THE COLUMBIA REVIEW
Vol 98 | Issue 1 | Fall 2016
the columbia review
Editorâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Note Another agricultural metaphor.
the columbia review
THE COLUMBIA REVIEW
Contents Pe e r I n s i d e
Lou Heron 8
Hannah Lindsey 9
Green River Elegy
D a n R a t t e l l e 13
The Windows of Heaven
A n t h o n y O t t e n 15
K h a y a O s b o r n e 28
Rite of Spring
L e n a R u b i n 30
O gato não quer movimento T h e C a t Wa n t s N o Movement
J o ã o L u í s B a r r e t o 33 Guimarães Tr a n s . C a l v i n O s l e r
I Fe e l De a d
H a n n a h L i n d s e y 34
from Gaps in the Chase
A d a m G r e e n b e r g 37
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Peer Inside Lou Heron
seed embedded within being so pillowed it sleeps eternally awake wild triumph throws earth higher vaguer more trumpets of waking earth— earth's private speaking whispers growth whispers change whispers redden before waking dream dreaming charged with whispers changed— peer inside peer under peer over bend inside blind over laughing—laugh stem—laugh petal laugh hour after hour laugh the flower
Reason Hannah Lindsey
he wasn’t allowed into the main part of the house.
“It’s for your own good, really.” He kicked dust sideways in the yard. “It’s a mess in there.” He could only kick sideways, because his knees were blown out. He was slightly pigeon-toed, weight on the outside of the foot. She liked to imagine that he was a tightrope walker, but sort of the opposite. A game—can’t step on the center! Avoid the rope at all costs! The fleshy instep is lava! She had come over for the first time last year. They were square dancing partners for Rodeo Day in fifth grade grade and her parents thought it couldn’t hurt to have a male friend. They didn’t know how often she cycled over now, though she would have told them if they asked. She wasn’t allowed in the house, anyway. So they spent all of their time in the back house instead. He called it “My Room” but it was really more like a separate apartment, with two rooms and a lavish
bathroom. Jacuzzi. He wasn’t sure if it worked, because he didn’t understand hygiene. She liked that about him. There was a layer of experience between him and the world, in dirt on his hands and grease in his hair and pores. He was a fortress. She’d never met someone who infected the world instead of the other way around. The only door to the main part of the house was boarded up, except for a small flap for the cats. There were a lot of cats. Thirteen cats? She’d only ever seen seven in the same room, but there were a few others that were distinctive. His favorite was Otis, an orange cat named after the movie Milo & Otis. “It’s a misnomer,” he informed her, “actually. Otis was the pug. Did you know that over twenty kittens were killed in the making of that movie? They just threw them off the cliff.” “Um, no. I’ve never seen it… actually.” Otis was a good cat, though he dug a deep claw into her calf once. She liked an unnamed gray-and-white-striped one that seemed to be at least half feral. This one was a little girl cat that he never thought to name. Maybe
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even he didn’t know how many cats he had. He was upset, before he met her, over one named Buddha. Buddha ran away. She didn’t know if it was a recent wound or an old one that he kept picking at. He still had a call for Buddha. Delivered from the back porch into the interminable night, long but prematurely-arthritic fingers cupped, textbook-labia-majorashape, around the lips: Buddha chunk mouse gon come get scooooop scoop scoop. A strange, joking voice, falsetto but not mocking, like how old-ish white women talk to dogs, in child-noises. Tongue out, between the labia. Cunnilingual. Maybe the noise is like an orgasm, she wondered, this straight noise delivered into the night. She’d only just sat through the sixthgrade sex-ed hour. Boys in one room and girls in another. The topic was shrouded by clinical distance and by echoes—they’re too young and abstinence-only and is it for the best? and when I was that young—like his voice on its way back, echoes for Buddha. He never expressed doubt the way her parents did. “Can I go in to go the bathroom?” she asked.
“Go for it,” he said. He was making a mountain of Cheetos around the bong. It was a nice thing, a honeycomb thing, nearly silent and almost perfectly smooth. It was lost in cheese dust. “There’s no door on the bathroom,” she complained. “It’s okay, I won’t listen.” “You can’t help it.” “I don’t care. It doesn’t bother me.” “It bothers me.” “Why do you care, if I don’t?” “I don’t know.” He ate a Cheeto. “This is one of the only foods you can actually eat aggressively, ya know?” “Why can’t I go in?” “It’s boarded up.” “Come on.” “I don’t want you going in there.” “Why do you talk like that?” “Like what?” “Like a parent.”
“You mean like an adult,” he said. “No, I mean like a parent,” she said. “I don’t want you to go in there because it’s embarrassing.” “I don’t care.” “Just go to bathroom.”
She grumbled something. Doesn’t matter what. He got the impression. “Gabby, it’s a real mess. Not like a cute mess, a real one, and I don’t want… I don’t know.” “I don’t care.” “Do you ever think we’re too young for this?” he asked. “For what? Peeing?” “No.” “Weed?” “Yeah, and… I don’t know. You coming over all the time.” “We’re old enough.” “We’re not.” Wait. Wait. “You don’t like me coming over?”
