I wrote "November" shortly after the 2016 election. I had been verbally harassed on campus more than once by groups of men because of the election, and I was watching the number of hate crimes rise as men in suits made toasts about their success in the election. My friends were all crying, because we knew what this meant for us. It felt like a nightmare for queer people, people of color, and other marginalized groups. Reflecting on this was and still is absurdly difficult and painful. Because of this, I decided to approach my concerns in a more surreal setting.
So, I included the boys shouting from their pickup truck. I included the hate crimes. I included the men celebrating. Then, in the end, I let the speaker escape from that reality through death and a return to nature through decay, where she’s taken in by these humming women. I gave her refuge in song and plants, where she’d really feel welcomed. Looking back, it reminds me how helpless I feel, because this was the only way I could imagine her finding peace.
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Asked if the Jedi were real, Han Solo haltingly confesses that he once doubted it: “I used to wonder about that myself. Thought it was a bunch of mumbo-jumbo. A magical power holding together good and evil, the dark side and the light. Crazy thing is—it’s true. The Force. The Jedi. All of it. It’s all true.”
“Describing the Elephant” challenges the reader to accept that the supernatural is real and all that understanding implies. Denying the paranormal is easy for anyone who hasn’t experienced it. For those of us that have, we struggle to relate what we’ve seen, heard, or felt. See More>>>
Fine details of “Dressing for the Recital” are reconstructed or imagined (we did not own a Big Wheel) but the frozen moment and the real thing my son said are indelibly etched, leading me both to view the scene through his eyes and to understand the effect his reaction had on my awareness of myself as a performer with an art to realize and transmit to an audience.
Having spent the majority of my life in Nebraska, I’ve developed a long list of complaints about it—from its lack of mountains, to its lack of progressive politicians, and everything in between. For these reasons, I’ve always invested my creative energy toward writing about everywhere except the Midwest.
Recently, however, something shifted. Once I finally made concrete plans to move away, I realized it was time to work toward some sort of poetic reconciliation with Nebraska. At this realization, I suddenly began to find inspiration from my home state. As much as I’m loath to admit it, there are a lot of things I truly do appreciate about the flatlands. In particular, the city of Lincoln has a certain charm that even people who have spent only a short amount of time here can recognize. See More>>>
In times of desolation, I turn to Scripture and poetry. The poet Hopkins is a particular source of solace; his ability to express intense feelings of anxiety and doubt while holding on to faith comforts me when I am shrouded in darkness. During these times it feels like “grace comes not,” but I cling to hope that grace does come, just not as I expect, or, more importantly, desire. I may want the epiphany to appear in the burning bush or my parched soil to be flooded with rain, but God teaches me faith and patience by sending His grace in drops, almost imperceptibly, until consolation arrives to bear fruit in due time. I wanted the form of “Prayer for Grace” to reflect the meaning, the scarcity of words reflecting drops of grace. My hope is that the attention to scarcity will point toward abundance.
I've always been fascinated with the "theater of the surreal"; my first gut reaction to art as a young boy was to Salvador Dalí. The idea for Bazaar came to me after watching "Smoke Signals," the film adaptation of an excellent Sherman Alexie novel—namely, that of our memories, emotions, secrets, and so forth being on display; for sale, perhaps, in an Old World trade-and-barter market. A great deal of that influence comes from the fact that each of us, as we come into adulthood, must define and reconcile who we thought our parents were with who they actually are as human beings. To understand others, especially those who may have caused you great pain, is to develop greater compassion for them, for yourself, and in turn for the world at large. I wrote three pieces out of that single moment. Since then, I've realized that good poets and writers, just as Stephen King is fond of saying, are conduits. We are the vessel, the pipeline through which beauty may flow. Our only calling, our conviction, our vocation, then, is to record and shape what we're given.
I wrote “Learning to be a Healer” shortly after my move from Michigan to Texas this past year—a move that proved to be quite traumatic after years of dealing with an abusive spouse back home. The poem began as a handful of separate reflections inspired as I read the story of Cynthia Ann Parker, a young girl abducted by Comanches warriors from her pioneer home on May 19, 1836, who eventually married a Comanche chief with whom she had three children. She effectually became Comanche, fully assimilating into tribal life, until she was “rescued” by white men in 1860, witnessing the death of her husband and never seeing her two sons again.
In Hallelujah, a modern day version of Jonah found me—with an elderly rabbi in the starring role. He has been the hero of his own story, but must accept the end of what came before, letting go of doubts and losses.
Magical realism is a favorite of mine: Gabriel Garcia Marquez, House of the Spirits. I’m not in any way Hispanic. But, maybe the myths of the Hassids form my collective memory; and it’s not such a reach from life in the Pale to Latin America. When I release the internal censor, magic realism arrives, providing a great deal of pleasure and a bit of fun—as if I’ve given myself permission to fanaticize out loud. What if God appeared in the storm-lit sky? What if the whale actually spoke? What if the most important of the dead were waiting in that belly, singing out acceptance after a lifetime of disapproval? See More>>>
Paying attention to the narrator of a poem is difficult sometimes, because poetry demands a certain perspective. My mother was diagnosed with a serious cancer many years ago. Surgeries and chemo and checkups lay before us. There were late night talks and early morning insomnias. She stayed heroic throughout. She claimed a steadfast resolve and held onto it. I wrote quite a bit over those years. Some of my writing, from my perspective, didn’t quite touch on the subject matter of her pain or fear. Instead it dwelled in a place of my personal sorrow. That never felt appropriate. She, after all, was enduring the indignity of it all. One night, a vague memory of when I was very young of my parents talking about trees behind the house surfaced. My father died some years before my mother’s diagnosis, but I realized he too had a voice in all of it. We share our lives briefly with each other. We don’t always get to say what we need to say, and often the mundane parts of our lives are great metaphors for all the things we wish we could say.
