TWO POEMS by Jennifer Givhan
Then I remembered: Mama wasn’t gone but safe, in her bed, turning in sleep. It was I who went away—from Chopin in the bones, palms heavy with dates like dark purple fingers reaching toward sand, toward fruit sickly sweet outside Mama’s bedroom window turned mine, her girlhood unloosed in mine, on the ground, rotting yellow. But skyward: a salted moon, a brittle sound, a bed of headstone with its high- pitched calling like a night animal hunting, no, a night animal hunted, in distress and calling, but the mama’s turned deaf—no, the mama’s the one yowling in the night shrub, taken, only the predator’s not the barn-owl. The predator’s prickling gooseflesh of the chest turned to full-fledged breasts and shared with boys, too early to understand how it would haunt into her parent years… into a time her children would come searching for her in bed like the icehouse in town before it closed, the ice inside too cold and melted too quickly into a time she knows will be coming when her children search in other beds and find instead a field, where the road dead ends into the basin, nothing but high grass lit by a pale streetlight… Mama would turn on the music, sometimes she played her flute and I would dance. Growing up I heard stories of Mama’s life but it never occurred to me she was alive for anyone but me, her daughter. I understand now how she needed me—no, how she made music of me and I was rescuing her from dark rooms and nights darkly lit, the slapping hands and terrible hands and the history of genes that replicate themselves in the smallest versions of ourselves: we play a piece of music listening, not for time, though time is constant, but for something deep in the belly… for Mama, who couldn’t keep us from aching, no—who gave us song as gesture for pain.
September 13th, a bright diamond-shaped light appeared in the sky
above all of central New Mexico
I’ve found the warmth Mama left in her bed
when she rose to watch the sun making pink sheets
of clouds through her window.
The balloon is risen above earth’s atmosphere
collecting celestial gamma rays
where our imperfect sight cannot reach
and then the sun is too bright;
she closes her eyes, and I can tell
she’s imagining herself in that unmanned
balloon. I want to say the instrument is already
in you, cosmic & infinitesimal… but she moves
her face behind a curtain, the moment arrives
and is gone. That light, her light,
while it was rising, lent meaning to the sky.
So we continue—the birds with their funny
pointed beaks, their ancient flapping. A child
born to rescue us. In Sunday mass
I would fix my gaze on Mary in her blues,
Mary prone at his bloody feet as I sang we will soar
but God must have known what I meant.
It’s not as if the sky is empty for me now—
even on the coldest mornings
in New Mexico, they rise
as lanterns in our land of enchantment
they rise, in jewel-tones or flag
stripes, in the oldest human-carrying
flight, with their chambers of air, they rise, burning
air into their bright billows.
My favorite resembles a sparrow.
Issue 7 Contents NEXT: Yellowed by Steven D. Schroeder
WATER AND ISLAND by Jennifer Sperry Steinorth
pressed between blue pages a few hours
on our old boat which is not ours my leg
over the bow you in the stern with the kids
in the stern I’m reading poems you’re not
the sky a depression of noon wilting
on our way back from the island we did not
reach the boys drag bits of pita through
some dip argue the last cola we are not
arguing now I said what I thought
you said what you thought and I won it’s not
nice what do you want I said and you don’t know
it’s been so long so long since I even
wondered you said pinned here in this book almost
no wind none the water glass like old glass
that much ripple that much distortion two
small sailboats go by portside one red-hulled
the other white it’s not our boat your
father’s gone days don’t get more beautiful
than this the white hazed blue a few big clouds
we could not stand it any bluer and
the land rolls up away the glass the glass
reflects the sky thank god thank god we
cannot see ourselves for home we’re headed
nothing violent nothing shattered
glass the surface just before us always
smooth always untouched and when we
mar it it repairs itself with no help from us
Issue 7 Contents NEXT: Two Poems by Corey Van Landingham
FOUR POEMS by Christopher Kempf
SLEDDING AT HARDING MEMORIAL It was how humans, the future will say, entertained themselves those last centuries winter existed. Cribs of dogwood racked in the side yard. Jarred fruit. Fat in our snowsuits, my sister & I climbed the huge steps & pressed our faces to the gate's wrought bars. Beyond them the President, we understood, slept beside his wife in the hard earth of Ohio. Here, in 1923, street after street of our hometown trimmed in black felt, his funeral train trundled at last to a stop. The body, blocked in ice since California, face sewn shut, sunk slowly in its chamber & later that evening the team of men whose job it was rose from their dinners & lifted into place the great slab, something paleolithic laid at the spot where history— its grand ambition in ruins— wandered away to die. On Delaware our father watched us from the base of the hill. I held my sister in my legs & allowed the inertia of the spinning earth to work. Wind lashed our faces. The formed plastic of the sled scored the ground behind us & after we had stopped our father, become suddenly a beast in harness, hauled us back. The last of the presidential tombs towered above us, its roughly classical columns obscured by the shifting snow. By extracting for their monuments only the finest of stone, Spengler argues, Egyptian architects expressed through craft their culture's solemn & meticulous care for the future. Therefore the past. Pyramids of limestone sliding into place behind men bent forward. Father tying our sled to his own. Low against the earth, he turned us to the edge & together, our train of blood & plastic lashed tight against what would come— the sudden thaw, our long- unlooked for ruin— we began again the descent. OREGON TRAIL Before I was a man I was a man made of pixels, a glittering column of dots drawn west across the earth by word of land limitless & given freely to he who worked it. First, on the line assigned, I typed the names of my children, fitted our wagon with axle grease & for each child a change of clothing. I followed the pathway day by day across Nebraska, my rations set to filling, my four head of oxen walking steady. Spirits were high. To hunt, the instructions said, enter 'BANG' as quickly as possible. I slaughtered, with my deft spelling, elk & buffalo, whole herds of antelope & my family sucked on the bones til Bridger. Beyond our school's computer lab that month, McVeigh's Ryder truck erupted in a parking lot somewhere we had never heard of, its twentyfoot fuse looping cartoon -like, I imagined, to the packed wagon. Back in 1855, miners with the Lupton party charged at midnight a tribe of Takelma camping near the trail. They tore women from their husbands, from the arms of their mothers cut the littles one & ran them through Bowie knife spine to hilt. To hunt, the instructions said, enter. We bent our faces to the screen, keyed the letters again & again & let the meat of the pronghorn rot in our wagons. We contracted typhoid, forded the river at the South Pass & were dragged in the mad flux under. Amy has drowned. Dad has measles. We marched with our diseases seaward & wrote, when at last we succumbed to snakebite, our tiny pixels flickering in the dusk somewhere at the edge of the West, wrote there our own epitaphs on the line provided. Behind us on the map our path wound like a fuse across the continent. Congratulations the game said. Press SPACE to continue. AT MY SISTER'S WEDDING, I DANCE THE DANCE OF SWINE In the country my kinfolk came from, shame— ancientest of passions— had still in the old years its uses. If you, as I am, were for instance eldest of your family's siblings & if on the day of your sister's marriage you remained spouseless still, given rather to the Black Forest's fruitless wastes & to brooding, you danced also the hog's tarantella. The trough is wheeled to the floor. My father's family, four centuries in Ohio, lines the stage waiting for the past's last lingering ritual. My sister smiles. Her white dress is everything that I, imagining it, had imagined it