Soliloquies Anthology, 24.2
Copyright © 2020 Soliloquies Anthology Soliloquies Anthology retains first North American Serial Rights. Except for brief passages quoted in a newspaper, magazine, radio, television, or website review, no part of this anthology may be reproduced in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. Manufactured in Canada Printed and bound by Caïus du Livre Design and layout by Nina Molto Soliloquies Anthology, c/o Concordia University Department of English 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. West Montreal, Quebec H3G 1M8 ISSN 1496-4910 (Print) ISSN 2369-601X (Online) soliloquies.org We would like to acknowledge that Concordia University is located on unceded Indigenous lands. The Kanien’kehá:ka Nation is recognized as the custodians of the lands and waters on which we gather. Tiohtià:ke/Montreal is historically known as a gathering place for many First Nations. Today, it is home to a diverse population of Indigenous and other people. We respect the continued connections with the past, present and future in our ongoing relationships with Indigenous and other people within the Montreal community. Written by Concordia Universtity’s Indigenous Directions Leadership Group in 2017
10 Survivors Miguel Eichelberger 12 M Train Alexandra Khalimonova 14 The Crane Simon TJH-Banderob 16 Into Nothingness Bailey Sasseville 26 The Blue Heron Daniel Meehan A
28 returning home Tazi Rodrigues 30 Image of Innocence Bethany Knickerbocker 38 Last Timothy Pilgrim 40 Catholic Prayers and Superstitions Anna Kaye-Rogers 42 3:49, in a CafĂŠ Jonathan Giammaria 50 Yielding Darlene McLeod 58 En Garde Anne Marie Wells 59 Birch Bark Raymond Luczak 60 Eating Like a Bird, Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Really a Falsity Jessica Mehta A
62 The Room at the End of the House Kate Kearns 64 Take a Seat Fayette Fox
Aimee Lowenstern 72 Comprehending the Language of Air Matthew Hummer 78 Tim to Fifty-Ninth Andrew Sarewitz 80 Juanita Samantha Malay 83
Editorial Team Co Editors in Chief
Anabelle Zaluski & Nina Molto
Managing Editor Clare Chodos-Irvine
A r t i s t i c D i re c t o r Nina Molto
S o c i a l Me d i a E d i t o r Megan Rivas
Web Content Editors Lily Olivas Saul Carrera Mรกrcia Ramos
P ro s e E d i t o r s
Marco Buttice Olivia Cailliarec Celia Caldwell Abigail Candelora
Constantina Gicopoulos Cecilia Mueller-Judson Abby Stewart Hannah Tolman
Foreword This issue of Soliloquies began the same as always. We went through the routine thatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s been slowly perfected since before most of our team was even born: we spread the word, we scoured poems and stories, we laughed, we cried, we wrote, we shared, and we loved the journey. But although Soliloquies is run with love, it is still a machine. It anticipates, predicts, plans. It relies on a schedule and a rhythm. What happens when the rhythm is broken? The semester ended in a slow fade that nobody could have predicted. Our classrooms became empty, meeting rooms became dormant, and the machine became jammed. The silence became heavy. Right now we have the unique opportunity to look beneath the surface of how we usually perceive and interact with art and literature. Instead of asking how should we fill our time, how do we want to? How can we fulfill our need to become grounded? How can we interpret stories and poems in different ways? We started blowing the dust off from our bookshelves, reopening our notebooks, and dog earing pages once more. To-be-read lists are getting shorter. Online book clubs have started and flourished, documents passed between friends, social media littered with praises and recommendations. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s no secret that art has always brought us together. Our current situation is no different. We continue to be endlessly grateful for the opportunity to share this collection with you. There are stories about 8
loneliness, about the stillness of nature, about the activity, about aging and about swords. About how it feels to be together. At once, we get to mourn the contact that we miss, and look forward to reliving it. We’d like to thank ASFA and CASE for their continued support to bring Soliloquies to life, as well as the boundless hard work of our team. This year, we did so much reading and so much laughing, so much writing and so much sharing. As Editors-in-Chief, we’re so grateful to work with such vibrant and passionate people, and we’ll miss leading this community. Thank you. And of course, we’d like to extend our thanks to our amazing writers who continue to submit every year. We love you, we love your words. At our last launch, we decided to donate our proceeds to the Quebec Writers’ Federation to support the talented and diverse writers around us. We’re unable to hold an in-person launch for this issue, 24.2. However, if you’re reading this, we encourage you to look around you if you can. Call a friend you haven’t seen in a while. Direct a couple of dollars to a worthy organization. Walk the neighbour’s dog. Look inward and give yourself the care and support you deserve. Even apart, we’re here together. We hope this issue brings you a little light today, and always. We can’t wait to see you next year.
Anabelle Zaluski and Nina Molto Editors-in-Chief 9
We are among the survivors. We grow from the ruins Bewildered. Alive feels different. We are among the gated and counted. Tallied up in the smoke of desire All tangled in wire, cut, and run. We throw arms around shoulders And help. We connect through the eyes, Wrung out smiles we forget what we owned. We stop plucking the straw from our hair And dirt looks all right on the skin If it turns our blue veins black, it makes no matter. At night the songs are composed. And theyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re written somewhere deep. On the bones maybe, or in the marrow. There is no paper or ink, but we have muscle, We have blood. Though spare, thereâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Enough, more than, to write. I am among the ambitious chroniclers A place of solitude and transcription We pull our songs from the deep places, deeper still They grow from the breaks, And sound like bones and body. They say things we wrote. And more we could not. I am among the free and burdened. I go among the gift of my senses, Who have tasted the valley and summit. A11
Taking the M to Queens I watch hands grab at overhead poles in the tungsten light. Tired hands, tough hands, hands made of folds. Nails you want to cut, knuckles you want to run your fingers over like a child brushing the ribs of a park fence. She was making the plastic squeal, shoving the straw out from the side of a juice box. Her hands were smooth, and they were brown, and I sat thinking of the brown of chestnuts, of chestnuts nesting in the yellow grass of that ugly garden. I sat remembering my little torso hunched over my bent knees, boots sinking into the soft dirt, filling the same bucket we used to wash the car. The sound of them dropping and pooling at the bottom like sinking coins, never to be seen again, through the slit of a parking meter. When the bucket was too heavy for even my brother to lift, we filled the front pockets of our hoodies. If one slipped out we quickly retrieved it, stuffed it in a different pocket, as though they were something close to precious, treasures not be lost track of, but in truth there was nothing more terrible. Our mother tried her best, but she cooked for the rats. I saw it then, on the overhead pole. There on 12 A
the middle finger of her closed fist, a jewel the colour of a library lampshade. A green that lasts and that could last forever. I looked at her hands and not much else. I looked at it like a curse while the train shook us to sleep. There were loose sounds from all around us, we hit shoulders like bottles on the backseat. At Whitestone she got off, and the high school kids ran in, smelling like basketball. Their sneakers were enormous and I can tell you the color of their chewing gum. Blue, mostly. I am still thinking about the curse and the garden and all the places I could’ve left it. When my brother and I divided mum’s things, all he wanted was the furniture. He has a house in Clearview, and it rings when you walk. I got the weepy stuff: the albums, the smelly scarves, the jewelry. I took it off to shower but swam with it at Coney, letting the light play with it like the green was also part of the water. What it must’ve felt like to pick that up in the sand, next to incomplete cigarettes and screwed cans. To hold it for the first time in your hands. I am thinking about the rightful order of feelings: guilt first, sadness later. I am thinking about that day: the thunderstorm that came out of a brilliant St Martin’s Summer. The beet salad that I needed Russian to buy at Brighton Beach. The awful bellies of the men who smoked at the beige line where the wet sand meets the dry. I can nearly find the humor in this, but I just can’t. I know I could’ve found her lost ring if only I tried to. A13
The crane, one leggèd, long armed who stands in scaffold nest whose steel neck is swinging scythe-like east and west— it picks and plucks and wrecks-it eats my town one brick building every night. This old pond of rail juncture and cul-de-sac canals where this crane was hatched slaten shingles, rosy bricks and sandstone the crane swoops round marble, beams and steeples people’s palaces of prayer and play and leisure modest measure of this town whose skyline shrinks the crane can only rise. But even cranes take awkward flight and so will this kingly specimen leave behind a rectilinear hole in heaven but not before this town of towers, vaults and crowned façades is picked and pummeled into the plain.
