Interview with Jackie Craven

Jackie Craven

This spring, Jackie Craven met with four poetry friends in Johnstown, New York for an informal afternoon of feedback and discussion. The poets, who have been meeting regularly for more than a decade, listened to Jackie read “White Lightning” and asked her about the poem and her writing processes. A short bio of each poet appears at the end of the interview.

Sandra Manchester: Your poem reminds me of “Ego Tripping” by Nikki Giovanni. It’s an oral poem, and has powerful images spilling out, one after another.

Jackie Craven: Welcome to my strange, quirky world! My mother was an artist whose work explodes with surreal images— an old man grows angel wings, an angel sprouts a mermaid’s tail, monkeys wear human faces. Growing up with her paintings, I guess it’s natural for me to dwell in the realm of the fantastic. My fiction chapbook, Our Lives Became Unmanageable (Omnidawn, 2016), follows characters who grapple with otherworldly compulsions and dilemmas. “White Lightning” continues that theme, but the voice is different from anything I’ve attempted before. Writing this poem really was an adventure.

Catherine DeSalle: I can’t imagine what I’d be thinking of to come up with the images you used—lips like an iron gate, a tongue curled like a slug. Did the poem come from a memory? A dream?

 

JC: It’s hard to know what stew images bubble up from—maybe they’re just a part of me, like the images in my mother’s paintings. However, I do credit fellow writers (you guys!) and my teachers for helping me bring the strangeness to the surface. Several years ago, I took a workshop with Tim Seibles at the Palm Beach Poetry Festival. Tim encouraged us to experiment with metaphors and to seek unexpected juxtapositions. Whenever I read Tim’s work, I come away with a sense of shock and awe. Check out these lines from his poem “First Kiss”:

…her mouth pulled up
like a baby-blue Cadillac
packed with canaries driven
by a toucan…

The images are insane, but they overflow with emotion. I can hear a young, love-sick narrator grope for words as he struggles to describe sensations he doesn’t fully understand. I wanted to achieve something like this in “White Lightning.” Using Tim’s poem as a model, I filled pages with ideas, rooting around for the kind of outrageous statements that might be spoken by someone who is reeling out of control.

 

Virginia Bach Folger: As you wrote, did you imagine the words rushing up from the printed page? Or did you see this as a poem that you would recite to an audience?

JC: Both! I’m in awe of poets who have a flare for performance. I could listen all day to Tim Seibles, or the gorgeous, rolling voice of Yusef Komunyakaa. And I love the rhythm and energy of Danez Smith, who has won many poetry slam awards. I wish I could perform like that, and I’ve been participating in a lot of open mics to build confidence. But, I’m truly an introvert. I hope that my printed words will convey sounds and emotions, even when the poem isn’t presented aloud.

 

Catherine DeSalle: But you read it very well just now!

JC: Thank you. “White Lightning” is a persona poem—to read it aloud, I need to step inside the skin of an entirely different person. The narrator has his own experiences and his own vocabulary for expressing those experiences. He says things that would not occur to me naturally. So to read this poem aloud, I have to summon some acting skills.

 

Catherine Norr: Your speaker mentions several mythical gods and legends. I love these! Did the mythical references pop naturally into your mind, or did you need to do research?

JC:   Some, like Götterdämmerung and Jabberwock came automatically, but I doubt I would have thought of Nithhogr or Smaug without digging. I wanted my speaker to compare his experiences to grandiose events, so I searched for allusions from mythology, sci-fi movies, and Dungeons and Dragons lore. I selected Nithhogr and Smaug because I loved the sound of their names and the associations they stir. If you asked me specific details about the tales, I’m not sure how much I’d remember—I’m just taken with the sounds.

White Lightning

Virginia Bach Folger: That’s fascinating, and opens up permission for the rest of us. Tell us about your writing process. Do you find you’re more productive when you stick to a routine, or when you’re more flexible with time and places?

JC: My life is as chaotic as the situations in my stories and poems. I have no routine. There are periods when I do little writing, and then—without warning—stories and poems come in a gush. The funny thing is, some of my most productive writing times are when I’m also extremely busy with other activities.

Virginia Bach Folger: The title “White Lightning” gave me the impression that this would be a sexual poem. On first reading, I imagined something bright and flashing—like a climax—rather than about drinking.

Catherine DeSalle: I thought so, too!

Catherine Norr: White lightning is a kind of alcohol. I think the double meaning adds to the poem. I love the layers of meaning and the shifting images– “squeezing music / out my pores till my skin stretched to cellophane…”

Catherine DeSalle: I was reminded of a stream-of-consciousness story by George Saunders. As you read, I didn’t think too hard about the literal meaning of the words. I was caught up in the sound of your voice, and the rhythm.

Virginia Bach Folger: How happy are you with the title?

JC: True confession? I’ve changed it. After “White Lightning” appeared in r.kv.r.y., I decided to include the poem in my collection, Secret Formulas & Techniques of the Masters (forthcoming from Brick Road Poetry Press). The collection is about the thirst for magic potions and the desire to alter reality. Many of the poems are based on paintings by my mother, so I gave “White Lightning” a name that corresponds with that theme. The poem is now called “The Absinthe Drinker (Egg Tempera & Oil).” It’s probably a good thing Secret Formulas will be in print soon, or I’d never stop rewriting the poems.

 

Virginia Bach Folger: How do you know when you’re finished?

JC: You should see my cabinets—overflowing with half-finished manuscripts, work I’ve tinkered with for years and can’t let go of. I just hope that the old poems don’t crowd out the new—there are so many ideas clamoring to get out.

 

 

Catherine DeSalle is a visual artist who writes poetry and essays.

Catherine Norr is the author Return to Ground (Finishing Line Press, 2014). Her work has also appeared in Avocet, The Evening Street Review, Oriel, The Sun, and other journals.

Sandra Manchester studied with Robert Pinsky at the New York State Writers Institute. She writes poetry and memoir based on her life growing up with itinerant farmers.    

Virginia Bach Folger has recent work published or forthcoming in Constellations: A Journal of Poetry and Fiction, The Fourth River, Lumina, The Bacopa Literary Review, and The Virginia Normal.

 

Interview with Susan Cole

Susan Cole

Lauren Kettler: Susan, this is a rare treat for me because you and I have been comrades in writing more than a decade now, and our friendship spans even longer than that. I feel privileged to have perused the gamut of your writing, all of it nonfiction and personal. In addition to an array of smaller autobiographical pieces, your manuscript Laughing Goat: A Sailing Memoir chronicles your life cruising the Caribbean with your husband John and daughter Kate. There are so many ways to tell a story. Tell us a little about why memoir and who’s influenced you most in this genre.

Susan Cole: I began writing the story of our three-year voyage a few years after we returned. Our sailing adventure was a transformational experience—leaving our home and roots in Fairfield, Connecticut behind and setting out to sea. I wanted to understand why I went on the voyage and how it changed my life. Two memoirs that influenced me: Abigail Thomas’ Three Dog Life and Lee Martin’s Such a Life. Thomas’ frankness about living with her husband’s brain injury helped me to realize I needed to put myself in the center of the story. I loved Martin’s strong sense of place.

 

LK: Below is one of my favorite Laughing Goat passages:

“Some time after John moved in, I had a dream in which I was sitting in a crowded train station at night. I was on a bench with other passengers, next to a broad plate glass window that reflected the high arched ceilings and glittering glass chandeliers inside. The window overlooked a busy downtown thoroughfare. Waiting for my train, I was alert yet absorbed in the book I was reading. Suddenly, a giant bare foot crashed through the window and a big laughing bearded man popped through.”

The above is for me a seminal description of John’s footprint, pun entirely intended, on your life. In a smaller piece you said, “Bashert, soul of my soul. I fell into your dream and you awakened mine.” I think more than the cruising, John was the adventure of your life. How did and does his presence continue to shape your writing?

SC: As you know, John died last summer of lung cancer. I wrote “Harbor Lights” about those last months (r.kv.r.y, April issue). John and I were together 44 years. We met at work in our twenties. He was a sailor from Connecticut; I grew up in landlocked Ohio. He talked me into buying a leaky 50’ 1903 Fire Island ferryboat and living in Long Island Sound—our first boat, which later sank. When I met John, I was in psychoanalysis and beginning to come to terms with the deep love I’d had for my dad, who died when I was ten and about whom I never spoke. John burst through my reserves. He had tremendous vitality. He remains my inspiration.

 

LK: Kate was seven when you and John set sail with her for a cruising life in the Caribbean. You say in your sailing memoir:

“Kate bounded in from her cabin. She showed me a poem she had just written about having to wear shoes again. She stood next to me while I read it, peering over my shoulder. In the poem, she imagined going back to the States and wrote about shoes that pinch, that make you sweat and slow you down. … I realized how much I loved the wildness. I had loved watching her shinny up the mast and seeing her lead children and dogs into crazy tropical adventures where she hadn’t known what the outcome would be. I hadn’t wanted to stuff her or us into tight shoes that pinch– that slow you down.”

What did it mean for you as a woman to take your young daughter on this adventure?