would be & she, inside it, is for the last time the small & wiggling thing I held in the county hospital. Slop, the trough means. That she is the fairytale daughter gone tonight to some dark country of love & dying & that I am thirty & single. Still my family's name awaits in me its future. In Luke, Legion— demon of many parts— plunges to the sea snared in a herd of pigs. My pants are rolled to my knees. My feet work nimbly the mix of mud & wine. Once we played, Amy & I, wife & husband in our mother's kitchen. I admit it's the closest I've been to living with a woman. Once, in the old days, angered by the pride of humans, the brute gods dropped among us one of those chthonic monsters myth is crowded with. This was a boar, the story explains, sated only by the blood of children & if, as I was once, you also were a man you mustered with your people each autumn to slaughter over & over the cloven- hoofed hog. The trough rocks beneath me. The mud, color of shit, is sweeter than you would believe. My people, who love me, are just. PACIFIC STANDARD Against which, I mean, we for the first time sounded ourselves & were found wanting. What else could we do then but spread to every recalcitrant corner we carved from sandstone & Sioux? Sic. It's craved I meant, as Magellan, who named the thing, sailing around the Cape craved home. The hushed waters he thought he saw, I see nowhere tonight in the rising white- capped combers off Pacifica. Pax facere. To make, Magellan believed, peaceful. To find oneself at the edge of the continent for the first time, as I did at thirty, & to forget this hour has happened almost everywhere. That men for centuries scattered their sicknesses before them like seed. That we who shadowed gold to the coast confronted only then a phenomenon beyond our capacity for destruction. Something like a violence utterly other— the tumbling scud. The seastack & crag crumbling like what do you know of power? How can you not look away? Where I am from, everyone I know is asleep.
Issue 7 Contents NEXT: Two Poems by Jennifer Givhan
YELLOWED by Steven D. Schroeder
The shade we named sidewinder
fang hung on a signpost
at the main-gate lookout tower—
another, tree die-off, we newsprinted
into leaflets about how far
until the next water supply.
None on spyglass lenses could filter
the color of a highway,
color of highrises over highway,
moonrise color over both.
But we tried, oh yes, we tried,
and what thanks did we get?
Trace of desolation we made
sandstorm around the shantytown
outskirts, light warning
light perimeter fence around
each rebel’s house. Though we did it
for their own good, the restless
chased westward color,
color of piston strokes, of coastline
close by. When dizziness and nausea
poured from the ears and pores
of runaways who planned
a breakout for the wasteland,
when sulfur or suffer bubbled up
hip-deep as wet cement,
it built character. At their age,
we too had believed in the color
with no border, with no shudder,
nonstop color. Because we said so
was why outsideresque and two types
of worry and wait wait wait
replaced those other crayons.
Who else would think of the children?
Our littlest ones, who left us
last, were the color that represented
open, mountaintop color,
color that meant
Issue 7 Contents NEXT: Origin of Glass by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo
TWO POEMS by Airea D. Matthews
SEXTON TEXTS ON INDEPENDENCE DAY
Sat. July 3, 8:14 am (1/2) Because there was no other place I went home away from the scene of crazy-making senses came back before dawn in heavy July Sat. July 3, 8:15 am (2/2) my purse wide, thighs wet keys set down bedroom bound where one child also sleeps. Tiptoed as if a strange thief. Thought of my blotted out x’s— for this is the mind’s prison not a playground Sat. July 3, 10:31 am Sorry. Fell asleep reading Rimbaud. Same dress from the night before once I would have thought nothing of this. Today I feel like Gomer before Hosea chose her. Maybe I will conjure Jezebel or Tamar through the oracle. They were thrown into Hell, too Sat., July 3, 10:45 am I am rarely alone but the children, those little muses, have left to wander. Recall my dream now: dead deer mice in the garage, albino possums, ancient doors Sat., July 3, 11:15 am If I draw my blinds tightly enough sunlight loiters smoky dust begs to be let in like a Maine Coon in Brooklyn, outside double panes, in the throes of heat Mon., July 4, 7:23 am Morning. Ants run errands. My kitchen floor finds them second-line marching to crumbs tri-sected bodies shouldering scraps twice their size, such scattered strength! Mon., July 4, 7:52 am (2/2) Gather or Scatter: ants are Titans, Atlas, sky vaulters! I made that up, but do you get it? Mon., July 4, 7:51 am (1/2)Foragers are dumb muscles packing meal lumps fallen from some child’s grubby hands, not even for themselves. Long live the queen! Nobles eat well & often. Social orders exist in every world on every back Thurs, Aug. 1, 10:49 am (2/2) Her son rides up and down my cul-de-sac to drown out his mother’s yell. He waves to me. A package comes. I must sign. . . Thurs, Aug. 1, 11:01 am My fingers still smell like last night’s spent seed. I wonder if he has washed me off. Watercolor, Watercolor Thurs, Aug, 1, 10:47 am (1/2) a distant droning, it’s all grizzled buzz one neighbor lives in his shed sawing wood for a project he won’t finish. Outside, a Jamaican lady screams to her estranged lover, “I don’t know you! Ya’ come to m’door everyday beggin’.” Fri, Aug. 2, 12:01 am A lifetime of such small reminders A lifetime of blotted outs coming on or in. This fucking hunger! This fucking! Fri, Aug. 2, 12:07 am Should have gone to live in Amsterdam and had mixed-up, kinky-haired babies Fri, Aug. 2, 12:15 am Strangers would call you ‘mammy’ for taking your tiny joys public. This is the small life with long days in it & nothing to force clock hands closer Fri, Aug 2, 6:41 am (2/2) around the block. Faces not plumped or juvedermed or botoxed, yet all that holds back a soul? skeleton squeezed under wrinkling corsets Fri, Aug 2, 6:39 am (1/2) Every here same old crows, same ruined perches. Crones with young lovers and that man who drags his dull wife’s fat dog while he jogs
SEXTON TEXTS DURING POLAR VORTEX
Thurs., Jan. 19, 3:18 pm “Let us eat air, rock, coal, iron. Turn, my hungers.”-Rimbaud Thurs., Jan. 19, 4:01 pm Meanwhile, I’m trying. God knows. But mother unearthed each small bloodmain under her gauzed wrists. She fought a strange compulsion to press her mouth against her right pulse, taste the throbbing veiny eels her crooked lovers forsook drink from blind lakes of their leaving, undo their digging Thurs., Jan. 19, 4:32 pm (1/2)brick ledge, scarp fault no matter how much silt I packed into the hole, no matter... Thurs., Jan. 19, 4:33 pm (2/2) Trenches never fill never unslope else they cease being soldier’s shallow shelter Sat., Jan. 21, 7:17 am Ice storms, splintering crystals, of course. Today, everything wheels and bone touch, every slick black lies under rock salt Sat., Jan. 21, 8:01 am (1/5) Every day, my father fell six feet into a vat of tar. Burned his neck, ankles, veins. We saw his viscous shoeprints blanched blisters and salve. Hours after, when he touched any door- knob, steam rose from the brass. Sat., Jan. 21, 8:03 am (3/5) Recall he wanted to go home, meaning, maybe, Sat., Jan. 21, 8:02 am (2/5) He died for the last time on a Monday, or Tuesday or Wednesday or was it Thursday or Friday? Sat., Jan. 21, 8:06 am (5/5) point is: he died at some point during some week Sat., Jan. 21, 8:05 am (4/5) back to tar streets
Issue 7 Contents NEXT: Failure by Glen Pourciau
FAILURE by Glen Pourciau
I’d been holed up with a new project, and it seemed time to get out and breathe some fresh air and talk to people, an outcome that the solitary nature of my work sometimes led me to desire more than dread. I’d received an email about an opening reception at an art gallery, the owners of which were two of the friendliest people I’d ever met, and I was an acquaintance of a friend of a friend of the artist and had been to two openings for this same artist at this same gallery before and had seen this acquaintance at both of them. I planned on speaking with him at the opening about my project, and I liked the idea that I wouldn’t see him again for two or three years and could therefore minimize the effect of any adverse reactions to whatever I said.
