Vol. XXXII 2009 Campus Journal of Poetry, Prose, and Art Truman State University
such sudden fortune: windâ€™s gift of crisp, ripened fruit fallen at our feet -founders, 1976
Dear Reader, Throughout my time on staff at Windfall, I have seen its growth firsthand. Our production run has grown by two hundred copies, the number of active members has doubled, and I believe that the magazine is more well-known now than in years past. I am honored to have been called Editor-in-Chief and am grateful to have worked alongside such a dedicated staff. It is my most sincere hope that this year’s edition will stoke interest in the talented authors, artists, and editors here at Truman State University. It would be impossible to create this year’s issue without the time and assistance of the staff and faculty in the English department. I would like to thank Dr. Priscilla Riggle, whose continued support has assured Windfall’s ability to showcase the talents of Truman students. I would also like to give a special thank you to our advisor, Dr. James D’Agostino, for his effort and resourcefulness. His guidance has played an integral part in the direction that Windfall is heading. I would also like to thank the staff. Without the devoted members who have spent countless Monday nights evaluating student submissions, this issue would have never reached publication. In particular, I must thank my Assistant Editor, Jessica Kline, who tracked and managed the selection process that we use. Out of all the Windfall staff, the design committee has invested dozens of hours into the actual layout and formatting of the issue, most notably Design Editor Liz Zerkel and Assistant Design Editor Laura Wellington. Their contribution has helped shape student contributions into the book that is now in your hands. Lastly, I would like to thank all those who submitted their work to the magazine. Despite receiving hundreds of submissions, Windfall can only present a few of the creative minds that Truman has to offer. And most of all, thank you, the one who is now reading the thirty-second edition of Windfall Magazine. It is to be read, thought over, and most of all, enjoyed. Sincerely, Daniel West Editor-in-Chief
Poetry Editor Assistant Poetry Editor
Katy Heubel Lindsay Treat
Art Editors Prose Editor Assistant Prose Editor
Valerie Lazalier Charli Anderson
Design Editor Assistant Design Editor
Liz Zerkel Laura Wellington
Dan Hrdlicka Leigh Gilmore
Office Support Assistants
Cassie Kling Hilary Kuntz Lindsay Treat
Dr. James Dâ€™Agostino
Advisor General Staff
Rachel Barklage Cory Creed Regina Goines Mark Hardy Colin Hughes Kristen Miller
Hannah Rackers Amy Reynolds Andrea Sadler Corrine Schwarz Alex Seubert Kayla Stierwalt
Contents Laura Wellington Erin Neuman
Front Cover Back Cover
Change Baubles of Brilliance
Kasey Perkins 6 Adam Conway 7 William Young 8 Carol Pederson 10 Zia Luehrman 15 Molly McCleery 16 Shawn Bodden 17 Alex Plurad 18 Samantha Ghormley 25 Raymond Holmes 27 Dan Warner 28 Molly McCleery 31 Haley Bartholomew 34 Drew DeVine 35 Molly McCleery 36 Shawn Bodden 38 Brad Davis 41 Alex Plurad 43 Adam Conway 44 Samantha Ghormley 45 Amy Reynolds 48 Dan Robaczewski 51 Kasey Perkins 56 Dan Robaczewski 64 Lisa Holmes 66 Carol Pederson 69 Adam Conway 70 Shawn Bodden 85 Ruby Jenkins 90 Kim Slattery 92 Adam Conway 94
The Search for the Perfect… A Sense of Constellations The Orange, Thinking Machine Storm Season Cabin Fever Red Lamping Diplomacy Prayer Maybelline Midnight Black And it Verb from the Tree As if it Were My Own Face In My Head, I was a Prodigy So Much for Endings Peanuts Click For Observation Starts With… Fingertips Unanswered Summons Not a Poem About a Rose Carrington Avenue Ode to Ocean Waves Chicago The Elderly Bullshit Pathways The End On My Reluctance Towards… Staring at Your Open Mouth… All Your Adjectives Poems Come Packaged… Freedom from Want
Joshua Kehe Brad Davis Maureen Foody Ruth Babb Kasey Perkins Laura Wellington Dan Robaczewski Kasey Perkins Raymond Holmes Laura Wellington
13 21 52 55 59 62 72 83 87 97
Untitled Hands and Knees New Yearâ€™s If I Had Wings Like a Dove What He Did With It Untitled At Disconnect Headline from June 18, 2008 Drunken Savior Begin Again
Art and Photography
Stefani Grodie 12 Bryan De Guzman 19 Zia Luehrman 20 Lisa Holmes 26 Ruby Jenkins 30 Stefani Grodie 39 Chantae Rudie 40 Ruby Jenkins 42 Krista Goodman 47 Andrea Sadler 50 Valerie Lazalier 57 Lisa Holmes 58 Valerie Lazalier 67 Bryan De Guzman 68 Ruby Jenkins 84 Stefani Grodie 91 Andrea Sadler 96
Window to My Soul Blood Road Car Ghosts Nostalgia Ottowa Chevron From Paris, With Love Flowers Up Close Lonely Barn Abandon Water Tower MacBeth Fruity In Pieces Canyon Light Croug Patrick Staircase Chicago
The Search for the Perfect Love Poem Kasey Perkins
I don’t want to talk about your eyes. That’s too overdone, though they are fine, divine, even, and I don’t want to make this one of those raunchy poems about movements and thrusting and sweat and saliva, because that is just not me. I could compare you to a summer’s day, but that’s already been done—and not by local talent, and besides, you remind me more of spring, or even autumn— never winter, unless we’re going back to the subject of eyes, which would be fine but, well, you know. Saying you’re another half—or a better half—sounds ridiculous, even to the most lovesick of ears. Saying I swoon is subtly sublime, classic, but not you, though I’m not sure why. You smell of mystery, and your skin is made of those autumn leaves and spring breeze, in a good way, of course. You taste like my favorite color, which is green, which tastes like you. You sound like a low humming, a purr but not quite, resonating from somewhere near my diaphragm, deafening me when you’re near.
A Sense of Constellations Adam Conway
the evening began on a shelf, a bookend cage, reallya hardback from last garage sale to never consider again with its dust-laden title, with its coffee stain script. but chapters of breaths (in time) accumulate, form Nimbus ideas that will green the grass and puddle the streets for yellow boots and almost sleep until synapses crack the sky and we can read (finally) by splintered dusk. one translator, one cartographer observing the transient pride of fireflies, inhaling the nuances of peering stardust to make lunar lexis into something tangible, to capture celestial directions for the day (far from now) we may need them. “teach me to speak” words fall soft and forgiving making skeleton keys of taste buds. the not-so -darkness has a voice (the churning sea of Neptune/ the craving eyes of Venus) to be found in brink-of-night lips “teach me to find” Apollo fingers depart the edge of here-on-earth eyes tracing the scenic course from now to maybe, somedaya zodiac path bent on telling old stories, on making poems of our bodies, on embellishing the truth about night.
The Orange, Thinking Machine William Young
Paring the covering Gives an insight Of how others see An affair uncovered, An orange being solved. I nibble at the heart of the matter, But only after ten minutes Or more Of deep, careful, and reflective Peeling of layers of rind. The rind doesn’t come off clean Or willing; Juices squirt and jump From one idea to the next. White details, I don’t know What they’re called, come Up and off, slowly, Meticulously. I get the most joy from this. At last I peel a piece of the fruit From its tenacious neighbor, The better half; Solid, singular, I clean off any Lasting attachments it still has. The thin membrane of the barriers Keeping juices from juices Shreds instead of separates Pulling off tiny orange-juiced Treasures with it. I bite these.
The rest joins with the rind, the White and stringy, and the Unmentionable; forty-five Minutes later I have Chewed the situation over. It is relaxation at its most, The orange, a philosopherâ€™s fruit; A machine for thought. Apples Receive too much credit.
I remember thunderstorms starting on TV, the weatherman’s tension palpable. thick electric air conducted his excitement in rippling currents. blackouts came with every single storm and only, it seemed, in our neighborhood with such regularity. I remember my mother’s voice shaking quivering windows with fruitless fury, Every damn time! It’s like they know. They know, pointing at my sister and I, demanding agreement. we would hide in the basement when the sirens went off, and every time my childhood rationality knew this could be the time, the time the roof was flung miles away, the time our lives were exposed in ruins to neighbors and news crews. I would throw every single stuffed animal down the stairs in order of importance, silently asking forgiveness for those who would not make it. I remember the way the trees thrashed at cars and shoved each other, all elbows and knees, the way the sky was the greenish-yellow of bruises. my cat held to my chest, worrying 10
over her food if our refrigerator was found a corpse empty of innards. watching the world disappear into gray rain, I prepared gravely for ill-defined endings. and I remember coming up after, power flooding into clocks all blinking twelve, insistent, panicked, and begging to be reset. the backyard ripped into a rainforest of dripping, mangled green. it was more exciting than anything.
Window to My Soul Stefani Grodie
“I think I sleepwalk,” she said over a mug of coffee. They were sitting in Starbucks, in broad daylight, under the assumption that she was going to tell him something important. “That’s it?” he said, his own mug forgotten in his hand. “That’s what you wanted to tell me?” “What d’you mean, ‘that’s it,’ when I’ve been trying to tell you this for the past half-hour?” she said, slamming both hands on the table. “It’s just... I don’t get it.” “What don’t you get? I think I sleepwalk. Is that so difficult a sentence to understand?” “It’s not that,” he said. “Are you confused by the repitition of words?” “I– I just don’t see why this is such a big deal to you.” “Steven, think about it. If I do sleepwalk, then who knows what I might be doing without ever knowing about it.” She slouched back into her chair. “I mean, I’ve had some weird dreams in the past. If I sleepwalk... well, what does it mean?” He arched an eyebrow at her. “It means you’re thinking about it too much.” “But what if I’m not?” she said, leaning forward again. She started to wave her hands, using them to illustrate what she said, talking with them. She always did that when she really got involved in a conversation. “I’ve read studies about dreams, about how things that happen to you in the real world, while you’re dreaming, will affect your dreams. A weather report will come on with your alarm and you’ll start dreaming about sunny days or raging storms. Someone’ll tickle your nose and you’ll dream about pollen being in the air. All sorts of things can happen to you while you’re dreaming.” “Yes, but–” “You roll out of your bed and dream about falling off a cliff!” she said, arms flailing out to show the enormity of the cliff. Then she lowered her eyes and stilled her hands. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt you.” He took a deep breath, allowing thoughts to seep into his mind 13
from... wherever thoughts came from. “It’s okay,” he said. “You– you just got excited. That’s all.” She nodded earnestly. “Yeah, and like I was saying, if things that happen to you in the real world can affect your dreams, why can’t your dreams affect what you do in the real world?” Steven rubbed his eyes and temples with his hands. He really didn’t need this nonsense right now. “Okay,” he said, “let’s say you sleepwalk. Okay? And let’s say that your dreams can affect what you do while you sleepwalk. Right?” He leaned back. “What are you afraid of?” She bit her lower lip, and stared down into her cold mug of coffee. He pressed on. “What are these dreams about that makes the idea of you sleepwalking so terrifying?” “I’d rather not say,” she said, swirling the liquid in her cup around with the stir straw. Steven sighed and she looked up. “But I’d still like you to help me.” Steven leaned forward, folding his hands in a very businesslike manner. This time, he was going to get something concrete out of her. “All right, what do you want me to do.” She looked at him for a long time. Not long enough to be uncomfortable, but long enough for Steven to know that she was hesitant to make her request. Which meant Steven was almost certain he wasn’t going to like it. She glanced down for an instant before bringing her gaze back up to face him with a deadpan resolve. “Would you stay with me tonight?” she said. “I think I sleepwalk.”
