Oh, hey. If it feels like we were just here, well, we were. These last two issues have debuted in quick succession, but listen: consider it a holiday gift, from us to you. This is called spin. (Apologies to the dynamic and wonderful Amy Rossi, who will be happy to explain a lot of meanings on page 32.) When we first started Revolution House, we promised to be a magazine for writers by writers. A magazine that cares. We’ve done our level best to uphold that, though as it turns out, all the editors care, or they wouldn’t be doing this. It’s not like one becomes an editor for all that fame and fortune, after all. But with the Resurrection Issue, we’ve had a chance to do something new and very special: bring back work that’s been lost. Over the past decade, I’ve watched magazines I loved disappear. Some keep archives online, at least for now. Work still has a living home, even if it exists with a sort of wistful spirit. But other magazines simply stop publishing, and eventually, the content disappears, too. It’s no one’s fault. This is a tough gig, from advertising and getting work, to selecting it, to finding a way to present it. You have to make choices about editing, sometimes choices no one wants to talk about. You have to ration your time, because there’s never enough. Often, you have to say no to friends, or writers you admire, or both. But when a magazine just disappears, authors are left adrift in a publishing limbo. That published piece is a win, but who can read it? What can you do with it, if it doesn’t fit into a book manuscript? Does it even “count” if the magazine no longer exists, or if it only existed for a few months? Tough questions. Questions with no real, satisfying answers, but with, perhaps, a few possible solutions. This issue is one, a venue for those works lost. When we put out the call for work previously published in dead or one-time markets, we had no idea of the response we would get. Sure, some of us had lost work to markets past, but so, it seemed, had everyone. Everyone had work they cared about. Work that deserved another chance. We had to say no to a lot of great work, alas, but who knows—maybe we’ll do this again sometime. The work we selected, however, reflects something larger than our usual aesthetic. The earliest was published in 1992; the most recent, this year. They are funny, poignant, serious, illustrated, different, and each occupied such a space in its author’s heart that they wanted one more shot at the spotlight, a shot we’re happy to give. So long as I can provide a platform, I will. Things change constantly—we shift the production schedule, the staff, our tastes—but that won’t. This work will live as long as I can give it air. That much I can promise. See you in the spring, Alisha Karabinus Executive Editor
Lucy loves their dead edges, Claudia Cortese
their dying light. The dim one in the sky’s eastern corner has lived a long life. A feral burst of dust, she fought and fucked her way into adulthood, settled into her bed of gold and told the circling moons of her youthful storms—their most numinous moments. Brighter than fire and cardinal, ruby ring pops and maraschinos, the red star beside it has no stories to tell. In other words, Lucy loves her best of all. The spruces in the distance look like a row of pointy caps on trolls’ heads, and the Oreos crunching in Lucy’s ears are so loud, she fears her mother will hear her mouth.
Lucy knows words live in the trees, rain like locusts when she walks through the forest— that poems unhook the hurt that curdles in her throat, burns behind her lungs. A cricket’s wings cry all night, its wiry torso greening her dreams. Lucy dreams the water that splashed on her leg when she flushed the movie theater toilet gave her herpes. She dreams elephant’s liquid eyes, an ivory hospital bed—the sun a yellow sail lifting her from her body.
How to say this pretty— I was date raped, so I chose to become fat, which wasn’t a choice, really, but a compulsion— to be sexless as a field, and alone, and yes the chocolate cherries, the Cheetos and cheese Danish were delicious but not as delicious as the self-hate that followed— an addiction to pain so complicated, I have to say it plain—to add jangle and ringlets to those darklit waters wouldn’t mean, as Adrienne Rich says, that beauty lies— but, rather, beauty distracts. Poetry at its root is a sickness, I know that, the ridiculous wretch and guts, to say it dressed up or to say it plain but the need to say and say again: Lucy arrived with her wasp skin, her belly fat—she opened like a blade and stayed with her trunkful of issues, her ugly shoes—
The Bottle Sherrie Flick
Francine cracked the bottle on the table edge. She smashed it twice, it being a tough, thick wine bottle, and then it cracked with ragged edges. She set the bottle upright—the ragged edges looking like a crown—on the tabletop. The table’s slippery wooden surface smelling of lemon oil perfectly reflected the bottle in reverse. The candles sputtered and little pins of light bounced back off the green glass. Francine’s eyebrows leaned down toward the bridge of her nose--sloped in to say she was thinking hard. Scott watched her eyes, the thoughts ticking through; he considered possibilities from here on in. “Have a bad day, Franci?” Scott asked, leaning back in his chair. The chair’s two back legs ground some loose glass into the wooden floorboards. “The accountants at your back again?” He twisted his napkin from his lap, laid it out on the table, a broken bird. They’d been having a fine dinner. Scott had come home early to get things going. He’d rinsed the Brussels sprouts—fresh and in season—then let them soak in salted water until they sparkled green. He chopped up garlic and sautéed it until crispy. He found some pancetta and pasta. Pulled a bottle of red from their rack. Splashed the wine into their big goblet glasses. Francine. Well, she couldn’t be predicted these days. Francine eyed the fractured bottle. She felt better, sure. But now she’d have to explain herself. She hated words. They did her in every time. What she wanted was action! Action without repercussion or discussion. Pure, clean decision making. But she knew this wasn’t how the world worked—or it wasn’t how Scott’s world worked. Things were talked through and over-hashed and worked out and reasoned. She would like some unreasonableness every now and then. Francine finished the wine in her glass. The last little splash. She carefully carried her plate to the sink, held it above the slick gray metal, and then let it drop with a crack. God that was satisfying. But she’d have to explain it too. Scott eyed her up. This was new territory in their 10-year marriage. Everything was changing all around Francine. She couldn’t seem to stop it. She liked repression and denial and passive-aggression. It seemed so much easier. She liked quick meals with frozen vegetables. She wanted to swim upstream, away from all these foodies and do-gooders.
“Franci. Why don’t you just head out of the kitchen before you break something I really care about?” Scott said, as he held tightly to his wine glass, a favorite from a set he’d carted back from Italy. Scott loved things. He looked hurt and worn out. He just wasn’t up for her, was he? He thought he could do it, could do her, take her on, but Francine could see the fabric of their relationship wearing thin. So she stomped out of the kitchen. The loose floorboards made the table shake a bit, clanging the glasses and cutlery and serving dish together in a food symphony. She headed into the living roomand out the front door thinking she’d like a smoke. The bottle had snapped so easily. Like a neck. Like a chicken. Not clean, but easy. She’d have to explain, but not now. She inhaled, exhaled, the clean, sharp country air. Fall at hand and the world seemed reset, beautiful, crisp and new. She lit her cigarette. Blew rings at the moon. The moon wavered back at her through the creepy tree limbs. The world just didn’t fit right, and Francine thought she might say that to Scott. Tell him how the world wasn’t fitting. Try to show him what didn’t work. Like their beautiful house that she didn’t deserve. And him. She probably didn’t deserve him either. The world was so big and the hours so long. How could she have predicted this ending? She inhaled again. Abandoned her cigarette to the dirt. Crossed her arms. The bottle broke so neatly. It cracked and Scott’s eyes flew up from his meal. He saw her then, clearly, she was sure. His head darted up and he caught her eyes, his fork suspended above his dwindling plate of pasta. What she won’t tell him is that he looked at her then like the first time he’d laid eyes on her. And that made it worth it—that look of love and surprise and fear. It made her want to do it again.
The Club Dara-Lyn Shrager
The women eat egg salad sandwiches. Baby redpolls leave their nests, feast then tip to their deaths in wet tombs. While the women are away scratching their sailboat rudders against rocks, engraving themselves on a tiny coast, the moon-faced lady, inside whose chest black poppies bloom, will loosen shags of her own blonde curls. Her husband will miss her tiny breasts. Her three small sons will try to push their wooden trains under her bathroom door.
Crown of Thorns I held him through that first sea storm, my newborn son, his body moving in womb memory. Tonight, I see him for the first time since then; the waves have changed his face. There are 1800 species of sea stars, but only one crown-of-thorns, cloaked in spines that pierce the skin. When my son stings, my wounds bloom dark roses in the water. When I fan out my arms to forgive him, he swims on, into the black mouth of the reef.
Muck, Fallen Trees, Fire A baby born underwater doesnâ€™t reach for air, he fans out his silver fingers and swims. A city heaving grief crawls away from breathless birds. One man dies with a hammer in hand, hooked to his roof by the pick end, a jagged slice of sky in his milky eyes. The best advice we get: tie the dead to telephone poles and set their souls on unhinged doors.
Merciless Patty Paine
1. Again, the pigeons arrived, three months, and still expecting a scribble of seed along the sill. How not to hate their relentless innuendo, their inexhaustible need to return? The hand that feeds you is no more. Take your stupid swagger, your useless iridescence, alight yourselves, be gone. 2. The night you hit the black ice of addiction, it came to me razor clean. After, someone wailed and keened, and turned beggar. Someone strung beads of no, no, no. Someone collapsed, and broke open, while someone else murmured over, over, over.
One should not try to write after reading Levis Because it’s useless, really, like trying to grasp mist in the corner of that field, your arms pass clear through into flailing. But there must be grace in reaching for the ineffable, so I sit myself back in that rented car, our last full summer, and again see mile after mile of corn. And we’ve stopped once more, in the small cemetery behind the abandoned church. With our palms we sweep rain plastered leaves from stone faces, and tease stories from meager inscriptions. Some stones are shrouded in moss, an inscrutable velvet of possibility, when what was possible was still bearable. Everything was rented that summer along the Mattaponi, its steady tide pulling one way, then the other, like the familiar rhythm of reprieve and relapse. Hope is the simplest form of current, seeing only the river, not the riverbed’s slow collapse. Today, it has been 4 months since your passing, and everything feels too soon, or too late. And since I can’t bear to think of your last days, I think of my mother’s, when she’d spring from morphine haze to say, with a sort of glee, “Still here!” And now I find myself saying it too: I’m still here. Still here. Still. Here.
