Categories
2016 Poetry

Christopher Citro & Dustin Nightingale

BRUSH ASIDE THE NOISE WITH LOCKS OF MATTED HAIR

On this planet of people who nip at me, I managed to find you. And now you’re gone. I don’t remember what day it is but the rain keeps draining in from the sea and spits on the cliffs. I’m tired as the rain that falls in the sea. There is a field of dachshunds running towards the dirty sock of the sun setting. Blood cells falling over themselves to make it to the ends of my veins where it thins out and tries to swim back. They try so hard it’s pretty and sometimes they make it. Did I say they? I meant we. I meant I want to hire you to take photos of shadows on walls. I want to name them all Sick Horse. I want to care for them, hold water in my cupped hands for them, pick windfall apples from the wet grass to lift to those enormous teeth. I hear a window open in a room below. I hope it’s you, breaking in, with a brick.

______________________________________________

Christopher Citro is the author of The Maintenance of the Shimmy-Shammy (Steel Toe Books, 2015), and his poems appear or are forthcoming in Ploughshares, Best New Poets 2014, and Prairie Schooner.

Dustin Nightingale lives in West Hartford, Connecticut. His poetry has been or will be published in journals such as new ohio review, Margie, Cimarron Review, Portland Review, and decomP.

Other poems from this series have been published or will appear shortly in journals such as Hotel Amerika, Diagram, Zone 3, Another Chicago Magazine, The Chattahoochee Review, Whiskey Island, Hobart, and elsewhere.

Categories
2016 Poetry

Anna Lowe Weber

HOW DO I BRAID IT INTO MY VERY BEING, CHILD? 

Mornings, your hair in wild ropes.
Your sweet colt limbs, the way they
wrap and tangle, seek warmth
in my own arms and legs which always seem
too clumsy, too pale by comparison.  My 
stodgy adult body, and you, brown berry child,
pressed into it.  What is the countdown
for how long this will last?  Another year?
A week?  Time is always ripping you away
from me like the old cliche— a bandaid pulled 
so slowly that at first, it might seem insignificant.
But here are the bits of skin and hair that 
lift away with the bandage.  Here I twinge,
grit my teeth.  One morning you stop
asking me, “rub my belly.”  Your body 
is yours, and I know, I know— it always 
has been.  Whatever ownership I felt 
was wrong, even when you housed yourself
in me, your tadpole speck eyes, poppy-seeds 
learning to blink.  Be Mine— I penned 
valentines to you.  But you weren’t—
not really.  Now your voice rises in impatience
some mornings.  Demands are made for 
breakfast, a show about ponies.  You sit 
on the couch, a foot taller overnight. 
And when I stare, you are three going on
thirty.  What? you ask.  I sit too.  
Your body, burning.  Buzzing 
with growth even as I shrink away
to nothing.  To a withered seed, some day
you’ll bury.


YOU’VE NOW SPENT THE MORNING

Writing and deleting the same first five lines
of a poem that will never, you can tell, declare itself.
It was about your daughter’s beauty,
or the decision to try for a second child.
At one point it was about a chipmunk,
the way the cat carried it into the house
with such satisfaction, such pride that
you felt bad shaking it from her jaw,
a low-pitched half-growl rising from her throat or yours
or the critter’s— it was hard to tell as you gave
the poor guy another go at the whole thing—
its small, useless life. Released it back outside
where October’s leaves plastered the sidewalk
like tiny yellow slickers or post-it notes
dropped from the sky, greeting cards welcoming
a seasonal change you’d been ignoring for months.
But who writes a poem about that? The cat
was sulking when you returned inside,
her morning ruined by your goodwill.
Why not allow her the plaything anyway?
Like your heart is such a good Samaritan.
Like your heart isn’t doling out tiny cruelties
and missiles of spite and jealousy daily.
But at least the chipmunk lived to see another hour—
tell yourself that and settle in to write that poem
about beauty— the way your daughter’s hair
has a sheen to it not unlike that of a grackle.
The way when a stranger stops you on the street
to comment on it— her prettiness, that is—
your sick heart sings with gratitude, as if
her loveliness is something you might claim
as your own.

_____________________________

Anna Lowe Weber currently lives in Huntsville, Alabama, where she teaches creative writing for the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Rattle, Ninth Letter, the Iowa Review, and Salamander, among other journals.

Categories
2016 Poetry

N. Michelle AuBuchon

ADVANCED PAINTING II: AN ACCOUNT OF THE EXPERIENCE OF LOOKING

We are supposed to be painting ourselves, but all I can think is, what is a self? I don’t know what my sister would say if you asked her, but I bet she’d say she’s had at least two. Selves that is. You see, we used to be different, my sister and I.

I remember the night it all changed. We were having one of our infamous sleepovers and Evangeline, my older sister, was reading aloud from our mother’s embalming handbook. She said, “If the body is stiff, massage the legs and arms to relieve rigor mortis.” Our friends covered their eyes and stuck out their tongues in disgust.

“Oh, here’s a good one,” Evangeline said. “The first step in embalming is to check if the person is actually dead.”

