Vol. 2, Summer & Fall 2013
Masthead Editor-in-Chief — Alex Grover Managing Editor — Lauren Wainwright President, Founder — Cody Steinhauer Copy Editor — Olivia Errico Social Media Manager — Dean Terrell Staff Writer — Sam Levenberg All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyrighted reserves above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the publisher of this magazine. Yorick Magazine acquires first North American publishing rights. All rights revert to the author after publication. For more information on how to submit, visit: http://www.yorickmagazine.com
Yorick Magazine Volume 2 Summer & Fall 2013
Table of Contents Poetry & Prose “Full Moon” by K.S. Subramanian ..................................................... 6 “Bottle Tree” by Tiff Holland .............................................................. 7 “In a French Play Yard” by Peggy Aylsworth ........................................ 8 “The Optimist” by Joseph Giordano .................................................. 9 “arrogant” by Linda M. Crate ........................................................... 14 “Haunting” by Jason Arnold ............................................................ 16 “Descansos” by Austin Eichelberger ................................................ 17 “Paul McCartney Retrospective” by Giuseppi Martino Buonaiuto ..... 24 “The Big Diehls” an excerpt by Merrill Printz ................................... 26 “Undone” by Ian Williams .............................................................. 36 “Old Ears” by Alexander Harasymiw ............................................... 37 “Dead Months” by Benjamin Blake ................................................. 38 “The Freshet Run” by David Cooper ................................................ 40 “Remembered” by Melissa Fry Beasley ............................................ 54 Art & Photography “Flower” by Abigail Allen ........................................................ COVER “Hope” by Abigail Allen .................................................................... 8 “Thor’s Lightning Bolt Tore Man & Nature Apart” by Abigail Allen .... 15 “Silver Girl” by Camille Paccaly ...................................................... 16 “Clock” by Franz Ohaus .................................................................. 36 “Lofty Leaf Huts Beyond Rococco Bridge” by Abigail Allen .............. 55
Letter from the Editor To all of Yorick’s supporters: This issue is coming out about three months after it was scheduled to hit the digital stands. Before going further into this letter, I’d like to thank everyone for their continued support, even when we were unable to put out an issue. Even during this pause in production, our writers and readers have been a source of support and enthusiasm to make this whole thing possible. At the end of August, I experienced a large loss in my life right as I was planning to move from the east coast to the west coast. During that time, there was a real attempt on the entire staff’s part to put the magazine together, but it became impossible to handle such a huge tragedy and still put out an issue that the writers’ work deserves. Without the continued support of the staff members and community, this issue would have never happened in the most literal sense. Dean Terrell, Olivia Errico, and Sam Levenberg have done an amazing job with their continued effort and support around every turn. Cody Steinhauer and Alex Grover have both been incredible leaders and an amazing support both in getting this issue done and keep the positive energy in the continuation of this magazine. This magazine would never have started without them, but it wouldn’t continue, either. I thank the two of them, my entire staff, and everyone who gives us the honor of their readership and submissions.
With best regards,
Lauren Wainwright managing editor
I gazed at the Full Moon, pear shaped glowing like a freshly minted jewel; Crevices shaped like a wispy cloud seem to shadow a deep-layered mystery; Somewhere in the lifeless expanse is a beauty that remains nonpareil. An odd ensemble of precious brains has unmasked it as bare carbuncle; Space gadgets unveiled the final visual of a rolling wilderness without a story; yet when a Full Moon ranges in the sky the endless cosmos fills the eye.
Bottle Tree Tiff Holland
I know I was supposed to be impressed when Bob took me to church. I could see him, looking back at me, grinning, the way I imagine Adam expected Eve to gape in wonder at all the things he had named but hadn’t himself made. It was pretty and all, the organ with its long pipes like the reeds down by Twelve Pole creek, only shiny. Seemed like everything was shiny in Akron, the escalators at Polsky’s and the machines at the luncheonette that dispensed sandwiches. Even the quarters Bob stuck in the machine, pushin’ buttons, making my choice for me, seemed shinier, but that church, it was big, and all those long pews were like the ribs stickin’ out of the sides of the aisle, all angled and pointing someplace a person should know how to go hisself. Bob pointed at the windows and explained to me about stained glass and bigger fancier churches with even more of it, and paintings on their ceilings. Bob liked to explain things. I liked the glass, the colored spots it made on the carpet. I wanted to walk down the aisle just stepping on the red spots or the blue ones. Have you ever seen anything like it? He asked, and I thought of the little white church back home with the spindle chairs that started out lined up but always ended up all over, some people pulling theirs forward to hear or see better or look around at friends on the other side. The far ends always curved forward and there wasn’t no aisle, or if there was it got swallowed up right away. That white church was always full, but Bob’s church was too big for the two of us ever to fill up, and the windows were pretty but flat, like the pictures at the theater. I knew Bob had never seen a bottle tree like the one outside the church back home, colored bottles hangin’ all over, high branches and low, bottles that used to hold something. They had three dimensions and held the light sometimes even after it would start to go dark back in that place where there weren’t any streetlights and almost nothing shone.
In a French Play Yard Peggy Aylsworth
Hoop and whoop. A roll, a jump, these big black tires. Kids in blue. Kids in stripes. Regard! Regard! I’m a big spider! Regard! Regard! I am an elephant! Happily, hoppily, the roundabout goes, in the white courtyard, in their white skin. Arrêté! Two little black girls walk through the play yard to a chorus of stares. Do you remember? Did you forget? All days were summer, swinging their faces, unwrinkled, but cruel. No moment held them. They spin this day.
The Optimist Joseph Giordano Gérard Petit’s face looked like he smelled sour cheese. He peered over his half-frame reading glasses. “Another expensive, company-paid vacation?” Marcel said, “Our Japanese clients need attention. Emails and phone calls aren’t enough.” Petit tossed the signed authorization across his desk. “If this trip doesn’t yield new business, we’ll discuss accelerating your retirement.” Petit picked up the phone. Marcel understood the signal and left. Δ Marcel’s flat was in the 16th arrondissement. He packed in his cream-colored bedroom. His wife, Helene, high cheekbones and cold brown eyes, came up behind him. “You’re leaving again?” Marcel looked up. “I’m sorry, Helene. An account in Tokyo is in jeopardy. I’ll be away a week.” “If it isn’t travel, it’s working late or business dinners.” “You’re right. When I get back, why don’t we take a little time for ourselves in Provence?” “Mother’s not well. I don’t want to be away from Paris.” “Ah, yes, you told me.” Marcel looked at his watch. “I need to run.” Δ Marcel said, “Parlez-vous francais? Do you speak English? I’m sorry, I don’t speak Japanese.” Marcel sat on a metal chair in a sea of gray desks amidst a swirl of dour, handcuffed men, prostitutes in skimpy, garish outfits, and staccato Japanese. The air smelled of vinegary stress sweat. The slick-haired, wiry detective wore a blue suit. Lieutenant Sato said, “No French, some English. Please make statement.” “Well, I arrived in Narita from Paris yesterday morning 9
and went to my hotel, The Park Hyatt, in Shinjuku. This evening, after a fruitful day visiting our Japanese clients, I heard a rap at my door. A policeman took me into custody for no stated reason, and now I’m talking to you.” “Mr. Laurent, please look television screen. This is video from outside your hotel. See?” The detective paused the video. “Please confirm image is you, Mr. Laurent.” “Yes.” “Watch.” The detective restarted the video. A Japanese man in his thirties stepped out of a black limo. “See gray suit man?” “Yes.” The video continued. In it, Marcel reached down behind the man. People churned past and obscured the scene. The next clear view was Marcel rolling his luggage toward the hotel entrance. The detective said, “Mr. Laurent, what you pick up?” Marcel’s face flushed. “Nothing.” The detective stood over Marcel and pointed his finger. “You picked up what gray suit man dropped.” Marcel raised his hands. “No I didn’t.” The detective’s jaw tightened. “Where hide?” “I didn’t hide anything.” Δ “Mr. Laurent, you contacted our offices. My name is Briggs.” The American lawyer had a black goatee. The cell in which they sat smelled of urine and vomit. Marcel fingered a black iron bar. “The package they’re looking for must be very valuable.” “In a manner of speaking. It was a letter from Japan’s Defense Ministry being hand carried to the U.S. Ambassador who attended a meeting at The Park Hyatt. The letter outlined how Japan would respond to various scenarios of North Korean aggression. They suspect you picked it up when the courier dropped it in front of the hotel.” Marcel raised his eyebrows. “How do they know he lost it there?” 10
