“Goner,” by Beth Ann Fennelly
Jun24

“Goner,” by Beth Ann Fennelly

  That Friday, after morning mass, the priests visited our third grade and announced a meeting for prospective altar boys. I went.  Me, a girl.  Why did I go?  First, I was attracted to the theatrics: the costuming with the alb and the cincture, the stately procession down the aisle with the cross and the thurible (the censer filled with incense) that one of the altar boys (the thurifer) swung on its Jacob Marley chains.  I wanted to arrange the credence table–the corporal, the cruet, and the ciborium.  I wanted to hold the ewer of holy water into which the priest dipped the aspergillum and then flicked it, raining holiness on penitent heads.  When the priest held the Eucharist up, I wanted to twist the cluster of brass sanctus bells, alerting the congregation to the mystery of transubstantiation, that moment when the gifts of bread and wine were miracled into Body and Blood.  And clearly I wanted to fill the chalice of my mouth with the wine of those words.  Thurible and aspergillium and ciborium.  The purificator, the paten and the pall. Also, I went to prove a point: I shouldn’t be excluded because I was a girl. But I never got the chance.  Before the meeting began, Father Mayer evicted me from the front pew.  “I’ll be right back,” he told my classmates, then steered me by my shoulder to the sacristy where, behind a heavy door, a few bent old ladies were ironing.  This is the altar society, he told me.  These women care for the priestly vestments.  This is where God calls you to serve.  He fled, and I fled, and that evening I wrote a letter in my best penmanship tattling on him to Cardinal Joseph Bernadin–girls should be altar servers!  Women should be priests!  My mom loved the letter and saved it, how cute, the little women’s libber.  It didn’t occur to me at the time that her saving the letter meant she’d never sent it. Now, a grown woman with children of my own, back in Illinois at my mother’s table, I read in The Trib that church files released at last in 2014 show that Father Mayer sexually abused altar boys for decades.  At each parish, accusations, followed by a new assignment.  He’d been removed from St. Mary’s and sent to St. Edna’s, removed from St. Edna’s and sent to St. Stephen’s, removed from St. Stephen’s and sent to St. Dionysius’, removed from St. Dionysius’ and sent to St. Odilo’s.   All those altered boys.  Did the archdiocese, the Cardinal, know?  Please.  In the files, there’s a contract Bernadin made Fr. Mayer sign,...

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“Twelve Parables,” by Diana Spechler
Apr01

“Twelve Parables,” by Diana Spechler

  1. For seventh grade, you’ll attend The Newton Country Day School of the Sacred Heart. “All girls,” your mother says. “Won’t that be nice?” (Soon you’ll learn its alternate name: The Newton Cunty Fuck Pool of the Secret Lesbian.) “Aren’t we Jewish?” “What kind of question is that—are we Jewish.” “What is a sacred heart?” “I should know? That’s something you’ll ask the Catholics. The school’s on Dad’s way to work.” “So I’m going because it’s on Dad’s–” “You’re going because we say you’re going. You’ll like it,” she says.   2. A Story About the Sacred Heart In the thirteenth century, Lutgardis of Aywières (whose feast day follows your birthday), received a visitation—Jesus, like a game show host, had her choose a gift. The stakes were high: She suffered depression. She often stopped eating (fasting for the Franciscans, she called it). But if she picked just the right prize, she’d find meaning and joy and spiritual fulfillment. Because she’d never had choices before, she didn’t know what she wanted. I want to speak fluent Latin so we can communicate more clearly? Wish granted, Jesus said, winking. How ‘bout them apples, he said in Latin, and Lutgardis smiled.   3. Precedent Everything your mother says is true. When she holds you, her big heart booms and your tiny one quiets. She enrolls you in a preschool staffed by nuns. “Do you know how lucky you are? The Jews are a very special people. We stick together. What a gift.” The French teacher arranges a ring of plastic chairs, stands in the middle, claps sharply. “Écoutez-moi!” On her hair, she wears a navy blue curtain. Her feet are encased in dad shoes. “Sit still!” she yells. “Stop touching yourself!” she snarls at the boy who scratches his elbow, the girl who fixes her sock. You’re afraid to move, to breathe. At four years old, you see the quick, red pulse of her wrath. You don’t see her heart.   4. This was before the days of know-it-alls—those who call Latin a dead language as if they invented that way of discussing Latin, as if clichés aren’t dead language. But fluency in a living tongue did nothing to enliven Lutgardis. I feel empty, she told Jesus, her bottom lip trembling. She’d thought she’d be able to explain herself. But she couldn’t do that in any language. She begged him to take the gift back. You can’t just return the Latin language. You have to exchange it. For what? He shrugged, pushing his fingers through his long hair, releasing a sigh from puffed-out cheeks. Lutgardis was so beautiful, her eyes so...

