temenos Spring 2017
Coyote Dreams A Prayer Manual
temenos Spring 2017
© Copyright temenos, 2017. All rights revert to the authors and artists. Published by: Temenos Anspach 215 Central Michigan University Mt. Pleasant, MI 48859 temenosjournal.com
Cover art, “Winter Runners” by Brad Garber. Cover designed by Regan Schaeffer. Book designed by Amee Schmidt and typeset by Regan Schaeffer, with temenos and poem title fonts in Rockwell, edition titles in Trajan Pro, and text in Adobe Garamond Pro.
A Prayer Manual
Temenos Staff Editor-in-Chief Zachary Riddle Managing Editor Miranda Schaub Fiction Editors Carrie Polega Kenneth Otani Poetry Editor Maye Zerull Non-Fiction Editor Amanda Larson Website Designer Kenneth Otani Layout Editor Regan Schaeffer Social Media and Advertising Editor Karli Henning Faculty Advisor Robert Fanning
Table of Contents Winter Runners / Brad Garber Temenos Staff Whidbey Morning / Brad Garber Prayer for Grace / Rosie ProhĂas Driscoll Bazaar / C. K. Baker To the Muslim Man Praying in the County Library / Evan Wittenbach Husband, near Jerusalem / Tara Ballard Halleujah / Phyllis Carol Agins Cabbage / Aimee Bungard March Madness / Christopher Carroll Crew My Dad Dies and I Concede / Christopher Carroll Crew Ice Cream Man for Matthew Echelberger / Amy Lynn Hess Pretend Family / Reena Shah Dakota Boy / Andrew Dubach Dressing for the Recital / Joanna White Transfiguration / Shannon Place Betty Boots / J. Ray Paradiso Sunday Brunch, A Requiem / Candice Kelsey Invasive Species / Brad Garber November / Delany Lemke Faggot / Jeremy Schnoltala First Aid / Evan Wittenbach Learning To Be A Healer / Kimberly Ann Priest Fuzzhead / Aimee Bungard More Dangerous for All of Us / Lynne Viti Dissolution Is That Bent Tree Culled From the Hillside / Markus Egeler Jones Search And Rescue / Shannon Place Western Interior Seaway / Monica J. Claesson Describing the Elephant / Thomas Farley Miner / Brad Garber Neandertal Songs / Delany Lemke The Things I Carry / Susie Foster Hale Phantom Cowboy / J. Ray Paradiso December Nocturne / Tara Ballard Contributor Bios
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A Prayer Manual
â€” Brad Garber
Prayer for Grace Mine, O thou lord of life, send my roots rain. —Gerard Manley Hopkins Sometimes grace comes not swift and sudden in the burning bush but dripping slow, seeping into parched soil each drop an offering of fragile hope that the roots may hold and grow to fullness.
—Rosie Prohías Driscoll
A Prayer Manual
Bazaar It’s nice to meet you, as well. These things laid before you on the blanket, recently lifted from my repository are indeed for sale, and I’m glad they’ve caught your eye. Some are questions, some, answers; though they do not always match. I offer collections of mysteria, and gatherings of the plain. I offer of the disconcerting, and the unique. So, then, what will you give me for the lock of whitened hair, the stretch of cracked earth split by fenceline, the barn owl’s call in the evening, this cup of tears, that lingering late-summer kiss? What will you give me for my dog, fading in my arms, my sister, leaping from the ocean, my mother’s laugh-lines, my father’s tire tracks, my grandfather’s letters? What will you trade me for staring into the void of the midnight sky? And what will you trade me for judgment, or forgiveness? What will you give me? What will you give me? What will you give me?
—C. K. Baker
To the Muslim Man Praying in the County Library When I looked up from the gray glow of the dirty public monitor, I saw you standing in the middle of the isha, the night prayer; eyes closed in deep thought, fingers splayed skyward as if opening the line between the divine and the worldly. Watching, I felt the burden of my unbelief. You are brimming with light, with holy purpose, while I canâ€™t even decide what to wear each morning. When we leave this world, you will stride toward the light of Jannah. I will go blank, like a book closed and placed on the shelf left to gather dust.
A Prayer Manual
Husband near Jerusalem When he reads out loud, he reads as if he prays. He sways back and forth like he is standing before those stones once more: slipping paper into their namefilled veins. He entreats the electricity of August drought, the musk of wool on damp winter days, and his voice builds stanzas as he rocks. Leaning down, lifting up, he speaks in poem, tastes each syllable on his tongue like horseradish, like honey.
Hallelujah Rabbi Joel is eighty-seven now and gets to keep his title even though his congregation has long moved on—the old ones who knew him replaced by the young and middle, like cells endlessly regenerating. How his father, the orthodox rebbe, would be shocked, he laughs softly whenever the synagogue newsletter arrives, because a woman rabbi leads his congregation now. He’s still on the synagogue list, listed as Emeritus, though he’s moved to Maine and never even visits his other home anymore. But in this small town—at the cleaners, the grocery, even at the place when he buys his supply of worms before going fishing—everyone still calls him Rabbi. Today the men at the dock promise the fish will be biting and the sailing clear, as if Joel were one of those privileged Kennedys, born to the sea. They help him untie the ropes and wish him good luck, like on all the other days he sets out. They even wave until his boat disappears out of the bay. It’s only a little boat, just big enough, with four benches and a tarpcovered bow where he sometimes naps. But it’s a place where he can quietly listen to his thoughts—certainly a privilege any old man has earned. He casts his line, watches the buoy dance, and imagines the silent signals the worm sends to circling fish. Some days he listens to opera. Puccini is still his favorite, although his wife complains that his taste is simply ordinary. “Anyone can love La Bohème, Joel,” she’ll mumble into her coffee, dismissing his pleasure even before the overture finishes. Some days he turns to a baseball game, cheering his Boston Red Sox, just as he did when he was twelve and had dreams of becoming a professional player. When everyone on his block of back Boston insisted that his curveball was the best. But those dreams died hard before the monolith that was his father’s faith—along with the family tradition of rabbis that curled back to the old country, to some shtetl in Poland, back when people knew to evacuate before another Cossack showed up. And why hadn’t others been that smart, his father had often cried, mourning the six million and more that nobody could count, even if they tried. “Listen to your instincts, Joel,” his father forever warned. “Remember—instincts don’t lie.” Joel’s instincts resolved that life on a baseball mound was for him. But then Korea interrupted—where a great curveball would make no difference against bullets. And wasn’t it easier to go in as an army chaplain, he had asked himself, and not as infantry? A rabbi, and sixth generation at that. Today, like the other times he’d take his boat out, he wonders about the arc of his life, even thinks how odd it is that he has made it to eighty-seven
A Prayer Manual at all, when everyone else disappeared in their sixties. His father dead in Israel, the burial society waiting for the plane to land so Joel could close his father’s eyes. His dead father had studied him silently, knowingly. “You never wanted to be a rabbi,” he accused before Joel gratefully turned away. Joel sighs and decides he prefers dreams to his familiar regrets. So after he catches five flounder, certainly enough for any day, he crawls under the tarp for a quick nap. The boat rocks and sways. Clouds hang like gray fabric some deity has pulled across the sea. Where is he? It’s a first, he thinks. Usually he hugs the shore, the tidy inlets always in sight should he, God-forbid, have to seek shelter. But not today. He hasn’t been so careless since the time he and his wife were in the middle of the boat and in middle of their marriage, when the old passion overtook them. Their kids had long escaped, and the door locked behind them. Something in the red Chablis and the goat cheese salad that produced a special giddiness. Or something in the waves’ gentle pounding that forced them to turn toward each other and hurriedly press their lips together, before desire was too easily replaced by the notion of an easy nap. Clothing off, naked in the sun, alone on the sea, hands groping, fingers dipping, words uttered, lips open like fish-mouths grasping at disappearing worms. Passion that had left them exhausted and surprised. They promised to recreate that very event at every opportunity. “I’d forgotten,” his wife laughed. “We should remember,” Joel promised, like he was talking about taking extra fiber and daily walks. They had looked at each other with a memory that was too easily lost once they returned to land. Now Joel regards the pulsing sea. Land is far gone. There isn’t even a suggestion of a shoreline, or a tree, or a human being. “You always know better,” he can hear his wife complaining. “Never needed a radio. Never took your cell in case someone bothered you in your solitude. Forget a compass or a set of oars.” What would I do with oars now? he almost laughs out loud. As if his spindly arms could manage an inch against those waves. No, he tells himself, better to wait it out. Let the currents take me. God will protect. Wearing the hoodie from his windbreaker, Rabbi Joel sings prayers to the wind. When he’s thirsty, he holds open his mouth to catch the rain. His tomato sandwiches are soggy, but he eats them anyway. He’ll need strength for the future.
