U N D E R G R O U N D Undergraduate Art & Literary Journal
Volume 2, Issue 2 Spring 2012 Georgia State University Atlanta
EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Emily Owens PRODUCTION EDITOR Beau Torres STAFF Talia Hale Parker Hilley John McGrael Maressa Michalek Susanne Reynolds Matt Scullin Adrienne Vaughn MEDIA ADVISOR Bryce McNeil, Ph.D. COVER ART Sky Children, Deonta Wheeler photo manipulation Underground is funded by student activity fees. Issues are provided free to all Georgia State University students, faculty, staff, alumni and guests. All work located herein is the creation of Georgia State University undergraduate students. Underground retains â&#x20AC;&#x153;first publication rightsâ&#x20AC;? for submissions accepted by the journal. It is our understanding and intent that all rights for accepted submissions remain with Underground until the submissions are published, at which point all rights revert to the author. For more information, visit us online at www.undergroundjournal.org.
TABLE OF CONTENTS Editor’s Note - vi A Murmuration - Adrienne Vaughn - 2 Home - Tiffany Nicole Bentley - 4 The Adjuster - Deborah Hull - 6 Detective - J. Adam White - 12 Road Trip - Andrew Podo - 13 Departure - Brian MacNeel - 14 The Gown - Elijah Black - 15 Triangle Shirtwaist Company - Nicki Lynn Keys - 17 Limerence and Dopamine - Deanna Clark - 18 Mind Under Construction - James Blake - 19 In Pieces - Laura Ivie Miller - 21 I Want My Words - E.M. Killaley - 30 Schizophrenia - Marcus Key - 32 Atlas - Ben Hellekson - 33 Piano Keys - J. Adam White - 34 Running Over the Dog - Andrew Kendall - 35 His Silence - Emily Anne Thomas - 37 True Love - Chris Davisson - 38 Icebergs of Ash - Ben Hellekson - 39 Poet’s Theorem - Elizabeth Palmieri - 40 Tornado Warning - Brian MacNeel - 41 Telephone Version 2 - Deonta Wheeler - 42 Kathryn - P.A. Hilley - 43 Sydney - P.A. Hilley - 44 The Unknown Unknown - Susanne Reynolds - 45 Minutes - Deonta Wheeler - 46 Tyne Bridge - E.M. Killaley - 47 iii
Arc de Triomphe - E.M. Killaley - 48 untitled - Cameron Mitchell - 49 untitled - Cameron Mitchell - 50 Car Ride - P.A. Hilley - 51 untitled - Rachel Clark - 52 Oia - E.M. Killaley - 53 Santorini Donkey - E.M. Killaley - 54 9 instruction manuals copied 9 times (sx-7o) - Beau Torres - 55 9 instruction manuals copied 9 times (vhs camcorder) - Beau Torres - 56 Telephone Version 1 - Deonta Wheeler - 57 Sanguine Skies - Andrew Podo - 58 The Way It Looks Like Rain - Ryan Webb - 59 Any Strange House - Ethan Fogus - 60 Mother - J. Adam White - 61 Quilt - Matt Scullin - 63 Christmas Lights - J. Adam White - 64 Moon - E.M. Killaley - 70 Cigarette - Daisy Jane Trimor - 71 The Taste of Cloves - Ben Hellekson - 72 Jesus Came Down to Milledgeville - Nicki Lynn Keys - 73 Trees - Adrienne Vaughn - 74 If I Lived By the River - Ryan Webb - 78 Southbound - Ethan Fogus - 79 11/23/63 - Kevin Wilkinson - 80 Boot Sole - E.M. Killaley - 85 Every Barbarian Needs a Walk-in Closet - Deborah Marie Green - 87 Constance - J.L. McGrael - 88 Shadow - Ethan Fogus - 89 Regret - Jarune Crystal Uwujaren - 90 Near-Sight - E.M. Killaley - 91 iv
How to Burn Two-hundred and Twenty-two Photos of a Dead Girl - Jayne Hartman - 93 Love Free-Verse I - Margaret Beaver - 94 Cheerios - Megan Reid - 95 trick or treat - J. Adam White - 96 The Heart of Love - Ryan Webb - 97 1997 - J. Adam White - 98 Syria - Aladdin Kanawati - 99 MMIII - Megan Reid - 100 A Lifeâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Work - Georgette Eva - 101
EDITOR’S NOTE When I first enrolled at Georgia State University, there was no undergraduate literary journal. This was strange to me, as in my considerations of various universities, I had always looked for on-campus publications to peruse. Beginning in high school, my work with literary journals has been essential to my educational experience. Until I was fourteen, I had never heard of literary journals. Yes, I was aware that many writers were published in various newspapers and magazines; but my encounter with the existence of literary journals, publications focused on the promotion and circulation of the written arts, was a revelation to me. This epiphany expanded and took on new meaning when I joined the staff of my high school’s on-campus art and literary journal. It was the experience of finally, after much searching, finding a place to belong. Suddenly I was not merely submitting my own work, focusing on improving my craft to a level of quality at which I could release it upon the world—I was taking the work of other artists, who had so hopefully and delicately handed it to the care of our staff, and sharing this work with the community. Fred Chappell, Poet Laureate of North Carolina Emeritus, in his essay “The Idea of Story Ideas” appearing in the forthcoming Eudora Welty Review (Vol. 4, 2012), most accurately describes the fragility of new ideas in art. In the initial period of feeling an idea for a story, Chappell describes it as “nebulous; it is intangible... It is no more than a tinge in the atmosphere of the mind—and yet you feel that there is something there, or that something could be made to be there.” He likens the discovery of an idea to finding a dust bunny; it is immaterial, without center, and delicate. The artist picks through the tangential sensations, feelings, everyday encounters, and various other elements of life, “looking for something solid, no matter how small or inconsequential. A mind-picture, a name, a sound, a change in the light that surrounds it”—all in the pursuit of an idea. One may find something as inconsequential as a dust bunny, but it is this “little something that seems to promise a toehold, and from this insignificant point one may scale the blinding, beetling cliff of a blank sheet of paper.” All art begins as a delicate thing. The artist nurtures it, develops it, and makes it grow with imagination and soul, holding it carefully in his or her hands. Even literary journals begin in this kind of fragility. As the final vi
founding member to leave the staff, I am more sorry than I can say to have to leave Underground. During my time on the staff I have watched the journal itself grow, feeling much as I have when working to develop my own written work. More importantly, I have had the privilege to watch the progression of the work of Undergroundâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s contributors, from names I came to recognize, mentally cheering on those who continued to endeavor to improve their works and seek publication. I have limitless fathoms of love for on-campus literary journals and the work they do to encourage young writers and artists to continue working towards artistic refinement. I have equal portions of hope for the future of Underground and its contributors. While this is a farewell of sorts to my work at Underground, may it also serve as a call to the Georgia State undergraduate community. Underground was created to be an art and literary journal for and by undergraduatesâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;learn from one another, and always, always keep creating art. It is my privilege and pleasure to now present to you the fourth issue of Underground.
Sincerely, Emily Owens Underground Editor-in-Chief January 2011-April 2012 vii
A MURMURATION Adrienne Vaughn There once was a girl who lived inside of a bear. When she was a baby, she was eaten by the bear. But she was so pretty and innocent and sweet-natured, the bear didn’t want to kill her. He only wanted to have her with him forever, so he swallowed this beautiful baby whole and kept her in the hollow spot beside his stomach, which he usually used to store extra food for hibernation. But the bear loved his new baby so much he chose to be hungry during hibernation for her. His stomach was the size of a giant pumpkin. After seeing a mother doe feed her twin fawns, the bear realized that his baby needed food, too. He foraged for berries and grasses and mashed them up with a rock. He caught fish and chewed them up, but he didn’t gulp them down for himself, like he normally did. Instead, he spit them back out, just like the mother bird, and then swallowed the berries and the fish down to his hollow for the baby to eat. But soon the baby started to grow, which was something the bear hadn’t thought of. Now his stomach was the size of a watermelon. Finding himself less hungry than normal, the bear kept gathering and mushing, and the baby kept stretching and growing. He could hear the baby cooing and babbling in his hollow spot. When he opened up his mouth, her soft voice spilled across his sharp teeth. The bear loved this, and he loved her. When he finally felt her take her first steps in his hollow spot, he knew he could never live without her. His stomach was the size of a cantaloupe. Soon, the baby wasn’t a baby anymore. She was a little girl. As the bear foraged and hunted to feed her, the girl taught herself games and stories. She would make up characters and places, and she would tell the bear about them as he roamed the forest. Having no experience with people, the little girl made up stories about the animals who lived in the forest, the ones that she peeked out at whenever the bear yawned. His stomach was the size of a grapefruit. The little girl grew and grew and stretched the hollow spot bigger and bigger until she wasn’t a little girl anymore, either. She was a young woman. Now the bear foraged only for her, 2
finding himself no longer able to eat anything more than four berries at a time. She sang to the bear, and wanting to share her with the other animals of the forest, the bear would open his mouth as her soft lullabies wove in and out of the trees. The deer and tortoises and foxes and all the other animals stopped where they stood whenever her songs found their ears. Even a murmuration, a great group of ever-morphing starlings, settled in the trees above the bear’s head to hear the girl sing. The bear’s stomach was the size of an apricot. Soon, the bear realized he could no longer eat and that he was getting weaker and weaker. He saw the mistake that he’d made in swallowing the baby so many years ago, how he should have simply brought the baby with him instead of storing her in his hollow spot. By this point, however, the girl was so big that she couldn’t fit through the bear’s mouth. As the bear got weaker, the girl decided to help the bear, just like the bear had done for her. She pushed her arms into the bear’s arms and her legs into the bear’s legs and learned how to walk around the forest, looking out through the bear’s mouth. Soon, the bear died, but with no way out, the girl continued to forage through the forest, picking up where the bear left off. The girl sang her song. It was a fine cry—loud and long—but it had no bottom and it had no top, just circles and circles of sorrow.
Tiffany Nicole Bentley An old man sweeps away a chunk of the forest and plants a glass house in the middle of the empty field. It’s a gift for his wife, whose sickness has progressed to the point where movement is painful, but when she sits in her glass kitchen she can see a mile of land in every direction. It’s a nice sentiment, but it’s not enough to keep her alive. The old man retreats to a house hidden deeper in the dark woods, and he is spared from open space and too many shades of green. The property passes from his aging, freckled hands to his son’s broad shoulders. He brings his wife and his children, and they explore the only inheritance they will ever get. They let the countless acres grow as wild as they please. They etch their history in the tree trunks. They pour their blood into the dirt and orchards bloom. The mother spills her paint in the grass and considers it an equal trade for the thick mud that gets tracked across her floors. The oldest child sneaks out to watch how the constellations move across the sky every night. The youngest child smudges color on her face in what she imagines is a flawless reproduction of her Cherokee ancestors and crunches through woods in pursuit of imaginary oppressors. Burs and thorns and rocks don’t register pain against her bare toes. She perches in trees when storms come and watches the rain sling itself at the ground. Nature has a language, and she is sure she can interpret it. Their money disappears and they are forced to leave. They sink their fingers past the layers of dirt and into the red muck underneath. They cry. The bitter trees shake their skeletal winter arms. The mother rips her plants from the ground, and the severed root veins dangle over the gaping holes in the earth. The oldest gets drunk and yells at the stars. The youngest buries trinkets that contain memories and secrets across the landscape, deep down where they will be safe. Even when they are gone, they remain. They are the living spirits that haunt the creaking branches. They hang from the oaks, and they send distorted shadows dancing across the fields at night. They whisper to each other. The new family cracks the glass walls and brushes away the reflective fragments. A sturdier house is built, a house made of wood and brick with thick curtains that hide the sunlight. Expensive cars roll down the asphalt 4
driveway. They let the old man come back on occasion to prune the orchard. He is Mosesâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; mother, caring for a child that cannot be reclaimed. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s all still there. The green terraces still roll over each other in waves before they drift into the edge of the woods. The hidden creek still stumbles excitedly over smooth rocks. The paths created by curious feet are still carved in the forest floor, but they are hidden under a blanket of dead, orange-tinted leaves.
THE ADJUSTER Deborah Hull FADE IN: EXT. APARTMENT COMPLEX - MORNING RICKY HENDERSON, a man in his mid-twenties, walks a date to her car in the parking lot. RICKY This you? DATE No... Where the hell did I park? RICKY Hmm... Oh. Back here. DATE Oh yeah. They walk back towards another spot. A huge man with a mohawk and tattoos walks past them. He and Ricky nod at one another. DATE Jesus. That is one bad-looking dude. You know him? RICKY Just a neighbor. Here we go. They stop at a car. DATE So. Want to get breakfast?
