Interview with Tina Cane


Photo by Michael Salerno

Jude Marr: Tina, I have so much enjoyed reading your new chapbook, Once More With Feeling. You pretty much had me at New York—my favorite place to be in the world—but then I became immersed in a new experience of the city, scenes that feel like gifts from a true New Yorker—detailed, complicated and compelling.

These poems feel rooted in the negotiations of childhood, adulthood, and the time between seem to me to negotiate also the neighborhoods of the city. I am reminded of the architectural construction—and anchoring detail—of New York poet, Frank O’Hara. Can you say something about your relationship with, and your work’s connection to, the city?

Tina Cane: I realized after this collection took shape that New York City exerted a presence in my life like that of a parent. I even allude in one poem to “the streets that raised me up.” This revelation shed light on my connection to the city, which I’ve always felt was molecular. Its streets were my playground and, like any child, I learned through play.

I love Frank O’Hara and it gives me joy to have my work mentioned in the same sentence with his. O’Hara captures a different New York from the one I lived, but he paints it with an exuberance and feeling of possibility that I recognize. He enjoyed a glorious New York whose creativity and caprice made making art seem as natural and reflexive as breathing.

 

JM: Childhood memories, in particular—images and emotions that are, to quote “Wish List,” the collection’s introductory poem, “intricate and entirely plausible”— feel pinned in time and place by details of cultural ephemera, honestly recalled. Do you have a debate with yourself about the use of pop culture references? And, in light of the intricacy and plausibility of the family dynamics you explore, how do you feel when readers conflate poet and speaker?

TC: Conflating the poet and the speaker is a mistake all readers make, including writers. It stems, I think, from a yearning to connect the voice to some “truth.” It’s a function of mistaking “truth” with fact. Once More with Feeling refers to my biography more directly than a lot of my other work, but it’s life shot through the prism of poetry—which means images refracted and distorted by what the poem requires, freed from fact.

I don’t hesitate to use pop culture references because those details paint a period. I mean, “Roland’s Fried Pork Rinds,” has a lot of information built into it, as does Tosca. I am a big fan of the “high” and “low” meeting up in the same place. As in life.

 

JM: Speaking of your introductory poem, “Wish List,”—I love that you begin with an aspirational ars poetica that becomes also as an index of achievement. The first wish, “To be the Mary J. Blige of poetry,” suggests a showbiz vibe, as does the collection’s title, Once More With Feeling. What part do you feel performance plays in these poems—and why, specifically, Mary J. Blige?

TC: Hahaha…I am pretty skeptical about showbiz. My dad was an actor for a while and he rarely had a kind word for the impulses behind an actor’s need to perform. That rubbed off on me, in that I can be pretty cynical in that regard—like discussions about getting into character and craft. I mean, I hate it when poets do it, too. In fact, poets can be the worst. And yet, here we are…

Once More With Feeling, as a title, tries to capture a return to the past with a (re)newed capacity to see it and feel it for what it was. It’s a little tongue in cheek, but also meant in all earnestness, if that’s possible.

I’ve always admired Mary J.Blige, even in her cheesy periods. Mary is a survivor. She is fierce and talented and unapologetic. It’s rare for me to revere a pop star—except for David Bowie, who I think is a genius—so the reference is also me poking fun at myself. But Mary, I love her.

http://i0.wp.com/www.spdbooks.org/Content/Site106/ProductImages/9780996913447.jpg?resize=320%2C319

JM: You make careful use of space in these poems. Can you speak to your decisions about space and form, and how they inform your work?

TC: I abandoned punctuation a long time ago, because I felt marks injected too much static into the line. I use space as punctuation, pause and breath. I like to write landscape-wise, so that I can spread out my lines and accommodate the need for space. I like to give phrases, images and sounds room to exist as units of meaning on their own—unencumbered. At times, I see small group of words in my poems as micro-poems and space allows me to do that.

 

JM: You live and work in Rhode Island now. How—if at all—has that move affected your view of New York and/or your writing about NYC? Do you think there’s any sense in which you might be “in recovery” from the city—or what it represents? 

TC: I’ve never thought of myself as “in recovery” from the city, but absolutely. There is a thread of violence and survival in this book that I am able to see more clearly from here. Moving to Rhode Island was tough in the sense that I had to cut the cord from New York. That distance spurred me to see the city differently. New York, however, has changed greatly from the one portrayed in my book. When I miss New York, I miss the New York of being fourteen years old. On a bike.

Funny, I’ve been reading an interview from 1961 between Studs Terkel—whose book, Working, I have been dipping into over the past couple of months—and James Baldwin whom I’ve always revered. Baldwin speaks of a stint he spent in Switzerland and how that rupture of landscape, and the resulting isolation, released him to write of his childhood in Harlem. Obviously, he is addressing a different set of circumstances and a different era, but time and distance always affect perspective. And for writers, it affects our writing. I imagine, he was “in recovery,” too.

 

Homepage Summer 2017

Brown Days_King of the Marsh
All artwork appears courtesy of the artist Pam Brodersen.

Welcome to our July 2017 issue with the theme of “SPECULATION.” I am uploading this issue from the final week of a month-long road trip through the western United States. It’s been wonderful and exhausting, and right about now I’m really hoping that I’ve done everything necessary for this issue in advance. This marvelous issue contains the work of sixteen talented authors who we are thrilled to be presenting to you, our readers, showcased alongside the outstanding artwork of Pam Brodersen.

This issue exists, thanks in no small part to my devoted editors and readers who make my job easier, and to the contributors who have trusted us to bring their work into the world. Also, thanks for the gorgeous artwork, Pam. You made each essay, story, flash, and poem pop just a little bit more.

Thanks for reading.

Yours in Recovery,

Mary Akers
Editor-in-chief

Contributors Summer 2017

Cazarija Abartis
Cezarija Abartis (Quantum Mom) Nice Girls and Other Stories was published by New Rivers Press. Her stories have appeared in FriGG, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, The Lascaux Review, r.kv.r.y, and New York Tyrant, among others. Her flash, “The Writer,” was selected by Dan Chaon for Wigleaf’s Top 50 online Fictions of 2012 and “To Kiss a Bear” was selected for Wigleaf’s Longlist 2016. Recently she completed a novel, a thriller. She teaches at St. Cloud State University. Her website is http://magicmasterminds.com/cezarija/

digby-beaumont
Digby Beaumont‘s (Mother) stories have appeared or are forthcoming in The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, KYSO Flash, Literary Orphans, Blue Five Notebook, Bartleby Snopes, Change Seven Magazine, Flash Frontier, Jellyfish Review and 100-Word Story among others. He worked as a nonfiction author for many years, with numerous publications, and lives in Hove, England.

