Phillip Scott Mandel

2016, Fiction

I SWALLOWED THE SWORD OF SHANNARA AND LIVED TO TELL THIS TALE ABOUT IT

Over the summer at Jonah Yustein’s Bar Mitzvah they gave out itchy purple t-shirts that said, “I survived a whale of a time at Jonah Yustein’s Bar Mitzvah” and Jess Feingold wore it on the first day of school. We ate shrimp cocktails and danced the Roger Rabbit and the Electric Slide, so our lives were never really at risk, except for maybe dying of boredom. Jonah’s bubbe tripped on her way up to light a candle, so maybe her life was in danger momentarily, but one of the beefy backup dancers literally bounded over the cake to catch her before she broke her hip, so even that is an overstatement.

I, however, swallowed The Sword of Shannara and nobody even gives a care.

I love Jess Feingold. Dr. Feingold is my orthodontist and even though he screwed up my teeth, I still get quite a thrill when she teases me about needing extra-girth rubber bands, because it signifies a special bond between us. A bunch of other kids in our grade have braces too, but I don’t think she inquires on the status of their orthodontia as much as she does mine. 

Just last week during lunch she went out of her way to swing by my table with her friends to check in. “AJ,” she sang, “my dad wants to know if you’re braces are tight enough.”

Her friends all laughed but I know they’re just jealous of the attention she was paying to me. Adam and Rob both looked down into their sloppy joes and pretended Jess and the other popular girls weren’t standing right in front of us, but I smiled wide and showed off all the metal in my mouth. “Tight as a virgin bride on her wedding night,” I said.

Adam and Rob are barely even my friends anymore. I’ve come to understand they’ve been playing Warhammer 40K in Rob’s basement, like, every weekend, without me.

I’m anything but a fool. I know that the only reason I was even invited to Jonah’s Bar Mitzvah was because we’re in Hebrew School together and his parents were pressured to invite the whole class. That’s why Anna Reznikovskaya was there, and she’s the poorest person in town and barely even speaks English. She’s, like, eight inches taller than everybody and weighs at least seventy pounds more than me, has long, tangly black hair that goes down to her butt, and onyx-colored eyes, which she covers with black eye shadow. One time Anna cornered me in the hall on my way to earth science, my favorite class, and pushed me against a locker. Everyone just kept walking by and she planted a big wet sloppy kiss on me and tried to shove her tongue into my mouth but I kept my jaw locked tight, though I could feel the sharp wet tip of her tongue probing at my lips, like a slippery little goldfish nipping at the flakes floating at the surface of a bowl.

It took a couple of months before everyone stopped calling me Boris Yeltsin or The Russian Bride, but eventually they did. Anna still looks slyly out of the corner of her eyes at me and sometimes makes the most disgusting gesture with her two fingers spread in front of her mouth and her fleshy, fat tongue darting back and forth between them, but I mostly ignore her now. In five years she’ll either be a supermodel or a junky, and since I’ll be at Princeton or Dartmouth or Yale or Harvard, I don’t plan on being around to find out which.

Unlike Anna, Jess Feingold is classically beautiful. Anna is the kind of female that inspires myths like Medusa or Baba Yaga, while Jess has a face that could launch, if not a thousand ships, at least half a dozen. I’d captain a ship around the globe for her, that’s for sure. She has a long, freckled nose, unlike my stupid little one (“a cute little button,” my mother used to say, of my nose, until one day my father made us go to the doctor for a paternity test which I guess came back negative because after that they both kind of stopped talking to me).

She uses a blue, red, or pink scrunchie to put her long curly brown hair into a ponytail and it smells like, oh, the most wondrous citrus shampoo, strawberry or grapefruit, with a hint of vanilla and tea tree oil (that stays secret though, because I sit behind her in English and I do not think she would appreciate how often I sniff the back of her head). Also, she has tits.

Yes, real, big tits. She one time leaned over my desk to sign up for a field trip and she
was wearing a loose, wide-necked low-cut blouse with no bra, and I could see right down the
front of her shirt and I could see her tits! It was the first time I ever saw a girl’s tits! Well, it’s the
only time (so far!), but it was awesome.

I want to become a wizard and slay a dragon for her, which is why I practice magic tricks
at home all the time. I know it’s not the same thing — it’s not real magic — but real magic
doesn’t exist.

So, the Sword of Shannara.

