Smoky Blue Literary and Arts Magazine #13

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Smoky Blue Literary and Arts Magazine issue #13

fall/winter, 2020

fiction Jenny Butler

The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress


Adam Matson



Dennis Vannatta

A Wild Rover


Autumn Mulling: Of Wine and Mortality




Plumb the Depths


Yuan Changming



Barbara Daniels



The Lost River


The Red Snowsuit


Richard Dinges, Jr

In These Trees I See


Colin Dodds

Conciliation You Attempt, But for Consolation You Must Plead 40

Louis Girรณn

The Greeting


Lois Marie Harrod

And He Asked Me Why I Hadn't Done More


non-fiction Jeffrey A Lockwood

poetry Rose Mary Boehm

By nightfall the headlines would be reporting devastation. 63 Cathy Hollister

Daughter of the 50s


F X James

in the softness by and by


Emory D Jones



Simon Perchik


You are always afternoons. . .


henry 7 reneau, jr

Laura Saint Martin

Elizabeth Sylvia


From among the poisons a box. . .



Inside this oak flooring a single nail. . . 66

the dream of war


The Butterfly Effect in Increments of Consequence


phylum chordata, which also includes . . .


whisper & smoke




The Things I've Said to the Dead Man on My Dashboard


More Whore


The Father's Son


Shakespeare's Women


images Deborah Levine-Donnerstein

Remnants of Blue Ridge Mountain Ice Storm


Tomer Peretz



Bill Wolak

The Temptation of Magnetized Lips


Dust Kissed by Daylight


cover: Remnants of Blue Ridge Mountain Ice Storm (partial), by Deborah Levine-Donnerstein

Editor's Note So much is going on right now—the pandemic, marches against systemic racism, a crucial election in two months, rising unemployment—it seems insignificant to spend time publishing a small-market magazine. Shouldn't I be manning the ramparts of activism? Why am I instead sitting at a computer arranging words and images? I imagine many of us have asked ourselves something akin to the above recently. It's impossible not to feel helpless sometimes when our days seem filled with world-wide crises or personal emergencies. But we all also have a need for normalcy, things to ground us. We may be wearing masks, attending protests, assisting those who need help in our community, or trying to find work ourselves. All positive activities, but not what, a short time ago, we may have thought we would be doing. So take a few moments to read the offerings here. "Ard-no-more" (Adam Matson) is a mystery with family secrets. In "Mephistophelis," Emory D Jones crafts a wonderful gloss from Marlowe. henry 7 reneau, jr educates us to the plight of the urban coyote in "whisper & smoke." And Deborah Levine-Donnerstein again reminds us what's beautiful in the world with "Remnants of Blue Ridge Mountain Ice Storm." And many others. Then, hopefully renewed, go back to those ramparts.

More Whore More whore, more mischief first - Timon of Athens

Or apple core dropped asking for a kiss with juice still glinting & slamming shut the door on Eve’s lore whispering drugstore come-on silky jelly respirating throw women’s things across the floor lipstick petit fours stockings audibly hyperventilating for an encore peep showing how the curtain tore blinking neon in the night galore & already swore to the telling of round bellied stories hot air shrinkwrapping around the mouthing carnivore so ignore the sharp seaming untruth stitching just a little sore sleeping beauty snores winking conversational bore

what she wore what she’s asking for anonymous guarantor pennies clinking fall-for adore out-lusting mischief in the score &whoremore Elizabeth Sylvia Elizabeth Sylvia lives with her family in Massachusetts, where she teaches high school English and coaches debate. Her work has been featured in Literary Mama, Noctua Review, and others.

The Father’s Son I saw him run after a gilded butterfly: and when he caught it, he let it go again; and after it again; and over and over he comes, and again; catched it again; or whether his fall enraged him, or how 'twas, he did so set his teeth and tear it; O, I warrant it, how he mammocked it! - Coriolanus

First image: boy in the meadow, the lofted wing of a butterfly that floats from his hand, glittering above the horizon, the journey of a thousand miles it will make as a goodbye. Behind this the father like a pentimento, the good guy in a soldier’s suit and tie, in a uniform, judging with silence the first image: boy in the meadow like the lofted wing of a butterfly. Inside the butterfly is a caterpillar, inside the man a boy, inside the boy the man he will become already denying the journey of a thousand miles he will make as a goodbye. For now he catches and releases, lets it fly over and over into an endless time loop of the mesmerizing first image: boy in the meadow, the lofted wing of the butterfly. The father shimmers and the boy falls, unwilling to cry and crushing the creature as though its death will lighten the journey of a thousand miles to pain’s goodbye. Final image: the boy mammocking his prize, filled with manly rage against the weak and despising the first image of the boy in the meadow with the lofted butterfly, the journeys they have both made their only goodbyes. Elizabeth Sylvia

Shakespeare’s Women I used to believe the men who told me Shakespeare was remarkable for making female characters who were as round as men. I don’t believe that anymore. Instead I think he wrote as he could write. What intelligence he casts into Juliet or Portia just his own maleness animating them. Because it doesn’t matter, finally, if they are witty or can solve a vexing problem; all they do is orbit, casting here and there reflected light and when they light the path it is a man’s path they light or should they darken it, it is the darkness of the path that worries us and not the way their face has disappeared. Elizabeth Sylvia

The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress There is no beginning to my story. It’s one of whorls and voids, spirals, loops and craters. I can’t discern if my head is spinning or the room is spinning. The bigger officer has stopped shouting and is speaking softly now. They have stopped laughing and calling me a “chickenshit” for crying. “Are you telling me you don’t remember shooting the senator, son? Nothing at all?” I tell him again, or maybe it wasn’t him I told already -- there have been so many officers -- that I don’t know what he is speaking of. I don’t recall shooting anyone. Why would I shoot someone? I’m a very peaceful person. I tell him, or a different officer, that I am a pacifist. I am strongly against any kind of violence against another human being. I was born in Jerusalem, I tell the two officers who now are pushing the picture of the Senator in my face. I tell them that Jerusalem is a very volatile place, full of horrible violence against fellow human beings. In the picture the senator is on the ground and there are people all around him, looks like they’re pushing toward him or maybe pushing each other back from him so he has space to breathe. It looks to me like he is having a heart attack maybe. I’m not sure why they think I am responsible for this. How could I be responsible for this? “You are an anti-Semite and a terrorist,” a large red-faced man is shouting at me. I didn’t notice him come into the room. I’m not sure if it’s the next day or the same night. I am shocked at this! I am still reeling from the last thing I remember from the hotel, which is being choked by so many men. I cannot comprehend why these people would jump on me and start to choke me for absolutely no reason. To be honest, I am rather indignant at this new accusation. I tell this man, who does not appear to be a police officer, but perhaps a friend of theirs with anger issues, that I have never inflicted terror even on a fly. If a fly comes into my bedroom, I tell him, I would open the door and let him free to live his life and I would negotiate the flyswatter away from my brother who always wants to kill them. This anecdotal evidence seems to make the man even more aggravated, so I block my ears from his

screaming and shield my face by looking downward. My hands are cuffed to the metal chair so that’s all I can do. I try again to explain to them, three of them in here now, that I only want peace on this earth. I want peace for my people and for all people. My middle name is “Bishara,” which in Arabic means “good news.” It relates to the gospels and the coming of Jesus and it’s a common name among Arab Christians, and my mother is a devout one. That’s how we came to the United States, when I was 12, the Nazarenes had a scheme to help Palestinian Christians and they took us in. We lived with them for a little while in New York, unsmiling and strict they were, but my mother wanted to move to California. My mother taught us to be true to ourselves and to God and to be good. As a family, we have seen war and hate and bloodshed. I would never want to harm another living being. I feel lightheaded, like something is shifting in my head. I try to focus on my feet on the floor, my bound hands. Now there is a television set in front of me, it’s too close to my face but I can’t move backward away from it. A random dot pixel pattern of static displays. The little black dots on the TV get bigger and they become polka dots on a white dress. I am looking at the dress and I feel happy, suddenly flighty. My eye is drawn upward to the bib top of the dress, two ruffled strips by the neckline, a sleeveless dress. I know there is something coming, something amazing. Who is wearing this dress? It seems a long time before I can see the face of this stunning beauty. I’m looking at her and we are at the hotel bar. She has dark hair in a pixie cut and a cute snub nose. The most beautiful woman! She smiles at me and my heart races. I want to buy her a drink, lots of drinks. I’m not a drinker myself but I buy her drinks and I have four Tom Collins one after the other. This is completely out of character for me but I want to impress this woman. I want to look cool, a drinker. I want so bad to know her! Every time I look in her eyes, I feel this weird thought like I in fact know her very well but I have forgotten, a different lifetime perhaps. Maybe we are soulmates and I have found her again? Then, she is moving away and I try to stop her from leaving, like just try to cajole her into staying to talk. I feel desperate, like this is my chance to prove to her -- what? I feel like the answer is somewhere behind my mind. There is something I

must do, that she wants, but I can’t let her out of my sight. I must follow her! I try to get up but I feel woozy and slump back down. Maybe it’s the alcohol, I’m not used to it, shouldn’t have had it. I’m leaning heavily on the bar. I tell the bartender I would like some coffee, but he shrugs. Beautiful brunette is moving away. It’s just her in a spotlight, like a dancer and I’m watching her. Inside my head, her soothing voice. She is saying we will have coffee and talk together. I would like that very much and I pray that I can get where she is. Like I’m running in quicksand, feels like only my upper body surging, going forward. I hold onto the bar. Unexpectedly, I am in a different place, not at the bar though I don’t remember walking there. It’s the pantry area of the hotel and she is pointing at a coffee urn and I want so much to make her happy. I get a cup for her from a counter and fill it with coffee and I get some for myself. I am delighted to talk to her and my mind races with all the conversations we can have. I feel like I’ve been waiting for this forever. I start to chatter. A sardonic smile. Am I annoying her? I try to be quiet. I want to do what she wants. She comes over closer and puts her hands on me and I am ecstatic. Maybe she will embrace me now we are alone. But she sticks her long sharp fingernails in my arm and it hurts and she pinches hard. Why is she hurting me so? I only want to talk about all these things we have in common. Do we? For some reason, I think we have many things in common, like soul-mates. She clicks her fingers beside my ear and starts to spin me around. Is this some kind of flirtatious game? I am admittedly a bit upset because she will not have the wonderful conversation I want us to have. I try to whisper to her but she is already saying something in my ear. “Look, look, look!” she says. I don’t want to look away from her face but I obey and look toward where she points. There are people coming. I feel my heart sink because I don’t want them here. I want to be alone, just the two of us. I want to talk to her about mystical things. That’s it! We share an interest in mysticism, spirituality. Isn’t it? She snaps her fingers again and I am transfixed by the polka dots on her dress. They are amazing to me, moving, twirling around. I can feel her hands on me and I don’t want her to ever stop touching me. I love her! In the polka dots, I can see our love and our love is pulling me in, like into a big black hole. It’s like tar. And then the

