the columbia review
Editorâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Note Does anyone have anything poignant to say about this poem? -Veniamin Gushchin
the columbia review
THE COLUMBIA REVIEW est. 1815
Contents Little Birds
Bradly Sergio Brandt 10
Be w a re t h e Un d e r t o a d
Lara Ehrlich 11
T h e D e v i a n t Wa y t o Make a Building
Matt Malone 28
T h e C a j u n Wa l t z
Susanna Kittredge 30
Where She Stands
Sherri H. Hoffman 31
M y M o u t h H a s Ta s t e d L i k e S a l t f o r We e k s
Alyssa Je well 40
Matthew Landrum 42
Ode to This Motel
Jennifer J. Pr uiett-Selby 43
Haiku Stor y
Rebecca Aronauer 44
Cementerio General Santiago De Chile
Heather Hughes 55
the columbia review
Little Birds Anne Barngrover
What is it about the December woods that makes me lonesome? The sky glows a pale maple syrup, parceled in stained glass between branches. My breath snags on cold as I run through. Every house I pass slumbers peaceful as a cat, every lamp murmuring fine, fine. Frozen creeks lumber under bridges, the long back of some forsaken creature who’d rather not weigh in. It’s hard to be both large and shy. And my heart is a spilled glass of wine—blot it with paper towels, throw salt on it, sponge it with shampoo, dab it with white vinegar. I cannot reason the silver linings—aluminum foil scrunched around saplings’ roots to keep away slugs and sunscald—the snap of a book closing, the aloof space in bed, the words I dread that come
after a chairâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s resolved groan: I need to talk to you. I turn at a fluorescent light stamped into a wooden post. Truly, I cannot fathom the dodged bullets that dotted deer hides instead of mine. Finches charm dead leaves, rucked as gloveless hands. Tonight, let me gather everything dead or dying in my arms. The sky is blank as a pie plate, yet it will not snow.
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Moonshiner Bradly Sergio Brandt
Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve got numbing water In glass vats. The rye cures To a shade of lamp. Sweat falls like grace As I heat the boiler in the neck-end of dark. I take cash And keep a girl snug in my glut. Last fall, The harlequin came in a black skirt And slipped his seed Inside me. Babe, Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m adroit at the bottle. King of being dumb In my wound.
Beware the Undertoad Lara Ehrlich
y grandmother made me strip my bathing suit on the doormat just inside the kitchen. Balancing stork-like, shedding sand, I struggled to free my ankle from the suit straps. The door opened behind me. My hands flew up, though I had nothing to cover yet, and then down. I couldn’t hide all of myself at once. The neighbor boy was standing there, his eyes huge behind his glasses. Time stretched and slowed. And stopped. I let him look. You were so fat, David would say later, grown out of his embarrassment. All red, with sand in your rolls. He would pinch my side. Maybe he was cruel. But the crueler he was, the more I prized his moments of kindness, pocketing them like stones.
The summer kids were a tribe. Holding hands in a chain, we raced down the beach and dropped to our knees in the sea
foam, shrieking, The Undertoad’s got me! The Undertoad’s spit fizzed at our knees, speckled with bits of the fish and crabs and children he’d eaten. Look, there’s a finger! Beware the Undertoad that crouches between the shallows and the deep where the sand drops off below your feet. He is as big as a bull, and his greasy hide is puckered with warts. His milky eyes strain through the gloom. As he devours eels and lobsters and stingrays, his body balloons to twice its girth, quivering as he digests. His mouth is so wide the corners almost meet behind his head. He could swallow you whole. We dared each other to swim to the raft, but stopped where the sand slopes toward the deep. The Undertoad waits for you to push away from the edge and tread suspended, kicking against the sea. Then, he catches your ankle and drags you down through the dark and the cold.
I found David by the flash of his hair in the sun. He never burned, except for the patch between his shoulder blades. I followed
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him over the rocks that formed three spokes radiating out to sea, diminishing until they sank beneath the surface. When my grandmother was a girl, she and her summer tribe had jumped from stone to stone, until the boy next door had cracked his head open. The water had danced away with his blood.
claws my Audubon guide called “painted fingernails.” Its Latin name, Callinectes sapidus, means “savory beautiful swimmer,” I told David, and females mate only once. We studied the crab together, tracing the contours of her underbelly. She clawed at us like she was drowning.
Water sloshed in the crevices between the rocks, where snails clung to the walls. David showed me how to smash a snail just hard enough to shatter its shell and keep its body intact. He cut a length of string for me, and though my fingers were slick with snail, I pulled the knot tight.
David collected sea glass in jam jars. Each shard was from a bottle that had smashed against the rocks and had been worn smooth by the sand and sea. The bottles once held secret messages, he said. Treasure maps and spy codes. And love letters, maybe.
We lowered our snails until they struck the water with a plop that echoed against the rocks. He showed me how to tug the string to mimic the flutter of prey. Our heads bent together. The sun warmed our necks. When the string began to vibrate, I drew up a blue crab with my snail clamped in its claws. Its exoskeleton glistened, reminding me of stars.
We sat cross-legged on his crumpled sheets. Though the window was open, the curtains hung slack, and moths sailed in to orbit the bedside lamp. Our grandmothers were talking in the next room, their voices like waves. We still wore our bathing suits and seawater had dried on our skin. If you licked your arm, I showed David, your lips puckered.
That’s a good one! David flipped the crab onto its back. It had the broad abdomen of a female and the red-tipped
I’ll tell you a joke, he said. A little girl was walking home from school with her arms full of books, when a man came up to her on the sidewalk.
Those books look heavy, the man said. I’ll carry them if you let me put my finger in your bellybutton. She let him carry her books. At the end of the street, the man said, Now you owe me, and led her into the bushes. He set her books on the ground. Hey, she said, that’s not my bellybutton! And he said, That’s not my finger. I woke to my grandmother stroking my hair. I lay beside David under the sheets. Our legs were pressed together, sticky with salt and sweat. My grandmother took my hand and led me outside and down the stone path to her house, through the cattails that stood taller than our heads. She squeezed my hand and said, We won’t tell your mother. It seemed I should be ashamed of something, but I didn’t know what.
The summer girls pressed around me on the rocks as I whispered into their flushed faces, my voice low and halting. A little girl was walking home from school with her arms full of books, when a man came up to her on the
sidewalk. What had the man done to the girl behind the bushes? And why was it funny? We searched for clues in the punch line, but every word introduced another obscurity. We discovered new lands and made them our own. Tír na nÓg emerged beyond the raft at low tide. A deer had paced there once as the waves grappled for her hooves. We waited at the salt lick for the Antler King. We built houses for the little people on the moss path. The loon’s call sounded like a woman screaming. The shipwreck was our battlefield. An old schooner, it sagged at one end of the beach, and the restaurant it had been was long-since closed. The heavy carpet soaked up the water from our bare feet and never dried. We met at the wreck when it stormed. There was no secret signal. We saw the storm coming, and we came with it. We pressed against the railing, leaning into the rain as it pushed across the ocean like a curtain swinging shut. We marched beneath the eaves and the raindrops parted our hair. We called it eavesdropping. When
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we were good and soaked, we ran down the beach and into the sea spray, shrieking, The Undertoad’s got me! We dared each other to swim to the raft, but stopped at the boundary between the shallows and the deep, comfortable with our cowardice.
We came to dinner with sand between our toes. Every meal seemed to last forever. While the grown-ups finished their coffee and conversations, we waited on the back steps until their voices drifted into silence at last. David’s grandfather emerged from the house and walked past us without a backward glance. When he reached the driveway, he growled over his shoulder, What are you waiting for? and we scrambled after him. We piled into his pickup. Though David was the grandson, he didn’t have special privileges; sometimes he would ride in front with his grandfather and sometimes in back with the garbage pails. We pressed close to the hood, as far as possible from the garbage. The truck bed was cool and gritty with sand. The garbage stung our noses, and branches grasped at 14
our hair. The logging path curved beyond the headlights. David’s grandfather drove stick with his elbow resting on the open windowsill, steering with just his knuckles. When we were very small, two of us could fit on the front seat and David’s grandfather tucked a blanket across our knees. When I looked over my shoulder through the cabin window, I could just make out the others huddled in the truck bed like stowaways. A hint of garbage drifted in through the window. My leg pressed against David’s under the blanket. Deep in the forest, his grandfather unlatched the truck bed and we handed the pails down to him. He upended them at the tree line, and backed the truck a little ways down the path. Then he cut the engine, and we waited. Some nights, there was nothing. But if we were lucky, a mound of darkness shouldered through the trees. David’s grandfather turned on the fog lights to reveal a black bear straddling the garbage heap. Unfazed, it nuzzled our trash, moving scraps with its paws, scooping leftover fish and cake and coffee grounds into its
mouth. I had read that when Ursus americanus hibernate, their hearts slow to eight beats a minute, as if they can control time. They survived the Ice Age, I whispered to David. Maybe they hibernated until it was over, David whispered back. Under the blanket, I held his hand. I wished he would come to my window. He would climb onto my bed, strewing sand across my sheets. We would sit cross-legged, our knees touching, and talk until we fell asleep. But I knew now that I should not invite boys into my bed.