“They don’t for sure, but they’re tracking his movements and in the video you seem to be reaching for something. Mr. Laurent, perhaps you picked it up the letter innocently, but the police will charge you with espionage. The Japanese have good reason to be paranoid about North Korean spies. There have been cases where Japanese were kidnapped, indoctrinated in Pyongyang and reinserted into Japan. If you produce the letter now, I’ll negotiate, of course, but I can’t be certain of the outcome.” Marcel’s eyes widened. “I’ve practiced criminal law in Japan many years. The legal system in Japan, like France, is based on the Napoleonic Code, and a man has no presumption of innocence. The police have the right to interrogate you for weeks, although with the video evidence they could choose to indict quickly. Conviction rates in Japan are virtually one-hundred-percent. Prison is harsh, but for foreigners it’s indescribable. You should expect to be isolated and abused by both inmates and guards. You understand I’m talking sexual abuse.” Marcel’s face went ashen. Briggs leaned back. “You did pick something up?” “I didn’t want to tell the detective.” “Why not?” “Because it’s embarrassing. It was a flier from a love hotel in Kabukicho, the red-light district in Shinjuku.” “If it was just a flier…” “I went to Kabukicho last evening.” Briggs raised his eyebrows. “I see. You need to tell Sato what you’ve told me.” Δ Sato sat with his arms crossed. Marcel and Briggs were on the other side of the steel table in an industrial gray, windowless room. Briggs said, “Lieutenant, you searched Mr. Laurent’s hotel room and luggage. He doesn’t have the letter.” Marcel said, “I picked up a Kabukicho flier in front of the hotel.” 11
Sato slapped his knees and rose. “Wait,” said Briggs. He turned to face Marcel. “Tell the Lieutenant about your Kabukicho experience.” Sato put his hands on hips. Marcel said, “Dark, crowded streets set aglow with multicolored neon. Pachinko parlors’ clunking steel balls. Surly men with full body tattoos. A friendly African, Teddy, introduced me to Mei, shy giggle, and purple hair.” Sato sat down. “She wore a mini-skirted nurse outfit with white stockings, garter-clipped at her thighs…” Briggs held up his hand. “That’s enough detail. Lieutenant, you know that the yakuza control these brothels. Mr. Laurent took quite a risk.” He turned to Marcel. “Tell the Lieutenant what was on your mind.” Marcel shrugged his shoulders. “My boss hates me. This will be my last trip to Tokyo. I wanted a memorable experience.” Briggs said, “Spies don’t act this foolishly. You have cameras in Kabukicho. You can confirm Mr. Laurent was there and which establishment he frequented. Question the girl.” Sato stroked his chin. He counted off his fingers. “I need speak wife, company in Paris, and business clients in Tokyo. See if you honest businessman you claim.” Marcel gulped. “But you won’t mention Kabukicho?” Sato smiled. “No way keep secret.” Briggs said, “Absolutely, go ahead.” Δ Marcel was on the first flight to Paris after his release by the Japanese police. He opened the door to his apartment and saw the living room cleaned out except for one blue, flower-patterned armchair that he never found comfortable. Helene was in the empty bedroom with her coat on. She bristled at him. “A Japanese prostitute.” Helene looked away. “How can I face people?” Helene clicked the latches on her suitcase. “Where are you going?” “I’m taking mother to Provence. Thank God both the 12
country house and this flat were still in my name. I sold the apartment. You’ll need to be out in a week for the new owners. I left your clothes and the keys to that ridiculous red Morgan roadster. Oh, and your favorite armchair. Goodbye.” Δ Marcel’s assistant, Françoise, answered his office phone. She was blond with a pug nose, divorced, in her late thirties. “Marcel, there’s someone sitting in your office. Petit insisted that I transfer you when you called. I was ordered to clean out your desk. What’s going on?” “Just transfer me. We’ll talk after.” Δ Petit was ebullient. “Laurent, so nice of you to call.” Petit started to laugh. “Arrested, and debauched with a Japanese prostitute. You made my conversation with the board members easy. It was unanimous. The severance agreed was generous, and they didn’t touch your pension. We want you out, and we don’t want a scandal. Don’t come in, I’ll send the check. Your company pass has been deactivated, and I’ve reassigned your office. Au revoir.” The phone clicked off. Δ Françoise picked up on the first ring. Marcel said, “I’ve been retired.” Françoise’s voice was hesitant. “I’m so sorry. Would you like me to bring your things to your apartment?” “Yes. Françoise, listen. Helene left me. I asked you to give me time. Now we can be together.” Françoise’s voice lightened. “Oh, Marcel, I’ll be right over.” Marcel hummed La Marseillaise. He luxuriated in the blue-flowered armchair. The cushions must have softened while he was away. The door chime rang; it was Françoise. He smiled. Voltaire was right, tout est pour le mieux—everything happens for the best.
Linda M. Crate
you exhaled a train wreck in my face steel and flames to erase joy inhaling misery that burns my lungs, but i'm not dead is that what you thought you would accomplish in such a foolhardy act? tomorrow's steel stands against me, i am a cyborg made not by man nor machine so you'll have to try harder to sever my nerve endings or to cut the silver of my veins; let me illuminate your way with the flames of stars that once danced their warmth in my soulâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; mists of hatred and apathy dance in your eyes no different than the world you claim to be severed from, i fear the sky is falling in swung like dew into grass, slivers of hope shattering like bruises in the sky; atlas letting the world fall into the deepest pit of oblivion, whose steel and chrome will save you then? if you said mine, then you guessed wrong for i'm not groveling at your feet you're not the force that will crush me my will is stronger than you think; perhaps, if you'd given me respect i would consider sparing you from all the fire consuming buildings in their smoke, 14
yet you blew the same carcinogens into my face told me to deal with it because life was hard so choke on your bitterness let your pride be the noose that slaughters your arrogance.
Miles Davis no longer sounds like a ghost Whispered speech, Like Hushed breathing Miles Davis no longer sounds like a ghost Notes muted, Hovering over me A boxer's step softly shuffling Miles Davis no longer sounds like a ghost No No Miles Davis is a ghost Miles Davis is a ghost Miles Davis is a ghost And I just want to fall asleep
“When one is forgotten, one dies yet another time.” - Roy Pope Mercedes was lying in bed as Orion began his nightly trek past her window, staring at the ceiling and conjuring the black hair, radiant laughter, and shining brown eyes of Daniel, her only child. Her ex-husband, George—the excommunicated priest who had never really believed anyway and jumped at the chance to marry the single daughter of a congregation member—was wheezing and asleep beside her. Mercedes was thinking of the day she and George had agreed to divorce when Daniel was six, and how Daniel had lived with Mercedes the entire time he grew up, though George had always visited and sent all the money when he was supposed to—he was a kind, smart man who never left Daniel out of his life. Mercedes often told herself that she was lucky, that not everyone could be friends after a divorce, and not everyone had a son like Daniel, who seemed to understand from the very beginning that sometimes things don't work out between people and it's best not to try and force them. Ever since he had moved out after high school six years earlier, Daniel had called Mercedes at least once a week after work and told her not to cook dinner, that he would be over soon to do it for her. He was a tender person and a good son, Mercedes had often told herself, better than she ever imagined he would be—though, to be fair, she could say the same of George over the past half-year. The unspoken agreement that they would stand by each other—eating meals together, sleeping in the same bed like old friends, checking up on one another throughout the day—had been somehow prompted by him—and thankfully so, Mercedes was willing to admit. Mercedes cleared her throat and let out a breath, her hands folded together and flat on her torso, her thumbs pushing against one another. The past five and a half months, ever since the motorcycle accident, Mercedes would see Daniel everywhere she looked, hear his voice in songs on the radio, smell cigarettes and 17
leather polish even at work, where she damn well knew that none of the elderly hospice patients would have such things. She no longer had to excuse herself when she thought he was around, but those first few months had been awful, every moment swollen with the possibility of a morbid surprise or stark realization. Mercedes was used to death because of her job—people who are old and ill die suddenly and often—but she had never before had to pass by the reflective memorial marker—more of a flash of warning to other drivers, really, especially the young and impulsive—on the median of the interstate each day on her way to and from work, had never before watched as splatters of burgundy on asphalt faded from one morning to the next, muted by the blazing New Mexico sun and tire wear, or noticed the day-by-day decomposition of purple and red false flowers, the wire stems buried deep in the sandy earth at the base of the metal memorial marker. Mercedes had never felt death so fully—not even after her parents were gone, fading away like her patients, and at least that had been natural, couldn't have been helped, happened to everyone eventually. The denials never lasted quite so long either, Mercedes thought, but she supposed that was simply how it was—when a piece of you dies, it's hard for what remains to admit it. Mercedes sighed and rolled onto her side, her eyes now on the bedroom door and the lines of wood grain barely visible around the dimly gleaming knob. And then there was the business with the angel—if that's what it had been—a figure made of light and lace and glinting glass, all of it moving and never quite solid, that had come to visit Mercedes just two nights before. When she saw the vision, Mercedes had first thought of her abuelita, the time when she taught Mercedes to make tortillas, and the little doll-faced angels that adorned Abuelita's bedroom—tiny girls wrapped in white silk and lace, with large chestnut-colored eyes and compassionate expressions. In each place where Mercedes had found a candle for the Virgen de Guadalupe, she had also found an angel. “Los ángeles velan por nosotros,” Abuelita had told her that humid July weekend, winking at Mercedes as she kneaded the dough, her hands and wrists paled by corn flour. “Para asegurarnos 18