SC: During the voyage, Kate operated the dinghy by herself, swung on the halyard in long graceful arcs over the water from bow to stern, wrote two novels and befriended “boat kids” from around the world. On the other hand, when there were no kids around, she was lonely. Peeking into her cabin one day when she was reading aloud, her stuffed animals arrayed attentively around her, pierced my heart; another time in Belize, when we were stuck on an island waiting for a part, Kate said, “This is no way to raise a child, moving from place to place!” Although I was torn about ripping apart the secure life Kate had in Fairfield, I was glad that she could experience the freedom of blue-water sailing.

Harbor Lights

LK: A riveting aspect of your sailing memoir is that the places you encounter are as central as the characters themselves:

“I swatted back branches and vines that crept over the dock and screened out the hot afternoon sun. Lizards scurried across the dock and butterflies fluttered in the still air. Something–a bird? an iguana?–clicked from the bushes. On the river, we passed fishermen in cayucos casting their nets. Flocks of birds rose, silhouetted against the pale dawn light. We were back on the Rio Dulce.”

Talk about your seduction with exploring the new and seemingly uncharted.

SC: John and I first read about the Rio Dulce, a lush river in the heart of Guatemala, twenty years before we left on our voyage. The Rio Dulce is a “hurricane hole” where boats take shelter during hurricane season. After arriving at the river, we sailed through a narrow green canyon where red-tailed hawks swooped and spider monkeys raced along the treetops, into an isolated world of boaters thrown together in a remote jungle—grizzled old loners, romantic young single-handers, scammers on the lam and families who crossed oceans to get there. At a dilapidated marina in a lagoon, Kate and I weathered Hurricane Mitch while John was on a business trip in New York. Despite the dangers, the Rio Dulce filled my senses and empowered me.

 

LK: At one point in the manuscript, you say:

“Yet that time in our lives, the time we had together on Laughing Goat, was like a warm beating heart.”

In your writing, how much of this traversing the seas is the recounting of real life and how much, in your personal journey, is metaphor?

SC: While voyaging, we faced adversity together–a sudden squall, water in the diesel tank, a sheared coupling on the engine shaft. I learned to engage in what was in front of me, to listen and to move quickly. This differed from my life in Connecticut, where I could lose myself for hours (most likely, in depression) after just a phone call from my unstable mother. Learning to navigate the seas helped me navigate other challenges, like John’s cancer.

 

LK: French writer Francoise Sagan once said, “If I didn’t live well, I couldn’t write well. And if I didn’t write well, I couldn’t live well.” Paraphrase that for yourself.

SC: “I shall write so I may learn to live.”

When Kate was in college, John and I moved aboard Smooch, a catamaran, and sailed between Fort Lauderdale and the Bahamas. After we found out about John’s cancer, we stayed put in Florida so he could get treatment. He remained relatively robust but not strong enough to sail. During those years, I awakened at 4:30 in the morning, made coffee, settled down with our golden retriever at my feet, listened to the water slapping gently against the hull, and worked on the Laughing Goat manuscript. While my actual world involved chemotherapy, surgery and radiation, I imagined myself on Laughing Goat with John and seven-year-old Kate. Remembering my hopes, fears and uncertainties on the voyage, recalling John’s tenacity, helped me through the day-to-day challenges of living with his illness.

 

LK: So what did you leave out? And what haven’t you written yet?

SC: I attended a writer’s workshop at the University of Iowa two weeks after John died. Although I’ve taken writer’s workshops in Iowa for about ten years, I’m now stunned that I went so soon. I learned in the workshop that while it was too early then, I wanted to write in some way about the experience we had been through during his illness, either in essays or a book. As for what I’ve left out, in nearly every piece of writing, I dabble at the edges of the darkness and dysfunction in my original family. I’ve never tackled it head-on.

 

 

Lauren Kettler is a playwright and sometime journalist who moonlights as a copywriter in her day job. Her full-length plays have had readings and/or productions across the country, including “Good Night, Mrs. Bernstein” featured in the OPEN Festival at the 14th Street Y, Manhattan, and “Knock” which took 1st place in both Stage 3 Theatre New Play Festival in Sonora, CA, and the Florida Playwrights Competition. Lauren, an inveterate New Yorker, has been temporarily living in Florida for the past twenty-six years.

 

Interview with Kyle Laws

Kyle Laws

Juditha Dowd:  Your poem in this issue of r.kv.r.y, “Into the Fire,” starts with the line, “Around a Philadelphia piano bar sweaty with beads/off glass…” Years ago you moved to the Southwest from the Philadelphia/Jersey Shore area, where you still have close ties and visit often. What prompted the relocation, and what has kept you there?

Kyle Laws:  I was born in Philadelphia and grew up on the Delaware Bay side of the Jersey shore. I suppose you always want what you don’t have. In high school, a friend and I plotted to go west. We wanted to experience the desert.  She went to Tucson and I ended up in Pueblo, Colorado, a town on the Arkansas River, the old border with Mexico up until 1848. I came there with another friend at the time.  The first stay was short, six months. Then we moved back to Wildwood, NJ, and stayed in the area for four years. I lived down the road from Town Bank, an old whaling community. I had first met the friend, a Colorado native, in Wildwood.  He became my husband. After four years, he wanted to move back to his hometown of Pueblo. I followed him, somewhat reluctantly. Before leaving, I did a big research project on the historical whaling community for a South Jersey history class I was taking at the time. It was a form of good-bye to the landscape I loved. I still use the research in my writings. In many ways, being away from that landscape deepened my appreciation for it while I was becoming rooted in the Southwest. I have written about both in poems, the dichotomy and the sameness. That area of Southern New Jersey on the Delaware Bay remained largely untouched for centuries, and what people experienced when they came west in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a wide open primitive land, is what I grew up with. It was like spanning time and space. Pueblo has what was—at the end of the nineteenth century—the largest steel mill west of the Mississippi. People came from all over the world to work there. Guggenheim’s first foundry was in Pueblo. My father was a machinist at the same factory in Philadelphia for forty years, retiring from the plant in his sixties.  The similarities are interesting. The ethnic mix in Pueblo is broad because of the international labor force. Many of the ethnic neighborhoods still exist. It’s an unusual place to live and relatively inexpensive. The art scene is lively. And I was able to make a living independently, working out of a Victorian house that is also my residence in one of the historic neighborhoods for thirty years now. Because of the independence, I could concentrate on writing and go back to New Jersey and Philadelphia for research and retreats. My sister lives in South Philadelphia in a brownstone she inherited from our mother. She’s very willing to share it.

So Bright to Blind frontcov-01

JD:  In your book So Bright to Blind you tackle the subject of Los Alamos, giving voice to scientists, like Oppenheimer, and others involved in the project or someway affected. What drew you to this subject?

KL:  The time of the development of the atomic bomb was the same time as the early years of the marriage of my mother and father. So much was happening in the world at that time that directly impacted them, which ended up impacting me even though I wasn’t born until the 1950s.  I wanted to understand that part of history in order to understand my family. The dilemmas and decisions that the scientists faced were huge. One of the interesting books I read in my research was Oppenheimer’s The Open Mind, a book of essays on the shelf next to Marilyn Monroe’s bed at the time of her death. The cultural foresight he showed in those essays along with the apologia for the bomb ranks only after Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis written while he was in jail. Both are gripping emotionally and philosophically. And the development of the atomic bomb happened not far from where I live, in a landscape very similar, an isolated high desert that had been captured on film for decades in Westerns.

 

JD:  I admire the way you braid historical events, geographies and lives that intrigue you.  Where does inspiration typically begin—in the personal or the external?

KL:  It begins in both. But often it is the external that prompts a response, something I read or see or hear. And because my natural inclination is to place it in history and landscape and within my own frame of reference related to my family, the personal comes in. I will often physically place myself in a historical setting. In late 2015, I took a studio a block from the river walk in what had been a commercial building beginning in 1891with furnished rooms on the second floor. There was a tremendous need for housing at that time for steel and railroad workers because both industries had grown so quickly. The remodeled building purchased by the Pueblo Arts Alliance for artist studios kept the basic layout of rooms. I’m in Suite A at the top of the stairs, an L shaped room. I did research on the residents and commercial tenants. Out of that came a series Woman in Suite A about a writer who came west and took a room in the building in 1922. She contributes to magazines that popped up after World War I about her life in the bustling steel town. And she befriends a steelworker from Luxembourg and a saddle and harness maker in the shop below. Both are based on historical people. I didn’t start out taking the studio to do that, but my curiosity led me there and the narratives started popping into my head. That series is coming out this year in collaboration with a photographer who integrated the poems into her photographs of Pueblo and the surrounding area.

 

Into the FireJD:  Many poems set a fragment of your own history against a desert landscape. I’m thinking now of “Roving,” “Over the Precipice” and “Running of Blanco Sol” from So Bright to Blind. Place seems very important to you, both as concept and daily reality. Do you find the desert geography particularly evocative?