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“Letter to my Sister in a Mental Hospital,” by Julia Laxer
Sep01

“Letter to my Sister in a Mental Hospital,” by Julia Laxer

Snow falls, building like thrush on the freeway. Black palate, no answers. A daddy calls you by name, but you hear soap opera in his voice, see the frazzled tangle of memory in crepe lines. Do you see past our eyes to something else?   Answers I cannot ask, you can’t afford, anger. Snow falls.   Snow falls, and I call to ask if you can go outside, if you can taste the cold too, taste it in numbers or letters or shivers?     Where are you- feeling what? You see the- what? Are there-? Do you see the-?     Are there any shadows left?     I untangle answers like seaweeds from your hair, like you are a bird building a nest and these are cold ribbons, some other girl’s ribbons that you wear. This keyboard can’t type as fast as my heart beats.   *   Writing on a machine in the future. Words spilling, but no you to hear them. Even if I hand you the letter. Even if I give you the key.   *   Christmastime.   The first Christmastime we spent without you, sister. Without Grandma too; the table felt empty. So I brought a friend, a wildman who lives in the desert, didn’t talk to nobody for nine months. Saw no shadow but his own. Dad couldn’t handle it, to see a man so wild and so free, not caring about his faded holes, patchy-life, faded-jacket. I wish you were there to witness the culture-clash; Mom and Dad, all of us and Benny in the living room. Mom and Dad trying to pry from him just what does he “DO” all day, out there in Utah, out in the desert, by himself…   And, I knew it was a bad idea to let him come, to invite the stranger in; we watched Dad back-fire as he drank, turning even more and more sour. And, we kept looking for you, listening for you: your loud-laugh and loud-feet. (Apparently, you’ve been noisy at the hospital. The nurses tell.)   Christmas felt alone without you; Thanksgiving was novelty.  But, Christmas, that’s when it felt really real. Watching Dad lose it, and we all felt alone. All of us, around the table after Dad drank the the dinner into a fiasco, and I left crying. I cannot even remember what was said but I think it included your name.   *   I call you in Springtime to see if you see budding azaleas, wide-eyed dogwood and showy forsythia. To see if your voice says, “Rhododendron. Yes, and lots and lots of birds.”  ...

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“What you Aren’t Allowed to Say,” by Kate Angus
Jan01

“What you Aren’t Allowed to Say,” by Kate Angus

That for years you did not come not once not ever unless you were sleeping; you woke up sometimes with the ocean filling a blue hollow at the crest of your legs–rolling whitecaps and seabirds above. That you were ashamed you were made of wet straw that wouldn’t cinder so you faked it with your lovers every time. That you believed admitting the truth would be like in the movies when someone says they’re scared of the basement and their friend tells them Don’t be silly and that’s the moment the shadows become monsters become real. That you were afraid it was because you damaged yourself down there somehow when you were younger rubbing late under the covers with Tiger Balm and then later everyone could tell you were ruined so the women looked at you with pity and the men were polite steamer ships, toothy smiles like handkerchiefs waving from the decks as they pulled away. That no one could love a broken thing. Broken things gather dust in the attic until they’re moved to the rubbish bin. Hence knowing with each new beloved: Once you see who I really am, you’ll leave. That one time with Tom, in your best days, you were close: sliding over like grasping sand on a cliff’s edge and you wanted to let go and fall. He could tell you were frightened so he said You know I would never hurt you and that’s where things started ending because you knew even though he didn’t think he was lying, he was wrong. That maybe the problem started because of what happened in the basement when you were little, but you can’t really remember it that well. Just mildew smell and how rough a shag carpet was against your face. And afterwards you knew your body was a betrayal, physical proof of your failure to be good, so for years you lulled yourself asleep imagining your own vivisection, how you would lift away skin, yellow fat, and every slick organ until you were white bones only which are dry and clean. That, as an adolescent, you carved yourself into a wooden shape of a woman, an iron maiden who hinged to show metal spikes that rend anyone who ventures near. That you lived as in a museum: on a stand in a glass box seen from all angles, but rarely touched. That in your twenties you thought the problems of the body are of the body, not the mind so you unfurled in furnace rooms of yoga and twirled upside down in aerial silks and trained at gyms styled like bootcamps where men...

