TABLE OF CONTENTS
ELIZABETH R. CURRY POETRY CONTEST WINNERS
Revisiting December 2001
To Love You is to Vex You Now
Lisa M. Cole
The Lonely Gunman
A Distant Landscape
Two Men and a Gun
The Wire Dog
The Delight in Hazel
The Road to Great Salvation
When Eating Peanuts
Michael P. McManus
Virginia Woolf in the Po-Po-Mo Lit Bitz
How to Remove a Lady from Her Seaside Home
“Hurry Up Please It’s Time”
Sonnet of the Stack
Café Del Soul’s Final Set
Jack Glances at Genealogy and Genetics
You Are Standing In—
Domestic Animal Anatomy: Dissection Lab
Charles Harper Webb
Susana H. Case
Jazz de Opus, Portland
Charles Farrell Thielman
I’m Sweating Like a Banshee
Charles Harper Webb
The Sweetness of Summer
Interior Media Violence
Charles Harper Webb
Jessica Helen Lopez
The Last Gratitude
The Last Model
A Lighthouse Keeper Speaks
Why I Won’t Lay…
There’s a Crack in Everything
Western State College, Class of 1994
Interview with Punkaj Rishi Kumar
Dr. Sunita Peacock
Clasping Empty Air
Oral History Project
David Potsubay and Genna Walker
Ode to a Surrogate’s Grace
TEXT & IMAGE
ELIZABETH R. CURRY POETRY CONTEST WINNERS
Revisiting December 2001
—Buenos Aires, Argentina
I. Villa Miseria
It’s impossible to go back to the same country,
especially when some hijo de re-mil
puts us between two walls of an alleyway,
our hired van stuck amid a six-point turn.
We are all in my mother’s hands, now raised,
at the whim of eight revolvers encircling us.
The gunmen are just turning seventeen,
the youngest maybe thirteen like me.
It’s a shame I feel lucky
that one of these thugs rips open
the passenger side door, jams his revolver
into my mother’s ribs, grabs both of her breasts
just for the fuck of it, and after stripping us
of everything we have, asks another revolver
waving kid Y que hacemos con ellos ahora?—
as if he were tormenting a passel of farm hogs.
I feel lucky that they ran out of fresh ideas,
that we were left with our lives.
I often think about revisiting that alleyway
and how things would be now.
I see half of them pass a broken bombilla
between them, inhaling whatever charred hope
this country proffers in a fifty peso note
stapled to a ballot slip. I see them crumpled
like soda cans in a canal, riddled
with some other street kid’s bullet holes.
Look down this barrel,
this country’s empty wine cask,
see God’s bloody handprints all over the walls.
Looking through the window of the backseat,
I see the son of a bitch who gave the orders—he smiles
a rack of impacted teeth growing out of the top of his gums,
as if a second mouth bites through to supplant the old.
Where is he now—belly full of red meat, waving
his youngest son out of the dining room with a revolver?
I hear him tap his muzzle on the table as he wonders why
he didn’t take the van, complete the illusion,
at least make it seem like that driver might also lose
some essential piece of himself out there with us.
But we both know the driver will do it again.
Everyone here looks the other way.
III. Martial Law
It runs on a loop—a horse cadaver crawls
with insects, a supermarket vomits hordes
of looters, banks all have broken windows,
police sit with their hands tucked beneath
their backsides, mouths stuffed with rubber bullets—
the images lull a mother and son to sleep
in television light. Locks on the windows,
doors bolted shut, the father has fallen asleep
in a plastic chair before the front door,
hand on the loaded pistol in his lap.
It sounds like the city is being overrun
by an approaching caravan
of silver and soda cans: violent chorus,
empty hollowware beaten
with wooden spoons, iron stock pots
cast through the windows of cop cars.
The noise amplifies in the canyon
of concrete apartment buildings—
a third president in five days, the Casa Rosada
permanently flushed pink with shame.
The nation is going hungry for a fifth
day straight, but everyone sings,
pushes against the traffic on Santa Fe,
pushes toward that little pink house
even though most of them know
it’s been empty for a long time now.
At about four AM the fireworks
peter out, and the whole city
is suspended in moonmilk.
Nobody in this apartment is sober,
except for my mother,
and she holds her brother’s head
over a toilet bowl. Stumbling in the belly
of the living room, I spin
my cousin’s petite frame, as Discovery
cycles through its third play,
the only CD in the apartment—
a gift from my brother.
My sister smokes on the balcony
because she’s 15. It’s impossible for me
to understand how fucked up
this country has become.
I am holding my eyes open
with a beer bottle.
Lisa M. Cole
To Love You is to Vex You Now
All that’s left: arsenal roses &
too many cheap rhinestones.
You’ve got gravel in your mouth—
a lousy gluttony for
the brash gloom
of your weakened ghouls—
the blackened ruts & holes in their bodies—
their see-through stains.
You know what they say is true:
you do not own what is lost.
You stood in a wash of light beside the east window
while rain tumbled
from the roof in ropes which braided
and unbraided themselves, set tulips to sway,
and unraveled in the grass.
Spring, you said. At last.
It rose at your pronouncement:
air muddled with earth
and greening, water, birdsong, a promise
of heat coming. But this
was beyond my saying then—
so I stood beside you, and you took my hand,
and that was all:
silence and touching, the calm
of years in which words meant
what they seemed to mean and—
the shadows of rain that wound across your cheeks?
They meant nothing.
You Are Standing In—
the sky. It begins
lets off, a reverse
image of every
rivulet and manhole.
Your knees bend
to its resistance.
Your lungs pull it
to fill your very blood
It is on the bottom of your
shoes, hugging your
calves and thighs,
gold dust on
Take a shower,
it still coats you.
Hop a train
to Calgary, the sky
will be waiting
in all its width
Duck into an alley,
it ducks with you
like a persistent hit man.
after all skin
yours and mine,
We tread on ourselves,
our pasts, daily,
breathe in and out,
fail to see the field.
Note: Title/first sentence is from Diane Ackerman’s
A Natural History of the Senses.
Interior Media Violence
Tonight, your dream’s casting calls
for a long-haired killer. In off the lots,
past the serpents, dogs, goddesses,
visitors from the stars, and all
the other bit-parters languishing
in patches of shade, he approaches
the immense Quonset hut of your sleeping
consciousness. This one’s sure
and some neural wraith has dressed him
in denim and leather, powdered him
pale with cremation ash. Hint of soldier
and pinch of camp victim, his lips
stitched with hate-silk into a seen-too-much
seam, and the shadow-crease of each
vertical ditch in the land of his face
an unpsalmed valley of death. He’s broken
out of your deepest prison, stolen
his gun back, silver-blue barrel,
ebony handle in his left hand
as he enters the scene, a bar full of guzzlers
and all your kin, even your departed
mother and father, not to mention
friends you’ve abandoned, friends in the ground,
your ex-lovers, your ex-wife,
and the old hooded one no one knows
you’ve been studying under for years. Who would ever
dream, even in your dreams, you’d trained
as a killer too? Before any other
players have looked up from their beers,
or registered the clop of the newcomer’s
boots on the boards, the blade of your own right
hand flies through the lace of smoke,
lands like an ax on the stalk of his neck,
you hear a bone-crack, and his gun goes
clunk on the planks. Then the crash—
the demon’s elongate mass, having lost
all electrical ties between muscle and brain,
now a humanish ridge of flesh
on the hard floor of the mind. You crouch
Is he finished?
Severed such that the chest won’t fill?
Not another breath? The thorax is still.
But the eyes, open, and a slow blink,
then a stare, you think, of surprise.
The dream must end and you must wake, quick,
before the man-snake who is the estranged
self dies. He’ll have to come back
for another take some night. Maybe
he’ll get to shoot first, or check his gun
with the grizzled bartender. Will one of you
ever offer a hand to the other?
There’s something unthinkable still
to discuss, over a drink perhaps.
Yes, it’s a risk, but look,
you were the killer this time.
The Little Owl on Bedford
Street in the Village welcomes
diners for breakfast on
this chill, sunny morning
with a velvet red smile and
the humid, rich fragrance of
espresso and sausage and
hollandaise sauce oozing
over poached eggs.
Across the street hordes of
tourists line the sidewalk
with avid squints and excited,
flashing cameras, a
wall of haunted faces
overwhelmed by the
brick façade of the
Owl’s building which
once appeared as the exterior
of a sitcom’s hip, NY apartment.
The yearning faces, scarved
and gloved and hatted, stand
wide-mouthed, hungry for
connection with once-a-week,
fictional friends, nourishing
fragile, famished identities
with electronic memory,
while inside the Owl, diners
gorge on apple jelly and
croissants, chattering with friends
across the table as they smile
and order more coffee.
for a village. John Smith had none in 1614. Isolated wilderness,
public telephones, insect repellant.
A long shot in a limited time frame of nightmares 3 in the
afternoon. Labeled baggage followed Pierre from 42nd Street
and Broadway to the tip of the boot. And so it goes.
It rained most of the way while umbrellas pursed their
lips every fourth step and at every intersection. And there
were many. Let them pass he would say of the oncoming vehicles
as he zoomed in a vertical pan with his imaginary camera. It
seems lately he was imagining everything while no one was
Trail directions were of no use in this particular situation
but if you plan to hike then take Etienne. He usually knows
the way up hill and down dale. That is, if he is not working
on his so-called documentary which he began in 1959. Some say
it was 1895. Oh well.
Devoted to images and the love me, love me not syndrome his
attitude of the day could be questionable so take caution. In
the editing room brutal specimens of the week’s work piles up
past Pierre’s nose thereby drowning him in celluloid as he
watches Etienne do his cut, splice and toss routine.
A Lighthouse Keeper Speaks
A meteor shower showers us with small fires.
No one knows where their next umbrella
is coming from or who the wind might be.
Still days replicate like cells forming a thin tissue
one can’t peel away, as I look out at this cyclops
light that does not look away. They say kelp
is a tissue though to me it seems a thick scarf
that wraps around rocks cutting them off, words
slipping, water slicing, the knives of it, the shears
as every day more waves arrive, eating at cliff
and cove. I listen to the small silences that collect
between crests and troughs looping the island,
completing one sentence, only to find another
question mark at the end. Is the oyster awake inside
its shell? Does the infinity of water contain the infinity
of mind? The cells of my thinking alternatively
thicken and thin; the knees are always the first to go.
One waits for a sea change, a scene change.
The tide running as fast as it can, never at home.
They make a lot of being a player now but what
the game is no one knows for sure. Eiders tow
their young on invisible strings while fulmar fledglings
test the bight. The camera in one’s brain never
stops clicking: the business of wings conducting
the business of flight. There’s a hole in my head
where the insulation used to be. Now the entire
ocean blows through. I chase a hare until it’s
cornered by stone. Now I’m the one cornered.
I have always wanted to be this kind of alone.
The Lonely Gunman
Billy Wagner is eating birthday cake and watching the assassination of John F. Kennedy unfold in front of him. He scoops his fork underneath a frosting flower—Pure sugar, Billy, pure sugar, his mother says—and squeezes it between his teeth so that the red dye coats them and makes them look bloodied just like the mist squirting from the President’s fractured skull.
Mrs. Kennedy is blonde, portly, and altogether wrong looking. She’s trying to keep her dark sunglasses from sliding down the bridge of her nose and into Jack’s lap while she twists towards the back of the ‘61 Continental—a plastic prop—and stretches for the cantaloupe rind she’s meant to retrieve from the trunk.
Billy’s mother says, Did it really keep spraying like that?
I assume she’s pointing at the combination of ketchup and tomato paste that’s hissing from something hidden inside the President’s shirt collar and coating the little elevated stage that doubles as a catering platform when the restaurant works weddings.
The dead President is lying motionless in the backseat, the way it would have looked had Dealey Plaza frozen that November afternoon and Zapruder’s Bell & Howell kept imprinting the film anyway, frame after frame after—
And Billy Wagner, he’s sticking his tongue between the fork prongs, oblivious to history.
And his mother says, This is less educational than you told me, Donna.
And Donna says, She never brought my Diet Coke.
And upstairs, where I’m crouched in the balcony overlapping the corner of the stage, that famous Carcano rifle grasped in my hands, my eyes meet Mrs. Kennedy’s. She’s staring at me over her sunglasses, those chubby fingers of hers clutching the cantaloupe rind hard enough that it’s starting to flex under the pressure of her grip. They’ve been using overripe fruit to double as Jack’s broken skull since, well, I don’t even know.
Nose wrinkling, she starts bringing the rind closer to her face, slowly, as if to convince the diners that it’s just an optical illusion, that she’s still frozen in the past just where she belongs, and that her arm, actually, isn’t moving at all. And when she sniffs at the rind her face puckers and she whispers to her dead husband that it’s rotten, that the rind is fucking decomposing in her hand.
From my vantage point above Billy Wagner and his two mothers, I can see the president, head in Jackie’s lap, and he’s grinning, trying not to laugh. He places one of his allegedly lifeless hands on her chubby knee and squeezes. A moment later his digits are massaging the inside of her thigh, and then they start northbound, disappearing beneath her skirt. I raise the Carcano, shove the stock against my shoulder, and peer through the magnified scope in time to see Mrs. Kennedy’s striped underpants in the crosshairs.