Savory swimmer. Tír na nÓg. Undertoad. Antler King. Little people. Loon’s call. The wreck. The raft. Cattails. Hunting snails. Summer girls. Sandy sheets. The bear. Sea glass in jam jars. David’s eyes widening. His knee against mine. The warmth of his hand. I invoked every detail on the train ride home, preserving the summer in my memory before it slipped down the tracks behind me. Soon enough, home would
become real again. I would wear a uniform. I would walk to school, past the dry cleaner and the convenience store and the other dry cleaner. I would practice clarinet. I would speak when called upon. I would do homework in my bedroom while my parents fought in the kitchen. I would live the rest of the year for summer. I was always alarmed that life had continued without me. My parents had wallpapered the living room. Our cat had died. My best friend had kissed her cousin. Or, he had kissed her. Such distinctions mattered at twelve and a half. They were watching TV, when he leaned across the couch and pressed his lips below her right earlobe. She jumped, and turned so fast their lips touched. It only lasted a few seconds, and then he moved away. She couldn’t breathe. It was her first kiss. He used his tongue, she said, as if confessing. Her eyelashes were dark and wet. My shoulder blades shuddered against the headboard. She picked at her fingernails, chipping polish onto her bedspread.
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I was sorry for her. Kisses were for the ends of books and the finales of films. Those were the good kisses, the ones that led to happily ever afters. Stories never start with a kiss. One by one, my friends kissed boys we had known since we were born. We had napped together in nursery school. We had fed each other paste in kindergarten and exchanged valentines in first grade. Now, they paired off in the hallway, broke up at lunch, and took up with someone else on the walk home. I would not let this happen to me. I would be seduced by a charming man who had never eaten paste. I would hold his hand on a moonlit beach. We would dance slow, and though he might try to sweep his hands lower, I would not let him. I would not waste my first kiss on a boy who chewed erasers. My friends could not convince me otherwise, and when school ended, I was glad to leave them behind.
Who is this beautiful woman on my doorstep? my grandmother asked, and hugged me so long my arms went numb. Her frayed
corduroys swished as she led me down the hall to my bedroom, though I knew the way. My sheets smelled like lavender and laundry. The sound of the ocean poured through my window, far from the traffic. The clock in my grandmotherâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s kitchen told the time in days. I found David by the flash of his hair in the sun. He never burned, except for the patch between his shoulder blades. I fingered a shard of sea glass that curved neatly against my thumb. It was deep blue, the rarest color, he had said. Pirateâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s glass. He would turn the shard over and over in his long fingers. What had the bottle held? A treasure map or a secret code. A love letter, maybe. He seemed to have grown three feet since last summer. His hair curled at his neck. Speaking suddenly seemed precarious. My voice would come out too high, or I would say the wrong thing, and there would be no taking it back. His eyes turned to mine, then fell away. The sand shifted under my heels as he passed behind me, and I pulled my towel so tight across my breasts that it bit into my armpits.
The summer boys enveloped him and stampeded down the beach. I followed with the girls. Tension thrummed through us, though we no longer held hands. When we reached the waves, we dropped to our knees in the foam shrieking, The Undertoad’s got me!, still half-convinced he was real.
The boys huddled at the bow of the wreck, their ears pressed to the cabin wall. David peered through a foggy porthole. When I came around the corner, they started like jackrabbits. Not David, though. He just shook his head, and I edged in beside him to press my ear against the damp wood. I heard a murmur of voices. A heavy breath, a pitched moan, as if someone were in pain. David’s cheek was pressed beside mine, and my face was warm against the wood. Another moan. Do you know what they’re doing? he whispered. He was so close that I could see sand in his eyebrows. I knew enough to realize there was plenty I didn’t know. My Victorian romances ended with a chaste kiss on the stairs, the
promise of passion beyond the book covers. I had learned about my reproductive system from a video in health class. While the boys followed the teacher—who was also the football coach— to the locker room, the girls sat cross-legged behind the climbing rope. In the video, a girl got her first period during a sleepover and her mother taught the girls about menstruation by making pancakes shaped like ovaries. I feared my period would strike when I was least expecting it, so I tried to expect it, always. Have you ever seen a naked man? David leaned closer still. His eyes were as blue as the pirate glass. I tried to stare him down, to maintain an expression of indifference, but my lips trembled with the effort. I studied the wall, picking at a splinter. I’ve seen you naked. He pinched my side. You were so red, with sand in your rolls. His fingers rasped my skin. His breath smelled like cigarettes. I pushed away from the wall, and stomped down the deck, making as much noise as I could. I looked back only when I reached the
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woods. The boys had scattered, and the beach was quiet. I sat on the Antler King’s log to wait. One of the summer boys emerged from the wreck. He carried his shirt wadded in his fist, and strode away without looking back. A few minutes later, a summer girl struck off across the beach in the opposite direction. Even from the woods, I could see that her eyes were dark and wet. She was only the first. The summer girls stopped eavesdropping. They stopped swimming, and began sunbathing in black bikinis instead. I did not miss them. When I was alone, I felt everything more deeply. I felt with my nerves and the hairs on my arms. I felt my heart straining against my skin, and I had to press it back. When I was alone, I could convince myself that David’s mockery concealed a depth of passion he was not yet ready to plumb. At night, I aimed the fan at my head. Lifting the screen did nothing to ease the heat. I dreamed he would come to my window, like in the fairy tales. Can I come in? I won’t make a sound. He would climb onto my bed,
strewing sand across my sheets. We would sit cross-legged with our knees touching and talk until we were half-asleep. Then I would pull the sheet over us. We would share my pillow, our faces so close in the dark that I would feel his breath on my lips. He would be my first kiss, I decided. He had already seen me naked.
The boys dared each other to swim to the raft, showing off for the girls, who sunbathed on the beach, sleek and glossy as seals. They turned their faces away, feigning disinterest. The ocean slid up my stomach and over my breasts. It licked my collarbone. The raft bobbed at an unimaginable distance. If I could just reach it, I knew, everything would go back to the way it should be. I pushed toward the slope, where the sand was deep and thick. Weeds coiled around my ankles as I passed through pockets of warm water where the ocean had trapped the sun. The raft drifted just beyond the Undertoad’s lair. The girls rolled onto their stomachs and untied their bikini tops as the boys taunted one another louder, still. The sea
brushed up my neck, slid over my chin, and pressed against my mouth. The sand sloped beneath my feet. I closed my eyes. The Undertoad was waiting. I could sense him creeping closer. His body rippled with anticipation. His webbed fingers twitched toward my toes. They would slide up my ankle, my shin, my thigh, until one long, webbed finger hooked me like a trout. I could go no further. I stood suspended on the slope in a onepiece suit. David kicked past me. The boys cheered him on as he passed through the open space where the Undertoad was waiting. His head dipped and reappeared, his hair gleaming in the sun. He swam further than any of us had gone, out where the waves were razors. The Undertoad isn’t real, I told myself as the rain pushed across the ocean. It darkened the raft and steamed up the sand. The girls scrambled to their feet, their black straps unraveling, and huddled under their towels to watch as David heaved onto the raft. He rolled onto his back, staring up at the sky. We cheered until he sat up, grinning, and gave
us the finger. He lounged out there all day like a king, reminding us that he was brave, and we were beach-bound.
I got my period at high tide. When I finally confessed to my grandmother, she sat me down at the kitchen table. We are descended from the moon, she explained. It was part of the earth until it broke away and spun into space. Water filled the hole it left behind, and that’s why the ocean breathes in and out with the moon. All organisms began as cells made of seawater, and we brought it with us when we climbed onto land. We each carry an ocean inside us.
I was finally allowed to have a two-piece, but it was baby blue with daisies, and the front sagged. My grandmother promised it would fill in soon enough, but I didn’t believe her. The girls left the beach. They walked into town, where they would hang out at the gas station that also sold groceries, videos, and live bait. They would dare each other to buy things from the 19
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older boy who worked behind the counter, and wait at the pump for him to come out for a smoke. He would tell them dirty jokes, and they would laugh and shake their hair over their tanned shoulders. The boys swam out farther and farther, reaching the raft one by one, until I was alone on the beach with my little sister. It was Cora’s first summer at Stone, and she would not go near the sea, where the Undertoad was waiting. He liked little girls best, David had said. She was six, and entitled to her fear. I had no excuse. I pretended I’d rather sunbathe and reclined on my stomach with my ankles crossed in the air. I arched my neck. It was difficult to read that way. Cora squatted in the sand. Her hair was coming loose from its braid and frizzed around her head like wisps of smoke. Her giraffe inner tube watched from the far end of her towel, smiling with his painted lips. She took Mr. Giraffe everywhere, but refused to swim. Cora, come in with me, David called from the ocean. The Undertoad’s hungry! He had called out to me, too, once.