RICKY I already ate. DATE You just woke up. Ricky shrugs. DATE Asshole. She gets in her car, then drives off. INT. APARTMENT - DAY Ricky works from home, and has a long list of names, phone numbers, and case numbers in front of him. A third of them have been crossed out with a black marker. His finger points to the next name down on the list: LARRY FINNLEY. Ricky begins to dial. VOICE ON PHONE Hello? RICKY Hello. This is Ricky Henderson with Sunnywide Insurance. Am I speaking with Mr. Larry Finnley? LARRY Yes, sir. RICKY Mr. Finnley, Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m calling to inform you that the review of services requested has been denied. LARRY Denied? What for?
Ricky reads from a script with a Sunnywide Insurance letter head. RICKY Sunnywide Insurance has found the medical claim to be invalid due to a preexisting condition. LARRY Excuse me? RICKY We are sending an explanation of benefits to your home address. LARRY Wait. RICKY If we can be of further assistance, please contact our appeals department at... LARRY I thought you were the appeals department. RICKY Yes. And I can be reached at... LARRY Hold it. I passed a kidney stone. RICKY Sir, if you will read the explanation of benefits... LARRY And Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve had insurance with you guys for over two years. RICKY And we appreciate your loyalty.
LARRY You sure have a funny way of showing it. RICKY Sir, we are not responsible for surgical procedures caused by preexisting conditions, as the explanation of benefits will clearly show. And we have demonstrated our appreciation with the refrigerator magnets we sent you last month. LARRY Ricky... it is Ricky, right? RICKY Yes it is, Larry. LARRY Ricky, have you ever passed a kidney stone? RICKY Sir... LARRY It’s excruciating painful. I’ve played professional football, so I’ve broken bones, torn ligaments, suffered nerve damage, concussions, you name it. And passing that kidney stone was the worst pain I’ve ever been in. Ricky is typing. LARRY Are you typing all of these preexisting conditions? RICKY Sir? Well, we are thorough. LARRY Of course you are. You see, Ricky, the thing about the kidney stone passing 9
is that an object that size was never intended to pass through a canal that small. RICKY Of course. LARRY So you can imagine how painful having a statement of benefits shoved up your... RICKY Sir, I am going to have to terminate this call. LARRY Of course. Before you do, can you read me the address on that statement of benefits to make sure that I receive it? RICKY Well, let’s see, it has been mailed to 5130 East Ivy Isle (Ricky starts to freeze as he reads the rest of the address) Apartment 11 C, Atlanta, Georgia. INT. LARRY’S APARTMENT - DAY Larry is the large man with the mohawk from the parking lot. LARRY 11 C. That’s right below 21 C, isn’t it? RICKY Sir... I... Larry goes outside and starts to walk up a flight of stairs that leads to the floor above his apartment.
EXT. APARTMENT COMPLEX - STAIRS - DAY LARRY Ricky, are you sure there is nothing you can do about my claim? INT. RICKY’S APARTMENT - DAY Ricky hears a knock on his apartment door. He hits a key on his computer. RICKY Mr. Finnley, I just received authorization to approve your claim. We thank you for your patience, and appreciate your continued support of Sunnywide Insurance. Is there anything else we can do for you at this time? LARRY Nope, I believe that’s everything. Appreciate the support, Ricky. EXT. APARTMENT COMPLEX - EVENING Larry and Ricky pass by each other. LARRY Hey. RICKY Hey.
DETECTIVE J. Adam White nights like this, i want to name you fog on the city, try and stare through you, try to touch you but it’s like the closer i get the farther you move, ain’t that so movie script, ain’t that so heartbreaking, the way you haunt atlanta from above, below, and everywhere in-between, the way i drive the streets like some burnt-out detective, hearing you whisper cold... colder...
ROAD TRIP Andrew Podo Turn the knob, And let music fill Our ears. Roll your window down And curse the cars Stuck in traffic, Just beyond the median. Watch them as they fade; Tail lights painting the horizon A mournful red. The boundless road And our crackling speakers Will take us home, Where the wind Is rich in our hair And the seat belts Hang loosely about our worries.
DEPARTURE Brian MacNeel Harsh winds whip outside the window. I fill my bed with hot breath and sighs. The burned-out Christmas candles still leave A smell of pine. Yesterday we put the tree away. You folded your shirts before laying Them down in red suitcases. Now I stand Shivering beneath the gray sky, My hands red with winter air. Fox-eared books scattered beside the bed. Empty soda cans, a dollar and some change. The same woman on T.V., a blur of noise. I turn back over and doze.
THE GOWN Elijah Black
Her name was Doreen. She was a wife and a mother. On good days, her hair was silken and black. Red lipstick gave her mouth an extra layer of aesthetic dimension. She was classic, like a 1940s actress blowing a kiss to soldiers from a movie poster. She paired her floral aprons with high heels, but even when she was barefoot, it was as though her feet never touched the ground. Her tread was so soft that she had the ability to glide across the room and cover her young son’s freckled cheeks with kisses before he could scurry away. On bad days, her hair was matted down. She would lie in bed after her husband had left for work. When her son would come in to rouse her, she would withdraw from his small, soft hands as they tried to shake her back to the surface. When he had been younger, he would stay home from school and hide in his bedroom. He would wait for the sound of ice clinking and chilled whiskey pouring into her glass. She never acknowledged that he had stayed home, and he would sneak out his window and come through the front door at four o’clock. When he was eleven and saw that a bad day had crept in with the dawn and washed his mother over in bright anguish, he left anyway. He prepared his lunch and caught the bus. After school, his feet dragged from the stop to the stoop of his home. He fumbled with his keys and slowly pushed the door open. The living room was empty aside from the watereddown glass of whiskey. Condensation still dripped down its sides. He was surprised to see it hadn’t been finished, and he checked his parents’ room. It was just as empty. At the door to his own room, he heard snipping sounds. His hand trembled against the knob, and the sweat on his palm made it difficult to turn. When he opened the door, he discovered his mother sitting on the edge of his twin bed. Her hair was perfectly held above her head by a fascinator, and her lithe, nude arms moved back and forth over her lap. The scissors were cutting through a pair of his pants. All across the room, there were swatches and squares of fabric. She had begun making a quilt out of his clothes that was a quarter of the way finished. All of this action distracted him briefly from the fact that his mother was wearing her wedding gown. The layered lace bosom of the dress shrouded her chest and was embroidered with tiny, smooth pieces of crystal that sparkled in the low light. The rest of 15
the dress was silk, cinched just below the top. Its silk material flowed across his mother’s form and softened it. The swift movements of her hands belied the soft appearance the dress gave her. She looked like a crazed angel. Her liquid brown eyes shot up to his face, but her hands kept cutting, cutting, cutting up material. “Sullivan,” she cried out joyously. Her red lipstick appeared animalistic to him in this moment, as though she had just crushed the life out of some poor creature with her jaws, and it occurred to him that he was next. He ran to the end of the block, where he waited until his father arrived home. This descent happened several times a year. Sullivan would discover his mother in her wedding gown piecing his shredded clothes together, along with her shattered psyche. During the second semester of his first year at college, Sullivan’s studies took him to Spain. When he heard the news of his mother’s suicide, he was not particularly surprised, and there was a part of him that was glad to be too far from home to return for her funeral. After a few weeks had passed, Sullivan received a package from his father in the mail. He stowed it away until night when he could open it in the privacy of his own room. When he cut away the packaging, he discovered a quilt stitched together from his mother’s wedding gown. The four corners sparkled as those swatches had been taken from the bosom of the dress. The moonlight reflected off the white silk. As he wept, he curled under the fabric and felt as though he was wrapped in his mother’s bosom. In this gown, she had finally devoured him.
TRIANGLE SHIRTWAIST COMPANY Nicki Lynn Keys They kissed before they jumped and, like a true gentleman, he helped her from the windowsill. All were restless seamstresses with pricked fingers and perseverance, flipping from the ninth floor, ribbons of smoke unlacing behind them, sparklers gone all wrong. One lent her desperation to the locked door, slowly melted to its knob, while the beating fists of others, homeward bound just minutes before, burned to its steadfast metal. But the horror, the spectacle was the six bodies on the sidewalk, and more to come, spreading around themselves in thin, hot life. One of the last, young with furious curls about her face, dug her fingers and toes into the building, holding until the bricks smoked and her skirt broke out in holes as if invisible, starving moths had nested around her legs. Then, she relaxed in defeat, fell, leaving behind a flaming trail of possibility.
LIMERENCE AND DOPAMINE Deanna Clark The sun sets like amnesia On thirsty souls With all the pallor and fragrance Of a dying rose Walking through parks Lonely with the cold Irises swim in bloodshot ponds As you pray and you pray But you pray for the grave Because God does not save Those who refuse to be saved With an exhale of mantras And rising smoke I meditate Through doctors’ appointments And self-prescriptions I medicate Weighed down by a heart That was made of stone I’m addicted to the nights When I pretend I’m not alone
MIND UNDER CONSTRUCTION James Blake As I run after my sanity / I realize I’m the only one there for me / can’t climb and depend on my family tree / not enough support / not friends with gravity I am higher up, like the clouds and heavens be / prepared to fall knowing God is watching me / falling / from heaven’s doors / but I’ve got the locks and keys A soft landing with the spreading of my angel wings / crucified by the eyes of those who have never seen / holiness in their midst / they label me king Is it right though, I’m willing to give my life yo / and become another story in the Bible / as I resurrect, this is a live show / so if you don’t believe keep your eyes closed Eat up, this meal is a part of me / a holy communion for the peace that is soon to be As I stand there looking, the world keeps spinning / and my body keeps aging, my thoughts get deeper, and my heart keeps racing Can’t go to sleep with the problems I’m facing / don’t understand the life we’re chasing / motivated by currency and self-hatred Where’s the love when all the factories don’t make it / who is the judge when it’s God you’re facing / where’s the time when your life is erasing You’ve got food now and you stop craving / can’t feel nothing but got sensation / don’t want to wait in line now you’re patient / didn’t recognize real cause you were faking Said you were in love with the dollars he was making / now you’re heart
Mind Under Construction
broken / now you’re shivering and shaking / also out a home, now you’re replacing That condo in the sky with that spot in the basement / reality kicking in, fantasy started fading / deception left you empty and vacant Like that old building in the hood with no ceiling / nobody cares about you but you’ve got feeling / deprived of everything / now you’re living Replaced the holes in the walls / rebuilt the ceiling / learned from your mistakes to escape the feelings
IN PIECES Laura Ivie Miller All I ever knew about Uncle Sarge before he moved in with us was what I had heard my Mama say about him over the phone to other nosey family members. From eavesdropping on their gossiping, I had gathered that Uncle Sarge wasn’t ever much of a daddy to my cousin, and once my cousin died, he didn’t have to worry about being a daddy at all anymore, if he ever even did. Through the experience of living with him, I had learned that he liked to sit on the front porch, alone, crossing his leather boots and puffing a cigar so that the smoke got all tangled up in his mustache. Also, instead of saying, “Hey May,” when I came home from school, he liked to nod and make sure our eyes didn’t meet. My Mama just said that “little people make him uncomfortable.” In my opinion, it seemed like anybody was somebody who could pull Uncle Sarge out of his comfort zone. It was like it hurt his lips to send words through them. One night Mama was fixing dinner, and she suddenly became so tired of carrying on another whole conversation by herself that she turned to Uncle Sarge, put the spatula close to his face, and screamed so many dirty words that it would have taken at least three soap bars to clean out her mouth. At the end of her rant her face was a devilish red, and she pointed at me and added, “You know she ain’t been nothing but polite to you! That’s your niece in there that you refuse to pay any mind, just like you did your own son. You ought to be ashamed!” After Uncle Sarge had soaked in all of Mama’s contempt, he turned silently and walked out of the room with the regular defeated look he wore plastered on his face. That look was guilt, Mama would say—it creeps up on a person. So a few days later, when I found out that Uncle Sarge and I were going to spend the day together, I knew it was all Mama’s doing, that she must have forced him into it. She would make a coyote and a hen play together without caring about which might get hurt, as long as things were going the way she wanted them to. I was more cautious than that. I stayed quiet as Uncle Sarge drove us. I kept my eyes focused on the curving road as we listened to the twang of a banjo on the radio fill the truck and fly out of the open windows. We drove past a deer and her fawn on the side of the road; neither one of us commented on their still beauty, but this was normal. We never spoke. The tires kicked up the gravel from the road, 21
and it made a tinkering sound as it hit the bottom of Uncle Sarge’s truck. I didn’t know where we were heading, and the way my uncle twisted his neck back and forth, looking for road signs we’d already passed, it seemed neither did he. I leaned my head back on the seat and let the wind whisk my bangs off of my forehead. Uncle Sarge’s hair was flying too. The ends of his ’stache were fluttering all around the corners of his mouth, and I don’t know how he kept such a straight face; it had to have tickled. After too many turns to count, Uncle Sarge pulled the truck into an almost empty parking lot and shut the engine off. The house we had arrived at was painted pale pink with a dark brown roof. A big sign in bold red letters hung over the front door that read, “Ms. Lolly’s Dollhouse.” “Where are we?” I asked, stepping out of the car. The magnolia bushes that lined the sides of the house were filled with widespread petals that welcomed the sun; I swallowed their scent with big breaths of the unknown air. “At a dollhouse,” Uncle Sarge said uncomfortably. “Looks big to be a dollhouse,” I said back. “Don’t ten year old girls like dolls?” he asked, like he had me all figured out. I thought then that Mama must have told him that I did indeed like dolls. So I nodded my head and followed him towards the house nervously. The porch creaked as we stepped onto it. I could see there was something in both of the windows on either side of the door. Walking nearer I could make out small pale faces with rosily painted cheeks, and they were staring at us through glass eyes and wearing wildly happy expressions. The little bodies attached to the faces were positioned in different poses. One was sitting on a log holding a fishing pole, smiling. Another sat in a rocking chair with long, shiny brown hair and porcelain dimples. At the top of the window, in a miniature airplane, one dangled with goggles covering its eyes and a tiny starched scarf that stuck straight out behind him. I stood behind Uncle Sarge while he hesitated at the door; his back was puffed up as he held his breath before opening it. Chimes went off as we entered the house. I grabbed my arms as goose bumps scattered across them from the cool air that poured through the vents, and I watched Uncle Sarge as he tightened with the temperature drop as well. “Luckily dolls can’t freeze,” I said. I hadn’t expected Uncle Sarge to respond in any way to my sarcasm, but he must have felt obligated to; after 22
