UPPER MISSISSIPPI H A R V E S T
L I T E R A R Y
A R T
M A G A Z I N E
UPPER MISSISSIPPI H A R V E S T FAC U LT Y A D V I S O R H E A D E D I TO R S DRAMA
SHANNON OLSON CHELSEA CHRISTMAN & CASSIDY SWANSON RACHEL A nne M ichael HARRIS genre editor , HEATHER HOLLERMANN, HARMONY BENVENISTE, SEAN MCMAHON SARA VOLK genre editor , KASEY HANSEN, ASHLEY LYON, CHELSEA MARCHBANKS, KATIE STATEN, ASHLEY TRAMM, MEREDITH PENROD JASON TERRES genre editor , JOSEPH DOMBECK, SEAN MCMAHON, ASHLEY LYON, SAMANTHA CADY, THERASE BABBIT, ALYSSA LENNANDER
SARAH BRIGGS genre editor , KATIE STATEN, KELSIE BRANDL, FREDRICK MILLER, KASEY HANSEN, SAMANTHA PLESSEL, JYLIAN CHARLES
FREDRICK MILLER genre editor , KATHERINE ANDERSON, RACHEL A nne M ichael HARRIS, SARAH BRIGGS
GR APHIC DESIGNER S TA F F COV E R P H OTO
MATHEW BENOIT AMANDA JONES, CAITLIN WILSON KYLE ENSRUDE, “TYPOGRAPHY”
St. Cloud State University is an affirmative action/equal opportunity educator and employer. This material can be made available in an alternative format. Contact the sponsoring department. St. Cloud State University values diversity of all kinds, including but not limited to race, religion, and ethnicity. Member of Minnesota State Colleges & Universities (MnSCU). The Upper Mississippi Harvest is published annually by St. Cloud State University. It is distributed free to SCSU students and staff. All pieces were chosen through blind submission. Names of all authors and artists were hidden until after the final selections were made. Contributors retain all rights to their works.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: We are grateful for all those who donated funds, time, and support to aid our publication. We are particularly grateful to Micheal Penrod, Dan Huwe, Glenn Davis, and the SCSU English Department.
THE UPPER MISSISSIPPI HARVEST. 2015
UPPER MISSISSIPPI H A R V E S T
CO N T E N TS
P O E T R Y
D R A M A JAMES WELTON
CAN YOU HEAR ME?
SLEEP ZACHARY ERICKSON
THE COLUR OF AMERICA
SOUTHERN SNOW CHELSEA REINISCH
SUNSET OVER ZUMA KYLE ENSRUDE
RAILWAY STATION MARIAH GORDON
FOR MY NIECE, STELLA, WHO IS SIX MONTHS OLD KAITLYN HARTZELL
IT’S NOT ALL GLITZ AND GLAMOUR MARIAH GORDON
F I C T I O N HARMONY BENVENISTE
TO BE FORGOTTEN NICK LONTZ
4209: OR ERIN FROM ROOM 217 JACOB ODDEN
THE NAKED TREES TAYLOR SIMON
N O N F I C T I O N 84
STORY OF STARFISH
FLANNEL TAMARA WUDINICH
PORT CLOWN FREDRICK MILLER
RACHEL ANNE MICHAEL HARRIS
EXTENSION CHORDS GRACE ESPINOZA
FRANK SINATRA’S 1939 CHRYSLER TAMARA WUDINICH
P H O T O G R A P H Y / A R T 21
THE DOME HALEY BICE
MARRA ROSCOE BRIANNA POSTER
ON GROWING UP
CYBORG PORTRAIT MOLLY KEIFENHEIM
UNTITLED SAMANTHA SMITH
GUIDING LIGHT BRIANNA POSTER
BURN TAMARA WUDINICH
EMILY R. MITCHELL BRIDGET HEALY
TYPOGRAPHY KYLE ENSRUDE (COVER)
UPPER MISSISSIPPI H A R V E S T
FLANNEL TA M A R A W U D I N I C H His plaid shirts fade. Deflate into ghosts. They lay strangely silent on their hangers. She wants them to puff up. The arms unfolding like paper kazoos. The buttonsto close around a rib cage. Cinch the sticky mess of life in. She wants them to whisper the secrets hidden in their creases. Red and black cross-hatches unweaving to reveal the boy she didn’t know. The boy in the photographs holding a mahogany Winchester while wearing a raccoon hat. The boy whose gangly limbs straddle the faded Farmall tractor. The boy in his military fatigues. So different from the man she knew. The one with a grumpy grumble, a penchant for pinching her Grandma’s behind. The one with the false teeth that would accidentally fall out when yelling at Randy Moss during Sunday night football. The one whose honesty was brutal and tenacious, bringing many of her and her family members to tears throughout the years. The one whose hugs swallowed her whole, smothering her with tender roughness; a hesitancy of how to express emotion. She remembers sniffing the elbow. A tangy mix of cherry tobacco, sweat, and whisky. The fibers filling her nose. She wanted to breathe the whole sleeve in. Ribbon it down her throat like a magician with colorful scarves. Keep it warm in her belly. Carry that scent deep and low in her gut, because that scent held the memories. Like her first year hunting. She shot her first deer at the age of twelve. Six point buck. She was so excited, her bones and sinew were shaking. He came whooping and a hollering on his 4-wheeler. Crooked his rough finger at her while her dad unsheathed his knife. He cracked open a Hamm’s and asked if she was ready for her war paint. She dipped her fingers in the warm pool of blood under the brisket and smeared it under her eyes. He guffawed through his teeth and slapped his knee, “Thatta girl.” Or when he took her trout fishing. He was nervous about her driving Ole Blue. Ole Blue was finicky. Had to be handled with care. She was nervous. This was the first time she felt he trusted her with his care since they removed his leg just above the kneecap. He hated his prosthetic, so they would fish from the truck. The bridge was packed dirt, old stone, and large rocks. Not safe for a fishing pole and an unsteady leg and a half. She wasn’t a patient fisher, but he promised her the rainbow if she only held still long
enough. His cherry tobacco seeped out of his sleeves as he cast his fly. It caught. He hollered and she leapt out of Ole Blue, the gravel crunching under her boots as she flew around the front of the truck. He tucked her in front of him. His arms a second rib cage. They grasped the pole and together fought the trout. It finally broke free of the frothy surface and flopped on the rocks. She hauled it in and he hooked it under the gills with two fingers. “We caught the rainbow chicky babe. We caught the rainbow.” She remembered his suspender straps, the blue ones with the worn spots near the top. She couldn’t remember a day where he wasn’t wearing them. She liked to snap them when he wasn’t paying attention. Sitting there at the table, scooping out the triangles of his grapefruit. He would jump and holler and swing his arms, trying to hide the smirk. They were one of her favorite parts of his attire. Their metal clasps holding the top of his blue cotton pants between their tongues. She always wondered what she would find on those pants if she put them under a microscope. Would she find years of birthing cows or pigs? Long walks down to the barn? Nervous sweat from his palm after kissing her Grandma for the first time? She desperately wanted a peek into the man who taught her how to wink, how to bang on pots and pans with a wooden spoon, how to polka. It was fitting that he would be buried in one of those silent plaid shirts. He would have risen from the dead in a fit of rage if her Grandma buried him in a suit. He wouldn’t wear one to a wedding, or even to church. God was used to seeing him in his flannel with the suspenders and blue cotton pants. Now all the girl has are the remnants of him in her memories. And on those days when she is missing his whiskery hugs, or his off-color humor, she will pull him out like a warm sweater and wear him around her heart for a little while. Just until the polka fades and life resumes its muted march.
UPPER MISSISSIPPI H A R V E S T
U N C LE B U D R AC H E L A N N E M I C H A E L H A R R I S
B R I DG E S MARRA ROSCOE
A blank white page lies upon a table A black pen by its side, Waiting for words to dance upon it. It wants to speak of tidings, news, Happy events, and of changes. But all I can think is the letter I did not write to you. You who sang “You are My Sunshine” With a piano like music box Charming me as you conduct And fooled me that it was magic. You, the husband to Helen, Who gave me a stuffed, white rabbit In a flower print dress and apron, And when she died, Believed the best days were behind. You, who was losing his eyesight, Making letter reading A burden So I should be considerate And not strain you. I did not write. When all I wanted to say was: “I’m still not dating” “I started college” “Even though it has been a long time And distance separates us, I’m thinking of you”
UPPER MISSISSIPPI H A R V E S T Now the mahogany coffin is closed And the church is full, Dressed in black and tears, Remembering your ninety-eight years. Memories flood the room As I sit in my pew And learn you wrote Responses to Christmas letters to the day you died. Now it is too late. I wanted to write Like I would want someone to write to me When I am ninety-eight. Even just to say "hi" To know I was thought of And remembered Like I remember you Uncle Bud.
42 0 9;
R O O M 217
J AC O B O D D E N It began with only an utterance— (Fuck) a delicate use of a curse that sent her back seventeen years. Erin sat in the rocking chair for the post-lunch recreation hour. The chair was placed in front of the picture window looking out into the backyard of the home: a pond surrounded by a blend of maple and aspen trees budding in the eastward beaming sun light. Red and green bulbs shimmered and waved in rhythm with the passing breeze of May. It was a long winter. Snow still lay frozen in the shadow of the bench on which Gregory sat. It was finally warm enough for him to use his recreation hour as a means of tossing bread crumbs to non-existent ducks. They haven’t flown in since Bryant chased down a flock of geese only to wring their necks. And there she sat. Rocking back and forth with the (Creek-crock) beats of her heart reverberating in her ears. She awaited her daily dose of medication (Creek-crock) that delivered nothing of a cure or even relief to what was considered her life. Assisted baths. Naked and ashamed––if she felt shame. Meals of bland mush, spoon-fed like a child incapable of holding utensils. Activity hour during which clients play with puzzles half assembled (by the orderlies bored on their break) on card tables, or sit in front of the television licking the screen because they like the feeling of static-electric tingling on the tip of their tongues. Lunch. Meds. Dinner. Bath. Bed. However monotonous and routine her life was, some days (not many) brought a change of pace. This day’s change was thanks to a new orderly named Brandon. His stride was careful and kind, keeping an eye on small paper cups that rattled on the tray in his hands––weaving between the clientele “enjoying” their recreation hour. Reading a list of alphabetical names laying on the tray beside the cups of pills and water, he approached Erin as she sat rocking back and forth (Creek-crock)
UPPER MISSISSIPPI H A R V E S T hearing only the sounds and noises she would never be able to express, explain, or comprehend. Locked in the vault of her mind, encrypted to a pattern and form that only she could decipher, were her memories. Brandon fumbled on his right foot as he approached Erin and watched two cups of pills spill, intermixing with three cups of water that tipped saturating the list of clients’ names. He watched the blue ink bleed on the paper as he muttered under his breath, “Fuck.” (Creek-cro–) Erin’s eyes shot from the window to the man standing beside her in his uniform consisting of blue scrubs. The tousled blonde hair on his head matched his innocent blue eyes––the fear of a child caught by his/her father rummaging through the closet looking for Christmas gifts. “Fuck,” Erin mumbled under her breath with her eyes widely gazing toward Brandon. Her rocking ceased, as did her eyes’ ability to blink. “Fuck,” she said louder. “fuck, fuCK, FUCK, FUUUCCCK!” she screamed as she threw her arms toward the orderly, shoving him three feet backwards, knocking the meds from his hands. The tin tray fell to the ground with a metallic clamor, and the pills pitter-pattered (tit-ta-ta-tat) as the eyes of the clients shot from their recreational activity to the sound of falling medication. They sprang, crowding the linoleum floor, picking up anything and everything in their reach and placing it into their mouths. Buttons, pills, toenail clippings, clumps of dust, all ingested as Brandon stood and watched the hoard of clientele scrounging at his feet. The mess that he brought about with (Fuck) one whispered word. Erin stood at the picture window, rhythmically pounding her forehead against the glass while she whispered under her breath, “fuck.” Out the window she gazed, but in her mind— *** —Erin sat on the blacktop pavement of her parents’ home in northern Minnesota. The trees were torches burning bright yellow, orange and red flames fluttering in the wind. Leaves fell like dying ashes onto the pavement where Erin drew chalk arches of blue, purple, yellow and green between two white clouds. Beneath the rainbow was a family of stick people holding hands. A man next to a woman in a triangular dress, next
to them a boy and a short girl with yellow curls hanging off the sides of her perfectly round head––a self-portrait. She drew swaying to the rhythm (twinkle twinkle little star) of her own humming. Beyond the orb of blissful joy encompassing Erin and her perfect chalk family was her brother Jason, and their parents arguing in the kitchen of their home. “You can’t stay out that late.” “You’re sixteen. You live under our roof.” “But, it’s my car!” “Rules are rules and you will follow them.” Erin would have heard this, had she not been lost in her drawing’s world. After walking out, Jason slammed the door of his parents’ home. A clamor of shattering glass came from behind him (probably the family fuckin’ photo) as he walked up the driveway to his parked car. It was a ‘96 Mazda Protégé. Manual transmission. It might not be the most fancy car parked in the lot of his high school, but he worked many hours at McDonald’s flipping burger after burger (developing a strong case of greasy acne on his forehead), and saving every penny he made before he turned sixteen to buy that car. It was his (and I’ll be damned if they say where I can and cannot go) and he worked hard (and how late I can stay out in it) to gain the freedom a car could offer a sixteen year old. He unlocked the door and got in. “FUCK!” he screamed, slamming the car door as hard as he’d slammed his parents’ front door. With a turn of the key, a shove of the gear shift, and a drop of the clutch, Jason’s tires were squealing (and I taught myself how to drive a stick) on the asphalt as his car sped in reverse. The car’s rear end lurched upward, followed by a pause in the tires, squawking as the front wheels jumped. The engine revved to a whining cry for the brief moment when the tires weren’t in contact with the driveway. Then the squeal resumed when the furious rubber fell back to the ground. Before he could hit the brakes, he saw Erin sprawled awkwardly on the driveway––her face down in the tar and her hips aimed toward the sky. Her limbs were strewn about like a stuffed doll’s that was carelessly tossed to the floor. Her pink sundress torn where the tires crossed over her. A smear of blood marked the pavement running over her florescent rainbow, making a curved X of blue, purple, yellow, green, and now red.
