Categories
2014 NonFiction

Pilar Graham

WILD PRAYER

This will be the summer I begin dying to myself, and like any crazy bird, I spin circles, pluck out my tail feathers—all before I teach myself how to fly, again. It will feel like a mid-life crisis, but people who are close to me say, I’m a bit too young for that.

I know there’s a resistance, a fight to escape from myself, and the only way I can rise (to any occasion, agree with myself) is to come to terms with the truth of who I am, and then, figure out what to do with this information.

Wild clue: I know I don’t want (or know how) to be content. Each day it begins to feel like the continuation of a slow death. Eventually, I realize by identifying this inner resistance will include knowing that I must surrender, until my bones finally give way, shifting and transforming into an eclipse, and I am able to relax into a kind of comfort that is vital to transcend.

For human survival, we must reach this sacred point, an entry, and once its crossed, there’s no reason to look back.

I spent years looking to an oak tree for answers. I write poems about the designs I find in bark, convinced I’m simply talking to myself.

For the next five years, I’ll continue to sit on your back deck, becoming lost to the natural world. I’ll see my first blue heron, and when our gazes lock, each of us will be afraid to make the first moveit’s kind of that way, too, when you’re too comfortable in a relationship, and neither one has a reason to leave the other, but you know you’re not “in love,” and somebody has to make the first move. I witness grace when the blue heron finally breaks our stare, and like a thief, slowly tiptoes in broad daylight through the overgrown blonde grass, until he becomes a lovely gray speck in my memory.

Healing should be more organic.

I don’t know the big, fancy, or new age words to describe personal transformation; instead, I continue to write poems under big scrub oak trees, read nonfiction essays, and become easily bored on the subject of “Emotional Intelligence (EI)” that keeps coming up in my Internet searches. Last time I heard this terminology was from an employer, decades ago, in Marin County who claimed he was a shaman, but all I remember is the way he’d lean his pelvis into the side of my body to point out edits at my computer.

According to the New Oxford American Dictionary definition of a shaman is:

A person regarded as having access to, and influence in, the world of good and evil spirits, esp. among some peoples of northern Asia and North America. Typically such people enter a trance state during a ritual, and practice divination and healing.

I never saw this “shaman” perform healings, but I did hear heaps of hype around the office about the book written by Daniel Goleman, “Emotional Intelligence,” and I wondered if there was a connection to shamans and the latest pop in mainstream: new age intellectuality? Quantity (or mainstream) isn’t always so telling, so I had to question the meanings in the obvious; therefore, if emotional intelligence is the latest discourse in new age thinking (learning how to perceive, reason, understand, and manage emotions), then perhaps there might be something behind the language that is feeding the public with what they want to hear? Many will argue that emotional intelligence is not real, cannot be measured (as maybe the case with modern-day shamans, a bit ironic), and should not be linked with the personality. Regardless, I believe if you offer food, they will come out in flocks to eat, regardless if it’s stale. Interestingly enough, and over ten years later, you can buy Goleman’s hardcover book, “Emotional Intelligence,” for $0.01 (used) on Amazon. That brings in to question, has the mold already begun on this this day-old bread?

* * *

My breath is shallow against the backdrop of cars steadily streaming past my “post-breakup home.” Statements circle in my head, “This is your new apartment, Pilar.” These are the sounds of my new home: suburbia. It’s Monday evening in Fresno: a car door slams tight, windows slam shut, an air conditioner kick onhum hum, rattle rattle. The rod iron gate just slapped itself shut, someone is coming, or going, and then, more car doors and windows seal themselves shut, and the air kicks on.

Any process connected to survival is sure to repeat.

____________________________

Pilar Graham is a poet and creative nonfiction writer. Her poems and essays have appeared in several journals and anthologies, such as: Sundog; Pithead Chapel Press; Haunted Waters Press – From the Depths; Blackberry; Poetry Midwest; In the Grove; and San Joaquin Review. In addition, Pilar has served as a poetry editor and judge for both local and national events. Pilar received her M.F.A. in poetry from California State University, Fresno. Pilar divides her time teaching at California State University, Monterey Bay and at Fresno City College in California. Any free time is spent in the southern Yosemite Sierra where she lives, collecting new poems in nature—typically wearing her stilettos.

Categories
2014 Poetry

Suzanne Parker

Broken Ghazal: Thirst

_________________________________

Suzanne Parker is a winner of the Kinereth Gensler Book Award, and her collection of poetry, “Viral,” was published by Alice James Books in Sept. 2013. Her poetry has recently appeared in “Barrow Street,” “Cimarron Review,” “Hunger Mountain” (which nominated the work for a Pushcart),“Drunken Boat,” and numerous other journals. She is a winner of the Alice M. Sellars Award from the Academy of American Poets and was a Poetry Fellow at the Prague Summer Seminars. Suzanne’s creative non-fiction is published in the travel anthology “Something to Declare” by the Univ. of Wisconsin Press. Suzanne is a poetry editor at “MEAD: A Magazine of Literature and Libations” and directs the creative writing program at Brookdale Community College in NJ

This Just Cut Field

Categories
2014 Art

Daniella Clayton

Silence

“Silence” Pen drawing

Hypnagogic
Hypnagogic” Pencil drawing

___________________________

Daniella Clayton currently lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota. She draws and paints regularly to fill the bland hours of telemarketing, where she heartlessly hucks insurance to the unsuspecting public. You can also see some of her paintings in the first volume of Winter Tangerine Review and the eleventh issue of Weave Magazine.

