Category Archives: Issue 1.2 Fall 2012

Issue 1.2 Fall 2012 Second Issue

Jim Daniels

Jim Daniels next two books of poems, Rowing Inland, and Street Calligraphy will be published in 2017. Other recent collections include Apology to the Moon (BatCat Press), Birth Marks (BOA Editions), and Eight Mile High (Michigan State University Press). He is also the writer/producer of a number of short films, including The End of Blessings (2015). Born in Detroit, Daniels is the Thomas Stockham Baker University Professor at Carnegie Mellon University.

 

Strawberries and Mirrors

We live on the same planet
as strawberries and mirrors, smoke
and breath, minor sin and major celebration.
Is an apple really that tempting,
even when glossed by a serpent’s skin?
In all the stories, it’s an apple—
as if betrayal needs such sturdy fruit.
What about the slipperiness of sin?

A strawberry from my garden—
smaller than in the supermarket,
but a red that takes in sun, spins it
into rich glow and melts in tender,
sweet collapse inside your mouth—
is more like it.

A mirror could bring down anyone.
My children adore strawberries bordering
on sin, to be confessed, if that was a box
we checked on the sin-meister’s list.

The hallway mirror, evidenced
by smudges as they check out
how they will be checked out
when they smile like this
when they dance like this
when they break down the gates
of hell like this.

There’s a rule against me watching,
though I pass that tollbooth a dozen times
a day, and they spend enough time there
to be accruing pension benefits.

All the snake dude needed to do
was stick a mirror tree in Eden
to stop traffic to eternal happiness.
If Adam and Eve were teenagers
they’d be out of there, sucking icicles
and bitching about the furnace
before He could even lock
the gate behind them.

The steam off a living thing
is my idea of heaven, though how much
does a doubter’s vote count?
Clouds of it rising today off my children
waiting for the bus, refusing all
my designations for them as they stand
between the strawberry and the mirror,
the serpent coiling and uncoiling
in the steam, like God’s smile
as he’s jingling his keys, saying,
have a nice day.

 

LETTER TO THE POSTAGE STAMP

I licked your glue like a bad kiss,
displaying my tongue for the sad doctor
of scribbled words.

Once in Italy they refused my postcard—
too much writing! One stamp
after another after another,

the mysterious bad luck of chain mail
and postage due. But I did love you—
displaying the flag or the famous. Simple,

certain. For years, just Washington, stoic
as a thumb. At college, I unfurled a roll
the length of my bed and posted a daily letter

to my girlfriend with the dutiful regularity
of tooth-brushing. I sometimes referenced tooth-
brushing in those letters, imagining doubt

overwhelmed by volume. The fact of the envelope’s
deliberate, folded, pages. The smoking mailman lingered
in the shade. The waiting, the forgetting, the surprise

of the arrival of what I had once longed for—
box-top prizes, lingerie catalogs, scissors and glue
and—and you, exposed to someone’s

extended tongue, faith in the sacrament of mail.
I will peel a self-adhesive and press it firmly
I will drop this in a mailbox.

Addressed to you, where will it go?
Remember my tongue among so many.

Julie Kane

Julie Kane’s two most recent poetry collections are Jazz Funeral (2009), the winner of the Donald Justice Poetry Prize, and Rhythm & Booze (2003), a National Poetry Series winner and Poets’ Prize finalist. Her one-act opera Starship Paradise, with music by Dale Trumbore, was produced by Center City Opera Theater of Philadelphia in the spring of 2013. The 2011-2013 Louisiana Poet Laureate, she teaches at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana, and on the faculty of the West Chester Poetry Conference.

 

Something like a Telephone

Just at the edge of falling into sleep,
into crocodile pools holding no less terror
than the waking witch who claimed to be her mother,
sometimes she would startle at the calling of her name.

And although the crude telephones she made with friends
out of nail-punched soup cans and candle-waxed string
never carried one word from a mouth to an ear,
somehow she knew the voice was calling through time.

Years later, washing up on the other shore of pain,
astonished at the fact of her improbable survival,
she would try to remember, as sleep overtook her,
to call down the channel that opened between worlds.

 

Runner

I thought if I got up and
ran around the subdivision

early enough, while the cats
were still sleeping under cars,

and the sky was amethyst,
I could run to the land of the living

with my keys in my hand like
a frozen torch. That summer,

the wind blew east to west
as I passed my house

of smoke and dust,
of spoken and written words.

Grace Marie Grafton

Grace Marie Grafton’s newest book, Whimsy, Reticence and Laud/unruly sonnets, came out Spring 2012 from Poetic Matrix Press (www.poeticmatrix.com). Her book of prose poems, Other Clues, 2010, was published by Latitude Press (rawartpress.com). A chapbook, Chrysanthemum Oratorio, 2010, is available from Dancing Girl Press. Her poetry has won first prize in the Soul Making contest (PEN women, San Francisco), in the annual Bellingham Review contest, and was twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Poems recently appear in Volt, Prism Review, Ambush Review, The Offending Adam, Theodate.   

 

Manifest

           plain, open clearly visible to the eye or
          obvious to the understanding           
          to reveal, show, exhibit, display, declare, discover

 
What could be more plain? We are a secretive species. Does that come from hunting? The best hunter gets the most meat? Or were there tribes where, no matter which one brought more, all was equally shared? Ah, anthropology, archeology. Long after the fact, we search and dig, want everything revealed, displayed. Fascination with museums. And then, there’s pornography. Why do we hide the genitals? Given our taste for secrets, it must be about power. Make a thing secret, concealed, and the one to whom it must be shown gets power and privilege. Trophy wife, arm candy, “I’m the one she takes her clothes off for.” Wouldn’t work if everyone went naked. Hidden treasure. The dragon guards the gold. The dragon who’s more than human, who has “powers,” who’s the warrior beast but also ethereal.  And long-lived. Damn! If only we could know what God knows. If only we could know God. Naked. Revealed.

 

Sequester

           to set off or apart, to separate, segregate
          to withdraw, to seclude
 

In the very center, the dark. “Rest here,” whispers the something-that-cares and you remember your request: to avoid the queer feeling in the gut, whirligig that threatens to hurl you off the edge. What to believe in when they say the world is round? The dark seems to hold no sharp angles, no gagging smells of motor oil or rotting flesh. No smell at all, nothing to see.  When you enter, what will you let fall away? Your quest for acceptance, your need to be a seer? The future, a dark you do not want to enter without overcoat, boots or parasol. A contrary dark. The whisperer says, “Don’t worry, it’s not the same, let’s stay here at the center and let the spokes radiate out, not close in.” That voice is useful, though some would say, “Beware, ere those who can’t hear dub you already over the edge.” Hold yourself by the arm, set down your wigs and make-up case, set down your diamond tiara (or your wish for one). Soon you’ll be able to see the stars.  And the world’s turning won’t nauseate you.

 

Entice

           to allure, to lead on by exciting hope of reward or pleasure
          to tempt
 

The tablecloth is orange. Some would say silk, some would say oilcloth, some would say it doesn’t matter. Beautiful. The sunset sky, sound of laughter. Just the right amount of alcohol in the drink. Lift, not fly. What is the music? It wouldn’t be Miles’ “Sketches of Spain” with its sorrow undertones, its images of walking slowly down stone steps. Alone. No, more Vivaldi or Ellington, red Italian poppies or tuxedo and smooth cravat. Still, maybe more innocence than Ellington. Not suave but not ingenue. A purposeful choice to eschew cynicism but still, awareness that this is incredibly lucky. War being always, as it were, just around the corner and the offered release in the mind, release from guilt’s clench, will be time-limited. But oh, what a gift, we’ll take it. Slipping off the formal shoes, we choose the Hungarian fiddle player, hot feeling floods our blood, we’re wearing just these thin wraps, we’re moving over damp, tamped ground and our bodies are our friends.

Karen Craigo

Karen Craigo teaches English to international students at Drury University in Springfield, Missouri. Her work has appeared in the journals Poetry, Indiana Review, Prairie Schooner, Puerto del Sol, The MacGuffin, and others. Her chapbook, Stone for an Eye, is part of the Wick Poetry Series. She is a former fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and has received two awards in poetry and one in creative nonfiction from the Ohio Arts Council. She is the nonfiction editor of Mid-American Review, and she also serves as an associate editor of Drury’s national literary journal, Gingko Tree Review.

 

Neither Created Nor Destroyed

For Tommy and Patt

Say you were entrusted
with a jewel of great worth.
Say it blazed red in your hand.
Then, let’s say, you were asked
to put it up somewhere,
a high shelf, just beyond
your grasp. From that point
it’s a matter of faith. Sometimes
you sense it in the periphery:
just around the corner,
just up the stairs. You think
the whole house is aflame.
When you hold out your palm
others would tell you it is empty,
but something still burns there.
You see it. You see it.

 

Naming What Is

for Aimee and Dustin 

You picture them in the garden:
a nameless animal presses its face
against her hand, and she offers
a syllable or two. The man with her
agrees: dog, monkey, snake. It was all
so pure then—they were incorruptible,
and language moved between them
like a beast, sweet and lumbering.
You can see them: a man and a woman,
in a grove, all of the trees laden with fruit.
There is a pond there, and one bird, yet
to be christened, stretches to touch another’s
white neck. It takes two to make a language,
and the animals were just the beginning.
Did they label how the nighthawk veers
through the dusk, or that splash the man hears
when it’s too late to spot the lake trout
twisting in air? There is so much
waiting to be named—we are surrounded
by things anonymous and strange for their lack.
And even now two heads bend together
in whispered negotiation. Their very prayers
acknowledge the power in the name:
Berry. Woman. Swan. Man. Miracle.

Nina Serrano

Nina Serrano is a poet, translator, and independent media producer. Her latest book, Heart’s Journey (2013), is available at estuarypress.com. In 2013, Nina translated Wild Animal by Peruvian poet, Adrian Arias. In 2012, she translated his science fiction work Beautiful Trash. Her earlier collected poems Heart Songs is available as well. Serrano is a KPFA-fm host/radio producer of La Raza Chronicles and Open Book. She has been the director of both Poetry in the Schools and Storytelling in the Schools programs. Follow her on her new website and blog: ninaserrano.com.

 

The Angel of Death

(For Daniel del Solar)*
 
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

— Dylan Thomas

The angel of death last night was with us
who sat vigil at Daniel’s house in his long hours
struggling to let go of life
Daniel-—so devoted
to sucking its sweetness from moments and seconds
Discovering people antiquities rocks shells papers
vistas sunsets blown-glass and art of every description
in his hour by hour adventures
I had played his poem on the air that afternoon
and a listener called saying
he had met that man reciting the poem
in front of a glassed display of Jadeite
at the Olmeca exhibit at the de Young Museum
and the man gave him his card which he lost
and now hearing the poem
and the voice he was sure it was Daniel
who had admired the stone out loud
and in response the caller
pulled one just like it from his pocket
and Daniel had marveled.
Now, the listener said, he was sitting in his garden
in the sunlight listening to the radio
working on such a piece of Jadeite
when he heard the poem he wanted
to give Daniel this work
I said sardonically (to hide my pain)
“Too late he is dying”
He said, “I can finish today. I will bring it.”
So even in Daniel’s dying
these adventurous encounters go on
The poem the stone carving and me
witness of this marvel of flesh and bone
that shrunken and bloated with fluid and bruised
with the battle scars of wrestling
with the angel of death
licking at his heels for these last six years
as he jumped on and off planes as fast
as his electronic cameras could click
and I would pick him up at the airport —
Now the eternal angel spreads those mighty wings
We the caring giving sisters can hear
the invisible swish of air in our vigil
The Hospice brings its death by morphine
but it is nothing compared to this greater force
“Do not go gentle into that good night…”
Daniel would quote and I would think
“Gentle. Gentle is the way to go. Why rage rage rage?”
Now I watch him weakened and sedated
and Yes!  He is raging raging raging
I and my vigilant loving sisters and his glorious mother
the queen of art will bathe him in light
to go gentle gentle gentle
onto the next journey

*This poem was written on January 6, 2012 as 3 Kings passed following a star in Oakland CA.
 

 

56th Birthday Insomnia

I’m awake can’t sleep
even though my eyes burn
against the pre-dawn electric light glare
My inner critic hurls accusations at me
running them across the inside of my head
in banner headlines
Why am I
croaking my way through life
Where is my song
praising the coming of dawn
Where is the purposeful girl I was
her promise of success and courage
her talents shining
like a polished shield
against the shadow of oblivion
and the shame of mediocrity
I face today
I cannot lie in the bed I’ve made
nor sleep to unravel the knots I’ve dreamed up
where only nightmares of failure reproach me
My pillow is a leaky balloon of unfulfilled hopes
and unspoken wishes
I’m awake although the moon disappeared
and the sun hasn’t dawned on me
There is silence
Only the light bulb
speaks to me of modern life
Night and it’s dark cave of fear
calls my disappointed heart to task
There is no rest
No bright morning carol or falling dew
to herald the end of this restlessness
as I endure the reproach
of the timekeeper
Grains of sand
sting my eyes
in the unforgiving night

Issue 1.2 Fall 2012

Click on the author’s name to read their work(s) and bio. Let us know what you think on our Facebook page and on Twitter using #BlueLyra.

“Cherry Blossom”
Art by Kaori Hanashima

“Coquina Rock Algae”
Art by Robin Grotke

 

“Orpheus Detail Invert”
Art by Stephen Mead

Matthew Dexter

Like nomadic Pericú natives centuries earlier, Matthew Dexter survives on a hunter-gatherer subsistence diet of shrimp tacos, smoked marlin, cold beer, and warm sunshine. He lives in Cabo San Lucas.

