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fall 2016 volume 39 no.1


the madison review

We would like to thank Ron Kuka for his continued time, patience, and support. Funding for this issue was provided by the Jay C. and Ruth Halls Creative Writing Fund through the UW Foundation. The Madison Review is published semiannually. Two-year subscriptions available for $15 (2 print issues, 2 online issues). One-year subscriptions available for $8 (1 print issue, 1 online issue). Email madisonrevw@gmail.com www.themadisonrevw.com The Madison Review accepts unsolicited fiction and poetry. Please visit our website to submit and for submission guidelines. The Madison Review is indexed in The American Humanities Index. Copyright Š 2016 by The Madison Review the madison review University of Wisconsin Department of English 6193 Helen C. White Hall 600 N. Park Street Madison, WI 53706

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POETRY

FICTION

Editors Fiona Sands Kiyoko Reidy

Editors John McCracken Abby Zemach

Staff Danny Crowley Ryan Macguire Tori Paige Drew Quiriconi Justin Sparapani Tori Tiso Wyatt Wernecke

Associate Editor Sonya Lara Staff Theda Berry Louise Lyall Kaity Moore Elena Norcross Patrick Ronan Juliette Schefelker Frances Smith Anna Snell Katie Spiering

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Editor’s Note Dear Reader, The Madison Review is over the moon to bring you our 2016 Fall Online issue! With the release of this issue we celebrate our fourth online publication. Since the Fall of 2013 the editors and staff here at The Madison Review have worked hard to ensure that each Fall’s carefully curated selection of poetry and fiction is made effortlessly accessible to our readership. We are also excited to announce that this is the first issue to include the winning poems from our Young Authors of Promise competition, held among Madison area high school students. Did we mention that reading the online issue comes at no cost to you? You can keep up with our magazine, our events, and our other ventures, like interviews, contests, and upcoming projects at themadisonrevw.com. The editors of The Madison Review would like to thank our academic advisor, Ronald Kuka for his essential help, the UW Madison English department and you, dear reader, for your continued support. Special thanks also go out to our persevering staff who read countless submissions each week in addition to full course loads, and finally, the contributing artists, whose creative brilliance keeps us in print! We hope you enjoy this edition of The Madison Review. Best, Editors of The Madison Review

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Table of Contents Fiction Ferris McDaniel| This Is The Final Call For Flight Zach Powers | The New Version of a Sudden Urge Chad Koch | Shapes or How to Get a Boyfriend During Marching Band Practice T. Burns Gunther | A Whole Hand Jason Deane|Kali’s Waters

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Poetry Michael Hurley | Girls Animesh Chandra | Woman Eating a Watermelon Jeanne-Marie Osterman | Horny Goat Weed Ashley Beene | [You were vibrant as a light then] To Myself at Twenty Michael Hurley | Alice Michael Piasecki | Panopticon Tamra Plotnick| Silhouette Alexis Quinlan | Oh talk about it, the splendor Cover and Inside Photography by Roi Tamkin Icicles Winter Rocks in the River Young Authors of Promise Winner Kate Jasenki | Immigration Is

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Front Cover 22 32 48

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Girls

Michael Hurley Samuel stopped watching the news because there was too much. Tax returns and tattoos. Things hinging on certainty. Sometimes just ashtrays. He noticed Alice’s arms, which she’d shaved recently. Remembered German class, just entering high school, when in the dead of winter little Lauri Kayson lifted up her pant-cuffs to show her ankles, which she hadn’t shaved in months. No skirts till May. He stared at her legs the way ostriches hatch eggs. There’s always been the same amount of water in the world. And it’s true, Samuel thought: Sometimes I replace truth with conviction. Sometimes I tell the grisly parts with a child in the room.

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This Is the Final Call for Flight Ferris McDaniel

Rain has begun pelting the windows in the airport as we wait in line for coffee. I listen for the drops’ patter against the panes, but it’s too loud in the concourse, with the vortex of fractured conversations and ringing cellphones and intercom announcements. Basha hasn’t stopped looking at her own phone since we passed through security and that little girl asked her if we were married while we slipped our shoes back on. Basha didn’t say a word. She scanned the room like she was looking for an exit or something. That’s how it seemed. We aren’t married, so why couldn’t she just say, No, he is my boyfriend, my partner? Now I can’t stop asking myself, Where are we go-ing? Right now we’re on our way to Chicago. Our performance exhibit there, at The Project Room, might be our riskiest one yet. People in underground art circles are referring to us as the millennial versions of Marina Abramović and Uwe Laysiepen. The plan is for me to be chained underwater, holding my breath. Basha will also be submerged. She’ll be the only person with im-mediate access to my binds’ key. We will maintain eye contact throughout, and she will provide me with oxygen from a tank, using her mouth, as if we were kissing. She will be my lungs for half an hour. If she falters, I could suffocate. “What can I get for you, ma’am?” the barista asks Basha, but she’s locked into her phone. “We’ll take two red eyes,” I say. “Make mine a dead eye,” Basha says without looking up. “But with four shots of espresso instead of three. Whatever that would be called.” “We haven’t slept much,” I say. “You don’t have to justify our coffee orders,” Basha says. I tense up from her comment, but I don’t respond. Instead, I smile at the barista. She asks for a name for the coffee, and I tell her mine is Sayer. “Pretty name,” she says and turns to grind our espresso beans. As we wait for our drinks, there’s a boy dressed like a krishna sitting across the walkway. He’s eyeing Basha’s stockings, and I can tell he thinks she looks pretty. She does, but I don’t tell her because she hates that sort of sentiment. She always says pretty is the last compliment she wants to receive. So instead, I nudge her. “Hey, Basha,” I say. I nod toward the boy. When she glances at him, he looks away. “What?” she asks. “He was staring at you,” I say. 2


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“So what? Are you jealous? Go get one of his little books to help us with our lives.” I want to say, “So you recognize something is wrong with our lives,” but I can’t tell if she is serious or joking. The barista hands us our coffee, and we find a couple of adjacent seats at our gate. Basha still smells of sleep, and her hair is in a tangle. She begins reading something on her phone again, probably from one of those online, long-form sites she loves so much like The Atlantic or Quartz or Byliner. “Are you going to spend the entire day inside your phone?” I ask, feeling brave. “There’s nothing else to do right now.” She doesn’t look at me when she says this. “We’re just waiting.” “Oh, right,” I say. “Having a conversation would just be absurd.” “I’m exhausted, Sayer” she says. “My teeth feel heavy, I’m so tired. I just want to sort of zone out.” I keep my mouth shut. It’s hard to argue with that. Between postperformance adrenaline and constant traveling, we’re lucky to get four hours of sleep a night. Sitting down for a few minutes gives new meaning to how worn out I am. The people around us remind me of extras in a movie. There are couples looking fresh in travel clothes and holding hands, an elderly man in a business suit with a combover that’s getting away from itself, a family of five, with three children arguing who will get to eat the last miniature cupcake. I sip my coffee, but it’s still too hot, and I burn my tongue. For some reason, I want to blame Basha. It’s the end of our three-month tour. We’ve never been around each other this much for this long, even though we live together. Every city looks the same at this point. Conglomerates of steel and flesh, coffeehouses and art galleries, airport runways and chic hostels. The only thing that’s different are the performances we put on. We started in San Francisco at SoEx. All of our friends came to the show, which involved Basha cradling me in her lap like a baby and insulting me for twenty minutes but with the tone of a loving mother. Then she placed me down on the floor and walked around the room, while I crawled after her. Eventually, she walked out of the gallery, and I followed on all fours. We caught a taxi before anyone could realize the performance was finished, and headed straight for the airport. In Brooklyn, we did this stunt at a gallery called 247365 where we stood on the edge of the roof of the building, and we used each other as leverage to create a V-shape with our bodies, ex-cept Basha’s fell toward the roof and mine toward the street below. We did this while simultane-ously re3


the madison review citing different E.E. Cummings poems to each other, ending with the same poem, “I Like My Body When It Is With Your.” Then last night in New Orleans at Good Children Gallery, we ate dinner in complete silence in the middle of a packed crowd, and when we were both finished, Basha moved behind me, kissed me on the neck, and ushered me to a wall, where I stood. She spread my legs, placed an ap-ple on a stool, just below my crotch, and blindfolded me. She positioned herself at the opposite wall thirty feet away and shot the apple with a bow. The crowd whistled and stomped their feet against the hardwood floor, and this group of women shouted their love for Basha, threw roses at her feet. We had sex in the alley outside afterward, sort of as a coda. It was like Basha wanted to absorb me into her body. It’s those moments that make me stay, that give me hope, but when they’re done, she’s gone. For each performance, we wear small cameras around our foreheads to record the other person. I record her, and she records me. We superimpose the footage from the previous show somewhere in the current show, with the occasional bolded message on the screen that says THIS IS AN ART PERFORMANCE, THIS IS NOT REAL LIFE, which, as Basha has pointed out, is the conceit because if she lets go or aims too high or refuses to give me air, it suddenly is real life. An-yone can see fragments of our performances online. It was her idea to have people post their pic-tures and videos of us with tags like #BashaSullivan, #SayerCollins, #AprèsGardeArt, and #Reli-anceExhibit. For three months, I have trusted her to keep me safe, and today I am beyond tired. Each molecule in my body seems to be colliding with the other. I feel like a canned torso inside a pneu-matic paint shaker. Basha’s voice sounds like it’s coming from a tin-can telephone when she speaks. “There’s this op-ed online arguing that the internet is making flying inferior. Like, you don’t have to fly to experience the world anymore. It’ll come to you. If you’d like, quote, bespoke lopapeysa, you don’t need to go to Iceland; you can order it online, end quote. People will still fly for certain things like visiting families or for vacation, but for, quote, global connection and fast access, air travel is now largely obsolete, end quote.” “Doesn’t that take the fun out of it?” I ask. “And the meaning? We couldn’t get to our art exhibit through the internet and neither could the audience.” “Not true,” she says. “Just like we live-stream ourselves having sex at home, we could per-form our exhibit that way. People spend most of the time at our shows recording it on their phones anyway.” “So why aren’t we doing that, then?” “Because airplanes aren’t inferior yet,” she says. “It’s a happening. Besides, I like feeling the presence of people watching us at shows. It’s, like, 4


the madison review the very nature of performance arts. That performative relationship between artist and audience.” Where are we going? “Listen, I just had the strangest sensation back there after we passed through security,” I say. “Was it from there?” She nods at my lap. “Maybe there’s a family restroom somewhere we can mark.” “Not now,” I say. “It was visceral. A feeling of simultaneous hyperdrive and non-movement. Like, what’re we doing? Maybe it’s just me.” “Sounds too esoteric for the amount of sleep I’ve had,” she says. “My phone’s low on bat-tery. Be right back.” She leaves me for the charging station, and I wish she would have stayed to help me figure this feeling out because it’s about us. Sometimes I think we just revolve around each other. She used to talk to me, not just relate quotes from articles she’s read, and I don’t know how we changed. Once, I told her how upset I get that people all around me cover up their sadness with ironic jokes about sadness and how I can’t tell anymore if people are really sad or not. She told me about how she used to want to trans-cend her humanness but now wants nothing more than to be a good human. There are two birds flying around inside at our gate, from one monitor to another and back. Their flight is a pendulum that nobody else seems to be watching except me. Back and forth, back and forth. I wonder, Where are they flying to? and make myself laugh. Back and forth, back and forth. It’s so heavy in this airport and no place for birds. Someone should really get them out of— *** With a permanent marker I always carry with me, I write my name, Basha Sullivan, on the gray wall to my right. Then: used this toilet as an emotional incubator. I sniffed Sharpies from time to time when I was in high school. I still love that smell. Underneath the bathroom stall door ahead of me, there’s, like, this moving picture of shoe styles. I imagine what the owner of the ballerina flats looks like, then the owner of the oxfords, then the owner of the tiny sneakers, then the owner of the— Oh god, why does anyone think it’s a good idea to wear those hideous brown gladiator boots that come up to, like, your knee? And look at this woman. She’s almost as bad with her leopard print wedge booties. And is this lady really wearing a pair of d’Orsay pumps with bows on them? They totally clash with her varicose veins. I mean, my Chelsea boots are scuffed and a little dusty but they’re still undeniably low-key hip while also being durable-slash-comfortable 5