Categories
2014 Fiction

Ryan Kraemer

GROWN MEN

I’m at a going away party, smoking alone on the deck, standing beside a group of friends. Not my friends; I don’t know any of them. I mean that the six or so of them all seem to be friends. A young woman turns from the group and asks me how I know the honoree, i.e. the guy leaving for Seattle or Portland or someplace like this. I tell her I don’t know him and admit I feel a bit foolish about it. I was invited by his sister, I explain, who I met the week before through work. Why had I come, she asks, to see the sister?

“No,” I tell her, “I was bored.”

“Who isn’t?” she says, tracing our smoke with her eyes.

According to this girl, the brother is a jerk, and his main business on the west coast is escaping his own reputation. She finds it sad that people have come, pretending to care.

“Boredom lies behind most things,” I tell her.

“Of course,” she agrees. “God, all alone, he wanted someone to talk to.”

“Now here we are,” I say.

“And to think of all that has had to happen.”

I ask her to take a walk with me. We finish our cigarettes, go inside and leave out the front door without saying bye to anyone.

*

It was Craig from work who told me about it. About this wooded area near the creek at the back of the park where, if you leave the path, duck beneath the oak branches and press between the shrubs, you may find two bodies undressed, engaged in the unholy act. Or, if not the lovers themselves, you find evidence, their waste and discarded possessions: hair ties, earrings, used prophylactics and their tin foil packaging, tattered under-things caught like litter in the bushes. The weight of all those meetings hanging in the air has a sweet and rotten and unwholesome stench.

Looking back it’s difficult to say why I took her there. Why her, do you know what I mean? I guess because she seemed like an excitable girl. The kind of girl who would be, I shouldn’t say turned on, but the kind of girl that wouldn’t turn up her nose, or have a total conniption. She had on glossy, corvette-red lipstick and a studded leather jacket. Huge black flowing hair that you couldn’t believe grew out from such a modest-sized head. I thought maybe the sordid little place in the woods would be right up her alley. I did: I thought it would turn her on.

I know this world has its good people, but mostly it’s full of sad sorry sacks. So while I couldn’t have known, I should have known.

These days I’d give anything not to talk about it. I try very hard not to, but the fact of it presses into every word until it’s the only thing we can talk about.

*

After that night it was kind of natural that we became a couple. After the hospital and telling our story to the police we went back to her place. We fell asleep on the couch as the sun came up and woke up uncomfortably slouched against one another a few hours later. We got coffee together, not saying too much really, but between the words and silences it was just plain evident we couldn’t simply go our separate ways.

Of course I was a little suspicious, considering the circumstances. I wondered if we both didn’t secretly see our relationship as an obligation.

*

She started seeing someone; a woman psychiatrist. She feels it is helping. Myself, I’ve observed no real notable change to date. Or if I have, it’s that she’s become more irritable and upset than ever. Apparently, this doctor tells her it’s the sort of thing that’s supposed to get worse before it gets better. But for how long does it have to get worse? That’s not an inappropriate question, I don’t think. Not if I’m helping with the cost.

Roughly twice a week, at her insistence, I call up the police to inquire about our case. I’m made to wait through a long period of holding before I’m told again about the unlikelihood of any sort of development this late in the game.

I’m hurting too. Yet I know the best thing I can do is be supportive. So that’s what I’m doing.

*

I enter her apartment and she is cross-legged on the floor with the dismantled parts laid out, referencing a manual titled Glock “Safe Action” GEN4 Pistols.

“What’s that for,” I ask. “Protection?”

“Dr. Warner says it’ll help me regain a sense of security.” It’s the most attention I’ve seen her devote to a task. “Have you ever held a gun?” she asks, sliding one part into place along another. “It’s kind of surreal.”

“I’ve never been interested in them,” I tell her.

“It’s not like you don’t expect it to be heavy,” she says, lifting the reassembled weapon. She holds it out, squints down the sight, and drags her aim across the room until she’s pointing the thing at me. “But the weight still surprises you.”

“Babe –”

“Calm down,” she says, “it’s not loaded.” Metal clicks as she pulls the trigger.

*

I was rough, she says. My natural response was to disarm her. I shouldn’t have twisted her wrist, I admit, but I hardly think I overreacted. Because even if you’re positive it’s unloaded, you don’t point and trigger a gun at someone.

*

The first of September. I will always recall the date, I suppose. Without hesitating she follows me; almost seems she knows the way better than I. We pull off our clothes and dropped them in piles. Her skin prickles with goose bumps under my touch. I get beneath her so she won’t have to lie on the ground. The sky above is dark and empty, but the city, not a hundred yards away, pollutes enough light to make our flesh visible, like milky forms in twilight.

She slides over me and I forget the discomfort of the twigs and knotted ground pressing into my back. That initial narcotic sensation is like warm food to an empty belly. My mind flattens into a pancake, and I exist only to the edges of my pleasure, dead to the world beyond.

I briefly register the flight of steps rushing towards us, and her startled cry, before I’m knocked clean out.

