Categories
2015 2016 Fiction

Blake Kimzey

THE QUIET

But above all else, even as dark film from an oil spill worked its way toward the rocky shoreline, it was quiet here.

*

The girl and her father lived in a one-room wooden cabin. The roof was thatched with a tin-capped chimney overlooking Winter Trail Road. Today there was a thin tail of smoke coming from the chimney. Steam worked its way up the flue from boiling crab in a cast iron pot. It was breakfast time. A half-mile down the mountain Winter Trail Road was a pockmarked stretch of overgrown concrete and exposed rebar that hadn’t seen a vehicle, government issued or otherwise, since the early 1980s. On paper there was a lingering joint agreement between the United States and Russia to build a bridge or tunnel across the Bering Strait. There were only rare sightings of government officials that helicoptered into the region, armed with surveyors and engineers who mapped and measured the coastline and then left only to be heard from again in half a decade. At least it was a predictable intrusion.

In their little cabin the girl and her father were able to forget the world for long stretches of time. They occasionally switched on a small battery powered radio and caught a BBC signal that reported news from the outside world. The news was most always bad and mercifully seemed a million miles away. Though today, on this early March morning, cold and blustery, that would change. There would be no need to check the radio. The news would break in front of them.

*

To witness them here the girl and her father seemed like extraterrestrials living at the far ends of the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve in northern Alaska. The father was very much a pioneer, an explorer, and his girl his shadow. They were sandy-haired and brown-eyed, and the father was built thick and sturdy like a logger from Michigan. Though the daughter was lithe, they were so clearly father and daughter.

In the 1990s the father had come to work the southern oil pipeline and had deserted his contract a month and a half in. A survivalist and an Army veteran from the oil patch in west Texas, he packed a bag of gear and wound his way along a stream that forked westward through dense tree cover until he settled near Ikpek Lagoon, where the land he broke had been hard won. Supplies came slowly over the years, but he had built a home. He had started a family. And there had been heartache. The father liked to tell his girl that the world would never know that they were born, lived, and died. Only after they turned to dust would the fossil record betray their existence.

And yet this part of the world held its own mysterious majesty. The girl and her father were happy to have it. All around them were towering Sitka and White spruce, their beautiful dark blue-green needles carpeting the forest floor. The girl and her father used the needles as toothpicks and chewed them so that the thick, sticky saliva could rinse the mouth. Orange-brown spruce cones with papery scales ornamented the hard-packed ground and bright green moss poked through the snow in winter. The girl and her father had worked dirt paths that criss-crossed the forest, of which a hiker might mistake for simple deer trails. When the girl was born 13 years ago her father had already been living at Ikpek Lagoon for a decade. Within the borders of the forest they were everyone.

*

Ten miles north of Winter Trail Road was a village named Kongiganak full of Yupik people, who still lived according to tribal custom, fishing for Pacific salmon and seal. The Eskimo men lived in communal houses known as gasgiqs and the women lived in enas and they mostly kept to themselves. Even still they were protective of their territory, and so the girl and her father kept to themselves. All the father knew of the tribe was that their children were named after the last person in the community to have died, so that there was an endless circle of names that had never been broken.

Years ago the father had married a Yupik woman against the wishes of her tribe. She had died in childbirth, passing her name to the infant girl. That the girl survived was a small miracle, her little body purpled and wet with her mother’s blood. A Yupik midwife, the girl’s grandmother, had saved her life. She died before the girl turned two, and the girl did not know her family tree on either side. Her father was trunk and branch alike. The girl’s mother was buried somewhere in Kongiganak, a grave marker the girl had never seen.

*

Like the Yupik people, the girl and her father lived off the sea. They checked sea-strewn traps and pots for opilio and tanner crabs. They caught salmon in their nets. They occasionally brought in a seal, and they sometimes traded with the Yupik for furs, but hadn’t needed to do so in more than a year. They would trade again when the girl fully hit puberty, when her chest filled out and her height settled. In winter, fishing was best just after six in the evening, near dusk, and that left most of the day for prep. The girl would set traps in the morning and return in the evening. In the meantime, there were nets to mend. Wood to chop. Food to prepare and preserve.

From the shoreline they would often spot commercial fishing rigs trolling close to Ikpek Lagoon, wayward and greedy and out of their normal waters. The girl and her father were losing catch to commercial boats, and every month they tallied fewer crab. They didn’t need much, but what little there was they were losing. The father told the girl tales he had read in a history book of Russians coming through in the 1800s, scouts in wooden skiffs anchoring off shore, poaching marine life and mapping the coast for Emperor Alexander I. And now history was repeating itself.

After dusk blinking lights from oilrigs worked like metronomes in the night sky, the oil rigging working the sea bottom below, the outside world closing in. It was possible to see the oilrig lights from the cabin porch at night, twinkling brightly through the spruce.

*

Ringing the shoreline a dense cluster of spruce rose 200 or more feet in the air, the dark purplish bark, gray in spots, giving the forest and its middle distance color. The sun had just shown itself over the eastern horizon and webbed through the trees. On this morning the girl, tall and coltish and bundled in bear fur with caribou skin linings, came to the shoreline to unmoor her weathered wooden boat. It was a small boat, twelve feet in length and four feet across with a set of sunbleached oars. The girl handled it with skill. There were 10 crab pots to check and reset and the surf looked challenging, crashing loudly into the rocks.

