EXPRESSION / 56
Fall 2020 $15
ru’mi-nate: TO CHEW THE CUD; TO MUSE; TO MEDITATE; TO THINK AGAIN; TO PONDER
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Cover: PACE TAYLOR . Place, becoming Feeling. Feeling, becoming Place, 2020. Soft pastel and graphite on paper. 38 inches x 50 inches.
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Editor’s 6 Readers’ 8
Artists’ 32, 56
14 Apparitions, Susannah Lodge-Rigal Contributors’ 82 15 I Imagine a Space Beneath Last 86 My Lungs Where It’s Quiet, Susannah Lodge-Rigal FICTION
Occupation Rock and Roll, 16 Etan Nechin
La Bruja, Alberto Daniels 46
Little to Do with Rain, 66 Leigh Claire Schmidli
Coneflowers, Isaac Villegas 52
The art of Eilish McCormick 33
The art of Pace Taylor 57
28 Darwin Tends His Orchids, Twila Newey 29 Dearest Charles, Twila Newey 30 Search Window, Gabriel Furshong 41 Ode to 6C, Nicole Lachat 42 The Two-Body Problem, Brandon Thurman 44 Chronicles of Strangers in Dialogue, Wale Ayinla 51 Compendium, Natalie Homer 55 Watershed, Christian Anton Gerard 65 I Had Wanted to Write, Jason Tandon
Last week, for the first time, I kayaked on the Willamette River that divides the west and east sides of Portland, Oregon. It was warm, and a variety of people were out lounging on the sand, swimming in the water, or paddling boats. Most expressions were joyful, playful, even euphoric. I thought of how this scene contradicted the viral online videos of my hometown, and how both are true; I imagined some people on the water, like myself, had expressed themselves by marching in resolution on the bridges, and now are joyful on the river beneath them. As a child, I was taught that the Willamette River was dirty, that sewage overflowed into it dozens of times a year. Although the city says it’s officially safe for swimming these days, last week I unconsciously flinched when drops of water bounced off my skin. It’s amazing and frightening how much the body remembers and internalizes—even the past toxicity of water. I’ve thought of James Baldwin’s sprawling, polyphonic novel Just above my Head almost every week for a decade, but in the past few months, I’ve been thinking of it almost every day. I think of how James Baldwin took an uncompromising public stance and yet his novels remain as complicated as human nature. In Just above my Head, the narrator, Hal, a Black New Yorker, tells the story of his celebrity brother, Arthur, but also the story of Arthur’s lover, Jimmy, and Jimmy’s sister, Julia, who was a child preacher sexually abused by her father. And somehow Baldwin’s novel also contains scathing commentary on the Korean War and almost a novella on the racial violence in the Deep South of the 1960s all while these characters are trying and failing, and trying and failing to love each other, their expressions varying as much over the three decades of the novel as the expressions of people in my own life that I’ve been trying to love for over thirty years. Which brings us to the stories in this issue, how they detail shifts in expression. In Leigh Claire Schmidli’s prizewinning story “Little to Do with Rain,” for example, a daughter’s attitude toward her mother changes when she discovers that her mother writes daily, poetic fragments on the weather; in Etan Nechin’s prizewinning story “Occupation Rock and Roll,” two young friends express themselves through rock music in a defunct bunker on the edge of the West Bank, but ten years later, one of the friends plays only religious music, while the other has given up music altogether; in Alberto Daniels’s story “La Bruja,” a woman adopts some expressions of the Panamanian culture she moves to, then adopts some aspects of the American culture she immigrates to—all while retaining her core.
There is a lot to be angry over right now, and a lot to mourn. But I try to remember to continue to explore all facets of human experience in the midst of it, to allow myself and those around me the spectrum of human expression because as Tarrou says in Albert Camus’s The Plague, when he and his doctor friend Rieux take a break from caring for patients one night to swim, “Of course, a man should fight for the victims, but if he ceases caring for anything outside of that, what’s the use of his fighting?” Sincerely, RACHEL
readers’ notes ON EXPRESSION
I once watched Mama and Daddy argue in the kitchen. It quickly turned into a “he said/she said” back-and-forth. Mama’s face got redder, the vein on Daddy’s forehead bulged and pulsed. Mama stood hands on hips and leaning forward the way that made Daddy mean. He stood feet wide apart, one hand squeezing the handle of his coffee mug, pushing his other fist clenched hard in the small of his back. Grandma called that his power stance. I told Mama, “What actually happened at Miss Marjorie’s barbecue was you stood at the potato salad and told Daddy to go help the new widow. Daddy did as you directed, carried two plates over, ate his dinner with young Widow Sharp, complimenting her tan and her pretty yellow sundress.” Mama got so mad I thought her head might explode. Daddy barked at me to get to my barn chores and put a soft bit of boot to my backside as I escaped out the door. Seems no one appreciates my total recall of a situation unless it is in their favor. SHANNON EVANS, COLUMBUS, MS
My daughter was at the hospital in labor. I was on my way. It was early in the morning and I stopped at McDonald’s to get breakfast when I noticed a man
standing by the door asking people to buy him food. Many walked right by him and said nothing, but I had an extra ten dollars. I thought about my not-yet-born grandson. If he was ever hungry and we were not there, I would want someone to feed him. When I reached the man, I smiled and said, “Come with me and we will get some breakfast.” We walked through the doors together and talked while we stood in line. He told me he made music demos and hoped to be discovered. He asked me to stay and eat with him. I could not. My daughter was waiting. I hugged him before I left and said a silent prayer. CAROL ANN SPARROW, PHOENIX, AZ
At the boat landing, I scurried from the canoe and turned to pull it on shore to make the exit easier on Dad. Instead, he had already risen to a full stand and flew like an arrow from the rear of the boat, landing in the water with a full body flop. Terrified, I froze, waiting for him to emerge. He sat up, gasping for breath, laughing. His camera and film were ruined. He was soaked, drenched. He knew there was no reason to yell at me, that my intention was pure. That’s how love is expressed. CAROLINE KNICKMEIER, MADISON, WI
The bus rumbled through the city before the driver slowed down just enough for me to jump off unscathed, my feet thudding against the pavement. The streets of Quito, Ecuador, never seemed to dwell on my foreignness, never asked why my father’s love was conditional, why my brother’s brow furrowed angrily at the sight of me, why even a year after her death I still couldn’t visit my mother’s grave. Walking through the streets, young and so far from home, I was weightless, floating through a river of blinding sunshine, delicious heady exhaust fumes, and rhythmic city noise. That afternoon I crossed the street into Parque La Carolina with a crowd, bought an ice cream, and watched a soccer game. I spoke with strangers, the language I’d been learning no longer ill-fitting and awkward in my mouth. On the bus back, a bag with a small ceramic artisan craft rested in my lap. The woman had wrapped it in newspaper, knowing without asking that it was destined to leave. Outside, the sky bloomed red, purple, and orange. The mountains surrounding the city became dark monoliths. Soon I would leave, the life I had created and nourished there would vanish, and I’d return to something that had never felt like my own. Nearly at my host family’s house, I tripped in semidarkness, instinctively
putting my hands out to break my fall. I heard the crack of ceramic. An inch-long gash materialized on my finger, blood that had belonged to me now to the ground. I looked at the small red stain spreading like watercolor on paper into the earth. Live here for me, I thought, until all of me can return. LAURA SELDNER, MARYLAND
There’s a face my wife makes that lets you know you’re in the club, that you’ve been welcomed as one of the few audience members to The Patty Show. Eyes squinted, head tilted, lips pursed, nostrils flared. It’s usually because you’ve said something dumb, and Patty is moments away from leaping into a comic tirade that will leave you saying she might be the funniest person you’ve ever met. After the miscarriages, the show was cancelled. I’d trip over myself saying dumb shit, hoping to see a slight narrowing of her eyes, a subtle purse of her lips. “I wrote some Care Bears fan fiction, wanna hear it?” Or: “I’ve been thinking and, I really think the DC movies are better than Marvel.” Nearly a year went by, passing each other in our hallways, on the stairs, in our master bedroom, me wondering if I’d ever see that expression again.
Then, one morning, as we sat silently at our dining table, watching the news, Patty stopped chewing and placed the lumpia back on her plate. Anderson Cooper was announcing that Donald Trump was the likely Republican candidate for the Presidency. She tilted her head. ELISON ALCOVENDAZ, SACRAMENTO, CA
Last night someone borrowed my bike without asking. Yes, I’d indeed locked my bike here. It was stolen. I shrugged, then walked toward the store to retrieve my latest special order of Hawaiian papayas. I passed two police officers, lounging in their car, then doubled back to tell them about the bike. One said sometimes missing bikes do actually turn up. I should file a report at the station. I kept walking. While I paid for my box of tropical gold, I asked a worker restocking the registers if he’d sell me some quarters for laundry. “Normally, no,” he said. “But since I’m the guy who gets to make that decision, sure. Right place at the right time.” Instead of returning via the alley, on impulse I redirected to the farmers’ market, where I happened upon a stall I’d heard legends about, a dizzying array of atomic peppers. Strolling away with
a sack of enriched uranium, I wondered whether I should spend the afternoon finding a new pair of wheels. Then something impossible caught my eye: a bike leaning against a newspaper machine. A green mountain bike. With a cargo rack. My bike. Unlocked! As I rolled the bike away, down the main drag of this North Idaho town lined with twostory brick buildings—a town where, thousands of miles from my island home, I’m supposed to blossom into a writer—I thought to myself, right place at the right time. MICHAEL BISHOP, MOSCOW, ID
Lying on my bedroom floor, biting the cap of a Sharpie, I search my ceiling for a way to articulate four hundred years of oppression. Centuries of suffering don’t fit onto a poster board. I scroll through Facebook and find a cousin ranting about how privilege is a lie, how he “really doesn’t care.” And what do you draw or say? A clenched fist? A three-word phrase? A King quote? Could any of them persuade people like him? I flip through a thesaurus and Malcolm X to find the perfect sound-bite. But if I can’t express myself to him, what’s the point? The protest is in two hours and I have to finish this sign. I have to change at
least one mind. I choose the expressions on their faces in better times: Elijah’s warmth, Breonna’s joy, George’s peace, and Ahmaud’s glee. At the march, I find my voice and we voice our rage. “No justice, no peace, no racist police.” We’re strong, we’re powerful, we’re conveying our message. We walk two miles, our signs held high, and we stare down the passing cars. I pray none of them are like my cousin. We walk to city hall, and our voices are so heard that we can’t say a word. Police break the silence, start shouting orders. “Back, back, back.” To the eighteenth century? We have power in numbers, but they have earplugs and handguns. Tear gas and targets. Suddenly they step back, the canisters high in the air. You should have seen their expressions.
my best to stay awake, keeping my eyes wide open as long as I could. Sometimes, when he was away for work, I spent most of the time tugging the corner of my mother’s saree, following her from kitchen to living room to the garden behind, pleading with her to read me another story aloud. She had a beautiful voice that carried each word loud and clear across the rooms, echoing slightly in the late afternoon. She read pages and pages from children’s Bengali literature, mostly Upendrakishore’s anthologies or Sukumar Ray’s stories, as I deliberately chewed my food ever more slowly during lunch. Today, I still lose myself within the covers of a book. I still love stories. I try writing some, too, perhaps not half as interesting as the ones I read. But the urge to express is strong within me.
DELANEY COSTELLO, DALLAS, TX
SHRUBABOTI BOSE, MUMBAI, INDIA
I’ve always liked listening to stories or squatting down in the middle of the floor with my nose buried inside a book, lost in the world painted before my eyes. I grew up in an old locality within the streets of North Kolkata where kids my age were few. My father loved telling stories just before I went to bed, stories of Iliad and Odyssey or Mahabharata, narrating each little incident in great detail while I tried
My four-year-old daughter is trying on animals for size. Mantis Shrimp. Buffalo. Honeybee. With each new species her mind flies to a new reality and suddenly she is stampeding across the hardwood or waggling inside a hive of blankets. Not content to simply bear witness, she becomes, as Adrienne Rich says, “the thing itself and not the myth.”