Last Friday in English class Jess and I were assigned to the same group to write a book report. She wanted to write about The Outsiders. Tom Lynch, that sweaty tard, and Julio Garcia, he’s okay but whatever, both said they don’t care what book we do, as long as the fag (they meant me, I assume) does all the work, and I said I’d only do all the work if we did The Sword of Shannara, which is one of my favorite books of all time. (I know some people are going to say it’s just a rip off of The Lord of the Rings, but it’s totally not.)

Jess protested and said it wasn’t fair that the nerd (meaning me) does all the work, and I
said I didn’t mind, and then Tom asked Jess if she likes to spit or swallow (apparently the rumor
is that she made out with Jonah and gave him a beeje), and she got really embarrassed and turned
bright red and then laughed and smacked him on the arm. I swear to god I would never treat a
girl like that. It’s like, I don’t understand how Jess went from so mad to, like, flirting with him in
one second; he’s SUCH AN ASSHOLE!!!

So I had an epiphany and after class I asked Jess if she wanted to meet over the weekend at the library in town to work on our report, and she said yes! I couldn’t believe it.

It’s all I could think about, even while I was watching The X-Files. I sat in my bed listening to Boyz II Men (unequivocally my favorite band) and reading The Hobbit, but I kept daydreaming about her. Five or ten pages would go by and I would retain none of it, so I’d have to go back and reread it, but then I’d start fantasizing again: making out with Jess, right next to the medical encyclopedias. Also, I kept getting nosebleeds from my allergies.

So this is what happened: on Sunday I asked my dad to drive me to the library to meet up with Jess Feingold and he said he was busy, which I know he wasn’t because he was just watching the dumb Giants play the dumb Cowboys with my dumb brothers.

Davey threw the nerf football at me and it hit me in the head and they all laughed but it actually really hurt. “Why do you want to go to the library anyway, dork?” he said. “The Giants are on.”

“I have homework!” I said. And then I called him a butthead and they all laughed again, even my dad. And then my throat got all knotty and I felt like crying but I didn’t.

“Mom’ll take you,” my dad said.

“Mom’s at the store,” I said, a bit too loud.

“Then wait!” he said, even louder.

“But I have to go to the library now!” I screamed.

And then my dad jumped up. “You have no idea what I do for you!” he screamed, right in my face. “NO IDEA!”

And then I ran back upstairs to my room and locked the door and I started crying, but just like, a little. I thought I was going to miss my study date with Jess. But my mom came home eventually and drove me over. I could tell she was pissed, but I wasn’t sure if it was at me or my dad.

When I saw Jess I stuck out my hand and, too late, I realized I shouldn’t have done it. She grasped it weakly and we pumped hands awkwardly. “I’ve been practicing my prestidigitation,” I said, still holding on to her hand, shaking it up and down. “Card tricks and stuff.”

She drew her hand back — out of revulsion, I think — and wiped it on her jeans. “You’re late,” she said, as we sat down next to each other at adjacent study carrels. I pulled the novel and my dolphin trapper keeper out of my backpack.

“Sorry,” I said. “Did you start already?”

“No,” she said, sniffing loudly. Her eyes were red and puffy, and I assumed her allergies were acting up. A point of similarity!

“Are you okay?” I asked her. “Do you want a tissue? Is it hay fever?”

“I’m fine,” she said.

Then I thought maybe she was crying, so I asked her why she was crying.

“I’m not!” she said.

We kind of stared at each other for a minute, then I blinked my eyes and stuck out my tongue and gave her a Bronx cheer.

She actually laughed, and said, “I’m just sad. Me and Jonah broke up.”

I put my hand on her shoulder, and patted it gently. “It’s okay,” I said. I actually touched her!

She shrugged away from my hand. “I know,” she said. “I don’t want to talk about it.” She was wearing like, seven bracelets on her hand, which seemed like overkill. But she smelled so sweet and fresh, like a young doe prancing through the forest on the morning of a bow hunt.

I hoped my nose wouldn’t start bleeding.

“Do you want to see a magic trick?” I said, taking a deck of cards from my pocket.

“AJ,” she said, almost wistfully. “Why would I want to see a magic trick?”

“I don’t know,” I said. I had been banking on charming her with a magickal illusion — I
knew how to produce a card out of thin air or find the ace of clubs.

“Let’s just do the report,” she said. “90210 is on tonight and I really want to get home in
time to watch it.”

“Me too,” I said.

“You like 90210?”

I nodded.

“Jason Priestley,” she said. “Oh my god.”

“Yeah, he’s a hunk,” I said. “Did you see that show Melrose Place?” My mom doesn’t actually let me watch it, but I didn’t want her to know that.