He sighed. Pushed Cheetos. Cheesy puff avalanche. “I do like it. I, like, really do. And that’s what I feel weird about.” A beat of silence. She shifted feet. The need to pee was fire broiling but this felt important. He was stooping down to her level— was that it? Trying to explain something? Trying to be clear, instead of the obscurity of cries in the dark? Buddha chunk— “Gabby, I’m young and I really like you. My mom is a… my house… it’s full of stuff. Not full of stuff. Like, decaying stuff. And I don’t want you to see it.” “Okay,” she said, “and I don’t want you to hear me pee.” His stillness was exacerbated. The Cheetos slid slid sliiiiid across each other. Are they exchanging that cheese dust? Replacing it? Is the dust even made of cheese? Do cats eat cheese? Eat cheese dust? He said. Stilly. Stilly. Stil-ly. “If I let you inside, can we never talk about it?” “Yeah,” she said. “We have to go around the front.
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This one is boarded up.” So they went around the front, to a brown door peeling. A few cats on the doorstep dashed into bushes. Ruddy cheeks on him. Bloodless, her. The inside was only a matrix. Full full full of trash trash trash and papers and cups and stench and RATS and drip drip drip drip drip she tried to pee in a doorless corner but she could only urinate in the sense that her urethra was active but, but, nothing yellow or red or even clear dripped out into the can. She went into “His Room.” Sat down on the bed, held his encrusted hand. Sighed. Sighed. He kissed her hair, so cherrysmelling and so soft. “I have to go home,” she said. “I know,” he said.
She got a UTI a few days later, and her mom was concerned— premarital sex? You and I had… but she’s so young… we were that young… but—but the sandpaper peeing felt good. Every pain was his. Every pain was his.
Green River Elegy Dan Rattelle
1985-2015 I saw you among poppies, full lotus. I was throwing cans into the river. I donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t think you noticed. Here comes Charon now, honking at his harp. Got dem blues done rattle mah bones dipping his stick into the dark. Good thing I stuck a drachma in your mouth. Fare paid you stepped aboard the gloomy boat. Dem bones. did you haunt the lonesome tracks? Lonesome then, did you come to a mean end? Even still, Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll call you Bodhisattva Bill. But what do I know? I jackknifed a can and jammed it full of incense; made that piece belch smoke for days.
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But couldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t I have poured you just one more cup of tea? I got the kind you like; two baggies, but you, me, and Dem Bones make three. I can still see the gondolaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s wake. So here, wading the muddy bank I scream your name (and others) into the river.
The Windows of Heaven Anthony Otten
he tribulation began when they asked Ezra to be a deacon. The Cogs family’s pastor, Dr. Schark, knew that Ezra was a truck driver and a treasurer for the Teamsters Local 874. But Schark had probably assumed that such a righteous man, one who drank nothing more potent than coffee and had even tithed off the sale of his Nash Rambler, would earn his pay handing bouquets to ladies on their anniversaries. Then Ezra, with a heretic’s relish, disclosed in his interview that he delivered beer for the Faberstohl Brewery Company in the city—his route even included the Notre Dame convent, where twice a week the sisters swarmed his truck like magpies to unload their cases of Fabe’s Delight. The elders disqualified him right there and began beseeching God for his eternal fate, and he was left to rise and exit the pastor’s chambers as they prayed. Ezra’s wife, Ruth, believed her husband would have dismissed
the slight to his livelihood as a reasonable cost for belonging to the county’s oldest church—but Dr. Schark visited them the next evening. Ruth wanted to like Schark for his learning, but unmarried pastors courted her mistrust, even though he was a widower of five years and she ought not to have been too leery of him. The screen door had barely clacked shut when Schark announced to Ezra, “God wants you to quit that beer job.” Ruth, listening from the kitchen, dropped the match she was using to light the stove. It fell among the rusty lattices of the burner and a flame startled alive. Her granddaughter, Georgia, jumped up from the table to help, balancing her baby against an elbow. Ruth stopped her with a glance. She twisted the gas off and kept her eyes pointed at the den. A stroke in Ezra’s late fifties had left half of his mouth bunched in a grimace. As he stared at Dr. Schark, both sides matched. “I don’t know any kind of man who’d come under somebody’s roof and tell him to give up his living.”
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Schark sighed. “God has put the burden on me to do it.” “That fridge would be empty in three days without my job,” Ezra said. “You’ll be provided a new job,” Schark said. “God remembers obedience.” “Should I go on the county in the meantime?” Schark’s head was still and hunched. “Ezra, what do you think it does to your testimony that you’re helping—” He stopped, swallowed. “—helping enslave people to the bottle?” “It’s just delivery. I don’t work with the hops.” “You’re enacting a lie against your faith.” Ezra leaned into the gap between them. His milky blue eyes held a dark delight. “I’m not the first man with a lie in his job. Everybody calls you a doctor, but I’ve never seen you write a prescription.” Schark laughed. “I went to the seminary.” “Well, I’m a high school graduate. Only one in this household. 16
Butler County, class of ‘27. But you’re no more a doctor than I am.” “I understand your situation,” Schark said. “The first church I pastored decided to have a summer carnival with a Catholic parish. I found out they were planning to sell fifty-cent cups of beer there, and my own church council went against me and consented to it. That’s when I left the Presbyterians. No plans, just my Bible and a half tank of gas. That was twenty-eight years ago.” Ezra looked patient, considering the story as if it were a revelation, but Ruth could recall about a dozen sermons in which Schark had recited the story. He fled that Presbyterian carnival once or twice a year, as if Satan were manning the tap. Ezra rose and stepped past Schark to open the drawer of a console table. He tossed out the address book, then the Western Union telegram from Ruth’s cousin that had come a day after Connie’s service. Schark watched with a benign stare. Ruth, conscious of her hips protruding in her blouse, hovered away from the doorframe. She was shaped like a bottle of maple syrup, with sturdy thighs that plumped out from a high spindly
waist. Sometimes Ezra said that all she needed was a kerchief on her head and she’d be white Aunt Jemima. Ezra held up next Sunday’s envelope and took two bills from it. He thrust them out to Schark. “Here’s your cut for the week. Eleven dollars straight from the brewery. Might as well give you an advance.” Schark’s “Ezra.”