People are always asking how I ended up here. How I, of all people, found myself in the sniper’s nest overlooking the Kennedys. It shouldn’t be that shocking, except everyone keeps treating it like some big goddamned mystery. Why don’t they believe I could manage a job like this?
To clarify, things came together like this: Cynthia, our acting lead manager, sees me smoking a Marlboro outside the restaurant one afternoon about a month back, and bums a cigarette off me. She tells me how they lost the previous Oswald to graduate school, and that he dicked out—that’s what she says—on his last two shifts. When she brings me inside, tells me more about the gig, and hands me the Carcano, it’s like the first time my boyhood fingers curled around the shaft of my cock. Like they were made for each other.
But now that I’ve proven there is no conspiracy—some people like to say I had to know someone on the inside to get a job like this—let’s head back inside, to the here and now, where I’d like to keep the rifle focused on Jackie Kennedy’s crotch all day. Except the President’s wandering fingers don’t linger in her panties much longer; he finishes fingering her and then tugs the skirt back down over her thighs before launching himself upright and out of the backseat of the Continental. He lands on the stage as I’m lowering the rifle from my shoulder, his hands thrust out in front of him, navy blue dress coat stretched across his back.
This is where things start going sour for me.
Everyone in the dining room erupts in thunderous applause. A tableful of high school athletes wearing letter jackets with medallions that remind me of military formal wear even put down their cell phones and strike their hands together. The sharp snap of flesh on flesh, staggered across the room and echoing against the exterior walls, mirrors the effect some people use as evidence to support the multiple gunmen theory. But if they’d only look upstairs, at the balcony hovering above the VIP John Wilkes Booth booth where Billy Wagner is still eating his birthday cake, they would see it’s only me.
For the record, Assassin-Ate didn’t always render our actions insignificant by bringing men like Kennedy back from the grave. In fact, he didn’t start shaking off my 6.5 mm round nose bullet until just recently. Cynthia says that after 9/11, patrons at her restaurant found something comforting about witnessing the resurrection of a fallen leader. The day after the attacks, Kennedy spontaneously came back from the dead, surprising everyone—including my predecessor—when he improvised a little speech and then took Jackie’s hand and marched into the kitchen, blood still plastering his costume.
On their How Did We Do Tonight? cards, the guests wrote about how much they enjoyed bringing Jack back from the dead. They reveled in suspending their disbelief and imagining that, had they lingered in Dealey Plaza a little longer that day, maybe Kennedy would have come back to life if we had only given him the chance. The real conspiracy, we now like to think—or so says Cynthia—is that our lack of faith in miracles killed the President.
So Kennedy’s job security here, Cynthia now likes to joke, is better than his security detail was on that November afternoon in Dallas.
When I protest, saying it’s time to put things back the way they were, Cynthia nods at her little Never Forget banner (the one she found online, printed, and tacked behind her desk). I mean, how long do we have to mourn 9/11 before we can get our shit back together?
As the excitement of President Kennedy’s rejuvenation now begins to wane, he lowers his arms and jumps off the stage. He wades into the crowd, through the zigzagging tables amassed in the center of the dining room, and plucks a waffle fry from someone’s plate. Rubbing it through the ketchup gore plastered to his cheek, he pops it into his mouth and, still chewing, raises his hands again and asks for their silence, as the sight of the President ingesting his own brain matter sends them back into a frenzy. This time I notice that Billy Wagner is clapping, too.
When the applause subsides, the President leaps onto the platform, helps Jackie out of the backseat, and, draping an arm around his wife, says, Ladies and gentlemen, that concludes my part of tah-night’s performance. And as you consider the superior service you have received from our friendly staff this evening, I only request this: That you ask not what your ser-vah can do for you, but what, instead, you can do for your server. So before you all leave here tonight, take the extra effort and make yourself proud to say, ‘Ich bin ein good tipper!’ Gawd bless!
Everyone loves this part. They love it so much, in fact, that most of them leave without sticking around for the rest of the show. They leave without ordering dessert, and of course they leave before it’s my turn to die.
I’m sitting in Cynthia’s office filling out my direct deposit form when Abraham Lincoln knocks on the door and says he’s come in early to collect his paycheck. Cynthia’s office is a renovated storage closet in the corner of the kitchen. It shares its inside wall with the walk-in freezer, and the condensation peeling away the wallpaper and clouding the edges of the diploma frame—some online business college—is less obvious than the way the entire room seems to warble from the motor that keeps the French fries frozen and the chicken strips from becoming mush.
While she thumbs through the unclaimed envelopes, she introduces us using the generic Oswald-Lincoln, Lincoln-Oswald approach, and though he shakes my hand and says welcome aboard, it feels like a formality.
In the dining room outside, busboys dressed like Secret Service agents are clearing and then cleaning the dining room tables. Lincoln’s performance starts in two hours, and he’ll perform twice tonight because it’s Saturday and because Kennedy has a wedding to attend in another county. Cynthia likes to wait until the anxious, let’s-pay-and-get-out-of-herecrowd exits before killing me; she says that the people who have waited around for dessert deserve an uninterrupted performance, so we have a good half-hour to kill in the kitchen.
When they’re through resetting the tables, the Secret Service breaks down the Continental—it collapses into three parts—and carries the pieces to the actual storage room next to Cynthia’s office. Two busboys are left behind onstage to chip away the blood and brain matter and then hang a crimson- hued curtain that sort of makes the platform resemble Ford’s Theatre. My sniper’s nest is disassembled, converted into President Lincoln’s private box, and inspected by Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth (always separately) to make sure it’s to their liking. You’d be surprised by how possessive we become of these places, of our time clock identities.
Lincoln removes his stovepipe hat and places the paycheck inside. He says, Look, Cynthia, I’ve got kind of a big favor to ask.
Almost instinctively, I stop writing and pretend—by contorting my face—that I’ve forgotten my routing number, except this is the fourth direct deposit form I’ve had to fill out this year, and I’ve memorized the process. I tap the pen against my front teeth, stalling.
Lincoln continues, I couldn’t find my beard and eyebrows. Think I might’ve left them at my girlfriend’s place last night. Do you have an extra set lying around?
Cynthia slips the stack of envelopes into the top desk drawer and asks, Why didn’t you just leave them in your locker?
Don’t worry about it.
Does your girlfriend like when you bring home the beard?
I want to say, That’s very honest of you, Abe. But of course, I don’t.
She tells him no, actually, that the pair he lost was the spare, remember? That he destroyed the first pair during last year’s Christmas party when he refused to take them off and accidentally set them on fire. Lincoln looks sideways at me, probably wishing I’d leave.
He says, Keep that to yourself, Oswald.
I nod, thinking that Lincoln doesn’t sound like Lincoln the way Kennedy sounds like Kennedy. It pisses me off that they’ve both become this complacent—that their time in the spotlight (we don’t actually have a spotlight, but whatever) has made them so lackadaisical. Lincoln not viewing a missing beard as a legitimate dilemma infuriates me, and I feel the same way about how Kennedy doesn’t find post-mortem fingering of his wife inappropriate.
I want to tell this beardless, gangling fuck, You try hiding in the shadows like us and you won’t forget your goddamned beard in your girlfriend’s bedroom next time. I mean, what if I forgot my Carcano? I forget my gun, Kennedy lives. It’s a double standard.
Except they live anyway, all of them, and I’d like to remind Cynthia and Lincoln and Kennedy that they’ve made Assassin-Ate a place where we can’t assassinate. And that letting them do whatever the fuck they want—like achieving immortality, for Christ sake—means they’ll slack off in other ways, too. Because we assassins are no longer relevant in this new fantasy they’ve all concocted, and it’s not fair to the men whose heroics made this restaurant possible in the first place. If they’re not willing to take the bullet and keep it, to hell with them. I’ll do it. I mean, I already do. Nobody bothers to suggest they bring me back from the dead.
But I keep my mouth shut. I’ve only been here a month; they wouldn’t listen to a word I have to say. Besides, it’s not my place to piss off the guy who turns the Gettysburg Address into a way to advertise the weekend drink specials—Four score and seven beers ago, it starts—or confront America’s first Catholic president and say, Look, Jackie Boy, keep your liberal fingers out of your wife’s hot-pocket when I’ve just sent you into the afterlife. Show me some god-damned respect.
No. There’s a hierarchy here at Assassin-Ate. It’s even in the Employee Constitution. You just don’t take your grievances straight to the man who emancipated the slaves. It’s John Wilkes Booth or Sirhan Sirhan or James Earl Ray who should step forward if there’s a problem. They’ve been here longer, had more time to witness this injustice firsthand.
I should wait, yeah, and see how my colleagues handle acting subserviently. But as I methodically fill in the last digit of my routing number, I wonder if subservience would be an insult to the way we assassins are supposed to operate. Diplomacy, did it ever do anything for people like us? Aren’t we here to challenge the establishment? Act irrationally?
I hand the paper over to Cynthia. She gives it a once-over to make sure I haven’t forgotten anything; the corners of the paper are already shiny from her grease-stained fingertips. She sets it down on her desk calendar and says to Lincoln, Get creative, okay?
I say, You could put molasses on your face and then sprinkle Shake & Bake on your cheeks.
That’s actually a good one, Cynthia says.
Lincoln says, I’m not breading my face, Oswald.
She looks at her watch. Shrugs. Says, You’re running out of time. Better think of something. Then she sighs, looks at me, and says, Okay, Oswald, it’s probably about time we put a bullet in you.
There isn’t even any enthusiasm left in her tone.
In the kitchen, the Kennedys are huddled around a small black and white television watching a college football game while one of the cooks, dressed in a Zoot suit with no back, is wielding a western-style cap gun and lunging at an invisible enemy—me—who must, in his mind, be standing in the space between the flattop and stovetop grills. He hisses in broken English, You keahl my president, rat!
Cynthia whistles, pretends to slit her throat with the fingernail of her index finger, and says, Emilio, let’s not use that word in the kitchen, okay? We just got our license back.
Lo siento, Cynthia, he says, and sets the revolver on the flattop so he can clasp his hands together as though praying, begging her forgiveness, but only in jest. He’s already smiling.
She waves a dismissive hand and keeps walking. Says to Kennedy as we’re passing him, I thought you had a wedding tonight.
Dinner isn’t until six, he says, reaching across Jackie for one of the onion rings stacked high on a ceramic plate.
Cynthia says, Then why are filling your stomach with this shit?
He throws a thumb over his shoulder and says, Ask your Commander-in-Chef over there.
Emilio shrugs and starts chuckling. He says, Jack Kennedy, my special friend. And then he shoots me a glare.
Cynthia pushes through the swinging door and into the dining room. Except for a handful of families—including Billy Wagner and his moms (they look like they’re together, that’s all I’m trying to say)—the restaurant has emptied. Leaning back into the kitchen, she says, Emilio, get your ass into place, por favor.
He lifts the revolver off the flattop and switches it from hand to hand before opening one of his pockets and slipping it inside. He starts towards the exit at the back of the kitchen when Cynthia asks if I’m nervous at all about doing this.
I tell her, No, it’s pretty much second nature now.
She says, That’s pretty much what I thought.
She calls a pair of busboys over and tells them to escort me through the zigzagging tables towards the platform. If Ruby doesn’t come flying through the front door—the one leading outside to the Grassy Knoll summer seating—before we make it to the stage, they should turn me around and let Billy Wagner berate and harass me until he arrives.
Billy is working on his second slice of birthday cake and washing it down with a glass of our Chocolate Harvey Milk, which is actually just a glass of our Harvey Milk combined with Hershey’s chocolate syrup (a house secret). He sets his fork down and applauds when he sees my escorts, their hands loosely holding my forearms, leading me through the labyrinth and in his direction.
We reach the front of the dining room before Ruby makes it through the door. I glance up towards my sniper’s nest—since converted—and see Booth eating a salad, probably Caesar; he’s a superstitious man prone to routine. I’ve watched him eat one during every overlapping shift.
He raises his fork as if to say, Make me proud, and I think I get what he means by that.
The door opens behind me and Ruby steps inside. The Secret Service agents turn me around as he pulls the gun from the front pocket of his Zoot suit, lunges forward, and squeezes the trigger. The crack of the cap is followed by a puff of smoke and the scent of gunpowder that smells a little like burnt hair. When I don’t collapse into myself, Ruby, still clutching the gun, says, What you doing, man?
I say, Let’s talk about this, Ruby. You’re making a mistake.
I feel like I’m starting to become John Kennedy now.
Emilio’s mouth falls open and I can see him pressing his tongue against the back of his top row of teeth. He raises the revolver, steadies it with both hands—as if this even matters— and squeezes the trigger so that, rightly, I ought to be dead.
But when I just stand there, he cries, Cynthia! Cynthia! Emergencia!
I step forward, out of my escorts’ loose embrace, and yank the gun from his hand. He doesn’t fight me for it. I leap onto the platform and kick the curtain aside so that I’m the only thing onstage, the only thing worth watching. This is what I’ve been waiting for.
Ruby is standing at the edge of the platform, hands on his hips, staring at me in disbelief. Behind him, Cynthia and Lincoln and Jackie Kennedy and her husband—he just can’t give me this moment, can he?—are navigating the sea of tables towards the stage. Cynthia is telling the remaining guests that everything is fine and that they shouldn’t worry.