The girl looked out across the Bering Sea, its vastnesses opening up before her. There was sea ice to contend with, making the water more dangerous and choppy. She saw a mammoth bit of sea ice overrun with walrus adrift and floating westward toward Russia. And to the girl’s surprise and horror, the water was stained inky black, shining metallic in the early morning light. The walrus were covered in crude. Some howled in agony. Others slipped lifelessly from the ice into the water.

She had never seen water like this. The girl visored her palm and squinted toward the water. She saw that the sea spray was black, foaming wildly along the beachhead. Further out, past the first breaks, the sea roiled against the wind, unnaturally darkened all the way to the horizon where an oilrig bobbed on the surface. Its lights were flashing in alarm. To the south an injured oil tanker lolled in rough water, spilling its dark black guts. The girl put a handful of spruce needles into her mouth. She chewed the needles vigorously until her mouth worked into a nervous lather.

*

The girl left her boat moored and sprinted east through the forest. There were downed trees that she hurdled along the trail. When she got to Winter Trail Road she could see that tail of smoke from the chimney rising through the trees. She sprinted up the mountain, the snow dirty and brown at the trail edges. She had memorized the switchbacks and ran swiftly in her moccasins. When she gained the top of the hill the cabin was in clear sight. Over the years the girl and her father had cleared the land surrounding the cabin and there was an opening in the forest canopy. Everything else was in its place: the shed next to the house, firewood chopped and stacked along its side wall, a meat cellar dug into the ground beyond that, three laundry lines strung between trees, a ring of stones that made a fire pit for smoking meat, and a series of tanning posts staked into the ground.

There were three rifles the girl didn’t recognize leaning against the front porch wall. When the girl entered the cabin three large Yupik men stood bundled in furs in a semi-circle talking with her father. They were speaking English, and the cabin smelled strongly of boiled crab.

“Darling, these men are here about the oil,” the father said. The Yupik men nodded at the girl, their round faces stoic and wrinkled around the eyes. It had been years since Yupik men had been inside the cabin, and here they were, confirming bad news.

“It’s all over the shore,” the girl confirmed. “The beachhead is washed in it.” The father gave her a small smile, meant to reassure. She had done well by him.

“You should know this is your grandfather,” the father said. The words were surprising and came out quickly. The girl felt her cheeks redden. Her father gestured toward the largest Yupik man, his nose broad and lips full. The man’s gray hair was gathered into a ponytail that spilled down his back, and he extended his hand. The girl took his hand, rough like a paw, and the man pulled her in and hugged her.

After a moment the man let go of the girl. There was an uneasiness in the cabin, and so the girl went and stood by her father, who put his arm around her and pulled her close. The girl glanced at the radio stashed in the corner. If her father had wanted to listen for news of the spill the radio would have already been switched on.

The men and the girl stood in silence. There was little to say. The oil would wreck the shore. The sea was poisoned. The girl imagined her crab traps and pots submerged below growing slicks on the surface above. The marine life choking on crude, birds tarred and de-feathered, lost to flight. The girl waited for her father to speak, for any of the men to speak.

“We’re leaving with these men,” the father said. “Your grandfather has invited us into their village. We’ll move inland with them. Their offer is generous.”

*

The girl didn’t want to leave. This was all she had ever known. But she knew there would be nothing for them here, not for many years. They could always return. The cabin would still be here. The helicopters would come sooner than expected this time. Government men would collect data. The oil company would set up camp. Cleanup ships would anchor and dot the shoreline. Official vehicles might find their way to Winter Trail Road again. The quiet would be lost. It already was.

The girl and her father gathered their things into two large bags. They followed the Yupik men out. There was a 10-mile hike ahead of them. They would travel first to Kongiganak, where the Yupik would break camp over the following week. Then they would migrate south to the Kuzitrin River and settle on its banks. That was the plan. They would be near Teller, Alaska, where in 1828 the Inupiat had a fishing camp discovered by the Beechey Expedition. The small town had been called Libby Station before Sheldon Jackson renamed it for United States Senator and Secretary of the Interior Henry Moore Teller in 1892. This history meant nothing to the father and the girl, and even less to the Yupik. It was not their history.

Near Teller the girl would be close enough to go to school if she wanted. She would know her Yupik cousins. She might know her aunts. Everything would be different. The girl’s father would continue subsistence hunting and fishing. The girl would help. They might stay with the Yupik. And they might move into Teller. And they might break out on their own, just father and daughter, the way it had always been. They would certainly regain the quiet. The girl would see to it.