dots are there again. No, not dots – they are circles at a shooting range. I feel flirtatious. I will prove myself. I feel her slide the gun in my pocket. Déjà vu, she has done this before. I remember now we know each other from the range, I brought her there. No, she brought me there. I was saying that I didn’t like guns, I’m a pacifist, and she said “don’t be silly” that it’s “just fun.” And I wanted so bad for her to like me, I agreed, “yes it’s fun.” And I like guns and I want to go to the shooting range. The bullseye on the shooting target is red, sometimes it’s black, sometimes it’s a polka dot. I am laughing because I’m shooting a polka dot and it feels silly. She has her hand on my shoulder and we’re at the shooting range. We’re together and I’m pretending she’s my girlfriend. She’s going to leave. I can’t let her leave. I will show her that I’m not afraid of guns, I’m good at shooting. I grapple for the gun and the target is clear, a circle right in front of us, I shoot and shoot! Is she happy? I turn my face to the side to try to see her and all I hear is screaming. “Stop! Don’t kill him!” “He’s shot in the head.” Men’s voices, all around, now they are choking me. I think I will die. I want to call out for her to help me but I don’t know her name. A searing pain, they are bending me back, they break my thumb. I am watching them break my thumb but in my vision of myself my eyes are numb and empty like a dead person. I must have passed out or maybe I’m asleep? There are lots of lights, very bright lights shining toward me but I am in the dark, like as if I’m down an alleyway with headlights from cars from the road. I have memories of standing in the dark, and I’m so very tired. I shout “hello?” and “help me!” but no-one comes. I know there are people in the lights, or behind the lights, they flicker and move. No-one cares about me and no-one comes. I remember this like dream sequences but I do not think they were dreams. In one dream, or more like a scene from a play, I don’t know how to describe it, a spotlight shines on a poster. The image is of a bomber jet, like an old war poster and the word ISRAEL in red lettering. In my dream, or memory of a performance art piece, I feel very angry at this poster. I want to rip it down, shred it to pieces! I can hear my voice shouting “50 jet bombers to Israel” but my mouth is not moving. I can hear my voice shouting inside my head. I have never been so angry in real life and I don’t know where this performance comes from.

I find myself alone in a concrete room. It’s a different room than before, earlier today? It feels like I’ve just woken up. I’ve been here before, for an interminable time, but I don’t remember entering or leaving. A man I find very frightening comes into the room. I don’t want to look at his face. The light is neon and buzzes and my head hurts like the pain when you touch something too hot, like a white-hot searing pain. This man pushes a notebook toward me aggressively with his fat fingers. I look at repetitive scribbles and scrawls all down the page about death. I tell him that these are the writings of a mad man. He wants me to verify that it is my writing. I tell him it’s my writing but I did not write this! It doesn’t make any sense to me, I would not want any person to die. I don’t hate anyone. I tell him I don’t have that kind of feeling in me toward another human being. The man then shows me a identikit of a blonde in what he calls a polka dot dress, but it is a frumpy green thick fabric with yellow blob design, smaller round the hem and bigger and uglier toward the skirt part, and she’s definitely not my brunette beauty. When I say this is not the right woman, he screams and turns purple. He screams and screams. I want him to stop and so I agree that it is the correct woman. He photographs me signing the picture of the blonde woman. My recollection goes hazy like snow on a television and segues from scene to scene. A kindly man looks down at me in the same concrete room. I must have slept so perhaps it is the next day already. He’s elderly with a beard and he makes me feel calm. He tells me to take deep breaths. I feel like I have seen this man before. He says to focus on a fixed point in the room, it’s a small shiny black orb. I look at it and his soothing voice says we’ll have our conversation now. Something about that, I love conversations. It makes me feel expectant, there’s something I like about this, I think. As he’s talking, I remember I’ve done this before but it was not a black orb. It was a fish weight that I would hang from the bare bulb in my bedroom. Someone showed me. She was a beautiful brunette and I feel so happy thinking of her! I would make the fish-weight swing and the shadows would dart around my room. In trances I could see her. That’s what it was! I could see her and we could have a wonderful conversation. I would do the “automatic writing” like she showed me. I’d put my wrist in a wooden frame and let my hand hang loosely holding a pencil over the

paper. In trance I would write things from our conversation. So exciting! I love her! She gave me secret wisdom. She chose me to pass this on to! Me! In high school, they said I’d never get a girl. Too small in height, a runt. If they could see her and me together they’d be jealous! She gave me a painting too, of a cross with a rose unfurling, and I would pray over it every night. It’s funny, I had completely forgotten all of it! How could I forget her when I love her so much? The bigger police officer is coming back with the box full of photos of the senator. I don’t want to look at the pictures anymore. I don’t know who would want to hurt the senator. All I know is I would never want to hurt another human being. I wouldn’t hurt a fly! I am so tired. I ask the officer if he has seen a beautiful girl in a polka dot dress. I tell him I would very much like to have a coffee with her when this is all over. Jenny Butler Jenny Butler has had short stories appear most recently in Cleaning Up Glitter and previously in Laurels & Bells Literary Journal, Dime Show Review, and other publications.

The Temptation of Magnetized Lips

Bill Wolak

In These Trees I See In these trees I see shadows and glints of light that form faces of those left behind in the old country my great grandmother mentioned, where everyone aged beyond their years, skin cragged and brittle bark on ancient trees, rough to my touch, where I look for those who came here before me, long since passed into these long dark shadows. Richard Dinges, Jr Richard Dinges previously managed information systems at an insurance company. He holds an MA in literary studies from University of Iowa. Recent publications have appeared in Green Hills Literary Lantern, Westview, and others.

Mephistophelis (A Gloss on the following lines from The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus by Christopher Marlowe Why this is hell, nor am I out of it: Think’st thou that I, that saw the face of God, Am not tormented with ten thousand hells, In being deprived of everlasting bliss?)

Why this is hell, nor am I out of it— Eternal flames enclose on every side The broad highway that leads into the pit. While Gehenna passion tempts us to deride The very existence of the place, we sit And watch our fellows’ easy slide— Why this is hell, nor am I out of it. Think’st thou that I, that saw the face of God Could ever even entertain a doubt While in my soul I feel His mighty rod And know that I shall never more climb out Of the fiery pit, nor ever think it odd That I am doomed to suffer here throughout— Think’st thou that I, that saw the face of God Am not tormented with ten thousand hells For nothing? I so thoroughly deserve My fate. I know his joy above excels The temporary pleasure I observe In waking dreams and say my last farewells. You think that I, even with demon’s verve Am not tormented with ten thousand hells In being deprived of everlasting bliss, Remembered ecstasy increasing pain Because I am consumed with avarice But cannot have and pose a proud disdain? I have myself to blame; because of this My suffering I blatantly profane Being deprived of everlasting bliss. Emory D Jones Emory D Jones is retired from teaching English in high school and several community colleges. His many publishing credits include Writer's Digest and Modern Poetry Quarterly Review. He and his wife Glenda have two daughters and four grandchildren.

Nativelanding Having nothing better to do, I kill Time by looking at a traditional Chinese painting on my iPad Much enlarged, it appears like A plain sheet of rice paper Smeared with ink. I view it In the presence of bonsai; I Drop several thick strokes to the floor Of history, leaving a few fine lines Behind the sofa, & failing To catch a colorless corner Between black and white It is a landscape newly relocated Into my heart’s backyard. Then I sit On my legs, meditating about No light in the picture, no Shadow of anything, no perspective As in hell. Isn’t this the art of seeing? Yuan Changming Yuan Changming learned the English alphabet in Shanghai at age 19 and published monographs on translation before leaving China. With a Canadian PhD in English, Yuan currently co-edits Poetry Pacific. He is widely published, including Best of the Best Canadian Poetry (2008-17), and Best New Poems Online.

Ard-no-more Seth met his cousin Christina in the parking lot outside their grandmother’s assisted-living facility. He had been on duty as a park ranger in the Black Hills for the previous three months, and had not seen Christina, or his grandmother, since then. “Looking good, cuz,” Christina said. She slapped his biceps. “Keeping in shape?” “I’ve been stuck in a cabin in the middle of the woods for three months,” Seth said. “There’s nothing to do except read, paint, and lift weights.” “I’ll trade you my job for yours.” Christina was twenty-four, ten years younger than him, and since college she had been living back in Rapid City, walking a postal route. “Gram’s not doing too well, Seth,” said his cousin. “I heard,” Seth said. “Mom and Dad said I’ve been summoned.” “A summons from Gram is like a summons from court. You don’t show up, she sends someone out looking for you.” They walked through the automated sliding doors at the facility’s entrance. “How often do you visit?” Seth asked. “Every week.” Christina led him through the winding corridors of the facility. Residents padded slowly down the halls, gripping walkers, nurses trolling patiently alongside them. They side-stepped a wheelchair traffic jam in B wing. Their grandmother lived in D wing, where residents moved when they were nearing the end of life. Gram had a room to herself, but she mostly did not leave it. Usually didn’t leave the bed. The door to Gram’s room was open a crack, and a placard on the door read “Mrs. Gwendolyn Reed.” They could hear the television. Christina knocked as they entered. “Gram? There’s a ranger here to see you.”

Seth followed her in. His grandmother sat up in bed, sipping from a plastic cup, watching television. A pile of magazines sat on the end table beside her bed. One or two lay open on the sheets in her lap. “Well, well,” Gram said. “Down from the mountain.” “Hello, Gram,” Seth said, bending over to kiss her cheek. She clapped him on a shoulder. “I can’t remember now, which one are you?” “Jeez,” Seth said. “How old are you anyway?” “So old it doesn’t matter.” She smiled. “Nice to see you, Seth.” Seth sat down in the recliner beside his grandmother’s bed. Christina sat in one of the stiff visitor’s chairs near the door. “What’s this you’re drinking?” Seth asked, indicating Gram’s plastic cup. “Gin and tonic?” “Chocolate milkshake.” “Even better.” “It’s about all I can stand from the kitchen.” Gram waved her arm around the room. “Don’t let this happen to you, kids. I’ve been in this building almost twenty years. Never would have thought I’d last this long.” “You’re doing good, Gram,” said Christina. “I was doing good until these last few months. Now I’m in one of the dying rooms.” “Hopefully the show’s not over yet,” Seth said. Gram nodded, taking a long sip of milkshake. “It’s getting there.” She slapped Seth’s arm again. “Tell me about yourself.” Seth did his best to make three months in the woods sound interesting. He told her about the books he had read, the animals he had seen. Described the paintings he’d been working on. “No marriageable women out there in the Black Hills?” Gram asked. “No, but there’s a nice-looking big-horn sheep I see pretty often.” “One day, you will get married,” Gram said. “Both of you. It happens to everyone. Like dying.”

“Can’t wait,” Christina said. “Do you miss Hap, Gram?” Seth asked. “Hap” was what everyone had called their grandfather, Harker Perry Reed. Hap had been dead ten years. “I still think about Hap every day,” Gram said. “There are people you think about every day. You can’t always pick who, either. Faces from the past. Some people make an impression.” “Hap certainly did.” “He certainly did. He wasn’t the only one.” Gram gave Seth a long look. “Christina, turn the TV off for me, sweetheart. Seth and I have something to talk about.” Seth wondered what this could be. As far as he knew, he and his grandmother had never conducted any sort of special business. Christina reached up and turned off the wall-mounted TV. “Do you want me to leave you alone?” she asked. “No, no.” “What’s up, Gram?” Seth asked. “Seth, your grandmother is approaching the finish line. If I make it another month, I’ll be ninety-four. You know what I’ve been thinking about lately? Ardmore.” “Ardmore,” Seth said. “It’s been a long time since we were down there, hasn’t it?” “Twenty-five years, since Hap and I moved out of that house,” Gram said. “We were the last ones to leave. And nobody’s moved there since.” “Nobody bought your house?” Christina asked. “Nobody lives in Ardmore,” Gram said. “It’s a ghost town. You never saw it, Chrissy, but Seth remembers.” Seth squinted, as if he could peer back across time. He vaguely remembered the brick farm house on the edge of Ardmore, South Dakota. A hundred miles from nowhere. He remembered endless grassy plains, green trees swaying in the prairie breeze, Hap shooting bottles along the backyard fence. “I suppose the house is still there,” Seth said.