de que tengamos lo que necesitamos.” The angel at the foot of Mercedes's bed two nights before had not looked like her abuelita's angels—nor like the merciful and stern angels in the stained glass windows of Mamá's church, nor the brooding, glowering ones that had been tattooed on the forearms of an ex-boyfriend from the mid-'80s. The thing in her room had appeared more like a star in one of those smoky-looking galaxies, a bright light with bare suggestions of shade to serve as facial features surrounded by an ever-shifting veil of voluminous, twinkling mist. Mercedes couldn't know for sure, but felt from the voice that it had been a female; the sound was like shards of glass tinkling amidst a thousand children whispering the same words at once, so soft and smooth, yet also so thunderous. It comforted Mercedes, though she couldn't pinpoint why. When the angel's voice had cracked through the darkness of her bedroom, Mercedes opened her eyes, her entire body rigid. The room had been shining like dawn, lit up like it was aflame, but everything dropped into Mercedes's periphery as her vision fish-eyed on the presence before her. “Mercedes.” Her hands, she remembered now, had felt as if the joints were about to pop apart, as if the pressure in the room had been increased, and she had felt a large weight balanced perfectly atop her sternum. In spite of herself, Mercedes's mind had wandered vividly to the brightly-painted spinning tops she played with as a child on Abuelita's tile kitchen floor. She had slowly looked down to the foot of her bed—George was still snoring; how had he not heard that voice?—at whatever was hovering just before the dresser. Despite the brightness, Mercedes hadn't squinted or covered her eyes, as if the light filling her vision had been a different kind than she was used to: purer than fluorescent, less harsh than sunlight, whiter than anything Mercedes had ever seen. The mirror on top of the dresser had reflected the immense brilliance of the angel—an angel was the closest thing Mercedes could think of, but she really had no idea what the figure at the foot of her bed had been—further intensifying the light and completely 19
blinding Mercedes to the familiar details of her bedroom. “Vos creés que has perdido a Daniel, pero no es así.” Mercedes had slowly moved her hand under the covers until she had reached her soft thigh. This cannot be real, she had thought, alarm and awe pounding in her ears. Mercedes had gripped the skin of her thigh between two fingers and twisted until the pain made her let go. “Este no es un sueño, Mercedes.” Eyes still fixed on the angel, Mercedes had meant to answer, to ask what the angel knew of her son, but all that had come out was a grunted sigh. “Busque en el ático. Dios te llevará a Daniel.” Mercedes had started to nod, willing her limp tongue to answer, to ask what the angel meant, but the room had gone dark again before Mercedes could form any words. As her eyes had adjusted to the darkness, the groan of the central air and the sounds of the road outside hesitantly returning to her, she had filled and emptied her lungs several times in large gasps, every muscle tense and tingling, a strange stillness filling in the room. Electric echoes of the angel and her voice vibrated in Mercedes's mind as her breathing slowed, even as she tried to conjure thoughts, her eyes wide and searching among the gaping nighttime shadows, and though she had found that she could finally speak, the words came out as a hoarse whisper: “What the hell was that?” Mercedes now took a deep breath and clucked her tongue against the roof of her mouth. That first night, after the angel had vanished, Mercedes had lain in bed for only a moment before an image had popped into her head: George's family Bible, handed down since before his family came over from Europe a few generations ago, sitting in a box in a cramped, dusty room that she had recognized as her attic. George used to tell her that he thought he had forgotten to get that same box when he moved out—she had looked once, when she was already up there getting spare blankets for a houseguest, but she hadn't tried too hard in the interest of time—and he had stopped mentioning it after a year or so, chalking it up as a casualty of the moving company. But 20
if it is up there, Mercedes thought, at least I'll have something. She pictured her own script in the family tree inside the front coverâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;a tradition, apparentlyâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;smooth cursive rising and falling to spell out Daniel's full name, added after he was born. At least it'll be something, Mercedes thought, swallowing against the tight dryness creeping through her throat. After hearing George's snore shift into the tattered, growling gasp and exhale of deep sleep, Mercedes lifted the blanket and sheet off of her. The crisp night air snuck down to her bare toes and Mercedes felt a shiver run down her spine. Better go now, she thought. No reason to wait any longer. She lifted her legs as softly as she could and grimaced when the bed springs groaned beneath her as she rotated on her hip and slid her feet over the side of the bed and into her slippers. As she stood, reaching for the flannel robe with grit on it from the last two nights of searching in the attic, she thought of the only cluster of boxes left upstairs that she hadn't already searched through. It has to be there, Mercedes thought. That's the only place left. That has to be it. The past two nights, Mercedes had barely felt the need to sleep. She had been filled with a giddy energy, as if she was on the cusp of some large event that she had been waiting for her whole life. She'd been upbeat at work the past two days, joking with the patients and other nurses for the first time since the accident, even when she knew she should have been falling asleep standing up, even though her stomach felt tense and tight. Tonight, though, that trembling, anxious ball in her gut had a scalpel's edge to it, and she wondered, as her fingertips grazed the smooth bulb of her bedroom's door knob, if that change had anything to do with how this last night of her task would go. It's just nerves, she thought. Either that or it's the feeling of me going crazy. As she stepped into the hallway and gently closed the bedroom door behind her, an image of the angel popped into her mind and she felt her stomach somersault. Mercedes gritted her teeth as she stepped quietly down the hall, softly approaching the attic door. I'll know by morning. Standing in the hallway in front of the open attic door, the 21
stairs looming tapered and gloomy before her, Mercedes heard a noise from the bedroom and froze, every muscle flexed and solid, eyes wide. George, she thought, an acute copper taste filling her suddenly dry mouth. I must have woken him. She thought of how she must look: hair unwashed and standing on end from laying on her pillow, dark circles under her eyes, wearing a filthy robe and slippers, slouched in the shadows at the bottom of the attic stairs. And how would she explain herself if George were to emerge? Tell him about the apparition—the room ablaze with light, her inability to speak, the deafening multitudes of that tender voice, all while he slept soundly in the same room—which she already knew he wouldn't believe. 'An angel?' he'd say, taking her hand. 'Are you feeling okay?' Mercedes flushed hot in the darkness as she thought about advancing into the stairway, out of sight if he were to open the bedroom door, and holding her breath, creeping up the attic stairs to the task at hand. Mercedes strained to hear anything else coming from the bedroom, her body aching from staying still so long, but the first noise was never followed, and she knew George was heavy enough to make the floorboards creak when he crossed the room. She paused, her eyes swinging from the bedroom door to the stairs in front of her, and tried to relax her shoulders, one hand resting on the loose wooden banister. Her heart was beating so quickly that it fluttered, never quite settling into a rhythm, just swinging around in her chest and knocking everything else into an unsteady, careening dance, like the movement of the mobile that had hung above Daniel's crib when he was an infant. Before Mercedes could stop herself, other objects tied to Daniel arose in her mind: the bright crayon drawing from his kindergarten class that she had found the night before, the one of Mercedes, Daniel and George in front of their old house; the striped ceramic mug Daniel had made her in middle school that was too bulky and heavy to be practical, but which she still kept in the china cabinet, just beside Abuelita's tea saucers; Daniel's motorcycle in the spot where he used to park it in the driveway—his helmet hanging from the handlebars—despite Mamá's protests about oil stains; the few 22
scraps of paper with jotted recipes meant for the cookbook that Daniel had been asking Mercedes to make for years, an album of all the meals from his childhood, the empanadas and cranberryraisin bread and barbacoa, all the foods they would eat together as Daniel grew up, the foods that had brought them each to the table to share what was happening in their lives, foods that Mercedes had been unable to even consider cooking for almost six months now; those tattered fake roses, now faded to the lavender and peach of the wide New Mexico sunset, flailing in the wind at the base of the marker where Daniel had finally landed, broken, on the median; and the Bible that Mercedes now searched for, the leather cover worn soft and thin by travel and time, and inside, the stories of holy bloodlines that her mother used to tell her when she was a child. Mercedes thought back to when she wrote Daniel's name in the front cover, her neat cursive handwriting, the ink so dark and sharp beside the decaying list of other names, some of them now illegible, already gone. Her trembling fist clenched the wooden banister as she squeezed her eyes shut against the burn of moisture. It has to be up there, Mercedes thought. I have to find it tonight. She opened her eyes and looked up the stairs into the heavy darkness of the attic, sighed and pushed her knuckles along her cheeks. Dios te llevará a Daniel. Please, Mercedes thought, evoking the angel's muted face and the murmuring legions of her voice, please let it be there. She imagined Daniel's bright laughter, the winking gleam of the memorial marker on the highway, and the cluster of boxes in the corner of the attic that she hadn't yet searched—the only ones left. “You sent me this far,” she whispered. “Let me find him tonight.” With that, Mercedes straightened her back, tightened her grip on the unsteady wooden rail that led to the attic, and stepped into the deep, cavernous shadows of the narrow little stairway.
