THE COLUMBIA REVIEW
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THE COLUMBIA REVIEW
Contents We d n e s d a y
Te t m a n C a l l i s 8
K e v i n P h a n 10
End of Our Races
D a v i d E h m c k e 11
B u r i e d Tr e a s u r e
K e v i n C a s e y 13
J i l l L o g a n 14
how the world becomes teeth
Wa l k e r P f o s t 30
Of small things and a shrunken world
D a v i d G r e e n s p a n 32
M i c h a e l B a t e s 34
Second Choral Ode: Ve r u m e s t a n t i m i d o s fabula decipit.... II. 371-408
S e n e c a 35 translation by Pe t e r R a c h o f s k y
Wa l k i n g W i t h M y Dead Wife
C i a h n a n Q u i n n 39
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Wednesday Te t m a n C a l l i s
He was doing the dishes when he heard the angels calling. Come home, Come home. Come home Wednesday, we’ve been waiting for you. They were a fluttering hovering above and in back of him, over his shoulders and to the sides. Intimate, their almost-sound the flight of a moth on a summer night. He didn’t look around to try to see them. He wasn’t stupid or mad. He had to finish the dishes. _____ The angels said Wednesday. He was to come walk with them in a beautiful place. The angels didn’t just show up out of thin air. All he had to do was sing, and soon they came. Calling all angels . . . _____ The first time he sang for the angels, only one came. He didn’t have to wait very long. The second time, a whole flock came. He didn’t see them or hear them the way he saw the dishes in the sink or heard the voices coming from the radio, but he could feel them, like a lover standing near. His skin tingled. When the flock was gathered, he could feel them in his throat. _____ He did the dishes and looked out the window over the kitchen sink at the back yard, still yellow and dead with winter. He looked at the traffic going by on the road behind his house, and at the clouds in the cold morning sky—some white, some gray, some touched with pale gold. He looked at the the kitchen windowsill and the things on it: the red, white and blue box of kitchen matches with the scuffed black striker
on the side; the canister of baking powder with the girl on the label; the box of baking soda with the manâ€™s arm holding up a sledgehammer like he was about to hit the baking-powder girl on the head, which would probably have killed her; and the almost-empty bottle of vinegar, and two plastic toothpicks in a dusty shot glass. The sunlight sparkled off the soapsuds, the dull silver of the stainless flatware, the hard shine of the glazed crockery. These things were all intensely beautiful, and not for the first time. _____ The angels called before he got to the pots and pans. He dried his hands on the towel that hung from the refrigerator door. Something touched his shoulder, then his mouth.
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Oranges Kevin Phan
Make me a church made entirely of oranges New fresh oranges, they swelled in the night Soft mooing cows breathing through their oranges Against fresh snowpack, a sack of laughing oranges Overhead, nightâ€™s approach, growing into oranges June Blood Moon, the Sun & Other Oranges Going back to Zero until a cavalry of oranges Kids howling naked, sad winter oranges Timeâ€™s vast gears churning through these oranges One by one, prayer & other oranges
End of Our Races David Ehmcke
Dad bets on the Derby every year. Doesn’t play to win it big. Twenty-eight dollars, maybe thirty-three, something to buy milkwhite smiles on his kids’ faces ‘round the turn of spring. Dad knows I watch him play. It’s our secret, it has to be. If mom knew, she’d make him quit, call him by his full name, break all the china she can reach. But I want the Derby: gunshots, juleps, twominute glory. See some milkwhite smile on dad, beaming at some milkwhite me. Grandma’d sing a song about luck, and the whole family would look like an advertisement we’d see for Macy’s. The kind my sister cuts and hangs in the back of her mind and dreams about in months where days roll by like quarters and fall somewhere down the kitchen sink.
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Grandpa says it takes forty years to win anything twice. By that time, dad will be one-hundred and eight, mom will be ninety-seven, and Iâ€™ll be fifty-nine, assuming. But choosing that winning pony is like big hats and whiskey: bizarre and accessory and makes you feel like living forever. And when Iâ€™m lonely, Iâ€™ll take the extras.
Buried Treasure Kevin Casey
As a child, I saw a young man waving the angled cane of a metal detector over the grass in the park, sweeping it back and forth like some act of conjuration. And he let me walk beside him, along the soccer fields, and behind the bleachers, stabbing the sod with a screwdriver to pry up soda can tabs, a nail, a tarnished earring with a missing stone. When I came home late for supper, I was scolded by my parents, who said he might have dragged me into the woods and done me in, or worse. But they didn’t know about the coin tucked into my pocket, the treasure we’d found, that he’d let me keep. So they couldn’t see that all those risks were worth the stately mansion we’d unearthed, stamped upon the nickel’s disc, the triumph of shining daylight again on its face’s faded profile.
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Riders Jill Logan
“Has the world changed any in a thousand years?” “I don’t know – perhaps very little.” “Have men?” --from Riders of the Purple Sage
he slow, sweeping gaze of the Rider failed to find other living things within the field of sight.* It had taken hours longer than planned to unload the truck, and the Rider was beginning to feel thin and vulnerable. “Goddamn it,” he hissed at his partner as a cardboard box smashed back his thumbnail. “I said I’m sorry,” the Partner drawled. “You need to calm down, man. Here’s a little exercise I do to calm myself. 3-2-1, 1-2-3, what the fuck is bothering me? Say it with me. 3-2-1, 1-2-3, what the fuck is bothering me?” “Thank you, Dr. Freud.”
“You’re welcome, dude. I learned it in therapy,” said calmly. The Rider grinned. And this sweep of the lips did it – the smile amputated the tension and made strange sense of the fact that these two were friends. The Partner was a good man to have around and had taught the Rider everything he knew about binaries and oxidizers, but, more than that, the two understood each other as important types of people – men of vision who were not afraid to put the blade of action to the skin of the world. The Rider sat on the truck bumper and drank from his green canteen, not the shitty plastic one from his Army days, but a stout metal vessel that his Paw-Paw had given him years before. An ache was beginning to yank at his neck and shoulders from slinging the fifty-pound bags from the storage shed into the rental truck. He was developing a new respect for his Partner’s former farm life, which the Rider had always pic-
* Italicized portions excerpted from Zane Grey’s Riders of the Purple Sage (public domain), originally published in 1912 – often considered the most popular Western of all time and the prototype for the modern-day Western.