The sky here was so vast, so clear, that when you looked directly upwards you could almost see the blue turning to black where the gases bound to Earth were the thinnest and gave way to the vacuum of space above. The desert was a nearly flat expanse of sand and scrub, with only a few slight rises and falls, and a mountain range so far in the distance I thought I could drive forever and never reach it. The road stretched like a ribbon in front of me, on and on into infinity, or until the heat warped the air so much that it just wavered into nothingness. Other than the cacti and bushes, I was the only living thing in my view. No coyotes, or lizards, or snakes, or hares, or even hawks. No people. About half an hour ago I had passed a dusty Jeep going the opposite way, but since then I had seen nothing before or behind me, even though I had driven for miles and miles. Out here, speed limits didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t matter. You were only constrained by your fear, and I had none. I would not die today. It was well after midday, and the temperature had probably reached a hundred degrees, but I had the A/C off and the windows down, my skin alternately burned by the boiling sun and cooled by the drag of wind. I didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t mind how uncomfortable it was, or how sweat soaked my bra and rolled down my back, sticking my skin to the vinyl of the car seat. I wanted to feel everything, cram these last days full to the brim with feeling, even the bad. A day before my ninth birthday my grandma had come to the trailer park to babysit me. We were sitting on the couch watching cartoons. My mother worked long hours and was never home until after I went to sleep, so most of my time in those days was spent with my grandmother. I had almost
Bailey Sasseville fallen asleep, lulled by the drone of the television and the warmth of her arm around me, when suddenly she gasped, and brought a hand up to her mouth to stifle a cry. I looked up at her in confusion, then at the TV to see if something on it had made her react like that, but it was just a commercial. She pressed a kiss to my forehead and gave me a tremulous smile. I thought she might have been crying. “Go back to sleep,” she said. “Everything’s alright.” Content to believe her, I closed my eyes. For the next month, though, things were different. Grandma was in our trailer constantly, singing and cooking and telling me stories. She told me about her childhood, how she had grown up on a farm with only brothers for siblings. She told me about meeting my grandfather, and losing him. She told me how the women in our family always knew when they were soon to die. She told me lots of things, and I don’t remember most of them, because I didn’t know how important everything she was saying was to her, to me. And then she died. I didn’t understand it, not really, until a week ago when I was pulled from my sleep in the middle of the night by a single conviction that reverberated in my head and my heart so staunchly I knew it had to be true: I would die, soon. I could feel the event drawing relentlessly closer to me, hurtling like a runaway train while I was tied to the tracks, unable to do anything but watch as the sound of the engine grew louder and the iron rails vibrated under me. I was terrified of how it would happen. Would it be painful, or like falling asleep? Would I be aware of every second? Would it be from stepping out in front of a car, or tripping on a loose stone and splitting my skull? But more than that, I was afraid of dying here and now, alone in a dingy trailer park I’d never left, an inconsequential end to my short and miserable life. I decided to leave. When I died, I would still be alone, but instead of spending my last days brooding in the trailer 18 A
Into Nothingness and cleaning up my mother’s beer bottles, I would have seen something of the world—mountains, maybe, bodies of water bigger than a pond. I would be part of it. I packed a bag and took my grandmother’s truck from where it had been sitting, untouched, beside our trailer since her death nine years ago. I didn’t know where I was going, but I knew that no matter which turns I took, one way or another, I was going to meet my end. A few hours later, when the sun had just sunk below the Earth but the world was still bright, I pulled into a lonely gas station, miles away from any other buildings or houses or roads splintering off in other directions. After pumping gas I went inside to buy water and snacks. The cashier was an old man wearing a blue uniform that looked faded from years of wear, and a nametag that read “Carl.” He moved slowly as he punched in the prices for my chips, his hands covered with liver spots, clouded eyes peering through thick glasses. The longer I looked, the more I thought I saw a thin layer of dust sitting on his shoulders and in the deep-set wrinkles of his forehead, as if he had been sitting behind the counter for the last 50 years, only moving to accept cash from the rare customer. When I went back out, I saw a girl walking up to the station, wearing hiking boots, shorts, and a tank top, slumped under a heavy backpack. She looked like she had just arrived, though no other cars had passed, and there was no way I would have missed seeing her on the road for miles in either direction. Only slightly less weird was the small brown chicken tucked under one arm. Her eyes met mine and she began walking towards me. I hurriedly opened my car door and threw my purchases in. Whatever was going on with her, I didn’t want to get involved. “Hey,” she called. Halfway into my car, I reluctantly turned. She looked less strange than I had first thought. She
Bailey Sasseville was probably my age, right on the edge between teen and adult. Her short brown hair was pulled back into a ponytail, but at least half of it had fallen out. Her skin was deeply tanned, with a light smattering of freckles across the bridge of her nose. Her hat had an image of a horse over the text “Oasis High Stallions.” “Can I get a ride?” she asked. “I can trade you this chicken.” She held it up. It looked at me with tiny, beady eyes, and clucked softly. “Oh, uh, sorry, I don’t need a chicken.” What did she expect me to do with a live chicken? Besides, I wasn’t in the habit of picking up random strangers who mysteriously appeared at gas stations in the middle of nowhere. I turned away and got into my truck, and tried to ignore her while I put on my seatbelt and turned on the engine. As I was about to put the truck in drive, something made me glance back at her. She looked crestfallen. No, more like she was pouting. If I was honest, I would have been pouting in her situation, too. I had the only visible car—I didn’t even see one for the cashier—and night was falling. I sighed. Other than the chicken, she looked like any other kid from the trailer park. She probably wasn’t hiding guns or drugs in her backpack. She looked too nice. Her soft brown eyes were innocent, not dangerous. “I’ll give you a ride anyways,” I said. The girl grinned at me so wide her eyes nearly closed. She had a dimple on her right cheek. She jogged around to the passenger side and climbed in, throwing her backpack at her feet. The chicken sat on her lap, staring at me, while she buckled up. “Is it riding up here?” I asked nervously. I had never been in close contact with a chicken, but its beak looked sharper than I had thought one would be. “Yep, she is,” the girl said, stroking the bird’s head lovingly.
Into Nothingness “I’m Olive, by the way.” We had been sitting in silence for an hour. I didn’t like breaking awkward silences, while she hadn’t even seemed to notice it was awkward. “I’m Phoebe,” I said. “Nice to meet you, Phoebe.” She turned that brilliant smile on me once again, then went back to petting her chicken and staring out the window. Not wanting to fall back into a lull, I said, “Can I ask why you have a chicken?” Olive laughed, lifting one hand to brush back hair that had been pushed into her face by the wind. “She was walking on the side of the road so I just went and picked her up. I didn’t want her to get eaten by a coyote or anything. She’s too cute for that. I named her Lucy—she looks like a Lucy, don’t you think?” I didn’t generally think chickens looked like they had names, but I nodded. We sat in silence for another long stretch of road. Though I had been suspicious of her at the gas station, I now felt intrigued. I wanted to know why she was out here on her own, without even a car, but with a chicken. Was she running away from something, like I was? Or was she going toward some predetermined destination? Abruptly, Olive turned back to me. “So, where are we going?” she asked. I floundered for a second, and she laughed again. “I mean, where are you going?” “Nowhere, really. Just kind of driving.” “What, like a road trip?” I shrugged. That was better than the mess of reasons I had come up with when I had stolen the truck in the middle of the night: I wanted to see more of the world before I died; I didn’t want to live the rest of my life in that that cramped and dirty trailer; I wanted to be alone, not that I hadn’t been before.
Bailey Sasseville “Why are you driving around these backroads, then?” Olive said. “If I had a car and the power to go anywhere, I’d go somewhere interesting.” I didn’t know how to explain my fascination with the vast, uninhabited tracts of desert, the way it felt like I could see every star in the universe at night, the lonely howls of coyotes as the sun set and shadows stretched for miles. So I just said, “It’s pretty.” Olive looked at me and laughed. “Trust me, there are prettier places in the world.” When I had left home, I didn’t care where I went. I just wanted to go as far as possible. But this strange girl, who I had only known for hours, made me want to know what was worth seeing—what she thought was worth seeing. I kept my eyes on the road, on the world sprawling ahead of me, and asked, “Like where?” A day later, we stood at the edge of the Grand Canyon. The sun was directly overhead, making the river gleam like a mirror where it weaved among the rocks far below. Olive looked at me expectantly, wisps of her hair escaping her ponytail and blowing across her face. I felt the sudden urge to reach out and tuck them behind her ear. I turned back to the canyon, stared at the birds wheeling below. “Yeah,” I said, closing my eyes. “This is better.” That night we laid down in the bed of the truck to sleep, with Lucy the chicken nesting in the passenger seat. In the morning, we’d keep heading west, toward the ocean. I’d never been there, but as a kid I’d loved listening to my grandmother tell stories about the crashing of waves, dolphins jumping, seaweed that looked like mermaid’s hair. I also liked the idea of driving as far west of the trailer park as I could, right to the end of the continent, and then on into the water. I wondered what it felt like to drown. 22 A
Into Nothingness I should have felt uncomfortable, traveling and even sleeping in such close quarters with someone I barely knew, but it felt as easy and natural as breathing. After just a day of exchanging stories, hearing about her life on the reservation before she left, her friends and cousins and siblings, her favorite books (anything by Neil Gaiman) and least favorite color (gray), I couldn’t imagine it being any other way. Before either of us fell asleep, I finally asked the question I’d been wondering since I met her. “Why were you at that gas station?” We had both been looking up at the sky, but now Olive turned to look at me. She seemed to consider for a second, then said, “Do you believe in magic?” “I believe there are things I can’t explain with science,” I said. It was hard to find any other explanation for why my death hung constantly at the edge of my consciousness, drifting ever closer. Olive hummed. “Well, my family has this weird magic, I guess you could call it, that’s been passed down from my mother’s side. I don’t know if it’s really magic, or luck, or something else, but I’m always in the place I need to be. Sometimes I walk a mile but it turns out I’ve gone 10. Or there’s this feeling pushing me in certain directions, like to turn right when I should turn left, or to go talk to a random stranger. Whenever I do, I get this warmth, this peace, like I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.” She smiled a little bit. The moonlight was so strong that I could count the freckles on her nose. I didn’t know how to respond. It wasn’t that I couldn’t believe the magic—if anything, it sounded like my family’s ability (or curse) to know when we’re about to die. What scared me was the implication that her turning up at that gas station, asking for a ride, was somehow a twist of fate to put her where she was supposed to be: with me. I swallowed, looked away. “Is that why you have a
Bailey Sasseville chicken?” Olive burst into laughter. “Yeah, I guess we’ll need it at some point.” I fell asleep trying not to think about how she and I were now “we,” and how I was a bomb she didn’t know was ticking. The next night, we left Lucy the chicken in the truck and sat on the beach in Santa Monica, eating soft serve ice cream as waves washed up onto our toes. To our right was the pier, flashing lights of every color, distant music playing and children laughing. Earlier we had ridden the ferris wheel, the roller coaster, and even the carousel. We had played arcade games and eaten funnel cakes. And then, as the night grew late, we bought ice cream and came to sit farther down the beach, where it was quieter. It was cooler, too, by the water. The gentle breeze combined with the ice cream raised goosebumps on my skin. Olive noticed my shiver and laughed. She pressed her strong, tanned arm against my significantly paler one, then looked up at me to smile, like she knew I had been watching her. For days I had been driving with my foot firmly on the accelerator, but now it felt nice to stop, just sit and breathe for a while. “I’m going to die. Soon,” I said. I wasn’t really planning on saying it, but it was threatening to burst out of me, and the roar of the surf, the wind, and her smiles combined to make me feel especially light and fragile, like I could blow away at any moment. “That’s shitty,” she said, finally, and I couldn’t help but laugh at how much of an understatement that was. Her eyes met mine, a kaleidoscope of colors as they reflected the lights of the pier. “But I’ll be there until the end.” And I knew that they weren’t just empty words, that she knew it as utterly as I knew my fate. The universe was supremely unfair—that was what I 24 A
Into Nothingness had always thought. And that was probably true. But maybe it felt it owed me, too, and that was why I was here, where I was supposed to be: with Oliveâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s hand in mine, seeing the gentle crashing of the ocean for the first time, watching the waves fade into the edge of the world, into nothingness.
