TABLE OF CONTENTS
ELIZABETH R. CURRY POETRY CONTEST WINNERS
Godot goes to Montana
A Lesson In Fire
Wagging Their Tails Behind Them
Duct Tape Gratitude
The Chinese Baby
Mary McLaughlin Sletcha
Vic and Twonny
My Shadow and Me
The Bride of Fensterstock
The Lights, As Expected
We Are Daughters Of The Sun
Took A Rose
Trapped In Amber
Origin of Species
Nancy Tupper Ling
House on the Patuxent River
Some Fauve in the Fields
Velvet On Her Way
A Form of Error
Night at Palmway
What I Do On the Weekends
Daniel M. Gallik
Man of Steel
I Need A Poem
For Hubbard Slammers
The Pirate and The Plank
Late April Morning
Death Is A Simple Fact
Georgie Lee Blalock III
Ann Tobias Karson
More Like Angels
Pressing My Own Olives for Oil
Lynn Veach Sadler
The Truth of Real Pain
Two Cubists Awaiting the Deluge
I Stay The Night
Francesca and Paolo
An Elegant Depression
Transition From Me to You
Are You Okay? Yes, I’m Okay.
The Season that Almost Wasn’t
Boys and Girls
ELIZABETH R. CURRY POETRY CONTEST WINNERS
Godot goes to Montana
if crops would hail out or dry up
If coyotes would tunnel the chicken coops
If the price of grain could keep
me out of used clothes
If the bank would waive foreclosure
for another year
After hay baling and breech delivering
from sunrise to body’s fall
He slept in front of the evening news
Too worn out to watch the world squirm
Too weary to hear warnings from ghost brothers
who were slain by beef, bacon and stress
Too spent to move into the next day
when he couldn’t afford to forget
how Brew Wilcox lost his left arm to an auger
How the mayor’s son suffocated in a silo
Too responsible to remember the bleak option
my grandfather chose for the rope
hanging over the barn rafters
Never too lonely because every farmer
had a neighbor to bullshit with
To share an early a. m. pot of Folger’s
To eat fresh sourdough doughnuts
To chew the fat of their existence
A woman gazes out a wood-paned window
in December at a murder of crows who’ve
landed fatly on her empty Ash in the yard.
Black baubles on the holiday death tree
she notes and cups her mug of hot black tea.
Pythagoras had something to do with math.
He stands inside her forehead, also looks
at the crow-packed boughs, reminds her that she
only hates crows because others told her to.
He tries to seduce her into believing
those matted swathes of feathers house the souls
of her dead. Count them he says. Count each one.
Begin with the longest dead on the low
limbs and work your way up to last year’s
accident. See how they narrow inward.
The woman banishes him but secretly,
she counts in the pattern he’s instructed,
sees the triangle crookedly emerge.
There is one soul shelter at the top of
the tree that remains unaccounted for.
Vile little pig birds weighing down my tree.
She crushes a half-smoked cigarette out,
lifts her sleek shotgun from the pantry
and walks outside. She aims for the topmost
bird with its swiveling head glancing over
its back. With a crack, he is an explosion.
The murder clears the tree and fills the air.
After Sophie’s wake I just want
to curl up in my own bed,
want to lie in this cool darkness
and listen to silence;
but it is broken
by a fly buzzing overhead
and he—poor fellow— is trapped
with me on this side of the skylight:
no need to go after the fly swatter
since none of his brash whizzings
can buy freedom with the window sealed;
no more than her circumlocutions
could outrace the cancer cells. I think of her
wearing that Oh—so Sophie! Perfect! crimson dress
splayed with black chrysanthemums—the one
found with tags still on in her closet.
The chicory on the corner of One Forty-six
and Admiral blooms this December one in
Providence; bright blue bells jangle ribald
in the gray spring-less air while black
tires spin heedlessly by them, by the blooming
out-of-season chicory-blue that clashes with the
bruising horizon and the storm coming through.
The first snow is predicted, two to four this
afternoon, this December one afternoon,
bent to fall around the chicory here beside
the cars, light-stopped cars, heart-stopped
ringing of the blue bells in my eyes beside
the street, the so-busy city street, spots of
blue in the drab block hugged between the
sidewalk and the curb, eager on this day
to be sprung, to linger, to bloom, to flaunt, to flash
to bray against the grays, to brazenly ring blue bells
to the highways, to sing unseasonably for the snow
to fling unreasonably into the snowfall its plucky blue
to chant itself a dirge, for soon it will be buried, roots-
first, and then the salt trucks will finish it up,
spraying their briny death into the nor-easterly elixir,
into the whiny depths of yet another late-arriving winter.
It is impossible to remember to forget to
want to share with you the chicory blue
blooming where we have been, but you are
gone like spring, gone before the first snow
plow, never were definite like the blue flower
anyhow, never were true—people are not—
not like this brief splotch of chicory blue,
not delphinium or larkspur or periwinkle or
violet or sky or your eyes—but chicory blue—
on the stripped and tarry block, beside the street
where One Forty-six meets Admiral, at the traffic
stop that changes every one and a half minutes, that
draws me from the blue chicory cups drinking down
the winter storm to the green go-ahead blinking me on.
Nancy Tupper Ling
You’re about to board the plane.
I’m home, counting leaves;
dark spindly masses linger in your cup.
I’m not searching for divinations.
Just wondering: how the brittle, the weak,
awaken and resurrect under hot water,
steep a home to fragrance?
How many branches beg
this body to sing?
And, what remains here for me—
the way the tea singed your tongue,
the way it clings to my lips when you leave?
Far from the city that closed on us
like a fist all June and July,
away for a few minutes
from the family reunion
and its cooler of iced Millers,
I pencil dove into the lake
with all of my clothes on,
my body stiff as a nail
as it cut through the water
that darkened as I sank,
bubbles rushing up like smoke
as I sliced down and down,
pushing up with my palms,
driving deeper into what
we never felt in those row homes
set like teeth along greasy avenues––
not freedom exactly, but something
like it––a boundlessness
my lungs ached against past
mud-silted sunnies and bass,
beneath the staccato of outboards
and screaming children,
my father’s black lungs drifting away
with my mother’s black eyes
and her cries in the hallway at night,
the Sisters of Saint Joseph
vanishing when I closed my eyes
to their Bible passages
and the prayers we said by rote,
sinking past drowned logs
until my foot wedged between rocks.
On the bottom of the lake
I hung like a balloon fighting
to free itself from a greedy boy’s hand,
flailing my arms in the cloud I made,
squinting against the vise closing
in on my temples, looking up
to the sky’s white rim along the surface
where like a bird a beer can fell,
the twig of a cigarette, and then my father,
who couldn’t swim, fell face first
toward the last bubbles I could push
from my nose and mouth.
He held his arms straight out
as if across a canyon, roaring to me,
touching first my hair, then my face,
my eyes leading him to the foot he freed
from the leather basketball sneaker
he’d worked overtime to pay for.
When he patted the back of my leg,
I pushed off and burst toward
the exhausted air above the lake,
my arms churning like oars,
thinking even then only of myself,
not knowing until later how
he’d known where to look for me,
how he’d calmed everyone
before he dove by swearing
that he wouldn’t come up alone.
House on the Patuxent River
Leaning back in wheezing chairs,
we prop our feet, eat apple cake
with raisins soaked in rum, and read
aloud in turns from Bishop’s poems.
Shapes of otherworldly firs emerge,
anchored in the ghostly fog.
We enter dreamy divagations in a bus
and pause to slide the glass doors open
for the cat, fur slick from spats of rain,
mewling back inside to claim a seat.
The driver’s a local who stops for moose.
The sky is darker than the water now.
Torrential rain arrives and surges through
slender willow trees to meet the sea.
Winds raise the spirit-level, and water
overflows the pilings. The bulwarks
are submerged, cattails sway in choppy
waves, and crab traps clang against the pier.
It was the time insects splattered against the windshield.
Begin again. It was the time I splattered insects against the windshield,
the beginnings of rain like transparent stars as my pickup truck
shot down the interstate, pollen damp on maroon steel. I gathered the arguments: There are no moral phenomena, only a moral interpretation of phenomena.1 Nevertheless,
the needle of the speedometer trembled at eighty-five.
I was late. My fiancée three counties away warned me
not to develop a pattern, lateness like her father.
The trees went by at a steady rate, bristling with wind
that made me keep both hands on the wheel, and focus.
I wanted to watch the trees, radiant foliage to my left and right,
a hawk circling above with a dark underside. I imagined talons
stained everlasting by the fortifying blood of rabbit.
From that height and with those eyes, one is ruthless.
* * *
Hours ago in the mall bathroom two teenagers entered
loud and dressed as skinheads, their jackboots and T-shirts ridiculous to a human being conscious this century.
The stink of beer and cigarette smoke wafted off them. I finished at the urinal and glanced towards their laughter,
rejecting how they pissed broad zigzags on the wall.
I washed my hands. The peripheral vision of the mirror
warned me when the taller one stood beside me, his smile
an upturned corner of bone when the lights went out.
“Faggot!” and a fist grazed my temple. I had sidestepped
the power delivered to the mirror, the crash and his scream bringing the other on top of me and into a wall, hard.
* * *
The mileage was full of nines, the odometer turning
a message in black and white—as if I cared. Outside the cell tower blinked in three places,
a metal scaffold built to a point and growing larger
with each erasure in the windshield. I’d climb there to think, past the diminishing Xs of steel lattice work,
up where the ladder rungs quit, but I don’t, the antennae and I together at one hundred and eighty feet—where nothing matters
but grasp and the speeding headlights below.
A prince, therefore, must not care about being criticized for cruelty . . . it is much more secure to be feared than to be loved.2
The rain would be cold with such thinking. Never mind the lightning.
* * *
A punch to the face, another in the stomach, blackness gave way
to stars exploding, the whirl in my head and knees
tempting to sink to. I heard the flush of a woman’s toilet
and dropped back into pain, reached down to that place
where only survival matters and hit through what was on top of me.
Each knee and elbow, each punch and kick shot out from my body
till I had the satisfaction of hand holding throat, squeezing
until my hammer fist collapsed nose, the crack that of an ice tray and the immediate flow, warm, as I dropped him.
* * *
The left lane was clogged. A Mercedes bumped along at the speed limit
parallel to an RV. I tried not to tailgate, flashed my lights
then high beams. The Mercedes driver tapped his brake lights at me
and slowed to fifty, waving at me with his middle finger, his eyes
felt in the rear-view mirror, believing that his time and behavior
were superior, that he could do as he liked with impunity.
High beams on and accelerating, I could see the registration numbers on his license plate as I neared and ever-so-gently nudged his bumper.
His response: a dramatic increase in speed and the desired lane change.
War is thus an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will . . .
to secure that object we must render the enemy helpless . . . 3
I cut my lights and outdistanced all nearby cars.
* * *
Only breath moved in the men’s room. I listened to labored inhalations while moving along the tile, felt the pipes shudder as toilets flushed. Light hurt in the awakening. The burst of fluorescent lights
revealed a spider-webbed mirror, a hundred replicas of my face
distorted and bloody, shimmering with each movement.
On the floor writhed two pitiful excuses, the remains of one
nursing his crushed fist and rolling in glass, the other
blood spilling from his misshapen nose. He quivered, was pale,
the last image as I ran out the door and bumped someone.
* * *
The interstate exit announced itself finally, and I took it. My lights shone on a sign
riddled with buckshot. I slowed to a stop, looked behind me and both ways,
nothing but my idling pickup truck awaiting my commands.
I signaled left and listened, signaled right and listened to the repeating blink.
In the distance, above the trees, the town’s upper hemisphere glowed:
a halo of lit homes, closed shops, street lights, and traffic light eyes.
I turned left for town. The way, punctuated by farmhouses,
curved and rose alongside property boundaries, wooden fences that ceased on the outskirts of town where the first stoplight
The light overhead remained fixed. Past the intersection, past the familiar
right turn was the driveway to her house. There she waited.
I imagined her in the dark with television, the phone beside her, holding a pillow.
The stoplight unchanged and no one around, I drove through the intersection
and continued my way. I thought of rationalizations and my convictions.
I thought of consequences, the police, the rest of my examined life.
1 Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche from Beyond Good and Evil
2 Niccolò Machiavelli from The Prince
3 Karl von Clausewitz from On War
This is for you
I ran into you
at Lowe’s you
were with your
wife who got too
close who is not
my mother I was
with your young-
est for the first
time you know
him but me
you would have
where my hair
is just like yours
at my age at my
age you had my
left her mother
for the woman
who became my
mother who left
you a gutter full
of leaves and full
Mrs. S, the lady
of the house next door
came to call
with a pan of banana bread
to welcome me
to the neighborhood.
She had heard
I was a lesbian
and was relieved
I didn’t flaunt my lifestyle.
She watched Ellen Degeneres
every morning but not
everyone was as understanding.
I looked at the crumbs
clinging to the side of the pan
and considered telling her
I believe in being open-minded.
Heterosexuality isn’t a choice, after all.
They’re just born that way.
I Need a Poem
I need a poem tonight
I need a poem right now
to hold my elbow and run its fingers through my hair
to quiet this
I need a poem whispered right here in my ear,
chin on my shoulder, breath hot on my skin,
sexy slow and sweet
I need a poem, sliding down my throat,
silky smooth and sensual,
filling my belly from down deep
I need a poem,
dancing in my eyes,
chasing light to optic nerve to the very center of my brain
I need a poem, kicking my ass,
one foot after another,
moving me out of this room into the world
I need a poem, stinking up my nose,
rotting like death that brings new life.
I need a poem spreading wide and taking me in,
making me forget where I am and reminding me
why I even bother
I need a poem
Scientists at Johns Hopkins University
Announced in January
That the color of the universe
Was pale turquoise
Three months later,
They admitted that they made a mistake
And that the true color of the universe
Lynn Veach Sadler
Pressing My Own Olives For Oil
I thought Grandmother Teitelbaum was
Grandmother T-i-d-a-l B-o-m-b,
was always expecting,
not only Generic Catastrophe,
but its specifics.
If Grandmother Teitelbaum’s lips and fingers
ever stopped moving,
cataclysm would come again upon
not just my immediate relatives
but all Jews left in the world.
At my first Hanukkah at Aunt Esther’s,
lo, Grandmother Teitelbaum walked slowly forth
each of the nine nights
to appropriate the lighting of the menorah candles,
offering not blessings but admonitions.
Her eyes bored into my soul as she lit the candle
that would light the others in turn:
“Press your own olives for oil.”
My eyes triple-bugged the second night
when Grandmother Teitelbaum declared,
“Never let an elephant crush you.”
I wore her on my sleeve from that moment.
She unfolded my destiny—as I knew instantly—
in her remaining Hanukkah pronouncements:
“Oil, not war, is the miracle to be glorified.”
“Eat latkes and pretend to like them.”
“Luck is required to get the Gimmel,
but nobody likes a ‘Gimme!’ boy or girl.”
“Mordecai is encrypted in the ‘Maoz Tzur.’”
“Be a shamus.”
“Study until you can say what happened to
Yonatan’s fellow heroes of Hanukkah.”
“Attend the difference between
riding a beam of light
and being a beam of light.”
The Hanukkah celebration in our household
includes my telling the tale of Grandmother Teitelbaum,
replete with a game of dreidel.
Our children know the dreidel’s four Hebrew letters
(though I emphasize Gimmel)
and their reference to the “great miracle”:
not just Judah the Maccabee
leading the Jews to victory against the Greeks
and re-taking the Temple,
but the minim of sacred oil that lasted
the eight days required to make more.
I have always insisted
that we play for latkes,
and there has never been a problem
with having a “poor winner.”
I became a shamus,
seeking to solve ancient mysteries
and those of Grandmother Teitelbaum,
though she, I like to think,
was playing on the shamus or “servant candle”
that lights the other branches of the menorah
and is of a different height to avoid confusion.
The first letters of the stanzas of “Maoz Tzur,”
the Hanukkah song you may know as
“Rocky Fortress,” spell out “Mordecai.”
While I have never solved the mystery
of the fates of all the Hanukkah heroes,
I can tell you that their brother Yonatan
was crushed by a war elephant,
doubtless the original of the one to which
Grandmother Teitelbaum referred.
I have tried to ride the beam of light
sent forth by Grandmother Teitelbaum
during that Festival of Light.
I have tried to be a beam of light.
I attend the difference even as I
press my own poor olives for oil.
Wagging Their Tails Behind Them
Hold on. I wanna tell you what happened at the shelter but you gotta understand my uncle. He’s Uncle Ken and no matter what kinda shadiness goes down I have to trust him. He’s just smarter and I should listen better.
It started with that dog Matador. He was just one of a million dogs that have come through here all torn up and half dead. But he was cool anyway, all big and stupid and at least half pit if not purebred too. His fur was kinda red but he had jagged brown scars and scabs from fights I guess. Some bastard left him chained up to our front gate overnight. We found him that morning lying there whimpering and licking a broken dew claw, that’s the little thumb claw.
Usually my uncle does the first aid but he wanted me to do this one. I dressed his wounds and some of them were pretty fresh. The poor dog would just lie there and cry, even through the muzzle I put on him. He stayed helpless on his back with his feet pawing the air. Uncle Ken stood off to the side and told me when I messed up.
This was the kinda dog that Uncle Ken would put to sleep right away cause he was hurt real bad and who’s gonna adopt a hurt pit bull and better to just get it over with so I didn’t really understand why he gave him to me.
“Don’t whine about it, Kat.” He said through bites of a peanut butter sandwich. He’s a vegetarian but its weird cause he’s a big fatty and most vegetarians are skinny guys with dreds that talk about how much it sucks that Phish broke up.
“I don’t wanna. I just . . .”
“You need the practice. I can’t have my second in command not being able to run the ship, can I?” Then he winks and I gag. I mean, how lame is that?
I shouldn’t be surprised cause I just end up doing all the shit work because no one else comes here except Donnie the Botard from Jawanio on Mondays and Wednesdays and anyone who has to do community service, you know, mostly high schoolers whose parents’ lawyers got them off if they got caught dealing.