Cora shook her head, and he jogged up from the ocean, his trunks plastered to his thighs. He scrubbed his hands through his hair and flicked his fingers at me, splattering my book. He did not apologize. He sat next to Cora and slipped on her pink sunglasses shaped like stars. I turned a page. What’s that? he asked Cora, who was digging a hole. A hole, she said. I envied how she still said exactly what she meant. Want to swim with me? She shook her head and clamped Mr. Giraffe under one arm. You don’t need him, David said. I’ll keep you safe from the Undertoad. She gripped Mr. Giraffe tighter. I don’t believe in the Undertoad. My face wavered in David’s sunglasses. As clouds passed over the beach, wiping away my reflection, I could just make out his eyes, and I was certain he was staring at me—until the sun emerged again and burned away my certainty. The sun turned the tips of his ears translucent. He
never wore a hat. Sunscreen was for girls. Cora dragged her pail down the beach to the wet sand, stranding David and me across the hole. Unspoken things passed between us in the hot air. My face faded in and out of his glasses. Quit staring at me. His eyes crinkled at the corners when he smiled. I wasn’t! It’s okay. I stared at you once, too. He pinched my side. You were so red, with sand in your rolls. His sandy fingers rasped my skin. I sat up and pulled in my legs, hiding my white thighs with my book. Cora scooped heavy sand into her bucket. What are you reading? He pushed the sunglasses to the top of his head and leaned close to read my book’s faded title. Tennyson. What’s that? Poetry. I had to read a poem for English last year. It was crap. His hair fell across his eyebrows, hiding his expression. Do you have a boyfriend?
No, I said. I was aware of my sagging top, my bare stomach, and the razor burn trailing down my shins. Why not? What’s wrong with you? He nudged my foot with his. Heat coursed through my inflamed follicles. He propped his elbows on his knees and leaned in close. His eyes flicked from mine, to my forehead, my chin, my lips. Must be something wrong with you, he said. You’re not that ugly. My heart beat in my ears as if the water was closing over my head. I crossed my arms over my stomach. His eyes returned to mine, and I could tell he was smiling though I wouldn’t let myself look at his lips. I feared he could see the desire on me, like a sweat stain.
David sat on the rocks with a jam jar of tobacco between his feet and seagulls circling above his head. He licked the edge of a rolling paper and packed the tobacco tight. He struck his matches on a stone. Sometimes a summer girl would sit beside him, her straps unraveling, her damp hair 21
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clinging to her neck. She would set the jar between her feet, her pink toenails glistening, and he would show her how to lick the paper and pack the tobacco. She would light the cigarette and take a drag, and when she made a show of coughing, he would laugh. I would not have coughed. But I would not have rolled his tobacco for him, either. I dreamed I saw the tip of his cigarette pulsing from my bedroom window. The only sound was Cora’s gentle snoring. I’d kneel and let the sheets fall from my waist. He would stare in at me, his cheeks red from the heat. It seemed he didn’t care if I let him in or not. That’s why I would let him in. I’d unlatch the window and he’d help me slide it up, our fingertips touching. He’d climb onto my bed, strewing my sheets with sand. His face would be partially lit by the moon slanting through the open window. Lifting the screen would do nothing to ease the heat. Hot air would pour through in waves. Outside everything would be white and quiet and still. You were so red, with sand in your rolls, he would whisper as his
palm slid around my hip. We’d still be wearing our bathing suits. The seawater would have dried on our skin. If you lick your skin, he’d show me, tracing his tongue along my collarbone, your lips pucker. I’d hold my breath as his tongue touched mine. He would taste like salt and cigarettes. I constructed the fantasy from scavenged details, but I didn’t know what should happen next. What would I do with my hands? What would he do with his tongue?
Cora begged me to stay with her. Tears slipped from behind her star glasses. But I left her on the beach. The ocean slid up my stomach and over my breasts. It licked my collarbone. I pushed toward the slope, where the mud was deep and thick. Weeds coiled around my ankles. I waved at Cora, teasing her like David, and she ran down the beach, the inner tube bouncing behind her on the sand. She stopped at the sea foam, looking for bits of the fingers the Undertoad had eaten. David leapt off the raft with a bellow that rippled across the
waves. The sea brushed up my neck, slid over my chin, and pressed against my mouth. The sand dropped away beneath my feet. I closed my eyes. All sound turned to static, and then there was nothing but the weight of water pressing from all sides. I entered a great yawning space. I sank toward the Undertoad, daring him to catch me. I held my breath, drifting down through the quiet and the cold. There’s no such thing as the Undertoad. I knew it, but my body wasn’t convinced. I sensed him crouched at the bottom, his milky eyes straining through the gloom to watch the sun glimmer on the surface high above. I was the passing shadow that signaled prey. Go on, I dared him. Go on and try. Something coiled around my ankle, and the ocean closed over my head. It poured up my nose and into my throat. My heart beat in my ears. Salt seared my eyes. In the thick, foggy deep, a huge shape loomed below me, all shadow and slime. I thrashed in its grip. My foot connected with something hard. The pressure released, and I shot to the surface, kicking blindly. My nose was streaming and my
throat burned. My shoulder scraped against something hard. I had reached the raft. Beside me, David was laughing.
Bundled in wool and fleece, trudging through snowdrifts to my waist, I almost believed I had imagined summer. When practicing the clarinet, counting down the seconds with the scales, I forgot I had ever known freedom untethered from time. I concentrated on school and music and sports. I convinced myself I had forgotten David. But as the days grew warmer and the school year closed, I began planning what I’d say when I saw him again, wondering if he had cut his hair, if he had missed me, if he would notice how I’d changed. I was taller, thinner, maybe, and my eyes could be hard. I would look at him with scorn. I would tell him I loved him. I would tell him I never thought about him at all. Just kiss him and get it over with, my best friend said, leaning back against the headboard. She gazed down at me with pity, and I buried my face in the blanket. How could she understand? She
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had, by now, kissed three more boys and planned to have sex with one of them, though she hadn’t decided which. I was still holding out for hand-holding. Roses. A film-finale kiss. You worry too much, she said. He’ll do whatever you want. What had happened to her fear, to her quiet confession behind lowered lashes? She knew things now.
Who is this beautiful woman on my doorstep? my grandmother asked, and hugged me until my arms went numb. Her frayed corduroys swished as she led me down the hall to my bedroom, where my sheets smelled like lavender and laundry. The sound of the ocean poured through my window. The clock in my grandmother’s kitchen told the time in days. I found David by the flash of his hair in the sun. He never burned, except for the patch between his shoulder blades. I imagined pressing my palm against it and soaking up the heat. The first sighting was always a physical shock, no matter how thoroughly I had prepared. He stripped my poise, returning me to myself, 24
and I felt just as I had when standing naked before him on the kitchen mat. His eyes turned to mine, then fell away. The sand shifted under my heels as he passed behind me. Though Cora begged me to stay, I left my towel on the sand and followed him.
Our arms were outstretched, our palms on the planks, radiating heat, and my fingers itched to close the distance. The wood rose and fell beneath us, the only sounds the slop of the water against the underside of the raft and his quick breath. The heat soaked through my suit, which had filled out between summers, just as my grandmother had promised. I resisted the urge to wrap my arms across my chest. David’s eyelids flickered as if under the strain of keeping them shut, and he was still, except for his breath running in and out, timed with the tide. I pressed my palm against my stomach and matched my breath to his. He could not know. The silence spread between us, hot as the air between our arms.
The waves sucked at the wood, and when David’s little finger grazed my thigh, goose pimples broke out along my legs. I stared at the sky, sagging with rain, and waited for him to laugh at my razor-burnt shins and bruised knees. He brushed my thigh again, and when he pressed his fingers there, the muscles in my leg jumped against his hand. His breath outpaced the water as time stretched and slowed. His palm stuttered up my thigh. I was crushed into the wood, my hair tangled with the grain. There were splinters in my shoulder blades. The sky was solid and heavy. He slipped his fingers inside my bathing suit. Cora watched from the beach, clutching her giraffe by the neck. I stared back, burning in her innocent gaze. He hadn’t confessed his undying love. Hadn’t held my hand on the moonlit beach. Hadn’t forsaken all others for me. Hadn’t even kissed me yet. I sat up. What? he asked, looking up at me with wide eyes, so like the embarrassed boy caught staring in the doorway. I tried to speak,
to ask if he had done this with other girls, if he thought I had been with other boys, and if it mattered as much to him as it did to me. But I said nothing. The raft lurched as he rolled to his feet. It was cold in his shadow. Even as I ordered myself to stand, to speak, to move even one finger, he jumped off the raft. Cora ran down the beach, the inner tube bouncing behind her on the sand. She closed her eyes and hopped over the sea foam. She waded to her ankles, then her knees. Her thighs were pink with cold. The ocean slid up her stomach and over her flat chest. It licked her collarbone. Mr. Giraffe floated beside her head. I welcomed the yawning sea, the weight of water on all sides, pressing against my mouth. I sensed the Undertoad crouched at the bottom, watching for my shadow to pass high above. As he crept closer, his body rippling with anticipation, I dared him to catch my ankle and drag me down. His webbed fingers twitched toward my toes. Weeds slid around my thighs. My heart beat between my legs, and the Undertoad drew closer, until just within hooking distance, he
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retracted his long fingers and sank back into the deep. He no longer wanted me. My feet scraped the slope, and I broke the surface. Cora was thrashing back to the beach.
deep, and that’s when I saw it: You’re still scared. I am not. His eyes were blue and accusing. I’ll get it, but then you’ll owe me.