She waits for me to catch up—I am not yet one with the creature. I am lodged in my human existence, unable to slip from ego and worry. I am eyeing clutter on the coffee table. I reckon the minutes until lunchtime. Meanwhile, Wobbegong Shark has settled herself into a reef, her fringed skin blending to seaweed. She sits motionless, except for flicks of her tail luring in fish and squid. It occurs to me she is twice hidden: from daughter to shark, from shark to reef, and all this in the time it takes me to shed the concerns of selfhood. I learn this from my daughter: how to access an animal self, an existence not sublimated to so much fuss. We are about survival: food, defenses, escape. We are blub and flutter. We are claw and twirl. Now become Hawk, she catches wind from the ridges. She grinds bones in her second stomach. She is Mollusk, archaic and plated. She is Cheetah, her name means spotted one. My identity feels fixed like hers isn’t. Blink and she is another being—miraculous, inscrutable, bent on staying alive. KAT HAYES, MEDIA, PA
My mother said my name was supposed to be “Skye.” Or “Willow,” like her favorite tree. I would’ve been “Leelo” if there wasn’t already a wildly successful
porn star going by the same name as my mother’s favorite character from The Fifth Element. Instead, I was “Chloe” because it was conventional enough to pronounce phonetically by the vast majority of people whose lips it would pass through. “Skye” was then sandwiched between my first and last names where nobody would see it, where nobody would know it was there. My mother played Enya for me in the womb and was determined that I would master Usui’s Reiki (the Japanese spiritual practice of energy healing) by the age of six. That didn’t seem like a skill a common Chloe could achieve. However, a Skye could definitely do something like that. Skye sounds as though she’s divinely gifted. Maybe she’d paint enormous portraits of owls—or own them. Skye Audubon, like the painter from my great-grandmother’s birding guide, sounded like a sublime person for me to be. By the time I turned six, my mother had gotten so sick that she couldn’t practice reiki, much less teach Skye. I remained a Chloe and didn’t learn any reiki. I did doodle an amateur image of an owl or two, from time to time. CHLOE LANDISMAN, CT
Rose Blanche is a fishing village on the island of Newfoundland in eastern Canada. Its rocky setting and colorful houses attract artists and photographers, but during my visit a foghorn wailed for five seconds once a minute, twenty-four hours a day, every day. String all the blarings of a day together and they would last two hours. The horn was too loud to be forlorn, and blasted through every thought and conversation. While taking photos from a Rose Blanche wharf, I met a former resident who still had family there. The foghorn intruded on our conversation. “Did you ever get used to it?” I asked. “Most of the time, yes,” he said. “It used to blast only when it was foggy, but one day someone sabotaged the sensor, and now it’s set to blast all the time.” Who would sabotage a foghorn sensor, and why? I thought it must have been someone impelled by a great anger, intent on leaving, never to return.
They are pink or blue or yellow or green or red or white. Outside, they are marked by flowers or balloons or cartoon characters. Inside they shout Happy Birthday! or Merry Christmas! or Good Luck, We’ll Miss You! I finally have time to go through the cards. Why save so many? Some are funny, some sincere. Each represents an expression of what someone wanted to say to me—and only me—what someone wanted me to know at a certain point in time. I save the ones with personal notes, stop to admire the beautiful script of my Catholic-school friends, handwriting I still envy. I read recently that the fleet of US Postal Service trucks is so old and failing that, since 2014, the vehicles have been bursting into flames at the rate of one every five days. The story said that many of the postal workers have been rushing into the flames to try to save the mail.
Apparitions I sang to keep listening
Clouds sent their afters down
& in that weather
my hand reached
bare into the brightening
It happens like that:
in the same light that makes the world
I Imagine a Space Beneath My Lungs Where It’s Quiet There the thoughts I keep go quietly & unword Each step I take sends crickets wilding off concrete into foxtails & quiet unbecomes I mean for my promises to keep: a mind mothering itself a body One that will quiet the inside words & hold earward the hour’s disquiet— cicada thrum riverdrawl air thick with wings Often I carry my shape quite loudly Pour echoes through barn rafters—announce myself by name I want to start again Imagine what quiet makes on the underside of breathing Where thought comes quiet each step is a wild promise I hold quiet through a here alive with humming
V ERY B ODY went to the army. Well, apart from the two of us.
David was kicked out because they said he was a criminal; they said that I was too. But if David were to join, he would be of no use to them. David always seemed to be daydreaming, not fully present, except when he was at the drums. We started playing music in fifth grade, I on bass, he on drums. When we were fourteen, we started a band with some kids in our town. The town sat between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, a boring backwoods surrounded by orange groves and industrial parks. There wasn’t a proper exit to get to it, so people had to swerve right from the highway onto a patchy, narrow road. It sat on the border of the West Bank, an afterthought between Jerusalem and nowhere. We practiced in a defunct bomb shelter at the edge of town that had been used during the 1948 war, or maybe the ’67 war, or the war against the British. We didn’t care what war it was used in; all we cared about was having a place that was our own, space where we could work on our music. The shelter’s reinforced concrete wall had perfect acoustics. We worked on getting the music tight, until we were in sync—until we didn’t need to talk anymore. We didn’t have a vocalist. We didn’t care for words, especially words in Hebrew, which when sung sounded humdrum. Words were fixed to a place that in our imagination was only a first station on our way to somewhere more significant. We smoked joints and blew the smoke up the air vents and hid bottles of cheap vodka in the supply closet. We made coffee in a calcified electric kettle and played for hours: guitar, keyboards, bass, drums. We practiced three days a week. I would show up early, open up the shelter, make coffee, sit outside, smoke, and wait for the others. No matter how late everybody showed up, no one ever arrived after David. He always burst in in a cloud of chaos, set up his drums, a barrier of tom-toms and cymbals in front of him. Then, sticks in hand, silent, he settled down into his island of rhythm. I started on my bass, and after a song or two, when we were in step with each other, and joy was spilling from the walls, the sound floated around the room like dust becoming a mountain. After rehearsals, we would sit on the roof of the shelter, get high, pass a bottle of whatever our keyboard player, Feder, would steal from his dad, a drunk who worked for the Ministry of Immigration. We went on and on in a haze of conversation about music, sports, girls, whatever drug was new. Politics was never discussed; we didn’t have an appetite for what was happening around. More than anything it was white noise, a constant hum in our ears since we were born. David never said anything during those conversations; perhaps he was in his drug haze. David was a fiend. His appetite for drugs was insatiable. No matter how much or what he took, his demeanor never changed, his pupils never dilated. It was as if drugs
were food, energy that broke down within his body, feeding his long, limber limbs that moved as if detached from his person. But when I turned my head to look at him, I would see him nod, always listening, attuned but removed, a wall between him and the world. From the roof we could see Jerusalem to the north, casting its shadow on the valley below. To the east, the Arab villages on the mountain; to the west, Highway 1 leading to Tel Aviv and Ben-Gurion Airport. ••• O UR F I R ST S HOW was in Jerusalem. Amnon, our guitar player, had a brother who
worked in a small venue near the Old City. Because the intifada was raging and buses were blowing up on the city’s streets, no one wanted to go out: bars and restaurants stood empty, waiting for normalcy and tourists to return to the town. I hated Jerusalem. It was a provincial city compared to New York, London, Paris, and all the other cities I’d never been to. No one ever dreamed of playing Jerusalem.
We didn’t care for words, especially words in Hebrew, which when sung sounded humdrum.
All music dreams were realized thirty minutes west, in Tel Aviv. But we didn’t care. We were seventeen and wanted our music to be heard over a massive PA system, to feel the music make the stage vibrate. We only cared that we were together, making music that was our own. The night of the show was also the first time we got arrested. After we played, we went to the Cats’ Square, the only place where we could hang around because we were underage. We sat in the square, smoked cigarettes, and watched other groups of teenagers hanging out on the concrete steps. We were about to leave when an officer stopped us. He asked what we had in our cases. We waved him off, telling him it was rocket launchers. He twisted Uzi’s arm; Uzi went down. A bunch of other gorillas in uniforms showed up, and the square emptied in a flash. They found some weed, a bit of speed, a few pills of ecstasy, and some Ritalin. We were charged with possession of hallucinogens and hashish with intent to sell. The police officer that questioned us couldn’t scare us with the threat of going to jail. We were minors and in school, and besides, he knew we were only users, not dealers. He just wanted names. He tried to guilt us into confession: the drugs were smuggled
over the Lebanon border, he said. The hashish we bought was financing the bombs Hezbollah was using against us. He told us we would be barred from getting into prestigious army units, that we would spend our years in the army behind the wheel of a truck or peeling potatoes. But I felt no guilt; wherever the drugs came from was someplace worse than where we lived, I taunted the officer. Also, I didn’t care about getting into the army. We could serve our time in the army band, our teachers tried to persuade us. We could march through the desert with our dusty instruments, playing a march that made people feel nostalgic, songs about conquering the desert with the sound of a flute. But we did not care for that type of music. We didn’t want our music to sound as if it was from here. We wanted it to sound as if it was from all the places we’d never been to, all the music that wasn’t from here. We had no ideology; we had our music. So, we kept our mouths shut and got criminal records. ••• A F EW M ON T HS LAT ER , I had an appointment at the army induction center in
Jerusalem. The recruitment officer looked at me with the same expression of disgust and apathy the police officer had. He seemed perplexed. “Boys like you don’t usually end up sitting in this room, boys with naive eyes,” he said. “Don’t you want to go to the army?” “They are not naive.” I widened my eyes. “They are guiltless.” The officer signed a document and sent me to the army psychiatrist; to him—who had no moral qualms—I wasn’t just a criminal, I was insane. David and I were both discharged, dishonorably, on the same day; they weren’t even going to take us to peel potatoes. When people got wind of what had happened, the principal brought my parents in for a meeting, telling them that the school wouldn’t take responsibility for me. I was expelled; so was David. Just shy of eighteen, we were both dropouts, draft dodgers. All the others enlisted. They never said anything to us about not enlisting, but it was felt every time they came home for the weekend, tired, with the thinnest sense of accomplishment. They looked at us, our hair growing wild, and drank their beer at the bar, and as the weeks went by, they talked to us less and less. They formed a circle, communicating in a language full of codes and abbreviations that was foreign to us, that sounded like static. We went to work as dishwashers to save money so we could buy instruments, and we learned to play music from places we had never been to. David eventually left our town and moved to Tel Aviv, while I stayed and worked for a local construction company. I found people to play with, some high schoolers from
the area. David and I still played when he came back for the weekend. Uzi went into the paratroopers, and Feder got a post as a correspondent for the army newspaper. David sat behind the drum kit with increased confidence: the outside world, Tel Aviv, embraced him. He was all limbs, sneaking in little frills that sounded as I imagined downtown Chicago sounded, drum hits that splashed liquid vigor around the gray concrete capsule of the shelter. After each session, he would tell me I should move to Tel Aviv, that I could work in a bar and find people to play with—bands always needed a bass player. I did move to Tel Aviv a few years later, but David and I hardly saw each other. He was busy playing gigs with different bands, touring Israel from north to south. I couldn’t find work as a bartender, so I found a job with a welder. I traveled all over, affixing metal to metal. Deep down, I knew David was a better musician than I was, that his trajectory was to record in studios and play sold-out shows. That’s the only thing he could do. My hands weren’t attached to my instrument; they could find a use for a shovel or a pen or a spatula. As far as I could remember, David had never had a job. The only things his hands were good for was keeping rhythm. ••• TH E N, T HE S EC ON D L EBA N ON WA R ERU P T ED. Our brothers and sisters went
to war. Uzi led a unit into an ambush where two of his soldiers died, and I stayed in Tel Aviv, playing with different people, but less frequently. No one wanted to listen to music; people were too busy tuning in to news alerts. David and I hung out a lot during that time. The Tel Aviv sky was spared the rockets. I joked that the Hezbollah finally saved up enough to buy missiles from all the hashish money they got from us. During the third week of the war, I suffered a devastating injury when I severed my left ring finger in a welding accident. All that was left was a blistering stump. I tried to play, but my lost finger played phantom notes that didn’t sound; the melody never would be complete, notes forever lost. I still hung out with musicians I knew, but mostly to get free drugs and meet girls. It was a blank period, a silent one. Now and then David and I would get together, sit on the beach, do a line, and drink warm Goldstar. I went on and on about politics. I was angry at everything. I blamed the war for the standstill that was my life. After a period of convalescence, I began working as a cleaner, mopping stairwells and sweeping apartment entrances. I did it for a year or so, until one day, sitting in my apartment, I looked at the scabbed stump and a thought came to me: maybe the recruitment officer was right. Maybe I was guilty after all. Of what, I wasn’t quite sure, but I paid for it. Israel was my jail, but I wasn’t a prisoner of war. My crime was ambivalence. I just let life occur, unfold. I didn’t take the next step in the journey that
had started when we were in kindergarten, our teachers recounting Herzl’s feverdream as if it were gospel; elementary school, standing in silence as the air siren wailed during the Memorial Day assembly; high school, when they took us for a week to an army base where we, at sixteen, shot M16s, navigated through the desert, ran in circles around the base. We were all a part of the penal colony: the Russian kids, who were good enough to be cannon fodder but not to be Jews or Israelis; the Arab kids, who went to technical high schools in an educational system that prepared them to be kept down; the
Politics was never discussed; we didn’t have an appetite for what was happening around.