Drone and moan of modulated couch confinement Long stretch of indefinite bubble gum strand pulled from between clenched teeth Half tone sunlight trampling the matted grass Electrostatic hair and flaking skin on the glass tabletop pickled indoor stasis. In the vinegary evening, shadows scarcely float Who knows what secrets have ground themselves grey into the carpet?
I’ve always thought that the best friends are the ones With whom you can comfortably sit in complete silence And want nothing more. I told you this once, and you agreed. An unlikely pair, I’ve often laughed and questioned Why we work. Looking at us, it seems so strange. You with your careless attitude, me the meticulous overanalyzer. I think we spent a whole year in the safety of your basement Under the warm glow of Your red lamp. At least it’s all I can remember from those days (I’ve blocked the rest out). It was our ventilator, The key to our corporately sought isolation. We let the world take care of its own problems, Acknowledging that we couldn’t really fix anything. Allowing the silence to envelop us, We survived on dim scarlet light, Fruit punch Gatorade, and chocolate covered peanuts. We don’t need the red lamp anymore. We’ve both made the move out of the basement. Sometimes I want to go back there, though, and Close my eyes for a while, Letting the soft radiance cover my face. You’ve still got it in your apartment. You told me once that you’ve never had to replace the bulb. I take that as a sign, It will always be there if we need it.
To prick with
until what one believes flows with and about everyone elseâ€™s blood,
A rare afternoon. I bathe in sunlight. The wind combs my hair and beckons once more. FaĂ§ades and burdens are cast aside for watch, shoes, socks, and shades. The tools of the trade are kept to least to make this all worthwhile. West on Normal, Head up. around Stillâ€™s campus, Back straight. towards the Square, Arms through. and back down Franklin. Pitter-patter. This and you Roll down the slope. are on my mind. Pick up the pace. I wish my pain Mind your breathing. takes yours away, Cadence up the hill. while the vigor in my veins Lengthen your stride. gives you new life On your toes! to bring you back home Now FLY! and end the race. 18
Bryan De Guzman
Hands and Knees Brad Davis
They kept me in the hospital a total of four days. One day for stitching me up, and then the other three were some mandatory watch period to make sure I didn’t fuck up again. I had this nurse coming in every fifteen minutes or so all day every day asking me questions like, “On a scale from one to ten, one being the worst you’ve ever felt and ten feeling like you want to go outside and do cartwheels all day, how do you feel right now?” Though I wanted to answer “ten,” so maybe she’d let me out early or something, she’d know I was covering up and maybe I’d have to stay even longer. I always said “seven.” Another time she came in and asked me if I liked to be touched. “Touched how?” I asked her. Like hugs and hand-holding and things like that, she responded. I nodded and she put her arms around my shoulders and pulled me close into her chest while I felt her chin come down on the top of my head with a warm breath that ruffled my hair. Wrapping her fingers around my hand she asked me if this made me feel good. I nodded again, bumping her head up and down. She let go of me and grabbed the uncomfortable-looking chair from the corner and scooted it really close to my bed. “What do you like to do for fun?” she asked, grabbing my hand again. I told her I didn’t really have any hobbies, which she thought was pretty sad and grabbed my hand even tighter. She asked me if I wanted to play a game of cards, to which I replied I didn’t know any card games. She gave me a really forlorn look and then left me alone until the next day to ask me about cartwheels. Upon leaving the hospital on the fourth day, in a wheelchair of course, I started coughing and told the nurse we needed to go to the store in the hospital to get some cough medicine. I got a bottle of Vicks and a bottle of Nyquil because “I’m not sure which one I normally use.” The nurse pulled some strings and got me them for free. They wouldn’t let me leave alone, so I had to call up my friend Elise who lived about five miles from the hospital. I watched her pull up in her little black sedan and both she and the nurse helped me into the passenger’s seat, despite my cries of “really, I’m okay.” The nurse waved goodbye sadly before walking back through the automatic doors. Neither of us said anything on the car ride home. I think Elise 21
was one of the first people who found out; they told me she came and visited me right after it happened but I was too weak from blood loss and kept passing out. Speaking of blood, I wondered if anyone had cleaned up my bathroom while I was gone. About halfway to my apartment, Elise began crying so uncontrollably, completely spontaneously, that she had to pull the car over on the side of the road. The sounds of the cars whizzing by, Elise sobbing, and her hazard lights gently clicking formed a soothing yet discomforting lullaby. I didn’t know what to say to her, so I didn’t say anything and eventually she composed herself enough to continue driving, only emitting mild shudders followed by heavy sighs or sometimes heavy sighs followed by mild shudders intermittently for the rest of the trip. She dropped me off outside my apartment. I said, “Thanks” and she nodded. I entered my apartment and noticed that everything remained as I left it. Someone did clean the bathroom. I felt as though I had all of the energy sapped out of me in the hospital, mostly because I did, so I lay down in my bed. After about an hour of tossing and turning, I grabbed the bottle of Nyquil and took a quick chug. It put me out instantly. I woke up an indeterminate amount of time later to the phone ringing. It was Elise. She asked if I was okay; I told her that she woke me up. She apologized and I hung up without saying goodbye. What I guess was three hours later, I woke up just in time to hear a knock at the door. I opened it to find Sam, an old friend. We hadn’t hung out in a while, probably at least six months. “What’s up man?” he asked, barging his way into my apartment. The tone in his voice implied that he didn’t know what happened, even though I was sure he did. He looked around my apartment, seeing that nothing had changed since the last time he’d been here, except maybe that the pile of dishes on the coffee table had grown exponentially as had the loose CDs floating around my stereo. He plopped down on the ratty old couch. “Not a whole lot,” I responded. “I just got out of the hospital today; I guess you heard about that.” “Yeah man,” he said, with a worried tone in his voice. He whipped a cigarette out of the breast pocket of his worn-out thrift store blazer and lit it up, letting that first puff of smoke billow out of his mouth as he spoke. “I’m, uh, sorry to hear about that.” “Yeah.” I sat down on the ratty old recliner across from the 22
Hands and Knees
couch. Sam pointed at his cigarette and popped up his eyebrows. I told him no thanks. He nodded and coughed out another burst of smoke. “So are you down for doing anything tonight? Everyone really wants to see you. Elise told me you’re doing all right and she thinks it’d be good for you to come hang out tonight. I think we’re all going over to Rory’s place to chill; you know, knock back a few beers, watch some movies, I don’t know, smoke a few bowls or something. You know, like old times.” “No thanks,” I replied, turning away from him. “What’s wrong man? You know everyone cares about you, right? They just want to see you again. They want the old Alan back… you know? They just want to—“ Something inside of me cracked. This overwhelming wave of apathy and despair that had suffocated me for the past few weeks finally broke open and let forth all of these strange emotions that just slipped out of me as if I had no control over them. And in a way, I didn’t. “It’s too late, Sam, it’s too fucking late. You had the old Alan, and now the new Alan doesn’t want a fucking thing to do with you, or Elise, or anyone else. I don’t need your fucking pity. I did what I did because I felt like it was the right thing to do, and I don’t have any regrets. The last thing I need is the pity party coming in here trying to cheer me up and pretend that we can just suddenly be back to normal. So really, you can leave if that’s all you want to do. In fact, you should probably just leave anyway.” We sat in an inundating silence, the air so thickly steeped in utter hatred and bitterness that I don’t think Sam could have left even if he wanted. I couldn’t bear to look at him, but I watched him out of the corner of my eye stare at me for a while, and then dart his attention to the front wall, easing into this thousand-mile-stare. He let out an exasperated sigh. “I had this dream,” I began, much calmer than before, “while I was in the hospital, the second night I think. We were at Rory’s, all of us: you, me, Elise, Rick, Jackie, Micah, Caroline, and even a few people I didn’t know. You guys were all sitting around smoking, talking about god knows what. I tried to say something, I don’t remember what, but I tried to talk to you guys and every time I opened my mouth, I just got a lungful of smoke. Eventually the whole room filled 23
with smoke and I got down on my hands and knees and started crawling for the door, hacking and coughing and spewing up blood. But you guys just kept talking. I never did find the door; it wasn’t where it was supposed to be. You guys just kept talking and talking and I was crawling around on my hands and knees trying to scream but all I could do was watch you all get smothered in the smoke.” “I’m sorry man. Really sorry,” Sam said as he stood up, heading for the door. You know where Rory’s is, come over if you feel like it. If not, have a good life. Sorry I couldn’t help make it any better.” With that he slammed the door. I felt the rush of air sweep over my body and then equalize, leaving this unbearable emptiness in the room. I sat for a while, not looking at or thinking of anything in particular, and got up when I figured I’d go look at nothing and think about nothing somewhere else. I chugged the Vicks, that bottle of fivedollar freedom, and sat down on the edge of the bed. Elise called me a little bit later, wondering what I’d said to Sam to make him so upset. I told her I didn’t know. She asked me if I was coming to Rory’s, said they were all having a great time over there and really wanted to see me. I told her no and hung up. I unplugged my phone and threw away the cord. After puking up the majority of the Vicks, there was another knock at the door. I didn’t answer but I stumbled over and looked through the peephole. It was Jackie, Elise, and Micah. I hadn’t seen Jackie or Micah in a month or so at least; they were old buddies from back in high school. I saw that Jackie had flowers in her hands. Quickly, I wrote a note on a scrap of paper I found on the coffee table.
Can’t come to the door right now. Leave the flowers here and I’ll get them later. Also tell everyone to stop calling. –Alan
I slipped it under the door and watched them pick it up, confused, watched them turn it over to the back and back to the front several times, watched them re-read it and re-read it. Finally, I just got so frustrated, I opened the door, ready to shout at them to leave. Elise had the note in hand and held it up in a sort of shrug as if to say “what the hell?” I shrugged right back and slammed the door in their faces. No one else came to the door that night. 24
Maybelline Midnight Black Samantha Ghormley
Syllables unfamiliar to my lips Stumble towards the unsympathetic spinnings Of a plastic ceiling fan, Frantically in pursuit Of that perfect arrangement of letters and sounds That will capture those hazel eyes With lashes naturally darker Than the midnight black I apply to my own And the soothing touch Which unknowingly guides broken prayers to the surface And somehow turns these pissbrown eyes Framed with fashionable black muck Into a deep velvet cushion Cradling a soft ring of gold.