 

 

The Value of a Good Camel Toe

My mother would never let me enjoy the nude beach, so I had to improvise: flaunted my camel toe as I followed footprints up well-trodden dunes polluted with half-burnt charcoal briquettes toward teenage surfers who smoked hand-rolled cigarettes on their boards, my flip-flops hanging from my middle fingers as I imagined a goddess should hold her bikini at the mythological shore on the other end of the island, the one my mother referred to as Forbidden. Our neighbor, the convivial widower and double-arm amputee, would swim naked every weekend. This I learned from Paco Villarreal, our other neighbor, who sold dime bags out of the emergency medical kit inside the hatchback of his mother’s Subaru.

I peered through our kitchen window every morning as we worshipped blueberry pancakes stuffed with chunks of chocolate and peanut butter, watching Mr. Wilson’s nurse lather his hairy chest and legs with baby oil. Severed my sweet cherry from the stem, inhaled a pyramid of whipped cream as he stretched in his living room with the nimble dexterity of a gymnast, with wrinkles and arthritis. Mr. Wilson wore shorts, but Paco was trustworthy–up until the day his mom rear-ended Emily Wheeler.

Emily Wheeler was a skater chick who happened to be the daughter of a cop. They thought Paco’s mom was drunk. Emily rolled with a drug-sniffing dog famous for finding contraband at the Our Lady of Mount Carmel carnival. The German Shepherd humping the hatchback, incredulous Mrs. Villarreal obliged arriving officers by opening up. Barking and licking the Velcro where bandages and rubbing alcohol were jammed against a large plastic Ziploc stuffed with thirteen smaller baggies. Such ended the drug career of one of our hood’s most ambitious and promising entrepreneurs. From then on, we had to steal weed from Karle Shaprona’s father when her parents went out for dinner at The Cheesecake Factory.

***

So there I was with my camel toe all jammed in tight and with these deliberate strides like a cheetah stretching, I orbited a constellation of freckles, pimples filled with puss as the boys rubbed their longboards with Mr. Zog’s Sex Wax. My shadow drifted across their legs.

Brown Pelicans landed on pink shoulders of children who had yet to learn the value of a good camel toe. I could feel mine at the perfect angle. When it was too sandy, I knew something had shifted. But the children didn’t pay me much attention. They were more interested in the ugly girls who didn’t shave perfect; the ones where they could see the pubes peeking from the bikinis of those honor students who wouldn’t know what to do with a sack of nuts if it smacked them in the cheeks.

I had been rehearsing what I would do with testes since I learned how to spell the word. In fifth grade, I studied the VHS movies Paco’s father began collecting from the adult video store with the black-waxed windows next to the arcade. Paco’s mother never returned from her stint in county jail. A few hours before her early release for good behavior, Mrs. Villarreal took a broomstick–not just to the hatchback, but to the head.

***

I still wanted to see that nude beach, what it had to offer, the promise of more than cotton and polyester dampened within the crevasse of knowledge. The three of us headed out one humid afternoon in early July when our parents thought we were getting dizzy on The Gravitron at the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel carnival. Emily Wheeler approached as we rode our bikes uphill. Her dog instinctively headed for my crotch. This was where we kept the weed in case we were confronted by security forces.

We were unsure how much to wax, so we carried shaving gel and a pink razor, just in case. We permitted Emily Wheeler to accompany us,without her dog. While Emily skated down Hillside Avenue, slaloming between parked cars, we sat on the side of the cul-de-sac behind an enormous maple tree and shaved our elbows, and made sure our pits were clean. When she returned we were in the middle of the cul-de-sac tanning our kneecaps.

The ride was smooth. Sweat was juicy. My camel toe was already swollen with excitement. We did not run from the rain. We washed our spokes and waited for the sun shower to dissipate. We would undress at increments, shedding our layers like rattlesnakes and doing cartwheels on wet sand to attract attention. This was our moment to shine.

The nude beach itself was not as majestic as fabled.It was scarce and rocky on one side, broken by dandelions and uncut brush. We went to hide our bicycles, but encountered an elderly love triangle. The breeze carried the sea salt, attracting thirsty dragonflies which hovered above our heads as we joined the circle to watch.

There was no boundary and nobody questioned why we had such swagger. Emily Wheeler had her skateboard under her arm. We wondered when would be the perfect moment to start stripping. Would there be a sign? Then it happened. It looked like a shark attack. The lifeguard dragged the woman from the white water. The nudist hit her head with her board, the lifeguard unhooked the band from her ankle and bandaged the wound beneath the shade of his umbrella.

Emily wheeler was doing the wheelbarrow butt-naked, nothing more than ethereal cartwheels and specks of backwards summersaults. She started at the rocky side and followed the shoreline toward the shadows cast by spray-painted cliffs on the far crescent. She became the angel of the beach. We waited an hour until the appendages were nothing more than fingers and toes and Emily Wheeler had worn herself out so that all she could do was lie on the wet sand and wait for the big waves to roll her over. The larger ones would drag her downward with a gush of receding foam. Our neighbor was waving his leg from an inflatable raft. We felt closer to Satan and Jesus and everything meaningful that afternoon. Nothing seemed so fuzzy anymore.

***

We hit the nude beach every day. We knew everybody: Mr. Wilson, the gym teacher, the postman, the guy who delivers the pepperoni calzones, the woman who works at the fitness center, the alcoholic with gout who collects disability. Nobody told our parents. Nobody talked about it. There was nothing to say. It was spoken through sundrenched atonement in the tabernacle of Forbidden.  The spell rode itself timeless and fierce.

***

The Indian summer was ending. Soon would be seventh grade, layers of clothing, skin so distant and cold. Sundrenched chestnuts roasting would be nothing but another Christmas carol. The present unraveling, we sat by the tall grass and sipped cabernet sauvignon with daffodils dangling from the corners of our lips in the shadows of the cliffs where the elementary school janitor with shingles was making love to the young single mother who worked at the Laundromat. We were tempted to join them, but instead followed the footprints of Emily Wheeler toward the shoreline where she was building an elaborate sandcastle adorned with pink shells.

Emily lost herself as a rogue wave smothered us out to sea. We knew we could have paddled horizontal to the shoreline to escape the rip current. We could have yelled to the lifeguard on the other side of the beach, held out our hands, hoping he would notice us drowning in the shadows where swimming was forbidden. We didn’t though. We unhooked the boards from our ankles by the Velcro. We swam till our arms and legs ached and then tread water and waited till time was ready to take our naked bodies under, as it would have done soon enough. We wanted the waves to take us together and hold us for a moment of sublimity. To let the current wash us away, wash us clean. 

Thelma Zirkelbach

Thelma Zirkelbach began her writing career as a romance novelist writing under the pseudonym Lorna Michaels. Recently her focus has shifted to non-fiction. She has published articles in numerous anthologies and has just released an anthology titled On Our Own: Widowhood for Smarties, which she co-edited with Silver Boomer publishers. She lives in Houston and enjoys traveling, reading, cooking and spending time with her granddaughter, who also likes to write.

 

An Apple for Life

Judaism and food are inextricably linked; some say, synonymous. From the Sabbath with its challah and wine to the unleavened bread and bitter herbs of Passover and the hamentashen of Purim, each holy day has its traditional food, rich with meaning. Partaking of these foods reminds us deep in our guts of the significance of the holiday. An essayist in Food and Judaism remarks that all Jewish holidays can be reduced to three sentences, “They tried to get us. God rescued us. Let’s eat.”

Blintzes, kugel, chicken soup—for me, all evoke memories of home and family. The smell of roasting chicken reminds me of my mother at the kitchen stove, incongruously dressed in an apron-covered housedress and elegant high heeled shoes.

My grandmother, who lived with us for a while, made kasha, and on Passover she baked sponge cakes, which we topped with jam.

But the food closest to my heart is the apple. On Rosh Hashanah it represents the unending cycle of the year. Sprinkled with honey, it gives us hope of a sweet year to come.

My apple was different. No honey, not even any peel, just a simple, everyday fruit cut into pieces and served to me on a paper plate in a hospital room.

I was nineteen the year I ate the apple, a junior at the University of Texas, living in the sorority house on campus even though I was a local. On March 29, 1965 my life changed.

The morning was warm, and my roommate opened the window to let in the sweet, spring-scented breeze. This was the kind of day when walking the few blocks to campus was a joy. I wore one of my favorite dresses, a black pin-striped cotton with long sleeves and a wide patent leather belt.  Under it I wore a crinoline petticoat–the rage that year–which made the skirt stand out like the dresses of pre-Civil War southern belles.

Round-up Weekend, one of the major celebrations at the University of Texas, was coming up in a few days, and the campus was abuzz with anticipation. The excitement carried over to evening. A short time before dinner another girl and I stood in my room, discussing what we would wear that weekend. The window was still open, but a cold front had blown in, and someone had lit the space heater. I stood with my back to it.

Suddenly my friend cried out, “Thelma, your dress is on fire!”

Flames shot up from my skirt, gobbled the flammable crinoline beneath it.

I knew not to run. That’s the first thing you learn during Fire Prevention week in elementary school.  I ran.            

Screaming, I lunged across the room. My legs were on fire, and I thought in surprise that it didn’t hurt as much as I would have expected.

I was only nineteen, too young to die. I ran into the next room, yelling for my friend . I felt my bladder empty. I heard shouts. Someone threw me down. The housemother rushed in and rolled me in a towel.

As two firemen carried me downstairs to an ambulance, I thought the worst was over. It was just beginning.

Although I was from Austin, the ambulance took me to the Student Health Center, where my parents met us. My mother was pale with shock; my father trembled. Within a few minutes our family doctor arrived.  He decided I should remain at the Health Center rather than risk another ambulance ride. So there I stayed for the next ten days until I was transferred to the burn ward at John Sealy Hospital in Galveston. 

In those early days, whenever my bed sheets were changed, the slightest touch of the material on my body, or any movement I was forced to make, were excruciating. More than the pain, I remember the smell of my own charred flesh. A tiny spot under my left arm was burned and turning my head to that side nauseated me. 

My father stayed with me at night, sleeping on a cot. Oh, how he snored. And how it embarrassed me. Periodically I woke him and begged him to quiet down. As if anyone in the health center cared. 

At synagogues in Austin, in El Paso where my aunt and uncle lived, and in Nashville where a sorority sister who was a close friend lived, congregations read verses from the book of Tihillim (Psalms) to pray for my recovery.

On the third day I noticed my hands swelling. My neck seemed to balloon out. “What’s happening to me?” I asked my mother.

“The drip from the IV spilled over. It will go away,” she lied. In truth, my kidneys had failed and fluid had begun building up in my body.  My condition was critical.

The next day, when I woke from a narcotic-induced sleep, Mother asked, “Do you want anything?” I’d already asked for my face cream and with nineteen-year-old vanity had insisted on applying it every night. “How about something to eat?”

 “I want an apple.” What brought an apple to mind, I don’t know. It wasn’t among my favorite fruits except in apple pie. Minutes before, I wasn’t the least bit hungry, but suddenly I craved an apple, and I wanted it as soon as possible.

Mother sent one of my many friends who had camped outside my room to a nearby grocery store. She filched a knife from the kitchen, peeled the apple, and cut it into chunks. I devoured part of it greedily, then murmured, “That’s enough,” and fell back to sleep.

I dreamed of a mountain, devoid of vegetation, its steep slopes covered with yellowish slush, like rancid snow. Inch by inch, I struggled up the sides, pulling myself higher and higher until I reached the summit. There I got to my feet and gazed into the distance with a sudden feeling of well-being. When I woke, I told my mother, “I’m all right now.”

Within a few hours my kidney function returned and the swelling disappeared. I had passed the crisis. I knew, somehow, the apple had brought me to the mountain peak and given me life.

Months later, after twelve weeks in the burn ward, fifteen surgical debridements, three skin grafts, weeks of torture on a striker frame, sessions in a water-filled tank to loosen dead skin, hours of physical therapy to learn to walk and bend my knees again, and nights of sleeplessness from itching as the burns healed, my mother told me the story of the refuah, or healing, sent by God to her brother Sam.

While the family still lived in a tiny Ukranian shtetl, during a particularly brutal winter, her older brother took sick. From what they expected to be his death bed, he told his father, “A peasant in the marketplace is selling grapes. Go and buy me some.”

Grapes? In the middle of winter? But my grandfather wanted to please his son, so he put on his heavy jacket and boots and trudged to the marketplace. Perhaps he would buy Sam some trinket to cheer him.

To his amazement, a peasant sat in a booth, selling grapes. My grandfather bought a bunch and hurried home. Sam ate a few and put the rest under his pillow. By the time the grapes shriveled, the boy had recovered. My grandfather, a pious and learned Jew, insisted the grapes were a gift from God, a refuah. Mother said my apple was, too. 

For years I have wondered if such a belief exists among Jews of the Diaspora or if the refuah was a unique family legend. I have found no evidence, no tales of healing foods, although I have read folklore books, searched the Internet, even written to a rabbi in London. To my knowledge, there is no record of a food that saves one from the brink of death. 

I am not a strong believer; I think of myself as a secular Jew. How can I credit an apple with giving me back my life? Logically, the story makes no sense. It was a mere coincidence that I ate a few bites of fruit shortly before my kidney function was restored.

Or perhaps the ways of God are mysterious, His reasons unknown to us. Does my life have a purpose that I unconsciously fulfill?  As a speech-language pathologist, I have taught many children to talk. Did God save me for this reason? I remind myself that there are many speech pathologists. Does God need me for some special child who will one day grow up to accomplish great things? Or is it that my story will take its place among the folktales of my family and live long after I’m gone?

But I want, like my mother, to believe. I do believe.

 

Marge Piercy

Marge Piercy is the author of seventeen novels including Gone to Soldiers, The Longings of Women and the classic Woman on the Edge of Time, as well as her critically acclaimed memoir Sleeping with Cats. She is the author of eighteen volumes of poetry, including The Hunger Moon: New and Selected Poems 1980-2010 and The Art of Blessing the Day: Poems with a Jewish Theme. Also, PM press republished Dance the Eagle to Sleep in December and Vida this year with new introductions.