religious boys, whom the rabbis kept under lock and key, caged in their communities, studying Mishnah, preparing them for a life of poverty and servility. There was only one path, one choice kids like us could take. I decided to leave. I didn’t know what I was going to do—paint or write or be a truck driver—it didn’t matter, as long as it wasn’t here. I bought a one-way ticket to New York; my dad had a friend who agreed to let me stay on his couch. David drove me to the airport. He gave me some pills, said it would help me sleep, or at least enjoy the airplane food. We had a cup of coffee in the departure lounge. The TV behind us showed images of planes, but they were not passenger planes but fighter jets headed to Gaza. We went outside to smoke a cigarette. “I’m jealous,” David said, almost in a whisper. “Why?” I asked him. “Because your hands are not tied to anything anymore,” he said. I had always thought that David and the drums were one, that there was no separation between palm and drumstick. It might have been my high, from which I was rapidly coming down, a mix of preflight anxiety, and the wind drying my mouth, but once he said that, I realized it was the first time I had ever really listened to his voice; for the entire time I knew him, I’d let the drums drown it out. I went through security, boarded the plane, buckled into my window seat, took out a handful of the pills David gave me, and popped them in my mouth. I don’t even remember taking off.
JFK–TLV I A LWAYS HA D A HA RD T IM E falling asleep in a bed that was not my own: another
person’s bed feels too public for private dreams. But the bed on which I was lying was not someone else’s; it was my childhood bed. Maria had long been asleep; she murmured from within a dream. The jetlag hadn’t affected her. For her, the time difference had only been about minutes and hours. For me, it was about years: a decade in which I arrived in New York and hopped from couch to couch, from one odd job to another. Until one day, for no particular reason except that I wanted to, I had the urge to go to school. So, I saved up money, studied during the day and worked at night, eventually getting my bachelor’s, then my master’s, then defending my dissertation. I arrived at my parents’ house a decade later a dropout draft dodger doctoral candidate. A decade in which I slept with women who did not speak my native language, were not of the same religion, our skins strangers to each other, until I met Maria at a school function. I became her boyfriend, then her husband, in a small service. Only my parents, brother, and sister made the trip from Israel, witnessing our unconsecrated nuptials. I never mentioned Jerusalem in my vows; I tried to forget about it completely. A decade in which I always had an excuse for why I couldn’t come visit: lack of money, of time, finals, waiting for my visa, my green card, until I slowly lost touch
At the top was the settlement where David lived, a desolate outpost, a self-proclaimed frontier.
with friends back home; until I lost touch with David, whom I saw age online, photo after photo, his beard growing longer, a blue hat covering his head, then only a white yarmulkah. He and his girlfriend after a show, at their wedding, his first child, a second, a third; a photo posted online of his family sitting in their new house in a religious settlement, high in the Judean mountains. A decade until I came for my sister’s wedding, entering my childhood room after a long flight, Maria falling asleep holding my ringless, fingerless hand. I could hear my soon-to-be daughter moving around, restless in her womb. I was trying to think of what I would say when I saw my child; what it would mean to see David. So many
things have come and gone, so many changes—between us a decade and the Green Line. I decided to go for a walk. The town had expanded. But it still felt small, unimportant. I looked to the east. Maybe I would see lights up the mountain, a signal that David was also awake, rehearsing what he would say to me after all these years, years when he decided not to take off the kippah anymore, to not perform on Friday nights, to get married to a girl he’d met only twice, to move with her to her family’s home in the West Bank, to put music second to prayer. When David had messaged me online, asking me to come to his house, I immediately agreed. It was only later that the complexity of the situation hit me. David was not just a friend anymore; he was a settler. I had never met a settler. To me, they were people who believe the land, the history was a real-estate contract. People polluting the air with words, verbal violence masquerading as opinion; words spilled more haphazardly than blood. My phone showed 6:45 p.m.: a seven-hour difference between the East Coast and the West Bank. I felt troubled by what I might experience tomorrow. ••• TH E N EXT M ORN IN G , after a few restless hours of sleep, I sat at the breakfast
table with my parents and Maria. Maria was excited. She was going with my parents to Jerusalem to visit the Old City. Finally, she had a use for her ancient Greek, she laughed. She knew I was going to meet David, that I was crossing the Green Line. She asked questions when I told her about it, but I didn’t have answers; to me, it was like all the places I’d never been. As I left, my mother told me to be careful, but I didn’t know whether she was referring to the present violent upheaval in the West Bank because the American Embassy was moving to Jerusalem to mark fifty years of occupation or to the past that might blow up in my face. I drove the rental car. To the left of me was the separation wall, a stretch of gray concrete panels standing like teeth. I played around with the radio dial. An American pop tune turned to a news anchor reporting from the newly founded embassy in Jerusalem turned to an old Israeli song that turned into a crackled chant in Arabic. I was so engaged with the radio that I zipped past the checkpoint. Looking at it in the rearview mirror, I realized how unremarkable it was—a small break in the wall. The soldiers standing aimlessly, looking at nothing in particular. Perhaps some of them thought they would be fighters but ended up sitting at the reception point of the invisible bureaucracy of borders, day after day, becoming so bored, so immobile, that they became part of the wall: gray, immutable, inanimate.
I slid down in my seat: I felt unsafe on this road despite the heavy traffic that made it look like any other road, the indifferent faces of people driving by. My heart beat fast as I turned onto a road that snaked up a hill. At the top was the settlement where David lived, a desolate outpost, a self-proclaimed frontier. David’s land was also enemy land; I was the enemy of the Palestinians by association. I could not escape, even though I lived oceans and years away. “I am Israeli, I was born in Israel, I grew up in Israel.” I had tried to edit my biography over the years, but no matter how much I wanted to disassociate myself, I was always pinned back to my point of departure, whether in an after-dinner conversation, by the way an r flattened out as it left my lips, or by the knowing glances of passersby who, engulfed in the myriad menial tasks that kept them grounded to their adopted city, adopted country, realized that they were planted here, and perhaps had a warm feeling to see someone who shared the same root. But maybe, just maybe, there was a sneaking realization, a reminder that we were now in a foster country because our country did not want us, it was abusive to its children, both lawful and unlawful, only caring for those who were either servile to its whims or too helpless, bearing the brunt of its cruelty. And with that, they averted their eyes and went back to their phone or book, or stared at the ground that would never be theirs. I arrived at the gate of the settlement. To my surprise, there was no one standing guard at the entrance. I parked my car and looked around. The settlement seemed like a small farm: a chicken coop, a large garden, and a few mobile homes that were built in the belief they would soon be permanent. I felt a tap on my shoulder and I turned around. Before I could see his face, David hugged me. “Jonathan, so good you came,” he whispered into my ear before letting go. We looked at each other. His face had rounded, the cheeks two clearings surrounded by a large beard, a large knitted kippah covering his head. We entered his home, a prefab trailer. His wife and children greeted me. There were four of them, boys, all with the same wild eyes as their father. They brought out coffee and cookies, and I sat down on the low couch. It was a simple living room that led to two small bedrooms, one for David and his wife and one for the kids. His wife told me how excited David had been since he heard I was coming. “It feels like I know you,” she said. But as I told them of my years away, my studies, my daily life, Maria, they stared at me as if I’d come from another planet, as if I spoke in a different tongue. Even my clothes, a pair of khakis and a green polo shirt, the way they were cut perfectly on the body, now felt like a suit. Their clothes were wide and worn out, hand-medowns from time immemorial. David had been looking at me, silent, as if trying
to connect this person to the one he knew, and maybe he was wondering if I was doing the same. We finished our coffee, and David’s wife said she and the kids were going to the neighbors, that we should take time alone to catch up. We went for a walk around the settlement. The air was tonic. It was May, and the hills were green and purple and yellow. David handed me a cigarette. I declined. “I quit years ago,” I said, “along with everything else.” “I did too, but I can’t resist one every now and again,” David said. He still played a lot, he said, mostly recording sessions. He had also been playing shows with a famous singer, an Israeli national treasure. They played his songs on
“I am Israeli, I was born in Israel, I grew up in Israel.”
Memorial Day and Independence Day, songs that people hummed to, that made them feel nostalgic for a time and place they’d never experienced. “I would never have believed you’d end up playing that kind of music,” I said. “I don’t mind. I believe in different things now,” David said. “How did you get to religion?” I asked, realizing how weird that idiom must sound in any other language: getting to religion, as if it were the peak of a mountain, immovable, to which a person must scale until at some point the mountain yielded and flattened out, and the person didn’t see that land far below; nor did he want to, because he was on a different plane. “Easy,” he said, flicking the ashes, dead, burnt cigarette skin. “All those years behind the drums, I realized all I was doing was keeping time; there was nothing beyond, only hitting this invisible wall. I was trying to get somewhere beyond. I kept asking myself why I wasn’t leaving, ‘like Yoni, up and left and is gone,’ but instead of going, I came back to the place inside of me that I probably always knew was dormant.” “But why here?” I asked, as if my question could move the mountain between us. “You must think I’ve become an extremist, but I haven’t. When Ayelet first took me here, I was a skeptic, like you. I mean, we were taught that settlers were criminals, that they live in communities surrounded by barbed wire, segregated from the Arabs. But look around: we live together, side by side.”
His words sounded rehearsed, as if he’d had this conversation with me in his head over and over. “I get why you became religious. But this, here, this is not it. This mountain is politics,” I said. “You are placing me on the other side, all the things we believed in, in music.” “What other side?” He shook his head gently. “You left. You always looked down on this place, these, people, this land. You’re going to lecture me about what’s right?” I paused, looking at him, and realized this was the first time I’d really studied his face. Until now, it was always covered by a wall of drums. “I am sorry,” I said. “I didn’t mean to come to your home and give you a lecture.” We stood and continued walking. All the things I wanted to say were left unspoken, all the arguments became moot, all the time that had passed stayed behind on the rock overlooking the mountains of Jordan. Back at his place, he told me about the new studio he built, just at the edge of the settlement. “Would you like to come jam sometime?” he asked. At that moment, all I wanted was to get back to my parents’ house and lie down next to Maria, to my daughter who would be born soon, and not be there. I said maybe I would; I would let him know. “Come,” he said. “It’ll be like old times.” I got in my car and left the settlement. The road snaked down and my mind wandered to what could have been: instead of me going silent during our conversation, instead of me leaving after our walk, we could have entered a prefabricated house, a makeshift recording studio, the windows covered with thick rubber mats. We wouldn’t need to speak. David would shut the reinforced steel door. We’d pick up our instruments and begin to play, a few hesitant notes that would soon swell and become rhythm, become a kind of melody. We’d continue to play, not knowing whether the sun had set, whether it had been minutes or hours. We’d play until there’d be no oxygen left in the room, which would make the sound travel slower and slower. The music would slow down so much it would stand still, a cloud of white dust. David would stop playing and walk to the middle of the studio. I’d put the bass down. We’d hold our breath and extend our hands to touch this cloud, and as we’d touch it, it would make a sound. We’d begin to play with it, both of us together, passing it between us, pushing it from one side of the studio to the other, making our music, in a pitch only we could hear—on an instrument nobody had ever seen or heard before. A bullhorn cry jolted me out of my daydream. A young soldier came up to my car, told me to show my ID. All I had was my American license and my American passport. He smiled and said in broken English, “Thank you, have a nice day.” As I drove on, I couldn’t help but think that he sounded like me, ten years ago. Everything felt disjointed, as if time had contracted; everything blurred into dusk as
the sun set, and I wasnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t sure whether this afternoon was real or whether I conjured up David from all the years of losses and longings. Back at my parentsâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; house, I stood outside the door, took a deep breath, and decided that I would not visit David again. I would make an excuse, any excuse, not because he became the opposite of what we believed we could be, but because so much time, so many worlds had passed, because the echo of our friendship, of our music, had faded. David and I would now be brothers lost to one another forever.