And it Verb from the Tree Raymond Holmes
He woke up in the noun and put plural noun on his body. Place was run down. The plural noun were peeling, the table in the room of a place was verb. His wife, name, left him number years ago. She took all the plural noun in the storage space. She also verb the car. All of his neighbors felt emotion for him. Even his cat, whose part of feline body was in need of adjective care, left him. Its noun sat empty by the adjective stove. Because of these emotion things, he was close to the end of his noun. Outside of his place, there verb a large classification of tree tree. Its branches were adjective. He also verb a rope. He also knew how to verb knots, from being in the organization as a boy. He also owned a ladder, to verb the tree with. The noun came over the place of his verb head. He was ready. He verb the ladder out to the classification of tree tree and climbed up to the highest adjective branch that looked strong. There he verb the rope, and verb a circle at the other end. He slipped the circle preposition his neck and verb off the ladder step. His shoes, being type of shoe, fell to the noun.
As if It Were My Own Face Dan Warner
And the world was burning on its curling ashen fringes, echoing pink-orange in the fuzz blue afternoon sky, our red rusted hood swallowed the flashing yellow strips. Just us, our only photo now, on the road, leaning back, sweatshirt arms baggy and gray round shoulders, the dark floating hair on my exposed wrist, even in the black-and-white half-century haze, our faces hungry young shadows, your crazed, swelling blue eyes only black coals on paper, all just after that point where dirt roads pave, screaming bounces of country dips become dust clouds billowing to hide wooden barns rotting and old wire fences, and the sagging gray wood porches, ripples centralized in the black knots, And suddenly smooth, gliding glance back at fog and questions where?, where to?, what is the why?, dissolved for the going, the past tan in the rotting rural light. A sudden city rounds the windows, bubbles caging us from our rapid dreams. A picture before the blood, how I swallowed every string dangling from the heart until it became mine, burning, ripping through my chest and screeching through my lungs, reverberating against New York alleys. Too much to contain in any one. Before your velocity, your crash into the limitations of light, your bodily heart to your human heart, so your sideburns shortening far too quickly on empty Mexican railroad tracks.
And now all falling flames and afternoonâ€™s dustThe gone, Wasted and ruined, replaced by soaking superstore youths, and me a drunken star, just the picture that froze us keeps the deep rotting ruts in your face hidden, the carved canyons of your brain behind a face too old for hours, and only hours old, an image stabbing drooping pins on the cheeks and eyelids so we always see What we always saw And I only see now how some words spark, but some want to burn.
Ottowa Chevron Ruby Jenkins
In my head, I was a prodigy Molly McCleery
I have a spiritual attachment to Wednesdays. I think it stems from the ballerina phase, When tapballetandjazz were crammed into 45 minute sessions on Wednesday nights A phase, which, judging from my dancing aptitude, lasted far too long. Every week, My father’s big, hairy hand wrapped around my own And led me up four flights To the musty room where my five year old limbs Bent and twisted into curtsies and pliés Or at least attempted to. In my head, I was a prodigy, I looked in the sky-high mirrors and saw precision Legs in pink tights doing expert arabesques and perfect turns Everyone else saw a kindergartener’s jumbled up movements And arms flinging around in open space Inhaling the disgustingly sweet mixture of My little kid sweat, cheap leather, and dust, I tugged at my black spandex leotard straps And dreamed of the day when I could Dance like the older girls who taught the classes Not comprehending that, in reality, I would never possess that level of coordination. Not understanding that the next ten years would be spent Chasing after an unattainable ability. Later, I quickly grabbed my black patent leather shoes From the depths of my DuckTales duffle bag, Snugly securing blue satin ribbons into a bow. No one wants to lose a shoe while flapping or sugaring. I carefully ran/walked, taps sliding on linoleum, And took my place with the rest of the class, 31
Resting my hand on cold bar’s black chipped paint. Its metallic smell stained my palm for hours. Crackles and pops of the technique record filled my ears, And a nasally voice barked time steps into the air. Shuffle ball change shuffle ball change ball change Turn. Twelve sets of taps far from synchronized Overpowered the record’s repeated piano sequences Melodies became Quicker And quicker Until we could No longer keep up And left the bar. I slowly walked to the edge of the room, Meeting my mother who bundled a coat around my shoulders. Back down the four flights and out onto the street, Legs shivering from the icy December air That cut through the thin nylon of my tights Darkness surrounded our car, broken only by Headlights, streetlamps, and giant illuminated snowflake decorations From my seat, the world appeared unbounded and immeasurable in possibility I hadn’t yet learned to be afraid of the night or the dangers of the world. I laid my head back and watched the lights reflect off the window glass, Squinting my eyes and jerking my head back and forth, Transforming the spheres of gold into thin lines that swayed from right to left Tiny flickers filled my chest with warmth and hope A mixture of feeling I still haven’t fully given up. On the best nights, in the midst of extraordinarily motivation, I’d beg my father to put on “Jessica” from Brothers and Sisters He turned the silver knob of the amp, And I took my place in the middle of the living room, 32
In my head, I was a prodigy
Prepping myself for seven minutes plus of southern rock dancing ecstasy. I now know Dickie was probably high when he wrote my favorite song. My parents sat and watched the performances of my newest moves. I give them credit for keeping straight faces I donâ€™t dance in front of audiences anymore And miss the days of unabashed flailing to the Allman Brothers.
So Much for Endings Haley Bartholomew
Fall in love, and eventually, in well. Life, worthwhile together, and challenge. Ten years they spent together, trying. End of story. Last summer I wrote last year. Love, merely tepid. Fresh lipstick doesn’t take. Weakness is not enough. She’s dying. Run-down, she can’t stop. Remembering nineteen. She leaves, and fails. She, glinting in the distance, a juniper limb. Cool air, moving in freedom sheets. Contrary is being free. Freedom isn’t. Languorous may be summer. Charming, a commitment is a commitment. Underwater, entwined with despair. Seashore, virtuous and grateful, guilty and confused. Was I ever going to get over this?
Sometimes I am Linus; Pondering philosophy, theology (easy, with security blanket in hand) Sometimes I am Lucy; I want and will get my way even if that means I have to yank your blanket away Sometimes I am PigPen: a stain on my shirt that Iâ€™m half ashamed, half proud of Sometimes Schroeder; working at his art (while at, by the by, I must be left alone) Sometimes I am Woodstock; I talk and yell and persuade but all they hear are chirps and squeals Sometimes I am Snoopy; dreaming of being something fantastic anything but the dog I am But mostly, I am Charlie Brown, loser worried for others, but yes, also, for myself
The clicking of the wheel as it hit the side spokes A constant soundtrack to years of family dinners. You’d sit in your chair and quickly flip it to channel 13. For years I thought nothing of it, Simply sat and ate my porkchop and applesauce Listening to conversation intermixed with “Vowels worth nothing, consonants worth…” And Pat’s attempts at witty one-liners. The click of the tab changed that. You always came home and went straight to the fridge. Click. As time went on, things started to change. Vanna didn’t have to turn the letters anymore, Only walk from side to side and softly touch the lighted boxes. More importantly, you changed too. Without saying it, we knew The first click we heard from you Wasn’t your first of the day. We’d learned long before not to mention it. Now my nightly routine was Munching on my meal and listening To attention starved contestants Solve ridiculous word puzzles And you slurring your guesses along with them. Needless to say, the dinners for three Shrank shorter and shorter in duration, Until eventually resulting in two separate Dinners for two. When the family dinners ended, So did my viewing of Wheel of Fortune. 36
Unlike others, the jackpot round does not instill In me a competitive spirit. Instead, the whole thing leaves me with An uneasy nervousness And a desire to change the channel.
For Observation Starts With an Eye Shawn Bodden
Your eyes are deer In a meadow And our conversation This wood. All I see Are bits and pieces, Flits and dashes Of white and brown, Dancing through And prancing past The trunks of ‘Lucky’ and ‘Way’ ‘Music’ and ‘Though’ ‘Existential’ and ‘Consternation’ Whose foliage branches Out into the next, Shading you in Their clauses, Obscuring, with their Walnut periods and Acorn commas, that Which I wish to see; Not so much your eyes, But rather, To see them See me.
From Paris, With Love Stefani Grodie
Flowers Up Close Chantae Rudie
I want to sign to you over the phone Or grasp your lower arm and suddenly you’d Realize exactly what I was saying But some men Back in the dark ages Decided that we should communicate by sound instead We’ve got light and a world Traveling at the speed thereof So why can’t I feel you right now? Silken skin wrapped in calloused claws Warmth radiating I can feel the language of your body And I want to write a story on your skin With delicate taps of my fingertips
Unanswered Summons Alex Plurad
The bells sound again Throughout the day and Into the night. Hollow and mournful, They echo. No one has come. Voids remain on horizons Where silver riders once rode. No damsel or watchman await The God-sent saviors of old. Where is the romance And honor of heroes ago? When did the virtues of demons Reign over the hearts of men? No fairy tales for the children. Nobility lies with the dead. The dragons live unchallenged For all the knights are gone. Swords are shattered or sheathed. Mantles are rusted, not worn. Michaelâ€™s legions are left to watch Hell unleashed By mankindâ€™s hand. The king lives, but his son is slain. The sun has set so long ago. Does no one wait for it to rise? Does no one wish for it to rise...? 43
Not a Poem About a Rose Adam Conway
the summer had not even begun to speak, and there i was, brimming with every intention to write a poem about the rose you should not have offered me. at once, i knew the notion was self-deprecating, which meant within the hour i was observing how walmart merlot slid through my hourglass throat. “how strange a metaphor for time!” i noted. crushed grapes are minutes. our bodies are the mechanism with which we calculate the hours. i supposed that meant that crushed grape flies and throat enthralls with the sensual curve of a woman. that wine must be fleeting. that there must never be enough merlot. alcohol is money! race the throat as it tick-tocks away to the end of liquid decadence! clearly, i was not going to be writing a poem about a rose (the one that should not have seduced me). i quickly thought about all of the not roses i could write about. a giraffe would suffice. or lust. or eternity. or a prayer. or a tastebud. or a lie. and as i wrote about an elegant long necked mammal who worshiped the salty fuck of dishonesty (a metaphor i could not unravel), i thought about what my poem would say if i had been writing a poem about a rose (the one i’m so grateful you painted for me) i realized that i would have focused on its scent and how i now noticed that aroma in the grocery aisle at the movie show on the bus (in places where one does not think to stop and smell roses) and i would have noted how the scent was not of a rose at all but that of sweat. aftershave. cigarette. night. and the rose perfumed with not a rose, which i smelled where one does not think to smell roses, was not from your garden at all but from a foreign (and most unexpected) bush that did not speak of roses but of not-a-ones instead. “the fragrance of not a rose is delicious.”- that i, suppose, would have sufficed, had i written a poem about a rose. which i did not. 44
Chipped white fences Separate trimmed blades Of over-watered grass Daring nature to defy Suburban regulations and Trash pick up on Tuesdays Ignored mugs of Folgers Suspended by French manicures And whispered confidences. Peering over a mirrored green lawn Past beige patterned curtains Family pictures and floral sofas At a set of green matched-luggage Patient beside the maple door, While Mrs. Anders scribbles a note About Aunt May being terribly ill And signs “Love, Mom” in red Before she sticks the stationary Between brown paper lunches On the black granite counter. On the even number side Of Carrington Avenue Emmeline Smythe takes a sip Her blue mug shaking, As she watches the innocent scene Unfold in house 917. She knows Aunt May’s on a cruise Through the fourteenth of June And today’s is only the eighth She speculates with her neighbor Crossing her fingers those green bags Are not waiting for the black duffel 45
He packed some socks into this morning For this weekend’s “work” vacation Locked in meetings in L.A. Don’t bother to call His phone never has reception At the Hilton suites While blond and pearled, Her companion pretends, That her own pink bags Were never packed into His silver Impala For a similar weekend trip. Panged with memories Of champagne and bagels. Early morning runs on the beach Before a return to white fences Middle-age divorcee life And a drop-out, cocaine sniffing son. Unable to cross the chipped white fences Emmeline and Ms. Blond Pearls display The same fear of nature that keeps their Grass exactly two inches long And on the right side of the fence. Because to look back inside Past their own beige curtains And floral couches would turn Two harlequin housewives Into biblical pillars of salt.
