funny thing for you to talk about,” Sheila said. “Enough,” Christine said. “What is wrong with you people?” “I’m not sure where to start with that question,” Dawn said. “Yeah, we’ve got more than our share of dysfunction here, don’t we?” Andrew said. He finally looked at Sheila, his brown eyes as hard as a tree trunk. “Sheila, you’re a fucking disaster.” “Language!” Christine said. !117
“You’re stoned at your father’s funeral. You need to go into rehab, and when you come out, you need to find another place to live.” “Whoa! Slow down,” Dawn said. “I don’t have anywhere else to go,” Sheila said. “I’m not the big preacher man with the rich wife and the lake house. Dad said I could stay there as long as I wanted.” She felt the tears rushing to her eyes. She tried to blink them away. “Don’t drag my family into this,” Christine said. “Dad didn’t get to witness your performance at his funeral. In the church our grandfather built with his own hands. Where we worship God. And you see fit to talk about ghosts. Oh, wait, maybe Dad did see your shit show today. Was his ghost next to Nell’s, doing the fandango?” Joshua giggled, his hand over his mouth. “Want to play with my phone?” Dawn asked him. He nodded and took it from her. “That’s so you, Andrew, making fun of what you don’t believe in. You’ve never been open to anything outside of your little world.” She heard the wavering in her voice and hated it. “Here come the waterworks, right, little sis? I know you don’t mind when people laugh at you, Sheila, but I mind. I’m trying to keep this church going and you’re ruining it. People are saying that you brought Satan into the funeral. Cry all you want.” Sheila snapped open the metal top of her vintage pocketbook and fished out a tissue. Dawn raked her fingers through her hair, sending up a puff of coconut shampoo smell. “Easy now, Andrew. Sheila’s an adult. No one expects you to be responsible for what she does or says. Anyway, maybe more people will come to church now,” Dawn said. “Drama sells.” “Shut up, Dawn,” Andrew said. “Both of you, just shut up.” Sheila couldn’t stop the tears rolling now they’d begun, but there wasn’t anything left to say anyway. She looked out the window. The limousine rolled to a stop alongside a grassy slope dotted with granite headstones. Outside, she stepped onto the low curb and grass, looking up at white tent, halfway up the small hill half-shaded by tall trees. The afternoon sun warmed her face and shone through the leaves so they appeared to be made of green glass. Closer to the tent, she saw the rectangular scar in the grass, the mound of dirt, the casket gleaming in the sun. A tiny bulldozer, used to move dirt in and out of graves, sat a discreet distance away. She could hear the low steady rumble of a diesel engine and the rattle-kerchunk of stone on metal. Someone somewhere doing construction work. Someone somewhere just having a regular old nothing-special Saturday. The wind puffed, cooling the exposed skin the sun had warmed just moments before. She watched the longer stalks of grass that had avoided !118
the mower blades bow and dance in the breeze as people assembled under the tent and behind it. Andrew couldn’t kick her out of Nell’s house. She knew as well as he did that her residency was spelled out in Dad’s super-specific will. A yellow moth fluttered by, and she thought how the presence of death had a way of slowing time down. She moved to the left side of the hole, avoiding a direct look into its depths, and approached the large brass memorial plaque purchased by her parents. A thin spray of dust obscured her mother’s first name. She bent down and brushed it away. Funny how she didn’t see any ghosts at the cemetery, this sleeping sad deathland. She felt the urge to lay down alongside the open grave, close her eyes and fall asleep, hoping to dream of her parents, together, happy like they never were on earth. She decided to come back and do that tomorrow, when no one was here. Her brother’s soft baritone carried over the still air like music. “Let us pray,” Andrew said, his hands spread open at his sides. The wind swept in, shaking a shower of leaves loose from the trees and delivering one perfect, oval, yellow leaf into her folded hands.
LENNART LUNDH Pilgrimsâ€™ Progress Someday, some night will be ours. This is our Jerusalem, the thing we tell each other because. We believe in promises to keep, with years and miles between us, because our hearts are foolish but trusting. We will breach the cedar gates, build new life from gathered splinters, light night fires made of fragrant rubble.
LENNART LUNDH plus les choses changent This morning, in the heat and humidity of northwest Indiana in late July, I read poetry in a pavilion's shade maybe a hundred yards from a tank set as a memorial for seven decades past. My words, written forty-five years ago, spoke of the murder by war of children in a country formed after my birth, after my own part in a faraway conflict. After I was done, I saw the news of Kabul, of eighty or more dead at the hands of a nameless coward with a bomb. Contrary to common belief, even a pacifist can be filled with anger by the world, by the way things change but don't.
LENNART LUNDH No Safe Anchorage The ship lies on its side in the harbor, a roan-colored workhorse at rest before a call that will never sound. The breakers will come. It will be gone from all but stumbling memories.