________________________________

Blake Kimzey‘s fiction has been broadcast on NPR and published by Tin House, McSweeney’s, Green Mountains Review, FiveChapters, The Lifted Brow, Hobart, Puerto del Sol, The Los Angeles Review, Short Fiction, PANK, The Masters Review, Surreal South ’13, and included in The Best Small Fictions 2015 Anthology. He is the recipient of an Emerging Writer grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation and his chapbook of short tales, Families Among Us, an Indie Bestseller now in its second printing, won the 2013 Black River Chapbook Competition and was published by Black Lawrence Press in September 2014. Blake received his MFA from UC-Irvine and now teaches creative writing at UT-Dallas. More @BlakeKimzey

Categories
2015 2016 Fiction

Anna Laird Barto

THE WHOLE FOODS EFFECT

I went to the grand opening of Whole Foods with my friend Denise, and Shannon, of course–I can’t get away from the kid long enough to pee. By the time we got there it was after 11, but we were still one of the first 1,000 shoppers so we each got a balloon and a free reusable shopping bag. The bags were yellow, with big green asparagus tips, like alien penises. Now everyone at the food pantry has one, stuffed with canned peas and other processed crap.

Whole Foods took over the old Johnnie’s Foodmaster. It was trippy going back into the store where I’d shopped all my life and finding everything changed around. I almost walked in through the out-door. Luckily they were handing out maps. Only the fruits and veggies were in the same spot, but they looked way fresher–apples spilling out of crates, cucumbers stacked like Jenga blocks, broccoli in buckets of ice. Or maybe was it was the special energy-saving lightbulbs that gave everything a tasty glow.

The Toonies were out in force; women in Polar Fleece and tight leggings, squinting at nutrition labels; men in pea coats feeling up the apples. Toonies is what we call the newcomers who buy up the old row houses, like my grandparents’ triple decker, and turn them into luxury condos. But me and Denise weren’t the only Townies who turned up for the freebies. We saw lots of people from high school; Jesse Walford, voted most likely to succeed, ankle bracelet showing under his track pants; Angela O’Meara, hiding behind a fedora and dark sunglasses (she thinks she’s a movie star ever since she was an extra in The Town). We even ran into John O’Reilly, who worked with Gramps at the Navy Yard back in the day. Six months ago he was sitting on the benches outside Dunkin’ Donuts, shouting how he rather take two buses to Market Basket than set in foot in Whole Paycheck, but there he was, blocking the aisle with his handicap scooter.

“I just want regular lettuce!” he said, staring up at an avalanche of salad.


“Maybe the iceberg?” I said.


When we first found out Whole Foods was coming, everyone got up in arms. Rents would go up, they said. Like they haven’t enough already. Us Townies would be priced out town. The news called it the Whole Foods Effect. But Whole Foods sucked up real hard, the community by writing big checks to the Boys & Girls Clubs and Charlestown Against Drugs, and hiring people who’d worked at Johnnie’s. They didn’t hire Brian, though. He tried to tell me all the jobs went to the retards, the Somalis and the Spanish, making it my fault too since I’m half-Dominican on my dad’s side–not that I’ve seen the guy in ten years, and don’t speak Spanish nada. I said, “Maybe it’s not because you’re white, but because you’re an asshole,” and that was the first time he hit me since Shannon was born. Even his mom says I should get a restraining order, but I want Shannon to have her dad in her life.


When a guy walked up with a paper cone of dried-up leaves, for a second I thought he was trying to sell us weed.


“Would you ladies like to try some kale chips? We have Cilantro Lime, Tarragon Dijon, Bombay Ranch–” He was hot, with sandy hair and muscles showing through his “Got Kale?” T-shirt. I wished I’d had time to comb my hair before I left the house.


“I don’t know,” I said. “What do you think?”


“I like the cilantro lime myself; it has a tang to it.”


“I’ll try that then.”


I bit down as seductively as I could. Denise snickered.


“Mmm, not bad.” Seriously, it wasn’t. “Denise, you should try one!”


She wrinkled her nose. “No thank you. By the way, it looks like you have fish food on your shirt.”


I turned around to dust my shirt off. When I looked up I saw Dan Corey, one of Brian’s friends, standing a few feet away, over where the meat case with the 4-for-$25 specials used to be. He looked down and played with his wallet chain but I knew he saw me.


I only bought like five things, but it turned out to be way more than $40, which was all I had on my EBT card, so I had the smiley dreadlocks girl at the register take off the organic grapes and the whole wheat pancake mix. The Toonies in line behind me shifted back and forth and looked at their cell phones. I wanted to give them finger but I kept a grip. Instead I swung by the cafe on the way out, grabbed as many spoons, forks, and organic ketchup packets as I could and stuffed them in my purse, right in front of the security guard––big beefy black guy, not like those renta-cops Johnnie’s used to have. He didn’t seem to notice.


“That’s so ghetto,” Denise said.


“Shut up.”

The other night I went by the house on Russell again. It was almost dark. Figures moved behind the beige curtains that replaced the Nana’s Irish lace. Gramps was born in that house, in the third-floor bedroom with the fireplace and the slanting floorboards. His father bought it after he came from Ireland in eighteen-sixty-something to work in the Navy Yard.

When we were kids, my brother Colin and me were over there all the time, especially when Mom went off her meds and thought the Somali family next door was trying to poison us. Our favorite place was the roof. It was unfinished, no deck or railing, just tar paper hot enough to melt your jelly shoes in summer. We’d sit up there to smoke, tossing our butts into the Toonie’s patio next door, and look out over the treetops and chimneys of Bunker Hill to the skyscrapers in Boston. In bad weather, the skyline disappeared behind the clouds, and it felt like a freak disaster had wiped Boston off the map, and only Charlestown was still standing. After Brian and I got together, we’d sneak up there at night to have sex. He’d take me from behind and I’d come so hard I felt like I was out ahead of my body, floating over the roofs toward the city lights. Afterwards, our hands and knees were black with tar.