taking a few seconds too long to realize I had said something, and then a few more to figure out what I had said, he let out an awkwardly forced grunt of a laugh. I decided then I would stick to being quiet unless absolutely necessary. It was dark inside the dollhouse. There were lights covered with dark pink lampshades that gave the whole place a reddish tint. Some light that wasn’t shaded by the displays poured in through the windows, illuminating the wooden floor and the dust that fluttered in the air just above it. Glistening from the little sunlight that shone in the house were so many glass eyes. It was hard not to stare back at them; they were the purest colored eyes I had ever seen, and I had never seen anything like them on an actual person. Uncle Sarge must have noticed them too, because we both were looking around ridiculously—spinning in small circles with our jaws dropped in awe of all the colorful glass. They flashed at us like we were having our picture taken. “Welcome!” Uncle Sarge and I looked up to see a large woman jiggling in our direction and waving emphatically. She filled the whole hallway as she bounced down it. Everything about her seemed to bob—from the oversized curls she wore in her hair, to the pink bows on her socks that flapped on the tops of her chubby ankles. Her cheeks were like cherries, swelled into red balls right up under her eyes to better show off her smile. It was as if she had heard a joke that Uncle Sarge and I had missed—she was tickled to death at something. Uncle Sarge stepped backwards as the giddy woman got closer and laughed harder. He would have stepped on my foot if I hadn’t moved out of his way. He was too concentrated on the plump hand that was jutting out in front of him. “I am so pleased to have ya! Call me Ms. Lolly now. And who might y’all be?” she asked as she ferociously grabbed my uncle’s hand and let out another chord of giggles. Uncle Sarge’s forehead had gotten all scrunched up like he had realized he had made a mistake in letting her take his hand. I watched as he struggled discreetly to remove it from her grip, but she wasn’t letting go until she got a name. Frankly, I felt a little scared for him. “This is my uncle, Sarge. And I’m May,” I said. It worked, and she dropped my uncle’s hand and squatted down to my level, putting her face so close to mine that I could smell the peppermint on her breath. “Well I hope you like my dolls Miss May. Please feel free to ask me anything you like about ’em. I have been collecting ’em since I was your age.” She poked my nose with a thick finger and then patted my shoulders 23
a few times before pressing down on them to push herself back up. Uncle Sarge and I watched her as she waddled back down the hall, the wooden floorboards announcing each of her steps with strained squeaks. Standing there for a second, I realized that Uncle Sarge was just as unsure about what to do with himself as I was. We both must have wanted to avoid Ms. Lollyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s attention again, because at the same time Uncle Sarge and I twisted our feet in opposite directions and went on to explore the dollhouse without each other. Each room was filled with more dolls than I could have ever imagined. Everywhere there were little fragile girls and boys dressed perfectly in ironed outfits with various expressions of joy molded onto their faces. These dolls were not like the ones Mama had bought me. They were free of scuff marks, stains and tangles. They looked completely untouched, like the only contact they had ever encountered was the light tickle of a feather duster. Every doll had a golden plaque set up somewhere near it which identified it by name, inscribed in a stylish cursive. The walls were lined with shelves, off of which tiny glass feet dangled freely. If there were no shelves on the wall, there were pictures of Ms. Lolly with pieces of her collection. In some of the photographs Ms. Lolly didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t look much bigger than the dolls she posed with. It was clear that she had spent her whole life decked with ringlets and ribbons. I felt like I was walking down a timeline, and as the images got more clear and recent so did Ms. Lolly, as the frills, the curls, and her figure took up more and more space inside each frame. Winding through many rooms and halls, I made my way from the front of the dollhouse to the back. I stepped down one long hallway until I reached its end and a closed door. With curiosity I pushed it open. I found myself standing in the doorway behind Uncle Sarge. His white shirt and khaki pants looked crimson from the sun shining through red curtains hung over a window. It didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t seem like he noticed that I had walked in. He made no movement indicating any awareness that I had found him. I tried to cough so he would notice me, to avoid having to actually say something, but he just stayed staring at what seemed like the wall from my position. I could see what looked like the purple bars of a crib sticking out from the other side of him. He was concentrating with watery eyes on the doll display in front of him. Inside the crib sat a small porcelain boy with curly brown hair and a smile lined with red, wet-looking lips. He was arranged so that his little arms were reaching for someone to pick him up and take him out from behind the bars of his bed. Charlie was carved in the golden plate hanging 24
on the wall above the crib. I don’t know if it was the way his glass eyes were speckled with golden and brown flecks, or if it was the manner in which his curls fell lightly on the tops of his delicate ears, but there was a softness about Charlie that made him look almost as if he were alive. “Are you ready?” I asked after standing with my Uncle for a few minutes, watching as he stayed completely captivated by the doll. “Yes,” he said, jumping slightly, trying to hide his surprise at my presence. He still stared at Charlie like the doll was a toy he had long desired to play with but was never able to. “Well, alright, let’s go,” I urged, taking a step backwards. Just as I was about to turn around, Uncle Sarge reached into the crib and grabbed Charlie underneath both of his hard arms, whisking him out of the crib and then pressing him close to his chest. He turned then and began stepping with purpose out of the room and down the hallway. “What are you doing?” I asked anxiously. “Taking him.” “You can’t do that,” I said. I followed closely behind him, glancing into each room and then behind us as we passed more vulnerable openings in the hallway, through which we could be spotted with our loot. All of the sudden, Uncle Sarge seemed to have mustered a confidence I had thought he was incapable of, as he moved with the precision of a man who was determined to complete a vital mission. “I said, you can’t do that!” I repeated in a raised voice. “Shhh,” he insisted, stopping suddenly before passing by an open door. I could hear Ms. Lolly giggling in the room we stood just outside of. I couldn’t imagine what might happen if she lost one of her collectables and especially what would happen to whoever would risk trying to take one. “Please, please, please,” I pleaded in whispers to Uncle Sarge. “Can’t you just put it back?” For the first time since he had seen the doll he turned and looked at me. All of the lines pressed on his face formed an expression that made it clear he knew exactly what he was doing. “Everything is going to be alright. We are taking him.” After seeing the certainty that flooded over his eyes in a gloss, I knew there was no stopping my uncle. We waited until Ms. Lolly had her head tilted up at the ceiling, in a fit of needless laughter caused by nothing, to 25
sneak past the doorway. I winced some when the hinges of the front door creaked as we stepped through it and out onto the porch. I walked quickly a few feet behind my uncle, the doll in his arms watching me from over his shoulder as he held it like people do when burping babies. The closer we got to the truck, the safer I began to feel. As the fear subsided in my stomach, anger replaced it. Instead of walking to the passenger door, I followed Uncle Sarge to the driver’s side. I became disgusted as the doll continued to stare at me, smiling gloriously in complete ignorance of how much trouble it could have caused me. Almost uncontrollably, I uncurled my fingers from the fists I had balled them into during our getaway and extended them towards the eyes watching me. Like the high-pitched whistle of a ready pot of tea, the memory of my Mama’s screams at Uncle Sarge filled my head and steamed through my tear ducts. In that moment the back of my uncle’s neck, peaking above his collar and below his hair, had flushed from the excitement and was like a big red button begging to be pressed. Reaching up, I grabbed a clump of the doll’s false brown curls and yanked it from my uncle’s grip. I watched as the doll crashed into the gravel and broke into pieces, revealing its hollow insides, revealing parts not covered in fleshtoned paint. My Uncle yelped loudly at the shattering sound the doll made when it hit the ground, as if something had hit him hard in the ribs. He turned, and at the sight of the smashed pieces on the ground fell to his knees, putting his hands on either side of his head and squeezing himself so hard that a vein in his forehead bulged, and I could see it beating from under his skin with a vigorous pulse. Tears welled in his eyes and I watched as his dark brown irises dampened in sorrow, the watery polish over them making them appear nearly black. A shiver ran up my spine as he became childlike. He looked similar to the doll before I had broken it into the scattered pieces on the ground. Like a rain shower leaves puddles, my uncle filled the insides of the doll’s broken hands and feet with little pools of saltwater tears that streamed down his sweaty face. Charlie’s face had been split in two. I watched as my uncle took part of the broken smile in his hands and held it close to his heart, rocking back and forth. His stunning movements were dizzying, and confusion twirled around in my head like the hurricane of regret that made loops in the pit of my stomach. It seemed that whatever wild emotion had hooked into Uncle Sarge’s soul and urged him to take the doll had got a hold of me in a different way and forced me to break it. At the time I didn’t know 26
the horrible thing I had done. “I... I am so sorry,” I said, placing my hands on his swinging shoulders. His tears seemed to fall harder with my apology. “I am so sorry,” I said again, choking on my words, trying not to cry. “Everything alright down there?” Ms. Lolly hollered from the porch, waddling her way closer to the steps. I began gathering all of the broken parts of the doll in my hand. A hand, an ear, a knee—I collected everything I could. “Pick up the pieces!” I said hurriedly. It seemed like it took Uncle Sarge a second to hear what I was saying, but as Ms. Lolly slowly approached, he began to follow my lead and gather the pieces in a frantic manner. Her voice became louder the closer she got to us, and I could hear that any sign of amusement in her voice had faded and was replaced with a worried tone. I grabbed faster at the pieces on the ground, my nerves causing my hands to tremble, and carelessly I grabbed a slick edge of the doll’s face and sliced my finger open. For a second I pulled my cut close to my face to look at it as the parted skin filled up like the red sea with blood. Looking at the pieces on the ground, I noticed they were covered in red splotches, but I had only just begun to bleed. That’s when I saw the bloody, broken bits of Charlie in my uncle’s arms, and that he had cut himself too. Ignoring the red warning, we gathered as many of the pieces as we could. Disregarding Ms. Lolly’s troubled howls, we jumped into the truck as quickly as possible. Uncle Sarge backed out of the lot and turned onto the road, causing the tires to kick up dust with a sharp turn of the wheel. I could see Ms. Lolly standing over the shards of the doll that were too small for us to grab in our speedy escape. As the wind blew through the windows and dried our tears, Uncle Sarge and I worked on catching our breaths. The pieces of Charlie were lying in a pile between us, covered in our blood, and clinking together from the rocky ride on top of the unkept road. For miles we sat in silence. Charlie’s rattling lulled me easily to sleep as the stress from earlier pressed hard on my eyelids. I didn’t want to be awake. A fog floated lightly across the insides of my eyes, swirling in clouds around two figures that stood near me in an unfamiliar room. At once I became aware of the sensation taking hold of me. I was caught in a dream, and an uncontrollable one at that. As the mist settled I recognized one of the figures as Mama—I was standing behind her. She was rocking her hips back and forth. I could see a smile spreading across her face, which was 27
turned sideways and held close to the face of child. She cooed and cradled it tenderly in her arms. Uncle Sarge was standing motionless to the side of Mama, watching her. It was like the entire room was spinning with life around him, and he was stuck watching it fly by. Mama was swaying. A tiny night light flickered in the corner, and little star shaped figurines spun in a small circle above a crib, but my uncle was unable to move. He stared at the way Mama crinkled her nose and giggled at the child. Though the sounds she made were muffled through the haze, I could tell they were joyful ones from the lines that were etched into her face from happiness. The expression on my Uncle’s face was very different from the one Mama wore—he looked worried. His eyes blinked in a panic between Mama and the baby. She tried to say something to him and to let him hold the infant, but he was frozen. The fear on his face was growing more intense as Mama moved closer to him with the child. His anxiety was beginning to rub off onto me, when all of the sudden Mama turned and began walking in my direction. Because of Uncle Sarge’s reaction, I was afraid of what Mama was going to show me. She got nearer and bent down. Her hair fell like an auburn drape over the child in her arms. She brushed her locks behind her shoulder, and slowly the sleek, hard skin of a porcelain doll was revealed; his rosy lips followed, and then his glass eyes, and lastly his tightly wound brown curls. The doll was looking up at me innocently from her arms with the same stillness as Uncle Sarge. Right then I wanted to tell my uncle that there was nothing for him to be afraid of, that it was only little Charlie. I awoke to the rattling sound of Charlie’s shards as the truck tires bumped over the curb of our driveway. Uncle Sarge peeled his fingers off of the wheel and turned off the engine. His face was still downcast and wet like he had been silently crying the whole ride home. “I am sorry,” he said, his words spilling out over all of the broken glass. My voice wavered as I told him everything was okay. I didn’t know if I really believed that. If Uncle Sarge’s sulking frown had gotten much lower it would have grazed the dismembered parts of the doll that separated us. It reminded me of a heavy bough of a tree. Mama had always said that when a branch is too big and hanging too low there is nothing anyone can do for it—you just have to cut it down. My hand lessened the quivering of my uncle’s as I placed it on top of his. Our blood ran together from the cuts on our fingers that still bled just enough to create a thin red stream, and it 28
looked like a ruby bracelet for two as it trickled around both of our wrists. I squeezed his hand and the river ran thicker. The sun was dripping into the night like melted gold, and I could see a familiar face making her way towards the truck from out of the house. I thought about what I could say, how I could explain, but I figured as she got closer that it was no use. We couldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t hide our wounds from Mama.
