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Kim Magowan

Mosaic

Before I can unlock the front door, Heather is there, beaming, her arms wide. “Oh my girls! I’ve missed my girls!”

“Mamie’s sleeping in the car,” I tell her, and she gives me a strange look but goes to carry in the car seat.

Later I hear her giving them a bath, singing something silly: “Hey Viva buddy, you are really sudsy. Hey Mamie Mopey, you don’t like being soapy.” She’s left the door open to invite me in. I’m tempted. I want to sit in the heated, steamy room and see Heather be the wet one, kneeling on the slippery tiles, tipping Mamie’s head to keep the shampoo out of her eyes.

But I stay in the bedroom.

My ears track Heather and the twins: out of the bath now, it’s reading time. Normally I’d help, but I let her do it all herself tonight. She’s had two days off. I listen to her read the board book they like best, the one about the nut-brown hare that ends with the father hare whispering to the sleeping kid hare, “I love you to the moon and back.” That book always makes me want to cry, especially tonight.

When she enters our room, I’m pretending to read.

Heather says, “What’s going on, crabby pants?”

“Did you seduce my brother?” I ask. Her mouth opens. “Because according to my mother…”

“Fucking Elizabeth,” Heather says.

“Well?”

“No, I absolutely did not ‘seduce’ Andrew,” Heather says. “We kissed once. Years ago.”

“When he was still a boy, right?”

“That’s absurd,” Heather says. But she doesn’t stop me when I get up. She just says, “Julie.”

“I’m going for a walk.” I start down our driveway with some notion of heading to Pirate’s for a beer, but walking to town feels too depressing. I’m afraid of crying in public.

So instead I circle to the back yard and climb on the old trampoline. It came with the house when Heather bought it: the sellers had gotten it for their grandchildren. It’s stained and has a wonky spring, but when Joe and Buffy asked if we wanted to keep it, Heather said, “You bet!” When I said, our first night here, “I would have preferred them leaving us the washing machine,” she said, “Oh Julie, stop being a bore.”

Fifteen minutes later that trampoline is where Heather finds me, lying on my back, trying to locate stars. She’s carrying the baby monitor in one hand and two beers by their necks in the other. She hands me a beer, then climbs up and places the monitor between us. I appreciate her understanding I need that space.

“Okay, listen,” she says, after I take a sip. “I’m not sure what that troll told you…”

“Do not call my mother a troll.”

“What lovely lady sunshine told you, but I certainly did not seduce Andrew. For one, he made the first move. I was drunk, so I don’t recall this with diamond precision, but I absolutely remember that. For two, he was no child. It was that party you had before leaving for your junior year abroad. Andrew was about to start Cornell, so he must have been eighteen.”

“Seventeen,” I correct. “His birthday is in October.”

Even in the dark, Heather looks crestfallen. “Well then. Seventeen. Which means I was all of twenty. Look—” she reaches for my hand, but when I retract it, she doesn’t push. “It was a stupid thing to do. You were about to go to Italy for an entire year. You were dating Nils, remember, and he was hanging all over you and making me feel like crap. And Andrew always had a crush on me. I know it was dumb. But I sure as hell did not have sex with him.”

“Right. You only kissed him.”

Heather’s voice is weary. “Okay. If kissing were San Francisco and screwing were Washington DC, what Andrew and I did would be somewhere around Reno on the spectrum. At most, Salt Lake City. Really, Julie: ‘seduce’ is a crazy exaggeration. Your mother is blowing it out of all proportion. Though why Andrew would tell her… I thought he was on our side.”

“Heather,” I say, through gritted teeth. “No one is on our side.”

“Our friends—” she starts.

“No one in my family, I mean.”

She says what she usually does: “Give it time.” But she says it dully, and I know she’s starting to feel as bleak about them as I do. I start to cry.

“I wish I could make this easier for you,” she says.

“Well, that would be nice, instead of harder. I feel like you keep handing my parents new ammunition.”

“Julie, I can’t erase my whole stupid life,” she says, exasperated. “Look, I’m the first to admit I’ve made mistake after mistake. You are my one exception: you are anything but a mistake.” She reaches for my hand again, and this time I let her take it.

