temenos Spring 2018
temenos Spring 2018
© Copyright temenos, 2018. All rights revert to the authors and artists. Published by: Temenos Anspach 215 Central Michigan University Mt. Pleasant, MI 48859 temenosjournal.com
Cover art, “Heaven’s Door” by Derold Ernest Sligh. 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 Apple Chancery, and text in Adobe Garamond Pro.
Temenos Staff Editor-in-Chief Miranda Schaub Managing Editor Gino Fracassa Fiction Editors Kevin Thomas Kenneth Otani Poetry Editor Jim Champion Non-Fiction Editors Amanda Larson Ben Thorp Website Designer Kenneth Otani Layout Editor Regan Schaeffer Social Media and Advertising Editor Lilah Galvin Faculty Advisor Professor Matt Roberson
Table of Contents Heavenâ€™s Door / Derold Ernest Sligh
Temenos Staff 1 Grand Sonata / Nan Xu
Desecrations / Jennifer Burnau
A Million of Me and So Very Few of You / Kevin Hinman
Lecture, Early Spring / Jeffrey Tucker
Waiting / Rebecca Potter
Domino / Virginia Watts
Wide Awake / Ron Stottlemyer
Prajna 4 / Susan Currie
The Soulless Prophet / Jay Hansford C. Vest
Air Drills / Derold Ernest Sligh
A Song / Brendan Hoffman
FBI / Laura C. Wendorff
Somewhere in Transit / Jeffrey Tucker
Monopoly / Rita Ciresi
Sugar Beet Harvest / Bill Chatterson
Winter Walk / Jay Carson
Pastries and Lies / Toni Palombi
The Girl With Stones For Eyes / Suzanne Oâ€™Connell
til the end of time / Nan Xu
No Dogs Allowed / Chip Jett
Stray / Ron Stottlemyer
Spider / J.R. Solonche
Prajna 5 / Susan Currie
Obit / Lisa Bellamy
Destination / Danielle Joy Foley
Contributor Bios 54
Desecrations Only then did the room crumble. Water waits for light planes. A grassy expanse feeds sheep to rumbling hills. Sheep awake in shallow dawn. Grass covers the house. A child peers through the door. Her foot hesitates at the wreckage. She fears trespass, broken eggs, live stain carpets. Her body goes in.
A Million of Me and So Very Few of You William arrived back at his one-bedroom apartment shortly after midnight New Year’s Day to find that he had multiplied. He had left early from the filthy downtown sports bar where his friends had been too loudly carousing and drove, slightly intoxicated, the thirteen highway miles to the southernmost outskirts of the city and his presumably empty residence, which, as it turns out, was not. Empty, that is. He keyed into the door, flipped on the kitchen light, adjusted to the milky yellow glow of the uncovered bulb, and there he was, sitting at the table, smoking a cigarette and reading his copy of Garfield at Large. “Did you have a good time?” asked the double, peering at him over the edge of the comic. There was a pained look in his eyes, and William instinctively averted his gaze, staring down at the bag of greasy hamburgers he had stopped for on the way, even though he wasn’t hungry, and hated himself for buying. “You can’t smoke in here,” said William, eyes still locked on his impulsive patty purchases and not on the man, which was so clearly him, sitting before him. “It’s hard going out without her, isn’t it, everything seeming somehow as if it’s missing some vital element? The alcohol too bitter, the conversation too insipid.” William looked up and crossed over to the table where the man sat, grabbed the lit Camel from between his fingers, and instead of stubbing it out on the sole of his shoe, or extinguishing it under the stream of tepid faucet water, took a long drag. Then he handed it back to the man and sat down. The two took turns reading from Garfield at Large out loud and William laughed until tears were streaming down his cheeks. They split the hamburgers. The room filled up with smoke. The next week, William returned to work, transcribing fraud assessment calls, copying legal forms, and faxing check requests to claims headquarters. He worked hard and did not think about the other him that was waiting back at his apartment, sleeping or watching movies or making heaping platters of nachos in the oven. Nacho Mountain, he called it. It was only later, while driving home from work, his mind blank with exhaustion, that William would remember his new housemate, and even then, only with a passing resignation. After all, it seemed to William there wasn’t much that could be done about the situation.
6 temenos The day after New Year’s, William had called up his friend, Tony, and placed his double on the phone. “And who am I talking to?” Tony asked, his brain still throbbing with vodka oscillations. “This is William,” said the double. “Uh, huh.” William grabbed the phone back. “This isn’t going to work, Tony. You have to come over.” “I’m not driving all the way out there. You live, like, insanely far away.” His friend hung up, and the double suggested ordering Chinese. Now, coming up the sidewalk toward the building entrance, William stopped to consider his dilemma. He pulled out his phone and thumbed through his contact list. Her name was still there. He paused on it momentarily before scrolling past, but having reached the end of his contact list without knowing who he was looking to call, he went back and pulled up her name and looked at her picture and tried to conjure up the smell of the perfume she wore whenever she was in a good mood. There were hints of vanilla in it, and citrus. An ice cream truck passed, and William put his phone away and walked up to the building and into his apartment. He nodded to the double, who was watching T.V., and continued on to the bedroom, to hang his coat up in the closet, and nodded to the double who was lying on his bed. William walked back out to the main room. “Hey,” he said to the double. “What’s going on in my bedroom?” “Oh yeah,” said the double. “I was going to say something, but I forgot. I’ve just been really bummed today; you know?” The other William joined them from the bedroom. He rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. He thought it would be a good idea if they picked up a case of beer. “It’s Tuesday,” William said. “You don’t have to drink it,” said the other. William went to the corner store and picked up a twenty-four pack. He found that he did want a beer and drank several, glad for the company. That night, he scrolled through her Facebook page for over an hour, liking old photos, posts, and comments. When he woke up, there were more of him. They never left the house, spending all of their time eating, watching T.V., and taking turns sleeping two to the bed during the day when he was out. William never let any of them sleep with him at night. He was very firm about that.
“Why not?” one asked from the doorway while William was in bed. “Is it because that’s where she slept?” Another entered the bedroom, but seeing the look on William’s face, merely grabbed a pair of headphones and turned back into the hallway from which he’d appeared. Was that one new, William wondered. Did it matter? Space was becoming an issue. It seemed everywhere William turned, there was his leg, or elbow, or shoulder. He had to squeeze to the kitchen to get a beer, which they were going through a lot of now, almost a case a night. He brought this fact up to the group, and a litany of excuses spewed forth from dozens of unvarying voices. “Stop it,” he shouted. “I can’t hear myself think!” He stormed off to his bedroom, but when he arrived, he was already in bed, and the look on his face was so agonizingly sad, it was all he could do to grab his headphones and slink back out to the hallway defeated. In the living room, one handed him his phone. “It’s Tony,” he said. “He wanted to know if I was coming out to play some beach volleyball with the gang next Saturday. I told him I wasn’t feeling up to it.” He paused. “But I was very polite.” “Tony?” The phone was up to his ear. “Yeah. No. Why? Huh. Well, I don’t know, maybe some other time.” He hung up and tossed the phone on the coffee table. “He said I didn’t sound like me. He thought I was doing a voice.” “Figures,” he said. “Tony’s his closest friend. He’s sensitive to those sorts of things. We probably should have given the phone to the real William.” He called therapists and got only their machines, leaving terse, calculated messages to disembodied voice after disembodied voice, voices recorded ages ago and left to loop. “If this is an emergency,” it said, “or, if you are feeling suicidal, please hang up and dial 911 immediately.” If he called back, he would hear it again. He realized he hadn’t been to work in some time. He dialed his office. “Hello?” he said. “I really can’t talk now,” he said. “If you want, I’ll pick up pizza on the way home, but don’t call here again. Please.” After, he found space on the couch in the living room and watched T.V. with the others, reruns of an old multi-camera sitcom filmed in front of a live studio audience. He bummed a smoke. A joke fell flat, but still the audience laughed. He didn’t laugh. He looked around the room, pleased to see no one else was laughing either, feeling validated, feeling less alone.
8 temenos Paper started piling up around the apartment, notebook paper, loose leaf, typewriter paper. “What’s this?” he asked. “My therapist thought it might be helpful if I wrote everything down from the beginning. She said the writing will allow me to deepen my understanding of myself, to really connect with who I am. I told her ‘that’s the problem. I know myself too well. I don’t want to connect with myself. I want to disconnect.’ She told me it could do that, too. Anyway, what do I know?” His eyes drifted down to the notebook on his lap. He picked up his pen, sucking idly on the blue point, his mind elsewhere. “It’s hard though, with all this noise, to really concentrate.” He motioned toward the others, each scribbling with pens, pecking at keys, jotting notes. “You should give it a whirl.” He handed him a tablet, a document already open, cursor blinking, waiting for him to pick up where it left off. By nightfall, he had written several drafts, of which this was one. He woke up from a dream. She was a young girl, and he was an old man and he was in love with her and had been for many years. In this dream, he had bent forward to kiss her, but she’d turned away, embarrassed for them both, that he would even try such a thing. “Is it because I’m so old and ugly,” he asked, “and you’re so young and beautiful?” She answered, no, explaining they were the same age, only trapped in different times. “How can I be free?” He asked. A fish swam by his face, and he realized this dream would not offer him guidance or closure, only fish. He blinked in the dark and, hearing low, droning nasal noises, turned to see himself curled up on the other side of the bed. He fumbled for his cell phone. “Don’t text her.” William looked over his shoulder at his bedside companion. “Don’t text her,” he repeated. “Why shouldn’t I?” “Listen. You don’t think I want to text her?” he said. “To call her? To hear her voice?” William saw there were three more now in the doorway, listening in. “We all want to text her,” one said, “but we don’t.” “Oh, rally the troops, huh? Be strong?” “It’s not about being strong. Reaching out to her now can only hurt you. So you text, but what then? What if she doesn’t respond? Worse, what if she does? Can you think of any possible scenario where this will work out in your favor?” “What if we’re both just being stubborn,” he said, “and it only takes me to reach out, and tell her I miss her, and bridge the gap?”
