The Kudzu Review: Issue No. 62

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The Kudzu Review

ISSUE N° 62 | SPRING 2019

The Kudzu Review SPRING 2019

Copyright Š by The Kudzu Review

Florida State University’s premier undergraduate journal of literature and art.

The views and ideas expressed in the contained works do not reflect those of the Kudzu staff or the Florida State University Department of English. All rights revert back to their original owners upon publication. The Kudzu Review is funded in part by the Student Government Association and is a Recognized Student Organization at Florida State University.




Shannon Lechon

Maari Carter

Yousef Mohamed

Editor’s Note Dear Reader,



Isabella Seijo

Ashley Voet



Lexie Berrett Alaina Faulkner Vaughn Garcia Katie Merlin Claudia Montilla Mackenzie Morgan Ericka Rivera

Reagan Creamer Theodore Dryce Christian Latham



Jacqueline Zalace

Sasha Rozeau



Ilani Fernandes Nicole Knight Julio Mata Anna Morgan Casey Oliva Roxy Rico Jupiter Roman Kendall Rotar Julia Schlabach Leia Speziale

Emma “Jean” Block Briana Campbell Leah Fleurimond Elena Gurau Lucas Jorgensen Kaitlyn Stelnicki John Thomas

Since our initial conception in 1988, The Kudzu Review has been dedicated to publishing creative works from undergraduates from Florida State University and more recently, the nation. Our mission has always been to foster a community of authors and artists and to share their work with the Florida State community and beyond. Our writers have gone on to publish in the Columbia Poetry Review and the Los Angeles Review as well as going into further education to pursue their dreams, and we here at The Kudzu Review endeavor to support both our authors and our staff in whatever path they choose. With the endless support of our faculty advisor, Maari Carter, and our dedicated team of Editors and Editorial Assistants, the Kudzu Review publishes twice a year in the categories of Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Visual Arts. I would like to thank our staff for continuing to publish great pieces and for their many hours of hard work. We are thrilled to present the writers, poets, photographers, and artists published in this edition and are delighted that they have chosen our magazine as a place to house their work. Thank you for bringing these pieces into the world and for allowing us to be the ones to help share your stories. Shannon Lechon Editor In Chief

BLACK WATER Jack D Wingate




FEARS Keilana Hoffstetter

RUSSIAN GIRL Keilana Hoffstetter


UNTITLED Colby Scott Blackwill

UNTITLED Colby Scott Blackwill

LA YOLE Yousef Helmi

ORGANIC Keilana Hoffstetter

RED William Leech



SAFE Amber Bardsley

UNTITLED Colby Scott Blackwill

BENT OVER BACK Eli Goldstone

NOBODY Eli Goldstone


UNTITLED Colby Scott Blackwill

UNTITLED Colby Scott Blackwill

UNTITLED Colby Scott Blackwill

YELLOW Margaret Smith

BOHEMIAN EASTER Keilana Hoffstetter

ONE LEAP Yousef Mohamed


ITS OWN HEARTBEAT Caitlin Bradbury

Jacob Cromwell



Capsized Lighthouse By: Mark Davis

A realization far below a glimmer on a slick brick —each day is a yard deep and below the water, more water. Above, a dark and solid weight. Voices, music, the touch of skin —goosebumps—all quiet. Here, you are bogman. You have clasped your arms over your breast. The bubbles rise, giving you their slippery hands. You close your eyes, and let the sun fade: the sea is not blue. Far below, you smile— there’ll be a lighthouse lashing out its tongue on the bottom’s promenade.

BLACK WATER Jack D Wingate








i am aligned with the culture of bolo ties strung through gopher skulls with aztec beads like the tracks of the four wheelers rolling through the desert across the barren farmland that my father’s father owned fifty-something years ago (i am not so much immersed in my bloodline but adjacent to the vein that breeds the gunslinger) a culture of spurred boots left on the front porch collecting dust until shaken like a dice game clattering against concrete until a scorpion skitters out dumbfounded as i am when it hides under the house (their ghosts whisper the sound and all the fury their lungs carry and i hear them in their footsteps across the driveway tonight) a culture of coyotes running amok in the garage milk bone boxes on their heads howling in fear of the great beyond world gone dark with the smells of domestication and kibble raw and manufactured repulsive and empty

(it’s the question of an ancestral pistol that fires like the shrill note of a fiddle breaking through the air like a curse then echoing eternal) a culture of bats swarming the lamp light wings slicing air with no graceful sound but the warble of wet leather fracturing the false moon outside the driveway voices tiny and wrought with hunger and rage (how proud would they be men of the bleeding church to see me scouting here in the valley of their legacy) i am aligned with the culture of my father and his father and his father still– affixed in a temporal state of perpetual southern gothic at the crossroads between tombstone and grit where their legacy began (where they buried the bodies)


Fears​, water color, gouache, gel pen, December 2019, 14x11 in. FEARS Keilana Hoffstetter

RUSSIAN GIRL Keilana Hoffstetter

By the Econfina River Four Months After the Hurricane By: Tanner Barnes

I lie still on this stone, counting the cigarette butts collected in the mud. My brick lips refuse to roll and show my walnut teeth. I want to uncrumple my paper limbs and ask the morning if the trees begged for mercy before Michael popped them like pinestraw between his fingers. But instead I just sit here and let the river mosquitos eat their fill.