KL:  The desert is a diverse place geographically. In Pueblo, we’re in the high desert at 4,500 feet. And Pueblo is in a bowl useful for agriculture. We’re surrounded by mountains on three sides and to the east is land that was part of the Dust Bowl.  For a number of years I used to walk that landscape in spring and fall, the only time it’s hospitable for hiking. From the highway and even walking, it seems entirely flat and then you come to a precipice of a canyon carved by a river. The Purgatory River is one I’ve descended a canyon to walk along. Its historical name is El Rio de Las Animas Perdidas en Purgatório, River of Souls Lost in Purgatory, named by the Spanish, first whites through here. The name gives you an idea of the desolation. Yet there are people who settled along the canyon bottom happy for the water. Electrical wires were strung on cut trees. And you can find petroglyphs carved in the canyon face from earlier peoples. The orioles that you find nesting there in late spring are visually stunning in their orange and yellow against the pale rock and tracks along the river. I never came across another hiker. That is the landscape that was used in “Roving.”  “Over the Precipice” was in Canyon de Chelly in Arizona when I camped along the bottom with a Navajo guide and two photographers. “Running of Blanco Sol” was on La Veta Pass. Because we’re in a bowl, most of the ways out are over passes so they show up repeatedly in poems. All three of those poems, along with other poems in the book were part of a series I did in response to Zane Grey’s Desert Gold. He is one of the historical writers who beautifully captured the western landscape.

 

JD:  Some poems take opera as a subject, others have a theatrical feel, like mini dramas. Does the poem initially come to you visually, as a scene? Or aurally, as music? Or … ?

KL:  Many poems come to me visually as it’s a reaction to what I see. And then something strikes a chord emotionally based on experiences and the beginning of a narrative starts to take place. And as the narrative develops, it moves forward into an idea that I’ve been thinking about.  And the idea could be rooted in history in this place or another, and it springs into something more universal that you can understand whether you are in that place or not, but you have the feel for where it began, an image you can take with you. Some poems do come aurally as sounds influence me, the simple call of a bird out the window, but also because there are a number of musicians in the building my studio is in. There’s a violinist across the hall. And musicians and singers practice for performances one studio down. I will hear the same song over and over, and the repetition brings thoughts of the background of the song. I hear a lot based in rhythm and blues and soul. I’ve worked with experimental musicians to give joint performances with poetry, gone to a number of concerts at their house and written while the musicians are performing. The poems that took opera as the subject were largely written while the music was being played. And if poems have a theatrical feel, that is most likely based on the storytelling I grew up with, my mother a wonderful teller of tales. Most of our experiences were bracketed into what could be considered short plays that highlighted some element of human nature. Even into her eighties, she could keep a corner of a restaurant entertained.

 

JD:  Your interests are far-reaching, and you spend considerable time on research. Where might you take us next?

KL:  I’ve written a novella in poems about Fishing Creek, the original name of the town I grew up in on the Delaware Bay. Unknown to me until ten years ago, each lot sold until 1958 contained a covenant restricting it to the white race. It’s told from the point of view of the husband and wife who were the developers, trying to come to terms with what would have been their motivations. I spent quite a bit of time for that project in the county office where the deeds are kept. The employees were quite nice to me, even though at times I would get really upset at how long the injustice had gone on, even after it was outlawed by the Supreme Court in 1948. I would ask over and over how could they have let it happen. I kept on waiting for the sheriff to show up and escort me out of the building. No one ever did.

 

 

Juditha Dowd’s poetry has appeared in Poet Lore, The Florida Review, Ekphrasis, Spillway, Kestrel and elsewhere. Her most recent book is the full-length collection Mango in Winter. She is a member of Cool Women, an ensemble that performs poetry in the New York-Philadelphia area and on the West Coast.

 

Interview with Penelope Breen

Penelope Breen

Mary Akers: Hi, Penelope. Thanks for agreeing to talk with me today about your wonderful photographs. We were so fortunate to have you offer up your talents for our April 2017 issue and I had a lot of fun matching the words to the images. I’m inspired by how your close attention to objects, people, and the natural world makes the ordinary seem extraordinary. All artists spend time in composition and also time in creation, but I’m curious, which you feel takes more time and effort in your case? Do you prefer the composition and capture phase? Or the processing and selection phase?

Penelope Breen: Without a doubt the composition and capture phase is the most enjoyable. I tend to get lost in it more often than not. Being dreamy, focused and in the moment at the same time–the so called zone–is the best part of being an artist. Processing and selection provides the opportunity to see the concept completed but feels much more technical. It has its creative moments as well but takes more time and effort.

Magic Cure

MA: In terms of “image hunting,” do you go to a certain place looking for specific things that catch your eye? Or do you set out with openness to the process and assume that interesting objects are everywhere and your job is to discover them?

PB: While I do capture numerous images close to home there is always the “pull” of my garden, books, films and chores. If I am traveling and working on a project I am able to put all my energy and focus on that one thing. The freedom to do that is essential to creativity for me. Invariably, film and the influences of favored directors are referenced. Books play a significant role as well. Sometimes a sentence alone or a phrase provide a spark. My work for the last several years has not been random. There is intention.

I have been working on the notion of thematic purpose within the structure of a photographic project. I explore a set of ideas (inspired by films, books, poetry, etc.) and photograph scenes. An artist’s statement accompanies the project, which enables the viewer to have an understanding of my intentions. Engagement of the viewer, exploration of themes and interpretive conflict are my primary concerns.

A Rose Named Gary

MA: I feel as if the images you choose become something more than the thing that they already are, by virtue of your focus and composition and I would imagine this leads to emotional interpretations specific to the individual viewer. I know some of our contributors contacted you about your work. Did any of them interpret your images in ways that surprised you?

PB: I am always surprised by the interpretations of my work. An effort is made on my part to create a moody cohesiveness, however, I am interested in exploring ambiguity and interpretive conflict. Each viewer is encouraged to read the image and use their imagination. Cinema is always a strong influence. So, yes, the interpretations produced by some the writers were surprising but welcomed. I am in awe of their work.

COVER image

MA: And finally, because we are a recovery themed journal, what does “recovery” mean to you?

PB: Honestly, aren’t all humans recovering from something? The website pieces offered a multitude of interpretations. It was a pleasure to be a small part of that effort. Writing is a gift. One that I admire immensely. When writing an artist’s statement it is a slow process and agonizing for me. I am in awe of all the writer’s ability and congratulate them. My preferred way of expressing recovery entails using a camera and a lens. Artists are all subject to tools, aren’t we? Pen and paper, canvas and paintbrush and so on.

“Robbing Pillars” by Sheryl Monks

Robbing Pillars
“Down” by Penelope Breen

Maiden Estep leads the Red Hat into Number Six at Bear Town, where the mine starts. They walk at first, back to the crawl, miles deep inside, under the town of Grundy. Already, they have cut a strip in both directions, and soon they’ll be coming back through the middle, robbing pillars it’s called, the most danger any of them have been exposed to except the old guys, the robbing line and the dynamite guys. Maiden runs the scoop, loading what they dig and blast loose onto the conveyor that carries it out through the mountain and into the yard. A couple times a night, he climbs off the scoop and crawls along the belt throwing pieces back on that have fallen over, up and down the narrow gangway.

The Red Hat’s name is Charlie Hawkins, barely out of high school. Most of the men know him already. Got a little girl pregnant his junior year. Who hadn’t gotten a little girl pregnant at some point?

The kid’s tall, six-five or six, there abouts, and carries it all through the legs, not the trunk of his body as some men do. From the knee to his hip, he is nearly as tall as the mine is deep in this section, so the crawl behind Maiden is cumbersome.

“Don’t bow your back,” Maiden warns. “4160 running overhead.”

Maiden is only a White Hat himself. This is the first time he’s been part of robbing pillars, and he is uneasy, even though the actual pillar robbing is not his job. Once they’ve humped out the vein they’re working on, the robbers will come behind and start pulling the pillars, the mountain collapsing at their heels.

There is water standing in ruts along the crawl, which dampens the knees of their work pants. Occasionally they hear a drip, but once they travel deeper inside, the floor of the shaft becomes dry again. Visibility is only possible by the dim lights of their miners’ caps, powered by wet-cell batteries. Overhead, the 4160 hums in Maiden’s ears.

The only other thing so far that has spooked him is the blasting. When the dynamite men come in, the others hunker down where they are and protect themselves as best they can. The only real thing between them and fire-in-the-hole is prayer. Not even the unbelievers chance it. “Faith can move mountains,” the miners say. “Just pray like hell it don’t have to.”

A case of the nerves makes the Red Hat natter on about something or other behind Maiden. Baseball. Goose Gossage. Maiden has never watched a game of professional baseball or any other sport, on television or anywhere else, but he can’t imagine pulling for a player from New York City. He likes only westerns and war movies, though he doesn’t mention it to the Red Hat. Maiden lets him blather on, respectfully saying nothing, only occasionally issuing a calm reminder now and again about the current running overhead.

The Red Hat is having trouble, though, and somewhere deep in the pit of Maiden’s stomach he knows something’s going to happen. Something bad. It’s as if a ghost has suddenly whispered in his ear. His flesh crawls all over and he throws another piece of slab up onto the conveyor. Then he turns to look at the Red Hat, low-crawling for every penny he’s worth. Maiden thinks of learning to low-crawl himself at the boy’s age, nineteen or there abouts, in the army, basic training, under concertina wire, fake rounds fired overheard and only sporadically. Nothing nearly so dangerous at 4160. The Red Hat hasn’t thrown the first chunk of coal up onto the belt, but Maiden does not reprimand. The boy is scared. Maiden lets him prattle on.

“Got an aunt over here in Grundy,” the kid says. “Reckon we might be up under her house?”

Maiden doesn’t answer. Says only again, “Watch it there now.”