Pam-Brodersen
Pam Brodersen (Illustrator) shot Morris the cat. She also shot a tiger named Tony and a Doughboy in mittens atop a Christmas cookie. This all took place in her Chicago studio when she was a freelance photographic illustrator hired by “Mad Men” to promote their clients’ products. In the process, she exposed countless sheets of 8” x 10” Kodak Ektachrome. Today’s technology has morphed her “darkroom” into computer software and a stylus on a pressure-sensitive tablet. This complete control and limitless creative possibility challenges and inspires her to continue to shoot–without the “Mad Men” looking over her shoulder.

Tina Cane, recently appointed Rhode Island's new poet laureate by governor Gina Raimondo. Photo by: Michael Salerno
Tina Cane (Nocturne) is the founder and director of Writers-in-the-Schools, RI and is an instructor with the writing community, Frequency Providence. Her poems and translations have appeared in numerous publications, including The Literary Review, Two Serious Ladies, Tupelo Quarterly Jubliat and The Common. She is the author of The Fifth Thought (Other Painters Press, 2008), Dear Elena: Letters for Elena Ferrante, poems with art by Esther Solondz (Skillman Avenue Press, 2016) and Once More With Feeling (Veliz Books, 2017). In 2016, Tina received the Fellowship Merit Award in Poetry from the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts. She currently serves as the Poet Laureate of Rhode Island, where she lives with her husband and their three children. Photo credit: Michael Salerno

Ree Davis (cropped)
Ree Davis (An Opening) has worked as a cook, dishwasher, seamstress, farmworker, typist, and baker. She’s traveled across the Americas, Europe, and Asia. Graduating from Cornell University, she headed R&D for a Fortune 500 Company and gained masters degrees in architecture and creative writing. Ree lived on both US coasts, in Japan and China. Her work has won two Pushcart Nominations and appeared in Narrative Magazine, Daedalus: The Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Limestone, and Penmen Review, among others. Her story “A Limitless Sky” was adapted to a radioplay by Delmarva Public Radio. She lives in southwest Virginia.

Rebekah Keaton
Rebekah Keaton (It Hangs a Delicate Chain) has had poems appear in various online and print journals, including recently in The Dying Dahlia, PoemMemoirStory, The Healing Muse, Rust+Moth and Common Ground Review.

Kathryn Kulpa (cropped)
Kathryn Kulpa (Shelby County Courthouse) is the author of Girls on Film, a winner of the Vella Chapbook Contest, published by Paper Nautilus. Her stories have appeared in Thrice Fiction, Reservoir, Monkeybicycle, and other journals. She leads writing workshops for teens and adults in Rhode Island and will be a visiting writer at Wheaton College in fall 2017.

MH Lee (cropped)
M.H. Lee (Brown Days) has been published in The Quotable, Green Eggs and Hamlet, Forge Journal, and RearView Mirror. She graduated with an MA in theatre from Texas A&M University-Commerce and a BA in journalism and theatre from Southeastern Oklahoma State University. She has studied with Billie Letts and Stoney Hardcastle. Having lived in several states growing up, she is now working as a foster care recruiter for DHS in Oklahoma.

Joe Mills
Joe Mills
(Teeth) is a faculty member at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts and holds an endowed chair, the Susan Burress Wall Distinguished Professorship in the Humanities. He has published six collections of poetry with Press 53, most recently Exit, pursued by a bear which consists of poems triggered by stage directions in Shakespeare. He edited the collection of film criticism A Century of the Marx Brothers. With his wife, Danielle Tarmey, he researched and wrote two editions of A Guide to North Carolina’s Wineries, and his essay “On Hearing My Daughter Trying to Sing Dixie” won this year’s Rose Post Creative Nonfiction Competition. More information about his work is available at www.josephrobertmills.com.

Barbara Presnell
Barbara Presnell (When Words Spill Like Rain) is an essayist and poet who lives in North Carolina. Her latest poetry book, Blue Star, traces her family’s involvement in war from the Civil War to the present through military records, census reports, letters, journals, and photographs. Her book, Piece Work, won the Cleveland State University Poetry Center’s First Book Prize. She has published work in Cumberland River Review, The Southern Review, Malahat Review, Appalachian Journal, Chariton Review, and other journals and anthologies. She has received grant and residency support from the North Carolina Arts Council, the Kentucky Arts Council, Soapstone, Inc., and Willapa Bay AiR.

Meaghan Quinn
Meaghan Quinn (I Met Him at an Anonymous Meeting) is an Assistant Poetry Editor for The Tishman Review. She holds an MFA from the Writing Seminars at Bennington College. She was nominated for Best New Poets 2015 and a 2015 Pushcart Prize and was a recipient of the Nancy Penn Holsenbeck Prize. Her poems are forthcoming or have been published in Heartwood, 2River, Adrienne, Triggerfish, Free State Review, and other journals.


Ron Riekki (The One-Time Return of Night Terrors) wrote U.P.: a novel (Sewanee Writers Series and Great Michigan Read nominated) and edited The Way North: Collected Upper Peninsula New Works (2014 Michigan Notable Book from the Library of Michigan and finalist for the Eric Hoffer Book Award/Grand Prize shortlist, Midwest Book Award, Foreword Book of the Year, and Next Generation Indie Book Award), Here: Women Writing on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (2016 IPPY/Independent Publisher Book Award Gold Medal Great Lakes—Best Regional Fiction and Next Generation Indie Book Award—Short Story finalist), and And Here: 100 Years of Upper Peninsula Writing, 1917-2017 (Michigan State University Press, 2017).

Carroll Sandel photo
Carroll Sandel (The Memory Keeper and the Myth Maker) After a career in social work, Carroll Sandel took her first class at Grub St. Writing Center and felt as though she had leapt off a cliff. That exhilarating, terrifying feeling re-emerges each time she sits at the computer to write again. Her work has appeared in Hippocampus Magazine, Pangyrus, The Drum, Grub Daily and she was a 2014 finalist for the Dorothy Cappon non-fiction prize in New Letters. She has recently completed a memoir, Lying Eyes, which explores her untrustworthy memories and how certainty about our memories can betray us.

