Many thanks to Alexandra Kleeman and Chen Chen for judging this year’s Prose and Poetry Prize Contests.
An Editors’ Note
It tickled me and tickles are better than itches.
* Winners of our Spring 2023 Prose and Poetry Contest.
Spring 2023 Poetry Prize WinnerPeter Kline
I didn’t know what I was feeling. If I had changed
it was like the change of cancer, disobedience flickering like a broken sign in that first cell while every other room in the vast metropolis lay dark;
or like water articulating into ice,
the gradually sudden something cleaving to itself, away from itself, requiring a different name with a keener sound;
or like the prophet finally limping down from the mountain, edging along the zig-zag cliffs and rock-shatter,
toward the starveling village there and the rich and populous heartland beyond;
or like the pinprick flush on the throat of the grape,
a subcutaneous shadow, a chemical urge,
that rises to the cheeks and up to the forehead, softening it
with the wisdom of sweetness, saying to the animals, Eat me.
I LOVE YOU SNAKEFACE
Spring 2023 Prose Prize Winner
It was the start of summer: my mother driving, her fingers clutching the steering wheel with a grip that seemed impossibly serious to me in the June heat. Our drive was mostly wordless, save for my mother naming the birds stuck in the trees. (Bluejay, that one. You can tell by its head, see. The blue.) By the time we got to the camp, the sunlight had evaporated to an anemic pink that soon boiled to the plain navy of my school uniform skirts. My mother left the car running as I got out (Go on then, I’ll see you in August. And try to stay out of trouble, alright?); she gave me a tight, cruel kiss atop my forehead that made me wince (There’s a good girl); she drove off, back towards the ferry landing, the car sputtering steam.
An old woman, no more than five feet, found me walking aimlessly through the camp’s large and hypnotically empty main lodge sometime after my mother left. I had been looking at the flowers painted on the ceiling, none of them true varieties, I sensed, but rather an assortment of imagined ones, bright purple with thirteen leaves and other kinds of impossible combinations. Enough time had passed that when the woman took me outside the lodge onto its imposing wooden steps, I saw the sky had gone black completely.
How strange it was, that old lodge with no people. How quiet, that blank night.
The old woman asked for my name and hand, then marched me to the registrar’s office where a goose-skinned and whitehaired lady gave me a room assignment. (That’ll be Juniper Cabin, dearie.) I was told that I had missed the orientation day festivities (Oh, it was marvelous. Maybe next summer you’ll see it, eh?) but that I could take whichever courses I liked, and to tell my counselor (Name’s Martha) that I was to be hers for that summer, and also to please, Martha, please not have fires
burning in the cabin hearth when she leaves at night to do godknowswhat.
The other girls were already being told a bedtime story by Martha when I arrived. The counselor––a girl really, no more than five years older than any of us––had ruddy, pockmarked skin and a large pink sunburn on her chest. She seemed confused at my presence but her interest dried as quickly as it had sprung, returning to the book before I could tell her my last name.
I took the last empty bed, a top bunk by the back of the cabin, and tried to get situated as quietly as I could manage. I rolled my sleeping bag out and it crinkled loudly as I dusted it off and shrunk my body inside of it, bearing quietly the pallid smell of mildew it so thoroughly reeked of.
The story Martha was reading was about a girl ghost: someone from long ago trying to make her presence known in the darkness. Martha’s voice (What is a ghost but a body without a witness?), the purr of the ocean, the basement-scent of my sheets.
When Martha went out to smoke, one of the cabinmates thought we should sit in a circle and tell secrets. The girl named after a kind of cookie––one I had loved then, as a girl of eleven, that now I find to be terribly soft––said that Yes, we should sit in a circle and say our secrets, it might be fun. So the rest of us came and placed our bottoms on the unevenness of the wood. The fire logs were still live and hot: winking red in long, gentle flares. One girl braided plaits into another’s hair that looked, in the lowness of the light, as if it could have been the color of lemons. I imagined how the strands might feel, slipping between sleepy fingers. God, was it glossy.
The girl with deep-set dimples and a box-shaped jaw went first and all our eyes went fat with disbelief. A whole hairbrush? Yes, she told us, beaming slightly in a way I thought was embarrassing. There
was a great, long pause as we all imagined her fitting it inside. Something like horror but brighter, redder, stirred at the seam of my pajama shorts. The kind with a soft handle, the girl added.
One of the others broke into laughter at this. Oh, the other girl said, I thought you meant bristle-side up!
Soon the lot of us doubled over into giggles that rang and rang against the night.
Did it hurt? the hopelessly freckled girl asked.
The dimpled girl shook her head slowly. Only a little, she told us. I liked it, she admitted in a short breath, I felt wide open.
We went on. The girl with the long, motherly nightdress had given a blowjob to an older boy who smelled like vinegar. The girl with short, wobbly fingernails and one tooth sharper than the rest said she had gotten drunk at her parent’s dinner party. The girl with the voice like a balloon rising had cut herself on purpose once––we went quiet. She showed us the evidence: a long, pinkish scar that jumped and glittered in the light like a fish’s scales. Its stroke felled her wrist into two halves.
I could hardly look but still, in a strange and urgent way, I wanted to reach out to her arm. Wondering what the scar would feel like under the soft press of my fingerpads. I’d touch it gently, I thought. I would touch it so gently.
A stumble outside broke our stunned silence. Our counselor tiptoed in, stinking of cigarette smoke.
Talking about boys? Martha asked, a half-hiss on the last syllable.
We all nodded.