ANASTASIA JILL Bomb I couldn’t tell Valentina that I was going to explode, so I wrote it on a piece of scrap with a glitter pen. She took the paper from my hands and told me that was nonsense. “You won’t talk, but I want you to know, I still love you.” I hadn’t spoken a word in weeks, because I was no longer on speaking terms with the world for fear of something violent coming off my tongue. Valentina refused to believe her ‘sweet Guili bug’ was volatile as the psychiatrist warned ‘people like that’ could be. She tried to deny it, but truth stayed the same. Her precious skin was full of kerosene, and my presence was the flame. Her hand was in mine, warm and full of vibrancy as she squeezed the tan into my fingertips and told me I would be fine. No, I wasn’t fine, but she insisted, “Yes, you are.” She read through my expressions like they were transparent as quartz; this scared me, more than anything else. I couldn’t hide from her anymore because she knew me too well. A voice popped into my head. I can’t trust you…you work for the government. I could only mince words on the paper in front of me, the collected thoughts of her being an envoy too much to fit on one page. Confused eyes grazed my handwriting, sloppy as the finger now in her face. “Oh, baby…” The wires were in her blood cells, cameras sat behind her eyes, little men hiding in her ear canal, recording my every move to the organ music stringing itself to the background… No organs. I hear them breathing. Talking. Exploding inside my brain. I looked at Valentina and tried to register her words about what is real and what isn’t, what belongs in the palm of psychosis and what is tangible, like her hugs that she wraps me up in now, but her hand is so close to my neck. She wants to hurt me. How? I just know. I don’t want you here appeared in inky scratch before I got up and took myself upstairs. The door slammed shut behind me, wall supporting my spine all the way to the floor. Dark room, but the music followed me along with the deep, husky panting in my head. To her credit, Valentina stayed downstairs. Then I was angry because Valentina stayed downstairs. My fingers, supercharged, curled into fists that pounded on walls, knocking the gait off of the rats hiding in the drywall. There were no rats, !123
Valentina should have reminded me, but she wasn’t here to console me. My body turned to sludge, and I drizzled like nuclear waste onto the floor. Footsteps. Real, this time. Valentina called my name and gave three knocks. Mouth open. ‘Leave me alone’ wouldn’t come out. The door opened, my girlfriend glowing by the grace of fluorescence. The agency I’d sensed on her earlier was dimmed, the satellite detected either silenced or gone. She approached me, soft and low, and I realized she wasn’t a mole. My nerves grew cold as she helped me upright. She smiled, defeated, and said, “I’m not going to hurt you.” She’d brought my paper and markers, put them in my hands. Throwing them down, I tore the pages and chewed them up. Valentina sat there, quiet, resignation grabbing the bottom of her lids and dragging them further to the ground. She waited for the nothing I was going to say. “I’m sorry,” was all she could offer. After a gritty pause, my head slumped into her shoulder, and she didn’t complain when she got a mouth full of black curls. Turning her palm face up, my index finger beeped a haphazard code: Guiliana is going to explode. “So, we’re doing morose code now.” My mouth whispered, “I think you mean Morse code.” Her eyes widened, but it wasn’t shock, it was anger. “That’s what gets you to speak up after all these weeks? Really? A correction?” My whole cheeks were full of tears, and I felt so guilty and large and obligatory. Still, I choked out words. “I’m sorry.” My voice was creaky after time not used, but that didn’t stop me from apologizing again and again. My most patient Valentina was back. She didn’t want to be, but she was. “It’s okay, I know you don’t mean it.” “That doesn’t make any of this okay,” I shout, or at least, it felt like shouting, but then she had to lean in and listen to wade through my slurring. She peppered my fears with reasoning and another unwanted hug. My arms groaned like floorboards as I pushed her away. “You’re too good. You’re going to get hurt.” Compassion was replaced with ignition as her features became hard and hot. “I think I’m a better judge of that than you.” My mouth was ready with explanations, about how toxic and painful I felt, how everyone thought I was dangerous, some days I wanted it to hurt the entire planet, and yes, that included her. When she didn’t respond, I said, “Whatever, you wouldn’t get it.” “Just because I’m not schizophrenic doesn’t mean I’m an idiot, Guiliana.” Neither of us had acknowledged this out loud before. Whenever the phrase came up, we both dodged around it like we now did each other’s !124
truths. Now, her words were calculated, and my brain was heavy with moist breath, and vague thoughts about her being a double agent crossed my mind again. She reassured me, “I’m not an agent.” My thoughts countered what they couldn’t write: That’s what an agent would say. She pushed them away, literally, as she forced me to look at her. “Listen. You are so scared, but you didn’t do anything wrong.” That wasn’t true. “Yes it is, whether you believe it or not.” I got up. My brain corroded. Prove her wrong. The moments between standing up and stepping around the room are fuzzy, like the end piece of 35mm film. I tore the room in half, ripping items from surfaces like they were mattress tags, tossing and breaking and spilling until I realized I was trying to prove her wrong. Not about me, but about her. I was looking for the wires, the cameras, the men tucked into our closet keeping their tabs on me. Valentina tried to hold me off but screamed that she couldn’t understand, “Why are you exploding like that?” I laughed in her face. She couldn’t see the explosion. It was in my head, the worst ache, with no blood or swollen brain tissue. It was a small explosion caused by the kindness I didn’t deserve. I am a bad person… A bad person… I calmed into sobs, and she dragged me down to the ground. Rolling me over into her lap, Valentina plucked hairs away like dying wires telling me that it was all okay, we would both be fine. Reaching for a stray maker, I took her hand and followed the veins. “Are you sure these aren’t wires?” She nodded, but I still muttered to the surveillance that was traveling through her arm, down her chest, into her thighs. I hope they know I love her, and I wouldn’t hurt her now. This isn’t real. A real disease. I won’t go off again. This isn’t real, schizophrene.
JOEL SCARFE Fine Occasional Rain So what if I want to sit at an open window all afternoon, while fine occasional rain blows at the back of the sofa and into my wine, balanced on the back of the sofa? The train station is at the end of the street, and I will see them returning from work, some with umbrellas, newspapers, and the low-angled frowns of faces, all clammy with fine occasional rain.
JOEL SCARFE Happisburgh I imagine you, the scrambled gestures of a distant bird, alone at dusk, walking the clifftops of Norfolk. The seaâ€™s weary metaphor, stretching out before you, and the sky, vast and incomprehensible. I can almost hear the wind out there on its bitter errand, and can picture your face, seasoned to the sting of sand. A lifetime, holding absolutely nothing in its hands.
JOEL SCARFE Mirror-Ball Unable to listen to frank advice, not even from her friends, the moon shows her bright body to lonely winter fields. And in this small town, underneath the light of a mirror-ball, the boys are driven mad by the bright girls, their bright legs, walking away.
JOEL SCARFE Victory I understood the meaning of those murky days, saturated with fog and numb fingers. I knew the sense of victory in keeping my cigarettes dry, as I walked the lane towards her house. Her mother at work, and the mad gravity of her hair, her lips. The warmth of her things, and in the bedroom, the bright light of her body.
TERESA MORSE Exposure In chemical-cloaked dark rooms we find what we see and what leaps past our sight, sly and careful. Stamps of light coax edges and curves, umbrellas huddled near rain-dripped awnings, steel cutting through steaming brown bread. In the ruby light we meet our worlds. A twist of the lens focuses the eye, collapses body and mind. Sleek paper shows us a created world narrowed. We hide the rest in darkness and sometimes in light lingering like a low moon on the print, reflecting to us the emptiness we chose to see, and there in the shadows live secrets we keep from ourselves.
