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SAND Journal c/o Jake Schneider Willibald-Alexis-Str. 16 10965 Berlin Germany Connect with us for news and events: Facebook: SAND Journal Twitter: @sandjournal Instagram: @sandjournalberlin ISSN 2191-429X Published in Berlin Copyright © SAND Journal, 2018 SAND e.V. is a registered nonprofit association (gemeinnütziger Verein) under German law. Designed by Bárbara Fonseca Printed by Solid Earth Cover image: Pool Day by Melissa Spitz, 2015



Editor in Chief

Managing Editor



Poetry Editor

Fiction Editor



Assistant Fiction Editor

Nonfiction Editor



Art Editor

Copy Editor




Distribution & Finance



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Events Coordinator



Events Coordinator

Communications & Outreach



Communications & Outreach

Verein Coordinator



Jake Schneider

Editor’s Note The Motto That Wasn’t

The motto is dead – long live the motto. Slogans and hashtags swing elections on baseball caps and buses, propel social movements for and against prejudice, and recently took down dozens of Hollywood’s most formidable harassers and abusers. make the decision to change your life, commands a subway advertisement in “Camila” by Vanessa Bates Ramirez. “You’ve just got to find the right mantra,” counsels Brina in Caroline Beimford’s “Under My Skin.” Do we though? When I contemplated the writing and art we’d picked for our last issue, I saw containers everywhere. And when I decided to label each item in the table of contents with its own example – bathtub, fish tank, exoskeleton – the idea went down well. Containers are hollow. I chose the ones the writers had chosen themselves; they were in no danger of redefining their contents. Then, this winter, I learned that the Latin motto on the US coins of my childhood, e Pluribus unum (“Out of Many, One”) originally came from the title page of Gentleman’s Magazine, the first periodical of its category, back in the 1730s. In the format’s infancy, the magazine consisted of extracts from other publications reprinted without permission. Just as these six syllables had bound together unrelated sections of (copiedand-pasted) text, they later rallied a scattered group of colonizers around a common cause. e Pluribus unum romanticized an invented nation. It also romanticized the systematic theft of the world’s first magazine editor. Before long, my own editorial mind was crowded with mottos and their banner-waving possibilities. What if we sprinkled the next issue with its own slogans?


When the rest of the team realized I meant actual mottos – “clichéd exhortations,” in the words of our Fiction Editor, Florian Duijsens – the objections filtered in. Poetry Editor Greg Nissan outright vetoed the plan for his section: “Most concerning is that it provides the first piece of language, the first idea or image. But that’s exactly what the opening of a poem strives to do, and so much of the craft and ingenuity of a poet goes into opening up that space for us.” Who am I to upstage Elizabeth Metzger’s opening salvo, “The unborn depend on the love of / nonmothers” or to preface Ahmad Almallah’s “an order / is an order”? Florian and Greg weren’t wrong. As I scoured the poems for quotable catchphrases, it felt like the work of my eighteenth-century plagiarist predecessor. In fact, it felt like filling the poems’ “waistcoats with stones” (Mark Russell) or suggesting a “function for decoding their world” (Novisi Dzitrie). Is that any less true for prose? Even without such gimmicks, publishers already bury books beneath marketable labels. SAND has always been more interested in what slips through the cracks between genres and philosophies, what “pools in tar-black shadows around the edges” (Jon Ransom). To name is to domesticate. I conceded that these mottos were at risk of becoming a false “answer key” that could strip the enigma from the landscapes of post-apocalyptic Finland (Maija Mäkinen), post-marital Macedonia (Lidija Dimkovska), post-vegetarian Australia (Nate McCarthy), or post-mortem Oregon (Patrick Vala-Haynes). And wherever we positioned them on the page, they would distract from the work itself. Even writing about all this now, in the one text that is mine to compose, I’m displacing descriptions of what you’re about to read, such as the gaggle of bulky birds that seems to wander, in no meaningful formation, through the issue’s pieces: swans, geese, spoonbills, hornbills, flamingos, rotisserie chickens. According to legend, our magazine was named after a song by Lee Hazlewood: “I am a wandering man / in your land / call me Sand.” In the early years, we printed those lines in our issues. Yet we are committed to publishing writing by and about women and gender non-conformists – we’re no Gentleman’s Magazine, despite the brilliance of Mark Russell’s


“Men on Men” – and, dammit, Berlin is our land too. The song is catchy but those aren’t lyrics to live by. Mottos never last. Eventually even the motto-maker has second thoughts. Yesterday we painted it on a sign; today we’re kicking ourselves. Indeed, Gentleman’s Magazine abandoned e Pluribus unum in the mid-1800s and the United States downgraded it during the divisive Cold War. Since I moved here, Berlin has quit flaunting its “poor but sexy” reputation as rents skyrocketed. In the end, I decided to kill off this issue’s mottos preemptively. The one motto we have left in Issue 17 is the title of Melissa Spitz’s prizewinning documentary photo series You Have Nothing to Worry About, which punctuates these pages with its cheerful pastels. Chronicling the ups and downs of her mother Deborah’s mental health, Spitz captures pain as well as moxie. The series title comes from a note taped to Deborah’s door: “TO DO: ¡BE FUCKING HAPPY! – REMINDER: YOU HAVE NOTHING TO WORRY ABOUT!” That’s what real mottos do: remind us of our aspired states of being – united, happy, unworried. The photographs, meanwhile, show life’s layered reality. Spitz describes them as “simultaneously upsetting and encouraging; honest and theatrical; loving and hateful.” She leaves in all the ambivalence but, unlike me, she also leaves in the motto.


Contents 10



Jenna Cardinale



Elizabeth Metzger


GLOBAUDE shelley feller


Megan Leanne



UNDER MY SKIN Caroline Beimford



COOKING Adam J. Maynard









shelley feller

50 34





WHAT IT IS LIKE Lidija Dimkovska, tr. by Ljubica Arsovska, Peggy Reid




CAMILA Vanessa Bates Ramirez

Patrick Vala-Haynes

100 CITADEL 66


Adam J. Maynard

Sarah Mangold

105 67






Scott Platt-Salcedo

John Greiner

116 72



Megan Leanne

Tse Hao Guang






Novisi Dzitrie


PLACE Novisi Dzitrie





GLITTERING DARK Jeremy Packert Burke

126 AFTER ANATOMY Elizabeth Metzger


Jenna Cardinale

Sales We provide a decorative system of exposed pipes. We offer a good faith estimate. Here! Our fattest rats. Our drippings. Yes. There’s blood coating the mouth. I have been improved. Just listen to the clocks. Listen. I’m going to simulate an alarm. Let me show you this new fur.


Megan LeAnne




As a girl, I regularly aimed to arrange myself accordingly commondaughter disease

Consider syntax to instinct

expected arrangement of parts often opposite

hardly digestible deluge of measured vowels and brackets

I have been probing this code for most of my life

inflexible machine

and you

you language of tormented tongue and tidy

dumbpuzzle. I have made myself hideous in your name


even. My forehead pocked with toenails bloodless mouth



what was I but a prayer bead lodged in your esophagus?



brainfolds inconsolable and wheezing. Should I be pondfroth at your riverbank


clammy sticks poking off the lip

of your ridge? At twelve I tugged on my hair till creeping thistle

spilled from my scalp and I told you this made me feel humble. You were unstunnable

kneecaps plunged in mulch yanking out

perfectly lovely benedictions. The narrative of God is charming

but the humankind-riddle more sane

I whispered. Always

I am mothermilk astonishing your kidneys. Always I am thrashing myself awake in your uncrackable crux. Show me

what pattern of girl I must master to jolt you into love. I would wear my elbows as earrings I would mosaic my cells to a dazzling pulp and sing in the key of symmetry


for effect.

Caroline Beimford


Fiction Nonfiction

He says I have striking eyes and he’s staying in a condo behind the Gillette building. I have normal eyes. Of medium size and average color. The shade of slush. So he lacks imagination then. That’s fine. He’s in town for business and staying with a friend, but the friend has had a baby, and he feels he’s in the way. His friend’s couch smells like baby powder. I ask: Is that such a bad thing? It is. “It’s one of those smells,” he says. “Ruined by association.” “Like air freshener?” “Air freshener, baby powder – it’s all shit to me.” He has impeccable posture and debates a third round of martinis’ return on investment. To think, I’d imagined I was done with all this. David had hunched – over bars, when he walked – creating a curved space where words were buoyed and protected, a private room. This man with his posture is like a megaphone. From behind the bar, Sal offers to call me a cab. It’s just struck two. I almost accept, but that won’t get me anywhere. “Thanks, but I think I’ll walk.” Sal eyes the man beside me and shrugs before we’re thrust into the cold. Perhaps he’ll tell David I was here. We take side streets towards the water, but by the time we want a cab, there are none around. Such a sleepy city, Boston. He has a good chin, a jaw that catches my attention. Always the angles, such predictable penchants. We haven’t discussed where we’re going exactly, if there’s even a “we” to speak of. He says he’s from Phoenix. It had to be somewhere like that, with a tan in December. I think of cacti, crag cathedrals in the desert. “I’ve never been there.”


Under My Skin


“It’s nice.” “Does Boston compare?” “I love it,” he says, flashing a smile. “I’m in town for an interview.” If it’s a line, it’s a good one. Just enough promise to hook the serious and flighty both. He pulls up his scarf against the wind and is eager to reveal other things. Genzyme. Dartmouth. So he’s clever. Brina calls this the triangulation game. Setting down our dots – job, degree, hometown. Orientation points for strangers. “Are you cold?” My teeth are chattering. Small traitors, each of them. Inviting advances when I’m still making up my mind. David with his jacket that first time, insisting until I took it. I pick my way through the last of the sidewalk’s old snow. He’s very tall, at least six-two, and broad in the shoulders. A nice change, to look up. “Anywhere else we can get a drink around here?” There isn’t. We’re in a part of town that’s all warehouses, unoccupied office buildings, and lofts. A no-man’s-land between Fort Point and Soutie at an hour when nothing’s open but the South Street Diner across from the bus station. Be bold. “Just my place,” I say, turning to walk backwards and look him in the face. His eyes smile. “Lead the way.” We pass the Gillette Building, its first “t” gone dark, and cross the channel. I wouldn’t walk it alone so late, but we can cut through the post-office lot and skip the bit under the overpass. New snow’s collecting. He thinks it’s grand. Bends to feel the weight of it. Powder or packing? In the bar he’d been so serious. What do you drink, he’d asked earlier, as he took the stool beside mine. Like what do you like in bed. Today it’s gin. Pine-Sol for the brain. Then it was about the music, what did I think of it. I thought it was terrible. I hated Sinatra, he sounded so smug. Was I lying? I prefer to think I was finally telling the truth, and that I’d been lying for years. When I told David I loved hearing the standards. When he cooked chicken piccata or cleaned the refrigerator. When we ate, read, fucked, or danced in the living room. He had the same taste as


Under my Skin

my paternal grandmother – her only taste, now she’s forgotten everything else. Only Frank and Ella and Dinah and Duke are left. The whole gang. A couple of months with David and I’d learned the words too. We had a regular party, that first visit. David dancing with Gram, Gram singing with Frank. And everyone thinking I had the world on a string. I hadn’t planned to go in, had been walking three blocks out of the way to avoid the lounge since the split. David’s favorite dive. It trafficked in Rat Pack cover bands and dirty martinis. Upholstery all ruby vinyl. I’d forgotten to turn on A Street and ran into Phoebe on the sidewalk, chain-smoking. “Well, hello,” she said. Waitressing in the lounge had rubbed off on Phoebe’s speech. “Haven’t seen you around in a while.” She spoke like Lauren Bacall, or tried to. Modulated her delivery, overused the pregnant pause. Even parted her hair way over, managed the finger waves. She was more David’s friend than mine. “I’ve been branching out,” I said. What did she expect? She nodded and took longer than necessary to exhale a mouthful of smoke. “David isn’t here tonight.” The pause, a slow drag. “You could go in.” The smallest shrug of a bony shoulder, no coat in the cold. “If you wanted.” It was 9:45 on a Friday night and I’d only had one martini at dinner with my mother. “Is Sal on tonight?” Phoebe turned her head. I think she looked away just so she could look back in slow motion. “He sure is.” I left her and took the steps down to the bar. They kept the lights dim, reddish. Carpet like a bowling alley’s. Sal gave me extra olives. The man and I cut through the lot where they park the city’s postal trucks. All lined up in rows. Formal almost, like a closet of hanging suits. “This is really neat,” he says, gazing around like it isn’t a parking lot. “Through here.” I guide us down the rows. They’re narrow, labyrinthine, as private as my apartment. David and I paused here more than once. Something about the outdoors, the stolen space. He’d loved it anywhere but in a bed.



This one has ideas too. He takes my hand, tries to swing me in. I play crack the whip instead. Turn down the alley and run. We always ran down the alley. He catches on quick and chases. On the street he wraps his arm around my waist and pulls me into his side. With our coats and gloves the contact feels chaste, like kissing a photograph. “So what do you do?” he asks, suddenly chatty, realizing, perhaps, that we’ve talked only of him. Brina would tell me to make something up. She’s brilliant at it. Has twenty full biographies on the tip of her tongue. Says it keeps things light. Like Charles Wallace and his multiplication tables. They can’t get in your head if you’re busy making shit up. “I edit textbooks.” Not only am I terrible at lying, I seem always to make the truth sound duller than it is. Two more points and I’d be pegged. Butterfly to corkboard. Or moth, from the way it’s going. Destined to die in a closet. Brina would suggest an exotic expat childhood for balance. Or a degree in art history from the Sorbonne. But he might speak French. People who spoke French always wanted to prove they spoke French. They launched into it at the first sign of a phlegmy “r.” “What sort of textbooks?” he asks. “Psychology.” “That must be stimulating.” He nods to himself, sounding almost sincere. Textbooks are a dead end with most people. “Did you study psychology? Or get into it another way?” “I studied history, actually,” I say. The snow is falling faster, in globs and at a slant. It’s deep enough to make tracks. “Tell me about Arizona.” I’d considered it before, moving to Phoenix or Tucson. Just before I met David. Somewhere stark, with clean lines, where each of the things I erected would be deliberate and well-planned. Before David, Boston felt cloying. I was too often swept along. By family, old friends, an academic press lashing out in its slow decline – ugly to watch, uglier to be a part of. The plan blanched upon meeting David, but it seems a small treasure now. An artifact from an age when I thought a new city was all it would take to change my whole life. “I lived in Chinatown too,” he says as we pass under the pagoda, “in San Francisco.” I know I’m meant to ask about San Francisco, but


Under my Skin

I’ve managed to misplace my keys. I root around as we stand on the sidewalk between the Gourmet Dumpling House and a shop selling rotisserie chickens. Finally, a familiar rattle. They’ve gotten into the lining again, in with the change and hairpins. He continues talking about San Francisco as we climb the stairs, about the damage to his gearshift on the hills. As soon as I get the door open he lunges, and while there’s some gnashing of incisors at first, it improves once we get the door shut. We bring the cold air in on our clothes. He asks about photos on the fridge, posters on the walls, mostly things of Brina’s, though she moved in mere months ago. I tell him about Brina and how she’s out of town. I should tell him she’s coming back, weave a net. “Where’s she gone?” “Montréal. For the weekend.” “For work?” “A show. She’s an opera singer.” For some reason, lying about other people’s lives is easier. Although Brina had warned about audaciousness. She only used the opera gig when she was really, truly drunk. Why couldn’t I have been the opera singer? I was drunk. But then they always asked her to sing. “I love the opera.” Was he serious? Why couldn’t I meet a man with standard tastes? Who liked Dylan or Springsteen or the Rolling Stones. But then, he could be lying too. Internally rolling his eyes at another fine-arts-inundated late-twenty-something looking for love that only exists in Puccini. He slides along the sofa and takes my glass. “Perhaps we can see your friend sometime, if I get this job.” He combs the hair away from my face and neck. “I hear your opera house has excellent acoustics.” Was this considered smooth? It feels smooth. When I close my eyes just before he kisses me, the spins set in and I open them again, too late. Conventions are important when kissing strangers. When the kiss is not yet more than a sum of its parts. Lips, teeth, tongue, too-large pores, and the stray hairs between eyebrows. I’m affected by how he doesn’t know I’m looking at him, how we’re engaged in a pact I’m already



breaking, that we’ll both shut our eyes, feel instead of look, attempt to be swept up, and in the event of falling short, pretend out of empathy or etiquette – unsure where the other stands, how serious we’re all being. Does he really want to take me to the opera? His lashes are long and curly, and there’s nothing wrong with the kiss except his mouth is cold and unfamiliar. David referred to sex as “makin’ whoopee.” “Shall we make some whoopee?” he’d ask, arching an eyebrow, charmed with himself. “Let’s,” I’d say, choosing to be charmed, as well. It would be difficult to say what we’re making now is as blithe, as easy, as unrestrained as “whoopee.” But it’s something. Polite, proficient. Like a foxtrot. In the morning, an arm pulls me into the hollow of a body – the movement jars. He’s not awake yet, but rooting around, like he’s accustomed to waking up beside someone. The forearm has a heft to it, a weight that David’s didn’t. This is something. I pull the duvet up over the pillow, the feathers clumped in their separate squares, blocking out only half the light. Coffee wafts, like smelling salts. He brings me a cup, has put on his pants. To leave? Or because he’s coy. David had liked to prance, was naked at every opportunity. Vain that way. Perhaps this man is just normal, wearing pants as a rule in unfamiliar places. “Good morning.” He bends, kisses my forehead, hands me the cup. It isn’t what I expect. Each sip brings me closer to myself, though I’ve not yet decided whether to join the living completely. He climbs over me and under the duvet. I’d pushed my bed against the wall a month ago, convinced I might use more of the space if no one would be sleeping on the other side. Now it feels childish. He sits up, cross-legged, tan lines all over, but even his pallid parts are darker than my forearms. We’d disdained sunbathing, David and I, remained pale and freckled – any limb of his could’ve been mine in a tangle. The man and I camp out until the sun moves past the window and it


Under my Skin

becomes dim enough, safe enough to emerge; once we overheat, oversleep, become sticky with sex and sweat, must seek out supplies, fresh water, acetaminophen. I make omelets while he showers. They’re sad and flat, with nothing in the fridge but mustard and lemons. After we eat I escape to the bathroom. Sit on the edge of the tub and let my face slacken. He’s neat. When David showered it was like the flood. Floor slick, bathmat sodden. The only sign of this one is the steam. I half expect, half hope he’ll be gone when I emerge. Instead he’s washed the dishes. Smiles from the sofa like he doesn’t know the steps. He flips through David’s copy of Steppenwolf and I pretend to have read it when he asks. The afternoon wears on, and he doesn’t leave. Because of the snow emergency, he says. Two and a half feet and counting. Hasn’t got the right shoes. We order Vietnamese from the only open restaurant on the block. He picks an armful of films, instructing me to choose. We go to bed early, wake up late, and I can’t imagine why he stays. The sex is the kind that makes me think more, rather than less, though we seem to be pretending it’s something better. The fact of bad sex had been one of those bleak adult discoveries, like filing taxes for the first time. There I’d been, blithely assuming sex was a pure, cosmic added-value, only to discover it was more like roulette, and I’d been on a lucky streak since high school. David now a lost oasis. The man asks for my number as he gathers his things. “For the opera, remember?” In my head I’ve already closed the door. “Of course.” He roots for a pen. I offer to get one. “No, it’s here, I’ll find it. I like to use just one until it runs out.” He laughs, suddenly self-conscious. I fight the physical urge to let my fingers form a handgun, let it float up to my temple. David and I would argue over what it said about us, that I aimed for the temple, that he put the barrel into his mouth. I recite my number, trying to figure out where to invert the digits, whether to switch the last nine for a five. But it comes out correctly, too quick. Let him have it. I close the door, feel relief. Then it recedes. The snow muffles sound from the street.