We were shooed to bed by Martha, but I couldn’t fall asleep. Instead I stared at the ceiling until my eyes became fluent in the blackness. I watched the balloon girl on the bottom bunk
opposite mine. I wondered what her mother had thought of it: the knife, I imagined, or maybe a stolen car key. Was there blood? Did it hurt? The soft wet of her eye caught the last of the moonlight and I knew then that she was staring back at me, that we were looking at each other.
The girl with the balloon-voice was called Boa. Her cheeks were round and her palms the color of strawberry yogurt. I think I loved her.
The next morning I asked if she would like to play pickleball with me. She told me her name (Like the snake?) and said Okay, why not. We played a few games and made a neat team: the paddles whistling, the slap of our gum-soles against the concrete. At breakfast I split my fig bar with her and dusted the crumbs from my lap when I stood to leave. I asked Boa would she like to come with me for first elective. I have pottery, I explained to her, you can make whatever you want. She said yes, and in class on the art deck we built a strange, sideways face that was large enough the teacher insisted we destroy it (Too much of a hazard, I’m afraid, girls. Could explode in the kiln, what with all those air bubbles, and we don’t want that, now do we?); at second period we picked frogs from the pond and flung them against the grass; after lunch we pulled carrots out hair-first in the garden and held our pee to avoid the dreadful compost toilet.
When the bell rang for free period, Boa asked if I’d like to go visit the horse pasture. I didn’t tell her that I had been bitten once––those horrible piano-key teeth!––and nodded, giving a look of confidence convincing enough that soon we had made our way to the barn and were trading our sandals for riding boots. I slipped uneasily onto the back of a spotted, sturdy horse named Frederick after a counselor raised my body up and placed me in its saddle.
As we began to trot I thought Boa looked beautiful: she cast her helmet off after we rounded into the forest trail, just the two of us, and soon she was near-galloping up a hill, her velvet hair tangled and a
mess and every shade of lovely I believed existed.
I followed behind her awkwardly. Kicking my ankles against the animal too hard so that it gruffed, ducking my head under the same tree branches Boa seemed to weave under so easily. Soon she and the creature both came to full gallop. We had arrived at a large, flat clearing with grass dried to the color of honey. Nervously, I cracked my boot against Frederick but the thing wouldn’t speed up. I could see Boa bouncing towards the bend that would lead us back down into the forest, towards the camp barn again. I clicked my tongue in my mouth (Go on, boy! Please, come on, hurry up!) but the thing wouldn’t move. Frustrated and seeing Boa bob closer to the dense lushness, I pulled my foot out and slapped it against the animal with all the force I could gather.
Frederick made a loud, angry syllable and then stood onto its two hind legs, and when my body hit the ground I thought I might cry. It ran off quite defiantly towards the barn, without so much as a glance backwards, and I began to call Boa’s name with the stupid loudness of a child. She had rounded the bend into the forest greenness already. I really did think I might cry.
But then: two girls standing beyond the clearing, watching me. Their hands intertwined and both their eyes the color of topsoil, unblinking. I was so taken by their presence––so mesmerized, so unnerved––that Boa had already pulled one of my bloomer pant legs up by the time I noticed she was back.
I looked at her hands: she was pulling an oyster-colored tick from my leg. (Get up, you’re probably covered in them! Oh, gross, look, it’s so big. That’s all your blood, you know.) I looked at the bug in her hand, then back up the forest, serene, girl-less.
Oh, I said. Oh god. I got up quite suddenly and
thought, for a second, that I might fall over. My queasy, sudden disorientation passed. Boa was standing in front of me, her horse a few yards away and feeding on weeds near the edge of the clearing.
Where’s Frederick? Boa asked. I began to laugh, strangely, in long, rolling bursts.
I’m not so sure, I told her between giggles. We should probably go look for him, I guess.
Boa nodded in agreement, tears from laughing making both our eyes watery. I turned around to start back for the barn when Boa grabbed my wrist (Wait!) and pulled me back towards her.
We should check you for ticks, she said. Before the rest of them bite. You can get awful sick from them, you know, Boa told me.
Oh. Yes, I guess so. My face was hot. A thin shiver laced my spine, a rope of electricity.
Boa began to lift up my blouse––a stiff blue-and-white sailor’s top––and I held my arms up dumbly, too surprised to say anything. She slung the top over her shoulder and told me to turn around and pull up my hair.
Good, I could hear her saying, Now I’ve got you. Good riddance, Boa said, sprinkling the tiny pests on the ground. I nodded, and then Boa’s hand was unbuttoning my bloomers, and I was nudging them off to help her. She squatted to inspect the backs of my thighs: I felt her hands passing over the fine mesh of my body hair without making contact.
Okay, she said. All clear.
Right, I said, dumbly. Well, good. No ticks. She helped my shirt and bloomers back on.
Boa smiled. We’d better get going, she said, nodding her head to the direction of the barn.
Yes, I replied.
We stood there, both of us looking at each other. Waiting, wondering when the moment would end.
It did, of course: a slim and tall figure from the boy’s camp with too-big jeans calling out (Girls! Hey, giiiirls! Someone lose a horse?) with Frederick’s bit in his hand, the creature marching solemnly behind the boy. The boy walked me back, scolding me playfully (Got a little over your head, did’ya? Yeah, that’s alright, I can teach’ya sometime, if you’d like. Say, wait a minute, is it your first summer here? I don’t think I’ve seen you before, and I think I would’a remembered you) while Boa bounded off with her horse after a stilted goodbye. I told the boy Yes, it was my first summer, it was stupid of me to try to ride so fast, yes, something could have happened. Something could have happened.