Darwin Tends His Orchids with lines from Mark He prepares the pots with peat moss and fir bark thirty, sixty, a hundredfold. He sleeps and rises night and day, day and night, thinking the measure you give will be the measure you get. Pay attention! The earth produces itself, first the stalk, then the head. wide green leaf teardrop bud the petal framed mouth
nothing hidden he sprays mist over thirty, sixty, a hundredfold opens and lifts the palms of his hands here are my mother and my brothers.
Dearest Charles I’ve read you laid your faith to rest with her small body, tucked it underground. But your beloved Annie hovered in my dreams again and I woke dripping honey. I understand in the hive of history, how ready the metaphor of war—and no one blames you, dearest Charles, for the time into which you were born. Words trickle down to worlds, after all. Some stickier than others. Girl combed from gyrle, neither male nor female, only small child. Expendable as any little bee. That’s history buzzing, for you, on the large scale. But she is our particular. Isn’t she? Not worthless, not worm food, not soldier. Memory leaves a bee’s wing on my pillow each time she visits and pours morning, wordless, golden, through my window. Is this a kind of resurrection, dearest Papa? A redemption of the wor(l)d. I know I am asking and asking what neither one of us has means to answer.
Search Window At night in bed before you were born I typed cyclone into my phone cycle of unemployment in India cycle in the constraint graph options unfurled to finish the word cycle in the hierarchy cycle of love and death a white hole in a black room cyclone vs. tornado cyclone vs. typhoon cyclone vs. hurricane
At night in bed after you were born I listened to your breath the measure of give-and-take that lines every language but also the sound of being spoken through by the question who are you
A long time in the dark lying still a long time in the dark eyes closed watching a trackless power prowl beyond the code
EILISH MCCORMICK ARTIST’S STATEMENT O H KEI TH M Y BOY is a series of images that explore gender and how it could be expressed
during childhood and teenage years in 1980s/1990s Ireland when there was little to no discussion on sexuality, let alone gender issues. It also deals with puberty, awkward early teenage years, and the resistance to physical changes that happen to the female body. The images intend to capture innocence, curiosity, confusion, and reveal hidden confidence, relief, and happiness—the latter only expressed within the confines of an individual head or a teenage bedroom. The well-documented Troubles exacerbated the lack of social freedom in Northern Ireland. The culture of this time was highly sectarian, which led to people not mixing freely, dividing communities and causing a pervasive sense of secrecy which led to a very closed society where desires were pushed underground. There was no comfortable platform for gay/queer people, and as a result, there was nothing visibly queer. As a child, I was really frustrated by the confines of gender and by society’s need for me to conform. I hated dresses; I wanted to play football. I identified much more with a boy’s world, and with the physical and behavioral concept of masculinity. At that time, because there was almost no blurring of gender lines, girls expressed their interest in masculinity by being tomboys. So Keith became my tomboy, both a vehicle for me to be curious, to experience the innocence in growing up as well as a representation of gender, a manifestation of my own projections in which girls could have short hair, girls could favor physical activities, and girls could be free not to conform to the stereotypes of that time. The spectrum we have today regarding gender expression, identity, etc. was not apparent in my youth. If it had been, I would have felt much more represented.
EILISH MCCORMICK. Oh Keith My Boy, no 10, 2019. Black-and-white photography. Giclee print on hahnemuhle photo rag paper. 33 inches x 23 inches.Â
EILISH MCCORMICK . Oh Keith My Boy, no 2, 2019. Black-and-white photography. Giclee print on hahnemuhle photo rag paper. 20 inches x 30 inches.Â
EILISH MCCORMICK . Oh Keith My Boy, no 11, 2019. Black-and-white photography. Giclee print on hahnemuhle photo rag paper. 20 inches x 30 inches.Â
EILISH MCCORMICK . Oh Keith My Boy, no 5, 2019. Color photography. Giclee Print on hahnemuhle photo rag paper. 33 inches x 23 inches.
EILISH MCCORMICK . Oh Keith My Boy, no 13, 2019. Black-and-white photography. Giclee print on hahnemuhle photo rag paper. 33 inches x 23 inches.
EILISH MCCORMICK . Oh Keith My Boy, no 17, 2019. Black-and-white photography. Giclee print on hahnemuhle photo rag paper. 20 inches x 30 inches.Â
EILISH MCCORMICK . Oh Keith My Boy, no 19, 2019. Black-and-white photography. Giclee print on hahnemuhle photo rag paper. 20 inches x 30 inches.Â
EILISH MCCORMICK . Oh Keith My Boy, no 14, 2019. Color photography. Giclee print on hahnemuhle photo rag paper.33 inches x 23 inches.
Ode to 6C More hive than apartment we swarmed, nestled inhaled all that pours milk, broth women undone. And like ritual we returned to that split moon a table like a C where we unfiltered and untapped became fountains for what are fountains if not women having to empty without cease and replenish themselves. A door long held open those four walls were more than brick and pipe and plaster peeling were in fact pages of returns, of a city witnessing itself. There, in the six floor walk-up three women vanished nightly becoming a three-winged raven, becoming the wandering roots of an elm tree which still pulses homeward.
The Two-Body Problem I can’t seem to remember the last time I prayed that wasn’t merely a reflex. The doctor’s cold hand & hammer making my scrawny knee hiccup was my first time seeing how the body can know what its bearer doesn’t. When I told you I was glad our parallel lives had intersected, you said something about infinity, something about the earth’s largest machine, buried beneath the border of two countries, hurtling one proton against another, again & again, bent on finding a particle they call God. I don’t know, you ramble on sometimes, but tonight, when I sat at the table between you & our boy, I wanted to close my eyes, hold your hands, & whisper, thank you
to no one at all. I remembered then what it was you said: even parallel lines intersect at the line of infinity, bent towards each other by that invisible weight.
Chronicles of Strangers in Dialogue Up to 117 migrants missing from sunken boat in the Mediterranean Sea off Libya —Los Angeles Times, January 19, 2019
It’s hard to separate the wings of air from death, how everything that enters me shakes life out of me. I am open like a tangerine skinned to its bone linings– naked. There are many beautiful places I want to see. This is my feet, a fading smoke dancing in the void. Sometimes, a closed mouth is a grave making room for another. And if not, the sea cannot be sewn with bodies petalled around it. The sea writes of its desire–a reed; blue and unsteady. Earlier, the now-dead made promises about the latitudes, & horses with wings, & a grackle, & bodies digging air out of their soul in polished delight. Now, all that is left is history & corpses. Their faces are tossed to fishes. Unrecognizable, their molten skin becomes a metaphor. I write this elegy in the presence of hundreds of ghosts from my dreams. A strange horizon on a barren sea. Blue feathers gather as an independent nation in my eyes. The rustings in me speak
to one another: This land sifts, the boat sifts, the body sifts, everywhere . . . Of my body, there is not enough currency to pay this rubble debt from leaving me a messâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;as a desert shuttling nighthawks to evade movement. My skin is the color of burnt coal, and it gets to nowhere. I smell of sweetgrass & wet soil. But sometimes my mouth molds an altar & a new country spreads before me in prayers. If I run, the wind teaches me that movement is a trap for breathing. Air dies. Here, die.
M A L L BA R E FEET , country dress, plaited black hair, silent Yardie eyes,
motherless. Yet, you mothered nine children in a tiny old room of a tiny old house in Chorrillo. Boy, you had the Panamanians fooled, pretending you were one of them. You let yourself speak your English only in the house. Your bakes and your English teas, your Seventh Day Adventist! You traded them in for tarot cards, for a kind of mystical Catholicism. But you prayed to both the saints and to God, and sometimes you made the kids shut off all the lights at sundown on Fridays. You found a way to keep them fed while George was on a ship in Africa. His checks were enough for a family of five. A family of five would’ve eaten for days, and would have the money for shoes when they couldn’t be patched anymore. But you had nine children, and some relatives left their children with you too: Minerva and the Paña woman’s two girls from next door. You couldn’t send them home. You couldn’t serve yours while they looked on. Those polite little girls never had to ask for the scraps you served, and God forbid they did. You probably would’ve killed yourself if you didn’t have enough. And you knew just how you would do it too, take one of George’s fisherman ropes and tie it from that hole in the roof where the water always dropped in. There was a beam there, even if the world blew away in a hurricane, that beam wasn’t going anywhere. You’d drop that thing around your neck and make the lights go out. You would do it if you had to see even one child beg. But no, not La Bruja. Frances, she would. That knock-kneed country daughter of a West Indian canal worker, but not you, La Bruja. Sometimes it seemed like the whole of Panama City’s kids were in your apartment around dinnertime. Crying and smiling and punching the walls, and screaming, and saying leave me alone, and saying I love you, and putting on beat-up aluminum skates that were too big for them. And putting a jar in the path of roaches to capture their funny walk and stare at them for a long time. You would do it, but what would your mother’s sister say, the one who raised you. It seemed those old-time Jamaican women never had a fear of nothing. Your auntie didn’t hurt or want for nothing when her husband died, when he got crushed by the railroad on the Zone. It seemed as if your whole face would melt from how much water came out of it when that happened, felt as if your throat would close up and disappear. But your auntie, not her. She didn’t even shake a little bit. And now you know why. Who would have the time with all these responsibilities, all these kids. These kids don’t deserve that, deserve to know how poor life really is, at least not in their own home. You fail as a mother if you let them know for even just a flash. So, you read your tarot cards, you got good at it too. You got so good that you began to think that you weren’t a fake. You slept with them in your hands, missing George and wondering if he missed you too. And goddammit, you knew he did. How could he not. But George had wondered on his visits back home
where you had gone. Who was this La Bruja and where was Frances. Who was this woman whose Spanish was improving and whose patois now sounded like a burden. Eventually, he’d leave you, even with nine kids. He’d leave you and have two kids with two different nigger girls from New Providence. And, yes, he came back, after it was all said and done. After the wrinkles in their faces got deep and their pussies smelled. By then, you weren’t the same smooth-looking mamacita you once were either, but you were stupid-in-love with him. You swear you never even looked at
Who was this woman whose Spanish was improving and whose patois now sounded like a burden.