A popular speaker on college campuses, she has been a featured writer on Bill Moyers’ PBS Specials, Prairie Home Companion, Fresh Air, the Today Show, and many radio programs nationwide including Air America and Oprah & Friends. Her poems are read frequently on The Writer’s Almanac.

Praised as one of the few American writers who are accomplished poets as well as novelists — Piercy is one of our country’s best selling poets — she is also the master of many genres: historical novels, science fiction (He, She, and It won the Arthur C. Clarke Award for Best Science Fiction in the United Kingdom), novels of social comment and contemporary entertainments. She has taught, lectured and/or performed her work at well over 400 universities around the world. http://margepiercy.com/

 

What and When I Promised

I was ten years old and visiting my grandma Hannah in the mixed poor Jewish and African American ghetto where she lived upstairs in a wooden tenement. Part of every year, bobelah stayed with us in our little asbestos bungalow in Detroit and we shared a bed. But several times a year, we went to Cleveland, where most of my mama’s family lived. I loved Cleveland. It was an escape. Loving embraces and good food and houses with books and music, even when the apartments were small and crowded. I was absolutely sure my grandma loved me; I was only as sure about my cat Buttons. I was doubtful about my father, who did not think much of me, and my mother and I were often at each other in kitchen skirmishes.

The big war of my childhood had finished the summer before. A great crowd filled the Campus Martius in downtown Detroit and everybody was yelling, shooting off firecrackers, kissing, dancing. I thought it was great. In our neighborhood, we kids had a parade with our bikes round and round the block waving a couple of flags and some balloons, banging on drums and shaking noisemakers left over from some New Year’s Eve. 

Grandma was my only grandparent. Both my father’s parents were dead and my maternal grandfather’s head had been bashed in by the Pinkertons when he was organizing the bakery workers in Cleveland. I had nearly a dozen and a half aunts and uncles and gaggles of cousins, but only Hannah to tell me stories from the stetl where she had grown up till her marriage, stories of wonder-working rabbis, of the golem and Lilith and dybyks and Cossacks. She had been hungry often, she had often been afraid, but she had belonged, the daughter of a rabbi, and she had many girlfriends with whom she bathed and washed clothes at the river and gossiped and shared her dreams. I knew that since the war ended, she had been trying to get in touch with relatives and old friends back there in Lithuania.

Grandma’s apartment was tiny and mostly we sat in the kitchen with her cat Blackie and sometimes one of her neighbors who went to the same shul, where she would take me and we would sit behind the mehitzah. At that age, I did not mind the segregation because I was petted and made much of by the old ladies who had the same thick accent as my bobuleh. They told me how smart I was and what pretty black hair I had, worn in two braids down my back.

Hannah was short and stout with dark brown hair streaked with white. She wore it in a bun, but at night when we shared a bed she would let it down like Rapunzel. I wished I had long hair like hers, but my mother cut it every two months. My mother’s hair was as black as mine but kept very short. She curled it from time to time.  Mine was straight and there was a lot of it. My mother would complain when she washed it with tar soap [she didn’t trust me to wash my own hair] and then rinsed it in cider vinegar that I had enough hair for a whole family of girls. 

Hannah wore thick glasses. She had made money doing embroidery but now she had cataracts and she said, “My eyesight, it’s going too fast. Soon I’ll be blind like a stone.”

In Hannah’s kitchen, neighbors came and went while her cat supervised from a high shelf. Most were Jewish and some were Black. That did not surprise me, as we lived in a Detroit neighborhood Black or white by blocks.  My parents were openly prejudiced, but I had never lived in an all-white world.  My first boyfriend was Black. That lasted until my parents found out and I was beaten hard by the wooden yardstick they used on me.

My parents had driven off to see one of my father’s younger brothers in Youngstown, Ohio, leaving me overnight with Hannah. That made me happy, as I was the oldest and she insisted the smartest of her grandchildren instead of a disappointment to my father from being born a girl. Also the woman married to my father’s brother was just anti-semetic enough to make sly hints and drop little phrases like, “That woman at my yard sale, she was trying to Jew me down on the price of the crib.” Her sons would pick on me when we were out of sight of the grown-ups. No, I was delighted to stay in Cleveland.

We had bagels and lox for breakfast with thick slices of onion and cream cheese that didn’t come in a Philadelphia package as it did at home. I had brought my best doll.  Hannah was making a dress for her out of an old tablecloth that had almost disintegrated. She could no longer do fine embroidery, but she could still sew by hand or on her old treadle machine.  Late in the morning she sent me down to get the mail from her box. Proudly I brandished the key. Our mail at home was generally left on the front steps. Unlocking a metal box felt special. At home, I had just gotten my own house key that I was expected to wear on a string around my neck when my mother needed to be out when I was due home from school. Keys were very adult, I felt. I was old enough to be left alone.  Kids were more independent in those days. At twelve I would be babysitting until two in the morning.

An electric bill, a postcard with palm trees from my uncle Danny in the merchant marine, a circular for a new dry cleaners and a thick official-looking letter from a Jewish organization. I carried them all carefully upstairs, proud of my errand and myself for doing it so well.  I hadn’t dropped anything and my hands were clean. I even brought up the circulars.

Hannah was laying out plates for lunch, the plates with roses around the edges that I loved. To this day, when I am a so-called adult and in fact a senior citizen, as they say – Bobah would just say, old lady – I am fussy about my dishes, my mug for coffee, which sheets I put on the bed.  My husband thinks this is crazy. I say it’s because I’m female.  Or maybe I’m just fussy. 

She had soup boiling on the old gas stove that always stunk a bit. “It leaks a little – like me,” she would say if I mentioned the smell. (I won’t give you her accent; that would turn her into a caricature and I had no trouble understanding her, including the Yiddish.)

She had a little radio sitting on the shelf that Blackie preferred, and often it would be turned to classical music or else the news. But whenever I came into the kitchen, she would turn it off. “Who wouldn’t rather listen to you than some stranger?” she’d say. “What a nice voice you got.”

“At school the music teacher won’t let me sing. She taps me on the head to shut up.”

“What does she know? A nice low speaking voice is nice for a woman.”

Everything about me could use improvement according to my mother, and was just perfect by Hannah. 

I put the mail on the table. She riffled through it and pounced on the official looking letter, tearing it open and squinting at it. “Ketselah, read it to me.” 

“Dear Mrs. Adler,” I read. That was her name from her second marriage. “In regard to your query about the following persons,” and there was a list of perhaps twelve names I sounded out slowly.

“Yes, yes,” she said, “Mach snell, ketselah.  Who lives?”

“We regret to inform you that all the inhabitants of…” I could not pronounce the name as there were too many consonants and almost no vowels.

She spoke the name and stared at me.

“All the inhabitants were killed. There are no survivors we have been able to trace.”

She made a noise like I had never before heard, a shriek that went on and on as she beat her chest and shook back and forth. “Alles….alles…”

I read on. They had been shot, the entire village, and left in a mass grave. Relatives were trying to raise money for a stone monument.  I did not know what to do except to rise and hold her by the shoulders, standing behind her chair. I was afraid. I felt too young to deal with her grief. I felt helpless and shaken myself. I tried to imagine what it would be like if everybody I knew died, how I would feel.

When she stopped shaking she said, “Because they were Jews. That’s all. Little babies, my niece Rivka, my neighbors who had only one cow and two hens, the rebbi my father taught, what did they ever do to anybody? Just because they were Jews, made to dig a big grave and then shot and piled in.”

When she was cried out, she just sat in her chair, shoulders stooped and grey in the face. Her grief scared me. I had cried when my previous cat Whiskers had died. I cried over a baby robin I tried to save. I cried when I got beaten up at school. But never had I seen anybody weep like Hannah. The soup had boiled over on the stove and I shut off the burner. The scorched smell filled the kitchen but she did not seem to notice.

Finally she said, “Soon they will be no more Yids. They will wipe us from the face of the earth. We will be done. Four thousand years, and no more.”

I tried to think what I might say. “Bobah, I will always be a Jew. No matter what, I will remain a Jew so long as I live.”

She looked up into my eyes. “Promise. Your mother has forgotten everything. She doesn’t know who she is any longer. Your father has no religion.”

“But I do. I promise.”

“As long as you breathe.”

“So long as I have breath in my body.”

She nodded. “I need yarhzeit candles. I go to find out the day of their death so I can light candles for them and say Kaddish.”

“I can write a letter for you.”

“Do it. There’s paper in the drawer of the little table.” She pointed. I fetched paper and pen and wrote the letter she wanted and addressed an envelope. She sealed it and kissed the envelope. “This is all I can do.”

“Should I go mail it?”

“Go ask my nextdoorsikah if she got a stamp.”

I knocked, got a stamp and came back. “Okay.” She nodded wearily. “Go mail…. Do you mean what you promise me?”

I did. And I have kept the promise ever since.

Anastasiya Afanasieva

A Note On Anastasiya Afanasieva’s Work

Anastasiya Afanasieva is a brilliant contemporary poet writing in the Russian language who lives in the Ukraine. Living in one country, writing in a language of another, in a time of difficult historical transition, writing in free verse in a culture that is very oriented towards more formal verse structures, writing in a very young literature but being influenced by poets (such as Paul Celan) of quite different traditions, writing in a language whose speakers still associate poets with bards, while being a professional psychiatrist by trade, all of this gives Afanasieva’s voice a sense of dislocation, of strangeness that characterizes the work of many great poets. She posseses both strangeness and a sense of clarity of view which is unmistakable. Already recognized as one of the best Russian poets writing outside of the borders of Russia proper, this poet has a great deal to bring to her native traditions, and to those of other languages. — Katie Farris & Ilya Kaminsky

 

Katie Farris (translator) is the author of BOYSGIRLS (Marick Press) and her work has appeared in many literary journals including Virginia Quarterly Review, The Literary Review, Indiana Review, Verse, and numerous others. She teaches literature and creative writing at San Diego State University.


Ilya Kaminsky (translator) is the author of Dancing In Odessa (Tupelo Press) and co-editor of Ecco Anthology of International Poetry (Harper Collins).

 

From “Cold” 

by Anastasiya Afanasieva (tr. Ilya Kaminsky and Katie Farris) 

And a neighbor-lady the other day lost her glorious dog, Tita.
And now she stands and chews
a clump of snow in her palm.
And a hand without a glove
is red as a shame.
And this I saw, in the morning, walking out of my window.

Walk, hug my torso, as if I know your torso.
Walk as if a hand can console a human torso.

(Step a way from me, you idiot, my neighbor-lady yells.)

*

I am unaware of the concept of neighbors
Their faces, strange,
I see in backyards, on the morning walk to work
on the evening walk from work
I see their faces.

(And my body to their eyes, my body, is snow)

Momentary beings, lungs
in snow
who can console snow, lungs?

*

To winter’s narrow splinter
Of s street, to an idiot neighbor
And her idiot dog
We will now announce:

glory.

To quiet and naked branches of poplars
To faces  also quiet
In winter’s splinter
Of a wind, say:

glory.

To a voice you don’t hear
The real
Voice, cold, cut from stone in
a bone:

glory.

To no one, unknown
One blue on white
And quiet that splinters
the winter:

glory.

 

The Plain Sense of Things 

by Anastasiya Afanasieva (tr. Ilya Kaminsky and Katie Farris)

1
Of simple things – whisper, whisper – not
touching the ear of another –
believe – in another’s – eardrum.
So February opens, opens-
The time
whistles in a straw
as if a child sips from a glass of sparkling water.
Mouth opens, opens
before each word.
And the “o” of the mouth
is quiet
with want. Wide, and restrained, want.

3
And the snow comes as if no one knows about us
and no one needs us
and there was no
breath, no failure
and no earth that takes us inside.

9
Of simple things – in whisper, whisper.
So gives us to our bodies, time.
So the hands are held in hands, the bodies
drop into us.
So, the flame —
which comes from this evening
which is in our stomachs.
Our stomach, a city where we
are not yet persons. And no longer a breath, us.
And we — we want to go back to that breath, us.
We remember, us. 

12
Of simple things whisper, whisper.
Whisper us. Us, time.

 

 

 

 

Dolores Castro

A Note On Dolores Castro Work

This poem appears in a string-bound book Dolores gave me when we first met in Comitán, Chiapas. After breakfast, she handed me this volume, along with another book of hers. It contains several poems accompanied by French translations. This encounter and seeing those poems rendered into another language inspired me to translate her work.

 

Dolores Castro was born in Aguascalientes in 1923. She studied law and literature at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. Her poetry collections include Nocturnos (1950), Siete poemas (1952), La tierra está sonando (1959), and Cantares de vela (1960). In the U.S., translations of her poetry have appeared in Washington Square and Weave.

 

Toshiya Kamei (translator) holds an MFA in Literary Translation from the University of Arkansas. His translations include Liliana Blum’s The Curse of Eve and Other Stories (2008), Naoko Awa’s The Fox’s Window and Other Stories (2010), Espido Freire’s Irlanda (2011), and Selfa Chew’s Silent Herons (2012). Other translations have appeared in The Global Game (2008), Sudden Fiction Latino (2010), and My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me (2010).


The Dream of the Stone

by Dolores Castro (translated by Toshiya Kamei)

The dream of the stone is long and cold
its gray nature
kept nothing of the splendor of the fire.

How frightened I am by what goes off and remains!

Burning, quiet,
under the night of my senses
imprisoned
I only ask for heat.

How frightened I am by what goes off and remains!

 

Largo y frío es el sueño de la piedra

Largo y frío es el sueño de la piedra
nada guardó del esplendor del fuego
su gris naturaleza.

¡Cómo me espanta lo que se apaga y queda!

Al rojo vivo, quieta,
bajo la noche de mis sentidos
prisionera
sólo pido calor.

¡Cómo me espanta lo que se apaga y queda!

 

Orit Gidali

A Note on Orit Gidali’s Work:
Orit Gidali’s poetry transforms a common word or gesture into a multi-dimensional experience by playing upon a word’s lineage and range of meaning. “Beloved” is composed in the language of the Song of Songs, and to achieve a similar echo in English, I used the language of the King James Bible. “Note” refers to the religious prohibition of combining milk and meat in a single meal.

