Peauxdunque Review Issue #3

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Peauxdunque Review Issue 3 Summer 2020

Peauxdunque Review, Issue 3 Publication of Issue 3 was made possible by the technical, creative, and inancial support of the Peauxdunque Writers Alliance, Southern Chapter. We are honored that the artistic genius, Ramon Carrasco, lent his considerable talent to us once again for the cover, our third featuring another in his series of Peauxdunque birds. Stephen Finnerty, our technical talisman from TriCity Graphic Design, has, once again, waded through our madness and discombobulation to create a journal look and layout we can all be proud of. Editor-in-Chief/Publisher Managing Editor Poetry Editor Asst. Poetry Ed./Features Ed. Non-Fiction Editor Fiction Editor /Music Editor Editorial Review Board Alliance Readers

Larry Wormington Tad Bartlett Nordette Adams J.Ed. Marston April Blevins-Pejic Emily Choate Maurice Carlos Rufin Kayla Andrews Lana Austin Amy Conner Lea Downing James A. Jordan Susan R. Kagan Stephanie Knapp Andrew Kooy Denise Moore Cassie Pruyn Ben Saxton Emilie Staat Susan Bennett Vallee

We’d also like to take this time to thank our brilliant contributors, subscribers, patrons, and readers. Without you, there would be no us.

Peauxdunque Review is published twice annually by the Peauxdunque Writers Alliance, a multi-genre writers collective with members in seven states. Editorial ofices for Peauxdunque Review are located at 4609 Page Drive, Metairie, LA 70003, and at 5511 County Road 424, Anna, Texas, 75409. The Anna, Texas, address is also the business ofice of Peauxdunque Review. Annual subscriptions for individuals range from $25 to $65 for various levels, with the $25 subscription level including two issues of the PR. Annual library subscriptions are $40. Single issues may be purchased for $20 for individuals, $25 for libraries. Visit our website for complete submission guidelines: © 2020 Peauxdunque Review. “Peauxdunque” is pronounced po-dunk.

Contents PEAUXDUNQUE Editor’s Letter, Larry Wormington and the PR Editorial Board ............................................................................ 1 Ask Peauxdunque, J.Ed. Marston .......................................... 9

Album Highlight: Thirteen Ways of Listening to a Rachel’s Album, Emily Choate .................................................. 13 ART Bootprints, Tim Rohman ....................................................... 22 POETRY Westward, Freesia McKee...................................................... 23 CNF Love for Sale, Benjamin Aleshire........................................... 25 ART Shack Up Inn, Clarksdale, Mississippi, at Sunset, James Cullen ........................................................................... 32 POETRY Down Here, Connor Sanders .................................................. 34 Pressing Day, Yoruba Baltrip-Coleman ................................. 35

Survival of a Breadwinner, Matthew Kelsey ......................... 36 FICTION All His Teeth, Alex Jennings ................................................. 37 ART Gizmo: The Lone Indian, Flag Boy Gizmo on St Joseph’s Night, March 19, 2020, COVID-19, James Cullen ..... 38 POETRY The Morning After My Brother’s Suicide, Kate Leland ........ 55 We Say Pain and It Means According to Which Organ, Kate Leland ................................................................. 56 Capsized, Tiara Brown ........................................................... 58 FICTION Rescue, Kaitlin Murphy-Knudsen .......................................... 59 POETRY Raw Wool at Kustanai Textile Processing Plant, Kazakhstan, 1991, Andy Young .................................. 71 Shattered, Andy Young .......................................................... 73 CNF/PROSE POETRY on the lames in my bones and how they got there, Michael Quess? Moore ................................................. 75

ART Selections from War on the Benighted, L. Kasimu Harris ... 77 POETRY Coronavirus Bittersweet Suite: Live Long and Prosper?, Gerard Sarnat .............................................................. 83 Coronavirus Bittersweet Suite: Homo Sapiens Silver Linings B12 and 13 haiku, Gerard Sarnat ................. 84 Coronavirus Bittersweet Suite: Modest Tradeoff Proposals, Gerard Sarnat .............................................................. 84 Coronavirus Bittersweet Suite: My Family of Origin Just Called It, Pitching In, Gerard Sarnat ......................... 85 FICTION Cherchez la Femmes, Sheila Arndt ........................................ 87 POETRY All the Men Who Own My Underwear, Kate Leland ............ 95

Jawbone, Jessica Temple ........................................................ 96 Problem Child, Grifin Batiste Tadoe .................................... 97 FICTION Cicada, Torey Bovie ................................................................ 99

ART Kasimu Harris and Father: Generational Wisdom, James Cullen ............................................................... 104 POETRY Daughters I Once Was, Freesia McKee ................................. 105 My Sister’s Scar, Jessica Temple ............................................ 106 ART Holy Cross Lockers: Class Interrupted, James Cullen.......... 107 FICTION With Hindsight in Mind, Nichole Cloke ................................. 108 POETRY Pomegranates, Tiara Brown .................................................. 114 Madame Curie, Ann Hudson ................................................. 115 Never Safer, Matthew Kelsey ................................................. 117 FICTION The Seabird, Jack Cape .......................................................... 120 POETRY Putting Him On, Linda Parsons ............................................ 132

Romeo y Julieta, Linda Parsons ............................................ 133 FICTION That Thing with Feathers, Susan Finch ............................... 134 ART Suitcases, Tim Rohman ......................................................... 148 POETRY Why Tooth Fairies Luminesce, Ann Hudson ......................... 149 What’s Your Favorite Superpower?, Ann Hudson .................. 150 PEAUXDUNQUE The Peauxdunque Ten: Emilie Staat Strong, Interview by Susan Kagan................................................................ 152 Issue 3 Contributors ............................................................... 156

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EDITOR’S LETTER By Larry Wormington, Peauxdunque Review Editor-in-Chief/ Publisher, and the Peauxdunque Review Editorial Board ssue 3 of Peauxdunque Review comes at a time of extraordinary social upheaval. I’m aware this is no great revelation, but it bears contemplation. Life, or at least our concept of life prior to 2020, is no more. As COVID19 takes and takes, we grow weary, pulled in pieces in all regards. This fracture is profound, and it is numbing us. In the midst of this deep night, however, hope’s sparks loat on the wind, gathering and catching, a change-radiance building in their wake. For the irst time, calls for change, demands for true justice and equality are omnipresent. It’s an awakening long overdue. For my own part, I grew up thinking I was too poor to be privileged, much less prejudiced. Deep down, though, I always knew the playing ield wasn’t level. I just never said anything, maintaining that old herd immunity of ignorance. I’d like to blame the utter lack of honest historical education we receive in this country—Manifest Destiny, sea to shining sea, and all that. This white-washed façade promoted a population raised to believe the myths we were told about ourselves, about how the country was settled and built, rather than accounting for the dark truths. Sure, we had our thirty minutes a day of social studies: Trail of Tears, slavery, the Civil War, Lincoln, Dr. King, reservations, desegregation—but all as past-tense stuff, so as to avoid any of that pesky cognitive dissonance in the populace. And on we went with our self-delusion: Bad things happened; we changed them; we got better; that’s all in the past now. Except the past never went away, neither for those crushed beneath it nor for those doing the crushing. Not for those asphyxiated by a system set up to deny anything is wrong. And this trumpedup reality has allowed a sickness to build, a malaise that, until recently, the dominating sectors of society seemed happy to deny and ignore. But no more. The times scream for change, and we at Peauxdunque Review choose to add voices to the chorus, for it has never been more necessary to speak with many voices while acknowledging each individual refrain. On that note, I have asked members of our editorial review board to weigh in on this moment, as well.


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Here are their urgent words. Larry Wormington Editor-in-Chief Peauxdunque Review

Maurice Carlos Rufin, Editorial Review Board: We are the witnesses. The old normal is dissolving into something new and hopefully better. The work of the poet and the writer is to engage with our community and relect what we see. One day, the people who come after us will want to know what this was. Our work will tell them. J.Ed. Marston, Features Editor/Asst. Poetry Editor: Since the COVID crisis started, writing has felt like working as an air-trafic controller at Airport Armageddon in the middle of a sandstorm. First off, the word “controller” in this job title is completely off-base. Like my counterparts in aviation, I have control over absolutely zilch. All I can do is write messages that might cut through the static and hope my work is good enough to help my readers ind their own way through. My local backdrop in Chattanooga wedged devastating tornados between the onset of the pandemic and the continuing civil rights protests in response to George Floyd’s murder. I’m very fortunate to have a day job that afforded me opportunities to write actionable ephemera about all of these huge of-themoment events. I’ve also made progress on my personal writing projects. But, up here in the so-called control tower, the radar is down. Visibility is zero. I speak painstakingly assembled words only to hear them swept away in the frenzy and static with no way to tell if they made any difference. And, when it comes to my personal writings, I’m speaking into a dead microphone, accumulating words that might not ever matter enough for publication. So, why should I bother? Why should you? The only thing I can say is that I have an intuition that’s been reinforced by my writing experiences. The only way to win the game is to keep playing. Whether something is a tragedy or a triumph depends

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on when you cut the scene and how long you let it run. In the midst of a tragedy, the only way to get to triumph is to keep writing. Emily Choate, Fiction Editor: Every age is an age of paradox. Every new era has been born of relentless, dazzling, unforgiving change. As storytellers and poets, we have always been called to attune ourselves to the present moment. We have been called to bring forth what has been hidden from view—from our villages, our families, ourselves. Especially from ourselves. Attuning ourselves to this Rubicon age, irrevocable and impersonal in its trample through our lives, requires exceptional humility. Our dominance-fueled culture scorns humility as weakness, yet it may be the single most spiritually useful condition available to us. When we must ight for one another’s survival, humility becomes the source of electrifying strength. As we now grieve, as we rage, as we undeceive ourselves of illusion after illusion, it is through humility that we surrender to our fundamental interconnectivity. We have been called to receive this moment, alive and alert to our purpose like never before. In these irst months of pandemic, protest, and deep reckoning, we have been readying ourselves for the visions that can only arrive during the kind of profound transformation that cannot be undone. Because retreating into the past is no longer possible. Rather than clinging to the old reference points, even as they collapse around us, we have been called to drop the deadweight of our illusions, so that we can travel light, toward a future that we cannot yet imagine. Freed from that weight, we have also been stretching ourselves, becoming vessels that will be able to receive new stories—the stories that could only come to us now. To bring them into form is our holy purpose.

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April Blevins Pejic, Creative Noniction Editor: On the second day of the quarantine in New Orleans, I walked the empty streets of my neighborhood. Normally the Marigny and French Quarter are teeming with life: musicians busking on corners, bartenders serving cocktails, psychics selling a glimpse of the future, and tourists crowding sidewalks as they gawk at the spectacle of it all or snap photos of themselves against the backdrop of the historic architecture. But on this day, the only other living thing I saw was a raccoon. I’m no wildlife expert, but I do know that a daytime raccoon is probably a sick raccoon. I stopped to watch him. He stopped to watch me. We eyed each other warily and kept our distance as we shufled away from each other. As the days in quarantine dragged into months, I continued taking these daily walks around the deserted streets. Sometimes, I saw a few other people out for fresh air. While these strangers and I might nod hellos, we gave each other the same vigilant distance that I kept with that sick raccoon. We kept this distance out of love, out of a desire to keep our community safe even though walking across the street to avoid other people is completely anathema to who we are in New Orleans. That’s one reason I’m so excited to publish Ben Aleshire’s “Love for Sale” in this issue. This essay, the winner of the CNF category of the 2019 Words and Music Writing Competition, calls out across the distance from a time before empty streets and boarded-up bars, a swan song to life before global pandemics and overwhelmed hospitals. While the imagery of busy French Quarter streets makes me nostalgic, the insight in his words rings even more true now, “… love is what wheels us through a dying world that doesn’t make sense.” Love, indeed. Nordette Adams, Poetry Editor: And so we have been hit on every side in 2020: We wait out a pandemic, hear of overlowing morgues, and watch or walk with the inevitable rage racism produces. We witness as well the highest unemployment rates since the Great Depression. In New Orleans, we gaze at the Gulf, and pray that the gods of hurricanes will be kind this summer for we, like the rest of the world, have had enough loss. So far, no one in my family

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has died during this crisis, but I sense the city’s unease and sorrow, knowing Death is not done. A friend, a gifted educator, succumbed to COVID-19 in April. I have seen three neighbors taken away in ambulances and talked to friends whose loved ones have died. In isolation, I have been writing away anxiety and seeking the work of others. Reading literature is the closest we may come to entering the minds of fellow humans. In stories and poetry, we see that we are not the irst to think terrible things, to fear our present and our future, to face grief during a tumultuous era. We perceive then that our bodies may be isolated but our spirits are not. For our readers, I hope some passage in the Peauxdunque Review evokes that sense of belonging to a greater collective, broadens perspective, and awakens empathy for those who seem very different from them. This is literature’s promise and magic. Without recognition that we are part of the world, without the ability to feel what others feel, how will we ever salvage health and peace from devastating turmoil? How will ever overcome the sharp division that remains? Tad Bartlett, Managing Editor: In the grand scheme of things, I haven’t been alive too long. Forty-eight years. But I don’t think I’ve seen a world as much on the verge of something horrible or something beautiful as we are seeing now. When I was a kid, growing up an outsider in my own podunk town of Selma, Alabama, I knew and saw racism and white supremacy early and often. Often we marched or picketed or spoke, but seldom did change come. Since then, in our social-media-ampliied world, we have seen an endless procession of murders of Black men, women, and children, at the hands of racists and white supremacists and often the police, followed by a cycle of protest, promises often empty, and a subsidence back into the comforts of always doing what we’ve always done. But this time, this year, feels different, following the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and too many more, as protests did not subside but magniied, as each city lent its own lavor to its collective shoulder on the wheel. This time feels like it is different, that we will not sink back into the muck, and maybe it feels different because the world is willing it so, is stating clearly that it shall not be so.

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The urgency of the words and language of our time is shining through. And maybe the words are so urgent now, not just because the cycle has spun around too many times, not just because we are all sick and tired of being sick and tired, of our brothers and sisters having their humanity—and thereby all of our humanity shared in common with them—denied, but also in the face of pandemic, of widespread reminders of the precariousness of life itself and how we live it. There is no comfortable place into which to retreat. All is upheaval. The need for clear words, for stories and narratives and rhythms about how to live as people among people, has never been more urgent. And it is the gale of this moment that has blown the ship of Issue 3 of Peauxdunque Review to the shores of now. This is our annual competition issue, where we publish the winners and runners-up and selected honorable mentions from the previous year’s competition alongside the cream of the regular submissions that writers send our way. We are tremendously proud to be a home for all of this good work, though perhaps never prouder than we are of the Beyond the Bars category, a no-fee category for incarcerated juveniles nationwide, a category that puts faces and words and, ultimately, humanity, onto a segment of our society too often abstracted into an invisible collective mass. We see you. Not just our published winner and runner-up, Connor Sanders and Grifin Batiste Tadoe, but all of you. That is what words—your words, our words—do. They help us see each other. And in this vein, we are very glad to feature the prose-poem of Michael “Quess?” Moore, a New Orleans poet and educator, who is also one of the co-founders of Take ‘Em Down NOLA, a group formed to bring down white supremacist monuments of all kinds in New Orleans and also one of the prime drivers of this summer’s protests in New Orleans. Quess’s “on the lames in my bones and how they got there” speaks directly and with immediacy to our current moment. And immediately following Quess’s work we are honored to present selections from the incredible series of photographs from L. Kasimu Harris’s “War on the Benighted,” which has been exhibited in several museums and written up in the New York Times. Kasimu’s photography mixes documentary work and staged narrative work to tell the stories of our injustices and

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our empowerment; “War on the Benighted” tells both stories simultaneously. We are gratiied that our pages could be a home for these words and images, and for so many important and urgent words and images in this issue. Thank you, readers, for sharing in them with the writers and artists and with us. We see you. Larry Wormington is a Dallas-based iction writer who grew up in the piney woods of East Texas. He received his MFA from the University of New Orleans and his BA from the University of North Texas. His stories have appeared in Elm Leaves Journal, Harpur Palate, and the iction anthology Monday Nights, among others. He is a Marine veteran and a member of the Peauxdunque Writers Alliance. Maurice Carlos Rufin is the author of the critically-acclaimed novel, We Cast a Shadow, released in January 2019 from One World/Random House, and now available in paperback. Maurice was the recipient of the 2014 Iowa Review Fiction award, as well as numerous other accolades for his short and long iction. He has been a noniction book reviewer for Virginia Quarterly Review, and serves on the faculty of the LSU creative writing program and the Randolph College low-res MFA program. In the 2020-21 academic year he will be the John Grisham Writer in Residence at the University of Mississippi. J.Ed. Marston writes stories about people fumbling to be heroic in cloudy situations. His poetry, short stories, and a novel have been inalists in the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Writing Competition. His creative and non-iction work has been published in Bayou, Double Dealer, Urban Land, Wired magazine’s blog, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, among others. Emily Choate’s iction and noniction have appeared in Shenandoah, The Florida Review, Tupelo Quarterly, Chapter 16, Late Night Library, Yemassee, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and has earned several residency awards, most recently from Virginia Center for Creative Arts and The Hambidge Center. She lives in Nashville, where she’s working on a novel. Nordette Adams grew up in New Orleans. Her poetry has appeared in Rattle Magazine, Quaint, About Place Journal, and Unlikely Stories Mark V, among many others.

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Her essays have been included or referenced in multiple books and journals such as the Social Issues in Literature series by Greenhaven Press, Sapphire’s Literary Breakthrough: Erotic Literacies, Feminist Pedagogies, and TAB: The Journal of Poetry and Poetics. She received her MA in English and her MFA in Poetry from the University of New Orleans. April Blevins Pejic teaches writing and literature at Nicholls State University. Her work has appeared in Arcadia Magazine, The Green Briar Review, Furious Season, Ellipsis, and the iction anthology Monday Nights. Her essay, “A History We Can Live With” was chosen as a notable essay in the Best American Essays 2015 edited by Ariel Levy. She is a graduate of the MFA program at the University of New Orleans and a member of the Peauxdunque Writers Alliance. Tad Bartlett received an MFA from the Creative Writing Workshop at UNO. His creative noniction has been designated “notable” by Best American Essays, and has appeared in the Chautauqua Literary Journal, Bitter Southerner, and the online Oxford American. His iction has been published by The Massachusetts Review, Baltimore Review, Carolina Quarterly, Stockholm Review of Literature, Bird’s Thumb, and others.

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ASK PEAUXDUNQUE: Hannah Pittard By J.Ed. Marston, Peauxdunque Review Asst. Editor/Features Editor n this edition of “Ask Peauxdunque,” we have the honor of answering questions from novelist Hannah Pittard. Embraced by readers and reviewers alike, her latest novel, Visible Empire, joined her previous novels Listen to Me, Reunion, and The Fates Will Find a Way in garnering widespread acclaim, including selections by O Magazine, The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, and The Washington Post, among many more. In addition, her work has appeared in The New York Times, American Scholar, Oxford American, McSweeney’s, TriQuarterly, BOMB, and others. She also directs the MFA program in creative writing at the University of Kentucky. Several Peauxdunquians had the opportunity to participate in a fantastic writing workshop that Hannah led a few years ago, at the Yokshop Writers’ Workshop in Oxford, Mississippi, and we highly recommend workshopping with her (and at Yok) if you have the chance.


Hannah Pittard: One of my favorite aphorisms of Mark Twain (and one I’ve been putting to very good use these last several months) is “When angry count four. When very angry swear.” If Peauxdunque had an aphorism to help readers and writers survive these “uncertain,” “unprecedented,” and “trying” times, what would it be and why? (Asking on behalf of a 9-year-old who’s been witness to more profanity than usual recently…) Ask Peauxdunque: Before continuing, and to Hannah’s point about the uncertainty of our times, we think it’s important to provide some context. Hannah posed her questions at the end of April 2020, soon after state and local governments across America issued stay-at-home orders in response to the COVID crisis. We’re putting the inal editorial touches on this response about six weeks later as many tens of thousands have come out of quarantine and into a sustained series of protests against centuries of racial violence by American governmental

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authorities against our own people. As of this writing, the most recent examples of state-perpetrated white-supremacist crime are the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, along with the violent, First Amendment-infringing police response to many of the protests themselves. We can only imagine what might be happening by the time this is published and you, our beloved Peauxdunque Reader are scanning these words a couple months hence. When we originally read Hannah’s question, our irst lippant thought (before our hearts had grown so heavy with recent events) was to quote Mark Twain right back, “There are lies, damned lies, and then there are statistics.” Unfortunately, a) Mark Twain helped popularize this quote but wasn’t the irst to say it; b) these words have been deployed as often to undermine human rights as to defend them; and c) most damningly, this quote doesn’t actually respond to the question. Back to the drawing board with uncertainty heavy on our minds, we found inspiration in a recent Radiolab episode about physicist Richard Feynman’s challenge to come up with a “cataclysm sentence.” The idea was to develop one simple statement that could be conveyed to our descendants following a civilization-ending cataclysm with the goal of helping them in their recovery of human knowledge. Feynman’s statement was about the behavior of atomic particles. Ours is simply this, “It almost doesn’t matter what we do as long as we do it together—and for each other.” We may pine for certainty and understandably so, but certainty justiies any means, begs hypocrisy, makes us lazy in our thinking, and privileges abstractions over actual people. Certainty is responsible for many wars and every genocide. Certainty stands behind every racial injustice and provides the foundation for institutionalized and individualized white supremacy. Certainty lulled us into complacency in the face of global pandemic. Certainty may be humanity’s most destructive conception. We would argue that certainty cuts every hand that clasps it even as they brandish it to deadly effect against everyone else. So, what are we willing to do together and for each other? That seems like a good question to start a day, or a new chapter—or even a new civilization. At least here in Peauxdunque.

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Hannah Pittard: Right before Corona shut everything down, I was making great progress on what I hoped would be my next novel. Since the world’s stand-still, however, I can’t seem to ind the motivation to write. I can cook. I can eat. I can run 45 miles a week. I can garden. And I can drink. But — to save my life — I cannot sit down to write iction. I’m wondering what relevance, if any, you think iction will have in our world moving forward. Reassure me? If you can? A.P.: We feel the same need for reassurance, and from what we’ve heard, many other writers, particularly of iction, have been gripped by the same syndrome. When working on something that won’t be published for months or even years, it’s hard to imagine what we might write today that will still seem relevant in the unforeseeable times to come. It’s easier to imagine that our efforts may seem trivial or even ignorant or tone deaf by the time a reader has a chance to read our work. Writers routinely express their faith and courage by dedicating years of toil to a narrative in the hope that it will be meaningful to other people in a lasting way. So, with the rate of daily and sometimes seemingly hourly upheaval in the world around us, it’s not surprising that we’re paralyzed by the possibility that our efforts of today might seem naïve in the context of next month, much less next year or the years after that. But, that’s why writing is more important than ever before. Writing—iction speciically, but all other genres in their own ways, as well—is a work of imaginative faith. We strive to portray the nature of conlict along with how it might be survived or even resolved. We can’t build a house until we’ve imagined it. We can’t heal a relationship until we’ve developed a shared conception of how we might change our interaction going forward. And, we certainly can’t formulate a new and better way of being human in the world until we’ve had the courage to imagine what that might mean. It’s not just ignorance that leads to violence and the same old actions with the same disastrous outcomes—it’s a lack of imagination. We believe it is our role (and responsibility) as writers to imagine better—not in some supericial, false utopian way, but rather to ask ourselves how can authentic human experiences

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and conlicts lead to deeper and healthier relations among us? Could this be the kind of catharsis our readers need more than ever? And stories and narratives that focus on individual and familial interactions are just as important as those about the broader sweep of human relations. Reading is the closest thing we have to a direct experience of someone else’s thoughts. Since the introduction of moveable-type printing, publishing has certainly been put to dastardly ends, but the novel was the irst and for many the only opportunity to take a frontrow seat in someone else’s perspective. The best novelists (and poets and memoirists and on and on) have always delighted in giving us insight into their own perspective and in striving to authentically portray people across gender, race, class, geography and every other difference. We write because we believe in the revolutionary power of honestly imagined narratives. Maybe it takes even more courage to do that now, but that probably means it’s even more important for us to continue. J.Ed. Marston writes stories about people fumbling to be heroic in cloudy situations. His iction, poetry, and non-iction have been published in Bayou, The Double Dealer, Urban Land, Wired magazine’s blog, and the Atlanta JournalConstitution, among others. Marston is a member of the Peauxdunque Writers Alliance and serves on the Board of the Southern Lit Alliance and on the planning committee for the Conference on Southern Literature. Marston is a graduate of Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama, where he earned a BA with a triple major in English, writing, and theater. He lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

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PEAUXDUNQUE ALBUM HIGHLIGHT In this recurring feature, Emily Choate considers the life of an album that’s gone overlooked. Thirteen Ways of Listening to a Rachel’s Album By Emily Choate, Peauxdunque Review Fiction Editor/Music Editor I It is impossible for me to hear the indie chamber ensemble Rachel’s album Music for Egon Schiele without picturing low-lit apartments in the attics of old houses. Or bare feet on creaky wooden loorboards. I irst heard this music during the fraught, confusing weeks following 9/11, my inal year of college. I spent those weeks bonding fast, too fast, with a man I had just begun dating. I would marry him in less than a year. His family was from Kentucky, and he carried a moody romanticism that, all these years later, I still associate with Louisville and its surrounding landscapes. He was the one who brought me Rachel’s albums, seeking to connect, to communicate something essential during a time when words were failing everywhere. But I wasn’t seeking to connect to another person. I was building an inner room. Every artist has one—an inviolable sanctuary where she invites only the truest, richest elements from which to create her world. You’d be hard-pressed to ind an album more suited for the inner room than Music for Egon Schiele. Its trio of piano, viola, and cello enclose us within its haunting intimacy and melodic vibrancy, almost furtive in its tenderness. II Egon Schiele was originally composed by Rachel Grimes as music for a dance-driven theater piece performed—as far as I can ind—as a one-time production, by the Itinerant Theater Guild at University of Illinois, Chicago, in 1995. It’s not dificult to understand the pull of Schiele’s work for choreographers

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and visually-oriented theater directors. The igures inhabiting Schiele’s portraits contort, lurch, squat, sprawl, and stretch. Their ingers extend beyond what seems humanly possible, discolored and mesmeric. In Egon Schiele, Grimes’ compositions ind the perfect partner in her subject. Sometimes these pieces move with graceful melodic swells. Other times, they progress through a series of minimal piano gestures, spare and precise. Within such gestures, I visualize those long Schiele ingers arching across the paintings. I see dancers’ limbs extend and retract. In the album tracks themselves, I cannot hear the sounds of dancers’ feet padding across the boards of the stage, but my mind comes close to inventing them. The performance itself proved ephemeral, an experiment that earned a couple of mixed reviews and fell away. But when I listen now, the dance that I imagine is good enough for the ages. III Rachel’s was born from the thriving, experiment-rich music scene in Louisville during the 1990s. A luid lineup of musicians joined their playful instrumentation, including skillful use of found sound elements. The resulting sound was so unlike any genre that they’ve managed to be categorized as both “postrock” and “post-classical.” Egon Schiele himself knew what it meant to be on the vanguard of genre transformation. He painted during the early days of Expressionism, sorting and slashing through the legacies of Impressionists, as well as the inluence of his own Viennese mentors, like Gustav Klimt. Beyond his own work, too, the world he lived in was undergoing a transformative gauntlet. Everywhere, the old expectations of impervious empire and tradition showed signs they were about to crack. IV Egon Schiele opens with “Family Portrait,” which builds with melodic tenderness restrained by a plaintive edge. This tone deines the album’s sonic environment. Its hushed concentration pulls you into its own pace. Like any sanctuary, it resets you so

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that you can enter its world. Most track titles refer to signiicant igures in Schiele’s life, the people he sketched and painted, over and over. His beloved sister Gertie, his provocative friend Mime Van Osen, his longtime lover Wally, and the bride for whom he abruptly left her, Edith. In her music, Grimes evokes the intense, complex bonds—and often heartbreak—that Schiele shared with each of them. Among these pieces are also three tracks titled as “Self-Portrait Series.” The irst piece bounds forward in a tense, ethereal repetitive piano line running throughout, the undercurrent supporting an emotional viola line played by Rachel’s founding member Christian Fredrickson. The second “Self-Portrait” revisits this piano foundation, but with darker momentum and mood. Strings layered above the piano carry their own drive and repetition, heading somewhere more perilous. The luminous third “Self-Portrait” is reminiscent of the others but lighter in tone, comprised of hopeful strings. Even without the particulars of Schiele’s biography, Grimes’ music evokes a gallery of portraits—alongside the vision and skill required to capture igures in forms that transcend the initeness of any artist’s life. V I am scrolling through a social media feed illed with panicked confusion over shelter-in-place orders, debates over whether masks do any good, and reminders that, if I’m worth my salt, I should be using all this time at home to crank out masterworks. I scroll faster now, until my eye catches sight of a painting I know. A self-portrait by Egon Schiele. His hand, darkened in color as if burned, pulls down the skin on his pink cheek. Below him, the post’s caption reminds me (if I ever knew) that Schiele died in the 1918 inluenza pandemic, three days after his wife Edith had also succumbed, six months pregnant with their child.