I go back to my bedroom to sleep, to strip the bed, to curl into a ball I’ve just got the sheets off when I feel how stuffy it is, how strange. I climb over the bed and push at the sill, get it up in one heave, inhale the sharp fresh scent of snow, the familiar tang of garbage beneath the ice. Fish sauce, Durian pelts, fry oil, and cabbage. Overlaid with the waft of roasting chickens from next door, a signature aroma. I was always the one to close the window; David would open it. A small war. I sit by the window. Breathe it in. Noon on Sundays we’d awake to hoisin and chicken on a spit. David claimed he couldn’t sleep without fresh air. Fresh! I’d say, incredulous. A sort of script. He slept on his stomach. I can still see his shoulder blades, protuberant, elbows rough, nails cut to the quick. He hated spaces where things could lodge. Why do I still snag on details – the stupid pomp of bitters in brown bottles, post-shift food-smells in his shirts, wee-hour traipses across the city, the alleys and docks and parking lots. He liked to scrub things while hungover, brought out the Pine-Sol and bleach to combat the alley air. Scoured the bathtub and toilet bowl stark naked in canary rubber gloves. Always someone crooning through the stereo, never a still moment, a set of parade years. Remember to spot, he’d say, showing off when he spun me. Then he spun my Gram around her living room filled with Russian nesting dolls. Spun her till she laughed and called him Lou. I’d stopped spotting after that. Fake it till you make it, is what Brina keeps saying. It’s another of her maxims, all of them to do with lying. Mostly to others, but in dire circumstances, to oneself. All the great brainwashers use repetition, she says. You’ve just got to find the right mantra. “The Best is Yet to Come?” I suggested. “As Time Goes By?” “Too trite,” she said. “You need more – ‘Strangers in the Night.’” Even Brina was certain. Of what was best, of what I needed. I wasn’t trained to withstand so much forthrightness. The way David was certain I was exactly what he needed like he was certain good gin should smell resinous instead of waxy. Certain too that we were done, and so


Under my Skin

compelling in his conviction, like he knew something I didn’t. It seemed the price of being certain was to never be certain of the same thing for too long. I could do that. Hadn’t I just? “The Lady is a Tramp?” I considered. “Now we’re talking,” said Brina. My best impression of myself would have to do. I’d roll it out thin and be endlessly discoverable.

A version of this story previously appeared online at The Southampton Review under the title “I Was Told I Could Stay.”


Adam J. Maynard

Cooking I am a cooking show Gently famous Married to a goose Your generous face Your green hands Your reflections Are pieced back together So you can hide somewhere Successfully in the day With your comic ancestry intact Think of nothing While slicing a cucumber With your green fingers I can disappear As quickly as a bird As the silver tears of ants Drop through a non-existent floor Made of rain Cooking a goose In the empty kingdom Of your kitchen This afternoon I will buy you a jumper That costs $2,500


Nate McCarthy


Fiction Nonfiction

It was Dave who finally got me to eat meat again after sixteen years of being a vegetarian. I watched him from the living room as he lit the barbecue in the backyard; I was drowsing in the soporific warmth of the gas heater, stretched right out on the thick rug that his mother had begun to make while she was pregnant with him. I was too weak to hold my thoughts with me on the floor so I let them float up with the heat and disintegrate. I loved the rug and I loved the heater. That was about all I could manage. It was my ninth week on the elimination diet, a stringent diagnostic regimen developed by immunologists, and I was wild with hunger. I’d been severely unwell for a few years, and the doctors had very little to suggest apart from the elimination diet and paperwork for a disabled parking sticker. The sticker had helped. Perhaps the diet would too. The elimination diet is an agonising staircase for the chronically ill to climb. It is meant to bring to light any food intolerance that could be causing a patient’s symptoms. It means, often under medical supervision, dragging yourself up floor after floor of food groups, week after week. First comes food that contains the lowest level of triggers, then the next, and the next. Pears at the bottom, pineapples at the top. You could only progress through the stages when your symptoms improved. Mine never did. I was stuck on the lowest landing, down in the culinary dark, unable to eat a single meal that had not been prepared at home from the complicated advice book filled with tables and lists. I could not have bread, milk, or gluten. If I went out, weak as I was, there was no sustenance I could easily grab, not a hunk of bread, not an apple


The First Steak of the Rest of My Life


(I could only eat peeled pears of a certain variety). The diet was proving to be unlivable without meat. I had scrambled for months, with the help of my mum and my best friend, to make nutritious meals out of a dismal list of ingredients (choko gourds, mung-bean sprouts, cashews, potatoes, and sugar were among the more exciting). Had I eaten meat, this would not have been so confounding: the mung beans and the choko would have made an austere side to a nice lamb cutlet, a small concession in a healthy and rounded meal. But as a vegetarian I was in real trouble. And by now I was on my knees, all but eliminated myself. Dave had taken to making me toffee and honeycomb to get calories into me, and I carried them in a little tupperware if I went far from home. My mouth was pocked with sores from eating so much sugar. I was bound more than ever by the constraints of my illness. I was weaker, and I had a tyrannical diet to follow, which meant I couldn’t share food with anyone or have a coffee out. There was no joy in food, no distraction in snacking, no idle nibbling in search of pleasure, and no happy eating to mark the milestones of the day. There was my sickness and there was flavourless choko and cabbage for dinner. I was wasting away, willing to cross lines. Surrender had been a long time coming. Across from the bedroom window of my share-house, the oak trees in the park had taken and dropped their autumn colour three times since I’d become ill. I’d watched their slow changes from my bed, buoyed in spirit by the flush of their new growth but unchanged myself, every detail of my life still shaped by a body that pushed itself to the forefront of my experience and sat there, broken, blocking out almost everything else. In those oak-tree years I’d venture out when I could, often to lug groceries home from the shop, or to sit in the park, or see a friend and then crumble back into bed, feverish and spent, like an ancient thing. And then I would rest until I had the strength to cook or to heat up food delivered to me by friends and family. With no known cure and not many prospects, I sought solitude and quiet in the countryside, a self-made sanitorium. A car full of books, no internet, no phone signal. I rented a room for a couple of months in a


The First Steak of the Rest of My Life

beautiful small town, hours from Sydney, to lie beside streams and float in the river that cut through the village, to sit at dusk where the houses stopped and the paddocks began, where the fireflies bobbed and bats flew down the valley in great plumes. I had eaten fresh greens and eggs from the community garden on the hill and slept to the sound of frogs at night. And oh, the places I napped! I rarely went anywhere without a rug and pillow, and went to ground in the most beautiful spots: by rainforest streams, on quiet beaches by driftwood fires, between the beds of untamed vegetable gardens, and by sagging fences laden with fragrant vines. I slugged down paracetamol by the town river and watched rain fall silent as snow on hot summer nights, heard owls while I lay stuck somewhere. And after years of the same view from my Sydney house, I was relieved to at least be in a new bedroom if I couldn’t leave my bed. My new house was a new world with a view of the valley hills, sitting on a road which ran through paddocks where gentle-eyed beef cattle gathered at sunset. It was up in that town, during my rural retreat, that a friend and I had talked about eating meat as we lay in the shallows of the river at dusk on a hot evening, stray cows bellowing from time to time from the paddocks behind the ancient camphor laurels. “At this stage, Nate,” she said, lying on her belly, “even a committed Buddhist might consider they need to eat meat.” I listened, heavy in the water. A mullet broke the surface of the river and splashed back down. “I know. Maybe one day,” I said. If the elimination diet had not been beginning to starve me, I would have let that idea float off forever downstream into a hazy future which didn’t much bear thinking about anyway. I certainly had strong ideas about the ethics of eating meat, but what I felt most immediately was a filthy horror about having dead flesh in my mouth. Meat had become disgusting to me the moment I was directed to cut open a thawed and bloated rat in biology class and dig around in its stink for its heart and brain. I didn’t care for my ham sandwich after that. Shortly after the dissection, I watched Babe, a film about a piglet who narrowly avoids being slaughtered, and that was it for me. There was no sense of giving anything up, abstaining, wistfully foregoing a



steaming breast of roast chicken, or covetously eyeing crackling rashers of bacon. In the blink of my teenage eye, meat became awful and people had no business turning creatures into it, of reducing animals with lidded eyes and quivering snouts and complicated biological functions to a meal to be eaten once and then forever over. I quietened down as I got out of high school and didn’t give it too much thought. Yet I retained a gentle sense of uncertainty about my meat-eating friends: how did a person’s kindness and generosity fit together with their eating of animals, of working with meat in the kitchen as if it were no more than citrus fruit, cocoa, or figs? I folded my hands on my chest and lay like a corpse in the lamplight as Dave closed the lid of the barbecue, leaving it to heat up, and came back inside to prepare the vegetables. We would be having New York steaks (sirloin) with mashed potatoes, broccolini, asparagus, and button mushrooms. Dave and I have known each other our whole lives, or at least since we were able to eat solids. And that’s really when it all begins, isn’t it? When you learn to taste, to begin to be able to recall what it was that you so loved, to understand the things you want, and to share them at the end of the day. Little Dave lived six doors down from me, and we’ve rubbed off on each other so much that people who have met us as adults have sometimes been taken aback. When my friends first encountered Dave, many idiosyncrasies that they had thought of as mine – a gesture, a turn of phrase, or the way I got dressed up – turned out to be just as much the singularities of the soft-spoken bearded man I introduced them to. There had been a flow between us over decades that we hadn’t noticed until we were saturated. A sharing of aesthetics, of habits, of history. Our finger and toe joints swell arthritically in the same places because we both began cracking them on the long car ride south to my family beach holiday when we were little. Later, by the time we were old enough to drive ourselves around, still cracking our knuckles, Dave liked my barber, so we got our hair cut the same way for a long time. He altered our jean hems to make them slimmer at the ankles and shopped for me when he had time to browse opp shops; it didn’t so much matter if he found anything for himself as long as he found something right for


The First Steak of the Rest of My Life

someone, often me. At some point we began to habitually buy double sets of things that were good. His and mine. Hair product, shirts, undies. I would usually see the value in something once Dave liked it. I began to drive like Dave because he taught me when I got my first manual car – my aggressive acceleration and clutch work into corners echoes his. I would think of him as I shifted between second and third. We called each other first when we were sick and needed to see a doctor in the wee hours. We waited together in the emergency room, and the well one would stay long after admission and we would fall asleep in the ward bed, with not nearly enough room for either of us. The white hospital blankets felt comforting and were good quality (so we both acquired one), the air-con was always cold, and the machines beeped and clicked on and off softly into the fluorescent morning. One night on the way to get Turkish pizza, it dawned on us that we were wearing the same jeans over the same boxers with a similar button-up shirt, and we were walking in an unintentional lockstep, our bootsteps loud and synchronised on the quiet side street. We tried, and failed, again and again, to break the rhythm. We had lost each other for years at a time in our twenties: Dave gave his youth to the best kitchens in Sydney. He worked 80- or 90hour weeks in the finest restaurants, famous places I read about as I browsed the good-food section of the weekend paper: Est, Becasse, The Riverview. I’d order a second flat white, read a glowing review of his place, and wonder if I’d go to the beach or if it was simply getting too hot to bother. Every so often, my friend would quit a job so he could eat and sleep for a few months before starting a new one. A re-surfacing. We’d take long drives up to the mountains, go fishing, have dinners that Dave prepared after a trip to the market or Chinatown. “Let’s just go and see what’s good,” he’d say. I imagine it wasn’t pleasant for a fine-dining chef to have to limit himself to vegetarian dishes, but Dave is the kindest person I know, and he made a big effort to create meals we could both enjoy. “I think the fennel is good at the moment,” he’d say, “and I’ll get a couple of blood oranges and that goat’s cheese you like.” From my spot by the heater I could see that he was very happy to be leading me back



to meat tonight. Even though I was leaden with fatigue and trembling like a baby bird, only such a gentle man could get me to eat a hunk of a once-living, harmless cow. I turned over on the rug as my heater-side leg got too hot and almost remembered a line of something I’d read that day. The same loneliness that closes us opens us again. Here we were again, my friend and I, back where we grew up, broken in different ways. I was physically destroyed by a sudden and unrelenting illness, and Dave was burnt out from a lifetime of work packed into a single decade of his life like a terrine. He threw a few handfuls of hickory-wood chips over the flames to give the meat a subtle smokey flavour. The wood chips had been his late grandfather’s, and he still had half a sack. The sirloins were from our local butcher. Dave had liked their colour, their firmness, and their even fat marbling: the taste and texture would hold and not dry out, even when cooked well done. The price was irrelevant to him, but I can tell you they were dear. Yet to me they were just something sorrowful and violent. And as a food choice? Abject. Dave laid the steaks on the barbecue. He angled them after a minute so that they were branded with cross-hatching from the grill bars, the flesh seared at right angles where it met the metal. He turned them once at just the right time, a prod with a finger his timer: medium rare for his, very well done for mine. Touch the flesh of your open hand at the webbing between thumb and forefinger – that’s how a steak cooked rare should feel. Touch that place when your fist is balled – that’s well done. Dave wrapped both steaks together in a long sheet of aluminium foil. They lay on top of each other with a slip of butter in between and rested in their juices. This meant that although my steak would not be pink (I was adamant I couldn’t have any pink), the juices would spread and the flesh continue to colour, while remaining tender. The terrifying parcel sat on the warm barbecue for ten minutes. I mentally braced myself on the rug, and Dave finished preparing the sides. “Nate?” he called from the kitchen, “would you like to come to the table?” Two places had been set. He took warm plates out of the oven and plated up barbecued button mushrooms, mashed potato, baby asparagus, and broccoli, which he had parboiled and tossed lightly in a


The First Steak of the Rest of My Life

cast-iron pan with butter and fried garlic (and perhaps duck fat which he’d rendered earlier, and if so, this was not disclosed). Everything was perfectly arranged. The mash sat up and glowed silkily in the kitchen light, the tender and firm greens and the not-even-wrinkled grilled mushrooms awaited their centrepiece. The kind of meat-and-three-veg that goes with harbour views and a business account. “Shall I cut yours up for you?” The chef asked from the kitchen bench, meaning the meat, knowing that would be easier for me. “Yes please,” I said, and looked away. Dave took his work knife with the engraved Japanese characters near the handle, the blade marbled from the hundred foldings of its metal, and sliced through my steak as easily as if it was the butter I’d so long been denied. Then he slipped the blade under and positioned the steak next to the mash as if it were still whole. He dabbed expertly at the plates with the edge of a clean tea towel, removing a drop of juice, a stray fleck of caramelised garlic, a slight smear where the asparagus had grazed the plate as he positioned it. Dave appraised the arrangements and set down the plates, sitting opposite me. “It’s perfect,” he said, encouragingly, “that’s forty dollars in a restaurant right there. Would you like to try it with mustard?” He began to eat. “Please turn out the light,” I said. “I don’t want to see what I’m doing.” So Dave got a candle and we sat in near darkness. The underwater lights of the swimming pool outside were aquatically calming. “Thank you so much,” I said, dreading what was coming. Even in the half dark I felt like I could still see pink flesh. I took a single slice of steak with my fork, a delicate cross-section, juicy, ready, and removed the crisp fatty edge with my knife. As soon as I put it in my mouth I was back at six o’clock dinner time and I was a little kid, the theme song from M*A*S*H was playing in the background, and my brother and sisters were all still at home. Meat! It tasted right, as if no time had passed, as if I needn’t be hungry anymore or make complicated swipes at nutrition and always fall weakly short. Oh, I could finally chew something that really needed to be chewed! How I had wanted to use my teeth properly over the years without realising it. I had bitten arms. Taken the fleshy parts of hands in my teeth. My own,



The First Steak of the Rest of My Life

other peoples’. And though there was no toughness in the strip of meat, I still actually needed to use my jaws and my molars in a way I hadn’t since before puberty. I was an animal, and my animal motions were making the delicious, troubling taste of animal in my mouth all the stronger. The butter, the fat, and the juices had caught and carried the smoke of the barbecue, the charring hickory, the taste of the first flames on raw flesh. So right and yet how very wrong. “Okay?” asked Dave gently, smiling and nodding questioningly. He looked happy for me. “I’ll keep going,” I said, my eyes wide and anxious in the candlelight. I relaxed for a while and enjoyed a stick of asparagus and a button mushroom, juices welling in its upturned cup. I procrastinated with that delicious mash, keeping it away from the meat. “Try another piece with the mustard,” Dave suggested. So I did. Dave looked surprised. And that’s how it went, piece by piece, until it was finished.


shelley feller

i fatten my fleet/ i pray for meat after Jean Genet & DeAundra Peek

ack, immaculate suite of vast & sensate citizenry Poetry

satellite, secrete indocile simulant in globules lala thotty got ghouly day-glo monstr’d


decrepit, delicious, deodorant our lush & distant risk in liquid orbs contam


pusillanimous animal, dissimulate i am chrono-fucking the input cam, o plentiful fulcrum, unzipped & suckering sacrifice i got heaven along i got heavy alone in vino vanitas tasseled inglorious gore & greasing our beastly wee & brunting on ’em my heart’s in my hand & my hand is pierced



what i am’s endued ample dithyrambic sissitude i make sissssy on ye i spake sissy on ye satyr krater, contam! contam, antsy stamen, i am mmmmashing in perpetuity bedazzled bedeviled benuked denuded extruding soupçons of— spamblockhamhockglamrocksmallsprachmanmach ramrodclamstocksmellsmockhemlockcamcockshell shockhotspotcumsockjockrotfanbotfatfophandjob

i am going thru the wormhole our bloated throat & quantum foam i go all the way around the outside

♫ i/ feel/ love ♫ en l’air terrif—our threshold enfleshed & many-dawned

how not to be seen i am so getting heaven along


as too touch our shred remembered nothing, nonlinear slit & slip the horizon, i display/ displace all formal feelers flensed & eking there

i vibe my own open organ distend all present portent our scrummed industrious blunt bred & stank

33 if you don’t/ i don’t care/ i’ll pull down/ your underwear trick or treat/ smell my feet/ give me something/ good to eat i traverse the squirmhole inducing it, scoping it xenomorphic matrix my hand’s in the bag, and the bag is shut i am the quite-quite exclusive extrusion calibrate/ liquidate i seize the means of ack-ack, informatic begat vectoring fatty fleurs i am shaving, dear crater craver i’s slimy mattering tuck’t & corpulent torquing the field

i prinker sip-simper, swabbed abaft hatch of—filleted & braying in the nectary desist, dissolute, depilatory

i fatten my fleet/i pray for meat

Kell Connor

Blest by Windex If every invitation severs us from a previous engagement. Who’s meeting meaning at the station? Whose meaning? The light rail rides the night train, next to nothing, a window seat. The blear upon the glass surpasses the landscape in beauty. Watch what stays always in the line of sight and do not be distracted by passing scenes. The fields are seen without our staring. So leave them be. See the panes of glass between everything. A passing. A cleansing. I get a little lessening of what I want.