I arrived about an hour after the opening began, hoping to reduce distractions by giving my acquaintance enough time to view the show. The artist was a specialist in geometric shapes, mainly triangles, trapezoids, and parallelograms, painted in a variety of bright colors and floating against an abstract background that suggested a brooding, subdued turbulence, an occasional gnarly, dissonant tree root bursting through the surface as if hurled by destiny. I scoped out the crowd, an impressive turnout, the usual buzz and nodding and handshaking and knowing laughter. I didn’t feel at ease, one side of the room already rising and spilling me toward the door, the floor on the verge of grabbing me by the leg and yanking me outside, you don’t belong here, leave and nobody will get hurt. The art did nothing at all for me, except for the tree roots, which appeared to have come from another dimension and aroused an almost painful urge to lift the frame or remove it from the wall and check the back to see if some design or pattern could be found there that would alter the context of the front side, and if the front side, seen in this new and broader context, would again reverse you to the back of the canvas, and so on, a type of narrative rotation that would intentionally undermine the geometry on its face. One of the gallery owners approached me, which she never failed to do, and she actually seemed glad that I’d come, though I’d never bought anything from the gallery and knew her gladness must have been limited to such an extent that it barely existed, and who could blame her, yet her face showed nothing but good will. Where does her good will come from? I wondered. I couldn’t imagine how she could think I was worthy of her welcome, worthy of her welcome, worthy of her welcome. As I was saying how good it was to see her, a well-dressed woman walked up from behind me and she greeted her as warmly as she had me and, not wanting to exhaust her kindness, I moved on, deeper into the front end of the L-shaped gallery, and continued to the elbow of the L, where you could inform a staff member if you wanted to buy a painting. Glasses of wine were also available in the elbow, but I turned away from the wine, fearing that even a small amount would trigger avalanches of verbosity.
Sure enough my acquaintance, whom I believed was still a friend of a friend of the artist, did happen to be in attendance and was standing just on the other side of the elbow, though I couldn’t be sure if this chain of personal connections remained unbroken because the artist and the friend of the artist were both rumored to be insane, at least intermittently, and prone to tirades against real and imagined enemies. Whatever the case, my acquaintance was laughing at or with a slender man who leaned in and blabbed a few words that had an edge, that caused my acquaintance to flinch and grimace as the man departed. I saw it as an opportunity to stroll up and greet him, possibly taking advantage of his relief at seeing someone other than the apparent wisecracker, but as soon as he saw me his eyes narrowed and without glancing back he took off for the end of the L, as if fleeing to a back door or a line of shrubs outside to hide behind. I resented his aversion to me. All I’d ever done when I’d spoken with him was share an assortment of views on subjects I could no longer recall. So after hesitating briefly I decided to rise above his snub and dare him to repeat it. Did he see himself as superior to me in some way, and if so on what basis? And who else was I going to talk to? Someone else might appear, but I wasn’t aware at the time of another potential listener. I caught up with him along the far wall, his head turned at an angle as he stared at a painting.
Hello, I said, and he replied with the same word but did not take his eyes off the canvas. How’s your work been going? I asked, struggling for rapport. I’ve been stuck lately, he said and at the word stuck he looked at me as if I embodied the word, or that’s how I took it and with good reason as far as I could tell by his rigid posture and sniffy look. I made a mental note to remember the word sniffy. I enjoyed the sound of it and could use it in my project, perhaps over and over and in this way raise the subconscious nostrils of the reader, a sense engager, engager, engager.
I’ve started a new project, I said, that I thought you might be interested in hearing about. He pursed his lips, his attention directed at the geometric subtleties of the work before him. If you’re stuck you may find something useful in my method. I write down everything at every reachable depth that passes through my mind, continuously, or as close to that as I can get. I have a spare ballpoint pen on my desk and a second spiral notebook in case I need extra materials and I let it fly, scenes and images, words from past dialogues and the imagined thoughts of others, their lies and aversions and judgments, and I want it all in handwriting, no word-processing software used at the outset. I want to engage my entire body and thus strive toward awareness of whatever flows through body and mind to form consciousness. And as the narrative progresses I attempt to work from what was written in previous pages, to dredge interpretations and meanings from that text, to develop a deeper narrative and then to proceed further with an interpretation of the interpretation, spiraling downward and outward at the same time. This method does not exclude the possibility of introducing new events and scenes, but they must grow out of all that has unfolded before them. But the underlying issue I hope to address in this project is the question of whether, on the whole, the source of difficulties in human contact–
At that point my acquaintance, whose name I could not quite remember, raised his hand directly in front of my face, a gesture unambiguously equivalent to a stop sign. Once again he fled, again not looking back, leaving me stunned that he, a fellow writer, could lack any curiosity about my project, and at such a crucial point in my elaboration, as if I’d been describing something utterly trivial or revolting. I stood frozen in my mental tracks.