“Hard to say, I guess. Never know though. Could be we are. Right up under Jimmy’s old room. Jimmy’s gone off to Beckley. We got people there. Know anybody in Beckley? I knew this one girl from War, nearby you know, and buddy I’m telling you she was abou–.”

And then, just like that, Maiden sees things happen twice before his eyes. One version takes place quick. In an instant, he sees the Red Hat stretch forward with one arm, his head buried into the earth. Then he bows up for leverage to push off again. And just as he pitches back on one knee, he arches his spine and the wet strap of his mining belt draws too near the 4160 and sparks. “Oh, Lord!” the boy cries. “Oh, Lord! Oh, Lord! Oh, Lord! Oh, Lord!” Over and over and over while Maiden screams back down through the shaft that a man has gotten tangled up in the wire. “Kill the switch!” Maiden screams. “Cut the goddamn juice! A man’s hit! A man’s hit! Good, Jesus, a man’s hit!”

“Oh, Lord! Oh, Lord! Oh, Lord!” the Red Hat seems to say, even though he is a puddle of flesh, melting like cheese in the damp but smelling of meat. Maiden knows he’s dead, but the kid keeps talking and Maiden just lies there, waiting helplessly as he was taught to do in miners’ school. He does not extend a hand. He doesn’t rush to the boy’s side, though the urge to is overpowering and Maiden just screams his guts out and cries for God in heaven to have mercy. He’s just a kid. Nineteen. Twenty at most. A big, gangly-legged kid whose knee caps have been blown off. “Jesus! Oh, Jesus! Hurry the fuck up down there!” Maiden calls again and again before the power is thrown and the Red Hat stops chattering.

~

In the other version, Maiden had seen a ghost behind the Red Hat. Some kind of phantom. A wisp or something. It was blurry but distinct enough that Maiden had fixed his gaze upon it while the kid had talked on and on about his cousin Jimmy going off to Beckley. Maiden’s wife begs him every night to quit. Number Six is about to shut down soon anyway, she tells him. When Maiden dons his carbide light and packs his dinner bucket with water and leftovers, she resorts to threats, name-calling. Maiden, you sonofabitch! Maiden! Maiden! He lets her speak her peace. Goes on to work. Someone has to run the scoop.

Today they are coming back up the middle, robbing all the pillars. Number Six will chase them tunnel by tunnel as they pull timbers and wait for the roof to collapse one room at a time so they can mine the fall. That’s money standing there, supporting the roof, and the company wants every square inch.

The Red Hat is not the first man Maiden has known about dying, nor the only one he’s witnessed firsthand. Parmelai Cline was caught between two cars on the tipple of a breaker. Clarence Price was killed by a rush of slush when water forced it out the gangway. Julius Reed was tamping a hole when powder in the tunnel exploded. During miners’ training, Maiden heard about men suffocating when they walked into pockets of gas, being struck by frozen slags of culm or being smothered by a rush of dirt working at the culm bank. Men had been run over by loaders, crushed by cave-ins when ribs gave way. They’d been burned, mangled by machinery, and electrocuted like Charlie, the young Red Hat.

When Maiden runs the scoop back through the shaft where the boy died, he wonders about the aunt’s house in Grundy and whether or not they had indeed been somewhere under it when the kid had gotten caught up in the wire. It’s risky, thinking about the dead so soon, if old wives’ tales are to be believed. Bad luck. Better if he thinks of something else, just in case, but the Red Hat consumes his thoughts. Goose What-was-his-name? And then the boy melting like a Popsicle before him. He wonders where the boy’s aunt might’ve been standing. Had she felt something, deep in the earth, some pull on her like a dowsing stick drawn by a vein of ground water?

The robbers begin taking out a few of the timbers as Maiden waits near the other room with the scoop and watches. Those remaining start to buckle under the weight of the roof, but the process isn’t as fast as he expects. The roof does not cave in immediately in order for them to load the fallen coal onto Maiden’s scoop and send it out into the yard. The robbers go one timber at a time, striking with their hammers, prying and shoving on each one until it kicks loose from the floor and the weight of the rock above their heads is redistributed to the others still standing. It’s a game of Russian roulette, no telling when the roof will fall, so they work slowly, pulling one timber and then watching, listening as the other supports begin to splinter and crack in the dark around them. There is nervous energy between the robbers. They talk casually together, laugh loudly, estimating if they should maybe pull another one. Watching by the dim torch of his carbide light becomes unbearable for Maiden. He can feel the weight pressing down on them, inch by inch, timbers slowly splintering and buckling all around, but still the roof is content to hold.

“Son-of-a-bitch,” one of the robbers says. “She ain’t budging. Run the scoop up here, hoss, and let’s see if we can shake this bitch loose.”

Maiden realizes he is being addressed, but still he hesitates. “What’s that?”

“Run the scoop this a’way and see if it don’t shake the ground just enough.”

All four of the men, including Maiden, are working on their stomachs. Whenever the roof does decide to fall, they won’t be able to run. The robbers can’t risk pulling out another timber. Maiden watches as they make their way toward him to the other room, a safe distance away from the shattering timbers. At least he has the scoop, which might be fast enough.

He wedges himself into the machine and drives forward cautiously as the robbers tell him how to proceed.

“Tap on that one right there,” says Arbury Massey. “Easy ought to do it, and then hightail it back.”

Goose Gossage was the ball player’s name, Maiden remembers. And then he is caught by a feeling of being drawn upward. He hears a low growl of thunder and looks around to see that the cap boards have begun to twist and rip. The watery contents of his stomach seem to rise like a wave in his diaphragm. But it’s not only that; the blood in his heart and veins pools at the top of his head, in both arms and legs.

The Red Hat’s aunt is standing directly over him, he realizes. Maiden closes his eyelids, lifts his face, and as the tears well in his eyes, they too are drawn up in streaks that wash the coal dust from his temples and over his forehead. The woman kneels to the floor and places her hand, just there, on his cheek. And then the earth rains down.

 

 

Sheryl Monks is the author of Monsters in Appalachia, published by Vandalia Press, an imprint of West Virginia University Press. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Queens University of Charlotte. Sheryl’s stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Electric Literature, The Butter, The Greensboro Review, storySouth, Regarding Arts and Letters, Night Train, and other journals, and in the anthologies Surreal South: Ghosts and Monsters and Eyes Glowing at the Edge of the Woods: Contemporary West Virginia Fiction and Poetry, among others. She works for a peer-reviewed medical journal and edits the online literary magazine Change Seven. Visit her online at www.sherylmonks.com.

“Robbing Pillars” is excerpted from Monsters in Appalachia (Vandalia Press/WVU Press, 2016) and first appeared in Split Lip Magazine. It appears here, courtesy of the author.

“BOOM!” by Ron Tanner

Boom
“Emotional Landscapes2,” by Penelope Breen

On the ferry ride back to Ebeye, when the boat is a quarter mile from the lagoon’s rim of reef and Kwajalein is half a mile behind them, a collection of distant white lights winking from the black horizon, Jeton jumps overboard when no one is watching. He knows to push away quickly, to avoid the tow of the boat’s churning propellers. A strong swimmer, a pair of borrowed running shoes tied around his neck, he backstrokes over the boat’s wake. It’s hard work because the tide is going out. Soon the boat is far away and Jeton is alone in the dark water. If he were on the oceanside, he would be shark bait. But here on the lagoon side, he knows there are few sharks. Still, he has to be careful.

He can hear the water slapping exposed rock on the reef a hundred yards ahead. And at last he can see the pale expanse of sand below him—and large darting fish. Above, clouds chase each other like racing ships through the whorl of stars. The moon has yet to rise. As soon as he can stand, bullied by small waves, Jeton slips on the shoes. The reef at low tide will allow him to walk back to Kwajalein. But he has to walk fast, watch for Security Patrol, and get across before the Security boat motors by with its sun-bright spot. He has to walk careful too, watch that he doesn’t slip and cut himself on the coral, which is sharp like fish knives. Salt water will ruin the leather Nikes he borrowed from cousin Mike. But fuck it.

It takes a long time, this careful walking in dark water.

As he sloshes through tide pools, slipping every other step, cursing the reef, he almost wishes a rogue wave would reach over from oceanside and pull him into the depths—then Nora would be sorry, drowned Jeton washed up on Emon beach, where Nora takes her morning swim.

When they met at a soccer game that first time, Nora said, “You’re damned reckless, you know that?” She was flirting, he knew right away. He offered her a cigarette and she said, “Are you crazy?”

“Yes,” he said.

That’s all it took. Boom! like that.

In two days she flies to the States. Four thousand two hundred miles east. What is four thousand miles to Jeton? He has flown to Guam twice. One thousand three hundred miles. That was far enough.

After the game this afternoon, when his team walked over to shake hands with her team (they beat the ri-pālle 7 to 2), he got close enough to her to whisper, “I’m gonna die if I don’t see you, jera.”

Then he heard her sigh the kind of sigh he hears Betra, his younger sister, make when she looks at the mail-order Nordstrums catalogue from the States, at all those things she knows she cannot have. Nora didn’t have time to answer him. And then she was gone, swept away with the other cheerleaders and the ri-pālle boys.

“I know, it’s hard,” Nora said at their last meeting.

“I own a fourth of Kwajalein!” he said, desperate for justification.