 

Orit Gidali is an Israeli poet. “Note” and “My Beloved” originally appeared in the collection Esrim Ne’arot LeKane [Twenty Girls to Envy Me(Sifriat Poalim, Tel Aviv, 2003).  Gidali is also the author of Smikhut [Closing In(2009), and the children’s book Noona Koret Mahshavot [Noona the Mindreader] (2007). Her books are currently the top-selling poetry in Israel.

 

 

Photo Credit by Bill Wolff

Marcela Sulak (translator) is the author of two collections of poetry, Immigrant (Black Lawrence Press, 2010) and the chapbook Of all the things that don’t exist, I love you best (2008). She has translated three collections of poetry from 19th century Czech and from Congolese French. Her poetry and essays are forthcoming in such journals as Guernica, Black Warrior Review, Cimmaron Review, The Journal, and Iowa Review. She directs the Shaindy Rudoff Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Bar-Ilan University, where she is a senior lecturer.


My beloved

by Orit Gidali (translated by Marcela Sulak)

Filled were my days with suns.
Filled were my days with love.
When he comes to the door I will open to him
and I will be wet loam.
*
The balcony of my body is rosemary for him
and he, clusters of vines.
Sometimes, in the darkness, before his sleep,
I hear a grape opening.
*
Behold, here he arrives at the gate,
he removes the breastplate of his clothing
set with shards from the floor of our house.
*
He kisses me and permits me
to lay my ribs
in the space between his ribs.
I return to him.

B.
He poeticizes our sated bodies
in the ears of friends.
They hear and are burned
as one who imagines the taste of a lemon.

Then he waves goodbye.
The movement of his hand caresses from afar
all the organs of my body.

C.
He kisses my extended hand,
fingers like the lashes of an eyelid.
He is a man who holds an etrog,
he brings his nose close to smell it.
*
My beloved who found a woman,
he looked for and found her in himself.
She is beautiful, she is more beautiful than I.
*
A well is full of lace,
fine lace, my love.
When my hands roll away the rock
the white light spills out.

 

Note

by Orit Gidali (translated by Marcela Sulak)

My beloved wakes up,
my body warm on him,
meat mixes with milk.

 

 

John A. McDermott

John A McdermottJohn A. McDermott, a native of Madison, Wisconsin, now lives in Nacogdoches, Texas where he teaches at Stephen F. Austin State University and coordinates the BFA program in creative writing. His fiction and poetry have appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Cream City Review, Florida Review, Juked, Seneca Review, Treehouse, and elsewhere.

 

 

 

The Hole in Orion’s Belt

When I returned from the week spent consoling my mother, burying my father, and organizing his belongings, the only mementos of him I brought back were a trio of oversized wool suits, a pair of brown shoes that needed polish, and a brown leather belt, much too big for me. My father’s waist was wide. These were things I didn’t need and would never use, but my mother insisted I have. I wasn’t really ready to start taking Dad out of her house, but I guess she was.

She thrust them at me, the suits in a 1970s Samsonite and the shoes stuffed into a brown paper grocery bag, the scuffed tips jutting beyond the serrated lip the way stalks of celery and bottles of wine may have weeks earlier. She made me promise I’d use them. They were my father’s best clothes, but it would be decades, if ever, before I could fit into them and even then, I would have to eat more, much more, if his forty-six inch waist was my goal.

They sat in the back seat of my sedan, slouched and lumpy like a sullen child, while I drove from Milwaukee back to Madison. I tilted the rear-view mirror so I didn’t see the bulging bag or the suitcase beneath the back window.

The night was clear, traffic light, the February deep freeze keeping most people at home. Rounding the curves of Lincoln Memorial Drive,  I watched black water slap the shore, Lake Michigan’s waves white-tipped in the moonlight. Hot air blew from the dashboard vents. Downtown lights burned the sky and it was only traveling beyond the suburbs I could see stars, stuck, gleaming shards above me. I rested my left hand against the window, the cold glass smooth beneath my skin.  I-94 was nearly deserted and I could safely look at the sky, the only other car two red dots in the distance.  I recognized some of the constellations, though not many.  Cassiopeia.  Ursa Major. The brightest star in Orion, Rigel. I turned off the radio and drove, glancing up occasionally as if I were tracking my position against the sky and not the green mileage signs on the right side of the road. I felt like an old-time sailor.

And then the center star of Orion’s Belt went out. While I was hurtling somewhere between Johnson Creek and Sun Prairie, home still more than thirty miles away, the sky went black in one familiar spot.

“Like somebody hit a switch?” my wife Janelle asked later. She wanted me to describe it. We talked in our kitchen, over the clean table. I didn’t have much to say about the days with Mom, about packing up Dad’s things for St. Vincent’s, about hearing his voice in the house and knowing it was just in my head, about smelling him everywhere, in every corner of every crowded room, even the rooms he didn’t like much, like my old room. They never did figure out what to do with it after I left. It lacked…something. I didn’t have much to say about that. But Janelle asked about the star and I could tell her.

“Yeah,” I said. “It vanished just like that. Click. Somebody hit a switch.” And it was gone.

***

The world learned more about Orion’s Belt in the next seventy-two hours than I’d imagined there was to know. The star’s name—the missing star—was Alnilam, Arabic for “the string of pearls.”  Alnilam had been a blue supergiant, ten thousand times more luminous than the Sun. I heard that from a middle-aged MIT professor interviewed by a CNN reporter. I paused in the doorway to the living room, a basket of clean laundry in my arms. Janelle was on the couch eating toast, absorbed in it all, every “Star Crisis” update. She thought I was bizarre for not gluing myself to the TV, for doing the dishes and making the bed. The entire country was more enthralled than a national election, than a Super Bowl, she told me. I shrugged and leaned against the doorjamb and watched the man talk. He was Asian, gaunt but healthy, smiling. I could feel warm t-shirts, stacked in a folded pile, against my chest.

“And though the three stars of Orion’s Belt seem to stretch in a line,” another professor began, this time a young woman with glasses,  “they don’t.”

“Didn’t,” the stern, concerned reporter corrected.

“Yes, of course,” the woman said, pushing her glasses to the bridge of her nose, nodding her head. “Didn’t.” The camera lingered on the first professor, his lips tightening. In theory, disappearing stars seemed neat. In actuality, they were unnerving. I wondered what was in the coffee mugs that both professors were sipping. Maybe they hid bourbon. Janelle ate cheese puffs from the bag.

Of the trio, Alnilam was actually the furthest away from earth, thirteen hundred light years from Moscow and Milwaukee alike, while its bookends—Mintaka to the west and Alnitak to the east—were only 900 hundred and 800 hundred light years away. I noticed the only in that scientist’s sentence. Only. Of course, whether you’re 900 or 1300 light years away seemed the same to me. Impossible to reach is impossible to reach. Gone is gone; every kid learns that with floating goldfish and stiff gerbils.

“Alnilam’s gone,” I said to Janelle, “and all these talking heads aren’t going to get it back.”

 “But maybe they’ll figure out where it went. Or why, at least.” She shrugged.

“Maybe,” I said.

She ate more puffs and the bright orange dye stained her lips.

Two days later I was putting away another load of laundry. It seemed I was going through more clothes, Janelle less. I was working out a lot, some days for several hours, and dirtying every pair of underwear and white socks I had. Janelle wore the same jeans from day to day. Tucking away a sweater in our bedroom closet,  I saw my father’s suit squeezed in on the far end of the metal rack. I’d stuck it there, next to my only other suit, a gray one I’d worn to his funeral but otherwise ignored. The brown shoes sat on the dusty floor, between a battered pair of high-top tennies and Janelle’s least-favorite slippers. The enormous belt hung beneath my bathrobe, a snaky leather divider that ran the length of the hollow-core door. I could hear the television in the living room, astronomers strident as fashion critics. Janelle was blowing her nose.  Her eyes were red now; she cried more than before.

The scientist said: yes, Alnilam was an old star, well into the late stages of its evolution, even near the end of its lifespan, but this, this sudden poof, gone, we didn’t expect. Stars went through phases, recognizable states. We should have seen this coming, he said. We should have been able to clock its departure with some accuracy. It wasn’t supposed to leave us like this.

But it did, I thought. Deal with it.

Janelle honked into her tissue.

Within a week of the star’s disappearance a religious cult in southern Indiana declared it a sign from heaven. They claimed Mintaka and Alnitak were “the Eyes of God” and began a pilgrimage to the Pacific Ocean. On the other side of the world, a group in Pakistan blamed NASA for the fresh black gap and announced that Allah was angry with Western vice.  Both groups made the network news. But, oddly, they didn’t seem to frighten anyone. Janelle found them comforting, like a rerun. She said they were so predictably nuts, a staple of every world crisis, they were a sign that things were really very normal. Even the anchors grinned when they reported on the Hoosiers’ progress—walking, only at night—all the way to California.

My father had lived in San Diego before the Second World War. The city had changed, he often told me, grown up a lot after he left. It used to be perfect, he’d said. He told me stories.  I’d never been to California, but that wasn’t why it was hard to picture my father, young, slim, on an empty beach. Sometimes I tried to start the stories again for Janelle, but they never seemed real. They seemed preposterous, so long ago, stories from another man who couldn’t have been the father I knew.

***

The scientific community, befuddled, stuttered and struggled to accept what everyone in the world saw nightly. “Stars don’t just vanish,” said a widely-quoted Palo Alto researcher. (The headline echoed in several national papers: STARS DON’T JUST VANISH EXPERT SAYS.) “We see them go through stages. There was no sign that Alnilam was transforming or going through a shift of some sort. It’s as if someone just reached out and snatched it from the sky.”

Janelle said she wished she’d seen it go. I’d seen it, but didn’t dwell. I didn’t need to think about the cosmos if everybody else was stuck on it. And Janelle had always been more aware of the sky. She was the one who’d taught me that those three stars were Orion’s Belt in the first place, right after we were married. There’d been a football field by our first apartment and on summer nights we would walk to the fifty-yard line and stop, our chins up. My attention followed Janelle’s raised arm as she pointed out the constellations, brilliant dabs from some calligrapher’s pen. We both stood, sweating and slapping mosquitoes, connecting the dots and smiling.

Three weeks passed and then everyone tired of thinking about the sky. The world suffered from Alnilam-fatigue. As great as it had been, for centuries, the star’s absence didn’t make that much difference. Life went on. There didn’t seem to be less of either good or evil in the world. Muggers mugged, nurses nursed. Even the scientists seemed a little tired of the topic. MIT had to move on. There were bound to be other things happening, even in the sky. Maybe especially in the sky.

I came home one night and found Janelle had unmoored from the living room. The television was on, but she wasn’t watching. She was working in the kitchen, defrosting the freezer. Pans of hot water sat in a snowy ring on the upper shelf. Short, raggedy towels were spread out on the checked linoleum floor. Janelle stood in front of the open door, stabbing at thick slabs of ice.

“You shouldn’t do that,” I said, still in my winter coat and watchman’s cap.

“What?”  She kept digging, thin white shavings fluttering into the water pans and onto her sweatshirt sleeves.

“Dig with the pick. You could mess up the whole thing. Puncture the coils or something.”

“You’re an expert on refrigerators?”

“It’s what I’ve been told.” I held a can of orange juice concentrate in one hand and jiggled my car keys in the other. I’d only ducked out to fill up the tank and buy the juice for breakfast.

“It’ll take forever if I don’t help it along,” she said with a short jab.

“What’s the rush?”

She turned and pointed the metal tip at the mound of frozen food on the counter and spilling over the sides of our plastic cooler, bags of peas and corn, cellophane-wrapped ground beef, frost-covered cod fillets. “You want to waste all that?”

“Why can’t we put it in the car? It’ll keep.”

Janelle set the pick down on the counter and picked up the fish. She faced me, kissed me, handed me the cod, and patted my hands. “That’s why I married you,” she said.

It took me three trips. Janelle was going to help, but I told her she didn’t have to. She went to take a bath, soak in the tub. It was a good sign. She hadn’t done that in a while. Our bathroom was yellow and blue, very sunny. Held on to heat well. And no newscasts. No radio at all.

I shut the trunk on the last load and looked to our apartment building. Ours was smack in the middle of the second floor. It looked like everyone in every apartment was home; so many lit windows. The Kellys. The Mitchells. Our living room, bedroom, bathroom. Above the building, the sky was overcast, the moon nearly full but hidden by gauzy clouds. I sat on the trunk and sucked in the cold air. It seared for a moment, then softened, like cold water after a hard July run. It sort of hurt, but I wanted more. 

The parking lot was quiet, far enough from the street for traffic to be muffled. Another breath and I fingered the keys in my jacket, about to go in, and our bedroom light went out, click, just like that. I supposed Janelle was going from the bedroom to the bath, probably wrapped up in her bathrobe and carrying a magazine. She liked to read in the tub. And it shouldn’t have thrown me, but it did. Three windows in a row. Light, black, light.

I sat on the hard edge of our car and wept. The tears hurt. It was too cold to cry outside, my cheeks chapped, but I didn’t want to move. I looked at that dark window and then up at the sky and just sat there, breathing and holding my keys. I sat there until I heard somebody walking across the lot toward the dumpster, probably with a big bag of trash, but I didn’t look. I went inside.

Janelle was still in the bathroom, the fan whirring behind the closed door the only noise. The television was off. I hung my winter jacket in the hall closet, then checked on the fridge. Water was spilling over the drip pans and the towels were damp, but that always happened. I put on the kettle for a cup of instant coffee and set the mug down on the counter, next to the ice pick. It was an old ice pick, with a faded wooden handle and a tarnished blade. I couldn’t remember where we got it. A hand-me-down from Janelle’s parents or mine.