Boa and I spent the summer in small fits of intimacy: I crept into her bed some nights after Martha had left and the other girls were asleep, drew faces in the red trails the beets from her salad left; Boa taught me how to burn my name into wood with only a magnifying glass and the sun, sucked a hickey on the thick of my shoulder and drew a ladybug’s spots onto the round bruise her mouth left.
In art class, I asked Boa to sit for a portrait. I had her pose for me on a tree stump with her hands in a lap like I thought an adult would: serious, unsmiling, ankles crossed.
Hold still, I told her.
Okay, she said. I will.
It might be a while. I’m kind of slow at drawing.
That’s okay, she said.
I began sketching her out with a blue colored pencil, pulling into focus first the round of her head, then the balance of her shoulder, then her knees, then her clasped hands.
Her hands. Her wrists: there was that scar again, the silver-shade like the whites of a dog’s eyes.
Boa, I said, trying to keep my eyes focused on the sketching. My heart knocked against itself in a kind of canted rhythm. How’d you get that scar? The eager sharpness of my voice surprised me.
Oh, Boa said. She knotted the scarred arm under her other hand. Um. I looked up and was horrified to see Boa’s eyes were slick with tears.
That’s okay, Boa, I said. Nevermind.
I expected Boa to tell me regardless. As a child I believed that secrets were an ugly and adult thing, that we should give ourselves over to each other as often and wholly as we could. But then I could see Boa was grateful for the quiet I gave her, grateful in the way the whole of her softened. So she kept sitting and I, drawing, her body revealing itself on my page in indigo. The afternoon rolled out in all its bloated blueness until we were called to lunch.
The camp dance was the closing festivity of the summer. It was the last night and some girls had been crying while getting ready in the cabin (I can’t believe I won’t see you until next summer!) but Boa and I said nothing on the subject. I knew I would not come back; my scholarship to attend was only for the year. I think we also knew that ours––whatever it was that we had––was a bottled kind of thing, sealed from the outside world. However much two little girls can know that; we didn’t have words for it, of course, the knowing passed between us like air.
So we did not cry. At the dance, we pulled the party decorations down when the counselors weren’t looking and stuffed them into our bloomers. We got wonderfully sweaty swinging to the music and Boa spilled half a pitcher of lemonade onto her shirt. When the lights came on at the end of the dance, I swore it was the latest I had ever been up in my whole short life. The sky was fogged over and a
milky kind of dark, starless and bright.
Martha rounded us up with the other girls from our cabin and told us we were going on an adventure. The dimpled girl complained but the rest of us persisted: No, we weren’t too tired, we chorused, please let us do the adventure, Martha, we’ll be good.
Ok, then. Adventure it is, Martha said. We all nodded, even the dimpled girl, who looked a little pale with humiliation. The adventure: we walked down to the water and we filed into canoes. We pushed off into the Sound and there was another complaint from that same girl (It’s so cold out) but we ignored her, taut with the excitement of a final excursion. As I dipped my paddle into the water I saw the water was dense with light: tiny, iridescent pinholes of green that crowded my paddle as it cut the water.
Oh! I heard a girl exclaim. I turned around, and saw that all of us were discovering the same magic. What is this? Boa asked, not looking up from the water below us.
Martha explained what we were seeing: tiny living organisms blooming with bioluminescence. I don’t remember the details; at the time the mechanism of the light seemed as unimportant as a thing could be. Instead, I was taken with the impossible beauty of the image. The green dots falling off my paddle over and over, the darkness obliterated each time the water rippled. I reached my hand in and it came out a new color.
In the middle of that last night, after we had gotten home and went to bed without Martha reading to us (It’s too late for a story, girls, and you all need to rest for the drive home
tomorrow), Boa woke me. Her face wobbled in the thickness of the dark, the kerosene leak of the moon spilling, spilling.
Hey, Boa said. Are you awake?
I registered in the darkness the perk of her ears, the splay of her hair blotting out the ceiling. I asked what is it, I’m tired, please go back to bed.
She said my name with a watery urgency that startled me.
Ok. I’m awake. I told her I was awake, and I saw she was shaking ever so softly, all seventy-some pounds of her, so I said as gently as I could: Come into bed. And she did. Her body heat gilded the sheets.
I think––she paused; a mosquito shivered in the light––I think I might be dying.
I don’t know. I’m warm all over, is all. I feel awful. Ok. Well. That’s okay.
She slipped her hand into mine and we fell silent. I was nearly asleep when I felt Boa shake against the bed frame. The wood knocking against itself.
Hey, hey, I tried to soothe her. It’s okay.
She squeaked something slender and pitiful. Oh, she moaned. I think I’m dying. Really.
I turned to face her and saw she was sitting up, trembling.
I sat up with her. What is it?
And she faced me, and her mouth knotted, and then my hands were full of her vomit.
As Boa apologized loud enough to wake the cabin I began to laugh a little, because it was so silly, because she was so very alive all of a sudden again. I got up to rinse off––the girls cackling in their
broad, curious horror at the situation, Martha nowhere to be found; smoking, I guessed––and Boa followed me out across the trail in the cold nighttime air and into the bathroom, apologizing the whole way there. Boa stood in front of the washroom mirror as I rinsed her off of my hands, her eyes puffed but the rest of her rosy and perfect again. And I hardly minded, I told her I really hardly minded it.
And it was true: I wanted to stay in the bathroom with her forever, a place where there was no one else, I wanted to hold her however I might be allowed, no matter the sour.
That bathroom hung at the edge of the cliffside overlooking the Sound.
Look, I said. Look.
And we did: two girls swimming, their naked bodies breaking the water. The glowing green dotting the nighttime sea. From up there, the girls could have been us. Their twin bodies ducked beneath the surface of the water and there Boa and I stood, watching the girls dive under, waiting for the water to break.