temenos The day passes, but the rain doesn’t. He wonders what his wife is doing. Surely she’s notified the police, the Air Force, the Coast Guard. Surely she’s lit a candle, said some prayers, perhaps beseeched the Lord to bring him home. Or has she already sold the house? he wonders, making her plans to return to civilization? Maybe she’s taken up with the gardener who has an eye for beauty, even in the form of an eighty-year-old woman. He should have loved her better. Should have made that sweet time on the water last for years or at least imagined their bed that rocking boat. He knows no one will miss him at all. An image appears overhead; something like Michelangelo envisioned in his Sistine passion. Not walking on water like that other Testament insists, but floating above. Waving at Rabbi Joel that this would be a good time for a swim. He feels the water reaching up to grab him. Pulling him into the waves, covering him in a wet embrace. So I’ll drown, he thinks. Not so bad. Kind of a gentle landing. Certainly better than months of illness. And rather dramatic, he decides, thinking of the various sermons this particular death will inspire. His name will be called from bimas around the Jewish world. Just on time, the required whale appears. Keeping half of itself hidden below the water, so as not to frighten. “Come on in,” the whale offers. “Aren’t we being a bit literal?” Rabbi Joel asks, remembering Jonah. “I was planning on an easy death here.” “You have a job to finish,” the whale says. “People are waiting for you. C’mon, it’s nice and dry inside.” Joel notices his hands and feet are wrinkly, like after a month-long bath. “Okay,” he answers. “Just for a moment.” The whale’s tongue makes a fine slide for a slippery rabbi. Joel regards the local scenery. Teeth, epiglottis, esophagus with ancient shadows of enormous lungs surrounded by framing ribs. Finally a deep cavern, surely the stomach. The chorus reaches him. “Shalom, Joel,” the men cry out—ten of them, a perfect minyan. Their side curls bounce enthusiastically. “We’ve been waiting for you!” From their center a white figure appears, dressed for the Holidays. Even his sneakers are pristine, despite the digestive juices that threaten to slosh over them from time to time. Already dead for decades, it’s his father. “Sorry, but I don’t really understand,” Joel says, his eyes full of seawater or tears.
A Prayer Manual “This is the perfect time to have faith,” his father answers. “A perfect time for the faithful, that is.” “I have been,” Joel says in a small voice that reminds him of his childhood, when his father was at least ten feet tall and had glaring eyes like a Gollum and breath like stale cigars. And no patience whatsoever. “I became a rabbi, didn’t I? Even if I wasn’t orthodox, I didn’t break the chain.” “Five generations of rabbis,” his father intones as if he’s reciting the Ten Commandments. “Stretching back centuries to the old country. All of us with black hats and caftans, not a single one broke the rules.” “One has to adjust to the times,” Joel offers. He wants to say that his chosen wife was just too modern for anyone’s orthodoxies. She would have dumped him, for sure. Then he realizes he can’t blame anyone else. “I made my own choices,” he admits. It’s the first time he’s said this out loud and certainly the first time to his father. Maybe being in the belly of the fish has given him courage. He pulls himself to his full height. Like unfolding a long-used piece of fabric, he unrolls his bones and tendons and reaches a full five feet tall. It’s easy to be taller than his now-shrunken, little father. “That’s all I wanted,” his father laughs. “Be true to thyself,” he quotes Shakespeare. The rest of the guys sing together: “That’s right, that’s right,” in three-part harmony and throw in a few Bibi, Bibi, Baums for emphasis. Somewhere a trumpet sounds. Maybe I’ll stay here forever, Joel thinks. He wonders what section of Talmud they’ll all argue later. But then, whoever had approved this itinerary anticipates the next stop. With one large gasp of air, the whale burps like a grand vacuum cleaner turned on reverse. “Good-bye, good-bye,” the congregation calls. He sees his father standing pyramid-style on their shoulders, waving his arms and offering a white truce. Joel plucks sand from his mouth and seaweed from his eyes. He’s landed on an island that seems to be off the coast of Florida. He has no proof except for a sign perched on a dune: Only the Faithful Allowed. Everyone Else Can Leave. He thinks he reads the zip code of Key West across the bottom. But he’d need his glasses for that, and they’re lost with the boat. He surveys the sea. Marlins jump all over, like the old man and the sea. He knows he’s mixing his metaphors, first Jonah, now Hemingway. But he’s happy to settle on this island and doesn’t even mind the humidity. His wife would complain about her hair, but then, she’s far away, somewhere north. Maybe he can send a postcard.
temenos He sits on the sand. Not lonely. Not frightened—not even dismayed. He wonders if depression will hit in a year or two. But, for now, he’s quite joyful. He makes his plans. He’ll start a synagogue—and invite only the snowbirds. Rootless folk who need a spiritual home. There will be a permanent minyan that he can count on and lots of music. Maybe a guitar or two. And a woman singer. He’ll grow vegetables and roses and maybe establish a coral garden along the shore. He’ll invite all the fish in the neighborhood, no matter their origins. Within days, he imagines the face of someone he has loved on every palm tree—his mother, even his father. His children, even his wife. It’s a paradise and certainly better than a closed-in temple. Each day he’ll turn east with each prayer, thankful for the sun and moon. And maybe, he suddenly reasons, this is his own Garden of Eden. His reward for a life of faith and for overcoming all those little failures that threatened for years to trip him. How he wanted to be head of this or that. How he felt snubbed when passed over. How his best and favorite article was ignored. Suddenly he can forget people who had wounded him—like Mr. Barensky, who thought he knew more Talmud than anyone. Or like Mrs. Goldfarb, who never let anyone forget that she was a German Jew and certainly better than the later Russian and Polish collection. For the first time in years, Rabbi Joel is full of plans, like he is sixty-five and not eighty-seven. He’s not worrying about his prostate or the family threat of strokes, or consumed by too many regrets to count. He’s filled again with passion and enthusiasm and, most miraculous of all, with faith. “Maybe that’s the secret,” he whispers to a hermit crab that has just arrived. The crab twists its stem eyes to focus on this learned man. “Maybe the secret is just life itself.” From inside his head a heavenly chorus sounds—led by his father and accented by the blowhole tuba of the whale. A glorious hallelujah bathes Rabbi Joel in illumination. And he turns his face upward to enjoy the powerful light—even without his customary sunscreen.
—Phyllis Carol Agins
A Prayer Manual
March Madness When asked my father’s heart/ asks for more/
to pump increasingly toxic blood,
volume, please, let/ the red blood cells rain down the semi-permanent IV port. But, this morning, the blood hasn’t arrived—
though the sun-tanged bag continues sapping— the motherfucking blood hasn’t arrived. You see, there are two kinds of blood orders, one is type and cross and the other is wait while your father’s heart drinks in chemical flames and watch the fucking game.
A Prayer Manual
no theatrics can move turn long muddy our selves
We know the needle. We adults our questions like a pole in the Thames, angle slightly.
â€”Christopher Carroll Crew
My dad dies (after wrapping, he always crashed early. In that way, not
gifts, her tomorrow’s photo. Worlds I rest my son’s mother,
Under glass, the current
green self-tangling cords, were made to
and I concede stalling, keeping my mother company) Christmas Eve, she is more alone tonight. Our stacked hours, inking family slip in the tired twinkling— my eye next to closed eyes, next to his undersea puzzle, lilliputian scissors. the thinnest metal crumples down to waste, light. We, disappear.
—Christopher Carroll Crew
A Prayer Manual
Ice Cream Man for Matthew Echelberger It’s hard being an ice cream man—no matter on the West Side or East Side on the North Side or South Side Wherever Side even in July with as hot as it gets Out Side. With swarms of children like gnats in the sand swarming the playgrounds with a deep humming buzz the clinking of toy piano calls them to battle to compete for their place in line. Scabby strawberry elbows poke and jab. Dirt like chocolate around their sweaty mouths juxtaposes their bright, vanilla eyes. Sweets for the sweet, he calms them while working to pay the fewest bitter bills.