Canoes drifted across the placid water, breaking through reeds and lily pads on our family excursion, a retreat from community. We plunged our oars into the water, leaving swells and ripples of wake behind us. My mother, spotting a blue heron, pointed and shushed. Eight eyes turned to witness the bird, and the back oars of both boats turned the prows towards a log on which the ancient spirit sat statuesque. She stood with calm surety, watching carefully the four pale, upturned faces, her neck blue and bent with elegance. We sat in unified silence. The river itself merciful to the wonder that had stolen us, the heron obliging us with her aching delicacy. Then she allowed us a silent flight, low across the lake, passing with calculated, slow wingbeats and relinquishing to us a last rapture and longing for her. 26 A
The Blue Heron
returning after the first time i move away. dry air settles, draws water from my skin. in the airport parking lot our father tells me about the neighbourhoodâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s stray cats and accordion players. he says you are sleeping. i say good night, gently, through your closed door. in the morning, we drink tea on the porch. your limbs have been rearranged, metatarsals dripping from your tongue, painted toenails where once there were teeth but you sip your tea with the same eloquence as before. you ask about the weather in montreal.
Image of Innocence
The beach still looked the same as it did the last time I was here, though in my memories the moon provided the only illumination. In the daylight, the stones in the sand glistened and gulls squawked overhead. Children shared boogie boards, and I wondered if they could feel the thickness in the air that I felt. It was my first time here since the last search party effort three years ago. Once I took some pictures today, Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d never come back. A week after her disappearance, they found her here at the state park. Reporters labelled us as the type of town where nothing ever happened. But I had been in my senior year of high school, so every prom dress purchase and college acceptance letter had Haylee and I passing notes with the excite30 A
ment of children prancing on a playground. Real adult life was happening right in front of our eyes, and when Haylee started going out with Josiah, we became part of the crowd that hung out at the mall and went to the drive-in and smoked cigarettes in the school bathroom. I even had a secret admirer towards the end of the school year. In my slim locker, he’d leave sketchings of me and original poems scribbled on yellow lined paper. At the bottom of the page, he’d always draw a heart with a little smiley face inside. His notes never came during school hours. I’d check in between class periods, but he only left them in the mornings. I received his last note shortly after Haylee’s disappearance, Sorry about your friend. I’ll always be here for you. We all had too much to drink on that night. Since we were little girls, Haylee and I anticipated being part of the last high school class of the century. We’d wear poofy dresses to prom and pull the best prank on the school principal before graduating and eventually opening our bakery downtown. For once in our lives, we’d ignore the sign advising not to swim after sunset, and we’d leave our dresses on the sand as we waded into the water. I remember she was tipsy, but so was I. “Josiah will be in that tent all night,” I groaned, “you promised me we would swim.” The waves grabbed at our feet. “I don’t want to get in trouble, Mel. I could lose my scholarship.” “If you’d rather bang your boyfriend than spend time with me, you could have just said so.” I pushed past her so she wouldn’t see my tears ruin my makeup. With my camera, I took a picture of the spot where we’d stood. The lifeguard’s chair, the bathroom building, and the buoys hadn’t moved from the spaces in which my memory placed them. The search parties trampled all over this beach in the days after prom. I’d paged her twice a day. They never found her pager.
Bethany Knickerbocker When I passed the campground, a family of four with a pickup truck and portable grill was where Haylee and I had set up our tent. I slept alone that night, and in the morning, Josiah seemed surprised not to find Haylee in the tent with me, claiming he’d also slept alone. I walked over to the building with three musty bathroom stalls inside. I photographed the pale pink porcelain sink where I’d brushed beer off my teeth. “I don’t know anything,” he pleaded with me over the telephone, maintaining steady eye contact through the glass partition between us. “The police are saying that you do, though. You have to.” He looked to the ceiling for a moment, his eyes glassy.” And you believe them?” “More than I believe you.” Tomorrow, I’d have to hold the Bible again and swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. The lawyers advised me not to stray from what I’d said the first time around. I wanted to tell them that if they’d just let more African Americans on the jury, there wouldn’t be a need for a second trial. Since my stint two years ago as the star witness, I went on to drop out of community college and then to drop out of culinary school. We were supposed to go to school together. My guidance counselor kept telling me to prepare for our friendship to change after high school, but I knew we would be friends for the rest of our lives. After Haylee’s death, all I’d done with my time was send Josiah to prison, but even that went wrong. Maybe if she was the one who survived that night, the bakery would be open by now. Our bakery was supposed to be down the road from this park. We’d decorate the walls with our seaglass collection and frost our cakes in pastels to match how the sunset looked across the water. The idea was to start small with local parties. 32 A
Image of Innocence I would put up flyers at my church, and together we’d go mailbox to mailbox with advertisements. We would work our way up to baking big triple-tiered wedding cakes for rich women living in the city. A little girl ran into the bathroom, sand coating her thin legs. She slid into a stall and pulled down her swimsuit before climbing up on the toilet. I shoved my camera in my bag before her mom rushed in to close the squeaky stall door. I could only put it off for so long. Twenty paces past the picnic table and into the wooded area. From the spot, I could hear the waves. He returned her about a week after whisking her away. Nobody knew where he brought her before they found her here. It was just a ground, now. A ground with rotten dirt and rocks and twigs where Haylee’s body had been dumped, treated no different than a half eaten school lunch. They retrieved DNA samples from her remains. It appeared that two men had touched her. One inconclusive and one a match for Josiah. Sometimes I wondered about that second man, but if Josiah was telling the truth, they would have solved that mystery by now. The last person to see her alive, he couldn't even make an attempt at an alibi. His lawyers tried to say we just saw him as a criminal because of his skin color, but I knew he had it in him all along. “Can you identify that item for the court?” “It’s Haylee’s diary. She carried it with her everywhere.” “Can you read for the jurors the entry under March 14, 1999?” “Josiah and I celebrated our one month anniversary today. Mom and Dad were both at work, so I had the house to myself. I knew this when I invited him over. We kissed and... so much more. He’d been nagging me about it for a while. I didn’t think I would do it. Mel didn’t think I would do it. Yesterday I told myself that I wouldn’t, but I guess now that
Bethany Knickerbocker it’s done, it’s done.” “Thank you. Do you know what Haylee is referring to here?” “Josiah wanted to have sex, but I kept telling her to wait until she felt ready. I didn’t find out about this until a month later.” I took a photo of the patch of dirt where they found her, my tears wetting the camera. He was locked up now. Nothing would bring her back but at least I helped ruin his life. He couldn’t hurt anyone anymore than he already did. Manual strangulation is what I read in the newspaper. She let him kiss her and touch her all over but he wanted to take more from her. Her time and attention weren’t enough. He had to take the breath out of her body too. Whenever I passed his parents downtown, I’d look the other way. He was their only child, and they blamed me for the fact that nobody believed in his innocence. They did interviews about how the police and I were out to get Josiah. He was their sweet baby angel and he could never do anything wrong and I was drunk that night so could they really trust my word against his? I would have said what I said in court regardless of his skin color. He was the prime suspect for a reason. From the spot where Haylee was found, I could see where we’d pitched our cheap tents. The family of four with the pickup truck huddled over playing cards. The sound of their laughs carried over to me. The tightness of my neck was almost as painful as what I imagine Haylee felt. I wanted to scream at them. They ruined the sacredness of this place. It was the last space she and I shared alive. The town should have locked the park gates because nobody could enjoy themselves knowing what happened here. But even I, the star witness, didn’t know the details of that night. I spent it crying in my tent because my one friend left me and maybe if I’d tried harder to convince her to swim, 34 A
Image of Innocence we could have had a good night and gone to bed with salt water in our hair. I walked away from her. I could have protected her, but I didn’t. Tomorrow, when the lawyers asked me to talk about that night, I’d tell nothing but the truth. But the whole truth was that I had expected plans we made when we were seven to suffice for her that night, and when she wanted something different I cried because I couldn’t have what she had. The closest I got was love letters on yellow lined paper, but that wasn’t the same as a real life boy to cuddle with me in the tent. She abandoned our plans that night, but really it was nothing new. She’d hang up on me early to call Josiah, and he became her lab partner in Chemistry, and whenever we walked on sidewalks, it was always the two of them leading me like some stray dog. I had no reason to hope that prom night would be any different. But the court didn’t care about all those details. I made my way back to my car. From the edge of the parking lot, I saw a neon paper sticking out from my windshield wipers. Just my luck that I’d get a parking ticket here. When I slipped it from its spot, I realized it was a sheet from a legal pad folded in half. I opened it, causing another bit of paper to slide out and land on the gravel ground. It was a Polaroid picture. I squinted at the image. In the center, a copy of the local newspaper read Graduating Class to Honor Lost Girl With Empty Chair. That was the first day that the search parties didn’t go out to look for Haylee. We were all too busy preparing for graduation that night. The next morning, I had experienced my first ever hangover. The day after, a lifeguard on the way to her smoke break found the body and I vomited for the second day in a row. Throughout the whole graduation ceremony I kept searching the crowds at the football field, expecting Haylee to emerge in her white graduation gown to claim her seat. We went through the pledge to the flag and the school anthem,
Bethany Knickerbocker standing up and sitting down as one united class. Josiah sat directly in front of me, his head held high and proud on his broad shoulders. I should have strangled him with his tassel. Now, looking back at the Polaroid, I saw that the camera’s flash had illuminated a figure behind the newspaper. My hands shook too much for me to focus, but I knew exactly whose body I was looking at. She looked so small with Josiah’s football sweatshirt barely covering her pale skin. I turned to lean my back against the car. It felt hot, but I needed to shield myself as I scanned my surroundings. Families packed up minivans. On the beach, lifeguards ushered stragglers out of the water before sundown. He evaded the police for years. Of course he wouldn’t let me catch him. Tomorrow’s trial wouldn’t concern him, but he was right here all along. The police told me that if Josiah hurt Haylee in March, he’d have had no trouble hurting her in June. They said the inconclusive DNA was most likely Josiah’s, too, and I heard someone leave the tent but it only made sense if two people left the tent because Josiah couldn’t have spent the whole night in there and also killed Haylee. At the time it made sense, but Josiah was at graduation practice the day this photo was taken. I sat behind him. The person who took this photo knew where Haylee and I pitched our tent and he knew she and I wouldn’t look out for each other that night. In the weeks before prom, she was too busy with Josiah and I was too busy scouring old yearbooks for the identity of my secret admirer. He knew which locker was mine and he knew which car to leave the yellow lined paper on. I looked to the bottom of the paper, though I knew what I would see. A small heart with a smiley face.