UNTITLED Colby Scott Blackwill

La Yole

By: Youssef Helmi

1875, Pierre-Auguste Renoir In the distance, the train chugs above the horizon of trees, so hardly noticeable one might think the white tufts to be clouds ii. Reminding of the miles traveled from the crowded verandas where tobacco smoke curls from the mistress’s lips, coalesces with the coffee’s steam to say vous m’avez fait attendre1 iii. Tucked between trees is a house painted in inverse blues with a ribbon of gold threaded between iv. The blue of the sky crouches down, hugging the earth as to declare to the wandering eye non! nous ne sommes pas pareils2 v. And the blue of the river indignantly high, upon columns of wintry peppermint, to sing autonomy should the river’s bank disappear vi. In the garden, a man rests on the mossed walls, watching the au pair and the child of the estate pointing and squealing voyez, voyez! je veux prendre le train, je le veux vraiment3 vii. Or perhaps he’s looking the other way, watching the lady in a shrubgreen skiff, banked close to the water’s edge viii. The lady who twists umbrella in hand and sees a sailboat, the color of sunset, gliding over the water’s rendition of the chateau ix. Tugging on the ropes and shifting weight, the sailor calls out a salut! whose sleeves are briskly pulled by the wind and carried off down the river x. And joining the ebb of the Seine, lost in the gentle crests, the call comes closer still, slaps the side of an orange-yellow hull xi. And she, the woman in pink, looks from her book to the blips of the crests against the skiff and says entendez-vous quelque chose4 xii. But the lady in blue, the oars in hand now stalled, has already started turning to look the other way xiii. Her movement halfway there, always on the cusp, forever still turning xiv. Perhaps her gaze wanders, through the shadows draped over her eyes, to the visage of herself in the current or xv. Perhaps to you i.

UNTITLED Colby Scott Blackwill

1 2 3 4

You’ve kept me waiting No! We are not the same Look, look! I want to ride the train, I really do Do you hear something

ORGANIC Keilana Hoffstetter

RED William Leech


Indiana Jones and the Cooler of Beer By: Jacob Cromwell

I was seventeen years old when I bought beer for the first time. At a small Speedway gas station, two of my friends and I sat and argued about who should be the one to go in and get it. As the squabble continued, I realized two things: my friends were cowards and the longer we sat there, the more attention we would draw to ourselves. I decided to be the hero I was born to be and walked into the gas station to buy the beer. This particular gas station had its beer in a back cave. As I approached it, I could feel my heart beating out of my chest. A slow realization crept over my entire body, what the hell am I doing?

My entire life I’ve never been much of a risk taker. Powering through all my greatest fears, I grabbed a twenty-four pack of the gas station’s finest beer, Natural Light, as if I were Indiana Jones grabbing an ancient artifact. Many historians would probably argue that what I was doing was braver than Indiana Jones. The prized beer was in hand. As I approached the cash register, I prepared to put my boyish charm on and convince the clerk that I was a twenty-one-year-old man visiting his family for a weekend home from college. Instead of picking the University of North Florida, a school close to home, I figured I’d go with something like I was studying journalism at Northwestern, a school nowhere near my hometown of Jacksonville. When I finally looked up from this daydream, I was living where a cashier cared about where I went to college, I saw the most horrifying thing I had ever seen. There was an older white woman working the cash register, her face looked like it had been suffocated from joy over the years. I looked at the door, wondering if this gas station had security cameras. It was now or never. When I looked at the cashier, I realized I could get out of the store before the cops came just in case the shit hit the fan. I placed the beer on the cash register like I was in a movie, dropped it way harder than I should have. As the beer hit the cash register, the clerk looked at me with clear disappointment in her face. I wasn’t sure if it was disappointment in me or in her life choices that lead her to having to deal with me.