We Have Always Lived by the Lake Haley Brown
I remember sitting with her in the passenger seat of a borrowed car. It was three in the morning, and we were not expected anywhere, so we talked for hours, eyes adjusting to the slivers of each other’s faces visible under the moon and streetlamps. I remember us going exploring, up in the rafters of an unfinished building—sneaking up the stairwell and across the floorboards, growing closer as they started to creak and shudder, reaching the end, clinging to each other, laughing and out of breath. I remember all of it, like a slideshow of lithographs in my head, romantic and silly and somehow, unbelievably, real. I don’t remember much else. We have always lived by the lake, my family and me. There are oak trees and wildberries and tall grasses, and not many cars or people. In the summer there are sailboats, and we stay up late to watch them on the windy nights. Once, when she was staying over, I said that we should buy a boat together someday, and sail across all the Great Lakes. She rolled over to look at me more closely, and said, “You’re going to have to swear on that one, Edie.” “I swear.” “Then we will. We’ll be adventurers.” I kept that promise with me, long past the end of the summer, when the world started dying and I had to go back to school. I found my bookbag and some notebooks, and dug my bicycle out from its nest in the garage, and the night before I went back, I found a note from her under my pillow. Fore means front and aft means back. We want a sloop rig, it’s got a sail fore and a smaller sail aft. It’s the simplest rigging and it’s the commonest way. Love, Sarah Let me tell you about her. She is not perfect. She gets angry and irritated and sometimes she directs it at me. She has an awe-inspiring capacity to love. She is quick-witted and funny and endlessly, intuitively kind. She is the culmination of every good and beautiful and indescribable feeling I have ever had, like the emotions you get when you watch the stars on a cloudless night over the lake and the wind blows through your hair and something starts swelling inside you, like you’re not big enough to hold your own feelings anymore. 15
She is that, and she is also herself, simple and plain and more beautiful than anything. Sometimes I can’t imagine that she exists on her own, that she goes to the dentist and the supermarket, that there are people in the world who know her only in passing and who don’t drop everything in their lives to know her better. I can’t believe that there are people who meet her, and don’t care. When I see her, it’s like I’ve just burst from the water and am taking a long, deep breath. She had moved, over the summer, a few miles down the road and into another school district, and I spent the first few weeks of school trying to adjust to a place she wasn’t in. My classes were easy and my teachers, for the most part, were harmless. I found myself feeling farther and farther away from all of it. She surprised me one day, knocking on my window at six in the morning on a Saturday. I blinked awake and opened the window, letting her tumble inside. “Good morning,” she said, stretching herself out. “I got up extra early to ride over here. It’s twelve miles, you know. It’s horrible. Anyway, I want to show you something.” “Okay,” I said. “What is it?” She grinned. She had this odd way of grinning that made her eyes shine and glint mischievously at the same time, and it made me smile too. “Can’t tell you that. It’s a surprise! A best-friend surprise. You have to come with me.” So I did. I always went with her. Sarah led the way, pedaling ahead and leading me a few miles up the road to a wide, yellow field of tall grasses and one straggling tree. We dropped our bicycles at the edge and waded inward, till the grass grew shorter and we were right under the tree. There was a blanket and a picnic basket sitting neatly underneath. “Told you I was up early today,” said Sarah. “And I hope you’re hungry, because I am, so I stole all the food in the fridge.” “Sure, I’m hungry,” I said, and we sat down. She divided up three slices of cold pizza and handed two to me. “So, Edie. Tell me about school,” she said. “Or no, don’t. I don’t know if I want to hear how dreary and miserable it’s been without me. And you don’t want to hear about how hideously boring my new classmates are, either. I think they’re actually androids. Or monsters.” “I think I’d like to hear about that, actually,” I said. She waved that away. “Does Jack Ellison still make moon eyes at you in chemistry all the time?” “No more chemistry,” I said. “But everywhere else.” She rolled her eyes. “He’s dull. That’s his problem. He’s much too dull.” “I don’t like him,” I supplied. This was our ritual. I made it easy for her by Brown
not liking boys, almost ever. “Yeah.” She fiddled with her shoelace in thoughtful silence before plunging us into another topic. “I’ve been thinking about our sailboat. Boats should have names, what do you say?” “Yeah?” “Yeah. Something like Artemis or Persephone, I think. Mythology has the best names.” “I like Persephone,” I said. “It sounds right.” “Thought you would. Have a plum.” She handed me one. “The thing is, while I’m sure we could manage a sailboat on our own, I’ve never done it, and neither have you. We’d have to practice for awhile on our lake, just to learn the basics.” “That sounds good to me.” “We’d also have to scrounge the money to buy it. How much do they go for, anyway?” “I don’t know,” I said, and let her talk. At times like these, when the rest of the world had barely woken up and everything still felt magical and unreal, I was happy just to watch her, animated and alive, while I smiled faintly, and listened. A few months went by without me seeing Sarah at all, since she was busy with school and so was I, and it wasn’t summer anymore. The trees had almost all lost their leaves, and in late November it snowed for the first time. My father started driving me to school. I was in study hall a few weeks later, drawing absently and mostly waiting for the final bell to ring. Across the room, Jack Ellison was trying to catch my attention, and I was trying to look like I didn’t see him trying to catch my attention. It was hard work. “He likes you,” whispered the girl next to me. I turned to look at her. She was one of the group I had attached myself to recently, but I couldn’t remember her name. “I know,” I said, and went back to drawing long vertical lines along the margins of my notes. If you blurred your eyes, it looked almost like a forest. “Well!” The girl was still waiting, I guess for some show of excitement. Annie. That was her name. “He’s really cute.” I shrugged, a little uncomfortably. “He plays his guitar at lunch a lot.” Annie smiled and sighed. “He wrote that song for you, you know.” I had no doubt of that. Boys were always such martyrs about loving people. “So you don’t like him back? Edie, are you going to break his heart?” Her whisper had gotten louder, and her eyes were wide and shocked. I wanted to tell her I didn’t care, that it wasn’t my fault he had latched on to me like he had. I wanted to say that they were his own private feelings and he 17
should damn well keep them to himself. He wasn’t special. He shouldn’t be pitied for this. But I didn’t know how to say it in any way she would understand. “Everyone expects me to fall for it,” I said instead. “He doesn’t even know me. He just plays songs and acts lovestruck.” Annie said, “You’re the most heartless girl I’ve ever met.” End-of-semester finals came. At the end of the last day, when everyone else was leaving for their winter break in high spirits, I found my old history teacher in his room, packing up the last of his students’ exams. I stepped inside the classroom and took a deep, steadying breath. I had been waiting for this all day, and now that I was here, I had to fight the wild urge to run away. Mr. Patrick Connolly had all kinds of posters taped up in his classroom, ranging from offbeat-inspiring to nonsensical, and there was one, featuring an emperor penguin holding a broken piece of chalk, that I was almost completely sure he made himself. The penguin’s pinprick eyes seemed to stare me down no matter where I moved, and over its head, in bold white print, were the words Don’t be afraid to make corrections! He said that it was from a book. “Your poster is terrifying,” I said, by way of a hello. “Hurtful, Edie.” He smiled at me. “What are you in here for, anyway?” I felt the easy mask of friendliness melt away, and a strange, familiar rush of panic rose in my stomach. “I wanted to talk to you about something.” He looked at me, eyes slightly narrowed as if he was sizing me up. “About what?” “I just—I didn’t know who else I could talk to, or what I could say --” “Edie.” His voice was serious now, and calming. “It’s okay, you can tell me.” I swallowed, and said, “I think I’m in love with someone.” His posture straightened, and his eyes took on the quality they sometimes had when a student asked an insightful question. It was a look of appraisal and satisfaction. Almost pride. “Does this person know?” he asked. “No. I don’t know. I don’t think so. I can’t tell her.” “I see.” He fiddled with his pen for a moment. “We’re talking about Sarah, aren’t we?” I stared at him, stunned, and he smiled a little. “Edie. I taught you both last year. And if you think you’re subtle, are you ever in for a shock.” I felt a rush of blood swarming in my head, making me dizzy and stinging my eyes. I looked down for a moment, to orient myself. “I’m not usually this attached,” I told him. I felt, somehow, that I had to explain, justify myself. “People usually bother me.” Brown
He looked over at me, surprised. “Oh? Well, you’re in good company. I suppose. I’m not much for misanthropy myself, though. Too easy. Too lazy.” He seemed lost in thought for a moment, then snapped back to me. “Anyway. Little queer girl. God help you.” “Thanks,” I said. “Fucking hell.” He ran a hand absently through his hair, then seemed to catch himself. “Shit. Ah—darn. Sorry. The principal’s been on my ass about the swearing. Butt. On my bee-hind. In a totally platonic way, I swear.” I laughed a little, despite myself. He grinned. “There we go. There’s the smile. Keep on, Edie. Nothing else to do.” Something about the unexpected earnestness in his voice made my eyes sting again. I blinked and looked away, and started picking viciously at a thin scab on my elbow. “I barely even remember what it was like without her,” I said, very quietly. Like it was a shameful, weak thing to say, and I didn’t want him to hear it. But he smiled. Fondly, like I’d reminded him of something. “Living. Breathing. Being whole, not stretched apart and dragged into someone else’s soul and all that. You’re in the early stages, I’d guess. You’ll probably always think she’s the most amazing thing you’ve ever seen, but after awhile, you’ll start to be able to laugh at yourself about it too. Love’s funny like that.” “I don’t want this to be happening,” I said, uselessly. “I want to like some boy, I don’t even care who. I just want it to be simple.” He sighed. “Love is simple, Edie. Simplest thing ever. But it’s gonna hurt, even more than this, and it’s gonna fuck you up for awhile. Pardon me. I’m sorry. But it’s gonna fuck you up.” The lake is frozen over, a wide plane of ice stretching north as far as I can see. When you look at it from here, it seems solid enough to walk on, as if you could pack some food and pull on your boots and follow its trail all the way to the North. Winter meant that Sarah’s usually reliable letters didn’t always make it to my house. It meant that seeing her was harder, considering both our families only had one car apiece, and my dad needed his truck for work. Riding a bicycle twelve miles through ice and snow required just the kind of insane dedication she had driven me to, so in early January, I did. I got to her house, almost completely numb under seven layers of clothing, and raised a shaking hand to knock on the door. A few seconds later, she opened it, and when she saw me, the stunned look on her face would have made me laugh if I’d had any breath left. 19
She insisted on heating eight pots of water and pouring them into the bathtub, leaving me there to work some feeling back into my limbs. When I came out again, wrapped snugly in a pair of her pajamas, she was looking at me with her familiar fond exasperation, and shaking her head. “You’re crazy,” she said, for probably the fifth time. “Probably,” I said. We ended up in her room, that night, she sitting against the wall and I sprawled out on her bed. I was beginning to realize, if only in pieces, how much she had needed me recently, and in between the amazement, I felt little stirrings of guilt. “I’ve been feeling horrible about everything,” she said, conversationally, because she could never say anything as serious as I am lost and miserable with the earnestness it deserved. Not even to me. She would see it as asking too much. I looked at her, closely. She was tired. I could see it in the way she moved; the way she blinked, even. She was tired in a way sleep couldn’t help, and I wished more than ever that I could reach around her and protect her from everything, make it so she never had to lose hope ever again. “Sarah,” I said, and paused. “Sarah, are you okay?” She laughed unhappily, letting out all her breath. “I don’t know. I feel like I can’t do anything right anymore. Like I’m just running around in circles.” “I—” I swallowed, kept my shaky hands clenched in the sheets. “I think I do too.” “Like nothing means anything anymore, you know? When I was a kid I wanted to be an artist. And now I have to put all this stress and trouble into dreams I don’t even care about. Someone else’s dreams.” She shook her head slightly, as if to clear it. “And I’m not happy. There are—there are things that make me happy. But I’m not happy.” I couldn’t say anything to this. We sat for a moment like that, in silence and semidarkness. “We’ll go somewhere,” I said at last. I was plunging us deeper now, into untested waters, and it scared me, but it felt important. Something I needed to say. “We’ll go somewhere and it’ll just be us and we won’t have to worry anymore.” She turned her head to look at me very steadily. “I never get tired of you,” she said. “You know that? I get tired of everyone. But not you.” “I never get tired of you, either,” I said. The air is still cold and the trees are bare and spindly, but I can feel the lake beginning to thaw. The distant horizon feels less austere and foreign. In the Brown 20
morning, I can hear birds. School has started up again, but Connolly isn’t around anymore. Fired, I think, and according to the gossip network it’s for anything from swearing too much (likely) to storming out of the staffroom in a rage over a pay reduction, broken heating, or the school’s GSA policy (equally likely). I miss him. Some of his posters are still up in the history room. I passed by there yesterday, pressed my face up against the dusty tinted glass to see the old poster of the penguin with a broken piece of chalk. Don’t be afraid to make corrections! I think when the ice melts, I’m going to take Sarah out on my dad’s old canoe, for practice. I’ll show her the basics of steering and learning the currents, understanding the lake. We’ll go out at night and I’ll show her things my father taught me years ago, how to navigate by the stars and how to gauge the wind. Maybe I’ll tell her other things. I don’t know yet.