TERESA MORSE Sourdough It starts with the wild yeast making its home in typical placesâ€”your flour, your air, your body. Mix water and flour with warmth and time, the yeast will do its work. You have created life and a sourdough starter can live generations, heirloom on your counter. The yeast dies, which I find cruel, in the oven where dough becomes bread, but first there is the rising, the space where we learn we need loneliness to grow. Life eternal (theoretically) for the starter, always dawning, ever what it was and will be, breathing its own past and future, the way we all wish we could.
TERESA MORSE Nocturnal The night keeps me awake with its quiet, new world in the dark and I am a creature emerging with owls and bats, with moonflowers unfolding, kin to morning glory’s rich petal contradiction. When the sun belongs to another half, forgotten ones trail my mind like ants, prod it awake. I turn them over, each one a sand grain or parasite in a mollusk, coat them in half-sleep until they’re smooth. There is a piece I lose, drawn away by terrors to wander a sleeping universe. Not much to night but dark, and the dark holds everything. Still, lost to slumber, found again when dawn cracks the gray.
ANDREW LAFLECHE the white speck dancing by the window reminds of snow when life was lived there. those cold winds forcing the collar tight though the sharpness livened the core of being the bears in the lightly dusted Boreal preparing the last of their supplies before the ground froze over until spring children begging the sky for a storm to blanket the water tower hill for sledding ahead of mothers calling them home to bed the romantic, for a white Christmas. the young woman, to blanket herself with her lover by the open fire place. for crisp star filled nights where the only clouds are of spoken words whispered in the knowledge of being heard. yes. yes. I miss the north on days like these. I miss home.
ANDREW LAFLECHE in relapse or recovery the skin has grown over the shells lodged in the soles of my feet. all those days limping around the house shifting my weight to lessen the pain, I don’t feel them anymore. like the lead broke into my hand in first grade can be seen in the palm though it no longer hurts that’s how it is with my instep, now. still I encounter some queasiness thinking about these objects inside me. I shake my head a little at Johnny for being so careless at school, but mostly I enjoy touching my toes to the ground rolling softly to my heels expecting a spike and experiencing nothing, I smile. something I haven’t done in a while where this new confidence forces me to contend maybe today I’ll try walking in the same room as you.
ANDREW LAFLECHE so it goes a splintered boat in an overgrown field gord downy on the big screen, he’s dead an old friend in stage four, haven’t seen in years as if premature twin babies weren’t enough or four years sobriety didn’t count for anything colon cancer stage four, premature babies, so it goes at least the wife gets to blog her pain to the voyeuristic mass at least he’s returned to Christ and the family is holding fast at least there are these latter days, at least there will be heaven a woman pregnant with a dying child bowels afloat outside its stomach, she rejects the offered opportunity to abort takes a hit from the pipe then sips a beer it’s okay, she says, her friend drank and smoked the entire term and the baby was born healthy and so it goes, the world spins its web of pain so it always goes
ANDREW LAFLECHE prisoner of my own chains only I canâ€™t get the damn things to stay locked my wrists keep falling free where now I have to prop my arms up on the wall and hang the cuffs over top while keeping my foot jammed behind the cell door due to the busted stocks I know are broke because the bars will swing open unprovoked permitting my escape so Iâ€™m arms outstretched and reaching feet to remain prisoner in this place though I must admit the effort it takes might be better spent on grace
ANDREW LAFLECHE lost angels five-thirty in the morning Wednesday, this thirtieth of may tri-layered clouds consume the sky above blackens the early light impossible to stay the ominous familiarity: I’ve been here before only it was eight years ago, middle of the night half way around the world thirtieth of July eight days before he died. she’s in labor now doctor tells her push says the cord is wrapped twice around his neck says she really has to push this time the boy is blue neck limp, breathless flash back to then: his last breath in my arms she doesn’t recognize the mortality of what may be below the place she lies exhausted from delivery color draining from corners of sight holding my own breath until he gasps
a childâ€™s first cry passed to the one who gave him life her and I holding tight the three of us maybe the rains are here to wash it all away maybe the rains are nothing
LIS SANCHEZ aubade: at the marine refuge from the bluff we stand and look tidepools blink up at us a harbor seal beams on the black tilt the path is tortuous the fall mortal not touching the fragile sea buckwheat or sage we wend down slowly as the periwinkle that strops her tongue across the pebble or the octopus in its dark niche cracking the abalone we read aloud each sign warning that few survive even the gentlest handling by our kind our mere shadow can kill we can't tell the worst of what we'll do when we were children pressing a shell against our ear we didn't know how the ocean swept in or when it might break inside us that's why already our mouths are half-filled with salt
LIS SANCHEZ Advanced Equations I was too alone, with little to develop my senses, my mother told Miss Ushker, my fourth grade teacher, shortly after my mother married a man she couldn’t quit touching. She touched the back of his hands, his wrists, his forearms, as though she were a woman blinded by a squall, as though his body were the last dike standing and her fingers were testing for the inevitable crack. Nights, under the kitchen's hanging lamp I slumped over Miss Ushker’s story problems, I sharpened my pencils like darts, I glared at the remainder of milk drying in my glass. Mostly I calculated ways to divide: If the man puts his toothbrush in the cup at ten o'clock and the girl dips the brush in the toilet each time she pees— until in drifts my mother wearing the seafoam kimono, her hair tangled like bladderwrack, and asks did I double-check my solutions, but before I can answer, in rolls her husband, two highballs fizzing over his knuckles and a lock of damp hair flicking his brow like a barbed tail. I expel a sigh and start to add a long lugubrious whimper, when all at once the pair dives into the figures; they're plunging in deep, ripping out pages, bending the spine. "Like this — " my mother grabs my eraser, wipes out my computations. He jabs a finger, booms, "That’s ludicrous!" The kimono ripples off one shoulder. My mother's voice trembles; she shakes the equations at his undone shirt buttons. They square off, eye each other. He sums up: "You wouldn't know long division if you were drowning in it!" The book slams; they grapple, thrash about; the lamp pitches, the highballs explode against the wall. My mother breaks after him to the bedroom, the door crashes shut. All night a torrent of sound, like people being swept under water, surges through the crack.