Before she could even speak, I did what I thought was the smartest thing imaginable: I asked for a pack of Marlboro Red cigarettes. While I have never been a smoker, asking for cigarettes gave me an aura of professionalism, making it seem like this wasn’t my first rodeo. The clerk scanned the beer and cigarettes and eyed me up and down, hoping I would crack under the pressure. I stared at her crusty lips, telling myself that if she were to ask, my birthday was March 15th, 1993. I would only change the date four years back. To my surprise, when she opened her mouth three words came out. Cash or credit. I reached for my wallet very slowly with my hand shaking like a totally normal twenty-one-year-old. “Credit,” is what came out of my mouth because like all great heroes I hadn’t fully planned this entire scenario and didn’t think I would make it this far. At no point while planning out who gets the beer did we have the discussion of finances. Thinking quick on my feet, I pulled out my dad’s credit card and put cigarettes and beer on it, totally normal like everything was fine. I swiped the credit card and the transaction was complete. I was a hero. My friends and I would not be dying of dehydration that night; I put the beer over my head like it was the Stanley Cup and we drove to the party.



By: Amber Bardsley

It was my freshman year of college. I put my car in park and stepped out into the humid air. The only light I had was being cast by the yellow-orange lights of the Call Street Parking Garage. It was 10PM, and campus was empty and dark, but I still had a ten-minute walk to my dorm. While walking down the stairs I pulled out my phone and called my mom. She picked up and I told her about my first day of classes. I told her where I was, and her tone shifted. “I told you I don’t want you walking outside at night by yourself.” My dorm was a quarter mile from this particular parking garage. “I’ll be fine, mum,” I responded quickly. Turning to follow the sidewalk, I looked down the street. I was on sorority row, which was decently lit if you clung to the sorority houses. “The street is empty here,” I consoled her. “That’s what I am worried about.” I laughed at her foolishness. Nothing was going to happen to me.

I had my first boyfriend when I was fourteen. His name was Ben. It wasn’t anything special. Our dates consisted of going to the movies with his parents or sitting in my grandfather’s living room and watching movies together. Two weeks into the relationship I knew it wasn’t going to last. We’d been texting for hours when the conversation turned. “I want to have sex before you leave,” he texted me. My stomach turned in knots. “Isn’t that a little soon?” I finally texted back. “I don’t want to graduate high school a virgin,” he answered. “The girls who’ve had sex at my school get judged.” I texted back quickly. I didn’t know what else to say. “Shouldn’t we kiss before we have sex?” My fingers fumbled a follow up response. It went that way for the next hour. I told him I didn’t feel comfortable having sex. I was only a freshman, only fourteen years old. Girls who had sex this young were called sluts. Privately I thought, I don’t like you enough to have sex with you. We broke up a month later. We’d only kissed once. I overheard his mom calling me a slut once. I wondered what she might have called me if I did have sex with him.

My friends and I went out to Recess; it was my first time going clubbing in a year. I never went if my friends wanted to go in a small group, but this time I had my roommates as well as my friends. People went to clubs for different reasons, but my roommates and I just wanted to dance and have a good time, we didn’t want to dance with any guys. My roommate Rachel was happy because, at nineteen, she was banded over along with Morgan who was nearing her twenty-first birthday, which was about a month away. We found a spot to dance a few feet from the club’s pool and were having a good time. The music and the lights were intoxicating. Occasionally other boys would come over and try to dance with us; they would come behind us and grab our hips. We quickly learned that an elbow to their gut was more effective than telling them we didn’t want to dance with them. Still, we were having a blast. Morgan got nervous ordering drinks for the first time and ended up just asking for a cup of tequila. No soda, just tequila. We were laughing about it when I felt someone grab me by my hips and start to pull me backwards. I twisted, trying to yank the hand off me when my friend Jason came out of nowhere and pushed the boy away. “No!” he yelled, pushing the boy back. He looked like he only could have been eighteen. “You don’t do that to people. Go,” he said. Once he left, I looked at Jason. “You didn’t have to do that,” I said. Jason shook his head. “They shouldn’t think it’s okay to do stuff like that. I’m happy to do it.” He said. Jason stood behind us and made sure no one touched us again for the rest of the night.

It was a beautiful and sunny Thursday as I walked down Jefferson Street at 7PM. I could see the sun starting to dip, casting orange and gold hues across the sky. Behind me, a red truck slowed down to a prowl. I didn’t think much of it at first. People in college towns drive slow sometimes – parents looking for dorms or lost freshmen looking at directions. I turned on to Woodward Avenue, losing the truck to a red light. A few minutes later I heard the steady hum of an engine again, so I looked over my shoulder. It was the same red truck. The driver and his passenger looked not much older than early twenties, sporting patchy beards only frat boys thought looked cool. I quickened my pace; it was going to be a fifteen-minute walk to my apartment. As I sped up, I could hear the truck’s window roll down. A wolf whistle filled otherwise silent air. My stomach twisted into knots. I’d been cat called before, but usually the cars kept going. They never slowed down and they didn’t follow me. What were they planning on doing to me? I turned my face to the ground and walked even faster. If I didn’t respond they would leave me alone, that’s what always happened. “Where you are going, babe?” It was the passenger who said it. I looked at what I was wearing, trying to find a reason why they would pick me. A baggy high school soccer sweatshirt hung off my shoulders and my athletic shorts that went to midthigh. If I were them I wouldn’t have looked twice at me. “Hey, I asked you a question,” he yelled. The driver revved his engine and they pulled ahead of me. “What, are you too good for me or something?” I tried to cross the upcoming intersection, keeping my head down. If I ignored them they would leave me alone, but it wasn’t working. I started to run. The engine revved again, jerking in front of me, the front bumper nearly clipping me as he cut me off and sped down Pensacola street. “Stuck up bitch,” the boy yelled, his head sticking out of the window. My heartrate spiked and I didn’t stop running until I got home.