Jon Ransom


Fiction Nonfiction

“Mate?” he shouts. Because the waves are rushing up and down the black pebble shore, herding the angry stones, he can’t hear me. Again, but more loudly, I tell him we should turn around. “Nah, mate, it’ll be worth it,” he assures me. His black jeans are too tight, and there’s no room left over in his pockets. Instead, he has his hands tucked underneath his armpits, hugging himself. Every now and again he risks adjusting the cigarette stuck to his bottom lip. Up close, there’s a clear droplet of snot on the tip of his nose that reminds me of pre-cum. It’s too cold to get fucked. I’m blue with it. This shed is not really a shed but a lifeboat launch. At least it used to be. Now it’s a place to piss and fuck and get fucked up. The shape of it looks like a caravan marooned on the shore, leaking hate that pools in tar-black shadows around the edges. “Come on,” he says, and we duck inside through a tear around back. Inside, he sits down on a slab of concrete built like a church altar. Light busting through cracks overhead strikes his red hair, making him look like a hot match. He tells me that when he was a boy he’d come here with his old man in summer. And now, I think, he comes here with blue lads in winter. I wonder out loud where his old man is now. “Dunno,” and he tells me he’s gone but not dead. “Fucked off with this fit bird from the chip shop.” I don’t tell him my mum used to work in a chip shop. Instead I make to leave, suggesting we do this on a warmer day. He hops off the altar and says we should go share a bag of chips. I fucking hate chips, and with numb fingers start working the buttons of my trousers undone.


A History of Sheds

Elizabeth Metzger

A Birth Interrupted On and Off by the World The unborn depend on the love of non-mothers. Remember to orgasm alone in their dreams. Even in dreams, alone, I watched the flowers fuck. Because the dreamer cannot be seen, I was touched even in dreams by nothing.


shelley feller

Globaude after Jean Genet


irradiant lure


feed with intimate nothing

halving my


i be langue in my glow bod no bod self in the haha process hark! i panky wanton in the landscape scram!

whatever i am

i don’t want it in bed with me

hornty oughtn’t o we-machine this prissy peephole lores raid unafraid & happy circumference all civic stink sprung from my evil smelling hole behold the shame-on-me-crazy yesing-ly yieldeth private fun & automatic everywhere is silver but not everywhere equally everywhere is silver a little loch a lozenge is but not everywhere equally everywhere is is the quite-alone i silver but not everywhere is muscle-up & mouth-around silver but not everywhere everywhere is silver but not everywhere everywhere is silver but not equally equally everywhere is our masked & plush exclosure but not everywhere silver equally everywhere is normal wormhole



the is little scene to be with workfool feel to spree which i fester with my sex

silver but in the sump & in the symptom equally silver but not everywhere everywhere is silver but not everywhere is silver

dumping ontic everywhere is equally satyr lickers blister mutable mutual bodies but

tinny ingot of my inmost invert i wore my was in the whim sissy missile morph! my monstered dirt

te un ivers e

of w ork

what took root

a cu

paradise? is is living-philic in the sunk & in the sinking


our sudden sun & distant dosage


in time did rot

why not pirate

this litmus of longing

shelley feller

If sometimes i seem not here, it’s not dreaminess; it’s fear

i get stabby in my faggy bugaboo jubilee—ack plastic stallion, i guzzle polluted {ack-ack} google stiletto balloon barrage, ascendant — o sacral kite my natal chart inscribes, i dream nothing so flagless as this piracy. spangled dandy, i suture couture de rigueur— our blood, fatty informatics, evolved as law gone awol. our legend lives in the between, believes in teeming we’s beyond ha! i wore fear like a hot pink corset. anonymous pommel rode under him sore’d. ack, dumb bunghole. i saddled up somatic we spree we freely we mutiny, etc. 39

Fiction Nonfiction

+ ack, morbid cordial, get ripped, get ribald trim vim tomorrow’s man scans manorama, ahistoric industrious-numb. scruffing minutest gropings, all the beautifuls buttered in silhouette. hark, o love-lean, mincing in his undergrowth i farce bad — splat in the knick of. this is not a cum joke, zoloft. i blow sanity animals into many mini balloons, congrats


after Kerri Webster & Hart Crane

You Have Nothing to Worry About Melissa Spitz Documentary photo series of indefinite length 2009–ONGOING 40

Daffodil 2016

previous Mattress Burn 2013

Sinkprint 2015

“Here, take these. You’ll feel better.” Xanax from Mom 2013

Mom’s Ashtray 2015

Mark Russell


Men Smoothing Walls



About war, they say, there is nothing new to moderate. It is as common to deploy one’s nephews to the front as it is to settle briefly in Alaska. It is the purchase of a colour television, and by equal turns, the slow degradation of childhood memories, that may diagnose our obsession with uniforms. A man back from the front for the first time in seven years may take a lump hammer to the mirror, or refuse to recount tales of derring-do. Two men back from the front for the first time in seven years may set up a small-town painting and decorating business, or fill their waistcoats with stones.



Men on Men

About war, they say, there is nothing new to dream of. It is as common to shun delights of the flesh as it is to devote oneself to sensuality. It is the interchangeable use of antonymous terms for “conflict,� and by equal turns, the baffling way in which Brazil is confused with Russia, that may be the root cause of the gender pay gap. A man high on amphetamines may be designing a chariot to wear on his head, or endlessly re-writing his essay on the male gaze. Two men high on amphetamines may think they are re-enacting the labours of Heracles, or enjoying themselves with stolen gin in an empty field.


Men Who Worship Athena

About war, they say, there is nothing new for men to mistake for love. It is as common to plant olive trees in a field of remembrance as it is to weave spiders for protection. It is the number of fragments into which a shield may be broken, and by equal turns, the colour of marble you choose for the sarcophagus, that may ignite the heavy woollen frieze in the dining room. A man dragging his enemy by the hair may feel this bloodshed will never end, or be closing in on the shlemiel who stole his trumpet. Two men dragging their enemy by the hair may be planning to introduce a Bill for debate , or peering over the wall of the girl’s playground at The Sisters of Nonsense Secondary School.


Lidija Dimkovska

Како е да се биде дете на родители загинати во војна, да се биде дете на разведени родители, или дете од Африка на џамбо плакат, да се живее во завод за хендикепирани лица, да се има клуч од социјален стан, да се добива помош во брашно, масло, памук и стапчиња за уши, да се има жиро-сметка за трансплантација на коскена срж, да се живее во СОС-село со Голема мајка на девет деца и тетка што доаѓа еднаш неделно да пегла алишта и да игра карти, да се спие во картонска кутија пред парламентот или во метро на метропола што приредува собир на високи државници, да се биде кукла во народна носија наместо сообраќаец на раскрсница, децата да посвојуваат родители, а не обратно, да се пие на екс крвта за да не оксидира, да се биде тироидна жлезда на семејната политика, да ти течат лиги од некои луѓе,


а од некои, пак, да ти стои грутка во грлото, да се чува најмеката бришалка за гостинот од странство, а најтврдиот кревет за самоубиецот што преживеал,


да се биде раска во окото на Бога, да се собере сознанието во лажичка леплив сируп, да ти бидат ставовите испрани чорапи што не си го наоѓаат својот пар, Fiction

да не ти се повеќе точни ни кожата ни земјата, да се обеси за манастирската липа човекот што последен ти го бакна челото,


да се биде актуелна тема за нискобуџетен филм, папокот да се повлече пред јазикот, а јазикот пред живата мера на духот, да се стане постанар на сопственото постоење, да станеш свесен дека животот е игра на непливач со бранови повисоки од него.


Lidija Dimkovska trans. Ljubica Arsovska & Peggy Reid

What Is It Like to be a child of parents killed in war, to be a child of parents just divorced, or an African child on a jumbo poster, to live in an institution for the handicapped, to have a key to a social housing flat, to receive aid in the form of flour, oil, sanitary towels and cotton buds, to have a bone marrow transplant donation bank account in your name, to live in an SOS Village with a Big Mother of nine children and an auntie who comes once a week to iron clothes and play cards, to sleep in a cardboard box in front of the parliament or in the subway of a metropolis hosting a summit meeting, to be a doll in a traditional costume instead of a traffic policeman at the crossroads, what is it like when children adopt parents, and not the other way round, to down blood quickly before it oxidises, to be the thyroid gland of the family politics, to be with people who make you drool, and others who give you a lump in the throat, to keep the softest towel for the visitor from abroad,


and the hardest bed for the suicide who has survived, to be a splinter in God’s eye, to gather knowledge in a teaspoon of sticky syrup,


to have views like washed stockings that cannot find their pairs, to feel that neither your skin nor the homeland fits you any more, to hang on a monastery lime tree Fiction

the man who was the last to kiss you on the brow, to be the topical issue in a low-budget film, to have a belly button that draws in before the tongue,


and the tongue before the live measure of the spirit, to become a tenant of your own existence, to become aware that life is a non-swimmer’s game with waves higher than oneself.


Patrick Vala-Haynes

Ain’t Nothing Here Needs Fixin’ I’m used to finding stuff in the ditch, but I’d never found a body before. Once I found a perfectly good toolbox. I’m pretty near convinced a man could make a good living just picking up what he finds. I’m sure that’d probably be a better deal than farming. I know I’m a little out of my territory when I road hunt, and I even feel a little guilty that I might be taking stuff from people who really need it, but I think every man likes to come across a treasure now and then, or, even if he never comes across one, likes to think he might. If it weren’t for possibility, I would have quit this earth long ago, just rolled over one morning and died, skipped my bacon and eggs and died. A man’s got to have faith in something. I’m not talking Bible faith, even if most of my neighbors don’t believe in any other kind. There’s nothing wrong with the Bible a good preacher can’t fix, nothing right a bad preacher can’t turn. I just think a boy has to grow up with some sense of hope, whether that means knowing he’ll get that ’56 Chevy on his sixteenth birthday or that someday he’ll be able to eat a whole tub of ice cream without fighting his daddy for it. He has to know that sometime out there in the future he’ll be in charge of his life.

I’d known Oliver since he was three years old, the summer morning his mom led him up our dirt road on one of those leashes and tied him to the apple tree out by the garage. She’d seen Annie’s sign and come by to



Poetry Fiction Nonfiction

pick raspberries. I say this knowing what I know now, because she must have floated right by me. By the time I pulled my head out from under the hood of my pickup, she was knocking on the back door, this little waif of a woman, no bigger than a child herself, her head wrapped in white, and wearing muslin skirts that trailed on the ground behind her. There was a lightness to her, so you could imagine a breeze carrying her off or bending her like a blade of grass. She danced back and forth on her bare feet, like maybe the ground was too hot or she was antsy to get to the berry patch. That’s when I noticed the scar below her left eye: a cross. Too perfect to be an accident. I tucked back into the engine compartment. Annie could deal with the raspberries. Hell, some people are so stupid they ask you which ones to pick. I always tell them to pick the ripe ones, and they think I’m rude. I had my head halfway to the oil pan, trying to find the timing mark on the flywheel of my old Ford. The great thing about those old six-bangers is you can hold a tea party under the hood and still have room to work. Sometimes I hum when I work. And I don’t say that so people will think I’m artsy. I can barely hold a tune, but hanging upside down and being surrounded by greasy metal on a hot summer day can be quite relaxing. I suppose I’m at my most vulnerable then. Annie knows. Anyway, I’m humming away when right below me, not a foot from my nose, I see this little cherub face grinning up at me. Scared the hell outta me. I cracked my ear on the fan, jammed my finger on the manifold, and probably would’ve thrown my back out if my left boot hadn’t got hooked on the bumper. Lucky for me. I slid out from under the hood and introduced myself to Oliver. That’s when I noticed the leash. It was tied off to a harness that looped under the little boy’s arms and around his chest. He was right to the end of his rope, his tongue waggling like he was getting ready to lick the oil pan. When I gave him a little tug, then released the line, teased him like a trout, he came crawling out and looked straight at me, not a question in his eyes but a demand, like he wanted to know what I had to offer. Freedom, I thought. Oh, give me a home… “Oliver, don’t you go bothering that man!” his mother yelled from the back door.


Some parents should be shot: who the hell names their kid Oliver? I could see Annie peering over the woman’s shoulder, wondering what the hell I was doing on all fours with my butt sticking up in the air, making smacking sounds with my lips. I can’t answer for my butt, but I’d got this awful old grease taste in my mouth when I accidentally kissed the distributor cap. The first thing I did once Oliver was upright was undo his harness and toss it over a limb of the apple tree. “I got him, ma’am. You go pick your raspberries.” A leash, she had the kid on a damn leash! I set Oliver down on the gravel and gave him a couple wrenches, some pliers, and a screwdriver. I made sure there wasn’t anything he could swallow, at least nothing I’d given him, and went back to work. He looked to be about my son Brian’s age, and I figured he’d be pretty content just banging metal for a while. When I pulled my head up to check on him, he was gone. The first place I looked was under my rig, since he had already demonstrated a hankering for dark, cramped places. Damn if that little boy didn’t have a wrench on the muffler hanger and was about to remove his second bolt. I couldn’t take time to laugh because the muffler was about to fall right on top of him. I grabbed his little ankle and pulled him across the gravel from the rear bumper. He let out a whelp, but I could see he wasn’t hurt, just mad. I told him he might consider whose pickup he was taking apart. Before I could turn away he’d popped the left-rear hubcap off with a screwdriver and was twisting on the lug nuts with a fifteen-inch wrench. I knew he couldn’t get those loose, so I went back to work. How in the hell he got back underneath the pickup and found the wires for the horn I don’t know. He clipped them with some side cutters he’d found in my toolbox and somehow or other found the battery leads. The hoot damn near blasted me through the hood. I cussed a good streak, and he looked pretty damn happy with himself. I sat the little bugger on my knee, which he seemed to like, and gave him a short lecture on crime and punishment, which he seemed to understand, then went back to repair the dismantling of the muffler. I banged on the hubcap – but only after checking the lug nuts. By the time I got to the engine compartment, Oliver was working on the oil plug.


Ain’t Nothing Here Needs Fixin’

I buckled him back into his harness and tied an extra knot in his leash so he couldn’t get within five feet of the truck. I wiped the grease off his teeth with my thumb and gave him an apple to gnaw on. That bought me a grin. Or a smirk. Hell, I don’t know. I let him go before he tore a hole in the lawn, then tracked him around the better part of our three acres while his mom finished picking raspberries. My boy Brian got together with Oliver in kindergarten. I don’t think I’ll ever know what they found to talk about. Brian got two rabbits from the Easter Bunny when he was seven, and Oliver got a pipe wrench and a rattail file. In my world, never the twain shall meet. Even in high school, when Brian was still collecting animals and Oliver was arranging tools on the pegboard in his bedroom, those two never passed each other without pausing for a forum. God, he was an interesting kid, and I admit there were times I was jealous of his father, until I found out he didn’t have one, not in the traditional sense. Oliver would come over for the day and Annie would just point to something that needed fixing, and Oliver would do it. Even if nothing needed fixing, he would find something. He changed the ringer on the phone, replaced bearings on the washing machine, even did a little plumbing last winter. He was such a good kid. Strange as hell, but good. As he grew, so did his tool belt. I don’t want to make him sound like a domestic Paul Bunyan, because there’s nothing heroic about a fifteenyear-old boy with a pair of pliers and a socket wrench, and certainly nothing normal when those tools are flanking a plate of spaghetti – like spaghetti can be fixed any other way than by just getting rid of the noodles. It was Annie who convinced him a fork and a spoon were tools too. There were times when Oliver just took things apart, like the water fountain at the city park. Sheriff Bell didn’t like that one bit, even if he knew a disassembled fountain wasn’t life-threatening to the community. But try convincing some thirsty old codger of that, which the sheriff had to do just to keep the matter out of court. Or the time Oliver dismantled the phone booth outside Big Mike’s Watering Hole and none of the boys from the mill were able to call home with excuses as to why they would be late for dinner. The boy could be a danger to himself. But polite. Oliver never forgot his pleases and thank yous. He always



stepped aside and held the door for Annie, except for that one time I snuck up behind him and grabbed the door before he could. I chuckled at being able to get one over on him and put my hand on his shoulder like any gentleman might do. It was like I stung him. I realized then he held the door for folks like a shield. Yeah, he was being polite but he was also getting something between him and other people. He didn’t stop coming by, didn’t stop opening doors, still smiled and asked me about stuff, but he swung a little wider of me after that. I don’t understand why some kids have to be broken. I understand them being a little bent now and then, that’s part of growing up, but as much as Oliver made me chuckle, I was always afraid of what was going on inside him. I found myself wanting to blame someone. Maybe his father for not being there, I don’t know. Maybe his mother, who was so busy weaving flowers into her hair and getting tattoos of the prophets all over her body there was no way she could find the time to raise him. At first, all the stuff Oliver did seemed more like an affectation, kinda cute, like a dog with three legs or a cat with a crook in its tail. But then you’d be talking to him, almost a normal conversation, and his hands would start twitching at his tool belt, like Billy the Kid on a bad day. You didn’t know whether to duck for cover or point him toward the hot-water heater.

