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the wounds of anne sexton

by Jonah Meyer


anne sexton, at what point were you surprised to see the waters still
rippling in the long island sound?

anne sexton, 2 o’clock on a tuesday, august 1960, has everything
happened, or has nothing happened at all?

anne sexton, did your sun-drenched yellow dress add light upon light
under intrusion of the pock-filled hospital room ceiling, nurses and
doctors with scissors in hand, making origami of your tender pale skin?

how much for the poem, anne sexton? how much for the sea? how much
your pack of cigarettes, dangling from a sunburnt hand relaxed on the
pane of the ship, and where, by the way, is your wallet? where, your keys?

anne sexton in the age of luminous eyes!

anne sexton, composing ‘keep off!’ against the
lovely surface of the sea.

anne sexton, the good fat plump happy babies have sunk snug into their
carriages heavy like stones, and so why are you saddened, why
almost undressed?

anne sexton says nothing at all.

is as fragile as sponge.
light as a cup of milk.



THE POETS WILL NEVER BE PUT OUT OF BUSINESS.


they have their words to keep wheeling, whispering.
have their stories always spinning.

the poets will yes inherit the world come
end-of-day.

have their rhyme, their meter, their
pleasant confusion.

the poets are now forming a corporation.
conducting business overseas.
holding late-night clandestine
get-togethers, serving white wine & chocolate biscotti & discussing
the meaning of it all.

ten dollars an hour the poets are paid.
twenty on particularly productive sessions.
bonuses each time a new poem
breathes on its own.

the poets walk the streets, shuffling like madmen,
joy burning in the eyes.
it’s funny how one might say to another:
the day is young, the season
marvelous, without
spilling word.

sometimes the poets rest in tall homemade hammocks,
their gnarly raw language setting the sun.

each new break-of-day, the poets can be seen dropping
bread-crumbs to geese,

such happy animation dancing through breeze.
they hiss & they howl & they
generally carry on.

the poets speak of things which
they – indeed all hoomankind – shall
never understand:

love, they moan outloud,
love is a chinese riddle!

the poets create poems on napkins,
tabletops, restaurant barstools.

         (the poets have convinced themselves
         graffiti is no crime)

once a new poem is borne, the poets
circumcise it, speaking a little hebrew,
careful not to cut too much.

at age 13 the poem is thrown a huge party in
which the poets get drunk &
dance into the skies.

yes the poets are really getting ahead in life.
really grasping a handle on
how much mess there is to be made.

weaving freshly-woven limericks into flower petals,
thrown to the wind, the poets take
long afternoon naps,
dreaming of eternity

             – and –

             the day when    all
     humankind  will  take  to
    writing  love  sonnets


sixty-one


sixty-one times i lost my soul to the small asian lady wearing pink cotton
jumpsuit and large copper earrings behind the counter at my favourite
place to grab lunch in san francisco chinatown

sixty-one times the colour of my true love’s hair

sixty-one the number of tics i glance at the young couple as they sink into
snuggling state of union, the movie theatre down in the dark front-corner
row, matinee showing of the life of freddie mercury

sixty-one times playing with soft language until we approximate
literary ejaculation

sixty-one calls to arm a busy nation policing the planet
a budweiser country high on box-office porn, buttered beer and
blustering pontification

woke up this morning with poetry crusted in the eyes, tried to rinse it out
while it spilled into these dog-eared pages

sixty-one stages in pure confused delight

sixty-one flags lowered at half-mast
some small god’s wind attempting to schmear it back up
the length of the pole

sixty-one, says the city bus driver
6161 pennsylvania avenue, dripping with blood,
fangs in the eye-sockets

and kerouac’s railroad earth is drenched in sunset
and all of general georgie washington’s d.c. is drenched in heavy flooded
moonshine machinery

observe the great heavenly satellite sky hovering over every man woman
child—she is a drunken sailor, smacking chewing gum grit & grin

and the humble buddha here on earth, schvitzing heady mindful practice
at the guidance of a video rental on the subject he got for a buck-sixty-
one down at video review on lawndale boulevard

and the sea, she is whispering sixty-one

and the old-growth forests are burning alive on tee-vee sets

and sixty-one hills and valleys busy shedding their stubborn
botanical growth as the great gab-smacked goddess returns with baggies
of dust, of deceit

how does one begin to spell out mother earth? 
the way we are all fashion’d from star?

glorious hydrogen oxygen calcium carbon organic,

sent spiraling spending the lonely centuries speeding thru milk the
way a baby, rocked gingerly, might burp into
some semblance of
slumber




HOW TO READ A POEM.   /   WHAT TO REALIZE.


1. as if your precious fucking life depends on it

2. as though, through the magic & craze & pure joyous glee
         involved therein, at once nothing matters save
         that freeing dance with words — broken, insane
         dreamy, divine
         she is a gatekeeper — the poem — and
         when you come a-knocking she’ll rise & rise &
                  cast a heart into hot jazz graffiti
         — sum
         this & that informatics, baby — charged, symphonic,
         this beating sweating flirting flickering
         storm that is
         itself the poem

3. hungrily

         knowing well every hearty morsel
         heals

4. with a newfound peace

5. for the sole purpose

         of

         being caught inside the words



BIO

Jonah Meyer is a poet, writer, and editor based in North Carolina. His creative work has been published in O.Henry Magazine, Ampersand Literary Journal, Carolina Peacemaker, Bohemian Review, American Crises, JAB Fiction and Poetry, Found Spaces, The Mountaineer, Cold Lake AnthologyRaise the Voices, and The US Review of Books, among other places. Jonah serves as associate poetry editor with Mud Season Review and associate editor with Thrush Poetry Journal.


Let That Be a Lesson

by Linda Boroff

 

 

A couple of scenic, twisting mountain roads link Santa Cruz with Silicon Valley, one maddeningly slow; the other lethally fast. People believe that this difficult commute is all that stands between us and the Valley’s ravening technology guargantuae, straining to spread south and plant their sarmak-campuses amid our beaches and redwoods.

We’re often mocked as throwbacks—Birkenstock-wearing, patchouli-reeking tree-huggers; clove-smoking dietary wackos. But decades ago, a rash of serial killings turned us into the “murder capital of the world.” Even now, suspicions linger that our ferny forests and riverbeds conceal yet more quicklimed horrors. Beneath our vintage hippie brand, a collective neurosis hums like background noise.

I returned here to heal, but that wasn’t happening. When you flunk out of law school, the consequences waste no time in manifesting. My deferred student loans awoke like the Spanish flu virus in that corpse frozen since 1918. A torrent of demand letters found me huddled weepily in my childhood bedroom, watching sitcom reruns. Like bricks, their paragraphs walled me into ruinous debt.

Ghosts of my aborted legal education trailed in my wake. Wherever I went, I spotted “tortious” conduct. Contracts shook its knotty head at every agreement I made. I couldn’t stop spouting half-baked legal advice to friends.

My childhood home soon became more prison than refuge. My parents’ tentative queries about future plans sounded like the mind games of the Spanish inquisitors. My boyfriend requested some space.

Yet, further humbling was in order: my frantic job search yielded just one tepid offer, and that from a law firm. I was to be an “admin trainee;” a serf, performing the most grueling and menial chores in the office. So much for my conquering hero courtroom fantasies.

Demand letter threats playing in my head like a repeating tune, I arrived for my first day. The firm occupied a hacienda style building with a low-pitched, glowering solar roof. In place of a lawn, water-sparing sedge grass with razorlike sawteeth undulated thirstily. A door the color of dried blood proclaimed Holland & Sklar, Attorneys at Law, in haughty gold cursive.

In the waiting room, a lighted case displayed a stuffed owl lashed to a gnarled tree limb, its eyes realistically desperate beneath the taxidermist’s glaze.

At last, a tiny woman nearly buried in a black turtleneck sweater opened a door and cocked her beaky little head at me, sharp obsidian eyes blinking rapidly. I followed her into a large cubicled room whose mushy gray carpet grabbed the soles of my shoes.

“That’s you,” she said, indicating a wooden table and chair wedged between a pillar and the wall. A flat, dusty computer monitor lay inert on the floor, as if injured.

“I’m Edie,” the woman said. “I work for Mr. Sklar. Mr. Holland recently died, and we’re disorganizing I mean reorganizing the office.” She cut off my understanding nod with a knifish glare and turned away.

I hung my jacket on the chair and hoisted the monitor onto the desk. Something about the place reminded me of the aftermath of an earthquake, the wrenched ground shuddering and spasming above broken strata, the air reverberating.

“It’s a pity you’ll never know Harv.” A tall woman in her late fifties was wheeling over an office chair. “I’m Eleanor,” she said, and sat down in it beside me. “I was Harv’s secretary.

“I’m so sorry,” I said, my voice hoarse with disuse.

“He was on borrowed time, poor thing. A heart infection. They cleared it up finally, but the damage was done.” Eleanor tipped her chair back alarmingly to grab a magazine from a file cabinet. “Here he is, the way I like to remember him.”

The magazine was at least twenty years old, judging from its garish colors and wacky typeface. On the cover, Harv as a youthful visionary gazed into the future from eyes of blue agate. Streaked blond hair tumbled to his collar. His smooth, regular features radiated a complacent moral purity.

“He had a golden aura, didn’t he?” Eleanor said fondly, stroking his magazine-

hair. I surveyed the auric Harv and nodded, wondering how he had looked at the end.

A man suddenly loomed above Eleanor, who mugged fear and straightened her back.

“Welcome, Melissa, I’m Tom Sklar.” He grinned at me with perfect but feral teeth. “I’m officially senior partner here now, though of course, Eleanor will never buy that.” He winked at her, and she lifted her chin in mock indignation, exposing a deeply corded neck.

Tom Sklar was one of those men who gets better-looking as he ages; his clipped graying hair flattered him more than the tousled brown mop in the law school picture on his desk. The years had chiseled the youthful pudginess from his face, and his brown eyes were now a steely gray-blue in their tinted contacts.

“Eleanor will welcome another tall gal here,” Tom said.

“Tom loves tall girls,” Eleanor smiled archly. I looked reflexively at the ring on his finger, and he followed my glance, and our eyes bumped and bounced apart.

“I’m sorry to hear about Mr. Holland,” I said, and Tom’s face morphed instantly into practiced sadness. “We go very far back, Harv and I. Eleanor will fill you in on the whole saga.”

“Maybe not the whole saga,” Eleanor replied, and something crackled between them like water hitting hot oil in a frying pan. I felt a sudden urge to run, but the carpet held my feet, and the mantra, “avoid further legal action” recurred in my brain.

Eleanor soon took to hanging out at my desk on the pretext of “training” me, but really for an excuse to talk. She was an encyclopedic authority on all matters Harv, fiercely possessive even of his wraith. The syllables of his name summoned her like a pheromone; so that people across the room had to whisper or cover their mouths when they mentioned him, or else she would arrive and hijack the conversation.

The law was woven through Eleanor’s life like a weft. She had grown up in Live Oak, an anomalous blue-collar neighborhood nicknamed “Live Okie.” Shy and coltishly tall, she grew her auburn hair long; somebody had once called it a river of fire she said proudly. The river was dammed now into a brassy bouffant cone, sprayed stiff and secured with a plastic tortoiseshell dagger.

Her eyes, large and greenish-gray, were still arresting in their iridescent eyeshadow and false lashes, despite the wrinkles. Decades of hurrying from desk to lawyer’s office, to kitchen, waiting and file rooms had given her a stretch-necked, giraffelike gait. As the day wore on, her lipstick would migrate into the vertical creases around her mouth.

Desperate to escape her brawling, hard-drinking parents, young Eleanor studied office skills in high school, winning awards for her shorthand and typing. After graduation, she endured interviews with grim, Dickensian office managers and lordly attorneys—until one banner day, she had broken through, a legal secretary at last.

I suddenly flashed on a disruptive young office beauty: on the gleaming hair and long limbs and riveted gaze; the silky blouses above the sternly fitted pencil skirts; the awe, the vulnerability, and the utter, unquestioning fealty. A wife’s perfect nightmare.

I could guess at the various jobs, the inevitable affairs, the getaways and lingerie and baubles and tears and scenes and abortions. The decades had marched past, and the lovers had aged and retired and some had even died. None had kept their promises. Now she was growing old, cast up like flood detritus on the banks of a river after the storm subsides.

Already a veteran when she joined the staff here, Eleanor had promptly seized the helm; within a couple of months, any competitors or challengers had resigned, retreated or been fired. “I whipped us into shape,” she said. “It wasn’t pretty, but I did what I had to. Harv could never assert himself the way he should have.”

Now, her boss gone, the once office queen was reduced to a ”floater.” Former subordinates ordered her to make copies or coffee, sent her on errands, and pointedly excluded her from smoking breaks and party planning.

I soon realized that the friendless Eleanor had laid claim to me. She hovered with fierce solicitude, herding others away like some secretarial sheepdog. I suspected that she was grooming me to summit the office hierarchy on her behalf. Armed with my college degree, and (nearly) year of law school, I would take power, restore office hegemony, and dispense retribution, while she guided me like some Lord Protector.

But this victory would require the toppling and vanquishing of Edie, the fierce tiny avian who had opened the door for me on my first day. As Tom Sklar’s secretary, Edie had been Eleanor’s chief rival. Harv’s death had catapulted Eleanor from her throne but hardly settled the feud.

The partners were former assistant district attorneys, tough competitors who had teamed up to prosecute one of the county’s emblematic serial killers. The ordeal had forged a bond. They left the DA’s office soon after to form a partnership, fueled by Harv’s popularity and Tom’s slick aggressiveness.

But the competition that the partners had resolved now played out by proxy in their secretaries, and the friction heated up like magma. Eleanor insisted that Harv was the “brains” of the firm, while Edie called Tom the “engine.” Their debates turned into screaming matches. I could imagine Eleanor looming like a T-Rex above the agile, ferocious Edie, feinting and darting and dodging to counter Eleanor’s verbal bludgeons.

Edie, because mere bad luck had taken down her rival, was denied a decisive victory. Even now in her triumphal role of “Administrative Director,” she couldn’t avoid Eleanor skulking on the periphery, watching for an opening. Edie responded by shrinking Eleanor’s duties to the most demeaning, below even mine.

“How can you stand this?” I asked after Edie had set her to cleaning the office refrigerator. Kneeling before a glass shelf encrusted with ancient yogurt smears and desiccated veggies, Eleanor looked up at me, her hands in rubber gauntlets, a damp bronze curl dangling from her forehead.

“Things will change,” Eleanor replied. “They always do, in time. Besides, I know something very damaging about Edie, and she knows I know.”

“What’s that?”

“She’s a witch.”

“Edie’s a witch?”

“She let it slip once; it explains everything. I realized that she’d been casting spells on all of us for a long time. How could I have missed it? I just didn’t put it all together until it was too late.”

“Eleanor,” I said, “witchcraft isn’t real. People pretend to have power…”

“Oh they have power all right, if they’re good. And Edie is good, oh my, so very good. In Harv’s case though, she went too far. And she knows it. She killed him.” Eleanor pried a tiny dried carrot from the glass shelf and examined it, turning it over and over.

I reminded myself that in Santa Cruz, no belief system was too exotic or outrageous to have its devotees; witchcraft was actually quite mainstream compared to some of them. A wave of dismay washed over me: how had I ended up here, babysitting a crazy, superstitious old woman rather than lighting up the law review?

“She leaves things for me,” Eleanor was saying. “Little twisted pieces of hair and scraps of paper with strange words written on them. She plants herbs on the property to use in her spells, so her husband doesn’t find them around the house. She knows I know. She tried to make me drink some yarrow tea once. That would have made me vulnerable. I threw it in the toilet, of course.” I shook my head. “She casts on everybody in the office—not you, not yet. But she’ll try, just watch her, because she knows you’re on my side.”

After this, I did my best to tamp down Eleanor’s obsession, changing the subject or even ignoring her when she presented “evidence.” She showed me a two-inch length of coiled black yarn she had found on the carpet that had not been there the night before. She searched her file drawers each morning and threw out items she swore were new, even an expensive scissors once. A stray push pin, a piece of thread—anything that could bind or immobilize was proof of Edie’s mischief. Eleanor checked the kitchen thoroughly for suspect spices, leaves or roots. She would walk past Edie’s cubicle, catch my eye and point surreptitiously inside, or motion her head to alert me that Edie was concocting spells rather than working on office business.

The magazine with Harv’s picture came to rest permanently in my inbox. Somehow I couldn’t bring myself to return it to the dark obscurity of the file cabinet. There was something reassuring in his benign, clueless presence. I would look into the optimistic blue gaze and wonder what he now must know.

Whenever I hear people talking of how children enrich one’s life, it sets me thinking in just the opposite direction—how thoroughly children can destroy a life. The local wisdom was that Harv’s endocarditis was only a secondary cause of his death. The true mortal blow had been struck by Harv’s delinquent son, Erik, age 15.

Harv’s fate was proof that a life well and ethically lived can veer off to an outcome so rotten as to turn people into deep and bitter cynics. Nothing you did mattered because if there could be Erik, then there was no justice, no order. Harv’s fate became a rationale for impulsively ditching a spouse, buying a sports car, or acting on a grudge.

Erik’s latest run-in with the law was an assault on the high school boys’ locker room. He and his accomplice, Fred Pettingast, a judge’s son, were caught in the act by the janitor.