Ode to Ocean Waves Amy Reynolds
O frothing ocean waves that mold the lands: You churn and toss your head in proud acclaim. Your playthings are the works of human hands. Chameleon skin, your ever-changing mood, From black to gray to green and back again; The blue of sky is your most constant food. You shield the hidden depths of lands unseen And tempt the careless sailor to become Another part of your museum-scene. The temperamental humors of your veins Cause you to roar and prance and then to still, Like a proud horse under his masterâ€™s reigns. You are the perfect jewel and gem of earth; Mother of life, who gave the song its birth. O dancing, cresting wonders of the sea: The endless water-stretches are your own. You play among the winds, alone and free. A somber creature sometimes, but you laugh At all attempts to chart your guarded realms; The storms, they love to froth on your behalf. The tempests, rain and lightning are your friends, They are your fellow guardsmen, standing watch Over the mysteries kept from eyes of men. You pine for sky, for places where you rest In droplets formed to clouds, away from all The chaos and confusion of the crest. 48
Your tears no mortal sees nor understands The ageless work of your unwearied hands. Yet through the clouds of sadness comes a light: A music sirens dare not to purloin. You lift your head and sing throughout the night. O mirthful child of never-ending life, Yet ancient in your heart, you still declare Yourself the queen o’er ev’ry sailor’s strife. No festive flute could keep the tune you play, No mortal sleep infringes on your song. Your voice awakes the sun to start the day. A maiden full of youth and vigor true Could not hope to match the swirling pace you set When you dance like light in sparkling morning dew. Your ballroom spans the world and ‘velops all That’s hidden under stream and waterfall.
A man walking yellow paces four times the normal rate and pounding faster than the cement slick his heart tearing to break the city of its ghosts and its children widening faster than trees turn into buildings and calling the past that requires no thought or action only to muscle out a few words deep with meaning and say, I love this city
The year was forty five minutes old, making every action a first. Another first kiss, first dance, first shot of burning cinnamon schnapps from a friend of a friend, the first memory of regret once the sting settled in my stomach but the burning lingered in my throat. Soon though, life was moving in fast forward again, a new day already full of memories and moments in just a handful of minutes. Charlie and I escaped the festivities out the back door. We hadn’t been alone together in over a week, the holiday season consuming all spare time for family and any obligations besides ourselves. Climbing down the back porch, I was blinded, the sudden gust of cold felt in my bones. My legs were almost bare to the elements, hidden only by thin tights. The ground was covered in snow and ice, fresh coats from unsteady storms that kept spinning in circles, showering us deeper and deeper with each blizzard. A realization came over me that we were standing on the platform of California Avenue, the yellow street lights mixing with the red heat lamps to create a soft orange haze. The bars were still full while we huddled closer to one another, savoring the hum of the heater. I don’t recall any meaningful conversations, there had to have been. Looking back though, anything that seemed significant at the time loses meaning once you’re sober, becoming just another alcohol laced exchange, a jumbled mess of philosophical tangents with no closure. Making plans was our go to topic as of late, trying to keep things as light as possible out of fearful optimism. Most likely we were talking about the neighborhood. A few nights ago while we were eating dinner I explained how my transient lifestyle had been taking its toll on me. I wanted roots, familiarity, the sense of community that only comes from connections that go deeper then just a name on a lease. Drunk paired with my excitement, my sense of whimsy began to take over, I declared undying devotion to California Avenue. Or Kedzie, maybe both. Or for the tan apartment buildings that dotted the streets of Logan Square, inexpensive housing designed specifically for students, artists, working class; exemplifying the nature of Chicago, different worlds contained on a single block. 52
The train eventually slowed at our station, allowing the passengers to file in for their bi-annual free ride, only available on New Years and the Fourth of July. We hid behind the door partition, drunks to our backs and the cold seemed worlds away once we slid into the subway portion of the tracks. Sitting close, hands resting on each others’ knees, our merlot stained lips moving faster then our drunken ears could chase. So many follow up questions, a ballet of fumbling words and misunderstood repetitions. Circular logic on a ride to the loop. The train came to a screeching halt at our transfer, we slowly climbed the layers between platforms. The normally busy stop felt silly in the early hours. The bustling hallways were empty, the gigantic advertisements seemed ridiculous with only two people, drunk and suddenly mystified how an escalator works. We kept going though, aware that eventually the trains will stop running, the celebrations had to end sometime. The majority of the city was either still at home or never even left, drinking the annual champagne at home with friends and family huddled close for their own set of firsts. We waited, peering around the corner to look for the airplane pictograph that signified our ticket home. Two trains passed, sexual tension and winter taking a toll on our patience, released only by complaining about the Orange Line until our plane was in sight. We ducked in the conductor portion of the last car, two seats secluded away from main compartment even if we really didn’t need it them. We were alone. We felt away from it all. The cold that flushed our cheeks or the voices of other passengers, just feet away in a separate car ceased to exist. The only sounds were the clacking tracks and ourselves. The flirtations turned serious once we were alone. The innocence of a night out quickly turned pornographic. Our breaths shallow and coarse, my right leg straddling its way around his back while my left was trying to keep myself balanced on the plastic seat. Words came between the kissing, the feeling, the searching of each other. Something unmentionable but also unmistakable. I stopped. Sitting up, my eyes an inch above his. “I want you. Right now. Here. Now.” Simple statements, uncomplicated and honest with their intentions. The loop flew past at thirty miles per hour. The buildings 53
were familiar but blurred; focus was too much to ask for in the state that I was in. Charlie moved fast too, rifling, unwrapping, only to rewrap. All in correlation with the glass panes flying past, closer then they ever seemed. If the window were open I could reach out and trace along the fastly fading architecture. A state of panic overtook me. This moment was perfect, so it couldn’t possibly be happening to me. Not the girl who spent the majority of high school hidden behind books, eager to have a conversation with Nick Adams but never with a real person, let alone specifically a real boy. Yet there I was, the same person except not. Completely different. Nonsensically in love with another person and in total lust for the moment. Absurd almost, how much a few months or a couple of drinks can do to a person. The thoughts kept racing but I took action. I ripped my tights, hiked up my skirt until our hips were touching, friction filled the nook. We tried to match the only rhythms of the sleeping city that were available to us, the quick catching of wheel on rail that propelled us forward until the train just stopped. With an abrupt flash of our heads from side to side, we knew we were halfway from Adams and Wabash until Roosevelt, the Polynesian restaurant advertisement I knew from so many rides on that train was the only clue. However a dormant train didn’t stop us. Our own rhythm exceeded the clacks, the unconscious metropolis that contained us kept dreaming while we, stuck between stations, reveled in ecstasy, fueled with liquor. Millions of people were unaware of the simple beauties of that night. I placed my hand against the Plexiglas, littered with etchings from adolescent dares, felt their marks, understood why the overlooked handles were so important. Those names were not just names, drawn with an old key on the side of a train, barely decipherable from a set of lines yet somehow full of pride. Our breaths were short and deep. We disregarded the heat and we sighed on. The city only slept so long before the echo of a sunrise ran through the raw buildings pitted against the wintry lake, rousing the young and old who would see these same windows, read the same names, watch the same disappearing windows as they go around and around. The fleeting throes of passion were irresistible, causing us to act like teenagers on that winter night, a first to end all firsts. If I hadn’t noticed the weather worn faces standing on the Roosevelt platform, well, who knows? 54
If I had Wings like a Dove Ruth Babb
His coat was the first thing we noticed. It was huge, like a cloak, and it smelled. With the way he was bunched up, sitting against the wall, the coat was all of him. As we came closer he uncurled, head emerging to make him a person. He smiled with yellow teeth, and one of his eyes gleamed silver. “Ah. Customers. I know just what you want, my lads.” He grabbed his knee and forced himself to stand. It took him a while, and even when he got up his back must have been crooked. He was shorter than us, and we were all real short for 6th graders. I remember thinking it was strange that his skin was the same color as his coat, a dirty tan, as if caramel and dust had gotten mixed together. His voice was that color too. “You’ll be wanting the special, won’t you boys? Here they are.” He spread one arm to show us the inside of his coat. They hung on silver cords like strange key chains; big tawny wings, medium sized red ones, and a few small ones near the bottom, “Take your pick, me bucks. Mind the price.” Daniel chose hawk. I chose goose, for traveling. And Phil, grey little Phil who just followed us around, he reached down to the bottom and chose small white wings. “Dove, lad? Are you sure?” He just smiled and nodded. We harvested them off the coat and held them tight and felt the chains wrap around us, cutting deep enough to draw blood as the wings slid to our backs and grew. He was always so happy, Phil, and he idolized us. Maybe if we had realized what a dove was to a hawk, Daniel would have changed his mind. We hadn’t yet learned that there is always a price.
They want to eat us. I’m sure of it. Every bad zombie movie you’ve seen cannot compare to those stares, the sounds, bones and wheels squeaking, creaking as one—the first shot of a tennis ball, launched off the leg of a walker, signaling the feed. The scrape of a grappling hook cane on the floor, on our necks. They want our youth. They want the ability to once again walk uphill for miles, both ways, with young fleshy feet in the snow. We’re being followed at a cool 2 feet per minute, they’re wearing white wrinkled masks, dying their hair blue, blue! All to scare me, you, slow us down so they can wrap cords of envy around our bodies, lasso our mouths with oxygen tank tubes and drag us to their homes, chaining us to the handles of their bathtubs. They want to dunk us in Metamucil and roll us in hard candies, then suck our souls out between their dry, stained dentures. They want to eat us. I’m sure of it.
