It had been the loneliest summer of my life, which is maybe why I was so looking forward to seeing Beth.
I’d been living in the city for about four months by then. I still wasn’t quite used to the foul-smelling puddles, the fire escapes that blotted out the sky, the way the subway would be whispering along then suddenly scream to a stop, forever lurching me into the lap of some nameless and scowling person. And Beth was nice, I remembered: she’d been the type of girl in college who was always the first to laugh, the first to dance; the type of girl who never complained when we ran out of cold beer and had to switch to room temperature. She was a good sport, I remember a buddy saying once, and I’d agreed.
It was a clear Friday afternoon. I was headed to my mother’s house for the weekend, and the idea of leaving the city for a full two days had left me feeling light. I decided to throw my weekend bag over my shoulder and walk the fifteen blocks to the coffee shop Beth had suggested.
I regret my good decisions while staring at digital timestamps within the carpeted walls of my assigned cubicle as November darkens to evening right after lunch. I regret them as I climb into the hybrid and track its mileage. On an after-work walk, plastic bags, candy wrappers, and beer cans sprawl. I decide to corral strips of wild sheeting massed into a wig of see-through hair. A slippery ooze crawls onto my hands. I should have fucked that guy. I should have broken my heart over him and kept breaking those gears —a clockwork that spends almost all of its time junked just for those two moments everyday, when it is exactly right.
The Prius should make a noise as it creeps behind school children scattering across the road, sunlight and leaf shadows waving around them. It should be, as one petition suggested to Toyota, the sound of the Jetson car, a whirr and a dapple of a sound. But Toyota has done nothing — nothing. The cars glide out each year, shark silent.
When I was 11, at the school trip to Kings Dominion, standing next to a plastic statue of George, Maria Framingham declared she had lost a $10 bill and so of course I checked my back pocket and of course my $10 bill slipped out. Maria picked it up and said she found her $10 and I made no sound and slunk away, my inner petitioner demanding, “Hey, make a noise!” And my inner Toyota doing nothing — nothing.
5. I am in a restaurant when I learn Rob has a wife. It shouldn’t matter, since I’m already a wife, too—Timothy sits across from me, cutting a chicken strip into toddler-sized bites between swigs of his craft beer—but something catches in my chest at the sound of Rob’s name. Maybe it’s because Timothy and I are hardly speaking at the moment, or maybe it’s because of the person delivering the news.
Amaya is supposed to be a ghost from the past. She is not meant to materialize inside the life I have now, this many years after college, as she exits Timothy’s favorite burger place. I don’t notice her until she sidles over and leans against the edge of our table, runs an invasive finger around its glossy tiles, slowly, as if she’s trying to seduce them one by one. We exchange pleasantries: Nice to see you. Yes, it’s been forever. What are you up to these days?
“By the way, Rob got married,” Amaya tells me. “She looks a lot like you, actually—brown hair, kind of wavy. They have a daughter.”
She winces a little when she says it, in sympathy or solidarity, as though we both have the right to feel jealous. Then she tsk-tsks and sets her lips in a thin, apologetic line, flutters her fingers over her shoulder: “‘Bye, honey.” The finality of her hips swaying toward the door.
“That was the Amaya?” Timothy asks through a mouthful of ground meat.
I can’t stop listening to your dumb wonderwall cover that I asked for as a joke. I don’t know what you did to make it sound all distant and a little haunted but I want to projectile vomit when you giggle through the reverb miss a chord and sing alltheroadsanananasomething. Why do people hate this song and why do people only ever play it on acoustic, it’s so good on electric or maybe I just like you—oh fuck, do I like you? During sex I asked how long you had wanted to do this for and you said within the first ten minutes of meeting you and I said same if not even longer, maybe before I met you, does that make sense? Am I making sense? Should I seek professional help if a fucking joke cover of wonderwall makes me want to grin at every blank-faced stranger in a gas station, makes me want to stitch your name into my underwear, makes me want to backflip into the Atlantic Ocean where you are treading water— and I don’t think that anybody feels the way I do about you now.
