OA KWOOD 2019
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS The Oakwood editorial board would like to thank the South Dakota State University Students’ Association for their continued support over the years. We would also like to express our appreciation to the SDSU English Department, especially Jason McEntee, the Department Head, and Tiffani Pirner, our Department's Senior Secretary, as well as the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, especially Lynn Sargeant, the Dean. We would also like to thank Christine Stewart, Oakwood’s literary advisor, without whom the continuation of Oakwood would not be possible. We also thank the SDSU Print Lab for its involvement and support. Finally, we recognize Wendell J. and Marjorie J. DeBoer, Friends of the English Department. Wendell J. and Marjorie J. DeBoer, Friends of the English Department, In Loving Memory
Anita (Sarkees) Bahr has been a longtime supporter of South Dakota State University’s English Department, especially Oakwood. Thanks to her contributions, Oakwood will continue to provide an excellent opportunity for young SDSU writers and artists to publish their.pieces in this journal. We have established an award in her name to recognize excellent emerging writers. This year, the award goes specifically to an SDSU student.
THE 2019 ANITA (SARKEES) BAHR AWARD FOR OUTSTANDING CONTRIBUTOR IS .......
© Copyright 2019 Oakwood/SDSU English Department. Rights revert to authors and artists upon publication.
THE OAKWOOD STAFF
Caroline Covert Diane Dykes Jacob Ford Lauren Franken
Heewon Sarah Kim
Mariah Macklem Mikaela Neubauer
Evan Sutherland Hunter Tebben Mackenzie Williamson LITERARY ADVISOR Dr. Christine Stewart-NuÃ±ez ENGLISH DEPARTMENT HEAD Dr. Jason McEntee COVER ARTIST Mary Payton BOOK DESIGN Lauren Franken, Mariah Macklem, and Mikaela Neubauer
OAKWOOD | 2019 TABLE OF CONTENTS
2 | Acknowledgements 3 |Oakwood Staff 6 | Interview: Steven Wingate: Of Fathers and Fire 10| Good Sleeping Weather — Adrian Koesters 12| Lost in Mathematics— Terry Brixr 13| The Gathering — Meghan Peterson 14| Handiwork — Linda Lou 15| The Somnambulists — Linda Lou 16| Potential Energy — Rachel Funk 17| Allure — Adrian Potter 18| Blueberry — Brian Bieber 20| Waving as You Pull Out of the Driveway — Erika Saunders 21| Summertime — Amanda Rhoadarmer 22| Things the Internet has Ruined (Hope) — Donna Kelly 23| Vida Blue and the Boy who Loved Baseball — Donna Kelly 24| Eulogy for a Soft-Hearted Woman — Bernie Hunhoff 26| I Saw Him on Our Walk — Jennie Scislow 27| To the Ex Who Told Me, "I never wanted to date you in the first place." — Camryn Hay 28| Nebraska — Matt Mason 29| It is 1997, karaoke bar, Des Moines — Matt Mason 30| Land, Window, Intrigue, and Still Point — Betty L. Beer 31| The Day I Was Beckoned Into a Watercolor — Betty L. Beer 32| The Solo Salsa — Kalynn Slabaugh 33| Seeds of Light — Teodora Buba 34| Dirigo — Rodney Nelson 35| Possession— Rosemary Moeller 36| Anesthesia — Amber Jensen 39| School of Ballet — Amanda Jamison 40| Planting Christmas Trees — Jeff Gould 42| Kindness Remembered — Jodilyn Andrews 43| Here in Pencil, Neatly Printed — Jason Kurtz 44| Ulmus/Caligo — Julie Sperlich 45| Johnson — Joshua Dolezal
51| Skyfall — Brittney Medina 52| Honey Do List — Jim Reese 53| Four Exclamation Points — Jim Reese 54| Legs — Rachel Funk 55| Lamplight —Connor Poff 56| Does she even speak English? — Engie Wong 57| Scarlet Under Sky — Sarah Page 58| Room For Blues — Dana Yost 59| The Magi and the Monarch — Quint Ford 60| Eulogy — Brigid Martin 62| Prom Night — Beula Helmer 63| Oakwood Weed Control —S.D. Bassett 64| Mountain Dreams — Tara Banks 65| Visiting Pioneer — Angie Mason 66| The Creature in the Woods — Justin Gray 70| Descent — Jeanne Emmons 71| Undertaking— Jeanne Emmons 72| Underwood— Jeanne Emmons 73| Spearpoint Angel — Caroline Covert 74| To a Friend Met at a Potluck — Margaret Preigh 76| Full Moon — Tara Banks 77| The Woods — Matt Miller 78| Death of a New Formalist — Matthew Nies 79| Eye Contact — Adrian Day 80| Imaginary Paintings — Grace Bauer 81| Color Coded — Grace Bauer 82| On Leaving Church — Gina Benz 83| From Weld County, and Beyond — Travis Dewes 84| Rise Over Run — C.E. Holmes 86| Sister, I — Erika Saunders 87| Kintsukuroi — Marcella Remund 88| Music— Adrian Day 89| St. Frances Gunn — Marcella Remund 90| MochaJavaIdyll — Marcella Remund 91| Interview: — Lee Ann Roripaugh 95| In Memoriam — Lon Williams 96| Contributor Notes
Interview with Steven Wingate The Creative Process and His New Novel Of Fathers and Fire interview by Jacob Ford
Which of your works is your favorite? Which are you most proud of? I don’t think in terms of favorites so much as which works I think represent me best—which ones, if it all ended tomorrow, I’d want to be remembered for. If I can turn the question that way, I’d say the two books of fiction are the most important: my 2008 short story collection Wifeshopping and the novel that’s just about to come out, Of Fathers and Fire. One was my first book of any kind, the other my first novel. So they hold a lot of weight for me. Among the other works I’ve done, which are spread all over the genre map, I’d say the digital memoir daddylabyrinth is the most significant to me. It helped me work through a lot of things that were weighing me down and I have no idea who I’d be if I hadn’t made it. Tell me about your writing process. Do you have a specific goal in mind while you are writing? I aim to be as emotionally truthful as possible whenever I write and forge the clearest sentences I can, whether it’s in a first draft or a revision. I’m not particularly interested in style, and I think it gets in the way. Style is something I feel writers achieve by being emotionally truthful and writing clear sentences, not by a simple manipulation of language. I’m suspicious of writers who focus too much on style, and always think they’re trying to sell me something. I tend to have a lot of “put away time” for my work—months or years when I’m not working on it but letting the dough rise so I can go back and punch it down again by making the sentences clearer and laying the emotional truth more bare. This means my books can take a decade to come into being, which is something I find frustrating about myself. I’d like to speed up my process a bit because you never know how many productive years you have left on earth, and I don’t want to spend them all waiting to punch the dough down. Where do you look for inspiration? I don’t. I’m compelled to write to try making sense of myself and the world I live in, and if I don’t write for more than a few days I’m extremely difficult to be around—even to myself. All the inspiration I need to write is in the set of emotional forces that made me a writer in the first place.
On your website you call yourself a “genre nomad.” You’ve worked in several different genres –prose, screenwriting, even storytelling through an interactive online medium. How do you decide which genre/medium to work into? Does the genre or the story come first? Mostly the genre and the story come at the same time. I’ve only rarely had the experience of starting out in one genre and ending up in another, and that’s typically a matter of deciding whether a poem should be in line or in prose, or maybe expanded into flash fiction. The emotional material that drives a given work certainly has a shapelessness to it before I start working on it, and it could be pulled in many directions. But once I decide I’m going to make something I have a strong sense of what kind of thing it will be. I always knew Wifeshopping would be short stories, always knew Thirty-One Octets would be invented form prose poetry, always knew daddylabyrinth would be a digital project. But before they started coming into being, when they were just sloshing around inside me, I had no idea what they were going to be. Once I decided what they were, everything went forward at once. Who do you write for? Myself, my characters, my readers. I’m compelled to write, as I mentioned above, to try understanding things. It may sound strange to say that I write for my characters, since they’re usually imaginary. But I want to give them love and respect as if they’re real, and that desire drives me to make them as full and complete as I can get them. The word “empathy” gets bandied around a lot in fiction circles, but I think it’s overused. I don’t empathize with my characters, I love them. To me that’s the best chance I have of giving them life in readers’ minds. As for readers—well, you don’t really have the literary experience without them. They’re essential to the formula. I hope to create emotionally true moments in my characters that will resonate with my readers and make them feel their own emotional truth, which is different from mine. To me that’s the alchemy of literature, the reason I’m in this game as both a reader and a writer. Do you feel uncomfortable writing about personal topics? Not really. If I wanted to keep them to myself I would never have become a writer in the first place, or I would have become a different kind of writer. I don’t think there’s any value in keeping our inner lives secret. Though I must say it’s pretty interesting, as someone who’s primarily a fiction writer, to see how often readers simply assume that I’m writing thinly-veiled autobiography. It’s an occupational hazard because people assume you’re “writing what you know.” Tell me a little bit about your upcoming novel, Of Fathers and Fire. It's set in the summer of 1980 in a tiny, dusty (and entirely fictional) junkyard town called Suborney, Colorado, where seventeen-year-old Tommy Sandor lives with his single mom, Connie. She’s been telling him that his father is a sax player from New York City who doesn’t even know he has a son, but that’s a lie. His real father is actually Richie Thorpe, who spent sixteen years in prison for arson and involuntary manslaughter and has come to Suborney looking to reclaim his son. As you might expect, this causes more than a few sparks. So the foreground story is a classic Bildungsroman—a coming of age novel. Who will Tommy Sandor become? The background story is more is about national identity, particularly in regard to militarism and the weaponization of fundamentalist Christianity. Its central question is What will America become? Do you have any advice for aspiring writers? Write consistently to develop a habit that you don’t want to let slip. Be willing to throw away what’s no good. Celebrate your successes at every level, no matter how small, because you’ll spend a great deal of your time alone wondering why things aren’t working the way you want them to on the page. Always try to push yourself to do the thing you don’t believe you can do yet, but always be patient with yourself as you try.
How did you decide on the setting for Of Fathers and Fire? I spent my teenage years on the southeastern edge of Colorado Springs, and once I got past my backyard gate there was pretty much nothing for six hundred miles until you got to Kansas City. I came to this environment at thirteen after growing up eight miles from New York City, so the change was a huge jolt. Solitude and open space became part of my life and I wandered the fields whenever I could, hanging out among the cows and calling to birds and learning to spot rattlesnakes. It was the environment I became myself in, so it felt natural to make it the one Tommy Sandor became himself in. His challenges in life are very different from mine, but that high plains landscape is something we share. Of Fathers and Fire features the protagonist “wrestling” with topics including the Iran hostage crisis, the Reagan presidency, and the political rise of the Christian right. How do you go about writing on political or controversial topics? No differently than I’d write about the difficult topics in a character’s life. We’re all living in the middle of controversial topics twenty-four hours a day—they’re in the air we breathe. It’s only self-delusion that makes us think we’re in any way separate from them. The big political things reverberate in the way we think about ourselves. When I was Tommy Sandor’s age, the fear of going to war in Iran was extremely palpable to me and pervaded my thinking. The “big picture” circumstances of our lives affect us on a cellular level. They are constant themes that sound in the symphonies of our lives, and part of my job as a writer is to make readers feel like they’re going through it themselves. What are major themes you want your reader to take away from Of Fathers and Fire? That’s a very literary criticism kind of question, and I don’t have a literary criticism approach to making literature. Theme is what emerges from story and language, and it emerges from readers depending on their own personal backgrounds and proclivities. I can’t control that and I don’t try to. If I create full enough characters who are made real by their internal conflicts, then people can pull out of my stories whatever themes they’re inclined to pull out. What I want readers to feel is the wrestling match you mention in the question just above. Not only Tommy’s wrestling match with himself, but America’s wrestling match with itself. If Tommy’s wrestling can resonate with my readers’ wrestling, and if my readers can see the resonances between America in 1980 and America today, then I feel like I’ve done my job. Other people can talk about theme and I’ll move on to the next story. What is your next writing project? I’m writing a novel set in South Dakota—the first work I’ve set here—that’s about two pill-popping orphans trying to make a last stand together before their lives fall apart. I had an earlier version of it set in Boulder, where I lived much of my adult life, but decided to bring it up here a few years after I started teaching at SDSU. I needed a way to reconcile with how to live here—a way to wrestle with the place. The novel is much better up here. When it was set in Boulder, a character having a lousy day could simply call some friends and they’d drink wine and make dinner together. Problem solved. Now my protagonists live outside Clark, South Dakota, and their nearest friends are an hour away. They have to deal with their ghosts and demons and there’s no escape into easy conviviality. It’s a much tougher novel now, and the darkness they fall into is more palpable. I’m putting the finishing touches on it right now and plan to send it to the University of Nebraska Press by the end of April.
Steven Wingate is a multi-genre author of many works including the short story collection Wifeshopping, the prose poem collection Thirty-One Octets: Incantations and Meditations, the interactive romance novel Love at Elevation, and the memoir daddylabyrinth. He received his MFA at Florida State University and now serves as associate professor of English at South Dakota State University. His novel Of Fathers and Fire will be released by the University of Nebraska Press in April of 2019.
Good Sleeping Weather Adrian Koesters The first night at my mother-in-law’s house you never got much sleep, but that was all right with us. I myself enjoyed lying with my husband, being held by him in a bed where it didn’t matter a bit that we might be all wrong for each other. It didn’t matter that the room was crammed with every bit of furniture and hat box and garment bag that was not in use and mostly had not been for quite some years. On the whole, I found it a peaceful place, restful, and I liked to visit, especially to have the chance to talk with my motherin-law during the day and eat her very good food and argue a little about who would do the dishes. Bedtime was pretty early, but you couldn’t get to sleep too readily because the pigs ate throughout the night. They got at their feed by shoving their noses up under the metal lids of the pig feeder, fashioned as a connection of seven or eight “stations” from which food was released down a central circular tower, which saved, I presume, both on waste and the number of times one had to fill up the trough with feed. When a pig finished, the feeder section would slam shut, waking up other pigs who would feed in their turn. I don’t know if they actually fed through the night or if it only seemed that way. But despite the pigs, nights in that room were restful and smelled good; the scent in the bedroom that particular one of attics filled with objects throwing off aromas of by-gone utility and promise, twenty- or thirty- or fifty-year artifacts waiting to be useful again. It was odd that here my husband could sleep in and I was the one who ticked off the half-hours and quarter-hours until it was late enough in the early morning to feel my way past the bureaus and boxes and cabinets of the bedroom to the small landing where my husband’s father had never put in a railing to keep anyone from pitching over on to the stairs, where he had never managed to put in a hand rail for the steps. If you knew enough to walk around the ten-pound bag of sugar or flour that my mother-in-law kept on the bottom, though, you’d make it down to the stairwell door without too much noise, although the hinges were unoiled and the door hung inexactly in its frame. If you went down, you had to be sure you were ready to talk to whomever you might wake up. I didn’t particularly mind in general, but it was clear that if one encountered another person first thing in that house, it was ill-mannered to speak too much and equally so to walk into another room and leave him on his own. I confess it was the agony of conversation with my husband’s father that first thing in the morning that was painful to me and that I sought to avoid. He had a way of
filling up a room, and his invariable response to any subject I might propose, from, “Boy, I sure slept well last night,” to “I see you have quite a number of pigs at the moment” was, “Oh?” a word that over the years I learned could mean anything from, “Yes, that is quite interesting, isn’t it?” to, “The inanity of your observations defies description.” I knew the fault was in me, that I was the outsider, that I just didn’t know what good manners were in that house, that I tried too hard to please. In the late 1980s the only animals on the farm were pigs and beef cattle, which followed seasons of fattening and slaughter I had almost no sense of. I always wanted to walk down and look at the steer (which I still called cows), but my husband’s brother, John, who lived at home and worked the farm, said I would likely spook them, and, having spooked a bull on the property of a monastery not too long previously, I at least knew this was something one did not want to do. I didn’t mind the smell of cows, and I liked the smell of horses and chickens, the smell of manure in hay, but there had not been horses by then for a long time, and no more chickens, and no more milk cows since my husband had been in high school. The smell of pigs, with the yard right upwind to the back of the house from the pig yard, was horrible. My motherin-law was allergic to sheep and could not easily digest pork, and would often have to keep the kitchen window closed in the most stultifying of heat, but no one was foolish enough to suggest a solution. My in-laws had moved from Westphalia, Iowa, where my mother-in-law was from, some five miles to Earling where they had bought this farm in the 1940s. They raised ten children to adulthood in that house, and three of them were or had married farmers, but the rest lived close enough to visit at least once or twice a year, and several, like my husband and me, tried to go up every couple of months or so. The last time we visited, he and I had been responsible for the death by front tire well of my father-in-law’s last dog, who could not be convinced to stay behind when we went out for a walk on the highway. It didn’t take more than the first passing car to send him flying up in the air to his reward. He had been tossed straight into the ditch, where he clearly lay in death but both of us wished he somehow could get a do-over. When we slunk back, meeting my father-in-law in the living room, where he sat where he always sat when he wasn’t taking a nap, and told him, “The dog got run over when we went out for a walk,” he only said, “Oh?” The rest of the weekend, he talked about nothing but the dog, but not to us.
run over when we went out for a walk,” he only said, “Oh?” The rest of the weekend, he talked about nothing but the dog, but not to us. This morning as I eased open the creaking stairwell door, I could see the plaster-and-velvet-coated blood hound sitting upright by the front door, the one that my husband’s oldest sister had bought so that their father would at last not get any more live dogs, who had in fact all come to early and similar ends. I turned from the still living room, my in-laws’ bedroom door closed tight and no sounds from anyone about, into the kitchen and from there to the only bathroom in the house. I sniffed the pink Dove that lay in its own melted soup like a dead thing in the recessed soap drain of the sink, looked out the window to see the aluminum top of the pig feeder, around which all of the pigs appeared to be in a deep sleep, but, somehow, the feeder lids still clanking every once in a slow while. I wondered how long we might have to stay this morning, how soon we might reasonably get away. I used the toilet, washed my hands, and opened the bathroom door to find my husband’s father already seated at the kitchen table. He shoved a section of newspaper and a coffee cup at a chair not quite next to him, and I sat down, and took them both. The kitchen was cold in the morning. Normally my mother-in-law would be standing by the stove, making eggs or oatmeal, ready to
speak, but she was not in the room and I did not dare ask, “Where’s Ma?” I wondered if I could rationalize going back upstairs, or for a walk down to look at the cemetery, or really anything other than continue to sit, and recognized that anything short of staying, silent and subordinate, was out of the question. We stayed there for I think over an hour, but it might have been less. In that time, he did not look at me or speak, other than to reply to my desperate stab at conference, “Well, I really just slept so good up there. That was good sleeping weather last night, wasn’t it?” to which he inevitably replied, “Oh?” By the time my husband came down, his mother had returned from wherever she had escaped to and was making eggs and oatmeal. My father-in-law and I were still turning over the newspaper, though I had read it something like three times entirely by then. My husband stretched, and yawned, satisfied and sleek as a dog. He could not have looked happier or more at home. “Man, I slept good,” he said. “Jayze, that was good sleeping weather!” was!”
His father looked up at him and replied, “Yah, it sure
I looked up at him with fire in my eyes, which he did not see, and then dropped them back down to the newspaper.
“Oh?” I said.
Lost in Mathematics Terry Brix
We circumference each other, spiraling around and wound tighter, inward and downwardâ€”turmoiling coriolus effect of us, we drain out each other and siphon even black out of night. Everything that happens bounces off the parabola of us reflecting out, sooner or later all chunks of the day drawn to the center of this love, we walk out hand-in-hand with remnants. The dance of us, another kind of emotional mathematics, summing where the positive of me, neutralizes negative charge of youâ€”balancing until no repulsion, just the neutral us.
"The Gathering" Meghan Peterson
Linda Duede Starbuck For RLM Iâ€™m inside my grandmaâ€™s hands, a tough old broad swirling my pen like she twisted her crochet hook while dangling a cigarette from her sassy mouth. The news says aging is reversible. Dial back your genes like tuning the XM radio to the 70s station, like pulling a loop through a magic circle. Wear a top that shows your cleavage. Drink bootleg whiskey at the river. Head-bang in a Miata. Refuse the 10 and 2 of the wheel. Ashes burn a hole inside butterfly stitches. Actions lance perpendicular, not parallel, puncturing morality. Rip out the mistakes so the story is respectable. Wrap the thinning skin in an afghan, wrap the hardened spirit in a poem, both welded by hands with blue veins popping.
The Somnambulists Linda Duede Starbuck
With childlike anticipation, admission paid, you enter the fair of black and white tent tops, coveting the world of jagged shapes and forms, off-kilter and with its never-ending whirling. Step right up, you too can be a winner! Pick your sideshow, rush in with the restless. Each dark landscape is a bleeding vignette: the university embraces the indentured. Will you be a writer, an athlete, a director?
There is persuasion in the barker’s pitch.
There is fast murder in the city. There is slow murder in the farmland.
There is treason in the barker’s pitch.
A bride is promised moneyed devotion but cannot lift the weight of her veil.
There is brutality in the barker’s pitch.
The medicine man will save you; take his elixir to smooth out the edges and doze inside a dreamless sleep. There is a man living on the moon and he wears a top hat and carries a cane. Uncover his diaries hidden in the library; recognize the weapons of the perfect enemy. There is smoke in the mirrors. The flaps are unhinged. The clouds collapse behind false fronts. Your face reacts in silent film. Can you follow the light outside the painted canvas? Can you shed the shadow living in the straight-jacket? Can you hear the formless silence between your thoughts?
"Potential Energy" Rachel Funk
Adrian Potter Sometimes it all seems faint. The dash light, the floral pattern of a sundress, the unexplained full-moon effect of her swaying backside. Even her eyes make contact nonchalantly, indifferently. Before I know it, she becomes the patron saint of impending disasters. Of unanswered prayers and foolish intimacies. Excuses become wet and sloppy on my tongue like candy. Just in case, I carry bail money in my wallet, apologies in the back of my throat. Rosaries and roadmaps in my glove compartment. In the fever of her clutch, every moment feels decisive, divisive, deceptive. My mouth is careful not to riot.