‘Cabbage’ and ‘Fuzzhead’ are both part of a series of ink drawings I’ve been working on for a few years now. I’m approaching my botanicals as what I’ve taken to think of as energy portraiture. I’m giving a visual language to the ‘vibe’ of the plant, the life energy. Sometimes that looks like a personification of the plant, other times it manifests as a fantastical recreation of the botanical structure. Incorporating many stages of growth and maturity help to represent the subject as a whole story as opposed to a singular chapter in its existence. Typically, I choose a form that is either toward the beginning or end of the lifecycle and braid into the piece the former or latter stages of development, either through actual imagery or suggested movement within the posture of the subject. In the case of “Cabbage,” you see a secondary growth stage of seedling, reaching up and out with big swoops suggesting the final spherical finish of the adult vegetable. “Fuzzhead” is confident, marching with knowledge that old age brings as it offers out it’s seed heads to the universe for scattering, the cycle to begin anew.
I wrote “Pretend Family” thinking about a math project my students did this year. The class constructed a cardboard arcade for parents to play. It was a frenetic few weeks of blueprints, exacto blades, and glue gun burns. I remember one student becoming so frustrated that she rolled her eyes back in her head. That image stayed with me and became the seed of this story. Next came the narrator’s voice, which was both blunt and vulnerable, a child whose sense of self could swing from strong to fragile in moments. Her daily routine was filled with landmines, like the school bus, the recess yard, the classroom, home. Each place governed by a different set of rules and norms with which to struggle. I went through many drafts that tried to fill in her backstory, but ultimately, I realized that what I was really after were her thoughts and observations. Over time, a story finally emerged and became this one.
I grew up in a Christian fundamentalist family. Religion drenched every decision. The plumbing couldn't back up without it involving Jesus somehow. Sales at the Kroger were issued by God himself. I tolerated the faith healings and prophecies and hellfire sermons my entire youth, hiding my own gay apostasy with dogma. My life depended on it. I was thirty-five when I finally came out to my family and the result was everything I expected. What I ultimately remember of the whole thing was one of the last conversations I had with my mother. It was on the telephone and she was explaining why God wouldn’t permit her to allow my husband and I to come visit. "I was making goulash this morning, Jeremy," she said, "and the Lord spoke audibly to me." (Yes, she said audibly.) "He told me I can’t commune with the homosexual spirit. I have to stand by my God," she ended, emphasizing my. Who uses the word commune, I thought, and said goodbye. See More>>>
I started using this form in writing about media—to differentiate what happened on-screen versus the real world—to try to show how my life has stitched together two fundamentally disconnected stories.
When poems about my father’s cancer started to fall into this form, it showed me something different: that half the story is sometimes the whole story, and sometimes a quarter of the story, and sometimes more true than what I’m telling myself. When one half of the poem said, “we/fucking/know/the needle,” that felt right in a way that managed to escape the obligations of meaning, and allowed me to see a bit more about the many truths buried within this one hour of one day.
This form has become a way to braid multiple ideas together while preserving the conflict between them.
Fall Issue 2019
Flora K. Wyldeorn
In David Williamson’s tale about adolescent awakening, a dare gives way to the slowly simmering tensions of a young boy’s world. There’s a bare-bones efficiency to the writing that, in spite of itself, never once loses sight of the unrealized poignancy of the characters’ actions, and a crude yet endlessly clever voice works to sweep the reader up in the small world of these children, slowly sinking the reader—along with its protagonist—into revelations of violence and desire about the world that molded us.
Cody slid up next to her, and she scooted closer to the window. He touched the rubber frog that bulged from his pocket. He thought about dropping it onto her lap. About her screaming.
In the back of the bus where it was Cody’s right as a fifth grader to sit, where it smelled like farts and wet shoes, Brad and Kevin snorted though their noses and waited for Cody to drop the frog.
“You’ll punk out,” Brad had said.
“Whatever,” Cody said. “I’ll do it.”
“Or else, you’ll be dishonorably discharged. The whole summer. That’s what’ll happen.”
Brad’s parents were in the Army or Navy or something. He talked like this all the time.
“Give me the frog.”
The frog was heavy and sticky and covered in knots that looked like diseases. It was the color of real frogs, not green, but runny-poop brown like the ones in the creek. Like the ones they would whack with a baseball bat in Brad’s back yard, throwing the frogs high into the air and then thwack over and over, until they were just floppy, bloody frog skin.
When Cody had walked to Allison’s seat at the front of the bus, a small, weird, electric-type thing wiggled in his belly. It hummed right above his balls and charged him like a battery. Now, the little electric thing swam up into his chest and sat there making his heart thump so hard his t-shirt twitch. The sweat on his hand cupping the frog made the rubber slick, like its fake skin were melting.
He couldn’t remember ever being so close to someone so small. Allison looked like somebody’s little sister. High up on her jaw, beside her ear, a drop of sweat cut a clean streak down her face.
Wind pushed yellow ghosts of pollen past Cody and Allison’s window. The sun burned white hot. Looked like light magnified under a glass, hot enough to singe pea-sized holes through sheets of notebook paper. Cook ants on the sidewalk.
In the back of the bus, Kevin and Brad leaned over their seats, stretched their necks, and waiting for the dare to pop off. Kevin threw up his hands. Brad cupped his around his mouth, shouted, “Do it.”
Cody ignored their barking, got himself together.
“Why are you sitting here?” she asked.
“I can sit here if I want.”
“So you can do something gross to me?”
“No. I’m just sitting here. It’s a free country.”
“I don’t like you.” She pulled up her backpack from the floor of the bus and wedged it between them on the seat. “You’re mean to me.”
“No, I’m not,” Cody said. “Maybe those guys.”
“There. But don’t look.”
“Sometimes,” Cody said.
She pulled her legs to her chest.
“I’m not going to be mean,” Cody said. The squirming electric thing in his chest had retreated into his guts, down to his feet. He gave the frog another squeeze.
She removed her backpack from between them, set it in her lap, and hugged it. Something else kicked up from Cody’s stomach and filled him up. It made him want to touch her.
Cody stared at the back of the bus driver’s head. Dee Franken. What’s grosser than Dee kissing you goodbye? Dee kissing you goodbye and slipping you the tongue. What’s grosser than walking in on Dee taking a bath? Doing it on purpose.
“I’m cold,” Allison said.
“Are you sick?” he asked.
“You look sick.”