tured as monotonous days of chucking burlap bags from truck bed to truck bed until it was time to dump their contents into a crater filled with corn. (It was a wonder his Partner wasn’t more muscular – a “small arms expert,” they would have called him in Boot Camp.) But the Rider was too tired to rag on his Partner about his farm days or chicken arms, and he reminded himself that the Mission called for something more serious, for a more formal and important tone than the one he and his friend normally used. This wasn’t an event to be enjoyed. For at first it had been a reckless determination to achieve something at any cost, and now it resolved itself into an adventure worthy of all his reason and cunning, and keenness of eye and ear. The Rider pulled his notebook from a back pocket. He’d made sketch after sketch of how the ingredients would all fit together and calculated that the truck would weigh upwards of 6000 pounds when it was ready. This numerical fact impressed him. He was good at this kind of organization. He liked plans. He liked records of things, whether they be in pictures or in books, on photograph or parchment – something to last. A history. This need for clarify, order, and reason was the simple side of
him. But there was something more in him, barely hidden, a something personal and sinister, a deep of himself, an engulfing abyss. His Partner noticed an object sitting on the black steel truck bumper, and he leaned over and picked up the set of dentures. Real human dentures, yellowed and worn. Hanging from a dog tag chain. “What are you doing with these?” he asked. “You’ll see,” the Rider answered. _____ The Woman peeked in the rearview mirror and smiled at the Baby riding in the backseat. The Baby’s back teeth were finally sprouting, and at last she could smile a toothy smile. Mornings started earlier than they ever had before. The Woman’s eyes would open with a new kind of urgency and drive. She was tired but she didn’t want to stay in bed. Like a curious child watching a seedling in a flowerpot, she wanted to go to the Baby’s room to see her, to see if she were still sleeping, if her fingernails had grown, if her hair had changed color, in what ways she had morphed in the night. And
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yet the Woman also experienced the constant chest-tightening panic of motherhood. She felt it when she had to take a shower, when she couldn’t see the Baby. So the Woman had developed the habit of putting the Baby in a bouncy-walker on the floor, where she could sweep aside the plastic shower curtain and say “rubber baby bunnies” to make the Baby smile. Then the Woman would have to get dressed and make sure that everything was cinched up and tucked in and comfortable enough so as not to rub blisters, then get the baby changed and dressed and cleaned and fed and then cleaned once again. But the Woman had at last found full expression for the mother-longing in her heart. The child was an answer to a prayer, a blessing, a possession infinitely more precious than all she had lost. As they pulled onto the interstate, she slid in the Baby’s favorite CD. It was a mix CD that had somehow stowed away with the car. Apparently no one at the used car dealership had checked the CD chamber before selling the hatchback to her, and one day she just pushed the CD play button and the man’s mellow voice glided warmly through the speakers. She’d heard the voice
before but didn’t know who it was, and there was no label on the CD, just a note on the disc written in black marker: FOR JIMBO. I’M GOING TO GRACELAND, GRACELAND, MEMPHIS TENNESSEE The first time the song came on, the Baby had been wet-gummed and crying, but then all of a sudden she stopped. She raised her little fists in the air and shaped her mouth like she was trying to make a buzzing sound, then sort of rocked from side to side. The woman was continuously amazed by the constancy of the Baby’s attention to the song. It held her like a cradle. And what the Woman liked most about the song was that it wasn’t religious. At first you thought it might be, but then it became a real story – not about loaves and fishes and sexless pregnancies, but about a sad man on a journey. _____ “What was the first thing you ever wanted to be?” his Partner asked. The Rider didn’t answer. “Well I wanted to be a doctor,” the Partner said. “My mom had this goddamn wire planter that she kept out on the front porch. It was
about the size of a moving box, and half the time seems like it was full of nothing but dead leaves that blew in. Anyway, it had these narrow bars to it, and the mourning doves would get in there and get themselves stuck. At least three of them I remember pulling out with broken wings, and I’d wrap their little bones and try to save them. I had an old copy of Grey’s Anatomy that helped a little. They all died.” “Can you hand me the drill?” asked the Rider, trying to imagine how you’d wrap a bandage around something as fragile as a bird wing. “I also thought of being a carpenter or something. I liked making crap.” “Surprised they put you in the infantry instead of having you heal people or build shitters,” said the Rider. “Army had it in for me from the beginning,” said his Partner, dropping a stack of thick plastic buckets on the ground. “Nah, I didn’t care though. Just wanted to do something besides farm. If it was grunt work, so be it.” The Rider climbed back into the metal truck with a piece of plywood that he used to reinforce the
bottom. He slammed in nails, one by one, trying to use as few swings as possible to cut down on the noise that was echoing out of the truck. His Partner dropped a bathroom scale on the ground and, one bucket at a time, began weighing out the chemicals. As he gently scooped the white crystals into them, the smell of ammonia and burnt plastic swelled with the breeze. The Rider observed that measuring chemicals was about the only thing his Partner did carefully. Years ago the man had even managed to accidentally suffocate his own baby with a plastic bag. The Partner had only spoken of the accident once, after a night of Old Crow and Eastwood movies, and the Rider figured it was one of those things that you just couldn’t afford to think about too often or you’d go crazy. So he didn’t ask. But it was bitter knowledge that made him see the truth. When the vapor began to make his eyes water, the Rider climbed out of the truck, a little disoriented. In the confines of the back of that truck, he’d almost forgotten where they were. He looked up and watched the clouds drag themselves across the sky and marveled at his own league-long shadow on
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the ground. They had parked in a secluded corner of the state reserve, and fortunately the weather was still cool. He knew that a month later the park would be crowded with fat American families casting stinkbait into the rivers and littering the campsites with their beer coolers and cornhole boards. He looked around at the trees and frowned: gnarled, twisted into weird contortions, as if growth were torture, dead at the tops, shrunken, gray, and old. The buzzing of locusts perforated the silence.
constantly bitched about her demands, he’d rush home to fulfill them again and again.
“Hand me that yardstick, will ya?” asked the Partner. He took the length of wood and used it to stir the bucket like a camp cook over stew.
The Rider bent down to read the little number. Such a delicate balance.
“So what did you tell your wife?” asked the Rider.
“You know I was telling you about those new car seats they have now?”
He had grown used to the constant domestic prattle from his Partner, so it unnerved him a little when the Partner, now intently bent over his bucket, stopped talking. The Partner was on his second wife, a young mail-order bride from east Asia, and normally he droned on and on about tasks she had him doing – steppin’ and fetchin’ for this and that, cooking and gardening and running to the store for tampons, and though the Partner
“Fuckin government,” said the Rider, “telling you how to put your own kid in a car.”
“Told her we were at a gun show,” the Partner said. “She’s busy painting a room for the baby. Painting it the same color it was painted already, pretty much. I told her I didn’t want her breathing in that paint poison while she’s pregnant, but I know she’s gonna do it anyway. That’s why I had to leave my stepstool there. Hey, can you read the scale?”
“One hundred seventeen,” he said.
“True, true. But these car seats they’ve got now really are nice, I’ve gotta say, at least the one we got. Little extra cushions for their heads, one click in, one click out, all that.” He lifted the bucket onto the dolly. “And they got these little kid sneakers now, too,” he said. “Cooler than what we had when
we were growing up. They got wheels on ‘em and lights on ‘em and…how’s that?” “I think we need to put more on the driver side,” said the Rider, studying the position of the bucket. “Nah, it’ll get too heavy,” said his Partner, the high slope of his alabaster forehead beginning to sear with sunburn. “I think it needs to stay balanced on each side.”
of the truck was beginning to look like a balloon station at a carnival. “What’s the plan?” the Rider asked. “What are you gonna do when you get home?” “Not gonna watch the news, if that’s what you’re thinking,” his Partner answered. “Besides, I promised Kiki I’d fertilize the lawn in the morning. It looks like shit. Worst lawn on the block.”