“Now you know where it’s coming from.” Ezra dropped the money on the carpet. “Take it, Doc. It’s my repentance.” The baby, Jenny, bucked and shrieked against Georgia’s arm, reaching for the bottle forgotten on the table. Schark seemed to study Georgia’s face. “I would think,” he said, speaking only to Ezra, “that after what happened to your daughter—” “You’ve had it,” Ezra said. “You’ve just had it.” His voice was quick and surprised and automatic, like the clap of a mousetrap. Schark backed toward the door and turned with the screen open, his eyes full of words. “I hope
to—” he said, then let the knob fall from his hand. He went out to the street and glanced back, listening to the baby’s cries. Ezra walked out on the porch to watch the preacher’s Plymouth cough up the block and disappear around the apartments where the Italian families lived. Ruth followed him, her hands squeezed over her chest. “It’s no use for tears,” Ezra said. “We’re clear of him now.” He cupped her shoulder in his hand. His fingers couldn’t spread fully because of his arthritis. The sky was a leaden orange over the cemetery across the road, ripe with the silhouettes of graves. Behind them in the den, Connie’s daughter, occupied with the bottle, tried to wield the baby with one arm.
On Saturday night, Ezra left in his pickup and returned with a safe from the pawnshop on Madison. The safe had a brass dial shaped like a snapping turtle, its open jaw poised in a permanent threat. He pushed aside the rabbit ears on the TV and laid it there. The evening news shattered into gray fuzz. “I had those set just right,” Ruth told him from the kitchen, where she was frying pork chops. “Now you’ll lose your games.” 17
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“It’s not football season anyhow.” Ezra turned the dial until a combination was satisfied and the little door screeched open. “Man gave this to me for three bucks. That just beats all.” Ruth huffed into the den. “What you planning to put in it? You got an inheritance stuck behind the stove?” “No. This is for consecrated money.” He went to the console drawer. “Am I supposed to know what that means?” she asked his back. “Not unless you’re a Butler County High School graduate.” Ezra withdrew their church envelope, still thick with singles. He placed it in the safe and shut it, then yanked on the handle to test its resistance. “We still have our obligation,” he said, “regardless of being in a church. We can put the tithe in here till we pick us a new one to go to.” Ruth pinched her mouth at the safe. “Well, there’s three dollars gone.” She paused. “How do you open it?” “Never you mind that,” he told her. “We won’t be using this thing for a savings account. It’s our 18
account to God and that’s it.” She gave the curtains a deliberate, dubious look. Years of sunlight at a specific angle had given them witchlike shadows almost as tall as she was. “We could do with some new drapes.” He hefted the safe and stored it in the closet below their coats. “Bring all the tithes into the storehouse,” he said, “and see if I won’t open the windows of heaven, and pour out such blessing, and so forth. That’s Malachi.” She disliked how his words changed when they didn’t have company. “You really are a Butler County boy.” “The girl around?” he asked. “I don’t want that child playing near this thing. Piece breaks off, she’ll swallow it.” Ruth eyed the stairs. “She’s up there feeding. Or she was. Probably fell asleep. Up all night with a little mouth that won’t quit.” “No call to tell her about it, then,” Ezra said. “She’s not working a job, anyhow.” He knelt and tried to edge the rabbit ears back into their precarious realignment with
the signal. “What’s got you so humped up on this tithe business?” Ruth asked him. “I used to have to badger you for it.” “I’ll tell you.” He bent the antenna and the picture sizzled. “I’ll tell you,” he said again. “I had this dream the night Schark came and saw us. You know I’m not much for dreaming.” “Is this like the one where you was over with the boys in the jungle?” Half of his mouth grinned. “I was in this stadium. There were millions of people there. We were getting preached to. And after everybody heard their fill—” The picture returned. The city newscaster had a slight arrogant thrust to his neck, as if he had been annoyed at the interruption. “Everybody got to walking out of the place,” Ezra went on. “There were two paths. One led outside and it was big and wide. Just about everybody flooded down that way. Me and a couple cripples, we just limped down the steps and took the other path, the scrawny one that went up where the preacher had been. I barely made it there, I was shaking so
bad. When I turned, I saw this sign over the way all the others were going. It had red letters that said the broad path. I woke up and thought, that’s where Schark’s going. That’s where most everybody’s headed. But I’m going the narrow way.” Ruth withheld the laugh trying to seep up her throat. “Don’t see what that’s got to do with money.” “But it’s a pretty story.” Georgia stood on the stairs in a nightshirt. She was a gawky girl with long cricket legs. “Do I get to go on the narrow way with you, Grandpa?” Ezra looked at Georgia’s feet, as if wondering whether she would need shoes for the narrow way. Georgia slipped past Ruth and hunted among the cereal boxes in the cabinet, smelling of Johnson’s baby shampoo. “Where’s the child?” Ruth asked. “On the roof where I left her.” Georgia wrinkled her face at the pork chops hissing in the pan. “She’s in the crib asleep. I fed her right before my nap.” Ruth saw a shade of pain in Ezra’s eyes. “You need help getting up?”
