“Absentee” by William Kelley Woolfitt

Absentee, Eclipse Salamander

“Eclipse Salamander” by Suzanne Stryk 1996 gouache on paper

I come from the careening wrong turn,
Holy Rollers, multiflora rose, and fists;
siltstone and slate embossed with ferns;
bituminous coal that pocks our land with holes
and pits, and makes an overseas company rich.
My trailer stands at the end of a derelict road
I never would have found.  Showers at night
fill my gutters with knuckles of hail,
scattershot ice a bruising reminder to me
that I am really in my body, and not in a dream,
when I go out to smell the world set alive.
Taking welts on my back, I move past wood scraps
and junk cars, to the well-house where I draw
sulfur ooze, a bucket of the true, the dark, the raw.



William Kelley Woolfitt lived in West Virginia for over twenty years, and now teaches creative writing and literature at Lee University, in the foothills of the Appalachians. He is the author of The Salvager’s Arts, co-winner of the 2011 Keystone Chapbook Prize. His writings have appeared or are forthcoming in Cincinnati Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Ninth Letter, Shenandoah, Los Angeles Review, Sycamore Review, Southern Humanities Review, and Hayden’s Ferry Review. He goes walking on the Appalachian Trail or at his grandparents’ farm in West Virginia whenever he can.

“Absentee” first appeared in Talking Leaves, in slightly different form.

Read an interview with William here.

“Skunk Stroll” by Lisa J. Cihlar

Skunk Stroll. the collectors secret

“The Collector’s Secret” by Suzanne Stryk 2001

These are the things she buried: the skull of her pet rabbit whose name was Sometimes Fred, a dog whistle, a pair of purple knitting needles, a feather from a guinea hen, all black and white laddered. She climbs the oak and joins herself to the trunk with streamers of spider web and weary people come to watch her turn to shaggy bark. It is taking a long time, but that she expected. The people send up sandwiches using the pulley system she pilfered from a tree house where the children no longer play. The Ladies Garden Club brings old tires and fills them with dirt to plant Sweet Williams and Purple Viking potatoes. One morning she sees a man walking his white turkeys. In the evenings when all the people have gone back to their domesticities, she watches a family of skunks tumble past in the moonlight. She dreams when it is windy, but mostly about the stove and iron. Did she remember to turn them off?



Lisa J. Cihlar‘s poems appeared or are forthcoming in The South Dakota Review, Green Mountains Review, Crab Creek Review, Southern Humanities Review, and Blackbird.   She has been twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her chapbook, “The Insomniac’s House,” is available from Dancing Girl Press and a second chapbook, “This is How She Fails,” is available from Crisis Chronicles Press. She lives in rural southern Wisconsin.

“Keep Smiling Mary K” by Leah Kaminsky

Keep Smiling Mary K (Still Life with Anole)
“Still Life with Anole” by Suzanne Stryk, 2011, acrylic on canvas

Now you can perspire in the comfort of your own living room, viewers, with Christian Aerobics, broadcasting all over the Middle East from here in Nicosia, Cyprus. Get ready to start your heart pumping, girls. Exercise your faith.

Thighs hurt, especially the left one. I was always weaker on that side. OK, I’ll push. It’s worth it to get rid of the flab. The baby lies on the couch, mouthing for my breast. Nipples are so sore. Push on.

Lift the knee, two, three. Come on, you can raise it higher.

Fat chance, lady. It won’t go. The whole lot just won’t push back into place. Definitely not nubile; more like voluptuous now. No, not true. Definitely obese. Stretch marks on the tummy. I’ve tried the creams and Jane Fonda’s video. He, on the couch, all of six weeks, stares at his mother who is leaning on a chair and pushing herself around the living room, a beached whale straining to get back into the water.

Four more. And four and three and two and one. All right, you deserve a break now, you’ve all worked hard. Here’s a letter from Mary K in Beirut, who watches us every day:

‘Dear Justine,

I love your show and your Health Club is the answer to my prayers. I’ve just had my fifth son and I’d like to know how I can get back to my pre-pregnancy weight.’

Thank you for your letter, Mary K and I’ll pray for you, even though I’ve never met you. You are so sweet. The answer, Mary K, is to keep pushing away from the table when you are full. Eat natural foods. Anything that is the way God made it, right from the earth to you, is good for you. Avoid batter, exercise your faith and keep smiling!

It’s the veins that really hurt, and I’m still bleeding, but there’s no time. I’ll go and get a check-up when Shlomi gets back from reserve duty. It’s hard to keep smiling, Mary K, when you feel like a lump of dough.