My grandparents held on as long as they could. That last winter they could only afford to heat the kitchen and parlor. They spent months hauled up behind plastic sheeting, watching CNN and the Weather Channel until they were as paranoid as Mom. With Colin at Concord State–dumbass won’t stop breaking into cars–there wasn’t anyone to shovel the walk. When they finally sold and moved to Senior Housing in Quincy, the Toonies on the block practically threw a party.


I’ve never seen the new owners, though I have a lamp they put out for recycling. (It’s Crate and Barrel; still works and everything.) They repainted the house this antiquey green color with white trim. There’s a wreath on the door made of gold petals the same shape as the mums in the window box. I’ll never admit it to Nana, but I think it looks nice. If I had money I would decorate like that, simple but elegant. They got rid of her Virgin Mary statue, but the hand-painted sign, “This is not the a dog toilet,” is still there, stuck in the grass between the sidewalk and street.


Before I left I checked the blue recycle bin, but there was nothing but newspapers and empty bottles of craft beer.


I’ve been going to Whole Foods more than I thought. Anything to get out of the apartment. I go crazy trapped in the house with Shannon all day. I want to finish my GED and go to school for Nursing Assistant or something, but I only have two classes left, not enough hours to get a daycare voucher, so I’m stuck until she’s old enough for HeadStart–13 months, three days…


I don’t buy much at Whole Foods because it’s mad expensive, but I like to sit in the cafe. It’s clean, bright, and the walls are painted peaceful nature colors. On every table there is a clay pot with a real orchid–way nicer than anywhere Brian took me when we were dating.


One day I’m sitting in the cafe when this Toonie lady stops and says hi. She’s pushing a boy about Shannon’s age in one of those all-terrain strollers, in case your kid needs to climb Mt. Washington or something. Turns out she thinks she recognizes me from her yoga class. I guess I haven’t let myself go as much as Brian says.


She bends over and makes googly eyes at Shannon. She’s wearing black leggings and a puffy North Face vest. Up close I can see she’s way older than me, at least thirty.


“What a pretty girl!” she says.


Shannon ignores her. She’s busy playing with my phone.


“Thanks. I registered her with this agency downtown. They loved her photos. They’re always looking for boys. I can give you the number.” Her kid looks cute enough. Hard to tell through the graham-cracker facial.


“That’s okay,” she said.


“Really, it’s no problem. It’s right here in my phone. Shannon give mommy her phone back–”


“No, really. I don’t want Owen in a competitive environment.”


“The kids don’t even know what’s going on. They just like the attention.”


“I know, but I think I’d rather wait until they’re old enough to make up their own minds.”


I feel the heat rising to my face. “Shannon loves posing. It’s not like I’m forcing her or anything.”


“Of course not, I didn’t mean it like that…” She backs toward the door. “But thanks anyway. It was really nice meeting you.” She never stops smiling, but I don’t like the way she’s looking at Shannon, the same way the social worker does, like she feels sorry for her. Bitch. If there’s anyone we should be feeling sorry for, it’s Owen. She probably won’t even let him play Little League because he might strike out and hurt his feelings.


I look at Shannon bent over my phone, wisps of red blond falling in her face, forehead scrunched with concentration. She’s so smart. She’s not even two and she already knows how to click on the games she likes. If I can only manage not to fuck her up.


Whole Foods has this 5-point rating system for meat. They won’t sell you a chicken unless that it was raised outside a cage, with lots fresh air and space to run around, not worrying about stepping on needles or dog shit. The higher the rating, the more expensive the chicken. To score a 5, the chicken has to grow up in an “enriched environment,” whatever that means for a chicken–maybe they play Mozart for them? I would give anything for Shannon to have as good a childhood as those goddamn chickens. I wonder how Owen would rate?


Sitting here, at the shiny clean table with an orchid, it’s easy to pretend we’re anywhere but Charlestown. We could be in Back Bay, or Lexington or fucking Europe, but I look out the window and there’s the parking lot, the Ninety-Nine Restaurant, and the Bunker Hill Monument sticking up (like a dildo, Denise says, for when you “don’t need no minute-man”). I’ve lived here my entire life and I’ve never even been to the top.


I turn back from the window just in time to see Shannon lean forward in her highchair, reaching for the orchid. Just before her fingers close around the pink petal, she looks over her shoulder to see if I’m watching.


“Bad girl!” I smack her hand. The broken flower falls to the table. Shannon screams. Heads pop up from iPads all over the cafe.


“That’s it, we’re going home.” I strap her back into the stroller and get the hell out before someone calls DCF on me. On my way out I grab a fistful of plastic spoons. Every time I go to Whole Foods I take something: salt, pepper, organic ketchup packets, brown paper napkins. Once I took a whole squeeze bottle of agave nectar, but the spoons are my favorite. It’s not like they’re better than the ones at Dunkin’ or Papa Gino’s. Or maybe they are. Maybe they’re made out of recycled prescription bottles. Maybe if you planted them in the garden, they’d grow.