“There it sits,” Gram said. “The shame of my life, abandoning that house. To time, and the weather. We raised four kids there. All of whom couldn’t wait to escape. Your father, Seth, left for Chicago when he was eighteen, never wanted to come back. Christina, your mom was the baby, she stayed in Rapid City with us. We had some good times in Ardmore.” “How many people lived there, Gram?” Seth asked. “When you were growing up?” “Maybe a hundred, plus a hundred or so more on the outlying farms.” “Pretty shallow dating pool, eh?” Christina asked. “When you went to the prom, Gram, did you take the town boy?” “I had more than one prospective suitor,” Gram said. “One was Hap,” said Seth. “And the other was a very reliable horse.” Gram’s body started shaking with laughter. Seth reached over to support her milkshake, so she wouldn’t spill it. “You must crack yourself up out there in the boonies, Seth,” she said. “The big-horn all think I’m hilarious,” Seth said. Eventually Gram’s laughter subsided, and Seth saw tears in her eyes. “You said you’ve been working on your paintings?” “I’ve got a few pretty good ones,” Seth said. “I wonder if you could find a painting for me.” “Anything in particular?” “Yes,” said Gram. “There’s a painting we left back at the Ardmore house when we moved out. We couldn’t take everything when we down-sized. I’m ashamed to say, some of our things are still sitting there, getting rained on, and eaten by animals. Disgraceful.” “I thought Dad and everyone cleaned the house out,” Seth said. “They didn’t do a thorough job,” said Gram. “When we unpacked in Rapid City, some things were missing. The painting I’m looking for would be in the basement. I packed up some things in boxes, and sealed them with a plastic tarp. I want you to go down there and look for me.”

Seth nodded. This unexpected summons seemed to have borne an interesting mission. “You want me to just drive down to Ardmore, and rummage around in the old house?” “No one will mind.” Seth jerked his thumb toward Christina. “Can I take Fruit Loops with me, for protection?” “Hey,” said Christina. “Go ahead,” said Gram. “It’ll be a nice bonding experience.” Seth looked at his cousin. She shrugged. “My day off,” she said. “So, what’s the painting of?” Seth said. “How will we know which one to take, if we find it?” “It’s a prairie sunset,” Gram said. “You’ll know it when you see it. It’s the most colorful thing you’ve ever seen. Bring it back to me, and I’ll tell you a story you won’t forget.” Seth did not have anything else to do that day. He had blocked the day off for his grandmother. He checked the GPS on his phone. It was ninety miles south to Ardmore. They could be back by evening. He turned to Christina, who was already standing with her purse. “Let’s go to Ardmore,” he said. ~~~ There was not a sound in the air. A gentle breeze tickled the prairie. The afternoon was hot and sunny and still. Seth and Christina stood next to Seth’s Jeep, peering around at the ghost town. Twenty or so houses, and a few public buildings, sat completely abandoned. Dead cars and trucks rotted in overgrown yards. Telephone poles leaned into trees. Route 71, running due south through the middle of town, was cracked but serviceable. Dakota Avenue, where they parked, had surrendered its pavement to the grass. The old water tower hovered over the town like the crow’s nest of a runaground ship. Stenciled white letters along the tank had once read “Ardmore,” but

someone had painted “Ard-no-more” in tall, black letters, the jagged writing like scratches from long fingernails. “I don’t like it here,” Christina said. “Just watch where you step,” said Seth. They walked toward their grandparents’ old house, a two-story brick farmhouse on the east side of Dakota Ave. It felt very strange to approach the house. He had not been there since he was a kid. He remembered the red mailbox, the trees in the front yard, the rotting brown fence circling the property. The grass was thick and dry brown, like wheat. Chest-high. Seth stepped gingerly through it, circling the house, thinking he would enter through the back door. In case anyone saw them. A ridiculous thought. They had not seen a single car for the last 20 miles of Route 71. The house’s windows were black with grime. Many were broken. A tree branch had fallen through an upstairs window. Christina followed him to the back yard. Seth stood on the cracked concrete patio, stared east across the plains. Beyond the fence was grass all the way to Pine Ridge, South Dakota. “We used to have cold pop out here,” Seth said. “Back when it was just Beth, and Lucas, and me. Gram would turn the radio on and shuck corn for supper. Hap would shoot his pistols at targets along the fence. You ever see Hap’s guns?” “No,” Christina said. “I remember him talking about them.” “Hap was one of those carnival gunmen,” Seth said. “After World War Two.” He turned and stared into the house. The back door looked like it had been kicked in. It hung crookedly on rusted hinges. “I’ll tell you something else. I haven’t seen those guns since we were kids. And as far as I know, nobody in the family has them. They might be somewhere in the house.” “I don’t want to go in there,” Christina said. “What if the floor collapses?” “Well,” Seth said. She had a good point. “I’ll go in first. Test the floors. If the house comes down on me, drive back north to the nearest town.” “I don’t even get reception out here,” Christina said, holding her phone up to the sky. “Be careful.”

Seth took hold of the back door and shoved it open. It scratched along the floor. Inside, the house smelled just like outside, dusty, grassy, dry. “Whose idea was it to build a town out here anyway?” Christina called from the patio. “Homesteaders,” Seth said. He tested the floor with each tentative step. The boards were still sturdy. In one or two places there was some gentle give. He looked at the ceiling. Water spots had rotted away most of the second-floor infrastructure. He would not be going upstairs. There were still one or two pieces of furniture around. The couch in the living room, the couch he remembered sitting on and watching television, looked like someone had used it briefly as the centerpiece of a party. Broken beer bottles surrounded it. A patch of floor looked black and sooty, burned. A hole had formed, and Seth could see the cavernous basement below. In the kitchen the linoleum floor was peeling. Most of the cupboards were intact. The few that were glass had been smashed. Seth found a mug in the sink. He picked it up and stared at it. Couldn’t remember if it had belonged to his grandparents, but he guessed it probably had. “You can come in, if you want,” he called out through the kitchen window. “Watch your step. The basement door is in the kitchen.” Christina picked her way through the house, commenting to herself, appearing in the kitchen a minute later. She looked at Seth. “How come they didn’t take the couch?” Seth shrugged. He pulled a flashlight, his duty light, off his belt, and pointed it at the basement door. “Stand at the top of the stairs,” he said. “I’ll go down alone.” He opened the basement door, turned on his flashlight. The basement stairs did not appear to be rotten. They were dry, and the paint was gone from the bannister. The walls smelled of mildew and animals. He tested the first step, and his foot did not go through. Stair by stair he descended into the basement. “Seth, please be careful,” Christina said. “So far, so good.”

The basement floor was hard-packed dirt. Seth directed his flashlight beam around the dark room. The boiler sat in the corner, a rusty black mass, silent and asleep, like some hibernating beast. Spider webs caked the rafters. There were random boxes stacked against the walls, and more old, broken furniture. A pile of rotten curtains on the floor. He circled the room, tapping boxes with his foot. Some were cardboard, and fell apart at his touch, spilling unidentifiable contents. Others were wood. He opened them carefully, expecting an animal, or a snake, to slither out. In the corner he found an old milk crate full of empty glass bottles. Christina leaned into the doorway at the top of the stairs. “What do you see?” “All kinds of stuff.” “Anything painting-shaped?” “Hold your horses.” There was a single window in the basement, facing the backyard, and the glass was still intact. Beneath the window Seth found several crates leaning against the wall, and a large square mass wrapped in a faded green tarp. “Found the tarp,” he said. “What?” “I found the tarp.” He took out his duty knife, a serrated Kershaw blade, and carefully cut through the tarp. The fibers came apart in his hands. Beneath were three or four wooden boxes of different sizes. He pulled them away from the wall, set them down on the floor. With his blade he was able to pry the wood apart, and inside one of them he found the painting. It had probably not seen light for twenty-five years, and though it had known cold, and likely some moisture, the frame was still solid, the glass plate dusty but uncracked. The painting itself was a vision of the prairie, rendered in more colors than Seth had ever seen in a South Dakota sunset. An impressionist work. Oil paint. He could make out the hardened brush strokes. It reminded him of his own work, so many colors, and he liked it instantly. “Christina.”

“What?” “Bingo.” She took a single step down the stairs. “You found it?” “Found it.” She laughed. “Let’s go.” “Hold on.” He set the painting aside, scanned the room with his flashlight. Against the wall was a small cherrywood box. Seth grinned. He crouched down and brushed his hand over the gritty wood. There was a lock, which had rusted shut, but he could break it with the hammer in his Jeep. He grabbed the box, and retrieved the painting. Back outside, they stood together on the patio. It was late-afternoon, the sun arcing toward the western horizon. A breeze had picked up, whispering in the tall grass. Christina held the painting out in front of her. “I cannot believe this was here,” she said. “Who painted it?” “Van Gogh.” “Are you serious?” “I have no idea who painted it.” “You ding-dong. What’s in that box?” Seth smiled. “Come on back to the car.” They walked back around the house. Seth turned one more time and looked at the back yard. Once his grandfather had mowed the lawn religiously. Now the yard was indistinguishable from the pastures beyond. He remembered Hap dancing in the back yard with his gun belt, putting on a show for the grandchildren. Shooting bottles. Gram standing at the back door, shaking her head. “I thought I would never see this place again,” he said. “Now I probably never will.” “It’s like our past is dead,” Christina said. “You know how people come from Chicago, or Denver, or wherever? Those places aren’t going anywhere. But the place we come from is dead.” “There’s a graveyard across town, if you want to go see who’s there.” “No, thank you.”

Seth walked back to the Jeep. In his toolbox he found a hammer. One solid whack shattered the lock on the cherrywood box. Christina stood beside him, cradling the painting. Seth opened the box. Inside were a pair of gleaming silver pistols. A leather belt with two holsters. A box of shells. He picked up one of the guns. They were old Colt revolvers, with caps over the cylinders. He pushed the cap aside to reveal the empty chambers. He pointed the pistol at the open prairie, squeezed the trigger. It clicked. “I’m trying to imagine Hap working the carnival shows,” Christina said. “He used to shoot these in the back yard.” “In the middle of town?” “Out toward the plains.” Seth pointed east. “The closest thing to hit is maybe fifty miles.” He handed Christina the gun. “Badass,” she said, sighting down the barrel. “You think it still shoots?” “Maybe. There’s one for each of us. Now we’re real South Dakota gunslingers.” Christina set the pistol back in the box. “Can we go now?” ~~~ They arrived back in Rapid City at dusk. Gram was drinking another chocolate milkshake for dinner, watching the news when they knocked on her door. Christina carried the painting triumphantly. They left the guns in the Jeep. “Oh, my goodness,” Gram said, taking the painting. She held it perched on her lap, spent several long minutes staring at it. Seth and Christina pulled chairs up beside the bed. “I should never have left it behind,” Gram said eventually. Her voice sounded younger. Tears beaded in the corners of her eyes. “Your grandfather didn’t like it.” She stared at the painting, lost in its colors. “Hang this on the wall for me, will you, kids?” Seth stood up and glanced at the walls. The room was decorated with some of the art Gram had collected over her life.