Ryan Stembridge (cropped)
Ryan Stembridge (The Void) recently graduated with an MFA in fiction from the University of Memphis. He enjoys magical realism and exploring experimental formats, as well as more traditional styles. Ryan’s poetry recently appeared in the Merrimack Review’s spring issue and he worked as an editor with The Pinch Journal for three years. Outside of writing, Ryan is a proud new father and sometimes sleeps.

Foster Trecot
Foster Trecost (Cactus) writes stories that are mostly made up. They tend to follow his attention span: sometimes short, and sometimes very short. He lives in New Orleans.

Ekweremadu Uchenna (cropped)
Ekweremadu Uchenna-Franklin (Requiem XIV) writes from Kaduna, Nigeria. He was Longlisted for the Erbacce Prize For Poetry 2015; he was the First Runner-up for PEN Nigeria/Saraba Magazine Poetry Prize 2011, and made it to the Book of Winners, Castello di Duino International Poetry Competition 2010. His works have appeared in Coe Review, The Write Room, Saraba Magazine, Wilderness House Literary, A&U American AIDS Magazine, Kalahari Review and elsewhere.

Hannah Whiteoak
Hannah Whiteoak (The Elephant in the Garden) is a freelance writer from the United Kingdom. Her poetry has been published in Ember Journal. She is the winner of a Reedsy Weekly Short Story Contest and was shortlisted for the OWT Short Fiction Contest in 2017.

Announcing our July Illustrator: Pam Brodersen!

Brown Days_King of the MarshWe are thrilled to announce that Pam Brodersen has graciously agreed to allow us to use her beautiful photographic images to illustrate our July issue.

Birds on a Line (Requiem)

 

 

 

Pam worked for years as a freelance photographic illustrator in her Chicago studio creating images for national print campaigns. These days, she uses digital tools to capture the world around her and creatively alter the images to express their deeper beauty and resonance.

Sanibel Surf (Words Like Rain)

We are so fortunate to have her donate her time and talents to illustrating this issue. Thank you, Pam!

 

 

 

“The Elephant in the Garden” by Hannah Whiteoak

Elephant in the Garden_Paradise
“Paradise” Image by Pam Brodersen

My world is small. That’s what Ian says. My world consists of our bed, the kitchenette with the hot plate, microwave, toaster and kettle, and the view from the window. He says it’s small enough to drive a person crazy.

Some days, my world is so grotesquely huge it overwhelms me and I have to get under the duvet to shrink it to a manageable size. Faced with too much stimulation — the traffic outside, the sudden shadows of birds on the window — I pull the covers over my head and lay there in the warm dark, listening to my loyal heart beat out a lullaby. That’s where I was the day I found out about the elephant.

“I’m home!” Ian announced as he came into the room and stomped over to the window. “Oh.”

“What’s wrong?” I threw off the duvet to find him frowning and squinting out of the window.

“You can’t see it from here.”

“See what? What’s happening?”

He stroked my hair, tucking the duvet back around my chin. “Don’t panic; nothing’s wrong. But there are elephants all over the city. Not real elephants, sculptures for some kind of art project. They’re big and bright and beautiful. I wish you could see them.”

He always wishes I could see the things he does, the things out there. “I’ll look online,” I said.

“It’s not the same.” He frowned and walked away to begin preparing dinner. I got up and followed him. While he cut carrots into careful slices, I rinsed lettuce, turning each leaf over in the stream of water.

Twice he inhaled as though about to say something. Finally, he spoke. “There’s one of those elephants in the botanical garden, just across the street. Why don’t we go and look? It’ll take 10 minutes at the most, and I’ll be right there.”

I arranged the lettuce leaves and set eight cherry tomatoes and eight olives on top. “I don’t go out there.”

He sighed and pushed the vegetables into the pan. Over dinner, we talked about his work, stories in the news, recipes we wanted to try. Anything but the elephant.

***

Now I knew it was there, the elephant trampled through my dreams, trumpeting so loudly I’d wake up, sweating, with a nagging feeling of self-doubt that wouldn’t let me go back to sleep. Instead of its usual steady beat, my heart buzzed and jumped, like a broken alarm sounding for no reason.

After the sixth night of broken sleep, I was ready to do anything to get some rest. “Fine,” I said, pushing away my cereal bowl. “I’ll go see the elephant.”

Ian looked up from the newspaper. “You don’t have to.”

“I do. I’ll go crazy if I don’t. We’ll go tonight, when you get home from work.”

All day I felt sick. Worried about throwing up on the way to the elephant, I didn’t eat anything. As my stomach growled, a dizzying dread skipped from worry to worry so fast I couldn’t keep up.

I met Ian at the door when he arrived home. Confined inside shoes, my toes cramped.

“Are you ready?”

“I think so.”

At the top of the stairs, I stood tense and dumb for over a minute before I could force myself to take the first step down into the world. Instinct screamed that this wasn’t safe, that I needed to get back inside, right now. Ian’s patient stare from the bottom of the staircase cranked up the tension even further, until, finally, something broke. Eyes closed, I ran down the stairs, hand sliding along the rail, ready to grab if I tripped.

Outside, the cars were hostile and angry. One wrong step and they’d mow you down. After six tight, controlled breaths, the lights changed and we hurried in front of an arrogant Mercedes, the engine grumbling and the driver’s stare heavy on my back.

Speeding up, I made it through the gates and into the garden before the lights released the traffic. In this quieter place, I noticed my shoulders up around my ears and forced them down. My fists unclenched.

The garden was as I remembered. Wisteria tumbling from trellises, rose bushes firmly rooted. Squirrels bouncing across the grass like skimmed stones. Benches where we used to cuddle, before my world shrank. And then there was the elephant.

Painted in garish colours, the elephant stood square and proud on its four squat legs. Taller than me, its bulk blocked out my field of vision as I approached to touch it. The fiberglass surface was smooth and cool against my cheek.

Sealing my ear to the elephant’s side muffled the roar from the road. In its place was a gentle throb, like the sea inside a shell. With the eye furthest from the elephant squeezed shut, the patterns painted on its flank stretched out in a distorted landscape that curved around the front leg and plunged into a valley behind the ear.