It was just David, tormenting her as he had tormented me. There is no Undertoad, she would learn; there is only a stupid boy.
The sun glinted off his hair as he began to swim back toward the raft, his shoulder blades rising and falling like wings. My stomach ached, hollowing out as if a line that had connected us was spinning out and out and out. The waves tugged at my waist, herding me to shore.
But then he called out from behind me, Don’t be a baby.
The Undertoad took him, I saw, Cora said, shivering on the beach.
Cora stopped crying. She stood on the beach, her hair dripping, her knees red. The rain pushed across the ocean, shattering the waves into slivers. Hurt jumped in her eyes.
I wrapped my towel around her shoulders, and she pressed against my side. I wanted to confess, to explain that I wasn’t like the other girls. I felt everything more deeply. I felt with my nerves and the hairs on my arms. I felt my heart straining against my skin. I wanted hand-holding and roses and a film-finale kiss—but I also wanted David’s palm sliding around my hip, and his tongue tracing my collarbone, and his fingers slipping inside my bathing suit.
The Undertoad took him! she cried, as Mr. Giraffe bobbed away on the waves.
She’s not a baby, I said, breaking the silence that had built up like silt over the summers. My voice came out too shrill, but I didn’t care. It’s your fault she’s scared. I let the words come, faster and sharper. You’re always teasing, like you’re better than everyone else, but you were just as scared. He glared at me from the space between the shallows and the
The Undertoad isn’t real, I said. David passed the raft, further
than any of us had ever gone, out where the waves were razors. He grew smaller, his hair gleaming in the sun. Mr. Giraffe smiled back at him with its painted lips, always just ahead. Again and again, David’s fingers slipped off the rubber. Cora began to cry again. The rain pushed across the ocean. It darkened the raft and steamed up the sand. The giraffe was just a speck in the distance. I could no longer see David. I took Cora’s hand. The giraffe dipped out of sight, and emerged again like a magician’s trick. There was a flash of gold—David’s hair—no, just one last gasp of sun on the waves. My heartbeat thrummed in new places. And the taste of salt, everywhere.
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The Deviant Way to Make a Building Matt Malone
Both hinges shut on themselves And in bed, we sand on our sides, Facing one another, shelved surf boards With keel fins outbound to stack Right and inconspicuous. Humming like my garage grandfather who whittles (or like the smooth fan with which we compete), We craft a body for each other. It’s a garden already! convincing myself, I try to recall, convert, from math to life How a curve can be a straight line Pushed in a straight line. Some function I forget that I don’t know. Wires untangled and seemingly fit to hang, Pulleys lodged where they make more sense, There’s incubated a climax, thanks to Some slippery cog bent to do and do okay. We split an endless Hungry Man sandwich That is right, like the he— Cleanish as a Daniel, forearms like a Brad— But this he finds all its parts a bit too loose, giggling “It’s falling apart!” and piecing back like an infant.
Though there be variant ways to make a building There is no deviant way to make one, The fact which slaps the mirror to me sometimes. A second before it does, I see a dull tool Shining only under rent, plastered, human light. Somewhere parallel and perpendicular, Perhaps it cogs and sparkles like a tool should.
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The Cajun Waltz Susanna Kittredge
My father never taught me to do a Cajun Waltz. Or if he did, I was too young to remember. He was particularly handsome and disposed to heart attacks. The funerals get fatter with the ghosts of what we believed in: eat right – the salmon, the fiber – pull yourself out of bed. Run. I say, do three months’ worth of eating while swaying your hips like a big truck in a strong wind. Cook. Eat like an omnivore. Dare yourself to walk away.
Where She Stands Sherri H. Hoffman
old-capped Mason jars filled with cut green beans line the kitchen countertop in orderly rows. On the table, a crate of new peaches, the irrigation schedule, and a stack of pink flyers: Resurrection Rummage Sale. July 14-15 Friday and Saturday at Our Holy Redeemer. Bernadette finishes the breakfast dishes and starts packing the decent hand-me-downs into paper bags. Her mother takes up the kettle to pour water through the coffee funnel. “Marsha Neederman has some books for the sale,” her mother says. “But leave me the truck so I can pick up another load of hay. Jay will be here inside the hour.” Her cup full, she stirs in some sugar. “And drop the flyers by the grocery. They’re going to hand them out at the register.” “Mom!” Ginny’s wooden clogs bang down the hallway. “Where’s my red notebook?” She swoops the cup out of her mother’s hand, holds it to her lips, hands it back. “Hot, hot, hot.”
“Not in that skimpy thing, Ginny Lynn Walters.” She adds milk, takes a sip, sets the cup on the sideboard. “We’re not those girls,” she says. With a basket of clean wet sheets on her hip, she heads out the back door to the clothesline. Ginny rolls her eyes at Bernadette. Her lashes are dark with mascara. “Shoulders are the new vagina,” she says. Bernadette hands her a red spiral notebook marked American History. “Don’t be crude.” “Was she always this prudish? Or is that just a widow thing?” Bernadette finishes her mother’s coffee. “Pretty sure it’s just you,” she says. She tosses Ginny a blue t-shirt from one of the bags of clothes, and her sister pulls it on over the tube top. On the front porch, Bernadette slides her feet into a pair of flip flops. The driveway stretches nearly a quarter mile out from the yellow farmhouse to the main road into town. A row of sentinel black cottonwoods stand to the north, planted as a windbreak by Bernadette’s grandfather when he built this house. To the south and east, poplars trace the banks 31
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of the canal, and the wind cuts currents over fields of green wheat. The farm truck takes up the driveway next to the house, and nearby in the thin grass, a red Vega station wagon is parked close enough to be connected to the orange extension cord that runs down the porch steps. Bernadette unclips the battery charger and slams the hood down. The car doors creak on rusty hinges, but the car starts with barely a sputter. Once they hit pavement, Ginny twists the rearview mirror to her side. “Try not to hit any bumps,” she says. She slides the top off a lipstick tube the color of wine. Bernadette squints. “Hot date?” “Wouldn’t you like to know.” Bernadette turns into a pothole. “Hey!” A line of wine-red trails up to Ginny’s nose. “Oops,” Bernadette says. A dirt bike buzzes up behind them, and they both wave out the windows at Jim Summers, one of their regular pipe movers. He lifts a hand as he passes.
“So cute,” Ginny says, fishing. “You know he is.” Bernadette pretends not to smile. She likes Jim. He’d left a worn copy of Yeats in her car last week after she mentioned her favorite poet in passing, but she can’t let her little sister hold that over her head. Not yet. She likes to know where she stands first. The door to the high school auditorium is propped open with a metal chair. A white paper sign points with an arrow: Summer School Entrance. Ginny flutters her fingers over her shoulder. Bernadette waits until Ginny goes into the school, and then she drives down past the French’s plant, crosses the tracks, turns on Main Street at the flashing yellow and into the Maverick station. A white Ford Mustang sweeps into the other side of the pump, and Lane Richmond—red hair and wide shoulders—steps out of the car. He and Bernadette are both seniors next year even though Lane is a year older since Bernadette got moved up a grade when she was eleven. Her father’s farm goes down to the south side of Hanging Bluff, and Lane’s family owns everything else from there to the river.