“And, what? What if she misses you, too? What if she misses you so much that she actually comes back? What then? She can’t come back to this. William, look at you.” They were all there now sitting, standing, eavesdropping. Those that couldn’t fit in the bedroom lingered in the hallway, leaning against the cream walls, sipping slowly from foaming bottles. “To be honest,” he said “I don’t even think you miss her.” William stood up and squared his shoulders, but this was the only motion in the room. “Don’t get me wrong, I think you like the idea of missing her, of pining away, of feeling sorry for yourself. No responsibilities when it’s just you, right? You can disappear right inside yourself and tell yourself it’s unrequited love. And who’s going to say different? Not me. Not you.” “That’s not true. I loved her.” “Then what was her name?” The room was silent. “Anybody?” Phones were scrolled through. A light was flipped on. They brought out notebooks and journals and carefully scanned their pages, one by one, back to front, all the way to the beginning. One bolted to his feet. “I’ve got it! It was Anna!” A collected sigh of relief filled the room, followed by scattered laughter, uneasy and weak. “Anna,” William repeated softly, his eyes lost in the pages of his own ink stained notebook. He looked up, his vision blurry with tears. “I didn’t have that in mine.” A hand patted him on the shoulder. “It’s alright,” he said. “Let’s put that notebook away. No need to think about that now. Let’s turn that light out and get some sleep.” He hit the light switch and crawled back into bed and underneath the covers, cupping his phone gently in his hands. Soon, he could hear again the sounds of rhythmic snoring, and his eyelids drooped in solidarity. Minutes later, he drifted off to sleep, but before he did, he texted, “I miss you, Anna,” and sent the words off into the ether, where they would kiss the lips of satellites before she’d ever read them. The stereo was blaring, and the neighbors were complaining, and William had stopped shaving or showering or changing his shirts. The chatter was a constant stream of tangled frequencies he couldn’t and didn’t care to decipher. He was smoking, and the house smelled of smoke. He stopped posting on social media but still looked. Tony had uploaded his pictures from Saturday’s beach volleyball game, and William stared past
10 temenos his friend, out to the coruscating blue of the ocean waves, a tremendous queasiness in his stomach. He stuffed nachos into his mouth and clicked to the next picture and the next and the next and the next and all that blue. The Garfield drawings from the early strips, William noticed, looked nothing like the later Garfield. Early Garfield, with his sad, tremendous jowls and sagging heft had seemingly been replaced mid-book by a lithely sketched cartoon-eyed imposter. He passed the book around, and everyone agreed; at some point there had been a changeover. Whether or not this meant anything, he couldn’t say, though it was worth noting. He smelled the salt in the air and slipped his sandals from his feet, soles white to pink to red on the hot sand, and there it was, so close he could feel the cool jubilations of tidal shifts around his hips and chest. He closed his eyes, twisted his torso slightly, and dipped in, pressure pushing against eardrums and nostrils, bubbles spilling from his lips. He bent his back and pushed off further out until pushing off was not an option and the ground was deep beneath him and the shoreline was uncertain. He thought about the phrase “an isolated incident” and decided, so far out from William, this is what he was. She did text him back, several days later, a “shrugging” emoji, its upward palms floating by its face in indifference. This message, too, had traversed vast spaces. He swam deeper, legs pumping, heart pounding, his heart, and opened his eyes. How long could he stay submerged, he wondered. What would happen when he finally surfaced? Was he waiting, all of him, there by the beach, at the margin of the water where the terra firma sifted out to liquid absolution? There was no seabed here, only more indigo opening outward, endless. Above him, the sun, unable to accompany him, dimmed its luminance. He somersaulted in ecstasy. A fish swam by his face.
Lecture, Early Spring Afternoon sun spreads white on the brick wall outside, and cherry trees must be blooming below us, such are the levitated leaves and white petals arriving, leaving the windowed view at the room’s end until all is brick, washed in the glaring day and gone like the child I didn’t see last night in the spare bedroom, empty, a sibling my son couldn’t play with. And here I sit in navy hopsack, telling the sleeping class how words matter when what waits for me at home is a silent room, empty as the air humming above me, or the courtyard outside, now that petals and leaves have all blown, or the space beside me in the family photograph we take tomorrow, our feet hidden in tall grass and dropped wet spring buds, waiting for the shutter to snap and not saying anything about how small we look, surrounded by the trees.
Waiting She listened to me. She held on to my words as if they were the best thing she had ever heard. She knelt down, so she could better soak up my stories. Hundreds of brown curls framed her face. Freckles crossed her round, apple cheeks and nose. Her smile was so big I could see her teeth. She smelled like purple flowers. I loved her. Ms. Zott, my kindergarten teacher, stood with me outside the school and waited for Daddy to pick me up. Waiting in the warmth of the Louisiana afternoon, I told Ms. Zott stories, but I can’t remember which ones. Maybe I told her about one of the times Mama took my sisters and me fishing on the riverbank. A big, scary dog snuck up on us right as Mama caught a sheepshead fish. With it still on the hook, Mama waved her pole around and slung that flat, striped fish at the scary dog. The dog ran off while Mama laughed, and I forgot I was afraid. Or I talked about Daddy working offshore and how he got to ride in helicopters all the time and spend night after night in the middle of the gulf getting oil. The best part of his job, though, was when he worked at the shop. My little sisters and I got to ride our bikes there, and it meant Daddy would spend the night at home. I could have told her about my family camping out at Fort Jackson last Christmas with Uncle Thomas and Aunt Debi. We sang Christmas songs on a hayride, close enough to the river to feel its dampness. I sat between my sisters, Gina on one side, Rene on the other, and couldn’t figure out what “round yon virgin” meant or why we were singing about it. When we got back to our campsite, we ate gumbo and potato salad and played tag in the dark. Maybe I went on about my best friend Nancy and how she was from Mexico and how her mom spoke a lot of Spanish and always cooked food that tasted like delicious smoke and how they lived in a house that was filled with Spanish words coming from their television and how her mom always called me “Rebecacita” and trilled the R, so my name kept going and going and going.
Many stories later, she still listened, smiling even more now. She listened to me like no one else seemed to, like my stories mattered beyond me, like she wanted me to tell her more, like my stories were gifts. So I kept talking. Maybe about how a fishbone got caught in my throat at dinner the other day. The bone scratched and burned each time I swallowed. I had heard “Watch for bones” from Mama more often than I had heard “Look both ways” and “Don’t talk to strangers”, so I knew swallowing a fishbone meant danger. While I cried and tried screaming, Papaw Carl (who was over for dinner all the time) dug his fingers in my mouth and got that fishbone out. “Papaw Carl rescued me from dying!” I would have told her. I would have been exaggerating. I might have told her about our last trip to town and how Mama always let us have donut holes on the way home if we had been good. Or McDonald’s if we had been very good. Ms. Zott lived in town, so she would know the exact McDonald’s I was talking about, the one at the top of the long stick of land where I lived, where Plaquemine’s Parish starting turning into New Orleans. I might have told her about how Daddy took me on rides around our neighborhood on his motorcycle. I would wrap my arms around his belly and feel safe and special. I hoped that all my friends were outside playing, so they could see me with Daddy, the handsomest, best person in the world. Ms. Zott was making me a story-teller that day under the Louisiana sun and Mississippi River breezes. I loved her for it. After one of those stories, she gently grabbed my shoulders and turned me around. There stood Daddy, hands in his jean pockets, eyebrows raised, grinning under his black beard. It looked like he had been standing there a long time, waiting for me to finish. With my back turned to him, he had been listening to me.