*

Lately it would seem she is getting better. We watch a crime drama sitting together on the couch. In the episode, the police are after a man who abducts women and leaves their violated bodies in the woods. I ask if she wants to switch it off. Used to be such content would upset her, but she says it’s fine.

It’s difficult to know how much the medications lend to these improvements. I think it’s a little of all things: time, emotional support, chemical balance. I think most of all she’s just ready to move forward.

The only thing to do now is move forward.

*

Something happens, as if to prove my point. I receive a phone call from the detective on our case, asking us to view a lineup.

Three suspects march gloomily into the room and stand along the wall. Sullen, pathetic young men.

Right away she makes a positive ID. The detective recommends she take a moment to be certain. He speaks into a microphone telling the suspects to look straight ahead. Their faces are frightened and mask-like under the cold light.

They were picked up for joyriding, the detective explains. They took off in a car left running while the owner was away for some moments. The arresting officer confiscated a pocketknife from one of the boys. The detective presents us with the object in a sealed evidence bag.

It is not the right knife and they are not the right boys, I’m sure. All of it being too small.

*

I come to consciousness naked in darkness with my head ringing and my face pushed into the ground. Someone is on top of me spitting threats into my ear. I try and fight him off, and for my efforts I’m punched in the temple. The pain is an intense white shock behind my eyes. Blood and dirt make gravel in my mouth.

“Try that again,” I’m told, “and I’ll cut off your prick.”

I don’t know what is happening, where I am, or even who I am. Spend a life waking up in relative comfort and safety, and you have no point of reference in such events. Whose life is this? What enemy is on my back? Who, I wonder, is that crying woman?

*

In the viewing room we came to agree that the boys in custody were not the perpetrators of the crime against us. But now she’s doubtful. I understand, her hopes were raised and dashed. What I don’t understand is how this is my fault.

“How do you know it wasn’t them?” she screams at me.

“They were men,” I tell her, “grown men.”

“You’re sure? Or your ego has to believe that?”

“Since when is this about me?” I ask. “I just want to help you.”

“Maybe you can’t,” she says.

*

I wake from a dream and find her not in bed. At the window the snug light of daybreak seeps in. I get up to see about her.

She is at the kitchen table seated with her legs curled up beneath her. She’s bent over, writing intently. The sight is nearly serene, except for the gun on the table.

“What are you doing?” I startle her, and the way she looks at me, I’m trespassing.

“Writing something,” she says.

“Okay,” I say. “And the gun?”

“It’s not doing anything. I just like having it.”

“But how it looks,” I say.

“How it looks?” she repeats. “Like I’m writing a suicide letter?”

“Are you?”

“No,” she says. “Can I please just be alone?”

“Not with the gun,” I tell her. “Let me put it away.”

She lifts it off the table and presses the barrel into her mouth. My heart braces. The trigger clicks and she tosses her head back.

“I’ve still never loaded it,” she says, setting it down. “Do you realize you didn’t even try to stop me?”

“That’s not fair,” I say.

“It’s fine if you want out. You can just go. It won’t mean you’re a bad person.”

Every possible response disappears between thought and tongue into the chasm of silence. Each moment is a missed opportunity to say something, to stop the inevitable.

“I’ve tried my best,” I finally manage. “Considering,” I add.

*

In theory, it seems possible to offer a person endless understanding. I can imagine what it looks like: open ears, kind eyes, and a calm breath before you speak. Still, with your ears tuned to that individual, and the kindest pair of eyes set on your face, when it’s time to speak, and the right words are not there, even the best intentions in the world will be spoiled by whatever comes to your lips in their place.

_______________________

Ryan Kraemer grew up in Rowlett, TX, a suburb outside of Dallas. He received a B.B.A from Belmont University in Nashville and currently lives in Chicago where he is at work on a collection of short stories. This is the first published story from that collection.

Categories
2014 Poetry

J Scott Brownlee

 WENDELL BERRY’S ANGEL

Appearing once, she said simply,
                                                      “Worship
quiet.”  & then, later,
                                   “Don’t worship me.
I am fallen.”  “But
                              your wings,” I said.
“Don’t look
                    at them,”
                                    she answered.  “Don’t
approach me, even.”
                                   She stood cloaked
in fine silk the color
                                 of lightning—
                                                        or perhaps
he did.  Gender, false logos,
                                              be damned.
I still don’t know which—
                                           just that a gospel
entered me
                   as if a bullet
                                        in my brain
I cannot remember.
                                 The story
                                                 I don’t understand
is the one told to me
                                  by that angel’s absence
grace’s first
                        departure into winged silence
levitating
                from me,
                                blue eyes burned black
by the fiery core
                            of that single vision:
                                    [*]
If grace exists, it does so
                                         quietly—& far away.
& without staying put.
                                      & because
of its tendency to leave
                                     —an all-too-human
quality—it cannot be
                                   worshiped.  God escapes,
Worship me, if
                         there is one, I say.  & if not,
still does so—
                       not-approaching
                                                   no one
to teach us
                   to focus on the presence
                                                           of love
interacting with nothing
                                        between us & it.
If I am called
                      by my belief in nothingness
to account for
                       angels, the truth is
                                                      no angel
visited me.
                    I made each detail up:

the silk, the wings, the uncertain
                                                     gender—
though if you ask me to prove
                                                 my belief—
explanation I have
                               for the nothing I see
why I believe
                           in nothing, still, though
love dwells
                    nowhere
                                   close to me—
I will swear
                    it happened.