The other night Brian comes over without calling first and sees the Whole Foods bags on the counter. He says he don’t pay child support so I can buy fucking arugula. I tell him I’m saving money in the long run by not blowing up into a heifer and getting diabetes like his mom. His face turns bright red with purple veins running through it, like one of those heirloom tomatoes.


He starts opening the cabinets and pulling things off the shelves. “What are you doing?” I duck as a package of whole-grain pancake mix hits the linoleum. I’m thinking he’s got money or drugs hid up there, but then he yanks out the drawers one by one. I’m scared he’s going for a knife–he did that once before Shannon was born–but all he finds is plastic spoons in individual wrappers.


“What the fuck?” He rips the drawer from the cabinet and plastic spoons go flying everywhere. “What are you doing with all these goddamn spoons?”


“I’m saving them.” I drop to my knees, start picking them up, and making a pile.


“For what?”


“I haven’t decided yet.” There’s this lady on Pinterest who makes really cute lampshades out of them, but I don’t know if I could ever be that creative.


Brian watches me crawling around the kitchen on all fours. He shakes his head.


“You’re bat-shit, woman, just like your mom.”


I feel like I’ve been punched in the stomach. I haven’t seen Mom since the last time they let her out of the hospital. A friend of Colin’s said he saw her sleeping outside the Malden train station.


I stand up so fast I feel dizzy. “Take it back.”


He doesn’t say anything. The hole in my chest fills with rage. I pound my fists against his ribs, but he grabs me by the shoulders and slams me against the refrigerator so hard I see stars. As I lie gasping for breath, I look up at the cracked ceiling tiles, the spoons stuck to the blades of the fan. I think of the ladies at Whole Foods, try to imagine their pea-coated husbands slapping them around their Crate and Barrel kitchens.


The commotion wakes Shannon, who bawls her head off.


“Jesus Christ, Brian! Do you know how many times I had to read The Hungry Fucking Caterpillar before she fell asleep?”


“Why don’t you just get your new boyfriend to come sing her a lullaby?”


“What new boyfriend? The Comcast guy? The Kale guy? The old guy
who smiled at me that one time on the 93 bus?”


He stands over me and I can smell his dirty socks. “Fat slut! For all I know, Shannon’s not even mine.” I stare straight up at him. His eyes are hazel like Shannon’s, only lighter. When I met him in eighth grade, his eyes were what I noticed. At first glance they’re brown, but the longer you look at them, the more they seem green. They’re greener than ever now, the color deepening where his pupils would be, except they’ve shrunk to the size of pins, floating expressionless across the iris.


“Who was it?” He presses his toe to my throat.


“What do you want me to say? You know she’s yours.”


He steps down. I gulp for air.


“Who?”


I don’t answer. What’s the point? He won’t believe me anyway.


He steps down harder. I gag. I claw at his foot. The pressure increases. It hurts so bad I gasp the name of every man I can think of–my high school English teacher, Tom Brady, Barack Obama–just to make it stop.


I must have blacked out because next thing I know I’m standing on the roof at Russell St. It’s still and bright. Snow sticks to the roofs and tree limbs. The sky is blue and I can see the skyscrapers ice clear across the river. It would be so easy to just step off the edge onto the cushion of air. I hear a child crying, and at first it’s just another sound, like the traffic whooshing on 93, but it gets louder, filling my head and pressing me down on the linoleum. I open my eyes and I’m alone in my kitchen, surrounded by plastic spoons in individual wrappers.

The restraining order says Brian can’t come within 500 feet of me and the apartment, but I still can’t relax. It’s just a piece of paper. What good is that if he decides to come back and make sure no one else will ever have me? The only way I can get any sleep is if I take Shannon into my room and shove the bureau against the door.

To distract myself, I finally started doing something with the spoons. I’m making chrysanthemum wreaths, like the one on the door at Russell Street. What you do is cut a piece of cardboard in the shape of a wreath, snap the handles off the spoons and glue them, face up, in rows, starting from the outside and working your way in. It’s easy, but it takes a lots of concentration to line them up just right so they overlap like flower petals. It keeps me from thinking too much; about Brian and what he might do to me; Shannon growing up without a dad; Nana getting older; Mom’s bipolar and if it’s hereditary. To keep Shannon from messing with my wreathes, I spread out some cardboard, give her her own spoons and a pot of glue. She likes to spread the glue around and watch it drip off the spoon and puddle on the cardboard.


The last step is to take the wreath outside and spray paint it. I’ve made a pink one for Nana, a silver one for Denise, and an orange, green, and white one for Colin, though I don’t know if they’ll let him have it in prison. Now other people are asking me to make wreathes for them, like Nana’s friends in Senior Housing. Denise says I should sell them on the Internet. Maybe when Shannon goes to school–eleven months, fifteen days…


It takes over a hundred spoons just to make a one little wreath. Every time I go to Whole Foods I stock up. Luckily, it’s only 425 feet from my front door (I Google-mapped it on my phone). They got these new dispensers. You press a lever and a spoon pops out the bottom, like those old-fashioned cigarette machines you see in dive bars. Probably, the dispensers didn’t arrive in time for when the store opened, but I like to think it’s because of me, that I was costing them thousands of dollars in plastic. But the dispenser don’t stop me from stealing; I just use my stealth. I sidle up, open my diaper bag, and pump the lever fast as I can. The security guard stands with his arms crossed, staring at me. I just smile and keep pumping.