Atlantis Ashley Strosnider
When they ask for your anthropological hypothesis say all that will last of this glittering civilization is jazz music, baseballâ€”its swing and its missâ€” and the almighty Constitution of these United States. The oceans are rising. The west coast is sinking. The icebergs are good as gone. Goodbye, California. Goodbye, Iceland/ I mean Greenland. Goodbye, New York/Hello World. Say, take all of me. Why not take all of me? Say if you build it, they will come. Say we hold this truth to be self-evident: In heaven the fish are made of gold and we pave the streets with their scales. In heaven, their bellies are all full of rubies and our teeth are diamond sharp. If it hurts when we tear through their flesh, churning gemstones into blood, then thank the Sheik of Araby and the Babe, and thank the President, too. Thank the father, the son, and the holy ghost for the great, abiding mercy of a three second memory. For the rising tide to wash our sins away.
Cavity The whole earth is concave mapped onto paper, fat and happy where it bulges in the middle, an expectant mother, where curled up safe inside, none of us wanted to leave that Pangea. We cried when she pushed us out, tiny sinkholes on our bellies to remind us. The orthodontist sees calcium deposits: stalactites and stalagmites frame a cavern yawned open—drooling, inglorious, unsexy— on his chair, that pink fleshy palette that can’t hold the necessary geometry. Cemented metal bands around the teeth, a nightly turn of the key cracks the skull, makes room for new bone to grow, a pinkish flowstone drapery. If you set a turtle on his shell and push him down a slide, he falls off the end and lands on his back pedaling the air—slow motion kicking, kicking.
the angel of big things Jeremy Dae Paden
would rather visit with the angel of cosmic design toss apples or comets or just plain stones with the angel of gravity it has no stomach for famine or politics it moves to its appointments slowly & hopes that wars will have already started earthquakes already happened
Oblivion’s Fugue Matthew Burnside
(51 things you’ll never know, for better or worse...) The night S went, it didn’t hurt. Exactly eleven years and three months after you called that kid with pockmarks and an oversized head Freakzilla in the third grade, he made his first cool million. When asked what he attributed his enormous success to, he cited all the years he was bullied by you. Your first love never considered you her first love, just a warm body at a very difficult time in her life. You were the only face your grandmother recognized in the room the night she died. The last memory that fluttered across her mind was of you both playing poker on a moonlit patio for pennies. She let you win every hand. After buying lottery tickets for a quarter of your life, you quit because your son finally convinced you it was a waste of money. The very next week the winning numbers matched your wife’s birthday, the same numbers you had played religiously for six years. The 5.6 million dollar payout wouldn’t have made you any happier. The Mexican who mows your lawn every other week speaks perfect English. He nods and laughs when you address him in Spanish because he’s shy and a bad conversationalist. He’s never been to Mexico. The thousands of dollars spent on your liberal arts degree could’ve just as easily been spent on all the vacations you wish you had taken. The life experience would’ve been more valuable than the regurgitated ramblings of your burnt-out professors. The man who robbed your house last spring used the money he got from pawning
your furniture to buy his son braces. You were the orthodontist who put them in. You considered it your finest work. Your soft-spoken receptionist likes to dye her hair and dress up in leather on the weekends. She frequents death metal clubs and drops acid while experimenting with multiple partners in bathrooms and back alleys. The marriage counselor you and your wife saw during that rocky patch has been divorced three times. The people at the funeral home accidentally cremated your aunt Jean when they mixed up their bodies. Fortunately, it was a closed casket funeral and nobody cared enough to view her. All that pot you buried as a teenager in the backyard of your first house was later dug up by two brothers having a campout. As they threw it into the fire, they couldn’t understand why they were laughing so much. While raiding the house for Capri Suns and Captain Crunch and Pop Tarts, they stumbled upon their mother in bed with a man who wasn’t their father. Years later, after the divorce, the boys would often smoke pot in the backyard to escape their feelings of inadequacy. The reason your brother orders food for his wife any time you’re at a new restaurant together has nothing to do with him wanting to appear a dominant husband. She cannot read the menu because she never learned to read. At night, they read picture books together in bed while he rubs her calloused feet. The love you take is not equal to the love you make. That elderly lady you ignored at the gas station who kept trying to get your attention only wanted your help working the gas pump. For forty years, her husband had been the one to put gas in the car. She had just come back from his funeral. Pixie didn’t die under the wheel of your father’s truck like he told you she did. He simply lost sight of her in the garage one morning. He searched the neighborhood for six hours, finally slouched back through the front door to your mother a broken man, terminally ashamed and riddled with frostbite. He couldn’t look her in the eyes. That night was the coldest night of the year. Rather than let you believe your dog froze to death, he made up a story. This, he considered the second biggest mistake of his life.
Your mother dreamed of being a ballerina. She stopped dreaming when she became pregnant with your brother. She never could get back in shape. She kept a pair of ragged ballet shoes at the top of her closet. Some days she would put them on and dance in front of a mirror. She was good enough to make it as a professional, had things been different. That clown who gave your granddaughter a balloon at the circus is a manic depressive. He has a betta fish at home, a voluminous collection of comic books, and an Ivy League education. Though your Presbyterian preacher did go missing, it wasn’t because he was guilty, as everyone in the congregation believed. He simply lost faith after his daughter Wimberley was murdered. He couldn’t stand to lie about the Kingdom of Heaven anymore, or live across from the park where she once played, so he moved to Africa. Later, while watching a baby zebra being born—Wimberley’s favorite animal—he would make his peace with God. The reason your grandfather forbade you from playing guns in the house is because he shot a Japanese boy in the face during the war. He never told anybody, not even your grandmother. The bowl of goo you found in the garage was really just your plastic army men that he melted down in the microwave. That strange baby carrot you found in your salad wasn’t a carrot. The fifty dollar bill you accidentally gave to that bum went towards the purchase of a secondhand suit and a haircut. At the interview, he nervously hid his hands in his pockets when it dawned on him that he forgot to clip his margarine-colored fingernails. He got the job. The cousin who never talks to anybody at all the family reunions lost her virginity to your favorite uncle Barry. It was not consensual. The night you began to take form in your mother, your parents discussed getting a divorce while dining at a McDonalds. By the time the doctor was handing you off to your father, they had both forgotten they even had this conversation. 3,002 is the number of times you have ignored your mother’s phone calls. 10,101 is the number of times your son has ignored yours. That wrong number last month wasn’t a wrong number. The sister you never knew 27
you had still can’t conjure the right words to introduce herself. Falling up the sky, waving to your smiling wife as she’s swallowed by a pool of quicksand, the plink of your loose teeth as you struggle to catch them in a ceramic bowl are all reoccurring dreams you cannot remember having. You would’ve lost both your legs in that car wreck had that truck driver not stopped to pull you out when he did. He is a registered sex offender who chose life on the road to keep his mind busy. Every single day he wakes up and wrestles with temptation, and every night he thanks Jesus for the fortitude to have made it through another day without hurting anyone around him. All the stories in the history of literature and all the songs in the history of music combined could not capture the strangeness, wonder, ecstasy, or terror of being alive as you and nobody else in the wingbeat of this moment. Those black guys walking through the neighborhood about which you made the casually sarcastic remark: Wonder what they’rreee up to? were on their way to the library to recheck their books before stopping by the store on the way home to get a birthday card for their mother. The patient with perfect teeth who insists on scheduling more frequent than routine cleanings is a kleptomaniac. Whenever you’re not in the room, she sticks another toothbrush in her purse. Your mother hasn’t slept through a single night without taking a sleeping pill since your father’s heart attack. Emily Waltz wanted nothing more than to stick her tongue down your throat all throughout middle school. You didn’t know her name but your brother did. She slept with him to get closer to you. Your best friend regrets never telling you he’s gay. His fiancée regrets the fact that he told her. Because you missed that flight to Los Angeles, your seat was offered to a business man trying to make it back to his family in time for Thanksgiving. Because the left wing was faulty, the plane careened into a cornfield in Kansas, leaving no survivors. Because you missed your flight, you met your future wife at a Holiday Inn. In your brother’s eyes, you will never live down that time at summer camp that you Burnside
fell asleep on a mound of fire ants and were made to strip while being hosed off in front of the girls’ lodge. The janitor at your old elementary school knows where the body of Wimberley Scot is. It’s underneath the slide, where he buried it. Every time the recess bell rings, a bloodburst flash of giddiness passes over him and he can’t help but snicker. On the bus you rode to San Antonio, the young woman you sat by and had a conservation with appreciated the fact you didn’t once look down her blouse. She was a sex worker trying to start her life over. You were the first man in two years who treated her like a person instead of a thing. That lump beneath your armpit isn’t benign. Your doctor never finished medical school. Your son dragged a fire extinguisher to the backyard when he was seven because he had spent three weeks building a rocket to Hell out of cardboard and he was ready for the trial run. When someone from school told him his mother was going there for committing suicide, he vowed to rescue her. The rocket did not achieve flight. What matters most is not how well you walk through the fire but how far you walk after the flames have been extinguished. Portia Macintosh never forgot that kiss under the bleachers on prom night. Three times over the years she has nearly sent you a message on Facebook only to delete it and “like” your status instead. At your funeral, everyone will weep except for your son. He has never been one to cry for the dead. As a child he always thought something was wrong with him because of this. One day, while filling his daughter’s inflatable swimming pool, the grief will spontaneously hit him like a wrecking ball wrapping itself around an ancient cathedral. Life is longer than you could ever imagine. Eternity is shorter than you think. Mrs. Hines was a failed novelist before turning to teaching to pay the bills. That thank-you email you sent her was the only thing that convinced her she wasn’t a complete failure at that. Nobody blames you for S’s death. She doesn’t blame you either. There was nothing you could’ve done to save her from that sickness inside her heart that led her down 29
a path nobody could follow. That kid you chased down after seeing him scratch an ‘X’ in your car was grateful you didn’t tell his father. The old man beats him enough without having an excuse to do so. The philosopher was right: we’ll never step foot in the same river twice. The poet was only half right: what will survive of us is love, but so will our hate. S hated your spaghetti. The only reason she ate it is because you made it for her. The hours you sat with your son after his wife’s operation went terribly wrong meant more to him than all the cars and pairs of shoes and gaming systems you bought him ever could. Pixie was picked up by a young couple not long after losing her way from home in a white fog of snow. She was loved every day of her life, spoiled by a little girl who couldn’t fall asleep at night without first feeling her tiny frame pressed against her belly in the bed. She lived to be older than most dogs, but she never forgot that boy who would sneak her bites under the table as a puppy.