What Sappho calls the desiremind or the couragesoul I call the swirling Chesapeake Bay of my brain and sure you could call the tugboat trawling through the brackish waters desire and yes you could call the striped bass sourcing speed from the tugboat’s wake courage and sure you could call the crushed beer can scything the surf the mind and yes the soul looks like a blue crab when I close my eyes to picture it aquamarine claw olive-green shell I can’t quite place the bird tipping its beak into the bay to capture an absent worm absent because fields of eelgrass are emptied daily by giant pesticidal blooms heaps of dead fish falling upwards towards the surface but in placing the bird a red knot a piping plover one could easily mistake it for the faculties of the soul particularly the appetites so many Plato doesn’t even bother to tally them though he does warn of their penchant for battle the appetites who are hard to see when they stand still like the piping plover for whom they are often mistaken yes I’ve been out combing the waters for a new bird one whose bright rusty throat and striped back better represent those flightier emotions not even Sappho has the words for is it the tundra swan with ass upended and neck submerged searching for the eelgrass that isn’t there the tundra swan that birdwatchers who don’t know better call suicidal ideation maybe the tawny-throated dotterel is the one for me if I cover my left eye and squint my right the bird looks like the dysmorphia that keeps me out of the view of most mirrors just look at this dotterel can’t you see the pointed beak that just screams I want to be your worst best friend a voice that sings come breach that little bay of yours come tie the sky together with us birds a pointed beak that’s just dying to be the Orpheus to your Eurydice the kind of bird that wants to kickstart your katabasis a word that if I’m reading the Greek correctly can be widely defined as a descent of any kind such as moving downhill the sinking of the sun a military retreat clinical depression a trip to the underworld or a journey to the coast
By Zuzanna Ginczanka Translated from the Polish by Joanna Trzeciak Huss
Featured Image: Untitled by Tanner Pearson
We… A frenzy of hazel trees, disheveled by rain, a scented nutty buttery crush. Cows give birth in the humid air in barns, blazing like stars. O, ripe currants and lush grains Sapid to overbrimming. O, she-wolves feeding their young, their eyes sweet like lilies. Sap drips like apiary honey. Goat udders sag like pumpkins. The white milk flows like eternity in the temples of maternal bosoms.
And we… …in cubes of peach wallpaper like steel thermoses hermetic beyond contemplation entangled up to our necks in dresses conduct proper conversations.
Any biography of Zuzanna Ginczanka (1917-1944), however short, should attempt to speak to her desire to define herself and her refusal to be defined by others. For her, social and artistic identity was something to be chosen and cultivated, but in the times in which she lived, identity ascribed by others was a matter of life and death. Born Zuzanna Polina Gincburg in Kiev in 1917, she fled shortly after the Russian Revolution with her family to the border town of Równe in Volhynia (present day Rivne, Ukraine), which was at one point part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and was about to become Polish again in 1920. The destination was not accidental: it was the town where her Russian-speaking maternal grandparents were well-ensconced. Yet this provincial capital proved too confining for her parents, who abandoned her to the care of her grandmother: her father leaving for Berlin when Ginczanka was three and her mother for Pamplona, Spain after she remarried. Równe, a multi-ethnic city, was Ginczanka’s childhood home and it was there she attended a French pre-school and Polish elementary school and high school. She adopted the name Ginczanka, and though Russian was her native tongue, chose Polish as her language of poetic expression. Yet she was never able to obtain Polish citizenship and remained stateless throughout her life.
By Zuzanna Ginczanka Translated from the Polish by Joanna TrzeciakHuss
Featured Image: Untitled by Tanner Pearson
1 In the beginning was heaven and earth: black tallow and blue oxygen— and fawns beside nimble stags and God, soft, white as linen.
2 Cretaceous Jurassic Triassic The earth layers in strata— The Miocene advances by tank — a majestic conquest. There is a separation between water and the land of ferns and birches —and God sees that it is good when Genesis dawns. Nitrogen brews in magma, magma congeals into rock mountain thrusts upon mountain in a thunderous, cosmic mounting The Carboniferous enriches the earth with bituminous pulp. —and He sees that it is good for moist amphibians and stars. Iron pulses like blood Phosphorus hardens into tibia—— — and with singing air, God whistles into pipes of crater.
