Towson University / Volume 65

Literary and Arts Magazine
Established 1952

Towson University / 8000 York Road / Towson, MD 21252
www.towson.edu

2

About Grub Street
Grub Street is an annual publication funded by the Towson University Provost’s Office. The staff
is composed of undergraduate Towson University students who review all submissions through a
blind-review process.
To keep up with the latest Grub Street news, visit our blog at grubstreet.weebly.com, like us
at facebook.com/grubstreet.towson, follow us on Twitter @GrubStreetTU, or follow us on
Instagram @GrubStreetTU.
To contact Grub Street’s editorial team for any matter other than submissions, write to
grubstreet1952@gmail.com.

Submission Guidelines
Anyone is welcome to submit. Please limit your submissions to five poems, two prose pieces,
and five works of visual art per issue. Any submissions in excess of these limits will not be read,
and only previously unpublished works will be considered for publication.
Please limit your word documents to .doc and .docx files, and please remove all
identifiable information from your document (your name, email address, etc.).
Visual art should be at least 4x6 inches and sent as a .png, .raw, or high-quality .jpeg
file type with at least 300 dpi and a size of at least 1 MB. Please include medium and
dimensions in your cover letter.
Visit us at grubstreet.submittable.com to submit your work. Email submissions will not be
considered.

Copyright ©2016. Grub Street is an in-house academic publication and does not claim first serial
rights to submissions. However, art, poetry, and prose may not be reproduced except for limited
classroom use without written permission from the contributor. Front matter and graphic design
are the exclusive property of Grub Street and may not be reproduced without Grub Street’s
written permission.
Cover & magazine design: Alison Requa, student designer, Towson University Creative Services
Software: Adobe InDesign
Fonts: ITC Garamond, ITC Franklin Gothic
Paper: Anthem 100 lb. matte cover, Anthem 80 lb. matte text
Grub Street lamp logo by Kaitlyn Roldan; logo font by Juan Casco

ii

It is assumed all submissions are original creations. Please credit your sources. We look forward
to receiving your work and wish you the best of luck in your literary and artistic endeavors.
Questions not addressed in these guidelines may be directed to grubstreet1952@gmail.com.

Grub Street is published and distributed on the Towson University campus and throughout the
Baltimore metropolitan region. 3,500 journals were printed for 2016. Grub Street is affiliated with
Towson University and the Columbia Scholastic Press Association.

Grub Street iii

Grub Street, London,
18th C.
Home of butchers and foreign manual laborers, Grub Street was not a fashionable
London address. In his Dictionary of 1755, Dr. Johnson noted further that it was also
a place “much inhabited by writers of small histories, dictionaries, and temporary
poems; whence any mean production is called grubstreet.” Hard living, hard drinking,
half starving, Grub Streeters turned out biographies before the corpse was cold,
poems during the event they were watching, ghost-written speeches and sermons to
order, and satires to deadline. First draft was final copy. They walked with pistols or
swords to defend themselves from creditors and angry satiric targets.
Yet however poor, low, and scorned, they were the first fully professional writers
to whom “publish or perish” was not a hyperbolic metaphor. Forgotten today, they
nevertheless throw a long shadow on us. With them the modern periodical press
can be said to have been born with its interest in live events and lean prose. Their
plagiarisms led to copyright laws, their defamations to better libel laws. Their work
encouraged a free press. Their writing to a newly but barely literate public doomed
the long, ornate aristocratic romance in the hard language of realism. Their work
helped to produce a mass market of readers. Freelancers no longer under pressure to
praise patrons, they showed finally that a writer could be independent.
—H. George Hahn

iv

Grub Street Staff
Editor
Katie LaHatte
Managing Editor
Jordan Wilner
Fiction
Colin Ruby, editor
Codie Brown
Stephanie Byrd
Sydney
Chanmugam
Brandt Dirmeyer
Erika Huber
Raven Mortimer
Ben Perkins
Matt Shortess
Katherine Williams
Publicity
Sydney
Chanmugam,
director
Stephanie Byrd
Jesse Cox
Charles C. Heuer
Josephine Lee
Katherine Williams

Creative
Nonfiction
Janet Carlson,
editor
Alexandra Bair
Matt Bucci
Tamela Davis
John Gillespie
Charles C. Heuer
Kristen McCurdy
Brendan Muldoon
Poetry
Samantha
Brunner, editor
Kevin Anacta
Jesse Cox
Anita David
Olivia Godwin
Kristin Helf
Justin Helffrich
Rachael Kalinyak
Josephine Lee
Kitrina Ross
Caitlin Turton

High School
Contest
Kristin Helf,
director
Kevin Anacta
Brandt Dirmeyer
Justin Helffrich
Raven Mortimer
Brendan Muldoon
Caitlin Turton
Social Media
& Web Design
Jenna Kahn,
web director
Codie Brown,
social media
director
Alexandra Bair
Anita David
Rachael Kalinyak
Kristen McCurdy
Kitrina Ross
Matt Shortess

Visual Art
Tamela Davis,
editor
Josephine Lee,
editor
Kristin Helf
Erika Huber
Rachael Kalinyak
Katherine Williams
Archival
Research
Matt Bucci
John Gillespie
Olivia Godwin
Ben Perkins
Faculty
Michael Downs,
adviser

Grub Street v

Contents
From the Editor
Katie LaHatte_____________________________________________________________ xi
Feature
An Interview with Elissa Schappell, Kristin Helf ________________________________ 39
Creative Nonfiction
Baltimore Boy Dead in China, Erica Lee Berquist _______________________________ 3
Never Trust an Addict, Taylor Dowell________________________________________ 59
Bewildered: An iPhonic Narrative, John Gillespie ______________________________ 86
Virgin, Chelsea Cassity ___________________________________________________ 134
Finding the Happy Ending, Marianne Janack _________________________________ 140
Memory, Velvet Smith ____________________________________________________ 146
Giving Up the Ghost, Kristen McCurdy ______________________________________ 148
Poetry
After Being Released from Prison, Brazil, Stephen Scott Whitaker _________________ 1
Thunk, Jonathan Greenhause ________________________________________________ 8
Deflowering Floriano on the World Stage in Florianópolis, John J. Trause ___________ 9
El nombre de las cosas, Sydney Chanmugam __________________________________ 15
The Name of Things, translated by Samantha Brunner________________________ 15
Paul Taylor to Martha Graham, Michael P. McManus __________________________ 17
Coffee/Table, Jonathan Greenhause __________________________________________ 20
Dear Diabetic, Taylor Dowell _______________________________________________ 22
My Neighbor’s Pet Giraffe, Stephen Williams __________________________________ 25
Untitled, Margot Block ____________________________________________________ 26
Hair cut, Monika Lee______________________________________________________ 51
Contrabands, Al Maginnes _________________________________________________ 57

vi

Poetry Cont.
Object to Be Eaten, John J. Trause ___________________________________________ 65
The Abortion, Joel Allegretti ________________________________________________ 82
Guardian, Al Maginnes ___________________________________________________ 93
My Country, Al Maginnes _________________________________________________ 100
The Wrong Way is Richmond, Timothy Dodd ________________________________ 102
Plastic Jesus, Among Driftwood, Liz N. Clift __________________________________ 109
Tangier, Jordan Wilner ___________________________________________________ 110
face value, Christine Nichols ______________________________________________ 138
Prayers to St. Penelope, Jordan Wilner _______________________________________ 153
Reading One of My Poems to My Father, Al Maginnes _________________________ 164
Stelle e fiori, John J. Trause________________________________________________ 165
Aubade with Hangover and Bug Zapper, D.G. Geis ___________________________ 168
Fiction
Crayola, Tamela Davis_____________________________________________________ 11
Life Under the Bell Jar, Hope Richardson _____________________________________ 45
Tache Noir, Emily Reinhardt Welsch _________________________________________ 53
Big Dog, Michael B. Tager _________________________________________________ 69
The Broken Chain, Mike Clough ____________________________________________ 76
How to Go Hiking in the Adirondacks, Olivia Godwin __________________________ 96
Epistle of St. Luke, Matt Prater ______________________________________________ 103
Flashlight, Maria S. Picone_________________________________________________ 135
Ghosts of Yam Market, Ekweremadu Uchenna ________________________________ 157

Grub Street vii

Visual Art
Urban Squares, Gillian Collins _______________________________________________ 2
Huellas de la tierra, Vivian Calderón Bogoslavsky _____________________________ 10
Residual, Brianna L. Pleasant _______________________________________________ 16
Hamburger Acid, Ian Postley_______________________________________________ 21
Premeditated, Erick Kogler _________________________________________________ 23
Phantom Limbs, blkVelma _________________________________________________ 24
Match Strike, Ian Postley ___________________________________________________ 27
Elissa Schappell, Jasmine A. Harvey__________________________________________ 38
Red, Blue, and Gold, Tani Teixeira ___________________________________________ 49
You, Too, Tara Patronik ____________________________________________________ 50
Waterfall, blkVelma _______________________________________________________ 52
Paco, William Strang-Moya _________________________________________________ 64
It’s Electric!, Glen Banks ___________________________________________________ 66
Bird Nest Warmth, Eleanor Leonne Bennett ___________________________________ 67
A Desultory Omnibus, Ian Postley ___________________________________________ 68
Pigeons & Doves, Nessi Alexander-Barnes _____________________________________ 75
Air Jordanstein, JLaw______________________________________________________ 83
Air Memory, JLaw _________________________________________________________ 84
Yeezy Rebirth, JLaw _______________________________________________________ 85
Cumulus Congestus, Helen Bell _____________________________________________ 95
Thanksgiving Morning, Gillian Collins ______________________________________ 101
Flight, Gillian Collins _____________________________________________________ 111
Clarinda Harriss, Jasmine A. Harvey________________________________________ 125
Grasp, Brianna L. Pleasant ________________________________________________ 136
Masculine, Shelagh Cully _________________________________________________ 137
The Good Witch, Eleanor Leonne Bennett ___________________________________ 139
Haunted, Shelagh Cully___________________________________________________ 145
triangles, Anna Martin ____________________________________________________ 152
Impasse, Nessi Alexander-Barnes___________________________________________ 156
Moon, Helen Bell________________________________________________________ 166
Walk, Helen Bell ________________________________________________________ 167

viii

High School Creative Writing Contest
Smoke and Ashes, Julia Sullivan—High School Fiction Winner____________________ 29
Old Eastern Avenue, Julia Sullivan—High School Poetry Winner _________________ 36
Encompassed
1950s, Athina Koulatsos __________________________________________________
1960s, Robert Ward ______________________________________________________
1970s, H. George Hahn, Fred Hasson, and Quincey Johnson ___________________
1980s, Clarinda Harriss ___________________________________________________
1990s, Ronald Malfi ______________________________________________________
2000s, Will Fesperman ___________________________________________________
2010s, Susan Connelly and Chris Gaarde____________________________________