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“Under Water,” by Holly Sneeringer
Jul01

“Under Water,” by Holly Sneeringer

The morning after the lady next door dies in the middle of the night, I go inside my house to tell my mother. “Ronnie is dead,” I say to an empty foyer. I return to the front sidewalk where I had been standing, already warm on my summer bare feet. There is a stillness that I have never, ever felt before as I watch the silent blinking lights of the ambulance parked along the curb. Ronnie’s front door is pushed open by a firefighter walking backwards, then the stretcher, a black cloth over her body, and another firefighter. A patch of thick, dark, curly hair sticks out of one end. I have walked the short distance between the townhouses many times, but today I only go half way. I had come out early, to get out of my own house and to wait for the neighborhood pool to open; I was not expecting death. There is a small crowd: Ronnie’s husband, her two small children, and me. I stand in my cut-off shorts and t-shirt with my bathing suit on underneath, still damp from the day before. I am not a good swimmer like my younger sister and my best friend. While they swim laps of breast stroke and butterfly, and jump off the diving board like canon balls and swans, I lower myself into the shallow end, slide against the pool wall until my head is under, then push off with my legs and move through the water, close to the bottom. I only use my arms when I have to; otherwise they are close to my sides and I am a mermaid gliding through the night sea for long stretches of time, coming up for air, then returning quickly to the wonderful silent world that I long for where I am forever and ever and ever alone. It is 1977, the year of Roots, Star Wars, and Saturday Night Fever (which I am not allowed to see, but have heard every detail), and I am twelve. We live in a suburb of Baltimore that is called a “new” town and supposed to be “progressive.” We are Jewish and Catholic and atheist. We are rich and poor, black and white. We are part of an experiment put into place by a man who believed that this kind of place could actually exist. We are learning some of this in my eighth grade Social Studies class. All of the streets have names from lines of great literature. We live on Winter Rose Path, but when I ask, no one that I know has any interest in what poem or...

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“Lift,” by Bridgett Jensen
Jan01

“Lift,” by Bridgett Jensen

The grass is so green it’s damp, like it’s making water. Your toes, bare in flip-flops, are wet. Your son Carter talks 100 miles a minute as your feet keep time. The two of you are walking the pugs. When you came out the back door, Carter stood beneath the basketball hoop, tossing the ball up. He’s ten, and he follows a formula. So many shots up—so many baskets in. He does this every evening until he’s got it right. Tonight it went well, or he wouldn’t be walking with you. You don’t ask about his shooting, don’t want to know the formula. Or why he does it. Maybe if you don’t name it, the compulsion will fade away. The way dusk fades to dark. Pugs are stubborn as they are sweet. They stiffen their short legs and plant their feet, their thick heft close to the ground. Good luck moving the big one when he stops, sniffs, and licks at clinging moisture. You are glad for Carter’s company, for his hold on one of the leashes. He’s stronger than he looks. All skinny legs and arms, he reminds you of a mosquito–the spindly house mosquitoes that slide all leggy along walls. It’s been a good day, plenty of sun, little agitation. You are walking dogs through tall grass while Carter talks basketball. You half-listen—his voice a reassuring hum in the dimming sun. Each step on the spongy earth releases a damp mist that rises around your feet. You half-listen, but you are not preoccupied, do not worry thoughts like a thread, do not tally tasks yet undone. You are not dreading the evening ritual of brushing teeth, washing faces, fussing about bedtimes. Neither are you lost in tomorrow. You just are. That is when you reach over and rest your hand on Carter’s head. Tonight, he is the perfect height for this. You tousle his shaggy bowl of blonde hair as if he’s said something that tickles you and drop your hand to his shoulder, pull him close. He relaxes in a way that he will unlearn soon enough. You walk. Depression lifts like this. It’s that moment when the word you have been trying to locate comes to you, and you shake your head in wonder. It’s a word you use all the time. It’s that moment you no longer perceive a lack. Back in the body, you realize you never left. You realize you have been here all along. You do not experience the lifting. Only that the lift has occurred. You walk home through the field. The pugs tug you toward the back door. In...