I Basement turned swamp, floor rotted, john flushed up. Sawgrass out back drooped, died. Coffins once cemeteried rose with the tide, floated dead bones by. Sopped clothes packed, this house, free, painted on porch turned raft, I fled Florida for new home. High bluff, Vancouver coast, sweeping viewâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;oil trains, tankers, black smoke.
II Gulf risen, gone east to greet Biscayne Bay, deniers dog-paddled there, trapped, squeezed, contained. They tweeted, texted, blogged, played with their phones. Ate seaweed, dreamed it was filleted, creped, creamed. The last were the last to drownâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;even the aftermath steered clear, still went down.
Catholic Prayers and Superstitions
I cross my fingers tightly and hook pinkies with a heathen’s abandon, my devotion was always to Helen of Troy. It was the pageantry I loved, not the incense. We bowed our heads in prayer but I peeked up at Mary, perfect in porcelain, frozen forever at no more than fourteen. Her hair fell in perfect dark curls, the blue of the sky of her veil and the blue of the sea of her dress met over the white of her personality. We were told only that she said yes, not how she said it, and that she could never betray the church when they kept her in lifeless stone, unable to fight back or protest. The angel gave her a choice; the church praises her because they agreed with what she chose. She had a baby and birthed a horror, in the stories they read without ending her happiness never appeared in verse. I wanted to know her more than God, to know how a girl that could have been me could have done what I couldn’t have. I wanted to know her likes, her loves, her dreams and hopes, but once you are a mother they only ask how the baby is. I asked Mary to pray for me and gave God the cold shoulder, he and his son have done quite enough already. Mary was human, Mary could have been me; fourteen and unsure how to say no. I hope when they pray to her she tells them no, I hope when I ask she has questions and knows what she’s getting herself into this time. I am godless and hellbound and I know it; it makes me wild inside. When my car skids across the snow the familiar words come back and I recite them as a true believer; her prayer the only one that does not feel a lie. My heart leads even when my head feels confused, the young girl with the world on her shoulders seems the most like home. I only believe when I’m praying, I only pray to someone worth believing in. Let Jesus save the rest of the world, Mother Mary will save me.
3:49, in a CafĂŠ
By means unknown to me—shamefully so, with a technology whose relevance has been on the upswing after a twenty-year period of obscurity—the film camera took a picture. Rather, I should say that I pressed a trigger, which opened the shutter, exposing the film to light, and plastered my physical space into fiction. On being asked, and as a way to display a mastery whose description as such is confirmed by the assumptions of others, I tell those who are curious that I can spin a story out of iron wool. Capturing a photo assigns worth to a place whose regular visitation creates its unremarkable familiarity. Chance alignment of people and places produces the conditions for a story, and I connect the tissue, guided by an aspect ratio, which otherwise remains segmented. What I mean to say is that I took a picture of a crane—we’re speaking of the animal, not the machine. A note, also, on the verb taking. It’s been a trend recently to say that we make photos. The parlance has drifted into common usage just as film has overtaken the traditional practice of digital photography. “Making photos” is the epitome of a withdrawn credence from your subjects, completely fictionalized, under the authority of a creator. But there is always the camera, always the conditions that make the photo, which are uncontrollable, save for the context of a studio, which I despise. That crane found itself in the city by means of which I have no idea. Pragmatically speaking, the crane flew out of its context and into ours. Searching for reasons behind such a thing is narrative. Pay attention to who is making the story. In the photo, you sit in the bottom left corner. I positioned you there, aligned you with the borders of my viewfinder. When I saw you, perception was a flashbulb, a split-second reaction that favoured a personalized fiction over an agreed-upon reality. It’s a clever trick, rationalizing the documentation of photography as art. With my photos, I have never shown you what happened, not really. At the risk of contradicting myself, the appeal of pho-
Jonathan Giammaria tography is that no other artform can rival its indexicality. You sat at the café’s terrace. Documentation disregards the notion of memory. In fact, documentation opposes memory, whose claim on objectivity is undone by its process of subjective reconstruction. Memory might have led me to say that you were drinking a latte. Documentation tells me that you were drinking a filter coffee. If we zoom in on your table, we can see that you are reading Lolita. “No,” you say, “I’m not reading Lolita.” “I could’ve sworn you were reading Lolita,” I say. You pull the book from under the apron crumpled on your knees. You show me what you are reading. The book’s spine is a division of black and white, and the book’s cover is an abstraction, facilitated by a heavy close up, of a pair of lips. But the book is not Lolita. “What?” I say, gesturing to it, “I’ve never even heard of it. Wouldn’t it be more interesting to say you were reading Lolita? If I were looking at a photograph of someone reading Lolita, there would suddenly be an air of intrusive perversion.” “It’s not the truth,” you say. “Okay, we’ll chalk up the confusion to the photo’s poor resolution.” “But I’m holding it right in front of you.” You’re excited to unravel your opinion of me now. You are a philistine but—. You tell me I’m intellectually bankrupt, and that all my contemplations are interloping puzzle pieces that don’t fit with each other. You tell me that my digressions have been offensive, that there isn’t a point to any of what I’m saying. You tell me that a story should have some sort of progressive flow. You tell me that I can never expect a reader to sympathize with my cold and inorganic diction. (You don’t say it like this, by the way. I’m rephrasing your words so that they don’t appear so crude. I’m doing you a favour, really. I’m making you coherent.) I’m all contradiction, borne by my desire to probe at that which is all surface. You tell me that 44 A
3:49, in a Café photography is a defunct artform, and that I’m close reading a text whose intention is a product of my retroactive mind, not of a desire that spurred the photographic conception. And, by the way, how did I develop the photo so quickly? You tell me— Enough, I’ll continue telling the story now, thank you so much. The author is dead. Try to be more open minded. We’re sitting at a café— “How many times are you going to repea—” We’re sitting at a café, and if someone were to make a photo of us—“not take?”—they might assume that we’ve been enjoying a Sunday brunch. They wouldn’t assume that you brought me here to discuss matters outside of this photo’s borders. I think you told me that there was something important you had to tell me. Let’s talk some more about this crane. From the way that it’s hunched, with its wings not completely at rest, we’ll assume that it’s just landed. We’ll assume that the crane is turning to look at the glint of a camera, though not quick enough to look at that which captures it. We can also assume that the crane has only just appeared. No one in the picture has turned their attention to it. That seems a little strange. Have you noticed that there’s a man in the photo, right behind the pane of glass that marks the border of the café? In the photo, desaturated highlights and darks mesh together to abstract that which has already been flattened. He’s a ghost behind a pane of glass, behind my camera’s lens, behind the matte finish of this enlarged celluloid. I might never have seen him if you hadn’t pointed him out to me. I’ve just noticed that he’s looking at you. He’s wearing a black apron, and he has a stainless-steel foaming pitcher in his right hand. My right. Actually, he’s glaring at you, and I’ve just noticed that, crumpled in your lap with its strings hanging off the edges of your knees, you have the same apron. And there’s still that book of yours. The café in this photo is the one we’re sitting in
Jonathan Giammaria right now— At this point you interrupt me again. Yes, okay, so you’ve made it clear that you were fired today. I should’ve brought that up. You talk to me and that same man stands behind that same pane of glass. He seems perturbed, and I find it inappropriate that since the release of my shutter he hasn’t stopped watching you. Let me tell you something of stories. A story is an accumulation of ideas stitched together by the narrator. I’ve stolen the story from you again because I want to present my version of the truth. Without the index of a photo, the truth is just an idea. Nevertheless, my idea is that I took a picture of a crane. My next idea is that I was so possessed by the serendipity of the crane that, although I still had thirty-five shots left in my camera, I packed up. I called it a day. I entered the café. Let’s suppose that, upon exiting the café, I noticed that you were on my right. You were crying. I watched you cry. You were looking down at your knees. On your knees, not-Lolita rested. We are sitting together at this café. I face you, and behind us is the pane of glass with the man in it. There is a book on your knees. It is not Lolita. I’m internalizing your complaints. How many times am I going to revisit this scene? We are sitting in a café and on our table rests the picture of the crane. If I were to look up now, I would see a bird in the sky. You look and you see the bird in the sky. The beauty of film photography is that the delay between the break of light and the realization of one’s creation is mediated by one’s will towards tangibility itself. I’m sorry, I don’t think I’ve allowed you to speak. But really, you have to let me go on for just a few more moments. I promise I won’t waste any more of your time. Actually, I want to move us back a few moments. It was only when the crane flew away that the café’s patrons paid it any attention. Of course, in the index of this photo, the 46 A
3:49, in a Café camera never recorded a reaction. Freezing an action requires that its precedence and consequence remain obscure, a blank slate for an observer to intuit. We’ll look around now at the patrons, as the bird flies away. Tell me, how are they acting? Have they turned back to their coffees and laptops? And tell me about the man in the pane of glass. Did he ever notice the bird? You tell me that he hasn’t stopped looking at you, not even for a second. In a way, neither have I. My eyes have been filtered by the lens of the camera. That’s where you are. Then I sat down and here we are together. Tangibly, we have moved past the photo. You’re complaining that I’m drifting into digressions again. If I might, I’d like to adjust that statement. I’m circling back to the digressions from which you distracted me. You tell me that we still haven’t arrived at anything important. Tell me, how well do we actually know each other, that you should insist on importance? And how well do you know that man? And why, amidst a crane who appears dynamic, do you and he remain static? That apron is still crumpled on your lap. “I need to tell you something,” you say. I know! Haven’t I been talking this whole time about how you need to tell me something? The photo’s conception revolves around you needing to tell me something. Maybe if we look at the photo closely and list the elements of its composition, we’ll be able to figure it out. We’ll arrive at that which so urgently needs to be broached. You, the man, and the crane. You tell me that maybe the crane is relevant. Is that humour? No, of course not, how could the crane factor into such a thing? You, bottom-left; man, front and center; crane, foregrounded in front of the man. I don’t think we’ll ever arrive at that which lies beneath the surface of this photo. I’m sorry, but the crane is just too appealing. You’ll have to remind me why later, but our lingering contemplations sharpen into acute observations. Despite my