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The question propelled him to stand. “No. I was just figuring up how much that girl could make if she spent her naps working.” Georgia aimed a haughty glance into the den. “This house is about as long and wide as my nail file, you know. I’m right here.” Ezra sighed into his recliner while a reel of the day’s carnage hummed on the screen. Jenny howled upstairs, a long shivery yell that rose and lowered like a voice on the telephone during a storm. Ezra and Georgia gave Ruth uncomfortable looks, as if the scream were below their hearing but still enough to unsettle them. “You watch those chops they don’t burn,” Ruth told Georgia, and trudged upstairs. Ezra and Ruth would usually wait until Georgia quit the table and then discuss the other, worse places the girl and the baby would be if not for their intervention. The children’s home where kids were packed in their bunks like piglets in a stall. Sleeping against some realtor’s face on a bus stop bench. But tonight Ezra turned his mind toward inheritances. One of the few survivors among his kin, Aunt Lou, was
ninety-four and had been about to die for almost twenty years. She owned his blood uncle’s farmhouse and all the acreage that the TVA hadn’t confiscated to build a dam for the power plant upstream. Her toes were black from diabetes, he’d heard, and he was in the will. Ruth only had a slight recollection of a visit to Aunt Lou’s—a cabinet filled with porcelain figurines whose nudity made her burn with a blush, and a series of labels Aunt Lou had sewn into all the furniture to decree who would own each piece after she died. Ruth interrupted him. “If I was one to judge, I’d say you’re covetous.” Ezra frowned. “We have to consider our prospects. I’m only two years from a pension. That’s when the foremen start figuring if they can lay off a man some way.” Jenny sat next to him on the linoleum. He reached for her head and twined one of her curls around his finger. He did that when he was embarrassed and didn’t want to speak anymore. “The Lord will protect your job,” Ruth said. Then, to Georgia, who was pouring soap on the dishes, “I’ll get those, dear. Just run the
water hot.” “Money’s not worth dirt to me,” Ezra said. His hand was still tangled on Jenny’s head, as if her hair had grown around his fingers. “I could go any day. I’m no Jack LaLanne, and my ticker never was too good. Any day.” “If you’re aiming to do it, do it in summer,” Ruth said. “Ground’s softer.” He grinned at her, stung. “We could always retire on a scratch card, you know. They draw the city lotto twice a month.”
They hadn’t gone so long without attending church since Ezra had contracted a virus from a bad deviled egg at the union picnic. Ruth’s tomatoes fattened and reddened in the shadow of Ezra’s Ford; the baby’s muscles, pillowed in fat, strained to help her crawl. Bills accumulated in the safe. Ezra had talked of visiting churches, but other Baptist congregations were too far, with gas prices what they were. Ruth suggested the Methodist church one block away. “Methodists!” Ezra said, his voice carrying a thread of suspicion.
One day in August Ruth was dumping old dishwater from the porch. A glare of pain shot through her jaw like a sudden, malignant growth of roots. She dropped the dishpan and put a hand to her mouth. A cliff seemed to be swelling out from her gums. The throbbing in her mouth quieted but did not completely fade. There was no one around for her to tell. Georgia was at a girlfriend’s with the baby. Ruth sat in the porch swing and stared at a wasp building a nest with splinters from Ezra’s sign, nailed by their door: NO Solicitors NO Politicians NO Jahova Witnesses. Under this, in miniscule print: Census Man OK. When Georgia returned home and set Jenny in the crib, Ruth told her about the pain and they crammed into the downstairs bathroom. Georgia pulled the chain for the lightbulb over the sink and grappled Ruth’s head into a position where she could see in her mouth. “See anything?” Ruth asked. Georgia squinted. “Lord. Look at that. Right above your tooth.” “I can’t see it.” “Gosh. I should take you a 21
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picture. It’s big as a meatball.” “Sure is sore.” Ruth shook out of her grasp. Her hands were trembling. “I’m not nearly a doctor,” Georgia said, “but I think that thing’s infectious.” “Lord have mercy,” Ruth said, then, without another breath, “Don’t tell your Grandpa you saw this.” “Tell him?” Georgia said with large eyes. “We can’t wait till he gets home. We have to get you on the bus to the dentist.” Ruth was too shocked to resist. She got her purse, thought to write a note to Ezra, couldn’t decide how to say that she was at the doctor. He didn’t tolerate doctors, whom he said were using Medicare to bilk the taxpayer. Georgia grabbed a couple of diapers and lifted Jenny from the crib, and they spent forty-five minutes on local transit with the baby wallowing and Ruth dizzied from the pain. The family dentist, Dr. Mead, had his office on the floor above a Woolworth’s. His dental chair was missing a gear and he had to prop the back with a cane—“my father’s,”
he claimed—so he could poke in Ruth’s mouth. After the examination, he wheeled his chair back from the two of them and said, “It’s a tooth abscess.” “I thought so,” Georgia said. “You need to have it drained,” Mead said to Ruth. “Antibiotics can clear the germs out. But it has to be drained and then extracted.” Ruth blanched at the word extracted. It gave her a picture of an old cellar door being crowbarred apart. Mead swiveled to his desk and wrote her a prescription. “Get this filled today. One pill night, one pill morning.” “Will those stain your teeth?” Ruth asked. “I’ve heard they can.” “No,” Mead said. “But would you rather end up in the cemetery if they did?” “Of course not,” Ruth said. “I do live across from the cemetery, though.” Mead looked at her, then handed Georgia the prescription. She buttoned it into the pocket on Jenny’s shirt. “Rinse out your mouth with saltwater tonight,”
Mead said. “That’ll help the soreness. Get back here first thing after breakfast. Come to think, skip breakfast.” Georgia started to leave the bus at the stop near Lytle Street Drug, but Ruth pulled at her hem. “We can’t fill this. I only got two dollars in my pocketbook.” “Maybe they’ll let us open a tab,” Georgia said. “Grandpa’s got reams of cash in that damn turtle. Ain’t that what you said?” “Yes. Suppose I did say that.” Ruth fingered a crag in the seat’s cushion. “What, you think he won’t pay?” Georgia asked. Ezra did consent to the antibiotics. His expression was a look of soft, urgent bewilderment. “Why didn’t you fill that today?” he demanded. “Pharmacy’s closed by now.” Ruth held her jaw, and Georgia, cradling Jenny against her on the sofa, spoke for her. “We didn’t know if there’d be enough for that and the surgery.” “Surgery?” Ezra said. “Bunch of poking with a metal rod for two hundred dollars.”