Then I heard a voice and looked toward the sound of my name, the word calling me back. It was Alexandra, a young woman half my age or younger, shy but inclined to express her opinions. She’d blush as these opinions spilled from her, her eyes imbued with an admirable sincerity, and the redness of her face caused her freckles to disappear. Her head usually tilted forward as she spoke and back as she listened, her mouth hanging open to varying degrees depending on the extent of her credulity. I saw her occasionally at museums or movies and I’d made an appearance at her book club. Before meeting with the group I’d felt a horror of hearing their opinions and had imagined them riding through my mind on horses and lashing it with swords. Still, I’d been grateful to be invited and immediately found them all pleasant and receptive and I retained some regret that I’d disagreed with nearly everything they said about my stories. I’d admitted to them that most of it had nothing to do with what I was thinking when I wrote them, adding that this experience was not at all uncommon for me and that I often wondered as I listened to people’s opinions on any number of subjects whether I belonged to the same race as they did. What could I have expected them to say to that? Did I want to dissuade them from speaking?
I read your story in The Milky Way recently, she said, already blushing and tilting her head, her ponytail swaying a bit, and I wanted to talk to you about it. I read it twice actually, once in the waiting room at my dentist’s office and a second time while I sat in the chair before he came in. He runs late, and I like to read something on my tablet until he gets to me. This one appealed to me more than some of your others. I still don’t get the one we talked about in the book club about the guy who killed his eighty-five-year-old father while sleepwalking. I don’t know if we’re meant to imagine a history that would have provoked the murder or if we’re supposed to think we can be completely different people in our dreams, an idea that appeals to me, but the story doesn’t offer support for either of these interpretations so nothing holds it together for me, even though I’ve thought about it quite a bit and find the tumbling words in the story similar to the way my mind works, but don’t tell anybody.
Her face was extremely red at the end of her statement and I felt relieved to be listening to her, in no imminent danger of making a nuisance of myself.
So with this new story I had an idea that you might say was not what you were thinking when you wrote it and is irrelevant because of that, but I thought you could have the story as it stands and then write a parallel version with the same character and situations but this time the guy is taking Paxil. It would be obvious, I think, that you’re comparing how he experiences things in a different emotional state.
She leaned back then, head moving to her listening position, the redness draining from her face, receding from the center back toward her ears, which were still red and looked warm to the touch.
That’s interesting. I hadn’t thought of using parallel narratives, but in my mind the narrator is already taking Paxil so if I wrote a second version, as you suggested, it would be the Paxil-free narrative. No names are mentioned in the story, and that’s because a side effect of the drug is that he can’t remember people’s names.
Her mouth slowly opened as she assessed my reply and its possibly ironic content.
I like the story as it is, she went on. It’s one of my favorites of yours, along with the one about the baby who speaks German although his parents are both American and speak English. I get it that the child caregiver speaks German to the baby, but the question of what causes him to prefer the sound of German makes the story more interesting. Does it portend a deep-seated and maybe innate rebellion against his parents that will endure and develop throughout his life, or what? The questions raised by the German-baby story drew me further into it rather than throwing me into a funk, but I don’t think I could tell you why. I better get back to my husband, Homer. He’ll get jealous if I talk to you too long. I don’t mean that’s what this is about, but it’s how he’ll look at it. Are you enjoying the show?
Too many triangles for me, but I like the roots.
Me too. Where do they come from?
She left me, her hands twitching at her sides, a jittery sign language that I understood perfectly, understood perfectly, perfectly, just as I understood her impulsive urge to express her thoughts, plunging ahead despite the tension sometimes aroused in the speaker and the listener. It was conceivable that like me she struggled with the problem of whether you were intruding or indulging yourself in an unwelcome way and whether you were doing it intentionally or unintentionally or quite a bit of both. I’d never met Homer, whose wrath she may have risked in speaking to me, but I watched her go to the man I guessed must be him and was happy to see him absorbed in his own conversation.
It then occurred to me that I had no reason to stay a moment longer at the gallery. I was suddenly disgusted by the sight of people’s mouths moving and by the sizes and shapes of their teeth, and I imagined their empty stomachs roaring and them on their way to dinner after the show. I suddenly noticed the number of people avidly scanning their phones and poking whatever they poked on them. How could I have been so self-absorbed not to see it before? I imagined them walking into space with their phones, stepping forward onto down escalators, unaware of the drop as they tumbled forward, or striding obliviously off cliffs, eyes on nothing but their phones as they plummeted. Everything I saw in them filled my mind with noise and static, but what was the cause of my disgust? What did I care what they did with their phones? Did I fear that the mouth movers would angrily pounce on my body and eat me? What an absurd idea.
I got myself going and walked around the corner, not looking over my shoulder for a possible farewell glance from my closed-minded acquaintance, eyes directly on the front door, which a couple happened to be leaving through. They held it for me and I was out, drawing in a breath more free than any I’d taken inside, soothed by the air on my skin.
It was nice to see you, Alexandra said from behind, and the tone in her voice brought on a smile.
I looked back and saw her walking through the door, one of her hands tightening into a nervous grip.
I don’t know why I said that about the alternate storyline with the Paxil. I didn’t mean it. Maybe I wanted to provoke you, I don’t know why, just forget about it. I did think about the idea, seeing the story through a changed lens, and I guess I wanted your reaction.
I wouldn’t change the story, but it’s worth thinking about it in that light. I’ll do that. And I admit I hadn’t thought the narrator was taking Paxil.
I didn’t think you meant it, don’t worry.
She went back into the gallery, her final comment lingering as I pondered its implications. I’d preferred to see my comment about the narrator using Paxil as ironic, but why dress it up with a fancy label when I was simply lying to her and she knew it? How did she see me, I wondered, and how much had I unwittingly embarrassed myself when we’d spoken? So-called experts claimed that language should be used to connect people so why did I use it to distance others and thereby drive myself deeper into an isolated void? They claimed consistently that human contact made you happier, a subject that I questioned and explored in my handwritten pages. I felt strongly ambivalent on these subjects, but I couldn’t deny the simple pleasure at hearing Alexandra say, Nice to see you.
It disturbed me that she might see me as a liar, and though I saw no sign that she held it against me I held it against myself and knew she had a right to expect more from me. I’d been all set to get in my car and begin talking back to the unruly chatter inside my head and when I arrived at my desk to spill out as much of it as I could reach and try to make sense of it, the two warring sides of myself, the misnamed voice of reason and the wild animal that I rode around on without a saddle arguing with each other and trying and probably failing to come to an enduring resolution or peace. My throat clenched as I stepped toward the gallery and opened the door to look for her, into the arena with her potentially pugilistic husband. But why escalate the drama when I didn’t know what would happen? Two adults could have a conversation without anyone having to call emergency services.