—Amy Lynn Hess
Pretend Family Kayla Cole hung upside down from the monkey bars and I stared at the flat grass of yellow hair on her thighs. The arcade project started Monday. Draw a blueprint, calculate area, protractor angles. Stuff I was good at. Be my math partner, I said. Kayla searched for Dev who snapped her training bra straps and made her cry. Groups of three’s what Ms. T said. Dev would copy my work and call it his own but still I said sure. On the bus to Canarsie I stole Trident from the autistic girl and stuck a half-chewed wad in her hair. When I got home sister had a seizure and shook like a fly caught between windowpanes. I had forgotten to crush her pills into the morning juice again so Grandma thumped me between the shoulder blades with the splintered side of the broom handle hard enough I had to sleep on my side. The next day was Saturday and caseworker Janelle took me to live with Aunty who wasn’t really my aunty just Grandma’s friend. Janelle left sister behind since Aunty had her own girl and could only handle one extra. I glared at sister who hid behind Grandma and wouldn’t say goodbye. Aunty bought me a coat and a yellow dress and blue sneakers with the ACS money. The coat was too big like a truck on my body and the dress was too bright like a bird in a little kid’s painting. But the sneakers were covered in rhinestones. On Monday Ms. T refused to start the arcade project because the remedial kids wouldn’t respect her signals. Kayla came to school with the tips of her hair dyed purple and when she sat between my legs on the slide I tried to catch a strand in my mouth. She said she liked my shoes and I told her my father bought them with his lawyer money. Other kids called me liar but Kayla always believed me. That night Aunty called Janelle in the middle of the night and said she found me in her little girl’s room. Said I was kneeling on top of her with my hands rubbing her waxy belly. I wanted someone to ask me about it so I could say So? but no one asked. Janelle was too tired and had spongy half moons under her eyes. She took me to an elevator building in Manhattan where we were three girls to a room on a long hall that had a lounge at one end with a television that only played NY1 and a Spanish station with nipply women crying on talk shows. On Tuesday Ms. T retaught area because half the class couldn’t understand it was the space inside so I fell asleep and Kayla ignored me at recess and played banana slug tag with quiet kids who always got shout outs on Fridays.
A Prayer Manual At the new place I cursed and told people that their fathers never loved their mothers. The girls were mostly bigger than me and said the same things I said but worse. Said I smiled shitty. That my nose was a fat fish. One girl told another that she smelled like dead pussy. The other girl scratched her long pinky fingernail straight across the first girl’s face like it was a blackboard. At first there was just a white line but then it filled up with blood and then the blood was a sheet. The next morning we finally got into our arcade groups and I came up with a great idea for a cookie-shaped machine with holes where the chocolate chips would be. In the holes we would put pictures of our heads on Popsicle sticks that the player would have to knock down with a beanbag. Dev stared at the bleached chart paper over the windows but Kayla said it didn’t make sense. I tried to explain. It’s a whack-a-mole, skeeball cookie. She scrunched up her nose. I don’t want beanbags thrown at my face. Not your real face. Just a photo. Still. Dev looked at me. It’s a stupid idea. My face went hot and I rolled back my eyes until my brow tingled. Then I walked over to the trashcan full of black beans and Jell-O cubes and dumped it over Dev’s Pumas. The quiet kids stared at me with tired eyes. I wasn’t crying but Ms. T talked to me softly and I wanted that soft talking on a loop until it went hoarse. I pulled on my elbow scabs just to feel the new skin tear underneath and wished Kayla would giggle in my ear or that I could shake like sister in Canarsie. Touch me, I thought. Just try.
A Prayer Manual
Dressing for the Recital I button twenty-four pearls up the bodice of my gown, smooth the satin sleeves, sit and curl to lift my skirt to shimmy stockings up the curve of calves. My fingers twine a braid the color of a blackbird, fasten purple baubles to ear lobes, paint my lids with sparkled violet, pink the cheeks, flick the bottle brush to blacken lashes. Hearing a ruckus, I open the door to see my four-year-old son pedaling down the hall on his Big Wheel, shoes pumping, rumbling planks. Steering into the back of the door, he bumps to a halt, looks up and sees me. Oh, he says, mouth round as a coin. Are you a king?
Transfiguration It is not enough for your body to become a dark clot of earth beneath ground frozen over by winter or bone chips rattling at the bottom of an urn. If your body must become something other than a body, let it become something more than a body: not a coffin cloaked in carnations but the flesh-pink carnation itself. Let it become a streetlamp illuminating city sidewalks at midnight, the gold locket circling a strangerâ€™s neck, a carpet of glitter on an empty dancefloor, lipstick on the rim of a champagne glass. Let it become the bubbles inside the champagne. I will even take a tub of lukewarm water, the scum that collects at the surface, the clot of hair blocking the drain.
A Prayer Manual
But if I had a say, I would bury you inside the ripest apple on the oldest tree in your grandfatherâ€™s orchard. I would shake you down and sink my teeth into fruit as tender and sweet as your lips when we first kissed. I would break you apart, releasing your seeds from their prison of core to finally take flight. Let the wind seize you, scatter you, reconstruct you until your body never stops becoming.
â€”J. Ray Paradiso
A Prayer Manual
Sunday Brunch, A Requiem Rejoice even if I am late: flat tire or lost button; of course I will arrive, sunglasses a testament for open eyes, the adult who avoids interruption: cheek kisses before taking over the entire space next to the people, that awful family at the next table. Maybe our meal will be loyalty, the kind that keys show gravity in the never-ending night, the never-formed edge, the never-shimmering social customs. My breakfast order: a satirical microscope for our generation; we’ll have the half-stack of laughter drowning in hope, with a side of crisp reality that most whom we know are troublesome, and a glass of freshly-squeezed pleasure the color of not caring what anyone thinks. I’ll leave the tip – the very last fuck I have to give should cover it.
Invasive Species I took a hair out of my mouth. My tongue found it on a tooth, one of the hardest things in my body. It may have come from the pasta or a deep inhalation. I have scrubbed things rubbed things down with bleach. But, I hear that the cheat grasses have wound their way like pinworms into everywhere. There are bullfrogs that do not belong here! What do you do with stuff that moves in like a roommate that wonâ€™t buy beer? I pulled out the hair flicking a sugar ant from the table and tossed it on the carpet where it will find others of its kind.
A Prayer Manual
November I had another nightmare. A pickup truck screamed by rattling on its rusty haunches furious eyes blinking at me. Its passengers screamed, too. Go home, dyke. This is America, they said. As though that was not where I was walking to in the first place. They left me in the glow of taillights, the color of my friendsâ€™ blood when they were pulverized in alleys by good, normal hardworking boys. The truck was headed to some rally in a dead cornfield on the outskirts of town where dark-skinned and foreign heads rained down like confetti or balloons. They drank beers and shook hands to the sound of a childless mother sobbing into a megaphone. I crawled into a rosebush and died. The thorns pushed themselves inside until I contained more branches than arteries. The roots were grateful for my decay. Come right in, they whispered. Inside, I heard dead women softly humming.