The thing about living in a funeral home is that everything gets mixed together. Meaning, it’s not as though your life is happening in one part of the house, and the funeral home stays neatly contained in another. Rather, it’s all happening inside and on top of itself. For example, we saw bodies brought in after soccer games, before school, and as we brushed our teeth before bed. We confused their arrival with pizza delivery boys, missed softball games for late hearse drivers, and watched men slip on ice as they juggled stiff bodies. We went to school humming funeral marches and the smell of flowers mixed with everything.

I asked my sister to read the part about how to close the mouths, but our slumber party guests were spared, because the telephone started ringing. One of our parents picked up on the second ring and Evangeline said, “Let’s listen.” We all huddled around her as she picked up the black rotary phone in the living room and placed one finger in front of her lips to quiet the crowd.

My sister and I were good at sneaking around. We spent most of our childhood hiding behind a removable vent in the bathroom wall. We’d climb in and peer through the slits of the vent on the other side of the wall, facing the parlor, watching the guests come and go. Through those slits, we felt like God. We watched our father say, “I’m sorry to hear that. How are you feeling today? We will be thinking of you.” Crying was something other people did. We brought peanut butter sandwiches inside the wall, made bets on which old ladies would cry first, cracked Coke cans as quietly as possible, and stifled giggles when old men dozed off during the eulogy. Our parents never caught us. Or if they did, they didn’t let on. We’d say, “We’re off for a bike ride,” or, “Walking downtown to buy some candy.” Stuff like that, but instead we’d pop into the upstairs bathroom and enjoy the show.

As expected, Father was making arrangements on the other end of the telephone line. We waited in anticipation for the details. Evangeline hung up the phone, and in the tone our father used to speak to guests in the parlor, she told us that Dahlia and Lakshmi, the Indian sisters from school, were dead. Dahlia was in my class and Lakshmi was in my sister’s. Everyone wanted to know what happened. “Didn’t say,” Evangeline said, “but Emma and I see this stuff all the time. Don’t we Emma?”

I said, “Sure do.”

Evangeline said, “There are all the easy ones, of course: shot, hung, buried alive.” Jaws dropped and mouths were covered. “Or, something a little more interesting, say, cut up in a magic show? Drowned in the City Lake? Bled to death from a thousand paper cuts?”

Evangeline closed her eyes and touched her forehead. “What’s that?” she said. “Yes, I think I’m getting something. They were at the amusement park riding that old wooden coaster. They watched the change fall out of their pockets and their hats fall to the ground on a steep curve before their bodies tumbled after.”

“It’s possible,” I cut in, “but I’m pretty sure they were shopping for back to school clothes at the mall. Lakshmi was gnawing on one of those buttery pretzels with too much salt and Dahlia was licking soft serve with rainbow sprinkles. They were riding down the escalator railing when the machinery jarred and they both fell off.”

Evangeline dimmed the overhead lights and pointed a flashlight at her face. “They were out for a hike in the woods down at the state park and they saw a baby bear—the cutest little thing—the eyes kind and curious—the fur soft and jet-black. Dahlia picked up the baby bear and put him on her hip. They only heard a rustle of leaves before the mother bear took one deathly bite out of both of them.”

It makes me uncomfortable to think about the control we had over our friends. I grabbed the flashlight microphone and continued. “Didn’t you hear? They went down to New Orleans on a family vacation, spent the morning getting fattened up on beignets, marched in step with a second-line band, blew a few notes on a tuba, and skipped through the St. Louis Cemetery all before noon. After lunch, they got eaten by an angry croc.” I punctuated the word croc with a playful bite on my friend Angie’s shoulder. She screamed.

Evangeline said, “You know, they live out in the country, and tonight’s the lunar eclipse. They tiptoed through the dark house to gaze at the moon and were bitten by a family of poisonous brown recluses.”

And just as I started in on a version with a hot air balloon, we heard someone on the stairs. Evangeline whispered, “Everybody quiet,” and we all acted like we were sleeping as Father came down the steps.

I kept my eyes open just enough to see him counting the sleeping bags—making sure we were all there—that we were alive. Underneath his funeral director mask, he looked anxious and frightened, like a little boy. I guess that’s the first time I started thinking about multiple selves.

After Father left, Evangeline said, “Well, there’s only one way to find out.” Evangeline turned the flashlight back on, casting dramatic shadows across her face, and said, “Bloody Mary.”

We took the candle and matches from the coffee table and piled into the bathroom with the lights off. Evangeline lit the candle and said, “Tell us how they died.” Then, she started chanting in the usual sort of way, “Bloody Mary, Blood Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary.” Slowly, the rest of the girls worked up the courage to join in. We chanted like this for a while before Evangeline got bored and turned on the faucet. That’s when Cindy started screaming and pointing at the mirror. “I see her. I see her,” she stammered between screams. And then the rest of the girls started saying that they saw her too.

“She’s drowning,” Cindy said. “She can’t get out of the water.” Cindy started shivering and gasping for air. Angie screamed, “Make it stop. Make it stop.” Evangeline rolled her eyes, blew out the candle, and turned on the light.

My sister and I, we were too self-absorbed to see something like that, but Cindy was different. Cindy was the kind of girl who knew you were sad before you said a word—the kind of girl that once rescued a bird on the side of the road with a broken wing and made a splint out of Popsicle sticks and string. We were the kinds of girls that killed lightening bugs to smear on each other’s faces, teased the girls with extra flesh at the gym, and played pranks on the priest.