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“The Locust: A Foundational Narrative,” by Ellen McGrath Smith
Jul01

“The Locust: A Foundational Narrative,” by Ellen McGrath Smith

It lay there like a father who had worked a double-shift, not dead, but not ready to resume its upright role any time soon. When the graying locust fell from lightning, I learned that the directions and pulls of the earth operated independently of my location. The tree was on a hill behind our house; it was broken by electric teeth, nosed over by a dogged western wind, and even though the center of my drama was that it could have smashed our house, it didn’t. It was also a bridge between our yard and the Wallaces’, waiting for us to make something new of it. It became a pirate ship we rocked — when there were lots of us to rock it — its accidental entropy the only ocean I would know until I was 19. It was “taken away,” the way, a few years before, the cat had been “put to sleep.” Generations of sapling and young adult locusts struggled up and down our hill, while next door’s yard became a forest, something I understood as having to do with the son’s involvement in drugs. *** You do not know where in earth they go and when they’re coming back, but when they’re here the world is machinale, the air is full of consequences. *** I am running down the hill beside the Maronite church, having given myself ultimatums: soldiers are after me, robbers are after me; I’m a saint and some pagans are after me, ready to make me a martyr. Could I endure being burned at the stake? The flames are just words, and I learned to read with such ease that no one can remember my learning. I am running home to dinner, but it has to be more. And although I’m not the naked girl running from my own napalmed skin, we share that puzzling grin below our navels, the grin that, more and more, makes me wonder: am I really weaker than my brothers? I am running faster than a person ever ran, am running right into a bullet with my forehead. The impact sends its echoes through my skull, and I stop running near the bottom of the hill. No blood. I look around for enemies — my plastic-soled feet throbbing from repeated slaps on the macadam – and see it, on the ground, the bullet, near my foot, still singing a thin bass to the collision. It’s winged and near-transparent, more in shock than I am. When I right it, it can’t fly away, this tight-wound reel of programmed flight I interrupted. The wings seem manmade, high-tech, and its body’s...

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“Surfing,” by Flynn Berry
Jan01

“Surfing,” by Flynn Berry

“He’s missing.” I am not sure why I said that. It is not even entirely true—he’s not missing in the way mountain climbers, or soldiers, or kidnap victims can be missing. He’s just out of contact. If we made enough phone calls, we might be able to find him. I look up from my plate. We are sitting outside at a restaurant in Bridgehampton. There are a few other tables of diners out of earshot, and a large tree above us. A warm maritime wind rushes through it. If I focus I can feel it streaming against me. It is satisfying in a way, how you think life is unmovable, fixed, but then a few words can change so much. Madelyn is holding her breath, I can tell from across the table, and waiting for me to say I was joking. I try to remember this effect of words, and to use it to a good end some other time. “What do you mean?” As we talk, I keep eating. We have a whole pizza bianca before us, and it involves artichoke hearts and roasted garlic and ricotta specked with black pepper. I wonder if they find it strange that I am still eating, but I am not going to stop. They have though, and by the end of the conversation, I will have finished it. I am eating with deliberation, with pleasure, with something like revenge. I had not planned on this. Certain questions are risky, like Sarah’s minutes earlier: “What does your brother do?” “Drugs,” I considered answering, but didn’t. He prefers alcohol anyway. Another time this happened, I was in Amsterdam with a few friends. We’d spent the day doing mushrooms, but by the time of the conversation it was evening, and they had worn off, leaving trace deposits of longing and unspecific regret. We were at a beautiful jewel-box tapas restaurant and were surprised, wary and grateful, to find ourselves readmitted to the civilized, non-drug world. The day was spent in a different city, some non-place place in which electric trams came around corners without warning, a man with a glass eye—“Really? I didn’t imagine that?”—threatened to kidnap us, and a small birch-lined pond glowed with impossible prelapsarian beauty. We went to the Van Gogh museum, obviously, half of its visitors were American kids who’d taken drugs and wanted to see the paintings dance. And they did: the cherry blossoms seeming to actually grow, to pulse out with life, and the wheat fields blowing down to one side, and the cypresses shifting in the wind. The museum is mostly glass, and we gathered at a...

