Barbara McGraw

Spotlight: Dreamscape & Meditations on an Altered State

Dreamscape

In a bed
in an ink-wash of night sky
a Chagall dreamer rises
An omniscient moon
hovers above the pines

Close by
tops of gentled branches
caress her face
The smell of pitch resonates
The sleeper dreams

Below
peaked roofs
undulate in snow
shutters hinged for wind
lift but hold
Across the moonlit sidewalk
a shadow falls
The dreamer flies

Immersed
a red sheath billows
moonbeams illumine
bare legs trail
like comets
The flier smiles

Overhead
light crackles
and leaps
through nebulas
Brimming stars
whistle and hum
rush and whisper
The voyager listens

Flight
rollicking spinner
spiraling twirler
a heart-breaking lightness
an exhilarating brightness
The sleeper wakes

 

Meditations on an Altered State

The doctor says
Mother has a
hole in her head
right next to the shunt
he put in last September
Months have passed
and she’s aged,
ravaged, replaced
by this Alzheimer’s
wreck in a wheelchair

Talk flows above her
of fluid shifts
of infection
suggestions for repairs
Trim the hairs
around it
and keep it clean
The sinkhole draws
our attention

I scissor-cut
around the spot
lightly blowing
on the hairs
She’s cautioned
to stay still
Her little girl’s voice
says, alright

Father lives in
an altered state
sustained by
her cresting moods
He swims on the waves
of her scattered fears
confused thoughts
During narcoleptic
days and nights
he sloughs off
the seconds of her disease

The three of us are
lurid in lamplight
as Mother
drags us from
bed to sofa in
unceasing rotations
Father faces her hallucinations
as he would a beast
Lost-eyed and lumbering
with no grace in sight
he finds solace
in her disconsolate face

Barbara McGaw is a retired teacher who lives with her family in Freeland, at the southern edge of Michigan’s northern forest. She is the 2011 recipient of the Abbie Copps Prize for Poetry, awarded for her poem, “A Stone Heart.” Her work has been featured in literary publications nationwide. Barbara’s poems have appeared in Blast Furnace, Dark Matter, Foliate Oak, Ginosko, Livid Squid, Pudding, and Stone Highway.

Eric Paul

Spotlight: You Are a Terrible Home Surgeon / The Heart Attack / The Lemon Law

You Are a Terrible Home Surgeon

While mowing the lawn, a small bird flew into my chest and stuck there. It’s America. I can’t afford health insurance. I said, I need you to remove it. It’s not that unusual. I had a friend cure his son’s depression with a fork and an electrical socket and do you remember the article in the paper last summer about the woman who pulled a giant splinter from her husband’s heart? You grabbed the scissors and began to hack. You are a terrible home surgeon. You removed only the wings and a fleshy chunk of the body. The beak you left behind is still submerged in my lung. It won’t stop singing its incessant song.


The Heart Attack

I was visiting with my aunt and uncle. While having a heated discussion about the upcoming presidential election, my uncle, who was leaning against the stove, put his hand to his chest, went pale, then collapsed onto the kitchen floor. Upon impact, he burst open like a water balloon dropped by some mischievous children from a rooftop. My uncle, who had just been arguing in favor of tax breaks and limited government was now a giant pool of blood and guts at my feet. My aunt screamed, we have to save him! We have to save him! She pointed to the utility closet and ordered me to grab the mop and bucket. In attempt to comfort her I wrapped my arms around her and whispered, he’s gone. There was nothing we could do. She pushed me away and grabbed the drinking straw out from a fountain soda on the counter. She got down on her hands and knees and began sucking up my dead uncle as if he were a Bloody Mary. I’d heard my mother gossip about my aunt’s drinking—I wasn’t surprised.


The Lemon Law

For her sixteenth birthday her parents bought her a Ford Escort from the Car Palace. It became a problem. Within weeks, it began stalling at every stoplight, all the gauges stopped working, and the muffler fell off—we had to use coat hangers to keep it attached. Still, that summer, we drove to Lincoln Woods almost every night, parked under the tree that she thought resembled Abraham Lincoln, and fucked until our bodies gave out. Then we’d crack the rear windows, suck in the cool air, and lay silently under the judgment of the moon. It was the first month of our junior year of high school when we told her parents she was pregnant. Her mother cried and kept mumbling, my baby, my baby. Her father stared as us and began citing the state’s Lemon Law. They have to take it back, he kept saying.

Eric PaulEric Paul is a writer and musician from Providence, Rhode Island. He has been the lyricist and vocalist for the bands Arab On Radar and The Chinese Stars, as well as his current band, Doomsday Student. In 2009, a collection of Eric’s lyrics and poetry was released by Heartworm Press, I Offered Myself As The Sea. Since then, he has released two chapbooks and two spoken word releases. His work has also appeared in Ninth Letter, Word Riot, Spork, The Literary Review, and others.

http://www.iofferedmyselfasthesea.com

Marci Calabretta

Spotlight: Your Mouth is Full of Birds / Orchard / Penance

Your Mouth is Full of Birds

You asked me once at dawn about forgiveness and I said
I didn’t think you had any need to be forgiven and you said

nothing, pointing instead to the tangerine branches
heavy with four-petaled flowers and a rookery of crows branded

like oiled umber in the sunlight. How grave the silences tucked
in each wing and beneath your tongue, silences you later tucked

into my suitcase when I wasn’t looking, letters written in memory
whose creases I smoothed over and over until I could remember

the gray trunks of the tangerine orchards, how each flower smelled,
each fruit peeled and quartered, full of tongues that still swell

in my dreams and burst into a hundred miles of telephone wires,
the silhouettes of birds still attached. Now, after all this while,

when you come to me at night with your mouth full of birds,
I think that you meant you forgave me for the rookery,

because they left their wings on my window, not yours. Oh how they follow
me still through this city, crying for you with every red-throated swallow.


Orchard

Grandmother sent a box
of tangerines and a small
glass teapot, but
the tangerines had
spoiled. I sparked
the stove for the kettle,
dropped my last
tea leaves, poured
the hot water.
Through the glass,
the dried tea flowers
bloomed, filled
the studio with orchards
of tangerines. That night,
I dreamed of black
pigs rooting in lava
rockbeds, caterpillars
carrying evening
spun from the day’s silk,
crows shedding
coarse feathers
against the coffin
of my window.


Penance

And outside the crows besiege the window ledge
while she rifles through the mesh bag of tangerines,
testing each with all five fingertips,
digging her thumbnail into the fleshiest skins,
remembering the orchards back home.

Orchards full of stars the color of tangerines,
almost the color of koi or orioles, not quite
saffron or crocoite. Orchards blooming
mandarin and white, five-petaled crowns
sweet and citrus among the dimpled rinds.

Each night in this tiny room she unrolls her bed
beside drying canvases and turpentined brushes
speckled of paint, aware of the absence
of dried fish and sea brine, here the tangerines
are unripe, not yet full and nectarous—

she can tell by the weight in her palm,
the rim of space between peel and flesh.
She splits open the white-veined fruit,
spritzes the air with a sweet cloud of citrus.
Inside, the tangerine is ripe small pairs of lungs.

She runs her tongue over the strange membrane,
veined and pulpy, delicate and swollen.
The skin breaks, exhales a mouthful of nectar,
and she devours sweet portions of breath
over and over with each piece of tangerine.

This is the second thirst to be quenched. Later,
the other tangerines will spoil and harden,
their own lungs full of orange light.
And now the crows are tapping on the window,
hungry for the pips and rind, the body void of breath.

Marci CalabrettaMarci Calabretta is the recipient of poetry fellowships from Kundiman and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Her work has appeared most recently in American Letters & Commentary, Chautauqua, and The MacGuffin, and her chapbook, Last Train to the Midnight Market, was published by Finishing Line Press. She is co-founder and managing editor for Print-Oriented Bastards, and an assistant editor for Jai-Alai Magazine.

Spotlight: It is leaving

1.

On the first day there was stillness.

For a moment nothing moved. The wind held its breath. The birds stopped in midflight—their wings pinned against the blurry space of sky.

We didn’t blink, as though our eyelids were glued back. Orators’ hands hovered in mid-gesticulation. Wheels of cars didn’t rotate. Midway through an intersection we could see the perfect, shiny forms of the hubcaps, each spoke a precise dart of light.

Clocks stopped. The clappers of church bells paused before banging the brass sides. Crowds stilled—arms and legs and necks craned in poses of motion.

After the stillness we moved again, and we almost forgot about this incident.

 

2.

People are always dying, but on the next day, there was a different sort of dying.

A woman at the Dollar Store collapsed as she shelved boxes of tampons. She was only 29. A man in an I-80 Westbound toll both (Exit 274) crumpled over, his hand held out for a ticket. The cars honked, and a red trickle of blood seeped in the gulley between his pinky and ring fingers.

Babies asphyxiated in cradles, bankers reached for their throats behind glass-plated offices. The weatherman’s eyes rolled into the back of his head, as a high front blew in on the green screen behind him.

The President declared an emergency, but he fell onto his desk in the middle of the announcement, and we all heard the crack his forehead made against the wood. Then a commercial for frozen pizzas came on.

It wasn’t only the people, but the animals, too.

Deer stood on the yellow centerlines and faced the grills of cars. Cats lunged through screen doors, their furry necks caught in the screens. A tiger at the San Diego Zoo leapt over its wall, and then lay in the center of the snake pit. And though to a flock of sixth-graders it looked like the tiger had fallen asleep, its striped ribs didn’t heave and the Egyptian cobra that snuck up between its ears didn’t make the tiger flinch.

We heard—through the one lone radio station—that a herd of elephants sunk into a watering hole in Zambia, and that llamas in Peru threw themselves from Machu Picchu.

We tried to stay in our homes and wore masks to protect our airways. We sprayed the air with disinfectants and carried pocket-sized bottles of hand sanitizer.

 

3.

Birds fell from the sky on the third day. Plunking onto rooftops, catching in their beloved tree branches, landing in the laps of unsuspecting pleasure-seekers hurtling along in the Coney Island Cyclone, one of the last rollercoasters still functioning.

Ostriches in Australia were reported to have stuck their heads in the sand, suffocating. Their backsides stuck up like the ends of feather dusters, sprinkled with the dry grit of the Outback.

Fish—limp and glassy-eyed—washed up into the moats of sandcastles. And when we gathered seashells, our fingers scraped against eels and, once, a mantaray spread out in defeat.

If we wanted to swim, we had to stroke past the floating carcasses of sharks, drifting like miniature islands.

We ate a feast of fowl and shellfish, after the health department proved that there was no disease. We stuffed our stomachs with seafood and broke wishbones, forgetting our wishes.

 

4.

A NASA astronomer, in Mississippi, noticed that the buckle on Orion’s belt was missing. He demanded that the telescope be cleaned.

An amateur astronomer—twelve years of age—reported that the stars of the Big Dipper had fallen one by one, until only the North Star loomed overhead. And then, with many of us watching the sky, it popped, with blackness replacing where it had been.

The moon wasn’t visible that night, until a San Francisco priestess pointed out that it was time for the half moon. Many phone lines were down, but once word got out, suburbs called in reporting that there was no moon in their night skies either.

The next morning was not a morning, for the sun burst into millions and billions and trillions of sparks that fizzled like pop rocks, and made our mouths ache.

The only light we had now was in candlewicks and flickering light bulbs, and fires made from brittle branches. We stared into the whitest parts of the flames and imagined being burned by the sun.

Some more dangerous types lay in tanning beds and took off their eyewear, so their eyeballs would be ablaze.

 

5.

We were frantic today.

The Redwoods gave up and toppled over. Cornstalks shriveled up in Iowa, oranges rotted in their skins down in Florida, the wheat of Kansas turned to dust and could no longer be gathered. There were no more cows for butter in France, the rice paddies of China flooded, and the Dutch tulip fields molted, the petals crackling underfoot.

Throughout the day the plants blanched, until green was just a memory.

We headed in droves (those of us left) to the grocery stores and bought cartloads of cereals and moldy breads, boxes of spaghetti and Oreos and frozen peas, because what if we no longer had the option to refuse peas?

The vegans turned cruel and beat back the meat eaters for the last stalks of broccoli, raising the green heads high up like bridal bouquets.

Earthquakes divided neighborhoods and cities and countries. We’d look out our windows to the houses next door, a deep chasm where the arborvitae used to be. One man’s house swelled up in the shape of meringue, and the ground on all sides crumbled like a graham cracker crust.

 

6.

We sat atop our roofs, because the rivers and estuaries had flooded.

The oceans swallowed New Zealand last hour, and this hour they swallowed California (which finally broke away with yesterday’s earthquake).

It rained heavily and no one could tell sky from land. We walked through a perpetual waterfall. The umbrellas drooped down past our ears, our snot mixing with the water, and when we were parched, we stuck out our tongues and caught raindrops.

One mother washed her laundry outside, but the only dry place left to hang it was the attic. The jeans began to mildew.

 

7.

Today our imaginations withered, and we forgot how to have conversations.

We huddled in fog. There were no shadows, because darkness receded from whence it came. We strived to hold onto a hand, a lamppost, a chimney, and our senses faded too.

We thought that It would leave like the great and wonderful Oz—in a balloon, soaring in a burst of rainbow color up into the clouds. Or maybe as a shooting star—fast and bright and magnificent—ducking between the galaxies. Or sharp and menacing like a missile—direct and out into space, orbiting us like a satellite and breaking away.

But we had never seen It. So we only felt It leaving, as in the way of fleeting thoughts.

And between the moment of Light and After Light, we reached for something, grasped onto nothing and in the pits of what might once have been called souls, recognized a great absence. We despaired.

At the end of the week, we were entirely alone.

Courtney McDermott HeadshotCourtney McDermott is a native of Iowa currently living in the greater Boston area. She is a graduate of Mount Holyoke College and the MFA program at the University of Notre Dame. Her debut collection of short stories, How They Spend Their Sundays, was published by Whitepoint Press in 2013. She now works at Harvard and can be found on www.courtneymcdermott.com.

Carolyn Elias

Spotlight: Woman, Where Is Your Crown? / Self Portrait #1

Woman, Where Is Your Crown?

Woman, where is your crown?
Why do you stand there dumb-
founded? It does not abide in the swivel of your hips
or the bouncing of your breasts!
Your crown was not gold wrought from the ground,
and slipped around your finger as a noose!
Your crown was a gift,
a tapestry, woven from iridescent sunbeams,
and laid upon your brow by all the beasts of the earth.

Woman, did you forget
your coronation so quickly?
Your nakedness is not your robe
or shield. Stoop low,
and pick up your crown.
May you never stoop so low again!


Self Portrait #1

I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best. —Frida Kahlo

I paint a caricature aflame
in blood and lust
with pink laughing lips and cheeks,
but my bruise-blue eyes cannot be colored
by the rouge mask.
I ink in my scars.
(but where do I draw the lines?)
Are they too raw
for you to see
or for me to show?
I am afraid
I bleed many colors:
I am glass-green sea alight,
I am a war(rior) shrouded in black,
I am a wife struggling with shadows and light,
I am a woman
rewriting perspective.
My point of view reflected infinitum:
thick alabaster thighs, purple crooked shoulders;
hips swaying in orange abandonment
to a song without tempo in every look-
ing glass; I repaint my nakedness
so that I may see myself
reincarnate.

Carolyn EliasCarolyn D. Elias is a poet who lives with her husband, in Hancock, Minnesota. Carolyn’s work has appeared in Sassafras Literary Magazine. Her poems will soon be published by East Jasmine Review and on Apeiron Review’s website. You can learn more about her at www.carolyndeliasauthor.squarespace.com or follow her on Twitter @CarolynDElias.

Tim Suermondt

Spotlight: Snow and Snow / For the Persians / Waiting With the Squirrels

SNOW AND SNOW

It keeps showing up like a complaint
no one has an answer for.

And as it does the flimsy tarps
surrounding the apartment under

construction flap like specters who see
no way out, pitiful in their hopelessness.

A few dogs leap in the whiteness,
their owners looking grim as soldiers

at Stalingrad while I hunker in the study,
a hermit lately every day, every night.


FOR THE PERSIANS

+++++I’ve spent my whole life being patient.
+++++I’ll need another life to reap the fruits.
++++++++++++++++++++—Daqiqi

My determination comes late at night—

++I wake my wife, who looks at me

Groggily but beautifully—

++“The hell with it,” I say,

“I’m not being patient anymore.”

++My wife props herself up—

“When exactly have you ever been patient?”

++“Go back to sleep,” I say,

“I’ll confuse you again in the morning.”


WAITING WITH THE SQUIRRELS FOR SPRING

We’re all set to discover the golden acorns
under the slush of snow, like seeing out of a mist
an Eldorado rise. Yet again those nuts
will more closely resemble the standard fare
of a cheap Burger Shack along a bad tourist beach—
but they’ll be serviceable and keep us alive,
help us appreciate the yellow of the flowers
in the yellow of the sun, in the fields and cities.
For some they’ll be racing up trees, carrying
the goods to the highest branches—for others
squarely on the ground will have to do, feet under
the outdoor tables and the clear blue sky shining
like it never went away, pleased to have us back.

Tim SuermondtTim Suermondt is the author of two full-length collections: TRYING TO HELP THE ELEPHANT MAN DANCE (The Backwaters Press, 2007), and JUST BEAUTIFUL (New York Quarterly Books, 2010). He has published poems in Poetry, The Georgia Review, Blackbird, Able Muse, Prairie Schooner, PANK, Bellevue Literary Review, Stand Magazine (UK), and has poems forthcoming in december magazine, Plume Poetry Journal, North Dakota Quarterly, and Ploughshares. After many years in Queens and Brooklyn, he has moved to Cambridge with his wife, the poet Pui Ying Wong. Contact him at allampoet[at]earthlink.net

Spotlight: The Least You Can Do

[fiction]

Since it happened, Beverly has been able to talk and think only in imprecise terms. She’s said there was an accident and the baby is gone, but on the third day she wakes up and the first thing in her head is the baby is dead, and this, finally, is something real she can taste in the back of her throat.

Days ago, when she was backing out of the driveway on her way to get a gallon of milk, Beverly heard the crack—a wet sound, a watermelon splitting on concrete—and wondered what she’d backed over. She was angry when she opened the car door. She was ready to yell at her husband for leaving something—a tool, maybe—in the middle of the driveway where anyone could drive over it. But when she rounded the car, she saw a great leaking mess spreading out from underneath the tire. There was blood everywhere, and everything was red, but that wasn’t all—there was so much green, so much grey, so much color that Beverly was sure she was wrong, that it couldn’t be what she was thinking, that it couldn’t be the baby’s tiny head crushed under the tread of her tire.

And then her husband came around the corner of the house, whistling. “Do you have the baby?” he asked.