This wasn’t mere drunken teenage vandalism, but an orgy of demolition. Swastikas were etched and painted everywhere, along with anti-Semitic phrases in Gothic blackletter and caricatures of Jews, blacks and Mexicans. They had pulverized the lockers, crumpling and piercing the metal beyond repair. Benches were splintered. They destroyed the plumbing in the showers with corrosive acid, and shattered the tiles into powder. The paint they used in the graffiti was so toxic that it required professional disposal of everything it had touched.

Fred insisted that Erik had been the instigator, while Erik, of course, claimed otherwise. Judge Pettingast must have leaned hard on somebody so that both boys would be undercharged and given probation, and the incident downplayed in local press.

Erik’s locker room exploit was not an isolated incident, though. He invaded, rather than attended school; entrepreneurial talent had made him a drug dealer by his junior year. His grades were good, shored up by cheating, bribery and intimidation.

When it all became too much to take, Harv would drop into Tom’s office and open his heart to the only person he could trust with his anguish.

“The kid’s sowing a few wild oats, so what?” Tom Sklar would comfort his partner. “Hey, I could tell you things I did at his age, you probably wouldn’t want to live in the same town with me let alone practice with me.”

“I couldn’t make it without you, brother,” Harv would choke up.

“Hang in there; you’ll get through this just fine, all of you will.” Tom would come around his desk to give Harv a hug, with a few mutual thwacks on their Barney’s jackets.

Eleanor’s adoration of Harv had spawned a proportional hatred for Harv’s German-born wife, Helga. Her digging into Helga’s background revealed a relative who had been a Nazi official in Bavaria, prominent enough to be hanged by the British after the war. Now, although Helga was a dedicated vegan, grammar school teacher, and Democratic party worker, in Eleanor’s eyes she was the Beast of Belsen.

Helga must have been beautiful once, but life’s stresses were aging her. Her skin was taut over her cheekbones. Her eyes, like Eric’s, which Eleanor described as “Hitler blue,” sometimes widened alarmingly when she spoke, a sort of tic.

“Come with me,” Eleanor said, leading me to the closet of cleaning supplies behind the restroom. She showed me that if you stood in just the right place, you could hear everything going on in Tom’s office. She had also used an ice pick to create herself a neat pinhole for discreet peeping.

“Some hot stuff goes on in there,” Eleanor said, fanning her face. “Helga and Tom. Yes, right under Harv’s nose. For years. They do their nasty here in the office. Tom the big family man. And Helga with her animal rights and eco-activism. Sometimes I was sure they knew I was here. It was like they were daring me to tell Harv.”

“Did you?”

“I had to. I finally couldn’t stand it any more.” A vision of Harv at the end suddenly invaded, the face gaunt with disillusionment and betrayal, the eyes now riddled with bitter self-doubt.

“He got sick right afterwards, one of Edie’s spells I’m sure. She went too far that time. They were all jealous because Harv was a great man. I was the only one who really tried to protect him.”

For months, Harv battled every complication his disease could throw at him. He surfaced at last from an ocean of antibiotics, weakened and wearied. His eyes had gone dull and pale, with brownish hollows beneath; his legs, once firm and tanned from the tennis he loved, were now thin and unsteady. The first thing he did was to file for divorce from Helga. The second was to retire.

To everyone’s surprise, the sickly, divorced Harv took on a sexual allure that the healthy, monogamous version had lacked. Women began to flock, stalk, and proposition him; even women he had once sent to jail offered themselves. Everybody wanted to care for him, to heal him from the inside out. Lock up your daughters, friends would rib him when Harv entered a room. But this stage could not last: like an incandescent bulb, Harv flared into a bright, final burn and then blinked out.

Late last Friday night, the phone rang. I was having a stiff scotch from the bottle of Glenlivet that my parents had bought me to celebrate my getting into law school. I used to tell myself that when the bottle was empty, I could put the whole experience behind me.

“I did it! I’m sorry to bother you at home, Melissa, but I had to tell you. I finally did it.“

“Did what?” My stomach gave a hard jump.

“I told Tom about Edie and her witchcraft. I waited until everyone left tonight, and then I went in and showed him all the evidence. Everything was marked with a date and catalogued. Tom always says the chain of evidence is the pivotal part of a case. Every single piece was there, where I found it and when. Edie was nailed!”

From my bedroom window, I saw a slate-dark, drizzling sky, and for some reason, I pictured Eleanor standing outside in that rain, the upswept hairdo soaked and collapsing of its own weight, sagging comically to one side like a duffel bag, the false lashes flapping wetly above the livid slash of lipstick.

“When you try to straighten things out,” Eleanor said, “and they keep getting twisted up again, you know there’s a powerful force working against you. I told Tom I’d tried to fight it for a long time, but her magic was getting stronger and he needed to take action now or it would be too late, the way it was with Harv. If he didn’t get rid of Edie, she would turn on him too and tell his wife and kids about the affair. Or else try to take you over. Edie is a very dangerous woman.”

I couldn’t bring myself to speak, so I tossed back the rest of the scotch, which seared a raw, welcome swath all the way down, burning through the hopeful lies; the presumptions and facades and well-worn excuses we employ to shore up our collapsing dreams.

“Oh I had her, all right. I even went out in the garden and pulled the plants she uses in her spells—star anise and bay leaves and lavender and rosemary and about a dozen more, and are they ever potent. Let her try to explain that away when Tom confronts her.”

“What did Tom say?”

“He said, “Well, Eleanor, it looks like you’ve done your homework. I know how much you care about the office, and I’m grateful for your work all these years.”

”That’s what he said?”

“Yes, and he should be grateful.”

My silence must have summoned back Eleanor the careerist. “It’s so considerate of you to hear me out, Melissa,” she said. “I apologize for calling on a weekend, but I did this for you too. Things will be different from now on, you’ll see.”

When I arrived at work on Monday morning, Edie met me in the waiting room. The stuffed owl observed us with its clever and knowing stare.

“Melissa, you should know that Tom had to fire Eleanor. So she won’t be here anymore.”

“Tom fired Eleanor?”

“He only kept her on here out of pity long past the time when there was no work for her. She lost important files and client information, and she was a handful for all of us—including you, I’m sure.” Transfixed by Edie’s pointed gaze, I said nothing. “Between you and me,” Edie said, “she was a disaster waiting to happen. I’m amazed at Tom’s patience. He felt terrible, of course, but he had to take the step of getting a restraining order to keep her from harassing us. So you let me know if she bothers you.”

As I turned away, Edie added that despite anything Eleanor may have told me, Tom was the most faithful of husbands and had always been a loyal friend to his partner. She hoped this whole unfortunate incident would not cause me to think of leaving the firm. In fact, Tom had even mentioned sending me to classes that would prepare me for another try at law school.

When my messages to Eleanor’s phone went unreturned, I drove past her small bungalow in Live Oak and knocked on her door. There was no response, though I thought I sensed movement within and I either glimpsed or imagined large, haunted eyes peering from a slat in the blinds.

Last week Edie moved me out of my cramped quarters and gave me Eleanor’s roomy corner cubicle. She and Tom even held a little ceremony with cake and tea to mark my elevation to legal research assistant. They presented me with all new office furniture and a new computer, and Edie even graced my office with a charming miniature spice garden under its own fluorescent lamp.

Shortly afterwards, my once boyfriend called to ask if would consider giving our relationship another chance. He sounded more ardent than he ever had.

As I drive to work, it occurs to me that each street, house and building in town has its own story, and that these are sometimes very bizarre ones. I remind myself  that this must be true of every hamlet in the world.

 

 

 

BIO

Linda Boroff graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in English. Her writing has appeared in McSweeney’s, The Guardian, Hollywood Dementia, Drunk Monkeys, Word Riot, Hobart, Ducts, Blunderbuss, Adelaide, Thoughtful Dog, Storyglossia, Able Muse, The Furious Gazelle, JONAH Magazine, The Boiler, Cold Creek Review, and others, including several anthologies. 

She was nominated for a 2016 Pushcart Prize for fiction, and she won first prize in The Writers Place short story competition. She has written one feature film which played in theaters and festivals in 2010. Her short story published in Epoch is under option to Sony and director Brad Furman (The Lincoln Lawyer). She wrote the script for the upcoming biopic of film noir actress Barbara Payton, Fast Fade, currently casting with producer Don Murphy (Transformers).

 

 

 

 

 

How Author Eddy L. Harris Changed My Life

by Patrick Dobson

 

My favorite travel writer and friend, Eddy L. Harris, wrote books that changed my life. Maybe I read them at the right time or his messages hit me in the heart for who I am. Perhaps parts of his stories resembled my own life’s narrative. I think, at bottom, his writing affected me in these ways and many more.

I first ran into Harris’ second book, Native Stranger: A Black American’s Journey into the Heart of Africa, while poking around in the travel narrative section of a book store in Laramie, Wyoming. At the time I attended the University of Wyoming. I took grad school so seriously I contemplated suicide and nearly put myself into the mental hospital. I was only sober a year after having alcohol in my blood constantly for the previous sixteen years. My girlfriend had a baby, my daughter, just three months before I took off for Laramie. And there I was, a single father, baby in Kansas City, son of working-class people who prized a regular job over education, convinced I was a failure before I even started. I was frightened all the time. But I had to prove myself. I sought redemption like starved animals fight for food.

So, I overcompensated. I read hundreds of books for my studies—326, actually. “A” grades weren’t good enough. I needed to shine and I pressed myself. I was not a decent student. Focus escaped me. I gobbled text after text, absorbing vast amounts of information. But I lacked and missed the importance of the contemplative moment, that time when a scholar sits back and thinks about what he or she has read and organize it into a digestible narrative. I was like a library without a filing system.

Along with all the books I read for my studies, I read travel narratives and travel memoirs. I took stacks of them out of the university library. I swallowed them whole, one after the other. I dreamed of far-away places. Bruce Chatwin took me to the Tierra del Fuego and Australia. I learned the beauties of Afghanistan from Robert Byron. Brian Newby ushered me through Waziristan and down the Ganges. I rode the Blue Highways, traveled with Charley, and floated the Missouri River with Apikuni. Paul Theroux, that snotty and dismissive bastard, impressed the hell out of me—and I read all his books.

Then, Eddy Harris took me to Africa. It was a pivotal moment for me. Fear soaked my being. The weight of my dissolute past smothered me. Learning what adults are and what they do proved harder work than anything I’d done before. In Native Stranger, I accompanied Harris as he went from the north coast of the continent to the southern tip. Between these points, he encountered all the heartbreak and love of a place that is not one but many—lands, peoples, and, unfortunately, oppressive regimes. More importantly for me, he showed himself becoming a different, more mature, and loving person.

I burrowed into the library shelves and surfaced with Harris’ first book, Mississippi Solo: A River Quest.  The river intrigued Harris, a St. Louis native, not merely because it was the river of his youth but because it was also the river of his history. He began his trip as the Mississippi does, in the small waters in the north. The river took him into the heart of the South, where black men don’t travel the river, where white men carry guns and grudges deadly to black men. The river, he writes, carries “sins and salvation, dreams and adventure and destiny.” If Harris’ story isn’t about facing fear, doing penance, and seeking oneself, I don’t know what is. And that’s what I thought when I read the first page of Mississippi Solo. This was a book about me

Yes, I understand Eddy is black and I am white. Our upbringings could not have been more distant from one another. Our family pasts were almost opposites. I grew up in the suburbs, Eddy in inner-city St. Louis.  I possessed some advantages that Eddy did not. Eddy grew up in a gentle, loving house. Despite the violence of my childhood and the depth of my despair, I still had the privilege of degrading myself. Eddy’s relationship with his father carried him through difficult and dark moment. I don’t speak to my father. No one ever saw me at night and crossed the street.

I read as much of Harris’ work as I could get my hands on. His books South of Haunted Dreams: A Ride Through Slavery’s Old Back Yard and Still Life in Harlem, speak to me as Native Stranger and Mississippi Solo do. Here is man afraid but courageous, who knows that salvation comes only to those who seek it. They only discover they been saved by hindsight: They were delivered in the moment they stopped seeking and started living.

I’ve been lucky to meet Eddy, and I now associate the writer and his written messages with his personality. He is a good man, a kind soul, and gentle person who knows how to stand up for himself, be assertive, and command attention. He breaks through stereotypes, confounds his critics, and works all the time to remain true to himself. If he is scared, he is also courageous. He’s no one’s patsy. These things, all of them, that attract me to him. I have faith in Eddy Harris and know that his quest is a good one; not just for him, but for me and the rest of us, as well. I can call him a friend.

I am just as guilty as any white person about asking the only black guy in the room about his experience being black. To my knowledge, few Black Americans have asked white people for an all-encompassing assessment of their racial experience. In our first long conversation, I apologized to Eddy about asking the him black-guy questions. I wanted to know about him and how people treated him as a black man. Through the trials and errors of being a well-meaning and basically decent-hearted soul, I learned long ago, back in my drinking days, that a person—white, Black, Indian, Hispanic, Asian—can only tell me their experience and not that of the race. Eddy’s very conscious of being Black. He also doesn’t pretend to speak for Black people. He understands that he shares common racial experience with other Blacks, but he knows and is confident of himself as an individual struggling, working, and trying to make it on his own.

He was very understanding of me when we spoke about his Blackness. He knew that I could never know what it meant to be an outsider, the invisible man. But he entertained my questions and treated me like an equal, another writer seeking experience that would one day affect his writing. He taught me that messages of redemption, fear, sadness, melancholy, and joy, while coded differently along American racial fault lines, are universal. Being Black plays an important role in his writing. His books entail a Black man’s experience. But Eddy’s mastered the storyteller’s art. He relates tales of human emotion. His tales are American stories. That’s why his books say so much to me.

Long before I met Eddy, his writing played an important role in my life. It’s in part due to Eddy that I took off twenty years ago to walk to Helena, Montana, and canoe the Missouri River back to Kansas City. I’ve traveled extensively with my kids with the knowledge that whatever happened to us would bring us a little closer to our own redemptions. Due to his example, I wrote and published two books about my long trip and many shorter pieces about the journeys my kids and I have made. Due to his writing, too, I had the pluck to enter Ph.D. studies when I was 41, and due to his encouragement and goading, I earned that Ph.D. after long years working in other fields and doing dissertation at night when I was 52. I teach now, and often think of Eddy when standing in front of a classroom. Eddy’ example of not letting things bother him before their time has motivated me when I have had the duty and opportunity to speak in front of large crowds. Eddy doesn’t worry. He just gets up and does it. I can’t tell you how often I’ve “Eddy Harrissed” a presentation, interview, talk, or workshop I’ve led. When nervous or upset, I remember Eddy, his steady demeanor, his confidence. I take that on for myself and don’t worry about what the crowds think. I give it my best. That’s all I can do.

Eddy went back to the Mississippi twenty-five years after the journey he wrote about in Mississippi Solo. He rightly believed that his voyage would tell us more about our country, our rivers, and about being Americans. He took a talented people with him on his journey this time, including Emmy-winning cinematographer Neil Rettig, whose work has featured prominently on National Geographic, Discovery, PBS, and BBC. Joining Rettig is Emmy-winning documentary maker Mary Oliver Smith and National Geographic WILD editor, John Freeman. With their help, he produced a full-length feature about how an American man changes with time, how his perspective shifts, and how the people and the country around him transform but remain the same.

I have not seen the documentary but in snippets. Eddy’s attempting to sell the feature to a distribution company or television channel. His efforts on the film have run him to the edge of financial ruin. But he put his money to good use. The excerpts I’ve seen are professional and personal. The experts he employed on the film did their work the best they knew how. Every day, I think, this is the Eddy will sell the film and it will be available to the general public. Perhaps, some of the viewers will learn what I have from Eddy Harris. They will be better people. They will know more after the watch the film who they are, who we are as Americans.

Eddy lives in France these days. He has been able to publish in Europe, in the French language. Years ago, he found that his outlook doesn’t fit the typical Black American narrative American readers have come to expect. His success in France parallels those who have gone before him: Josephine Baker, Paul Robeson, Richard Wright, and James Baldwin. Like these Black Americans, he finds France a place where he can live outside the American racial experience. He seeks to be read as a writer and not as a Black American or merely as a Black writer.

Not only that, the French celebrate writers. He’s considered somebody because he writes. That’s all any of us can hope for. I keep thinking, well, maybe I should move to France, find myself a small village, and enjoy my status as someone who’s respected because he writes.

Eddy makes frequent trips to the United States. He still has close friends and family in his native St. Louis. He’s done residencies at prestigious universities, most recently William and Mary. He’s made speaking appearances in Kansas City and I’m arranging a workshop for him at the Writers Place, a Kansas City literary arts center. Whenever he’s in the states, he comes to Kansas City to visit me. It’s always a pleasure to have Eddy in my home with my family, for whom he has a great deal of affection. Due to our long acquaintance, he has lost his celebrity sheen with me and become a man, something I think he seeks to be with everyone.

When I think of Eddy, I can’t help but think just how he has changed my life. He encourages my literary efforts more than family, other writers, and my friends. I have the courage now to plant my ass in a chair, remain stoic, and fill the page from top to bottom. I am bold enough now to take the risk and put my writing out there for public consumption and criticism. I am braver and more spirited, not just in my writing life, but in my everyday activities. I am a better person for having Eddy Harris in my life.