Blueberry Brian Bieber
Here we are, again, standing half-asleep in the dark on the edge of the lawn, watching the dog pee. He looks back at us as he leans forward. In the first weeks after we brought him home, we would do our best to avoid eye contact while he relieved himself: an earnest—if silly—attempt to respect his privacy. We didn’t know then that dogs are not modest. Later, we read in a book that the reason he looks back is to confirm that we’re paying attention. He’s making sure that we can protect him while he’s at his most vulnerable. Now we know to meet his eyes, give him a little nod, and tell him good boy as he shakes off and trots back toward us. At seven weeks, the fetus is roughly the size of a blueberry. Its skin is thin as parchment. Far too delicate to support the weight of a name. So for now, it’s Blueberry. We say it casually; our little joke. Just behind it, tickling our tongues, is the name we picked out months before on a plane, newlyweds on our way to a wedding. The nervous parents in the next row introduced us to their infant daughter—likely an attempt to bank some good will ahead of any potential meltdowns during the next four hours. But the baby was content throughout the entire flight, waking from naps only long enough to play peek-a-boo in the gap between seats. Let’s have one like that one, we laughed. We’re not superstitious, but we won’t tempt fate. So for now, it’s Blueberry. Here we are, again, standing in the dark, watching the dog pee. Even under a full moon, his little black body disappears into the shadows of the house. We track his location by the moonlight reflecting off his eyes, and by the sound of his pee spattering in the grass. It’s a quiet neighborhood. Here we are, again. The dog. The saturated patch of grass. Good boy. And here we are, again. The moon. The shadows. He spots a rabbit this time. His body stiffens; his jaw sets. Easy… we warn him. And again. And again. How many times have we been here, watching our little dog pee in the dark? We do the quick, rough calculations, based on how many nights since we brought him home. Factoring in the first few months, when he required more than one trip to the backyard each night, and the rare occasions that he sleeps more than a few hours straight, maybe… One hundred-and-sixty times?
Or maybe not.
We read in a book that the way people have traditionally perceived time is inaccurate. That past, present, and future are all equal. What’s more, they’re arbitrary. It might seem that watching our dog pee in the dark this night is simply one of a host of countless moments experienced throughout one continuously unfolding lifetime, but that isn’t correct; there is no single lifetime. There are countless lifetimes, each of them only a moment long. And there are countless iterations of us, each of them given one of those momentary lifetimes to live. We’re not an individual; we’re a composite. Sitting on the toilet. Mowing the lawn. Having sex for the first time. Having sex for the best time. Some of us spend our entire existence on hold with customer service. Some of us exist only to lie awake in the middle of the night, worrying about money. Some of us exist to stand half-asleep in the backyard, watching the dog pee. She was ambivalent about having kids. We were not. But the issue was purposely left unresolved, even after the engagement. We needed her to know that, regardless of her decision, we wanted her most. So if not becoming a parent was the cost of admission to a life with her, we were happy to buy that ticket. According to the book, the problem with people is that we’re too self-involved. We like to think that the future comes into existence only as we experience it. That there is nothing more important than the moment we’re living. That we’re existential pioneers, forging ahead and illuminating the darkness before us merely with our presence. The reality is that everything that will ever happen has already happened. We’re not forging ahead at all. Every person who ever has or ever will live is—for all practical purposes—standing still and facing backward, where we can only see the moments that came before the one we have been given. But because these other selves we see look so similar to us, we mistake them for ourselves. We claim ownership of their moments. We bind them together in our mind like a flipbook, and we call it a life. At ten weeks, the fetus is the size of a secret. At ten weeks, there is a realization that loving something together—even something not much larger than a blueberry—is a new way to love one another. We place our palm on her belly long before there’s any real belly to speak of. At ten weeks, the fetus is as dense as a black hole, pulling in joy and hope and fear as quickly and violently as they are produced.
Here we are, standing in the dark, on the edge of the lawn, watching the dog pee. Above us, the map of stars tilts, and the constellations chase one another a few degrees across the sky. We inhale humid summer air, and exhale a plume of icy condensation. Occasionally, there are times like this one, with our eyes and our mind unfocused, when we don’t know whether we’re looking at what’s in front of us—remembering what has already happened—or taking little glimpses over our shoulder, at what’s to come. We all get just one moment. One page in the flipbook. We don’t get to choose it, and it’s not fair. So I’m sorry that this moment is yours: The one when the doctor says, “I’m sorry. I’m not finding a heartbeat.” Your moment is nausea and disbelief. Your moment is empty space beneath your feet. Your moment is the start of an ache that will not even begin to peak for a very long time. An ache that will lessen over time, with subsequent selves, but will never really leave us.
“I’m sorry. I’m not finding a heartbeat.”
The doctor says it once, but you hear it over and over.
Here we are, taking a break from wedding planning to politely attend a dance recital for our friends’ children. Midway through the program, a three-year-old in a pink leotard breaks ranks with her classmates and runs back and forth from one side of the stage to the other, stopping at abrupt intervals to frown intently through the footlights into the audience. We laugh ourselves to tears. Out of nowhere, she slips her hand into ours. She presses her lips to our ear, and she says, “I want to have a baby with you.” That is a good moment. That is a perfect moment. We have those, too.
“I’m sorry. I’m not finding a heartbeat.”
It is a small comfort, but in your moment, your eyes are fixed on the ultrasound screen, so you are spared seeing the look on her face. That will be another’s burden.
And you have her hand wrapped in yours.
Those of us who are familiar with her hands know what a gift it is to hold them. Perfectly proportioned, beautifully tapered fingers. Strong, manicured nails. Some of us never get to experience what it’s like to hold one of those perfect hands. So even with your stomach lurching and your eyes burning, you at least have that privilege.
“I’m sorry. I’m not finding a heartbeat.”
This moment will not be the worst one. There will be moments when you and she will be apart. Ugly moments full of ugly thoughts that you will not speak of, even with each other.
Here we are, not long after we met her. That week she was between apartment leases, and office renovations left her to work from home for the same stretch of days that she didn’t have one. That week when, even though it was so soon it seemed like it should be a really bad idea, she stayed in our little basement apartment with us for five days. Here we are, coming home from work and opening the door to her reclining on the couch, computer on her lap, hair turned up in a messy bun. What if the enormity of a single moment is too much for just one of us to grasp? Could the weight of that moment be shared, if every iteration of us were to somehow face the same direction and live it together? Because something strange happens in that moment, looking at her on the couch. Suddenly it feels like we’re all facing the same direction. Though we had practically just met her, in that moment we had seen her in this exact pose countless times. We see the features of her face flicker through decades, millions of iterations of her, every one of them familiar. We barely know her, but we see an entire lifetime lived together, and we’re calmed. The reverberations of that moment are felt by all of us, but none more than by those of us who are alone. The quiet echo of seeing her there on the couch is what gives so many of us hope. A tiny ripple of a feeling assuring us that, eventually, she would be there.
And here she is.
At ten and a half weeks, the fetus is the shape of the two of us curled up together on the couch with our little dog, waiting for it to be over. We hold on to each other tight for days, trying to stitch ourselves together using all the same things that could just as easily tug us apart.
“I’m sorry. I’m not finding a heartbeat.”
Trailing the dull rage comes resignation. You are not the first or the only one of us to feel that he is being justly deprived of a happiness he has not earned. You are not alone in your irrational certainty that this is a punishment meant for you, and that you should be ashamed for sharing it with her. I’m sorry that this is your moment. If I could, I would share another one with you. Try to imagine a moment when the doctor says something entirely different. A moment when her perfect hand—wrapped in yours once again—gives an excited, involuntary squeeze. Imagine that, in this moment, you are looking at her face. You see the change in her eyes when the hiss of white noise from the sonogram’s crackling speaker is broken by the sound of a tiny heart galloping at one-hundred-eighty beats per minute. If you can imagine that moment, try to imagine the one that comes next. And the one after that. Do this over and over, for as long as you can, until suddenly… here she is.
Here she is, just ahead and behind you, waiting for a name.
Waving as You Pull Out of the Driveway Erika Saunders
When you leave, you untether me – floating on an inland sea. Like all hollow vessels, I bob on the tide, dipping in and out of this alkali cocktail – dipping and drying like wax to wick, which tans my skin to crack-lin. In the dead-soft inland sea, I float facing the cloudless sky– palms spread, sun-kissed as Santiago’s as he’s washed onto the beachhead. Ox peckers descend, settling onto my blistering breast; they pass over my sea lice friends to blood-let the host instead. I bleed in salted cracker-crust white, and my eyes blink as hollow as Iamus before his descent. Suspended in this saturated salinity – fuchsia dreams erupt like Matisse cut-outs and drift along beside me in the brine shrimp bloom. Where I think I see you along the shore, smeared in red heifer ash, caught mid-dive, and I await your purifying splash.
"Summertime" Amanda Rhoadarmer
Things the Internet has Ruined (Hope) Donna Katheryn Kelly
Before the Internet, people just died and maybe you didnâ€™t know they had died because the last you heard they had moved somewhere like Fort Meyers or Punta Gorda
Which is what happened when I searched for my old secretary, who had moved to Florida before the Millennium, and saw that she had died seven years ago, and all this time I had not thought of her often,
and they passed out of your life with ease, so that sometimes you might pause to think of something that they had said or did which would cause you to smile
except to share the joke we played on her stalker cop-ex-boyfriend or to think of her chipmunk happiness, her adorable face, her independence: the reinvention of herself after forty, after divorce.
and then you would wonder what happened to them, so that you would think that they were sitting on a beach somewhere sipping a cocktail and watching waves while you were stuck in Belle Fourche still working the same job
This time has passed, not seeming like years at all, unless a year becomes a day or an hour at this age,
youâ€™ve been working for twenty years, and you might have felt some envy, but mostly, you were comforted with the thought that someday you would also be on a beach somewhere sipping a margarita and watching the waves. Now, when you have the memory of a person, you wonder whatever happened to them, and where did they move to, so, you search their name on your stupid phone or your laptop and you find out that they are not sipping a Rum and Coke in Pensacola but that they are dead and have been dead for years. The unknowing of a death is gone: accessibility has destroyed tranquility.
and all the while I have thought she was wearing a sarong, shopping at Coldwater Creek, listening to Jimmy Buffet songs, with a man of some wealth and years, or no wealth and less years, laughing alongside her, and I wonder what she died from, and I hope she did not suffer, but mostly, I want to hold her in the present, the ocean-side, now-should-be-late-sixty-ish-imp, that this awful screen has stolen from me.
Vida Blue and the Boy who Loved Baseball Donna Katheryn Kelly
The Boy taught me the secret of Risk:
baseball cap on crooked, but not backwards,
always sweep Madagascar early in the game.
and a tired Louisville Slugger in his right hand.
I admired the pieces of petrified day-old gum
But I am alone beside the concession stand
that were stationed on his bedpost.
and his name has long been weathered.
Before his saliva had transformed those pink globs,
It has been thirty-three summers.
they were just thick slabs of powdery stiffness stuck between Rick Monday and Reggie Jackson.
When the evening overwhelms me, I see him laughing in the sky:
Only the Boy could blow a true bubble
the galaxy spread out before him.
with original Topps baseball-card gum.
He is trading Draco for Cassiopeia.
A trip to the 7-Eleven was his whiffle-ball break.
He has stars now instead of cards,
He would return for the seventh inning
light instead of dice:
with a gob-stoppered mouth
no baseball, but memories of
and a root beer Slurpee.
the feel of the swing - the connecting.
â€œToo many Catfishes, not enough Vida Blues.â€?
The gods banter alongside him while he swaps constellations
A forkball, a slider, and the Boy is gone.
as though they were second-string players. He has been forgotten,
They named the Little League field after him.
and yet remembered:
At night, I sit on the worn six-tiered metal bleachers
the Boy who only lost at Risk once
and half-expect to see him appear,
and never did get that Vida Blue card.
with a Pixie stick drooping from his bubble-gum mouth,
Eulogy for a Soft-Hearted Woman Bernie Hunhoff
Most strong and graceful men and women grow frail in their last years, and then are sometimes memorialized as cute and silly — which I always thought was unfortunate because they were so much more than that. Mom was still driving her own car late in life. One day at about age 90 she started mailing her letters at our South Dakota Magazine publishing office instead of driving to the nearby post office. I told her, “We’re happy to stamp and mail your letters, Mom, but why did you quit going to the post office.” “Well,” she said, “they get so touchy when you even just nick their cars there.” A Yankton police officer told me he stopped her car one evening, after dark, to suggest she should dim her lights while driving in town.
helping to unload corn when a chain hoist broke and a wagon tongue smashed his little head. A wild mother sow nearly killed yet another son when he wandered upon her litter. So it went.
The policeman said Mom replied, “No, I don’t want to dim my lights because if I hit someone I want to see them!”
Mom’s brothers returned from military service with PTSD, though no one had a name or an acronym then for the problem. One committed suicide.
The officer couldn’t argue.
That was Mom. If she hit a man, she would want to save him.
But those stories aren’t Margaret Hunhoff in her prime. Mom was a strong woman with a heart softened by tragedies and death. She arrived in Yankton in 1943 after growing up in a family that had nothing in the Dirty Thirties in Iowa. They were so poor that she wouldn’t talk about it. After high school, she worked as a waitress and a nurse’s aide before she was accepted into the nursing cadet program at Sacred Heart School of Nursing. Because of a nursing shortage in World War II, all tuition and board was paid. She got off the bus on Third Street at the bus station and walked west, up the hill toward the convent and the hospital with the big mosaic image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It’s a fitting metaphor for her life. She was always walking uphill — looking for a way to serve Jesus or anyone else who crossed her path.
She married a local farmer and soon they had four sons.
Mom’s saddest day was Oct. 10, 1952, when her third son Steven, just 2, was killed in a farm accident. He had dashed under the wheels of a water truck that came into the farmyard to fill the cistern. Time does not heal all. Steven’s death changed her forever. I believe it softened her heart, maybe softer than a heart should be in a hard world. It seemed to us that she cared too much. Steven’s accident was followed by other calamities. A brotherin-law was working as a lineman when he was electrocuted a few days before he was to be married; the wedding feast became a funeral lunch. One son was born with developmental disabilities; another was nearly killed while
She and Dad tried to befriend a lonely neighbor, who was inconsolable after his wife and daughter had left him. But Dad was sick in bed one Sunday afternoon when the neighbor came, so Mom asked the man to stop another time. He killed himself the next day. Two neighborhood boys found a pistol in a junk pile and played with it, thinking it was a toy, when it discharged. One of the boys was killed. Mom comforted the grieving mother and it freshened her own sorrows. She and Dad were small farmers. They rented land for a share of the crops, and there was never much money left by the time they paid the bank and the landlord and fed their family, which eventually grew to seven sons. But poverty and hard work were minor headaches. Mom was concerned about death and illness and pain. Writing and poetry kept her sane. Beginning in the 1950s, she began a correspondence with Adeline Jenney, the South Dakota poet laureate. They exchanged many long letters. Mrs. Jenney advised the young farmwife from Yankton County and encouraged her to write about the bad and the good. She published many of mom’s poems in her Pasque Petals volumes. Still, writing was a luxury. Every one she knew came first. She tended to the swelled and sore feet of a neighbor lady who suffered from in-grown toenails for many years. Not once or twice but for years. Some days she came home from visiting a hard-luck neighbor’s house and told Dad that they needed to send a sack of groceries over because the cupboards were bare.
She was unselfish to a fault. She wouldn’t (and it seemed that she couldn’t) do anything for herself. And she couldn’t do enough for others — especially if they were suffering. lady.
But don’t mistake her soft heart for weakness. She was a tough
She could cut the heads off a dozen chickens, gut them and pluck them with blood and feathers flying, and put them in a sack and drop them off to a buyer in town. She’d work a full shift at the nursing home or hospital, come home and help Dad on the farm and give us our marching orders – and she was probably writing a poem in her head all the while. Mom wasn’t perfect and she didn’t expect anyone else to be perfect, which is a rare virtue. You didn’t have to get straight A’s (thank the Lord for that!) to make her proud of you. She filled our farmhouse with music and books. We shared an accordion, a guitar and several harmonicas. One day she found a free piano and sent three of us to bring it home in the back of a pickup truck. Unfortunately, it rolled out onto the road when we made a sharp turn and it broke apart into a hundred pieces. When we got home, we told Mom the bad news. She wasn’t upset. We re-assembled it the best we could and soon we were playing “You Are My Sunshine” on the most out-of-tune keyboard in South Dakota. One particular day in our teen years, my brothers and I were jumping our junky motorcycle off our farmhouse porch when a visiting relative asked Mom why she allowed such a thing. She replied that she thought it might be a valuable skill if we ever found ourselves in a war zone or some such place. You didn’t have to behave a certain way to have her love and respect. Not her seven sons. Not her neighbors. And not a stranger. She moved to Yankton after Dad died, mostly because she wanted to attend daily Mass at the Catholic church. In Yankton she found many more hungry and hurting people. It wasn’t unusual to go to her house on Pearl Street and meet a homeless person waiting on the porch for a sandwich, or someone down on his luck raking her leaves for cash. She didn’t always appreciate it if we shoveled her walk in winter because she was hoping she could pay some poor soul to clean the snow. She volunteered all over town. She even moved to New York City to volunteer at a Catholic homeless shelter called the Covenant House. But she soon came home to South Dakota. The pain of losing Steven in 1952 never went away. We knew that as children and we knew it all through our lives. Mom penned her best poem 30 years later when Dad died. It was not about her troubles but of how Steven’s death pained Dad. She began by noting that he was never much for words – “You liked the quiet of the long corn rows,” she wrote. Then she finished it like this:
One day you stood beside a tiny casket
The only time that people saw you cry
Yet, when it closed and left him in the dark,
You found no words with which to say goodbye
Today your gentle presence gone, so deep
The void … I hear the silence of God and weep.
Now the void she long endured, so deep, is finally bridged and she is home with Steven and Dad. This is an edited version of the eulogy delivered at Margaret Hunhoff’s funeral Mass on January 16, 2019.
"I Saw Him on Our Walk" Jennie Haugen
To the Ex Who Told Me, "I never wanted to date you in the first place" Camryn Hay For him, I don’t hope for misery or an STD. I don’t hope for Alzheimer’s, car accidents, or jail. However, for him, I do hope for photographs that never capture his good side. I hope for late buses, cold macaroni, shirts that are always a tinch too tight, and a radiator with a rattling screw. I hope for taco shells that fall apart with the first bite and keys that disappear when he’s late for work on a Monday morning. I hope for him a lifetime of Monday mornings. I hope for many first dates, but not so many second ones. I hope for the friendzone, for his brother to be better at everything, and a B+ in every class he’ll take. I hope for him a long-term relationship that breaks right around the time his buddies get hitched.
Nebraska Matt Mason
1 Springsteen calls the album “Nebraska” even though it’s mostly Jersey. Lot of nighttime, though, lot of highway, could all look the same, could all sound alike, driver’s side window down, air dragging a sleeve up your shoulder as your hand moves like a bird, up and down over the long, yellow line. 2 I would’ve tried out for a bit part in Alexander Payne’s movie but couldn’t get off work and drive to Norfolk; they’d sent some pages with lines for a cousin I thought I could play, but, when you see the finished cut, it’s obvious I’d have stuck out like a tourist in the movie named after my home. 3 Mine’s not acoustic guitar black and white. Mine has ukulele and tuba. Mine pops in emerald, vermillion and blue, Stratocaster, surf guitar, Casio keyboard, violet, turquoise, silver and rust. You get me, right?
I could make lists till the cow metaphors come home. Yes, it’d swing around to harmonica, grey, a cheap piece of strung timber, too, eventually; but it’s all here in symphonies, in spectrums, in choruses, in color. 4 There’s a story: the reporter, Ninette, gets a call in the newsroom, tired at first, but the questions are good so she spends time remembering, finding what details from an old murder she still has filed in her fingers. After a bit, she puts the phone down, click, stands up and asks these folks writing Husker football and bridge closings, This gentleman I was just speaking to, has anyone ever heard of a Bruce Springsteen? Turns out they have. 5 So listen. So look out. I enter this as evidence: no matter what those other guys said, it all went down like this.
It is 1997, Karaoke bar, Des Moines Matt Mason
Tonight’s the night you choose to fistfight Tom Jones.
dressed in a style
You write his name on the piece of paper, above
you can’t quite put a name to
“It’s Not Unusual,” hand it
saunters up with attitude,
to the DJ, KJ, whatever the word is;
stands in that spotlight
and you sit,
like it is their main source of nourishment,
you deal with the “Whip It” of it, you deal with the sight of Rick Astley
stares you down
delivered in unironic flaunt,
as he takes that song back,
you deal with “You Give Love A Bad Name” partially crooned,
he Not Unusuals the crap out of it,
like some alternate incarnation of Mike Tyson,
like some Bon Jovi centaur has crashed through the room,
he bites the second verse’s goddamn ear off, he—
before they announce your name
oh, “Gilligan Chic,”
(which you have not aliased
that’s the name
(which could be a mistake,
for how he’s dressed—he
you hope-filled son or daughter of hope-filled parents (you were somebody’s dream))).
takes this serious, he’s there to lay hands on this song like Jesus Karaoke Christ
You give new truth
as if Tom Jones once saved him from drowning
to lines like:
It’s not unusual
or being shipwrecked on some uncharted desert isle.
to see me cry. I want
Bully to you, my good man,
you want to say, you have bested me
And it is glorious.
in something almost as ridiculous
Even better than your “How Deep Is Your Love”
as competition poetry;
(Spoiler alert: not very) that you gave as a gift
now sit your white-pants ass down,
to a different karaoke bar last week.
the DJ, KJ, VJ, BJ hasn’t even gotten to my slip for “Delilah” or “She’s A Lady,”
Someone takes an obligatory ride in Little Red Corvette,
someone human centipedes a different Bon Jovi beast together,
someone disregards human decency and sings “We Built This City on Rock and Roll,”
then, one of the regulars
was only ever Round One.
"Land" (top left), "Window" (top right), "Intrigue" (bottom left), "Still Point" (bottom right) Betty L. Beer
The Day I Was Beckoned Into a Watercolor Betty L. Beer
It was in Kabul that I was invited into a John Singer Sargent watercolor. Oh, the man was as handsome as that work of art with Aryan blue eyes that pierced from jet black browd. Not Sargent’s Bedouin blue, but wrapped in white, he was sitting on white surrounded by white. “He wants to kiss you,” his deputy whispered, offering twenty-five percent off anything in the store down the street. I stood there, curious, surprised, ignoring the bribe. He was bareheaded, taller, surrounded by standing, curious, robed elders in tan Pashtun hats. I paused. Well I’m sure as heck not going to kiss him back. I pointed to my cheek. He sighed, pushed off his chair, approached sideways, quickly leaned over, kissed my cheek, then fell back into his chair, arms outstretched, a chorus of “Ahhhh” as the men drew back in relief and wonder at the bravery of it.