I WANT MY WORDS E.M. Killaley The words won’t come— cusp of consciousness verbosity infused with intent, eluding my reaching, searching, desperate, clawing hands, scattering thought with each futile turn of a page, or was it a leaf?— I am turning, clutching, desperate, vain, silly girl led to believe creativity could breed active thought, which would beget wisdom and sentience, and words like wind would burst from me, carrying a chaos of colors and spreading through low-speed camera interpretations of sunlight transfiguring trees, of a developing, growing, aging, and yellowing world. I was directed to believe that when writers are driven to write, that these words will have worth and it was there I was misguided— there, at the end of that page, where body meets footer. I don’t want my words to be reduced to krill for the great whales of public readers, opinion, and critics, to swallow without concern, filtering the crunchy, squishy, interesting bits from the salty medium 30
(what does paper taste like?) taking in everything like it is an indiscernible, pulpy, krill stew. I don’t want to compare myself to Jodi Picoult. There’s just such a magnitude— an ever-expanding quantity overpowering quality, commercial investment in economical earnings— I will run out of ink and my words will dig burrows in the page and bury themselves like frightened rabbits. But I want the words to come. I want my words to have worth, to communicate the experience I have when I contemplate a sky about to rain, when I reluctantly wait for the light to change, when I observe long-awaited reunions at airports and train stations, when I’m watching a spider climb one of these coarse cement walls, when it’s me talking to you about existence and clarity, et cetera. I don’t want to be a mass producer of words, but to carefully trace each letter’s curve like a painter caressing the model... in a painting. I want my words to fly with the birds.
SCHIZOPHRENIA Marcus Key I hear indecisive voices running through my mind, Some are evil, while others are sublime. I hear them in my sleep and when I’m awake, Damn voices got me in a paranoid state, for goodness’ sake. One angelic voice told me that to live was to suffer, Make the best of my life and never betray my brother. Live off the fruits of the land and respect the Earth, Spread the word of love and live life for what it’s worth. A sinister voice told me that the world was all mine, Take everything I desire and never look behind, Women, cars, clothes, houses, and even the fame. It’s a necessity to be unethical to be victorious in this game. See, there they go again, damn voices in my head, Good versus evil and the truth versus being misled. Each day and each minute, every sentence and every word, Voices run through my mind and, goddamnit, they will be heard.
ATLAS Ben Hellekson All existence rests on his shoulders Chains bind them together Nobody remembers when this began But if the chains built to last crumble And the cruel shackles shatter Would this vanish into oblivion Like some sunken statue of Atlantis? His reason for existence No longer an ancient obligation Where would the heavens land If they no longer felt the touch of his hand?
PIANO KEYS J. Adam White you are the piano keys weathered by decades, both black and white, whose sound lingers in the corners of my grandparentsâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; house, all ivory and classic, but i never learned how to slide my fingers against you, how to open you up, how to make you talk beautiful. i can only sit there and trust that you still can.
RUNNING OVER THE DOG Andrew Kendall David glanced over to the passenger seat of his old Civic coupe to make sure Phoebe wasn’t trying anything. His window didn’t roll up on her side at the moment, and she was a very intelligent, very old, Labrador retriever. For a moment he thought about strapping her in somehow. The seatbelt might work, and he had some jumpstarting cords in his trunk. David’s girlfriend’s family had been trying to put her down for almost a month now. She had some sort of cancer and wasn’t eating anymore, apparently. She limped very painfully around their backyard, apparently. She kept trying to eat the new family kitten and had eventually chased it out of the house. The neighborhood was littered with missing kitty posters. Frankly, David thought the cat looked disgusting. Its tongue was a bit too long, so it was permanently stuck making a face at you. They all blamed Phoebe though. She was old and wouldn’t listen, apparently. She wouldn’t get near any of the family anymore, even if they put meat bones or doggy treats in their vehicles. Somehow Phoebe knew they were plotting against her; David believed that much. There was some sort of stoic pride in her clouded eyes that made the taking of her to the veterinarian okay. She knew the day was coming, apparently. She wanted to go out with some dignity and respect. David was her sole, chosen friend, or he was the only one that didn’t smell like a wretched kitten. Regardless, David didn’t strap her in. He was strangely sentimental about these kinds of things. He had never had his own dog, but he was very good to his fish as a child. He had only flushed one goldfish down the toilet. The rest were betas and got proper backyard burials. He owed the family anyways. David was between jobs at the moment, and his girlfriend’s family was funding much of their living expenses. Taking Phoebe would be a nice political gesture. He might not be their daughter’s worthy prince, but he could at least make himself somewhat useful. The whole thing was her idea. He hoped that not too much of Phoebe’s matted and smelly hair would get all over the car. She smelled worse than his old fish when they decided to nap at the top of the tank. He glanced over again and realized she was peeing over the upholstery. It dribbled into a puddle at the back of the seat that got flicked around the rest of the car by her energetic tail-wagging. Putting her 35
Running Over the Dog
down was definitely going to be okay. David dropped by the gas station to fill up for the journey to the veterinarian. Phoebe glanced at him briefly with a rasping, panting, tonguelolling smile, curled down into the floorboard, and placed her head on the part of the seat that wasn’t covered in dog piss. David got out and paid for the gas with his girlfriend’s family’s debit card. He would have to give them the receipt. David inserted the gas hose and pulled it into the automatic position. He walked over to the window cleaning bucket and pulled out the squeegee. He was halfway done cleaning his rear window when he realized Phoebe was gone. He didn’t call out for her. She was very old and very deaf. David would just have to ask around and look. “Saw an old reddish dog run up the highway,” stated the attendant at the emissions testing booth. “Run?” “Yeah, was chasing a trash bag or something. Dogs are great.” David got back in his car and merged into the highway. The coupe smelt horribly of fish and urine. He picked up speed and scanned the road ahead of him. It wasn’t plausible for her to have gotten too far. On cue, Phoebe bolted into the road at an impossible, predatory speed. David’s instincts stood on the brakes while his bewilderment wet his own pants. The coupe lurched to the right as the tires locked up. Over the screaming of rubber was a soft crumple of flesh and bones that made more sound in his mind than his ears. David slowly got out of the car. Phoebe was panting happily, flush against the coupe’s front bumper but otherwise completely unharmed. A little behind the front right tire of the car was the smashed cadaver of a kitten. Its little tongue looked strangely appropriate. David opened the passenger door to his coupe, and Phoebe happily waddled in. David shut the door, got back in the vehicle and drove home.
HIS SILENCE Emily Anne Thomas If he ever had anything to say, it was squeezed out in the hugs. Maybe it was my force squeezing the words right out of him. Maybe it was his force pushing the words right into me. But if he ever had anything to say, it was squeezed out in the hugs.
TRUE LOVE Chris Davisson Spotlights of joy and coat of heat, Love surges through her veins. With her my soul is fully complete. My living world is what she maintains. When I arrive home she is happy to see Her companion and friend has yet again returned. Once more her safety I shall guarantee. My hand is one she never has spurned. Her soft touch is one beyond explanation. Her name resonates with such glory. Her beauty is one of true admiration. Her heart is my sacred priory. In communion we live; In communion we thrive. All women in my eye are undermined By the true love of my sweet canine.
ICEBERGS OF ASH Ben Hellekson Smoke billows from his mouth Like a beautiful dragon Mystical eyes never quite meeting mine A volcano of a man Ashes snow over the once ocean blue sheets A dragon is never clean He caresses my arm the way he holds his bowl A touch as beautiful as a full moon in winter But far less frequent This is all we will ever be A boy chasing a dragon Praying for one chance to feel the fire But we are both in love We are both in love with the same person Him He leaves the bed for another hit If only I was that intoxicating Until my dragon returns I will rest in the ocean With the icebergs of ash
POET’S THEOREM Elizabeth Palmieri She found him inside, where he always was, in his own processed forest of tomes, files, and neatly-lined scribbles. His face was innocuously thoughtful, the gentlest cover for the unstoppable force beneath. She let him talk, and so glimpsed the crackling, vast engine that churned day and night and kept him within the walls of his study. She loved to listen to him, to hear complex terminology spoken like sacred words, an equation of prayer. Eventually, she offered up her own soul and responded. He spoke of currents and pressures, and she spoke of how the wind resisted, supported, caressed. He explained reflections and frequencies of light, and she explained the freshness of the sky’s color and what yellow felt like. He told her how sound traveled, and she told him how it touched a heart. She brought her own books, flora to add to his forest—sturdy oaks of classic novels, flowering vines of poetry, stories that took root and soared to the sun. And once he was accustomed to the nebulous reaches that could not be contained in numbers, she led him out of his sanctuary, outside, beyond the concrete and glass, and down to where the damp soil gave way under their slow steps. It was her discovered haven, somewhere bright and truly alive. She knew what he saw: the viscosity of the dew trailing unhurriedly down a leaf, the interaction of forces as a bird took flight, the chemicals in the smell of vibrant life. But to her, the trees sang, the waters of the creek danced, and the contours of the world guided her along. And when they met in the middle, she felt his kiss at the edge of her lips and the earth at the end of her toes, and everything between filled up with light and wonder. She wondered how he planned to quantify and derive the wild joy of living, and he replied that he would need to run more tests, and kissed her again.
TORNADO WARNING Brian MacNeel I am alone in the staircase, mistaking the sounds of the elevator for a whirlwind ripping through the library. Outside, the people, giddy with the opportunity to miss the dayâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s appointments, line up and watch through the window in perfect positioning for the shards of glass. I knew a girl who watched the skies and waited for the rain to rise. They found her blue skin covered in brown leaves. The black clouds puffy with rage swirl and gather, but withhold their rain. And while the library claps and whistles, I bow my head at the gracious clouds.