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enough for extended travel. I could smash some creep’s face in with these if he, like, accosted me. Sayer gave them to me last Christmas. I told him I was going to charge my phone even though my battery is still at, like, eighty percent but I couldn’t sit there for long. He was watching those two birds inside the airport and didn’t see me slip away. I think. That question he asked: What’re we doing? No way dude. Not a conversation I’m getting into right now unless he wants me to freak. I can’t handle that existential yammer slash Complete Emotional Honesty on the day before our diciest performance. The world goes all walls are breathing and a hundred people’s voices chattering in my ear and skin breaking out in sweat even though it’s freezing in this airport. It’s super chill in the bathroom though. Hideous or not, the tapping, clicking, shuffling of the women’s shoes as they enter, paired with the white noise from the automatic hand-dryers, fill the space like a tonic. I don’t want to leave yet. I want to stay until my phone alerts me that we’re boarding but Sayer will start to worry about where I’m at soon so I take a breath and flush even though I only sat there on the disposable toilet seat cover. I read somewhere online that these paper liners were first invented because people were, like, scared of getting STDs from some strango’s pee. Personally, I just can’t stand the feeling of an already-warm toilet seat. Sayer is conked out when I get back to the charging station. I twist my hair into cute little braids. He’s slouched a little lower in his seat every time I look at him. He does this thing of pout-ing his bottom lip when he sleeps. Reminds me of a cranky little boy but, like, in a way that makes me want to snap a polaroid of him and keep it somewhere safe. Even asleep, he comes off like he’s trying to figure something out. He’s basically the reason for this tour. The performances were mostly his ideas. When I first met him, when he explained some of his past public art pieces, I thought he was brilliant—like high-key emotional intelligence. I mean, I still think he is but I was crushing hard when he ex-plained how he had once biked around San Fran and, like, chiseled away a little bit of grout in cer-tain brick walls so he could insert USB flash drives with only the plug jutting out of the wall. Then he replaced the grout so the drive was cemented in. People could access them to read files with di-rections to other drives—if they, like, stopped to smell the roses. It was this next-level scavenger hunt. The drives all had messages on them like, Do you think you’re beautiful? and It’s okay to be sad about being sad and Sometimes the loss of my childhood is too much to bear. Real gushy, sen-timental, way-too-honest stuff. But I ate it up. It was everything I wanted to be but couldn’t. Can’t. I don’t know. And the performance tomorrow is, like, Sayer’s baby. I have to be 6


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his lungs for half an hour. That’s how he puts it. I’ve stopped smoking just for this show which is, like, totally ironic because boy could I ever use a cigarette. I keep trying to visualize the steps in my head because, well, we have only ever practiced the whole dependent breathing thing in our bathtub. Nobody has ever trusted me the way Sayer has. I don’t understand why he does. He could die if I flub. What if, I mean, I could lose my nerve, get too much in my head, emerge from the water, and leave him chained down there. Canceled. What part of him is down with that? Why did he choose me for this? Our gate is getting crowded. I guess boarding will start soon. We will be on the move again until after tomorrow when our tour will be donezo. I’m so over traveling but once we’re home we will have to, like, live again. Clean our house. Do high tea with our friend group. Whatever else other couples who don’t put themselves in potentially-fatal situations do. I’m going to miss our performances. That, like—oh god, this is so embarrassing to even think—that feeling I get when he looks at me and we’re required to, like, be one entity to achieve what we want. I don’t have to think. I can be vulnerable with him and it’s chill because it’s for our art. It’s the same thing with sex. It’s like I allow myself to love him and him to love me . . . or something. Like there’s an excuse for it happening. But it’s not like I can just tell him that and expect him to understand it. I mean, can I? Like . . . I don’t even get it. My phone is at a hundred percent now and Sayer needs to wake up. I walk over to him, plop down in the seat across from his. Admission: it’s one of my guilty pleasures to creep on him while he sleeps. When he can’t see me. When he can’t want something from me that I, like, don’t know how to give. Once I wrote a poem I’ve never shown him—and never will—about how in the mornings I travel the curves of his face and sync my breathing with the movements of his chest and all sorts of other embarrassing, romanticized lines that come out of me sometimes from I don’t know where. Watching him sleep now reminds me how zonked I am too but it’s time to go. I place my earphones in his ears and pick a song to play softly on my mp3 to rouse him. I loosen the braid I fastened earlier and start again. There’s this repetitive dinging noise coming from somewhere over-heard, like the sound of an elevator arriving at your floor. I imagine Sayer waking up and not rec-ognizing me with the new hairstyle and I’m a whole different version of myself. I should have tak-en a photo of my bathroom vandalism to post online. *** I wake up to the melody of Jacques Février’s “Gnossienne No 1.” Basha sits across from me, plaiting her hair like she does when she’s nervous. Everything looks brighter and sounds harsher, the world in uncomfortable HD. “I fell asleep,” I say. I hand her the earphones. 7


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A woman on the intercom offers people to check their carry-ons for free because, some-thing about a full flight. “I know,” Basha says and stares out the windowed-wall at the airplanes shuttling past. The way she sits is youthful, her legs crossed on the seat. I stopped asking her what she’s thinking about a long time ago because she stopped an-swering me, but it doesn’t mean I don’t still wish I knew, like right now. I wonder if she remembers when we were just visiting friends. That’s what I called us pri-vately. We ran into each other at coffee shops and bookstores and on the sidewalk in our neighbor-hood of the city but, surprisingly, never at an art gallery. Then one morning, she saw me alone in the botanical garden in the park. She asked me to come over. We got stoned and didn’t say much. She made us white peony tea, and we watched daytime gameshow television with the vol-ume low in her living room. The air was thick from all the smoke and filtered sunlight. Music from an ice cream truck passed by outside, and we smiled at each other. It felt like the only thing we could do was kiss, so we did and didn’t stop until it was nighttime, and her bedroom windows were cracked for a breeze, and she fell asleep beside me. I stayed up, staring at her screen-prints on the walls and listening to the rhythm of her breath. It and everything else she did was art to me: the way she opened a door, the way she blinked, the way she undressed me. When I woke up the next morning, she was playing my favorite album at the time, but she didn’t know that yet. I joined her in the kitchen for coffee. She was squeezing fresh grapefruit juice and told me she preferred to be woken up by music than by a person’s voice. I should’ve known then she would have trouble hearing me. I’m ready to get on the plane. Enough sitting and thinking. I want movement. I want some-thing to change. “I’m sick of all this flying,” she says. “But I’m not ready to be home and I don’t want to see the world for a year.” “Well you can’t exist in a vacuum,” I say. “We’re almost done, and you’re going to miss it. We can still have fun for a little while longer.” “I don’t want to have fun,” she says. “I want to sleep.” A fuzzy voice over the intercom announces boarding for passengers seated in rows twenty through twenty-five. We collect our bags and join the line. “Remember the first time we flew together?” I ask. “It was, what, sometime at the begin-ning of last year. It was the first time you had ever been on a plane.” 8


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“It doesn’t make any sense to travel thirty thousand feet above the ground.” “We were late, and I was feeling impatient, but the way you looked after I checked us in and saw you across the terminal, waiting for me so we could go through security, untied a knot in me. I had never seen you like that and don’t know if I have since. You had this glow about you, this total acceptance of everything around you. There was that family, with the parents who were yelling about how they ordered a Lincoln and received a compact, and their boy was so excited for some reason about them screaming.” “And there were all those, like, fat nuns holding up departure at that one gate.” “Yes. Exactly. And we made it just in time for boarding. I hugged you, and you kissed me in line, how we are now, and you smiled and were sort of bouncing. Then, you screamed some-thing. Remember that?” “It’s embarrassing,” she says. “Come on,” I say. “What did you say?” “Here we come, Mister Airplane.” “That’s right. I thought you would get us in trouble, but I didn’t care,” I say. “We were kids on holiday then. We were happy, weren’t we?” She doesn’t say anything back. She smiles slightly. It’s more like she’s tucking the corners of her mouth into her cheeks. I know she does it for my sake, not because the memory makes her happy but because she pities me. Then she says: “Did you know American Airlines saved, like, forty thousand dollars in nineteen eighty-seven by removing one olive from each salad served in first class?” “No,” I say. “I didn’t.” When did our lives become layers of jumbled sound? There’s our dialogue track, then there’s a layer of static, then there’s another that makes everything seem waterlogged and another that reminds me of a slow, unsteady strum of an acoustic guitar, and it’s the same song on loop. Sometimes I can’t hear her at all, but it’s not because I’m not listening. It’s because she put those layers there. *** That’s just what happens when I don’t know what to say. Factoids spout out of me. I know plenty about airports and airlines because I’m so freaked out by flying and, well, the more you know . . . Sayer might as well slap me in the face when he rolls his eyes like that. . . . but, for example, all international airline pilots speak English. The normal ratio of flight attendants to passenger seats is, I think, one for 9


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every fifty. An air traveler can lose something like 34 ounces of water in the body during a three hour flight. Passengers who sit near the tail of the plane are 40 percent more likely to survive a crash. Then there’s something about how mercury screws up the chemical structure of aluminum. Which is, like, basically what planes are made out of, so if someone happened to have some and spilled it we would all be canceled. I don’t know how to react to Sayer’s nostalgia. He’s right though. We were happy. Does he mean we aren’t happy now? Maybe I should hold his hand. To show him I care about his story about our first flight. He smiles weakly at me when I slip my hand into his. In a confusing way. Like I can’t tell if I’m doing what he wants. Maybe I should let go of his hand. Maybe he doesn’t want to be near me right now. No, I’ll hold on as long as I can stand this feeling. This used to be easy. Not awk-ward at all. Like the night we did our first unofficial performance piece together. It was a couple of months after our first flight. We had been strolling in the park and all the leaves had fallen off the trees. Sayer started, like, gathering them and stuffing them into the pockets of his corduroys. And then, get this, he started picking up little pieces of trash and made me do the same. I was like, uh, okay. Back at his place he said we were going to make bus connection tickets. Start at stops equi-distant to his house. See who made it back first. The tickets were wicked convincing. They looked as much like bus passes can when they’re made of leaves. Anyway, each of my bus drivers looked at me like I was extraterrestrial but they still let me on. I dialed Sayer when I got back to his place. He was still trying to catch the first bus. I had to drive to pick him up and we cracked up the entire way back with the windows down and twilight swallowing us. He gave me this kiss at the front door that was . . . well, it felt like all the kisses I’d ever had in my life were, like, building up to that one. Then we, like, basically fell through the door and I skrogged him on the couch but it was so romantic and sensual, or whatever. That was the first time I felt I could be with him forever. I had never thought that about another person before. It was an exhilarating feeling. But then it, like, ripped the spine out of me. The idea of forever. It seemed absolutely perfect in theory but I didn’t believe in it. I’m still holding Sayer’s hand but the line ahead of us is getting shorter. We will have to let go of each other when it’s our turn to flash our boarding passes. Sayer might try to hold my hand again once we settle into our seats but I might not want to then. Don’t ask me why. There’s this, like, part of me that controls who I am that I can’t access. It makes me do things like refuse to hold Sayer’s hand sometimes or play stupid games on my phone instead of talking to him or never say I love you back even though he 10