UPPER MISSISSIPPI H A R V E S T *** “fuck, fuck, fuck,” she whispered as Brandon held back her head (Fuck) from the glass picture window. A stream of urine crawled down her leg to a puddle under her slippers. Kyle (with a gentle pat on Brandon’s back as he said, “Welcome to Hope House”), Mackenzie, Becca and Lisa came to calm the clients at the floor eating anything that wasn’t glued to the linoleum. At first, Brandon’s hand was simply a bumper between Erin’s forehead and the glass, but soon her neck stopped fighting the gentle pressure he applied. “Erin,” he whispered, glancing at the laminated nametag pinned to the breast of her shirt. Every patient’s name badge was hand written by those capable of using markers and had the ability to spell their own name. Erin’s was pristinely signed in green ink with the n trailing off into a fancy curly-cue reaching back underlining the E, r and i. On the lower right-hand corner of the name-badge was a number printed in a font that looked as though it came from an old typewriter. 4209. He gently guided her back to her rocking chair (Creek-crock) and she resumed gazing out the window toward a pond that would never have geese in it again. Brandon studied the look on her face as she peered through the glass––or at the glass for all he knew. He heard a voice (sounding as rough as a gravel road crushed under bald tires), but didn’t acknowledge its source. “I said,” he growled once more, “what in perfect unholy hell is going on here?” “We got a 4209 here,” Mackenzie said, not raising her head from lifting Charles off the floor. “I’m sorry, sir,” Brandon said, turning his gaze from Erin to Mr. Buckens (pronounced Byou-cans). He was a hefty man. The type of crew-cut, barrel chested, bearded bastard that Brandon expected to have a cigar in the corner of his mouth at all times. But he didn’t. “I don’t know what happene– “You don’t know what happened?” He laughed and crossed his arms over his chest. He looked uncomfortable that way. Like his arms weren’t long enough to stretch over such a broad distance. “You dropped a solid bomb, didn’t you?”
“I’m sorry?” “The F-bomb. You fired one off, huh?” “I– ye– how’d you know?” “We probably should have told you,” Mackenzie said, returning from placing Charles at the television, where he resumed licking the static screen. “Erin reacts––unwelcoming to that particular curse.” “Particul– “You can curse like a cowboy with his nuts tied in a noose around her,” Buckens interrupted, “but for some reason the ol’ bomber don’t land well with her. But, don’t worry. We’ve all been here. Clean this shit up and––don’t worry about it. It’s your first day. Prolly shouldn’t’ve had you on meds duty anyway. Clean 4209 up, then go give Nellie her smoke break. She’s out with Gregory at the pond.” He turned and walked back toward his office, but stopped to ask, “You smoke, Brandon?” “No sir, I do not.” To this, Buckens only laughed his gravelly roar. “Give it time. Kyle, you wanna get the meds distributed when you’re done. Becca, be sure to jot this in the log.” *** “She’s not breathing. She’s not breathing,” Jason’s mom kept saying from the front seat of their Chrysler minivan. Erin was cradled in her arms. Blood soaked from the tattered pink sundress onto her mother’s lily-printed blouse. After Jason had seen what he had done, he got out of his Protégé, knelt beside her unflinching body and cried out, “Mom! Dad! Mom! Help!” They came running from the front door, saw everything, and without missing a beat, their father scooped her up in his arms and ran toward their family van. They lived thirty minutes from the nearest town. Thirty minutes from the nearest hospital. “Get in!” he yelled at his wife. She opened the door and climbed in. He placed the limp body of their daughter on his wife’s lap. Jason, still kneeling at the smeared blood-and-chalk rainbow on the driveway, heard his father scream, “Dammit Jason.” Snapping out of his daze, he saw the sliding-back door of the van open, and he got the hint. (Get the fuck in the van!) They sped down country roads as fast as their van could manage. Jason’s dad drove in silence. His mother continued to whisper, “not breath-
UPPER MISSISSIPPI H A R V E S T ing. She’s not breathing,” while she wiped the mixture of matted hair and blood from her daughter’s forehead. Jason, in the back seat, cupped his hands over his ears, rocking back and forth, eyes fixed on his dying sister: “No, no, no,” he whimpered, but in his covered ears his whispers turned to screams (NO, NO, NO) as his body trembled (Creak-crock) back and forth. Halfway to town, sirens blared, but Jason’s father continued speeding (speedometer playing between 75 and 80). The officer pulled alongside their van, eyes shaded by aviator sunglasses, and saw the stoic gaze of Jason’s dad and the frantic cries of his mother. The car passed their van. They followed him to the hospital.
her door. “Can you take that off for me?” he said, closing the door with one arm and gesturing toward her shirt. “Erin?” he asked. She stood stoically. “Of course you can’t,” he whispered. He got her out of her clothes, out of her piss-soaked slippers, and into the tub. He just began wiping her down with a sponge when the water in the tub began to redden. Between her legs, a crimson liquid crawled through the tepid water like a ribbon floating in the wind. ***
Erin sat (Creak-crock) drenched in her own piss. He approached her in her rocking chair and gently placed his hand on her shoulder and said, “Erin? You wanna get yourself cleaned up?” Erin continued to rock back and forth gazing out (at) the picture window. “Yeah,” he said gently picking her up to her feet. “Let’s get you cleaned up.” He guided her toward the east-wing hallway. Every other step Erin took, her foot would slosh like a sopping sponge rung out over a sink. “Go around,” Mackenzie hollered from helping Kyle distribute the meds. Brandon paused at the east-wing entrance. She didn’t lift her eyes from handing out the little paper cups of pills and water when she said, “Trust me. Take the west hall.” Brandon didn’t understand, but abided by her words. The hallway looped around the central kitchen/lunch area through halls of random patients’ chambers leading toward room 217. Would’ve been shorter to take the east-wing, Brandon thought as he listened to the sloshing steps of Erin beside him. He could smell her piss like it was painted on his face–– asparagus and onions. He choked down his gag reflex and walked through
“The good news is,” the doctor had said, looking at the charts on his clipboard, “she’s alive. The bad news––” He removed his eyeglasses and placed his clipboard underneath his armpit--”she’s fallen into a coma. And with the sustained lack of oxygen to her brain, there is no telling whether or not she will come out of it, or have any higher brain function if she does.” Jason’s parents sat on the hospital bed, Erin’s limp hand held tightly in her mother’s palm. Their father stood next to their mom with a hand lightly placed on her shoulder. Jason sat on the far side of the room. As far away as he could. He heard the click and hiss of the breathing apparatus on Erin’s face, and he could see her chest lightly (forcefully) jolt as oxygen was pumped into her lungs. “Obviously, she needs to stay, but we will transfer her from emergency to pediatrics’ ICU.” Jason’s dad whispered something into his wife’s ear. Tears streamed down her face as she shook her head no. “Only time will tell in these situations,” the doctor said, sliding the clipboard into the compartment at the foot of Erin’s hospital bed. “I’m terribly sorry.” He left the room. His parents exchanged more whispers. His father nodded, (yes, dear) followed by a stern demand: “Jason.” He left the room and walked into the corridors leading toward the entrance/exit, and Jason followed. There was nothing said during the drive home. Jason waited for it. The screaming, blaming cries of a broken father. But they never came. Death was not this silent. They pulled into their driveway. The door on Jason’s Mazda was still ajar. His dad stopped the van abruptly, simultaneously shoving the shifter
UPPER MISSISSIPPI H A R V E S T into park. There they sat for a few moments until his father opened his mouth. “You irrational little shit!” Jason put his head down, wishing there was a hole to bury it in. “All because you’re fucking tantrums get the best of you. Because you couldn’t have your way. Because of you, we don’t know if your sister will ever wake up again. We don’t know if she’ll even live through the night. And if she does––if she does wake up––we don’t know if she’ll ever be––be capable of a normal life. This is your fault, you little shit. Your fault, Jason.” But, his dad never said this. Jason simply wanted him to. Instead, his father whispered, “Stay out as late as you want,” before exiting the van and walking into the house. *** “God dammit,” Brandon said as he rummaged through every compartment in the bathroom. Truthfully, he didn’t know what he was looking for until he stumbled upon a box of maxi-pads under the sink. Of course, it was the last place he looked. He got her a clean change of clothes, dressed her, and did his best to apply the maxi-pad, but he had never even thought about the procedures accompanying a period. He removed it from the package, unfolded the padded material (oddly reminiscent of a diaper) and placed it in her underwear before pulling them up her thighs. “God dammit,” he whispered once again. When she was dressed, and he properly disposed of the soiled clothes and slippers in the laundry hamper, he led her out the door toward the rec room where, judging by his watch reading 1:17, the group would more than likely be trying to eat Bingo boards and drink the ink from broken blotters. “You ready for some Bingo, Erin?” he asked as though speaking to a three-year-old child as they stepped into the corridor. *** Jason sat in the parked van for the fifteen minutes it took his father to gather what he came home for. He walked out the front door carrying a handful of folded laundry and a book––the family bible. The type of bible that had a page in the front solely dedicated to mapping out the entire family tree. He opened the back door of the van, tossed the clothes on the seat and gently placed the book beside the scattered rags of clothing. He
then walked around the front of the van toward the driver’s-side door. He didn’t once look toward Jason as he did so. The door gently opened and his father slid into the seat. He turned the key and the engine jumped to life after a few muttered hops. They both sat idly. Only a few moments passed before his father finally said, “Jason,” (Get the fuck out of my van) without removing his eyes from the windshield. “Dad, I–” “Jason.” Only a few more moments passed before Jason got out of the car and his father drove back to the hospital. *** The fork in the corridor marked the east and the west-wing hallways. The blood that began dribbling down Erin’s thigh meant that Brandon needed help. Quickly. He led Erin through the east-wing corridor. *** After picking up the pieces of chalk from the driveway that were strewn around (your sister’s drawing) the blood smear, Jason washed away her drawings (and his in blood) with the garden hose. After carefully rolling the hose back up onto its spool near the spigot on the side of the garage, (Pick up after yourself, Jason) Jason began drawing with his sister’s pieces of chalk. Only, he was drawing on the hood of his Mazda. Digging deep into the metal, forcing the paint to chip and scratch as the chalk left behind light but distinguished remnants of color on the hood. *** Halfway through the corridor, Erin froze. She dropped to the floor screaming, writhing as though every muscle in her body cramped, and once again pissed
UPPER MISSISSIPPI H A R V E S T (bled) through her gown to a puddle of gold and red on the linoleum beneath her. Brandon left her, running, calling for help. *** He drove his car fast––faster than ever before–and shifted hard— harder than ever before. In fourth gear he reached 83 mph, moving down a stretch of winding country road. It was this moment that he jerked the wheel toward a sturdy oak tree just beyond the ditch. The car’s front end wrapped around the tree, folding to the concave shape of the rainbow (Erin’s rainbow) drawn on the hood of his car. The metal hood bent upward, creasing over the family sketched below the arching colors. Jason wasn’t wearing a seatbelt. *** “I don’t know what happened. She just–” “I thought I told you to take the west wing!” Erin lay writhing on the floor shoving the blonde hair from her scalp into her mouth––swallowing it while she screamed. Mackenzie knelt beside her in the mixture of piss and blood seeping through Erin’s gown onto the floor. “Shh, shh, shh,” she said, running her hand up and down Erin’s arm trying to calm her. “Oh my God,” Brandon hissed through his teeth as he locked his hands behind his head, (Oh my God) looking toward the ceiling. It wasn’t until he lowered his head to look toward Mackenzie attempting to calm Erin that he noticed the painting hung on the wall between bedroom doors: a three-foot wide watercolor painting of a rainbow arching over a shimmering lake.
TH E DOM E HALEY BICE
UPPER MISSISSIPPI H A R V E S T
S O U T H E R N S N OW
F L AT T I R E
Z AC H A RY E R I C KS O N
You unzipped An ode to machinery My southern bound boots
As old as any tree I’ve seen At least you help to get me
I was new to the north Just like I was new to you
Where I go
The leather fastened to my ankles, And peeled away as you tugged the platforms I felt naked until you squeezed my toes Years of this ritual faded the black The buckle split in two Worn out by you The last time I put them on You watched as I crunched the snow, Running to the bus stop The snow kissed My boots up to the knee
That is until the time has come When you’ve decided that you’re done Then, my friend, you simply cease to roll Now I stand an angry man with tire iron, in my hand there’s but one answer that I need to know Of any month you could have gone With any season to go wrong why in the winter would
I left you behind
you choose to blow
I’ll wear these boots Returning to these memories of you Stitched to the bottoms of my soles
UPPER MISSISSIPPI H A R V E S T
C A N YO U H E A R M E?
( A P L AY )
J A M E S W E LTO N Characters A N G EL A 6 year old girl, played by an adult woman, acting at all times innocent of her words.
never lets me jump off the swing. VOICE:
She says (in a stern voice), “You jumping like
that is going to get you a broken arm.” It’s fine though; I’ve done this a gagillian times. She isn’t here to say no today. (Pause) Aunti is the best. She lets us watch TV, play any games that don’t make noise, and she lets us eat whatever is in the fridge. I can’t have any of the silver cans. (In an authoritative voice) “That’s
my medicine squirt; you best not be fuck’n with it.” I VOIC E A calm, crisp, disembodied voice of a young child, 6-8 years old.
tried it once and it kinda tasted like bread dough and burnt a little from the bubbles. I wonder if it need-
ed to be baked. I think Aunti just don’t know how. She can’t cook. “You will burn the place down if you ever turn on that damn stove.”
Author Notes The actions in the space should not be literal. There is a freedom to have props, or a blank stage.
I like the sweet stuff in the bottles bet-
ter. It tastes like some strange fruit and every time I drink it I feel all weird like I just got off a merry-
go-round. My brother John got his tongue stuck to merry-go-round and had to run in circles for like an hour
(Shouting off stage right) I am going out to
(Talking forward to no one in particular) I hope I don’t get sick on the swing again. My tummy is still a little full. I love to swing. It’s like fly-
ing and sitting all in one. It’s even better once I get
until I stopped it. He couldn’t talk so I didn’t even
get spanked. Well…at least not until the next day when
he told on me. Ma wasn’t as mad then, so it didn’t hurt
too much. (She hops off the swing) I wonder if I can get the merry-go-round going. (She tries to turn a merry-goround but strains) I hate this snow. It won’t spin fast enough to jump onto.
going a bit. Higher and higher and I pump my legs for-
jump! (Angel jumps off the swing) I’m going to do it
I think I should get going. Well…maybe I can
I start like I’m normal swinging and then pump my legs
rides. At the fair, I went on this really big slide with
gel jumps off, then roles on the ground laughing) Ma
high. I asked Ma if she wanted to go on the ride with
ward and back so I can get just a little higher then…I
again. This is so much funner with the snow to land in.
go down the slide just once before I got to go. I love
harder and harder, get higher and higher then…jump!(An-
bumps in the middle. It must have been a hundred feet
UPPER MISSISSIPPI H A R V E S T me. She said, “Your Dad’s been going on too many rides.
Ma is a lot like the old lady down the hall, Ms. Noris.
gel makes plane wings as she runs about)
reason to snitch to the landlord”.
I ain’t in the mood for some damn fair ride.” Weee (An-
Ma said, “She’s a prune of dyke, just looking for some
She was always talk’n about Dad being deadbeat.
I need to go in now. The teacher at school said
I think he might be a drummer in some band. Maybe Grateful Dead. Aunti is always talking about them being so great.
if your feet feel cold and tingly it’s time to go in and warm them up. I left a rock in the door so Aunti don’t have to get up.
(Back on the swing)They taught us how to keep
(Angel looks around, suddenly her demeanor
a beat at school. 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3. Then they
made us pick a friend to twirl with while we counted. I
picked Beth. She had a big puffy skirt on. Ma said, “You sit like hussy.” So I don’t get no skirts. Well I don’t like her skirts anyway. No poof!
changes)Where’s the rock? The door is closed and there’s no rock. VOICE:
(Mimicking rapping on a door) Bang, bang, bang,
Aunti I’m back. Bang, bang, bang, Aunti. I said I’m
She holds her breath and about turns blue while
sues walking late at night. Too much medicine.