But when she makes it to the edge of the stage she clenches her teeth and says, Oswald, what the hell are you doing up there?
Ruby explains what happened.
Lincoln scoffs. Fucking amateur, he says.
I holler back, Grow a beard, Abe.
He opens his mouth to speak—his cheeks, I notice, glisten with something that resembles honey—but Cynthia raises her hand to silence him. She says to me, You better have a damn good explanation for being alive right now.
An old man with an oxygen mask is adjusting the controls on his tank. Nearer to me, Billy Wagner’s moms are so engaged in the debacle that they’re not even covering his ears, keeping him from hearing all the cursing. I say, Changed my mind about it, okay? And look how much fun the kid is having.
Cynthia looks over at Billy just as he’s blowing bubbles in his milk, not even watching anymore.
She says to me, You can’t just change your mind about something that has already happened.
I say, Why not? You bring Kennedy back from the dead.
That’s different. He at least dies first.
Sure, but if he comes back, I didn’t actually kill him, right? So why do I have to die? I’m innocent, Cynthia. Isn’t this America?
Kennedy is saying something to his wife and she’s nodding, grim-faced and serious. And then she takes off her sunglasses and I acknowledge that I’m through being Oswald. That I’m done with this life. It’s Jackie that I want. It’s his monologue. It’s everything that he has—including, I’ll admit it, the wage increase—that I’m after.
I say, I want to ride in the car with Jackie.
Jackie chortles. Dream on, she says.
Cynthia says, That’s just not possible.
Just one time, Cynthia, please. And then I put the barrel of the cap gun against my own temple for dramatic effect. This is all happening after I should be dead, and like Kennedy, I’m living on, a perpetual flame, refusing to go quietly. I’m ready for a promotion, is all.
Kennedy says, What a nutcase.
Through her teeth Cynthia hisses, Oswald, get your ass down here right now or you’re fired, capisce?
If I’m going to die, I say, I want to die diddling Jackie Kennedy.
What a fucking weirdo, Jackie says, her face twisting in the same way it did when she was holding the cantaloupe rind, and it becomes apparent that I’m nothing except a rotting piece of presidential skull to her.
Forget about it, Cynthia tells me. That’s not how it works.
I’m done explaining this to you, I tell Cynthia. I lower the cap gun and say, Let’s talk about this, Kennedy. Let’s make a deal. What’ll it take for me to be like you?
Kennedy says, Where did you find this dipshit, Cynthia?
Name-calling isn’t going to solve this, she says.
I look at Booth, still standing in the balcony. He’s wiping his face with a napkin, no doubt taken by my gumption. Probably wishing that he’d have thought of this a long time ago.
I say, Booth, you’re with me, right? Brothers in solidarity?
He says, No, man, I work alone.
And before I can reply—call him a traitor, maybe—something crashes into me. Based on the combined scents of cannabis and fryer grease, it must be Ruby. We’re toppling sideways, entangled like the Sirhan Sirhan Soft Pretzel Platter, when everything goes dark.
Ruby has thrown the curtain over me. I’m shouting, Stop! I’m a patsy! A patsy!
Lincoln says, Oh, now he reverts to the script.
Cynthia is shouting over him, No, Emilio, that’s enough! Enough!
Ruby releases his grip. I scramble free, throwing the curtain back in his direction. Say, You’re all together in this, aren’t you? Booth, Lincoln, Kennedy—you’re all against me.
Cynthia’s arms are crossed over her chest. She says, Last chance. Do what’s right.
I am doing what’s right.
Jackie shakes her head. She turns and walks into the kitchen with her husband. Lincoln follows closely behind.
Cynthia sighs and apologizes to Billy Wagner’s moms, explaining that they shouldn’t worry about the bill, that it’s all on us, and that they’ll chip in a gift card for the little tike, too, whose birthday, she tells me, is probably ruined.
When she’s finished she says, Come on, Ruby, I think we’re done here.
He says something to me in Spanish and trudges after her. The backless Zoot suit is flowing open behind him, like the side of a magic trick you’re not supposed to see.
They disappear through the swinging kitchen door, leaving me alone onstage. Booth is climbing down the ladder, and then he’s gone, too. It’s just me now, unrecognizable by myself, and from Billy Wagner’s table I can hear him whispering that he’s bored, that it’s time to go home and open presents. Because this part is different, he’s telling them, and not at all like the time his dad brought him here. He wanted to see more blood, he says. What happened to all the blood?
When you hear that your aunt has passed, cry. Then, enlist the help of an organizer and a maid. Bring these two wonders in a red Toyota to your aunt’s seaside abode. House them in the first floor parlor and make sure you sleep upstairs in the guest room facing the sea. Let them know that your aunt was a great woman.
(Did I tell you that Aunt Estelle had a loud laugh and petite feet? That she won the hearts of many with her sweet songs of love and loss and her donations to orphaned children?)
When you open the lady’s closets and drawers, clap. Know that her hats, gloves and shoes made her the adored Minnie Mouse of the fashion world. Devise a game plan, a strategy you learned as a boy. Admire her gloves and pack each pair in tissue. Note how they are crocodile-embossed, rabbit cuffed, fox sheared, and mink suede. Adore your aunt’s handbags. Touch the red leather, the distressed city sack, the shiny python tote and the snake clutch. Do not let on that you are horrified by her repeated animal and reptile killings.
(Did I tell you that Estelle never married? That her father, rich from his steel companies, moved his long hands over her small breasts— that she went off to boarding school at twelve and never came back?)
As you enter the downstairs hallway, stand tall and applaud the lady’s fifty pairs of boots. Know that her daily choices were driven by this burning question– How many ways can you do black? Try her buckle-suede shorties on your toes and peer into their tiger-print insides. Put your arms in her wildcat-lined knee highs. Stroke the ostrich feathers stitched into her dark mid-calf leather, thick-heeled boots. Be aware that the latter are the boots du jour in Manhattan.
Survey the L-shaped living room—the cherry bookcases and Queen Anne desk, the grand skylight and the potted palms. Flick on Ravel’s Bolero. Think of dancing with your aunt as a teenager with hands held high as she led you in a toe-touch turnaround. Barely 5’ 2,” Aunt Estelle had full dark hair, which she began dyeing at 35, a fleshy nose and supple arms. Her painted toes peeked out from her pearl-studded mesh booties. And you, at 5’ 11,” smiled down at her with a boyish mustache. Remember how the music, rich with flutes, clarinets and a bassoon, built to a long crescendo that made you giddy.
(Did I tell you that Aunt Estelle’s mother fell into the sea one winter’s day? Her shoes hit ice on the beach’s breakwater. Estelle never knew if her mother protested or if she slipped down in one motion, eager to die.)
As the music fades, begin to pack. Ask the organizer to line up the bubble wrap, tape and boxes. Remove the finial and shade from the brass lamp and recall the fine light it shed on a spring night. You stood by your aunt’s open window, as a young man of twenty, and heard her say “no” to the only lover who dared to propose. Numbness crept into his blue-gray eyes as he bent forward questioning her very being and then drove off enraged in his BMW.
You sat by your aunt, sharing a snifter of brandy, as she confided in you about her father’s mean caresses. She did not trust any man to respect her body and fortune. “And I don’t mean you,” she said. “You are my real family. The kindest person I know.” Reflect how her bold words freed you to share your own wounds. How you told her you felt lonely and disliked by your dad. From that day on, she asked you to love her belongings and to give them away only as her will directed.
Prepare to spend a fitful night missing your aunt. After the assistants go to bed, read her letters to editors about taste and culture. Thumb through the recipes she marked but never had time to make. Relish your renovations to her seaside home—the long windows, trellis and patio—and how she turned to you, the frustrated young architect, for advice. How she declared herself to be your first and best client. Consider her glee, years later, when you started a silly store called “Things,” named after The Museum of Things in York, England. Rejoice how she visited you that summer in Boston as lamps glowed on Charles Street and she stepped down into your crowded space with its blue bottles, red porcelain roosters, Scrabble letters and refurbished typewriters bought as toys for daughters’ sweet sixteen parties. Toast her pluck.
(Did I tell you that Aunt Estelle, who lost her cabaret voice and began reading Russian novels to the blind, asked me to sell her emeralds to raise money for orphaned boys, abused girls and crippled seniors?)
At breakfast, ask the organizer to pack each item safely and securely. Tell the maid to dust her books and to load them upright into boxes with open edges and bound ends alternating. Then crouch alone to fill in the small spaces with Estelle’s notebooks and doodles of peacocks and butterflies, with her bookmarks of embossed leather, of pressed purple asters and bright ribbons stitched with silver charms. Feel your throat constrict. Take a tall drink mid-afternoon, then smell the sea air that floats to your aunt’s wrought-iron balcony.
(Did I tell you that Aunt Estelle hated hearses? That she sold her Cadillac on a whim and gave her money to the gay men’s hotline? That she knew from middle school that I was a member of that church. That she sensed my shy self-doubt and spoke to my parents, permission granted, on my behalf. That she helped me enroll in a liberal school.)
As evening arrives, eat a quiet dinner on the porch. Give your helpers a night off. Feel honored that only you were summoned, from Europe, to your aunt’s bedside to hold her hand, read her poetry and celebrate her leopard and velvet scarves, gauzy wraps and lace shawls studded with gold. Envision her pale face, the skin pulled taut as she swallowed Demerol for pain and rested her cool, blue-veined hand in your warmer one and said without words, thank you for tending to the leavings of my life. Recall your desire to faint.
Nearing the end of your journey, review your checklists often and calm your busy mind. Put your feet on the ottoman and conjure up that Christmas in Manhattan a decade ago when Aunt Estelle steered you into a department store to buy the perfect gift for your now-gone lover. She pointed to a blue cashmere crew neck and offered to treat. Tickled, you accepted. As she paid, she forgot her manners. “For your new lover—he’s cultured, not cloistered like the boy before.” Your jaw shut. You hid your hurt by buying her a costly black cloche hat with a jeweled broach.
(Did I tell you that Aunt Estelle grew more anxious as she aged? That she wanted everything in order, every item to have a plan. That her Art Deco hatpins, displayed as striking bouquets in glass vases, had to be donated to the American Hatpin Society. That her Baldwin piano had to be shipped to The London School for the Blind and her classical sheet music sent to Julliard. That, growing weaker, she pointed from her daybed in the living room and commanded, “Tell the staff that you’re in charge when I’m gone.”)
Just when you are about to scream from work overload, put down your lined pad. Ask the movers from town to come right away to push boxes, trunks and suitcases out of the living room and down the path. Order up seven limousines to receive them. Listen to the working men grunt and sweat. Look subdued when they lift the final item into the air.
As you wave the last box and the last car into the narrow streets, let the organizer who knew Estelle cry in the kitchen and the maid drop on Estelle’s quilted bed to sleep. Leave them each a Godiva Chocolate Bliss basket as a token of your thanks. Open your arms and bow to the sea. Sit on the stone wall and drink your champagne. Understand that you will inherit significant money and will use it to start a foundation to honor your aunt. Know that you will appoint the board and design the new building. And, as your aunt dances above you in the night sky, pray that she approves.
There’s a Crack in Everything
He sits in a small room with diffuse white light. It is impossible to decipher where the light comes from. It is completely even. Flat. He marvels at this sometimes. It infuriates him. But there are cracks. Cracks in the cheap white paint on the concrete walls. And they produce small shadows. The shadows are a joy to him. He focuses on one small area and watches one shadow expand and then decline with the day. At the end of this journey, the hum of the magnetic ballast switches on and he collapses onto his hands and knees.
None of us were speaking, and for a rare moment we felt the preciousness of that space. We were so high up. One by one we would have to dive off, either elegantly or tentatively, scared of the landing. It was like standing at the top of AngelFalls; the distance below both great and unknown. We wondered if the landing would be too rough to come up for a breath of air.
Somehow right before leaping off into your life as a young man, you hear those great falls in South America that you have never seen. You make a swan dive with your chest, slowly, beautifully arcing. You put on a grand smile, hoping you will land with grace, and that the judges will score you high for both your degree of difficulty and your style. Ultimately, however, there is some fear that you may not land at all. Some go
head-first and some with their feet. Almost all close their eyes.
Shawn, my childhood friend, dove gracefully into a life that looked certain to be charmed. He seemed to understand early that his inheritance of looks and intelligence would offer him what he would need. What others would need from him. He was thus unprepared for the difficulty of the world—not the mundane parts which he seemed to bear well, but the rough sections, the scrapes. The loneliness and the brutality.
His initial ease in life did not entirely leave him, but by the time he left high school there was also a hushed but deep violence about him. It was never displayed physically, but in a slight skew of his smile. He was overly friendly at times. Sometimes his nerves manifested in fits of coughing, or near throwing up. Sometimes he would make a tight fist and gnaw on it with his teeth until he drew blood.
And now he could not forget her. His girlfriend had just died. It was the late summer. The heat in New York muffled his yelling. She died from an aneurysm. We all loved her. Her
name was Asha.
“She just fell over dead—collapsed. We were in a small argument. It’s driving me crazy now. I can’t remember what it was about. I want to remember. . .”