On the third day after the baby was zipped into a small black bag and driven to the funeral home, where his head would be reconstructed so it did not appear deflated, empty of brain and blood, Beverly stays in bed until noon and comes downstairs only when she feels a tug in her center and remembers she hasn’t eaten anything in forty-eight hours. She goes to the kitchen, and that is where she finds her husband. He is frying bacon and drinking bourbon. The radio is on, and it’s playing something low and sad.

“What is this?” Beverly asks.

Robert shrugs. “College radio, I think,” he says. “I don’t know.”

Hanging in the arch between the living and dining rooms is her husband’s favorite suit. It is charcoal gray—appropriate for somber occasions. It has just come from the dry-cleaner and is still wrapped in plastic.

“Your mother called an hour ago,” Robert says. “She demanded I wake you up, and I told her to fuck herself.” He pokes the bacon with a fork. “I said, ‘No, Joyce, I don’t think I will. Go fuck yourself.’”

In moments of crisis, Beverly’s mother cannot be counted on to do much more than instruct a person on what to wear. She has already left three messages asking what Beverly plans to put on for the funeral. “You better not be wearing a pantsuit,” she told the machine. “And wear something gray. Black is too harsh for your coloring.”

“She’ll be over at three,” Robert says. “I’m just giving you a heads-up.”

Beverly sits down at the table.  It shines and smells of bleach. Robert has cleaned the entire house even though Beverly has told him there will be no funeral dinner. She doesn’t want a single casserole in her house.

“Is my mother driving us?” Beverly asks. “I think we need a plan.”

“What do you mean we need a plan?” Robert says, “I’m driving us. Of course I’m driving us.”

Beverly looks at his bourbon.

“This is my last drink,” he says. He holds the glass up and stares through the crystal. “Not just for tonight, either. I mean forever.”

“Why?” Beverly asks. “What good is it possibly going to do?”

He shrugs. “It’s just something I can do,” he says. “It’s the least I can do.”

“The least you can do,” Beverly repeats. She almost used that phrase after the accident, when everyone had gone and it was just the two of them sitting on the front steps. She’d wanted to say, The least you could’ve done is watch him while I ran for some milk. But, in the end, she didn’t say it. She didn’t say anything.

And the whole situation was so completely like him, too. The first week the baby was home from the hospital, Robert had taken him on a walk to the park down the street, and when he came home he didn’t have the stroller or the baby.  He’d gotten distracted—he was an architect and always had blueprints sketching in his head—and walked the whole way home figuring measurements.

Beverly’s mother had delighted in that one. “Both of you are rotten parents,” she told Beverly when Beverly, who was cradling a crying baby while crying herself, called to tell her what Robert had done. “I told you you weren’t ready. Didn’t I tell you that?”

And now it’s true. They were awful parents. They were not fit. They will lay their son out tonight underneath the dim lighting of the funeral home, and they will watch their friends and family coo sweet things into an ear that has been stitched back on with flesh-colored thread.

Robert finishes his bacon. He turns off the burner and piles the strips onto a plate before sitting across from Beverly. He swallows each piece with bourbon. He doesn’t offer any to Beverly, but she isn’t hungry anymore. Watching him, she realizes that what she’d like most is to find some way to blame this all on him. She’d like there to be some kind of hard evidence, some fact that makes him the sole guilty party. She wishes moments before she’d gotten into the car he had come into the room with the baby in his arms and said, “We’re going to play in the sandbox.”

But there is nothing like that, and Beverly was the one who ended up on the concrete, trying to push the baby’s blood back into his body. There is no one to blame but herself.

*     *     *

Beverly’s mother arrives early. She comes through the door at two-thirty, carrying a fruit basket and a suitcase. Beverly leans around the corner from the kitchen where she’s brewing coffee and sees her mother face Robert, who, moments before, had been sleeping off his bourbon on the couch.

“I’ll wait,” she says to him.

Robert yawns and stretches. “For what?” he asks.

Beverly’s mother sets down the suitcase. She balances the fruit basket on top of it. “For an apology,” she says. “You swore at me this morning, Robert, and I did not appreciate it.”

Robert looks at her for a long minute, then fluffs the couch pillow and lies back down to sleep.

Beverly’s mother tugs at the hem of her jacket. She steps out of her shoes. “Unbelievable,” she says, and she leans down to push the suitcase and basket toward the kitchen. “BEVERLY!” she shouts, loud enough to startle Robert back into a sitting position.

Beverly steps fully into the room to block her mother’s way into the kitchen. She doesn’t like the looks of the suitcase—it implies a length of stay Beverly is not comfortable with—and if she can keep her out of the important rooms, then maybe she’ll get the hint and reconsider staying in a house with two awful parents, two awful people—people who tell mothers to fuck themselves and don’t apologize for it.

Beverly hasn’t smiled for seventy-two hours, and she didn’t think she would for years, but Robert’s sudden distaste for her mother makes her bite the tender flesh on the inside of her cheeks to keep from smiling.

“Right here, Mother,” she says.

Beverly’s mother stops and lifts the fruit basket, transferring it to her daughter’s arms. “From Mrs. Wilkinson. She sends her sympathies, but she has a wedding to attend tonight.”

“Fruit,” Beverly says. “Just what we need.”

“Don’t be flip,” Beverly’s mother says. “You and your husband—both of you are so damned flip.”

“Yes.”

“It’s inappropriate,” her mother says. “This is no time to be clever.”

“Of course you’re right,” Beverly says.

“Or sarcastic,” her mother continues. “Don’t test me, Beverly.”

Beverly’s mother lays her suitcase out on the floor. She unzips it and shakes out two skirts and a few blouses from her wardrobe, “I brought these for you,” she says. “There are a few other choices in here, too.”

Beverly’s mother is three or four sizes bigger than Beverly is, and the clothes—already frumpy and ugly—would look even worse hanging off Beverly’s bones. “Mother,” she says, “no. I have my own clothes. I can dress myself.”

“You don’t have a single thing that’s appropriate for this occasion,” her mother says. She presses a skirt to Beverly’s waist, and its polyester folds unfurl down to her ankles. “You can’t show knees or décolletage at a funeral.”

“It would be a lot more festive if you could,” Robert says from the couch.

Beverly hasn’t smiled for seventy-two hours, and she didn’t think she would for years, but Robert’s sudden distaste for her mother makes her bite the tender flesh on the inside of her cheeks to keep from smiling.

Her mother notices, and her own cheeks burn bright red. Before Beverly can stop it, her mother is sobbing. She melts to the floor and sits next to the heap of clothes she’s packed for herself and Beverly.

“You’re cruel!” she says. “How could you do this? How could you?”

She cries into her suitcase. She buries her face deep in the clothes, and Beverly, now so tired she can barely hold herself up, walks over to the couch opposite Robert and lies down. She faces him, and the two of them stare at each other, listening to Beverly’s mother until she cries herself to sleep. When her crying turns into a series of small snores, Beverly and Robert close their eyes and fall asleep, too, their breathing matched even if they are separated by a wide ocean of room.

*     *     *

They wake only half an hour before the ceremony is set to begin. Beverly’s mother bolts up from her suitcase and pats at her hair, which has been flattened.

“What time is it?” she asks quietly, but then, panicked at hearing no response, she raises her voice. “WHAT TIME IS IT?” she yells.

Beverly gasps awake. She had been dreaming the baby was still alive, that he was still a baby—bald, shirtless, diapered—but adult-size and sitting in a chair at the dining room table, smoking a cigar and reading the real-estate section of the newspaper. When she walked in the room to serve dinner, he set aside the paper and cigar and said, “Thank you, Mother,” in a British accent.

“We’re going to be late!” her mother says, and pushes up to her feet. She grabs a handful of the clothes in her suitcase and takes off for the first floor bathroom.

Robert sits up and rubs his chin. He needs to shave. “What if I skipped it?” he asks, plucking at his stubble.

In the other room, Beverly’s mother is running a blow dryer—probably at fingers she has hastily painted—and yelling out to them over the noise. “Late to my own grandson’s funeral!” she says. “There’s probably a special place in hell for people who are late to their own grandsons’ funerals!” The blow dryer shuts off and she leans out the door. “Robert,” she says, “you get upstairs and start shaving. You can’t go to your son’s funeral looking like a homeless man.”

Robert touches his chin again.

“Don’t shave,” Beverly whispers.

Robert looks at her.

“Don’t shave,” Beverly says, louder this time. “If you don’t want to shave, don’t shave.”

Robert nods, slowly, like he’s hearing the words but having a hard time comprehending them, like maybe there’s a loud noise inside his head, something he’s having trouble hearing through. “I’d rather not,” he says finally.

“Then don’t,” Beverly says. She stands and smoothes down her shirt. “I’m going to get dressed upstairs. Do you want me to bring you some socks?”

“Socks,” Robert says, not affirming or denying a want for them. He stares down at the pillow. “I think,” he says, “I am going to have another bourbon.”

Beverly’s mother swings the bathroom door wide. “You will not have one more ounce of liquor!” she says. “It’s one thing to take the edge off in private, at home, when you’re not doing anything of importance, but it’s a whole other thing to go to your son’s funeral three sheets to the wind.”

“This will be my second bourbon,” Robert says.

“Right,” Beverly says. “He’ll only be two sheets to the wind.” She ticks them off on her hand. One bourbon, two bourbon.

Beverly’s mother’s lip trembles again, and, before she can dissolve into another mess of tears, she slams the bathroom door and starts the blow dryer again. Robert goes into the kitchen to get his suit, and Beverly climbs the stairs to the second floor, goes into their room, and sits on the edge of their bed. The room is cloudy with gray light that has made its way through the curtains. Beverly can see every bit of dust in the light, and she stops breathing. She’s never before stopped to consider it, but most of what she breathes in every day is dirt. She holds her breath as long as she can. She is already black inside, already as filthy as she can get.

When Beverly finally runs out of held breath, she gasps for air, sucks in all the silt that is always, every second, falling down on her. She gets up and pulls things out of her closet—things that don’t even match. It’s not that she isn’t capable of finding a matching outfit; now it’s about doing things to displease her mother, who is in the kitchen telling Robert to put down that bourbon and put it down fast. Then, weeping, she says, “You couldn’t have watched him for ten minutes? Ten lousy minutes? You’re a waste, Robert, a real waste of flesh and blood.” She raises her voice so it will carry up the stairs. “And so is my daughter! A waste!”

Beverly says nothing. She slips into a red pencil skirt and navy heels. She ties one of Robert’s white dress shirts at her waist the way that was fashionable when she was in middle school.

When they walk into the funeral home, her husband will be drunk and unshaven; she will be an American flag. The sight of them will repulse her mother, and she will no doubt be forced to circle the room, telling their guests that everything has been hard, just so hard on Robert and Beverly, and that’s why they look so hopeless, so unkempt, so much like just the type of people you’d expect to kill a baby.

That her mother will be so uncomfortable and busy cheers Beverly. With other people to worry over, her mother will spend very little time with her and Robert, and they will be able to sit in the front of the service, silent, with everything that is left of them bleeding out their mouths, their noses, their ears.

Beverly leaves the bedroom without a pair of socks for Robert, and the three of them get into Beverly’s mother’s car without noticing. It is only when they are parked in the lot at the funeral home that Beverly looks down and sees the white knot of ankle poking out from under the hem of her husband’s pants. In that moment she realizes she has never loved him as much as she does now, and that she will never love him this much again. It isn’t a thought that lasts long because now there are more pressing issues at hand, but the thought is still there, Beverly recognizes it, and it doesn’t sadden her; instead, as she stands there on the sun-warmed asphalt she feels a rush of gratitude that she was able to find that kind of feeling in the middle of so much sadness.

*     *     *

The service goes exactly like people might’ve expected it to. Beverly’s mother cries in a polite, reserved way, and produces an antique handkerchief, which she presses into the moist corners of her eyes.

Robert, sockless and disoriented from the bourbon he swallowed before walking out the door, lurches to his feet in the middle of the service, just when the funeral director is launching into a poem about angels being called to heaven. Robert walks up to the raised platform where the baby, who has been done up to be pink-cheeked and waxen, is resting in a silk-lined box. Robert’s ankles flap out from under the hem of his trousers as he lowers himself and rests his head against the casket. In that position, there is no hiding it. Everyone in the room can now see that Robert has slipped his bare feet into expensive Italian shoes.

Behind them, everyone stops breathing. Robert is crying and touching the side of the baby’s face, which has been hitched up tight. The baby looks like he went in for plastic surgery, a little nip and tuck.

When Beverly first saw him like this—when her mother marched her up the aisle to stand in front of the narrow casket—she’d recoiled so visibly that her mother had to put a hand on her back to keep her from running.

Beverly could hardly stand to be near him, much less touch him. That her husband is doing so stuns her. And it stuns her mother, too, and she reaches over to take Beverly’s hand in her own. She squeezes it. “Go get him,” she says, but Beverly doesn’t move. Her mother gives her a shove toward Robert.

Beverly turns to face the room and for the first time sees their faces, which are unbearably sad. She can’t stand to look at them for long, so she puts her hands on Robert’s shoulders and guides him back to the seat. Once they are settled, she nods to the funeral director, and he picks back up with the reading like nothing had ever happened, like no scene had ever been made, and the rest of the service passes without incident.

*     *     *

Afterward, when everyone is milling about, unsure what to do—after all, there is usually a church dinner or coffee and donuts, some sort of gathering—Beverly’s mother puts her hand in Robert’s armpit and hauls him to his feet. “No more sitting,” she says. “People can see that you’re not wearing socks when you’re sitting.”

Robert is sweating, and his sweat smells sour and dark, like bourbon mash. “I think,” he says, “the cat is out of the bag.”

“Just stand very still,” her mother insists, and then reaches out a hand to greet some friends. She steps in front of Beverly and Robert, blocking them, taking the sympathy and well-wishes for her own.

“I’m sorry,” Robert whispers to Beverly as her mother leans her head into her friends’ shoulders. “I don’t know what came over me.”

Beverly’s mother’s friends move on and head toward the door without saying a single word to Robert or Beverly. Her mother receives the next people in line: old neighbors.

“It’s okay,” Beverly says. “You’re okay.”

In front of them, Beverly’s mother is saying, “They’re beside themselves. They’re absolutely mad with grief.”

The old neighbors peek around Beverly’s mother’s shoulders. They lower their eyes to Robert’s ankles.

“Best not to say anything,” Beverly’s mother tells them. “I’ll pass along your well-wishes.”

The old neighbors leave as quickly as they have come. They, like most of the other guests, having overheard Beverly’s mother’s command, slip toward the door. A few stay on, talking in quiet voices while they inch toward the front, toward Robert and Beverly and Beverly’s mother. But each group that makes it to the platform gets diverted by Beverly’s mother, who says things like, They appreciate your being here or They’re really not themselves right now or They’re not at their best.

“What is she doing?” Robert asks.

Beverly knows what she’s up to. This is about capitalizing on a moment. This is about seeing a chance to soak up warm pools of pity and sympathy and pretending to do something for the good of a daughter and a son-in-law.

Beverly turns to look behind them. She examines the corners of the room and sees a small placard that announces the path to the emergency exit. When she turns back around, she sees her mother’s purse, and in it her keys, sitting on the high-backed couch.

“Do you want to go?” Beverly whispers.

Robert has a hand over his face. He looks like he is smelling his palm. “What?” he asks.

“Do you want to go?” She gestures to her mother’s purse and the emergency exit.

Robert nods. He takes a small step forward and hooks a finger into the purse’s handle. It’s off the couch and passed to Beverly before anyone is the wiser, and she and Robert duck behind the burgundy velvet curtains that hide the fire door. They step outside and suck their first breath of air that isn’t stale, that isn’t saturated with the smell of whatever makeup they flaked over the baby’s body, and they don’t even care when the emergency bell sounds—ringing and ringing and ringing as they run to Beverly’s mother’s car.

Beverly has the car in gear and out the driveway before anyone can see where they’ve gone.

*     *     *

They don’t hide. They don’t drive around town. They just go home.

Beverly parks her mother’s car at the end of the driveway, as close to the road as she can get it: a hint. She and Robert go inside and take off their clothes and sit in their underwear on the living room floor. They put the bottle of bourbon between them. They are drunk in half an hour.

“I’m a really rotten father,” Robert says. “I said I was going to do one thing for him—the least I could do—and here I am going back on that promise.”

“He wouldn’t have cared one way or the other about your drinking,” Beverly says. “He was ten months old.”

“I’m glad my parents are dead,” Robert says. “They would never speak to me again.” He drinks and wipes his mouth on his bare arm. “I didn’t think you would ever speak to me again, either. Once the cops left, you went upstairs and that was it for a long time.”

Beverly nods.

“You blame this all on me?”

When Beverly doesn’t say anything, he passes her the bottle. He pantomimes drinking, tipping his head back. “I think this is a good time for honesty,” he says.

“I wanted to,” she says finally, taking a swallow and holding it in the back of her throat, where it warms her. “I really wanted to,” she says. “I wanted to hold it over your head for the rest of our lives. I wanted to be able to point to you and say, ‘This is who ruined my life.’”

Robert stares down at the carpet and drags his fingers through its thick braid. The carpet parts for his fingers and stays that way, combed into shallow moats, as Beverly goes on.

“But that wasn’t fair,” Beverly says. “We’re both to blame. We both did this.”

Robert stops combing the carpet. He looks up. “The worst parents ever,” he says. “Half that room thought we should go straight to hell. I saw it in their eyes.”

Beverly hadn’t, and she doesn’t think Robert had, either. She thinks that when he turned his face on the crowd of their friends and neighbors and coworkers, his own eyes got reflected in everyone else’s, and he saw what he really thought he was: nothing good. In that moment, it was probably easy to misinterpret, easy to think that everyone felt he deserved a punishment worse than grief.

But what the two of them had done wasn’t malicious. What they’d done was careless. They were stupid to have the baby in the first place. They were young and self-involved and unsure of how to be good people. Beverly had grown up hearing that she was nothing, that she would never do anything right, and so she went on believing it. It was not the best foundation on which to base her own ideas of motherhood.

She is about to explain this to Robert, but the front door swings open and there, framed by the arch, is her mother. Out at the curb a taxi is idling.

Beverly’s mother has two floral arrangements tucked under her arms. She is sprouting lilies and tulips. She sets them down on the floor and wipes her forehead. She looks battered. She looks like she has walked the distance between the funeral home and the house instead of just the length of the driveway. “Someone better get up and get me some money for the cab,” she says.

Neither Robert nor Beverly move, even though Beverly’s mother looks pitiful. It’s clear she’s been crying again, and this time she hasn’t bothered to clean up the mascara on her cheeks. She breathes heavily. She looks like a woman who has just unbuttoned her skin and peeled it back to reveal something horribly real.

“You’re drunk,” she says.

“Your purse is in the kitchen,” Beverly says.

Beverly’s mother goes to find it. Once she is in the other room, she starts crying again.

Beverly gets up and goes to her husband. She helps him comb the carpet to find hidden pieces of glass. They work for a long time.