Aunti zips it up. Ma always says, “He better like this because I’m plan’n to take it off after dinner,” and
then Ma and Aunti laugh and laugh. (Pause) I don’t get the joke but she says it every time she goes out adult shopping.
back. I better give her a minute. Sometimes she has is-
Bang, bang, Aunti? Aunti? Aunti! (Pause) C,cold.
John you hearing me? Tell Aunti I can’t get in. John…
John! Ka,cold,duh. I should wait. Aunti will be a bit. I
hope she took her medicine tonight.
I told her I saved up money so I can go shopping
She just cries on the couch when she don’t take
too, but Ma says, “You two stay at your Aunt’s and no lip about noth’n, you hear?” Weee
(Angel jumps again and crawls around a bit) VOICE:
(Brushes herself off) I think she may need a
hearing aid; she always asks if we hear. Yell’n (shouting with her hands like a megaphone) “Do you hear me?”
it. Once, John knocked her medicine over and he got a beating. Bang, bang, bang, bang. Aunti, Aunti, It’s cold… Please let me in. Please. VOICE:
It’s starting to get so cold. I’ll sit here and
wait. C,c,c,cold,d,d. My teacher said the horses shiver
UPPER MISSISSIPPI H A R V E S T to get flies off.
(Seeming to be lost in thought) What fun John
But we shiver to keep warm. I hate it when my
He love to go down slides.
I think I may bite my tongue.
Spin on merry-go-rounds.
The guy in apartment 4 has a tongue like a
I wonder where he is.
Ma said, “He’s a fuck’n freak.”
I just saw him.
(Continuing the Ma voice) “You stay away from
that fuck’n Satanist.”
(Angel stops shivering and takes off her gloves,
rest here someone will come home.
I hope someone lets me in, even the Satanist.
(Like a long whisper) Cooold.
Or the Dyke.
(Again a longer whisper) Coooooold.
The moon was out.
(Hushed voice) Cold. Cold. Cold
But now it is hiding.
ANGEL and VOICE:
(Angel lays her head, closes her eyes. The lights fade
It’s getting so dark.
and I had.
unzips her jacket and uses it as a pillow) If I just
(Together) So cold.
UPPER MISSISSIPPI H A R V E S T
TO B E FO R G OT T E N N I C K LO N T Z
B R I D G E T H E A LY
Alfred tells Luisa he’s dying at the end of the path through the garden. It’s a long walk from the house to the bottom of the hill, and then, across the dirt road and through the rows of dormant plants, and the elder couple moves at a slow pace, taking time to admire the hazy autumn sunset, talking about many things—their children (they have five), their grandchildren (seven), local politics, the housing development that has arisen out of the old Maynard Farm, the neighbors’ yard that, they agree, is in need of a trim. Their conversation carries them a long way, but finally, at the end of the path, they run out of things to say. Alfred looks down at his wrinkled hands. The wind rattles the leaves of the Elm tree overhead. Alfred clears his throat and says, “I went to see the doctor yesterday … about my cough … the news wasn’t good, Luisa.” He then delves into a very long, very detailed explanation of his condition, using scientific words that Luisa doesn’t quite understand, superfluous words whose sum total, in her mind, is this: he has three months to live. She isn’t surprised. She has spent a lifetime decoding her stoic husband’s body language, and so she has already intuited that something is wrong. She knew by the way he arched his back this morning getting out of bed; by the way he held his coffee mug; by the way he slid his arms through his worn leather jacket. Something grave had happened. She knew. When Alfred finishes his confession, she squints at the sinking sun and lets out a long, low sigh. “You’re too old for chemo,” she says. “Be best just to let it take its course. No use trying to fight it at your age.” Alfred agrees. They’re a practical couple; if there’s one thing they agree on, it’s the need to be practical. They spend the next few days telling family, making preparations. With some of the money they’ve saved, they rent out a hospital bed for the house, and rather than have it placed by the TV, Alfred opts to have it positioned by the window with a view of the garden. His children mistake this decision for senility—Alfred’s garden isn’t in bloom anymore; soon it will be buried by fallen leaves, and later by snow. There isn’t much point, they explain, in looking out on an invisible garden. But Luisa understands. In a way she can’t quite express, she understands the appeal of looking out on the garden, of seeing it buried by the
N AT U R A L B E AU T Y
UPPER MISSISSIPPI H A R V E S T seasons. Despite the protestations of her children, she lets Alfred have his way. She even takes him, when he still has the strength, down the hill and across the dirt road to walk through the garden, a journey they now complete in silence. These trips are numbered, though, and it isn’t long before he becomes too weak to walk across the house, let alone make the trek to the bottom of the hill. Alfred spends his final weeks in bed, looking out the window, talking with friends and family—there is always someone, it seems, stopping by to visit. To tell the truth, Luisa is annoyed by the extra company—she shouldn’t have to work to find a moment alone with her husband; that’s the way she sees it. When Alfred’s condition deteriorates, a hospice nurse comes to stay at the home and, much to Luisa’s dismay, a moment of solitude with her husband becomes all but impossible. Although, by that time, it hardly matters. In his last days, Alfred recognizes Luisa and his family only in brief moments of lucidity. These moments break Luisa’s heart each time they occur. Alfred’s mouth curves upward and his eyes sparkle in recognition. He begins to say something… Then, like a cord has been unplugged from his back, his expression goes blank; his eyes go dull. It’s awful. Like watching him die a dozen times over. He doesn’t die, though. At least not right away. He exists in that semi-conscious state for longer than anyone, the nurse included, could have predicted. His heart keeps beating long after it has served its practical purpose. Several family members tell him to let go—that it’s okay, he can be at peace—but Luisa, for her part, never utters this. Secretly, she likes the idea of her husband as a fighter, as someone who holds on, even when they know they cannot win. Alfred’s heart finally does stop in December, in the middle of the night. The nurse is the only one with him when it happens. After he passes, she gently steps to Luisa’s room and coaxes the old woman out of sleep. In a flat tone, she says, “It’s done. He’s gone.” Luisa rubs her eyes. “What do we do now?” she asks. *** Back at the house, after the funeral, Luisa retreats to her room to mourn privately. She closes the wooden door, shutting out the murmur of family and friends in the living room, and she stands in the center of the bedroom, unsure of what to do with herself. The wind howls and the old
house creaks. Spurred by a sudden, uncertain desire, Luisa opens her closet and begins to rummage through her and Alfred’s belongings. Once she finds the letter, she carries it across the room and sets it on her makeup stand. She sits and smoothes the wrinkled paper flat and slips on her reading glasses: Dearest Luisa, I am not a great man. I think it’s important you know this. I have no intentions of shaping the world. There isn’t any point. Not when everything is constantly going away. Now don’t think me pessimistic in saying this. To be honest, I’m glad it’s all always going away. The going away is what makes time valuable. That, I suppose, is a cliché, and a cliché that has been better articulated by greater men than me. If it is, then I am a firm believer in clichés. What are clichés, anyway, but universal truths that people have gone bitter about? If believing in such things is foolish, then I will gladly be called a fool. And in the spirit of universal truths/clichés, let me offer you one of my own: I am not a great man, but I will always love you. To the end of my days, that is the best thing I will ever do. Love, Alfred When she’s finished reading, Luisa clutches the letter to her chest. She reaches for a tissue and dabs at her now wet eyes. Then she carefully folds the wrinkled paper and returns it to its place in the closet. Written during their first year of courtship, the letter was one of Alfred’s most open expressions of affection toward her. Reading it all those years ago had been like peeking through a small gap in an otherwise impenetrable wall. In all their years together, Alfred had rarely opened up more than that, though, of course, Luisa had never doubted his love for her. He had his own way of letting her know—by the way he rested his hand on the small of her back; by the way he looped her long hair behind her ear; by the way he caressed her thigh in bed, in the dark, every night, for 52 years. No, she never doubted. After putting away the letter, she stands at the window, looking out at the white hillside. The garden is invisible now, and not even the tallest plants poke through the mounds of snow. In the spring, the garden will be visible again, but for now it’s as if it never existed. The wind rattles the frosted windowpane, and a chill runs through Luisa’s body. She doesn’t know what to do about the ashes. It would be
UPPER MISSISSIPPI H A R V E S T nice, she thinks, to spread them in the garden, in the summer. Alfred would want that. Even still, a selfish part of her wishes to keep them in the house, in an urn above the fireplace, watching over her. She wonders what Alfred would think about that. Almost undoubtedly he would be upset. “Those ashes aren’t me,” he would say. “They’re dust. That’s all.” He would place his hands on his hips and his eyes would crease with frustration. Then he would stamp his foot and walk away, hoping, as he always did, that the disagreement would be resolved in his favor when he returned. “But they’re all I have left,” Luisa mouths to her faint reflection in the glass. Another strong gust shakes the window. Luisa moves away and sits at the foot of her bed. She rests a hand on the side where Alfred used to sleep. The space is cold. It’s been cold for a long time, and she doesn’t know why she expected it to be any different now. Still, she continues to probe the area, stretching out onto her stomach, peeling away the blankets, searching for a hidden warmth. She crawls toward the headboard and reaches for Alfred’s cold pillow. In frustration, she begins to punch the empty space, mustering as much strength as she can into her bony, 70-year-old arm as she strikes down on the cold mattress, once, twice, three times— A knock comes at the door. Luisa freezes. “Mom?”—it’s James, her oldest child—“Are you in there?” Luisa slides back to the foot of the bed. She sits up straight and fixes her hair. Another knock. “Mom?” “Yes? What is it? Come in.” The knob turns, the door whines open, and James enters the room, holding a piece of paper in his hand. “We think you’d better see this,” he says. “We found it with the will.” Luisa smoothes her black dress across her lap. “What is it?” “Just read it,” James says, holding the paper out toward her. Taking the paper, Luisa stands and walks to her makeup stand. “You don’t have to do it,” James says. “We all agreed that it’s crazy. We shouldn’t have to do it.” Luisa sits and puts on her reading glasses: To my family, I have done a great deal for you all over the years, and in return I ask only that you do one thing for me now: erase me. Spread my ashes. All of
them. Do not erect any headstones in my memory, do not scratch my name on any little stone plaques—I want no such monuments established in my honor. I don’t want to be remembered. This is my last wish. To be forgotten. Luisa, my darling, if I precede you in death, then I apologize. For being unable to stay with you longer and for leaving you with such a difficult request. Still, I ask this of you as much as I do everyone else: spread my ashes, shred my photos, sell my belongings and junk what you cannot sell. It’s a terrible thing to be remembered. Especially when everything is fated to be forgotten. All I want is to speed up the process. Though it may be hard, I ask that you honor these last wishes. Love, Alfred When she’s finished reading, Luisa sets her glasses on the makeup stand and lets out a sigh. He is asking too much. The man is asking too much.
*** She burns the photos first. A week later, in a moment of frustration, she rolls a metal barrel out from behind the garage and into the driveway. She moves through the house, scouring through photo albums, pulling apart picture frames, digging through miscellaneous drawers and cupboards, making sure to find every last picture of Alfred. She throws the pictures to the bottom of the barrel and douses them with lighter fluid. Then, without remorse (that will come later), she lights a match and drops it into the barrel. The flames ignite instantly. Luisa stands back and watches as a black plume of smoke rises into the gray winter sky, carrying with it all her recorded memories of Alfred—their wedding, their children’s birthdays, their vacations to Yellowstone, Disney World, and the Grand Canyon, the day, back in June, 1982, when a bottle of sunscreen exploded in Alfred’s hand, coating him from head to foot in white goo, sending the family into fits of laughter. The little moments dissipate into the blank sky, and Luisa realizes, morosely, that once she passes, there will no longer be any record of them. It will be as if they never happened. After about an hour, the fire dies, and Luisa pours a bucket of water into the barrel to smother any still burning embers. Once the steam disperses, she sticks her head over the mouth of the barrel and looks down at the black, wet ashes. “I hope you’re happy,” she says. “This is what you
UPPER MISSISSIPPI H A R V E S T wanted.” When Luisa’s children, a week or two later, discover what she’s done, they are understandably shocked. They express their concern over her (Julie, her youngest daughter, even suggests she seek counseling), and they wonder, in roundabout ways, if everything was alright between her and Alfred, if there might be any deep-seated family issues of which they are unaware. They have nothing to worry about, she tells them. Her married life was fine, picturesque even. She isn’t lying. She and Alfred never fought—or at least they rarely did. Anyway, she isn’t doing this out of any deep feeling of resentment. She is doing it because she loved him, and it’s what he wanted. She encourages them to do the same. Of course, they don’t listen. Her family fails to honor Alfred’s last wishes, but Luisa continues. With the help of Ludwig, her teenage grandson (Julie’s son), she begins to sell Alfred’s belongings online. Ludwig’s help, she suspects, is born of a teenage desire to rebel against his mother, but that hardly matters. Her relationship with her grandchildren has always been marked by rebellion—by eating ice cream for breakfast and brownies for lunch, by watching R-rated movies and staying up past bedtimes. She has always been the enabler, and so it is only right now that one of them returns the favor. Ludwig shows her the various websites that she can use to hawk Alfred’s belongings. He teaches her how to upload pictures, set prices, enter descriptions, make transactions; it’s all very simple, and she catches on quickly. In no time, she is selling Alfred’s possessions to buyers all across the country. Alfred’s high school letterman jacket sells for 150 dollars to a teen in Ohio. His collection of Mark Twain novels sells for 50 dollars to a housewife in Missouri. His rifle, which he never used to hunt, but which he spent a great deal of time cleaning and polishing and pointing at paper targets, sells for 75 dollars to a man in West Texas. It amazes her, really, the things that people are willing to buy. Alfred’s garden hoe sells for 15 dollars to a woman a few towns over. His coffee mugs sell for 60 dollars to a restaurant owner in Chicago. Luisa doesn’t have trouble selling any of it, not his shaving kit nor his flannel shirts, not even his ripped up overalls. Within weeks, she finds herself spending inordinate amounts of time packaging and shipping Alfred’s
possessions. It’s a lot of work, but it’s rewarding, and Luisa feels as though she’s cheated in a way. In keeping with Alfred’s wishes, she hasn’t erased him so much as she’s spread him around. Though the people who receive his possessions will never know Alfred, they will own a part of him, and this knowledge—that there will be little parts of him spread around the country—provides Luisa a bit of solace. She doesn’t spread his ashes until the spring. She gives each of her five children a piece of Alfred in a Ziploc bag to do with as they please, and the rest of him she spreads around the garden on a clear day in April when the flowers have just begun to bloom. As for the garden, she neither sustains it nor destroys it. Alfred failed to give any specific directions in his will, and so she feels no obligation toward it. Of course, she knows that to continue to tend to it would be to go against his wishes, and so she decides to let nature take its course. Many of the perennials return—the Virginia bluebells, the pink geraniums, the white hydrangeas—but without Alfred’s care, they are forced to share space with an uprising of weeds that spring out of the dirt in early June. Luisa never realized how essential Alfred was to the garden. The weeds multiply at a sickening rate, and by early August, they begin to overpower the flowers and spill into the path. As much as it disheartens her to see Alfred’s hard work go to ruin, Luisa resolves not to intervene. Besides, she is much too busy selling and shipping his things to tend to anything else. By the end of the summer, she is well on her way to fulfilling his final wish. It astonishes her, really, how quickly any traces of him disappear. Soon there is only the rusted mailbox with his and her name etched on the side. And the worn leather jacket she can’t quite bring herself to part with. And the letter she received when she was a girl.