What He Did With It Kasey Perkins
He decided not to ask his parents if he could keep the child— they were real sticks in the mud about kidnapping. Not that it was really kidnapping, he decided, no, it was more like when scientists relocated animals to new habitats. Not that the child was an animal—it was just destined to make a new friend, or so he decided. The child slept all the way to his parents’ house, not even waking when the sirens rushed in the direction of the fast fading grocery store. He wanted to make sure he could take care of it, so he stopped at another grocery store and bought Chef Boyardee, Cheetos, licorice wands, marshmallows, and a six pack of Bug Juice drink. As he was paying the cashier, a sudden paranoid panic came over him, and he found that he could hardly breathe. His hands shook as he stuffed a ten-dollar bill into the hands of the teenage girl. The man’s heart pounded. “Sir? Are you alright?” asked the cashier. He nodded frantically and held out his trembling palm, flexing the fingers to indicate that he needed his change, now, right now, damn it, now. “I need five more dollars,” she said when he failed to notice she still held the ten. He crammed another ten into her hands and fled, falling against the car door. Inside was his sleeping child, and he breathed a gush of pure, cool relief, knowing that no one had stolen his little friend. After all, there were crazies in this world, he decided. It was all rather reminiscent of the time with the cat, he decided, as he snuck the kid in through the back door of the house. He had once snuck a kitten in through the window of his bedroom. It would have remained a secret if he hadn’t forgotten to feed it. The squalling of the desperate tabby had alerted his parents, who alerted the Humane Society, who alerted him about the repossession of his kitty. This wasn’t reminiscent of the time with the cat. After all, this time he had Chef Boyardee. He kept to himself when his parents got home. They never minded if he kept the door shut, never required him to leave the room for dinner, for guests, or for anything, really, if he didn’t want to. His 59
parents kept to themselves when he got home. It thought he was cool. He showed it all the games on his computer—games full of robots, aliens, large breasted women, monsters, humans with great swords and women with the power to perform magic, all of which he played for hours when he was alone. He would have to go out and purchase a two-person game, he decided, as the kid oohed and ahhed over the graphics flickering on the screen. They ate all the licorice. It also thought his room was cool. He sat in the room that night with it, and they talked about their favorite things. They had all the same favorite things. It laughed at every joke he made. They ate all the Chef Boyardee. You are my greatest friend, he told it. It knew how to play cards, so they played Go Fish all day the next day. He skipped his usual trip to the grocery store, forgot to go to classes he’d been failing for some ten years, or even to go outside. You win again, it told him, fanning out for him the dozens of matched pairs of cards. It gave him a high five, and its hand was the cold, clammy texture of duct tape. They ate all the marshmallows. He saw something once, as they played. Something flickered in its eyes. It reminded him of what he saw in his parents eyes, when the second cat was found dead in the bathtub, covered in the contents of every shampoo bottle in the stall, swirling around in patterns of green and blue and milky pink, budding into beautiful designs and wafting up the fragrant smell of Suave Green Apple. The look was admiration, he decided. His young friend agreed with him. The floor was littered with empty Bug Juice bottles. It laughed with him, through thick silver lips, square and shining with the sugary drink. The laughter rang inside his mind. The door set off a gunshot between the giggles, sending an entire army of Chef Boyardee’s into an offensive attack. All he remembered seeing were what seemed like a hundred shining badges on navy blue. Cold bands froze his wrists, while the same cold graced the child’s wrists when he was cut from the duct tape. He hadn’t finished his Cheetos. He only heard snippets of the conversations around him. …. taped to the chair…still alive… 60
What He Did With It
…two days…covered in food….has not eaten or drunk…. …six years old… male…. in shock….silent…. ….suspect also silent…child in custody… Child. His child. Please don’t let them take me, it begged to him as the officers carried him out. The monsters in uniforms seemed unwilling to hear what he could hear. I won’t, he said, his voice breaking with emotion. He had never felt anything like this, the pain of losing a child. His chest was splitting in two, on a fault line, and the all-encompassing loss of it all drug him down somewhere, dark, where he could do nothing but scream his loss, his grief from the bottom of that cruel place, this world, a world that could take someone’s light, their child, their entire universe away from them in the blink of an eye, a screech of a cat. Chef Boyardee grinned up at him from the stained carpet. His parents watched them take him away. They had no idea what he was feeling, he decided. …suspect still silent… No, he screamed. …detached…unresponsive… He howled at the badges, who seemed to hear nothing of his animal like instinct to protect his child, they heard nothing as he screamed obscenities into the hands that hauled him through a trail of canned spaghetti, mashed into the carpet with marshmallows and licorice, a trail that would lead him to the courtroom kicking and screaming where even then the lawyers couldn’t hear him, where he begged the judge to press charges, to stop these terrible people, to return his child to him…. these things, all these things—everything—that he was willing to do to get his kid back from all those badges, all those crazies in this world.
A girl (me) and her brother (Patrick) walk into a bar, ten years before the oldest can legally drink, looking for a good time. That’s not accurate. We came with our parents. And there’s a restaurant on the other side of the bar, and a play area for little children who are too energetic to sit quietly at a booth to wait for their food. I’m not telling this joke well. So a girl and her brother walk into a bar, looking for a good time. It’s the brother’s birthday, and the two head straight for their favorite booth. The girl picks up a menu. The boy stares at the ceiling and sings incoherently to himself. He is autistic, and he eagerly awaits the end of the meal, when his favorite part of the birthday ritual begins. The waitress stops at our table. I attempt to get Patrick to respond to her and order his food and drink. He orders a cheeseburger and fries, with a Coke, just like always. I order whatever the waitress suggests, like always. Our parents sit down; Dad beside me and Mom beside Patrick, like always, and they order their food. The waitress leaves, and our parents and I discuss topics of little importance. Patrick shreds a straw wrapper. The food comes, and we finish our meal without event. Dad leaves to pay the bill, and my brother and I slip away to truly commence the birthday celebration. We weave our way to the entrance, and I ask the host for a balloon. Patrick hastily adds, “Red,” before the host can select one at random. Patrick’s face lights up as the shiny red balloon passes from the host to him. I thank the host, and we rush to the parking lot, anxious to begin. Rain spits over the parking lot, covering us and the balloon with a fine mist. The October chill fogs our breath, and for a moment, we exhale slowly, enjoying the swirling smoke we make. Then, before either of us can inhale again, Patrick releases the straining rubber balloon, and I make a belated swipe at the fluttering ribbon, though we know that I won’t catch it. The red balloon dances above our heads, shaking collected raindrops off its sleek surface. We lift our faces to the sky, blinking against the descending rain, to watch the red orb fade to a pinprick. I’m not telling this joke well. 62
A girl and her brother walk into a bar, looking for a good time. They leave with a red balloon, releasing it as they step onto the pavement. The girl watches the glistening balloon and perceives a year of strife leaving her grasp, allowing her to start again with her brother. The released balloon symbolizes forgiveness, her brilliantly red shortcomings disappearing into the gray evening. The brother watches the shining balloon and perceives nothing more than happiness for releasing the balloon. Perhaps he perceives far more, but the girl only witnesses his joy, and marvels at his blissful ignorance. The balloon disappears by the time our parents emerge. They only witness their eleven-year old daughter clutching their sonâ€™s hand and smiling.
You can walk the lanky mire of bullshit only in enclosed spaces. Covered in breath and suffocating under the swamp of words not said and only our language speaks volumes. So now there is only shouting. Words climbing mountains meant for molehills fallen to rain showers and dissolving into dirt. But these storms brew ugly: sandstorms violently tossed like shot-puts colliding with glass windows. A fire sprouts along the Eastern border of our rosy, cheeky childhood, fanned by the cataclysmic waving of stubborn exploits holding on too tight for an upper hand that divides meaning and reason. [Our rescue service is declined, for lack of warranty and no concession to act]
[Our extinguisher is filled with lighter fluid and alcohol] [The emergency plan leads out a filthy alleyway reeking of anti-climax and social disquietude] So the ashes will pile in lobbies, in separate rooms with locks and bar handles and no speaking. And when the smoke clears, the purpose is lost in the rubble.
It seems that that no matter running what never I do got me my very life far comes from back all to of this and Iâ€™m maybe not if I sure stop that running this all of is my such chasers a bad will place finally to let me be.
Bryan De Guzman
You visit my dreams, an unwanted happening after the end We had. I never thought youâ€™d be so lasting, after the end. I wear your sweatshirt, the big black one, with the pockets Ripped out at the edges. I kept the best thing, after the end. I left my inhaler, my nametag, half my earrings, you name it, In the box you made. I realized this unpacking, after the end. You stole The Old Man and The Sea from me. I heard you had misgivings. You must admit it was fitting, after the end. I have begun to grow doubts on the windowsills, like herbs. Would you still tell me you like my phrasing, after the end? A disposable camera with my proof of you not developed. Did You not want pictures because you knew, asking after the end? I met one of your friends a while ago, he cautiously brought Up the subject of you. Have you been talking, after the end? Carol. Sometimes, at oddly unassigned hours, sprinkled in Mundane thoughts, I think I hear you calling, after the end.
On My Reluctance Towards Continuing Education Adam Conway
i will never understand the science of that mistake the word that turns potential to kinetic the fingertip that sparks the momentum, that makes taste an inevitability - these terms will remain foreign, their models, hollow. i could, i suppose, appreciate beckett as I read to you (sick in bed) you would have your soup and I, my coffee but our comfort would be knowing that we could run out of pages and still, no one would come or i might, one day, know virginia as you manicure the lawn and i watch you with glassy oven door eyes we both wander why we had to go and lock that goddamn window in the 2nd floor study, if too many mr. walshes had walked in and out of our lives, if any evening should ever warrant a party still i’d like to be well-read on the history of the curve of your back the distance between my truth and yours the places you go to when you refuse to look at me yes… i would study these with fervor so you see, when you cock your head your eyes as concerned as they are patronizing and you gather the balls to shape your lips into “you get it?” 70
or “you want it?” i must summon the cold to shrug my shoulders, to fume ambivalence because frankly my dear, i’m not sure if i give a damn (one way or another) about being the mistress to a boy who sees no one
This is called a stop-life. When life ceases to function ordinarily. When what is expected is superseded by the unexplainable. When everything acts in reverse or improperly. I am walking down a path—a bike trail or pedestrian walkway— with no foreseeable endpoint. I see trees swaying, but there is no wind. Humans in the background are communicating but not using words. The skies are clear, but the Earth smells like rain. I do not know where I am going and do not feel anything. A stop-life. The opposite of how life should work. Some say it is the product of the human mind, like a posttraumatic delusion or psychosis. They need a definable basis, a way to rationalize it. They need to locate the exact cause, so it makes sense and give it a name, so it becomes real. Stop-life is just a word that I invented so people could identify with it. With me. So when my mother finds me walking and tells me that my best friend, Chase, is dead, she isn’t surprised when I shrug and keep moving. I know realistically what I should be feeling right now. How my mother is wringing her hands together like she’s trying to rub the skin off of them, her mouth quivering so maniacally she’s nearly unable to speak, expecting my face to cringe sourly in remorse but my expression remains dead. My legs keep moving. Sometimes, people die. That’s all I can think. Before I can gain ten steps closer to nowhere, my mother forces obstruction and asks, “How are you feeling?” “I don’t know,” I tell her. “I don’t know how I should feel.” My mother’s palm cups her mouth, and she blows a fit of air into it. She backs away quietly, relinquishing herself as my barricade. I want to tell her that I am sorry, but there is no use. You cannot explain lack of feeling to someone when all they do is feel. So I just continue walking, and I keep observing things as they aren’t. My mind is a puddle that ripples inward, a flower that wilts before it blooms. I am not interested in life, death, or the inevitability of incurring both. So I 72
just keep walking.