“Your mother needs a drink,” Robert says. “I think I’m going to pour her a little something.”

Robert gets up and moves unsteadily toward the bar. He looks ridiculous standing there in only his boxer shorts, but he approaches his task with diligence. He selects a crystal glass and cracks a few ice cubes into its bottom before filling it with gin, which is Beverly’s mother’s drink of choice, the liquor she rolls out in bulk at the holidays.

When Beverly’s mother comes back into the living room, clutching a pair of twenties to her chest, Robert thrusts the drink in her direction. “Here,” he says, too loudly.

Beverly’s mother hides the twenties behind her back, as if she thinks Robert might rob her. “What is that?” she asks.

Robert tips it toward her nose so she can smell. “Gin,” he says.

Beverly’s mother swats it away, and the gin and the glass and the ice cubes fall from Robert’s unsteady hand and crack onto the carpet. They hit with just enough force that not even the thick carpeting can save the crystal, and it opens into a bloom of shards at their feet.

“Jesus,” she says. “Who are you people?”

She shuts the door behind her, and she runs back down to the curb flapping the twenties in the air.

Robert starts crying. “I broke it,” he says. He sinks to his knees and starts gathering the shards into a pile. He cuts his hands on the smallest slivers of glass, which make him bleed. He pats the floor around him. He is desperate to find every last piece of glass, to get everything back together, and the blood from his palms presses into the beige carpet. If someone looked at those stains quickly enough, she might think a person standing at the bar had unleashed a handful of confetti, let it fly into the air and back down again.

Beverly gets up and goes to her husband. She helps him comb the carpet to find hidden pieces of glass. They work for a long time. It becomes evident that Beverly’s mother is not coming back.

“This isn’t healthy,” Robert says. He holds his palms up to the light, examines all the gashes, then wipes his bloodied hands on the carpet.

Beverly isn’t sure what he means. It could be their drunkenness, their nudity, their irreverence on the night of their son’s wake. It could be the way they spoke to Beverly’s mother or they way they ran from the funeral home like spooked children in a fairytale. It could be the broken glass and the blood.

She shakes her head but says nothing. She stands, finds an old towel behind the bar, and brings it to Robert. She wraps his hands tightly together—it looks like he is praying—and then presses her own hands over the wrapped fingers. Now it seems as though they are both praying, praying together, but they aren’t and they won’t, never.

Beverly wonders briefly about her mother, wonders where she’s gone and how she’s making her way across the edges of this sadness now that she is far from the people who have caused it. She can see her mother—tired, wet, crying into a handkerchief stitched with flowers—and in that moment Beverly feels the smallest bit sorry for the way things have gone, and it occurs to her that this, this right here—this moment when she’s holding her husband’s bloody hands in her own, this moment when she’s wondering about her mother, this moment when she’s missing something she had so briefly it now feels like a trick of light and memory—this is the most maternal moment of her life.

Jessica Smith

Jessica Smith grew up just outside of Buffalo, New York (which explains her eternal love for chicken wings and bleu cheese), and has lived and taught in Minnesota and Maine. She currently teaches writing and literature at Central Maine Community College and has had work published in Ruminate, The Louisville Review, Berkeley Fiction Review, The Portland Review, and Not Somewhere Else But Here: A Contemporary Anthology of Women and Place.

 

Spotlight: Against the Troubadours

[translated poetry]

Against the Troubadours

Casting off the fashions of those finders who
refined their finery too far in passion’s fire,
and reining in my own too-fond desire,
I’ll tell the truth of what I’ve found in you.
My words are worthless, not to be believed,
to those who haven’t seen you face to face;
and those who see, but cannot see a trace
of what’s within, their own souls will be grieved.

The sinner’s not so blind he can’t perceive
your figure’s grace, your form’s gentility;
he doesn’t have the wise man’s sensitivity:
the colors, yes, he sees—but could he ever feel?
All your body has, the coarse man knoweth well,
except the parts in which your spirit shares:
he knows your hips, your waist, your skin, your hair—
but of your movements, what has he to tell?

We all are coarse in trying to explain
that which loveliness and honesty deserve;
and gentle youths, most learned, long to serve,
but, starving, they endure a lover’s pain.
No other sleights-of-mind could shine as bright,
commanding every subtle clerkly feat,
for idleness, in you, lies fast asleep.
God wills you not a virgin but a wife.

For you alone, the good stuff was enough,
which God’s laid by to make illustrious ladies:
of all those women, lovely though they may be,
only you, Teresa, taste of perfect love;
you have, within you, such intelligence
there’s nothing lacking in your memory or mind;
your beauty and your brilliance make men blind;
your wisdom gives the wise their sustenance.

The law of Venice doesn’t have the frame
with which your understanding orders subtleties,
nor could that city ever hold the keys
to how your body moves with neither guilt nor blame.
Such great delight belongs to every learned man
who occupies himself with learning all you teach
base bodily desires cannot reach
his will—and it’s as though his death’s at hand.

Lily in thorns, my art won’t reach so far
to forge a glorious, unseen crown for you;
for nothing should be shown to public view
where such great miracles and marvels are.

prose_section_divider

XI.

Leixant apart l. estil dels trobadors
qui per escalt trepassen veritat,
e sostrahènt mon voler afectat,
perqué no .m trob, diré, .l que trobe en vos.
Tot mon parlar als que no .us hauran vista
res no hi valdrá, car fé no hi donarán;
é los vehènts qui dins vos no veurán,
en créure mi, llur arma será trista.

L. ull dels hom pech no há tant fosca vista
que vostre cos no jutje per gentil;
no .l coneix tal com lo qui es suptil,
hoc la color mes no sab de la lista;
quant est del cos menys de participar
de l. esperit coneix be lo grosser,
vostre color y .l tall pot be saber
mes ja del gest no porá ben parlar.

Tots som grossers en poder explicar
ço que mereix un bell cos e honest,
jovens getils, ben sabènts, l. han request
e famejants los convench endurar.
Lo votre seny fa çó qu. altre no basta
que sab regir la molta suptilesa;
en fèr tot be s. adorm en vos peresa,
casta ne sòu perque Dèu ne vol casta.

Sols pera vos basta la bona pasta
que Dèu retent per fer singulars dones,
fetes n. ha assats mòlt sabies e bones
mes complimènt dona Teresa .l tasta,
havent en sí tant gran conexement
que res no .l fall que tota no .s conega,
al hom devot sa bellesa encega.
past d’entenents es son enteniment,

Venecians no há en lo regimènt
tan pascefichs com vostre seny regeix
subtilitats que .l entendrens no deix
e del cos bells sens culpa .l movimènt;
tant gran delit tot hom entenènt há
e ocupat se troba en vos entendre,
que lo desig del cos no pot estendre
á leig voler, ans con á mort está.

Lir entre carts, lo meu poder no fá
tant que .us poguès fèr corona nuisible,
merícula vos, car la qui es visible
no .s déu posar llá hon miracle está.

Translator’s Note:

Ausias March’s “Against the Troubadours” is not primarily a love poem but a literary one. The blazon of a woman’s bodily characteristics was a genre of its own, through which the (male) writer could show off his own mastery of rhetoric and poetics for the benefit of (male) readers. If there was a real Teresa, it is a safe bet that this poem was not written for her. I’ve translated it out of literary love for its funny puns.

Medieval vernacular Romance languages are full of false cognates, words whose wealth of interconnected connotations does not translate easily into modern English. It would be easy to translate Ausias March’s first verse as “Leaving aside the style of the troubadours”—but such a rendering would miss the wordplay of trobador as a composer or “finder” of songs, who, troubled (torb) by his overly “fond” desire, wants to write about the beauty he has “found” (trobe) in his lady-love. Significantly, the etymology of the poet or songwriter as a finder makes its own statement against any notion of “originality”—good lines are not created, but stumbled upon.

Some other false cognates include estil, which denotes not just any “style” but a high style full of rhetorical, clerkly embellishments; joves gentils, whose “youth” and “gentility” presuppose that they are courtly, well-born aristocrats; seny, which can mean “intellect” and “common sense” at once; and, of course, miracle, which, for modern readers, has lost most of its psychic force. There is also a joke about the city-state of Venice, whose power was reaching its height during March’s lifetime. In my translation, I’ve tried to give some impression of that fifteenth-century context.

Translator: Samantha Pious is a graduate student in Comparative Literature at the University of Pennsylvania. Some of her translations have appeared in Construction, Gertrude, Rowboat, and Doublespeak.

Author: Ausias March (1397-1459) was a poet of the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance. He is known today as the first poet to write entirely in Catalan (instead of Latin or Occitan). A minor Valencian nobleman, he fought in the wars in Sicily, Naples, and North Africa during the early 1420s, after which he retired from military life and spent his later years as a squire on his own estate.

Molly Middleton Meyer

Spotlight: When the Tide Sings Deep

Jeju island, South Korea

1

1974

Dawn calls the haenyo. They return to the shore, the soles
of their feet worn smooth. They listen for the ripples of pearls
and urchins, sing the sun from darkness. Soon-hee swings
a net over her shoulder, her fingers entwined in its deep sea stories.
The hand-me-down buoy, a taewak, rests on her back. Soon-hee
walks toward the sea, swims into the chop of icy waves, inhales
the wrinkled sky, dives into the ocean’s inky womb.

2

Mi-sook watches the haenyo. When her mother is nothing more
than a black dot, a speck of pepper sprinkled over endless blue,
Mi-sook forgets the sea. It is not yet hers to know. She gathers
half-moon shells, dribbles wet sand through her fingers, watches
her footprints disappear into white foam, waits for her moon,
knows her time to dive will come.

3

Soon-hee slips into silence, plunges 62 feet below the surf.
Her goggled eyes search the murky depths.
She does not think about sharks.
With salt-cracked hands, she plunders the ocean floor, collects
abalone and octopi, sea snails, and conch. Inside minutes that pass
like hours, even trained lungs flame. Soon-hee bursts
into daylight, gasping. Sumbisori—the hiss of sea women returning.

4

1984

Soon-hee sells her treasures at market, feeds her family, sends
her daughter to college. She does not need a husband to survive.
The men of Jeju need the haenyo. Wives, mothers, sea women, providers.
But abalone buys books and new ideas. Little girls do not learn the language
of the matriarchal mermaids. They trade tradition for college degrees,
wet suits for business suits. A new moon pulls women to shore.
Soon-hee’s daughter forgets the sea. She drives a Hyundai.

5

2014

Honeymooners flock to Jeju, Hawaii of Korea, Western tourists
charter buses to the Haenyo Museum. Fifty years ago,
thousands of sea women ruled this island,
gave birth to daughters they prized
in a country of prized sons. Only 5,000 haenyo remain,
kindred grandmothers, last of all Korean divers.
The tour guide introduces them. They sing
for tips. Several dive for the crowds.
Soon-hee emerges with a sea cucumber.
The audience applauds, snaps cell phone shots.

Molly Middleton MeyerMolly Middleton Meyer is the founder of Dallas-based Mind’s Eye Poetry. She works with dementia patients using a poetry facilitation process that not only stimulates creativity, but also empowers and dignifies those for whom so much is being lost. Her poetry has been featured in Disorder: Mental Illness and its Affects (Red Dashboard Press), The Merrimack Review, Words Dance Magazine, Postcard Poems and Prose, The Rainbow Journal, Mindset Poetry, and HerKind. Middleton Meyer received her MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University in June of 2014. For more information on Mind’s Eye Poetry, visit www.mindseyepoetry.com.

Rey Armenteros, Time Traveler, 2012. Acrylic on panel, 14 x 11 in.

Spotlight: Turning Memories Into Cards

In painting my memories, I turn them into fortune-telling cards—my own deck of cards, for my own type of reading…

Adrian De Leon

Spotlight: Ang Kanta ni Lolo (Grandfather’s Song)

[fiction]

I stand with my back to the bus shelter, my coat hunched over my shoulder just an inch more so my nape won’t be exposed. I tighten my hold on the Food Basics bag and my spoon clangs against the fork and the Tupperware. We didn’t have enough Tupperware at home because I always forget to wash; I’m supposed to use my brain. I’d have to rake the leaves later. Don’t forget, please don’t forget. I have homework tonight.

A balding Arab man carries a corrugated yellow sign out of Joe’s Convenience. He removes a faded green sign advertising the store’s stock of Pepsi, replacing it with the yellow one, promoting 10% off greeting cards. I have been here long enough to know that that ad isn’t new at all and was probably pulled out from behind one of the lesser-used shelves in the store, like the greeting card shelf. I have also been here long enough to know that while the Arab man runs Joe’s Convenience, he’s not Joe. Joe is long gone. Dead, maybe, or living somewhere else where he could run a one-plaza-one-convenience-store business in peace, away from the pesky Koreans a few paces down the plaza at Sunny Variety.

An orange taxi speeds past. I always have the option of calling Beck Taxi to get to school and skip ahead of everyone down the road waiting for the bus, too. They know my name and my order so well that a phone call lasts exactly ten words. Hi can I get a taxi to—? Yes. Thank you. A nearly-empty wallet stops me from making the call. I had better things to buy, anyway. Things like hash browns or frozen beef patties from the Sunoco. Or a Java Monster, even though they’re bad for me. Nanay hates it when my eyes twitch too much from caffeine.

I have to rake the leaves later and make sure to carry the bags to the front. Tomorrow is Collection Day. Use your brain, and maybe you can get this done and have time to talk to her tonight.

I look inside my Food Basics bag. Rice and adobo today, with a can of tuna and some crackers. I can smell Nadi making her morning batch of curry goat at her restaurant—it used to be her Caribbean Corner—wafting from the plaza unit where the Fish and Chips used to be. Everything changes, even that old Italian place at the end unit which had been around for twenty years before closing. I know this because I was one of their last customers. It was my first time in the Italian restaurant and the old owner who served me, slightly teary-eyed, admitted that the store was closing the next day. It was the saddest meatball-eating experience I’ve ever had. Now it’s a pub with half-price wings which make me just want to avoid the place. If they can’t even be confident about their wings, why should I be confident about their menu?

 *     *     *

My eyes are drier and more tender than usual. But that’s okay because it’s a new day and I just need to focus on getting to my World History class and hand in my Ferdinand Marcos proposal. I really hope the teacher accepts it. I had to stay up really late last night to get it done.

*     *     *

The pneumatic breaks of the 116 stop the bus in front of the shelter across the road. That’s two-for-zero now, in the last fifteen minutes. I since realized that when people say “Rush Hour,” they only mean it for buses going downtown.

Across the road I see an old man with a thick jacket, a hunter hat, and a hunchback crossing at the yellow light. He crosses really slowly, but the cars are nice enough to wait for him to pass. I hear the balding Arab again, yelling Yalla, Yalla! into his phone.

The old man turns in my direction and hobbles toward the bus shelter. I grab my phone from my pocket and slide it open. I pretend to check my texts in the same way I try to ignore conversation at home. Leaves, leaves, don’t forget to rake them today.

A notification pings at me from the phone, begging me to open it. why arent u here yet the texts reads. I reply curtly with waiting for bus its taking way too long geez.

Fuck. I shouldn’t have typed geez. She’s going to kill me with guilt-trips today at lunch. I shouldn’t have ended the sentence with a period either, damn it. I turn my phone off out of fear of a staunch reply.

“Are you Pilipino?” a voice behind me asks.

I turn around and the soft face of the old man in the hunter hat is a couple of feet away from mine, smiling. He stands like a soldier at ease, his hands behind his back, his gaze not giving into any sign of awkwardness in his approach. I feel my body becoming rigid, and I turn my head to acknowledge him.

Opo,” I answer in the traditional way, for his Polynesian eyes, crisp pronunciation of Pilipino, and his flat nose immediately flagged his inclusion within the social group I reluctantly crawled into during birth. One of us. One of us.

“Are you prom dis nay-borhood?” he asks. I’ve officially been engaged into a conversation, things I try to avoid in the morning.

“Yes, po, I live here in Coronation.”

“Ah, I lib sa oder side, near Poplar. Is dat your pagkain? Anong ulam?”

“Chicken, po.”

“Yes, der’s lots of chicken sa Pilipinas. Do you eat Pilipino pood? You know chicken adobo? Dat is my pabourite, chicken adobo.”

I look toward the end of Morningside Avenue—where the cliffs are—and I see the bus turn into the street. The conversation won’t last too long now that the bus is here, so I tell myself to be patient for two more minutes. Another bus halts in front of the shelter across the street, allowing an old woman with a cane and silver curls to slowly step inside.

“Yes, I know chicken adobo.”

“Good, good. When was da last time you went back home? I hab’nt gone back por six years. When did you last go back?” the old man presses on. I would have wanted to answer “a few minutes ago” but I know that the home he’s talking about is nowhere along Coronation, nor is it anywhere in West Hill, in Scarborough, or even in Canada. I could see the bus in the distance flashing its hazard lights, immobile maybe a block before the railroad tracks.

“I went back last summer for a couple of weeks.” I become increasingly aware of the weight of the phone in my pocket, its presence heavy and clear but out of reach. I feel tempted to reach for it and pretend to receive a call, from my Nanay or something. My trip to the Philippines is not something I want to talk about, definitely not to a stranger. But the old man’s eyes do not waver and they stay fixed on me. I feel obliged to think of a story to tell, a way to expand, so the honest old man goes about his day happy to have thought about home for a while with a strange young Pinoy at the bus stop.

“And did you injoy it?”

I want to tell him about something nice, maybe about my trip to Tagaytay, way high up in the mountains, where I was serenaded by a lone guitarist in a nearly-empty restaurant overlooking the lake with the captive fish. Maybe I’ll tell him about Lake Taal, the volcano lake with a volcano island inside, with a lake inside of the island. It’d be old news to him, but maybe that’d be a good story to tell. Or I could tell him about the big city with its tall skyscrapers and wide, dirty river, with people who live in the slums that weave around tall buildings washing their dirty laundry. I could talk about the brothels and the balut merchants, and the fresh fruit in carts available every morning pulled by men who are too old to find a real job like Jollibee.

Maybe I could tell him about my family that I visited in Bataan and the river that used to flow for the kids to swim but was now nothing but a brown trickle. I could talk about the random villages along the highways and beaches, and how beautiful and happy the little dark kids looked when they roamed around with nothing but their shorts and sticks to play with. Or I could talk about seeing godparents I never knew existed. Maybe I could tell him about the wedding I went to, and the hasty preparations it took to celebrate it seventeen years after it was supposed to happen, and the awkward after-party with nieces and nephews I’ve never met, or the honeymoon with the rest of the family at a beach and all the times I stole away from everyone to be alone with the sand and the merchants—

The 116 arrives and the doors open. I quickly step inside, and notice that the old man made no intention to enter. I look back at him, his eyes still focused, his body still in a hunched soldier’s stance.

 *     *     *

“The trip was okay,” I say, and the bus doors close. The driver urges me to find a seat or to stand behind the white line beneath my feet.