Come on, girls! Leg raises, one two, one two. Concentrate on Jesus, surrender to His heart. Exercise your faith, now’s the time to start. Good, good.  Now lift your shoulders, in the name of the Lord!

I can’t do it, Mary K. Can you? They hurt from all that carrying. I live on the hills of Jerusalem; the world balanced on its shoulders. Justine, the blond aerobics instructor in her tight pink leotard, broadcasting from Nicosia, can’t feel the weight of our children. They pour over the top of their baby scales, heavy with the weight of the dead. But the washing has to be done and the nappies hung out to dry in the Middle Eastern sun.

In the name of the Lord, tighten those buttocks. And don’t forget to smile!

Are you smiling, Mary K? The girls are at my mother-in-law’s and I’m home alone with the baby. I get so tired and, late at night, I cling to Shlomi’s empty pajamas. He is in Lebanon, Mary K, and won’t be home for a month. I wonder if you saw him over there?

Breathe in, two three, and out, two three, raise it higher, tighten those tummy muscles, girls.

I saw your dark eyes once, I think, Mary K, in a little Lebanese restaurant on Brunswick Street, back in Melbourne. And I saw you crying when you held your first-born son in Bankstown hospital, in Sydney. I have tasted your foule, your falafel, your hoummous, your tabouleh. I met you in Australia, where Beirut and Jerusalem lie on either side of a back fence.

Are you still smiling, girls? Give it everything you’ve got. Come on, try harder. Up two, three, down two, three.

I cried when my son was born. That week, an ancient cemetery came crashing down on a street cafe in a laneway of Jerusalem. The dead kill the living and the living live on the dead. That is the weight of Jerusalem-of-gold. Will my son follow his father’s footsteps? Will his father step wrong one day before his son takes his first step?

The first step is always the hardest, girls, but you can do it, in the name of the Lord. You can be slim again. Come on! And one and two.

I am knitting booties for my son. I polished Shlomi’s boots before he left and today there was more shooting on the border. Purl, plain, purl, plain: it soothes me while I watch the 9 o’clock news. But right now, it’s pelvic tightening, so we have to concentrate Mary K and strengthen ourselves for the next season’s fertility, family, fodder, fruit, festering wounds.

That’s the way to do it, well done, girls! For the love of the Lord, do it for all mankind. Strengthen those pelvic muscles. Up and down, and up and down.

Forget it, Mary K. Let’s have a cup of tea and some honey sweet baklawa from the bakery next door. Let’s face it; we’ll never be the girls we were before we gave birth. And Jesus, Moses and Mohammed all know that neither of us will ever, ever lose the weight.



Leah Kaminsky, physician and writer, is Poetry & Fiction Editor at the Medical Journal of Australia and Online Editor at Hunger Mountain. She conceived and edited Writer, M.D., an anthology of contemporary doctor-writers (Vintage Knopf US 2012) and her award-winning poetry collection, Stitching Things Together was published in 2010. Her work is published or forthcoming in Huffington Post, Monocle, Griffith Review, Hippocrates Poetry Prize anthology, Poems in the Waiting Room, The Ampersand Review, and PANK, amongst others. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. (www.leahkaminsky.com)

Read an interview with Leah here.

“Sushi at Midnight” by Jacob Fons

Sushi at Midnight.WorldEnough
“World Enough,” by Suzanne Stryk, 2006. Acrylic on handmade book, map, leaf.

“It’s time to go.”

“Yeah, I know Father, I heard the bell.”

“Did you enjoy it?”

“Wasn’t really what I thought it was gonna taste like.  I’ve never really liked seafood. It was OK, I guess.”

“You chose Luke 6:37, any reason for that particular verse?”

“My Mother would read that one to us on Christmas Day. We got that instead of presents. I guess it was supposed to make us feel guilty for being pissed that we didn’t get shit on Christmas. It’s just kinda stuck with me since then.”

“She did her best.”

“Yeah, she did something alright. Only three of us six left. She definitely did something.”

“Well, we all choose our own paths in life Jeremiah.”

“You didn’t have my life Father. You couldn’t imagine the things I’ve seen.”

“Good Evening Father.”

“Hello Warden.”

“This way please Jeremiah.”

“Did my wife and kids show up?”

“Sorry, we did try to contact them, but no, they’re not here.”

“That’s alright. I don’t want my kids to see me like this anyways. This shouldn’t be the last image that they have of their dad.”

“It’s midnight, Jeremiah, time to start.”

“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be–“

“Hey Father?”

“Yes Jeremiah?”

“Don’t worry about it. You don’t need to read anymore. I never really believed it anyways. Father?”