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VI There’s a moment during “Promenade,” the album’s longest track, when the quiet sounds of a train pass through the background of the sonic landscape. Train sounds rattle through other songs in the Rachel’s catalogue, too, as in their debut album Handwriting’s ambitious, 14-minute “Full on Night” and throughout Selenography’s “The Mysterious Disappearance of Louis LePrince,” which invokes the 19th Century inventor who apparently vanished from a train somewhere between Dijon and Paris. Rachel’s is a train-haunted band. Egon Schiele, too, was train-haunted. His father was the stationmaster in his hometown, Tulln, Lower Austria. He was close to his father, who died when Schiele was a teenager, and the love of trains never left him. Art critic Arthur Roessler, who knew Schiele, captured a startling image in his memoir: “[In] the middle of the room sat Schiele, on the bare loor, with a very pretty clockwork toy train racing around him in circles … Much as I was taken aback by the sight of this young man earnestly occupied with a child’s toy, I was still more taken aback by his uncanny virtuosity with which he produced the many and varied sounds of hissing steam, the railman’s whistle, wheels in motion, rail joins, creaking axles and squeaking suspension, bursts of steam when a train was starting and the squeal of steam when it was braking.” Roessler was stunned by Schiele’s mimicry. “He could have gone on a varieté stage any time.” But by most accounts, Schiele wasn’t an eager performer. Most often, his focus was turned inward, and his childlike wonder fueled something else, something private that passed through him, seeking its full voice on canvas. Critics have suggested that his landscapes and townscapes depict the perspective of the view from a train window. I don’t know if Schiele saw them that way, but now I can’t see them otherwise. They appear swept by us somehow, moments captured amid the bustling rhythmic patterns of modernity’s forward motion. VII Egon Schiele is a distillation of the band’s sound and

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compositional style, but Rachel’s made a string of other fascinating albums over the course of a decade, starting with their pleasing debut, Handwriting. The Sea and the Bells draws from Pablo Neruda’s poetry collection by the same name. Its elegance and grandeur show Rachel’s at their most expansive. Signiicant Others offers a spirited blend of experiments and familiar sounds. Critics have sometimes viewed their inal album, 2003’s Systems/Layers, as the moment when Rachel’s had polished their methods to their glossiest inish. But I hold special affection for 1999’s Selenography. Gathering mythological and historical reference, found sounds, and thoughtful instrumentation for a big lineup of players, this album brings them all under the spell of Kentucky’s landscape and links it directly to the landscapes of the moon. “Selenography” is the study of the moon’s surface, which ties this lovely notion to the album’s closer-to-home titles: “Kentucky Nocturne,” “Old Road 60,” and “Honeysuckle Suite.” VIII Rachel Grimes—founding member of Rachel’s, gifted pianist, and the sole composer of Music for Egon Schiele—is a Kentucky native. During her tenure with Rachel’s and her formidable career since then, Grimes has remained devoted to her place of origin, drawing on its history and environment but integrating connective tissue that spans mythology, international literature, and visual artists with piquant bodies of work and personal lives. Her most recent major project, 2017’s The Way Forth, combines opera and ilm to confront the darker complexities of Kentucky’s history, challenging received narratives and rejecting nostalgia, while honoring its musical legacy at the same time. Her work exempliies the interconnectivity between artist and environment and the necessity of interrogating our relationship to our sources and muses, risking discomfort in order to banish complacency. IX I am researching the post-rock, post-classical chamber ensemble

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Rachel’s. I am Googling, expecting to ind more than I do. But I have been resisting YouTube. I don’t want streaming panel discussion. I don’t want live performance on grainy videotape, shot in some long-defunct basement club of indie legend. Usually, I feel the opposite impulse toward the artists and performers whose work I’ve loved a long time. Show me the years, I think as I scroll the video search results—show me the obscure live dates, the retrospective interview, the newly graying hair and reading glasses. I want to see a body of work in motion. Show me a life of artistic endurance. Show me more. But Rachel’s is different. I don’t want to watch this music played. I don’t want to watch time pass, knowing that during the years I was happily re-listening to their albums—never thinking to penetrate my experience with search engines—key members of this band I loved have died. Founding member, guitarist Jason Noble, in 2012. And Grimes’ younger brother, drummer Edward Grimes, in 2017. I am reading everything I can ind about them, so that I can write this piece, but I don’t want to see them in action. I want my memories, my imaginings, intact. A part of me must believe that I can keep a particular kind of mystery intact—the longtime listener’s mysteries. Rachel’s was a band who left space, always, open for mystery. X One of Schiele’s most passionate paintings, “The Embrace,” graces the center pages of the album’s liner notes booklet. I’ve owned a print of “The Embrace,” rolled up and secured with the same hair tie, for 20 years. I bought this print after spending time with the original, over several visits to Vienna’s Belvedere Museum throughout the autumn of 1999, when the Belvedere’s stuffy galleries were always overheated and visitors’ footsteps echoed in the 18th Century halls. I always assumed that my intention was to hang this print. But now I wonder if what I really wanted from it is how I’ve actually used it—just to unbind it once every few years and roll it open, for a minute or two. To spy on these lovers embracing in their privacy, their inner room. The way Schiele painted them, a furtive overhead perspective, means that to look

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at them at all is to spy. At least twice I’ve rolled the print open to show a lover of my own, citing plans to frame and hang it, maybe above my desk. But maybe what I wanted was what happened next— watching him linch at the painting’s lovers, at this peek into their inner room. Maybe I was looking to catch my lover in embarrassment, his unease that I might hang them in plain sight. Maybe I wanted to expose some weakness, a pretext to kick him out of my inner room. Maybe I always intended to roll the painting up again, to make those lovers wait a bit longer, or else to let them be. XI In his poems, Robert Penn Warren, 20th Century literary legend and native of Guthrie, Kentucky, captured something uneasy— beautiful but fraught—about his origins as muse: “Long ago, in Kentucky, I, a boy, stood / by a dirt road, in irst dark, and heard / The great geese hoot northward. // I could not see them, there being no moon / And the stars sparse. I heard them. // I did not know what was happening in my heart.” Grimes’ work shows a particular genius for mingling clarity and mystery, precision and ambiguity, known and unknown. I’m tempted to call this quality a balance, but of course—as Schiele knew—balance isn’t always what’s called for. In our art, sometimes we must upend and unlearn, in order to hear and see our world anew. From a hinge point opening toward the modern era, Schiele faced this challenge. In art, in pandemic, in the World War he found himself conscripted into joining. He sought form for the unknown. “Tell me a story,” Warren’s poem continues. “In this century, and moment, of mania, / Tell me a story. “Make it a story of great distances, and starlight. The name of the story will be Time, But you must not pronounce its name. Tell me a story of deep delight.”

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XII I am snowed in, the only guest staying at a Shaker village set amid rolling Kentucky farmland. This afternoon, I drove North from Nashville, chancing iffy roads, knowing the weather would force me to extend my stay, though I cannot afford the two nights I’d already reserved. I’ve been here before. Alongside that young, post-9/11 husband, I toured the historical halls, workshops, and barns. Together we admired the handcrafted tools and furniture. We spoke soothing words to the horses and sheep. Of course they, living here, did not need any soothing, not from us anyway. But we did, and I don’t remember that we found any. Tonight I’m alone in the guesthouse—hours ago, I was warned that everyone else, including staff, were leeing the village thanks to snow and single-digits cold. I nodded solemnly, though inside I thrilled. That young marriage has been over for a year now, and I have come here to recover my own quiet. My trail of solo footprints in Kentucky snow. My bare feet across creaky loorboards once cut and lain by a Shaker working with the spirit of sacredness in motion. Outdoors, the quiet night makes an inner room of the whole village. Indoors, I wrap my half-numb feet in tomorrow’s clothes. I try to write, but nothing comes. I hit play, and Rachel Grimes’ piano meets the quiet. I’m deep in it, the inner room, for a track or two, until a stray noise tears across the moment. I curse aloud—the disc must be scratched. But now, at the window, pressed against the sill, an enormous ginger-striped cat scrapes the glass with her claw. We stare for some minutes through the window, until I slip out into the hall, music from my room trailing me. I let the cat inside and leave her alone to roam the heated hallways. I fall asleep to the unfolding of “Promenade,” its crisp but gentle trills and runs, potent measures of silence, the faint sweep of a passing train. And at dawn, I wake to the chiding music of the cleaning lady’s voice in the hall: “Now how did you manage that, you bad old girl? How did you manage that?”

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XIII Music for Egon Schiele ends with “Second Family Portrait,” the title of which brings to mind the last signiicant painting that Schiele made, 1918’s “The Family.” Set against a darker, more muted color palette than much of Schiele’s work, the family in question take up the center of the frame, squatting one in front of the other—a self-portrait of Schiele as father, a nude darkhaired woman as mother, and a small child sheltered in front beneath them both. None wear warm or comforting expressions, and each of them stares into a separate direction. Only Schiele looks our way. “Second Family Portrait” builds toward its compelling inal section, the trio of piano, viola, and cello sounding together with emphatic repetitive momentum. They are bold strokes across a canvas, sweeping toward completion—as Egon and Edith’s brief lives sweep them away, sweep them out, from the insular eccentricities of bohemian garret and into the communal swell of history, toward World War and pandemic. Riding Grimes’ music, they are pulled from their inner room, down through time, and into mine. Emily Choate’s iction and noniction have appeared in Shenandoah, The Florida Review, Tupelo Quarterly, Chapter 16, Late Night Library, Yemassee, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and has earned several residency awards, most recently from Virginia Center for Creative Arts and The Hambidge Center. She lives in Nashville, where she’s working on a novel.

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Bootprints, Tim Rohman

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Freesia McKee Westward A few hours into our 3,000-mile road trip, my dad and I will stop for dinner at a roadside stand, before us the back of a semi-truck glittering. The semi’s end will read, simply, “THE END.” It will get less hilly the farther west we go from Utica where my great-great-grandmother put supper on the table every night before our family made their way across the continent. Near “THE END,” we will inish roasted potatoes from home. My dad will eat peas from a can. Each with a different set of memories, we’ll ask what the other person remembers, strange litanies of unmatched recollection. My dad and I will share a bag of almonds, listen to the radio and talk about border walls. He believes in a partial wall. I don’t believe in borders. Neither of us knows what it feels like, to be imprisoned looking for a safe place for family. How would it resonate in the chest and belly to be forcibly separated from your daughters? We don’t know much about the Utica grandmother, couldn’t speculate what would’ve happened if she had been detained.

For a while, “THE END” will be a joke, but the next day, my dad will quote a Bible verse, ask why I believe borders are fraudulent. “What would you do,” he will say, “if a stranger broke into your house?” as we drive toward Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin.

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His voice will catch in anger at the edges as he thinks of what he’ll say next, not listening to me speak— even though he didn’t raise us that way—

until I don’t say a thing. I just hold the shared bag of food up between us so he can grab another handful. Across the country, we are welcomed where we do not belong. We will recreate the way our family moved, whose borders we are following. Whose borders are we following?

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Benjamin Aleshire 2019 Words and Music Competition, creative noniction category, winner Love for Sale ow much for a love poem?” asks a young couple, clutching each other as if for dear life. Maybe they are. They’ve found me on Royal Street in the French Quarter, sitting at my Olivetti portable beneath the fortresses of balconies weeping with ivy. Doreen’s band is on the corner and she’s been holding a high-C on her clarinet for about ive minutes and then Just, a closer walk, with thee, she pleads. I’m smoking Pall Malls, hungover—wearing an arctic-white three-piece suit with dayold mauve carnations stuffed into the breast pocket. The bell of a sousaphone presses its way above the crush of crowds, nothing but a brass halo disappearing around the corner like an evaporating angel. I’ve soaked up this identical exquisite moment thrice daily for years—now I can reckon time by its mimesis, by Doreen’s recycled setlist and solos. “Pay me whatever you think it’s worth,” I tell the couple. “It’s a quasi-Marxist system: rich people give me one-hundreddollar bills, and homeless people give me nothing but good karma, which I desperately need. It all works out in the end— most people pay ten or twenty.” They titter because they’re in love, and I’m fulilling so many poetic stereotypes. His name is Matt and he has a wad of twenties thicker than my whole wallet. Her name is Cyndi and her vowels seem to have traded places. They met at a keg-stand six months ago, helpless to the electric innuendo sparking between their toned, happy bodies. Ribbed Solo-cups creaming over with foam. Celestial clockwork revolving furiously above them. Now, they’re getting married. “Come back in ten minutes,” I say, rolling a slip of pink paper and swiping the carriage in time to Doreen’s drummer. Ding. They stroll down the lagstones of Pirate’s Alley, leaning on each other, either out of affection or from a few rounds of Hurricanes. I am weak, but thou art strong, insists Doreen, the words echoing through the French Quarter’s labyrinth. I travel around the world and strangers pay me to write


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poems for them on a typewriter in the street—that’s how I’ve made my living for the last eight years. Often, I function as a Cyrano, a romantic-proxy, composing verses for blushing iancées, or horny teenagers, or wives to send to their husbands in a prison/army/offshore oil rig. Or beautiful wrinkled couples, still wooing on their 50th anniversaries. I write gay sex poems—I imagine my body being pierced and combined with another man, even though I haven’t yet experienced that particular earthly pleasure. The poems aren’t always romantic—strangers ask me to write about the rise of fascism, eco-collapse, dream-logic, suicidal ideation, lyrical necromancy. My typewriter becomes both confessor and inquisitor, tasked with humanizing and immortalizing in the same handful of minutes. One moment I’m hammering out an elegy for a still-born, and cataloguing a litany of psychedelic exploits the next. When it’s busy, I scribble a queue of bewildering topics on scraps of paper: Keenan—nuclear holocaust seen thru the eyes of a puppy Joanie—virginity delowered via cucumber Cathy—(KATHY)—scorpio rising & moon in Taurus Maria—digging to China Marc—Petrichor (the smell of earth after it rains) Bo—barb wire tattoos covering up evidence of slashing wrists


hat I rely on the money from these poems to pay my bills heightens the whole equation. “What’s your day job?” customers often ask. The more cynical of them add, “Daddy’s credit card must be nice.” When I tell them I don’t have a day job, my parents are dead, and all they left me was alone—a confused, mystical expression crosses their face. As if Fate itself has led them here, to a sinking city on the vanishing coastline of a dying planet, to stumble across my typewriter. As if the maw of this obsolete machine could be a portal to an authentic dimension where love reigns supreme, somewhere that is sadly often in the recent past. Sometimes my work borders on poetic prostitution, though I’m more harlequin than harlot. Only one block from Bourbon Street, where the real prostitutes ply their ancient trade, drunk white tourists armed with lime-green Hand

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Grenades demand me to immortalize their cat, who they’ve named after an African American hero, usually Satchmo. This crushes me. I feel tangible pain. Their poem might as well be a N’AWLINS! t-shirt featuring a voodoo-pirate crawish playing a saxophone. These are both the most dificult commissions and the poems that earn the most money, the ones that make me feel like a clown-whore, the ones where I don’t sign my name. Matt and Cyndi, though, are sweet—but didn’t give me much to go on. They met at a party, they work vague ofice jobs. I’ve written hundreds of engagement poems, so it can be a real problem to tailor something original for a couple who don’t offer any fresh information. My hangover throbs. Not so long ago, I thought of myself as too pure for self-plagiarizing—or too proud. But as Guiraut Riquier, the Last of the Troubadours, puts it: Now the world is mostly lies. A brief tinge of guilt pulses through me for recycling imagery, as I type up a new version of a poem I wrote years ago, when my friend Levi got hitched:

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att and Cyndi inish selie-ing with the helpless St. Louis Cathedral, and scan the poem. Some sort of clear liquid leaks out the corners of Cyndi’s eyes. Matt infers that he will be extra-laid tonight and slips me a twenty. Our pageantry is complete. As they evaporate into the crowd, Doreen scolds me: Love, oh love, careless love. You go to my head, just like wine. I look up and the skywriter’s airplane has stitched a :) face in wisps of cirrus above the cathedral spires—no wonder they wanted photos. I’m feeling so many emojis. Everyone is in love except me. I think of these poems not just as a service and a vocation, but an act of redemption. Or exorcism. I’ve been in love in a minor-key, a few times—but only once when I gave all of myself. Her name was Isabelle, three holy syllables on my eighteen-year old lips. I was almost virginal in those days. Isabelle would lead me through her father’s pastures barefoot and we’d lie down in the grass and she’d instruct me wordlessly while her dog licked our feet—she was the daughter of dairy farmers in rural Vermont, where I grew up. She played the violin and owned a record player and her serene intellect intimidated me. Her bed was always full of impossibly cool books, like Genet’s obscure plays in the original French, and smooth river-stones shaped like hearts that she’d leave between the sheets as we slept. One night, in the half-light of her book-illed bed I studied the galaxy of freckles on her face and suddenly I knew. I love you, I said simply, but Isabelle didn’t breathe a word. She reached between her legs and produced a volume of Rumi’s mystic poems and calmly opened it to the page that read Gamble everything for love/if you’re a true human being, as if she’d been patiently waiting for me to be ready for this very moment. She had a way of reciting litanies with a single look, as if language itself were inferior, and not worth using to describe the things we did to each other. I wrote my irst real poems for her—about her furious mane of dark hair, and the storms that passed over her seraphsailor’s eyes from time to time. That was twelve years ago. Isabelle is married now, to a handsome man—from what I can divine from the crystal ball of


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social media—and works for some valiant health organization. When I say words like redemption and exorcism, that’s just a poetic way of confessing I was an apprentice cad, and cheated on her. Twice. And lied. In the bed of someone I barely knew, in a bed without river-stones or books I made my body an estuary where a selish thrill and a sickening shame lowed into one another. Isabelle and I haven’t spoken in a decade—her forgiveness neither deserved nor forthcoming. Since then, I’ve roamed around the world, writing other people’s love poems, never in the same place long enough to date anyone for more than a year or two. Paris, New York, Havana, London, San Francisco, Berlin—a litany of cities I use, rushing to ill up my cistern of memory as strangers empty it out again, poem by poem, stufing their rumpled bouquets of currency in my hand. Ever since the grotesque aftermath of my mother’s death I’ve felt unmoored, cut loose from the real. As if I’ve entered a permanent déjà vu I won’t be hauled out of by anything other than falling in love again. Sometimes I think that by traveling, I’m searching for her—not Isabelle, but a woman as alchemical as her. Someone I would gamble everything for, to become the best-me, the person I was before I ruined and runed myself (though, once, in Marrakesh, in a penitent fever of hashish I swore I could see her leaning out of a balcony window, her dark hair taut in the wind, searching for my face in the marketplace crowd.) n the City that Care Forgot, the sun’s yolk slips beneath the rooftops on Royal Street. All the clowns and statues have broken character, smoothing out wrinkled bills into stacks. Doreen packs up her clarinet and has no more prophetic advice to sing until tomorrow. A rare breeze gusts through the Quarter and my poems go lying—I have to sprint and lunge and stamp on them like cockroaches to get them back. People trust me, a stranger, to write about love for them. What do I know about intimacy that permits me to do this? I’ve destroyed love callously—does that qualify me? I’ve mapped my grief over constellations no one else can see. I’ve lown thousands of miles in the belly of a metal bird. All those letters tattooed inside envelopes swollen thick as a hand—do they qualify me? Geographically, how many poems away from


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absolving myself can I be? Strangers must read these questions, glyphs carved on my face in an alphabet I feverishly translate, city by city. Strangers must sense that I don’t know any more about love than they do, but I want it just as badly. Either to sing it, or mourn it. Or both, in the same molasses-slow moment, when we discover the reason we are alive. That love is what wheels us through a dying world that doesn’t make sense. That we all thrust ourselves into the ire, again and again, only to be brought out stronger each time, hardened and forged, hopeful. Out beyond our ideas of right and wrong, there is a ield. Meet me there, said Rumi. The typewriter is only a cage, where a creature paces, spooled and inked among the silk ribbons, waiting. Is there some key, a codex, a hidden combination of letters that will let it out? All I can do is pray to love’s wildness, to that moment in the half-light, when sound rushes through our throats and all language falls away, useless.

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(photo facing page: Shack Up Inn, Clarksdale, Mississippi, at Sunset; James Cullen)

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Connor Sanders 2019 Words and Music Competition, Beyond the Bars category, winner Down Here I grew up in the bricks down here. No nice neighbors, no picket fence down here. It’s always dark, just like a trench down here. All you can feel is suspense down here. Ain’t nobody getting rich down here. People look through a different lens down here. That’s how it goes down here. These people snitch down here. My mamma sold our microwave to get a ix down here. Opportunity out of reach down here. No one practices what they preach down here. They don’t give us enough to eat down here. Man, these demons don’t go to sleep down here.

I promise one day they’ll know my name down here. It’s jealousy, envy, and hate down here. Living free seems out of range down here. And the devil’s the one to blame down here.

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Yoruba Baltrip-Coleman 2019 Words and Music Competition, poetry category, runner-up Pressing Day Perched on a short-backed chair, in the kitchen I wait Beside the remnants of breakfast, Scrambled eggs, grits, buttered toast and fried ham on a plate, all beneath a napkin. Bundled up alongside, the iron-toothed secret to straight happiness sleeps. Gospel music moans The living room record player, stiff and spotless among patterned loveseats and matching chairs beneath thick plastic, statues Strictly for grown-ups unless you want a whooping, so I sit quiet. It’s pressing day. The heavy comb is covered with care, but not to keep out Hidden within layers, the secret is sheathed inside two napkins and a face-towel, stained brown, never again to be white. A foil cocoon usually embraces the sleeping iron head, the wooden handle left on display. But not today. The giant has broken free from the depths of the lowest bathroom cabinet, soon to ignite muscles, nerves, and follicles into action. It’s pressing day. My dense coils and naps are eager to stretch out but the rest of me tenses, Leery of the coming bell toll, Waiting for the transformation from puffs to curls that hang. The secret whisper, soon to morph into the hiss of a snake, Is silent—for now. The singeing bite will come. Always does despite what anyone holding the altering tool has to say. Cotton to silk. Cotton or silk? It’s pressing day.

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Fat Granny, in white Sunday slip and stockings, surveys her domain. A pink towel draped down one chocolate shoulder like a sash, a tub of thick blue grease Held before her is my gift. She dials the stovetop burner to high, Wielding a comb long as a ruler, the sovereign scepter a reminder: Hold your head down—smack—sit still, hold your head down— smack—stop linching, Hold your head down—smack. I bow for mercy. It’s pressing day.

Stove glowing, Fat Granny peels away the layers of last month’s torment, The potent onion soon to make me cry. She lays the pressing iron on the crimson eye. An offering, Strands stripped from previous scalps crackle and sizzle. Caught in unforgiving iron teeth and preserved among the wrappings to dance and shrivel, inally lying heavenward in wisps of smoke. My stomach wiggles, full of breakfast and blooms of burnt hair and grease. It’s pressing day. Hands once used to strangle chickens and milk cows, Massage dollops of waxy blue pressing oil into the kinks at my nape. Iron imbued with glowing heat, singing the secret to my metamorphosis, Steams toward my ear, a missile tracking its target. I will myself to stay, yet cringe, hoping far away. What if I don’t want hair that hangs? Who doesn’t? “Hold your head down.” It’s pressing day.

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Matthew Kelsey Survival of a Breadwinner Look at him there, my brother, not quite squared up to the camera, his suit holding his body perfectly still. Herringbone. Cuff links. Twinkle in the little gunmetal tie bar, if not in his eye. He looks at once obedient and bold, all shoulders and dimples, a model years ahead of himself. The agency for which he works is tucked in a JCPenney. The background is soft. The frames in which he exists suggest he is safe. How sweet these lies. Outside, winter, a matter of fact. The ice snaps tight and nothing gives. Outside the catalog pages, a mother and father sleep off a lifetime of nights. One small boy fades in a crib. That’s me before I knew it, before I held this portrait in my hands. Look at him, all ive years of him squat in the chair, knees bent a perfect 90 degrees. He is our family’s lone provider, small pride, but what good’s his bread without a helping hand to set the table?