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tells me all the time. Sayer pulls his hand from mine and flashes his boarding pass. I do the same. The gate agent zaps them both with her scanner. She tells us to have a lovely flight. Yeah. Okay. I follow Sayer down the jet bridge. He is so handsome, even from behind. His back cowlick is basically contemporary art. Deep breaths. Approximately 80 percent of airline passengers will be using mo-bile check-in within two years. It’s just another flight. Tomato juice is less acidic in the air because the atmosphere inside the cabin, like, dries out our noses and the change in air pressure numbs our taste buds. I’m overcome by this feeling to scream out at Sayer to please don’t ever leave me but I don’t because in my head that will make him leave me. A Boeing 727 took off in 2003 and has been missing ever since. We will be in Chicago in less than three hours. The annual risk of being killed in a plane crash for the average American is 1 in 11 million. And then we will be home in two days. The average person can only hold their breath underwater for 30 to 40 seconds. This is an art performance, this is not *** Basha takes the window seat, and I take the aisle. “Look at these people,” she says. “Who are they? I don’t want to die with them. They’d sell me for a life raft.” “Nobody is dying on this flight.” She starts to untangle the wires of her earphones, but I ask her not to plug in. “Why? It’s a long flight.” “Because maybe we could talk, like I’ve been saying all day. You’ll put those earplugs in, and you’ll be gone, but that feeling I had earlier is still bothering me. It’s like I’ve been lying to myself and suddenly everything is clear.” “Everything about what?” she asks. “About us. It feels like my life is flying by me, and I want you along for the ride, but I don’t know what we’re doing. I feel like you’re getting farther away from me.” “Do you really think this is the right time? To talk about this. We’re both tired and we’re on a—” “I won’t do that performance tomorrow without talking about this,” I say. “I don’t know how it happened, but all of a sudden, you seem like a stranger to me. I guess it’s been like this for a while now. We’re two strangers that inhabit the same spaces.” “I don’t know what to say.” “Well, you need to say something,” I say. “Do you still love me?” “You know what I think about love. It’s just, like, a chemical reac11


the madison review tion in your brain. It’s a biological con. If it wasn’t me making your brain feel that way it would be someone else. I can say I love you if you want me to but, like, what would that matter? How could you ever know I mean it?” “Unbelievable,” I say. “You’re right. I guess I never can know if you’re being sincere, but it doesn’t mean your explanation feels good. How can I love you and you not me?” “I don’t know, Sayer.” “I’m just a prop for you,” I say. A flight attendant makes a final call for passengers to buckle their seat belts and to secure personal and carry-on items. “Can’t we just, like, continue to do what we’ve been doing?” Basha asks. “We’re doing what we want I thought. You were right earlier. We get to travel and create something we care about. You should be happy.” And before I can respond, she plugs in her headphones and looks at something on her phone. She’s right. I should be happy, I’m allowed to be happy, but I’m not. When we’re not hav-ing sex or performing, I’m window shopping for her. Those are the only times I ever have her at-tention, and I don’t know why that’s not enough for me like it seems to be for her. I wish it was. I wish I could be like her, how she interacts with me like a faraway thing, like virtual reality. I should be happy . . . Where are we going . . . ? I tap Basha on the shoulder and tell her I’m going to the restroom before we take off. She says okay and plugs her headphones back in. “I love you,” I say. I don’t know whether she hears me, but it doesn’t matter. I unbuckle my seatbelt and stand. I look down at her. The sun from outside shines through the plane’s tiny window, and she is beautiful. She acts like I don’t know her, but I do, even though she tries to push me out. I wish I could somehow share with her this feeling I carry about her, make her feel it, too, but I can’t, so I have to learn not to carry it anymore. I hurry to the front of the plane. I make myself not look back. The flight attendant at the door tells me to please have a seat, that we will be departing shortly. I tell her I have to get off the plane, an emergency just came up. She asks what kind of emergency. I tell her I don’t want to die today. She insists it’s too late, but I tell her it’s urgent, really. *** It is stifling on this plane, and we have seats next to one of the wings, which I hate because you can, like, see it wobbling in the wind. And stripped paint seems like a sign of potentially dangerous wear and tear. I try to start counting all the little rivets on the biggest turbine but I keep losing— My music wasn’t on yet. I heard him say it and I didn’t say it back. I 12


the madison review don’t have a clue where all this bosh about not believing in love comes from because I do love him and now he seems upset in a very real way. I try to finish reading the article about the internet and air travel but none of the words make sense. I read the same sentence over and over: The end of our golden age of air travel partly her-alds the natural life span of a mechanical technology and an environmentally unsound one, too. The golden age of air travel the natural life span an environmentally unsound one partly heralds mechanical technology air travel span golden age golden age of air travel golden age of air travel one partly heralds The end of— When Sayer comes back I will say it to him. I will turn to him and say it: I love you. It’ll be like in a French love flick. Easy. And I will try to be better. It will not be easy because we will get home and not have the performances and he will want to, like, analyze our feelings and what’s ahead for us and why I don’t trust him or talk to him or why I act like we’re perfect strangers even though we know more about each other than anyone else. When he comes back I will tell him no-body has ever loved me like he has loved me. And that he loves me so much it’s like ambulance sirens inside my head because, like, vulnerability is freaking hard and, like, so is believing I’m worth loving that much. But I want his love. I want it and the problem is I want it so much I’m scared to lose it so I act like I don’t have it so he’ll keep trying to give it to me and what if tomor-row, I totally, like, lose my chill and accidentally kill Sayer in front of all those people at the exhib-it? But I can’t think about that because when he gets back, after I lay those three words on him, I will tell him how grateful I am we did this tour together. I will hold his hand. I will lean into him. I will listen to him talk about whatever he wants. Like that feeling he had earlier. I might fall asleep on his shoulder feeling like this is it this time. We can be happy like we should have always been. I wish he would come back right now so I can tell him all of this. I feel so good about it I could cry. The flight attendants begin their little instructional safety demo, then the pilot’s voice comes on the speaker, telling everyone our expected flight time. That it should be an easy flight with good weather conditions. The plane moves into position for takeoff. Sayer really shouldn’t be in the bathroom. Everyone is supposed to be in their seats. I con-sider going to check on him but the plane is moving. Here we go. We’re gaining speed. I realize how sweaty my palms are from squeezing my arm rests. Just try to relax. I lean back in my seat, close my eyes, and wait for him. I imagine him in the bathroom, sitting on that plastic toilet, bracing himself against the walls. The sound of my own laugh surprises me.

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Woman Eating a Watermelon Animesh Chandra

Time, a ripe watermelon, The seeds have fallen. She is the blossoming one, Holding a big slice of watermelon In both hands and mouthing Great bites of it, so its juice Drips from the corners Of her mouth, staining her in long Sticky streaks, enveloping her In an invisible cage, in the ribs Of the gutted flesh. Gently, she lets the fruit Dissolve in her mouth, prolonging Its sweetness. And soundlessly The minutes are consumed, Falling in succession. Over the ground, The spit seeds are scattered, Like misplaced eyes, never ceasing To scour the world caught in The shreds of the minute, And whatever will rise After the fall to earth: The fruit, whole again.

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HORNY GOAT WEED

Jeanne-Marie Osterman

I’m cleaning the kitchenette of my dad’s studio at the retirement villa where he’s agreed to live out his days. I’m dusting the pharmacopeia that keeps him alive when I see the bottle of Horny Goat Weed. I’m in Dad’s bathroom typing the name into my phone. I’m reading it’s a remedy for erectile dysfunction— take two prior to activity, if desired, take up to three. My dad’s ninety-six. My mom’s been dead for years. When I come out of the bathroom, I see Dad’s put the Horny Goat Weed in the trash. Of course, I pretend not to notice. When I get home, I take out all the self-help books I have hidden under my bed: Conquering Guilt, Hiding Shame, Looking for Love. I stack them in the refrigerator for the next person needing milk to read.

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The New Version of a Sudden Urge Zach Powers

It’s technically legal to kill the newborn. I’ve never heard of that happening, though. If a baby dies, it’s almost always because the parents couldn’t pull it together before the deadline. Granted, they only have a week. One week to decide who it is that their baby will replace. But isn’t parenthood some magical thing, imbuing people with the wisdom and conviction of martyrs? And didn’t they have nine months to make up their minds before that? I shouldn’t say “they.” Magdalene and I are in the same predicament. For nine months it was a lump, and then one sloppy visit to the maternity ward later, it’s a person. But barely that. We’ve decided not to name it, at least not until we’re sure it’s here to stay. The hospital, at twenty stories, is by far the lowest structure in the area. If you back up against the building on the opposite side of the street, you can see a decent stretch of sky. It’s almost blue. We decide to walk home. Our apartment is only fifteen blocks over and two hundred twentyseven stories up. Not high enough for a view, but well above the upper maglev tracks. Not bad for a starter, in other words. It’s quiet in the residential zone around the hospital. Must be a weekday, though I can’t say for sure after thirty-six hours of labor plus another day for recovery. That’s what they called it, “recovery,” as if the baby were a wound. Perhaps that’s accurate. I’m hunched over with exhaustion. I don’t know how Magdalene is even standing. A homeless guy sees us and abandons his junk-packed shopping cart and squirms into a storm drain. Fewer people kill the homeless than I’d always assumed. I pulled up the stats on my phone. Most often it’s family. The number of new mothers who kill their husbands is staggering. For the last week of the pregnancy, I worried about that. But Magdalene can’t even step on bugs. That responsibility always falls to me. Magdalene carries the baby in a way that reminds me of someone about to dispose of a wet tea bag. Not quite touching her body. She told me her breasts hurt. The baby’s face—that’s all I can see of it poking out of the yellow swaddling—is puffy and wrinkled and chapped. I made the mistake of being in the room for the delivery. Nightmares forever. “How about Norman?” I ask. Norman is Magdalene’s cousin, a guy who when he shows up at holidays you can feel the room sort of deflate. I’m not even sure whose son he is. Who would miss Norman if he was gone? “He mows Gran’s lawn,” says Magdalene. 16


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Her Gran has lived forever in a shotgun house in the historic district, those four blocks of antique homes preserved even as everything for miles around was razed to make room for high-rises. Her backyard is small enough that Norman could clip the grass one blade at a time and still be done in minutes. I say, “I thought all he did was say racist things and finish off the cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving.” “What about Ethel?” Ethel is my ancient great aunt on my mother’s side. Ethel makes the local news every year for her birthday because each day she doesn’t die is no small miracle. Last year, one of the national webcasts even picked it up. Her longevity has been aided in part by the fact that besides my grandmother, none of that generation’s eight siblings—I can’t even imagine—had children. Maybe the abstinence movement is right: no new babies, no new murders. We round the corner at Rembrandt Street and the ruckus assaults us from all over. Chatter, construction, engines, whooshes and booms with indeterminate origins. Elevated sidewalks crisscross between buildings, all the way up to where I can’t even make them out anymore. The people inside throb forward like clots in veins. As soon as my mother was born, my grandfather garroted the midwife. Or so the story goes. He’d wanted to do the delivery in a for-real hospital, but Gramma has always been hippie-dippy about that sort of thing. All natural. According to Gramps, my grandmother never noticed the body on the floor. He moved it out while she slept, and it was days before she learned the truth, when she called to thank the midwife and got the woman’s husband during the middle of her wake. My grandparents weren’t married for long after that. An unintended but probably helpful side effect of the population control laws is that deciding who to murder drives a wedge between people in even the most loving of relationships. Most relationships aren’t that loving. Divorce rates skyrocket. Birth rates plummet. Problem solved. Great Aunt Ethel. Her face is so weird and wrinkled and sucked into itself that I can’t even look at her anymore. But Magdalene and I both know that we won’t kill Ethel. That would be like stoning a Galapagos tortoise. Or chainsawing a sequoia. Something alive that long is bound to be sage. If Ethel were here right now, we could ask her for advice. The crowds on the sidewalk thicken as we work deeper into the city. I think about mitosis and blastocysts. I imagine I’m one cell in an infinite body. I pace my steps to the woman in front of me, my left foot where her left foot just fell, and then the right, close enough that if she were to stop I couldn’t help but collide. There’s someone behind me just as close. I think 17