Jonathan Giammaria thoughtful contributions, a lull crawls into our conversation. It’s unfortunate, but just as you start to unfold your perspective, my eyes creep past the borders of your face. Dynamic change traverses from our interpersonal exchange towards the conditions of our surroundings. The elements of this frame are expanding, becoming unrecognizable! I get up and you try to stop me. I’m sorry but I have to be quick if I’m going to capture the next shot in this confluence of narrative. Can’t you see that narrative cannot be planned? Can’t you see that, no matter the rigidity of an outline, narrative escapes the photographer? I was never trained to subjugate the conditions of the narrative. It moves along without intention. I cannot push it into being. The man in the glass has finally moved. A car is about to pass us by. The sun is setting. Let me make this photo and I’ll bring it right back to you. We’ll discuss the production of this photo. You and I will toil over this image until the next one comes along. Don’t you see that this is the only way for the story to progress? There is no attempt at consequence without the documentation of that which follows the present. There cannot be a gesture towards antecedence without the documentation of that which has preceded this new photo. This photo of the crane will become that antecedent. And you have to let me persevere towards that which follows. It’s the only way to continue chasing after the narrative. It’s the only way to make a photo.
My grandmother always had sensitive skin. Her flesh crawled at the thought of wearing even the softest wool; she swathed herself in ancient cottons, washed and worn to gossamer delicacy. She could bear no adhesives, her skin violently rejecting medical tape and bandages with welts in livid shades. Her bathroom always smelled of Dove soap, one of the few she could tolerate, and even a necklace chain or a coarse cloth could damage her skin, rubbing her neck raw or abrading her face. But for all that painful susceptibility, so much more could she enjoy what was soft, what was smooth, what was gentle. Sensitivity allows not only pain but the most beautiful of sensation. 50
For 25 years she lived a widow, and for 26 years she fought cancer in her skin. No one battles melanoma for so long, but she did. One constant from my late childhood until having children of my own was my grandmother’s cancer. Over and over again, she and that corruption reached a détente despite increasingly bad odds and while her cancer was never truly defeated, neither, though, was she. They abided one another, unwelcome companions, each quietly pursuing the other’s destruction. And while the skin of her body was distorted by cancer and the scars of surgeries in her ongoing efforts to outdo the treachery of her own flesh, her lovely face remained untouched, affected only by her years. As I entered her house my grandmother sat in a wooden rocking chair, cushioned and braced on its arms, wrapped in a housecoat. So strange, to walk in without her usual lilting, Maritime greeting; a stroke had stolen away her words. I leaned in to hug her, kissing her pale cheek, and it was soft and yielding, her skin like tissue, dry and thin as a whisper, a fragile barrier between her and the outside world. Her body shook in desperate, silent sobs as I gently folded my arms around her. When you’ve waited so long that fear loses its grip on you, the moment of change—when anticipation becomes arrival—comes abruptly, and it is somehow both more and less horrible than expected. I sat in my grandmother’s living room that day and thought, “This is awful and wrong” and also “This isn’t so bad.” Because it was, and it was. As we age, our skin bears the record of our living. Sun damage and scars from our revelry and misfortune, stretch marks from our growth, and always wrinkles counting our days. Gradually time marches across our surface and leaves its footprints—our skin thins, it weakens, becoming increasingly vulnerable to incursion, and we wrinkle, our surface becom51
Darlene McLeod ing a network of texture, a visible manifestation of our aging body’s increasing liability. Our skin is our largest organ, measuring roughly 20 square feet, a small room to house our living. The outer layers protect us, while the innermost layer, a thick membrane of connective tissue, acts as a cushion, protecting us from damage and housing our nerve endings. And as the nerves in our skin communicate inwardly with us about our physical experiences, our skin also serves as an outward part of our identity—we cannot look on the face of another without appreciating their skin. The curve of a cheek, the sensation of the touch of a hand: how we look, how our skin feels, plays an undeniable role in our interactions with one another. Our skin is the barrier between our body and the rest of the world, between us and other, and as we age that barrier lessens. Our skin degrades, replacing cells at ever-decreasing rates, and the protection they afford becomes less complete. The division, while still defined, decreases and is more easily breached. The body’s outward resistance is compromised, and we are made vulnerable, susceptible. My grandmother had always said she did not want to linger. Decades earlier, looking my mother firmly in the eye as my grandfather lay in a hospital ICU bed—a ventilator breathing for him as the pulmonary fibrosis increasingly stiffened his lungs—she said, “Never. I do not want this. Never.” Maybe there was an enduring strength in her body that refused to submit the night of her eventual stroke. Or perhaps the strength was in her spirit, that fibre of her being that made her her and had, every time, compelled her to try one more treatment rather than seeking palliative care. Until that sudden, wordless Saturday morning, every one of those lastditch efforts had been more or less successful, another time for my mother and I to shrug our shoulders and say in tones of amazement, “Well, I guess this isn’t it.” 52
Yielding On that day when I visited my grandmother, she was ready to go, her Do Not Resuscitate order signed and filed years before. Her physician, a refreshingly forthright and accommodating woman, came to the house that Sunday afternoon, my grandmother’s file in hand, and looked her in the eye. “I know this isn’t what you wanted,” she said. “You would have preferred to not wake up,” and my grandmother, leaning forward in her rocking chair, eyes wide and intent—and understanding everything—nodded with wordless resignation. Years of struggle with a body unable to be well had exhausted my grandmother’s resources, and now she was silenced. She was done, prepared to cease her effort and concede to rest as her husband and daughter already had. And just as her spirit readied itself to surrender, her body made ready to consign itself to the earth. My mother did not get old. Oldness was a privilege denied to her—that she looked old in her final days was a lie perpetrated by sickness and pain, sketched across her aspect. The outward vulnerability that marked her mother’s aging was, for my own mother, an inward one, the compromise of her body internal, hidden and unknown. The year of her cancer began with a lie. Or not a lie, precisely, but a pretense, one we would carry with us to the end. For that year, we pretended: she would survive, and I believed her. That pretense sat between us like a veil, thin and translucent but of enough substance to prevent our ever fully reaching one another. She never expressed her feelings about her brain cancer to me, and I, in turn, did likewise. Our relationship had been shaped by feelings, emotions deep and compelling and shared, but somehow, in the face of fear so great, of loss so complete and shattering, we said nothing. To say aloud what was in our thoughts would be to invoke what we most feared, so we kept silent lest our words make manifest horror. We replaced the health and longevity and time that 53
Darlene McLeod had once and should still have been hers with a thick skin of silence. To break through that shell, to pierce that skin would require an act of extreme vulnerability, a willingness to see and have seen the terror that lay beneath. I saw her cry only once that year, just before six the morning of her final brain surgery. That was our one moment of unfettered candor. I arrived at the hospital unexpectedly— even I didn’t know that I would be there. I had set an early alarm the night before, unsure if I would go, but woke before it sounded, desperate to see her. I found her that November morning sitting in a wheelchair in the surgical intake room. “I found you,” I whispered gently, playfully, as I came from behind her to see her face light up in recognition and joy, and briefly the veil between us fell away. Then, and only then, we wept together, my arms around her, she clinging to me in a strange reversal, and for that moment I was her support, her shield. Afterward, she could no longer be alone for any length of time—her body weakened, her memory dampened, she would forget her own infirmity and try to walk, falling instead. I stayed with her one evening and we sat in the dimly lit den, the family schnauzer on my lap, my mother reclining on the hospital bed that now dominated the small room. I asked her if she wanted to watch something, but she declined, preferring the quiet. I trimmed her nails for her, brought her dinner, and waited silently, her eyes closed and resting or open and sedately staring. It was early December and I thought, “Now. We should talk now.” But I did not want to rush into the end or steal whatever semblance of peace or ordinariness that evening may have held for her, and the hours passed wordlessly. Weeks later she sat in her wheelchair in my apartment, my daughters, three and six years old, circling just outside her reach, awkward and unsure. I sat on the carpet, trying not to stare, desperately attempting to maintain that 54
Yielding pretense of normalcy for one more day—for her benefit or for mine, I couldn’t say. In the eleven months since her initial diagnosis, this had been her aim; a final, happy Christmas was what she’d wanted and that would be my gift for her. We wheeled her to the dinner table where she sat next to her mother for the last time, tucking into a plate of turkey and stuffing and her cherished cranberry sauce. I have no memory of whether my grandmother ate, only of her gaze lingering on her daughter’s face. She would furtively turn away toward my aunt, my mother’s younger sister, and hastily, with a shaking hand, brush tears away from a cheek webbed with the lines of years and living before turning back to my mother. Her eyes hungrily preserved the look of her—the curve of her forehead, her hazel eyes, her slightly snub nose. If my mother was aware of my grandmother’s silent tears, she did not betray it, and we said nothing of what was coming, of what already sat alongside us and our sorrow at that table. Her body relented, not gradually—as her mother’s would years later—but rapidly, an accelerated leaving that took us by surprise only weeks after that Christmas dinner. It robbed us of what few months we thought we had to come to terms, to accept what was unacceptable and maybe, if we were willing, to be honest with each other. We left years of words unsaid. We cloaked ourselves in silence and called it strength, but what value is there in a strength that robs us of the honesty that comes with vulnerability? Some things are unavoidable. Death comes to us all and if we are very fortunate, indeed, it comes when we are old and full of days. That our bodies diminish and degrade may seem undignified, a harsh and cruel punishment of time, but there is a wisdom in how the body gives way, relinquishing first its fortitude and then its matter to the earth. We are such fragile creatures, a miracle of proteins and stardust delicately stitched together and when, in time, we can no longer contain ourselves the frame succumbs. When that physical resiliency 55
Darlene McLeod is lacking, we may choose to erect a false shell of stoicism, a carapace of pretend, where instead we could choose softness, a yielding to each other as the body yields its substance. I remember my grandmotherâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s cheek, the paper-thinness of it, the gentle submission as I held my own against hers, mine young and smooth, pink with liveliness and freckled from the sun, hers white and translucent, crimped and pale. It seemed there was very little holding her together and there was so little between us I felt her flesh would simply surrender to my own. What was left to divide us? What division can there be, in the end?