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Alex Jennings 2019 Words and Music Competition, short story category, honorable mention


All His Teeth

hat you want us to do with him?” Treece asked. Talent Ravel glared at the corpse slumped in the wooden chair. Just then, the shack shook in a high wind. The heavy breeze seemed lost, as if after sheering around the buildings in the Central Business District it had hit the Mississippi and skated upstream. When the river turned, the wind kept on straight, tumbling ashore and shaking the shack on its stilts. “Put him in his car and roll it into the lake,” Talent said. His voice was lat and his words were clipped. His speech snapped even, like hospital corners. He had worked hard to get it that way. “You want us to burn him irst?” Talent sighed. “Is that what I asked you to do?” “I don’t—What?” “Did I say to burn the body irst?” “Naw. You said—” Talent looked sideways at his lieutenant. Patrice Mimms was lightly built, lean with a sharp nose and cheeks that made him look carved from African wood. Talent sometimes wondered if his mother insisted he keep Treece close because Treece was so easy to look at. “Do you think I forgot to include that crucial bit of instruction?” “Naw, you probably—Naw. You woulda remembered.” “So how about you put the body in his car and roll it into Lake Pontchartrain for me,” Talent said. “Can you do that?” “Well—” Talent simply turned away and left Treece standing alone before the tied-down corpse. He stepped into the bathroom and washed his hands. He did not look at his relection. Instead, he examined his ingers and palms—the knobby, scarred knuckles. He wondered what a fortuneteller would make of his left palm, of the scar slashing diagonally down its middle. Had that injury

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altered his fate? Talent’s cell phone buzzed in the front left pocket of his gabardine slacks. Talent inished drying his hands and answered it. “Hello?” “It’s Mamaw.” “I know. Caller ID.” “Come see me, boy.”


t was Thursday, which meant pizza for lunch. Talent Baptichon was already thinking ahead, hoping he could get one of the slightly burnt squares with the browned-but-notblackened cheese at the edges. The classroom smelled of chalk dust, milk, and faintly of mold. First-grade self-portraits hung on the wall to Talent’s right, brightly colored and wobbly. Talent sat criss-cross on the rainbowed carpet before the central chalkboard, huddled, as if for warmth. Mrs. Martsch stood in front, leading the class in a recitation of the Alphabet Song, complete with silly examples for each letter. “Okay!” Ms. Martsch called brightly. “Line Leader, please line up!” Talent uncoiled like a spring and bounded to the classroom door. He had waited weeks to be named Line Leader in his irst-grade class, enduring stints as Board Eraser, Light Switcher, and Caboose. This was his time to shine. He’d even practiced, watching soldiers line up and march on TV. His uncle Wilmer had explained to him that soldiers gathered into columns, which were multiple lines compounded, but the rationale was basically the same. Thinking of his uncle made Talent’s head hurt, so he stopped. With his title bestowed by the teacher herself, no one could question Talent’s position. They lined up with Quiet Fingers and Voices Off and headed for the bathrooms before going out to recess. In the bathroom, Talent policed his classmates, making sure to stop any trouble before it could start. Last week, August Dolan had slipped into the girls’ bathroom instead of the boys room, and the entire class had lost their recess to a lecture about following directions and being First Time Listeners.

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Thinking back to last week felt strange to Talent. It was as if he looked in on another life. He knew something terrible had happened since then, something irreversible. But if he was good enough, if he set an example to the other kids who were still waiting for their birthdays and hadn’t yet turned six, maybe nothing like that ever had to happen again. alent’s late-model Nissan Altima was beginning to get on his nerves. It sat so low to the ground that getting in it made him feel like he was halfway lying down. When he irst got the car, he had loved that feeling. It felt luxurious but not ostentatious. Talent didn’t believe in luxury—almost hated it. The worst thing he could imagine was that anyone could see him coming. He liked to present himself as an average man living within his means. From I-10 he took the Claiborne exit and descended into Central City. He crossed MLK and turned up Felicity, arrowing slowly through the neighborhood. When he arrived on Josephine Street, he parked outside a green, blue, and white double. His knuckles throbbed as he locked the car. There had been a time when he could have left it unlocked, idling, with the key in the ignition, and the Altima would have sat untouched, running until its gas was gone. That was before the indictments, though. These days, everyone in the neighborhood knew Talent, knew his car, but more and more kids were drifting in from Hollygrove, from Treme—not thugs, not gangsters of the old school, but kids who had seen one too many hip-hop videos and thought they were hard. Their behavior was at best dificult to predict, and at worst, reckless in the extreme. Talent didn’t mind visiting his wrath on anyone who crossed him or the Family, but he wasn’t interested in hurting kids.



uanita Duplass—Mamaw—had been a singer in her day. Her girl group, the Euphonics, had cut a few minor hits in the late sixties, and life in the music business had brought her within the reach of Alfonso Ravel. She had left the group, married Alfonso, and taken an active hand in the business. After Fonzo had his irst stroke, she ran the business herself

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while he was incapacitated. The changes she made helped things run a little smoother with the Jews and the Italians. With proits up, nobody had seen a reason to challenge her rule. Well. Nobody but Talent’s uncle, Wilmer. With Wilmer gone, Mamaw had adopted Talent as her own. Talent had never asked her why, or what she had seen in him. He knew.


amaw dusted the living room while Talent sat and watched. Years ago, he had tried to get someone in to clean the place for her, but Mamaw was too territorial. She didn’t want anyone else in her kitchen cooking, and she didn’t want anyone messing with her things. The young Dominican girl Talent hired lasted all of three days. Talent had had to pay her for a full month and explain to her that her violent-ass exboyfriend, and not sweet old Mamaw, had broken her eye-socket. “What’s bothering you?” Talent asked as Mamaw lingered over a photograph of Fonzo. “Trang wants to open a restaurant on O.C. Haley,” she said latly. Talent grunted. “This isn’t that sort of neighborhood. She should head to the West Bank if she wants a new space.” “That’s the word I sent. She wants to have a sit-down and iron it out.” Phuong Trang was a bird-boned gangster queen who ruled much of New Orleans East through a mixture of fear and razor-sharp business acumen. She didn’t exist on paper, but she owned restaurants, bingo parlors, and an army of dead-eyed soldier-boys willing to do anything she ordered. “The Vietnamese are disciplined,” Talent said. “Mrs. Trang knows how to keep things running smooth.” “What you saying?” “That letting them in for the time being might be a good idea,” he said. “When we’re stronger, we might be able to push them back out.” “We might could,” Mamaw allowed. “Maybe.” “They know we’re weak since the arrests. If they want to set up shop bad enough, there’s little we can do about it.” “We ain’t dead yet,” Mamaw said. “We more than a

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business.” “What else are we?” “We proof there’s more to Central City than little niggas playing Cowboys and Indians. Trang testing too hard. The way things like this work is somebody go to you, and then you come to me. Trang think she can go straight to the top. Now when we meet, I gotta ind a reason to cut up rough, and you gonna back me. It could get ugly.” “Goes without saying.” Talent nodded briskly. “But that’s just regular business.” “Von in town.” Talent rocked back in his chair. No one had seen or heard from his brother in years. “Lamar seen him in the Quarter with a woman. Followed him. He’s staying at the Monteleone.” “Why …? What …?” “Bring him to me.” Talent swallowed. “Yes,” he said. “Right away.” Mamaw shook her head. “Not a scratch.” Talent bit his lip, nodded. “Soon as I can.”


he Hotel Monteleone had operated since the 1880s. It was one of those swank French Quarter places that reminded Talent of a Cake Boss cake—or one of those butter sculptures you’d see on the news. The lobby smelled of brass, wood polish, and something else—Books? The combination created an aroma that Talent thought of simply as “rich,” although he was aware there was likely no name for it. He didn’t have to wonder whether Levon or his girl were in their room—He had set a tail on them as soon as he left his mother’s house, and they were lunching at Bayona. Talent was dressed impeccably, as usual. He wore an old-fashioned gray wool suit with braces, powder blue and brown Oxfords, a starched ultramarine shirt, and a skinny brown necktie. Carefully deployed colors, no outlandish fabrics— He’d never understood why so many pimps wore what amounted to a sandwich board reading, “I AM PIMP. PLEASE HASSLE ME, THE LAW.” Talent extracted Von’s room number from the girl at the desk with relative ease. He didn’t threaten or cajole; he simply

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asked. His bearing and speech made her think he was an oficial of some kind. Once she gave up the info, Talent slipped her a ifty and left her without regret.


he hotel was unusually busy for a Thursday. Some sort of festival or conference this weekend. Bookish white folks streamed up and down the halls, gabbling like chickens in a pen. Talent didn’t think about Von. He didn’t think about what had brought Von back to town, or why he’d left in the irst place. He didn’t think about why Mamaw had allowed Levon to go away to college while she insisted Talent stay close. He didn’t think about his Uncle Wilmer’s bloody ruined face, or the smell he made in the shack as he shit himself dying. He reached into his pocket and ingered the door hacker he’d bought on a whim months ago. It was disguised as a dry erase marker.


ith Wilmer gone, Mamaw had ordered her man Luce to take Talent home to his Aunt Juju. The next day, he’d gone to school like nothing happened. He was six years old. He didn’t remember those three days he spent back at Juju’s house, but he knew something violent had happened at school. After that, Juju wouldn’t have him at the house and Mamaw had taken Talent to live with her and Levon and the fading Alfonso. What Talent remembered most clearly was how thrilled Von had been. He was small for his age, bookish and smart even then. Talent was only a year older, chubby, with skin so dark it made his eyes look redder than they were. Talent wasn’t sure what day it was, but he remembered Levon looking up from his Legos. “You my brother now?” Talent shrugged. “Ioknow.” “You are,” Von chirped. “Help me with the battlements. We need slits for the archers. They’re gonna be too big cuz it’s Legos, but we gotta make them anyway.” Talent sat down with him and got to work.

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hey were staying in the Faulkner Suite. It had light blue pin-striped wallpaper, rich cream-colored carpets, and heavy-looking, dark wooden furniture. It smelled of books and tanned leather. The bed looked so inviting that Talent almost climbed into it. Instead, he looked around the room until he found Von’s laptop. After a few tries, Talent knew what the password must be: “DonkeyWhoadie151,” after a bit he and Von had improvised, drunk on white rum, one night back in high school. Typing it in embarrassed Talent, but the computer gave up its secrets. Talent clicked the directional pad lazily, watching each photo replace the last. Here was Levon with his woman. Talent could tell she was even better looking in real life. Mahogany skin with round, ine features, and sharp brown eyes that said her body might have been constructed for sex, but her mind was aire with an intellect that would frighten most men. The two of them looked out of every photo as if enjoying a private joke at the world’s expense. In one picture, they held their smiling faces close together, both looking up as a jungle vista raced motionless into the distance behind them. The caption read “Brownsberg, Surinam.” Then another, the two of them canoodling beside what Talent realized must be the Great Wall of China. Another photo: This time, both Von and his girl were in costume, amid a sea of revelers. Halloween? No. Broad daylight. Mardi Gras. But not here. Mobile, maybe? Talent sucked his teeth. It wasn’t anger, or jealousy, or even greed that he felt. It was … it was loss. Levon had found a life outside the family. Talent didn’t mind taking out the trash. Mamaw never sent him after anyone who seemed genuinely good … but even if he didn’t mind it, could he be doing something else? Should he? Talent’s phone buzzed. He answered. “Yeah.” “They headed for the Brewery,” Treece said. “On my way.”



ax Brewery had stopped brewing beer decades ago. Nowadays it was a complex full of stores selling knickknacks, a depressing little food court, and some satellite restaurants uniformly avoided by locals. It perched beside the

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streetcar tracks alongside the steamboat landing and the muddy river. It took Talent barely ten minutes to walk over from the Monteleone—and only that long because every so often he was caught walking behind a knot of lollygagging tourists who kept pausing to gawk at the architecture. It was cold today—colder than usual for mid-October. The Quarter smelled a little like the inside of a well-kept freezer. That beat the summer aromas of booze, B.O. and drunken vomit. Talent found Treece standing outside the CVS on the Brewery’s bottom loor. Trafic ran a little too quickly down Decatur. Treece kept following the cars with his eyes. Talent could tell the news was bad before the other man opened his mouth. “He ain’t in there,” Treece blurted. Talent’s ingers twitched. They wanted to ball into ists. “What? What did you say?” “He, ah …. We looked all through the place? Nothing.” Treece swallowed hard. “He musta took one of the other exits.” “Then … are you all still here?” “Yuh—Yeah.” Talent almost slapped the stutter out of his lieutenant’s mouth. The impulse warned him that he didn’t know how he looked right now. He wasn’t controlling his presentation. He didn’t mind Treece seeing his anger, but he didn’t want it seen straight-on. Talent wanted to show only an edge of it, to be used as a spur. “Well. We … we was awaiting your orders and shit. Like, I wasn’t sure we should—I wasn’t sure we should go after him.” “No you shouldn’t have just fucking gone goddamn after him!” Talent snarled. He heard himself from a remove, wondering why he was this emotional. “Half of you go after him, and the other half would—Just …! If this was a movie, this is where I kill you to make a point.” “Please—” “I can’t afford to kill you, dipshit! The worst thing— the single fucking worst thing is you are the smartest of the goddamn crew. You stupid …! Find me a dog to kick!” “A dog—?” “Shut up. You shut the fuck up! Put one of the crew at

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every entrance and exit at the hotel. Have them report to you every hour.” he next morning, Talent left his apartment on Saint Andrew and Baronne and headed up to Saint Charles. There, he made his way to the neutral ground where the streetcars ran and took off jogging, headed uptown. It was no surprise that Von had declined to contact Talent or Mamaw, but that didn’t mean that Talent understood why. After graduating from Hampshire College, Von had moved out west to Seattle, then down to California in the space of a couple years, following work. A streetcar bell sounded on Talent’s right. He swerved toward the grassy middle of the strip, letting the trolley chug by. The night he got the job, Levon had recounted his Google interview over the phone. To Talent, the whole thing sounded like bullshit head-games. The calls came less and less often, the mix CDs he sent Talent every other month became seasonal, then came not at all. No one had heard from Levon in eight years. Now Talent was running full-tilt. Sweat lathered his body. He wished he’d put on a headband, because the sweat ran into his eyes, stinging. Guilt stalked at Talent’s heels as he sprinted down the neutral ground. He and Mamaw had never discussed Von’s silence. Their kinship was not of that kind. They cared for each other in other ways. And then, the arrests. Cousin Deke had been hauled in by Homicide on a ishing expedition. They’d had no idea what had become of the Ravels’ disappeared enemies other than that they were surely dead, but—and Talent still didn’t understand it—Deke had talked. He had talked long and hard. Using Deke’s information, the NOPD made upwards of seventy arrests. During the busts, Talent and Mamaw made plans to lee New Orleans. It looked as if the business was done for. By the time the dust cleared, though, they were still standing, and had enough of a skeleton crew to maintain brisk business traficking drugs and bitches. That was three years ago. Things still hadn’t quite


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settled down. So what did Levon want? Did he really believe he couldn’t contact his family without sullying his Buppy reputation? Did their very existence threaten his high-toned Google job? And if it did, why in hell was he in town? urveilling the Monteleone did no good. Talent wasn’t surprised when two days went by without any sign of Von. He might not be in the Life, but Google had hired him because he was a smart motherfucker. What Talent didn’t see coming was Von pulling up outside Mamaw’s spot in a rented Chrysler. Talent had come over to discuss this week’s light envelope from one of their strip clubs and was on his way out when the car pulled up. The Chrysler boasted tinted windows, but Talent knew Von was inside. The sedan parked across the street and after a few beats Levon unfolded himself into the late morning. At the sight of him, Talent felt a pang of something like terror. “Mamaw—” Talent began, but as soon as he spoke, he realized she was at his elbow. “Go into the kitchen,” she said. “Pour us all some sweet tea.” Talent had just illed the irst glass when Mamaw and Von entered the room. Mamaw sat at the formica table against the north wall. From there she could keep an eye on both the kitchen doors. Von sat across from her. Broad-shouldered, somewhat fat. The back of his neck looked like a couple sausage links. He turned to look at Talent over his shoulder. “What’s good?” Talent just watched him for a beat, then handed him the sweet tea. He poured another glass for their mother, but none for himself. “This isn’t the irst time I come back,” Levon said. “I came by myself once, about ive years back. It was … I don’t know how to describe it.” “You didn’t call,” Mamaw said. “You didn’t write.” “I know, Ma,” Von said. “I know. I just … it was like I lost the—the vocabulary, you heard?” “The vocabulary?” Talent asked. “I sent you to school,” Mamaw said. “You got your degree.”


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“Ma.” “You remember when them Denny boys chased you all through the neighborhood and you came crying to the back door?” “Ma ….” “You remember what I said?” Von looked at his hands. “‘A Ravel don’t run home crying.’” She nodded. “I told you either you stay out there and take your beating from them boys or ask me to send Talent out there for you.” Levon looked away. Talent tasted metal. “Yeah,” Von said slowly. “And what did you do?” He met her gaze. “I took my beating.” Now Talent crossed to the table and sat to glare at Von. “What do you want?” “Tal—” Talent shook his head. “Why are you here? Why now? It’s not like you just remembered us all of the sudden.” “We—I’m getting married,” Von said. “It didn’t seem … it wouldn’t be right to just mail invitations.” “You been here for days,” Talent said. “Did you think we wouldn’t know?” “I was working up the nerve.” “Prodigal Son returned,” Talent sneered. “Hallelujah.” “Talent,” Mamaw said. Talent ignored her. “You here to invite us to your wedding?” Talent asked. “Or are you asking us to stay away?” “I want you there. I just need you both to … Listen.” Levon paused, took a breath. “I’m not sure how to say this. I want us to be in each other’s lives. I want us to be a family. But … all this y’all do here, all this …? This can’t be part of my family’s life. You’re welcome to visit us in California or wherever else, whenever you want. Just … we ain’t coming here.” “Without this business you wouldn’t have that job of yours,” Mamaw said. Von nodded, as if he’d expected that. “I know.” “This business kept a roof over your head. Kept food in

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your belly.” “I know that,” Von said. “I do. But I’ve thought about this a lot. I’ve spent years.” “Have you told her about us?” Mamaw asked. “Does she know? What’s her name? Who is she?” “Her name is Nichelle. I’ve told her some.” “I hear what you saying, Levon,” Mamaw said. “Bring Nichelle to Sunday dinner, and … and we’ll work it out.” alent drank for free at Verret’s, so that’s where he went. The place was on the small side, with a little courtyard out back. Inside, the bar boasted red velvet chairs and booths, green shag carpet, and old-fashioned Tiffany lamps. Talent remembered the place from before Katrina. It had sat vacant and molding for years after the storm, but with the aid of a consultant from the neighborhood, a new buyer had restored the place to its former glory. The dinge had already begun to set in and nowadays it looked exactly right. No craft cocktails, no expensive sandwiches, just beers and a few simple cocktails. Smoking was no longer allowed indoors, but the place still smelled pleasantly of tobacco. Talent started in with gin and tonic, with more gin and less tonic each time. Within three cocktails, he had graduated to gin, straight. The bartender left him the bottle and by then he understood that he was out to get broke the fuck down. He wasn’t even surprised when Levon walked in. Levon’s nose was humped from a break and his eyes were a bit hollower than Talent’s. His eyebrows looked professionally done, and if his nails hadn’t been manicured, then Talent was the King of Djibouti. Von took a seat at the table and watched Talent drink. Talent thought to tell Von that the sight of him had ruined Talent’s drunk but thought better of it. “So,” he said. “So.” “I meant what I said,” Von said. “Y’all are welcome to visit anytime.” “And you told her about us? About me?” “Nigga, I told her all about you!” “What’s that mean?”


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“Not talking to you was the hardest part, bruh,” Von said. “I missed you deep. I just …” “You just what?” Talent asked. Von shook his head sadly. “Our family being the way it is, there’s some shit that’s better off unsaid, you feel me?” Talent wanted to be angry but couldn’t summon the focus. A vast continent of rage lay somewhere beyond his reach. Every now and then Talent sensed it, vast, mad, deathless. He could channel a little of it through him—enough to commit an act of overwhelming violence—but he’d never explored it. He had never ventured that far into himself. “Listen,” Von said. “Let’s bounce. I can take you home, or you can come back to the hotel with me. We got a dope-ass sofa in the suite.” “I know,” Talent said. “I saw.” “You been in our room?” “The Faulkner Suite?” Talent said with a sideways grin. “My job is my job.” “We staying somewhere else now. Listen: You talk like that on purpose?” He asked. “No accent or nothing? I had to work to keep mine, ya heard? But you burned yours off.” “I thought about burning my ingerprints off,” Talent said. “When I was maybe, you know, nineteen? No good could come from having them, so I igured I’d—You know, if I had an accent, it would be Haitian. I’d rather have none.” “Haitian. Is that how you think of yourself?” “How do you think of me?” “You know,” Von said. “You my brother.” Talent thought of the photographs he’d seen on Von’s computer. He thought of that look Von and Nichelle had. Like they shared a joke on the world. They did share a joke, Talent realized now. On him. On everyone. For all time. That was the last straw. That was when Talent knew he’d kill his brother. evon opened the rental’s driver’s side door and made to get in. Talent took a step forward, intending to slam Von’s left leg in the car door, cripple him, at least a bit, but Von shoved the door back on Talent, staggering him. Talent caught his balance, and arced a ist at his brother’s chin just as he emerged back out


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of the car. Pain fogged Levon’s glare, but he kept coming. He grasped Talent’s windpipe with his right hand and drove his left ist into Talent’s right kidney once, twice, three times. Talent knew he needed to get Von off him, put some distance between them, maybe blind his brother, but he couldn’t summon the will. He felt himself so near that massive continent of rage, but he could no more climb ashore than he could summon the ghost of Al Hirt. Was he crying? He was crying. Levon had stopped his assault, and now his arms were around Talent. He pressed Talent’s head against his chest, and they shook together, weeping. “Leggo,” Talent slurred. “I need—!” He pushed away, giving himself just enough clearance to puke in the gravel bordering Washington Avenue. He knelt on all fours, still heaving. “It’s your fault,” he said. “Yours.” “I thought everyone knew the truth,” Levon said. “I didn’t even try to hide it, at irst.” “Bullshit. You told everyone I fought for you,” Talent said. “You told everyone I was the violent one. The one who liked it.” “I was a kid. I didn’t know.” “They killed my uncle in front of me. Right before my eyes. Mamaw beat him until he was nothing.” “What?” “I pretend I don’t remember. I pretend I don’t think about it. I pretend because if I don’t, I’ll have to hate you all. I’ll have to take revenge! But I want a family, Von! I want a mother and a brother and people who give a fuck about me because Wilmer was the only one—!” “I didn’t know,” Von said hoarsely. “You never asked,” Talent said. “I made myself a muh— monster for you people!” “Talent.” “Fuck you.” He dragged himself to his feet. “Don’t you show up Sunday. Don’t you dare. You might be crazier than me. You might be harder than me, but I got skills.” Talent took a breath. He was much nearer his rage now, but it wasn’t a continent anymore. It was like another man, standing behind him and to the left. “I’m out here in these streets! I run Central

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City! You come in my neighborhood again, I’ll fucking kill you. Mother fuck what Mamaw says.” Levon just stared at him. “I thought we was playing,” he said. “Like when we was kids.” “Because you’re crazy, Levon,” Talent spat. “You’re a crazy, violent animal from a whole fucking family of them, and your fucking children will inherit your stain.” Levon just watched, lost for words. “I don’t owe you shit,” Talent said. “We’re not brothers. You’re as little to me as I been to you for years now.” “I’m sorry,” Levon said again. The pain in his expression couldn’t be denied. He turned and got back in his rental car. He sat staring forward for a beat, and Talent almost screamed at him to drive away. A roar. Talent wasn’t sure whether he had made the sound or it had reached him from up the street. A beat-up Hyundai turned slowly onto Washington and glided toward them in the dark. Trang. When the shooting started, Talent locked eyes with Levon and began to laugh. It felt good to admit how absurd this all was. The laughter rolled through him from his legs, warming his body even as the hot bullets entered it. He kept laughing as the impact carried him backwards. alent Baptichon held his breath all the way to the school’s north doors. He had imagined dying this way more than once, had imagined holding his breath until his vision swam and dimmed, until he was no more. Every time he tried, though, he gave up before any of that could happen, took a huge whoop of air. What would it take to stay the course? He let go and breathed just as his foot crossed the threshold and he was outside. It was unseasonably warm. He would be more than comfortable in his blue and white Detroit Lions Jersey and polka-dotted pants. He didn’t think about Uncle Wilmer. Instead, he ran for the climber and monkeyed up the rope net and crossed the little wooden bridge toward the ireman’s pole. As he reached the pole, a push stole Talent’s balance, and he half swung, half fell into the hole there, landing hard in the sand. For a moment, he chided himself, hating that he’d lost his


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balance, but then he remembered the push. He looked up as August Dolan dropped through the hole to stand before him. “The fuck you watching me pee for, nigga?” August demanded. “You a fuckin dyke or something, muhfucka?” Dyke? Talent had never heard that word, but something told him August was misusing it. “I didn’t want no trouble,” he said without thinking. “Well, now you got trouble, dyke muhfucka!” August held a broken compass in his right hand—at least, that was what Talent thought it was called. He’d seen the big kids using tools like this to draw lines on graph paper and measure angles. Talent knew by now that he should panic. Here was the sort of Bad Thing he had been trying with all his might to avoid. Unless he steered this situation aright—and quickly— Bad Things would keep happening. People Talent loved, people who were nice to him and bought him Snoballs and football jerseys would keep getting strapped to chairs and hurt over and over until— Talent raised his hands to shield himself, and August slashed. The pain was bright, hot, and comforting. It wasn’t until he felt his lesh laid open that Talent realized he wasn’t afraid. The worst had already happened. His world had died. August Dolan was just some kid who hated Talent for being fat. Talent balled his ists and rocketed up from the sand. Before he could reach the other boy, August crumpled and went down. Levon stood over him, teeth bared, eyes wild. “What did you do?” Talent asked. Levon dropped the brick. “Run,” Talent said. “Get away.” He could feel the adults on recess duty preparing to turn their attention this way. August must have had some of his boys engineer a distraction, but by now it was dissolving. Levon turned without a word and sprinted away. Talent wavered for a moment, looking down at August, who did not move at all. He was bleeding from the side of his head where Von had hit him. Talent picked up the brick, realizing even as he did that it was a mistake. Still, there was no shack, no wet sounds of Uncle Wilmer trying to breathe. How bad could it be?

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“Talent!” Ms. Martsch barked, her voice cracked with panic. “Oh my God! Oh my God!” Talent turned to her and shrugged, then grinned, showing all his teeth.

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Gizmo: The Lone Indian, Flag Boy Gizmo on St Joseph’s Night, March 19, 2020, COVID-19; James Cullen

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Kate Leland 2019 Words and Music Competition, poetry category, honorable mention The Morning After My Brother’s Suicide Onscreen, Elizabeth watches golden leopards skulk nighttime treetops in Kenya. Outside her window a pond steams across grasslands and she ills herself with heavy air. This is the exact moment

she becomes queen. That morning sleep clung to my sheets like jungle fog until I rolled over and found four missed phone calls. Not one from him. In England, King George bled blocked lungs into white sheets while the sun rose over the British Empire. It was hours before Elizabeth knew what she lost in the night. Months later, I will remember the dryer bell ringing, how I woke just enough to turn over and drop back to sleep. Five hundred miles away, my brother crept down the stairs of our father’s house with an electrical cord. Now I long for the pristine grief of that irst hour. Each bright morning is a betrayal of haircuts, a new movie in theatres, and eggs spoiling in the refrigerator. Queen Elizabeth pens letters on black-edged, stationary. Is there is an empire large enough to hold this loss?