My uncle wants me to stay on with him and maybe take over some day. “You have a knack at this,” he’ll tell me a million times while I’m flea dipping a puppy or holding a kitten to be put to sleep with this pink liquid. I’ve been living with him for a year now and he’s kinda old and I think likes the company. My aunt left him a long time ago and took my cousins who I never see and probably took most of his money too cause his place looked like shit until I moved in and girlied it up for him. I know that he’s lonely cause he always asks why I never go out or bring any friends home but I don’t have any friends anymore so I stay home and watch TV. I hate it, but I’m over going out.
I owe Uncle Ken a lot cause I was fucked up for a long time on E and meth and shit and was crashing on couches and futons until I found a job. I used to strip for a year or so at the Doll House, you know, that place off the Palisades. You can’t even imagine the cash. I mean, yeah I had to grind my cooch on lonely fat guys, but you don’t even realize they’re there after a while. They’re like ATMs in pleated pants. I’ve probably gotten a twenty from every man in Rockland County. And my boss hooked us all up with anything we needed so I was always high.
He healed slow and was scared of everything at first, but once he got better and could go out Matador was too fun. I’d play fetch with him and when he’d see the ball his tongue would hang out and his back paw would start thumpin’ the ground. It reminded me of that old ass cartoon where the wolf is at a bar and sees like Red Riding Hood or Bo Peep all skanked out and freaks out. My Mom loves those old cartoons and used to watch ‘em with me on Cartoon Network.
I really don’t talk much to my Mom anymore. She’s happy that I didn’t die I guess but in a way she’s embarrassed I didn’t too. Now she has to explain me, like I can see her talking to her friends at Weight Watchers, “Um . . . No, my daughter isn’t a junkie-stripper anymore.” “That’s FAB-ulous. What’s she doing now?” “Oh, um . . she cleans dog shit at a job my brother got her.” “Well, that’s . . . lovely. No really, wonderful. Would you like another low-carb-high-protein-sugar-free-fiber-flake?”
I’d never tell my uncle or my mom but I miss stripping a lot. Not just the money or the drugs. It’s the music and the bass pounding you in the chest and the smell of lotion and the sweat and the glitter and knowing that all the guys there are gonna go home and jerk off to you. I ruled up there and it’s the only place where I could and I won’t ever again.
We get back to the shelter and Uncle Ken is out front talking to a couple of Mexicans leaning against a pickup truck. There’s an old one with a potbelly and greasy hair who I’ve seen here every couple of months and one about my age in a striped shirt left open to show a wife beater underneath. The young one looked damn ass good.
“Are you sure there’s nothing good here,” The kid said to the older one.
Oldy pointed at Matador and me and mumbled something in Spanish.
They walked over, Oldy in short puffy steps and the young one staying at his side and sometimes supporting him.
Oldy kept brushing him away like a gnat or a yippy dog.
“Kat, let them see the dog,” Uncle Ken said.
Matador hid between my legs when I gave them the leash. They inspected the dog and checked his teeth, muscle tone, eyesight—it was like some kinda weird dog show.
“Is he mean?” The kid asked me.
“Um, no . . .”
“S’ok.” Oldy handed me back the leash. “We’ll take him.”
Uncle Ken stepped forward. “Not yet. He took a bad beating and isn’t ready yet.”
“He’ll be fine with us,” the kid said.
“C’mon kid.” Uncle Ken made a gesture with one of his hands.
Oldy leaned in and grunted a number.
“Better.” Uncle Ken turned to me, “Why don’t you take the dog inside, Kat,” and I did. Fuck them. I knew what they were. Haverstraw’s had a problem with pit fighting for years now. They’re like sick bastards who’ll sit around getting shitty on Coronas and blunts and watch dogs kill each other.
I go back outside without the dog and they’re not there anymore. They’re all in his office cause I can see them through the plexiglass window. I’ve been around enough shady people in my day to know when something fucked up is happening and this was it.
Sometimes you’re helpless and you can only watch so you have to think about something else. One time I was
Sandersat a party and had eaten too much E. I’m in the bathroom all puking and shit and pullin’ off my shirt cause it feels like my skin is like on fire. I can’t get off the floor and some guy I didn’t know comes in and he locks the door and pins me down and all I can think is how nice and cool the tile feels against my skin.
The two Mexicans came out of the office. The hot one smiled at me but it was like a creepy smile as they crawled into the truck and pulled away.
“What the hell was that about?” I said to my Uncle as I walked back inside.
“Forget it, they’re good people.”
He didn’t even look up at me. “You’re right, it is bullshit. But the shelter needs the money and dogs like that bring it in. Don’t look at me like that. No one’s gonna adopt that thing. You can’t save all of them. It’s taking up space for the dogs with a chance.” He picked up the phone in his office and dialed.
I wanted to say how wrong I thought it was but how would I know anyway cause I’m not what most people would call moral so Uncle Ken is probably right and I’m just a stupid junkie whore who doesn’t even know that its ok to sell a dog for fighting if you can run your animal shelter with the money so I just walked away and cried.
That was the last I heard of it for a week or so. Then just yesterday I was at work and Donnie Botard had just sprayed down the hall with bleach and all the dogs were on the outer part. So I go outside and I’m looking at my beautiful Matador. He’s got his paws up on the fence barking at me and like waggin’ his tail in a little booty dance. I wondered if he used to bark at his old home or if he got beaten or was he a runaway and how he ended up with me.
I heard gravel grinding behind me and that same truck from the other day rolled up on me. This time only the young one got out.
He like shuffled up to the cages and then up to Matador. Looking at him this time I saw that he was younger than I thought, like a little bit younger than me. His skin was very light for a Spanish boy like chocolate milk without enough Hershey’s and he was very skinny in that dancey sort of way, like he spent a lot of nights at the club. No, probably not Mexican but I can’t really tell the difference.
“He looks good,” the boy finally said. His voice was real soft and shaky. He was nervous and I felt kinda bad for him.
“Thank you. I took care of him myself. When he came in here he was hurt really bad and I bandaged him and gave him all his shots and stuff. I’m the reason he’s still alive.”
He smiled and shifted his feet. “That’s great . . . Kitty, right?”
“No. I’m Katherine, Kat. Definitely not Kitty. How do you know my . . .”
“But you were—I mean—you were, right?”
“I really have to get back to work.”
He looked back to the dog, then behind him, and scratched at the back of his neck. “You wouldn’t remember me.”
“You came by with some old guy a couple weeks ago.”
“No. No, before that. Way before that. “C’mon, SandersI know it was you. You used to dance at that place off the Parkway. I remember. You would do this . . .”
“Ok, you can leave now.” I moved toward the office door to get Uncle Ken.
“Wait!” He froze me. “Just tell me.” And he seemed so sad that I mumbled out a “yes.”
“I knew it!” He shouted and then quickly lowered his voice into a hard whisper. “I knew you were. I used to watch you every week. Sometimes you’d talk to me. You were nice to me. I mean, I know it was cause I was giving you money, but even after I’d run out you’d still talk to me—like I was different—you could tell that I cared about you.”
His hands moved quickly as he talked and made me nervous. “I was really stupid back then. I wanted you so bad. I heard about what you strippers did after your shows, you know, for extra money,” we both blushed, “but I could never have enough. You know . . . I was poor and I knew you didn’t want me no matter how you acted. But my cousin . . . We started with the dogs. He said he knew a guy that ran a shelter and could get him dogs.
“It was such easy money. And I walked into that club, sat you down on my lap, and said ‘how much to take you home, mami?’ And you were mine! For that one night, you were mine! Don’t you remember?”
I shook my head. He could’ve been anybody.
“Not even a little?” Shake. “Not even my name?” Shake.
He frowned. “I wanted to pull you out of that place and take care of you forever. Everything I’ve done, it was all
for you. You didn’t know, but it was all you.” He straightened up and walked to his truck. “I’ll pick up the dog tomorrow,” and he drove off.
I’m really not the smartest person and I don’t handle that sort of thing real well. I was just thinking about back when he knew me, how I’d let some guy put his dick in me or be sittin’ cross legged with some random junkie tapping each other’s arms till a vein popped up and how that’s the closest I was gonna come to love.
I walked into the shelter and brought Matador into the exam room. The room was clean like it always is with all the drugs and syringes lined up in the cabinet. I helped my dog onto the table. The syringe went into the pink liquid. I pulled it out and then I killed him.
When I hear the truck’s wheels spin on the gravel, I jump for the screen door and press my face against it. I am hoping Dad has come for me himself, but Mark is the one climbing out of the driver’s seat. Mama hugs me too tight, too close: her sweater leaves red marks on my cheek and her breath braids tobacco smoke into my hair.
“Come back soon, Aitch, girl. Come back and visit me, hear?”
“You sure you want to go?” Her hand presses the bones of my back. I nod into her body.
“I can’t let go of you,” she says. The doorbell rings.
“You got to, Mama,” I say, wiggling. “The truck’s here. Okay? Please?”
As the pickup rattles me away down the driveway, I check in the rearview mirror: she’s standing there bawling, not even trying to hide it, wiping her nose on her dirty sleeve. I turn back around fast.
“Dad!” I say when the Big House door swings open.
My lion-colored Dad looks down at me.
“I’m gonna be your daughter now,” I say.
He keeps on staring for just a couple seconds more, his mouth tight in his beard and his eyes clear, watery blue. I get afraid he’s smelling Mama’s cigarette on me. But then his face wrinkles up in a smile.
“Welcome,” he says. “Welcome home.”
Here is who lives in our part of the Big House: Dad’s new wife Grace, Grace’s kids Mercy, Thankfulness, Simple and Light-of-God; also Dad, and me. My name used to be Aitch, which was short for Hannah, but now it’s Delivered.
Here is who lives in the rest of the Big House: Joseph and his wife Esther and their kid Thomas; Mark and his wife Lucia and their kids Leah and Anne; Christian and his wife Beth; two women named Mary; an old granny named Orpah; a man named Sober.
Here is what I do when I get up in the morning: I stand up on the bed and bounce quietly and secretly, one or two times.
Back home I used to bounce on my bed whenever I got up. Mama yelled the time the headboard cracked, but mostly she didn’t care so long as I didn’t do it too hard.
But I don’t want Dad to catch me bouncing.
At seven o’clock, everybody has to go to breakfast. We eat oatmeal at a long wooden table; there are bowls of raisins if we want them, but no sugar or honey. I asked how come at my first breakfast, and Dad said “We try not to eat a lot of sugar here.”
He is a deep-voiced, gentle talker. You hear in his voice how strong he is; you hear that if he wanted to, he could kill you; but you hear that gentleness, too; you hear that he isn’t going to hurt you after all. And then you love him forever.
After breakfast I go back up to my white room to make the bed. This morning as I pass the Bible on the nightstand, I think of how my mama used to close her eyes, open her own Bible, jab her finger down onto the page and then read what it said out loud. She’d do this even though she didn’t generally believe in God: when I asked her why, she laughed and said she didn’t know.
I shut my eyes and stab my finger down, but it don’t hit nothing interesting—just a lot of begats. First I think maybe it means I’m supposed to stay here and get married to Thomas, who is the only boy in the Big House that’s not kind of my brother, and that we’re supposed to have kids and start making another Chosen People. Then I remember Dad told me the Bible says not to tell fortunes or try to see the future. Only God’s allowed to know things. I get embarrassed—clap the book down on the table and pull the bed-covers up quick and tight.
From the window, I look out over the field at the men. They are all wearing brown pants, white shirts and suspenders. Today they’re walking to the end of the field, which stretches all the way to the edge of where I can see: all the way to where the sun sets. They are going there to cut down a rotted-out oak. They cradle axes and ropes in their arms. Dad figures God doesn’t like machines. He figures they’re loud and ugly and they don’t make you work hard enough.
Whatever is growing in the field, maybe corn, is up to the men’s hips and is the bright green of grass after rain, so all you can see is their little white shirts bobbing up and down as they walk. They look like doves bobbing on a lawn.
But when the men are working and you get up close, you can see how they can’t help the very dark dirt getting all over their white: it clings to their whole bodies and to their faces, and you can hear them grunt and sweat and moan so loud that it makes me blush. Dad is the only one of them who has ever been a real farmer. Joseph used to be a bus driver. Mark owned a store. Christian worked for a lawyer, and Sober was a drunk.
I go downstairs and say hello kind of shyly to Mama Grace, who is younger and prettier and also smarter than my mama. I am shy with her because although she wanted to be with Dad, she did not ask to have some extra half-grown daughter of his turn up on the doorstep. She don’t quite smile back: she’s ironing clothes, cradling Simple, who’s not even a year old, in a sling close against her breasts.
“Good morning, Delivered,” she says, very polite. “I’m making a stew. Could I ask you to peel some carrots?”
Grace’s oldest daughter Light-of-God is already in the kitchen, sitting on the floor with a big carrot-scraper abandoned next to her foot, a pot of carrots in front of her and a book spread out in her lap.
“Hi,” I say. “Whatchou reading?”
She jumps a mile and slams the book shut. “Little Red fucking Riding Hood,” she says.
I don’t reckon she is very sanctified.
Maybe it comes of being conceived in sin: she is Grace’s daughter from when Grace was not married yet.
“We better peel these carrots,” I say.
“Go for it,” says Light-of-God. She passes me the peeler and goes back under her hair, which is not braided the way hair is supposed to be in the Big House. It hangs into her face like a fake black witch wig. I can see both of her hair elastics stretched around her wrist.
“You’re not gonna?” I ask.
“Because I’m reading, God damn it,” says Light-of-God.
“So what’s that book, really?”
She shakes her head. In spite of myself, I start to get interested: I bend down and twist around, trying to see the cover. Light-of-God won’t lift it up and make things easier but she don’t exactly try to hide it either.
“Her dress is coming off,” I observe. “Her boobs are sticking out.”
“So what?” says Light-of-God.
“So that’s . . . bad,” I say.
“Right,” says Light-of-God. She ducks down again and looks like she forgets about me, so I pick up the carrot peeler and start peeling. It takes a very long time, because we will need enough soup for all of us: nineteen people if you don’t count Simple who is still too little to eat anything but milk. I peel carrots and peel carrots and peel carrots. My feet fall asleep where my crossed legs press down on them, and my hand starts aching from holding the peeler. In the Big House I have been trying to sit straight and upright the way Dad does, but now my back is starting to droop back into my old bad posture. I am so bored it hurts. I shoot a glare at Light-of-God, but she doesn’t notice, she’s still reading. I am longing to grab her by the shoulders and shake her, and I start to think that it’s no good, I am never going to be holy, not if I can get this much hate swirling around in my heart, so I might as well just go ahead and shake her. But then the light in the kitchen shifts as a cloud tumbles across the sun and I decide probably the Devil is tempting me, so I keep on peeling carrots.
A man screams “Grace!” It scares me bad: I spring up. Light-of-God is right beside me, her book dropped face down in the peelings. We stare out the window.
Her elbow is digging into my ribs. Everything seems peaceful in the back yard; the limbs of the willow tree bounce in the wind and in the bird feeder a squirrel cracks sunflower hulls. But it’s a tense kind of peaceful. My muscles are tight and my eyes are too wide open. It’s like we were dreaming and that sound has woken us up; it’s like everything has suddenly turned extra real and is crowding too close.
Grace runs flat out into the kitchen.
“What’s wrong? Ma, what’s happening?” asks Light-of-God. She seems young now, maybe even younger than me, her couple of extra years peeled off her like a coat.
“Where’s the phone?” says Grace. “Don’t worry, girls. Stay here in the kitchen. Where’s the phone?” She runs out again.
“What happened?” I ask the back of her. Sober is on his way in as she’s running out; he hears me, stops and puts a hand on my shoulder.
“Don’t be scared, girls,” he says. “There was an accident. But don’t be scared.”
“Who?” I ask, and at the same time Light-of-God sucks in her breath and says “Dad?”
I am holding my breath too. It seems like we wait a very long time for the answer.
“Christian,” says Sober.
Relief makes me cranky. “He ain’t your dad,” I tell Light-of-God. She just looks at me. Christian is a very big yellow-haired Swedish man, not very smart. Yellow hair even Henysprouts out of his nose: it’s like he’s partly a
man and partly a hayfield. I am trying to picture him and to pray for him while Sober explains that he needs to go back to the end of the field and he hopes we will be brave girls and look after Simple while the grownups do what they can for Christian, but my Lord, watch over our brother gets mixed up with the thought of his nose hairs: how they twirl down out of his nostrils and blend into his mustache.
After Sober leaves, Light-of-God plops Simple down on his belly on the floor. Simple blows a milky spit bubble that bursts and runs down his chin. “Bah,” he says. “Baaaaaa. Gub.” He lifts his arms off the floor, straining like he figures he’s an airplane. Light-of-God bends down to get her book.
“Where are you going?” I ask.
She opens the closet door and ducks inside. Little scuffling noises come from in there.
“Shut up, stupid,” comes the answer, very muffled.
“Pup-pup-pup-pup,” drools Simple as he rocks on his stomach. He is not a crawling baby yet: he is still the kind of baby that just puddles on the ground.
“You’re supposed to look after him!”
Silence from in the closet.
I lean down and try to get ahold of Simple. I’m not used to picking up babies: it’s not like grabbing a sack of laundry, not unless you imagine the sack is full of frogs or mice, because you can’t just heave it around: you have to watch out for eyes and ribs and all those other parts.
“I’m coming in!” I yell.
Silence. Then, “You better not! I’ll slap you.”
“Well, you just gonna have to slap me, then.” In the end I can’t pick the baby up so I grab him by his ankles and slide him backward over to the closet. He wiggles some. I bang the door open: it’s cosy in there. Light-of-God has a kind of little nest set up with a quilt I bet Grace made and a cheap little flashlight, which she isn’t supposed to have because it’s electric. She’s huddled into a ball.
She swings the flashlight up so it shines into my eyes.
“You get that baby out of here!”
“But Sober said—“
“I am not getting stuck with him again! It’s not my fault!”