 

 

 

BIO

Dr. Patrick Dobson has worked as a journalist, book editor, and union ironworker in Kansas City, MO. The University of Nebraska Press published his two travel memoirs, Seldom Seen: A Journey into the Great Plains (2009) and Canoeing the Great Plains: A Missouri River Summer (2015). He teaches American History, Latin American History, and Western Civilization at Johnson County Community College in nearby Overland Park, KS. His essays and poems have appeared in New Letters, daCunha, Kansas City Star, Indiana Voice Journal, Garo, JONAHmagazine, and other newspapers and literary magazines. His essays and travel pieces can be viewed at http://patrickdobson.com.

 

 

 

 

Ice

by Susan Kleinman

 

 

LOG IN:

Email or Phone: Carol@WestCloRealty.com

Password: SellingHouses

Not the most secure password, but that’s okay. Carol never posts anything private on her Facebook page, anyway; just announcements of upcoming open houses and “likes” on the posts of anyone who might want her to help them buy or sell a home one day – which is to say, everyone she’s ever met.

Carol Gold: Join me Sunday, August 24, 2014, from 1-3 p.m. at this beautifully renovated 4 bed/3 bath at 351 Austen Drive. Walk to Worship. See you there.

She “likes” seven idiotic cat videos, nine random quotes from Monty Python movies, 83 pictures from the Isaacsons’ trip to Israel, and an urgent reminder from Barbara Kranzler that recipes are due for the second edition of the shul’s fundraising cookbook, The West Kloverdale Kosher Kooking Konnection Kollection. Such a waste of time and paper thinks Carol, who just Googles when she needs a recipe. But she picks up her phone nevertheless, clicks over to its electronic to-do list and enters a reminder to send in her three-ingredient chili recipe. Barbara is an old friend and a hard worker, and besides: With the Kranzlers’ youngest daughter recently married off, Barb and Bert are talking about downsizing, and Carol has a gorgeous condo right near shul that has been sitting on the market a little bit too long.

She hits “like.”

Reb Andy: Oh, for God’s sake, Carol thinks, can’t he just call himself Rabbi Garelick like a grownup? Would love to see EVERYONE bright and early for Shabbat morning services.

Garelick has been making great efforts to get the women of West Cloverdale to come to shul earlier, with their husbands; has been trying mightily to make them feel more equal by having women stand up and read the “Prayer for Our Congresspersons” aloud. Honestly, Carol thinks, as she hits “like” (the Rabbi always knows when a young couple is checking out the neighborhood or hunting for a house), if I wanted to be equal, I would join the Unitarian Church.

Laura Lipschitz: Happy birthday to the best husband, partner and lover a girl could ever hope for, my sweet @Stuie Lipshitz.

Ugh. Carol might find this a bit less nauseating if Stuart Lipshitz were not, in fact, the LEAST sweet man she has ever met; if the word “lover” didn’t sound so creepy; if Laura didn’t spend half of every sisterhood meeting complaining (right in front of Carol and Barb and Sheila Edelstein, each of them old enough to be Laura’s mother!) about how her husband probably wouldn’t be able to find her G-spot with a GPS. But still, Carol clicks over to Stuart’s Facebook page and dutifully types “Happy Birthday” on his wall. If Laura ever gets tired of waiting for Loverboy to locate her erogenous zones and needs to sell their McMansion in a divorce settlement, Carol’s commission could run to 65 or 70 grand.

She posts “Happy birthday!” to Marge Blaustein, too, and to Emily Miller and Brian Cooper-Jaffe; “friends” 37 friends of friends, and keeps scrolling. There’s a distressing article from Tablet.com about the Jews of Paris, and a not-even-remotely-funny Purple Clover cartoon about forgetting one’s reading glasses… and, then – finally! – something that actually makes her smile:

Alison Liebskind has posted a video.

Carol doesn’t think it’s a great idea for a 10-year-old to be on social media, but she has to admit it is nice to see her granddaughter’s face on the computer in between visits up to Westchester.

“Ok,” Alison is saying on the screen, as Carol clicks the little arrows that enlarge the video: “I would like to nominate my best friend, Chloe Orenthal; my mother, Rachel Liebskind; and my brother Jonathan Liebskind.” And with that, she dumps a bucket filled with – What is that? ICE? Yes, ice – dumps it over her own head, soaking her gorgeous red curls and her blue Camp Ramah t-shirt as she shrieks and giggles and dances in her flip-flops on the driveway. “You have 24 hours to complete the ice bucket challenge or donate to the mumble-mumble-mumble” – What is she saying?

The screen momentarily goes black and then there is Jonathan in the video. God, when did he get so tall? Carol switches over to her to-do list and makes a note to call Rachel about a visit, then jots a few words in the crossword puzzle she does every morning to help keep her memory sharp, and opens a text that has just pinged on her phone. Whenever her husband, Wally, teases that she can multi-task like nobody’s business, she reminds him that multitasking IS her business, that she hasn’t won WestClo Realty’s Top Performer Award 17 years in a row without being able to juggle him and the kids and the grand-kids and the house and her clients; and – these last few years – her texts and her tweets and Instagram, too. The text is a client asking if she can reschedule her look at the house on Fitzgerald Lane from 3:15 this afternoon to 4:30. “Sure. C U then,” Carol types, in the text-speak she hired a high-school kid to teach her so that her twenty-and thirty-something house-buying clients would feel at ease with her. (The older clients – the sellers – she still calls on their land-lines. More than one has thanked her profusely for this, as if she has performed a heroic act of lovingkindness.)

She puts down her phone and turns back to the computer screen. “OK,” Jonathan is saying through the gap where his front baby-teeth used to be. “Wait. What do I say?”

Carol hears Alison’s impatient big-sister sigh, and then, “You have to nominate people.”

“Oh, yeah, I would like to nominate my best friend, Jonah, and my Grandma – what’s Grandma’s real name again?”

Slower, heavier sigh: “Carol Gold, you dumb-head.”

“Oh, yeah. My Grandma, Carol Gold.”

When Carol met Wally, his last name was Goldfinger, but she convinced him to shorten it before their wedding. The theme song from that James Bond film was still playing on the pop-radio stations, and she dreaded a lifetime of spy jokes and double entendres. “We have to think about our future children,” she told him when she suggested “Gold” – short and sweet. “I’m just being practical.”

Of course she was. Carol is the very soul of practicality. Wash-and-go haircuts and sensible shoes. Three-ingredient suppers and no-iron sheets. In addition to Wally’s name, she had persuaded him to change his college major, too. Au revoir, French Literature… Hello, accounting. And when it had been time for them to look for a house, (Wally had just made partner at his firm; Carol was pregnant with their second child), she didn’t pick a community by hunch or gut feeling or what her current crop of house-hunters call “vibe,” but by drawing up a decision tree on three pages of the ledger paper Wally used to bring home from the office.

And she had made a good choice. The Golds have been happy in West Cloverdale for 45 years now, surrounded by people who share their values and their politics; by friends who brought car-loads of casseroles when Rachel’s first husband, Uri, was killed in a robbery at his shoe store, and stacks of wedding presents when she married her second husband, Aaron in the rabbi’s study. Ali had been born a year later and Jonathan, two more years after that. How is it that he is already about to begin 3rd grade?

“You have 24 hours,” Jonathan is saying now on Carol’s computer screen, “to donate to the – wait, what’s it called again?”

“Oh, just give me the phone,” Alison snaps. The picture jerks and shakes and then there is Ali’s face again. “Hi, Grandma, Jonathan just nominated you for the ALS ice bucket challenge. That means you have 24 hours to dump a bucket of ice over your head or give money to the ALS foundation…”

Jonathan jumps back into the frame. “Oh, yeah. The ALS Foundation. It’s a sickness, and, um, well, it’s really bad, I think, so you have to give them money. Or do the ice thing. Like this.” And he picks up a bucket – a heavy one, judging by the strain on his freckled face – dumps the contents over his head, and starts to cry.

“It’s colllllld,” he wails through his tears, as the screen goes blank.

Of course it’s cold. Carol thinks, pushing her chair away from the computer with a screech. It’s ice.

But it’s not Jonathan she’s annoyed with, sweet gap-toothed Jonathan, and she knows it. She bites the nail off her left pinky, a habit she gave up in seventh grade when she sent away for a booklet on how to quit; paces around the kitchen; eats three cookies left over from Shabbos even though she isn’t hungry; and slams the pantry door shut.

ALS. Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Lou Gehrig’s – and David Stein’s.

David Stein. A tall, handsome man with a short, handsome name; a medical student at Columbia, from a nice family in Woodmere. Carol met him during her sophomore year at Hunter College, at a party given by a mutual friend. Within the week, they were going steady. By the end of the month, she knew she wanted to marry him.

“It’s Prince Charrrrrrrming,” her mother always whispered in a happy little sing-song voice every time she handed Carol the phone. “Dr. Right!” her father proclaimed after Carol brought David home for dinner. And indeed, he WAS charming, with his polished manners and his easy smile. And it DID feel right, talking to him, dancing with him, necking in his car – but nothing more. No one buys the cow, Carol knew, if they can get the milk for free.

Carol and David had fun together: They both liked ice-skating and tennis; enjoyed the same movies and laughed at the same jokes. They looked good together: her blonde head against his broad shoulder. And they agreed about all the things that could cause a less-compatible couple to argue: money (they were both savers, not spenders); food (not too spicy); and children (they would have two, unless the first two were the same sex, in which case they would try once more – but only once more.) David would be a good father and a good provider.

“That’s all very nice, but does he make your heart go pitter-pat?” her sister, Ruth, asked as Carol ticked off these attributes on her fingers. “Is he your one and only?”

The answers were yes and no, respectively.

Yes, Carol really was in love with David. But no, she didn’t believe that there was one and only one man for every woman, or just one woman for any man. “How could that BE, with three billion people on the planet?” she challenged Ruth back in 1959. “Only one? It’s just not possible,” she told herself again in 2002, when she signed Rachel up for jDate a year after Uri’s funeral.

And I was right, she thinks now, every time she sees Alison and Jonathan on Facebook – Alison and Jonathan, who both have Rachel’s blue eyes and Aaron’s ginger curls. There is more than one-and-only Prince Charming.

But oh, yes, David Stein made her heart go pitter-pat. She thought about him when she rode the subway to Hunter and when she studied in the library and when she drank tea back in her parents’ kitchen, late at night. She thought about how smart he was and how funny and how handsome; about what it would be like to sleep with him after they got married and what it would be like to make a home with him.

And then, one Sunday morning when David and Carol were eating blintzes at Rattner’s, David dropped the fork on its way to his mouth. A few weeks later, he spilled his Coke down the front of his shirt while they waited for a movie to start. It’s just pre-engagement jitters, Carol assured herself, as she handed him a stack of napkins from the concession stand. She and David had been talking a lot about marriage – although they agreed that they should wait to formalize things until they were both closer to graduation. She had let him know (after practicing in front of her mirror at home to make sure that her practicality didn’t come across as bossiness) that she would prefer a white-gold setting to platinum for her diamond engagement ring, because white-gold prongs were less likely to bend and break; and that she’d rather have a summer wedding than a winter one – no blizzards to worry about. David seemed as excited about all of it as she felt. But still, getting engaged would be a big deal, Carol told herself when he tripped over his own feet on his way off the tennis court at his parents’ club. His nervousness didn’t mean he didn’t love her.

“I love you,” he told her, as he dusted grass off his knees and took her hand. “I love you,” he said again, later, as he kissed her neck in her parents’ driveway in Forest Hills. And then, as he started to open her sweater, he said, “I think I might have Lou Gehrig’s Disease.”

For a split second – and she hated herself afterwards for even thinking it – Carol wondered if this was a ploy to get the milk for free.

“You what?” she said, softly, leaning away from him and fumbling to close the little pearl buttons on her cardigan.

“I have a neurologist’s appointment tomorrow,” he said. “I’ve been trying into find a good time to tell you, but now it just slipped out. I’m sorry.”

“Let’s not panic,” she said, forcing a smile. “I bet it could be any one of a number of things.”

At the college library the next day, she researched some of the things that might be causing David’s tremors and his clumsiness: Early-onset Parkinson’s, or maybe multiple sclerosis – neither of those diseases a picnic, either, but better than Lou Gehrig’s. But David – medical student and son of a doctor – had already ruled those out on his own.

The first neurologist sent David to a second, who explained what David already knew, and what Carol had learned in her hours of research: that ALS can’t be diagnosed except by process of elimination. Dr. Lerner called for tests to rule out every disease that was likely and several that weren’t, until the only test they hadn’t done, David tried half-heartedly to joke, was a Pap smear.

“I’m afraid we’re at the end of the line,” David imitated Dr. Lerner’s pompous voice when he relayed the conversation to Carol. “The end of the line,” as if the whole thing had been a trip out to Coney Island.

Every night for the next month, Carol lay awake in her bed, wondering whether and when she should break it off with David. “It would be different if it weren’t fatal,” she protested when Ruth accused her of being heartless and unromantic. If she married him now, she wouldn’t be a virgin when she had to date again after a suitable period of mourning. And what Nice Jewish Boy her age would want a woman who had been around? If she didn’t marry David but stayed with him till the end, she’d be a spinster at 27 or 28 – and to whose benefit?

So when he did the gentlemanly thing and suggested that they break up, she hugged him gently and promised that even if they weren’t together, she would still be his friend – his very best friend – until the end.

And, for a couple of years, she was. She borrowed her father’s car and drove David out to Jones Beach in the summer; took the Long Island Railroad out to watch the World Series with him at his parents’ house in the fall. She sent him funny cards from the Hallmark store and rugelach from his favorite bakery in the city every few weeks, and she called him every night (now that they were just friends she didn’t have to worry about appearing too forward) and told him funny stories about her classes and her cousin Kenny’s bar mitzvah and the ridiculous guy Ruth was dating, often talking until she fell asleep with the telephone receiver in her hand.

But then, during her senior year, she met Wally. Wally with his sweet soul and his sharp mind. Wally who agreed to switch his major and change his name for her. Wally, to whom she never breathed a word about David Stein; whom she made Ruth promise not to tell about David, either. What would be the point?

It took Carol three weeks after Wally proposed before she could bring herself to call David.

“Mazal tov, beautiful bride!” he said when she finally forced herself to tell him that she was engaged. And then, after a long and painful silence, “So, I guess this is our last phone call, huh?”

She thought of saying that no, they could still speak, could still be friends – but she knew that wasn’t true. If it were true, if David was really her friend, she would have told Wally all about him, would maybe even invite David to the wedding. Or take Wally out to visit him. And she would never do any of that.

“I’ll never forget you,” Carol promised.

But then she had.

Well, she didn’t forget him always, and never entirely. She remembered him when she played tennis and when she ate rugelach. Sometimes, even after all these years, when she woke up she could see his face in front of her, so close-seeming and so real-looking that once, she had reached out to touch him, only to find herself grasping at the air. But she forgot him for long stretches of time, when she was busy with Wally and her babies and her real estate class; with her aging parents and her growing children and her committees at the shul.

When Uri was killed, Carol had wondered briefly whether seeing her daughter grieve was her punishment for not sticking around to mourn David properly. But then she reminded herself that she didn’t believe such superstitious nonsense; that she was a rational woman, and it was the 21st century. And so, when for a brief moment she thought of telling Rachel about David – “I know exactly how you feel” – she just hugged her, instead, and helped fill out death certificates and insurance forms.

“Do you ever think about him?” Ruth asked at the end of the shiva for Uri, when the two sisters were packing leftover lasagnas from neighbors for the freezer.

“About whom?” Carol feigned ignorance, but Ruth saw right through her and asked again.

“I do think about him sometimes,” Carol whispered to Ruth in the kitchen that afternoon, wondering – as she did when she still sometimes awoke with David’s face fading from a dream – whether “sometimes” was too often or not often enough. “But you know how I am. Brass-tacks; tachlis, here-and-now.”

“Heartless,” Ruth had mumbled and Carol had pretended not to hear. Well, what good would it have done Carol – or David – for her to stay in touch with him? What would she have told him? That married life was treating her very well, thanks? That when she had bled, a little, on her wedding night, Wally had looked pleased? No, she had told herself when she didn’t call David; when she made herself throw out the obituary pages of the Times before she could be tempted to read them. What good would her tears do David? What good would they do her?

No, she had told herself all those years ago, it was better for everyone this way.

 

And now, in a new century in another state, her computer buzzes and pings.

Rachel Liebskind likes Alison Libeskind’s video.

Rachel Liebskind shared Alison Liebskind’s video. “So proud of my kiddies!!”

Rachel Liebskind tagged you in a post: “Did you see this @Carol Gold?”

Carol forces herself to “like” that, and then clicks the video again, turns away from it to answer a text about the shul’s pew re-upholstery committee before she turns back to her computer:

“I would like to nominate my Grandma. What is Grandma’s real name?” Jonathan is asking, and for a moment Carol worries about his attention-paying skills; didn’t Ali just tell him her name a moment ago? But then she remembers that she is watching the same video a second time. Jonathan is fine.

She logs out of Facebook and sits at her desk for a long while, thinking about the days she and David spent waiting for his diagnosis and the nights she spent wondering how to let him down gently; about the first time he tripped and the last time they spoke.