________________________

J. Scott Brownlee is a Writers in the Public Schools Fellow at NYU. His poems appear in The Kenyon Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, RATTLE, Beloit Poetry Journal, Ninth Letter, BOXCAR Poetry Review, The Greensboro Review, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, and elsewhere. Originally from Llano, Texas (population 3,033), he writes about the people and landscape of rural Texas and is a founding member of The Localists, a literary collective that emphasizes place-based writing of personal witness, cultural memory, and the aesthetically marginalized working class, both in the United States and abroad.  His chapbook, Highway or Belief, won the 2013 Button Poetry Prize.
Categories
Fiction

Katie Darby Mullins

POSSUM KINGDOM

When Jason was eleven years old, his mom started sleeping in the basement with the door locked. That way, if an intruder found his way into the house, he wouldn’t find her. Jason slept alone upstairs with an aluminum baseball bat. His father had left years ago.

He hadn’t realized she was doing it, at least not at first: Jason’s mother was slowly moving into the basement and locking the door behind her. He did notice that when he would come home from school, she’d jump when the door opened; he noticed that she didn’t like to have her back turned to anyone else in the room. She seemed to always have some kind of a weapon on her. But then, one day, she was just gone. Jason wanted to take care of her, to make her feel safe enough to leave the basement, but he never could. Sometimes she wouldn’t even eat the meals he left at the basement door for several days. She wasn’t going to take the chance of running into another person, even Jason.

He was convinced it had something to do with the Possum Kingdom murders. Every night, Jason ate dinner in front of the TV and watched the horrible story unfold. Photos of four or five women, all bottle-blondes and make-upped, were broadcast on the news every night for over a month—women just kept going missing, and turning up at Possum Kingdom Lake brutally murdered and raped. Everyone in town was addicted to the murders. So when the killer turned out to be a sixteen-year-old boy who had a fake ID and lured local women to his campsite from bars, all of Fort Worth breathed a sigh of relief.
All teenagers became suspect. Women all had pepper spray and locked their doors. And of course, Jason’s mom moved downstairs, leaving Jason alone in the house.
The basement had always scared Jason — it was little more than a bomb shelter, just one big, cold, concrete room. That’s why it shocked Jason when his mother started spending so much time down there, decorating it, showering down there. The whole room smelled like cat piss, even though there wasn’t a cat down there. It was too dark to keep any plants alive, and she’d never been much of a gardener anyway, so there were sharp, brown vines in hanging baskets; skeletons of the leaves and flowers that she would drag down with her. She started carrying her possessions down—photo albums, a television, her curling iron.

By the time Jason was fifteen, he felt he had been living alone for almost four years. He survived by cashing his mother’s disability check at the convenience store down the street where the manager took pity on him—for a cut off the top. He did all of the shopping—he had his hardship driver’s license, and though his mother still technically stayed in the house, he was responsible for her. Sometimes he sat at the door and tried to talk to her about things, but he could always hear the TV running in the background. She responded sometimes.

Jason’s mother completely withdrew from society. It made Jason sick to think about, but he told himself, hey, what can you do? He had almost forgotten how it was before. He had forgotten what she looked like. He remembered her perfume smelled like baby powder, but she almost certainly didn’t smell like that anymore. He didn’t buy her perfume.

Sometimes it was easier to pretend she was dead. Sometimes he was convinced she actually was.

He had been having feelings he couldn’t control. One day, he stood up in the middle of class and walked out without saying a word. A few weeks ago, someone had shoved him—maybe even on accident—in the hallway, and Jason punched him, broke his nose. He was afraid the school would call his house, but the kid lied—said Jason hadn’t done it, and he didn’t know who had. The worst, though, were the dreams—he had at least some control over his real life, but he was completely helpless at night, a slave to whatever horrible things he was obsessed with. When Jason finally asked his mother if he could live down there with her, she was hesitant.

“Jason,” his mother called up, sounding like she was at the bottom of a pit, “you know that I don’t have much space to judge people. But you’re fifteen. It’s crazy that you want to sleep in the basement with your mother. What’s got you scared?”

But Jason didn’t have to say anything, because what had him scared was the same thing that had his mother scared. He wondered why she wouldn’t open the door.

“Mom? Just open the door, Mom. I just want to talk about it.”

“Maybe you can stay with Juan,” she said.

“But Mama, who will feed you?” he asked. He didn’t want to understand the long pause that followed.

“I’ll be fine,” she said, and suddenly, somehow, he knew that she hadn’t been locking out intruders all these years: she’d been locking out Jason.

“Are you sure?” Silence. “Then I’ll call Juan,” Jason said, trying not to show that he knew why they were on opposite sides of a locked door. “Just for awhile until you’re ready. I’m sure I’ll come back soon.”

“Good, good,” she said. “You’re a good boy. I’ll miss you.”

He packed his bags and moved to Juan’s that night. Juan’s mother made spaghetti. Guadalupe rolled her eyes and said, “Great, now I have two stupid brothers instead of one. Gag me,” and Juan’s father said, “Bienvenido a la Joneses!” But Jason wasn’t sure what that meant.

“Dude, does your dad speak Spanish all the time?” Jason asked Juan quietly.