I was at an Olympics-themed party called “Beerlympics”. The hosts of the party set up events throughout the night which people could enter to play as teams. I didn’t play because I hated beer and more than three drinks would ensure I would be sick before I was tipsy. Instead I elected to bring my own drinks and watch the havoc, which was fun for a while until I realized most of my friends were playing in events and I didn’t know anyone else at the party. I happened to bump into Rachel, who was talking to a co-worker named Chris. I offered my drink to both upon arriving because I hadn’t had enough to really feel anything. I drank mostly for show at big parties but didn’t drink enough to be anywhere near intoxicated. I didn’t like the risk associated with it. Chris refused my drink. “I’m Irish,” he said, as if that explained everything. “I have to drink an entire handle to feel anything. I mostly drive to parties. Besides, watching drunk people is hilarious.” I followed his gaze to see a guy stumbling up the stairs. He had a point. After some conversation, I wanted to go home. I was bored and had no one to talk to. After some searching, I found my other roommate Morgan emerging from a bathroom. She informed me that Chris had taken Rachel home for the same reason. “Well, I’m going home too, I’ll just walk,” I told her. Our apartment was a fiveminute walk away and I was not going to wait another hour for their pong tournament to finish. I slipped out of the house and started jogging. The party was in January, so it was plenty cold, and that was one of the few times I decided to dress the part for a party – I was wearing a pair of leggings and a sports bra. About ten feet from the house I noticed a white jeep following me and I felt my stomach sink. The car was between me and the house, so I couldn’t run to safety. I was about to turn and run into the woods, when the window rolled down. “Hey! Do you need a ride?” I looked up. Chris was in the driver’s seat. My heart stopped pounding and I wiped my sweating palms on my thighs.

Morgan was twenty when she told me about her first boyfriend. We were sitting in the living room of our apartment together. They were both sixteen at the time. “I didn’t think there was anything wrong with being at his house when his parents weren’t there,” she explained to me. They’d gone to his bedroom. She was okay with kissing him first but then it was time to go home. He wasn’t done yet. “He held me down and tried to take my shirt off. I told him I didn’t like it. I told him I wanted him to stop, but he didn’t listen.” He did more than just take off her shirt, she told me. I didn’t want to ask what else he did. The next boy she dated hit her when she told him no. Once she finished telling her story she started crying. “You’re the first person who didn’t ask me what I was wearing or said that I’d lead them on,” she told me when I asked her why she had begun to cry. “That’s why I like Henry,” she confided. Henry was a tall, dorky boy. It was a surprise Morgan would go for a boy like him. He was very quiet around people he didn’t know – never the life of the party. “He was the first boy who didn’t send me home with bruises.” We were both crying now.

“Yeah, that would actually be great, thank you!” I said. He just took Rachel home, so I trusted him. And if he does anything I know exactly who he is, a small voice in the back of my head said. I opened the door and sat down. “Are you okay?” he asked and pulled away from the curb after I jumped into the car. He sounded concerned. “I’m fine, I just wanted to get home and it was cold.” “Yeah,” he said, the concern hadn’t left his voice. “But you’re okay, I mean, no one bothered you, right?” I turned to look at him. “No, not at all. I just wanted to go home.” He relaxed a little. “Okay, good. The last time I saw a girl run from a party like that she’d almost been assaulted.” He paused. My heart ached. I couldn’t imagine what that felt like. “That’s why I drive to parties,” he admitted. “I don’t want girls getting stuck in bad situations.” When I got home, I thought about other girls who weren’t as lucky as me.