Finally, she rises from her ergonomic chair, slips her phone into one of the Ziploc bags she buys by the gross and tucks it into her pocket, and heads down to the laundry room. “Fully-finished basement!” she will advertise one day, when she and Wally are ready to downsize from the house into a condo. “Brand new appliances!”

She reaches under the laundry sink for a bucket, heads back upstairs to the kitchen and presses the bucket against the ice maker in the freezer door, then carries it carefully out to the deck, where the late-summer haze stings her eyes. Just 9:30 a.m. and already the temperature is in the high 80s. It won’t be long until the ice starts to melt.

“This is for you, Ali and Jonathan,” Carol says, talking into the Ziploc-waterproofed phone she is holding at arm’s length. She lifts the bucket one-handed and awkwardly tips it over her head.

And then, just like sweet, shivering Jonathan, she cries.

 

 

BIO

Susan Kleinman’s short stories have appeared in The Baltimore Review, Inkwell, the William and Mary Review, JewishFiction.net, and The MacGuffin, and her articles, essays, and book reviews have been published in dozens of newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times and New YorkMagazine. She teaches fiction writing at the Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence College, where she was a Gurfein Writing Fellow in 2010.

 

 

 

At the beach

by Abigail George

 

Bright lights in the city.
You had been made of iron.
Your memoir is made of whirlpools.
As vital as a tombstone.
I can thrive in this cancer ward.
Filled with the song of mannequins.
In the dark, I turn black.
Sea of trees I cannot fathom you.
Swimming pool once a myth.
Upside down and wishful.
I can see Jonah’s Whale from here.
Stars in the fabric of moonlight.
Everything smells of spirit.

 

 

Hibiscus and insects

 

Now I meet with disaster.
I come with bereavement.
The ways of water run deep.
Salt and light. Before disability struck
Do you remember?
The epic heights you reached.
The cigarettes you smoked
In high school. Boys made out of paper.
Men made out of gin.
You were unsuitable for both.
You stopped drinking milk.
You stopped eating altogether.
Anorexia they called it.
The elephant in the room.
You went to the moon
In addition, back in dreams.
You held the autumn chill
In your hands. Its journal.
There were the walks you took
Around the church. Up to the
Garage where you bought peanuts
And raisins with your father.
The cashier would not smile
As he bagged your purchases.
Your dad’s granadilla hands
He is in the autumn of the years.
It is that festive time of year again.
When you eat, drink, and be merry.
I will not be doing that this year.
I am fragile. A mountainous
Version of tenderness. I melt in the
Presence of children. No good
For anyone. Stay away from me.

 

 

Jericho

 

I am a cat person. I collect strays
Like others collect coins or stamps.
I believe in God, love and crashing
Into things. I spend too much
Time inside my own head.
I am tired of instructing my own work.
I write about the song in the wind.
It becomes my own song.
The song of loneliness. Of Rilke,
Of Nabokov, of Akhmatova,
Of Ernest Hemingway driving
Ambulances during the war.
I write about the seasons
As if I were a poet. The leaves that
Leave fingerprints behind them.
A pint of milk. A jar of honey.
I write about angels and goddesses.
I am impatient and angry
At the human condition and I read
To find myself because this is
This is what the river whispers to me.
Sometimes the road inside too.

 

 

BIO

abigail georgeAbigail George is the author of ‘Africa Where Art Thou’ (2011), ‘Feeding the Beasts’ (2012), ‘All About My Mother’ (2012), ‘Winter in Johannesburg’ (2013), ‘Brother Wolf and Sister Wren’ (2015), and the forthcoming ‘Sleeping Under Kitchen Tables in the Northern Areas’ (2016). Her poetry has been widely published from Nigeria to Finland, and New Delhi, India to Istanbul, Turkey. Her fiction was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She briefly studied film and television production at the Newtown Film and Television School opposite the Market Theater in Johannesburg. She is the recipient of writing grants from the National Arts Council (Johannesburg), the Centre for the Book (Cape Town), and ECPACC (Eastern Cape Provincial Arts and Culture Council) (East London). She writes for Modern Diplomacy, blogs with Goodreads, and contributed to a symposium for a year on Ovi Magazine: Finland’s English Online Magazine.

 

 

 

     THE WRITING DISORDER ARCHIVE – 2010-2020

    reading room 1950s

    F=Fiction, P=Poetry, N=Nonfiction, CN=Creative Nonfiction, A=Art, I=Interview

    To View work from 2010-2014, please click here.

    The Writing Disorder
    Spring 2022

    FICTION

    Dr. Rocktopath’s Horror-Style by N.J. Banerjee The Collier Kids by Tetman Callis
    The Secret Agent by Robert Collings The Advantages of Being a Lit Mag Editor by Lou Gaglia
    Something, Somewhere Else by Margaret E. Helms Vanishing Pop-Tarts by Crystal McQueen
    Orphans of the Savannah by Adam Matson The Third Floor by Nancy Machlis Rechtman

    POETRY

    Vandana Kumar John Maurer 
    Stephen Mead Paul Rabinowitz
    Juanita Rey Hoyt Rogers
    Jason Visconti

    NONFICTION

    The Wild Child by Catherine Filloux Forged for Strength by Jean McDonough
    Beautiful Things by William T. Vandegrift, Jr.

    ART

    The Photography of Paul Rabinowitz

    REVIEW

    Writing as Recovery: Melissa Febos’ Body Work by Kate Brandt

    The Writing Disorder • Winter 2021/22

    FICTION An Analysis
    Robert Boucheron
    Louise
    Inez Hollander
    Sandman
    Kate H. Koch
     
    Arrival
    J.T. Neill
    Three Footnotes from Henry-Louis de La Grange, Mahler, Volume 1
    Clarissa Nemeth
    Bradyphrenia
    Justin Reamer
    Better Late Than Ever
    Jeff Underwood
    Drive-up Christmas Eve
    Stuart Watson
    POETRY Holly Day Ash Ellison Jonah Meyer
    Bruce Parker Frederick Pollack Kate Porter
    NONFICTION Make It Go Away: Love, Loss and What I was Reading
    Joan Frank
    A Prequel to My Sister’s
    Donna Talarico 
    Thrice
    Emilio Williams 
     
    ART The Art of Nick Bryant    
    INTERVIEW Aesthetic Transmissions: A Conversation with Robert Hass
    George Guida 

    The Writing Disorder • Fall 2021

    FICTION On the Ground, Looking Up
    Tori Bissonette
    Devoir
    Marcia Bradley 
    Concerto de Aranjuez, Transcribed for the Ukulele
    Paul Garson
     
    New Mexico or Arizona
    Ethan Klein
    Tom Turkey
    Justin Meckes
    A Miraculous Takeover
    Austin McLellan
    Sleight of Hand
    Sarah Terez Rosenblum
    Whatever Happened to Mr. Saguaro?
    Carolyn Weisbecker
    POETRY Milton P. Ehrlich Maria Marrocchino Mikayla Schutte
    Travis Stephens Jordyn Taylor Kim Zach
    NONFICTION Hashbrowns and Termites
    Jamie Good
    The Arraghey Wander by Seven
    Ruth Heilgeist 
    Sportin’ Life
    Graeme Hunter 
    How to Break and Mend Your Mother’s Heart
    JoAnne E. Lehman
    ARTWORK The Art of Amy Earles    
    INTERVIEW Freak Out! My Life
    with Frank Zappa:
    Pauline Butcher Bird 

    The Writing Disorder • Summer 2021

    FICTION Annual Rites
    L. Shapley Bassen
    An Artist’s Whore
    Grace Ford 
    The Two Missing Words
    David Henson
     
    The Langauge of Flowers
    Jennifer Lorene Ritenoir
    Hollywood, Guido Orlando, The Pope and The Mother
    M.F. McAuliffe
    Mohua
    Maitreyee
    Matters That Concern Me
    Walter Weinschenk
    POETRY Carolyn Adams Torri Hammonds James Croal Jackson
    J.R. Solonche Elizabeth Train-Brown Matt Zachary
    NONFICTION In the Houses of Others
    Anita Kestin
    Guide to the Ruins
    Eve Müller 
    Review: Dust Bowl Venus
    Linda Scheller 
    Marked
    Deborah A. Lott
    INTERVIEW Pauline Butcher Bird
    Freak Out! My Life with Frank Zappa 
       
    ARTWORK The Art of Ryan Heshka


    The Writing Disorder – Spring 2021

    The Writing Disorder • Fall 2020

    FICTION
    The Marginalia Game – Adam Anders
    Great Spirits – Arun A.K.
    Cabbage Night – T.B. Grennan
    The Sins of Father Rickman – Catherine J. Link
    The Snow Queen – Jennifer R. Lorene
    The Woman Left Behind is Still Behind Him – Shea McCollum
    Death Rattle – Kristen Roedel
    Savior – Katy Van Sant
    POETRY
    Januário Esteves
    Diana Ha
    Ashley Inguanta
    F.X. James
    Steven M. Smith
    Tim Suermondt
    James Thurgood
    NONFICTION
    The Other Daughter – Lourdes Dolores Follins
    Wonderful Vacation – J L Higgs
    Amen Sure Thing – Mindela Ruby
    California Fugue – Teresa Yang
    INTERVIEW
    Philip Cioffari by Bill Wolak
    ARTWORK
    Liz Brizzi

    The Writing Disorder • Summer 2020

    FICTION A Damsel in Bedlam
    Kat Devitt
    Three New Names
    Masie Hollingsworth
    The Woman in the Window
    Flora Jardine
     
    The Affair of the Bird
    Harli James
    Fishbowl Frenzy
    Susie Potter
    Pretty Boy
    Nina Shevzov-Zebrun
    The New Reality
    Tom Whalen
    The Poet Ray Brown
    John Yohe
    POETRY Daniel Aristi Christopher Barnes Donna Dallas
    Téa Nicolae Keko Prijatelj Abasiama Udom
    NONFICTION A Survival Guide to
    Christian College

    Rachel Belth
    Save Me and I
    Will Be Saved

    Riley Winchester
    Rejuvenation in
    Fragments

    Jennifer Worrell
    INTERVIEW Judith Skillman
    by Janée J. Baugher
       
     
    ARTWORK Carl Lozada

    The Writing Disorder • Spring 2020

    FICTION
    Words May Set You Free – Marco Etheridge
    Five Questions for Thomas Pynchon – Nathaniel Heely
    Separated by Glass – Kailyn Kausen
    The Walker – Martin Keaveney
    The UMAMI Museum Field Trip – Cecilia Kennedy
    Reflections – Regan Kilkenny
    Smitten to Spitten – Madeline McEwen
    The New Girl in Our Office – Deepti Nalavade Mahule
    Assumptions – James Mulhern

    POETRY
    Michele Alice
    Terry Brinkman
    Abigail George
    Lance Lee
    Charles J. March III
    Juanita Rey

    NONFICTION
    Fasting – Cliff Morton
    Smoke – Dennis Vannatta

    INTERVIEW
    Chryssa Nikolakis          

    ARTWORK
    Jessica Brilli

    The Writing Disorder • Winter 2019-2020

    FICTION 20/20
    A.L. Bishop
    The Art Collective
    Robert Boucheron
    A Better Parent
    Alison Gadsby
     
    Tito’s Descent
    Marylee MacDonald
    I as the being
    Pawel Markiewicz
    Natural Burial
    J.L. Moultrie
    Complicit
    Jane Snyder
    Tony Van Witsen
    Dewey Defeats Truman
    POETRY Natasha Deonarain Kevin R. Farrell, Jr. J.A. Staisey
    John Wiley Mark Young
    NONFICTION Sozzled
    Hannah Green
    Painters and Poets
    John C. Krieg
    Temporary Cat Lady
    Caitlin Sellnow
    Head of the Ulna
    Tessa Vroom
       
    COMIC ART Karl Stephan
    Mary Boys

    The Writing Disorder • Fall 2019

    FICTION Gray Yogurt
    Cecilia Kennedy
    My GWOT, Annotated
    Paul D. Mooney
    The Garden
    Leslie Boudreaux Tidwell
     
    A Semblance
    Mateusz Tobola
    Hung from a Mitzvah Cross
    Mark Tulin
    Where the Street Learns Its Curve
    Donna D. Vitucci
    POETRY Dilantha Gunawardana Casey Killingsworth George Cassidy Payne
    Steven Ratiner Jerry Tyler John Zedolik
    NONFICTION I’m No More Rabid Than Usual
    Catherine Moscatt
    My Most Constant Lover
    Miriam Edelson
     
    ARTWORK Leigh Anita
    Photography
       
    INTERVIEW Mallory O’Meara
    Author

    Summer 2019 Issue

    FICTION
    A Clean Break – Vince Barry
    Georgey-Dear – Tetman Callis
    Offing Buck – Victoria Forester
    Sore Throat – Carolyn Geduld
    The Two Potters – Norbert Kovacs
    Everyone Smile – Douglas Ogurek
    Recovery – Paul Rosenblatt
    Thick Skin, Locked Jaw, Yes Ma’am – Rina Sclove

    POETRY
    Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal
    John Califano
    R.T. Castleberry
    Laurinda Lind
    Nanette Rayman
    Roger Singer

    NONFICTION
    Historic(!) Rugby – Tim Miller
    Cochina de Mierda – Jennifer Jordán Schaller

    ARTWORK
    Katarina Zuder – Artwork

    INTERVIEW
    Author, Mallory O’Meara

    Spring 2019 Issue

    FICTION
    The River Kent – Annie Blake
    As I Lay Scratching – AN Block
    Little Nell Answers the Bell – James R. Kincaid
    Not a Seamless Lunch – Anna Linetskaya
    Day Hike – Priscilla Mainardi
    Herman Loves Brooke – Anthony J. Mohr
    Gail – Lily Tierney

    POETRY
    Holly Day
    Chris Fox
    Mary Kasimor
    Jared Pearce
    Marvin Rosel
    Zach Trebino
    Guinotte Wise

    NONFICTION
    Listening to the Voice – Eve Dobbins
    Who is Jackie Brown? – Rachel Scott

    ARTWORK
    Natalie Shau – Illustration/Photography

    Winter 2018-19 Issue

    FICTION
    The Ultra Injustice – Scott Bassis
    Surprise – William Cass
    Suit Yourself – Lindsey Godfrey Eccles
    José María Writes a Story – Annette Freeman
    Snit’s Wife – Phil Gallos
    Meetings – Margaret Karmazin
    Nothing Comes Back – Susan Lloy
    The Harmacy – Stephanie Mataya

    POETRY
    Adrian Cretu
    E.G. Ted Davis
    M.A. Istvan, Jr.
    A.C. O’Dell
    Lauren Sartor
    Alex Schmidt
    J.A. Staisey
    Garrison Alecsaunder

    NONFICTION
    In the Eye – Deborah Morris
    How to Change Your Name – Jayelle Seeley
    Book Review: The Night Ocean

    ARTWORK
    Anna Angrick Illustration

    INTERVIEW
    Kathryn Harrison

    Fall 2018 Issue

    FICTION
    Linda Boroff – Let That Be a Lesson
    Laura Fletcher – I Know
    Zachary Ginsburg – Disposal
    John Mandelberg – The Plagiarist
    Evelyn Somers – Mr. Whiskey, the Greatest of All
    Kobina Wright – Invitations

    POETRY
    Judy Shepps Battle
    Mary Bone
    Zoë Christopher
    Jim Farfaglia
    DS Maolalai
    Amber Wilkinson

    NONFICTION
    Eimile Bowden – Female, Age Twenty
    Jeffrey James Higgins – An Uncommon Hero
    Ana Vidosavljevic – A Turkish Coffee Reader

    ARTWORK
    Leigh Anita – Illustration

    Spring 2018 Issue

    FICTION
    Shamar English – KETCHUP SANDWICH
    Joe Fortunato – A MARVELOUS PEACE
    Rosemary Harp – IN THE KELP FOREST
    Maggie Herlocker – THE CAROUSEL
    Robert Klose – THE TABLE
    Michael McCormick – PINK LEMONADE
    Megan Parker – THE SWAMP WITCH
    Trish Perrault – THE BRIDGE

    POETRY
    Brad Garber
    Ricky Garni
    Susan Richardson
    Deborah Saltman
    Kimberly White

    NONFICTION
    Emmie Barron – GHOST GIRL
    Linda Leigh – UP ABOVE and the DOWN BELOW
    Rick White – STITCHES

    ARTWORK
    Stephanie Garber
    Blythe Smith

    SKID ROW ZINE
    Introduction by Ivy Pochoda

    The Writing Disorder • Winter 2017-18

    FICTION Jessica Bonder
    HAPPY HOME
    Alexander Carver
    THE WINE SNIFFER
    J L Higgs
    FINDING JESUS
     
    Patrick Legay
    SOUNDS OF THE ALLEYWAY
    Rae Monroe
    FREE AS THE OCEAN
    Patrick Moser
    THE MINISTRY OF BROOMS
    Richard Thomas
    HOW NOT TO COME UNDONE
     
    POETRY Ruth Bavetta Joe Gianotti Sergio A. Ortiz
    Garth Pavell Cliff Saunders Sara Truuvert
    NONFICTION Brett Horton
    Dogs of Katmandu
    Anika Gupta
    An Intercourse with Ghosts
    Pam Munter
    Sparky
     