“Hundred and fifty.” “Either way,” he said, “my insurance won’t cover dental work.” “The man told her she needs it,” Georgia said. “You didn’t ask him where he went to school, did you?” Ezra asked. “Bet he wasn’t a Butler County High School graduate.” “There’s nothing to haggle about. We got the money in the closet.” Ezra gave her a searing look. “When did you find that out?” he said, looking to Ruth. “That money isn’t our right. Best not even think it’s there.” He stopped, seemed to notice his enmity with them, the way he was pacing the room while they sat and studied him. A groove deepened in his forehead. To Ruth, he said, “Those pills will clear that thing up, sweetheart. If something’s rotted, it’ll just fall out on its own. You shouldn’t have to pay for something nature’ll take care of.” “I know it,” she said through a wince. When Ezra went upstairs for his shower, she remembered to unbutton Jenny’s pocket and take out the prescription. Georgia watched her and wept. 23
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A chipping noise woke Ruth. She rolled toward the alarm clock. The sound continued outside the house with a rough regularity. Another drunk kicking at the gutter, she thought. She maneuvered away from Ezra, out of bed, and shuffled downstairs in a drowse of pain. Georgia stood in the backyard. She had gotten Ezra’s recoilless hammer from the garage and was banging it against the safe at her feet. She didn’t wait for Ruth to speak. “We’re getting you fixed today. Pills and poking together. And we won’t do it on a tab, either.” “That money’s as good as not there,” Ruth said in an empty voice. “It’s consecrated.” “We can consecrate your tooth after it’s out.” Georgia gave a quiet hiss of satisfaction as the turtle plunked off the safe. A package of bills fell into her hand. She counted out the needed money and dropped the rest. “Your grandpa will curse and spit,” Ruth said. “I’ve never heard him curse,” Georgia said, “and he can’t spit that far.” She came over to Ruth,
her feet naked and dewy in the grass. “Let me get Jenny and the bottle, and we can hop on the first bus.” “I don’t want that child dragged around. Yesterday was enough.” “We’ll drop her off next door with Mrs. Powell,” Georgia insisted. “She’s babysitted her plenty.” Ruth hesitated deliberately, enough that Georgia would detect it. The girl scowled. “I can’t have you choosing to die like Mom did,” she said. “Not getting that tooth fixed is the same as drinking a case of Fabe and driving down the interstate, don’t you think?” Ruth nodded. She was disgusted that she had baited the girl to persuade her. “Besides,” Georgia added, “we’d best get doctors over with now. School’s about to start and I can’t be truant helping you after missing half of last year for Jenny.” They left the baby with a barely awake Mrs. Powell, who accepted her but seemed not to comprehend the time Ruth said they’d return. Mead was pinching snuff into his lip when they arrived at the Woolworth’s. He rushed to open a window
and spit, then turned to scrub his hands in a basin. Ruth reclined in the dental chair, her face squeezed with uncertainty. Georgia watched as Mead fitted her with a bib and took the purse from her hands. He plunged a clear mask over her face and a valve squeaked near her ear. “I’ll get you set right,” he said, and gassed her into a dream she forgot the moment she awoke. Mead whistled as he unstrapped the mask from her face. “Never seen so much,” he said in an almost reverent voice. “A thing you wouldn’t believe.” Ruth noticed that Georgia had gone to the other room to sit. Mead lifted a brass pan and showed her the extracted tooth in a thin foam of blood. Ruth felt ashamed that the thing had been in her mouth. Mead offered to mail her the bill, but Georgia thrust the money at him before he could finish the sentence. “Don’t rat me to the taxman,” he said, and gave a high, hollering laugh. Georgia bought the pills five minutes after the drugstore opened. Ruth swallowed her first one, her stomach feeling shriveled. There was a syrupy orange taste in her mouth from the gas. “There’s enough left to
go to Cookie’s,” she said, pointing at a diner whose neon reddened the pavement across the street. Georgia gave her a headshake. “I got to get back to Jenny. And I want to see how he looks when he lays eyes on that safe.” Ruth tried to chuckle, but her cheek still hurt. Ezra’s truck was gone when they came home, the earth naked in the furrows left from its tires. Ruth’s heart contracted. “Poor thing went to work already. I hope he stopped to eat. Oh, I’m sorry. We’ve upset him now.” “He’ll probably be an hour late getting home tonight,” Georgia said, ascending Mrs. Powell’s porch. “He’ll just drive around, make us think he’s not coming back. He won’t have us thinking we’re smarter.” “Don’t speak so unkind of him,” Ruth said. “Not out in the air like this.” But Georgia was already talking to their neighbor. After a few seconds, Mrs. Powell disappeared and Georgia came back to Ruth on the sidewalk. “Where’s Jenny?” Ruth asked. Georgia’s face was pale. “She says Grandpa come and got her. He
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took off in the truck.” Ruth was silent. Then she said, “He was just checking to see about us.” Georgia knelt and propped her elbows on her bent knees, as if her head was suddenly too heavy to carry. “He wouldn’t do anything,” Ruth was saying, but all the words were wrapped in one diminishing breath. Then Georgia straightened. Ruth followed her gaze to the distant edge of the cemetery. “There’s the truck,” Georgia whispered, and dashed across the street. She was still dressed in her nightie. Ruth followed her, panting, her legs stubbing around the crooked telephone pole that marked the cemetery’s boundary. “Don’t go through the high grass!” Ruth called. Georgia’s sneakers kicked high behind her as she sprinted among the rows. Connie’s grave was there, shaded by the mausoleum of some famous artist who had died and left money to the public library. Georgia froze when she reached the monument, and Ruth was able to wobble up and catch her. Ezra’s truck was parked beside the path. He was kneeling and