“We all loved her,” I reminded him, and myself.
“I have to spread her ashes. She once told me to spread them with the wind and sun at the top of the world.”
“What does that mean? When did she write a will? She never told me about it.”
I imagined Asha laughing. It was the only way I ever remembered her. She was raised in Geneva. Her dad was a diplomat of some kind. Her parents were drunks. Shawn loved European women—or at least the sound of that capitalized adjective. She was lovely, really lovely. She and Shawn were nice together, easy. Her folks did not approve of him. They did not approve of much. Shawn was charming—his eyes would nearly close when he smiled.
Asha would close her eyes slowly—as if she was conscious of controlling the speed her eyelids fell. Watching her, it was like being transported to a porch sipping something sweet and sour. A place where it was hot outside. Her eyelashes were so long that sometimes watching her read I would wonder if they did not look like little butterfly wings, if they would get caught in sunglasses.
When it rains in New York, people can’t see the direction the storm comes from. Shawn and Asha lived in the West Village. There was no view of the sky from any window in their apartment. The building was condemned. The landlords had been in court for years, and so the rent had been suspended. They never thought of saving in case they had to pay all of that back rent. They had bottles of full and empty red wine on the shelves in the painted kitchen as decoration. There were pictures in non-matching frames.
Asha had her cello in the corner of their main room. She kept it on a stand. It made it seem like there was always another person in the room. Like it was going to straighten up and start speaking. Shawn told me that she would play for hours and not notice him. When she would look up she could not remember who he was for a short time.They would take discounted tickets on Fridays and go to
the MOMA. They would revel in Monet’s full-sized lilies, sit for
They would see theatre and eat at Ethiopian restaurants that were too small. He would wonder about becoming an architect or an advertising man. He would play piano and write. He played like someone who had lots of childhood lessons, and a talent for it, but never cared to practice.
For a time that summer after Asha died, Shawn returned to Switzerland to look for something of her. He had her ashes; the will directed him to, “let her fly.” He did not know what this meant. Her parents were reluctant to give away all they had of their daughter. Her mother could no longer speak coherently. She could not stop drinking. She saw Asha’s green eyes all day. Asha had loved Geneva, or her memories of it. She was very young when she lived there. The only story she could remember was one where a distant relative, an old mountain guide, took her by her small hand on a hike in the foothills of the Alps. She remembered how windy it was. She remembered the wildflowers. She remembered his callouses.
Back in New York, he would look around the city for signs of Asha everywhere they had gone together. He went to places he thought she had gone by herself. His stomach always felt empty, his hands would shake a little bit, and if someone approached him his heart would race. He noticed that his fingers would move around looking for something in the sleeves of his jacket all day—looking for her hands. He could not figure out where to put her to rest. He thought of leaving her ashes in the middle of Central Park, in the Meadows. She had danced at concerts with friends there as a girl. Those days in New York he would stare at the stark skylines for hours and look for patterns. He stared at the angular buildings. He tried to find a view of the sky, trying to convince himself that he belonged in this world.
Shawn kept remembering how she looked when she slept. She would moan a little bit when he would gently slip in under the covers. She would move toward him even in sleep and grab for him. She mashed her teeth together softly every night. All her unconscious movements made him laugh quietly and kiss her on the side of the forehead and the cheek. He would move her a bit to hear her sigh.
I called Shawn that autumn for the first time in two years. He did not call me back. I pictured him as golden. His hair is blond—like a little boy’s hair before it inevitably darkens. I pictured him dirty, walking around the city after losing his connection to the world. Perhaps as a result of my call, Shawn decided to ride his motorcycle out to see me in Colorado for a break. He had read the book about motorcycle maintenance. He had studied Buddhism superficially. He loved the cliché of it. His motorcycle was too small. But the blackness of the bike gave him courage. He did not make it even fifteen blocks out of Manhattan before it broke down, quietly surrendered.
Then somewhat abruptly he bought a small two-wheel drive pickup truck from a Hispanic man in Queens. It brought him across the old Appalachians and through the flooded Midwest. It brought him through the fields of cereals and the high plains and the grasses. He had made tapes for the drive. Sometimes he could hear the music, and sometimes he kept the windows rolled far down to smell the cows and the grain and the dirt he had never seen, the heater on high. The pickup did not have a radio; he bought a boom box and placed it close to him on the torn vinyl seat. He smoked a cigarette every twenty minutes or so.
The smells of the great crops and slaughterhouses penetrated the pickup. My friend smelled the great odors with pleasure, feeling the earth continuing to revolve about the sun—as if it had stopped for a time. He felt in the high plains that the air was getting better, and he felt hungry for the first time in a month. He stopped on his drive when he saw a river that ran down the west side of the Continental Divide. He stopped because to him it seemed translucent. It seemed like moving flickers of light. It seemed an electronic manipulation, and not of the earth. He was naïve about what the earth can do. This small insight struck him especially hard.
That river rushed to the desert. It rushed through blocks of young ice. It was alive with trout. He thought it must be the same kind of creek that the young Siddhartha found to sit by. He sat by it and tried to listen to what the creek could tell him. It spoke its own tongue. It was not there to serve this young man’s needs. There were some yellow leaves in the creek, piled up on the sides in the areas where the fish rested. Sticks joined the leaves and together they swirled and bumped, but could not escape the pull of the eddy.
Shawn used to tell Asha that all people are alone ultimately, that at some level you cannot know exactly what another feels or thinks. Maybe you can know them for a very long time, but you are always alone in some way. Shawn, as he drove the windy roads, as clouds of blue smoke rose from his old truck, thought that maybe he was wrong. This bit of hope was not strong enough though. It just made him feel lonelier.
When he arrived in Colorado, he came up to me and we hugged. But when we looked at each other we did not remember how to act. We were then silent for a couple minutes. A wind rose from the southwest as it usually does, and we both put our hands in our pant pockets nearly simultaneously, and looked upwards towards the hills.
The first of December was Asha’s birthday. I had forgotten this. I woke up early to get a small fire started to warm the day. A couple of days before I had bought a cord of good-burning wood. There was still the leftover aspen from the year before. It was seasoned, but I did not like burning it. I told my friend to wake himself and warm by the black stove with the small ashen window. The flames were jumping high and starting to incite the smaller pieces to burn with them.
The last time I saw him was two months after he arrived, lying down in new snow. He was crying and cold. His tears did not all freeze because of their salt, but some formed soft icicles along the trail they had made from his cloudy eyes. He moved his arms up and down making a little angel, trying to show Asha how to fly.
Shawn did not make it through that winter undamaged. Somehow that trip across the country and the great spaces made him feel nervous all the time. They crept in on his sensibilities and the loneliness enveloped him. He left the valley and quietly checked into a quiet institution that quietly accepted him. He did not wake me before he left. I imagine him driving away with his hands shaking and the windows all the way down. I imagine him shivering and banging his fists on the fake leather of the steering wheel.
I am too scared to visit him at the center, and so I never do. I picture its landscaping and front door, and cannot seem to picture much more. I am too scared of its gravitational effect, what happens when you admit that the world is too much to bear. It must happen each day to thousands of people, maybe millions. It must happen every moment, some realization that your heart is shaking, or your hands are shaking or your head is shaking and won’t stop, that doing the next thing is simply impossible. This is what people lose in every season. They lose these things—the people, these certainties—that are so special as to be unfathomable. The depth of their emptiness
keeps them from believing in the things they once held to be true. They forget that death is part of life, like an exhale.
The deciduous trees are shuddering in a storm, the snow falling off in small drifts from the branches as they rush upwards, as if gasping. They bear the great honest color of green back to the valley. The people waking from their slumber. Everything bursting out of the clouds. It was as if our valley had realized all at once that it was alive. The waterfall in the valley where I live falls 400 feet to the rocks. It dives from an embankment. Or perhaps it is so surprised that the riverbed disappears, that it leaps. Once you have felt the wind those falls emit on hitting the rocks at their base, it does not leave you.
There are cracks in the trees and cracks in the clouds; cracks in everything. That’s how the light gets in.
Ode to a Surrogate’s Grace
Six weeks after my father’s military funeral, I called his only brother, my Uncle Bob, to tell him that life had come even further apart. My mother was in jail for driving drunk again without a license. There wasn’t much money for food, and my two younger sisters and I weren’t sure what to do with our little brother while we were in school. I cupped my seventeenyear- old hand around the phone’s mouthpiece and whispered for help.
He flew out the next day and went directly from the airport to the social worker’s office where he sorted through letters and forms in regard to our case. The Department of Children and Family Services had charged my mother with the neglect of minor children and was asked by the local State’s Attorney to represent the children’s interest. The social worker wasn’t sure what the court would do, though it didn’t look good, she told my uncle. He stood up and said he needed to make a phone call to his wife to discuss the situation with her.
Bring them home, she answered.
That spring my two adolescent sisters and five-year-old brother and I met Aunt Val at the Newark Airport. We barely knew her; we weren’t even related by blood. Though I felt shy, I also felt grateful. From the moment I saw her I appreciated that someone on this earth had noticed us, had actually stood up, raised her hand and said I will take care of these children. They can count on me.
She stood at the gate full of smiles and an aura of excited energy. Everything about her was perfect: her short styled blond hair, her white crisp blouse, her beautiful lean body. The moment she saw us, her arms angled wide like she wanted to lock them around all four of us. Her two daughters, ages six and eight, peered out shyly from behind her like baby chicks. I couldn’t imagine the permanent inclusion of them in my life just yet, nor could I fathom the bigger story we made: families change shape because of war.
To say it was instant comfort is to deny what we had left behind, or to suggest that we would ever leave our pasts out of the picture. My siblings and I carried with us the guilt of leaving our mother as if we were the ones who abandoned her, and the grief of losing a father. Already a divided loyalty hung in the air—how would or should we act with a replacement mother and father? Twenty-nine year old Aunt Val had to leave the contours of young motherhood, a predictable life on a quiet suburban street and the hope of having more of her own babies. My cousins had to give up their bedrooms and relinquish the full attention of their parents. With that tucked deep within us, we gathered our bags, and like a line of chicks following that mother hen, we headed off to the parked car.
It’s the chatter I remember from that first day: the questions, half-starts with partial answers, the giggles and the constant interruption of six nervous children. Then came the quiet in between that arrived when I wasn’t sure whether to turn around and run back, or to follow this beautiful woman I barely knew. Halfway through the airport Aunt Val decided we needed bathing suits for the upcoming weekend at the beach. That wonderful anticipation of water and fun focused our thoughts on one goal as we walked down the long corridors, still hearing the noise of takeoffs and landings.
We stopped at Sears and Roebuck, and in an odd way, that store with its florescent lights and racks of clothes, became the bridge from one world to another. The shopping for size and color and what do you think of this one and how much does it cost was the first page of our new family’s album. Back in the car, bathing suits in bag, we talked about dinner, who would sleep where, and what time Uncle Bob was expected home from work. We scrunched into the car with my brother on my lap, my cousins in the front seat, and my sisters leaning into each other in the backseat. Aunt Val rolled down the window and paid the tolls on the turnpike.
The specific memory of pulling into the driveway and then bringing our suitcases into a small quaint house has faded. Though I recall still the ache of leaving my mother behind surfacing as we got out of the car and walked the curved brick path to the back door. Then my eyes made a quick calculation of my aunt’s efficiency as I began the transition to a new life. I saw the place configured with pachysandra along the patio, a swing set in the backyard, and Snowflake the cat sunning herself in the grass. I felt the edges of two worlds colliding when I walked into the clean kitchen and saw only four chairs around the table. My eager cousins took me by the hand and led me into the living room, pausing at the window to look into the backyard.
“Does everyone like lasagna?” my aunt called from the kitchen.
If memory has a season, then that summer was one of water and smells. We went every day to the manmade San Jacinto beach, a small lake within walking distance where the fresh smells of suntan lotion and French fries covered over any sadness I felt otherwise. The summer aromas blurred the edge of loss and in spite of my grief, I relaxed for the first time in many years. On weekends we sometimes drove to the New Jersey shore with all six children taking various positions in the car to make it possible. We sensed the suggestion of family fun as we rolled down the windows to let in the smell of salty sea air.
Other weekends we headed north to the Catskill Mountains where we camped alongside Hemlock Lake in my father’s old musty army tents under sweet smelling pines and hemlocks. The recollection of another family in another time filtered through the pores of canvas like the raindrops did whenever anyone touched the sides. Instantly, I could smell my mother’s Chanel No. 5 as I thought of her unfolding our army sleeping bags outside Avignon, France, or on a long, sandy beach in Barcelona when we had been stationed in Germany.
But each time these memories surfaced, the smell of wet clothes from six children or my aunt’s kielbasa on the grill brought me back to the present of my life. My parents were no longer part of the picture—the details of living got in the way. Where did you pack the paper towels? Could you please find some more kindling for the fire? Who wants to go fishing? Who did the dishes last?