The Solo Salsa Kalynn Slabaugh
The oil paints play in steady rhythm: the repeated chorus of the western cliff, the dazzling rifts of the valley, the bold intro of the lower left mesa, the long stretches of instrumental sky, the flitting splotches of staccato cacti. And the sides of the canyon dance together, anchoring each other like partners in a song. — Listen to the music—the plucky percussion juxtaposed with syrupy jazz horns. To dance salsa is to dance boldly. Smooth, full-bodied twists. Arms and hips swaying in steady rhythm. Carry the swing low, then high. Smooth the sway at your belly. — There they stand: the flowing figures draped in flaming crimson and carmine. Each dancer a strong force, challenging the other. He anchors on the left, leaned forward with anticipation. He’s painted in bold lines of sandy yellows, stoic oranges, inspiring greens. His foundation, unshakeable. His steady rhythm, invincible.
She answers his gentle call with countless, dizzying twirls. She twists to his hand’s command upon her waist. Her skirt flows in alluring circles, complementing his stoicism. The beauty of the dance manifests in her movements—from her head, to her arms, to her waist, to her legs. Each body part dances to a rhythm found in some deep, painted lyrics of the song. — Only when looking at his feet, do you see his involvement. His footwork parallels the quick rotations of her upper body. Back and forth. Swinging in a rhythm that both anchors and excites her. Passion surges between them. — Move your feet forward, right, left. And quickstep back.
— Remember that salsa ineluctably flows from an eight-count rhythm. So work that rhythm up through your torso. Roll your right shoulder back. And again, in quick succession. Smooth the left back as well. Lift your arms like slow-working gears above your head. Closed fists, elbows out. Above your head, your wrists twist outward, palms open, snaking against your hips’ rhythm. Remember that the down beats come on two and six. — His upright body remains smooth, barely moving. He must accessorize, not distract from her curving spins. He leads with hidden strength, unnoticed, as if every dip is her lengthening her own body, paralleling the ground, subverting gravity. Yet, her weightlessness is his design and he seamlessly guides her every move. —
His sturdy breath anchors her flowing right, his sanguine partner, adorned in endless valley curves. They are entwined in red-hot salsa, a perpetual dance frozen in a moment of intensity. —
But when the Spanish beat drops, I’m alone.
I close the blue drapes hanging in my living room and play a sequence of YouTube videos through dull laptop speakers, praying that the noise cancels out the thud of awkward feet and any internal reproves of my clumsiness. I push the computer screen away, stretch tall, scrunch my eyes closed just to feel the bass. The rhythm sinks into my body and I begin to dance, intuitively guided into every flowing spin, smooth step. The opening doo-dum Bah! leads my feet forward on two, back on six. Repeat on eight. I imagine the snakelike contortions of my hips and my arms.
Vitalizing. Beautiful. Anchorless.
"Seeds of Summer" Teodora Buba
and water is
the medium for reversion so to be viewed from shore
drunk or laved in
and in the desert guided
but not swum in or
embarked upon as if to seek return to an impossible age of origin no your grant is land and you must march high and away to keep the dry the medium of advance
with dirt and rock and ash and bone while rain and flood come only to go though you may turn and look down at sunlightâ€™s movement on bay
Possession Rosemary Moeller
I’m missing something. My husband. My children. My grocery list. In Hawai’i I learned with envy of two possessives.
Ko’u keiki, ka’u keiki.
One for temporary holds or ephemeral bonds.
One for people, places, objects I’m tied to, bonded with.
If I could recreate language, add a possessive adjective, I could just pick between mye or my and be done. Re-read, edit, express meaning I don’t think about. I
want to say how important mye home is, how little I care about my car, which will be replaced in a few years. But I can’t change mye language like that. Possess less isn’t an option when summer blooms on the prairie, mye view out my window, mye tiny orchard, mye herb garden, my garden hose, my hoe. Our, your, her, his, their. Wherever it goes. I slow down, think which I would use, stutter, stammer while talking about weather changes, yarn textures, onions with acquaintances at the grocery store where my list is lost beneath my French goat cheese.
Anesthesia Amber Jensen
I curled into the third seat of my mom’s suburban. Tan leather clung to my pink skin, still damp with sunscreen and sweat. My son, my mother, and my sister and her two kids and I had spent our day posing for pictures with Santa, the seven dwarfs, the Cowardly Lion and the heartless Tin Man. We’d ridden a magic carousel, walked through the enchanted forest and down the yellow brick road. Now the kids had wilted into sleep in their car seats, my mom and sister chatted in the front seat, and I slouched in the back, breathing slowly, nearing sleep.
Until I thought of Blake.
It wasn’t a gentle memory of his dimpled smile, not a longing that would coax me into a dream of a farmhouse with a front porch and a windmill, and chickens and children. This was a sudden remembering that jolted me awake.
It was the first time I had thought of him that day.
The sun was already dipping below the horizon of green, un-harvested corn fields before I finally thought about my husband, about how long it had been since I talked to him, about how long it might be before he’d be home from Iraq. I sank lower in the seat, closed my eyes again, and tried to find him, tried to transplant myself to another place where I could feel his presence. I imagined the dusty haze that lifted from the upholstery of his dad’s truck and found myself thirsty for the penetrating smell of smoke. I tried to drink it in, curling my fingers near my lips, imagining the smoldering taste of Blake’s skin, yellowed with the heat of cigarettes. I closed my eyes to inhale the smell of his uniform after a weekend of smoke breaks at drill, but my lungs filled with the disappointing chill of air-conditioning. I wanted to be somewhere with him—in the dugout after a baseball game, holding an Old Mil Light and huddling against him for warmth—I tried to summon him, but I couldn’t. And so I found my niece’s travel desk, unrolled white paper from the pink plastic scroll, and began to write a letter I would never send. After a year’s worth of words chosen carefully to convey how much I missed him, how much I hated living without him, how much better life would be when he returned, I bounced over the broken pavement of highway 25 and wrote:
I almost forgot to miss you today.
My stomach lifted up into my throat as I realized that Blake had become something far off. Something unpredictable. He had dissipated, slithered into the air in winding wafts of smoke. He had dissolved into memory and the dream of what a
husband might be. In a month, he would begin his journey home from Iraq, but at that moment, he was still drifting. I wanted to let go of the possibility of losing him, to start imagining what life would be like once he was home, but I couldn’t trust it. Another soldier from his unit had died. Greg. Blake called him by his first name, so I knew this one had hit closer to home. That the loss was part of Blake’s reality. Closer to him than George and I, maybe. Because that entire summer, I had woken each morning to the sound of George’s coos. I’d spent weekdays at my sister’s house, coloring with my niece, watching George crawl after his cousins. I’d scheduled tummy time and meal time and bath time. I’d nursed him to sleep each evening, then snuggled into the warmth of his sleeping body and the rhythm of his steady breathing while I watched the Late Show with David Letterman and finally fallen asleep myself. On Sundays, I had taken George to the family dinners with Blake’e grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles, then followed Blake’s brothers to baseball games, where George toddled around in the grass near the dugouts, waiting to wave at his uncles as they ran from the field into the dugout. My life was predictable. But Blake’s wasn’t. Blake couldn’t tell me where he’d been or where he’d be the next day, what he’d be doing or when. And after Greg died, Blake had begun calling even less. What had been weekly phone calls had stretched to every ten days. I told myself he called less because it was getting easier, because he was so close to coming home. But some part of me knew that he didn’t call because it kept getting harder, because when Greg died it took the wind out of him. Blake’s return was so close, but I knew he wasn’t safe. It was the Army – it was war – and, in his words, you never knew what was going to happen until it actually happened. I was still terrified of the possibilities, but I was also tired of being afraid. I hung somewhere between anxiety and relief, suspended between consciousness and sleep, storybook land and reality, numbness and feeling. I had experienced this numbness, this lack of feeling before—on October 17th, when our son was born. After the epidural, after my sister had assumed her position behind the blue curtain that cut me off just below the chest, someone dressed in blue peered around the curtain and said, “Let’s see where we’re at here. A little pinch to your heel—just let me know if you feel it.”
I felt a pinch and said, “Felt that.”
After a few minutes, the blue-masked man repeated the routine a second time, and I said, “Yeah, felt that a little bit, too.”
Still, he peered over the curtain at me and said, “All right, we’re ready to go here,” I smiled, maybe even nodded slightly, while his words sunk in. Ready to go? But I had felt it. The pinch. I knew I had. And now they were preparing to begin? Preparing to cut through layers of skin and muscle, to peel back the layers of me, even though I felt that pinch. The medical staff was blocked from my view, but my sister sat beside me, her head tilted toward mine. She held my hand. And yet, she smiled. Unconcerned. She squeezed my hand. In my panic, I’d forgotten how she’d told me to expect this very thing—this fear that the anesthesia wasn’t working, this phantom feeling of my limbs—and she had explained the inside joke: “They don’t even pinch your heel the second time, because they know you’re numb.” If I had remembered, I might have trusted her. After all, she was a medical professional. An insider. She probably knew. But I didn’t remember. I just lay there, unable to do anything other than imagine Blake. I longed for him beside me, his thick eyebrows raised, full lips sucking in a deep breath, fingers extending anxiously, flat palm pounding his knee. I needed someone as unfamiliar with the procedures of childbirth and epidurals and c-sections as me. Someone to believe me—to believe with me—that the anesthesia had not yet taken effect. I sucked in icy air, stared into the glaring white ceiling, and thought, Yeah, you can get started.You can cut me open, but I really did feel that pinch. I closed my eyes, clenched my teeth, and prepared to scream.
And then, nothing happened.
I felt nothing. No slicing pain, no swelling scream. I lay on the table, my arms stretched out, crucifixion style, secured with Velcro straps. I anticipated the most horrific pain I could imagine, and then didn’t feel anything. If I concentrated on the body I knew was still there, I could conjure up some sense of pressure, of skin pulling and stretching. But really there was nothing. A void of sensation. A sort of limbo, suspended between two realities. In the backseat of my mom’s suburban on that summer day, I rolled out the waxy paper of my niece’s pink travel desk about six inches—well beyond the words, I almost forgot to miss you today, to a rectangle the size of stationary. I tore the paper slowly. Soundlessly, not to wake the kids. I stared out the window into pristine rows of corn, their vibrant green stripes angling toward the horizon, giving the illusion that they were growing closer and closer, that they might converge somewhere just beyond the
horizon. I rolled and unrolled the paper around my index finger. When I recognized the four-mile corner, I laid the paper flat, folded it in fours. Once at home, I tucked the single sentence, the singular sentiment, into the drawer of my nightstand. When I discovered the paper three years later, I felt myself lifted into that dizzying emotion, that threat of pain and the guilty relief of falling into the void. I remembered the epidural and its strange nothingness and I felt an urge to explain, to finish the letter I never sent. To say: That’s how I feel about forgetting to miss you, Blake. It’s a sort of suffering that I’ve come to expect to sweep over me several times a day—when the sound of George’s rasping snore flashes me an image of you, pitching baseballs to a toddler you never rocked to sleep as a baby; when I watch TV and try to snuggle into the arm of the couch, wishing that arm would wrap itself around me, extend a soft-skinned hand to trace circles on my shoulder until it burns on my freckled skin. When it doesn’t come, I feel numb. As if half of me has died. And I want to scream, but I can’t, because that is when I realize that if something does happen, if you don’t come home from war, life will go on. Just like you always say, “Everything will be okay.” If you don’t come home, I imagine that for a while it would feel like part of me were missing. Not just as if I couldn’t feel my legs, but as if they were actually gone and I were nothing more than a bust—a resin form of head, neck, and shoulders, sitting still and lifeless on the shelf of a library or an office somewhere, where people pass by, pretending not to see me, my testimony to death and tragedy—but eventually I would start to feel a prickling numbness, a dead-heavy foot. And eventually that foot would twitch involuntarily, reminding me that I’m not completely broken, reminding me that it is still possible to feel, to move, to live. Then I would reach down and tug on that lead foot, drag it around for a while, until it gave in and started to wiggle and flex, then finally move freely. And so I can’t scream because I know it is a good thing, the fact that I wouldn’t die without you, but I hate it at the same time. I know you would want me to move on, maybe run into that guy I always flirted with in college, the one I bumped into the summer before we were married, the one who asked my uncle if I was still single just weeks before our wedding. But I don’t want to have to. I’m afraid of the possibility of losing you, of having to live without you. But I’m sick with knowing that somehow, eventually, I could do it.
Can you understand the guilt of that?
And can you forgive me?
I hope so, because even now, as I realized that life could go on without you, I know that you are always part of me and that you always will be, even if it seems like I am forgetting: whenever Georgeâ€™s face transforms into yours with the furrow of a brow, the peak of eyebrows; whenever I enter a hazy bar, met someoneâ€™s smoke circles on the street, or catch a whiff of burning autumn leaves; whenever the tinny, cheap twinge of Old Mil Light trickles from a sweating blue and silver can to my lips, making me long to inhale the smoke of you.
"School of Ballet" Amanda Jamison
Planting Christmas Trees Jeff Gould
I’m standing in the middle of my life on the side of a hill in Minnesota. Because it is on the small farm I grew up on, I can easily see back through the years to my childhood- and I find myself puzzling over the sensation- the empty fields to the North are now packed with luxury condos and fancy houses. The barbed wire fences I helped stretch on hot summer days now sag next to asphalt walking paths.
in two weeks.” The ones that survive might get eaten by a lawn mower or a deer, or some unexplainable event. I find one hole that has beaten all odds and both trees that have survived- they look to be about 4 years old. But they are too close and will strangle each other. He shrugs, takes a loppers and clips one of them off. I look at him. He shrugs again.
This surreal feeling is heightened because I am helping my Dad plant trees- another task from my youth.
Mom has just come out with lunch. Lunch is a farm term that means something to eat brought out to the workers in between times that they go inside to eat. In this case lunch was a thermos of coffee and a plate of apple pie bars.
The pecking order of childhood is still there, I am a 16year old boy doing what my father is telling me to do, but instead of a man in full strength, my father has diminished to a 76-year old with a staggering shuffle. I’m doing the math as I’m helping him. He is thirty years older than me. The last time I did any meaningful work on this hill was 30 years ago and I have become the father I remember.
Planting Christmas trees.
The process has changed but not in any sort of efficient or practi cal way. I take a planting shovel- a heavy T-handled tool that cuts a wedge in the soft ground. I stand on the shovel with both feet balancing myself as I rock back and forth, slowly sinking the shovel up to its hilt. Then I heave the shovel out. The ground makes a small sucking sound. Dad is next to me; he has taken the job that involves less strength but more pain. He has a five-gallon bucket full of little trees about the size of a pencil. He sticks in two trees, one in each side of the 6-inch slot in the ground. He gives me a nod and then I sink the shovel into the ground, making another slot a few inches away and parallel to the first. Once it’s sunk to the hilt, I rock it back towards the little trees, squeezing the flap of dirt against the trees. A painted stake is planted so no one mows over the trees, and the exercise is complete. Now using the bucket as a crutch, Dad painfully lifts himself to his feet, picks up the bucket and limps to the next tree. It is an exercise in futility. If he wasn’t my Dad, I might even tell him it was stupid. I have committed to planting 400 trees this afternoon. I learn that only about 10 will survive the 15 years needed before some person from the condo next door cuts it down for Christmas. “That why I plant two per hole.” He explains. It doubles the odds from astronomical to merely pathetic. “It’s all about rain. If it rains they might live, if it doesn’t they will be dead
Forgive this tangent: I cannot just mention apple pie bars in passing. Apple pie bars are a delicacy from my youth that I completely took for granted and have since forgotten. Made in a shallow rectangular pan, they featured lard crusts that my mom had rendered herself, about a peck of apples from the orchard and sweetened with honey from the bees they kept. Tart, sweet, crumbly- a portable version of apple pie- they were drizzled with just enough glaze to make you wipe your hands on the cold fall grass.
My mom smiles at me: “Your hair is so gray!”
I smile back, “At least I still have a little.”
She smiles and nods. Then looks at me again: “Your hair is so gray!” My smile is sadder this time. Her personality is as bright as ever, but the Alzheimer’s is stealing her beautiful mind one cell at a time — and it makes me realize just how rare and fleeting this day and moment is. I stretch my back and think how good a nap in the grass would feel right now, but today is not for resting, it is for working. Dad had his hip replaced two years ago, and both his knees are shot. He also has neuropathy (or loss of feeling) in his feet, so the man I remember with the long legs and the 4-foot stride now shuffles painfully along from hole to hole. If we push it, we will plant 400 trees today, leaving Dad to plant 800 himself. And why? They will have to leave this place when Mom can no longer function. The tax laws which made such laborious work worthwhile have been changed. Now the trees must pay for themselves, and planting, pruning and upkeep no longer make it worthwhile.
Yet he does it. And the obedient son that is in me helps and tries to understand why. I suppose some of it is stubbornness, Dad refusing to change in the face of a changing world, because he doesn’t have to-- yet. Fear too. If my math is correct they have lived there together 44 years. Certainly, any other place they would live would be drastically different. Better to live today than face tomorrow But positive emotions are at work that fine day as well. Like optimism- a tree is belief that tomorrow will come- and although they don’t live forever, they can outlive us, unspoken proof to the world that we were here- that we made some sort of difference. Maybe that’s
why of all the work on the farm, planting trees has the most satisfaction. But I also think there’s wisdom. The apple pie bars help me remember — all things will come to pass, and when they are gone, they are gone — the bad and the good. My rush to leave adolescence also left behind the apple pie bars that I had completely forgotten about. I do not know if I will ever do this again. Work side-by-side with my Dad, on a glorious fall afternoon, so I stand on the side of a hill in the middle of my life and help him plant Christmas trees.
And I am content.
Kindness Remembered Jodi Andrews Handwritten: Avocados 2/$1.00 on neon green signs; the phone rings and I scooch closer to a shelf of breads: This is Jodi, I answer. Surgery's tomorrow the insurance woman says. A pit in my center: cancer. Answersâ€” my mom pushes the cart with chicken salad and crusty bread toward me; the insurance woman says to check in at 7:00 am; the cashier asks mom how she's doing; Not so good, weâ€™ve been at Mayo with Jodi, she mouths and bobs her head toward me, still on the phone; the woman asks what chocolate I like. Dark. She places a bar in the brown bag and beeps past the other items. In the car, my mom spreads salad on bread, holds her hand out to mine. We'll get through this she says. My stomach is already full of questions. We both know words only spill into the void.
Here in Pencil, Neatly Printed Jason Kurtz In a quaint thrift shop of forgotten things was a faded file of old photographs strewn across the hardwood floor as if someone had been disemboweled, spilling their lifeâ€™s blood upon the ground. I knelt reverently, brushing stiff pictures together, these perfectly preserved crisp cardboard ovals of stern prairie folk that could be my own. Priceless faces of mothers, fathers, children, yet here in pencil, neatly printed on the back of each $1.50. I walked away because, I told myself, they were not mine.
"Ulmus/Caligo" Julie (Wolf) Sperlich
Johnson Joshua Doležal A deep clear lake. That’s all Johnson ever wanted to be. But it was hard to be that guy with his face planted on the sidewalk, hands wrenched up behind his back. It was early February, still the dead of winter in Iowa. His neck cramped as he arched away from the ground. A knot of onlookers gathered outside the conference center at Vult College, students and faculty lingering out of curiosity or support, who knew. A paunchy officer stood nearby, his radiomcrackling in its holster. The cement chilled his chest. Johnson turned away from the crowd and lowered the other cheek to the ground, his face burning even in the cold. Claudia was expecting him at home any minute. He remembered howshe had bent over the quilt she was stitching from old cordu roy as he left, the way she often drew away from him when she was afraid. He hadn’t meant to get arrested. It wasn’t part of the plan. The deputy loomed out of the dark, the street light gleaming on his shaved head. “On your feet, sir,” he said, the way a sergeant might say shitbird. Johnson could smell the sour coffee on the officer’s breath. It was snowing now, a mesmeric cascade from the night sky into the red and blue strobe flashing on the sidewalk. Johnson struggled up and walked to the squad car, his overcoat open, stocking cap askew. He lowered his head as he felt the deputy's glove on his neck. The door slammed shut, the warning lights clicked off, and the crowd began to disperse. One lingered, a tall man with the black beard of a coal miner. Dean Bradshaw stood with his hands stuffed into the pockets of his blue pea coat. Johnson could not read his expression in the shadows, but he met Bradshaw’s gaze through the frosty window as the deputy fired the ignition and pulled away. They had been friends once, before Bradshaw applied for dean, when he still taught botany and field biology. Bradshaw kept bees on a little acreage south of town, where he also tended a patch of restored prairie that he burned every spring and fall. He'd grown up in the Kentucky Appalachians, and his roots in the coal mines went back three generations, back to Harlan County. Johnson was raised in a logging town in western Oregon where he saw college students chaining themselves to trees. They were just rich kids to him then. They couldn’t see the families fed by the timber economy, the men in their forties, fifties, sixties – Johnson’s uncles, and now his cousins – who saw no future for themselves without chainsaws, grapple loaders, and the lumber mill. All these years later, protests still seemed petty to Johnson, small outbursts of angst that missed the point. He and Bradshaw had often spoken of it, and they agreed that the real beef was with
the logging companies, not the sawyers, just as the quarrel over a war was never with the soldiers, but with the leaders who sent them. The trouble started in September when an email from the dean’s office announced a special event with Ed Rockland, an oil baron from North Dakota. Rockland was to visit Vult College to celebrate Entrepreneurship Week in February, accompanied by college alumna and Trustee, Sandra Simon. Simon had risen from slopping hogs in northern Iowa as a child to national acclaim as the anchor of Plymouth Rock, an evening news program that leaned right of center. She had the kind of face people trusted, soft at the edges and dimpled. Simon had featured Rockland’s story in several segments on Plymouth Rock, chronicling his roots as the son of a Baptist minister and cotton farmer in Arkansas, where he learned the doggedness and faith that lifted his oil company from a single tanker truck, which he bought at age twenty, to a fifty billion-dollar powerhouse. “I aim to live to be a hunnerd,” Rockland said in one interview, “And I mean to have a hunnerd billion by then.” Rockland’s visit was to culminate in a fireside chat with Simon, and all Vult faculty were encouraged to require their students to attend. Johnson laughed aloud when he read the message. He was sitting on an exercise ball at his desk holding his breath and drawing his shoulders back until his spine cracked, and he couldn’t help himself. Before long it will be Rockland College, he thought, and we will be required to hang a photograph of the Dear Leader in our offices. That sobered him up a bit. Vult College was founded by the Dutch Reformed Church but had come to be known for its environmental studies program, which Johnson chaired. He had led the campaign to fund the Martin Center, the first platinum-certified building in the state, featuring a green roof, solar panels, and cabinets made of recycled paper currency and banana peels. When the college leveled a rental property, Johnson lobbied to expand the college garden. He now supervised student volunteers that delivered three thousand pounds of produce to the cafeteria each year. Fundraising was underway to finance another first for Iowa: a kitchen classroom that produced more energy than it consumed. Johnson had met with architects to design it, and he worked the phone bank of donors most evenings. Johnson had long dreamed of a place to break bread made of wheat grown on site. A crucible for folk arts like canning, cheese making, beekeeping. It would be a real step forward. But there was also a new engineering program in the works, and the thought of a Rockland Scholarship or a Rockland Laboratory was too real to laugh away.