# “Oblivion’s Fugue” originally appeared in Stone Hobo in 2012. Burnside
Space Smells Like Burnt Almond Cookies Ellen Kombiyil
After you return, you’ll dream weightlessness, somersaults, the properties of lip gloss coagulating into round blood balls. Earth—beautiful, distant—spills open again and your immediate heart beats closer to the stars. Remember this night, your last up there, manufactured air curling around you like an umbilicus, the way time in closed loops might forever circle, and you’ll meet yourself floating in near dark. For now, forget the sharpness of air. Come morning, return to the land of smell.
#“Space Smells Like Burnt Almond Cookies”
originally appeared in The Hiss Quarterly in 2007.
If You Need Me, I Will Be Over Here Making Improvements to Merriam-Webster Amy Rossi Sitting in the waiting room, I feel like I’ve shed my skin. Every morning since it happened, I’ve woken up feeling raw and exposed. There are way too many sharp objects in my life to be going around without any skin, is the problem. This is a metaphor. But when I look down and see the pale flesh of my arms, I’m constantly surprised. A nurse calls a name; it’s too early to be mine. A woman channeling her inner Grease-era Olivia Newton-John stands up, all black spandex and big curly hair and the poor posture of someone trying to be a person she is not. This is called projecting. As soon as she crosses to the other side, the man she had been sitting with is out the door. This is not exactly the place where one casually brings her significant other. I feel bad for judging her hair. That’s going to be the least of her problems when she comes out and finds she’s alone. I turn back to the magazine in my lap. 50 Ways to Please Him TONIGHT, the cover boasts. Right. I wonder where “abandonment of dignity” ranks on that list. At the check-in desk, a woman is apologizing in broken English for being late. I concentrate harder on the column featuring readers’ embarrassing moments. I’m going to be a senior in college. I know all about white privilege, and also hegemony. This is probably not the proper use of the word hegemony, but in college, that does not matter. Ten points for using it at all. I have options. I could be at University Health Services instead, but I’m trying to leave as little paper trail as possible. Also, when I went there for pink eye, they asked me if I wanted a pregnancy test. I’m reading about how to think myself thin when the nurse calls my name. I grip my elbows to keep my hands from shaking. “Your heart’s racing,” she says as she checks my vitals. “Sorry.” My pulse, like so much else, is my fault. She leads me into an exam room and gestures toward the folded square of paper waiting on top of the table. The table is also covered in paper. I have a chronic fear of perspiring through the gown and leaving smudges of butt sweat on the protective table paper. This is called a chronic fear of the wrong things. “The doctor will be with you in a moment,” the nurse says. I exchange my skirt and tee shirt for the paper gown, tying it like a jaunty wrap dress, then settle in 32
for a wait. As I am remembering my high school anatomy book’s declaration that the most sweat glands in the body are in the anogenital region, the doctor knocks and comes in. She’s youngish and round-faced. I read once that babies are drawn to people with rounder faces; they view them as more trustworthy. The doctor smiles and shakes my hand. “So! What brings you in today? Have you recently changed partners?” “No, I just…made a bad choice in partners.” “Bad how?” I open my mouth, then pause, shaking my head. “Just bad.” “I know it can be hard to talk to about, but it’s important me for to have all the information in order to help you.” She speaks softly. Her voice is a stuffed animal. I think of the babies. I try to take a deep breath but there’s no give in my chest. This is called choking. I want to tell her what happened. I want to tell her how I should have known after the first time, when he tried to talk me out of using a condom even though we just met. Instead I took his red flags for rose petals and plowed ahead. I want to tell her how often he’d pressured me about it and how many times I said no, and how when I went to his house and he took my bag and then he was on me and I looked at his biceps flexed above me, as big around as my thighs, and realized no one knew where I was, my no got stuck. If I said it and he didn’t stop, what he was doing had a name. That had to be worse than carrying around this thing and having the doctor try to give me a word for it. I don’t even care if he gave me something. I’m afraid of finding out what he took. I say, “He was just a sleaze.” This is called sucking at life. The doctor looks like she wants to say more but instead she nods and tells me to lie back and relax. I stare at the ceiling while counting backwards from one hundred, trying to stay here. After it’s over and I’ve put my regular clothes back on, she meets me in the hallway with a paper bag filled with more condoms than I could possibly ever use and instructions for getting my results. “And if you need to come back and talk, here’s my card.” She presses it into my hand. I follow the signs to the exit and nearly run into someone as I’m brushing away the tears. As I murmur an apology over my shoulder, I see that it’s the man, the one that was with the woman with the big hair. He’s clutching a single rose. She will not be alone. This is not a metaphor.
In the parking lot, I check my phone, as I’ve been doing for weeks, to see if he left a message – something that could undo it, prove it was a misunderstanding. I keep hoping. This is called being full of shit.
You Need Me....” originally appeared in 2011 in the other room as “Definitions.” Rossi
Quickly Bezalel Stern
Years later, when the events of those days were little more than a fast receding memory (this was after he met the woman, a girl then, who would later become his wife; after he joined the army and went to Afghanistan, only to be sent home seven and a half months later due to the failure of an i.e.d. to explode on impact when the tank he was commanding ran over it, so when he got out to check, figuring rationally – or, perhaps not so rationally – that the device was a dud and would need to be cleared, a routine business really, so when it went off, two minutes too late, the insurgents faintly visible from beyond a ridge looking over at them, something he didn’t notice, of course, something nobody noticed except the tank’s gunner, briefly, late, too late, when it was already exploded, the i.e.d., when the leg that had been attached to the rest of his body was no longer there, when he felt the first pangs of grief that would last, he assumed, in the hospital days later when he was awake and refreshed and felt, again, for the first time, something like himself, the rest of his life; after his vacation to the wilderness of Maine as a boisterous teenager, where he met the girl who would not become his wife but who would very much become his first love, probably the love of his life, when he, legs (both of them) pumping with youthful energy, wandered into town and met this girl, standing in front of a general store – yes, a general store, conveniently named General Store, that’s just how things were in that part of Maine back then – and, bucking his natural shyness, went up to her and introduced himself, she gave him that half-loped smile he would never forget, not until the day he finally expired, that he knew, he knew it the moment his leg was blown off by the side of the road and there was nothing there but a phantom where limbs and sinews had been moments before and his first, his last thought before being knocked out by the pain and the shock was of her, or not of her so much as of her smile, that long loped, stuck-up smile that made him desire both her and his own, lost youth, and he smiled back at her and asked if she wanted to go for a walk, she wasn’t a local or anything it turned out, even though she was standing smack in front of the General Store like she owned the place, but the daughter of a scientist and a botanist – the two were different, she explained – the scientist-father, a researcher at an Ivy League college down the coast, the botanist-mother, a horticulturist who worked part-time in one of Boston’s public gardens, pruning trees, planting flowers, feeling at all lengths inadequate to the tasks she wished she could perform and far, far above the tasks the world had provided her with, this he only understood later, after they – he and 35
the daughter, the girl of the General Store – had kissed briefly, passionately, under a suitably shady birch in the forest, no more than a ten minute walk from the cabin where he was staying with some friends, just a summer weekend during his senior year of high school, he had wanted to get away, smoke some dope and play the guitar, not think about the years ahead, his few friends going off to college while he – with his c minus average and lack of clear ability to do much except for the things he clearly wanted at the time – thought about maybe joining the army, there was a war on, it was true, he knew that, this was no nineties army shooting missiles at invisible foes in the Balkans or guarding a frigid border in Korea, no, this was real, this was kill or be killed, do or die, still he didn’t scare easy and he figured the regularity of it could do him some good, a reason for joining which when he told her, the girl of the General Store, she grimaced, how could you go over there she said, fighting that man’s war, that man said in a patrician sneer and for the first time – after all, it had only been a couple of hours since they met, they would nevertheless be practically inseparable for the three days they had remaining until the time she went back to Massachusetts with her patrician liberal family – he realized they would never be together, not for the long term anyway, that he was lucky, that it was only by a sheer fluke, some confluence in the stars or the meteors or whatever it was that made incredibly unlikely things incredibly happen happen, that she was talking to him at all, taking any interest, real or imaginary, although it was certainly real, he found that out on the second night when she took him to her family’s place – they owned, of course – while her parents were out at some concert or conference and, bringing him to her room, instructed him on the various methods and ways in which it was alright to lose one’s virginity – of course she had lost hers years before, contrary to his assumptions the liberal princess was far more well-versed than he himself on the ins and out of sexual intercourse, while he, the country bumpkin, the boy who was seriously considering fighting that man’s war, although he was by no means religious, if anything was agnostic to the point of apathy, was apathetic about most things, really, although not sex, not the pleasures of the female form, it was just that there had never been an appropriate time, never the right moment, which is to say he had never found anyone to do it with, he was not dumb, no, just inexperienced – and she, explaining as best she could, with her voice and then with her hands, showing him how the condom fit, laughing at him or maybe with him while he smiled back at her, helpless, small, wondering how long it would take before the whole thing was over and this long, first interlude in his life was finally, grandly concluded, and then, in and out and it was done, and she was smiling, laughing, and they heard a key in the lock and suddenly jumped so he hit his head on the low ceiling above them – her room was in the attic – and, scrounging around for
clothes, the two of them smiling and laughing at their own exuberant youth, although neither would have put it like that at the time, neither would have realized that it was in fact youth that was making them simultaneously shy and ferocious, allowing their hearts to beat steadily in their chests yet at a far faster than normal pace, so that when he calmed down, hours later, by rubbing himself physically and panting to himself as he wished she had panted when he was inside her, he realized for the first time that his heart was beating steadily once again, that he was not having a heart attack but was only simply living; after the time when a child of twelve, although a child only in size – he was a late bloomer, with a fast-paced intellect, precocious, his teachers called him – he was sitting in school having been beaten up again by the class bully for once again knowing the right answer – the school was small, it was a country town after all, even though it was New Hampshire and not really the country, even though he was not yet a country bumpkin, when the teacher sat him down in the classroom – everyone else was outside, playing, doing whatever they did when they weren’t beating up on him – and asked him, in his stern voice, why he had been beaten up, and when he said he didn’t know the teacher rolled his eyes and looked out the window, and he wondered later, when he thought about it in Afghanistan, when he had so much time to think about it and so many other things until suddenly he had no time to think about anything at all, until his leg and his future in the army were both suddenly absent, what the teacher had been thinking when he looked out that window, whether he had been thinking about what programs were on the two local channels that night – he was certainly too cheap for cable – whether he had been pondering his own, youthful indiscretions in childhood, whether he had been thinking about him, actually, at all, when he was looking out at the fields of gray grass, crowded thickly under the gray late afternoon sky – it was late fall, the weather had been bad that year – although in retrospect it didn’t matter, not in the least, what he was thinking, what mattered was what he said – even though, thinking about it in Afghanistan, when there was still time to think, he wondered how much it even mattered then, wondered if it had mattered at all, if life would have taken the very same course even had the teacher been struck by a bolt of lightning the day before he was beaten up and never come to school again – and what he said was you know why you were beaten up, you were beaten up because you’re too much of a smart show-off, and maybe if you let the other kids have a turn sometimes they wouldn’t be so rough on you, and he had taken it to heart, and he had shut up, and they had forgotten about him) he turned to the woman who became his wife (she was seventeen when they met, and even though he was already twenty-three it didn’t seem to matter, the age difference, what is age anyway, she had thought, and it’s not like he has any degrees she doesn’t, she wasn’t the one to run off to the army because she had nothing better to do, in fact her plan was to go