Alexandra wasn’t far away, but she was standing next to the same man as before, presumably Homer, who appeared strikingly nondescript. If I closed my eyes virtually no image of him would have remained. I had second thoughts, but then she noticed I’d come back in, and she must have sensed that I wanted to speak to her because she was leaving Homer’s side. Words mounted, rising to meet her, and now here she was, eager to listen.
My latest project is to unburden myself, I told her, speaking far too fast, to heave onto the page the unending internal racket and to rewrite it again and again, each succeeding page and chapter originating from the buried content of the previous sections or chapters, until I reach a conclusion about whether I am the instigating source of the racket and its effects on my outlook or if it arises from the inherent conflict involved in human contact. Does it come from a partly submerged and untamed animal inside me, from networks of confused neurons, or is the noise an inevitable product of a collision between me and others with all parties sharing responsibility for the impact of the crash? I tend to think the source of the noise is me. What you said about Paxil suggests that. If a pill can change the outlook then that implies the problem’s source is within the mind. I wanted to resist the idea of putting Paxil in the story, out of fear that I alone am the cause of my anger and resentment and constant mental yakking, but on the other hand I haven’t been able to dismiss it.
So are you unburdening yourself or increasing your burden? she asked, her head tilting forward, the aptness of her question jolting me. All the words piling up, all the uncertainty in the process, and can you hope to explain the true nature of what you call the racket or to make what it may or may not want to tell you understandable enough to put it to rest? How much can you expect yourself to know or understand and how can you think there could be only one source, you, for what goes through your mind? And in the end, no matter what you do or think, maybe it’s just there and you could decide not to listen to it so much. It wouldn’t go away, but it might help.
Just when I thought we might be getting somewhere, Alexandra assuming the role I’d hoped my acquaintance might fill, Homer walked up, his face taking in mine.
I haven’t had the pleasure, he said and extended his hand, which I shook, though something in his choice of words made my flesh crawl.
Alexandra told him my name and explained how she knew me, her explanation doing nothing to reduce the intensity of his curiosity. He glanced at Alexandra to judge her degree of interest in me, vigilant for clues of a deeper attachment, but she revealed no concern he’d unmasked a secret and no hint that she wished we hadn’t spoken or that I should depart in order to defuse an impending uproar. Homer edged between us, obstructing our visual path, threatened by what he saw as my nearness to her.
His phone went off then, and he apologized to us as he snatched it off his belt. He turned his back to me but kept an eye on Alexandra, putting his hand on her arm.
He’s a doctor, she said.
I see he appreciates you, I said.
Her mouth tightened, stifling a pained smile. Homer gripped her arm tighter and I imagined his hand affecting the flow of her blood, her blood. Anyone could see she didn’t want his hand on her arm, but I cautioned myself that I couldn’t know what forces were at work between them, what words he might say about me on their way home or in their bedroom. I knew I shouldn’t assume the worst of him or make excessive inferences about her stifled smile. But were they excessive? So what did I have in mind, to disengage his hand and take her away from him? Was I the one to be feared, the one most in danger of being driven by haywire emotions?
Alexandra’s blush had reappeared, and as he spoke in a low tone to his phone she removed his clutching hand. I wanted a private word with her, but how could I do that without riling up Homer and therefore making the situation more difficult for Alexandra? Besides, Homer had returned his phone to its holster, and he was telling Alexandra they had to leave, a patient needed him. It was good to meet me, he said, his eyes now looking in the general direction of my face but not exactly at my face, preferring, as I saw it, not to fully acknowledge me. I said it was good to meet him, mirroring his words, I suppose, out of some sense of safe boundaries, though my resignation troubled me.
Alexandra’s blush had not left her, perhaps because he had her arm again, though not as firmly this time. But she didn’t seem afraid, which led me to reject the idea of following their car and pulling up alongside them if I witnessed a violent argument, Homer swerving from his lane, arms flailing. And as I imagined my pursuit I asked myself what got into me thinking like this. Why did I conjure up disparaging scenarios and attribute what originated in me to the motives and behavior of others?
I watched Alexandra and Homer exit the gallery, his hand moving to her back, nothing wrong in that, no gripping, no taking possession, only a touch. She turned at the door and gave me a suggestion of a wave, her freckles imperceptible beneath her face’s redness. Was I failing her? Why did I confront myself with this question? She wasn’t a prisoner and she could make her own decisions, and he had a patient to see.
I had a lot to recount, to weave thematically into my broader narrative, unrecognized elements and echoes to dredge up on my encounters at the gallery. I considered emailing my contact person at the book club to ask for Alexandra’s email. I could let some time pass and then write to her for an update, see if everything was going well for her. I saw it as fortunate that my memory couldn’t call up a clear image of Homer’s face. I told myself I wouldn’t be watching for him wherever I went, at some depth expecting to observe something that would cause me to develop further suspicions about his worthiness as Alexandra’s husband. But if I did happen to come across him at the grocery store, say, I might recognize him or, more likely, he might recognize me. We might stop and exchange a look of recognition. But what would the recognition consist of in each of us? For his part, would it have been limited to a passing awareness of a familiar face? I cautioned myself not to presume to know the obscure density and culture of Homer’s mind, but I suspected it would consist of more.
After giving it more thought I decided not to email Alexandra and resolved to stay out of their business, but as I worked the narrative constantly led me back to Alexandra and Homer. Did my brain crave obsession? If so, I couldn’t reasonably think I’d improve matters by involving them in my pathological patterns.
I continued with my routine, piling up the pages, and if I needed some space or missed the sight of other people, I went for long walks at the mall. I was forty minutes into one of them on a Saturday afternoon, my back hurting after hours hunched over spiral notebooks, when I saw Homer heading into the lower level of a department store, his phone hooked on his belt. I tried to ignore him, kept going, but found myself cursing his strutting gait, his obvious indifference to everything around him, headquarters of the world right inside his skull, how lucky for him to be such a person.
I decided to turn back and have a chat with Homer, realizing that without knowing it I’d been looking for him. I could start off with a phony apology for taking up Alexandra’s time at the gallery and for arousing his concern. I was sorry if I’d been inconsiderate of his feelings, I’d say, and regretted any difficulty I might have caused. It made me sick to think of this loathsome display of insincerity and I couldn’t begin to imagine how he might receive it, but if he didn’t accept my apology and became agitated I’d be under no obligation to be civil to him. If his voice got loud and he poked me with his finger or tried to tell me off, his eyeballs protruding with bulging anger yearning to find a way out, I couldn’t be blamed for taking up for myself, a time-honored principle of human interaction. Homer was considerably younger than I was and I had a sore knee and a hip that could benefit from surgery, but I still had enough juice left to step up if the little shit chose to disrespect me. In view of his line of work he should be healing people, not pushing his wife around or stirring up conflict and animosity. Did he think his profession gave him special rights, exclusions from the rules of behavior that applied to the rest of us?