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about chain reactions. Magdalene’s arm, the one cradling the baby’s head, pushes up against mine. Nobody in the crowd seems to notice the baby, or at least they’re keeping cool about it. Safety in numbers, herd mentality, it takes a village. “What about Alex?” I ask. Alex is Magdalene’s oldest friend, since they were kids, a guy she calls her brother. She knows I’m jealous of their relationship. She knows because I say so all the time. Magdalene doesn’t even look in my direction. “What about your brother?” Having a brother is a particular point of shame for me, and it’s kind of a low blow for her to bring him up. I was always the only kid in school with a sibling. When I was real little, just after Phil, my brother, was born, I was proud. Proud to be different. But then I started to get beat up a lot. Just because my parents apparently found it a little easier than most to murder a second time. I try to remind myself that Phil had it even harder. Our parent’s faults aren’t his. But if there was ever a guy who would have two kids himself, it’s Phil. He talks about family as though it were some noble ideal. He loves old sitcoms set in the suburbs. As if there are any suburbs left. He’s invited himself along on trips to visit Magdalene’s Gran just so he can see the yard. That pathetic patch of desiccated grass. He even helped Norman mow it once. But just the once. The only people who can stand to be around Norman more than that are his family. A maglev tram passes overhead, casting a quick shadow across us and filling the smog-choked air with a whiff of ozone. The electric hum reminds me of the monitors strapped to Magdalene in the hospital. She had wires and tubes coming off her all over. I wiggled my fingers at her like tentacles and called her the Kraken. She laughed. That was before the pain started for real. That was before the soupy haze of drugs took over. “What about Betsy?” asks Magdalene. I stop in place on the sidewalk. The guy behind me runs into my back, and mutters a mean epithet as he slides by sideways. Besty, my 60-something aunt, gave me the pistol I carry right now in my jacket pocket. I notice that I’m gripping the handle, my finger curled around the trigger. If I were to accidently fire the gun holding it like that, I would shoot myself in the thigh. The metal grip is textured with little diamonds. I feel the inverse of the pattern form on my skin. Betsy gave me the pistol, and explained all its secret workings. Safety, cocking, loading. Even cleaning, as if I had use for it other than this once. “That seems rather like a betrayal,” I say. “She carried that gun on her hip for as long as I’ve known her. Why do you think she gave you the gun now?” “Because we had that.” I almost pull the gun out of my pocket and use it to point at the baby. I nod instead. She looks down at the baby’s scrunched face. It slits its puffy lids open, eyes lolling blindly. I’m struck at once by this creature’s utter stupidity 18


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and my own strange instinct to protect it. I remember the gun again. In my pocket. In my grip. People bang up against me one after the other. Billions of them. They glare at me and curse, as if to stand still for a minute is a cardinal sin. As if I was running into them instead of the other way around. I might just start shooting at random. Magdalene holds the baby out toward me. “It’s heavy,” she says. I pull my hands out of my pockets and take the thing, which turns out to be not heavy at all. It could probably fit in my pocket. Not the pocket with the gun, of course. My wife is still wearing the wristband from the hospital. Somewhere within the swaddling, the baby wears a smaller version of the same thing. A man coming from the opposite direction stops, gawking at us. At the three of us. Other pedestrians dodge around him. Each time he gets bumped, his shoulders wobble, but his head stays mostly in place. How do neck muscles do that? The baby’s neck is basically a Slinky. I smile at the man in a way that I hope means I’m not thinking about murdering you. We lock eyes. His are wide and blue. What color are the baby’s? Is that the color they’ll stay? The man tries to run off the sidewalk, but immediately rams into somebody else. Cursing. He makes swimming motions with his arms, moving perpendicular to the flow of pedestrians. He stumbles off the curb and through the stalled traffic to the other side of the street. He disappears in the crowd. “What about a stranger?” I ask. “That guy?” Magdalene waves toward the general area where the man vanished. “Someone who seems like an asshole. Someone we see acting like a jerk.” “Are you so good a judge of character?” We resume walking. Another tram passes overhead. This time the sound reminds me of a cello. Magdalene used to play. Long before I met her, of course. My liking the sound of cellos and her playing have never existed at the same time. I like the history of it, though. The predestination. One day I discovered how much I love the sound of cellos, and not long after that I fell in love with someone who had once loved the sound of cellos, though not enough to keep playing. She argued that it was because she loved the sound too much. She could never perform with the skill of the great cellists she admired. Better to give it up than to fall short in the attempt to emulate them. Or something along those lines. But that’s not how I understand loving, at all. The baby makes a gurgling sound. “Is it choking?” I ask. Part of me is relieved by the prospect. The decision made for us. Old life instead of new. I try to make myself not think like that. Magdalene readjusts the blanket around the face of the baby. New babies are terribly ugly. Don’t believe anyone who tells you different. I’m holding the baby tight to my chest, probably too tight. I’m an extra layer of swaddling. This isn’t the first time I’ve felt like a blanket. People bump and jostle me, oblivious to the tiny life in my arms. 19


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I look up but can’t find the sky. The buildings are too tall, the spaces they leave too narrow. How many bodies are packed within ten yards of me? Twenty? Fifty? A hundred? I wonder how much of the city’s scent is made up of human sweat. If I look straight ahead all I see is a roiling sea of hair. So much of it brown. Not Magdalene, though. Will the baby be blond like her? Right now it’s super bald. Someone, brown-haired, steps on my shoe, and then steps down again as if to make sure she did it right the first time. What if the baby grows up to be one of these bustling assholes? What if it goes to work every day for its whole life so it can retire at eighty and spend one good decade on cruise ships, touring the flooded-out cities of the old world? I realize I have these worries less for the baby than I do for myself. And for Magdalene. I worry that the baby will never be able to do all those things we’ll fail to do ourselves. I’m taking elbows from people all over the place. These are sidewalks I’ve walked thousands of times, and I never noticed their violence until I had this thing I needed to shield from blows. It must be around lunchtime. Someone practically shoves me from behind. I stumble forward, and only don’t fall because there’s no room for falling. My right hand shoots out for support, and that’s how I learn to carry the baby in one arm. “Hey,” someone says, likely the person I’m grabbing. I let go. “What about Erika?” I shout over the din. “Ben, Catherine, Gino, Chris, Jenny, Emily, Joe, Brian, Sarah, Justin, Marquice, Natalie, Natalia...” I list off the names of everyone Magdalene and I both know. Friends, coworkers, barbers. Footfalls on the sidewalk patter out an endless drum roll. A man in a gray suit brushes me aside as he passes. He’s chattering into a phone. His hair is brown. He has no idea I exist. One of my hands carries the baby. The other hand returns to my pocket and seizes the handle of the gun. The metal has grown cold. I’m sliding the gun out of my pocket. There are several men in gray suits in front of me. Any of them will do. Magdalene grabs my wrist. She pulls me through the open door of a coffee shop. The air reeks of acrid brew. It’s crowded, but quiet compared to the sidewalk outside. I’m almost able to hear the canned music coming from the ceiling-mounted speakers. “I could have done it,” I say. My mouth feels parched and gummy. Does the coffee shop serve water? Water that hasn’t been turned into coffee? I don’t seem to be able to blink. Magdalene takes the baby from me, rocking it as if to sleep, as if it hasn’t been sleeping this whole time. “I already did,” she says. She twirls a wisp of hair on the baby’s forehead. The hair is so fine and light that I hadn’t noticed it before. I stare at Magdalene, and then down at the baby. I dread that it’s not sleeping but dead. I remember when she adjusted the swaddling. Did she do something then? But no, the blanket rises and falls. The miracle of life is that a motion so slight can support it. “Who?” I ask. “I didn’t know how to tell you. I found a family at the hospital. The family of an old woman. She’d had a stroke, as good as dead already. The doctors even gave me the medicine to do it. They called it medicine, but I 20


the madison review

guess it was poison. Or is it venom when you inject it? The doctors completed the paperwork. There’s nothing else we need to do.” Before we left the hospital, she’d said she was going to change into her street clothes. It didn’t bother me then that she left the room to do it, but the bathroom was right there, attached. I assumed there was one place for shitting and another for changing. Like a dressing room in a store. How long had she been gone? Long enough. “Why?” I ask. I’m kind of crying. “You already did everything else. Why didn’t you let me do this one thing?” “Because I knew you’d never forgive yourself for doing it.” She’s looking at the baby as she talks to me. “That’s one reason I love you.” And I love her, too, I do. But now that I don’t know her, not in her full capacity, now that all I’ve known about her in the past has been revised in this brutal instant, I’m no longer sure I know exactly what it is I’m loving. She’s not a failed cellist. She’s not Norman’s cousin. She’s not a woman who until very recently was pregnant. The things she’s been have no bearing on who she is now. I’m at once terrified and thrilled to know that the person I love is unknown. To not know. All there is between us will always be what’s next. “We should name the baby after you,” I say. “It’s a boy.” But I know better. At that moment, the baby is nothing but potential.

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the madison review

Shapes or How to Get a Boyfriend during Marching Band Practice Chad Koch

Across the Monona Grove High School marching field, past bells of trumpets and sticks of flutes and clarinets, I watch a freshman percussionist, Paul Chung, hit the blue and silver drum strapped to his waist. He’s tall and thin, but baby fat leaves his cheeks and chest supple, as though he’s a ripe grape in his purple t-shirt. His calves emerge from his white golf shorts, flexing and pumping like pistons when he marches, only to soften and shine with sweat, smoothing out like cream, when he rests. The way he carries the bass drum — shifted up and back merged into his chest to become a capital P, his pelvis jutting forward into the underside of the drum — causes me to choke on my Gatorade from my view in the first-aid tent above. “You know Paul, the freshman bass drum?” I ask my best friend, Matt, who’s a senior percussionist like me as well as this year’s drum major. It’s late August and Matt is icing his sunburned neck as we sit in the shade. “The Asian?” he asks. “He sat across from me yesterday at lunch.” I want to ask, Do you think his bubble-butt is perky? Do you think his pale pink lips are soft and wet when he kisses? But I don’t. Even though Matt, like most of the boys at Monona Grove, says he’s fine with my being gay I can tell by the way he fidgets with his jacket buttons that he doesn’t want me to talk about boys the same way he talks about girls. “He kicked me under the table when he fell out of his seat laughing,” Matt adds and brushes his long, blond bangs out of his eyes. We watch Paul throw his drumsticks at a cymbal player before flapping his arms like a swan ready to take flight. “He’s kind of a spaz.” “Isn’t every freshman a spaz?” I recall freshman Matt wobbling while learning that marching is like gliding, like moving your feet along an invisible parabola — heel toe, heel toe. “Yeah, but Paul’s marching without music,” Matt says as he puts on his silver helmet, “and he’s still out of step.” It’s just practice and Matt doesn’t actually need to wear his teal drum major jacket or the silver helmet, but he thinks they help with morale. “Do you think Paul would,” I hand Matt a paper towel to wipe the sweat from his face, pausing to emphasize, “like me?” This is the way I’ve learned to talk about my love interests and sex. It’s a dance where everything I can say is, at best, PG-13. Matt can ask, Do you think she shaves down there? but I can’t. Matt can say, Look at those tits, they’re barely staying in, but I can’t. The one time I mentioned Matt’s abs in the locker room, everyone stopped their laughing and horseplay, quickly dressed, and disappeared. I looked to Matt for at least a laugh or dismissive sigh at their reaction, but he just stood there, stunned, holding his towel like a baby blanket. I made it up to the guys by bringing in my list of the top five racks in the junior class, which elicited a round of grunts, the fondling of imaginary breasts, and at least one high-five. But I stopped making eye contact in the 23


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shower after that. “Keep the walkie-talkie on,” Matt says, ignoring my question. “I’m fucking dying out there. Pull out anyone who looks like they’re gonna puke. Otherwise it will spread like last year.” “Do you think Paul would even be interested in a boy?” I ask as directly as I dare, wrapping my arms around my chest as if wind just shot through my shirt. “You could ask,” he says, lifting his shoulders in gentle shrug. A smile escapes his lips and his cheeks are suddenly rosy. “I mean it’s possible he’s — ” Matt fumbles with his helmet strap. “And if you — ” It’s the best I’m going to get. Since ninth grade, Matt has transformed into a radiant, post-puberty, post-zit young man. His chest has widened and his shoulders bulge with tight sinewy muscle. His voice has dropped into a soothing amber timbre. His braces have come off and his hair is golden and curly. He’s grown to six feet and has become as interested in girls as they are in him. I should have a crush on him, but I’ve known him all my life — the summer he got diarrhea because he ignored my warning about drinking lake water, the winter he gave me a concussion because he knocked a snowman on top of me while attempting karate moves — he’s my de facto brother. He’s still the goof ball who got lead in his braces from chewing on his pencil while watching the health video about female puberty and the vagina. His lips and teeth were smudged for a week. I, on the other hand, have only grown to a measly five foot six. My voice transformed into delicate tone that has been mistaken as my sister’s voice over the phone. Where Matt’s body transformed into something of an athlete, I’ve remained a soft little runt. The more I exercise, the curvier my hips appear, the more feminine my body seems to get. When I wake up in the morning and strip down for a shower, I’m almost fine with my body. I stand in front of the mirror and suck in my stomach until my lungs burn and a two-pack forms. My stomach is just a little more defined by the absence of food, so I avoid breakfast and lunch to try and maintain it. If I could do this all day, I could be like Matt. But then I see my bony arms, my concave chest, and my body collapses into a wilted little sapling. At least I have my face. It’s my one bright spot that keeps me from being a total loss. “Your face is so handsome,” people always tell me. My smile has gotten me out of trouble with my mom and teachers. Girls have pinched my cheeks because they can’t resist them. Even the one boy I asked out said my face had an artist’s symmetry — which was a great compliment considering he wrote poetry. I wait until Matt is a shadowy blue dot on the other side of the field before heading towards Paul. It’s our second practice and the first week of school. At first I thought I’d regret taking the first-aid position, but it’s actually better than marching. Now I can watch Paul with his earnest clumsiness and his fresh, closely cut hair that sticks up in the humidity. It looks as soft as fur. It’s more than just his looks that have me walking over to meet him though. It’s his lack of high school’s meat grinding cynicism. It’s his honest24