“You mean your grandmother does,” Nora corrected.

“Same thing!” he said.

Jeton’s grandmother gets a check every few months for leasing her part of Kwajalein to the Americans. It has been enough to buy her a condo on Guam, a new Nissan Altima LX every other year, a pork farm in Manila, but not enough to give to her huge family, every one of them with an empty hand held out. Still, she offered to buy Jeton a used Sentra and set him up in the taxi business on Majuro. Jeton pictures himself driving Majuro’s long, flat two-lane road all day, every day—ial an iroj, the King’s Road, it is called. The only road. Four or five quarters per ride. Majuro island is one mile wide and 34 miles long and 300 miles from here. They have a couple of discos and a copra plant and fifteen churches.

Fuck that.

In his mind, he hears Nora say his name, over and over. Nobody has said his name like that, like it was a valuable secret. He can smell the strawberry shampoo of her hair, the flowery scent of her body lotion—she sunburns easily. She gave him everything.

She used to say, “You’re the one, Jeton, you’re the only one.”

He knows that in her ettōnak, her awake dreams, she is already on that plane, already back in the States, going to college, dating other boys and thinking of a “major” and a life Jeton can’t begin to understand.

“I will write,” she promised.

“Yes,” he said. “Long emails.”

Now: something stutters and skips past his feet. A shrimp scuttering to safety.

Americans like to come out here with flashlights to hunt for shells at low tide. Some aren’t careful and the high tide catches them, sweeps them out to deep water and they are never found. All of this is a mystery to them, the water, the reef, the life the ri-Majeļ used to know. The ri-Majeļ were great navigators, great canoe builders. They knew how to read the waves and they made secret charts with sticks and cowries shells that enabled them to travel anywhere they pleased. No one knows how to do that any more, except at the Allele Museum on Majuro, where two old men work year-round hacking out ceremonial tipñōls, sailing canoes, for tourists to see.

Jeton once took Nora to Pikeej in his uncle’s speed boat. Pikeej is uninhabited, an overgrown coconut plantation with many hidden ruins from the World War Two, Japanese bunkers and huge oil tanks rusted orange. “Oh, God, Jeton, this is so cool,” Nora said as they combed through the jungle. Jeton had a machete, wasps bobbed over their heads, the air was sweet with the scent of kōno blossoms. They found a grassy mound that could have been a grave site or a buried ammo dump. There they slipped off their clothes and looked at each other in the filtered light. Then they kissed and kissed until their lips were raw and there was nothing left to do but exhaust each another way.

Why isn’t this good enough?

Jeton comes ashore at last, wet up to the knees. As he walks, his borrowed Nikes sound like soggy mops against a tile floor.

Nora lives in one of the new pre-fabs at this end of the island. They all look alike and, for a moment, Jeton panics, hidden in the shadow of someone’s central air. He doesn’t know if he can remember the right duplex.

Here comes the Security pickup with its big light. Lucky thing there are no dogs on Kwajalein, all that barking. Jeton scrambles farther into the shadows just as Security shoots its light where he was crouched. Truck slows to a stop, engine grumbling, light snaking through the dark stubbled yard between the pre-fabs, back porches, bamboo fence, gas grills, locked-up bicycles. Jeton pants, sucking air through his mouth, balled up behind a low fence. Shameful to be caught this way, like a shrimp curled under a rock.

If they catch him what can they do?

Last night, while drinking, one of the older men said to him: “Loving American likatu is no big deal. Everyone has a story of loving American girls.”

This is what he fears, that he is not special, that there is nothing in him that will make him different from anybody else. Doesn’t matter if his grandmother owns one fourth of Kwajalein. Doesn’t matter if he would’ve been a prince in another life. What is he now, right now?

~

The difference between Kwajalein and Ebeye starts with the streets, Jeton decides. Here, they are wide and paved and bright with electric light. The houses are neat, they all look alike, the yards are clear of motorbikes, scrap wood, trash, and chickens, and everything everywhere is green.

Jeton prefers Ebeye. Or Majuro. The haphazard houses and the sandy streets that curl and twist like vines and the animals that run freely and the children playing everywhere you turn and the cooking smells and the women singing and the laundry flagging from the lines over the dirt yards—it all feels good. The Americans’ place seems empty and haunted like Japanese war ruins on Jaluit.

Here it is, Nora’s house. Plastic Chinese lanterns of many colors glow from the bamboo’d patio. Jeton hears several girls talking, laughing. Sleepover. He has guessed right. Far from the patio fence, Jeton crouches at the trunk of a palm tree and listens. He can’t make out what they are saying. Maybe talking about hot boys. Maybe talking about college. Who can tell with girls? When there is a lull in the chatter, Jeton whistles. It is his special whistle, sounds like hissing and bird squeak at the same time. Everyone in his family does this whistle. Nora has teased him about it. “You think I’ll answer that, like a dog or something?”

He whistles again. Now the girls whisper severely to one another. A wasp’s nest. Then he hears his name, like a curse on their lips. Jeton, it’s Jeton.

            And he knows that he has made a mistake. He should run, he should leave Nora alone, he should give her space, something Americans are always talking about. He is making trouble. But he can’t go, he won’t go. Not now. He will take his punishment, whatever it is, like the day he reefed his uncle’s boat, like the time he insulted his grandfather by patting him on the head like a child, like the night he got drunk and rode his brother’s bicycle off the pier.

The patio door opens, a paw of yellow light leaps into the yard, and Nora—unmistakable silhouette—walks towards him. The pink of a nearby street lamp lights her face. It is the face of a smart woman. Mālōtlōt. The kind of woman who could live happily on an outlying atoll. Who would not cringe from cleaning fish. Who would not complain when the rains came.

She is popular, she has said, because she is not pretty like those models in the Nordstrom catalogue who scare Jeton because they look so mej. Dead. “Who could love them?” he asked her. “Why do Americans think these creatures are jouj?” Questions like these delight Nora: he can make her smile. This is how it should be always.

Tonight she wears a sparkly tank-top and white shorts and her white Berkenstocks. Tall, long legs, head up like she was walking at graduation. A woman who would sail with him through Toon Milu pass, north to Rongelap or Bikar or far-away Bokak.

What can he say to make her smile now?

He remains crouched, out of respect. He wants a cigarette, something to do with his hands.

“Jeton, what are you doing?”

His listens for love in her voice, a voice so much lower than any ri-Majeļ woman or girl he knows. Americans talk deep in the throat with flat words.

“I die when I don’t see you, Nora.”

“How did you get here?”

“Walked.”

“Across the reef?” She widens her lovely eyes. “Are you crazy?”

“Yes.”

“Jeton.” Sighing, she kneels near him. But then she has nothing to say.

Her freckles, he can see them now: a thousand islands he wants to inhabit.

He says, “I don’t want you to go.” The words hurt like fish bone in his throat, make his eyes sting. As he swipes at his tears, he sees the other girls peering from behind the patio door.

Nora says, “What would I do here?” This sounds like a complaint.

He shrugs. “We could have fun.”

He wants more than fun. He is sure she knows this.

She sighs again. Is she so tired? “We have been over this several times.”

“You and me could do it, lijera, we could live on a island, just like we dreamed. You’d like it.”

“It wasn’t my dream,” she says. Then, quickly she adds: “I’m seventeen, Jeton, what do I know about living on an atoll?”

It wasn’t my dream. He tries to ignore this. Maybe all she needs is convincing.

“You could learn,” he says. “You love it here, you said so.”

“I’m seventeen!”

He says nothing, only stares at her, waiting. Then he does what the ri-Majeļ do best. He smiles.

“Why does this make you smile?” she asks.

“Seventeen, Nora. You can do anything.”

“And that’s what I want to do—anything and everything. Things I can’t do if I’m stuck on a tiny island out here in the middle of nowhere.”

“Nowhere?” There is no equivalent for nowhere in his language. Ejjeļok maybe: nothing.

“I didn’t mean it like that,” she says quickly. She touches one finger to the top of his hand.

But she does not take his hand. He feels himself sinking, like a man wallowing in wet sand. Nowhere. What is nowhere?

He sees regret in her face, that sorry look he has seen after his mother loses a day’s wages at cousin Amsa’s weekly cock fight. Gone, her look says, it’s gone.

Jeton weighs the American words of loss: nothing, none, not, no.

At last his bellen lays her hand lightly over his, brings him back abruptly, but he can hardly see her for the tide rising again in his eyes.

She says, “Jeton, don’t you have any plans?”

“College, Nora? I’m no good at school.”

“Maybe start with junior college.”

“In the States? You don’t want your ri-Majeļ boy in the States with you.”

“I didn’t say we’d be together, Jeton. I’m talking about your future, not about us.”

“You are my future.”

“I am your girlfriend, that’s all. And day after tomorrow I’m going to fly away. That’s a fact you have to accept.”

“I don’t want you to forget me,” he says.

“Why would I forget you? How could I?” She lowers her head to meet his eyes.

Sitting in the half dark, palm tops clattering above them in the breeze, the girls spying on them from the patio, Security Patrol prowling somewhere nearby—Jeton understands that he wants more from Nora than she can give him. If only he could describe his feelings, he might change her mind. But there are not enough words and they are not the right kind of words.

“You will have other boy friends,” he says.