    ARTWORK MISS FLUFF ANNELISA LEINBACH  

    The Writing Disorder • Spring 2017

    FICTION

    Mark Budman
    SUPER
    JOHN

    Cameron
    THE PINNACLE OF FREE-WHEELING
    PARTICLES

    Brian Conlon
    SAFE HAVEN: A ROMANTIC COMEDY IN ELEVEN UNEQUAL PARTS
     
    Joshua Dull
    THE ART OF LETTING GO
    Beth Goldner
    FLINT AND SHANNON
    Anthony Ilacqua
    THE END OF IDYLLIC DAYS

    Anna Keeler
    HALLUCINOGENIC GIRLFRIEND

    Leah Holbrook Sackett
    MAN IN BLACK
    Katie Strine
    MEDITATE AND WAIT
    POETRY Gayane M. Haroutyunyan
    TS Hidalgo
    Kasandra Larsen
    E.M. Schorb
    Tara Isabel Zambrano
     J4
    NONFICTION Rene Diedrich
    A VALENTINE FOR THE WIDOW OF ROCK ‘N’ ROLL
    Barbara J. Campbell
    I WAS THE DEAN OF FUTURES STUDIES
    Anthony J. Mohr
    WE’VE GOT
    SWEATERS

     
    ARTWORK Sequoia Emmanuelle
    PHOTOGRAPHY

    J4
    CARD POEMS

       

    The Writing Disorder • Winter 2016-17

    FICTION

    Christopher Branson
    The Astronaut

    Emma Fuhs
    Jaguar Smiles
    Joe Giordano
    Car Crash
    Shalen Lowell
    Revolutions and Revelations
    Mona Leigh Rose
    The Crossing
    Noelle Schrock
    Someone Has to Heckle the Rhinos

    Katie Schwartz
    Six

    POETRY Natalie Crick Joseph Farley Dustin Lowman
    Tamer Mostafa Melissa Watt
    NONFICTION Edd Jennings
    Lost Time
    Mira Martin-Parker
    I’m Not Afraid Anymore
    Book Review
    Apocalypse All the Time
    Lynne Blumberg
    Learning From My Past
    ARTWORK Cameron Bliss
    Paintings

    Michelle Vella
    Paintings

    The Strand
    Photography

    The Writing Disorder • Fall 2016

    FICTION

    Jacqueline Berkman
    Slush

    J. L. Higgs
    Lee’s Funeral,
    Emmy’s Wedding

    Martin Keaveney
    Flash Fiction
     
    M. F. McAuliffe
    Warner
    Jac Smith
    Mother
    Jennifer Vanderheyeden
    Cogito(e)

    Tessa Yang
    The Spoiled Child

    Victoria-Elizabeth Panks
    Pikkake Peaks
     
    POETRY Christina Bavone Sarah Blumrich Seth King
    Maria Marrocchino Judy Roitman Rasool Yoonan
    NONFICTION Rachel Croskrey
    On Why I’m Not
    a Hypochondriac
    K. B. Dixon
    Lucida and Me
    Kym Cunningham
    Making Space
    ARTWORK Jenny Mörtsell
    Illustrations

    Blythe Smith
    Paintings

       

    The Writing Disorder • Summer 2016

    FICTION

    Robert Boucheron
    Very Good English

    Mitchell Grabois
    Art | Climate Change
    Stephanie Renae Johnson
    Straw
    Paisley Kauffmann
    The Adults

    Tom Miller
    Furniture Store

    Bethany Pope
    A Pretty Smile
    Claire Tollefsrud
    Obligatory Silence
    T.E. Winningham
    i, Clouded
    POETRY Lana Bella Janet Buck D.G. Geis Ashley Inguanta
    Oliver Timken Perrin Brad Rose Lucas Shepherd
    NONFICTION Shay Siegel
    Don’t Quiet Down Please
    Janet Damaske
    Bloodline
    Jennifer Elizabeth Johnson
    Chartwell Manor
    Ruby Cowling
    Vertigo book review
    ARTWORK Angelo Deleon
    Paintings

    Letisia Cruz
    Artwork

    John Tavares
    Photography

    Brad Gottschalk
    Comic Art

    INTERVIEW Jon Wilkman

    The Writing Disorder • Spring 2016

    FICTION

    Patrick Burr
    Pushing Michaelmas

    Larry Fronk
    Bad Soldiers
    Taylor García
    Monica in Georgetown
    Jill Jepson
    Drowning Time

    Bryce Johle
    Indiana

    Matt McGowan
    The Bridge
    P.M. Neist
    The Oracle
    Janice Rodriguez
    Ground Control
    Billy Sauls
    Words in Red
    POETRY Abigail George adam l. Michael Penny
    Belinda Subraman John Sweet
    NONFICTION Stephanie Dickinson
    Maximum Compound
    Paul Garson
    The Y Factor
    Kristian Hoffman
    Bowie Diary
    ARTWORK Giada Cattaneo
    Harumi Hironaka
    WAXenVINE

    THE WRITING DISORDER • WINTER 2015-16 ISSUE

    FICTION

    Eric Brittingham
    Gin Fizz

    Tera Joy Cole
    Coyotes Don’t Litter
    Thomas Elson
    Midnight Mass
    Vincent Mannings
    Not Always Easy

    Jennifer Porter
    Army Mom

    Jude Roy
    Last of the Cowboys
    Mary Taugher
    Crow on the Cradle
    Chris Vanjonack
    After You
    POETRY Marcella Benton Sean Howard Kjell Nykvist
    Josey Parker Elizabeth Perdomo Domenic James Scopa
    NONFICTION Rebecca Brill
    On Texting a Guy…
    Michael Filas
    Galileo’s Wake
    Denis Mulroony
    Sucking Air
    John Spencer Walters
    On Casket Readinesss
    Kyle Mustain
    Opposite of Suicide II
    ARTWORK Claudia Pomowski Howard Skrill Alina Zamanova
    INTERVIEW Alan Hess
    Writing Architecture
    FALL 2015 ISSUE Robert Cesaretti (F) Tad Bartlett (N) Michael Brownstein (P) Nuta Istrate Gangan (P)
    Jacqueline Bridges (F) Tara Vanflower (N) Tommy Dean (F) Daniele Serra (A) Dan Darling (F)
    René Ostberg (P) James Lipnickas (A) Karen Corinne Herceg (P) Pat Hart (F) Franklin Klavon (F)
    Bruce McRae (P) Sara Regezi (F) Alan Reese (P) Sarah Parris (N) Liz Gilmore Williams (N)
    Susan Lloy (F) Charles Lowe (F) Allen Forrest (A) Paul Garson (N) Lauren Vargas (P)
     
    . . . .
    . . . . .
    SUMMER 2015 ISSUE Richard Thomas (F) Dimitris Lyacos (N) Robin Wyatt Dunn (P) Emily Strauss (P)
    Daniel Mueller (F) Sarah Sarai (N) Virginia Luck (F) Daniele Serra (A) Joseph De Quattro (F)
    René Ostberg (P) James Lipnickas (A) Hannah Frishberg (P) Tim Boiteau (F) Michael Davis (F)
    Charles Brice (P) Ron Yates (F) Jon Riccio (P) L.D. Zane (N) Audrey Iredale (N)
    Dawn-Michelle Baude (F) David Haight (F) Allen Forrest (A) Paul Garson (N)
     
    . . . .
    . . . . .
    SPRING 2015 ISSUE
    Mary van Balgooy (N) Evelyn Levine (F) Lauren Martino (A) John Tavares (F) Marina Carreira (P)
    Carmen Firan (F) Natalia Jheté (A) Mitchell Garbois (F) Anna Boorstin (F) A.A. Weiss (F)
    Linda Tillman (A) Kelly Thompson (P) Sandra Rokoff-Lizut (P) Laura Wang (N) Susan Petersen Avitzour (N)
    Jon Fried (F) Claudia Putnam (P) J Hudson (F) Paul Garson (N) Kent Kosack (P)
    Gerard Sarnat (P) John Lowther (P) Walter Thompson (F) Veronica O’Halloran (F) James Gallant (F)
    . . . .
    . . . . .
    WINTER 2014-15 ISSUE
    Kyle R. Mustain (CN) Lou Gaglia (F) Ninon Schubert (F) Robert O’Rourke (F) Tim Roberts (P)
    Samantha Eliot Stier (F) Hudson Marquez (A) Norman Waksler (F) Suzanne Ushie (F) Clarissa Nemeth (F)
    Sarah Katharina Kayß (A) Kevin McCoy (P) Colin Dodds (P) Eddie Argauer (N)
    John Oliver Hodges (F) John McKernan (P) Larena Nawrocki (CN) Paul Garson (CN)
    Ho Cheung (Peter) Lee (P) Tamer Mostafa (P) Jacqueline Berkman (F) Charlie Brown (F)
    .FJa . . . .
    . . . . .
    FALL 2014 ISSUE Suzanne Hyman (F) Christopher Suda (P) Hilda Daniel(A)
    Paula Panich (F) JJ Anselmi (N) Jessie Aufiery (F) Anna Isaacson (F) Scott Stambach (F)
    David Hicks (F) Cheryl Diane Kidder (F) Bruno Barbosa (F) Amita Murray (F) Joshua Sidley (F)
    John Ronan (P) Robert Lavett Smith (P) Daniel Carbone (P) Kim Suttell (P) R.A. Allen (P)
    Dixon Hearne (I) Aurora Brackett (F) Richard Hartshorn (I) Eric Vasallo(I) Ellen Mulholland (F)
    Melissa Palmer (N) Zamar (N) Allen Forrest (A) David Armand (I)
    .F . . . .
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    SUMMER 2014 ISSUE Pamela Langley (F) Adefisayo Adeyeye (P) Margo Herr (A)
    David J Ballenger (F) Ruth Gila Berger (N) RV Branham (F) Beth Castrodale (F) Ruth Deming (F)
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    Darren Demaree (P) Persephone Abbott (P) Daniel Fitzgerald (P) Simon Perchik (P) Joseph Ferguson (P)
    Shelby Stephenson (P) Sharon Rothenfluch Cooper (P) David Rose (I) Jacob Reecher (N) Chris Casey (N)
    Simon Larbalestier (I) Keicha Kempsey (N) Paul Garson (N) Joel Nakamura (A) Melinda Giordano (A)
    .F . . . .
    . . . . .

    ALL WORK LISTED BELOW CAN BE VIEWED HERE.

    OUR SPRING 2014 ISSUE CAN BE VIEWED HERE.

     

    To View work from 2010-2014, please click here.

    SPRING 2014

    FICTION
    Jacqueline Friedland – Just Allowance
    John Bach – Letter No. 8 — Gunslinger in the Church
    Sayuri Yamada – Dancers
    Leonard Kress – Evooshkoo
    John Richmond – The Hill
    Bobby Fischer – Three Wolves
    David Starnes – Sagging Crown
    Erin Lebacqz – Sustenance
    David S. Atkinson – Turndown Service
    Emily Topper – Something Better

    POETRY
    RAY GONZALEZ
    RISA DENENBERG
    CLYDE KESSLER
    PAUL HOSTOVSKY
    DOUG DRAIME

    INTERVIEW
    Sam Rosenthal, Author and Musician

    NONFICTION
    The Treatment by Xijing “Patricia” Sun
    God’s Junkyard by Margaret Ackerman
    Ghosts by Christine Barcellona

    BOOK REVIEWs
    J.C. Elkin’s World Class by Juliana Woodhead
    Richard Powers’ Orfeo by Sarah Sarai

    ARTWORK
    The Artist’s Window: The Work of Katerina R. Kovatcheva
    The Sundial Bridge: The Photography of Keith Moul
    The Life of an Artist: The Work of W. Jack Savage

    WINTER 2013-14

    FICTION
    Michael Andreoni
    Sean Croft
    April Dávila
    Gale Deitch
    Ceri Eagling
    Brittany Lynn Goss
    Mark Hollock
    Mercedes Lucero
    Gary Noland
    Danny Olea
    Melissa Palmer
    David Vardeman
    Shanna Yetman

    POETRY
    Angela Hibbs
    Jeffrey Lee Owens
    Patty Seyburn
    Gray Tolhurst
    Joseph Trombatore

    NONFICTION
    Stephanie Flood
    Jessica Caudill
    Elizabeth Bales Frank
    J.D. Lynn
    Elen Rochlin

    ART
    Kayla Roseclere & Ashley Inguanta
    Alexndra Straton
    Laura Watson

    INTERVIEW
    Chang-rae Lee

    REVIEW
    David Letzler on Thomas Pynchon

    FALL 2013

    FICTION
    Brian Conlon
    Catherine Nicholas
    Kelly Jacobson
    Adeline Hauber
    R.V. Branham
    C.D. Mitchell
    Darlene Campos
    Lynn Stansbury
    Molly Gillcrist
    John Tavares

    POETRY
    B.Z. Niditch
    Eleni Erikson
    Simon Perchik
    Sarah Sarai
    Aunia Kahn

    NONFICTION
    Pamela Langley
    J.J. Anselmi
    Elizabeth Dobbin

    ART
    Mable Song
    Lisa Wilde
    Vineet Radhakrishnan
    Aunia Kahn
    Christine Robakidze

    INTERVIEWS
    Ivy Pochoda
    Martin Aston

    SUMMER 2013

    FICTION
    Sophie Monatte
    Emma Bohmann
    G.D. McFetridge
    Tana Young
    Janae Green
    Lydia Lambrou
    Linda Bilodeau
    Nick Brennan
    Keith Laufenberg
    Ruby Cowling
    Rami Ungar

    POETRY
    Niall Rasputin
    Joanna Valente
    R.T. Castleberry
    Kristen Hoggatt
    Sam Alper
    Jennifer Firestone

    NONFICTION
    Krista Carlson
    Brenda Rankin
    Jacqueline Doyle
    Dorene O’Brien
    C.A. Stamidis

    ART
    Michael Vincent Manalo
    Jasmine Worth
    Van Saro
    Ira Joel Haber

    INTERVIEWS
    Steph Cha

    SPRING 2013

    FICTION
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    Burton Pressboard

    Ruth Berger author

    Rumplestiltskin-Rumplestiltskin-Rumplestiltskin.

    by Ruth Gila Berger

     

    Drop Cap To change: to make the form, nature, content, future course, etc., of something different from what it is or from what it would be if left alone. To transform or convert. Change implies making either an essential difference often amounting to a loss of original identity or a substitution of one thing for another.

      *  *  *

    A spiderweb riddled with raindrops is shaken by a passing cat and shaken again. Can that path of water be traced? Water slides along the threads and is flung back to its original position. Did it change? Did the cat impart some fundamental influence on how the light then hits and reveals a perfect geometry? Did the cat change its future? Such a web is one of the most dazzling things to see, always, always unexpected and alarming.

       *  *  *

    If you go to treatment for chemical dependency, which I did, they will tell you that changes made for another person are inherently fragile, not lasting. Soon fraught with resentment they boomerang. On a basic level this is a view with which I agree. Yet. To answer the question, how has knowing Christi changed me? Because her experience casts light on mine, and through that prism, so much blue churns. The cadmium answers. And what I see is that I want to change how I relate, not just to Christi, but to other people in my life. Knowing exactly where or how that interpersonal weave has shifted, knowing exactly when I turned around to catch and repair any given stitch is hard to trace. Right now the change in me is about many conversations I would have never previously even imagined having.

       *  *  *

    I was, I am, the girl who loves dandelions. Their silver streaks across my history and I need to gather at least one strand from every plant in the yard. Momma had a baby and her head popped off. Each flower flies off, a different vision. I wish I could cut the memories as easily a that stalk-severing snap. But they always come back. The most obvious reevaluation of my relationship with my mother was prompted by the fact that Christi’s died when she was fifteen. That loss shines light on value, that no matter what my relationship with my mother was, it is a living, breathing thing that could grow and change.

       *  *  *

    Do you know where you’re goin to? Do you like the things that life is showing you? Where are you goin to? Do you know? Do you get what you’re hopin for when you look behind you, there’s no open doors what are you hopin for? Do you know?

       *  *  *

    The first time Christi met my parents was in July; we’d been dating since February. It was during this visit I realized I was no longer a fly caught in amber, unable to move or change and it was during this visit I would realize just how much I had changed.

    For my parents’ visit, I engineered around obstacles. There would be no awkward moment at the airport; I had my parents book a rental car; they’d need it regardless. And because I wanted this to be a new start, I tried to give Christi a different set of stories, to show her something other than the trashy set of teacups I have always hauled out to put on display, chipped, cracked and gritty. I worked hard to tell her about happy times. Almost all my stories took place within the grease stained walls of my parents’ kitchen. We were a food-obsessed family, with my dad’s Crohn’s so many things had to be avoided. I grew up reading ingredient lists. Bread should be flour, water, salt and yeast.

    I told Christi about how I started to cook before I started school. My parents got me a kid’s cookbook, Look I can Cook! It had goofy illustrations. My favorite thing was Crocque Monsieurs, grilled ham and cheese. From there I went on to make my own recipes.

    What they had to eat,” I said. “I loved candles and made them eat by candlelight. Pissed my dad off in such a big way. He liked to see. I don’t know. They were really kind of extraordinary. Like I used to sing them these operas I made up—that they listened more than once is astounding. Jesus. My mom drove me to ballet like every other day. She hated driving but I don’t remember her ever yelling at me about it. You know, that she was doing something I should be grateful for? The lists of things, I take you everywhere, I get you everything, all that. I mean there was all this generosity. And I didn’t do anything to deserve it, not really.”