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to-goodness enthusiasm instead of the snarky eye-rolling from the rest of percussion. He’s different, and that makes me think he’d like me. My different is looking at boys’ abs, liking rom-coms, and having an unmanly body. And maybe I’m wrong, but he seems less concerned with being macho, with him in his purple shirt and pressed golf shorts. I don’t know if these details mean anything, but maybe this that signal people call gaydar. It’s all I’ve got: he stands out, just like his marching. “You look hot,” I say coyly when I reach Paul. Thankfully, he’s away from the other percussionists, and no one notices my miserable attempt at a come on. Paul’s bass drum is lying cockeyed in the dirt while he’s on his hands and knees looking for a drumstick. The back of his shirt has lifted to reveal his lower back which is covered with a slick layer of sweat. The top part of his turquoise briefs are disheveled and rolled down to reveal the tiniest bit of his butt. All of the blood in my head to rushes to my groin making my legs rubbery, and I keep my composure by refocusing on his drum. “I tried to do a drumstick trick, but it didn’t work out.” His finger is bleeding, the fingernail bent upward at one corner and blood trickling down to his palm. A spaz, like Matt said. His lightly freckled nose twitches as if he’s holding back tears, so I give his arm a gentle squeeze, holding just long enough to feel the goose bumps. “Let me check you out.” I pick up the drum and walk him over to the first-aid tent. His head’s bent down staring at his finger so I can’t tell if he gets that I’m flirting. The first-aid tent is actually a cot, a couple of lawn chairs, a first-aid kit, and ice packs in a cooler full of Gatorade all partially shaded by a sun tent and a tarp. It’s something that we got funding for last year after one tuba player failed to keep himself hydrated and threw up. Then the other tuba threw up. Then a trombone player. Finally, some flute girl fainted on the thirty-yard line from all the puke smell in the air. We cancelled practice for two days while the janitors hosed everything down. I’ve been drinking so much Gatorade to stay hydrated, and in this heat, with no food, I’ve become so wired with electrolytes that my head is floating. He slumps onto the cot like a melted blueberry sundae. The bleeding’s sapped his energy, so he lets me take hold of his injured finger and clean it. “Your name is Paul Chung, right?” “Yep, I’m the one Asian kid,” he winces when I swipe the disinfectant swab, so I dab more lightly. I give him my best smile, cocking my head the way I’ve practiced in the mirror. Paul’s injured hand relaxes. I imagine blowing air on the finger like my mother used to and then kissing it, moving slowly up his arm until I reach his lips. But all that I actually do is apply antibacterial ointment. “Your name is Tom, right?” he asks. He doesn’t know my name? How many times have I said the name Paul in my head over the last few days? Letting it turn into a shape of sound: the sound of his laugh, the sound of his heart beating as he marches across the fifty-yard line. “No, Tom’s the other snare drum. I’m Tim. It’s because I’m white — we all look the same.” “That’s so funny!” He crosses his legs and his calf grazes mine, causing me to spill ointment onto the grass. Is this a sign of his interest? I don’t know. I’ve only asked out one 25


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boy and that was freshman year. I’d been so sure he was gay. He wrote poetry and dyed his hair blue, and then he commented on my face. I loved that he wasn’t afraid to wear velvet and never talked about getting pussy, so I approached him with a note. I’d folded it into a swan because he wrote an essay in literature class about a swan. He wrote about how awkward it looked in the sky, the wings too big for its body, the flapping desperate, the neck too long. But in the water, it became beautiful: the neck a delicate S shape, the body gliding so effortlessly across the water. I handed him the note and he cautiously smiled. He read the lines I’d written and blushed. The note crinkled in his hands. I reached out to perhaps hug him or whatever it is that I am supposed to do with a boyfriend, but we didn’t touch. Instead he burst into laughter and everyone around turned and stared. “Swan boy,” he wheezed between laughs. Someone repeated it, then another. Someone even flapped their arms. The way they said it, in a high pitched whine, struck me to my core. “Swan boy” reminded me of my body: my gangling appendages, my soft stomach and curvy waist. It felt like they were calling me an ugly duckling. I don’t want to make that same mistake with Paul. I don’t think I can stand the humiliation again, so I roll the bandage around his finger, and exchange small talk about his interests — art and video games. He imitates the puzzled look white kids give him when he tells them he’s not good at math or martial arts. I hand him a bottle of Gatorade even though I’m supposed to ration it out in small plastic cups. “Back in Chicago, people know I’m Chinese,” he says. “But people here say Asian-American. They say I sound like an American so I am one.” “You’re Chinese. Your last name is Chung,” I respond. To be fair, I looked it up on the internet after the first practice. “Yesterday, I mentioned my mom was born in China, and this kid asked if I was here legally. Do I have to explain the Fourteenth Amendment to everyone here? Sometimes I just let people think I know kung-fu.” I want to tell him the same thing about being gay — that it’s easier to be non-sexual, to be innocuous and innocent, to be gay in term only, like an afterschool special about coming out. That’s easier than walking onto the field and grabbing the boy I want, and kissing him — sliding my hand under his sweat-soaked underwear to take hold of the pulsing mystery beneath. And it may be easier to be quiet, but that doesn’t take away the desire to be sexual, to speak about my fantasy like the other boys. We chat a bit more, and I’m thinking this can’t be going any better than I’d hoped, but then something ambushes my body like a sucker punch to the gut. The smell of French fries from the lunchroom behind us wafts into the air. I can practically taste the salted crispiness and the tangy flavor of ketchup. My stomach curls from hunger. It doesn’t just growl. It roars. “Something wrong?” he asks. “It’s nothing.” I take huge gulps of Gatorade hoping to drown the hunger, hoping my stomach doesn’t betray me in my pursuit of a boyfriend. I get a beep on my walkie-talkie. “Tim.” Matt’s voice buzzes and crackles from the side of my hip. He tells me to send some ice and check on the tubas. “The fat one is totally going to explode.” 26


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“I’m with Paul.” I step away from the tent. The line goes silent. “Paul Chung. The bass drum. He hurt his finger.” “I really need the ice, Tim.” “Matt, it’s Paul.” Matt! I’m trying to get some dick. Can’t you be my wingman for once? “Oh Paul!” he finally gets it. “If you come out when we finish playing the next section, will that be enough time?” “That’s perfect,” I say and then add, even though it shouldn’t matter, “Thanks Matt.” I sit next to Paul and share the marching instructions that were lying on top of his drum. I swig some Gatorade just to keep my stomach at bay. “I’ve gotta show you something,” I say. I thumb through the marching instructions, thinking of ways to go from small talk into figuring out for certain if he’s interested in guys. Matt’s whistle in the distance signals the band to fall in line and practice the latest section of marching. I point to the dots on page nine — the page they are marching right now. Paul’s cheekbones are red from the sun; a single line of sweat rolls along the curve of his bushy eyebrow. All I can think about is wiping it off with my finger and bringing the salty taste to my mouth. “This year we’re making a cock.” I show him where the lines on the page parallel and transform into a shaft. On page ten, the next page, we get to the climax of act one and the band finishes in the shape of a giant penis. “And I’d say it’s erect.” His eyes widen and he covers his gaping mouth. I shut-up because I think I’ve gone too far. Even if he’s interested, this is too forward, too grotesque of a way to broach the subject. He probably thinks I’m a pervert. But then the freckles on his nose crinkle and dimples form as he chuckles. “That’s a rocket ship,” he counters. He’s right, but I try to convince him that the circles made by the flutes and a xylophone are actually testicles. Our shoulders touch. “Who came up with this?” “For a couple of years our band instructor was playing around with tits. We’d always be turning into boobs. I mean people thought they were circles, UFOs, and whatnot, but they really were boobs.” Paul’s hair brushes my cheek as he leans over to look at the instructions. The heat must be getting to me because my head starts to throb. “First, we were small ones with respectable nipples, but, in my sophomore year, the boobs would grow as we went through all three acts. I thought maybe it was supposed to represent growing up. We didn’t win State though. I think it’s because we had three tits on the field. That must’ve unsettled the judges.” “Three is just creepy,” he says. “I find them gross.” I take a drink. “What about you?” He fiddles with his bandage. Is he too scared to answer the question? Or is he nervous because he likes me? Or is it the adrenaline from hurting his finger? He doesn’t even nod in agreement or frown in disapproval. Do I ask him again? The silence gets unbearable. “Last year, we won state. And you know we won that thing with a 27


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vagina. Sex sells in the Southern Lakes Conference marching band world.” He licks his bright red Gatorade lips as his thigh rubs against mine. My hand, which guided him to the instructions, is now holding his hand. If this isn’t him flirting with me, I don’t know what is. I just wish he’d say something. I hope he doesn’t look down at my shorts even though I want to look down at his. Across the field the band is in motion toward full erection on page ten. When they stop playing, I’ll have to bring the ice out to Matt and Paul will slip away into the crowd. It’s now or never. “I definitely don’t like vagina,” I say. Paul swallows another gulp of Gatorade and coughs. My toes grind into the ground like a track sprinter. His shirt folds as he draws himself closer to me. The design on his shirt looks more like a bird floating in water than of a sailboat under a bridge. My face burns like the sun. Am I the first boy to ever say this at school? “I don’t like vagina either,” Paul whispers into my ear. The brass section blares the end to act one. We laugh. For once, we say something specific, something obviously gay and the world doesn’t stop. In fact, the secret code unravels and he hits my shoulder with a gentle jab. “Tim?” Matt’s voice blares from the walkie-talkie. “Are you ready?” “Just a second.” I set the walkie-talkie down and put some ice in a plastic baggie. “I was wondering if we could maybe hang out later?” “You mean play some video games, talk about guys on the football team?” Paul winks, his voice louder and more confident. His confidence gives me confidence and I clarify. “I mean — like go out?” “Like a date?” he asks. “Yeah, a date.” “Aren’t you,” he squints, “dating Matt?” “Matt?” I laugh, stepping closer, “No, Matt’s my best friend. I’m totally available.” “Oh,” he says. I’m dizzy. My body both aroused and sick with nerves. My hands are tense and clammy with the desire to kiss. I close my eyes and pucker my lips, my feet touch his feet. I imagine my movements to be like the swan gliding across the lake, bending his head gently so that the tip of the beak just barely dips into the water leaving no ripples. “What are you doing?” Paul asks. In one moment my lips nearly touch his and the next I’m stumbling forward, unable to catch myself, falling face first into the ground. “Tim,” Paul says. “I like Matt.” “Matt?” I glance out at the blue blur that is my goofy friend dressed like the president of marching band. Of course. Everyone likes him now that he’s grown. “Matt’s so studly,” he clasps his hands together and looks into the sky. “Hey, are you ok?” I don’t really think I would normally tear up. It’s just the way the sun sits behind Paul, the beams of light shooting through as he cocks his head. It’s causing not just my eyes to water but my arms to weaken and my tongue to dry up and swell. I try to get up but my knees are wobbly. He offers his hand, but the harder I squeeze, the more it slips away. I reach out with my other hand but he doesn’t meet it, and I see, then, that his touch 28


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is not desperate like mine. He’s not trying to hold on to me like I’m trying to hold onto him. He’s not holding on for his dear life to connect with a person. “Ok,” Matt chimes in from the walkie-talkie. “You can’t sit with him all day.” I turn the walkie-talkie off. “Your drum,” I say to Paul. I feel a bubbling in the space where my ribs meet. My mouth salivates in anticipation of sickness. “Go.” I lean against the cool metal of the lawn chair and close my eyes. My eyelids burn and the bass drum beat pounds in my temples. An image of Paul’s face comes into view, his lips bulging and purple. His mouth opens and some twisted shape, some expanding universe of merged circles, triangles, ovals — a black hole — pushes forward and I cannot breath. I open my eyes and Matt is standing above me holding an ice pack. “Dude,” Matt says. “You just puked!” “I know,” I say, looking at Paul across the field with the percussion. They surround him as he approaches and he blends into the group. “No more Gatorade. You’re drooling it.” Matt hands a bag of ice to me then sits down. He always sits with me when I’ve gotten hurt. Normally, he says something encouraging like you’ll hit the jump next time or makes a joke like admit it, you wanted to break your arm because I broke mine last year and had such a blast. But today he doesn’t say anything. He’s tapping his foot and counting off beats to himself to fill the silence. Finally, he clears his throat and says, “I should get back out there.” As he leaves the tent, I get this overwhelming desire to ask him to stay. I want to tell him I wish I didn’t have the body of a twelve-year-old girl. I want to tell him that I can’t get boys out of my head: I can’t stop thinking about their antics, their stupid jokes, their svelte sweaty bodies. Paul rejected me because I wasn’t his type. As if he has a chance with Matt; as if we even have any chance in this stupid high school. I want to tell Matt I’m jealous that he has an even larger pool of people to pick from now, and he doesn’t even want it. Couldn’t he at least encourage me to get back out there instead of abandoning me in this tent? “Matt,” I call out. He stops in his tracks and waits for me to continue. I clear my throat and open my mouth. But I can’t continue. What I want to say to him isn’t allowed.