Telephone Version 2, Deonta Wheeler photo manipulation
Kathryn, P.A. Hilley analog photography
Sydney, P.A. Hilley analog photography
The Unknown Unknown, Susanne Reynolds photo manipulation
Minutes, Deonta Wheeler photo manipulation
Tyne Bridge, E.M. Killaley digital photography
Arc de Triomphe, E.M. Killaley digital photography
untitled, Cameron Mitchell analog photography
untitled, Cameron Mitchell analog photography
Car Ride, P.A. Hilley analog photography
untitled, Rachel Clark analog photography
Oia, E.M. Killaley digital photography
Santorini Donkey, E.M. Killaley digital photography
9 instruction manuals copied 9 times (sx-7o), Beau Torres photocopy
9 instruction manuals copied 9 times (vhs camcorder), Beau Torres photocopy
Telephone Version 1, Deonta Wheeler photo manipulation
SANGUINE SKIES Andrew Podo There is something Endless Beyond my window. The panes Crack As my hands beat Restlessly Upon the glass. I can use my blood To paint finite skies On my whitewashed prison, And I will paint them A sanguine hue.
THE WAY IT LOOKS LIKE RAIN Ryan Webb Dammit. I should have bought cigarettes. I was sitting outside on the brick ledge, book folded around my index finger. I didn’t want to walk inside. I just wanted to sit here. Sit here and read the book that I wasn’t reading. The glass door swings open. Some girl I’ve never seen before and probably will never see again walks out. She’s cuter than me. I check the time. Within thirty-three odd steps and twenty-one odd minutes, it will all be over. If only. I shift my lower back to the left—to the right—curl my legs beneath me. It was a fuckall kind of morning. I didn’t want to be here. A feeling overwhelms me. I didn’t want to be anywhere. There’s no correlation between the building and the feeling. They’re both only rights of passage in remembering to breathe. I inhale. I sigh. A couple walks past holding hands. It’s much too early for love. I check the time again—the building and the feeling haven’t changed. A breeze ruffles the hair across my shoulders. Liberties have been taken—taken me as far as this brick ledge. Motherfuck the way it looks like rain, sitting on the edge of the afternoon. Dammit. I should have bought cigarettes.
ANY STRANGE HOUSE Ethan Fogus Cassie, with ashtray before the mirrored vanity, picks her cigarettes as a cherry arcs off its tree. Smoke rolls down, across layered mineral blush. It settles by her hands. She cups her breasts, flush. Her precious heft that once called respected men away from distant lights within hill-top mansions, now just common tits inside any strange house. Oh, her breasts were a secret kept in a silk blouse. And night washed in, across the bedroom’s floor, naked cigarette filters, waiting bottles of perfume. Cassie cleanses herself of the paisley cotton dress. She breaches the doorframe of her living room. She’s an open-hearted tumbler spilling Bourbon, plunging head-deep in the sofa’s parting cushions.
MOTHER J. Adam White She would vacuum on Saturdays while my father was at work. Once Sam down the block moved away, I stayed inside most weekends and grew familiar with my mother’s chores: cleaning the dishes from Friday night tacos, ironing my father’s clothes, dusting in the places no one ever saw. But I loved it the most when she vacuumed, singing church hymns as she did. I’d sit on the couch, watching, waiting until she moved into another room. When she’d finish the den, the carpet would be patched with dark, foot-wide lines from the vacuum’s heavy press. These were my canoes. I’d pick one and sit, pretending to row, imagining the room changing. The lamps now trees, a chair now a passing fish, and my mother’s singing now the chant of a native tribe. And I would do this until my mother saw me there reeling in couch cushions. She’d smile because I was her son. But that was long ago, before I left her home to go and find my own, before my hands reached for awful things: the bottle, the cigarettes, the drugs. What would she say now? Would she ask, “Where has my boy gone? Wasn’t the house clean enough?” Last night in a drunken haze, I vacuumed my entire apartment. When I finished, the lines were still there. 61
I sat down in one, but the carpet was no longer warm, and the room did not change. The lamps were still lamps. The chairs were still chairs. The words of a hymn were long forgotten.
QUILT Matt Scullin Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m trying to have a clear head. I want to see the weavings. I want to be stitched to the atmosphere, Stitched to my surroundings. Free of all doubt, bursting with paths And dandelion milk drooping plushly. Winter fairies kissing hot cocoa railways, Dragging freight across the frightened world. Know the path is illuminated. The glow speaks from your mouth when it lies open. You carry the great rifle and the lead boils in your gut. You know eventually you will laugh your language.
CHRISTMAS LIGHTS J. Adam White Maybe it won’t be strange. Maybe it’ll be just like old times. She’ll come over and suddenly all those uncomfortable talks and awkward fights will not be remembered, like they never happened. We will be like new friends, meeting outside of our group of friends for the first time. Can I learn how she brushes her hair over her left ear when she smiles all over again? Can I see it for the first time? Or how she touches someone’s shoulder when they say something that makes her laugh? Or how she flips through magazines without reading anything? How she touches my cheek when we kiss? How she talks in her sleep? I can’t remember why it ended. Something about there not being enough time, something about different paths. Was it mutual? Looking back, I felt I could have stopped it. Who was that boy she fell out of love with? That boy in the photographs? It wasn’t me. Look at his hair. It’s short, above his ears. Is he smiling? Or is that some half-assed smirk? He doesn’t look happy. Why wouldn’t he be happy? But look at her. Her hair is long. It must’ve been cold; her jacket collar is up. That must’ve been her older sister’s jacket; it looks too big. But it fits her in other ways. She knows it’s too big. Her knuckles look blue. She is smiling. That was so long ago. Now I’m older. I look older. My hair is now long, some strands of gray in the back. Where did these bags come from? Why does it look like my skin is falling off? The years must do this. They have to take something after giving so much. They gave me her once. But I imagine she found a way out of this, this awful aging. The years must have been kind to her. She’ll probably laugh at me, thinking, “Who is this withered old man?” Take pity on me, please. I never learned how to do this. She’ll be here in a few minutes. The house is empty; everyone is gone. It is my day off. I have the coffee brewing. There are a few bags of spice tea as back-up. Maybe she quit coffee. We used to go out and get coffee all the time, especially in the winter. We’d get it to go and then find a bench and chain smoke together, and we’d talk for hours. It was easy then. Talking, I mean. I quit smoking a few years ago. Did she? I don’t have any cigarettes to offer her. But there is still an ashtray on the back porch. Maybe we’ll sit out there. 64
I have some snacks: chips, raisins, pretzels. There are a few beers and a bottle of cheap wine. Why do I have wine? I don’t drink wine. It must’ve been a gift. That’s right, last month, from that couple. I have the memory now. I am prepared. I have all the necessary things for catching up. Drinks, food, fear. I am nervously picking at the frayed ends of a blanket on the couch, a piece of cloth coming undone, like eyelashes. The house is quiet. There is a hard wind blowing against the windows. It creaks. It moans, like a ghost. But this house is not haunted. Not yet, at least. Maybe it will be once she leaves. I reach into my pocket and pull out a crumpled receipt, yellowed from age, with her phone number and her name. Jane, written years ago when we first met out in the courtyard on campus. Her friend knew my friend and we began talking. She had some Henry Miller book; I can’t remember now. We talked about it for a while. Eventually, her friend left with my friend, leaving us alone out under that tree. I bummed her a cigarette. We went and got coffee in the library. God, she was wonderful. We were sophomores then. We had hopeful futures. We didn’t know anything. She missed her bus so I drove her home, even though it was way on the other side of the city. As I pulled onto her block, that block I’d come to know so well, she grabbed an old receipt from the cup holder and wrote her phone number on it, and that was that. The beginning of our time together, the start of all the nights spent listening to Merle Haggard records because it was something strange and different in our young age, the afternoons spent naked in her bed making finger puppets on the wall as the sun set on the cityscape. Last week, I found this old receipt inside an old tea can along with twenty or so little love notes she wrote to me one summer when I had to live out of state for an internship. I kept a box in the closet, a shoebox full of all those things I can’t yet forget, things from the past. I’m still not sure why I called her—curiosity, boredom, or something deeper. But she sounded happy to hear from me. She didn’t hesitate to answer when I asked if she’d like to come over. She didn’t think it was strange. Maybe it won’t be strange. I hear a car coming up the driveway. It must be her. It’s three o’clock. I looked out the window. A green Honda. I don’t recognize it. Someone is getting out. Oh God. I should sit on the couch. There must be a normal amount of time between when she knocks and when I answer. Okay. She rang the doorbell. I get up and slowly walk to the door. I can see her frame through the distorted glass on the door. I can tell it’s her. Slightly shorter than me, slanted shoulders, thin legs. I open the door. 65
“Hi Jane,” I say smiling, but not too much, I think. She looks great. Her hair is shorter, maybe a different color. Lighter, I think. It curls around her ears. She’s wearing a sweater and jeans. I think I remember this sweater. A New Years’ Eve, I think. “David!” she says. “David, David... How great it is to see you.” She hugs me. I hug back but it’s almost painful. I hold my breath so I won’t catch her scent. “How have you been?” “I’ve been good. Really good. Come in, out of this cold.” We walk inside. I spread my arms out and say, “This is my house,” like an idiot. She laughs a little. Maybe it wasn’t stupid. “You live here by yourself?” she asks, an eyebrow raised. “Yeah,” I say, “all alone.” “Well, I guess you have a lot of space.” She has no idea. We walk over to the kitchen and I open a cupboard. “Would you like some coffee?” “Sounds great,” she says. I pull out two mugs and pour her and myself a cup. “I like your house,” she says. “It’s very clean. Do you have a maid? You were never this clean.” I laughed. “No, no maid. I just... I like things to be in order, you know. Hey, would you like to sit out on the porch?” She nodded and I led her outside. The porch is screened in and I have a small space heater. I turned it on along with a strand of Christmas lights lining the wall. We sat down. She pulls out a pack of cigarettes. “You still smoke?” she asks. “You’re not the quitting type.” “Yeah, I haven’t kicked that habit yet.” I grabbed her pack and took a cigarette. “Didn’t think so, David. I never thought you would quit. Well, maybe for a woman.” We both lit our cigarettes and I pull the ashtray closer to us on the table. “So tell me, Jane, how have the last eleven years treated you? And don’t leave anything out.” She took a long drag, just like she used to, always long drags, slow exhales. Should I have not said eleven years? God, that’s such a long time. Would she be angry for me pointing that out? As if I’m really saying, ‘Why 66
haven’t you called me? Did you forget?’ “Well, where to start. Um, I’m working for this photography company. You know, taking yearbook photos, baseball teams, that kind of crap.” “Whatever happened to Rolling Stone?” “Ha, some dream that was. No, but I’m happy doing what I do. Sure, it’s not as glamorous as I wanted my job to be, but it pays me well. I can get by.” “Okay. Well, if you like it, that’s all that matters. What else?” “Well, I don’t know. I mean, I live a few minutes outside the city... I have a dog... I... God, my life seems boring. You ask me what the last ten years have been like, and all I can say is I work a crummy job and I have a dog.” We both laughed. “Oh, it’s not that bad,” I say. “That’s really all I can say. You know... I work for an electronics company doing technical writing. I don’t have a dog though. I’m thinking of maybe getting one.” “Oh David, technical writing? What is that exactly?” “I write manuals for the company’s products.” “Whatever happened to the Great American Novel idea?” “I could ask you the same thing.” She takes a sip of her coffee. I ash my cigarette. It’s almost out. I feel dizzy; it must be the nicotine. She stubs hers out. We sit there in silence for a few moments. Her face still looks young. Her hands still look smooth, thin. There is a tan line around her ring finger. I wonder if she was hoping I didn’t notice. Anyway, she is still beautiful. She hasn’t changed. “So you ever get married?” she asks. I hesitate. “No, never married. I thought I came close once, but it never worked out. What about you?” “No... No, never came close. I don’t know if I ever will. We’re so much older now, David. I don’t feel old. I mean, I still feel like I could be twenty or thirteen or seven. Like I’m just trapped in this body that keeps aging faster than my mind or my soul or whatever you want to call it. You know, it seems like just yesterday we were together. But then again it sort of feels like a lifetime, you know? I guess that doesn’t make a lot of sense.” “No,” I say. “I get it. I know what you mean. Every morning, I feel so much older. You know, I ache sometimes. My joints hurt. I have gray hairs. I have trouble remembering things.” “Do you remember a lot from when we were together?” 67