Some mornings, when I don’t have any work scheduled and Annie wants me out of her hair, I drive the back roads – not that there’s many front roads around here. Once the sun skids across the fields I’ll wander towards Blue Heaven Ranch, park along the road somewhere up high in the Coast Range, and pull out my binoculars. I’ve spotted herds of elk, a black bear rooting through a berry thicket, and once a pair of hawks clinging to each other as they fell toward Earth in a death spiral that would put The Nutcracker to shame. Sometimes it’s just the trees moving back and forth in the breeze, big pockets of cottonwoods swaying shoulder to shoulder, so rich in color and scent you think you’re swim-


Ain’t Nothing Here Needs Fixin’

ming in a vat of molasses. You have to come up for air. Some days I won’t even bring out the glasses, but just look off into the distance. I used to pretend I could put my arms around all of it, I could blow breath into it. I have always been soothed by the horizon. I wasn’t traveling more than ten miles an hour down that old dirt track. I don’t drive fast because I’m not really going anywhere and I don’t want to miss nothing. The road was muddy from the morning’s rain. It had been like that all spring, rain every morning, a cool sun through the day, then wind in the afternoon. I stopped once to pour some more coffee after I’d hit a chuckhole and splashed my first cup all over the seat. Actually, there’s that one spot right in the middle where nobody ever sits, so it rarely gets cleaned, and mopping up the coffee was one way to give it a shine. Things seem to work out. The wheat was all shiny green and wet, the kind of color that could make a man want to sing “Oh, Danny Boy.” I wasn’t on the hunt for anything particular. Annie frowns at my road finds, and they do take up space, but I wasn’t looking to add to my collection. I was just enjoying the day. At first, what I saw looked like a bundle of rags, checkered red and blue. There wasn’t any shape to it, not from where I sat in the truck. Then, as I rolled a little closer, I could see. I stopped the pickup and set the brake. I sat there a while, not long, but I sat there, not sure I was going to get out and take a look. I know, I see dead things all the time. That’s just part of living in the country. I’ve put down sick animals, scraped dead pets off the road and given them a burial. This wasn’t the same. When I did get out, I took the crowbar from under the seat with me. It didn’t make any sense. I wasn’t afraid, but I wanted that crowbar in my hands. There was water running in the ditch, and the sun was streaming across the water, so the body was surrounded by this platinum light. The boy was curled up knees to chest, facing the shallow embankment, like he was trying to keep warm. The half of his head that was out of the water sprouted clumps of wild, blond hair. I stood there and tried to breathe like a normal human being, but I probably sounded more like a freight train. I don’t know what I was – honest-to-God scared, or pissed off, or what. The crowbar was hard and cold in my hand and I had to let



it go, I had to just be there in my skin and nothing else. I can’t explain it, but I had to be nothing more than an animal just then, a man without tools or shelter or anything else that connects him to order, or comfort. I knew this boy. My son knew this boy. I knew his tool belt and his skinny shoulders and his crazy hair. What I didn’t know was his stillness. I kept waiting for his back to heave, to swell toward me as he filled his lungs. What I felt worst about was not being surprised. I just felt my heart saying “Amen, amen,” over and over. I wanted to scream, but I wouldn’t have been screaming for the boy. I would have been screaming for me. I bent down to him on one knee and held my hands over his body. There wasn’t any heat. I’ve handled dead flesh, but this wasn’t meat, wasn’t the same. When I touched him, and felt him cold and still, and heard myself say “Amen” out loud, and rolled him over and saw his eyes and his mouth open like he was going to say “Amen,” too, I knew what I was doing was right. I couldn’t leave him in a ditch. Wait for the sheriff to come out. No boy should be found in a ditch. Damn the day. One of Oliver’s screwdrivers was sticking out from below his ribs, his hand curled around it, like he was trying to tighten something, maybe adjust the time. I put my hands into the water and picked the boy up. His limbs were soft and his hands fell away from his body. Where his face had been in the water he was all blue, and there were marks on his skin from lying on the rocks. He was so small and thin in my arms. I held my babies when they were born, and I thought I’d never carry a greater weight, but the sadness of that boy’s lifeless flesh bore on me – that’s a grief I never expected to know and one I never want to know again. Let me die before that happens. I laid him in the bed of my pickup, took off my shirt and cleaned the mud off him as best I could, picked the grass out of his hair. When I fired up the truck and started off down the road, going a little slower than usual, I wasn’t sure where I was headed at first. I stayed on the back roads until I ended up at the sheriff’s place. I just hoped his daughter had gone to school that morning. I shut down the engine and waited. Barry kept waving me in from the kitchen table. After about five minutes or so he came out in his bathrobe. “Jesus H., Cully,” he said as stepped off the porch. “Not only do I have


Ain’t Nothing Here Needs Fixin’

to put up with you coming over at all hours uninvited, but now you expect curb service? Get your ass out of there and come on in,” he laughed. “I suppose you’ll be wanting breakfast, too.” I gestured toward the bed of the pickup with my thumb. “What? You find some more roadkill?” he joked. When Barry saw Oliver’s body, it was like someone punched him in the gut. His face dropped all color and he sat hard on the ground, then heaved his coffee cup at the porch. Maybe it was then I started crying, or maybe I’d been crying all the way over to the sheriff’s house. I got out and helped him up, brushed off his robe, and together we moved towards the pickup. We bellied up to the sideboards and hung our arms over. From a distance, we could have been a couple farmers discussing the price of wheat or the weather, or looking at a big fish. “What?” he finally said. “You think he tripped and fell on that thing? That must be what happened. He’s awfully wet.” Barry wasn’t any more surprised than me. He clenched his teeth and stared at the boy’s face. “I found him in the ditch, over near the Roberts place.” “Good God, Cully, did you have to spring him on me like that?” Barry looked at me half scared and half unknowing, and then did something he’d never done before and might never do again. He put his arm across my shoulder. “You think he fell on that thing?” He tried to hide the hope in his voice, but he’s always been a lousy actor. He couldn’t deliver a budget to the Town Council without sounding like Richard Nixon. “I think he made a choice.” “I’m just trying to be politic, Cully. There’s no reason folks hurting any more than they’re already going to hurt.” I thought about that. I thought about my own kids and Annie, and the sheriff must have, too. He turned away. “Jesus Christ,” he muttered. “Let’s take him into town. Then we can go find his mother.” He climbed in the pickup and swung his robe over his bare legs.



Two weeks ago I was coming home from finishing up a butcher job that Myra Fletcher had started on one of her pigs, the one that broke the door down every time she turned on the TV in the afternoon. She rang me up, screaming that she’d missed somebody kissing somebody or other for the last damn time and wanted ham for dinner in the worst way. I reminded her a man usually needs more than three hours notice to properly cure the meat – I don’t like to be taken for granted – but I would come right up. Before I did, I stopped at the market and picked up one of those hams in the red can from West Virginia, or someplace that thinks it knows all there is to know about pork. I figured, if Myra got testy because she missed her soap opera, that canned ham would calm her down. Of course, I’d been right. Coming back down the hill, passing along that same track of dirt road, I found Oliver kicking rocks and whistling, something I didn’t even know he could do. “Hey, Oliver! What are you doing?” “Whistling. Kicking rocks.” Any other kid, you’d think he was making fun, but he was just answering my question. I guess if I was going to be humbled by a boy pointing out the obvious to me, I’d rather it wasn’t my own. Oliver looked at me like I was supposed to ask him something else, and I searched my head for anything I might want to know about, but drew a blank. I’ve always hated that kind of silence between people, that discomfort that comes because you can’t think of anything to say, even though you know this person and should be able to have a simple, human conversation with them without any sort of mental strain. My tongue was drowning in idiot-honey. Oliver waited. Finally, I asked him if he wanted to go to the beach. I didn’t have anything better to do, and I figured if we were going to pass the afternoon in silence, we might as well do it on the way to somewhere. The ocean’s only fifty miles from my place, but the way courses along the old stagecoach route on rock and dirt roads, so the trip takes about an hour and a half. Oliver hopped in and started whistling. It was such a fine day we both rolled down our windows, and with the rocks hammering the floorboards and the wind banging through the cab there wasn’t much need for talk.


Ain’t Nothing Here Needs Fixin’

“I’ve never been to the ocean,” Oliver screamed. “No, that can’t be true,” I shouted back. He nodded his head so hard I thought he might hurt himself. God damn, how can a boy never have been to the ocean? There wasn’t anything to say without making him feel like he’d missed out on things. So I shut the hell up. Silence between men can be unsettling, but right then I felt pretty good about what I was doing, showing a boy something he’d never seen before. We could have been going to get gas or cereal at the market, but we were going to the ocean. Just before you roll into Salt Creek and over the little twist of water that leads through the sand to the Pacific Ocean, you pass through some flatlands that are so rich and sweet-smelling you wonder if maybe you aren’t lying in a cloud of cotton candy. The air is sticky and full of scrub-pine resin and the exhale of shellfish and rotten wood. Even on a sunny day everything is so damn wet with wetness. Tree bark shines. The rusty carcass of an old truck damn near glows. Oliver stuck his head out the window, and his shock of blond hair billowed up like a pitch fire. His nostrils flared as the wind buffeted his face, and for a second I got a little scared, fearing he might be ripe for the rapture. You never know about these religious folk. At one point I had to grab onto the back of his pants, worried he might be sucked right out of the cab. He didn’t fight me and finally settled back into his seat, but still leaning on his arm and hawking big breaths of the sweet air. We crossed the little bridge over Salt Creek, the planks thumping like mis-tuned drums, and turned into the dirt parking lot behind the market. I went in to get us a couple bottles of cream soda. When I came out, Oliver had already passed the trail along the creek and was on the open beach. He bent down and sifted a handful of sand through his fingers just like a little kid will do. I still sift sand too, but usually I’m sitting down and just need something to do with my hands. Oliver was bent over like a man discovering fire, protecting it from the wind in the curl of his body, his hands working hard to grasp not just the stuff, but the idea. He was squeezing sand out of both hands when I caught up to him, watching the fine wisps of it fill his cuffs.



“Take off your shoes,” I suggested as I set the bottles down and unlaced my boots. “Why?” “Baptism,” I teased. It was a cheap joke on a boy raised by a mother like his, and I wished I hadn’t said it. Oliver laughed, then took off his boots. “Don’t forget your socks.” I’ve never seen anything so damn innocent and endearing in all my life as when his bare feet touched the sand. He could have been a baby playing his first game of peekaboo, he was so completely surprised by the sensation. He dug his toes in, pirouetted, ran, jumped, and skidded on his heels. His tool belt clattered on his hips, untouched. He turned and looked at me, like he was asking if what he was doing was okay. I toasted him with my cream soda and he took off running toward the water. I had me a chuckle till the soda burned in my nose, then thought: Christ, he’s never seen the ocean! I’m not real fast on my feet, but I burned distance. There was no telling what that kid might do. Maybe I’m a little overprotective of my own, but I don’t think there’s nothing wrong with preserving innocence. My boy’s still got his innocence intact, and I guess that’s what makes him so saintly. He’s somehow remained untainted by all the evil in the world, and that’s how I thought about Oliver just then, on the beach. That was my mistake. My innocence. I’m no innocent. Oliver beat me to the water by a hundred feet. I was about to yell at him, yell his name, when he stopped just short of the ribbon of white foam at the ocean’s edge. His shoulders were all hunched up around his ears, his fingers twitching, when he stepped into the shallow rush of water and let it curl around his feet. A shrill cry broke from his lips. He kicked one leg free and pawed at the sky. The wave retreated. Oliver’s foot sunk into the sand, his head tilting lower and lower in surprise as his toes, then his ankle disappeared. He twisted, his tools clattering on his hips, lost his balance for a moment, then caught himself, pulling his foot free with a schlooping sound that set him to laughing. As I sat on the dry sand and my ears filled with the thundering of the surf and the wind and the trill of Oliver’s voice, and I dug my own bare


Ain’t Nothing Here Needs Fixin’

feet into the sand, as I saw how that boy’s shoulders hitched and fell, how for a moment his hands hung uselessly at his sides, not twitching for the grip of a tool but soft and waiting, and I imagined his palms damp with seaweed and saltwater, I was proud of myself for having shown him the ocean. I was real proud. I finished my cream soda. I was thinking about taking a walk down the beach when Oliver turned back to me. He rinsed the sand from his feet and wiped his hands dry on his shirt. He opened his mouth, forming words, but the sound got broken up by the wind and the surf. I cupped my ear, thinking he might take the hint and talk a little louder. His face didn’t change. He walked toward me. His brow was settled, his eyes fixed. “I want to go home now,” he said. “Ain’t nothing here needs fixin’.” “So?” I smiled at him. His toes were nearly touching mine. “Why did you bring me here?” he asked. I didn’t have an answer. I didn’t think he needed one.


Sarah Mangold

Birds I Recall Seeking what to do with sons. Born bird-lovers. For one who enters in person a score arrive by mail. We have become in truth species. I declare synonym. Formally before the Union and informally everywhere. Bird-Love proofreading kindred subjects. Conspicuous decoys. Only to see to become convinced. Facts forced to support belief. A line of flamingos and rosy sunset. Their extreme wariness. The correctness of your observations. Impress with importance of sentiment.


Neither Had a Surplus of Elegant Leisure But when she moved in other circles she would choose to control certain tendencies. What are we to call ourselves? A peculiar sort of Poetry

animal only capable of seeing a certain set of things. Drops of black sealing wax to represent eyes she had removed. We would recommend you not to be deterred. Bring any object from the


circumstances. Preserve every natural curiosity you may meet. There was already so much to say. Butterflies must be put into your pocketbook. Beetles may be Drowned altogether. Soaked in water,


cleaned by ants.


Pool Day, 2015

previous Golden Hour, Late December 2015

Wall 2015

John Greiner

For a Quarter for a quarter you don’t feel a bit two bits


of this movie someone said it said something which I didn’t catch


somewhere there’s a radio set to static


send in cassandra


Maija Mäkinen

Yellowstone 1.

As soon as I turned off the engine in the pitch black, I heard the toneless barking of a dog, twigs snapping as the animal rushed through the undergrowth. I waited until the barking receded before I got out and stepped onto the soft grass. There was a breeze on my face, damp and smelling of cold and void. From memory I walked to where the footpath to the house began, the forest now silent. The dog might belong to a hare hunter; it was almost the season. I held out my hands toward the thicket of alder we had decided not to cut down that summer, to bar the occasional boater from witnessing our sunbathing and our nude meanderings from sauna to sea. My sandal landed on the rise of rock where the trail started, orienting me; I knew it as well as my own body: as a child I would run the fifteen or so yards with my eyes closed, bursting fast through the thicket to avoid ticks and mosquitoes. Now, the sharp edges of alder leaves scratched my bare arms and cheeks. Before the airport, I had dressed for the heatwave I was anticipating in Brooklyn, though here in the south of Finland the August day had been cool. Up ahead I felt more than saw the dark hulk of the cottage and walked into the black enclosure of the covered porch. I paused to listen. No bird calls, no one hammering end-of-season cottage repairs, no children squealing, no motor boats running, only the distant hum of the sea filling the air with a low-grade mutter, less a sound than a sensation, a presence. The house key was where we always put it, inside the tool closet, under an overturned plastic ice-cream container hidden behind the



Poetry Fiction Nonfiction

bucket for picking blueberries. Chilly air from under the house rose up through the slits in the flooring, sparking my childhood fear of the murky crevasses upon which the cottage had been built. Fumbling at the door I dropped the ringless key. My heart scraped a ragged claw across my chest. I knelt down, patting the planks, mindful of the quarter-inch slits between them. As a child I had been sent to crawl underneath the cottage to retrieve fallen items, the space too shallow for an adult. The thought of having to get down on my stomach in the dark to hunt for the tiny object amid dirt, insects, and possibly snakes nearly immobilized me. Then I felt the cold edge of the key against my right pinkie and levitated my hand above it, grasping it, careful as a surgeon. Decades of familiarity guided the key to the lock in the heavy wooden door. The top hinge shrieked into the silence. Inside, the silence had a different quality. I tried to turn on the light, but the room remained dark. I had left only that morning, but now the whole cottage had the feel of a place that had remained unvisited for centuries, like one of the period rooms we had strolled through at the Brooklyn Museum. Boring, you had said and walked on. Was Brooklyn in the dark too? Surely the whole world couldn’t be affected. Maybe it was only a Scandinavian phenomenon, an Icelandic volcano, not the dreaded and mythical one in Yellowstone. Probably, you were watching the local news in New York right now, listening to a nasa spokesperson explaining what had taken place on this side of the Atlantic, and how the situation might be resolved. I imagined your worry. I admit – I wanted you to worry. I had been on my way to you, to convince you that it wasn’t too late for us, unlike you had said just before you flew back home two days earlier. I wanted to tell you that we could still have children – yes, I was too old to get pregnant, but you weren’t. I had driven to the airport early to return the rental car, impatient to get on with it all, when the darkness rolled in and the meticulous descent into chaos commenced. People began to drive back to their homes and loved ones like maniac robots. I looked at the advancing wall of black, incredulous that even catastrophes were stacked against me.