UPPER MISSISSIPPI H A R V E S T
TH E ROCK L E A N N E LOY A small hobby farm sits nestled in between city and country. I find the grassy path that will take me to my destination. I walk past the old red barn with its weathered wood and chipping paint; the sight of it makes me feel nostalgic. I continue my walk on this hidden trail, the hot summer sun beating down on me through the trees. As I make my way past the obscure swamp, I realize that if it weren’t for the frogs singing in their orchestra, this place might go unnoticed. The long path curves left and I feel my excitement as I know I am closer to where I want to be; where I need to be. As the trees over my head turn day into dusk, I feel as though I am walking through nature’s tunnel. The noises around me change; if I don’t pay attention I might not hear anything at all. I take notice of the sound my feet make walking over the grass-covered tarp my father laid on this path years ago to keep it dry. The tarp fights with the grass, knowing that only one of them belongs there. The gnats and dragonflies treat my head like it’s their own personal circus; I amuse them as much as they annoy me, yet it’s not enough to make me turn back. The trees get thicker, the light fades even more; I emerge from my stinging path into an opening that cools me off and lets me breathe air so clean it’s almost painful. Calm sets in, my muscles relax and a small smile that I am mostly unaware of creeps up on my face. To my right, I see the moss-covered, rocky hill that leads me to my resting point. The loose rocks make a loud crunching noise under my feet as I scale this unintimidating hill. The sound of it feels displaced compared to my otherwise serene surroundings. The quarry rocks are uneven and it’s easy to lose your balance, but I know all the secrets this path holds like it’s an old friend. I smell the hints of wild lavender and dried out wheat fields; they offer me the peace that I am searching for. I’ve reached the highest point of these woods; my fingers dance across the tree tops as I look down upon the now invisible path I took to get here. The largest stone welcomes me back after being away for too long. The large smooth indentation holds me tight as I sit and lean in to it; strong, just like she was. Moss and grass cushion my head as I lay back to remember. I’ve reached my destination. This is where I find her; this is where I remember her; my mother. She is not in the countless pictures I stare at in the hopes of never forgetting
what she looks like. I don’t find her while sitting on a patch of grass tracing her headstone with trembling fingers. This is where we evolved from mother/daughter to best friends. As I sit on our rock, I hear her voice playing with the wind as it wraps me up in her warmth; she is happy I’m here. This rock is solid underneath me; it doesn’t lose its strength when I lean back. I run my hands across the powerful unyielding surface, a reminder of its reliability, her reliability. I embrace the similarities between my mother and our Rock; I find my peace.
UPPER MISSISSIPPI H A R V E S T
FO R M Y N I EC E , S T E LL A , WH O I S S I X M O N T H S O LD K A I T LY N H A R T Z E L L She smells like a nest of rabbits tucked underneath a maple tree, the down feathers of a barn owl, the breath of a bumblebee in a wedding bouquet. Like the center of a white rose, vanilla Chapstick on a mermaid’s mouth, earthy perfume dabbed behind the ear of a woman in a café. Like baby powder and warm milk and cotton shirts forgotten in the dryer,
POLAR BEAR HALEY BICE
an ocean cupped in your hands, a peach fallen onto the summer grass. Like an old worn book about wildflowers, like a lullaby in a cedar music box, like waking up in a bed that you traveled miles and miles for and never thought you’d see again.
UPPER MISSISSIPPI H A R V E S T
At the end of my last winter break, my mom and sister dropped me off on campus and I started crying. Fall has always been a lonely period for me, and this past one was especially difficult. While I was home during break, I yearned for the space and privacy I got at school, yet knowing the family car would soon be pulling out of St. Cloud never failed to make me feel ten years old again. I surprised even myself. Crying wasn’t going to help. It would just prove to my mom that I was a kid pretending to be an adult when I had no idea what I was doing. Immediately, I felt my mom stroke my head, her voiced hushed. “Don’t be scared,” she said. I nodded but my eyes kept leaking. I didn’t know how she knew I was scared. I never talked to her about my fears of my future, my mistakes, or of disappointing her. “Don’t be scared. When you get scared, call for Grandma and Grandpa.” I nodded again. This isn’t the first time Mom’s told me this even though my grandparents have passed away and I’ve never met them. They’re around though, all of them, the ones that only my soul can hear. The soul holds a lot of power over the health and happiness of an individual. A soul is the source of life and if not bound securely to the body, one does not exist as a full human being. A newborn’s soul is especially vulnerable, having just crossed into the world of the living. Because a child arrives on earth separately from his soul, the Hmong have a tradition called hu plig, or soul-calling ceremony, for newborns. An elder shaman stands at an open door with a few important items—two live chickens and an egg. The elder offers the egg as a gift for the baby’s soul while the chickens are a gift of gratitude for the couple who took care of the soul in the spirit world and sent it safely to us. One of the last steps of the hu plig is khi tes, the wrist-tying. An elder takes a bundle of white string or yarn and brushes it over the baby’s hands as an act of sweeping away illness and misfortune. The family and guests receive the yarn and tie it around the baby’s wrists to bind the soul to the baby’s body. Souls are fragile, capable of leaving the body if frightened, curious, or if a person is physically or psychologically ill. I wonder if, when my soul settled inside me during my hu plig, it knew what it was in for.
During my single-digit years, I wasn’t allowed off the block that we lived on. I wasn’t allowed to cross the street and play with the blonde children on the other side, though I wouldn’t have wanted to because they were mean and one girl tried to steal my bike. Once I got my training wheels off that bike, I rode round and round our block, always making left turns. Mom and Dad warned us that people would snatch us off the streets and sell us. Parents who worry about their children are nothing new. They eventually allowed my sisters and me to walk to the little park nearby on our own. We played tag and Midnight Ghost on the playground. When we got back, Mom would stand at the door and call our souls home with simple prayers. No sleepovers or playdates were allowed. There were seven of us kids, so it wasn’t like I lacked companionship. We spent little time away from home. This protection plan was soon thwarted by school. My first few years of school were a world of songs, colors, and friends who drank chocolate milk with me. I loved receiving the duty of running downstairs to the giant cooler with one other student to carry our morning milk cartons to our class. My ambition to succeed with my academics was still a distant chapter in the book I hadn’t learned to read yet. My favorite activities included recess and field trips. Schools typically encouraged their students to explore, and they were an authority my parents trusted. When my first grade class went to the Milwaukee Museum, I didn’t adequately appreciate the wealth of history and natural beauty preserved there. After an hour and a half of staring out the bus window at hills and cows, I felt a whole world away from home. We reached the museum and home fell away as I imagined playing house in the re-creations of Native American huts and farming with their tools. In the warm dewy butterfly house, I imagined myself as a fairy princess. When a monarch landed on my hand, I counted silently to see how long I could keep it there, as if it was my pet, a loyal subject in my fairy kingdom. I could have stayed in the butterfly house forever but I didn’t want to get lost, so I followed everyone into the insect zoo where we got to hold walking sticks. That night, tucked into my bed, I imagined myself flying away in a dress covered with live butterflies. Hu plig is not reserved only for newborns. When my uncle had a stroke, we prepared a hu plig for him. When I was nine, I tried making noodles and spilled boiling water on myself so I had a hu plig. We hu plig for newly-weds as well, sacrificing a pig, a chicken, or sometimes a cow. To some people who are not Hmong, our animal “sacrifices” probably sound
A N E XC H A N G E B AO L E E
UPPER MISSISSIPPI H A R V E S T pagan and violent. Since animals have souls too, the animal soul goes to the spirit world in exchange for the safety of the human soul. I used to fish around for a different word but none really fits the act like “sacrifice,” since there is an exchange happening. We also hu plig for every family member when we celebrate our New Year, so that our souls remain near us. My parents can complete this without the help of a shaman, since they are versed in the less formal hu plig prayers. They pray to our ancestors to bring all of us good health. They call for the house spirits to keep our home protected. And yes, to thank these spirits and ancestors, we sacrifice more chickens. In fourth grade, we started learning about life science. We moved away from bees, pollination, and planting little yellow flowers, to naming plants and big animals. I remember writing my first essay in this class, an intense examination on cucumber and pumpkin seeds. I misspelled ‘disappoint,’ but I was still the only one who got to turn in my rough draft without editing. I enjoyed our unit on birds the most because Mrs. Wandschneider let us color pictures. I shaded blue jays and robins, geese and eagles, with colored pencils, trying my best to stay inside the lines. I liked adding a house in the background, or a tree branch for the bird to alight on. Our biology lessons took us on a nature field trip. Before school, my mom had packed me a sub sandwich and a can of soda while telling me not to roam on my own, an easy enough order since being scared of ghosts and specters was popular at the time. We were told to wear long socks and have our pant legs tucked into our socks to keep bugs and ticks from crawling in. When we got to Sullivan’s Woods, I had mine done just so, but after seeing none of the other kids comply, I decided I looked ridiculous and tick bites couldn’t be worse than being the only one with her pant legs tucked in her socks. I un-tucked them after a quick survey of the teachers. During our walk, we spotted a fawn curled up right next to the wooden walkways through the woods. I wanted to stop and get a closer look, but after hearing a teacher say, “Poor little guy’s probably waiting for his mom,” I kept walking with the rest of our group. I would’ve hated people staring at me too. It had hidden its face and was so still I thought it had stopped breathing. I hoped its mom came back to it soon so it wouldn’t get lost and die by itself. I trekked on, ate half my sub sandwich, and continued giving my ankles a snap now and then so I wouldn’t bring back any diseases that would have my youth ending in tragedy. The number of souls a person has varies according to different people. Some believe we have only one soul. Others believe we have a soul near our
head that is reborn, a soul in our body that stays buried with us until our remains crumble away, and a third soul that moves on to the spirit world. Whatever the number, the Hmong agree that after death, one soul must be led back to a person’s birthplace before moving on to the next realm. My mom says it’s best if a body has all its organs intact when buried, otherwise it will be reborn with missing parts or the spirit will haunt its family. That’s why organ donation is a risky move for those in the reincarnation cycle. I’d hate to be stuck in one place forever, angry at my family for a decision they may or may not have made. But we also know that a person’s actions influence the quality of their next life. I wonder which one outweighs the other. Perhaps the gatekeeper of the spirit world will have a manual ready when I get there. Let’s say I donated a kidney. When I reach the other world, the gatekeeper opens the manual, notes one of my self-less acts, which earns me back my kidney, flips through a few pages, asks my soul a question, finds the crime I committed while alive and marks down a limb I get to keep but won’t function fully. The gatekeeper continues calculating all my deeds until everything I deserve is accounted for. Then I move on. In high school, biology became more complicated than just understanding taxonomy. I spent one summer collecting insects in jars and Ziploc bags for a fall semester project. Good thing I got a head start because grasshoppers were in great abundance while the more visually pleasing buckeyes and dragonflies eluded even the swiftest of nets. I must have caught a hundred, but only had to laboriously classify fifty. I enjoyed frog dissections much more. Part of it might have been my fantasies of becoming a surgeon. Arriving at human anatomy, our class went on the only field trip I could recall from high school. My best friend, Choua, and I bragged to our sisters about this field trip, as they had never experienced it before. Our excitement was also tinted with fear. We weren’t going anywhere scary, just down to Marquette University—nothing that would typically be considered life-threatening. In fact, the bodies we were going to examine were dead. That’s right, we were going to see and touch real cadavers. Choua’s mom had joked that they might have to hu plig for us upon returning from this trip. Hmong don’t encourage keeping company with the dead, and hold the superstition that a soul can linger after death and latch onto the living. Once we were in the Science building and fitted gloves over our hands though, I didn’t hesitate to probe at the dead body’s leg and arm muscles,
UPPER MISSISSIPPI H A R V E S T and hold my hand open to receive a heart, gently lifting one flap to view the chamber within. The cadavers’ heads, hands and feet were wrapped in cloths. An undergraduate student said seeing hands, or painted finger and toenails, sometimes made students feel like the bodies were too alive. They hid calluses and arthritic knuckles, and memories of holding pens or braiding hair. I could accuse the scientists of erasing individuality, but they prevented me from imagining my class had been cast in a bad zombie movie. We learned that the bodies used to be people who, before dying of natural causes, decided to donate their bodies to science. I held these donors in high esteem. To me, they were a kind of soldier, shielding future generations from invisible bullets. They made a conscious decision to leave their remains behind after living a full life. I also remembered how blasphemous that would be to my mom, offering one’s body for others to cut into, plucking organs out. For the rest of the visit, I couldn’t help admiring the striation of each body’s calf and arm muscles. I couldn’t believe underneath my skin, I looked like that too. When I got home, my sister asked if I had been scared while on the trip. I shrugged. “No, it wasn’t scary.” I wondered if the Hmong had gotten it wrong. Maybe we were reborn with a better body if we sacrificed ours, well and travel-worn, for thousands of others. At my uncle’s funeral, I learned that a soul is guided by a drum, a wind instrument called qeej, and the song of a male elder who is known as the txiv xaiv. My parents’ homelands are far away, crossing oceans in whichever direction one takes. I wonder how much their souls wandered in the last half of their lives. I wonder if they neglected their souls in calling for mine.
T H E CO LU R O F A M E R I C A J E SS E H E D L U N D FADE IN: EXT. LARGE CITY – DAY INT. MARKETING OFFICE Inside a cluttered office the size of a janitor’s closet, there is an African American woman sitting behind a desk with a plate reading “ZOE ALVEZ”. Her door is open to try and let the heat escape from her office, made apparent by her fanning herself with some of the files she’s working on. An old man in a gray suit angrily knocks on the inside of her door and then points to the clock, which exposes his golden wrist-watch. Under her clock there is a sign that reads “mandatory 30 minute break at twelve”. The clocks hand is five minutes past twelve; Zoe grabs a stack of papers and exits. OFFICE BREAK ROOM Zoe sits in the break room with a stack of papers and a pen. She has a small meal beside her. The other workers around her are being visibly distractive. She glances around the room, looking out the window towards the cubicles and offices. OUTSIDE OF A LARGE OFFICE DOOR The old man in a gray suit is shaking a young white woman’s hand and opening the door for her. She pulls the old name-slot beside the door out, switching it with one that she was carrying. BACK TO SCENE Zoe stares out the window, observing. EXT. CRUMMY, STUDIO APARTMENT
UPPER MISSISSIPPI H A R V E S T INT. SMALL BATHROOM
ping off papers or letting her know of something.
Zoe looks into a large, murky mirror at herself; she takes a deep breathe.