MEPHISTO WALTZ: BAGATELLE SANS TONALITÉ1Matthew Carey Salyer
In the diminutive, close as tongue & cheek you chose to address me tho it was I who’d called my flesh an isle of dogs: atonal thought :carry it thru (fucksake, Matt, must you?): for what on fours had I crouched caressed but an embryo of idle hrs or some number outlandish sounds of the unlived futures belonging to other men, each adumbrating my features, mistress: me: moveable [ ] type. Of all things I recall, taken-for-sign, Ben Jonson’s Works and Plays near yr night-table, lewd plaie2 & foxfire :like Passiontide, the unbelievable full tenderness of hunger. A triple-ton tune on small feet. Drunk you were & poor of heart & sure of me, cumming a delicate waltz: chromatic, appassionato, & the second movement on yr sheet, the graceful adduction, leash-like in stress & duration, of note-tie clutching fat notehead until it drained long pitch, did not happen.
Another spring I slept thru. Hungover, foetal, snowblind in morning I woke to the pluck of black hair between the white
keys of yr fingers, thought: do thoughts uncrouch in the sound of flesh? thought :fucking not monstrous, thought :monstrous, I am unmarriageable.
Under a slipped cunt of bright bedroom window, in the black scratch of permanent marker, LIAR you’d written across my back where light was imperishable.
TRIADSMatthew Carey Salyer
THE EATERA.G. Trimes
In the years since I set out to make a name as an eater, I’ve become recognized as the city’s finest. Crowds gather when I dine, and, though their breath fogs the pane glass, my concentration never falters; I never bite the inside of my cheek, Sancerre never slips down “the wrong pipe.” Magazines—online and, I am proud to say, print—publish features on my craft. For the fiscally minded, those running the books can attest to bumps in business following my visits (with permission, I can disclose that Shlumski’s and Ontario & Palm each reported a twenty percent increase in sales in the weeks after I ate).
To get this out of the way up front, being an eater is not something anyone can do. Critics from within and without the ranks of the service industry have speculated that the job is simple and that I am nothing more than a confidence man swindling free meals out of gullible businesses. Well. They are wrong, and, what’s worse, ignorant. The work of an eater, if done right, is monotonous and grueling. That thing most necessary to survival becomes vocation. With it, even the simplest meal is saddled with meaning, consequence. But before we reflect on a popular alternative, the superficial, I ask my detractors whether they have ever been observed while eating. Whether they have been wet-mounted and stage-clipped to the microscope of public display. To maintain one’s focus under that sort of scrutiny is nothing short of athletic. Mantel, Williams, me. Over the din from the onlookers, their cameras flashing, I’ve parsed soups, taken in, acknowledged, appreciated each ingredient from stock to seasoning. And—this is the important part—I looked good while doing it. While some of my fresher colleagues (a term I use generously) sport joggers, I opt for tailored slacks and a calfskin belt. I am a professional, after all; it’s only appropriate that I dress like one. But dressing well is
merely one strand of the double helix, if you will. The other, the display of joy. I radiate. I shine rapture. At a perfect bite, which is not rare, if you know where to eat, the geography of my face shifts into peaks of ecstasy. In short, I appear to be someone experiencing exactly what the observer wants to experience more than anything else.
I am not an actor, a mercenary, an advocate-for-hire. I lack a poker face entirely. The secret is in labor. Before I eat somewhere, I have to eat somewhere. Usually several times, clad in one disguise or another. For my face to appear at a restaurant is an endorsement, and my endorsements are issued methodically, only after study. That is why they are prized, even today, even when the reliability of the eater is constantly questioned.
So, I dine at a restaurant. I fall in love with it (this is not hyperbole; for me to proceed, the experience must stay with me, a movable feast with which I am obsessed and to which I long to return). Only then do I eat. There are administrative matters, a formal request for proposal, calendaring, etc. But these are irrelevant to my purpose today.
Others, it will come as no surprise, excise love from the equation. They show up in some outfit they are paid to wear, they eat, they leave. Do they taste? Do they pay attention? I would bet they do not. For them, it is about being seen there; the experience itself is tertiary. You may think, Well, is it not about being seen for you, too? No! For the restaurateur it is about me being seen. For me it is about the sensation of eating a steak, a green curry, a fried filet of cod. It is about immersing myself in an environment, embroidered wallpaper, zinc counters, cutlery sleek or ornate. And because I am in love, like an adolescent, I record these impressions in a diary. To anyone still incredulous of my motives, I remind them that select entries are publicly available, in an adapted form.
Now, with all this in mind, against the backdrop of certain
recent events, my reflections on one Mr. (not Dr., as it has been misreported) Ealbatsen. It is true that we were, years ago, associated. We were employed contemporaneously as substitute teachers of seventh-through-twelfth grade sciences in the Greater Goodemallow School District. There. For me, this job, the most memorable aspect of which was the endless heckling that accompanied my lectures on gametes, for some reason a facet of every grade’s curriculum (perhaps a reminder of the students’ burgeoning virility and its consequences?), was a way to pay the bills and to pursue my passion. For Ealbatsen, it was a stepping stone to a full time position teaching fourteen-yearolds whatever the state happened to sweep under the umbrella of “life sciences” in a given year. I have no greater insight into what other aspirations he held at that time, but am convinced that, to the extent they existed, they could appropriately be characterized as simple. He struck me as someone unaware of what could be.