“You can take down that still life,” Gram said. “It’s theirs.” Meaning it belonged to the facility. Seth lifted the painting of a bowl of fruit off the wall. He hung the sunset up in its place, below the TV, facing his grandmother. “What do you think of the painting, Seth?” Gram asked. “It’s very good,” Seth said. “Who painted it?” “Your grandfather.” “Hap?” said Christina. “Hap was a painter too?” “Not your grandfather,” said Gram. She pointed a shaky finger at Seth. “Seth’s grandfather.” Seth and Christina glanced at each other. Gram said nothing, sitting in her bed, the television on mute, her eyes on Seth. “Have you ever wondered why you’re the only painter in the family, Seth? It seems you’re the only one who inherited the talent.” “Did you have another husband before Hap, Gram?” Christina asked. Gram looked back at the painting. She looked at it for a long time. Seth noticed he was literally sitting on the edge of his chair, and he sat back. “The sunset was painted by a young man named Francis Toller,” Gram said. She glanced at Christina. “He was the town boy, Christina. The boy I took to the prom.” “And he was your boyfriend?” “It was 1945. It was not like now. Frank Toller and I were nineteen, engaged to be married. Frank-” She wiped her eyes. Seth found a box of tissues on the bedside table, and handed it to her. “Thank you. Frank was killed when the train to Denver derailed in 1945. He was going there to look for work. I was supposed to join him when he found a job. Then we were going to be married.” Gram blew her nose, dropped the used tissue in her lap. “Frank and I jumped the gun, in some regards. Do I need to explain to you both what that means?” Seth felt his nerves electrify, like the way he felt when his boss suddenly asked to see him. But the feeling passed, replaced by a deep and insatiable curiosity. He looked at Christina, who was nodding to herself, eyebrows raised, not really looking at anything.

“Hap came home from the war a month later,” Gram said. “Those were different times. Frank was gone, and I was an eligible woman. Hap and I were married.” “Does my father know any of this?” Seth asked. “He does not,” said Gram. “Your father left Ardmore on the first bus. He never seemed to want anything to do with South Dakota, with his heritage. He’s been telling everyone his whole life he’s a city man.” “Then why tell me?” Seth said. “Why not tell him? He would want to know this.” “He’ll find out,” Gram said. “It will all come out when I’m gone. I wanted you to know, Seth. You’ve always been a loyal South Dakotan. Both of you kids have.” “Did Hap know?” Christina asked. “Certain things were not discussed back then,” said their grandmother. “I never told him. But it was a small town. He probably knew. And he loved me anyway. Together we raised four children. Hap was a good man.” She stared again at the painting. “But he was not an artist.” Seth turned and looked at the painting. Now he knew why he had felt immediately drawn to it. It looked like the kind of image he would paint. A landscape with far more color than was found in reality. From a prairie mind, where colors that rich and deep must have had to be imagined. “This is blowing my mind, Gram,” Seth said. “I trust you both to use discretion,” Gram said. “Everything will come out when I’m gone. In the meantime, maybe we three can keep this a secret.” Seth and Christina each took a long, deep breath, released at the same time, laughed. “Anything else we should know?” Seth asked. “Is there oil under the Ardmore house?” “Not that I know of,” said Gram. He wanted to ask her a thousand questions. About Francis Toller. About Ardmore during the Depression and the war. About how it felt to think about someone every day, miss them, long for them, and feel scared to tell anyone about them. He

did not have to be back on duty in the Black Hills for three more weeks. He would come back to visit his grandmother tomorrow. “There’s one more thing I want to tell you,” Gram said. “And this will appear in the will, but when you hear it, I want at least someone to know why it’s in there.” Seth leaned forward in his chair. Christina moved her chair closer to Gram’s bed. “There’s a cemetery in Ardmore,” Gram said. “On the western edge of town. Francis Toller is buried there. There’s an empty plot next to his grave. At least there was twenty-five years ago. I want to be buried there, beside him.” “Wow,” Seth said. “We almost went there today.” “Oh my god….” said Christina. She reached out and took her grandmother’s hand. “You really don’t want to be with Hap, Gram? After all those years together?” Gram smiled. “Hap and I got our money’s worth.” “Ha,” said Seth. “I want to spend whatever comes next in Ardmore,” Gram said. “With Frank.” ~~~ Outside they stood beside their cars in the parking lot. It was a warm night. Cars buzzed by on the street. “Do you think everyone will flip out?” Christina asked. “There might be a few rude surprises,” Seth said. He thought of his father. The man who always told people he was from Chicago. Personally Seth preferred the Black Hills to the city’s manmade mountain range of skyscrapers. Christina slapped his arm. “I still love you, even if you are adopted.” “I’m not adopted, ding-dong.” Seth stared out at the road. “I think I’m going to drive back to Ardmore tomorrow, see that cemetery. I want to see Francis Toller’s gravestone. Want to come?” “Definitely,” Christina said. “It was pretty creepy out there though. We should bring Hap’s guns, just in case.”

“The guns,” Seth said. “I forgot about the guns.” He glanced into the back of his Jeep. The cherrywood box sat on the backseat. “You should probably keep the guns.” “No. One for each of us. We went and found them. I can’t believe we can’t tell anyone about this.” “I feel like I know a lot less than I did this morning,” Seth said. “About what?” “About everything.” Christina stepped forward and gave him a hug. “I wonder what we’ll find tomorrow.” “Me too.” “See you tomorrow, cuz.” “See you.” He watched her get into her car, and drive away. He knew he would lay awake all night, thinking about Ardmore. Tomorrow they would head back to the ghost town, see what other spirits were floating around. Adam Matson Adam Matson's fiction has appeared internationally in over twenty magazines, including Soundings East, Straylight, and The Oddville Press.

Daughter of the 50s Mom Donna Reed dresses, Themed birthday parties Linoleum scrubbed and polished until Exhausted, she falls asleep on the couch Gingham curtains, red geraniums, Easter cakes Young daughters in matching home-sewn shorts Dinner ready at 6. Dad Fedora, suit and tie Board meetings, Big Brother Going out to hit a bucket of balls The code for I need a break Rotary, Kiwanis, drinks with the boys Impatient, ambitious, kind I want his life. Cathy Hollister Cathy Hollister, an avid hiker, has completed two pilgrim routes of the Camino de Santiago in Spain. Her work has appeared in Rambling Rhymes and La Concha.

Dust Kissed by Daylight

Bill Wolak

the dream of war It’s the same logic that encourages the most marginalized to make do in a system positioned against them, rather than question the historical and social conditions that left them disadvantaged in the first place. The Already Dead: The New Time of Politics, Culture, and Illness by Eric Cazdyn

1. faces are the bar-codes of the human race are scanned & parsed ever since we went tribal are slurred into stereotype are codified to discriminate into alignment & every first impression to “stop & frisk� to incarcerate that ass or deportation the xenophobia of racial profile defined as collateral damage by bullet or drone strike every face a foreign wrapping of suspicion the bigoted inability to face the fear of to see past the assumption of between the lines of bullshit & drama & upbringing & exactly how much will this trust cost? 2. the collective hallucination that points a finger broadens the present tense bias exactly who's the enemy into a future tense of umbrage fighting to maintain the status quo instead of fighting for the inclusivity of all of never get enough or be enough

making it seem as if the present will never end

the way someone riddled with bullet holes is surprised might be proud they’re still standing so very much to fear that kills the drive for cures & imagined new solutions & the newspaper headlines printed in the eternal confrontation that left us marginalized in the first place rendering us inhabitants of that perpetual present tense the good as dead like hungry ghosts of grasp slash & grab because there’s nobody wouldn’t hurt you if they stand to profit : $s


& mo'


3. how many wars are fought

this way?

even now with entire nations absorbed in deep hatred sworn as enemies without once looking their foes in the eye henry 7 reneau, jr henry 7 reneau, jr is the author of the poetry collection freedomland blues and the echapbook physiography of the fittest, both currently available. His work has also been nominated multiple times for Best of the Net.

The Butterfly Effect in Increments of Consequence A night as quiet as an accident waiting to happen & startled by a butterfly flapping its wings over China & the next day you have a piano stuck in a tree—in Louisiana. Katrina in a china shop, a bitch-slanged feminine tantrum, or the crowded middle eastern market place: random Iraqi men, women & children made aware of Operation Desert Storm, the shrapnel speeding 1500 feet per second. Fossil fuels wafting a toxic chemical fog into the ozone layer shot full of holes. The status-worn pelts of extinct animals flaunted by socialites & celebri-hos, forming a panorama of elite excess & shamelessness. Dispossession in the trenches, with the pinned-down in the mud, & howitzer-shelled, the crippled by imperialist infection of multilateral, mechanized force, & long-distance, foreign dreams ripped to shreds & submerged within the complacent tedium of our lives. Seething, a neurotic fear of anonymity & government disdain: Gavrilo Princip shooting Franz Ferdinand & scarlet-lettered Sophie at point-blank range, setting the world on fire, just to see it burn. The not-to-soon-to-be-forgotten impulse—the spree-killer, cubicle-d in the office place, surprised by the gun in hand, soon to be suicide by cop. The butterfly ampersand w/wings, that precipitates the mugging to alleviate addiction, the spontaneous car jack, appropriating someone’s car for a quick spin & 15 minutes of televised police pursuit (the baby in the backseat: optional). It was an easy mistake to make, offering up the good-as-dead as proof of life & waiting for Ed McMahon & his big cardboard check. henry 7 reneau, jr

phylum chordata, which also includes . . . post-chimera/ the testosterone cursed effeminance/: seems girlish in nature?/ transduced/: the best parts of him/ sanssemen/ the vestigial masculine psychologically feminine /to transcend the peripheral gaze of disgust/ & offense /post-transphobia/: the bruises blossomed its stigma /caked with blood /hardened to subterranean trauma/: a vein of nascent coal/ crushed by hydraulic force/ become a war of attrition /vs. the genetic stride of patriarchy /& its Uber-Christian base/ transsexual/: a diamond in the rough snipped & tucked inward /transfigured/: a pelvic wiggle in his walk/ & exquisitely manicured middle finger to the idea that she could be erased/ or silenced henry 7 reneau, jr

whisper & smoke after “The Urban Wild Coyote Project� by Mandy-Suzanne Wong

old man coyote // demigod/shape shifter / dons a missionary's collar/ & snakeskin boots// cocks his head/ a God engine of whisper & smoke/ incognito amongst the People of Hope/: a politician's glint of huckster in his spiel /the sound/bite filtered honey // wild things are wild/ not a rib to be unequally yoked/ because the walls we build to contain them/ mean nothing to them /& their Other-ness is the filth/ that makes them feel // coyotes// the symbolic chaos of disorder in white myths/: the indigenous colonizing their cities/ mercilessly shot/ tortuously caught in traps/ their progeny/gassed inside their dens // coyotes are entangled/ live under constant surveillance/ in many Amerikkkan urban networks/ where the native tribes who venerated them were ousted or exterminated/ but coyotes survived (trickster/ finagler/& taboo breaker) /: in Chicago/ radio-collared coyotes work as civil servants/hunting rodents in the city center /but gunshot splayed if they overstep their place // their refusal to lie down & die/ their adaptability/ tenacity & elusiveness/ their uncanny staying power even as white folks/came a-slaughtering /& Progress swallowed up the land/ the guns & concrete & asphalt of Manifest Destiny/ in the name of 'sivilized /: a self-generating metaphor savages /. . . people from shithole countries //

we were told we no longer belonged/ kidnapped to tall ships /Atlantic crossing into the Gloaming/ between bated breath & the silence // now/ we root ourselves in tribal birthmarks/ & blooms of bruises of old blood/ remake ourselves from jaw bones/ gri-gri wishbones/ & upcountry hambone Blue(s) /like blood diamonds ground down /to whispers on the color line / the comet in us / fur-sleek over sinewy muscle/ chanting Jubilee multi-colored/: our endeavor to persevere /marched on Baltimore/Ferguson /Sanford, Florida gunshot celestial neon with galaxies /but pixilated kaleidoscope to replicate ourselves / seething to the surface iridescent in backwoods magic/ like schools of minnow glimmering unity/ or the electrical ball lightning of fireflies flung down/ then phoenix uprisen/ to roar again/ singing mighty protest songs // Note: Philadelphia, Denver, Toronto, and the Gotham Coyote Project in New York City boast research organizations devoted to metropolitan coyotes. In Chicago, radio-collared coyotes work as civil servants, hunting rodents in the city center. In Tucson, biologists found that 50% of the city’s human residents enjoy seeing coyotes in their neighborhoods. Up to 85% believe coyotes pose no threat.