Cody craned his neck toward the back to see if Kevin and Brad were still waiting. Brad chewed his fingernails. Kevin exhaled against the windowpane, etched the letters LSD inside circles on the fogged glass.
“Want me to check your temperature?”
“You have a thermometer in your pocket?”
“I can check your temperature with my hand, duh.”
“Fine.” She closed her eyes.
He balanced on the edge of the seat, straight up, and faced her. Cody put out his hand. She brought in her forehead until if filled his palm, touched him back. He couldn’t tell if it was a fever or not. He thought about how his mother would sometimes pull his forehead against her cheek. He wondered if she would let him do that.
“Are you done?” she asked. “Am I sick?”
Cody didn’t know. “You have a temperature.” Everyone had a temperature.
Allison fell back into her seat.
“We probably can’t go now,” she said.
“My dad will say we can’t go on our trip because of me. Because I’m sick.” Her bottom lip slid out.
“Maybe you’ll still go anyway.”
“Where were you going?
“Busch Gardens.” Her mouth pulled down and a tear dropped onto her cheek like the sweat from her hairline.
Cody fell in love with her right there. All he wanted was to make her feel better so she could go to Busch Gardens. He wanted to hold her and say, “Shh. It will be okay.”
He knew it was real love because it had happened before. Once. In his room, alone, in a vision, as he listened to the radio. He’d found Jennifer Saunders in the woods with a broken ankle. She cried and she hurt and she was beautiful, and these things moved Cody. He picked her up and carried her all the way back home. The whole time the music on the radio playing like a soundtrack.
Allison’s face was yellow. She looked hot and tired.
“I’m so cold,” she said.
“I’ll walk you home,” he said.
“Why?” Allison’s eyes were closed.
She opened her mouth and pulled the chapped skin on her lip.
Because I love you. “Can I walk you home or not?” he asked.
She sniffled and shivered. If Cody had a jacket, he’d drape it over her shoulders like guys did in the movies. Guys that were older than Cody and touched girls all the time and held their hands and knew things about girls that Cody did not.
He knew about comas, though. Heard of them. When people fell asleep and didn’t wake up. He knew about fevers and brain damage, too. He had to keep Allison awake. He fished through his backpack and pulled out the blue sack that held what was left of his lunch. He took out a Capri Sun which he still had because he traded his Swiss Cake Rolls for a Coke. He speared it with the straw.
“Here. You need to stay on fluids.”
Allison lifted her head from the back of the seat and sipped from the straw. A hummingbird. Her free hand fell against the seat and touched Cody’s thigh.
“Allison,” he said. “You have to stay with me, okay? We’re almost to your stop. Allie” – he liked this, Allie – “stay with me. You’ll be okay.”
Allison nodded. He was afraid she didn’t really hear him. That he could have been saying anything and she would just nod until coma.
Allison’s head lolled from one side to the other.
“I’ll get off at your bus stop with you. I’ll make sure you get home okay.”
He’d walk her all the way home. When they got there, her parents would thank him and ask him to stay for a while. “She seems to feel better when you’re around,” they’d say. It would all be worth a dishonorable discharge.
For now, their bodies wobbled together as the bus drove them over the uneven neighborhood streets, closer to home.
“I don’t think so,” Dee Franken said when Cody stepped over the white line to get off the bus. “You’ll get off at your regular stop.”
“But she’s sick.” Behind him, Allison leaned against the back of a seat. Behind her, two other students crossed their arms and sighed. “I promised I’d walk her home.”
“Sorry, Charlie.” Dee jabbed her thumb toward the seats in the back. “You get off at your own stop. This is nothing new.”
Allison’s eyes looked puffy and tired. Cody leaned in and whispered, “Wait at your stop. I’ll meet you and walk you home. I promise.”
Allison moved past him, down the steps, and off the bus. The other two students pushed him aside. At the back of the bus, where Cody returned, Kevin and Brad took turns flicking each other’s knuckles.
“What happened?” Brad asked.
“He punked out,” Kevin said.
“I didn’t punk out,” Cody said.
“That’s what it looks like to me.” Kevin snatched Cody’s fist and flicked his knuckle.
“Oww. You dillweed.”
“Give me my frog back.”
“It’s probably because you like her and want her body,” Brad said.
“She didn’t fart,” Cody said.
“Whatever. Dishonorable discharge.”
“You don’t even know.” Cody pulled the frog from his pocket and threw it at Kevin.
Allison was gone. Cody went back to a seat near Brad and Kevin. He was silent and separate. At his feet, old wads of gum had cemented to the scuffed and gritty floors. Clumps of spit balls and dried boogers stuck to the glass.
Familiar neighborhood houses zipped by Cody’s window, yards he’s walked through, streets he rode his bike down, houses he had been inside of. His mind jumped ahead to what would happen between him and Allison after she recovered. They’d hold hands and circle the playground during recess when no one would bother them or even care. Teachers may even let them stay out longer than the other students, because the teachers would know that the lessons learned in loving someone were more important than the lessons learned in school. Cody would pick the small yellow flowers that grew in the soccer field and give them to her. They’d go back inside when they were ready, and when they did, the teachers would look at them and smile, knowing what he and Allison feel for each other because they, the teachers, once felt it too, before they were teachers.
The bus stopped with a sudden halt and jerk and pop and hiss that Cody imagined only school buses and steam engines made. He leapt from his seat.
“You and Allison Farter going to go fart together?” Brad asked.
“Have fun farting all summer,” Kevin said.
The warm air outside pushed up from the open doors. Cody leapt down the stairs and took off running as soon as his shoes hit the pavement. Allison’s stop was three streets over on Glenrock Road. He jumped across a gutter that trenched someone’s front yard and skipped along the property line.
He wondered how long Allie would wait, and if it was safe to ask her to wait at all. Should he tell her he loved her now or later? What if she passed out from exhaustion? What about comas?
Way down at the corner of Glenrock and Bellmeadow, he saw Allison sitting, legs pulled to her chest, head resting on her knees. Her backpack on the ground behind her looked like something that died.
Cody ran to her.
“You waited for me,” he said.
“You told me to.” A blue vein in her cheek showed through her white skin.
“Come on.” Cody put out his hand and Allison held on to it as he pulled her up. “Where’s your house?”