Ealbatsen did not eat with the faculty. My earliest memory that involves both him and food reflects his questionable judgment. It also suggests he is pathetic. I received an early call one winter morning, a courtesy (the courtesy) that the district extended the subs. The physics teacher, who lived in a different district, had to sort out childcare for her son, whose school had just called a snow day; she would have to miss her first and maybe her second period classes. The roads were iced over and by the time I rushed through the morning’s sleet and into the “bullpen” that served as the substitutes’ office, two minutes remained until the bell. Crossing the pen to an empty desk, I sloughed the condensation from the sleeve of my coat. No sooner than my fingertips brushed my sleeve did I realize how absently, how discourteously I was behaving. And I stopped. I watched the parabola of the droplets, as did Ealbatsen, slumped in a wooden chair beside me. Our eyes followed the drops to where they landed, on a sandwich on Ealbatsen’s desk.
“I’m so sorry,” I told him, squirming out of my coat. “I have to cover now, but, please, let me buy you lunch later. Or—I’m
sure you don’t want to wait, you’re probably hungry now. Here, take some cash.”
Ealbatsen simply shook his head and chuckled. Then, he hoisted himself up and leaned forward over the sandwich. Delicately, he flicked a perfect sphere of water from where it rested, at the center of a slice of white bread. Without saying a word he lifted the plate and inverted it. The sandwich remained in place. I realized that the whole display, sandwich and floral-trimmed porcelain, was one piece. He had clear-coated the entire thing.
Sitting back, he held up the plate for me to inspect.
“It was the last sandwich she ever made,” Ealbatsen said. At this point I recalled that his mother had passed the week before, something terrible, something no one would wish upon another. “This was in the fridge, a BLT she had made for my dad the afternoon of ....He wouldn’t have it because she forgot the bacon. And, after, he said he couldn’t bear to have it. So I varnished it.”
The bell had rung. It was the most garish display of sentimentality I have ever witnessed. His mother’s memory, the trophy of a failed lunch.
It was several years before Ealbatsen and food again collided within my orbit. By this time I had left my job at Greater Goodemallow and moved to the city, where I was carving out a niche for myself as an eater. Food had become a trend. Television shows made entertainment out of the toil that is kitchen labor. People boasted, I’ve eaten at . . ., unable to recall a single detail of their meals except for aioli, truffle oil, a ruptured blister of burrata, as if their presence among plates and a condiment (or worse, burrata) were some grand achievement. I am biting the hand that feeds me, I know; it is to this culture that I owe, at least in part, my station in this city. But—enough digression.
Ealbatsen contacted me. He told me of his recent move to town, where he was pursuing a post teaching a ninth-grade elective titled “Environments.” He had seen my name and thought what I “was doing” was “cool,” he said, then asked if I might bring an old coworker along on one of my dinners. He pleaded his newness in our city, how unfamiliar he was with the neighborhoods and the people. Empathic to his circumstances, for I too was a transplant, I extended an
Yes, I am referring to the dinner at Three Faces, Two Wings. Yes, the reports are true; Ealbatsen, upon entering the dining room and sitting at the custom pine table nearest the window, from under the warm glow of the lanterns, proclaimed it “the nicest wing joint” he had ever been in. If only he had remained so humble, I would not be writing this column. The details of the meal are well trodden. The way he hunched low to examine a delicate yam confit and gag; he would not touch it, claiming something about how circular slices of a food that color (a welcoming burnt orange) disgusted him. Then, of course, his lewd, potent gestures upon being presented with the most outstanding boudin I have ever tasted. And, notably, the grotesque ritual that followed, Ealbatsen’s obsessively slicing the sausage into medallions and then into smaller and smaller wedges, as if to eradicate any of the associations he may have betrayed moments before.
I will say it: he embarrassed me.
But the crowd outside the window was not so offended. Though I wore my finest twill blazer, though my expressions were artlessly, irrepressibly dynamic—with one bite of the boudin I am sure I displayed first the terrified awe of a pedestrian mugged at knifepoint, then the dedicated contemplation of a logician, and finally the comfort of a child at his mother’s breast—the onlookers were drawn to Ealbatsen’s peculiar performance. And that, it seems, was enough. The public wanted him. It was not long before he was eating two nights a week, then four, then every night. No longer a stranger, Ealbatsen had become ubiquitous. He abandoned the teaching position that drew him here, trading his pupils for fame.
It goes without saying he tasted little of his meals, recalled even less. His attention was on his audience. The food was nothing but a prop. He grew as large as a house. On sidewalks crowds cheered while Ealbatsen pounded his fists, pink and swollen as hams, at the supposed flavor of . . . anything. Early on, restaurants served him their most ostentatious dishes, wagyu
sliders, duck fat frites pocked with caviar. But it became clear, to the owners, at least, that he appreciated none of it. They set in front of him slices of pepperoni crisped into oily cups, a rough hewn plank smeared with butter; he stomped his feet and squealed with glee all the same.
In this way, by stealing the show seven times a week, that irreverent omelet slurper made way for a new class of eater. Slick and loud, they have no respect for the discipline (if their practice of eating can even be called a discipline). They make a scene, leave, and admirers swarm in their wake, eager to imitate but—luckily for us all—too bashful to do anything but order the foods prescribed by their idols. The fans try to enjoy their meals. They sit quietly. Their tongues prod the recesses of full mouths, in search of something, anything to make them feel what they witnessed being felt.
It is to those disappointed fans that I owe my continued recognition, despite the shifting tides of my profession. There will always be new audiences for Ealbatsen, or, more accurately, for those performers like Ealbatsen. But anyone in search of an authentic experience will find their way to my table.
Though never again without skepticism.