3 In the beginning was heaven and earth: and fawn and tawny stags but then things took a different course: and flesh was made word.
4 Back then, a lone rhododendron trembled before a fragrant angel, horsetails tall as New York creaked and clattered. Now daisies wilt in town squares in Konin, Brest, and Równe and at night policemen and their spouses make love.
In the study that a child playing hide and seek once called the messy room, in a drawer, in a manila envelope, still sealed, I’ve filed the police report on how you died. It will stay put: it will age, though you don’t. I’ll open it today. I’ll never open it.
Here, photographs spill out of boxes, and you return, a small boy perched on a stoop in tiger pajamas. You grin, flashing little white cub teeth; you claw at the blue sky beyond a black and white world. You are about to climb a tree, to grow feathers, to rise, to become cloud.
At my son Kyle’s 12th birthday party, about fifteen boys in the pool stopped swimming long enough to look up. Ten feet away, up on the hill, a brown snake’s mouth was wide open, and a large rat looked like it had been stuffed head-first down the snake’s throat. Its pale pink legs and tail hung out of the snake’s jaw, which was clamped firmly on the rat’s plump midsection. The rat was notmoving.
“Get my phone, I need a photo,” shouted Kyle, scrambling out of the pool. The rest of the boys followed him. Within seconds, they were watching the snake, snapping photos, mesmerized by the surreal scene. My husband joined them, along with a few of the boys’ parents.
“Can anybody save the rat?” I yelled frantically. I stood by the pool, looking up at the snake but I wouldn’t get closer. The snake was perfectly still, its mouth stretched wide open to hold onto the rat which dangled out of its mouth, limp. The snake looked about 5 feet long, with a thick body, teeth bared and eyes deadly.
The first package contained a light blue pair of Nike Huaraches, size 8. I took this as a sign that I should keep stealing packages: my son laced them up, and they fit perfect. He started jumping around, walking on air. We both laughed until our sides hurt, and then I cooked a box of macaroni for dinner, made with water and oil instead of milk and butter, But who cares, my son said, lifting up his feet to admire his shoes.
I only took packages from the porches of nice houses, but not nice houses with fancy doorbells. Some of the doorbells had cameras and attached to smartphones. I could see the older style cameras, so I avoided those packages as well. Everything had to line up perfectly for me to steal a package.
I drove a Ford transit van delivering flowers for a flower shop, which is how I came to realize that there were neighborhoods in my town that I never even knew about, full of nice houses with packages on porches. Some of these neighborhoods were gated, to keep people out unless they belonged.
I also delivered flowers to neighborhoods like my own with old houses falling into disrepair or bought up and cheaply brought to code by slum lords. There were widening gaps between the houses where condemned houses had been demolished by the city. Every once in a while, Habitat for Humanity would slap a cute little bungalow in one of the empty lots. But I never took a package from neighborhoods like my own. It didn’t seem right.
In the mornings, I clocked in to work and looked at the flower arrangements that were going out for delivery that morning. They stood in the cooler in the flower shop, and I read each tag before deciding on my route. Then I loaded the vases into the back of the van and drove off. Sometimes I had to gas up the van or air the tires or stop at the grocery store to pick up fruit for a fruit basket. Then after my deliveries, I helped process the flowers in the shop, while the designers put together bouquets for the next day. That was it, the entire job. Sneaking the packages from the van to my car was easy. I never took anything larger than a shoebox, and I slipped it into the backpack I kept on the passenger seat.
“I don’t want to be cured of beautiful sounds,” insisted Milo.
—The Phantom Tollbooth
Must I implore you for more of what I want? A clanging of fine china, symphonies of wet spoons, clattering of forks falling from the violent sky, a click-clack-click of yellow teeth saying not much of worth in the night.
If trash can be treasure then I can be sound. I can be the scream rising like steam from the red kettle sitting on your mother’s stove.
I am the thumping & cheering & crying of every bum, junkie, bride & boy in town.
I’m an Appalachian beauty queen, a capable kitten with smooth birthing hips. Applaud the cinema kitty cat caught in the smoke ring.