In the kitchen doorway the old flashlight hung from its hook. It was solid and heavy with big old-fashioned batteries, and had a yellow beam that looked like a damaged retina if you shone it directly onto a smooth surface. When the beam flashed off the cupboard’s glass door, it showed my own, ghoulish face, and I hastened to open the door, erase the image. I checked for provisions. Before I left I had emptied the cabinets of anything that would spoil or go stale in the sea air. The remainder was a mix of new and ancient spice jars, flour, sugar, vegetable oil, vinegar, jasmine tea, and packets of instant soup. I had left the small refrigerator next to the cupboard running for my brother who would come for berry- and mushroom-picking weekends in the fall. Inside, the flashlight shone upon tonic water, ketchup, mustard, raspberry jam my aunt had made the year before, lingonberry jam, plus an unopened package of feta. The shoebox-sized freezer compartment was wet from melting ice and housed a half-drunk bottle of gin. In the living room, the beam swept over the big round table and its eight chairs, where that summer we had sat with my family, looking out through the panoramic window that now faced the dimensionlessness outside. I turned off the flashlight. I could see a muted glow, a slight difference in the granulation of dark, indicating a wider space where normally I would see the black line of the horizon, the whiteheads tossing in the gap between the bay and the wide-open sea. Straining my eyes to our beach, I discerned a denser darkness in the shape of a triangle – the rowboat, face down on the rocks where it had lain all that summer, a fist-sized hole in the hull from when I took you rowing and kept watching you instead of the rocks submerged in the shallow water behind me.


We had always said to one another, staying up long, limpid summer nights, smoking cigarettes, and drinking warm beer, that if the world ended or a great catastrophe hit, we would come here to die. You and me and my brother, we had said it quietly, earnestly, letting long pauses expand between our words. The last shore, we said, savoring it, and gazed seaward over the stumps of alder that we had not spared.



Every summer we cut them down. Every year they grew back to try and block our sunset view. They would have taken over our world if we hadn’t stopped them with the weed whacker. At the airport, making a U-turn on the access road and heading in the only direction where I could still see some light, back in the direction of the cottage, I had believed it was a temporary calamity, even though my cell phone wasn’t working. Then the fires began. I don’t know what started them – electrical shorts, some system-wide attack. I drove, calculating how far my dwindling gas would take me, and watched the flames crawl low through grass and moss, restrained because it had been a rainy summer. It was beautiful, the crackling fire spreading slowly across the black landscape and golding everything in its path. I watched it lap at and devour fences and sheds and mailboxes, and almost stopped to take a picture on my phone. Maybe I could show you the photo someday, of this amazing thing I had experienced. But I could taste the smoke through the closed windows, and behind me in the rearview mirror the sky glowed red, so I had driven on in the only direction left. The last sign I had seen of another human being was when I turned onto the dirt road after the village. There had been a light in a window of the farmhouse where we bought strawberries in the summer, where the cows came out to greet our car and peer at us with their huge frank eyes and plaster their meaty tongues against the dusty windows until whoever sold us strawberries shooed them back into their pasture. I had thought about stopping when I saw the solitary light in the darkness, but I didn’t know him like that, and instead I turned my headlights off. After that, I didn’t see anyone or anything, only the black, motionless forest, the rows of pine trunks stretching out to heaven like thin shadows as my Hertz hybrid heaved over the road’s ruts and humps. Without the benefit of headlights it had felt like Space Mountain at Disney World: I had to give in and go with the motion of the road, letting its anatomy tell me where to go. It had taken a long time to clear the four miles to the cottage, and by then I had begun to worry that life as we’d known it was gone.



In the first dark days, the dog ran in a long, ranging loop for hours on end, from the ragged line of the seashore across the now-silent summer-cottage plots, through the still forest, round and round, acre after acre. Now I hear it less frequently. It never comes close enough for me to see it, but sometimes it stops running and I know it is sitting a short distance away, staring at me, smelling me. Then it tears back into the woods again. I don’t know how I have survived these endless days. I don’t know how many there have been. Judging from the hot wave gripping my abdomen I am midway through my menstrual cycle again. My periods had already been waning, but I wonder if the absence of humans and pheromones will end them for good. Surrounded by this black world, I would procreate with anything. What would it matter if it was a rabbit or a crazed dog, as long as life went on? I think about you, about how you left me right at the moment of my loss of fertility. At first I believed it was a cruel coincidence, but now I realize it was the very thing, the reason why you wanted to go. You smelled in me the end of hope. I can’t see it, but I know the gap is out there, and beyond it the waves of the Gulf of Bothnia, then Stockholm, Copenhagen, New York, other shores where the sky might still be blue. Sometimes I wake to a hum and think the fires have found me, but it’s always dark, nothing has changed. I dream of rain. It’s only a matter of time before the fire catches up with me, I run out of things to eat, or some other misfortune befalls me. At least I have the well. Without it I would probably no longer be alive. I found my father’s stash of Russian cigarettes, from back when he still smoked, and I smoke them outside, even though there is no one to complain about smoking indoors. I sit on the wooden step beneath the birch tree’s drooping branches, the leaves turning softer and flabbier by the hour. I pull them off one by one and rub them between my fingers, breathing in the pungent scent of life and the memory of summer saunas. I haven’t heated the sauna; I can’t sit in the warm, hissing cocoon, naked and unprotected and alone. When I light the match, the flame flutters over the birch leaves, some still flecked with tiny white dots of toothpaste, from tooth-brushing off the porch step all summer. A wild



fear snaps at my lower abdomen as I smoke. I try to make myself calm down, to let the darkness in and be part of it, and crush the cigarette against a flat rock, carefully, reaching into the rainwater barrel to dribble water over the dregs of tobacco. I wait. In the kitchen I keep the fire going. The irony does not escape me: as the world behind her burns to ash, the woman lights a fire. But I am cold, and the flames have not reached me yet. I’m hungry. I pick blueberries, bog bilberries, black crowberries, eating them, making jam of the rest. They are already partially dried and rotted, or withered from the lack of sunlight. The muted sound they make when I drop them in the ice-cream bucket is hollow, inappropriate, ghostly. I pick lingonberries too, though they weren’t ripe yet when the sun disappeared and are bone white on their belly side. I stay close to the cottage. Behind me in the window, the faint warm glow of the stove latch. I turn away. The warmth is a cruel lie.


A tiny speck of light crosses beyond the gap, and there is the thin roar of a faraway motorboat. It doesn’t approach, probably fearing the rocky shoals. Only the thought of being lost alone in the wide-open sea seems more frightening than staying put. I don’t know what to think of other people, I’m afraid to find them. What can you expect of people in this kind of situation? I hear the dog, it’s coming closer. Eventually it will lose its fear and approach me. I go down to the shore finally, looking toward the bay. I haven’t been all the way to the water’s edge; I couldn’t bear to face the tern-less, gullless, spoonbill-less shore. I’ve heard a few little rustles, but no birdcalls, and I can’t be sure it’s birds making those sounds, not other animals. Maybe they flew away immediately, trying to outpace the dark. Maybe they knew before anyone else did. What would the old folk have said of the smoke-tinged wind chopping at the black waves, would they have known its name? Did this same kind of thing happen in other times, did people speak of it through




generations until the knowledge was lost, or is this an entirely new thing, a one-time dying? Following the contours of rock I find the boat. I glance over my shoulder at the house looming against the dark sky. Waves lap at the rocks a short distance away as I feel for the hole in the boat’s hull. Maybe I could repair it. Go before others find me. Every now and then I have checked to make sure the incongruous lump of the car is still there. It has a digital display with a clock and thermometer, and a Neverlost. Seeing the readings would require starting the engine, and the mere thought pitches me into a panic. The roar of the engine might tear apart whatever fragile remnant of reality remains. I go back to the porch, light a match. I smell smoke in the air but don’t know if it’s my smoke or that of the rim of fire around me. I don’t see it yet, but it must have already reached the village. I listen for the dog, which I still have not seen, listen for the lunatic barking and the thudding of frantic paws on dry earth, and catch a sensation of something rushing across the yard, so close I can smell its mad fear. In the momentary light from the match, a few meters away on a rock, a pair of eyes glints. It’s not the dog though, the rock is along the hare’s daily route, the hare we watched grow all summer from a tiny leveret into a strong, lanky adult. The hare is frozen in place and looks past me at something it probably can see as clearly as it sees me. Slowly, knowing I am no threat, it hops away. I am not yet ready to eat you. The wind is rising. I don’t know what it means. I pick berries, soon they will run out. I fall asleep against the birch and dream of the sun. It shines from a strange angle. I’m at the bottom of a pond looking up at the sun shimmering through tawny water, out in a world that I can see but am not in. It is terrifying and beautiful.


Megan LeAnne

INSTINCT We were dogs, really us two. It’s all silly I’m sure of it.

Your side

and lazymulch smelled so


Onion Grass and Zoysia patches

balding, still. Oh, our mouths so



my side a simple lawn


of the fence with the morning glories

tonguesweat and the leather shucking of flesh,

it’s all silly

gripped on our necks –

desire and such


these pink slips

we couldn’t

belong to each other and sometimes, so


we wept. I swear the salt was thick I swear I tasted it! There were seven suns

there were seven moons

I sang in your direction

you bellowed in my name.

The eighth sun baked us brittle,




it was a drought or a Tuesday

I needed you

as always, and the hand that feeds also

does not.

It’s all silly

desire and such

how tethered on the same fencestrip we want

and want and want enough. Really, the choke was less magic than it was a cooling blacktop at sunset

heatrelease. Our canine bones so there, in the yard

near. They found us

two inches apart

puppy paws and sward stains only wanting to play. So silly the things we choose to die for.

Us two desire and such.


Novisi Dzitrie

Electric Volts in Communal Geometry




What you do with your naked body we dream of representing landscapes in electric volts. They say you formed a rhombus in 3D the other day at the exhibition – a tilted square of you on all fours, your bottom well raised to the abstraction of what this community seeks in elaborate semiotic studies. The hidden meanings to the expressions of our political elite and the priests announcing themselves as representatives of the gods. To maintain order, they take your number and knock on your door for private sessions. This turns on particular geometric shapes – no cameras allowed. And that’s not all. They say the public stood spellbound in awe of your formations. I missed. I should have been there. I'd have taken cues for what particular potential differences trigger the current of functions we put forward for decoding the world. Take the case of pi. The truth is, I'd have taken an indisputable position behind you to have a good view of the circle building up electricity between us and proceed to relate the circumference and the diameter. This is the truth. Come to think of it, myth is the shoulder upon which we lay the burden of naked truth.


Michael Lee Rattigan

Place A name’s full payment in seven-fold flame fruit exploding within that looks out of our eyes grabbing the horns of a miracle acknowledged by all one never fails to mould a cast-off glob to thresh out the seed from seven-year-old heart-scars banish sorrow as a function of the larynx the clock stops just in time giving a new heart on equal terms rainproof to protest down the untraveled road a soon-returning word rolling back into eternity a touch to the throat right under the nose repeating praise from room to room


as in slow-motion ascent flowing from the lips it lets go of proof simply to be




the tongue moving freely in another mouth never promises a tomorrow that doesn’t speak now.


Ahmad Almallah

Citizenship Interview an order is an order yes I get it— I do not understand: he tells me to raise the voice mine to answer loudly clearly: yes I get it I do—no longer understand an order— is


yes— an order: so I will leave my




ports there for your pair of exam-


ining eyes there— on the edge of this pressed wood while you do



whatever you are now doing— and while you are at it, I’ll cross my legs in front of your officer face, to show you the sheen of my ceremonial black shoes.


Citizenship Interview

Vanessa Bates Ramirez


Fiction Nonfiction

I don’t notice the tick marks until there are five or six of them, lined up like a caterpillar crawling along the wall, right under Camila’s postcard of La Virgen de Guadalupe. “What’re you drawing?” I’m propped up on one elbow, peering at the pencil dashes like maybe they’re a secret code. We don’t have much in the name of decorations up, and the yellowish paint is all lumpy and cracked, but sometimes we write each other notes or draw pictures on the wall. “I’m counting,” she says, crawling into bed next to me in faded purple panties and one of my old see-through undershirts. “Don’t touch it, okay?” She’s testing me, waiting for me to ask what she’s counting – but I know better. Camila doesn’t like to be pushed. It can take her a while to come out with it, but in the end she always does. “Ready for A/C express?” I ask instead. We’re having August weather in June, the box fan by the window pushing around air that feels like it came straight out of a foundry. I grab the top of the sheet and lift and shake it so it billows up above us and sends a breeze down onto our bodies. Camila giggles, curling up on her side with her forehead touching my shoulder. I’ve gotten good at being patient, and at letting stuff slide. Like that postcard of La Virgen. I don’t get why it’s on our wall because she’s not religious, doesn’t believe in God or Cristo or any of that shit, and she’s not afraid to say it. I like that about her. She’s real, not like the girls who go to mass on Sundays and make the sign of the cross even though they just stumbled out of the bed of some cabrón whose name they don’t remember.



Bates Ramirez

My favorite drawing on the wall is one she started, just above the nightstand: two stick figures – one with long hair – standing on the train platform at Cermak. I’d drawn astronaut suits onto the stick figures and bubbles around their heads and turned the platform into a spaceship. Then she’d added a big circle with wavy lines coming off it. When I told her it didn’t make sense to be flying into the sun, she said it was pretend and didn’t have to make sense. But I don’t see why the idea of us flying off somewhere together is so pretend. The spaceship part, maybe. Now the drawings are all fading because of moisture from the shower.

I get up at 4:45 and grope my way into the bathroom. On the other side of where our drawings are, the wall’s even more messed up. It looks like one of those maps teachers use to show kids geography, where the mountains are rough little bumps and the rivers are smooth, deep grooves. The paint has fallen off in some places, making the bathroom look like it has a disease. The problem is that there’s a water leak coming from the apartment above us. We’re 203, and 303’s been vacant for a while. I called the landlord and left a message explaining that my bathroom looked like a sick animal and was shedding like one too. He’s in California on vacation till August and hasn’t called back yet. The wall feels dry, but there’s a bump that wasn’t there yesterday, right above the plastic hooks where we hang our towels. Camila slides past me and gets in the shower, and the mirror fogs up within two minutes. She can’t take cool showers, even in summer. When we shower together we have to compromise on the temperature, but it’s always still a little too hot for me and a little too cold for her. She arches her back and squeezes the water from her hair before wrapping a towel around her shoulders. It still makes my dick move a little every time I see her naked – narrow waist, fleshy thighs, round ass. She says she looks like a papaya, but I wouldn’t change a thing. “Look at this.” I rest my fingertips on the bump. “Maybe we should find a new apartment when this lease is up.” It’s not just because of the bathroom wall: only one of the stove’s four burners works, our bedroom



is so small there’s not even room for a dresser, and in winter the cold seeps right in through the single-pane windows. She frowns at the spot, smirks. “I doubt we could find another place with a private roof deck.” This is what we call the patch of space outside our kitchen window, where there’s just enough room for the two of us to hunch under the eaves and drink our coffee on Sunday mornings. “We could find a place with an actual deck,” I say. She shrugs.

We walk to the train together. From the platform I see the sun rising over the skyline, a yellow-orange glow making the buildings look like they’re catching fire, like maybe the whole city’s just a pile of metal about to melt right into the lake. Camila’s train comes first, and we kiss goodbye as it screeches up. “Have a good day,” she says, reaching around to squeeze my ass. She goes north, to downtown, and I go south. She’s a janitor at 24/7 Fitness, wiping down the treadmills and stairmasters and sterilizing the women’s locker room. She makes fun of the skinny gringas who spend 60 dollars an hour to have some pervert watch them do leg lifts. But sometimes I wonder if she secretly envies them, if she’d rather be one of them than be herself. My job’s at the Perdue chicken factory. I’ve been working in live hang for five months now. The chickens come in on a conveyor belt, and I have to grab them and lift them up and put their feet in metal shackles. From there they get carried off to the kill room. It’s about a hundred chicken-shit-stinking degrees in there and I wear long sleeves, but still my arms end up looking like a pit bull’s face most days. They can’t sedate the chickens too much because it would affect the meat, and I swear the fuckers know they’re about to die. They squawk around and fight me every chance they get, balls of feathers and beaks and claws with heartbeats. Before live hang I was in gutting, and deboning before that. Most guys think live hang’s the worst place to be, but what I like about it is there’s no blood. No death, no destruction. Just prep. I’m down to about four seconds per bird, or fifteen birds per minute. That’s pretty good.


Bates Ramirez

The train slides past warehouses and run-down bungalows and overgrown lots behind chain-link fences. Above the windows there are big colorful ads. One is for associate’s degree programs at the city college. make the decision to change your life, it says, and a black kid smiles out from under a bright blue graduation cap, his teeth white as the moon. Next to the ad for college is a personal injury lawyer’s shiny face. stop suffering in silence, he says. i can get you the comPensation you deserve. He has on a suit and tie, and his neck fat bubbles over his collar like pizza dough. One day I told Camila maybe we could both go to college, study business or science or whatever we wanted. “You can,” she’d replied. “I like my life the way it is.”

I have a good week at work, bumping my average up to sixteen birds per minute and only getting a couple small scratches on my neck and ear. On Friday I stop and buy carnitas for dinner to celebrate. The chunks of meat come wrapped in greasy, translucent paper, with corn tortillas and knotted baggies of red and green salsa on the side. At home I dig into the meat, stuffing a tortilla full of it and dumping both sauces on before taking a huge bite. Camila pushes food around on her plate. “What’s wrong?” I ask her through a mouthful. “You love carnitas.” She swallows one bite then puts her fork down. I tell her about my new record and she smiles. “Spritzer?” I try, offering her the bottle of orange soda. We started this after she told me that at work she has to unroll all the yoga mats and spray them so they won’t smell like feet. “With a bottle of lavender spritzer,” she’d said, rolling her eyes. “Spritzer,” I’d repeated, trying the word out, liking how saying it felt kind of like spitting. Then we’d looked at each other and, for no reason at all, started to shriek with laughter, and I laughed so hard soda bubbled up and out my nose, and that made us laugh even more. One or the other of us will say it sometimes, handing over a bottle of shampoo in the shower or a beer from the fridge – spritzer – and it busts



us up every time. The corners of her mouth twitch, but then she grabs the soda and takes a swig straight from the bottle, pursing her lips after like it’s sour. “More meat?” I nod toward the half-empty fold of paper, and she wrinkles her nose, so I dump the rest onto my plate. “Your loss is my gain.” It was a little over a year ago that I asked her to marry me. I didn’t get a ring or kneel down and make some big production, just asked her one night when we were lying in bed, our legs all wound up in each other. I thought it seemed like a good time. “Hah,” she said. “You could get deported,” I pointed out. Times like these it’s nice being Puerto Rican. Mexican with an expired visa, not so much. “You want me to marry you for papers?” she asked. “No.” I wanted her to marry me because she didn’t ever want to be with anyone else. “If I get deported you could visit me in Mexico,” she said. I said nothing and hoped it wouldn’t happen. With all the undocumented folks walking around Chicago, it’s unlikely she’ll be the one to get shipped off. She says nothing’s permanent anyways, especially the things you think will be.