studying Connie’s name with a baffled blue stare. The remainder of money from the safe was littered at his knees. Georgia was gasping, asking him where Jenny was. “He doesn’t want my money,” Ezra said. “Where is she?” Ruth asked. Tears clotted her voice. Georgia ran to the truck and ripped open the door. Jenny was sitting in the recess under the glove box on the passenger side. She jerked back from the sunlight, blinking. Georgia lifted her from the cab and leaned against the door, thanking the child as if the discovery were something Jenny had accomplished. Ruth stayed beside Ezra. “What you out here for?” she asked. “What’s the matter?” “He doesn’t want my money,” he said again. He gazed at the scattered bills with revulsion, and his eyes rose to the air above their daughter’s marker. Ruth saw him waking to find her and Georgia gone, cash strewn in the grass. She saw him gathering the money from the yard, the baby from the neighbor, and coming here, to
the cemetery, the grave his altar, and he like Abraham without a sacrifice. Ezra rose and they walked back to the truck. He looked behind him only once, his face clenched with outrage and recognition, as if no insult could surpass what he had learned.
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Skin (Sinnerman) Khaya Osborne
it shed its skin halfway through childhood; from respectable, presentable negro to full-fleshed fists. Rocks in the belly. Prayer beads between lips, whispers drippin from the chains. Pray for it. A convict is made out of its conviction: insistence, resistance, it will be re-spect-ed Nobody said nothin bout lovin it, just shovin it to the back, and givin it somethin to eat. Redemption is clapped for. Air is a prayer. sleep is a dream that crawls out of skin and sits there to be scratched off; call it leprosy or eczema, it still donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t get gone soon enough to be thanked. it was still enough to call plague and free slaves though. call it bruised fruit or strange if it bleeds call it ugly or object itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s been both before it be voodoo it be somebody momma somebody bones somebody funeral it be somebody emperor somebody somebody scared somebody love somebody fade
Call it God
Call it Honey-Kissed but not both it still be somebody sin somebody touched it and burned and somebody seent it rejoicing at the blessing of eyes this skin sinful before sin be punished call it Truth call it Fear Whatever name it got And it
God gave it
call it Criminal
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Rite of Spring Lena Rubin
ur town didn’t have cheerleaders, because it was a progressive town. They were called Hudsonettes after our river and they wore green pleated skirts and white tank tops and white Keds. I will admit that I was entranced by them. River sirens. At football games they stood in a line and kicked one at a time then all together, then they split into two lines, or formed a circle, and kicked more. No lifting or dangerous stunts. And, as anyone would tell you, they did not cheer. They kicked silently, methodically, through the damp air. Another reason not to call them cheerleaders. Their mothers and boyfriends gave them flowers after. I walked around the perimeter of the football field as I walked home from school most days, because it was encircled by the forest, and there was a hilly path running through the forest whose entrance was at the far northwest corner of the football field, which cut through to the street adjacent to 30
mine. Sometimes it was the girl’s lacrosse team practicing, and I walked quickly, looking up at the sky or down at the grass. They were very loud. They wore bright yellow or pink mouthgards that made their lips protrude and I was afraid of them. The Hudsonettes were silent, and I lingered to look at them, especially when their backs were turned to mine, and they performed their strange witchcraft to the empty concrete bleachers. The captain of the Hudsonettes had a brother named Joseph who died when she was in fourth grade and he was entering his freshman year. He hit his head at the bottom of a pool at his cousins’ house, but he also had some sort of heart condition, and I was never really sure which caused his death. There is a website that the family made to commemorate his life. It was made in 2007. The stock image graphics of footballs and baseballs and basketballs - he was a three season athelete - are heartbreaking. Most of my friends didn’t like Joseph’s sister because she went to a lot of parties and would sit on her friends’ laps during lunch in middle school and laugh loudly and her friend would play with
her hair from the back as she tipped forward to a boy showing him her breasts. I wanted to be her ever since one day in sixth grade when we were introduced by a mutual friend and we spent the entire recess outside under a tree talking about shaving our legs. I told her that I only shaved my calves, stopping just below the knee. She examined her own smooth legs stretched out before her on the dirt and said, after a beat, “Maybe you should start doing the whole leg.” I was grateful for this.