END SERIES OF SHOTS
INSERT – MAKE-UP
Zoe is leading a meeting outside of her door with a group of around ten people; all attending are giving her their undivided attention. After Zoe concludes the meeting, something across the room catches her attention.
On the sink counter, there is a small bag of make-up. Zoe’s hand reaches down to it. BACK TO SCENE Zoe begins to apply the make-up onto her face. SERIES OF SHOTS A) Zoe puts her hair in a ponytail. B) The trash bin next to the toilet is overflowing with used products. C) Zoe has changed her appearance; she looks like a white female.
OUTSIDE HEAD OF SALES OFFICE A white man is shaking the CEO’s hand; both are smiling. They are surrounded by a large group of people who are clapping and above the door to the lead sales office is a banner that reads “Congratulations!” EXT. LARGE APARTMENT INT. BATHROOM
END SERIES OF SHOTS EXT. LARGE CITY, EARLY MORNING
The bathroom is clean, nearly immaculate. Zoe looks at herself in the mirror, which is large and clean. Her right hand grabs her bangs. Her left hand holds a scissors.
INT. A LARGE OFFICE, TAKING NEARLY A WHOLE FLOOR
SERIES OF SHOTS
At the door to the room, there is a plaque, which reads “CEO”. Zoe hands the old man a resume, showing her disguise has fooled him. The interview goes visibly well when he shakes her hand solidly.
A) Zoe cuts large chunks of hair off at a time. B) Zoe wipes make-up off from around her eyes. C) Zoe draws lines under her eyes.
OUTSIDE OF A LARGE OFFICE DOOR
END SERIES OF SHOTS
The old man opens the door to a large office with a window. Two young people dressed in dark suits stand on the right side of the desk. They shake hands with Zoe.
Zoe has completed her transformation; her face looks like that of a white male’s. She puts on a jacket that hides her breasts and makes her shoulders appear broader.
SERIES OF SHOTS
INT. CEO’S OFFICE
A) Zoe hands them two separate papers and gives them instruction. B) Two other young people walk into her office and shake her hand. C) Multiple clips of people walking to the entrance of her office, drop-
Zoe sits across from the CEO, who is laughing. He opens the top drawer in his desk and offers Zoe a cigar. After listening to Zoe talk some more, he continues nodding until he waves his hand and grabs hers with the both of
UPPER MISSISSIPPI H A R V E S T his, shaking Zoe’s hand aggressively. MEDIA DIRECTOR’S OFFICE A plate that has the previous Media Director’s name on it is pulled out as Zoe and the CEO walk into the office. The CEO has his arm wrapped around Zoe’s shoulder and walks her around the desk, pulling out a bottle of scotch that has a bow wrapped around it from on top of her chair. SERIES OF SHOTS A) Zoe leads a meeting in a large conference room. B) The men around the table are visibly impressed. C) After the meeting is concluded, men wait in line to shake her hand; all of them are white. D) The CEO walks into Zoe’s office. He hands her a certificate. On her computer monitor, there is the image in an email reading “Congratulations on your accomplishments”. END SERIES OF SHOTS INSIDE ELEVATOR Zoe is accompanied by two larger men. The Door opens to the CEO’s office. He is packing his things into a large cardboard box. Zoe watches through his office window as he throws picture frames from off of his desk and has to be detained by the two men who accompanied her. Zoe takes the plate off beside the door.
Beside Zoe’s desk, there is a chart, which compares her time as CEO and the time before her. The graph shows that she has made a large boost in sales. Zoe looks back into the empty picture frame, frowning. The lights in her office go out; she waits for a moment before standing and walks towards her door. HALLWAY Zoe walks through the dark hall. The sprinklers in the building turn on, causing her to look up at the ceiling. She continues walking down the hall, removing her jacket, which reveals her womanly figure. She wipes the make-up from off of her face, exposing her olive skin by each passing of the windows in the hall. She pulls on her hair, bringing it the length it was before she cut it. EXT. LARGE CITY STREET As workers exit from the building, they run down along the sidewalk covering their heads with their jackets and newspapers. Zoe walks out of the building and into the middle of traffic, stopping cars as she goes to her knees and opens her arms, embracing the sunlight as it breaks apart the clouds. Zoe is laughing.
BEHIND THE OFFICE CHAIR Zoe takes a seat behind the desk. She puts all of the things that she owns on the desk. One being an empty picture frame. She looks at the empty picture frame. The image that she sees is not of her in her disguise, but of her actual appearance. EXT. LARGE CITY, RAIN INT. INSIDE OF THE CEO’S OFFICE
UPPER MISSISSIPPI H A R V E S T
I T â€™ S N OT A LL G LI TZ & G L A M O U R MARIAH GORDON The touch of your lips is like a leech sucking the scales off of a fish, like a waterlogged sponge slapped at a wall, the slime of eels, like worms wiggling, like being sucked into a garden hose, like a thick sludge of sand and snotty snails clogging the pores on my skin, like burying my face
H O P E H O R I ZO N B R I A N N A P O ST E R
into the side of a man-eating shark, like stepping into squishy mud, the feel of congealed gravy, like soggy bread, like thick pond scum, a hundred sticky frogs shoved into a tiny glass jar, a phlegmy clot playing ping pong, like a grandpa who lost his dentures.
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“Nice keeek, man,” said Benito the Quebecois quietly, his eyes darting to the side at me with a sparkle as we descended the plain white stairwell. An unadorned light bulb swayed at the end of its cord above the blue cheese and marijuana scented carpeting that cascaded in waves of stains down to the neon glow. It came in from across the street, pulsed and caught in the web of cracks on the glass and steel entryway, scintillating, making the foot of the stairs look like it was under red water. Benito was the tall, lanky, black mustached and maned man to my right. He smelled like leather though he was wearing denim. Benito had a kind of constant smirk that belied a rich and useful humor, though at the time I couldn’t make sense of it at all. I had, just moments before, an altercation with a man from the south. He was staying with us for a while. He kept hitting on our friends and creeping them out—we couldn’t have girls over because of it. He also kept trying to bring young (too young/wasted) women over to make-out and we’d have to get them to leave; all parts of those situations were awkward. The guy wouldn’t take off his face paint unless he was doing so to reapply it (the make-up was a thick and sticky goop, but he liked the effect enough to keep it on at all times—even when it was smeared to hell). He was a clown. He drank like Bukowski. He’d tie balloon animals for people for tips; this was his life’s aspiration. He paid us a little rent to camp out on our couch, until it happened. Until the day I came home, opened the door I saw his dark human eyes behind the squint of red clown lids… his pink tongue lick his red clown lips. Until the day that the clown, after fondling at my friend the night before (and my just hearing about it), called me a pussy when I got home—in my own apartment— for not wanting him and my roommate (the one who was on the lease with me, a blues musician) to put up Al Pacino posters everywhere… and for not letting him smoke glass or look at porn at my place. I listened to his diatribe for a few minutes, while waiting for Benito to get his gear together (we were going for a walk to find a good place to busk) and for everyone to put shoes on and stuff to go out and have a smoke (we didn’t smoke cigarettes in the apartment—and as such we’d usually go out to smoke en masse). The clown just kept talking. He was really stoned and had been listening to
a lot of Redman. He talked and talked. Talked smack too much, all a-grin at me from behind that painted smile…. I stepped out the door—the clown right behind me, Benito already waiting in the hall three doors down at the top of the stairs by the vent that let up the Chinese smells from the restaurant below (that was a mixed blessing because they got stale and fishy but it was better than the weird moldy bong smell of the stairwell and west wing of the building). I spun, bringing my leg up and to the spot just past the tip of his squeaky nose, in a crescent arc. It was one fluid motion—the cigarette broke, flew from his mouth. The corners of his eyes and mouth drooped—he was afraid. I was livid as I pierced him with a narrow and furious gaze. I told him, “This is a warning.” That was all. His mouth had fallen open in a gasp and his eyes watered. I stood defensively in front of him for a moment, waiting to gauge his reaction. Right then I watched a clown crumble inside. I saw that he wouldn’t try anything. I saw that he wouldn’t come around anymore. I saw that he was really hurt and didn’t understand what was going on. That he was “special” maybe. I saw his hurt and fear. I went with Benito downstairs to wait for the clown and my homie to come outside. They were along and we all had a cigarette. Benito was quiet, yet pleased. I was miserable (I felt like I broke the heart of a child) but yet watchful of the clown until he excused himself and left to go out to wherever he went to—I didn’t see him again after that. My roomy was smiling big and proud. He kind of hated the clown but liked the rent and that he had someone to agree to anything he said. Yet there was the problem with girls and frankly it disgusted him to have such a lackey. I was keeping my feelings hidden (I liked the clown at first and I really had never kicked anything out of someone’s mouth before—I’m a lover not a fighter… I was fully ready to kick this clown’s ass). I pulled with long, slow draws, watching the smoke dissipate against the background of the sell-you-shit neon gibberish signs and the arc of rooftops that dipped down the hill downtown, to the sea and beyond. It was dusk. It smelt fresh outside, like an ice pack. We stood smoking with guitars and stuff leaned up against the wall and each mused on the last day of the clown. Benito was moving on too; he figured out a decent plan to get back into Canada and get back on his feet again. I too would move soon but I didn’t yet know it. We smoked and my mind drifted to a ballerina friend dancing across town in her studio. To my nuts-o friend who was carving soapstone statues of satyrs and nymphs rapt with orgasm in her apartment of red and black. To an old girlfriend across the country and the dreams I’d have of us walking around a lake. On to another city of crumbling industry and infrastructure that was once home
P O R T C LOWN FREDERICK MILLER
UPPER MISSISSIPPI H A R V E S T and would never be again. Then back around to the clown. He always wore a disguise. Why did he really run away to be a clown in a port town? …What’s my mask? We played downtown for a while, then on the hill. The tourist season was pretty much over and people weren’t feeling too generous. We broke it off before bar time and went our separate ways. We chatted a little first. We didn’t talk about the clown. We talked about this girl we used to play with who had left the city a few weeks earlier. Her man got killed and she desperately needed to get to Vancouver. We played with her and people would listen. Her voice pierced you to the core. It was raw and loud. Like a musical wailing. All the money we made went to the “Vancouver or bust” fund. She got the last of the good nights and that was fitting. Her name was Summer and she left in the fall. We joked about the irony. Later I told my girl about what happened with the clown. I felt bad and I needed to confess. My face burned with shame and my eyes watered when I told her of the sorrow I saw in him. She smiled and kissed me. She said I looked like a little boy. Her room was always warm. I hoped that the clown was someplace so sublime and then stopped thinking about him.
CY B O R G P O R T R A I T M O L LY K E I F E N H E I M
UPPER MISSISSIPPI H A R V E S T
F R A N K S I N AT R A’ S 19 39 C H RYS LE R TA M A R A W U D I N I C H
Above a crinkled face Occasionally pulled down To accentuate a wink. The smoke of a Camel cigarette
I am a 1939 Chrysler
Curls lazily towards
Black like a faded photograph
My rearview mirror
Sitting on the curb
Intertwining with the
My chrome bumper smiling
To the croon of
And the lingering scent
Ol’ Blue Eyes.
Of Jack Daniels.