Domino The first time I slept in the room with Domino, I interrupted her bedtime routine. It was always unpin the hair and let it down, brush the teeth, squeeze some coconut lotion into each palm, roll the hands together, lights out at 8:30 sharp, but that first night, I arrived late. The nurse wheeled me into a room on the third floor of some wing inside Pennsylvania Hospital, and there was Domino under her white sheets and white blanket, her skin the color of the richest, oily coffee beans. Even in a dim room, I could see her shining out to me. I think I raised a weak hand as a wave of sorts. “Hey,” she said, her voice deep, low, an alto. She cocked her head as the nurse paused me at the foot of her bed, but the motion was more like the blur of a saturated watercolor brush across a canvass of dark brown and grey shadows. The room swirled beside my temples and dripped onto my bare feet. “Don’t worry, there. I know you can’t see me right. I am way down here at the end of the tunnel. See me? I’m waving.” She continued. More muted colors shook. Lines of them crossed over each other, joined and ran down to the paint tray, where they disappeared into murky puddles of their own. When I didn’t answer, Domino stopped moving. “That Mag isn’t gonna kill ya. I promise.” Domino’s words trailed behind me. I dropped my head back onto a pillow. The bed sheets smelled sour, like the bottom of a dank well. I missed the artificial floral scents I had been complaining about in my dryer sheets at home. ‘Not gonna kill ya.’ I wasn’t so sure. When the stepped up doses of terbutaline failed one by one to halt my preterm labor contractions, I could tell my obstetrician was concerned. The terbutaline made my heart thump, but the hyper, dizzy state it sent my body into was tolerable. I thought maybe that was how the drug “speed” made people feel, so I tried to frame the whole experience as something cool and hip. A Rolling Stones lyric embedded somewhere within a song from their Sticky Fingers album conveniently replayed in my head every time the nurse hung a new bag of the stuff on my stainless steel IV pole. The medicine dropped steadily over my head in metronomic beats, clear beads that dived for plastic tubing and headed straight to a puncture in a vein inside the crease of my elbow: “Ya got speed-freak jive now.” When terbutaline failed, my doctor said that magnesium sulfate was the next, most commonly prescribed drug of choice to treat my condition. Before the nurse hung the bag so that I could embark on my maiden journey with this new pharmaceutical, she suggested I take a “nice walk” down to
the end of the hallway and back, and use this “opportunity” to visit the bathroom. I thought those were strange suggestions, considering I was on complete bed rest, but I could see she felt sorry for me, and a break from a bed pan was something no one would ever refuse. I grabbed my IV pole and rolled it behind me on the walk. Inside the bathroom, the pole turned her back, a polite sentry at my door. I just wanted the Mag, as everyone called it, to end my contractions. I wanted it to stop my body from doing what it wasn’t supposed to be doing, what no mother’s body should ever do. I didn’t care about the side effects the nurse warned me about, until they turned out to be much worse than I could have imagined. After one empty bag of Mag, tunnel vision set in and a headache so intense and deep I wanted to tug my heavy teeth out of their gums, especially the molars. They had transformed themselves into boulders, weighing me down, stretching and detaching my lower jaw. The first morning with Domino, I could see better, but I couldn’t move my head without setting off arrows of pain inside my skull. Domino didn’t talk too much, but she did welcome me to our moment in time. “What’s your name?” Her low voice asked quietly from my right side. I could smell her coffee, oatmeal and brown sugar. “Virginia, or Ginny.” My voice sounded like a cartoon character, high pitched, as if I’d taken a drag from a helium balloon. It was hard to hear it behind the rushing in my ears, my audible high blood pressure. “Hell, I don’t think you look like either of those. I was guessing ‘Linda.’ Oh well. Welcome to the Hall of the Unviable. How far are ya?” “Twenty-one weeks and four days, I think.” I whispered to try to bring my voice down to a more me-sounding octave. I wanted to turn my head, but it wasn’t really my head anymore. I thought of a bowling ball. If I could slip my fingers and my thumb into it, I could turn it to see her. “I’m at twenty-three weeks, as of today. There’s a whole floor of us here. Anyway, if you need anything.” Over the next four weeks, Domino and I stayed together. We didn’t talk much. I saw her at various distances along the walls and standing in the center of different, kaleidoscope tunnels. Domino didn’t have preterm labor, but she was at high risk for developing it because of her sickle cell anemia. Bed rest had been ordered for her as a precaution. Her doctor seemed more concerned about her baby’s poor fetal growth rate and about Domino herself. There were discussions about Domino’s enlarging heart and her impaired kidney function. Many days, Domino would lie with her back toward me to moan quietly. Sometimes, she was gone from the room, wheeled away for a blood transfusion.
16 temenos As the calendar flipped to each new morning, Domino pinned her hair up, disappearing it under a collection of bright cloth wraps, gleaming the gems this earth makes in decorated fabrics: geometrical shapes, fish, seashells, assorted fruits. That color alone might have saved us both, that, and The Price is Right. Domino never missed an episode of The Price is Right. She would click the television button just as the show began at 11:30 a.m. and proceed to discuss all the consumer products paraded across the screen in front of us. She guessed their prices within five or ten dollars either way, or just a few pennies: A Set of Jordache Floral Tapestry Luggage: $153.00 Suzanne Somers Diet Books: $18.99 Set of His and Her Neon Orange Swatch Wrist Watches: $8.99 Pork Chops: $2.99 per pound Ford Mustang Convertible: $14, 289.00 “Why do you need fifteen cycles on a Whirlpool Dishwasher, Virginia Ginny? What the hell would that entail?” “Now you know you can’t keep a cream colored shag-pile rug clean!” “Ah, now, I just gotta get me one of those La-Z-Boy rocker-recliners in Baltic Blue. Joe Namath advertises them. What does he say? Lay back and enjoy it! Don’t mind if I do!” In between the game show, the meals, the tests, the doctor rounds, the nurses’ murmurs, the bed baths, Domino either knitted or crocheted. I didn’t know the difference then. Dice tattooed in sharp, simple black ink across her knuckles rocked and rolled the hours away to my right, while I held a string of novels in front of my face that I had been assigned to read in high school and was afraid I hadn’t paid enough attention to at the time. Maybe I was missing some really important life lessons I should have recognized in them. This was the time to search for wisdom inside: The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men, The Old Man and the Sea. Sometimes, Domino’s mother, Lucinda, would visit, smelling of moth balls and peppermint. She had lighter skin than her daughter, more of an olive complexion. She seemed dressed for church whenever she arrived to our room, high, black patent leather heels, gloves, hats pinned to the side, carefully applied lipsticks in various shades. That was the only time the curtain was pulled across the room to separate me from Domino. Lucinda closed us off from each other with one forceful snap and tug, whenever she was ready to read the bible and then pray over Domino. She only read sections from the Old Testament: the Creation, Noah and the Ark, Daniel in the Lion’s Den, Jonah and the Whale. The first time she visited,
Lucinda asked me if I wanted her to pray over me too, said she would be happy to, but I shook my head. I wasn’t going to do that to Domino. We didn’t pretend. During my weeks in the hospital, I had to keep a mesh belt fastened around my waist day and night. It monitored my continuous contractions, setting off alarms for the medical professionals at the nurses’ station. If my contractions became too regular or too intense, someone would rush in to our room and hang another bag of Mag on my pole. I saw my contractions as a series of hills and valleys drawn on the paper tapes the nurse printed from a machine beside my bed three times a day. My chart was soon fat with those paper print outs. I tried to think of something else other than taking that itchy belt off my belly or willing the hills and valleys on paper tapes to stay low and shallow. That was the goal, of course, but willpower had nothing to do with it. Domino kept asking the nurses and the doctors and the orderlies and even the person who delivered her breakfast every morning, if something could be done about the sound. All patients with a belt like mine had monitors that recorded their baby’s heart beat around the clock. Sometimes, a nurse or a doctor turned the monitor volume up when they came into the room to listen to the fetal heart rhythm and forgot to lower the volume when they left. At first you think you want to hear that heartbeat every day for the rest of your life, the louder the better, but soon you can’t stand it anymore. The problem was that on the Hall of the Unviable, there was always a fetal heartbeat thumping from somewhere, beside your own bed, in your room, in the room next door, drumming and marching steadily into your canals from the far end of the hall. We were never free of the echoes found in tiny fetal walls and ventricles. Silence became impossible. That made Domino wrap her pillow around her head and rock to try to fall asleep. It made her click her teeth and wring her hands and hit the nurse’s call button on the side of her bed in those moments when she couldn’t take it anymore. The nurse would bring her something she swallowed to calm her nerves. Even though we were all physically together there, on that floor, along that hall, aware that we were all fighting for the same thing, it was everyone’s own journey. All of us stood firm and grounded on our own island. It was understood. It was too much to take in what anyone else had under her feet. I don’t know what happened inside the other rooms, but sometimes Domino and I broke that code and came together. It happened in the dead of some of our black sky nights. Whenever there was a “wailer,” as she and I called it, when labor wasn’t going to stop, when there wasn’t going to be a baby, we came together. It was easier to come together against a sound like that, ripping up the night, tearing it to shreds, slamming the loosened
18 temenos pieces into walls, blasting holes through our ceiling tiles, smothering us and everything else in that room under a booming rain. Many women left the Hall of the Unviable in their own silences, but others, the wailers, simply could not. On those nights, I would get out of my bed against doctor’s orders and walk to the window to watch the lights gleaming throughout the city of Philadelphia and think of all the colors in bars, the neon ones, green and purple, how they shine into the ice cubes in your glass and dance up to your mouth. I imagined people laughing, learning secrets, inventing plans, and I didn’t mind. I was happy for them. I wasn’t thinking. “Hey! There are babies dying up here!” Domino wasn’t angry either. I would look back at her, to her head on her pillow rolled toward the window, her arms straight, stark lines on top of the white blanket, her eyes over my shoulders, glued to the stars, because that’s all she could see from her bed. I would turn back to the bars and the stars that never stopped blinking, that never grew still, that never stood at attention in their separate places in those skies. Stars never do that, and they never will. Domino and I stayed together inside that room. On the nights of the wailers, I know she thought about the odds, the laws of probability and statistics, just as I did. I know she wondered how much longer we were both going to be allowed to keep on, hanging on, together. That is why there were islands. I didn’t want it to be Domino, but more than that, I wanted my baby. “I wonder if there are any unlucky rooms.” Domino whispered to me one night, when I looked back at her. I didn’t answer. Turning back to a city under sky, I thought of Domino’s mother reading about Moses and how brilliantly stark the blood of a lamb would be on top of the pale green paint in the hospital’s hallway, smeared there by one bold stroke of a woman’s hand above her own doorway, over a polished floor that could reflect exactly how bright the color red can be, like any river can. If only I could have believed in such things. If only Domino could have. There was nothing we could do to change anything. There was nothing we could do.