I’d been studying for two hours in Strozier Library and I was nowhere near done. With a shift at work looming over my head, I went to the Starbucks in the library to get a coffee so I could survive my study session after work. My rainboots squeaked on the tile floor. The weather had ruined my outfit that day. I was wearing a black sleeveless skater dress that came to my mid-thigh. The length of the dress hid the fact that my thigh high stockings weren’t real stockings. The dress was covered by my yellow rain jacket and my stockings were hidden by my red boots. I was waiting in line for my coffee with my headphones in, scrolling through Facebook. Without warning, two hands slid under my dress, cupped my butt, and squeezed. I froze. I couldn’t move. The boy behind me released and then walked away. I couldn’t bring myself to turn around and see who touched me. He could walk past to me tomorrow and I wouldn’t know it was him. I left the line and sat in my booth. I wanted to go home and burn my dress. I wanted to leave the library. I wanted to cry. Why hadn’t I turned around? Why hadn’t I made a scene? The place he touched me stung. My bare skin felt raw, it felt like the shape of his hands were burned into my flesh. It was a feeling no amount of scrubbing in the shower could remove. When I left the library to go to my shift, I held my dress down so it was stretched to reach my knees. I felt exposed. I felt wrong. Even though it wasn’t, I felt like it was my fault he touched me. I didn’t cry until I finished my shift at work and got home. I haven’t worn the dress since. It was late at night as I walked to the parking garage. The sky was dark and the streetlights cast small orbs of light on the pavement. Farther down the street, I could see a group of boys walking towards me. Without hesitating I reached into my bag and retrieved my lanyard that had my keys and pepper spray attached. My mom had bought it for me a week before because she didn’t like the idea of walking alone at night. I held the spray in my hand, aware that my knuckles were white. I held my phone in my other hand, but I didn’t look at it. Instead, I stared down the group of boys as they approached. One boy frowned at me as he passed. As if I was overreacting. As if I should know none of his friends would touch me. I didn’t know that though. I’d been harassed, I knew countless girls who’d been taken advantage of. I knew that it didn’t matter what I was wearing or what time of day it was. I only knew that some boys don’t know how to respect women and I didn’t know which boys thought it was okay to assault women and which didn’t. My pepper spray is still unused. UNTITLED Colby Scott Blackwill

NOBODY Eli Goldstone

BENT OVER BACK Eli Goldstone


UNTITLED Colby Scott Blackwill

UNTITLED Colby Scott Blackwill

UNTITLED Colby Scott Blackwill


By: Margaret Smith

“What’s your favorite color?” I rolled on top of him. “It was navy blue for a while, but I don’t know now.” Warren and I laid looking at each other while I touched my toes to his. My bed was a small, heated box in the midst of the biting cold December weather. “I look good in pink,” I said, thinking about it further. I glanced down at the simple pink `and white polka dotted bra I was wearing. His eyes followed mine. He was paler than the last time I had seen him. I was propped up on one elbow and used my other hand to reach for his bicep, moving my hand all the way down his arm. His skin was almost translucent. I remember thinking he looked ghostly, haunted by something I would never know. His veins were unmistakably visible. I turned his arm over and traced the blue lines, wishing I could get to where they lead. “I feel like it would be yellow,” Warren’s voice startled me. The soft hum of his words made me uneasy as his eyes looked like they were in the shadow of something big and rusted. I scrunched up my face. “Really?” I turned my head around to look at one of the only yellow things in my bedroom: a watercolor painting I had done last spring with a black cat on the windowsill of a yellow room. “Yeah, maybe like a vibrant yellow,” he squared his face with mine and a subtle smile appeared. I heard Warren breathe hard as he put his hand in my hair then slowly pulling it back. I closed my eyes. He tugged me down on his bare, cold chest. I felt his hands tenderly rub my shoulders. I resisted but he flipped me over on my back. My eyes were still closed.

I went to Trader Joe’s and bought tulips. I was beat up by the unusually cold weather Florida had been having and needed something besides frozen meals. I walked in and immediately saw them. They were perfect. I didn’t think about it, they were already mine. I continued to grocery shop. I went home and placed my golden petals on my dresser. They complimented the yellow watercolor painting beside it. I lit a candle and went back to bed.

I was on break at work, sitting in one of the wobbly bar stools on one of the last days in November. It was around ten in the morning and I was hunched over my cup of coffee, struggling to drink. Parker was on the other side of the coffee bar doing whatever Parker does. He had a calm presence, maybe because he was always high, but I appreciated it whenever he asked me if I needed help during the rush. I felt hot, which felt different. I get hot at work when I’m constantly moving, but I was sitting down and still warm. I pressed the back of my hand to my red cheeks to ease the heat. The light came in differently. It cast a golden diagonal shadow across the tiny box shaped cafe. The time changed, we had gained an hour of sleep the night before, yet we were all feeling so tired as we sliced bagels and poured coffees for people who thought we were expendable. I was sitting there, my eyes closed as the blinding reflections on the tile warmed me up further. Parker said, “It’s not as cold as it was this morning.” I opened my eyes. One of my coworkers came over to me and showed me his phone. He was a musician and we had a collaborative playlist on Spotify of music we thought the other would like. He said, “Have you heard this one yet?”