It would be the death of environmental studies at Vult, that was sure. Whatever survived would then bow at the altar of engineering, which meant bowing at the altar of oil, and Johnson would be damned if came to that. He read the email again. The air in his office grew humid. Sweat broke in pinpricks of heat over his face. It seemed like ages ago that Johnson had last driven out to Bradshaw’s acreage to walk the field after a spring burn. Bradshaw’s dog loped ahead of them, her head bent to the ground.Strange mounds rose all over the field, some sloped and rounded at the top, others like little plateaus. Johnson hadn’t seen them in the tall grass the previous fall and wondered aloud what they were. “Ant hills,” Bradshaw said. “Nightmare if you want a smooth lawn, but a real friend to the prairie.” He sawed his finger along the edge of the field, following the jagged line of mounds. “In a hundred years, these ants and prairie dogs and everything else that burrows will turn the prairie soil over two feet deep. And most of them dig deeper than that - ten, twelve feet - if they live underground.” Bradshaw never gave the same tour through his field. If it wasn’t the ant mounds, it was a healthy patch of rattlesnake master with its round spiky blossoms, an herb once used to treat snake bite. Or the compass plant, known by arrow like leaves that were rumored to point north and south, whose taproot stretched as deep as sixteen feet. There was a steadiness in walking over ground where the roots sank well beyond the reach of fire and frost. Johnson always drove away from Bradshaw’s place with a surge of courage. The visits stopped when Bradshaw moved into the dean’s office. There was a stiffness between them now, even though they had both come to Vult because they could see themselves in their first-generation students, the ones who weren't sure if they really belonged in the academy. Maybe Bradshaw found himself in a new limbo now, ill at ease in the boardroom but no longer a colleague in the same way, perhaps no longer a friend. Even so, Johnson couldn't believe Bradshaw was on board with Rockland's visit. They had to talk. Bradshaw stiffened when Johnson stormed through his door unannounced. “Look me in the eye, Brad, and tell me this is the kind of guy we want to celebrate on our campus.” Johnson’s blood pressure had risen considerably in the time it took to walk from his office to Vult Hall, where the administrators barracked. He could feel the sweat beading on his nose. “Do you have any idea how much damage this does to our reputation?”
Bradshaw leaned back in his chair, his hands flat on his
desk. His mouth seemed to curl nastily, but Johnson saw that it was a nerve twitch. “We are a learning institution.” Bradshaw said. “We should be able to host a civil conversation with anyone.” “Are you honestly telling me that you would bring a cop from Ferguson to civilly talkabout criminal justice without representing the black community?” Johnson’s pulse hammered in his ears. “We have to frame a conversation responsibly, don’t you think?” “This is Sandra’s program. She and Mr. Rockland are our guests, and she is a Trustee of the college. It is not for us to demand that she follow a certain format.” Bradshaw made a pyramid with his hands and rested his chin on his fingers. There was a click in the wall as the register switched off. Johnson felt the silence crawling like a tick along his scalp. “Well, Brad, I can’t see how this interview will be of use to my students. We could all walk out of there with bad information. I can’t be a part of it. I’m sorry.” Johnson left Bradshaw’s office and walked down the limestone steps outside Vult Hall. The flag rattled on its pole, snapping in a southern wind. The sun baked his face, though it was late afternoon, and his shirt clung to his flesh as he walked back to his office. He would boycott the Rockland interview. That was all. Stay home with Claudia and Hector and let it blow over. He had been teaching at Vult College for nearly thirty years, and he had come to think of it as sacred space. The university was one of the few places left in American life where scholarship still occupied the center of discourse. Not journalism, where clickbait brought even mainstream papers to the level of tabloids. Not churches, where sermons were so riddled with sitcom quotes that scripture seemed to be a metaphor for popular culture. If Sandra Simon brought Ed Rockland to campus for a television spectacle, even the classroom would have no more dignity than an athletic arena festooned with corporate advertisements. To hell with Rockland. He could just stay home. But no one would notice a boycott. It would concede power absolutely. Maybe a petition to block the event? But Bradshaw had his orders and since Simon was a Trustee, no one outranked her, so there was no process left to follow. A protest. That was all Johnson could imagine. He remembered the hippie kids in Oregon pissing their pants during their long vigils, singing and praying as they stood handcuffed to one another around the trunk of a Douglas Fir. It seemed so degrading, like a child kicking and wailing on the floor. But wasn’t it worse to let Rockland have his way with the college?
Johnson knew he probably had oil bonds in his retirement portfolio. Half the products on his desk were oil products. The plastic phone. The computer screen. The ballpoint pens. The varnish coating the desktop. But colonial Americans didn’t need to burn all of the brooms, benches, or butter churns they had imported from London to feel justified in rising up against King George. Abolitionists fought against slavery precisely because they could not accept clothing manufactured by other people’s blood as a fact of life. In fact, it was the pervasiveness of Rockland’s influence that compelled Johnson to act. He couldn’t salve a hemorrhoid, for Christ’s sake, without feeling like Rockland’s fingers were into everything. He brought it up over dinner with Claudia that night. Hector left the table after powering through his mashed potatoes, and lay on the loveseat in the den, the sharp angles in his cheeks lit up by his phone. Johnson could see only his son’s socks and bristles of black hair above the screen. Johnson turned back to Claudia. “Honey,” he said. “I have to do something. I just can’t ignore this guy.” Claudia eyed him over her wine glass. “What about free speech?”
“It’s not free speech if only one side gets to talk.”
“But you could talk about it in class, right?”
Johnson reddened. “That’s exactly the point. Rockland owns the media and he’s going to spend a billion or more on the next election. He doesn’t get to rig my classroom, too.” Claudia raised her eyebrows at that and stood to clear her plate. Her hair fell into her eyes, curly and streaked with gray, and Johnson felt a pang of tenderness even as he seethed. He had lost her at politics. But how could she not care? Her resignation was exactly what gave Rockland such power. Johnson glanced toward his son. Hector's screen showed a steady rain of jelly beans, lemon drops, and peppermints, which he rearranged with his thumbs until he matched three of a kind. Then the screen flashed and a diamond appeared. Johnson wondered what was in his son’s head just then. No words, certainly. Maybe an unconscious algorithm. Pattern recognition. Spatial orientation. It was like rewinding evolution, inhabiting the mind of a rodent or a snake. A way of vanishing. Claudia settled into the easy chair by the fireplace and bent over her quilting hoop, as unavailable in her own way as their son. Johnson carried his dishes to the sink. He looked into the backyard through the kitchen window, gazing at the sugar maple in the yard, now lit by the late day sun. The tree was native to Canada, where it often grew in pure stands. Bradshaw had told Johnson once that maples could communicate with each other through their roots, rationing water and nutrients in hard times. Johnson wondered if his sugar maple shared water or stole from the red oak next door. Could a maple and spruce work together to survive? Maybe he was searching too hard
for a metaphor. He wished for a moment that it were spring. Ever since Hector could walk, they had tapped the maple when the nights saw a light frost and the days warmed to a thaw. This year they would do it again, stoking a wood fire in the yard and boiling buckets of sap down to syrup. They only finished a few pints each year, but the tradition was as important to Johnson as his own birthday. He hoped someday, maybe when Hector bought his first home, the spring ritual would become his own, a memory that could anchor him to a new place. The semester marched on, and soon it was Thanksgiving. It was balmy for November, nearly sixty degrees and sunny. That weekend Johnson took Hector to the farm where they always bought their Christmas tree. The entrance was locked, and a sign hung from the gate that said “Out of business.” Johnson knew the farmers, Don and Bev, and still had their number in his phone. Don apologized and said Johnson and Hector were welcome to walk the grounds and take a tree if they found one. “Just send me twenty dollars if you get lucky,” Don said. “But it’s slim picking out there. Too much rain or not enough, and the beetles are killing everything else.” The trees were scrawny and ragged. Johnson preferred fir for their soft needles and scent, but they had all turned orange. Hector found a spruce at the edge of the property, where a stand of oaks might have shaded it during the summer. Johnson gave him the hand saw and watched him go to work. Hector wasn’t a thoughtless boy, but he had his mother’s frankness, which Johnson often found cold, and a brutal rationality that Johnson recalled in his own father. He watched Hector give himself wholly to his task, eyes fixed on the saw, arms pumping like levers. Don's and Bev’s farm had been here as long as Johnson had taught at Vult, as long as Hector had been alive. The farm was always filled with children shouting as they searched for the perfect tree. This year the empty grove felt more like Halloween than Christmas. Johnson half wanted to leave the spruce where it was, but Hector’s jeans were flecked with sawdust and sap. The kerf widened behind the blade, the treetop shivered, and the spruce rolled away from the stump. Hector gripped the top, Johnson took the trunk, together they dragged it to the car. As Johnson lashed it to the roof, his face was damp with sweat. Hector sat in the front seat, his head bent over his phone. Did the boy care that there might be no tree next year? Maybe he cared a great deal, but vanished into his screen the way a widower might seek oblivion through drink. Johnson drove home with the window down, his arm outstretched to catch the breeze. He wondered if Hector feared the future, if in his private moments he felt alone, unable to speak of it to his father, who would be dead before the earth went to hell. Perhaps his son felt bitter that this was the world he’d been given. Whether there was a Christmas tree or whether they made their own syrup from the backyard might have been the least of his concerns.
Bradshaw sent another email after the holidays about the Rockland visit. “Please join our very own Sandra Simon and Mr. Rockland in a few short weeks for ‘An Evening with Ed Rockland,’” it said. “The interview will air on national television as a special edition of Plymouth Rock. This is an extraordinary chance for Vult College to promote its new engineering program.” Johnson felt the flames rise in his thoughts again. Branding. Publicity. Students would come to see a celebrity, maybe get their own five seconds on camera. Environmental studies was as irrelevant as an ex-boyfriend at a baby shower. Johnson straightened on his exercise ball, drew his shoulders back, and felt his spine crack. He opened a new document on his computer and began typing. “The New York Department of Health recently deemed fracking a serious enough threat to the public that the state has banned further development.” He described how oil boomtowns degrade rural communities through human trafficking, drug violence, and overwhelmed hospitals and schools. Why an event that excluded audience participation could only enable the relentless disinformation campaigns about climate change that contaminate media and politics. A peaceful protest, he concluded, was the only real learning opportunity for students. The bile had subsided by the time he finished writing. Johnson printed copies and took them door to door around campus like a campaign volunteer. Sam Bennett, the young biologist who studied lizards, blushed when Johnson found him during office hours. Jill Rhoades in Chemistry, Eric Ritz in Religion, even Maggie Green, the athletic training director who dug recyclable bottles out of the trash at football games - they all agreed with Johnson. But a protest? Was it fair to his students who might be required to attend for another class? It was, Johnson said. If it were a Klan member being interviewed by a sympathetic host with no counterpart on stage, he hoped to Christ they would object. When Eric Ritz asked if that was a fair analogy, Johnson blurted, “Civility can’t balance a conversation that dignifies evil.” Ritz crinkled his brow. So this was really about good and evil? Leave it to Ritz to plumb the depths of his ethical well. Johnson had not used those words in his statement. But perhaps that was it, at bottom. It was a question of good and evil. It was bitterly cold the day Rockland arrived on campus. The temperature dropped to zero overnight and remained in single digits through the afternoon. Johnson taught his first class in the science building, where he preferred the new projectors for showing films. It had once been a run-of-the mill facility until a donor proposed a renovation that raised the code to gold efficiency standards. More windows for natural lighting, a vestibule with a second door inside each entrance to minimize heat loss. Johnson’s favorite feature was a sun-activated fountain near the front entrance. On cloudy days the fountain lay dry or wept into the drain, but by midafternoon on a clear day, jets of water surged nearly fifteen feet from the ground.
Johnson shouldered his way through the vestibule after class,
cinching a scarf around his neck before stepping into the cold. The campus lay buried in snow. A field of ice crystals swept down the long slope away from the science building, each shard translucent up close, but blinding as a whole. Johnson hunched past the library, sliding carefully over frozen patches on the sidewalk. He glanced up in time to avoid colliding with an enormous figure in a black coat, the head of a phalanx of people surrounding the man himself, Ed Rockland. Johnson stood still for a moment, and the crowd flowed around him. Rockland was bare-headed and cheerful, his bald pate and cheeks reddening in the open air. He nodded and winked when he drew abreast of Johnson, then the group moved on, closing up like a bacterium that had swallowed and excreted a food particle. Johnson watched them go, at least four bodyguards and three other suits disappearing into the building. His feet were numb by the time he reached his office, where he had stashed a white piece of poster board. The bodyguards had him worried. They couldn’t arrest a professor for a peaceful protest on his own campus, could they? But security could escort him out of the building. He was prepared for that. Let them do their worst. Johnson stenciled the name of Rockland’s company across the top of his poster. Blue Shale, Incorporated. He added a few statistics below: Most oil spilled per gallon, Most fines for violations, Most sterilized farmland. He drew a question across the bottom half: Entrepreneurship or Exploitation? It would be a protest of one. Johnson had been unable to recruit other faculty, and he felt he could not ask his own students to participate. He left copies of his statement in the Student Center, near the lounge outside the coffee shop. But he knew that most of the young people at Vult were conservative. They came from families that taught such respect for authority that he could scarcely get them to argue with him in class. More than half participated in a team sport and would have faced punishment for a conduct violation. And why should they risk their futures to stand with him? Johnson couldn’t blame them. At their age he would have thought a protest meaningless, too. Johnson taught his afternoon class and walked home to make dinner. He tossed vegetables in a stir fry, a pot of brown rice cooling on a kitchen towel. Claudia poured herself some wine, and they sat down together. Johnson sprinkled peanuts over his food. Hector doused his with hot sauce. They ate in silence, eyes averted. Claudia caught his eye as she raised her glass, and Johnson saw the worry in her face. Hector finished, rinsed his plate, and sank into the couch with his phone. Johnson looked into the backyard as he loaded the dishwasher. A stiff wind blew out of the north. Dried coneflower stalks rattled against the fence. A half-moon glowed behind the bare branches of the sugar maple like a heart within the ribs of the tree. The thought gave Johnson pleasure, though he knew this was his own way of vanishing. Rockland, Bradshaw, even his wife and son would leave him to his metaphors so long as he didn’t try to make them real.
Johnson dried his hands on a kitchen towel, his knuckles scaly from the cold. The dishwasher hummed. He ruffled Hector’s hair and kissed the top of Claudia’s head as she sat quilting by the gas fireplace. “See you in a few hours,” he said. They murmured a reply, and then he was out on the sidewalk striding toward campus, the wind raising gooseflesh along the back of his neck.
dimmed and Bradshaw took the stage.
Johnson stopped by his office to gather his poster and walked to the conference center to find the doors locked. Darkness had fallen, and light blazed from inside the building. A velvet rope ran from the foyer to the opposite wall, blocking most of the lobby. He could make out two men, tall, black coats, the bodyguards he met that morning. They were huddled with Greg, the fat security guard who puttered around campus on a golf cart.
Bradshaw sat down, and a light flickered over the screen on the stage. Music swelled, soft guitar rock, and the logo for Blue Shale appeared, the words in enormous letters with cracks running through them. It was a biopic produced by the company, photos with a voiceover. Little Ed with his toy dump truck, a cowlicked boy in a baseball uniform, then a young man standing in front of his first tanker truck, arms folded so the flesh of his forearms appeared chiseled and veined. Then he was Ed Rockland sitting at the head of a boardroom table in suit and tie, chin resting on his clasped hands, a gold bracelet dangling from one wrist. The film ended with Rockland cutting a ribbon to celebrate his endowed engineering program at North Dakota State University, then Rockland in a cap and gown receiving an honorary doctorate in Arkansas.
Johnson caught Greg’s eye and waved to the door. Greg turned back to the huddle. So they want to freeze me out, Johnson thought. While he waited, shoulders hunched against the wind, he wondered what it would take to arrest a protester. He wasn’t trespassing. The event was open to the public. He did not intend to block anyone from attending. They would have to be looking for a reason. Johnson bounced on the balls of his feet, sinking into his collar. A few students, dressed in black, emerged from a back entrance to the lobby and set up a table with programs. Bradshaw stood at the far end of the room talking to the bodyguards. He signaled something to the students, and a thin girl whose face looked ghostly against her black shirt approached the doors. The lock clicked, the doors opened, and then Johnson was inside. Heat warmed his cheeks as the smell of carpet cleaner washed over him. Johnson followed the rope line to the wall, where he stood with his poster. Bradshaw appeared at his elbow, gesturing toward the banquet hall. “We thought you could set up in there,” he said. “We don’t want to clog the entrance.”
“I’m fine here,” Johnson said. “I’m not blocking anyone.”
“We’d just ask that you go into the banquet hall where there’s more room.”
“What if I don’t?” Johnson said.
Bradshaw flushed. “Please just go on in.”
Johnson could feel the tickle of anger in the back of his thoughts. He fought it back and stared past Bradshaw at the line forming at the door. Bradshaw fidgeted and then melted away. Students and faculty streamed into the banquet hall. Jill Rhoades and Maggie Green walked in together, flashing embarrassed smiles before hurrying to their seats. Johnson stood quietly behind his poster. One young man leaned in to read it, but most would not meet his gaze. The clock ticked toward 7:30, and then it was time. Johnson slipped into the hall and found a seat in the back row before the lights
Bradshaw spoke about hard work and humble beginnings, how he and Sandra and Ed had all grown up in rural America, how they wanted to encourage students who shared those values to aim high. This was a night to celebrate entrepreneurship, he said, a night to honor a man who came from nothing, chased a dream, and stuck with it until it came true.
The credits rolled, the projector dimmed, and Simon and Rockland took their seats. The stage was set with two overstuffed chairs, a blue area rug with the Vult College seal woven into the middle, and an end table with a lamp. Simon began by thanking Bradshaw and the whole Vult College family. It was good to be home, she said. She had just come from a show in California - truly the land of fruits and nuts - and she was glad to be back in Iowa where she belonged. Laughter ran through the crowd. Listening to Simon, Johnson thought, was like eating creamy potato casserole. Nothing new, no surprises, but just enough cheese to hit the pleasure zones. Simon retraced the biopic with Rockland for several minutes: what it was like for him to grow up picking cotton by hand, how his father - a lay minister - had shaped his character as a young man. Simon smiled, her cheeks dimpling. “And what do you say to environmental critics of fracking?” “Totally safe, totally safe,” Rockland said. He leaned forward in his chair. “We drill so far down - seven, eight thousand feet - the brine ain’t gonna reach groundwater. Most spills, you know, are on top ah our tanks and never even touch ground. I ain’t actually spilled a drop in North Dakota.” Johnson knew this was not true. One of Blue Shale’s spills had flooded ten acres on a North Dakota farm, land which would never be fertile again in his lifetime. He looked around. No one was going to challenge him on this? Simon didn’t appear to be, and everyone else seemed as mesmerized by the cameras as Hector was by his phone. Goddamn it, he thought. This is a college campus. He stood. Simon saw him and hesitated, then turned back to Rockland as if to continue.
“Excuse me,” Johnson said. The room turned, maybe four, five hundred people. “Excuse me, but that is just not true.”
Simon made a motion to Bradshaw, and Johnson knew his time was short.
Johnson could see Bradshaw looking past him, toward the rear of the room, where the bodyguards must be lurking. He raised his voice and looked directly at Rockland. “Your company caused the largest inland spill in American history. See the Associated Press, the New York Times – photos of it are all over the web.” Johnson sat down. The cameras turned back to the front. OK, seriously, he told himself. Point made. Calm down.
“At Vult College, we teach our students that a degree means something,” he said. “You, sir, are no doctor. We believe –”
Rockland laughed and patted Simon on the arm. “I get this all the time. Those photos ain’t real. That’s just Russian propaganda, trying to weaken U.S. oil and gas. And, believe me, I don’t read the New York Times.” Johnson knew the farmers had settled with Blue Shale and now had a gag order that prevented them from speaking publicly. Which left Rockland free to spin public relations as he liked. Still, he couldn’t believe how brazenly the man lied. “Russian propaganda?” Simon looked nervous. “Well, you know what Reagan always said, ‘Trust but verify.’” Only Reagan said that about the Russians, Johnson thought, not American businessmen. Rockland smiled and shrugged and the room relaxed. The interview turned back to Blue Shale, how it had grown to a global force, how Rockland was now devoted to philanthropy. But why was he so interested in colleges? “You know, I never went to college,” he said. “I just went to work. Course, now the oil rigs I got aren’t your granddaddy’s oil rigs, so I need engineers who know how to run em. We got more oil than Saudi Arabia, so we got no shortage of work.” Simon asked what an engineer might earn at the company, and the figure was six times Johnson’s salary. This was the drift he had feared. The job creator as the patron of the college, the college degree as the path to the job, the professor as the drudge, the hired help. But even then he could have stood it, clenched his toes and made it to the end. “So we just saw you in a cap and gown,” Simon was saying. “Should we call you Dr. Rockland?” “Yeah - hey, I like that. Maybe I’ll innerduce myself that way next time I testify before Congress. Doc-tor Rockland.” Johnson boiled in his seat. Should he just leave? He was taking it too personally. But Simon was a Trustee. She should know better than to punk her faculty like that. Fuck it, he thought. What else is tenure good for, if not for this? He felt himself standing again. “Excuse me.” The room turned again, and Johnson heard murmurs. What is he doing? Jesus, sit down.