another man. Maybe Harry, but you would never be able to get anywhere close to Harry Belafonte. Harry was at least ten years younger than you. And ten years cuter than George. You took George back, but you always remembered he’d left. You always did. Still you continued to pretend you were Paña when you weren’t. Makeup lightened your skin, rouge gave you a sexy look. You tied flowers and pieces of fruit to your head, and you resembled one of those campesina folk dancers while you read palms, promising wealthy people they would get what they wanted. People would come from far away to see you and they would leave feeling overjoyed, as if they had seen the archangel Gabriel himself. And on the occasion that somebody’s venereal disease was cured, or tuberculosis skipped their house, they would come back to your door holding flowers, and you’d send one of your kids up there to tell them that your children did not eat flowers. That what they wanted most was a belly full of meat. Eventually, they all turned out OK. Serena became a middle-school teacher, Reina got married to a wealthy Lebanese Panamanian and lived in a house in New York with a heated pool. Mauricio joined the US Army and just missed Vietnam, Fonsito robbed banks for the gangs in the old neighborhood before he became a preacher. He was never arrested, not even once. Diana worked for an insurance company and got the rest of them jobs. The ones that made it out of the neighborhood and made it to the States did just fine. And, the ones that didn’t, just didn’t. You couldn’t know if that had anything to do with you. It could all be your fault, who knows. People with money, heads of provinces, desperate people with fancy titles came to visit your tiny old house. They all wanted to get cured or receive some good luck,
or for you to say a prayer. You were a star. You really were. You became something of worth—a black woman made-good-something-of-worth. Now, when they brought the flowers, you put them on the kitchen table. When they brought the perfumes, you sprayed them on the children. Someone got you a small, expensive dog that you named Ella, and you carried her everywhere. And by the time it was time to move out and find a better place, George came home and said you were moving to the States. No way, you cried. You were La Bruja, and you weren’t to be messed with. Not with three of your children still there in the ground. The two miscarriages, you still mourned—you never got to know them. Lucky you, right? But Enrique. . . you knew Enrique. Despite all of that, you still loved George, you still moved. But you thought of Harry singing, Daylight come and me wan’ go home. And of Harry’s long, handsome yellow face and those sap-colored eyes that made you feel like a young gal with something good to tease him with. You wouldn’t even giggle when George pointed with his lips at the TV and called him a fake Jamaican. Five years passed in the States, then ten, then fifteen. You’d left La Bruja behind in Panama. George was happy, was always saying he got his wife back. He had landed a job as a courier in the Garment District, a good job that came with union benefits. The kids were long gone from your apartment on Franklin Avenue. But, occasionally, your boy Enrique would visit you in dreams, and you’d sleep longer, cry tears of joy before waking up, and you cried more while you made your breakfast. This was the 1980s. Sometimes in the middle of the night, there’d be a noise in the kitchen, the joyful screams of a boy jumping off a cliff and into the water. A feeling of relief when you heard his palms slapping the currents, doggypaddling to shore. You’d get up to find that you’d forgotten to secure the cooking pots on the rack. Weeping, you’d pick them up, calling his name and asking why he had to leave so soon. In 1958 he hadn’t come home, someone said he went for a swim. You and the rest of the children waited for him on the beach until the tide went out and came in again. Months before someone had raped your little boy. Someone had lured him from your apartment. They’d heard the noise and seen the many people coming in and out, and they’d scooped him and taken him away. Had he drowned himself because of the guilt? You don’t know. But you hoped it wasn’t because of you, your “strength.” At eight years old, had he known what you were feeling inside, that you were hiding everything? George retired and was home all the time. When he got restless, he’d take you into the city with him, to the Garment District, and you’d sit and have coffee in a coffee shop. One day, you stopped at a vintage store and he bought you an old set of tarot cards. You took it with you into the coffee shop and you sat down and tried to
read him his future. You tried and tried until your head felt strained with the feeling of rocks and glass, and your hand got cut from squeezing your palm against the deck. I’m sorry, you said. I can’t see it anymore. I can’t see anything. You wanted to make things up, but your mind was fixed only on the past. George moved to the seat next to yours and took you in his arms. He smelled like the past, of what was good about it, like when the two of you made all those babies. You stayed like that for a little while, until someone came to your table and said, Ma’am are you reading those cards? And you said, Yes of course. And suddenly your hands moved fast, and the cards seemed to float over the smooth Formica. And someone else came after that, and your hands got sweaty from excitement. And you could tell folks you’re not lying when you say you had a line full of people waiting on you to read their future. . . . Mon, they thought you were a genius! And, yes, you were full of shit. And, yes, some of them could see right through you. But when you looked up and saw Harry standing there in line staring at you, you knew you had done something in your life. You just knew.
Compendium Stairs down the hillside to the lake, and in the right season: Sweet Pea along those stairs. An unfamiliar bird call in the dark parking lot reminds me of the isolation I’ve chosen and the isolation I haven’t. You carry a little raincloud, someone said. In an unfamiliar living room I cried, then was angry, then slept while in the windowsill, solar-powered plastic daisies bobbled their leaves. Cheap, but cheerful. That August I felt a kinship with the A-frame cabin that claimed to sell ice cream but was never open, and I thought of Tuck Everlasting when we walked to the country church to drink from the maple spring that burbled from a brick water fountain. Reassuringly, wildfire danger was always low according to the log sign with the arrow. Comfort, too, in how the Queen Anne’s lace stayed on long after the other flowers had gone.
IN T ER L IG HT D REN CH ES David’s bedroom. Sunbeams cascade through
bare trees. “We just got a stretch of land along highway 501, a deserted field, wilderness.” He tells me about his recent work as a director of an environmental conservation nonprofit. “It’s several acres,” he says, “sandwiched on either side by cultivated farmland, overgrown with grasses and littered with beer cans.” “But,” David’s eyes brighten, “but, we found coneflowers, the endangered kind, smooth coneflowers.” He takes a few shallow breaths; his frail body can’t sustain his excitement. “Last week I walked the field. I hiked around one last time before we signed the papers.” He adds, slowly this time, “And I saw them. So many. Coneflower stems everywhere, poking through the underbrush—I can’t wait to see them flash their pinks and purples, their blooms.” David tells me about this field and flowers and colors as he lies on his bed, under his covers, cancer consuming his body. ••• A MO N T H LAT ER , fifteen of us crowd into his living room, sitting on couches and
chairs and the floor—anywhere we can find a spot in the circle. We leaf through our hymnals, singing together. From his armchair, fighting to keep his eyes open, David makes a request. “Can we do that hymn I like so much?” His words are slow now, weary. All of us know his favorite, so we give him our best. “For the beauty of the earth. . . . For the wonder of each hour . . . hill and vale and tree and flow’r.” Tears trickle down his cheeks—and our faces mirror his, our eyes glisten, betraying the foreboding sorrow. With every note we gasp at our vanishing communion. This will be the last time we sing with him; these are the last breaths we will share. “For the joy of human love,” our voices falter, “friends on earth, and friends above.” ••• TH E DAY B EFORE HE D IES , I’m in David’s bedroom, at his bedside, watching
his chest rise and fall. I’ve already prayed with him, but I can’t leave, so I count the seconds between his inhales and exhales; soon my breath keeps rhythm with his. I stare at the flickering candle, Our Lady of Guadalupe aglow on his nightstand. In 1531, when the Blessed Mary visited Juan Diego on the hill of Tepeyac, blossoms and songs announced her holy presence—flor y canto, the Nahuatl people’s allusion to the sacred, the divine. “Have I gone into paradise?” asked Juan Diego, when he heard the Virgin’s music and saw the flowering hillside. “Perhaps I am dreaming.”
Mary’s flame dances on the walls and the waxy scent drifts through David’s room— incantations conjuring the field of coneflowers and our singing in his living room, los flores y cantos to comfort his soul with earth’s hallowed beauty. I don’t want to wake him, but the chair creaks as I get up. His arm fidgets, his eyelids twitch. As I tiptoe out of the room, I hear him murmur exhausted words, saying them again and again, “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” in mantra. “Thank you, thank you.” I wait in the hallway to hear if he stops, but he keeps whispering gratitude into the stillness. ••• A Y E A R A F T ER DAV ID ’S D EAT H , I walk the meadow with his widow and two
children. One of his former coworkers guides us through the restored Piedmont prairie—a remnant of the eastern Savanna landscape—showing us how to avoid trampling the rare plants. “At first we only noticed the coneflowers,” she tells us, “but now we’re finding plants we haven’t seen in these here parts in decades, even a few undocumented species.” David’s eight-year-old daughter borrows her mom’s iPhone and crouches into a patch of daisy fleabane, taking pictures of the delicate white petals from every angle. She asks us to move out of the way of her photo shoot. So I turn around. I notice her younger brother lingering behind—there in a clearing, bent down on his knees, whispering secrets to a cluster of coneflowers.
CHRISTIAN ANTON GERARD
Watershed I’m so over saying I, but I got no other way in this language requiring a subject. Feelings are a subject best left sometimes unsaid like a locked drawer. Wouldn’t it be nice if feelings sometimes weren’t the subject? What instead? Maybe a river. Maybe today’s a river up to its floodplain. Maybe today’s where a river used to be. I won’t say I’m either a river or a river in a drawer. Today I’m no metaphor.
PACE TAYLOR ARTIST’S STATEMENT TH RO UG H LA RG E- FORM AT soft pastel and intimate graphite drawings, I actively
choose to make work that celebrates queer intimacy—self, platonic, and romantic— and connection through memory and physical closeness set in liminal, or transitory, spaces. My hope is that these images can be used as a jumping-off point for selfcontextualization, whether the viewer identifies as queer or not, and as a safe space to allow themselves to be held for a moment by another’s language. As I’ve considered memory, I’ve pushed myself to question how time and distance affect and distort our impressions of the body—our own bodies (especially trans bodies) and those we have been intimate with—and how to translate those memories to a two-dimensional space. I invite ambiguity in both subject rendering and application of material; an experiment in liminality and becoming.
PACE TAYLOR . Memory fails, a flower, 2020. Soft pastel and graphite on paper. 22 inches x 30 inches.
PACE TAYLOR . Everything on the menu looks wrong, 2020.
Soft pastel and graphite on paper. 30 inches x 22 inches.
PACE TAYLOR . How many times have we been here before . . ., 2020.
Soft pastel and graphite on paper. 22 inches x 30 inches.
PACE TAYLOR . Inside Sounds .o1, 2020. Soft pastel and graphite on paper. 22 inches x 17 inches.
PACE TAYLOR . Inside Sounds .o4, 2020. Soft pastel and graphite on paper. 20 inches x 15 inches.
PACE TAYLOR . Loving Addendum .o1, 2020.
Cut paper and graphite. 12 inches x 9 inches.
PACE TAYLOR . Loving Addendum .o5, 2020.
Cut paper and graphite. 10 inches x 8 inches.
PACE TAYLOR . To Kiss Again After So Long, 2019. Soft pastel and graphite on paper. 30 inches x 22 inches.
I Had Wanted to Write I had wanted to write about the light in late November, the afternoon light that slaps the sides of houses, stays low and gold. This year, looking closer, I see beneath the leaf a red tincture. My human heart beats its blood into the light of late November.
E M OV ED T HROU G H the night like it could hide us—even if there was a
God. Especially if there was a God. We smelled of muck and moss, every inch of us thick with the rain. Jeans lay heavy at our hips, cold on our skin. My blouse held to my waist like a darling. Murphy started the old Ford and we crept along the puddled gravel, fog catching the head beams and scattering their light to a lousy halo. Murphy still hadn’t fixed the heater, so we could only do what we’d done all season. We flicked on the radio. I dug the Camels from the lining of my purse, lit one for the both of us, and we passed it back and forth. We were slow about it, savoring, Murph even more so, making me wait. And all through the wee hours, the DJ was saying. A bass yelled out, electric, crackling from the worn-out speakers. On his wide steering wheel, Murphy did the drums. He was letting the truck coast along, the cigarette a stub now hanging at his lips. And soon it’d be time for the opening lines. Murph nodded at me and pointed, like the lead of a band, calling the next solo. I nodded back. We each felt sorry for tonight. This was our way to say it. His one hand kept drumming, the other pointing, and I stole back the smoke—a long last pull. I came in at the chorus. All about the nighttime. Using up the stars. ••• SUN DAYS, W E M OU T HED HY M NS . Robed in gold from neck to ankle. Sister Jane in
our heads. Stand tall, she’d say, tall as the corn on a blue horizon, and in the raised pews of the choir, Jacob Murphy and I, we stood tall. Our shiny buttons were fastened to the tip-top, robes starched by our mothers. And with our mothers, even our daddies, we joined arms for the Father’s prayer. We were kids who answered to the names of Saints and chosen-ones. True enough, Sundays we were golden. Evenings, Murphy picked me up. His Ford idled in the drive—Dusty he called her—black finish fading brown at the hood. Under a growing dark, a pitch of stars, we rambled through the flatlands, our aim the overpass. That interstate route, built high and wide—it rose past farms and vacant county roads. When we walked under its bridge, our feet stood on quiet dirt, hardly traveled. But above us, the hurry and racket of distant cities kneaded the pavement, adding another layer of percussion. Because below, a whole troop gathered. They had scratched guitar cases and drumsticks in jeans pockets. Names like Paul and John and every kind of Mary, they knew how to put psalms to music. They could sing Alleluia. They sang Glory, glory. Except at the highway, voices raised to other purpose. Spray-painted concrete. Six-packs already started. They pulled from truck beds and trunks, making anything an instrument. A toolbox, a paint can, wooden crates with corn silk caught in the slats.