The Mustang’s radio beats loud as Trace Garret and Randy Moon spill out the passenger side, ducking and dodging. The three boys are the front line of every team at school: football, basketball, track, rodeo. Randy lands a stinging slap, but Trace is taller, and he pulls a wrestling move to pin Randy on the hood. “Watch the car, ass-wipes,” Lane says. He pulls a cigarette from behind his ear. “Mooney,” he says over his shoulder. “Get me some smokes.” Randy holds up a middle finger. Lane lights the cigarette. “Walt,” he says. Bernadette twists the gas cap on the Vega. “Why do you insist on calling me that?” Lane’s clear eyes are ringed with red lashes. “You like it.” Once in Chemistry class, just before the mid-term test, Lane turned around in his desk and talked right to her. “Walt,” he said. Her pencil dropped and rolled into her lap. “Lane,” she answered. His eyes were icicle blue, clear
straight through as if the color was the mere reflection of light. “Trade me places, Walt.” He picked up her books from the desk. “Come on,” he said. “Before Gilford gets back.” The desk was warm from him, her own heat rising into her face. Mr. Gilford passed out the tests at the front of each row. “Put your name in the top right hand corner,” he said. “Extra credit if you spell it correctly.” He laughed at his own joke. The tests went down the rows. Lane’s whispered breath brushed the back of Bernadette’s neck. “Keep your elbow in,” he said. “Or I can’t see the whole page.” From the door of the Maverick station, Randy whistles as if driving cattle, cups his hand, and hollers. “Underage smoking is prohibited.” He holds up a case of beer and a pack of cigarettes. *** Mrs. Neederman has staged an orange-brown couch and a drop-leaf table in her driveway. The garage is open, and four cardboard boxes are stacked next to a pair of pink lampshades and three Mr. Coffee coffeemakers. Bernadette picks a small plastic 33
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ball from one of the open boxes. The ball is pink and soft with fuzz. It is attached by a string to a white plastic arm bunched in an octopus of plastic arms. She lifts the octopus, and a flurry of little balls fall into a bouncing circle of balls, pink, yellow, green, and powder blue. “Betsy Mortensen donated her baby mobile,” Mrs. Neederman says from behind her screen door. Marsha Neederman writes the social column for the city paper that runs next to the daily crop prices and the high school sports scores. “Betsy says she’s had her last. Quit before you go into double digits, that’s what I always say.” Bernadette plays softball with Sarah Mortensen, third in the Mortensen order of nine. Whenever a ball is thrown to Sarah, she turns her head at the last minute and closes her eyes, as if every ball will hit her in the face, but Bernadette always picks Sarah for her team because even though she cannot catch a ball to save her life, Sarah sure can hit it out of the park. With a vengeance. The fuzzy balls bob at the ends of their octopus arms. “What are
parents thinking?” Bernadette says, more to herself. She herds all the fuzzy baby balls back into the cardboard box. The screen door bangs shut. “They’re not, dear,” says Mrs. Neederman. “Everyone’s just trying to do better than their parents.” She sits on the orangebrown couch with her coffee, her long housecoat blending in like paisley camouflage. “Bernadette, is it?” Bernadette nods and tug the hem of her shorts. She’d been in the social column twice this year. Once after Christmas for placing third in a national essay contest, Women and Higher Education, and again in March when her father died. Her family was the entire column the second time— Bernadette, Ginny, her mother, and her father’s bad heart. Mrs. Neederman’s mouth puckers at the edge of her coffee cup. “How you girls getting along?” Bernadette ducks into the back of the Vega. She hauls out her duffle bag of softball equipment and sticks it up front on the passenger-side floor to make room for the boxes. She wonders if folks expect the farm to up and
fail now that her father is gone. As if the three of them hadn’t worked alongside him their whole lives, her mother third generation. Their hired foreman, Jay Searle, had been with them going on ten years, running the same tight crew. They’d put in new barley the day Bernadette’s father died, and now that crop is done and gone. The season waits for no man, her father always says. Used to say, Bernadette corrects herself. “You know.” Mrs. Neederman leans forward. “Wes Griffin is getting remarried next week. To Cynthia Hanson. That’s Carl’s cousin. I know it’s only been two months since Mary Beth passed, but both of them are widowers. They’ll be a blessing to each other.” Her nod is conspiratorial. “A good match.” Bernadette forces her face blank. She can’t imagine her mother needing a blessing like Wes Griffin—red suspenders tight over his rotund belly, breaking wind wherever he goes. Damn barking spiders everywhere, he always says. She fits the last box into the car and stacks the coffeemakers on the seat. A familiar ache tightens
in her chest that she knows is for her father. Always under the surface. She wipes her forehead with the back of her wrist, the day warming. “I should get this stuff over to the church,” she says. Mrs. Neederman shoos her fingers at Bernadette. “Of course. You’ll set them up in a nice display, won’t you, dear? Franklin Gotch will drive over the furniture in a bit. Say hello to your mother. Tell her it’s good to see Ginny getting caught up in summer school. You girls keep up the good work.” *** Our Holy Redeemer is the redbrick church with the white steeple at the corner of Maple and Emerson across from the city park. Red and blue crepe paper hangs along the matching brick wall alongside the parking lot and flutters down the rows of fold-up tables. Ladies in dresses and ponytails or summer hats are setting out the mish-mash of goods, hanging clothes on wire hangers along a makeshift clothesline. By the end of the sale, all the donated goods are expected to change hands for the cause.
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Bernadette lugs one of the Neederman boxes out of the car. Down the street, the white Mustang peels around the corner, a hubcap clanging onto the road, rolling like a tossed coin. Once when Bernadette was in 5th grade, Lane cornered her in the back of the school library and kissed her, a sloppy nuzzling like a nursing calf. Later that day, he caught up to her after school near her house and punched her in the eye. Since neither of her parents was confrontational, Bernadette had not known how to respond in either situation. At home, her mother had smoothed Bernadette’s hair out of her tearful face and put a package of frozen peas on the swelling. After supper, her father examined the eye under the kitchen light, gently as if Bernadette had been a new foal, her chin resting soft in his thick callused palm that smelled of spring hay. “What’d you learn?” her father had said. “Figure it out. Keep it from happening again.” He kissed the top of her head. From inside the crepe paper barrier of the rummage sale, Father Michaels waves Bernadette over to an empty table. His arms bulge under the short black 36
sleeves of his summer cassock. He’d played Triple-A for two years before entering the priesthood, could have gone major league. From the Oklahoma Red Hawks straight up to the Texas Rangers. Instead he coaches the girls’ softball team, his “higher calling,” he tells them. Often. “You girls are the future,” he says as part of his motivational speech before every game, while the girls mimic him from behind—not unkindly because they appreciate his enthusiasm. Whenever each of them is at bat, he calls them out by name from the dugout. What’cha got, Bernadette. Show ‘em what’cha got, Sarah. What’cha got. Father Michaels helps her set out the books, mostly romance novels and cookbooks. They place the coffeemakers at the one end of a table, strategically surrounded by coffee cups, four for a dollar. Father Michaels touches his collar, checks its position. “How are you three doing? How’s your mother?” Bernadette spins her keys on her finger. “That’s the question of the day, isn’t it?” she says.
The afternoon is busy enough to pass quickly. It’s an annual event, and everyone expects to come out. Ginny walks over after class with Kim Kirkam and Britt Fielding. They all three wear Ginny’s red-wine lipstick and matching wooden clogs. They’ve bunched up their t-shirts on one side, tied off the corner with colorful elastic scrunchies at the waistline of their shorts. Kim and Britt are townies, but Bernadette took them on her harvest crew last October and knows they are hard workers and not afraid of a little dirt. They bring fried chicken for Bernadette from the Food Town and follow Father Michaels around for a bit while he sells raffle tickets, five for a dollar. When they head out to Kim’s for a sleepover, Ginny stops at Bernadette’s book-andcoffee table. “Mom says it’s okay. So pick me up tomorrow?” Ginny flashes her dimple. “After chores.” The trio blows kisses to Father Michaels. They link arms and clomp away down the sidewalk. Most of the larger items, furniture, and bicycles are gone by the end of the day so that Father Michaels says he hopes for an early Saturday wrap-up.
Bernadette repacks what’s left of Neederman’s books. The clothes are loaded onto a table and hauled into the church foyer for the night. Bernadette talks baseball scores with Father Michaels as they stack the rest of the folding tables, Dodgers versus Braves. Crickets creak in the growing dark. The Vega is parked at the far side of the parking lot where a streetlight makes a yellow circle around the car. Its windows are silver with condensation. The door creaks as usual when Bernadette swings it open, but a rush of yard debris flows out onto her feet. Grass clippings, winter-black leaves, broken raspberry cane, and rotted squash vines. The smell of ferment makes Bernadette gag. She steps back, shakes the slimy brown litter from her bare skin. One of her flip-flops comes off. She retrieves it out of the mess, holds it in one hand, staring. The front of her car is filled to the dash. Breathing through her mouth, Bernadette ducks forward to scoop the wet detritus out the door. Her head bumps against the steering wheel, against the snake threaded through the spokes of the wheel, a dead snake wrapped through and around, head at 37
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twelve-o’clock, mouth gaping, dark eyes wrinkled like raisins. She may have screamed. Scrambles away from the Vega in the startled dark, even the crickets silent. Across the way, a car door slams. The matched round Mustang headlights flare, spotlighting Bernadette next to her car. The boys’ voices singsong over the blacktop. “Bernadette. Bern-a-dette,” one of them jeers. “How’s your mom? Heard she was lonely.” One of them howls like a wolf. “Or was it your sister?” Laughter echoes in the dark. The stench lifts off the dead brown litter, burning bile into the back of Bernadette’s throat. In her head, her pulse pounds at the edges of her eyes. She leans over the gear shift and plunges her hand through the wet compost, feeling for her duffle bag, the grass clippings a moldering heat. Her fingers find the drawstrings of her bag and the familiar knob of her softball bat. She kicks off her flip flops, the pavement warm. Lane is leaned up against the door
as she reaches his car. “Walt. It’s a little late for batting practice, don’t you think?” Someone starts a chatter. A beer can from the passenger window bounces twice and then rolls toward her bare feet, the aluminum humming on the pavement. “Swing,” they call. “Swing, batter-batter.” Bernadette shifts the bat to one side. Chokes up. Her first swing smashes the left headlamp, the metal bat ringing off the fender. Lane leaps from the fender. “Hey!” She steps back, sets her stance, leads with her shoulder. Red plastic and glass scatters across the ground. Lane spins around the front of the car, hands out, a double appeal. “What the hell do you think you’re doing!” Randy’s face shines white through the window as he winds it up. The tempered glass shatters into a snowy array that holds its shape in the aluminum frame. Inside the car, they are hollering, but they aren’t coming out. Bernadette connects with a resounding ching to launch the side mirror over the
low brick wall, a spinning whirl of chrome and reflection of light into the dark. She can hear Father Michaels calling their names from the church building. “What’s going on? What’s happened?” Lane has circled around the trunk of the car to come at her from behind. Bernadette squares up and backs up a couple steps to give herself some room. She drops her two-handed grip, light glinting off the blue metal finish of the bat as it hangs from her left hand. Lane lunges for it. Bernadette steps aside. Hooks her fist into the soft space at the base of his throat. The warm stink of beer, vomit, and wet grass rises from Lane where he lies curled on the pavement. He gags and coughs. Father Michaels slides to a stop in front of the Mustang, one hand on his head, the white collar unbound. Mouth open in a soundless oh. “Thought you’d pick on some girls, huh?” Bernadette says.