Paul McCartney Retrospective Giuseppi Martino Buonaiuto
Don’t let it not be said, That nothing chipped off his father’s block, The father who played In ragtime and jazz bands, In Liverpool, England. Sir James Paul McCartney, MBE, and According to “another clue for you all” Compliments of Glass Onion: “The walrus was Paul.” But I digress. Sir Paul, erstwhile Beatle, Certainly had the ear-for-music gene, Percolating through his spiral double helix. And the clever linguistics gene as well, Lyrics seemingly crafted in an earlier era, Back when fine-tuning & finesse, Ruled bouts of social chitchat. When men could sing when they spoke. The music of the spoken word: Homeric and magical, Casting spells upon us. Like English scops: Medieval Minstrels, Jugglers & Clowns, Who memorized and recited long heroic poems And stories. Usually both. The music of the spoken word; The magic of an aural experience; Back before those words conjured up oral experience, “You are correct, Sir!” mouths Johnny’s sidekick, Back before mouth-on sex crossed over to the Straight Population. Back before Gordon Gekko/Liberace Blamed his oral cancer on cunnilingus, No. Not Colonel Angus. 24
Think Cole Porter— Sophisticated, bawdy lyrics, Clever rhymes, complex misdemeanors. Think Tin Pan Alley. Cole Porter—a Yale graduate by the way, Demonstrating another critically-important genetic fact of life: The gift of Ivy-League DNA. But, again, I digress. Paul was the happy Beatle, Not to be confused with John, the serious Beatle, or George, the quiet Beatle. Not to mention Ringo, the utterly extraneous Beatle. Let’s map their social dynamics of the band. Let us scrutinize that famous mop-top barbershop quartet. Immediately we comprehend the creative tension, Centered largely on that giant clash of personalities: Paul vs. John. The surprise is not that the Beatles broke up. It’s more a sense of unsuspended disbelief, That this particular band, Ever got it together to show up for a gig, Let alone last long enough to record their first album, And go on to become the first (Can we forget Elvis for a moment, please?) Truly viral sensations of this earth, this realm, this England: Pop stars of the Nineteen-Sixties. John vs. Paul: For every “Strawberry Fields Forever,” There’s a “Lovely Rita, Meter Maid.”
The Big Diehls, an excerpt Merrill Printz
Chapter One: A Winding Road She drives, Star Wells does, thinking, and writing songs in her head, while struggling against the vibrational influences of the young ex-soldier, Derek Diehl, asleep beside her. Look at him. His forehead must be numb against the window glass but the zees just keep rolling out of his mouth: zee zaw, buzz saw. Oh, Star, I wanna drive. No, listen to me, dear Derek: This van is mine, mine, mine. I drive, my van: Wah, wah, wah: Tic, tac, tin, jealousy is a sin. Her undisciplined thoughts, usually affected by everything around her, spill over into her unformed plans for Derek and mix with memories, desires, fears, hopes, theories, wishes, stories she has to remember the facts of, and the lyrics of songs she didn’t write, such as Who Wrote the Book of Love: I wonder who who who / I wonder when when when / I wonder how how how / I can use him in a song. Impossible. Nothing works. Don’t even want to do it anymore. He rolls his head, repositioning it against the back of the seat. The weak sniveling coward, snoring now, nostrils flapping like that moose swimming a lake I once saw on a post card. He groans. That is Derek does, not the moose. Whines. Oh, a little innocent deer after all. After all he told me. What if I pretend I love him? Love in love with love / I drive along, with my love beside me / two fingers in a glove. No. Playing on a drum. No. Two wings of a dove. I ride side by side with Derek, the littlest deal of the Big Diehls, as he calls himself, warrior returned from the war. None of that rhymes: war, lore, love oh love, up above. Look little girl, give it a whirl, the mountains are coming up now. For a child of the plains they inspire music, with the sun dropping fast, making the sky explode with pink. A huge flower. She looks at Derek, thinking: look at the soldier boy. Better turn the lights on, it’s getting dark. Chasing the sun and losing the race, oh it’s gone already, a few spears of golden light shooting above the high 26
peaks, mounds like breasts. They kind of look like blue breasts. She feels hers with her left hand, firm, not too big, nice for a girl, not blue, though. It would be nice to have blue ones. Who else could be blue there? Krishna with his blue face. He’s a man, though, and not what I mean. Though he is her favorite avatar. But what about women? Ha, Gaia. She’s more than a man, she’s a goddess. Is she blue? Star looks up and out the windshield above her headlights. I don’t know, I can’t see her. The sky is dark, the mountains gone. “Men don’t know anything,” she says out loud. “They know how to kill. That’s all.” “Uhhh.” A sound like a mouth-snore, a man snore, comes to her right ear: “Starrrr-r-r-r?” She feels Derek roll his head. “You awake now?” Her eyes swing just enough to see his white hair, the bleached Marine buzz cut, then back to the road, a broken white line reaching beyond the glow of the yellow headlight beams, stabbing backwards over the blue highway. Look out, little girl. Look out, Star Wells. Who do you think you are? “No.” He’s always contrary. “That’s what I thought.” “Where are we?” “Coming up on the mountains.” “Oh, God, home sweet home.” He leans forward, hand on the dash. That wrist tattoo of a rose is fading before my eyes. “I can’t see them.” “Take my word for it. They’re gone now. But they are there. Feel the engine straining?” “Oh yeah. Old piece a’ junk.” “Don’t badmouth my van. It’s been good to you, buddy-bo.” Derek laughs, an evil laugh. “Yeah, goo-ood.” You little boy. Her cheeks burn, remembering the last time he laughed like that. Nebraska, Scenic Point at night, no one around. There’s no scenery here, he said, her pants down around her ankles, knees up. He, head cranked around, looking out the wide open back doors at the wide open vista. Come here, she said, voice from deep 27
in her throat. Will she do anything? Yes. She’s so nervous. She won’t take drugs though. Who do you think you are, Janice? She has to find out so she can tell Amanda. “Don’t forget. We were talking about the history class you went to, just after you joined the Guard, where they told you about the cradle of civilization. How we’re descended from the people there.” “The instructor said modern life began by the Tiger and Fraidies River.” “That’s what he called them?” “Yeah. All kinds of people mumbling in different languages, he said. But I didn’t see any baby beds, I only saw sand.” He clears his throat and then yawns again before continuing, the words falling out of the cavern of his mouth like boulders tipped off a cliff: “That’s because the smart folks got out of the heat as fast as they could, Dad told me once. Hell, he said even the cockroaches get fried there in the summertime.” The word “cockroaches” makes her look at Derek. She spaces out, still thinking about the word “dad.” Tears well in her eyes. She blinks to dry them before he sees. He’s not looking, anyway. “You were going to tell me more about your dad.” She squeaks the word dad while she yanks the wheel. Gravel clicks against the oil pan, a burst from a machine gun, like in those movies he watches on his computer. “Shit.” “What shit?” “Come on.” She gives him an innocent look. “Your dad.” A firm d-a-d. She narrows her eyes at the road as if the whirling blacktop holds all the mystery of her dad. My heart hurts. “Wait. Listen. When I was dozing, I had a dream about a river. Not the Fraidies, but I tried to jump in but I couldn’t land and the water just kept rushing by. Scared the shit outta me.” She wishes she could have a dream like that, vivid, with water in it. “Really? Wow, that’s a good dream.” The description of his dream induces in her, for perhaps the first time since she met him, a surge of affection for Derek. She actually shivers but then thinks she might just be feeling guilt. She 28
was raised Catholic by her adoptive parents. Strict Catholic. “What a dream, Star Wells,” she says aloud, thinking of how she met Derek. A plan she made that actually worked. Volunteering, miss, can certainly be good for your résumé, the Red Cross supervisor said. “What?” “I said, you imagined a good dream, there, Derek. Dreams are presents from God.” “I didn’t imagine it, I had it. Shoot. We don’t need God. What I call a good dream is a dream where you wake up and someone has breakfast ready.” He slides closer to her on the seat and puts his hand on her shoulder. “And I don’t see nothing cooking here.” Her affection for him flies out the window, still closed though it is, but she doesn’t say anything. Glancing at the worms of his fingers, she tries to think of something pleasant. “Did your dad ever fix breakfast for you?” His palm slips back and forth on her shoulder. Don’t drop it any lower, buddy. “No,” he says, “I lived with my mother. I told you that.” I told you, I told you. I hate that. His hand falls but it hovers somewhere beyond the electric field of her chest. She holds her breath but can’t help talking, if only to keep from thinking. “I feel the ghost of my father everywhere, you know, I told you about him. Sometimes it seems like he has his hand on my shoulder, pushing me this way and that. But he won’t tell me anything in so many words. It’s like you described the air just before the battles over in the Rack. The murmuring of people alive and dead.” “Your dad is dead? You didn’t tell me that.” “No. Yes. I don’t know.” She stammers. His body moves, his head slowly rolling back to where it sits approximately on his neck and his shoulders, which square themselves against the back of the van seat. He looks at her. I better be careful. She feels her body shrink. His left arm vibrates, shaking the cuff of the sleeve of his green fatigue jacket down over his wrist, covering up his rose. A curve in the road turns the 29