Sometimes I finger the metal edge of the bathroom mirror in my dorm, think about calling my sister up, asking her to go into her bathroom, light a candle and chant, “Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary” together on the telephone, look at Mary with the eyeballs we’ve got now, and ask her how we’re going to die.

Our parents were more like Cindy. In my first semester of art school, I read that David Hockney did the same thing with his friends that my father did with dead bodies: collaged multiple photos of the same person into a cohesive piece. I wonder if he knew Hockney’s work or if it was just a coincidence or if it was shared DNA or if it was a self spread across two selves. At any rate, they were both interested in looking at things from multiple perspectives.

I remember the first time I found him snapping away with his Polaroid in the basement. He looked like an athlete, bobbing up and down, twisting, and snapping every angle of the deceased imaginable. Was my father an artist? I’d say he was as much of an artist as I am. The same goes for my mother. She specialized in restorative art or demi-surgery, which is the process of embalming and fixing up bodies that have suffered severe deaths such as drowning or freezing. She’d go down into the basement and listen to Beethoven for hours: tweaking, pumping, massaging, and looking. People said she was able to access a special part of the deceased’s soul. A husband once said, “I haven’t seen her look that peaceful since our wedding day.” Or the time a woman covered her heart and praised our mother for recreating her sister’s face just as she looked the day she saw the ocean for the first time. I guess you could say that my mother specialized in expressions.

In my second semester of art school, we learned about outsider art. What a bunch of crap. Who decides what is in and what is out? What I do know is that in addition to her bodywork, my mother made the best sweet and savory pies. Half of the pie was something sweet like strawberry rhubarb, lemon meringue, lemon berry, and the other half was something savory like mincemeat chive, beef gorgonzola, or curried chicken. The best piece was half savory and half sweet. I think of my mother when I go to the movies. I drop M&M’s into a bucket of popcorn and gorge on the savory-sweet combination until I’m sick to my stomach. My mother spent whole afternoons making perfect crusts and evenings preparing bodies. She used the same hands to mix ice water with dough and form edges into peaks as she did to dab foundation onto faces and adjust mouths with needles. She liked to dance the merengue while she worked.

Both of my parents looked the happiest when they were working. I remember the time I found a picture of my father standing in front of a table of knives. I asked my mother about it. She said they used to live in New York City before we were born. They were performance artists and lived in a loft with a group of activists until Father’s dad passed away, and they came back to run the funeral home. The look on my father’s face—standing in front of the table of knives—it’s the same look he got after being down in the basement, alone with his Polaroid and a new body. I wonder if he thought of it as two selves: Father the funeral director and Father the New York City performance artist? To me it’s all him and it’s related, but having this feeling about myself, the two selves that is, I imagine he would feel the same way.

All of this is running through my brain as Professor McGowen is walking around the room watching us trying to paint ourselves. She stops behind me and says, “What’s this all about?”

“That in the middle is the house I grew up in and that person on the right is the person I am now and that person on the left is the person I used to be,” I say. Professor McGowen asks what the house has to do with it. I tell her it’s hard to explain. She says I ought to try otherwise I might fail Advanced Painting II.

After Bloody Mary, everyone ran out of the bathroom and Evangeline said, “It sounds like the bodies are here.” And she was right, because I could hear Mother’s merengue music. It was all part of her process. Usually the body arrived and they’d leave it in the mortuary fridge for a while. Mother had a way of gearing up for the whole embalming thing and it involved the merengue and pies. She’d turn up the music in the kitchen and her hips got to moving. She took breaks from dancing to cut fruit and form crusts, but then her feet would get to pounding the tile floor again as she merengued across the kitchen for a dash of cinnamon or a shaving of clove. Sometimes Father joined in too. His steps were soft and tentative, while Mother’s were fierce and staccato. We could hear both of their feet sounds, so we knew the body was in the fridge and that both of the parents were occupied.

Evangeline said, “Do you babies want to play a real game or what?” And everyone nodded along like, sure. Evangeline looked at Angie and said, “Truth or Dare?”

Angie said, “Truth.”

Evangeline said, “Try again.”

Angie said, “Dare?”


Evangeline said, “That’s right. I want you to go down into the basement, open the mortuary fridge and cut a piece of hair off of one of the bodies.”


Angie said, “No way.”

Evangeline said, “Fine, Emma and I will do it.” And this wasn’t a big deal, because we did this kind of stuff all the time. Sometimes we even helped Mother put makeup on the bodies.

When we got down to the basement, Evangeline grabbed the scissors off of Mother’s embalming table, and we entered the walk-in fridge. Our nightshirts, sticking to our backs with Midwestern sweat, released as the fridge cooled our bodies. The rest of the house buzzed with merengue, Sousa Marches, and ringing telephones, but the only sound in the mortuary fridge was the drone of the cooling system.


As expected, we saw two bodies laid out on gurneys, underneath sheets. Evangeline pulled back one of the sheets and said, “Guess Cindy was right.” And what she meant by this was that Dahlia looked more like a purple, carnival balloon than a girl, that seaweed dotted her hair, and that her mouth was frozen in a permanent articulation of the word ‘OH.’ When referring to these types of bodies in her embalming journal, our mother would note, “death by misadventure,” which is just an ironic way of saying that someone has drowned.