“The fact is,” Heather says, “You and I both know that were I as pure as the driven snow, as pure as snow imported from some high-up place in Canada so barren that it doesn’t even have arctic wolf tracks on it: even so, your parents would still hate me, because I do not have a dick. And don’t suggest that I get an operation. That’s really not funny.”

“You’d make a beautiful man,” I tell her. “Remember when you were Viola in Twelfth Night? In those tights? You were hot.”

She nods. “I was hot. But if I were some tranny named Harold—”

“Chip.”

“Ugh! Some tranny named Chip, your parents would still hate me.”

“You could pretend to be someone else. You could do your Yugoslavian accent.”

“Julie.”

“I know.”

“I just wish I could make you not suffer over this. You can’t control them. Give it time.”

I snort at that tired-out line.

She says, “And if they never come round, well, then they don’t. You have me, we have the girls. Can’t we be our own family? Why is that not enough?”

“It’s different for you, Heather. You don’t like your mother, and your father—”

“Is dead. Right. Everything is just easy-peasy for me.” Her mouth is a hard line, but I won’t be stopped by the dead-father card this time.

“Whereas I was always close to my parents. Until—”

“Until I mucked it all up for you, yeah yeah,” she says, grimly.

For a minute we don’t talk. We lie there, looking at the stars.

“It’s not your fault,” I say. “Well, the Andrew thing doesn’t help, but in general it’s not your fault. But you need to let me be sad.”

“Okay, that’s reasonable.” After a minute, she says, “Seems like this visit went worse than usual.”

I wipe my eyes. “You could say that. My mother said—” I can’t finish. Heather waits. “My mother said, she hoped my daughters would never disgust me, because there’s nothing more painful.” Heather turns to face me. Her eyes burn. “And don’t call her a troll, Heather, it doesn’t help.”

“Okay,” she says, after a minute. “Not a troll. Can I call the comment cruel? Will you accept that as a characterization of the remark, not the person?”

I close my eyes. I’m picturing my mother when she said that. We were in the kitchen, the babies were upstairs napping, and she wouldn’t look at me. She was staring at their new back splash, the apple-green tiles.

“And part of why it’s cruel,” Heather continues, “Is that isn’t ‘disgust’ precisely what parenthood is supposed to remove, exceptionally, just for one’s kids? All these things that are objectively disgusting, like shit: they become the course of things. Wiping your child’s ass does not even make you blink. Or remember Jen?” This is a woman in our Moms’ group. “Remember when she was holding Olivia up and laughing and then Olivia threw up in her mouth? Right in her mouth, like she was shooting a bodily fluid basket?”

“Gross,” I say.

“My point is that your own children should be the one great exception to the condition of grossness. That’s what parenting confers. So it’s an awful thing to say, because your mother is retracting that essential parental provision where, because you’re one’s child, nothing about you can ever disgust.” She grips my hand. “The sad thing is it reminds me of something my mother said to me once. I worry, sometimes, that I have no capacity to be a good mother because my parents were so stupendously defective.”

“Well, look at me,” I tell her. “My parents were great, so I always knew I wanted kids. And now they have become awful, and I worry I’ll say and do terrible things to my children too.”

“But we’re doing okay, right?” Heather asks.

“So far.”

“Sorry about Andrew.”

“Okay,” I say.

I’m thinking of the night almost three years ago, when Heather and I first got together (“back together” she would say, but the timeline is so confusing it’s easier for me to begin it there). Afterwards I made her tell me every last detail about Porter, every time they had had sex, every way he had touched her. She cooperated at first and then said, “Julie, please, I honestly can’t remember. I was about to tell you something, and then I realized I don’t know if I did that with Porter or someone else. Why do you require all the details?”

“Because.” Because with details, maybe everything will make sense: like re-assembling the stones to a broken mosaic. I didn’t know how to explain it to her.

“You know I had sex with him not because of him, his intrinsic irresistibility, but because of a lot of fucked up stuff with you. I’ve explained it before as coherently as I can. Why can’t you understand that Porter, in and of himself, was simply not significant to me?”

And I try to understand, but every six months or so we end up rehashing the same conversation. As if the stones will slide in place this time.