I picked it up and walked into the bedroom, flipping on the switch with more thought than usual. In our room, I could hear the upstairs neighbors, heels clicking, the television mumbling. I opened the closet door and tossed my bathrobe on the bed, plucked the belt off the hook and sat down next to my robe. I could hear Janelle splashing and humming over the fan.

I gripped the ice pick in one hand, the handle smooth from a hundred earlier hands, and held the belt taut with the other, the far end tucked between my legs. I started out poking gingerly at the thick leather, but that didn’t get me anywhere. I had to jab the hide, prod, wheedle the sharp end of the pick against the grain. I wrestled that belt, made small thrusts, then more, a little fiercer, until it finally went through all the way.

The new hole was tiny, too narrow to buckle. I jostled the edges, cleaned it out, expanded it, then tossed the pick on the coverlet. I held the belt to the overhead light, both arms up, the ceiling beige above me, and looked through the jagged tear. It wasn’t big, but it was light, light right through the hole I made. I stood up  and wrapped the belt around my waist. I cinched it and left the end to dangle.

I heard the neighbors shout, running, click-click on the floor above me. Their TV grew louder. Quick words and applause. There was a sudden buzz about the building. A shout and a laugh came up from the parking lot, where chatter from a car’s radio bubbled beneath two cheers, a man and a woman’s. “It’s back,” someone shouted. “It’s back.”

And then there was Janelle standing in the doorway, a small smile, all wet hair and white towel and scrubbed limbs. Tell me, she said, or perhaps she didn’t.  Maybe it was simply in her eyes, her eyes clear and kind, as she sat with me on the edge of the bed. Tell me about your father’s California.

 

Kristen Blanton

Kristen Blanton is currently an MFA fiction candidate at the University of Idaho. She received her B.A. from the University of Arizona in 2009 and lives in Moscow, Idaho.

 

Fast Water

I made Natalie breakfast once, the first time she stayed over at my house. When we finished, I took the plates and she followed me into the kitchen. I started hand-washing them and she offered to dry.

Above my sink is a photograph a friend took for a photography class last year, the summer my ex-boyfriend, Mark, and I lived together. I want to shock my class, she said, they’re all Mormons. In the picture my fingernails are digging into his flesh hard, scratching his reddened back. When the summer was over, Mark told me to move out. He sat there solemnly while I packed. He didn’t cry until I asked him to help put our cat into her carrier.

If Natalie had asked about the photo, I’d have said, he was just an ex, with promises to tell her more stories another time, but I’m not sure she even noticed it. I handed her plates while I washed the dishes from yesterday, and she asked me where each item belonged in my kitchen.

At the thrift store we look for paintings and frames to decorate the bare walls of Natalie’s new apartment. We’re sorting through them when I find a picture I know she’ll hate, a little boy dressed in a suit like a pretend adult, handing a flower to a little girl wearing a hat and dress. The little girl’s holding the flower in her right hand up to her nose, and she’s smiling like she knows something. The little boy is kissing her cheek.

“Jesus, Molly,” she says. “No.”

 “What if it were two girls?”

 “They don’t make sentimental photos with baby lesbians.”

 She buys the frame because I said I liked it.

“We can change the picture,” I say, like decorating her house is our project, like someday soon I’d be saying things like “We enjoy chow mein.” The signs are there, though: we leave panties that aren’t ours on each other’s bedroom floors. We adopted her dog – Toby – together. We have toothbrushes from cheap Walgreens’ 2-pack deals in each other’s medicine cabinets.

“This won’t ever be anything,” I told her.

In the car, she laces her fingers in mine and touches my thigh, and it’s like I’m somewhere I don’t belong.

We drive out to the country and park in a field where she drinks Yellowtail Pinot and I drink Tisdale shiraz from red plastic Dixie cups while we sit on her dog’s blanket and I lay my head on her stomach and she touches my arm.

She keeps touching my arm and tells me about how her mother criticized the way she folded socks. I like being a voyeur into Natalie’s life.

“I wanted to hold your hand at the bar last night,” she says.

“Then why didn’t you?”

“I don’t know,” she says. “Do you want me to?”

Her dog chases a squirrel.

“I’ve never had anyone’s hand to hold for any length of time,” she says, almost to herself.

“I know,” I say.

 “You couldn’t care less,” she says.

“That isn’t true,” I say, taking her fingertips and kissing them. “Don’t be mean.”

She kisses me. “I want to take you camping,” she says. “Let’s have a weekend.”

 “Where?” I ask.

“There’s this place I’ve been wanting to go camping. The Wallowas.” she says.

“I don’t know,” I say. “We should probably invite other people.”

She bites her lip for a minute, then nods. “Because nothing’s real, right?”

I laugh.

“Nothing means anything, right?” she says.

“Stop,” I say.

“Fine,” she says, smiling. “We’ll find someone else to invite.”

***

Natalie and I arrive at the mountain at five in the afternoon. We hike three or so miles with Toby, this little black lab that she’s strapped a backpack to, so it can carry its own food.

“She’s earning her keep,” Natalie jokes.

She makes mac and cheese for dinner and teaches me how to use a camp stove, boiling the water above the small flame and pouring the noodles in. She says since it’s just the two of us, we can eat out of the pot, so we do.

“What do we do all night?” I ask.

“We can play cards, I don’t know,” she says.

“It’s getting cold,” I say.

“Let’s go in the tent,” she says.

We open a bottle of cheap champagne, passing it back and forth while she shuffles the cards.

“Do you remember how to play rummy?” she asks.

“Sure,” I try to recount the rules to her. “What are you, stupid?” I say. I smile, but I hear Mark’s tone in my voice.

We get silly from the champagne. The dog stomps around the tent and tries to find a place to lie down.

“Let’s zip our bags together,” she says.

In the single sleeping bag she takes me in her arms.

“Can you think of anything better than this?” she asks me.

She kisses me shyly, waiting for me to kiss her back, waiting for me to say, “It’s okay.” She touches my stomach, and is more familiar with the terrain of my body than I am.

Natalie and I don’t say I love you, and I know we never will. I touch the scar on her breast, where they put a broviac catheter when she was a kid. She’d pointed it out to me once, said, “Look how ugly.” I wouldn’t have noticed if she hadn’t pointed it out.

***

In the morning, the dog pukes on the bottom of the sleeping bag.

“God, Toby!” she cries, scrambling all over herself. “Get out of the bag,” she says.

“It’s fine,” I say.

“Jesus,” she says, pushing the dog out of the tent. “That’s what she gets, eating all that grass. Look at this fucking mess,” she says, while I try to shift out of the bag so she can take it outside and wash it off. I pull on the jacket I was using as a pillow.

“Hey,” I say, “it’s really okay.”

When Toby was a puppy Natalie would take her for rides in her mother’s car. Toby got carsick, and she threw up on the new leather seats, her mom shouting, “Natalie!” I wished that I had been in that car so I could have said, “It’s not her fault,” or maybe, “It wouldn’t kill you to be nice about it.”

I get up out of the tent and watch Natalie pour water from her Nalgene onto the bag and hoist it over a branch so it can dry.

Natalie makes coffee in her French press, and after it dries we stuff the bag into a stuff-sack. We put our packs on, and I carry the coffee while she leashes Toby. We hike three more miles in. There are the tallest trees I’ve ever seen and mountains so beautiful I didn’t know they existed in real life. I keep stopping and gasping, saying, “Natalie, look!” like maybe she wasn’t leading and looking at the same mountains. She had been here before, and I can tell it makes her happy that she knows a place to take me that would shock me like that, so I play it up more than I should.

We’re supposed to cross a river to get to trails that will lead us to a lake she wants to show me. Natalie says she’ll go first. She takes her pack off to see if it’s safe to cross. She sits on the ground and unlaces her boots, peels down her socks, stuffs them into her boots. She folds her shorts to the middle of her thigh and begins across the river.

The dog gets in after her. The dog is paddling hard, but she’s not going anywhere. Natalie’s being pulled hard by the current too.

“Natalie,” I call out. She can’t hear me above the sound of the water rushing downstream.

“It’s too fast!” she yells to me, halfway across the river. The water’s not high, maybe up to the middle of her thighs. She turns around and starts back.

The dog sees Natalie turn and turns back, too.

“Natalie,” I call again. Then, “Toby.” But they don’t hear me.

Natalie’s thighs are red from the cold, the water pushing against her. Toby’s struck against a fallen tree, trying to paddle, to get out.

I think of what would happen if we don’t get that dog back. I think of what Natalie’s scream would sound like if we lost the dog. I think of Natalie blaming herself. I think of holding Natalie while she cries, wishing I was anywhere else but there, wishing that I were anyone other than the person who had to be there to care.

Then I get this image of Natalie’s and Toby’s bodies floating down the river. What I would do. We’re six miles in and I’m not sure if I know how to get us back. Would I follow the river and fish her body out of the water when she hit a log? How long could she swim? If I managed to find my way out of this wilderness, would I call her mother? Her mom barely knows who I am, because we’re not really dating. “We” are not something Natalie will talk about with her mother.

Toby’s head goes under the downed tree and I can’t see her for a minute. Then she bobs back up on the other side, and the current is partially blocked by that fallen tree, and she swims to the shore and pulls herself up.

Natalie approaches the shore.

I run toward the dog, not twenty feet away, and grab her collar.

“Good girl, Toby,” I say to her. “Good girl.”

Natalie sits on the bank and looks across the river. She sits and the dog comes up and licks her face.

“I’m sorry,” she says, petting the dog. “I don’t think we can cross.”

“That’s fine,” I say, laughing. “It doesn’t matter.”

“The trails on the other side are better,” she says, taking her socks out of the boots she set on the shore. “I’m fucking cold,” she says.

“Do you want my jacket?” I ask her.

She shakes her head, shivering. The dog keeps panting.

“We can just hike around here today,” I tell her. “Did you see Toby?”

She shakes her head.

“She was fighting pretty hard,” I say, thinking maybe that will make it less scary for her.

“I’m a terrible dog owner,” she says. “I didn’t know it’d be so strong.”

“You’re not,” I say. “How would you have known?”

She has this look on her face, and I can tell it doesn’t matter that the dog didn’t drown, all that matters is that she could have, and Natalie won’t be able to forget it. I hate seeing her like this.

“Natalie,” I say, sitting beside her and running my knuckles against her cheek. “It’s okay. Nothing happened.”

She keeps looking at the river.

“If we leave now, we’d be back to the car before dark,” she says.

***

When we get to town we stop in at a bar near my apartment with a patio so we can bring Toby. It’s dollar-fifty wells, and we start on gin. Natalie’s good for two G & Ts.

On our third round, Natalie tells the waitress that knows us, “Toby had a rough day.”

She tells her what happened as if she’s confessing, reluctant but forced, like the waitress needed to know that something almost happened to Toby today. After five gin and tonics, Natalie says, “Let’s go to your apartment.”

We pass my neighbor, Andy, sitting on our joint patio, drinking a beer.

“You want to have a drink with us?” I ask him. Natalie looks at me, annoyed, like she wanted this to be a couple’s thing, the end of our night.

“Yeah,” he says. “I’ll be over in a minute.”

After we walk into my apartment, Natalie starts kissing me. “Come here,” she says, pulling me into the bedroom. Toby follows and jumps up. We fall down on my bed and she continues kissing me. She’s pushing her tongue into my mouth in a way she doesn’t when she’s sober. “Why did you invite him over?” she whispers, kissing behind my ear.

“It’s just a beer,” I say.

“I’m so tired,” she says. “Tell him to go away. I just want to be in bed with you.”

I get out of bed and pour her a glass of water from the faucet, take two Advil from the cupboard. When I return, she’s already asleep. She’s fully clothed so I pull the covers over her and set the water and the Advil on a table beside her head. There’s a particular pleasure I have in taking care of her, making sure she’s okay, seeing what she’s like when she’s drunk.

I answer the door. Andy’s holding his beer.

“Natalie already passed out,” I tell him.

“That was quick,” he says. “Do you still want a beer?”

“Let’s sit outside.” I say.

We sit on patio chairs and smoke cigarettes. Andy moved in a few weeks ago and he says his ex-girlfriend is moving in with him the next weekend. He says he needs help with the rent.

“That doesn’t sound like a good situation,” I say.

He shrugs.

“You have plans to reconcile?” I ask.

He shakes his head. “I don’t think so,” he says.

We’re both silent for a minute, then I say, “I have records.”

We sit on the floor and I open a banker’s box filled with all my records and begin to finger through them. He doesn’t say anything about Natalie being in my bed, so neither do I.

“Have you ever used a record player before?”

He shakes his head.

We sit on the floor and I put on a Beatles album.

“Everyone likes the Beatles, right?” I say and suddenly I’m nervous, don’t know what to do about being alone with Andy.

“I don’t really like them,” he says. “But it’s fine.”

“I can change it,” I say.

“Don’t worry about it,” he says.

Andy keeps talking about his ex. He says she didn’t understand that he had friends. He says she got jealous. He says he doesn’t need to fuck his friends, that he knows guys like that, that it’s not his thing, like he’s offering an explanation for why he’s not fucking me.

I think, What if he wanted to? Then I think of Andy on top of me on the carpet, of him breathing and his beard rubbing against my neck and the noises that he would make, and what it would feel like.

But Andy doesn’t matter. He’s just a guy.

“You should leave after we finish this beer,” I say, “I’m getting tired.”

After I close the door, I take my clothes off and walk to the bed and I see Natalie sleeping. I get into bed, naked beside her body. I run a knuckle across her hips. I look at the curve of her ass, down her legs. I put a hand on her flat stomach and smell her hair, that long white-blond hair. I think of my friends who, when I showed them pictures of her, said lesbians aren’t supposed to have long hair, and I think she probably keeps it long because once she didn’t have any.

I want to live inside this body, I want to be this body. Then I would know what it was like to spend a year in waiting rooms wearing hats, fingering the glass on the tanks where they keep the fish. I want to feel a man’s hands run across this skin marred by a surgery and I want to feel a man’s lips and his mustache across these nipples and this neck and I want to arch this back and moan with this voice.