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Kate Leland 2019 Words and Music Competition, poetry category, honorable mention We Say Pain and It Means According to Which Organ After Jack Gilbert “Forgotten Dialect of the Heart” Long ago, a man in Greece would have spoken of his aching spleen the way I mean it now when I say, my heart is breaking. French wrings all the bile out of “spleen” until it becomes “splénétique,” meaning simple sadness. Plato thought this darkness grew in each lobe of the liver, and Zang-fu medicine says we hold grief between breaths. Last year, I wrote you into my ribcage. But if I really knew which organ inside of me was feverish with this grief, I would peel all my skin off just to get at it. Instead, I pull my car to the side of the highway again and scream like I am breathing. We will never understand the pain of daily gentle breath against your raw skin and how unbearable it became to be alive. But Brady, I believe you. I know you felt like you had to choke it out of your body, how it felt like you might die from that yell inside you. Sometimes I still think I can call you back, as if you’re somewhere I might reach. Like I am driving away from the ocean, and you are the wet, salt-stained air that hangs on miles inland.

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Tiara Brown 2019 Words and Music Competition, poetry category, honorable mention Capsized Now remember the last time you saw her, says your therapist. You seal your eyes, smell incense. See the mahogany box’s silk lining cradle her swollen body. You imagine how they may have found her. Face down, ducked under water. You recall that the rescue boat capsized, that “her body wasn’t recovered until the evening.”

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Kaitlin Murphy-Knudsen 2019 Words and Music Competition, short story category, honorable mention Rescue


he drove the freeway with a white-knuckled hold on relief, her car stacked only with the belongings whose utility weighed more than the anchor of shared memory. Purse. Laptop. Phone. Two suitcases. No wedding presents, no matter how useful. Clothes the conman had hated, her bright tie-dye dress, a yoga tank that turned her torso into a yin-yang symbol, pre-marriage clothes that had all gone underground in a bottom drawer, waiting him out. An expensive interview outit to wear in Houston—though since she’d been wearing it when she met him, this one would bite the dust as soon as she could replace it. A pillow and blanket for rest stops; though the pillow’s insides had been pummeled to broken clumps of polyester-cotton blend on bad nights spent in the guest room, which was still decorated in the homey pre-conman collection. A few bottles of water and snacks from the pantry she needed for the trip. On the day he’d broken into her email, she’d ended her dependence on the cloud for everything but music. Pink and Christina Aguilera had gotten her to the border, and when she’d passed from the panhandle into Alabama she’d found respite in the sun giving its last sigh over a glade that stretched to the Gulf beyond the loblolly pines. Hold onto the relief, she coached herself. She knew from past attempts that it would fade with the foaming questions of what came next, with the costly doubts about how, exactly, she was supposed to put things she couldn’t remember back together, to reconstruct a disassembled self in an entirely different life. It was like those programs that took a movie and let someone fake-ly cut themselves into it, never quite looking real in the original ilm. And so, she held onto it, the relief, the thing stronger than she was that sucked her down into the present, blocking everything from her view but the thin line of road that pulled her toward the horizon like hope. Then she saw the seal. About ifty yards ahead, it moved slowly toward the right of the highway, limping on one side and

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forelipper. She blinked hard. Her brights were on, and she had full view of the animal as she passed. Seal? Sea lion? It was bigger than any seal she’d ever seen. Ok, the only one she’d ever seen had been at the zoo as a kid, but anyone would know a seal when they saw one, right? Then, just as it reached the side of the road she saw a second one, struggling behind the irst, hurrying as if chasing it. It was facing her as she approached, and raised a lipper in her direction. She looked in the rearview, where it waved to the car behind her. It was true that she had not been the most keen of observers lately but, what? Should she stop? Put herself alone at the side of a highway in the hot purple-black night, with two injured and scared animals who were bigger than her? She picked up her phone, knowing she was breathless, not caring how she sounded as she spoke to the 911 dispatcher and estimated her location. “A seal, you said? You’re sure?” “A pair of them, at least one injured. I think one of them waved at me. They need help! Do you do that? I mean, for seals?” They put her on hold, for a longer time than she thought was reasonable for an animal to wait. “Are you driving?” “Yes.” “Are you able to pull over at the next exit? Report exactly where you are?” She realized now, it was dark. Not suburban ambient world dark, but the snoring-pickerel-frogs, copperheads-at-yourfeet, aim-to-kill-you dark of the rural wetlands she had camped by as a kid. Hidden moonlight. She had pulled off the highway but hadn’t noticed a sign. It was typical of her state of mind these last few weeks. Scattered, unsure as she’d ever been. She’d stood frozen at the deli counter the day before, unable to commit to a lunch order lest it be the wrong decision. Yes, she had left, but the energy required for that one right decision had drained every other decision-making resource from her brain and abilities. The local road was empty. No street signs. “I’m sorry. I can’t. Actually I have to go. I don’t know where I am. Please help the seals. I think they love each other. I don’t know what I mean by that.” She hung up the phone and, based on neither logic nor instinct, turned down a road. She thought of the phone call to her friend the week before, the effort

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to hide her desperation for someone with her head on straight to know, to just tell her what came next. They hadn’t spoken for six years, ever since she’d dropped off the planet to join the conman on his. “Look at you,” her friend had said, without a word on her exit from their former friendship. “You rescued yourself. Don’t forget that. Now come to my house before you change your mind.” She ached at the sound of her friend’s voice, wanted to extract the familiar tenderness, the conidence a voiceprint can carry to a friend and make it land inevitable on her hesitating will. The road turned to dirt and mud before her, and after a few minutes, maybe an hour, she faced a wood fence that had rotted open, allowing her to pass. Where cypress trees overcame the road, she bumped around them, catching glimpses of water in their forests beyond. She breathed the ripe steam of summer wetlands that snaked through the vents of her car. She stopped, closed her eyes, and pressed her thumbs into the sockets to think. Lost. Too narrow to go around all the ways of defeat. She started up again and felt the tires catch in the mud, revved it forward but slid to the right, downward. Had it been a road at all? She downshifted and tried to regain control. She didn’t realize she’d shifted into neutral until it was too late. Seconds of slide and a black meadow of water gaped below her, surrounded by oaks, cypress, and switchgrass. A calm appeared while she watched herself descend. She unlatched her seatbelt and tried to unlock the sticky door lock she’d reasoned wasn’t worth ixing on such an old car, switching at the last second to the window, which lowered while she waited as if a mere onlooker before calamity. She hit the water, coasting sideways for a moment before the car began to sink. She crawled out the window and swam upward against the efforts of everything she owned to suck her back down. Only after she had spotted the rock and begun to swim toward it did she feel an urgent need to go back and salvage what she could. That old Civic had been a safer home in the last week than her previous home had been in the last ive years. Except for its few quirks she’d learned to live with like the annoying habits of someone she’d gotten used to, it was dependable. Plus, it had everything in it. Her phone still might work. She turned back. At that moment she remembered

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her mother, and the thought of the thick bodies of cottonmouths with their standing-up irises, naegleria fowleri brain eating amoeba, and the glow of round eyes she saw now, were between her and the shore about twenty yards away changed her mind. Two gators, one in the water and one resting on a slope of land across the pond. She swam hard, climbed onto the rock, her eyes adjusting to the night. Her elbows scraped raw against its edges. She found the gators again, their eyes still in moonlight. Unconcerned, or waiting?


er father would have known what to do. He had grown up swimming in Florida’s estuaries and lakes, though as he told it, developers and northern transplants had taken that Florida away, denuding God’s fertile country of its mangroves, gopher tortoises, redhead ducks, and every other kind of Gulf and wetland beauty of his childhood with manufactured beachfront properties, strip malls, and Northern politics, which he minded only slightly less than their greed. In the stories he told in an air-conditioned kitchen pressed on all sides by the endless Florida heat, his nostalgia for old Florida was bested only by his laments for the woman her mother—a northern transplant herself—used to be, their debates about it suggesting mysteries of motherhood and marriage she’d never found the vocabulary to question. “Your mother used to love this old swamp as much as I do,” he’d said to her before one of their camping trips, none of which her mother would participate in, and would spend days punishing him afterward for the risks he took with their daughter. “We used to kayak between snapping turtles and alligators while branches of Southern oaks dipped into the shore like a dance. Your mother could set up this tent smoother than a knife through butter while surrounded by red ants, snakes of every ilk, and those thieving monkeys imported by the damned fools who like money more than the land that kept their damned souls in their bodies.” He would elbow or playfully jab her mother, a question. Come with us? Please? Her mother was not persuaded, and she addressed her answer to her daughter. “When you become a parent, the world becomes a place to be afraid of while people command that you teach your child

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how not to be afraid. It is an impossible task. If you are like your father, this won’t make sense. If you are like me, maybe you’ll igure it out better than I can.” On one family trip of the kind her mother had consented to—the white beaches of Marco Island—they had ridden bikes beside waterfront condos and rental properties swollen with winter escapees from elsewhere. After a half-hour of an ecological history lesson full of northern bandits robbing the Gulf bottom for their seawalls and marauding the coast of tortoise habitats and mangrove forests that cleaned the air and protected everybody from hurricanes God’s way, her mother stopped her bike. “Ben, can we enjoy a vacation on the beach please?” “Vacation with condos as fat as the tourists for blocking the view? I don’t see how.” “People are more important than trees and turtles. Our family, for example. Your daughter. Can you think about that for a minute?” “Right there’s your problem, Maggie. Sometimes I swear you’re no better than the rest of ‘em. But then I tell myself, I know you better.” Sometimes her mother answered silent when she disagreed. Maybe she had picked up some Southern manners after all. Until her death, her mother had attempted to impart her knowledge of every way Florida would try to kill her. And until his death, her father had attempted the opposite: to show her how to love it, to be as inside of it as every other life form that sustained it. Her mother would continue to love with her father their Walter Anderson prints that illed the house, the ripe sunsets of their walks, and the wetland bird and insect calls that were their silence, enjoyed safely from their back porch in winter. But her mother’s relationship to the Florida landscape was not love, and she could not remember a single experience of wildness in which her mother was relaxed.


itting on the rock staring down two alligators, she wondered which of her parents had won. She had never surrendered to the rhythms of place as her father could. And what would her mother say if she saw her daughter now? Despite all her

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knowledge of what to be afraid of, she had not seen what was coming. She had met and married a wounded animal, governed by a pain and fear that rendered him dangerous as the alligator slipping from the bank into the water twenty yards away. Maybe she would make no sense to either of her parents, was only a hard coagulation of lessons and traits they would not recognize as theirs. Because for all their disagreements, at least they both felt what they felt. She drifted then, somewhere between the two of them, a stillness on the slick rock in the nocturnal buzz of Alabama swampland. She did not feel fear, only a latness she couldn’t explain. It was an empty, orphan way to feel. She saw a movement to her left, and three teenagers ran from a grove of cypress trees into the clearing before the water’s edge. Two black, one white, wearing basketball shorts and t-shirts. All of them teenager-loud and oblivious, drunk on probably more than the summer night and their own infallibility. They were laughing, out of breath, and one doubled over behind a picket fence along the far side of the water, leaning over the rotten wood where it sloped toward the ground. One slapped the other on the back as if to congratulate him, sending him to the ground where he retched while the other two continued laughing. There were bubbles coming from the spot where her car had descended, and the sick teenager looked up. He pointed at the spot and turned toward his friends. She strained to hear them through a haze she wasn’t sure was there. They were on a screen, separate. The second teenager moved toward the fence, looked up. He squinted, she stared back. He waved. She had the time to recognize three things. There was moonlight breaking through a mask of clouds, and it cast a column of light from her to them. And, had she met them alone on the street, she would have walked to the other side. “Ma’am! Was that your car? Are you ok?” She opened her mouth. Silence. She shook her head. Not ok. He turned to his friends, pointed at her. The one who had thrown up stood and stumbled while another ran toward the water, stopping when he spotted the alligator between her and them. “Can you swim to the far side? Away from the gator?” His shouts broke the chirps of night. She shook her head. No. They hadn’t seen the second

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gator, and it was night, their time. Her mother’s rule: down here, where there is water, assume a gator could be in it. Lakes and ponds, no brainer. But it could be a looded intersection. A ditch after a rainstorm. A group of vacationers had even seen one wading in the salt water of a beach near Naples earlier that year. She looked across the surface, couldn’t see beyond. There could be more, invisible at just one foot below the surface. The teenagers became overzealous actors in a play. Their arms lew while they gesticulated their plans. They went to the fence and began ripping it apart, leaving the crosspieces in place. One walked a few yards down shore and waded into the water, apparently to either distract or swim around the gator. The other two lifted the small fence-raft and two pickets, and moved toward the water. “We’re comin’ ma’am. You won’t be tanglin’ with no gators tonight!” They were kids, not more than seventeen. Deinitely drunk. Stepping into a pool of mostly unseen alligators with her. No. Then she heard the distant sirens. The seals. They would be rescued. The lat detachment burned away, and she felt fear. The live, vermilion, move-your-ass kind of fear she had thanked the stars and God itself for ten days before. She would meet these would-be men halfway, at least. She slipped down the rock roughly, ready to slip in as soon as she could tell which way the closest alligator would go when they entered the water. She spoke to herself as her father had. He’s an animal just like you. He has the same right to this water as you do. But she could not ignore her mother, the voice indelible on her every imagination. You think the alligator sees it that way? Let’s all share and be happy? They eat people’s kids at Disney World for Godsakes. They have the strongest bite of any animal and devour stupid people for forgetting it. They attack fast. When they hiss, move your tail out of there and don’t go back. But go straight for the eyeballs if it gets you kiddo. She inhaled a full breath of peaty air and black night. Even a predator is just an animal. Give it a wide berth. She continued to slide down the rock, the effort to be steady and controlled taking all her focus.

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The light from a set of headlights came from behind her, the sound of dirt and gravel sliding while a truck drove around the water’s edge. A pick-up truck stopped directly behind the teenagers, its headlights saturating the moonpath of light on the water. A man got out, but she could only see his silhouette through the headlights, and hear his voice. “What’s goin’ on, guys? This park’s closed.” Older, or smoker. White. Friendly? The teenagers turned to face him. “We was just—” they pointed to the raft, to her. The silhouetted man waved toward her, went back inside his truck and turned it on, driving zig-zag and crazy in a way that made her think he may be more trouble than the alligators, until she saw the alligator moving away from her in response to the light. The man stopped the car leaving the headlights askance of her, a knife of light intersecting the water path of moon. He moved quickly from his truck carrying a pole with a rod with snare, and a rile. “That was fast thinking boys. I can take it from here.” They held onto the raft and their homemade oar/alligator spears. “But we—” The man stared back at them. They were following a script, and the teenagers yielded. The third returned from his distraction post further down shore, and they all dropped their fence-post defenses against the wild and stood silently by the bank, stilled. One of the boys looked at her, searching for her face across the water. He shrugged, an apology, and she understood that even kindness, even rescuers could be thieves. The man called to her. “Ma’am, don’t you get into that water. I’m a forest ranger. I’ll have you out of there in no time.” He turned to the teenagers. “Y’all have phones?” The teenager who had attempted to distract the alligator took a phone from his pocket and held it up. “Call 911.” The man was on the raft in a smooth motion, using the stick to paddleboard while on his knees. He reached her in a few seconds. He reached out his hand. “There now, this will be ine. Didn’t feel like swimmin’ in the moonlight with gators tonight? I don’t blame you.” He met

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her eyes, smiled. Before the conman, she would have said, kind crinkly eyes. But who knew that anymore? He wasn’t wearing a ranger uniform, though wouldn’t he be off duty at this hour? She squinted. The iguring that had to be done about people now. It was exhausting. Maybe her parents igured if they taught her about animals, and the few sexual predators whose addresses her mother had memorized, it would be enough. But the animals of her father’s world had never tried to trick her into danger. Their bodies told you everything. Even the alligator would hiss in warning. “I sure didn’t. Thank you.” She took his hand, sliding easily onto the raft, which wobbled against their weight. He pulled her close behind him. She felt a claiming. He turned and pushed off, though they moved more slowly back. They didn’t move much at all, and the sound of cricket frogs clicked like a waiting. “Don’t worry,” the man said. “This might take a few minutes.” But she caught his concern when he turned and scanned the lake, the sets of eyes glowing back. She craned her neck around the ranger’s girth to see the shore. The three young men had formed a chain with their bodies, the irst waist-deep and the closest almost to his neck, still standing and reaching out the long spike picket, the intended weapon wrought from the fence. “Take this,” the closest said. The man reached, shifting the balance of the raft and slipping, upsetting with his leg what they hadn’t seen underneath. A third one. He must have stepped on it, as a scene of agony played on his face while he turned to ight. When she saw the jaws, they were closing around his leg. She did as her mother had taught her, throwing her body sideways across the raft while her hands followed the relative stability of the man’s leg, splinted almost straight by the animal’s mouth. It was not as easy as it had sounded in her mother’s commands that wafted from memory, loud and sure. It took more than a few tries to plunge her middle inger and thumb into the gator’s eyes. Everything thrashed, she was pulled from the raft with a violence that showed her nothing but lights and the spray of blood and water. She felt a third body bump against her torso and jumped away from it, her own body thinking before she did

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of the non-human peril it might be. Through the thrashing she stayed in the eyes, and the warmth of the animal’s own seeing closed around her ingers while it resisted her with a force she thought would crush her. She heard a shot. The gator recoiled— she lost the eyes—but did not release the ranger’s leg. She found the eyes again, easier this time. She held on. After a span of time and lailing she would never be able to estimate, the creature slowed, then stilled. There was silence among the killers, then the night illed it. A whip-poor-will, crickets, a mosquito buzzing in her ear. She pulled her ingers from the sockets, holding onto the man with one arm and inding the raft with another to lift him onto it. She found the eyes of the young man who had been closest to them, the ranger’s gun in his right hand while treading water and helping the man onto the raft with her. The ranger moaned and cursed the gator under his breath but otherwise did not complain. She could not see his legs, but they dragged the gator with them. She tried not to suck down water while kicking her way to shore. The other two young men swam to meet them and they all pushed and pulled the raft the rest of the way. The ive of them were entangled, arms and legs and bodies and words encircled in the intimacy of a shared fate. We’ve got it, damn you can ight girl, there, no this way, few more strokes, ok. Onshore, she looked back at the gator, turned over on its back on the bank, its ight hollowed out for defending itself. She stared, nearly crippled by a sudden love for the animal. Which of them had killed it? It didn’t matter. Innocent and complicit, all of them. A surge came, violent heaves and sounds that had been waiting to come alive. She stumbled, slipped, and slid across mud. The young man who had called to her irst reached out a hand, pulled her up to sitting, smearing blood from his own wound onto her neck and face with his slippery attempts. They sat in the peat. He said nothing but did not let go of her hand until she’d left her tears that came in wracks of sobs, bound to the mud. She didn’t know how long it took, only that when she felt the arm of an EMT raising her up, she was empty and he was gone. They all were. She didn’t know anyone’s names, or when they had left. She would later remember climbing into the ambulance, the moon visible through the back window.

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“Well you can be damn sure it’s a full moon tonight. Seals, alligator rescues, and I’m not even half into my shift.” She sat up, and an EMT was working on a laptop. “What seals?” “Some fool in Florida stole a truck transporting a couple of retired seals from Barnum and Bailey to a sanctuary after the circus closed. When he realized his cargo, not knowing how to care for seals, he left them on the side of the road.” “Are they ok?” “One of ‘em is. The other got hit and died. Never a dull night when you get a new ‘Florida man’ story to add to the pile. No offense. It’s a beautiful place, but y’all have more kinds of crazy than palm trees.” She was eficient, brisk, and competent in her movements, a person who looked like she had answers. “Is it just…?” The woman stopped, looked at her. “You ok, honey?” “People are wretched then, aren’t they?” “Sure.” The woman secured a blood pressure cuff to her arm. “But don’t tell that to the men in the ambulances ahead of you.” The EMT adjusted the blankets and gave her water. At the hospital, they asked her questions she wouldn’t remember answering. They’d tracked her phone to the lake, igured it out about the seals. She may have said something to a local journalist, would have to be careful about that. She learned the names of the other rescuers and tried to visit them at the hospital. Two had left unscathed and the hospital promised to send them her notes. But the one who had called to her irst, the one who had thrown his young hope and vulnerable body into the water with her and had accommodated her sorrow with a grown silence she had not known teenagers possessed, was being treated for snake and alligator bites. She did her best to say thank you, but in the light of day her words fell awkward and scattered against the walls. She thanked the ranger, whose leg was lost to the alligator that had been mangled to retrieve it. She had almost laughed when he’d croaked “Happy to help” behind a smoker’s cough. As if he had merely given her directions. She would check on him. One day she might have a way to repay him. She left the hospital with

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nothing, save the friend who drove through four states to get to her. She had wrestled an alligator, she thought. Wrestled. An. Alligator. And the buzzing yielded, for a time, to what was required. She was starting to get it now. You had to be a detective to navigate the living, to discern the one animal whose will to generosity would never exist in equilibrium with its proclivity to connive. Charm, for example: connection, or control? And what to make of kindness, considering, in each case, the negotiations with violence. She remembered the seals. Even in the blackest of her seeing, they had been clear, real. She wondered how the survivor would grieve. Whether it would reach the sanctuary, where—if friendship could be wrought among wounded creatures—a place could turn familiar, and an animal could adapt.

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Andy Young Raw Wool at Kustanai Textile Processing Plant, Kazakhstan, 1991

Photograph by Sebastião Salgado the woman wades through what— sea fog? thick blood? she seems to be holding a child at the breast but no

it’s wool she walks through, and that’s wool spilling from her thick arms

she shifts through tumbles of it using the force of her whole leg to slide against the ground— something on rails inside the wool surrounding her are faces reduced to soft blurs faces of bodies falling of sudden violence of ones who died in the middle of living with no signs except intricate symmetries surrounding us

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the faces are starting to cover her—not faces no that’s raw wool in her hands don’t make it what it isn’t the wool is pulling at her or she is pulling it toward her, a child adrift in the river or is she the one that is drifting? she wears a dress with small white dots as if she meant to be home laughing with her sister the kids off somewhere tumbling through acres of light there’s a round tentacled thing behind her we see it but she can’t— hard plastic shiny thing—it dangles its stiff tentacle! but all she sees is the wool she cannot stop looking down at to her, it is water

she’s on a ship ready to leap

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Andy Young Shattered --from Josephine Sacabo’s Barking at God, a series of photogravures combining New Orleans’ grafiti with religious retablos from San Miguel, Mexico the shattering spreads: shards of a halo though there is no crown round this mother and child instead two Xs and a child’s angled star piss-hued light rectangling up the Madonna’s face isn’t she pretty there, without her nose, light like tape across her mouth

darkness veils her, its hijab shadow striping up through his hair where she ran her ingers through— hieroglyphics of light scar her face brightness puddles around the baby’s eye, pokes from his mouth like a cigarillo is it gold or pale yellow splintering through the glass where once a bullet where once a rock where once a violence a violin tried to—did it—pierce through to their holy rest?

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on the other side the child side-eyes the opening small bow-mouth effaced maybe the bullet hole is an eye hash marks below in near darkness where small nails have tried to scrape the night away —the baby—he’s searching for ways out

he wants to stick his wet inger into the shattered hole and let it all fall away as we stand there bare of ilter of medium touch there where he’s smeared his ingers on the glass or where it’s scratched if it’s scratched and not a law in my sight either way it’s what the dead must feel looking in at us shattered glass slivers a shard sticks in the ingertip you must tip it toward the light to pluck it out

ilaments of darkness stream up from the child’s head stubble his face his thoughts seething out no he is not thinking he is counting the marks our days through the shattering he sees us

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Michael Quess? Moore on the lames in my bones and how they got there

here’s the part where we pull out our war stories and tales of survival. say I too have known the crawl space beneath safety and the wanting ground heaving hungry from below. the part where I tell you of me and my brother and my best friend at 17 in my mom’s caravan riding up Canal Street in teenaged black boy joy before it had that name till four unmarked cars surround us like wanted revolutionaries, like political dissidents or preyed upon stars and our names ain’t even Salvador or JFK or Tupac so we can’t make heads or tails of why we’re looking down the barrel of a Glock 9 as one white man says “get the fuck out the car!” and the other barrage of white faces formally suited for battle spotted with just one not so ly boy in their putrid buttermilk descend on our young frames, shove us to the ground in cuffs as they step on our backs like we the street itself. and once the identiication of the usual suspect reveals itself as mistaken they release us back to our lives and tell us we’re lucky it wasn’t worse. here’s the part where I remember my mother in my passenger seat after the fat white man in sheriff blues struts away from our car like he just inished a good steak, his shoulders belching the arrogant fog of a man who just consumed slain meat, and after the twenty minute stop off the interstate moms understands every morsel of rage coated my skin since 13 when my daddy died …

and my girlfriend in my passenger seat on Basin Street, her frame heaving like barely escaped prey when the overzealous white man in uniform exits his face from hovering over her having just yanked her door open, shoulders cased in bulletproof, steely blue eyed joy cased in linch just right so I can attack just so, as he stares at me telling me how this checkpoint is all for our good to keep folks safe from some nearby danger. but there are too many stories at this point and none of them matter other than the way they dissolve prematurely like fossils

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rushed into fuel to ire my today. my tomorrow. in our forever war on this planet where we hurry the mending of old wounds in preparation for the inevitable ones salivating to replace them. my scars are hungry mouths carved into my left arm, my right ist, my fractured psyche. they all say patriarchy’s bastard sun & white supremacy’s dark shadow. they say capital & the belief therein’s schizophrenic clapback … they all say privatized property turned human ights back … closes an angry door and bars entry forever … opens windows only for a glimpse at light … a release of the lames marinating in marrow.

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L. Kasimu Harris selections from War on the Benighted “War on the Benighted” is a narrative constructed reality series about students who become frustrated with the inequalities in education; they rise up and begin a quest to educate themselves. The story commences after the students’ uprising in reaction to the dearth of educational possibilities. The constructed narrative responds to the all-too-real grievances with the schoolto-prison pipeline, emphasis on standardized testing, and the diminishing arts curriculum. Images from the “War on the Benighted” series were a part of the group exhibition Changing Course: Relection of New Orleans Histories, which debuted at the New Orleans Museum of Art in summer 2018. Some of the images selected here have never been exhibited with the series before.

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Photos by L. Kasimu Harris

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Photos by L. Kasimu Harris

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Photos by L. Kasimu Harris

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Photos by L. Kasimu Harris

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Photo by L. Kasimu Harris

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Gerard Sarnat Coronavirus Suite 1. Live Long & Prosper? First month anniversary of original US COVID case community transmitted (and it was here in California) my wife plus I celebrate in our hermetically-sealed spaceship we call Starship Enterprise Ziffnatsky by her deigning to let me play at being Captain Kirk while she takes on #2 role of Star Trek’s Vulcan

Spock which seems not a prob since her Orthodox dad RIP had a poster of fellow Jew Nimoy in his ofice. All went well this morning until galley sprang leaks, sink backing up gurgling stink, oy toilets elsewhere that required moi don COVID PPE gear, make way to exit sterile capsule to assess whether fur family’s forest septic tank, whose sumping out sorrowfully got neglected for decades, is prime culprit candidate. Locating festering ield of bad dreams down hill from house, slipping micro camera into main, voila humongous fungus rootball blocking drain takes only minutes after jetter then running snake to open up line so clear water returns in short-term; whereas if there’s the long-term, one of us must conirm if putrefying levels require emptying soon

or it’s doable deal for you to roto-root rest of tuber invasion, or necessitates begging professionals or The Borg to help during current chaotic period with such very limited local resources already stretched to their absolute breaking points.