Johnson felt a stab of pain as his arms were wrenched behind his back. The police? Rockland’s goons? He couldn’t tell as he was hustled up the side aisle and out the front entrance. He felt himself falling and turned his face to keep from mashing his nose on the cement. At the station Johnson gave his fingerprints. He was made to strip, to turn and squat and cough, then to turn again and lift himself to prove he was concealing nothing. His clothes were taken and he was given an orange uniform with no underclothes and orange flip-flops. Then he was photographed and led to a solitary holding cell, where he would wait until offered his phone call. He would call Claudia. She would come down, eyes puffy from crying, and he would be released with orders to appear in court on charges of disorderly conduct the following day. But the college would decline to press charges, and the uproar would be edited out of the Plymouth Rock broadcast. A few days later it was as if it had never happened. Had he accomplished anything? Johnson could not say. Some of his colleagues now regarded him as warily as they might an unleashed dog. Bradshaw would scarcely look him in the eye when they passed. But there was no press release about a Rockland Scholarship, no rumors of a donation at all. Johnson went back to his phone banking. February turned to March. When the thaw came one morning, Johnson took Hector into the yard and screwed two buckets to the sugar maple. They shivered in the wind as they waited for the sap trickle down the spile and into the pail. The ground was loosening, the smell of humus lifting on the breeze. In time the earth would turn spongy and yield to the shovel, then the seeds. Johnson rested his hand on Hector’s shoulder. The sap welled up in the groove, a bead forming on the lip of the spile. The first drip echoed in the pail. Another. And then the steady drumbeat of spring.
"Skyfall" Brittney Medina
Honey Do List Jim Reese Shirtless, the men in the neighborhood
The men buy new razors and take
put down the remotes, sit upright
hedge clippers and chainsaws from
in their recliners and come out of
the top shelves of their garages.
hibernation. It’s time to wage war
Running out of things to cut down
with noxious weeds in their yards, drag dead
is a pressing dilemma for
branches and trash cans full of god-
the American male. They stretch
knows-what to the curb, think about
out their favorite t-shirts, pulling
initiating workout routines,
them down over their stomachs as they
stroll around the perimeters of
bend for a few air squats. They floss teeth,
their houses inventorying
brush grill grates. The windows open,
all their stuff and remembering
the Harleys humming. It's spring in
their honey-do lists—take the holiday
suburbia, women run out
lights down, recycle the beer cans,
in sunglasses and Spandex showing
replant the garden, repair the leaky
off the first skin of spring, the men
faucet, replace the window, do something
pacing and ready to clear paths,
with their no-shave November beards
sucking in their guts, taking deep breaths,
which are old and itchy. They are
already lying to themselves.
acutely aware of the smell of grill smoke and Roundup weed killer in the air, the feeling of fertilizer pellets in the soles of their shoes. The neighborhood is green again.
Four Exclamation Points Jim Reese The first time I had my hands on a steering wheel was after baseball practice, little league, third grade, when the whole team would pile into coach Shankie’s station wagon. I can still see the green, the rust and wood siding on the car. He’d let one of us kids sitting on the hump up front control the gas pedal while he kept his right foot on the brake, both our hands white-knuckling the wheel, giving us rein. He’d make sure we were ready and then someone would yell, Give her hell! As fast as you can take her! We'd barrel up the neighborhood streets, almost sailing, skimming the concrete. The kid on the hump reaching and pressing harder and harder on the gas pedal, I got the brake kid, don’t worry! The windshield a moving picture show all blue sky horizon and bright, almost hypnotic, the green tops of trees and hills we seemed at that moment to be climbing—peering in a rearview mirror for the first time, an array of baseball hats all cockeyed, a line of eyes showing all their white—open mouths whoo-hooing our way to the nearest convenience store where Shankie set us loose in the candy aisle to grab whatever we wanted, Slim Jims, candy cigarettes, Big Gulps. One time Charlie Ferguson had the gonads to take a full-size bag of Doritos to the counter and Shankie paid. The unlucky cashier rang the team up and we climbed back in that beast and were off again— some new knot-head almost driving with Shankie’s big hairy left hand at ten o’clock and a couple of much smaller hands at two. Everything we were doing was wrong and Totally right on man! We had wheels to prove it.
"Legs" Rachel Funk
Lamplight Connor Poff I sleep with your lamp at my bedside— the one whose base is a vintage milk jug, ceramic, from before vintage things were called vintage and milk jugs were all made with plastic— the one with the shade that you made from spare bedsheets, ripped then re-stitched into something new. Yes, little slivers of you are perched on my floorboards and in my dresser drawers. You fill my halfway home, the rented property I am only meagerly bound to. Granny tells me that you, too, were a renter— not a homeowner ‘til past forty. And that is hope at least, hope at the fact that you spent your youth surviving and your adulthood saving, stowing away for your own glass castle: the ancient farmhouse at the end of Leichty (say it Lick-tee) Avenue. And you gave Granny that middle name, Hope, and I can’t help but wonder if that was your hope or hers, and if it should be mine, or if all our hope is the same, intertwined. And I wonder if there is a house at the end of a lane with my name written over it, waiting for me to arrive and do my own renovations, lay my generation’s version of shag carpet and marigold linoleum, then rest over it in wingback chairs and atop king mattresses and write poems by lamplight at night until I run out of rhymes and words, and I die, too, same as you.
Does she even speak English? Engie Wong How can my peers believe that the Earth’s not flat yet doubt that not all Asians are good at math? The model minority myth that Asian-American prosperity is a fruit of successful assimilation that other minority groups ought to replicate has immersed itself deeply into the American narrative, as well as my own. The stereotypical, silent success of Asian Americans has become a self-sustained, self-inflicted form of structural oppression that affects roughly 5.6% of the American population today. Originally perpetuated by the roots of the Asian community in San Francisco and repeatedly buttressed by government promotion, today it is the inheritance passed through generations of Asian-Americans. Many students like myself suffer an onus of expectation and bear it silently; this is the life of the model minority. Achieving vocational success without making a sound is trademark--and a myth to be shattered. After years of questioning my identity, I’ve found myself tired of staying silent but lacking anything to say. While many argue that “positive stereotypes” such as smart and hard-working should make me feel “lucky,” the very real effects of the East Asian stereotype say otherwise. While not everyone is surprised by my perfectly fine eyesight (despite the size of my eyes), nearly everyone has held expectations of who I am and what I should accomplish based on my “Asian-ness”. Rather than remain complacent all my life, I wished to challenge the myth, and an opportunity to do so eventually arrived. As an active varsity debater, the month of October often finds me at school until 9 P.M., judging novices’ very first policy debates. Although rounds are characterized by anxious argumentation and weak warrantation, a few novices manage to surprise me every year. One round in particular shocked me as I was judging on the Chinese engagement topic. The resolution? The United States federal government should substantially increase its economic and/ or diplomatic engagement with the People’s Republic of China. As I walked into my round clutching my ballot in one hand and my middling hope for an intelligible debate in the other, one debater muttered under his breath, “Does she even speak English?” Perhaps unbeknownst to him, a member of the 72.4% white population at our school, he was very audible during my traipse to the back of the room. I felt the full impact of these words which, at that moment, meant more to me than my near-perfect performance in every
English class, my reputation for catching every grammatical error, and my flawless, accent-free pronunciation ever did. I could’ve been quietly angry. I could’ve been quietly sad. I could’ve been quietly offended. But instead of being what I’ve been my entire life, I chose to be bold. This novice round, I paid special attention. I flowed every speech line-by-line, taking in-depth notes about each debater’s speaking skills and argumentation. At the very end, I asked the debaters to self-evaluate their performance. The individual who had questioned my English was very confident in his win, but my flow and I happened to disagree. As I gave feedback to each individual debater, I reached him last, and began to give his feedback...in Mandarin. When he looked sufficiently confused, I asked in English, “Do you not understand Chinese? Sorry…this is the China topic.” Racism in the tiniest forms is often ignored, invisible, or as silent as its victims. Rather than continue my education as a member of the mythical model minority, I hope to challenge the expectation of silence fortified by ivory towers and glass ceilings and use my voice--as well as my English--to challenge the repressive stereotypes that underpin American democracy today.
Scarlet Under Sky S.E. Page Cherries colored sunset litter the sidewalk in sky-softened gems I splatter underfoot because I can. Their squelch travels up through my bones, autumnal bliss blossoming In red revels of running juice, a feast for iridescent black flies That whirr past my ankles. These tiny sable angels are devils in the house, but here in free airs, Flies and fallen cherries are of one beauty, a marvel of wings, A mangle of ripe and rotten dreams of fruitâ€” No still life here.
Room For Blues Dana Yost Otis Redding wouldn’t sing Dylan because the Bard of the North Country’s lyrics had too many words. Not enough space for soul, for the long, strained notes of woe and grief—for a young man groaning the sighs of an old world. I can’t sing, not even the worst Dylan impression, and I wouldn’t want to try. I do want the space, though, for one word, maybe two, to speak the entirety of sad, dark hours of heartbroke pain, backbroken bones, for the low-throat, growling hum of the lives of men and women dragging themselves from quagmire nights into another day of regretting their lives.
"The Magi and the Monarch" Quint Ford
Eulogy Brigid Martin “There is always some madness in love.” Nietzsche said that, and with him, it was true. He liked Nietzsche, though not as much as Kierkegaard, and would quote him to me whenever I was admonishing him for being ridiculous. I think he would have liked to have Nietzsche read at his funeral, even though he thought funerals were a waste of time because the dead can’t appreciate them. Funerals are supposed to make the living feel better, but they do a shoddy job.
The things we did for fun. Climbing the roof of the parking garage at 5AM to watch the sunrises. Going to the girls’ volleyball games, him trying his best to knock me over while screaming so loudly he lost his voice. Building snowmen outside the dorms. Walking out on the frozen lake and shrieking when the ice creaked underneath our weight. Falling asleep during movie nights. The long, long summers of trying to cultivate a relationship over phone calls and text messages, him in Denmark while I was in England.
I do not remember the exact day we first met, but it was in a seminar on religion, and he was sitting in the front row with the air of someone sprawled in the back. His legs were crossed as he sat slumped in the auditorium chair, but the notebook in front of him was brand new with a ballpoint pen slanted casually across the fresh page. His shirt was crisp and pressed, but the necktie was undone, clinging limply to his chest.
“What’re you thinking about?” Low, tinted with sleep. It was 4AM, and I was still wide-awake because I did not want to miss a single word he said.
When I sat down, he stuck a hand out, taking mine with only a slight press of the fingers. “Hello.”
“What your voice sounds like.”
“What?” “When you’re tired,” I whispered, feeling like we were on the brink of something, “Your accent gets thicker.”
He hums. “Ja. I’ve heard that before.”
God, I loved his voice, airy and light, strangely intoxicating, like pineapple cotton candy. We ate that on a Ferris wheel, wisps of sugar sticking to our fingers like yellow cobwebs. It was up at the top, and he clung to me like he was scared, even though I could see all his teeth from how much he was smiling. It was like bottle rockets bursting in my chest because I wasn’t going to tell him that I did not like heights, not when he had wind in his hair and pineapple in his smile. The cotton candy wasn’t very good, but we ate all of it anyway, drunk on the moment.
A pause. “No one important.”
We were friends first. He found me in the library one evening, when I was reading a thick tome of psychology.
Third year, I tried to take up running. I enjoyed getting up in the mornings in late summer, jogging around campus, enjoying the silence of it without anyone else around. Feet pounding on the pavement, free of stress for half an hour. Sweaty, but content. Breathless, but calm.
“Is that for class?”
“No,” I said, after getting over my surprise at being spoken to by an almost-stranger. A girl a few tables away looked up, studying us for a moment before going back to her other work. “Thank God.” He dropped into the chair across from me, shrugging out of his coat. “I was worried I had misread the syllabus.” that.
Spoken like someone who would never do something like
“Just for fun,” I said, and he laughed.
“Am I?” It was only because I was floating in my own head that gave me the courage to ask.
Without hesitation. “The most.”
I don’t know if I believe in love in first sight. With him, I’d like to think so. I love him now, so when I look back on the moment of our meeting, I think, yes, yes I do.
I’d take the stairs up to our home after this daily ministration, two at a time. We had a little flat above a delicatessen that was mainly a bedroom and kitchen, our textbooks strewn around the floor by a futon from his dorm that was stationed in the place of a dining room table. One bathroom, all of my things tucked neatly away, his hair products and cologne sprawled across the counter. There was a red mug, half-full of coffee mixed with whisky, that read “Wife Material” on the side. We found that in a home décor
store, and he thought it was funny. The sunlight filtered in too early through broken blinds, but neither of us really minded. He could sleep through a nuclear holocaust, and I either got up early to run, or simply lay there, tracing all parts of him with my fingers.
Back on the bed, I whisper to his sleeping face: “I love you too.”
I came into the bedroom, where he was still bundled under the covers. Grabbed my shower caddy, but was yanked off my feet by a thin arm.
He returned to Denmark, to a house of corruption and deceit, one that smelled of roses choked with thorns, of expensive cologne, the taste of aged wine on every piece of silverware. It was dark, clothed with people, and he did not belong there, my beautiful scarlet heart, whom I had just begun to see.
“I have to shower.”
His arm found its way around my waist, and pressed, settling me in the semicircle of his torso.
“Jeg elsker dig.”
He first said this eight months after we met. Sitting outside on the steps of the library. “Where are you from?” I had asked, “Your accent is… different.” “Denmark,” he said, not looking up from the book jacket he was reading to make sure I had picked out a good one. “Why haven’t you asked me this before? I assumed you knew.”
When his father died, he left me. I followed, of course. I would have followed him to the ends of my life. I nearly did.
He was corrupted by this place, by the people here. He no longer saw me, wrought as his vision was by ghosts. I tried to keep him, I tried so hard, but against his shining silver mind, I could do nothing. When the time came, when I was holding him, he was scared. Oh God, he was scared, and that’s something that he never should be. He didn’t say as much but I could see it in his eyes, the tremble in his voice. He was terrified, and all I could do was hold him as he died surrounded by those he once loved, toppled like chess pieces after a losing match.
He is gone from my hands, but sometimes, in the peripheries of sunlight, I will see a lengthy form curled over a bedspread, not quite touching any of reality. Lips of light, eyes hot like stars. Jeg elsker dig, he says, come to bed. I will step forward, and the rest?
“I just did.”
“That sounded like German. Say something else.”
“Can you speak Danish?”
He rolled his eyes, closing the book. “Do you know how annoying that is? People asking you to say something in another language?”
“Je parle francais. Tu me l’as fait avant.”
“Ne compte pas, je connais aussi le francais.”
“Ego atque latine cognosco, quam vocari non possit.”
“Fair point,” he smiled. “I still can’t believe you can conjugate Latin verbs well enough to speak it.”
“I’m very talented.”
“I know.” He paused. “Jeg elsker dig.”
The rest is silence.
Prom Night Jean Helmer The night of my junior prom, I went only to the banquet. I joined friends at linen-covered tables in the armory-gymnasium that had been transformed into an undersea world. Twisted crepe paper streamers in three shades of aqua dropped from wires stretched between basketball hoops to the floor where they were taped securely to the court’s boundary lines. In strategic locations, stage walls from the drama department formed two sea caves. One served as a backdrop for photos and the other backed the temporary bandstand. In a corner formed by the arched bridge entryway, a blue whale spouted a live stream of water. I had been on that committee. We were proud of our chicken-wire and papier-mâché sculpture. It took hours to get it to look like a whale. That challenge paled during the trial run of the recirculating pump. We discovered that adding water to tempera painted papier-mâché reduced our efforts to a soggy mass of newspaper strips drooped across chicken wire. We started over. Our second whale was more cartoonish. He was heavily enameled and shellacked. Now, seeing our masterpiece actually performing as imagined was the highlight of my evening. I found the name card designating my seat at a table with other dateless teens. After a welcome and a grace had been delivered from the head table, sophomore servers began delivering our meals. The menu centered on chicken cordon bleu. We approached the dish with trepidation. Cautiously we cut into the rolled chicken breast. Exchanging glances, we looked carefully to determine what ingredients were hidden inside. This was foreign fare compared to that served at Watt’s Finer Café or at the A&W. We tasted tentatively. Not bad! The emcee announced the conclusion of the banquet. A teen tidal wave swept out the doors, leaving to change into tulle, taffeta and ties. They would return in an hour for pictures and for the pageantry of the grand march. Then they would two step and jitterbug until the 2 AM breakfast prepared by parents and served at the local Vet’s Club. I joined the tidal wave flowing out of the gymnasium, hopped into my parents’ Rambler, and headed west. Twelve miles later, I parked in the garage and walked to the house. While my classmates changed into flowing formals, I changed in my work clothes and barn jacket, and grabbed the big flashlight. While boys escorted girls across the arched bridge into the undersea world of the gym, Herman, our collie-setter mix, escorted me across the frost-firmed mud path worn between the house and barns. Twelve miles east, a crowd of parents watched from the shadows. Their juniors and seniors and dates stepped into a circle
of spotlight where, in a rite of passage, they were formally introduced to the beckoning world of adulthood. I stepped into the corral. A crowd of heifers watched me from the shadows beyond the yellow pool of light coming from above the barn door. I shined my flashlight beam across the heifers, spotlighting each one, looking for signs of impending birth. A couple of heifers had withdrawn from the others. I walked a circle around each of them. Hooves, transparent through protruding water bags, announced birthing times were approaching. These heifers would need to be checked in two-hour increments throughout the night. We could not afford to lose another calf. While my classmates turned into the arms of their dates and began gliding to the music, I reached down, patted Herman’s head. He leaned against my legs. Together we listened to plaintive coyote songs coming from the hills in the back pasture. Together, we returned to the house. Once there, I shed jacket and shoes. I poked my head into my parent’s bedroom. The room was dim, lit only by light from a living room lamp, light which spilled across Dad. His cancer was taking its toll on all of us. Mom sat on the dining room chair she had placed next to Dad’s side, listened for each labored breath. She dozed while she waited to see if I would need help with the livestock. I tapped her shoulder, roused her from her semi-sleeping vigil.
“Everything under control?” she asked.
“Got feet showing on two,” I said. Mom looked exhausted and haggard. “You better lay down before you fall down, Mom.” “Guess so. If you’ll check them at midnight and two, I’ll check at four. That’ll give us both a little sleep.” I grabbed a book and settled into Dad’s chair in the living room near the lamp. At the midnight check, I looked for the two heifers. One had given birth. Her still wobbly calf was sucking, his tail happily wagging. At 2 AM, while my classmates were entering the Vet’s Club, I was re-entering the corral. My flashlight quickly found the second heifer that I’d identified on my first trip. She was lying in a corner away from the others. I flipped the beam of my flashlight on her, watched as contractions rippled through her body. The calf was well on his way to being delivered. After a few more contractions, there was a quiet whoosh. The heifer stood, turned, and began licking amniotic materials from her calf’s nose. I waited until the calf found his feet, then headed to the house and bed. And thus, the heifers, their newborn calves, my classmates and I made our way through the night, through one more rite of passage, moved one step deeper into the thing called adulthood.
Oakwood Weed Control S.D. Bassett A search for native plants, grasses mostly, and some wildflower species. That’s what grows natural here. Meandering through a state park to a place where prairie coneflowers have always grown. Noting a sign en route, “biological weed control.” Noticing also, the large batches of Canadian thistle, their white seed tops bursting. Wondering why they weren’t cut before bloom? Wondering where “manual” weed control has gone? The coneflowers were scarce. In their place, fluffy thistle. Maybe the state should be notified; the weeds are in control.
"Mountain Dreams" Tara Banks
Visiting Pioneer Angie Mason
Wrapped tight in a red capote I drank campfire coffee and watched you spend the morning throwing lead down range. You measured powder charge, shoved patch and ball into muzzle.You aimed at targets welded by your own hands while I winced with each puff of smoke. Your favorite flintlock, walnut stock, stained deep brown, brass tacks punched into its handle, forever waiting for me in your tent should I manifest a desire to shoot. On rendezvous weekends like this I felt like a visiting pioneer. A time traveler in a $2 thrift store skirt. I felt like Laura from Little House. I felt like churning butter or making soap from ash. I loved you the most on these days. I loved how authentic the imitation strove to be. You would have been a different father in 1870. There would have been fewer versions of you to reconcile.
The Creature in the Woods Justin Gray The routine never changed: dinner at six followed by an hour of television, then my father would slip away into his bedroom at eight with a sleeve of Chips Ahoy or a bowl of ice cream. He would continue to watch television and snack until sleep overtook him. My mother would do dishes or fold up laundry or some other household chore, never resting. Soon she, too, would go to her bedroom and watch her programs. The house would then be my own private universe, defined primarily by their absence. It wasn’t that I didn’t love my parents or that they didn’t love me; circumstances simply made it difficult for us to communicate. My father always seemed to be working. He was a police officer, so his hours were varied. To make ends meet, he picked up security jobs at the local grocery stores. As I entered into the teen years, he had difficulty finding extra work and when he was at home he silently brooded over the bills. Most of the time, he was simply too exhausted to talk and existed in a somnambulist fugue state. My mother was bi-polar, which meant I was never sure who I was going to get; the paranoid rage-monster that stalked the kitchen, tossing pots and pans and shouting obscenities or the peppy Pollyanna character who cheerfully baked cinnamon rolls and brightly proclaimed that, “It will all work out fine in the end!” She was raised by a strict Baptist welder whose brutal beatings had become legend as I was always reminded how lucky I was that the ones administered to me never drew blood. Both tried as best they could to create a warm and loving environment, but ultimately biology, psychology, and economy created an atmosphere within the home that strained our relationships. Not to say that I was a picnic to be around, either. A fat, pimple-faced outcast at school, I had become a surly, private teen who increasingly found solace in isolation. The three of us occupied our own little worlds and when we bumped into each other, the effects proved to be combustible. So, after they disappeared into their bedrooms, I would sit in the living room with the television on, but the flickering images on the screen hardly mattered. I was not watching. I was waiting. Once I was certain they were asleep I would go into the backyard and sneak a cigarette. I luxuriated in the still, muggy air and watched as the smoke climbed straight up, like a line of ants crawling through a stream of molasses. It was there that I first encountered the creature.