“It ain’t nobody’s fault,” I say, to calm her down.
“Isn’t anybody’s fault, you hillbilly dipshit.”
“Well, anyhow, it ain’t the baby’s fault and it ain’t your mama’s.”
“Not Mom’s fault?” She slams her book down shut beside her. “Ever since she moved in with That Man, she’s been acting like she doesn’t have a brain or a mouth!” She makes a noise like somebody hawking up a loogie.
“Going out to cut down a tree with just axes! You think they ever cut down a tree before?”
“Maybe Dad thought God was going to hold his hand? Maybe he thought God was going to swing down from the sky like Tarzan and chop it down Himself?”
“He’s not your Dad!” I say. I am mad. It is not her business to be so critical. Dad has abundant faith and the Lord is with him. He’s all blazed-up with power; he’s half Daniel, half-Lion. When I am afraid of him it’s because I am the one who’s done something wrong. He left my mother because she was weak, and Light-of-God, who is so critical towards him, is also weak in belief like that Doubting Thomas: I want to be stronger and braver. I swell up with pride in my father’s Lion faith.
“Oh, yes he is so my God damn Dad!” Light-of-God says. She leans forward out of her quilt and squints. “You didn’t know that?”
“I’m his first daughter.”
“But you ain’t…”
“I,” she says, “was born three years after he got married.”
“After my Dad and Grace got . . . ” I ask, confused: this is a dumb question because Light-of-God is older than me.
“After my Dad . . . and your mom . . . got married,” Light-of-God explains, talking very slow like she thinks I’m retarded. “He had sex with my mom,” she adds. “While he was married to your mom. Got it?”
I glare at her.
“That’s a lie!”
She shrugs. The shrug is what really gets me worried, because it means she don’t care if I believe her or not.
Before I can say anything more the front door bangs open and Dad and Grace stomp inside in the middle of one hell of a yelling match. In the closet, Light-of-God and me freeze like a couple of possums with a car coming at them. I haul Simple into the closet and work him into my lap, and Light-of-God swings the door shut, but we can still hear them hollering, clear like they’re in the closet with us.
“I’ve seen worse, Grace. I promise you, I’ve seen worse in this world. If I—“
“He is bleeding like a knifed hog!”
“Let me finish.”
“Take him! Now!”
“Grace. Let me finish.”
“Let go of me! Let go!“
“You’re hysterical. Grace. Calm down. Can you calm down?”
“Nathan, either you are going to drive him or I am getting into that truck—“
“You don’t know how to drive, my love.”
“Grace!” A slap. Then a big, sounding quiet.
“Let me explain something to you,” says Dad reasonably after a little while. “Look at me. Can you look at me, angel? All right? Good. Let me remind you of something. Let me remind you of one little thing. The body is not important. The spirit is important. Christian has a very strong spirit.”
She don’t say nothing. Maybe she nods.
“Now, if I take him to a hospital you know what they’ll do, don’t you, angel? Tell me what they’ll do.”
“They’ll help him,” hisses Grace. “Oh God Nathan we are wasting time. I am scared.”
“It’s all right,” murmurs my father, sounding muffled like his mouth is pressed to her shirt, like he’s clutching her against him. “Hush now, Grace. Everything will be all right.”
“How can you say that?” she asks. She asks like she really wants to know. Like she really wants to know how he can say that.
“If he lives—and I bet you he’ll live, because Christian is a strong man—he’ll have more years on Earth in the service of the Almighty. And if he dies, it will mean he’s been accepted into God’s everlasting light—and he’ll go with his spirit and his body whole. If he dies, then it’s his time to die. You don’t want to be trying to tell God whether a man should live or die. You know that, don’t you?—you were just upset, angel. All right? Better now?”
Grace is quiet.
I listen hard.
After a while there comes a sound of men murmuring, a sound of many boots; they must be bringing Christian in. Then that quiet again.
A little while after that, Light-of-God leans forward and jabs me in the side. “Move,” she whispers. “I’m going.”
“Huh?” I shift; the baby wiggles against my leg and sighs, but he don’t wake up.
“You heard me. I’m taking Christian to the hospital.”
I stare wide-eyed at the dark hulk of her. “Really?”
“You can drive?”
“Uh-huh. Kind of. I taught myself. You going to help me?”
I don’t say nothing.
“You going to help me, or what?”
I think about Christian. Then I think about what Dad told Grace. He named me Delivered. I was made new in God’s sight. If God means to take a man away . . .
“I ain’t,” I say firmly. “I ain’t going.”
“Suit yourself,” says Light-of-God, and she dives past me, bursts out the closet door and slams it behind herself. Then that dead quiet drops down all round again.
When I wake up, I can tell it’s a lot later. Simple is sucking on my finger, his gums working away; he must be awfully hungry. I run my other hand over his silky head. “Hey, baby boy,” I whisper. I stand up, joints clicking all over, and creak the door open; it’s dark, but light leaks through the doorway from the next room.
No answer. I leave Simple lying on the floor and creep towards the light. Dad’s in one of those hard wooden chairs in the front room — just sitting. With his yellow-white beard and his stained white-and-tan clothing, he looks like a statue man, carved out of wood. For a second I want to touch him, but he’s like somebody from the Old Testament. You don’t touch him.
“Is Christian okay?” I ask.
“Come here, Delivered,” he says. “Come and sit on my knee.”
I don’t want to. I shake my head. He’s all dry wood and white light: a white-burning fire.
“Christian’s going to live,” he says.
I bow my head. It looks like I’m giving thanks, but really I’m wondering if Light-of-God actually managed to drive that pickup. I don’t want to get her in trouble, but I am too full of the question to keep silent, too in awe of her Lucifer nerve.
“Where’s Light-of-God?” I blurt out.
My father shakes his head; his eyes are closed. In the other room, Simple begins fretting: “Eh, eh, eh,” working himself up to an all-out holler.
“Light-of-God is gone,” he says.
All his muscles are still as sleeping rattlers.
“Her Father has called her home.”
“What—Who is—?” I look at him, not understanding. “Aren’t you her—?”
You can drive?
Uh-huh. Kind of.
“She’s at peace,” he explains. “God’s grace couldn’t touch her down here, so he’s reached his hand down and taken her up a little closer.”
His eyes are still closed. A tiny muscle in his eyebrow twitches and jerks. My body starts shivering.
Don’t ask me how, but I know, I know that he doesn’t believe what he’s saying right then. He’s saying it to seal a kind of hole shut: a hole about the size of a grave.
And I just keep on shivering; I can’t stop. I’m too scared of God. God’s a nightmare, and I want to wake up on my own dirty sheets with the big, ugly, bunches of roses printed on them. I want Mama with her greasy hair and crooked twice-broke nose; I want her to light a cigarette and hold me in her spotty arms, and rock me until both of us feel better.
Mary McLaughlin Sletcha
The Chinese Baby
“What’s wrong with saying ‘Chinese Baby’?” he asked for the second time. Shelley had been pouting since he’d made the unfortunate remark. Now they were seated on a loveseat in their neighbors’ den, removed from the dozen other guests who had carried plates and drinks onto the patio.
“Forget it,” she said.
Jim had already had lots to drink. “Aren’t we waiting for a Chinese baby?” He took a long swallow from a beer bottle and hoped she was hurting. She had certainly made him look the fool. “Or am I not supposed to mention the only subject you ever think about?”
“You’re an asshole,” she whispered, her voice hissing like a steam valve. Instinctively, he flinched. Despite its heated eruption, it was a tone that foretold weeks of icy cruelty built on small omissions. No warm, pulsing body spooned against his own under the covers. No clean, dry towel replacing the barely damp one. No sunny inquiries concerning his quality of sleep, his Achilles tendon after a jog, the digestion of his lunch, the status of his promotion, his mother.
The Millers stopped by to ask how the adoption was coming. “Terrible bureaucracy,” Tod Miller intoned. “It took forever to get our Lily.” His petite wife, whose name they never remembered in time, fit perfectly under his armpit. So small were her eyes and breasts that not for the first time, Jim wondered if she weren’t Chinese herself. She smiled to show how happy they were together. How well everything had turned out.
When they were alone again, Jim laughed out loud.
“What?” she asked.
“See!” He hated being goaded into stating the obvious. “People are interested.”
“Then just say ‘baby,’” she said. “I’m sick of this Chinese Baby.”
“Oh.” He thought he understood now. “So that’s the problem: China.”
Shelley drew her arms across her chest and fixed her attention on the blank television screen at the far end of the room.
“Maybe it’s time to go home,” she said, but right then Kathy called her to help in the kitchen. She went there instead.
Shelley carried stacks of cups and saucers to the dining room table. She fanned the silver forks and the white desert napkins. As always, she admired the orderliness of Kathy’s house. Through the spotless window, she assessed her own abandoned property with grass peeping over the tops of the gutters and the green paint peeling above the yellow. Although it had been an unusually warm spring, the garden beds on the other side of Kathy’s whitewashed fence still suffocated under their winter mat of brown leaves. Kathy’s line of lilac trees would soon tower over the pickets and be beautiful enough and large enough to adorn both yards.
From the basement, she heard a sudden string of loud barking from one of the family pets, a friendly lab named Trigger. Like the children entertaining themselves upstairs, taking or fetching coats at proper intervals and making courteous chitchat about high grades and soccer teams, Trigger accepted the boundaries placed on his burly black self. With a quick word from Kathy, delivered with the fierceness Shelley found peculiar to dog owners, he immediately settled down.
“Where’s Boots?” Shelley inquired as she rejoined Kathy in the kitchen.
Unless someone turned up allergic, the family cat was allowed to roam during parties, seeking out the lap or leg of the less socially adept guests. Boots worked as hard as Kathy and her husband to make everyone feel included and happy in their home. Outside in the yard, Boots visited Shelley by weaving in and out between her legs as she gardened.
Kathy looked up from cutting the tarts and a light seemed to switch on in her eyes. “We haven’t talked in a while, have we?” Shelley thought of the countless e-mails and phone calls she’d made to China in the past week alone. April was nearly over and she hadn’t stepped foot in the back yard.
“Even with shots, Kimmy can’t tolerate being in the same room with Boots anymore. We had to leave her on my aunt’s farm in Jersey. Two weeks ago.”
“You didn’t!” Shelley put a hand against the sudden pounding in her head. She focused on a curio cabinet in the corner of the room and took deep, cleansing breaths. “We’d have taken him.”
“But you’re so busy right now,” Kathy said tactfully. She carefully lifted slices of tart onto plates. By magic, Kimmy and her twin sister Chris appeared in the doorway. “Call the guests,” their mother told them without turning. “And then come back to help.” Trigger gave a lonely howl from behind the cellar door.
“Misses Boots too, I imagine,” Kathy said. “We all do.”
Shelley was close to tears remembering Boot’s soft calico head pressing into the palm of her hand. “Jim and I could go down there and bring Boots back,” she told Kathy. “Couldn’t we do that? Then Boots would be living right next door.”
“Well, it’s like this,” Kathy said quickly. The guests were coming in flushed from outdoors, stacking plates recklessly in the sink and depositing wine glasses and beer bottles on every available counter and tabletop. There were loud shouts of praise for the tarts and the coffee. Someone was clamoring for decaf, another for herbal tea, and the spoons had been forgotten. “My aunt’s grandchildren have become pretty attached.”
“You don’t think we could pay them?” Shelley asked softly, but already Kathy was turning her attention to the others, pointing and reaching for things, marshalling the girls. Putting a sugar bowl in Shelley’s outstretched hands, she paused only long enough to say “I miss your pretty smile.” Shelley opened her mouth but whatever intended to be heard was taking entirely too long. If not for the firm, motherly hand nudging her towards the dining room, she would have held her ground and wailed like the deposed Trigger.
“I won’t say it anymore,” Jim whispered when she brought him a slice of strawberry tart. He hadn’t moved from the couch but had turned the ballgame on mute. Except for someone’s abandoned old father, who could have used Boots’ therapeutic company, everyone had returned to the patio.
She put her head on his shoulder and he wrapped her in his arm. “I hate those damn Chinese,” she burbled and as though on cue, the old man lifted a bony chin from its nest in his rumpled shirt. He turned his head like an owl. A Chinese owl, Jim instantly thought with guilt, and the louder Shelley complimented the tart, the more the man’s blank stare seemed to confirm he’d taken offense. The indifference with which he finally dismissed them, the flop of his sparsely feathered gray head, awakened Jim’s outrage at his own powerlessness.
“But she’ll be Chinese,” he whispered in an even lower voice, certain this was what she needed to understand. ___“Yellow skin, black hair, dark slanted eyes.” He held Shelley to him even as she pulled away. “You can’t change that.”
“She’ll be ours,” Shelley challenged. “Her own people don’t give a damn about her.” This time her eyes, still pooled with tears, flashed towards the slumbering man with a venomous rage.
Jim knew then he had to stop. Had to set his plate and coffee mug on the coffee table, find Kathy and her husband among the variously reddened faces on the deck, endure the effusive flutter of nice to see you and good luck with the baby, and go home. He quickly checked the screen for a score and any reaction from other quarters. Their only company in the living room snored his complete and total lack of interest.
Jim needn’t have worried about a total breakdown at home. Shelley was through with crying. She went into the predictable frozen stupor for a few weeks and then the craziness was over and forgotten with a single phone message. Two weeks later they were squashed together on the first leg of the trip home, trying to rouse an emotion from their very solemn, still daughter. Or at least he was trying, increasingly reminded of publicized accounts of Americans duped into adopting damaged children. Shelley was too busy telling everyone in earshot what a good, good baby she was. Every couple hours or so, to great excitement on Shelley’s part, her puffy, red eyelids would flicker and her rosebud lips purse into a soundless shape. Jim wished they’d come with the drinks already. He was sure his health care plan would cover most situations, but the daily strain of a disability terrified him. Didn’t he know that from his younger brother, thirty-five at home in diapers?
Grateful at last for a cool beer, he tried to repeat the sounds of her Chinese name for the pretty flight attendant.___“We haven’t decided on an American name yet,” he explained.
Shelley’s face lit up. “Theresa,” she told the attendant.
“Like Mother Teresa,” he said, half-questioning, and instantly worried the irony would disturb her. This unsmiling baby, now apparently named for a Carmelite nun, was already starting out life in a shabby blanket borrowed from his mother’s keepsakes. “Take good care of it,” she’d confided at their last meeting, “Maybe once Shelley relaxes, you’ll need it again, for one of your own.”
The flight attendant looked confused. “Is your baby Indian?”
“Chinese,” Shelley said indignantly. “It’s a family name.”
“Hi, Terry,” the attendant said, wiggling her finger in front of stone features. Jim jiggled the blanket to prompt a reaction, which didn’t come. “Bye-bye,” she said, repeating the gesture, before she and the drink cart bumped along to the next passengers.
“Terry,” Jim thought to himself. “Tod Miller’s wife.” The name they could never remember. He didn’t think it wise to mention this to Shelley. She had that dazzling, crooked smile when everything worked out according to plan.
* * *
Six months later the universe had comfortably shrunk to their cozy three-bedroom cape cod, further insulated by three days of heavy snow and canceled out-of-town obligations to Jim’s family. Inside and out, the house was decorated for Christmas. Theresa’s first Christmas. As Shelley’s Christmas letter to family and friends had cheerfully pointed out, this was “Jim, Shelley, and Theresa’s first Christmas as a family, but their last in a house love had quickly outgrown.”
Theresa was splashing at a bar of soap in the tub, delighted at its reappearance each time she batted it under water, and Shelley was thinking how perfect life could be. How, despite the Chinese bureaucrats she resolved to face again for the sake of a sister, a single moment could emerge, as thoroughly pure as the little barge. “Soap can never be truly dirty,” she said aloud, startling herself with this revelation. Theresa, surprised too, paused and tilted her head to hear the wise, wise words of her mother.
Cupping the tiny head in her hand like a certain calico cat she still mourned, Shelley stared into the dark pools of her daughter’s eyes. She was startled by the transient stillness of the flat features her mother-in-law had been overheard to describe as dumb. In the absence of language and in the presence of difference, it was easy to imagine almost anything. For one, that Theresa’s speech would emerge as unrecognizable as her face, or two, that she was as damaged as Jim sometimes hinted. Jim, who couldn’t stay five minutes in a room with his brother, now constantly hustled between work and household projects, with frequent excursions to the Home Depot. She would never admit it, but much as she fought them, he and his family had planted a seed of doubt that threatened the happy future she’d planned for Theresa.
Uttering a sob at the dire possibilities, Shelley inspired not a commiserate wailing but a frenzy of splashing and a miniature likeness to her own crooked smile. Seeing its familiar confidence, stylized by the scalloped row of tiny teeth, she was very much relieved and more determined.
Now: She is sitting on the floor of the Travel section. I see her from the mezzanine above and take two rocketing steps backwards, slamming one heel into a cat calendar display and nearly knocking it over. Slowly I inch back towards the edge, which seems infuriatingly precarious—the rail is a mere nod to safety in case of accidental misstep.
Nothing if not a poor design choice.
I reach out for it, reassured that it is iron and in fact quite solid. There, in the literary crevasse below, she is sitting on the floor browsing a travelogue. You couldn’t miss her, even from my lofty position of clumsy vertigo: the acute angle of her nose, the racing stripe of natural mud brown parting her blonde highlights, the impatient habit of rolling her rings around fingers with her thumb as she reads.
I haven’t seen her in six years, but it is obvious that she hasn’t changed. She hunches and reads books from back to front. She sits on the floor with her legs sprawled across the aisle. When someone comes down the row, she looks disturbed and moves slowly, as if it were some monumental effort, stretching her limbs back across after the offending individual has passed. She would have claimed this was because she had a knee injury, but I never really believed that. I think she just likes showing off her long legs—legs that look thin in any pair of jeans. Legs that make her nearly two inches taller than I.
She also has an engagement ring. I had heard about that. People tell you things like that.