Back on Dale Avenue, the smell of refinished furniture filled the driveway while Aunt Val stripped and polished old pieces she’d found at household sales. Already, she anticipated how much furniture we’d need for the house she and Uncle Bob were having built to accommodate our new family. I could see her out the kitchen window as I did dishes. She bent over a table and rubbed off the varnish, trying her best to sand down the stains of a previous life. Afterwards she’d stand back to see if she’d gotten out all the crinkles. She wore rubber gloves and used steel wool and Zip-Strip and tung oil and walnut stain and anything else that would do the trick. In between, she calculated how big a pan she’d need to scramble enough eggs for a family of eight, what size salad bowl she should get, how many leaves would the dining room table require? How many new laundry baskets should she buy?
All of us, it seemed, were on our best behavior, committed to becoming a family—though I never talked to my sisters or cousins about this. Instead, I let the repetitive rhythm of our days become the thread that bound us: the dishes in the sink, the dishes dried and put away; the laundry carried down to the basement, the laundry carried upstairs; the groceries brought in, the garbage taken out. The sun came up every morning regardless of how we felt or how many lives the war continued to end. Though the television news was on, we didn’t connect our daily lives to the bigger picture of war. Where we lived, it was quiet. No one talked about my father’s black body bag or the late night sorrows of loss. While a brute wind of history blew around us, my cousins and siblings and I weeded the garden, folded towels, and filled an entire pew at church.
Sunday morning we piled into an old Ford station wagon and waited for Aunt Val. Eventually she came flying out the door looking like a model headed for New York, and each time I wished I could look like her with her shoes matching her purse, her make-up and hair perfectly done. “We’re going to be late, Chicken,” Uncle Bob said like a broken record. She never seemed bothered by that and she never did apologize. When we finally walked down the church aisle, heads turned to watch my beautiful aunt followed by a line of six children.
She had become a devoted Presbyterian after converting from her Russian Orthodox background when she married my uncle, much to her mother’s dismay. She grew up first in Brooklyn, and then New Jersey, in a life filled with saints, icons, and priests in black robes and dangling crosses. She knew about bulb shaped church domes and ornate statues of Saint Mary. She knew about martyrs. Once she told me she had always hoped to be a martyr, someone who merited grace. In a rare moment of disclosure, she said she hoped she could be one by taking us in, but what had happened, she continued, was that she had received far more than she gave. She hoped if we remembered nothing else someday, that we would always know that. You should never feel like a burden because I can’t imagine life without you.
But I did feel like a burden when she gathered all the loose things we’d left around the house and placed them on top of the dining room table in a big pile—the likes of stuffed animals and school notebooks and backpacks and sneakers from six children. She hung a sign from the chandelier that said there would be no dinner without any cleaning, signed The Black Hand. Out came the vacuum cleaner, dust mop, and dish rag. I assigned tasks to the little ones who never seemed to understand the importance of dinner.
I felt caught between the role of daughter and niece—I could never be my aunt’s daughter, and though I missed my mother terribly, part of me longed to be. We were only twelve years apart, could have been sisters, really. I didn’t want to explain to my friends why the woman who answered the door was too young to be my mother, or that she was my aunt only by the fate of marriage. I didn’t want to tell anyone why I’d come to New Jersey in the first place, how my father had been killed in a war none of us spoke about, or why I wasn’t with my real mother. The right words escaped me.
Some hot afternoons when I wasn’t swimming at San Jacinto, I’d go into my aunt and uncle’s air-conditioned bedroom and sit at her make-up table to sort through her crèmes and lipsticks. Unlike my mother, who carried her make-up in a vinyl purse, my aunt had drawers filled with these items I thought of as playthings. A curling iron, hot rollers, mounds of costume jewelry, and many colors of eye shadow made me feel like a child in a playroom, like a girl figuring out what it means to be a woman.
Other afternoons she invited me to watch soap operas as we folded laundry and matched socks on the living room carpet. As shallow as the stories were, I loved these moments. I felt part sister, part daughter as we sat there on our knees with summer breezes coming in the window. Together we got lost in the details of other people’s lives in As the World Turns and forgot that we were part of a story ourselves, a narrative not recorded on the news, an intangible tale of war.
Surely, like the soap operas suggested, mysteries abounded in that house on Dale Avenue. Most were as silent as my father’s army uniforms in the attic. I could not feel my cousins’ disorientations or their own private adjustments to change. I could not grasp the manic laughs delighting one moment over their permanent playmates, and the next moment their tears over the forced sharing of toys and space. I could not know that the muffled voices from my aunt and uncle’s bedroom were voices as insecure as mine. I could not yet see the selfsacrifice of my aunt. I was too busy pushing back my own dark spaces.
I suspected that she was angry with my father who abandoned his children for war. Angry with my mother for her failures. Though I don’t remember her ever saying that out loud, I saw her eyes roll when my father’s name was mentioned as if to say The hero couldn’t even take care of his family. Look what he did.
The situation worsened by the sometimes daily phone calls from her mother who asked my aunt why she needed to take care of four children not your own. I only heard snippets of these phone conversations, but I could see the impact they had on my aunt as she sat on the verge of tears at the kitchen table. And your girls, her mother continued, what’s to become of them with all those people in your house?
If these conversations made my aunt question her decision, she never let on. Decades later when I asked her about her mother’s displeasure, she said it was probably because her mother, as a child, had lived with DP’s in her house for years after the war.
DP’s? I asked.
Oh, you know—displaced persons from war.
Even as the history of war repeated itself, maybe what my aunt found in taking care of four children not her own was her salvation. St. Augustine wrote in the first century to counteract the belief that only the cult of martyrs merited grace, that the same freely given love that blazed out of these church martyrs still worked in the unspectacular, but no less ordinary. He wanted to draw upon this sense to fill the lives of humble, workaday Christians. God is not pleased only with the spurting of blood,he wrote. He has many martyrs in secret. Maybe in that way grace is a kind of vocation, some individual virtue of moral strength seemingly not thought about much in this century. Maybe we were my aunt’s transcendence. It was as if in the bigger family she could lose herself in the service of propriety, perhaps much like my father had done in the military or her grandparents had done after World War II.
What enabled her to do what she felt called to do was based on paradox: surrender so that you can be free. My aunt yielded herself for the sake of family, to outdo war and its sorrows—to give grace to my father giving up his own life so others could live. To embrace my mother’s children. Thus, my aunt allowed a kind of charity to live among us like a responsive tenderness, and an urgent mercy circling the narrative of our lives. No prizes. No explanation. No other solutions.
A memory: It is the end of August, evening, and soon it will be time to come in for a late dinner Aunt Val is preparing. I have lived in this house for over two months now. I sit alone on the backyard swing by a clump of maple trees that mark the end of the property. The cat sleeps curled near the holly bush by the driveway, and the sprinkler waters the sweet smelling grass along the patio. My toes point up to the sky every time the swing moves forward in the air, and then I fold my legs backward to pump myself forward. The swing and I rise higher with each back and forth movement. Though the land no longer looks like another country, I have not erased the lines between one life and the other. The sky turns its summer shade of pink with streaks of lavender. The daylight fades into dusk. Someone turns on the lights in the dining room, though I don’t go in just yet. I keep my legs pumping, backwards and then forward. In the mercy of the warm summer air, the cicadas begin their evening song.
TEXT & IMAGE
Marguerite had just gotten her hair cut. The hairdresser had done something with her bangs—tousled them with gel, I think.
It was May, 1988: our lives knitted together only four months earlier. We were sitting in an Au Bon Pain café in Harvard Square and I liked her tousled bangs, so I took a picture. She was staring at her tea and pastry, probably thinking about her haircut and her new striped jeans, which you can’t see in the frame. It was a glance inside a lull—maybe I’d just been looking out the window, or fiddling with my camera. We’d been talking about going to Wales for the summer and how hard it was for me to learn Welsh. Especially since I didn’t go to class very often.
But the lens remembered the moment differently. It looked into the future, to 2013, and captured Marguerite mourning our youth. Or intuiting that I’d never really master Welsh, despite finally buckling down to it, no matter how hard I tried. Or that almost ten years after I snapped the shutter we’d adopt a puppy we’d love with our whole hearts, and watch grow and live and wag and die, over fifteen too-short years.
I had no idea of all that came and went in Marguerite’s glance when I saw the prints a week later—back then you had to wait for processing, especially black and white—but I’d learn. And the photo would lodge in my memory, my personal Mona Lisa, until twenty-eight years later when I blew dust off the negative and took time swimming.
Because these images hold more than Marguerite. You’re also seeing the Mill River as it runs through Haydenville, near Northampton, Massachusetts: its flow, its rocks, its reflections of a cloudy, late afternoon sky in July, 2006. Marguerite and her bangs—and that bead and seed necklace that either broke or was lost—are effectively fossilized here, printed directly onto a rock about the size of a coconut that I’d dug out of the river a few weeks earlier, and photographed under two feet or so of rushing water. We say time flows like a river. Not a day passes without someone saying that, somewhere. So on this day in July, in a pair of old Wellingtons I bought during that summer in Wales, I put a different, earlier day, spent at a café in Harvard Square, into the river and let time rush over it.
As I set the rock back into the spot where I’d originally found it, part of my mind escaped and watched me from the bank. I looked ridiculous: what was that woman doing in the middle of the Mill River, staring at the bottom? Dark overtones of Ophelia and Virginia Woolf crept into the scene. But the part of my awareness that stayed with me, there in the river, raised goosebumps the size of anthills on my arms. Photo emulsion is delicate stuff. The emulsion I’d painted on the river rock wouldn’t last long. How many days would Marguerite have before the erosive, wet flow of time would erase her entirely? It was a disquieting thought.
I should say that the living, breathing, three-dimensional Marguerite was none too happy about this experiment. When I got home—I left her rock and a handful of others in the river—she was glad I hadn’t drowned but admitted to being
deeply creeped out by the whole idea.
“You know I have a thing about drowning,” she reminded
I did, but had forgotten in the onrush of the experiment. Maybe I should’ve chosen a different picture.
I went back to the river the next day. I made myself wait until afternoon, but I was preoccupied throughout the morning, thinking about my rocks. As soon as I got there I pulled on my boots and waded in, water sloshing over the tops. Marguerite’s rock had shifted position but was otherwise unchanged. I took a photo—the first one pictured here—and later was amazed to see that a trick of the light, or of the river, made it seem as if her mouth was open and she was breathing underwater. I had the impression that she wouldn’t go without a fight. The just-passed-girl of 1988 would learn to breathe water before time could wash her away. Memory trumped erosion.
By the following day, though, decay had crept in. I snapped the second photo in the sequence. The rock had righted itself on the riverbed but water was infiltrating the emulsion, and it was beginning to bubble up. I was glad Marguerite was at home with the dog and not here with me, seeing the first signs of her disintegration. By now time, water, and photographic science had conspired to make it appear she was crying. I was excited by the evolution, but a small part of me was beginning to understand how Dr. Frankenstein felt. Why had I ever gone down this road?
That’s a fair question. I’d written a book called The Slow Breath of Stone: A Romanesque Love Story in 2005, whichused photographs to trace the 1920s love story of a pair ofarchaeologists, Lucy and Kingsley Porter, and my own loveof Romanesque sculpture. As I was writing I came to think ofstone carving as the art of standing still, and photography asthe art of motion. After the book was published I couldn’t letgo of the contrast. I kept wondering what would happen if youcould unite the two—juxtapose the “snapshot moment” withthe near-eternity of geological time. You’d get some prettycool metaphorical friction there: mortality thwacking againstalmost-immortality, casting human perception into deep-time perspective.
So I started asking anyone who might know, “Can you print a photograph on a stone?” Very few people had any idea. It took me about a year to find the answer.
It turns out you can, with a product called Liquid Light Tears may be shed, but you can do it. When natives of northeastern Siberia saw a view camera for the first time, they called it “a three-legged device that draws a man’s shadow to stone.” They said it was magic. I called it photography, but the thrill—and the result—was the same.
Imagine the scene in the darkroom when I printed my first rock: the amber glow, the not-strictly-unpleasant, fresh-urine scent of stop bath, a drenched rock sitting in a tray of developing solution, its surface a mystery of grey shapes. And me, pleading with the gods of photography, pouring beakerfuls of developer over the rock again and again with a shaky hand. Nothing. More nothing. Then quickly, an image suspended between imagination and vision; is it there or isn’t it? My breath caught—it is! Unmistakably now, the miniature topography of a face begins to emerge, its features vivid ochre, fanned in brown shades that recede to deep black. I can’t shake the feeling that I’ve just watched a fossil float to the rock’s surface
from the ancient seas inside. I pour fix solution overtop and take it outside into the daylight. My heart sinks. The portrait that had been so sharp in the darkroom—I’d even been able to pick out strands of hair, like fine rake-marks, against the dark mass of the head—sinks back into the rock’s grains and crevices in daylight. I can still see the face, but it’s more of a hybrid now: animate and opposite, human and rock.
While I liked that balance between a chunk of planet and the slight stain of humanity on top of it, I later decided to coat the river rocks with white primer before I printed Marguerite’s image on them. I wanted her to be fully present, the way she blazed Mona Lisa-like in my memory, before she weathered into absence, before she became rock, like the ammonite fossil here on my desk.
final. The next time I went back to the river Marguerite’s rock had shifted again, and there was much more wear. Her eye had ripped away and there were small tears everywhere in the emulsion. I felt as if I were witnessing a future I shouldn’t be privy to. My goosebumps came rushing back in a big way.