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“Five Full Moons,” by Doris Ferleger
Jul01

“Five Full Moons,” by Doris Ferleger

[excerpt] Daily I walk the woods alone, past the massive sycamore. Last night, a windstorm. Today the sycamore’s hundreds of silver limbs lie across the valley, reminding me of the tangled tresses of Queen Isis cut off to mourn the slain king, her beloved Osiris, who lay in a golden coffin hidden in the hollow of a tree trunk. A squirrel searches bewildered, for its stockpile of acorns stored inside the sycamore. It stands silenced over the valley filled with grief no one wants to come close to. A week of black veils, a month of ripped black ribbon, a handful of walks in the woods with the widow. Enough. It’s been five full moons now. My phone doesn’t ring anymore. Sound of the wind last night cracked me open. Against all advice from well-meaning friends, I opened my husband’s spiral dream journal again, to the same page as the first time, though no scrap of paper or folded corner marked the spot where he dreamed a tumor five years before its tendril roots appeared inside his brain and branched out so fast even the tearing night winds couldn’t keep up. This time I read further than the first time. In the dream our motherly friend Frances did the MRI of Steven’s head even though he had gone in for a problem with his gallbladder. Also in the dream, or was it in his waking life, a squirrel entered the office through a crack in the wall and re-emerged soon after. The sneaking-in agitated him, the re-emergence saddened him; he writes he was sad for the squirrel. And for himself he wept and threw his body on the ground and felt afraid. In his dream I am not there to comfort him. I am not there to see the squirrel or the tumor breaking and entering. In the backyard between our home and office, each May before the tumor, we watched for the one we called the upside down squirrel that found a way to chomp on the thistle and niger seed from our bird feeder that hung from the star dogwood; no matter how we hung it, high, low, on thin wire or thick, on long or short rope the squirrel found a way to hang on, to eat. Last year we spray-painted its tail blue to check if it was the same squirrel returning day after day, through spring and summer, year after year, to keep us contentedly complaining. This year we didn’t check for the upside down squirrel’s return nor did we speak of the mass shaped like two florets of a cauliflower lying sideways, stems...

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“Six Bright Horses and the Land of the Dead,” by Jen Silverman
Jan01

“Six Bright Horses and the Land of the Dead,” by Jen Silverman

[excerpt] When I first saw your picture, I was twenty years old. Winter 2005. I was coming off a Chicago street, smoky with December cold. Sheltering from the wind in the arch of the Smart Art Museum, I couldn’t decide if I wanted to go in or not; then all of a sudden a sharp gust cut around the corner and sliced at my eyes, and I shouldered the door open and slipped into the startling heat of the lobby. From the moment I came upon you—naked, the long strokes of your body balanced on the stones of the Great Wall—from that moment, you were like human calligraphy. I walked across the echoing tiles of the first floor galleries, through Ancient Egypt and French Expressionism and past the Japanese scrolls. I walked into China and stopped right in front of you, stared at you, and you stared back calmly. You were so calm. So I followed you, that afternoon. Through frame after frame, from room to room. From the Great Wall to the East Village. You were in a bathroom, posed in front of a mirror, bare hip jutting, smooth shoulder- blade, applying lipstick to your swollen lips. You were in a bath-tub, head lolled back against the white porcelain wall, eyes half-closed and black tufts of cut hair furring the water like blood. You were painting in the clear half-light of a studio. You were balanced on the edge of a torn armchair in the middle of the street. Always balanced, always precarious, always composed. Always naked: the muscled arms and flat hard torso of a man and the high curved face, the long slender hands, the hips of a woman. Chinese artist Ma-Liuming, the captions said, performing his alter-ego Fen Ma-Liuming. And “Fen” means other, it means different, I looked that up on the internet and some sites said that Fen implies female. And thatmade me laugh because when you pursed your painted lips and swung your hips—well. That’s more than just an implication. * There’s a story about Mateu and the Dean of the Medical School, and the story goes that back in October he went to her office to talk to her about his acceptance for the following fall. I can just imagine it—the cool sterile white of the hallways and then Mateu like a breath off the equator—cinnamon skin, black leather, high-heeled boots, metal at his wrists and throat, rings in his ears, and his every word is pure silver. The conversation went well but at the end of it the Dean leaned forward across the desk. “Medical school is a serious commitment,” she...