I think maybe she keeps that postcard on the wall because her mami sent it. One August day when she was 18, Camila got all excited because a paisana at work told her she could apply for a green card since she’d been in the U.S. for two years. She walked home singing “La Isla Bonita,” humming the parts in English. When she threw open the door of the ground-level apartment on 21st where she and her mami lived, half the shoe rack and closet were empty, and there was a note on the table: “You’ll have better opportunities here. But I need to go back to Guerrero. Be my strong girl.” So strong she didn’t even need money to live, I guess, because when she checked the hominy can above the fridge where they kept a stash, there were three pennies left and that was it.


Bates Ramirez

One minute she’s making a microphone with her fist and pretending to be Madonna, the next she’s an abandoned kid in a country that’s not even her own with three cents to her name. At that time, she was cleaning houses half the day and taking English classes at the community center the other half. She was smart. Instead of wasting all her money on rent or moving into some shelter full of weepy good-for-nothings, she rented out her mother’s room and her own, sleeping on the living room couch. She only rented to women because she didn’t want some horny creep trying something with her. It worked out fine till one of the women tried something. Then she showed up at my door lugging a tattered suitcase that held all her stuff. That was five years ago, when I was twenty-three and we’d been dating just six months. I was glad to have her.

The postcard came almost a year after her mami left. She held it up inches from my face. “Look what she sent.” I took it, cautiously turning it over, expecting some corny message about how the old loca was sorry and still loved Camila more than words could say, blah blah blah. But other than the address, the back of the card was blank. It hangs from a green thumbtack above the growing line of tick marks, like La Virgen is watching over them. It’s faded, and the edges have curled inward.

On Fourth of July there’s a block party. Everyone in this neighborhood is from Puerto Rico and Mexico and we don’t care much about American independence, but we like drinking in the street and setting off fireworks. Camila unfolds a card table in front of our building, lining up cans of silly string, plastic containers of bubbles, glow-in-the-dark bouncy balls, sour candy, and orange earplugs on blue strings. She buys these things for cheap in big packages at a discount store, then re-sells them for three times what they cost her. She’s good at it – whenever more



than five minutes go by without someone buying something, she shakes up a can of silly string and sprays me with it, or grabs one of the plastic swords that light up and waves it around like a ninja. The kids look over and see how fun these things are, then they beg their parents to buy them something. There are fireworks going off right there in the street, so most of the parents buy a pair of earplugs too. She makes 218 dollars that night. We walk around the neighborhood, kicking at the burnt husks of fireworks on the street, the air still thick with smells of smoke and the oil from pans of tamales. “Where should we go to drink?” I reach for her hand. Every year we take part of the money she makes and go to a bar. “Let’s not. I want to save the money this year.” I can tell by her tone she’s not going to change her mind, but I try anyway. “We always go out on Fourth of July. Five years in a row. Come on, I really want to.” The truth is that I’m tired and wouldn’t mind crashing early. But I suddenly feel like if we don’t go out, we’ll lose more than a night of drinking. “I said I don’t feel like it.” She lets go of my hand to push the walk signal at an intersection. I reach out again as we cross, and our fingertips brush, but she keeps walking a little ahead of me. I try to remember if I did something wrong, something that might have made her mad. Slowing down, I watch her get farther away, wondering how long it will take for her to glance back.

That night I’m woken by a crash that sounds like someone’s breaking into the apartment. I leap up, my heart pounding, and Camila’s sitting halfway up in bed, hands clutched over her stomach. “It didn’t come from outside,” she says. I turn the lamp on, and there’s white dust floating by the bathroom door. “Shit.” The bathroom ceiling has caved in, broken chunks of drywall on the toilet, in the sink, on the floor. Above is a naked mess of pipes and


Bates Ramirez

beams, water dripping from where one pipe joins another. I get on the phone and call our landlord. It’s 3 a.m. our time, 1 a.m. in California. No answer. Camila peers over my shoulder. “May as well start cleaning it up,” she says. I haul the big garbage can in from the kitchen and we go to work, first dealing with the damp shards of drywall, then sweeping up all the dust, and finally mopping the floor and slicking over the sink and toilet and shower with lemon wipes. It’s the cleanest the bathroom’s been in months. Camila pulls our soup pot from the kitchen cabinet and positions it under the leak. Each drop sounds like someone’s hitting a tiny hammer against an even tinier nail. By the time we’re ready to go back to bed, it’s time to get up. That week at the factory I learn a trick. Instead of grabbing the chickens by their necks then flipping them upside down, I can grab them by their feet from the beginning. This eliminates two hand motions and cuts a half second or so off the time it takes to hang each bird. My average goes up to eighteen per minute. If I can get up to twenty, I think maybe I’ll get a raise.

Camila’s lying on the bed staring up at the ceiling, hands clasped over her belly. “Why’d you scratch out the tick marks?” I ask, glancing at the wall. For a long time she doesn’t answer, so long I wonder if she heard me. “I was pregnant,” she finally says. “I had to count the days until it was okay to end it.” I stare at her. “You were pregnant?” She sits up, nods. “Almost two months. I had the procedure today.” “The procedure?” My mind feels soggy and slow. She nods again, catches my eye then looks away. “Are you mad?” Her voice is small, tight. Mad isn’t the right word. What I feel is like she reached inside me and yanked things out, fragile things that don’t grow back, and instead of keeping them safe she tossed them aside. “Why didn’t you tell me?”



“I don’t want kids.” She says it simply, like she’s reading off a cereal box. We’ve never talked about having kids. I don’t know how that talk would go, but I’m pretty sure it’s not supposed to be a one-way decision. I feel it then, a pressure somewhere between my chest and my throat. It’s been building up for weeks or months or maybe years. “It wasn’t just yours!” I burst. “It was mine too!” As I say it, the weight of it slams into me. Camila’s staring at the carpet. I drop to my knees in front of her and grab her by the shoulders. “Look at me!” I shout. “I’m a person. Just like you.” She looks scared, but I don’t care. “A person who might want to have kids and get married and – and live in an apartment that’s not a piece of shit.” I’m breathing hard. Her eyes have filled with tears and she’s fighting to keep them from spilling over, and this makes me angrier. “I’m sorry,” she whispers. Her bones feel weak and thin, and I don’t want to touch her anymore. I let go and lurch toward the bathroom. Squeezing my eyes shut, I grip the sides of the sink, the porcelain cold against my hands. The tiny hammer of water pings into the soup pot, and I rear back and kick it, and it clangs and sloshes over the tile. In bed Camila curls up to me, but I can’t bring myself to put my arm around her. I pretend to fall right to sleep. I’m up all night though, floating around in what seems like a dream but is actually a memory.

It’s May and I’m eight years old. The principal plucks me from my classroom at school, and I think I’m going to get in trouble for feeding a piece of bubble gum to Milton, the class lizard. He’d died and I hadn’t told anyone what I’d done. I prepare for the worst. Instead, Dad is standing in the hall. I leap into his arms, breathing in that familiar smell of English Leather and beer and Dial soap. He and Ma split the year before, but he drops in every so often, always unannounced. It always seems like as soon as I give up hope of ever seeing him again, he shows up.


Bates Ramirez

We stop by the middle school and pick up my brother Tony, then the three of us board the South Shore line. Tony asks if Ma knows we’re doing this, and Dad says not to worry about it. I press my nose against the train’s window, watching the fields and factories whiz by. We’re excited, and it’s like the air in our train car is charged with static electricity, like when you rub a balloon against your head and your hair sticks straight up, each strand outlined against the light. At the Dune Beach stop, Tony and I tumble off the train, Dad close behind. I can feel the lake breeze and smell the water long before it comes into view. It’s too cold to go swimming, but the sun is out and we’re wearing only light jackets. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen the dunes, and I marvel at the amount of sand that’s there, enough to swallow a person up. Dad sits at the top of the hill while Tony and I run around the beach, kicking our shoes off and letting the water soak our socks and pant cuffs. I pull a long weed out of the sand and run with it flying behind me like a streamer. Tony dares me to climb to the top of the biggest dune then roll all the way down. When I start rolling I squeeze my eyes shut, my fists balled up under my chin as I go faster and faster. I wonder if I’ll roll right into the water. I’m not scared, though, because I know Dad will jump in and save me if I do. The dune flattens out and I stop rolling, jumping up to shake the sand out of my ears and nose and hair. The three of us walk along the beach together. Tony rolls up his pant legs so he can walk deeper in the lake, and I quickly do the same, yelping when the icy water touches my shins. “You’ll get used to it in a minute,” Tony says. Before we go back to the train station, we stop at a stand where a woman is selling soda and snacks. “Choose one thing,” Dad says. I hesitate, not sure what I’ll enjoy more: a bag of gummy worms or a can of orange soda. After Tony gets an ice cream sandwich and Dad gets a beer, I say I want the soda. I love the sound the metal tab makes when I crack the can open. I wonder what will happen if I drip some soda onto the sand – will it bubble up like a volcano? But the sweet orange liquid is too precious to waste. I drink it slowly, so slowly that I still have a quarter of the can left when the train pulls into 35th Street station.



“Get rid of that can already,” Dad says. I want to finish it, but feel my belly churning. I dump the rest into the trash, but hold onto the bright orange can. Dad drops us back off at school and says to take the bus home like normal, and not to say anything to Ma. I turn to wave at him as I push through the big double doors. He’s still sitting there with the car idling, watching me, and after a second he waves back. That was the last time I ever saw him. The orange soda can sat on the windowsill of my room for a few weeks, until I got the idea to turn it into a robot. I took the body off one of my matchbox cars and glued the can to the base, then snuck into Ma’s sewing closet and found an old doll she’d never miss, carefully dismembering it. I cut holes in the sides of the can and stuck the doll’s arms through them, then made a head out of a pinecone, gluing the doll’s eyes and nose on and attaching the pinecone to the top of the can. “That’s the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen,” Tony said. “What the hell is it, anyway?” He was right. It didn’t even look like a robot, just a jumble of strange things that didn’t belong together. But I kept it under my bed, and each time I saw it I remembered that day at the beach with Dad.

In the morning I get up extra early. Camila’s fast asleep with her back to me. It’s still dark when I walk to the train, the air humid but comfortable. I’m at the plant before it opens, and I linger around outside. For most of the day I’m distracted. I keep picturing what it’d be like to have a kid. I think I’d like being a father. I’d do a good job at it, I know I would. I’d take my kid to the beach whenever he wanted, and I’d teach him to light fireworks without burning his fingers, and buy him a real toy robot and beat up any other kid that made fun of him. If it was a girl, I’d build her a dollhouse and make her bring all her dates home to meet me before they took her out. And I’d make sure she knew I was never going to leave.


Bates Ramirez

The thing is, Camila and I, we’re not so different. Her mother left, my father left. But why dwell on it? They’re gone, and we can’t force them to come back. Can’t force them to love us better than they did. When I realized I’d probably never see Dad again, I shut myself in my mom’s car when no one was around and screamed until my throat got sore. I did that each time I caught myself looking for his car in the school parking lot or his face in the crowd of parents. It took me a couple years to stop looking. But once I did, that was it. I think Camila is angry every day, though. I think she carries around something tangled and heavy, like threads of cement trapped in a cinder block, and I can’t untangle it or break it, no matter how hard I try. I blink and it happens. One second everything’s fine, the next a crazed bird leaps from my hands and starts pecking me in the face. It gets me right by my eye and I panic, thinking my eyeball might’ve come out. I drop the bird and cover my face with my hands, but the conveyor belt keeps going and the chickens start falling off the end and piling up on each other. Within seconds I have a huge squawking, flapping mess to deal with. The guys in the kill room start yelling and the line manager stops the belt. It takes an extra twenty minutes to get all the birds back in line. Twenty minutes may not sound like a lot, but when you’re on an assembly line it may as well be twenty days. The manager calls me into his office and asks me what the hell happened. I blame the bird. He says we lost time and money because of me and I’m on probation. If it happens again I’m done. In the infirmary, the nurse cleans the cuts on my face with alcohol then smoothes ointment over them. Her hands are soft and she keeps glancing at me and asking if what she’s doing hurts. I shake my head, unable to speak, overwhelmed with a desire to take her in my arms and hold her.

On the train, people stare at me. I stare at the ads, then pull out my phone and type in one of the numbers. “College,” I type in for the name.



It’s just an idea and I don’t know if I’ll do it. But maybe being put on probation’s not such a bad thing, because I damn well can’t spend the rest of my life grabbing chickens off a conveyor belt. While I’m at it I call the landlord. As usual it goes to voicemail. I leave him a message: “The bathroom ceiling has been caved in for six days. The pipe is still leaking and no one has come to fix it. I am not paying rent until it’s fixed. If it doesn’t get fixed by the end of the month, I’m moving out.” When I hang up my heart’s thumping, not only because I just left that message but because I’ve realized something: I have to ask Camila to leave. I’m not positive I need to get married and have kids and live in a better apartment. But I know I want those options. And I know I don’t want someone else to choose what I’m going to do or not do, like I don’t matter, or don’t even exist. When I open the apartment door it’s dark and silent inside. Without seeing anything I know she’s already gone. I feel it in the center of my chest, like a vacuum has been turned on there and it’s sucking up all the air meant for my lungs. I fumble for the light switch. The closet is open and her side is empty. The cash in the bottom drawer of the nightstand is gone. And the postcard of the Virgin of Guadalupe has been taken off the wall, its green thumbtack stuck back in the same spot.


Adam J. Maynard

Citadel Thank you so much You sacrificed your powers We were brothers and sisters all day Excuse me but I’m pretty sure That it was my fault Do I look pretty like this? Thanks for coming There’s a new ending by the way With swans smoking cigarettes And the swans are crying For some reason I don’t know We must get out of here The cops are coming We were together in Cuba once With Napoleon Bonaparte She had magical powers Everybody knew this And within the walls of the city The swans spoke in French With Napoleon They were creating a weapon But we have to strike now Has something happened? Did you lose your way? While I was gone Or suddenly forget yourself?


Mom’s Mask 2011

previous Wallpaper 2011

Mom’s Mask 2011

Ajibola Tolase

MUSEUM OF BODIES (OR BENUE, 1967) I remember now the faces of the men on the Benue Bridge that night in 1967. Though we were teaching their tribe to drown


they approached the soldiers as though they had come for it, as though they had come to learn the history of water

their guns aimed at men who before now belonged to their platoon. The men paused, as if to interrogate chance and providence.


or what it means to have a body of ripples. The soldiers stood together in bodies that didn’t belong to them,


Had they thought themselves oceans too big for Benue to hold? Now I think of them as jars waiting to have their fill. If time were in abeyance, we would find in the gathering Ejirika, who at eight had come to be a man. His eyes are the clouds holding rain. In his hand was a map that leads where the river leans into the confluence. But this is where we made history of his body. When his body met the river, his songs of rising sun faded into bubbles —a sun coaxed to set. A bird was perched on my windowsill this morning, it could have hovered around the bridge in 1967, a silent witness unburdened by memory.


Scott Platt-Salcedo

Leaving Cabatuan Much of the furniture has been moved out of the house. By the roadside that fronts your lawn, past the Bermuda grass, the mover’s truck whirrs under the shade of the flame trees whose amber petals spin towards the ground. In the truck, the driver clamps the wheel with his oversized fingers, eyes towards the sky, where the clouds split like wrung tin cans, their edges sharp as steel blades. You’re in the living room of your old hilltop house on the outskirts of town, one of the few remaining grand vestiges of Spain. You’re flanked by the empty bookshelves that used to house your books, luggage piled near the door. There’s old wood in the air, boiled peanuts about to rot from their shells – the odor radiates from the yellowing paper and boxes stacked in the corner. You hear the screen door by the kitchen clattering in the wind. You hear the mango trees in the backyard shedding off bad fruits, overripe, hitting the ground with dull thuds that diffuse the scent of vanillin when they burst open. You ask yourself what you will remember more: This house – its crumbling ventanilla and capiz-shell windows overlooking the town – or what surrounds it: the mango orchard, the brook, the path down to the river, the molave and kamagong trees, and the birds that drilled homes into their trunks. On the second floor, you can hear your older stepsister, fathered before your old man’s marriage to your mother. She’s humming Erik Satie’s “Gymnopédie No. 1,” and you wonder how she heard it when you hide your records under the floorboards of your room. By the stairs, your father clears his throat; his shoes grate against the staircase. His gun holster rubs against his belt, leather scraping against cloth, metal



Poetry Fiction Nonfiction

against skin. His hand slides along the banister railing. He’s in his Philippine Constabulary uniform. You’re sure of this, because you smell musk, hints of turpentine from the metal polish, and the gaseous odor of the gun-cleaning solvent that sticks to his clothes. He stands on the same spot, fifth step up, where one time he punched you in your stomach, then your chin. You remember this because you broke a tooth and dribbled blood. You were twelve. You didn’t notice the slight rise in your voice that angered him. Your mother had just left, without notice, without leaving a trace. You harbor a slight suspicion that your father had something to do with her disappearance. “Jess,” he utters your name in a hiss, in a tone that refuses to trace the rising inflection of a request, always a command. “The movers will pick the rest of these up tomorrow.” His voice cuts deep, guttural, but his sibilants trail off between his clenched teeth. You can’t see his face, but you know how it looks, a younger version of the pope – John Paul II, who you see on TV too often these days – but with fairer skin, red from humidity and heat, thicker brows, deep-set eyes that darken slightly around the lids. Everyone mistakes him for someone of Turkish descent, not Spanish. Except for the color of your hair, wood-brown, you resemble your father. Only you’re thinner, often struggling to straighten your back from crouching too often. You stand by the window in the living room, right where the couch used to be. The same couch, now upturned in the mover’s truck outside, on which you saw them – your stepsister, skirt rolled up to her waist, slumped on your father’s lap. You were nine and somehow knew something was wrong and yet couldn’t determine what, apart from the fact that a bad dream had woken you up in the middle of the night. “Yes, Papa.” The only answer he wants to hear. “You sleep here for the night. Wait until the truck comes tomorrow morning. Then, you help the men load the rest of the furniture.” “Yes.” “Yes what?” “Yes. I will sleep here for the night.” The electricity has been cut off now, bulbs have been removed from their sockets, rooms emptied of beds, and wires dangle from the


ceiling where the broken chandeliers used to hover. You imagine how nice it will be to sleep on the floor tonight, your first alone in this house. Tomorrow offers a different life, one you dread. You don’t fear the farm or the tedium of cutting rice stalks with a scythe until your fingers bleed, your arms serrated by the tapered leaves. You had a glimpse of that life months ago when he brought you to your grandfather’s house beside the farm, and you helped your grandfather’s workers harvest paray. You fear you’ll spend the rest of your life farming or becoming like him. He sees no logic in sending boys to schools other than the police or military academy. He’d already taught you how to fire a gun. You are not good with guns. You read obsessively. He sees no future in it and he hates the books you read. You believe that a future with him can only be humdrum and cyclical. But at thirteen the only thing you have learned is to obey. “Tomorrow, you’ll start work at the farm. I’m going to teach you how to rid the fields of weeds. Understand?” He says. “Yes. I understand.” “Make sure you don’t leave anything of value.” Tires roll over the gravel as a police car slows and stops outside. You walk towards the window to get a good glimpse of them carrying their bags to the car’s trunk. Your stepsister must have slipped out the door without you noticing. Across the street, a housewife in a sundress pulls a hose towards her flowers – gumamelas, daisies, periwinkles – and covers the hose’s opening with her fingers. The water jets out of it, as thin as summer drizzle. Any moment now, Lola Inyang, who lives in one of the houses near yours, will look up at the mangos in her orchard. She will let down her gray hair and loop her headband around her wrist. The car starts moving and your stepsister waves at you. She wears your mother’s lipstick and chiffon dress. You father locks his gaze on the road, refusing to glance back at you, mumbles something, words you recognize by reading his lips: stupid boy. He sits beside Magdo, also in his police uniform, the youngest and the nicest one of your father’s subordinates. Many times, he’d empty his pocket of coins, candies, and small bills and give them to you. The police car and mover’s truck turn towards the church of San Nicolas de Tolentino, whose twin belfries


Leaving Cabatuan

flank its red baked bricks and cream-colored dome. The convoy verges towards the main highway, the Iloilo-Capiz road. From the second-floor window, you watch the tail end of the truck disappear.