114
116
120
124
128
130
132

Contributors____________________________________________________________ 169

Grub Street ix

From the Editor
Katie LaHatte

August 2005: It had been a busy, end-of-summer family trip to Saratoga Springs.
Sneaking onto a golf course and playing the sixth hole, spying winning horses at the
racetrack, taking a lopsided pontoon boat out on Lake George—tiring things, really. So,
on Sunday morning, we just wanted a nice, relaxing breakfast.
And so, it turns out, did every other person in town.
My dad’s friend—the person we traveled to visit—had said he’d find us “the perfect
place.” He knew the town, knew what would be open. Four restaurants later and
straddling the line between breakfast and lunch, we seven filed into a bagel shop,
grumbling and groaning. The line was twelve deep, and my dad was finished waiting.
He told us what to order and walked out.
We moved two inches in line. Stopped. Moved two more inches. Stopped. Repeated
several times. A lot of stop-and-go for a bagel.
Full disclosure: this story’s not about a bagel. It’s not even about the trip. This story
is about the book my dad bought when he disappeared that morning: The Beatles
Complete Chord Songbook.
I wasn’t quite sure why my dad bought a Beatles book. He was a Who fan, an
Aerosmith fan. I was raised on “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and “Same Old Song and
Dance,” not the Fab Four. Besides, I thought, what kind of a stupid name is “The
Beatles”? We threw the book in the car after breakfast and headed back to Maryland.
About a week later, we rediscovered the chord book. My dad found our only
Beatles CD, Please Please Me, placed it in the five-disc stereo player, and strummed
along to “I Saw Her Standing There,” the first song on the album. I’d never heard
anything like it—the simple two-part harmonies, the peppy guitar licks, the trite oooohs
sandwiched in each chorus. We played through the rest of the album hungrily, rifling
through the pages to find the next song before it started. Then we played it again.
I took my forty-year-old boy band to middle school, the Please Please Me songs
playing in a loop in my head. I’d calculated that I still had 181 songs left to learn, 181
songs spanning ten years and thirteen albums. No one else knew what I was talking
about. No one else was dying to see Rain, a Beatles tribute band, at the Hippodrome
Theater in downtown Baltimore. No one else was bouncing off the walls when the

x

Grub Street xi

movie Help! arrived in the mail. And no one else’s mother sewed Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely
Hearts Club Band costumes for four children on Halloween.
To my friends, I was in love with a bunch of dead guys. I couldn’t help it. The
book was my portal to the past—my gateway drug to the 60s and 70s—and I liked it
there. My music had substance, rhythm, thoughtful lyrics. My boy band played real
instruments. So what if I was the only eleven-year-old girl doodling John, George, Paul,
and Ringo instead of Kevin, Joe, and Nick? The Jonas Brothers just weren’t my type.
History has a funny way of wiggling itself into the contemporary world. Take, for
example, Fall Out Boy’s “Uma Thurman,” or Rihanna, Kanye, and Paul McCartney’s
“FourFiveSeconds”: classic riffs and classic artists reformed to fit twenty-first-century
needs. Or, look at fashion trends: bohemian hats and kimono sleeves, or denim
overalls and crop tops? In 2016, you can have the 70s and the 90s—you don’t need to
choose! And consider literature: recent films depict Romeo and Juliet as gun-wielding
kids in Verona Beach and as ceramic garden gnomes. Both modern adaptations work,
true to Shakespeare’s star-crossed tragedy. Okay, so Gnomeo & Juliet ends on a high
note, not with regret and pain and heartache. Sometimes, new variations twist and turn
old works for a fresh perspective.
We can find the beautiful juxtaposition of past and present anywhere. My family
owns a business selling welding, safety, and industrial supplies. The other day, while
working with my dad, we delivered packs of welding rod to the Domino Sugar plant
off of Key Highway in Baltimore. We pulled onto the property, the sweet stench of
burning sugar hanging heavy in the air. I thought about the updated code books and
regulations as I put on my safety glasses and hard hat. I thought about modern welding
practices and protective work wear, the contemporary machinery in the buildings. And
then my thoughts shifted—I noticed the details. The century-old brick buildings, worn
railroad tracks snaking through the bottom levels. The blown-out windows lining the
upper stories. Inside one building, we had to take a freight elevator to the third floor,
collapsible-gate-and-hold-for-service-button and all. The elevator, stained black with
grease and grime, crept upwards as it scraped the brick walls, jolting to a stop when
we released the button.
We delivered the welding rod, took the sputtering elevator back down, and headed
to the van. I sat in the passenger seat, marveling at how people could work in those
archaic conditions. The coexistence between past and present was odd, somewhat
jarring. I turned the radio to the classic rock station—an immediate reflex—and it
dawned on me: I was co-existing with past and present. I was physically living in the

xii From the Editor Katie LaHatte

twenty-first century, but my mind was floating backwards, finding comfort in the music
of the 60s and 70s. I was twenty-one years old, connecting with people who were
twenty-one forty years ago. There was something admirable, something beautiful—
both at Domino Sugar and in my own life—in that transcendence, that ability to live
beyond time and appreciate the unity of old and new.
With Grub Street’s 65th anniversary issue, we hoped to marry old and new, gritty
and elegant, comforting and heartbreaking. We searched the archives and contacted
people who worked on different Towson literary magazines in the last seven decades.
We wanted real human emotion, real memories and experiences. As our first poem,
“After Being Released from Prison, Brazil,” says, we wanted to “[live] other lives.”
On our way, though, we learned something interesting. As we read pieces from the
archives, pieces inspired by past decades, and pieces inspired by present times, we
scratched our heads in awe. We thought we would stumble across strange poetic
forms, characters with outdated quirks and colloquialisms. Instead, we found that
people are still judged by their skin color, their jobs, their houses. Some people are
scared to voice their opinions. Others are still insecure about their relationships. They
feel unsafe at home, unwanted or unloved. Others are still willing to sacrifice a steady
job and a place to sleep for their country or their craft or their family. The “other lives”
we wanted to live? They are near-reflections of today. Humans haven’t changed much
over the last 65 years.
Putting this journal together was like making an album, or a mix tape, or a playlist,
depending on your generation. It was like finding a favorite band after eleven years,
after experimenting with different genres and decades. We worked the color, the tone,
the rhythm of each piece together for this journal. We wanted striking melodies and
subtle harmonies, duets across pages. We grasped at human longing, whether for the
past or for the future, like “stupid insects / All rushing to embrace the light” (“Aubade
with Hangover and Bug Zapper”).
People will always look to the past for guidance—it’s in our blood. We’ll ask for
help, revisit old stories as we rush toward the light, impulsive and hungry. But really,
we know what those stories will say. We can guess their advice because those stories—
stories filled with heartbreak and struggle and joy—still exist. We’re living those lives
now, the same lives people lived decades ago. Sure, things change and morph. We
adapt. But we won’t fade away. Our stories—our lives—will continue to exist in the
corner of the present eye. We’ll stand as a reminder, a guide. We won’t be history.

Grub Street xiii

Stephen Scott Whitaker

After Being Released
from Prison, Brazil
Trial, when was there a trial?
All there was: a man in black and my head wrapped in a sack.
To be poor is the only crime,
I know. Dope the only cell,
at night, roaming in packs of rude boys.
Reaching out of sleep for a cigarette,
the same nervy cigarette I clenched
running heels on a hellhound bender.
With nothing but a surrender stone
in my boot, alone on a porch, I was unfound.
Picked up and carried away like a worm
in a bird’s mouth. A small thing.
Ten years or more I suffered the interrogation
on the inside, bare bulb hanging,
and blows
that beat and beat my brains inside out.
A soap loaded sock,
a tennis ball in a long cloth sling.
It’s been eighteen months, almost
and still I wake up wondering
where am I, and who is with whom?
The shape of my bed sheet
in the slunk sun tells no lies,
I have hurt other people,
I have lived other lives.

Grub Street 1

Baltimore Boy
Dead in China
Erica Lee Berquist

Urban Squares
Gillian Collins
Oil

2

Come, rifle through my family pictures.
You’ll find them in a chest of drawers.
Start at the top drawer, and you’ll see
glossy prints, snapshots of grandma’s
latest great-grandbabies. The bottom
drawer, though, reaches far into the past.
Move aside grandma’s yearbooks, then
her childhood—you’ll be elbow-deep
in pictures with lacy borders framing St.
Bernard’s. Take a deep breath. Move
the recent history from the drawer, then,
when ready, submerge yourself. You will
see a box in the corner of the drawer.
Pull it out and set the cool metal on
your lap. It’s light, making you think
it can’t hold much. Lift the lid of the
box—no lock bars your way. The shiny
metal of the inner curve reflects your
face, patching it with rust. You lift an
envelope from the stack, made hopeful
by its weight. Hoping for antique coins,
you shake something into your palm.
A stone? The envelope is marked “flints.”
You set it aside.
The words “a soldier’s letter” catch
your eye, and you lift an envelope from

the stack. Letters spill from the slit in
the side.
Letterhead: Nagasaki, Japan
Date: July 24th 1900
Words: Dear Maggie, I am well and
have never felt better in my life.
Another letter—Letterhead: Army of
the Allies in North China
Date: August 31st 1900
Words: Dear Sister, This is the most
Godforsaken country on the face of
the Earth.
You find a cemetery deed, describing
the grave as plain.
A dozen letters from Headquarters
U.S. Marine Corps in 1901 all begin,
“Dear Madam, in response to your
letter…” They inform her when she can
expect to receive her brother’s body, and
then they re-inform her. And inform her
yet again. They tell her she needs to ask
someone else about his personal effects.
They say nothing.
A letter to Margaret Hiltz from a
paymaster informs her that her brother’s
personal effects—two watches, one

Grub Street 3

chain, one bunch of keys, one cigar
case—were sold at auction for $1.40, and
that the sum was being added to the pay
being sent to her. The wages for Edgar’s
service between August 5 and October
11, minus $4.35 for overdrawn clothing,
was $11.35 that Maggie could expect in
the mail, along with her brother’s body.
Eventually…

envision Edgar—he’s a soldier made of
tin, standing at attention in your mind;
you want him to be more, at least to
you, so you continue searching. Your
hand touches cool metal, but not that of
the box. You’ve found a tintype—an old
photograph printed on metal. Bring it
into the light, and see the young man.
He’s frozen between the ages of
20 and 21, but he
squares his jaw
Take a deep breath. Move the recent
proudly, insisting to
history from the drawer, then, when
the world that he
ready, submerge yourself. You will see
is an adult, and he
a box in the corner of the drawer.
stands stiffly in his
uniform, the double A telegraph tells you Maggie’s hope
breasted buttons of his coat shining with
was rewarded on February 26, 1901, via
polish. His ears stick out like a boy’s.
the services of Wells Fargo.
His hat is slanted on his head, showing
Feel the newsprint in your hands
his need of a meticulous hand and
like tissue paper, as fragile today as
eye. He’s no soldier, but he’s already
the life on which it once gave report.
gone. A military encampment made of
The headline: Baltimore Boy Dead in
brushstrokes has been pitched behind
China. Twenty-one years old. He was
Edgar Sinskey, and the American flag
a painter by trade, working for the
soars behind him.
husband of his sister whom he lived with
in Highlandtown, Maryland. He was the
I eye the ground, protective of my
son of late Sergeant Sinskey of the Police
new uniform. My military-issued boots
District. In October of 1899, he enlisted
aren’t comfortable, but the shine on
in the Marines. They were ordered to
the leather does fill me with pride. My
help raise the siege in Peking. Cause of
woolen jacket brushes the backs of my
death was chronic dysentery.
legs, and it’s too warm, but it will only
You gently return it to the box,
be warmer in San Francisco, and then in
feeling unsatisfied. The facts it gave tell
China. None of my uniform is paid for—
you a little about his life, but you can’t

4 Baltimore Boy Dead in China Erica Lee Berquist

my paychecks will be garnished until
they are, and if I die first, the military will
auction my effects, meager though they
are. I have no plans to die, though.
Not wanting to polish my boots
again, I avoid muddy puddles. My
sister, Maggie, also treads a careful path,
circumventing what a horse cart has left
behind as she lifts her skirts, showing
a glimpse of high-button shoes. Her
silence this morning is a symptom of
her melancholy, a contrast to her usual
spirit. Why can’t she foresee anything in
my future with the Marines but tragedy?
I know that most of our family has gone
before us—Dad, Mom, our sisters Sada
and Ella—but she has never been so
protective of me or so pessimistic.
Maybe this is just a crack in a grinning
façade, though; maybe she has always
worked very hard to appear strong. I do
not want to be the person who breaks
her. “Maggie,” I say. “I’ll be fine. Our
country is not even at war. And think
about when it was at war not that long
ago, the Civil War. Dad, Grandpa, and
our uncles fought for the Union and not
a casualty among them.”
“Their luck proves nothing,” Maggie
warns me. She silences me with the
break in hers. Then she sighs. “Let’s not
argue. This is our last day.”
It is my last day before I join my unit
in San Francisco. While true, the finality
of her statement makes me shiver. I say,

“We’ll have another day when I come back.”
“Of course.” Maggie isn’t in her
words. “Why is this happening? Did you
really need to feel like the other men in
our family? You are as great a man as
them already, without this. Just like Dad.”
I barely remember my father; I cannot
know that, or him. “I am a 20-year-old
man,” I say. “I was raised by my sister,
whom I live with. I work for my brotherin-law. I have never fought for a cause I
support. This is it. Maggie, they’re killing
Christian missionaries in China. I am going
to stop them, and see the world, too.”
Maggie falls silent; I follow the path
of her thoughts.
“You can tell me that you want me to
stay; you wouldn’t be holding me from
my dream by speaking your feelings.
Maggie, that is not what happened with
your husband. He chose a life with you
instead of art school in Europe. He chose
well. Look at your daughter.”