“I don’t think so.”

He showed me a yellow album cover of The Walters with the song, “Autumn Leaves” and started playing it out loud. “Please don’t change for me… I thought I saw you today, but nobody was there,” the monotone voice sang.

The only customer in the store got up and left.

People have different needs. I didn’t realize that when all the signs were clearly there. I couldn’t fulfil his needs and he couldn’t fulfil mine. Twice I asked, “what are we?” and twice it was either “I’m not ready” or, “you’re going away for the summer, so it would be pointless.” I thought if I could just be what he wanted, then he would want me. I wasn’t. I craved every ounce of attention he gave me; when he gave it to me and when he didn’t.

He would go weeks without talking to me, and I convinced myself that he was busy and couldn’t handle constant communication. Warren took things hard. He was emotional. He said that sometimes at the coffee shop he worked at, he would have to go to the back closet and listen to a song to calm him down. I never asked which song. I didn’t anticipate being this dismal girl, pining for a guy who had no tangible intention with me, but that’s who I became. And I hated myself for it. I was waiting around for an explanation that never came and would never come. Too much time passed by before I understood that silence can be the clearest answer. People are emotional, but that’s not a reason to treat someone like they’re disposable. I think I needed to be rejected, ignored, and lied to so I could understand. I subconsciously started to see yellow in everything. The sun hurled a yellow ray onto everything in my path. The bubbles in the coffee I poured for myself at work caught the auric lights hanging above. My hair suddenly looked like it had spent summers in the sun, bleached and dried out. Everything I encountered glistened with a honey-like buzz without me even realizing it. I was walking from class to the parking garage after an exam in late January. My brain felt mushy, how it always does whenever I stay up late studying, working for eight hours the next day, and then taking an exam. I saw Warren’s car in the parking lot. I knew it was his because he has a dream catcher hanging on his rearview mirror. Of course he has a dream catcher. The pretentious asshole who thinks he’s an interesting guy because he “loves poetry, but also reads scientific journals about the brain” always has a dream catcher. I stopped walking and looked at it. I wanted to throw something at it. I wanted to heave all my storm and unrest upon the car in front of me. It felt like a switch flipped. He was all there and then he wasn’t. He was all in my hands, hair, face, and then he was nowhere to be found. I breathed in and felt the weight of everything right then. The tan dream catcher taunted me as I dragged my shadow down the road and exhaled all the sadness that had turned into anger. I drove home and painted my nails pink.

Bohemian Easter​, watercolor, gouache, gel pen, February 2019, 9x12 in. BOHEMIAN EASTER Keilana Hoffstetter

ONE LEAP Yousef Mohamed


Its Own Heartbeat By: Caitlin Bradbury

The azalea bush is visible again from the kitchen window. The spiteful little beast is even blooming. Eileen glares at it while making an omelet to help her digest a third cup of coffee. A breeze unfolds from atop the hill in her neighbor’s yard and tangles itself in the azalea’s thicket of branches. The whole bush shakes and in that movement Eileen recognizes the azalea’s mocking laughter. Her eggs are burnt by the time she scrapes them onto a plate. She eats them, leaves the dishes in the sink, and goes outside, shovel in hand.


What better way to spend a Sunday than hacking at the roots of an azalea? Eileen drives the rusted shovel head into the dirt, snapping a branch caught between her and the ground. Pollen coats her shirtsleeves each time she rips another sprig free of its root. Flower petals brush her neck. Her sweat mixes with the hyper-sweet odor of the azalea nectar. Eileen piles each twig and dug-up root into a wheelbarrow. She tears her way through the bush dragging up every hint of the azalea until she is left with a patch of churned up dirt between her peach tree and birdbath. Eileen dumps the wheelbarrow, careful to scrape the smaller trash and leaves out and into an old metal trash can. She drizzles the last of her lighter fluid over it and tosses in two lit matches. The wood is green and resists burning. Eileen feeds two dried logs into the fire. She sits, resting for a moment in a lawn chair beyond the reach of the fire’s smoke. Her neighbor’s back porch is facing her. The month-old bouquets that were left there are dead and alone. Any furniture that had been in Jeremy Perkins’ house had been taken by his gaggle of children. Perkins’ flower garden is slowly browning in the summer heat, but the weather hasn’t touched the azalea by his backdoor. Over the afternoon’s lingering hours, Eileen checks the fire until the azalea is indiscernible from the ash filling a third of the trash can. Eileen locks her windows and doors before bed. She stares out of her kitchen window and flashes her teeth at where the azalea had been. Eileen falls asleep with dirt still under her fingernails. A thunderstorm rumbles over her house three hours before sunrise. The rain pelts her roof. The fingers of a branch scratch against her bedroom window. Eileen showers when she gets up and avoids looking out at her backyard until black grains are visible at the bottom of her second cup of coffee. The azalea bush laughs at her, dancing in wind left over by the storm. Its leaves are dark with dew, the same dew drops already rising into steam to reform its thundercloud cradle. Eileen bikes to work despite living thirty minutes outside of town. She doesn’t like cars or the fumes they emit. The “For Sale” sign next door is one of several she passes on her way to work. She is sweaty when she enters the back of Stonemen’s Hardware store, but it helps her fit in. A farmer Eileen thinks might live down the street from her stands by a display of lawnmower blades. He consults the dull grass-stained blade in his hand. She directs his attention to the next shelf over and the larger blades hanging there. The farmer waves her off: he knows what he’s trying to find but thank you miss.