Ian put his hand on my shoulder. “Do you like it?”

I thought for a long time. “It’s just an elephant.”

“Oh. I thought you’d like it.”

Laughter spilled out of me. “Just an elephant. Just a garden. A tiny corner of a garden.”

When I turned to look at him, he was smiling. A real, hopeful smile, like I hadn’t seen in years.

***

The next day, I pulled the duvet over my head and didn’t respond when Ian left for work.

All day, I thought about how small everything was. Me, the flat, the public garden across the street. Even the elephant seemed small and unimportant. What was the point of expanding my world if it just made everything seem smaller?

“Have you been there all day?” Ian asked when he came home. He peeled the duvet from me as though unwrapping the cling film from a crumbly slice of cake.

“Come on,” he said. “Let’s go and see the elephant again.”

This time, crossing the street wasn’t so bad. The cars still roared, but at least I could visualise coming back, slipping between them and into the safety of home.

The elephant was still standing quietly in the garden. We walked around it, admiring the interweaving swirls of pink and blue and yellow, but soon got cold and hungry. We took a photograph, pinning down the elephant like a butterfly on a board, and went home.

***

My world is small. My world consists of our flat, the botanical garden, two hundred paces along the road in either direction and the book shop at the end of the road. I don’t go inside, but I look through the window at the titles and ask Ian to get them for me. He says I’m making progress. He talks about going to see some of the other elephants, before the art project ends and they disappear from the city for good. “You have to see them while you can,” he says.

I’m not so sure. Maybe he’s right, and my world is small enough to drive a person crazy. But I’m afraid the more elephants I see, the smaller it will seem.

 

 

Hannah Whiteoak is a freelance writer from the United Kingdom. Her poetry has been published in Ember Journal. She is the winner of a Reedsy Weekly Short Story Contest and was shortlisted for the OWT Short Fiction Contest in 2017.

 

“The Void” by Ryan Stembridge


“Evening Light” Image (detail) by Pam Brodersen

A few months ago, a hole appeared in my bedroom. For the first few days, I mistook it for a balled black sock as I dressed for work in the grey mornings. I didn’t have to wake up that early, but I liked to. An early run does wonders when you’re stuck in an office all day.

On laundry day, I reached with my toes to grab the stray sock and instead a cool whisper of air tickled the hairs of my big toe knuckle. I pulled my foot back with a shiver and looked closer. It was smaller than a baseball and too deep a black for fabric—a drop of pure night sky pooled upon my floor.

There’d been no breeze, I assured myself, and holes didn’t appear for no reason. On all fours, I looked into the hole. It seemed deep, possibly bottomless. The edge showed a cross-section of floorboards, as if cut and carefully sanded. Under them was . . . nothing. Nothing, where there should have been floor space and support beams. Or at least my downstairs neighbors. I reached out, slowly.

This breeze felt colder than it should. Memories floated up: as a boy, cracking open the freezer on hot nights, standing on my toes, pushing my neck toward the chilled air—cool, dark, and lonely. I pictured my floor floating over nothing—in a great vacuum. I stopped. I’m not afraid of heights, but something about that picture—the vast emptiness, and me floating somewhere in it, left me nauseated.

I made a deal: if the hole was still there when I opened my eyes, I would stop calling myself crazy.

It was still there. I wasn’t crazy. Is that something you could decide? Like not letting the rain bother you by deliberately walking slowly?

The air felt even colder as I reached my arm into the hole. Once my arm was fully extended, my fingers danced for contact. I tried to stretch the space between my joints. I felt nothing but pressure, like I’d reached into a deep sea.

Well, maybe I wasn’t crazy, but that damn hole sure was. I debated calling the super, but I couldn’t guess what he’d think. Something deep within rose up at the thought. I couldn’t tell him. He’d blame me, say I was vandalizing the place. So, I did what I do. I ignored it.

*

A few days later, I stepped into it. A feeling of weightlessness ran up my spine, expectations upended. In that moment—during the inch and a half drop—I questioned. Would I keep falling? Had the floor had caved in? Had there ever even been a floor? These doubts, although faint, sprang up in the back of my mind as if I’d always been ready to question the basic laws of physics and that brief moment gave me a reason. And then my heel stoppered the hole. Painfully. The sharp edge scraped back skin. The distraction of pain dispelled the worries for a time.

But later, as I tried to sleep, doubts poked me awake. Then I dreamed of drifting through space on a tiny raft of floorboards—no air but somehow still alive. It became recurring. I’d have nowhere to go and nothing to do but count the stars and watch the occasional comet pass. Sometimes, it wasn’t so bad. But then I’d wake, gasping for air, as if the vacuum had finally closed in.

I tried to get back to my life. I woke early and ran. I ate and worked and drank and slept. More routine than I anticipated when I moved from Flyspeck, Ohio to Chicago. I had a few friends, at least—was part of a semi-regular crowd at the bar. The occasional date went well. Or they used to. Since the hole appeared, I’d been hesitant to invite anyone over.

*

I noticed a whistling sound a few weeks later. I blamed ringing ears, faulty electrical wires, static hums from the TV. I even pictured some far-off jackass playing with a dog whistle that I could barely hear. But I knew what it was. It sounded hollow. I ignored it. I tried to. The hole grew, and with it, the wind.

*

A few days later, I almost dropped a whole leg in. I’d gotten comfortable with my habit of stepping wide as I entered my closet, gaze aimed carefully away. But this time I reeled forward, pushing hard off the sharp edge and falling into my closet, landing painfully on one knee. My other foot dangled in the hole behind me; air rushed around my ankle. No longer the whisper I’d felt before, now a steady flow of crisp, dry air, as if it swirled over morning snow. I looked closely for the first time in weeks.

A watermelon could have rolled in with room to spare. I pulled my foot away and spun around to face it. With the hole so large, more light should have revealed its depths, but inside was the same deep blackness in every direction. Vastness. I stood and dressed as if nothing had changed, but was careful to jump over it on my way out.

*

A week later, I had the usual crew over for poker night. I was only close with Mark and Iris, but we needed more for poker and my place had the largest living room. I usually left my bedroom door open as a low-key invitation for Mallory, but that night I shut it and wished it had a lock.

The hole had grown so large it filled the closet doorway. I put a cardboard box over it. I tried to forget about it—easier said than done. Twice that week I’d found myself staring at it without realizing. But this was poker night—no room for the void.