Before: Before there had been a time when we would not have hesitated to share a toothbrush. Not that we were lovers or anything, don’t get me wrong, we were just close. Really close. We forged one another’s handwriting on registration forms at school. We borrowed shoes without asking. We had pacts about how to handle various situations in bars or with men, promising to sacrifice ourselves to save one another. We told each other every last secret we had, overlooking the detail that we didn’t have secrets worth hiding.
Then I lay in bed with Dave as he ringed the bones of my wrist with his fingers, marveling at the large gap between his bones and mine.
“Tiny,” he said. “My tiny little girl. How do you walk around with bones so small?”
There was something endearing about him, although I could not now say what. He wore a leather necklace with a bead that bobbed in the hollow of his throat like a lifeboat. When he kissed his lips felt like warm laundry, and when we slept he tucked the covers in around us like a cocoon.
I think I thought I was in love, but it’s a difficult memory, like trying to remember if you’ve ever tried Vietnamese food, or whether you’ve seen an old movie or just heard the story. It’s only easy to remember that he had dated her first. She had broken it off.
“He drinks too much,” she said.
This was her opinion. I was more generous. I thought we all drank too much.
Nevertheless Dave and I kept our secret from her, like a ring in a locket, for some time.
Actually, it wasn’t that long.
Dave drank too much.
One night he drank too much and pushed me down a flight of steps. I broke my collarbone. The next day he came to the hospital to say he was sorry. He brought me a mix tape and a single red rose. She was there already, making lists and vowing to care for me for as long as it took for me to heal.
Afterwards: After that triangulated moment we rocketed off in our distant directions like embers snapping in a fire. We lowered our black mortarboards down over our eyes as we processed past one another at graduation. Life went on. Mine in a monotonous heartbeat tracing of highs and lows not memorable enough to mention except for the fact that they brought me to the present moment.
And now: Dave sells boats on the Outer Banks.
She is reading about being somewhere else.
Are You Okay? Yes, I’m Okay
July sun was tenacious, a hot, muggy day in South Carolina. The concrete parking lot reflected sunlight and heat as my cab came to its final stop in front of Hilton Head Hospital. The sight of the building looming over the trees always brought ambivalent feelings of hope and fear. The puncturing of flesh never fails to startle, just as the invasion of plastic tubes and steel needles never fails to leave my mind quivering. Pain is exhausting simply because I never get used to it.
First stop was Admissions, then up the elevator to my room. It was 1991 and treatment number five. Middle of July, midday heat, halfway through the scheduled immunomodulatory treatments. As usual, I signed a document making sure I knew that Medenica Clinic was a research facility and that I was being given treatment, the efficacy of which had yet to be proven.
I was here because of one moment in 1983 when I was given the Heptavax-B vaccine by my employer. No one told me about the vaccine’s risks. I never questioned the vaccine’s safety. My son was eleven, and I’d been a single parent for nine and a half years. “Be part of the solution instead of part of the problem,” my mother had always told me, so when I became an evening supervisor of the hospital where I’d worked for eight years, I hoped to make a difference. I listened as nurses told me that they wanted flex-time and a nursery in the hospital for their children and grants for continuing education. When a new director of nursing wanted to make the staff all registered nurses, I grieved along with my fellow nurses as licensed practical nurses were let go amid a storm of protests and tears. The nursing director explained that it was not part of my job to conduct meetings where nurses could air their complaints.
“You are part of the administration now,” she said.
“Aren’t hospitals here to help nurses help patients?” I asked.
All around me, nurses became silent. “I’m afraid I’ll lose my job if I complain,” they said.
Two years earlier, I’d earned my graduate degree in creative writing after many nights of coming home from work and writing long into the night. Life was busy but rewarding. Summer heat was receding into one of the most beautiful Colorado autumns in memory when I received the second dose of the Heptavax-B vaccine, a sting of needle under skin, one moment that forever changed my life.
Aspens in the foothills near my home had their brightness knobs turned up to their highest levels; the view from my window was a mosaic of stained-glass reds, oranges, yellows, browns. October 28, 1983. After a night of intense pain and fever, I called in sick and pulled sheets up over my shaking body. The shift the night before was the last one I’d ever work as a registered nurse.
Now I was on Hilton Head Island, the resort where the Clintons trekked for their Renaissance Weekend, their elitist, wonkish, schmooze immortalized in The New York Times as “the saturnalia of soul-searching by the sea,” an island of Studerexpensive hotels and gourmet restaurants. That this was where my hope for medical treatment resided was the most sadistic of ironies. Once again, I knew that God had a strange sense of humor.
I’d replayed this scenario many times in the eight years since my illness began: I sat in a doctor’s office, nervously waiting for him to probe various parts of my body and history not generally open to public scrutiny. As I sat on the exam table, my worry filled the small room, air heavy with awareness that decisions would be made by yet another doctor, usually male, his white coat starched with authority. I agreed to reveal my age, weight, current medications, past and present symptoms, stripped myself of reticence along with my slacks and sweater, and answered his questions as part of an implicit agreement: Patient tells all; doctor cures all. Tomorrow would be the day my team of doctors would have the answers. What had begun as innocently as a lingering flu had exploded into a full-blown mystery disease, the ever-changing blue in a kaleidoscope through which the rest of my life must be viewed.
This was immunomodulatory therapy number five in a series of ten treatments. Eight years worth of cycling through prednisone and cytoxin and anti-malarial medications, more traditional treatments for lupus back home in Colorado, had not improved my physical condition. I was having lunch with a friend when, all of a sudden, I couldn’t speak. I don’t know how she got me to her car. My “transient ischemic attack,” the first act before a stroke finale, was what made my doctors decide that my best hope for remaining alive were immunomodulatory treatments, which consisted of large doses of interferon and solumedrol and having my blood cleansed by a plasmapheresis machine.
The immunologist who was treating me in Hilton Head was from Yugoslavia and resembled an exhausted lounge act more than a high-profile physician. Dr. Medenica wore a red-plaid sport jacket and a white shirt unbuttoned at the collar. His nose was long and curved, and, although his body fit his tall frame proportionately, his face was jowly. He was going bald, and his hair ringed his head like a monk’s. His words were wrapped in a heavy Slavic accent. If a movie were made of his life, Karl Malden would star.
I waited in a small room to get blood drawn and to give a urine sample. The young lab tech applied a rubber tourniquet and missed my vein twice. “Try this arm,” I suggested, noting the sweat gathering on his forehead. Three was a charmed number. Dark vermilion flowed up the tube, and my arm received its badge of honor. Urine, unlike blood, was bountiful. On to the EKG lab. Then it was time for what I dreaded most, the insertion of the subclavian catheter. Every month, I closed my eyes, tried to relax, and took a few slow, rhythmic breaths as I felt pressure under my clavicle and then a pop as the catheter was threaded up my subclavian vein. The portable chest X-ray checked to make sure the catheter wasn’t lodged in my lung by mistake.
“We’re ready for you, Connie,” Patti said, as she smoothed her blue scrubs with her small hands. “What’s your musical taste today?”
“Enya,” I said. Patti helped me pass the four hours I was hooked up to the plasmapheresis machine by telling jokes. Laughter, an analgesic releasing endorphins more potent than morphine. Laughter, the best antidote to machines. But the treatments were no joke. It was a strange feeling to watch my blood circling outside my body through plastic coils, mine but not mine. From all the years I worked as a registered nurse, I remembered how fresh blood, ripped from body parts, smelled, an aroma that went straight to some deep primitive center of the cortex. Once the subclavian catheter was in place, the procedure was painless, but always there was the nagging worry in the back of my mind: Do this nurse and this technician know what they’re doing? My apprehension was not exactly allayed by the fact that there was a high turnover in staffing at the clinic. It was difficult for hospital workers to find housing on this expensive resort island.
“I’ve got a good joke for you, Connie,” Patti said, as she settled in next to my bed. Carefully she gauged the speed with which blood left my body and passed through the machine that separated my red blood cells and plasma and scrubbed it clean of antigens, the foreign substances that caused my autoimmune illness—lupus.
“A woman went into an expensive restaurant and asked the busy waiter for a Hilton Head turkey. ‘Yes, ma’am, I’ll bring it right out,’ he said. He went into the kitchen and told the chef a lady had ordered a Hilton Head turkey. The waiter brought the order out on a platter. The woman took the lid off the platter, looked at the bird, and stuck two fingers in its rear end. ‘No, no, take it back. This is not a Hilton Head turkey!’ she exclaimed.
‘Oh, I’m sorry, ma’am, I’ll bring one right away.’ He hurriedly brought the platter back to the kitchen and said,___‘Gee, Chef, this woman really knows her birds. She only wants a Hilton Head turkey.’
‘Okay, that’s what she’ll get,’ the chef muttered. The waiter brought it into the woman and set the platter in front of her. She took off the lid and inserted two fingers in the rear end of the bird. ‘Ah yes,’ she said. ‘Now THIS is a Hilton Head turkey.’
‘Good, I’m glad to hear it,’ the relieved waiter said.
‘You have an accent, where are you from?’ the woman asked.
‘Why don’t YOU tell me,’ the waiter said, as he turned away and bent over.”
We finished laughing, and Patti switched my IV bottles. Eyes closed, I concentrated on listening to Enya and imagining sitting by Grand Lake, my favorite place in the world. I was having a picnic with Chris, as our dogs, Brittainy and Bambi, took turns chasing the ball. I imagined that a million filters were siphoning off the immune complexes that clogged my veins. I was sinking down into lake water only to rise reborn. I was kissing a lover I’d not yet met.
“Dr. Medenica wants to try this new medication, Gamma-Gard,” Patti said, as she hung a new bottle. Within minutes, I felt my trachea closing off. “Patti, help me,” I whispered, as I sat straight up in bed and yanked off the earphones. All of my fight-or-flight responses kicked in, my sympathetic nervous system firing away like marines responding to attack. Stasis, that moment of holding air in, absolute standstill, then my neck felt like it was taking on the shape of a blowfish. Patti took one look at me and turned off the medicine and stuck an oxygen cannula in my nose.
“Call Medenica,” Patti yelled to the tech in the next room.
“So that’s what a drug reaction feels like,” I whispered. “I never knew they were so scary.”
“Don’t let anyone give you Gamma-Gard again.”
“No kidding.” My breathing returned to normal. Dr. Medenica arrived and listened to my chest, while Patti relayed my tale of woe. My life depended on the skill of this nurse. One miscalculation, one oversight, and it would all be over.
Assessment skills were the unique, singular skill of a registered nurse, the vigilant mother at the bedside. The physician was the absent father. Sometimes just being able to breathe is a poem.
According to an ancient Egyptian creation story, the creator’s first act was to pluck a reed, split its tip, and write the world into existence. The Australian aborigines described the creator as first emerging from the formless void and singing the world into existence—words put to music. Words, the smallest unit of language, translated into objects, feelings, memories, fantasies. The treeness of trees. Middle C on a violin. A sleeping dog. Bestowing names gave power, word magic.
Diagnosis, part of medicine’s love for big words and ritual, was necessary in order to prescribe treatment for my illness and hopefully to provide a cure. Early in 1984, I was thrown into a game of diagnostic roulette. Isolate the symptom. Devise a compensation mechanism for all the life changes. After a year of diagnostic procedures and being referred to more than twelve doctors, I still wandered in an alien land of semantics. Nothing definitive to report. No malignancy. No chromosomal abnormality. As new symptoms arose—blood in urine, high blood pressure, pain in arms and legs, intermittent fever, rashes, run-over-by-a-truck fatigue—my doctor sent me to see an oncologist, a rheumatologist, a nephrologist, more than twelve specialists in all. My lymph nodes were biopsied, then my arteries, and then a lump in my breast. All of them confirmed that my symptoms were real, but no one was able to attach a diagnosis to my constellation of complaints. An open kidney biopsy, done in January 1984, revealed “proliferative glomerulopathy, diffuse, generalized.”
“I think you have polyarteritis nodosa,” my nephrologist said. “Medical literature is full of hepatitis B as the cause of polyarteritis nodosa and other diseases of the blood vessels. Have you ever had hepatitis B?”
“No. But I did receive the hepatitis B vaccine.” That information seemed irrelevant to him. I became used to hearing, “This is not the usual clinical picture. Could be lymphoma or lupus erythematosus or henoch-schonlein purpura.” Not your everyday, garden variety, movie-of-the-week type of diagnoses.
Three-forty a.m. and I was wide awake because of a new roommate. It was the winter of 1984 and my fourth day at Presbyterian Hospital in Denver. The old lady in the next bed rattled the side rails, her mouth pulled up like a purse string, with only a faint whistle escaping. From the look of her, she was not long for this world, but she kept trying to rise to the surface, only to slide once again down to a murky level.
The next morning, I was scheduled for a muscle biopsy and other tests and then planned to be discharged. When I returned to my room in mid-afternoon, the bed next to mine was vacant and held fresh linen. The nurse who helped me into bed also held out a paper for me to sign.
“What’s this?” I asked, but already knew what she wanted me to sign. “Orders for Resuscitative Measures.”
“We need to know what you want done if . . . it’s standard procedure . . . we ask all patients to sign one,” she stammered. I knew all too well what being resuscitated meant. How many times, in the twenty years I worked as a registered nurse, had I brought pink back to skin that had been grey.
Intubation. Cardioversion. Vasopressors. Anti-arrhythmic drugs. Defibrillation. And if all else failed, there was always a pacemaker and a respirator.
When it became clear to my employer that I wouldn’t be able to return to my nursing supervisor position, I received letters from the Director of Nursing that it was incumbent upon me to apply for Social Security Disability. In March 1984, I was proclaimed “totally physically disabled” by my doctors but still didn’t have a definitive medical diagnosis. Meanwhile, the world trundled on. The Mets won the World Series. Gorbachev cleaned out the Kremlin. The Berlin Wall came tumbling down. Neighbors and friends got dressed every morning and left for work or class, and I made the rounds of oncologist, rheumatologist, nephrologist.
Being a patient meant being awakened at four in the morning for blood pressure checks and hanging modesty up in the closet, along with my jeans, and being palpated and poked with needles. Being a patient meant lab techs and nurses paraded through my room on their schedule instead of mine. Being a patient was praying for Divine compassion but never knowing if God was listening. Being a patient was a fast freefall in the dark, the shock of impermanence, the panic of not knowing where the bottom lay.
I, like all nurses, suffered from denial, a belief that illness could not happen to me. My generation of nurses had grown up with antibiotics and vaccines and blind faith that most diseases could be treated. “Science has made modern medicine safe,” was the covert lesson I was taught in nurse’s training, along with the muscles of the hand. Safety was an agreed upon myth; otherwise, who would fill the nursing trenches? During the twenty years I worked as a registered nurse, I saw how nurses had become the unhappy spouses in their marriage to medicine. The marriage wasn’t working, but no one knew what to do to make it better. Patients were the latchkey children of this volatile union, the innocents who often experienced the inadequacy of the health care safety net.
I began a second career as a sleuth, reading medical textbooks about vaccines—the holy grail, the consummate wafer of disease prevention. Vaccines were made from bacteria or viruses and were in either live or killed preparations. Live viruses were attenuated, or weakened, by using one of several methods: filtering a virus strain through animal cells fifty or more times to reduce potency. A second form of immunization was done with killed vaccines in which the organisms were inactivated by the use of radiation, heat or chemicals. The Heptavax-B vaccine, which I received in 1983, was of the killed-preparation variety. The vaccine, laden with formaldehyde and mercury (thimerosal) used as preservatives, were a twentieth century version of MacBeth’s witches’ brew: eye of newt and toe of frog.
As I lay at home on the couch, air was the bronze-gold of a Rembrandt landscape. Red and brown leaves peeked out from behind green cottonwoods. Yellow jackets looped, while ants scurried up and down the sidewalk, bearing their sweet burden. Chuang Tzu, who helped craft the tenets of Taoism in ancient China over two millennia ago, suggested that the most profound forms of communication go beyond words. “Words exist because of meaning; once you’ve got the meaning, you can forget the words.” Solitude became my comforting partner.
“Come with me to Louisville. I want to look at an antique lamp,” I’d said to my ten-year-old son two years before everything changed. We’d moved to a home near Boulder that I’d bought the year I became supervisor at the hospital.
“Do I have to?” Chris didn’t share my enthusiasm for antiques. We had no furniture when we arrived in Boulder in 1973 and had lived in a furnished apartment until I gradually was able to buy furniture. Slowly over the years, I’d furnished our home with walnut antiques—a walnut table, six chairs, a walnut secretary, several bookcases to hold my growing library. The love of old wood and the stories that antiques told were a legacy from my stepfather.
I stopped the car in front of a house in Louisville. There was a sign on the lawn, “Golden Retriever puppies for sale.” Chris looked at the sign, his eyes growing huge, and then he looked at me. “Merry Christmas, sweetheart. You can pick out your puppy.” From the litter of ten pups, one of them gamboled into my son’s arms and into our hearts.
“This is the best Christmas ever, Mom,” Chris said, as he played with Brittainy under the Christmas tree. Brittainy was Chris’ companion and bed partner. Her cold nose had kissed him good night. Her teeth had chewed everything in sight, including transforming poplar saplings at the back of our yard into nubbins.
Now, two years later, there was no excuse for my negligence. I’d been at home between hospitalizations, when it became clear that Brittainy was going to become a mother. Having her spayed had been on my “to-do” list, but buying Chris a winter coat had to be my priority. Brittainy’s pregnancy was the result of a one-night stand with our neighbor’s dashing black Labrador-Great Dane mix who, in a fit of passion, had leapt over our fence as if it were invisible. Animals’ motivations are so pure, no phone calls not returned, no coquettish glances. He wanted her, she wanted him. So simple. Unfortunately, there was no “morning-after” pill for dogs.
Brittainy’s labor began around noon on a Saturday. Chris watched anxiously while Brittainy panted and produced her offspring, which turned into a long process. One brown head appeared. An hour later, a slimy second. A half-hour later, one tiny black bullet-head, confirming paternity as clearly as any blood test.
“Time for bed, Chris,” I yelled from the top of the stairs.
“Let me sleep here tonight.” Brittainy’s head lay in Chris’ lap as she panted. “I’ll get my sleeping bag.”