I was aware that I should feel sad, but all I could think about was how long it was going to take Mother to perform the demi-surgery with all of that bloating.

Evangeline took a snip of Dahlia’s course, black hair. She turned to face me, the black strand hanging in one hand and the scissors in the other and said, “Braid this into your hair.”


I removed my ponytail and wove the lock into a side braid down the front of my shoulder. The way the black hair mixed with my light brown reminded me of the caramel and molasses swirl pies Mother made when she was feeling sad.


That’s when the colors in Dahlia’s face started looking more beautiful than any painting I’ve ever seen. I saw the way the blue bled to purple, the purple bled to red, the red bled to brown, and every color had a sound, a personality, and a history. I started to understand what my Father might be up to with that Polaroid camera, capturing the beauty in every angle, every hue. The blues looked bluer, the reds looked redder, and the browns meant something. It may sound strange, but once I understood color, I was open to soul.


Evangeline walked over to Lakshmi’s body and cut off a handful of her pubic hair, threw the curls into the air, and said, “Look sis, it’s a party.” As I looked up, strands of hair fell onto my face and the sensation reminded me of the time we got caught in the rain in the churchyard one Sunday afternoon after service. Our parents were inside prepping a potluck meal and we were told we could play tag outside until the meal was ready.


We were out in the lawn: me, Dahlia, and about five other kids, when the rain started coming down in sheets. Just out of nowhere, buckets of water came pouring out of the sky accompanied by crashes of thunder and lightening. We ran back to the church for shelter. Dahlia was the last of the kids to reach the church, and I don’t know why I did it, but I closed the sliding glass door before she could come in and flipped the metal switch up to lock the door. Dahlia was standing there in that torrential downpour banging on the glass, and I just looked—watched the rain run down her face. In my hand, the lock felt final and precise, like a weapon. I got to thinking about what would have happened if I hadn’t flipped that lock. Or, say that I had, but then flipped it back and let her inside, said “I’m sorry,” said, “I don’t know what I was thinking,” got her a towel, asked her what it’s been like anyway, moving to a new country, invited her to come to swim class, showed her how to do the crawl, how to tread water, how to slam your hands down against your sides if someone is trying to hold you under, learned a lesson or two from her, really listened, formed a relationship.

I realized that I’d spaced out for a few minutes in the mortuary fridge, and when I came to, I saw that Evangline was also having the experience of looking. Her eyes flicked from side to side as though she was watching a violent scene from inside of a moving car. Eventually, she noticed that I was looking at her, and she said we ought to go back upstairs.

I expected Evangeline to brag about our adventures in the basement, but when we got back to the sleepover, all she said was, “It’s time to ride bikes.” So we all snuck out of the house, climbed onto our bikes in our pajamas, and road towards the big hill. “No hands,” Evangeline said when we crested the hill.

I have done some bad things—some crazy things. Stuck needles into my arm, skinny dipped in strangers’ pools, taken ayahuasca until I’ve puked. Once, I stole a pair of designer shoes and gave them to a homeless woman on the street. I clean my paintbrushes with all the windows and doors shut tight, and let the Turpentine seep into my brain. I guess it’s all a way of looking for that moment again—the moment on the hill when I took my hands off the handlebars.

We were a rhythmic child-band on wheels—our plastic spoke beads plunking down on metal rims in syncopated rhythms. The lunar eclipse blocked out the light from the moon, but suddenly, I could see everything: every soul behind every illuminated window in every house as we went speeding down the hill. That’s when my sister started screaming out, “Ay-Ay-Ay–Ay.” And the rest of us joined in, calling out like hyenas, our arms extended above our heads, our fingers stretched wide, and I swear, in that moment, I could hear the whole world screaming, too.

_____________________________________

N. Michelle AuBuchon holds an MFA in creative writing from Sarah Lawrence College and lives in Brooklyn. Her stories and essays have most recently appeared or are forthcoming in Minola Review, No Tokens, The Iowa Review, The Collagist, Hobart, BuzzFeed, New Orleans Review, The Weekly Rumpus, Caketrain, Vol.1 Brooklyn, Washington Square, and Gawker. She was a finalist for the 2015 Indiana Review 1/2 K Prize and the 2014 Iowa Review Award in Fiction. She is currently working on a novel told in the form of a memoir.

 

Categories
2016 NonFiction

Ashlan Runyan

LA TRISTEZA 

When I am twenty years old my mom asks me to teach her to speak Spanish. There’s nothing left of us, we’ve made it. She asks why I care so much that we’re Mexican. I don’t know how to tell her so sometimes I cry and I say, “I am so lonely.” (This is easier than saying that it’s hard to mourn when you don’t know where they’re buried. That you cannot read the maps that will take you there. That you barely know the words to ask for directions). I don’t think she understands but she let’s me hug her for too long and calls to make sure that I’m taking all my medicine even though I’m afraid of it.

“His ears always move when he’s lying. That’s how you can tell.” That’s what people are always saying about my uncle, he’s fifteen. I am so scared to know that I don’t want to look at his face when he speaks to me. He hid these things as best he could. In his socks, in his shoes too big for him, in some places in his body, in his blood. These are not good hiding places. On the phone three weeks ago, twelve years later my mom says, “You don’t have to forgive him if you don’t want to but you have to put it aside for now.”