Wide Awake 3 A.M. Backdoor wide open. Houses standing around like mourners. Moon wondered off by itself, as usual. Mantel clock’s quiet, steady drip through darkened rooms. Sleeping waiting with its latest episode of worry. Over the lindens, Orion’s hourglass rights itself, starts over with new sand. What left? Shut the door. Stumble back to bed.
The Soulless Prophet As a massive hurricane developed in the South Atlantic, the caller suggested global warming. The very mention of climate change sent the host into a conniption fit. Everyone in the studio could see it. He grew short of breath, his skin turned pale and clammy, as he looked to scream out at any moment, interrupting the caller with his blunt bluster and overbearing bravado. “Climate change is a hoax,” the host shouted. “It is perpetrated by liberal intellectuals and deluded Socialists. Godless Communists, every one!” The engineer had shut off the caller while the host continued his raving, “Hurricanes have been developing in this area since before the arrival of Columbus. This one is just a media hoax foisted on us by the liberal media. Fake News!” In the meantime, around the city there were frantic preparations underway, as south Florida prepared for another tempest. As windows were being boarded up and orders were given for evacuation, Rut Lumpberger was still obsessing over the “hoax.” His production crew worked feverishly to prepare the studio and get underway. Weather reports forecast a direct hit on their location, with the hurricane moving up the east coast of the Sunshine State. While the meteorologist called it a superstorm, Rut mumbled to himself and rushed off to the men’s room where he grunted to relieve himself of the mounting waste within his massive body. But, when he returned to the studio, it had been abandoned, and there was no one left to whom he could vent his frustrations. Searching about the compound, Rut noticed the chase truck, with its three man crew preparing to leave. As he flagged them down, he blurted out, frantically, “The hurricane is coming, and they have all left me here without a driver. You’ve got to take me with you!” “You’re the boss,” responded the driver, “but word is, I–95 northbound is bumper to bumper.” “Fine, fine,” chimed in Lumpberger, “just go across the glades…you know, Alligator Alley…and then go northward up the west coast.” “It might work,” came the answer, as Rut climbed into the six-pack truck. With the storm surge pounding the Keys, the storm cleverly crossed to the west and began its way north-bound along the Gulf Coast, positioning itself directly in the path of the evacuees. Driving through the wind and rain, the crew and Lumpberger grew tired and began to nap in the monotony of the night. Aware of the torrential rain, gusting wind, and falling debris, the driver fought back sleep, but
22 temenos after all this time, he was running on adrenaline and pretty much spent, as they rolled through the glades, the water rising on all sides. Then, without warning, the surging engine ploughed deep into a great lake that had enveloped the roadway. As the shock and sheer crash into the deep woke Lumpberger and the others, he grunted an expletive in fear and frustration, which echoed across the stormy lake in a massive ripple. The driver began cranking the ignition, but the engine only whined listlessly without turning over. “What now?” Lumpberger blurted out, as the water began seeping into the truck and rising into his loafers. “Looks like we walk, boss.” “You mean wade through this muck?” “Truck’s dead in the water.” Taking the few personal items they had managed to stow in their backpacks, the crew leapt out into water rising up to their chests. Like a frightened chimp, Lumpberger first hesitated to jump from the truck, but soon he fell in a great splash. As he sought to get his feet beneath him, the water lapped about his thick double chin. A sense of danger and foreboding had replaced his fake-storm bravado. Looking on, the driver thought to take a rope from the tool box. After tying it about the boss’s ample waste, he extended it to the other members of the crew, who proceeded to rope up, linking themselves all into a great chain, before they began wading out. They were waist-deep as they struggled through the water, making their way to higher ground. In the rear, Lumpberger’s complaints were a constant mutter, but no one paid any heed. It was not easy going. The driver had to halt often to look back and re-align himself with the marker of the stalled truck. The distant roadway gradually became visible through the wind and rain. It was higher ground, but by no means dry. They seemed to be traversing a liquid atmosphere. When they finally reached the wet tarmac, they collapsed to the roadway, sitting with their backs against a guard rail. In spite of the warmth of the rain, shivers racked their bodies, until each one fell fast asleep in exhaustion. Awakening as if from a dream, Lumpberger felt a warm tug upon his skull. It was not entirely unpleasant, something like pulling a stocking cap down over his ears. He felt a sense of security, as if he was being held in his mother’s arms during his long-ago childhood. But there was something else—the clutches about his body were tightening. He began to squirm, and panic started to overtake that memory of a warm secure embrace. It began to hurt, bones were cracking, and he was having difficulty getting his breath. What is happening? he thought.
Now something was even covering his face. He could no longer breathe within its grasp. He felt a smothering, as he succumbed to the darkness of the unconscious and his mind began to dissolve. He knew, somehow, he was not dead, but there was nothing of the euphoria of freedom of an out-of-body experience. Instead, he felt trapped before his lifeless body. Unable to escape, his soul had nowhere to go, except deeper into the narrow cavern before it. His soul was trapped with no way out. This is not how it is supposed to be. His consciousness seemed to be caught in a dampening field that came and went with the ebb and flow of fear … fear for his immortal soul. With each passing contraction, he inched deeper into the thing, and his mind grew dimmer, until it was no longer there. There was no more, it was simply nothingness. He no longer existed, and there was nothing… Spring had come to the glades. The storms of fall were long gone when Pete and his tech took to the field in search of python signs. They were mostly gathering scat, routine work, but one that created a sense of eerie fear, deep in the python-infested swamp. Even though Pete was a well-trained and experienced biologist, the primal fear of serpents hung on, deep within his subconscious. Any little movement within the brush made him shiver and start with fear, and imagining the snakes made his body tense and tremble. Still, he held fast to his rationality and the promise of courage it gave him. Pete and his tech had taken to wearing a red cedar–puccoon snake repellant that he had learned about from the Seminoles. It was a protection gift from his girlfriend’s grandfather, who used it to hunt the vermin. The old man was the best python hunter in the glades, and he made a good living harvesting the beasts and selling the meat as Burmise Chicken. As Pete sifted through the droppings, his thoughts drifted. Then, he caught a glimpse of something odd, the glint of sunlight on what looked to be black glass. He became focused as he examined the oddity. It looked like a kind of black obsidian pellet, confined within the snake’s scat. What is this? he thought. Obsidian in snake droppings, here in the Everglades? How can this be? Scrambling to his feet, he frantically began removing his rucksack. He tore at the straps, opening it in mid-flight as he brought it to ground. Hastily, he grasped the samples that he had collected earlier and catalogued in clear plastic bags. There were quite a few of them by this time, since he and his tech had been collecting the scat for most of the day. Examining each one, he discovered a few more black obsidian pellets. Three, in fact, counting his most recent find. Excitedly, he called out to his tech, “Its time to get back to the lab—let’s get out of here.”
24 temenos Energized by finding the pellets in the python’s droppings, Pete settled into his analysis. He tried to chip a sample, but the pellets were hard, smooth and black, looking much like obsidian. How could this volcanic rock have found its way here to south Florida? Much less into the digestive track of a python? Carefully, he began weighing each one and was astonished by the results. Twenty-one grams. Each pellet weighed exactly twenty-one grams. Where have I heard that number before? These findings were elusive and troubling. He had no idea what the weight of twenty-one grams meant, but the number gave him pause. The pellets were also too hard to sample without a diamond drill, and he felt compelled not to alter them. He intended to keep these samples pristine. There was something about them, something about the whole thing that haunted him. When Becky, his tech, arrived fresh from stowing their field gear, she promptly asked, “Did you find anything?” “Nothing, apart from the fact that each pellet weighs precisely twentyone grams.” “Weight of the soul.” “Excuse me?” “Twenty-one grams is the weight of the soul. I had a religion class back at the University, and my professor explained it when lecturing on the mythology of death and dying. Something about studies made back in the thirties. They found that after death, each cadaver weighed twenty-one grams less than when it was living. It’s the weight of the soul.” “Let’s look it up.” Sure enough, when the search results popped up on the screen, an entry affirmed all that Becky had been saying. Twenty-one grams is the reported weight of the soul, it read. Astonishing, he thought. “You need to speak with old Uncle. He knows something about these things.” “Can we go see him now? I’m not getting anywhere with this analysis.” “We can go out there, but don’t forget to bring the tobacco.” “Good enough. Let’s go.” Along the way, they made a stop at a specialty tobacco shop to purchase some organic blend, and Pete also hit an ATM to withdraw some funds to cover the old man’s consulting fee. “You are learning,” remarked Becky. Pete greeted the old man, politely offering the tobacco with the money, and saying,“Grandfather, I have a question for you. See these chips? We found them within python droppings. Can you tell us what they are?”