That’s a strange question. Do I? I feel like it’s the only thing that’s stayed with me for that length of time. Should I tell her that? Are we like strangers meeting now? Are certain things out of bounds? “That’s something I couldn’t forget.” She stays quiet, but I think I see a smile somewhere hidden on her face. Should I keep going? Should I tell her all those things I remember, all those things that have kept me up select nights throughout the last eleven years? Would it be pathetic to show her how much I remember, how much I can’t forget? I think it all meant so much more to me than to her, only because I still think about her. She lights two more cigarettes, hands one to me. I should keep going. “I remember how I couldn’t stop smiling the few weeks after I met you. I remember how I first kissed you outside your apartment door that one night; we had been out at some coffee place. I remember asking you to be my girlfriend after I dropped you off one afternoon. I remember you smiled.” She brushes her hair over her left ear, a nervous habit. Something burns between us, some electricity. I can hear it buzz in my ears, like the Christmas lights. “I remember how you bit my lip the first time we made love, you grabbed my hair. I wasn’t used to that sort of intimacy. I remember feeling your heart mesh in with mine, your body becoming part of me, to where I couldn’t tell where you began and I ended.” She reaches her hand out towards me. I feel a shock as she touches my cheek. I lean in and kiss her like for the first time. I say her name; it has new meaning. She goes deeper, harder, her nose is cold against my cheek. She leans closer to me, her hands in my hair; can she feel the grays? Does this feel different to her? Is it like a dream? Am I touching a memory, a spirit, a ghost? We lay down on the rug on the floor, and I shove the table over with my elbow. Am I young again? She pulls my shirt off, I pull hers off. Our bodies are different, older, sadder. Did I ever leave her? If I look close enough, will I see the trails my younger fingers made so many years ago? Am I a guest to her soul? We become naked, we are born again. It’s cold away from the heater. She slips me inside her. She breathes heavy in my ear. I think of our first time together, the sun setting through her window, the weather much like it is now, cold and windy. It was December then; it is December now. Her scent is the same, like spring rain and carousels. The years since we last talked can now fade easily. My memories of other women, other lovers now decreasing in intensity each time she breathes, each time she moans, each 68
time she holds my head close to her chest, her heart still beating, like I never heard it stop. It’s over. The sun was setting behind bare trees. She climbs off and quickly gets dressed, so I get dressed too. It’s different now. This is how it’s different. We used to lay around naked afterwards, sometimes for hours. Now the electricity, the afterglow, fades like so many words we used to share. “I have to go,” she says. She seems confused, afraid but not scared. I want to tell her to stay, but I know she needs to go too. It’s getting late; the sun can no longer be seen. I walk her to the front door. There is a pause before she steps out. Will she see me again? Will I call her? Is this how it ends? Do we want this to become something? She opens her mouth like she’s about to give me all the answers I’ll ever need, but she just kisses me on the cheek and leaves. I stand at the doorway for a few moments as I watch her pull out of the driveway, down the street, then too far to see. Maybe we both knew our meeting would lead to that. Maybe it was some sort of closure. It doesn’t feel like closure though. I feel like I’ve been opened up. I go back out to the porch. The food left untouched, her coffee cup still left half-empty, our cigarettes wrinkled in the ashtray. I go and flush them down the toilet, then clean out the bowls and the cups. She was never here, everything she left now gone, except what she left inside me—a small burning in my chest, her scent on my hands, her name on my tongue. I must get rid of it. I take a quick shower. I am me again, like I never saw her. She’s now just someone I used to know, a lost friend. I wonder what she’s doing now. I hear a car pull up. It’s seven o’clock. There is a moment of panic but it fades. I go and stand in the kitchen. I’m going to start dinner. There’s a ring in my pocket. I put it on my finger. A woman walks in with a child. She smiles. “Hi, babe. Lucy had fun at her grandma’s today.” I don’t say anything. I feel dizzy, numb. “You haven’t started dinner yet? She’s hungry.” I turn the oven on. “Babe, what’s wrong?” I feel like sleeping, my eyes are heavy, something weighs me down. I look at the woman, the child, and all I can say is, “I don’t know. I don’t know.”
MOON E.M. Killaley I watched her wade through the heavens, treading darkness that looked back. Her movements were slower than a Sunday morning curled under the crook of his arm and her light cooler than the breeze in those Florida winter moments. The currents pulled me like water, deeper and deeper across to her swollen surface, ridges popping out like my belly button. The terrain chalked the soles of my feet, pink to white like the insides of shells, and around me I heard the wavesâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; distant, quiet voice: breathe, breathe, breathe. I fell asleep to the lull, knowing when I woke it would be his breathing beside me, the constant beat of his heart like breakers surrounding me, that would echo back inside my ears. I imagined that she in her vast silence could fathom the halt of a heart, the emptiness that had crawled from her skies into my moon-wide belly.
CIGARETTE Daisy Jane Trimor Your touch Had no effect And the words That you said Just kept Yourself Wet Say, Go ahead Just go ahead And tomorrow The sun will shine And then will set Where in between You hope at least The sun will light Your cigarette
THE TASTE OF CLOVES Ben Hellekson Headlights streak below us like a river of fallen stars. His eyes like two lost blue moons hold my gaze. The hiss of cigarette smoke is drowned By the rumble of rural engines. My skin grows pale knowing this is the nightâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; Seemingly alone, the two of us on this bridgeâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; Our only witnesses shadowed figures completely unaware, Driving beneath like organic robots to their own lives As mine begins to take a new turn on the lonely road above. Eyes lock in a nightime spell. Lips meet like moonlight reflecting on a dark pond. He tastes like lonely nights And clove cigarettes. We stumble love drunk to my car. His hands fumble around me, Our teeth clink like an awkward champagne toast. I am the first inch on his ruler, his first kiss. The taste of sweet night-flavored cigarettes still tingles On my lips. We ride away into the dark fingers of the forest. The further we get, the darker it grows, As the taste of cloves begins to fade.
JESUS CAME DOWN TO MILLEDGEVILLE Nicki Lynn Keys Rod fell down the stairs again, again landed on his back, a buckled, foaming can in his grip. Rod claimed he was running from Jesus, who found him at Amici Bar and followed him down McIntosh. Rod thought he could hide in our peeling, white house sinking into the edge of downtown. But Jesus’ stride was prophetic, and he strolled through the doorless front frame, carrying the weight of savior and barstool sinner. Only a drunk man would yell at Jesus, and Rod, backed against a wall, shouted, I ain’t ready for you! He floundered down the hallway, missed the first step and tumbled, like a child, to the dirt floor of the basement. Through the thin, cool dust, Rod could see Jesus in his gold and white clichés staring down, motionless and quiet.
TREES Adrienne Vaughn 1. “I have loved to the point of madness; that which is called madness, that which to me, is the only sensible way to love.” - Françoise Sagan There once was a tree who fell in love with the sky. Every day, the tree kept his canopy thrusting as high as he could. He looked only up and ignored everything at his roots, unwilling to bend away from his beloved sky. He would never admit to this, but the tree was really attempting to stretch high enough so he could fling himself out of the earth and into the sky. At first, the tree wasn’t very successful. He was a two-inch-high seedling, who could barely see over the tops of the grass blades growing around him. But even then, the tree could see the sky batting her blue eyes at him as he struggled to grow. While other seedlings twisted and turned as they grew, this tree stretched upward while he forced his delicate roots downward. Each day, the tree grew a little bit taller. Soon, the tree was a sapling, pliable and bendable and easily broken. But when the animals of the forest crashed through the underbrush and threatened to cut the tree’s life short, the tree reached for the sky and attempted to stay as stiff as he could. As other saplings were ripped out of the ground, the sky-loving tree survived. He continued to force his roots deeper into the soil as he dreamed only of getting into the sky. As the tree got older and sturdier, he would wave his leaves at his blue love even when there wasn’t a breeze, whispering sweetnothings into her clouds. The other trees didn’t understand. They only talked to the sky when the wind was rough and the weather was bad. And then they only spoke to her in angry, rough tones, cursing the sky for letting the weather come to their forest. But this tree knew better. He stood tall and proud and as still as possible, knowing that the sky had nothing to do with the weather, and he loved her even more. One day, a couple of hikers set up camp at the base of the tree. These hikers gathered stones and firewood and built a roaring fire, which warmed the tree’s roots as the sun set. Nighttime was the tree’s favorite time. That 74
was when the sky looked her most beautiful and when people admired her the most. The tree listened as the hikers named constellations and told the stories behind them. The tree shuddered with the idea that one day he might be able to float around with Gemini and Orion and do more than just make wishes on shooting stars. The tree realized the hikers’ voices were getting more distant. He could still feel the warmth of their fire on his roots, but he refused to take his eyes off the sky. Even as the smoke began to rise through his canopy, the tree kept his branches stretched high and still. He could hear other trees begin to shake as the heat made its way up the tree’s trunk. Finally, he glanced down-he was on fire, and there was nothing he could do to escape. He rustled his leaves for the last time at the sky, telling her how much he loved her and how much joy she had brought to him since he was a seedling. Ash from his trunk began to float through his canopy, and he saw parts of himself meld into the night sky. It was happening, he was floating away into the sky as he had always wished. 2. We picked out the tallest tree that summer. The one we used to hide behind during our afternoon games of hide-and-go-seek. It wasn’t the best hiding spot, even when we were shorter and smaller and could crouch in awkward positions without getting cramps in our legs, but the trunk had tripled in size by the time we graduated. Joey was the one who came up with the idea. He had travelled out to Colorado for a spring ski trip and came back with stories of brown scars in the shapes of names marring the white bark of the Aspen trees. “We should do that!” Shelby was easily excitable. “But where? The school would probably just cut the tree down or something, and it can’t be in one of our backyards.” Joey seemed to have everything figured out. “What about off in the woods somewhere?” suggested Gabbie. Joey shook his head. “Too far out. No one would ever see it. We want to be remembered, remember?” He laughed at his own joke. We knew there had to be somewhere that mattered to all of us. Shelby suggested the tree down by the lake where she had had her birthday party one year. Elizabeth said that tree made her too sad since Mark’s cat got stuck in it three summers ago. 75
“Buttons was up there for two days before anyone found him.” She frowned. “What about the trees by the movie theater?” Gabbie stuck her chin out, like she was proud. “That might just be the worst idea yet, Gabbie.” Mark could be cruel sometimes. We all told Mark to shut the hell up, that he wasn’t being helpful. Elizabeth stood up. “What about in the park across the street, where we used to play tag and stuff? It’d be close to everyone’s houses, and more people would see it.” Joey nodded like he had the final say or something. “That actually sounds perfect. But, guys, what should we write?” 3. The building was abandoned after the second World War. It was a church, but once most of the citizens of the village were killed, stripped of any valuables, and buried in mass graves, no one seemed to have time for church anymore. Even the priests gave up. With no one to care for the building or the grounds, nature began to take over. Ivy, which had been painstakingly groomed into a low wall, slithered up the outside walls in black-green strips. Chalky lichens mingled with slick green moss on the roof, making it look as though fairy tale creatures had built a castle in the woods. The glass dome that made the building look like a hunchback was the only source of light in the old worship space. Hymnals and prayer cards joined the carpet of leaves that had blown in through the doors left open when the evacuation order came. A lone tree grew through a rotten spot in the floorboards. The trunk ran up against the wall until the tree top erupted into the glass dome, the leaves seeking the sunlight to allow the tree to survive. As the sunlight filtered through the trees, it was condensed by each layer of leaves and forced down hallways and into rooms. From outside, the whole place glowed green. Now, tradition has it that the dome was built around the tree, but everyone knows that’s a lie. At night the animals took over where the humans had left off. The raccoons were the first ones to find the church. It wasn’t too hard for them-they were really just looking for garbage when they found the wide-open doors. That first winter, the squirrels stored nuts in the space beneath the floorboards instead of digging holes all over the forest floor. A more likely 76
scenario of how the tree got inside. By the time the tree filled the dome, almost every kind of animal could be found beneath the green glow. Foxes made dens in the fireplaces and under the stairs. Raccoons and squirrels and mice rummaged through the inner-workings of the walls. Rabbits and chipmunks and all the other small creatures scurried across the floor to make nesting material out of the old priestâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Bible, apparently finding something superior to that paper than to the paper of the hymn books. Even deer could be found quietly tiptoeing around, seeming to search for that elusive green glow. And the world carried on. Forest animals replaced people, and the church, which had been assumed in the village to have fallen down from disrepair, became that much more beautiful. 4. Trees shift from side to side. The wind whistles around the trunks, changing pitch as it weaves around smaller-then-larger-then-smaller trunks again and again. Animals scatter as a storm rumbles on the horizon. The damp feel of rain makes the flowers open their leaves wider and wider until the first drop finds its way to the forest floor. A hummingbird finds a small yellow flower on the forest floor to land upon. It tucks its head beneath its wing and ruffles its feathers. A twig cracks in the distance, and the hummingbird disappears. The lumberjack and the hunter meet at the edge of the woods. Each is there to take something that does not belong to him. The brambles tug at their woolen jackets as they force themselves into the protected underbrush. The wind wails even louder, promising a difficult hunt.