The Rider just turned toward the They took a look at the truck, truck. In reply there came not a which was already starting to lean. word, not a nod or shake of head, not so much as a dropping eye. “Can’t have that much weight on _____ one side,” said the Partner. “You’ve got to spread them out more. If it The Woman had grown up helping doesn’t tip the truck, it’s gonna at her mother and aunts clean houses least break an axle. Try explaining for folks in town – not big houses, that to the Highway Patrol.” but big to her, mostly ranch style with wall-to-wall carpeting and “But what if the fuse doesn’t furniture from department stores work?” said the Rider. “I’ll need to and chunky black stereo appliancbe able to shoot at it easy to set it es in the living rooms. Sometimes all off. They’ve got to be grouped when she was dusting tables and together.” picture frames, she would listen to rock stations on their radios or turn The Partner ran his fingers through on their TVs to watch soap operas, his hair in a way that made the admiring the TV women with Rider fearful he might back out. their glossy hair and eyeliner and But the Partner finally conceded, attitudes. They were not like the “Shit,” and lifted a bright red metal women she knew, motherly women tank into line with the others, then and plain-featured – women who duct-taped it in place. The inside embodied the mysterious despotism
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she had known from childhood. “That TV will ruin you,” her mother would say, and the Woman would think, Haven’t you already ruined me? What do you call ruin? Her mother had taught her at home until she was sixteen, but she didn’t know enough math or science to pass the GED, so just getting into college took her several years. And then she worked her way through several more, doing clerical work in an office that smelled of burnt coffee, for a birdlike woman with permanent postnasal drip. But finally she had done it. She’d made money and saved money and made something of herself. She had had a revelation of mortal spirit and left a life behind and found this one. And that particular morning she had dressed in pantyhose and heels and her department store perfume. She curled her bangs with the curling iron, then put the Baby in the other room while she clouded her head in hairspray. She’d put on her only pair of earrings, even though one of the clasps pinched her ear too tightly and she knew she’d have to take it off before the day was over. She dressed the Baby in the new purple jumper she’d bought – the one with the little clown holding a balloon over the leg hole. And
the whole day had been planned with the goal of obtaining this one little thing. She hit the button on the CD player, and they listened to Jimbo’s song one more time. I’M GOING TO GRACELAND, GRACELAND… _____ Strangely, all of this preparation reminded the Rider of something he’d heard about from Texas – that those ATF bastards all had their blood types scrawled on their arms and necks in black magic marker before they entered the compound. Like hell they didn’t know the whole thing was gonna be a bloodbath. Those Texas cultists were freaks, no doubt about it, drunk on cider vinegar and holy water. But they should have been allowed to do as they saw fit. He’d watched the coverage of the siege on TV, night after night, bitterly comparing their loneliness to his own. That cult leader may have looked like one of those tree-root hippies, but that crazy bastard had found a way to be of importance in this world. There were so many conflicting stories about him and his doings. They accused him of having 140 wives and child brides and all that. Whatev-
er it was. The Rider had later read an unsubstantiated news story about him being challenged to a resurrection contest to determine who would lead the cult. Probably just government propaganda, but it said the cult members dug up a woman’s corpse from the Texas clay, and whoever brought her back to life would get to be the group’s new leader. When the Rider thought of it, he pictured that ghoulish female, face stained purple around the mouth, swaddled in white, coming to life in that man’s arms. Funny – now the Rider couldn’t remember how the story ended exactly, but apparently the reigning cult leader had somehow won. The Rider had seen a photograph of the leader after the firefight, lying in deep grass, dead, jaw fallen, eyes protruding – a sight that sickened. What people didn’t understand was that the bad guys were the government – the cultists knew it, that family held up in Montana knew it, that woman shot with the baby in her arms knew it. And the Rider was just trying to protect the good people from the bad. He’d seen the pictures of the children poisoned with CS gas, a fluttering, bloody froth of vomit in a
halo around their mouths, their bodies burned after cyanide poisoning, charred and twisted black as shadows. And who had started that fire? Those pillars of flame and revelation? The government claimed it was the cultists, but he didn’t buy it. That fire that burned those people of all races and colors, Brits and Aussies and Filipinos, black and white and Hispanic, wrapped up in black body bags like sacks of trash on a curb, the one extra child’s leg they never could account for. He was so angry when he saw the news coverage that he tracked down one of the FBI snipers and sent him a letter. “That woman was holding a child, you sick fuck,” he wrote. “Someone must protect this world from its protectors.” _____ Months before, outside the office, the Woman had been the one to find the cardboard box with a hole cut in it. And inside: the Baby, like a hamster in a shoebox, a cricket in a jar. The one thin little bedraggled garment she wore half covered her. A pilled blue flannel pillowcase had been folded into the bottom of the box, and when the Woman reached in, the little hands feebly clasped her arm; a ghost of a troubled, trustful smile hovered round the sweet lips.
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Part of the umbilical cord was still attached. She had ideas about who had left the baby. One of the girls from one of the other churches in a neighboring county, most likely. For them to keep the baby would mean isolation, would mean being turned away from their church and probably their family. The Woman could picture the girl, even picture her house, her world, and she could only suppose she felt that it was a fearful, menacing place. She knew that feeling well.
The Woman awoke to the spirit of a lioness. She explained to the caseworkers about her history: leaving the church, leaving the family, living on her own. They listened with open faces. Finally the baby was hers. And suddenly the Woman felt as if she had been pulled from the cold, unforgiving ground. _____
As the Woman held the Baby in her arms, her head was bowing to the inevitable. She was grasping the truth, when suddenly there came, in inward constriction, a hardening of gentle forces within her breast. Like a steel bar it was, stiffening all that had been soft and weak in her. She felt a birth in her of something new and unintelligible.
Low swells of prairie-like ground sloped up to the west. The first few hours of the Rider’s drive were invigorating. He couldn’t believe it had all really come together, those hours of planning and designing, of hesitation and then conviction and then determination, galvanized by John Locke and the forefathers, all those who had known what only he now seemed to still realize. And here he was, only one man, riding the plains alone.
She contacted Child Protective Services and fed and changed and held and rocked the Baby for several weeks as a foster, did the training and the home study, then the interviews and visits and background checks. After a few weeks the freckled caseworker sitting on her sofa said, “Sweetie, you’ve bonded. You’re the one she trusts now.”
As he crossed the State Line, he did a mental inventory: Glock tucked into his coat, clip removed and chamber checked twice. The knife sheathed and strung on his belt. A Safeway sack full of bullets. The photocopied and stapled pamphlet of Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” in the seat beside him. He wished he had a nicer copy, some
kind of bound leather version that he could leave behind, maybe with his initials embossed on the front or some kind of meaningful epigram on the inside. An inscription from someone important, thanking him for the work he’d done, his efforts, his ideas. Like Paw-Paw’s old copy of the Constitution. Paw-Paw had been the one who taught him to shoot a gun. “This one’ll knock your dick back in your watch pocket,” Paw-Paw used to say, as he’d gently hand over the Colt. He’d taught the Rider about the 2nd amendment and given him his first Soldier of Fortune. PawPaw was like a character out of one of the western novels that the old man so voraciously read. The Rider had only read a couple of them himself. The plot he remembered best ended with people knocking down a boulder to seal themselves off in a valley, away from the corruptions of civilization. The dentures swinging from the rearview mirror were Paw-Paw’s. They were faded pink acrylic and porcelain, and Paw-Paw had clutched them in his hand when he died, sort of like he was handing them off. The Rider wondered what PawPaw would say now, say to all this.