My family has a long history of depression. My father’s father was a twin, and both my grandfather and greatuncle suffered from severe bouts with depression. They were never married and both were dead before my father could crawl. From what I’ve heard, my grandfather overdosed on antidepressants and my great-uncle knocked over a candle and was too weary to remove himself from the house burning around him. My father also suffered from chronic depression, but it never seemed as severe. When he came home at night from work, he was able to kiss his wife on the cheek and tell her that he loved her. He went to church even, and believed in God and hope. He played his part with impressive sincerity and was a loveable, positive man, but I could always see in his eyes that something was always not quite right, not quite there. I guess that was the depression I was seeing, but I always had a feeling that he was never interested in playing the part. It wasn’t hard to gauge that he was unenthused, perhaps even resentful. No one should ever have to be an actor, not to everyone. My mother was very surprised when she shook him off the bed one morning and discovered that he had lost the ability to be alive. My mother refused to admit that I was like my father, like my grandfather. She couldn’t suffer through another loss of that magnitude, so when I displayed signs of depression, she willfully ignored them. I never questioned her either, because I believed that she was right. That what I felt was not depression. But my mother finally caved. I guess my response to Chase’s death was the last straw, the fatal shove to conviction. So now I’m in therapy, counseling, whatever. The doctor looks professionally wired, stapled with a knitted vest swelling from his unreasonably large sternum. His eyes look as hollow shells through the thick lens of his glasses. His face evokes no emotion, a learned tool in dealing with patients. Some therapists like to connect with their patients; other’s like to study them. This guy is a shameless professor. He begins asking me questions, expecting answers. He has one leg crossed over the other and his brow is serious. I respond with something, but to him, it is not an answer. He thinks that every 73
question must have an answer. I see that every answer is already in the question. So he asks me, “Why do you think you are here?” I pull away my head for a moment and shrug. “Shrugging is not an answer,” he says. “Why have you come here?” “Isn’t the fact that I’m here make the question ‘why’ irrelevant?” I respond, after a brief pause. “Not if you are curious. Are you curious?” “Why should I be curious?” “Are you curious about your curiosity?” “No. I’m curious about your curiosity.” He frowns and closes his shells, and the thin skin between them crinkles inward. He begins writing something on the clipboard in front of him and flips through papers, scheming for a diagnosis. “It says here a friend of yours recently passed,” he finally musters. “How do you feel about that?” “He’s dead,” I respond, and I see his eyes twitch in response, like the wind just hit him. “I know that, but how does that make you feel?” “I feel like he’s dead,” I tell him. “I don’t know how else I should feel.” The doctor removes his glasses and his eyes shrink to a grain of salt. He writes briefly again on his clipboard and resolves, “Yes. You are definitely depressed. No two-ways about it.”
I am peeling leaves and eating fruits with my back propped by a brick wall when I come upon a boy who is interested in me. He is perfectly blonde with light bangs feathering his forehead, his eyes blue with promise and his skin browned by the sun. I’m interested in him as well because he seems perfect, and I can’t comprehend perfection. Not in this world. He grabs me by the hand and pulls me from the wall that had been supporting me. He drags me a few yards off towards the playground and smiles as he begins utilizing the machinery around him. He crawls to the top of a slide and looks at me beckoningly before swimming down with the tips of his toes guiding him. I follow his silent suggestion 74
and slide down as well. I don’t enjoy it, but I want to see the boy happy, so I continue. I slide down a couple more times and then proceed to glide down a long pole rooted in the ground from the top of the playplace. The boy starts to do so as well and laughs in unison with the pounding of his heart, and I guess I smile as well. When I come across the monkey bars, I can’t hold my grip. I get a third of the way across, and then fall to the chips below. Chase runs over to me and says, “It’s okay, Owen. You’re okay.” I look down at my knee and see splinters of chips gently nailed in, and above them is a large scrape and dead skin peeling off. “You don’t bleed, but it’s okay,” Chase says to me, his arms tightly bound around my shoulders. “I won’t tell on you. It’s okay.” My body shrugs. Chase loosens his grip, and I pull myself up, brushing dirt and chips off of my knees. My pale skin darkens beneath the dirt, dimming the powerful glow emitting from Chase. I stopped paying attention then. I walk back to my wall and nail myself against it for another five minutes before our 5th grade teacher reports us back to the classroom. Chase doesn’t say a word.
I walk down my hallway, and I can hear my mother slicing onions in the kitchen. After dinner, she says, I’m to start my medication to subdue the depression. I tell her that it’s not depression, but she refutes that I’m only 17 and not in the right mind to make that call. As I walk, I brush up against the wall and inadvertently ram the family portrait, sending it spiraling down to the carpet and landing flat, facing upward. I go to pick it up, but I stop mid-lean. My eyes glean over my father, at how he’s smiling, standing upright, his arm around my mother, his fingers tightly clasping her shoulder’s tip, his teeth glowing. Everything seems normal—happy even—except his eyes. Even there, I can see how they do not match his disposition, how they never did. The way they sag when the rest of his anatomy exudes proudly, happily. Beneath them, he is growing dark pockets, digging deeper into his cheeks. His brow never creases, nor arches. His art is willing charm, but he cannot hide his eyes. My mother calls from the kitchen, “Owen, is everything okay? I heard a noise.” “Yes. It’s okay. I knocked down the picture in the hallway.” 75
I lift the frame back up to the wall and allow the nail to receive it. As the hook pins the eye, I look down and see a small, brown notebook, one that must have been placed behind the portrait and fell during the airstrike. The cover is irredeemably worn and the pages are stained yellow from years of abuse. I open it up, and my eyes grow wide. I do not know how one feels when they are shocked, but this is the closest that I have ever come to it. Inside, I see the words of my father and my grandfather and my great-uncle. I see the gross handwriting of my great-greatgrandmother, her sister, her uncle. I see the shoddy, abusive hieroglyphs of my great ancestors, all on my father’s side, spanning generations. Each entry seems to generate pages, with each author only contributing one entry to the entire journal. Their words—in all of their hollow conclusiveness—are poignant in a sad, detached way. They are devastating. I read excerpt after excerpt, and I can sense my skin turning cold. Perhaps this is sympathy, but I can’t measure it. The way I am, and the way the pages describe these people, I can’t help but register a connection. My great-great-great Uncle Reynolds writes, “The only way I know pain is that I don’t feel it. I can cut myself with the sharpest tool and never bleed. That’s the worst part.” My great-aunt Melody writes, “I only know loneliness because I am around people.” My great-great grandfather Randall writes, “Human emotion is not something that can be learned. Most people are blessed with it, and build their lives around it. It gives them a reason to live, to struggle. But what is the purpose of a cloud if it never rains? If feeling gives purpose, what does living matter to me?” I skim nearer to the end of the text, to passages with relatives that I’m familiar with, and I read that they all felt the same way that I do now. Nothing. That everything seems backwards. That the only way they can experience anything is by not knowing how it feels. A stop-life. Each entry is signed and dated by the author. When I first began reading the journal I couldn’t tell, but as I come upon family members 76
that are more memorable, I notice something else. The dates signed by my father and grandfather, my great-uncle, they wrote their entries the same day that they died. I cannot help but know that I am doomed to be just another entry in this journal, another being without a sense of feeling, another life of contradiction, another stop-life. My father wrote, “I tried.” That was it. That was all he needed to say. It was the shortest entry in the book.
Another endless street. Houses located on either side of the street are parallel, a symmetrical landscape. I squint hard to the horizon, to where the street just ends, to see if there’s anything beyond it. I’m convinced there isn’t. Chase and his girlfriend are walking next to me, holding hands because they love each other. My mother says that fourteen year old boys don’t know how to be in love. For whatever reason, that statement comforts me. Chase knows, though. He once told me that he stopped finding other girls even remotely attractive the second he encountered Michelle, that he could imagine spending the rest of his life with her. I smiled and nodded, because I don’t know how else to react to an imbecile. While walking towards the nowhere-horizon, Michelle asks me, “So why don’t you have a girlfriend, Owen?” I don’t know how to react, so I tell her, “I don’t know. I just don’t want one.” “Come on, Owen,” she retorts. “You are a fourteen year old boy, and you’re telling me you don’t want a girlfriend?” “Yes.” “I don’t believe you.” “Okay.” “Why don’t you go out with Samantha? She seems interested in you.” “She isn’t.” “How do you know?” “I don’t.” “Ugh!” she exerts violently. “Chase, would you please talk to him? I 77
think he needs help.” In response, Chase takes the four points of his knuckles and slams them into my upper arm, forcing me to wince and fall back a bit. Michelle acts impulsively and relents her grip around Chase’s fingers. Chase grabs both of us by our forearms, as to keep us both from collapsing on either side of him. Then he grabs the sleeve of my t-shirt and pulls it up. He examines his target briefly before replacing the skin with fabric again. “What did you do that for?” I demand of him. “I wanted to test something,” he says, innocently enough. “It’s okay. I know now.” “Test what?” Michelle briefs in his other ear. “I wanted to see if his arm turned red if I punched it. It didn’t. I know now.” “Is that strange?” I ask. “A lot of people don’t turn red if you hit them.” “No. You’re right.” Chase says. “It’s nothing. I wanted to know and now I do. Let’s just keep walking.”