My heart To the left Of the radio Is filled with The smooth melodies Spilling out to The exterior Winding their way Across the rear wheel cap Before curling around My thin white steering wheel. A fedora Sits in my passenger seat Soft felt Creased lengthwise down the crown Once seated jauntily At a crooked angle
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N I N E LI V E S H A R M O N Y B E N V E N I ST E I lie on the floor of the First National Bank, my face pressing against the cold marble. Pebbles of dirt adhere themselves to the side of my cheek. I try not to shake with fear as the large boot of a masked man pushes in the center of my back, grinding me into the floor. I watch him waving a very large gun around, screaming at everyone to “STAY DOWN AND NOBODY GETS HURT.” The most cliché line I have ever heard. This feels like a movie scene; it doesn’t feel real. This isn’t actually happening, I tell myself, but I know it’s real. I can tell by the weight of the boot in my back and the adrenaline that is pumping through me. The masked man is yelling at Jill, the other teller, to “HURRY THE FUCK UP!” Squeezing my eyes shut, I begin to pray and I wonder if I will make it out of this bank robbery alive. I wonder why I didn’t listen to my cat. My cat had been right all along. He had tried to warn me. *** Shadow had always been my cat. From the very minute my mom had brought him home, there was a connection. She had seen him dashing along the side of the freeway, just a little black streak. She had pulled over and got out of her car and called to the small kitten, coaxing him into her arms. His jaw and chin were mangled. The vet said he was a stray that had probably gotten attacked by a bigger animal--like a raccoon or a dog. They stitched his mouth back together and joked about how lucky cats were to have nine lives. Shadow would find me late at night after I had finished my serving shifts at the bar. My feet swollen and throbbing, I would plop down on the oversized chair; he would spring up from the floor and start rubbing his head against me. His purring would be so loud it drowned out the voices on the TV. My mom claimed he only did this with me and that he would ignore her and my father completely. A few months later when I had graduated college, I moved out of my parents’ basement, and Shadow came with me. Our new place was small and cozy. Maybe a little cluttered with all my junk. The backyard had a garden that Shadow loved to explore. He would spend hours out in the garden lying in the sun or walking through
the flowers. He started bringing me “presents.” He would leave them on the back patio or on the walkway, like a small child showing off his work. “Hey Mom, look what I did today!” If I let Shadow stay out all night, in the morning I would find the remnants of his killing spree; like a mass murderer, bodies would be everywhere. One morning, I found five little decapitated bodies presented perfectly, just for me. He would only eat the heads, leaving the rest of the mouse for me to pick up. Blood pools stained the concrete, and the entrails would often dangle down as I scooped up the bodies for disposal. I wondered why Shadow would only eat their heads. That winter, I noticed that Shadow wasn’t acting like himself. He slept longer than he ever had before, and I noticed that he was losing weight. Often I would find his food untouched. When he stopped coming to cuddle with me in the middle of the night, I started getting worried about him. I made an appointment with his vet, and when they saw how rapidly his health was deteriorating, they got very concerned and started running tests to find out what was wrong. The vet informed me that Shadow had a rare parasite that was infecting his body and they weren’t sure if they could save him. I broke down; tears cut through my make-up, flowing fast down my cheeks. I could hardly believe this was happening. I couldn’t lose him, not my Shadow-man, not my best friend. Toxoplasmosis is what the vet called it. They said it was probably from him eating the mice brains all summer. The vet prescribed him medication, a white liquid substance that I would have to squirt in his mouth three times a day, plus pills that I would have to grind up and hide in his food. Shadow hated this; he would hiss and growl in protest, and he would run away trying to hide from me. Everyone thought I was nuts for trying to keep him alive and they would say things to me like, “He’s only a cat, why don’t you just let it go?” Or, “He’s costing you so much money at the vet, why are you trying to save him?” They didn’t get it. I couldn’t just let him die without trying to save him. I couldn’t live with myself if he passed away and I had done nothing for him. As winter marched on, Shadow slowly started to recover. He started eating again and gaining weight back. When I brought him in for his check-up, the vet claimed that they had never seen such a remarkable recovery. They had believed he wasn’t going to make it and were surprised that he was doing so well. Again they joked about how lucky he was to have nine lives. Spring had come and passed when I first realized there was something different about Shadow. He started following me everywhere I went in
UPPER MISSISSIPPI H A R V E S T the house. I could sense his fluorescent green eyes staring at me; it would make me feel uncomfortable, especially if I was naked. He was always watching me, flicking the tip of his tail back and forth, back and forth. In the mornings, he would follow me into the bathroom. Shadow would leap onto the counter, his motor purring. He would take his place lying in the sink waiting for me to turn the cold water on so he could drink. Then he would slink over to the toilet and watch me get ready for work. Sometimes when I would get out of the shower, I noticed him watching me through the mirror. Those fluorescent green eyes never left me as I went through my morning routine of brushing my teeth and putting my makeup on. “I’m done,” I announced as I flicked off the light and went into the bedroom to get dressed. Shadow followed me. He also followed me into the kitchen as I grabbed a cup of coffee before leaving for work. “I’ll be home soon. I just have to drop off my dry cleaning after work,” I told him. I always informed him of what I was doing, like telling a partner what your plan was for the day. He was just sitting there on the tile floor staring up at me. His long black tail flicked back and forth. He was still acting strange, but at least he wasn’t eating massive amounts of mice brains anymore, I thought as I closed and locked the front door. When I returned home that evening, Shadow was waiting for me, sitting in the same spot as when I had left. “Did you have a good day?” I asked him as I walked over to say hi, but he meowed loudly, pleading with me to let him out the back door. “Oh you want to go outside, do ya? Well only if you promise not to kill any thing today,” I joked. As I opened the door, he bolted through it. He was back in a few hours, before the sun set. The next morning was the same as the day before. Shadow followed me into the bathroom, staring at me through the mirror. He followed me into the bedroom and then to the kitchen. “I’m stopping after work at the gas station. I need to buy a lottery ticket because the jackpot is up to 171 million dollars.” I turned away to grab my purse and keys that were sitting on the table, and that’s when I heard it. “Try the gas station on 42nd street. You will have better luck.” What? What was that? Was I hearing things? I wondered. Puzzled, I whirled around to look at Shadow. Did my cat just talk to me? Am I nuts? Shadow just sat there staring at me with those bright green eyes, flicking his tail back and forth. A few days later, while I was watching the news, I heard the announce-
ment that the winning Powerball ticket had been sold at the 42nd street gas station. “Damn it!” I cursed under my breath. Why hadn’t I listened to my instincts? They had told me to stop there, but I didn’t like that gas station because it was a little out of the way on my route home from working at the bank. Angry with myself, I snapped the TV off and headed to bed. The next morning was Sunday, my day off. I vowed to sleep in late and lounge around the house in my pajamas all day. But Shadow had different plans. He woke me up in the middle of the night by jumping on my stomach. “Fire, wake up, I smell fire!” Alarmed, I shot upright in bed. I could smell smoke. Moving quickly, I touched my hand to the bedroom door. It wasn’t hot. Opening the door slowly, I peeked down the little hallway. There wasn’t any smoke in the little house, nor were the smoke detectors going off. Annoyed at being disturbed, I threw on my bathrobe and headed into the bathroom. That’s when I saw the smoke out the front window. It was coming from my neighbor’s house across the street. Later that afternoon, after all the commotion had died down and the fire trucks had left, I sat out on my back patio thinking about what had happened. I could have sworn I had heard a voice telling me to wake up, just as I thought I heard Shadow tell me to go to the 42nd street gas station. Maybe I had schizophrenia or maybe I needed to get my hearing checked? Just then Shadow appeared out of the garden and started rubbing against my legs, weaving in and out between them as he purred. Finally, joining me in the chair, he settled into my lap and just stared up at me with those electric green eyes. “Ok,” I said to myself, then to him, “I’m not insane, maybe you just learned how to talk.” Monday morning throughout my normal bathroom routine, Shadow sat there watching me, his eyes never leaving my reflection in the mirror. As I grabbed my cup of coffee before leaving for work that morning, I said to Shadow, “I’m stopping at the grocery store on my way home tonight. Should I pick up steaks or salmon?” I didn’t really expect him to answer, but he did. “Get the salmon; it will be better for your health!” he said. My jaw dropped, and a stupor of disbelief coursed through my body. My cat answered me? Shadow can talk? Ok, now I know I’m insane! Cats can’t talk. Shadow sat there for another second, then he stood up and sauntered away.
UPPER MISSISSIPPI H A R V E S T The whole day was a blur as I thought about the events of that morning. Even while I was at the grocery store, I thought about Shadow. And as I walked up and down the aisles I grabbed the salmon instead of the steaks, remembering what he had said. I decided to keep this secret to myself. Nobody would believe me anyways. Hell, I don’t even believe it! Maybe I really do have schizophrenia; I didn’t actually see his lips move. When I got home that evening, before I started dinner, I flipped on the news. The top story was about a Salmonella outbreak and the recall of tainted beef products that had come from the local meat packing plant. Shadow was right again. I wanted to call my mom and tell her that I thought I was going insane, but she and my father had just left for their big trip to Australia. Instead, I fretted over my insanity. All through the night, in between sleep and consciousness, I dreamed of Shadow talking to me, guiding me, and protecting me. The alarm clock screamed at me to wake up. Groggy, I stumbled into the bathroom and turned on the shower. Shadow followed me and jumping up on the counter. He said, “Don’t go to work today. You won’t like what you find.” I speculated as to why Shadow only spoke to me in riddles, and still the only answer I could muster up was that I truly was going insane. “I have to! The corporate big-wigs are coming in today! They’re going to announce who gets the branch manager position.” I had been working extremely hard over the last year, hoping to even be considered for this position. Maybe I had been working too hard, because now I was imagining that my cat could talk. I was running late, rushing around the house trying to gather up everything I needed. I slipped on my shoes when I heard Shadow again. “Don’t forget your cell phone. You will need it. Keep it in the inside pocket of your suit.” I grabbed my phone and hastily locked the door. “At least my schizophrenic voice is responsible!” I reasoned with myself. I made it to the bank in less than fifteen minutes, reaching the door just as Jill was about to unlock it. “Cutting it a little close this morning, huh Mary?” quipped Jill, as she used her keys to let us in. Jill was the head teller and underwriter of small personal loans. The speculation around the bank was that she was the one who was going to get the promotion. “It’s been a crazy couple of days,” I replied. Our heels clicked across the marble floor as we made our way over to the counter. That’s when the two gunmen burst through the front door, which Jill had forgotten to
relock after we entered. One of the gunmen chucked a dark blue duffle bag into the hands of Jill, who just stood there staring gap-mouthed at him. “FILL THE FUCKING BAG UP NOW!!!” he screamed, pointing a gun directly in her face. Jill dashed around the counter while the other gunman shoved me to the floor, and as I lie with my face pressed against the cold marble floor I began to pray. Please God, let me get out of this alive. I promise to listen to Shadow. Still squeezing my eyes shut and praying, I remembered my cell phone was in my suit pocket. If I could only get to it without the gunmen seeing me, maybe I could dial the police. Jill finished filling the duffle bag and almost dropped it as she tried to hand it the gunman who had been screaming at her. The two men worked quickly and without sound moved across the marble floor of the lobby. I reached into my suit and grabbed my cell phone. At that moment, while the gunmen were making their way to the front door and ordering me and Jill to “STAY DOWN,” Ralph, our security guard, approached the scene in front of the big glass double doors of the bank, fumbling with his keys. Sweet old Ralph, who always held the door for me and who had remembered my birthday, was shot immediately after his keys jingled, shattering the glass that was supposed to be bullet proof. The sound was deafening. Breaking glass echoed off of the marble floors and vaulted ceilings of the old bank building, leaving my ears ringing. I stood up, putting my hands over my ears, trying to stop the sound of bullets crashing into the glass; I hardly realized the burning sensation deep it my chest.
*** I woke to Shadow’s dazzling green eyes inches from my face. I was so delighted to see him I reached up to scratch the top of his head; I wanted to hear his happy purr and feel reassured that everything was going to be all right. But instead of seeing my hand move toward him, I saw a little orange and white striped paw reach out and land on the side of Shadow’s body. “Mary, don’t freak out,” Shadow started saying, “It’s going to be alright.” “What are you talking about? What’s going on?” I started to protest and tried to move, but Shadow pressed his paw down on my chest; he was a lot stronger than I ever remembered. My eyes followed his leg down to
UPPER MISSISSIPPI H A R V E S T the fluffy orange thing he was pressing on. Then it hit me, like a one-two punch to the gut. I was the fluffy orange thing. “I’M A CAT!” I shrieked. I freaked out, trying to sit up, but my tail got caught under Shadow and I rolled over backwards instead. “It’s ok, it’s ok,” Shadow repeated. “Everything is going to be alright, just take a deep breath. I need to you to calm down so I can explain everything to you.” “What the hell is going on?” “You were shot in the bank robbery,” Shadow started to explain. “When you stood up, one of the gunman shot you in the heart.” “I don’t understand,” I stammered. “How is this possible?” “This is what happens when your guardian angel isn’t doing their job. It wasn’t your time to die,” he stated. I cowered in the corner of the big metal crate we were in, franticly looking around , trying to understand what was happening. The room we were in was full of other metal crates that lined the walls, all filled with cats. “Where are we? What happened? How did I get here?” “We are at the Humane Society. You died. You were supposed to keep your phone in your suit pocket, like I said to do. The bullet would have struck your cell phone, absorbing the impact, and you would have lived,” Shadow tried to explain as he sat across from me flicking his tail back and forth. “When someone dies before they are supposed to, God gives you a chance to make up for that.” “I still don’t understand what’s going on,” I hissed. “My real name is Mark. I died in a car accident last spring; my guardian angel wasn’t paying attention and when my car slid off the road in a heavy rainstorm, it hit a pole. I was supposed to live, but I didn’t make it. My guardian angel screwed up,” he said very matter-of-fact. “Please call me Mark.” A sharp stinging sensation traveled up from my tail to my head, making all of the hair on my spine stand up, and I knew Mark was telling me the truth. I had died and was now in the body of a cat. “You were trying to save me?” I questioned. “That’s why you were telling me all those things about the fish and the lottery?” “I was testing to see if you would listen to me. I thought after you bought the fish instead of the beef you would be alright, you would make it and I would get the hell out of this cat body and would finally become a real guardian angel myself,” Mark purred. “I thought I was going crazy.”
“Sorry about that, but I had to find a way to get you to listen to me. Your piece of shit guardian angel wasn’t doing a very good job and although you are a lovely woman, I was tired of being a cat and wanted to be a real angel. Now, we don’t have a lot of time because your parents are on their way here from the airport to pick me up. So listen closely.” “I still don’t understand,” I interrupted. “God isn’t ready for us yet so he puts our souls into cat bodies! You will be a cat until you save someone. If you save someone’s life as a cat, you get to become a real guardian angel. If you don’t save a life when your time is up, you just go to heaven.” “But why a cat?” “Because most cats are smart, cunning and sly, and they have keen senses and they have long lives. It’s great training for becoming an angel and it’s easy for God to slip people in and out of cat bodies without people ever noticing. Why do you think people always joke about cats having nine lives?”
UPPER MISSISSIPPI H A R V E S T
E X T E N S I O N C H O R DS G R AC E E S P I N O Z A Extension cords Kiss our spinesâ€” Once outlined and defined By cotton soft lipsâ€” Dangling, extended, from slender necks Familiar buzz of tandem heartbeats Replaced by rumbling monitors Deafened by the constant hum Of clicking fingertips I cannot reach through glass To trace that smile Conform it to the memory Of greedy palms Cannot wrap my arms Around you To set your worries to sail Connected Strings of words said But never meant
O N G R OWI N G U P E M I LY M I TC H E L L
Blinded by the bright glow Monitors casting shadows On what could have been
UPPER MISSISSIPPI H A R V E S T
I’ve never been much of a fighter, but Tim has an unlit cigarette hanging from his lips and I really wanna punch him in the face. I’m wedged in the middle of a crowded couch, staring at him from across the party. He leans against the kitchen counter and I can’t help but imagine the feeling of ecstasy that might accompany taking a swing at his boxy chin. To my knowledge, only three people have previously tried to take Tim down. Each challenger ended up in the hospital, one of which was in a temporary coma and had come out blinded in one eye. But, all three brave souls wound up striking oil in some way or another after having crossed violent paths with Tim. It’s as if the bruises he leaves are supernatural marks of good fortune. The first one, Dan Walton, a little guy with too much unused energy, tried to fight Tim for stealing his girlfriend. Dan was in my chemistry class that year, our senior year. Everyone knew he was delusional; Tim had never even talked to Dan’s girlfriend, so the scuffle had an air of futility to it that made for a particularly entertaining watch. The fight started out with the tossing of a small trash bin by Dan—very likely inspired by professional wrestling, but backfired by the fact that the trash bin was empty and made of plastic. It didn’t last long. Tim grabbed him by the neck almost immediately and punched Dan so hard he fractured his jaw. He fell to the ground, crying out long vowels and incoherent obscenities. Our senior yearbooks were delayed that spring so the editors could fit the fight in the “Remember When” section, securing Dan’s place as a blooper in the history of our graduating class. A year after graduation, though, Dan inherited something like six or seven million dollars from an old man he’d made friends with while working as the janitor in a retirement home. The second challenger was an ugly chick. I never saw this fight; I’d only read the police report and news articles. I guess Tim was at a steakhouse with his mother for her birthday, just sitting there with a slab of juicy red meat and glass of wine, when some middle-aged woman who worked at the steakhouse came barreling out of the kitchen with a big knife in her hand, threatening Tim’s mom. The report didn’t mention what’d been said between the involved parties, only that Tim and the ugly chick ended up in a fistfight and the ugly chick was arrested for assault with a deadly weapon
(after having been admitted to the E.R.). Then, a few weeks later, her boyfriend won some state lottery and was able to bail her out. She wrote a novella about her few weeks in jail, included a fictional version of the fight with Tim (or in the novella, Tom) and wound up getting a publishing deal. Just last week I saw her on some daytime talk show. I always forget her name, though. The third person to fight Tim, the one who wound up half-blind and in a coma, was my cousin Chad. I wanted Chad to lose the fight, so I feel sorta bad for how awful the beating was. But, the dork refused to surrender, his mouth moving like a train with no brakes. Tim had a handicapped sister and Chad had said some offensive crap about her one night at our small town’s bowling alley. Tim happened to hear about it and tracked him down when we were in the middle of a family reunion. No one came to Chad’s rescue. No one in our family said anything. Seriously. Not even his mom. It was like some sick wish we’d all had was coming true and we froze up in the surreal nature of the event. At one point Chad’s mouth was full of blood, yet we could still hear that painfully high-pitched voice we all thought would go away after puberty. I couldn’t tell what verbal garbage spewed from him, though to this day I’ve sorta been curious. Eventually he passed out and Tim walked away, huffing and puffing with tears in his eyes. No one pressed charges, not even Chad. After he woke from the coma and had spent some time recovering at home, Chad volunteered for some program that feeds poor kids. The CEO of the company that funded the program gave him complete control of the organization after only six months. Then, less than a year later, the turd married a supermodel. Everyone in my family loved him after that. As if all you have to do in order to cancel out all the years of being the smelly, angry kid who picked on the less fortunate is to feed the poor and marry the beautiful. So here Tim is, across from me at this party, all two-hundred-fifteen pounds of him, and I cannot help but wonder: why not me? Maybe the trick is to get obliterated by him, I think. Maybe I should yell in his ear and talk about his ugly mother. I could punch his throat. Or literally kick him in the ass, so later on when I tell others the story and say “I kicked his ass,” I’ll only be leading them on, and not actually lying.