Every one can be loved, the way every sword can be s w a l l o w e d .
Anne Marie Wells 58 A
Birch Bark Raymond Luczak Its peel rolled around my fingers easily as I pried loose to see the grey wood itself. Its edges felt sharp, curly blades against my ceaseless fingers. I stepped down the slopes to the swollen cave-in where tiny cyclones of mosquitoes swarmed above the drowned saplings. So much rain had fallen that people rode their canoes around the cave-in. I flung the peel out there to see what would happenâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; it didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t sink at all! It floated amiably toward a much older and taller birch half-swamped under. Then it suddenly careened into the damp arms of its mother. The winds around me howled and then whispered, Come home, come home. A59
Eating Like a Bird, Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Really a Falsity
You don’t just decide to start eating again, it happens slow, a groggy crawl and stumble out of a dream. I didn’t choose to starve myself, I didn’t choose to stop. It was a cycle, my own metamorphosis full of Kafka leanings and sopping new wings. Building up like an orgasm, I can’t tell you enough about the foreplay, the spots touched that got me there, the details of the teasing or the fetishes reveled in (that’s sacred) but I can tell you this—I woke up in Washington Park, stomping the trails behind the zoo. Maybe it was the humbling houses of the West Hills, or the reservoirs spreading like spilt champagne at my feet, but on that day I woke with a start. Past the rose garden poached with pale tourists, past the fountain where droplets sound like church bells, I climbed to the playground at the top of the hill, slipped onto a swing and learned all over again how easy it is to fly. My god, it’s a lovely thing to face your fragility and still take flight. But birds, “birds really eat a tremendous lot,” so give me the fat ones the thick ones, the ones burrowed down deep. Fill me with their earthiness until I choke from the grit, desperate for air, neck arching and jaw flexing, bones slight and delicate as a song.
My loves have left and closed the bedroom door. The cats are out, corridor unshuffled, night’s cold still in the sheets. They’ve gone out for my birthday breakfast, dissolved in the void outside the wall. Chickadee’s trill can’t crack the window fan’s muffle, and glasses unworn on the dusty bedside table blur picture frames book shelf, the bed’s edges where feet and hands starfish out. They’ve gone without goodbyes, without minty kisses. Were they ever here at all, or am I just now awake? We’ve decades more to go together. This blank morning won’t be missed. My dear ones, to not say go away is drowsy chocolate cake. Tie a ribbon round this sweet alone. O luxury to be so left behind, so known. 62 A
The Room at the End of the House
Take a Seat
The recliner was gone. I came down for breakfast and noticed right away. Even before I’d opened the blinds, I saw the empty spot on the hardwood floor. The floor next to the fireplace was shiny and bare. I dropped to my knees, running my hand across the woodgrain as though searching for clues. There was nothing there. The night before, I’d sat in the chair briefly to read my mystery novel before making myself a cup of tea. I got distracted in the kitchen, organizing my spices in alphabetical order. I didn’t get back to my book that evening. But when I went upstairs to bed, the recliner was definitely still there. And now, it wasn’t. The ottoman was gone too. My book, however, was still on the coffee table where I’d left it. Tingling all over, I opened the blinds, checked the doors and windows, and surveyed the house, running from room to room. It was cold and gray outside. The doors were deadbolted, the windows latched. I checked my jewelry box 64A
and the secret hiding place where I keep my passport and emergency cash. Nothing else appeared to be missing or out of place. I wrapped my arms around myself and tried to slow my breathing. I’d bought the white leather recliner from Specs, four years earlier. It was modern and—I thought—sophisticated. The armrests were brass with a padded, leather oval at the elbows. How does a recliner just disappear? I made myself oatmeal with goji berries and pumpkin seeds. I allowed myself an extra spoonful of brown sugar to calm my nerves. But instead of mixing everything together like usual, I ate the berries and seeds off the top like a child or fussy cat, leaving the bulk of the oatmeal, heavy and steaming, untouched. I left the house in a hurry, forgetting to brush my teeth. “Things aren’t usually gone forever,” my mom said. I was six and couldn’t find my stuffed frog, Calitha. “What was the last place you saw her?” “I don’t know!” I wailed. “If I knew where she was, she wouldn’t be lost!” She told me to calm down and we’d look together. Then my little brother, Isaac, came in crying with a skinned knee and I had to continue the hunt on my own. I eventually found Calitha squished behind the cushions of the big, orange armchair. I was pretty sure I hadn’t left her there. I squeezed her tightly. Then I followed the sound of crying to the upstairs bathroom. Our mom sat on the floor, cleaning my brother’s knee with the stinging stuff from the brown bottle. “Did you take Calitha?” I pointed to Isaac. His face was red and teary. He was four and was always taking my things. “No!” he sobbed. “Then why was she squished into the chair?” I held the frog close to his face, staring him down. “She couldn’t
Fayette Fox breathe in there!” “Rosemary, that’s enough,” my mom said. “This isn’t a good time.” Things aren’t usually gone forever. But now, with the white, leather recliner, I didn’t know what to think. My brother and I met for lunch at Slurp City, our favorite soup place. It’s halfway between our offices and they have a changing menu with three soups every day. There’s always one vegetarian soup which is what my brother gets. He’s not actually vegetarian. He’s just on this kick at the moment to eat less meat for environmental reasons. There are 21 meals in a week and he allows himself meat for six. Except beef. He says it’s “the worst offender” and only eats it once a month. I chose the Italian wedding soup and he got the ginger carrot bisque. Every soup comes with crusty bread from a local bakery which Isaac says is a worker’s collective. We picked a seat by the window. The fog hadn’t lifted and we could see a flurry of bundled people on the street, hurrying to get their lunches. Perfect soup weather. Inside, it was cozy and warm. My soup was flavorful and nourishing. I was hungry since I’d barely eaten any breakfast. I imagined being in a Tuscan village at a wedding in the 1920s. The groom, a pig farmer from the next village over, had a shy smile and looked surprisingly sharp in his three-piece suit. The bride played the violin and wore her hair in long braids, coiled around her head. Her grandma made a vat of soup (with help from her elderly neighbors) for all the guests. Isaac and I chatted about our weekends. I’d had brunch with friends and reorganized my sweaters. He and my sister-in-law, Carla had volunteered in the community garden and went to a harvest-themed party. Carla dressed up as an ear of GMO corn. Isaac was a tractor. 66 A
Take a Seat “Have you ever woken up and discovered something was gone?” I asked Isaac. “What, like your youth? Yeah, that happened to me a few years ago when my back started bothering me.” “No, like … furniture.” “You mean like, when you notice, for example, that your kitchen table is missing?” “Um, yeah!” I said, not sure if he was messing with me. “Just like that, actually. Has that happened to you?” “About a year-and-a-half ago,” he said, dipping his bread in soup. “I went downstairs for breakfast and the vase and fruit bowl were on the floor. Not broken or anything. Just on the floor, directly below where they’d been on the kitchen table. But the table was gone.” “What do you think happened to it?” “Who knows. At first, I thought someone had broken into our house and stolen it.” “But the doors were locked?” “Right. And why would anyone steal a table? It doesn’t really make sense.” “What’d you do?” “I ate breakfast at the counter instead.” “But what’d you do about the table?” Isaac shrugged, “We got another one. So it happened to you too?” I nodded. “I lost my recliner.” “The beat-up brown one with the stuffing coming out?” Isaac furrowed his brow. “No, I got rid of that one years ago when I was still living with Nora.” “Ah, I really liked that chair! Why’d you get rid of it?” “It was super old and the stuffing was coming out?” I said. “Anyway, the one that disappeared was a nice, new one with white leather.” “Okay, I remember that one. It looked expensive.”