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2. Homo Sapiens Silver Linings B12 and 13 haiku I keep exact track dear fruits and vegetables we need to eat soon. One son-in-law left two bunches of bananas under our porch roof. Though none seem too ripe, both of us know, Move them up in pecking order. There’s satisfaction in learning regained from pre Land of Plenty days. 3. Modest Tradeoff Proposals Having spent last summer sad and guilty about totally eliminating my fur family forest cabin of ants/ rats (do not ask) now COVID sequestered for duration, crossing ingers, I admit it’s a relief not having to deal with extra critters which got me thinking about how this hanging-on by toe nails Homo sapiens colony might utilize some

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prisoners with minor nonviolent convictions who die like lies in jails to man our ice truck morgues. 4. My Family of Origin Just Called It, Pitching In Through grace of daughter-in-law’s own garden and her bravery out in dire world acquiring harvest bounty from our local CSA, the wife plus I remain well-stocked including fresh turmeric and ginger to tune up our immune systems during COVID time of need. Then, on our clan’s new virus-dedicated What’s App site, children and grandkids help think through produce hygiene, “So if you guys want to have super safe scene, at this point we suggest consider following: For outside, two tubs, dish pans, buckets. Fill both with water, mix in mild soap to one container; Dr. Bronner’s seems good. Slosh your produce/fruit around in soapy water. Transfer to clean rinse then air dry in house.” As an experienced physician, I obtain home oximeters well as oxygen tanks, also grok access to local ERs/ ICUs.

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Matriarch’s big picture -- droplets do obsess not mail or even food.

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Sheila Arndt 2019 Words and Music Competition, short story category, winner Cherchez la Femmes


tella was hungry. So hungry it felt like her head had disconnected from her body and was loating far above, somewhere near the peak in the ceiling’s center. It was easier to be up there, watching her skin slowly shrink and pinch, her collar bones protrude, her thighs become slightly sinewed. It was better to be out of her body as much as possible, because soon she’d have to go all the way back in and hold it tight and fast and get it as small as possible for the grand inale in an almost impossible act of contortionism. Right now this abundance of metaphorical space was a blessing, just as much as the feast in front of her was a curse. 1898 New Orleans was a town of great abundance, but it was also a town of want, so she was a part of a complicated tableau that was performed only at this yearly visitation timed to coincide with the Lenten fast. Stella stared at the food spread out before her on the long table. Just thirty-nine days prior, on Mardi Gras day itself, Stella would have eaten most of the strawberry covered chocolate cake, a piece of the golden peach pie if not two, and as many of the ribs, dripping with sauce and glistening with fat, as she could stomach. She might have tried a bite of the turkey, roasted to a rich brown, and at least a nibble of the prime rib, sliced to reveal the deep pink of the perfect medium rare. And she would have absolutely tried to eat at least a spoonful or three of the mashed potatoes, even as she started to sweat from the overload. They were rich with butter and cream and cream cheese—they were, in a word: glorious. She would have washed it all down with half a bottle of Raleigh Rye, just so she could sleep through the discomfort of a distended belly. The feast phase of her act, pure gluttony and sloth, was an uncomfortable pleasure at best. Eating to excess could be a comfort at times, and she was familiar with that kind of sadness, but having to do it day in, day out, became work. And yet, as she always reminded herself, it sure beat the middle section: famine.

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This starving while seated in front of abundance and audience was the second part of a three-part act—a long play. Part one was expansion, although this happened off stage as it were. Stella knew from experience that gluttony wasn’t nearly as interesting to watch as it was to practice. Parts two and three did take place in front of the crowds: starve and shrink for the 40 days of Lent, and then, after Easter Sunday services and the crowds had arrived to see this version of a miracle, to twist and fold herself into an impossibly small glass jar and be paraded around the big top only to emerge again at the end, victorious. Although Stella knew she was an essential part of the performance, half of the time she thought that people came to stare at the food as much as they did at her. New Orleans was always a longer stay than any other town, not only because it was the exception to the rule of “get out before the audiences get bored.” Of equal signiicance was the fact that the girls of the sideshow had all left New Orleans together some years prior, leeing dreary dramas and seeking new lives, and, so, they wanted to stay a little longer than they might normally in a town in, say, the middle of Ohio. Some of the girls wanted to see the families they’d left behind. Some of them just wanted to stay in one place for more than a few days. Some had scores to settle. Stella was a combination of all three and would be on display for the entirety of their stay at Spanish Fort in New Orleans, all hours, awake or asleep, the rubes getting to look at her 24/7 for the price of a penny.


hen the bigtop went up, bright yellow and red, and the ladies had staked and hoisted their series of smaller tents—a makeshift tiny town complete with a mess hall and even a doctor of sorts in case a girl was sick or in trouble—it was time to start the “shrinking.” Stella hoped this time maybe, just maybe, if she shrunk enough, if she could squeeze into the smallest space possible, it could be the last time she’d have to use her body in this way, but it was hard to know what number would be enough for all the girls to retire and grow fat and old. And then there was the question of happiness … she’d left Emma Johnson’s brothel and had no intention of going back, but it turned out it was impossible to really leave a certain kind of

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life, a way of seeing the world, behind. Stella never started the New Orleans set too fat— there was only so much weight a person could lose, even when literally starving—so she’d designed her costume to give her the appearance of some extra weight using all the little tricks she’d learned as a young working girl, years before, at Emma Johnson’s house on Basin Street. Illusions were part of the game. It had been a weird lesson to learn at age 12. Emma wasn’t the worst of the Storyville madams, nor was she the best, but she loved money and a girl could earn there. She was known for often offering items that were off the menu at other houses. While they weren’t everyday affairs, for the right price, a well-heeled customer could buy two sisters at once, could buy a virgin’s irst night, could even buy an animal show. Stella remembered the night Emma had auctioned her virginity off to the highest bidder. At irst a young man had offered one measly dollar, but Emma was humorless that night and suffered no fools—he was thrown out the front door hard and into the muck below. When bidding started in earnest, Emma had told Stella to “perform.” She had always loved dancing and had picked up the routine from the hired dance instructor quickly, but what Emma had taught was that what people really wanted, in their heart of hearts, in the places they had but didn’t want to admit to, was spectacle and the more outlandish the better, and, so, Stella had started to work on becoming a contortionist. She had always been lexible, even as a child. That night she learned that even the sheer implication of what she could do mattered more than what she actually did. Answering Emma’s questions about her youth—“I’ll be 13 next month,” while she was actually 15—her purity—“I’ve only ever kissed my momma on the mouth,” while her boyfriend, the second man she’d ever slept with, watched her from the growing crowd—and her interests—“I like riding ponies and dancing and chocolates,” the only true answer—all the while lying on her belly on a red velvet divan, chin propped up by both hands, and her legs curved all the way around and over as to rest on either side of her ears—earned her $250 of the inal $1000 bid. The spectacle of this circus, this traveling band of women she’d taken up with when she’d left Emma’s, was also based on

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illusion and lies. But they always knew there had to be a little truth to get them in the door, to get them to hand over their time, attention, and cash. The rubes wanted to believe just as much in magic and the fantastic as the men who frequented Emma Johnson’s circus wanted to be sold a fantasy about eagerness and virginity. The women of Cherchez Les Femmes, Stella included, had left their previous lives behind—lives in various brothels and cribs—but had found it hard to integrate into “proper” society in the years that followed. Just buying the right clothing and trying to ind employment in a shop or the like wasn’t enough to pass. There was little respectability for a single woman to ind without family and money to protect her from the rest of the world. And so Stella had decided to form the sideshow. It was a way to insulate them from the world while exploiting their own talents and the desires of others. The girls could still have sex for money if they wanted to but now they had other means of emptying pockets. he reality of Stella’s act was that she had to start the fortyday fast just plump enough to make people wonder how she’d ever it into the glass jar that sat on the table next to her. It had to feel worthwhile, like a potential miracle. It had to excite, and horrify, at least just a little. So at the beginning of the Lenten set, she was propped up on velvet pillows, all thick lesh and breast and thigh and sparkle, spilling out of her crystal bra and wrapped in ostrich feathers to “hide her modesty.” The feathers added the appearance of at least another 20 pounds to her already lush body. And she’d answer questions, just like she had while on display at Emma’s. It really was no different—even the questions were mostly the same. “How old are you?” “I’ll be 27 next month.” Even though Stella was only 33, she always lied about her age. It was part of selling the fantasy. It helped if the rubes thought she was fuckable, if she still felt fresh. They needed to feel like they were buying a little piece of her body. “Can you put your leg behind your head?”


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She would slowly push away from the table and move to the divan, dark purple this time, and sit down. She would stretch out onto her left side and face the crowd. Then, looking as bored as possible, she’d point both of her toes, and bend her right knee, pulling it to her chest before extending it again forward toward the crowd and then up to the tent top, holding the pose for a moment. She’d then lower her leg until her ankle was touching her ear and then reverse the process. “How did you ind out you were so lexible?” At that question, Stella would just smile, wink, and place a inger against her lips as if it was a secret too precious (or scandalous) to tell. And then the viewing time would be up and the people would shufle out, giving her a few minutes to reset before then next batch came in and she had to repeat the performance. After thirty-nine days of this, she was ready for the triptych to be completed with the inale tomorrow.

tella rose early to stretch. She had long ago quit feeling hungry, but, no matter how many cycles of feast and famine she engaged in, it was impossible to get used to feeling like she was loating most of the time. There was a thing about this kind of hunger, this kind of determined denial that, sometimes, made her wonder if the hunger strikes of the saints she’d studied as a child were actually acts of suffering. There was something about the way the brain masked the pain of the body that was euphoric. Once, when she was living and working at Emma’s, she had snuck out into the night, a few dollars in hand, and found her way into an opium den. She’d heard the older working girls talking about it, about how smoking made the world fall away. The opium had made her cough so much she threw up on the irst inhalation, but after that, after she’d slowed down and sucked in the white smoke slowly, holding it as long as she could before releasing, she understood. It was something like lying in a lukewarm bath, where nothing really mattered and nothing could hurt you. It was heaven. This hunger wasn’t quite heaven, but her brain worked hard to protect her so it transcended the suffering. And today she would, going back into her body, all the way, stripping down


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into almost nothing in front of a yelling crowd, and then forcing herself into yet another space not meant for her. nly the ringmaster standing next to the large glass jar heard the pop of Stella’s shoulders dislocating. They were two medium pitched leshy thuds as the sockets released—one and then the other—and Stella was able to slip her shoulders past the lip of the vessel. She bowed her head, slowly pressing it into the slight space between her knees, and waited for the clink of the lid, sealing her in from above. She kept her eyes closed— there would have been nothing to see anyway, nothing but her own lesh—as the two strong men picked up the jar and paraded it around the ring. “Behold the amazing shrinking woman—Miss Stella coming to you all the way from Paris! She can it into almost any space, twist herself into almost any position … well versed in the French, ahem … gentlemen … and she does this all without mussing her lipstick! A true physical genius!” The applause from the crowd in the small arena was loud enough for her to hear, even through the glass and with ears pressed into knees, her knees hugging her head. This was the hardest part of the show; shallow breathing that made her feel like she was about to disappear. She counted—it was the only thing that got her through it—1, 2, 3 … 44, 45 ‘til she could feel by the slowing of the plodding that she was about to be placed back on the platform for the viewings. She was lightheaded. Only a few more minutes ‘til I’m free again. Only a few more minutes. They put her back on the platform rough. A clunk and then what sounded like a little crackle. Sometimes the base of the jar would crack and she’d have to sit as tightly as possible so that the whole thing wouldn’t spiderweb and shatter. Someone tapped on the glass. They always did. And it wasn’t usually the kids. The kids who came to see her on the inal day were respectful—she could hear the wonder in their voices as they looked at her, iguring out how she moved her body into such a small space. The women sometimes tapped, but mostly they marveled at her body and the ways it folded in onto itself. The women


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understood things about the body, too. Stella liked listening in these moments to the things they would say. “I wonder if I could fold like that, be that lexible, if John would come home earlier at night. He never used to stay out late and come home and turn away from me.” Or “Look at the way she can bend her hips—I bet she can keep any man she wants. She can probably steal them, too.” Or “I bet she was a whore.” Or “A woman just doesn’t learn to move like that naturally.” Or, simply, “Filthy.” The men tapped the jar the most. It was slippery in the jar now, her sweat making her skin slip as she tried to stay tucked as tightly as she could. The crack in the glass rubbed against her back and she could feel her skin on her left shoulder blade start to split ever so slightly. She knew that there was a slight line of bright red now between her body and the glass and, over the next few seconds, it would smear and grow and start to pool under her buttocks and feet. The crowd grew louder with each second as they turned the jar so that the audience in the round could see the blossoming streak. The more she bled, the more cash they threw. Shifting ever so slightly as she didn’t want to crack the jar completely open, she worked her left foot to a spot slightly under her right buttock—there was a tiny raised bump there, smooth on the top but curved over with a little snaggle to it that she could catch the skin on the bottom of her foot and tear it open and begin illing the bottom of the jar more quickly. It really wasn’t a lot of blood, to be honest, but the effect. Well, the effect. The ladies in the audience would all gasp, but all the while remember the blood in their own lives, whether monthly or as it related to childbirth, and they would marvel at the way such a private thing, such a vulgar thing as a woman’s blood, was here on display. They hated it and loved it as they hated and loved themselves. The children would either stare transixed and silent or would begin to cry. The men simply stared and opened their wallets even further. Pressing her ingers to her forehead ever so slowly and slightly, she dug her ingernails into her skin. Earlier that day she had iled little pin-like points into the nails on her index ingers. She could feel the warm drip coming down her forehead.

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It was almost time and there just had to be enough money covering the ground inside the ring by now. It was either time to rise, now, or risk inally passing out and shattering the glass and possibly doing real damage to herself. She knew the crowds were hoping for her to be layed open and destroyed. As long as she stayed alive and mostly whole they’d come back next year, if she needed them to, hoping that maybe the next time would be the time they would get the big death, instead of a teased little one. Her head pushed against the top of the jar, raising the lid up and to the left. The ringmaster let it fall onto the ground with a clatter. “Behold, the amazing shrinking woman is about to arise! She has suffered for you these past forty days and forty nights, going without and then going into her glass jar cofin. Behold her lesh! See her blood! She bleeds for you!” Stella slipped one shoulder out and then the other. Her arms hung limply at her sides, numb. The ringmaster slipped one arm under her armpit and slowly pulled her up and to her feet. Stella was slick and shiny with sweat and blood, her skin shades of pink and deep red, her formally white costume now dyed with her luids. “It is inished,” Stella thought to herself, as the ringmaster grabbed her hand in his and pulled it to the sky, victorious. She raised her eyes to the sea of paper and coins strewn before her. She hoped this time might have been enough.

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Kate Leland 2019 Words and Music Competition, poetry category, winner All the Men Who Own My Underwear In the Craigslist ad, my naked back is to the camera. I’m on my knees, a pair of black Calvin Klein knock-offs hitched high on my hips. The top tier of my price sheet was underwear worn while performing oral sex on another woman. Smell your way to voyeurism: $90. Other men wanted the shit stains, menstrual bleed-throughs, ovulation discharges, or the sweat drench of a long run. Whatever service was selected, I wore them for a day. Maybe masturbated, if convenient or the client was a repeat. Then the spent cotton briefs (purchased in bulk on Amazon) were double zipped inside plastic bags and overnighted for a fee. My character’s name was Margot. She was a college student struggling, a red lipstick loving, black lingerie wearing, businesswoman building a brand. What I mean is that I kissed the thank you notes in scarlet, slid them inside the second plastic bag, and scribbled coupon codes on the back. I’ve heard sex work called selling yourself, like I should have felt that I was losing something in each transaction In total, my graduate school applications cost me 32 pairs. All it felt like was laundry.

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Jessica Temple Jawbone There’s a dead man living in my father’s mouth. Or maybe a dead woman, a child even. It’s hard to say, from such a small shard of collagen and calcium. Grafted between two molars, the cadaver’s fragment spreads itself wide, stretching to fuse into my father’s jaw. This bit of bone could have come from anyone: a painter, a locksmith, a pleasant greengrocer, a mute man whose own mouth never moved except, with perfect teeth, to chew and chew.

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Grifin Batiste Tadoe 2019 Words and Music Competition, Beyond the Bars Category, runner-up Problem Child Say God, my apologies for what I did to your kids, yeah. I know I’ve been a problem child. At times I feel that I’ve been losing myself again, yeah. Understand, I grew up in the wild. Overloaded. Know that I’m through with all this pressure. I’ve been walking through the rain with no help, don’t have an umbrella. My mind gone. I’m lost inside this life but screaming, whatever. Like a rock star, I’ve been jamming and slanging that heavy metal. Look Mom, I’m trying. I’m steady putting in all that work. I know some things insist; just play it. Nope, I’m breaking this curse. Having thoughts like: Can I make it better? Help! I’m making it worse. It’s been some people talking down. Some want to see me dead in a hearse. Tragedies. It’s a lot of mamas crying. We lay down low when we speaking. Didn’t want to seek it, so a lot of them been dying. Own family testifying. It brought me down just to speak it. They really tweaking. Now I’m moving like a lion. And I’ll always pray for better, yeah. Where I live, killing and dealing is just something that they live off of. In Gardere Lane, the devil there. He would trick you into something and have you wishing you was out. Say God, my apologies for what I did to your kids, yeah. I know I’ve been a problem child. At times I feel that I’ve been losing myself again, yeah. Understand, I grew up in the wild. Overloaded. Know that I’m through with all this pressure.

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I’ve been walking through the rain with no help, don’t have an umbrella. My mind gone. I’m lost inside this life but screaming, whatever. Like a rock star, I’ve been jamming and slanging that heavy metal.

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Torey Bovie 2019 Words and Music Competition, public high school short story, runner-up Cicada t some point I expected Jimmy to start acting like Jimmy. He could never do anything by himself. Three glass jars and a gallon of milk didn’t seem like much to carry to me. Jimmy had on a button-up with no shirt underneath, and a pair of jean shorts Momma made. “It’s hot, Shan. It’s hot,” He exaggerated. He wore a pair of my old lip-lops that Momma made me give him. Apparently, it was my job as a big brother to give him everything I love. She made me give Jimmy everything. Everything I didn’t “need” anymore. Well, I damn sure wanted it. My cap with the number ive stitched on the side, my favorite pair of striped socks, my— “Shan! You hold the bag, I’m tired!” “I got four bags already,” I screamed. The sun stood tall above our heads and I watched the heat waves wiggle off in the distance. I had on jeans and a beater. My thighs were so wet it felt like I had peed myself. Jimmy started to walk with the same fake limp he always does when he doesn’t feel like doing something. I heard the clank of mason jars against the concrete behind me. He stood there with his arms crossed and his face scrunched tight into a scowl. His crossed arms and the bags on the ground were enough for me to knock him dead. Dead right where he stood. He stomped his foot twice, making the few dimes in his pocket jump around and play a tune. “Pick them goddamn bags up, now!” I said, swatting whatever was buzzing around my ear. I looked past Jimmy’s head and noticed the nest of cicada killers on the ground. I remembered getting stung by two of those once. Those things hurt bad. I was running in our yard one afternoon, holding a jar of cicada shells. I used to collect them so that at night when it was too quiet, all I had to do was give the jar a little shake. While holding the shells, I realized that there was one spot in the grass that wasn’t cut like the rest. It was bushy and ugly and pretty. It looked like a little green castle on the ground. I went


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to go play with it and two of them lew out and stung me. One on my inger the other on my neck. I was crying for hours while Momma rubbed my forehead and told me how stupid I was for going over there. “Jimmy, come on here before those things get angry,” I said, backing away slowly. “No, make me! I’m not carrying no bags! I’m hot and tired! You carry it, or I’m telling Momma.” “Tell her what?! That you want to be a big ass brat so you let the milk spoil in this damn sun?! Now, move away from those things before you get stung!” A bead of sweat dripped down the side of my face as my heart began to race. I don’t know if it was from anger or from fear but all I wanted was for Jimmy to get away from that nest. Jimmy did a pivot and picked up a stone from the ground. He tossed it in the air a couple times and then said, “Carry the bags, or I’ll throw it right in the nest.” “Like hell you would,” I said. “You’re too scary anyway, you ain’t gonna do it.” I had to admit, the thought of Jimmy getting stung by wasps did excite me a little. He wasn’t going to listen to me, so what better to show him than a couple wasp stings? “You wanna see? I’m telling you! I’ll do it!” “You ain’t gonna do it. You might as well pick up those bags and get a move on.” He had a look in his eye and I knew he was serious this time. I knew something was about to happen. Jimmy kept his word. He threw it, and I expected thousands to come in revolt. The rock lew from Jimmy’s hand for what felt like minutes. Time slowed, I was sure of that. When the rock crashed into the nest, I saw a couple crawl out slowly and land on the rock. I saw those red wings and long narrow bodies make their way to us slower than me making my way to school in the morning. When my legs irst tried to move I could only take about three steps backward before something got hold of me. The wind carried my feet. Like I was running, no gliding across the hot pavement. The air allowed me to low through the heat. My arms and legs didn’t really seem to do much but dangle, dangle and relax. Something caught a hold of me. I don’t know what. Maybe it was the Holy Ghost. My Aunt Sierra says she catch it every time Pastor Leon hits the high notes in his

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sermons. Maybe that’s what caught hold of me, maybe that’s what was carrying me down the pavement, the Holy Ghost. But if I could see him or it, I sure would thank him for it. I never thought I would see him, it, let alone thank him for carrying me. I just didn’t know where it was taking me, or what I would do when I got there. It could’ve been taking me to Aunt Sierra’s house so it could show me to her. So she could see how it spilled out of her and washed upon me. After three blocks, I started slipping. No—falling. Well, dropping. I didn’t feel as light as I had for the last mile. My legs felt worked, but I don’t see why. My legs didn’t do any of the hard work required for legs to feel worked. I was wondering what happened to the Holy Ghost and where he went. I started limping. I guess I did something wrong. I guess he enjoyed the comfort of Aunt Sierra more. I wondered if she was jumping through her house then, loating like she does in church. She would welcome him like a warm friend that was lost. My limp got worse, kind of like the way Jimmy’s does when— Jimmy, Jimmy! I turned and saw his tiny body lying in the haze of the heat waves. He was about twenty feet behind me, so he must’ve been running and then passed out. I only got stung once and I didn’t realize it until I saw Jimmy laying there. I felt a burning on my left arm. Later, when we got home, my momma rubbed his body down in hydrocortisone cream. I had to carry him all the way back home. I guess he actually did ind a way to make me hold those bags. Momma found about eight stingers all over his back, legs, and arms. When we inally made it, I was drenched in sweat. Jimmy was across my upper back, lying on my shoulders. I had to walk hunched over the whole time. I only took one break out of the whole trip. I sat him down under the tree in front of Ms. Cherokee’s house. “Y’all seem to be struggling,” she said as she spoke through her screen door. “You want some water? Is the little one okay?” “Yes ma’am. Our house is only three more miles. He should be alright. Might you have a towel, or old rag I can borrow?” “Well, you saying borrow, is implying that you gonna bring it back. I rather you just keep it.” For a second, while I waited for the water and rag, I could

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swear I saw his eyes open and close again. That’s something Jimmy would do, let you carry him down a road as hot as hell and not feel the least bit bad for it. When it was time to keep moving I picked him up anyway, no sense in ighting while it was so hot outside, that when you spit it would start to sizzle. Momma massaged his back using Vaseline. I watched from the kitchen, looking through the door of Jimmy’s room. She took a cold rag and placed it on his forehead before walking out. I went outside and lay down in the ield outside the house. There was a hump in the grass that I would rest up against on the breezy nights. The cicadas sing to me, and only me. Sometimes I talk back, other times I just let them go on and on. They whispered me stories of what it’s like in the trees. High up on branches where I can’t see them. I couldn’t help but think that they laughed at me. Hundreds, maybe even thousands of ‘em laughed at me in the trees. I just know that they did. Before I went back inside, I told them to ind my friend, the one that carried me down the road. “Momma, the cicadas singing, you hear me?” I tried to get Momma to come listen to them, but I don’t think she wanted to. Momma just kept smoking her cigarette. She didn’t smoke it like normal people, she smoked it right. When anyone else smokes, the vapor lows from their mouth and all over the place, in my nose, across the table, but not Momma. She makes the smoke thin. She tames it like a horse. When Momma smoke around me I don’t smell nothing. The smoke just marches from Momma’s lips towards the sky. Maybe the smoke is looking for the Holy Ghost, too. Jimmy was still asleep in his bed and his body was still shining with all the Vaseline and hydrocortisone cream my momma rubbed him down with. Momma made pancakes, bacon, over-easy eggs, and she gave me some of the orange juice she mixes her alcohol with to drink. Momma cooked better than anyone else. I don’t know what it was, how it was, but it came to me as she conducted the pots and pans. She told the stream and scents where to go and what to do when they got there. The Holy Ghost left something in me to now understand that Momma was God. Not the guy that’s already up there, but the woman version of god. When Momma cooked, she did it right. The smells would never blend when I was waiting, so without speaking, she told me what to get ready for. Momma was like my own personal

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deity. She didn’t have to do much. She simply told the food how and where to go. She made a fool of Aunt Sierra, who couldn’t cook, but she told me not to tell her that. Aunt Sierra moved to Chicago with her new rich boyfriend. I wondered if the church up north made her catch the Holy Ghost the same way. Momma put everything on the plate and made it sing together. With mornings like this, I questioned the need for church or the Holy Ghost. Maybe Momma is the Holy Ghost and maybe I’m just meant to loat in it all. I took the napkin and wiped the drool that was trying to escape my mouth and make its way to Momma. I inhaled deeply, as I turned to Momma and say thank you, which is prayer enough. I ate fast because eating slowly was a sin. “Tell me what happened,” Momma said. She sat across from me with her legs folded, smoking another cigarette. “He told me to carry his bags that he was supposed to carry. I already had four bags to carry and he was just being lazy! He told me I had to do his work or he was gonna throw the rock at the nest … and he did. He risked both of our lives for a couple of bags, Momma!” “So he just threw it in there?” “Yep, just cause he ain’t feel like carrying bags. I told him not to, I told him!” “He told me that you were trying to make him carry everything. He said you gave him all the bags and told him to carry them.” “No, I didn’t! He’s lying! I had more bags than he did.” “You think I can’t tell when your brother is lying? He sat there in my face and told me that you gave him six bags to carry. Imma go ahead and ix his little ass when he wakes up! Eight damn bee stings. I’m surprised he ain’t dead. Then, for him to sit there and lie to me. But I’m glad he okay, lord Jesus. He might be a pain in the ass, but he’s my baby. Are you okay, though?” “They were wasps, not bees, the kind that snatches cicadas out of the sky and kills ‘em dead.” “Boy, I don’t care if it was a damn lying alligator! Are you okay?” “Yeah, I’m ine.” I spent the rest of the morning eating my breakfast and watching Momma smoke her cigarettes.