N A KE D T R E E S TAY LO R S I M O N
UPPER MISSISSIPPI H A R V E S T I remove myself from the company of the couch and slip past a few drunks to within a few feet of Tim as he chats with randoms in the kitchen. The behemoth still hasn’t lit the cigarette resting in his lips; the filter is sure to be soggy. I pause a moment, pretending to be interested in the floor tiles as I try to think of what I could say or do to him to entice a fight. But, with his usual bad timing, my friend Mal slaps the back of my head, then drags me away from the kitchen. “Where were you?” he asks as we make our way to the dining room. A game of beer pong has been set up. A line of shot glasses are filled with something brown, and I really hope it isn’t tequila. “Couch,” I say. “Where you left me.” “That was an hour ago.” “So?” “Did you at least socialize?” “No.” “What’d you do?” I shrug. “I get why you aren’t much of a people person anymore,” Mal makes an attempt at encouragement. “I do. But, man, you seriously gotta get outta your head.” “You say it like it’s easy.” “It is if you gotta pair of nuts.” “Ah,” I say with synthetic appreciation. “Thank you, Malcolm. Your macho-reinforcement has suddenly cured me of my psychosocial ailment. “ “Whatever.” Mal challenges a couple of dudes to a game of pong, and when we lose I can’t help but wonder if we’d have won had I fought Tim. I consider the possibilities of a life post-Tim-fight in an almost prayer-like fashion. I don’t even care about the money or supermodels or published novellas. Shit, I’d take a free car wash. *** Dead leaves crunched under my reluctant steps. The unusually bleak winter made it feel as though God forgot to season the earth, leaving everything about March bitter and unsatisfying. My family had put together a small search party to find my brother, Nate. It’d been three days since he’d gone missing, so the implication of our search was that we’d find him absent of his soul.
I spent most of my time only pretending to look, walking aimlessly along the banks so I didn’t have to see his body devoid of color. We’d scattered the party—with the help of a few cops—along each side of the Mississippi River and wandered for a mile or two down the shoreline. His small house was our starting point and a thin, worn bridge was as far as we’d traveled north. It seemed pointless to look for him upstream. There was a brief period in which, in my recollection of memories, I lost track of where I was going and where I’d been. I thought about Nate’s old truck, how it smelt of gas station coffee and fast food, and how he always seemed to be listening to Highway 61 Revisited by Bob Dylan. I thought about his child-like double chin, despite his slender frame. He had an annoying obsession with British humor. And there were those times every so often when he’d look at me with an odd mix of wonder and discontentment, but left whatever was on his mind unsaid. After an hour of staring at my feet and chain smoking, I decided to take a break and sit on the trunk of a fallen tree that protruded offshore and partway into the dark water. Nate’s recent ex-girlfriend, Olivia, had caught up and joined me. Her hair was made into a lazy bun and she was wearing the same clothes she’d worn the day before. “We’ll find him,” she said, putting a soft hand on my back. “Yeah.” She slid closer. The denim of her jeans scraped against the bark until the warmth of her hip had pushed up against mine. She rested her head on my shoulder and sighed. I lit another cigarette and covertly sniffed her hair. The evidence for suicide was heavily one-sided, but as we sat on the dead tree I still retained some hope that some sort of folly had taken place. It felt like the river was mocking me with its little aesthetic pleasantries, the soothing sound of subtle ripples and a careful wind petting my face. The sheer existence of water began to influence a headache. I may not have noticed if Olivia hadn’t said anything. “It’s kinda nice,” she spoke quietly. I flicked my cigarette into a small puddle. “We should keep looking,” I said, standing. “Yeah.” I wanted to question how she could remain so calm. But, on the first day of Nate’s absence, I’d been the same way. I was facing potential tragedy
UPPER MISSISSIPPI H A R V E S T and my general neurotic tendencies were abruptly suppressed as if by magic. It was like an angel put a silencing finger to the lips of my aggressive conscience so as to spare me of myself for a short while. “What’s on your mind?” Olivia asked, more concerned than curious. “Nothing,” I said. “Oh.” We continued that way for a while longer, speaking only when necessary and taking small steps through the naked trees and hardened earth. Eventually I could no longer hold in the question. “What happened?” I asked. “Isn’t that what we’re trying to figure out?” she said. “Not what I mean.” “Then what do you mean?” “You’re kidding, right?” “You wanna know if I had something to do with this?” “I dunno.” “Wait.” Her volume rose. “What you really wanna know is if it’s my fault he killed himself.” “We don’t know he’s dead,” I said. “Is that the world you wanna live in?” “One with hope?” “No. One of delusion.” “Forget I asked.” The hard shell of her emotional armor seemed to strip away then. Her jaw quivered and dropped; her words became convoluted and filled with tears. I felt sorry for having asked her about the two of them, and even more sorry that I let her continue to walk with me. I didn’t mean to imply she had something to do with Nate’s disappearance. I don’t know. Maybe I did. Maybe I wanted her to have done something. That way his absence wouldn’t be layered with so much painful conjecture.
not drunk, and I still haven’t gathered enough “balls” to fight Tim. On the couch, Mal sits next to me with his eyes half-closed, mumbling something incoherent. I contemplate pushing him onto his side and putting a blanket over him, but when I was sixteen I was traumatized by an “educational” video in which some kid drowned in his own vomit after he’d passed out at a party. The video was meant to keep us from drinking, but the only success it’s had on my rationale is the influence to prevent my best friend from potentially dying by letting him embarrass himself. Mal starts to drool. “I love you man,” he blubbers out amidst hiccups. “You know that?” “Yeah?” “Yeah man.” “Go to sleep, Mal.” “Your bro was cool n’ shit but damn dude you gotta live ya know that? You gotta live Levi or else you’re like dead ya know?” Through one of the windows I can see Tim as he laughs with a group of blonde chicks on the porch. He’s shirtless, which is annoying, but at least he finally lit his damn cigarette. ***
Tomorrow is the anniversary of the day we found Nate, the day he was declared dead. I’m starting to get that sickly feeling most of us experience after having mixed too many different kinds of liquors, and I think someone may have peed on the pile of jackets. Despite my alcohol intake, I’m
Olivia and I fought our way through mucky ground to an incline of depressed, faded grass about fifty feet from the bank of the river. As we sat on the unforgiving hill, with our shoes caked in wet earth, I told her I was sorry. “Yeah… me too.” “Why?” “Dunno. I just am.” For the second time that day she slid closer to me. We both watched as a flock of small birds coming home from their migration swooped down to a patch of skeletal wood on the bank. I thought about how perfect of a place this would be to bring a date, provided it wasn’t forty-five degrees with a sad overcast, and we weren’t looking for my brother. I imagined the excellence of a sunset from that spot, how the giant warm glow would slowly disappear from behind the hills and brick buildings of our town—the only time during the day, with the exception of dawn, when you can visibly watch it move. “Those birds,” Olivia said. “Have got to be pissed.” “Cause of the weather?”
UPPER MISSISSIPPI H A R V E S T “Yeah,” she chuckled with a sigh. “Well, they have every right to be.” “Maybe.” Olivia put her hand on my back once more, lightly scratched between my shoulder blades, and then let out one of those distressed sighs blatant with attention-grabbing purpose. When I turned to her, she grabbed a handful of my hair from the back of my head and put her lips against mine. I tried to convince myself that I hadn’t seen it coming, and that it was wrong. But I began to feel a wave of something half-way to contentment as we exchanged saliva, our tongues lightly brushing one another, stopping only to catch our breath. My left hand grazed from her shoulder down to her lower back. The tips of my fingers stopped at her hip. Then a moment of shame came over me. The tickle of Olivia’s tongue wasn’t helping me forget, and it certainly wasn’t something I’d desired, not even jokingly with Nate. It felt cheap. It felt like betrayal. Both of us stopped abruptly, as if we’d shared the same flash of thought. Olivia let go of my hair, and backed away. The same upset look that’d accompanied her face earlier had returned with another subtle jaw quiver. She pressed her palm against her mouth and gagged as if she were about to throw up. And then she threw up; some of it splashed on my shoes. Time seemed to stop, then. I knew I could’ve easily been the one in her position, could have just as easily been the one to initiate the grief-masking kiss, and could have just as easily been the one to further my own embarrassment by vomiting. I felt sorry for her, and sorry for me, but I felt most sorry for Nate. And I’ve often wondered if Olivia contemplated jumping in the river. “Is my breath really that bad?” I asked. She didn’t laugh, so I didn’t say anything else. And when she stood up to continue searching for my brother, I joined her. We’d spent another twenty minutes looking for him before Olivia stumbled over what we originally thought to be a small log. I’d be lying if I said I would’ve liked to be the one to find him. Neither of us looked in his direction after confirming that it was a human leg. We got on our phones and called who needed to be called, avoiding eye contact as much as possible and speed-walking away from my brother’s
body. *** Mal has finally passed out with his head on my shoulder. I’m staring at the awful orange carpet of whoever’s house this is, fiddling with a straw I found on the coffee table. I’m certain that I’m over the legal driving alcohol limit. But I feel like bugs are crawling around under my skin and the only way to get them out is by sleeping in my own bed. Alone. Cocooned in my beige sea of soft bedding, a light fan touching my face with its whispers. I walk over to the corner of the living room where the pile of coats lies. I dig up my fake leather jacket and sniff it for drunkard’s pee. When I’m content with its scent, I start to make my way to the door. Tim bursts in with one of the blondes under his arm. “Sup?” he says. I wasn’t aware that people said “sup” any more, so I sorta silently glare at him. Tim notices that Mal has crashed on the couch. “What the hell bro?” Tim says. “What?” I ask. “I called the couch. I had dibs.” Tim lets go of his blonde. She stumbles over to a recliner and giggles to herself as she lands halfway on it. Tim makes his way to where Mal is sleeping. He lightly slaps Mal’s forehead. “Dude,” I say. “Leave him be.” “Eff that. I called it.” He slaps Mal harder. “Wake up, douche! Some of us would like to get laid on this couch.” “I always gave you the benefit of the doubt, Tim,” I say. “Huh? Shut the hell up, fag.” I finish putting on my jacket. He’s facing Mal again. Before he can tell I’ve dashed toward him, I take a cheap shot to his right ear. A jolt of pain shoots from my knuckles up my arm, and Tim immediately reacts by grabbing me by the hair and throwing me to the ground. I can hear the girl in the recliner continue to laugh as Tim then climbs atop me, taking swings with both fists. Each punch makes for projectile emissions of mucus and blood. As my vision starts to blur, the blonde chick’s giggles become louder. Self–pity flows into my conscience
UPPER MISSISSIPPI H A R V E S T and I contemplate crying more and more with every crash of his giant fist. Just hold out, I convince myself. The more he beats you, the better chance you have of satisfaction. Life has so much in store for you. Maybe youâ€™ll wind up on a game show and the producers like your personality so much they ask you to be a host. Or, maybe tomorrow youâ€™ll meet the love of your life and the two of you will go to Spain, or Italy, or wherever romantics go to drink European wine and have passionate sex. And maybe, if you hold out and wait just a few more punches, you will be the greatest man to ever live.
U N T I T LE D SAMANTHA SMITH
UPPER MISSISSIPPI H A R V E S T
R A I LWAY S TAT I O N
S LE E P
Z AC H A RY E R I C KS O N
She taps her foot, and
(o p e n i n g m o n o lo g u e )
The slow decay of the sleep-deprived mind is impossible to fathom if you
the ground begins to crack.
haven’t experienced it firsthand. Now, when I say sleep deprived, I’m not
She glares at the clock, and
referring to a few friends pulling an all-nighter. No, what I describe is when days blend together, clocks seem to spiral endlessly, and your shad-
the fixture begins to melt.
ows serve as your only companions.(Brief Pause) It’s somewhere between 2 and 5 A.M. I know this because paid programming has consumed my television with workout programs, diet pills, exercise machines, cleaning
No hiss of braking wheels.
supplies, “male enhancers”, ways to remove hair, ways to regain hair, and
No pillars of smoking coal.
ways to attract the opposite sex. All of them with beautiful spokeswomen
Just the smell of rusted iron
and/or charming spokesmen spouting that you need to buy their product, or you’ll die alone. The oddly humorous thought occurs to me that they
and burning oil.
should take the excess hair from the removal group and paste it on to the heads of the balding men two channels over, but hey, it’s still better than the shitty straight to video movie on Comedy Central. I’ve been told by all
She taps her foot until the earth
my family and friends to “go to the doctor” and that “they’ll figure things
swallows her whole.
out.” Ha. My night cabinet is a junkie’s wet dream, filled with barbituates, benzos, tranqs, opiates, Sonata, Ambien, Silenor, Xanax. I got ‘em all, and sure, they give me a hell of a buzz, but they don’t put me under. The song always remains the same, I go to school, go to work, come home, hit play on the ambient noise machine, skittle a few downers from the cabinet of hopeful docs, fall onto my Tempur-Pedic mattress covered in 1800 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets, lay my head back on my cooled memory foam pillows and...nothing. No carefree rest, no drift off to dreamland, no sleep. Like the fucking Sandman is on strike. I wonder how long the human body can last without sleep. (Brief Pause) I’m on day 8.