“And you won’t ever have another girl friend? You want to mummify me or something? I’ve got my life, you’ve got yours. Maybe you’ll find your way to the States and we’ll see each other. Maybe I’ll decide I’d rather be here and I’ll come back. Who can say? Anything can happen, just like you and I happened. “

He wishes she would take his hand, kiss it the way she used to, lay her face against his neck.

“You are right,” he says. “I am just a boy, I don’t know what I am doing.”

She smiles at him. This is what he wants, that softening, that kindness. But he is lying to her. He believes that she is making a terrible mistake, that she will be in her big, cluttered American house years from now and she will look out at her big empty yard with its too-green grass and she will think of the life she could have had here with Jeton. But he knows that he cannot stop her. He knows that, as with certain lovely fish, he has to stay clear or risk great harm.

She says, almost in a whisper, “I’m not sorry for what we had, are you?”

“No, I am not sorry,” he says. She will haunt him, he knows. He will see her always in his head: Nora running, Nora laughing, Nora waving to a friend, Nora’s long fingers combing through his hair, Nora kissing him on the nose.

“Are you going to be all right?” she asks.

“I’m cool.” Saying what the American boys always say.

“You’re not going to do something crazy?”

“I will hang out till morning, then take the ferry back, OK?”

“Why don’t you sleep on Brit’s patio—we’ll go inside.” She offers him her kindest smile. “Please?”

It is impolite to deny an offer of hospitality. And he wants to make her happy. And he would like to be near her. Maybe in the morning she will change her mind. He knows this is a slim chance but it is more than he had a few minutes ago.

She does not kiss him when she says good night from the back door of Brit’s house. He is sitting on the patio hammock, which swings slightly beneath him. The patio smells like candy sweetness. Girls. Jeton nods his goodnight to Nora, watches her close the door and disappear into the darkness beyond the kitchen. She feels sorry for him. That is not good. She will return in the morning to find him curled on the hammock like a stray dog. And he will smell of tonight’s hard walking. And she will be eager to get home because she is excited about her trip. She is going places. 4,250 miles. And he is going to Ebeye. He is not going to college. He is not going to the States.

He does not lie down; there is no sleep in him. He leaves the patio, the girlish sweetness still in his lungs. Sadness makes his heart feel like it is a piece of water-soaked wood. Sodden and sluggish. He stands in the street and stares up at the duplex, at the light in Brit’s window. He imagines the girls will whisper all night long. They will give Nora advice, tell her how to dump Jeton in the morning.

He doesn’t know how long he stands out here. A long time.

Then he hears a truck approaches. Security Patrol. But Jeton does not think fast enough to run. And suddenly it looks like morning, so much light around him.

He turns to the light. Truck light.

“Don’t move, son.”

It is the big-bellied black American officer named Ulysses. With a grunt of effort he steps out of the pickup. He reminds Jeton of his third uncle on his father’s side. Except this man has no sideburns. The officer squints through the smoke of his cigarette, which he keeps at his mouth. He has his right hand on the gun at his wide leather belt. His other hand holds a big flashlight. Truck’s spot makes Jeton squint hard.

“You got I.D.?” the officer asks. He stands to one side of the truck. Garble stutters through the little black radio attached to his shirt pocket. It looks like the weight of the man should pull him over.

Jeton slides his Velcro wallet out of his back pocket. Slowly. Everybody knows you have to move slow in front of Security.

The officer takes the wallet, flips it to the I.D. “Jeton DeGroen,” he says. Flashlight on the I.D. “I heard about you. Your grandma owns half the island.”

“A fourth.”

The officer smiles, shakes his head like he knows something Jeton doesn’t. “She gets a lot of money for that land. And I bet you see some of it.”

Jeton wants to tell him that the land means nothing, it has always been here, it will stay here until the ocean decides to swallow it. He remembers what the teachers told him about how these atolls began. Coral attached itself to volcanoes and kept growing as the volcanoes sank. After a long time, the volcanoes were gone, sunken deep under water. But the coral remained, a circle of coral where the volcano used to be. That’s what he feels inside him now, Nora gone but a hard crust left behind.

He says, “She has offered to buy me a used Toyota so I can have a taxi business on Majuro.”

“There you go.”

“Taxi’s not my style.”

“Neither is obeying the law apparently.” The officer flicks away his cigarette, turns his head to the radio at his shoulder and says, “Got a code 40. Bringing him in, ten-four.” Then he says to Jeton: “What’s your excuse for breaking curfew, little man?”

“I don’t need excuse.”

“You better think one up.”

In another life Jeton DeGroen would be a prince!

When Jeton doesn’t answer, the officer says, “Man, in the States we’d send you to a work farm.” He lights another cigarette with a silver Zippo lighter, like all the Security have, and doesn’t seem in a hurry to go. Maybe because Jeton is so relaxed. Late night like this makes some people want to stand around and talk. Always somebody talking late on Ebeye—Jeton hears them every night, two or three people off here and there, smoking and talking.

“Got a smoke?” Jeton asks.

“Take the pack, little man.” The officer tosses the cigarettes to him.

Like a fish flying from a wave, Jeton leaps forward—not for the cigarette pack but for the officer’s big waist. Tackle him, he tells himself. Tackle him, then run away. It’s not a plan exactly, it just happens. Boom! It reminds him of soccer, of diving for a shot that saves the game, his reflexes so quick, his jump so surprising, that it makes the American girls on the sidelines cheer, even though they are not supposed to cheer for the ri-Majeļ, and then one of them, he notices, the tall, pretty one, flashes him her smile and Jeton knows he shouldn’t give a second look, he knows that American girls are trouble, everyone says so, he really should leave them alone. Do not smile back! he cautions himself. But she is tall and freckled and beautiful, Miss America, and he is the center of her attention now—he remembers this so clearly, the cheering in his ears as loud as waves crashing over him. Of course he smiled back. Boom!

 

 

Ron Tanner’s awards for writing include a Faulkner Society gold medal, a Pushcart Prize, a New Letters Award, a Best of the Web Award, a Maryland Arts Council grant, and many others. He is the author of four books, most recently Missile Paradise, a novel. He teaches writing at Loyola University-Maryland and directs the Marshall Islands Story Project.

Contributors Spring 2017

chelsea adams
B. Chelsea Adams (Near Home) received her MA from Hollins College in Creative Writing and English. Chapbooks of her poems have been published: Looking for a Landing by Sow’s Ear Press in 2000, Java Poems celebrating her addiction to coffee in 2007, and At Last Light by Finishing Line Press in 2012. Her stories and poems also have been published in numerous journals, including Poet Lore, Potato Eyes, Albany Review, Southwestern Review, California State Poetry Quarterly, Clinch Mountain Review, Union Street Review, Wind, Lucid Stone, Rhino, and the Alms House Press Sampler. She taught at Radford University for over 23 years.

Heather Adams
Heather Adams (When We Could See But Did Not Know) Winner of the 2016 James Still Fiction Prize, Adams has published short fiction in The Thomas Wolfe Review, Clapboard House, Deep South Magazine, Broad River Review, and elsewhere. This story is based on her first novel, Maranatha Road, which is forthcoming this fall from West Virginia University Press.

Karin Aurino cropped
Karin Aurino (The Magic Cure) is an American writer of essays, short fiction, and a first novel, which draws on her former career as a fashion model. She worked in the entertainment industry for ICM, Paragon Ent., and was a Longform and Series Television Producer with Alexander/Enright. She is the recipient of residencies at Hedgebrook and Bread Loaf, and her fiction has received recognition from Glimmer Train. She is an active member of The Woolf Pack, founded by the Humanitas Prize Foundation—empowering and nurturing writers. Karin lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two children.

Roy Bentley
Roy Bentley (One of These Days! To the Moon, Alice!) was born in Dayton, Ohio. He is the author of four books and several chapbooks. Poems have appeared in The Southern Review, Blackbird, Shenandoah, Indiana Review, Prairie Schooner, North American Review and elsewhere—recently, in the anthologies New Poetry from the Midwest and Every River on Earth. He has received a Creative Writing Fellowship from the NEA (in poetry), as well as fellowships from the arts councils of Ohio and Florida. These days, he makes his home in Pataskala, Ohio.

Penelope Breen
Penelope Breen (Illustrator) is a photographer who always wanted to be a filmmaker. At the age of fifteen she saw The Manchurian Candidate and was forever changed. Films became something more: compositions, tones of black and white, and thematic purpose. At the time, she couldn’t articulate those early observations, but eventually did. Photography provided a way to see the world cinematically. She has been photographing for the last thirty years, primarily in black and white.

Joe Chelius
Joseph Chelius (Old Man) is employed as director of editorial services for a healthcare communications company in the Philadelphia suburbs. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in journals such as Commonweal, Poetry East, Rattle, Poet Lore, and the American Journal of Poetry. His full-length collection, The Art of Acquiescence, was published by WordTech Communications in 2014.

Susan Cole
Susan Cole (Harbor Lights) recently completed a memoir about a three-year sailing voyage she took with her husband and daughter from Connecticut to the Bahamas, Cuba, Mexico, Belize and Guatemala. Essays about her family’s sailing adventure have appeared in Daily Palette, Mary, and Living Aboard. She has attended the Iowa Summer Writing Festival every year since 2007. In between sails, she earned a B.A. from Barnard College, an M.A in Psychology from Columbia University. She currently lives in New Orleans, enjoying a new land-bound adventure.