The game was going fine. Seb had the lead, as usual, but I had a good start. Mark flamed out early, but was enjoying spicy wings in the kitchen. I was nursing my third beer and trying to stay calm. I had pocket kings. The flop came out with another. I was riding pretty. Iris and Blair stayed in, bets came out, and the pot grew. One of the biggest of the night. Everyone watched.

“What’s that howling sound?” Mark asked. “Is it storming?”

A cold fist gripped the base of my spine. I kept my eyes on the table. No big deal. I couldn’t relax my shoulders.

Iris raised an eyebrow. She’d had her hand on a large stack of chips, probably to call my bet. Instead, she sighed. “I fold. Nice try looking scared, but you exaggerated it.”

Seb made an oof at the hand—he wasn’t one to be distracted—but now Mallory and Mark both were looking out the window and cocking their heads. Yellow street lamps illuminated still trees and grey, week-old snow. No storm.

“Is there a window cracked?” asked Mallory.

My stomach churned. “Oh, yeah, in the bathroom,” I said, hoping poker had helped my bluff. “The heater’s in there, so it gets crazy hot.” I felt trapped in my clothes, hotter by the second.

No one got up to look. A few hands later, Mark went to the bathroom.

“Does that window even open?” he asked as he reemerged and stood by my bedroom door. “It’s louder over here.”

What if they saw? What if they fucking saw? They’d want to know: what it was, where it came from, how it happened. How could I explain? Maybe they’d laugh it off as an oddity. Tell me to fix it already. I told myself it wasn’t a big deal, that it would be easier to show it than describe it. But I couldn’t. Deep down, I knew I couldn’t.

“I think it’s coming from in here.” Mark tapped on my bedroom door.

Panicked, I said, “Oh shit, you know what, I forgot I left my humidifier on.” My mom had one. It always made weird noise.

“You use a humidifier?” Iris asked.

“Yeah. So what?”

They were looking at me. My neck felt wrapped by a thick, scratchy scarf.

Mark reached for the doorknob.

“Christ, Mark, leave it the fuck alone,” I said.

Seb and Blair exchanged looks that said, spaz. Assholes.

Mallory looked concerned, a little annoyed. Fickle.

Jayesh hid in the kitchen, avoiding the tension. Coward.

Iris looked offended.

Mark raised an eyebrow, still listening at the door.

“Poker,” I said, in a more relaxed tone. I could still be chill. “Let’s play, man.”

Mark listened for a few more seconds. He said, “It sounds weird,” but walked back to the table and sat.

My game fell apart after that. Seb won. But they left and I could breathe again.

I approached my bedroom door and cracked it open. The howling had grown. It was a wonder they hadn’t all heard and stormed in.

The cardboard was gone. The void must have swallowed it. A quarter of the room was missing—baseboards hung over empty air on both sides. Wind pulled at my clothes as if it might pull hard enough to unbalance me mid-stride.

I sat on my bed and stared into the void. I pulled the blankets close around me and shivered as I stared.

My alarm went off, startling me. I’d fallen asleep slumped against the wall. My neck didn’t want to straighten. I hit snooze, but didn’t. Instead, I sat on the edge of the bed and stared. I could run tomorrow. Something drew me into that void. It was cold, dark, and lonely. Captivating. I was late to work that day. Only by a minute.

I tried to get back into my routine, but failed. My morning runs, most of my sleep, my bar nights, they all fell away. The howling wind became a blizzard and loose objects started disappearing. I’d find myself awake, lying on the edge of the bed, staring toward the hole while the wind pulled at my blankets. I had to sleep with them curled underneath me to hold them. I could still see the void in the dim glow from my alarm clock—a darker shadow than the rest.

I started stumbling into work, late and red-eyed. I had a meeting with my project manager last week about coming to work hung over. She wouldn’t believe I wasn’t.

I saw Mark and Iris a few more times, but I avoided the group. Mark kept asking me what was wrong with me. Iris kept saying I looked stressed and patting my arm. We were supposed to play poker again yesterday, but I cancelled. Iris has been texting me a storm since. Mark sent a few angry texts, but gave up.

My phone vibrates in my hand. It’s Iris again. She sounds worried. I should say something. Tomorrow. I’ll text her tomorrow.

I look back into the void. It’s truly massive now. My bed’s the only thing left in the room save for my desk and chair, out of reach, in the other corner. I’ve been here all day, sitting on the edge of my bed. My feet hang off the side, chilled to the bone in the howling wind. My heels rest on what’s left of the hardwood floor. There’s only three or so inches left sticking out from under my bed, barely enough for me to stand.

It’s been growing. Soon, the entire floor will be gone. Will my bed slide in and fall away? Or will it be like the walls by my closet, floating on nothing like a raft on a sea of emptiness? I balance on the lip, calves against my bed. The wind tears the blanket from my grip and swirls it around the room until it catches my desk chair and pulls them both into the void. They fall away, further and further until the black envelops them. I raise my arms to feel the wind. It’s almost strong enough to lift me.

 

 

Ryan Stembridge recently graduated with an MFA in fiction from the University of Memphis. He enjoys magical realism and exploring experimental formats, as well as more traditional styles. Ryan’s poetry recently appeared in the Merrimack Review’s spring issue and he worked as an editor with The Pinch Journal for three years. Outside of writing, Ryan is a proud new father and sometimes sleeps.

 

“The Memory Keeper and the Myth Maker” by Carroll Sandel

Memory Keeper_Sacred Blossoms
“Sacred Blossoms” Image by Pam Brodersen

”…the remembering self” has two different aspects. “On the one hand, it has the temperament of a librarian, a keeper of memory’s most important archives. It can be fastidious in that role, guarding its original records and trying to keep them pristine.” On the other hand, “memory’s archivist by day has a secret passion by night: to fashion a story about itself… that some of us call the personal myth” — not “a falsehood but a comprehensive view of reality” that seeks “to generate conviction about what it thinks is true.”

~ John Kotre, WHITE GLOVES: How We Create Ourselves Through Memory

We wore white gloves to church on Sunday. When I was eight, my favorite pair had small petaled flowers around the cuffs, with a tiny pearl in the center of each one. A different pair when I was ten had scalloped edges. At twelve, another pair had a pearl button and a loop to close the opening at the wrist. The gloves fit snugly around fingers and thumbs. They stayed white as cotton balls since my sisters and I only wore them for a few hours each week and never touched anything. As we changed into our work clothes, we put the gloves in our top dresser drawers, one on top of the other, next to our underpants. My white church gloves fashioned part of the story of my childhood.