I touch Natalie’s hips again and look at the bedside table. The Advil’s gone. I see her waking and finding me getting fucked on the carpet and I’m glad it didn’t happen. I move to be closer to her. I lie flat on my back with my arms by my side and I don’t want to touch her.

**

In the morning she rolls over and puts her arms around me. “Baby,” she murmurs. “When did I go to sleep?” she asks, sleepy-eyed.

She kisses my neck and I think this is the last place I want to be, in my bed with this woman.

“How late did you stay up?” she asks.

“I don’t know why it matters,” I say, closing my eyes. “Late.”

I feel her sit up on her elbow. I open my eyes, look at her, and I can see she’s waiting for an explanation, for me to say something else, but I don’t.

“Why are you being like this?” she says. She waits for a minute. Then she sits up. “Did something happen with Andy?”

“Why do you have to ask me that,” I say.

“Something did, didn’t it?”

“We’re not dating, Natalie,” I say.

“I know,” she starts crying. “You did, didn’t you?”

I play with my earring stud.

“That’s just like you, isn’t it?” She gets out of bed. She walks into my living room and throws herself onto my couch, crying.

“I’m being dramatic,” she says, like a child scolding herself.

I get up and follow her to the living room and sit at the end of the couch, the way I imagine her mother did, sitting on the foot of Natalie’s tiny bed while Natalie cried about something. I try to remember her mother’s name. Janice. Jean. Janine?

“You don’t even care,” she says.

 “That’s not fair, or true,” I say.

I look at Natalie, watch her shoulders rising and falling. Each time she cries harder I tell myself, I did that. I move to the floor and sit.

Maybe I should rub her back and tell her it’s okay. I know she wants me to touch her.

“What about our weekend?” she says, like it was something that happened years ago, like we’re looking back on this weekend as if this is when it all began to fall apart.

 “I’m sorry,” I say, “Maybe you should go.”

She doesn’t rise, just shivers and sobs, and I wonder how long I can watch someone cry.

Linda Voss

Linda Voss has been published in nonfiction with Discovery Channel Publishing and the Macmillan Library. A graduate of the Indiana University School of Journalism with a science minor, she writes about science and technology for NASA, the National Academy of Sciences, and the National Science Foundation. Online articles include this on her sister’s work. She also blogs about comparative religion for the Institute for Spiritual Development. This is her first published personal essay.

 


The Heavenly Messengers

In Memorium Janice Voss (1956 – 2012)

One of only six women to have flown in space five times, Astronaut Janice E. Voss’ missions contributed to the body of knowledge in combustion science and provided the highest resolution map of the Earth ever made. She was also Science Director for the Kepler space telescope launched in 2009 to search for Earth-like planets.

 

Janice Voss. Photo Credit to Phil McAuliffe

There are moments that seem to hold an answer. A friend helping you walk the aisle of cyprus trees, an ungainly version of who you are, belly distended by the cancer, pregnant with that malignancy. The quick, grateful smile you gave me, your sister, when you smelled the white rose I picked for you. That moment of sun and scent and smile. Radiant.

Talking about it, you could be describing the descent trajectory of a ballistic missile. Those lung drains that, after a while, didn’t ease your breathing and would have panicked you more, were it not for the inadvertent discovery from the three weeks when it became difficult to breathe, but you couldn’t get a drain because the chemo lowered your blood count too much. You discovered that your lungs didn’t keep filling with fluid. They reached a stasis under the greater pressure that made breathing even more difficult. You couldn’t take a deep breath for the pain, so you breathed shallowly. Maybe you hadn’t needed those drains every week for the last eight months, after all.

“That’s scary,” I say.

“You can’t be afraid for that long,” you say. “At least not the way I live my life. You just work it through.”

My dharma teacher said the question that transformed the Buddha, that set the young king on his spiritual path and left us the gift of Buddhism, was, “What is it of our humanity that transcends the three Heavenly messengers—illness, aging, and death?”

When you are sitting at the deathbed of the person you love, advises my friend who is a NASA Health and Medical Officer, an Antarctic explorer, and a cancer survivor himself, don’t talk to them about the spiritual stuff. “Just hold their hand and tell them you love them.”

Doctor Sherwin Nuland, in How We Die, looks at what constitutes a good death. “Of the many kinds of hope a doctor can help his patient find at the very end of life, the one that encompasses all the rest is the belief that one final success may yet …[vanquish] the immediacy of suffering and sorrow.”

My minister, speaking at the church service where the congregation performed the prayer for your transition from life, used a Pac-Man video game analogy for why we play this game of life. Even though we know we’re going to die, or get gobbled into ghost people, we strive to prevail against the overwhelming forces arrayed against us.

Dr. Nuland postulated that the final, triumphant success was that of dying as you lived. He used the example of a patient who, days before his death from cancer, opened his doors to friends and loved ones for his annual Christmas party and reading of Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol. On his epitaph was written his favorite line, “He knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.”

This is what Steve Jobs’ sister, Mona Simpson, says she learned from Jobs’ death. “Character is essential: what he was, was how he died.” In the hospital at the last, intubated so he couldn’t talk, Jobs “…designed new fluid motor monitors and x-ray equipment. He redrew that not-quite-special-enough [intensive care] unit. And every time his wife walked into the room, I watched his smile remake itself on his face.”

“What amazed me,” Simpson says, “was how much was left after so much had been taken away.”

We should sing love songs to our beloveds every day.

When you stay with me getting treatment for three days at my home in Arlington,Virginia, my work day begins when you go to bed at 9:30 at night. I crawl into my big bed at 3 in the morning, next to you propped up on pillows so you can breath, and gently take your hand. I can feel the warm pulse flowing through the delicate veins, the skin so soft and thin. The bones are small but prominent and hard against flesh that is dropping away.

Two days after you have left, I walk to the Iwo Jima statue. Standing in its shadow, I am keenly aware that I am not nearly (orders of magnitude) grateful enough. My eyes follow the march of orderly embossed letters spelling a litany of places Marines died around the world. The day is pure gift, the brilliant sun of a perfect luminescent summer day. I feel the rays of sunshine like a shower of love from Heaven.

The mulberries are flourishing at the Iwo Jima this year. Walking the edges of the park, I find branches laden with fruit drooping across my path. I know these berries—not poison, but wholesome fodder of folklore and pioneer tradition. They are growing all around this year in parks and along city streets, and I love eating them. I have a relationship with these berries. I pop a shiny purple berry into my mouth and crush the juice on my tongue.

I am so grateful. For having a sister who was a pioneer through life. For what I know, my relationship with myself, with my body, with the Earth, with my God or Goddess, which is my sense—my own personal sense—of higher being, the larger forces that form a matrix within which I live. The gifts that I have are so simple. The simplest and the most precious. My sense of life, present to its gifts.

That simple joy and gratitude, the overwhelming love, I believe, is what we go to when we die. We can experience it here in life, if we are open. It’s all around us. You gave me the gift of knowing that.

Don’t talk about the spiritual stuff; just love them.

You died as you lived. You marched with self-determined grit, wide-eyed, scientific and uncompromising into the disease that ravaged your body. You chose that path with the “normal” courage poet Jack Gilbert describes that over time conquers and transcends: “The beauty that is of many days. Steady and clear. It is the normal excellence, of long accomplishment.” You died that way, determined you were going to beat it. You joined a health club that week and square danced the weekend before. You emailed colleagues about work just before the ambulance came.

You didn’t know that moment in the hospital coughing up blood would be the moment that took you. It could have been any of so many moments. Your moments of joy. Your wave good-bye, face beaming, boarding the bus to the Space Shuttle. The moment that took you wasn’t important. It was important that America be a space faring nation. It was important to you to explore the fundamental science of how things burn when you take away the variable of gravity. It was the unknown, the challenge, that drew you. The cancer gave you the chance to explore the mystery of the healing potential and boundaries of your body. And then surpass them.

My dharma teacher, upon hearing of your cancer, replies, “Who’s to say that death isn’t a healing process?”

You marched right through that wall to the other side where the vistas to explore are infinite. Was there even a tug before you slipped the bonds of earth? That was just me, holding on for a moment more.

Suzanne Cope

Suzanne Cope is a writer and writing instructor who splits her time between Somerville, MA and Brooklyn, NY. Her current projects include the memoir Locavore in the City (Michigan State University Press) and Small-Batch: The Fall and Rise of Artisanal Cheese, Pickles, Chocolate and Alcoholic Spirits in America (Alta Mira Press), as well as personal essays and articles on food culture for various creative and academic publications. She earned her MFA in creative nonfiction and her Ph.D. in creative nonfiction pedagogy and teaches writing at Berkley College of Music and Grub Street. 

 

Gardening Language

Phlox, portulaca, daffodil, chickweed, heliotrope. These are vocabulary words for the new language I am learning for my summer job as a gardener. During my first week of work it is still a novelty to don my oldest jeans and stuff a backpack with snacks and water and sunscreen, band-aids and ointment for cuts, and an extra long-sleeve shirt. To come home dirty and sun-kissed as the spring and summer days of the northeast become warmer and longer and are filled with promise. On those days, too, I am a beginner again. After a school year of teaching college freshmen to strive to become better writers through practice and study of grammar and vocabulary, I enjoy learning new words and new rules, too. For the first time in a long time I can be a beginner. This also seems perfect for the season during which I am getting married – just an honest day’s work of digging and pruning and planting while I prepare to embark on a new phase of my life.

***

Do you have any siblings? What does your fiancé do? Where are you from? These are the new questions I am asking my colleagues and they are asking me. We are a particular crew in that all of us have a college education and have turned to working with the earth because of a love or need for something different, difficult, and beautiful. It has been a long time since I worked side by side with a stranger, our instincts taking over yet not bored, having the time and mental energy to chat. I want to know more about the soft-spoken, tattooed man from the western part of the state and the outgoing brunette who will be studying to be a counselor in the fall. She asks me questions about my betrothed and he makes quiet jokes as if he wants to get to know me as well. Like the hosta leaves just starting to pierce the ground, our stories slowly unfurl – a lost love in another country, a past vocation that was not what she had thought, my admission that I wanted to learn about the flowers and plants I so admired to help make my new home my own. We lose ourselves in digging old roots from a new patch of dirt, in carefully separating dying flower buds from those that have not yet bloomed.

Our tentativeness is the very opposite of our boss – a professor of romance languages during the winter who grew up with horticulturist parents and wears her heart on her sleeve. She loves us, her crew, immediately. She laughs often and is inquisitive, frequently sharing intimate details of her life. She asks about my wedding planning; we hear about her family.

I learn on my second day that a tragedy befell her halfway through her recent pregnancy: an unexpected death of a parent and the loss of her childhood home. I think of how much strength she must have to be so positive in the face of such a senseless and random occurrence. I am amazed that she can still make jokes while she constantly talks to her sweet son, who quietly entertains himself as he accompanies us on jobs, at least for now, until he starts to crawl. Once or twice that afternoon, however, I notice her gaze travel past the lush garden we are tending and back to her past. Only her son’s happy cry return her to us.

***

On my third day she admits that the tragedy has sapped her spirituality. She feels that she can’t accept negative feedback; she knows that she takes actions of others too personally, even if it is a decision that is purely business. She muses on this as we drive past a gardening job she thought she was to be hired for, but appeared to have gone to someone else.

“How would you deal with that?” she asks me, barely more than a stranger. I am uncertain if she is asking about the events of the previous year or the lost job of replacing annuals and pruning small shrubs. I say that I would talk myself out of being upset. I would convince myself – even in the face of faulty logic – not to take it to heart. I feel that this is appropriate advice for someone who coaxes flowers to bloom in the rocky soil of city yards and who painstakingly plants bulbs that will flower for just a few weeks before needing to be trimmed back once again. I wonder, then, if this is why I was drawn to gardening: because I understand why certain things can defy what is expected.

***

“I would like to think I am doing something good in this world; that I am just trying to make it a little bit more beautiful.” We’re driving to another job site as she says this. Her gaze is towards the traffic-filled road, but also beyond it. In the backseat I pretend to eat her son’s toes and he giggles.

“It’s just, and I know how horrible this will sound, but I feel that what happened to me was unfair. I lost so many things that were very important to me – my journals, yearbooks, short stories – it just seems like too much for one person to bear.”

***

I don’t know what to say, so I quietly sympathize. I wish I could be more open like her, to tell strangers my fears in search of hope for a ray of light that might sustain me a few more days or weeks. I wish I could think of the perfect, beautiful prose to say to make it easier, better, if only for that moment. Yet at this juncture I can’t completely relate, as mementos from my past are not as important to me and I have yet to lose anything quite as dear as she has. Something dawns on me, however. Perhaps this is that why she is a gardener, even with her Ivy League degree, and maybe this is also how she will deal with her loss. Because of her desire – her need – to create beauty in the world, even if for a short while, only to have to repeat the process again in a few weeks or months or years.

It is late May, and I have been given the task of planting annuals in the dirt where tulips and daffodils once reigned. This is just one part of the cycle of death and rebirth that I am starting to comprehend, in regards to the earth but also to my fellow gardeners. I have been working for a few weeks and can now be sent off by myself to trim the earliest spring-blooming flowers that are dropping petals, leaving a bed that was once brilliant a uniform shade of wet green and readied for a new crop of later-blooming plants. My favorites are the deep red and bright orange Icelandic Poppies whose large and delicate flowered heads tilt towards the sun as if they know how brief their life will be in this northern climate and insist upon a few months of pure bliss. They perk up when I return after lunch to water their roots and start to look as if they had always been there, as if they belong. It took such little time for them to blend in with the colorful bed of roses and azaleas, stargazer lilies and sweet woodruff and lavender. I am still quite new, but I have learned enough to know that in a few months when I must deadhead these flowers, their petals will be tinged with brown and flutter to the ground at my touch; when I must cut them down to their soft, green stems, I will remember this day that feels more like summer than spring, still in the month of May. I will recall how I was neither warm nor cool, how the summer stretched out before me. How little Jack was not yet crawling, and I did not yet wear a wedding ring. Back when I still referred to the lycantheum as columbine, and questioned whether the fall blooming aster was a weed.