straight to nursing school, make some money, build up a life for herself, she wasn’t the schooling type, but that didn’t really matter, because she was both smart and caring and those types of people – the smart and the caring – don’t often go together, not these days, that is what her mother told her, when she went downstairs on that day, the first day of the rest of her life, and told her, her mother, that she knew what she wanted to do, she wanted to become a nurse, she wanted to save lives, but without the schooling it took to become a doctor – doctors were not looked well upon in her family since the day her father got home from the emergency room after a bad stomach cramp made him go there against his will, he couldn’t get off of the toilet and had to be physically lifted by his wife and daughter (not her, her sister) to get to the car which she (her sister) drove to the hospital, and when he came out of the hospital, that evening, sedated with something but with the news that something big, something cancerous was stuck inside his belly, something too big to come out without a surgery that was too risky at this point to perform, ever since that time – he had passed away, in pain and moaning, not far from the toilet, three months later – the family had not been too keen on doctors; nurses, though, they were alright, a nurse would have been able to figure out the problem in no time flat and would have known just the thing to do, this her mother was certain of, although she – but not her mother – could never be sure why it was that a nurse could figure out the situation when a doctor, who probably, she assumed, had much more training as well as experience in the area of large cancers in the belly, could not, although in any case she knew it wasn’t her place to argue, not with her mother, not about this, this issue that happened when she was only a child of seven and didn’t really understand what was going on, her father was at once there and then not – it’s not that she was stupid, nothing of the kind, as her mother always said she was both smart and caring, it’s just that, as she saw it, when she was so very young – young enough, anyway – that her opinions on life, on things, on people hadn’t been formed yet while her father was still alive, so his very essence, in retrospect, seemed to fade in and out, like an old silent black-and-white film they show in documentaries sometimes, where there are spots of solid white or solid black between the reels, that was her father to her; anyway it came as no surprise to her, when she thought about it later, when she was married to him but before the children that would come later and that would change everything, fundamentally, that would be to him like another phantom, like the leg he didn’t have and the father she still only half believed had once existed, that she had decided to become a nurse, the routine had been drilled into her almost since the day of her father’s funeral, when her mother irrationally said – with an irrationality that, with time and repetition, became at first a mantra and then, within a year, a fact – that it was the doctors who did this, that the nurses, they would have fixed him up, and it was her own fault, she should have called in a nurse instead of going
to that goddamned emergency room where the goddamned doctors just butchered their “patients” – she actually framed air quotes around this word – all night long (her father had been brought to the e.r. at ten-fifteen in the evening), that nurses would have fixed everything, in retrospect she saw that, at seven years old, her fate was sealed, it would be nursing or nothing; she hadn’t realized then, just as she hadn’t realized at seventeen that nursing required a diploma, that a diploma required more schooling, for while her mother was always quick to say that she was both smart and caring, she (her mother) would always follow up with a simple qualification, “street smart” – in air quotes again – thereby both dignifying and sullying her daughter’s intelligence, but it wasn’t so much a degradation as a truism, as she was simply not all that good at school, it’s not that she didn’t try, she did try, she tried damn hard, but she simply couldn’t put her mind around equations or geometry or who landed at Dunkirk in nineteen-forty whatever, it just was not for her, so she was caring, and she was kind, and she figured the life of a nurse would be perfect for her, requiring as she assumed it did both care and kindness and not, most certainly not, algebra or geometry; she was wrong, of course, about the algebra, but it wasn’t until it was too late, until she had graduated high school at the tender age of seventeen (she had always avoided the guidance counselor, preferring, to “go her own route” – the air quotes were hers, this time) and realized she could not simply walk into nursing school but would have to take a test, and the test required a bit more than kindness and caring, quite a bit more indeed, and so she found herself waiting tables at a restaurant about thirty miles from her family’s house in southern New Hampshire, where one day she met a man she only noticed later, after he had asked her out and she, blushing, had agreed to accompany him to the old movie playing in the single movie theater in town, had only one leg) and, smiling, seeing his outline in the balls of her eyes, wondering if he would ever become anything again (this was years later, they were old now, or older, anyway; he had never gone back into the army or done much of anything else, either; he had a business, sure, but it was a gardening business, and how much gardening could a man do with one leg became less of a question than a challenge for him, at least during those first couple of years, when he was relatively successful, even, a period which coincided with the first few years of their marriage, but then, when the economy started to buckle under and one business after another shuttered in the town – more than half of his work was commercial, and the commercial business of their small New Hampshire town took a pretty solid hit in those years – just at the same time she was about to have their first child, a girl, named Lucy, after his mother, who had died when he was young, the business started to dry up, and he took to drink, something he had never really enjoyed before, something he still did not enjoy all that much, but it got him out of the house, it was something to get him out of the house when the calls from the V.F.W. and clients who no longer seemed
to exist weren’t coming in, it got to the point where he had to file for bankruptcy, because there was no work, or, even if there was, he was no longer in a fit state to do it; at the same time, she was the one who had to do the filing, she, with a drunk for a husband who she once and still did, to her constant shock and sometimes, despite herself, sorrow, love, she who had a second child on the way and no source of income, none at all, so she had to go back to waiting tables, even though the years when she was not waiting tables, those three years after they were married, when her one legged husband had his business and it seemed to be succeeding, even, at least for a little while, and she dreamed, still, about being a nurse, so she bought the books and did the studying and even took the test but she failed it, or didn’t fail it, exactly, but didn’t do quite well enough to get into any sort of school, and when she called, crying to her mother – she was embarrassed to approach her one-legged husband about this, who had been through so much and was still making very much of a go of it, his life – she said, I always said you were “street smart”, and she could almost hear the air-quotes through the phone, and she felt like throwing it against the wall, to the far side of the room, but she didn’t, no, instead she buckled down and took the test again and again she failed, and so she resigned herself to the idea that she would never be a nurse, she wouldn’t be the one to save her father’s life, her father was dead anyway, so who the hell cared, anyway), while at the same time she looked back at him (she saw something of herself in him, despite the missing leg, the leg she pretended to see past but always saw, that was more of a phantom to her than to him, it startled her when they slept together, still – which was every night – she could never get used to it, and it startled her that she could never get used to it, after all, he was the only man she’d ever loved, the only man she’d ever been with, practically, and then there was the fact that it was so easy to forget, that, for a time, anyway, until the economy went bad and the businesses around them all closed up and then their business closed up too, he carried himself so high, war veteran, survivor, hero, nobody called him that but you could tell, you could just see it, that he thought this way about himself, so that when he finally turned around and went to the bar and drank himself out of house and home, so they were kicked out of their house by the very same bank that had given them such a nice mortgage a few years back and were forced to rent one of the few apartments in one of the few apartment complexes in town, this at the time she was almost due with her second child, a boy that contrary to all expectation and belief they did not name after her father but instead named Chris, after their holy father in heaven – she had briefly been taken with religion, a bout that was, like their child, both short and ill-conceived – and her mother called her, telling her how sad she was at this decision, and informing her – no air quotes this time – that she was cutting her off from her will and would never speak to her again, at that point, though, she was numb, simply numb to it, she had two children to feed, three
if you counted him – which she did at this point in time – and no way of doing it, other than going back to work at the diner that called itself a family restaurant where you could get anything you wanted, as long as it was deeply battered and fried, and where the owner, before she had her first baby, before she was married or even engaged, when she was only seventeen, had slapped her ass when he was sure no one was looking, knowing full well – as she knew herself – that she would not say a word, she would never say anything to anyone), and wondered the same thing.
#“Quickly” originally appeared in the Emprise Review in 2011. 41
The Wall of the Paris Commune Xujun Eberlein
It was my elderly father who reminded me of it. The day my family left for our Paris vacation in June 2004, I phoned from Boston to my parents in China. My mother asked me—not without envy—to send photos. My father, 78 years old and normally quiet on the phone, interrupted in a serious tone: “Pay respect to the Wall of the Paris Commune for us.” I paused before saying “okay”—I hadn’t thought of that. I had forgotten the once sacred name of my childhood that symbolized the beginning of Communism, like an ex-Christian forgetting the Crucifixion. I told Bob about my father’s wish. My American husband said, “Interesting notion. What is it?” His words caught me completely by surprise. “You don’t know about the Paris Commune?” This seemed improbable, given that Bob is well read and had studied Karl Marx when he did his Ph.D. in economics, and the Paris Commune was rudimentary knowledge for every single person in China, from elementary school children to white-haired grandmothers. “I’ve heard about a commune in England,” he said. As irrelevant as wind, horse and cow (so goes the Chinese adage). I began to educate my husband and daughter, but Mulberry blurted out her teen-jargon: “That’s so random. I don’t want to see it.” I told her we had to see it for Grandpa, who’s old and in China, unlikely to have the opportunity that he had pined for since his youth. My daughter, 15 years old and tall like her dad, made a moue of discontent, “Whatever floats your boat…” My boat. When I was her age, I had been struggling to stay on the boat of “qualified revolutionary successors,” otherwise I would have drowned. Mulberry doesn’t see how fortunate she is, born with the freedom to not be on any boat. Toward the end of our busy week in Paris, on Friday afternoon, after the Louvre, the Champs-Elysees, and the Eiffel Tower we went to Père Lachaise Cemetery to look for the Wall of the Paris Commune. When we arrived, it was already 6:00 p.m.