Jackie Craven
Jackie Craven (White Lightning) won the Omnidawn Fabulist Fiction Award for Our Lives Became Unmanageable, a chapbook of fanciful tales that explore themes of compulsion and recovery. Her poems appear in many journals, most recently in Nimrod, River Styx, Salamander, and Water~Stone Review. Visit her at www.JackieCraven.com.

Tim Eberle
Timothy Eberle (A Rose Named Gary) is a New York based writer and comedian, like everybody else who lives in Brooklyn. His writing and performances have appeared in McSweeney’s, Splitsider, the Santa Fe Literary Review, Jewish Life Television, Jewlicious.com, Heeb Magazine, and the Madcap Review, among other credits. Most recently he was seen performing at The Peoples Improv Theater in “I Am Not a Man” (a sad show which he wrote alone), and in the review “Sad Men and the People Who Love Them.”

Kyle Laws
Kyle Laws’ (Into the Fire) collections include This Town with Jared Smith (Liquid Light Press, 2017); So Bright to Blind (Five Oaks Press, 2015); Wildwood (Lummox Press, 2014); My Visions Are As Real As Your Movies, Joan of Arc Says to Rudolph Valentino (Dancing Girl Press, 2013); and George Sand’s Haiti (co-winner of Poetry West’s 2012 award). With six nominations for a Pushcart Prize, her poems and essays have appeared in magazines and anthologies in the U.S., U.K., and Canada. She is the editor and publisher of Casa de Cinco Hermanas Press.  www.kylelaws.com 

Beverly Lucey
Beverly Lucey (Pest Control Methods) has had work appear in Zoetrope All Story Extra, Vestal Review,  Absinthe Revival, and Feathered Flounder. She was the winner of the Fiction Contest for Estonian Public Broadcasting  (2013) Print anthology:  Friend. Follow. Text.  #storiesFromLivingOnline  (fall 2013 release) “Voice Mail for the Living” in the anthology Up, Do Flash Fiction by Women Writers, (spring 2014). Landmarks: 2015 National Flash-Fiction Day Anthology (UK)

Sheryl Monks
Sheryl Monks (Robbing Pillars) is the author of Monsters in Appalachia, published by Vandalia Press, an imprint of West Virginia University Press. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Queens University of Charlotte. Sheryl’s stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Electric Literature, The Butter, The Greensboro Review, storySouth, Regarding Arts and Letters, Night Train, and other journals, and in the anthologies Surreal South: Ghosts and Monsters and Eyes Glowing at the Edge of the Woods: Contemporary West Virginia Fiction and Poetry, among others. She works for a peer-reviewed medical journal and edits the online literary magazine Change Seven. Visit her online at www.sherylmonks.com.

kristen-scarlett
Kristen Scarlett (Sensory Memory) is a writer from Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She has a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Her work has appeared in Cape Fear Living Magazine, East End Elements, and other journals. She received second place in the SCCC Creative Writing Award for College Writers in 2015. Her hobbies include fancy teas, existential crises, and musing with her cat, King Charles.


Leland Seese’s (Hunting) poems have appeared in The Christian Century, The Nassau Review, The East Bay Review, and many other journals. He lives in Seattle, where he and his wife are foster-adoptive-biological parents of six children. Much of his work as a pastor involves work with homeless and immigrant communities.

Ron Tanner
Ron Tanner’s (BOOM!) awards for writing include a Faulkner Society gold medal, a Pushcart Prize, a New Letters Award, a Best of the Web Award, a Maryland Arts Council grant, and many others. He is the author of four books, most recently Missile Paradise, a novel. He teaches writing at Loyola University-Maryland and directs the Marshall Islands Story Project.

a.e.weisgerber
A.E. Weisberger’s (Controlled Delivery) work has been nominated for Best of the Net, Best Small Fictions, and the Pushcart Prize. Recent fiction appearing in SmokeLong QuarterlyStructo MagazineThe CollapsarFLAPPERHOUSE, and Gravel. Recent non-fiction in The Alaska StarAlternating CurrentThe Review Review, and Change Seven. She reads for Wigleaf and Pithead Chapel, and is working on an illustrated storybook called “Lives of the Saints.” Follow her @aeweisgerber, or visit  http://anneweisgerber.com.

Tyler Anne
Tyler Anne Whichard (Glass Splinters) is a 21-year-old aspiring writer working toward her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. The r.k.v.r.y quarterly literary journal is the first official publication of her work. Her hobbies include staring at blank Word documents, binge-watching Korean dramas, and pouring too much creamer in her coffee in the morning.

 

Homepage Spring 2017

COVER image
All artwork appears courtesy of the artist Penelope Breen.

 

Happy Spring! And welcome to our April 2017 issue with the theme of “DISLOCATION.”

I’m honored to be able to share the work of these sixteen talented authors (some being published for the first time) and grateful to be allowed to present their fine work to you, our readers. Each piece of writing has the further good fortune of being paired with the sensual, textural, and evocative photography of Penelope Breen.

As always, this issue exists, thanks in no small part to my devoted editors and readers who make my job so much easier, and to the contributors who have trusted us to showcase their work. Also, thanks for the gorgeous artwork, Penelope. You made each essay, story, flash, and poem pop just a little bit more.

Our July 2017 issue will have a theme of SPECULATION.

As always, thanks for reading.

Yours in Recovery,

Mary Akers
Editor-in-chief

“Controlled Delivery” by A.E. Weisgerber

Controlled Delivery
“Grassy Tracks” by Penelope Breen

Ben had to ask a favor. He needed one of Big Ed’s guys for some roll-off job, but when he stopped by Big’s, things seemed none too happy.

“He’s out in the warehouse.” The office girl’s head made tiny shakes and she kept it down in her screen. “Big’s moving boxes around.”

“Thanks, Bree.”

She swiveled to turn on the radio behind her, some droning medical show, and said to the world, “Tell him: no drums.”

When Big uses the forklift, drums wind up where crates should be. Foreman can’t locate orders for a week.

Big’s phone went straight to message. Ben followed forklift sounds and finally yelled, “Yo, Big Ed! Stop jerkin’ off!”

Big, in his bucket hat and Giants windbreaker, turned to look at Ben, then lowered the fork with a heavy sigh.

“How can you listen to that racket?”

Big stayed up in the seat looking down. He accepted a cigarette Ben offered and hit the off switch. “Thanks, Cuz.” Big took a puff and blew out smoke through his lips, his tinny voice followed it to the sodium light. “You know my nephew, that one that’s always asking for money?”

“Yeah. Nicky Cash? He was with you yesterday.”

“He didn’t show this morning. Found him dead in his apartment with a needle in his arm.” Big hooked his arm on the seatback, shrugged his shoulders, and faced Ben. “It can hook you. Coke got me.”

Ben, nothing to say, counted boxes.

Big Ed lost his nose to coke. He had a rubber one for a while, some putty-looking fabrication. Docs did that thing where they grew a new nose on his forehead. He was hard to look at for a year or two. His warehouse called him The Fucking Nose. But his sea-monkey-growing nose finally got big enough that the docs carved it out, left a hinge, and flipped it down. It’s still not right. His one leg dangled off the side of the lift. He was wearing old man Velcros. Big was quiet. Ben let him smoke in peace.

Big offered, “What’s going on?”

Ben put the favor on the back burner, put his foot up on the wheel. “I’ll tell you what’s going on,” Ben leaned forward on his arm. “It’s the doctors. Remember when I had a backache? I was up to three Tylenols for breakfast and three for lunch. Va fanacul, my back was bothering me. You remember that? Right around when you bought out Garcia. You had me keeping an eye on that new fucking guy.” Ben snapped his fingers thinking. “What was his name? Eyebrows?”

“Yeah. I remember Eyebrows.” Big closed his eyes.

“So I went to my doctor and said ‘Hey, I got a pain.’ He says, ‘Take these.’ So I took them. They were okay. I was feeling good. And then I ran out of pills and my scrip was done. I got some kinda flu. I couldn’t get out of bed. I told Lisa not to leave the house I was afraid I was dying.”

“Fucking flu,” Big Ed said.

“Here’s the thing. The fucking thing is, it wasn’t the flu. I went to the doctor and said ‘Hey, I got a flu and my back hurts again.’ He said ‘You’re addicted to those pills. When’s the last time you had one? I can give you something else to get you off the opioids.’ I said, ‘I’m addicted?’ So I jacked him up.” Big Ed opened one eye. “I grabbed him by the throat and jacked him up on the wall and said ‘Do you mean you turned me into a fucking junkie? I’m a fucking junkie now?’”

“Fucking docs,” Big Ed closed his eye.

“No more pills for me.” Ben pushed off the tire and stood up straight, offered the rest of the pack to Big Ed. “I’m sorry about Nicky. How’s your sister doing?”

“It’s a big weight. A child is a heavy thing.” He ground out the cigarette under the ball of his foot, pressed the button. The beeping resumed. Big lifted a drum.