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“Constellations,” by Melita Schaum
Jul01

“Constellations,” by Melita Schaum

1. A woman is asked to give a lecture on the essay as form. She strolls down to water. Sits on the shore, contemplating wrinkled surfaces, smooth depths. She thinks of design, pattern, rejects those easy figures. She wants to get at something deeper. Discontinuities. The ley lines of things that cannot exist without inference. She casts in her line; somewhere the subject waits to be caught. But it’s not the beadle who interrupts her thoughts, or a warning to keep off the grass. These days the library welcomes her, the tenure committee (for the moment) has sheathed its claws, let the ears be scratched on its three heads. Instead, it’s the surf that breaks her sentences into wet shards—rising, falling in on themselves. What splits her thoughts now is the space between stars. 2. The first time we made love, afterwards, I tasted his skin. Sweet and metallic and unique—like milk and grass, and something deeper, chemical, sharp and fleeting. He had extremely soft skin for a man. Later, when he had gone to work, I went into his closets and stood among his shirts. His smell lingered there, soft, the hangers clinking as if his wardrobe still kept something of his spirit. His clothes were wrinkled—he never ironed. Muted colors, soft fabrics, the occasional outrageous shirt. He looked good in everything, effortless. Everything except his one dark suit, which hung in drycleaning plastic and smelled of embalming fluid—a suit for funerals and weddings, stiff and generic. A suit for when he wasn’t being himself, but called on to assume the disguise of a relative or best man. He wasn’t bad at roles, just indifferent. Donned them when he had to. Shed them as quickly. I saw him only once in that suit. He looked like he’d been poured into it, molded to its shape. Touching his arm was like touching upholstery. It wasn’t him. We put people together like dots—foreground the connections, ignore the discrepancies. Limn a portrait, something consistent and recognizable, out of what are arbitrary moments, gestures, intimations. Who is he? How is he? What is he like? He is a man with one dark suit and a copy of Bachelard on his TV set. He is a man who doesn’t own a remote control. A piece of Murano glass on his countertop, a pile of dried-out ballpoint pens, matchbooks from bars he’s never been to, a pair of Birkenstocks under the bed, a pair of Josef Seidels. The white whale of others—lovers it takes us a lifetime to understand and parse. He is a glimmer of passion and a dark look of anger. Sullen...

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“A Redhead Brunette and Blonde: My Muse was a Bird,” by Jennifer Ruden
Jan01

“A Redhead Brunette and Blonde: My Muse was a Bird,” by Jennifer Ruden

The first one to quit writing had fiery red hair and a penchant for dark haired men (and women) who lacked formal education. Once, while we were in graduate school, we woke up in the same bed. “Now this doesn’t worry me,” she had said. “But he does.” She motioned to a young man crashed on the sofa: jeans around his ankles, tender white boxers dangerously close. “Do you know who that is?” I did not. The redhead wrote poems about setting kitchen curtains aflame, stealing almonds from barrels in co-ops, and the Armenian genocide. She always said her muse was a prostitute with a drug problem. Soon after we graduated, the redhead got a job teaching composition at a private school. She married an overweight balding man who drives a Saturn. At night, she drinks herself silly in the bathtub. She tells me she puts her head underwater to stifle the giggles. “I don’t miss writing at all,” she says. “I never think about that whore.” I quit next. My students are the reason, but that’s a lie. I moved to Albuquerque for a man, left him and found another. Now I direct literacy centers and teach people how to write a standard five-paragraph essay. “An argument,” I tell them. “Everything is an argument.” They want to know if it’s acceptable to start an essay with the words Society today has many problems. “Of course,” I reply. The GED has five sections: Reading, Writing, Math, Social Studies and Science. I tell my students that if they just learn this paragraph, this equation, this paradigm, this hypothesis, everything will fall into place. Everything gets better from this point forward. They never believe me. The blonde held on for a while. In school she liked to say her muse was a Disney character. The cricket. Her writing was just as elusive and priggish, but damn near perfect. Before she quit she edited a collection of short stories where, “birds illuminate the human condition.” I had to read several of these stories to comprehend her argument, if I ever understood it. Dead birds appear on doorsteps, in attics; some birds are forgotten, rotten, and stuck inside chimneys. Sons and fathers go bird watching (never hunting) and observe obese or wounded birds and this is somehow emblematic of human experience. She was quick to inform me that the book wasn’t a field guide of sorts. It was literature. Literary birds. She sent me fifteen signed copies and softly suggested that my students might enjoy reading it. “I don’t know what else to do with them,” she said. Now she writes screenplays and...