henry 7 reneau, jr

Conciliation You Attempt, But for Consolation You Must Plead Atop the Capitoline Hill, I ask a carabiniere how to find a street named for consolation He explains with some annoyance that Conciliation is a long walk across town, but Consolation winds down the hill from the glamorous wedding, the equestrian statue and the famous piazza I don’t have time for It leaves me at the Fortuna Virilis - a startling concept and a shambles of a collonaded shack running late Colin Dodds Colin Dodds grew up in Massachusetts and lived in California briefly, before finishing his education in New York City. He’s made a living as a journalist, editor, copywriter and video producer. He is the author of several novels and poetry collections.

The Greeting I mouth every nuance, each hesitation, and firm declaration as I listen to the polite invitation to leave a message. I can see the zip-up, low-cut fine leather boots and the wisps of black hair laid carefully crosswise on the balding top; and imagine the sigh of appreciation of the aged Scotch I know was in your hand. I relish your South Texas border lilt before I am aware of it and before I recognize again how much I needed to hear it and your professorial air. You died last month. It’s the fifth time I’ve called today. Louis Girón Louis Girón grew up in San Antonio, was a battalion surgeon in Viet Nam, and now lives in Western North Carolina. His poems have appeared in Aji, Chest, and others.

Lovey Duane’s desk empty week after week. When he’s back for a day, the other girls run from him, laughing, screeching. “That’s stupid,” I say. I trust words under pictures, commas like shovels, periods like nail heads and bullets. “What’s that word?” someone whispers. “Lovey,” I answer. I’m ashamed of mistaking it. I do know what love is. Duane’s eyes and hair, girls running lightly across the split asphalt. Death drives by in a big black car. Echoing schoolyard. Broken crayons. Barbara Daniels Barbara Daniels’ poetry has appeared in Prairie Schooner, Mid-American Review, and other journals. Collections include Talk to the Lioness and Rose Fever.

The Lost River At the reunion I hear myself saying my husband, my husband, chilled to remember the friend who dropped a man’s name into so many sentences my eyes rolled back. She came home from that weekend to emptied closets, car gone from their stark garage. No note, no last conversation. What we love most can slip from us like a river that’s been diverted, losing its narrow bed. A groundhog chews on grass and berries, cheerfully ducking whenever I pass. I lift a hand, pause my audible breath. The river branches. Purple irises guard its banks. Barbara Daniels

Remnants of Blue Ridge Mountain Ice Storm

Deborah Levine-Donnerstein

The Red Snowsuit The photo I sent was a bad one, Mom said, surprised to see time had nicked me and I’d gone leathery, spattered where death kicked past me. I’d been back to the hospital, springing apart like a breaking watch, talking too much, trying to put my nurses at ease. Why did I struggle this far from Mom this many years? I’m a child in a snowsuit that blisters my wrists, ice in my hair. Snow falls in Iowa, covers the hard-frozen ground. Barbara Daniels

Grey This end began before the beginning, and I want the drumroll of a fresh cigarette, that crescendo of smoke, and sudden topsy turvy. I curve into my make-believe, curl and cease, ashed. I dream of charred storms on pewter beaches, something that sucks the sun like smoke. I dream of rain, weeping streets, a warm car, a lover, glances flicked like gunshots. There are holes in the music, caves awaiting an explorer. There are nations between the lines, the unsaid is thunderous. I melt, the last thing to go my bulletproof lashes. I blink, wave my mascara at passing cars, grey and rare as Tahitian pearls. I blink away from confessions, the bone-shine they leave, and find an ember of me. Laura Saint Martin Laura Saint Martin is currently working on a mystery series set in the foothills of Southern California. Her poetry deals with life on the autism spectrum, mental health, blue collar struggles, and animals and nature. She lives in Rancho Cucamonga, California and works at Patton State Hospital and for

The Things I’ve Said to the Dead Man on my Dashboard How many windshields have I blacked with my vitriol? We’ve picked these bones to their very molecules, but there’s no winning with a liar. How many jet streams have I stalled with shredded love notes? As if written words speak louder than the tantrums I spared you. I was glad and sad and mad when I heard you were dead, shook my diamondless fist at the Gods of Not Invited. I never felt your soul drop away, unremarked as a cheap-ass rhinestone. The scars itched no more, no less than they always have. I want to piss on your ashes, sell all the cocaine in your preempted blood and buy myself flowers. After twenty five years, your chemical signature still burns pinprick holes in my favorite skirt. On good days I make believe they’re stars. Laura Saint Martin

A Wild Rover Some fool was playing “The Wild Rover” on the jukebox again, and once more they sang along, And it’s no nay never, the women clapping, clap clap clap clap and the men slapping the table so hard that the pints of Guinness and half-pints of Harp skittered and teetered and the bowl of peanuts leaped, one peanut bouncing out, to be snatched up by Jackson Finnerty one second before his grandfather could reach it. Of course, he had the advantage of youth, fifty years to the day younger than Timothy Finnerty, seventy-one. Kevin stood over them smiling down affectionately. Timothy was his cousin and Jackson was, well, whatever the grandson of a first cousin was. He loved them both, though. Family. Loving family was a sacred obligation. Kevin stood there a moment longer and then, realizing that he couldn’t remember why he’d stood up in the first place, he sat back down. ~~~ They were singing the chorus. No nay never no more . . . The women clapped, the men slapped the table, the glasses skittered, the bowl of peanuts bounced. Kevin looked around. Where were they? Oh, yes, The Wicklow Tavern in Brooklyn. Some fool, earlier in the evening after the wake, back at his brother Robert’s house in Rockaway Park, had said, Hey, let’s go out on a pub crawl. So they’d piled into Robert’s RAV4, all six of them -- Kevin peered around the table and counted; yes, six -- and drove down to 129th Street first and then 116th Street, trying to find the old places, the old haunts, but the only bar that looked familiar was O’Grady’s on 116th, and even in their salad days,

their fake I.D. days, they’d hesitated to go in there with the serious drunks and the stubblefaced homeless in for one bracing shot before going back out to bed down in their cardboard boxes, heated by the warm air rising from the sidewalk grates. Finally, driving farther out on Rockaway Beach Boulevard, they found that Tubridy’s was still there -- good ol’ Tubridy’s! -- and they went in and had a couple. Then someone said, Hey, wonder if The Wicklow is still open? Back in the car. Across the Marine Parkway Bridge into Brooklyn, on to The Wicklow. He remembered that much of the evening, Kevin did. The rest was a little hazy. He peered down into his glass: empty. “I just might have another pint. I do believe I’ll have one more.” He worked himself halfway up from his chair, then had a marvelous idea. “I think I’ll buy Tommy one. Good ol’ Tommy!” Someone gave him a gentle tug by the tail of his windbreaker, and he plopped back into his chair. It had to have been one of the two women he was sitting between, either Mary Ann, Timothy’s wife, or Kevin’s sister-in-law, Peggy. He was just about to give them accusing looks -- Mary Ann, at least; he dared not look at Peggy -- when from across the table Robert said, “You damn fool, that was forty years ago. Tommy bartended here forty years ago. You think he’s still alive?” “Why not? We’re still alive, aren’t we?” Kevin said. “That’s a damn good question,” Timothy said, and Jackson laughed so hard he almost slid down out of his chair. ~~~ Some fool . . . No nay never no more . . . The women clapped clap clap while the men slapped the table slap slap and Kevin held on to his skittering pint glass, which, he was delighted to see, was almost

half-full. They were singing the song, they were singing “The Wild Rover.” Everyone in the bar, these New York Irish, was singing it, clapping hands, slapping tables, pints and half-pints of Guinness and Harp, shot glasses of Jameson’s and Bushmill’s skittering -- and over there a bottle of Bud Light. Bud Light? “What the hell!” Kevin, outraged, exclaimed, attempting to rise. “You still have half a glass. Go easy a while, Kevvy,” Timothy said, and Kevin pointed a finger at him: “Why were you singing so loud? Your mother was a Dreher, a German. You’re ersatz Irish is all. Why were you singing so loud?” Timothy tried to laugh, but it came out in a hacking cough. A life-time smoker, Timothy had emphysema. “Go easy, Kev, go easy,” Mary Ann said, laying a hand on Kevin’s wrist. Her knuckles were swollen with arthritis. Her left pinkie curled unnaturally under her ring finger. “Oh God, I’m sorry,” Kevin said. “I’m so sorry. Hey, my mother was a Richardson. Our mother was a Richardson, right, Robert? Know what a Richardson is? English. Can you believe that shit? English.” “We’re all ersatz Irish,” Robert said, and Jackson said, “The only full-blooded Irish I know of in Rockaway are the Cashes. Right, Grandpa?” Timothy opened his mouth to reply but coughed like he was trying to saw his throat into bite-size pieces. Kevin looked away, suddenly remembering the St. Patrick’s Day parade they’d watched earlier that morning, standing at the curb on the boulevard in the unexpected cold and sleet, Kevin in a borrowed topcoat, borrowed gloves and scarf, having brought no more than a windbreaker from Atlanta. And his black suit, of course, but that was for the funeral. “Come for the funeral, Kevin. It’s on the 18th at 2:00 p.m.,” Robert had phoned, catching him in the waiting room of the urologist’s office. It sounded like an invitation to a party. “Uncle Bob would have wanted us to enjoy ourselves,” Peggy had said. Kevin, Robert, and Timothy’s Uncle Bob was in his nineties when he died. He was the last of that generation. Now young whelp Jackson there would think of Kevin, Robert, and their cousins as the old ones.