I’m hollowed out to make room for them in case they decide to come back. (They are my family and I wish very much to be haunted by them, to hear them moving in my hallway, to feel them when I fall into bed). I try lighting candles. I try giving up. I forget the words to prayers. I sleep too much or not enough. I am losing something I cannot name.

After choir practice when I am four years old, I think I see the Virgin Mary in the chapel praying. She has on a blue veil but looks older than the oldest woman at our Church who lives to be 104. I stare and stare and want to talk to her, or maybe just hold her hand. I walk over to her and I know that I didn’t stop looking while I walked. When I get there, she’s gone. I tell my grandma when she finishes talking with the priest. I say, “Did you see her? Did you see her?” “Who, mija, who?” I tell her. My grandma spends the rest of her life thinking that I had a vision, that I’m especially blessed.

I am broken into parts. I wonder if any of them belong to me at all. I start giving them names. (This is the part that is scared, this is the part that is Mexican, this is the part that is white, this is the part they are calling bipolar, this is the part they call “woman,” this is the part that can still speak Spanish, this is the part that is scared.) Some people tell me this is important, healing, that I am very self-aware. Some people tell me this isn’t the place for me. I say, “Oh. That’s alright I guess” and try to stay very quiet. I don’t know what else there is.

When I move to Colorado, my grandpa sends me postcards from California and I’m asked to read them out loud in the kitchen. He addresses them to a misspelled version of my name. I am different this far from home. At my new school where I transfer into a first grade class three weeks late, everyone looks more like me. Their skin is white, their eyes are light shades of green and blue. But their houses are bigger than the apartment we live in and they make food I hate the taste of so I always say I’m sick and have to go home before dinner at sleepovers. I start telling people I’m Irish on my dad’s side. Never mind that I’ve never met him; never mind that my last name is Lopez. I get the lead in the school play four years in a row. Everyone applauds and brings me flowers.

I’m not sure how to speak of this.

In second grade, a new girl named Janet moves to my apartment complex. She transfers into my class, too. Her family just moved to Colorado from Mexico and I don’t realize what that means. I go to her apartment after school one day and it smells like a market and everyone is speaking fast and loud Spanish and it reminds me of the cousins that we only saw at funerals in California. I don’t go over again and when she asks me to walk home with her I tell her that I’m busy. Choir practice. I don’t like looking at her. My teacher asks me to help her with reading because I can speak Spanish too, right? When my friend Hunter and I start our game of pretending we can talk to ghosts, Janet always believes us.

Lo siento, lo siento, lo siento.

My great-grandmother’s skin hangs loose on her. It’s so soft that I worry it will peel right off when I hold her hands. It’s translucent grey-blue and I wonder when all the color drained out of it. It no longer springs back into place when you move it. It’s like clay now; it’s like clay again. I cry at her funeral back home in California when I am nine years old because other people are crying. I don’t know how to deal with death. I don’t know how to deal with these people. They feel foreign to me and I’m afraid of that feeling. I don’t like this part of myself (which part of myself?). I look through old pictures and walk around with my headphones in, I swim in the pool. I feel guilty for all the times she fell asleep watching telenovelas in her recliner and I snuck up behind with my safety scissors to cut her hair.

This year, I get into the habit of swallowing hard and saying, “things will change” until I fall asleep.

. . .

Two weeks before my twenty-first birthday, I fly home because my grandpa is dying. They say, it’s not the cancer that will kill him, it’s the kidney failure. (The cancer is the size of a baseball on his liver, but even then, it’s the cans of beers piled high in a landfill somewhere that will do him in). My family calls to say get on a plane in three hours, pack your bags. I’m hung-over and half-asleep in the room that I share with my friend. On the phone I just say, “Okay. Okay.” I sound more irritated than sad. (Lately, I’ve been getting my emotions mixed up so my doctor’s have been telling me to check in more regularly in conversations with people to ask them how they think I’m feeling. I refuse to do this). Without speaking, my roommate gets out of bed and silently cooks me breakfast. I go onto the back porch to cry loudly without worrying my other housemates who are drinking black coffee and doing their homework. I throw up in the bushes. I send someone text messages that tell him he has no sympathy for me and never has. I want to be mad at him so I don’t have to be anything else. It doesn’t make sense. My taxi driver to the airport says, “Have fun in Colorado” and helps me with my bags.

In the summertime my grandpa grows lemons in the far back of our yard. The grove is behind a wooden fence and he tells me not to go there. There is a neighbor maybe who’s there sometimes, watering them. I’m not allowed to talk to him, I only ever see the top of his head. This is where we keep our dog who gets rabies; he runs back and forth behind the fence and right near the end he starts to break through it. I am so afraid of everything behind that fence. I think my grandpa is such a brave man for going back there. He eats the lemons like they’re oranges and I wonder if his hands have any cuts on them.

When I land in the Denver airport, I don’t feel sad or tired or anything at all. I listen to the same song four times as I walk from my gate, to the train, to my parents. They’re standing with my cousin who is now almost as tall as I am even though he’s only eight years old. I say, “Hey kid, can I hold your hand?” and he lets me without complaining. I say nothing in the car for the hour and a half it takes us to get to the hospital.