IF I LIVED BY THE RIVER Ryan Webb I’d probably start sparking again, while laying in this field listening to banjos and saxophones. I’d probably walk around in closed-toe shoes, and carry cash, and drink vegan coffee. Maybe happiness would finally find me, or maybe I’d drive to find you, and on cold, cold nights we’d sit around a bonfire of playing cards and cigarette butts, getting drink, drank, drunk. And we’d drop hard arrs like pirates, floating in a moat of memories and disclosure. And for the life lived of a moment we’d share, another away from me sinks and shrivels. That is—if I lived by the river.
SOUTHBOUND Ethan Fogus I have miles and miles to go toward the skin on your knees. This road leads back to Greensboro. Upstate New York tried to swallow my wallet and all my money. The road is waiting to Greensboro. Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll go over the Shenandoah towards front porch light and sweet tea. I have miles and miles left to go Virginia convicts pour blacktop rows by the road in Madison county. I still have miles and miles left to go, And I will sleep with my pillow tucked in the blind spot of my Chevy on the way back to Greensboro. And until the fuel gauge slopes to E, and until the road ends beneath your body, I still have miles left to go on the road to Greensboro.
11/23/63 Kevin Wilkinson Dallas, Texas The country was in the middle of a national paralysis, stunned at the demise of its young president: gunned down in Dallas with shots to the back and the head. The city was a pitiful shell of its former self, as if some dark cloud of sorrow hovered over the city with evil intentions. David Clark drove his blue Oldsmobile Cutlass down Main Street, keeping the radio on the local news station, where sleep-deprived disc jockeys gave updates every thirty minutes. David couldn’t help but to think about the previous day in Deely Plaza. Emotions, a mixture of anticipation and admiration, quickly dissipated with a single shot from the grassy knoll. David trembled at the wheel as he remembered when the shots rang out. The blood and the screams made a permanent fixture in his mind, along with the giggling of the little boy adjacent to where David was standing. His small body doubled over in laughter, pointing to the speeding motorcade. Bang! Bang! You’re dead! Do it again! David simply stood there in a catatonic state of confusion. It felt as if he were floating through a strange dream, his feet not quite touching the street, not quite touching the gas pedal. The streets seemed emptier, undoubtedly due to the people huddled in family rooms expecting the Apocalypse. He swerved the vehicle into the driveway of the modest, brick house on the corner of Baker Street, a place he had called “Home Sweet Home” since he was a toddler. The noise from the television set met him at the front door as he crept through the foyer into the living room, where his father sat on the sofa with one hand clutching a bottle of Jack Daniels and the other a Lucky Strike. Harold Clark was a giant of a man with broad, imposing shoulders that were born from thirty years of hard work and sweat at construction sites throughout the country. Scars and small cuts were cherished battle wounds to a man with a ninth grade education from Arkansas, and he always made it a point to flaunt them whenever he possibly could. Harold was a sharp contrast to his son, who was slender, polished, and lacked the country boy ruggedness his father worked so hard to portray. David tried to avoid the 80
blaring television as the scene of the embattled motorcade replayed over and over again to the millions of viewers. “The foreman told us to go home ’cuz... Well, you know,” said Harold before taking a swig of the Jack Daniels. “Yeah.” “If yuh ask me, this Kennedy mess is a tragedy and whatnot, but life gots to go on. The world is still turnin’ and there is money to be made. People gotta work ’cuz money makes the world go ’round, son. Especially if yuh ain’t got no degree and you poor and black like us. That why I was so proud when me and your momma got to send yuh off to that school in D.C. What it called again, son?” “Georgetown, Daddy,” Harold could never remember the college David had been attending, even though it had been over two years since his son left Dallas with three homemade sweaters, five-hundred dollars, and a basket of fried chicken that his mother had forced him to take. “Yes suh, one of the happiest days of my life. When yuh was born, that’s the first thing I said to your momma. We gon’ have an educated son even if I have to work myself to death out at that worksite ’cuz when yuh got a degree, can’t nobody take that away from yuh. I mean nobody, and yuh betta not let ’em either.” “Speaking of Momma, where is she?” asked David, desperately wanting to change the subject. He realized that his father was on one of his long-winded lectures, and the most practical thing was to take a seat on the sofa facing the man and ride it out. “Oh, she at the Turlington’s again. The daughter, Clarissa, was supposed to get married at their house today and all of the slaves, I mean staff, haha, had to be there to help out with the festivities. I know they mad as all get-out ’cuz they having a wedding the day after the President got shot. Who gon go to that?” Harold laughed a little too hard and started coughing uncontrollably, the kind of cough that old people make when they’re just about to pass out but regain their composure at the very last moment. David didn’t know Clarissa was getting married. They were the same age and had often kept each other company as children, when his mother couldn’t find a babysitter while she cleaned the little girl’s house and cooked her family’s meals. In fact, Clarissa was the first girl he had ever kissed. She swore him to absolute secrecy underneath the magnolia tree. If my Poppy knew I kissed a Negro, he’d just about die. He kept his promise and, even 81
more importantly, he never told anyone his reaction. Sitting on that sofa, David shuddered as he remembered the shame he had felt. Shame that he was Negro. He silently cursed himself because it seemed so unlike him, in retrospect as a mature man, to not be proud of who he was. His parents had always instilled that in him, and he usually he ate it up. But there, underneath that magnolia tree, he was a reject, a castaway due to something he couldn’t control. His flashback was interrupted by a stirring at the front door. A thin woman with yellow skin and thick black hair strolled into the living room with two pots of food, still wearing her work apron. “They canceled the wedding, and Clarissa was bawling her pretty little eyes out. Poor thang. Ain’t much I could say to her. Only a few people showed up. Lord have mercy,” said David’s mother. “I could told yuh that, woman! I already knew that nobody is gonna come to a wedding at a time like this, Blanche,” said Harold matter-of-factly. “Oh, hush up with that foolishness, old man. You ain’t never liked them anyway.” “Well, I don’t like people who act like their workers ain’t got no families at home. Cleaning their house on holidays. Ain’t that much dirt in the world. Don’t make any kind of sense.” “Well—” “Dad, Momma... I’m dropping out of school,” David blurted in a move that surprised even him. The words seemed to eject by themselves, almost as if they had given up on David choosing to say them of his own accord. Silence fell on the room like a crashing elephant, and his parents stood frozen in mid-air, their pupils dilated. Of course, Harold was the first to break the ice. “Now, why the hell would yuh do that? Did yuh not just hear all those things just I told yuh a few minutes ago? Why? Why!” “Dad, please, don’t make this harder than—” “Boy, what the hell has gotten into you? We didn’t send you up there to that fancy college for you just to up and quit on us. Oh Lord, if I wasn’t saved and sanctified I would beat the black off of you right here right now.” His mother was the one that David had been really afraid of telling. She was a small woman, but Blanche Clark was the type of girl who didn’t need any help from a man in getting things done and was proud of it. She had no problem informing Harold, David, or any person for that matter, how her 82
mother had raised ten children in Louisiana alone after her father died. She could outwork and outdrink any man. She toted a gun, too. Blanche was a small creature, but she had a bite that was vicious when provoked. You know your Momma has that Louisiana crazy, David’s father told him after one of her particularly brutal tirades, in which she threw her drunk husband out of a moving car in the middle of a busy intersection. Blanche began walking around the kitchen, banging and slamming anything that could make an intimidating noise. He had seen her like this countless numbers of times with his father. She paced the floor, muttering incoherent comments that were probably curses and insults. David walked into the kitchen slowly, just in case he caught some flak in the form of a skillet to the face. “Mom, will you allow me to explain myself, at least?” “What you got to say, chile! All that talking you been doing up in Washington. You need to be studying, and now you talking about some leaving. Ha!” “I have been very unhappy for quite some time at Georgetown, Momma. It’s a great school and I do well there but it’s not fulfilling. I need to find myself. I’m afraid that if I don’t take some time for myself that I will never find some semblance of passion or happiness in life. President Kennedy’s assassination was an answer to my uncertainty, Momma. It was a sign from God. That’s why I have decided to accept my friend’s invitation to work a year in Istanbul. It’s for the best.” “What the hell! Instant-butt-whaaaaa? Where is the hell is that?” David’s father shouted from the sofa. “It’s in Turkey, Daddy,” David shouted back. “Well, at least you’ll be eating good. That reminds me, Blanche... What are we gonna have for dinner? Now that I got a taste for turkey.” Blanche stood in the kitchen frozen and her lower lip trembled. After a moment of silence, she chuckled. “You know, I oughta scratch your eyes out for what you’re about to do—” “Yeah I know.” “—but you’re our only son we have and we want the best for you. Imma trust you on this, David, but I ain’t saying it’s gonna be easy.” “That’s all I ask,” said David as he embraced his mother, marking the first time he had ever broken her thick shield. “You cooking a turkey, Blanche, yeah?” said David’s father. 83
“I ain’t cooking no damn turkey. You just gonna have to eat the leftovers I brought from the Turlington’s. You eat too much anyway.” All three of them erupted in laughter. All three were unsure of what the future had planned for their golden boy. They were three a little scared but willing to explore uncharted territory together, because that’s how people survived in this world—sticking with genuine people through peaks and valleys. Harold and Blanche didn’t understand their son, but they were going to support him if it killed them.
BOOT SOLE E.M. Killaley Today I am wearing boots that remind me of winter in England. Daily I struggled to climb that same damn hill beside my house, slipping upwards with my haphazard, imprecise manner of walking, where snow was packed by unfamiliar boots into ragged ice that once brought blood to my palms in a graceless, public fall. Today I am wearing boots that remind me of you— walking through Shield Field, not the best area, and that night I pushed you down in the snow, piling that lightness into your chaotic hair until you buried me knee-deep in the soft white drift, and I couldn’t move, couldn’t waver; but you finally pulled me free, and I hoped it was enough to climb on your back and insist you carry me to the end of the road. Today I am wearing boots because we haven’t yet turned on the gas. My house is so cold, but it’s relative; 85
I know England to be held by a deeper chill under its tense blank sky. I imagine you walking through Shieldfield, hat on your down-turned head, hoping you wonâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t be mugged again, but there is that patch of fading green where almost a year ago I planted snow in your hair and a kiss on your mouth. Today I am wearing boots once filled with snow that melted, leaving nothing but a faint ash of dirt above each sole.
EVERY BARBARIAN NEEDS A WALK-IN CLOSET Deborah Marie Green Consumed by whispers of the primeval beast, we’re cursed With a thirst for blood. An ungodly notion, death Being the Devil’s work, though Heaven is really a pretty word for “mass grave.” In denial you scream, “Blasphemy!” to the barbaric hoards, refusing to admit Envy for those who revel in the forces of darkness. How unfair that only Murderers and rapists can play God, savoring the forbidden fruit of destruction. Bickering spouses, nagging mothers, kids with numb tongues, pugilists, Politicians licking their lying lips and lawyers arguing fine print— We’re all tiptoeing around the line between serial killer and saint. We’re all wearing our hearts tucked neatly beneath our sleeves: Hanging ourselves in closets, hiding our scars and strangulation marks Beneath scarves and sweaters, fashionable even in the summer sun. Procrastinators, masturbators, murderers, and housewives— We’re all dancing ourselves into an early grave Or looking for a closet that will hold all the skeletons.
CONSTANCE J.L. McGrael Time is irrelevant to The ticking of our clocks and The aging of our bodies. The constance of everything As it changes At its constant rate Always Astounds me, And that too Is constant. And, once more But not for The last time, I am asking that age-old question Of where all that time went. I already know The answer, though. Thatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s not why Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m asking.