I turn on my phone and it vibrates. I see the name above the text and hesitatingly open the message. dont forget 2 rake the leaves and take the bags out. i better see it all done before i get home.

Adrian De LeonAdrian De Leon is a student at the University of Toronto. He is the 2nd Place winner for the 2013 University of Toronto Scarborough Creative Writing Contest (Prose category) for the short story, “Ang Kanta ni Lolo.” Adrian has also published poetry in Daniel Scott Tysdal’s textbook, The Writing Moment: A Practical Guide to Creating Poems (2014). Born in Manila, Philippines, he calls Scarborough—the east end of Toronto—his real home. With a love for wandering and anything urban, his writing often wanders between past and present, traditional and postmodern, speaker and poet, author and narrator.

Spotlight: My Night as a Dumpster and an Urchin, and Other Poems

My Night as a Dumpster and an Urchin

++++++and I know you will not listen, you are like the cupboard,
but please forgive, yet again, my shredding, indefinite removal

++++++of the stars, who aren’t getting any smaller, who kindle in a tree
or two: oblique, engrossing stars—who are you trying to convince, who

++++++rounds out your list? They tremble, and bait the moon, and I envy them
their lexicon—their burning, wax arms are hallucinations from my trapped, clacked-up

++++++shudderings. They could almost hear me: I am numb, like them, and the asteroid
belt, that longest of legs, has hounded us for a hundred thousand years against a corner

++++++and back into our unbelievable mouths. Let us put our hands together and make one
knotted steeple, we are young only as trash. Let me hum a few chords while we predict

++++++the inevitable years when we’ll be old and control our every orbit: I have spied
on robins, cloven vandals in my eyes, the fists of comets marking targets on my clean wrists

++++++and listening to the sonorous copyright vespers we never sang. Let me be a flooded
drain then, a scarf coughed up against my light chin, my eyes craven. The avenues under

++++++our woven skins are burning but I’ve seen worse, drowning in the imbalance
of magnets and whittled to an edge by clouds, a riven urchin. How could the living

++++++be praised? To what songs do they strum? The bruised suns we strung
up for our exhibition beat their cold boots together and dust covers the wet earth.

++++++Let this be quick and feverish, an elegy for my reprinted kidneys, tethered
like telephone wires to liquid and obvious clouds. Where are my cerebral

++++++and distant fathers, my clandestine arteries, some believable dialogue?
We could disappear from here for free—there will be a dearth of us in the night.


My Night as a Thorn and an Aerogramme

Only Thursday tastes like this: a mouthful of cheap
++++++sepals and reeds breathing. I walked to the river

and watched my father commence his drowning
++++++only to remember that he is made of sand.

Let me stand stock-still in the street: the phone screams,
++++++but only if you beg it; only autumn demands our teeth

to smolder like craters; only the rug can shelter more stains than
++++++my voice: a wavelength of winter, broken tables down my throat.

I am a burning aerogramme: to bury my high-strung rats you must carry
++++++me a little farther, and to barter my thrushes the night must drop

its dead finches. You want to pinch the hips of my livelihood?
++++++I am a burning aerogramme, a puncture in lumber, an upturned

dumpster: must I remain apostrophic? Drive home the thorn—
++++++my glands have grown dry from shouting with this colorblind voice.


My Night as a Plumage and a Portrait

I live in a house up the road but I am not a surgeon.
++++++I cannot fix you with honey or with gauze.

I collect tin cans but ignore the driftwood.
++++++I run a shower when ragweed sticks to my fists.

My words are stars in black parentheses. For me
++++++the moon is always covered in wintered blood.

I have no money in my chest of drawers. My chest is full of leaves
++++++and umbra. I sit in the angular square and lift not one vesper

from my lips. Through the long curtains of my eyes comes the first
++++++refusal of light—charring through the windows of nebulas,

I flicker into a river down twin tongues. Down twin tongues,
++++++gravity doesn’t matter. Nothing matters except for that bridge

of ill-born supernovas piling like dust on a tired moon. I banished
++++++the planets from this cage. In this cage my self-portrait

is a plumage of black teeth. When wind surrounds the mausoleum
++++++with wet leaves, I wait for the rain to rub its fingers all over me.


My Night as a Mannequin and a Casket

With me you tried your worst but still fleshed me
++++++out, plastered me with all this desperate skin,

and now I burn these hundred mites from my tongue,
++++++bury signposts in the directions of bricks, and distill

the venom from my lungs. I chased our bodies outside,
++++++plagiarized the night, and revived us from the compost

heap of my skull—but we won’t live like twigs or oars,
++++++backlit rivers, adjectives slipping into seasons.

I lull trains to pass the time, hang useless frames, and remember
++++++our worst night—when the steam off the rain declared

us membranes that bristle, awaiting close locusts
++++++to drill sky-drunk inside our chests like wax

spears. That kindling of birds in your mouth dissolves
++++++to glycerin, our mannequins cut off their ears, a radio

busts through the window with cold marrow, whispers
++++++flood your fractal teeth, and my knuckles refute the fact

that we were born. Now our bodies begin to rust
++++++under new skins, but I’ll remember you: your eyes

like moths in the dark—and you’ll remember
++++++me the way a casket knows who lowered it.

Graf Photo-1Derek Graf was born and raised in Tampa, FL. He received his B.A. from the University of South Florida, where he studied under the poets Katie Riegel and Jay Hopler. He currently lives and works in Stillwater, OK, where he is completing his MFA degree at Oklahoma State University. His chapbook, What the Dying Man Asked Me, is forthcoming from ELJ Publications in 2015. His poems have been featured in The Boiler Journal, Misfit Magazine, and Meat for Tea: The Valley Review. He likes to make new friends. Find him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Derek.Graf8?fref=ts. 

 

Spotlight: Reclamation

[creative nonfiction]

When I am three years old, I feel the burn of a cigarette on my arm. It is followed by an instantaneous, “Shit,” flick of the butt, and a cadence of apologies while my head presses against his chest. Inside, I hear someone orchestrating a wild percussion.

This is the only memory I have of my father.

*     *     *

“Easy to misinterpret as hostility or—look!—as a person who wants out of the relationship.”

My boyfriend, Greg, and I lie belly-side down on our bed, front-page research displays before us on the laptop. I point at keywords on the screen while he lies next to me, the laptop’s light reflecting off the curves of our faces—his stoic and patient, mine hopeful and nervous.

“Unmotivated. This is how I feel when I wake up. It’s why our apartment looks the way it does. It’s why, despite the fact that I am graduating soon, I still haven’t figured out what comes next… .” I stop, avoiding the snowball that rolls down the well-known mountain of guilt and anxiety.

“Irritable. Well, I don’t need to explain there,” I laugh, trying to ease the pain of explaining me. I think about arguments in enclosed rooms and how I run outside of them; a swift movement of my hand turning the doorknob, my hand squeezing and thrusting the thickness of the door, a result of a shutting that slams—the infamous freight train conducted by the madwoman with wind in her hair. I think about a car ride I took after a fight I don’t remember anymore, the one where he stood on our third floor apartment patio and watched me flick him off from a half-cracked window while I drove too fast over parking lot speed bumps.

I think about how depression holds a magnifying glass over your problems and eliminates your blessings like ants beneath a beating sun. I think about public places like the pasta aisle of the neighborhood grocery store where we talked about genetically modified food labeling; debated about the political decisions of genetically modified food labeling; argued about genetically modified food labeling being a human right, verses the plausibility of those who label; exploding about the necessary labeling of genetically modified food, whether we can trust the labels or not. Then, the existence of contradicting feelings—one where the pasta aisle compresses around me, and the other where my anger is expanding my body larger, my incessant need to get out before I am crushed, and the incessant need to get out before I crush. The organized grocery aisles swirled past me and mixed together—frozen bags and boxes of vegetables and lasagnas, bottles of olive oils and salad dressings, packaged sliced breads and pre-made dessert cakes—until I found the front of the grocery store, where I sat pissed off and terrified on a gray padded bench, next to a man with soft wrinkles and dark liver spots wearing a jet-black Vietnam Vet hat, who looked at me and smiled.

*     *     *

Depression is a pissed-off bitch.

*     *     *

When I am five years old, I stand behind the plastic side railings of the hospital bed and I cannot cry, unlike my mother and brother who stand next to me. I look at the drawing I made of my father, his body a cerulean blue box with macaroni orange stick arms and a canary yellow halo. He stands with a crooked smile next to a similar crooked-smiling boxed man with long beaver brown hair and matching beard.

*     *     *

We are lying in our bed of navy cotton sheets. I feel his hand move across my inner leg, his warm breath and lips that kiss my shoulder.

“Not tonight, Greg.”

*     *     *

Depression is a dried-up lover.

*     *     *

My family has always lived in Cape Coral, Florida—a town described as “for the nearly dead and newlywed.” Small businesses freckle various streets of Cape Coral with palm trees, churches, schools, and gas stations in-between. Our mall, the next town over, is named after Thomas Edison. It slowly retrogresses to its social surroundings. Two Christmases ago when I visited my family, my younger brother came running out of his bedroom, saying he heard on the radio that a man in the Dillard’s fired thirty rounds from his semi-automatic gun.

On a home visit during Labor Day weekend my senior year of college, I went to dinner with a best friend from high school—a girl I rarely speak with and only reach out to when I reminisce the pubescent era on the drive home. What started out as a glass of red wine at a restaurant with easy lights and a piano player; turned into vodka, flickering neon lights, and blasts of classic rock at a strip club, then blackness.

My friend shook my arm, “Colleen, we are here. We are at your house. Do you need any help getting inside?” Fuck. I recalled the night as I grabbed the seat belt, untangled myself, and slammed her car door while I held my black flats and made movements like a pinball to my mother’s front door: colorful shots in plastic cups; sets of licking lips sitting around a lit-up stage; a girl in a pink G-string who looks seventeen sliding up and down pole number one; a woman in a red G-string who looks forty sliding upside down on pole number two. This is a place I most likely would have visited in my senior year of high school, even my sophomore year of college. I smell of things like stomach acid, ash, and sweat.

The next afternoon, my mother held my face up as the surface of my body tingled, like when a foot falls asleep, and twitched like an eye open for too long, in episodes of hyperventilating. My fingers became cryptic branches that poked out in unnatural ways. My mouth gaped open and closed the way a fish’s lips do when he is caught and above water. I had forgotten how to breathe, how to move, how to blink. I am shit. I thought I was better than this town. It looked at me, squinted in recognition, pinched me, and swallowed me whole.

She told me, “Breathe, sit up, and stay with me,” and I wondered if I could die this way, if it was possible to live after this if I don’t, if I would get “better” like last time, if I would get like this again, like this time.

*     *     *

Depression is a thirsty motherfucker.

*     *     *

When I am six years old, I am inside a hot yellow plastic tube on the playground at recess. Inside, I scream. I want to run away, but I want to stay, and I can’t understand why these feelings exist at the same time. I want the boy outside to go away. He has done nothing to me, but when he tries to come inside, I hit him anyway.

*     *     *

On our first date, Greg and I met one another nearby in downtown Orlando, Florida. Several weeks before, he had asked me to go downtown one night, which made me think all things uncomfortable—excessive drinking, loud music, and heels. I declined and filed him in a mental manila folder titled, “Downtown-at-Night Guys” next to the empty “Downtown-During-the-Day Guys,” a significant difference of don’t-take-me-seriously and take-me-seriously.

I continued to talk to him on the phone, a surprising flare of curiosity considering the guys I had been recently turning down in my single life. The more we spoke, the more I envisioned the both of us downtown in the daytime—a place I seemed to have subconsciously kept vacant. Like when he told me his reason for chartering a fraternity on campus was to reinvent the typical group of guys who congregate to bench weight, drink hard, and attract girls into an estab-lished group of respectful brothers who would be good enough to one day stand next to each other at their weddings. Or that he shamelessly told me when he was younger, the only dog he ever had was a toy—a stuffed German Shepherd he gave haircuts and named Peach.

He stuck out like a bookmark amidst the beige manila coloring. I wanted the Sunday farmers’ market of raw and organic produce, food trucks and their condensed aromas, pedestrian crossings that lead to hole-in-the-wall restaurants with innovative tacos and imported pineapple sodas, the rhythm from street guitarists, him.

During our walk, Greg tripped over uneven brick sidewalks and his gray shirt developed sweat stains in the shape of goose eggs—a terrible choice of color for Central Florida’s heavy atmosphere—all of which I had genuinely observed as adorable. We talked about our dreams and thoughts over raw fish wrapped in seaweed: his idea for a science fiction novel, my hopes to write and publish a memoir. We started topics of conversation, digressed to other welcomed topics, and each unfinished conversation left us in the midst of their peaks to live in a parallel world.

*     *     *

When my therapist talks about medication, he tells me they are, “simply pills that bring out the strength within.” I could comply and admit that they are, in fact, just tools to build a bridge that start after the smoke of a psychological trigger, internal thunder, aggressive silence, and end at happy trees, trotting unicorns, and a glistening Jesus.

When he talks about mental control, I could tell the counselor that he’s right, I do have it within me to be better—a trivial and repetitive fortune cookie message consistently vomited, dripping off of bumper stickers, elementary school posters, tattoos, Facebook statuses, high school posters, self-help books, Tweets, pamphlets, my counselor’s thin lips, my mother’s quivering lips, my boyfriend’s bitten lips.

But no. Depression is picky. She grabs a pan, sifts out gold, and keeps the dirt. She is an indistinguishably unmotivated, irritable and paralyzing prevalence. She is the catalyst to most, if not all, arguments. She teases, reaches for the flame of connection and pulls back before the swirls on her bony fingertips burn into a smooth plane; maintaining the value of her impetuous and tyrannical identity, an identity that lingers in freezing waters, layered beneath thick ice, clear enough to still see what exists on the other side, me before depression took hold.

*     *     *

Depression is the bitch I know the best. Depression is the me I know best.

*     *     *

I don’t know who I am. I know who I have been, who I could be, who I wish to be. She is intangible, but she exists. This “she” blurs in and out of my life but this “she” is the me who dreams confidently of being a writer. The me who makes love to her boyfriend because she wants to and not because she feels she has to. The me who can say no to things she doesn’t believe in anymore, like strip clubs and overindulgences of alcohol. The me who braces herself for the release of love she found hidden below, the little girl who lost her father when she was five. The me who can spit in Depression’s face and tell her to shut the fuck up when she takes control. The me who is a mixture of a bitch, a lover, and a good woman all at the same time, just because she is human.

The me who I will grab a hold of some day and plan the rest of my life with.

*     *     *

Together, we stand on a rock. Lower rock formations, shiny and slick, surround us in stacks. The trees are a color of bright green I’ve never seen before—except for adjusting the contrast on a color photo. Above us is the waterfall of the Rainbow Falls Trail I picked out, 2.7 miles of hiking down and 3.6 miles of driving to the hiking lodge, pointing with my finger at a spot on the plastic map ridged like a topography globe.

Rainbow Falls is the highest single-drop waterfall in the Smokies. Below us is a family of hikers standing next to a sign warning them not to climb on rocks near the waterfall, as several people have fallen to their deaths, and many others have suffered serious injuries over the years. The family looks up at us and walks on.

Rainbow Falls got its name from the rainbow it produces in its mist. At the highest rock, the mist tinges my neck and face and my pores contract, like eyes squinting with happiness. This is the first and only time I have hiked a mountain, seen a waterfall, and felt in that moment I knew who I was and who I would always be: a woman with the world at her feet.

I close my eyes. Greg says something but his words are obscure among my state of mind. I open them and our eyes meet, his brown and curious, mine hazel and wet.

“Greg, can you do something for me?”

“Of course.”

“Can you remind me of this place?”

Ladd_AuthorPhoto_optColleen Ladd is a recent graduate of the University of Central Florida with a Bachelor’s Degree in English and Creative Writing. She’s been published in The Feminist Wire and is currently working any chance she gets to save up to go to graduate school for a MFA in Creative Writing with a concentration in non-fiction. She wants most in life to be a part of something bigger than herself.

 

Spotlight: Chipped Edges Crumble / A Criss-Crossed Sky

Chipped Edges Crumble

In summer, Gram lazily waves at me with the flyswatter while Gramp chain-smokes Swisher Sweets in his underwear, wrestling always playing on the heavy wooden-entombed TV. Even the flies are hot, buzzing in wide erratic circles around the trash, full of green and beige scooped cantaloupe rinds. I feel like Gram’s china, cornflower blue and fragile, a chipped edge turned toward the back of the hutch, dusted only when company calls. Outside, there is a small breeze, and the thick concrete step is warm and welcome on my rear. I cross and uncross my legs, pick at my funky toenail, wonder where my cousin is, and watch the road where nothing ever happens, the sidewalk that ends in a crumble before the faded stop sign.


A Criss-Crossed Sky

We wanted a criss-crossed sky. Unpronounceable food. Premium toilet paper. So we moved to the city, where bustle became background hum. We gaped at personal ads in indie lit zines (free at all 87 coffeehouses, with a Moroccan yerba mate), dangled hamachi crudo and kosho ponzu over each others’ open mouths, then made love on a jutty-metal mattress above hardwood floors, college kids planking on the fence outside our poo-speckled windows. Rave-dancing cockroaches in the kitchen, my jacked wallet and laptop, a triple homicide two blocks away wore us thinner than my faded 1994 flannel, resurrected for this fine young city. We stopped eating and sexing. You busted the kitchen door like cops, flashlight cocked, crushed roaches by the shoeful. It was my goddamn shoe. You screamed about mixed kale and arugula, because ‘[I] should damn well know how [you] hate arugula, by this point.’ You scrubbed the shit from our glass until your knuckleskin cracked and bled into soapy streaks. Not even the pedicab drivers hipstering or the homeless men humpbacking could cheer you. Finally, we were dairy and gluten-free, non-GMO, all organic, no hormones, additives, or irradiation, no artificial flavors, fertilizers, preservatives, pesticides, or colors. But, at the end, only air on our plates. And we couldn’t even see the fucking sky.

hlnelson_headshotH.L. Nelson (hlnelson.com) is head of Cease, Cows and Associate Editor of Qu. Her publications include Writer’s Digest, PANK, Hobart, Connotation Press, Thrice, etc. Her poem “Absolution” was nominated for the 2013 Best of the Net. She’s compiling an anthology with stories by Aimee Bender, Roxane Gay, Lindsay Hunter, and others.

Adam "Bucho" Rodenberger

Spotlight: Scaring the Stars Into Submission

3:48am

Sleepless. Not just for a string of nights, but for several months. Is this what dying feels like? To be in a constant state of shuffling through the ether but going nowhere? Melodramatic, maybe, but there is something heavy pressing in around me. Katherine sleeps soundly on the other side of the bed, but I… cannot seem to force my pillow to make dreams. She sleeps on her side and I watch as her chest expands up and out with each rhythmic breath. If I catch her at the right moment, she will snore a little, but only enough to elicit a smile and never enough to keep me awake. She denies that she does this, but I hear it. I know it to be true.