Part of that is specific to Porter, but part is indicative of some deep-down different way of perceiving sex that Heather and I have always collided over. I’ve slept with nine people in my life: two in high school, three in college, three serious boyfriends after, all who proposed to me, and of course Heather. I can count them on two hands. Heather literally has no idea how many people she’s had sex with. I remember asking her once in high school, before we ever touched each other: why all the lovers? After a minute, she said, “Because I’m not dead.”

Of those nine people, I loved six. I used the actual words with all nine, but three I can retrospectively cross off as reaches.

Heather has only loved me.

“We’re going to be okay, right?” I say to her. She rolls over and kisses me. Our legs wind.

“Look at your teeny tiny feet,” she says. “How do you walk on feet that small? How come you don’t fall over? Tomorrow let me paint your toenails.”

“Okay,” I say. The baby monitor pokes my side.


Kim Magowan lives in San Francisco and teaches in the English Department at Mills College. Her fiction is published or forthcoming in Arroyo Literary Review, Atticus Review, Bird’s Thumb, Breakwater Review, Corium Magazine, Crack the Spine, Fiction Southeast, 580 Split, The Gettysburg Review, Hobart, Hotel Amerika, Indiana Review, JMWW, Parcel, River City, Sixfold, SNReview, Squalorly, Valparaiso Fiction Review, and Word Riot. She is working on a novel and a short story collection.

Marco Yan

Insomnia

Warming milk in a pot to the point I don’t want milk anymore,
I add a spoonful of cocoa and let it rest on the surface.

A scatter of brown stars, deeply rusted like the dead
I once looked up to, comes together in a white sky

I can now look down on—a miniature galaxy, slowly forming,
all in my head maybe, contained by the stainless steel.

For a moment I feel almighty in this kitchen, my power
of fire on the stove and my power of water

resting in the faucet, and I stand here to guide every speck,
however unrelated they are, to swirl clockwise,

one tendril taking shape, taking over the ones
that begin to sink, then engulfed by another.

Will the rest of loneliness arrive with the milk brought to a boil, blackening?

Over the sheen, the remaining clumps, a brow appears,
then the bridge of a nose between one and a half eyes.

They blend into what seems like the lower lip of someone
I’ve forgotten, or tried to. I stoop closer to the steam,

making out the line that has become a chin,
below it a birthmark fading.


Speaking of Guilt

That afternoon when all the oaks were young,
the clouds long and white across the sky

like the blanks in an English workbook
I didn’t want to fill, my brother and I were big

in front of the hamsters my mother brought
to teach us compassion for smaller lives.

They were the wind-up toys we never had,
automatons with fur scrambling along the grout.

We crawled behind and forced them into a forest
of chairs beneath the dinner table. As I turned,

one found its way into the narrow space
marked by the tile’s smoothness and my kneecap.

I didn’t know how many bones broke in that instant—
the sound of cracking my knuckles before piano class,

before the scale of B major I was struggling with,
and I never thought of the felt between hammers and strings.

Even my mother hadn’t dealt with a death so tiny—
she placed it on my left palm, my brother watching me.

Its hair stiffened, slowly prickly, a beige pincushion,
completely mine, while the other one ran on the wheel.

What grave? I could let it rest in the trash,
a bed of onion peels and fish innards,

flush it to the South China Sea, or toss it out
the window at night and see it descend, dissolve,

but it was still warm in my hand—
____________________________________this hand of mine,
8,000 miles from home now, lost in the Village.

I begin to think about how some god would be bored
watching me roam in this row of brownstones,

how his enormous hand could pick me up or drop
an air-conditioner on my head, and ignore the chance

that my brother is out there somewhere thinking of me.
I make my bed. I brush my teeth. I eat my hard-boiled eggs.

Perhaps I’m heading straight to a small death,
while the spilt coffee trickles down my wrist,

my burnt palm refusing to close.