__________________________________

Anna Laird Barto holds an MFA from Emerson College. Her work has appeared in Terrain.org: A Journal of the Built and Natural Environments, Newfound Journal, and is upcoming in EDGE.

Categories
2015 2016 Poetry

Nadra Mabrouk

CLOVEN

Two gray sheep can only live so long
in your kitchen.

Your father, uncle and grandfather
drag the two sheep
past the hallway.
Holiday dinner breathes
and smells of wet wool.

Mother takes you to be bathed with your sister.
Together, you sit cross-legged
in the hot water
and you, while washing her hair,
start speaking.

Her small head meets your palms
and your nails are too short to scratch
into the scalp.
You hold the small flow of urine inside of you
before it changes the color of the water
and ask her whether she knows why the sheep are here.

She shakes her head
and your lower stomach fat folds in weakness
to control the bladder.

You imagine your sister and yourself in their place
feeling your neck pretending your hand
were as thick as the butcher’s.

They’re going to kill them when the butcher is here.
You say tradition, mispronouncing it
but saying it as a little urine slips out,
not enough to change the water.
Hooves start gnawing into the floor,
their bleating breathless
as though calling to apologize
for never watching over each other.

You run back into the bedroom
where it is warm. The blood
never reaches this far
but you imagine the pulp of it, their open mouths,
the small square teeth of a toddler.


FLIGHT 425 TO FT. LAUDERDALE

Lorenzo feels disoriented after dozing off.
“That’s the problem with flying,” he says.
“Everything’s just hanging.”
I am staring at the bleeding slit
in the sky behind the wing, the leftover light
pinched into a thin scratch, thinking someone
must be able to tell the time just by the shape
of its bend,
but that person must be asleep now
cradled on the lap of a shaking hour.
Lorenzo keeps laughing and dozing off
until i wonder if
he is laughing at something only he can see.
The children behind us are creating
a prayer for the water we see below.
They want us to slip into it
like clouds, sensitive organs of unheld crystals,
waiting for return.

_______________________

Nadra Mabrouk holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Florida International University, and is a two-time scholarship recipient of the New York State Summer Writers Institute at Skidmore College. Her work has appeared in Best Teen Writing of 2010, published by The Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, Jai-Alai, RHINO and others. Her chapbook, How Things Tasted When We Were Young, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press in spring of 2016.

Categories
2015 2016 Poetry

Danielle Susi

Black fossil in a slab of shale

In a river you come upon a coil

             What have you of my spilled right lung?

Make a threshold whiter and wider

              Was finding my vessel in ash not enough?

Bury me further. Build a pyre

               above the mound

Set the final vision of me ablaze

               There is no impending phoenix rising.

Silhouette is smolder

               They’ll call me cretaceous, metamorphic,

Gesture. Most mornings, I cry for you.

               They caged my head, fully aquatic. Shook me.

Shook my brain. Filled me with all the properties of a stone

                sifted from the stream. But I am no gold. I am charcoal. No.

Anthracite. To draw. To draw a flame.


___________________________

Danielle Susi is the author of the chapbook The Month in Which We Are Born (dancing girl press, 2015). She is a columnist for Entropy, the co-editor of HOUND, and the Programming and Media Coordinator for the Poetry Center of Chicago. Her writing has appeared in Knee-Jerk Magazine, Hobart, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. She received her MFA in writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Newcity has named her among the Top 5 Emerging Chicago Poets. Find her online at daniellesusi.com

Categories
2015 2016 Poetry

Sara Ryan

FAVOR

            after Li-Young Lee

A field of poppies blooms
between my fingers—
my father grabs a needle
and tells me to hold still.

I am not a patient child,
or a curator of pain , so I become
a young bird,
underneath.

I dig at a splinter
until my palm begins to bleed.
A rose opens.

I remember my small white hand,
a ceramic plate, and a circle
of red, growing as the heart
in my palm pulsed free.

My fathers voice is low,
and his fingers are much bigger
than mine—he loses me
in a story about Lake Shore Drive,
or fire, or paddling a boat.

The wood is released from me,
and I don’t
cry, but place my mouth
over the cut; feeling
foreign, feeling like the hand
of a bird.

I am not patient. My father
whispers in a clatter of silver.
I become an eagle,
underneath—
my father, preening my wings.


MAKING A MEAL

I find a spot in my kitchen
that I do not love.

There, I peel a sweet potato.
I smash garlic into guts.
I cut my thumb and stuff it,
singing, into my mouth.

Next, I dismember an animal.
I relieve it of its skeleton,
its dense assemblage.

It’s sorcery: parts
and bones and flesh and
onion skins—brown moons,
coalesce into broth,
into red-
lipped harvest.

The unused, the castoff
roots, the dirt licked husks.
In the stained core of the bird
hides the deep, lush savor.

When I boil milk,
the kitchen smells like my mother.
When oil pops and blisters
my skin, I become a blue plate.