… he’s a soldier made of
tin, standing at attention in
your mind; you want him to
be more, at least to you, so
you continue searching.
Maggie smiles slightly, but there is
no heart in her nod. Yes, her husband
has never complained—the opposite,

Grub Street 5

rather—but he paints houses for his
living instead of portraits. She will always
feel guilty. “I know. You remind me of
him, do you know that? You’re both
dreamers, and in some way I see myself

Maybe this is just a crack in
a grinning façade, though;
maybe she has always
worked very hard to appear
strong. I do not want to be
the person who breaks her.
as the person who grounds you to this
world, stopping you from floating away.
Grounding you and holding you back are
two different things, so I will let you go.
I’m scared, but know I’m proud. Just… be
happy. You have my blessing.”
My vision blurs with tears. She’s
wrong about holding back her husband,
but I am unable to tell her so past the
lump in my throat. I also want to hug her,
but I don’t want to make a scene.
“Do something for me?” Maggie asks,
stopping in the road. She releases her
grip on her skirts, heedless of the mud;
I stare as it creeps up the white linen.
Maggie knows I will do anything for
her, so she nods without waiting for my
response.
I follow the direction of her gaze
to the attraction beside us. We are at

the Maryland State Fair, and a traveling
photographer offers portraits for
reasonable rates. I look at Maggie. “You
don’t need this. I will be back.”
Maggie returns my stare. “But you
will do it.” We do not say anything else.
For my sister, I stand before a backdrop
of a painted encampment. An American
flag stands in the camp, billowing in a
nonexistent breeze, and the photographer
tells me when I’m centered before it.
Maggie says my hat is not centered, but
the photographer has already opened the
shutter; I must freeze.
My sister and I stare into each other’s eyes.
Maggie gathered her papers, the
knives in her heart, and she put them
in a metal box. These included the
note from a family friend on pharmacy
paper that told her that Edgar had died,
Edgar’s obituary in which his name was
misspelled, the letters from the army that
promised and promised and promised
to return her brother’s body, all of
Edgar’s letters from the first that told of
his wonderment of a foreign land to his
disillusionment as the beauty of it was
washed away with the buckets of piss that
he described being tossed into the streets.
At the bottom of all of this, she tucked
his tintype. She placed it in a drawer and
watched the world forget her brother.
The world remembered the Boxer
Rebellion for the Chinese and not for an

6 Baltimore Boy Dead in China Erica Lee Berquist

American private who volunteered to
protect missionaries. He wasn’t even a
local hero, like his father, whose name
and police service were remembered by
the people he saved. Edgar had a grave
beside his parents but never a headstone,
which she couldn’t afford to give him. He
left no mark on the world but the one he
left on her.
She loved him like a mother, and he
was her only son. As she loved him, her
daughter did, and her daughter did, and her
daughter does, and her daughters today.

Baltimore Boy
Edgar F. Sinskey,
circa 1899
Tintype

Grub Street 7

Jonathan Greenhause

John J. Trause

Thunk

Deflowering Floriano
on the World Stage
in Florianópolis

I’m the piece of paper before it’s been pressed,
the thought before it’s thunk,
an elephant without its trunk, & the drunk without a drink.
I’m the thinkers fired from their think-tanks
& the welcoming before the thanks.
Despite my extensive technical training,
I’m an ABAB rhyme enamored with free verse
but still obsessed with who CDCD’s with,
& I’m a couplet mistakenly divided into three.
I’m an impatient quartet with unstrung violins
& violence in a pacifist state
stating the obvious for subtlety’s sake.
I see things no one else sees
& feel things fitfully yet can’t fully comprehend
how I send things off, destined to never hold them again
& open my heart without employing anesthesia & surgeons.
I’m continually seeking out subjects without search engines,
& despite all my faults,
I’ve committed few sins I’d consider Sins with regard to capital sins.
I’ve gotten rid of my fair share of friends without being excessively mean,
plus I seem to have gotten stuck
in the hiccup of a semi-internal, benevolent rhyme scheme.

Samba from the south
a continental shift
as Floriano bends and sways
amid many flowers
a continental divide
or rift
and afro to afro
bang o tango
kinda like Kehinde
from behind
bursting
with burgeoning
broken
/ blossoms
bad boys get down

{
8

Inspired by Kehinde Wiley’s painting
Marechal Floriano Peixoto (from the
World Stage: Brazil Series, 2009).

Grub Street 9

Crayola
Tamela Davis

We lie in bed, side-by-side on our stomachs, one arm outstretched, shoulder-toshoulder. I like the contrast, so much so, that I decide, then and there, naked, tangled
in our powder blue sheets, that I’ll make it the subject of my next series. I roll onto
my side so I can get a better look at him, my lips pursed in concentration. He glares
at me, sleepily, over the curve of his shoulder, and I smile. He blinks and shuts
them again; his thick eyelashes caress his cheek. I will make his skin apricot, with
maize highlights and beaver shadows. It has just the right amount of purple in it for
shadows. I’ll make his freckles tumbleweed. I think they are the thing I love most
about him. They stretch across his broad back, dotting his round shoulders and his
high cheekbones. The sun’s road map to his weak points. I kiss his shoulder. He
moans and rolls over on to his side. I stretch my arm up to the ceiling and wiggle my
fingers. What color should I make me? I run through the index of Crayola colors in
my mind and the closest color I can think of is outerspace. I am too dark to be sienna
or even raw umber. There is far too much blue in my hue. Outerspace, as if I am
some sort of alien. Outerspace. I am all dark purples and deep blues in my hues, but
not bruised. Not outerspace.
I drop my hand back against the sheets and pull myself closer to him. As if sensing
my sadness and indignation or maybe just my warmth, the cover hog, he turns, and
twists in bed till I am in his arms, my breast pressed firmly against his chest. His
cheek rests against my forehead, mouth slightly open, and he snores his little quiet
snore, his chest moving rhythmically with sleep. His manhood twitches against my
thigh with life and intentions of its own.
“Still dating that white boy?” my sister croons as she places a cream cloth napkin
onto her lap. I roll my eyes. The tablecloth is white, most clock faces are white,
Styrofoam is white. My Nate is not white nor has he ever been. He is apricot.
“His name is Nathan, thanks, and yes. I am,” I hiss, setting my water glass aside.
She shakes her head, a condescending smile on her face, as if I’m one of her five kids
who just won’t learn.

«
10

Huellas de la tierra by Vivian Calderón Bogoslavsky
Mixed media: acrylic, plastic stucco over canvas
Grub Street 11

“You should go find yourself a good Nigerian man! One that will take care of you!”
“I don’t need to be taken care of,” I mutter, turning to face the window. I watch
as a murder of pigeons lands by the fountain just outside the window. Is it flock of
pigeons? Does
murder only apply
There is far too much blue in my hue.
to crows? Why are
Outerspace, as if I am some sort of alien.
crows a murder
in a group? Are
they murderous in a flock? Is it because they are dark? Black as an oil slick. Why does
everything black have to be bad? I shake my head and realize my sister is still talking.
“Maybe you should put some meat on your bones! You’re too skinny! Nigerian
men don’t like women who are too skinny.” She pinches my arm, and I gape at her
incredulously. She bulges and bursts out of her clothes in the wrong places. She is not
fat but she is far from as thin as she used to be. Having five kids and all.
“Oh? Lucky for me, Nate loves me just the way I am.”
“Did you know that a murder of crows was coined by hunters?” I shout, barely
turning my head from the bright screen of the computer in the kitchen. My mouth
hangs open as I lean in, scrolling through the etymology page. I hear Nate’s heavy
footfall as he rounds the corner into the kitchen.
“What?” he says absent-mindedly as he thumbs through the mail. I twist in my
chair. I watch as he tosses the mail on the counter and grabs a handful of yogurtcovered raisins in the golden-yellow bowl on the countertop.
“Murder of crows. Hunters used terms like that, and it was popularized by authors
and poets. You know, like mob of kangaroos or whatever. They’re called terms of
venery.” I push my glasses up the bridge of my nose. Nate arches one deep redorange brow, a smile on his atomic tangerine lips.
“What?” he says again, and the raisins in his mouth make it sound like “Whot.” I
roll my eyes and turn my back to him.
“You’re such a freak!” I huff. He wraps his arms around my shoulders and attacks
my neck with kisses. I like the feel of his stubble against my skin and the burn it
leaves after.
“You love it!” He kisses my cheek hard, so hard I can feel his teeth in it. He holds
a raisin to my lips, and I suck it from his fingers.

12 Crayola Tamela Davis

“I drew a picture of you!”
Annette, Nate’s four-year-old niece, comes bounding up to me all pigtails and
smiles. She has freckles like Nate.
“You did?” I scoop her up in my arms, resting her against my hip. She holds up a
white piece of paper, still clutching crayons in her hand.
“That’s Uncle Nate and that’s you and that’s my house and that’s the sun!” Her
fingers trail across the page as I help her hold it up. I am an outerspace stick figure
with brown eyes and an outerspace smile. My triangle of a dress is plum. Stick-figure
me is touching limbs with a peach Nate, with Navy blue boxy pants. His eyes are pine
green and his smile, peach. His hair sits atop his circle of a head, proud lobster red
spikes, like hers. Mine are squiggles, jutting out of my scalp like corkscrewing pipe
straws. The grass beneath our bare feet is inchworm and the sky is cyan. She’s got
the 150-pack with the sharpener in the back. I smile a little, make my eyes grow wide.
“Wow! It’s so good! Your mommy will probably put it on the fridge!” I set her
down and watch her run towards the kitchen.
“She made me outerspace.” My head lolls
I start off wit
h sketches.
back and I stare at the ceiling. Nate shakes his
A
fe
w
h
a
lf
-formed bodie
head and presses his hand firmly against my
s
with sinewy m
back, pushing me towards the backyard
uscles.
where the rest of the cookout guests await.
I start off with sketches. A few half-formed bodies with sinewy muscles. Torsos
that twist with arms outstretched, following the curve of the line until it fades into
white nonexistence. Then I begin, playing around with the medium for a while. I
rough out Nate’s body on thick, black Strathmore paper in white Conté crayon, a
figure floating in the middle of the page—I have never really cared for the off-center
rule of composition. The figure is relaxed, arms resting on knees, head turned away
slightly, hands clasped at the wrist. There’s something off about it, besides the lack
of facial features. I purse my lips. There is none of Nate in it. The shoulders are too
narrow. Nate’s are stronger, rounded. I toss the picture on the floor and begin again.
I draw him on printer paper with crayons, doing something lewd. It makes me smile
a little. I miss him. He’s on a fishing trip with his brothers and won’t be back until
tomorrow. Annette’s father, Connor, and the racist, Ian. Nate wouldn’t sit for me even
if he was here; he hates sitting for me. He gripes and bitches like a five-year-old, but
he’s my favorite subject. He is my muse.