SHADOW Ethan Fogus Under the maidenhair tree shaded in the bars of limbs, in the rye grass we kissed, and melted like shadows. Once in the shade of the limbs I brushed her locks of hair. Now, I talk to the shadows and wait by the cellar door. No combing her brown hair and kissing in the rye grass. Please, return this shadow back to the maidenhair tree.
REGRET Jarune Crystal Uwujaren They searched the news for an answer when the water started rising. It seemed to bubble up from nowhere, hot and churning, and it swallowed up the people who watched and waited out of curiosity. Those high enough above sea level to watch the news ran helter-skelter when dark waves whisked away anchors and consumed cameras. Water rushed through first floor doors, and the buildings filled up like pneumonic lungs. Townhouses, high-rises, and skyscrapers flooded until the water burst from gilded windows. People caught unawares by the water were forced to leap from their high-rises, only to fall into a steaming sea. There were tourists in New York watching the rapids from the crown of Lady Liberty. Some kids tugged their parents’ shirts and pointed at the chaos; others cried. Most kept adding quarters to the binoculars for prime viewing. A few adults took pictures. One young couple in particular was amazed at how much had happened on their first day in America. If they’d stayed home they would have never had a view like this one. They held their hands above their eyes like visors to block out the light of the bleeding sun, which hung like an inkblot in an otherwise bright day sky. The light that oozed through the water-filled skyscrapers was a cherry red. It looked like mercury rising as the water filled the buildings, higher, higher. The sea below them was deeper and darker—Cherry Coke. The wife said, with a little shame in her voice, “How beautiful it all was,” when the first hot trickle of water lapped at her feet.
NEAR-SIGHT E.M. Killaley She couldn’t distinguish the leaves from the trees. On closer inspection, each full mass of greenery was broken, carried by the wind into inexact arrangements of permutating possibility. She sat in the back of the classroom, where the board was a white rectangle marred by black cuts and blurs. There the spoken words were her strength, the gentle lilts of accent and tone subtle colors to be examined. The lectures drew her mind to the present, that ever-creeping monster of time. But she felt its fleeting whisper in her hands. You are here, you are now. She never saw an optometrist. The name itself was abandonment. But she listened to the radio, rode the bus, and was content. Told she was a good listener, she could always look towards the eyes of another and taste every word, like oxygen flavored by hyperbole and bathos, scent affecting her taste so that good dinner conversation always sufficed in a meal of unclear dishes. She could not distinguish an airplane from the sky, but she felt its vibrations and understood the exact language of its sound waves. Her mother tried to feed her carrots, but she hid them and later delicately cleaned her ears. She inhabited each day in sensory symphonies. Nearing the end, her sight began to shift. The fractured world of the near receded, moving away in small degrees. One day the hemlock behind her house sprouted fur from its ranches. A few weeks later she distinguished the last space shuttle rising farther from the curved world, and the clouds it pierced were fearsome, tumorous giants. She could not fathom the precision of that which was so distant; she could not breathe in a land so broad and reaching. She could not read the dials on the oven anymore. The green street signs surreptitiously grew letters, like viral white roots spreading at the road a few blocks away. Her dying mother traced sinuous words in loops and curls, but the lines of script were just that to her—lines, blocks, curls. In the quiet of her mother’s passing the tweets of powering down mechanisms for life grated on her ears, but when she left that room she would only know its place from the other end of the hallway. She passed by it five times before counting the doors to find a barren, unmade bed. The silence followed. 91
Not a word was spoken to her on the bus trip or walk home. She couldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t read the dials on the oven anymore, but knew their twisting tendencies, much like the ridged records spinning, spinning, spinning her to sleep.
HOW TO BURN TWO-HUNDRED AND TWENTY-TWO PHOTOS OF A DEAD GIRL Jayne Hartman I stare at the photos in the bathtub. Each one is a little piece of my life from before she died, and I am going to burn them. The match is in my fingers and the lighter fluid has been poured. I can’t save them even if I wanted to. They are ruined, soggy, and smell like chemicals. So why can’t I strike the match? Two-hundred and twenty-two copies of her face smile up at me. There are only thirty photos of us together. I had counted them all and bound them in an album that I kept under my mattress so I couldn’t see them unless I really needed to. And now all of them are here in my bathtub. It’s not that I’m afraid. I will let them burn just long enough for her face to disappear into a crumple of brown ash and then turn on the showerhead and wash them down the drain. I had stuffed a towel under the door to trap the smoke inside the bathroom, where it wouldn’t reach the smoke detector in the hallway. I’m nothing if not a planner, down to the last detail. But the match remains un-struck, pressed between my thumb and forefinger. I wish I had bought a lighter. Then, it would almost seem like an accident. Whoosh, and up in flames, and all two-hundred and twenty-two photos of her would be gone like I’d never known her. My fingers shake and I drop the match in the toilet. It floats there, and I watch it for a moment before closing the toilet lid. I slide open the matchbox and take out another match and strike it before I can really give it any thought. The flame flickers and grows stronger as it burns. I hold it over the tub. The flame reaches my fingers and my skin turns red, but I hold the match for just a second longer before I drop it. There is no whoosh, just a slow burn that spreads and spreads until all two-hundred and twenty-two photos of her face are on fire. With a sigh, I sit down on the toilet lid and stare at the wall. I can’t watch them burn, no matter how curious I am. The smell is awful. I turn on the shower after a few minutes when a brief glance tells me that all twohundred and twenty-two photos are nothing more than a greasy stain on the porcelain.
LOVE FREE-VERSE I Margaret Beaver She walked the Southern white steps encircled by the scent of freshening gardenias and stopped to see the sunlight seated in the whitened chairs in arrangement for some younger womanâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s wedding day, the table where the cake will lay when draped with sugared pearls. No, she was only visiting, and bearing flowers picked by hand so as to not wilt. Every wedding day is something of a tragedy, when the maid of honor will straighten the train of tulle and strengthen her step with memories of times now past. The giving mother will receive a small pink carnation as a consolation. No loved one in the room will gain a thing, only the assurance of visits on holidays. And the flower arranger, she never attends the ceremonies; she will never again seat herself in those ornate hard-backed chairs so very upright.
CHEERIOS Megan Reid In a room across from mine, my mother talks on the phone and drinks so many beers that she will put the trash out two days early. Downstairs, my father opens and closes the door to the refrigerator until he falls asleep alone. Every night, it happens. I am twelve and wonder, will I be late for school again, do I bother to finish this math problem. My sister wakes at a quarter past three to the sounds of a pencil sharpening, to the cold click of a pop tab. In the morning, the air conditioner is on too high, and I eat a bowl of milk and cheerios alone. I try to add sugar but my mouth never stops tasting sour.
TRICK OR TREAT J. Adam White wind came like ghosts against this house, howling for their or our loneliness with more tricks than treats and your bag light with candy and your skin hot with darkness thereâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s no google translate from boy to girl or monster to midnight or street to streetlight only carved guesses out of pumpkin flesh saying yes, this candleâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s, lit but who knows for how long
THE HEART OF LOVE Ryan Webb The wavy blue universe swirls. I am in love with her, and I’m sure she’s in love with me. What she doesn’t know is my feelings. We’d spend hours around the fireplace, under the glow of the TV, smoking pot and sipping tea. Breathing. It fell from the moon, or at least, that’s where I think my understanding comes from—in sight and unexplored. “It’s the nature of wellbeing and truth,” I’d say. She’d say, “The acceptance of sorrow.”
1997 J. Adam White your body is my old house where i grew up your hands feel like bedrooms your legs are staircases your lips are the attic i’m scared of it’s like it’s 1997 again and i’m falling in love with everything
SYRIA Aladdin Kanawati Blood, sweat, and tears fill the streets Like that of a movie However, there is no plot, no reason, no theme Just cold blooded murder Nothing to hear But the cries and the screams The sound of the bullet Pierces the sky The son of a father Now bleeds until he dies His name was Ahmad And he loved his home But 2 weeks ago in Hama The bombs had blown Parents inside who never got out Now poor Ahmad is alone And silenced, with no ability to shout His family taken He was left in the dark Like a dog with rabies He began to bark Upset with those Who took all that he loved Ahmad protested To end the regime so corrupt Enough of the abuse He was done with their misdeeds But it was no use As Ahmad dies, as he bleeds
MMIII Megan Reid Left at a neighborâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s, I did not cry but was force-fed a feast called mourning. In my stomach began a slow funeralâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; toast hard as a tombstone, eggs cold like her lips. I was given breakfast in a bed that was not my own, only to find my father waiting, without her.
A LIFE’S WORK Georgette Eva “That’s it. We’re getting rid of everything.” She frowns at that. “Not everything necessarily, right?” She faces her son, then her daughter. They don’t meet her eyes, though they do look at each other. Their tight expressions mirror one another. She hates that. Eleanor speaks first, “Come on, Mom. You can’t keep all of this.” She gestures broadly across the living room, where they dropped everything to sort. Garbage bags litter the floor; clipped papers sit on the old rocker. Stacks upon stacks of various cardboard and plastic bins lean against the walls, some as tall as Richard, some as short as Eleanor. They’re filled with random office supplies, photos from her walls, xeroxed copies of illuminated manuscripts. Then there are her books. Her countless amounts of history books: their pages yellowed, their covers dusty, all carelessly in a pile without order, without concern, without accuracy. She couldn’t understand their shameful treatment of her books. Dear Henry II inaccurately sits near Christine de Pizan. Margaret of Anjou lies rudely open-faced on the rug. Her pages fold inward. Her spine looks creased. “You’re leaving, Mom. You don’t need all of these things. There’s no room.” She walks over, picks it up, and dusts it off. She runs her finger over the permanent crack on the side with displeasure. “How is this helping?” she mumbles, propping it properly against Catherine of Valois. She runs her fingers over the spines, ticking off dates in her head automatically. “What’s in here anyway?” Richard asks as he steps over towards the bay window, where a fortress of boxes lay. He pops the lids open and makes a disgusted face. “Mom,” he says a little disparagingly. “You can’t honestly still have these.” He pulls out handfuls of crusty papers and shows them to Eleanor. “Ellie, Mom kept your work,” he calls out, holding out the Picasso-like doodles. She watches as Eleanor steps across the battlefield of boxes and plastic storage bins; pieces of an accurate replica of armor peak out of one. “I remember those!” she says, a little excited. She flips through the stack quickly, then again, slower. “Why do you have these?” Eleanor asks. 101
A Life’s Work
It’s a silly, obvious question to ask, but she excuses it because her daughter’s an accountant. “What are you planning to do with it?” she replies instead, stepping forward. Slyly, she nudges a small stack of boxes under the draped side-table with her foot, the swaying of the tassels the only give-away. “We need to throw it away,” Richard says, his head inside a box labeled with his name. “You don’t need any of this.” He picks up a fresh trash bag from the floor and starts tossing papers, science projects, and sports memorabilia inside. There’s a scoff when he discovers a hand-sized trophy for little league, a bigger one when he finds a well-worn mitt. He tosses that right into the bulging black bag. “You’ve got years of trash just accumulating. You can’t do this anymore.” “It’s not trash,” she mumbles defensively, bending over to scoot a plastic bin behind the couch. It’s filled with printed notes on the Hundred Years’ War. The air fills with the sound of crinkly garbage bags being tossed open. “How long have these sat in your office doing nothing?” Richard asks. “That’s trash, Mom. You can’t afford to keep it.” He plunders through a box of yellowed papers on the coffee table, and type-written lines catch her eye. There are scribbles in the margins, her handwriting. “What is that?” she asks, watching him carefully. He looks up from the paper, then at her. “Trash,” he says too easily, tossing it into the bag. They both know she saw it, but she huffs rather than points it out. Eleanor squeals as she finds yet another piece from her box. “Look at these, Dickie!” She shows him a large paper decorated with hand-turkeys. “Nice,” he agrees, holding out the trash bag. “Now toss it.” She turns to see what Eleanor does, hoping she’ll do the right thing but already knowing better. Eleanor studies the paper carefully, placing her hand over one of the purple turkeys in comparison. She watches her daughter consider it. Then Eleanor shrugs and tosses it carelessly, right into the waiting trash, while Richard jostles the load, rustling the paper and boxes and mixing it deeper. There’s the vague tinkle of ceramics and broken glass. He squashes the pile in, making room, then knots the bag shut to be picked up on Thursday. She wonders what she’ll do in the morning when the room is spotless.