I rule over Kentucky junkyards, zoom in as I sit on refrigerator thrones, play pianos by the highway, cigarette-thin fingers give a tinkle tankle of a tune perking ears that belong to someone twenty years ago. The honeysuckle sweetness of my fingertips, syrupy sweet on the dirt keys, greasing up the notes, F, E, B & so on.
Underneath the toasters & the books from all those rummage sales sits some hot ghost of a memory. Smitten kitten, the smell of trash makes me think of our place & the breeze outside is the same one I feel at night when trains go by.
Stack the broken binds of hymnals for a stage, wrap, rip, some leaves, some dirt, pack, perch, pack it all in, real tight, until the only clumps to fall from my deciduous crown are intentional. A tap dance for you, a finale with hula-hooping hubcaps & juggling light bulbs. I sing in a rusty tune, decaying notes in the keys of D, C, G & so on.
When the doctor found the tumor in his brain, when the surgery was first scheduled but not yet scalpeled, before the poorly fitted tracheostomy tube which introduced the sepsis, your father forbade you from coming to Connecticut. He didn’t want you to see him like that, he said. That when your grandfather died, your father could only picture him ill and threadbare in a hospital bed. He did not want that for you, if he didn’t make it.
“No.” You lifted your laptop from the coffee table and clicked your internet browser. “Absolutely not. I’m pulling up Delta.” The ticket would be expensive from Iowa City, but you would pay anything to be there.
He told you that you could visit when he was well again, for Thanksgiving, maybe. “Look, Kimmy,” he said. “I got some bad apples, but we can still make applesauce out of them. It’ll be okay. The surgeon’s good. I’ll have to do some PT, but I won’t lose any cognitive function. That’s pretty good applesauce.”
You wanted to tell him there was nothing applesauce about a brain tumor. That you didn’t care how small, or how easy the recovery, or how experienced the doctor. You wanted to tell him that twenty-two was too young to be fatherless. If it was your Iranian mother, you would have had permission to scream and rip hair from your scalp and weep. But he wasn’t one for big sentiments, your father. He was American. So you laughed because you knew he wanted you to laugh.
After the phone call, you drove to the grocery store and picked out a jar of applesauce. It sat in your cupboard through his entire sickness, and you ate a spoonful a day as if it could keep him safe.
On the hayride night our senior year in high school we lay side by side holding hands under the stars trying to figure out how we could remain together because back then to a couple of cotton mill kids in the 50’s what else did our first-time kisses and hugs mean except true love but after graduation she made a sudden decision to attend the Richmond Professional Institute in Virginia and learn commercial art to get prepared to paint advertising pictures for newspapers and magazines she said maybe even like a cover for The Saturday Evening Post and how was I to manage a long distance relationship across the state line when I didn’t even have a car which I tried to tell myself was the problem but the real difficulty was Jenny seemed like some kind of pioneer woman to me and already out of reach a person who knew exactly what she wanted and wouldn’t let anything or anyone stand in her way while all I could come up with was maybe I would join the army and get to see the world myself someday – Hollywood or Africa maybe even what we did to Hiroshima – some place Read More
We are walking along the dunes at Corn Hill Beach with my grandfather, Baba. The sun is broiling our backs, and there aren’t any clouds. We smell like suntan lotion and laundered clothes. Baba breathes heavily as he walks. He wears clean sneakers with white socks pulled halfway up his calves. I have a new pair of flip-flops in one hand, my toes seeping into the sand. My brother runs ahead, an inflatable red lobster tucked under his arm.
We were supposed to leave the Cape a week ago to go back home to our mother, but we are still here. At night, after we’ve been bathed and fed, my grandparents fight about what to do with us. The day camp with the dreadlocked artist has ended; neither of us did well with tennis.
Wyatt is eight, and I am ten. We sleep in bunk beds in my grandparents’ renovated wing. When I close my eyes, I hear large ice cubes fill my grandmother’s glass, the freezer open and close. We have a whole dresser of new clothes they’ve bought us, some colorful toys in a wicker basket. If they yell at each other loudly enough, Wyatt sniffles and cries. “Be quiet,” I try to tell him, but he doesn’t understand. On my back, I lie as still as I can be in the top bunk, pretending I’m frozen in glass. If my grandmother hears my brother cry and peeks into the room, she’ll think that I’m asleep.