The first time you saw a communist rebel, you were eight. You were bringing lunch to your father at the police station at the town hall and mistakenly opened a door that led to a holding cell. A man in worn-out jeans and a blue shirt bearing the image of Baikin-Kun, the cartoon tooth, was squatting on the floor behind the iron bars. “Are those for me?” he asked. Startled, you said nothing, frozen in your tracks. He started laughing. Around him drifted a fading cloud of dried sweat and urine. “Sorry, I made a mistake,” you said. Your curiosity grew and, before turning back, you finally asked, “What are you here for?” “Subversion.” You knew what it meant. Your father had brought home boxes he labeled subversive materials. You’d sneak in his study when he left for work and go over novels, magazine clippings, and books which at first glance all seemed innocuous. Most of them about free speech or civil liberties, peaceful dissent. To you they posed no harm. They were about Mahatma Gandhi, Thomas Paine, Emmanuel Lacaba, Karl Marx, or Henry David Thoreau. You had read Thoreau’s Walden before, and it made you think of the brook behind the woods – a great place to build a house to live in by yourself. You didn’t understand why anyone was sent to jail for owning or reading them. There had been times you wondered about your own freedoms. Your father decided everything for you – the time you got out of bed, the way you combed your hair, the clothes you had to wear to school. He assigned you chores. Though you had house help, there were always tasks that would make a man out of you – cleaning windows, changing light bulbs, lifting and moving heavy objects, carrying buckets of water from the outside faucet to the dirty kitchen. Most importantly, you were



required to help clean his M16. You knew how to disassemble the parts of the rifle and put them back together. He’d empty the magazines of bullets, letting them fall to the floor for you to pick up and clean, one by one. He would turn surprisingly nice when your mother stayed home. No flicking his fingers on your ears, no smacking your back when you weren’t sitting straight while eating or when you were too slow to respond or hand him what he asked for. For him, everything had to be swift, soldier swift. But your mother had rarely stayed home. She had her own insurance business to tend to, away from town. Most times, when your father was at work, she’d be home to play mahjong and entertain young men who she said helped her with her business. “Who is he?” you asked her one afternoon after you got home from school to find a young man in the living room. “Richard. He helps me market these insurance plans.” “Why did it take you so long to open the door?” “We were probably too busy with our planning session,” she’d say, ruffling your hair. Sometimes, she’d pinch your nose. On this particular afternoon, she wore a long, flowing dress. She loved red ones, or ones with neon prints and floral patterns, which she often accessorized with large gold jewelry. She’d always put on red lipstick. She’d toss her brown hair, permed, bouncy, and teased around the edges. Only now did you notice her luggage ready by the door. “When will you come back?” “In a week or two. Or when I need to. Listen, don’t tell your father anything, or who I bring to this house. It’s my business.” “I never tell him anything.” Before she’d leave, she always asked you if you needed money. You’d often tell her you didn’t, but you wished she were home more often. She’d hand you a wad of bills anyway. “I’ll bring you more comic books when I get back.” In her absence, her scent would swell around the house for days. It smelled of peaches, or that mixture of sandalwood and lilac. A whiff of this was also wedged inside her shoulder bags, which you at times


Leaving Cabatuan

zipped open and shut, wafting the familiar, comforting scent. But you resented her more every day she did not return. Every day, you’d end up looking out the window until the jeepneys or buses that whisked by were reduced to rings of smoke. If your father wasn’t home, you’d climb a guava tree from which you had a good view of the road before sunset. You’d wait there all day until dark. When your father would leave for weeklong missions and your mother was gone too, you’d retreat to the woods at the back of the house. You loved reading in the shade of the trees and would gaze at the hornbills that slit the skies as they glided from tree to tree. Out on the river and in the valley, mornings saw life spill out in a certain cycle. Then, some surety of existence abounded – a wife feeding her pigs, men splitting firewood in their yard, an old woman boiling a pot of coffee or stirring gruel in an open kitchen. At times, a few men readied fish hooks and worms to catch catfish in the river, which offered almost nothing but an effluvium of murk and dried leaves bubbling along moss-covered rocks. And even when your stepsister moved in, she let you do what you wanted, as long as you left her alone with her friends to chew gum or wait for a Rick Springfield song to play on the radio. Then, she’d check herself out in front of the mirror, fix her hair, put on some bright makeup. Other days, when you were tasked with purchasing necessities from the market, you’d explore the river on your way. Then you’d linger a bit at the coconut grove on the banks, dip your feet in the water, watch how other people lived their lives. When for many weeks, your mother didn’t come home, you asked your father about her. He said she might have run away with her new boyfriend. “Why didn’t she come back for her things? Or for me?” “You’re useless and dumb and slow. You’d make her life miserable.” But you doubted this story. There had been many times when a police car stopped by your house in the middle of the night because your father forgot something. There was always a man or woman in it, hands tied behind their backs. Their faces were often bruised, lined with abrasions, their lips swollen. Your father’s men would tell you not to mind them. Rebel commies, subversives, they’d say. You’d overhear



the other policemen joking about burying them somewhere, saying the chief would make them disappear, and even if they escaped, the chief would hunt them down. In the town market, you’d overhear fishmongers and butchers talk about your father – rumors of how he lost his patience hunting for a rebel boy in the mountains. Skillfully evasive, the boy had been a few years older than you. Your father made him dig his own grave.

Its flame twitching, the candle burns, cradled in a chipped faux-metal holder you salvaged from the yard, where you dumped broken furniture and other items your father deemed useless. The candle holder looks antiquated, something a priest would use in a mass. You place the candle in the middle of your room, which now smells like sawdust and mold. You stretch several layers of newspaper in one corner. That is where you’ll sleep. The candle’s wick is too long, and the flame surges so you come near and pinch the burning thread between your fingers. It hurts, but you tear off a part of the wick and light it with a matchstick. It’s dark outside your house. You see a tiny leaf’s shadow quiver every time the clouds fold and thin out. Outside, furrows of light leak out from the black-and-white TV screens in the homes that line the road. The whole town tunes in to a colorless broadcast that recycles plaudits and good news – a building is built, a road is unveiled, and a farm turns ripe for harvest. You squat in front of the flame like a meditating Siddhartha. You think about your father and the other relatives waiting for you and expecting you to arrive at the farm with the rest of your things. They know that you obey orders without question. They’re sure that you will be there. Tomorrow, you’ll be back to picking bullets off the floor. You’ll clamber like a dog to search for the ones that roll away. He wants to see you crawl under the table and chairs, or reach under the shelves and in between sills. Your fingers will slowly stain dark green. They’ll smell of nickel. His face will beam with pleasure.


Leaving Cabatuan

You walk towards your parents’ bedroom and open the window overlooking the backyard. Mosquitos gather around you. You still hear the screen door rattling downstairs. You try to recall any joy, any laughter that may have ricocheted off these walls, a few kind words. You try to think of something that will make leaving more difficult: The fog that lifts its veil, revealing the plains and valleys dotted with clumps of green, and the river that gently winds towards the bone-white pumice rocks. You have often come upon this sight early in the morning just before the sun rises. Some days you wandered off to the forest behind your house, where the slope gives way to flatlands pockmarked by ponds, with reeds and young toads circling them. You can see the river from there, and on warm days, you and your friends plunged into its deeper waters before going back home. On days after it had rained, there was so much life among the land and the trees – birds flying back to roost after a downpour, insects rising out of a blanket of dried leaves and fallen branches from which a scent of resin swells, snails sliding down tree trunks, the smell of bushes and shrubs intermingling with wild oleanders, minty but dark and deep, reminding you of bees’ propolis. The whole order of things then slips into a strange geography: Roads and highways lined with houses and buildings – the town hall, the market, the small bank, the library fronting the plaza – and behind those, the heaving valleys and plains, a vast expanse that cocoons the lives of those in the center.

In Bohol, which you reach after spending two days in a ship, the parish priest of St. Isidore’s in Tubigon tells you that it’s a farmer’s church. You tell him you’ve never seen anything like it: the sea surrounding the building, which is anchored upon the rocks, its lime-mortar foundation submerged in water that rises and recedes, angels and devils embossed on its façade. Amid the vastness of the sea, any other structure looks small and insignificant.



There is nothing between sea and horizon. You can see the mountains in the distance. The beaches circled by coconut groves look like spilled milk on tufts of green. You’ve chosen this place because it doesn’t look anything like home to you. Father Borja is thin. Veins fan across his hands. He smells like Old Spice and a hint of primrose, a remnant of his bath soap. He cocks his head and leans to one side when you speak. His voice sympathetic and encouraging. You present your father’s gun to him, the spare bullets. You tell him that if ever they come across dead bodies, in and around your town, buried, punctured by bullets, they can compare the shells’ serial numbers to the ones you brought. You tell him of your suspicion – that your father may have had something to do with your mother’s disappearance. You tell him you worry about your own safety. “Do you think you can offer me a place to stay?” you ask. “I work hard.” “Temporarily, yes.” Then he asks if you’re willing to testify against your father, not in the near future, maybe someday. “When the dictator is ousted?” You say yes. He offers you a new birth certificate, a new name. You say any name will do, as long as there’s no “s” in it. He laughs. “Tell me how you escaped.” “It wasn’t really an escape.” You don’t tell him you took things of value – if your mother’s jewelry was worth anything – or that you stole a wad of bills from your father’s drawer. But you do tell him you left a candle burning in the middle of a room littered with newspapers. You tell him you’re not even sure whether the house burnt down. No matter how many times you play back that last glimpse of the house the image of it is often incomplete, blurred around the edges. It goes like this: It is still dark when you take the path down the river towards the valley, from which a shortcut winds up to the town center. Your neighbors cannot know that you’re leaving. At the bus station, right next to the market across the town plaza, you see no one you recognize, no one who would recognize you. Someone parks their tricycle in front of the municipal hall, but you know that at this hour, your


Leaving Cabatuan

father’s men are still asleep inside. Across it, the skewed kalachuchi cradles the Shrine of the Tree of Bondage, where the Spanish once tied up the natives who refused the polo or forced labor. The monument to Rizal stands behind it. There’s a certain sourness in the air that surrounds you. The batuan trees from which this town got its name are in full bloom and the fruits are still green. You wear a cap pulled down over your face and drag a suitcase with all the things you might need, including your father’s gun, some antique silverware, your records, and a few books. The Ceres Liner bus leaves early, before sunrise. You pass your house one more time when the bus takes Confesor Drive towards the highway. The candle must still be burning beside the kerosene lamp you placed next to it before you left. Their glow whisks ghostly shadows on the wall. The bus turns towards the cemetery. You remember it because of the three Byzantine arches at its entrance and the Gothic rosette carvings on the walls of its chapel. When you were young, this was your idea of a different country. You remember that a few relatives were buried there, but you were too young to understand sorrow. Past the cemetery, a few emaciated cows graze the fields. Harvest is over, and the land does not offer much except for wild shrubs and grass losing their green. Soon, you will see the Sta. Barbara golf course and its manicured lawns, the ponds and plains that dominate its landscape. A sprinkler shouts out fountain-like, circular spouts, like a clump of feather reed grass in bloom. In less than an hour, you will reach the port of Iloilo. You will take a ship to Cebu and decide where to go next. Any moment now, Nang Clarissa will open her bake shop, the smell of margarine and pandesal escaping from her tiny windows. The hardware store will raise its metal gate, releasing the scent of paint and rust. Across the street a truck arrives at Charo's fruit stand, delivering some unremarkable apples that have lost crunch and color. You will think it a beautiful day. So will they. The tricycles and jeepneys will be out on the streets, and your neighbors will bring out their brooms and clean their yards in unison.


Tse Hao Guang

Enclosing without blocking out it’s still transparent sunlight on dragonfly wing moves me to wirework begun inside working inside working on surfaces of shells inside then when this comes to a point I go on up then it comes comes out surfaces & goes in again comes out again

around continuous chain mail jelly fish drip sun light on—


Reina Nelson

Planting Daffodils in your Waterline




In a brief interlude, I kiss you but no – not you it is the pastry boy or the next girl door, with the yellow rain boots and the lips like artichoke hearts, a wonder they can kiss at all


Jeremy Packert Burke

Glittering Dark The insects revolted that summer. No one knew why. Grasshoppers, locusts, beetles, and bees, buzzing and chirruping, jumping from the grass. The houses of Holloway watched them come in chitinous hordes. Crawling from the earth and shaking the dirt from their gossamer wings. We would crunch and squish across a half-inch layer of locusts, ladybugs, and Hercules beetles to get the morning paper, only to discover it had been eaten clean through by moths. We wore flu masks to keep the airborne creatures from burrowing into our mouths, goggles to protect our eyes. We didn’t allow the children outside, afeard by rumors of entomic masses carrying kids off and stripping them of their flesh, leaving only pure white skeletons. Those were only rumors, but the insects did strip a whale that way. It washed up on the shores of Lake Hesperus, beached and moaning in the breeze, surrounded by thousands of flitting, scuttling, green-gold shapes, until – like a magic trick – it was reduced to a gargantuan white nightmare. In the cage of its ribs, a large nugget of ambergris, which Travis Gehry stole and sold to Bucky Foucault, the perfumiér. Sunsets were incredible that summer. We all stood on our porches and watched the red-speckled dusk sink towards full dark, rays of sunlight bent through the wings of insects, disco-balled in the many facets of their eyes, so that patches of every colored light imaginable danced over the woods and the walls, over our upturned faces. Sweeping over the town as if it were a roller rink. And even at night, the moonlight caught their many shifting carapaces. The leaves fell, red, along the paths of the forest, the roads of the town.



Fiction Nonfiction

During that summer, when none of our children could go outside, they grew restless and agitated. They tied twine to the backs of cans and pitched them past their window screens, let the seething waves of insects carry the cans across town, twine unraveling, unraveling until another kid spied the can from their window and, reaching with a telescoping back-scratcher or a runcible spoon, plucked the can from the glittering mass and grasped it firmly in hand, brushing aside stray insects that clung to it still. —Hello? Who's there? —Fidel. Who are you? —Bonnie. Are you stuck inside? —Yep. You? —Yep. As more and more children caught on, sending dozens of cans out to all corners of Holloway, a web of twine rose over the town, a network of string that crossed and double-crossed itself. The lines gathered, dense above the bug-filled streets, thick as a rainforest canopy. The strings were every color from rose-gold to ultramarine, a rainbow of pareidolic lines that described a vast array of shapes in the air like constellations: mythic beasts, gods, heroines of antiquity, all drawn in multicolor between the land and sky. Where the strings touched, they rubbed secret voices into each other so that, if you were quiet, you could eavesdrop, hear others talking about their pink eye and their missing cat or singing loudly to each other. I stood on the porch, beating the waves of insects back with my broom, staring at the net above me and the patches of brief blue sky that broke through. My wife was in the basement, buttressing the defenses at the windows and doors, and I thought of the Christmas party a year


Then winter came, and all of the insects froze to death. In the spring it took a week to sweep up most of them, and even then there were little frozen bug carcasses found under piles of melting snow for months. I never spoke to you again after that summer and fall. Never saw you but at the mandatory gatherings: the cleaning of the town, parentteacher conferences, the puppet shows on the solstice.