is a question. She stares him down. “You can’t make me apologize,” she says, disgusted because she knows he will. If not Father Michaels, then the thing that always protects boys like these. “But I won’t be sorry,” she says. Lane gropes his throat, his voice a wet garble. “Bitch hit me.” Behind the priest, Randy and Trace peer down at Lane. Father Michaels instructs them, and they lift Lane, one on each side. Cool air shifts in the fading daylight. Bernadette’s hands are shaking, but her head is clear with what she knows is beginning. She breathes in the fragrance of green wheat and sweet peas. Overhead in the deepest dark, the stars are blue and silver. With swift precision, she sweeps the debris out of her car. Starts the engine. In her rearview mirror, Father Michaels and the boys are silhouettes in the light of the single headlight. Bernadette circles away from the church and, passing the Mustang, tosses the dead snake onto the black pavement.
The priest kneels on the pavement. He looks up at Bernadette. Says her name as if it 39
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My Mouth Has Tasted Like Salt for Weeks Alyssa Jewell
as if the ocean comes and goes from my lips as it pleases. Words are always heavy, not to mention meditations or good will or whatever you want to throw out into the universe. Besides, we are led to believe that all of it will expire like a jug of milk, so we keep talking, keep tossing it out there in case the gods forget us or maybe just so our neighbors can hear (or need to hear) our grocery store voices through the windows cracked open one last time in October before we retreat to our own fireplaces, click on our lamps at 4:00 in the afternoon when the sky unravels its grey yarn and all we are left with is the glow of pulsing grapefruit light bulbs behind rows of drawn curtains up and down the avenue until spring lurches up from the pavement cracks like forgiveness-tendrils that need pulling. The neighbors will find themselves out and about with pruning sheers saying things like "What a perfect time to travel to Florida" and "Did you know the man who died in his driveway shoveling snow?" And though there will be some question about how much strain the heart can take,
I myself will think how I've never visited that great panhandle state, my thoughts given away to alligators, tourists lobbing marshmallows into the brackish water of the Everglades, on the lookout for a snap of toothy jaws. Meanwhile, someone will ask me about my rotting maple tree on the front lawn, whether or not to rope it down this year, cut it up like a bull.
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Sommarställe Matthew Landrum
This in particular—the summer place seen from the ferry’s sundeck, a red frame house at the edge of a shingle beach. I can picture our life there— morning swims in the sea, sunbathing on rocks in the Baltic’s endless light and lime. * Once in language class, a German girl said she had questions about the future and we both laughed because we did too. Now it’s not questions but imaginings— your hair grown long, skin kissed dark by sun (you’ve always tanned faster than me). * I’ll dream in mistranslation—not the summer place but the place summer stalls, white sun warm enough for us to strip and swim late in sub-artic evenings, or a stall where the summer is stabled, content to rest awhile in the shade of scrawny pines. * The tragedy—of all imagined lives, a different one (and only one) will be lived. Below the deck railing, this one passes. Life is constructed of particulars, and novels I would have read there will go unread now, our chess games play out differently. * Sparrows rise up from the island and pace our ferry. There’s an impulse to anthropomorphize and say that they too are envious of our lives, our outbound movement through the channel which will carry us to open water and on to Finland. * How will we live, my brother, when our hearts have loved so many places? You and I have seen too much of this clinquant world. There’s a red house standing alone on a strip of beach, invisible now behind the pines and crags of other islands. 42
Ode to This Motel J e n n i f e r J. P r u i e t t - S e l b y
Headlights bend through salt-smudged glass in a rented room, where we discuss maps & gas mileage, yellow figures dry wallpaper swimming & pay-per-view avoidance Our sample-sized words must convey the buoyancy of bathwater kings, with much pretense filtered through foot-soaked shag carpet, or such metaphors for amusement We talk of our fears of faulty swim lessons & the danger in trusting the mirrors, but we must obey the rules of no-diving, even when others defy Though we must not accept bleach towels, but worry of shared laundry dust mites defecating in mattresses & the travel of bed bugs in luggage Remember: resist the appeal of continental pastry fried egg sausage gravy & opt for the fruitâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;whether too ripe, or too fresh. If they weep, then to each promise a new plush panda
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Haiku Story Rebecca Aronauer
round the same time Dov started talking about quitting The Dads and giving up music altogether, I left my job to become a haiku poet. I was a little wound-up about the whole haiku enterprise, and I woke up early most mornings. The day of Dov’s GRE was no different, and I got up before dawn. From my bedroom window, I watched the light change from black to navy to a deep blue, and then into a pink lightness. I wrote, and counted, and rewrote, and ended up with: “Wake up in time to / See the sky fill up with pink / It won’t last all day” and I felt good. A few hours later, I went to the Lower East Side, where Dov lived with his sister, Jamie, above the bagel shop their great-grandfather opened in 1912. She had invited me over for brunch. “Thank god you’re here, Allison. We have so much food,” Jamie said when she opened the door. “I told Dad we were having one friend over, and he gave us enough for a bris.” 44
They always had enough food for a minyan, but today there was a genuine spread in their living room: various smoked and cured fish, different kinds of cream cheese, and sliced tomatoes as red as the Swiss flag. It was good news for me: Frank & Son Bagels were a New York institution, for many years and in many magazines, the home of the best bagel in the city. “I would love my parents to send me food like this,” I said. “My dad just mails me dental floss.” “Do you have any? I can’t remember the last time I flossed,” Dov said. I took a box out of my bag and handed it to him. My father, a dentist, had raised me to travel with the stuff, and at 24, I never had so much as a filling. “‘Bleeding makes you want / to floss less, but really you / should be flossing more. Katz Dentistry, Shaker Heights, Ohio,’” Dov read from the box. “Did you write that?” “In elementary school,” I said, and maybe blushed. I had written it as a 10 year-old, and it remained my most popular poem. “That really changes the way I
understand flossing.” I already knew I would think about that later, as proof that Dov liked me and also that he understood the larger value of my haikus. I also knew I would be disappointed in a few weeks, when Dov hadn’t gotten my number to text me after a triumphant flossing experience. He was handsome in the way of most 33 year-olds who exercise and know how to dress themselves. He had thick, dark hair and an appealing Roman nose. But more than that, he was charming. His charm was different than my own Midwestern friendliness. It didn’t even feel like charm; it felt like the beginning of something. But his attention was like swimming in the sunlit part of a lake, and was just as fleeting. “Is there anything else like flossing, where it’s unpleasant because you’re doing it infrequently?” Jamie asked. Haikus were like that. Before I quit my job as a copyeditor, I could only write a few times a week, and it wasn’t enough. To really do anything with 17 syllables, I had to be writing haikus all the time. But since I left Sales & Marketing
Management Magazine, I had found that just writing haikus had its own stresses. My dad called yesterday and asked, and not for the first time, what I was doing with myself. When I told him I’d rather fail than not try, he said I could try with a real job. But Jamie did most things infrequently. As the social media manager of Frank & Son, she was only expected to work enough to keep the bagel empire in tact. She was beautiful too, with full cheeks in the way of a Renaissance baby. “The more you call Pop-pop, the easier it gets,” Dov said. “Speaking a foreign language and smoking pot, are like that too.” He pulled a bag of weed out from a cigar box on their coffee table and started to roll a joint. “If you don’t smoke for a while, you can’t get anything done high.” He was right. By the time the joint was done and Dov turned on the Kona Ironman, I was so stoned that I didn’t mind that I was watching strangers ride bikes. “Did you know my brother is a weirdo?” Jamie asked. “He stays up all night watching South Korean speed skating, but he won’t go to a Yankees game.”