“Will you be all right?”
“Sure,” he said, as he snuggled down.
In the morning, there were two more brown puppies and one more black one, seven in all. Chris was the proud, sleep-deprived papa. Brittainy was trying to catch a nap with a pup pulling at each nipple. It was late afternoon when I persuaded Chris that he should go out to play. “Brittainy needs her rest,” I said, gently guiding him up the stairs.
When we checked on our nursery the next morning, two of the brown puppies were dead. Brittainy took turns licking one, then the other, as if trying to awaken them. Chris started to cry, “I shouldn’t have left her.” And I whipped myself for not taking Brittainy to the vet when her labor dragged on. Maybe I should have moved the pups to another area; maybe Brittainy accidentally smothered them.
It was immediately clear that Brittainy was grieving. Whenever I tried to remove the two dead puppies, she bared her teeth. She’d never so much as growled at me before. I watched as she nuzzled her dead pups, dangled her nipples near their still mouths, as if coaxing them to take hold.
The next day, Chris and I buried the pups in the backyard and held a funeral. I recited The Lord’s Prayer while Chris wiped away tears. My son learned about birth and death all in the same weekend.
“Are you going to die, too, Mama?” he asked, pain in his voice because grief was still a strange language.___“Every time you go into the hospital, I wonder if you’ll come home.”
“The doctors have to do a lot of tests so they know what kind of medicine to give me. Don’t worry, I’m very stubborn. I’m going to be around a long, long time.”
As always when I needed guidance, I turned to the poets for truth. The poet Rainier Maria Rilke’s answer to uncertainty was, “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart, and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not seek the answers, which cannot be given you, because you would not be able to live them. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
Fall, 1986. I was ushered into the exam room at National Jewish Hospital in Denver, a cubicle as monochromatic and windowless as a jail cell. The young immunologist examined me calmly, as if I were his only patient all afternoon. The thick chart that my primary physician had sent him lay open on the desk.
“I think you have a vasculitic condition caused by the Heptavax-B vaccine you received back in 1983,” the immunologist said slowly. “I’ve been treating a man who has experienced a similar chronology of events.”
“I’ve wondered about that, because I became so ill within two days of the second dose.”
“That’s when hypersensitivity symptoms often occur. It’s like a serum sickness that refuses to go away.”
“What kind of treatment do you recommend?” I was on the edge of my seat in anticipation of ending this nightmare of disability.
“Your doctors have already tried prednisone, anti-malarial drugs, and cytoxin. There’s one other thing we can do if you get worse,” he said. “Plasmapheresis. But I hope that won’t be necessary. All we can do is treat symptoms as they arise,” he said, as he took my hand, a gesture of sympathy. Symptoms, the language the body speaks when under fire, can be a source of valuable information or a prison sentence. After eight years of total disability, I finally received a diagnosis: “systemic lupus erythematosus, systemic vasculitis, glomerulonephritis induced by the hepatitis vaccine.” My body was constantly fighting the foreign substance introduced by the vaccine. Like the Trojan Horse, the enemy was inside. Lupus strikes patients when they are in the prime of life, ninety percent of whom are women.
The mystic Julian of Norwich wrote that severe illness brought on “revelations, the wondrous appearance of the Lord Himself.” She said that pain produced contradictory responses, “fury at the force that was a disturbing distraction and at another time the rare opportunity to see everything more vividly, with a clarity I could only wonder at, in which the details of my present life were intensified and acutely delineated. Pain is a form of information, a language all its own.”
Dr. Shiovitz washed his hands after examining me. “I was hoping that the prednisone and cytoxin would help you feel better. So far it doesn’t seem to be making much difference. But I’ve been a doctor long enough to know that malignant tumors can mysteriously disappear. So-called incurable patients recover, and we doctors, if we’re honest, credit it to an act of God. Or, if we’re not honest, we claim that we had the magical cure. All any of us can really do is to accept health with a bewildered sense of gratitude.”
“It would be easy to go to bed and stay there,” I said.
“I’m a firm believer in the power of old-fashioned anger working through each one of us,” my doctor said.___“Martin Luther King would never have started the Civil Rights Movement if he hadn’t gotten really angry about not being served at a lunch counter. Van Gogh wouldn’t have painted his masterpieces if he hadn’t failed as a minister of the Gospel among the coal miners.”
“I’m going to do some research to see if there’s any link between vaccines and chronic illnesses.”
“I’d be interested in reading what you find. I’ll see you through this,” he said.
Anger gave me the energy to roll out of bed in the morning, to get my son off to school, to work at my word processor. Anger gave me the energy to spend many hours researching medical journal articles, documenting side effects and long-term disabilities caused by vaccines. Anger was the life force that helped me submit a Freedom of Information request to the Food and Drug Administration about any research linking Heptavax-B vaccine to chronic illnesses. Six months later, I received a printout that said there were seven other documented cases of systemic vasculitis following inoculation with Heptavax-B vaccine. No names, only numbers. Nine months later, a huge carton arrived in the mail, containing computer printouts from the Vaccine Adverse Reporting System (VAERS). With a sinking heart, I read all the vascular problems listed—heart attacks, strokes, perforated bowels—as well as more mild symptoms such as rashes, muscular pain, and fever.
“Number 333383: A fifty-eight-year-old male physician who developed myalgia, arthralgia, fatigue, serous otitis media, transient loss of vision in one eye and multiple peripheral neuropathies following the third injection of Heptavax-B. He is currently being treated with cytoxin and prednisone for a polyarterititis-like illness.”
In response to a letter I wrote to the manufacturer of the vaccine, I received the following response: “Your letter of inquiry dated May 16, 1988 concerning Heptavax-B has been forwarded to my attention. Since Heptavax-B has been on the market, we have received occasional reports of vasculitis following vaccinations. We would be interested in receiving additional information concerning any patient you may be treating who has such a diagnosis.”
My first introduction to the dark side of medicine had been many years before, when I researched my father’s lobotomy, trying to find out why that surgery had been permitted to continue for so many years. Now I was once again face-to-face with medical intrigue: Cloak-and-dagger discovery of new drugs. One health maintenance organization stealing patients from another. The political intrigue of American Medical Association lobbyists. The duel for international prestige. The race to cure AIDS or cancer or Alzheimer’s. Dumping mental patients in the next county or state so someone else’s taxes will pick up the tab.
Back in 1983, no clinical trials of new drugs were done on women before they were approved by the FDA. “They are too difficult and expensive to study,” the pharmaceutical companies said. They even tested estrogen therapy on men, even used male rats. Men’s bodies have always been taken as the norm. It was also men who were the CEOs of the major pharmaceutical companies and the chief immunologists of university research departments who were paid by the pharmaceutical companies to do clinical trials. Men were the paid medical experts who presented the clinical trials to the Food and Drug Administration for their approval. Danger, warning, at risk were the red flags the health care behemoth waved to keep troops moving in lockstep. Right, left, right, left. And there I stood in line like a good soldier, my arm bared for the bullet.
Three a.m. often found me awake with only my fellow travelers in the land of insomnia to keep me company. “Sleep,” Vladimir Nabokov wrote, “is the most moronic fraternity in the world, with the heaviest dues and crudest rituals.” The diaries of Franz Kafka were full of entries such as, “Slept. Awoke. Slept. Awoke. Miserable life. Let me only have rest at night—childish complaint,” which attested to his lifelong battle with insomnia. Thomas Alva Edison, a strong-willed, high-energy person, tried to sleep only four or five hours a night so that he would have time to work on his creative projects. “Most people overeat 100% and oversleep 100%
. . . That extra 100% makes them unhealthy and inefficient.” Edison hoped that his light bulb would help people trim off that excess 100%. Swedish film director, Ingmar Bergman, said, “For the past fourteen years I can barely manage four hours sleep a night. I’ve succeeded in exorcising my insomnia thanks to books and music. I’d imagine that Tolstoy and Mozart, among others, have literally saved my life.”
It was usually money worries that kept me wide awake. My every humiliation and shortcoming paraded around in my brain. Disability pay was not enough to cover our bills. When I saw an ad in the paper that a meditation group wanted to rent a room for five hours a week, I called, and a very kind voice was on the other end of the phone.
One night a month later, my writing group was sitting around my table, sharing poetry and tea and laughter, when a loud Ommmm levitated up the basement stairs.
“What was that?” Sarah asked.
“Just some people in my basement,” I said, turning red.
“Connie has a church in her basement,” Morgan laughed.
“Could be worse things,” Sarah said.
The Self-Realization Fellowship, with their pictures of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King and Jesus, brought Studermuch needed income and gentle karma to my small home.
Over the next nine years, there were two women who rented one of our bedrooms so that I could pay the mortgage. “Are you okay with this, Chris?” I asked. He was entering his teens, and I knew how he loved his privacy. He worked after school in a supermarket in order to have money for clothes and for movies with his friends.
“If it means keeping the house, let’s do it,” he said.
Marjorie was soft-spoken and wafer thin and a graduate of Naropa, the local Buddhist college. She’d been born with a harelip, which gave her mouth a perpetual sneer, which she compensated for by smiling a lot. She had a degree in psychology and furnished her room with a futon and a schefflera and a lamp that gave off a pink glow.
“Stagnant energy causes illness,” she said, when I told her that I had lupus. “Let me open your chakras.” I’d tried acupuncture and Chinese herbs, so why not open my chakras. Life with Marjorie in the house was peaceful; we shared books and often meals. Three months into our landlord-tenant-budding-friendship relationship, Marjorie shared one of her dreams with me.
“My breast is crying,” she said. She showed me a drawing of her breast with dark shadows.
“Does your breast hurt?”
“I have a sore,” she said, as if she were talking about a rainstorm.
“Do you want to show me? I used to be a nurse.”
When she took off her blouse and bra, a piece of gauze covered a weeping hole in her right breast. Cancer, my mind cried. “How long has it looked like this?”
“Maybe three months.”
“Do you have a doctor?”
“No. I’ve been doing visualizations and prayer.”
“Will you see my doctor? I think this is serious.”
I drove her to my doctor’s office and from there to a surgeon’s office, who scheduled Marjorie for a biopsy the next day. A few days later, she told me the biopsy showed cancer.
“What are you going to do? Have a mastectomy? Chemo?”
“I’m going to continue with what I’ve been doing, visualizations and prayer,” Marjorie said. Nothing I said could persuade her otherwise. She was self-employed and had no health insurance. Money was a big part of her decision. But what I saw in her was resignation at her fate rather than peaceful acceptance. She’d given in, given up, been beaten down long before she moved into my home. I wanted to give her a transfusion of anger and problem-solving and determination to fight for her life. Unfortunately, the will to live must be a self-transfusion, like the new machines that recycle spilled blood and give it back to its owner. She stayed two more months and then moved in with a friend. A year later, I read her obituary in the newspaper.
If I wasn’t a nurse anymore, who was I? My illness made me speak out in a way that I never had before. The worst had happened. What did I have to lose? In her essay, “On Being Ill,” Virginia Woolf spoke of the sense of freedom illness conferred. “There is, let us confess, a childish outspokenness in illness, things are said, trusts blurted out, which the cautious respectability of health conceals . . . With responsibility shelved and reason in abeyance—for who is going to exact criticism from an invalid or sound sense from the bedridden?—other tastes assert themselves; sudden, fitful, intense.”
Buddhists maintain that illness is an opportunity for enlightenment, for burning off negative karma. Because illness is so intensely personal, there are truths as different as each person’s eye color or DNA or dreams. “Why has this happened to me?” is the universal question of the ill. Like a pile of leaves on a forest floor, bodies break down, fall apart. Termites, ticks, fungi, viruses, agents of decay are always at work in the timberline forest of the body. Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine, said illness was cured by “coction” or boiling. One of the Navajo words for disease translates as “fragmentation and reassemblage.” Medicine keeps stumbling along in search of a new paradigm, a golden mean that can somehow bridge the Cartesian split between mental and physical worlds.
All of a sudden, my son was a six-foot-four, sixteen-year-old high school student and embarrassed if I hugged him in public. Nervously I went through the mother-son rite of passage of teaching Chris how to drive. We spent hours in the car together, while I urged him to please let his foot off the gas and to please use the turn signal.
“Remember to breathe,” I said, a reminder to myself as well. Sometimes when I looked at my six-foot-four son, I still saw the little boy who had sobbed over a burst balloon, a large red one he’d received on his fourth birthday. The six-year-old who had learned how to ride his bike as I ran alongside. The trick was knowing when to let go.
Chris hummed while he made popcorn in the microwave, his humming a mindless tune, the melody unrecognizable, a melodic cul-de-sac going nowhere. His hum was more a reflex action, like talking in his sleep. He wasn’t aware of it. I loved it because it was a barefoot-in-the-grass, sneaking-out-the-back-door kind of hum. Not like my hum, full of worry about biopsy reports and medical treatments and paying the mortgage. Chris was at the age when the only medicine he needed were prunes, and nothing was more exciting than a basketball game or the recess bell.
His hum brought memories of his pockets full of rocks and bottle caps and mischief. A shoe box with airholes that served as a hospital for an injured grasshopper. Dirty knees and dirty hands and long legs covered with scabs. Sometimes he slipped up and called me Mama, but mostly he thought he was too old for that. But the day he got his driver’s license, he gave me a hug, and he blew me a kiss from across the street before he went for his first drive alone.
Armed with what I believed was irrefutable evidence of a link between my illness and the Heptavax-B vaccine, I decided to pursue a Workmen’s Compensation claim. If a play were written about vaccine-related illness, the three acts would be: Act I: This couldn’t happen, a nurse becoming ill from a vaccine that was supposed to protect her. Act II: The threat of shunning, if she dared break silence. Act III: Speaking out and letting the chips fall where they may.
“Just calling to wish you luck,” Pat said. “Dave and I are praying for you.”
“I’m just going to speak the truth. The letters from my doctors should be all that I need to prove what happened. But Dr. Shiovitz thought they might bring up our father’s mental hospital incarceration, so he had me see a psychologist to be tested.”
“After all this time? That’s terrible.”
“No, he was just trying to cover all the arguments they might bring up. The psychologist said I’m coping with the illness well. How many people can say they have a medical document proving they’re not crazy!”
“I could have told them that.”
“If I haven’t gone crazy by now, I never will, dear sister. I love you.”
The day of my Workmen’s Compensation Hearing, June 28, 1991, was so hot that tiny black bubbles of tar ballooned on the parking lot. I stepped through the heavy doors of the courthouse into total blackness. Concentric rows of seats and shiny oak rails and the judge’s bench gradually came into focus. Everything was on the line with this lawsuit: financial solvency, personal integrity, and continued health care. I had letters from three of my physicians stating their belief that my illness was caused by the Heptavax-B vaccine I’d received while working as a registered nurse. My medical records were a six-inch high tome. Not a best-seller or an easy read. More a mystery than a romance novel.
As I sat in the shelter of my lawyer’s large frame, I listened and prayed. Back and forth, arguments and accusations flew. The hearing hopped from minutiae (Which lot number was the vaccine from?) to the big picture (That vaccine Ms. Studer received was pulled off the market in 1986). As my lawyer, my town crier, my Socrates spoke up for my rights, I understood that American jurisprudence was mastering millions of rules and then applying them. Competing value systems. Strategies of legal argument. Persuasion. Nothing could be taken for granted. Nothing was proven just because it was strongly felt. The judge would not be swayed by an emotional declaration of faith. I was awarded back pay, as well as a monthly stipend and health care coverage. Naive woman that I am, I thought I was all done with hearings and judges, but there were many more to come. Throughout the six years of hearings, one question reverberated in my brain: Who are these people? Did the Colorado Compensation Authority deliberately recruit their policy-makers and naysayers of treatment from a small subset of Americans who had no experience with illness? Having to prove my injuries over and over to a group of bureaucrats, in spite of my physicians’ documentation, felt like further injury. Winning my Workmen’s Compensation suit was a sobering joy, like when a war ends and you tally up the casualties. Even though my former employer had no witnesses testify against me, it was difficult to separate this cold bureaucratic process from the hospital where I’d worked. It was about numbers and money and politics and egos and turf. It wasn’t about me, a human being, a valued ten-year employee. How much is a body worth?
A month later, I was on a Greyhound bus for a two-day one-night trip from Denver to Savannah for immunomodulatory treatment number ten. Even though I’d won a Workmen’s Compensation suit six months before, I still hadn’t seen one cent of my back pay. When I asked my lawyer, he said, “The judge has to sign the papers.” How long could it take for a judge to sign his name to five pieces of paper? Six months and counting.
Raindrops on the roof of the bus beat out their staccato language. I paid admission to this darkened sideshow, was forced to look at what should not be seen. A stick-thin woman with a red dress and purple sweater and black fishnet stockings tried to pick up a black man, who was trying to mind his own business. The girl in the seat next to me asked, “Are we there yet?” I smiled and said, “No, soon.”
In the chill morning, the driver smoked and talked to a shirtless man half hidden by the open door. Soon could mean before noon or within a year or two. Soon could mean never. Soon meant a hospital bed waited for me ahead. The narrow road swayed past, as the world awakened to miles of cotton. The girl beside me once again slept. I envied an old woman sitting on her porch, her swing a cushion of stability. The future was rushing past too fast to grab hold. I nodded on the aisle, invisible. My watch lost time to the keening of tires.
Riding the bus through the south could best be described as Hard Copy meets Hee-Haw. The National Enquirer on wheels. Scandals. Love triangles. Who was broke and who was kissing whom. The bus lurched over railroad tracks, past a broom and mop factory, along an orange-roped-off construction area. Behind me swirled Dolly Parton jokes, beauty tips, casserole recipes, a litany of scandals about southern politicians. I marveled how southerners said two words when they could say one. They watered their flowers with hose pipe. Something happened each and every day. They named their sons Charlie Ray and their daughters Camellia Ann. A person suffered from yellow jaundice.
Nine fifteen a.m. I was having a breakfast burrito and coffee in the bus depot. A black man came through the door from the street, looked around, and walked up to a black man sitting at a table. He placed a greenback in front of the man.