Faggot The doctor wiped a little of the dried blood off my brother’s hand with a damp paper towel. Folded it in half. In half again. Then he laid it on the metal table where it uncrumpled on its own and the bloodstain in the center looked like an ugly brown eyeball. It was a cheap clinic. Not a real hospital. “Same service. Smaller bill,” our mother said, and we were fine with that because we knew we’d have to pay her back. In the shine of the metal table, I could see all our reflections, warping and moving like liquid aliens, faces growing and shrinking, heads becoming arms becoming heads again. Everyone’s reflection except our mother’s. She was standing by the door with her arms crossed and a look on her face. After a minute, she uncrossed her arms to shake an orange Tic Tac out of the plastic box with the same finger she had used to point at me when I first brought my brother Josh back from the woods, his hand covered in blood, and a fourinch thorn sticking through his palm like a spike. “What the fuck did you do now, Esau?” she had said before I was even in the door. Josh ran in before me, the branch connected to thorn wagging in the air as he ran. She pulled Joshua close to her, studied both sides of his hand, and put her cigarette out on the edge of the porch swing. “Did you hear me, Esau?” And I did. But even though I’d heard her use my name for the fourteen years, it always sounded like she was talking to a stranger. “Why’d you ever name me such a stupid name?” I had asked once when we were all in a good mood. “I was glad I didn’t have twins,” she said. Like that made all the sense in the world. The doctor asked me my name and I thought about saying it was Mahershalalhashbaz. That’s a real name. I found it once when I was little and looking through the big red Bible my grandmother kept in her family room, so big I almost couldn’t close the bathroom door when I spread it open on the floor to look for the story of Esau. “Esau,” I said to the doctor, thinking that you probably shouldn’t lie to a doctor who was holding your little brother’s hand with a spike stuck in it. “You know, like the ‘Jacob-have-I-loved—Esau-have-I-hated’ Esau,” I said. My mother snapped the lid of her Tic Tacs closed and shook the container two times like it was saying “uh-uh” before throwing it in her purse. “No,” she said, “like the ‘Esau-it-was-a-pretty-name’ Esau.” If she were at home, she would have said “fucking pretty name.” Joshua stood as still as one of the rocks we’d rolled through the woods to use at the base of our fort. As still as one of those soldiers in the boring
A Prayer Manual old movies who are waiting to have a bullet dug out of their arm. He had dirty streaks of dried tears down his cheeks and I wished we had wiped them off before we got to the doctor’s. “Would you like to come over while we remove the intruder,” the doctor asked my mother. He used the word “intruder” to lighten the mood, but it didn’t work. The hand looked too much like a Jesus hand we might see at one of our church Easter pageants where they acted out the whole crucifixion, blood and all. “I can’t look at blood. It makes me dizzy,” our mother said, and bit the Tic Tac in her mouth in half and chewed it up. She couldn’t look at a lot of things, actually. Cat hairballs, worms on the ground after a rainstorm, Smurfs. And me, since Christmas. After she found out the truth. Not once in the eyes since Christmas. The doctor held Joshua’s right arm steady with one hand, and with his other hand he used a little pair of scissors and started cutting off small pieces of the branch still connected to the thorn. “See your mom’s ears?” he said, flirting a little bit with her. We both looked at our mother’s ears and she struck a pose like she was modeling the little silver hoops in her ears. “See her earrings? That’s exactly what happened to your hand.” Josh and I both looked down at his hand. It was nothing like our mother’s ears. Josh’s hand had a dirty four-inch thorn sticking straight through it. On the palm side, another eight inches of branch was still attached. I could see the green and white insides of the wood where I had broken it off the larger branch in the woods after Josh fell on it. On the top of his hand, the pointed end of the thorn stuck up through tendons and bones. It looked like it had grown there. “You’re a lucky little boy,” the doctor said, like he was reading my thoughts. “The intruder missed all the tendons and bones and just jumped clean through skin. This’ll be easy.” I wanted to brag to the doctor and tell him that our trap in the woods had worked perfectly, just on the wrong person. In the woods behind our house, we had set up traps to catch the group of boys who kept sneaking in and screwing up everything that we built. But this day, things were worse. The boys had brought red spray paint and painted words all over the trees near the fort. “What does that mean, Esau?” my brother had asked when he saw the graffiti. The paint looked wet and we could still hear the boys running through leaves and branches somewhere deep in the forest. “What’s a faggot?” he had asked. The air around the fort smelled a little like lacquer from the paint. “It’s like a stick. Or a bunch of sticks,” I said.
temenos “Mom used that word at Christmas? Why would she call you a bunch of sticks? I’m not a dummy.” Joshua wasn’t a dummy. At six, he had been placed in the advanced reading group at school and was reading two or three grades ahead. Sometimes we read the same books. He had just finished Out of the Silent Planet by C. S. Lewis and I was just about to start it. I wondered why he didn’t already know what a fag was. “Okay. Fair enough. A faggot is a bad name. Like calling someone an asshole or something like that.” Joshua looked up at me, waiting for more. I didn’t say anything because I started feeling like I had a fist in my throat that was opening and closing. Just like I felt each time at school. “Faggot. Faggot!” And that stupid fist in my throat. Opening and closing. “That’s it, Josh. God. It’s like calling someone a jerk or an asshole. I don’t know why you always have to fucking know so much about everything.” I could tell that he wasn’t buying the jerk or asshole explanation, because our mom used asshole all the time. At her boyfriends. At us. At the neighbor lady when she let her dog run around and shit in our backyard. But faggot she had only started using since Christmas, after she walked into the bathroom without knocking and saw that I was looking at the Christmas catalogue. At the men’s underwear section where the boys stood in nothing but white briefs and you could imagine all sorts of things. “No!” she had screamed, with a bunch of other stuff, and ripped the catalogue out of my hand. “I will not have a faggot in this house!” Joshua ran in and started yelling at her to stop, but she screamed for him to get out. She hadn’t looked at me, not since that moment six months ago. “Faggot is a bad name—” I stopped and took a breath. “a bad name for a boy—” Another breath. “who likes other boys.” Joshua looked up at me. Kept looking up at me. “I like boys. I like you, and my best friend at school is a boy. Am I a faggot?” “No, you’re not, Joshua. And don’t say that word anymore. I mean a different kind of like.” This time I didn’t take any breaths. “The way mom likes Ron or the way Maureen your babysitter likes Russ.” “You mean to kiss ‘em on the lips? That kind of like? I saw Maureen kissing Russ once and then he put his hand in her shirt. I pretended I didn’t see.” “Yes, like that.” “You mean you want to put your hands inside a boy’s shirt?” “Something like that.” “Which boy?” “Well, I haven’t met him yet, but someday I might. And faggot is what people call people like me.”
A Prayer Manual “But isn’t that gross? Boys aren’t supposed to like other boys in that way.” “No, I guess they’re not supposed to, but I do. It’s just how I am. Just like there isn’t supposed to be red spray-paint all over our fort, but there is.” “So then it’s wrong. Like the paint. And it’ll be wrong when you kiss a boy someday...” I didn’t answer him. “But I don’t want you to be a faggot,” he said. “I don’t want you to be different like that.” He reached out and grabbed a piece of the painted bark on the tree and tried to peel it off, but only the bottom of the F broke off and FAGGOT was still as visible as ever. “I’m telling mom,” he was saying and crying and threw the bark as far as his arm would throw. “Mom already knows, Josh. That’s why she’s been so mad at me.” “I don’t care. I don’t want you to be a faggot. I don’t want it.” And he ran. Running, but knowing he had no one to run to, because I was the only person in his life he had ever run to. He dodged stumps and kicked through ferns and I let him go. I stared at the red graffiti on the tree trunks and had started to peel off the rest of the F when I heard him scream. When I got to him, he was lying on the ground, his arms spread wide, his feet tangled together, and blood all over his hand from the thorn. “You did this,” he was saying. I wanted Josh to be proud that the trap had worked because it had been his idea, something he said he saw Gargamel do on The Smurfs. We had placed a dozen or so branches with thorns across the path, covered them with leaves, and created trip lines of twine near them. I bent down. “Josh, calm down. You’re going to be ok. Let me pull this out.” “Don’t touch me,” he said. I broke the long portion of the branch anyway and the thorn twisted inside his hand. It must have hurt, but he didn’t wince. I helped him off the ground and we walked back home without speaking until he was close enough to see our mother in the porch and he ran to her. “You see, boys,” the doctor was saying while he finished chopping tiny pieces of the branch until there was nothing left in my brother’s hand but the thorn. “When your mother had her ears pierced,” the doctor went on, “it was just a quick, sharp needle that passed through her skin without injuring anything else. If she took her earrings out and left them out forever, the hole would heal over, just like your hand will when we pull out this little intruder.” It was pointless to tell the doctor how wrong he was. My mother’s piercing hadn’t been like that at all. Her friend Rhonda had been over and
temenos the two of them were drunk on Riunite. “How the fuck do you not have your ears pierced?” Rhonda was asking my mother and showing off the four piercings she had in her right ear. “God, I’d fucking pierce my clit if I had a man to see it,” Rhonda said. They laughed and drank more and shouted for me to come help them. “Get your ma a fucking ice-cube, Esack,” Rhonda said. I had wanted to say “get it yourself,” but she’d had polio when she was a little girl and walked with a really crooked limp so I felt sorry for her. “I’m gonna fucking do surgery and make your ma a real woman.” I grabbed an ice-cube from the tray while my mom held a match to a needle until the metal turned brown, orange, then red. Joshua was three and had started crying in his crib. “Can’t you get him to shut the fuck up?” my mother said. “Not when I’m in here holding an ice-cube til my hand turns blue,” I said and Rhonda laughed so hard she spilled some of her wine on the carpet. “God, Esack, you’re a fucking hoot,” she said. “A hoot!” “Yeah, a regular fucking smartass,” my mother said. “Hold the ice-cube to my ear.” I held it to her ear until the skin changed colors like the needle had. The whole time Joshua cried and Rhonda laughed and my mother kept saying “don’t move.” Then Rhonda said she had the giggles too much to do the surgery and it was my fault and that I’d have to do it. I held the needle right above the blue dot they had drawn on with the Bic pen that still lay uncapped on the kitchen table. When I pushed the needle in, my mom’s skin felt soft at first, then hard. All I could think is how it felt like I had reached the bottom layer of a lemon meringue pie with my fork. I pushed harder into the frozen crust. And I wanted it to hurt her because Joshua was crying and they wouldn’t let me go to him. I wanted her to bleed because Rhonda called me Esack and she didn’t stop her. I wanted her to feel the needle because somehow it was her fault that I was the way I was. So, no, the doctor was wrong when he compared Josh’s thorn to our mom’s ear piercing, but I didn’t say anything. When it pierced through the other side, it had made a crunching sound and I dropped the needle on the table. Rhonda laughed again and I ran out of the room and locked myself with Josh in the bedroom. “Get back here you little fucker and do the second ear!” my mother yelled while I rocked Josh back and forth until he went to sleep. For two days she had walked around with one ugly earring in her left ear until the weekend was over and she was sober enough to go up to the K-Mart jewelry counter and have the girl pierce the other ear with the little gun thingy. “Ka-tschunk,” the gun said. And that was that.