It happened only a couple of weeks after we had moved
into the house. It was a four-bedroom manufactured home on a plot of land directly adjacent to the modest-sized Helen McDougal Park. The home, while technically ours, rested on a plot of land owned by the city of Celebration Palms. The park was notoriously seedy, but a wall of thick trees lent the area an almost ethereal, fairy-tale quality. Almost. But it couldn’t cover up the park’s true nature. It was a destination for drug dealers and illicit sexual encounters. Teenagers would pile into the park late at night and play loud music and drink cheap beer. We would find their empty bottles and cans strewn about in the mornings. I was fourteen years old and had just started high school. I stayed up late watching Saturday Night Live. When the musical guest came on, I snuck out back. I strained to move through the house as silently as possible. I felt like a ghost haunting my own home. The thin, creaky material of the manufactured home groaned with every step I took. The back door, hollow and made of plastic, always surprised me with its weightlessness, and it would give with only the slightest provocation. I sat down on the wooden steps and lit up my cigarette: a full flavored Camel Wide. I was lost in the world and felt an anxiousness that existed at all times deep in my stomach. I remember reading once about a man in Nepal who had the hiccups for forty years, well into his fifties with no break. This was how I felt, except instead of hiccups, I was plagued by a voice in my head that constantly reminded me of how I was failing as a student, a son, and a man. As I smoked my Camel Wide, feeling the warm sting of smoke settle into my lungs with every lazy drag, I heard a rustling in the woods that lay behind the fence of our home. I got a little spooked, but pushed my fear down into my stomach, assuming the rustling I heard was just a possum or rabbit or something else small and furry. A pair of red lights flashed in the distance just behind the thick of trees. I assumed it was some teenagers who had somehow snuck their car into the park. The red lights appeared to hover in the air languidly without any change in intensity until the distinct feeling of being watched began to creep into my bones. I began to realize that there was no car sound that accompanied these lights, and, as I peered closer, a dark shadow surrounded the lights, hiding a copse of trees behind it. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I realized I was looking at some kind of being. The dark mass of shadow was a body, and the red glow I had mistaken for break lights were eyes staring directly at me.
I yelped into the darkness, stubbed the cigarette quickly on my shoe, and flicked the butt past the fence. I clumsily threw the door open and disappeared into my home. Collecting myself, a swell of shame spread through my body. I felt like a coward. Steeling myself, I returned to the backyard, but there was no longer any shadow or glowing red eyes. The creature was gone. I returned to the backyard every night for the next two weeks before it finally reappeared. Past the chain-link fence I saw its shadowy body and its red eyes. I walked hesitantly to the fence and coaxed the creature to come nearer in my softest, most soothing voice. “It’s okay. You can come closer. I’m harmless, see?” I raised my hands over my head and turned around slowly, communicating in the pulpy language of B-movies and cop shows. It watched me with interest, and I began to understand that it was just as apprehensive of me as I was of it. We repeated this scene several nights in a row before it eventually lumbered forward. As it came closer to me, I realized just how large the creature was. Easily over seven feet tall and with a wide, square body like a linebacker. Still, even as it steadied itself a foot from my face, I realized that I was not seeing a silhouette of the creature, but that its body was shadow. It had round, long arms like a gorilla, thick legs like tree stumps, and broad shoulders and barreled chest, all made of shadow. Its head was wide and boxy. However, its outline suggested a hairy animal, like a Bigfoot or a yeti. I eased my hand out, palm upward in a show of peace, and the creature leaned over to sniff it. I felt its hot breath and particles of snot, and I knew, at the very least, it was real. The creature put its shadowy hand on mine. It was warm, and I felt something pulse beneath its flesh that was not blood but something ethereal and hard to define, as if I was somehow feeling its soul. As we stood there, holding each other’s hands, I remembered my father holding me as a boy. In that moment I could feel the sharp bristles of my father’s beard, the protective warmth of his embrace, and his hot breath on my neck. Over the next few years, the creature and I visited regularly in the backyard. Always late at night when the rest of the world slept. I would make funny faces, and the creature would snort in approval. I would talk to the creature, emptying myself of all of my fears and anxieties. I would tell the creature of my victories and losses at school and describe to it the tentative first steps I took
into adulthood: the first love, the first job, the first beer, the first fight, the first car, the first heartbreak—all of the firsts that come in violent waves during those tender, adolescent years. The creature was there for me when I got in the fistfight with Billy Shanks after lunch period. It soothed me after Melody Bloom broke up with me at McDonald’s. The creature couldn’t speak, but its eyes said volumes. In those glowing ruby eyes of the creature, I felt love. As I became closer to the creature, my relationship with my parents grew more tenuous. Most of our conversations ended in fights and door slams. We couldn't connect, and I often wished I could talk to them the way I talked to the creature: freely and without judgment. I felt that I was on raft adrift at sea and they were on a shore on the horizon that was slowly fading from view. One night, my father found me out back looking for the creature. It was three in the morning. I never went out that late, but I had a strong feeling in my gut that the creature needed me. I don’t know exactly how to explain it, but I felt that there was some kind of psychic link between the creature and me, and I could sometimes feel him calling for me, like a dull thud in the back of my head that I couldn’t quite shake. I rushed out back as quietly as possible but could not see the creature anywhere. I called out to him, but no glowing red eyes appeared and no shadowy blackness blocked the trees. When I turned around to go in, my father was at the doorway, his large frame outlined by the yellow glow of the laundry room light. voice.
“You still up?” he asked with a note of accusation in his
“I couldn’t sleep.”
“What the hell are you doing out here?”
“Who were you talking to?”
“Myself.” My father looked at me as if he were trying to solve a puzzle. He then focused his gaze past me and into the thick of the woods. “Well, do you still want to talk?” “No. I’m going to bed.”
I eventually left home and after college, settle in New York where my trips home became less and less frequent. Everything from high school—the music, the clothes, the classmates, the crushes—it all slipped away, and the creature, likewise, slipped away with them. I returned home to care for my father after my mother passed. Although I have heard from friends that after the contentious teenage years they found common ground with their parents, this was not my experience. If anything, we were more at odds than ever. They took my decision to live in New York as a personal attack. They considered the city a degenerative influence, an opinion that was buttressed by the fact that I never married. ents?”
“So, it must be nice living so far away from your par-
“Mom—” “I know, I know. We are not pleasant to be around. Neither was my father, if you remember the stories. But we stayed close to family. That’s what people used to do back then, I guess.”
“Oh, come on, its not like that.”
But sometimes I wondered, was that the reason I moved to New York? Just to get away from them? My mother and I ended up having a huge falling out, over a birthday card of all things. She said she never received it. Said I didn’t love her and that she never wanted to speak to me again. I thought it would all blow over and figured once her mood swung back in a more reasonable direction that the lines of communications might be re-opened. She refused to speak to me for two years before cancer got her at the age of seventy-one. My father called me two weeks after she passed. He asked me to come home. He needed help. big.”
“This house is too big,” he said. “It’s just too damned
I left three days later. I took a leave of absence from the law firm where I clerked and was lucky enough to find someone to sublet my apartment. The conversations with my father were as stilted as ever, but we began to build an uneasy partnership as we acclimated to life without my mother. The first thing I learned was that oxygen tanks are surprisingly heavy. In the Wal-Mart parking lot, I attempted to switch out the empty one with a new tank while my father shouted insults at me. My father is a heavy man. Like me, he has always carried an extra bit of weight. That weight used to signify a kind of quiet,
unarticulated strength that promised safety and protection. On that scooter, though, he appeared saggy and gray, like a piece of fried chicken left out overnight in the rain. Decades of smoking and eating junk food had stranded him on his little mechanical island. When I looked at him, I worried that I was looking at a future version of myself.
“Hurry it up. I can’t breathe!”
“I’m going as fast as I can, Dad. Patience, patience.”
“I’ll be patient all the way to the goddamned funeral home.” Sweat beaded and dripped from my forehead as I fumbled with the tube that snaked from the clear, plastic mask my father wore on his face to the spigot of clean, fresh air. The more I struggled with the plastic tube, the more I sweat. “Christ. Thirty years as a cop and I’m going to suffocate on nothing in a fuckin’ Wal-Mart parking lot because my clumsy son can’t attach a tube. Jesus!” I was finally able to get the tank all set up. I placed the oxygen tank in the tank holder on the back of my father’s scooter, leaving a greasy smear of dirt and sweat in the shape of my palm on the face of the tank. “See? You’re all set and ready to live another day!” “We’ll see. Day ain’t over yet,” my father said and then rolled off into the parking lot, charging toward the Wal-Mart, leaving me behind to toast under the impossible heat of the Florida sun. That was how our days proceeded. I would bear the brunt of his assaults with little retaliation. I knew he was in pain and this was how he was attempting to deal with the loss of his wife. But, I also felt a deep well of guilt for having left, for having let the relationship with my parents become so stagnant. I believed I deserved every insult my father hurled at me, and I accepted his lashings with an ascetic pride. It wasn’t until moving back in with my father that I began to think of the creature again. After some time, I began to think I had imagined the creature altogether. I even remember consulting a few zoological books about it, but I never found anything that even slightly resembled the creature. I chalked it up to a hazy, mistaken memory. I had returned to the backyard every night after returning, but the creature did not appear. For nearly six months after my mother died, I cared for my father. And then he, too, passed away one night, peacefully in his own bed. He was always an early riser, so I knew in my gut that he was dead when I awoke at 9 a.m. to the terrifying silence of
this creaky, fragile house. I opened his bedroom door to find him spread out in his underwear, his bulky mass now appearing surprisingly small on the king-sized bed, looking for the first time in his life as though he was actually at rest. We had spoken the night before and had an openhearted conversation that was rare. He confessed that he missed my mother very much. We spoke about the past. We commiserated over the distance that had grown between us. We both felt responsible.
“I just wanted to clear the air and to apologize.”
“Dad, you have nothing to apologize for. It’s just, I don’t know, one of those things, I guess.” “I used to have dreams, back when you still lived here. I dreamt I was a monster and we would have long conversations, the kind I always hoped we would have. You would tell me everything about yourself.”
“It was just a dream. Speaking of, I’m going to bed.”
“Good night, Dad. See you in the morning.”
“Good night,” he said. He rested his hand on my shoulder and then walked with heavy steps to his bedroom. It is a strange thing to find oneself suddenly parentless. To reach a point in which the only human beings that might possibly be said to know you at your most primitive and naked were gone and whatever feelings of disconnect haunted before were now consumed with a penetrating isolation. The following weeks remain a blur. I held an estate sale to get rid of the assortment of crap my parents had accumulated over a lifetime. They had few objects of any real worth, and the estate sale was more of a glorified garage sale. The land the manufacutred home was on belonged to the city, and the home itself was valued at nothing. I signed the deed for the place over to the Celebration Palms, and they tore it down. No sign of my family’s life on that land existed anymore. A few days later, once all of the legalities were taken care of, I returned to New York. On the way to the airport, I asked the driver to take me by the old place. A doleful feeling overcame me as I surveyed the empty plot of land where my home once stood. The chain-link fence was still up, so I walked over for one last glance into the woods. The sun was setting and a purple twilight glow cast the area in a mournful silence. Directly ahead of me I thought I saw a pair of red eyes blinking in the dusky silence. A shadowy form lurched between the trees. I called out to it, but in a blink of an eye it, whatever it was, disappeared. A gust of wind swept through and shook the limbs of the trees.
On the airplane, I watched Celebration Palms grow smaller and smaller and eventually disappear from view. In the sky I was untethered and no longer had any ground to stand on. The plane floor felt solid. So did the seats and the tray table, the book in my hand, the drink that rested on the tray in front of me, but at that moment up in the air none of these objects had substance. I was floating high above the earth and I wasn’t sure if I would ever see land again.
Descent Jeanne Emmons It happens when I am on the verge of sleep, that death in life we must succumb to nightly. Iâ€™d imagined a down staircase like the one that opened up in the bedroom of those twelve princesses. Every midnight they descended underground to dance with their handsome partners in the dark castle, then climbed back up again at dawn, leaving their shoes in tidy threadbare pairs beside their beds. But thereâ€™s only one of me, and I have no ballet flats, only sensible dream-sneakers and the floppy hat of insomnia always trying to fly off in the night wind. Behind my eyelids the familiar purple paisleys start to swim and plunge, then elevator doors whump open, and I step into absolute darkness, no LL, G, B, no lighted button, no raised star, no Braille, just the sound of the doors meeting and a sudden, stomach-dropping descent into deeper darkness, cold, and somewhere a winch whines and something clanks and then the squeak and high squeal of braking and the clunk of the doors opening. And my eyes need time to adjust to the light of dreams by which I hope to find you gliding lithe, among the stalwart trunks and shushing of the crepe myrtle trees.
Undertaking Jeanne Emmons At the temple of Demeter in Eleusis, the ground gapes into a hollow through which, they say, Hades thundered up and snatched Persephone at her flower-gathering, her basket flying, all the paper white narcissi scattered in the hot slipstream of his chariot. I tell myself you don’t have to be a virgin the gods lust for. Anyone can undertake that journey, from anywhere. It’s a matter of mindset. Unfettered regret. Failure to forget. But then I think otherwise. The dead turn a cold shoulder to the living. And I hear, if you make it that far down, no one escapes. Except for Theseus, Orpheus, Hercules, Odysseus, Dante, Psyche, Aeneas, Alcestis, even Persephone, for the warmer months. Oh, and Jesus and all the souls he harrowed out of hell. Let there be no mistake. I want to be in the illustrious company of those who found their way back aboveground. I fear Lethe, its current, the expunging plunge. I’m afraid of being fastened forever to the chair of forgetfulness. I am going there solely to remember. But I have no Circe to give directions, no vat of blood to raise you, Mother, or open up your tight-lipped, waxy mouth.
Underwood Jeanne Emmons to my mother 1.
You used that old typewriter to transcribe
The carriage return has now suddenly brought
Daddy’s dissertation. Later I swiped it
me to the margin stop of a blacker underwood,
for college work. It had no power cord,
with underbrush and dense trees. I thought
no web, no server, and no motherboard.
surely I’d find you down here, but I couldn’t.
But it served me well to tell stories, or fake
I tried to forget you then, but could not. Strange,
the chance poem out of life’s inevitable ache.
to have bathed in Lethe, day after day, unchanged.
Its steel mass squatted on my desk,
Only the dead forget, Mother. As for me,
and, jabbing with my fingers, I possessed
a twisted cord connects the umbilicus of grief
the keyboard, punctuated the work. The back
to memory’s placenta. My helpless fingers
key took you back, did not delete. I lacked
tremble. This is an Underwood of unease.
erasable bond. So I’d ponder each shade
I am still looking for you. I still linger,
of thought. I went slow, each stroke weighed.
hoping somehow to find the margin release.
Looking back, I’m amazed at how driven
Let me step from Lethe’s flood plain of loss
I was, as the dimming ink on the ribbon
into the understory of myrtle and moss,
faded to gray. How I loved the ding of the bell,
quaking aspen, dogwood, and wild plum,
that told in the high soprano of its small knell
grapevine, redbud, bittersweet. Let me come
that the line was done, that it was time to slam
at last into the underwood and through,
the carriage return to the right and start again.
beneath a canopy of shadows, cypress and yew.
"Spearpoint Angel" Caroline Covert
To a Friend Met at a Potluck Margaret Preigh You have asked for my banana bread recipe, and it is attached below, but first I would like to give you some context as to its origins. It is my favorite recipe and I frequently am complimented on it, as you have done, but must confess that it is ultimately not my own. Its unrevised form comes from a Chicago newspaper in the late 1990s, and its current iteration is the work of my mother. To understand the weight of this, I suppose I must expand on the promised context. My mother is a grand maple tree in autumn, warm arms wide with stained leaves. She is freer than any bird I’ve ever seen, evolving as smoothly as a sunset dims from orange to red. She is an alpine landscape, an immediate summer scene with snowy peaks far ahead. She is the smell of a balmy evening and a swift breeze. She is the taste of banana bread, crust a little too thick and too brown, but better that way-- My mother would make this bread for us, her three children, at random and frequent intervals throughout each fall. We would return home from school, one by one, and discover the sweet, rounded fragrance of roasted bananas. She baked it from scratch in the same dish always: a ceramic bread pan, glazed red. At the bottom, imprinted on the belly of the dish was “Le Creuset,” a French brand idolized by my mother. Throughout our childhoods, every time she used that pan she would lament of the one item missing from her life, the gift she’s wanted since college but never received: a heart shaped Le Creuset Dutch oven. In English, le Creuset translates to “the crucible,” perhaps a dramatic term for a brand making luxury cookware. The crucible, the dish, the oven. Whatever pan you bought, my mother would have used it well, she bakes near constantly. Award winning sweet-rolls, ancestral kolaczki, secret gingerbread, and a hundred other recipes written by others and born by her. She bakes for therapy, for the trials life has given her, undeserving. When I was in middle school, my older brother was admitted into an inpatient mental hospital for problems still murky. I remember the first time we worked up to visiting him, my mother planned to bake a treat. She flipped through her recipes trying to find some muffin or tart that would heal. She settled on her lemon poppy seed cake—a universal favorite. She chose it because my brother liked it, but I suspect there was another reason. My mother does not act without thinking, and the silences in which she thinks feel loud and oppressive, like pressure on your ears. Her answers
have weight. I suspect she chose her lemon poppy seed cake not because of the batter, but the pan: a strong cast-iron Bundt. She purchased that pan slowly, saving up twenties she stashed away each time Dad pissed her off until the $150 mold was hers. An elitist about many consumer goods, my mother has purchased most of her small kitchen appliances in this same manner—in lieu of anger. For the occasion, that pan, the Bundt, was perfect. It made perfect cakes. It made a lovely visit. At the hospital, all five of us—the whole family whole once more--sat around a lunchroom table discussing Mom’s cake in great detail for an hour because it seemed the only acceptable object of conversation. At the end of the visit, we had to throw out our leftovers since the dull plastic knife we were offered to slice it with butchered the sweet to crumbs. My mother is economical. She takes up as little space as possible, which is sad to see. She moves out of the way for others, and bends easily to demands. It’s not worth a fight, she says. She lives in her house like it is not her own, disposing of and consolidating her belongings until everything she owns is densely packed with purpose. My mother has many recipes, but only one cookbook. It is handmade, within a cloth-bound journal I suspect she made herself, though I’ve never asked. Each recipe is a clipping from a newspaper, ripped from a yellowed magazine, copied from a library book, or scrawled out from the internet. She knows how to use our printer, but refuses to for recipes only. No recipe enters her book unaltered, either: annotated in black pen, the ingredients have been tweaked, times changed. She places additional small loopy notes at the head of each text, dating the first time she tried that recipe and shorthand value judgments. She is a filter; all things which pass through her emerge better. She loves to provide unstoppably. In my sophomore year of high school, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Us three kids were pulled aside by my father and informed that things would change. She had cancer. She likely wouldn’t die. We’d have to do more dishes. Two quick weeks after her initial diagnosis and on her 45th birthday, she had a double mastectomy. I wanted to reflect the love she has constantly shown me, and begged my Dad to let us bring a cake to the hospital. Chocolate stout in the strong Bundt. Mom couldn’t eat proper food for a week, so we brought a saltine with a candle mounted in butter instead. She couldn’t even eat the whole cracker. My mother returned home shortly—the surgery had gone well and, to the best of my current knowledge, the anomaly
has been fully removed. Still, we were all shocked when, two weeks after coming home, we found her shuffling around the kitchen at 6 AM making scones for breakfast. I apologize for rambling. It may seem that I have gotten off track, but I have not. You must understand this woman to appreciate her bread. See, as you cut the first slice, you must forget the process you have just gone through to make it—that never happened. Instead, you just walked home from school and dropped your backpack on a brown leather couch in the living room. You smell the bread—oh, the smell! You find it on the counter with a note from Mom— loopy black cursive. You cut a thick warm slice, and as you take your first bite, you think of the strong ceramic pan and you think of her.
Banana Bread [ 9/’01- Marlena solid food. Good.] 1 cup sugar 1/3 cup margarine or butter, softened 2 eggs 1 1/2 cups mashed ripe bananas [ use only 3 bananas esp. if they’re big] 1/3 cup water 1 2/3 cups all purpose flour* 1 teaspoon baking soda 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon baking powder 1/2 cup chopped nuts [CUT!] Heat oven to 350°. Grease bottom only of loaf pan, 812⁄×412⁄×212⁄ or 9×5×3 inches. Mix sugar and margarine in 212⁄—quart bowl. Stir in eggs until blended. Add bananas and water; beat 30 seconds. Stir in remaining ingredients except nuts just until moistened; stir in nuts. Pour into pan. Bake until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, 8-inch loaf 114⁄ hours, 9-inch loaf 55 to 60 minutes; cool 5 minutes. Loosen sides of loaf from pan; remove from pan. Cool completely before slicing. 1 loaf(24 slices); 120 calories per slice.
*Do not use self-rising flour in this recipe. Do-ahead Tip: Wrap and refrigerate no longer than 1 week.
"Full Moon" Tara Banks
The Woods Matt Miller
I’m gonna hop a train car, lay low in a weedy ditch ‘til the brute comes a’chuggin. I’ll take it at an angle, sprinting, slipping alongside the ties, boots chucking chunks of pink gravel behind me, then a hop and a grab and a scurry and a roll and I’m on my back, heart beating in my ears, moving smooth to Santa Fe. Sway to the steel lullaby. Shiver in the transient night. Awake at hungry sunrise. But the bulls are quick as they are mean, so it’s a prayer and a jump and a tuck and another roll ten miles from the coming spur, knee-high dewy grass ‘til my legs are soaked clear to the crotch.
guns and radios and know you’re not accounted for. So it’s all ink and paper, and ink and paper it will stay. It’s all just yelling neighbors and pissing dogs and my third-to-last beer but it’s only Monday. It’s all done for me, time to quit my furniture and head for the woods and touch the trees and touch the rocks and the moss and the spider webs and the owl pellets and the pine needles. But it ain’t true, none of it’s true. The woods are gone. The woods are gone.
But it ain’t true, none of it’s true.