    “My parents took me to swimming twice a day,” Christi interrupted me.

    “Yeah, your dad said you could quit at any time.”

    Christi nodded.

    “Wow. You remember I told you that? All I know is if I were my dad, I would’ve been angry,” she said.

    “My parents were really pretty great,” I said. “They even went to see a speed metal band. It was right after high school. My boyfriend played the bass. You should’ve seen them dancing. I mean I wasn’t embarrassed, not exactly. But oye, remember the Cosby Show, second season, the opening sequence? My dad was kinda like that. Only he wasn’t Bill Cosby. It was a moment for them and me. I want you to love them. You know? Not to enter it all accusations. I mean. Nevermind. At this point there really aren’t those accusations to make.”

    The week before my parents were set to visit Christi called me at work. An accident. She’d gotten McDonald’s and was chasing a fry, those last ones in the bag under the napkins after she’d finished the red thing of them and didn’t see the Suburban in front of her stop before it was too late. Her CRV was smashed.

    “He didn’t even have a dent,” she told me. “Jackass came out all whiny and screaming at me. It was stop and go traffic. At the fastest I was going was under twenty. Bubbles whole front needs rebuilding. Vina will do it, he won’t even charge me for rent since I can’t pay all of it but how am I going to get the money, two thousand dollars?”

    Later that night Christi buried her head under the covers.

    “What am I going to do without a car. There’s no bus to the studio. To where I work. I can’t take the bus anyway. I have a mental illness. Everyone on there is crazy during the day. Crazy people make me more crazy. All the shouting,” Christi wailed. “Shit I need the car for Matt. What am I going to do?”

    I stared at Christi. I’d recently met Matt. He was sweet. A friend of hers who’d found himself with a cancerous tumor in his brain. He’d tried for bright and bubbly that day but he was sick, broke and uninsured, a bulb on the fritz. He’d answered the door and his white Pomeranian mini did a NASCAR on the rung when we entered the foyer. Matt quickly led us to the living room where he could sit down again. They went over what he needed from the store and when his appointments were that week. Before we left he handed Christi two large bags of pills. Vicodin, Percocet, Oxycontin. He had a refillable prescription for all three but felt more sick when he took them. Christi, being darkly connected, sold them with interest and gave him the money. With this arrangement he paid rent and didn’t bounce the check he wrote for cable and electricity.

    The last time pills were easy for me was when I was in India with its newspaper kiosk pharmacies. Open air, a counter on the street. Just memorize the generics a friend had advised me. That stash was years gone.

    Happily I helped Christi take her tithe of freebies. Like fine sandpaperI’ve long loved pills—they smooth all edges, chemical hands that shape the world, make it clay, squished down in size. They cut the worst off the menstrual cramps that doubled me often enough when standing on line at the post office. They allowed me to stand straight those days.

    “Honey,” I said. “It’ll be okay. Really. We’ll share my car. You’ll have me to drive to work everyday, pick me up. That’ll be pain but you can deal with it. I have a coffee maker. You can save at least $56 a week that way. We’ll figure it out. Don’t worry.”

    “What if my coffee sucks. You’ll hate me,” Christi said.

    “Just make it stronger,” I said.

    “Your parents’ll hate me. Crazy moocher lesbian on disability, Jesus. Your parents will hate me and I’ll lose my mistress,” she said.

    “More like you’ll be disgusted at how I am with my parents and want nothing further to do with me. Like one of the early times Craig was with me we were saying goodbye to my mom at the airport. She hugged me and kissed my neck. I actually threw her off of me. I have no idea what I said but she just stood there whispering just a hug, just a hug. Am I any better now? I can’t say.”

    This time it was Christi who reached to comfort me.

       *  *  *

    Stories have a way of changing, their bones grow or shrink from loss of calcium. What was once solid now shows up in x-rays as a disturbing lace. The story of what we’d forever refer to as my moment on the stairs doesn’t. There might be a few previously forgotten details but the colors stay the same.

    I had asked my parents to visit for four days but they scheduled to fly in for six. The explosion came exactly as I was loath to predict, on the fifth day of their visit. Up to this point things between us have gone swimmingly. Christi’s studio, restaurants, conversation. There were no presumptuous digs about my last relationship—my ex in comparison with Christi. Perhaps I had a few small sores in my mouth from where I’d worried the sides of my cheeks. Perhaps I had started to dig my nails into the palms of my hands. But my patience was a frozen lake, smooth, no cracks. My mother regaled Christi with her knowledge of artists and art history, her theories about this or that painting, eyes sparking, thrilled to finally have an audience who sat close to me. And although Christi would later confess to feelings of inadequacy next to the collective intellect of my family, her dimples populated a galaxy as she told my parents stories. Together the four of us went to Christi’s apartment to meet her roommate Howard and their animals. My parents’ skin glowed in the bright inclusion. Christi beamed. Grudgingly, chafing, I conceded the invisible concrete I moved in was awkward and unnecessary. Although each night we agreed Christi should go home, we kissed, caved, and she stayed. Sunday I planned our dinner for Monday. I’d have to get up early to marinate the steak and prepare the tomatoes for slow-roasting before I went to work.

    In the car that morning I instructed Christi to make sure my dad started the grill before she left to get me so I could run upstairs, change, and do the rest of the cooking. Risotto with shrimp, shallots, basil, red pepper flakes and the tomatoes. An Argentinean parmesan cheese.

    “Yummy,” Christi smiled at me.

    A chill waltzed the sweat on my body and I turned to her, goose-pimply.

    “The last time I cooked for them was a disaster. A total fucking disaster,” I said. “I forget what I was making but it had zucchini and the zucchini ruined everything. It was so bitter I spit it out. Like actually spit it at the table. Was so disgusting. But my mother had to do her whole fucking martyr thing and keep eating.”

    “Sweetie,” Christi plied me. “You’re twitching.”

    “Not!” I said.

    My blood had turned to bees. The reflection of my face shimmered in the dirty window.

    What is wrong with me?

    At five o’clock prompt Christ was there to pick me up.

    “How was work?” she asked.

    I shrugged. When we got home the sky put on a crayon-box evening. The weather wasn’t too hot, it was lovely. My parents were waiting. Their scattered things for a second added extra teeth to wrap my mouth around, my mother’s balled up socks on the rug, two extra shirts on the couch, made it hard to breathe. Pages of the New York Times were everywhere. My mother blocked the stairs so I had to hug her or tell her to get out of the way.

    “Excuse me,” I said, ducking roughly.

    Once in the bathroom—the tweezers, the mirror—I search for black hairs that need plucking. Grudges, I name them and celebrate the audible catch and slide of their release. On my finger the root of one chin hair has a coat of skin—taste it—almost to my lips before I shudder and wash it away. What if someone were watching? Changed, in fresh make-up, I returned to the kitchen.

    “How’s things at Books Consort-e-um?” My mother asked me.

    I feel Christi’s eyes. They are soft, dusting me. She knows this needles, my mother’s renaming everything I share.

    It’s not totally off base, Christi has told me. Everyone has trouble with names. Like she can’t remember so she goes by association. You work in books, there’s a word, Consortium. Books Consortium. It makes sense, okay?

    “Great. Did I tell you I got an office? I finally moved into a real office. It’s pink. Really, really pink. Everyone comments on that, the cognitive dissonance, even people who don’t know me, that it seems a strange color. For me, I mean. Office conversation. Anyway things are great. Busy, everyone’s excited about the catalog this season. We’ve got what’ll probably be the last Kurt Vonnegut,” I said.

    Quickly I chopped onions to get the risotto going. Olive oil, toss with rice, chicken broth and simmering. My mother stood behind me.

    “Can I help?” she asked.

    “No. I’ve got everything. Sit with dad, enjoy. Want a glass of wine?” I smiled. “Christi, I forgot about wine. To ask you. All I’ve got is the cooking. Did you get any?”

    Christi’s dismay stormed quickly.

    “No, no, no, baby, don’t worry. Not your fault. I wasn’t thinking. You were busy. It’s okay,” I said.

    Fussing with the rice, I addressed my mother still behind me, kitchen conversation.

    “Risotto’s tricky. You have to time it just right. You want it to need a bite but not be crunchy. Should be creamy,” my voice trailed and stalled after the word creamy as I watched her stiffen and pale.

    “Otherwise the texture is wrong, gooey,” I said.

    “You didn’t use cream, did you? Your dad can’t eat cream. Charlie can’t digest milk sugars,” she said.

    I shook my head.

    “No cream. Of course not. Dad can’t eat dairy. I know. Jesus. I know that. What I meant was extra starch dissolves and makes the risotto creamy. It’s a word, ma, creamy,” I say. “Jesus. Relax. Go sit. Really. Talk to dad. Enjoy. I do things faster anyway.”

    She ignored my plea but shuffled a little out of the way. She looked so small. I wanted to make her happy.

    “Honestly. You can do the dishes,” I laughed. “If you absolutely need to do something.”

    For a few minutes the silence was companionable. The rice burbled upon a dash of wine. Smiling I caught Christi’s eye—our check-in—everything was fine.

    “Music?” she asked. “Anything?”

    “Um huh, the, you know, jazz with the guy. Whoo,” I said.

    She got my meaning. A CD we bought on a date—soothing, the memory of a perfect evening. My mom looked at me, uncomprehending.

    “Nothing.”

    Christi launched into the story. I shook my head slightly.

    Ignoring me, Christi bent to my mother.

    “We bought a CD at a concert we went to, on a date. A jazz place,” she explained.

    The court jester, the bard, the clown, Christi-blue crazy eyes. A born storyteller, my lover, who wants to include everybody, she doesn’t understand my saying nothing and continued in her opportunity. Her phone rang. She held a hand over it and pointed upstairs. I nodded and she left me with my family. Later Christi would tell me she spent most of the conversation trying to get off the phone because she heard me yelling.

    In a dance around my kitchen I slid, dipped to grab the grater and turned to get my cheese, mom behind me. Her voice was bleaty, tentacles shivering.

    “What are you doing?” she asked.

    “Grating cheese,” I said.

    “You’re not going to put that on anything, are you?” she asked.

    “No, it’s staying in this bowl,” I said.

    “Because.”

    “Dad has Crohn’s,” I interrupted. “I know. This is for you, me, and Christi.”

    My mother hasn’t stopped her conversation.

    “He’ll get very sick. He has Crohn’s disease and Celiac Sprue,” she continues.

    “Yes ma. No wheat, no dairy. I know. No dairy. For over thirty years,” I say.

    She continues gathering speed. I lose track of the back and forth of what gets said. The conversation loops and repeats.

    “He can’t,” she says.

    “Ma, I know, okay? The cheese is NOT going in anything. Back off,” I say.

    Her mouth keeps moving. It is a flying train.

    I turn.

    There is no present tense, my age now, irrelevant. The years between five, ten, fifteen, twenty-five, thirty-four vanish. We’ve passed that one second where the entirety of my life flies at me, every grievance, all the pick-peck-picking, time backwards, a storm of nails take shreds away my skin and plays bass on my veins. I’m muscle, raw skeleton, vibrating, vibrating. The room holds still a second before I explode.

    “You think I’m going to poison my dad? You think I’m some stranger and I need to be told?” I say.

    My mother backs away.

    “I can’t believe you’re still going on. He’s not in here, worried. What the hell are you doing? I know ABOUT the CHEESE, okay? I can’t believe this,” I say.

    Then high decibel, “I WAS THERE MA! Who do you think you’re talking to? I mean. You’re amazing. You really are. I was there. It wasn’t just you. That was my life too. That’s why the cheese in here in a fucking bowl. Do you see that?”

    I thrust the bowl towards her face.

    “Okay, so you say it once. That’s going to stay separate, right? And I say yes. That’s fine. You worry. Fine. But you gotta stand on top of me and push and push and push. Like I’m going to poison my father? Fuck you. The reason I’m even grating the fucking cheese is for you, a treat, because I know you don’t buy it, like it’s going to contaminate his food through the fucking air. Or maybe you don’t want to make him jealous. Whatever. I don’t care. I was there when he stopped eating cheese. It was like when I had surgery. I was five okay? But no. You’re the only person who could possibly have a memory. His being sick is the story of my whole fucking life, okay? But you know what? Fuck you. You’re RIGHT. It was only you. You know what? I can’t be here,” I say.

    “You mean you’re not going to eat your beautiful meal?” my mother asks me.

    “No, ma. Your deal,” I say.

    She steps closer and reaches towards me.

    “Then I won’t eat it either,” she says.

    I yank my arms away from her.

    “Get out of my way,” I hiss through clenched teeth.

    The impulse to grab and shove her dies. My spine is a slinky, melting, it won’t hold me up. I soften, barely whisper.

    “Please. Trust me. It’s better that way,” I say.

    I start to leave but turn and dash up the stairs where Christi stands momentarily frozen. She catches me.

    “I’m here. It’s okay. You’re okay. I’m here,” she says, squeezing me.

    My dad finally enters the fray.

    “Where are you going?” he asks.

    Like a teenager, I shout back, “Out. I. Don’t. Know.”

    His tone stays even.

    “When will you be back?” he asks.

    “Late,” I say, less extreme.

    Blinking, Christi steers me. At the driveway she raises her eyebrows. I snap my head away.

    “Mexican?” she asks.

    “I’m not hungry,” I say.

    “Whatever. Margaritas?” she asks.

    I nod, now crying.

    “Damnit. I’m so sorry. That was exactly, I knew, I didn’t want it to be this way. It’s like everything just goes white. I’m sorry it’s so ugly. I didn’t want. We were doing so great, you know? I really,” I say.

    Christi’s hand is large and strong against my leg.

    “Honey, it’s okay. There’s history,” she says. “I understand. Taco Morelos?”

    I drop my head back so my face is flat below the car ceiling.

    “You know the funny thing?” I ask. “I mean you heard me last week. I called her to apologize—right speech, you know?—for all my screaming and cursing. What did I say? That it was disrespectful and she did nothing to deserve it? Shit. Nothing. So what does it take? Nothing. I’m right back where I started,” I say.

    We sit at our usual table and order, Enchiladas Suiza and the steak with bacon and jalapenos. Supersize jumbo margaritas. A Mexican game show is playing. Bright and shiny. I get lost in it until we get our drinks. Everything is incredibly large and incredibly far away. I pick up a chip, turn it over and replace it. For a second I’m surprised my feet don’t swing above the floor. Still big. Christi drinks. Nudges a glass towards me.

    “Do we have any?” I ask.
    Red-red lips expel their straw.

    “Phew. Thought you’d never ask me,” she says, passing me a Vicodin.

    I crack then swallow the pill in two pieces.

    “Better this way,” I say. “Like I would deliberately poison him?”

    Christi cocks her head at me.

    “I don’t think that’s what she meant,” she says.

    Her voice and tequila dance seductive beneath my skin. Microscopic springs release by the thousands.

    Rattlesnakes under my skin. My blood is whirring.

    “You’re changing the topic,” Christi tells me.

    “I didn’t say anything,” I say.

    Sheepdog. I need a sheepdog in my head. Keep it together, focus.

    “Whatever. You want my take?” she asks.

    I nod.

    “At the studio the other day. Did you notice how we didn’t really have a conversation?” Christi asks.

    “We were talking,” I say.

    “Yes but. It was like everything your mom said was about her. We’d look at my painting and somehow I’d never get a word in. Somehow it was very dramatic, When I look at my work, I’m sure you understand. I’m not always sure what I’m trying to communicate. I see things abstractedly. I’ve been studying clouds and planets. What I paint doesn’t necessarily look like a cloud or a planet. Sometimes I spend weeks trying to get one image because of the light, you know how that is. Most people say something, like, I like your painting. Or That’s cool. At the very least, The colors are pretty. How long you’ve been painting? maybe—compliments are nice, you know, even if they’re lying. I think she said Palmer’s one painting was interesting.”

    I spill salsa on the menu.

    “Which means she doesn’t like it,” I say. “I hate that. It’s so obvious. And now I use it, when I don’t know what to say. It’s interesting.”

    Christi’s face goes hound.

    “You say that to me,” she says, quietly.

    “Well sometimes it is. Interesting. Like there’s a story. Jesus, baby. You know I won’t like everything.”

    “What don’t you like?” she asks.

    “The octopus Hand of God painting. Besides, if my reaction was always the same it wouldn’t be worth anything. Oh shit. Christi-blue,” I say, food back up my throat.

    The waiter comes.

    “How’s everything?”

    I gulp. Christi is chewing.

    “Great,” I say.

    “Another drink?” he asks.

    We nod, in harmony. He leaves. I wave a chip at Christi.

    “So. You were saying?” I ask.

    “I was saying. Rah. Even if I was, I wouldn’t be anyway. I don’t know, like, it was strange. I mean I get what you’ve been saying. Your dad’d try to say something and she’d interrupt back to her work again. He wasn’t much better, only with him it was all official sounding. His interpretation of the models, what was it? That he took a narcissistic pleasure in being painted. That she was. . . I forget. You know, those studies I did at Atelier. Nothing like I like the way you use color, or line, or shadow, any of the usual shit. Rah. Jesus. A narcissistic pleasure. If Josie was there she’d be like oh yeah? Think you’re so smart. You think you know everything. And even, even if you did, you don’t anyway. Narsa-sa-sis-DIC. So? I know. Think you’re so smart using big words. Yeah, well, I know big words too! Nars-dic,” she says.