“Only on special occasions. And even then, not very well.”

“Should I reply in Spanish?”

“Do you even know any?”

“I guess not,” Jason admitted.

Juan, his best friend at school, was the only person who knew how Jason was really living. Juan was from somewhere out West, and he was also fifteen: he had a stringy moustache, stringy blond hair that needed to be cut, and an old pair of bright green Converse shoes that his sister outgrew. Both of his parents were white, but Juan explained to Jason that his dad had a “sense of humor,” so his full given name was Juan Pedro Jones.

Juan’s family seemed to be making the thoughts worse, though—or at least Juan’s sister, Guadalupe, was. She was three years older than they were and she was beautiful: in fact, sometimes, Jason had dreams where he and Guadalupe were mermaids. She’d come to him on a dolphin or a whale with her shirt ripped and torn, and she’d take him to an underwater kingdom. Jason sometimes wondered if he was gay because of the princess-mermaid stuff in the dreams, but was pretty sure he wasn’t, because he usually got to see her boobs. She was the perfect woman.

But Jason’s good dreams about dolphins turned into bad dreams about the campsites at Possum Kingdom State Park. In August, at the beginning of his sophomore year of high school, the tone of the dreams changed dramatically, but he willed himself to forget them . He didn’t want to remember. Eventually, he knew the solution was just to stop sleeping.

The Joneses didn’t really have room for another person, so it had been generous—but kind of uncomfortable—that they allowed Jason to stay. Juan gave him his sleeping bag and told him they could camp out in the living room, which was the exact opposite of what Jason wanted to do. Juan slept on the couch, and Jason stayed up all night with the television at volume 3, his ears pressed up against the speaker trying to hear whatever the infomercials were saying. It kept him awake to pretend to be so concerned about ear hair trimmers and headbands. And the next morning, when Juan woke up and saw him like that, sitting straight up, still wearing his clothes, sleeping bag still rolled, he shook his head and said, “Dude, this isn’t like your house. You can’t just stay up all night watching TV.”

“I’ve been having these dreams,” he said. “Do you remember the Possum Kingdom murders?”

“Kind of,” Juan said.”Didn’t they catch the guy?”

“The boy. It was a boy. And anyway, that’s what I’ve been dreaming about. I can’t get it out of my head,” he said. “I guess the whole thing bothered me more than I realized. Those women—they were so beautiful—but then I go to them, I hold their hands while they die. Sometimes their faces melt onto me.”

“Metal,” said Juan.

“Not funny, man. This is every night. I can’t sleep. I’m losing my mind,” he said.

” You know, we could go out there, smoke a little—maybe it’ll make the dreams stop.”

“I’ll go with you,” said Guadalupe from behind them.

“Lupe, I didn’t know you were standing there,” said Juan, “and you are not invited.”

“Come on—I was planning on going camping out there this weekend anyway, me and a bunch of girls. Sophie, Margie, you know—everyone.”

“Which means a bunch of guys, right?”

“Look, if you guys go, Mom will let me go.”

“There are conditions,” said Juan. “No one is to know I’m your brother, so I can be one of the guys. And you have to give us beer.”

“I don’t think this is a good idea,” said Jason.

“Shut up,” said Juan, punching him in the shoulder. “It’s a great idea. Do we have a deal?”

Lupe grunted, “Fine,” and they shook on it.

Mrs. Jones dropped them off during the afternoon, when the sun was sitting right on top of the lake. The lake smelled like dead fish and wet, decaying leaves. There was a dock with a bunch of tire floats attached to it, and a jar full of dirt sitting on the shore; probably evidence that people had been fishing there earlier, but had left. Empty beer cans were everywhere.

“OK,” said Mrs. Jones, “here are the rules. First, the only boys here will be Juan and Jason. Second, absolutely none—” She kicked a smashed an empty beer can. “—of this. Third, Juan, I know you’ve got your cell phone; call me if either of these things happens.”

“Mom, that’s not fair—” Guadalupe started, but Mrs. Jones gave her a look.

“I will stay here until Margie and Sophie get here. Then I’ll leave. Guys, I’m counting on you to make good decisions tonight.”

After the girls got there, Jason realized how anxious he’d been and began to relax. They built a fire, they saw some butterflies and raccoons, and Jason and Juan sat on the dock and dipped their toes in the water, which was cool and deep grey; most of the lakes in North Texas were brown, even at night. It was actually beautiful. He lay back on the dock and put his hands behind his head, watching hawks fly in the sunset. He squinted and tried to see the stars before nightfall: he’d always wondered if there was a trick to seeing them during the day. He knew they were always there.

Everything changed when it got dark. The fire seemed to grow; it was suddenly the height of a person, and it looked like it was dancing, hands in the air, head thrown back; it kept getting bigger. Snaps of light were breaking and popping off, and pretty soon, Jason could only see people’s faces by the firelight. The girls were turning yellow and red, and looked like they were nothing but shivering heat themselves.

Then the boys came. A truckload of boys who were three or four years older than Jason. They brought beer and wine coolers. One of them slapped Margie on the butt, and she giggled. Juan pulled Jason aside and offered him weed, which he smoked, and then one of the older boys pulled Jason aside and offered him beer, which he drank. Juan had started to hit on Sophie. Jason was alone, so he had another beer, and before long, he was feeling dizzy and watching one of the boys talk to Guadalupe across the dancing fire. They seemed all lit up and taunting him, almost like they were onstage.