“Uh, yeah of course,” she said. “It’s the bomb diggity.”

“I know,” I said. “It’s like, my favorite show.”

“Cool,” she said. Then she opened up her copy of The Outsiders, and I started to panic. This was my only chance to have a real conversation with her, and I was losing it.

“Do you know Anna?” I said.

She looked at me. “Anna Reznikovskaya?”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah, why?” Her eyes grew wide, and she slammed the book back on the desk. “Oh my god. Do you like Anna Reznikovskaya? Do you like, like like her?”

“Ew, no!” I said, wrinkling my nose in what I hoped was an obviously disgusted way. This was going all wrong. The last thing I wanted was for Jess to think I was the off the market.

“Oh,” she said.

“I did make out with her, though.”

She started to smile. “Really?”

“No doubt.”

“When?”

“Like, a few months ago.”

“Oh.” She smiled again, this time more sinister. “Yeah, I already knew about that.”

“You did?”

Everybody knew. Tom, like, gave her a dollar to kiss you in front of everyone.”

Tom Lynch, that bastard! I felt the adrenaline surge through my veins, and my face grew hot. I was humiliated all over again, just like the first time around. A dollar? I know Anna is like, super poor and all and she’s like, a Russian refugee, but still it felt so crappy. All it took was one measly dollar for her to ruin my reputation.

Jess picked up The Outsiders again, and cracked it open to what seemed like a random page. She leaned forward to her notebook and picked up her pencil. I needed better material than Anna. I’d actually brainstormed a list of conversation topics we could cover that morning, but I’d left the paper in my bedroom and I couldn’t remember what was on there.

“So did you really blow Jonah Yustein?” I said.

“What?” She turned towards me and her eyes were furious. “What did you say?”

“I—” I lowered my gaze. “I’m sorry,” I said.

“You can’t say that,” she said.

“I’m sorry. That’s none of my business.”

“You’re right,” she said. “It is none of your business.”

She put her book down gently. “This is why you have no friends,” she said.

I didn’t know what to say to that, so I said nothing. It’s weird but it’s almost like I felt my heart break at that very instant, even though I know that hearts don’t actually break like that.

I just stared at her.

“Why did you even ask me that?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I’m sorry. Just forget I said anything.” I picked up her pencil and
started waving it up and down. “Look,” I said. “I made your pencil turn into rubber. It’s all
bendy.”

She grabbed the pencil out of my hand. “Stop it.”

“Wait, that’s just sleight of hand. Let me pick your card out of a deck,” I said.

She started to pack up her stuff into her book bag.

“I can pull a rabbit out of a hat,” I said. I didn’t have all of my magic props, but I had a
few things in my bag, if I could just get her attention again. “I can turn a wand into a bouquet of
flowers,” I said.

I didn’t want her to leave, but she seemed intent on going. Though to be honest, part of
me actually felt a little relieved, to like, be alone. “I can spit fire!” I offered, in a last ditch effort.

“Yeah, right,” she said, standing up. “I’m out of here, AJ.”

“I can swallow a sword.” This isn’t true, I can’t.

“Whatever.”

“No, I’ll swallow a sword right now. I’ll bet you I can.”

“What sword?”

“The Sword of Shannara.” I took a bronze replica dagger out of my backpack and showed it to her. It’s actually called a “renaissance stiletto” in the catalogue — obviously not a claymore— but it’s got shiny fake gems on the hilt so I doubted she would even know the difference. It’s pretty phat, actually.

“Holy cow AJ!” she said, in like, a loud whisper. “Put that away!” Her eyes darted back
and forth, like we were going to get in trouble. “Where’d you even get that?”

“From an ancient Dwarven smithy,” I said. Actually, my mom got it for me for Chanukah, but I didn’t think that a necessary detail. A rogue keeps some secrets, after all.

“You are so weird, and so stupid. I’m going home. I’ll just tell Mrs. Peterson that we’re not working on the project together anymore. I’m going to do The Outsiders by myself, and you can work with Julio and Tom alone. Or whatever, I don’t care.”

I tapped the cold steel blade with my fingernail, like it would impress her. “I’ll swallow
the Sword of Shannara if you stay.”

“That doesn’t even make any sense,” she said, and walked away.

I watched her, mute, as she tromped down the library stairs into the quiet main atrium, under the tall domed ceiling that had baby angels and the christian god painted on it, past the old wood reception desk piled high with returns, her ponytail in that pink scrunchee, swishing behind her as she marched towards the automatic double doors and out of my life, forever.