I saw him at a sale table, as nondescript as ever, thumbing through stacks of trousers. He sensed me nearing and cocked his head.
Is that you, Homer?
He squinted at me with annoyance and then looked behind him. No one was there.
Who the hell is Homer? he asked. For that matter, who the hell are you?
My mistake, I said.
I made my escape as fast as I could. The unidentified shopper had no interest in hearing a superfluous explanation, and his breath was so bad that I wanted to don one of those plastic suits scientists wore when handling toxic materials. I couldn’t think of a more perfect person to make me feel like an idiot for mistaking him for someone else. All my raving about Homer and what would happen if he didn’t accept my ludicrous apology had been nothing but delusional drivel.
And though I fled the scene I couldn’t get away from the humiliating thought that I habitually devoted excessive time and effort to becoming a bigger and better fool. I resumed my walk at a reckless pace, the background mall music a blur, the shapes of others shifting in every direction. I needed to control my breath, control my breath, calm down the lurching, rumbling animal, all too aware that it would be with me wherever I went. I should leave the mall, get home and back to work, before I spotted another phantom Homer, subconsciously egging myself on with some melodramatic fantasy of rescuing Alexandra from a dark hidden room off a tortuous hallway, risking further episodes of mistaken identity, one of which would no doubt be my own. The unclouded truth was staring me down. I couldn’t look at people without injecting my self-generated racket into the picture, and the way I saw others had far more to do with me and my needs than anything to do with them. How could I have failed to halt my inner debate and fully accept this fact? I often didn’t even meet people halfway but invaded them, knocked down walls and painted the ones left standing. Had any of them invited me in? Did I care? Why did I persist in doing this? Was boundless stupidity or insufficient humanity enough to explain it? What less disparaging motive could I unravel? As the man fleetingly known as Homer had asked: Who the hell are you? Did I really want to know? Should I vow to control myself and permanently cease working on my project?
I changed direction, focused on walking out through the door that I’d entered, not far away, only minutes. I could get in my car and lock the doors and wait for my mental fog to subside, all those who happened to be nearby safe from me until I merged with traffic and drove with purpose toward my desk, where, I could already feel it, the relentless onslaught of verbalization would continue.
Issue 7 Contents NEXT: Stephanie Says by Alain Douglas Park
TWO POEMS by Corey Van Landingham
VIEW POINT, SAN ANDREAS FAULT
From here, I see the up-thrust of collision,
how the Indio Hills have changed
through time. In a year, the sign says,
we will be standing two inches to the left
of where we are now. I have wasted
the winter on a man who will never
love me. Five hundred miles from here,
my apartment stands on top of this same
fault, just hidden. Nights I can’t sleep,
imagining the forces beneath me
creating a world I’ll never see. In the one
I can, the park closes at sunset.
The light is handsome, but I can’t give it
to anyone. The flowers start shutting down.
Where the valley rises, I can believe
in a future that does not hold us close.
Intersecting, the plates broke through
the earth’s crust until time was visible.
I want us to matter like ephemera:
old stock certificates, the postcards we buy
in the gift store. Driving home, we pass
the air force base, which of course
we can’t see. It’s the army. It’s a secret.
From the overlook I could see
into Mexico. Everyone else leaving
each other in their different languages.
A BAD DATE
The pleasure boats cut across the lake we can see from the hotel restaurant’s floor-to-ceiling windows. “I’m a sucker for a view,” I say, which, he tells me, dignifies imperialism. What with Rome, and all. We’re meeting to see if I will let him, tonight, tie me to not-his-bed, to, with the instruments he will deem necessary, knock against me while his wife watches. I’m trying to forget another man, so I repeat what I have heard on the radio: to assuage traffic jams, engineers are studying ants. Sans egos, they get where they need to go. No flash. No honking. No aggressive driving. Outside is only an inch of glass away. I sip my wine. The fog bank has been erasing the hills for a week, and in the mornings I climb the stairs to my apartment’s balcony, where what is visible is mine, and I would kill for it, the right-out-there.
Issue 7 Contents NEXT: When I Died by Fire by Scott Beal
WHEN I DIED BY FIRE by Scott Beal
my children knew I was the kind of fool who could drop a spark on my coat and wear it burning into the house, fold it over a chair and go on reading as smoke filled the apartment they knew then there was a reason I carried out recycling every afternoon they figured it was me who started the dumpster fire that time the trucks came though face it they must have smelled the smoke on my hands each night I tucked the sheets around their necks and now it was not just me who had burned but the building they slept in half the time half their drawings and laundry and the two chests their grandmother painted now they would live in only one house remember when that was all they wanted
Issue 7 Contents NEXT: Two Poems by Airea D. Matthews
LINE DRAWINGS by Weston Cutter
dear salt dear water scribbling difference between where I can dryly stand+not dear sea dear shell dear Florida from your panhandle I'm staring past seagulls flit +scurrying across sand white as my unsunned torso at an oil rig miles offshore which must even now be barbing into deep durk+mank to extract the treasure I'll later pump a refined version of into minivan's rear flank so we can trade this sucrostic malleability for the cold bones of home dear edge dear border dear horizon which just lays there flat as a that's that voice when what's done's been done, when there is as the phrase has it no going back up the road a thousand miles snow drifts where I'm from on hurt+merciful alike as it must, like Christ or a bad mechanic true cold can make no distinction regarding whom it bestows its shivery gifts upon dear south dear December I'm standing here because I believe the ocean keeps saying stand there then like any of us changes its mind, the way the waves gurgle playing the game of life which is called get everything then retreat dear boundary dear almost dear exact location where self ends+beach begins I came here to witness quietly shifting things: the moment one year breathes out + the next in, to listen to an I do transform Ellen's uncle+his love into husband+wife but my daughter kept shouting so we went outdoors where she again attempted to put the universe into her mouth dear littered plastic cup dear cigarette butt dear fallen palm leaves I watched the you may now kiss the moment from beyond the church's window as Jo said da and da and da pointing first at sky then trees then the cars passing the small white chapel +finally da pointing at herself, and then me, all of it da and how can I not hope she's right hope she hope me hope we never forget how the thin distinguishments of living are temporary mercies setting us free within flesh to believe beyond flesh dear wet envelope of ocean from which the moon slides nightly like the lovest letter dear moment bread becomes body there must be room within each infinity for all of us seeking the phonebooth in which our true selves stand waiting to answer whatever call finally comes.