“You really think there’s something else out there?”

“I do my son.”

“Well how about for someone like me? Never mind, I guess I already know the answer.”

“Do you have any last words Jeremiah Wesson Hill?”

“None that matter anymore.”

“Begin initial injection.”

“Bless you my son…”

“Funny thing Father, at a time like this, the only thing I can think about is that I finally had sushi.”

“That’s good, my son. That’s real good.”



Jacob Fons is a short story author and novelist. He has work appearing or forthcoming in over a dozen publications including Enhance, Epiphany, and 1000 Words. He is currently writing a book of short stories entitled, Stories from 32nd Street that will be published in late 2014. Jacob has been writing stories his entire life but just recently began submitting his work for publication. There’s one thing that he promises; his writing will always be honest, and heartfelt. It may not always be pretty, but it will be real, and full of emotion.

Read an interview with Jacob here.

“Sex for Groceries” by Kirie Pedersen

Kirie Pederson.FactsofLife

“Facts of Life” by Suzanne Stryk

“…During a summer storm of three or four days of chilling rain, flocks leave the nesting grounds and may fly hundreds of miles until they encounter favorable weather. After the storm, they return in small groups to the nests. In their absence, the young survive without food, becoming torpid: cold, motionless, and barely breathing. Lower metabolism prevents starvation, thus allowing the young to be raised through alternating periods of plenty and shortage.”  ~National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds Western Region


“When your mother dies,” Matthew said, “Your molecular structure breaks down and is rearranged. When it’s over, you literally become a different person.”

Matthew is my love. I don’t know what else to call him. He endured the deaths of my father and mother, a year apart, and in between, Zoe’s murder. It was as though a hole opened up in the universe and sucked them all away.

Rather, I should say, Matthew endured my family. And me. My father refused to acknowledge him, and made snide comments about Jews. My mother adored him, but of course, my mother loved everyone. In grief, I became insane.

“Now you will truly be an orphan,” my therapist said, “a real orphan because your parents are dead and dying. And you will cast off your family.”

Cast off my family?

“Your family is the embodiment of evil.” Pam tilted her head, examining me as if  for self-inflicted burns, cigarettes crushed out on my belly. “I see you standing on the porch of a burning cabin. You can go back in and rescue everyone. Or you can save yourself. You’ll be lucky to escape with your car keys.” Pam wore a silly purple beret and jaunty scarf. She didn’t care what other people thought about her. “Have you read the Old Testament? You must cleave unto your lover.” That shut me up. Pam quoting the  Old Testament. Sucked as I was into the tarpit of my family, it seemed logical I should jettison Matthew. If I increased my losses to the highest possible level, I wouldn’t have to feel anything at all. It was like pressing on a bruise on my wrist to ease the throbbing in my skull.

After decades without drinking or smoking, I wanted to drink and smoke. I’ve never done heroin, but that sounded fine too.

If not heroin, throw myself off a cliff.

“Want anything to take the edge off?” Pam asked.  Sweet words. But I knew from long experience that I wouldn’t simply ease the edge.

“I’d take one, then the whole damn bottle, and then crave more,” I said. “But if you give me an IV I can lead around on a leash, with just the right dose trickling in? I’ll take that.”

Instead, I walked for miles in the Olympic National Park. I walked so far and so fast my collie and golden retriever couldn’t keep up.  I walked until I reached an altered state. Adrenalin or endorphins or exhaustion kicked in, or the sun streaked through the trees to illuminate a single fire-singed stump, turning it blue and black, and at the same moment, a Pileated woodpecker made its “high clear series of piping calls” overhead.

My toenails bruised and turned blood dark, like those of a marathon runner.

Dad died first.  Matthew and I left Manhattan and returned to the Pacific Northwest. It was a long dark spring, or so I remember: rain without ceasing. We were shipwrecked in our cabin, death and darkness folded around us. Sometimes, I wanted to be even more alone, in a tiny space, like a baby’s crib. I wanted to move into our guest cottage, called Eagle Cottage because bald eagles perch overhead. I wanted a cell-like bed separate from all others, to be attached to that bed by a slender chain, floating away from time.

Yet I could not sleep unless Matthew wrapped himself around me, holding me tightly, forming a womb, and even that was not enough. I never lost awareness of my mother, a few miles away. After sixty years of marriage, she slept alone in her own cell-like basement room in the hospice. I wanted to fashion a pouch, like those in which newborns are swaddled, clutched to the chests of their fathers or mothers. I would carry my shrunken little mother twenty-four hours a day, singing to her in her own dying days.