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L. Kasimu Harris and Father: Generational Wisdom; James Cullen

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Freesia McKee Daughters I Once Was after Kaveh Akbar Daughter crying on the curb in the grocery store parking lot. Daughter climbing the low splitting apple tree. Unwedded daughter. Red wagon daughter pulled like saltwater taffy. Daughter reticent to swim cold. Drunk daughter. Daughter who inished the book and stole the magazine. Oldest daughter, daughter of a daughter. Broke daughter, monied, unemployed daughter, daughter who thought about picking up the check. Daughter clearing plates after brunch. Daughter who didn’t know what sacriice meant. Graduated daughter. Daughter spinning stairs. Snot-nosed daughter. Daughter who didn’t call back. Daughter lost in Queens. Daughter lost in downtown Chicago. Daughter lost in Oakland at midnight with 1% battery on her cell phone. Daughter of the forgotten birthday. Sixteen-hundred-mile daughter. Daughter of allergies and Euclid Street. Fish hook in the crik daughter. Daughter with the bad back. Daughter inherited. Ankle bracelet daughter. Daughter who-would-have-thunk. Mountain bike daughter. Daughter with a secret. Drawn daughter. Daughter sifting sand. Daughter who stayed a daughter. Daughter lifted aloft easily. Daughter who wasn’t easy.

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Jessica Temple My Sister’s Scar The summer before our house was inished, our parents rented a Ditch Witch to dig the water line themselves, save some money. Kids that we were, my sisters and I tossed a frisbee, ascended the trailer that had transported the equipment, its bright orange rails and fenders an invitation. Up and down we went, tracing sharp rainbows. Jumped on and off like goats. Rebecca, at 3, kept up until her little leg found the slit in the center of the trailer. It slipped down easily, silently as a single strand of spaghetti dangling through a slotted spoon. But on the way back out her knee caught a rough spot in the metal. She bled and cried, but our parents were so far down the hill already. Almost to the bottom, really. Instead I scooped her up, carried her into the shimmering Airstream we had there. She refused Bactine, wisely doubtful of its “no-sting” promise. I washed the wound as best I could, bandaged it, tied a tight bandana around. Somehow must have calmed her. She was asleep by the time our parents got back. They didn’t want to wake her to examine the damage. She still has the scar, which over the years has stretched into a shiny earthworm of a thing, thick and banded, and inched its way down her shin as if it remembers the dirt, the ditch, the slot, the sting. Everything that she’s forgotten.

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Holy Cross Lockers: Class Interrupted; James Cullen

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Nichole Cloke 2019 Words and Music Competition, public high school short story category, winner With Hindsight in Mind leanor could recall the irst time she had gone to use the restroom and noticed a large rustic smear on the white crotch of her underwear. She pulled the waistband of her panties forward with both thumbs and examined the unfurled stain like a Rorschach test. She sat in her own metallic musk as she pondered, the crest of her abdomen tightening and bubbling. It was a bear, she thought. A deep brown bear with fur that frayed into scarlet. “Mama!” she called out. “Help me!” When her mother appeared in the bathroom door, Eleanor stretched her panties out even further so that they could be viewed in all of their glory. “Oh, sweetheart,” her mother said. “Do you know what this means?” “No,” Eleanor said. She peered down between her thighs into the toilet bowl and saw that a thin coating of blood had sunk to the bottom. She watched it drip from beneath her, and as it made contact with the water she saw it burgeon into delicate wisps of crimson. “It means that you’re a woman now.” Eleanor wondered how this could be so. How she could be both a child and a woman at the same time. She wondered, What did it really mean to be a woman?


he irst time that Eleanor wore her mother’s heels, she was home alone. She pulled the shoes out of the closet and remembered a time when she had asked her mother if she could wear them. When you’re older, she had said. There was, of course, a sense of guilt for raiding through her mother’s belongings, but Eleanor could not resist the attraction of things she was told to wait for. She was excited by the symphony of her three-beat strut: the click of the pointed leather tip, the slap of the too big shoe as it lew upwards to meet her loose foot, and


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the inal thud of the chunky heel falling heavy to the loor. Eleanor waltzed her way to her mother’s vanity and pulled open the drawer of makeup. She raised the tip of her mother’s lipstick to her open mouth and felt a surge of adrenaline whip through her chest as she dragged a rich red across her bottom lip. She remembered the times she had been driving downtown and saw women walking in the night with their high high heels and short short dresses. Many of them had red lips. And sometimes their eyelids were blue and their cheeks were as pink as a rash. She would see those women stumbling out of restaurants or waiting in line for a club. Eleanor wondered if she looked like them, if she looked old enough to pass by the bouncer. n Junior High the most important thing Eleanor learned from history class was how to play footsies, a game taught to her by the occupant of the adjoining desk, Theodor Chauvin. It was a sport, believe it or not, that required a signiicant amount of skill. One had to be careful not to be too violent, only maintain a playful amount of roughness. Even the playfulness needed to be somewhat calculated in order to preserve the balanced interest of both sides. But during one round of their antics, Theodor had stretched his foot out far enough that his pants rode up over his ankle, and a gust of panic overtook his shoulders as his exposed skin suddenly met the soft warmth of Eleanor’s leg. The weather was fair enough that day that Eleanor had not worn stockings, and this territory of intimacy was one that they had not yet treaded. A sort of fuzz formed over their conscience, one that drew attention away from anything else that was happening in the world at that moment. He began to move his ankle very slowly up the back of her calf. The both of them stared into their textbooks, their minds too preoccupied to move their eyes from one word to the next. Theodor abruptly stopped his inching and hurriedly retreated back under his own desk. Eleanor looked up at him, though his neck was still craned over into his work. She noticed, suddenly, that their teacher had been watching them. She caught his exhausted gaze and could see the annoyance run


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through the creases of his face, stemming from the corners of his papercut mouth all the way down to his chin. He sighed and turned his head, an expression of what Eleanor imagined to be a profound distaste for the youth. Theodor turned around, seemingly to check if the teacher was still looking, then directed his attention back to her. He leaned over the desk towards her and whispered, “Do you shave your legs?” Eleanor was taken aback. She knew that most of the girls, even all of her friends, had already begun shaving, but Eleanor was not allowed. “No,” she said, surprised that he would even have the audacity to ask. “You feel prickly.” “Prickly?” “Yeah, prickly,” he repeated. “I really thought women were supposed to shave.” Hair on a woman was ugly. Both of them knew this as fact. It was one of the many things about femininity that was never explicitly told, but they still managed to ingest. Her embarrassment was palpable, an almost acidic stench that choked her until she could say nothing. So later that evening Eleanor propped her foot onto the toilet seat and ran a dry razor over the black hairs of her leg, and when she was inished with the razor she returned it to her father’s medicine cabinet. She wondered if she had now become a member of some elite club, if her female companions would revere her, if Cosmopolitan would now phone her to ask if she would model for their latest issue. But most importantly, she wondered if Theodor would be impressed. When she arrived to class the next day with her shiny new legs, Eleanor saw that her seat had been moved.


hen Eleanor irst received the bread and cup, she was facing the congregation, stood in a line with a dozen or so other kids. It was a ceremony that symbolized a sort of coming of age, a time when the young were just beginning to ripen. This is my body which is broken for you. The priest handed Eleanor half of a saltine cracker. She and the other ladies were dressed white as brides, their faces pressed and forlorn. They stood

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poised, immaculate as doves, prepared to pledge themselves to a life of purity. As Eleanor watched the priest pour the glasses of red wine, she could not help but feel a bit of thrill beat from the hollow of her chest. From her periphery, she saw her mother smile and snap a picture. This cup is the new testament in my blood. It tasted very bitter, not at all what others had made it out to be. This do ye, as often as ye drink it in remembrance of me. But she thought, in time, she must learn to stomach it. “Do you take Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?” The priest’s question seemed very silly to her. What a waste this whole endeavor might be if she said no. She had not been aware that she was in any need of saving, or that she had the ability to choose who would save her. She lingered on a response. For she that eateth and drinketh unworthily … And she could see that the Father was growing concerned … eateth and drinketh damnation unto herself. Eleanor wondered if God considered her a woman.


hen Eleanor snuck into the boy’s restroom, she was in the seventh grade. Theodor Chauvin had been waiting for her in the handicap stall. The tiles were blue instead of pink, and she noticed that none of the stalls had trash bins. She supposed this was because boys did not need to throw their pads away. He gripped her irmly by both shoulders and forcefully swung her body forward so that their faces were no more than a millimeter apart. He craned his neck down to her level, tilting his head to the right, and placed his lips up against hers. She could tell he was sure not to breathe or make a single move. Eleanor thought his lips were chapped. Perhaps it had only been a minute before he pulled away, and the both of them looked down at their shoes. Her heartbeat had slowed and her palms were less sweaty, but she felt nothing different within her. She expected to feel an airiness, a brightness, maybe a cold liquid feeling swirling right into the center of her being. She didn’t understand what it was that others were making such a fuss about. “Did you like it?” he asked inally. It was the boyish fright in his eyes that made Eleanor pity him. She nodded her head. “Uh huh,” she said. Then, after a pause, “You’re a good

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kisser.” He swallowed audibly. “Yeah, you, too.” Though she could feel no change, Eleanor questioned if this act had made her oficially evolve from girl to woman. If he made her evolve. And if Theodor was to be accredited, maybe that in itself made him into a man. Or perhaps it was completely the other way around. Eleanor wondered if she was an instrument in making Theodor a man, and if that in itself is what made her into a woman.


hough she will not want to, Eleanor will recall for the rest of her life the irst time she lay naked in a man’s bed. She is fourteen years old, but he had made her feel like a woman. More than a year later, his name and face will be plastered all over the ten o’clock news. And though the reporter will never say her name, Eleanor’s peers will come to know her as the girl who slept with her eighth grade history teacher. She stays there next to him until she walks home the next morning, but she, in fact, does not sleep at all. She lies stiff on her back, pulling the thin white sheets over her pubescent breasts. A type of animal smell hovers about the two of them, a thick, murky scent like maybe that of a wet dog. The crest of her abdomen tightens and aches. Her thighs feel sticky. It seems that every naive act of rebellion has converged into this very moment. And it will be a long time before Eleanor is able to give herself a reason as to why she did it. The moon covers his bedroom in a blue light. The ceiling looks so high up, she wonders if anyone has ever touched it. Eleanor could feel a brewing in her body. In her chest she could feel a heaviness. Like sorrow, like fear, like utter disbelief. In the underside of her belly there was a violent twisting, as if something had been ruptured. And at her sex she felt the tiniest stream. A painful crimson stream. She turns to look at the man asleep beside her. He was facing the other direction. Eleanor wonders what this means for the future of the two of them. He has a job and a car and a wife and a child. Eleanor wonders if his daughter will turn out like her. She wonders what his wife will think if she inds out her

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husband had slept with a much younger girl. Eleanor realizes she cannot tell her own mother any of this. What would she think if she found out her daughter had slept with a much older man? She can hardly imagine the amount of trouble she would be in. It’s stupid to admit, but he had made her feel special. She remembers all the times that he had called her smart, given her gifts, wrote her a pass to skip class. He said she was the most mature student that he had ever taught, the most interesting individual he had met in all his days as a teacher. Someone had once told her that beauty was a woman’s currency. And if that was true, then according to him, she was the wealthiest girl in the world. He is a man, and therefore his words are worth more than anything that any boy like Theodor Chauvin could say. Perhaps that is the reason why she allowed him to undress her, why she did not tell him to stop even though it hurt. She watches his right shoulder rise and fall with each rolling snore. He is chubby and at his age he’s starting to sprout hairs on his back. He looks kind of like a bear, she thinks. This affair surely has to be the turning point; there’s no doubt in Eleanor’s mind. She deinitely feels different, and if she would dare to rouse from the bed, step over her clean, white panties discarded on the loor, and stand in front of the mirror, she thinks that she would certainly look different, as well. Now she is a woman. Eleanor wonders if the man next to her would think so, too. But perhaps the whole point of the affair is that he doesn’t want to.

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Tiara Brown 2019 Words and Music Competition, poetry category, honorable mention Pomegranates wandering down the produce aisle I stop in front of a pile of pomegranates take one in my hand and marvel at the heft of the orb it barely its in my palm my gyno says my most impressive cyst to date has grown to this size says it’s fascinating I attempt to crush the thick rind and fantasize about its rich gem-like seeds spilling about the concrete loor

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Ann Hudson Madame Curie 1943, biography, drama, romance, running time: 2 hours, 4 minutes, starring Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon

Forty minutes in, Pierre bangs on Marie’s bedroom door. It’s late, and his kerchiefed mother and father hurry out into the dark hallway to see what the trouble is. Marie lights a candle and calls out, Is anything wrong? then clutches the covers so as not to expose her nightdress. Pierre strides into her room, stops a full yard from her bedside, and suggests they form a perfect scientiic partnership, suggests that like sodium chloride they will be stable and unchanging until the end of time. She accepts, and he steps from the room, latching the door behind him. Four minutes later they’re married. They pose with family and friends, the photographer counting off ten seconds. We wait, and watch one tableau after another, a tablecloth barely stirring in the breeze. At ten, a mighty cheer goes up and the Curies bicycle away, waved off by an adoring and synchronized crowd. Who could imagine this could happen to a poor, Polish girl growing up in Russian-dominated Warsaw, not allowed to continue her studies because she is a woman, so she attends the Flying University, a secret network of classes. It can’t have been easy to smuggle books under her cloak, then later bring what money she had to help gather a meager library, spine by spine. They studied Polish texts, Polish history, chemistry, pedagogy. When the Russians got too close they shifted locations, kaleidoscoping all over Warsaw to avoid detection. It wasn’t until 1891 that Maria Sklodowska was able to go to Paris and attend the Sorbonne where she earned degrees in mathematics and physics, and four years later became this full and perfect rhyme: Marie Curie, Pierre’s wife and scientiic equal. On screen

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Greer Garson, fresh off Gone With the Wind, Pride and Prejudice, and an Academy Award for Mrs. Miniver, is starring opposite Walter Pidgeon for the fourth time. She’s wide-eyed and unblinking, her posture ierce, her lips dewy. For all the overly simpliied romance and overly simpliied science, it’s still impressive that only ten years after Curie’s death from aplastic anemia due to radium poisoning, her life story is being recreated in gauzy black-and-white by one of the biggest ilm stars of the 1940s. Those are some long odds. By the end, Greer Garson, white haired, gives a swelling speech, but the heat has gone out of the ilm. It’ll be dark soon, all the little lights going on in the windows. On the radio, there’s another war on.

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Matthew Kelsey Never Safer My irst purchase on the world was a dumb thumb pressed to a frog, rosin on a string, grip on the limb of a bow. I’d squeak and scrack, suserrate. The white, sticky powder drawn from Bellaina woodblock wed woodwork and hair of a horse, or else old gut sleeved in metal coils, taut and tense, turned to the open notes I craved, carved, learned to tune myself to. The adults wanted “Twinkle, twinkle...” without a single wrinkle, then Saint-Saens’ “Swan” sans error, producing terror when I’d slip. I wanted Nirvana.

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I wanted “Come As You Are” and “Jesus Don’t Want Me For a Sunbeam,” and Melancholy and the Ininite

Sadness. My irst cello was dubbed The Bomb, and was ducttaped along its fragile ribs, sheen shineless, sickly, passed to me when my best friend Chris decided to quit it. Hot Cross Buns never sounded worse, but if my dusty, busted companion could sing, then so could I, shy from the seven years I’d lived from hand to hand. Then came the gift, my irst lift from the poverty of my heart: the next cello, mine to keep,

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a mellow solar lare, a lion’s eye in a dense Italian forest, forest honey, tart cherry, smart inish I’d run

two ingers along, the dust on my index receipt of my worn conidante. I’d rock it when no one was near, press the lesh of my neck lush to its own, its charcoal pegs

and scroll pulling me in to a bar, phrase, a song in new time, not the one I thought I had come to know, not one I thought but felt, then held until I left my irst small self at rest.

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Jack Cape 2019 Words and Music Competition, short story category, honorable mention The Seabird


he Serbian fortress hulks atop the twilit hill, like a prehistoric sea creature dragged ashore to die. I stand to one side of a massive wrought-iron bridge spanning the Danube, dividing the old city of Novi Sad from the new, buffeted by masked revelers on either side lowing eagerly towards the castle. I can feel the slight form of the pill between two of my toes, can feel it throb to the beat of the music that surrounds me. Scantily clad women pose with trays of rakija shots on the walkways either side of the bridge, calling to the crowds and smiling coyly. Above me the midsummer sky is streaked violet and vermilion. It’s a warm night. A good night for it. I approach one of the women. Upon second glance she’s a girl, not out of her teens. She bats her eyes at me. Her features are severe and alluring; her eyelids thickly coated in violet eyeshadow. “Rakija?” I say hesitantly. She smiles and passes me a tiny plastic cup illed with the clear liquor. As far as I can tell it’s the Serbian equivalent of moonshine. It’s cheap. “Hundred,” she says, her English heavily accented. One hundred dinar is about one dollar. I hand her a bill and throw back the shot. It’s harsh, but not caustic. They add honey to it, I hear. A tall masked man suddenly muscles past the two of us, knocking me and the girl off balance. I stumble heavily. The girl yelps and grabs my arm. “Oi!” I shout. The man looks back at me, liquid brown eyes blinking through the simple black mask. A half smile curls his full lips over uneven teeth. He murmurs something unintelligible, then turns and disappears into the sea of bodies. I look at the girl, still clinging to me for support, and smile ruefully. She lets go of me.

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“Finn,” I say, pointing to my chest. She smiles. “Jelena.” She probably thinks I’m hitting on her. “Fala,” I say, thanking her, and move onwards, towards the south bank and the castle. I pass through a section of the old city, then through a series of high stone archways leading towards the castle gates. Elegant pastel-hued houses lank the cobblestone streets, in stark contrast to the monolithic Soviet apartment buildings that choked the new half of the city. All around me are eager teenagers with speakers poking out of their backpacks, playing aggressive EDM. I feel as though the pulsing beat threatens to wake the wizened corpses at their uneasy rest in the crypts beneath the castle. I’ve seen their photos in a brochure; the sunken sockets, the grinning teeth, the gnarled skeletal ingers splayed on either side of the bodies. I looked at those photos for hours. I approach the security checkpoint, and wait in the queue, eyes forward. Soon it’s my turn, and I step up and hold my arms out to either side. Two security guards frisk me, patting down my arms, my torso, my legs. They run their ingers inside the waistband of my shorts, and motion for me to open my mouth and stick out my tongue. Satisied, they wave me forward. They do not ask me to take off my shoes. learned of this festival exactly one year ago. We were sitting with friends outside a cafe in Boulder, Colorado. Jai sat next to me, his strong ingers idly stroking the back of my neck. “—It’s wild,” Liv was saying. “It’s all throughout the grounds of this old castle in Serbia, and it’s dirt cheap. Eastern Europe is where it’s at, I’m telling you. It was amazing.” “See one music festival, you’ve seen ‘em all,” said Jai. “It’s not just music,” said Liv, casting a glance across the two of us. “There’s clubs in the tunnels under the castle. There’s a main room, but then there’s these little rooms off to the sides. You can ind anything you’re looking for. The river comes in underneath, and it actually lows through these tunnels. You haven’t seen anything like it.” “Next summer?” Jai murmured in my ear. I grinned, ingering the smooth metal of the gold band on


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my ring inger. “Add it to the honeymoon? We’ll be in Europe anyway,” I said. He laughed, his hand slipping beneath my shirt. “It’d better be damn cheap, what with this wedding that you’re planning.” “Liv, how cheap is cheap?” I asked. “A hundred euros for four nights. Free camping,” she said. I felt for Jai’s hand, stroking down my spine, and squeezed it. “This one’s on me, baby.” walk through the inal gate, past the checkpoint, and peel to the right. Grassy paths wind through the castle grounds, and soon the crowd thins out. A man staggers towards me, a half-empty bottle of rakija clenched in one sweaty ist. He stops and stares at me. His eyes are crazed and bloodshot and I think I see pain in there. Out of nowhere, he charges. I sidestep nimbly and he staggers headlong into the stone wall behind me. Onlookers shriek and gasp. I take a few paces towards the wall, and glance down at him. Blood trickles from a gash near his hairline, but he stirs feebly. A young couple push past me and crouch beside him. I slowly move away. Maybe he’s better off dead.


met Jai two years ago, in the bathroom of a gay club in Denver. I was new to the city; I’d taken a job teaching high school English at a charter school out in the suburbs. It was a coworker’s birthday, a Wednesday night, one of the last nights of our summer vacation. The club was nearly deserted. Undeterred, we took several shots of tequila in quick succession, after which I suddenly became aware of blood dribbling down the front of my shirt. I was at the sink in the grimy bathroom, daubing at the nosebleed, when someone walked in and did a double-take. “You okay?” I closed my eyes in humiliation. “Fine. It’s the altitude. I’m new here.” I opened my eyes and saw his face in the mirror for the


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irst time, all dark eyes and high cheekbones, his braided hair pulled back, the slim tattoo behind his right ear: a lioness in mid-stretch. “Cute,” I said, indicating the tattoo. I quickly glanced in the mirror to make sure all the blood was off my face. He grinned. “I study them.” “What, lions?” I said, slurring a little. He nodded. I laughed. “Like a liontologist?” “I guess?” he said. “I’m doing lab work right now, but I’m going to Botswana next year for ield studies.” “Sure you are,” I said, moving towards the door. “Can I buy you a drink?” “Yes,” he said. “Then let’s ind you a glass of water.” He’s still in my phone as Jay, as I thought his name was spelled for the irst few weeks of our courtship. I soon found out that he was, in fact, a ‘liontologist,’ as he began calling himself, working under a prominent researcher at the University of Colorado. Things happened quickly between us, unexpectedly, marked by tumblers of bourbon, vinyl records, long sweaty nights in his tiny studio apartment. I became fascinated by him, enrapt, infatuated by his fondness for old Motown records, his love of Knob Creek, the ishing tackle that sat unused next to his futon but he had it anyway because ‘you always have to be prepared.’ He had been a Boy Scout for a year, kicked out for kissing another boy when he was fourteen. He had a tabby cat named Leo. Every day I caught myself staring, marveling at the smoothness of his features, the length of his eyelashes, the veins that ran up his arms. The surfaces of his apartment were piled high with textbooks on animal behavior, ornithology, savannah ecology; George Schaller’s The Serengeti Lion was displayed prominently. There was one in particular, entitled Seabirds of the South Paciic, that I would pore through at length, absorbed by the glossy photos of migrating Arctic Terns soaring south towards Antarctica. I couldn’t believe he liked me. But he did. He really did. He liked that I liked kids, he liked that I was a teacher; his eyes would ill with tears when I would describe a mundane afterschool session, helping my students with their English papers.

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He liked my chest hair, my facial hair, the little hairs that grew on my knuckles and the back of my neck. He liked my wry sense of humor, my jokes. He liked my green eyes, my ass, my shoulders. I felt alive and powerfully myself around him, as I never had before. In May, ten months after we had met, we went camping in the mountains above Boulder. We sat on a log by the dying ire in the cool evening air, wrapped in a leece blanket. “Hey,” Jai said. “You down for an adventure?” I grinned into his shoulder. “What did you have in mind?” He turned his head and gave me a searching look, his eyes mere inches from mine. Slowly, he reached into his pocket. He extended his hand towards me, palm upwards. Upon it was a gold ring. “Marry me?” he asked. I thought about cracking a joke, as he would have done were the roles reversed. “Yes,” I said instead. “Yes.” I moved into the studio. He met my parents that summer at their house in Maine, accepting the proffered gin and tonic with easy grace, his piercings and tattoos melding effortlessly with the hard Adirondack furniture. He had the power to adapt to any situation, to place anyone instantly at ease. The autumn passed in a blur. In December, he came into the studio, stomping snow onto the mat. “We’re going to the Kalahari. Botswana,” he clariied, in response to my blank reaction. “The team?” I asked. “Yes,” he said. “When?” “After the new year.” I felt my breath catch in my throat. “Okay.” At the New Year’s party, he kissed me at midnight. “Five weeks. It’s nothing.” Two days later at the airport, he kissed me and said. “Five weeks. It’s nothing.” “Five weeks, it’s nothing,” I inally murmured back. The weeks passed slowly, marked by sporadic updates. Jai’s childish excitement came forth in the e-mails, and I smiled

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reluctantly in the glow of my laptop. The pride took down a giraffe today! It was epic! Like Game of Thrones! One of the young females just had four cubs. Should I steal one and bring it back? :) So, I tried wildebeest for the irst time today … I think about standing at the airport ive weeks later with Jai’s mother, Claudia, waiting. She stood statuesque with her glossy dark hair, red lipstick, leopard-print scarf, broad sunglasses. I saw where Jai got his poise, his effortless elegance, and for the irst time in my life, I thought about having children. Claudia caught my eye and smiled faintly, as if reading my mind. And we waited. The day before they were due to leave, the cape buffalo migration arrived in northern Botswana. The lion pride went on the hunt, and Jai and his team followed. Their small plane crested a series of hills on the heels of the migration, lying low, taking the poachers by surprise. Four men panicked and opened up on the Cessna with semi-automatic weapons. They realized their mistake quickly and lowered their weapons, but the damage was done. The pilot was hit. hese past ive months I have dreamed as a petrel, wheeling and diving across the rugged New Zealand coastline, wings churning towards the freedom of open water. I spy a small ish near the surface and dart down to skim low across the water. I seize the ish, then pump my wings, climbing for altitude. Circling above, a frigatebird spies my catch and stoops. He crashes into me from above with wild ferocity, claws raking, beak snapping. Two others join the assault. I shriek and drop the ish. The larger birds break off their attack, veering down towards the food, but I splash into the ocean and sink beneath the surface, lungs illing with water…. I wake from these dreams screaming and thrashing, my body covered in a solid sheet of sweat, the blankets twisted around my legs like a isherman’s frayed net. Every night, I see the forensic photographs of the plane crash. I see the scores of bullet holes that riddle the thin


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aluminum of the Cessna’s fuselage. Every night, I pray Jai died irst. I pray the nine bullets slammed through his chest and stomach so quickly that he did not think, did not fear, did not feel the sickening drop, the impact. I see the plane falling like a crippled seabird and sinking to the bottom of the ocean. I blearily wonder what will happen to the carcass. Sharks cannot consume aluminum. There are people in this world who can recover from these things, who can “bounce back.” I am not one of those people. In my heart, in the marrow of my bones, I know I am not one of those people. Jai woke something in me that I do not know what to do with now, I do not know where to put it. I have no place to put it. triding through the castle grounds, I hear Liv’s voice in my head, as if we’re back at the cafe in Boulder. “There’s clubs in the tunnels under the castle… You can ind anything you’re looking for… The river comes in underneath, and it actually lows through these tunnels …” I have our wedding bands in my pocket. I have the pill between my toes. All I need is the river. There’s a raised tunnel cutting through the fortress grounds, and I enter alongside a crowd of eager festival-goers; they hoot and screech, laughing as their voices clang and echo against the tunnel walls. I stop at a small door on the right midway through the passage, guarded by a beefy Serbian. I lash him my American passport and he waves me through. The dimly lit corridor descends down several lights of stairs, taking me deeper underground, deeper into the bowels. Another door, another brawny Serbian. I ind myself in a dim, smoky bar, a hub with passages leading off on all sides. Must be the place. Might as well get drunk for this, Jai’s oft-repeated phrase loats through my head. I advance to the bar and order a double whiskey. There’s a knot of well-dressed, young—some too young— Eastern European men in a corner of the circular stone-walled room. One detaches and comes towards me. He’s tall and slender, with liquid brown eyes and full lips. A small gold hoop earring hangs in his right ear. He’s no longer masked. He leans


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against the bar, and eyes me appraisingly. “Hey baby,” he says. His teeth are crooked. I stare at him for a long moment. “Hey baby,” I say at last. I take a sip of whiskey. “You looking for a good time?” “Not with that line, I’m not,” I say. “You watch a lot of TV?” He laughs. “What would you have me say?” He’s well-spoken, there’s a slight British inlection in there. I like that. “There’s got to be something better than that.” I feel the stack of dinar in my pocket. Part of me thinks that I may as well ind it a new home while the night is still young. The other part…. “I don’t want to fuck you,” I say. He cocks his head, looks me up and down. “I don’t believe you.” “Believe what you want,” I say. “Let’s go.”


e brings me to a cell near the underground river. I can hear the water rushing out in the darkness. There’s a bench built into the stone wall and a drain in the middle of the loor. There’s no door. My skin crawls abruptly. “What is this place?” “It used to be a torture chamber,” he says, seating himself on the bench and crossing his legs. There’s a familiar elegance to his actions. I try my best to keep my expression even. “Sexy,” I say. “How much?” “Five thousand dinar. Fifty dollars. Nothing for you Americans,” he says, smiling up at me. I pull a stack of bills from my pocket. “What do I call you?” I ask. “It’s hard for Westerners to pronounce,” he says, taking the money. “Just call me baby.” He stands, takes my chin in hand, and kisses me. His lips are soft, but I push him away. “I told you —” “I know what you said. Everyone says that,” he says. “I meant it.” He eyes me warily. “Then what are you paying me for?”