“Are you okay?” the man asked.
“I’m okay,” the other man said.
“Great. I’m going to get a beer.” The two men left the depot together, and I made up a story in my mind about what I’d just heard. The man was repaying his friend for a debt. The money on the table was a signal that a drug deal had just gone down. The man had just lost his wife, and his friend has given him money for her funeral. Something in their lives made these men need beer before ten in the morning.
It was time to get back on the bus. The bus left without the men whose lives had touched mine in a desolate bus terminal. And once again I was grateful that, in these times that drove men away from inner contemplation, just as a forest fire drove wild animals from their lairs, I had the inner cave of writing where I could attempt to make sense of what I saw, where I was safe.
Are you okay? Yes, I’m okay.
The bus pulled into Savannah, Georgia at midnight. The only mode of transportation from Savannah to Hilton Head Island was by taxi. By the look of surprise on the driver’s face, I knew he didn’t get many fares to Hilton Head Island that originated from the bus station. On the thirty minute trip, he told me, in an accent so thick you could slather it like butter on bread, that he was recently divorced and a single father of a wayward fourteen year old daughter.
“I work twelve-hour shifts and just got out of the hospital last week because I got stabbed in the back. But that guy didn’t have no luck,” he said, with obvious satisfaction. “I put him in his coffin.”
I really didn’t care to investigate this line of conversation further, but it was obvious that my driver needed to talk, and so I listened. A guy had tried to rob him. In a low monotone, the driver explained that there’d been a marked increase in crime, especially in the area around the bus station, especially at night. Wonderful. He certainly knew how to put a stranger at ease.
I arrived at the emergency room of Hilton Head Hospital about one a.m. They had a bed waiting. Actually, Room 220 was more like a suite, with its mauve-green-beige plaid cushions on a white wicker couch, glass-topped coffee table, two lamp tables with teal green lamps, and huge picture windows. Edna, the faithful night nurse, greeted me with a hug. After ten months of treatments, I was one of the regulars. We’d shared life stories. She’d held me when I cried.
Morning light brought towering pine trees and a blue South Carolina flag, with its white palmetto and white crescent moon insignias, waving outside my window. The usual rituals of consent form and subclavian insertion and fluoroscopy for catheter placement progressed smoothly. I knew the drill by heart. I was a veteran, a pro. The CVP catheter went smoothly into my left subclavian vein. Onward to the plasmapheresis room for the EKG monitor, the blood pressure checks, the usual routine.
Patti appeared with a Polaroid camera. “Dr. Medenica would like me to take a picture of you for a brochure he’s having made about the plasmapheresis treatments. Is that okay with you?”
“Great. Now I’m a poster child for plasmapheresis,” I groaned. “Do I get royalties?” Big laugh all around. They took 2,500 cc, ninety one percent of my blood volume, out of my body and passed it through the machine, which separated plasma from white and red blood cells, filtered out the antigens, then sent it back into my body with new plasma. Plasmapheresis, that magenta circle, rolling into nowhere, so far from the end and so far from the beginning, like life—so hard to control. My prayer was that these treatments would bring a truce between my body and the foreign invader, allowing my body to cease fire and proclaim armistice, to enjoy lasting peace.
“They’re going to do a Utilization Review,” my lawyer said, during a long-distance phone call as I was finishing up treatment number ten. “They say that Dr. Medenica’s treatment is experimental, but actually what they mean is that it’s too expensive. They don’t want to pay his bills.” To the administrative judges, I was a certain percent of a whole person, price still to be determined, worth X percent of what I once was.
“The plasmapheresis has stopped the progress of the lupus. I was headed for a stroke before Dr. Medenica started treating me,” I said. “Can they stop my treatments?”
“Yes, I’m afraid so.”
The day of the Utilization Review, the judge ruled from the bench that Dr. Medenica would be allowed to continue as my treating physician. “Ms. Studer had received eight-plus years of ‘traditional treatment’ without benefit before she went to Medenica Clinic,” he said. Lawyers for Workmen’s Compensation immediately appealed his decision.
June 1995. My case was argued before the Colorado Supreme Court. My lawyer was given fifteen minutes in which to present an oral argument stating the reasons Dr. Medenica should remain my treating physician. Six months later, the decision came down: the Colorado Compensation Authority would no longer pay for plasmapheresis treatments.
Twelve years after I became totally physically disabled, I filed a report with the Vaccine Adverse Reporting System about my Heptavax-B related illness. Finally, my story was one of the statistics gathering dust somewhere in the basement of the Food and Drug Administration. I was determined that, although my father’s lobotomy so many years before had never been recorded, my story would be heard.
The Season That Almost Wasn’t
For thirteen years I’ve been a Red Sox season ticket holder, though last season, which began with tantrum, almost was the season that wasn’t.
It was the third Sunday in March, and like every third Sunday in March we were to gather at Jim’s apartment in the South End to divvy up the tickets. A decade ago, when the South End was still gritty and Jim lived in a cluttered split-level, this process had been easy. There were six of us, and four seats, (Section 41, Row 17, Seats 20-23; perched atop the upper lip of the concourse entrance, they were the best cheap seats in all of Fenway, a short hop to the beer stand and nothing before you but a railing and more legroom than anywhere else in the park, except perhaps the luxury skyboxes), but over the years, things became complicated. Jim upgraded to a penthouse loft. His girlfriend’s father moved to New Hampshire, bequeathing us (Jim, the pool) two pricey box seats, and, as Jim’s entrepreneurial ventures started to take off, it was not unlikely to find one or two new guys at Jim’s on that third Sunday in March. They essentially amounted to generic, J. Crew goons with over starched collars, who got in because they fed Jim’s bottom line. I was never consulted about such additions and hated paying double for two cramped slots under the batter’s net (and the rules of our draft deemed you had to pick them) when I could be out in the spacious wilds of the bleachers. By 2004 we had six seats, seventeen shares, a complicated draft process, and rules, on top of rules, on top of rules. In short, the one-hour booze fest had blown up into a three hour, consult my wife on the cell phone, pissing contest.
To be fair, Jim was generous. He floated the green for the tickets and catered the draft day festivities with a spread of fancy finger food and a chest full of beer on ice. He even hosted a website that listed who picked what games so we could easily swap within the group. Of course this was primarily implemented to avoid the pratfall of scalping—loss of season tickets. We all had to vow to keep the tickets safe: if you couldn’t trade or sell them within the group, you could sell them to family and friends, but never above face value, and never on the street—or worse, eBay.
Sometime at the beginning of March 2004, I got the email informing me about the logistics of the draft. I didn’t need to save it, or re-review it; it was already committed to memory—the third Sunday in March at seven pm, same as it had always been. It was also during this time I was dating a leggy blonde named Alison. We had only gone out three times, and while we had little to say to each other (she was training for the marathon so the conversation always came back to running), her exuberant emails and dandy gams kept the ball in play. I wasn’t ready to dive into a Friday or Saturday night date quite yet, and figuring it would be a good way to kill two birds with one stone, I booked Alison on draft day: her favorite bar—a chichi cocktail lounge on Newbury Street with a pretentiously silly name, that if you looked it up in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, meant good fortune or buxom—five pm, one martini. Should it turn into another tooth-extracting ordeal, I had an out—at seven pm, I’d hop on my bike, jet down to Washington Street, pray that the karma gods were with me and score Yankees tickets—and if things went well? She’d understand that this was the Red Sox: a rite of spring and a necessary evil. And if she couldn’t see the dividends of noshing on a juicy frank in the glow of fabulous Fenway, then it was best that it ended then and there. She didn’t have to be one of the faithful, but she did have to understand it.
Things did not go well that day. My karma was bankrupt. Bad luck might actually have been preferable. The only glimmer of fortune was the short skirt Alison wore, but in the end, that too only added insult to injury. The first martini when down easy. We were still talking about running by the time the second round came up. I couldn’t remember the names of the recent Kenyon or Ethiopian winners and was already digging up Bill Rogers, Joan Benoit Samuelson and John Kelly to keep the conversation aloft—realizing that if you’re talking about running with a lovely lady and you’re not an avid runner, you’re done for.
“If you had children, would you raise them religious?” Alison asked as I was extracting Amby Burfoot, Frank Shorter and Toshihiko Seko from the recesses of my memory.
The question caught me. Not because it came out of left field, but because I was an atheist and had no idea how I would negotiate it even if I were having a life planning discussion with a woman I was considering marriage with—let alone a fourth date. It did however lift the veil of my martini haze. My response—a feeble attempt to deflect and redirect—was to ask what time it was. In my grand folly, I never wore a watch, didn’t carry a PDA and my cell phone was always off. I possessed a reliable sense of time and because I could just simply memorize addresses, telephone numbers, times, dates, places and appointments, I didn’t need a PDA, calendar or address book. It may sound a tad over-the-top, but it’s true. The only problem was that when I drank, my facility went south.
“Seven-oh-five,” Alison replied.
Panic hit. I jumped up, slapped down five tens and nearly lost my balance as I leaned over the table to land a harried peck on Alison’s cheek. The wistful smile and a glimpse of her high riding skirt gave cause for a third martini, but the call of Pedro, Nomar and another agonizing season was stronger.
When I got to Jim’s cavernous loft, it was just about over. Stabs of “Where have you been?” and “Why don’t you answer you cell phone?” echoed off the fifty foot high ceilings.
I was in shock.
“Don’t worry,” Jim said, “Scott did your picks.”
Scott was Jim’s sister’s on-again, off-again boyfriend from North Carolina, who seemed to harbor a homicidal sociopath behind his good ole’ boy grin and “Hey, buddy,” slap on the back.
“Did I get any Yankees games?” I asked, hoping the answer would stem my mounting rage.
“Sorry dude, you picked last.”
“Last? But I’ve got seniority.”
Jim cited the rules and informed me that I had to have put down a deposit or physically be at the draft with check in hand to even get in the order, and that under normal circumstances I should have forfeited my shares for the season, but since I told him I was in and had been in for years, he had Scott do my picks.
“It’s barely past seven,” I protested.
“Draft’s at five this year, it was in the email.”
“People had conflicts, so we started early.”
“Some people have families and commitments. Five was better.”
This was bullshit. Who were these guys? If the third Sunday in March gave them scheduling fits, what would happen if a game went into extra innings? Would they just scoot? I was damned if I was going to settle for Devil Ray tickets while they got the money games against the hated Yankees. Talking to Jim in an intentionally audible tone, I pointed around the room at the those in pressed business shirts on a Sunday evening—guys whose names I didn’t know, or care to know—and branded them fair-weather posers, pencil-necked geeks, and fainéant shitheads. I prayed for one of them—anyone of them—to take exception. My frustration needed a face. But none of them bit. They just stood there blankly and unaffected as they always had—which pissed me off even more. I grabbed my bike helmet and told Jim I was out. Out for the season, out of the pool and that he and his bottom feeding cronies could have a jolly good time divvying up my Tampa Bay, Toronto and Kansas City scraps.
Now I’m not going to say that because I saved Jim’s ass in a bar fight and nearly got strangled unconscious for it, or, when he was put on disciplinary leave—under suspicion of using company resources for personal gain (running a tourism business out of his office)—and I broke in (after much pleading from the guilty) and alleviated the evidence against him, that he did me any favors, but as I was on the way out the door, Jim thwarted me with a couple of cold ones.
On the roof deck, in the graying darkness, we looked out at the lit columns that were the Hancock and Prudential towers as Jim laid it on about sticking together, the highs and lows of our fifteen years as friends (the vodka fueled road trip to Buffalo, the con man who dated Jim’s sister and stole his truck, the money made, the money lost, Jim taking hallucinogens for the first time and going to a Dead show at the old Garden, a few weddings, a death, and the women that came and went), the bond that persisted between us—with the team—and how this would be the year. At first it sounded like more noise, then the realization of what I had known all along sank in like the cold March dankness: the responsibility for the debacle was mine, and mine alone, and by trying to pin it on someone or something else, I had turned a simple disagreement into a monstrous spectacle. Shame suffused me. I suddenly felt I had betrayed Jim, and wanted to do something—anything—to atone, but Jim, ever prideful of his integrity, and a man to back up his words, beat me to the punch. In his outstretched hand were the four bleacher seats to the season’s first conflict with the archrivals. The Yankee tickets were mine, contingent that I took Jim as one of my guests. Jim even offered to swap a night in the bleachers for box seats against the lowly Devil Rays. It wasn’t a big gesture, but a gesture that spoke to the significance of the years between us. “Lou Piniella’s down there,” he said with a shrug that was supposed to convince me he was serious about the matter and not doing me a favor, “so who knows?” But we all knew.
The rest is history. Nomar got shipped to Chicago. The Sox came back from three down to beat the Yankees, improbability and eighty-six years of the Curse. I sat in my beloved bleachers for Game Five of that unearthly series (extra innings and Ortiz does it again!). And for Game One of the World Series, I sat right behind the Sox dugout with Jim’s sister. It turned out that the cramped seats under the batter’s net got moved for the playoffs. I’m not sure why. I didn’t ask. I was right there, in the middle of it all, watching Johnny, Manny and Papi pop in-and-out of the bunker like gay children, and sitting fifteen yards away, was the diminutive rocker, Steven Tyler (sang the National Anthem) and one section over, the Bay State’s over-coiffed Mormon Governor. It was a strange juxtaposition made stranger by that fact they were both wearing the same flame-red, satin Sox jacket. I couldn’t ask for anything more.
Another third Sunday in March has come and gone. This time I double checked the logistics and offered to put down a deposit early, but Jim, citing that the number of shares had dropped to twelve (two people moved away and another said that they could now die happy and were done being a Sox fan), said that since the group had been reduced to a manageable and trusted core, deposits were not required. It was news to me, and I kindly informed Jim that this was a rule change that he had failed to mention in the email or post on the website.
Alison never followed up with her usually chatty email. A week later I tossed her a brusk one liner asking her how things were. Her reply was perfunctory. She told me she was fine and thanked me for the martinis. Then there was the PS telling me that I wasn’t the kind of person that she hoped I might be, that I lacked family values and a devotion to God. I don’t know how she arrived at such conclusions. I wanted to protest, but—to a degree—she was right. I didn’t share her exact devotion, but I did have faith
Authors Bios & Q/A
In addition to providing a biography, our contributors answered the following:
1. What is your favorite guilty pleasure?
2. How do you take your coffee?
3. Who were you in a previous life?
4. Who or what is your greatest influence?
5. What is the worst film you ever paid to see?
6. What is the best thing you can buy for a dollar?
7. What is the worst present you ever received?
8. What is your favorite word?
Chuck Augello lives in central New Jersey with his dog, two cats, and a growing collection of dust. His poetry and fiction has appeared in Rattle, Main Channel Voices, Verbsap, Word Riot, Dicey Brown, and other publications. He spends his days locked in a cubicle, slowly plotting his escape. He can be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org. Please love him.
1. Nuts! Cashews, almonds, peanuts, pecans . . . I can be a real nut slut, and regret it in the morning.
2. I like my tea black, sometimes with a little sugar.
3. A whitetail deer.
4. The gremlin that lives under my bed.
5. It’s a tie: Kids and The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu.
6. A bag of Peanut M&Ms.
7. Old Spice . . . the ultimate “I put no thought at all into your gift” gift.
Gay Baines lives in East Aurora, New York, and is a member of the Roycroft Wordsmiths. Her poetry has appeared in RE:AL, Rattapallax, Cimarron Review, Slipstream, Nimrod, and other journals. She is co-founder and poetry editor of July Literary Press in Buffalo. In 2002 she published her first novel, Dear M.K. The latest version of her collected poems, titled Walking After the Blizzard, is still looking for a publisher.
1. Irish coffee.
3. Mary Wollstonecraft.
4. J.M. Coetzee.
6. Two stamps.
7. A frame containing two pieces of palm in the shape of a cross.
Boe Barnett has been awarded no prizes, stipends, residencies, chairs, fellowships,
advances, or royalies. His work has appeared in ICE_FLOE: International poetry of the Far North, Crab Creek Review, The Arizona Daily Sun, Cairn, and other publications. He is a graduate of the writing program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, where he teaches English. He loves beer.
1. Belle & Sabastian.
2. Cream and lots of sugar.
3. Mr. Bones.
4. Joe Bolton.
6. Thirty minutes of dryer time.
7. Toilet seat cover (I don’t have a toilet).
Bayard was in a publication called PBW which published on a 3.5 disk, Atrocity (the Mensa journal out of Pittsburgh) photo copied pages. Reader’s Break, whose editor wrote him a letter saying her staff refused to publish anything by him because they felt he was laughing at them and would he please, to make a point, submit to them under an assumed alias. Which he did and which their staff then
2. Doggie Style.
3. Elizabeth Taylor.
4. Elizabeth Taylor.
5. My addictions do not include this popular culture pastime.
6. When was the last time you saw a dollar?
7. A dollar.
Amy Billone is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. In 2001, she received her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature at Princeton University. Her book manuscript Little Songs: Women, Silence, and the Nineteenth-Century Sonnet is forthcoming with The Ohio State University Press. She recently edited the Barnes and Noble Classics text of Peter Pan. Billone has published poems widely.
1. Reading celebrity gossip late at night.
2. With lots of cream and sugar.
3. Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s dog, Flush.
4. Fairy tales.
5. When a Man Loves a Woman.
6. A box of envelopes.
7. Fancy blank journals for writing poetry in—I’m too messy.
Georgie Lee Blalock III was born and raised in San Diego where she wrote for Instructional Television. She holds an MA in Screenwriting and currently
lives and writes in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in The Curbside Review, Square Lake, Front Range Review, The Pedestal Magazine, Whistling Shade, Gin Bender, California Quarterly, Main Channel Voices and Roux. Her poem “Full Time Work” was 4th runner up in the 6th Annual Chistell Writing Contest.
1. Watching The Valley of the Dolls.
2. I don’t drink coffee or tea.
3. Hopefully I was someone with a title in my past life, but I was
probably a peasant.