On my final visit to the river, on the fourth day, Marguerite’s rock was gone. All but a few of the printed rocks had disappeared. This was a form of weathering I hadn’t counted on—pilfering.
I’d been robbed of the end of Marguerite’s story, and stood with the river rushing over my Wellies (which felt quite nice, actually, like being stroked), looking angrily for someone to blame. As if on cue a woman approached—walking serenely along in the middle of the river, wearing a bathing suit—asking if I were the one who’d put the faces on the rocks. I told her I was. “Did you take them?” I hoped I didn’t sound sharp, but I probably did.
“Oh, no,” she said. “But we found some. My daughter wants to have a word with you.”
She led me to the bank where a little girl in a two-piece bathing suit was launching a flotilla of leaves. She must’ve been about four or five—no more. I thought she was going to ask a question, but instead she made a statement.
“Today the rocks have faces.”
“I know,” I said.
“I always thought the river was a magic place. Now I know it is.”
That did the trick. I wasn’t upset about the rocks anymore—or the petrographs, as I call them. My name is Pamela Petro, and “petro” means rock in Greek. My dad, who gave me the name, was a mineralogist. And my brother’s name is Craig Petro, which means Rock Rock. There’s got to be some magic in that, too.
When I got my pictures back two days later—even though I was still using film, developing times had improved—I was mesmerized by the last photograph I’d taken on the third day.
The rock had shifted horizontally once again, just before I’d released the shutter at the end of dusk. Fading reflections of the cloud-streaked sky seemed to have been poured over
Marguerite’s rock, which in turn, in its horizontal position and with an opportune, circular tear, looked as if it had turned into a fish, fins and all.
So there was an end to the story after all: Marguerite’s petrograph became a fish and swam away. Why not? We’ll all be transformed into something else some day. And that’s magic, too.
Authors Bios & Q/A
In addition to providing a biography, our contributors answered the following:
1. Aliens are in the backyard! How do you react?
2. If there was a literary character you could kill off, who would it be?
3. If you were a sandwich, what would you have on you?
4. What is the most painful thing you’ve ever had to read?
5. What is your least favorite or favorite pieces of clothing?
6. What is the best thing you can buy for $1?
7. What author should every serious writer read?
8. What would your pen name be?
We hope that you enjoy their answers as much as we did.
AARON ANSTETT’S fourth collection, Insofar as Heretofore, will be published in
2014. His poems recently appeared or are forthcoming in Another Chicago Magazine,
The Laurel Review, and [PANK]. He lives in Colorado with his wife, Lesley, and
1. Ask if they’re hungry.
2. The boy in The Giving Tree.
3. Horseradish and onions.
4. A draft grant proposal whose author accepted every grammar suggestion
proposed by Microsoft Word.
5. My black-and-white skeleton socks.
6. A bargain-bin book.
7. Bill Knott and/or Marcel Proust.
8. Increase Riddle.
CATHY BARBER lives in San Mateo, CA, where she serves on the advisory council
of California Poets in the Schools. She has an MFA from Vermont College of Fine
Arts. Her work is forthcoming in Literary Mama, Slant, and San Diego Poetry Annual.
In addition to poetry she writes a humor blog: Is It JustMe.
1. Run! I picture an alien landing much like Europeans landing in North
America—they bring lots and lots of diseases the locals have no immunity
to. Think smallpox.
2. I don’t want to kill anybody off. Even Moriarty made for great fun.
3. Avocado and cheddar cheese.
4. I couldn’t take the Orphan Master’s Son. Things just kept going from
bad to worse to even worse. Loved The Fixer, though, so go figure.
5. Anything with wool is both my favorite and least favorite. Wool looks
great, all those great weaves, but I can’t wear it.
6. I recently found not one but two used copies of poetry books by Baron
Wormser at Green Apple books for .92 cents each.
7. Edith Wharton.
8. Catharine Parker.
MORGAN BAZILIAN is a poet and short story writer. His poems appear in Exercise
Bowler, Pacific Poetry, Angle Poetry, Dead Flowers, Poetry Quarterly, and The Innisfree
Poetry Journal. His stories have been published: in Eclectica, South Loop
Review, Embodied Effigies, Shadowbox, SLAB, and Glasschord. He enjoys scuba
diving and walks in the rain.
ANEMONE BEAULIER’S poetry has appeared or is forthcoming on Poetry Daily, and
in The Southern Review, Cimarron Review, Main Street Rag, Poet Lore, and elsewhere.
She lives in Alabama with her husband and two daughters and writes about
motherhood on the blog Bloom, Baby.
1. Bake them a pie; hide a kitchen knife under my frilly apron.
2. Most literary characters who deserve “death” get it, so I save my homicidal
fantasies for the living. If I could save a character, it would be Kate
Chopin’s Edna Pontellier.
3. I regularly sport peanut butter and jelly, since my tot uses me as a
napkin after lunch—so probably a dollop of creamy and a spoonful of
4. Instructions for assembling a crib. Hormones could not be blamed for
5. Favorite: a good bra lifts even the spirit.
6. Chocolate. Any sliver of chocolate.
7. Christian Wiman’s Ambition and Survival: Becoming a Poet.
8. It’s impossible to top “Anemone Beaulier.” Thanks, Mom, Dad, and
DOUG BOLLING’S poetry has appeared widely in literary reviews including Georgetown
Review, Slant, Tribeca Poetry Review, Connecticut River Review, Storm Cellar,
Wallace Stevens Journal and Basalt, among others. Most recently online in The
Missing Slate with Poet of the Month and interview. He has been nominated five
times for the Pushcart Prize.
1. Hey—do help us out of this mess!
3. Peanut butter & jelly.
4. My best friend’s obituary.
5. It’s a secret, really.
6. A solar rock.
7. Tim O’Brien.
8. Mark Train.
KEVIN BROWN is a Professor at Lee University. He has published two books of
poetry—A Lexicon of Lost Words and Exit Lines—and two chapbooks: Abecedarium
and Holy Days: Poems. He received his MFA from Murray State University.
1. Just like Billy Pilgrim: go out to greet them, knowing what will happen.
2. I would say Moby-Dick, but we see how that turned out for the Pequod.
3. Anchovies. Very few people would want to eat me.
4. High school poetry (I may or may not have written some of it).
5. Bookstore T-shirts.
6. A used paperback.
7. Herman Melville (seriously).
8. I don’t know what it should be, but when I was in college, I wanted to
be William Ichabod Coleridge. I’m glad I was not.
CLARA BUSH is an undergraduate at Texas Tech University. She studies Environment
and the Humanities and minors in English and Chemistry.
1. Depends. Are they crashing a birthday party or destroying the world?
I’d grab a video camera and record them.
2. Harry Potter. Love the series, but he’s such an annoying character.
3. Salami and pepper jack cheese.
4. A bad love poem.
5. Moccasins I bought at a garage sale for a couple bucks. I wore them
for about three years until they started falling apart.
7. Pattiann Rogers.
8. Clara Jane.
KEVIN CALLAWAY is a graduate of Belmont University and winner of the 2013
Treadway Creative Writing Award. He lives in Milan, Italy where he works as a high
school English language teacher and private tutor. He enjoys tea, chocolate, beer,
and coffee. This is his first published work.
1. “Hi? Can I offer you some tea or coffee?”
2. Zarathustra, from Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche.
3. Chunky peanut butter and homemade raspberry jelly.
4. Rebecca, by Daphne Du Maurier.
5. Least favorite: pants. Most favorite: sweatshirts.
6. Those slappy wristband bookmark things from bookfairs.
8. Brian Arnold—crime novelist and amateur botanist.
MARCY CAMPBELL’S recent work can be found in The Rumpus, The McSweeney’s
Internet Tendency, The Millions, The Writer, and The Awl. Her flash fiction has been
nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She’s currently working on a novel and blogging as
The Closet Creative: www.marcycampbell.blogspot.com.
1. I’d hide in a location where I could watch them and take notes, for
future writing inspiration.
2. The grandmother from O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find,”
though The Misfit beat me to it.
3. Crunchy peanut butter and honey (just like me, a little sweet and a little nutty).
4. The letters to the editor in my local paper.
5. I like my oversized nubby grey cardigan. Perfect for writing in my chilly
6. Silence, in the form of two .50 cent gumballs for my kids.
7. Lorrie Moore.
8. Cranky McSassBack.
LAURA CARTER lives in Atlanta, Georgia, where she also teaches. Recent work has
appeared in Hambone and Whiskey Island, and her fourth chapbook, Chaos Provisions,
is forthcoming (Dancing Girl, 2014).
1. Run and hide somewhere; or else, think to ask them to read me a
poem in their language.
3. Vegan (rice) cheese and possibly some glitter.
4. Lord of the Flies.
5. Least favorite: scarf. I dislike cold weather, but I’m getting used to
winter (it’s January now).
6. Target on-offs in the front of the store, on the aisle with the $3 goods
7. Oh wow. No answer to this one.
8. Something with “Lulu.”
SUSANA H. CASE, Professor at NYIT, is the author of: Salem in Séance
(WordTech), Elvis Presley’s Hips & Mick Jagger’s Lips and Earth and Below
(Anaphora), and 4 Rms w Vu (Mayapple, forthcoming 2014). Please visit her online
1. I grab my camera, and lock up my dog, just in case.
2. At this point in my life, I no longer want to kill off anyone, not even in a book.
3. Mustard, or hot sauce.
4. Anything in legalese
5. Favorite=leather jackets, black, any style
6. You can’t buy anything in New York City for $1, not even a soda.
7. All of them.
8. Susana Casanova, a variant of my grandfather’s surname.
LISA M. COLE has written six chapbooks, Living in a Lonely House (Dancing Girl,
forthcoming), Tinder//Heart and The Bodyscape (Dancing Girl, 2012 and 2013),
Renegade//Heart (Blood Pudding, 2013), Negotiating With Objects (Sundress,
2013), and Ghosts (The University of Arizona Poetry Center, 2008).
1. I would say hello and ask them who their favorite poets were.
2. I would kill Robinson Crusoe. Then, I never would have had to read his
silly, stupid story in college.
3. I would have peanut butter and jelly on me.
4. See question 2.
5. My favorite piece of clothing is my John Lennon shirt.
6. A cup of coffee from McDonald’s, or Super Hit incense from the dollar
7. Emily Dickinson.
8. Elisabeth Maxwell.
DEBKA COLSON has published fiction and poetry in North American Review,
Roar, Sol: English Writing in Mexico, Poetry Cram 11, Construction, NEWN, and in
Open to Interpretation: Fading Light, an international juried book competition. She
received her MFA from Lesley University and was the 2013 Ivan Gold Fellow at the
Writers’ Room of Boston. She is currently working on a hybrid memoir and a novel.
1. I would invite them in for a glass of wine. (After all, some of my best
friends and lovers have been resident or nonresident aliens).
2. All zombies and vampires.
3. I prefer my sandwiches naked.
4. Painful? I was once asked to critique a story that ended with a lengthy
soliloquy, loss of limbs and eternal damnation—all in the final paragraph.
5. Least favorite: winter boots and wool socks. Most favorite: flip-flops.
6. I could buy 6 Tibetan momos or a plate of dal bhat and tarkari in Kathmandu,
Nepal for the equivalent (in Nepali rupees) of $1.
7. Pablo Medina (my favorite book: Cubop City Blues).
8. In the tradition of morphing pet names and old street addresses into a
pen name: Greta Scenecliff.
JOAN CONNOR, a professor at Ohio University Among many honors she has
received a Pushcart Prize, the Ohio Writer award in fiction and nonfiction, the AWP
award for her story collection, History Lessons, and the River Teeth Award for her
essay collection, The World Before Mirrors. Her most recent collection, How to
Stop Loving Someone (2011) won the Leapfrog Press Award for Adult Fiction.
1. I do not react. I do not believe in aliens.
2. Daisy in Gatsby.
3. I would not choose to be a sandwich. Maybe a cheese omelet.
4. The Old Man and the Sea.
5. Do headbands count? They hurt. I like my nightdress.
6. Anything at the Dollar Store.
7. Nabokov. (Can you tell that I hate filling this out?)
8. Siobhan, my name in Gaelic.
LIZ DOLAN’S manuscript, A Secret of Long Life, nominated for the Robert McGovern
Prize, will be published by Cave Moon Press in 2014. Her first poetry collection,
They Abide, was published by March Street. A six-time Pushcart nominee and
winner of The Best of the Web, she has also won an established artist fellowship in
poetry and two honorable mentions in prose from the Delaware Division of the Arts.
1. I hope they’re here to rake the leaves.
2. King Creon for his cruelty to Antigone.
3. Roast beef and Dijon.
6. A fine point pen.
7. Cormac McCarthy, Coetzee.
8. Justin Time—I started late
BRIAN FANELLI is the author of the poetry chapbook Front Man (Big Table) and
the full-length collection All That Remains (Unbound Content). His poetry has been
nominated for a Pushcart Prize and the Tillie Olsen Creative Writing Award and
published by The L.A. Times, Portland Review, Spillway, Oklahoma Review, World
Literature Today, and elsewhere. He teaches English full-time at Lackawanna College
in Scranton, PA. Find him online at www.brianfanelli.com
1. I would invite the aliens into my home for some tea and then ask if they
could share with me the answers to the mysteries of the universe.