Ealbatsen is a human, and an emotional one at that. He found no sense of calling in eating, in those riches which sustain us. And to pretend, to build one’s livelihood on a simulacrum of experience, is no chore for a sap. So, no, I was not surprised when I saw the recording. Watching his expansive chest heave, listening to him sob while he pawed the wax fruit that lined the shelves of a card store—I took this as a given. For Ealbatsen to shout, “Waiter!” and bite the arm of the minimum-wage clerk that rushed to pry the artificial apple from his wet maw—this was the unavoidable end. Let him teach suburban children the structures of a cell, but keep him from the dining room for his own safety. In time he will recover, he will be discharged from the asylum and live gently, far away from anything that might stir a person’s soul. But the damage has been done. Copycats in search of easy fame and a free sandwich run rampant. Even Ealbatsen’s death, public or medical, will not restore society’s faith in my craft.
timberlinecaroline ganci patterson
there was a golden bareness on that halved top. so persistent in the rust-drunk light. i had been speaking about memorizing the shape of a word instead of taking it at its letters. welcome to:
a mountain repeating itself. having been folded by its scarcity. i had not changed. there i was in my coat & being about something else. there was this stain of what i had wanted for myself.
& the clean surface of what could not be given. i had wanted to feel the air thin around me & pink my skin. i had wanted to make my doubt into something barren & without deceit. i had surrendered a tomato
& three nectarines in opposition to your self hatred. so what if i had been a tad vindictive in the process of forgiving. or had spent my time angry with you while i went to the grocery store & cleaned my toilet
& cooked myself meals with salt. at a certain point the seed sprouts & unburdens itself out of the earth. it gets beaten by the cold. it stops & thinks earnestly about its situation. it is brutalized further & then relinquishes its throne. or it hides beneath a rock & grows crookedly. limbs curled & contorted by the force of the wind in scrubfuck nowhere. what was nourishing about my rage was that i was battered by it
& never starved for touch.
FROM THE MEMOIRChristopher Brean Murray
These studies, which lasted three or four years, dislodged me from a miasma of childish daydreams and wishful thinking costumed as fact. My teeth no longer hurt, and a fresh wind coursed through my window screen. A truck drove by, and it was as if I could hear a man announcing the news inside that vehicle. In fact, I heard a conversation down the hall from that reporter. All decorum had ceased. People crossed the street in the naked sunlight. They couldn’t sense how the impervious had been penetrated, the mundane shattered like a basket of dried flowers dropped off a bridge at night. I felt like an arm that had been sealed in a cast for months. I itched and twitched. I laughed at the fly that landed on my hand. It cleaned itself then departed. Ingenious connotations brewed inside the word rake, and I considered recording them, but to what end? I debated standing up but decided against it. A strip of canvas flapped against the boat in my neighbor’s yard. The hull was lustrous, and I sensed its ambition. A minister spoke with his parishioner across the street, and vast swaths of history were revised or effaced. I remembered the jar of ash my aunt had sent me after the eruption. I was a child, and I pushed my finger deep into the dust.
NAMING SONGThia Bian
Do you still remember: terracotta hands to press the earth a little closer—
Learn to name the world a world and here: the bowl of rice that makes it so. And gentle, gentle: here is where we make a home. And do you still remember: learning hunger. How it turned hereditary. How you drank the ocean whole then learned to name it thirst, this salt in quiet ripples, this breath to trace a fish’s scales. And do you still remember: here, the knife that learned it first— lay parallel, then slice. Your gratitude for food and hands and open mouths. And how you learned to name it love, in disciplined amounts: how here we lay a meal down tender sing a child to sleep.
Do you still remember: how it was to raise a son and name him yours? And here, his birthright. Here, a knife and what an edge can promise. Here, this clean-cut, well-loved fish – an ocean learns to live in wristbones, sing and sing and sing and here, here: hands, these proud and shaking things of yours. And do you still remember:
how it was to name yourself and linger, certain—
is not the sky, but play of light – fretted through folds of things, in fanned tabulations – the lobes of low flames – cool water sweating on tin cans – the underbellies of rock doves, tendrils of oily sand – in the geology of aging hands – in brine, in the brain –late afternoon shadows snagged on a fence – hemming one dirt road with a swash of blue, a swash of blue with the road – in a molt, or amoeba, in the half-life of distant stars. Is shadow bluer than shade? Is earth but light bound to the sky? The bluest blue was found by chance – in the stall of one moment, the swell of another – then found, became inevitable – as now, walking toward what were for so long distant hills, feeling joy in nearing journey’s end, and blue as well.
After “Forsythia” by Mary Ellen SoltSarah Minor
Tonight on the sidewalk as my dog pees, a white car comes shuttling up the street with its passenger window smashed out, and through the hole a man screams, “I hate you bitch I fucking hate you bitch die.” The car turns at the next road. Shadows crawl over my knees.
Some people live their entire lives in the time one star takes to shoot itself.
If I could drive into the sky, this world would pull me back down.
PERIODIC TABLE OF ELEMENTS
I have a chair is my chair it empty switch or shorts or teach
I have a desk It is your desk? to the women
The man said I can said the woman, my desk can buy you I can No not need Your desk to the man have have do not
The woman on the woman’s the woman said I have towel white it is more said the woman
said the woman I can sit I can place It can shirt after I from my said the woman my desk. the woman asked I do not need use your desk use my desk I need a different desk make you one said the man a desk No We my desk my desk have at present
picked up the towel desk to the man my towel In my Outside gray
to the man. It on it. I can leave it under the light hold your jeans have removed desk to the man Where will we put The man said a desk But you cannot It is it. I or the same desk just like it I do We have said the woman do not I You a desk
the man had placed This is not my towel
It is a white imagination it is of my imagination
it and dried it initiative
It is a nice this towel. me feel
for me But thank you. I was you the You do not need on the hook a hook are two hooks for your towel. for my towel. for my current is for a but a future towel do not Would you towel No at present, towel. It is fluffy good
on his own thank you
calmly pleasantly woman said. I have to buy me a new one for the towel
for a towel in the bathroom One hook and one hook But towel towel to a future me which presently like to go and buy now inquired said the woman a towel I will use It makes
It’s December. And nothing survives— my body swells and recedes and swells with blood and water and salt.