My grandpa moves to Colorado to be with the rest of us (meaning his wife and children and me) when I am nine years old. He lives in an apartment separate from ours for a while and I don’t understand. I can’t remember if I ask any questions. We all get together at my aunt’s house where her husband lives in the basement for dinner once a week. While the women clean up, the men go downstairs to play poker and smoke cigarettes and drink. I’m allowed to go downstairs and play one hand with them. Sometimes I take their drink orders like a waitress before I go back upstairs. Eventually, I’m given an apron and a notepad. Once they’re all drunk, the men remember they don’t actually like each other at all and the alcohol makes them stop pretending. They yell and the women cry and yell to make them stop and I run to the front door and hide all of the car keys in my pockets. I want to be a part of it so I scream “Stop it!” to everyone.

In the hallway leading to my grandpa’s room I feel like I can’t breathe. I start crying and biting my lip hard and pressing my nails into my palms to stop. My mom has her arm around me. I’m thirteen again and my mom is walking me to my uncle’s hospital room after he drives too high and crashes his car on the way to our house. I know this isn’t true. I know that I am old enough to pay my own rent and forget to buy groceries. I know that I am walking to see the room where my grandpa’s body is dying. My grandma comes outside before we go in and gives me a hug, “Thank you for coming.” I don’t say anything. I walk into the room, my grandpa’s in the bathroom. In the corner is my uncle in his wheelchair. I haven’t spoken to him in two years. I give him a hug and he cries and cries and he is seventeen again and he is catching me peeking into his bedroom as he puts small plastic bags of drugs into his socks. I sit down and wait. I still don’t think I’ve said anything.

“Pull in here, this is the new library.” This is what my grandpa tells me when he teaches me to drive a car. He only ever directs me to the library or the grocery store. “They have lots of CDs here I can’t find anywhere else.” This summer he is educating me on Jim Croce and Crosby, Stills, and Nash though we both agree we prefer them with Young. I’m nervous to drive with anyone other than him. With my grandpa, we just listen to “Judy Blue Eyes” and talk about Steinbeck. “Learn to play this one” he tells me. He’s just bought me a new guitar. “Play it on tour. Let’s go on tour. I’ll be your manager.” He’s incredibly proud that I’m remotely talented in any way.

My grandpa asks the first night that I see him to bring my guitar when I come visit him next. I can’t stop crying so I just hold his hand and nod. “Okay.” He is so small and so pale and so thin. He looks like his body is already decaying which I guess it is because that’s what dying is. He tells me he loves me so much about twenty times. That night I go home and try to play my guitar, to practice some of his favorite songs, but my guitar won’t stop buzzing. I try for hours to fix it but I don’t know how. (I think that I haven’t learned anything, that he paid for all those music lessons when I was a kid but I still know nothing. I think about how the guitar is broken like I am broken and how that is a lazy metaphor so maybe I’m not even a good writer. I think about the medicine I left on my kitchen counter in Seattle. I think about how a depressive episode can get worse with stress.) I go to sleep.

When I am seven years old, I’m home alone in our apartment because my uncle told me he has errands to run, grandpa will be here soon. I get angry and throw a snow globe that everyone lies to me about against the wall (they tell me my father bought it for me; I think that my grandma did). As soon as it happens and all the shards of glass and bits of glitter are scattered on the ground, I panic. I hide under a pile of blankets on my bed. When my grandpa gets there he calls my name and I don’t answer. I stay very still. He gets to my room and sees the pile of blankets on the bed. He grabs the blanket right where my nose is and pinches hard. I start to cry, “Why did you do that?” He replies angrily, “I didn’t know where you were, you were scaring me! Where’s Joseph?” I shake my head back and forth quickly, “I don’t know. I don’t know.” I don’t think that my ears move when I’m lying but I cover them with my hands just in case.

Five days into all of this in the kitchen I tell my mom, “I’m way down here” and point to the floor. I don’t say much else because I don’t want to scare her or have anyone worry about me. I hide in the bathroom of the apartment that my grandpa is dying in. I tell them it’s because my stomach hurts. No one believes me. (I think, great, my grandpa is going to die thinking that I’m crazy). He asks me to read for him and I try but I can’t get many words out. I hold his hand instead. The next day I am filling out a form to renew my passport and I mess up and yell at my mom, I keep yelling and yelling about everything. I can’t remember what I say. Hours into it I am on the floor screaming “I’m sorry” at the top of my lungs. My mom tells me to get off the floor, we have to be at grandpa’s in an hour. I can’t I can’t.

“Honey, grandpa’s in the hospital. You need to call him when you get the chance.” This is the voicemail I get from my mom as I’m walking to work in clothes too thin for the weather. It’s slow that night so I go out back and call him, shivering in my jean jacket. I know he can tell I’m crying but I say, “How are you?” He tells me, “Oh, I’m fine. I’m just tired of the food. I think I can go home next week.” I don’t believe him but I try to laugh for him. “I hear you’re doing better, mija. That’s good.”

_________________________________

Despite saying that her only current goals are to skateboard more often and listen to records on the floor of her basement apartment, Ashlan Runyan is a Real Adult Writer living in Seattle. This is her first publication though she frequents open mics where she reads occasionally funny (though more often sad) essays to half-drunk Seattleites.