The Army had given the Rider a Bronze Star, which they might as well have shoved up his ass. They sent him to the Middle East and made him do the dirty work. He’d killed a man. He wanted to go Special Forces but he didn’t pass their “tests” – their trippy Dr. Psychosludge, how-does-this-make-youfeel tests. What did they expect him to say after they’d had him practically decapitate some Iraqi bastard with an assault rifle? Of course there would be collateral damage now, too. He knew that. And he was willing to accept it. He just kept reminding himself about the government’s use of CS gas on women and children. He pictured those folks in Texas, raw clots of meat. There was a cold deadness which seemed to be creeping inward along his veins. As the truck turned its last corner, the dentures swung slowly and stubbornly, yet surely, and gradually assumed a long, beautiful curve of moving white. _____ The Woman had grown up in a small religious Community. Everyone gardened. Everyone farmed. They brought each other casseroles when someone got sick or even just felt poorly. The Community
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didn’t have the problems that were explained as urban and contemporary when she was young – the divorces and the stealing and the cheating and the leaving, as foreign to her at the time as credit cards and wine glasses. But now she saw that the shadows in her Community simply moved more slowly. The Elder, this man whose name had crossed the long, wild brakes of stone and plains of sage, this gentle-voiced, sad-faced man, lived by himself at the farm at the end of the road. His wife, a stern redhead who always smelled of pickles, had died two years earlier. At the time the Woman was twelve. She remembered going to the Elder’s wife’s funeral. (Her mother had sent her outside for giggling after her aunt broke wind.) A year later her mother sent her down the road with a blue scalloped dish for the Elder. She’d knocked on the doorframe, and the Elder held the screen door open for her as she brought in the dish. And she liked that he treated her like a grown-up, didn’t try to take the dish from her, like she was too small to carry it, too young to matter. And he showed her where to put it on the table and asked her if she knew how long to warm it and if she wouldn’t mind spooning
the casserole onto the plate for him and wouldn’t she like to have some too. And the last nice thing she remembered was feeling like she’d helped someone who was lonely. And when she went to open the oven door, he’d pulled her back against him, to protect her from being burned. She thought then that she died. By the next week everyone knew. There were bits of her everywhere. Her shoes left abandoned in the Elder’s front yard. (She’d run out of them and not even known it.) Her dress that he’d removed in the kitchen (the thin calico that her father had seen from the front door). And the underpants. She didn’t know where they’d gone. If he’d kept them or hidden them or burned them. But it was as if they were everywhere. On the ground between her and every pair of eyes that saw her from that day forward. Sunday she remained absent from the service. And that was when she’d decided that she would not ask any more of life. That had been eighteen years before. _____ The Rider glanced around, always looking for the attack upon him that was inevitable and might come from
any quarter. The idea of being caught really didn’t even scare him anymore. He’d always felt sure they’d implanted a microchip in his ass in the Army and now they just needed a reason to pay attention to him. He’d known all along it would come to this. He would be a martyr. But as he looked around, he suddenly felt nervous. Any idiot could run the plate right now and trace it to him. He’d used a false ID to rent the truck, wanting to laugh his ass off when the clerk explained that he’d have to refill it with fuel if he wanted his deposit back. The Rider had once been in love with girl named Francie. She had corn silk hair and brown eyes. She had inherited certain elements of the eternal feminine. The Rider had been in love with her throughout school and made his admiration known to anyone who knew him well. But Francie was never interested, almost seemed fearful of him – not a primal kind of fear but a fear of reputation. She didn’t want to be seen talking to him; he wasn’t important enough for her. He wasn’t an ugly kid (unlike most of his classmates with faces pockmarked like they’d been pelted with BBs as toddlers), but his ugliness was manifested in his
inability to talk to people, and his social awkwardness seemed to be what had kept him in a corner for as long as he could recall. He still remembered that night at the McDonald’s on the frontage road, sitting at a cracked plastic table with Francie’s friend Donna. Francie, the tops of her ears parting the curtain of her blonde hair, approached them and said, “Why did you bring him here?” dropping her disapproval on the table like a fast food tray, like he was some sort of strange tangent of a human being. And at that moment, as with a faint shadow from a flitting wing overhead, the marble whiteness of her face seemed to change. After his discharge from the army, he’d bought a road atlas and spent days marking it up, mapping out likely places for nuclear attacks, determined to find a safe place somewhere in the country – somewhere protected, a cove, a haven – somehow tucked away. West of it all. He’d tried the mountains and the deserts and each vista in between but found no such place. _____ She gave up hope of finding (hiding) the underpants. Though mar-
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ble pale and cold, she was living. But she had come from a culture that defined itself by avoiding confrontation as if it were a rabid beast. Her mother and aunts went about their household duties, and secretly they went about the underhand work to which they had been bidden: keeping the silence. They had all forgiven the Elder, or at least that’s how it seemed to the Woman. But she understood it as dark underhand domination, running its secret lines this time into her own household. Her mother swept it into her dustbins and wiped it on her apron. Her father retreated into his westerns, their pages brown and yellowed and breakable as dead leaves. But deep down she knew her wound must be attended to. And so one day she left. Someone had to take care of people. Protecting that baby would be her life. She had been the one to find her. She would be the one responsible for her. It was the single most important thing she would ever do. She would do her duty as she saw it, live her life as her own truth guided her. _____ To the Rider it didn’t look like a
federal building. It was nine stories tall. From one side it looked like a bank and from the other side it looked like an Embassy Suites – very fitting, he thought. A blasphemous affront to an institution he held most sacred. Fucking marble and shine. Where were the statues of the forefathers? Where were the ballast-stone walls that had withstood the fire of musket and cannon? The symbolism was all wrong, he thought, as he fumed between amaze and anger. The building’s glass façade reflected the morning sun in a way that was grand, magnificent, heartbreaking, begging. And yet it seemed so strangely normal, with trash cans and ashtrays out front, waiting to be needed, like servants. A pale yellow Cadillac pulled away from the curb in front of him. The license plate said JHOVAH. “Jesus H. Christ,” he said under his breath. And then he laughed, nervous, tense, amused by how difficult it was to separate profanity from religion. Suddenly he was jolted from his thoughts. He turned to the window, almost reached toward the gun on his hip, but stopped. A woman. She was bright, smiling,
and her greeting was warmly cordial.
“I’d hate for you to get a ticket.”
She made a motion for him to roll down his window – sort of an old-fashioned gesture, since most cars had power windows. He paused for a moment, a little startled, then rolled down the glass, which made a whimpering sound.
“I’d hate for them to give me one.”
The Woman’s eyes were fathomless blue. _____ “You might want to be careful,” the Woman said, pulling the Baby snug against her hip. “Just saw them tow away a Jeep when I was pulling in. I don’t think they’re very generous and all with the tickets around here.” The man seemed surprised by her comments, but she figured he’d probably driven quite a ways, judging by the U-Haul. Perhaps he was lost. He was young with a thin face and sunken cheeks, but it was not these which held her; rather the intensity of his gaze, a strained weariness, a piercing wistfulness of keen, gray sight, as if the man was forever looking for that which he never found. “I’m just here temporarily,” he said.
“They’re just people doing their jobs,” she said. He looked down at his crotch, which she read as a man tired from a long drive. “Actually, I think you’re okay if you’re behind those lines there,” she said, pointing to a place behind them. “You just can’t be right here because it gets in the way of the people coming through.” The Rider nodded, hoping she would leave. But she didn’t. “I was looking at your truck,” she said. His heartbeat picked up. He leaned out the window. She was pointing at the side panel, where all of the rental trucks had pictures with factoids about some tourist destination or endangered species in one of the fifty states. It surprised him that he hadn’t actually bothered to read this one. He couldn’t quite make it out from his angle, but it looked a little like the Grand Canyon. “That’s Boulder Canyon,” she said,
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bouncing the baby on her hip. “Oh is it?” He hoped she didn’t read the nervousness in the way he was hammering the steering wheel with his thumb. “I’ve been there once. A long time ago. Supposedly they used to film a lot of Westerns there,” she said. “It sounds familiar.” The Woman looked around. “Well, if you need a place to stop, there’s a Stop and Go a few blocks down. Less hassle to park than here I–” And then it happened. “Graceland!” said the Baby. (Or something more like “Gurchen.”) They both looked at her.
Were they teeth hanging from his rearview mirror? The man looked from her to the strange pendulum of molars, and she saw his dark, worn face change, and by that change she seemed to feel him immovable as a wall of stone. “Oh,” she said. “That’s funny.” She could think of no other words to move from the subject. Standing pale and still, the tension of the moment tightened. “Have a good one,” she finally said, shouldering her purse and diaper bag and squeezing the Baby tightly against her torso, still seeing those swinging teeth in her head. He nodded.
_____ Then she left him and moved away, a white, gliding shape that soon vanished in the shadows.
“Oh my gosh!” the Woman said, partly to the stranger, partly to the Baby. “Wow, how funny. She’s never said that before. She hasn’t said much of anything. It’s from a song. It’s this song she really likes. What a crazy thing that she–”
He thought to himself, “Lady, if you know what’s good for you, you’ll get that baby out of here.” And then he watched her for a little while – longer than he knew he should have. He wanted to tell her not to go in there – in there where They would get her.
But suddenly something caught the Woman’s eye and she stopped talking.