Jason tried to pull her aside and ask her to walk around the lake, but she waved him off and kept talking to one of the older boys—one who had brought alcohol and was wearing a letter jacket with a patch for all-state wrestling on the sleeve. Jason kept saying please, but she wasn’t listening. Women never listened to Jason, he realized. He’d always thought he just didn’t have anything to say, but he did have something to say. He grabbed Guadalupe by the wrist, maybe a little too hard, because she pulled away and said, “Watch it, jackass.” And he was watching—he was watching her touch her chest and laugh at the other boy’s jokes like some whore. He couldn’t let her keep acting like this; the other boys would think she was nothing but a goddamn whore.

“Come on, Lupe,” he said, using her nickname for the first time. It tasted like icing in his mouth; sweet, full. If her nickname tasted that good, what would she taste like? “Your mother only let you come out tonight because she thought you’d be helping me overcome my fear.” He realized he wasn’t acting very afraid. He looked over his shoulder as if suspicious. “Just walk around the lake once, just one time.”

Lupe rolled her eyes. “Whatever,” she said, and she grabbed her beer can, and she set out towards the lake. “I’m only doing this once, so you better keep up, you little freak.” Jason hurried after her, but only after looking back at the older boy—the one with the letter jacket who had been flirting with her—and giving him a smile.

She started pointing at things; they were facing a rock formation off in the distance. “That’s Hell’s Gate,” she said, “which probably doesn’t make you less afraid, either.” She turned 180 degrees and then pointed to the space in the distance behind them. “That’s Camp Grady Spruce. They bring elementary school kids out here so they can go camping. I went in fifth grade,” she said.

“They didn’t do that my year,” said Jason.

“Right. The murders.” She turned back towards Hell’s Gate and kept walking. “There’s not really much to see,” she said, and they plunged further into the darkness. It got cold over towards Hell’s Gate, and the further they got from the fire, the harder time Jason had seeing Lupe at all, save the slight reflection from the moon on her wavy blond hair. She was blue, kissed by night—almost like she was submerged, the beautiful mermaid from Jason’s dreams. When they got under heavy tree cover, he couldn’t even see that; he could barely see his own hands.

“You still back there?” she asked, and he waited a minute before saying, “Yeah, yeah, I’m here.”

“Don’t scare me like that,” she said. “Look, you’ve seen everything. Let’s head back.” Jason was silent again. He could feel twigs snapping under his feet, and he was focusing on sitting his feet down so lightly that he couldn’t hear them, only feel them. There was a power in this land.

“I’m not kidding. Let’s get out of here.”

“Are you scared, Lupe?” Jason asked, and reached out into the darkness to find the small of her back. “It’s OK.”

She jumped away from him. “Jason, that’s not cool, OK? Let’s just go.” She turned around and started walking towards Jason, who stayed still in the dark; she walked into him, and he wrapped his arms around her and she screamed and shrieked.

“Let go,” she said. She was crying. “Please let go. I want to go back. Please.”

And for a second, Jason held her even tighter, and he smelled her hair and it smelled like vanilla, and he felt how tightly he could wrap his arms around her slender frame. Her arms were pinned to her sides, and she tried to kick, but he was stronger than she was. He held her there, and finally, she stopped struggling, and was limp, sobbing in his arms. “Please, please,” she said. “Let me go.” He could feel her body spasm, and he moved one hand to her upper back so that he could feel her bra through her shirt. He whispered in her ear, “Two conditions.”

“What do you want?”

“First, you don’t ever tell anyone about this,” he said. “Second, I want to kiss you.”

She shook her head ‘no’. “Jason, I don’t understand, why are you doing this?”

He opened his mouth to say something, but he didn’t have an answer. He grabbed her hair, pulled her head back, and kissed her neck slowly: it was soft and warm, just like he thought it would be. She was still crying—she cried the whole time. “What the fuck, man?” she screamed. “What the fuck?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “I’m sorry.”

“Are you kidding? Sorry? That’s all you‘ve got?”

“Maybe I wouldn’t have grabbed you if you hadn’t acted like you were afraid of me.

She punched him in the stomach, hard, and he dropped to his knees. He could hear the twigs crunching beneath his weight and feel them snap against his legs. “Fuck you,” she said, and she headed back towards camp, leaving Jason alone in the Possum Kingdom woods. He slowly got up and regained his breath and followed the light source as best he could until he was back out by the lake.

He sat there looking at his reflection. It was distorted in the face of the dark water. Now Jason was more afraid than ever.

_________________________________

Katie Darby Mullins
 is currently finishing her MFA at Spalding University and teaches at the University of Evansville. In addition to editing a recent rock ‘n roll crossover edition of the metrical poetry journal Measure, she’s been published or has work forthcoming in journals like Harpur Palate, Broad River Review, Big Lucks, The Evansville Review, and more. She’s also an editor at The Louisville Review and the lead writer and founder of the music blog Katie Darby Recommends.