A Prayer Manual My mother had her Tic Tacs out again and dropped one on the ground just as the doctor tugged on the thorn and it slid out through my brother’s hand as smooth as silver. He grabbed a new white towel and pressed it against the wound that already looked like it was closing up. While he wrapped Josh’s hand in white gauze, I finished stacking up the little bundle of sticks the doctor had cut off the branch. They looked like kindling for a Barbie doll. The doctor smiled and laid the thorn on top of the pile.
First Aid When he asks you to enter his tent I will be teaching a merit badge two-hundred yards away. I won’t notice. While he pins you down I’ll explain that when bone fractures it doesn’t always break skin. While he forces your jeans to mid-thigh, my students practice dressing superficial wounds. Later that evening, I will find you curled up, sobbing in the back of Dad’s GM. Silent.
A Prayer Manual
Learning to be A Healer Throw copper coins in the well of your mouth: say god. Say the earth is not bleeding. Say the river is not mud. Say fire is as good as any household cleanerâ€”do not say
burning is the same. Say you are willing. Hold your body like a form and do not give it to any other frame. Say adultery of the heart six or seven times, slowly; show me each vowel. Make me earn it from your eyes. Say I am unscoured. Say I am unclean. Say the bucket is for harvesting the rot. Say that when I came to you my head was full of lice. Say that I had nothing. Believe it, anyway. Now that I am kneeling, pray
thank you for sparing this life.
â€”Kimberly Ann Priest
A Prayer Manual
More Dangerous for All of Us In the night we’re awakened by a strange whine, Loud enough to hear through the bedroom window, Opened just a crack to let in fresh air as we sleep. But whether the sound’s emitted from the predator Or its dying, eviscerated prey, we can’t say. A bobcat, maybe—we know they’ve turned up lately Moving east every year, arriving here, close to the Atlantic. In the morning, after coffee, after scanning the newspaper, After checking email, after performing the requisite stretches To keep back, limbs, fingers and toes functioning, I slip outside in my bathrobe and clogs, search Along the garden wall, seeking evidence, scan the dirt For evidence of a crime, a hawk descending on a squirrel, A coyote carrying off a wayward vole that Forgot to stay beneath the snow. I find nothing, no clue of violence. Inside, our small cat is safe. She stands At the French doors that look out to the deck, and beyond, to the yard, that wilderness she’ll never Explore at dusk, or in the wee hours. Life is more dangerous now, I tell her. For all of us but especially for you, My mackerel tabby friend, whose prey is Plastic or cloth, whose claws are clipped, Whose ears are perfect, unmarred silken jewels.
Dissolution Is That Bent Tree Culled From the Hillside A ceremony in the end and still silence keeps company with your thoughts. There I was. In the middle of stuck. There in the argument time dripped, slowed by the drip bag. It was a tree, that sorrowing. Not just a late-in-the-year-when-the-leaves suggest-change sort of tree; a change which-colors-the-veins-like-a-sugar-maple red sort of tree; but a-chopped-down-cut-up dragged-through-the-roughback of-frozen-pasture-land kind of tree; and it carried the weight, the woodpile of your stare. I stumbled often as the hourâ€™s drag took me by the hand, as it led me looking for a path, for that narrow road to your heart. I stumbled into ceremony and still your silence kept company with the trees standing on the hillside where we tried to decide what would be best with the time we had left.
A Prayer Manual
You said that, unlike you, I would find silence again. I nodded, not knowing yet this blame would bring such catastrophe. I had no idea how a person could sit and watch for the end, how the ceremony of it would drag me back to that road, how it would drag me back to those many hours when we considered which tree we could do without.
â€”Markus Egeler Jones
Search and Rescue You leave a map but no directions, a compass but no coordinates, knowing I’ll circle the globe for centuries just to find where your lines of latitude and longitude intersect. I’ll fashion raft from oak bed frame, sail from cotton sheet, and set out to circumnavigate the oceans: the Bering Strait to the Bay of Biscay, the Red Sea to the Ross. I’ll dive five fathoms, into the abyss that dissolves time into jagged pieces of shell and bone. My fingers will scrabble for your signature along the Great Barrier Reef until bruised and bloodied. Have you submerged yourself, like Atlantis, lying bloated and dormant with forgotten treasure? Or have you drifted into the lazy Gulf Stream, where you circle the north Atlantic gyre’s snapping maw? When the waves toss me back to shore, I’ll trace you across continents, your voice echoing from every mountaintop, your phantom touch trembling in apple blossoms pearled with dew. And one day I’ll find you standing in the swaying Great Plains, the scorched Sahara. Your body heavy as lead against mine, I’ll lean close to breathe into your ear, Lay your strange geography all over me.
A Prayer Manual
Western Interior Seaway Nebraska, I, too, was ocean once. In some distant eon of my prehistory, my mother pressed her hand against the swell of her stomach and said
Marina. Weâ€™ll call her Marina. That name has since shifted, but even now I find its traces everywhere. There are seashells subducted beneath the fault lines on my palms. Nebraska, your memory of water has downwelled deep beneath your skin, but the echoes of that seaway will never leave you. I hear them everywhere: in the fields after harvest, broken cornstalks crunching like old coral beneath my boots. When tornadoes drive me into the hull of my basement, the whole house shaking with storm. In the wavesound of wind through cottonwoods, how the upturn of the pale-bellied leaves crests the canopies like silver seafoam. Nebraska, it runs in your rivers. In the west you can feel the Ogallala Aquifer bubbling up to feed the current, some old ocean vent trying to refill the empty basin from below. East, and the creeks still run bitter with saline. The earth here refuses to give up its salt. This is why our capitol is shaped like a lighthouse, its red light flashing across rolling plains. This is why Lincoln will always draw you back. Nebraska, this is how I make sense of us. We are haunted by the same ghost.
â€”Monica J. Claesson
Describing The Elephant In 1985 I went to work for a company called John Gray. After five short years, I left the company with enough life lessons learned to last all my days. And despite a terrible tragedy, I learned the greatest truth anyone could know: that a world exists outside of what we see and feel, that a great power beyond our senses is alive and breathing. I moved to Davis, California in 1985. I came to live with a girl I was very much taken with. Naturally, I needed work. My school and work background were in plants and I applied to two nurseries before winding up at a landscape contractor called J.E.G. A nice woman named Rebecca interviewed me, and I think she was overwhelmed by my intensity. I had just completed a semester long course at U.C. Davis called Arboriculture, and I would talk to anyone at any time about plants. Rebecca said they’d call if something opened up. The next day they phoned and brought me in. They put me behind a mower. I thought my plant knowledge made me more valuable than a day laborer, but I happily took the job. I liked these people and this was a large company. Possibilities existed. Owned by John Gray and Jim Stromme, J.E.G. Enterprises was a landscape contractor with a small maintenance arm. On my own time, I started coming in weekends to help out. Two years later I was their commercial maintenance superintendent, a fancy term for a commercial gardener. I ran two crews and we did a lot of work. John Gray, himself, was a dynamic and garrulous individual. He was over six feet and carried his weight well. His build reminded me of a major league ballplayer just past retirement. He had a temper that ignited and faded quickly. Some thought him a frat boy who never grew up. I always had a new joke for him and he appreciated that. He didn’t treat his wife well and I resented him for it. He allowed mistakes if you were trying to do the right thing. And he was very loyal. John’s partner, Jim Stromme, was the epitome of a hard working contractor. Tall, deeply tanned and muscular, Jim was an authority on everything about landscape construction. You learned when he talked. A very supportive boss, he was always telling us to make a decision and then move forward. I never socialized with Jim, but we went to many trade shows and drank heavily. He’d give you time off if you had a personal problem. And he wouldn’t ask why. The last time I saw Jim was on a late October morning in 1988. I think it was Tuesday, the 25th. Jim was getting into his work truck, one as big and sensible as himself. (We loved our trucks at John Gray.) He was in a bad mood that morning and sounded a little depressed. Not unusual for Jim.