His hands had begun to shake. He tried to count to steady his nerves. 3-2-1, 1-2-3, what the fuck
is bothering me? It sounded even stupider when he said it out loud. He reached under his seat to where they’d threaded the fuses. And suddenly his mind flashed on his Partner and those broken bird wings. He pictured them grey and fluttering and delicate as porcelain. If there ever had been a trail here, he could not find it. He lit the five-minute fuse. And then he lit the two-minute fuse. Then he climbed out of the truck and pushed down the lock. And he began walking, but not running, as fast as he could. The buildings, biting like teeth into the blue, were landmarks by which he measured his distance from the getaway car. He dropped the truck keys onto the ground, in the seam between the street and the curb. They made a gentle clink. He looked around.
As the Woman strolled into the building, a blind man passed in front of her, sweeping his walking stick side to side in a constant motion, like the ticking of a clock pendulum. Swish, swish. Swish, swish. “Beautiful baby,” a pudgy woman in a pantsuit said in the elevator. “She’s getting her social security card today,” the Woman said. The elevator doors closed with a soft ping. Then, out of the east or north from remote distance, breathed an infinitely low, continuously long sound—deep, weird, detonating, thundering, deadening—dying. _____ He ran. That west wind was fresh, cool, fragrant, and it carried a sweet, strange burden of far-off things— tidings of life in other climes, of sunshine asleep on other walls—of other places where reigned peace. It carried, too, sad truth of human hearts and mystery—of promise and hope unquenchable.
He was a block away. _____
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how the world becomes teeth Wa l k e r P f o s t
you’re sitting outside in the gray milk of an early morning on the concrete patio of a fast-food restaurant wishing you had worn long pants, you’re eating hashbrowns and prepackaged fruit slices, enjoying the smell of asphalt and the sounds cities make when there are no cars, you’re with your wife and your dog, your wife has come with you on this bullshit errand, whatever it is, your dog is staring at your food with her big sad eyes, your wife says something funny and you bite down on, what, a piece of banana? a thing of scrambled egg? anyway a lump of something and you feel pain in your molar, only a little, just a light insinuation of discomfort that drops to your jaw and quivers there for a moment— you swallow, you thumbrub your cheek, it fades and the next bites are fine but then it hurts again and you think of your father at sixty-three, laid off from his factory job, teaching math at a private middle school without insurance and washing windows on weekends, laughing with his lips closed, and the concrete and plastic tables around you transform into teeth, the fast-food-branded napkins become teeth, each link of the chain fixed to your dog’s collar, the hashbrowns—everything, just like that, and you sit there chewing because you don’t know what else to do even though, this time, the pain doesn’t fade, especially now that you’re chewing on teeth instead of hashbrowns,
and everything becomes clear to you, you know why your father wraps himself in the softest room of the house and sleeps with his mouth open, why he doesn’t like being around balloons, why he can’t figure out computers. beside you, your wife erupts in a fountain of teeth. the pain focuses your attention—you’re not on a patio, the fog in the air isn’t fog, it’s teeth, you’re in the mouth of a she-wolf, the sky is its soft palate, everything, everything in the world is its teeth and you might be its meal and you might be its tongue
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Of small things and a shrunken world David Greenspan
She has nothing written across her hips. I have nothing written anywhere. We’re standing by a church and she is fuller than I could ever hope to be. Flowers growing from under her arms, moss across her scalp, twigs everywhere. I’m standing in front of a shrunken head that doesn’t exist anymore beyond words and recordings and perhaps a museum somewhere in Nice. I’m yelling now, pulp falling from my mouth to wet sidewalk where it lands like eyelashes, silent and full of delightful meaning I can’t begin to understand. Let’s call it a pleasure.
Let’s call it a day, retire to wherever it is people retire to: Florida, California, Arizona. Let’s brine our hands and bake sweetbreads. Let’s stand quite still after, damp and moonless, admiring our work.
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Scruples 3 Michael Bates
Lazarus is alive. He’s eating breakfast with his sisters. On the table there’s fresh fruit, hot bread, enough tea for everyone, including well wishers who’ll soon be swarming in like locusts. Mary and Martha are crying, but not for joy. He’s sorrier than they could ever be… says he was on the way to heaven before it turned back to Bethany, that their meddling in his afterlife did more harm than good.
Second Choral Ode: Verum est an timidos fabula decipit…. ll. 371-408. trans. Peter Rachofsk y
Is it true, or but a tale to charm the faint at heart That shades persist when flesh is laid to rest – When the spouse has placed her hand upon the eyes, And the final day has thwarted future suns, And the somber urn has shut the ash within? To render up one’s soul to death – Is not that fate much in our favor? Must those who live in cruel distress Endure eternal life? Or do we die intact, and no piece of us remains, When the spirit makes its exit, When the final breath is banished To be mingled with the clouds above, And flame set underneath the corpse Begins to char its naked flesh? All the sun has ever glimpsed as it dies and is reborn; All the Deep has ever bathed As it ebbs and flows with waves of blue – Time will sweep away the lot With Pegasean stride. The dozen constellations fly at whirlwind speed; The Lord of Stars spins eras out in haste; And Hecate bolts across the sky in slanting arcs; At such a pace we hurtle toward our deaths. He who has touched the lakes of Styx That bind the Highest to their oaths – He does not exist at all.
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Just as smoke from scorching flame Briefly fouls the air above Before it fades away; And just as clouds, which lately seemed to swell with rain, Are swept and strewn by Northern winds; Thus our sovereign spirit too Shall pass and be forever gone. After death there nothing is, And death itself is nothing â€“ Nothing but the finish line Of a race quite swiftly run. The greedy should lay down their hope, The worried should lay down their fear: Chaos and voracious Time, They devastate us all. Death is indiscriminate, ravaging the body, But sparing not the soul. Taenarus and the realm below, commanded By the stony-hearted lord of shadows? Cerberus, standing doggedly upon the threshold As guard of those unyielding gates? These are empty rumors, foolish and inane â€“ The tale is like a fretful dream. You wish to know where you shall lie in death? Where did you lie before you were conceived?
Second Choral Ode: Verum est an timidos fabula decipitâ€Ś. ll. 371-408. Seneca
Verum est an timidos fabula decipit umbras corporibus vivere conditis, cum coniunx oculis imposuit manum supremusque dies solibus obstitit et tristis cineres urna coercuit? non prodest animam tradere funeri, sed restat miseris vivere longius? an toti morimur nullaque pars manet nostri, cum profugo spiritus halitu immixtus nebulis cessit in aĂŤra et nudum tetigit subdita fax latus? Quidquid sol oriens, quidquid et occidens novit, caeruleis Oceanus fretis quidquid bis veniens et fugiens lavat, aetas Pegaseo corripiet gradu. quo bis sena volant sidera turbine, quo cursu properat volvere saecula astrorum dominus, quo properat modo obliquis Hecate currere flexibus: hoc omnes petimus fata, nec amplius, iuratos superis qui tetigit lacus, usquam est. ut calidis fumus ab ignibus vanescit, spatium per breve sordidus; ut nubes, gravidas quas modo vidimus, arctoi Boreae dissipat impetus:
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sic hic, quo regimur, spiritus effluet. Post mortem nihil est, ipsaque mors nihil, velocis spatii meta novissima. spem ponant avidi, solliciti metum: tempus nos avidum devorat et chaos. mors individua est, noxia corpori nec parcens animae. Taenara et aspero regnum sub domino limen et obsidens custos non facili Cerberus ostio rumores vacui verbaque inania et par sollicito fabula somnio quaeris quo iaceas post obitum loco? quo non nata iacent.