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“Can you show me the river?” I ask.

e takes me through a series of winding passageways. It’s dizzying, but not far. I can hear the water growing louder the whole time. After several minutes we emerge into a long cavern. The river is fast and dark, lowing swiftly, dimly lit by old sconces afixed to the cavern wall. It’s perfect. “This is ine. You can leave,” I tell him. He studies me for a moment. “I can leave?” “Yes, I’d like you to leave.” “What if I want to stay?” he asks. “You’ve got your money. I don’t want you to stay,” I say. He observes me for another long moment. “What are you going to do?” “None of your business. Can you please leave?” “No, I’ll stay here with you.” “Suit yourself.” There’s nothing he can do to stop me at this point. I seat myself on the edge, letting my legs dangle over the rushing black water. He sits down next to me. “What happens now?” he asks. In response I tug off one of my shoes, and slowly peel the sock off. I ish around inside of it and withdraw the pill. It’s small, pink, innocuous. A shadow crosses his face. “Where did you get that?” “From a man in Belgrade,” I say. “Ivan. Ivan the chemist,” he says. I nod. “He’s a big deal on the Dark Web.” He stares at me. “Why are you doing this?” I start to speak, then fall silent. It’s hard to explain when someone asks you directly. “I lost someone,” I say at length. “My iancé. It’s gotten too hard.” “What about your family? Your friends?” “It’s not about them,” I say. “It’s about him.” “They’ll be sad if you go. Devastated. Some will not recover.” “I know. It’s selish. I’ve written letters.” “It’s not just selish,” he says. “The cycle could continue. Someone else could decide to end it all, because of you.” I have nothing to say to that. I stare at the dark water.


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“What was his name?” he asks. “Jaiden,” I say. “Jai. He hated his full name.” “He loved you?” he asks. “Yes,” I say. “Yes, he did.” “You don’t think you can ind happiness without him?” “It’s not about happiness,” I say. “It’s past happiness. It’s about … just existing. I can’t. I don’t want to. It’s my choice, isn’t it?” He nods, his eyes drifting off. “It’s your choice, that’s true.” After a moment, he smiles slightly. “What?” I ask. “This is like the ilm Titanic,” he says. “When he inds her hanging over the side of the ship. Have you seen it?” “Of course.” “‘You jump, I jump,’” he quotes. “That’s what Jack says, remember?” I nod. “You jump, I jump.” He cocks his head. “It is a similar situation, no?” I don’t know what to say to that. A silence falls. I listen to the dark water rush through the cavern. I wonder what it will feel like to get swept away, or if I will even feel anything by that point. “It fades,” he says after a long minute. “What?” “The pain,” he says. “It fades. Becomes more bearable.” “I’ve heard that,” I say. “But I’ve made my decision.” “I know you have,” he says. Abruptly, he stands. “What are you doing?” I ask. “I’m leaving.” “You’re leaving?” I feel a sudden stab of panic. “This is something you need to do on your own. I cannot be here. I have no place here.” “What happened to ‘you jump, I jump?’” I ask foolishly. He regards me somberly. “Like you said, it is your choice. If you want to jump, if you really want to jump, you should jump.” He crouches and takes my face in his hands. “But if you do not jump? You know where to ind me.” We stare at each other for a long moment. He has a small

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discoloration in the white of his left eye. He stands back up and looks at me for a moment. And he turns to leave. Suddenly without warning I am falling, tumbling out of the sky, feeling the frigatebird’s claws raking my back, seeing the water come ever closer — “Wait! Please!” My voice is guttural, hysterical. Everything is dark. All I can see is rushing water. I grope blindly at the stone and feel myself slipping. I feel his hands take mine, feel him pull me up, away from the black water. “Come here. Calm down. Open your eyes.” I open them. Tears are pouring down my face. He looks at me with concern. “Tell me what you are feeling.” “I have this dream.” I tell him about the petrel, the attack, how I sink beneath the surface of the ocean. “I can’t have it again.” “Do you die? Do you drown?” he asks. “What?” I stammer. “In the dream,” he says. “Do you die, or do you wake up?” “I wake up, but—” He nods slowly. “Some birds can swim.” I stare at him, confused. “What?” “Seabirds, many of them can swim,” he says. “I’ve seen it on television. Their feathers are waterproof, and they can dive deep into the water to catch ish. Maybe you do not wake right before you die, but you wake before you swim to the surface. Maybe you are that kind of bird.” I cannot speak. “Just a thought,” he says. He turns and walks away, leaving me by the dark river.


n hour later, the sky is lightening as I emerge from the tunnel. All around me are haggard festival-goers, stumbling homeward. I walk towards the gates and see him standing there. “What are you doing here?” I ask. He looks sheepish. “I tore you off.” “You what?” “I tore you off. I asked for more money than was fair.” “Ah. You ripped me off,” I say.

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“Ripped you off, yes. You paid for me until the sun comes

He points to the sky. It’s still dark, just the faintest streak of grey visible on the horizon. He regards me measuringly. “My name is Tamas,” he says. “Come with me. You need to get some sleep, little bird.” The pill is back between my toes. A small part of me feels relief. Maybe I can swim. Maybe I am that kind of bird. And if I’m not … there will be other rivers.

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Linda Parsons Putting Him On Arrow, Van Heusen, creased and pressed— it all frays to lannel—pocket torn, buttons chipped or missing. Just as Leda took on the swan’s mastery with his godlike force, I put on my father’s few things left—this shirt, whiff of smoke and Old Spice, sweatpants— whatever slipped on easily in assisted living. I inhale his remembered body, knowable inally in diminishment, two stranger hearts shawled close. I could not smooth his brute fear at the end, that white rush—no airy wingbeat fallen, no knowledge of how terribly heaven bears down.

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Linda Parsons ROMEO Y JULIETA In the cigar factory’s sweating rooms, a voice drones on the loudspeaker, reads the morning newspaper to the leaf rollers and cutters. Fifteen minutes of news, novelas in the afternoon. In the old days, back to 1875 in la Habana, the lectores regaled workers with scandal and suspense, Capulet and Montague, the last bitter cup so popular a brand was named for the doomed lovers. I imagine my father among them, before his own feud with life, bent to the swift blade—his surgeon’s skill with watermelon, cantaloupe, each square a marvel of order and precision, a sprinkle of salt. I imagine him heading home reeking of unsmoked tobacco, undertones of earth and hazelnut, ingers permanently stained. Scent of the illers and binders dizzy in his head, he wonders what will

happen tomorrow—in those star-crossed pages, those dire hopes like a rose that by any other name would smell as sweet.

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Susan Finch 2019 Words and Music Competition, short story category, runner-up That Thing with Feathers


courthouse, a backyard, a beach, a country club, Clint had been married in them all, and now, for wedding ive, for the irst time, a church. He wants to think it means something new to be married in a church with all the ritual and prayer and god-talk that accompanies it. Yesterday at the rehearsal, the evening light from the stain-glassed windows bathed him and his bride-to-be in reds and greens—they swam in a pool of color. Dive in, he thought, and he now reminds himself of this as he fumbles to pin his boutonniere to his lapel. “Here, let me help.” Louise, his brother’s wife takes the boutonniere from him, a blue jay feather tied with a tiny bronze ribbon to a green ball of a lower. “Well, it’s unique,” she says, studying it. “I picked the feather,” Clint offers. “She picked the lower.” He pokes the round moss-colored bud with one inger. It is soft where it looks spikey. “It looks like a weed to me.” “It’s called a Green Trick,” Louise says. Of course she knows the name. Since she retired, she’d been elected president of the Garden Club. “We use these in summer arrangements. Whimsical, don’t you think?” she asks her husband, Trey. “A trick, huh, I don’t like the sound of that.” Trey has a similar boutonniere minus the feather. He pets the green lower on the head like he might pat a puppy. He’s Clint’s brother and has been his best man for four out of ive weddings, and he says, like he does before every ceremony, “Are you sure about this? It’s not too late.” “What a thing to say,” Louise complains. She swats at Trey with one hand and straightens the pin in the boutonniere. She doesn’t understand that it is a Best Man’s job to give the Groom a way out. Though Clint loves Louise and never doubted that his brother should marry her, forty-four years ago, Clint asked the same question of Trey. Though Louise would never know that.

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It feels impossible that Trey and Louise could be married so long, that they all are now in their sixties. The lines around Louise’s eyes are deep and when she smiles, they radiate from every angle like a shattered windshield. Trey’s balding head is dotted with age-spots. Clint certainly doesn’t feel sixty-eight, and when caught off guard, he almost always answers iftyeight. When he looks at his twin brother, he knows he’s looking at a version of himself—stiff and slow as he climbs out of a chair. “I like Eve,” Louise announces. Trey and Clint eye one another, but they don’t respond. “I do,” she protests. “She’s intelligent and employed and she can hold a conversation.” “And?” Trey prods. “And?” The apples of Louise’s cheeks lush. “And anything is better than Starla.” They all laugh. “I just want you to be happy,” Louise tells Clint. She adjusts the feather. “We all want you to be happy.” Nobody says what they are all thinking—that Clint hasn’t been happy since his daughter died—and no amount of wives or wedding ceremonies or churches will ill that void. Clint pats the back of Louise’s hand, the skin loose and soft under his palm. “I appreciate that, Lou. I really do.”


arriage One (The Courthouse on Second Avenue): After graduating high school, Clint worked for his father’s construction company. First as a laborer and then, quickly, some would argue too quickly, he’d been promoted to a managerial position. His father wasn’t above fast-tracking his son. Clint made more money in two years than he imagined possible. He bought a little bungalow in an area that still had its fair share of crime, but he could walk to his favorite bar, The Villager, and more importantly, the house was his. He painted the exterior an olive green with grey and white trim. He removed old carpeting and reinished the hardwood loors. He changed the ixtures, painted the kitchen, and knocked a wall out of the front room to give the house a nice low, (he’d heard that word from a real estate agent), and when he was done, he needed a family to ill it. He wasn’t yet twenty-one. His girlfriend Cathy was about to

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graduate from high school, and she’d been talking about moving to Knoxville to get her degree. She was fun and easy to be around and his family liked her. Marriage seemed as good as an excuse as any to get her to stay. “Are you sure about this?” Trey asked at the courthouse. They were standing at the urinals in the men’s bathroom. Clint sighed. Trey was always trying to make him uncomfortable—talking to him while he was trying to take a piss or asking him questions he didn’t know the answers to and now both simultaneously. When they were kids, he liked to pretend he could read Clint’s mind, and sometimes, the results were scarily accurate. Which again, made Clint uncomfortable. “I’m just asking,” Trey persisted. “I’m pretty sure it’s required of the best man. To give you one last opportunity to go AWOL.” “I’m ine,” Clint said, zipping his ly and crossing to the sinks. He washed his hands and smoothed them across his hair, leaving a damp sheen on his perfectly manicured side part. He ran two ingers down each side of his mustache. Cathy had asked him to shave it for the wedding, but he’d refused. His face looked so young without it—wide dark eyes and a rosebud mouth like a panda cub. These delicate features would serve him well as he aged, but at twenty, sometimes he felt too pretty to be a man. His mustache, thick and dark, was like a trophy he hung on the mantle of his lip. “Cathy’s a ine girl,” Trey said, slapping Clint’s back and sounding paternal and maybe a little patronizing. “Y’all will be ine.” And it was as if his brother was reading his mind again, because this is what Clint kept telling himself. They would be ine, everything would be ine, but even as he told himself this, he suspected ine wasn’t enough. Cathy and Clint played house for four years, starring in the roles of husband and wife as best they could—he brought home a paycheck and dutifully mowed the yard and took the car into the shop, and she had dinner on the table every night, folded his laundry (even his boxers), and wore bright yellow rubber gloves to clean the dishes. And it was all ine until her friends graduated from UT. Cathy insisted they attend the ceremony, and Clint found it impossibly boring. He couldn’t

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understand the point of being there in the sea of mothers, fathers, and other sleepy relatives. He resented it, but he brought bouquets of roses for Cathy’s best girlfriends, again play-acting like he knew what he was supposed to do or how he was supposed to be. When he looked over at his wife during the ceremony, tears streamed down her face, rolling quietly along her jawline and pooling at her chin, and he was stunned. He had no idea what to say, so he said nothing at all. In the fall, Cathy enrolled in the local university part-time and by the end of the semester, she was done with make-believe. She aced her exams, packed up her books, and said goodbye, leaving her yellow rubber gloves folded over the lip of the sink for good.


ve is all the things Louise labeled her—intelligent, ambitious, and articulate—and she is also beautiful. Not all of Clint’s wives have been beautiful, but Eve is the kind of woman that other women notice. Clint’s male friends are distracted by the unblemished leshiness of long legs or the perky cleavage of a thirty-something, but Eve is none of that. She has wide set eyes, a dark olive complexion, and a slightly too-large forehead. She looks like a sketch from a Greek urn or a wall of hieroglyphics. He’s always been attracted to women like this, but he felt somehow there would be a gap between them. It was only after his daughter died that he felt he had a new courage, a new level of understanding, or maybe it was simply bravado or recklessness that let him pursue women he would be afraid to in the past. Eve is stunning in her ivory, lace gown, and while they are at the altar, Clint inds himself distracted by the thought of removing it, watching it puddle at her feet, and pulling the warm luxury of her shoulders, her breasts, and the small of her back to him. He stumbles in his vows, and when Eve squeezes his hand, he smiles sheepishly. At the ceremony, he feels like he is watching a movie of himself. He’s been through this so many times, he should have the cues and dialogue memorized, but he can’t quite make himself arrive in the moment. This distractedness follows him to the reception, hosted at a renovated warehouse venue downtown, one that his fourth wife and he toured as a possible ceremony location

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before they decided on the country club. But he didn’t tell this to Eve. There are so many weddings in his past and only so many ways to get married. He compares it to divulging some of the sexual pleasures his past wives enjoyed. As long he keeps his mouth shut, they can beneit from his lived experience, without unnecessary drama. At the reception, they dance to some of the same music he had in his past weddings, Sinatra, Bill Withers, and Jackie Wilson, but Eve makes sure that “their” dance to “The Very Thought of You” is one that he hasn’t encountered before. They eat cake, politely, as he did at every wedding in the past, well, except for his union with Starla. He should’ve known that his impulse to shove the cake roughly into her mouth was a sign of trouble to come. The champagne toasts are nearly identical to the last few weddings—a couple of jokes about his multiple marriages and how now, only now, he’s found the one. Trey recites an Emily Dickinson poem during his best man speech, something he’d never have considered as a young man, but in his old age, he’s ripe with sentimentality. He unfolds a crumpled paper from his pocket and begins, “Hope is the thing with feathers, That perches in the soul...” During this recitation, Clint inally realizes why he feels as if he’d zombie-walked his way through an event that he was genuinely looking forward to—of course he knew he would miss his daughter at the wedding—he misses his daughter every day of his life—but what he didn’t understand was that none of this, the new beginning, the beautiful young wife, the potential for happiness, none of it feels promising without her.


arriage Three (Beaches Barbados All-Inclusive Resort): Clint’s daughter, Deborah, was the only family member who attended his wedding to Starla, and she only did it out of obligation. There was no joy, and there were a few times she couldn’t hide her disgust. Clint lew his eighteen-year-old daughter to Barbados for the wedding and Clint paid for her to bring a friend. What he didn’t realize was this friend would be a man, an older man at that. Clint realized the irony in his dislike for the twenty-ive-year old Deborah was dating, the manager at the restaurant where she had a part-time job. Randall was a

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perfectly nice person, and in another scenario Clint might have liked him, but all he could see was the way Randall’s hands crept onto any bare patch of Deborah’s skin—rubbing the soft mound of her shoulder with his thumb, letting his hand rest on her knee during every meal, and at the wedding “reception,” really just a party at the resort’s all-inclusive bar, he watched Randall’s hand drift down Deborah’s open backed dress, all the way down to her waist, and then Randall slipped his inger underneath the fabric, and Clint felt something inside him collapse in anger and loss. Starla was, of course, too busy to notice any of this. Instead, she posed for the photographer, making sure she got the perfect Caribbean sunset behind her as she choreographed every shot. “Look at me,” she instructed Clint. “Not like that,” she said, taking her hand and tilting his chin just a hair down. “Now, smile.” Clint had met Starla at the gym. He watched her watch herself in the mirror, and he admired the precision with which she exercised. He’d never seen a woman take the kind of care she did with her triceps. And then he noticed that she was watching him, too. She was easily ifteen years his junior and they had little in common, but Clint was still reeling from the disintegration of his marriage to Deborah’s mother, and the attention he got from Starla was intoxicating. Where she found value in him, he discovered it in himself. He’d forgotten what it felt like to be desired, even if some of what she desired was his money and inluence. Clint asked Deborah to say a few words at the reception as she was the only representative of his family. The rest of the wedding party consisted of Starla’s girlfriends and their mutual friends from the gym. The dinner was set near the pool, but the resort had neglected to mention that they didn’t close the pool for private parties. As the wedding toasts clinked across the patio, a trim Asian man and his family performed cannonballs off the diving board. The wedding toasts were all fairly generic and Clint began to see how little his new wife’s friends knew him. They talked about his patience with Starla’s dramatics, his generosity, and deadpan humor—the last one seemed especially

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inaccurate—but he smiled and nodded all the same. Finally, it was Deborah’s turn. She stood and raised her glass. Her teeth were stained red from the wine, and her eyes were watery, and for a minute, he worried she might cry. Randall put out a hand to steady her, and she shoved it away, giving him a look that reminded Clint of her mother, and he couldn’t help but smile. Then Deborah turned her gaze on him. She raised a glass, really only the dregs of wine left at the bottom, and Clint could see the tannins like lumps of dirt settled at the bottom. He began to wave a waiter over to get her a new glass, but Deborah had just turned a radiant smile on her audience, pausing to give them time to focus on her. Starla squeezed Clint’s hand and turned her face toward Deborah, ready for her stepdaughter to heap praise on her new stepmother. But Deborah’s gaze landed on her father instead, and her smile disappeared. “To my father,” she said and raised her glass and the table followed suit like a game of Simon Says. “The eternal optimist.” She chugged the wine and grit in her glass, and Clint could see that it took her two swallows to manage the thick tannins. He was supposed to be stung by her words, but instead, he raised his glass and drank. He was hopeful, hopeful that he’d ind happiness in a new beginning, hopeful that he’d not repeat the same mistakes of the past, and most importantly, hopeful that his daughter would see past all his laws as a father, a husband, and a man, and love him again one day. Shortly after the wedding, Clint realized the massive mistake he’d made marrying Starla. She was impulsive, reckless, and immature, but for the two years he managed to stay married to her, he would insist on staying optimistic. his is Clint’s ifth wedding night—a night so full of expectation and cliché that nothing could ever live up to it. The only wife he hadn’t slept with before their nuptials was Cathy. Upon relection, he admitted that might have had something to do with him rushing to the altar. On their wedding night, they carefully consummated their union with all of the expected romantic accouterments: two lutes of pink champagne, rose petals scattered on the duvet, and so many


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candles he was a little nervous they were going to burn his new house down. With his second wife, they’d gone to bed early when Mary Michelle had complained of allergies and exhaustion. They only found out later that she was already pregnant. Starla rushed him into one of the resort bathrooms and used her beautifully toned triceps to support herself, clinging to the tops of the stall, uninhibited as always, while he pumped away beneath her. Alexandra, his fourth wife, had too much to drink and he had to help her out of her corseted dress, pulling at the ribbon again and again as it wound its way out of the dress, until she was inally free. She took a shower so long that he checked to make sure she hadn’t passed out, and by the time she emerged, refreshed and semi-sober, he’d fallen asleep. For Eve, he reserves a hotel room with a view of downtown, one of the new ones in the Gulch, a neighborhood he had a hand in developing. From the loor to ceiling windows, Nashville’s growth and change is relected in the architecture— the historical in Union Station, the practical warehouse brick of Cummins Station, the clunky trends of the nineties in the Batman Building, and the new shiny wall of windows of the Westin. The Pinnacle building is also in his line of sight and that structure always makes him sad. Rumor spun a tale about how it was to be one of the tallest buildings on the skyline, glittering next to the Cumberland, but the recession hit, leaving the Pinnacle building without a pinnacle. However, the building was always planned that way, square and blocky, lattening out at the 29th loor, leaving an amputated stub. Clint is already feeling melancholy and sentimental from the wedding, and he inds himself quietly crying. The air in the hotel room is steamy from Eve’s shower and smells like cloves or some other kind of spice he cannot name but reminds him of Christmas. He wipes the tears from his cheeks because he doesn’t want to distress her. She stands behind him, wrapped in the luffy white hotel towel, and she puts her hands on his shoulders, just lightly, like a bird landing at a feeder, ready to bolt. He keeps his body as still as possible, hoping not to scare her away.


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edding Four (Richland Country Club): Alexandra was not the country club type, but when she suggested they get married at his golf club, Clint didn’t argue. “This is your irst wedding,” he told her, “You get whatever you need.” “This is my only wedding,” she snapped back with a smile, and they both laughed. What she needed would include: 250 guests, a ive-tier lavender and lemon wedding cake, a full band complete with a three-piece horn section, and a navy Maserati convertible to whisk them away at the end of the evening. Their get-away car, she kept calling it. Alexandra was good at making him laugh and he loved her, but he saw her irst, always, as a business partner. She was a real estate agent and he was a developer, and although their pairing might have seemed a little icky at irst, mixing business with pleasure, they were a good team. She introduced him to some of the best new restaurants in town. She loved hot yoga and hot chicken, and she had an uncanny sense for what neighborhood would be trendy and up and coming, convincing him to buy property in Germantown and the Nations before all the good lots were snapped up. But she was bad at reading people, and when she met Deborah’s iancé Jeremy at the rehearsal dinner, she was instantly enamored. “Deb’s boyfriend is a gem,” she told him after they were home. “Fiancé,” Clint corrected. “And what makes you think that?” Alexandra was sitting in front of her magnifying mirror, removing eye makeup. When she turned to him, one eye was bare, diminished with a little smear of black at the corner, and the other eye was still heavily draped in black liner, a copper shadow, and smoky grey at the corners. The effect made her look as if she’d been punched. “I don’t know,” she said, “He seems so attentive. He watches her like he didn’t want to lose track of her.” She turned back to the mirror, rubbing a cloth over her black eye. “It’s sweet.” “Sweet or psycho,” he said in a sing-songy voice, and at the time, he was joking. But there was something in the description that didn’t sit well with him. The next day he would be distracted by his picture-perfect wedding with his picture-

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perfect new bride, and he wouldn’t think about Jeremy and Deborah until after the honeymoon, when the wedding photos arrived. Like the wedding itself, the photos were nearly perfect, until Clint found one of himself and Deborah, one of the casual shots where they stood in conversation, their faces strangely positioned—his mouth pursed like he had just delivered a punch line, leaning in to get his daughter’s full reaction, and Deb’s head tilted back in laughter, her smile almost manic in its response. But it wasn’t their reactions that bothered him. It was Jeremy, caught just in the corner of the picture, just before the range went out of focus. He looked angry as if seeing Deborah laugh with her father illed him with rage. When he pointed it out to Alexandra, she would laugh away his worries. “Someone probably just stepped on his foot or something,” she said, and she’d click the right arrow on the computer to look at the next image. “You’re cute when you worry,” she said and pecked him on the cheek. “Cute but misguided.” A few years later, after Jeremy pled guilty to voluntary manslaughter, accepting a decade of prison time for what he claimed was the accidental shooting death of Deborah, Clint would wonder if he could ever forgive Alexandra for dismissing him that day. He’d wonder if he could forgive himself.


ve calls room service, ordering a pot of hot tea, a nightly ritual they participate in at home as well. She’s been in the states for more than thirty years, but this was a custom from her home country that she never wanted to give up. Before she hangs up, she looks at Clint to see if he needs anything else, but he shakes his head. She sinks into the oversized armchair next to him, and they watch planes and helicopters pass over the city in silence. Lights licker on and off in the buildings. “I know you missed her today,” Eve says and reaches out a hand to him. He stretches out to grab her warm palm and gives it a squeeze. “I know you missed your mother.” Eve’s mother passed in her sleep only a few months after Clint and Eve started dating. He only had the opportunity of meeting her once, but she was a walnut of a woman, small, wrinkled and brown, and

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sharp with her tongue. Clint could tell that Eve was translating only half of what her mother was saying, and he couldn’t blame her. He was only a few years younger than the woman, and he had proposed to Eve only a few months after meeting her. Eve did tell him the nickname she’d given him, Lost Rooster. Clint had been hurt by it at irst, but Eve insisted that it was a term of endearment. “She calls me Meu Chuchuzinho,” she said. “Little Squash.” Clint dozes a little until a knock at the door wakes him— their tea. Eve prepares him a cup. She takes pleasure in the sugar cubes, holding one between the tiny tongs, and smiling a little before she places it in his cup. “Everything is better with a sugar cube,” she says. Eve’s mother used to say this to her after a stumble or a scraped knee. She cleaned the wound, bandaged it up, and slipped the pressed block of sugar onto her daughter’s tongue. Eve smiles and picks up another sugar cube. This time with her ingers. She leaves his tea on the table between their chairs, and she settles in on his lap. He can feel that she’s not wearing much underneath her silk robe. “Open up,” she says, and he does. She places the cube on his tongue and he feels the grains dissolve into a liquid honey before she leans in for a kiss.


edding Two (The Backyard at 523 Roselawn Circle): “Well, it’s too late to back out now,” Trey told his brother as they stood at the end of the aisle, and Mary Michelle walked toward them. “I’ve seen her run. She’d catch you by the collar in a heartbeat.” Clint laughed and shushed his brother, but Trey persisted. “I could maybe distract her and give you a head start,” he said. Mary Michelle approached the handcrafted wedding canopy of lowers she and Clint had assembled together yesterday. She delivered a look that inally shut Trey up. “Deinitely too late,” he whispered in his brother’s ear one last time, and Clint smiled. Mary Michelle was the best woman he’d ever met—determined, smart, funny, and she loved him. No one had ever gazed at him with such conident joy before, and it was wonderful.