II. An old woman named Angela used to babysit my sister and me. She and my mother were both Pisces. My mother gave her a bouquet of flowers every year. Angela gave her a mug with painted fish on it. We’re water signs, the both of us, she said. Even the handle was shaped to look like a sideways fish. My mom said it was sweet but never used it. On Wednesday evenings my sister and I went to Angela's house instead of the other way around, because both of our parents
came home late that night, after dinner-time, but Angela had to make dinner for her own son, who was thirty years old and named Tommy and lived in the apartment in the attic of her house. The house was like damp moss, all sunken-in couches and the smell of cat litter and wrinkled copies of the National Enquirer on the coffee table. I read avidly about child abductions and plastic surgery while Angela made spaghetti. When she served it to me, Tommy, and my sister, it was at the small island in the kitchen. There was a dining room with upholstered chairs around a dusty table but we never ate there. That was where the birds lived. One was yellow and one blue with white spots and they were always moving. One of them made a particular groaning noise to which Angela would respond “Hey! Shut it,” in the same tone she used to talk to Tommy when he complained. She confessed to me once, accidentally, maybe, that often in the night she would mistake the yellow bird’s groan for the voice of her late husband. He was a volunteer firefighter named Jerry who died an honorable death trying to save a German shepherd
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from a burning apartment complex near the center of town. He had recorded the voice message on their home phone and Angela never bothered to change it. We never met him but we knew his hollow voice, and she was right, it did sound a lot like the yellow bird.
III. My mother and I went to Cleveland a few years ago to visit her childhood home. I hadn’t been there since I was a child and would race my sister sliding down the carpeted staircases. We were banking on the fact that the new residents would be nice enough to let us in. They were. The thing hanging in the air was that the parents were divorced and the father was coming soon to bring the daughter, who had a perfect face and wore pink hair clips, to her tennis lessons. The girl’s mother rushed us around the house nonetheless, with one eye towards the door. They had gotten rid of the piano. The dried flower scent of my grandmother, who never spoke more than greetings and goodbyes, was also gone. Behind the house, the water
in the swimming pool gleamed. “We should have brought bathing suits,” whispered my mom. A convertible was pulling up to the driveway, we could hear it. We followed the woman and her daughter back through the living room all covered in lazy sun. The woman stood holding her daughter’s shoulders in the entryway for a brief moment. Make sure you eat a snack after tennis practice, she said, sliding a granola bar into the girl’s nylon bag. I thought of the photograph of my mother and her two sisters dressed in white bedsheets, posing before this staircase, dangling bunches of grapes above their smiling mouths. It was for one of their invented plays. My mother, being eleven years older than her youngest sister, always had the lead. They were such performers. The girl was already running out into the open air, to her father. Her mother followed her out and called down the driveway, shrilly. Make sure she eats.
O gato não quer movimento João Luís Bar reto Guimarães
Longas tardes passa o gato espojado a meditar (de quem é o gato o espectro cabe ao gato revelar). A manhã inteira ocupado a anular movimentos (uma folhinha pelo chão a teimosia do vento) coisas que façam barulhos ou se movam insistentes: no seu território não. Ruínas a toda a volta. Silêncio dentro do silêncio. O próprio tempo parado para dar o exemplo.
The Cat Wants No Movement trans. Calvin Osler
The cat passes long afternoons enrolled in meditation (whose spectre this cat is is for the cat to reveal). A whole morning occupied annihilating movements (a discarded scrap of paper the winds’s recalcitrance) things that trigger noises or insistently shudder: not on her watch no. Ruins strewn about the room. Silence inside the silence. Time itself holding its breath to provide the example. 33
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“No,” she says.
I Feel Dead Hannah Lindsey
ou are forty-four years old and your daughter has told you she wants to die. Well, not exactly that. You’re not sure because she’s nine and tiny and speaks in far-away lightning, in that it’s silent at first, then a rumble and shake and basically indiscernible thunder. It is spring of 2005, and it’s around the cicada time of day. The heat gets heavier and animals begin to compose. Humans grind to a halt or retreat into refrigerated safe spaces, patios, porcelain toilet seats. You would be inside, too, if you weren’t a father, which you have begun to think about more and more frequently. “What did you say?” you ask. “That I feel dead,” hums your daughter. You’ve discovered in the last few days alone with them that children speak mostly in what seem to you to be euphemisms. You don’t know what these euphemisms stand for, and they can’t explain or rephrase them. “Do you mean sick?”