The story problems were too simple, I lied to Miss Ushker when I brought back that book. She got out a more ponderous text, laden with arcane codes, Ancient Hieroglyphs, which I lugged home on my back just as the rain began, in fits at first. Soon it was coming down hard and I could barely feel the ground under my feet; I was rushing to be taught a fathomless language.
LIS SANCHEZ Diagnostic Mammogram This machine, this high priestess, augur with the eyeless hood with feet of scythes with hands of dies that stamp a breast into a tarot deck, every card the hanged woman— this time her machinations won’t drop me to my knees, this time I’ve sidestepped the day of thunder and the day of earthquake, I’ve depilated. I’ve laved the engravings on my breasts. In my hip pocket is the doll whose hair I’ve burnt off and swapped for a tuft of steel wool to roust my grandmother’s ghost. I’ve coughed my way to the ugly end of a cigarillo, offered donut holes to the front desk devotees, draped my shoulders in a cape of paper. I’ve followed the novice donned in winky-face scrubs down the chill corridor into this inner chamber with its lights and tiles of white white white. I lean in, don’t breathe. Her teeth in my armpit, blood tension in the air, the divination begins with a clinking, with a casting of bones beneath her skirt, with a blackbird in her craw croaking out of time, endlessly malignant. Doubts flap inside my skull. She keeps grinding the gears, ticking like a crooked roulette, and when at last she unclamps !142
her hold on me I tell myself this two-bit seer cannot have crawked my fate since I have done all that I have done to true fortune’s wheel and I'm spinning, relieved—so light! And as I'm slipping toward the threshold, I turn and glimpse the novice waving in the manner of a magician flourishing a fake dove— a sanitizing cloth— with which she begins rubbing out all signs that I was here.
DAVID SWERDLOW Those Woods As if all of concentration would rise with it, a great blue heron broke its pose atop a hump of wood clutter, home to a colony of beavers I came to study most days at dusk, for solace, if not the frayed desire to be quiet, near something other than myself. Decades have passed, surely, but those wings, their forceful stutter into flight, still resound now and then within me, usually when silence reveals itself no longer bearable on a long drive over gray roads to an unfriendly job. This is when my memory twitches to the beavers, some coming awake in their damp lodge under the weight of that milk blue sky; some in deep snore, their determination and dream not yet divided by their mateâ€™s body slipping out into thick water and nosing into new air to see the curved bird circle over the pond and fly out of Aprilâ€™s frame, time surrounded by aspens, pine, and the nameless longing into which I had nestled. I never felt young. It had been ten years, but Iâ€™d never left the night my father pulled his car into the suburban woods and took enough pills to stop his life and leave what he could no longer bear, his survival marked by the mud black tire tracks the cop followed into the rain-soaked slot where my father lay in the backseat !144
of his midnight blue Dodge Polara, which had to be pried open like a can of rank secrets for his life to go on. What more needs to be remembered? What more than a voice on a telephone telling us where and when? If someone put me at the edge of those woods now and told me to walk in and find the pond, I would listen for wings, for the primitive signature a beaverâ€™s tail sounds on its self-made pool at dusk to protect its kind. Every day, Iâ€™m told we live in an age of terror making us look fearfully to an empty sky the birds have left.
CARL BOON Dragonman You conjure a space, the people in that space concealing secrets, their bodies wounded and their pasts diagonals when suddenly a stranger appears, carrying a scythe, perhaps, or foreign coins, or whiskey. Because he looks like a dragon they call him Dragonman. He considers their bread and the street tar on the soles of their shoes. He wants to be fed; he wants their stories; he is Salome without the sky-blue robe and hair in the eyes. But nobody knows this but you, you safe in your firmer shelter, you who holds a hundred branches of magnolia to scatter in your den and your starlit landing. You know what you are doing; you have placed them here—all of them— and the secrets they conceal and the bread on long platters and Dragonman who waits with fingernails full of soil. Anything might happen here— a slaughter, a feast, a quick end to all that they’d believed in.
CARL BOON On a Long Field On a long field in Medina County a farmer moves, a scarlet flower moves, his wife moves in the hallway to the Glenn Miller Orchestra doing “In the Mood.” The world is happy for a while and they’re gonna make love for the second time that day and look at the corn and the cows and drink homemade milkshakes with slashes of whipped butter. Ham and potatoes wait on the stove, and he’s singing now, nude, his white flesh moving toward the kitchen as a razor moves, and she is moving, too. A dropped gown, peach cobbler in squares on the counter, milk and coffee and the occasional moan of need not easily expressed. Tomorrow each will rise to chores and more slowly to each other. The firm, beige world will surround them, the broken implements in the barn, the chipped paint behind the stove she’s covered with a First National Bank calendar.
CARL BOON On Neruda’s Birthday The old man came to me with yellow flowers the color of his necktie. Dolores, he said, but I was Maria, so he touched my shoulder and tilted his cap and went on toward the sea. It was a Wednesday, and the daymoon meant a child was watching— somewhere, from a window.
Barefoot, thirsty in my garden, I heard the old man sing and pray at the waves. I heard the sand fall from his knees as he stood, and the shriek of gulls. So much life remains if we choose to listen, if we seek water instead of words. Then he clapped hard to no one but himself.
There was no later, though I waited at La Piojera with wine and curanto for him to return. I waited, and painted my fingernails gold and blue. When the waiter said I had no business dreaming of the dead, I folded peso notes into figures of ghosts and fell slowly away.
CARL BOON Something Happened in the Ocean But I failed to become a man. The sand scraped my thighs, the salt was derelict, and I approached my mother, awash in certain joys: a book, the thought of Cajun shrimp or sex or how it would feel to float forever— past the breakers, past the sandbar, past ironing and memory and what it meant to be a woman. The wave had tipped me, that was all. I’d landed on my knees, sun-gripped and dazed, yet somehow it hurt. The girl in the red bikini looked away; the flounder fishermen cursed, sipped beer, but I was small in all of that. I didn’t know where I was; I doubted I’d ever become a man or anything more than one who’d spun and finally stood. My father told me— I remember—beware of what’s behind, the planet gives and takes. The earth is large in our misery and shrinks when we believe we are too small to swim.