He tried to picture Uncle Bob. Not much came to him. He hardly thought of him as a partier, though. Still, Peggy had said that he would have wanted them to enjoy themselves, so that’s what they were doing. Peggy was sitting next to Kevin, on his left. He tried hard not to turn that way and look at her. ~~~ . . . will I play the wild rover . . . clap slap “Funny thing is, most everybody thinks ‘The Wild Rover’ is an Irish song,” Jackson, directly across the table from Kevin, said, “but there’s no real evidence of that.” Kevin frowned. He’d been trying to listen to the lyrics. He’d heard the song a dozen times tonight and probably a hundred times in his life, could sing along and slap the proper numbers of times after each line of the chorus with the best of them, but he had no idea what it was actually about. How was that possible? There seemed to be some deep psychological or philosophical -- epistemological? -- conundrum involved here, and he wanted to present it to those at the table for consideration if only he could arrange the words into a clear sequence, but that was impossible with the loud music, the loud talk and laughter, clapping and slapping. And now, with Jackson intoning like a college professor wannabe, he couldn’t even concentrate on the song’s lyrics. Mary Ann, who had a tiny, little girl’s voice, leaned across Timothy to make herself heard by her grandson. “Are you saying it’s not Irish?” “I didn’t say that. I just said it’s not necessarily Irish. “Do you know that Glasgow Celtic soccer fans sing it at their games? English soccer fans sometimes sing it, too.” It finally sank in to Kevin what the young fool was saying. He leaned across the table, brushing Mary Ann back with his forearm and said, “Well, they sing ‘When the Saints Go Marching In” at EPL games, too. So does that mean it’s not necessarily a New Orleans song?” Wait. Had he set the timer on his DVR at home to record the Man U.-Man City game? Kevin had never played soccer in his life, but the day his daughter, Liza, stepped on

the field for the Rockin’ Robins U-5, he became an instant fan, volunteering to assist and in ten years having his A-Youth license, coaching Liza’s classic team in full-pitch warfare against sides from all over Georgia, tournaments in Tennessee, South Carolina, Alabama, even Florida. The day eighteen-year-old Liza stepped off the field after her last game (“I’ve played enough soccer, Pop,” she told him), he said to himself, My life is over. That was in May, and in August Liza left for college at Marquette in Wisconsin -- a “legacy,” he proudly told his friends but suspected she’d gone there for the same reason he had all those years ago: to be too far away for weekend visits from the folks. Alone with each other, Kevin and Elizabeth sat down and discussed whether they should get a divorce. They decided against it for a number of reasons, primarily convenience. No explaining things to relatives and friends, no lawyer hassles, no arguing over who kept what, who would move. The house was big enough that Elizabeth kept the master bedroom, and Kevin used the one in the finished basement with a bathroom, even a wet bar, which he made liberal use of. They could go for days without seeing each other -not that that was necessary. They weren’t acrimonious. Kevin considers Elizabeth a friend. He wishes her well. They still live in the same house, the same arrangement. For many years she’s had a boyfriend who sometimes stays over. Kevin’s never caught him banging her up against the wall, so the boyfriend doesn’t bother Kevin much. The years, now, the years bother the hell out of him. ~~~ . . . will I play . . . clap


-- the fool, the fool -- but fools gotta play it, fools gotta sing it -- Kevin sang, slapped -Timothy was talking to his grandson, Jackson, who listened and nodded, listened and nodded. Kevin looked around. They had been to The Wicklow only that one time to the best of his recollection, Timothy and Robert and Peggy and Kevin and . . . who? Mary Ann? He couldn’t remember her being there. Some other girl. Maybe two other girls, one for Timothy and one for Kevin because of course Peggy was for Robert. He couldn’t remember. How was

a man supposed to remember all those years ago? Decades. When you start measuring your life in decades . . . He looked around. Looked right toward the bar, looked left toward the jukebox, not remembering until it was too late that she was there, and his eyes fell on Peggy, squeezed up close to him at the little table, her thigh almost touching his. He lurched to the right, knocking over Mary Ann’s half-pint glass, fortunately empty. You son of a bitch! Robert bellowed, throwing himself across the table at Kevin, hands stretching for his throat. No. Robert sat smiling in that gentle, wistful way of his that made their mother when he was a boy insist that he’d be a priest, although of course that hadn’t happened. Instead he fell in love with Peggy Dolan, who all those decades ago sat beside Kevin in The Wicklow and when Kevin put his hand on her thigh did not react except to part her legs slightly, and sometime before the night was over he did her standing up in the alley behind the tavern, or in the driveway of the Dolan house in Breezy Point, or was it up against the concrete barrier at the end of one of the beach blocks on Rockaway Beach? He couldn’t remember. He wondered if Peggy remembered any of it. There was no reason to dwell on it. They’d been drunk, that was all. It was more an accident than an act of passion -- like drinking too much beer and suddenly feeling the vomit erupt out of you, something you couldn’t help. When had it happened, though? Just before or just after she and Robert got engaged, but which? No, there was no use dwelling on it, but surely it was important whether they had been engaged or not. How had his life been so lax, so careless, that he couldn’t remember a thing like that? He slid his eyes to the left and looked at Peggy’s profile. He could see her skull through her thinning gray hair. The loose flesh under her chin looked like cottage cheese. Good God! In the mirror in the men’s room, Kevin looked at his face. Good God! He found his way back to the table with little trouble. ~~~

“You wouldn’t believe how much it’s changed since me and Kevin and Bobby-boy here were pups, since we were your age,” Timothy said to Jackson. Kevin hovered over them, holding on to the back of his chair. There was a thing he wanted to say, but Timothy’s comment disrupted his chain of thought. He looked around. He couldn’t tell that The Wicklow had changed that much -- not that he remembered how it had looked back then. Couldn’t remember a thing about it. Only Tommy behind the bar. “It’s changed, yes, but at the same time it’s remained the same,” Robert said. Kevin broke in. “A conundrum,” he said. That wasn’t the thing he’d wanted to say, though. “Yes, a conundrum, that’s it exactly,” Robert said. “Take the boardwalk. You know it used to be made of wood,” he said to Jackson, “But now it’s concrete. A boardwalk but no boards, see?” Jackson began to laugh. “I know that, Uncle Robert. I live here, remember?” Kevin frowned in confusion until he realized they weren’t talking about The Wicklow. “Wait,” he said. “You mean the boardwalk’s not wood anymore?” “No,” Robert started to explain, but Jackson took over for him. “No, not since Sandy. Sandy took it all out. Now it’s concrete. They did a good job of it, too. Bike lanes, pedestrian lanes. The only problem is they made the berm so high that if you sit on one of the benches on the boardwalk, you can’t even see the ocean.” Timothy shook his finger at his grandson like a teacher correcting his pupil. “True, but only to a point. Once you get to 118th Street, maybe 119th, the dunes level off and you can see the ocean just fine.” “Still,” Jackson said as if he remained unconvinced. What was the young fool butting in for anyway? There was something wrong with a kid his age hanging out with the Over the Hill Gang, wasn’t there? And look, the kid was sitting there drinking a Coke! In The Wicklow! Something was wrong with that, something seriously wrong. No wait. Wait. He remembered. Yes, this he did remember. Jackson had volunteered to come along as the designated driver. Kevin did remember that. What a great kid, great, great kid. “I’m sorry,” Kevin said, but with the music so loud Jackson didn’t hear him.

No never no more . . . clap clap Kevin leaned forward to slap the table but lost his balance and had to be caught by Mary Ann and Peggy, too, who helped him into his chair. “Some fool, some fool keeps playing that song over and over and over. It’s driving me nuts,” he declared. The other five around the table careened against each other, laughing. Laughed and laughed. Finally, Robert, holding his sides, collected himself enough to say, “You jackass. That was you. You’re the one who’s been playing ‘The Wild Rover’.” All Kevin could manage to say was, “Oh. My bad.” It was a thing the young people said today, that Liza had said: “My bad.” She’d gone to Wisconsin to get away from him. She’d never come back. “On that note, I think it’s time for us to be heading home,” Timothy said. Jackson was helping Kevin out the door. “You know, Uncle Kevin, it’s not really a drinking song at all. It’s a temperance song. Think about it. The guy leaves home, roves around the world leading a wild life, then at the end comes home to his parents and confesses what he’s done.” Kevin stopped on the sidewalk, dusted with a light snow that had fallen in the hour -the two or three hours -- that they had sat drinking in The Wicklow. “I’m sorry,” he said to Jackson, who gave him a bemused look but said nothing. Up ahead, their backs to him, Timothy, Mary Ann, Robert, and Peggy retreated into the distance. ~~~ They’re back to the house on 126th Street, his brother’s house. It’d been their parents, but after their father died and then their mother, Kevin let Robert buy his half of the property for a song, considering himself well rid of it, glad to be living in Georgia, glad to be out of Rockaway. Though they later moved, Timothy’s family had lived right next door when the boys

were youngsters, only the narrow driveway intervening. Once, Timothy’s parents bought a new bedroom suite and gave the old one to Kevin and Robert’s family. Rather than lugging the furniture downstairs, out and around next door, then upstairs again, Timothy’s dad rigged a pulley between the attics of the two houses and transported things that way. And didn’t that imp Kevin, when he thought no one was around, put his little brother, Robert, in a laundry basket and haul him across the driveway? Wouldn’t you know it, though, their mother caught him in the act, and didn’t he catch it, and didn’t he deserve to catch it? “Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa,” he said to one and all, beating his breast, but with his left hand, young Jackson holding him up on his right. slap slap slap Dennis Vannatta Dennis Vannatta's stories have been featured in anthologies and magazines including River Styx, Chariton Review, and Boulevard. His sixth collection of stories, The Only World You Get, was recently published.


oil on canvas

Tomer Peretz

Ramblings I look into a mirror and see someone I don't recognize. Flesh that has given in to gravity, eyes hooded by heavy lids, a not so swan-like neck and rounded shoulders. I remember being three and seeing some kids of about fourteen; I was impressed and thought ‘I’ll never be that old.’ Then I wondered about purpose. He raped me. Was he loading the dice of his karma? Was I supposed to be serving his purpose? When I painted at 12 and stopped at 16, lit my first cigarette at 17? When I travelled and grew up? I had the kids and didn’t quite know what to do. When my marriage went pear-shaped, I finally opted out, leaving my children with their father. When I didn’t die during the op, or when I won the competition, or published my books… Did all of this make any sense at all? Did I ever spin straw into gold like that girl in the fairy tale who was sold by her mother to the old king? Maybe that’s life's alchemy. We’re all here to spin straw into gold. Sometimes we do, sometimes we don’t.

Death may well be the time when we get to leave with a certain gratitude about having lived at all. Perhaps that’s when our accounts are back in black. Rose Mary Boehm Rose Mary Boehm, a German-born UK national, lives in Lima, Peru. Her latest poetry collection, The Rain Girl, will be published in September, 2020.

Plumb the Depths I would have loved to take the boat this morning, lifting anchor and sail into myself to find my lovers and my mysteries before they sink into the unknown soil of meds-induced oblivion. There was a time when I was sure. I knew my weltanschauung. My worldview had no room for doubt, I was immortal and so right and filled with certainties which might save all of us from wearing out. Life’s rains have washed away the store of unexamined plenty thus forcing me to turn each coin before I let it drop to join the others which have lost their worth. Rose Mary Boehm

in the softness by and by In the little bit of light now left, mawkishness climbs untethered. It seems these eyes I’ve used for over fifty years will not alight on any part of you for long, though you try your measured best to guide them. There is some comfort to be found on the floor, a tear in the carpet that resembles an empty eye socket, a fluttering of loose fibers trailing off like an estuary, and your feet, held in their little pouches of red. You are just so soft, all of you. I wonder how you even stand. F X James F X James is a British expat living in Minnesota. His poems and stories have appeared in many magazines.