She wants to be knocked up as hell with anything, mauled with hauling, blowing apart, growing anything other than shit and grief and knowing
this Earth does as it pleases with us— meaning, I’ve lived so much life without you. And maybe that’s okay. Even if it’s not, because we were there, weren’t we? Before all things were all things? And I knew you the way worms know when the world is ending, surfacing before the Earth can quake and rock and give and give way. They say it was that way—
it was glacial run-off. They say, one sea couldn’t help becoming two, blasting through a silt strait and pouring its horrified heart out at a rate of 10 cubit miles of dark ocean a day for more than 300 days, freight that could put Niagara Falls to shame—
I guess apocalyptic desire is all that gets me anymore, the kind of depraved craving that can only be told as the waking of a death so big, they think there was only one—
I am the flood you could never see coming. But if it makes any difference, I couldn’t survive me either, lying in the shower, grieving and bleeding away: this body, a boneless prayer, a confession like any other,
I hope you’re doing okay. I hope you don’t forgive me. I hope I know what I’m doing. Even when I don’t. Because I don’t— what I mean is, your head to my chest as it was to that ground pounding with the sound of water unbound— you know what you heard. And so do I.
SONNET WITH DEAD PANSY AND DOUBLE YOLK
your friends clinging to the you left in each of us i met them all crying on the sidewalk that day walked home with a pansy (who gives out pansies at a gay person’s funeral) and because we cannot be yours we have become each other’s some days
i think death is but a one-way mirror some days i feel your eyes on me a
hiker dead in the desert surrounded by mirages i made myself breakfast
this morning two yolks in my egg i saved a plate for you why won’t you come inside
ODE TO THE CANDY CANE
His wife died, and he got a cat. At first, he had no name for the tabby. Cat, he called her. And then she started to act in ways that his dead wife had. It was hard to explain. And subtle. The way she looked at you long after you finished speaking, for example. He started calling the cat Cindy, his wife’s name.
WIND WAS ELSEWHERELeah Poole Osowski
Sentients on the ground don’t go
We lay body atop body aligned and can’t feel the earth but for its leaving Want to hold a thousand rescues recluse we grieve you trench blue oxygen is low and paling I put two fingers to the neck of the pulse of the creek and do the names change once the water is gone? Once the falter was long and we slammed our glass down so quietly it broke the seasons
I was pretending to be asleep when you rolled out of bed. I thought you wanted a glass of water. I kept my eyes shut. But you walked down the stairs; maybe you were checking, as you often did, to see the stove wasn’t lit, to catch the house on the brink of burning. Then the front door opened, and I went to the window. I watched you get in your little car and drive away. So I kept about my life. I kept watching TV specials. I kept hosting dinner guests. I kept brushing my teeth, I kept time and then I killed it, I kept to myself, I kept house, I kept, I kept, I kept. I did not keep on hoping. I knew when you were gone it was for good. But for years you were a laugh track. An empty seat at my table. A missing tooth in the mouth. So I put everything we owned in cardboard boxes, wrote the names of their contents on the outside and taped them down, I drove the boxes to the unit and locked the unit shut. Then one last time I walked around the house of my heart. I’d short-sold it, as-is, to a family of four. They were very kind, and had a small dog. I was careful not to track in mud, I held my hands behind my back, I held my breath. When I had gone through every room I walked out the front door. I got in my car and turned the key. But I heard you. The curtains were closed but the light was on, I saw the shape of your body through the screen. You were there. I heard you. Your voice in the living room, singing.
A.G. Trimes lives and writes in New York. His work has previously appeared in Clarion , The Rialto Books Review , and elsewhere online.
caroline ganci patterson is a genderfluid suburban american poet, sexually repressed, and owns a turtleneck in every color, except yellow. they have won the eleanor denoon poetry prize and they are a recipient of the kratz summer writing fellowship. their work has been published in the baltimore-based zine FOUND OBJECTS . they are currently teaching and learning at the university of montana’s poetry mfa. they reside in missoula, montana and live in a blue house.
Christopher Brean Murray ’s book, Black Observatory , was chosen by Dana Levin as the winner of the 20212022 Jake Adam York Prize. It was recently published by Milkweed Editions . His poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Bennington Review, Colorado Review , and elsewhere. He lives in Houston.
David Romanda ’s work has appeared in places such as Gargoyle Magazine, The Louisville Review, The Main Street Rag , and Puerto del Sol . His book is Why Does She Always Talk About Her Husband? ( Blue Cedar Press , 2022). Romanda lives in Kawasaki City, Japan.
Diane Louie ’s book of prose poems, Fractal Shores , a winner of the National Poetry Series, was awarded the 2021 John Pollard Foundation International Poetry Prize. She lives in Paris, France, with her partner, a research scientist.
Kaylee Young-Eun Jeong is from Oregon and lives in New York. Her work can be found in Maudlin House, diode poetry journal , and Frontier Poetry , among others.