I stared at the lobby for another minute or two, just in case she decided to come back and apologize for being so mean to me, but I knew she wouldn’t. She was probably calling her mom from a payphone already and asking to be picked up, and then her mom would tell my mom, and my mom would lecture me and punish me and tell me I had to make more friends and she would ask me if I was taking my Prozac and I’d have to lie to her.

The library’s paperback copy of The Sword of Shannara was resting on the desk of my study carrel. I’d read the book three times already, and, to be honest, was starting to get sick of it.

To be really honest, I just want to be like everyone else. I want to watch Melrose Place and play football with my brothers, and go to the mall, and most of all, I want to get bee-jays from girls like Jess Feingold.

But I’m not. I’m weird. I’m a loner. That’s why I was sitting in the library by myself, and I had to do the book report by myself, while everyone else in the world was happy and cool and had a lot of friends.

Very carefully, I tore the cover off of the library book, so slowly it barely made a sound. I ripped a little piece off a corner from the cover and put it in my mouth. The old ink and yellow paper tasted bitter and dry, and I sucked on it for a moment before swallowing. I didn’t want it to get stuck in my braces. I ripped off another shred from the cover and put that on my tongue next. My mother wasn’t coming back to pick me up for at least another hour, and I wanted to see how many pages I could devour before then.

____________________________

Phillip Mandel is an MFA candidate in Fiction at Texas State University and the editor of Front Porch Journal. He is originally from New York. This is his first published story. 

Anna Lowe Weber

2016, Poetry

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.

Christopher Citro & Dustin Nightingale

2016, Poetry

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.

Chelsea Dingman

2016, Poetry

OBEDIENCE

In a previous carnation,
I knew fresh snow on the sills
as I grabbed my ankles
& asked you to be gentle
moving in & out
of the room as you collected
your things, heat rising
from vents in the floor, the thud
of the thermostat kicking
in. I couldn’t watch
another man leave
as my father left, fresh snow
on the sills. Though your leaving was
only temporary, I was left
grabbing my ankles, face
pressed to dust & hair on the hardwood
in some shitty apartment
I can’t remember the name of
now. This morning, I wake
& mistake air conditioning
thrumming from the ceiling for winter
in your voice. You whisper,
bend over, as you leave yourself
somewhere I can’t name
& again I’m left with my hands
at my ankles, waiting for you
to leave the way snow leaves
when I try to catch it
on my tongue.

_________________________

Chelsea Dingman is a Canadian citizen who studies poetry and teaches at the University of South Florida in the graduate program. Her poems are forthcoming in Phoebe, The Normal School, Harpur Palate, The Adroit Journal, Quiddity, Grist: The Journal for Writers, Raleigh Review, The Fourth River, Bellingham Review, and Sou’wester, among others

Hannah Lee Jones

2016, Poetry

DAUGHTER OF CAIN

As sons and songs go some precede
                     the others like a major chord,

                     barbed as they are with the mercies
of an inheritance. The winter I lost my skin

to my cousins in a cedar hollow, my father’s spade
                      silver in my ear, a wolf’s head

                      found me in a field of downed
hemlock, took my left hand

when I couldn’t reunite it with its body.
                      I know it seems like surrender

                      that I knelt to its wake.
It would seem like surrender that I gave my right

hand to its cold flame as it swept the meadows
                      like a thin hunter.

                      It was nothing. Except it was silver.
It steals through the blood when the north wind

returns to claim what I lack, and I kneel once more.
                      I kneel once more:

                      heaven knows what hell
moved his offering to another war.

Trees stopped crying as they were cut
                       and whispered as they fell –

                       here into the drawn breath
of another morning, once-phantom moons

sprouting from the old stumps like a second coming,
                        surely a god somewhere.

                        O god somewhere: find me
in some bramble among the crows, sealed in prayer.

Find me in these woods
                         where we die and rise again.

_______________________________________

Hannah Lee Jones’s poetry and nonfiction have appeared or are forthcoming in Superstition Review, Literary Orphans, Apogee, Yes Poetry, decomP, Cider Press Review, and Orion. She edits Primal School, a resource for poets pursuing their craft without an MFA, and lives on Whidbey Island in northwest Washington.

Ashlan Runyan

2016, NonFiction

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.

N. Michelle AuBuchon

2016, Poetry

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.

 

Katie Prince

2016, Poetry

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.

Kristina Marie Darling

2016, Poetry

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.

Sophia Galifianakis

2016, Poetry

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.