Your other daughter is doing the monkey bars. Playing on the monkey bars? Climbing on? You don’t know the word. You don’t remember talking about them as a kid, but you remember flying through the air. Skip the middle bar this time, or try to put air between the release and the slap of the palm, so for one moment you’re falling in space. Boys were competitive, full of challenges and tricks—you went to an allboys Baptist school, so you can’t speak to how the other side lived. Your other daughter, Macy, seems to be shooting more for speed than style. She is not bothered by the fact that she has lost one shoe in transit. “Then what do you mean?” “I mean that I feel like what a dead person feels,” she says. Sphinx-like. A month back, maybe, on the way out of the house in the morning, you happened to look in the backyard and see her on the monkey bars. Unlike Macy, she didn’t flit from side to side. As a matter of fact she was perfectly still. She just hung on the middle bar, elbows locked
and unmoving. It struck you as unsettling, an uncanny homeedition horror movie poster. Or maybe a Far Side cartoon: girl, large elbows, striped shirt, hangs from center monkey bar. Caption: “I don’t know, I didn’t think I’d get this far…” “What does a dead person feel?” (Clearly this is not your usual game. Your wife is the riddlesolver and the ball-tosser and the finger-painter.) Your undershirt tugs against your back skin, salted on, as you perch on your haunches to hear her better. “A dead person doesn’t feel anything,” she answers from her chest, “and I feel that way, too.” Here you know you have choices. This is a moment in this young person’s life, a formable moment or a teachable one, one she might remember for the rest of her time on Earth. If you say something out of place, you can break a child, you know. There are choices. You know your wife would have an astute emotional response. You decide that your equivalent is, A) I’m so sorry, baby. If this were an adult, a friend
over a beer or a woman after a few months, you would say, B) Why? You don’t feel anything at all? I’ve got some pot in my car, maybe… A doctor? Maybe say, C) For how long? Have you been sleeping enough? Eating? How is your family life? But out of panic you end up saying (this, then, is D): “That doesn’t make sense. You haven’t been dead before, so you couldn’t know. One day, you’ll be dead, and then you’ll know if you were right. But for now—you feel alive, because there’s not another option. Okay? Is that… okay?” You both look at a hole near the bottom of her size-small striped shirt and you wait. You really don’t want to see her cry. “Okay,” she seems to decide finally. “Yeah. Thanks, Dad.” You see her smile. She laughs, and you laugh too! You dodged a bullet. You convince your girls to come inside out of the molasses and noise, you collect Macy’s apparently irrelevant shoe, you hand them each a popsicle, you close your bedroom door and push the AC down. Pick off your
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scabbed-on shirt. Take a deep breath. When you are sixty-two and your liver has made its final gambit, your daughter will come into the hospital room and remind you of this story. She will be twentyseven and she will laugh again. You won’t because your sides will be weak and because you won’t know why she’s laughing. Her interiority is opaque to you. “I feel like I’m dead,” she will giggle, wiping away a reddish tear. “A-ha-ha-ha-ha. I feel dead.”
from Gaps in the Chase Adam Greenberg
We interest, hurry something that the cats away, away from the window. Window and a day, while I signed: I was able. I felt innocent, sunned, and audible, audible. To have folded in the rest, she says, I must have been holding still, still enough to be the real part, either way it’s tenderness. As from readymade trees, a local, rhythmic cheer, we were warmest when we opened the window. So emptied, lamp, torn hand and his legs away. I’m soothed if I’m seen. By then it’s libation day.
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CONT RI BU TOR S
A d am G re en b e r g is a recent graduate of Brown University's MFA in creative writing. His poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Poor Claudia, Yalobusha Review, and the Brooklyn Review. He currently lives in Boston, MA where he teaches classes in writing and literature. Jo ão L u ís B arreto Guim arães was born in Porto, Portugal (June, 3rd, 1967) where he graduated in Medicine. He is a Breast Reconstructive Plastic surgeon. As a writer, he is the author of nine poetry books, collected twice, including: his first seven books in “Poesia Reunida” (“Collected Poetry”, Quetzal, Lisbon, 2011), and the subsequent “Você Está Aqui” (“You Are Here”, Quetzal, Lisbon, 2013), and “Mediterrâneo” (“Mediterranean”, Quetzal, Lisbon, 2016). He is also a chronicler and a translator, mainly for his blog “Poesia & Lda” (“Ilimited Poetry”) L ou H e ron’s poetry has appeared in the Columbia Poetry Review and Epigraph Magazine. She grew up on the Southside of Chicago and works in administration for a small university under her other name Louise Thomas. H a nn ah L i nd s ey is a junior at Columbia University, studying abroad for a year at the University of Cambridge. She misses halal carts and her dogs. K h aya O sb o r n e is a 17 year old poet and actress born in Berkeley, CA and currently residing in Elk Grove, attending Franklin High School. Ms. Osborne has been writing poetry since she was in the second grade.Her work centers primarily around charting the existence of being a black woman living in America, although topics such as mental health and coming-of-age have been known to Charleston themselves from her fingertips–transitioning into a frenzy of Historical references, extended metaphors, homages to soul food, and jazz connoisseurship–onto her notebook pages, ending in a pirouette of humanity. 38
A n t h ony O tt e n lives in Kentucky. His work has appeared in Still: The Journal, Wind, Hot Metal Bridge, Grasslimb Journal, Coal Hill Review, and The Louisville Review. He graduated from Thomas More College and now works in higher education. He blogs at anthonyotten.com. D an Ra tt e ll e is a poet from Western Massachusetts where he still lives with his wife and kids. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Dappled Things, Pamplemousse, The Sigma Tau Delta Rectangle, and elsewhere. He is currently working on a chapbook. L e na R u bi n is a junior at Barnard. She is frequently surprised and is always drawn to the ocean.
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The Columbia Review is published twice yearly by the students of Columbia University, New York, with support from the Activities Board at Columbia. This issue is sponsored in part by the Arts Initiative of Columbia University. This funding is made possible through a generous gift from the Gatsby Charitable Foundation. Enquiries to: Columbia Review, Lerner Hall, 2920 Broadway, New York, NY 10027. Email: email@example.com. Books and media sent for possible review become the property of The Columbia Review.Visit us online at: http://columbiareviewmag.com/. Copyright ÂŠ 2016 by The Columbia Review. All rights reserved. Reproduction or translation of any part of this work beyond that permitted by Sections 107 and 108 of the US Copyright Law without permission of the publishers is unlawful.
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â&#x20AC;&#x153;Standing there, staring at the long shelves crammed with books, I felt myself relax and was suddenly at peace.â&#x20AC;? â&#x20AC;&#x2022; Helene Hanff