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[You were vibrant as a light then] To Myself at Twenty

Ashley Beene

You were vibrant as a light then, a lit wick on the verge of expiration. Be careful of the meridian, a bruise set adrift on a current of eager skin. Take note: This is not what you want. Soon you will learn about broken sails, the convergence of cross and cord, how to watch a body sink beneath the waves.

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Alice

Michael Hurley Three cones of jasmine and an applecore because we hold and are held are alone are staying here for thirteen pounds and sharing a twinbed. Then: names, appleslices, hands. Because of luck. Because we have not showered or finished carving wooden toys. Lift your shirt over your head or weave ribbon through traffic creases on your ankles, ribs, crickets that click in your wrists when you stretch your fingers rising when you come for want of going home. Like: There is a walnut’s print on the roof of your mouth.

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Panopticon

Michael Piaseki Porn has a horse-fly’s view of sex: a billion cubicles to voyeur, double-dipped in the deep end where proboscis squirms alone. Windows inside tabs inside musk: web design aligned with the high school sweat, the throbbing cock hobbling each waddle to class. Dancers, acrobats, illusionists clap their bodies until gaping eyes close in concentration; stuttered gasps hole-punching back and forth tugs of the fist. Worker drones spying unmanned. Who today? Who tomorrow? Endless spread asses of inmates line up and wait for horse-flies to come take a sip of vinegar.  

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A Whole Hand T. Burns Gunther

Margaret turns the ashtray over to see “Sean” carved in crooked letters, fourteen years ago, when he turned five: a whole hand! The lumpy cast sits in her palm, a treasure, reminding her of the once tiny fingers she’d held in hers, a hand that brought surprises. “Pick, Mommy,” he’d say, grinning, arms tucked behind his back, eyes wide behind the gold-rimmed glasses he’d worn to train his lazy eye straight. She’d tap one of his arms, choosing the wrong one to feed his excitement. “No! Pick again!” His giggle was all glittering water over colorful stones. He offered his gift, a crushed flower, a seedpod, a dead bug in his tiny hand. Outside, through the lace curtains, her older son, Michael, works on his truck. His broad shoulders and attention turn to the porch where Margaret’s father-in-law, Bill, calls orders. Bill, the only living grandparent her children have, moved in three years ago and took command. Her husband acquiesced as he’s always done with his father. Wind snaps the flag and rattles the windows. She shivers. Her fingers make the sign of the cross, a lifelong habit, burdened now. A tang of sulfur tickles her nose as she strikes a match, lights her cigarette, sucks hard, suffocating the panic that rises up when she thinks of Sean, so far away. At nine, he begged her to quit; his beautiful hazel eyes wide with worry had convinced her to lie and hide her smoking. But she’d gone public the day he shipped out for Iraq, now the dish in the shape of his small hand is her smoking companion. Her reflection in the window reminds her she is letting herself go. Her hair shows a white center stripe and she’s grown so thin her cheeks are etched. She sits in her wooden chair at the table, mistress of this one room where his picture, his dimpled grin and dark curls, hangs on the wall below the crucifix. Beside it hangs a photo of Sean in his uniform with his arm around his grandfather. It was Bill who pushed him to enlist. She moves the ashtray on the gingham grid of the tablecloth like a chess piece and smokes while she waits, as she waits everyday for the mail truck to turn down her drive. He knows she loves letters, his voice made tangible. “Snail Mail,” he calls it, amused by her old-fashioned preference but he writes when he can. When her husband, William, isn’t working he labors on the house, his own balm for the agony of wait and worry. He put a new roof on the garage since the last letter came and in the past days when they had no email, 34


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no letter, he helped Michael rebuild his Chevy’s engine. Michael listened to her instead of his father and grandfather and applied to college. Her husband argued, “at least enlist in ROTC, go for free,” but Margaret knows ROTC means never free and insisted on paying with the tiny nest egg of her inheritance. Michael’s a junior now, killing himself studying Engineering and Computer Science, all A’s to prove his worth absent the Semper Fi bona fide. He tries so hard to please his father and grandfather, both ex-Marines who won’t understand how college could come before country. She sees the mantle of their disappointment in the set of Michael’s shoulders. Last night a news report: a bombing, another three Americans killed. Her fingers on the remote raced through the TV stations, searching to not find him, but the casualties of war are forgotten now in America’s daily news. While she flipped through channels her husband worked on the kitchen sink’s drain. He won’t look at the TV or papers. And when she rushed to use her cousin’s computer to search the Corp’s website, to see which company was hit, he stayed behind and painted the front door. He tells her she’s torturing herself with useless worrying. At first it infuriated her and she called him callous. Now she’s relieved not to share her angst. Her father-in-law tried to comfort her at first. Don’t worry, Bill said, he’s having the adventure of a lifetime, and it’ll make a man of him. She fought to keep her hands from slapping his face; all she said was “Don’t.” Her now deceased mother-in-law told her of Bill’s Vietnam hangover—the nightmares, the sweats and shaking, how for years he jumped at every noise. Yet he glorifies his service. Did he train his mind to offer only carefully cropped memories? There was no dancing in the streets of Iraq for Sean’s company, no arms open wide with gratitude as Bush promised. She imagines Sean there, innocent and earnest in the dust and sandstorms, burkha-clad mothers and displaced men eyeing him with mistrust, even hatred. She shakes her head. Perhaps some are kind she thinks and reminds herself they are powerless too. Michael resented her insistence that he spend the Thanksgiving break at home instead of joining a college friend’s annual hunting trip and dinner at a mountain cabin, but she wants him close. “Mom. You should use my laptop,” he said after she returned from checking email at the library. He gives her the look his Grandpa Bill bestows on idiots. But she’s doesn’t want a home computer. Her father-in-law has never used computers and she doesn’t want him starting now, doesn’t want him taking charge of her search. She reminds Michael that she’s taking classes on-line, that it’s all set up for her at the library. She’s working on her 35


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Associates degree, and see what’s possible. She rereads Sean’s last email, printed out and saved with the others. Hi Mom, I’m okay, just hot as hell and bored. Thanks for the books, socks and stuff. The guys loved the brownies. Please don’t worry, Love Sean. She pours lemonade for Michael and takes it out to him. He takes it in his large hands and thanks her. She doesn’t see the woman passing their gate in time to avoid her. Sean’s former English teacher, a liberal whom Margaret heard stirred up trouble about the wars. The woman calls hello, she asks about Sean. “He’s fine, thank you,” Margaret says, revealing nothing; pleased that at least one person remembers the country is still at war. “He was such a special boy.” The woman turns her pale eyes on Michael. “Good for you,” she says when her questions reveal his college plans. “I’m glad you showed some sense.” Michael shoves his hands into his pockets, stares at a passing car. “Sean is still a special boy, you…you—” “Mom!” Michael says under his breath. “ Be cool.” She hurries back to her house, leaving the teacher, mouth agape. Michael hurries after her into the kitchen. “Mom?” His expression, tight with anger, reminds her of his little boy face just before he cried. “I’m sorry, Michael. I’m just so sick of people saying…” But he has enough to worry about. “I know.” She wonders what stupid things they are saying at his college, people who have to stamp his brother’s life with their judgments or inane commendations. He raises his now empty glass. “Thanks for this.” He sets it in the sink then surprises her with a kiss on her cheek. “You are a fine and noble man,” she tells him, stirring her fury that anyone would make him feel otherwise. But he’s already out the door. The cat jumps into her lap as soon as she sits. She rubs her silky fur; she licks her hand—the only other female in the house. Margaret grew up in the old farmhouse with four sisters, scattered now, west and north, her parents gone too. Bill works his chair back and forth on the porch, creak thump, creak thump, as he drinks the afternoon coffee she makes for him in his Greatest Grandpa mug. Is he waiting for the mail, or the government car with its two officers? Does he believe that by playing sentry he’ll keep bad news from turning down their drive? She resents his vigil. He has no right. He pointed Sean to the few, 36


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the proud while she’d scribbled letters of protest to the White House and a President she once trusted. Her husband only said, “Its the boy’s decision. Let it be.” She watches her husband outside, leaning into the wind, pushing the mower, his hair cropped short, his face determined as the leaves rain yellow and red. He’s wearing sneakers, he could hurt his feet and she shudders at the onslaught of images of blood and severed toes. Once, she’d loved him to distraction, so handsome in his uniform, believing they were of one mind, imagining a future that held nothing beyond the family they’d compose together, a future she’d had no age-earned wisdom to foresee. Now he seems a man surrendered, a stranger to the husband she invented, subject to a father he allows to rule their roost. She squeezes the ashtray in her hand. “Mail’s here,” Bill shouts. No need. She hears the truck gears shifting, the crunch of gravel in her drive. She takes one final drag, deep and damaging into her lungs, clutches the lumpy ashtray, his hand in hers and she snuffs her smoke out in her coffee cup and hurries to get there first.

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SILHOUETTE

Tamra Plotnick

Don’t shirk your own shadow like you’d lick a lollipop to pure pop no lollygagging pure purpose you are shiny with sheer white light You might gag on your shadow: hung on a rack like a tortured lie left lackluster Your shadow: a shadow of its former self now that God had his way with you I do miss that murky mister the underside of fists that flicker like flames before they charred to the tar black underbelly of your whisper

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Oh talk about it, the splendor Alexis Quinlan

Never the language always the rhythm. Always the beat, the blood’s pulse, ever the fingers drumming, toes knock knock knocking against the seat in front, would you stop, would you please just stop. Entirely the nodding, catching the tune like a frog eats a fly, sipping the melody out of the jazz, sucking the jazz out of the lyric, hearing the joke in the shift in the lilt, ready to laugh at it, all set to cry about it, hard, heavy sobs, breath lost, sob muscles essing the body, go. Never the words, hardly ever the words, for here come the waves, no mountains, lo the sight of the bounce, green on all sides and dun and pearl and undulating marble mounding squeezing space inside choking rising again then pushing it out out driving, heaving helling heavening. Again.