My mother drove us six kids from our farm into town to the Episcopal Church every Sunday, no matter whether snow gusted across the road or sweat wet our armpits. We tumbled out of the car, my younger sister, Nancy, and I heading to the choir room to dress in our black robes, white surplices. In the pews that faced each other close to the altar, she and I giggled and chatted until one of us glanced at the third pew where Mom sat with the other kids. Our mother’s furrowed brow and the shaking her head “No,” told us to cut it out now. Mom used to say, “Taking you all to church takes all the religion out of me.” We wore my mother out no matter where we were.

Six had not been Mom’s choice for the size of our family. But my father wanted to be like Frank Gilbreth who wrote Cheaper by the Dozen, so he talked her into another baby every two years. My mother on occasion admitted she had preferred two children. Then she would add, “But if I had to choose, there’s not one of you I would give up.” This was hard for me to believe. Though she loved infants she could cuddle with, my mother did not really like kids. When we argued with each other, when we embarrassed her by talking too loud, when we didn’t show off our good manners, she’d sigh and turn her head away as if correcting us was not worth the bother.

Life on the farm was relentless for Mom with the marathon canning and freezing beans, peas, tomatoes, applesauce all summer and early fall. Before school, she drilled us for our spelling tests while packing our lunches with lettuce, mayonnaise and peanut butter sandwiches. At night, we sat on the red metal stool and read aloud to her back as she cleaned up in the kitchen. Her energy went into chores, less so into kids.

While Mom covered the bases of being an adequate mother, she showed little inclination to nurture. She never recognized when we girls had outgrown our dresses. On occasion, she’d say, “Come here, I want to feel your nose.” If it was cold, she’d add, “Go get a sweater.” But for the most part, she paid little attention to our clothes matching the weather. She seemed to think we could figure those things out on our own. In particular, I don’t remember her noticing me. Mom never picked up on me feeling sad about something that happened at school or that I was terrified of the dark when she sent me to get more milk from the refrigerator in the cellar.

My father was the worrier. One evening when we still lived in town and I was three, he arrived home from work and asked my mother where the older two kids were. She said she had no idea, she hadn’t noticed they were missing. My father scoured the neighborhood, asking folks if they’d seen his five-year-old girl and his seven-year-old son. He expanded his search, street by street. My older sister remembers holding my brother’s hand, knowing they were lost. My father found them ten blocks away, across a busy street. My sister saw my father get out of the car and raced into his arms.

He once told me his “heart jumped into his throat” each time he checked on my little brother at night and found him buried under the covers at the bottom of his bed. “God, I’d think, what if he’s suffocated?” my father said. When a thunderstorm barreled through and the same brother raced into the hall to brighten his florescent cross under the night light, my mother laughed at how foolish he was to be so fearful. These memories helped construct my story that my father was the caring parent, not my mother.

 

During winters in southwestern Pennsylvania, the sky shifted from dirty white to thundercloud gray. The sun was merely a rumor. Wind snuck into the window edges, making the house groan. Our jackets, wool caps and mittens never quite barricaded the cold.

We girls were allowed to wear pants under our dresses to school when it froze enough to burn the inside of our noses. One day as I stared at the crystals of frost making dips and drifts in the small rectangular windows running up to the ceiling, Mrs. Scott, my second-grade teacher, announced it was time to line up to go the bathroom. Squeaks of desk lids opening, a girl’s whispering to a friend, rustling of papers filled the room.

As I slid from my seat, my teacher, who did not smile often, but whose eyes never flashed in anger, said, “Carroll, can you come here, please?” I got good report cards and did not misbehave much, so I was curious, not nervous when I walked toward her as my classmates left the room. With her cinnamon hair curled in a tight permanent, Mrs. Scott held out her hands and motioned for me to put my hands out. Both of us stared at my raw, cracked fingers. She leaned over to her desk drawer and opened it. My teacher lifted a bottle of Jergen’s lotion and shook some into her open hand. She greased my fingers one by one, then with both her palms, caressed them, back and forth, back and forth. Mrs. Scott, concentrating on massaging the cream into my red hands, did not notice me looking up at her. She did not know that I was thinking: This is what a good mother does for her child.

When we got off the school bus around four o’clock, two-foot-long icicles clung to the roof of the house. We changed our clothes and headed for the cellar where our snow pants, work jackets and boots were. Before I graduated to milking our Guernseys when I turned twelve, I helped feed the beef cattle who roamed in the rock-hard fields. Either my father or the hired hand drove the pick-up truck, bouncing my sisters, little brother and me up and down on the hay bales in the back. The wind seared across our faces, tearing up our eyes and sending snot down onto our lips. When we arrived where the cows huddled, with feet planted to balance ourselves as the truck kept moving, we pitched hay over the side. Headlight beams funneled dimly across the snow-covered ground. Once our job was done, our behinds bumped against the empty truck bed as we rode back over the fields. We swiped prickly mittens across our faces to scrape off stalks that the wind stuck there. By the time we returned to the barn, we no longer felt our fingers or our toes. Now when I am out in a bracing wind, I remember those dark, late afternoons in the back of the truck.

Inside the barn, it was cold enough for steam to rise where a milk cow pooped on the straw, but it was warmer than in the fields. One evening, I spread hay into troughs without my mittens. Blood scabs dotted the cracks on my knuckles. My father grabbed my sleeve and led me past the stand where the pail lid covered the fresh milk, past the horse stalls to the window at the far side of the barn. He reached up to the ledge, pulled down a lime green can of Bag Balm that he used to soften the cows’ teats. Scooping out a clump of yellow grease, he worked the lanolin into my fingers, one hand, then the other. Pulling his work gloves on, he headed back to the cows. As the oozy grease softened my fingers, I followed my father.

 

In my house on chilly days now, my cold fingers often tell me I need to put on a sweater. After my morning shower, I cream my body well. I moisturize my face in the evening and add ultra-healing lotion to my hands before I head toward bed. Without conscious thought, I have internalized the actions of those who helped care for my dry skin.