Walking With My Dead Wife Ciahnan Quinn
here’s no one hardest part; it’s all hard, a series of struggles that I never imagined or planned for, the successful navigation of which demands competencies I don’t possess and a disposition diametrically opposed to my own. A father, a husband: I was never either of those things with any ease. Now I am only one of them, and only barely, and even this meager achievement exhausts me. I put Caleb to bed at eight-thirty, leave the house around ten, my in-laws watching television in the living room. I drive down to the jetty, windows down, the night rushing in, pungent with life and death and heat and wet and the people that move here from New York and Connecticut and Ohio to live out their dwindling supply of days in warmth. She appears as I park, watches as I step out of the car and cross the parking lot, waiting near the cluster of benches at the beginning of the walkway leading to the pier.
We make eye contact; she smiles and I smile, and I want to take her hand, but don’t, and we walk to the end of the pier and back, slowly, down along the beach. We don’t say much, but we never did, either one of us, and now I wish that we had and wonder why we didn’t. We always got along, always loved each other, even if sometimes all that looked like was a mutual refusal to allow ourselves to fall in love with someone else during the times we were out of love with each other. We fought on occasion, each of us with the weapons we chose or were born to, me with flame and bitter words, she with ice and silence. But we always found our way back to each other. Our marriage, like most successful marriages, I’d imagine, was patched here and there with lies, most small, some, possibly, great; I find myself clinging to them now—bringing them before my mind’s eye one by one, turning them over, burnishing them, wip-
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ing away the dust and cobwebs and remembering when and why we told them. She never really liked opera or Northern Exposure, though at the time of her death we had been season ticket holders at Opera Philadelphia for a decade, and whenever we visited my mother I would plead fatigue around eight or eight-thirty and retire to our bedroom to read, and she and Mom would be up for hours afterward, drinking Sombreros and watching episodes of Northern Exposure on DVD. She wasn’t really a virgin when we met. I wasn’t the first person she’d fallen in love with. Little lies, well executed. And, considering the person I was at twenty-five and twenty-eight and maybe even thirty, wisely told. We walk for hours. That, and the fact that I haven’t had much of an appetite since she died, have me down to 185, a weight I haven’t seen since my swimming days in college. I come home after two or three or four hours with her, around twelve or one o’clock, sometimes after two, and find my father in-law awake, reading in the
easy chair in the living room, his prostate or heartburn bothering him again; he isn’t nearly as subtle as he thinks he is about checking my breath for alcohol, and my clothes for traces of cigarette smoke or perfume, but I don’t mind. No, Mr. Leonardi, I want to tell him, I didn’t start smoking again just because your daughter isn’t around to prohibit it, and I rarely drink, and I’m not seeing anybody, but he never asks. Your son is a piece of work, I say to my wife after we’ve walked a while. She arches an eyebrow. My son? The moon is large and full, casts a glaze over the ocean, and though she doesn’t do it now, I feel her hand press my shoulder as it did so many times, gentle but firm, and I hear her reminding me to stop a moment and appreciate the beauty of the world. Yours, I nod. Definitely yours. All by myself. Wait until you hear what he did.
She waits. We walk. There is a slight breeze. The tide pushes one and two foot swells up onto the beach and retreats, leaving a skin of water to hiss and sizzle on the sand. His English teacher— Mrs. Johoshaw my wife says. I nod. We met about Caleb last week. She has a thing about ‘hopefully’ and split infinitives, and knocked Caleb’s paper down a letter-grade because he wrote ‘to hopefully win the game.’ Apparently, rather than speaking with her in private, your son interrupted class to inform her that—wait a second, I wrote it down. We stop walking a moment as I search my pockets, find the sheet of paper, take it out, and unfold it. He said—I squint trying to read my chicken scratch handwriting in the moonlight—the prohibition against split infinitives is a remnant of some Latin-infatuated idiots’ inability to differentiate between synthetic and analytic languages, and that should she disagree, she should feel free to consult Lord Byron, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Elizabeth Gaskell,
and/or Elizabeth Barrett Browning, any of whom would put her straight. Moreover, a true grammarian would recognize that the ‘hopefully’ in my sentence is not a misplaced modal auxiliary, nor a split infinitive as you allege, but a sentence adverb that indicates my attitude toward the state of affairs described in the sentence. You’ve been leaving your old magazines around the house again. We resume walking. He’s twelve, I say. So? I read comic books when I was twelve. Apparently, he reads back issues of Harper’s. Admit it, he’s your son. I think she laughed. A gull shrieked right at that moment, though, so I can’t be sure. We used to fly down to Florida for our winter vacations. We’d sneak off to the beach after we got Caleb down, bring a cellphone so her parents could reach us if need
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be, and a beach towel, and maybe a bottle of red, and we’d lay the towel out and sit on it and watch the ocean and the dolphins jumping in the moonlight. We don’t sit now, though, ever; I don’t bring a towel or wine or even pause to turn out to sea for more than a moment, and I wish I would—I wish we would, and wonder why we don’t, though just like with the handholding and speaking that we don’t do and I wonder about, I know full well why we refrain: because I’ve got it in my head that if we did, if we do—that if I try to sit beside her or take her hand, she’ll disappear. I’ll try to lean in to her warmth and feel the soft press of her flesh against mine that always steadied me, which even in the worst of times somehow managed to strike my agnostic self as a quiet miracle, and she’ll be gone and I’ll come up empty, and entirely alone. Maybe I only say this because I’ve become a cliché, because I’ve joined the legions of lovers real and imagined who’ve been left behind by the one person that made them feel real, and found themselves unwilling or unable to accept it, but I’m not delusional: I know dead is dead, and the dead are silent; I’ve never
indulged in the self-aggrandizements of religion or the bromide of an imagined afterlife where all that has been lost is restored and all rainbows are twinned—but she is here, night after night she appears, and though I can’t explain it, I don’t want to lose it, and somehow I know that if I push too far or get greedy or miss a night, I will. So I walk and don’t touch and am mostly silent, but I get to be beside her. One night it was raining as I drove down to the jetty to meet her. The storm descended without warning, metal winds ripping the rain sideways so that it detonated against plate-glass and street signs and palm trees, pounded the side of my car. My wife was in her usual place, hair leaping and whipping and wet, and I was able to park right behind the benches for once because of the hour and the weather, though even then and in those conditions I wasn’t—we weren’t— alone. I cut the engine and opened my door to go to her, but she gestured for me to stop, and my heart sank because I thought the storm had her worrying after my safety, and that I wouldn’t get to be with her that night, and maybe because of that, because of an act of God and through no fault of my own,
I’d never get to be with her again, but then she was beside me in the car, already sunk down into the twenty year-old seats as she had been so many times. I thought I’d heard the door open and shut, but I hadn’t seen it, and suddenly I was wondering what the other people there had seen, and if I was losing my mind. Then the scent of her shampoo, lilac and vanilla—I’d only been tumescent a dozen times in the three years since her death, but I burst forth like a cyclone or a blister, cold and enraged, dead, yet radiating heat, animal desire, but a wild animal like a bear or wolf or lion with one leg caught and crushed in a trap for weeks, starving, with a bloody, ragged, now beginning-to-rot chunk of flesh just beyond jaw’s reach. The intensity drove the breath from my chest in a spasmodic gurgling, froze me in my seat, and left me naked and defenseless before my wife’s eyes, which fell briefly to my erection, then leapt away, her face a gnarl of illegible emotion. Was she blushing? Angry? Clouds obscured the moon; lightning flashed just often enough to ruin my night vision. A year or so after she died, I met someone, which already makes
it sound like more than it was: I was attending a support group for the bereaved; Alaia’s husband had been killed in a carjacking nine months prior, on his way home from dropping his mother at her dialysis appointment. Alaia was black, and I was white, and I’m not sure either of us noticed and am certain that the difference was never acknowledged, and not because either of us were interested in acting out some colorblind, we-are-the-world, post-racial fantasy, but because in all the time we spent together, I’m not sure either of us made it far enough outside of ourselves to justify saying that we ever truly met. Our general introduction took place at the bereavement group: each of the dozen attendees was given two-to-three minutes to introduce his or herself to the other eleven and the group facilitator; our personal introduction took place at a coffee shop which we frequented independently of each other. Neither of us liked the taste of coffee or drank tea, really; we only went so we could sit in the café and read and not be at home for an hour or two every week, and we never drank what we ordered, so we ended our occupation of our respective tables by replacing our bookmarks in our books and wait-