JASMINE HANLEY in ostkreuz the person who closes his eyes and tilts his head to the heavens what dedication, what bravery, what a song it must be i close my eyes when i get in the station allow my foot to find the ridges for the blind how small would i have to be to go entirely unnoticed ? skin or bones or flesh itself, it wavers it changes i’d like to meet my body as my body rather than a receptacle for thought when i get close to speaking it, the ear drums beat with blood the darkness bleats in blood can i blame myself ? being grown a girl – the things we use become our selves, so i am become skin and soot, and the salves that soothe me.
LYDIA MCDERMOTT Tiny At dusk, the little gods come tripping out from behind whatever small appliance (gear, cog. windmill, wind-up toy) their small hands have been working, winding, grinding, pushing carefully. The tiny door-hinge goddess, tired from squeaking, comes down to rest, locks the door for the night. They look so fragile among the big people stuff; twenty-two fit on one Lay-Z-Boy, reclining collectively to push the back down. Before sleep, the younger gods switch positions. She tries to heat the toaster while he tries in vain to work a tube of red lipstick, smushing the tip so it will never go on evenly again. The most courageous of the younger gods venture through the crack under the door to see the big world. They turn their faces into the wind of a large godâ€™s breath. Their feet lose hold, fly up behind them; the little gods flitter like dry leaves down the pavement, rolling, bumping their tiny shins, funny bones, foreheads. They grab at twigs, fire hydrants, gum wrappers. One lucky little god sticks his head in a wad of old gum and sticks it out, upside down, his hair pulling at the roots. Eventually the wind dies down and he rests. There are no small gods up the street and none down the street. His head will not break free, so he closes world-weary eyes. He dreams he is at the edge of the well the big gods drink from, peering into the black depths. One by one he drops in pennies the size of his head. His tiny godly wishes splash in the dark water below.
Yes, tiny god, wake from your dream. Join the miniature procession of morningâ€™s work. Chant your own praise, since most of us know nothing of your tiny hands turning tiny gears to break the dawn, flaming here over our mutual smallness.
LYDIA MCDERMOTT Over After listening to the day’s itinerary, my four-year old son looked me face-on: “Someday I will be as big as you.” (soon, boy, soon). “When I am that big, I will be able to drive the car, and when I can drive the car, I will drive myself to the playground.” How I wish this were true. I imagine his bright child face shining through the scruff and pimples of adolescence, his newly gangly legs stretched long from a swing, torso tilting back, rough chin tipped to the sky—all he can see is blue and white and all he can feel is the glorious dizziness that comes from falling into the sky over and over.
LYDIA MCDERMOTT Sleepover Memory After Hearing That My Childhood Friend Won the Cityâ€™s Biggest Beauty Contest The popular girls flew above us, their buoyant bangs small balloons on their powdered foreheads, their permed hair winged out stiff to the sides, the back a neat cascade of kinky waves. Their radiant rouged mascaraed faces smirked down from the heights of Jr. High celebrity. At twelve, Lisa and I were small breastless boyish girls, no maxi pads to inconvenience us so glamorously. We were playing horses and wizards in the yard, mixing potions in the bathroom with perfume, lotion, and baby powder. We traded stickers, Garbage Pail Kids, and plastic charms. One night, we decided to take control, spent every cent of our allowances on that magic woman stuff, makeup: nude foundation, loose powder, little yellow sticks to cover purple circles, pink blush that glittered, frosty eye shadows, green mascara and blue eyeliner. All night we practiced this new art; made fish faces to find our cheeks and pink the apples there; stretched our eyes to line the inside of the lower lids blue, dark, mysteriously squinty; lined lips outside the lines and filled them in with gloss, perfectly pouty; teased our hair and sprayed it still. Giggling and preening, sipping bubbling juice from plastic wine glasses, we felt the glamour. And then in a freakish moment of midnight clarity, we caught our reflections in each other: Who were these girls? We clutched our Pound Puppies by their clipped plush tails, buried our faces, rubbed their embroidered hearts, and bled blue-green onto their soft bellies.â€Š !154
T. CLEAR The Poem Who Drank Too Much Too many nights in the margins of gin and he blanked out, rhyme and reason shaken, his marriage on the rocks. The wife wanted out of the couplet, threatened a stanza break. He buried his dissonance in rum, jiggered his diction, but— there was trouble in parody. You used to have such a beautiful simile, the wife said. You’re always feeding me the same line, he said. We don’t have syntax anymore, she said. I’m averse to abstinence, he said. She left him for a novel. He mixed his metaphors with vodka. His tone grew flat, his liver stressed. No longer the stirring ode, the poem who drank too much nursed a swollen foot, became a hack, had his license revoked for writing under the influence. Lived out his sentence as a cliché scribbled on a brown paper sack.
T. CLEAR Wintering With Bees When I’m lost roaming the frozen fields, let me be small enough to enter a honeyed hive so that I may fold myself, shoulder to shoulder, into the sweet company of their cluster. As winter deepens, we’ll huddle ever-closer to the queen, conserving our own shiver-borne heat to stay alive, vibrating a low hum deep within an old tree’s trunk. A way to endure the dark, and a hundred pounds of honey to sustain us. Come spring the girls will rustle up a scent of pollen, take flight to dredge their legs in golden grains. Will I have grown a black and yellow coat? And lucent wings to lift me back into my human self? Or will I stay to fan the nectar, content to spend my hours in trembling dance, pointing the way to the sugared brew?
SHAWN ANTO Rat Fever (after the Kerala floods) for my aunt & grandmother makes fear forever in me uncle’s blood who refused to save my aunt & grandmother from the flood in Kerala, drowning their home, drowning what used to be and isn’t now. Me uncle vows to protect his wife each word dissolves with a landslide, now repeating down down down water level rises & soon, there’s another question with another no-answer. Where do you go? Waiting for fishermen to relieve terror relieve what them others refuse to relieve some hypocritical stain, left on family-line come dine in dirty water snake stew & rat fever afraid of landslides occurring at night claiming so many lives of villagers love of the country now drenched in chaos. What were men but weak saints, un-heroes, nothing but selfish patient idols meant to have their breath stopped lungs filled with water & what costs us true living but every man-built house fallen memory so strong that couldn’t last in nature’s forever.