The sheets are warm between us. Our collective body heat has sucked out the coolness found at the moment we slip beneath them. My pillows are the same, warm to the touch with no cool side to flip over and rest upon. I sit up against the headboard and stare out into the dark room. I know the furniture; I could walk this room blind and never touch a thing, but my eyes eventually adjust and I get up quietly so as not to wake her. I won’t be returning to bed anytime soon. Once I’m up, I’m up for the entire measure of the day.

I head down the hall to the guest bathroom and take care of my morning business. In the kitchen, I slide open the window above the sink, turn on the exhaust fan over the stove, and light a cigarette. I exhale through the window, the smoke from the cigarette disappears up into the vent. The first smoke of the day always makes me woozy in a way that makes me feel I exist.

I don’t know how to explain it better than that.

 

4:15am

Lift lid, add filter. Scoop three spoonfuls of coffee into filter. Fill pot with water, empty pot into reservoir. Turn on. Brew.

The smell of coffee fills the kitchen, mingles with the leftover tobacco. The paper has not arrived yet, so I’m alone with my thoughts. I rummage through the drawers, looking for nothing in particular. I open the linen drawer, lift each pot holder and hand towel, find a pair of orange-handled scissors. I place them on the kitchen table. In the living room, I come across some old magazines; pages of art and celebrities, political news and home furnishings. I take a stack of the periodicals and place them next to the scissors on the table.

Open cupboard, remove mug. Open fridge, remove creamer, fill mug a quarter of the way. Put creamer back into fridge. Pour coffee. Watch it swirl from black to vanilla brown.

The steam from the mug wafts up to my face, bathes me in smell. I sit at the table and flip open the first magazine, one filled with home improvement projects and how-to guides on making your home less cluttered. These simple bookshelves can be run along the walls of any finished basement or unused room as storage, a page reads. I wonder why someone wouldn’t just toss the stuff out if it’s clutter. I turn the page.

A wrap-around porch on a stout two-floor ranch home is spotlighted. The roof covers every foot of it and it seems obvious there is room for a dining set and a rolling barbecue grill beneath the eaves. Perfect for hosting!

Katherine and I wanted a house with a porch. We wanted one like in the magazine, big and comfortable in case the weather turned, but the houses themselves were either unaffordable or just too big. We settled on a place crammed next to others that looked the same, deep in wild suburbia where you could get lost in the maze of same-looking streets lined with same-looking families.

Wake up, go to work. Come home, have dinner, watch television. Lay in bed reading, fall asleep until whenever. We rarely talk anymore, Katherine and me.

Each day tastes the same flavor of beige. Even after the dawn started rising red.

 

5:27am

But it’s Saturday. Katherine will sleep in until I wake her with breakfast, something I have done every weekend since we married eleven years ago. Perhaps it has lost its sentimentality because she can count on it. Perhaps she still secretly loves that I do it, despite the quiet fracture that has come between us as of late. It’s early yet and I won’t start breakfast for another few hours.

I lean in closer, inhale. It smells like sky and rain, snow and lightning. It smells like everything and nothing all at once.

I go outside, shut the front door behind me gently. The morning sky is cloudy and the alarming color of deep maroon. Even the grass seems to be dew-kissed with little, glistening droplets of blood. Unnerving at first, this change in the weather and morning routine, but we adapted. It’s what we do, I suppose. Change our routine into something unexpected and we adjust to it accordingly. We thought the red skies would dissipate, that some scientific phenomenon had occurred, but they stuck around and we later heard they were man-made. The fear never really left, but it’s abated, tamped down, simmering just below and ready to come back out and play sometime. Maybe we’ve just adjusted to the fear, infused it to our daily living.

We’ve heard a thousand excuses for it all, never truly believing any of them. Solar flares, the earth moving closer to the sun (though we weren’t getting hotter), airborne pollutants mixing with atmospheric molecules, so on. I don’t claim to know much, but these all sounded like nonsense to me. One day the sky was perfect blue and the next? The next day looked like the world had been painted in blood by some new millennial angel of death. We felt like aliens on our own planet. Perhaps some still feel that way. It’s understandable.

I walk around the perimeter of the house and pull random weeds from the dying flowerbed. Without proper sunlight, our lawns have withered, but we keep on trying to play house. What else are we to do? Nightly news is one-note and depressing, but there’s always been work to be done around the house. We try to forget the red is what’s killing the flowers and work at the garden anyway. Doing something helps in the forgetting, but we know it’s a Sisyphean thing.

I often forget to put shoes on before coming out in the morning and today is no different. The grass feels lush between my bare toes. When this happens, I like to imagine I can feel the grass growing up and out, covering me like vines as it tickles its way across every inch of skin.

 

5:43am

I carry the weeds to the garbage cans on the side of the house. From the corner of my eye, I see an object in our backyard. The sun peeks up over the horizon and blinds my line of sight, burns corona images onto the back of my eyelids. It’s a large thing, squatting perfectly in the center of our backyard and rising several feet higher than the fence. I cannot remember it being there last night and I’ve heard no one make any noise near the house since waking. I place my hand over my eyes, try to block out the sun. No good.

I pass through the chain-link gate and shuffle through the grass. The dew feels especially nice, but my feet are covered in grass clippings now and start to itch. The object is massive. I walk around it twice, once clockwise and once counter-clockwise. I think I am just tired, just seeing things, perhaps hallucinating. It is a fluffed kind of round shape, but not perfectly so, and seems to hover just an inch or so above the lawn. I get down on my knees and press my face to the ground. I see right through to the back fence.

Cotton candy. The phrase screams in my head. It is a giant ball of cotton candy. Of course this can’t be right, but the texture, the look… I imagine burying my face into its gossamer surface, biting into it, and swallowing the tendrils of whatever it is made of. I imagine it tasting oversweet as it melts on my tongue.

I lean in closer, inhale. It smells like sky and rain, snow and lightning. It smells like everything and nothing all at once. It is a singularly unique smell that I cannot definitively place or name, but it is calming and reminiscent of quiet autumn evenings. I rub my hand across its surface, feeling it give softly beneath my touch. Spongy, springy. It rebounds slow when I take my hand off. The texture is incredibly plush, pillowy, a softness that I don’t believe man has ever achieved on his own.

 

6:01am

I could not be sure before, but I am now. It is a cloud, sitting fat and soft in my backyard. Tendrils of cloud fiber snake out into the morning air, lifted and moved by the first breezes of the day like medusa hair. I climb up the side of it, feeling my hands and bare feet dig into the spongy surface easily. I pull myself up over the edge. My first thought is that it is a large atmospheric cushion or pillow and I fall easily into slumber. The top layer gives beneath my weight, creating a large man-sized divot in its surface, and cocoons me in a feathersoft embrace.

 

8:45am

I awake to Katherine calling out to me, wondering where I’m at. She is on the ground below and, I’m sure, shocked at this new manifestation resting in our yard. I feel lighter, as if some unnamed burden has been lifted while I slept and my body tingles with a soft energy. I suppress a laugh; she won’t have expected me to have climbed up and fallen asleep here. I lean over the edge and wave. Hello, dear, I say. She gasps and gives me an unsure smile, waves limply.

What are you… what is… Jesus. What’s going on?

I shrug my shoulders. Come join me.

How?

Climb. I’ll take your hands. I’ll help you up.

She begins to climb and the oppressiveness of the morning seems to have gone away. I watch her struggle up the side of the cloud, tongue hanging out the left side of her mouth in concentration. She reaches up and our hands touch, clasp together, grip tight. Her face is lit up by the sun, seems to glow in a way I have not seen (noticed?) in years. I feel like I’m twelve years old and crushing again.

I don’t know how to explain it better than that.

 

9:17am

We lay next to each other. My hand rests on hers which rests on my chest. I can feel my heart thump through her. Or maybe it is her heart I feel thumping through her hand and our arrhythmias match.

Her face is nuzzled into my neck, her leg draped over mine. This cloud mattress has done something to us, something wonderful that neither of us wants to question for fear of losing the moment. We drown ourselves in the feeling, let it wash over every pore and slip into every orifice, let it fill us to the brim before overflowing.

I feel her breath along my neckline. It is warm and sweet and I breathe it all in. For the briefest of moments, I’m reminded of our courtship, of days spent laid out on shoddy quilts and blankets at the park, swapping secrets in whispers and napping with each other beneath a yellow sun in a blue sky. The memories are fuzzedwarm and comfortable. I slip into them easily, but find my way out of them less so.

 

9:18am

What do you think it means? she whispers.

I’ve no idea, but I like it so far.

You were up early again. 

He nods. Though, somehow I napped up here before you came out.

It’s like laying on a wish, she says, murmuring into his neck.

Do you remember the last time we did something like this? Just curled up together with no plans of doing anything?

Three years, two months, fifteen days, six hours, and twenty minutes ago. Far too long.

He runs his hand through her hair, feels her irregular scalp below, agrees. Far too long.

She opens her eyes and sees, across the red sky, bits of cloud breaking off, falling slow as if the entire city were caught in a molasses dream.

That one looks like an elephant, she says.

That one, an alligator with sunglasses.

A flower.

A bus full of children.

Popcorn.

A snow fort.

An ocean liner.

An angel.

A second chance.

They watch the tufts fall soundless from the sky, remaining wrapped up in each other on top of their own bit of grounded heaven. It is a strange storm falling in slow motion. The surfaces of buildings and cars become dusted with cumulus. Large chunks fall in backyards and intersections, parking lots and highway exit ramps, on playgrounds and sandboxes. The world stops and takes stock of itself for the first time in forever.

They lay next to each other. His hand rests on hers which rests on his chest. He can feel his heart thump through her. Or maybe it is her heart he feels thumping through her hand, and their arrhythmias match.

 

10:01am

Katherine vaguely remembers him waking that morning. His early risings had become small anomalies in her dream time, bumps in the road on the way to the subconscious. Her eyes would flutter open when he rose, but would calm again once he left the room.

His side. Her side. Wasn’t the bed supposed to be their side? Why had it taken this strange bit of skycandypillow to get them to curl up into each other, to feel each other from the inside out? For the life of her, she couldn’t remember what he sounded like when he slept beside her in the bed, but she knew she’d remember what it was like for them out here. She’d remember his breathing, the heat beneath his undershirt, the throbbing of his blood pumping out to every appendage, the un-showered smell of him, the feel of his fingers combing through her hair, the way her lips dry out against the skin of his neck, the soundfeelingmovement she feels through her skull when he swallows, the way she feels protected laying on top of him. Before she awoke in her (their) bed, she saw:

Confined in black. Not swimming, not moving, simply there. Feet planted in a nothing ground. From the black, a hand extends, gives her a bouquet of day-glo yellow daisies. The arm connected to the hand is sheathed in the same black and disappears off into nowhere. There is no face to the figure, no form. She presses her nose into the middle of the bouquet, feels the petals tickle her nose and cheeks, rubs them across her lips and feels their color melt on her face. Pollen colored lipstick drips down her chin. She looks up. The flowers are gone, the black nothing has been replaced. A once verdant valley stretches out for miles, now the color of brown burn and blackened char. She walks, feeling dead, flaky petals turn to ash beneath her arches, feeling the ash cake between her toes like thickening leather thongs. The ash becomes grey mud, sticks and dries to the top of her feet, hardens and cracks, becomes a thin layer of varying shades of blue scales that climb up her legs, her torso, her breasts, her neck, her face. She is a myriad blue, except for her lips, which remain yellow, though she doesn’t know how she knows this. The ground beneath her opens up, sucks her down into the slickery of ash-mud, begins to pile itself on top of her, the sludge slipping into the gaps between each blue tinted scale, covering her yellow lips and filling her mouth, her throat, her lungs.

When she wakes, she sits upright, breathless, gasping, alone in her (their) bed. She remembers flecks of moments spread across her memory. She cannot remember it all, but she is distraught, heavy, weighed down by a something she cannot put a name to, cannot wrap her brain around tight enough to squeeze out meaning.

She doesn’t know how to explain it better than that.

 

10:17am

Things that happened to others:

Herman Effen saw himself mirrored in the side of the cloud in his front yard. His reflection danced and laughed. He put two shotgun shells into the side of the fluffy interloper, but the reflection continued to dance.

Rita Jackson-Danforth was gardening when hers fell. It shamed and excited her, made her tingle beneath her sundress. She said it smelled like fresh laundry when she grinds her body against it like “a teenager again in the back of a car with some boy.”

James Ritter and his friends climbed on top of the one that fell in the forest near his home, turned it into a club house, a meeting place for their neighborhood “gang.” They imagined themselves as pirates and cutthroats before fighting and disbanding over ownership rights. James Ritter is, ultimately, brained with a rock by young Joel Martin from down the street.

Ethel Madison was crushed by one she could not escape from fast enough. It fell on her, around her, suffocated her within its ivory fluff. As she struggled to breathe, she felt the decades of dry twist in her bones dissipate.

Bethany Pilatas found herself unable to stop tearing off tufts of cloud and stuffing them down her mouth, not bothering to chew. She did this for an entire afternoon and swelled up, puffed out grotesquely. Her parents found her when they returned home from work, a fat smile played across her lips.

Roger Matthison cut large swathes of cloud off, replaced his mattress with the stuff. He fell asleep inhaling deeply the new surface. He woke up inhaling deeply the new surface. He spent a week doing nothing but inhaling deeply the new surface. He quickly withered into a shriveled version of himself and became folded deeply into the new surface.

The residents of the Oak Valley apartment complex found themselves crushed beneath the weight of a hundred clouds, all bearing down on the roof, which came crashing down on upper floor apartments, which crashed down on mid-floor apartments, which crashed down onto those living in the basement.

 

3:28pm

We hear the noise of exploration across the city, me and Katherine. We hear the excited screams of children having preconceived notions shattered and parents turning into children themselves. We hear the thunder of clouds falling and resting upon buildings and people, jostling birds and scaring the stars into submission.

We take an entire day of watching the clouds dissolve like cotton being slowly pulled apart, wispy curls frayed and stretching out as if begging to be put back together. It is a cotton-candy bombardment against which we have no defense. Katherine is mesmerized and I hear her questions through a muffled haze, a buffer. Her words are warped by the atmospheric spell cast upon me.

I turn to smile at her, to acknowledge her even if I can’t hear what she is saying. Her body is light, not weightless, but glowing faintly. Her veins are lit up with a pulsing white and her skin is translucent, melting into and becoming one with the cloud as I struggle to speak. Her face is wide with smile, her hair wafts below inside the clouded bed already. She is sinking into the ether of this thing and I am powerless to stop her descent.

I see it in her eyes; this is not bliss, but frightened improbability, impossibility. She fights the smile as I thrust my hand down into the cloud to scoop her out, to save her, to fly her back to the last few hours. My hand passes through her body as easily as it went through the cloud. She is ghostly now, pale and untouchable. Intangible and unreachable. Her hand reaches up and out, touches my chest.

My hand rests on hers. I can feel her heartbeat thrumming through her. Or maybe it is my heart I feel thumping through her hand and our arrhythmias match.

A breeze wafts over me, blows unshowered hair across my face, and she is gone. There is no face, no body, inside the cloud below. She has disappeared. I do not know how to explain it better than that.

Adam "Bucho" RodenbergerAdam “Bucho” Rodenberger is a 34-year old writer from Kansas City living in San Francisco. He holds dual bachelor’s degrees in Philosophy & Creative Writing and completed his MFA in Writing at the University of San Francisco in 2011.

As of January 2013, he has been published in Alors, Et Tois?, Agua Magazine, Offbeatpulp, Up the Staircase, Gloom Cupboard, BrainBox Magazine, Cause & Effect Magazine, Santa Clara Review, Crack the Spine, Penduline Press, Bluestem Magazine, Aphelion, Glint Literary Journal, Fox & the Spirit’s “Girl at the End of the World” anthology, and Phoebe.

He blogs at triphoprisy.blogspot.com

Monique Zamir

Spotlight: We Breathe Through Harmonicas and Four More Poems

We Breathe Through Harmonicas

The anarchists must be somewhere says
the orange man in the sun hat.

He chews his blade of grass. The cringe
of grass in his teeth, his sunflower seed mouth: I have
trouble breathing. His Betelgeuse eyes bore
through me and my eyes retreat to my tongue. I cradle
my harmonica, already finger-worn and tired.

I hum through my harmonica. He doesn’t understand.
I hum louder. His eyes so transparent I see
through the iris, retina. He smiles, louder,
he says, breathe louder

hum louder, the harmonica overwhelms wind,
his dusted voice, my lone brass breath.
The orange man hums
                                           The anarchists are everywhere.


The Revelers Should Have Died

My ears hover above my head, then waver down
to the soft dirt: on with the picking
fingers, the tapping foot. Bone-deep bass
caresses my spine and you
+++++++++++++++++++jolt.
I bathe my ears in measured breaths—
dissonant, melodic. A trumpet
swings a hypnotic tune. With each bend
of the trumpeter’s back your voice
perspires a bit more. My
fingers reach over—
+++++++++++++++hesitate
on the solitary half-note. The song
meanders in my hands. We dance in
burgundy, your hair dull with wine,
the cat drunk off your blue breath.


Two Poets Meet in a Confluence of Echoing Songs

Take it back my little vertebrae. My nightmares of stairways and powdered faces always moving,
++++++your lips always brooding the banister to its essence: the moving faces, the withered
++++++++++++stairway. I can’t breathe these days, I’ve been eating at the sun for way too long
++++++++++++++++++I exhale sun spots in silhouettes emit smoke from my dust lips, I
take it back. My fingernails peel my livelihood away I dream I live underwater play
++++++my guitar for the sea anemones, they sting my back. In the dry ocean
++++++++++++breeze I hear the sound of a single pelican that lonely breeze redolent
++++++++++++++++++of wilted raspberries in moonlight trumpet in firelight I burn in orange
I take it back all those years I swallowed you whole my breath
++++++burns like dry ice salt in my eyes and your tongue a river of caterpillars in my esophagus.
++++++++++++I never heard the sheen of your voice till it was gone, I listen now as I make this roux,
++++++++++++++++++as I bathe in rice water to absorb the ubiquity of you, my darling palimpsest,
take it back. This time of year the salamander crossing obstructs my tongue—in the winter, I am
++++++silent. The salamander in my breath, the spring in the salamander’s breath, it’s all so familiar,
++++++++++++the sting of it in the moonlight, redolent of you, my darling salamander. I
++++++++++++++++++lose you daily, caraway seeds drip from the ceiling, your lips dripping, say
take nothing back. My watch slowly melts onto my arm, and my arm slowly melts onto
++++++your lips. The world becomes amorphous. Let’s leave time out of this, I hear you
++++++++++++say, the toad, also melting, the baker kneading, always with floured hands and nose.
++++++++++++++++++The always of the baker’s face, the bread of her fingers, the need—that smell.
++++++++++++++++++++++++The dough says take nothing back, your lips
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++barely moving.