Grub Street 13

I glance at my first picture, the only one on black paper. That’s all Ian saw when he
looked at me, at us. I can still see the disgust behind his forced, tight-lipped smile at
the cookout, separating and reducing us to flat color. Black. White. Hell, this is how the
world sees us. They’re technically shades anyway. I never really got that whole colored
thing. Black and white are the absence of color. They are colorless. I leer at the Crayola
box, all yellow and green and glaring. Outerspace, my ass. I think I’ll do an oil painting
instead of my usual crayon-based medium. Oil paint has such vibrancy to it and I can
mix colors to my own specifics. But tomorrow, after I’ve had my fill of him.

Sydney Chanmugam

El nombre
de las cosas
Inteligencia no me da nada;
En su lugar, tengo que usar la luna.
El viento y el mar.
La sorpresa silenciosa de la césped
antes de congelarse.
La lengua de las cosas que ya supe
un mil años antes de nacimiento, que
no podemos encontrar en ningún libro.
Es lo que dicen las flores a las abejas y
lo que dicen la sombra al sol.
Sin paredes entre entendimiento.
Ahora solo puedo adivinar,
como supongo que tienes que adivinar.
Pero nada puede contarme
ni tu
(aunque ya pedí)
el nombre de las cosas.

{
14 Crayola Tamela Davis

Translated by
Samantha Brunner,
2016

The Name of Things
Intelligence gives me nothing;
In its place, I have to use the moon.
The wind and the sea.
The silent surprise of the grass
before it freezes.
The language of the things that I already knew
a thousand years before birth, that
we can’t find in any book.
It is what the flowers say to the bees and
what the shadow says to the sun.
Without walls between understanding.
Now I can only guess,
like I suppose you have to guess.
But nothing can tell me
nor you
(although I already asked)
the name of things.

Grub Street 15

Michael P. McManus

Paul Taylor to
Martha Graham
He argues that she continues to dance well past her prime in 1965,
and consequently defends his own unique style of dance.

Residual
Brianna L. Pleasant
Watercolor and acrylic
on paper

16

Ordinary. Ordinary. Ordinary.
In you. I see. A jaded choreography—
the ruins of a poetry.
Martha, the windows we watched your world through have broken.
The shattered glass at your feet
is bloodied from your attempts to reach the past.
Now my choreography captures the soul’s reflection.
In it we find what’s rare—
a feral cat’s explosive leap after a fly,
or the blind man kneeling in a rising stream,
roiling from a recent storm—
he cups the muddied water in his hands,
brings them to his lips to drink,
and by this act he can see.
My stage,
unlike yours, turns into a fluid landscape
for my dancers to explore.
I dress their bodies
in black and hide their eyes behind insect-like goggles.
They dart like dragonflies.
Watch them come to a standstill like the world’s ending.
Listen to the sudden diminuendo in the music.

Grub Street 17

Martha, why is your mouth agape
like a holy man who has lost his religion?
Do you now understand the nothingness
we find in the dead?
How they answer
with silence? I want that nothingness
alive on the stage, a moment that is
translated into love.
One chance
for everyone to recognize those tender mercies
as they stand quivering before the abyss,
moments before they fall into the dreamless faith
that kills everyone in the end.
Martha. Let go. Become elegy. Know
that my premise goes beyond movement,
form, expression, the beauty of the thing.
I once focused on your genius—
a vase that now holds dead flowers.

18 Paul Taylor to Martha Graham Michael P. McManus

Grub Street 19

Jonathan Greenhause

Coffee/ Table
My coffee table takes itself too literally & melts into a brown puddle
indistinguishable from my coffee cup & coffee cake,
while my living room’s grown a life of its own,
quoting passages from essays by Albert Camus & obsessed
with the fragility of its existence.
My dining room devours everything in sight,
dining on the table in a foreseeable act of cannibalism,
& the bathroom’s drawn & drowned itself, flooding the apartments below.
The sink’s sunk in a deep depression
out of which neither hot nor cold water could save it.
In the closet, coat hangers have hanged our winter coats,
killing anything able to keep us warm,
& the shed has shed itself of all its possessions.
The fire alarms have burst into flames,
the dishwasher will wash nothing but dishes,
the garbage cans have thrown themselves away,
& the bedroom’s a single mattress wrapped in its linens.
What was once our common apartment
is now post-post-modern, painfully aware of its rigid definitions
& universally taken for granted,
a collection of brown puddles indistinguishable from everything else.

Hamburger Acid by Ian Postley, Watercolor, pen, and ink

20

»
Grub Street 21

Taylor Dowell

Dear Diabetic

“I brought you carrot cake today!”
said cheerful Anna May.
“I thought I told you yesterday,
I can’t eat cake!” said Taylor A.
“But you said carrots were OK?”
“Carrots, yes, but Anna May,
this is still a cake you’ve made.
I can’t have cake,
or juice,
or sweets.”
“But why?” cried little Anna May.
“Because they’ll cut off both my feet,”
said little Taylor A.

Premeditated by Erick Kogler, Watercolor on paper

22

»

Stephen Williams

My Neighbor’s
Pet Giraffe
My neighbor has a pet giraffe who tells me ponderous things.
The knowing is a blessing and the blessing is a bind.
His kith have grown great weary
of the trace of man on earth.
We played with rain,
we danced in fire,
put virus in our veins.
They’ve kicked us out,
we’ve got to go,
to find another globe.
Abandon vulgar hunting ships,
put noise machines to rust.
Close every shop
that wants to block
the sunlight from above.
But, he calls me friend,
and tolerates
my near to ceaseless sobbing.
He likes my face,
he’ll let me stay.
And if I’m good,
then I can draw
his daily draft of water.
Goodbye mankind,
hope all goes well,
now watch the beasts do better.

«


Phantom Limbs by blkVelma, Oil pastels, ink, and markers
Grub Street 25

Margot Block

Untitled
and the world is a globe of fire in these hands
part machine and picture from space
and don’t steal a soul because of her oceans or the desert winds or my fire
dare to bring me down to the oceans that call me glory
while she no longer feels she breathes a line
what about closer truth?
what about the song?
a hunger, never enough when you call yourself the just
to crawl this poetry home, to believe
you push the dream and you said you could not love me home

Match Strike by Ian Postley, Watercolor, pen, and ink

26

»
Grub Street 27

Grub Street’s 2016 High School

Creative Writing
Contest

Grub Street congratulates one young artist for the 2016 High School Creative Writing
Contest. Elissa Schappell, writer and co-founder of Tin House literary magazine, whose
work is featured in such publications as Vanity Fair and The Paris Review, served as judge
and selected our winner in poetry and prose. See page 39 for an interview with Schappell.

Prose:
“Smoke and Ashes” by Julia Sullivan of Bel Air High School
Poetry:
“Old Eastern Avenue” by Julia Sullivan of Bel Air High School
More than 50 Maryland high schools had the opportunity to participate in this year’s
contest. The Grub Street staff read each piece and selected six poems and three prose
pieces as finalists. The staff then sent those works to Elissa Schappell, who judged them
without knowing the names of the young artists or their high school affiliations.

28

High School Fiction Winner

Smoke and Ashes
Julia Sullivan

Schappell’s comments: I was immediately taken with the voice of Liz, our tough,
gimlet-eyed narrator. I admired the realistic dialogue, dark humor, and the author’s
willingness to allow her characters to be complicated, damaged people struggling to
figure out how to get along in a world that seems to be changing around them (as
we all are). It seems a good choice to have the ending be open. Liz may think that her
father is gone forever, but like fireworks which are supposed to be celebratory, and her
family and friends’ behavior which is supposed to be good fun, nothing is really as it
seems—or not for very long. That’s a hard truth, and it was handled with great skill.
Townhouses pinned us in on either side while smoke drifted over, choking us with
an overwhelming smell of gunpowder and fire. It was July 3rd and almost the entire
neighborhood was jam-packed next to each other—all because Dad wanted to start
the party early. No one in the neighborhood got the works like Dad. He had enough
alcohol and firepower packed to take out a full-sized SUV.
“Everybody take a few steps back now. Getting burned by this here,” motioning his
lighter towards the firework next to his feet, “will make you sing louder and higher than
a baby on crack!” He really does have a way with words.
We were all leaning against the siding with our heads up and then… Pop, pop, pop.
Strands of neon spaghetti exploded and blossomed into large umbrellas, disappearing
for a few seconds before ash and cardboard plummeted onto our heads. It didn’t help
that it was so dark and cloudy that we couldn’t see the burning debris coming our way.
Every time the fireworks stopped, it was my job to find all the evidence.
“Hey, Dad, how am I supposed to pick all this up? It’s really freakin’ hot.”
“Liz, you’re a big girl. You can figure it out yourself.” He ignored my existence and
continued talking to his buddies. I walked over to the burning pieces in front of me and
kicked them halfway across the lawn, over towards the trashcans.
I stopped when I saw the flashing red and blue lights pull up behind us. An officer
stepped out of her car and slowly strutted over. I knew she wasn’t here to tell us it was

Grub Street 29

too dry outside, like it had been for the past three summers. Maybe someone heard
the miniature bombs ricocheting off their roof? My mom willingly stepped forward
to speak with the officer while my dad tried to make a two-thousand dollar pile of
fireworks disappear.
“Hello, ma’am, my name is Officer Shultz. Sorry to interrupt everyone this evening, but
we got a call saying there was a lot of noise coming from this area, specifically fireworks.”
By the time the officer finished her warning script, my mom figured out her own script.
“Yes, we’re all done now. We didn’t mean anything by it, just a few firecrackers.
We’re going to start to head inside anyway.”
“Alright.” She nodded her head and looked around at everyone. “We’re really just
concerned about everyone’s safety. I don’t want to get another call telling me to come
down here, okay? Next time there will be no warnings, and someone will get fined.”
“Thank you so much for everything. Bye-bye now!” She generically smiled and
waved as Officer Shultz walked away. My mom gave me and my dad one of those
looks, and it hit me: I knew who called the cops.
It was the old lady who lived at the end of our court. The grass in front of her
house reached to my waist, while her tree branches were so long they were grinding
against her roof. My mom had found out through some of her friends that the woman
had two sons, but both were grown and married by now. Everyone just referred to
her as the “witch-lady” because not only was she a spitting image of the Wicked
Witch of the West, but no matter the time of day if you went anywhere near her lawn
she popped out of nowhere. “Hey, get away from my house, or I’ll call the cops,” she’d
yell as she’d peek her head out the door, as if she was too afraid to say it to our faces.
Everyone said their see-you-tomorrows and headed inside. Everyone except for
my family and my next-door neighbors, Jeff and Renee, who stood gathered on our
front lawn. My cousin Dannie showed up late and flashed his headlights, sure that
he’d made a worthy entrance—as if his trashy Ford Pinto wasn’t enough. He walked
over and made sure he said hello to everyone before grabbing a beer. When he
passed me on the way to the cooler, I looked over towards his car and saw a big
box he’d placed on his hood. He came back my way, stopped right beside me and
nudged at my shoulder. “Hey kid, I brought you something.”
“Oh, you did?” I raised my eyebrows. “That’ll be the first.”
“Stop acting so tough.” He started walking towards his car. “Come here, I’ll show you.”
“You’re not that much older than me you know?” I caught up to him and stood
beside his Ford with its duct-taped window and rust-covered hood. He grabbed