A Prayer Manual He said something bitter, but I can’t recall what it was. I do remember what I told him though, something uncharacteristic for men in a construction company. “You know, Jim, you and John are the best bosses I’ve ever had.” He did a double take, his head turning around as he got into the truck. I can still see that last look on his face, one of puzzlement or being confounded. How hard it is to read people. He drove out of the yard and I thought nothing of the matter until the next day. John Gray was a busy company. In the late 80s, we did a million dollars of business each year, operating within a sixty-mile radius of Davis. We had four telephone lines into our undersized office and they were always ringing. On the afternoon of the 28th, I was relaxing in the office. It was a brilliant October day with colored leaves and a little warmth in the air. I was petting Penny, John Gray’s yellow Labrador. I was fond of Penny and took her on rides in my company truck whenever I could. John once said she was the only female he knew that always wanted to go somewhere. I was seated across from Rebecca’s desk. She was still working as J.E.G.’s irreplaceable office administrator. She finished a call and put the phone down. A strange thought entered my brain. One good call, one bad call. Now why did I think that? Before I could answer myself, the phone rang again. Only this time it had a different ring. Very different. There was an odd tone to it, flat and mechanical. The bell tone was gone. Rebecca didn’t seem to hear any change. But it was obvious and frightening to me. It could not be sounding different, but it was. Here was an appliance as common as a coffee maker, now acting in a completely different manner. I’ve tried hard to explain how strange and menacing it sounded. It would be as if your father turned to you one day and then spoke in your mother’s voice. At the same time, an enormous surge of power washed through me, like standing three feet from a passing freight train. An unstoppable force, completely awesome in its power. What was happening? As Rebecca reached for the handset, I found myself coming out of the chair, almost shouting at her. “Don’t pick up the phone! Don’t pick up the phone.” She looked at me like I was crazy. Standing, I looked on in fright as she answered the call. Her expression was quizzical; she clearly could not understand what the caller was saying. And it wasn’t clear whether she recognized the caller. She put down the phone and said, “Now, what was that all about?” I said I didn’t know, but I knew it was bad, very bad. A little dazed, I went home. I didn’t know what had happened, but it was a mystery I could not solve. The next day I got into work early, as I usually did. No one else was around but John. When he said he had the worst news possible, I thought
temenos I had lost my job. And then he said that Jim had killed himself. I broke down and blurted out how sorry I felt for John. It was a terrible morning. Everyone was shocked. No one had thought Jim suicidal. I met Rebecca later. She was at the top of the office stairs. I said, “It was that phone call, wasn’t it?” She nodded. It turned out that phone call was the first message from Jim’s house about his death. Jim had taken one of his shotguns and blown out his heart. Jim’s teenage son discovered his dad’s dead body in a bedroom and was calling for help, desperately trying to reach Jim’s best friend, John Gray. No one talked immediately about Jim’s death. The coroner refused to rule Jim’s death a suicide. No note. A rumor floated later that Jim might have been having an affair. Did a jealous husband murder Jim? What else might be responsible? Some people said he suffered from cluster headaches. Being Jim, he may have ended things when his condition got too bad. Jim always followed through on his decisions. Months later, I heard a note was found in a waterbed repair kit at his home. A pained rambling about his family life. His family never spoke to me about what happened to Jim. The days after were, of course, mournful. Jim had left a wife and two teenage children. I can’t imagine what they felt. John and his wife found out from Rebecca about my experience and they invited me to dinner. I could tell them little. Although I knew something was wrong when the telephone rang, I wasn’t able to tell what it was about at the time. I got a look and a listen into another world, but only a for a few seconds. Perhaps that’s all anyone gets. Some say the supernatural compares favorably to the elephant in an ancient Hindu parable. In that story, several blind men touch different parts of an elephant. One touches the tail, one a tusk, one an ear, and so on. None of them experiences the same thing and none can agree on what the elephant looks like. Just like the blind men and their elephant, I could only describe a tusk or a tail. I had never really considered the supernatural before, except as a statistical matter. Was everyone who reported a supernatural experience wrong? Everyone who had a premonition, a marked foreboding, a communication from a dead relative, could all of them be wrong? I had never before paid this thought much mind. And now I, too, was a person with a claim, but at least I had a witness. Rebecca had seen my distress. I had panicked over that one call, that one call, out of dozens that had come into the office that day. Because she had witnessed what happened, I never look back on the occurrence and think I imagined it. People asked if I felt anything religious. I didn’t feel the presence of God, or anything like that. But was it powerful enough to be God? Certainly—
A Prayer Manual powerful enough to raise the dead or part the Red Sea. As for the negative: I don’t know if there is a hell, but I would not want to be on the wrong side of that power. In the world I felt, anything had been possible. I can’t believe I alone have experienced something from beyond, and I refuse to believe that power will extinguish when I die. I can only see it continuing. However, looking at the sun demands a price. Two weeks later, my first violent nightmare occurred. I had never had nightmares before, but this was a muddled mess, with Jim’s hunting dogs barking and the sound of shotguns going off. A man with a handlebar mustache appeared. I immediately felt he was responsible for Jim’s death. I woke up with adrenaline coursing through me, panicky and afraid. I didn’t want to discuss it, but I did ask John about the strange man I saw. John couldn’t help me. He knew no one who looked like that. Over the next several months, more nightmares found me. They grew worse and more intense. They were never the same, but they had a central theme. I was always killing someone or someone was killing me. The nightmares wallowed in blood and slaughter. They delighted in murder. As time went by, I began to have two, three, and sometimes four nightmares in a single night. I became a wreck, unable to sleep, frightened to do so. If I tried to go back to sleep too quickly, the nightmares would often begin right where they had left off. My brain was broken. The nightmares waxed and waned in frequency but by April of 1990 they had become extremely severe. I sought psychiatric help and got no relief. I began different medicines, none of them helping. I wanted to flee. I wanted to run from work and run from Davis. I wanted to run to Mexico, deluded by the thought that perhaps I could outrun these terrible dreams. I remember the night before I quit John Gray. My worst nightmare came that night. In that terror I was swinging a baseball bat at the heads of little babies. I was smashing their heads in, one by one, swinging constantly, constantly killing. This grotesque experience convinced me to do something different. I needed to concentrate solely on getting better. That morning, I left my beloved work truck, the traveling Labrador, Penny, and the best boss I ever knew. I moved back with my parents for a year. My Dad was a doctor and he put me in touch with the best psychologists and psychiatrists. None helped. They thought my experience closely resembled post-traumatic stress disorder. But PTSD usually occurred when a trauma was witnessed
temenos first-hand. A second-hand experience, where you simply hear about an event, was considered much rarer. And as far as PTSD induced by the paranormal, I’m sure my doctors never got training for that in med school. I eventually moved out of town, first to Grass Valley, California and then to Isleton, a backwater in the California Delta. No relief. The nightmares weren’t constant, and there were times I could go for days without them, but they always returned. I was never able to explain how devastating the nightmares were. Then, in 2003, I came upon a motorcycle accident on Jefferson Boulevard in West Sacramento. I got out of my car and hurried to the downed rider. He was lying in the middle of the street, unresponsive. I took off my shirt to help staunch any blood flow. But he did not have any open wounds, so I wondered what to do. I held his hand. I would want someone to hold my hand, if I were dying. A woman who knew CPR stopped to help. At that point blood began to flow out of the man’s ears. I knew then he was suffering a deep, internal head wound. A traumatic brain injury. As he passed away, a sudden thought occurred to me: this isn’t as bad as my nightmares. And it wasn’t. The nightmares were far more terrifying. Perhaps, real life was easier to handle. When you are awake, you have some understanding and control over the experience. When you are asleep, you are just a victim. Like that man lying on the pavement. In 2007, I got a new psychiatrist and a new start. He began by re-prescribing all the medicines I had taken since 1990, with the hope they would have better effect, now that I was older. There were also new medicines, ones that had not existed seventeen years before. One was Zyprexa. Within three days, my nightmares stopped. Or at least for long periods of time. I can now go weeks without having a nightmare, and when I do, I never have more than one in one night. Usually prescribed for schizophrenia and bipolar disorders, Zyprexa is a miracle drug. I continue to take it, and I dare not stop. I am not cured, but somehow Zyprexa chemically masks my terrors. The nightmares are not completely gone; they remain around the edges as if to let me know I’m not completely free. But this kind of freedom is good enough. They say believing in God means taking a leap of faith. Now I don’t have to leap so far. In 2012, my parents died within two weeks of each other. I did not feel uncertain for them. I don’t believe they, or anyone else, disappears into a black meaningless void. The experience I had proved to me there is something beyond life and, I am sure, beyond death as well. I can’t plot the dimensions or purpose of the supernatural, any more than the blind men could, with their elephant. But something’s there.