2. Sometimes when I re-read Flannery O’Connor’s short story “A Good Man
Is Hard to Find,” I wish the grandmother died earlier because she’s so annoying.
3. If I were a sandwich, I would have roasted veggies on me because I’m
a vegetarian. No meat!
4. Reading the elegies about my father from my two poetry books can be
painful because they cause me to revisit the heavy loss.
5. I enjoy my sweaters the most. Northeastern, Pennsylvania winters can
be long and cold.
6. Gummy bears!
7. Poets should read as many poetic movements as possible and the
main players of each movement. The Modernists are still important
to me, especially William Carlos Williams, Carl Sandburg, Marianne
Moore, Langston Hughes, T.S. Eliot, and Pound, though more so his
essays on poetry than his poems.
DJ GASKIN has placed poetry in Gargoyle, Iodine Poetry Journal, The Fairfield
Review, Zillah, Literary Salt, and others. She was a finalist in an Arlington, Virginia’s
“Moving Words” contest and is featured in two anthologies. DJ lives in Springfield,
Virginia, where she is currently working on a novel in poems.
1. Grab the camera!
2. N/A. . . I don’t even kill spiders.
79677 Working Txt.indd 201 3/24/14 12:51 PM
3. Cheese. And cheese. And maybe a little more cheese.
4. My first rejection letter.
5. LOVE my folk couture dresses!
6. A handful of Hershey’s chocolate kisses.
7. Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.
8. Rachel Melancholia.
GAIL HOSKING is the author of Snake’s Daughter: The Roads in and Out of War
(U Iowa). Her poems and essays have appeared in The Florida Review, Post Road,
Lillith Magazine, Hiram Poetry Review, and Nimrod International. She was a finalist
for the 2012 Center for Book Arts Chapbook contest as for Iowa Review’s creative
nonfiction contest, 2012. She holds an MFA from Bennington College and teaches
at Rochester Institute of Technology.
1. I’d like to say I’d stay and say hello, but given the day, I might also shut
the door and go somewhere else.
2. The mean slave owners in Edward Jones’ novel: The Known World
3. Some soft lettuce.
4. Probably high school English books I did not get like Silas Marner.
5. A bikini.
7. E. Annie Proulx.
8. Rose Conrad.
SUSAN JOHNSON received her MFA and PhD from the University of Massachusetts
Amherst where she currently teaches writing. Poems of hers have recently
appeared in The Kerf, Hawaii Pacific Review, Freshwater, Pinyon, Oyez Review, and
others. She lives in South Hadley MA.
1. I would give the aliens time to settle in after their long trip.
2. I would rather not kill off anyone, but rather resurrect Septimus Smith
so the poor guy can give it another go.
3. For me sandwiches are all about the bread, not the spread. Sourdough
5. My favorite piece of clothing is/are my hiking boots.
6. I can walk miles on a piece of gum and a pack costs less than a dollar.
7. Virginia Woolf should be on every reader’s list, not just serious ones.
8. The name of my pen is Iza.
JEN KARETNICK is the author/editor of eleven books, three forthcoming in 2014:
Prayer of Confession (Finishing Line), Mango (U of Florida), and Brie Season (Kelsay
/White Violet). She works as the Creative Writing Director for Miami Arts Charter
School and as a freelance dining critic and food-travel writer for several outlets
including Modern Luxury Group, Onboard Media, and USA Today.
1. Offer them a glass of wine.
2. Christian Grey. Except that he’s not literary.
3. The works.
4. Finnegan’s Wake. Except I didn’t really read it. Has anybody?
5. I’m old enough to appreciate a good quality push-up bra.
6. A cigarette from a homeless guy at the Metro station.
7. Margaret Atwood.
8. Juanita Cruz. In fact, I’ve used it, as both a pen name and the name of
CHUCK KRAMER is a Chicago writer of fiction, poetry, journalism. Fiction online at
Scholars and Rogues.com, Smokebox.net, Flash Flooding.com, Blue Lake Review,
forthcoming at Off the Rocks; poetry in various anthologies; journalism in Chicago
Tribune, Sun-Times, Reader, and Windy City Times.
5. Least favorite clothing: wool overcoat and snow boots
7. Author for serious writers: Philip Roth.
MOLLY KUHN graduated with a B.S. in English & Creative Writing from Slippery
Rock. She works with AmeriCorps’s KEYS project, serving at risk-youth In Allegheny
County, PA. In her spare time she makes pop-up books, tells stories from found
objects, performs slam poetry, and reads children’s books at coffee shops and
1. When I see aliens I tie pastrami to a fishing pole and dangle it out the
window. They like brined mutton. It makes them gregarious.
2. Franz in The Unbearable Lightness of Being. He should have been
mugged a lot sooner.
3. Sourdough bread with a very wooly inside, maybe a tad bit moldy from
sitting out too long. Thinly sliced pieces of nightingale—engineered to
sing even after being butchered, the fleshy part of a tomato—baring
no hard layers, kiwi—unnecessary garnish, with one of those plastic
swords pretending to hold everything together.
4. Abraham Lincoln’s A Letter to his Sons Teacher, December 15th of last year.
5. Nylons. They go all the way to my belly, and roll downwards as the day
goes by, creating a halo of fat above my thighs.
6. Glue. If you put your ear to a bottle you’ll hear the hooves of horses running.
7. Nicole Krauss.
8. Thunder . . . or Gamy Whistles.
MERCEDES LAWRY has published short fiction in several journals including Gravel,
Cleaver, Garbanzo, and Newer York. She’s published poetry in journals such as Poetry,
Nimrod, & Prairie Schooner, and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize twice.
Additionally, she’s published stories and poems for children. She lives in Seattle.
1. Hum the tune from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
2. I am blanking on this—not because I am too kind to kill someone off but . . .
3. Good cheese.
4. The Pearl by John Steinbeck because of a legendary horrid quiz in
6. Lottery ticket.
8. I don’t need one—unless I was writing something I was embarrassed
about— romance??? Then Clarity Peel.
Recently named one of 30 Poets in their 30’s to watch by MUZZLE magazine,
JESSICA HELEN LOPEZ is a nationally recognized award-winning slam poet, and is
the 2012/ 2014 Women of the World (WOW) City of ABQ Champion. Her Zia Award
winning poetry collection, Always Messing With Them Boys (West End, 2011) made
the Southwest Book of the Year reading list.
1. Should aliens ever land in my backyard I will attempt to provide them
with naturalization papers, field hand employment and enroll their
children in a local public school. Whether they be armed with lasers or
the idea of the American Dream my reaction is to provide aid/amnesty
first and foremost. And yes, the term “illegal alien” is both dehumanizing
2. If I had my own punk band it would most certainly be named Daisy
Buchanan Must Die. Such a cruel, privileged and heartless socialite
should have been writ by Fitzgerald as meeting her demise in a horrible
mansion-fire just after she decided to not attend Gatsby’s funeral.
3. If I were a sandwich I would have plenty of pastrami and then some
more pastrami and lastly some tasty, succulent pastrami heaped between
my heavenly Kaiser buns.
4. The instructional manual for putting my bookshelves together.
5. I hate shoes. When it snows I wear sandals. In the summer the bottom of my feet are happily dirty. Again, I repeat, I hate shoes.
6. The best thing I have ever bought for a dollar was una carne asada taco
con cilantro y cebolla from my favorite taqueria in Albuquerque. Delicioso!
7. I am not a serious writer so I cannot answer this question. Currently my
tongue is in my cheek and therefore, I suggest every un-serious writer
should read David Sedaris. Or Sherman Alexie. Or both. At the same time.
8. If I had a pen name it surely would be Jessica Hellcat Lopez.
LUCIAN MATTISON’S poems can be found or are forthcoming in apt, Digital Americana,
MUZZLE, Stone Highway Review, The Quotable, and other journals. He edits
poetry for the Green Briar Review and Barely South Review. In his spare time he
enjoys cooking and playing backgammon. Email him at Lucian.c.mattison@gmail.
1. After the initial bouts of bewildered pacing between rooms, pinching
myself, and repeating the words holy shit, I’d most likely give them a
stern lecture about manners.
2. Clifford the Big Red Dog. Hung, drawn, and quartered in a public
square, so as to make an example of his body and warn his comrades.
3. I imagine spicy mustard, any kind of pickle available, half an avocado,
and a piece of bread sitting atop my head.
4. My own prose before I found out I wanted to write poetry.
5. In the summer, my favorite article of clothing is a rad ass tank top. During
winter, my least favorite article of clothing is a rad ass tank top.
6. I saw someone on Craigslist selling Star Fox 64 for $1, so definitely that.
7. Pablo Neruda.
8. J.K. Rowling.
MICHAEL P. MCMANUS is an Altoona, Pennsylvania native who now resides in
Louisiana. He has received the Artist Fellowship Award from the Louisiana Division
of the Arts. His short stories and poems have appeared in numerous publications.
1. I’d ask if they are members of Steelers Nation.
2. Anton Chigurh.
3. Whole wheat.
4. My stepfather’s obituary.
5. Least favorite—suit. Most favorite—shorts, hikers, Tee.
6. Advice from a homeless man.
8. Siddhartha Gautama.
JED MYERS is a Philadelphian living in Seattle. His poems have appeared in Prairie
Schooner, Nimrod, Barely South Review, Atlanta Review, Grey Sparrow Journal,
The Quotable, and elsewhere. He’s a Pushcart nominee, winner of Southern Indiana
Review’s Mary C. Mohr Award, and winner of the Literal Latte Poetry Award.
1. French roast or oolong?
2. Jonathan Livingston Seagull.
3. Sliced Lithuanian beets, Murray’s Delicatessen coleslaw, West Bank
falafel, political hash, Dean Martin Hollywood Roast, several of the
pickles I’ve been in, a sunny-side-up egg, splash of lavender bitters,
spoonful of Cascade Mountain wild blueberry jam, spread of coho roe,
and, unforgivably, plenty o’ blood-red ketchup.
4. The words of a Libyan father insisting that his missing son must still be
alive in the days after a government assault.
5. Most favorite: new socks. Least favorite: socks worn through at the
heel and toe.
6. A single shot of good espresso in a real demitasse cup.
7. Albert Camus. To get the real spirit of freedom through commitment.
8. Yehudi Nussbaum (given my known and unknowable history).
DR. J. SUNITA PEACOCK, Associate Professor of English received her PhD from
Southern Illinois University. She teaches World, Eastern, and Interpreting Literatures
at Slippery Rock University, PA. She has published articles in Commonwealth Novel
in English, Pakistani Women’s Journal, International Journal of the Humanities,
South Asian Review, Mosaic, and has essays in the anthologies Violence and the
Body (Indiana UP , 2003) and Transnationalism and the Asian American Heroine
1. Invite them for a cup of tea.
2. Bartleby the Scrivener. He annoyed the heck out of me throughout the story.
3. Hot sauce.
4. Bleak House by Charles Dickens.
5. My PJs.
6. Vanilla latte from the coffee machine in Spotts. Unfortunately, the machine
does not work anymore!
7. Zora Neale Hurston.
8. TW (Tropical Woman!).
JOEL PECKHAM is a poet, essayist, and literary scholar. He has published four collections
of poetry: Why Not Take All of Me: A Cycle of Poems on the Life and Music
of Billie Holiday (FutureCycle), The Heat of What Comes and nigthwalking (Pecan
Grove), and Movers and Shakers (Pudding House). His poems have appeared in
The Beloit Poetry Journal, Black Warrior Review, and elsewhere. In 2012 he published
his memoir Resisting Elegy (Academy Chicago).
1. There comes a time when every man must ask himself that question.
2. Tom Sawyer. I have my reasons.
3. Honey mustard.
4. We’ll say just say Little Dorrit. You don’t really want to know the truth.
6. Four Little Debbie oatmeal cream pies
8. Tom Sawyer—I have my reasons.
PAMELA PETRO is the author of three place-based works of creative nonfiction, and
contributes to publications from Granta to the Paris Review. She teaches writing
at Smith College and on Lesley University’s MFA program; her visual work may be
seen at www.petrographs.blogspot.com.
1. Invite them in for a drink.
2. No question: Gilbert Osmond in The Portrait of a Lady (Isabel Archer
deserves better!) And I’d give him a long, hard death, too.
3. Cheese. No meat.
4. Section B of my parents’ Medicaid report.
5. Favorite: a sleeveless top that reads Ptown.
6. The Gazette (Northampton MA’s local newspaper)
7. Alison Bechdel, preferably Fun Home (every writer should read a literate
graphic novel now and again; graphic novels and memoirs lay bare narrative
8. Pentre Ifan (it’s a 5000 year-old cromlech in West Wales. Read the “f” as a “v”).
RANDOLPH PFAFF is a poet, editor, and visual artist. His work has been featured in
[PANK], Word Riot, H_NGM_N, Open Letters Monthly, and The Destroyer, among
others. He also edits the literary journal apt and runs Aforementioned Productions,
a small press. He’s not very good at free time.
2. Big Brother.
3. Thanksgiving leftovers. It might sound like a bad idea, but it’s delicious
and you’ll keep coming back for more.
4. My father’s obituary.
5. My favorite piece of clothing is my wedding ring. Does that count as
clothing? I mean, I wear it, so that should count. Right?