30 Smoke and Ashes Julia Sullivan

the box I’d seen earlier and spun it around on the hood. The side said, “THE
PERSECUTOR,” and below it read, “1000 COUNT—IT’LL BLOW YOUR MIND.
LITERALLY.”
“So you like it?” he said. My eyes were torn between the pretty colors and the
bomb’s explosiveness.
“Oh my God.” I threw my hands up to my mouth and faked Miss America tears.
“This is the best thing that has ever happened to me!” My dad walked up behind me
and grabbed hold of the back of my neck.
“Liz, you disrespecting your cousin?” He took a big swig of his fifty-thousandth
beer. “You need to learn how to respect your elders. If I would’ve talked to my pop
like that, shoot, I would’ve gotten the belt. Maybe that’s how we can get your act
together, what do ya think?” He gave me a little shove like he was joking, but I could
see that he was seriously considering it. You never know with him: one minute he’s
happy as can be, the next he’s screaming and slamming doors.
“Yup.” At this point I was just trying to get myself away from any conflict, so
I scurried over and stood beside my mom. Over my shoulder, I could hear Dad
explaining to Dannie how witch-lady called the cops on us. And then these smart
guys came up with a plan.
Why don’t we set off THE PERSECUTOR in front of her house to get back at her?
My mom, Jeff, and Renee joined in on the action and started heading down the
street. I should’ve went inside, but I knew I couldn’t: I had full-grown adults giggling
and running through people’s lawns, stepping on scooters and skateboards, about to
completely trigger the meanest lady around. They needed me. The whole time I had
stayed a few yards back so I could see what they were doing without getting caught.
When we got to the end of the court, I hid behind an island, crouched behind a pine
tree, while the others crouched down and squeezed between parked cars.
Dannie grabbed a lighter from my mom, quietly carried the bomb over, and
placed it on the sidewalk in front of the witch’s house. Everyone immediately started
sprinting back up the street. Within a few seconds the fuse flared up and wore down
to a slight sizzle-pop. I jumped out from behind the tree and ran with them, knowing
witch-lady would catch me if I didn’t. They were all so drunk they’d assumed I’d
been there with them from the start. By the time we made it halfway up the court, all
we could hear was popopopopopopopopopopop! White flashes seared up into the air
with a reeeeeeiiiir pop, over and over again. The blasts were so loud Dannie jerked

Grub Street 31

and spun around, which made him knock over someone’s trash can, drawing even
more attention towards us. All of them were so drunk they just laughed it off, left him
behind, and kept running. By this time I realized I should help him. Dannie quickly
caught up to the crew and me, and they all made it back to base without too many
scratches. Only a few minutes after, while we were still catching our breaths, the cops
pulled back into the court. My
mom suddenly focused on me
with a look of concern and
Within a few seconds the fuse flared up
disgust, like I’d lied to her.
and wore down to a slight sizzle-pop.
“Get inside and shut the door.
Now.” I did as I was told, but
it was too late for the five of
them to run inside without being noticed, so they all ducked, darted, and hid under
Dad’s and Jeff’s trucks. The whole time the blasts were still going off: it felt like
minutes had passed.
My father lies back in the hospital bed, the IV in his arm continually drip drip
drips. He takes a deep breath as the nurse walks into the room.
“Hello. How are y’all doing today?” She looks to my father. “Feeling any better?”
“How do I feel?” he says. “I feel like shit, that’s how I feel.”
“Dad, stop.” I turn to the nurse. “I’m sorry. He gets snappy when he’s away from home.”
The nurse nods her head, turns towards the monitor, and makes scribbles on her
clipboard. She finishes and smiles at my father. “Mister… Matthew, be happy that
you’ve got someone here for you. Not everyone has that.” She shakes a disciplinary
finger at him. “You have a nice day now.” She smiles and walks out the door to the
nursing desk.
I turn to him. “Why do you have to be so rude? I understand you’re older and
everything, but you can’t just walk around talking to people like that.”
“I’m a grown-ass man, I can talk to whoever I want however I want.” He coughs
excessively then folds his arms across his chest. “Why are you even here?”
“I was hoping I could talk some sense into you, but clearly you still can’t see it.”
“See what?”
“So, you don’t understand that this is the third time in the last year you were sent
to the hospital for passing out drunk in a public place? That’s not normal. You need to
help yourself, Dad. I can’t watch you do this to yourself anymore.”

32 Smoke and Ashes Julia Sullivan

“Like that, you’re gonna leave me alone, just like your mother. That’s fine with me.
No wife, no kid… Finally just me and my shot kidneys… I don’t love you, you don’t
love me. Why waste our time?”
I snatch my bag and shoot out of my chair. “You make it impossible to love you.”
In a hoarse tone he mumbles, “Get the heck out of my room.”
“Godspeed.” I leave the room with my sleeves bunched up in my hands.
It’s pouring rain when I walk out of the building. I duck under an awning before
making a dash through puddles and potholes. I shuffle through minivans and faded white
lines to get to my Mazda. I unlock the door and propel myself inside. I drop my head
against the seat. My heavy breathing fogs the windows. “Why is it so hard to like you?”
I sat in the dark, with my head tilted out of the living room window, and watched
as the cop walked up and down the street shining his flashlight in backyards and
around shrubs. I sighed with relief when he passed our house. Last thing I needed was
to watch my parents get bitched out in the middle of the night by an old lady with
people problems. The officer crossed the road and headed towards the end of the
street. He probably told witch-lady that it was a bunch of teenagers and that we’ll call
you if we find out anything else. After he’d left, the adults started to roll out from under
the trucks, all of them covered in dirt and oil. Within an instant, my dad was irritated
beyond belief. “Renee! Did you really just squat and piss on my tire?”
“Sorry, but when I gotta go, I gotta go.” She got up out of her stance and stumbled
onto her front steps with pee running down her leg. She stopped, randomly jolted her
head, and puked all over herself: there was an orange, slurpish vomit dripping off her
face, her hair, and on her
dress.
“You’re disgusting!”
I drop my head against the seat. My heavy
He started walking up
breathing fogs the windows. “Why is it so
our front steps.
hard to like you?”
My mom yelled out,
“Matthew, where you
going?”
“Obviously, I’m getting the hell away from that.” He nodded his head towards
Renee, who was sitting on the grass beside her vomit, crying and laughing. He yanked
open the storm door, then slammed it shut. My mom helped Renee up and walked her
inside. Jeff had left her outside and said, “She’s grown, she can take care of herself.”

Grub Street 33

My dad stumbled over to the lamp and switched it on. I crouched in front of the
window, gazing up at him. He wrinkled his nose. “What are you doing up? I thought I
told you to go to bed hours ago.”
“Mom said,” I started as I got up onto my feet, “that I could stay up a bit longer.”
“Umm, did I ask you what your mother said? No. See, that’s what your problem is.
You don’t even listen to what I say.” I looked down and tried to walk past him, but he
grabbed my arm and pulled me back. “Where do you think you’re going, young lady?
Did I excuse you? You look at me when I’m talking to you, do you understand me?”
“Yes… I understand.” I couldn’t look at him when he was like that.
“Really, you understand? If you understand, why aren’t you looking at me!?”
“Because you’re scaring me!” I broke away and fell to my knees, but he ripped me
back up. I was really scared something bad might happen, so I turned around and
tried to run up the steps. He quickly jerked forward and grabbed my ankle, ripping
me down the first few steps, and pushed me against the wall. With my face smashed
into the drywall, as if it wasn’t traumatic enough, he started to kick me in the stomach.
He kept kicking me for so long I was surprised my organs didn’t collapse. In the last
few kicks, my mom busted through the door and shoved him off me. She punched
and kicked at him, forcing him out the door and locking it behind him.
“Open the goddamned door!” He banged on the door wildly while my mom came
over and peeled me off the floor. I was curled up in a ball and impulsively shaking
from all the pain that was pulsating through my body. All I wanted, and what I got,
was my mom by my side, telling me that everything was gonna be okay. I fell asleep
at the bottom of the steps in her arms.
I woke up the next morning with an excruciating pain in my side and on my face.
My mom must’ve carried me up the steps sometime the night before. I untangled
myself from my sheets and headed into the bathroom. I was shocked when I looked
in the mirror: I didn’t know it looked that bad. I had dried blood around the edges of
my nose, my lips were swollen and busted, and half my face was blue and sunken. I
lifted my shirt and the sides of my gut were covered with black streaks. I reached in
the medicine cabinet, pulled out antiseptic wipes, and lightly blotted my nose. I took
a rag and ran hot water over it, waited until it steamed. I pulled myself up onto the
marble, leaned back against the mirror, and folded the rag onto my forehead. After a
few minutes I tossed the rag into the sink and gathered the strength to get back to my
feet. When I stumbled downstairs I was prepared to completely ignore his existence,
but when I got to the kitchen my mom was alone. Her hair was straggly and pulled

34 Smoke and Ashes Julia Sullivan

back into a ponytail. The heat from her coffee swirled and danced across her
hangover-riddled face. She quickly looked up when my feet creaked on the linoleum.
“I didn’t know you were standing there.” She pointed her hand towards the chair
beside her. “How are you feeling?”
“Where is he?” I pulled out a chair as she took out a cigarette and lit it, letting out
a deep breath.
“We don’t have to talk about it right now.”
“Mom, where is he?”
“As of right now, he will not be living with us.” She looked me in the eyes. “We
don’t need someone in our lives like that, Liz. I know he’s your father, but until he
can get his act together, he’s staying with your Uncle Greg.”
“What does that mean?” I shook my head in disapproval. “Are you guys getting
a divorce? I know he didn’t mean to do any of it. He just needs some counseling or
something.” I chewed the remaining bit of my gnawed-raw nail. “We can figure it out.
Mom?” Even as I said it I knew it would take more time and hard work than Dad had
to patch the damage he’d done last night.
My mom went to put out her cigarette and missed, getting the burning ash on our
kitchen table. “Crap.” She swept the ashes into an ashtray with a napkin. She pointed
towards the stove. “You want some eggs?”
“What? Oh. Yes please.” After she sat down across from me, all that was between
us was the sound of my fork scraping across the bottom of my plate.

Grub Street 35

High School Poetry Winner

Old Eastern Avenue
Julia Sullivan

Schappell’s comments: I really like the jazzy feel and structure of this poem. I like
how it looks on the page. The two columns of text echo the image of neat houses and
streets, as well as stand in for the image of the young woman and the grandmother
standing side by side in the kitchen. Together but separate. I can imagine generations
of older Italian ladies passing down the family’s recipes to their grandkids—who will
fumble the dough and make mistakes, just as the grandmothers did when they were
young. It matters. This is what the grandmother has to give her. At the end, despite
the grandmother’s flash of anger, there is sweetness.