Issue 7 Contents NEXT: Four Poems by Christopher Kempf
STEPHANIE SAYS by Alain Douglas Park
A woman stands alone in the surf. She’s up to her mid-thighs in the water, warm Gulf of Mexico water, and she can feel the strong undertow of the sea. It pulls her legs and sucks the sand from under her feet. It’s tremendous—this undertow—a force of nature—powerful. But, she’s determined to stand in it. So, she does.
She’s not entirely alone. Her lover is near, standing behind her on the dry sand, holding a bag of beach supplies. She calls for him to come to her and though at first he doesn’t move, eventually, after she throws him a stare, he does. He might be a boyfriend—most would describe him as such—but that sounds too serious for the woman so she says lover, even though they’ve been in each other’s lives for years. It’s okay to say lover, since it’s been off and on. This is what she tells herself.
It’s not really swimming weather. Though warm, the wind is too strong. It whips the dry sand, sprays saltwater on her body, and plasters her short hair to the side of her head, molding it like a swim cap. The gulls sail around her without moving forward, hovering close to the ground, wings expanded in the constant breeze.
She walks deeper in, letting her fingertips trail on the water which is murky, browned with swirling sand.
They came from out West, or rather she did, from Los Angeles. He’s in New York now, an emerging actor, though if he hasn’t emerged by now, pushing into his mid-thirties, she knows he never will. She could have helped him at one point since she’s a little older than he and more experienced and it’s her business too—not acting, but getting actors to do what they do, getting, in fact, all those involved in the process to do what they do. And do it right. And on time and on budget. She produces. More than anyone else, she makes it happen.
They’d met up in Galveston (“in the middle,” she had said) because she wanted to look at the sea wall there first—a movie idea that’s been rolling around in her head ever since hurricane Katrina hit, then Rita, a period drama about the devastating one from 1900; a timely retelling to show people what real suffering looks like. And so she stood on the wall and took it in, felt its strength and the seas’ and she knew her idea was solid. She also knew she’d have to wait for another storm to hit (and hit hard) before she could pitch the idea for real. Though that would only be a matter of time.
Then they drove the full length of the Gulf Coast—her driving the entire way because that’s what she does—through the swamps of Louisiana, that endless elevated highway, and then lonely New Orleans, and onward to this panhandle town in the pit of Florida. She picked it precisely because it is on the panhandle and small and unassuming and would likely be deserted this time of year.
This is supposed to be a vacation, a getaway in between projects. It’s the off-season, the middle of October but still pleasant enough. And she likes him enough; he’s familiar (had been one of many at one time), which she’s fine with, since she doesn’t feel like trying all that hard right now. The town is deserted, like she thought it would be. There’re even fewer people than she expected. At first, she’d thought that maybe Katrina was still lingering here—or Rita or BP: Florida gets a little of all of it don’t they—but after the first hour, she could tell that the town has been like this for a long time. It’s kind of dumpy. They stay in a motel.
In the surf, wading against the undertow, she is already badly burned, cooked while sun tanning on the beach without any sunscreen. He, her lover, had forgotten the lotion at the motel and she made him go back to fetch it. He had forgotten her new two-piece as well, and, in the meantime, while waiting for the suit and lotion on the empty beach, she had taken off her clothes down to her bra and panties and sunbathed that way. The burn has put a floral print pattern on her breasts from her lace bra, two little arcs of flowers. That night, sitting on the bed in the motel room, she will think it’s kind of pretty, but it also hurts like shit and she will blame him for it and make him go from store to store, looking for the right kind of aloe.
She doesn’t respect him very much. She thinks he’s a pushover. She thinks he’s weak.
She says this a lot. People are weak. It’s her wisdom, what she’s learned, a phrase which she deploys like shooting rain over the people who work for her, over others whom she takes to bed, and over him.
So why is she with him? It’s not money, even though he has it; he’s had the semi-luck of a semi-talented man, but in the end she has much more of all three: money, luck, and talent. It’s not intellectual either. He’s not dumb per se, but she knows that she is much, much smarter than him. He’s creative; there’s that, but he is by no means brilliant. He is, on the other hand, very attractive and she loves men. He’s a good lover. More importantly, she knows that she can make him do things. Anything she wants. This is why she’s with him, has been for so long, off and on. This is what she tells herself.
Almost every single boyfriend she has ever had has brought up that one Velvet Underground song, Stephanie Says, the one with her namesake being compared to Alaska. And every one—which includes this near-successful, near-talented, malleable, yet good-looking man—gets her same flat stare, the same, really, wow, you know, you’re the first one to make that connection. I’m cold too? You must be a fucking genius.
She has no problem treating people this way. Because she has always been very honest and upfront about herself with others, and if someone still wants to be with her knowing full well how and what she is, well then, she immediately loses respect for them. They are like pets coming back to an abusive master. Morons. Idiots. They deserve whatever she doles out.
As she sits with him in the motel bed, late at night watching TV, flipping through the channels, she can feel her body radiating heat. Her burn is intense. She’s naked because of it, stripped down with no covers because everything that touches her scorches. She flips the channels quickly, the room darkened briefly between screens. Eventually she comes to one of her own shows, one that she has produced, and even though she’s not particularly proud of this one, it does make money like a garbage dump. She puts down the controller and proceeds to apply and reapply the aloe carefully, smoothing wide slicks of it on her arms and thighs, across her flowery chest. She has a glass of ice water by the bed which she drinks from occasionally, small, cool sips, and the cold water seems to instantly soak into her, gone forever once it passes her chapped lips. She looks at him lying next to her in the TV light, prone and relaxed in his grey striped boxers. She looks at him staring at the TV, just watching, comfortable and very much unburned as her show fades to commercial. She takes her glass from the nightstand and holds the cold water above his beautiful bare chest. She smirks at him. She says to him, “How tempting, what would you do, I mean, really, what could you do?” She likes to push this pushover.
Then, this lover, this man she has spent countless meals with, traveled with, lived with briefly on occasion, fucked in every manner possible, directed according to her will, bossed around, dominated, this man looks at her calmly and says right to her face that she should really stop confusing someone being weak with someone being nice. And his eyes don’t flicker a single millimeter when he says it. She is the one who looks away first.
This throws her. She withdraws her glass. She’s off kilter for the rest of the night. Sips her water slowly. Watches her terrible show in silence. Her body is burning and she can’t use it against him to right the balance of power, distract herself from his comment. It was different than anything he had said before. She sensed something different in his voice, a line drawn in the sand. But why now? Why here? What had changed in him? Or, was it even him at all?
She remains off kilter into the next day—awakens to it after sleeping in, her sunburn and her racing mind having kept her up most of the night. Her skin in the late morning air is dried and crinkled fire when she moves; even a cold shower seems impossible—although she does it anyway, and then stays in it for a long time. On the beach the day before she had decided that she wanted to eat at a pier she had seen in the distance. When she’s finally ready, finally through her routine, it’s mid-afternoon and they begin the long walk towards the pier. It is while walking with this man on the beach towards that pier that she starts to think of him and all their time together, all their years spent mutually or tangentially. Replaying all their past interactions as they walk. Moments, instances she thought she had controlled but which now, with every gritted step, become increasingly unclear to her.