And He Asked Me Why I Hadn’t Done More Isle of Harris, Scotland

Enough, enough is never enough though the cow kneels and the sea comes milking in, the water cold as the wind, and seals, like boulders rear their noses under the burly clouds while smoke and rock stand like sentinels— what they see they cannot speak, the children mug their cameras as they gad in selfie stones-and you and me? Let’s return and climb the parapet, let’s go back and this time, wait for me. My legs are short and the grindstone in the old Norse mill minces my heart. Lois Marie Harrod Lois Marie Harrod is well published in literary journals and online ezines from American Poetry Review to Zone 3.

By nightfall the headlines would be reporting devastation. from the opening of The Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard

And devastation was like rain, intermittent but expected. When was there a broadcast that said, The sun has come? There will be no more rain? We tried it once or twice with peace. It was simply that the sky, on a shadeless day, suddenly lowered itself like an awning. Closed us in at the table where we were yawning, a hot tent, but one that we could not gather with our bed and dismiss. The children thought it funny, sitting there eating bagels with cream cheese. Purple silence petrified the limbs of trees and stood crops upright in the fields like hair on end. We’d seen such colors before, but mostly early in the morning, wet fur, or at the end of day—the violet hush on the shed, the magenta crow. This, though, was noon. Whatever there was of fresh white paint sprang out from downs or dunes, or lacerated a roadside with a streak of fencing. We talked of saints, of how their white gowns were hanging like leaves in the unmoved breeze. This occurred shortly after midday on a summer Monday in the south of England. And here it was again. By nightfall the headlines would be reporting devastation. Lois Marie Harrod

untitled You are always afternoons flowering slowly around this stone as light –you can see who was here, who wept who left with both fists holding your last breath that’s still not over, warming it for the kisses two by two lowered into your mouth the way an evening will listen to anyone who promises your arms will separate again take in a hundred rivers bringing you an old love song and not know who, who? Simon Perchik Simon Perchik is an attorney whose poems have appeared in Partisan Review, The New Yorker and elsewhere. His most recent collection is The Rosenblum Poems.

untitled From among the poisons a box Half cardboard, half wiping the sweat from your fingertips where you reach in for the pellets, for that last day with the lid left open for mice the way the cashier is used to her uniform unbuttoned and without looking up sweetens it with those medals you want so much to shine while she slowly leans toward you must know your hands are suffering and there’s so much you want to tell her. Simon Perchik

untitled Inside this oak flooring a single nail instructs it where to creak the way branches will track the sun find lakes then geese then those leaves covered with smoke that comes from wood knows all about hammers and claws made from the silence that follows and though there is no rain you still place a small stone on the sill sure the window will let out the light where you open your hand no longer holding the boards together. Simon Perchik

Autumn Mulling: Of Wine and Mortality To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven. A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck what is planted. Ecclesiastes 3:1-2

I am the artist-in-residence at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. It’s a great gig, but to be honest before I discovered this opportunity, I didn’t even know there were national lakeshores. I was keenly aware of national parks and monuments, being from Wyoming where the first of each was designated (Yellowstone and Devils Tower). And I was vaguely attuned to national battlefields and historic sites. But national lakeshores? There are actually four, all located on the Great Lakes—and all are honest-to-goodness National Parks. National lakeshores and seashores (we have ten of the latter) are shaped by ecological edges, unlike most other Parks which are carved out of the American landscape along wholly unnatural borders, as evidenced by their straight edges. The inland boundary of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is marked by a jagged, rectilinear line, but the lakeside border follows the shore in grand, sweeping curves extending a quarter mile into Lake Michigan and forms halos around North and South Manitou Islands. These islands are the mythical memorials of the two cubs who drowned while swimming to escape fire or famine (depending on the version of the Chippewa legend) with their mother. She made it to shore, where the Great Spirit Manitou gently laid a blanket of sand over the grieving bear and induced an endless slumber to soften her inconsolable sorrow. The Park’s eponymous dune embodies a heartbreaking tale of perpetual limbo, being neither fully alive nor finally dead. But then, a lakeshore is an in-between place. The windswept beaches transition between the sunny upland forests and fields where farmers cultivate life and the dark depths of the world’s fifth largest lake where 379 ships have been stranded or wrecked in the Manitou Passage between these islands and the mainland. And I’m here during an in-between season.

October at the lakeshore is sardonically called the time of the “newly wed and nearly dead.” Who says the National Park Service lacks a sense of humor (even if the ranger who shared this darkly funny phrase did so on the sly)? Autumnal visitors are in lifetime transitions—either making babies or making wills, preparing for new beginnings or inevitable endings. As for me, I’ve been married for 37 years, raised two children, and have “update will” on my to-do list, so I know which demographic fits me. But then, I’ve always been a creature of autumn. Some people have a ‘natural’ age, a time in life that resonates with their being. We all know the 70-year old whose inner child erupts with glee and playfulness, having emerged only sporadically through adulthood until finally being set loose upon retirement. And we’ve encountered the 7-year old ‘old soul’ who looks into our eyes with a wisdom beyond her years and offers a crooked, knowing smile upon encountering the absurdity of adults and their rules. I’ve long felt that I belong to autumn. So while I’m far from my Wyoming homeland, I’m in my hometime, having traded golden aspens for fiery maples. Robert Frost penned, “So dawn goes down to day. Nothing gold can stay,” alluding to the ephemerality of leaves and innocence. People, civilizations, species and stars flourish for years or eons, but they inevitably decline. The question is not whether their autumn will come but whether the transition into winter will be graceful, even dignified, without fruitless defiance and unnecessary suffering. ~~~ Autumn needn’t be a time of grim preparation. One can acknowledge mortality while relishing life. Being an avid gardener—no small challenge when trying to grow vegetables at 7,200 feet—I delight in the fall harvest. In Old English, “fall harvest” would be redundant because Hærfest was the word for this season. Of course, spring peas and summer zucchini are welcomed, but the highlight of the year is the digging of the root crop. This year, the multicolored carrots and snow white parsnips were extraordinary (the golden beets and potatoes less so). No summer salad trumps roasted, fall vegetables. In the farms snugged up to Sleeping Bear

Dunes, there is an abundance of apples and pumpkins, the former crisp and tart, the latter languishing in heaps, hoping for a pie or jack o’ lantern fate. Likewise, life has a way of yielding, if not assuring (there always being the possibility of early freezes, hailstorms and droughts), the fruits of our labor. We reap what we sow, whether as individuals or societies. I’ve tried hard to be a good husband, father, and professor. I’ve eaten reasonably well (hard cider notwithstanding) and exercised regularly (if not my wife’s daily runs of 8-10 miles), so I feel healthy. For its part, Western civilization cultivated science (from Newton to Darwin to Einstein), philosophy (from Socrates to Kant to Foucault), and art (from Shakespeare to Mozart to Picasso). As a result, we live in a time of wondrous knowledge, insight, and beauty. I’d contend that any student of history, if asked to choose a time to live as a random individual anywhere on earth, would almost certainly opt for the current day despite its shortcomings—which I shall get to in due time. I’d opt to be 60 years old in 2020. One of the pleasantries of autumn is that the garden requires less work (setting aside the blanket of leaves in the yard needing to be raked). The pulling of weeds, pruning of shoots, and tending of roots diminishes. In my university career, I find there are fewer committees to serve, fewer policies to challenge, and fewer courses to develop as these tasks increasingly become the labor of the younger faculty who have a greater stake in the institution’s future. I have less desire and need for more— whether greater yields of tomatoes and peppers, grants and publications, or power and wealth (although this admittedly means more time for writing in places like National Lakeshores). This is the time to store the harvest, having mastered a method for keeping root vegetables fresh for months by replanting them in dark bins of cool sand. As an entomologist turned philosopher-writer who loved reading to his kids, I think back to Aesop’s fable of the “Grasshopper and the Ant.” Grasshopper ecology and management (a lovely euphemism for killing) defined my scientific life for the first 15 years in academia. I became something of an entomological emissary for these creatures, and the fabled grasshopper is unfairly portrayed.

Sure, we must plan for the future and not wile away our days, but there ought to be a warning to children about the downsides of being a hyper-industrious, futureoriented, Type-A worker ant. When fall arrives, the grasshopper hasn’t saved up, while the ant has a full larder. But how about an alternative ending? At the close of summer, an entomologist directs the aerial spraying of the pasture for pesky insects. The grasshopper, who has fiddled and danced, dies having enjoyed life, while the ant can only wonder what delights were forgone in the pursuit of future security. It’s a bit like the worker who labors miserably looking forward to the pleasures of retirement, only to succumb to a heart attack at his farewell party. ~~~ Technically, fall began with the autumnal equinox on September 23 this year and ends with the winter solstice on December 21. There’s no point contesting the rationality of astronomy, but most of us can feel the onset of autumn. We know the timing, but we sense the turning. We recognize the smell of smoke emanating from fireplaces, even if we know that releasing volatile hydrocarbons is an indulgence (not every moment has to be environmentally correct and morally righteous). The damp forest is filled with the earthy scent of fruitful decay, the melancholic vapors of rot. Savor those caramelized, roasted fall vegetables (the brown crust is reportedly carcinogenic, but please refer to the previous parenthetical caveat). The gardener knows to harvest after a frost for the sweetest produce, and even after a snow for Brussels sprouts. Add cinnamon, nutmeg and clove to almost anything, especially a big, bold Malbec or Sangiovese for mulled wine. But maybe not a mass-produced coffee drink from a corporation that didn’t even put pumpkin in their “Pumpkin Spice Latte” until recently. To feel fall, find a time and place where you can stand and have your chest too hot in the long sunlight and have your back too cold in the shade of your own body. In between, you are autumn. But do so with a wool sweater or a flannel shirt because

those synthetic, wicking fabrics of summer mute the tactile nature of this in-between season. Listen to the crunch of leaves underfoot and that first bite of a crisp apple—not a thin-skinned Golden Delicious or mealy-fleshed Red Delicious, neither of which is delicious. And ah, the sound of leaf blowers! I understand they’re the auditory bane of autumn, as are snow blowers, rototillers, and lawn mowers in the other three seasons. Relax into the racket (says the owner of a leaf blower, the stoker of a fireplace, the roaster of crispy potatoes, and the wearer of polytetrafluoroethylene fabric). Of course, the sensory sine qua non of autumn is color, with the maple-beech forests of Sleeping Bear Dunes transitioning from golden-chartreuse to dayglow orange to Kool-Aid red. The spectacle is not so much a recoloring as it is an unmasking. Leaves stop producing chlorophyll in anticipation of being shed from the tree (“fall” being the shortened version of “fall of the leaf,” from the late Renaissance). So it is that greenness gives way to what might be considered the true or underlying color. These flaming hues are what the leaf looks like when it is no longer defined by its photosynthetic labors. The value of the leaf transitions from utility to beauty, from productive manufacturing to aesthetic quality. I’ve been told that like leaves, people reveal their deeper nature when they retire from making greenbacks. When we are dropped from the labor force and work no longer defines us, we must find our meaning in something other than a paycheck. Likewise, I wonder if we can know a culture’s true colors by seeing what lies beneath its material wealth. What would be the shade of justice, the tint of laughter, or the hue of dance? Many of my friends in their 60s and 70s have revealed their underlying nature as one of mature and impassioned activism. They are some of the most effective and devoted protestors of climate change. That 16-year old from Sweden is doing wonderful things and more power to her and the youth who will live in a world the octogenarians leave behind. But I have a special feeling for red leaves and gray activists. Will I join these wise folks when retirement comes in a few years? I’m not