6. Some peace of mind by giving that dollar away to an organization that
will help other people/animals/places.
7. Italo Calvino.
8. I’d use my first name and a much less confusing last name. Something
famous. Randolph Obama? Randolph Kardashian? Randolph Gordon-Levitt? It’s kind of a toss-up at this point.
SAM PIERSTORFF received his MFA in poetry from CSU Long Beach and became the
youngest Poet Laureate in California when he was selected to the position in by the
city of Modesto where he teaches English at Modesto Junior College. He is the editor
of Quercus Review Press and author of Growing Up in Someone Else’s Shoes.
1. I would make a trail of Reese’s Pieces that stretched from my home to
my horrible neighbor’s backyard.
2. The literary character I would kill off would be Bella Swan from Twilight,
which would leave Edward and Jacob to recognize their latent homosexuality
and live happily ever after.
3. My sandwich would have Dijon mustard, garam masala, and fried tofu.
4. Poetry from students who say they’re poets but have never read any
poems but their own.
5. Most favorite: my swimming Speedo. Least favorite: my swimming
Speedo when it fades thin from chlorine.
6. Advice from a toddler.
7. John Fante.
FERGUSON PORTER grew up in Dallas, Texas. He earned a degree in Cinema-Television
in 2005 from Southern Methodist University. His story “The Party Will Go On
Without You” won the 2013 Annual Short Story Contest of the California publication
The Desert Daily Guide. He lives in Palm Springs, California.
1. I go inside and make a fresh pot of coffee. It’s a well-known fact that
aliens love coffee.
2. Holden Caulfield.
3. Miracle Whip. Repeat: Miracle Whip! Don’t give me that disgusting
“real” mayonnaise. Also, sliced ham, sliced turkey, cheese, and lettuce.
4. An email from my cousin essentially saying how my boyfriend was not
welcome to come with me to our family Thanksgiving.
5. I look really good in my blue blazer and pink shirt.
6. Coca Cola in a glass bottle.
7. Just one? Gore Vidal.
8. Matthew Barnabas.
SEAN PRENTISS is the co-editor of a forthcoming anthology on the craft of creative
nonfiction. The Far Edges of the Fourth Genre is being published by Michigan State
University Press. His essays, poems, and stories have appeared in Brevity, Sycamore
Review, Passages North, ISLE, Ascent, River Styx, SpoonRiver, Nimrod, and many
other journals. Sean lives in northern Vermont and teaches at Norwich University.
1. I’d invite them over for a beer. I love hearing travel stories, so we could
chat about where they’ve been.
2. Since I focus on creative nonfiction that seems like a bad question to
answer. But my favorite literary death is Everett Ruess’s. He wandered
throughout the Desert Southwest in the 1930s until one day, poof, he
disappeared, never to return. But he left behind beautiful letters and
journals. And mystery.
3. Since I’m a Pennsylvania boy by birth, I’d be a Philly cheesesteak.
Though I’m not from Philly (I’m from rural Bangor), I sure love a good
4. Not sure.
5. I love my Dickies work pants. I have probably five pair in various stages
of decay. Some have no knees. Some have paint stained on them.
Some are new enough that I wear them out on date night with my
6. A slice of pizza. It’s a glorious thing!
7. I think of favorite books rather than great authors. Read Desert Solitaire,
read Sometimes a Great Notion, read Moment to Moment by
David Budbill, read T’ao Ch’ien, read Fool’s Progress.
8. Sean Prentiss. I love my family. I’m happy to wear this name.
ROBERT REID studied journalism and political science at the University of Iowa and
earned his MA in creative writing from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He is
currently working on a novel.
1. Feed them. I assume they’re here for the barbecue.
2. Gandalf (no second chances).
3. Raspberry jam.
4. We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families:
Stories from Rwanda/ Phillip Gourevitch.
5. Least favorite: socks
6. A bargain book from my local used bookshop
7. Jeffrey Eugenides.
8. Robert Reid.
JOHN REPP’S fourth full-length collection of poetry, Fat Jersey Blues won the 2013
Akron Poetry Prize and has just been published by the University of Akron Press.
1. “Take me with you.”
3. Swiss cheese.
4. The most recent administrative memo.
5. Favorite: My newest New Mexico T-shirt.
6. A package of Oreos.
8. Junior J. Walter.
JENNY ROBERTSON’S poems and stories have appeared in Dunes Review, Greatest
Lakes Review, Dislocate, and Bite: An Anthology of Flash Fiction. She studies
fiction in Pacific University’s MFA in Writing program, and she’s working on a novel
about a 1923 Finnish mining family living on Minnesota’s Iron Range.
1. Close the shades and pretend I’m not home. Just what I need, another
interruption. But I’d probably cave after an hour or so and go out and
bring them sandwiches and shoot the breeze.
2. Independent People’s Bjartur of Summerhouses. He causes so much
pain and hardship for his family, for reasons he finds sane and good;
had he died early in the book, his wives and children might have lived
happy Icelandic lives.
3. Lots of melted cheese, caramelized onions, spicy greens and a slice of dill pickle.
4. The Reader Comments on an article about rape in a college fraternity.
5. My favorite pants are long and green and lined with flannel.
6. Four Andes mints.
7. Ms. Nobel Prize Winner Alice Munro.
8. Ynnej Nostrebor.
CYNTHIA SAMPLE lives and writes in Dallas Texas. She holds a MFA in fiction from
Vermont College as well as a PhD in finance from UT Dallas. Her stories have appeared
or are forthcoming from NumeroCinq, Summerset Review and Sleet as well
as Love After 70: an Anthology.
1. Good Lord, I was NOT expecting guests! Quick, get me my lipstick and
check the fridge for sweet tea.
2. I’m a thorough pacifist and couldn’t possibly kill off anyone, but the
characters I would dismiss would be the ones who are flat, bless their
hearts. But wait, they’re already dead.
3. No question . . . peanut butter and Hellmann’s mayonnaise on white bread.
4. After my dad died, for my writing group, I wrote a story called “Duty: a
Study in Grammar,” about him. When it came my turn, not only was it
necessary for me to ask a colleague to read it for me, after only sentences
I had to exit the room.
5. Least favorite: Honey, I already threw those fat pants away. Favorite:
Pearls, of course.
6. The smallest bag of dark chocolate peanut M&Ms. Christmas colors.
7. Everyone serious about their soul would benefit from reading the Dead
White Guys (you know who I mean: Hemingway, Faulkner, Flaubert,
Carver, and on and on and on). Then as slowly as possible, read every
word that Flannery O’Conner wrote; imprint Eudora Welty on their
brain. To clean out the mind, read aloud Emily Dickinson and Dorothy
Parker. Along the way, study the fiction and essays on writing that
master-teacher David Jauss recently published. If you must have only
one writer, there is no substitute for Alice Munro.
8. Zellah Kellogg Blakely, after my great-grandmother of sainted memory.
Pushcart Prize nominee FRANK SCOZZARI resides in Nipomo, a small town on the
California central coast. His award-winning short stories have appeared in numerous
literary magazines including South Dakota Review, Oklahoma Review, Berkeley
Fiction Review, Ellipsis Magazine, The Nassau Review, and The MacGuffin, and
have been featured in literary theater.
1. I’d invite them in for chocolate and wine.
2. Ebenezer Scrooge (especially this time of year).
3. Onions and mustard.
4. Warren Commission Report.
5. Favorite clothing—blue jeans & a scarf.
6. A newspaper.
8. Never thought about a pen name. If somebody writes something, they
should put their name on it.
FRED SHAW is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, and Carlow University. He
teaches writing and literature at Point Park University and Carlow. His poems have
been published in 5AM, Permafrost, Floodwall, Nerve Cowboy, Spry, Burlesque
Press, and Mason’s Road. He also reviews books for Pittsburgh City Paper.
1. I’d get them a beer and a chair.
2. Old-Man Warner from “The Lottery.”
3. If I were a sandwich, I’d be brilliantly concocted by my wife using leftovers
from the fridge, a homegrown heirloom tomato, fresh mozzarella,
and basil on toasted ciabatta bread.
4. Poorly written student essays.
5. My least favorite clothing is a V-neck sweater that makes me feel like I
deserve to get beat up.
6. A newspaper.
7. Don DeLillo.
8. Rabo Karabekian.
SHERRY STEINER lives in Housatonic MA, originally from NYC. Published writer of
off-beat poetry, monologues, flash fiction and musical performance pieces, arts
educator, exhibiting visual artist and more. For detailed background information:
1. I would salute them.
2. None— I don’t believe in violence.
3. A credit card.
4. SAT scores.
6. Dark chocolate Kit Kat.
PHILLIP STERLING’S most recent book is In Which Brief Stories Are Told, a collection
of short fiction (Wayne State). He is also the author of the poetry collection
MutualShoresand three chapbook-length series of poems: Significant Others,
Quatrains, and Abeyance.
1. My reaction to aliens in the backyard would depend upon whether I
found them attractive or not.
2. I’d hunt down and kill Moby Dick.
3. As a sandwich I’m simply peanut butter (generic, crunchy) and jam (black
raspberry, made on the stove from the berries that grow wild in my yard).
4. Divorce papers (the accusations therein).
5. Favorite piece of clothing: LL Bean insulated work shirt. Least favorite:
academic gown (doctoral).
6. $1 will buy a newspaper with several crosswords in it.
7. Every serious author should read Alice Munro.
8. Maitland Boczek.
TAYLOR SUPPLEE is a Creative Writing student at Missouri State University where
he serves as an associate editor of Moon City Review. His poems have appeared in
Midwestern Gothic, Paddle Shots: A River Pretty Anthology, and The Missing Slate.
1. If aliens were in the backyard, I’d greet them with Vulcan pleasantries.
2. I would kill off the speaker of every Edgar Allan Poe story and poem.
3. I’d be a pork tenderloin sandwich; terrible for you, but oh so tasty.
4. The most painful thing I’ve ever had to read was my own poetry after
the introductory workshops.
5. I do not understand the scarf trend, and I can’t resist a good pair of
self-made skinny jorts.
6. The best thing I can buy for a dollar is the idea of buying something for
only a dollar.
7. Every serious author should read W.B. Yeats and Lynda Hull.
8. My pen name would be Robert Taylor.
J. TARWOOD has been a dishwasher, a community organizer, a medical archivist,
and a documentary film producer. His poems have appeared in magazines from
American Poetry Review to Visions. His books are The Cats in Zanzibar and Grand
Detour. His latest, And For The Mouth A Flower, is due in 2014.
1. “Thanks for the ride from Alpha Centauri! Good to see you again.”
2. Why kill when you can simply close the book?
3. Atomic Horseradish.
4. Manual for the International Computer Driver’s License.
6. Shinga beer.
7. Himself, herself, itself.
8. Yengoagea Nodaddy.
CHARLES FARRELL THIELMAN was born and raised in Charleston, S.C., moved to
Chicago, educated at red-bricked universities and on city streets, Charles is a loving
grandfather for five free spirits who has also enjoyed working as a social worker and
as a city bus driver.
1. After peeling my 3 dogs off said Aliens, I’d invite the Aliens in for brownies,
2. Francisco d’Anconia, CEO of fictional Anaconda Copper, main character
in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.
3. On days when I’m sandwiched between this & that, I want to jump into
a vat of mustard mixed with sprouts.
4. My parents’ obituaries.
5. Least favorite: suit and tie. Most favorite: a formerly-dark blue writing
sweater w/two remaining buttons that spawns many metaphors while
avoiding my wife’s clothes donation bag.
6. Our community newspaper.
7. John Steinbeck.
8. Kokua Farrell.
CHARLES HARPER WEBB’S latest book, What Things Are Made Of, was published
by the University of Pittsburgh Press in 2013. Recipient of grants from the Whiting
and Guggenheim foundations, Webb teaches in the MFA Program in Creative Writing
at California State University, Long Beach.
1. Depends on how dangerous and/or attractive they appear.
2. Sanctimony S. Squirrel.
3. Mustard, tomatoes, and a big slice of cheese.
4. A tie between The Adventures of Sanctimony S. Squirrel, and my first
girlfriend’s letter saying her family was moving to Tulsa and she had to
break up with me.
5. Certain scratchy sweater that I threw away, rather than give to Goodwill.
If there’d been an Illwill, I’d have dropped it off in a heartbeat.
6. A Lamborghini, if you know how to drive a bargain.
7. Shakespeare. (I’m too in awe to joke.)
8. Charles Harper Webb is my pen-name. My real name is Bomba Fudge.
PAM WOLFSON has published stories in Inner Landscapes, Other Voices, and Quality
Women’s Fiction. Her flash fiction appeared in 375 Views of Boston, an exhibit celebrating the city’s bicentennial. Pam earned her MA in literature and received a merit
scholarship to the Southampton Writers Conference for her novel Stolen Daughter.
1. Get out my binoculars. If I like what I see, ask them to tea.
2. I can’t. Nasty as he is, he reveals my shadow self.
3. Ripe avocado slices and spring greens.
4. A bad, bad revision of my own work.
5. Scarves with splashes of teal are best.
6. A bottle of bubble soap to blow in the wind.
7. Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
8. Nomi de Plume.