The red sky leaves no room for sorrow

The sting, the sweet viscosity of raw
honey, with dates and black coffee beachside,
pits in sand; the sky runs red leaves, night is
replete with sea revelers dancing in dark
reed, with drums. There is no moon tonight.

An elder plays this mandolin, I smile, you are the
grandfather I don’t remember. Fingers vibrato: bronze,
worn strings, in darkness his rough hands ride,
writhe with this sonorous music for two-thousand years.
And in this time, his hands disintegrate;

the mandolin grows weary, morose. Fire
wood crumbles, flames fade modestly. We proceed
in color negative—shadows are always
luminous. And in dawn we break our silence,
let tongues serenade us. I think of you

always, your absent smile in the silver nightingale night.


Time Ticks Itself Away

This ravenous world grows grey, grotesque. A
grazed woman crawls up to a red oak door,
the wind nearly immobilizes her (the weeping widow). She
gropes for the glass knob, moving further by the finger. A man

crawls up to the red door, his pants are torn. He
can’t see his fingernails, the wind flares with seawater. He
gropes for the knob and loses his fingers in green;
the bitter leaf, the alchemist, mourns in color.

The wind flares her nostrils with seawater. She
plunges into the uncertain wind, blaring sounds of mystics
long forgotten, the brittle leaf mourns its tired alchemy.
The waves crash against the jetty she cries, he

plunges into the mystics blaring sounds of wind long
forgotten the whine of the dead longshoremen curls his ears
the waves crash against the jetty he cries, he fights the
gale, opens the door, he doesn’t see her. The gale retreats.

The whine of the dead longshoremen curls her ears
she breathes in lemons: his fingers. She fights
the gale opens the door, she doesn’t see him. The gale retreats.
She collapses in the stalled minute, the heaving sunflower

withers over him. He breathes in jasmine oil: her hands.
Lost in this sea of rose hips, she lets one wither on her lips.
He wanders, catches rose hip dust with his tongue;
this sentient world grows grey, grotesque.

Monique ZamirBorn and raised in New York, Monique Zamir lives in Stillwater whilst she attends an MFA program for poetry in Oklahoma State University. She’s an Assistant Editor for the Cimarron Review and has written on sundry topics of urban intrigue for publications like Untapped Cities. She finds the screeches of the subway to be energizing, and, yes, comforting.

Jessica Barksdale

Spotlight: Monsters in the Agapanthus

[fiction]

My niece clutches the kitchen doorjamb, her brown eyes wide. Her face is streaked with something dark—mud, dirt, ash. Her thin hair is flyaway, thin, uncombed. “There’s monsters in the bushes.”

I put a plate in the dishwasher, wipe my hands. She’s a dark child, full of nightmares. I wish I weren’t taking care of her. “What bushes?”

“The shiny ones. At the bottom of the backyard.”

“The agapanthus.” I snap the door shut, plates rattling. “There are monsters in the agapanthus.”

Deena nods. She’s so slight, so tiny, I can actually see her swallow articulated in her throat. I’m not sure what a seven-year-old should weigh, but it’s got to be more than this, her arms like reeds, knees like tangerines, eyes that take in the entire world.

“Come on,” I say, holding out my hand, dried and chapped from so much hand-washing. “I’ll show you the monsters.”

 

The monsters rattle the agapanthus, moaning and growling like something from a Sci-Fi movie. In the cheesy film, the small things would spring out, covered in fur or scales but certainly with enormous teeth, biting one of the supporting cast. Deena shudders at my side as the tuberous mounds shake, the growls roaring to a crescendo.

Deena grabs my pants. I imagine her on a ship, the stowaway clinging to the sail during a sudden squall.

“Puppies,” I say. And just then, Marcel and Lulu pop out, Lulu first, and she tears off to the far side of the yard, Marcel at her heels. They are smaller than the noises they make but fast and very happy.

“Puppies?” Deena gasps.

“More fur tornado than monsters. My friend calls them a furnado,” I say, but Deena, rapt, walks toward the puppies wrestling in the far corner of the yard. I follow. Her sad sneakers are flat and worn. A tag sticks up from her small T-shirt.

“I didn’t know you had puppies,” she said as she crouches down, her hand hovering over Lulu’s head.

“I didn’t know I had you,” I want to say, but don’t. Instead, I say, “Twelve weeks old. Got them almost half a month ago.”

“Are they nice?”

“They have sharp teeth. But they don’t bite hard.”

Lulu stops her tussle, pants, looks at Deena, and then moves into Deena’s cupped palm. Lulu licks her, snuggles against Deena’s stick body, and then reaches up and licks her face. If Lulu were a cat, she’d be purring.

That’s when Deena finally cries.

 

When I was little, I thought every night was a horror show. Something was bound to get me. Monster, ghoul, vampire, devil.

I don’t know how to make food kids like. Mostly, I make what I want, and no one but me likes to live on bowls of fruit and yogurt. Or vegetables and hummus. Smoothies made of brown bananas, rice milk, and ice cubes. Everything served cold. So I tried to remember something my mother used to make us, her repertoire Midwest and bland. I settled on mac and cheese. And carrots. I know kids like carrots, the kind that don’t look like roots but severed thumbs. For dessert, I bought some popsicles, but I remembered the minute I left the store that you can make your own. With orange juice and such.

The fork looks enormous in Deena’s hand. There’s a snail’s trail streak of snot on her right cheek, but I don’t say anything. She’s not paying attention to her meal but to the puppies and my adult dogs, all slumped like sacks at her bare feet. That’s how I used to sit at the dinner table. After my mother died, no one was there to make us wash before dinner. We were raised by ourselves and neighbors. By wolves, my older sister Mara used to say, Mara who escaped the wolves. But maybe that’s why I like dogs so much. They remind me of home.

“They have long tongues,” Deena says, chewing. She’s missing a couple of bottom teeth, and I hope that’s normal.

“The better to lick you with.” I glance to see if she gets the reference, but she keeps eating.

“Are they the babies of your other dogs?”

I chew the slightly too-al dente macaroni and then swallow. “No, I got Rocky and Bullwinkle a while back. But they’re all real pound pups. Saw them advertised in the paper and went and got them.”

Deena blinks and then nods. “You’ve got a lot of dogs.”

My friends have said the same thing, most telling me I’m becoming the crazy dog lady. My friend Carrie threatened to stage an intervention.

“A puppy is like two dogs,” I say to Deena. “So that means I don’t have four—“

“Six!” Deena cries out.

“That’s right,” I say, oddly proud. “For about a year that’s what it will feel like around here. Six dogs.”

Deena watches me, and I can see her calculating how her time and this new dog time will mesh. She chews her food and then says, “You can buy six leashes and six bowls.”

“And six beds,” I say. “We can have a doggie bunk bed.”

“A doggie hotel!”

She looks as if she will say something else, ready to add more detail to our doggie world. But then she catches her breath, almost sinking down onto her chair, shrinking back to her true shape. Then it’s my turn to cry. Or at least feel like it. Only seven, and she knows how not to believe in hope.

My younger sister Lynn, Deena’s mother, is the pretty one. The youngest by ten years and spun of gold and bright blue and long leanness, she came wired for excitement. None of us three older ones liked her much. She was the last evidence of our parents’ connection, something we’d given up on years before she was born. But after my father disappeared and before our mother died, Lynn was the designated favorite, given all the treats we’d been trying to discover for years. By the time I left for college, I’d decided Lynn would either be a stripper or a dentist. All those big white teeth.

Deena clacks her fork against her bowl, spearing a raft of macaroni. After every two bites or so, she leans down to pat one of the dogs, Rocky licking her hand and wrist. I idly wonder about worms and other parasites but then decide to ignore the thought because the attention makes her smile. Besides, by the time the symptoms of either appear, Deena will likely be somewhere else.

“My mom never let us have a dog. Said they were too—something. Something that ends with a y.”

“Hmmm,” I say, thinking of Lynn “Y” words. Sexy, crazy, naughty, scary. Lynn took her time getting to neither dentistry nor sex work. Instead, she became the girl next to one powerful man after another. Well, if the married president of a lawn mower company or owner of a string of auto-body shops counts as power. Which one ended up Deena’s father, I never knew. But at some point just shy of forty, she got pregnant. Of course, she was the best looking pregnant woman ever. Glowing, lush-haired, still slim-hipped, she carried Deena as if born to breed, like one of those native women who pushed out her baby over a dirt-floored hut and then headed back to the harvest. It was just plain irritating.

My other siblings and I strung together rosaries of questions, all starting with What, How, Why, Where. Lynn never answered a one of them, disappearing sometime in her third-trimester and sending only yearly shots of her baby girl.

“Can I have some more?” she asks. My heart flickers as I scoop out a mound of mac and cheese.

 

“What next?” Sal asks me.

“Don’t know. Some lawyer will tell me, I’m sure.”

I slump against my headboard, staring out into the hallway and the half-open door of the guest room where Deena sleeps. When I was little, I thought every night was a horror show. Something was bound to get me. Monster, ghoul, vampire, devil.

I’m just waiting for her scream.

“I guess I can’t come over for a while.”

I sigh. It’s possible Deena was an answer to my prayers. Sal and I have needed to break up for months. She wants to travel the world, and I just want to stay home. She turns up the heater, and I’m in favor of blowing out the pilot light. Etc. On and on. Who knows what she would think of Deena.

“Let her settle in,” I say. “Give her time before we tell her that the wombat she’s living with is not only a wombat, but an old grizzled lesbian.”

“You’re hardly grizzled,” Sal laughs. “Well, maybe in some places.”

“She’s been through too much,” I say. “All she needs is more oddness.”

“Nothing gay is odd in California, you know. Deena’s got to know that, too.”

“She’s not happy,” I say.

“Why isn’t she with your brother? The one with the kids.”

“Hardly kids. They’re in college.”

“But still,” Sal says. “There’s got to be a bicycle or a ball hanging around. A twin bed. “

“Oh,” I say, standing up. “She’s calling for me. I’ll call you tomorrow.”

“Ti—“

But I hang up. The house is silent, except for the hum of the furnace, set at 68 degrees.

 

“Marcel and Bullwinkle fight a lot,” Deena says. Today it looks as though Deena’s been playing with someone’s lipstick, something I haven’t worn any since 1976. Back then, it was called lip-gloss.

“It’s a male thing. They’re establishing who’s boss.”

“Who is the boss?” Deena bites down on another strawberry and watches Marcel mount Bullwinkle’s left leg.

“That we don’t know yet,” I hand Deena a napkin.

“I think Marcel.” She watches them play. “He’s smart. He knows when you’re going to feed them before anybody.”

“He hears me thinking about dog kibble.”

“He hears you think about walking to the kitchen.”

I laugh. “He is smart, then.”

Deena puts down her bowl of berries and wanders out onto the lawn where the dogs tussle. I’ve heard a lot of things in my life, too, and none of them very good. I’d like to unhear a few dozen for sure. The way a foot in a shoe on a floor trying not to make a sound sounds. I know the way a hand on a blanket sounds. I know the way cries-that-aren’t-yet-cries sound. No one should hear things that aren’t hearable.

All at once, I hear the things Lynn must have heard. The whack of air right by her head. The crack of skull on tile. Breath leaves my body, air leaves the backyard.

“Maybe Lulu’s the boss,” Deena cries. “She’s smart, too. And she’s the cutest.”

Like Lynn, I think. It’s the cute ones that go first.

 

The social worker is a stereotype, though why we call things that are true and real a type, I don’t know. She’s soft and formless, and her glasses rest on the bridge of her nose. Her gray hair is bone fide grizzled, but full, a messy halo. Her bag could be Mary Poppins’, a carpetbag full of magic. Except, of course, she’s here on business. My brother Tom picked up Deena for a park and ice cream afternoon, and I’m left to answer the questions.

“She was brought here two nights ago.” Mrs. Beadle reads from her notes. “A friend of the mother’s dropped her off?”

I nod. “It was late. I was half asleep. Didn’t ask what I should have.”

“The next morning is when you found out.” Mrs. Beadle peers up over her glasses. “That’s when you got the call.”

I look down at my feet in their sensible gardening shoes, one shoelace puppy shredded. The night after Deena arrived, I’d spent a few hours disgusted with Lynn for her this and that, her wastrelness, her incapacity, her inability to see that her shine had dimmed. Couldn’t she grow up and take care of her child? I thought every bad thing I could and lined up some more to mull over in the morning. Then I’d paced the floor, emailed my siblings and Sal, worried how I could keep the child alive.

“Right,” I say. “The police. A neighbor called it in.”

“It happened the night before,” Mrs. Beadle says gently. “And the friend who dropped off Deena?”

I nod. “That’s the one. At least, they think so. It’s ongoing.”

Mrs. Beadle shakes her head as she writes. “Does Deena know?”

“No,” I say.

She looks at me, bites her lip, shrugs. “You’ve got to tell her soon. Otherwise, she’ll be upset about the wrong things.”

Hadn’t I known this my entire life? I’m the poster girl for being upset about the wrong things, Who Else Can I Blame my cri de couer.

“I was just waiting…”.

“She’ll blame her mother for this.”

And why not? Isn’t it Lynn’s fault, all of it? She put herself right in the middle of bad and stayed there. That friend of hers, the one at my doorstep with Deena in the middle of the night. I could see why Lynn hitched her star to his. I can’t totally fault her. Even as I stood there in my terrible bathrobe, bleary-eyed, foul-breathed, I saw his smile. The way he cocked his head. The tattoo on his bicep.

“Worse, she’ll blame herself.” Mrs. Beadle rummages in her bag. She pulls out pamphlets and papers. “There are support groups.”

“There’s not going to be time for support.” Whatever help Deena needs will come from the place she lands. Here? I can be popsicles and puppies. Mrs. Beadle looks up, her black eyes intense over her eyeglasses.

“You are going to keep her with you?” She leans forward, close enough I can see the soft dark hair on her upper lip. She smells like gingersnaps, like the witch in Hansel and Gretel, the one who charmed with sweets.

“I—.”

“After what she’s been through?” Mrs. Beadle flips through the file, thicker than I’d ever imagined it could be. Seven years old!

“I’m not cut out for this.”

She rolls her eyes. “No one’s specifically cut out for this. Who could be? Not a pattern anyone wants to repeat. Middle of the night and all with no warning. But she’s your niece. She needs something known right now.”

“But later—.”

“One day at a time,” Mrs. Beadle says, handing over the information. “Make that one minute at a time. Or less, if need be. Just do it.”

 

Then we sit in chairs as if dressed in those bomb suits, immobile, muffled, hot as hell.

Tom’s wife brought over real food, and tonight, Deena and I dine on lasagna. As she scoops up cheese and sauce, I study her head. She doesn’t remind me of Lynn much, not with her sparse hair and plaintive features. That was one thing Lynn never was. She never complained. Not when we were eating lentils for weeks or her shoes fell apart. No, Lynn found a way to get invited to live with the Robinsons down the street. We’d see her through the window eating chicken drumsticks and drinking Coke, just like she’d been put into the wrong family the first time. Found at last. She even convinced them to send food to us, leftovers and junk food we ate in a tear.

“When’s my mom coming?” Deena’s fork clatters to the table. Rocky whines, the puppies stir.

I look down at my plate, a massacre of red, a swirl of blobby cheese. “When did you last see your mom?”

“I already told the men that,” Deena’s voice is dime hard.

“Maybe so, but I didn’t hear.”

She sighs, her thin shoulders touching the back of her chair. She’s sitting on an old phonebook and Shakespeare’s collected plays. Her eyes are caverns I could get lost in, the way in frightening, the way out impossible.

“She put me to bed. Then Bobby woke me up.”

“How did he seem?”

For a second, she looks right at me and then shrugs.

“You didn’t see anything… her again that night?”

Deena shakes her head and then leans down to pet one creature or another. One time when I was parking near the ATM, I noticed a big white truck in the space next to me, red and black words spelling out “Crime Scene Cleanup.” I waited in my car for awhile, just to get a gander of the person who would perform the listed services: Homicide, Suicide, and Accidental Death Remediation: Cleaning, disinfecting, and removal of all contaminated items to restore the scene to a safe, non-biohazardous state.

Whoever did those kinds of things never showed up. But I had the picture. I got it. The brain matter on the wall. The pools of blood. The trail the dying person left as she clawed her way to the backdoor, trying to get to her car, forgetting about her child even as she died. Then the body, lifeless, stiffening fingers permanently clutching the carpet.

The puppies growl and tumble. Deena smiles.

“Ice cream?” I ask.

 

My parents were young and stupid when they got together, and stupid stuck. Here I am, a retired high school librarian, living in Oakland as quietly as I worked. No permanent relationship to my name other than four dogs and a handful of family. We keep our distance, circle the holidays as if they will explode on contact. Then we sit in chairs as if dressed in those bomb suits, immobile, muffled, hot as hell.

What else? Oh, Sal in the corner, still waiting. Deena asleep in her bed, only a few years away from the acting out that has to happen sometime. Memories, too. Guilt, boatloads of that. And monsters, still, at night, in the closet, under the bed. The old monsters I brought with me from my childhood. Now they live in the agapanthus with Deena’s.

 

There’s a summer school program with a reading focus. Testing. Counseling. A tutor. Tom’s wife arranges play dates. My friends bring over toys. Deena has her first physical. I go to support meetings and learn about “Talking about Violence” and “Talking about Death.” I hear stories that remind me of my own. And Deena’s. I come home and make things that are hot. Chicken coated in flour and baked in the oven. Boiled green beans from a neighbor’s garden. Sticky potatoes riddled with lumps but full of butter.

I break up with Sal, who is surprisingly calm. Later, I hear she’d already found another girlfriend and was hoping to let me down easy. Win-win, as my mother used to say.

The puppies grow, the days lengthen. Deena and I sit outside on the bench after planting nasturtium seeds. Wisps of fog roll in from San Francisco.

Marcel and Lulu race their superhighway through the agapanthus, but they’ve grown—gaining a pound a week—and their fighting seems real, though so far, no bloodshed. Rocky and Bullwinkle lie on the grass, waiting for calm. Deena has gained weight, too, though she still looks like she might fly away on a stiff wind.

“Your mother,” I begin. “The night you came here.”

“I heard it.” Deena stares out at the agapanthus. “She screamed.”

“What did you do?” I breathe out.

“I waited. There were other noises. And then Bobby came and got me. He put a blindfold on me. Told me it was a game. Hide from Mommy. He put me in his car, and we drove away.”

Something tears at my throat, and I cough. “Did he tell you what happened?”

“He said my mom didn’t love him. Or me. He said he knew how to make things better. That he was going to take me where I’d be safer.”

I only met Bobby the once, at the door. There he was, half murderer, half savior. “Do you feel safe here?”