Without a word, the old man rose to his feet and went into another room. He had gone to fetch something from his medicine bundle, and on his return, he opened a small pouch and retrieved a handful of similar, but much smaller, stones. All were shiny, black, hard and slick like glass, and Pete’s eyes grew large at the sight. The old man began his story. “It was in the time when I was a much younger man, a man like you, and I stalked the glades to hunt, fish, trap in making my living. Always we sang the songs and made right with the spirits. It had been our way from time immemorial. We were grateful for all that the spirits gave us, and life was good, as it had always been here in the glades. “It was then, a great and fierce storm came. It hit the city hard, tearing the roof off a warehouse near the airport. The old people called it a Thulawana—the great water-bearing bird that comes up from the Atlantic from time to time—bringing winds and waters to replenish the air and fill the glades. The Thulawana will carry it with all manner of vermin. It is said, in the long ago time, this is how the vermin came to our lands. But this time, it brought something else, something so foreign and so dangerous that we all, even the spirits, live in fear for our souls. It brought a beast to our land, an ancient evil from far away. A beast to devour the spirits native to our glades. “We hunt this beast for meat but we do not sing its songs. It is vermin, alien to our glades, and we want no more of it taking our spirits. We find these slick black pellets in its droppings. These are the souls of animals. It renders its victims soulless, and we are helpless to save the spirits of our world. It is a great evil. The souls are lost for all time. You have found it devours men too. “Once, my nephew and I found four engorged pythons, each one having devoured a person of this world. When we opened them, they each released an orange transparent disc—light it was—that floated into the sky. My nephew recognized the little girl as one of his classmates. The others were her parents and little brother. We freed their souls before it was too late. Sometimes, we see these same lights, only smaller, when we open the beasts. These are the souls of animals that we have set free to live again. “The python is the soul-eating beast that has come to our land. It consumes our nature—our brothers and sisters—the spirits, our relations from the long ago time. It is making our glades soulless—dead to our people—and there are fewer and fewer of us to sing the spirit songs necessary to make the world whole again. “We may all soon vanish.”
26 temenos Sipping the old man’s coffee, Pete and Becky waited politely before taking their leave. In the silence they shared, each of them was aware of the great insight the old man had given them, and in respect they held back their words, to savor the wisdom before leaving. As they took their seats in the truck, Pete broke the silence. “Those hunters have just returned from the glades, let’s ask them about the pellets.” Rut Lumpberger and his crew of three had gone missing during the storm. Responding to the sheriff, the Fish and Game Commission had earlier issued a bulletin to all its field personnel. Everyone was directed to search for the radio host and his crew during their ordinary excursions within the glades. Pete had seen the memos and thought it hopeless, but then, he wasn’t a Rut fan either. He hadn’t thought much about the disappearances, until he had discovered the obsidian-like pellets and heard the lore of old Uncle and the Seminole hunters. Now, he was not so sure. On seeing the bulletin again, he began to speculate on Lumpberger’s fate. Becky observed him studying the notice. “Do you suppose ole Rut is one of those chips?” “You’re reading my mind today. I guess you Seminoles have a talent for that sort of thing.” “The lore seems to match the facts.” “Well, there is only one way to find out. Let’s see if we can get a DNA sample from these pellets.” “You said you needed a diamond drill to get a fragment from one of those things.” “Yeah, but we can take them to a jeweler I know, and he can get us samples to send into the state office.” “You’ve got them marked and cataloged?” “Let’s see what we have here.” Together, they rushed across town to the jeweler’s, and asked him to gather samples from each of the pellets that they had recovered in the glades. The jeweler made quick work of it. Afterwards, they prepared the samples for shipment to the state crime lab, requesting a comparison DNA test with the known Lumpberger sample on file. It was an anxious two weeks while they awaited the test results. When Pete tore open the envelope, he was thrilled to learn that the lab had a hit on one of the samples and astonished to read that Lumpberger’s DNA matched one of the chips. The lab had confirmed his speculation. “You know, Becky, I can’t think of a better fate for that soulless creature.” Nodding, with a wry smile, she agreed, “He was a soulless prophet of doom, and none of the people will sing for him.”
—Jay Hansford C. Vest
Air Drills I took a shortcut through the rice paddies to the little district of Pyeongsa, the stubble of already harvested rice, only matted down hay-like shafts remained. North Korea has launched one, now two, missiles over Japan. The South is readying for war— fighter jets ripping white holes through blue sky. I’m not sure who was in the lead— my heart or my head— but when I lifted my chin, my eyes followed. I expected to see formations and maneuvers, barrel rolls and nose dives. Instead, the sky was empty outside of two crows flapping sloppily through a moderate breeze. Their feathers were frayed as they struggled through uncomfortable altitudes. Maybe the sound of the engines inspired them to fly a little higher. Or maybe they were simply afraid, fleeing from what seemed to be the sound of their own wings.
—Derold Ernest Sligh
A Song when sad winter takes hold of the world and silly maidens of ice undress on walls of brick America appears frightening. wild bandits carrying six shooters/ holding the masses/swing their confident manifestos regarding the law of ice for all to see. the antecedent of spring is upon us fall carries its lies and false apologies somewhere far off subtle porcupines and other bashful rodents search for shelter in bunkers beneath the earth. crucifixes buried beneath the snow glow and give light to the pavement you can see them like old embers softly blistered. contrition is absent in these frigid months. clank clank pop sizzle BANG cities, so full of sound full of its own thoughts inside//out bacon wrapped burgers are set before us 2 cokes 2 napkins
Unknown Realms windows are foggy on repeat like the livestock of season we are fattened in barns with heavy light burning light bulbs are the sun for now. People shuffle snow boots through the sludge going to work a symphony of crunch dribble dribble fiddle fiddle the moon is still out the smell of cigarettes excel the morning curiosity strong coffee sits in pots waiting to be swallowed by sleepwalkers. the headless hessian and nosferatu are asleep slapping their lips lazily in coffins. we are calm hostages sitting in restaurants and laundromats waiting patiently for some splendor again phaedra and theseus bicker their bitter lack of satisfaction sharing smokes outside the bakery. America is asleep unable to hear. so i made a snow angel
FBI My second cousin is visiting. Nice woman. Brought her boyfriend: brown, bald, pointed beard, the twin of W.E.B. DuBois only heavier. At breakfast he strolls in casual-like. Wears a white T-shirt with FBI in big black letters on the front. In smaller letters beneath: FEMALE BODY INSPECTOR TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO.
I experience a moment of Double Consciousness looking at myself through the eyes of this boyfriend and his black shirt. The personal is political, they used to say, so I strip off my T-shirt and bra for inspection: Surprise! Fat, flaccid breast on the right, flat, lumpy nothing on the left. Take it or leave it, I say (which is what I said to the surgeon, in Dubuque, where I left it behind in a lab.)
Unknown Realms The boyfriend winces. Remains silent. Wait! I can do more, I insist! I peel back skin, fat, and muscle. I peel all of it away, all the way down to white bones where I am truly naked, and finally ready for inspection. What do you see under my skin? I ask. In the background W.E.B. DuBois crosses his arms, and nods.
â€”Laura C. Wendorff
Somewhere in Transit 1. This sky, a press, begins above longleaf pines arched into rising heat. It blues upon itself before paling. I run alongside the welding plant, its craning vents like lungs wheezing into grassy fallow. A steam whistle, like a nesting cardinal. I go on. Sticky streets simpering dog-day mist, inhaled smelter dust. Thunderstorms hide in plain sight. 2. I wake. Next to me, my wife still sleeps, sucking stale breath down a reedy throat, tacky mouth rigored open. Skin a dim olive, eyelids dark and drawn. Iâ€™ve forgotten who we are, where we sleep. I cannot move. A fugitive wheezes in my ear.