My young granddaughter, since she was a baby, has had skin so dry it feels like fine sand paper. When she was little, her mother slurped mango body butter over her limbs, back and belly. One evening I babysat when she was in second grade. After she had greased her hands, my granddaughter pulled on a pair of knitted mittens. A slice of a memory flashed and took shape: A pair of white gloves, larger than my usual Sunday ones, yellowed and dirty-looking–I had put on my hands as a child before I went to bed. The mustard tinge came from the cream I had slathered on before I slid my fingers into the gloves.

A thrill stirred in my chest as I stared at my granddaughter’s mittens. My mother had figured out a way to deal with my chapped hands. No one else would have given me gloves to encase my hands in lotion overnight.

Yet no matter how hard I tried, I could not remember my mother noticing my chapped fingers. I ploughed through my memories, but I could not determine when my mother gave me the gloves to shield my hands. I tried out scenarios, imagining what might have occurred.

Perhaps one evening at dinner as we all sat round the red Formica table, Mom watched me raise my milk tumbler. My red hands were difficult to ignore. After I brushed my teeth that evening, she held my fingers for a brief moment under the lamp on the bed stand before she said good night. I attempted to invent what she might have said as she inspected my hands, but no words came to mind. The next day I imagined she might have called her friend, Lucille, and together they came up with a plan. My mother then went upstairs to my older sister’s dresser. In the top drawer, she picked out a pair of white gloves, slightly worn, and placed them on the dressing table in her bedroom. That night Mom handed me a lotion bottle and the pair of worn gloves. “Put cream on your hands every night,” she said. “Then wear these when you go to bed.” So simply would she have instructed me on how to help my chapped hands. Maybe I grew tired of wearing the gloves and my fingers once again reddened. Maybe my father was following her lead when he noticed dried blood on my knuckles. But my contrived sequence of events rang false, with a mother I did not recognize.

I worked at imagining me telling Mom about Mrs. Scott lotioning my red fingers. But I would have been embarrassed to let her know that my teacher recognized what she had missed. I tried to envision my mother noticing my rough hands while she washed the dishes and I picked them up from the drainer to wipe dry. Yet my older sister usually was the one who washed while I dried. Shaping memory of a caring mother battled tough resistance. So entrenched was my perception of Mom never noticing of me, I could not see her initiate a plan to help my chapped hands. I dug further to find a palatable version of how I came to wear gloves at night.

The story that made sense to me: That freezing night, after my father rubbed Bag Balm into my fingers, he changed from his dungarees into his pajamas and climbed into bed. My mother, in her nightie, socks and bed jacket, lay beside him. In the darkened room, my father told my mother about my hands. “They’re in god-awful shape,” he said. “The cracks in her knuckles have scabs of blood. You need to figure out something to do about them.” With my father’s instruction, Mom telephoned several friends to see if they had ideas how to salve my chapped hands. One suggestion of applying cream, then putting on gloves each night made sense to her. She found an extra pair of my older sister’s and gave them to me along with the lotion. With three kids younger than I who needed her attention at bed time, I would have been in charge of dealing with my red hands. Without remembering of how I came to wear gloves at night, I fashioned a story that fits what I want to believe. Together my parents helped me.

As a meticulous memory keeper, I remembered the features of each pristine pair of church gloves. I loved that they made me feel dressed up, not like a farm girl. Scenes emerged readily of Mrs. Scott massaging cream into my fingers, my father’s rough hands greasing my cracked ones. I spotlighted my claims of who noticed me.

My remembering self had already been a myth maker, determined to dismiss what did not fit the narrative I crafted. With no memory of a nurturing mother, I stripped her of all signs of her caring for me. My granddaughter pulling mittens on her greased hands triggered recall of a forgotten kindness. Yellowed white gloves added a new dimension to my memory of my mother. One of her chores, it turns out, was figuring out a way to help me.

 

 

After a career in social work, Carroll Sandel took her first class at Grub St. Writing Center and felt as though she had leapt off a cliff. That exhilarating, terrifying feeling re-emerges each time she sits at the computer to write again. Her work has appeared in Hippocampus Magazine, Pangyrus, The Drum, Grub Daily and she was a 2014 finalist for the Dorothy Cappon non-fiction prize in New Letters. She has recently completed a memoir, Lying Eyes, which explores her untrustworthy memories and how certainty about our memories can betray us.

 

“I Met Him at an Anonymous Meeting” by Meaghan Quinn


“Treehugger” Image (detail) by Pam Brodersen

Circled around fold out chairs I squeezed
his hand at the end of the Lord’s Prayer.
I wanted to give him something to believe
in deeper than the creed. I wasn’t prepared
for him to go back to selling out of his car
or even further back to living broken, alone.
After hours, I smell him cooking in the park

on the edge of a cot stoking a city of homes.

Off the grid, unannounced, more elbow room
to move around. There are whispers of his needs.
By morning the city finds traces of him, spoons,
rosaries, wax envelopes all down the streets.
Predawn sauna of summer, his crown of dreads,
in the mangled butternut tree roots, body and bread.

 

 

Meaghan Quinn is an Assistant Poetry Editor for The Tishman Review. She holds an MFA from the Writing Seminars at Bennington College. She was nominated for Best New Poets 2015 and a 2015 Pushcart Prize and was a recipient of the Nancy Penn Holsenbeck Prize. Her poems are forthcoming or have been published in Heartwood, 2River, Adrienne, Triggerfish, Free State Review, and other journals.

 

“The One-Time Return of Night Terrors” by Ron Riekki

Night Terrors (Rain)
“Drops” Image by Pam Brodersen

I beg the counselor
to help me return
to avoidance, but he
says I need to be
out in the crimson
pool of people,
that things get worse
before they get breathing
and I open my eyes
in the rivered room,
its throat of night,
and beg myself
to leave the doom-
birthdays of boot
camp and realize
fully that family
exists in rooms
nearby where
the father
cannot allow
himself
to be
strangled

I turn on
the light,

kneel
and insist
God
enter
every
cloud
of me

 

insist

insist

insist

 

 

Ron Riekki wrote U.P.: a novel (Sewanee Writers Series and Great Michigan Read nominated) and edited The Way North: Collected Upper Peninsula New Works (2014 Michigan Notable Book from the Library of Michigan and finalist for the Eric Hoffer Book Award/Grand Prize shortlist, Midwest Book Award, Foreword Book of the Year, and Next Generation Indie Book Award), Here: Women Writing on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (2016 IPPY/Independent Publisher Book Award Gold Medal Great Lakes—Best Regional Fiction and Next Generation Indie Book Award—Short Story finalist), and And Here: 100 Years of Upper Peninsula Writing, 1917-2017 (Michigan State University Press, 2017).