 

 

A.E. Weisgerber’s work has been nominated for Best of the Net, Best Small Fictions, and the Pushcart Prize. Recent fiction appearing in SmokeLong QuarterlyStructo MagazineThe CollapsarFLAPPERHOUSE, and Gravel. Recent non-fiction in The Alaska StarAlternating CurrentThe Review Review, and Change Seven. She reads for Wigleaf and Pithead Chapel, and is working on an illustrated storybook called “Lives of the Saints.” Follow her @aeweisgerber, or visit  http://anneweisgerber.com.

 

“The Magic Cure” by Karin Aurino

Magic Cure
“Botanically Seen” by Penelope Breen

I had to adjust the sharp points under my ass because when I sat down next to him, they poked me in places that made me jump back up. I met him on a school hayride, a thin boy whose sweet eyes and sparse facial hair contradicted a deep voice and big hands. He was two grades older than me and I liked looking up at those tangled brown eyebrows.

It felt like a magic cure. He snuck along a plastic water bottle filled with vodka and he passed it to me. It was my first time with a drink. It was homecoming so everyone was there, taking turns on that squeaky wagon as it bounced along the dirt path behind the football field in that cold air. The leaves on the trees were changing from green to yellow and red. He jabbed his tongue in my ear and I pretended to like it. I had to resist the urge to wipe away that wet spot that got colder and colder as we rode along. I could tell he wanted my virginity, but I let him know I wasn’t eager to give it up by squeezing my knees together for that whole bumpy ride. He made sure the bottle spent most of its time in front of me, in case I changed my mind. Then I passed out.

When I came back to life, the yellow hay poked me everywhere and had weaved its way into my hair. My friend Kaitlyn shook me awake and took me to the girls locker room. The rows and rows of lockers mixed with the stench of old damp sweat made me dizzy. We passed the warped wall mirror and I looked a sight—would’ve even without the carnival image. Kaitlyn told me to stick my fingers down my throat and push. She said I would sober up.

I washed my hands first because I knew where they’d been. My hair smelled like cows or horses did their business in that hay.

At first I put one finger on my tongue but quickly realized I needed to push two in deep to get the job done. I felt better after, like magic. Kaitlyn drove me home and my parents had no idea. They didn’t notice because they’re more like grandparents who only show up for the fun stuff. My mom is 60 years old and my dad is 70 with their loose clothing and squirrely Einstein hair. They had seven kids. On purpose. Who even does that?

Kaitlyn said the thin boy with a deep voice left after he got tired of picking at the drool crusted on my face at the hayride. I went looking for him next Monday at school and in front of the science lab he kissed me right on the mouth. He had on these ripped Lucky jeans and an Adidas t-shirt, and he said, “Hay, you.”

I laughed, and we became a couple just like that. His name was Jake, but I looked at those tight jeans and started calling him Lucky, because anyone will tell you that a senior going with a sophomore just doesn’t happen. I was lucky to have him, and the tag told me so.

We went to movies or hung out at my house. He always had one of those clear water bottles so I ended up puking a lot. Two fingers instead of one. My six siblings were never home and even when they were, they didn’t notice us. When I was ten my parents decided they didn’t like us anymore, so they took off on road trips in their new convertible. I think it was gray.

The day they left my mom made dinner for us and left it on the kitchen table while we ran around the neighbor’s yard playing Ghost in the Graveyard with our friends. The kitchen—that’s where we all used to eat breakfast together.

There was a note. My older sister, Rachel, read in a chipper voice as if it were good news, “Finally taking that vacay! Be back in a few days. Lots to eat in the fridge. Love, Mom and Dad.” Though Rachel read the note cheerfully, in my head I heard a sarcastic sneer.

The food was lukewarm and covered with flies. It was in the summer so the heat was unbearable. They hadn’t shut the screen door in their haste to get away. Over the years when they had talked about that “vacay,” I thought they meant for all of us—the whole family. Not just them.

Joey is the youngest. He was nine then. I could tell he was trying not to cry and when Nick, the oldest, said, “We can’t eat this shit now,” and started to dump the food into the trash, Joey grabbed one of the plates filled with that toxic dinner and ran into the bathroom, locking the door.

Rachel pleaded with him not to eat it, “You’ll get really sick! C’mon, we’ll order a pizza with all the stuff you like.” He wouldn’t come out.

Chloe is the annoying middle sister who looked it up online and said Joey was going to get TB or typhoid or leprosy. She said house flies transmit 65 diseases to humans. So we waited for Joey to die while our parents were livin’ it up on their vacay.

I had dinner at Lucky’s house, a stiff mansion straight out of The Great Gatsby, which I’ve watched a hundred times with Kaitlyn—the Leo version. The thought of going to senior prom with him, as an underclassman, was awesome. His family of four, older sister included, wasn’t free-spirited like mine. These were proper people with manners and a Pomeranian. Before dessert, I excused myself and locked the bathroom door. It was next to the dining room and I didn’t realize they could hear me hurl. I didn’t drink that night, but the food was so good my stomach felt huge, gross and ugly. It wasn’t a big deal. But the next day Lucky came to my locker at school and said, “I know you’re bulimic and you better cut that shit out.”

I shook my head and tried to change the subject, “I saw this pretty blue prom dress in Seventeen. You can get a matching tux.” He rolled his eyes. He said his sister used to be bulimic and she knew the signs. He seemed annoyed that she told him he should help me, maybe get me started in a program called BA. Whatever.

When I was little, we used to have these big family hugs in the mornings before everyone went to school or work. After my mom sizzled sausages and my dad flipped pancakes, someone would yell, “Bring it in!” No matter where we were in the house, everyone came running into the kitchen and squeezed together, like a football team after a big win. We never knew where we would end up in the pack. I always tried to wiggle in the middle, because there was nothing to feel but the bodies of my family.

Lucky said, “You embarrassed me in front of everybody. Don’t do it again.”

I suppose I had been throwing up a lot. It had been six months since the hayride and it was happening almost every day. I knew I had to do something because I still had my virginity and Lucky was losing patience. Senior prom was still weeks away. The idea of going with him felt important, as if proving to the world I was loved.

After my parents started their road trips, I used to wish I had cancer. I thought that would keep them home. I imagined them hovering above my sterile hospital bed with gifts and sympathetic smiles. I guess if I told them I had an eating disorder they would just tell me to stop. After all, I was doing it on purpose, wasn’t I? You can’t get cancer on purpose.

I didn’t want to lose my boyfriend. Kaitlyn suggested, “Stop drinking, then you have no reason to yuke.” It sounded so simple. So easy. So I tried. But Lucky was good at sneaking that vodka into the library at school and he liked to share it with me. Then we’d make out and I would let him feel me up in the Student Life Center. But after, I would always heave, and then at home I would heave again after frozen food night, which was all the time since Mom and Dad left.

Then we got caught at the football field under the aluminum bleachers by the vice principal with Lucky’s hand down my pants and grass stains on my cotton shirt. She grabbed his water bottle and smelled. Lucky smirked, so she stuck her finger in and put a drop on her tongue. Then she smirked. Detention for a week. Detention and community service for Lucky.

My parents happened to be in town and they actually showed up while I sat and waited in the VP’s office. On the car ride home they said the sex part didn’t bother them and my dad, no lie, pulled out a package of condoms. I said I wasn’t there yet and could he please put them away. Gross. They seemed relieved but they wanted to talk about the alcohol. Then they wanted to talk about the throwing up. They said Chloe knew.

Later that night the whole family came together in the kitchen, even the oldest ones who had moved out. All nine of us were there. They had organized an intervention, and they wanted to help me. There weren’t any gifts, but there were eight sympathetic smiles.

At first it was awkward. No one knew what to say. Then Chloe spoke up, “You don’t have to make yourself sick.” She liked to get right to the point. “You could die from doing that.”

My mother asked why and I said I didn’t know. But when my dad reached over and held my hand, words came spilling out as if I had put my fingers down my throat and threw them up. I told my parents they’d abandoned me. I told my siblings they’d forgotten me. I said we didn’t do things together anymore and no one was ever home. I said I didn’t understand how we could have such a big family, yet I felt so alone.

My mother cried. Rachel and Joey rubbed my back. Chloe was already on her computer. Nick punched me in the arm, and I pinched him back. When I asked if we could have some fresh food once in a while, like we used to, Mom grabbed a pad and pen and we all put a grocery list together. She wrote down things like vegetables and fruit, flour and sausage. Nick said he would come by and drive me to Eating Disorders Anonymous meetings on Saturdays. And according to Chloe it was called EDA or ABA for Anorexics and Bulimics Anonymous—not BA. Or AA.

Then my dad asked what they could do to help make us feel like a family again. What would make me feel better, less lonely. They all wanted to know.

My parents said they were done with road trips for a while. Then I asked for that big family hug we used to do, and my dad said, “Bring it in!” I got to be in the middle without even trying. My heart blew open, and as I peeked through the cracks between our bodies, I saw our reflection in the kitchen window and there we were. A family.

 

 

Karin Aurino is an American writer of essays, short fiction, and a first novel, which draws on her former career as a fashion model. She worked in the entertainment industry for ICM, Paragon Ent., and was a Longform and Series Television Producer with Alexander/Enright. She is the recipient of residencies at Hedgebrook and Bread Loaf, and her fiction has received recognition from Glimmer Train. She is an active member of The Woolf Pack, founded by the Humanitas Prize Foundation—empowering and nurturing writers. Karin lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two children. You can follow Karin on Instagram and Twitter @KarinAurino