Every dawn, I awakened to a heavy fist of dread striking my heart. I dreaded visiting Mother, and then felt guilty for my dread. I dreaded her actual death. I was sad about my sisters, and how estranged we had become. I fantasized the lovely sisters again united, singing perfect four-part harmony. This happened, briefly, at my father’s memorial down on the shore. After the guests left, the siblings sat on the grey stone sea wall Dad had built by hand. It was dusk. We sang every song we remembered, someone starting one up and the rest picking it up, on and on, until the moon rose red over the horizon.

And then the next morning, the calls and texts and emails began, the awful things this person said, or that.

Sometimes I woke with renewed energy to take action, to quit feeling sorry for myself. I wanted to accept death as a natural, even healthy part of life. I wanted to accept death as beautiful, a way of prayer, a simple cessation of heartbeat and breath. I did not have to die because Dad died, because Mom was dying. Yet the child, alone, without parents, does die. If she can’t find sustenance or shelter, she dies.

When Matthew and I were in Manhattan, I taught a class on addiction, weight and body image. It was nice to be around teenagers. The women, girls, really, were beautiful and brilliant. It was difficult to understand how they could hate their bodies, want to hurt themselves, cut into their flesh, as most did, but Manhattan is filled with ambition, and even the very young are driven to accomplish by thirty what others, in other parts of the country, the Northwest for example, might be content to achieve in a lifetime.

Two days before Matthew and I were to return to Portland, one of the young woman called. She begged me to attend a “ladies tea,” as she called it, in my honor. I had already begun to push the students from my mind, my way of protecting myself from loss. “I can’t,” I said. “I have too much to do. I like clean departures.”

Zoe insisted. Sweet Zoe was spectacularly beautiful, a gifted singer and piano player, on scholarship to Manhattan School of Music. She had a glow about her, the same glow my mother had, but she also had a craziness I couldn’t quite put my finger on, perhaps only my own madness when I was nineteen.

“We want to celebrate your Kirieness,” Zoe said.

And so the dozen women from the class gathered in Zoe’s studio apartment. Everyone dressed up, and perched along two facing couches, and on chairs, chatting about this and that. I was staring out the window at a brick wall, thinking about Matthew and my dead father and my dying mother, and then, as if from nowhere, as if from far away, I heard Zoe say “I trade sex for groceries.”

She needed groceries to feed her child, her scholarship didn’t cover food. Or child care.

I didn’t know Zoe had a child.

“Oh yeah,” she said. “I lost custody. See, when I was eleven, this guy talked me into going to his apartment, and then he raped me. When he was done, he threw, like a hundred dollars on me. On my body.”

“How awful.” My heart went out to her, this beautiful smart young girl, her life shredded. When I was the age Zoe was now, in art school and working as a model, the same thing happened, and the guy threw a few dollars on a chair. This is all I’m worth? I remember thinking that.

Zoe said the man became her pimp. And she was on a yacht one day, and the client left for a moment. She felt something beneath the bed, poked with her high heel, and she saw the body of a woman shoved underneath. Still in her heels, Zoe ran for her life across the dock.

I wondered if this was how I sounded, too, at her age, when I tried to tell my sisters or my friends what had happened. Zoe cried a little, but the tears fell straight down onto her beautiful dress, as if beyond her bidding.

Then Zoe laughed. “I escaped,” she said. “I’m alive. I’m starting over.” She would regain custody of her little girl. She would finish school, support her family. Relieved, we all laughed too, a glitter of sound across the darkening room. Zoe poured chamomile tea into fragile cups, passed around trays of lemon cupcakes.

“Violence changes the brain chemistry,” I told the young women. “Experiencing it, I mean.” I cannot help talking like a professor. It’s better than feeling. “Talking about these experiences with each other lessens the pain,” I said.

“I’m going to be a therapist,” Zoe said. “Like you. I’ll do music therapy with young girls who’ve been damaged. And help them live.”

A week after our gathering, when I was already back west, the story was all over the news. Zoe met a man who was once a client. She met him in a hotel room where they’d often met before. She thought he was in love with her.  He was a law student, and maybe he would help her with college, with her daughter. It seemed he wanted to tie her to the bed, or tried to. Zoe ran, actually made it to the door, and then he shot her in the back.

“I’m hysterical,” I told Matthew. “I’m so sorry. I should know better.”

Matthew disagreed about what I was, what I should be sorry for. “Hysteria is deep healing,” he said. “The more deeply you cry, turn yourself inside out, the deeper the healing.”  He said grief is like being hit by napalm, immolated and melted. Or boiled to a grinning skeleton of bone.