My hot and heavy, loud-mouthed,
gold-chain-wearing Italians
live on Old Eastern Avenue.
My grandmother’s house stands
as the finest green-shingled,
white-fenced home
on the block.
Tulips rise side by side,
yellow, red, yellow, red,
each bulb brighter than the next.
Looking out the front window,
I hear car doors slam;
hoods pop
while the radio blares
Sinatra.
My grandmother breaks my gaze,
“Get in here!”
Walking into the kitchen,
I pin back stray hairs.
Milk pours,
and commands crack
one by one.
I carefully tilt each egg
back and forth,
ensuring only a yolk remains.
Goosh.
The yolks drop into the flour,
creating a river of golden goo.
I fold the dough over
and over,
mending secrets together.

36

In the very last bend it
rolls off the counter and
onto the floor.
Coarse shrieks
race through the air while
I try to salvage what’s left of
my grandfather’s favorite.
Smack.
A wooden spoon hits
the counter beside me
while words from a foreign tongue
ramble on.
My hands rework the dough,
weak,
like a child.
Shaking.
Miniature mountains of bitter-sweet cocoa
crumble atop the flour.
Fold, bend,
repeat.
Spoonful by spoonful I place chocolatey mounds
onto an old aluminum pan.
An inferno,
controlled by small knobs and blazing coils,
bakes down the mounds into
small disks.
I watch the bubbles rise and
continue to grow.

Grub Street 37

An Interview with
Elissa Schappell
Kristin Helf

Elissa Schappell’s writing has graced
almost every medium. She’s written
short stories, essays, co-founded the
literary journal Tin House, and published
two novels, including her most recent,
Blueprints for Building Better Girls,
which sheds light on women who come
from all walks of life and whose stories
intertwine. In November, Schappell was
the keynote speaker at the Baltimore
Writers’ Conference, held in Towson
University’s Liberal Arts building, where
she inspired attendees to wield their
power and their pens and to start telling
their stories. Soon after, Grub Street’s
high school contest director, Kristin Helf,
got in touch with Schappell via email and
had the opportunity to grill her about her
fiction, her life as a journal editor, and
how she crafts three-dimensional female
characters instead of pieces of cardboard
that vaguely resemble women.

« Elissa Schappell by Jasmine A. Harvey

Graphite pencil

Your books Use Me and Blueprints for
Building Better Girls are made up of
short stories that center on characters
whose lives all end up to be somehow
connected; why do you choose to tell
your stories in this form?
I like short stories—particularly
connected stories. The form suits the
way my mind works—I’m not a linear
thinker. I am the poster girl for monkey
mind. So instead of trying to make myself
think in a way I don’t naturally think, I
work to my strengths. I am interested
in the disconnect between perception
and reality, how we adopt different
personas with different people, and how
differently we are perceived depending
on the audience. And I am very
interested in what we don’t know about
what we know—or think we know. More
to the point—a big part of both books
was to get the reader to look around
the labels the culture assigns to women:
“slut,” “angel,” “witch,” etc… We all do
it, and it’s always dangerous because
it means some part of the person,
regardless of gender, is lost.

Grub Street 39

I could see no better way to dramatize
this than to have the stories connect and
overlap with each other.
I wanted the reader to have the
experience of meeting a character in one
story and forming an opinion of them,
and then to meet them again—either
center stage or in a supporting role—and
experience them in a different way with
the benefit of inside knowledge. So what
you get is a picture of these characters
from various different angles depending on
who is wielding the camera.
The various points of view allow the
reader intimate knowledge of how the
characters live in each other’s imaginations
and memory—and how they affect each
other, knowingly or unknowingly.
Seeing them from another vantage
point, another angle, we are challenged
to revise our opinion of a person. [We]
consider the character more deeply and
our understanding of who they are evolves.
They are not who we thought they were. I
wanted to challenge the reader to consider
as they formulate opinions about these
women—who later they will see from
another angle in another story—why they
judged them. To confront their own biases
and prejudices.
Or maybe it’s that I’d prefer to think
about how we are all in some way
connected instead of how alone we all are.
Anytime you meet someone, they
create a version of you that lives in their

mind, that is real to them—the truth of
you to them. The fact is, that’s not you.
Sometimes you’re a different person. What
I hope to do is show how we see these
characters exist outside of the stories they
tell themselves and in the stories of others.

Blueprints deals heavily with archetypal
female characters (“the high school slut,”
“the good girl,” “the struggling artist,”
“the college party girl,” etc.) but makes
them much more complex and threedimensional than they are traditionally
portrayed. What do you see as the
relationship between archetypes and who
women—or your characters—really are?
There is an entire school of literature
that appears to have been written by men
who it would seem never went to bed with
a woman who wasn’t made of cardboard.
Female characters are often stand-ins—
sometimes for the author’s mother, their
old best friend…
I have always been interested in that
disconnect between the archetype and the
reality, the persona and the person. Most
women bear little more than a passing
resemblance to the “type” of women the
culture tells them they are. We are so much
more complicated than anyone wants to
acknowledge because, God forbid, what if
women started believing that?

40 An Interview with Elissa Schappell Kristin Helf

By denying women’s individuality you
rob them of power, grinding down their
fangs, pulling out their claws.
Using archetypes allows you an
easy passage to subvert the reader’s
expectations and pre-conceived notions
of who these women are. The structure
of the book, individual stories that are
part of a whole referencing each other
however obliquely, can read as a sort
of anti-etiquette book, as the stories all
address the way the culture’s idea of
what is acceptable behavior for a woman
impacts them—what is valued, what is
considered appropriate behavior, what
is attractive—and how these messages
inform our sense of self. Each story is a
reflection or response to the image we
have of these female stereotypes.
There are, of course, times when a
stereotype can be used for your benefit.
Playing into the stereotype—the way you
might don a costume as a way to pass
yourself off as something less powerful
than you are (pay no attention to me, I’m
just a boring old soccer mom feeding my
toddler a tofu pup. I’m not really planting
a pipe bomb under the swing set).

What role does feminism play in your
writing?
Well, I’m a feminist and a writer. I
honestly don’t think about feminism as
being something that is separate from
me. It’s just who I am, and given my
concerns it’s no surprise that there is a
feminist undertone to my work.

You have experience as a columnist and
fiction writer, but you’ve also worked
at The Paris Review and co-founded Tin
House. What do you most enjoy about
working for, and reading, lit mags?
What I love about literary magazines
is the way that each one is its own
special unisphere, between these two
covers is an entire world—we have
poetry, fiction, interviews, non-fiction—
it’s a work of art, it’s got a delicate
balance—how do these things live in
concert? There is an immediacy, too,
that’s exciting. When you buy a book
you are buying the author; the great
thing about a literary magazine is you
are buying an audience with all these
people—there is the element of surprise,
discovery—if you trust the magazine—
the editors, the curators—you know that
there will be something in there that lifts
your skirt.

Grub Street 41

How did you and your husband, Rob
Spillman, come to found Tin House?
I was on maternity leave from The
Paris Review and Win McCormack, who
is our publisher and the man who started
it all, called me up to say he was looking
for an editor to help start this magazine.
I wasn’t enthusiastic about this—I was
writing my column for Vanity Fair and
I’d just had a baby and my father was
dying, so I had other things on my
mind—but Rob, who had just left The
New Yorker, was like, not so fast… So we
started talking about it. We thought we
could share the position—which would
turn out to be a hilarious crack-pipe
dream. Ha!
Win was interested in us in part
because I was coming from The Paris
Review and worked at Vanity Fair, so
I had experience in both lit and glossy
magazines, and Rob likewise had worked
in both worlds. We talked about how
people don’t buy literary magazines
unless they know the writers in them, so
the challenge was how to get people not
already fans or related to the authors to
pick up the magazine. The fact is, people
buy magazines for what they know is
inside. So we decided that in addition
to fiction, poetry, interviews, and nonfiction, we’d also do recurring columns.
We were particularly excited about the
prospect of publishing a new voice in

both fiction and poetry in every issue.
That was unheard of. [It was thought of]
as a pretty reckless thing to do. It was
also crucial from the very start that the
magazine have an edge, a sly humor, and
of course it was important for it to be
beautiful—striking.

What’s your process when you review
the works that have been submitted?
What genres and themes appeal to you
more than others?
We are lucky enough to have
fabulously smart and indefatigable
readers of unsolicited manuscripts. This
is the case at Tin House, and it was the
case at The Paris Review. It is only Vanity
Fair where books appear on my stoop
at all hours of the day and night—every
kind of book—from Palmistry for Dogs to
debut novels by the hot homeschooled
thirteen-year-old of the moment, to the
complete works of Samuel Beckett.
In terms of genre, I would say
that I am a fan of the surreal-real and
speculative fiction. As to themes, well, Tin
House is about to publish our second sex
issue—the first time we have ever repeated
a theme. We just can’t help ourselves.
I guess I am always interested in sex
because it is about power. And as Mae
West said, “Sex is emotion in motion.”

42 An Interview with Elissa Schappell Kristin Helf

You can learn so much about a person—
and here I mean, a character—egads, I
don’t want to hear about anyone’s sex life,
thank you—but a character through what
turns them on, off, what they’ll do or not
do. Our sex lives are our shadow lives.
I am sick to death of anything selfconsciously cute and insincere. Irony
bores me.

world, get inside the machine now and
blow it the fuck up.
Oh, and spend a little extra for the
decent coffee maker. The life you save
may be your own.

What are you currently reading?
Dana Spiotta’s truly exceptional new
novel, Innocents and Others­—she is to
my mind absolutely one of the best, most
exciting writers working today, and the
divine Muriel Spark’s The Comforters.

What advice would you give to an
aspiring writer/editor/literary badass?
Don’t give away your power. Don’t
wait for anyone to anoint you or take
special interest in you, or give you
permission to make the work you want
to, have to, make. Because no one is
going to give you that. Especially if they
suspect you are powerful. Especially if
they suspect—no, feel it in their bones—
that you are dangerous, which you are.
Recognize your privilege. If you have
a platform, use it. Don’t waste it. Don’t
waste time. If you want to change the

Grub Street 43

Life Under
the Bell Jar
Hope Richardson

Our feet hang off through the wooden railing, skimming the surface of the water,
aching to be dipped in. The aquarium here isn’t half as nice as the one in Baltimore,
and Miss Sandra agrees, often giving dramatic speeches on how long-suffering she
is, moving to North Carolina for her husband’s job even though “Maryland is better
in every conceivable way.” She fans herself with a brochure from the front desk and
announces that she’ll be waiting inside with the A/C, my parents, and Mister Ray. She
turns on her heels and swings her hips like a runway model, bleach-damaged hair
swinging with each step.
“I don’t know where your brothers got to. That damn IMAX movie is starting in ten
minutes and I am not wasting these tickets,” she mutters, the door closing on her words.
The slight breeze and the movement of invisible insects keeps the water churning
hypnotically. We cross our arms and lean over the railing just a bit, and for a moment
I can imagine we’re on a boat out at sea. It’s physically painful to hold myself back
from jumping in. It wouldn’t even be cold. It’s September, and the ocean is as warm
as bathwater. Emily has the same thought. I can see it in her movements.
“How much trouble d’you think we’d get in? Is the marsh aquarium property or
what?” she asks through her chewing gum.
“I think it’s state protected. We might get arrested or something for screwing up
the ecosystem.”
“Mhm.”
Emily blows a large pink translucent bubble and pops it. Her eyes are hidden
behind a pair of red aviators, but I can tell they’re fixed on a stork three yards out,
preening itself. She squawks at it with a smile. The bird takes one exasperated look at
us before flying away. At that moment I honestly can’t think of anyone cooler in the
whole world.
Her dad’s chummy with the president and gets called over at least twice a year to
have dinner with him. Perks of designing military vessels and naming them whatever