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ing in line to dump the contents of our mugs into the sink in the establishment’s only bathroom. If the mutual thought given to the worker who would empty the trash at the end of the night prompted our initial connection, I’m not sure what you’d call what grew out of it, or how you might characterize our liaisons. Certainly, they were never dangerous, and there was nothing illicit or even remarkably salacious about what we did in the quotidian Motel 6 on US 41, curtains drawn, lights off, one position maintained from start to finish, so ‘fornication’ seems inappropriate. We never ‘made love,’ though perhaps that was what we were looking for, and while ‘fucking’ conveys something of the rage that infiltrates one’s world in the wake of great loss, there was nothing of the vigor and dynamism in our coupling that the word suggests. It was not nothing, and it was not meaningless, but neither was it much, and whatever we had ended where and as it began, at the bereavement group amidst Nilla Wafers and Hydrox cookies, cheap coffee, sugar packets, and non-dairy creamer, in a circle of folding chairs flanked on either side by boxes of generic facial tissue. We’d not argued or had a falling out, not discussed anything
at all since our seventh and, as it turned out, final act of coitus. Caleb had been ill on Thursday, and I had forgone my trip to the café, and since we had only exchanged emails, not numbers, and had never made plans in the past, only shown up and found each other there, I hadn’t made any attempt to let her know I wasn’t coming, only gone to group the next day as I did every Friday, and said hello, and sat down next to her. People spoke, cried, avoided eye contact; folded tissue was flicked across faces and whisked back to pockets or swallowed within clenched fists in order to conceal the evidence of their sorrow. Words weren’t spoken to anyone so much as released from a cage like birds or lizards to dart about and perchance find refuge in someone’s ear or jowl or heart. I found myself speaking without meaning to, and people looked surprised and a little curious because I never spoke, and the one or two people who had mistaken my silence for sapience and tried to recruit or coerce me into the role of their personal sage in the minutes before group started and during breaks and after group ended as I tried to calculate how long I needed to stay and chat before I could leave without appearing rude locked onto me with an
embarrassing hunger in their eyes. It’s just all so messy, I said, mourning, and I don’t mean the tears and the moments of weakness when you have to leave a room or escape a conversation to keep from falling apart, but the way in which everything rushes together until you don’t know if you’re sad or angry or lonely, or just sick of the hassle of life, and you think that you could just as easily laugh or cry or spit, and that the answer to that neverquite-gone, searing ache might be looking up old friends, or fucking the hell out of someone, or therapy, or taking a sledgehammer and pulverizing your wife’s gravestone until there isn’t a single legible letter left because you’re not even sure what you’re doing anymore, because the other day when you came across one of her dresses in a closet, it smelled so much like her that you could taste her, and tasting her made you want to gorge on her, to fill every one of your senses with her so that she was all that existed in the whole world, and just as you’re feeling this, you remember that you weren’t making love to her more than once or twice a month, if that, in the years leading up to her death, and you can’t remember if that was her choice, or your choice, or a com-
bination, and honest to god you can’t remember being mad at each other… I lost everybody. By the end even my would-be acolytes were staring at the linoleum. Some were horrified, some confused, most just embarrassed. Alaia’s face became more and more impassive until it looked as if it had been rendered in wax. The facilitator brought the group to a close ten minutes early, took me aside, wrote a referral to a colleague of his who specialized in PTSD on the back of his business card and gave it to me, urging me to call him. I went to the next two sessions; most seemed to have forgotten my monologue, or at least to have chosen to pretend like they had, though a few people in particular, two women and one man, were openly hostile. Alaia was at the first meeting, not the second. I stopped attending the group thereafter. A month passed and I didn’t see Alaia at the café, so I sent her an email apologizing for my soliloquy in group, saying that I hoped I hadn’t embarrassed her, though it seemed unlikely the connection between us was substantial
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enough for my behavior to have reflected on her in any way. I told her I wouldn’t be going to the café in the future, so she could have that back without fear of running into me. I wished her the best, said I would always be available should she wish to talk. I received a short reply: no need to apologize, or to give up the café; she had started taking her ex-mother-in-law to dialysis on Fridays, and a new café had opened that was nearer her house. She probably wouldn’t have much free time since she was starting a new job, but she was grateful for the time we’d shared, etc.
their wavering strength.
The time we’d shared. To my mind it was a doubly vexed construction: neither the mechanics of time, nor the fact that Alaia and I had ever shared anything were especially clear to me. If, once, time had seemed to progress linearly, to extend from within itself toward infinity, now it seemed static, as if all the time that ever had been or would be was a spool, and we were no more than sentient threads wrapped around it, now loosely, now tighter, making pass after pass at a world in which all feeling and matter already exist and the illusion of change and development are merely the product of our inconstant attentions and
I am back in my car, my dead wife beside me, the squall unloading its venom on a world that will quake and creak and tremble until it stops, and which will resume its habitual stance thereafter, as tall and indifferent as it was before the storm, if perhaps somewhat rearranged and a little waterlogged. Husband, she said. Are you mad? Mad?
Why would I be mad? Alaia. Who’s Alaia? Then at the way I was. How were you? With you. With me? And Caleb. Is something wrong with Caleb?
No. Why are you playing dumb? Fuck you. Fuck me? That’s what you want, right? What? You want something to be wrong. Something is wrong! You’re not here!
You have the settlement money? Yes. I put half of it in trust for Caleb, and invested the other half. So you’re fine? What do you mean? You don’t have to work if you don’t want to? No, but—
I’m sitting right here.
And you can hire a sitter anytime you need a break?
You know what I mean!
Your parents would probably—
I got hit by a car, there’s not much I can do about it.
What’s keeping you from being happy?
Exactly! And now it’s just me and Caleb, and I don’t know what the hell I’m doing—I’m going crazy! And your parents—
You’re not here. I miss you.
What about my parents? It’s just that— It’s always something with you— you see that, right? What do you mean?
Were you happy when I was there? What do you mean, of course I— And all the stuff between us? What stuff? Now who’s playing dumb? The wind has died, the lightning vanished. Every ninety seconds
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or so, thunder rumbles in the distance. All that’s left of the storm is the rain, and it’s so soft it could be mistaken for mist. Do you remember what you said, my wife asks, when my parents first moved down here and we came to visit? I shake my head, but I’m lying. You said you could smell them decaying, all the geriatrics, that the smell caught in the moisture, and the heat made it stronger, inescapable. The smell of death was everywhere, you said. That wasn’t very nice of me. No, it wasn’t. I’m sorry. I’m not asking you to be. I still am. My point is that something happened to you.
She shakes her head. Even the mist is gone, now, the clouds dispersing, growing diaphanous, the moonlight leaking through. That’s not very helpful, I say. The same sun that generates all that heat, the moisture, the decay, it’s why the flowers do so well, why they get so bright, and why there are oranges and grapefruit and limes and lemons year-round. Mind over matter? She made a face. First I’m dumb, now I’m trite? That’s not what I meant. What I’m saying is that you stare and stare and stare at the world, but somewhere along the way you started filtering out every good thing. That’s not fair.
That’s not an indictment.
I don’t know exactly.
It sounds like one.
Coming from anyone else, yes, but it shouldn’t from me.
But we didn’t. We had what we had. I have no regrets.
I’ve earned that much.
I love you.
What have I earned?
And I love you. Now go home. Take our son to school tomorrow morning. Pick him up afterwards. I nod, and she’s gone.