“The green one?”
Allison’s house was at the top of a steep front lawn, higher than any of the other houses on the street. The yard was bare, and dusty bald patches showed through dying grass. Wide wooden steps led to a wraparound porch. The windows were dark. Sunlight bounced off the black panes as if it couldn’t get in.
They walked down the street together. Cody had one arm around her shoulder and one hand on her elbow. They went together up the driveway. Her skin felt much hotter now.
“Are you doing okay?”
Allison sucked in a breath and nodded.
They reached the top of the driveway and turned into the yard. Slate slabs that looked like the half-buried spine of a huge monster led across the yard and to the porch. Cody walked Allison along the monster’s spine, all the way the wooden steps. On the third step, Allison stopped, sat down.
“I want to sit. I just want to sit down.”
“You can do it,” he said. “We’re right there.”
“I just want to sit,” Allison said.
Cody wanted to get her inside where it was cool, where Allison’s Mom and Dad were, and where he’d be too.
He sat, and the step wobbled beneath him. Pollen covered the steps. Tiny yellow fuzz stuck to everything. She shut her eyes and knocked her forehead against the wooden bars of the railing.
“You’ve done so good,” he said. “We’re almost there.” Maybe if she knew he loved her, it would push her through to the end. Now was the time.
Cody reached for her knee, but the front door yanked open, startled them, before he could touch her.
“Allison!” A man stood in the doorway. “What are you doing? Who is this?”
“I don’t feel good,” she said.
“Get in the house.” He was yelling.
Allison pulled herself up. Cody reached out to help.
“She can do it herself,” the man said. “You don’t want to catch it anyway.”
Something in Cody told him he shouldn’t let her anywhere near the man, that he didn’t love her or know how to take care of her. That he’d actually make her worse.
Cody tried to catch Allison’s eye to give a look not to go, that it wasn’t safe. She turned away from Cody and walked up the steps. The thing that rose up in Cody, the thing that told him not to let her go, shot into his arm, and he snatched Allison’s tiny wrist.
“No!” Cody said.
He pulled her back. Her foot slipped and turned. She was falling. They both tumbled backward. The top of a tree pushed into Cody’s line of sight. Before his head knocked against one of the slate slabs, Cody held a falling Allison.
The man yelled something. Her name. Other things.
Allison was beside Cody on the ground, screaming into his ear. These sounds filled him. The man towered above Cody. Allison was caught up into the air and away from Cody. He lifted his head, saw a flash of the man’s hairy legs and Allison, a life-sized doll, dangling from the man’s arms before they disappeared into the house. The door slammed. Things quieted.
Cody stood, backed away from the house, his head thumping, ankles turning against the steep slope of the lawn. He watched for lights to come on or bodies to move past the windows, but the house was still. A monster that gobbled people whole and took them away forever.
Nearly ten years ago I had a dream about a boy on a bus. There was a beginning, a middle, and an end. No weird stuff. A realist dream. Chekhovian. I wrote it all down and called it “Fever.” It’s the only time anything like this has happened.
Now, in 2019, I’m honored to see that story alongside other great writing in Temenos. That makes this story the winner for the longest gestation period of anything I’ve published. Also, probably the winner for the most revisions, which means I have no way of knowing how faithful this version is to my original dream.
If a dream was the impetus for “Fever,” ekphrasis, loosely speaking, was the thing of its formation. I read somewhere that John Updike’s “A&P” was his retelling of James Joyce’s “Araby.” I don’t remember where I read it, or if it’s even true (a quick Google searched returned dozens of comparison essays available for purchase if you’re interested), but I believe “Fever” comes from the same gene pool. Audacious of me, maybe, but I’m more than happy to concede that “Araby” and ”A&P” are the stronger, faster, better-looking, and more talented elder siblings.
What I’m really talking about is inspiration as motivation to write and rewrite and rewrite some more. To rewrite beloved stories in a different place with different stakes and different choices. Hopefully, then - as writers and readers - we’re delighted to find a different story altogether.
David Williamson's work has appeared in X-R-A-Y, Longform, Fiddleblack, IDK Magazine, Prism Review, and others. He earned an MFA in fiction from Old Dominion University. He currently works and lives with his family and cats in Richmond, Virginia.
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A MUSIC PROFESSOR TAKES A UNIVERSITY ART CLASS
In Joanna White’s nonfiction piece takes a brief, poignant moment of vulnerability and exploits it to the hilt. The prose is clean, efficient, and near-lyrical, and all boils down to a quiet meditation on the nagging doubts of our purposes. This piece is a success!
The other students whisk charcoal sticks, a flick of wrist for ovals, arcs, obliques––worlds teased from the paper like faces chiseled from boulders. Struggling to see, every day I raise my hand. How do you make leaves curl, skirts furl, mouths smile, eyes reveal their secrets? and the teacher answers, not believing I do not know. Tomorrow is the final exam, all day to make one drawing, techniques learned in class. The teacher furrows his forehead at me. Tomorrow, there will be no questions.
I go out to my garden, waving away the bees. If I tell a music student the day before her recital I am not sure how she will play, will she dare lift the mouthpiece to her lips? I lean down to tug violets, yellows, pinks, and clutching my bouquet, I go in to find a vase and cut the stems. I jostle them in, pour them some icy water, clear the table, and plunk the now-still-life at the center. Squinting, I lean over my pad to rub the chalks over paper’s pores for hours until, swallowing midnight air, I step back to drooping daisies and crumple my page.
Crossing campus with my sloshing model, as if it is every day I peek through sun-drops, lilies, and phlox dangling from a vase’s lip, I slip in and choose my table in the back corner. The bell tower chimes eight, and nine charcoal cylinders swirl. When I reach up to ruffle the flowers, one brittle scarlet flag floats to the slick of the table. I do not know how to start so I close my eyes, squinch my nose to sniff the blooms, and then my fingers remember. I pick up the stick and touch it to paper, clock’s second hand clicking like a metronome.
As I clap the turquoise chalk dust from my hands, the teacher comes in and rounds each desk in turn, checking boxes in his gradebook. Me, he saves for last but when he slides around behind, he puts the notebook down. I knew you could do it, he says.