I stop sharpening my knives.
I collect these ruins like gold,
roast them ‘til honeyed.

My kitchen is a simmering
orchard—nourish,
fill, and enough.
A cycle of ashes.

___________________________

Sara Ryan is a first-year poetry MFA candidate at Northern Michigan University and an associate editor of poetry for Passages North. Her poetry has been published in Boxcar Poetry Journal, Bear Review, and various teaching anthologies, and is also forthcoming from Jai-Alai Magazine. She has finally returned to the Midwest from a four year hiatus in South Florida. Everything is new again.

Categories
2015 2016 Poetry

Emily Paige Wilson

THE FORTUNE TELLER PREDICTS A JOURNEY

Patchouli’s mossy morning breath
edges out of incense. The teller spreads

purple velvet across the table between us,
teases tea lights into flame with the crass

scent of a handful of matches. I am all
cups and swords, more Major Arcana

than she usually sees drawn by a single hand.
I was shown my first Tarot as a child.

On my grandmother’s coffee table, her deck sat
near stacks of photo albums. She’d point out how

The Wheel of Fortune’s gold zodiac disc
was so much like Prague’s astronomical

clock, the lion’s fiery mane on Strength
the same as the beast of Bohemia stamped

on the back of all Czech coins. We’d sift
through the cards before shifting to the

photos, lives lifted and cropped into
grayscale squares, pasted onto pages

in the name of preservation. Nine
children aligned in ceremonial dress;

all the girls in polka skirts, boys
in suspenders. A stern matriarch,

dark hair twisted into a sloppy top knot—
the jewel-encrusted headdress of The Empress.

Even with these visual cues, my grandma
could only remember fractions, certain branches

of the family tree. I have learned to read
the deck the same way I read my family

history: to leave space for the stories
once faces and dates have faded.

When the fortune teller reveals The Hermit,
lone figure cloaked against the cold,

it does not unnerve me when she predicts
a journey but can’t foresee the place or time.

I know that each image holds its own context
even without connective tissue to tether them
                                                       together.


POSTCARD AN ALMOST LOVER NEVER SENDS TO ME

You already know this winter,
this weather: January is still

more jam and back porch than cold
burn and shovel crunch on ice.

You know the way honeysuckle sweats
scent; the shores of North Carolina

will still be crisp when you come back
but Europe will erode in your mind

once you leave. You can’t cling to home-
sickness like snow sticking to the streets.

What gratitude are you showing
the ghosts of your ancestors right now,

the Atlantic Ocean for always opening
both its arms to you?

________________________

Emily Paige Wilson is an MFA candidate and graduate teaching assistant at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Her poetry, translations, and reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in The Adroit Journal, Asymptote, Green Mountains Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, PANK, and The Raleigh Review, among others. In addition to Kert Green and Brauer fellowships, she has received the 2012 Emma Howell Memorial Poetry Prize and was first-runner-up in the 2014 Indiana Review Poetry Prize. She rules her life like a fine skylark and tweets @Emmy_Golightly.

Categories
2015 2016 Poetry

Dylan Weir

VILLANELLE FOR THE VICIOUS ADDICTED

for Phillip

His construction paper hung heavy
wet on the walls. The spot still
dripping letters from his fingerpaint.

Art therapy-bullshit twice. Still, we finger painted
self-affirmations, taped to the walls where
his construction paper hung heavy.

Then, code yellow. Phillip’s discharge date.
You haven’t got his meds right. We wept
dripping letters from his fingerpaint.

Sardines packed in the splinter of a window.
Phillip, done with crystal, sent back to the mine.
His construction paper hung heavy,

blocking the doorway, I read what his hands
had said: This is the best day of my life
dripping letters from his fingerpaint.

Phillip, needed safehaven & got sidewalk.
Last words: This is the best day of my life.            So far.
His construction paper hung heavy
dripping letters from his fingerpaint.

 

LIVING WITH THE DEAD
(click to read)

___________________

Dylan Weir
is a Chicagoan and MFA candidate in Poetry at the University of Wisconsin, Madison where he teaches creative writing. He has work in (or forthcoming from): Rhino, After Hours, Catch&Release, Cleaver, Mobius, H_NMG_N, The Legendary, Literary Orphans, Melancholy Hyperbole, Red Paint Hill & others. Dylan is Co-Editor of Interviews & Reviews at Devil’s Lake.

Categories
2015 2016 Poetry

Amy Marengo

BODY→ATRIUM→VENTRICLE→GILLS→BODY

The ​S-shaped heart in his head
fills his eyes with fresh blood

for as long as he doesn’t stop
swimming. I watch reruns

of laymen and scientists
bickering about how best

to kill him before he chews
an island to pieces, the children—

morsels of the future. I tattooed
his silhouette on my forearm

to show strangers: I’ll bite you,
but I’m misunderstood;

I’m hungry for something else
you sort of resemble, bobbing

on the surface and not at all
out of reach. I watch reruns

of laymen and scientists kissing
loved ones and solid ground

goodbye before searching
whitecaps for his larger­than­average

body—his heart, his heart. His heart:
a poker­face laying down a flush and losing.

the cloudbank by Amy Marengo

______________________

Amy Marengo
received her MFA from Virginia Tech, where she currently teaches first-year writing. She has recent or forthcoming work in Pleiades, Cimarron Review, DIALOGIST, among other journals. For more info on publications and awards, please visit her at amymarengo.com.