KELLY O’ROURKE Prep She is prepping them for their wives forever kimonoless geisha readying for women who come before, during, after. She’s their Tinker bell, Maria do-re-mi Holly Golightly. She flips shanty shotgun shit-shacks into glowing bungalows spins backyard haystacks into gold Hooks in with sundry states of modesty look don’t touch, touch, not there jump-starts with kisses, flips their fuse switches changes their oil, straightens their ties Drags them to art shows, karaoke loosens with hot massage and whiskey inflates their egos to hot air balloons soon they’re maneuvering Ferraris. Scoops them up out of first wives’ gutters gets them to market for seconds or thirds their mothers sigh with sweet relief, their dogs relieve themselves in frenzy. Before they leave, they might confess, you’re the best. She has her doubts. She meets their wives. She takes their hands, smiles.
KELLY O’ROURKE Welcome Welcome to the cathedral of your life. the stained glass displaying trials, read the titles, each etched above the thorny voltas. cannot unravel when or where, I this tome long before your conception time is measured in different tempos here. sun will reflect through the scenes when your wanders back to me. Your soul is the subof this body, your blood is my wine. Yes, your cross, I will send you guardians to assist. Know this: your must benefit more than yourself. good faith, you will succeed. Welcome to
Here’s the letter I wrote and The ghost letter underneath that’s my work In life.
Golden Shovel: To the Memory of David Kalstone, by Jean Valentine
MAGGIE EDWARDS of land and sea I was born a land person, but that doesnâ€™t mean much we all came out swimming, liquid breath turned screaming out drought as we dock to the sterile white outside knees, then feet touch ground toes grip and arches lift and we forget to float but when we return to sea weightless free flow of tide tied to heartbeat soles rest (and souls rest) in the weightlessness I was always a sea person, washed up on the sand, gills gone for overworked lungs drowned in drought I forget how I miss the sea, feel it on my feet
land is an island where I land a moment before I retreat to the safe embrace of the breath of the sea.
MAGGIE EDWARDS Tracing the Sun I traced the freckles on his back drawing borders like a map or the lines that connect constellations pigment stuck on skin like glitter, a kiss from the sun when he was a kid running laps around the backyard pool the same sun that left prints on my eyes when they traced clouds too close by, pulsing blue circles that followed wherever I looked
like the halo that lingers after he turns off the light and we surrender our eyes to the quiet of midnight.
SARAH DECKRO My Red Donâ€™t color to taste my red, It is not yours. My red â€“ copper blood, golden thread, crimson poppy, intangible sunrise, Every strand a different story. My red, un-struck match, Burns on volition To singe or consume. Attempts to bury, blistering smears, Witch whispers, fang-smiling demons, My red outlives. My red tastes of pigment staining sodden flax, What other seasoning is there? Renaissance canvas simmers the flavor in golden urns, Memorials hung on temple walls, inextinguishable.
THE AUTHORS Jeffrey Alfier is the 2018 winner of the Angela Consolo Manckiewick Poetry Prize from Lummox Press. In 2014, he won the Kithara Book Prize, judged by Dennis Maloney. Recent books include Fugue for a Desert Mountain, Anthem for Pacific Avenue, and The Red Stag at Carrbridge: Scotland Poems. His publication credits include The Carolina Quarterly, Midwest Quarterly, and Poetry Ireland Review. He is founder and co-editor of Blue Horse Press and San Pedro River Review. Tobi Alfier (Cogswell) is a multiple Pushcart nominee and multiple Best of the Net nominee. Her chapbook, Down Anstruther Way (Scotland poems), was published by FutureCycle Press. Her full-length collection Somewhere, Anywhere, Doesn’t Matter Where was published by Aldrich Press. Slices of Alice & Other Character Studies was just published by Cholla Needles Press. She is co-editor of San Pedro River Review (www.bluehorsepress.com). David M. Alper is a high school AP English teacher in New York City, residing in Manhattan. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Northridge Review, The Platform Review, Shantih Journal, Dragon Poet Review, Tilde Lit, Obra/Artifact, and Glassworks Magazine. Shawn Anto is 23 years old from Bakersfield, California. He’s originally from Kerala, India. He currently studies at California State University, Bakersfield, looking to receive his BA in English and Theatre. His writing has been featured or are forthcoming in The Paragon Press, Edify Fiction, Susan/The Journal, Internet Void, Ink & Voices, and Mojave Heart Review. Carl Boon lives in Izmir, Turkey, where he teaches courses in American literature at Dokuz Eylül University. His poems appear in dozens of magazines, including The Maine Review and Posit. A Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee, Boon is currently editing a volume on food in American literature. Michelle Brooks has published a collection of poetry, Make Yourself Small (Backwaters Press), and a novella, Dead Girl, Live Boy (Storylandia Press). Her poetry collection, Flamethrower, will be published by Latte Press in 2019. A native Texan, she has spent much of her adult life in Detroit. A co-founder of Floating Bridge Press, T. Clear’s poetry has appeared in many magazines and anthologies, most recently in Bracken, Terrain.org, !167
Scoundrel Time, UCity Review, The Rise Up Review, and 56 Days of August/Poetry Postcards. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Award and Independent Best American Poetry Award. She is a lifelong resident of Seattle, facilitates the Easy Speak critique group Re/Write, and has the good fortune to spend her days inventing new color combinations to paint on sandblasted glass. Sarah Deckro is a writer, teacher, storyteller, and amateur photographer who received a bachelor’s in History from Connecticut College. She works as a preschool teacher in Boston. Sarah’s poetry has appeared in the online journals Persephone’s Daughters and Francis House, and is soon to appear in an anthology by Arachne Press Limited. Her photography has been featured in Pidgeonholes online literary and arts journal. Richard Dixon is a retired high-school special education teacher and tennis coach. He has had his poetry and non-fiction published in Dragon Poet Review, Crosstimbers, Westview, Red River Review, Walt’s Corner of the Long Islander, Hard Crackers, RS, three Woody Guthrie anthologies (2011, 2013, and 2017) as well as Clash By Night, a anthology of poems related to the breakthrough 1979 album by the Clash: London Calling. Maggie Edwards teaches English in rural South Korea. Her work has appeared in the Antigonish Review. Leigh Fisher is from Neptune. No, not the eighth-farthest planet from the sun, but from the city in New Jersey. She is a historical fiction enthusiast, with an avid interest in Chinese history. She has been published in Five 2 One Magazine, The Missing Slate, Rising Phoenix Press, and others. She can be found as @SleeplessAuthoress on Instagram and @SleeplessAuthor on Twitter. Mark A. Fisher is a writer, poet, and playwright living in Tehachapi, CA. His poetry has appeared in: Angel City Review, A Sharp Piece of Awesome, Altadena Poetry Review, Penumbra, Turnip Truck(s), and many other places. His first chapbook, drifter, is available from Amazon. His second, hour of lead, won the 2017 San Gabriel Valley Poetry Chapbook Contest. His plays have appeared on California stages in Pine Mountain Club, Tehachapi, Bakersfield, and Hayward. His column “Lost in the Stars” has appeared in Tehachapi's The Loop newspaper for several years. He has also won cooking ribbons at the Kern County Fair. Michael J. Galko is a scientist and poet who lives and works in Houston, TX. Both his science and his poetry explore wound healing and pain. He has poems recently published or forthcoming in The Broadkill !168
Review, The Ear, Picaroon, Gargoyle, Gulf Coast, descant, and The Concho River Review. Natalie Gasper is an internationally performed poet whose work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Write Launch, The Hickory Stump, The Remembered Arts Journal, Noon by Arachne Press, and ellipsis…literature & art, amongst others. She works as an interviewer and reader for The Nasiona. Find her on Twitter @NatalieGasper. Benjamin Goluboff teaches English at Lake Forest College. In addition to some scholarly publications, he has placed imaginative work—poetry, fiction, and essays—in many small-press journals, recently Unbroken, Bird’s Thumb, and War Literature and the Arts. He is the author of Ho Chi Minh: A Speculative Life in Verse and Other Poems (Urban Farmhouse Press, 2017). Some of his work can be found at www.lakeforest.edu/academics/faculty/goluboff/ Ken Hada has published six collections of poetry, including his latest: Bring an Extry Mule (VAC, Purple Flag Press, 2017). Hada's work has been recognized locally and nationally in various contexts. In 2017, he received the Glenda Carlile Award for Distinguished Service from the Oklahoma Center for the Book. Jasmine Hanley is a former NYU student turned writing student at the University of Melbourne. Poetry and herbal tea help her sleep at night. She tends to write about healing, traveling, and sometimes dancing, too. Jill Hawkins is a graduate of The Red Earth MFA program at Oklahoma City University. She was born and raised in Oklahoma. Jill has publications in: The Journal of the American Medical Association, Blacktop Passages, Southwestern American Literature, Pink.Girl.Ink., Poeming Pigeon, Mizna, The Endeavor, Dragon Poet Review, Red Earth Review, Lowestoft Chronicle, The Whiskey of our Discontent: Gwendolyn Brooks as Conscience and Change Agent, Degenerates: Voices of Peace, The Penwood Review, PCC Inscape Magazine, Toe Good, Deaf Oklahoman and Stream Ticket. Anastasia Jill is a queer poet, fiction writer, and aspiring filmmaker. Her work has been published or is upcoming with Poets.org, Lunch Ticket, FIVE:2:ONE, Ambit Magazine, apt, Into the Void Magazine, 2River, Gertrude Press, and more. Quinn Carver Johnson and Todd Fuller are co-authors of a poetry collection, Linear. Their separate/ poetry / journeys merged after the publication of Fuller’s collection To the Disappearance (Mongrel Empire Press, 2015) in which Fuller’s poem, “An Index of First Lines,” appeared !169
and later served as the creative impetus for the collaboration–-through Johnson’s vision. Johnson currently attends Hendrix College (AR) where he is pursuing an English degree. Work from the Linear project has been published in Broadkill Review, Dragon Poet Review, Flint Hills Review, and BoomerLit. Jennifer Kidney is an adjunct assistant professor at the College of Professional and Continuing Studies at the University of Oklahoma. She is the author of six books of poetry. Richard Krohn has lived most of his life up and down the East Coast, Maine to Virginia, but with many years also in the Midwest and in Central America. In recent years his poetry has appeared in places like Poet Lore, Southern Poetry Review, Arts & Letters, Tar River, Concho River, Rio Grande and Rattle, among dozens of others. Andrew Lafleche is an award-winning poet and author of six books. His work uses a spoken style of language to blend social criticism, philosophical reflection, explicit prose, and black comedy. Andrew enlisted in the Army in 2007 and received an honorable discharge in 2014. Visit www.AJLafleche.com for more information. Emma Lee’s most recent collection is Ghosts in the Desert (IDP, UK 2015). The Significance of a Dress is forthcoming from Arachne (UK). She co-edited Over Land, Over Sea: Poems for Those Seeking Refuge, (Five Leaves, UK, 2015), reviews for The Blue Nib, The High Window Journal, The Journal, London Grip and Sabotage Reviews and blogs at http://emmalee1.wordpress.com. Lynn Lipinski earned her M.F.A. from Mount St. Mary's University in Los Angeles in spring 2018. Her writing has been published in the Los Angeles Times, UCLA Magazine, Trojan Family Magazine, and several small literary presses including The Rush, The Same, and Birds Piled Loosely. She grew up in Oklahoma, but decades in L.A. have worn away the accent. Lennart Lundh is a poet, short-fictionist, historian, and photographer. His work has appeared internationally since 1965. Nathan Manley is a writer and teacher living in Loveland, Colorado. He holds a master’s degree in English literature from the University of Northern Colorado, and, with equal measures of affection and frustration, he now teaches college composition. His poems have appeared sporadically in literary journals both online and in print, and his first chapbook, Numina Loci, was published this spring by Mighty Rogue Press. His work was recently nominated for inclusion in Best of the Net !170