Fayette Fox “It was really well-designed,” I gazed into my empty soup bowl. For several nights after work, I experimented with different relaxation spots. When I didn’t have company over, I had typically sat in the white recliner. With it gone, I tried my couch. I sat on both ends and in the middle. I lay down, stretching my body across all three cushions. It was nice, but it wasn’t my recliner. I tried reading my mystery at the kitchen table, on the steps, and in bed. The couch was by far the best option. Reading in bed just made me sleepy. I thought about getting a new recliner, but my brother was right. It had been pretty pricey. I wasn’t quite ready to drop another $800 on a chair. I considered rearranging the living room furniture to obliterate the empty spot created by the recliner’s absence. But I needed help to move the couch so I hadn’t gotten around to it yet. It reminded me of when the apple tree in my backyard fell over suddenly, from some hidden blight in the trunk’s hollowed out core. It was surprising because the tree seemed so healthy. The leaves were lush and it was a prolific producer of apples. I called a landscaper with a chainsaw to haul it away. The empty spot in my yard was almost unbearable. Until, I got used to it. Then one morning, about a week after the white recliner vanished, a new recliner appeared in its place. I noticed as soon as I came down for breakfast. I stared at the chair. It was large and comfortable-looking with cracked, brown, faux-leather. I circled it and sat down. I touched the spot in the seat where stuffing was coming out. My old housemate Nora always said she’d fix it but had never gotten around it. Her dog, Tatter loved pawing and pulling at the fluff. I made myself oatmeal with bartlett pear, dates, and chopped walnuts. I ate sitting in the old recliner. The chair enveloped me. When Nora and I first found the chair on the street, we 68 A
Take a Seat carried it nearly a mile back to our apartment. It was heavy and we put it down every few blocks to rest, taking turns sitting in it. “It’s so comfy!” Nora squealed. “It’s so ugly!” I laughed. “Comfgly!” Nora said. I fingered the place in the seat where the stuffing was escaping. “I’ll patch it,” Nora promised. After I finished my oatmeal I called my brother while I washed out the bowl. “You said you got a new kitchen table after yours disappeared.” “That’s right,” Isaac said. “Do you mean you bought a new one?” “No, a new one appeared about a week later.” I put the pot in the sink to soak. “Had you seen that table before?” “Sure,” Isaac said. “It was the kitchen table from my first place in Austin, just after college.” “How’d you know it was the same one?” “It had the same scratch across the top.” Nora came over for dinner. She brought a bottle of red wine and a roll of leather repair tape. I gave her a big hug. We hadn’t seen each other for over a year even though we still lived in the same city. She looked good in her chunky knit sweater and dangly earrings. It’s weird how someone can be such a huge part of your life, how you can literally see them every day, sharing milk and toothpaste, and then you move out and don’t see them for ages. I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed her until she was right there in front of me. When she saw the brown recliner she laughed, shaking her head in disbelief. Then she threw herself into it,
Fayette Fox exhaling deeply, just like just she used to when she got home from work. We caught up over mushroom risotto with roasted acorn squash. Then we brought our glasses of wine into the living room and together, repaired the tear on the brown recliner. In the morning, the recliner was gone. A week later, a worn, orange armchair appeared in its place. I cocked my head looking at it. The chair seemed familiar but I couldn’t think where I’d seen it before. Was it from college? Study abroad in Florence? An old boyfriend’s apartment? I made myself oatmeal with raisins and apple chunks. I sat in the armchair to eat. The fabric was nubby and soft. I felt safe and loved and… a little uncomfortable. Something was poking me. I put my oatmeal on the coffee table and reached under the cushion. I pulled out a stuffed frog. Things aren’t usually gone forever.
You’ve got rats in the ceiling. You’ve got pixies in the walls. You dye your hair green and sit on a green couch and eventually no one can see you. You wrap yourself in ivy and run off into the forest. You come back an hour later, drunk. You collapse on the couch and when you wake up, three-quarters of a fairy circle have grown around you. The pixies giggle and bite your ankles. The rats curl up in the heating vents and die. You make up what a human is, and three other stories. There is werewolf fur all over the upholstery. It hasn’t been a full moon in years.
Comprehending the Language of Air Matthew Hummer
Αλϕα: The dead leave voice behind and molder brittle bones. The new dead burnish letters rising from blackened recesses that malinger in living minds. Βετα: We tread roots and sea stones left by a primal ocean. Γαμμα: My mind fishes minnows in the Black Sea of memory. Δελτα: Steven DePew signed up for the Navy and was scheduled to enter service in July. Επσιλον: We talk a sibilant speech before the birth of thought. Ζετα: Getting lost is getting found later on. Stevie’s name burned onto a wooden park post.
Ετα: Time heals all wounds and devours all flesh. Θετα: A shattering windshield— Christmas light strings on porches and eaves, like fireflies hung to dry. Ιοτα: The black horse hides in the closet with red eyes. He bites the child’s face while he sleeps and dreams. Καππα: Nathan said, “I only know little words.” Λαμβδα: The hook plucks the lip from the sluggish sea, into bright, hard light. Μυ: The radio preacher screamed “God said” and spoke King James English.
Νυ: In San Agostino, skulls with angel wings grin with broken teeth. Ξι: The disciples found Jesus on the beach roasting fish for breakfast after death. Ομικρον: The last breath of the old year: fields glazed are glass shards in lungs. Πι: A circular truth—the snake devours its tail. Ρο: The curtain falls onto muted shapes, ghosts under red velvet. Σιγμα: Creosote, thick and black, clots like blood on the telephone pole.
Ταυ:: Tacks and packaging tape from garage sales and lost dogs where tar clots. Υπσιλον: Grass sprouts four spindles of flay seeds— like shiny flower graves. ϑι: The lollipop letter, ϕ, contrary of π, searching for its end; the green light in an old dog’s eyes. Χι: Jennifer, Julie, Kristen, and Jessica survived the crash. Ψι: Nathan spelled the words he dreamed. “Y-E-L-L-O-W,” written on recycled paper. Ομεγα: A rosary on a lost-dog tag. The in-breathing Spirit, survives flesh through ϕ, the yellow kangaroo in a sleeping child’s mind. 76 A
Tim To Fifty-Ninth Andrew Sarewitz
Somewhere between 8:15 and 8:45 on Sunday nights, Tim and I walk to the West 4th Street subway station. Upper level platform. We ride the C train uptown to 59th Street, Columbus Circle. I exit, he continues to his home and family in Harlem. For that sliver of time, even in a packed rail car, we are alone, coupled in discussion. Argumentative or in agreement, sober or drunk (that would be me), the colloquy began and became ritual back when Tim and his wife lived east of West Village. We’d head to Astor Place where I’d catch the Number 6 subway to Lenox Hill. Tim said I was the first person he allowed to walk him towards home after he finished work. That reads obnoxious. With his coming off two weekend shifts slinging drinks at a crowded bar, dealing with a franchise of personalities in constant demand for his attention, I heard it differently. I heard it how I wanted. I know the choreography. For decades I worked in high-end sales. The “lifers” (a self-diagnosis), understand that you are as important as the product and place you represent, particularly if you depend on repeat business. Many of my 78 A
clientele I genuinely liked. But there is a difference between liking someone and wanting to be a friend. Forget the word “love.” “Friend” is one of the most misused words in the English language. Ask anyone who’s lived in Los Angeles. A few years ago, my friend Aaron, barfly of a different species, wanted to meet at a popular dive in Greenwich Village. In New York City’s evolution, West Village is not the center of the gay world as it had been when I first came to Manhattan. By the mid 1990’s, the gentrification took a strong hold in Chelsea. Capricious and easily bored, the next gay tent pole was Hell’s Kitchen, where rents were not as obscene. And arguably, it’s more of a neighborhood than the stretched city blocks in Chelsea. There still are gay bars in the Village, which include the celluloid stereotyped Christopher Street. It’s not the fashionable place to be anymore but it’s where Aaron asked me to come. There was a bartender he wanted me to meet. A seasoned bartender, which Tim is, has regulars. There’s an expectation of recognition and importance. This includes prompt attention, strong pours, and something that makes you believe that while here, you are special. It’s not necessarily disingenuous. At Tim’s bar, I watch as set patrons not so subtly compete for their place in the caste. A talent balances the inebriated and sensitive fans to keep them coming back. A rare badge a barfly can earn, if he wants it, is friendship. Aaron and I have an enduring friendship. Many persons seem to have a similar connection with someone in their life. We can meet often or not for long spans of time and it’s always immediate and comfortable. Aaron is set in his ways so you either fit into it or you don’t come at all. I’m the same. He is the one soul for whom I’ve altered my rigid rituals in order to share his time. Now with our schedules juxtapositioned, we see each other much less. Texts keep
Andrew Sarewitz dialogue current. Sometimes they’re political but more often it’s shallow communications: men and sex. For all the years we have known each other, we share no friendships and very few acquaintances. Privileged, I have more than one front of friends. Unwilling to prioritize the contradictory landscapes, they are each part of who I am. Tim is sexy. Like an actor’s appearance is magnified on screen, working behind a bar heightens the impression of attractiveness. Tim is also straight. His primary customers are gay men. He’s a handsome black haired white man just past the 30 year marker. He has a well defined cyclist’s body with an imperfect nose and a smile to melt a mother-in-law. What he may lack in a fireman’s physique is compensated by his electricity and a charisma you can’t teach. Bringing the grade all the way down, Tim looks best in tight jeans with an untucked t-shirt seamed short enough that when stretching high, he exposes a triathlete’s flat stomach. Not that I’ve noticed... I don’t mean to, but I see people sexually. A male trait, I’m sure. With straight friends, I keep any attraction I may feel at bay with a crossed-heart contract not to infect the friendship. I don’t think I’m wrong in saying that Tim knows I’m attracted to him. I’d go so far as to say he likes the power. Not to protest too much, but me thinks it’s relevant that I’m not in love with him. As with a few men where I’ve sparred against desire, they took it as a compliment. If we couldn’t handle it, it wouldn’t be much of a friendship. To thrive behind this genre of bar, however you sexually identify, you need to have an exhibitionist’s blood in your veins. I envy that arrogance. Even some beautiful people confess they have inhibiting insecurities driven by a sabotaged adolescence. In Tim’s case, I think being objectified feeds his confidence. I don’t make a study of his behavior, but I narcissistically imagine how I would react when someone aims to 80 A