When the art teacher expressed concern about my ability to draw the final exam without my asking questions, it awakened determination and I practiced for hours the night before the final. The teacher, despite his words, could not hide his obvious surprise when I was able to do a drawing without help, reinforcing my belief that instilling doubt in my own music students’ minds before their recitals is not a good idea. Interesting for me, a trained musician, to do something new and unnatural (to me) like drawing. While my experience in art is about one millionth of my experience in music, the time spent learning to “see” in a new way feels worthwhile.
Music professor Joanna White has creative works in, Examined Life Journal, Healing Muse, West Texas Poetry Review, MacGuffin, Measure, Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, Earth’s Daughters, Cherry Tree, Dunes Review, Temenos, KYSO Flash Anthology 2, and the Poetry and Medicine column of The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), among others.
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DOGS IN ORBIT
Laika launched from a Soviet boondock
when Mother was one month pregnant with me.
Genius bitch that perished hours after lift-off
from over-heating, stress and barking at the cosmos.
The lonely orbit that childhood was.
I’ve never really grasped where I am headed either.
“Behave like a person” Mother often chided
for I’d howl, bark and whimper whenever she left
me behind. Only the serenest females who needn’t
lift a leg to piss, reached the rank of cosmonaut.
I have poems upcoming in Antioch Review, Crab Orchard Review, North American Review and Poetry East.
My next collection, 'Traveling Towards Daylight' will be coming out in May/June 2019 on the Sheep Meadow Press imprint
through Syracuse University Press. I work as the academic program coordinator for Elms College Off-Campus Programs in Psychology in Chicopee, MA.
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Flora K. Wyldeorn
morels thrive by pine
chanterelles near oak
me by you
Flora K. Wyldeorn
I cure my issues like a butcher,
I hack myself to bits and
hang legs arms torsos
in the cooler on silver hooks.
I lovingly rub each cut of meat
with curing salt that seeps
from labored skin.
Sweat sown to preserve
each trauma so
I can remember everything
A love note written after reading The Omnivore's Dilemma by Micheal Pollan.
For Country Ham:
Wrote this when I realized what I was doing to myself. The idea started with pouring salt into a wound and expanded to express something less instantaneous.
Flora's favorite colors are on a pine tree facing west on a hill at 6:30pm on October 3rd in Michigan. This is their first publication.
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LA PINETA'S PRIDE
In her poignant nonfiction piece, Lora bray brings a mix of curiosity and intrusion inherent in visiting a graveyard of strangers. There’s a specific, layered sense of not belonging here, some truly arresting imagery, and a command of prose that moves us towards a “vibrant display of grief and joy.”
Patrick and I came across the ravaged graveyard on our meandering walk along the Pacific shoreline during the first day or so of our visit to La Penita, Mexico. The cemetery sat on a ridge where most—but not all—of it remained on the level ground above us. Signs of life around the overgrown acreage made obvious disparities of income. New resort houses towered above it on either side. The cemetery’s location between them was a stark reminder to passersby that no one lives forever, no matter their level of wealth. Still, I thought, when I later picked my way around the cemetery’s boundaries, I wasn’t so sure that death was the great equalizer.
As we strolled the beach to begin the gritty journey to the renowned place, our perspective from the lower bank obscured anything much beyond the facades of ocean-facing residences we passed leading up to the hallowed ground—the tumbledown waterfront shacks of some of La Penita’s full-time residents intermingled with the white or orange stucco edifices of grandiose vacation rental houses. I noticed both the hovels and mansions showed pride of ownership. Potted pink, red, orange or yellow flowers graced both types of properties, it was just that cracked and faded green plastic pots dotted the entries lacking doors while festive ceramic pots hung on the rusty iron gates of others.
The cemetery made its presence known in abrupt announcement via a misplaced mausoleum obstructing our path on the lower shore. I gasped and stepped back to avoid the monument, wondering if the structure served as warning or invitation to the ocean’s crime scene above. I asked Patrick, “Why is it here?” He gestured to the clumps of brambles on the ridge above us hiding the cemetery beyond and shared what he knew. This wasn’t his first visit to the gravesite.
The townspeople said it was a few years back when the Pacific hurricane invaded the cemetery in La Penita, disrupting the interred along with their supposed many grave tenders, depositing the tiled mausoleum on the lower beach as a final insult. His speculation concerning the grave’s bad address was that it would be expensive and difficult to return to the tomb to its original location, and who would do it anyway? It did not seem a public works facility existed to maintain the village and as we squinted upward in the hot sun toward the burial ground we speculated the cemetery itself seemed abandoned, based on its weedy, overgrown appearance. If the beach mausoleum’s owners were absent or infirm it was unlikely the situation would be remedied by anybody else.
“Should we check the cemetery out?” he asked. I nodded, left wide berth around the lost mausoleum, and followed Patrick as he fought uphill through the loose sand to the edge of the graveyard. We stopped in front of a crumbling brick rectangle. No top enclosed it, no sign nearby named its previous occupant. I peered into the mysterious depths and found it empty except for a few sticks and an empty Coca-Cola bottle.
Patrick and I stood together in silence. I looked askance in the ocean breeze and saw the sun glistening off the white and green ceramic tomb on the lower beach. The repetition of gentle ocean waves sang their mocking funeral dirge on the bright sunny day.
My gaze shifted back to the cemetery’s sad remains. I imagined the devastation of this holy landmark served as another reminder to the residents of the poor Mexican fishing village that life remained unfair even in death, and it perhaps prompted their realization that final solace may not be so final. I envisioned their horrific discovery in the storm’s aftermath that some of the loved ones were twice-departed.
I supposed survivors’ grief was amplified after the reckless storm’s wet, windy howl quieted, and I speculated further at their thoughts in my slow survey of the surroundings. What a cruel act of nature to destroy the artistic, elaborate celebrations of life in the graveyard—to not only rob tombs, but to rob the town of one of its few indulgences—at least I guessed that many families made rare large expenditures within the bounds of the poverty-stricken community’s ornate cemetery.