Deena nods.

“Could you live here?”

Deena is silent, her eyes trained on the puppies’ path. A figure-eight, an X, a back and forth. Around and through, over and under, their growl and whine and moan rising and falling. We can see their every move and lunge and parry, no hiding spots left, the agapanthus thinned and ruined, flattened to the earth.

Jessica BarksdaleJessica Barksdale is the author of twelve traditionally published novels, including “Her Daughter’s Eyes” and “When You Believe.” Her short stories, poems, and essays have appeared in or are forthcoming in Salt Hill Journal, The Coachella Review, Carve Magazine, Mason’s Road, and So to Speak. She is a professor of English at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, California and teaches online novel writing for UCLA Extension. You can read more at www.jessicabarksdaleinclan.com.

Spotlight: Chameleon / The Most Beautiful Thing / Uni-Love

Chameleon

I’ve found you
Imposter
Erect against the araceae backdrop
Stealing your neighbour’s hue

Garbed in flowers of false truth

Yesterday I thought you were a rock
Stoic in potent iron, even as my belly
Slipped over your scales

You beg the sun for her gold
The stones for their silver
The dirt for his muddy brown
The leaves for their tangerine

Shapeshifter
Scurrying through life with a colorful shield
Now, veiled
In yellow leaf-veins
Branching down your back
to the emerald stem of a tail
Feet inch deep in bough’s brown

Your guise dismays
Your buggy black eyes
Wearing no second-hand color
Naked in fear, defeat, regret
You cannot change the color
Of your destiny


The Most Beautiful Thing (Two Cups of Tea)

Mother
Hunched in an elegant bridge
Gallops of tangerine hair
Sweep the kitchen counter

Sunrise, the sky
Is grey dancing with
Soft amber, brilliant carmine
Waltzing into her
Liberated hands
Freeing one, two
Tablespoons:
Leafs of obsidian glow
Rests into my favourite
Purple cup, her favourite red

The kettle whines, she carries
It off the sienna flame
Gracefully decants a river
The leafs plump, release ecru
Steam pirouettes midair

Carefully, she lays the cups on the table
Checks her watch, sits down, and waits
For me to find
Her and two cups of tea
Not knowing that I am
Already here


Uni-love

We are lonely drunk vessels
blindly,
finding each other
in the dim library light

We thrust our hands, gape our mouths, stab our tongues, and let
Our gender emblems defile each other
Clumsily, senselessly, in a sea what-is-that unpleasantness.
Discovering what we’re made of
In kindred inebriation

We swap
Partners or positions or
Pink body parts
All in an effort to achieve
A believable rhythm of delight

eventually we will forget
names, faces, earnest promises,
foreplay, and afterglow
None of the dinner by candelight
We might imagine
The intimate glances
The talk until dawn

as soon as they’re gone we sit alone,
eating cold spaghetti from a can,
detach ourselves from
another emotionless encounter.

i find remnants of your faceless lovers
beside your unmade bed:
Empty condom wrappers.
An ashtray with butts
From their lips squished
By their thumbs buried in ashes

in your white-walled, smoke-filled, dirty-laundry strewn dorm room
That I find myself coming back to again and again
For no other reason I can think of
Than that you desire to have me in it.

Carly Breault is a second-year psychology student at Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo, BC, Canada.

Tayla Jankovits

Spotlight: I Am Cold

[creative nonfiction]

My mother moved in with me once icicles began to form like claws on my fingertips. She held my hand in her gloved palms and wept, the tears falling softly, moisture; wet, formless, lovely, freezing into tight ice with contact. Does it hurt? She had asked me, her eyes so full of motherly love that it should have been enough to warm me, but it wasn’t, nothing was. No, I told her. And I wasn’t lying, either. The cold killed most of my nerve sensors. Oh David, she said softly, still holding my icicle fingertips, like they were beautiful iridescent crystals, still crying her wet tears, rainwater into my icy hemisphere, oh David, David, David.

When the cold began, I hardly noticed it.

I am cold, I thought.

That’s how it started—a slight chill, a brief rising of arm hair, a tiny sensation running little feet up my back. I showed up to a summer night’s party in a grey cardigan, a spring cardigan, one might say. Light knit, low V-neck, breathable material that a decent breeze might even crawl through, but it was a very pleasant May night, no breeze. A comfortable seventy-five degrees, might even be considered cool for May in the desert of California. But when I left my apartment that day, I felt cold. It crept up my spine like a quick shock of electricity and settled right atop my shoulders, and I carried it there for the rest of the night.

I was cold, and then I met Abi. She was beautiful, standing there, alone, an exquisite wallflower in the corner of a very drone party, a very monotonous, warm-champagne-in-your-flute-glass type of party. I was walking towards the center of the room, where it was warmer, where the body heat inevitably finds itself in the eye of the human heat storm. I walked past her, intent on being warm, not even meaning to strike up a conversation. She looked so young, so fresh, a moist layer of sweat making her shine in her summer dress; fanning herself with a printed party plate, her bangs sticking slightly to  her forehead.

I like your sweater, she said. Her grandfather had one just like it, she used to wrap herself in it when she was a little girl, visiting him in his small house, reading books on his lap while he looked past her, watching reruns of Bonanza. The soft fabric of his sweater tickling her cheek, smelling vaguely of Vaseline, always draped over the arm of the couch before she went home that evening.

Bonanza, now that’s fun to say isn’t it? Kind of tickles your tongue, warms the tip of it if you say it fast enough.

We left the party together, me in my sweater, her in her bare arms, the moonlight reflecting off of her. On the way home, I put the heat on, just a little bit. But the windows were a little foggy, others driving home were probably doing the same thing and Abi only smiled.

By July, I was still chilly and still with Abi. Her hair used to wrap around me in bed like a scarf and I would dig my face into her neck, feel my hot breath trap beneath all that long dark hair, making my cheeks pink with perspiration. It was a lovely feeling, especially as that chill had stuck. My spine stung with a cold that kept going to my shoulders and began to reach down to my arms with icy tendrils, taking hold of me. Abi thought maybe it was a summer cold. She would wrap her long legs around me and her arms, smooth and soft and always smelling faintly of vanilla, would hold me tight into her chest, soft and beating beneath me with the heat rising from us.

As the summer continued, hot, hotter than it’s been in years, so hot the news anchors talked of records, I went around in a thermal shirt and thick white socks, long jeans. Abi hardly noticed anymore, but at any social gathering I felt eyes following me around the room, looks of surprise as I would zip up my sweater, or pull on the ends of my sleeves. I didn’t care, I was cold. I found myself ordering a hot tea instead of an iced one, or a soup at dinner instead of a summer salad. It was just a chill, hardly anything to talk about.

See a doctor, my mother said when she came to visit me in August. A doctor? What’s he going to prescribe? An insulated coat? I’m just a bit cold, I don’t feel ill Ma, I feel fine. In fact, with Abi, I feel great. She had come to meet her, it coincided with her annual trip from Omaha. One trip home there and I probably wouldn’t need a sweater ever again, Abi would joke. Over dinner that night, my mom and Abi eating sushi and ice cold beers, me sticking to sweet and sour soup and wontons. My mother told Abi that as an infant, I would scream and thrash my arms if she tried to swaddle me. Hated it, hated blankets, hated footsie pajamas, that boy’s feet sweat so bad he’d leave marks like a giant slug. It seemed my chill was fascinating, especially to Abi. But only because she kept trying to warm me up.

Ma, it’s not Cancer, I told her, trying to put her hundred dollar bill back in her white plastic purse.

Before my mother left she slipped a hundred dollar bill in my hand. In case it’s the money keeping you from seeing someone. What if its pneumonia, or cancer? It would have sounded ridiculous from anyone, but with my mother’s heavy southern accent and her pink cowboy boots with her orange sun dress and her wide-brimmed black visor hat, it sounded absurd. Cancer? Ma, it’s not Cancer, I told her, trying to put her hundred dollar bill back in her white plastic purse. But how do you know? That crazy disease does things to people’s bodies, crazy awful things, and cancer is always your last idea, but it’s always cancer. Always. I nodded. When a mother gets in her head that you have cancer, you go see an oncologist and get it written down on paper that you’re healthy as spinach.

Abi called her uncle down in LA. Lucky for me, he was an oncologist and was willing to do a physical and write me up a doctor’s note. He asked me, while I sat in the paper thin medical robe, why I thought I had cancer. I told him I am cold. Later, as I stood by the fax machine, listening to its bells and whistles as it prepared its delivery of my cancer-free note to my mother in Omaha, I listened to the oncologist as he marveled to Abi at seeing someone in thermal sweatpants and a sweatshirt during a heat wave in September. I don’t know what the hell is wrong with him, but it’s not cancer. Might I suggest a psychiatrist?

Abi booked an appointment with a psychiatrist.

The psychiatrist office kept the thermostat at an inhumanely low setting. I asked the receptionist if she didn’t mind raising the temperature. She looked at me like I was out of my mind and with raised eyebrows said, Sir, you do know that we are experiencing an unusual heat wave. People have died in their homes from the heat. I asked Abi to go down to my car and get me a thick scarf I kept in the trunk. When the doctor ushered me in, I felt her eyes rush to my neck. My thick grey wool scarf making her pull at her already loose blouse.

Any trouble sleeping?

Only sometimes, only if my toes are feeling really cold. I have to have warm feet when I sleep. I have specific socks I use, they’re made for skiing.

Skiing? You wear skiing socks to bed?

There was no denying that she was getting a whole load of strange information but upon conclusion to our session, she recommended a full physical. I told her I saw an oncologist, that my mother made me. After that, she recommended a second session to discuss my mother.

It was still hot in October, at least that was what people were saying, I was still cold. I had started to wear a jacket over my usual thermal and sweatshirt. At work, they told me I was making others uncomfortable, asking if this was some kind of joke. I shook my head, I told them I was just cold. They told me I was violating their policy on professional attire. I assured them that beneath my coat and sweater, I had a button-down shirt. They told me to get a plug-in heater at my desk and hang the coat and sweatshirt in the break room. I inquired about more formal sweater wear and they just nodded and waved me out.

I quit in November. The heater was not strong enough to keep me warm and I was still cold. My teeth chattered while I worked at my desk. I found it difficult to concentrate. Upper-management left copies of their policies on work attire on my desk each morning. My co-workers stopped sitting with me at lunch. And what was worse, my desk was situated by a window, one which didn’t properly seal and constantly allowed an irritating draft to sneak in. I decided it best to find a job where I could work at home. This way I could wear what I want and keep the heater up.

Abi took to wearing layered clothing. That way when she came over, she could take off her light jacket and sweater and wear a tank top. She shed her layers like animal skin, leaving traces of her self around my apartment, each article of clothing that I would pick up and rub to my cheek, still feeling a bit of her warm skin against it. She would always ask me how I was feeling as she would crawl into my lap, her arms draping around me, already beginning to chase away the cold, and always I would answer her, I am cold.

We had already seen two more doctors since her uncle and they all shook their heads and like the oncologist, pointed me towards psychiatric evaluation. By the end of November, I had already seen two additional psychiatrists and one psychologist, they each in turn directed me back to physical medicine. I gave up, resigned myself over to this cold and allowed it to come and settle.

By December, I could no longer travel outside my home. Abi brought me groceries and my mail when she came to visit. She cooked me soup and made me hot teas and helped me keep my down comforter around my shoulders as I moved from room to room but by January, we had our first episode.

Abi climbed into bed, a T-shirt and loose cotton pants. She slept in light pajamas as the heater made her sweat as she slept. I rolled towards her as always, craving the warmth of her touch, when she jumped back. David! I looked up at her. What? Her face looked surprised, her eyebrows slanted as she studied me. You’re freezing cold. I stared at her. I know Abi, I’ve been cold since May. She shook her head. No, I mean to the touch. You feel like you just stepped out of a deep freezer. I sat up in bed. What do I usually feel like? She shrugged her shoulders. Normal, I guess. I tried to move closer to her, but she scooted away. Don’t be upset, David. But you’re really really cold. Like touching an ice cube for too long. I nodded my head. I’m sorry. I don’t know what to say. She leaned over to kiss me. I knew it was affectionate, I knew her lips would be warm and taste of summer. I wanted that kiss, but her mouth tensed and when she pulled her lips off mine, they were blue. She touched them softly, her fingers to her mouth, and then she looked at me, a bit of fear printed on her cheeks. David, what’s happening to you?

That was the last night Abi slept with me. She still came by, did everything as usual, but when she wanted to hold my hand, she would take out a pair of gloves she kept in her pocketbook. And when I wanted to hold her, cuddle and feel her heat, she would put on one of my sweatshirts and sweatpants, wrap her neck in a scarf and remind me gently, not to touch her face.

February brought heart-shaped candy and singing teddy bears, but it also brought our first icicle. Abi was sitting next to me on the couch, reading a magazine. The sun was setting low and I was looking through a medical book on bizarre diagnoses, when a bit of shining light was thrown across the room. What is that? Abi looked around. What is what? I asked. She pointed her finger to the wall where a small flashing light was playing beneath a picture frame. Right, that over there, it looks like something is catching the sunlight. I looked around, moved my hand down and there it went, the light was gone. I moved my hand back up and there it was again. I turned my hand over and there it was, small, spectacular and on the tip of my index finger. A tiny little icicle. Ice, I said, completely dumbfounded. Abi looked at me, looked down at my icicle and then back at me and it felt clear I was beginning to lose her.

Less then a week later, my right hand was covered. Tiny bits of ice forming like measles or chicken pox. Abi called three doctors to come meet me at home. Each of them called another three and soon there was a steady stream of doctors wanting to get a glimpse of the man with the hand of ice. They brought me gifts. Heaters, insulated coats, exotic tea bags, thermoses, homemade chicken soup, a ski mask. They even created a discussion board, a website they named David and Goliath of Cold.

By the end of March, I asked them to stop coming. I didn’t want them to see my left hand, now beginning to sprout its first bud of ice. Abi kept coming though, she sat next to me and put aloe on the cuts incurred by my fingertips. She dressed them in bandages, careful to always wear her gloves. She’d gaze at me, as if she was missing me despite the alarming and physical fact that I was sitting there right in front of her. David, she said. Look. She pointed to the space in front of me and I saw it, the air of my breath hovering, cold and visible in front of my mouth. And then she cried, holding my freezing legs against her, a blanket between her cheek and my lap, the only thing preventing her from getting frostbite, from me feeling the heat off her skin.

In April, my mother came. Ma, I said, before opening the door. I need you to be ready for this. Okay? I heard her on the other side. I could hear the impatience in her shifting feet. Is it cancer, David? Is it? Tell me. I can take it. I sighed. I almost wished it was. No Ma, I told you already, its not cancer. It’s, well, it’s something else. Something entirely else. I looked at my apartment, at the frost on the windows, on the broken thermostat. Did you come as I instructed? I waited for her answer. She was quiet. She must be dressed for spring. Mother, what are you wearing? She knocked again on the door, pounded actually. David, I’m your mother. You open this door you hear me? No nonsense about what I’m wearing. Let me in there. I breathed deeply, my breath still and foggy in the air. I opened the door and it rushed at her and hit her hard on the face, the cold.

I wanted to help her into her coat, but I only made her colder. She changed right there in the hallway. Opening her suitcase, pulling on her pants under her dress, sweater, then sweatshirt, then coat. At least she had brought it all. Abi had called her, had told her to. She wouldn’t have listened to me. She kept shivering in my hall as the cold of my apartment rushed to escape. She kept saying, My lord. My lord, My lord, My lord! There was nothing to do but watch her layer on and layer on.

She sat near my bed those nights, staring at me, wondering at me. You know I love you no matter what? I nodded. My limbs were getting harder to move, but I didn’t want to tell her this yet. I was starting to suspect that my blood circulation was poor, that my bones were sprouting icicles of their own. She stayed with me as the frost took over, singing lullabies to me each evening. Covering me in electric blankets and ushering Abi’s hot soup into my shivering mouth. She kept me as warm as a mother could, but May came and the ice hardened. I felt myself burning cold all over. I pointed to the mirror on my closet door as best I could. No, no David, you don’t want to see this. You just let it come. Let the cold come. And it did.

Talya JankovitsTalya Jankovits earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University. Her work has appeared in The Citron ReviewRecovering the Self: A Journal of Hope and Healing, and her short story “Undone” in Lunch Ticket was nominated for the 2013 Pushcart Prize. She lives in Chicago with her husband and two daughters and is working on her second novel while seeking representation for her first.

Spotlight: Earth Mother / Dimensions / Me Versus the Dainties

Earth Mother

My earth mother told me to
rub cocoa butter on my gray
winter legs, and never fake
bake with UV rays. Her skin
is vitavega-flawless, all but
chapped hands from years
working elbow deep in organic
dirt, and nicked from chopping
homegrown beets. She puréed
green beans and carrots for our
baby lips. She pinned cloth
diapers, scrubbed in soaps of
glycerin-scented lavender, rinsed
in a tin pail. She punched down
grainy bread thick enough for
sopping barley soups. Our garage
sale jeans became patchwork quilts
sewn with strips of Daddy’s plaids
and her skirts. Summers we flew
through cattails to reach our secret
swimming hole, then we’d strip
down and skinny-dip, hoping only
crickets and katydids would witness
our flat, bare chests. And if any boys
came along, she’d hear long before.
She’d lift herself out dripping, then
grab our clothes and hide. As they
emerged from underbrush, she’d chase
them away—a crazy mama bear protecting
her den. (But when she grew our hair out long,
we called her Goldilocks.) She taught
us to respect the spirits of the land,
but also love our bodies—drink H2O
aplenty and never give in to tanning beds.


Dimensions

The first, a point.
The second, a shape.
The third, a Toshiba television

viewed with black-rimmed glasses
that are uncool in Basic Training
but enable Bengals from Nature

to leap from the screen and into
your bowl of Lucky Charms
your heart-rate accelerating

to that danger level, cardio-
attack zone. The fourth, space.
The fifth, time?

The sixth, fractals or spiral-elliptics?
The seventh, possibly the internet
and it’s all a matter of perspective

and subjective, like a variety show
with tone-deaf judges. A banner
of hallucination and your inner Oedipus

punching the King in the mead gut,
landing him somewhere between
‘That’s horrible, absolutely dreadful,’

and ‘I love it. I think you’re a star.’
But the audience is crickets and Mars
doesn’t get Mediacom, though

that’s where Atlantis is, beyond the
Straits of Magellan—a time-traveler—if ever
one lived. And how about Plato? What

does the panel say about Socrates
and his endless patter about caves
and hemlock for the love of Athens.