The day before, wading in the surf, the undertow tremendous, she was so determined to stand in it. She’d called him over to join her from the shore where he was. But he hadn’t come. She’d called to him again and again, come here, come on, again, come here, and finally, eventually, he did come. And she’d thought at the time that somehow this meant she had won. Had won.
I want to eat here, okay—had won; no, not here, take me somewhere else, okay—won again; now get the check—won; and take me home—won; and take off your clothes and get your ass on the floor, I’m tying you up—won.
These previous thoughts now seem incredibly trivial to her. Presumptuous. He might have acquiesced for any number of reasons. On any number of occasions. As she slowly walks with him through the sand, dangling shoes in hand, she becomes more and more embarrassed by her past actions. She starts to see this man, with his pale eyes, his graceful tapered hands, as some form of saint for being with her. A good man. And she starts to see herself as some form of corrupting evil for being with him, for exposing the goodness that is him to the corroding influence that is her—the idea making her think that she might just be what she has never truly believed herself to be: A bad person.
There are crabs all over the beach. Little zigzagging darts of movement. She is startled and jumps at their incursions. She even moves to him for support, for some weird form of protection. A line of footprint divots converges in the surf behind them.
She starts to remember stories he’s told her, from his life, his childhood. Stories she thought at the time were tedious. She remembers him as a kid on another beach collecting burrowing crabs in his little hands. They tickled his palms as they tried to escape. She never offered a real reaction to this story or to any of the many he’s told. Not one meaningful comment. She thinks there must be pages of responses somewhere out there. Responses that she should have given.
She stops walking. He continues on alone without her for a pace or two, before turning to the sea. She looks at him standing there by himself, white shirt billowing, face aglow, squinting at the dipping sun. They’ve been walking a long time. She thinks, admits, that he looks very strong, squinting that way in the light, as if he is facing the struggles and limits of his career and his age and himself and is doing it graciously and with pride. She thinks of his face, the clean angles, the scratch of his unshaved cheek, the boy softness of his mouth. She thinks of how she never talks to him in the present, asks him how he is, or what else might be happening in his life. She opens her mouth to do so now but nothing comes. She wants to say so much but she has no idea how to organize the words.
She sees then how all of these acts of love, with him and every other person she’s been with, or moved away from, dumped on, every other person she’s used, conquered, bested, and left, how all these things have soaked her straight through, unnoticed. She feels flimsy and useless like a wet paper napkin. The inside of her chest aches, physically hurts, like nothing she’s ever felt before, and then, finally, after all this time, and beyond all reason, for some stupid fucking cosmic purpose, it cracks and she becomes human, compassionate, affected by her lover—she’ll say it: her boyfriend—of so many years, finally matched up in synch with him. Standing on the beach in a crystalline moment.
Now, this is the moment when you have to trust her, the her that is her, the producer, the leader, the bossy girl from the playground, the manipulator of men and women and audiences alike, that coaxer of heartstrings. So please, just do it. And pay attention. It’s very important:
Did she reach all these conclusions just like this, just like she says it happened, all on her own, standing on the beach with him in this beautiful moment? Did her feet rest in sand and her eyes on him when she had these life altering realizations?
You know her. Was it there? It’s a simple question. Was it there?
Well, if not there in that exact spot, in that exact way, then surely it was close to that, maybe after their meal on the way back to the car, before they started driving to the motel. She should be allowed a little poetic leeway. The parking lot sounds nice too, the sun just set, orange glow fading, walking hand in hand. She would take that. It could have been there. She could have done it. Made the leap.
But you do know her after all. So then, her doubting friends and lovers, please, if you would: Did she at least realize all these things before they got in the car, before they started driving back, before they crossed that intersection and were hit by the drunk running the red light? Did she at least realize it all before they flipped and landed upside down? Before they stopped spinning? Before all the scraping metal and splintered glass went silent? Please, if you could, because she’d really like to know what you think. She values your opinion on this, even if she might not want to hear it.
Well then, she would insist on going further. Another step into the water. Was it in the very least—this last, most important very least—before she looked at him hanging broken beside her, before she heard his wet breathing slow, before she saw his eyes, those beautiful pale eyes, so glossy, then still, only inches from her own? Well, what do you say? Did she realize it all before it was too late?
Was it after? Days after. Weeks after. Months after.
She will say it was before.
Just like she says it happened. Back on the beach.
It was before.
And for all those idiots who love her, either then or now, she would say to them that she now vows to never create another one of you for the rest of her life.
That the only reason she’s still even here, that she hasn’t walked into the ocean herself to join the undertow, is that while she did finally realize that she cared for this man—cares for him more now even after the fact; after he’s gone—he wasn’t the one she loved most.
For that she has to go way back, which she’ll do to survive, back to the only boyfriend who never brought up the Velvet Underground song. He was from Alaska. And she’s sure he still lives there. She’s sure at least he’s still used to the cold.
And who knows, maybe, if she ever stops moving, she’ll drop him a line, somewhere out there, at one point. It would have to be a very small line with no details. She does have her principles and when she makes a decision she sticks with it. Maybe just a postcard with nothing on it, or a photograph of some vista she might see and think he might like. She reserves the right to do this.
To all the others, lovers and friends, all those who have played with her, she wishes them well. Really, she does. She wishes them the best. Good luck. She hopes you succeed. She hopes you survive.
Issue 7 Contents NEXT: Two Americas, Two Poetics by Kate DeBolt
ORIGIN OF GLASS by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo
it is winter again as we feel our way through a bed of glass in the river we’ve been here before everything’s the same still the morning still the pieces of glass we pile in the image of a child and praise in truth we can’t make anything happen between us winter began inside you no one knew but I knew * I want to believe this will end with the child coiled around your finger with thousands watching and throwing roses at us with lights and glitter in our hair but we both know how it ends we practice until we don’t need to tell our bodies how to do it the child with her glass head— her lips curled in my palm trying to say her name for her will you hold her to the light will you breathe a little pink into her your hands on her throat looking for the song at the other end not everything is a bright flute made of bone * we tried shaking her out of us like a bee down our shirts but what if the bee had been a wasp what if it died not because it stung but because it grew tired of stinging milk eyed small lunged prophet in the mud you wash the sand out of your hair where the mushrooms outnumber the stars we sit on the bank in the sun and quietly roll clay between our legs and its hardening is a form of meditation winter begins with her hands detached from the branches you knew you always knew
Issue 7 Contents NEXT: Water and Island by Jennifer Sperry Steinorth