Vestiges of the burial ground hinted at loving care and creative self-expression marked by the variety of styles, colors, and personalization of final resting places. The array of remembrances looked like a quiet, twisted carnival; a bright, vibrant display of grief and joy amended by the unwelcome influence of angry waves, harsh critics of the show. The iron, brick, concrete, and ceramic celebrations of life made me think the graveyard was an eclectic place where everyone’s tastes were welcomed and appreciated. Expression of individuality was obvious—some tombs stark and simple, others bold and attention-grabbing.
One gray-white, black-weather streaked concrete mausoleum was an interesting example of geometry-as-art. Within an oversized, paved rectangular plot sat a like-shaped pedestal covered in white tiles, each square in perfect alignment with the next. Atop that, another smaller concrete rectangle. At its head was yet another of shorter length. Triangles jutted from either side of it, waiting in quiet expectation for vases of flowers that had not come. A tall square was next on the tower, and finally a concrete semi-circle at the mausoleum’s summit held a cross, resembling a figurehead of a ship facing the sea. Weeds sprouted around the base of the mausoleum like passengers waiting to come aboard.
Next to it was another demonstration of the impact lines and planes can make; an imposing box constructed of something that looked like black slate trimmed in slim strips of dull white and gray swirled marble? It was built upon a foundation of regular old, crumbling red bricks. Curly bougainvillea vines covered with orange flowers climbed up and spilled over the harsh edges of the grave, softening the look and providing interesting contrast to its white concrete neighbor.
Somebody must have enjoyed gardening; another arrangement of rectangles and cubes was completely covered in square tiles, each painted with identical pink roses and green leaves. A simple white cross reached for the sky, a wreath of pink silk roses interspersed with neon green daisies below it. The pretend flowers were framed with white netting that draped down at least five feet toward the ground, barely reaching a grey concrete likeness of a Bible bearing the name of the florist buried there.
The tropical storm evidently had random fits as it roared through the cemetery because adjacent to the flowery mausoleum all that remained of someone else’s grave was a teetering, half-caved in rectangular brick foundation. Over its edge and in between a pile of crumbled bricks I could make out a wad of plastic bags, piles of sticks—and a black pot growing a large arrangement of clean, white silk roses placed with care amidst the rubble.
Another very large gravesite was covered by what resembled a portico, an unusual porch-like arrangement of pillars and an overhead shelter. Underneath its crooked, mold-spotted roof stood an imposing crucifix, the only perpendicular element of the leaning structure. Around its edges were more modest tombs; squat turquoise blue, lemon yellow, or lime green boxes sporting perfect pyramids or curving pedestals supporting white crosses.
A tragic, cheerful sight was a shorter length, pink above ground tomb trimmed with painted purple-flowered tiles. One concrete urn at its foot held salmon-colored artificial carnations and faded green leaves, the other was empty. The tiled box had two plastic pots of dead flowers at its side, and on top was a big star-shaped arrangement of lavender silk flowers with white ribbons resting above an even larger heart-shaped wreath of yellow, red, pink, orange, and purple imitation blooms. The bright arrangements defied blue graffiti scrawled on the front of the mausoleum. Some of it had been scrubbed off. I could not make out the entire name painted on a slab nearby but could decipher “Santana” 25/12/81 and the date below it 20/03/82.
I took a deep breath and wondered, why would the village construct a cemetery so near the ocean in the first place? Did they not anticipate the potential for storm damage? Maybe the simple truth was that no other location was as convenient or prominent as the land on the oceanside ridge. La Penita was a fishing village after all. Perhaps this spot was a poignant, ideal location to bury those that lived and worked on the sea.
I took Patrick’s hand and urged our departure. I sensed we tourists violated the morgue’s serene yet raucous, heart-rending existence.
He agreed, and we stumbled down the steep, sandy path we earlier climbed. My sandal-clad feet stepped in between rocks, around a ball of rusting wire and over a used condom on our descent to the lower beach where the lone mausoleum rested. It angled toward the ocean, leaned forward on the bank. Like the others in the cemetery, the decorated box was constructed on a brick foundation, but unlike many of the others, the bricks remained intact despite the tossing of ocean waves. I took a closer look at the cracked minty-green tiles. They were chipped at their edges. The mausoleum’s corners were worn and dinged.
A bit of red graffiti was scrawled on the front. Some of it had been scrubbed off.
A cross lay flat upon the surface of the box, whose top was also intact except for the crumbling end of the concrete cross.
I glanced toward the nearby waterfront shacks and vacation homes graced with the flowers indicating pride of ownership, then back to the minty-green mausoleum. At its uppermost height, on the cracked box looped in wire that held it together, someone had placed wreaths of white, blue, and pink flowers.
The humble fishing village of La Penita de Jaltemba, Nayarit, Mexico lies on the Pacific shoreline, inhabited by fishermen and their families for generations. The fishermen venture out to the ocean in tiny vessels. Frigates--pterodactyl-like seabirds—dot tropical trees, awaiting their return. The birds darken sunny skies, descending upon the fresh chum that fisherman deposit street side.
The little town serves also as a tourist destination for many North Americans looking to winter in warmer climes. Visitors sacrifice conveniences like functioning indoor plumbing, paved roads, and safety regulations. In exchange, they discover a slower pace of existence; grow to appreciate the tight-knit, family-oriented community; and—I believe—enjoy a simpler way of life.
I visited La Penita as an “advantaged” American, the differences in the way of life there obvious for me even before I encountered a storm-ransacked cemetery on a beach hike.
I entered, uninvited and unaware.
I left, informed and inspired.
I felt compelled to explore in writing my experiences and the lessons I learned in a small fishing village in Mexico. The powerful image of the cemetery remains with me, summing up a thousands-word-long story--depicting not only a weather catastrophe, but a way of life for the people of La Penita. I learned much from our southern neighbors. Writing about the experience provided an opportunity for reflection and greater understanding of myself—and hopefully, and more importantly—a greater understanding of the people of La Penita.
Lora Bray holds degrees in English and Library and Information Studies. She especially enjoys writing memoir and creative nonfiction. Lora comes from the Madison, Wisconsin area and works as a researcher and technical writer in the financial services industry. Her work has appeared in Sky Island Journal and Fiction Southeast.