Marco Yan is a Hong Kong-born poet, whose work appears or is forthcoming in Sixth Finch, Prairie Schooner, The Margins, The Louisville Review and more. He currently lives in Brooklyn. He loves animals. Read more at www.marcoyan.com

stephanie roberts

THIRST

mazzie lies supine on my couch all day,
waiting for any rescue from inertia and the other
physical laws—patient that the german train
of karma is running late, as any fantastic
believer in deus ex macchina calls resignation
courage. you’d have to crawl on your belly to
look up from her sea level—homeless, if we see
things as they are, and somehow unloved, the call
that is made when the doctor re-breaks the arm
to set the crack correctly. we should open
a cupcake shop named Cloying & Paranoia
where mazzie may be useful in her sweetness,
tense between spliffs and demure over desire
—every sip of wine brings a justification
from her (which is starting to work my thirsty
nerves). she explains her sleeping bag
as: camping, to the delivery guy and or anyone
that enters the room. no one is that interested
and perhaps that’s the problem impatient
for explanation. it’s the why of a dropped
egg oozing its useless over the linoleum. why dye
your hair grey? why were you arrested? why not
curse the god that gave you sleep with no dreams?
why do you want to live in silence? that last one
is mine, who feel no need to


THE OPENING LITURGY OF THE MORNING’S FIRST DRAFT MAKES LOVE WHILE THE EVENING’S IS ALL FUCKING AS THE GOOD POET PUTS IT

ironically, in the morning, the soles of your feet
ache, only after you’ve rested them in dreaming.
plantar fasciitis, to companion the broken glass
strewn over the last inches of life toward the downer
of decrepitude.

across from these pessimistic manias, against
a duck down pillow, the summer peach of your
days, breathes mortality’s fragrance from a landscape,
known and beloved as coney island. and the years
(kind and not) folded and unfolded the flesh surface
to the jaw, where this whole damn loveliness hinges
bello with the bloom of a semi-harvested field of stubble.
a stiff brush from a man’s pain that abrades the willing
path down an unclenched valley with sighs made of fire.

open your hymnals to sixteen ninety-one.

this is the other who is also the same, the one
whose eyes spark an amber intoxicant of attraction.
this is the x at hell’s crossroad, where the spring river
swollen and unfrozen tears through you high and gasping.
your grip on the rim of reason is mystery and your
shared blood-type, where no wrinkle nor darkness dare.

repeat after me. repeat after me.

you could twist all broken up over the grey,
white, cold, and always the coming november,
if you’re fool enough to hoard the misery-coloured
days’ subtractions, instead of the violet flare of
this early hour’s jazz and the melancholy measures
of ben wolfe and orrin evans. it raises the salt level
in the eyes, oh yes it does sisters, and now you decide
again to be grateful, praying to the sleeper beside you
(a known foolishness but thoughtful), thanking
him (your god!) for his very survival, just be! and
then comes the amen of the tips of god’s waking,
first, middle, and third, fingers placed on your tongue
the preamble to prayer and the opening liturgy
of i love you.


stephanie roberts is a poet and interdisciplinary artist. Her writing has been featured or is forthcoming in issues of Blue Lyra Review, CV2, and A Literation Magazine. Originally from the East New York section of Brooklyn, she’s lived pour beaucoup des années, in a wee town, just outside of Montréal, Canada.

Book Review: Orlando White

The Typography of Identity

“This is how we understand ourselves/ through placement and movement of ink/ absorbing into paper,” (21). Letterrs by Orlando White is a book length ars poetica—thirty poems that examine why we write poems and how. White breaks up the poem into its smallest parts—the mark of the letter and the white spaces which the letters define. He questions the link between orality and text—the sound of the word versus the ability of the marks on the page to represent those sounds. Letterrs argues that writing—the letter, the punctuation, the word—is how we create our own identity. This is a universal argument, which White explores in a few poems by describing the transcription of the Diné language, but generally invites the reader to inhabit and apply to their own language and writing.

Bone Light, White’s previous book, begins with a memoir-esque poem, “To See Letters,” recalling his first attempts at learning to read and write. “To See Letters,” portrays writing as much a part of White’s creation story as his family history. When his stepfather hits White because he fails to spell words correctly, White writes, “I saw stars in the shape of the Alphabet. Years later, my fascination for letters resulted in poems,” (14). This sentence is almost the thesis of Bone White. White holds up the ingredients for writing: letters, words, sentences, to the light, examining them lyrically.