The next thing I know, I’m lying on a cot in an emergency room, my arm plugged up with tubes. Pumping fluid. Extracting fluid. I recall before blacking out, with minute sensitivity, feeling the manic desire to breathe contrasted with the overriding inability to do so. My mother is sitting next to me, her face flushed with emotion. She sees my eyes blink open and sighs heavily. Her pale arms thrust around my neck like two clamps around a pole, and she quickly pulls away as I start gasping for breath again. “I’m so sorry, honey. I’m just glad to see that you’re awake.” I don’t say anything. As soon as she notices that I’m awake, the ER doctor scrambles into my area and begins examining me. She asks me how I am feeling as she showers my eyes with a tiny flashlight. I tell her that I don’t feel any different. “What do you remember?” the doctor asks as she molests my chest with a stethoscope. “I don’t know,” I tell her. “I remember taking the antidepressants.” “Yes,” the doctor responds. “We’re thinking they caused an allergic reaction, but we’re running more tests to be sure.” 78
Twenty minutes pass before the doctor returns to my quarters, her face flushed and crinkled. She pulls my mother aside briefly and whispers something into her ear before she is ready to speak with me. “We’re not so sure that it’s an allergic reaction that caused this anymore,” she says hesitantly. “What’s wrong?” I ask. “Have you ever been examined before?” she asks. “For school? For sports or anything? I don’t have records here that even indicate that you’ve ever had a physical exam.” “Maybe when I was a child,” I respond. “I haven’t had one recently.” The doctor takes out a file and begins skimming, her eyes nudging back and forth in a trance. She keeps clicking a blue pen in her hand. I was always told that this was a sign of anxiety. “The problem is, your body is not structured like a normal human body,” she finally opens. “And not just irregularly—incorrectly.” “What does that mean?” My mother whispers hopelessly from the sidelines. “Frankly, it is amazing that your son has survived this long,” she explains, and then turns back to me. “You lack many of your major organ systems, including your circulatory system, digestive system, and immune system. However, your body has built-in supplementary organs and chemicals that have helped you to process foods in the past. That is why you haven’t had difficulty eating food. However, your system cannot process pills, or anything that hasn’t been chewed. For whatever reason, it requires solids to be broken down severely. Otherwise you cannot digest the material properly, and the substance closes your airway. The supplementary chemicals that I mentioned earlier have replaced blood cells, so you do not actually have blood in your body. That is why, when you rip or tear the surface of your skin or break tissue, your skin doesn’t turn red and you don’t bleed.” The doctor pauses shortly and turns to my mother, who is standing paralyzed to the right, her mouth gaping wide like a fish. The doctor turns back to me. “We also found abnormalities in your brain. You have all the proper systems for functionality, but not all of them actually function. Most notably, your limbic system.” “What does the limbic system do?” I ask. “The limbic system is the part of the human brain that dictates 79
emotion and behavior. By not using this part of the brain, you are missing many vital structures that are required for most people to function, but those necessary for functionality have been corrected one way or another by your brain.” “So what does this all mean?” my mother finally offers, her lips quivering mechanically. “Honestly, I’m not entirely sure. There has never been a case similar to your son’s in the past. His anatomy does not compute with the structure of even the most basic human anatomy. We cannot treat him for anything, because he doesn’t seem to get sick. And even if he was to get sick, we wouldn’t know how to treat him. He has no immune system to combat any illness that he may encounter.” Peculiarly stricken, I ask, “So I’m not human?” She looks at me, her eyes sliding back and forth, her teeth gritting, and she responds, “Structurally, no. You aren’t.”
School buses aren’t often subject to nuisance by criminals, because robbing school children will get you nowhere. However, children do make wonderful hostages. Sitting next to Chase on the way to some school-enforced field trip, a maniac infiltrates our bus, and starts waving a gun around and screaming. My fellow classmates around me arouse in panic, wailing across the walkway, behind seats, shielding themselves with upholstery. The gunman grips his gun and nails it against the head of the bus driver, who begins pleading helplessly against the gunman’s barrel. The gunman yells at the bus driver to shut up several times, but the driver—bellied with fear—is incapable of cooperation. Resultantly, the gunman paints the driver side window with the insides of the driver’s head. Children begin screaming. Unfortunately for him, the gunman cannot kill all of his hostages, or else he would be defeating the purpose, so he begins releasing shots towards the windshield until he fires through the entire round. The bus is silent now. The gunman reloads his gun and tells everyone to refrain from making noise, or communicating, or breathing. He channels the radio in the front and informs them of the situation, and how he wants to be flown away to some tropical island in a helicopter like Al Pacino in that one movie. 80
As he is talking, Chase nudges me and says through his teeth, “I think you can take him out.” I look at him blankly and ask, “What do you want me to do? Kill him?” “I think you could,” Chase says. Chase motions down to his book bag and pulls out a boot knife, the same one he once showed me in his father’s room. He gives me the knife and nods assuredly, ducking beneath his seat to avoid notice. I shrug and begin walking stealthily towards the front of the bus where the gunman is shouting sweet-nothings to the man at the other end of the radio. The police are already outside, wailing on a megaphone for the gunman to release the hostages. I continue to creep ahead and—and through all of the background noise—several kids around me begin gasping in response. The gunman turns around and, seeing me with the knife, takes his gun and fires a shot at my shoulder. I fall back violently, bang my head against the side of a seat, and collapse to the ground. In response to the gun shot, the police stage a forced entry into the bus from all sides, opening the emergency exit in the back and begin filtering out the children still unharmed. I sit up quickly and run to the end of the bus, my disposition so regular no one outside seems to notice the bullet wound in my arm. Chase sees me shoot off to the side and heads in my direction. He reaches me and thanks me with a strong embrace. As he releases, he notices the gunshot wound, the small hole in my shoulder where blood should be flowing from, and he says, “You don’t bleed, but it’s okay. I won’t tell on you.” Then he takes his knife and pokes at my wound until he is able to rescue the bullet. All I feel is pressure.
Chase once asked me, “How do you feel knowing that someday you are going to die?” I thought that I should be afraid of death. That if I’m not, what else do I have to be afraid of? So that’s what I told him. He shook his head and grabbed my hand. I couldn’t tell if he was feeling sorry for me or if he doubted me. Either way, he was able to garner enough sympathy to say, “I don’t know how to be afraid of death without being afraid of life.” He closed his eyes like he was praying, and said, “Every second we live is deliberate, because it is impossible for us to let go of anything. Every second is also 81
passive, because we do not deal with anything. For one, I’d rather be impervious to feelings than to be imprisoned by them.” I didn’t say anything, because for once in my life, I knew what he felt. He didn’t feel pity and he didn’t feel doubt—those aren’t emotions that I can attest to. They only make humans vulnerable. He was jealous. The way his hand wrapped around mine, like he was trying to fuse our brains, it was all a front for envy. He opened his eyes and said, “I don’t think death is the worst part of life.” He said, “I think that living is the worst part.”He started to cry, then. So I wasn’t surprised when my mother came up to me and told me that Chase had committed suicide. She was distraught. Most people didn’t see it coming. Chase left no residue of unhappiness; he was the model teenage boy. He was perfection wrapped in human flesh. But, for some reason, death unraveled his propensity for flaws. As if, in death, you are truly exposed. So when Chase died, I knew what loneliness meant. I had lost the only person who knew what I was going through, how I had to live. And what’s more, he accepted it. And although I couldn’t feel it, I knew that any trace, any tangible vestige of humanity that I held claim to had died along with him. So I am writing this. You may ask me if it is worth it just to know that I am alive as opposed to being dead. But there is no escape from this. Imagine if everything that you ever did never brought you an ounce of satisfaction. Reading the paper disinterested you. Saving a life didn’t appeal to you. The Good Samaritan Rule didn’t apply, because there’s nothing inside of you to trigger the desire to help other people. Any feeling you can conjure is overruled by emptiness. Even physically, you don’t feel pain. It’s all pressure. What would you do? Chase died because he wanted to feel nothing. But if death is simply feeling nothing, what is it like to be alive? Tomorrow, I will leave this place. All I have ever done is walk without direction. Every ending seemed either out of reach or inaccessible. So the question becomes, how do you end a life? The best way is to never begin it.
Headline from June 18, 2008 Kasey Perkins
The sixth severed foot was discovered still snug inside its home. Its leg bones sprouted up from a grimy black shoe, and if the woman who discovered it squinted her eyes just right, she could almost imagine that it was a black pot sprouting delicate shoots of algae-covered bamboo, but for the smell of salty ocean water and blood. She imagined that if she placed it back in the water, or planted it beneath the sand, the bones would sprout and grow a person: perhaps the original owner of the foot, perhaps some new being, a Foot Person, with toenails for eyes and lint stuck in his teeth. The fifth foot had been lonely for some time, and this new addition, crusted with saltwater build up, would make a fine mate for it. Perhaps it was sheer luck that the police now had in their possession three lefts and three rights, but it seemed like fate to see them all lined up in the evidence locker, on the forensic table, as if they would come to life in pairs and skip happily out of the building, six small patters leaving drops of the ocean behind them, their bleached bones flying tattered flesh flags in the wind, marching out of the building in search of whatever separated them.
Croug Patrick Ruby Jenkins
Staring at Your Open Mouth from Across the Table in a Steak ‘n Shake During a Group Outing Last Tuesday Shawn Bodden
Every time you eat I can hear it. For God’s sake, It sounds like You’re making Love to your food; One prostitute With a side of fries And a coke: Six seventy. Or, did you Misread The sign? I guess I’m Jealous That my eating Experiences Just don’t add up To yours, One bite is less than one hoot, One groan is more than one flavor, But at the same time I’m glad I taste my food, Think about it, Savor it. I still remember a time 85
When eating meant something, When it was still an act of grace, One of holy love, Love we didnâ€™t Make in the drive thru Or the streets, Love we had to ourselves, That we didnâ€™t have to share With pigeons Hopping about Hoping for a chance at Some dirty seconds. I can sometimes taste those days, Today though, we only taste what is flying out of your mouth to peck us in the eye.