Our sweet-talk with the door guard, in both English and broken French, received only impatient, incomprehensible French yelling, and the heavy gate was closed in my face. Mulberry, who was studying French in high school, had dallied aside and said nothing at first; now she turned toward the Metro station with a grunt. I stood there and didn’t want to leave. Knowing that I wouldn’t be able to convince my daughter to come again the next day, which would be the last day of our stay and was fully scheduled, a big disappointment suddenly jammed my chest. Later I would ask myself why this visit had such a sudden importance and urgency to me. It was not because the Cemetery includes such famous graves as Balzac’s and Chopin’s. It was not really because of my father either—I had frequently made fun of the old man’s blind fealty. So it must have been me, myself. I had to see the Wall that I worshipped in my childhood, and part of my youth. But the imperishable revolutionary belief possessed by my father was the result of him, as an adult, seeking it out before liberation, while it was imposed on me as a child by him (and society). It was only logical that I abandon such belief on growing up. So why, really? Might this be analogous to an atheist being attracted to evidence of Jesus? The gate opened a crack and a string of tourists came out. I stopped a young couple and asked in English if they knew where the Wall of the Paris Commune was. Both shook their heads with an apologetic smile. Bob tried to ask the guard the same question and received only a stern face. The Wall, or the Paris Commune for that matter, was not mentioned in any of our tour guide books, which was another surprise to me, but I remembered a Chinese friend who had said that the Wall is actually outside of the cemetery. So I dragged Bob and Mulberry along, scouring the perimeter of the cemetery, unsure if I would be able to recognize the Wall when I saw it. I had a vague memory of a picture—a relief sculpture of a group of figures on a huge wall. Père Lachaise Cemetery is the largest and most famous in Paris, with some 105 acres. After 20 minutes of walking counter-clockwise along its southeast wall and seeing nothing close to what I was looking for, Mulberry’s miserable face eventually stopped me. I had asked several people along the way, passers-by, shop workers, hotel receptionists and the like; no one knew about such a wall. No one had even heard about the Paris Commune. One woman asked me if that was a restaurant’s name. How strange, I thought, a whole country of Chinese people had worshipped a thing that did not really exist? On Saturday morning, our last day in Paris, I took the train to Père Lachaise Cemetery again, this time alone. For this I had to give up the Orsay Museum, an Impressionist exhibition my daughter insisted on seeing, that I would have very much liked to accompany her to. Instead I asked Bob to take her there.
The same southwest gate of the cemetery, on Boulevard de Ménilmontant, was now open wide. Under the bright June sun, a tall man in a red-collared winter jacket was selling the cemetery maps for two Euros. I bought one and scanned the list of monuments. Again I did not find the Wall of the Paris Commune. I turned around and asked the map seller who spoke unexpectedly fluent English. “Most Chinese come to see this wall, outside,” he smiled at me knowingly, pointing to a red mark “24” on the map; “And this wall, inside,” his fingers moved up to the northeast corner of the map, stopping at a red “17” in Division 76. “This is a beautiful monument,” he added, his fingers quickly sliding back to monument 24. My relief turned into confusion. Two walls? Not just one? And they were so far apart? I read the names of the two monuments on the map. Neither mentioned the Paris Commune: 17: Murdes Fédérés 24: Victimes des révolutions “Victimes des révolutions” is located on Avenue Gambetta, in a belt shaped public garden bordering the west wall of the cemetery. Had we walked clockwise from where we started the scouring yesterday, we would have reached it in two minutes —it might have saved me today’s trip, or so I thought. I ran into no one on the peaceful garden path, except a man calmly urinating on the sidewalk near the entrance. And I recognized the relief sculpture right away: a goddess-like woman, being shot in the chest, falling backward with open arms, protecting the men behind her from bullets. The picture aroused Victimes des révolutions my remote childhood memory with such clarity that I was perplexed, one thing wasn’t right: the wall, a piece separate from and parallel to the cemetery wall, was small, not huge as I remembered. A thin bouquet of blue lavender flowers lay in front. An artistic-looking man came with a complex camera. He took photos of
the woman on the relief from several angles. I asked him if this monument was for the Paris Commune. “No, no,” he said in crude English, “it is for victims of revolutions. No Paris Commune.” The way he said it, it was unclear if he even knew about the Paris Commune. I remembered my father’s request and took a photo of the sculpture as well before going into the cemetery for the other wall. It was a peaceful morning and, on the cobblestone paths crisscrossing fields of tombstones, visitors were scarce. The few that could be seen were walking unhurriedly, except one boy—age ten? Twelve?—who ran around, anxiously looking, leaving his mother behind. I was checking tomb signs every now and then, and that must have misled him. “Have you found Jim Morrison?” he ran up to me, asking eagerly, his American accent unmistakable. As I stood wordless, trying to figure out whether that was a name I should have known, the boy’s expression changed to something like—disbelief ? Disdain? He ran back to his mother in frustration, his complaints vaguely discernible. After a 15-minute stroll, I reached Monument 17 in a triangular corner. A large, gray sign on the inside surface of the cemetery wall read: AUX MORTS DE LA COMMMUNE 21-28 MAI 1871 Nothing there other than this plain sign—so simple it was almost disappointing. No flowers either. But the dates erased any doubt in my mind: the foul wind and rain of blood in that May week 133 years ago played between the lines of Karl Marx’s The Civil War in France, a book forever standing on my father’s shelf in a small study in southwest China. After France’s defeat and subsequent Murdes Fédérés surrender in the war with Prussia, the new government in Versailles led by Thiers set out to disarm the National Guards in Paris as the patriotic Parisians refused Prussia’s victory. An international war turned into a civil war, and the uprising working class, many of whom were the National Guards, took decisions 45
into their own hands. “On the dawn of March 18, Paris arose to the thunder-burst of ‘Vive la Commune!’” Marx wrote (a passionate line teachers had read many times during my school years in China. When the Cultural Revolution began in 1966, my older sister, born on March 18, 1953, seriously considered changing her name to the Chinese equivalent of “Paris Commune” to mark her birthday). The Paris Commune, the first government of the working class, held out against Versailles for two months. But on May 21, the Versailles troops entered Paris. There followed a week of bloody street fighting and 30,000 Parisians were killed, far more than the casualties in the French-Prussian war. The last battle, before the Commune’s complete collapse on May 28, took place in Père Lachaise Cemetery, where about 200 Commune members fought hand to hand in the mud while heavy rain pounded the tombs. A third died in the fighting and those who survived were executed against a wall in the eastern corner of the cemetery. So this was the actual Wall. But why, for so many years, had we been told it was the other one, the sculpted wall? Because an effective propaganda needs pretty decoration and evocative images? I stared at the plain sign. A middle-aged French couple walked by, their eyes followed my eyes, and they stopped beside me. The man asked me a question in French. From his expression I gathered the question must have been either “What do you think this is for?” or “Why are you so interested in this?” “Paris Commune,” I said in discrete English, “Karl Marx. Communism.” The man and woman looked at each other in a baffled expression, and both shook their heads. Then the man protested in mixed French and English: “This is no Communism! No Karl Marx! This is the Fédérés!” Without speaking French, I didn’t know how to explain that the Paris Commune, according to Chinese textbooks, was the first “proletarian dictatorship” governmental power in the world, the pioneer of all Communist countries. Karl Marx himself drafted the Commune’s proclamation. “It was the start,” I wrote the word “start” on my map and showed it to the man, “start of Communism.” They kept saying “No.” There was no way to continue the conversation with their halting English and my stillborn French. So after I repeated my claim two more times I said goodbye. A few steps away I looked back, they smiled at me, still shaking their heads, but a bit more reluctantly now. Back at the hotel, Bob and Mulberry were waiting for me. I told Bob about the cemetery and he opened the map I bought. On the back of the map he found a short introduction in 5 languages: French, English, German, Spanish, and Japanese, that I had overlooked earlier. The very end of the introduction read: “The visitor will surely be moved by the memory of the ‘Fédérés’ of the Paris Eberlein
Commune (1871), whose graves are on the spot where they were actually shot. In this little corner of history one can almost hear the message of their faith in the future.” This was yet another surprise: the Paris Commune was so emotionally, emphatically introduced by the official guide of Père Lachaise Cemetery, however no one living or working around it heard about it. I wondered what to tell my father. That almost no French person I talked to knew about the Paris Commune, the cornerstone of his revolutionary belief ? That the wall he knew the picture of was a stealthy replacement of the actual, plain wall, and the famous sculpture has nothing to do with the Commune? That for the few people who happened to notice the actual Wall, the Paris Commune had nothing to do with Communism? I did not know. Upon returning to Boston, my research on the sculpture “Victimes des révolutions” found that it was designed by Paul Moreau-Vauthier (1871-1936) in 1900, and was built in 1909. Several resources noted an inscription at the bottom of the sculpture, though I did not see it when I was there: What We Want of the Future What We Want of It Is Justice That Is Not Vengeance. - Victor Hugo Curiously, the website of the University of New South Wales in Australia, www. arts.unsw.edu.au/pariscommune, claimed that though “today the wall named Le Mur des Fédérés in Division 76 at Père-Lachaise Cemetery remains the site of numerous pilgrimages, it has only a symbolic relation to the actual incident and can in no way be the actual wall of the time since it was built after the Commune. Pauper’s corner where the last 147 federalists were shot was razed when Avenue Gambetta was built. A monument built with the stones of the old wall stands on the exact place where the mass execution had taken place. The monument’s moving sculpture (was) designed by Paul Moreau-Vauthier.” This claim, however, contradicts not only the statement on Père-Lachaise Cemetery’s official map, but also its own argument, as the monument designed by Paul Moreau-Vauthier was built after the Commune as well, in fact 38 years after. Because my research in English uncovered little more information than this, I performed an internet search in Chinese. The result: someone else had worked this puzzle, though with a different motivation. In the fall of 1972, a Chinese scholar and French expert Shen Dali (now a professor of Beijing Foreign Language Institute) visited Paris and Père-Lachaise
Cemetery for the first time. For him, as it had been for me, the sculpted wall with the goddess-like woman was the symbol of the Paris Commune. However, standing in front of the revered wall, the plural word “revolutions” in the title of the sculpture made him suspicious. A closer look at the figures behind the woman on the sculpture increased his suspicion: some of the figures seemed to dress like the soldiers of Versailles (how amazing Professor Shen could tell this!). And, unlike me, he saw the inscribed lines of Hugo’s poem, and frowned at the refusal of vengeance which he thought inconsistent with the Commune’s spirit. Shen subsequently spent considerable time in libraries and the town hall of Paris researching this sculpture and its artist. His conclusion: Paul MoreauVauthier was a “fanatical Chauvinist.” Though a son of a Commune member, Moreau-Vauthier’s opinions had nothing in common with the Paris Commune. His sculpture was designed for all killed in each and every revolution. In a conversation with Jean Braire, then Secretary-General of the Association of Friends of the Paris Commune, Shen was told the sculptor reconciled all deaths without distinguishing revolutionary from reactionary, including all Parisians and Versailles killed in the engagement, and that the survivors of the Commune always refused this sculpted wall. Jean Braire, believing this wall an insult to the Commune, also told Shen that the Soviet Union and many other countries mistook this monument as the actual Commune’s Wall. Poland even printed it on their new currency note. “I wrote to the Poland Consular in France and requested a timely correction,” Braire was quoted as saying. It is unclear when this conversation had taken place. As it turned out, when I asked, none of my Chinese friends had heard about Shen’s discovery 32 years ago. I found all kinds of excuses to delay the phone call to China, until ten days after my return from Paris. My mother answered the phone, and as always she shouted at my father to pick up another receiver, so they could both talk with me. In the middle of my chat with my mother about how beautiful the Provence rural area was, my quiet father stepped in and asked if I had seen the Wall of the Paris Commune. “Yes,” I said without providing details, and quite unwisely, I added in an attempt to branch off the conversation, “not only that, I have seen the graves of Balzac and Chopin.” The truth is, I didn’t have the time to find Chopin’s grave. My father said, “What have Balzac or Chopin to do with the Paris Commune?” It took me a few moments to realize my father had thought the entire Père Lachaise Cemetery was devoted to the Commune members. After all, 30,000 of
them were killed in the bloodstained May of 1871. I shouldn’t have been surprised, given my own false impression of a huge, sculpted cemetery wall. But I was. I explained to my father the place where the Commune members fought to their death was already a cemetery long before the revolution. I didn’t know if he understood, or was willing to understand, because he said nothing. After some silence he asked, “What did you feel there?” He meant the Wall. All the while as I was talking to him, my mind had focused on the picture of the plain sign, the simple, real Wall. At his questioning, the picture flashed back to the beautiful sculpture. I said, “I liked it very much.” “Liked?” Apparently I had used the wrong verb. I could almost hear the churning heart of my short, old father, to whom the Wall of the Paris Commune remained a sacred place. In the end, I did not tell him what I’d found.