4. History is my greatest influence.
5. Moulin Rouge.
6. A writing journal.
7. A blender.
Scott Blasey is the lead singer for the Pittsburgh-based rock band The Clarks. He lives in Dallas, Texas with his wife Denise and their daughters Sofia and Ava. Scott is an accomplished performer and songwriter and is releasing his third solo CD, “Travelin’ On” on April 17th. He writes stories in his spare time and makes spaghetti sauce from scratch. For more information visit scottblasey.com.
1. Watching “Seinfeld” reruns.
2. Coffee—milk and sugar. Tea—plain, and preferably green.
3. A Pip—as in Gladys Knight and the Pips.
5. Drop Dead Fred—there’s a reason why you’ve never heard of it.
6. A song on iTunes.
7. “Duran Duran’s Greatest Hits” . . . on cassette.
Robin Brown lives in San Antonio, Texas and is currently in pursuit of her Associate of Arts at NVC Community College. Her work has appeared in the Coe Review, as well as at the Gemini Ink “Celebrate San Antonio Festival”. Ms. Brown, is currently working on her first full- length manuscript of poetry entitled Death of The Break-Up Fish.
1. Wearing high heels
2. Mint tea, lots of sugar and a pack of menthols.
3. John Wayne, when he got old and ornery.
4. My grandmother, it was unspoken.
5. Eyes Wide Shut.
6. A copy of A Midsummer Night’s Dream from Half Priced Books.
7. Hand me down clothes from someone I’d never met.
Trent Busch is from Georgia where he writes and makes furniture. His poems have appeared in The Best American Poetry, Poetry, Hudson Review, North America Review, Chicago Review, Southern Review, Georgia Review, New England Review, Manoa, Prairie Schooner, Northwest Review, The Kenyon Review, American Scholar and more recently in Shenandoah, Notre Dame Review, The Nation, and The Threepenny Review.
2. Varied ways.
3. Did not have a previous life.
4. Frost, Hardy, Robinson, Yeats, Stevens.
5. Dukes Of Hazard.
7. Pictures of people of themselves.
Meg Claudel lives in Oakland, California. She has done many different things in many different places. Most importantly, she writes and reads. Her work has appeared in The Journal of Modern Post , The Spillway Review, and flashquake, where she was honored with a nomination for the Pushcart Prize. She is currently working on her first novel.
1. Unfiltered Camels. On the porch. In the fog. After everyone else has gone to bed.
2. Black. Very hot. Coffee only.
3. Japanese courtesan diarist.
4. Natasha Combely, et al.
5. I walked out of Small Time Crooks, which I had gone to see to escape my emptied apartment.
6. Skee-Ball. One round.
7. A typed Dear Jane letter. Inside a mahogany box. The box was hand- engraved with the Chinese characters for “farewell”, and wrapped in shiny red Christmas paper, tied with a green ribbon.
Peter Dabbene has published two story collections, Prime Movements and Glossolalia, as well as a novel, Mister Dreyfus’ Demons. Some of his short stories can be found online at www.parentheticalnote.com, www.eyeshot.net, www.yankeepotroast.org, www.quantummuse.com. His poems have been published in many print journals, and can be read online at Apple Valley Review, White Leaf Review, BluePrintReview, Hinge Online, Adagio Verse Quarterly, and Ampersand Poetry Journal.
1. Supermarket sushi.
2. I don’t drink coffee, and I like my tea exotic—the weirder the flavor, the better.
3. No one; I’m the original, alpha and omega all in one.
4. Comic books.
5. Pearl Harbor.
6. A novelty CD at the dollar store.
7. Many possible choices, all of them clothes.
Carol V. Davis’ poems have appeared in Prairie Schooner, Mid-American Review, New American Review, etc. Her first chapbook was Letters From Prague (1991). She spent 1996-97 as a Fulbright scholar in St. Petersburg, Russia, where a full length collection, It’s Time to Talk About . . . was published in a bilingual edition. A new chapbook, The Violin Teacher was published in 2005, from Dancing
Girls Press, Chicago. She is an instructor at Santa Monica College, CA. She spent fall 2005 in Russia on a second Fulbright.
1. Red licorice.
2. With milk.
3. Woman in Russia.
4. Russian literature.
5. Luckily I’ve forgotten.
6. Not buying, saving for travel.
7. A porcelain tchochke.
Daniel Donaghy’s first collection of poems, Streetfighting, was published by BkMk Press and named a finalist for the Paterson Poetry Prize. His poems have appeared in Prairie Schooner, The Southern Review, New Letters, Cimarron Review, Image, and other journals, and his fiction is forthcoming in Quarterly West. He has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Constance Saltonsall Foundation for the Arts, and the Cornell Council for the Arts.
1. The Rocky movies. All six of them, but especially the first and last.
2. Coffee: w/ hazelnut creamer; tea: w/ lemon.
3. I was raised Catholic. Questions like this are for the pagans we prayed for on Friday mornings.
4. My daughter.
5. Showgirls. I snuck in, so I didn’t really pay, but I still feel like I got ripped off.
6. A whole box of oatmeal cream pies (Little Debbie’s, please). Ohhhh, yeah.
7. Nothing memorable for me. For my wife, a bagpipe serenade.
K.E. Duffin’s book of poems, King Vulture, was published by The University of Arkansas Press in 2005. Her work has appeared in Agni, Chelsea, Denver Quarterly, Harvard Review, Hunger Mountain, The New Orleans Review, Ploughshares, Poetry, Poetry East, Prairie Schooner, Rattapallax, The Sewanee Review, Southwest Review, Verse, and many other journals. Her poems have also been featured on “Poetry Daily” and “Verse Daily”. A painter and printmaker, Duffin lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.
1. Suminagashi: making ink paintings on water and printing them.
2. I don’t. Allergic to both.
3. A Chinese poet-painter of the eighth century.
4. Czeslaw Milosz.
5. An indie short whose entire dialogue was “I Hate You, I Hate You, I Hate You.”
6. A Dover Thrift Edition of a literary classic.
7. Bright yellow Big Bird slipper-socks.
John Fitzpatrick was born in Genesee River Valley village of Dansville, NY, home of Clara Barton and her first American Red Cross Chapter now celebrating its 125th anniversary but presently lives in Hudson River Valley village of Red Hook, known for progressive environmental policies. Growing up, he frequently roamed the woods on his family’s farm; now, he tries to talk to trees and plants and listen more carefully to what they have to tell him.
1. Taking a day off to do nothing but relax and meditate.
2. Coffee, Black; Green Tea, Pure.
3. Native American.
4. Thoreau and his Walden and Essay on Civil Disobedience.
5. Whatever it was, I have put it out of my memory.
6. Not much – maybe though a pumpkin muffin.
7. I’ve put it out of my memory and forgiven the person who gave it to me.
Daniel Gallik has had poetry and short stories published by various online journals plus Hawaii Review, A.I.M.(America’s Intercultural Magazine), Parabola,
Nimrod, Limeston (U. of Kentucky), The Hiram Poetry Review, Aura (University of Alabama), and Whiskey Island (Cleveland State University). Daniel’s first novel, A Story Of Dumb Fate is available at publishamerica.com and soon will be at Cleveland area Border’s Bookstores.
1. My wife realistically. All other women mentally.
2. Blacker than black.
3. Some gaseous element—Neon?
4. Ezra Pound.
5. Rocky V.
6. Calgary Export Ale.
7. Gift card to Wal-Mart.
Nicole Hardy lives in Seattle where she works as a waitress and a teacher.
She covets all things pink and sparkly. Her chapbook, Mud Flap Girl’s XX
Guide to Facial Profiling, is part of Main Street Rag’s Editor’s Choice
Chapbook Series, and is featured prominently at hardygirl.com. She has been
recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and has poems forthcoming in
Westview, Riverwind, RiverSedge, Eclipse, and Soundings East.
1. The Immaculate Collection.
2. Espresso ice cream/green tea ice cream.
3. Me, in a corset.
4. It’s a tossup between television and the Mormon church.
5. The Wraith. Almost twenty years ago. Still scarred.
6. Ten minutes in a dollar store.
7. Holocaust book on Valentine’s Day. Thanks, Maxwell.
8. Fo’ shizzle.
Kay Harris lives in Seattle with her husband, three dogs, two cats, and thirty something turtles. In 2001, she earned an MFA from Antioch University, Los Angeles. When not writing or reading, her favorite activity is playing the piano. She has written numerous short stories, some of which have found homes, as well as a novel awaiting its place in the world.
1. Atomic Fireball jawbreakers or Smartee pellets.
2. Nothing added.
3. A fairy like Puck.
4. My kids.
5. The Bone Collector (walked out even though I always like Denzel
6. A song for my iPod.
7. Avocado green macramé hanging plant holder.
A.M. Heny’s poems have appeared in a number of small magazines. This is her second published story, and she is currently struggling through a first novel. She lives in southern Vermont.
2. With cream, sugar, and espresso.
3. Stephen Dedalus.
4. Mervyn Peake.
5. Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion.
6. Four secondhand paperbacks, or three Lindor truffles, or one coffee.
7. A pair of pantyhose.
Gerald Huml received his MFA from Virginia Commonwealth University. He works in the Finance department at the University of Virginia Medical Center. His poems have recently appeared in Wisconsin Review, Terminus, Phantasmagoria, and South Dakota Review.
1. The rare and prurient films of Taylor Raine.
2. Venti nonfat Caramel Macchiato with whip, no foam. Yes, I’m one of those people.
3. I led the raids down in Africa.
4. Behavioral cognitive therapy.
5. A Charlie Sheen film called The Arrival. My wife still won’t let me live that one down.
6. A drop of gasoline.
7. Frozen chicken in mustard sauce casserole. This was a Christmas present. At least I got to keep the Tupperware container.
Brian Johnson attended Virginia Commonwealth University from 1998-2003, where he earned a B.F.A. in Sculpture/Extended Media. He began to write shortly after graduating and returning to his hometown of Manassas, VA. He writes using abstract imagery to convey a feeling or moment in time, his poetry reads with a stream of consciousness type tone. Brian draws from personal experience and sometimes elaborate exaggerations in his writings to push to bigger than life concept behind his poetry. He continues to write poetry and short stories while also developing his sculpture and painting.
1. To be honest its books, whenever I go into a book store I am nearly
compelled to buy a book.
2. I prefer Iced Tea, no lemon . . . but sometimes of the Raspberry
3. A Roman Centurion.
4. Probably my father, he instilled in me a lot of great qualities like patience, understanding and compassion.
5. Soul Plane . . . two hours I’ll never get back.
6. A handful of guitar picks.
7. It was the Xmas as I crested childhood and became a teenager, I got something like four sweaters. No more Legos. Sigh.
Eitan Kadosh received his MFA from CSU Long Beach. He is a former English teacher, sperm donor, children’s party entertainer, National Poetry Slam champion, non-profit arts administrator, and family sponge. He currently works as a program expert at the Los Angeles Unified School District.
1. Parade Magazine in the Sunday paper.
2. One cream, two sugars.
3. A winsome ferret.
4. An open highway stretching forever beneath the Montana sky.
5. Showgirls. It was a free screening, but I paid for it, man did I pay.
6. Two sides of garlic sauce from Zankou chicken.
7. A tie in the shape of a parrot (thanks mom).
Christina Kapp’s short fiction and poetry have been published in The Adirondack Review, flashquake, and Beginnings. She lives in New Jersey and is working on her first novel.
1. Dark chocolate (hidden in the tupperware drawer).
2. Light and sweet.
3. I’m new.
4. My family.
5. The Ring.
6. iTunes song.
7. Tennis lessons.
Ann Tobias Karson was raised in Southern Africa. An anti-apartheid activist in her twenties, she received a social science degree from Cape Town and a post-graduate diploma (approximately masters equivalent) from London. She was a clinical social worker in psychiatry in South Africa, England, and, after marrying her American husband, in Minnesota and Connecticut. She always loved poetry and sometimes scribbled, but has only written seriously recently. Her work is appearing this year in Phoebe, Coe Review and The Pikeville Review.
2. Coffee with cream, tea with or without milk (depends which side of the Atlantic I’m on, since you aren’t often offered milk here, but in England you have to be quick to refuse it!), and no sugar in either.
3. If I had a previous life, I’m not sure I would have been human. Maybe a bird or a butterfly since I yearn to see everything beautiful everywhere.
4. A high-school English teacher opened up the world of poetry to me, but it wasn’t until soon after my marriage, at forty, that I became comfortable enough with myself to produce poetry. Therefore, I credit my husband. My friend, Liza Sisk, is a big influence on my poetry.
5. I can’t answer this. I see films at home, but it’s a long time since I paid and went to a cinema.
6. A favorite fruit or vegetable, perhaps an avocado pear.
7. Perhaps an office kit of which I already had two identical ones! Calendars go out of date!
Eva Konstantopoulos graduated from Emerson College in the winter of 2005. Currently, she lives and writes in Los Angeles, CA.
2. Sweet with milk.
3. A sailor.
4. Everything and everyone.
5. I’ve erased the experience from my memory.
7. A day at Jonathan’s house.
Eli Langner has been a featured speaker of the Performance Poets Association, and his work has been read on radio stations WHRU (New York) and KXCI (Arizona). His poetry has been published, or is forthcoming, in: Wisconsin Review, Steam Ticket, The Old Red Kimono, The Angry Poet, PPA Literary Review, The Distillery, Confluence, Celebrations, California Quarterly, Mother Earth Journal, and Creations Magazine.
1. Foods containing high concentrations of artery-clogging fat.
2. Completely evaporated (I don’t drink that stuff).
3. Mikey (Life cereal). Come to think of it, that wasn’t me, it was some kid I saw on TV about 40 years ago.
4. Television, apparently.
5. Ishtar. Too much “Ish!” . . . not enough tar (and feathers).
6. A winning lottery ticket. Otherwise: a Snickers bar.
7. An acorn. I am not kidding. An acorn.
Sally Leslie is a 32 year old English woman living in New York. She currently teaches Philosophy and English at a college in Downtown Brooklyn. She is, at present, working on her first novel which is a massive departure from this story, as it deals with the Suffragette movement and Victorian prostitution. She came to America, four years ago, to live with the person she fell in love with through writing. This story is actually based on a dream she had.
1. Xena Warrior Princess freak!
2. Usually, in the mouth, but am open to suggestions.
3. The real Xena Warrior Princess (who did actually exist and was responsible for the freezing of the Terracotta Army, the building of Stonehenge, and coining the word, flange.)
4. That’d have to be my Granny, not least for the fact that she would
never concede to being ‘old’ and would’ve hated me calling her ‘granny’.
5. It’s Pat.
6. A softball-sized ball-of-wool chicken with bells inside from the 99 cent store! God that thing’s so cute!
7. An Irish blood sausage that’d been carried back from Ireland in a damp face cloth.
Nancy Tupper Ling is the 2007 winner of the Pat Parnell Poetry Prize, as well as the Grand Prize winner of Writer’s Digest’s Annual Competition. She is thrilled to appear in this issue with her mother, Jean Tupper. Other publications include: The Potomac Review, Louisville Review, The Connecticut River Review, Flyway, and Reverb. She founded the Fine Line Poets and lives in Walpole, MA with her husband, Vincent, and their two girls.
1. Chips and dip.
3. Not Emily Dickinson.
4. The Word.
5. The Battle of the Killer Tomatoes or something like that.
7. Knitted coat hangers.
Ellaraine Lockie writes poetry, nonfiction books, magazine articles/columns and
children’s stories. She is a well-published and awarded poet who has received ten nominations for Pushcart Prizes in poetry and has three published chapbooks: Midlife Muse, Poetry Forum, Crossing the Center Line, Sweet Annie Press and Coloring Outside the Lines, The Plowman Press. Forthcoming in 2007 is a chapbook from PWJ Publishing. She also teaches school and community poetry workshops.
1. I don’t feel guilty about any pleasure.
2. Double strength, unsweetened and black.
3. Someone, maybe a man, who played the piano, sang and lived in Taos, New Mexico.
4. My brother, ten and a half years older than I, who saw that I was introduced to literature, classical music, safe sex and the world outside of Big Sandy, Montana, where we grew up.
6. Wrigley’s Polar Ice gum.
7. A garbage can hand-truck for Valentine’s Day from the man in my life.
Eileen Malone lives in the necropolis of Colma where San Francisco buries its dead. She’s published her poetry in over 300 anthologies and literary journals, some of which have earned significant awards, for instance, one at the end of last year was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
1. Cramming junk mail from one place into paid return envelopes from junk mail from another place. Keeping it all in circulation.
2. Coffee with a little sugar and tons of half and half. Tea with nothing unless it’s Irish tea (thick, black) brewed by my mother, then with milk and sugar.
3. A cloistered nun. A gay architect. An herbalist.
4. Elizabeth Bishop, Kate Braverman, Harry Potter (author, characters, movie and music).
5. The Devil Wears Prada.
6. I buy all my reading eyeglasses at dollar stores, scatter them in every room of my house, in every purse and laptop bag, car. Everywhere.
7. An adjustable mood ring, the kind that changes color with the heat (or mood) of your finger.
8. Mauve, I won $50 on bet for that word because most people mispronounce it, calling it MAAHv or MWAHv instead of the correct pronounciation MOHve (which rhymes stove).
David Massengill is an award-winning fiction writer who lives in Seattle. His short stories have appeared in The Raven Chronicles, StringTown, Eclectica Magazine, 3 A.M. Magazine, N.O.L.A. Spleen, and Rivet Magazine, among other literary magazines. “My Shadow and Me” comes from Undersex, a collection of flash fiction about gay men’s relationships. Massengill is currently seeking a publisher for the book. Those with kind words are welcome to email him at email@example.com.