His father sat at the table, in the kitchen. Two bottles of beer, one empty, stood on the surface in front of him. I noticed several more in the trashcan next to the refrigerator. We walked up to him, slowly. He turned his head and saw us. He smiled, his eyes half open, his lips lazily parted, his arms laying heavily on the tabletop. One hand was wrapped around the bottle with beer still in it. The other spread apart its fingers. My friend put his hand on his father’s shoulder. He smiled down onto his parent. His parent smiled back, continued from our entrance smile. They both looked at me, and I smiled too. The father laughed a little. I moved toward the cabinet, opened it. I took out an empty glass and filled it with water. My friend came toward me, did the same, filled his with orange juice. We both went to the table then. I sat across from his father, he sat between us, on my right. I touched my glass to my lips and drank the water. It was clear and cold. It chilled my throat and the rest of the insides it touched. My belly was soon cold too. I then set the glass down on the table. My friend looked at me. I returned. He then turned to his father, who sat quietly. He looked at his son, and smiled. He did that a lot tonight. A scream, muffled, floated to us at the table. I turned, startled, and noticed that it was the television. Nearby his mother lay on the couch, asleep. She had drifted off in the middle of a werewolf movie. We were seeing the end. A woman, scared and beautiful, ran through the wilderness looking for something, safety maybe or a hero or town or the police with guns with silver bullets. No matter her aims, she ran. Her dark hair, made even darker by the black and white film, fluttered about her face as she moved. It was curly and a messy obstruction. The werewolf, hairy and wearing a torn suit jacket, would pop out from behind trees and fallen rotted logs. She screamed a lot. We had just noticed. I turned back to the table company. His father whispered something to us, “she’s been out since about half an hour in.” We all giggled slightly. Then, he asked us about our night. “We went to the Loop,” my friend answered. I nodded, because that’s what we had done. The father seemed satisfied. Above the table my friend saw a small black dot on the light. He pointed it out to us. We all looked up 87
and saw it. The father said to me “get me some salt in a cup, no, on a plate, and you get me a cup of water.” We got him these things. Then my friend’s father climbed onto the wooden chair that he was sitting on. He stood up straight. His hands were sturdy as he reached out toward the light. He gently snatched the fly that had been lounging above our conversation. He then climbed back down. The father sat down again, next to his son. He mumbled something to us, and we moved closer to hear it. “I’m gonna kill this bug.” He then added, “then I’m gonna bring him back.” I was confused. My friend looked like I felt. We watched sharply. The father dropped the fly into the cup of water. It began to twist, move violently, shudder with drowning. Its small body floated on the surface still so my friend’s father drunkenly pushed it below with a spoon. The fly quaked still more, kicking its legs, all six of them, and moving as if to scream at him, the father, the horrid, to show mercy, to let it live and fly another day. He did not comply, though. After a minute, the fly was dead. Then he used the salt. The fly was picked out of the water, the grave, with the spoon that drowned it. It was dropped onto the salt pile. His father rolled the dead bug around, covering it in the coarse white. My friend and I looked on. I had stopped drinking my water. “Might not work,” the father mumbled quietly. He kept rolling it though. Behind us the credits were moving down the screen. The werewolf movie had finished. It was over, showing editors and boom operators, benefactors and production companies. “Hey!” his father said. Under the salt, movement. The little dead fly came out of the pile. My friend’s father had brought back the dead. It took a few minutes, but the fly soon took off, heading straight back to the light above us, as if its own death hadn’t just occurred. I looked at my friend, smiled. He did the same, and we both smiled at his father, the resurrector, while he smiled back at us. He picked up his beer, took a healthy gulp, and placed it on the table, next to the plate of salt. His mother, who had woken probably from the excitement at our table or from the sudden ending of her movie, came over to us. Her hair was messy, and she had an old blanket wrapped around her shoulders. He, the father, smiled up at her. She returned. She stood behind him, placed her hands on his neck, the back, and leaned down to kiss his head. She kissed the top of his head, which was 88
fully covered with hair. She asked him if he had shown us the fly trick, and he said yes. She probably noticed the salt on the table. She smiled at the top of his drunken head and kissed it again. Then, she said goodnight to us and went upstairs. My friend and I stood up, put our glasses in the sink, and moved toward the basement door. “Goodnight,” we said to the father. “Goodnight.” He finished his beer and smiled at us as we went downstairs. When we closed the basement door a sliver of light could still be seen from the kitchen.
All Your Adjectives Ruby Jenkins
It was Bridge who told me that I was like ice. That I was the crusty top layer of the moon, and that I shone recycled aluminum through my eyes. He smiled his coyote teeth when he thought of the shimmer. Summer ate away our skin, burnt us to charcoal, but we didn’t mind. As we walked over plastic hills and darted under windmill arms, we met Don Quixote under the sun. Our awkward appearance made him charge us with a pole made from words, but it was more like the sound of rain in a bucket, which reminded us of the childhood we didn’t share. As the sheets blew in the wind under our catapulting bodies we sailed through the air, letting ghosts haunt the space between us. We were meteors crashing through atmospheres and mountains and buildings and trees as we made our way downward. Finally landing in rabbit fields, soft as cotton we stood up and became the color of red velvet cupcake wrappers… into tones too beautiful to describe… Colors that lovely could steal all your adjectives Bridge and I became alligators as we scuttled into a bog and emerged on tiled floors and washed out windows. Once again we sat at the table and used our knives and forks as words.
Poems Come Packaged as Travel--Sized Toiletries Kim Slattery
Getting lost in a poem is bothersome, although it seems natural that words would point out the emergency exits as you buckle up and prepare for take-off, so if something goes wrong, you have someone’s preparation to hold onto. Before you watch elastic bands stretch behind the flight attendants’ heads, you realize that your toothbrush is still on the ledge above the sink, and you force yourself to focus on not panicking as the ground is torn from under you. But at home, your toothpaste anticipates being dropped into a nylon zippered bag, a gooey replacement for Macaulay Caulkin trudging on slick kitchen floors in flannel pajama pants and marveling over the television set at disappearance happening without the wave of a wand or a burst of light, just a power outage and failure to remember that trouble should follow you everywhere. This small dose of amnesia triggers a few days of digging up every morsel necessary to survive Darwin’s efforts to extinguish the existence of a pocket-sized disaster, and before you know it, the foam is on the flight, and you’re landing, and you’re not in a plane, you’re in a poem. Claiming bags packed with words carefully thrown together, you dig for passports that you will exchange for access to interpretation, and it is then that you realize your stacks are jumbled and indistinct. You don’t know why you’re here, or what you’re looking for, or even how you got here. You step carefully 92
towards the customs officer who is squinting at you with a hand outstretched, and you apologize for misunderstanding words you swear were never uttered: â€œExcuse me. What did you say?â€?
Freedom from Want Adam Conway
the crescent moon chip of a coffee cup against your (needlessly) pursed lips and suddenly, you taste itthe iron history of twenty years of boy without a hand on your shoulder epiphany frames the corners of your mouth pioneering your desert skin as it clears a trail for the vandal wrinkles of your recession drip-dropping off the edges of the earth onto new coat and clashing tie you rush to the sink the taunting softness of cotton embracing your lips and youâ€™re hopelessly aware that you could spill truth for hours and no one would be around to wipe it up or to carry you off to sleep or to bleach away the stain of his god.damn.absence. you look up, through the mirror and hear a stranger at the keys tapping out the same song you thought you wrote when you were sixteen (a clenching, bluesy number) about a girl asleep by a payphone about a boy trapped in a bus stop about some dumbass kid who burned off all the nerve-endings on his hands one fourth of july (about the shortest story ever told)
“well baby i went to bed last night” (a louis armstrong voice that sorta swallows you) “and when i woke up this morning” (decrescendo) “I Wasn’t.”
Laura Wellington I had my soul upon my lips; for it rose, poor wretch, as though to cross over. – Plato
“Let’s play a game,” she said, tugging on her brother’s arm. He nodded, and together, they ran off into the garden. She released him and twirled, letting her arms and skirt billow away from her. Then she closed her eyes. She fell back, going down and down and down… And her brother reached out his arms and caught her. She opened her eyes and looked up at her brother. He smiled at her. She smiled back. He helped her up and they did it again and again; each time, she would fall down and down until he saved her. As the game went on, the brother’s smiles were quicker, more tired. Sometimes he would not smile at all, simply push her back up and sigh. The daylight faded to darkness and the brother suggested they go inside for dinner. The girl swept back her hair with clumsy fingers and nodded. Taking his hand, she trotted along the darkened path to the house. They passed by the dining room window and the boy paused, staring inside. The girl pressed her face to the glass. Silhouetted against the lamplight, their mother and father pressed close to one another, lips overlapping. Mother pulled away, her beautiful high laughter thrown to the ceiling as she tilted her head back. Father pushed his lips to her neck, and again to her lips. “They’re so happy,” the girl said, glancing at her brother. But he only stared hungrily at the sight, mouth slightly agape. She looked back, watching the happiness inside and thinking. When the night’s chill became intolerable, the children passed through the kitchen door, the boy stamping on the entrance mat. Mother swept in, straightening her apron. Breathless and flushed, she fretted over her children and scolded them lightly for staying out in the cold. They washed their hands and went into the warm dining room. The boy bolted down dinner and begged to be excused. His sister watched him stride out of the room, heard him rush upstairs. 97
“What did you do today?” her mother asked over the tinkling of silverware. But the girl didn’t respond. She was busy thinking. Once dinner was over and her parents had retired to the sitting room, she walked quietly to her brother’s room and knocked. When he didn’t respond, she turned the handle and pushed into the room. He sat on the edge of his bed, reading a magazine she did not recognize. He looked up at her. “What do you want?” he asked, shoving the glossy book under the covers. She said nothing. Instead, she climbed on the bed, kneeling beside her brother. He watched her serious face as it came closer. Then their lips pressed together. Neither child closed their eyes; the brother pulled back. “What was that for?” he demanded. “It was supposed to make you happy.” “That’s not how it works.” “Then show me.” The brother leaned close and showed her. The next day, they abandoned their game for this new diversion. She would peek as they kissed, to watch his eyelids flutter. He seemed happy now. He enjoyed kissing her until she fought for breath, pushing away gently at first, then with more urgency as her lungs screamed for oxygen. But he would release her at last, always. She never suspected his cruelty. And both children took great pleasure in their new game. “Will we be happy for always?” the girl asked breathlessly. “For always,” he would always reply. Soon, those daylight games were not enough. She visited him at night, when their parents slept, and slipped beneath the covers to kiss him, be with him. It was always she who came to him. And those mornings their parents found them together, it was always she who spoke of nightmares or thunderstorms or monsters. The boy would stay silent. But he would be the first to kiss, to touch; he would leave his hands above the covers until she came, then slip his icy fingers beneath her nightgown. He would lie on top of her until she complained he was too heavy, that she could not breathe. But he would always relent. 98
Their happiness would not last for always. The boy disappeared one day, leaving his sister to press her face to his pillow and pretend he was there. When he returned, hours later, he avoided her questions and looks. She waited until night, hoping he would explain his absence then, only to confront his locked door and silence. She followed him the next day. He didn’t stray far. He walked to the next house and climbed the fence to the backyard. Too short to follow, the girl watched through a gap in the fence as her brother greeted a girl in the backyard, kissed her pale lips, slipped his hand under her dress. His sister screamed, kicking the fence and crying. He pulled away from the other girl and stared open-mouthed at his sister. She screamed his name and ran back home. She did not visit him that night. The children avoided each other for three days, despite their proximity. Every night the girl would stand outside her door and watch her brother’s, in hopes that he would come out and console her. On the fourth night, he came. She heard the click of the lock releasing, and watched in disbelief as his door opened. She stood, wiping her eyes. “Please –” she started. He shook his head and stepped out into the moonlit hall. He glided toward her and lifted her head with his icy fingers. Then he kissed her lightly. He released her and stood there, watching her watch him. “This was our secret,” she accused him. “How could you share it with someone else?” “It wasn’t my fault,” he said. He wrapped her in a deep kiss, and she believed him. Yet tears still leaked from her eyes into their mouths. “Why are you crying?” he asked. “This is supposed to make you happy.” “No,” she said. “It’s supposed to make you happy.” She pushed him away. “Do you remember the game we used to play? I would twirl around and close my eyes, and fall back until you caught me. And we’d begin again.” She turned her back to him. “Let’s play a game,” she whispered. She closed her eyes. Then she fell back, going down and down and down… 99
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