44

Grub Street 45

you want, I guess. Being arrested is something I don’t think Emily’s ever been scared
of. I wonder if she’s scared of anything. She pulls the wad of gum out and sticks it to the
wood an arm’s length away. She pulls out another piece and plops it on her tongue.
The place reeks. The stink of the marsh mixes with heavy salt air blowing in from
the ocean, a particularly nasty combination broken only by the artificial berry scent of
Emily’s damn gum.
“You want a piece?”
I shrug. “Yeah, sure.”
Emily surges up and locks lips with me, so smoothly and casually like she’s been
planning and practicing for days. I lean in a little more out of surprise than anything,
and when she pulls back I’m chewing on a sticky blob of strawberry-orange. She
unwraps a new stick for herself like nothing, and I desperately hope my own Tweety
Bird sunglasses hide whatever emotion it is I’m feeling right now. Ho-ly shit.
I push gum to the left side of my mouth and tilt my head up. “Gee, thanks for the spit.”
“You… are,” another pop, “welcome.”
The movie isn’t too bad, but I feel my mind drifting all the same. I need to get
in the water. All I can think about are the waves bobbing my body up and down,
surrounding my pink-tinged skin, weighing my hair down and drying it stiff as a board.
Emily leans into my side, and my heart skips a beat thinking it’s for another kiss. Here.
In public. Next to our parents.
“Let’s see if they’ll take us to the beach after we leave,” she whispers. I nod in
agreement and try not to squirm out of my seat as a 3D wave crashes in our faces.
Emily lets out an excited little holler and grips my shoulder, which I return in equally
dramatic fashion.
“Girls, shut up!” Miss Sandra hisses, whacking us both over the head with a rolledup brochure. The other movie patrons glare through their ridiculous glasses.
A considerable amount of nagging later, and there is finally sand between my toes. I
could have changed into my bathing suit. Probably should have. But Emily didn’t have
the advantage of a fully stocked suitcase in the trunk of her car. Nor were there any
changing rooms or tents. Not this late in the season.
We shuck off our shoes and toss them behind us. Our mothers sit uncomfortably on
some towels my dad dug out of the car and shout, “We’re only staying for a half hour!”
as we run fully clothed towards the water.

46 Life Under the Bell Jar Hope Richardson

Emily jumps in first with a squeal of delight, followed by a satisfied sigh as she
dunks her head under the gently rolling waves. I wade in tentatively, bobbing up and
down as we slowly make it out to the point where our feet no longer touch the bottom.
“You’re a good swimmer, right?” she shouts at me.
I scoff. “Bitch, I’m on the swim team! Talking to me about being good at
swimming… I can tread water for three hours. If anyone is in danger, it’s you!”
“Yeah, yeah!”
We make it out just far enough so the waves stop shoving salt in our mouths. We
swim circles around each other while trying to dunk one another. We laugh and float
on our backs, holding hands so we don’t drift away, and that’s when Emily screams.
She was always screaming, quite literally for attention. I don’t want to look up, but I
do at the second scream.
“What is it?”
“Look! It touched my foot!”
A little white, gelatinous blob bumps against my leg and drifts off in the opposite
direction. At least three dozen of them surround us, clumping together at the mercy
of the current. They feel like they’re made of rubber. I dunk my head
underwater and open my eyes with a bit of
amount of
difficulty. Sand swirls around like leaves in
A considerable
the wind, little fish dodging the bigger
and there is
nagging later,
particles if they can, taking one look at me
toes.
d between my
n
sa
and Emily before scurrying off. The jellyfish
hover around clumsily and without grace.
We scream out of amusement and half-feigned fear and hightail it back to shore.
The wet sand clings to everything and weighs down our clothes like concrete.
“What’s wrong,” my own mother yells to us, unconcerned. We’d managed to drift
a good length south down the beach from the rest of our families.
“Jellyfish! Hordes of them!” I yell back. “It was scary!”
We clutch each other at the waists to demonstrate.
“Well, it’s time to go anyway,” Miss Sandra cries back, motioning us over.
We drag our feet over the shifting landscape, sand and rocks and shells yanked
back with every retreating wave.
“Ah, man. I gotta ride back home all wet like this.”
My throat catches a little. We’re both still clinging to each other and waddling
awkwardly.

Grub Street 47

finally

“I can lend you a shirt and shorts.”
She paused for a second. “Yeah, okay.”

We run ahead with my parents’ car keys, and I hold a towel up while she changes
in the back seat of the station wagon, though the garage is totally deserted. She
pulls on my blue polo with a tiny duck on it and a pair of gym shorts that were—
honestly—too small for me but that I kept around just in case. They fit her taller, more
slender frame perfectly.
“Yeah, bitch, check me out. Oh wait,” she scratched her head. “I won’t be able to
give ’em back until we visit you guys next month back home.”
“It’s cool,” I say, feeling a blush spread across my scalp, mercifully hidden.
“You can just keep them.”
“Oh! Yeah, thanks! They’ll remind me of better times.” She points to our middle
school logo. Well, just mine now.
I snort. “Yeah, fun times in sixth grade. Two long years ago.”
Our families are saying their goodbyes
and getting ready to go their separate ways.
“Hey, see you around Halloween.” She
We scream out of amusement
kisses me again, right on the lips. I stand
and half-feigned fear and
stunned, and the next thing I know her
hightail it back to shore. The
car is out of the garage, driving away. My
wet sand clings to everything
mom shakes her head.
“Sweetheart, don’t do that with Emily.
and weighs down our clothes
People are going to get the wrong idea.”
like concrete.
It takes me a minute to process her
words. I get in the car and buckle myself
in before I say, “Huh?”
“Kissing like that. It’s cute when you’re kids, but when you’re older it gives people
the wrong idea.”
“Oh, sorry.”
I pull out a stick of gum from my mom’s purse and chew.

48 Life Under the Bell Jar Hope Richardson

Red
Tani Teixeira
Oil on linen

Blue
Tani Teixeira
Oil on linen

Gold
Tani Teixeira
Oil on linen

Grub Street 49

Monika Lee

Hair cut
Hair time, hair rhyme,
for filming in Philadelphia.
I had to prepare this frightful hair
for a filming in Philadelphia.
Gray-rooted, thinning, untame,
this lank, long hair.
I went to Blue Orchid Salon,
to prepare this frightful hair
for a filming in Philadelphia.
Hair time, hair rhyme,
for filming in Philadelphia.
The salon, with hand-painted sign,
was but a hole in the wall
at the back of an auto repair
in a poor part of Philadelphia.

You, Too
Tara Patronik
Acrylic and oil on canvas

Under a poster of a gorgeous girl,
DON’T STRAIGHTEN YOUR HAIR

LOVE IT
hair time, hair rhyme
for filming in Philadelphia
Sweaty locks hang limp,
Felicia in red spandex leggings stares
at my head and my gray silk blouse.
She laughs and says,
“I gotcha, sweetheart.
You’re gonna be jus’ fine,”
for filming in Philadelphia.

50

“Just a style, not a cut,” I say,
as out come the shears,
snip, buzz, whir, cut.
Hair time, hair rhyme
for filming in Philadelphia.
“Just a style,” I say weakly.
“I gotcha, sweetheart,
You’re gonna be jus’ fine.”
Snip, whir, cut, buzz.
“I don’t want a cut.”
Felicia snips limp bangs in flourishing
hands—
“But I seen what you looked like when you
come in.”
She crosses herself.
I close my eyes and pray.
Fair Felicia.
Cut my hair
Close my eyes
Stop my ears
Tidy my face.
Make me a blue orchid
for filming
in Philadelphia.
Hair rhyme. Hair time.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners,
now and at the time
of the filming in Philadelphia.

Grub Street 51

Tache Noir
Emily Reinhardt Welsch

Working alone in the silence of the stark white morgue was something to avoid. The
sound of his pen scribbling information into the empty slots on various regulation
forms was often accompanied by the sounds of his imagination whirring out of
control: a swish of material that might mean someone was sneaking up on him, the
smell of various embalming chemicals, like the musk of some mobile corpse peeking
over his shoulder to see just what the professionals put into a medical chart. He
often found himself slamming his pen down just to whirl around and find nothing
there. His eyes would scan the room, the bleached cleanliness of it seeming clinically
sinister when he was alone. Whereas a hospital inspired the types of nerves that
came with balancing on the precipice of death, the morgue had a kind of finality that
created paranoia and a feeling of overarching futility. In the cold silence his thoughts
turned to death and its inevitability. He missed the man who usually worked these
hours with him; the two of them were usually able to keep things light. He stood up
from his rolling seat, sliding his pen
into the front pocket of his white coat
the morgue had a kind of
and deciding to distract himself with
finality that created paranoia
more than just filling out forms that
and a feeling of overarching
required little thought. He cracked his
futility.
knuckles, jumping as the sound of
cavitation in his joints resounded in the
empty room like party poppers. He let
out a sigh, accompanied with a shake of his head, and said aloud to himself, “I should
really bring an iPod next time.”
He squeezed his hands into fists, warming his fingers in his palms for a moment
before he slid them beneath the white sheet covering the man in need of a final
report. The sheet came down with a familiar rush, a curtain revealing some strange
attraction: a pallid face with eyes that refused to meet his gaze, pupils impaled straight
through by a dark line. He had never forgotten the term for that: tache noir. Black

«
52

Waterfall by blkVelma, Oil pastels, ink, and markers
Grub Street 53

spot. It would happen when the eyes of the dead were left uncovered to dry in the
open air. He had been doing this job for two years now and still felt no closer to
getting used to the little surprises like that. He picked up his clipboard again, letting
out a soft breath as he noted the physical appearance of the body. The skin of the
neck had bunched up and wrinkled around a dime-sized hole in the dead center, and
his eyes lingered on that as his pen veered outside the lines of the box a little. The
cause of death was pretty evident based on this good-sized aperture. The autopsy
had already been carried out, according to the Y-shaped incision that was present
on the chest, and the chart that he was completing showed none of the markings
that signified foul play. That meant this would be easy. All he had to do was check
to make sure everything was filled out, tag the body, and get it into one of the
rectangular drawers of the freezer.

above his head gave a flicker that made it seem like the body had shifted, like it was
sitting up to share last words with him. He slammed the door shut so suddenly that
the resulting noise surprised him. Calm down, his rational inward voice advised. This
was the first time he had allowed his fears to get to him. It was best just to clock out
and go home. He retrieved his clipboard from the floor across the room, standing up
quickly and placing it on the table. His heart refused to stop throwing itself against
his rib cage, even when he made it down the front steps outside, pulling his blackbuttoned coat on against the cold. His breath was visible as it left his mouth, and
it floated up and away as he waited for a taxi to signal. Impossibly, he felt more
uncomfortable out here than he had inside the building. There was no one else on
the street; light was fading as night came on, and the wind was whistling past him.
He crossed his arms in front of himself, turning toward home and starting in that
direction, up the street.

As he was taking notes regarding his observations, his pen resuming its quick
scribbling, he pondered the route he was going to take to get home. Considering
how the weather turned out when he left the city morgue, he would either walk
the six blocks or take a cab. He flipped to the next form and was checking each
necessary space when a hoarse, low whisper made him spin around so fast that he
dropped the clipboard. It bounced against the floor with a loud clatter, then struck
his foot. He wished again for the company of the other employee who generally
worked these hours; he had lived in the city for two years and still hadn’t many
friends, but when they finished their shift the two morticians would often go out
for a drink. Then he would make it back to his apartment feeling like he had been
a part of the city somehow, like he was living a real life here rather than waiting
around in his apartment for a reason to leave. His purpose in this city was to facilitate
and categorize death. It was the reason he had moved here, and the only one that
generally took him out onto the city streets. If he were to disappear, someone,
perhaps the man who had left him alone for today’s shift, would take his place, and
that would be that. Wishing very much that he hadn’t thought about disappearing, he
transferred the body from the steel table to the cold drawer where it would spend the
night, then stood there catching his breath.