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DWELLING IN YOUR MEMORIES
“Dwelling in Your Memories” explores the idea of providing those closest to us the opportunity to physically navigate our memories and dreams. The observation of the human need to reminisce and idealization of the past in this piece creates a narrative that feels pensive, intimate, and empathetic to unconscious desires that drive us all.
“Let me stay in your memories. Just for a couple weeks,” she implores.
You shake your head and tell her, “No. My remembrances of the past are too idealized. You’ll be too comfortable there, then turn nostalgic and indulgent—intolerant of the present. Besides, it’s too easy to lose track of time there and to lose track of yourself.”
She’s quick to reply. “I’ll set an alarm to remind me to leave. I won’t get caught up in the charms of the past. I just need that homey environment to revitalize me.”
Spoken in a tone that is equal parts enthusiasm and supplication, her words address and reinforce your concerns. She wants access to your memories for exactly what you’re afraid will entrance her: your fond memories of those summers the two of you shared. That’s not surprising, but it is concerning.
You curate your memories the way some people arrange photo albums; you are selective and thoughtfully group what you do choose to remember by theme. And just as someone could unwittingly spend hours poring over photo albums oblivious to all else, she could lose herself in your memories. But she seems convinced that this is how she must convalesce from the world.
“All right,” you relent, reluctant to deny her the respite she seeks. “But only for a week. And stay away from my memories of you.”
“Okay, thanks!” she cheers, gripping one of your hands in both of hers. “And don’t worry. I’ll be careful to avoid causing any inconsistencies.”
But it’s not a disruption of your memories that you’re worried about.
“Make sure you’re out in a week,” you say to temper her glee. “Don’t make me scour my memories for you.”
“Yes, of course. I’ll see you in a week, and you’ll see a renewed me,” she assures you.
She always packs light, but for this sojourn in the remembered past, she takes a backpack with only a few changes of clothes, a toothbrush, her sketchbook and a pen. She is certain that everything else she needs is in your memories.
There, she quickly finds and settles into the house where she was your summer sister, in the neighborhood where she never felt like a stranger, not even on her first day there. The house is just as she remembers you remembering it: full of July sunlight and warmth, jungly with lush houseplants that made the maple and oak trees outside seem tame. That faint chirping of crickets and those bursts of birdsong come in through windows always open except during the stormiest rainfall. She loves the vividness of everything. It’s the closest thing to being back there. Better even. In her own memories of this time, the house doesn’t have this degree of detail, and she doubts that the actual house has the atmosphere of the house in your memories.
To avoid her past self, she confines herself to your memories of the house when you were alone in its rooms, when she was out at tennis lessons or babysitting the twins. All of these memories are from your point of view, so they appear empty of activity, with only Pleur occasionally slinking by, ears perked up and gray fur so shaggy—tempting her to pet him. To completely avoid her past self, she could keep to your timeless, abstract memory of the house—the idea of the house—but she only spends time sleeping there. In her waking hours, she prefers to be in memories of moments; they breathe with life in ways mental models do not.
She soon finds that you were right: it is easy to lose track of time here. In memories, moments can be drawn out or fleeting—briefer than they ever actually were. The duration and pace of events here often disagrees with her intuition. Further distorting her sense of time is the ease with which one can easily move between memories; she can go right from one time of day to another, go from sunrise on the porch straight to sunset in the backyard if she wanted to.
Her difficulty in gauging the passage of time aside, she feels more herself than she has for a long time. Away from the professional and social pressures of her recent life, she mulls the ideas that she’s had to hold impatiently in the back of her mind, ones that her colleagues would surely dismiss, if not deride. At last, she can work freely on her plans for the hyperbolizer and anchrolite neutralizing agent. She draws and writes on page upon page in her sketchbook while sitting on lawn chairs, the floor of the solarium, the squeaky swing in the playground down the street, a stool at the counter in the ice cream shop always tinged with the fragrance of maple syrup and vanilla. These moments build into a pattern she unconsciously continues: being settled in your memories allows her to become engrossed in her thoughts.
Then, a little too engrossed.
While she’s in a late-afternoon memory, crosslegged on the hardwood floor with her sketchbook in front of her on the coffee table, she loses herself in thought. Time and place fall away, leaving just her and the inner workings of the hyperbolizer. Until movement in her peripheral vision gets her attention. Her gaze flits up to the living room window and finds her past self coming up the walkway.
“Shoot,” she mutters.
She closes her sketchbook and rises to leave, but curiosity gets the better of her. She glances at her younger self coming back from the day’s tennis lesson. She strides toward the house, breezy and confident, vibrant in the ample sunlight as if aglow with a bright destiny.
Is that who I was? she wonders. Or is that who I was to you?
A moment later, she decides, It doesn’t matter. A promise is a promise.
So she walks into the kitchen, into a morning days later during which she had been sleeping in. At the kitchen table, which has only your bowl of rice porridge upon it, she opens her sketchbook and gets back to the hyperbolizer. With fervor, she works pen on paper, drafting diagrams and scribbling notes until her hand is sore.
Then she goes out to the park to clear her mind, and there she decides to see a movie in the theater downtown. In both of these places, she takes note of the details you’ve preserved: the jagged heart carved into your usual bench by the river, a blue blob of bubblegum stuck to the back of a theater seat, the way everyone dressed so primly in Sweet Illusions Half-Baked, the light rasp in the starring actress’s voice—reminiscent of that warm hiss from record players.
The movie, which she has not thought about for quite a while, takes her mind off the sight of her past self. Even though she is sitting in the row just ahead of the one she and you sat in years ago when you first watched Sweet Illusions Half-Baked, this movie holds her attention with its visual and emotional energy. She doesn’t wonder about the younger selves sitting silently behind her. Instead, she’s impressed by how well you remember the scenes. Everything is there, in the right order, in crisp detail. Except the flirt-off, which seems to have been forgotten—odd since she remembers it so well, how she giggled through most of it.
When the credits begin to roll, she promptly exits the theater. She knows that the two of you remained seated until the very end, but she also knows how little you care for credits (even if the music is good); she suspects this part of the memory may be abbreviated and doesn’t want to take any chances. So she’s out of there before the lights come on and bring her younger self out of the darkness.