Neil Mathison

Neil Mathison is an essayist and short-story writer who has been a naval officer, a nuclear engineer, an expatriate businessman living in Hong Kong, a corporate vice-president, and a stay-at-home-dad. His essays and short stories have appeared in The Ontario Review, Georgia Review, Southern Humanities Review, North American Review, North Dakota Quarterly, Agni, Under the Sun, – divide-, Bellowing Ark, Pangolin Papers, Blue Mesa Review, and elsewhere. Forthcoming are essays in Northwind and Under the Sun. Neil lives and writes in Seattle. Neil’s essay, “Volcano: an A to Z” was recognized as a “notable essay” in Best American Essays 2010.

 **Recipient of Best Notable Essay in Best American Essays by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt**

Wooden Boat

This May morning the harbor below our Friday Harbor house blushes pink. Scoter ducks scribe inky Vs through strands of kelp shaped like question marks. Across the channel, on Brown Island, the sun gilds the Douglas firs. In town – we can see it from our front deck – at the foot of Front Street, a green and white Washington State ferry loads its cars. Were it March, we might be among its passengers, but today, and for the rest of the spring and summer, my wife Susan, our fourteen-year-old son John, and I will commute by boat, our own wooden boat, which lies at our dock, suspended from its mooring whips, ready to skim the meanders and whirls and eddies of the morning tide. The boat is twenty feet long, hull black, topsides white and tan, her teak trim varnished – “bright” as we wooden-boat people call it.

We had the boat built expressly for this purpose: to deliver us safely, at high speed, and with some style from the mainland to our island retreat and back.

***

“A wooden boat,” the builders of our boat say on their Nexus Marine website, “has an indefinable beauty of line that is difficult or impossible to produce by molding or bending thin sheets of metal.”

After all, the line of trunk and branch is among the most harmonious in nature.

And there’s depth in wood, especially varnished wood – you can see inside it.

Wood perfumes the air with its resins – who hasn’t, on a summer’s day, lingered in the fragrance of a lumber yard?

Wood is naturally buoyant – you feel it in the way a wooden boat lifts on a wave, as if it were alive – and it has been alive, and remains alive in a way that fiberglass or aluminum never can be.

But wood is not for everybody, not for the capricious or the impatient or the hard-riding or the owner with a thin wallet. Varnish wears under the sun; teak abrades; paint fades; dings mar the perfection of brightwork. Wood’s longevity depends on the care you choose to lavish on it. A wooden boat, like a human being, is a brief, ephemeral flare of energy amid the cosmic slide to disorder and darkness, its very perishability part of its attraction (at least for some of us), a declaration of independence against the travails of time.

***

I began my love affair with wooden boats on a jet-lagged summer leave in 1988. Susan and I were living in Hong Kong – I was managing a computer sales subsidiary – but we had retained a Seattle houseboat as a home-leave retreat. I remember a July-bright afternoon, half-drunk from jet-lag, jogging over to the Wooden Boat Shop (now gone) on the other side of Lake Union’s Portage Bay where I spotted a cold-molded, wood-epoxy pram, its hull white, its interior a herringbone of cedar strips, its lines as neat as a cockle shell. I bought her on the spot and rowed her home. When we relocated back to Seattle, I moved her up to Friday Harbor where I would launch her from our dock and row her around Brown Island, and where, when her plywood bow began to delaminate, I cut out the rotted and splayed wood and, with epoxy and filler, laid in a replacement bow, a project well beyond my woodworking skills, but in which I found relief from the agonies of the “down-sizing” underway at the electronics company where I then worked. I liked the feel of the wood under my hands. I liked it that with epoxy and resin I could “heal” my little boat. I liked bringing the grain of the cedar back to life under coats of varnish followed by sanding followed by more varnish, so that in the end I could look deep into the wood, and so that when I rowed the boat, I felt as if I was floating inside a bowl of maple syrup. My work wasn’t perfect. There were sags in the varnish. Too much filler masked the grain. I could sail it on Lake Union, but it would never take us farther than that. But by my labor, I became invested in my boat.

 ***

When it was time for the boat that could take us from Seattle to the San Juans, or points farther, I went to the Nexus Marine boathouse, located on the slough-laced delta of the Snohomish River among pilings that were once log booming grounds and moorings for fishing boats. The building is two-story, yellow-planked, and barn-shaped with a high, exposed-rafter interior and open on one side to the river. There’s a “buzz-and-walk-in” bell. When you slide the door open, you enter a mote-softened, high-raftered space populated with big table-saws and drill presses, and beyond the saws you’ll see another door that is the entrance to the owners – David and Nancy’s – apartment. In the boathouse you may feel as I do: that you’ve stepped into Ratty or Mole’s house in The Wind in the Willows.

David is usually wearing jeans and boots and a carpenter’s smock and is out in one of the several rooms of the boathouse, which David and Nancy call “the shed,” amid plastic curtains and drying lights and boat jigs and racks of lumber that make you feel as if you’re wandering in a maze. David is medium-height and has just reached the age of sixty. A gray beard frames high cheekbones and bright eyes. He’s attentive to everything, answering only after considering what he is about to say, and then speaking in perfectly formed sentences. He laughs in sudden tenor bursts. David reminds me of a department-store Santa Claus despite the fact that he is trim and a long-distance cyclist and a vegetarian and a congregant in good standing at his Everett temple. In the sixties, David dropped out of Cornell Engineering. He joined the Army. On his discharge, he toured Europe on a motorcycle.

Nancy, who likes to call herself a reformed hippie, still has long, straight hair, a certain joy-in-life innocence, and a deep-contralto laugh that disarms you and draws you in. She is short and sturdy and as ready as David is to pick up a tool belt or a varnish brush. Like David she is unusually attentive to what you say – Nancy never fails to respond with a ready quip. She calls all the boats Nexus has built her “babies.” Before meeting David, Nancy was a theatrical director and set builder and a builder of other theatrical props. Later she and David went to Alaska where they fished for salmon in Bristol Bay.

“We fished,” Nancy says, “so we could afford to build boats.”

And, after Alaska, they did build boats – rowboats and dories and outboards and sailboats. Wooden boats. Beautiful boats.

 ***

As in any definition of beauty, the essence is illusive. David maintains that nautical beauty is “hind mind,” originating in our reptilian brains, and that people are genetically programmed to recognize it, but he also says that the lines of the most beautiful boats mirror their movement through the water. Sheer, for example, is the line from the bow to the stern at the top edge of the hull: it’s often shaped like the wave left behind by the hull’s passage. On a Nexus boat, the high bow is designed to rise in steep-pitched Puget Sound seas while at the same time keeping the boat dry. The low stern insures tracking in following seas and at slow trolling speeds. Each shape is derived from what the boat is supposed to do. In David’s view, function drives design.

“All boats,” David says, “are workboats.”

But David also says that the nature of wood predicates design. Wood must be bent and when it bends, it bends in fair curves. Marine-grade lumber is fine-grained and straight, like a Douglas fir tree trunk is straight, and the most elegant boat designs draw upon this trait of the lumber.

The best designers design like David, unveiling what is already in their materials. You hear this in the vocabulary of boat building. Dead rise is how flat or V-shaped the bottom of the hull is. Waterlines are imaginary horizontal slices cut bow to stern. Tumblehome is the inclination of a boat’s sides where the sides meet the deck. Dead rise, tumblehome, waterline: in the sound of the words, you almost hear the shapes of the boats.

 ***

During the winter of 1995 to 1996, frame by frame, stringer by stringer, our boat took shape. Finally one day Nancy called. “Have you picked a name?” A date was set for our boat’s launching.

The name we chose was Ceilidh, pronounced KAY-lee, a Celtic word for a party where whiskey flows and pipers play, where friends gather and drink and laugh and sing, where everybody tells each other lies, which was not unlike the party we convened the night we launched Ceilidh, at eleven in the evening, when the August tide was sufficiently high to float her off her ways, a night which, as it turned out, was also Susan’s fortieth birthday. The birthday limo, loud with its celebrants, arrived at the Nexus boathouse. Our guests spilled out, bearing their bottles of wine and their plastic cups of margaritas. Susan broke a magnum of champagne over the bow. John and I manned the cockpit. The Nexus crew winched us down until we settled into the Snohomish River light and dry and free floating at last, as if Ceilidh was coming to life, or perhaps returning to life, the wood within her, once afloat, resurrected.

 ***

The first few years after Ceilidh’s launching defined an era when our family was young and our friends’ families were young. Back then, summer was theatre and Ceilidh was our stage and we were impresarios organizing kids, tubes, knee boards, fishing rods, skis, tents, stoves, folding chairs, and portable barbecues.

But even back then Ceilidh was more than a vehicle for play.

Ceilidh was where my dad and I shared our last boat ride before he died.

Ceilidh was where my brother Charlie and I sought solace after Dad’s death by fishing on the west side of San Juan Island amid a pod of orcas, Charlie landing a salmon, the orcas diving around us, their flanks mirroring Ceilidh’s black and white hull, the orcas and us and all the world alive in the shadow of Dad’s death.

Ceilidh’s beauty can still catch your breath. Strangers often approach us. Your boat, they say, we’ve admired for years. The staff at the marina where we keep Ceilidh call it “our Nexus,” investing it with extra care as they launch and retrieve her. Once post 9-11, we were chased by the US Coast Guard, for no other reason, as it turned out, than to get a better look at our boat.

This is the boat we asked David and Nancy to build.

By having it built, were we nautically preening?

Or simply proclaiming ourselves to be alive, an announcement of our presence in the world?

***

On this May morning in Friday Harbor, however, I’m not fretting about preening.

The outboard engine is idling. Susan has wiped the dew from the windscreen. John is casting off the spring lines and the mooring whip lines. I throw the throttle in reverse. John pushes off and steps aboard. I back to the end of our dock. I spin the wheel. I shift the engine into forward gear. We motor out into the channel between Brown Island and San Juan Island.

The conical-hat of Mt. Baker rears up this morning looking like a volcanic strawberry sundae. The windscreen is fogging up. I zip open the canvas window, roll it up, tuck it above my head. I check my jacket zipped, slip on sunglasses, pull on a pair of polypro gloves, and palm the throttle forward. The boat rises on a plane, its bow pointed directly at Mt. Baker, and we are off and swerving over the curlicues and meanders and boils, our speed over thirty knots, the boat skewing back and forth, a feeling so familiar I can almost guess where we are by each rip and whirlpool, just as the Salish Indians paddling their cedar canoes knew where they were by rip and whirlpool, but now we are slaloming around driftwood, flying across a world gilded and silvered and crimsoned by the sun, a world in such perfect balance I am, as always, nearly tearful at its beauty – or is it the wind that causes my eyes to tear?

We have made this passage a hundred times, each time different. This morning, the speed and light and the crisp air are transformative, imbuing us and our boat with the splendor of this day, writing another day into our lives, into the very bones of our boat. And if anything was missing – the sunrise, Mt. Baker, John or Susan or Ceilidh – then this morning would be less than it is. But it’s all here. This morning everything is here.

David Breeden

Rev. Dr. David Breeden has a Master of Fine Arts in poetry from The Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a Ph.D. from the Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi, with additional study in writing and Buddhism at Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado. He also has a Master of Divinity degree from Meadville Lombard Theological School.

His latest book, Raging for the Exit: A Commonplace Book, is a correspondence in poetry with philosopher and theologian Steven Schroeder. Breeden has published four novels and thirteen books of poetry, the newest titled They Played for Timelessness (With Chips of When).

He is on the editorial board of the Virtual Artist’s Collective. Breeden blogs at http://wayofoneness.wordpress.com/ and http://revdocdavid.tumblr.com/.

 

Falling into the Sky
(Based on a Poem by Zen Monk Muso Soseki)

Years end ways
I dug and dug
Deeper into the earth
Looking for blue heaven
Choking always
On piles of dust rising
Then once
At midnight
I slipped
And fell into the sky

 

Toki-no-Ge (Satori Poem)
by Muso Soseki (English version by W. S. Merwin )

Year after year
      I dug in the earth
            looking for the blue of heaven
only to feel
      the pile of dirt
            choking me
until once in the dead of night
      I tripped on a broken brick
            and kicked it into the air
and saw that without a thought
      I had smashed the bones
            of the empty sky

 

William Reichard

William Reichard is the author of four collections of poetry, most recently Sin Eater (Mid-List Press, 2010) and the editor of the anthology American Tensions: Literature of Identity and the Search for Social Justice (New Village Press, 2011). He lives in Saint Paul, MN.

 

A Trip Down Market Street
April 1906 / March 1987

The Miles Brothers mount a camera
to the front of a cable car. The water
on the street tells us this is spring.
Everyone wears a proper hat.
The newsboys are astounded by
the contraption. They run in circles
around the car as it turns at the end
of the line. The tarp flap that covers
the back of a horse-drawn wagon
lifts and a small boy looks directly
at the lens, then returns to his canvas
covered dark. In a few days, these buildings
will fall and burn. These people will be ghosts.

The first time I saw San Francisco, it was
already a city of spirits. 1987. The age of AIDS.
Men on the streets were thin, aged decades
in a month, had fierce eyes that burned.
I had never felt so frightened or free.
The streets pulsed with possibility.
None of my friends had yet died, and
all of us were dizzy after the long
Midwestern winters, the stifled lives,
the grim, Germanic façades. What could
any of us do but go wild? This was a city
that seemed to say yes to everything.

There was a wonderment of bodies
with flesh that had never known the cold.
Our hearts thawed. Everywhere, plants
bloomed in the sidewalk cracks.
Rich and Ruth had a lemon tree
in their garden and some days, it was enough
to sit under it, drink in the exquisite scent
of the blossoms. I wore the gentle fog
like a cape. I pulled it around me.
I turned like a dancer and watched it swirl
and grew drunk and dizzy on it.
I walked down Market Street, down Castro,
went to movies and bars and restaurants.
I had a sense this might never end
and that was beautiful enough for me.