Packert Burke

prior, my wife likewise basement-bound and seeking wine, the red and green polish of your nails, the way they trailed across the braceleted beads that spelled out my son’s name, Poker, which he had given me in some deranged gift-giving game. Your eyes behind your thick glasses shining like carapaces. The moment my fingers moved towards yours the footsteps returned. Your wife’s from the bathroom, mine from the basement. Like fate. Fingers falling to our sides. I swept. I knocked a dragonfly from the air. I swept more. My body held, in hazmat suit, between seething insects and still suburban dreamcatcher. When our work was done, my wife practiced her timpani late into the night. BOM BOM-BOM BOM. BOM-BOM BOM BOM. Each BOM sending queasy shivers through me, making me long for your painted nails. The strings became so dense that sometimes the insects would get caught in the web, and their beating wings would punctuate the children’s conversations with bursts of distortion. —My PRRRR-arents are fighting again. —I'm ZHHHH-rry. —Dad sma-ZHHHH-ed six plates this time, and when they sto-BZZZZed fighting he tried gluing them together again. So now everything tastes like glue. A silence full of humming. —I wish I could THTHTH-ee you. —I FWFW-ould like that very much. And so on. Unlikely friendships formed. Relationships. Teenagers discussed various sex acts they would perform on one another if they ever left their houses again. They would sneak out right now, they said, except that Denis Tribulant had been eaten by a colossal swarm of gnats (they'd heard) and, well, they didn't want to turn out like Denis. I searched through Poker's cans, testing them with whispers to see if you were on the other end of them. A map would be helpful. Or better, an exchange, an operator. —Hello, hello? I called, but was met with buzzing, or silence, or the voices of children: —I wish you could come here.


Glittering Dark

—I wish I ZHHHHHHHHHHHHH. Everything was swallowed. In the crossed lines, snatches of words meant only for others, dozens of lies, traveled through the string. —I love you. —I love you, too. I have only ears for you, Isadora. —This is Daphne. — ...Ah, right. Every noise outside Poker’s room came like a popping balloon as I sought the can that would lead me to you. The serendipity this would require. But my wife was outside, I could hear the shuffle of her plasticine clothing, the whap! whap! whap! of her broom against delicate exoskeletons. Poker I had sent to the attic to read Fielding (the usual punishment for indiscreet plots of fingerbanging). I was safe, briefly: —Hello, hello? It wasn't just me. All of the parents were seeking one another out, their voices coming through Poker's cans. —Irene? Are you there? —Roland... —Uriah, where are you! We directed one another as best we could, pretending we didn't recognize the voices of our preachers, our teachers, our librarians and captains of industry, coordinating a mass infidelity. I knew there was limited time till word reached you. And you would have to decide if you wanted to talk to me, or not. For us, it was much as it had been for the children. —I feel like there's nothing I can do to save the marriage, not at this point. —I WRRR-ish I could see you. —Me too. But we never leave the house anymore. —Oh, David. I love you. Will this plague never end? —This is Frank. — ...Ah, right. Just as winter came I found your voice. Mellifluous as bare feet slipping on ice. And I poured out my love to you as you did the same. Poured


Packert Burke

out our grief. The accumulated nail clippings of your wife, the incessant timpani playing of mine, the longing to press our flesh together, crossing our bodies like the bones on a pirate flag, this illicit love. But as we talked, the first snow began to fall. Fat, dry flakes, gray and white like bits of ash poured from the sky. It collected on the tin-can network, small piles building at every intersection, colors obscured by the snow. Our conversation was muffled and slowly faded, quieter and quieter in the flurry. The snow pulling the lines slowly earthward. Our devotions hurried. We told a lifetime of fairy stories, of hopes, of sex acts and gifts, speaking over one another but listening all the same, hoping we'd absorb the other's words, that we'd have something to hold onto during the long chill. I did not realize until it was too late to say goodbye that the quietening had finally resolved to abject, total silence. The whole town was covered in a thick paste, clinging to windows and eaves and gutters, filling all the crannies and calderas that there were. Beneath it all, the insect mass slowed its teeming, delicate gossamer wings were wetter and whiter, colder and colder, legs scuttling with less fury. They, too, were losing loved ones, pheromone trails washed clean by the snow. The town lost power. At night, the cloud-clubbed sky was lit from below, reddish in the light of a thousand candles, burning the dark. Nobody spoke that winter. We shuffled around our houses, shuffling downstairs, upstairs, into kitchens and closets, shuffling under blankets and into our snow pants, whose polyester sheaths were extra shuffly. Everyone mourned the loss of the rainbow network, the lives within it, the secrets. Regular speech paled in comparison. Not even the birds chirped, having gorged themselves fat on insects during the summer and fall, now deep into a collective food coma. Cats and dogs were silent in solidarity with the birds. My wife's timpani – silent in solidarity with the cats. The whale skeleton by the lake was silent as ever. All the town was swathed in a quiet like a heavy cotton bandage, too thick for any blood to show through. No one left their homes but to buy canned foods at the grocery. We all ate soups and creamed corn and rice pudding in silence, overcome when we looked at these empty cans which would never hold the voices of our illicit loves. I made Poker read Fielding in the attic out of spite. My


Glittering Dark

wife scowled at me but said nothing. Every night we dreamt of spring. And it came. The sun chased off the clouds, the snow covering the lines slowly melted, light pressing through the tangled web. The insects thawed. School and work were put off for a week while adults and children alike all gathered in the streets to sweep up the insects. Some spoke; some even sang, quietly, to themselves. Most were silent. And the strings – the strings, in all their colors, were worn out and flabby, drooping between houses so much that we would never again be able to hold them tightly enough to speak through them. The children found one another in person, some of them, but were unable to find the words for each other. Their brief, stannic glory, made possible by the grace of distance, was now gone. Most adults knew already that this would be the case and did not even try to make good on the promises they had made that summer and fall. Most adults. I tried to catch your eye, but you refused, wanting not to be reminded of the things we said and said we'd say. You were with your wife and I with mine. A frozen bug fell into your hair and you pulled it out like a bit of dead skin, absentmindedly, unperturbed as you searched for your daughter, Sarah, in the crowd. I watched the bug fall to the ground like a stomped can, and you disappeared in the crowd. Was it the madness of the summer that had prompted your declarations, now gone stale? Was some brighter past recovered that winter, some wound healed so that you no longer longed for unfamiliar companionship? Or was it only all a dream, a fantasy world we conjured in the constellations, the conjunctions of tin and string? I waited for you, kept cleaning the street until after the warm black night fell, but you did not return. Our voices trapped forever in the string, or returned to the sky with the evaporating snow. I could hear my wife two blocks away, in our home, tuning her timpani. BOM BOM BOM. Pitch rising. The children, unlike us, made the most of their tragedy. Their triumph began the next dawn, Denis Tribulant on the streets hauling together – haltingly – a thick handful of stretched-out strings. A dozen kids leapt from their breakfasts and porches to join him on the street. —We thought you were dead! they said, and Denis just smiled and asked


Packert Burke

Glittering Dark

them to help him gather the lines. As the pack moved through Holloway, crunching over stray frozen moths and dung beetles, over crisp, stiff dragonflies and ladybugs, more and more children joined in. They gathered up their too-long strings, winding them into an enormous, glimmering rope, shining with more kinds of light than even they, in their youth, could see. Hands wove in and out, around and up and down, a hundred scuttling hands weaving together the giant rope. When they finished, they tramped to the shores of Lake Hesperus, en masse, and tied the rope to the skeleton of the whale. They grabbed hold of the rope and ran down the beach, pulling the glistening white monster behind them until the rope grew taut and the skeleton rose in the air like a kite. All the children marveled in the shade of its ribs, its skull, its vast, complex, beautiful tail, its bones shaking and rippling in the breeze. Swimming through the sky. The children laughed and hollered and ran, and whenever one kid fell, they were pulled aloft by the force of the whale and set back upon their feet. They ran with it, flying it up the beach towards the town, dancing through the streets beneath it as if it were a parade balloon. We gawped in terror. —Put down that whale skeleton! Polly Vesp shouted. —What if it falls? cried Ty Silberman. But the whale was held aloft by group psychology, wind, and string, and it did not fall. It did, however, get stuck in a large oak tree at the edge of town. The children were disappointed, but all agreed that it looked rather nice up there in the branches. They let go of their rope and ran home together, still whooping and hollering joyously. The whale stayed aloft in the tree, and soon birds, waking from their comas, took to nesting in it, building homes among the rictus of baleen plates. The colorful pieces of string found new life in the bowerbirds’ nests, which they used to attract mates at the beginning of spring. I watched them every year, long after the kids left, after my wife left and took her timpani; after you, too, left, your nails freshly painted. Blue midnight darts in the bleached white bones. I watched every year until the tree was cut down, the whale sent to the chalk factory. I watch them still, from the huge stump, as they carry bits of string through the air to other trees, new birds now, trailing battered frayed rainbow ends through the sky, like messages from the past to the sun. 124

Elizabeth Metzger

After Anatomy It is only because nothing as grand comes after birth that I made you— the god gone from the box but the box of humiliations remains.


Who screwed a yellow pipe into place and called it error through your stomach? Through your control center, no wind so you can’t change your mind. When


the catastrophe arrives let it be something petite in you, with a peak:


if an earthquake, a bite of meringue. It is only because you depend on the wild to live yet cannot survive there that I will you, even broken, better yet in the middle of breaking, away from the ground. I look for your eyes, but first I must search for your head. I look for your head by seeking somewhere a little up from the heart— heartless you drop yourself into yourself. I fly down your legs, and am loud.


Contributors AHMAD ALMALLAH grew up in Bethlehem, Palestine, and moved to the U.S. when he was 18 years old. His set of poems, “Recourse”, won the 2017 Blanche Colton Williams Award from Hunter College in New York, where he is pursuing his MFA in poetry. His poems have appeared in Jacket2, Track//Four, All Roads Will Lead You Home, and Apiary and are forthcoming in Supplement and Making Mirrors: Righting/Writing by Refugees. LJUBICA ARSOVSKA is the translator of numerous books, plays, and poems. She is editor in chief of the quarterly Kulturen Zivot, one of the oldest cultural magazines in Macedonia. VANESSA BATES RAMIREZ is a Mexican-American writer and editor. She received an MFA from Northwestern University. CAROLINE BEIMFORD’s stories and essays have appeared in Zoetrope: All Story, The Massachusetts Review, Ninth Letter, TriQuarterly, and TSR Online. She holds an MFA in Fiction from the University of Arkansas and has received scholarships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Sewanee Writers’ Conference, New York State Summer Writer’s Institute, and the Arkansas Arts Council. She is currently a Sturgis International Fellow in Madrid, Spain. JENNA CARDINALE is the author of a chapbook, A California (DGP, 2017). Some of her poems appear in REALITY BEACH, Pith, Verse Daily, and Cosmonauts Avenue. She lives in Brooklyn, New York. KELL CONNOR is the author of the chapbook For Destruction (Doom Town USA, 2017). Recent work appears in REALITY BEACH, Peach Mag, Big Lucks, and elsewhere.


LIDIJA DIMKOVSKA was born in 1971 in Skopje, Macedonia, and now lives in Ljubljana, Slovenia. She is a poet, novelist, and translator from Romanian and Slovenian into Macedonian. She has published six books of poetry and three novels, which have been translated into more than 20 languages. She has received the Hubert Burda Prize, the Poesis and Tudor Arghezi prizes, and the European Petru Krdu prize. NOVISI DZITRIE was born to Ghanaian parents in Kakata, Liberia. He lives in Ghana, where he volunteers at the Writers Project of Ghana. His poem “Praying Down the Quaff” was included in Prairie Schooner’s arts and literature series FUSION 9. Others are published in the New Orleans Review and Saraba Magazine. SHELLEY FELLER is a former figure skater and gallery-gay currently living in Alabama. They are the author of the chapbook, TANGLED BANK & daily bugaboo jubilee (Letter [r] Press, 2016), and their recent work can be found in Puerto del Sol, New Delta Review, and AADOREE. JOHN GREINER is a Pushcart Prize-nominated poet. His work has been published in numerous magazines. Greiner’s chapbooks, broadsides, and collections of poetry and short stories include Turnstile Burlesque (Crisis Chronicles Press, 2017), The Laundrymen (Wandering Head Press, 2016), Bodega Roses (Good Cop/Bad Cop Press, 2014), Modulation Age (Wandering Head Press, 2012), Shooting Side Glances (ISMs Press, 2011), and Relics From a Hell’s Kitchen Pawn Shop (Ronin Press, 2010). His collaborative pieces with photographer Carrie Crow have appeared in galleries in New York, Los Angeles, Paris, and Berlin. MEGAN LEANNE is a poet, teaching artist, and performer from Nashville, Tennessee. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Flumes


Magazine, Native Magazine, Women Arts Quarterly, The Write Launch, and Versify Podcast. Megan serves as a Poet Mentor for Southern Word, Nashville’s non-profit teaching arts organization empowering youth to act as leaders in their community through literacy, performance, and spoken word. MAIJA MÄKINEN is a Finnish-born writer and translator, and holds an MFA in Fiction from Boston University. Her writings on place, belonging, and immigrant memories, along with her literary translations, have been featured or are forthcoming in Gulf Coast, Los Angeles Review, Scandinavian Review, Transnational Literature, and publications in Finland. She is the winner of the 2017 Nadia Christensen Prize in Translation and the University of Cambridge Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize. SARAH MANGOLD is the author of Giraffes of Devotion (Kore, 2016), Electrical Theories of Femininity (Black Radish Books, 2015), and Household Mechanics (New Issues, 2002). She is the recipient of a 2013 NEA Literature Fellowship and lives near Seattle, Washington. Poems appear in Versal, Kenyon Review, Conjunctions, Interim, and a slew of chapbooks, most recently A Copyist, An Astronomer, and a Calendar Expert (above/ground press, 2016). ADAM J. MAYNARD lives in Oxford, United Kingdom. His work has appeared in: Prelude, LIT, Lamination Colony, Pineapplewar, Spooky Boyfriend, New Wave Vomit, Zembla, Purple, Kill Author, Corduroy Mtn., Pangur Ban Party, West Wind Review, Abraham Lincoln, Noo Journal, Red Lightbulbs, UP, and Housefire, among others. His book of short fiction, Stumble, was published by Pulp Books. His chapbook, The Frogs, was published by Plain Wrap Press. He has work forthcoming at FENCE and a pamphlet, Three Poems, printed by The Bodleian Bibliographical Press.


NATE MCCARTHY is from Sydney and has been based in Berlin for six years. They are working on their first collection of short stories about tender men in rugged landscapes. ELIZABETH METZGER is the Poetry Editor of the Los Angeles Review of Books Quarterly Journal. Her poetry has recently appeared or is forthcoming in The New Yorker, Poem-a-Day on, and Poetry. Her essays and reviews appear in PN Review, Southwest Review, and Boston Review. Her debut collection, The Spirit Papers, won the 2016 Juniper Prize and was published by University of Massachusetts Press in 2017. Her chapbook, The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death, was published by Horsethief Books in 2017. She is currently an adjunct assistant professor of writing at Columbia University, where she received her MFA. JEREMY PACKERT BURKE is an MFA candidate at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa. He has previously had work in SmokeLong Quarterly, Day One, and The Nashville Review, among other places. He is on Twitter @jempburke. SCOTT PLATT-SALCEDO is the editorial consultant of a student-run literary journal, The McKinley Review, and has attended three prominent national writing fellowships in his country, the Philippines. These include the Ateneo National Writing Workshop, the UST National Writing Workshop, and a fellowship awarded by the alumni of Iowa’s International Writing Program. He is an activist and a critic of Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war and of the Marcosian-Duterte attempt to revise history. He is currently finishing his first novel and a collection of short stories. JON RANSOM is a working-class queer writer in Cambridge, United Kingdom. Currently working on his debut novel, he also has work in Foglifter Journal.


MICHAEL LEE RATTIGAN is a poet and translator based in Caterham, United Kingdom. He has translated Fernando Pessoa’s Alberto Caeiro: Complete Poems (Rufus Books, 2007). More poems and translations have appeared in PN Review, The Los Angeles Review, Asymptote, Gobbet Magazine, The Fiend Journal, and The Black Herald Literary Magazine, and in Selected Writings of C. Vallejo (ed. Joseph Mulligan, Wesleyan University Press, 2015). His poetry collection, Liminal, was published in 2012 (Rufus Books). His latest collection, Hiraeth, was published alongside its French translation in 2016 (Black Herald Press). PEGGY REID was a translator of Macedonian poetry and prose. Her own poetry has twice been awarded first prize at the Avon Poetry Festival, United Kingdom. She taught English at SS Cyril and Methodius University, Skopje, Macedonia. MARK RUSSELL’s publications include Shopping for Punks (Hesterglock, 2017), Spearmint & Rescue (Pindrop, 2016), ℵ (the book of moose) (Kattywompus), and ‫( ا‬the book of seals) (Red Ceilings, 2016). The poems here are from a longer sequence titled “Men Who Repeat Themselves,” some of which have also appeared in Blackbox Manifold, Poetry Salzburg Review, The Scores, Shearsman Magazine, Tenebrae, and HVTN. REINA SKYE NELSON lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she works as a psychic reader. She has previously been published or has upcoming work in The Alexandria Quarterly, Underscore Review, Great Weather for MEDIA Anthology, and Helen. MELISSA SPITZ is a working artist from St. Louis, Missouri, who currently resides in Brooklyn, New York. She received her BFA from the University of Missouri and her MFA from the Savannah College of Art and Design.


Melissa was recently named Instagram Photographer of 2017 by TIME Magazine. Her work has been featured by Aperture Foundation, TIME Magazine, VICE, The Huffington Post, The Magenta Foundation, and other publications. AJIBOLA TOLASE lives in Ibadan, Nigeria. His work has appeared or forthcoming in Faultline: UCI Journal of Arts and Letters, Prairie Schooner, and The Lifted Brow. He was shortlisted for the 2015 BN Poetry Award. TSE HAO GUANG was assembled with parts from Hong Kong and Malaysia. His first full-length poetry collection, Deeds of Light (Math Paper Press, 2015), was shortlisted for the 2016 Singapore Literature Prize. He edits UnFree Verse (Ethos Books, 2017), the anthology of Singapore poetry in form; the cross-genre, collaborative journal OF ZOOS; as well as critical essays for He is a 2016 fellow of the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program, and the 2018 National Writer-inResidence at Nanyang Technological University. PATRICK VALA-HAYNES is a Sundance Screenwriting Fellow, fiction writer, essayist, and poet. He knows more about well-drilling, carpentry, bicycles, cannons, and alfalfa than any man should. Though he imagines himself channeling the rhythms of Shakespeare, he looks to the rural West for his stories. As a freelance Fight Director, he has crafted sword fights and hand-to-hand combat for over 100 stage productions. He lives within running distance of the Oregon Coast Range.


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SAND Issue 17