#“The Walls of
the Paris Commune” originally appeared in Divide Magazine in Fall 2005.
Message From the Ice Cave Marilyn Taylor
For Rachel, after the death of her young daughter I am living here now, where the cold is my consort, the lover I clasp with my arms and legs, from whose gray blanket I tear each breath. All around me ice is in bloom— tiny glass buds keep swelling from hairline fissures in the stone. The buried river cuts close, a dark ventricle thick with sorrow. Moisture floods my face, pools at my feet. In time, a tower of ice will grow around me, taking the shape of an old woman and visitors will say, Look at her, how she weeps into her hands.
#“Message From the Ice Cave” originally appeared as “From the Ice Cave” in the Midland Review, 1992.
The Beach Susan T. Landry
Americans and Chinese recall memories very differently. Americans often report lengthy specific emotionally elaborate memories that focus on the self as a central character. Chinese tend to give brief accounts of general routine events that center on collective activities and are often emotionally neutral.
â€”Qi Wang, Associate Professor of Human Development, Cornell University
My American Autobiographical Self My wet feet leave dark stains on the steps of the candy store. The wood of the staircase and the landing are so hot that the watery foot-shaped impressions vanish as soon as I move beyond the moment. By the time I have pushed through the swinging screen door, by the time I have slid open the frost-sticky top of the ice cream chest, by the time I have selected a raspberry Popsicle, a salty ghost of a foot is all that remains. I deposit a handful of dimes, nickels, and pennies and I am out the door, down the stairs, leaving no record of my errand on the silvered wood. The seaweed forms a ragged line along the beach, halfway between the shallows of the water at low tide and the cement barrier that holds the ocean back during hurricane season. I spend hours in the water. When I cannot stop shivering and my hair hangs in clumps and the skin on my arms is a puckered, milky blue, I race up past the seaweed to the soft, fine-grained sand along the seawall. I burrow on my belly, my arms and legs so deep in the warm womb of sand, all that can be seen of me is the rounded bottom of my bathing suit and my shoulders, poking out like the wing cartilage of a nested shore bird. My mother sits with the other mothers in folding beach chairs. The group of women gathers in a half-moon shape so they can keep an eye on the babies, hand out tunafish sandwiches from the coolers at lunchtime, fumble in their purses to find the dimes and nickels for the candy store, and still keep up their conversations. My mother has summer-pale hair and wears sunglasses, even when she goes in the
water to cool off. She doesnâ€™t go swimming or ride the waves. She stands knee-deep, cupping water in first her right hand and then her left, sluicing down her shoulders and arms, over and over. A final scoop of water to soothe her forehead and dampen her hair. Sometimes she stays in the water for a long time, with her hands on her hips and talks with a friend who stands near her, two women with their gleaming salt-licked arms and their sunglasses winking in the afternoon light. When the women talk among themselves, I hear the murmur of their voices. Like the dull cry of the gulls, the slap of motorboat waves on the sandbar, the rhyming games of the younger children, these melodies rise and fall around me as powerful as the rhythm of the tides. It is as though I float in the air around my mother and the other mothers at the beach, like the kite that children are flying further down, away from the clusters of women. I am the kite, the thin panels of fuchsia, lime green, aqua, and yellow, now sailing with a swift breeze, the string running from its reel of driftwood, spinning in a boyâ€™s hands. Like the string that connects the boy and his friends to the kite, I am tied to my mother, a woman on the beach. I rise into the sky, ride the song of the ocean, and travel down the rivulets of sand and seaweed. I am there, but not there. My Chinese Autobiographical Self The summerhouses line the road and face the sea. Like trees in the forest, these buildings stand rooted to the land; solid, plain-looking relics of an earlier generation. A place by the water; people flock here from the city, seeking sanctuary in July and August. It is the women and children who come. The men stay behind to work. Some men take the highway, arriving late for dinner, rising before dawn for the journey back. Other men sleep in the hot apartments. In the city, the night sky is swollen with light. The sea is indifferent. Families who come from the city and families who live here all year round; it makes no difference to the sea, to the wind, to the shore birds, to the grains of sand. The children take to the beach like sandpipers, skimming along the flats at low tide. They come with their buckets and their spades, and they go home without them. Their bright kites drift off with the wind, their tumbling beach balls are lost, hidden among the wild roses. The women, too, come and go, in and out of the water, with towels and lotions, sun hats, and canisters of drinks. They settle into their chairs, facing the arc of the sun, and turn the yellowed pages of novels. They inhale and then release soft plumes of smoke, as though their cigarettes are tiny flares, signals to distant sailors. It is their dance, the coming and going. The moon sets the pace, and the women
waltz back and forth, tethered to the rhythms. One summer, a rust-darkened freighter balanced on the thin bar of the horizon. It inched forward along the bottom of the sky, a boat-shaped silhouette, like a tin marker in an arcade game. A sea accident—a sudden squall, or a fault line in the steel—sent the slow-moving barge to the ocean floor, releasing its cargo of footwear. For years, canvas shoes wash up on the shore, one by one, or at times in matching pairs. Summer slips away. The men, the women, the children, and the birds scatter across the landscape like so many grains of sand. The ripples of the wind leave their marks on the beach, the stones are worn smooth. Memory is like that; traces of beauty, shoes tangled in a net of kelp.
#“The Beach” originally appeared in Full Circle Journal in 2002. 53
More Adventures in Macrocephaly Patrick O'Neil
I have this big head. I was born with it. I see it in every damn mirror, darkened store window, even in the dull reflection of a car’s windshield. When I’m standing in line at a convenience store, I helplessly stare at the surveillance monitor hovering behind the counter and see myself squished up black and white– my head so goddamn big you can’t miss it. With all my blonde hair sticking out all over the place it almost glows in the dark like a plastic Jesus nightlight. Look at any photo that’s ever been taken of me and you’ll see. There’s this big block of a head on my shoulders – a big, big, big head just sitting there. It’s so big only half my face fits on my driver’s license. My passport photo is all chin, nose and a couple of eyes – it could be any freckle-faced Irish guy named Patrick Sean O’Neil. My profile photo for MySpace sucks, too. My head won’t fit in that little frame they give you. But what do I care? Damn near everybody in the entire universe is leaving sleazy MySpace for Facebook. Only Facebook blows just as bad. My goddamn big head won’t fit in their photo restrictions either. And don’t even talk to me about Twitter, flickr, Blogger, Gmail, Yahoo, goodreads, or LinkedIn. I really don’t need another social network, email address, or a place to post my writing, photographs, or résumé. But I’d be happy if just one of them was big head friendly. “Fuckin big head,” I mumble, and then stare directly into your eyes and say, “my head look big to you?” Back when he was still alive and just starting out his career as a big time media mogul, Merv Griffin did some studying and figured out television audiences loved people with big heads. He discovered they looked better than someone with a regular normal size head on the TV screen. What with the way bodies got stretched out and compressed, and everyone looked ten pounds heavier, a big head sort of anchored the torso down as it got projected through the cathode ray tubes. Plus, he figured people would trust someone with a big head because they’re brainy, or actually they appear to be brainy. One would hope a big head was full of brains, and not half vacant with lots of room to spare. So old Merv, whose own head wasn’t exactly petite, searched and searched until he found Pat Sajak and Vanna White with their big heads, and signed them up to host his game show, Wheel of Fortune. You can check this out if you don’t believe me, the man made millions. Hell, Vanna and Pat have been hosting that goddamn show for years – still 54
successful as all hell – supposedly all due to the size of their heads. Not that I’m suggesting my head is full of brains, or I should host a game show. Hardly. I’ve just done a bit of research into this big head deal. So I’m sitting in this bar drinking like an alcoholic and the bartender says, stop me if you’ve heard this one: Little Bobby comes home from school crying and says, “Mommy all the kids at school say I’ve got a big head.” And his mother says, “No you don’t Bobby. You have a hideously deformed head. Those kids are just trying not to hurt your feelings.” “Why you telling me that joke?” I ask. Although that bartender’s mild attempt at big head humor does gently segue us into the other possibilities for my enlarged head. Horrible medical anomalies like Proteus Syndrome: a rare genetic disorder characterized by overgrowth of bones, fatty tissues and skin. Or Acromegaly: a hormonal disorder involving excess growth hormone production by the pituitary gland. Or even Hydrocephalus: a condition in which the primary characteristic is excessive accumulation of fluid in the brain. But I’m not experiencing any of the usual symptoms associated with any of those diseases: excess of fluids, headaches, vomiting, loss of balance, enlarged extremities, or bony skull prominences—the later of which sounds more like building an addition onto your skull than a symptom. Besides, as of just last month my doctor assured me I’m not suffering from any of these said abnormalities. Although he has requested I stop snooping around the medical libraries looking for any other ailments I might possibly be afflicted with. He mumbled something about that being his job and why don’t I get the hell out of his office before he put a world of hurt on my magnus caput capitis. “Do you hear any noise when I think?” I asked him and then massaged my temple with a gummy bear – an organic vegan gummy bear. Because I like to go for the best when I practice holistic medicine. Yet all the news isn’t bad. In the 19th century, Cesare Lombroso, an anthropologist from the Italian school of criminology, preformed numerous autopsies on deceased criminals in an attempt to outline the fourteen physiognomic characteristics, which he believed to be common in all criminals, the foremost being a small head. So okay, past digressions aside, my big head doesn’t render me prone to common criminality, at least not in 19th century Italy. “Yo mama head so big it shows up on radar.” I remember playing soccer in 8th grade and Anthony Fragamini wanted me to be goalie, and I didn’t want to be goalie. I hated being smacked by the ball, or having to dive for it and roll around on the grass. Besides, the field we played on was covered with broken glass, cigarette butts and beer cans. Every once in a while you’d find a used rubber because the local thugs hung out there at night and partied with the girls from the Catholic school.