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Kali’s Waters Jason Deane

As Zach opened the door and stepped across the threshold with bags full of frozen food and red wine, he listened for the sound of crying. He set the groceries down on the kitchen counter and settled on the fact that he heard nothing but silence, probably a good sign. The crying, on both their parts, seemed to be happening less and less frequently now. He had gotten somewhat used to coming home to it at this point. What he didn’t expect were incidents like last month, when he came home to find the majority of the dishware smashed to bits all over the kitchen. He reminded himself that he wouldn’t have minded doing the same thing on certain days; he couldn’t blame her much for emotional outbursts like that. Coming home last week to find all the contents of the office dumped into the garage, so that she could transform the room into a meditation space, was also a bit jarring. It didn’t make much of a difference to him though, as neither of them had touched the room in so long. What really left him with a lingering concern was what she ended up doing to the office window. During one of her internet binges, which had become more and more frequent lately, she ordered a rather large can of black paint and used it to completely black out the window. She said it was because she needed the room dark while she was meditating, but it was obvious she was avoiding the view of the pool. He didn’t really like looking back there either, ever since finding Helen face-down in the water. Having finished stocking the freezer and wine rack, he made his way to the back of the house. As he came to the former office, now the meditation room, he saw Mariah sitting in the center on a small cushion, her eyes closed. The profile of her delicate face reminded him of his daughter’s, and gave him some comfort. She was opposite one of her new statues, the both of them surrounded by enough candles to make the room warm. More foreign figures seemed to keep coming in the mail every week. This one, her current obsession, was some kind of multi-armed white Buddha figure. Avalon-something-or-other she’d called it when she opened the box a few days ago. She said it was the Buddha of compassion. He tried to feel that emotion as he looked down at her still hands. The skin around her fingernails had been chewed to varying degrees of depth and rawness. The older wounds had taken on a sort of scab-brown that lacked the vigorous red of the more recently chewed spots. It was a habit she’d developed in high school, a coping mechanism for stress, but they’d never been this bad before. Pointer fingers touching thumbs, hands 40


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resting on lap, they somehow made him feel both peaceful and anxious. They radiated the hopelessness of her depression striving for release, failing, not yet there. At least she was trying. Fake it till you make it, he thought, and left her to it. Back in the kitchen he poured himself a sports bottle of red wine while he waited for his fried chicken TV dinner to heat in the microwave. It had been the same thing every day over the past few weeks: red wine, easy food, and his daughter’s room. He took the food down the hall along with his laptop and the wine. He tried to keep the room as she’d left it. It wasn’t just her stuffed animals and belongings spread haphazardly around the room that he left untouched, but also bits that he should’ve changed but couldn’t find the heart to. He left the hardened sandwich she never finished sitting on her little play desk. Her dirty laundry—from which he would sometimes take a shirt to smell to remind him of her—remained in a small, pink hamper in the closet. Even the trash bin next to the door was left full. He crawled into her bed and got his laptop started. He was watching through episodes of kid’s shows he’d already seen with her. He missed sitting and cuddling with her. Now he cuddled with her teddy bear and wine instead. Sometimes he would watch home movies he had taken while she was a baby, and bits of his honeymoon. Tonight, however, he could tell he didn’t have the strength to see the phantom of his daughter, or the intimate joy he and his wife used to share with each touch, both now missing like rain in the desert. As the cartoon got started he managed to get a few bites into the fried chicken before he felt tears welling up; he couldn’t even handle a damn kid’s show. He closed the laptop, placed the food on her nightstand, and tried to sleep. * * * The sound of her husband coming home interrupted her meditation. She could hear him fumbling with the freezer, probably went shopping. Refocusing back to her meditation, a mantra chant of om mani padme hum, she visualized Avalokiteshvara hovering over her, burning away her negative emotions with a ray of light. Footsteps made their way down the hall. They stopped at the doorway and she could feel his eyes on her. She kept her eyes shut and the mantra in her head seemed to pick up speed of its own accord. It wasn’t that she was avoiding seeing him, really, it was more that she didn’t want to see his face; too much of it ended up in Helen’s, and sometimes she felt she couldn’t look at him without being reminded of what she could no longer see. She heard his footsteps make their way back to the kitchen and her slow rhythm returned, breathing in and out—om mani padme hum… om mani padme hum. Even the meditation, the most effective thing she had found so far, still couldn’t get her away from the memories of what happened that 41


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day.

* * * It seemed just like any other weekday. Mariah had spent most of it held up in her home office keeping up with stock prices with very little buying or selling worthy of mention. She had developed trading as more of a hobby originally; she got enough money to be comfortable for a while from her father after his passing. After discovering that she got a rush from working with the market, a rush similar to the ones she had experienced at the tables on her honeymoon in Vegas, she decided that it would be a good way to put away extra money for her daughter for college. Soon it became a total obsession. She began taking online courses, reading article after article, and getting heavily involved in message board communities online. Originally she had planned on being a typical housewife—taking care of the kids, chores, gardening and so on—but after a while she began treating her hobby as a nine-to-five job. She found that she was good at it too, or really lucky; either way she quickly amassed more than your typical kid’s college account. But that afternoon things turned sour. She made a mistake a few weeks earlier, and now it was coming back to bite her in the ass. She knew it was an extremely risky decision, but she felt so sure about it at the same time. She had taken more than half of the money she made since she started working stocks and invested it all in crude oil. A friend she met on one of the message boards she frequented had convinced her that oil prices had dropped so much, a fall from over a hundred down to below eighty, that there was nowhere for them to go but up. He turned out to be dead wrong. Production increases in the United States, along with a statement from OPEC about continuing to sell despite a waning market price, and a host of other situations she knew little about, had caused crude oil to plummet to nearly forty dollars, a low not seen in years. She had small losses before, but never like this. She was losing thousands, and she lost her head a bit. She got on the phone with her friend, who had suggested the oil investment in the first place, to find out what he was doing. Should she hold or sell? At the same time she was rummaging through internet articles and message board threads about oil prices. Her friend, as it turned out, did not even make the investment. Apparently he didn’t have the money for new investments at the time and was just advising her as to what he would do if he did. He told her he would actually consider investing more into oil, now that it was even lower. She was so taken by the situation that she didn’t hear her husband come in through the front door. “Honey...Mariah...Helen?” What she did notice, through her frantic internet searching and her frustrating phone conversation, was the elephantine noise that came out of 42


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her husband, across the backyard, and through her shut office window like a sonic boom. As she looked out the window the phone dropped out of her hand and onto the floor; there in the pool was her daughter’s lifeless body, just next to one of her favorite toys, and her distraught husband making his way to her through the water. * * * Opening her eyes like waking from a nightmare dreamt so often she had almost become numb to it, she decided she was done with meditation for the day. She made her bows to Avalokiteshvara and found her way to the kitchen to pour a glass of wine. Noticing the wine rack had been refilled she checked the refrigerator to see what else Zach had brought home—nothing but frozen food and wine, easy and better than nothing. She poured herself an extra large glass of wine and as she took a few gulps she decided she needed another new statue. A god of compassion was doing nothing. She didn’t need to be more compassionate, she needed to be transformed. She headed back toward her bedroom to grab her laptop so she could look up what statute to order next. As she passed by Helen’s room she could hear children’s cartoons coming through the door. He was in there drinking and watching kid’s shows again, regressing to a child in his dead daughter’s room. She had a single moment of worry that this kind of mourning might be doing him more harm than good, and then continued on her way to her laptop. She was tired and imagined herself hitting the pillow after finishing her glass of wine. But first she needed to get on her laptop. It was time to find a new god. * * * For Zach the next couple of days passed by as usual. He and Mariah spent most of the days drinking in separate rooms—he in Helen’s room or the living room watching television, her in the meditation space or in bed on the internet. Eventually, half asleep lying on the couch in the living room, he heard something unusual. There was a quick knock at the door and just as quickly he could hear Mariah bounding down the hallway. The door opened and there was some indistinguishable talking. The door shut. He could hear what sounded like paper being ripped. Curiosity got the better of him and he got up and crept over to the entryway. He could see Mariah was in the process of taking a new piece out of its rather large shipping box. “Oh, you’ve gotten another one of your statutes?” “Yeah, this is Kali, the goddess of death and destruction.” She said, unwrapping the child-sized mound to reveal a female figure with onyx-black skin and hair to match. Kali was standing atop what appeared to be a dead man and she wore a necklace of human skulls. The fiery red sun behind her head matched her mouth and stuck-out tongue, looking as if she were de43


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claring to the world she had eaten flesh by showing the remnants of blood in much the same way a child proves that they have swallowed medicine. “It’s...interesting,” Zach said, moving a step backward. “What drew you to this one?” “Well, I read that she destroys the parts of you that you no longer want or need.” “Oh…Well, I really….I hope you really enjoy it. It’s very...interesting.” “Yes, I love her. She is just spectacular,” she said, with a flash in her eyes like a dog ready to chase down its dinner. As Mariah began dragging the statue down the hallway Zach went in the other direction to pour another sports bottle of wine. Zach began to notice a couple changes from that point on in their usual routine. On his end, his laziness was beginning to pile up in Helen’s room. He didn’t want to change anything about the room, which is why he had left everything exactly as it was, down to her dirty laundry, trash can, and uneaten food. But worse than this, he had begun piling up his own trash in the room from multiple nights of eating, drinking, and binge watching cartoons in his daughter’s bed. The nightstand had a collection of uneaten frozen pizza crusts of varying seniority, some of which had found their way to the floor. Dirty dishes were piled along the foot of the bed, and to one side was a collection of paper plates and TV dinner trays that still had remnants of food. It wasn’t so much that he was lazy, really. It was more that if he picked up his trash, why wouldn’t he also clean up the messes his daughter had left? He couldn’t stand that idea. Despite the fact that her half-eaten peanut butter and jelly sandwich had dried up into a hardened, crusty, arched shell of its former self, it, along with the laundry and other messes, made him feel like she could still be just in the other room when he looked at them. He couldn’t get rid of any of it, even his own additions. As the piles grew he began noticing a smell, and once he swore he even saw one of the piles move out of the corner of his eye. Eventually, sick of the mess and unable to bring himself to clean it, he began spending more and more time in the living room and sleeping in his own bed again. Seeing her a bit more often now, he began to take notice of a change on Mariah’s end. She would hardly ever come out of the meditation room anymore. She even slept in there now, never joining him in the master bedroom at night. The only time he noticed her come out was when he could hear her heating something up in the microwave, and pouring herself glasses of wine, or when she came out to use the bathroom. She even seemed to have brought her laptop in there with her, despite the fact that there was no 44


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desk to use it at. It couldn’t be healthy, locking herself up in there like that. She wasn’t a hermit, and no amount of statues would change that. She was avoiding reality, hiding from it, but what could he do about it? He wasn’t exactly in the best shape himself. * * * Mariah was in the kitchen pouring the last of the wine to accompany her Asian chicken and rice frozen entrée when her husband filled in the doorway. “Last of the wine?” “Yeah, I think so,” she said. “I was thinking about going to the store anyway. You want anything in particular?” “Whatever you wanna get, you’ve been doing a fine job of it.” “Okay, I’ll be back in a while,” he said, heading out the front door. Mariah took her glass of wine and went to the back of the house to use the bathroom. As she got to the end of the hall she began to notice a strange smell. After some serious investigatory sniffing she reluctantly determined that the smell was coming from Helen’s old room. She didn’t even want to open the door. She wasn’t ready to see her daughter’s old stuff, but she knew that Zach had been spending a lot of time in there up until just recently. She was worried he might have forgotten a glass of milk or something in there. She opened the door and the glass of wine fell from her hand and shattered on the hardwood floor. The piles had been neglected by Zach for a bit too long. The bits of food in the TV dinner trays had been replaced by mold and hardened, sweating bits of fried chicken skin. There were little fruit flies darting back and forth in the air above the pile of dishes. Worst of all, swarming over everything like the mold had come alive, were the rows of tiny, black ants. She sank down to the floor, and fought the tears beginning to well up in her. She needed more wine and they were out of it, but she knew where they kept the whiskey. * * * It got dark faster than Zach expected. Maybe he had spent too long at the store, not that it really mattered. As he pulled into the driveway he noticed that there was smoke coming out of the chimney. It was a bit unusual and put him on edge. They hadn’t had a fire going in years, but it was starting to get cold out again. He walked into the house and saw that there were no lights on anywhere, but there were lit candles scattered about the place. The smell of so many different artificial scents burning mixed into something indistinguishable and sickeningly sweet. The half-wall that separated the dining room 45