1. Mexican chain restaurants.
2. I prefer iced lattes with soy milk.
3. A Greek architect who drowned before seeing the completion of his first building.
5. Basic Instinct 2, which I loved.
6. A smile.
7. A dried piranha fish (my sticking the fish in the face of a dog resulted in the dog attacking me).
Laura McCullough holds an MFA from Goddard College. She has been awarded two New Jersey State Arts Council Fellowships, one in prose and one in poetry (2007). She has published poems widely in literary magazines and journals such Nimrod, Potion, Hotel Amerika, Gulf Coast, Nightsun, Iron Horse Quarterly, Boulevard, Amarillo Bay, The God Particle, Poetry East, Confluence, Exquisite Corpse, Tarpaulin Sky, and others. Her second collection of poems, WHAT MEN WANT, is forthcoming from XOXOX Press (Jan. 08). Her chapbook of prose poems, ELEPHANT ANGER, was published by Mudlark in mid Feb., 2007 (http://www.unf.edu/mudlark/).
1. Potato chips and onion dip.
3. A car mechanic.
4. Stephen Dunn.
5. The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and His Lover.
6. A bunch of beets.
7. A purple lizard leather clutch bag.
Elizabeth McLagan’s poems are published or forthcoming in Poetry Northwest, American Literary Review, Third Coast, Iron Horse Literary Review, Bellingham Review, Southeast Review and on the web site Verse Daily. The 2006 recipient of the Frances Locke Memorial Award from Bitter Oleander, she teaches creative writing at Portland Community College.
1. Eating chocolate covered espresso beans.
3. A hedgehog.
4. Currently Garcia Lorca.
5. La Grande Bouffe.
6. A glass of red wine in Italy.
7. A gold locket instead of a horse.
Tom Meek is a contributing film critic for the Boston Phoenix and a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics. His ramblings and rants have also appeared in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Web del Sol, Film Threat and E! Online. His fiction can be found at The Sink, Thieves Jargon, and Word Riot. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, practices yoga religiously and rides his bike everywhere. Tom is currently working on a collection of short stories that take place in Boston and the surrounding cityscape.
1. Yoga when I should be working or 12 year old scotch on the rocks.
2. At Simon’s Café. Large, a splash of milk and two sugars. Kam sa ham ni da!
3. Either Sigmund Freud or Sam Peckinpah.
4. Aunt Mary Elizabeth, a former English Lit Prof at Pitt, god rest her soul.
5. Gothic by Ken Russell.
6. A refill of coffee at Simon’s Café, kam sa ham ni da! Or a copy of Spare Change, the paper that benefits the homeless in Boston.
7. Tulip Bulbs.
Greg Moglia is a veteran of 27 years as Adjunct Professor of Philosophy of Education at N.Y.U. and 37 years as a high school teacher of Physics, Psychology and Chemistry. Recently his poetry has been accepted in 70 journals in the U.S., Canada and England as well as five anthologies and is four times a winner of an Allan Ginsberg Poetry Award sponsored by the Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College. His poem ‘Why Do Lovers Whisper?’ has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize 2005. He lives in Huntington, N.Y.
1. Yankee ball games ($5 seats).
3. Leo Tolstoy.
4. Walt Whitman!
5. No answer.
6. 1/3 of a box of Raisinets at the movies.
7. Yankee logo umbrella. I am superstitious.
8. Changes. The word that best ‘turns’ the last poem. (Monkey note- this is really hard to understand other than the actual word, ‘changes’. Do with it what you will.)
Mimi Moriarty is the producer and host of “Write Stuff,” a cable access TV program in the Albany, NY area. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College, but asks that you not hold that against her. Her chapbook of 23 poems about the aftermath of war, War Psalm, has been accepted for publication in 2007 by Finishing Line Press.
1. Watching “Survivor.”
2. Herbal tea straight up.
3. Probably some anonymous lice-ridden scullery maid.
4. Vincent Prencipe, my maternal grandfather.
5. Surf Nazis Must Die.
6. A fine-point Bic pen.
7. Heckle and Jeckle bedroom slippers.
Bonnie Naradzay was a member of the Peace Corps in South India, early 1970’s; college teaching; currently she’s a government bureaucrat and a student in the Stonecoast MFA program. Recently published in JAMA; poems also in online journals, including Salt River Review, Beltway, Convergence, and Innisfree. Polemical poems have appeared in New Verse News, the left-leaning daily poetry blog. The poem here on reading Elizabeth Bishop is about a rain-soaked afternoon I spent with my friend Elisavietta Ritchie in her house on the Patuxent in southern Maryland.
1. Long hot showers.
2. With camel’s breath.
4. The weather.
5. Disney’s animated dancing hippos with tutus. Was it Fantasia?
6. A cold cherry coke.
7. For my wedding gift, my husband-to-be gave me a carving knife. He left after our second child was born.
David Pohl has operated a freelance illustration practice since 1990. His list of clients includes The Atlantic Monthly, Yoga Journal, The New York Times, Simon and Schuster, PBS, University of Notre Dame, Harvard University, and Tower Records. His work been recognized by The Society of Illustrators, American Illustration, Communication Arts, Print and Graphis.
1. American Idol.
2. Black. But I also really enjoy espresso with just a dollop of milk (macchiato).
3. A Mughal, or perhaps a bumble bee.
4. The feeling that I know to be God
5. Right now I’m thinking Armageddon, because I remember that being really awful. But the truth is, I hardly watch movies anymore.
6. Five pieces of tofu from a Chinese grocery store in Pittsburgh’s strip district.
7. They’ve all been really nice.
8. What is your favorite word?
Sally Pont’s short fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Conjunctions, Ambergris, Whiskey Island Magazine, Iowa Woman, and Noneuclidean Café. Two full works of nonfiction, Finding Their Stride and Fields of Honor, were published by Harcourt Brace.
1. Reading the wedding announcements in The New York Times.
2. I take milk in both my coffee and tea.
3. A peony.
4. Joni Mitchell.
6. A phone call.
7. An emery board.
Karen Porter lives in the Pine Barrens of South Jersey, has lots of critters, write, does conservation work, trains and competes with her dogs, and rescues cats.
2. Coffee w/milk or cream.
3. A large cat – probably a Bengal tiger.
4. People who have the courage to live their convictions.
5. Freebie and the Bean.
6. A single issue of Lilliput Review.
7. A half used tin of body powder.
Irena Praitis teaches literature and creative writing at California State University, Fullerton. She earned a PhD and MFA from Arizona State. Her chapbook, Touch, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2004, and her book of poems, Branches, is forthcoming from D-N Publishing. She was a Fulbright Scholar in Vilnius, Lithuania. Her work has recently appeared in Cold Mountain Review, Rattle, The Mochila Review, Mid-America Poetry Review, Manzanita, Slant, and Cultura, Lenguaje, y Representación.
2. Tea, with honey and milk.
3. A martyr.
4. The poems that speak emotional truth.
5. The second “new trilogy” Star Wars movie. I can’t even remember the name.
7. I can’t think of anything.
Emily Reardon lives in New York City. She earned her MFA from New York University and now works with children of domestic violence. She recently served as the first writer-in-residence for the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council and has most recently published her poems and stories in Literary Cash, The Comstock Review and NYArts Magazine.
1. Sitcoms, especially “Scrubs.”
2. With milk and 1/2 a sugar.
3. Sofia Tolstoy.
4. Virginia Woolf.
5. Sweet Home Alabama.
6. Coffee, coffee.
7. There are no bad presents, in my book.
J. E. Robinson of Alton, Illinois, is an award-winning essayist and playwright as well as a poet. His novel Skip Macalester was published by the Haworth Press in 2006.
1. SANFORD AND SON . . . I laugh so hard I pee in my pants.
2. The color of Indira Ghandi, please.
3. An SS officer at Babi Yar . . . I think I had a young Jewish boyfriend then.
4. Cavafy and Robert Lowell.
5. TOTAL ECLIPSE with Leo DiCaprio playing Rimbaud. He should
have shot the writer . . . it was HORRID!!!
6. Paper clips.
7. Anything from my stepmother, the b****.
Beth Rodriguez has an essay included in Telling Tongues: A Latin@ Anthology on Language Experience.
1. Watching “entertainment news” shows.
2. Caffeine free herbal tea.
3. Hopefully somebody interesting, like Dorothy Parker.
5. If I don’t think I’m going to like the movie, I try and get someone else to pay for my ticket.
6. A pack of gum.
7. Any gift is a good thing.
Antonio Sacre, born in Boston to a Cuban father and Irish American mother, is an internationally touring writer, storyteller, and solo performance artist based in Los Angeles. He has performed at the Kennedy Center and museums, schools, and festivals internationally. His retelling of “The Barking Mouse” was published as a picture book by Albert Whitman and Company. At the New York City International Fringe Theater Festival, he won two Best in Fringe awards for his Solo Performances.
1. The show “24.” I rent the season and watch only 3 episodes at a time, after coming down off a 6 show night once. I think everybody is a spy, my perimeter just won’t hold, and I am minutes away from being tortured at any time, and I love it.
2. Green tea black, black tea with honey, coffee with milk and splenda.
3. Assistant to the copy editor for the Sears catalogue, circa 1930, just after the roaring 20’s, just before the depression.
4. Tae Kwon Do instructor Onlarewaju Lawanson, when I was younger. He taught me the only way to learn the kick I could never do was to do
it. Zen bullshit, I thought, and sure enough, over a thousand embarrassing fall-on-my-face kicks later, I could do it.
5. The Shining. I was 8 or 10, I saved my allowance, and I took my
brothers, and we all peed our pants and had nightmares for weeks. What was my mom thinking? Jaws is a close second, ‘cause I won’t go swimming in the ocean too much anymore, although mom paid for that one.
6. A mango.
7. Typing lessons, although I really appreciate it now. When I was 12, I thought it was the worst way to spend two weeks of my summer.
8. Mariposa (butterfly in Spanish, it feels like a butterfly on my tongue).
Dr. Lynn Veach Sadler, a former college president, has published widely in academics and creative writing. Editor, poet, fiction/creative nonfiction writer, and playwright, she has a full-length poetry collection forthcoming from RockWay Press. One story appears in Del Sol’s Best of 2004 Butler Prize Anthology; another won the 2006 Abroad Writers Contest/Fellowship (France). “Not Your Average Poet (on Robert Frost)” was a Pinter Review Prize for Drama Silver Medalist in 2005.
1. Mixing batter for a cake and eating it “raw”.
2. Coffee black; (iced) tea unsweetened; hot tea plain.
3. The Queen of Sheba
4. Favorite college professor: Dr. Gale Carrithers at Duke.
5. The Postman.
6. Umpteen books at the annual library sale.
7. At Christmas once, with a record player, I received only country music.
Miriam Sagan is the author of twenty books, including RAG TRADE (La Alameda Press). She is an Assistant Professor at Santa Fe Community College and runs the creative writing program there. She edits SANTA FE POETRY BROADSIDE—sfpoetry.org
1. Lying in the bathtub for hours and turning the hot water faucet with my foot.
2. New York regular—cream and sugar.
4. Independant women of the 19th century—from Elizabeth Cady Stanton to Harriet Tubman.
5. Pokemon Movie.
6. I got a purple nylon nightie in Marfa, Texas.
7. I like all presents.
Dennis Saleh’s poetry, prose, and artwork appear widely in magazines and collections, including recent issues of ArtLife, International Poetry Review, and Psychological Perspectives, and forthcoming poetry anthologies, Reeds and Rough Places Plain. He has read from his poetry, and a novel-in-progress set in Ancient Egypt, at the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in San Jose, CA.
Craig Sanders is a 30 year old from the suburbs of New York City. He is a graduate of SUNY New Paltz. Craig spent his 20’s purposefully working as many unusual jobs as possible in order to have material to write about. He has finally come to his senses and works as a teacher for the developmentally challenged. He still lives outside of NYC.
1. I’m thirty years old and still addicted to them.
2. I like my tea with lemon and a couple of Sweet N Low. My coffee has to be light, sweet, and plentiful.
3. I think I was a New England fisherman with a yellow raincoat and a boat full of crabs.
4. Caffeine. It whispers in my ear at night.
5. Event Horizon.
6. Here in New York? Maybe a piece of Bazooka Joe.
7. A Dunkin Donuts card with two dollars credit on it.
8. Doody. I’m so mature.
Barbara Schweitzer’s first collection of poetry, 33 1/3, (Little Pear Press, Fall 2007) was a semi-finalist for the Bakeless Prize. Her poems have appeared in Segue, California Quarterly, Midstream, The Newport Review, The Pelican Review, Peralta Press, and others, as well as anthologized in Sundays at Sarah’s, Regrets Only, and In the Eye. She has won numerous poetry prizes including a merit fellowship from the state of Rhode Island. Her plays have been selected for staged readings in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
2. With low fat milk in the morning.
3. A college student.
4. The natural world.
5. I get drawn into every film.
6. A pot of primroses.
7. Gifts are always loved.
8. Du jour as in: my favorite word du jour is …
Lynne Shapiro has a MA in Comparative Literature from Brandeis University. She presently teaches Children’s Literature and Cultures and Values at Hudson County Community College in Jersey City, and middle school seminars at The Elysian Charter School in Hoboken, New Jersey, where she lives with her husband, teenage son, and a menagerie of animals.
1. Playing 3-D Pin ball on the computer.
2. I take my coffee with liquid non-dairy creamer, to which I am (apologetically) addicted.
3. A Passer Domesticus, a male house sparrow.
4. I’ve been most influenced by my friend and professor, Luis Yglesias, whose generosity, vast and inter-related interests, and ability to reinvent him-self have influenced how I read, think, teach and garden.
5. Find True Happiness.
6. A personal-sized packet of tissues purchased at a newsstand.
7. My mother-in-law greeted me with a plastic food tray from her meal on the plane when she arrived at our home for a week-long stay.
Mary McLaughlin Slechta’s fiction and poetry have recently appeared in The Gihon River Review, Ballyhoo Stories, and Lynx Eye. She has two chapbooks, Buried Bones (FootHills) and The Boy’s Nightmare and Other Poems (Feral Press) and a first book of poetry, Wreckage on a Watery Moon (FootHills, 2005). She’s an associate editor for The Comstock Review in Syracuse, NY.
1. M&M’s with peanuts.
2. With cream.
3. Doomed resident of Pompeii.
4. Dear old Dad.
5. The Mighty Quinn—Denzel’s Jamaican accent was wrong.
6. Two pies at McDonald’s.
7. “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”
8. Pajamas (English) Maniposa (Spanish).
Dennis Ward Stiles was raised on a farm in northern Illinois. He graduated from the USAF Academy in 1964, and spent thirty years in the Air Force as a pilot and military diplomat. His work has appeared in many journals.
Pudding House Publications will issue his fifth chapbook, Humdinger, in 2007. He lives in Charleston, South Carolina, where he is vice-president of America by Foot, Inc., a national walking-tour company.
1. Window-shopping at Victoria’s Secret.
2. With a little rum.
4. French existentialism.
5. Steve Martin’s The Pink Panther.
6. Snickers bar.
7. A book advocating evangelical Christianity.
Constance Studer’s essays have appeared in North Dakota Quarterly, Red Wheelbarrow Literary Magazine, The Mochila Review and in The Poetry of Nursing (anthology), Judy Schaefer, Editor, Kent State University Press. Her
short stories have appeared in Crucible, Georgia State University Review, Thin Air Magazine, and Westview. Her book of poetry, Prayer To A Purple God was re-issued in hardback in 2004 by Mellen Poetry Press.
1. Tarot card readings for my friends and watching their faces light up when they know they’re on the right path.
2. With cream, two cups in the morning.
3. I was Lilith in an earlier life, a woman who knew she had a lot to learn, and knew she had to live by herself for a long time in order to gain knowledge.
4. My father, a Methodist minister, even though I didn’t know him.
5. Night of the Living Dead.
6. A bag of peanuts.
7. A red sweater with a huge snowman emblazoned across the chest.
Timothy Parker Tettleton was born on August 14, 1987 in Ruston, Louisiana. I’m currently a sophomore at Louisiana Tech University, where I am majoring in English with a minor in Psychology. My favorite novel is The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, and my favorite poem is “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost.
1. I wouldn’t say I feel too guilty about it, but probably skipping out of class every once in a while to start an early weekend.
2. For hot tea I might put a little milk in, though I mostly drink iced tea.
3. Hmm . . . I don’t believe in such.
4. Just life and all of its quirks.
5. Either Talladega Nights, The Saint, or the Bad New Bears sequel. All
were pretty terrible in their own right.
7. This assorted sausage and cheese sampler thing for Christmas one year.
Pappi Tomas lives with his wife in Seattle, where he directs a community college writing center. His essays have appeared in Fourth Genre: Explorations in Nonfiction, Mid-American Review, and are forthcoming in Karamu and Under the Sun.
1. Watching “Medium” on Wednesday nights.
2. Black, of course.
3. A crow.
4. The eighteenth century English essayists.
5. The Keep. I saw it in seventh grade with my first girlfriend. Sweaty palms and no goodnight kiss.
6. A vanilla macaroon from Three Girls Bakery in Seattle.
7. A gold-plated ear cleaner.
Jean Tupper has worked as magazine writer and editor, but her current writing love is poetry. She’s been writing poetry for several decades and has been published extensively in literary magazines. Her first full-length book of poems WOMAN IN RAINLIGHT was recently published. Tupper presents poetry solo and with the Fine Line Poets, a group founded by her daughter Nancy Tupper Ling. She has given many readings in schools, libraries and bookstores in New England and beyond and also workshops with the Wood Thrush Poets. She lives with her husband Russ in Wrentham Massachusetts.
1. Milk chocolate truffles.
3. Believe it or not—this is the first for me!
4. My father—”papa”.
6. Pen and paper.
7. A whatchamacallit.
Elizabeth Wylder lives in Chicago and is a student at the School of the Art Institute. She received a B.A. in Rhetoric from the University of Illinois and an M.A. in English from Florida State University after brief stints studying in Ireland, peddling foam rocks at Walt Disney World, and teaching writing classes
about Clint Eastwood movies. Her poems have appeared in Poetry Motel, Colere, Spire, The Great American Poetry Show, California Quarterly, and elsewhere.
1. The thought-provoking works of *NSYNC.
2. By force.
4. Robbie Williams.
5. The Black Dahlia.
6. A song on iTunes.
7. A Foghorn Leghorn T-shirt.