van directly west again. The moon moves behind them like one of those trailers falling into line in the truck driver movies she has been watching for the last year. Derek yawns and stretches, kicking one of the empty soft drink containers on the floor. She has no idea how much of what she says he hears. “Boo.” “What?” He glances with drooping eyelids at her. “Jesus, Frank Diehl.” His head shakes. His mood suddenly brightening, he continues talking: “I love talking about him. Once he took me on one of his trips. We had breakfast at a truck stop. Everybody said ‘Hi Frank,’ to him. And ‘Hi kid,’ to me. God, let’s stop at the next truck stop and have hash browns and scrambled eggs for supper.” He bounces up and down on the seat, his hand dropping down and flopping near her rump. The hand moves closer, slipping up over the buckle of the seat belt, prodding her thigh. “Want to?” She slaps at his hand. “Keep away from the merchandise.” Turning, she smiles what she knows is a phony smile at him. He grins and moves closer to her, nuzzling her hair and putting his right hand full over her breast, which, with Star-type daring and deliberateness because the girl beside Derek is not really her, stands bare under her T-shirt. She flinches but doesn’t knock his hand off. “You asked me about Dad. I’ll tell you all about him over a cup of coffee, if you want.” His lips move down and open over the bone at the top of her shoulder. She feels the warmth through the thin cloth. It does not repulse her. He mumbles into her flesh: “He’s a pistol.” He’s a killer, Janice, her dead father shouts at her over the roar of the van engine. She doesn’t make Derek stop. He twirls the palm around the end of her nipple, stiff in spite of herself. She tries to make it soften by exerting her will but it doesn’t work. He cups the breast, the right breast, the one he seems to prefer, with his hand. His voice sounds far away. “I’ve admired him ever since I was a child.” “You’re still a child.” “Maybe I’ll still look up to him.” 30
“If you’re going to look up, look up there.” Her stomach actually growls. She raises one finger of her other hand, the one gripping the steering wheel, and points. The van wanders toward the shoulder. A quarter-mile away, a huge model of a covered wagon stands on top of a pole thirty feet high, its sign lit up with floodlights. Four merry-go-round horses seem to pull it across the sky. “Oh, boy. Chuck Wagon Chow. My dad’s favorite restaurant.” Derek drops his hand. His jaw opens, eyes fixated on the swaying ponies. He rolls down his window and sticks his head out into the wind. “Maybe he’s in th—e—r-r-e,” he yells. I hope not. I’m not ready for him yet. She hears a warning blowing in the wind, a high-pitched voice: Hide, little child, hide, hide, hide. The van skids when she presses her foot on the brake. Derek pulls his head in. “Hey, watch it,” he says. “I was only kidding.”They come to a stop under a pole light in the middle of the parking lot and sit for a moment. She closes her eyes. She turns the engine off. “I can’t,” she whispers, ignoring Derek. “I can’t do it.” Yes you can, her dad says, her mind vibrating: maybe I’m dreaming even though I haven’t been able to sleep more than five minutes at a time since I met Derek. Not that you don’t trust him, Janice, you just keep thinking about where he came from, your mind a whirlpool unless you’re driving, which is not a good time to sleep. Δ Chapter Two: Daywreck Derek. Derrick. Daywreck. Drik. Drek. Drip. Drop. Derek. Boy, is my mind stuck. I can think of nothing but how I don’t like to think of Derek. Maybe if she pretended he was different, she could keep from insulting him all the time. He is really a sweet boy, though he bores her. But I need him. Oh I nee-eed you, baby/ Come to me to-oo-ni-ight. No, the problem is he is here tonight and she can’t get her mind to focus on what she is here for. She listens intently to her mind: losing all track of time passing and miles covered and 31
towns gone through. I like to drive, but not at night. I like to sing, but not at night. I like to look in the mirror, but not at night. Oh, my eyes are in there. Do they reveal anything? He’s not looking, anyway. He’s looking at the side of the road. What’s there, now? He doesn’t say anything though she senses he is thinking some kind of scattered thoughts. They go over a bridge, down a long straight stretch, past a bar, all lit up, a roadhouse, then onto a dark carpet into a town. Where are we? A sign. He sits up straight but still doesn’t say anything. Twelve something. She misses it. A two word town. Da-da-da-dee. She breaks into song. “The dull yellow lights / of another to-own / a town with two words in the name.” Yes, I do think I have a nice voice. Has Derek ever said so. No. “Why are you singing everything?” “I don’t know. Just bored, I guess.” He finally says something. “Well, get ready for some excitement.” He leans forward in the seat. “Turn right up here in about a quarter mile. Main Street.” She looks at the tension of his body. He is excited. She listens to see if she can hear her father saying anything but she hears nothing. Not even any wind blowing outside. A dead calm, as they say. This is something, Star. Get ready. Another sign. “Twelve Pines? That’s the name of your town?” “It’s not my town. It’s my dad’s.” My dad’s, my dad’s. Her heart starts to gallop, so fast she can feel her head trying to fly off on its own. Get a grip, girl. She grasps the wheel tighter and tightens her jaw muscles. “It’s named after the twelve trees they hung twelve Indians on.” “You mean hanged?” “Yeah.” She expels all her air, the horror of the thought making her laugh with a ridiculous response opposite to what she feels. “You’re kidding. Men or women?” She is desperate to learn none of them were women. “All men.” “Good.” She sees the twelve Indians in her head, swinging 32
from the branches of twelve trees. She bears down on the thought: I wish one of them had been Derek’s dad. Hang him twelve times. That might do it. Frank Diehl. But he’s not an Indian. “1897.” “Why did they hang them?” “I forget.” “And they named this town after the trees?” “Yeah.” “And you were born here?” “No, but my dad was.” He laughs again, his evil laugh. “I was born in Minnesota, where my mom went to get away from my dad.” “Great. Why didn’t you tell me any of this before now.” “I didn’t want to scare you.” A dark town. It just feels dark. It feels like it’s right on the edge of something. She wants to scream, but doesn’t. She looks for light. There are two bars, one on each side of the street. A group of cars in front of each. The rest of the town is closed. She sees herself in the glass, sitting straight and stiff. I can see myself. My hair looks lighter than usual. My red stripe stands out. No nooses in the windows. Nooses for Sale. Hang Your Own Indians. Clothing stores. Cowboy boots, cowboy hats. A gun store. A restaurant, closed. A red light. She stops. “Drive down to the river,” Derek says. She steps on the gas. He yells. “I mean after the light changes.” A siren whoops, a screaming bird. She looks in the side mirror. Where did that cop come from? She didn’t see him. She stops in the middle of the street. “Get over, get over, get over.” Derek yells. The cop gestures at her. What’s the difference? There’s no traffic. She pulls off and parks diagonally, straddling one of the lines pointing to a book store. Robert’s Book Store. Waiting for the cop, she studies the covers: Encyclopedia of Ordinary Life by Amy something Rosenthal. Hello, ordinary life. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. She understands magical thinking, in a certain sense. Extremely Loud and Extremely Close by Jonathan something. Those look good. Sound like my life. The 33
cop pulls closer and almost touches her rear bumper. She rolls down her window. He walks toward her. A handsome boy, man, I should say, blondish hair, young enough for me, only a little older than Derek. He holds a clipboard in his hands. She looks at his fingernails. Nice manicure. No tattoos. A smooth vibration as he steps closer. “Do you know why I stopped you, miss?” Miss, miss? “You didn’t stop me. I stopped me.” “Can you show me your license and registration, please?” “Sure. I have them right here. In my purse. In back of the seat.” I can’t reach it. “Can’t you step out of the vehicle and get them for me?” She gets out, glad she changed into her little skirt back at the last restroom. Getting ready for the men. Since she has her cowboy boots on, this man is only about two inches taller than her. Look at his shoulders, Janice. Pretty broad, not that she likes muscle men, but his uniform is neat. Well pressed. No wrinkles. His ears are the right size. She hates big ears. Derek. She reaches behind the seat for her purse. Wow, it’s heavy. She slips her hand in and takes out her wallet, holding the flaps close, fumbles a little. His eyes examine me. Checking out the red streak in her hair then down to hold her eyes. A twinkle, crinkling eyelids. His eyes are blue too, but maybe a bit dark. Down they go. They crawl up. She has no stockings on. The insides of her thighs tingle. “Yes, deputy.” She hands him her license but the registration is not there. “Here, deputy.” It takes awhile but he looks up, in slow motion takes the license. He studies the picture. He must be thinking, what a pretty girl. It is Janice’s picture but he looks back at Star’s face and smiles. He holds her eyes. “Star,” he says. “I mean, Miss Wells. Star Wells.” “Yes.” “Indiana.” “Yes.” “All right, Miss Wells. Next time you’re at a red light in Montana, wait for it to change to green before you go.” He forgets 34
the registration. Good thing. It still has Janice’s name on it. “Yes, officer.” He has his citation booklet in his hand and a pen in the other. Oh, please, please don’t give me a ticket. No wedding ring. In order to let him hear her good voice again, she asks, her tone mellow: “Do you know where Mister Ronald Diehl lives?” “Ronald? You know Ronald?” “Yes. He’s—his.” She nods toward Derek. “Grandfather.” The deputy looks at Derek. Eyes a little bit wider. “Sure. I was just out there today. A really nice man.” “I know where it is,” Derek says. “Yeah, it’s back the other way. You turn around and go back down to the highway, then straight across and go till you hit Marcus. East to Daly. Right on Daly, which is the only way you can go. You have the address?” “Yes.” He slips his citation booklet into his rear pocket. No ticket. “Say hello to Ronald.” “Who shall I say?” Oh so coy. He stops, half-turned, then turns back toward her. His nametag says: Morrissey. “Tell him Bob. Bob said hello.” “Thank you, Bob.” She watches Bob walk away. It’s not only men that watch women’s rear ends as they walk. Nice legs. Good carriage. Derek, sulking about Bob, tells her to turn around and drive the way Bob told her to drive, a hurt tone in his voice.