“Over here,” Baba says, and we move toward the water. He’s packed a cooler with Goldfish and Milano cookies, juice boxes, and cans of Coke. His white hair sneaks out the back of his baseball cap. Wyatt throws his shirt off and runs into the water, thrashing wildly in the waves. Baba takes off his shoes and socks carefully. He looks far out into the ocean, his soft skin glistening in the sun. The waves crash onto the sand, and the wind twirls through my hair.
Last week, when I asked my grandmother why we weren’t going back home to our mother, she wouldn’t give me a straight answer. “Your mother is busy,” she said. She was staring at herself in the mirror of her bathroom, fluffing her hair. “She’s writing a paper for her Statistics class.” My grandmother sprayed perfume on her wrists and then rubbed them together. Her gold bracelets slid down her arm. “She needs more time.”
“Don’t you want to go in the water?” Baba says.
The truth is I am afraid of swimming, but I get up and walk slowly through the thick sand, sitting down at the water’s edge. Wyatt is pretending to be a shark, flapping his hands like fins and growling. We are two different islands; we almost can’t see each other.
Featured Image: Forget the Flowers by Tanner Pearson
Twenty-six years have passed since you tried out mattresses at Macy’s, hands folded over your chests as if laid out for a viewing. No, that was not how you lay on a mattress at home. You had read in the paper that couples who rated their marriages “satisfying,” slept spooning and those who rated their marriages “highly satisfying” slept spooning with their hands cupping their spouse’s breast or penis, so nightly you wrapped your hand around his sturdy cock believing that you secured a happy marriage in your grasp. But after googling “how to” diagrams of spooning on the web, you’ve learned that as the smaller spoon you should have been the spoonee all those years. So now you are shopping for mattresses by yourself and the sleep expert at Slumberland wants to upsell you a queen even though you are still weepy and lost in your own trough within a double, a sinkhole of busted continuous coils. He asks how you sleep. Badly. You need something supportive, he says, but with plenty of give. Yes, absolutely! Memory foam, he says. Oh God, no. Knock me out on horsehair or kapok, sheep fleece or pea shucks. Give me a nightcap of nepenthe. Certainly not memory.
My finest moment, the occasion that defines me as a person. Okay. You have to imagine the cliffs. Sheer and bleached in the light of a moon or two and rising from the foam of a screaming ocean. The sky is bleeding down in a magical haze, and a horde of monstrous creatures roars nearer. That happens all the time. This isn’t metaphor. They’re armed and armored and charging from the landward side, and the petulant face of a dead god breaks open out over the waters. His teeth drip with death and his eyes are storms, literal lightning and thunder and hailstones, bearing down on where I stand at the edge of the world. He’s starting to take physical form. He’s getting real. I’m the focal point of the material plane for once in my miserable life, and I thrust the crystal, that plain-looking clear-color gemstone pulled unwittingly from a dragon’s trove, I drive it straight into my heart. Breastplate undone and hair flinging in the wind and my lover wailing as I drop into his arms. Our enemy screams and begins to fade. I’ve saved the world.
I cut the crowd loose, I stack the deck twice I feed you shrimp cocktail I sort through the loose mail When it rains, it worms and we blow the house down Wishing on the wick I am the boss of this clique!
My uniform is a pebble, my mouth Hums trouble. All I do is stay inside One-legged, I hide In the clutter of my mothers Turning red with permanent marker Wasting hours with Colonel Mustard
Eating ring-dings for dinner Singing happy birthday forever On Facebook, searching father Then deleting my browser Faceless, I cower and wave to the mirror Eating the angel hair of the dog
In the seventh grade we debated gay marriage. I was con. I stayed home. Kept my hair in a braid and kept my braid to myself. Tucked my name like a secret up my sleeve. Wore hideous loafers. Ate full-sized boxes of Twizzlers. Became rigid, a painting. Still Life with Social Studies. My skullcap, full of doves. My face, a hot button. Press it! Pierce my timid ears. In the bathroom eating a turkey sandwich and Jenny dragging my zipper down to see what was there. Con: my whole life riding on a hyphen. Con: my hands blue with luck. An eyelash on my finger. Two of anything can build a bridge. The love makes me lonely. The love makes my family. A slogan of roses. A crown of sugar ants eating through the gymnasium floor.