Against the corners of the underpass, the music thrummed. Keep rollin’, the walls echoed, and here I go. Start me up and on and on. We all took hold of sticks and strings. Hands and thighs. And the offer of a hand— many I made, many I took. Just the ghost-gray of moonshine, the right amount of hazy. No whole in mind, just this chord climbing, tip of the tongue. This verse, darling,
Under a growing dark, a pitch of stars, we rambled through the flatlands, our aim the overpass.
calling us free. And it wasn’t always beautiful. It wasn’t always sweet. Sometimes, clumsy and rough and loud, we had no idea what we were doing. We broke strings and grew hoarse. We bit our lips, chafed and bled. But hell, we all tried. Always a meek one, Murphy never offered his hand at night under the highway, but he came up with constant compliments. He told me that I sounded real as vinyl. He liked to say I was the next Janis Joplin. He used the word flair. Me, I liked that he could tune his guitar to fit anyone’s singing. That whatever the song, he knew all the words. The callouses on his hands looked the same, whether from farming or strumming—proof to me that both could feed us. I never started a beer without first tapping my can to his. Here’s to the harvest, he’d say. Here’s to the next Janis. ••• MUR PH Y REACHED FOR the volume and turned it down enough for my voice to rise
above the bass line. “That’s a nice flair.” He nodded along. “Keep going.” He layered his words with more sugar than usual. My voice must’ve quieted the nearer we got to the farm. Even from a distance, we could see the house. It rose above the fog, kitchen lights ablaze, and little by little, Mother’s shape stood out against the orange glow, waiting for me. When at last we curved up the drive, Murphy’s chatter had veiled the truck windows. He cut the engine, then wiped at the glass, peered outside. “We’re late, Beck, real late. I can go up with you, take some of your Ma’s heat.”
He hadn’t made such an offer since the first night he drove me, when he parked in our lane and grabbed the door handle. Aiming to escort me to the house, tip his cap to my mother. But I didn’t want him to be like that. No, I’d told him, leave the motor running. From then on, he kept the gear in drive, the radio playing, loud. We parted ways with a nod, lyrics giving the goodbye. In truth, this night was different. We’d never been welcomed to the wee hours. We’d never been out in such a rain. We’d never said things like we’d just been saying. But I hoped this night could end like all the others. “Oh hell, Murphy.” I shook my head and leaned across the seat, turned the ignition. Old Dusty rumbled awake; the speakers hissed with sudden sound. For now, we would say no more, static sending me on my way. At the porch, I waited for the radio to fade with his headlights. I tipped back my head, looking for those clouds that could stick around, for those lightning flashes that could show up, even miles from their storm. They could reach over whole towns, from the steeple to the furthest field. But I found none. Just a moon, yellow and fat, trying to skirt through the mist. When Mother saw me there, my hair in wet cords, my shirt soaked and limp, she went to the closet and returned with a towel. The kitchen floor creaked as she shifted, waiting, the towel opened, ready to wrap me up. “The thunder came early,” she said. “It gave plenty of warning, Rebecca. You must’ve heard.” “You wouldn’t understand, Ma.” I skimmed past her arms and the wide-open towel. “We followed the thunder.” I kept moving toward the living room, toward the stairs. “At least dry yourself,” she called, and the towel nipped my back, then dropped to the floor. “Rebecca Ann,” she insisted, and I paused at the threshold, leaving the towel where it fell. “Turn around here, girl.” “I’m right here.” But I still held my body as if I were going. I fixed my eyes toward the living room, dark but for Daddy’s easy chair, the gray vinyl grabbing all the moonlight it could. Daddy was already upstairs, certainly asleep. A click-click came from behind me, her glass rosary beads. A ritual of hers to wrap them each day at her wrist like bangles. She twirled them this way and that—when her hands were empty, her head full. Or when her words were about to spill. “Never mind this weather sent your cousins to the cellar. Never mind your uncles shuttered the barn. It ain’t just a God-forsaken hour and you got school. It ain’t just
that. You’re taking on a larger habit. Always with that boy. Always up against your bounds. You can’t never stay still.” Click-click, click, the beads snaked and spun. “I can read you, you know.” My fingers went to the collar of my blouse, worrying a loose button. My eyes followed the moon. Its glow. Two Pabst cans winked, toppled on the cushion of Daddy’s chair. Three more glinted from the carpet. Daddy’s seat still veered back in the reclined position as if the chair itself had enjoyed those beers and now lay collapsed in its own deep sleep. “I see Daddy got off to bed.” I turned my head so she was sure to hear me. “If someone around here can read me, Mama, I believe it’s him.” I left her there, not looking back, my wet soles shrill against the floor. Upstairs, I pulled my door tight, started peeling off clothes. My hand went to my bare belly and pressed softly. I let my fingertips stay a little before pulling the hand back—like it could give me away, like someone would see. These hands, their notions of mothering. Only Murphy knew about me. There was no father to speak of. Not one of those boys did I want such ties to. And Murphy kept the secret, but my body kept heralding the news. Another month’s lack of blood, my angles plumping. Jeans pulled tight at the seams. And my hands, this way they drifted to the slight rise at my middle and perched there, ready. Sure, a mother takes notice. And I often wondered if mine knew me. From the guitar-toting idols I pinned on my walls. The radio, hung from the bedpost, always pulsing. The night-rumpled sweaters I discarded in a pile, their incense. Grit and boy-sweat and ash. But I couldn’t believe that Mother read my body now—whatever its wants and follies—like she could read the sky. ••• O F C O UR SE T HE W HOL E C OU N T Y knew Mother, knew the violet rosary beads that
wound around her arm. The pewter Jesus and His cross often peering from beneath her sleeve. But even more so, they knew her gift. Once she married Daddy and his farm, Mother took charge of knowing the floods and the droughts. The late frost and the early heat. Even the locusts. At dinner’s end, she stayed at the kitchen table with notes she’d made through the day, scribbled on empty seed packets or in the margins of Daddy’s newspaper. There were clues she couldn’t ignore—like the color of dawn, trees bent in the wind. The way sparrows gathered or cried or disappeared. At night she put it all together, a final record of the weather set down on that day’s calendar page, torn from a thick pad on the wall.
A page for each day, she kept the calendars from every year of her marriage, studied them and bound them. Then in a drawer, deep and long, where most women would’ve stored their potatoes, she stacked the patterns she found. Every day at breakfast, Daddy asked about the likelihood of sun, the possibility of storm. When he got chipper from too much coffee, Daddy boasted. Better than any almanac. Without even a glance toward her potato drawer, Mother gave her predictions. Like she was channeling that Old Testament God who spoke, giving promise and punishment, through the weather. And when I was a child I felt safe, knowing my mother could tell if the wind would rise or the clouds would part. Maybe she would be our Moses. Our Noah. Our peeling white barn, an Ark. But the time came when Mother pressed a slicker into my arms and I began to refuse it. Preferring Daddy’s old flannel, a borrowed sweater, or nothing at all. I wanted to get caught unaware. To scramble for cover in a ditch. Wind raw, from
Just a moon, yellow and fat, trying to skirt through the mist.
cowlick to bootheel. I pictured stealing away to the beat of windshield wipers. Like Janis Joplin would’ve. Hitching rides cross-country, playing harmonica through a downpour. Living from one riff, one horizon to the next. She didn’t answer to any place. She didn’t belong to anybody. ••• TH E C L OU D S P ER S IST ED. A steady trickle against the roof greeted me at dawn. As
I dressed for school, the everyday clatter of my mother joined with that of the rain. I could hear the clang of pots, the thump of cupboards closing. Her steps on that creaky spot by the stove. Downstairs, Mother did have breakfast underway. The bacon and onion sizzled. The oven ticked. The rhythm of it all so steady, so known, that it took me a moment to notice her. How the twist of her hair hung dull and loose. How her clothes—the same
she wore last night—lay in wide wrinkles, the shirt collar crooked and the ends untucked. She quickly lifted a pan and spun over to the counter, dishing out the hash. Then with a sudden jerk of her wrist, my mother tossed her skillet to the sink and rushed outside. When I got to the door, I saw her in the grass, hunched over, her body shuddering. The patter of the rain hid her retching, and I turned away from the glass. By the time I looked back, she was climbing the porch. Curls lay streaked across her face. Shirt plastered to her stomach. I held the door and waited as she brushed her shoes on the mat and tried wringing her blouse. “It can come down all day like this,” she said. She started about the kitchen again, setting the breakfast table. As she moved, small pools gathered on the floor. “Go on
When I got to the door, I saw her in the grass, hunched over, her body shuddering.
and sit now.” She waved me toward the food, dishrag in hand. Water was collecting at the ends of her hair, then falling in slow beads. They were surprisingly loud as they hit the linoleum. She reached up and touched the strands. “I’ve got to tidy up,” she said and she turned, nearly ramming into Daddy. We started without her. Daddy, fork in one hand, baseball stats in the other. I listened to the pipes groan upstairs. Mother running a bath. For a while only our scraping knives and forks competed with the noise of water, of plumbing and rain. “Wonder if it’s going to keep up,” Daddy finally said. He gazed over the top of his glasses toward the window. “We need to get that damned north field ready. Don’t want much more of this.” “Ma said it’ll go all day.” He shook his head, “Damn woman,” then caught my eye. “Not you. Your Ma.” As if Mother made the rain instead of knowing it. About this time she should have been telling Daddy what to expect. Saying words like runoff and buildup. Likely, chance. About this time, she should have been clearing the plates, running a basin for washing. And without her pitching to and fro, without her voice, the room felt lighter. Unanchored. “Ma’s been gone a long time,” I said.
Daddy raised his brows, but never pulled his eyes from the newspaper. “She didn’t look too good.” “Ain’t sick,” he said. “Got herself into some kind of frenzy. Left me to sleep in the rocker last night for hours on end. Pretty near had a crink in my neck. When I went to bed, she kept sitting right here, tinkering with her calendar or some such nonsense.” He waved his hand up and about, as if brushing off the whole affair. “Anyhow, looks like she ain’t much help this morning. I might need you to forget school today, Beck, chip in.” I nodded, trying to hear Mother. There was no sign of her. ••• WI TH M A , G OD was straightforward. Her hands never lied. Her words never sinned.
As murky as the Bible could be, she seemed to know God’s way and I could always find her. Daddy was a riddle. He knelt and bowed whenever Mother did, but his pleas had no bounds. He hollered—far from church pews, outside of priestly prayer. Most often he called on God for the sake of the corn. He called loudest for the sake of the White Sox. It was: God damn this drought. Jesus Christ, can I get some sun? Oh Almighty, bless this ump. When I was a child, he drew me into his rituals. After dinner, while Mother washed up, he plopped onto the living room rug where I built cities, towers of bright-colored blocks. “Lord in Heaven,” he’d say with a wink, “if your mother’s good for anything, it’s that fried chicken.” Then with a crack, he broke open a Pabst can. From his shirt pocket came the Camels. He took big gulps, then a wipe at his mouth, flannel sleeve pulled across his lips. If this here’s a John Deere construction, we’ve got to get more green in there, and to my tallest building, he added a green block. Then two. Cans began to collect, scattered around my tiny green city, and then Daddy would flip on the radio, tug me to my feet. Johnny Cash warbled. I held Daddy’s hands, his worn palms leading. A shaky, funny step. A spill of stories. “I know it’s hard to believe now, but your mother used to be quite the dancer.” He tried to talk—hips turning, breath quick. “She could do the fancy ones. A foxtrot, a waltz. If she was slumming she’d jitterbug. But Jesus, she went freestyle too. Always made up something for my big feet.”