Unknown Realms 3. Green fennel cloys on hands after cotton-filled stalksâ€™ quick-cracking. The lichen. Rattlesnakes dodge nettle hand in glove with coyotes that eat my cats. White sage, prickly pear, beer cans rusting. The yellow finches, the sparrows brown as initials carved in cactus paddles. My lungs are too clean, living Southernly where people smoke instead of the landscape. Blow, Santa Anas. Blow and burn
Monopoly Nobody wants to be the hat or the shoe. Your sisters take the dog, the car, the battleship. Your boy cousin is the cannon. Sometimes you’re the thimble. Other times, the iron. You’re the youngest, so whatever’s left over is what you get. Monopoly gets played on the living room floor on cold, drizzly Saturdays and snowy Sundays. The board is faded and scotch taped at the crease. Your sisters’ rule— not printed on the official rule card—is when the dice get caught in the scotch-taped crease and the player doesn’t like the number, she can choose to roll again. Your sisters and boy cousin aim for the scotch tape, every time. But you’re too stunod to figure out why they do this. Your boy cousin has a hmm-dinger and you have just a weewee. Since there is more of him than of you, he gets to be the banker. Your sisters keep their eyes on him as he counts out the money. He knows he won’t get away with any funny business on the big bills—the mustard-colored 500s, gold 100s, blue 50s. It’s when he gets down to the green 20s, yellow 10s, pink 5s, and pathetic white 1s—that he tries to pull a fast one. He gives you cinque when he should give you sei. He shorts you with nove instead of dieci. Your sisters holler at him. Ma threatens to take the game away—and give you all a good polyod with a wooden spoon—if you don’t play nice. She doesn’t get that there’s nothing nice about Monopoly. The object of Monopoly is to be a real ‘merigan and buy as much as possible—more properties, more tiny green houses, more huge red hotels. While your sisters and boy cousin swoop up whatever they land on, when it’s your turn to go, you pray to Jesus, Mary, and Joseph that you won’t roll quattro and land on Income Tax. You pray for sei, or otto, or nove, which will land you on the Celestes—the sky blue of Oriental, Vermont, and Connecticut.
Since you pass up every railroad you land on and every utility—and only buy the properties whose colors you think are prettiest—and spend endless turns sitting in JAIL with the skinny man whose bony hands clutch the prison bars—you’re always the first to go bankrupt. Which suits you fine, because then you can go sit closer to the radiator and dream of someday living, not in a cold drafty house in Connecticut, but in a warm casa back on Mediterranean Avenue where you belong.
Sugar Beet Harvest October Winters knife cutting the air Midnight trucks Dredging sweet tumors lifting The shrunken dirty skulls To conveyors Behind, harvesters blind cutting wheels Trucks rumble off Overweight and overfilled Dribbling a few beets In the curves Twenty four hours a day, They run D.O.T. looking the other way Hundreds of white tail deer swarm in After the furrows are trenched out and left They dine on Sweet summer unearthed, forgotten The sky, cooling Moonless and star dim
Winter Walk I crush the dead red leaves of fall underfoot, their blood spatter a reminder of the violence of coming winter, so much loss, so well accepted. An extinction prepared with continuing, aging: We cross arms; we turn backs; we close coffins. We live the life out of each other: make our beating hearts dead to our fellows. I think of Oscar Wilde: For all men kill the thing they loveâ€Ś Also underfoot, a curiously perfect bird dropping outlining a prehistoric beast, cold winter white dinosaur.
Pastries and Lies She noticed his eyes first. They were the color of the yellow amber found on the shores of the Baltic Sea. He was the pastry chef at a bakery where she worked. For three generations, the bakery had sat on the river, serving a Mediterranean city with a wild passion for food. Early one morning, she visited his kitchen to collect a new batch of pastries. He pulled a sweet date tarte from the oven and placed it on the counter. The aroma of pistachio and warm honey sweetened the air. A cigarette hung from the corner of his mouth. As he cut the tarte into slices, he began to tell her a story. Years ago, he had left his home country with his wife and children, to migrate to a distant land. It was difficult for his wife. She missed her family: her mother, siblings, nieces, nephews. Her new home was surrounded by unfamiliar waters and a language her tongue would never speak. She felt alienated. Their children, on the other hand—curious, intelligent, and full of wonder—thrived in their new home. At first, he understood the difficulties his wife encountered. “It is hard to move to a new country, to set up your life in a place where not even the air is familiar,” he said. As time passed, her unhappiness grew. Strangled by homesickness, she spoke of her loneliness and isolation. Her husband was running out of patience. But he did not let this show. Instead, he spoke to her sweetly. They would move back home, he said, for he could not bear to see her so unhappy. She was thrilled to return to her homeland, and to have a husband who was so attentive to her needs. As it was half-way through the school term, he suggested that she return immediately, and he would follow once the children had finished school. He did not want to disrupt their studies by telling them about the permanent move; all that could be explained during the school holidays. Though she would miss her children terribly, she decided to return alone; after all, they would be reunited in a few short months. He stopped the thread of his story when an elderly woman appeared next to him with a tray of almond biscuits. Her white apron, smeared with honey and flour, covered her petite frame. The old woman’s eyes, softened by decades of seeing, lingered on her. Her kind face smiled generously as she placed the tray on the counter. As she shuffled away in her slipper-clad feet, he returned to his story.
After his wife left, he disappeared from his former life. He told his children, who had been moved to a new school in a new city, that their mother had abandoned them. As she watched his hands artfully arrange each piece of the pastry, she wondered what had provoked him to suddenly reveal his past. “Of course, they cried a lot, because they believed their mother didn’t love them. It was hard for them, but they knew they could always rely on me.” He searched her young face for a reaction, his unblinking eyes sparkling with pleasure. She held his gaze; looking away felt like a betrayal to his wife. The children were eventually reunited with their mother, but by that time, sadness and anger towards her had formed deep grooves in their young lives. Their history, a tale woven with lies, followed them like a shadow into adulthood. He smiled as he continued to reminisce. “Who do you think my children love more—their mother or me?” He handed her the plate of sweets, the remnants of a smile still lingering on his lips. His wordless silence signaled the story had come to an end. He turned toward the older woman, whose hands were kneading lemonscented dough. Soon, the silence was filled with the gentle echoes of an ancient language.
The Girl With Stones For Eyes Touch this dress. None of the swimmers know you. Can you recognize the clothing? Run your fingers over the nap. Maybe the smell on the jacket will move you. Can you speak girl? Description: Hair black as blood. Face, pink as a kitten’s belly. Lips red as plum blossoms. Once I knew a girl like you. She crawled from the salty sea. Her lips couldn’t form her own name. The sea, too wild for a young one, had its way with her. After, it was said she was discardable. Once I knew a girl like you. She had stones for eyes. That girl drowned. On dry land.
til the end of time
No Dogs Allowed The little black kitten, dark as sin from tip to tail, was born, dead, in a pile of old newspapers, on our back porch. The mother, a stray we found one evening while throwing out moving boxes at the dump, died giving birth. Heather decided to call the kitten Nancy. She lay still and quiet, her lifeless body the only testament that her mother had ever known love (or whatever cats call it). If Nancy had any brothers or sisters, they never made it into the world. We buried her mother by the children’s swings, in the rain, and marked the little grave with a popsicle stick that was gone by morning. She had no name. Our daughter, Jennifer, refused to accept that both were dead, even as I buried the stray. “Here, kitty, kitty. Here, Nancy,” she cried as she rubbed the dead kitten, for what seemed like hours, until, at last, the kitten stirred. It’s tail twitched and its mouth opened. There was no sound, yet the resilient kitten searched for life, for food, for her mother. Jennifer, as determined as the kitten, found a dropper she had once used in a project she made for a science fair in which she had placed third. “I’ll win it next year,” she said at the time. The next year, she took first prize. With the dropper and with time, Jennifer resurrected the little kitten. We never questioned that Nancy had been born dead; we never marveled that her life had not begun until hours after her arrival. She was our miracle kitty, sure, and the significance of the time she spent between life and death did not register with us. Jennifer was happy, and that was all that mattered. We bought Nancy a red collar and tag to contrast her black fur, and she became one of the family. Nancy’s loyalty grew faster than her tiny little body, which remained small and delicate. “She’s the runt,” Jennifer would explain, and we didn’t argue. Nancy followed each of us from room to room in the house. She sat on the counter, near the red-hot eye of the stove, while Heather made meals. Nancy sat with me as I worked, often late into the night, on lesson plans or grading papers. She slept on Jennifer’s bed, on her pillow in fact. Jennifer was no infant, of course, but the myth that cats steal the breath of children crossed my mind more than once. But we knew better; Nancy was glad to be alive, and she loved her new family. From her, we had nothing to fear. Jennifer least of all. At six months old, Nancy began walking with Jennifer across the field to Heather’s parents’ house. It wasn’t much of a walk—maybe a quarter of a mile at the most - but for the little kitten, it must surely have seemed like the walk up Calvary Hill. Nancy and Jennifer made the trek, though,
through a field of grain, past a pond full of catfish, and close to the property of a neighbor whose name we did not know. It was with this neighbor’s dog we would soon have conflict. We were in the country, as they say, so there was nothing to fear from the evils of men. But dogs were something else. The neighbor had recently purchased a puppy. It was small, but puppies do grow. We knew we would have to come to an understanding when the beast reached maturity. Until then, the mongrel pup (Killer, we later learned from a disembodied dog tag, was his name) practiced his tactics on our daughter from the day he arrived to live with our nameless neighbor. Jennifer was a thoughtful child and often walked the quarter of a mile across the pasture to visit her grandparents. Nancy, thoughtful herself of those she loved, tagged along every time. Killer barked and growled and ran the fence as the pair walked past. For a time, it was of no concern; just a little dog rehearsing its role for the hellhound he would one day become. But eventually, as time wore on, Killer became more and more intimidating, and Jennifer began to fear for herself and her sweet little kitty. It was on one such outing, a trip to Grandmother’s house, that Nancy the cat reached her limit. Killer, by this time the size of a small bear, brought thunder to the fence as Jennifer and Nancy skirted past. Jennifer screamed, dropped her phone, and ran from the hellish beast. When she was a safe distance away, she turned in time to see Nancy slip through the barbed wire that kept Killer safely at bay. “No!” Jennifer had screamed, but it was too late; Nancy had crossed to the other side. For a moment, all Jennifer could see was Nancy’s long, black tail twitching above the weeds. It stood firm in the summer breeze. A low growl came from somewhere in the clover and honeysuckle close to the dog. Killer stopped barking. He hadn’t made the new noise. The dog eyed the tail that now stood still as a radar locked onto a target. Killer’s ears cocked forward and a high-pitched whine began somewhere in his throat. His head moved from side to side and he stumbled backward, clumsy with fear. Finally, in a burst of speed and with loud whimpers, Killer turned and ran for the safety of his own front porch. It was then that Jennifer saw Nancy, hissing and growling, rush from the brush and chase the dog to the hiding place where he still cowered, Jennifer said, even as she and Nancy made the walk back home a few hours later. Time marched on, and Jennifer still visited her grandparents’. Killer always came out to take a look. Nancy’s ears would flatten, and the rumble that shook her chest was no purr. Each time, without fail, Killer chose the wiser path and only watched the girl and her cat pass his fence. He lived to see another day. For a while, anyway.