The sergeant walks gingerly along the line of troops, helmet heads lying low in holes, blades of grass tickling their chinstraps. She passes out earplugs and they place them in their pockets, to mound, unused, in a hapless pile in an apartment at home. â&#x20AC;&#x153;I want to hear it, undampened,â&#x20AC;? one thinks as the symphony begins. The music is all crackling and whizzing hums, building at the start with him adding to it the sputtering voice of his instrument; then the harmonious shouting, the passing on of distant orders; undercut still by a cacophony of roaring motors and dull explosions; the soprano solos of shrieking artillery shells and their overwhelming percussion; the tremolo of exhausted soldiers standing and fading to the triumphant conclusion. And at home, when he gets back to bed, her tacit whisper fails on deafened ears, au contraire to her head hitting the baseboard with the quasi-cadence of a marching band.
When I was a child, the world changed from blue to grey overnight, leaving the quiet residue of morning like a cloak over my eyelids. In the spaces behind the patient paneling that draped its wooden arms about my youthful shouldersâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; in those feathery years, I grew and grew and somewhere along the way, the dewdrops gathered upon my cheekbones like little fingers easing me forward as misty eyes looked back into mine, as if to say that no one knows why the sun rises, only that it rises and that its rising is enough. Through the plastic ribs of the window frame, the pale sunlight would stream past the curtain and paint streaked triptych patterns over my body before I would open my eyes to meet the morning. In that thicklidded thicket of lights and blearing noises, the sun awoke from its sleep and rose to its summit and then it never seemed to rise again. Helios never again careened his chariot through the ocean skyâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;somewhere in that darkness someone replaced those equine bearers with a smoldering globe of incandescent gasses, born across by the rotation of the Earth. If this history could be stretched as a string, I could stand at both ends and traverse its length again to find the moment I missed: the line that someone bent into the curve of a punctured lung, breathing but steadily deflating. Somewhere, the thoughts of a child wilted, and the petals drifted from their stem.
Dead Months Benjamin Blake
The City lies in hibernation Its breathing the rise and fall in elevator shafts Moans in its slumber rattle through copper pipes Resting behind thin plaster walls It exhales in clumps of steam Through the mouths of sewer grates Smeared with dirty snow around the lips The buildings dissipate into a thick mist Lost She sits in an unvarnished wooden chair And stares out at the rain-blurred view numbly Her only company the patter of tiny brown droplets Falling into a chipped pot Mutters to herself, wishing her car would still start Meanwhile, across town A coffee mug takes flight, then shatters against the southern wall The tenantâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s argument upstaging the soap opera Blaring through the crackle and hiss of television speakers Her face is painted a dozen different shades of blue A pitiful portrait of a miserable mistake Cab driver swung a wrong turn again A satellite spun another tall tale to the cracking GPS The leaking styrofoam coffee cup just stares dumbly from the dash His mind's a clutter of storm warnings and strip malls Life's a blur of slow nights and snow falls Cab driver, he knows you can't evade the Ferryman's fare The streets fill with drifts and abandoned dreams, Goodbyes frozen in time that will never completely thaw Love letter obituaries stuck tight to lamp posts, 38
Next to copies of missing children and lost puppies The City is God, and every night we murmur barely-audible prayers in hope for something more Bible verses spill and pour from machines in the paperwork cathedral Citizens slow-march down Main Street each and every mourning The Mayor leads the solemn procession Thurible swings between his holy hands The glass and stone will offer us salvation If only we keep orthodox Tomorrow she will still sit in inertia And make lists of places she would like to go but never will Across town, he's ran out of cups and mugs to throw So he lobs her Grandmother's porcelain vase Tones of red are being coated over the blue The telephone is soliciting, but will never be picked up When the sun rises as a soft glow on the horizon The cabbie's car will be crawling its way home A lonesome yellow beacon, ringing in the new day He will get back to his all too cheap apartment And pour himself a warm drink with stiff hands Passing out on the piss-stained sofa before 9AM The City is God, and we are the faithful Blind and forgotten
The Freshet Run David Cooper
Jonas peered into April’s sharp morning dark, beyond the lumberyard’s jetty, where sunlight would soon draw the wild and white lines of the Susquehanna’s melt-swollen freshet. Its unrelenting growl foretold a hard run. Saying so to Zeke would do little good. River’s noise never rose above a cooing in the old raft pilot’s ears. Sixteen years and Jonas had never questioned if Zeke could handle spring’s high water, but something didn’t feel right. "They’re holdin us up," Zeke said, his words invoking predawn’s purple glow. "Lumbermen should've finished yesterday." Jonas shivered. "Read in The Pioneer Old Man Eloquent's gonna build us some canals. Think it'll happen?" Zeke tugged the matted gray beard covering much of his leathered, wind-burned face. "Not in my time. John Quincy likes to prattle." "They started one north of Marietta." Zeke shrugged. “We still bringin on Garber’s son?” “He ain’t here?” Zeke shook his head. “Don’t like takin on first-timers when the water’s this high.” “Took me on that way.” “Can’t remember that far back.” Zeke smirked in a taunting yet prideful sort of way. “Now look at you. Steersman and all.” Jonas spat. “Garber needs the money to keep his farm.” “Shouldn’t have bought that land. Rocky and steep as a mare’s ass.” Jonas pointed at a lanky boy plodding through a sootladen mist. “That him? Garber’s boy?” “Yep. Daniel.” “Christ.” The lumberyard din—mill saws, hammering, cussing— grew with the morning light. The yard's foreman tapped a brander's shoulder and 40
pointed to a missed log. Lines deepened on the brander's face, yet he pressed his iron against the wood without making his thoughts known. Jonas didn't recognize the mark seared into the raft’s white pine, but the freshet brought so much wood down the Susquehanna even the best-run lumberyards couldn’t keep it straight. The foreman handed Zeke a receipt. "Make sure you pass this to the next pilot. You put me in a bind last time." Zeke nodded and shoved the slip into his gray wool pants. Rough hemp ropes moored the wide raft to slanted pylons, and the twisted dirt-brown fibers groaned when Jonas boarded. Good raft-building lumbermen hewed the downriver logs' ends to points, the sharper the better the raft handled, especially ones of this size. A glance told Jonas these lumbermen were not of the good variety, but a few ax swings helped quiet the voice bitching in his head, the voice of a young Zeke still teaching Jonas the river’s ways. He inspected the wood pegs and cross members holding together the raft, either pounding a peg soundly with the back of the ax head or nodding before moving to the next. A good soaking swelled and locked loose pegs into place, but not until well into a run—plenty of time for a raft to break apart. He wanted his pegs snug. Zeke stepped close to Jonas and asked, "How's seven dollars and fifty cents sound?" Tools clanked when Zeke dropped his bear-hide bag onto the raft. “Gives us seventy-five cents a man.” “If that’s what they’re payin, don’t have much choice.” Zeke cupped his hands around his mouth and belted the day's first command. "Grab the spars, boys. We're puttin in before the rats upriver beat us to the islands.” A beard-scratching, suspender-tugging gaggle took to the raft and found their places. Zeke’s words, “Tie her loose,” crossed the raft in white puffs. The crew heaved the raft free of the bank. Logs grumbled 41
against the stony bottom. The Susquehanna rolled so quickly beyond the yard's jetty a tongue ran a foot above still water, as high as the raft's deck. "Here it comes, boys," Zeke yelled. The men grunted with their last shove and dropped spars. Four took to the forward oar and four stern. Soggy twenty-foot poles pivoting through iron rings and ending with faces the size of grown hogs demanded no less than four. Jonas shouldered among the forward oarsmen and pushed down on the oar handle. "Get them faces high." The bow thumped over the tongue's edge and into the current making the raft buck. A gust slapped their faces. The less experienced reached for their hats. The Susquehanna spread a mile wide at Columbia, but freshet-hidden granite shelves known only to local rivermen choked traffic into a narrow path of deep water. Some days, steersmen had to drag oars while pilots argued right-of-ways. "No rafts from here to the islands." Zeke straddled three logs at the front riding bent-kneed. He often told Jonas this gave him a feel for the raftâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s wedding the river. The sun crested the east hills promising a touch of warmth for later in the day. Jonas shielded his eyes and peered upstream. "Couple'a arks and a raft behind us." Zeke pointed into the water with his right hand. "Starboard. Good and gentle." Jonas left the stern oar and moved to the raft's center where he could call easily to the front and back. "Two strokes at the stern. Let up on the bow." Boot heels dug into the logs, brows furrowed, and sweat pushed through cold-constricted pores. The raft drifted to starboard gaining speed. Zeke made a fist with his pointing hand. Jonas yelled, "Keep us straight at stern." The men lifted the oar's face from the water with a heavy lean, aligned it with the raft's center, and dropped it back into the flow. Jonas liked using the stern oar as a rudder in a smooth 42