UPPER MISSISSIPPI H A R V E S T
S U N S E T OV E R Z U M A KY L E E N S R U D E We had come far across a sprawling land Legs aching, backs cramped Hearts convulsing for more We had crossed deserts as white as the blank page We wrote our names on its bleached face To keep record of our roaming It was ours to write We slept in the shadows of Ancient trees Giants that reached their massive limbs Right up into the speckled stars and Brought down heaven in their branches We came over mountains as lush as the lips of desire Over the rivers that poured forth from its hidden springs That ran as wild as unbridled passion in the palms of lovers
G U I D I N G LI G H T B R I A N N A P O ST E R
Rushing down the Sierraâ€™s rocky thighs And here we were After all those days sleeping in cars On the western frontier Having known each other Only as long as we had known the open road Come to the final wild barrier We could not cross And as I looked in her eyes I knew I could never be in love with her Or anyone As deeply as I loved right then The ocean, the beach, and the moon
UPPER MISSISSIPPI H A R V E S T
A S TO RY O F S TA R F I S H B AO L E E We leave campus, drive over the Mississippi and arrive at St. Benedict’s Senior Community Center in less than five minutes. The entrance doors are wide and swing open for us. A woman sits behind a round welcome desk and she points us to our right. As I walk in the appointed direction, I see our Hall Director, Garrett, standing by a table just inside another room. He is dressed less formally than students normally see him, decked out in khakis and a green shirt. Beyond Garrett, the room is strung with long fake grass, beach balls up front by the sound system, with beach umbrellas. Just past the dance floor are tables that hold paper pineapples and little palm trees as centerpieces. Garrett offers us leis. I grab a handful, take a deep breath, and head over to the tables that are occupied with senior citizens, our intended dance partners for the evening’s Senior Prom. Senior Prom is not quite the same as high school prom, and by quite, I mean not at all. This event is an opportunity for college students to mingle and dance with senior residents from St. Benedict’s Senior Community Center. There is no obsessive dress shopping, or worries about tickets or corsages, or trying to match a bow tie with the color of high heels, or sweaty hands while asking a girl to be a prom date. But there are other reasons the Shoemaker Hall students might be nervous. “I didn’t imagine as many wheelchairs were going to be there,” said Alex in response to my question about her expectations of Senior Prom. I too was initially puzzled by how we should best dance with the seniors who needed their wheelchairs. Alex is Vice President and Philanthropy Chair for the Shoemaker Hall Community Council. She is one of the most enthusiastic and dependable residents of my hall. She worked diligently with Ann, Hall Director of Benton, and Garrett in planning Senior Prom. Alex added, “I imagined it kind of being awkward like it was at first but I knew at some point people would dance more. And I just tried to go into it with an open mind.” *** When I reach the tables, I’m relieved to see a smile from one of the women there. Like pretty much all the other women, she has her gray hair
styled short. I ask her if she wants a lei and she asks for red. I go around the table with the same question. The elderly people are not as enthusiastic as I had imagined, but then again, what’s exciting about a plastic necklace? One woman sits in a wheelchair and I ask her three times if she’d like a lei necklace, but she doesn’t seem interested, or able to hear too well. My smile tightens and I shrug, moving on to the other tables. Once I’ve done my rounds, my mind breathes a sigh of relief, especially as I see more students from campus arriving to liven up the party. A few have gathered in the back corner, which is not an encouraging sight. Refusing to be a wallflower for the evening, I step back towards the table closest to the dance floor and ask one woman what her name is. “Jean,” she says. She asks me where I’m from. “I’m from Wisconsin.” “And where do you go to school?” “Here in St. Cloud,” I say, and she smiles in approval. I ask her about how she’s feeling and whether she is excited to dance. “Oh no, I didn’t bring my dance shoes,” she replies, gesturing to her gray slippers. “They should put chairs around the edge, or else we won’t be able to see.” The dance floor takes up the majority of the room, while tables have been concentrated on the side opposite the door, near the window. “Should I tell them to set chairs around the dance floor then?” I ask. She and her friend tell me, yes, and I motion for the Shoemaker residents to help set up chairs. More students arrive and more St. Benedict’s residents as well. Some seniors are in wheelchairs. Some have walkers. One man is wearing his Navy uniform, hat and all. A middle-aged man in black pants and a plain black shirt gets up in front of the beach balls and fake palm trees, announcing he will begin playing. He hooks up his guitar. “Some of you younger ones won’t know this song.” He begins playing, and the senior citizens start singing along. Alex is the first to push an elderly woman onto the dance floor. She flashes an extra wide smile at us in encouragement to join, but I’m still feeling too shy, so I watch her slowly weave a pattern on the dance floor while the woman in the wheelchair claps along with the music. As the next song plays and a few more people start dancing, I motion to my co-worker, Chris, to ask some of the elderly women on the side to dance. He’s also dressed for the occasion in a Hawaiian hibiscus-print shirt, but like many of us, his enthusiasm is curbed by hesitation. His sheepish smile probably mirrors mine. After half a second, I march over to a line of sitting ladies and ask, “Would any of you like to dance?”
UPPER MISSISSIPPI H A R V E S T The ladies all shake their head or say no, but finally, I reach one woman who has an oxygen tank assisting her breathing. She wears a blue shirt with stripes and a stain on it. She looks up at me with watery blue eyes and lifts her hands toward me. I clasp them in mine and they are smooth, soft. Her name is Sally. Sally’s friend urges her to stand, but I’m not sure that would be such a good idea. I’m afraid I won’t be able to support Sally.
displayed in his room after he passed away, so it shows that these events possibly made his year, not just his day.” ***
“There was one woman who was probably ninety years old who danced her pants right off,” Ann said, laughing. Ann was the Hall Director in charge of Shoemaker when Senior Prom first began. We had just warmed up after getting inside from the April snow shower. I was digging into the history of the tradition of Senior Prom as we sat in her small office. Crafts supplies and decorations from last weeks’ Drag Show were piled on the opposite side of the office and her desk was smeared with papers, as only a ten-year Hall Director’s desk could be. “She got out of her wheelchair and danced with one of the students when her pants fell off and you could just see on his face he didn’t know what to do, because you want to help but you don’t know if you’re allowed to. He was holding her up because she needed support standing and he was panicking. So I saw her and went over and safety-pinned her pants on. That lady was the talk of St. Ben’s for a year after. They talk about Prom for weeks.” Anecdotes such as this sound funny after the fact, but I imagined the student in the story and my heart went out to him. Service learning grew into an integral part of Residential Life at SCSU, and students on campus share volunteer opportunities every semester. This year was the ninth year of Senior Prom at St. Ben’s. Ann credits the students for making this event happen year after year. When I asked if she had intended for Senior Prom to become a tradition, Ann replied, “Not necessarily, because you never assume something will happen since these programs are for the students and supported by the students.” There has to be interest and students are in charge of realizing the benefits they and the community reap. “Even the elders who were non-communicative, you could still see their happiness, like the one that was clapping and smiling while on the dance floor. There was one Senior Prom we held at Talahi Senior Center and the same guy won Prom King each year for two years. He was one of the non-communicative ones due to his illness but both of his crowns were
“Sally, just stand up,” her friend says. Ann says, “Maybe she should just remain sitting. Here, I’ll push the chair.” I got to hold Sally’s hand while Ann pushed the chair back and forth in an imitative waltz. Sally’s face lights up with a smile. We dance through this song and then Sally is returned to her spot on the sidelines. I bring cups of lemonade to some of the ladies and then I push another woman in her wheelchair for two songs. The Hokey Pokey is one dance that let us all loosen up. I hand off my dance partner to Jimena, one of my Shoemaker residents, and take a break. Leaning up against a table, sipping lemonade, I watch the occupants of the dance floor form a circle. Round and round they go. When I return to the sidelines after going to the restroom, one of my residents, Brandie, tells me the woman she’s sitting with hasn’t let her leave the table. “When I got up to get juice, she said, ‘you’re coming back, right?’” She speaks with amusement and affection about her bondage with her new friend. A caretaker takes Sally out for a while and when Sally returns, I see her at the door and go up to her right away. She is touching the blank nametags at the front table. “Sally, do you want to dance?” I ask. She smiles and rasps out a happy, “Yeah!” She’s able to use her feet to move herself around in her wheelchair while I hold her hands. We are one of the few couples that face each other while dancing and I enjoy it all the more. Once, I accidentally step on her slipper but thankfully I don’t catch any of her toes. At one point, she tries to tell me something. “Would you like something to drink?” I ask. She shakes her head and says something. “Do you want a root beer float?” I’m wrong. I can’t figure out what she wants. A caretaker stops by to say hi and tries to decipher Sally’s words. I lean in close and try again, but in the end, the music starts up and Sally and I continue dancing. The musician has Sally and other seniors giggling during a song about a woman who wants nothing to do with a man if it means she has to be tied down. I know very few of the songs he plays, but I am able to sing along for “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.”
UPPER MISSISSIPPI H A R V E S T Sally points again at me and I remember she was at the door earlier, reaching for the nametags. “Do you want a nametag?” She nods. I speed walk to the table and nab the last blank nametag along with the Sharpie. I mess up on the ‘y’ in her name and freak out for half a minute, but then darken her name to make the mistake less noticeable. I return to the dance floor and to Sally, and stick the tag on her shirt. She takes it off. I’m confused. She sticks her tag on my shirt and takes my nametag, replacing it on her shirt. “You want my nametag?” I’m smiling. I’m touched. She nods. My hand presses over the ‘Sally’ on my shirt, making sure it doesn’t fall off. We don’t stop dancing until the last song. *** I never attended prom in high school. I couldn’t get excited about prom culture and the amounts of money that high school students must have saved up since childhood to spend on this one night. High school prom would have made a huge dent in my wallet if I aimed for the luxuries that many of my friends planned for. Senior Prom was my first prom. Having experienced it, if Senior Prom had been offered as an alternative in high school to the traditional prom, I would have signed up without hesitation. I heard students say they had a lot of fun and wanted to attend Senior Prom next year. I spent the majority of Senior Prom dancing with a woman who I couldn’t clearly communicate with, one who struggled to verbalize her desires and questions. Afterwards, I felt guilty for feeling like I gained more from Senior Prom than I had contributed. I thought about the residence hall I live in, about my student residents and the senior residents. From Ann, I learned about the numerous activities that senior citizens enjoy, games and music they look forward to, and gossip that livens up their conversations—so many parallels with college students. Life doesn’t always begin and peak when one enters college, free to do whatever she wants. And life doesn’t seem to end just because a person needs a wheelchair.
King. Queen turns out to be Sally’s friend who declined all of my dance offers. I was secretly rooting for Sally, but I could hold no grudges seeing her friend sit up front, smiling and with the King. Ann is talking to her mom, who is also a citizen of St. Benedict’s. Then she stands up and announces, “I want to thank all of the Saint Cloud students for putting on this dance and for giving up their Fridays to come spend time here. This is a tradition of Shoemaker Hall. It’s our ninth year of Senior Prom, and it was wonderful having you all here.” I assist Sally in putting on her sweatshirt, and then I stand near her and her friend, Prom Queen. Prom Queen sees that Sally is tired and she assures her that they’re going home soon. A few minutes have passed since the students huddled for a photo and the musician finished packing up his equipment. I linger near Sally as she grows distant, sleepy. I was reluctant for prom to end, rarely having met a person clearly expressing so much joy at my presence. I don’t think Sally needs me forever, but for one evening, we needed each other. I wonder if she’ll remember me tomorrow and I promise to remember her. *** Ann is surprised when she learns that I’d never heard the starfish story before. “So the story is that there’s a beach that is covered with starfish. There’s a man walking on the beach and he sees another man throwing starfish into the ocean. He asks the other man why he’s working so hard, since there’s no way he can save all the starfish, there’s just too many of them and it won’t make a difference. But because starfish die without water, the other man picks up another starfish and throws it into the water and says, ‘It makes a difference to that one.’ So it tells about how you can’t change the world but you can make a difference. You can google it and read it online. It will probably tell the story different or more clearly than I did.” But I don’t think so.
*** Towards the end of Prom, our Community Council Vice-President and President, Alex and Brian, announce that we are going to draw names for Prom King and Queen. Two senior residents are named Prom Queen and
UPPER MISSISSIPPI H A R V E S T
P E AC H K AY L E E K I T Z M A N Skin flushed like that of a girl rushing home, Wind biting red cheeks Stretch marks, jugular veins cross its flesh And therefore it understands the guttural howl of a mother lacking her child In your palm, an enduring weight, Bulbous, dense.
BURN TA M A R A W U D I N I C H
A stomach pregnant with nectar, Pit
UPPER MISSISSIPPI H A R V E S T
E D I TO R S
Samantha Cady “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” – Albert Einstein
Chelsea Christman “Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depth of your heart; confess to yourself you would have to die if you were forbidden to write.” – Rainer Maria Rilke
Jylian Charles “Raise your words, not your voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder.” – Rumi
Cassidy Swanson “We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.” – Ray Bradbury
“When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose. You’re invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal.” – Bob Dylan
Katherine Anderson “Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius, and it is better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring.” – Anonymous
“The future belongs to hearts even more than it does to minds.” – Victor Hugo
Rachel Harris “What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The
Therase Babbitt “You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” – Ray Bradbury
Hamony Benveniste “Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” – Dylan Thomas
baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.” – G. K. Chesterton
Heather Hollermann “There’s a bluebird in my heart that wants to get out.” – Charles Bukowski
Kelsie Brandl “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift, that is why they call it the present.” – Master Uguay, Kung Fu Panda
“Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.” – Frederick Buechner
Sarah Briggs “I am going to school myself so well in things that, when I try to explain my problems, I shall
“A blank piece of paper is God’s way of telling us how hard it is to be God.”— Sidney Sheldon
speak, not of self, but of geography.” – Pablo Neruda
UPPER MISSISSIPPI H A R V E S T Sean McMahon “Buy the ticket, take the ride.” – Hunter S. Thompson
CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS
OUR SUBMISSION DEADLINE EACH YEAR IS OCTOBER 31ST
Fredrick Miller “In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.” –Albert Camus
To be eligible for submission, students should be enrolled in at least one credit during any of the following semesters: the previous Spring or Summer, or the
“Watching Great people do what you love is a good way to do it yourself.” –Amy Poehler
current Fall term. Samantha Plessel “Do not be ashamed of your story, it will inspire others.” –Anonymous
All submissions should be emailed to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Include your name and the title(s) of your work in the body of the email. Only the title of the work should appear on each piece submitted.
Katie Staten “The story so far: In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.” – Douglas Adams
• Poetry: 1-5 pieces per person, typed. • Short Fiction/Nonfiction: 1-3 pieces per person. Maximum 3,500 words
Jason Terres “Literature adds to reality, it does not simply describe it. It enriches the necessary competencies that daily life requires and provides; and in this respect, it irrigates the deserts that our lives have already become.” – C. S. Lewis
per piece, typed and double spaced. • Drama (monologues, short script excerpts): 1-3 pieces per person. Maximum 10 pages per piece. Formatted appropriately. • Photography/Art/Comics: 1-5 pieces per person. Black and white and
Ashley Tramm “You’re only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.” – Robin Williams
full-color submissions accepted.
Sara Volk “There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” –W. Somerset Maugham
Failure to meet any of the guidelines may result in disqualification. We reserve the right to reject any submission. Faculty members enrolled in
classes are not eligible for publication.
“And so it goes.” –Kurt Vonnegut
UPPER MISSISSIPPI H A R V E S T
CALL FOR EDITORS JOIN THE UPPER MISSISSIPPI HARVEST TEAM & HELP US PUT TOGETHER THE NEXT EDITION OF THE PUBLICATION.
The Upper Mississippi Harvest Team is a great place for you if you are interested in: • W R I T I N G • R E A D I N G • A R T • P H O T O G R A P H Y • G R A P H I C
D E S I G N
• E D I T I N G • P U B L I S H I N G
The team offers a community of writers, readers, and visual-art lovers who use their skills and knowledge to create this literary and art magazine.
The class allows students to receive college credit while learning more about the inner workings of magazine preparation and publication. To receive more information about the team or the class, email our faculty advisor, Shannon Olson, at: email@example.com.
WE HOPE TO WORK WITH YOU NEXT YEAR!
The Upper Mississippi Harvest Literary and Art Magazine has been edited and produced annually by students through the English Department for...
Published on Aug 4, 2015
The Upper Mississippi Harvest Literary and Art Magazine has been edited and produced annually by students through the English Department for...