It’s all gas, corn, quartz, coal, packing nooks and crannies and locking every door, the bulls have
Death of a New Formalist Matthew Nies Have I been or will I be A slave to a new formality In poetry? West Chester’s embrace Of its Ariel Dawson name Defies a caustic label, And I would join with “counter-culture” rebels In a righteous cause— Say to raise again poetry’s Societal estimation—was Not the cause’s self-titled nobility In league with white Nationalists, whose wretched beliefs Of loathsome hate blight Society. I also cleave Association with New Formalism For the too common shoddy work Buttressing its base—old rhythms Recycled with clichés and quirks Reminiscent of old romantics. Semantic standing Of a movement, self-styled or recognized, can be weaponized By skillful critical hands, and where I stand Can shift as sand and beyond my command If I hitch to a plow. But I must hitch. Where now To turn—spurn rhyme and forms, Like couplets or quatrains, for untamed Roaming words, perhaps to build foaming Clouds with violent pulsing veins of electric reins Guiding furious gallop to storm? Warning
Cautions care because, while I know Only some research-worth about these Who—while still unorganized—Wilson and Epstein hinted would have poverty In language, it’s not wise to make enemies When you don’t have many friends. Those I know better, And their forms Fill the leaves of every notable tree and Sing without restraint. Were active unfettered Worder’s words as beautiful to my ears as those standard bearer’s—whips Lashing air, symphonic in cracks and whispers Till cutting the vein to pour out Dredged emotions, evocative and Raw and unfiltered earth and sludge, Leaving a mess critics only can sort through—I wouldn’t harbor such Strong thoughts of traditional poetry. This siren call serves as much to Rebut those safely anchored in popular esteem— More, those who esteem— As it does to beckon triremes and sloops Searching for safe destination: I will not be defined as undefined or a new-old poet captive to form. I will write poems I will enjoy reading— Often forge-poured, anvil-hammered, stone-sharpened In metered verse formed by traditional pressures, But certainly not always. Melancholy may tree shake and gain me a perch among the leaves— So too revolutionary recklessness To push, no matter cost, language. What I do with words will only be done by me, No matter their value, No matter how I write or why, And certainly not as a New Formalist.
"Eye Contact" Adrian Day
Imaginary Paintings Grace Bauer after Liesel Mueller How I Would Paint the Past
How I Would Paint Depression
A room filled with faces --
As many shades of gray
some of which I know
as I can find on the palette
I should recognize.
thickly impastoed dabs of white near the bottom
of the canvas, dripping
onto a floor I wouldn’t have the energy to clean up.
How I Would Paint the Future
A room yet to be entered
How I Would Paint Anxiety
in which my own face, barely recognizable, hangs on a wall still being built.
— How I Would Paint Hope Morning light warming an already warm bed. Or a hand reaching outside the painting.
— How I Would Paint Despair Just the frame. No picture inside it. No wall to hang it upon.
Of course, I would need plenty of black and very, very large brushes, and, of course, those brushes would not be there when I needed them and I wouldn’t remember where the hell they were, but, oh damn, I’d have my hands on a palette knife and a canvas stretched so tight it might split right down the middle . . .
— How I Would Paint Silence White on white Black on black Which is also how I would paint noise.
— How I Would Paint Happiness I might be too busy to paint.
Color Coded Grace Bauer Ode to Pink
If the baby’s a girl,
Alice Walker’s favorite. It’s always in fashion.
they swaddle her in this – a marker of gender that’s too hot to miss.
Ode to Orange
Rhymes with nothing For no good reason.
Ode to Blue
If the baby’s a boy,
I’ve heard it’s the new black, The hit of the season.
this color will do, though no one really wants their son to be blue.
Ode to Brown
Solid ground, tree’s rough bark, feather of wren and meadowlark,
Ode to Gray
Fashion advice decrees
fur of mouse, moose, rabbit, bear – color found most everywhere.
it will bring out the green of your eyes, but only if
Life in drab’s more common than sin.
we’re talking shirts – not skies.
When you can’t run for cover, it’s best to blend in.
Ode to Black
Basic. Slimming. Sinister. Supermodel. Minister.
Ode to Plaid
It combines many colors -that’s certainly true,
Ode to White
Fuck all the virgins
but unless you’re a Scotsman, it’s best to eschew.
in love with their purity. Just like most whores, they’ll end up in obscurity.
Ode to Gr (e) (a) y Update Some spell with e’s Some spell with a’s
Ode to Red
Either way, as a color It’s pretty neutral in its ways
and politician’s wives, But if Grey’s a pervy boss polka dots
And you a willing maid
of blood on the counter –
Both of you should remember
your own dull knives.
To always pull down the shades.
Ode to Purple
Color of royalty. Color of passion.
On Leaving Church Gina Benz At age 40, I stopped going to church. I was tired emotionally, mentally, and physically, and the day of rest was often the most tiring day of the week because of church. If it wasn't the monumental effort to get my family out the door, it was the volunteering I'd do to keep any one of a long list of programs running. The nursery, Sunday School, Wednesday night activities, a building committee--I was actually just a minimal volunteer compared to others, but I was tired. Even more than physically exhausted, I was emotionally exhausted. As a woman, my roles were limited. As an ally to the LGBTQ community, my words were heresy. As so much progress was made nationally, my spiritual support system remained stagnant. Then, a child rocked everyone’s world. A fourth grader in our conservative church made the decision to be more honest about his identity. A child decided that what’s on the inside is more important than what’s on the outside. That child, who loves God and church, transitioned in name and appearance from female to male. His family, whom I knew but wasn't close with, penned a letter to some of the congregation to announce their child's transition, which commenced after a year-long process of discussion, research, prayer, and Christian counseling, not to mention the years of struggle and disillusionment for the child since age 3. The night I heard about the letter, I sent a message to the child's mom: "Hi! I'm just writing to let you know that you have a friend in me. I have students and friends from all across the gender spectrum, and it's been my privilege and pleasure to be a part of their lives." For some churches this wouldn’t have been a big deal. But, it was for our church, so the family left soon after their son's
transition. Some in the church rallied around the family, spoke to leaders, and reached out with remarkable compassion. But, others were painfully hurtful. And, even more were paralyzed and confused. They weren't ready to figure out how to interact with and tell their children about the child who was a girl but is now a boy. I tried to have grace and patience for the people wrestling with how their convictions should best be demonstrated. I tried to be that other voice. But, I just wasn't strong enough. I needed respite from the spiritual disillusionment and stagnancy I'd already been facing for years, so I left church to reclaim my spiritual energy and to walk more closely with my LGBTQ friends who are very often leaving church too. During my 40 years in church, Sunday service meant we served ourselves inside the church. We were more interested in the rules we’d learned at church than actually learning about the nature of Jesus’s life and attempting to replicate that. We left frustrated when we weren't fed (church lingo for inspired). We paid for sound systems for singing and flat screen TVs for announcements. We merged religion and politics into one angry mess. Now that I’ve left church, Sunday service means helping my 94-year-old grandpa attend chapel at his nursing home, getting him and his tablemates their food for lunch, helping my own family with their needs and projects, or cleaning for a friend. Now, church means getting together with four families on a Saturday night to talk about faith. And, prayer and worship look like me sitting in the sun with my tea. At age 40, I learned that leaving church could resuscitate my faith.
"From Weld County, and Beyond" Travis Dewes Beneath The Box, here’s The Church. And a clock reaching for seven stuck at 6:45. Dividing Poison and Kitchen “I have to be home before the streetlights.” “Streetlights don’t turn on here, kid. Like that hotel song, you’re stuck here forever.” Apart from company and above yellow timecards the clock sits.. a steeple. “But where are all of the people?” said the kid. “Across the street, there they all are... In the bar.”
Rise OVER Run C.E. Holmes 1 The girl is afraid of fractions. 1.05 Although she dare not admit it, she too is a fraction. 1.10 The girl is a fraction clothed in decimal form. 2 She has a numerator, and she has a denominator. 2.01 She chooses not to acknowledge her upstairs / downstairs divide. 2.02 Problems involving negative exponents and fractions are easy to trip over. 2.03 Negative exponents must not be allowed to linger for long on the steep stairs. 2.1 Tallish and willowy, her name is not Juliet / nor is it Daisy. 2.11 She is an unusually stable heroine who cannot abide instability. 2.13 Denominators / numerators assert their uncertainty regardless of application. 2.14 She peruses worksheet 6-3 for the whole number and the real integer. 2.7 Fractions make her nervous and unsure of herself. 2.8 She seeks help for her hang up. 2.9 Her affliction is exceedingly esoteric. 2.91 A mystical white haired fraction healer who lives in a rusty green trailer. 2.92 The healer has flowering pink and red geraniums in her rear bay window. 3 On her way to see the healer, she meets face to face a familiar fraction. 3.01 It’s a dramatic encounter: to come upon one unannounced in the wood. 3.02 The forest which until then has shielded her from a fraction mad world. 3.03 This particular fraction is stubbornly unwilling to combine freely and easily. 3.04 He is incomplete, and his alliances are fragile + noncommittal + ever shifting. 3.33 In their own slash / burn fashion, fractions are troublesome / bothersome. 3.34 Why in the world does the world (which is the case) put up with them? 3.35 All fractions should be rounded up immediately & forthwith!
3.36 Every fraction and its reciprocal should be detained indefinitely.future. 3.6 The girl who is afraid of fractions has been dealt a stacked deck. 3.7 From birth day through toddler time / adolescence / puberty / teen hood 3.8 A sundering in the midst of growth spurts / with intense internal sparring. 3.81 Swordfights of epic proportions from which she suffers sharp pointed pricks. 3.82 A female Soriano in white tights during these “like” vs. “unlike” duels. 3.9 Gradually succumbs to the monomial grip of c/3; c being the chastity wedge. 4.031 Healer defines fractionalism as the desire by your past to divide your future. 4.1 Fractions are a condition of our eternal present says stem snipping sage.
5 She shoots up ‘til she’s a fraction short of six feet. 5.1 She finds confidence and prominence in her new-found elevation. 5.2 A hoopster in spite of herself; basketball as a small-town way of life. 5.222 Sinks 93% of her free throws in her senior year; still a school record. 5.32 No desire to get married / no / not ever / not married / no guy / nope. 5.33 Her too eager coordinate; her pale ordered pair; her < or = to dude.
5.34 His love, her timidity; desire unrequited; no one home, in her underwear. 5.35 In front of the mirror; in the mirror; in lipstick on the mirror: c over he. 5.73 Healer applies a few well worn rules to cope with fractal disruptiveness. 5.74 Finding everyday common commonalities which, when multiplied 5.75 And here a functioning intimacy with the multiplication tables proves 5.76 It’s worth the way they – the ///////// - are eliminated! And banished! 6 But not him, to him she gives in, he rose, she ran, rise over run, to the ruin
6.1 Of the old mill, in the long grass, in the tall grass, ticks abounding, her eyes 6.2 To the sky, seeing but a fraction of it – later: he brags, she weeps, tears like 6.3 The waterfall dirty work of fractious saboteurs splitting perfectly perverted 6.4 Caucasians into a clenched fistful of personalities / strangers unto themselves. 7.11 Overcomes inhibitions / learns to accept fractions / as they appear / disappear. 7.12 Infatuation / her young diplomat / slightly shorter / measured against basement 7.13 Door where all heights are delineated for all time in incomplete integers. 7.14 Convinced by healer to “transcend them to see the world aright.”
7.15 Did not have to be vanquished by this horizontal divide, but live on, beauty ^ 7.16 Less propensity for self subversion / height < / weight > / ‘til quite quaint. 7.780 Learns to nullify by converting to decimals and thus have done with it. 7.781 And achieve in her grand bargain a no-fear no fraction atmosphere. 7.782 So that she knows (temporarily) the peace which passeth understanding. 7.783 Healer says not necessary to jump from yon cubist cliff into ‘ol symbolist sea. 8 But now her daughter says that her teacher said that “Everything is a fraction!” 9 They make / themselves manifest 10
Sister, I Erika Saunders We were never meant to hold it in. Once I walked the rainforest wet with blood smeared thighs, without shame. Blood dreams seep into tilled field rows dripping generation we were never meant to hold. Cauterized harp strings zing. Still the uterus continues to dream. Slicks of blood smear your thighs, without regard to civility. Overflowing genes, a viscous prayer we were never meant to hold against teeth and tongue fleeting as a meme. Womb weary, still we clutch these blood smeared thighs tight, closed. Until blood compresses to coal, compresses to diamonds â€“ erupting, which we never thought to hold hidden between these blood smeared thighs.
Kintsukuroi Marcella Remund for Alison When it all breaks apartâ€”like your young daughter, whose breast cancer transforms her into a Picasso of hollows, misplaced & missing parts, this faceâ€™s angles less sharp above her husband & children in foreground, that face pulled into a tender, finite point so close we feel it needling our skinâ€” you begin to know there is no real mending of fragile things, not your teacup nor your daughter, not your heart nor this broken life. There is only the constant filling of cracks with molten gold (gathering family, well-meaning friends, the rank perfume of flowers, another casserole, another day), until the golden seams make the cup both delicate and stronger, until your cup holds water again for a moment, until you see, maybe only for a split second, something shiny there, something worth saving.
"Music" Adrian Day
St. Frances Gumm Marcella Remund
Patron of girls who have to sing Saint Frances, sixteen lifetimes of loss spilled from you in a voice too big to hold, echoed in the hearts of girls lost on stage, rainbows tattooed on scooped-out pelvis or small of the back. Nailed each night to a marquis, you lived on spoonfed hosts dipped in sorrow and sweat, just enough to keep you thin, hungry, dancing at the speed of light. Swaddled in organza and sequins, humiliated and adored, you paved us a golden road into the starlight—you, with hips too big, crooked mouth made perfect in grownup red, full lips teasing a mic, stand-in for men who urged you on, filled you to bursting with fairy dust until broken glass at your throat felt like a kiss. Saint Frances, bring the house lights down to hide my trembling joy, keep me from back alleys, the bottle, the temptation of dreamless sleep, the bite of a mic’s metal on my teeth. Bless me with songs like liquid, songs that pump and clench my heart like a fist, songs that soothe this radiant net of nerves, songs that pulse in my heelbones, cradled in rubies and glitter, clicking for all they’re worth.
MochaJava Idyll Marcella Remund
Brackish water cooled in sunlight I wake chanting to the dark beast humbled a chicory garland twisted in my hair walk the coals to the kitchen where you sit cup cradled in your hands so tenderly time grinds to a snaked unwinding we lick our lips while we boil and boil and boil hungry for that melding moment we circle the Circle sink to stove to table and the linoleum crawls with lichen and fern our cool bare feet wearing a groove until weâ€™re ecstatic fertile singing mochajavakenyasumatra mochajavakenyasumatra and we dance the dark dance and we drink the black oil again and again and again until we fall redeemed into moon and moss the big dipper spilling black into a saucer of sky
Interview with LeeAnn closing thoughts from the outgoing Poet Laureate interview by Taylor Spence
You have been South Dakota’s Poet Laureate since 2015. What has been the most memorable or significant experience for you while serving in this role? I think that, collectively, it’s been reading or presenting in small, community venues and events and being made to feel so warmly welcomed by kind and generously-engaged rural South Dakota audiences. It’s been absolutely lovely! You have written five poetry collections! Amazing! Which work is closest to your heart, if any, and why? All of my books hold a special place for me in terms of being representative of the time in my life I was writing them, and the kind of writer/poet I was at the time. In that sense, they all feel like important personal and artistic touchstones for me. Of course, my first book holds a special place in that it was the manifestation of a long-held dream come true, and it proved to me that it was possible for me to write and publish a book. I remember that I was working as a legal secretary at the time the book was accepted for publication as a winner in the National Poetry Series, and when it went into production they sent me a cardboard mock-up of the cover, and I just wept. I carried it to work with me everyday in my shoulder bag, and if I was feeling tired or down, or if one of the lawyers was being extra shouty, I’d take it out in my cubicle and look at it, and feel that it had changed everything for me. Writers also frequently, I think—maybe due to proximity—feel very close to their most recent books. Perhaps it’s a similar phenomenon, in that the newest book represents a vision, a dream, finally manifesting itself in the real world. And so, at the moment, I feel very close to and invested in my most recent book, tsunami vs. the fukushima 50, which has just been released with Milkweed Editions. Which work, if any, do you have a love hate relationship with? Why? Although I wouldn’t call it a love/hate relationship in that I love and am proud of Dandarians, and love the job that Milkweed did with the book, I will say that this book was so intensely personal in places, so mollusk-without-a-shell making, that it’s a book that makes me feel very vulnerable, in certain respects. Can you give us the theme(s) of your current work? My most recent book, tsunami vs. the fukushima 50, is a project that emerged in response to the 2011 Tohoku earthquake/ tsunami and subsequent Fukushima disaster in Japan. It’s a book in which I wanted to honor and commemorate Fukushima, as well as focus attention on Fukushima's ongoing legacies—particularly with respect to environmental crises. My strategy within this volume was to turn to tropes of otherness/difference alongside questions of mutation and radioactivity as employed within comic books (X-Men or Godzilla, for example) as a means of confronting issues raised by the Fukushima disaster. In addition to providing a vehicle by which to consider the ecocritical and cultural implications of the Fukushima disaster, the project also ended up blossoming into a canvas that worked with aspects of personal and cultural psychological trauma, gender performance and queer identities, the taboo of female rage, and ideas of the monstrous/grotesque. The book is composed of poems exploring the character of tsunami as a force of nature— a feral supervillainess, rising from the seismic trauma of earthquakes in the ocean floor much in the same way that the character of the X-men’s Magneto was forged within the trauma of the Holocaust. These tsunami poems are contrasted by a fictional cadre of first-person monologues in the voices of survivors and victims of Fukushima—loosely threaded through associations with comic book superheroes.
What is an early memory you have where you learned that language has power? This is a great question, and my fourth volume of poetry, Dandarians, is—in many respects— all about language, and the power of language: communication and/or miscommunication, signification, and symbols, intertwined with issues of diaspora, immigration, and hybrid identities. In many respects, I think this volume of poetry conceived of language as a sort of yearning— the illusory and ephemeral thread that attempts to connect (and never quite succeeds in connecting) self and other, self and the sensual world, self and not-self. The heart, or core, of Dandarians included a nested series of memoiristic prose poems/lyric essays that explored the slipperiness in language I experienced early on as the second-generation (Nisei) daughter of a first-generation (Issei) Japanese immigrant mother. These prose poems/lyric essays took on the form of what I came to think of as “word betrayals”—English words that I misunderstood in transmission from my Japanese mother, that took on complex symbolic ramifications of their own in the hybridized, liminal space of our household. While these “word betrayals” also spoke poignantly to some of the cultural misunderstandings between myself and my mother, they also spoke to the sense of a lost self or identity—a Japanese-speaking self. My mother spoke Japanese to me when I was an infant and a toddler, but when I first began to talk, I spoke a cryptic form of Japanglish apparently indecipherable to everyone but myself. Afraid that I wasn’t going to turn out speaking proper English, my mother immediately ceased speaking to me in Japanese. I’ve carried with me for a number of years now a marvelous discussion from an on-line Asian American writer’s group about how many of us, as children, experienced some type of early “thorniness” with a missing or lost second language. We went on to speculate that perhaps this was one of the things that informed, at least in part, our need to write. I love this notion of a second “lost” self—a Japanese-speaking self, a “ghostly double” self—that I might be trying to recover through my writing. A second self ironically recovered only through a mastery of the English language. Have you ever censored your own writing? If so, would you do it again? If not, why? Some, although definitely not all, of my work has been autobiographical—and some poems could clearly be classified as confessional, even—and as such, I’ve never censored my work for personal reasons, although I certainly make choices about what to disclose, and how, and when, for aesthetic reasons. That said, there are sometimes significant costs to writing in a deeply personal vein. Following the publication of my fourth book, Dandarians, for example, my elderly parents refused to speak to me for three full years. Going into the publication of this book, I knew that they might not respond well to some of the pieces, but I also felt very strongly about the importance of not silencing or censoring myself, and although the familial backlash was difficult, I have no regrets about the book. My feeling is that self-censorship is antithetical to the creative writing process. My advice to myself, and to writers that I work with, has always been to go ahead and write the difficult things, and then make a decision about if and when to publish it later. You studied music –piano in particular – as an undergrad. How do music and language overlap in your mind, and in your work? Do you have any particular music you like to listen to while writing? I like to think of poetry as a form of spoken song, and so I listen to and intuit, and read lines out loud, as if they were phrases of music. Because lyrics can occasionally be distracting when I’m writing, I frequently like to listen to jazz while I’m writing, but other times I just listen to music that I love, lyrics or not, because it provides me with a sense of well being that I find useful. Music has also, on occasion, been almost Pavlovian for me, in that I slowly begin to associate certain albums, groups, or musicians with certain projects, to the point that when I begin playing the music it immediately draws me into the landscape of the project and helps me begin to write. In that sense, my neighbors probably hate me, because when that happens, I’ve been known to obsessively play the same group/album over and over and over and over again.
Do you have any quirky habits that are essential to your writing process? Sometimes, if I’m really, really stuck or struggling I will don a quirky hat. The dorkier the hat the better. It’s possible that I may have written myself out of tough corners while wearing a felt hat in the shape of a Canada maple leaf, a safety orange Big Cock Country hat, and/or a Pokemon Pikachu hat? I’m just saying . . . What are your favorite literary journals? I think it’s a really exciting time for literary journals! In terms of online journals, a small sampling of some of my favorites might include diode, Waxwing, Adroit Journal, Crab Orchard Review, Terrain, and The Account. In terms of print journals, a small sampling of some of my favorites might include Sugar House Review, North American Review, Crazyhorse, Alaska Quarterly Review, Cream City Review, jubilat, and Hotel Amerika. Seriously, though, I could go on and on! Also, I serve as Editor-in-Chief of the national quarterly journal, South Dakota Review, and I feel we’re privileged to publish so many amazing writers, and for me, it’s very exciting to be able to assemble exactly the type of culturally and aesthetically diverse journal that I myself would love to read. What was your favorite book as a child? Why did you love it? One of my favorite books as a child was a translation of traditional Japanese fairy tales, illustrated by a Japanese artist, that contained stories such as “Little Peach Boy,” or “The Tongue-Cut Sparrow.” It pointed toward a different type of narrative sensibility, and articulated cultural archetypes that I found very resonant. These were stories that I returned to and incorporated in my second book, Year of the Snake. Do you remember the very first poem you ever wrote? How old were you? I wrote my first poem when I was five years old. It was about a cat! What is an interest or hobby you have outside of writing? The poet Elizabeth Bishop once famously said that the best way to learn to become a better poet was to take harpsichord lessons. While I think she was being witty, I also think she was seriously talking about the Buddhist concept of “beginner’s mind.” For me, one of the ways I like to explore “beginner’s mind” is through photography. By engaging in another artistic medium for pleasure, I feel that I can (re)access the spontaneity and joyousness I felt as a new, learning writer. In part, there’s a sense of permission. A willingness to take risks and just “play” around that I think can inadvertently get lost by the wayside as one becomes an increasingly serious and committed artist. Because if one is functioning in the space of “beginner’s mind,” there’s nothing to lose. This has been indispensable to me as a writer, because with each new project, or even each new poem/ essay/story, I feel much more open to possibility if I’m able to give myself permission to approach the work with “beginner’s mind.” For me, experience, instinct, and years of working on craft can come into play when I enter into the process of revision. You teach creative writing. What is your favorite piece of advice to give your students? My favorite piece of advice is to read as voraciously and as widely as possible. Figure out the kind of work that you love and read more of it. Read work you think you might not like and—at the very least—develop a sense of healthy respect for it. As a writer, there were poets whose work I initially didn’t particularly care for that became very important and/or beloved to me at later/different points in my life. Read outside your genre. Read non-literary texts. Read outside your comfort zone. Reading, I think, is the easiest way by which a writer can widen their intellectual, emotional, and artistic aperture to take in more of the world. Be hungry.