current to save the oarsmen’s strength. Tritt’s Islands’ five finger-shaped hunks of earth, surrounded by freshet-covered boulders, funneled rafts like cattle fences. The boulders rested low and quiet ready to tear into unfortunates missing the narrow passes. Zeke tugged up his britches. The raft slipped into morning shade cast by the skeletal trees of Tritt’s two largest islands. Jonas bobbed his way to the front, absorbing the raft's rocking with his knees. Townies called it the river man's walk. "Gimme plenty of warnin when it gets tight. She's a sleepy mule." Zeke loaded his pipe. "Current's fast. Do my best." Jonas couldn’t recall Zeke without a white-clay penny pipe sticking like a chimney from his beard. The old pilot said it helped him think, even if he only gnawed at it and got an unlittobacco whiff when he couldn’t keep it going on account of the spray. He used his pipe to point at Turkey Hill, a tree-dressed boil rising above the Lancaster shore. “Don’t quite look as big from here.” You seen that a thousand times, Jonas thought. “Ledge comin up, Zeke.” Not a good time to be lookin around, neither. Turkey Hill’s long rock toe tested the water. The freshet swelled over it, rolled downwards into a hole, and cycled back onto itself making a chest-high cresting wave. Zeke sent the raft around the white water putting them mid-river but not without the bow slicing the foam head from a secondary hydraulic and washing the men's leather boots in ice water. Two steep hillsides pinched the river to half its width turning the water into a lumpy brown blanket billowing over a field of boulders. They needed to slip into a navigation channel blasters had cleared along the east shore back in ninety-eight. Jonas clenched his fists waiting for Zeke’s directions. What’s he waitin for? "More to port, Jonas." 43
"Sweep the bow." Jonas ran to the front oar, pushed between the men and helped pull. We ain’t gonna make the channel. Their log bundle headed for a wagon-sized boulder. Zeke bit his pipe stem. "We're takin to the starboard." Jonas fixed on the boulder rising from the water. The distance closed. If they had to hit, he wanted to head-on. "Stern oar to port! Hard and deep!" A grinding of bark from the starboard-most log sent vibrations through the rafters' boots shaking their guts. A deep hole hiding behind the boulder drew down the bow. The raft spun farther from the channel and sideways into the next swell. Zeke yelled, "Brace yourselves!" The men heaved retracting the oars through their iron rungs. Dropping flat, digging fingers and boot toes into whatever crevices they could find, the crew took root. Except for Daniel. The raft raced down the swell’s backside and smashed into a kneehigh hydraulic. Ice water washed the deck splashing over the prone men and stealing their breaths. Daniel tumbled toward white-froth. He rolled over an oarsman’s legs and knocked another’s sack into the water before Zeke latched a bear claw onto his arm. Jonas yelled, "Five men to stern!" The raft bucked and jerked, stuck in a violent gully formed by the swell's down-slope and the endless wave. "Get your spars. Find somethin to push against. You men, keep the oars in." Jonas had seen a hydraulic sink its teeth into an oar’s face and whip the handle-end around cracking a skull and breaking a leg, a lesson he didn’t want his crew to learn right then. The poles at stern found bottom, but the men couldn't overcome the rushing water pinning and hammering the raft. Zeke thumped two others on their shoulders. "Go help 'em!" A loud pop drew Jonas’ eyes to shifting logs under his feet. He heard the sound again, grabbed a pole, and stumbled to the stern edge. "Push! It's breakin up." The raft inched toward a swiftwater tongue squeezing between rocks. Jonas hoped the end logs 44
would catch letting the high water lift them from the hydraulic. Zeke pulled two heads to his mouth. "When Jonas gets us out, we're takin that oar," he pointed to the bow, "and gettin us there." He swept his arm to a driftwood and stone-covered beach. They nodded. An oarsman at the stern loosed the bawl of a wounded ox, and Jonas led the other six in a like-sounding chorus. Their strokes coaxed the bow into the tongue where its rushing water sank invisible hooks into thick pine and yanked. Two strong backs and Zeke slid the bow oar over the water. Feverish strokes and momentum from the current sent them rumbling through a rough-bottomed shallow to the beach. The crew stumbled from the raft rotating sore arms then roosted on rocks and logs in a bone garden of driftwood. Zeke took a seat and hung his head. Daniel collapsed onto a crackling thatch of white and brown sticks and stems from distances he would likely never travel. Jonas swooped eagle-like from the raft, seized fistfuls of Daniel’s soggy wool, and pressed down on his chest. "When you see we're hittin somethin sideways, boy, you drop! Understand me? You drop!" Daniel grunted and nodded with such vigor his body shook. “You say it, boy! You say it! Do you understand?” “I understand. I understand.” Jonas let go and kicked a spray of rocks into the river. He found a seat close but not too close to Daniel lest he fall to further temptation. “You really want to be here, son?” Zeke hadn’t raised his head since sitting. “No, sir.” “I didn’t either my first time out. Long time ago. Guess I gone clear around the bend and come back again.” So, there it is, Jonas thought. His heart just ain’t in it. He’ll get us killed. An ark drifted along the channel. A man yelled, "You all alright?" Old Man Hughes and his son Hiram leaned on the ark’s 45
wall surveying the calamity with the concerns of those knowing the river’s temperament. Pelts of all manner peaked from between burlap sacks piled on the ark’s deck. Jonas spat. This’ll embarrass Zeke. Maybe set him straight. Zeke waved and got back on the raft. "All fine. Hiram, you mindin your pa?" Hiram tipped his hat, and the ark dropped farther into the valley. Jonas, having sighed and kicked-away a good amount of his frustration, went to his pilot’s side. "Should've been an easy run through there." While digging damp tobacco from his pipe bowl, Zeke said, "Can't let the boys sit too long." Jonas mumbled curses and walked the fissures between logs looking for broken pegs. Finding two on the same row, he drew a length of hemp from his satchel and lashed the logs the broken pins had joined. Cattle slogging through mud to a milking moved faster than the oarsmen back to the raft. Zeke shooed them. "We'll hug the shore. Takes longer, but we’ll stay to the channel." No one acknowledged him. Only the pilot and steersman spoke for the next hour. The water's rushing sound and the wind filled the silences between barked orders—the louder the water, the faster they went and the more the cold air stung their ears. An oarsman, tired of hearing himself think, called to the stern, "Hey Luke, how's that itch?" Luke shifted from foot to foot. His face flushed. "Well, how bout it?" "I ain't got no itch." "Told ya she had bugs." “This is a gentleman’s raft,” Zeke said, “River hears that sort of talk, she’ll take you before the day’s out.” Daniel turned to Jonas. “Why’s the river a she?” Jonas chuckled. “You ain’t married.” A distant cry stiffened neck hairs. 46
"Sounds like a lamed horse," Daniel said. Amusement’s sparks left Jonas’ eyes. "Ain't no horse." The men peered ahead as if looking hard enough would push aside thick trees on McCall’s Island. Another cry similar to the first led to frantic shouting. "They're at Culley's Falls," Jonas said. Has to be Hughes. No one else ahead of us. Zeke nodded. The falls changed day-to-day. When the water ran high and fast, foaming hydraulics sprouted and died like magic cabbages. Even the most experienced pilot could choose a bad path, and Hughes knew the river as well as Zeke. A tied pelt-laden ark, men scattered on the fall's rocks, and a moose-of-an-oarsman holding down Old Man Hughes proved Jonas right. Hughes screamed into the cold rolling water. “Give him back, you bitch! Give me back my boy!” Zeke moved his pipe from one side of his mouth to the other, "He knows he ain’t getting him back." The rafters held their hats at their chests. The river’s growl rose into rumbles of maniacal laughter. Jonas sighed, "Put your hats on, boys. We're helpin." "Helpin with what?” Daniel pinched his hat brim to keep his hands from shaking. "Find Hughes' boy." Zeke propped his hands on his hips. "Gotta fetch Lebazier." Jonas locked eyes with his pilot and waited yet knew he wouldn't flinch. "Alright. I'll take the kid." Daniel pulled his hat tight over his ears. "Who's Lebazier?" "Best not to talk about him," said Jonas. They beached and tied the raft above the falls. The steersman took Daniel's sleeve, pulled him to the bank, and the two bound through a thicket onto a wagon road running along the river. Daniel scrambled to keep Jonas’ pace until pausing on a bridge fashioned from two elms decked with roughhewn pine. "Ain't this Muddy Run?" 47
Jonas glanced into a swift creek. "Yeah." "Peachbottom ain't far. Shouldn't we get help there?" "No. We need Lebazier." The rivermen left the road for a path along Muddy Run and climbed into the hills until they came upon a fieldstone wall. An elderly man lumbered in their direction cradling a hunk of sandstone between stubby arms, the knees of his bowed legs threatening to give with each step. "Two river rats and still morning." He dropped the stone and clapped dirt from his hands. "Don't know why I break my back on these fields. You rats give me plenty of business." Jonasâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; voice cracked a bit. "Lost a man in the falls, Mr. Lebazier." "Well, you ain't here to kiss my sister." Lebazier looked over his field and sighed. "Meet me at the barn." He ambled toward the hill's crest. Jonas led Daniel toward the hilltop but kept the field as a no-manâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s-land between them and Lebazier until he had no choice but to cut toward a plank barn made of more sunlight and breeze than wood. Lebazier had piled several powder horns and a sack of iron spikes near the door by the time the rafters got within spitting distance. "Who's the kid?" Lebazier asked. Jonas scowled while slinging powder horns across his shoulders. "Daniel, meet Mr. Lebazier." Lebazier tossed an iron auger the length of a man's leg at Daniel's feet. "Carry that, Daniel." "What's it for?" "We're gonna make some noise and do some persuadin." "Persuadin who?" Jonas nudged Daniel back toward the road. "The river. Stop your chatterin. Day's gettin old." "Who we lookin for?" asked Lebazier. "Hiram Hughes," said Jonas. "Damn." Lebazier picked at his lower jaw's two good teeth. "I always liked that boy." 48