44 temenos Despite her small stature, Nancy possessed a wisdom, deep within her sky-blue eyes. Small though she was, she was soon big enough to start killing for sport, and it was somewhere around this time the “gifts” began to appear. Nancy brought dead things, as cats do, to show affection for the family who had raised her from the dead. She wasn’t starved; Jennifer kept the food and water bowl checked and filled twice a day. These were Nancy’s offerings of thanks. First had been a field mouse, no bigger than a thought and dead of a broken neck. There was no blood, no mangled fur or signs of a struggle. And we knew it was Nancy that brought the mouse; when we discovered it on the welcome mat outside the front door, Nancy was sitting at the edge of the porch, balled up and watching. “Gross,” Heather had said and kicked the mouse into the shrubbery. As Nancy grew, her gifts became more—complex. Field mice became rats; rats became chipmunks. But these were meaningless things, trinkets to please us and make us happy. Then Nancy started shopping with a purpose. Heather had a bit of a green thumb and enjoyed her tomato plants. She planted two of them out front, just to the side of the porch where Nancy delivered her presents. On more than one occasion, local birds attacked the plants. The tomatoes were a delicacy, and Heather cursed the birds who ate them. Nancy must have heard. The first bird, a blue jay, showed up on the doormat, neck broken and a tomato impaled on the tip of its beak. Nancy sat in the corner, bathing herself, and watched as I carried the jay’s lifeless body into the woods and tossed it in a ditch. For a few days in a row, Nancy and I repeated the dance: I would find a bird left on the doorstep, dispose of it in the woods, and Nancy would watch as if to judge my pleasure or dissatisfaction. The tomato plants had never been healthier, and, eventually, birds stopped coming into our yard altogether. When the birds had been dealt with, a new problem arose. Deer came from the woods that edged our property, late in the evening, to feast on what was in the rest of our modest little garden: corn, okra, and squash. But the foolish deer, they ate not only the vegetables but also the plants themselves. We awoke one morning to find most of the garden chewed down to nothing, the only remnants small stumps and stems dotting the trampled earth. We cursed the deer as Nancy looked on. The following morning, in the yard, we found a doe, neck broken like the field mouse, its body lifeless as the jay. The thought crossed our minds, but we knew it was impossible; a cat can’t take down a full-grown deer, much
less do the deed and leave no mess. We weren’t foolish enough to believe a six-pound kitty had brought justice to a thieving deer, but we weren’t about to waste a gift that could sustain the family for weeks; I hauled the deer’s still warm carcass to the processing plant a few miles away in Heflin. (We ate like royalty that winter and always fed Nancy the leftovers.) That night, lying in bed, Heather and I listened as the neighborhood dogs barked and called to one another. There were several close by, but their nighttime discussions never kept us awake. But this night, there was an urgency in their cries. “Do you think they’re afraid of Nancy?” Heather joked but didn’t laugh. We were asleep within the hour, the wailing dogs left to fend for themselves as best they could. Some days later we found Killer’s dog tag on the doormat, right in the center, when Jennifer left for school. Nancy snoozed, as usual, in her corner of the porch. Jennifer stopped, picked up the tag, and stuck it in her jeans pocket. Killer wasn’t watching as she walked to the bus that morning. The neighbor came to our house in the afternoon when Jennifer got home from school. “You seen my dog?” “The one that chases my daughter through the field and to the bus every day? No, we haven’t seen it.” “Well, if you do, give me a holler. He goes by the name ‘Killer.’ I wouldn’t pet him if I was you. You just call me, I’ll come get him.” He left his number and went home and forgot to leave his name. Jennifer handed me Killer’s dog tag, and I dropped it in an empty bowl we kept by the door for Christmas candy. We never saw the neighbor or Killer again. The next tag to show up at the door was silver with the name ‘Fiona’ etched into it. Heather found it one Saturday morning when she went to dig holes for two new tomato plants we were picking up later from the hardware store. Nancy watched us put the tag in the dish inside the front door, next to the one that said ‘Killer.’ We wondered where our cat had been during the night. It was Jennifer who noticed the flyers posted on telephone poles as we drove to town for the plants. We couldn’t read them from the car, but there seemed to be more than the usual number of yard sale signs we were accustomed to seeing. But these were not typical yard sale announcements; these flyers had photographs on them. Almost all were of some type of dog or other, usually the big breeds. The newsboard inside the hardware store gave an even clearer picture. Tomato plants at last in hand, we stared in wonder at what we saw.
46 temenos Killer’s photograph was on a sheet of ivory cardstock. His picture, full color, was beautiful. The words “missing” and “reward” were repeated on Killer’s and several other flyers for animals named everything from “Bear” to “Buddy” to “Dirt.” They were all dogs, and they were indeed the big boys: doberman, German shepherd, Irish setter. And so was the dog on the last flyer we saw. It was a silver husky, turquoise eyes wrapped in a black mask that made it look like a cross between a wolf and a raccoon. The address was close to our side of town, and the husky’s name spooked us more than just a little. Fiona. The checkout clerk watched us reading the notices. “Better lock up your dogs, guys; something’s out there.” Just my daughter’s kitty taking revenge on the town bullies, I wanted to say. Instead, I asked, “What do you think’s going on?” “Who knows, but the big dogs are dropping like flies. Little ones, too, and the more expensive the better.” He handed us the receipt. “But you know what I really think?” He leaned in as if about to reveal the secret of the seven crows. “I think it’s some racket from Atlanta. Crooks coming out here to the sticks and swiping dogs. Turn a good profit on some of those breeds. Nobody’s dog is safe anymore. Need proof?” He thumbed over his shoulder, in the direction of the newsboard, where no less than fifty flyers verified the truth of his testimony. We bagged the tomato plants and drove home without a word, each of us pondering the nature of the beast now sunning itself on our front porch. It wasn’t hard, that morning, to count the local dogs we passed along Highway 27; there were none. None that we could see, anyway. The mutts and mongrels and pure-bred champs populating our little community all seemed to be otherwise occupied this day. Not one of us had ever taken notice of the dogs before, but we noticed their absence. It was like eating dry toast with no jelly: unnatural. By the time we climbed the steps to the front door of home, we were not the least surprised to find a new tag in the middle of the doormat. This one said “Buddy,” the German shepherd whose acquaintance we had recently made, courtesy of the hardware store flyer. We added it to the growing collection in the Christmas dish. By the time the hoopla settled down, we counted sixteen tags. The rest of that year was uneventful. No dogs chased Jennifer to the bus, and our garden produced so much we had to give most of it away. (The freezer, you may recall, was stocked with enough meat to last a season.) Jennifer continued to care for Nancy, and the same can be said in reverse. Those two were inseparable. When it came time, years later, for Jennifer to spread her wings and leave the nest, she took Nancy with her.