A Prayer Manual I would, however, have preferred ignorance over this costly lesson. It’s often true that not seeing things can be a blessing. My discovery that something lies beyond was based in my experience of Jim’s death, seventeen years of nightmares, and a broken brain. I learned an enormously important and transcendent truth, but one I couldn’t handle. Perhaps, if the nightmares stay at bay, I will learn to live more easily with this truth. Perhaps one day, I will be shown more of the elephant. With luck, less trauma. I press on.
Miner When I heard your voice I was puzzled, the song of a yellow-breasted stone tumbling from the mountain small flakes gathering. I could want more. What wavelength makes the tree crack the stone? When the gold was dredged from the sand of the river it was you.
A Prayer Manual
Neandertal Songs The first instrument on fossil record is a four-holed flute found in Slovenia made from the femur of a cave bear cub. The bone wailed like a mourning mother and wavered like knees under spear point. Its voice a heavenly scream, calling toward concertos yet unwritten. We cannot know what our ancestors composed, how they danced to it, or if they danced at all, but we can see ourselves in that impulse to blow life back into a space where once there was marrow, our tender breathing blood maker. I would not mind if someone stole a tibia from my corpse, hollowed out the middle, and crafted a clarinet. Play one last tune from meâ€” my tomb song.
The Things I Carry with thanks to Tim O’Brien In the back flap of my new leather purse, I carry a handkerchief that my mother used to keep tucked up in the sleeve of her blouse. It’s a very soft cloth made with excellent thread. Red roses intertwine with blue and yellow honeysuckle. The blue border is decorated with small dark flowers I cannot identify. I think that it used to belong to my grandmother, her mother, long before the days of disposable Kleenex. It still smells like Mom’s perfume Wind Song, the scent that carried her into our bedrooms each morning when she came to wake my brothers and me up for school. When I hold the fine linen, I can smell her. I am eight, walking home from Woodland elementary school carrying my patent leather green tote bag that she helped me pick out on a backto-school shopping trip. In this tote, I carried my turquoise three-ring binder that my dad artfully placed a poodle decal on the night before my first day of fourth grade. I carried that bag and notebook every day, along with a meatloaf sandwich my grandmother made, if I was lucky. One day I even got to carry our poodle Cinders into class for a demonstration on dog grooming and tricks. I used to carry Cinders around the house when she was a puppy, until my older brother Mark explained to me that the dog would eventually have to learn to walk on her own. But we all carried her like our baby. She was the youngest member of our family, after me. My grandmother did not approve of getting a family dog. She felt that she would have to carry the responsibility, until one afternoon when Mom came home from school early and caught Nanny brushing Cinders teeth in the bathroom, a supreme act of love. She claimed that Cinders was her dog, so she picked her up and carried her to the deep bathroom counter—where I once sat crying after a nasty fall, knee split open, watching my dad draw the skin together enough to place a band aid strategically. I was five and had been riding my bicycle one afternoon, down Austin Road, when a huge dump truck lumbered around the corner. The noise from the panting truck shifting gears scared me into the curb. I cried into the house where Dad ‘s open arms scooped me up. I carry that scar, still. At 582 Austin Road we picked each other up, and we carried each other, we carried our love and our lies, our secrets and the joys all families keep and carry. My dad always carried a picture of my mother in his wallet. It was small and square, taken when my mom was in college. I think he wanted
A Prayer Manual to remember her as she was when they first met. I believe that it must have made him feel young, unburdened from the complications of getting older. When he fell in the kitchen, Alzheimer’s legs not heeding the correct commands, my mother had to call my brother Kim to come and sit him up in a family room chair. Kim would have to make many more of those trips, carrying the burden of our parents as they aged. I carry that picture in her old brown wallet, found in her purse after she died. I carry her as she was before she was my mother. After our weekly family dinners, my mother had always carried the local paper into the living room to read. My brothers said she read so slowly she must have been memorizing each headline story. I believe she might have been preparing to teach her American History classes at Lexington High School. Every morning at 7 A.M. she drove to work with a head full of discussion ideas to tempt and challenge her students. It was the 1960s and Vietnam and the draft was on our minds. Her kids were wearing tie-dyed t-shirts and torn blue jeans with elaborately stitched patches of American flags and peace signs. She taught them to think and to debate ideas without imposing her opinions. She required them to read the newspaper, too, and tested them on current events. Each year, all her students were to scour the local papers for examples of our Constitution at work, while the country carried on about war and civil rights. On Saturdays, she would take the paper to the basement to read while doing the family laundry. She would set me up with books of S&H green stamps and let me dig through old scrapbooks she kept from when she and my dad were in high school. She would let me help sort and fold clothes. A perfectionist, Mom had a special brush to clean the lint out of pockets. Handkerchiefs and used Kleenex, half sticks of gum, marbles, and money would collect in an old cereal bowl on the washer before loading. She never scolded over stains, even if they were suspicious. Soiled bed sheets were kept between us. At the end of the day, she carried the fresh wash upstairs. Our family was richly rewarded with bedroom drawers filled with neatly folded school, play, and work clothes, just as if they had been picked up at Fusco Cleaners. We also shopped at the T&A on Saturdays. I got to push the cart up and down the short aisles and pick out a favorite cereal and our weekly stash of Campbell’s soup. Mom’s shopping lists were meticulous. No unnecessary items would find themselves in the cart. We would load up the trunk with at least five bags and stop at the bakery for special treats. We ran other errands when she came home right after school—the bank and the Short Stop to pick up extra milk. If Dad and the boys were busy, we would have dinner out at Howard Johnson’s or Friendly’s. She was my best friend and confidant. She knew who I was.
temenos Before I went to college, Mom taught me how to do my own laundry. She insisted that colors be separated from whites, that the best cycle was permanent press, and that blue jeans should always be washed separately. When I came home from college for a visit, I would sneak into the laundry room to put in a mixed load, hoping that she was buried deep in her papers, mulling over the politics of the current president. I could not maintain her sense of perfection when it came to clean clothes or balancing a checkbook. On the days she tried to rectify my account with the bank down to the penny, I would leave the house. She knew numbers, and budgets, and how to save money. She knew how to spend judiciously, a practice that has made me a conservative investor and one who always has a flush rainy-day fund. In fact, I carry a little mad money in her old brown wallet, along with my paid-in-full credit cards. I also carry the card that proves I am a member of the teachersâ€™ union. Mom told me that her teaching years were some of the best years of her life. She never stopped teaching. In her last years, coping with diabetes and post-polio ailments, her classroom was reduced to a recliner in our family room. But she had carried on. She taught all of her nursesâ€™ aides lessons, even when her bedsores were intolerable. Kristy would learn to balance a checkbook and how to shop economically for her family at the grocery store. Casey would eventually learn to tell Mom the truth. Mom could smell a weak excuse from far away. She taught Cheryl that she was smart and worthwhile. She taught me always to do my best and be honest. She taught me to be independent and to have courage, to always make lemonade out of lemons. She forced me to question my retirement, so I carry her lessons into my classroom and my writing. And I keep the delicate handkerchief of her love tucked up under the sleeve of my heart.
â€”Susie Foster Hale
A Prayer Manual
â€”J. Ray Paradiso
December Nocturne The making-cold of sky and invitation to prayer come in chorus tonight, and my ears are full of stars early to dance: wedding bands found in a field by my grandfather half a century ago, thrown upward like lost teeth, sewn into a headscarf like sequins over the city.