Because you stand here, in a hall of
mirrors, with Ethos on your back
and Pathos at your side, Logos

hopped the L-train from Brooklyn
back to Cambridge, where most
statesmen are trained in the

finer forms of speech and other
trivial manners. So stand
at Attention and wait for your name

your number your fifteen minutes,
then salute Sophocles and Aristotle
with their punk haircuts and vegan

life choices, their beatnik rap-stylings,
but they’ll never last because it’s
your name lit in 120-volt flash-bulbs

on the Broadway sign. Enjoy
your imminence while it lasts and
Congratulations! you’re going to Vegas

where dreams lie along I-15 like road-kill
and prom dresses, and full dance cards
from Vanity Fair, where Siegfried’s

tigers run a gambling ring. So, bottoms up,
Salud & Shalome. And may luck be a lady
—five dollah for you—our special, tonight.

 


Me Versus the Dainties

In the third grade we dressed
up as trees. I was a bur oak
in a forest of junipers.
The bur oak doesn’t even
sound pretty—like a pricker
stuck inside your gym sock.
Missouri’s native species
with full, strong branches,
provides plenty of shade.
Junipers—those slender
columns can fit into tight
spaces. In health class, we learned
about body types: ectomorphs
are thin, wiry. Mesomorphs are
muscular, lean. Endomorphs
store fat with ease. Then, there’s
just plain obese. And if 31%
of kids in my state are fat,
why was I the only bur oak?
Grandma talks about girls of
her day. They were dainty.
With hourglass figures—perfect.
Most of them wore Size ZERO, like
that’s even a size? Plates were smaller.
Less sugar. Less fat. More exercise. Frankly,
girls just cared more about appearance.
She says ‘heavy’ girls were called
apples and pears, but those are fruits
which are supposed to be healthy.
She says I’m ‘big-boned.’ But
according to the skeleton diagrams
in my biology book, our bones
are all the same size. Unless you’re
a giant, which I’m not. I’m plush.
I’m fluffy. And grandma wants
to get me on Weight Watchers, as if
she’s not already eyeing everything
I eat. She says her friends took water pills
to rid their bodies of excess fluids.
Isn’t it bad to be dehydrated? I heard
a story: someone left a bottle of weight-loss
pills in a windowsill and they turned into
worms. We give Moxie, our basset, pills
to get rid of her worms. I see on the news,
drugs that could kill you, or make you wish
you were dead. But at least you’d be skinny!
Grandma tells me about a guy—he had to be
buried in a grand piano box, he was too big
for a coffin. Carnival-goers paid admission to
peak at the freak-show fat ladies. Recently, doctors
did gastric bypass on a man that weighed almost
a ton. Then, they removed enough skin to make
a whole new person. None of them had learned
how to count calories. Our health teacher preaches
against anorexia and bulimia, the dangers of binging
and purging. But I can count the ribs of the Calvin
Klein girl—twelve on each side. And the fat lady
sang, but didn’t make it past round two, despite
the judges saying she had a beautiful voice. So,
what should I do about my heavyweight boxing
dad and our high-carb dinners? And what does it
even mean when labels say ‘partially hydrogenated?’
And why do I feel like the incredible human balloon
in a world where everyone else is shrinking?

Jennifer J. Pruiett-SelbyJennifer J. Pruiett-Selby is a teacher and mother of four (soon to be five), with a Master’s degree in English from Iowa State University. Jennifer currently lives in very rural Iowa where her column {just a word} appears in the local newspaper. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Red River Review, Matter Monthly, Leaves of Ink, Four and Twenty, Touch and The Voices Project.

 

Jason McCall

Spotlight: When You Choose Thor: The Dark World Over 12 Years a Slave

[creative nonfiction]

Tap into your Southern blood and blame Obama: A black president. A black nerd president. Anything is possible. These days, alien-space-Vikings seem as unreal as the Middle Passage.

Be the black man the radio hosts swear you are, take it out on your girlfriend. You can’t deal with her spending Friday night guilty about her freedom, starting every other sentence with “I know I can’t relate to them, but…”. Apologize for not having a girl who’s “down” when you tell the story to your friends back home. Forget that it takes a “down” girl to sit through two hours of Loki one-liners and thirteen minutes of closing credits so that you can spend the rest of the night giddy over a 30-second after-credits scene that won’t matter until 2017.

Look straight ahead as every other black face turns left while you walk down one more door. Tell yourself it’s no different than getting a classics degree or cheering for the Buffalo Bills. Ready your rebuttals. You paid money to see Pootie Tang. You share articles from The Root. Sometimes, you wake up early enough to watch the last segment of Melissa Harris-Perry.

Forgive the premise of a blond god protecting the earth from eternal blackness. Feel good when Idris Elba shows up in the movie. Everyone loves Idris Elba. Think of who wouldn’t want to support Idris Elba and start to feel more comfortable in your seat. Watch Idris Elba kill dark-alien-space-elves and remember Paul Mooney’s line in Hollywood Shuffle about how black actors won’t be Rambo until they stop playing Sambo. Idris Elba isn’t Rambo, but he’s Thor’s best black friend. Even the dark-alien-space-elf leader has a black best friend. The black dark elf is just evil; be proud he’s not wearing gold chains and dealing dark elf drugs in the space-Viking inner cities. Call that progress.

Think about black dark elves. Are they redundant? Are they extra evil? Do white dark elves let black dark elves play in the elvish basketball league, but start locking their doors when two black dark elves move into the neighborhood?

Remember that racial lines disappear in the Batman vs. Superman debate. Remind yourself that Blade saved this genre. Consider the $10 ticket an offering to Wesley Snipes.

Lie. Say you wanted a surprise. 12 Years a Slave won’t throw you a curveball and end up being 17 Years a Slave. You know that story. You know the story when your co-workers mistake you for a customer. You keep your credentials close. You make sure everyone knows you belong. You heard the stories of grandfather being called a boy for half his life. You deserve to be here, in this seat, wondering what’s so great about Natalie Portman, wondering how many white faces are in the theater next door.

Tell yourself you thought about going, just like your friends thought about giving blood or joining the service. Tell yourself you’ll go next weekend. Blame America when you go to the movies next weekend and find out they stopped showing 12 Years a Slave to make room for The Hunger Games. Make a Lenny Kravitz joke and go home.

Jason McCallJason McCall is the author of Dear Hero, (winner of the 2012 Marsh Hawk Press Poetry Prize), Silver (Main Street Rag), I Can Explain (Finishing Line Press), and Mother, Less Child (winner of the 2013 Paper Nautilus Vella Chapbook Prize). He is from the great state of Alabama, where he currently teaches at the University of Alabama. He holds an MFA from the University of Miami, and his work has been featured in Cimarron Review, The Los Angeles Review, New Letters, The Rumpus, and other journals.

Spotlight: A Pair of Red Shoes

[creative nonfiction]

This is a story about a pair of red ankle-strap shoes. High heels, of course, high heels that give the longest legs to even the shortest of girls—in this case, an Italian girl who stood just a little short of five feet tall, in the Jersey City of 1942. She was a scandal in her shoes. She was probably a scandal even without her shoes, and I can’t even begin to imagine—nor am I entirely sure I want to imagine—what kind of scandal she was when she got it in her mind to remove those shoes. But in this story, she is most definitely wearing those shoes.

Red. High. Ankle-strapped. The kind of shoes no self-respecting, Italian-Catholic girl would ever wear, but always wanted. Red shoes are not for good girls. Red shoes are for harlots. Puttanas. An ankle strap? What kind of good girl wears an ankle strap? The strap calls the eye, draws the eye to the shapely ankle and up the slender calf, to the peek of a white slip, the hint of lace beneath the dress. And where the eye is drawn, the mind will wander, and wonder at that lace beneath the dress and, well, plain old beneath the dress. Ankle straps! Puttana.

But this isn’t about lipstick. This is about red, ankle-strap shoes. Every woman needs a pair. There is something about a red shoe; even Dorothy knew it.

Philomina Lanna had red, high-heeled ankle strap shoes, and she was the scandal of her neighborhood. She wore those shoes everywhere. She wore them to work, at the Dixon Ticonderoga Pencil Factory, and called them her “Rosie Rivet heels” when they clacked across the concrete floor. I am told she even wore them to church. She wasn’t much impressed by church. She was all right with God and his son, and she was enamored of Mary. Mary, the mother; Mary, with her crown of stars. Mary who paid special attention to the prayers of women and children, and perhaps especially women without children, like Min, though she probably didn’t know it then, when she walked to work in her red shoes.

She probably didn’t walk, not like she was supposed to walk. She never walked like she was supposed to—in my life, I never once saw her walk with her eyes down or her face hidden. She walked, and her sister (who would be my grandmother one day) walked, and eventually my sister and I would walk with heads held high. She stared the world down and every man in it in the face, daring them to say a word about her shoes. She wore red lipstick, too: the red of Italian blood oranges in the height of summer, as lush as the flesh of those fruits, her lips shining and juicy.

But this isn’t about lipstick. This is about red, ankle-strap shoes. Every woman needs a pair. There is something about a red shoe, even Dorothy knew it. A red shoe can’t be ignored and a woman wearing a red shoe knows it. A woman wearing a red shoe has no interest in being ignored—that’s why the puttanas wear them, because people will notice. Men will notice. They may not remember your name, but they’ll remember those red shoes and the sexy legs in them. Red shoes make your legs sexier. It’s inevitable.

She was in her twenties and unmarried. Divorced, in fact, another scandal for a young Italian woman from the neighborhood, and another one she didn’t give two fucks about. She got permission for her divorce from the monsignor himself, when she walked down to the rectory and tore her blouse open to show the bruises and said: “There. You look at those and you tell me Jesus wants me to be married to the man who gives them to me.” She got her divorce, and took communion the following week.

But that one particular night, the most famous night of the shoes, was the night of a USO dance in Jersey City, by the Hudson where the Navy ships would dock so the boys could come ashore to dance. Min’s father took his daughter aside before she could walk out the door to the dance and he told her, “You dance with any boy who asks you.” Min was notoriously picky, you see—all four foot eight of her liked the tallest boys, with the brownest hair and the darkest eyes. But her father was having none of it. “You dance with any boy who asks you, and I don’t care what he looks like, or where he’s from, or who his father is, or if he has brown eyes or no eyes. You dance with him. Because those boys will leave tomorrow and some of them will never come back. They deserve a dance with a pretty girl. So any boy who asks you to dance, you dance. If they have to have a last memory, let it be you.”

So she danced with every boy, every man who asked her—tall, short, fat, skinny. She laughed when she danced with the red-headed Irish boys from Brooklyn and told them they clashed with her lipstick. She teased the Latin boys by flirting in Italian that was just close enough to Spanish, but not quite. She winked at Jewish boys and asked about their matzoh balls. She danced with them all, and the next morning, the boys left. Their boat never came back. They were torpedoed somewhere in the Atlantic. The boat sank to the bottom of the ocean, somewhere far from dance hall lights that glinted off ripe red lips and ruby heels to match, and it took too many of those dancing boys down with it.

I have six pairs of red shoes and lipstick to match. I learned from Min and her stories, about the power of a scarlet pair that makes a memory. And though I may stand a little taller than four foot eight, I hold my head high when I walk, and I always say yes to a dance.

dawnferchak_headhostDawn Ferchak has been writing since she could hold a crayon in her fat baby hand. While she has moved on from Crayola poems about her pet cat, she remains content with living inside her own head, which is densely populated and has bits that are always on fire. She reviews books at BookshelfBombshells.com and promises to get around to updating her blog, www.wordsbydawn.com.

Christopher Grillo

Spotlight: Fragments of a Shoreline Adolescence; Heroes Tunnel: Confessions of a Working Class Slob.; and Charlene Comes Home From College, May 2012

Fragments of a Shoreline Adolescence

Frankie and I protect our town,
on the scoreboard and at the town fair,
still wearing our jerseys, proud of our colors,

behind the movies against Johnny Ferrara
and the Hamden frats, and when the owner
calls the cops, at the BJ’s wholesale club
across the street.

All these places look different in the day,
when we’re not so helpless to ardent dawn,
so hopeful the street lights along Route 5 flicker
long enough to guide us home for curfew.

And all these places look so different, now,
and anything vanilla still smells like canned tobacco.
Frankie still loves to fight, and I still love to egg him on,
but more often than not we turn the other cheek.


Heroes Tunnel:
Confessions of a Working Class Slob.

Its winter and work has run dry like radiator heat.
Black Ice spreads like ivy between paver decks
and bleeds through the retaining walls I poured all year,
finds pockets of air in the mix and expands.

Its cold and the county is stark and we are broke,
but Frankie smiles, This is too easy.
Like we’ve cased these houses all summer.

We forage for metal through Greenwich mansions
where we’ve worked, the kind no one lives in
but the pool runs ‘till November and grass still gets cut each week.

I remember every front gate code,
which had guest homes with unlocked doors,
but Frankie does the legwork, drives and mans the Sawzall.

On the way home he never even toes the break.
He rides hard, head on a swivel for pigs,
while I swaddle the copper in the back of the van.

On the parkway he hits 80 and never lets off the whip,
pushing that lame horse down the last turn.
In Autumn, its two-lanes are swallowed by postcard foliage,

like driving into a flushing commode
when the sun’s shining behind the trees,
but winter is cruel for letting the flowers die.

We spill out into nothing but concrete and glass in Stratford.
Factory whistles sound beneath the bridge.
Men with sleep-tired eyes pass men with smokestack eyes
under a first shift hour that’s not quite day,

as the blackness of night fails and the sun still stretches its rays,
shades drawn, dressing in the dark
by the dim glow of pawn shop signs.

After the bridge we can see the tunnel,
aptly named for the weight it bears,
two eyes shining orange in the pale morning,
staring out at northbound traffic.

We hit its light like a wave and Frankie drives faster.


Charlene Comes Home From College, May 2012

Charlene is the eternal homecoming queen,
so I know she’ll be back eventually.

She can’t help it, sees high school cafeterias
in her dreams, the lights, the dollar store streamers,

all those other girls, their green eyes averted,
gnawing the strands of fallen up-dos.

Yes, Charlene will surely come home,
because she’s not as smart as she thinks she is

but there’ll be no reception.
She’ll have to announce herself

with uploads from the back seat of the family minivan,
every south of the border sign until they hit Virginia,

screenshots from her iTunes, whatever Indie
shit she found at school and selfies.
Ten or fifteen tasteful selfies.

I won’t check Twitter or open any of her Snapchats.
I won’t have to. I’ll have known for days. I’ll have felt it,

the weight in the air that’s just so hard to breathe,
and whether it’s the lack of oxygen to my brain,

or my general hopeless romanticism, I’ll ask her to dinner,
convinced that this time…

Christopher GrilloChristopher Eugene Grillo is an educational professional and second year MFA candidate at Southern Connecticut State University. He has previously been published in Noctua, The Elm City Review, Up the River, Referential, Drunk Monkeys, and Extracts. Christopher moonlights as a high school football coach at his alma mater North Haven High School.

Alison Rollman

Spotlight: The Feeling of Now

[fiction]

Tonight she’s in a park, sprawled out on her back under the shelter of a scratched-up willow tree. Tomorrow she’ll be here too, maybe, if no one bothers her. But the next day, surely, it’ll be under the awning of some boarded-up shop, or a bench at some park across town, assuming she’s willing to dip into her slowly dwindling wad of cash to take the bus that would get her there.

But tonight all she can think of is the sky—no tomorrow, no day after, no bus ride across town. It’s all now. It’s all of the stars and the swirls of smog mixed up in that big, big, universe. Maybe there’s a Being up there, maybe not. Maybe that’s where we all go once we die. Maybe not. Those stars do tell a lot of maybe. She wonders whether they’ll tell her yes or no anytime soon, whether anything in this lifetime is a straight yes or no in the first place, ‘cus maybe we’re all just waiting for our maybes to play out, while we rest here, under that sky like a blanket above us.

She sinks in deeper into the dirt, wincing as pine needles poke into her thin T-shirt.

Many would hate to be in her place: you know, the dew that makes her shiver in the early light; the way she’s spent the past three nights out and about, no bed, no shower, subsisting on a Coke and one cheap meal a day; the hot, humid summer days that make her sweat like crazy; the rats that sometimes scurry near the edges of her grass-stained blanket when she’s resting at night.

She knows that this kind of life is not sustainable, of course, nor would she want to keep it up for long. In a couple weeks, when the summer comes to a close, she’ll find a job, find somewhere to wash up. But for now, it feels good.

Back home, when her mom told her she’d have to leave, after she caught her with a girl—she left. No apologies, no arguments. Just scooped up the box under her bed where she’d stashed a load of cash since she was young, and left. Didn’t even leave a note. It was almost reassuring to know that she wasn’t the only one who wanted herself out. It was a mutual decision. That kind of life back home, with mom always on her toes, and never feeling like she fit in with anyone else, it wasn’t for her.

This is better, for now at least —’till her savings run out in a week or so’s time. Then she’ll get a job, start her life. It would have been useless staying at home after all, considering that she’ll be done with school in a year, and would then have to start working full-time anyway. Why not start early, with nothing but her own rules to live by? No need to care about whether it’s a boy or a girl she’s fancying. No need to report to her mom exactly what time she’ll be home, exactly where she’s going. No need to read up on people of the past who don’t even matter now anyways, for the sake of teachers who don’t care. Right now she’s just lingering, loitering. It may sound real uncomfortable, but she likes it.

So here she is. This park, two towns away from her mom, from school, from that girl, from the other guys and girls of her past: merely a blur of legs and favorite songs and laughter and stolen kisses and faces she can barely recall. She inhales deeply, letting all those memories whirl around like the smoke dancing in her mind, toxic and captivating. Then she exhales, clearing her mind and focusing on all of the feelings of this place right here. What it feels like, smells like, tastes like, to be resting here in this night, in this air, under this sky. Tonight, it’s all stars, shadows, strange voices, chilly air, and the smell of grass and dirt.

Sometimes, on nights like these, she thinks she feels some sort of odd feeling creep up, strange, yet comfortable. Her belly feels warm, and the corners of her lips have involuntarily turned up just so. It’s weird, feeling this indescribable feeling of now in the unluckiest, unfamiliar, unusual of places.

She looks up at the sky. Stars dotted, somewhat faded by the distant city lights, but they’re there. She sees them. She wonders whether the stars hold the answers to all of her maybes. She inhales, exhales, lets it all go, and just lies there with this feeling inside of her, strange and delightful at the same time.

Alison RollmanAlison Rollman is a senior at Milken Community High School in Los Angeles, CA, where she serves as one of her school’s student creative writing leaders. She is a graduate of the Creative Writing Department at the California State Summer School for the Arts and will be attending Pitzer College as a freshman in the fall of 2014. She is a certified yoga teacher and loves gardening, making art, dancing, being outside, and, of course, writing.

Sarah Hahn, Pluto and Persephone / Chris Brown and Rihanna, 2012. Ceramic, 60 x 21 x 21 in.

Spotlight: Gods, Heroes, and Saints Revisited

My work is a reflection of past cultures, distorted by a mirror of aged antiquity, seen through a haze of modern neon lights…