She heads straight to the diner next door for something to eat. At a booth in the back, she orders an enchilada, then tries to read the newspaper that’s been left there, but it’s unintelligible—just a bunch of pseudo-symbols that vaguely resemble letters—and the inside is blank.
Of course, she thinks. You never read this newspaper. You just remember seeing it here, perhaps on the way to the bathroom.
Now she wishes she had brought a novel with her for leisure reading.
Lying in bed during what feels to her like nighttime, in the abstraction of the bedroom she shared with you, the sight of her past self nags at her, raising all manner of questions.
Is that just how I looked that afternoon, or was I like that the whole summer? Did I only look that way to you? Do I still look that way sometimes?
In the absence of answers, it is sleep that finally quiets her thoughts.
When she wakes up, her mind is thoroughly refreshed and quickly refocuses on thoughts about the hyperbolizer. So she sits in the wicker chair on the porch and gets back to her sketchbook, to work out the mechanism that toggles the hyperbolizer from positive to negative. Then, during breakfast, there’s one stray thought in her mind about that glimpse she caught, and suddenly last night’s questions are back in full force, tempting her to peek at your memories of her that summer. But with your directive still loud and stern in her mind, she knows better than to go down this rabbit hole, which undoubtedly has paths leading to nostalgia and narcissism—even obsession.
She sequesters herself in your abstract memory of the house, where no mishaps can arise, where temptations are less likely to flare up and more difficult to act upon if they do. In the idea of the living room, she works on her own ideas, even though this version of the house is too still for her liking. There’s no breeze jostling the leaves of the houseplants, no bees buzzing by the kitchen window, no Pleur plodding by with his amber, feline eyes gazing ahead intently.
With everything here frozen in conceptual inertness, it feels like a museum gallery. She has difficulty concentrating. Then she doesn’t. The absence of all movement around her grants a different kind of focus, the sort that the mind uses to displace emptiness.
But when she takes a break for lunch, it occurs to her that if she’s in your idea of the house, she could find your idea of who she was back then—your understanding of her adolescent self that summer. That identity held by her past self in your mind would answer many of her questions. She shakes her head at this thought. She can’t believe she’s even considering it.
Maybe I should leave, she thinks. Just for a little while. Have some real coffee and a soak in the tub to snap me out of this.
These thoughts prompt her to do what she hasn’t done all this time: look at her world-anchored chronometer. It tells her that it’s deep into the night. So she decides to see if you’re dreaming.
In your subconscious mind, she finds you—your dream self sitting on the shore of a lake she does not recognize. The mountains that lie beyond the opposite shore are steely and craggy, austere against the bright blue sky embracing them.
Is this somewhere you’ve been, or did your mind just imagine it up? she wants to ask you.
“Mind if I sit here?” she asks your dream self, more out of curiosity than courtesy; she wants to know if your dream self will respond to her.
“Go ahead,” the dream self says.
She takes a seat on the pebbly ground. There is no gritty crunching beneath her, prompting her to notice the sheer silence of this landscape.
Are your dreams always this quiet? she wonders.
You both gaze upon the lake.
“Tell me,” the dream self says, as if to the landscape here. “Why are you such a narcissiphobe?”
Assuming that your dream self is seeing her as merely a dream character, she tries to play along.
She takes a moment to think up a plausible answer.
“I’m afraid of how narcissists will treat me. Like I’m just another source of admiration, to be chastised or abandoned when I disagree with them.”
“So you’re afraid of being disrespected and disregarded?” paraphrases your dream self tentatively.
“Of not being empathized with,” she clarifies. “Of being the only one doing the empathizing in a relationship.”
“You poor thing. Unrequited empathy can take such a toll on the psyche.”
Unrequited empathy? she considers. Maybe that does actually describe what I’ve been going through lately. My emotional life now feels like the exact opposite of my childhood, with none of the thoughtful consideration that I got so much of at school and at home, that I had assumed was just woven into the fabric of society.
“You were always the sensitive one,” the dream self says. “But I didn’t know that until much too late.”
Me the sensitive one? her thoughts balk. Do you think I’m someone I’m not?
“But I just wanted to be happy,” she attempts.
“Yet you couldn’t be happy when others were unhappy,” the dream self muses.
“That’s just being human,” she immediately replies.
“That’s just what I like about you,” your dream self tells her, still looking at the lake.
“Me being human?”
“Yes, you are so very human.”
Maybe you’re right. I might be sensitive. Everyone’s always reacting to things more strongly than I do, but maybe I feel just as deeply in some different way.
“Are you happy?” she asks.
“Yes, I am,” this part of you beside her says.
“Good,” she says, voice soft and firm, like a quiet command to make everything here exactly that.
She settles into the silence, then opens up her sketchbook. She draws not schematics but the scene before her. You’ve never been good at remembering your dreams. If she doesn’t record this, who will?
“Let me stay by your side in your memories.”
This lyric from Yuki Kajiura’s song “forest” has fascinated me for a while with at least 2 interpretations:
1. a request to not be forgotten, a plea against fading from someone’s memories;
2. a request to enter someone’s memories, to keep that someone company.
The story “Dwelling in Your Memories” began with that second interpretation but soon departed from it to become a story about the necessity of spending time in a loved one’s conception of some shared past, in an idyllic remembrance of youth. From there, “Dwelling in Your Memories” continued to move away form “forest,” the latter set in autumn and pervaded by longing, the former focusing on the solace of bygone summer days—the comfort only a home that exists in memory can provide.
Yet these two works ultimately remain entwined. Though I hadn’t planned it this way (in fact, I didn’t even realize this until recently), “Dwelling in Your Memories” returns to its originating lyric in the end with the characters side by side—in not an existing memory but a dream that will go on to become a memory they share.
I love how works of art can engage in this kind of dialogue; they can diverge and converge to explore the richness of human experience, their ideas in counterpoint with each other.
Soramimi Hanarejima is a writer of innovative fiction and the author of Visits to the Confabulatorium, a fanciful story collection that Jack Cheng said, "captures moonlight in Ziploc bags." Soramimi’s work recent work can be found in The Best Asian Speculative Fiction 2018, Mad Scientist Journal and KYSO Flash.
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