Categories
2014 Poetry

Patrick Venturella

INSECT

the book is about
insects : on a porch swing
my feet dangle
in the air as I teach
my grandfather everything
about moths and earwigs

and when I get to garden spiders
his hand shoots through the air— clenches—
brings his fist to my
chest— peels back
his fingers— shows me the fire
fly in his palm : carefully

he turns the insect
over—all six legs
grasp the air—delicately
he tears its glowing
abdomen off—sticks it to my index
finger : I fall

asleep in his arms
that night—watching
my new ring grow
dim—both of us
bathed in neon light

ANTIQUE

age collects
in the corners

of your mouth
when you smile
wrinkles echo

out in parenthesis
that weren’t there
when we were seven

and Mrs. Owens
wanted to show

the class how
a heart really
worked so she

quartered a sheep
heart and passed

it around the class
like a meat apple

__________________________

Patrick Venturella is a writer and poet living in Middletown, Ohio.  His work has been featured in The Sheepshead Review, The Penmen Review and The Coal Hill Review.  Besides poetry he enjoys collecting fossils and minerals.

Categories
2014 Poetry

Emily Grace Bernard

INSIDE THE FAMILY

We were on vacation when it happened:
My brother and I. Our bodies slightly
Darker from the sun, sunscreen
Rubbed into us
Told your lung collapsed like the leg
Of a dining room table

We will feed each other cheese platters tonight
Our fingers in each other’s mouths
My mother used to tilt our heads upwards against the toilet
Dental floss cutting into her hands—

The first time our car broke down, we greased
The engine with Vaseline
My brother and I sitting on the couch, knees
Pressed into one another

My mother got $1,000 for its parts
The scrap metal yard where huge, half-bodies
Of automobiles lay like exotic animals
Taking their last breaths

The mortician must have pried
Her zipper– cut open her khaki pants
The silence of the body
Speaks volumes

Later we will decide whether to put her ashes
In our dining room or living room. Yellow was her favorite
Color: she had decorated
From things she had seen in catalogues

THE LOVE IN PENNSYLVANIA

In October he goes through orchards learning
The flags of the body: redder and wetter into
Fall, into fallen and smashed harvests
Fruit basket stuffed in his mind’s eye
This is taking a new woman. Other pastorals
And cartographic exchanges of infirm maps
Written by their Mothers– he dreams of tuning her monthly as
A piano– higher and half-eaten by the wrong version of virtue
Even cattle need new pastures sometimes according
To his college roommate flocks have “flight zones”
In the future our bodies will have engines
Sunk into the excised wings of our backs
Next to laundry baskets where our undergarments rest in
Apartment dryers as calmly as fatter worms under rocks
Heaven is supposed to enter our libido
In the fall churning us into white drifts
_______________________________________

Emily Grace Bernard’s poems have been published or are forthcoming in Heavy Feather Review, Word Riot, The Adroit Journal, Dressing Room Poetry Journal, Wilderness House Literary Review, and Whistling Shade. She lives in Northfield, MN and attends Carleton College.

Categories
2014 Art

Rachel Squires Bloom

Rachel_Squires_Bloom-Drinking_the_Kool_Aid

About the painting: “I am primarily a poet and paint for enjoyment only. I’d never sent any of my  paintings out (although my poetry is published) before this. I have Kool Aid guy hanging right here in my office. While it began as an exercise in color in line, it seemed to paint itself. I had just taken on administrative duties in addition to teaching (assistant principal) and apparently my ambivalence about my dual role needed an outlet.”

____________________

Rachel Squires Bloom: I have had poems in The Hawaii ReviewPoet Lore, Fugue, Poetry East, Main Street Rag, Kimera, Nomad’s Choir, The Mad Poet’s Review, Bluster, 96 Inc., Bellowing Ark, Slugfest, Thin Air, Taproot Literary Review, True Romance, Lucid Stone, Green Hills Literary Lantern, California Quarterly, Chest,and A View from the Bed. But that’s not what matters. What matters is that I wrote my first poem at age six on a paper plate, struck at the insight that the two-syllable “flower” rhymed with “power,” edging me beyond cat-bat-hat. I rarely write about flowers now, although they occasionally appear as imagery, along with soup kitchens, pillbugs, passports, crickets, and the bones of Capuchin monks.

Categories
2014 NonFiction

Julie Marie Wade

ID BRACELET

*

Everyone is frightened of loss. This is the lesson I learn from the teachers in my first year of school with their color codes and musical messages and locks on every visible door. Mrs. Walters kneels before me. I am three years old since yesterday, with long fingers already and one freckle on my right hand that helps me tell it apart from the other hand—the one that assists but doesn’t lead—the one that is bashful and not as bright.

“Which do you color with?” she wants to know, and I say “right” the way my mother says “you are right-handed,” and Mrs. Walters looks pleased to see how good I am at collecting the names for things. I hold them all, trembling, in a basket on a pulley system inside my brain, so when I am looking for a word, I tug the rope and draw the basket down; eagerly, I peer inside.

“We’re going to put the bracelet on your right hand to help you remember that it’s there.” I think of bracelet and then of jewels. Bracelets sleep in long boxes on beds made of cotton balls. I have seen them, asleep in my mother’s drawers. Now she clasps the cold metal around my wrist, so tight it makes a shape on my skin. “Never lose this,” Mrs. Walters commands. “If you’re ever lost, this bracelet will help you find your way home again.”

“Is it magic?” I ask.

“No, but it’s important.”