Eileen nods and goes two aisles down. She kneels, dropping to the height of the weed killers. Eileen grabs a bag that’s name is outlined in purple. She is starting to like the well-seasoned-cardboard scent of these poisonous little beads. The bag promises to linger in the soil and kill off growth for three months. Eileen carries it to the front counter just as the farmer reaches the register clutching a mower blade sheathed in plastic. It matches the grimy, stripped one he brought into Stonemen’s. The farmer is the first of thirteen customers Eileen helps between the hours of eight and five.

“Give me a minute, Mrs. Greelin,” Eileen says, “I gotta go through the back then I’ll open up the doors for you.”

Busy for a Monday. Customer gossip is stuck on Perkins and an older woman from the other side of town who died two months ago. About the time, Eileen recalls, when most of the azalea’s in town finished blooming. Eileen uses her lunch break to flip through a catalog of garden shears. A dandelion sprout has its roots in a crack along the sidewalk in front of the hardware store. Eileen watches it shift to follow the sun throughout the day. She leaves twenty dollars in the cash register for the weed killer and locks up. The azalea is waiting for her when she gets home, winking from the backyard as she rests her bicycle against the fence. Eileen shakes the bag of poison at it and goes inside to microwave her dinner.

“Mrs. Greelin, do you know anything about azalea bushes?”

After the evening news dissolves into celebrity gossip Eileen slips into her mudstreaked gardening sneakers. The weed killer is concentrated and there might be enough in the bag to spread over her half-acre yard. Her grass would be brown at the end of the week. Eileen empties the bag at the base of the azalea bush. The leaves shed their hair-thin spurs against her bare arms. She mixes the little purple beads into the soil by hand. A branch snaps against her cheek leaving a pink mark and a teary sting. Eileen spits when she steps away from the azalea to clear its sugared perfume from her tongue. It hangs on, though, to the back of her throat even after she gargles two capfuls of mouthwash. Eileen settles on five sips of whiskey to finally clear the pollen and dirt from her taste buds. She scrubs her arms until they’re as pink as azalea blooms. Another storm blows through as she falls asleep. These hot summer days just breed thunderstorms. Her birdbath is knocked over in the morning, but the azalea is covered in twice as many blooms. The petals are darker now, burgeoning on a shade of purple. Eileen pours most of her third cup of coffee into the sink. She’s running late for work. A bird twitters from inside the azalea. Or maybe it is the bush calling after her as she rolls her bicycle to the end of her driveway. There’s already a customer at Stonemen’s Hardware when Eileen gets there. The woman is someone’s grandmother judging from her stooped shoulders and gentle collection of wrinkles. Eileen recognizes the grey curls crowning the woman’s head and waves.

Mrs. Greelin, a weekly customer of the store’s limited selection of bird seed, clucks at Eileen under her breath like a mother hen tired of her chicks. Eileen hurries to unlock the front door and receives another cluck. Something in the warmth of this maternal exchange spurs Eileen to ask for help when the older woman brings her bag of birdseed up to the register.

“My mama grew ‘em under my window when I was a girl. They impatient plants. Won’t wait for spring to start blooming. But,” Mrs. Greelin chuckles to herself, “they were how we knew spring was coming.” Eileen smiles through the story and nods when Mrs. Greelin looks at her directly. She asks, “How do you kill one?” “Azaleas are a hardy beast. I always took that to mean the harder you tried to get ‘em the harder they tried not to be got. You understanding me?” “You think the best thing to do is leave the bush alone?” “No dear.” Mrs. Greelin clucks at her, “Pick yourself a nice bouquet of azaleas. Take those flowers inside and make peace.” “Make peace?” “Sure, ain’t that what all old souls want? Peace in whatever way they can get it?” Mrs. Greelin asks, “Now, how much is this bird seed?” “Three-fifty, Mrs. Greelin.” Eileen says, “Same as last week.” Mrs. Greelin collects her change, but doesn’t take her bag of seed, “Missy, let me ask you this, did you know the Perkins boy well?” “I’ve lived next to him twenty years, but we weren’t so close.” “Fifty’s too young to be dying in one’s bed,” Mrs. Greelin’s head sways back and forth.