Letterrs is a departure from Bone Light in two ways. Firstly, in White’s new focus on issues of orality. Like in Bone Light, White also obsesses over the physical process of the mark on the page in Letterrs: “Newborn alphabet cries its vowels and the page nourishes them: a opens into a u, it becomes a tiny cup, fills with paper milk,” (23). However, in Letterrs White goes a step further, or rather a step earlier. In poems such as “Nascent,” White investigates the spoken sound—the journey from speech to the page. White makes a compelling argument that the liminal space between utterance and written representation is the birthplace of culture and identity: “Pronunciation marks are proof/ of one’s own cultural sentience,” (17). At the same time that writing preserves spoken language, it is also inaccurate, an act of translation and loss. This distance or feeling of loss is a measure of culture or identity—how much a person lacks or adheres to the dominant culture which the English language represents.

The second shift in Letterrs is in word choice. Bone Light was written in concrete, plebian language—no dictionary necessary. In order to fully appreciate Letterrs, on the other hand, most readers need to bring along a dictionary. White’s new poems delight in musical but esoteric words, “exocarp,” “plash,” “aposiopesism,” “analphabetic,” and “ogive,”—just to name a few. These words play with orality (how do you pronounce “aposiopesism”). They also prevent the poems from flowing—forcing the reader to perform the pauses and enjambments on the page as they look up these new words then reorient to the progression of ideas in the poem. They make strange a language the reader might take for granted, reinforcing White’s exploration of the tension between orality and the written word.

Letterrs may seem like a departure from contemporary Native American poetry because of its lack of nature-based imagery. Unlike Louis Erdrich, James Welch, or Adrian Louis (for example), White does not establish Native American identity in his writing through a connection to the landscape or animals. However, White’s concern with orality links him with authors such as Erdrich and Louis. White’s poetic form—the visual appearance of multiple line-breaks within the single-poetic line and twisted syntax—constitutes a type of compositional resistance. His poems challenge the reader’s expectations of grammar, rhythm, and enjambment. This is both enigmatic of contemporary (Non-Native American) experimental poetry but also, similar to Welch, who combined surrealism with a Blackfeet concern for dreams, a type of resistance of dominant culture and language common to Native American literature. While many contemporary Native American authors portray trickster-like characters or plot-twists, White’s use of compositional resistance brings the trickster element into the language, the syntax itself—constantly knocking the reader off their footing, word by word.

The only challenge of Letterrs’ compositional resistance is alienation—the reader must constantly attempt to re-engage with the poem, must struggle to follow the poem’s train of thought. Bone White’s inclusion of family history and childhood memory in “To See Letters,” creates an emotional context for understanding the author’s investigation of writing. Letterrs seems to resist such emotional connection. The work is not accessible or translatable by the uninitiated reader and its not meant to be. Rather, it is a somewhat coded invitation to the experienced reader, the language and poetry lover. To pick up the dictionary, to follow the tangled path between sound and mark on the page, both in the Diné language, but also in their own tongue.


Emily Jaeger is an MFA candidate at UMASS Boston and co-editor/co-founder of Window Cat Press. A past Literary Lambda and TENT fellow, her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Four Way Review, Salamander, and Apt among others. Her chapbook The Evolution of Parasites is forthcoming from Sibling Rivalry Press June 2016.

Cari Oleskewicz

The New Wife

There are dating websites where big and beautiful women can go to find men. That’s where my cousin Alex met the new wife. Beauty is subjective, certainly, but the new wife is undeniably big. She had every right to be on that website.

It’s a sweltering catering hall that’s set up to look like a chapel. When we’re done with the ceremony, everyone is expected to pitch in and move the folding chairs out of the way while tables are set up for the reception. I hope they didn’t pay a lot for this place. It’s been very do-it-yourself. And it’s so fucking hot.

I watch the new wife slowly stroll down what passes for an aisle. She seems unaware of her looks, or she just doesn’t care, and I have to give her credit for that. She’s round and squat and for some reason wearing a white sleeveless gown. This wouldn’t normally be anything of note. Alex isn’t much to look at himself, so I didn’t expect his new wife would be a supermodel. His first wife, however, was really great. She was smart and cute and had a sophistication that is altogether lacking in this rental hall. I can’t wrap my head around how one goes from the first wife to – well, this. It provokes me.