sure that I’ll be shouting slogans and lobbying politicians, but somebody has to write stories for the children while their grandparents protest. ~~~ I’ve long thought that to understand people, particularly those who disagree with my own firm grasp of what is true and right, I must ask them (and myself): What do you fear? So much of our religion and politics (the two topics to be assiduously avoided at family Thanksgiving feasts) is shaped by what haunts our lives—other than the costumed demons ringing the doorbell with candy-craving extortionists’ threats. I don’t like the edges of cliffs, such as the observation deck above Lake Michigan at Empire Bluffs or the overlook lacking guardrails at the end of the trail leading from the Treat Farm. And I don’t like being in deep water, like the 900 feet of Lake Michigan, but fortunately October isn’t a tempting time for swimming. And I don’t like being chilled to the bone, as on a dune hike when sleet and wind conspired to challenge the thermal ratings of my outerwear. But these do not evoke deep angst because their greatest threat is death—and that’s eventually going to happen one way or another. My abiding fear was expressed by Henry David Thoreau, who went into the woods so that when it came time to die, he would not “discover that I had not lived.” Many people worry about the afterlife— whether they’ll spend eternity in heaven or hell (or forever under a purgatorial blanket of sand?). I grew up Catholic and can still feel the tug of such worries from my childhood: “If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” But I’m now Unitarian-Universalist, and I’ve abandoned the notion of an afterlife (although I’m willing to be pleasantly, or so I hope, surprised). I am not consumed by anxiety as to whether there is life after death; my enduring concern is that there be life before death. When I turned 50, I figured that I was maybe halfway through life, what with all the medical technology available and promised. But I’ll be 60 in a few months. The oldest known person died at 122 years, and the chances of my making it to 100 are

about one percent—even with anticipated advances in medicine. In short, I’m autumnal. While there’s much to recommend the aging grasshopper’s approach of living in the moment, there’s also something to be said for doing what is reasonable to assure that another moment is coming. Jumping off the bluffs overlooking Lake Michigan would be amazing, but that would be the last, brief thrill of a lifetime. How much autumnal pleasure should I forego in anticipation of winter (the juicy cheeseburgers at Joe’s Friendly Tavern in Empire, where the Park Service has its visitors center, are fantastic)? It’s a tough balancing act, but I think I’m doing better as a person than we’re doing as a species. America, if not all of humanity, seems myopically focused on the present pleasures and conveniences of industrial agriculture, throwaway products, and fossil fuels. But if a daily burger was generating tightness in my chest, I wouldn’t just wince and deny the discomfort. Burning fossil fuels is warming the planet with unambiguously painful symptoms: fierce hurricanes, horrific wildfires, rising seas, dying reefs, shrinking glaciers, deadly heatwaves, and, in the words of my 20something friend, “weather weirding.” Is the grand experiment of industrialized civilization in its autumn? People and cultures eventually pass. Again, the question is not whether they are mortal, but whether their transition is graceful, even dignified, without fruitless defiance and unnecessary suffering. Winter is coming, and there’s supposed to be good cross-country skiing at Sleeping Bear Dunes—if it snows. I’ve pretty much given up on downhill skiing, having decided that speed is the endorphin releaser of youth and it hurts more to fall these days (“So, go slower,” you say, to which I reply, “I am possessed by my 18-year old self when put on a mogul field.”). I can recognize and accept my limitations—the longer time it takes for a bruise to fade or a sprain to heal. Analgesics can mask pain, but we deny biophysical reality at our peril, whether individually or collectively. Today we have the fantastical pain relievers of liquid thorium reactors, smart grids and, my favorite, terraforming Mars. If we make Earth unlivable we have Plan B. This spacey refusal to deal with our situation is tantamount to telling 19 th century loggers, who deforested Manitou Islands to provide cordwood for the steamships, that

rather than accepting the consequences of industrial greed, there was an enormous, empty land far to the south—and with a bit of pluck and technology we could transform Antarctica into a forested ecosystem. At the time, a big dose of whiskey was an anesthetic, but drunken denial was hardly the solution to the chronic pain of environmental degradation. ~~~ Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is littered with ghost towns—logging villages that depopulated as the trees disappeared. But even if there had been more to cut, the steamships were bypassing these communities with the shift from cordwood to coal. The autumns of these communities lasted a decade or two in the fast-changing world of commerce. The coal towns in Wyoming are clinging tenuously to life, like so many leaves soon to be shed from the branches of today’s energy industry. These communities are increasingly bypassed by the demand for cleaner, cheaper energy sources. I think of places like Kemmerer, Wyoming (pop. 2,747), where the coal plant is shutting down one of its three giant furnaces and the Kemmerer Mine is facing bankruptcy. The power plant has reduced its workforce by 25 percent in the last five years while amassing a 225,000-ton mountain of coal—like so much cordwood piled along the piers of Lake Michigan’s logging communities 170 years ago. Some of these lakeshore towns hung on for a while by shifting to alternative uses of wood—marketing it for building rather than burning, thanks in part to the great Chicago fire which both incinerated 17,000 structures and created a demand for lumber. Likewise, Wyoming is desperately seeking technologies to convert coal into something—anything—to keep the mines open: carbon fibers, carbon filters, carbon capture. Carbon fantasies? I understand the fear that both pervades a state where two-thirds of the revenue is derived from taxes on coal, oil, and gas, and spreads through company towns where the sole industry is extracting and burning fossil fuels. Graceful endings or acts of fruitless defiance?

In October’s long light, I spent an afternoon at Glen Haven where the National Park Service is restoring the once-viable, logging town as a historic site. My wandering took me to the blacksmith’s shop where a knowledgeable and chatty fellow was heating an iron bar to a red glow by pumping the bellows of a coal-fueled forge. Watching the ghost of logging past being rekindled in burning coal, I had to wonder about the ghost of mining future. But I didn’t have to wonder why the leaves around Glen Haven were barely blushing. Fall is coming later to this land of delightfully deciduous forests. There’s been plenty of moisture and daylight is shortening as always, which leaves temperature as an explanation. It’s warmer longer. The autumn of human life, like that of the planet, is being pushed back by technology—the latter by fossil fuels, the former by medical innovations. We know about the role of diet and exercise in prolonging life, and scientists have provided a cornucopia of cholesterol reducers, blood thinners, hormone replacers, and erection maintainers. Summers are lengthening to be sure, but make no mistake—the frost will come. Until then, I celebrate autumn’s holidays. We should be thankful for living in a time of bounty (even if it is distributed unjustly), when most readers of this essay have more than enough food. Let’s say grace, even those who don’t believe in deities, because we can be thankful without directing our gratitude to any force or being. Halloween has all sorts of pagan and Christian elements, in a centuries-old mashup of ghosts, goblins, saints, and souls. As a Catholic kid, I went to Holy Ghost Church. There’s something about ghosts, whether holy or otherwise, that resonates with my imagination, even as an nonbeliever in such apparitions. These transitional entities occupy the space betwixt matter and spirit that purportedly exists between life and death as a kind of metaphysical autumn. There’s a reason why both Glen Haven, Michigan, and Carbon, Wyoming, are called ghost towns. What if our world, or at least our industrial-technological culture, is in its autumn (as much as we might hope to extend our society’s summer indefinitely)? I don’t worry about our species. Clever, naked apes with language and tools will persist for a very long time. But what do I feel about my culture?

We had a good run. There’s not much sense in regretting our exploitation of highly concentrated forms of energy. A quarter millennium ago, nobody would’ve thought, “Hey, this coal and oil can fuel our homes, ships, and factories now that we’re running low on wood, but we should resist this incredible opportunity and avoid the unforeseen consequences.” So, I’m not wistful, which is a kind of regretful longing for the past. Nor am I particularly melancholic, since feeling gloomy is emotionally draining. Perhaps it’s a sense of bitter-sweetness, akin to the flavor of frost-sugared Brussels sprouts. Or maybe, as I sit at the kitchen table in this 145-year old farmhouse watching the saffron leaves being stripped from the trees by gusty winds, it’s more like pensive musing. This farm was homesteaded in 1867, the year that the schooner Grape Shot wrecked in an early November storm on Lake Michigan. The ship’s primary cargo included timber and coal—a ghostly warning to lumberjacks and miners. ~~~ But I might be wrong about entering our golden years. It could be that Homo sapiens, having come to understand the game of evolution, can cheat. According to the rules, no species can forego present fitness for future benefits. There’s simply no mechanism to delay gratification across generations; evolution is fundamentally myopic. Except, maybe consciousness allows farsightedness. In principle, we could decide to reduce our population and consumption for the sake of future generations. And so, as in Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” it seems we’ve come to where two roads diverge in a yellow wood. We’ve known about climate change for decades but like the traveler having come to a junction, “long I stood, and looked down one as far as I could.” Science can only predict so far into the future and not beyond where the ecological path bends into the undergrowth. There’s no assurance of what is to come if we take the road that is less traveled—not really all that distinct from the other, but having perhaps the better claim. Is this the road of alternative energy (we previously relied on wind to power our ships and pump our wells), or the path into beauty (we once devoted

great resources to the fine and performing arts), or the trail into forests and fields (we used to teach the wonders of natural history in our schools), or something else? In any case, knowing how way leads on to way, as does Frost, we can keep the divergent possibilities in mind, but once we commit to one or the other, it is doubtful that we should ever come back. Frost sets up a subtle choice between nearly equal options and concludes that even small decisions can make all the difference. We imagine that choosing to forego fossil fuels is monumental, but I doubt that those who opted for coal to fuel Britain’s factories and the Great Lakes’ ships saw themselves at a historic junction with enormous consequences. However, somewhere ages and ages hence, leaving trees in the forests or coal underground might make all the difference. As for me, I’m with Robert Frost’s lone striker in the poem by that name, featuring a worker who leaves his mill job and observes that, Man’s ingenuity was good. He saw it plainly where he stood, Yet found it easy to resist. The fellow knew another place, a wood, where he could stand on a cliff and be among the tops of trees, their breathing mingling with his own. And so he heads into the forest, not wistful or melancholic but musing: The factory was very fine; He wished it all the modern speed. But after all ‘twas not divine. . . Jeffrey A Lockwood Jeffrey Lockwood, born in New Mexico, earned a doctorate in entomology and worked as an ecologist at the University of Wyoming before metamorphosing into a Professor of Natural Sciences & Humanities in the departments of Philosophy and Creative Writing.

Smoky Blue Literary and Arts Magazine issue #13

fall/winter 2020 staff

fiction Bruce Spang, editor Peter Alterman Susan Coyle Gail Hipkins non-fiction Susan Coyle, editor Peter Alterman Steve Wechselblatt poetry John Himmelheber Pete Solet Bruce Spang art & photography Terry Johnson, editor editor-in-chief John Himmelheber