    I giggle and cheer, “Go Josie! Go monkeys!”

    Christi takes another drink. Shakes her finger at me. Tries not to laugh.

    “Monkeys.Really. Don’t encourage them!” She scolds me. “But sweetie, it was strange. Like it was all about him. Not that it wasn’t sweet, in a way. I mean he wasn’t showing off—he was serious. Nobody gets all serious about my shit like that. Just made me feel kinda stupid, you know. But I don’t know. Your parents are awesome. They bought a drawing.”

    In her pause, we both look down and drink. Our margaritas are big. Christi continues.

    “Then there was all that I’m sure Ruth can tell you it wasn’t easy, growing up with me. Maybe she was baiting you, but almost like showing off. At the studio was really, really strange. You know how babies are like all-about-me? She’s kinda the same way. Otherwise she’s not there. Blind, maybe? Like she can’t make that leap,” Christi says. “You need to stop explaining. It doesn’t matter what tiny pieces you break it into. It’s not simple and she doesn’t understand.”

    “It’s, it’s, it’s just, I mean fuck her. Like his being sick wasn’t my fucking life? It’s funny how you learn how things in your family might have been a little different. Like my ex made this huge deal about farting. She said she never did and then she called it fluffing. That made me crazy. Like are you seven? A Victorian lady? You have a body. Everyone farts okay? Her ignorance was stunning. That you had shit in you from years ago and that’s why a yogi who stopped eating kept shitting. This was the reason for colonics. I think she learned that from her ex girlfriend. Eating disorder one might say. When I explained that intestine’s lining sloughs off a healthy person around every seventy-two hours and the bacteria in your gut keep digesting themselves, regardless, she didn’t believe me. I think I left rather than continuing the conversation. I mean of all the fucked up fights, that was the one I walked out the middle of. I’m sorry. I don’t need to be talking about her. Was just I realized a lot alone that night. That growing up the sound of my dad passing gas in his sleep was comforting. It meant he was alive. It wasn’t the soundtrack of him retching or on the toilet in pain. I don’t mean to be disgusting or reveal anything but that’s Crohn’s disease. It was always so extreme, like he could die each time. I’d get home and the fridge would be full of Jell-O and I’d know he was sick. As a kid I was afraid of red light. Like I’d shut my eyes at exit signs and had to move my bedroom because the bridge reflection was paralyzing. Brake light river jiggle. I never put it together, that was red Jell-O, the way it held the light. But you’re not kidding about psychobabble. It’s a second language. I was fluent at five. Defense mechanisms. You’re acting like your mother. Baby Freud. With a twat. How’d you think Freud would like that?” I ask.

    Christi waves her straw at me.

    “You didn’t let me finish,” she says.

    “Sorry,” I say, shrinking.

    I suck down my drink. Christi catches and holds my eyes before she starts talking.

    “Dzzt. That’s not what I meant. Listen to me. Here’s the thing. You could bang your head against the same wall the rest of your life. What your mom understands is that you’re upset. She’s said something and you’re upset. And given her face, I know she wants to make it right.”

    “She’s been apologizing my entire fucking life. It’s great. Nothing changes. Don’t mean shit,” I say.

    I shove the chips for emphasis.

    “But it does. Now it does. Because that is what she is capable of. What she can give. So it means a lot. To her. To apologize. Which means you can choose to give her the opportunity. You have to plan what you say. You tell her she hurt your feelings and you want an apology. That you didn’t mean to start screaming and you apologize. Nothing more than that. Don’t go into what was said. Don’t get into the why,” Christi says. “You need to practice what you’ll say.”

    The Corona bottle filled with salt becomes my microphone.

    “So scripted. Hehhem, mom, you hurt my feelings and I want an apology?” I ask.

    Christi narrows her eyes.

    “And,” she says.

    My swallow goes down the wrong pipe and I sputter margarita. Christi squints again.

    “And I’m sorry,” she finishes for me.

    Suddenly my hands fascinate me. I talk through clay. My voice is tiny.

    “And I’m sorry I yelled at you and I shouldn’t have stormed out. I mean I’m not sixteen there’s no reason I should behave that way. You don’t deserve any of it,” I say.

    Red-red lips. Firefly dimples flash-flash.

    “Exactly. Except I forgot and cursed at you. Ready?” she asks.

    “I guess,” I say.

    The waiter drops the check and takes our plates.

    When did we eat?

    Christi pays. We are silent three blocks. At Lake Street I gulp loudly. Christi pets my leg. Once home I follow Christi up the stairs, realize I left my phone in my purse, head back down, and am then trapped by my mother on the stairs. She’s sniffling, she babbles.

    “I’m sorry I’m such a horrible person that you can’t even be in the same house,” she says.

    I interrupt, “Mom. Stop.”

    “That you can’t even eat with,” she continues.
    “Stop. Mom, Mom. Stop, okay? Just shut up. Please,” I say.

    She doesn’t hear me.

    “I know you grew up with, it was difficult, there were deficits.”

    This time I interrupt her shouting.

    “Shut up. Just shut the fuck up. You don’t get to rehash this idea you have of my life. It’s not. Just not this time,” I pause. Inhale, exhale.

    “Look. It’s really simple. You hurt my feelings, I over-reacted and I’m sorry I was shitty,” I say.

    My mom takes a breath to speak. I can see her thoughts beneath her forehead lines. Her same words are orange in her throat. They radiate. I cut her off before she can repeat the scene.

    “Okay. Now you say Ruth I’m sorry I hurt your feelings. Then I say thank you. End of conversation.”

    The evening’s soft purple is swallowed by a darkening gray. The circles under my mother’s eyes absorb our silence and deepen. We have the same hairline, the same shape head. She takes a new now shaky breath.

    “Ruth, I’m sorry I hurt your feelings.”

    “Thank you. I’m sorry too. I love you mom. Good night.”

    One of my cats chases a rabbit-fur mousie with a rattle. We watch him careen around the landing.

    My mom starts again.

    “I’m so glad,” she says.

    An ambulance screams by.

    “I’m so glad,” she continues.

    This time I cut her off.

    “No, you don’t get to do your unworthy martyr bullshit,” I smile—it’s a little forced. “Okay? I love you. You know that.”

    A moment goes by.

    “’Night mom, I love you, okay?” I say.

    I hug her quick and jump away. My dry skin turns hot, cracks like asphalt. Once up the stairs, I collapse into Christi. She pulls me in and kisses my forehead, whispers.

    “I’m proud of you sweetie. You did great. Maybe screaming shut the fuck up wasn’t exactly what I was thinking. But you did great.”

    We take out contacts and brush our teeth. By rote and routine. Christi whines as I floss.

    “You take too long,” she says.

    We pee, don pajamas and climb into bed.

    Do I realize with this evening my life is changed entirely?

    Years later my therapist will tell me, “There is touch that hurts and there is touch that heals. Touch that heals is what you have with Christi.”

       *  *  *

    This conversation is a cat bounding through cobwebs, the water that glistened on it now flung against black fur drying fast. That silk is undeniably changed. But can the spider now revise and reweave or does she mourn the loss of food she had caught? It was only after years with Christi that I could conceive of that silk thread to build.

    For the most part the conversations I have had with my mother were about impersonal things, slightly above weather level diversions. When I look back for answers as to why, why we were not close there is nothing but blank light hurting my brain. My grievances are first world problems, inadequate details of a privileged life, unreasonable and petty. They feel like squawky justifications. So I was a bullied child, miserable at a regimented private school where they wouldn’t let me read or advance, wahn. So my crying was ignored every day. That doesn’t fully explain it. I was clothed, fed, taken to every kind of lesson, schlepped to friends’, given money, given everything. There was never any violence.

       *  *  *

    I am not able to resolve how my mother fits into my sexual memory. The rundown on abusive behaviors. Did she penetrate me with objects? No. Perform oral sex? No. Have me service her? No, I know that didn’t happen. Did she masturbate me? No. But then there is a gray area and I have this weird sense of suggestion, that a suggestion was made to me. A suggestion made by Ray that my mother was the same, that they felt the same about me, a sexual feeling. I have no real memory, just that revulsion; it leadens my bones, houses rattlesnakes under my skin. I have images, frozen moments of space, images of his summer place with its monstrous exposed ceiling beams, bright pillows on the couch, wallpaper that was Victorian advertising and the smell of quiche. Just the sense there was something sexual, about me, something dirty.

       *  *  *

    The bath is where I learned to masturbate myself.

    Three, four, five, six, I don’t know. Each time I think I’ve got my age pinned down, someone tells me a story they assert was from an earlier time than I thought it did. What I remember. It was a singing feeling up in that hole. Like drinking cider that had turned, undiscovered. From an early age I masturbated often. My parents’ tub had the faucet in the middle on the wall. I put my knees up and my fists under my butt to get it closer to the spigot. My mother came in once and caught me. She laughed.

    Doesn’t that feel good. And. It’s important to keep oneself so clean. One’s vagina clean.

    And in the bath with me, her stomach a disgusting jiggled planet above the spread purple and floating hairs.

    There was another game I played. I had shiny plastic bracelets, bangles. Primary colors, also, pink, purple, aqua and green.

    Called them ginnee-rings.

    Dimpled knees, scarless hands, I’d stand and wrap my vaginal lips around one, shaking my hips till it fell, and shuddering I plopped back to the water. A little later, I had to be younger than seven, I peed in the diaphragm she left on the bathtub ledge, got out and dumped it out in the toilet. I remember thinking that was also a game to see if I could get there without spilling. It took me years to put together why as a child I hated her singing in the morning.

    Bop-dee-be-bop-bum-bum-de-de.

    She was too cheerful. Horribly off key. Bouncing, trilling, animal, announcing happy, she had just got laid.

    Abusive, not abusive. Neither statement feels completely honest. It is more that I feel used.

       *  *  *

    You’ve spun their guilt into gold. Rumplestiltskin-Rumplestiltskin-Rumplestiltskin. You don’t love them.

       *  *  *

    Finding peace with memory is a children’s treasure hunt in a grass-overgrown alley. The glint and momentary flash turns out to be one earring missing its stone. A slightly corroded diary key. Half a ripped love letter that has miraculously survived the elements, a perfect plastic rose. I try to keep these pieces close to me, to hold them tight, but it is hard, hard, hard.

       *  *  *

    Do you know where you’re goin to? Do you like the things that life is showing you? Where are you goin to? Do you know? Do you get what you’re hopin for when you look behind you, there’s no open doors what are you hopin for? Do you know?

       *  *  *

    The hows and whys my relationship with Christi has enabled an ever-less-tentative relationship with my mother are complicated. First listening to her talk about her mom, now gone over a decade, I realize part of my relationship with my mother is all about me and determinedly I can change my reactions. The need to resolve old anger morphs into a clothing, something I can move around in even if it sticks to my skin, that thick air of urgency is a hard one to breathe in. Christi is an artist and perhaps my choice of her as a wife in some way validates my mother and her choices. Whereas I was not previously interested in art this new common soul gives my mother an in with me. Maybe she too has seen the seasons pass in her ever more mapped skin and wrestled with the same sense of urgency to resolve what a bad therapist might abstractly call our differences.

    We were in New York visiting my parents. They took us to the Met and the Whitney. My mother then showed Christi her latest group of paintings. Perhaps I was on the phone when they started looking. The result was I opted not to join them. The paintings were of faces.

    When Christi comes up to check on me hers is funny. Not twitching, but her forehead worry dents are deep and busy.

    “You take your meds?” I ask. “It’s past four thirty.”

    “Yeah, early,” she says. “Why?”

    “You look, I don’t know. Like you ate something. Funny,” I say.

    “Your mom’s painting faces,” Christi says.

    I nod.

    With a step Christi shuts the bedroom door and grimaces in the mirror.

    “God I hope I didn’t make some weird face,” she says horrified.

    “You didn’t,” I say. “I’m sure you didn’t. You came in fine.”

    I peacock my hands, “You shut the door, then your face went funny. Oh honey don’t worry. In your art class you mentor people, look at stuff and give them feedback. You have that neutral reaction down automatically. It’s the only time I’ve got no clue to what you’re thinking, when we’re at art galleries. If you don’t say I have no idea. It helps when you’re catty.”

    The look Christi gives me colors her solidly unconvinced. I sigh.

    “God I hope I didn’t react too badly,” Christi says. “I told her I learned by studies done with a model. Studying faces, light, shadow, proportions. How you have sat for me and that maybe she could ask Charlie, I suggested. I don’t think she was offended. Or I hope she wasn’t. But she was a little huffy. I don’t have to look at faces to paint them she said. I know what faces look like. We have them imprinted on us from infancy.”

    Christi-blue firefly dimples, like lightening, flash, flash. I stare at her.

    “I think you just hit something. Just listen. I don’t have to look at faces; I know what they look like; we have them imprinted on us from infancy. If you substitute the word reality with faces. The fit isn’t perfect but it seriously goes a long way towards explaining things. I don’t know that I’ve ever been able to articulate what it was that was missing with her, outside reality. She’s never been interested in anything I called reality. Because she’s got that already, self-contained. She doesn’t need to look outside for reference, what she’s saying. Faces are imprinted. She doesn’t have to actually look at them to see. Do you remember my moment on the stairs?” I ask. “At dinner before it you said there was something childlike about her, that all-about-me thing one sees in children like she was stuck in her development. Am I making sense? Faces are the most basic place we go for information. The eyes are the window to the soul, you know that shit. Because the idea it’s all imprinted in her seems to explain everything to me. Why at some point I completely stopped trying to relate. There are still missing pieces. There is still that revulsion, that feeling from way back that I was there for some sort of gratification. Her gratification, not sexually so much as I was being used to fill something, some need there was no way of ever identifying. You think I’m crazy.”

    “No honey,” Christi laughs halfway.

    “It even explains her thing with names. Why she’d change them,” I say.

    “That’s a reach. I suck at names,” Christi says.

    “No, no. It’s not the same thing. You just ask. You might be embarrassed but you ask. She doesn’t. She renames with confidence, with absolute certainty. I correct her and she repeats the mistake, not the next day but with no time in between. I used to think she did it deliberately because she knew it pushed my buttons but now maybe not. Think about it. I don’t need to look at faces to see them. I don’t need to listen to you. I don’t need anything from your reality. She didn’t say you’re not real to me. My dad does that. Well, did. I don’t know honey. For years I’ve tried to figure out what was missing. Because far as I can tell there’s nothing diagnosable. Maybe some sort of cognitive deficits but again I’m not sure I believe that. She wasn’t interested the reality I moved in. This feels like physics, cracked open, that big,” I say.

       *  *  *

    Like rattlesnakes buzzing under my skin.

       *  *  *

    That I own a house still often surprises me. I wobble across my floors, a cue-ball shot astray. A house with a garage, a car. A new family moves in the house next door. They are young, from Mexico, her newly, him back and forth between countries the past ten years. They have a baby and Catholic iconography all over the place, crosses on their necks, decals on the car, a sticker on the porch warning the door knocking Mormons away. They ask me if I’ve lived here long. And about the neighborhood. We watch a clump of teenagers on the corner, dancing, laughing doing their thing. They are assorted shades of brown, flitting between oversized SUVs jacked out with block thumping speakers.

    “They’re good kids,” I say. “It’s summer so they hang out but I don’t see them late. They’re good.”

    My neighbors’ eyes narrow as two cops scream by.

    “It’s a city,” I tell them, wave my hand. “You know. Something’s always happening. Neighborhood’s safe.”

    They nod.

       *  *  *

    There’s no place like home. Home, James, and don’t spare the horses. A man’s home is his castle. A woman’s place is in the home. I feel so at home here.

       *  *  *

    I wonder how my new neighbors see me, a single woman with another woman coming and going constantly. They very likely realize I’m gay, that’s easy. But my life—how I afford it. Hard work? Frugal living? Do they think I have a sugar daddy? Each conversation I imagine cuts my life in to strange configurations. The subject never comes up. Largely we live indifferent, each house like a cake box, wound up tight. Still, I wonder how I’m seen. Because I am the girl who loved dandelions—weeds not noticed, until they are viewed with irritation. I am an exhibitionist, a narcissist, and have been so for as long as I can remember.

       *  *  *

    Look at me, look at me, listen to me listen to me. My name is not Ruth. It’s Firetruck! Wee-oouu, weee-oouu, wee-oouu! Firetruck. I’m two now but when I’m eighteen I can change it. My name will be Ash-ah-rain-ah, triple the letters of Ruth. Ashahrainah jumping on the bed! Ashahrainah jumping on the bed!

       *  *  *

    Maybe it started with my feeling I wasn’t quite what my parents imagined, that I wasn’t Athena sprung fully formed, grown from my father’s head. I was obsessed with my reflection. Since I was all stories I wanted to be certain there was something real in the mirror that didn’t change.

       *  *  *

    Hotly, July unwinds. In my house I take bizarre chances. Putter naked in the bedroom windows. Hear the chorus in my head hum. The factual danger is in its volume. How the noise can subsume and obliterate me.

    You’ll only get what you asked for. Get yourself raped. They’re different from us, you know. Don’t think for a second that anyone will feel sorry for you. Stupid slut.