That was all forty years ago. Jennifer is grown, married, has kids, and even grandkids. She and her husband (his name escapes me just now) live just on the other side of town, not far from the old homeplace. Heather and I are here, together, thankfully, in what they call “assisted living,” though we don’t see each other every day. At least I don’t guess we do. My mind isn’t what it used to be, you know, and I really can’t remember when I saw my wife last, much less what flavor jelly the nurse spread on my toast this morning. But I remember Nancy. Jennifer always says Nancy is “about the same” every time I ask, and I do ask every time. She says that cat hasn’t grown an inch nor gained a pound. Nancy still follows Jennifer around like a trained dog. But she’s no dog, you know. Matter of fact, our little corner of the world has become sort of famous (or infamous, if you like) for the lack of dogs inhabiting the place. The old barn on the outskirts of town with Coca Cola painted on the side used to read, “Welcome to Roopville, pop. 228.” Now, some wiseacre has spray-painted, in white, just below the greeting, “…and no dogs allowed.”
Stray It staggered around the corner of the tool shed, muzzle foaming. I felt a firm grip on my shoulders. Then the crack of my uncle’s M-1 broke out into the mountains. While the men talked, it lay out there in the lane like a burlap bag fallen off someone’s truck, tongue curled over a yellow fang, red lake, bubbles, at its paws. I leaned down to touch the still eye, but someone pulled me away. The wind wobbled in the scrub grass along the wire fence to the house. The sky pulled the cold over us. The blue hills kept their distance.
Spider I did not mean to kill it. (Several I have saved from my daughter’s disgust and lectured her on their virtues and beneficence.) I didn’t know it was sitting on the underside of the arm of the folding chair as I held the arm to fold it flat then put it away in the shed before the rain. Yet there it was, transferred to my palm like one of those crazy decalcomanias she adorns herself with, spindly-legged spider whose paper backing didn’t peel off right. Then too it looked like the extra black thread, rolled into a loose ball, that my wife discards after she has mended something black. I do not think it will make a difference to the earth that this spider is dead. Millions of spiders died today, as yesterday millions died, as tomorrow millions more. Yet on my palm I still feel a cold spot, as though an ice cube were melting there, even after washing my hands in hot water, then washing my hands again in hot water.
—J. R. Solonche
Obit She died after a short illness; she died after a long, difficult illness while daydreaming and watching cartoons; she died after a lingering, lovely paralysis, a fading; she died tumbling into a crosswalk, where she had the right of way; she died in her sleep; she died in an MRI blissfully insulated from further harassment; she died singing Mercy, she died with nary a sound; she died forgiving no one, she died forgiving everyone; she died, a splendid nude, dancing in moonlight; she died at daybreak, observed by a cat; she died speaking in tongues â€”some called it mumbling.
Destination So that will be her destination, A solid cushion of Juniper Reeds, So the wind won’t carry her away And there she will sit and There she will stay For the rest of her life She will not be scared of spiders She will just sit And brush her hair With her knees gently touching And then a finger’s length apart And then they’ll fall open to the sky
—Danielle Joy Foley
Contributor Bios Lisa Bellamy’s poetry collection, The Northway, is forthcoming from Terrapin Books. Her chapbook, Nectar, won The Aurorean 2011 chapbook prize. Her poems and prose have appeared in TriQuarterly, Massachusetts Review, New Ohio Review, Hotel Amerika, The Southern Review, Cimarron Review, and elsewhere. She has received a Pushcart Special Mention, the Fugue Poetry Prize, and honorable mention in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. She teaches at The Writers Studio online and in NYC and lives in Brooklyn and Upper Jay, a hamlet in the Adirondack Park. Jennifer Burnau has poems published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Mirror Dance, The Off Beat and Voices from the Attic, an anthology published by Carlow University Press. She lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in a one hundred year old house and teaches in the Pittsburgh Public Schools. Jay Carson is a seventh-generation Pittsburgher. Jay taught creative writing, literature, and rhetoric at Robert Morris University, where he was a faculty advisor to the literary magazine, Rune. Retired, he is now a full-time writer. His short stories have appeared in Barely South Review, The Tower Journal, Storgy, and moonShine Review. Bill Chatterson was born in Flint, Michigan and received a BFA from University of Michigan School of Art. Bill has been a Carpenter, Museum Preparator, Exhibit Designer, Millwork Salesman, and Truck Driver. Since the Great Recession he’s worked in the oil fields of Ohio, Texas, Oklahoma, Michigan, North Dakota, and California. He lives with his wife, Ann, in Petoskey, Michigan. Rita Ciresi is author of the novels Bring Back My Body to Me, Pink Slip, Blue Italian, and Remind Me Again Why I Married You, and three awardwinning story collections, Second Wife, Sometimes I Dream in Italian, and Mother Rocket. She is professor of English at the University of South Florida, a faculty mentor for the Bay Path University MFA program in creative nonfiction, and fiction editor of 2 Bridges Review.
Susan Currie is a Boston-based photographer and writer. Her second book GRACENOTES, a blend of visual and verse, was published in 2018 by Shanti Arts. Susan teaches a variety of creative workshops and retreats throughout the country where she shares her signature “slow shooting” approach to making images. Danielle Joy Foley received her BFA in Theatre Arts from Miami University of Ohio and MA in Dance/movement therapy from Drexel University. She is a Philadelphia based actress, illustrator and yoga teacher. In her spare time she enjoys writing, garden research, interpretive dance and frolicking with her bunny, Banjo. Kevin Hinman is a Southern California writer and rapper who realized early on that a lifelong fascination with storytelling meant you never had to outgrow your invisible friends. His fiction and features have appeared in Newtown Literary, blink-ink,Mojo.’His hip-hop album Grown Ups Are Talking was released in 2015. Brendan Hoffman lives with his girlfriend and dog. He says serious things and people laugh at them. Chip Jett is a teacher at a small school in Georgia and has taught reading and writing for twenty years. His stories have appeared in the literary magazines The First Line, Soliloquies, The Ocotillo Review, Meat for Tea: The Valley Review, Inwood Indiana, and Dual Coast Magazine. Suzanne O’Connell’s recently published work can be found in Bluestem, Forge, and Juked. O’Connell was nominated for a Best Of The Net Award in 2015, and a Pushcart Prize in 2015 and 2017. Her first poetry collection, A Prayer For Torn Stockings, was published by Garden Oak Press in 2016. Toni Palombi is an editor and writer. She has worked with international charities in Asia, the Middle East, and Australia. Rebecca Potter teaches High School English and lives with her husband, three sons, and two bulldogs in central Kentucky. She is working on an MFA in the Bluegrass Writers Studio at Eastern Kentucky University. Her current project is a book that focuses on relationships in the classroom.
56 temenos Derold Ernest Sligh currently lives in South Korea. He was born and raised in Saginaw, Michigan. He received an MA from Central Michigan University and an MFA from San Diego State University. He was the recipient of the J.L. Carroll Arnett Creative Writing Award. He was a guest poet at the Theodore Roethke Memorial where he ran a workshop for African American fathers and sons. His work has appeared in American Poetry Journal, Mythium, Konundrum Engine, Saw Palm, among other journals. J.R. Solonche is author of Beautiful Day (Deerbrook Editions), Won’t Be Long (Deerbrook Editions), Heart’s Content (Five Oaks Press), Invisible (nominated for the Pulitzer Prize by Five Oaks Press), The Black Birch (Kelsay Books), I, Emily Dickinson & Other Found Poems (Deerbrook Editions), In Short Order (Kelsay Books),110 Poems (forthcoming from Deerbrook Editions), and coauthor of Peach Girl: Poems for a Chinese Daughter (Grayson Books). He lives in the Hudson Valley. Ron Stottlemyer lives in Helena, Montana. After a long career of teaching/scholarship in colleges across the country (B.A. M.A., Ph.D), he is returning to his life-long love of writing poetry. Along with writing, he has a passion for amateur astronomy, Mid-Eastern cooking, and for living with the moment. After beginning to send out poems this past spring, he has recently published in The Alabama Literary Review, The Sow’s Ear, Streetlight, The American Journal of Poetry, Stirring, and West Texas Literary Review. Jeffrey Tucker teaches creative writing at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. His first full-length collection of poetry, Kill February (Sage Hill, 2016), was the winner of Sage Hill Press’ 2015 Powder Horn Prize; his poems have also appeared in The Cape Rock, RHINO, Poetry South, South Dakota Review, and elsewhere. He is currently working on a collection of ekphrastic poems. Jay Hansford C. Vest is a Ph.D Professor of American Indian Studies at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. He is an enrolled member of the federally recognized Monacan Indian Nation.
Virginia Watts is the author of poetry, stories and essays found in The Burningwood Literary Review, The Brushfire Literature and Arts Journal, and Halcyone Magazine. Her nonfiction piece “Marti’s Father” was nominated for a 2018 Pushcart Prize by the Ponder Review. She received honorable mention in Passager’s 2018 Poetry Contest. Laura Wendorff is professor of English, Women’s Studies, and Ethnic Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. Her poetry has been published in several journals, including After the Pause, Bluestem, and The Minetta Review, and she has poetry forthcoming in Spillway and the Wisconsin Poets Calendar. Nan Xu was born in China and graduated from New York Academy of Art. Her style of magic realism visualizes the communication of the unknown energy between nature and humans through the event of nature or civilization transformation. She uses landscape of both city view and nature view to build a connection between the seen world and the world inside herself.