 

“Quantum Mom” by Cezarija Abartis

Quantum Mom_Lands End
“Land’s End” Image by Pam Brodersen

Outside Paula’s window, the leaves were almost gone from the maple tree. She worried about her friend Andrea. Two weeks ago the tree blazed orange and scarlet, and now it was just skeletal branches against the dim and misty sky. And in six months it would bud green and gold. She hoped Andrea would get well. She closed the book that she’d been trying to read, a new translation of the Odyssey for the next semester, closed it on the page where Odysseus speaks with his mother in Hades.

Paula remembered her mother before she died. Young and slender, younger than Paula, who was fifty-two and looking matronly with her big hips. Paula never got to see her mother grow old. She had, at last, forgiven her for dying.

“Paula, dear.” Her mother appeared, wearing the apron Paula had sewn when she was in seventh grade, a cotton print of roses and baby angels with wings. “I want you to study hard.”

“Yes, Mother, I do.”

“I want you to get all A’s.”

“I only got one B. That was in Civics.”

“I know. You hate reading the newspaper.”

“I like reading books.”

“When I was your age, I liked books of fairy tales.”

“Were you twelve once?”

Her mother lightly flicked the tip of Paula’s nose. “Don’t mock your old mother.”

The next year, her slender and beautiful mother drove to the Fifth Street Bridge, got out of the car, climbed over the rail, and jumped into the river. She was thirty-seven. Paula’s brother was ten, and at first he thought she would somehow return. “Mickey expected you to come back a week later.”

“I was truly dead and gone,” her mother’s ghost said. “I missed all of you. Your father, of course, but you and Mickey most of all. I wanted to see you grow up.”

“Look at me, Mother. I’m fifty-two. You must be seventy-seven.”

“You’re beautiful, but I see a thirteen-year-old.”

“I got my Ph.D.” Paula pointed to her framed diploma with the gold-colored seal in the corner. “I’m a professor.”

“Funny, you look thirteen to me.” Her mother touched her own cheek with her familiar gesture of puzzlement.

Paula stared at this young, aproned woman with her chestnut-brown hair and her clear eyes. She wondered what her mother would’ve been like if she had survived depression. Her mother would be judging her: “You should find a nice man and have children.”

“Mother, I’m fifty-two.”

“You could adopt.”

“Mother, that ship has sailed.”

“I liked Evan.”

“You were gone before I met him. How could you have known?”

Her mother shrugged and put on a tricky expression. “I have my ways.”

“He’s dead. Cancer.”

“Perhaps in another pocket of time he would be alive?”

“What are you talking about?”

“I always liked science, you know that. Your father called it woo-woo science. But there are all sorts of things. Horatio says, ‘More things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.’”

“That’s Hamlet.”

“Right.”

Paula shook her head at her woo-woo mother.

Paula’s cat, Schrödinger, trotted in, tail perpendicular, confident, alert, powerful. She bent down to pet him, and he felt warm and solid.

Paula looked up and saw a vase of wilting roses on the nightstand and an old mother lying on a bed, the golden afternoon pouring down on her. But this was not possible. This mother had white, floaty hair. Her eyes seemed cloudy. This was a future that never happened. The living room had become a bed chamber.

Paula’s head buzzed.

Her cat, Schrödinger, ambled in, now skinny and old. Then Atom, her mother’s cat, came in meowing, stropping her ankles. “Okay, sweeties. I’ll get you a fresh can.” But they weren’t interested in food.

Her father had loved that cat, especially after his wife died.

Atom jumped up on the bed, and the old mother petted him until he nipped at her. “He only likes a certain amount of petting. Such a particular, fine cat.” She smiled and turned her creamy, cataracted eyes on Paula. “I saved him from death. I found him as an abandoned kitten, and I saved him. I don’t know where he is now.”

“We put him to sleep.”

“I don’t know where he is now.” Her mother’s face was infinitely sad. “So many things I don’t know. What is love? Will the universe unravel? Will there be a union of body and soul? Will we see again the people and creatures we loved?”

“And have you been healed of your depression?”

She sliced the air with her hand. “My pain is over.”

“Oh, Mother, that’s good.”

“I love to see your happy face. I can take that memory to eternity. Are you happy, dear? No danger? You don’t have my depression?”

Her cat, Schrödinger, trotted in. In this version her mother was young again.

“I just have a bad cold,” Paula said. “My October respiratory infection.” She coughed for her mother, a little, jagged exhalation.

“Don’t make light of it.”

“Only a mom would take this seriously. My friends get colds and we just pooh-pooh their complaining.”

“I used to get those heavy infections around my lungs, hot around my heart and throat,” her young mother said.

“I feel so sorry for you.”

“That’s in the past.” She waved dismissively. “No respiratory infections anymore. All gone.” She opened her arms wide, as if to display her health.

“Andrea has lung cancer.” Paula wanted to rush into her mother’s arms and tell her about her friend. “Will she get better?”

Her mother straightened the hem of her apron. “I was remembering about the past–that is to say, you were remembering. Anyway, you and Andrea were fighting about who was responsible for tearing the apron that you sewed in Home Ec class.”

“Andrea tore it–she pulled it out of my hand and caught it on a doorknob.” The perfect, unimportant memory made Paula shake her head at herself. She wanted to embrace her mother, but knew she was just a shade. “Will you come back?”

The young mother walked to the door, whispered, “Love,” fluttered her fingers, and disappeared.

Schrödinger meowed. Paula turned, picked him up, and hugged him to her chest.

 

 

Cezarija Abartis’ Nice Girls and Other Stories was published by New Rivers Press. Her stories have appeared in FriGG, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, The Lascaux Review, r.kv.r.y, and New York Tyrant, among others. Her flash, “The Writer,” was selected by Dan Chaon for Wigleaf’s Top 50 online Fictions of 2012 and “To Kiss a Bear” was selected for Wigleaf’s Longlist 2016. Recently she completed a novel, a thriller. She teaches at St. Cloud State University. Her website is http://magicmasterminds.com/cezarija/