Once everyone has a bracelet, even the boys, Mrs. Walters gathers us in a circle for story time. But there is no book today, no drum-beat for accompaniment or tambourines for a rousing chorus. We sit cross-legged on our carpet squares and wait for the principal’s tall, shiny shoes to step to the front of the room.

“Good morning, everyone,” says Mrs. Ellis. She has red lips and black hair and wears a scarf at her neck that flops like a flower in wind. “Today we’re going to talk about strangers. Who here can tell me what a stranger is?”

No one offers a good enough definition because we are all playing with our bracelets or thinking about snack time or watching for the ducklings in the corner to poke their fuzzy yellow heads against the cage. “A stranger is someone you don’t know,” Mrs. Ellis explains. “We want to make sure all of you understand that it isn’t safe to talk to strangers, just like it isn’t safe to cross the street without holding someone’s hand.” So what do you do if there’s a street and a stranger and no other way to get across?

“Mrs. Walters has just given you each an ID bracelet. This is a way to help you remember who you are and where you live, in case you ever get separated from your family. It says your full name, your parents’ names, your street address, and your phone number. You can show it to a policeman or a crossing guard or a clerk at the store. Any of these people can help you if you are lost.” Mrs. Ellis smiles at us and laces her fingers together in front of her skirt. “Does anyone have any questions?”

I want to know if you have to know the policeman or the crossing guard or the clerk at the store. Aren’t they strangers, too, unless your mother has had them over to dinner? But when I pull down the basket to look inside, my words are jumbled like socks in the wash. I cannot find the ones that fit together.

“Mom?” I call from the back seat. “Who is a stranger?”

“Anyone you don’t know,” she replies, her voice clear and certain as a draw-string doll.

“Butisn’t everyone a stranger first?” There they are, at last, the words I have been searching for! I think of Jamie from class, her mother with the huge dark eyes—like the owl in my picture book. We didn’t know them at all until my mother struck up a conversation with Mrs. Karkonen in the hall. They traded numbers on scraps of paper, and now I was invited to Jamie’s house to play. Weren’t they strangers, too? Weren’t they?

At home, my mother piles warm laundry on the living room rug. “I have potatoes to peel,” she says, “so I need you to fold these for me.”

“How?”

“Put like things together with other like things. All things of a kind: shirts, pants, underwear.” I watch her lift one towel and pair it with another. “See how they go together,” my mother says—“like they’re members of the same family.”

Now I sit on the floor and study my surroundings. I hold the new words like lemon drops behind my teeth, then turn them over slowly on my tongue: draperies, fireplace, mantle, settee. Words have flavors, I marvel, the way the candy I will not accept from strangers tastes sweet or tart or sometimes both at once. The clock chimes, but it is not a clock only—it’s a grandfather clock. I like the way words pile up on other words, the way they piggy-back. Not just a plant, but a jade plant. Not just a table, but a coffee table.

When my mother returns, she finds not much accomplished and me, reclining in the clothes, legs outstretched, inspecting the too-tight bracelet on my right-hand wrist.

“What are you doing?” she wants to know.

“This ID bracelet is pinching me.” I hold it out for her to loosen.

She kneels down in the clothes and carefully unclasps the bracelet. “Do you recognize your name?” she asks, pointing to the letters etched on the underside.

I nod. “And this is our address here. These numbers refer to this house.” Why are they numbers instead of words?Why don’t houses have names? “And this is your phone number, the one you memorized. Do you still know it by heart?”

I nod again. “What’s this word, at the bottom?”

“That says Lutheran,” she replies, clasping the bracelet again, this time so it dangles lightly with room to slip my thumb inside.

“Lutheran?”

“It’s who we are,” my mother recites, her eyes unblinking like the draw-string doll who only says a few things but always like she means them. “It’s what we believe.”

“But how do you know I’m Lutheran?”

“Because we are,” she says, knees crackling as she stands. “And you are one of us.”

I fold the towels and stack them in a tall, terry-cloth column. I look for socks that seem to fit together and roll them up in balls. But the whole time my eyes are roving over that room—the landscape of spoons we never eat with, the cabinets we aren’t allowed to open. “Look, but don’t touch,” she tells me, or “That’s only for decoration,” or “Didn’t you hear what I said?” And I think about that stranger in the kitchen, the apron cinched at her waist, the certain way she moves. Who says I know her? Who says she knows me? I listen to my mother, humming show tunes as she strips the potatoes bald.

________________________

Julie Marie Wade is the author of Wishbone: A Memoir in Fractures (Colgate University Press, 2010), Without: Poems (Finishing Line Press, 2010), Small Fires: Essays (Sarabande Books, 2011), Postage Due: Poems and Prose Poems (White Pine Press, 2013), Tremolo: An Essay (Bloom Press, 2013), winner of the 2012 Bloom Nonfiction Chapbook Prize, and When I Was Straight: Poems (A Midsummer Night’s Press, 2014). She has received the Chicago Literary Award for Poetry, the Gulf Coast Nonfiction Prize, the Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Memoir, the American Literary Review Nonfiction Prize, the Arts & Letters Nonfiction Prize, and grants from the Kentucky Arts Council and the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund. Wade teaches in the creative writing program at Florida International University in Miami and lives with her spouse, Angie Griffin, in Dania Beach.