So I said, “Ant, I don’t wanna be goalie.” And he said, “I’ll give you a dollar.” Because Anthony was team captain and took that shit seriously, he always wanted to win, to beat the other team and run around the field like a fool. “Man, fuck yo dollar,” I yelled and started to walk to midfield to play halfback like I always did. “But you ain’t gotta do shit,” he yelled after me. “Yo big head’ll stop half the balls from gettin through the goal.” Seems like when I was a kid my head was even bigger. There’s a picture of me as a baby. Nine pounds, ten ounces, and the nine pounds was all head. I got this expression on my face, looking at the camera like an old man and I’m only a couple days old – the burden of a big head. “I don’t know why I got this big head,” I say. “No one else in my family has one.” I look over at my reflection in the full-length mirror, a tailor’s measuring tape wrapped around my forehead. I squint to read the numbers. Inches, metrics, I can’t tell, I forgot my glasses. Slowly I slump to the floor. The tape slithers off and curls up in the corner. A molting rabid cat comes running. I grab its tiny head with both my hands. Its mouth opens in a hiss. Teeth bared it screeches to the heavens above. “It ain’t like I come from a long line of big heads,” I say as I pull the cat’s claws out of my skin. “Or every other generation there’s a big head or two poppin up off the family tree like a freakin bobblehead doll. Shit, as far as I know none of my relatives have ever hosted a game show.” The cat licks its lips and eyes me like a can of sardines. I reach for the measuring tape, but it has inched its way further down the hallway. A telephone rings somewhere off in another room. The smell of gasoline is strong in the stagnant air. I wonder who could be calling this late at night. My fingers touch the stained carpet as I push myself up off the floor. “Nope, this is my cross to bear,” I say and realize I’m alone. The cat has run off and the only thing keeping me company is the reflection of my big head in the mirror.
#“More Adventures in Macrocephaly” originally appeared under a different title at Sunsets and Silencers in 2009. o'Neil
Gaping/Seam Janet Frishberg (Illustrated by Emma Bailey) 1. Gaping Alright then, this is what I’ll do when I miss you: I’ll collect your used and unused toothpicks and build miniature houses out of them. I’ll go to the fridge, open the cheese drawer, and pull out the chunk of Roquefort that you bit directly from. I’ll lick your teeth marks from its salty flesh. I’ll lie in your spot on our bed and gaze up at the picture you framed and hung on the ceiling. Of the lake, clear tired blue in the evening. I threw away your red toothbrush into the trash can filled with drain hair and empty hotel shampoo bottles, so I wouldn’t be tempted to use it. II. Seam In 200 years archeologists will dig up our yard and they will find these things I buried: 1. The baby tooth your mom gave me the third time I met her, when you told me she told you she thought it was getting quite serious. 2. A plaid shirt you used to wear while doing what you said were man things around the house, and I believed you, until the house was empty and nails needed nailing. I stood on a step stool realizing no one is born knowing how to use a hammer. I buried these things on the last night of the moon cycle because I was looking for that word you once scoffed at, 57
that starts with a c. And because you weren’t calling me back, and I didn’t know if you ever would and because I wanted to pretend for a night that I lived in a place with rites of passage, ceremony. And after I buried them, I looked up to try to see the last sliver of the moon, which was ending its birth that night, or maybe saying it was pre-pregnant is more accurate. A car alarm went off for thirty seconds. I felt betrayed by its repetitive honking. It was dark in the sky, the moon’s tight, grimacing smile fuzzy behind the clouds like stretched-out cotton balls, and I thought, this is all that’s left now. Me, and inventing metaphors about this moon, like you left me in a fucking folk tale or something. Then I picked the shovel back up. I threw one more pound of dirt onto the grave of your things and didn’t think about your sweaty hand in mine at my grandpa’s funeral two years ago. Looking down at my sandaled feet, I fantasized briefly about a heart attack or a seizure, neither of which happened at that moment. I walked back towards the house, knowing if I collapsed on the ground, at least I’d wake up understanding that my fears had already come true, and start over, hopefully braver this time around.
#“Gaping/Seam” originally appeared, with illustrations, in 2013 in a
San Francisco zine published by Index/Fist titled Habits of the Mouth. Frishberg
Emma Bailey is an artist and media maker in San Francisco. Emma started drawing as a way to document the awkward and sweet moments of the day. Jonathan Brooks is an award winning photographer, whose work has been exhibited in Miami, New York City, Amsterdam, and the United Kingdom. He has a BS degree in Advertising and Fine Art Photography from the University of Miami. Brooks recently launched Teach&Greet Bilingual Greeting Cards on CardGnome. com. He is a rare Miami native who currently writes and photographs reviews for GreatFoodList.com and is the shop owner of Jonathan BrooksVisual Arts on Etsy. com. He was just informed by Werner Publishing that he has been chosen by the judges as a Top 10 Finalist in the RED, Carl Zeiss, Adobe, & Digital Photo Pro magazine’s 7th Annual Emerging Pro Still & Motion Competition. Haley Brown is a writer from Encinitas, CA, currently living in Boston. She likes adventuring, making crepes, and talking to strangers. Matthew Burnside keeps a list of his sins at Matthewburnsideisawriter.tumblr.com. Claudia Cortese’s poems and essays have appeared in Best New Poets 2011, Blackbird, Crazyhorse, Kenyon Review Online, and Mid-American Review, among others. Her first book of poetry is traveling the land of book contests and has been a semifinalist for prizes from the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry, Persea Books, and the University of Wisconsin Press. A recipient of awards from RHINO Poetry, Baltimore Review, and Kent State University, Cortese lives and teaches in New Jersey. Xujun Eberlein is an essayist and fiction writer. A native of Chongqing, China, she lives with her husband in Boston. She authored the award-winning story collection Apologies Forthcoming; her work has appeared in the United States, Canada, England, Kenya, and Hong Kong. More information about her writing and awards can be found on her website www.xujuneberlein.com.
Sherrie Flick is author of the flash fiction chapbook I Call This Flirting (Flume) and the novel Reconsidering Happiness (Bison Books). Her work has recently appeared inFlash Fiction Funny edited by Tom Hazuka, Passages North, Corium, Cortland Review, Redux, Chicago Quarterly Review, and SmokeLong. She lives in Pittsburgh and teaches in Chatham University’s MFA and Food Studies programs. Janet Frishberg lives and writes in a light blue room in San Francisco. She’s currently editing her first book, a memoir. You can find her work in Literary Orphans, Cease, Cows, sparkle & blink, the SF Chronicle, and soon in r.kv.r.y quarterly, The Rufous City Review and Black Heart Magazine. You can find her @jfrishberg. Ellen Kombiyil is a poet, writer, and writing teacher. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Beloit Poetry Journal, Cider Press Review, Cordite Poetry Review, Hobble Creek Review, Poemeleon, Redactions, Silk Road Review, Spillway and Spry, among others. Honors include a nomination this year for the Pushcart Prize, and in 2012 she was nominated for Best of the Net. She is a Founding Poet of The (Great) Indian Poetry Collective (www.greatindianpoetrycollective.org), which publishes first and second books showcasing new poetic voices from India. Her first book of poetry, “Histories of the Future Perfect,” is forthcoming in 2014. Originally from Syracuse, New York and a graduate of the University of Chicago (where she studied, among other things, astrophysics), for the past 10 years she has lived in Bangalore, India, where she leads writing workshops and teaches yoga. Susan T. Landry is founder and editor of the online literary journal about memoir: Run to the Roundhouse, Nellie (www.run-to-the-roundhouse-nellie.com). She has had short-form memoir and poetry published in several online journals, including Brevity, Word Riot, Pindeldyboz, Mr. Weller’s Neighborhood. She lives in Maine and edits medical manuscripts to support her desire to walk around the world. Patrick O’Neil is the author of the memoirs: Gun, Needle, Spoon (Dzanc Books 2015), and Hold-Up (13e Note Editions, Paris, France). His writing has appeared in numerous publications, including: Fourteen Hills, Razorcake, Sensitive Skin, New Plains Review, The Weeklings, and Weave Magazine. He resides in Hollywood California, holds an MFA from Antioch University Los Angeles, and teaches at a local community college. For more information please go to patrick-oneil.com Jeremy Dae Paden was born in Italy and raised in Central America, the Caribbean, and the Southern United States. He received his Ph.D. in Latin American literature
from Emory University. His poems have appeared in such places as the Atlanta Review, Beloit Poetry Review, Cortland Review, Louisville Review, Naugatuck River Review, pluck!, and Rattle, among other journals and anthologies. His chapbook Broken Tulips was published by Accents Press in February 2013. He is an Associate Professor of Spanish and Latin American literature at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky, and a member of the Affrilachian Poets. Patty Paine is the author of The Sounding Machine (Accents Publishing) Feral (Imaginary Friend Press), Elegy & Collapse (Finishing Line Press), and co-editor of Gathering the Tide: An Anthology of Contemporary Arabian Gulf Poetry (Garnet Publishing & Ithaca Press) and The Donkey Lady and Other Tales from the Arabian Gulf (Berkshire Academic Press). Her poems, reviews, and interviews have appeared in Blackbird, Gulf Stream, The Journal, and many other publications. She is the founding editor of Diode Poetry Journal and Diode Editions, and is an assistant professor of English at Virginia Commonwealth University Qatar where she teaches writing and literature. Amy Rossi is an MFA candidate in fiction at Louisiana State University. Her work has previously appeared or is forthcoming in Monkeybicycle, Hobart (web), the Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, and the Ninth Letter. Dara-Lyn Shrager is a writer living in Princeton, New Jersey. Her poems have appeared in journals including Ontario Review, The Comstock Review, The Greensboro Review, Pebble Lake Review, The Nashville Review, The Chaffin Journal, animus, Harpur Palate, Broadsided, The Orange Room, Zone 3 and others. She is a founding editor of Four Way Review. Her articles have appeared in magazines and newspapers including The New York Times, Philadelphia Magazine, New Jersey Monthly, The Philadelphia Inquirer Sunday Magazine and others. Her chapbook, The Boy From Egypt, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2009. BezalelÂ Stern, a fellow at the Center for Fiction in New York, is working on a novel and a collection of short stories. Ashley Strosnider holds an MFA from the University of South Carolina, where she was a James Dickey Fellow. Her work appears in Word Riot, Fifth Wednesday, Paper Darts, Nashville Review, and Smokelong Quarterly, among others. Her reviews appear in The Review Review and Publishers Weekly. She serves as an
Assistant Editor at Drunken Boat and currently lives in Charleston, SC, where she works as a copyeditor and advocate for the Oxford comma. Marilyn L. Taylor, former Poet Laureate of the state of Wisconsin (2009 - 2010) and the city of Milwaukee (2004 â€“ 2005), is the author of six collections of poems. Her awardwinning work has also appeared in Poetry, American Scholar, and Measure, among other journals. She served for five years as a Contributing Editor and regular columnist for The Writer magazine.
CHRIS GREENHOUGH MAIYA HAYES RJ INGRAM And to everyone who’s helped us make 2013 a banner year—we thank you all.
Volume 3.3, December 2013—With new and resurrected works by Emma Bailey, Jonathan Brooks, Haley Brown, Matthew Burnside, Claudia Cortese, Xu...