    More practically, Christi questions my choice of sheer curtains for a bedroom comprised of mostly windows.

    “My dad’s mother threatened to skip my wedding. She didn’t want to see me look like a slut. Like that Madonna. I just know it. I had to promise to wear something modest,” I say.

    My girlfriend raises an eyebrow. “Did you?”

    “Kinda,” I say. “For a wedding dress, no. For me, yes. Except I let the straps slip to piss her off. Was stupid. Looked a little sloppy and I don’t think she noticed. I was her only grandchild. She was thrilled I was married. That I wasn’t gay. Oh well. What were we talking about?”

    “The curtains,” Christi says.

    I sigh. Ritzo jumps on the bed and kneads Christi’s stomach. She pushes him away. He jumps back. They continue this game. I ramble on.

    “Fuck. I don’t know. It’s like I bought this house for the sunroom, cause I could knock out the wall and have a bedroom full of windows. Sunlight. So it would be bright and sunny in case I got depressed. But then I painted the room dark.”

    I finger the gold curtains. There are many pulled threads.

    “Fucking cats,” I mutter.

    Ritzo looks at me. I jut my head towards him and stare wide. He continues to knead Christi.

    “The previous owner left these white sheers. They were pretty. It was like being in the middle of all these sails. You know, billowing sails?” I ask.

    Christi gestures.

    “Yeah, billowing,” she says. “Your ship.”

    I kiss her.

    “My ex hated them. She tended more towards the baroque. Gilt. I guess the gold was our compromise,” I say.

    “They’re transparent. You should get shades,” Christi says.

    “I hate shades.”

    “Blinds?” she asks.

    “Worse. Except the wood ones and they are crazy expensive,” I say.

    Christi’s voice drops, “Maybe you could ask your parents.”

    My calculus is strange. Do the bad things that happened somehow equal the gifts I now receive?

       *  *  *

    Rumplestiltskin-Rumplestiltskin-Rumplestiltskin.

       *  *  *

    If crazy is a country I’ve left, forgiveness is a continent barely imagined. When I was a child the acrylic paints my mother used didn’t blend well. More than two colors and the result became mud. Forgiveness is the space in between molecules of red and yellow and blue, itself a periphery, the smallest diamond of air before brown. To err is human, to forgive, divine. Many times I have tried to read about this thing, letting go. Duty-bound I have hit the library only to incur massive fines. Each book I open puts an immediate fifty pounds on my eyes, and sleep. Forgiveness is a land of dust, human skin, grease, particles of other things, arranged with invisible intricacy, a Persian rug of dirt. I inhale and moments are reincarnated as altered DNA. Viral shedding affects every memory. Time loves the human ecosystem—its neurons, tendons and veins—their kiss so deep air is not required. I change back to a previous self without ever realizing. Beneath my skin. Letting go? The past is a kaleidoscope—it returns—the present tense upends.

       *  *  *

    “Just as memories for ordinary experiences are made accessible when a current emotional—or mood-state is reminiscent of that experienced during encoding, the state of physiological hyperarousal and access to traumatic memory seem to be interconnected. The more the individual’s physiological/emotional state resembles that of the original trauma, the more likely retrieval of the trauma will be in the somatosensory memory of reexperiencing.” –Fay Honey Knopp, A Primer on the Complexities of Traumatic Memory of Childhood Abuse

       *  *  *

    Wave bye-bye to your baby sis-ter. It’s important to feel clean.

       *  *  *

    Forgiveness. In a religious context, my understanding has its limits. While this is a fact I can change, stubbornly I don’t. My ignorance remains—a Freudian slip? Am I just not ready? To let go. To make amends. In Judaism forgiveness is fairly easy; there is none. Judaism is a religion based upon the observance of laws, mitzvahs, their study providing the only way out. Transgression lies in the space between molecules of yellow and blue and red. The Hebrew God is impossible to know in His rage—He too breathes the recent past. He rides on thunder and guilt; He smites; He smites. Vengeance is the power of noise and with it He shows His might. The promised land beckons but entry is denied.

      *  *  *

    My last year of college I was awarded a black box production space for a play I wrote. The play charted the course of an important dinner date on which a young woman becomes increasingly unhinged. I didn’t have the words post traumatic stress but that was what she was experiencing, flashbacks to when she was molested early. The central image was a carton of naked Barbies. Ray had given me Barbies, the dolls old, a little dirty, sometimes without clothing. Because this production was my greatest achievement my parents flew out to see it. Craig was with me, we were in the car with my parents after going to dinner to celebrate. My dad narrowed his eyes at me and asked if the play was about Ray. When I reflexively said no he insisted it was. They’d found that carton of dolls and toys when they cleaned my grandmother’s apartment. Congratulations, I remember thinking. You must be so proud of this realization. Since this dinner was where Craig and my parents were first to meet I did what any reasonable person in the situation would do. I drank heavily. By the time Craig and I got home I was in a keening rage.

       *  *  *

    Anger is easy, unconscious as marrow, it moves in my bones. My bones move me. Sometimes I feel it all shaking, different from the buzz of rattlesnakes. From below my belly, a washer agitates ribs the wrong way against my skin, which moves in opposition. My jaw tightens. I swallow to keep the movement from reaching my brain, my brain cannot take all the thrashing. But it is something I cannot contain. My throat closes under what feels like an empty head. Up from around my tongue floods a profusion of spit. It is never seen, the shaking. There is only my skin, hard with gooseflesh I can’t explain, sweating and freezing. Words are rocks, sound hard to make.

       *  *  *

    Because we have company my bags are newly cut. They are too high and crooked but at four I don’t care too much. I play underneath the dining room table, dark wood, wobbly. The leaves hang down and hide me. My grandma Gladys and Ray are having dinner but I don’t like what they’re eating so I’m allowed a plate of crackers under the table with me. There is a Bible story; the conversation rhythms strange. My dad and Ray are then fighting, about the story? About me. Something sexual, something sexual about me. Like Jonah got swallowed for masturbating only I know that’s not right, not what it is. After my dad threw Ray out no one said anything. I don’t remember anything changing. Nothing was explained. But I’ve always thought it meant he realized something Ray did. But nothing changed. Nothing was said.

       *  *  *

    It’s been a decade and a half since my parents saw my play. I haven’t yet asked my dad either about my memory or about his car conversation. Held together by skin, I am a collection of stories, compressed and merging, the pressure now about to explode. Lying next to Christi I realize I will have to initiate this conversation and ask my father what happened and why he didn’t protect me. Forgiveness is beyond the reach of all my stories interrupting, crashing, breaking, now an impossible swirl of noise, beyond the vibrating shadows of pieces, uncatchable as dashing mice. Forgiveness would now be silence. I raise up on an elbow and watch my lover sleeping. Christi-blue crazy-eyes. Her left arm flails as if punching away flies.

    “No-no-no,” she says. “Bugs.”

    I kiss and smooth her forehead. “No bugs baby. Bad dream. You’re safe.”

    She mumbles something and snuggles in. Again we sleep.

       *  *  *

    Just like me, they long to be, close to you …

       *  *  *

    I am a crow, attracted to what’s bright and shiny. I horde these things, weave them into my nest, into me—there are stainless razor blades, one earring, silver gum wrappers and a broken necklace with a possible diamond. Was there a point where I knew I could never change those stories, once certain accusations were made? What if all my emotions, my reactions, the things I say were based on lies made to fill a void—the void of no intelligence, no talent, no beauty, no drive—to create a dynamic personality different from those around me. The void tastes like apple juice, turned, I don’t know why.

       *  *  *

    I am tripping on a fault line. I dance and try to fill it with words to keep the earth from shattering out beneath me. Because it feels like my life is built on stories. Fundamentally everyone’s is. Except. There’s very little that’s real to me. How much of my personality is feathers and tape, boots and paint? How much of my experience is based on memory and how much on intimation, invention, or just out and out bullshit? How far did I go as a child to gain attention? How extreme did my stories need to be?

       *  *  *

    Mom, I have this memory.

    It’s a fly in amber, unchanged. But the memory is sketchy and I don’t know if my understanding is correct and I can’t say what it means.

    If I tell you, can we, sort through this? Because I need your corroboration.

    The conversation I need to have starts after a phone call you got when grandma Gladys was divorcing Ray.

    You came into my room.

    That call was in the middle of the crisis. Gladys had become confused. She took too much medicine. Suicidal gesture? With Pepto-Bismol if I remember correctly. It interfered with her beta blockers or something. Two bottles of Pepto-Bismol, not the usual OD.

    There were mutual accusations of mental cruelty between her and Ray—I remember this collection of sounds repeated and repeated. So the family debate was heated about whether or not a judge would grant the divorce and then, what would be done about Gladys’s property. Ray had stolen money but for some reason that wasn’t enough, that the family’s credibility on this accusation was lacking, maybe. It wasn’t a small sum, four thousand, again if I remember correctly.

    You got off the phone and came into my room to talk to me. The suggestion was made that I testify Ray had abused me sexually.

    It is here my thoughts get spun in cotton.

    Why?

    Certainly my testimony would have sealed Ray’s coffin and secured Gladys’s estate, the condo, accounts, whatever furniture, art and jewelry.

    Was this idea of abuse floated here because something was known? Suspected? Or was it a scheme? I was in fact studying to be an actress—what better stage than one with such high stakes? Either way how could this have been deemed a benign request to make of me?

    How did you come to suggest such a thing, or if the idea was not yours, how did you come repeat it?

    Or is this all something I’ve imagined and concocted all high dungeon? Because I suspect this is memory, accurate memory. It is a fly in amber, unchanged, with the rest of the scene unfolding as I screamed.

    What did I scream? Get out of my room? Leave me alone? Fuck you, get away from me?

    When I shut my eyes on this recollection there are no lights spots that dance. Past and present, I am only staring at my bedroom door, the wood frame of the door mirror, maple, glowing. The image doesn’t go away. I’ve wanted to add details, to make the story more dramatic, always with my throwing a knife, but it didn’t happen that way. Instead when I got up from under my covers my knees began clicking, the sound almost metallic, of a lock catching. The noise, its echo, made me thirsty. With any amount of drinking my throat remained dry and my hands heavy, heavy. I didn’t want to do anything to move them. Only a cigarette later confirmed my breathing. Hand to mouth, suck in, flick-flick, expel and there I am, operated by an internal command center still working.

       *  *  *

    This is a conversation imagined, water glistening on a spiderweb. It was only after years with Christi that the silk to weave and catch such liquid was even conceived of. So maybe the imagined conversation that begins Mom, I have this memory is a real possibility.

       *  *  *

    Rumplestiltskin-Rumplestiltskin-Rumplestiltskin.

     

     

    BIO

    Ruth Berger writerRuth Gila Berger is thrilled to be published by The Writing Disorder. She has a piece in Frequencies 4 (Two Dollar Radio), April 2014, and another piece published by Permafrost, Spring 2014 (all three pieces are contained in a full length memoir in progress). Her resume has over a dozen finalist commendations, the most recent from Arts & Letters for their 2012 nonfiction contest. Past publications credits include Gulf Coast (where she was given an honorable mention in their 2006 nonfiction contest) Creative Nonfiction, Chelsea Review, Water~Stone Review, GSU Review, Great River Review and the Emrys Journal.

      Fall 2022 Poetry

      Gale Acuff C.L. Bledsoe
      billy cancel DeWitt Clinton
      Mark DeCarteret Megan Denese Mealor
      Stephanie Russell

      Summer 2022 Poetry

      Ali Asadollahi Christine Horner 
      Susan Jennifer Polese RE DRUM
      M.A. Schaffner Glen Vecchione
      SPRING 2022
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      Vandana Kumar John Maurer  Stephen Mead
      Paul Rabinowitz Juanita Rey Hoyt Rogers
      Jason Visconti
      WINTER 2021/22
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      Bruce Parker Frederick Pollack Kate Porter
      FALL 2021
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      Travis Stephens Jordyn Taylor Kim Zach
      SUMMER 2021
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      Carolyn Adams Torri Hammonds James Croal Jackson
      J.R. Solonche Elizabeth Train-Brown Matt Zachary

      Winter 2020/21 Poets

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      Jen Knox

      Kate Porter

      Gavriel Ross

      John Sweet

      Joy Williams

      Fall 2020 Poets

      Januário Esteves

      Diana Ha

      Ashley Inguanta

      F.X. James

      Steven M. Smith

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      Summer 2020 Poetry

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      Spring 2020 Poets

      Six poets present new work.

      Michele Alice
      Terry Brinkman
      Abigail George
      Lance Lee
      Charles J. March III
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      Summer 2019 Poets

      Six poets present new work.

      Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal

      John Califano

      R.T. Castleberry

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      Roger Singer

      Spring 2019 Poets

      New poetry from seven talented writers.

      Holly Day

      Chris Fox

      Mary Kasimor

      Jared Pearce

      Marvin Rosel

      Zach Trebino

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      Winter 2018-19 Poets

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      Adrian Cretu

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      Lauren Sartor

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      Fall 2018 Poets

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      Jim Farfaglia

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      Summer 2018 Poets

      New work from seven outstanding poets.

      Anthony Isaac Bradley

      Colleen Farrelly

      Anastasia Jill

      Nick Paul

      Simon Perchik

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      Spring 2018 Poets

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      Brad Garber

      Ricky Garni

      Susan Richardson

      Deborah Saltman

      Kimberly White

      Winter 2o17-18 Poets

      New work from six very talented writers.

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      Joe Gianotti

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      Garth Pavell

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      Fall 2o17 Poets

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      Lana Bella

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      Lillian Hara

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      Summer 2o17 Poets

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      Charles W. Brice

      Abigail George

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      Bruce McRae

      A. A. Reinkeke

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      Spring 2017 POETS

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      Gayane M. Haroutyunyan

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      E.M. Schorb

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      Winter 2016-17 POETS

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      Joseph Farley

      Dustin Lowman

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      Fall 2016 POETS

      Bold new work from six talented poets.

      Christina Bavone

      Sarah Blumrich

      Seth King

      Maria Marrocchino

      Judith Roitman

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      Summer 2016 POETS

      Exciting new work from seven talented poets. Enjoy all the work featured here.

      Lana Bella

      Janet Buck

      D.G. Geis

      Ashley Inguanta

      Oliver Timken Perrin

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      Spring 2016 POETS

      Exciting new work from five talented poets. Enjoy all the work featured in our new issue.

      Abigail George

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      Michael Penny

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      WINTER 2015-16 POETS

      Excellent and diverse. Exciting new work from six outstanding poets. Enjoy each writer and all they have to offer.

      Marcella Benton

      Sean Howard

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      Elizabeth Perdomo

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      FALL 2015 POETS

      Some impressive new work from six outstanding poets. Enjoy each and every one.

      Michael Brownstein

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      Bruce McRae

      Alan Reese

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      Summer POETRY 2015

      Featuring some very impressive work from an outstanding group of poets. We hope you enjoy every word.

      Charles Brice
      Variations on a Buddha Shove • Ten Paintings by Matisse
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      Robin Wyatt Dunn
      The Glowing Adventure • Live at Five • Strange Horizons

      Hannah Frishberg
      Amtrak • Danse Macabre • This Social Generation

      René Ostberg
      Bioluminescent Bay • Aisling • Coconut

      Jon Riccio
      Streaming • Prompt • Separate Recyclables

      Emily Strauss
      Going on Vacation • The Sky Leaps to Light

      Spring POETRY 2015

      Featuring some impressive new work from seven outstanding poets. We hope you enjoy them all.

      Sandra Rokoff-Lizut
      April Fool • On Polliwog Pond • As Oregon winter begins

      Marina Carreira
      Capela de Nossa Senhora dos Aflitos • Requiem for the Heart – En Route to Montreal, on Our Anniversary

      Kent Kosack
      Spent Grains • The Attic • Your Hair • Commute

      Claudia Putnam
      Ain’t Got No • This Isn’t Really Happening • Sync

      Kelly Thompson
      Legacy • Colorado • Shape of a Song

      John Lowther
      Selections from 555

      Gerard Sarnat
      Where Erasers and Wastebaskets and I am Kept

      Winter POETRY 2014-15

      Featuring some great new work from an excellent group of poets. We hope you enjoy each and every one.

      Ho Cheung (Peter) Lee
      Coffee • Without • 2700 fps • Eaden

      Colin Dodds
      Loneliness Grow Stranger the Larger It Becomes • Secrets of the Modern Race • Rooms Without End

      Kevin McCoy
      Phone Rings • A Thousand Threads • King Street Aberdeen

      John McKernan
      The Thin Scar on Susan’s Right Wrist • Why Do Soldiers • Birthday Numero 47 • Public Park

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      Tim Roberts
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      FALL POETRY 2014

      Featuring fresh new work from an exceptional group of poets. We hope you enjoy each and every one.

      R.A. Allen
      Disclaimer • Future Bright • Side Work Sonatina

      Christopher Suda
      Wonder is a Wooden Leg • Caterpillars

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      As a Skinny Girl • Pierre • Acceptance • Pieces

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      Sable • After Thirty Years • An Accident of Weather

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      POETRY – Summer 2014

      Featuring excellent new poetry from a talented group of writers. We hope you enjoy reading each and every word.

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      Dust Storm, Caress, Professional Courtesy

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      Rain on the Lake, The Hawk, Goose Woman

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