Knocking over at least one tower of blocks, we collapsed to the rug. Then a hefty beer-kiss planted on my cheek. Some nights, we could lie there. Pabst balm and Mr. Cash. Songs with fiddles. His smoky fingers wrapped around mine. But if the Sox were playing, Daddy had me turn the dial until we heard the chatter of baseball. One minute, he was on his feet, telling God about an ump gone astray. The next he could be soothed by the sound of hits and outs, the crowd buzzing. No matter what the radio drummed up, we fell asleep. Next morning, he and I crossed in the hall, forgetting and confused, eyes foggy. There was no sign of yesterday’s soiled clothes. A miracle. Clean, warm pajamas against our backs. Downstairs, a few stubborn blocks would peek from below the easy chair. I barely remembered the night before. Mother. Her hands. How they pressed my shoulder, a spirit in the dark. ••• DA DDY PAT T ED HIS shirt pocket, feeling for his smokes. His eyes stayed on the
window—sky and field, just ribbons of gray. “Lordy,” he muttered, mostly to himself, maybe to the heavens. “About half as much of this. Slow and easy. That’s what I could’ve used.” He tipped his cheek to me and I gave a kiss, his gray stubble pricking my lips. “If your uncles come this way,” he said, “send them to the barn.” He opened the screen door, but turned back. “Oh, and Beck? Check your Mother’s weather. All this month, last year. See about this mess of rain. I believe it’s got to let up soon.” And the screen door slammed. I looked over at Mother’s potato drawer, then back at the counter. A slick of grease trailed from the breakfast pans. Two pounds of beef thawed for lunch, smears of blood forming on the wax paper. I sighed and pulled a chair to mother’s drawer. A spot once so sacred to me, then so tiresome, I’d never opened it myself. Inside, the calendars were perfect. White pillars of paper, the most recent date on top. I flipped past yesterday, then two days ago, three days before—time here moving backward. I searched for Daddy’s dates, and at first, every page, every day appeared the same. Ordered numbers, rows and lines. The repetition blurring my eyes. High – 36, Low – 19 AM – fog ¼ mile PM – poor sight until dark White sky, late snow—no melting
But soon, there came a unique page. The pattern broken. An added note at the bottom. Then another, and again. Not on every date, but speckled throughout, with
Lord, I miss the wind that used to set the drapes to rock and sway.
weeks between, sometimes months. Lord, the notes began. Just prayers. But then I saw the question marks. April 15 High – 57, Low – 40 AM – rain & lightning, hi-speed wind PM – hard gusts carry on Gray wisps fill the sky—clouds race north—need to tie down Lord, he’s in there wailing like this storm that howls in the chimney. Wails when he’s tired, when he’s hungry, when he’s tired again. After these years on God’s good earth? He’s not grown yet?
March 29 High – 52, Low – 35 AM – sun, still & quiet PM – clouds, high wind Sparrows gone all day Old maple loses branches—must watch wind, cover for frost Lord, the fields set him to worry over the wind. He drinks his relief. So here I am. Planning. Watching. It’s me who’s got to. Lord, I miss the wind that used to set the drapes to rock and sway. A rustle like dresses in a dance hall. That wind—light against my sleeve. It tossed my hair. Blessed my cheek. Where’d that old wind go off to?
Her lines rung like a song—the blues, a ballad. I scanned the pages, hunting for more question marks. The maples out there. Seems to me we was the same height. But they keep shooting don’t they? Branches double my arms now. They outlast me I bet. Full clouds, ready to burst. She’s out there somewhere taking the whole scene as hers. Like she’s got the whole world. Like it’s hers
After the final chime, the bus lurching home— days like these, I’d creep upstairs.
alone. Where’s that girl gone to? Can’t she stay & be still? and if she did stay—Lord, then what? Used to be the sky had little to do with rain, harvest & seed. The sky had little to do with worry. Way back—what did I see? Stars like spilled salt. The sun, as white as an eyeball. Dawn, a stained-glass red. Some nights played better than the movies. Trees jiving. Clouds full up with light. A funny, fickle thing—always moving. These prayers had to be a whim. Wild, but half-formed. The type of secrets that only lived in her mind, never in her body. Not regrets. They were too small for that. I still knew my mother. She was certain, careful. She had a gift. I took all the calendars, stacked and returned them, pushing the drawer closed. I opened other cabinets. In search of something simple. The cutting board, the canned tomatoes. A paring knife, a spoon. I forced my mind to Mother’s recipes. I fumbled my way through. To me, they were just steps in the background, grainy scenes. Mother
sending me to the cellar, handing me a bowl. Her fussing here, then there. With an onion. The lard. I put the pieces together. I sliced and stirred. I tasted. Soon I was messing the breakfast pans I’d just wiped clean. Beef browned and potatoes boiled. White bubbled dishwater turned flat, the surface splotched with oil. I looked up at the window above the sink. The drops kept on, even and strong, confusing the horizon. ••• TH I S D IM L IG HT of winter could carry to May. I’d seen enough springs to know. The
clouds overhead—dirty and stuck. The sky holding the thought of one more snow. School-bells would echo, tinny, hanging on the thick air. After the final chime, the bus lurching home—days like these, I’d creep upstairs. Back to bed, just long enough to thaw my bones. I’d be wrapped in a sweater, some boy’s or another. And huddled there, I caught wind of his doings: fiddling with engines, diesel wiped at the hem. A touch of pot, skipped shower. Maybe the tang of playing hooky, a flask snuck, spilled at the collar. A booze I didn’t know yet. At times the liquor clung so strong, I could almost feel it on my tongue. I’d lie there planning for when I would. But of late, there were fewer boys. No trace of hooky. There was simply me. My doings. My clothes full of chain-smoke and worry, my sweat sharp. There were my legs, feeling swollen, clumsy, and spent. These hands, this will of their own, always drawing near to that tiny creature, that hungry thing. Hungry, it would only grow. And then here, the thing that drew my eyes when I looked in the mirror. Here at my breasts: a turn of color. The flesh round my nipples shone dark as a bruise. The shade of my veins grew fierce, a thicket of blue across my chest. In the twilight hours, some nights, I swore I felt a shudder there. It woke me—a-flit, then gone—and I never waited for its return. Half asleep, grasping in the dark, my fingers found the radio. I pulled its small weight beneath the covers, volume high as I dared. Keep rollin’ and on and on. A beat I knew against my ribs. “It’ll be no time,” Murphy liked to say, “and you’ll have a little shadow. Stubborn as any of you-all.” Yes, Murphy had my secret. He held it close and careful as a kid carrying a quarter, lucky, found heads up. He kept me close too, began hogging our cigarettes. He counted beers. One night going so far as swiping a Pabst from my hands, pouring it to the dirt. Sticky splatter on our boots. Yeah, a stubborn little shadow, he whispered. You might
could use a hand. And I supposed he stacked promises, a proposal, into those few words, his whole manner an offering. Then last night, as we parked near the interstate, he leaned across the seat, breath smoky. A little shadow . . . could use a hand. Nearby, the troop sang—despite the rain
“Oh hell,” a sudden howl rose from the underpass, the troop hollering, laughing at the mess of us.
starting—all under the bridge but us two. Ripples hurried on his windshield, wipers ticking, their side to side a low backbeat. “You put things too simple,” I told him. “I’d even say you put them pretty. All you see is a little shadow. Some little sprite. Yeah, real damn simple. It’ll just float into my life like some heavenly thing.” Murphy chuckled. “What’s all this? You talk like pretty’s a bad thing.” “Oh, it sounds nice alright. I’m just not sure I believe it.” I busied my hands, toyed with the lining of my purse, a fray that needed cutting. “Mostly, I try to pretend there’s nothing there. No shadow. No sprite. And that’s what I think I want, Murph. I want none of this.” He turned away. “Aw, hell.” It came out like a sigh, and his head started shaking, a slow back and forth—I guessed from shame in what I was saying. “Hey,” I said, “when do we ever act like people tell us?” “I think this is different.” He finally looked at me. “This is different, right?” He reached over and covered my hand with his. The ridge of his callouses grazed my skin. “I mean—I thought we were doing so good.” If I didn’t see before, I saw then for certain. What he wanted, the whole he’d been offering. I saw what he stood to lose. Still, I shook him off, taking back my hand. Only Murphy knew about me, but there was so much he didn’t know. “I would just need some money,” I said. “Maybe a ride.” Could I blame him? For his voice turning hard. For how he plowed on, So that’s what you want then? He listed unknowns, Christ, the trouble it’d be. The money. The city. Such a long haul. The charade and the sneaking. Jesus, suppose something happened.
“And what about the boy in this?” he asked. “Here you are, thinking this way. And you know he’s running around right now, fit and free as a fiddle.” He was flustered, mixing his words. I’d never known Murphy to fight, but his hands turned to fists in his lap. “Why don’t you point him out to me?” He stared out the windshield, eyes on the underpass. Someone had flicked on their head beams, and the troop probably played there, lit and swaying. We saw only a haze. Drops like fingers rapped the roof and the windows. Murph put the wipers on high and they turned slap-slap on the glass. I had to strain to talk above it all. “Damn it, Murphy, you’ve got to stop. You’re just spinning wheels now.” Deaf to me, he threw open the truck door and started for the underpass. I followed. The bridge wasn’t far, but the rain pelted us, wide and cold. Our steps jerked, slipping on the gravel. Rocks sprayed behind Murphy when he biffed, his feet flying. “Oh hell,” a sudden howl rose from the underpass, the troop hollering, laughing at the mess of us. ••• O H H E L L. The slop of scrubbing on my blouse. The dishes still dirty. Dirty again. I
leaned toward the sink, belly pressing the counter-edge. Adding more soap to the dishwater, suds buried my wrists. No radio in the kitchen, so I supplied the song. A trusty verse. On and on. Something I could do solo. No guitar or speakers crackling. No Murphy, always remembering the words. And at first it sounded small, my voice. And sometimes I only sang the beginnings. Often I got stuck on a line, like vinyl. And on and on and on. I imagined how it could be. As if I had a stash of faded bills. A Greyhound ticket stamped for the city. As if I knew where to go, I pictured the buses leaving, cornfields a blur. The line of the interstate would go. On and on. There’d be diners and service stations, their ungodly blaze at midnight. The gleam would draw mayflies. Moths with ash-white bellies. My fingerprints, salty whorls on the bus window. And my fingers turned wrinkled as rotten fruit. Soft from all the washing. All the water. As it was, the stew boiled over. I forgot the potatoes, their bulk cooked to mush. When I called the boys to lunch, it was an hour past time, everyone famished. “And what about this weather, Beck?” Daddy asked. I ladled the stew and passed the steaming bowls to my uncles. “Ma was right,” I said. She was right. It would pour all day like that.
Later, every plate and pan drip-dried by the sink. I sat on the counter, soothing cream over red-raw hands. When Mother appeared, she wore a fresh blouse. Matching pants, the pleats crisp. But her face held a flush, and curls clung to her forehead from rough sleep. “Good Lord,” she said. “It’s already four o’clock.” I leapt down from the counter and started toward her, but she had her eyes on the stacks of pans. “What’ve you got going in here?” she asked. Her back toward me now, she was swinging a dishrag over her arm. “These plates here, we’ve got to wipe them up and begin on supper now.” I stepped behind her, my hand at her elbow. My fingertips skimmed—light against her sleeve. “Here,” I said, “I’ll do it,” and I pulled the rag from her arm. Mother nodded and began moving, tired and low, but still my mother. About the kitchen. Slicing mushrooms. Salting flanks. And in between slicing, a fuss with lard. Sending me to the cellar for more potatoes. The gold ones tonight. And be certain they’re firm. She handed me a paring knife and turned back to the sink. This was her. Then click-click, click, came that spin of her beads. I knew her hands to be empty. Her mind, flooding. I followed her eyes, their skip toward the window. stars like salt like ashwhite whorls For just a beat. At least a beat. There we were—and the sky again. Little, really, to do with rain.