Categories
2016 Poetry

Sophia Galifianakis

THE STAGE

I knew nothing, bent above the river
I’d stepped in again and again, but never
to get wet. A fallen cause of crimson,
this dawn, too, was a tragedy of light over

the crook of a day that arrived, knowing
nothing. It appeared as I did, donning
a script of gestures grander than its sight,
compelled by a stage for its showing,

I suppose. It painted itself a new sky,
featuring a cast of glimpses that denied
existence, a cloud of angels divided.
My perspective: vertical blinds of light.

I swung into my lines like a sailor—
drunk and seeking the favor of a lover
I’d met on a corner. I whined. The heavens
applauded and cried with the laughter

of those who know the story, who delight
in the knowing. Then dawn gave a sign,
exited bowing. And I waved and threw
kisses as if across a crowd of smiles.

And I’ll tell you, despite all the beaming
and heartfelt feigned goodbyes. Despite
the curtain call, flowers, ovation of night,
I never noticed this river was dry.


CLEANING

You know the metaphor too well: dishes
stacked in yesterday’s jam, hardened bread,
eggs smudged on the counter, waiting. Your son’s
clothes forever unseamed, holes in the laundry,
holes folded into holes that open and shut closed.

Your daughter yawns events at you, too tired
to yawn back, to gape at the same picture
that stays at the same table that changes plates
and scents and textures and never strays
from where it grows. You know how you nod

when people talk, think I should know
what I’ve heard, but the phrases are lost souls
in a yawn of vowels. You nod I understand, and
someone asks, are you even listening? I am.

_______________________________

Currently, Sophia Galifianakis teaches at the University of Michigan, where she received her MFA in poetry. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Plume, The Greensboro Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, and other journals, and she has received scholarships from West Chester Poetry Conference, Poetry by the Sea, and Vermont Studio Center.

 

Categories
2016 Poetry

Kristina Marie Darling

SAD FILM (WITH FAINT MUSIC)

The final scene  wasn’t the pastoral embrace they had  all  been
hoping  for.  The  field was  just  a field, its  flowers  gone  white
with waiting. Enter the other bride, her elaborate dress already
three  shades  darker.  A  flash  of  light  in  the trees, and a rifle
fires in the distance

Tell me  which is more sentimental, the lace at the hem  or  the
idea  that  I  was  the  only  wife all  along. Somewhere else,  the
decent  women  are practicing  their  scales. But really, there is
no  judge,  no  jury,  and the church bell still sleeps alone in the
tower. The nights  here are pitch dark, but long enough to hike
back   to   the   meadow.  It  goes  without   saying  the  dead  sit
quietly  in their little  chairs.  Each morning, I turn up the heat.
I wait for the summons to be slipped under my door—

____________________________________

Kristina Marie Darling is the author of over twenty books of poetry. Her awards include two Yaddo residencies, a Hawthornden Castle Fellowship, and a Visiting Artist Fellowship from the American Academy in Rome, as well as grants from the Whiting Foundation and Harvard University’s Kittredge Fund. Her poems and essays appear in The Gettysburg Review, New American Writing, The Mid-American Review, Third Coast, The Columbia Poetry Review, Verse Daily, and elsewhere. She is currently working toward both a Ph.D. in Literature at S.U.N.Y.-Buffalo and an M.F.A. in Poetry at New York University.

Categories
2016 Poetry

Katie Prince

elegy for all the times we used to get drunk

in the church where his memorial service
is being held. a game of marked cards jenga a falling block

& no one ever won but we were never done arguing—

say, who is better at this game, or if there are twenty-eight crosses
in this room does that mean god can see us fucking

one summer the rain wouldn’t stop & his windshield wipers
were not fast enough to clear the water & the parking lots

outside were a bluish blur & we laid in the back soaked
& wrapped up in ourselves & it was the first time

I saw a car as an island, or a home—us

buzzed in the mustang because we never wanted to live
anywhere else. a texas september is a window down, & I can’t close

my eyes without wondering how it felt. if he saw it

coming. in the past we were always underwater—now I am

outside I am touching his name it is sunny & dry & I am talking

to the ashes I am saying—remember how we never knew how to change

how texas felt like a flood & I loved you once


feeling ill in a novelty restaurant

the scene: yellow walls and too much eye contact.
an uncertainty nobody feels or nobody wants to.
betty boop winks from the wall. the word hate
doesn’t fit the tone but gets said anyway.
all this wide-eyed uncomfortable silence,
all this white noise. a beer gone. a struck-out stack
of stale chips. some mild salsa. this stone broke
feast. this trash on the floor. all the directionless
anger neither needs express. both a skipping
record, I don’t know why I do things like this.
this cold, wet taco. a wilted shred of brown
lettuce. the bitter thick of breath. neither needs
to sit in this booth tonight. nobody is willing to leave.


if I were a speeding train (a cyborg love song)

in a field of bluebonnets I am winding—
a clock, my past—I am blue, wearing a bonnet.

or I am the sky: composed of loose parts. I cannot
hold me anymore. how much of us can be

replaced with iron—a kneecap, a hip, a heart?

let us fit ourselves with gears.
let us wheel ourselves nearer.

if I could I would cart you across
oceans, tucked away as precious cargo

in my robot chest. but I have no door,
no key, no bloodless steel cavity. no—

I’ll never be this speeding train: the long stitch
across the belly of the country,

the struck pendulum, the prison.