Categories
2015 2016 Poetry

Ryan Bender-Murphy

PORT ARANSAS

Transformation is a crime. Cylinders of it, too.
First breath out of the water and
you cannot hear the clicking of keyboards.
A white rat runs in a field. Its red eyes are juiced
hours later in a lab. That’s the rub.
The ticket passes from one signal to the next
until a fist hurls onto the freeway
and accidents ensue. But let’s
get back to you, fresh now, water
borne and the plentiful tides rake
society from the skin. The thickness of sunshine
booms, curtains away those images
projected from a screen.
Even that one trickle of water going down
your nose is enough to be alive.
You forget the emails sent to you in the dead
of night, when fingers smash the only
things it seems they have left. Nobody
can have a word with you. Wind is
perfect, for once. It blows the green
spiral of lines right from your head, the pie chart
glides away, and numbers turn into the artistic
rendition of birds. You look at a cloud
overhead, average patch of white,
and staring at it so long
you fade into a network of yourself,
full of ravines and jagged nooks.
It moves slower than a hello
said 200 years ago from one person to another.
A thing, floating above another—
nobody will see that as clearly as you.


JUST GET BY

I get lost in my email and focus
For so long on the beach
Background. Sometimes that is what gets me
Through the week, knowing that the ocean
Will keep turning as more emails appear,
That the beautiful blue wave will grow
As the window does—it will grow so much
That I will forget that I am even working,
Even responding to the requests
To work.

All of this happens for a split second,
The one in which atoms expand, somehow to account
For the heart I have been granted, the language
I have been given, the broomstick
I ride now, poking holes into the sky, clicking boots:
A small island appears in my heart.
And a small lawn chair and a small beach ball.
And a small table with a small book and a small sandwich.

When tissues tear and men snap
The small island grows into a continent
That houses love and only love.
I sleep in half of myself and stay awake
Breathing the salty air and lying in the lawn chair
That has grown into a bed.
Everyone whom I have ever wanted to talk to
Touches my head, and it feels like time has touched me
Granting me an eternity to grow in its fields.


ON THE FRITZ

A groom wearing dark blue rivers
and a bride donning the finest rock dress
from the Stone Age
walk out of a church.

A computer is cranking out
as much rice as possible.
I am typing on the computer
rice rice rice rice.

My boss brings me a sandwich,
chips, and a fountain drink.
I sip from a straw and watch
as the man kisses the woman, alone.

When they step into their limousine
I type aerial joy spheres, and bubbles fly.
I type amphibians gettin’ jiggy wit it, and frogs dance
in overalls. I type smoke you sly bastards
and mechanical guests creak cigars to their lips.

On the drive home, I take the scenic route
and glance through the passenger side:

the sea
of gasoline is burning
into a forest;

drone planes
are becoming storks.

Something like this has happened before…

I give the computer a little shake.

_______________________

Ryan Bender-Murphy‘s chapbook, First Man on Mars, was published by Phantom Books in 2013. His other work has recently been published in Better, Cartridge Lit, Country Music, Deluge, and Everyday Genius. He has started a journal called Hardly Doughnuts.

Categories
2015 2016 Poetry

Jasmine Nikki Paredes

I will lose him during the apocalypse

when the ground gives, right after
our neighbor’s dog tells me
to wake up and clear my browser cache.
Yesterday they found a megamouth shark
washed ashore, dead. Maybe now
we should get out of bed and worry
about the high rises, how the quake
will devour us, will devour everything
that loves us back.

When the apocalypse happens,
I’m afraid we will be on different trains
going opposite ways. As the car tumbles
down the platform, pressing steel
to flesh to bone, I will remember
how the night before, I fell
asleep as he sat in the other room,
listening to the hum of his laptop.
I go to bed every night with a dread,
and he says it is all in my head,
and another day—

During the apocalypse a fault line
shall halve our avenue.
The underwater cables will have nothing
else to broadcast but silence, the kind
that follows the discovery
of a thing long feared.


FEAST

When we lived an hour
from each other, I waited
by an elevated platform

until the train ground
up the tracks like a knife
being sharpened.

Now we have become
woman and man
with the shopping bags,

lamenting the jetlagged
nectarines at the nicer
supermarket. The difference

between our cities is
craving: blueberry
and sweetsop. I am in awe

of the versatile cabbage
and the carrot that has
traveled miles, only to be

peeled naked at midnight.
From our bed I can hear you
eating. I refuse to say sorry

because there is nothing
wrong with asking for
another helping. I mean,

there are so many things
we can do to a roast chicken.
I have stopped counting.

_____________________

Jasmine Nikki “Nikay” C. Paredes was born and raised in Cebu City, Philippines. She received a BFA in Creative Writing from Ateneo de Manila University and an MFA in Poetry from Sarah Lawrence College. She is the author of the chapbook collection WE WILL SEE THE SCATTER(dancing girl press, 2014), which won first prize in the 2015 Maningning Miclat Poetry Competition. She currently teaches Creative Writing in the Ateneo de Manila University.