It’s not a charitable thought and I do a bit of penance in my head. Everyone says this new wife is a sweet girl. Sweet is important. It can make up for rolls of flesh and too-short hair that’s an awkward shade of red (purple?) and pinched-shut eyes and acne.

I scold myself for such shallow judgments.

It’s just that I really liked the first wife. She was so cool and quirky and creative. She lived in Paris for awhile before she met my cousin and painted pictures of vaginas which really upset some of my aunts. She listened to NPR. She was too good for Alex, everyone knew that, but it was nice to have her in the family. I felt like she elevated us a bit. Gave us something to aspire to.

“You know they’re still fucking,” my sister tells me later, after we have folded up the chairs and brought out the tables and then re-arranged the chairs.

“Shut up,” I say. “Scandalous!”

My sister lives up north, in Baltimore, but she knows everything going on in the family. Always. Before I do.

“It’s true,” she tells me. “I guess the new Mrs. Langley found a naughty text message from the old Mrs. Langley. There was a fight. She threatened to call off the wedding. But didn’t. Obviously.”

I fan myself with a napkin. “Well, Alex isn’t the sharpest. If it’s happening, he’s probably not hiding it well. What happened with them anyway? I really liked her. And if they’re still close enough that they’re sexting, why not just stay together?”

My sister shrugs. “Nothing dramatic. From what I understand there wasn’t any cheating or beating. It just didn’t work. They were only married for what, like two years?”

Alex and the new wife arrive at our table with smiles. I hug my cousin and congratulate them both. I feel like the new wife is avoiding me, but maybe I’m just paranoid. She speaks directly to my sister, though, without looking at me. So I turn my attention to Alex, who is pulsing and red and sweating through his white shirt.

“Florida in June and the blasted air conditioning goes out,” he says, wiping a hand across his wet, clammy forehead. I watch the sweat slide from his head to his hand and then jump. It’s airborne for a moment and I don’t see where it lands.

“Hey,” I say, and then stop myself, mortified. I almost asked about Stacey, his first wife. That’s what was on my tongue, at that very moment: ‘how’s Stacey?’ I shut my mouth, pressing my lips together. How dumb can I be? I blame the humidity hanging in the air and saturating my brain.

“Yeah?” he’s wiping his damp head again.

“Nothing. Are you guys honeymooning?”

“Orlando.”

“Oh. That’s fun.”

“Yeah.” He shrugs. “Her uncle has a timeshare we can use.”

“Neat.” His first honeymoon was in Venice and Rome. I remember this because no one from our family had ever been to Europe before. None of us had ever needed a passport or sent a postcard from overseas. It was very exotic and some of my aunts whispered that it was pretentious and expensive. Of course that wedding was also in a real church with a bishop instead of a notary. No one had to move any furniture. We did not wilt from heat.

They move on, the new wife positively waddling beneath her gown.

“Am I crazy, or was she avoiding me?”

“She was,” my sister tells me.

“Why on earth?”

“She heard what you said at the shower.”

I look at my sister blankly, trying to remember the bridal shower from a month ago.

“You said it was tacky to have a shower when it’s a second wedding for both,” she reminds me.

“Well, it is. But she heard? How could she have heard that?”

My sister shrugs. “She heard or someone told her.”

“Did you tell her?”

“No,” she laughs. “Why do you care?”

And I don’t know. I don’t know why I care. But I know I have to leave the wedding. I have to get out of the stuffy reception hall before the music starts and people are expected to dance and food is served. There are relatives from her side unwrapping large bowls in the kitchen. Aluminum foil is getting folded and saran wrap peeled back from salads and casseroles and Jell-O. Dear God, they brought their own food. I feel like I could actually pass out, so I slip into the mosquito-rich air of Dade City, Florida.

This is better. I can sit on a rock near the parked cars and think about my own escape. To Europe, maybe, or anywhere I don’t have to be friendly to people who bother me for inexplicable reasons.


Cari Oleskewicz is a writer based in Tampa. Her fiction, essays, and poems have been published in a number of online and print journals, including Literary Orphans, Blotterature Literary Magazine, The Found Poetry Review, Sandhill Review, Lightning Key Review, PITH Journal, The Collapsar, and JAB Magazine. She is currently at work on a collection of travel essays.