Earned is wrong. A bad word, I’m sorry. Still. You were a good husband. I was luckier than most. But— You got in your head. I’m sorry. That’s not the point.
Back to my in-laws’ house, back to my son. To my empty bed, and memories of a wife and marriage that I loved and failed in equal measure. I don’t screw up any more than the next guy, probably, that’s what she meant; I’m just more aware of it when I do, and less when I don’t.
Right now, for you to do the best you can for our son. I am!
She knew I loved her, knew I was grateful. She said as much. I look and look and look at the world, she said, but somewhere along the line I stopped seeing all the good, my own growth and competence, life’s potential.
Well, alright, then.
Turn it around, she said.
I love you.
I can do that.
You can turn things around.
I don’t have to keep flailing, fail my son, myself.
Maybe if we’d had more time…
My wife is dead, but we are not.
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I’ll turn it around. And I’ll tell her about it. We’ll walk by the water, and I’ll tell her all the good things I’m learning to see. My wife is dead, but we are not.
CONTRIBU TO RS
Tetman Callis is a wr iter liv in g in C hi ca g o. Hi s
shor t f ictio n s h ave b een p ub lish ed i n va ri ou s mag azines, in clud in g NO O N , New Yo r k Tyr a n t , Litr o , Gra vel , al ic e bl u e r e v ie w, Iden t it y Theo r y , W i gl eaf, Sal t H il l, Den v er Qu ar t er l y , an d W h i t e W ha le Re v iew . He is th e auth o r o f th e m em oi r, H i g h Str eet: Lawyer s, G u n s & Mon ey in a S t o n er ’s N ew Mexico (Outp o st 1 9 , 2 0 1 2 ), an d th e chi l d ren’s book , Fran n y & Toby (Silk y Oak Pr es s, 2015). Kevin Phan g r ad uated fr o m th e Univers i ty of
Michig an with an M . F. A . in C r eative Wri ti ng i n 2 0 1 3 and th e U n iver sity o f Iowa wi th a B.A . i n Eng lish L iter atur e in 2 0 0 5 , an d was a Fel l ow f or the Buck nell Sem in ar fo r Yo un g er Poets i n 2001. He is a f or m er H elen Zell Wr ite r ’s Fel l ow Pos t g raduate Fellow fr o m th e U n iver sity of Mi chi g an, where h e wo n th e T h eo d o r e Roethke a nd the Bain-S wig g ett Po etr y Pr iz es. H i s work ha s been f eatu r ed (o r is fo r th co m in g) in C o n ju n c t i o n s (online), C r ab O r c h ar d R e v iew , Fen c e, P lei a d es, Gu lf Coast, Col o r ado R e v iew, S en t en c e, C id er P r ess R e v iew, SubTr opic s, C u t Ban k , C r az y hor se, F i d d lehea d , Hayden’s Fer r y R e v iew, an d elsewh ere. Hi s f i rs t collection o f p o etr y was r ecen tly s el ected a s a semi-f inali st fo r th e C r ab Or ch ar d O pen Poet r y Competitio n , a fin alist fo r th e C ra b O rcha rd First Book Pr iz e, an d as a fin alist f or the Col o rado Rev iew Po e tr y Pr iz e. David Ehmcke stud ies En glish at C ol u m bi a Uni -
versity. He h as wo r k p ub lish ed in H E A r t O nl i ne, Ink Lit Mag az in e, an d T h e Best Teen Wri ti ng of 2 0 1 6 , am o n g o th er s. H e is fr o m S i ou x Ci ty, Iowa . Kevin Casey is th e auth o r o f Way s t o M a ke a H a lo
(Aldrich Pr ess, 2 0 1 8 ) an d A m er ic an Lo t u s , wi n ner of the 2 0 1 7 Kith ar a Pr iz e (G lass L yr e Pres s,
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2 0 1 8 ). And Wak in g . . . was p ub lish ed by B ottom Dog Press in 2 0 1 6 . H is p o em s h ave a ppea re d recently or ar e fo r th co m in g in R u st +M o t h, Va l paraiso Po et r y R e v iew , C on n ot at ion P r ess , P r et t y Owl Poetr y , an d Ted Ko o ser ’s syn d ica ted col u m n ‘American Life in Po etr y.’ Fo r m o r e, vi s i t a nd wak ing. com . Jill Logan h as an M FA in C r eative Wri ti ng f rom
the Iowa Wr iter s’ Wo r k sh o p. Sh e h a s ha d work published in C r azy hor se , Qu ar t er l y West , M i c hi ga n Quar terl y Re v iew, Not r e Dam e R e v iew, Z yzzyva , a nd elsewhere. Sh e n ow lives in C alifo r ni a wi th her husband an d so n – teach in g wr itin g a nd f i ni s h ing a novel set in h er n ative Ok lah om a . Walker Pfost r eceived an M FA in wri t i ng f rom
UC Ir v ine in 2 0 1 6 , stud yin g with Mi cha el Rya n and Amy G er stler. H is p o em s h ave appea red here and there, b ut m o st r eco gn iz ab ly in M c S w een ey’s Quar terl y C on c er n . David Greenspan lives an d wr ites in S ou th Fl or-
ida. His wor k h as r ecen tly ap p ear ed i n Hayd en’s Fer r y Rev i ew, M id -A m er ican Rev iew, N ew D el ta Rev iew, an d o th er venues with th e word Revi ew in them. Yo u can say h i at d g r een sp a n88@g m a i l . com.
Michael Bates is a r ecen tly r etir ed i nter na ti on -
al publishin g executive. H is affili a ti ons were with the M cG r aw-H ill Bo o k C o m p a ny, the CB S Publishing G r o up, an d fo un d er-C E O of I n ter-Book M ar ketin g Ser v ices. M ich a el ’s ong oi ng themed ser ies S c r u pl es p r esen tly num bers 14 po ems. Other p o em s h ave ap p e ar ed in The C o lu m bia Re v iew, Pot om ac, Mon t ser r at, 2 R i v er V i ew , The Lucid Stone , K im er a , Mix ed Ner v e, A Li t t le Po et r y, Octa v o, S an dhil l R e v iew, Poet r y Ma ga z i n e, Wa r rior Poet, a n d m o st r ecen tly T he S ac r ed C o w, The
Bitchin’ Kit sc h, Mil l er ’s Pon d , v er se- v ir tu a l, The O p en Mouse. Peter Rachofsky is a so p h o m o r e i n Col u m bi a
Colleg e majo r in g in C lassics.
Ciahnan Quinn is a co n tr ib utin g ed i tor a t the
Marg inalia Rev iew o f Bo o k s. H is s hor t s tori es and essays h ave ap p ear ed in severa l j ou r na l s, and his sto r y, ‘ W h at Rem ain s,’ was nom i na ted for a Push c ar t Pr iz e by Rum Pun ch Pres s. He has worked as a jan ito r, a p r o fesso r, a ni g htcl u b bouncer, a n ar my ch ap lain , an d a p ers ona l tra i n er, among o th er jo b s, an d h e aim s to bri ng the diversity of h is life ex p er ien ce in to hi s wri ti ng.
Andrew Edward Hauser Camilla van Geen Veniamin Gushchin
Managing Editor Nikki Shaner-Bradford
Layout Editor Sofia Montrone
Website Editor Isabelle Harris
Editorial Board Salmaan Amin Zachariah Crutchfield Charlotte Goddu Callum Nathaniel Kiser Madeleine Lamm
Hannah Dianne Lindsey Coleman Y. Snyder Emily Sun William Samuel Wilcox Maddie Woda
THE COLUMBIA REVIEW
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The Fall 2017 issue of The Columbia Review, the nation's oldest college literary magazine. Volume 99. Issue 1. Established 1815.
Published on Jan 11, 2018
The Fall 2017 issue of The Columbia Review, the nation's oldest college literary magazine. Volume 99. Issue 1. Established 1815.