It matters not who you love, where you love, why you love, when you love or how you love, it matters only that you love.
~ John Lennon
This morning I made a single-cup drip coffee and poured too much water through the small yellow cone. When I lifted the cone to peek, strong, black coffee filled my white mug to the brim.
Nay, not the brim, I thought. Past the brim. I hung onto the edge of the counter and brought my eyes down level with the top of the mug, marveling at the way in which the coffee arched up out of the mug, a bitter mountain, the strength of the surface tension pulling the coffee molecules beyond what seems possible. I would like to die on a coffee mountain, I thought, straightening my legs. I hadn’t yet had even a sip. Maybe it was time. The house was so quiet I could hear the muted ticking of the wall clock in the kitchen, thumping her plastic hands around inside her plastic face, bearing witness to the wonder of the coffee rising up and out of the mug, ticking off the seconds of our lives.
paul says careful with the benzos & I’m like I think of you whenever my therapist brings em up & he’s like aww dunno if sweet’s the word but it’s nice to be thought of
okay sure let everyone see my cute belly let everyone know I covet some people I’m supposed to hate paul’s stupid meth’d out calls unbearable his empty bottles his days & months wild-eyed & away
once we wore each others jeans his tiny gold waist in my teen girl pants now on the phone he says what’s up ya fuckin guinea! he teaches me to play iron man he gives me that ninth step apology that making of meandering amends
me so scared of dying & him always chest deep in it I sit so quietly a very good dog in her dim little room but he gives me cocky courage he gives me warm love that boston street salt kinda love that let’s never brawl kinda love that I’ll kiss your dirt love that I’ll help you lie to chicks love that mall parking lot love that if I’m a blight you’re a blight kinda love that noogie that cackle that snakebite that augur that yeah I’ll call you on your bullshit pastures if you call me when my dumb pig jumps her sty off to somewhere cleaner than both our loud green yards
Turn to Kristen Bell and ask if you should do something a little reckless. “You know the world is ending, right?” She’s not the person you go to when you want to be talked out of something. That’s what probation officers are for. Kristen Bell doesn’t think people take yolo seriously enough. It’s tough to argue with her. She says, “What’s a little reckless?” You tell her you’ve always loved her. Love-loved. She laughs. “That makes sense. No offense.” You’re starting to have second thoughts about flying this plane into Exxon headquarters. You’re starting to panic. Name three objects in the cockpit. Name an animal that cloud resembles. Estimate the plunging angle of descent. As if sensing your turbulence, Kristen Bell says, “Have you ever seen First Reformed? With Ethan Hawke?” “Daddy,” you respond. “Exactly,” she whispers. “Daddy.”
2. A punch that expels the laughter from my stomach as I stand before him at the end of our chess game.
3. “Wipe that smirk off your face,” he hisses beneath the Saturday morning chatter and jazz of the coffeeshop. “You’ve been gloating. Taunting,” he says. And yes, after our first sips, I did tease him to try for a victory, challenge him to a game of chess. Wanting to imitate another couple, heads bent intimate over their own little world of 64 checkered squares, at a tiny table just a bishop’s diagonal from the sofa where we sat.
4. He waits there afterward, tense on the cushion’s edge, when I return from the restroom, from a respite after his loss of the competition, his loss of composure. But his eyes pierce my smile as I pause in front of him. My stomach at the same plane as his arm. And then his fist connects level with the center of our lives.
5. It breaks the rules of play—and of the law, and of our love. Our months of happy Saturdays at the beach. Dinners beneath twinkling lights. Fights, arguments, yes. But afterward, mornings under the sunlight-checkered bedcovers, where we fed each other breakfast and curled together with our cats, as we mapped out plans for our shared weekends, then our first shared apartment. Our relationship’s next moves.