2018. In the truly bizarre event that it should matter to you, his favorite color is green. Lydia McDermott is a writer and scholar living in Walla Walla, Washington with her four cats, three sons, one partner, and one dog (Sherlock Bones). Sandeep Kumar Mishra is an outsider artist, poet, and lecturer in English Literature. He has edited a collection of poems by various poets —Pearls (2002)—and written a professional guide book—How to Be (2016)—and a collection of poems and art—Feel My Heart (2016). Teresa Morse is a Kansas native turned ex-Georgian now living in the Cedar Valley with her husband and pug. When not reading or writing, she can be found hiking, baking bread, or rummaging in antique stores. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Pilcrow & Dagger, The Cape Rock, and Pennsylvania English, among others. Kelly O'Rourke is pursuing her MFA in Creative Writing with a concentration in Poetry at San Francisco State University. Born and raised in Boston, she currently calls San Francisco home. She has published poems in HCE Review, Canada Quarterly, Poet's Haven Digest, Snapdragon Journal, Transfer Magazine, Holy Sh*t Journal, and Blue Collar Review. Adam Penna is the author of four books of poetry. His work has been published in many magazines and journals. He teaches at Suffolk County Community College and lives with his wife and family in East Moriches. Sujash Purna is a secondary ELA teacher from Missouri. He was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and at the age of 18, came to the US to study English. His poem, “Dhaka,” won third place in the Wax Poetry and Art's 14th Poetry Contest. His poetry appeared in publications such as the Five:2:One, Prairie Winds, Off the Coast, Harbinger Asylum, Stonecoast Review, and the Inwood Indiana. His first book of poems, Biriyani, came out in July of 2018 from the Poet's Haven Author Series in Ohio. henry 7. reneau, jr. writes words in conflagration to awaken the world ablaze, an inferno of free verse illuminated by his affinity for disobedience that breaks a rule every day, like a chambered bullet of phoenix-flux red & gold immolation that blazes from his heart, exploding through change is gonna come to implement the fire next time. He is the author of the poetry collection freedomland blues (Transcendent Zero Press) and the e-chapbook physiography of the fittest (Kind of a Hurricane Press), now available from their respective publishers. Additionally, he has self-published a chapbook entitled !171
13hirteen Levels of Resistance and his work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. In case of tyranny, Google: henry 7. reneau, jr./poetry to remove the size thirteen jackboot from your neck. MW Rishell is a poet, a fine art photographer, and a tempered gadabout. He owns a PhD from Michigan State, and also holds degrees from Vanderbilt, Wichita State, and an MFA in poetry from Oklahoma City University. Lis Sanchez has poetry in Prairie Schooner, Salamander, Harvard Review Online, New Orleans Review, The Bark, Spillway, The Boiler, and elsewhere. She is the recipient of a North Carolina Arts Council Writer’s Fellowship; Prairie Schooner’s Virginia Faulkner Award for Excellence in Writing; Nimrod’s Editors’ Choice Award; The Greensboro Review Award for Fiction, and others. Joel Scarfe's poems have been featured in numerous magazines and periodicals, in print and online, including The Times Literary Supplement, London Magazine, Ambit, Clementine Unbound, Rialto, and Interpreter's House. He lives in Bristol, UK, with the Danish ceramicist Rebecca Edelmann and their two children. Claire Scott is an award winning poet who has received multiple Pushcart Prize nominations. Her work has been accepted by the Atlanta Review, Bellevue Literary Review, New Ohio Review, Enizagam and Healing Muse, among others. Claire is the author of Waiting to be Called and Until I Couldn’t. She is the co-author of Unfolding in Light: A Sisters’ Journey in Photography and Poetry. Frank Scozzari is an American novelist and short story writer. A fivetime Pushcart Prize nominee, his short stories have been widely anthologized and featured in literary theater. David Swerdlow’s poems have appeared in The American Poetry Review, Poetry, West Branch, and elsewhere. He is the author of two collections of poetry: Bodies on Earth (WordTech Editions, 2010) and Small Holes in the Universe (WordTech, Editions 2003). His novel, Television Man, is forthcoming from Czykmate Productions. Kevin Tosca is the author of The Hug and Other Stories (Červená Barva Press, 2019), Ploieşti (Červená Barva Press, 2019), Revelation #2 (Iron Lung Press, 2019), Questions Are My OnlyAnswers (Alien Buddha Press), and My French (Analog Submission Press). His stories have appeared in Bateau, Notre Dame Review, The Frogmore Papers, Litro Magazine, and elsewhere. He lives in Berlin. !172
Theodore C. Van Alst, Jr., is an associate professor and Director of Indigenous Nations Studies at Portland State University and the Creative Editor for Transmotion (a journal of postmodern indigenous studies). His short story collection about sort of growing up in Chicago, Sacred Smokes, was released in August 2018 by the University of New Mexico Press, who also published his edited volume The Faster Redder Road: The Best UnAmerican Stories of Stephen Graham Jones. His writing and photography have been published in The Rumpus, Medium, Electric Literature, Indian Country Today, Entropy, The Raven Chronicles, and Yellow Medicine Review, among others. Ron Wallace, is an Oklahoma native of Scots-Irish, Choctaw, Cherokee, and Osage descent. He is currently an adjunct instructor of English at Southeastern Oklahoma State University, in Durant, Oklahoma, and is the author of nine books of poetry; four of which have been finalists in the Oklahoma Book Awards. His latest finalist, Renegade and Other Poems was the 2018 winner of the Oklahoma Book Award. He has recently been published in Oklahoma Today, San Pedro River Review, Red River Review, Concho River Review, and a number of other magazines and journals. Wallace has also been a Pushcart Prize nominee. Alexander Weidman is 24 years old, lives in West Virginia, and works at a cooperative. Alessio Zanelli is an Italian poet who writes in English and whose work has appeared in over 150 literary journals from 13 countries. His fifth original collection, titled The Secret Of Archery, will be published in 2019 by Greenwich Exchange (London). For more information please visit www.alessiozanelli.it.
The Red Earth Review is a literary journal published once a year by The Red Earth MFA @ Oklahoma City University. https://www.okcu.edu/artsc...
Published on Aug 3, 2019
The Red Earth Review is a literary journal published once a year by The Red Earth MFA @ Oklahoma City University. https://www.okcu.edu/artsc...