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They would stay married for eighteen years, and have one daughter, Deborah, who they both adored. And yet, somewhere in the drudgery of school plays, soccer practice, and Girl Scouts, Clint would realize Mary Michelle didn’t love him anymore. He irst noticed it one night after dinner. He was inishing a crossword puzzle and struggling with the last clue. He hated using the dictionary to igure out the answer. “Did I ever tell you my mother used to ill in the blocks with nonsense? That she didn’t want anyone to know she couldn’t igure out the puzzle?” Mary Michelle looked at him from across the couch. Her feet were tucked under an afghan. She always seemed to be cold. “I know,” she said. “You’ve told me that story a dozen times.” She looked at him like she looked at the cat when she scolded him for climbing on the dining room table. Clint was stunned and hurt. For the next year, he’d try to win that joyful gaze back from his wife, going out of his way to give her a compliment or plan something special for her. He couldn’t ind it again, and without it, he didn’t know how to love her anymore, either. They broke amicably but Deborah faulted him for dissolving the perfect image of her parents’ happiness. At Deborah’s funeral, all of Clint’s ex-wives attended, and they all hugged him and offered condolences. He was married to Alexandra at the time, but all he wanted was Mary Michelle. So much so, he landed on the doorstep to their old home in Forest Hills after the wake. He was drunk and he’d parked his car sloppily in the driveway, the front wheel hanging off the edge. She was surprised to see him, but she let him in, and she let him rest his head in her lap and cry until he fell asleep. He found her in the morning at the kitchen table, their kitchen table from so many years ago, looking through old photo albums. She was replacing pictures she scanned for the slideshow at the memorial. He sat next to her and they lipped the pages together, crying and sometimes laughing at the memories they shared. “I have some home movies too,” she said. “Do you want to see?” “Of course,” he said, knowing it would simultaneously break his heart. The video was on VHS and they had to go to Mary

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Michelle’s bedroom to watch it. It was the only place that still had a television with a VCR. They sat at the end of their old bed, and when the movie came on, Deborah toddling around in the backyard as a one-year-old giggling at her mother playing peekaboo behind her hands, Clint groped for Mary Michelle’s hand. They intertwined ingers for the next thirty minutes, watching little clips of Deborah’s childhood go by. When it was over, Mary Michelle looked at Clint, the way she used to, her eyes illed with unrestrained love, and even though he knew that love was for the past and for their daughter, Clint kissed her anyway and she let him.


ve and Clint meet Louise and Trey for breakfast. Clint wants to see them one last time before they drive back to Virginia. Their visits seem too short with too long between, especially as Louise’s arthritis gets worse and it’s dificult for her to make a long trip. Last year at Christmas, they were supposed to visit for two weeks, but Trey came down with a case of the shingles, and they’d had to beg off. “I thought I was going to die,” Trey says. “Really, the last time I felt that bad was in Vietnam.” He rubs the shoulder where he was shot. This used to be a real issue between the brothers, because Clint had avoided the draft by enrolling in business school, and Trey had volunteered. All of the old grudges have faded in the last few years, and since Deborah’s death, the brothers have been closer than ever. Eve is quiet at breakfast, letting the three of them reminisce about the near half a century they’ve shared together. They gossip about the weight and the hair their relatives and friends have either lost or gained. “Martin Betts is deinitely wearing a toupee,” Trey insists. “Plugs,” Clint corrects him. “No one gets toupees anymore.” “Plugs, implants, whatever it is, it isn’t what God gave him.” “Oh boys,” Louise says, “give it a rest.” She rolls her eyes toward Eve, trying to include her in on the moment, but Eve doesn’t say anything. Clint notes Eve’s quiet and hopes they haven’t upset her.

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“If that’s God’s plan,” Trey persists, “then I happily call myself an atheist.” He leans back in his chair, only now noticing the shift in the conversation. Eve takes the coffee pot on the table and tops off everyone’s cups. They watch her play hostess, taking quiet control through the tiniest of gestures. “God has a plan for us all,” she says, though she doesn’t direct her speech at Trey or anyone at the table. Instead, she looks out into the busy street where cars speed by on their way to church, illed with families, happy and unhappy. Employees ilter in and out of the buildings around them, and two valets share a smoke break at the end of the hotel’s roundabout. A bachelorette party spills out of the elevators, giggling too loudly, and the doorman shushes them, which makes them laugh even louder. Her gaze inally circles back around to Clint. “We just have to have faith,” she says to him and squeezes his hand. “And hope.” Clint understands his wife means to imply faith in the All Mighty, and he knows that his brother doesn’t believe in God and that Louise is probably somewhere in between. He looks at his new wife, caught in all the unseen currents of his previous marriages, and he squeezes her hand back, because hope is the one thing he’s always had.

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Suitcases, Tim Rohman

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Ann Hudson Why Tooth Fairies Luminesce My friend has named her brain tumor Eddie. He presses against her ocular nerve. A helmet immobilizes her head during treatment. Eddie, bombarded, stops growing, but the radiation eats at the lower bone shelf of her sinus. The infection is massive and persistent. She loses teeth. She loses bone in her cheek.

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Ann Hudson What’s Your Favorite Superpower? Being able to ly without having to check a bag would be phenomenal. I move past the bomb-snifing dogs and, discreetly so my children don’t notice, give the double bird as I stand with my arms raised,

feet on the yellow shoe prints in the body scan chamber. Which reminds me: how does x-ray vision work? How could I peer into someone’s pockets but not scan all the way through to their bones? This seems an imprecise skill for a superhero, like baking a loaf of bread over the vent of an erupting volcano. In fact when scientists discovered x-rays it wasn’t clear what to use them for, all the prints they made on photographic plates. On December 22, 1895, Wilhelm Röntgen made a print of his wife’s hand that showed her phalanges and metacarpal bones and a blob where she wore her rings, and his wife responded, I have seen my death. How haunting to see the framework of your body stripped of the scaffolding of skin and muscle, warmth and motion. To render the soft tissue invisible, useless to the eye, is to ignore what makes us distinctive, recognizable. But what recourse do we have? I don’t want these TSA agents scrutinizing my bones, the contents of my pockets,

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or the underwire in my bra, but I can’t shield myself against their rays or vision. I’m gazed right through, a pane of glass. Here I am, heading to the terminal. Here I am, wishing I were as impenetrable as stone.

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THE PEAUXDUNQUE TEN: Emilie Staat Strong Interview by Susan Kagan 1. What about your podunk of Marietta, GA inspires you the most? Marietta (pronounced May-retta, if you grew up there) is a very weird place. I’m white and my town felt diverse when I knew nothing else. While I was around so many people from different races and inancial backgrounds, I also grew up thinking that I was “color blind” and that that was a good thing. When my family moved away when I was 16, I began in earnest to grapple with Georgia’s complicated history with race and the particular weirdness of my odunk. I’ll never call Marietta home again, but it’s a huge part of who I am, as a person and a writer. 2. How does belonging to Peauxdunque help with your writing? We read, critique, cheer and promote each other, all of which is necessary support for writers to have and perform. When I’ve been in the bowels of a novel, I got to meet up with folks who understood that headspace. The group harasses me about submitting my work, tells me how great it is and points out how I could make it greater, or something I might’ve missed. And I have a group of people to do the same supportive work for. Plus, I get a sneak peek at amazing writing. 3. What are your long-term writing goals? Watching Peauxdunque members and other friends publish and then engage with readers has been very inspiring. I’m developing a TV show, so “publishing” in that sense means getting the show onto a platform where people can watch it and engage with the characters and their stories. I want to live a life centered around my creativity, one that allows me to thrive and be truly myself in every arena of my life.

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4. What’s the biggest challenge you have with writing? Publishing or promoting my own work, deinitely. I have a lot of projects and I’m a very fast writer when my life allows me to focus. But by the time I inish something, I’m usually off creating something else and I haven’t had the energy or mental fortitude to pursue the publication or promotion of many of my projects. I guess that means I need a team—an assistant, an agent, a manager and a personal chef—so I can truly get my work done. Or build up my stamina for rejection, which is what I’m doing while I’m waiting for my team. 5. Is there a common playlist of music you write to? If so, what are the ive most prevalent artists?

I don’t have one playlist I listen to when I write, but I do often create playlists for projects. I listen to the weekly Spotify lists curated for me, too. My most-played music has changed over the decades of my life, but one of my favorite songs has always been Sly and the Family Stone’s version of “Que Sera, Sera.” Nina Simone and Stevie Nicks have long been favorites and I’m a big fan of Alabama Shakes, Paloma Faith, Lianne La Havas, those big-voiced female singers. I listen to a ton of tango music, too, since I’m a dancer. 6. Whose writing do you most admire among the living and the dead?

Some of my favorite writing originates in Peauxdunque. I write pretty much every genre, so I read a lot of different books. I’m a big fan of romance (Alyssa Cole, Christina Lauren, Jasmine Guillory, Talia Hibbert, Penny Reid, Alisha Rai), YA (Sandhya Menon, Justina Ireland, Jennifer E. Smith), comics (Brian K. Vaughn, Nathan Hale), science iction/fantasy (N.K. Jemisin, Jenna Glass, Mira Grant, and Mike Chen) and I read a lot of noniction (Cheryl Strayed, Roxane Gay, Rebecca Solnit, Samantha Irby, Maggie Nelson, Lindy West), as well. Alice Hoffman has been one of my favorite writers since I was a kid. I admire so many of the writers who publish with Graywolf Press—the poet Jane Kenyon, as well as Leslie Jamison and

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Esme Weijun Wang. And I appreciate Jane Austen so much, her humor especially. 7. What are your writing quirks? I enjoy research and I’m a bit of a perfectionist, especially with iction. I wrote a ton of poetry as a kid and in college, but rarely write it anymore—only for the deepest, darkest emotional truths. Short stories are also very rare for me because they usually want to become novels. I wrote a poem last year, my irst in about ive years, and I just wrote a short story—the irst in maybe six years. I almost always read a different genre than what I’m writing, as if I’m cleansing my palate. 8. Are you a pantser (writing by the seat of your pants with no outline) or a plotter (writing with a high-level outline of all the plot points) and have you tried the other way? I’m a hybrid, but predominately a pantser. I like the journey of discovery that happens in a irst draft. It’s like being a spelunker exploring caves that haven’t ever been seen, or not for eons. You tunnel through the dark and then you come into a gorgeous cavern illed with things to explore. That’s amazing to me. Outlines are so hard for me, but I love worldbuilding. I love making music playlists and character sheets and that’s all plotting, at least by my deinition. 9. If you could live in any ictional reality, which one and why?

I’ve read too much apocalyptic iction to choose one of those worlds, as much as I admire the writing and clearly enjoy “living” there temporarily. So, I’d probably pick the world of one of my favorite romance writers, instead. A world illed with smart, honorable, sexy people who all belong to a big, sprawling family and a community. Nobody’s perfect, but everybody’s happy, in love, and ready to have adventures together. 10. What’s one of your favorite Peauxdunque memories? There are so many! My best Peauxdunque memories take place

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at our retreats, especially at the house that used to be our primary retreat location. Having a slumber party and spending an extended period of time with some of my favorite creative people, is always a really tender and inspiring experience. It reminds me of all the best 80s movies. Emilie Staat Strong wrestled with a novel for more than a decade and has now returned to her ilm industry roots, developing a show called “Emergency Contact.” Her essay “Tango Face” won the William Faulkner-William Wisdom noniction prize in 2012 and her essay “Holding on When I Should’ve Let Go” was published in Et Alia’s Scars Anthology in 2015. She lives in New Orleans. Susan Kagan, a founding member of the Peauxdunque Writers Alliance, is a New Orleans-based writer of iction and non-iction. Her short stories and novels have placed as semiinalists and inalists in the annual William Faulkner-William Wisdom Writing Competition, and she is the author of Avoiding a Perilous Path: Basic Wiccan Ethics, published in 2015 by Left Hand Press.

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Issue 3 Contributors

Benjamin Aleshire was the winner of the creative noniction category of the 2019 Words and Music Competition. Benjamin lives in New Orleans. His work has appeared in the The Times of London, Iowa Review, Boston Review, and on television in the US, China, and Spain. Andrei Codrescu selected his manuscript POET FOR HIRE as runner-up for the 2019 Faulkner-Wisdom prize in narrative noniction. As a poet-forhire, his clients include Princeton University, House of Yes orgy-goers, Sir Tom Stoppard, Shakespeare & Co, the Bellagio, Bernie Sanders, and Jimmy Page. He serves as assistant poetry editor for Green Mountains Review. You can ind him on Instagram at @benjamin_aleshire, or in the lesh at the corner of Royal & St. Peter. Sheila Arndt was the winner of the short story category in the 2019 Words and Music Competition. Sheila is a reader, writer, and MFA candidate living in New Orleans. She cares about the modern and postmodern, critical theory, Americana, saltwater, garlic, canines, old blues, and new dreams. She is beyond thrilled to have her story, “Cherchez la Femme,� chosen by and published with the Peauxdunque Review! Her poetry and prose has been published in The Tishman Review, Gravel, and Literary Orphans, among other places, and has received an Honorable Mention from Glimmer Train. Follow her: @ACokeWithYou_ and www.

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Yoruba Baltrip-Coleman was the runner-up in the poetry category of the 2019 Wordand Music Competition. From Reno, Nevada but now a transformed New Orleanian, Yoruba began writing poetry and iction after publishing several research articles at Dillard University, where she taught Health Education and Theory in the Department of Public Health. Yoruba was a inalist in the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Writing Competition in 2017 for both the poetry and novella categories, and short-listed in 2018 for poetry. In 2019 she was a inalist in the novel-in-progress category and runner-up in the poetry category. She also writes YA novels. Yoruba BC’s current poetry collection, Tangles, Knots and Knaps is forthcoming.

Peauxdunque | 158 Torey Bovie was the runner-up in the category for short story by a public high school student in the 2019 Words and Music Competition. Torey is a New Orleans native who loves writing poetry and iction and serves as a member of the 826 New Orleans Young Writers Council. He attends Benjamin Franklin High School and New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA). Toni Morrison wrote: “Black people are victims of an enormous amount of violence. None of those things can take place without the complicity of the people who run the schools and the city.” These words resonate with Torey and pushed him to realize that there will be no progress without action. It encourages him to break boundaries and push barriers with his writing, even to the point where he makes himself uncomfortable. Torey believes he is extremely blessed to be able to write. He realizes his ancestors were not given the opportunity to write, so his ability to exercise his rights and skills feels like a personal form of protest. He takes inspiration from the colloquialism of his family, his favorite authors, and many other innovative people of color. The preservation of culture is very important to him, especially in writing. Torey’s writing will be published in NOCCA’s upcoming 40th edition of Umbra and in 826 NOLA’s This Is My Happy Face. He received the 2018-19 Silver Key Scholastic Award and an honorable mention in 2017-2018. Tiara Brown is a poet from Lexington, KY. She received her MFA from the University of Kentucky.

159 | Peauxdunque Jack Cape is a night-owl M.F.A. candidate at the University of New Orleans where he writes iction and creative noniction. Over the course of his haphazard and fragmented career he has led teen wilderness excursions throughout the Boundary Waters and Rocky Mountains, coordinated logistics for a New England-based traveling youth circus, managed a backpacker’s hostel in Guatemala, and written celebrity gossip for an online tabloid out of New Orleans. His writing strives to examine the nuances of queer love and connection. His short story The Seabird was a inalist for the National Words & Music competition. This is his irst publication. Nichole Cloke was the winner of the category for short story by a public high school student in the 2019 Words and Music Competition. Nichole is a student at Benjamin Franklin High School and studies creative writing at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts. She is the treasurer of Franklin’s Society of Women Engineers and is actively pursuing a career in engineering. She has received the 2019 Quarante Club Prize for Poetry, has won a Silver Key in the Humor Category of the Scholastic Writing Awards, and was a short story inalist in the 2019 William Faulkner – William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition.

Peauxdunque | 160 James Cullen is a former professional chef who took to photography so he would have something to do on the long walks he would take around New Orleans on his days off. He also hates golf so that’s not an option. An observer by nature, James fell in love with the process of documenting the people, the culture, and the places, in both New Orleans and the Deep South. His style is minimalist, evocative, and journalistic, allowing the viewer to look deeper into the picture. His activity in the community affords him proximity to many of his subjects, especially those in New Orleans’ second line and black masking traditions, and he is sensitive about portraying the power and positivity of the culture. He lives in New Orleans, Louisiana, and can still be found taking long walks around the city with his camera and his dog Apollo. You can ind more of his work at Susan Finch was the runner-up in the short story category of the 2019 Words and Music Writing Competition. Susan is an Associate Professor at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. Her work has appeared in The Chicago Tribune, Crab Orchard Review, New Ohio Review, Nimrod, Beloit Fiction Journal, and elsewhere. Her iction has received several awards, and most recently, she was selected as a inalist for the Nelson Algren Literary Prize. Currently, she is working on a novel and a story collection.

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Self-portrait by L. Kasimu Harris, embodying Denver Smith, from Mr. Harris’s series of portraits embodying civil rights martyrs. Denver Smith was murdered by police responding to student protests at Southern University in November 1972.

L. Kasimu Harris is a New Orleans-based artist whose practice deposits a number of different strategic and conceptual devices in order to push narratives. He strives to tell stories of underrepresented communities in New Orleans and beyond. Harris has shown in numerous solo and group exhibitions across the U.S. and two international exhibitions. Harris’s writing was selected for Best Food Writing 2016 and his writing and photographs have been featured in The New York Times. He has penned food columns for the Bitter Southerner. His essay, The Dismantling of Southern Photography, was recently published in the Ogden Museum of Southern Art’s catalog, “New Southern Photography.” Currently, Harris is among 60 artists selected nationwide for State of the Art 2020 at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Harris earned a BBA in Entrepreneurship from Middle Tennessee State University and an MA in Journalism from the University of Mississippi. He is on the Board of Trustees at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, as well as the Board of Directors of the New Orleans Photo Alliance and is a member of the Peauxdunque Writers Alliance and the Antenna Gallery Collective. Harris was a 2018 Artist-in-Residence at the Center for Photography at Woodstock and is a 2020 Joan Mitchell Center Artistin-Residence. Ann Hudson’s irst book, The Armillary Sphere, was published by Ohio University Press. Her poems have appeared in Cider Press Review, Orion, Crab Orchard Review, North American Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, and elsewhere. She is an associate editor for Rhino, and teaches at a Montessori school in Evanston, Illinois.

Peauxdunque | 162 Alex Jennings received an Honorable Mention in the short story category of the 2019 Words and Music Competition. His work has also been featured in Issue 1 of the Peauxdunque Review. Alex is a writer/ teacher/performer living in New Orleans. He was born in Wiesbaden (Germany) and raised in Gaborone (Botswana), Tunis (Tunisia), Paramaribo (Surinam), and the United States. He constantly devours pop culture and writes mostly jokes on Twitter (@magicknegro) He also helps run and MCs a monthly literary readings series called Dogish. He is an afternoon person. Matthew Kelsey is from Glens Falls, New York. His poems have appeared (or are forthcoming) in Colorado Review, Poetry Northwest, Pinwheel, Best New Poets, Painted Bride Quarterly, and elsewhere. In 2017, he co-authored a children’s joke book for National Geographic Kids. He has received scholarships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and a teaching fellowship from the Kenyon Review Young Writers Program. A resident of Chicago, Matthew teaches at an elementary school and co-hosts The Filling Station, a monthly reading series at City Lit Books.

Kate Leland is the winner of the poetry category (and twice-over honorable mention) of the 2019 Words and Music Competition. Kate is a poet from Austin, Texas. She is currently an MFA candidate at The University of Mississippi and holds a B.A. in English - Creative Writing from Hendrix College. She works as an associate editor with Sibling Rivalry Press Her work has appeared in The Hunger and Rust + Moth, and her debut chapbook I Wore The Only Garden I’ve Ever Grown was published in January 2017 with Headmistress Press. She lives in Mississippi with one cat and a collection of half-dead houseplants.

163 | Peauxdunque Freesia McKee is author of the chapbook How Distant the City (Headmistress Press, 2018). Her words have appeared in Flyway, Bone Bouquet, So to Speak, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, Virga, Painted Bride Quarterly, CALYX, About Place Journal, South Dakota Review, New Mexico Review, and the Ms. Magazine Blog. Freesia is a staff book reviewer for South Florida Poetry Journal. Her reviews have also appeared in Tupelo Quarterly, Pleiades Book Review, Gulf Stream, and The Drunken Odyssey. Freesia was the winner of CutBank Literary Journal’s 2018 Patricia Goedicke Prize in Poetry, chosen by Sarah Vap. Find her online at or on Twitter at @freesiamckee.

Michael “Quess?” Moore is an awardwinning poet, educator, actor, activist, and playwright, in that order. His poetry led him to the classroom where he spent eleven years as an educator. His work explores issues of race and social injustice, trauma and healing, love and loss—in short, what it means to be a Black Man Child in the Broken Promise Land. His work has been published in or featured by Pluck!, Artsy, Maple Leaf Rag, Write About Now, Button Poetry, Art Spot Productions, Junebug Productions, Congo TV, Balcony TV, Urban Bush Women, Nike, Ford Foundation, Spotify, Mic, Redbull and other platforms. His two books of poetry, Blind Visionz and Sleeper Cell, can be found on his website,

Peauxdunque | 164 Kaitlyn Murphy-Knudsen’s short story, “Rescue,” was an Honorable Mention in the short story category of the 2019 Words and Music Competition. Also, Kaitlin’s poem, “Fountain of Youth, St. Augustine, Florida,” was an Honorable Mention in the poetry category of the 2018 Words and Music Writing Competition and appears in Issue 2 of the Peauxdunque Review. Kaitlin is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in Newsweek, The Washington Post, Odet Journal, the Harvard Law & Policy Review, Big Sky Weekly, and other publications. She edits for authors of iction and non-iction, and for organizations especially in the ield of education. In 2017 her short story “Heat” was 2nd place winner of the Romeo Lemay Writing Contest and is published in Odet Journal, and her essay “Hail Mary, Full of Grace (for Margaret)” received honorable mention in the 2017 Writer’s Digest Awards. She has taught writing at American University, SUNY Buffalo, Union County College, and the University of Tampa, and she holds a master’s degree in English Education from New York University and a bachelor’s from Columbia University. She lives in Florida with her family. Linda Parsons is the poetry editor for Madville Publishing and reviews editor for Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel. She coordinates WordStream, WDVX-FM’s weekly reading/performance series, with Stellasue Lee, and is copy editor for Chapter 16, the literary website of Humanities Tennessee. Widely published, her ifth poetry collection is Candescent (Iris Press, 2019).

165 | Peauxdunque Tim Rohman is a Retired U.S. Marine turned photographer, working under Jarhead Photography as his photography outlet. On most weekends he can be found wandering the rows of amazing classic cars at one of the local car shows. He is trying to tap into and expand his creative side and create photographic works of art drawing from his passion for drawing. He is also a Righteous Wretch having been saved by the grace and sacriice of Jesus Christ. His work can be seen on Facebook at @JarheadPhotography and at jarheadphotography.

Connor Sanders was the winner of the Beyond the Bars category of the 2019 Words and Music Competition. This category is for any genre of literature written by an incarcerated juvenile. Gerard Sarnat, MD won Poetry in Arts’ First Place Award/Dorfman Prizes; has been nominated for handfuls of recent Pushcarts/ Best of Net Awards; authored Homeless Chronicles (2010), Disputes, 17s, Melting Ice King (2016). He’s widely published including by academic-related journals at Stanford, Oberlin, Wesleyan, Johns Hopkins, Harvard, Pomona, Brown, Penn, Dartmouth, Columbia, and University of Chicago; and in Ulster, Gargoyle, Main Street Rag, American Journal Poetry, Vonnegut Literary Journal, Poetry Quarterly, New Delta Review, Buddhist Poetry Review, Brooklyn Review, LA Review, San Francisco Magazine, and New York Times. Mount Analogue selected KADDISH for distribution nationwide on Inauguration Day. Poetry was chosen for 50th Harvard reunion Dylan symposium. Grifin Batiste Tadoe was the runner-up in the Beyond the Bars category of the 2019 Words and Music Competition. This category is for any genre of literature written by an incarcerated juvenile.

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Photo by TC Caldwell

Jessica Temple is the author of Seamless and Other Legends (Finishing Line Press, 2013). She earned an MA from Mississippi State University and a PhD from Georgia State University and teaches at Alabama A&M University. In 2019, she was Alabama State Poetry Society’s Poet of the Year and a contributor in poetry to the Sewanee Writer’s Conference. Her work has appeared in Canyon Voices, Crab Orchard Review, and Stone, River, Sky: An Anthology of Georgia Poems, among other locations. The poems published here will be included in Daughters of Bone, forthcoming from Madville Publishing. Andy Young is a poet, essayist, educator, mother, dreamer, and rambler. She teaches at New Orleans Center for Creative Arts and has published one full collection of poetry and four chapbooks. Her poetry, essays, and translations have been published in literary journals such as Waxwing, Prairie Schooner, and Southern Review; and included in anthologies including the Norton anthology Language for a New Century and Best New Poets 2009: 50 Poems from Emerging Writers (University of Virginia Press, 2009); and in publications in Egypt, Ireland, Lebanon, and Mexico.

PEAUXDUNQUE REVIEW Tim Rothman Freesia McKee Benjamin Aleshire James Cullen Connor Sanders Yoruba Baltrip-Coleman Matthew Kelsey Alex Jennings Kate LeLand Tiara Brown Kaitlin Murphy-Knudsen Andy Young Michael Quess? Moore L. Kasimu Harris Gerard Sarnat Sheila Arndt Jessica Temple Grifin Batiste Tadoe Torey Bovie Nichole Cloke Ann Hudson Jack Cape Linda Parsons Susan Finch

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