Lee Ann Roripaugh is the author of five volumes of poetry: tsunami vs. the fukushima 50 (Milkweed Editions, 2019), Dandarians (Milkweed, Editions, 2014), On the Cusp of a Dangerous Year (Southern Illinois University Press, 2009), Year of the Snake (Southern Illinois University Press, 2004), and Beyond Heart Mountain (Penguin, 1999). She was named winner of the Association of Asian American Studies Book Award in Poetry/Prose for 2004, and a 1998 winner of the National Poetry Series. The current South Dakota State Poet Laureate, Roripaugh is a Professor of English at the University of South Dakota, where she serves as Director of Creative Writing and Editor-in-Chief of South Dakota Review.
SDSU English Department In Memoriam
The SDSU English Department, the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, and both the university and Brookings communities lost one their long-time faculty members this past year. The Williams family has graciously allowed us to re-print the official, public obituary for Dr. Lou Williams, Professor Emeritus of English. Everyone who knew Lou will immediately understand that even in his passing, he maintained his wonderful sense of humor. May you rest in peace, Lou. –Jason McEntee, Department Head of English
literature. He retired in 2006 as professor emeritus. He graded thousands of themes over those 40 years, constructively criticizing some more than others (“That paper bled red ink. It looked like a bad weather map”). He also taught Introduction to Literature students the importance of the gravedigger in Hamlet and English majors how to pronounce “Yoknapatawpha.” As an introvert of the highest order, he was perfectly capable of taking an 800-mile road trip in complete silence. In 1968 he married the extroverted Elizabeth Evenson in Brookings, who proceeded to drag him to social events throughout their marriage. Daughter Kate arrived in 1971. He taught her how to ride a bike, how to drive, and how to appreciate silence. Later on, they became snarky seat mates at dinner parties and other social events. Together they spent much of the 80s watching music videos and The Young Ones. He was never happier than in his study reading, writing, or downloading a new computer operating system. He wrote several detective novels and published them on Amazon. Outdoor pursuits included golfing and planting tulip bulbs. He loved to travel, beginning with trips to and from Venezuela as a child, and later several family trips to London, a Greek island cruise with Elizabeth and, in 1993, an epic road trip with Kate to Atlanta via Memphis, his beloved New Orleans, and Montgomery, AL (home of the Civil Rights Memorial).
Louis Williams, 81, died after a long, sordid relationship with Alzheimer’s on 29 Jan. 2019, at The Neighborhoods at Brookview in Brookings. His family thanks the folks at Edgewood Vista, The Neighborhoods at Brookview, and Compassionate Care Hospice for their loving care during his last four years. Louis Perry Williams was born on 5 Nov. 1937, in Goose Creek (Baytown), Texas to Rubye (Brumfield) and Louis P Williams, Sr. “[I] came from high-class white trash. We kept our appliances on the back porch.” His family left East Texas and the appliances in 1949, when his father’s job with the Creole Petroleum Corporation took them to Venezuela. Lou returned to Texas in the early 50s to finish his secondary education at San Marcos Academy. He then earned his BA and MA in English at University of Texas, Austin and later his PhD in American Studies at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. In 1965 he began his teaching career as an instructor in the English department at SDSU, specializing in 20th century American
He loved movies—and hated some, too: “The impression you’re left with after watching JFK is that the only people who didn’t kill JFK were the Girl Scouts of America.” He frequently talked back to the evening news, including asking the eternal question of the Lewinskygate scandal: “Why on Earth did she keep the dress? What was she going to do with it? Donate it to the Clinton Library?” His beloved Southern Gothic literature teems with ghosts of the past haunting the damaged, dysfunctional souls of the present. One of the themes of William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, according to Lou, is that “we want to do right by the dead because we don’t want them to come back.” Because no services are planned, we suggest that you might instead do right by Louis and honor his memory by reading some Hemingway or Faulkner, or by watching Casablanca, Indiana Jones, or (inexplicably) Love, Actually. A round of golf might be in order, too. Lou’s survivors include daughter (Kate Hogan), son-in-law (Tim), and five grandchildren (Olivia, Sophie, Meredith, Nickolas, and Diego), all of whom will miss his dry sense of humor. His wife, parents, and numerous cats preceded him.
Contributor Notes Jodi Andrews’s first chapbook The Shadow of Death was published in late 2018. She was raised in Brookings and holds an MA in English. She recently had her first child, a girl, and she now teaches English classes at SDSU. Tara Banks is an artist from Bozeman, Montana......... S. D. Basset has long been established in South Dakota, where she is currently a licensed registered nurse and lecturer at SDSU. Her home is an acreage near Volga, where she lives with her husband and raised their now-grown sons. Writing has been an important pastime and job requirement, with poetry outweighing professional writing on the enjoyment scale. Grace Bauer has published five books of poems--most recently, Mean/Time (University of New Mexico Press). She is also the co-editor of the anthology, Nasty Women Poets: An Unapologetic Anthology of Subversive Verse. A native of Pennsylvania, she has lived and worked in Nebraska since 1994. Betty L. Beer has been a resident of Brookings, SD for 21 years. She is a retired attorney who practiced in Peoria and Aledo, Illinois. Her second career is that of a portrait painter and she has recently completed a 5-year project of painting 100 oil portraits, which is now the subject of a book entitled Faces of Brookings. She is the membership chair of the South Dakota State Poetry Society. She is a member of the Brookings Sustainability Council and she also sits on the board of the Visual Arts Center of the Washington Pavilion in Sioux Falls. She has an Art History degree from Oberlin College and a J.D. from St. Louis University. She has painted and drawn all her life. Raised on a farm in southeastern South Dakota, Gina Benz developed a passion for quiet time spent reading, writing, and enjoying nature. Upon adulthood, she traded that quiet farm life for the energy of teenagers when she became an English teacher at Sioux Falls Roosevelt High School – a school with more students than the population of her hometown. Since beginning her teaching career in 2000, Gina earned her M.A. in English at SDSU and several teaching awards including the Milken Educator Award in 2015. She makes her home in Sioux Falls with her husband Josh and children Emma and Deacon. Brian Bieber is the Sioux Falls-based author of Nickel Plated Gold, a collection of (mostly) hu-morous short stories, and producer of the little-known, but (mostly) well-regarded podcast The Ghosts & Horses Radio Hour. His work has been featured by Mc-
Sweeney’s and Funny or Die, and funded by the South Dakota Arts Council and the Jerome Foundation (MN). He is currently at work on his first feature-length documentary. He lives in Sioux Falls with his wife, their one-year-old daughter, and their jittery little dog. More of his work can be found at GhostsAndHorses.com. Terry Brix's first collection, Chiseled from the Heart was published by Vigeland Museum, Norway, 2000. His poetry has appeared in, among others, Dos Passos Review, Concho River Review, The Evansville Review, Fireweed, Curbside Review, Rattlesnake Review, The Antioch Review, and North American Review. As a green chemical engineer, he feeds his poetry with his work and from traveling to places like Israel, South Africa, Scandinavia, Iceland, Finland, Canada, and Japan. He lives in Blue River, Oregon with his wife Susan. www.terrybrix.com Teodora Buba is a visual artist currently living in Rapid City, SD. She graduated from the National University of Fine Arts in Bucharest, Romania with a Masters in Visual Arts and a Fine Art Teaching Degree. She has exhibited in London, Denmark, Japan, Texas and the Dahl Arts Center in Rapid City, the Museum of Visual Materials and most recently at the Sioux City Arts Center, part of the Briar Cliff Review Art Exhibition and Presentation College, Wein Gallery in Aberdeen SD and Sioux Falls Design Center in South Dakota. Caroline Covert is a writer and artist at South Dakota State University; she has lived in South Dakota all her life. While working toward an English Writing Specialization degree, she also wrote an original novella. She is always drawing. Adrian Day was born and raised in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. She has always been fascinated by art for as long as she can remember. Currently, she is a sophomore at SDSU, double majoring in Graphic Design and Studio art. She works as a freelance artist in my free time. Common themes in her personal work include the turbulence of nature, human expression, and identity. Her work is strongly influenced by indie genres, alternative music, and Nihilism. Her artistic philosophy is to give a voice to the internalized struggle of the individual identity within through visual metaphors. Travis Dewes grew up in Rapid City, but spent ample time with family in various places of the state of South Dakota. In 2014 he began attending South Dakota State University and lived in Brookings until 2018. He identifies his roots with cattle ranching and European settlement while being mindful of the implications of both on the region. Joshua Doležal is Professor of English at Central College, in Iowa. He is the author of a memoir, Down from the Mountaintop: From Belief to Belonging (University of Iowa Press, 2014), which was shortlisted for the William Saroyan Prize. His work has appeared
in journals such as Hudson Review, Kenyon Review, Gettysburg Review, and Fourth Genre. He also serves as an Associate Fellow for the Center of Great Plains Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Jeanne Emmons’s collections of poetry include: The Red Canoe (Finishing Line Press); The Glove of the World, winner of the Backwaters Press Reader's Choice Award; Baseball Nights and DDT (Pecan Grove Press); and Rootbound, winner of the New Rivers Press Minnesota Voices Competition. Her work has appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, American Scholar, Carolina Quarterly, Louisiana Literature, North American Review, River Styx, South Carolina Review, South Dakota Review, and other journals. She is poetry editor of The Briar Cliff Review. She lives in McCook Lake, South Dakota with her husband and is a member of the Women’s Poetry Collective. Quint Ford Rachel Funk is a multimedia artist living in Brookings, South Dakota with her cat, Berry Delight. Always on the hunt for a new skill to learn, Rachel works in a wide range of mediums including cyanotype, ceramics, oil painting, and tapestry weaving. Although a 2014 transplant from Kansas to South Dakota, she has grown to love the art, local food, and LGBT+ communities that Brookings and Sioux Falls have cultivated, and is honored to be a member of them. Jeff Gould is an author, speaker, and broadcaster. Jeff has written four books to date, his latest: I Like That Story, is based on lessons learned from families after the loss of a loved one. For over twenty years, Jeff has spoken on a variety of subjects from historical lectures, to presiding at wed-dings and funerals, to sales training, to one-man theatrical productions. Jeff is a broadcaster, 1998 South Dakota Broadcaster of the year, and entrepreneur. His A Prairie Christmas program is now syndicated on fifty stations. Jeff continues to blog and podcast through his website ILikeThatStory.net. Justin Gray received his Bachelor’s degree in English from Brooklyn College in 2017. After successfully defending his thesis project, The Revolution on Magnolia Avenue, he received his Master’s degree in English from the University of South Dakota. He is currently enrolled as a first year Ph.D. student focusing on 20th Century literature and creative writing at USD. Camryn Hay was born and raised in the suburbs of Minneapolis and is currently pursuing a degree in English at Augustana University, as well as competing for the women’s basketball team. She has a great love for exploring both the winding metropolis streets of the Twin Cities and the great plains of the Midwest. As a first-time published author, she is enormously pleased to have her work featured in Oakwood.
Jennie Haugen is an interior designer living and working in Kansas City, MO but originates from the Twin Cities. She graduated from South Dakota State University in May 2018 after enjoying a wide breadth of classes, travel studies, and participating in athletics. Acrylic is Jennie’s preferred tool of expression but enjoys exploring and combining a variety of mediums. In her work, Jennie uses identifiable objects to help navigate the viewer through abstract spaces. Her inspiration comes from nature, relationships, and memories. Jean Helmer is a member of Belle Fourche Writers and of Bear Lodge Writers. Her writing gives glimpses of life lived between the high plains and the Bear Lodge on the South Dakota/Wyoming border, and of her experiences as a high school teacher. Thrice retired, Jean is a school board member, a Hospice Volunteer, and a Benedictine novice. Her works are included in: Before the Amen; Granite Island, Amber Sea; Roots Grow Deep and Strong, and Black Hills Literary Jour-nal: The Family Issue. Some nights, C.E. Holmes circumnavigates his sleep routine by paddling up the Missouri from Omaha to Onawa. Then he portages across the Loess Hills to the Little Sioux River and picks up the Inkpaduta Trail north to Lake Okoboji – which is always frozen because it’s always winter. A variety of creeks and streams carry him on to Mankato where the Minnesota River is patiently waiting to ferry him downstream to Pig’s Eye (St. Paul). Sunrise finds him on a limestone bluff above the Mississippi at Mound’s Park, innately realizing that the Great Prairie Dog Plain is neither landlocked nor leaf/looped. Bernie Hunhoff writes for South Dakota Magazine, a publication he founded in 1985 after work-ing as a news reporter for daily papers in Watertown and Madison. Along with journalism, he has been active in agriculture, economic development, conservation, history and historic preservation, and politics. He represented Yankton County in the state legislature for 14 years. He and his wife, Myrna, have two children and six grandchildren. They live along the Missouri River in Yankton. Amanda Jamison is a self taught photographer born and raised in Sioux Falls South Dakota. She received her Bachelor’s in Architecture at South Dakota State University and is currently finishing her Master’s in Architecture. Amber Jensen's life is rooted in Eastern South Dakota, where she was raised on a dairy farm and now resides with her husband and two children. She loves to travel, but her travels have always brought her home with renewed love for the landscape, traditions, and family of South Dakota. Amber earned her B.A. in English and Spanish and her M.A. in Language and Rhetoric from South Dakota State University. She earned her M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the University of New Orleans. Amber is a Lecturer at SDSU, where she volunteers her time in humanities programming to support military veterans and their families.
Donna Kathryn Kelly is a 1990 graduate of Florida State University where she majored in English (creative writing) and political science. She is a 1994 graduate of Northern Illinois University Col-lege of Law. Kelly practiced law for many years in the Illinois criminal justice system. After spend-ing the first decade of her legal career as a criminal defense attorney, Kelly worked as a felony prosecutor in a far northwest suburb of Chicago. She prosecuted numerous high-profile felony cases and she led the Gang Crimes Unit of the McHenry County State's Attorney's Office. Kelly presently lives in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Adrian Koesters has lived in Nebraska since 1982. She holds an M.F.A. in poetry from Pacific Lutheran University and a Ph.D. in English from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where she taught creative writing. She served as assistant poetry editor for Prairie Schooner magazine and was an assistant editor for Ted Kooser's syndicated newspaper column, "American Life in Poetry." The title poem of her second poetry collection, "Three Days with the Long Moon," was featured in ALP in September of 2018 and her first novel, Union Square, was published by Apprentice House Press in October. She currently lives in Omaha. Jason G. Kurtz earned a creative writing MFA from Hamline University in 2010 and attended SDSU in the early 1990s. He has been an educator and writer in South Dakota for the past twenty years. His primary focus is poetry and short fiction while his current passion is focused on building the creative community through his new business in Sioux Falls, the Full Circle Book Coop. Brigid Martin was born and raised in Rapid City, South Dakota. She now attends the University of Iowa where she studies English, Creative Writing, Theatre Arts, and Latin. She specializes in scriptwriting and has had her work performed in schools across the Midwest and has performed her own work as a standup comedian in shows throughout the Iowa City area, most recently in the Floodwater Comedy Festival. She has been previously published in InkLit magazine and will be a contributing writer in Become, an upcoming charity fanzine. Angie Mason lives in Duluth, Minnesota. She grew up in Davenport, Iowa, and then spent ten years in Iowa City before heading north. She received her MFA in creative writing from Minnesota State University, Mankato. She has poems recently published or forthcoming in Arkana, Split Rock Review, Midwest Review, and North Dakota Quarterly. Matt Mason is the Nebraska State Poet and Executive Director of the Nebraska Writers Collective. He runs poetry programming for the State Department, working in Nepal, Romania, Botswana and Belarus. Mason is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize and his work can be found in numerous magazines and anthologies, including
Ted Kooser’s American Life in Poetry. The author of Things We Don’t Know We Don’t Know (The Backwaters Press, 2006) and The Baby That Ate Cincinnati (Stephen F. Austin University Press, 2013), Matt is based out of Omaha with his wife, the poet Sarah McKinstry-Brown, and daughters Sophia and Lucia. Matt Miller is a poet currently living in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. He was born on a farm outside of Ortley, South Dakota, graduated from Waubay Public School, and has a degree in English from the University of South Dakota. The Upper Midwest has a habit of sneaking its way into his work in a variety of ways, especially through images. Find out more at mattmiller-writer.com. Rosemary Dunn Moeller writes to connect to others and appreciate being alive. She farms with her husband in Hand County SD. They winter on Cape Cod MA where the salty spray is much gentler than the arctic winds. Her poetry has been published in Scurfpea anthologies: I Walked by the River, Scandalous Lives of Butterflies, Memory Echo Words, Thunder Storm and others; Pasque Petals Chapbooks: The Lift of Wind Across Wings and Midnight Picnic in the Fields; Pattersson Literary Review, Oakwood, South Dakota Magazine and others. Rodney Nelson's work began appearing in mainstream journals long ago. See his page in the P&W directory. He has lived in various parts of the country, working as a licensed psychiatric technician and copy editor, and now resides in his native North Dakota. Recently published chapbook and book titles are Metacowboy, Mogollon Picnic, Hill of Better Sleep, Felton Prairie, In Wait, Cross Point Road, Late & Later, The Western Wide, Billy Boy, Ahead of Evening, Winter in Fargo, Hjemkomst, Canyon, Time Tacit, Minded Places, and Invictus. Matthew Nies was raised on a farm in rural North Dakota. He received bachelor’s degrees in mass communications and Spanish from the University of Jamestown, where he also studied writing under award-winning author and North Dakota Poet Laureate Larry Woiwode. Matthew’s work has appeared in the university’s annual literary journal Plainsong and he was awarded “Best in Class” from the North Dakota State Fair for his poem “Advice.” His book of poetry Sunset Dreams (Wipf & Stock) is forthcoming. S.E. Page is the co-editor of Young Ravens Literary Review and a Pushcart Prize nominee. Her poetry has been published in journals including Connecticut River Review, Star*Line, and NonBinary Review. Page also writes novels and blogs at iffymagic.com. Connor Poff is a poet from Middletown, Ohio. After graduating from Ohio State University in 2017, she now studies creative writing as an MFA student at Minnesota State University. When she isn't writing poems or teaching first-year composition, she's
binge-listening to true crime podcasts and building her collection of vintage cookbooks. Adrian S. Potter writes poetry and prose in Minnesota. His first poetry collection, Everything Wrong Feels Right, is forthcoming through Portage Press. Some publication credits include North American Review, Roads & Bridges, Jet Fuel Review, and Kansas City Voices. Visit him online at http://adrianspotter.com/. Margaret Preigh is a fourth-year student at the University of Iowa completing her degree in Creative Writing with a minor in Biology. She is a winner of the 2018 Iowa Chapbook Prize in poetry. Jim Reese is Associate Professor of English at Mount Marty College in Yankton, South Dakota, and he has performed readings at venues including the Library of Congress and San Quentin Prison. His books include three collections of poetry and a forthcoming collection, Dancing Room Only, by New York Quarterly Books in 2020. His first book of nonfiction, Bone Chalk, will be published in 2019. Reese’s awards include First Place in the 2018 Allen Ginsberg Poetry Awards, a 2018 Distinguished Achievement Award from Mount Marty College, and a Distinguished Public Service Award in recognition of his dedication to the Education Department at Federal Prison Camp Yankton. Marcella Remund Waiting on response Erika Saunders is the author of the chapbook Limes and Compromise which is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press. Her poetry has been included in Cholla Needles, Watershed, The Red Wheelbarrow, Noble Gas Quarterly, Pasque Petals and Oakwood Literary Magazine, which awarded her the 2017 Anita Bahr Award for Outstanding Contributor. She lives in South Dakota with her husband and three children. For most of her life, Kalynn Slabaugh has lived in the Northern Great Plains Region. She spent her first eight years in Iowa, but—having lived along South Dakota’s eastern border since adolescence--most identifies as a South Dakotan. Kalynn earned her bachelor's degree in English Education at South Dakota State University and is currently earning her graduate degree there as well. When people ask, she says she hails from Watertown, Brookings, and Sioux Falls with a smidgen of Brandon thrown in for kicks. She intends to leave for a big city eventually, but the Midwest will always be her “roots.” Linda Duede Starbuck was an Iowa resident until 2017. After facing widowhood and retiring from an education-related business, she fulfilled a dream and relocated to the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota. In addition to writing, she loves to draw, is a historic interpreter, and volunteers at various art and history venues. While
she has been writing most of her life, she has only recently begun to share her work. Linda has had poems published in various traditional and online journals and has completed her first chapbook, Willing Pioneer. Engie Wong is a senior at Roosevelt High School in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Previously residing in St. Louis, Missouri, she moved to the Great Plains region in 2014. After graduating in May, Engie hopes to major in East Asian Language Studies and teach English as a foreign language abroad. Dana Yost was a state and national award-winning daily newspaper editor and writer for twenty-nine years. Since 2008, he has authored five books and a chapbook, and has had poems published in numerous magazines and literary journals. His latest book is Journal of a Midwestern Town, Story of an Era, (Ellis Press) a large history and study of life in the rural Midwest in the 1940 era. A graduate of Southwest Minnesota State University, he has lived in rural Minnesota and Iowa his entire life, currently in Morris, Minnesota. More information can be found at his website: danayostwriter.wordpress.com
This year's edition of Oakwood, South Dakota State University's annual journal of literature and art.