William Van Dyke Short Story Prize
SPONSORED BY THE VAN DYKE CHARITABLE FOUNDATION
F I R ST P L AC E
S E C O N D P L AC E
LEIGH CLAIRE SCHMIDLI
Little to Do with Rain
Occupation Rock and Roll
HONORABLE MENTION SHARLEEN DAUGHERTY
Yellow Poison F I NA L I STS CARRIE ESPOSITO
FINAL JUDGE WENDY J. FOX WRITES:
“Little to Do with Rain” is a nicely braided narrative that gives complexity across the women in the story, and it touches on those feelings of being on the cusp of adulthood. The author captures this feeling so well, and even when Rebecca is pushing back, she still understands her mother’s grace.”
W E N D Y J . F O X is the author of The Seven Stages of Anger and Other Stories, The Pull of It, and the recent novel If the Ice Had Held. Tweeting from @wendyjeanfox and living in Denver, Colorado. More at wendyjfox.com.
W A L E A Y I N L A is a Nigerian poet, essayist, and editor. His works appear or are forthcoming on Guernica, Cimarron Review, Ruminate Magazine, McNeese Review, Waccamaw, Poet Lore, Palette Poetry, and elsewhere. He is a Best of the Net and Best New Poets Award nominee. In 2019, he was a finalist for the Brittle Paper Award for Poetry, and his manuscript, Sea Blues on Water Meridian was a finalist for the inaugural CAAPP Book Prize. He is @Wale_Ayinla on Twitter.
G A B R I E L F U R S H O N G writes from Helena, Montana, where he lives with his wife and one-year-old daughter. He’s a stay-at-home dad and spends most of his time cooking, cleaning, wrestling on the couch, and reading Barnyard Dance on repeat. During nap time, he writes for The Nation, Yes! Magazine, High Country News, and other magazines. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming at Westerly, Natural Bridge, Crannóg, and other journals. New fiction is currently in print at Saranac Review.
A L B E R T O D A N I E L S is a writer born in New
C H R I S T I A N A N T O N G E R A R D loves floating
York City to Panamanian parents. Currently, he is enrolled in the Brooklyn College fiction MFA program and is at work on a collection of short stories about the Panamanian immigrant experience. His stories have been recognized in various writing competitions, including two from Glimmer Train. Since 2012, Alberto has owned and operated a successful Allstate Insurance firm. He and his wife Melissa live beside a lake on Staten Island with their two young children and a puppy.
down rivers on kayaks and camping with his wife and son. He also equally enjoys long, romantic walks through hardware stores and sunsets. When he’s not doing those things, Gerard ruminates on his acreage from the helm of a John Deere. Most of his poems happen during home-improvement projects. Gerard’s a woodworker and an associate professor in the creative writing program at the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith.
N A T A L I E H O M E R ’ S recent poetry has been published in the Cincinnati Review, The Boiler, Berkeley Poetry Review, Meridian, Barnstorm, the Carolina Quarterly, and others. She received an MFA from West Virginia University and her first collection, Under the Broom Tree, is forthcoming from Autumn House Press. She lives in southwestern Pennsylvania, where she is continually amazed by fireflies, Queen Anne’s lace, and thunderstorms.
S U S A N N A H L O D G E - R I G A L grew up in Bloomington, Indiana. She holds an MFA from Colorado State University, where she was the recipient of a 2019 Academy of American Poets Prize. Her poems have appeared in or are forthcoming from Seneca Review, Colorado Review, DIAGRAM, Puerto del Sol, Sycamore Review, and elsewhere. These days, she writes, edits, and strums the guitar in Berkeley, California.
Daughter to a Peruvian mother and Swiss father, N I C O L E L A C H A T was born in Edmonton, Canada. She received an MFA in poetry from New York University in 2016. She embraces the lost art of bird watching and lilac sniffing, and wishes upside-down pineapple cake had not gone out of style. Currently she is pursuing her PhD at the University of Nebraska.
E I L I S H M C C O R M I C K is a photographer from Northern Ireland who works primarily within fashion photography. She changed careers into the creative industry from the environmental sector and hasn’t looked back. Her work has been featured in various international publications including L’Uomo, Vogue, ID, and Dazed and Confused, and was also displayed in the National Gallery of Ireland. Oh Keith My Boy marks an exploration in a direction of photography that she hopes to explore further. www.eilishmccormick.com
E T A N N E C H I N is an Israeli writer living in New York and the online editor of the Bare Life Review, a journal of immigrant and refugee literature. His writing has been published or is forthcoming in Boston Review, ZYZZYVA, World Literature Today, the Brooklyn Rail, the Independent Apogee, Columbia Journal, The Forward, and more. He is the recipient of the Felipe De Alba Award for Fiction and is currently working on his first novel, Draft Dodgers.
L E I G H C L A I R E S C H M I D L I lives in the Bluegrass, by way of Texas Hill Country and the Midwestern Plains. She writes poetry, fiction, and lyric essays, loves reading work with vivid imagery, and cooks elaborate meals that remind her of all the places she’s called home. Her work has appeared in journals such as Carve Magazine, Bellingham Review, and the Los Angeles Review. “Little to Do with Rain,” the story in this issue, comes from her novel-in-progress.
T W I L A N E W E Y spends a lot of her time wandering around the house looking for the poetry collection she set down in order to pick up the socks her kids leave like crumbs across the floor. In the midst of picking up said socks the scrub jays, who’ve trained her to feed them peanuts, often call her outside for their snack. When she’s not searching for poems, picking up socks, or feeding birds peanuts, she walks some shoreline to speak with the waves.
J A S O N T A N D O N is the author of four books of poetry including The Actual World (Black Lawrence Press, 2019). His poems have appeared in many journals and magazines, including Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, Beloit Poetry Journal, North American Review, and Esquire. He is a senior lecturer in the Arts & Sciences Writing Program at Boston University.
P A C E T A Y L O R is a nonbinary trans artist based in Portland, Oregon. They are emotionally preoccupied with Tenderness (and who it is afforded to). Through largeformat soft pastel drawings and intimate graphite and cut paper drawings, they invite their viewers to be interrupted, to be held by another’s language. Pace received their BFA in Digital Arts from the University of Oregon in 2015. They have exhibited a number of times regionally, including at Disjecta and Weiden + Kennedy Gallery. www.pacetaylor.com
B R A N D O N T H U R M A N is the most orthodox
iconoclast and ordinary queer you’ll ever meet. He’s the author of the chapbook Strange Flesh (Quarterly West, 2018). His poetry can be found in The Adroit Journal, Beloit Poetry Journal, Nashville Review, RHINO, and others. He lives in the Arkansas Ozarks with his husband and son. You can find him online at brandonthurman.com or on Twitter @ bthurman87.
As a child of Latin American immigrants, I S A A C V I L L E G A S grew up in the US–Mexico borderlands in the southwest corner of the United States. Almost two decades ago he moved from California to North Carolina, where he now serves as the pastor of Chapel Hill Mennonite Fellowship. The Associated Church Press presented him with their first place Award of Excellence for Theological Writing in 2018, an Award of Merit in 2019, and the Award of Excellence for Photography in 2019. He currently writes as a columnist for The Christian Century magazine. For an archive of his writing, see his website: isaacvillegas.com.
My job is to work and play at home with my sixteen-month-old daughter, Eva. We spend most of our time trying to express our thoughts and feelings to one another. She points, says “unh,” and I hand her something vaguely in alignment with her index finger. She rejects it and changes the pitch of her word-like sound until, at last, I place in her hand a tuft of cat fur. Then, I make a “well, why didn’t you say so” face at her. Then, she makes an “I did say so” face at me. Then, our eyes squeeze shut and we laugh. I relish our wordlessness, and I wonder what will happen to us when it ends. GABRIEL FURSHONG, POETRY
One of the ways I find expression is through my poetry. Living in a clime where I am being confronted with anomalies every now and again, I try to protest in my writings. I protest against the absence of my father, against my childhood shenanigans, against youthhood, against being irrelevant.
A stitch in time saves nine is made of six words. But maybe time saves a stitch in nine words. How many words sewn together blanket our perception? Each of us born, as we are, wrapped in preexisting expressions. Consider “survival of the fittest,” a phrase absent from the first five editions of Darwin’s revolutionary text. They were never his words. And who knows what Jesus really said? His gospels, fragments sewn together. Why then can’t two foundational texts make chiasmus in a woman’s mind, in a different stitch of time? Mine for instance. Worn fabrics pieced together make neither theory, nor salvation, but some strange new softness. In which, I hope, you can rest. TWILA NEWEY, POETRY
WALE AYINLA, POETRY
In looking at the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling or Stonehenge, what if we thought less about one person’s mastery of painting or a small-ish group of early masons and engineers, and more about all of the collected and shared acts of expression that led to and called for the product that we see and call expression? Expression’s marvel is that it exists in communal beliefs and faiths. Expression is too often about what we do (product) and less who and what we are (process). Stonehenge’s makers were and are more than Stonehenge’s makers, just as Michelangelo was more than ceiling or canvas, just as this issue is more than a collection of pieces, which makes a collective definition of/belief in Ruminate. CHRISTIAN ANTON GERARD, POETRY
At first it seems like the show will go on. Rehearsal dates still blink on calendars. Their fingers play the beats against coffee mugs, the steering wheel at a stoplight. One strums during the nightly news, watching the headlines tick across the screen. The anchors report about endangered koalas, award-winning films. There’s just that outbreak in Italy, a small one in Seattle. So when they wake in the night, it’s a song on their lips—their biggest worry remembering the words. In their basements sit rows of amps, mics, pedals. Push one pedal and an organ suddenly backs up the guitar. Push another and a voice is multiplied, becoming a chorus. The expression pedal conducts a sound. Wah, wah, wah. A sound like a cry. A question. A scream. When they learn that singing causes the spread, one hides his guitar in the shed, afraid of temptation. Another one hums, but only at night, when the late summer sun finally leaves no glow—his voice barely heard among the cicadas. One of them stands in a basement, concrete poured to survive the Cold War. Amps buzz, ready. A mic fills the room with his breathing. LEIGH CLAIRE SCHMIDLI, FICTION
My abuelito would call me, “Chito.” All of his grandkids were “Chito,” probably because there were so many of us and he couldn’t keep track of our names. But I heard warmth in the word. I think he must have come up with the expression, his own version of “Chiquito.” The last time I saw him was after his heart surgery. “Oye, Chito,” he said as we reminisced, “recuerdas when eras joven, allí en mi shop, y me ayudó with the bicycles con tu hammer?” I laugh as scenes flash across my mind: his wrenches and screwdrivers laid out on the floor as he fixed a bike, and me with a hammer banging on a block of wood, “helping.”
As a child, I was taught that spiritual expression had to be grandiose and loud, a clattering of cymbals. There were the old ladies in their Sunday finest, slain in the Spirit in the aisles of my country church. There were my father’s revival sermons bellowing down from the altar. There were my grandmother’s sudden cries in tongues from the comfort of her La-Z-Boy. Perhaps because of this brash and sometimes beautiful spiritual upbringing, my body—when it considers the sacred at all—now prefers to engage with it in quieter tones. A moment of noticing. A snuggle with my son before bed. A thank you murmured so quietly God has to crane his neck to hear.
ISAAC VILLEGAS, NONFICTION
BRANDON THURMAN, POETRY
EILISH MCCORMICK. Oh Keith My Boy, no 6, 2019.
Black-and-white photography. Giclee Print on Hahnemuhle Photo Rag Paper. 20 inches x 30 inches