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“First of all, I wouldn’t go to Hawaii to watch the Ironman. And second of all, baseball games with mom and dad are a whole thing, and always involve us going to New Jersey to get a ride to the Bronx, which doesn’t even make sense.” Dov turned to me. “Pay attention, Allison. These triathletes—they’re just like you,” “I don’t even have a bike,” I said. “The similarity isn’t athletic. They’re completely devoted to something they love, and they probably don’t make much more off of it than a poet.” “They must have a deal with PowerBar or something,” I said. I wanted them to be doing better than I was. They had trained their bodies to be capable of so much, and had the muscles and tan lines to prove it. My haikus weren’t even about nature. Some people—editors of haiku quarterlies, for instance—might say they weren’t haikus at all. “For free PowerBars? The guy who comes in 40th at this race is probably working at some cycling shop in San Diego, and he’s 40th in the world at what he does. The
40th best lawyer in the world could be on the Supreme Court,” Dov said. It was impossible to know who the 40th best haiku poet in the world was. The thing about haikus is that they’re hard to screw up entirely. Any haiku takes on the grace of its structure. The other side of that is haikus are rarely great. They’re the quiches of poetry. “I'm too stoned to watch this,” I said. “And I didn't invite you over for the Ironman,” Jamie said, as if she were eight and Dov were 13 again, and they were fighting over the attention of a visiting cousin. The triathletes were now running under the bright Kona sun, and were in a pain that could have been avoided if they loved anything else. I followed Jamie into her bedroom, which was bright and big like the rest of the apartment. She even had a desk in there, which I couldn’t imagine. My dresser was in the hallway. “Can you believe my brother? The Dads are finally getting big, ‘Two Dollar Bill’ is in a movie trailer, and he wants
to go to grad school to become a teacher? He’s not even going to apply to schools in New York. What am I supposed to do here without him?” It was hard to relate to living alone in a two-bedroom apartment as a problem, and I left soon after. Jamie was the kind of friend I had bagels with every few months and didn’t need to see more of. -I was spending a lot of time on the Upper East Side. The hospitals by the river needed subjects for their psychological tests and would pay for my platelets. Then there was Stella, the 11 year-old I babysat. The timing of these jobs often left me marooned uptown, and I had a circuit of warm, public spaces with clean bathrooms that I visited. With its abundance of fresh flowers and priceless art, the Met was my favorite place to kill time. I lived in a shared apartment with sticky countertops, but at the museum, I could pretend my life was filled with framed art and natural light. The Met had a Jackson Pollock that I especially liked. The
Cleveland Museum of Art has a painting of his too, but that one was too small to get lost in. The Met’s was huge, and each time I saw it, there seemed to be more to look at. I was searching for orange drips when Dov tapped me on the shoulder. I didn’t run into people so often in New York. Seeing Dov, I felt less anonymous than I had a few hours before on the subway, crowded next to strangers who were on their way to do something important to them and unknowable to me. “I saw you by that painting with the two blue lines, but I thought it would be fun to follow you around for a while,” he said. “Like a stalker?” I asked. “More like a spy.” “Only a bad spy would ever admit to spying,” I said. Dov smiled. “I had lunch with my dad at the Upper East Side restaurant and I thought it’d be fun to come to the museum.” He had grown a beard since I had last seen him and hadn’t flossed since lunch. There was a poppy seed between his left incisors.
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“I have a dozen bagels in coat check, if you’re interested,” he said. “That’s ok,” though I liked Frank & Son Bagels. What I really would have liked was to see my dad for lunch. I missed him. I even missed Chelsea, who had been my acting mom since I was 8. With me in New York and them in Ohio, sometimes it felt like we were just keeping in touch instead of being a family. Yesterday, I had gotten a letter from my dad with a check for my subway monthly wrapped in a Wallace Stevens obituary. He liked to send me stories about poets who had day jobs. He also paid for my subway monthly. It was sort of a joke. He had promised me all of New York as a college graduation present. One hundred and twelve dollars wasn’t enough money to change my life, but as he would say, it wasn't a poke in the eye either. I sent him a haiku that morning: “Thank you for every / subway transfer. I don’t blame / you for the delays.” Suddenly, I felt very envious of Dov, who had regular lunches with his dad and a career making art. I had neither. Six months after quitting Sales & 48
Marketing Management, I had a lot of haikus, but not a topic for a collection. When I had a job, I thought I didn’t have enough time to be a poet. But maybe the problem was bigger than that. Dov turned to the Jackson Pollack. “I wrote a paper about this painting for Art Hum,” he said. “What was it about?” I asked. “I probably just repeated whatever our teacher told us. The real thing I remember about that paper is walking through the park after seeing the painting. While I was at the museum, it started to snow really hard. It was the first snow of the year, and I thought it would be fun to walk back to school. I moved fast enough that I didn’t mind that I was wearing loafers and didn’t have gloves. It wasn’t until I was a few blocks from campus that I even noticed I was cold. I was shivering by the time I got to my dorm, and the first few minutes of my shower hurt,” Dov said. “I guess now this painting will also make me think of you.” I smiled. I hoped he would tell me about the next time he came to the
museum, or whenever he thought of me at all. All sorts of things reminded me of him: bagels, the New Jersey skyline, sometimes even pigeons. A month before, I had downloaded the Passage of Power, The Dads’ third album. It was catchy and sweet, and the title song is somehow sentimental about Lyndon Johnson. “I’ve been hearing The Dads more,” I said. “I always want to tell you when they’re on at a coffee shop.” “I wish you would. I don’t believe anyone really listens to us.” I looked back at the Jackson Pollock. There is no money in art, but I believe there is a kind of math. By my numbers, if the amount of time people spend experiencing a piece of art is greater than the time someone spent making it, the work is successful. With The Dads, Dov made his time back. I’ve only done that once, with the floss poem. It took me about 20 minutes to write that haiku, and over 14 years, thousands of people have spent 5 seconds reading it. But that equation wasn’t enough for Dov. Nor were the royalties from a movie, or the fact that
people—not just his family, but the right people—believed in him. Dov had traveled the world and sang to strangers who had memorized his words, but he still wanted to quit. -After our run-in, I started visiting the Met almost every day, searching for Dov and settling for his ghost. I didn’t see him at the Temple of Dendur or on the roof top exhibit. I didn’t find him at the Warhol retrospective either, but there was a portrait of Mao there that I liked a lot. There was an orange orb over Mao’s silkscreened face, shades of purple in the background, and brush strokes of green in his shirt. The last time I thought about Warhol was when I gave my parents a mouse pad with our dog’s face on it, colored in Warhol-style, for their anniversary. From the wall text by the painting, I learned that Warhol was obsessed with celebrity, which I guess I knew, but the placard went on about Warhol’s deconstruction of it, of the power of shared experience and the democratizing nature of CocaCola. As for Mao, for all his terrors and ambitions, wasn’t he a 49
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star in his own right? Maybe Dov preferred to be famous in smaller increments, to have 200 kids a year remember his name for the rest of their lives than to have thousands of people know of him vaguely. I looked back at the painting, started counting, and ended up with: “Warhol chose Mao for / His fame. All of China had / His portrait at home.” The Mao poem was one of my better haiku writing experiences. I was turning a placard, which was already a distilled dissertation, into something even smaller. When I visited the museum again looking for Dov, I spent a long time with Juan de Pareja, taking in his stare, his torn jacket, and his elaborate neckpiece. Pareja was Velazquez’s slave, but he was an artist, too, and eventually freed. On the subway home, I wrote, “A moor, a slave, a / Painter, the pose of the free / Crisp collar, torn sleeve.” By the time I reached my stop, I realized I could write a haiku for each piece in the museum. I had found a topic for my collection. I started an instagram account for
the project. After about 10 posts and 15 likes, I had bagels with Jamie and she explained strategic hashtagging to me. On nights when I had trouble sleeping, I thought about my haikus. Maybe the museum would follow me back, and then I would get written up in Vulture. I would do more than earn my time back. In a few years, I would have a collection at the Met gift shop. From there, I imagined myself working on commission at the Tate or the Musee d’Orsay, and having a life free of worry about time or money. Sorting out the details of this fantasy, along with going to the Met every day, kept me from thinking too much about the fact that Stella, my main source of income, was going to the Berkshires for the summer. My dad was more concerned. I had gotten a William Carlos Williams obituary from him and a long letter, something about loving me, but fearing I didn’t understand that my choices had consequences. “Consequences” was a word my dad loved. I didn’t like it much—too many syllables. He would no longer pay for my MetroCard, but the letter ended
with an offer for another form of transportation: a flight back to Cleveland for the summer. There was a lot I would love about being back home. Ohio summers are lush and lovely. I could swim in lakes regularly and start a Cleveland Museum of Art Instagram account. But I didn’t feel done with New York yet: I didn’t want to own a car or know when the supermarket was open. And if my haikus ever took off, it would feel more important in New York, where people could be interior designers or internet artists and still be taken seriously. A week later, I saw Stella for the last time before she went away for the summer. Over grilled cheeses, she told me she had decided what to do with her life. “I’m going to be an otolaryngologist,” she announced. Stella was big on declarative sentences. “I’m bored” was a favorite. She was mostly too old for a babysitter; I was more of a paid conversationalist. The trick with an 11 year-old, and most people really, is to ask questions about their interests and nod along.