“I would rather light myself on fire than continue to cry like this.” I put my hand over my belly as if protecting an embryo. “If my molecular structure changes now, what will I be when it’s over?”

“It’s never over,” Matthew said. His parents had died decades before. I’d always felt sorry for him, but now I envied him.

“Was it like this for you?” I asked. “Did you feel like this?” Every day, I asked him that.

As our mother embarked on what the hospice nurse called “active dying,” we four sisters gathered a final time. We sat around our mother’s narrow cot and sang every song we knew, the songs she taught us. We folded our coats into pillows, and slept on the floor, breathing ragged as she did. When she stopped breathing, she looked like herself again. Her folded-up body straightened out. She was beautiful, like concentrated sweetness.

I howled like a baby, a pierced animal.

“I’m not sure I’m coming back this time,” I told Matthew.

“I know,” Matthew said. He reached over and touched my knee. “I’m not sure either. Let’s just go ahead for now.”

When I was attacked, I left my body. I saw the event, but I was outside it, looking down from near the ceiling. I never returned to that body. That girl was dead. I developed the head, the brain, and even some of the credentials to help others. I did help others. I didn’t save Zoe, but I’m sure I helped a few people.

That day, when Matthew touched my knee so lightly, I re-entered my body. Just as the assault took place at a specific time and place, on a specific day, to a specific body no longer mine, so I returned to my new body, this rejiggered constellation of molecules, almost with a thud. It was as if a screen or shroud lifted all at once. Below the cabin, the high tide lapped on the grey stones of the shoreline, and in the Douglas fir and madrona clung small clusters of golden crowned kinglets, bushtits, creepers, and nuthatches with their tumbling chatter, their tinkling descending warble. I shook my head and looked around at the waxing gibbous moon, the turquoise water. The moss was freshly green in the cold spring rain. I wanted to pet it. I wanted to lie down in it and roll around. I wanted to pray to it. I wanted to learn its name.



Kirie Pedersen has work forthcoming or published in Quiddity, Wisconsin Review, Eclipse, RiverSedge, Utne Reader, Folly Magazine, Eclipse, Women NetWork, Alcoholism the National Journal, Northwest People, Caper Literary Journal, Laurel Review, Teachers and Writers, Regeneration (Rodale Press), Glossolalia, Avatar Review, Chaffee Review, Black Boot, Eleven Eleven, Folly Magazine, and elsewhere. She holds an M.A in fiction writing and literature and blogs at www.kiriepedersen.com

“A Sudden Tilt of the Head” by Michael Sarnowski

M. Sarnowski. LivesoftheBirds
“Lives of the Birds,” (detail) by Suzanne Stryk, 2010

Believe me when I say
I tried not to apply deeper meaning
to ordinary happenings
like the blood that dripped from your nose
onto the splayed open pages
of the book on my nightstand
but we think divine
of the commonplace
to entertain and explain
to explore the connections
at the synapse
that abstract the direct
blur the narrative
into a form that takes new meaning
like the title page spotted
with dried brown blood
as if the American
who fucked his way through Paris
in the pages that followed
had something important to say.




Michael Sarnowski earned his MFA in Creative Writing from Vanderbilt University, where he was a recipient of an Academy of American Poets Prize. His poetry has appeared in Potomac Review, The Adirondack Review, Underground Voices, and Foundling Review, among others. He currently lives in Rochester, New York, where he is a Visiting Assistant Professor of English at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

Read an interview with Michael here.

Tuesday a.m.

LivesoftheBirds.Lori May
“Lives of the Birds” #4, by Suzanne Stryk, 2009

Looking to buy some happiness
maybe a dose of self-respect
she combs her fingers through the racks,
sale or otherwise,
knowing the possibility is there.

If only she could find it.

The one thing to guarantee bliss,
carry her weight
for the rest of the day.

Cold marble floors
industrial with purpose
polished three hours earlier
know the point of her pursuit.

Brushed cottons
loose linens
raw silks
hold comfort.

in this buffet of hope
she seeks out a smile,
a reflection in the chrome
she will at once recognize.

Intercoms and lost children
mists of new scents
the intoxicating knowledge
that anything is possible.

Smartly altered mirrors convince
and disguise last night’s restless sleep.

there is a chance of renewal.
Plastic overpowers and creates an armor
offering just a taste of worth.



Lori A. May is the author of four books including The Low-Residency MFA Handbook: A Guide for Prospective Creative Writing Students (Continuum, 2011). Her poetry and literary nonfiction has appeared in publications such as Phoebe, Caper Literary Journal, Steel Toe Review, and qarrtsiluni. She lives online at www.loriamay.com.

Read an interview with Lori here.