Δ They bellied their ways through a mass of dormant yet fully barbed brambles to the riverbank where Zeke and Old Man Hughes had landed in a small flatbottom. Zeke offered a slight nod to Lebazier and pointed to a swift spot just above the falls. "Hiram went in there." Hughes covered his face and sank into dead thatch crunching under his knees. “Go help Lebazier load the flatbottom,” Jonas told Daniel. The steersman removed his hat to spend a moment with the two old-timers settling up for all their death-cheating days. Zeke knelt and placed his hand on Hughes’ shoulder. "Can I pray with you?" He nodded. Culley’s Falls raged over Zeke’s shoulder. "Yea, though I walk through the shadows of the Valley of Death, I shall fear no evil—" “He ain’t gone, Zeke. That’s for the dead.” The pilot squeezed Hughes’ shoulder. “Dear Lord, we pray for Hiram’s deliverance. We pray for his safe return.” He gave Jonas a glance delivering all necessary instructions. Jonas ferried Lebazier and Daniel to the rocks below the fall’s churn. The river seemed to return years to Lebazier's body. His bow-legged strides gripped the slick rocks tighter than blacksmith tongs. More rafts and arks shored. Their crews flea-hopped about the rocks making a good show of searching for Hiram's body, but they watched Lebazier’s every move with at least one eye. A particular crag of mica schist brightened Lebazier’s face. He pounded a spike into a crack begun by some ancient rumble in the riverbed. Rock chips nicked his cheeks and threatened his eyes. A careful inspection of his pilot-hole yielded a self-appreciative grunt, and he extended an auger to Jonas. "Now, give me a hole I can pack." Jonas eyed the tool contemplating it like a poker left in the fire. "Take it, man. I ain't got the leprosy." 49
Jonas’ numb fingers gripped and turned the worn handle, twisting the auger bit into and flaking the rock. "You there, Daniel," Lebazier yelled, "Bring me that powder and sack." He took the horn, removed a hunk of antler from its mouth, and poured black powder into Jonas’ hole. "That's a lot of powder," Daniel said. "That's nothin. Should'a seen us clear the channel back in ninety-eight." Lebazier took some linen from his sack, tore a long piece, and twisted it into a cord. "Hand me that bottle in there." Daniel retrieved a corked bottle of lamp oil. The old man soaked the cord, put an end in the hole, and pulled a steel striker from his pocket. "Anyone got a good piece of flint? Mine's all busted." An oarsman tossed him one. Lebazier cocked his head toward Jonas and Daniel. "Better find another perch. These burn real quick." A flash whitewashed the river, and a tremendous thud shook Jonas’ body. His gaze followed balls of black-cotton rising into crystalline blue above them. He tried to cough away the clenched fist lodged in his lung. Daniel threw his hand toward the smoke. "What good does blowin us all to hell do?" Jonas said, "Lots of places for a body to get stuck. Blast shakes it loose." Lebazier gave the river a lip and gum smile. "Anyone see Hughes’ boy?" He didn't seem interested in a response as he gathered his tools, made his way to another black crag jutting from the water, and beckoned for Daniel. "You help him,” Jonas said to Daniel, “but keep your distance. Lebazier's bad luck." Daniel folded his arms. "How much farther to Peachbottom?" "A bit. You in a hurry?" "How long we gotta stay here?" "Lebazier’ll blast another couple times. Then we'll pass the hat." "We're payin for this?" "Would you want us to leave you pinned under some half50
rotted log?" Jonas grabbed the sack at Daniel's feet and shoved it into his gut. "We see to ours. Go help him and don't get friendly." Zeke took the boy's spot next to Jonas on the boulder. "I'm thinkin it’s time for me to move on, Jonas." He put his pipe in his pocket. “Yeah, we gotta get." Zeke crouched and covered his ears. "He's lightin another." Less impressive than the first, the second blast did little more than send a column of water skyward. The men swore and brushed at the cold water spattering their thick wool coats. Lebazier pounded his thigh. "Told ya we needed more powder. That won't shake nothin loose." "Can’t take much more of this," Zeke said to Jonas while making for the flatbottom. "He's got one more blast." Jonas noticed the rivermen drifting toward their rafts and arks paying more attention to Lebazier than the falls' eddies and swirls. Some watched fearful of being toppled by a blast and others with the curiosity they had when finding their fathers’ powder horns. Crouching low, Lebazier raised the steel striker over an oiled rag. The black-powder mule kicked Jonas in the chest. He lay facing skyward where stars bloomed and died over his head. Lebazier fell through this low-lying heaven plunging into a pool near the steersman. Jonas rolled to his side and placed his palms on slick rock, but his wrist folded. He crumpled. Expanding lungs struggled against constricting ribs. Everything felt tight except for his arms and legs, which he couldn't feel at all. Two hands yanked Jonas upward, one gripping the back of his collar and the other his britches' waistband. Zeke’s voice pushed through the murkiness. "I said, you hurt?" Jonas shook his head and sucked a mouthful of fishy burnt-sulfur air hanging just above the freshet's surface. Men ran for a bobbing rag doll, obscenities contorting their mouths. “Sweet Jesus.” Zeke ran his hands through his hair. “Crazy bastard finally gone and done it.” A good deal of Lebazier was dragged onto a boulder across 51
from Jonas while men downstream collected the rest taking turns staring, vomiting, and scrubbing ill fortune from their hands. "Ain't no kin back at his farm," Jonas said. “We fetched him, so we gotta do what’s right.” He and Zeke took the flatbottom for Lebazier. "There's a preacher in Peachbottom that'll put Lebazier under." Zeke said. "River ain’t givin up Hiram." Jonas brought the flat bottom along their raft, took Lebazier's coat lapels, and looked up at two oarsmen. They averted their eyes. "Someone take his leg." Jonas’ voice dropped to a whisper. "He ain't got the leprosy." Daniel stepped forward, helped Jonas lift Lebazier, and covered the blaster’s face with a coat. Δ Peachbottom's ramshackle cabins and warehouses lined the base of a steep wooded hill. Smoke twisted gently from stone chimneys into a still sky. Smells of roasting meats mingled with the offensive aroma of boiled cabbage and spilled from the town's taverns into wagon-choked streets. Men tending moored arks and boats stopped their chores to watch Zeke add his raft to the floating lumberyard lining the riverfront. Men wearing clothes the colors of earth slogged through the muddy purgatory between streets and docks. “They must of all heard,” said Jonas. “Yep.” Zeke rubbed his neck. “Can’t say I miss the drunkin hymn singin and cussin.” “No fightin neither.” Zeke turned to the oarsmen. "Tie her real good. I'm goin for the agent. Get our money." He hopped from the raft, looked across the flood plain, and pointed to a budless sapling standing vigil over a small grass oasis. "Put Lebazier there." A husky woman balancing a tray of steaming mugs across breasts in need of a shepherd approached Jonas and his slow-moving crew. She hissed at a soot-faced drunk whom cupped her buttocks then said to the crew, "Compliments of The Squealin Boar." They drank with lines held at their sides and considered 52
the veiled invitation to continue a more proper mourning with stiffer drink at the tavern. A collared, spectacled man walked slowly with Zeke toward the raft. Zeke placed several coins in the man's hand and clasped it gingerly. After some quiet words, the collared man tended to Lebazier's body. The old pilot gave Jonas the wages. "Lebazier's burial money comes outta ours." Jonas nodded then doled seventy-five cents to each oarsman with a grunt and a glance in the eye. The crew deserved more than what an apology could muster, so he saved his words, and they scattered except for Daniel whom lingered at the raft. “Comin back tomorrow?” Jonas asked. “We can use you.” “Don’t have no choice count of my pa and the farm and all.” A leaden pause filled the space between them. “Days aren’t all like this one,” Jonas said. “River gets in your blood,” Zeke said over Jonas’ shoulder. “Don’t make Jonas wait tomorrow, hear me?” Daniel headed for town. Jonas broke the old pilot’s long stare over the river. "You ain't smokin?" "Bit clean through my pipe." Zeke pulled pieces from his pocket, tried fitting them together, and threw them into the water. "Bad run. Real bad run." "Tomorrow's will be better." "I ain’t doin this no more, Jonas.” “What?” “She’s tellin me it’s time.” “This because of Hiram and Lebazier?” “Not just. Boys are yours. They’ll mind you.” Jonas caught the rest of his questions before falling from his mouth, questions as useless as lame crows. Zeke had already explained it. He’d been clear around the bend and come back again.
Melissa Fry Beasley
It was dead and she read the future in its entrails. She thought of Mexican bakery shelves stacked high with sugar skulls. On the air was the heavy scent of hibiscus & jasmine settling into sweaty skin. Today was not like any other she had seen. She felt them stirring because of the particular reflective and refractive qualities inherent in the molecular structure of passing; a barely perceptible hum, electricity or fluid moving near and through you. As if by then, touching meant anything more than how one would be remembered.
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