Leah Poole Osowski is the author of hover over her ( Kent State University Press , 2016), winner of the Wick Poetry Prize, and Exceeds Us ( Saturnalia , 2023), winner of the Alma Award. Her work has appeared in The Southern Review, The Georgia Review, Ninth Letter, ZYZZYVA , and elsewhere. She holds an MFA from the University of North Carolina Wilmington. She was a former emerging writer in residence at Penn State Altoona and is the poetry editor of Raleigh Review .
M.K. Foster is a poet, gothic horror writer, historian of science, monster scholar, and public storyteller from Birmingham, Alabama. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in The Gettysburg Review, Kenyon Review, Indiana Review, Poet Lore, Columbia Review , and elsewhere, and her fiction has appeared in Molotov Cocktail, Bonemilk , and Two Peach . In her archival research, Foster explores natural history in the early modern imagination and generally weird/scary/dark nature accounts from 16th-/17th-century Europe, then she writes poems, stories, and essays about her findings. “Black Sea Deluge Hypothesis” is based on an eponymous theory about the origins of the universal Flood myth. For more weird/scary/natural darkness, please visit marykatherinefoster.com.
Marcela Sulak ’s poetry includes the National Jewish Book Awards finalist in poetry, City of Sky Papers (2021), Decency (2015), Immigrant (2010)—all from Black Lawrence Press )—and the chapbook Of all the things that don’t exist, I love you best. Her lyric memoir is Mouth Full of Seeds (2020). She’s co-edited Family Resemblance: An Anthology and Exploration of 8 Hybrid Literary Genres and translated four poetry collections from Czech, French, and, most recently, Twenty Girls to Envy Me . Selected Poems by Orit Gidali (2016), which was long listed for the 2017
PEN Award for Poetry Translation. Her newest translation project, Music of the Wide Lane: the Selected Poems of Sharron Hass , was awarded a 2018 NEA Translation Fellowship. Sulak directs the Shaindy Rudoff Graduate Program in Creative Writing at BarIlan University and is managing editor of The Ilanot Review.
Maria Gray is a poet from Portland, Oregon. Her work appears in Best New Poets, Kissing Dynamite, SICK magazine, and others, and she has received fellowships and honors from organizations including The Lumiere Review, The Adroit Journal , Bates College, and New York University. She is the managing editor of COUNTERCLOCK Journal and lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she is pursuing her MFA in creative writing at NYU.
Matthew Carey Salyer is the author of a chapbook, Lambkin , and a full-length collection, Ravage & Snare. His second collection, Probation , is forthcoming. His work appears in Narrative, Southword, The Common, The Scores, Poetry Northwest, Hunger Mountain, Beloit Poetry Journal, The Florida Review , and other journals. He has been twice a finalist for the Iowa Review Prize, a semifinalist for the Brittingham and Felix Pollak Prizes in Poetry, a nominee for Best American Comics, and a Pushcart nominee. He is employed as an Associate Professor of English at West Point and a bouncer in the Bronx.
Olivia Treynor is a Barnard College student from northern California. Her work appears in Southeast Review, CutBank, Gone Lawn, phoebe , and elsewhere. In 2023, she was named a semifinalist for the inaugural cohort of Adroit Journal Anthony Veasna So Scholars. Olivia loves lakes but is scared of the ocean.
Peter Kline is the author of two poetry collections,
Mirrorforms ( Parlor Press/Free Verse Editions ) and Deviants ( Stephen F. Austin State University Press ). A former Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, he has also received residency fellowships from the Amy Clampitt House and James Merrill House. His poetry has appeared in Ploughshares, Poetry, Tin House, and many other journals, as well as the Best New Poets series, the Verse Daily website, the Random House anthology of metrical poetry, Measure for Measure, and the Persea anthology of self-portrait poems, More Truly and More Strange . Since 2012 he has directed the San Francisco literary reading series Bazaar Writers Salon. He teaches writing at the University of San Francisco and Stanford University, and can be found online at www.peterklinepoetry.com.
Phillip West is a poet currently residing in Santa Fe, NM. His poetry has appeared in Bennington Review, Colorado Review , and Spoon River Poetry Review.
Sarah Minor is the author of Slim Confessions: The Universe as a Spider or Spit , winner of the 2021 Noemi Press Prize in Prose, Bright Archive ( Rescue Press 2020), winner of the Big Other Nonfiction Book Award, and The Persistence of the Bonyleg: Annotated ( Essay Press 2016 ). She’s the recipient of the Barthelme Prize for Short Prose, an Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council, and an Individual Research Grant to Iceland from the American-Scandinavian Foundation. Sarah teaches in the University of Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing MFA and serves as the Video Essays Editor at TriQuarterly Review . Find more images of her work at www.sarahceniaminor.com.
Mag Gabbert is the author of SEX DEPRESSION ANIMALS ( Mad Creek Books , 2023), which was selected by Kathy Fagan as the winner of the 2021 Charles B. Wheeler Prize in Poetry; the chapbook
The Breakup , which was selected by Kaveh Akbar as the winner of the 2022 Baltic Writing Residencies Chapbook Award; and the chapbook Minml Poems ( Cooper Dillon Books, 2020). She’s the recipient of a 2021 Discovery Award from 92NY’s Unterberg Poetry Center as well as fellowships from the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop, Idyllwild Arts, and Poetry at Round Top. Her work can be found in The American Poetry Review, The Paris Review Daily, Copper Nickel, Guernica, Poetry Daily , and elsewhere. Mag has an MFA from UC Riverside and a PhD from Texas Tech. She lives in Dallas, Texas and teaches at Southern Methodist University.
Thia 尔雅 Bian was born and raised near Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She is currently studying comparative literature at Princeton University, with a certificate in global health & health policy.
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