The silent film shows a city in love
with itself. Women with wide brimmed hats,
plumes of feathers arising like smoke
into the cool morning air. Autos and wagons
and streetcars passing in a barely ordered
chaos. In between, people walking randomly
across or down the street. In the distance,
the terminal’s tower rising like a steeple
in front of the bay.

 

Yehoshua November

Yehoshua November is the author of God’s Optimism, which was named a finalist for the L.A. Times Book Prize in Poetry.  His work has appeared in The Sun Magazine, Prairie Schooner, Virginia Quarterly Review, and on The Writer’s Almanac. He teaches writing at Rutgers University and Touro College.

 

Young Men Become Chassidic

Young men become Chassidic and forget their pasts
but the G-d in Chassidic philosophy they study does not
advise this. Only, they do not understand
because they see the beards and black coats
and try to jump out of their old bodies.
I could not do this. I married my girlfriend from college
and then became a Chassid.
There was no fading bridge, then, at dusk,
separating one half of life from the other.  There was a man
holding an old leather suitcase with a letter
in one of his vest pockets—
a letter that connected the past life to this one.
It was a letter from a Rebbe predicting the future
from under a dark hat in a room
professors and Russian officials were trying to find
but could not
because G-d was hiding it.

 

A Few Feet Beneath the Surface

I am not a master of words.
I have divided my attention
between too many disciplines
to become expert at any one of them.
I would like to study one book
for many years,
like a man studying his wife’s face
from many angles
over the decades—
seeing something new, something the same, each time.
But tomorrow will call on me to dive
into many subjects,
descending just so—
a few feet beneath the surface
and back up again
toward the sunlight
of the superficial life.

 

Peter J. Grieco

Peter J. Grieco is a Ph.D graduate of SUNY Buffalo where he wrote his dissertation on working-class poetry. A former school bus driver, he has taught at universities in Ankara, Turkey; Seoul, South Korea; and Buffalo, NY, his native city where he studies French and is finishing his degree in Mathematics Education.  Publications include At the Musarium, a chapbook of semi-procedural verse based on word frequency lists, and the essay “The Clabber Dreg in the Glom,” (Published  in New Writing: The International Journal for the Practice and Theory of Creative Writing) which reflects on the composition of that series.

 

Pear Boughs 

hang green & high
from aged sun
down to vast unseen
shadow
coinciding, briefly
with a peculiar opacity
balanced between
blinding source
& blinded depth.

Vast green pears
slow burning
quarrelsome
baiting our response
heavy bottomed
draped like Eve
in green, repeating slow
Danann poses
angled out of dangling
fires.

Yvette Neisser Moreno

Yvette Neisser Moreno’s first book of poetry, Grip, won the 2011 Gival Press Poetry Award and was released in Fall 2012. She is co-translator of South Pole/Polo Sur by María Teresa Ogliastri (Settlement House, 2011) and editor of Difficult Beauty: Selected Poems by Luis Alberto Ambroggio (Cross-Cultural Communications, 2009). She has taught at various institutions, most recently The George Washington University, Catholic University, and The Writer’s Center. Yvette is the founder of the DC-Area Literary Translators Network (DC-ALT) and serves on the programming committee of Split This Rock Poetry Festival. Her website is www.yneissermoreno.com

 

Among the Tulips

When my body fails me,
I go among the tulips—
white tinged with purple
and purple tinged with white—
their petals are transparent,
the sunlight goes through them,
and they hold each other’s shadows.

Today, some have opened so wide
they might never pull together again.
Others stay upright, with just one petal
bent over, like the spout of a pitcher,
pouring out its essence
to whomever would receive it.

B.Z. Niditch

B.Z. Niditch is a poet, playwright, fiction writer and teacher. His work is widely published in journals and magazines throughout the world, including: Columbia: A Magazine of Poetry and Art; The Literary Review; Denver Quarterly; Hawaii Review; Le Guepard (France); Kadmos (France); Prism International; Jejune (Czech Republic); Leopold Bloom (Budapest);  Antioch Review; and Prairie Schooner, among others.  He lives in Brookline, Massachusetts. 

 

 

Unaccounted For

A remoteness on the earth
overshadows each marble of innocence
after the war weary winter
effacing limbs
and withered death on snowy fields
by childhood backyard fences
here bent and pinned bones
long to endure sunlight
from the burnt brown hair
surviving near a pale nostril
on a patch of landscape
Picasso shaped bodies
on crutches,
roads of skinny cripples
reeling from an off-balanced winds
by an overcast flash of sky
as a procession of mourners
pass over the river’s edge.

Miriam Levine

Miriam’s Levine’s most recent book is The Dark Opens, winner of the Autumn House Poetry Prize.  Other books include Devotion, a memoir, which will be reissued in paperback this year; In Paterson, a novel; and three other collections of poetry.  Levine lives near Boston and winters in South Beach.

 

 

 

Memorial at the Pond

Condensation gathered
under the glass that covers the girl’s
photo blurs the background and turns
her throat to mist but not her face

in profile with mouth open
and tongue curled upward
to taste that rain: she is gleaming,
with ecstasy—it seems.  Sixteen!
            
No one knew her.  She meant to die.
She wrapped weights around her
wrists—ankles too—and waded
into the deepest water.  Friends

write to her now in a damp book.
Dear, they begin, believing
she hears, believing she sees
the lilacs heaped for her.

 

Slow Goodbye

In Ozu’s films the camera
keeps running when actors
leave so we see light ruffle
the sea and long sea grass bend.

You can almost hear the flap
of a distant flag and smell
the sea’s salty breath.
Clouds expectant with rain,

each hopeful bud in the pure
reverie of the camera’s gaze.
Everything as it should be.
We’re Ozu’s people now,

looking back with him
in tenderness as the lens
lingers and the loveliest
things go on without us.

 

Jay Rubin

Jay Rubin teaches writing at The College of Alameda in the San Fran­cisco Bay Area and publishes Alehouse, an all-poetry literary journal, at www.alehousepress.com.  He holds an MFA in Poetry from New England College and lives in San Francisco with his son and Norwich terrier.

 

 

Tucson
after Stephen Dunn, 2011

A young man approached the congresswoman
Supermarket parking lot, his home town
He had chosen her—she, the place
Others had chosen what to wear
What to ask, not to be killed
The congresswoman who voted no
Had angered him some time ago
College classmates called him trouble
The kind you just can’t bury on your own
I watched the fallout on TV, myself
Among the righteous, sinning against friends
But I am not important
They were standing close
The desert sun a stone when he decided
When he chose not to be forgotten
He sentenced her and the judge, too
And a little girl with broken bones
Someone grabbed him, reined him in
A dozen gave their blood
For days, we watched the dance
The sheriff tugging up his saggy jeans
The air pulsed—our hands
Were fisted, damp
We were yelled at, lied to, whites, racists, tea
It seemed the shooting never stopped
Then these final soothing words:  She’s fine
She’s opened up her eyes.
  And yet we hurt
And yet we choose to hold that hurt

Wendi White

Wendi White comes to Norfolk by way of Austin, Vermont, Boston, Mexico, Guatemala, The Philippines, and originally, the Adirondack Mountains of New York. She is an MFA. candidate in the Creative Writing Program at Old Dominion University and the recipient of the 2011 ODU Graduate Poetry Award from the Academy of American Poets.  At home she keeps one husband, two sons, countless books and a dog named Charley. 

 

Cut Through the Woods

She always took the cut through home,
lover of brooks and log crossings
before sidewalks or curbs,
preferring the wash of wind
through pines to the grinding
of gravel beneath car wheels.

And even when she was forbidden
to slip beneath the hemlocks’
skirts of feathered boughs,
she could not resist
though a murderer hid
in the mountains and she
was turning twelve.

It is quicker through the woods,
it is darker through the woods,
it is wilder through the woods.
and the trees have eyes.

Robert Leary

Robert Leary started writing poetry while at the University of Connecticut where he studied with James Scully and won the Wallace Stevens Award several times. He went on to study with Richard Tillinghast at Harvard summer school. Richard introduced him to Robert Lowell. He submitted a manuscript to Lowell and was formally accepted to Harvard to study with Lowell. He has published poems in the Wormwood Review and the Harvard Advocate. This is his first submission in many years.

 

These Barns

It’s been over thirty years I’ve known these barns.
They’ve become a part of me like veins on the backs of my hands.
The sawdust and manure fragranced with spices of fresh hay
Wafted in my memories of being carried on to a field
Naked after a night of too much drink
Only to be salvaged by friends sober enough to realize
The mosquitoes would have their way with me.
Friends grown too old to play the game
Exiled to Argentina as all persecuted by time.
How I recall the barbecues
Perpetrated by heroic knights
Now gone but for their Memorials.
The girls, oh the girls from California, London, Australia
How we danced away our youth like Bacchus’ hooves
We bled the blood from every grape
And loved and sang as if it would last forever
Around the fires like Druids ignoring the Christians
We danced and now but for the barns it is remembered
And across the polo fields our amazing goals forgotten.

 

I Loved You All

I sit alone in the garden on the patio
Overlooking a heart shaped pool
Who would I wish to walk up these stairs
Hand on the white cement balusters
Who would I wish to join the flowers
The green Matisse furniture
Whose feet would I choose to climb the slate
And join me here amid the roses
That speak so freely to my heart
Amidst the bamboo furniture
Painted over a thousand times
Whose “hello… hola” would I cherish most
Through the smoke of my cigar?

Perhaps as in the dark all hearts
Like ghosts are close to mine
Your loves have touched me most
But who among you sits and stares
At a moon over an ocean but all
For hand and hand you dance together
To a distant drum and I, but one
Loved you all.

Nomi Stone

Nomi Stone is a Ph.D. Candidate in Cultural Anthropology at Columbia University with a Masters in Middle East Studies from Oxford. She is currently researching and writing poems about combat simulations/training exercises in mock Middle Eastern villages erected by the US military across America, focusing on both the military imaginations of these spaces and the lifeworlds of the Iraqi role-players who work within them. Her first book of poetry, Stranger’s Notebook (Northwestern University Press, TriQuarterly Books) about the lamentation rituals of one of the last cohesive Jewish communities in North Africa, was published in 2008. A Chicago Public Radio interview on the book can be accessed at http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/jewishmuslim-life-tunisian-island-djerba

 

Barzakh: the place of the soul before Judgment Day
Rabat, Morocco

Fridays, we carry
basil and a cup of water
to the body, sad
and bored without the soul,
numbering everything
ever changed under the
hand: the ship sent
to the ocean; the cedar
carved; the child turned
into a person, intermittently kind
and cruel.   That child dreams
every night of a place once
described to her: a house between
a lake and river, where souls fidget
like hungry birds.  The birds,
circling from the sky into your mind,
try to remember who down here, just
who particularly in
here, they landed.

 

Myra Sklarew

Myra Sklarew, former president, Yaddo Artists’ Community, professor emerita, American University. Recent publications: Harmless, Mayapple Press; The Journey of Child Development (co-editor), Routledge: Taylor & Francis; poems in the Posen Library of Jewish Culture and Civilization, Yale University Press; a forthcoming work, A Survivor Called Trauma: Holocaust and the Construction of Memory; “Leiser’s Song” in The Power of Witnessing, Routledge: Taylor & Francis. Recent readings: Science Cafe, Busboys and Poets; Barnes & Noble Books; Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimore.

 

Pursuit

Like the deer stag in my garden
who batters his head with his hind leg

to free himself from a huge poplar branch
caught in the great crown of his antlers—

Like one of the furies torn from ancient myth—
I drag the forest along behind me,

my dead crowded together in their massacre pit.
Like Isaac’s ram, I am caught

in the thicket, singing their names.

 

Stolpersteine

Stolpersteine: a small cobblestone-sized memorial for a single victim of Nazism made by the artist Gunter Demnig.

Have you returned, in the goblet of time,
to bring the forest of the dead, their names
mounted in air in steel, the wind
forcing its way through the letters?

If they were covered by a thin layer of silt,
if they were face down in their deaths,
could their names allow light
to pass through them.

Have you come back? Your hand
on their heaving earth could not
quiet them, your stone of remembrance
on their chamber brings no comfort.

They toss in their earthen bed, they do not
sleep. The living grow impatient. The living
wish to speak. Rilke, you tell us
those who departed early no longer need us;

they are weaned from earth’s sorrows. But can it
end there? A ditch, a pit filled to the brim
with lives barely begun? A hundred years from now,
perhaps one who has lost his way

will come upon a dirt road and follow it
and come upon a clearing, a metal cup,
part of a menorah, like a stumble stone
marking a life.

Meredith Kunsa

Meredith Kunsa is a native Californian, and received two advanced degrees (MPA in Publication Administration and MFA in Creative Writing) from California State University, San Diego. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in the Crab Orchard Review, Connecticut Review, Inkwell, Kalliope, Los Angeles Review, The Raven Chronicles, Tiferet, Silk Road, Passenger, and Persimmon Tree, among others.

 

This heart of mine weeps
for itself and pleads for mercy

    – From the Egyptian Book of the Dead

 

About the time masons set the massive
cornerstones of Cheops and sealed
the pharaoh’s chamber, a small grove
of Bristlecone pines sprouted
in the Colorado Rockies and have since
stood on the eastern slope.

Through countless fires, long seasons
of drought and wind-driven ice,
they have grown slowly, adding only
a hundredth of an inch a year. Stunted,
stooped and misshapen, some hang on
by a measly strip of outer bark.

Unlike us, whose cores are beaten down
to the dry bone depth of doubt, by grief
and regret, by loss of heroes and illusions,
stripped to heartwood unconsolable,
we grow a lifetime in seconds.

Lying down on a sea of sand, we heap
upon ourselves block after stone block.