Tim To Fifty-Ninth kiss me on the mouth or thinks it’s his right to touch my ass due to the permissive setting. Tolerant, I’ve only seen Tim lose it when some moron snaps his fingers to get his attention—that really pisses him off—or if a drunk becomes a loud, abusive slob. Tim’s way. He leans in on the bar, eyes fixed on you, pouring drinks he’s memorized, listening with focus and attention. I wasn’t looking for anything beyond being treated well. At the beginning, I came in once or twice a week without routine. When seeing me, I was almost always met with his smile and a giant “HI!” I’d stay. I’d drink. We’d talk. Soon, I saw myself as being separate from his sycophantic crowd. I have a fine-tuned bullshit meter. Tim wasn’t acting for my business or the obligatory treatment of a good repeat customer. This was the starting line for a friendship. Evidenced by discussing our upbringings, his wife and kids, our parents, his singing, my writing, his education, our political views, my mood, his competitive nature. Still it wasn’t the chosen subjects that were convincing, it was our duologue; crossing into privacy. I can’t time-stamp when it set in, but the bar was no longer the common denominator. When Tim’s shift is done he rounds the bar, walks behind me, touches the center of my back and tells me how long he thinks he’ll be. I have to throw my tip at him or he won’t pick it up. He descends to the subterranean office to reconcile the bar’s take. I don’t order a drink from the bartender that’s come on, I just watch the video screen until Tim re-emerges and asks, “you ready?” I try to capsule Tim and myself. It may be as simple as two guys getting to know each other. Stepping through the intersection of conversation, passions and trust to form a bond, translucent but clear. I sometimes look back to a time when
Andrew Sarewitz straight and gay didn’t balance without social consequences. Dissecting my adult behavior, I recognize I obsess over my 1970’s adolescence. It may be true that a child’s personality is formed before the age of four, but the way I navigate my life is complexly shaded by surviving the teen years, having been an overtly flamboyant kid in a hard world. Stating it simply, it was easier befriending girls. In school, a boy would inevitably have to defend himself for hanging out with a faggot. Accurate or not, the guts it took back then for a young man to be my friend penetrated as invaluable. If Tim was gay or a woman, I might not see this as a price above rubies. Since we met in a setting where gay is the house norm, it seems ridiculous I still think this way. For Tim, he probably would say, “what’s the big fucking deal?” Next week, Tim won’t be working. It unearthed the thought that when he quits the bar, I may never see him again. It won’t be his intention, but the dynamics make me think it’s probable. Circumstance effects even the most well meaning relationships. I’d be happy to be proved wrong. For now, I look forward to the half hour or so I spend traveling north toward home with my friend each Sunday night. Separate from our respective lives. Singular and precious.
hot buckle seatbelt tangled hair stained mouth dirty feet wet towel tank top bra strap waistband underwear patch pocket bandana broken shells floor coins fried chicken parking lot pay phone flip-flops bumper dent tow hitch beer cans backseat sand
Contributors Miguel Eichelberger has had over 60 poems appear in literary magazines around the world including the Literary Review of Canada, IthacaLit, Poetry Salzburg, Existere, pacific REVIEW, and The Wax Paper. His first play, Cave, was shortlisted for the 2015 Vancouver Fringe New Play Prize. His second play, Stupid Cupid, ran to 4-star reviews at the 2018 Edinburgh, Brighton and Vancouver Fringe Festivals, and again at the 2019 Camden Fringe. “I believe in poetry as a vessel for ugly and beautiful truths that can say what nothing else can. It can reveal everything in everyone. I want people to hear what it has to say.” Fayette Fox is a writer in Oakland, California. Her debut novel The Deception Artist (published by Myriad Editions) was shortlisted for Amazon Rising Stars and the First Book Award ebooks by Sainsbury’s. Her short fiction has appeared in Night Picnic Press. Fayette has a BA in Creative Writing from Hampshire College and an MA in Publishing from London College of Communication. Jonathan Giammaria studies English Literature at McGill University. He drinks iced coffee all year long, even during winter. In his off time he skates and takes photos. Matthew Hummer writes, teaches, and paints in Lancaster, PA. You may link to his work at scribenswriting.weebly. com. He dedicates the poem included here to his late cousin Stevie. 84
A recovering optimist in the Illinois Valley, Anna Kaye-Rogers has been published in fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. She can be found sitting awkwardly on floors avoiding writing anywhere animals are found. Alexandra Khalimonova has a lot of names and is a Montreal based writer and musician, completing studies in Creative Writing at Concordia University. Kate Kearns is a Maine poet with an MFA from Lesley University. Her chapbook, How to Love an Introvert, is available at Finishing Line Press. She’s polishing a full-length manuscript, whose contents have appeared or are forthcoming in Literary Mama, Maine Women Magazine, Aurora, Gyroscope Review, The Perpetual You, and elsewhere. Kate edits manuscripts at her business, Black Squirrel Workshop, and founded a website called “Chick Lit THIS” (www.chicklitthis.com), featuring first chapters of largely unknown written works by female authors. Bethany Knickerbocker is pursuing a BFA in Creative Writing with a minor in Psychology at Emerson College. Her fiction has been published in Sonder Midwest. She’s also written for the Pets for Patriots Wet Nose Blog and Study Breaks Magazine. Aimee Lowenstern is a twenty-one-year-old poet living in Nevada. She has cerebral palsy and is a big fan of glitter. Raymond Luczak is the author and editor of 22 books, including Flannelwood (Red Hen Press) and Lovejets: Queer Male Poets on 200 Years of Walt Whitman (Squares & Rebels). He lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota. 85
Samantha Malay was born in Berlin, Germany and grew up in rural northeastern Washington State. She is a graduate of Seattle University's sociology program, a theatrical wardrobe technician by trade, and a mixed-media artist. Her poems have been published in The RavensPerch, SheilaNa-Gig, Burningword, Sky Island, The Sea Letter, Alexandria Quarterly, Quiddity, Projector Magazine, Blood Tree Literature, Heirlock, and Genre: Urban Arts. Her published poetry can be found at thistleandhasp.wordpress.com. Darlene McLeod is a graduate of the College of the Humanities at Carleton University and is a writer of fiction and nonfiction. Much of her work attempts to balance themes of doubt and faith, sorrow and hope, grief and beauty. Her writing has been published in Geez Magazine and the Ottawa Citizen. She lives with her family in Ottawa. Daniel Meehan is a 23 year old poet who was born in Etobicoke, Ontario and raised in Milton, Ontario. He became interested in poetry after reading Walt Whitman, Ted Hughes, and Dylan Thomas, and started writing his own poems soon after. Daniel is currently studying creative writing and publishing at Sheridan College in Mississauga, Ontario. Jessica Mehta is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation and the author of 14 books. Her novel The Wrong Kind of Indian won gold at the 2019 IPPY and Best Book Awards. Mehta serves as the Editor-in-Chief of Crab Creek Review and owns the multi-award-winning writing services company MehtaFor in Portland, Oregon. Her doctoral research addresses the intersection of poetry and eating disorders. Learn more about her work at www.jessicamehta.com.
Timothy Pilgrim, Bellingham, Washington, a Pacific Northwest poet and 2018 Pushcart Prize nominee with several hundred acceptances by journals such as Seattle Review, Toasted Cheese, Windsor Review, Hobart, Sleet Magazine, and Third Wednesday, is author of Mapping Water (Flying Trout Press, 2016). Tazi Rodrigues currently lives in Tio'tia:ke (Montreal). Her writing, which is rooted in transit, has previously appeared in Room, Vallum, and CV2. Andrew Sarewitz has written several short stories (see his website for published work at www.andrewsarewitz.com) as well as scripts for various media. His play Madame AndrĂ¨e won First Prize from Stage to Screen New Playwrights in San Jose, CA, earning the honour of opening the festival in August of 2019. The script for his play Five Men, Four Beds advanced to the Second Round at the 2019 Austin Film Festival Competition and the spec script for his sitcom, The White House, is a finalist in the 2019 Pitch Now Screenplay Competition. Bailey Sasseville graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 2020 with degrees in writing and biology. While she is pursuing a career in the sciences, writing will always remain a passion for her. She loves writing short stories that fall just outside the realm of reality, and hopes to one day publish a collection.
Simon TJH-Banderob is a writer and performer living in Nogojiawanong/Peterborough, where he is active in community theatre and the Peterborough Poetry Collective. Simon is an alumnus of Concordia University and is a former poetry editor of Soliloquies Anthology. He is also a former team member of MontrĂŠalâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s own Throw! Poetry Slam Team and the erstwhile host of the Discordia Poetry Slam. Simon has been inflicting his work on readers and audiences across Canada, Germany and the United States since 2011. Anne Marie Wells is an author, playwright, storyteller, and poet living in Wyoming. She navigates the world as a queer woman with a chronic illness. Learn more at annemariewellswriter.com.