_________________________________

Katie Prince received her MFA from the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Her poems have been published in or are forthcoming from Spork, Smoking Glue Gun, the Portland Review, and Fugue, among others.

Categories
2016 Poetry

Jacqueline Boucher

PARADELLE FOR GENERALIZED ANXIETY DISORDER

Not quite wing or cage wrought like wringing hand.
Not quite wing or cage wrought like wringing hand.
But venom lung, piano wire neck and hiss.
But venom lung, piano wire neck and hiss.
Like wing and lung, wringing neck or venom
cage. Not quite piano, but hand-wrought hiss.

This oak of my ankle unstable with marrow rot.
This oak of my ankle unstable with marrow rot.
Shrink. Make holy in my guts through mantra and rain.
Shrink. Make holy in my guts through mantra and rain.
With marrow and mantra, make rot in this rain.
Unstable my guts through holy oak, shrink of my ankle.

Today, my mirror sketches a jagged circle of me.
Today, my mirror sketches a jagged circle of me.
Maybe someday, rounded corners, all pretty and calm.
Maybe someday, rounded corners, all pretty and calm.
Pretty sketches and calm corners circle a jagged
mirror, someday rounded. Today, maybe all of me.

All my pretty guts, holy with venom, rain and hiss.
Mantra: shrink. Make mirror, cage this marrow
and lung wrought like corners of jagged oak
and ankle. But someday sketches of not quite calm
wire through me, unstable neck or rounded wing.
Today: my hand. This circle a wringing rot in piano.

_______________________________

Jacqueline Boucher is an MFA candidate at Northern Michigan University, where she studies spoken word poetry and its ties to social justice and community organization. She currently serves as Managing Editor of Passages North. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Superstition Review, Split Lip, The Butter, and other magazines.

Categories
2016 Poetry

E. Kristin Anderson

Between 50 and 64% of rats will self-administer diazepam

                 So I have to imagine a rat on valium
and how she might lap up that nectar, roll over,
breathe, and find a modicum of peace in home.

How home is more habit than locale—a ritual
with scheduled meals and a nurse calling you honey.

I am also belly-up. My vein is open. And the rat waits.
Wails. And I wait. Our breaths slow and suck at beige.
Gloved hands reach in to touch.

Look, how her eyelids droop, some dream a tremor
in her feet. I avoid the mirror, wait for a friend
to promise there is color in my cheeks again.

No, the IV. Always the IV. It burns;
take your hand and push. My sister rat and I
have had enough of hunger and shallow headboards.

_______________________________

E. Kristin Anderson is the author of seven chapbooks including A GUIDE FOR THE PRACTICAL ABDUCTEE (Red Bird Chapbooks 2014) PRAY, PRAY, PRAY: Poems I wrote to Prince in the middle of the night (Porkbelly Press, 2015), 17 DAYS (ELJ Publications) ACOUSTIC BATTERY LIFE (ELJ 2016), FIRE IN THE SKY (Grey Book Press 2016), and SHE WITNESSES (dancing girl press, 2016).  She’s currently a poetry editor for Found Poetry Review and also edits at Lucky Bastard. Her work has appeared in Juked, Hotel Amerika, [PANK], Asimov’s Science Fiction, and is forthcoming in Folio and Red Paint Hill. She grew up in Maine, lives in Austin, Texas, and blogs at EKristinAnderson.com.

Categories
2016 Poetry

Amanda Huynh

Before I was born

my  dad   died   in    an
accident    except      it
wasn’t an  accident at
least  that’s what   my
brother  says  he   was
twelve at the time but
he  said   my   dad  was
shot     in    the    fields
while  working  maybe
over           drugs        or
something    but   they
shot    him  then   they
turned  his  tractor  on
let    it   run    over   his
body       brother     said
there   were    a   lot  of
gashes   on   my   dad’s
face  too you could  see
them    at   the  funeral
service that’s  what  he
says  I  wasn’t   there  I
wasn’t   born    yet  but
there    are     nights    I
dream    those   gashes
feel     like     the    field
I  work  in    every   day

WHEN I ASK MY BROTHER ABOUT OUR DAD

             Like I told you

I don’t remember
                                          much. Our dad
              was just a mean man.
                                          If he wasn’t working,
he was drinking. The cerveza
                           bottle became his left hand.

              One time I tripped over his boots
                           as I stood up he hit me
against the wall,
                                          brushed his boots
off.
                            I lost my first tooth then.

When mom found out he had   another
                                        family—
                                                      she kicked him
                                                  out
               and when he asked if I wanted to go
with him
                            or stay,

                                        I stayed.

_____________________________________

Amanda Huynh is a native Texan living in Virginia. She attends the MFA Creative Writing Program at Old Dominion University. She was a finalist for the 2015 Gloria Anzaldúa Poetry Prize and recently was one of eight poets to receive an AWP 2016 Intro Journals Project Award. Her work is published or forthcoming in the following journals: Tahoma Literary Review, Muzzle Magazine, Huizache, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and As/Us: Women of the World.