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“Learning to Talk,” by Patricia Henritze
Jul01

“Learning to Talk,” by Patricia Henritze

Truth is for Sissies My father never uttered three honest words in a row. He lied like it was a gift, like it was his right, like there was no difference between truth and lies and it was petty and small minded to think otherwise. He taught me to parcel out truth in the smallest increments – grains of truth, layered between lies to confound the listener and make them doubt themselves. Or maybe I’m lying, because fathers don’t do the things I want to write about. They don’t pour bright capsules of speed into their daughter’s young palms or visit pornographers who gaze through boozy eyes, as if you were a pastry and they were starving men. Father’s don’t give grocery money to the tailor and eat steak when their kids can’t afford to eat at all. It’s preposterous to think that a father, the defender of the family, the symbol of God himself on earth would let a child float off into oblivion when he could easily reach out and simply save her. Besides, I can’t remember what the truth was; who can say what really happened? I dreamt my life into being everyday and invented my memories until I’m not interested in the ‘real’ story anyway. Did she try to kill me? Did he bring the thief to dinner? Did they wash my hair in a waterfall? Did I jump off the roof to prove I wasn’t afraid? Following in my father’s sly footsteps, I became a liar, too. Not gifted, perhaps, but I was thirty before I could answer a simple question like “What did you have for lunch?” I would tell you tuna when it had clearly been egg salad. It wasn’t any of your damn business, anyway. The trick, and this I learned from Daddy, is to be committed. Never give it up. No matter how they pound with accusations, stand your ground, because a normal person will not believe that another human being whom they love and trust could continue to lie to them – look straight into their wide eyes, and swear it was TRUTH. This will work every time, in every situation, with mothers, lovers, teachers and even cops. Police are people, too. And even if convicted, maintain your innocence and you will be forgiven. My father was a lawyer and the first man in the state of Georgia to ever be readmitted to the bar after having served federal time for a felony. We were all so proud. In this upside down world I learned to live my real life inside art, embracing it with its easy lies. I...

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“These Things Can I Love,” by Page Lambert
Jan01

“These Things Can I Love,” by Page Lambert

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”–Mary Oliver   Listening to Zuzu Bollin’s sexy blues, sipping Johnnie Walker Red, courting loneliness. Loud music, bone-deep bass lyrics. Blood-pumping brass. The spine knows what to do, knows how to stretch the urge until it whines like catgut and fiddle, stretch the loneliness so thin it wraps like muscle around the angles of the skeleton. Body music. Toes tapping. Pelvis all dark, waiting. Bones loving up to the flesh that layers them. Horn and mouth harp. Wailing and wanting. The craving filling the spacious void. Funny, how body music sets the soul dancing. What is this need to keep body and soul together? I’ve struggled all my life just to introduce them to one another, let alone keep them together. The things I know the best, I know through body language. The feel of a lightning scarred tree— the yellow core deep inside, bark stripped, burned away. I know this—know what the heat wound looks like, how it smells, the texture of sap oozing. The gummy, turpentine taste. The brittle feel of moss clinging to bark. The damp smell of cold air clinging to my dog’s coat. The wetness of his nose, histongue. The winter tufts of white hair that grow between the pads of his feet. The smell of horseflesh sweaty beneath saddle blanket. The grass smell of my horse’s breath. The moist vapor rising from his nostrils on winter days. The warm pocket of soft flesh where his elbow meets his heart, a pocket just big enough to warm my hand. The way the hair turns to velvet where his flank draws in. Body language. The smell of my own skin. The smell of desire. The ridged roof of my mouth. The scoop of the back of my teeth. The hard, straight ridge that runs down the middle of the nail on the finger where my wedding ring used to be, knowing the shape of my hips, my thighs, my waist, my back, through the mirrored touch of a man’s hand. Knowing the depth of my fear in the face of my horse’s courage, my breath, so shallow compared to his. These things I know. These things I trust. Saturday morning. Standing on the top of a knoll at the ranch on a wooded section thick with Ponderosas, I gaze down at the small stock dam which for twenty-five years was on our property, but is now on his. Remnants of an old dugout cabin built into the side of the hill are also now on his property. Duke, our Border...

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