A Prayer Manual
Contributor Bios Phyllis Carol Agins has long found inspiration in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Two novels, a childrenâ€™s book, and an architectural study were all published during her years there. Recently, forty of her short stories have appeared in literary magazines across the country. Lately, she divides her time between Philly and Nice, France, adding the Mediterranean rhythms to her sources of inspiration. She has recently finished Finding Maurice, a novel about Algeria and France during the 1960s. C. K. Baker was raised in the Black Hills of South Dakota and studied and created under various university and lay mentors before placing as a finalist in the High Plains Writers competition. Drawing from the natural world, the seemingly infinite cosmos, and the indefinable human heart, he crafts small things of interest at the intersection of science and poetry. He does not claim to write or act with common sense all the time. He apologizes sincerely for these facts, and also shrugs while doing so. Tara Ballard is from Alaska. She and her husband live in the Middle East where they teach English literature at local schools. She holds an M.F.A. from the University of Alaska, Anchorage, and her poems have been published in One, Salamander, The Southampton Review, Sierra Nevada Review, and other literary journals. Aimee Bungard is an artist living and working in rural Southwestern, Pennsylvinia, sharing space with her guitar playing husband, three freerange kids, and two Seussian mutts. She decided in second grade that she wanted to be an artist, and that was that. She lists Vincent Van Gogh, Auguste Rodin, Frida Khalo, Giacometti and Shel Silverstein as her earliest and ongoing inspirations. Monica J. Claesson is a recent graduate of the University of NebraskaLincoln, with degrees in English and Spanish. When not writing poetry, she spends her time backpacking, climbing, and otherwise enjoying the outdoors. She has current and forthcoming publications in journals such as The Tampa Review, Ascent, The Pittsburgh Poetry Review, Fields, The Cream City Review, and So to Speak.
temenos Christopher Carroll Crew is a teacher, father and (extremely) amateur arborist. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in The Atlanta Review, Natural Bridge, Bodega, Grub Street, and The Dunes Review. When the light is just right, he can see salmon in the Cedar River from his Renton Public Library study desk. Rosie Prohías Driscoll is a Cuban-American poet and educator. Her poems have appeared in the Acentos Review, Mas Tequila Review, Pilgrimage Magazine, Blue Lyra Review, Saw Palm: Florida Literature and Art, and Literary Mama. She lives in Alexandria, Virginia with her husband, two daughters, and two greyhounds. Andrew Dubach is a B.F.A. graduate in sculpture and art history from Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. He is a multimedia artist working at multiple art venues in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He has exhibited paintings, sculptures, and film in various museums and galleries throughout the United States. His work is created with a strong emphasis on instinctual process and is primarily dictated by spontaneity, with extensive planning being limited to keep the paintings and sculptures in a continuous state of alteration. Thomas Farley is a freelance writer living in Las Vegas. A contract writer for two internet companies, he has two book proposals floating, and pens hard copy magazine articles. He’s also been a newspaper reporter. “Describing the Elephant” is his first nonfiction essay. Brad Garber has shown his drawings, photographs, mixed media and paintings since 1997. His art and photographs have made it onto the front cover of Vine Leaves 2014 Anthology, and in Gravel Magazine, Vine Leaves Literary Review, The Tishman Review, Foliate Oak, and other literary magazines. He has published poetry, essays, and weird stuff in such publications as Edge Literary Journal, Third Wednesday, Barrow Street, Vine Leaves Press, Aji Magazine, and other quality publications. Susie Foster Hale has been writing and teaching on San Juan Island in the Pacific Northwest for over twenty years. Her work has appeared in the Shark Reef Literary Magazine, The Soundings Review, and Foliate Oak Literary Magazine. She is currently working on a collection of new essays about island life.
A Prayer Manual Amy Lynn Hess earned a B.S. in theatre and interpretation from Central Michigan University, an M.A. in theater history and criticism from Ohio University, and an M.F.A. in creative writing from Naropa University. In addition to teaching and writing in a variety of genres, Hess edits the Gypsy Daughter chapbook series. Markus Egeler Jones graduated from Eastern Kentucky University’s M.F.A. program. He is the fiction professor at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri. His first novel, How the Butcher Bird Finds Her Voice, will be published by Five Oaks Press in 2017. His short fiction appeared in Crab Fat Magazine, The Story Shack, and The Windward Review, among others. On occasion, his poetry makes it to the pages of a journal or magazine here and there. Through some dark years of submission lethargy, he was a stone mason, a house husband, and a chicken rancher, but all those things just pushed him back to his keyboard. He finds teaching writing just as fulfilling as writing itself. Delany Lemke is in her senior undergraduate year at Central Michigan University. Her poem, “Self Portrait as Amanita Muscaria,” has been featured in Red Cedar Review. She is the Editor-in-Chief of The Central Review, CMU’s undergraduate literary journal. In her spare time, she can sometimes be found nowhere. Sometimes she does not want to be found. Stop looking. Candice Kelsey is a passionate educator of 18 years. She earned her Master’s degree in literature from Loyola Marymount. Primarily a poet, she has been published in Poet Lore, The Cortland Review, Hobart Pulp, Burningword, Wilderness House, Leveler, and Assaracus. Candice is also the author of a book exploring social media’s impact on adolescent identity. She writes fiction during her summers and breaks. She lives in Los Angeles where she happily cares for her three children and nine pets. She is happiest listening to Mozart’s Requiem or crafting a pot of homemade soup. J. Ray Paradiso is a recovering academic in the process of refreshing himself as a photographer and writer. Shannon Place received her undergraduate degree from Central Michigan University, where she studied English literature, creative writing, and anthropology. She writes poetry and fiction. Her work has been published in The Central Review.
temenos Kimberly Ann Priest is an M.F.A. candidate in Creative Writing at New England College, already holding an M.A. in English from Central Michigan University. She teaches online for CMU and New England College. Her academic and creative writing explores a variety of topics, from motherhood and domesticity, to abuse, religion, sexual identity, and sexual trauma. Her poetry has appeared in several journals, including The 3288 Review, Borderlands: The Texas Review, Storm Cellar, Ruminate Magazine, and The Berkeley Poetry Review. Her chapbook, White Goat Black Sheep, will be published this year through Finishing Line Press. Jeremy Schnotala is currently finishing his last year at Western Michigan University in the M.F.A. fiction program. He lives with his husband in Grand Rapids, MI, where he has taught English and creative writing and directed theater in the public schools for twenty-three years. He was a finalist for the 2017 Writers@Work fellowship and Beecher’s Magazine 2017 Fiction Contest, where he has a story coming out this summer. On top of writing, he enjoys traveling, hiking, and engaging in causes for human rights. Reena Shah is a writer, educator, and dancer. Her work has appeared in Chalkbeat and is forthcoming in Origins Journal and Temenos. She is also the author of the biography, Movement in Stills: the Dance and Life of Kumudini Lakhia (MapinLit). In 2016, her short story was selected as a finalist for the New Letters Fiction Award. Reena holds an M.F.A. in fiction writing from New York University and has been a member of the Parul Shah Dance Company for several years. She is also a public school teacher and lives in Brooklyn, New York with her husband and two young boys. Lynne Viti is a senior lecturer in the Writing Program at Wellesley College. Her poetry chapbook, Baltimore Girls was published by Finishing Line Press in March 2017. She has published most recently in Pen-in-Hand, Light, The South Florida Poetry Journal, The Little Patuxent Review, Mountain Gazette, Amuse-Bouche, Paterson Review, and Right Hand Pointing. She blogs at stillinschool.wordpress.com. Joanna White has poems appearing in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association), Examined Life Journal, Healing Muse, Measure, Cape Rock, MacGuffin, Earth’s Daughters, Sow’s Ear, Temenos, Glassworks, Dunes Review, Third Wednesday, American Journal of Nursing, KYSO Flash
A Prayer Manual Anthology, and others. She lives in Mount Pleasant, Michigan with her husband and has a daughter and son in college. She has given poetry readings at conferences including the Examined Life Conference at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine and records chamber music CDs including Poet as Muse (forthcoming on Centaur Records). Evan Wittenbach is a junior at Central Michigan University studying Political Science. In his free time, he watches Bernie Sanders campaign speeches, writes poetry, and eats cheeseburgers. When heâ€™s feeling wild, he does all three at once.