“What’s that?” “Allison, how can you be 24 and not know what an otolaryngologist is? They’re for ears. My otolaryngologist made me custom earplugs, and now I swim all the time and I don’t get ear infections anymore.” “Are you going to be on the swim team at camp?” “Yeah, but I don’t know who else is coming for the summer, so I’m not sure what strokes I’ll get to do. I want to do freestyle and breast, but everyone wants that, so I might get stuck with backstroke.” She frowned, and while I frowned back at her to make her laugh, I found it reassuring that she was also uncertain about the summer. She was growing up alongside international tourists destinations and would probably never have to take out a loan in her life. She had no responsibilities for the next two months beyond suggested summer readings. And still, she was worried about how good she was, how lucky she would be, and what that combination would allow her to do. After brunch, I rushed through
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Penn Station to get to New Jersey for Dov’s going away party. I felt a bit like a rat, scurrying under the low ceilings and fluorescent lights, to get to my train. The moment after I sat down, the train took off. I wish life could be more like that, and you just needed to do one thing—make it—and then you could relax. Jamie and her dad picked me up from the Allendale train station in a Lexus SUV. When Dov looked at his father, he must have seen a time machine mirror. They had the same face, but Elliot Frank’s was filled out with bagels and worn down by time. As soon as I got in he said, “Allison, I’m afraid there’s not much to celebrate. Our Bear is moving away.” From the passenger seat, Jamie turned around and rolled her eyes. She had probably been hearing a lot of eulogies for Dov lately. “But there is a lot of food,” Elliot Frank said. “Tell me, do you like lox?” I didn’t love lox, but I wasn’t sure how to say that to a bagel magnate.
“Actually, I never tried it before I moved to New York,” I said. “Allison Katz, are you trying to bullshit me? You’re a nice girl from Shaker Heights, and you want me to believe you didn’t grow up with lox?” “It’s a little salty for me to be honest.” He laughed. “You could have told me you didn’t like bagels before you came to New York, and I might have believed you. I’ve had your bagels, and Cleveland bagels—they’re basically a roll with a hole in it. The water in Ohio just doesn’t have the right minerals. Jamie’s heard this a million times, but do you know about the Croton Aqueduct? It’s an incredible work of civil engineering, and it’s why our bagels are so good. That’s what I keep telling Dov, but he thinks he’ll be ok on Michigan bagels.” Outside, everything was green and managed. There were high hedges to divide neighbors and front stoops with potted plants. It didn’t look that different than Shaker Heights. But New York was still there, hanging over
Allendale like a warm cloud of money. From Cleveland, it wasn’t too long of a drive to find a town with only a gas station, where the woman behind the counter didn’t have all her teeth. I wondered if Dov knew how grass grows without a gardener or how quickly dust collects without someone to wipe it away. But then maybe he was leaving to find out. “I’m just really going to miss that band,” Elliot Frank said, not to anyone, but just as a reminder. On the back of my train ticket, I tried and failed to write a haiku about aqueducts and the American dream. The Frank house smelled like fresh fruit and window cleaner. I wished I could have heard the story of the picture of Dov and his mom wearing matching pajamas and pointing guns made out of their hands into the air, but I was only on a self-guided tour. I found Dov tuning his guitar in his bedroom. There were posters of the 1996 New York Knicks and Nirvana, an autographed 8x10 photo of Dave Matthews, and a Yankees comforter. All of these things must have mattered to him 15 years ago, and here they were, unchanged and
regularly dusted—a museum to his childhood. “You made it!” he said. “I didn’t think anyone would come out to New Jersey, but my parents insisted on having everyone here.” “They’ll just miss having you around. And you’ll miss being able to come home like this, too. You don’t know what it’ll be like when you’re gone,” I said. “I know there won’t be bagels like my dad’s in Michigan. That’s what he keeps telling me anyway.” “The bagels in the Midwest are fine,” I said, even though I knew Elliot Frank used bagels for everything: an excuse to see his kids, a snack, a catchall for all he had given Dov and Jamie. “I hope so,” Dov said. “But I could never tell my dad if the bagels are even decent.” Later I realized we didn’t have any of the conversations I had imagined for us; we didn’t speak about haikus, music, or semiprofessional athletes. But what we did talk about—his drive to Michigan and my hope to buy a bike for the summer—felt like enough.
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I wondered when the next time I would see him would be. I had known him for two years, but we had never made plans. Apart from my daydreams, he was just a bonus person, someone I always liked to see but never had to work to keep up with. That kind of friendship is impossible to maintain over any distance. At the end of the party, the guests gathered in a cleared space in the living room for Dov to play to us. He said he started The Dads for fun. He had only meant to get a jumpstart on the cover band he would have in his 40s. Then he played a few songs that were easy to sing along with. He was good at music, the kind of good that seemed like no work had been wasted trying to be great. And I hoped weâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d have another coincidence, and see each other at a rest stop or on a plane. Weâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d be in different places, but it would feel like no time had passed.
Cementerio General Santiago De Chile Heather Hughes
Dolores, your name â&#x20AC;&#x201D; I should have taken it; it fell. The edifice fell. Dolores is half a name. Dolores went the way of Greek columns. A cemetery needs order, like a country. Yet here we are, Dolores, with the rubble of your afterlife blocking the path, your shattered inscription. Dolores, your name acquires density after death, like wet masonry. Dolores, your name swells. Dolores, your name has no business being anybodyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s.
CONTRIBU TO R S
Rebecca Aronauer is a writer living in Denver,
Colorado. She is the founder and host of Making the Mountain, a quarterly artist talk in partnership with Lighthouse Writers Workshop. She is currently working on a collection of short stories. Anne Barngrover is the author of Yell Hound Blues
(Shipwreckt Books, 2013) and co-author with Avni Vyas of the chapbook Candy in Our Brains (CutBank, 2014). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in North American Review, Copper Nickel, Ecotone, Crazyhorse, and Mid-American Review, among others. She holds graduate degrees from Florida State University (MFA) and University of Missouri (PhD). Bradly Sergio Brandt has poetry published or
forthcoming in Sonora Review, Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, Zone 3, and ELKE Journal. Lara Ehrlich's writing appears or is forthcoming in The
Normal School, River Styx, Paper Darts, Boston Literary Magazine, and The Hairpin, among others, and she is working on a short story collection entitled News From a Country Never Visited. By day she is an editor at Boston University.
Sherri H. Hoffman is a working writer, graphic designer,
and sports fanatic. She has an MFA from Pacific University and is a PhD candidate at the University of WisconsinMilwaukee in Creative Writing. Selected publications include december, PANK, Etchings, and forthcoming in Cimarron Review and The Delmarva Review. Sherri loves birds, her rambunctious family, and a good cup of coffee. Heather Hughes hangs her heart in Boston and Miami.
Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Bad Penny Review, Cream City Review, Grain, Hinchas de Poesia, JaiAlai Magazine, and other journals. She MFA-ed at Lesley University and ALM-ed at Harvard University Extension. All her tattoos have wings.
Alyssa Jewell studies poetry at Western Michigan
University where she served as assistant editor for New Issues Poetry and Prose and is currently an assistant poetry editor for Third Coast. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Blue Earth Review, Fifth Wednesday, Grist, and Cactus Heart. She lives and teaches in Grand Rapids. Susanna Kittredgeâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s poems have appeared in
publications such as 14 Hills, 580 Split and Salamander as well as the anthologies Bay Poetics (Faux Press, 2006), Sidebrow (Sidebrow, 2008) and Shadowed: Unheard Voices (The Press at California State University, Fresno 2014). She has an MFA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. She lives in Boston where she is a proud member of The Jamaica Pond Poets and the Brighton Word Factory. In real life, her father is perfectly healthy. Matthew Landrum holds an MFA from Bennington
College. His work is forthcoming in The Notre Dame Review, RHINO, and Michigan Quarterly Review. He lives in Detroit. Matt Malone is a sophomore in Columbia College. He
was going to major in English but then realized he can't read very well. But he thinks poetry is more important than seat belts. He has never been published because he is made of duck sauce. Vote for Matt? Jennifer J. Pruiett-Selby , a woman of contradictions,
joined the military to find peace. She now lives with her husband, poet Jason Selby, and five children in rural Iowa. Her work has found homes with Prairie Schooner, Hobart, Calyx, Crab Creek Review, Lunch Ticket, Rust + Moth, Ember, and Red River Review, and her column, "Awkward in the Midwest," appears monthly with Easy Street Magazine. Her search for peace continues in the form of meditation through writing.
Charlotte Goddu Veniamin Gushchin Rachel Taratuta-Titus
Managing Editor Devika Kapadia
Layout Editor Clare Jamieson
Editorial Board Nikhil Dominic Sophia Marina Camilla van Geen Gowan MoĂŻse Andrew Hauser Nikki Shaner-Bradford Safwan Khatib AJ Stoughton Denise Xu
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