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from the kitchen and led up to the hall was a haphazard line of tea-light and large pillar candles. He heard a faint thud—slap come from the living room. What was she doing in there? As he made his way to investigate he noticed in his peripheral that the end of the hall was warm with candlelight from an adjacent room, probably her meditation space. When he entered the living room he was struck by several things at once, besides the expected continuation of scattered candles. The windows facing out to the backyard and the pool had been messily covered by black paint, as if by hand. There was an empty bottle of whiskey on the coffee table, also with a mess of black smeared on it. Finally, his awareness settled on his wife, kneeling in front of the fireplace with her hands deep in a can of black paint. It seemed that she had covered most of her upper torso in the paint, including her hair which had dried into a crusty, scraggly mess. The teary whites of her eyes seemed to pop out of her now onyx-black face as she took handfuls of paint and smeared them on the pictures above the mantle. She didn’t even seem to notice him, and he realized that she was only covering the parts of pictures that Helen was in, leaving the rest intact. He couldn’t help but yell. “Mariah, what the hell are you doing?” “What am I doing, more like what have you been doing you lazy pig!” “Oh get off it, there’s fucking paint everywhere. The place is a mess!” he said as he waved his hand toward the drip marks scattered across the rug and couch. “You wanna talk about a damn mess, how about the garbage heap you’ve turned my little girl’s room into.” “Yeah, well at least I didn’t go bat-shit crazy and cover everything in paint.” Zach’s confidence waivered, but he was still angry. “Bat-shit crazy, I’ll show you bat-shit crazy!” Zach watched as she reached into the paint can with her bare hand, scooped out a puddle of paint, and threw it in his face. He closed his eyes in time to keep the paint out of them, but lost his balance and fell to the ground. After wiping away the paint he opened his eyes and watched from the floor as she ran to the back of the house in response to the smoke alarm, which had begun wailing. After a moment of immobile shock, Zach got himself back on his feet and followed. He powered down the hall under a trail of smoke that was rolling along the ceiling. He passed the empty meditation space and made his way to the glowing doorway of Helen’s room. There his wife stood in the middle of the bedroom, in all her frazzled and paint-covered glory, with a growing fire along two of the walls. 46


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The room was full of at least two dozen candles, most of which were congregated on the floor surrounding the Kali statue. It seemed she had collected all his trash into a large garbage bag that had caught fire and spread to the mattress, curtains, and wall. The flames were licking their way along the edge of the ceiling. Mariah was trying to drag the statue out of the room. He tried to grab her and she pulled away from him, stumbling over one of the pillar candles and touching the edge of the bed just long enough to catch part of her hair on fire. She tried to swat out the flames but they spread to her blouse. Screaming as she burst past him she flung open the master bedroom’s sliding glass door, and jumped into the pool. Zach immediately jumped in after her and pulled her up to the surface, holding her in his arms and kicking his feet to keep them afloat. She was crying, arms around him and head on his shoulder. “Are you ok?” “It just hurts, it hurts so much,” she said, the black paint seeping into the pool, dying it black as it washed off her. “I know… it hurts me too.” They waded over to the shallow end and just stood there, holding each other. Dark drips and tendrils melted from them and spread out into the darkened water. They watched the flames spread across the house, licking away at the structure. As the flames grew they felt warmth radiating on their faces, and between their bodies. A shadow of smoke rose up and away from the building, temporarily blocking out the stars before dissipating into the heights of the night sky, where the stars remained, flickering.

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Immigration Is Kate Jasenski

Immigration is one year old, leaving a country that you never really knew and starting a “better” life in an unknown country. Immigration is seven years old on the elementary school playground, being told you can’t play with one group because you’re “not white enough”, and being told that you can’t play at the other group because you’re “too white”. Immigration is never fitting in, no matter how hard you try (you still keep trying anyway). Immigration is ten years old inside the classroom waiting for the lesson to start, and being told by a classmate that “Your people killed my people­you and all of your people are going to Hell. You’re all damned.” It is telling your teacher, and having her respond by saying “Well, that student is right.” Later that year, another classmate tells you that he wants to go to China and beat up all the Chinese there. You don’t tell the teacher. At the time, you don’t really understand what this all means, but later you realize that this is what it means to be Chinese in America­everything is political. You have no personal identity everything you do represents your country, your race, and vice versa. (You are just one of millions of model minority robots and illegal immigrant aliens.) Got an A on that essay? Asian. Over the coming years, people will say all kinds of things­about Tibet, Taiwan, North Korea, your country’s human rights violations­and you won’t even know how to respond. Maybe you don’t agree with your country­you know that there are issues of course, you left it for a reason but everyone is coming at your country and in America you are your country, and that means they’re all coming for you, and you just want to know why everyone hates you so much and wants to fight you all the time and why can’t they just leave you alone? (And, you whisper, it’s not like the US is perfect either.) You just want to escape this identity but you can’t. Immigration is thirteen years old in the middle school cafeteria, bragging about how you left “that place” (your home) where they eat dogs for fun and rice everyday. It is laughing at the country you left behind and the people still there because it’s so backwards and oh­my­god how can people live like that, and I’m so American now! It is telling anyone that will listen that you’re a Twinkie­yellow on the outside and white on the inside­and taking “You’re basically white” as a compliment. Immigration is dying a little inside because 48


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everything you say is kind of a lie, but also kind of the truth. Immigration is fifteen years old at your part­-time, typical­high­schooler restaurant job, having to deal with a person who thinks it’s socially acceptable to say the following things: “You should work on your English. Your accent is really noticeable. Don’t worry though, with practice you could really improve it. How long have you been in the country? . . .Only fourteen years? Where are you from? It must have been so hard to come here­you must be so happy you’re here.” This is when you realize that no matter how hard you try, you will never be white, you will never fit in, and it’s pointless to try. You realize it’s time to look elsewhere for acceptance. And so you do. You start testing out your everyday culture, listening to the music, watching the dramas, using the social media, testing the slang. With this comes the second realization when reality crashes down­that maybe some bonds, severed so completely and so long ago, simply cannot be fixed. I mean look at you. You say that you’re different, you’re unique, you’re not like the rest of those basic Americans who consume only the perfectly packaged products­yet you use apps, textbooks, and dictionaries for your own language, just like the gweilo. What right do you have to claim this culture as your own? Now, you’re sixteen, seventeen, eighteen years old, looking towards the future. You think maybe you finally have your identity almost maybe kind of figured out. You find facts easier than labels. Born elsewhere, here now. You know some of your heritage but are always searching for more. You are an immigrant, which means: gaining opportunities­the chance to have an education, the possibility of a good job, good money, a bright future­as well as giving. You sacrificed your home, your culture, your old life trajectory, your right to be an individual. You are not just you, you are your entire family’s American Dream. You represent opportunity, prosperity, stability. You are your family, your culture, your country’s (both of them) hope for the future you are the future. The future is yours and you will own it.

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Contributors Ashley Beene is a poet who was born and raised in Wisconsin. She currently resides in Southern California where she enjoys writing in the plethora of public garden spaces. Animesh Chandra is a graduate of the MFA program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and currently works as a science writer at the University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston. He holds a PhD in Chemistry and for many years worked as a post-doctoral fellow doing research in areas such as drug design, enzyme kinetics and age-related macular degeneration. Literary work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Greensboro Review, The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) and The Chattahoochee Review. Animesh wishes to dedicate the poem, “Woman Eating a Watermelon,” published in this issue, to his wife, Mala Sinha, who passed away in June, 2016, because the poem reminds him that what seems to end never really ends, that there is a certain continuity in existence, if we look close enough. There is solace in this recognition. Jason Deane is a graduate student at CSU, Chico working on an MA in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing, and has completed graduate certificates in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages and Teaching College-Level Writing. As an undergraduate he double majored in Religious Studies and Asian Studies and completed an honors thesis on Tibetan Buddhism. He spent three semesters studying abroad in Italy, England, and India, and a year teaching English in Thailand. His preferred drinks are tea and whiskey, and he can occasionally be spotted giving tarot card readings, walking hand in hand with his partner, Gretchen, or hunting through thrift shops for vintage video games, books, and cast iron. Teresa Burns Gunther’s work has appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies, most recently: Alaska Quarterly Review, Dogwood: Journal of Poetry and Prose, Northwind Magazine, 2014: A Year In Stories, Best New Writing, and recognized in contests at Glimmer Train Press, Cutthroat, Narrative Magazine, Tupelo Quarterly, New Millennium Writings and many more. Her interviews and book reviews have appeared in 50


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Zyzzyva, Bookslut, Glimmer Train Press, Literary Mama and others. She is the founder of Lakeshore Writers Workshop in Oakland, California.

Michael Hurley is from Pittsburgh. His work has appeared in Sycamore Review, New Delta Review, Fourteen Hills, Spoon River Poetry Review, Mid-American Review, and is forthcoming in FIELD and Cimarron Review. His chapbook, Wooden Boys, is available from Seven Kitchens Press. Chad Koch is a founding editor of Foglifter, a queer literary journal. He recently received his MFA from San Francisco State University, where he was editor-in- chief of Fourteen Hills. He’s the recipient of the Leo Litwak fiction award from Transfer Magazine. His work has been published or is forthcoming in Transfer Magazine, Sparkle & Blink, The North American Review and Eleven Eleven Journal. Chad was born in Madison, Wisconsin and grew-up in Whitewater. Ferris Wayne McDaniel is a fiction writer from Mamou, Louisiana. He lives in New Orleans, Louisiana where he’s an MFA candidate in the University of New Orleans’ Creative Writing Workshop. His work is forthcoming in Hobart. He is working on a collection of short stories. A native of Everett, Washington, Jeanne-Marie Osterman began writing poetry while working as an advertising copywriter in New York City. She has studied with Cornelius Eady and Mark Bibbins at New York’s 92nd Street Y, and with the late William Packard at NYU. Jeanne-Marie is a member of the Writers Room, an urban writers’ colony in New York City. Her work has appeared in The California Quarterly and in Bluestem Magazine. Michael Piasecki is a previously unpublished alumnus of the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. Since graduating, he has attempted to make writing his life’s work, achieving little success. The most successful component of his life is his marriage. At 22 years old, he supports his writing by moving boxes in a warehouse. His greatest aspiration as a writer is to create something that successfully communicates something to someone.

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Tamra Plotnick’s poetry and prose works have been published in a number of journals and anthologies, including: Serving House Journal; The Waiting Room Reader, Vol II: Words to Keep You Company, edited by Rachel Hadas; and Global City Review: International Edition. She teaches high school in New York City and lives in Brooklyn with her husband, son, and daughter. Zach Powers splits his time between Savannah, Georgia and Northern Virginia. His debut book, Gravity Changes, won the BOA Short Fiction Prize and will be published in May 2017. His work has appeared in Black Warrior Review, Forklift, Ohio, PANK, the Tin House blog, and elsewhere. He is the co-founder of the literary arts nonprofit Seersucker Live. Get to know him at ZachPowers.com. Alexis Quinlan is a writer and English Department adjunct (lately at Fordham and Baruch) in New York City. Her work has appeared in The Paris Review, Drunken Boat and, more recently, Rhino and Tinderbox.

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THE FRIENDS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN-MADISON LIBRARIES The Friends honor The Madison Review for its four-decade support of literacy in America, and for the creativity of its undergraduate staff of organizers and editors. The Friends of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries, founded in 1947, is one of the oldest library freinds groups in the U.S. The Friends are dedicated to the enrichment and enhancement of the UW-Madison campus libraries. The Friends activities include • A huge semiannual book sale each spring and fall • Fundraising to support library resources and preservation activies • Grants to campus libraries for special purchases • Supporting the annual Libraries Magazine, biannual newsletters, and other publications • Grants-in-aid to visiting international scholars to use the great resources of the campus libraries • Support for School of Library and Information Studies students so they can attend national workshops • Supporting students who contribute to, edit, and produce ILLUMINATION: The Undergraduate Journal of the Humanities • Supporting student-led poetry events through readings during the year •Bringing speakers and lecturers to campus The friends of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries would welcome your membership. For more information, please visit the Friends website at www.library.wisc.edu/friends or contact us at friends@library.wisc.edu, 608-265-2505

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is now accepting

Fiction | Graphic Fiction Poetry | Non-Fiction visit http://english.wisc.edu/devilslake/submit.html to submit

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55

The Madison Review: Fall 2016  

Enjoy our selection of poetry, prose, and art!

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