She picks up her birdseed and leaves. Eileen takes Mrs. Greelin’s advice home. She carries a pair of scissors outside and approaches the azalea bush. The leaves on the peach tree are wilted from the afternoon sun, but the azalea stands unfazed. Under the influence of dusk approaching the blooms again look darker. They are more of a red now than purple. Wine-colored flecks dapple the flower’s petals gathering at its center like a bottle poured down someone’s throat. Eileen lifts a cluster of flowers blooming together at the head of the same branch. The bush leans against her hand, reminiscent of a stranger’s palm shaking her own. She runs the open scissors down the branch, peeling back a strip of bark. It’s green underneath and shiny. There’s a fork in the branch and Eileen cuts just above it. The flower cluster falls into her hand. Sap leaks from the snipped branch. It runs down her arm. She cuts a smaller group of flowers. There’s only three on this branch and one of them is missing a petal. Eileen cuts until her hand is full of twig-thin branches. The fuzzy leaves and fuzzy bark nestle against her skin. The scent of the nectar is lodged in her nose now, maybe even up near her brain. It lodges a thought in there that worries her. She’s holding so many flowers; what if she’s cut off too many branches. The right side of her shirt is soaked in run-off sap. Maybe the bush will bleed itself dry. Eileen steps back and sighs. The azalea looks untouched. Her bounty handful is the only evidence that anyone has ever cut from this plant. The bush is older than her house, the last remnant of an overgrown garden cut down back in the sixties to make way for the neighborhood’s development. Cradling her flowers against her chest and staining the front of her shirt Eileen takes the bouquet inside. She doesn’t own a vase big enough for it, so she sets the bouquet in a tea pitcher. She sets the pitcher on her table and eats her dinner across from the blooms. Peace, she figures, starts with a shared meal. The azalea flowers shed pistils and leaves all the way to Eileen’s bedroom. She sets the pitcher on her nightstand after moving her alarm clock to make room. The flowers hang over her head as she falls asleep. Confined to her bedroom the sticky scent ferments and grows sweet as rotten fruit. The branches stretch themselves out to brush against the sanded nightstand. They lift and fall to a breeze set by Eileen’s snoring. The water in the glass pitcher turns black as azalea sap mixes itself in. Leaf buds pimple the growing branches. They spill over the nightstand, curling around its drawer-handle and legs. A second carpet begins forming over the bedroom floor. Leaves unfurl in the orange light of a streetlamp peeking through Eileen’s blinds. Flowers extend their velvet fingers and snag on the bed frame.

The azalea slithers up the walls replacing the sunflower wallpaper with their own brilliant colors. Red splotches dot the ceiling, forming a dozen baby-mobiles over Eileen. She turns over in her sleep. The thin woven blanket of soft branches shifts over her movements. When she settles the azalea settles with her. It tucks itself against her side pinning her wrists to her torso. A russet flower blooms against her pillow and slithers its way onto her lips. Eileen hums in her sleep drunk on the honey touching her breath. The branches’ caresses are almost warm as they crisscross over her chest. Eileen’s mattress sinks under the azalea’s growing weight. Leaves rub their barbs under her skin. Her eyelids flutter open and they’re burning. She reaches up to scratch at them but can’t move. Beside her, on her nightstand, the pitcher shatters. What little water is left spills onto the writhing floor. Eileen doesn’t bother screaming. Her lips are mashed against her teeth and the branch inching across her mouth leaves splinters in its wake. A heartbeat separate from her own thrums through the azalea. Unlike her erratic, gasping breaths the plant is calm. A twig climbs into her nose, tickling the inside of her nostril. She sneezes and sends a cloud of pollen into the branches hanging over her bed. The leaves against her arms and legs burn and chafe. Blooms rest their cold petals on her chest. The azalea wraps itself tighter around her and when she sneezes again, she doesn’t move. A leaf opens at the end of the twig pressing itself against the back of Eileen’s eye. She can’t help it now. She screams and pollen stains her teeth. A twining of branches blindfolds her. Or maybe the twig pierces her eye and blinds her. She can only focus on one hurt at a time. A flower hits her tongue and she tastes iron. The azalea hums a lullaby against her eardrum. Around her throat. The azalea’s roots rip through the foundation of her house, reaching down until they find dirt again. Eileen lets herself be lulled into something like sleep.

Join the team or submit for a chance to get published Staff applications are now open and submissions open August 2019 THE FLUIDITY OF MISERY April Cluess

The Kudzu Review ISSUE N° 62 | SPRING 2019