Things looked more unfamiliar in the
His mind begged his
darkness, and the street lights had yet to come
muscles to respond, but
on. He passed a little book shop, glanced
his body lay there limp
through the window at the blackness within.
and unresponsive until the
Someone stood behind him in the reflection: a
surface beneath him began
figure in a dirty white sheet. His back stiffened.
to move instead, sliding him
The sheeted visitor held just as still, the filthy
out of the darkness.
white coverlet growing heavy and moist at
the neck, blackening as if filling with viscous
liquid. His gaze moved back to his own body
in the reflection as an enormous pressure
weighed against his own neck, his life’s blood
pouring out as easily as if through a faucet. He
reached up wildly, hoping perhaps to cover the wound, apply pressure, but he felt
nothing there. It was silly, to think he hadn’t been standing there alone, that he had
manifested a fatal wound. It had been nothing all along. He tore his feet away from
the sidewalk like they had been stuck and fled down the street made unfamiliar.

His fist had closed firmly around the handle of the little door, and he stood staring
into the blackness of the drawer, his heart thudding in his chest, resounding in his
ears. The dark inside that drawer was playing tricks on him; the fluorescent lights

He didn’t stop running until, breathless, he reached his apartment building, but
his paranoia led him to avoid the elevator. A closed-in space seemed the opposite of
productive; he was trying to cling to rationality, to let it inform his movements. Once

54 Tache Noir Emily Reinhardt Welsch

Grub Street 55

inside his apartment, he barely bothered to change before sliding into bed, making
himself comfortable beneath the sheets and letting the sound of his own hot breath
lull him into a fitful sleep.
The night passed slowly. Despite the repeated surprise of wakefulness, each time
he could remember nothing of the dreams that forced him out of sleep. A strange
bodily stiffness began to accompany his returns to the waking world, until at last
he could not move at all. His mind begged his muscles to respond, but his body lay
there limp and unresponsive until the surface beneath him began to move instead,
sliding him out of the darkness. Light shone through the sheet he lay beneath, his
eyes refusing to close against it. He could feel the fabric resting against the rapidly
drying membrane of his left eye. A shadow passed overhead, and someone pulled
back his covering. He was looking up at himself… But the looming double wore his
face as if it didn’t quite fit, his expression strangely sour. The double reached up to
itch at his neck, his fingers touching the area only tentatively at first, then, finding it
intact, itching at it with full force. With a smile, the double began to take notes on
a clipboard, being sure to indicate that the body on the slab had developed dark
brown-red strikes through the pupils, a result of the eyes staying open all night.

Al Maginnes

Contrabands
It could be a book, a bottle of smuggled liquor, cigars or seeds forbidden
to carry across the borders invisible
below the wings of the plane. It could be the tracts of some faith, hidden
and ancient, one that condones
sacraments not spoken of under certain flags. It could be a laptop stuffed
with the secrets of a collapsed economy
nested inside pictures of butterflies and soccer players. There are gun parts,
designs stolen from dressmakers bound
for the runways of London and Cannes, impossible fragments dripping
from the human scaffolding of models
trained not to speak and to move with the grand selfishness of cats. You know
the laws of your land forbid the blue liquor,
but a few sips turn you visionary at last, and you could not leave such insight
stranded in a republic where
you could only ask what something cost and how long before the arrival
of the train, dialogue
that turned to ash when a few sips from a thick glass set free a flutter
of swallows, wings speeding
between brain and heart, a tumult to cast a glittering over all you saw.
So you built a lair deep in your luggage to store two bottles, determined
to bring the sight
of near-prophecy home with you. But even the hangover of insight
will not whisper what rests
in the suitcase next to yours. The thick-set man sleeping in his seat
across the aisle, a strand
of spit silver in his beard, believes the old scripture he unburied in
a bookstore tucked deep
in the elbow of a back street contains all the knowledge he has waited

56 Tache Noir Emily Reinhardt WelschEmily Welsch

Grub Street 57

his entire conscious life to learn.
Soon he will build the pillowy dome of his heaven, will witness perfection
he has been told does not exist.
This is how it is for travelers, each of us bearing at least one secret,
one small treachery forward
among dirty socks, wrinkled shirts. But the young man, dreamless and twitching
in the seat beside
the fugitive historian, consults his watch, counts backward again. His device
has failed and now
his manifesto of martyrdom, flashing on screens across the world, means nothing.
Arrest, the humiliation
of trial and captivity. Tonight, you will come home, pour glasses of contraband
liquor for your wife and you,
and as your sight and breathing expand, the iron fear that seized you when
the young man was pulled from
the line in front of you will dissolve and you will tell your wife
about the door he vanished through,
one you never knew existed, and how you and your fellow travelers
were left
to claim whatever secrets you managed to keep hidden for now.

58 Contrabands Al Maginnes

Never Trust an Addict
Taylor Dowell

“This is me!” she said, stopping next to
Boone and pointing to the seat next to
me. I can’t remember her name. Karen?
Carol? Tara, maybe? Boone smiled with
amusement that it was me and not him
who would be stuck with this woman for
our three-hour flight home from Orlando
to Harrisburg.
She shuffled over us and settled into
her window seat before introducing
herself. I had never met this woman
before, but I knew her. I watched her as
she spoke in great detail about the death
of her estranged father. His funeral was
the next day, and this was the last flight
she could catch. Each painfully detailed
sentence was accompanied by fluttering
hands. She would pause mid-sentence
and drop her head into her hands
before remembering the next word she
wanted to say.
She was an addict. Most likely heroin.
There were signs that I couldn’t ignore.
Her body was thin, and she wore the
face of a woman twice her age. When
she laughed I could see and smell the
decay of abandoned molars. Granted,
these could all be seen as evidence of
southern Florida living. But I knew better.

I saw the red track marks between her
toes, revealed by her cheap purple flipflops. I recognized her desperate need
to try to convince me of every detail she
stumbled over. She was high-functioning.
That’s what therapists always say about
heroin addicts. They’re high-functioning.
They’re not incapacitated by the drug.
They are alive and functioning because
of it. These are things you notice when
you spend a lot of time around heroin
addicts. At soup kitchens, in hospitals, or
on your grandmother’s couch at Christmas.
I couldn’t help but hate the woman
sitting next to me—for no other reason
than her resemblance to my Aunt Mary. I
politely smiled and nodded along to her
endless rant about money and life before
she turned the conversation to me.
“Are you going to get a drink?” she
asked while placing her hand on my arm.
“No,” I said with a fake sympathetic
frown.
“Well what about you?” she said to
Boone as she reached across me to
touch him.
“Oh, I don’t know, it’s only a—”
“Oh, would you do me a favor then?
Just one small, little favor?”

Grub Street 59

She went on to ask him to buy her a beer.
Boone had only met my Aunt Mary
once. My grandfather was battling
stage-four colon cancer and decided to
fly her back east for what he thought
would be his last Christmas. Death brings
people together. Mary was clean at the
time, and by clean I mean she spent her
days driving to and from methadone
clinics. California says heroin is bad but
methadone is good. The truth is they’re
both opioids. It’s like taking a donut out
of a fat man’s hand and replacing it with
a lollipop. Nothing gets better, but it
shuts everybody up for a while.
A week before Christmas I walked
into my parent’s kitchen to find Mary
placing her hand on Boone’s arm as she
laughed. She removed her hand only
after realizing I was in the room. She
walked over to me and wrapped an arm
around my neck.
“Tell me Tay, does he have a brother?”
she whispered.
I gave her the smile she was looking
for and walked away. I hated the way
she had touched him. I was accustomed
to Mary trying to take everything she
could from me (trust, money, love), and
I knew my boyfriend was no exception.
You can never trust an addict.
The woman finished her beer and
began to dig for information about us.
She asked for our ages, our hometowns,
our professions. Mid-twenties, Baltimore

60 Never Trust an Addict Taylor Dowell

area, and teachers. That’s all I gave her.
She didn’t push for details but instead
turned the conversation back to her own
life. There was a desperation in her voice
as she described the various roommates
she had. She wanted me to be impressed,
but more importantly she wanted me
to believe her. Then she stopped and
asked me more questions about my
life. She rested her chin on her fist and
her elbow on my armrest. I hated how
close she was to my face, and I hated
how long she would stare at me before
speaking again. She wanted something
from me, and I couldn’t figure out what.
I wondered if it would be another beer
or maybe some cash for a cab once we
landed. My stomach hurt, and I began
to panic. I could not figure out what this
woman wanted from me. I sat, trapped
in my seat and listened.
Never trust an addict. Mary taught
me that when I was thirteen. She was
in yet another treatment facility and
would spend some of her substance-free
evenings calling me. She would ask me
about school and boys. Sometimes she
would ask if my dad or grandfather had
said anything about her. I always said
no, and she always knew I was lying.
She always wanted something. After
running out of questions pertaining to
the seventh grade, she got right to her
point. She needed money but promised
to pay me back. I mailed an envelope

with the last of the babysitting money I
ten years. Whenever we spoke about
had and a piece of paper with Jeremiah
jobs and qualifications she always told
29:11 written on it. She told me it was
the story about her job at the Capitol.
her favorite verse once when she was
When she was twenty-one years old she
stealing packets of butter from our
found herself holding the door open
church basement. “For I know the plans
for Senator Nancy Landon Kassebaum.
I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans
The next week she was Kassebaum’s
to prosper you and not to harm you,
employee. Mary would stress the fact
plans to give you hope and a future.”
that she was not a political science major
She never wrote me back.
or even from Kassebaum’s home state of
I looked to Boone and asked how
Kansas. It was her personality that got
much longer until we would land. He
her that job. Pure luck. She said her new
didn’t answer and continued to pretend
job was nannying for her good friend,
to be asleep. The woman told me about
Jodi Benson. She was so excited that
her childhood in Pennsylvania and her
she would soon have enough money
rebellious mid-twenties move to Florida.
saved to fly back east for a visit. Jodi
She went on about jobs she held in the
Benson voiced Ariel in Disney’s The Little
government and
the scientific work
she did for various
It’s like taking a donut out of a fat man’s hand
environmental
and replacing it with a lollipop. Nothing gets
efforts. She
better, but it shuts everybody up for a while.
emphasized the
pure luck that
played into each of these opportunities
Mermaid. Google Maps satellite images
and her lack of a college education. She
showed Mary’s address was an illegally
repeated after every story, “Can you
parked trailer in a well-known drug area
believe that?” hoping that I wouldn’t
on the outskirts of LA.
say, “no.” She told me that if I just kept
The woman went on talking about
looking and putting myself out there, I
the anxiety she felt about seeing her
could get any job I wanted. I smiled and
family again. She regretted not visiting
nodded. Never trust an addict.
more over the years but she swore to
Mary called our house once before
me there was nothing she could have
my sixteenth birthday and told us she
done. She started to take longer pauses
got a new job. She hadn’t worked in
between stories and stared out of the

Grub Street 61

small window to her right. The sky was
gray and dark, too dark for the afternoon.
The seatbelt light came on, and she

She wanted me to be
impressed, but more
importantly she wanted
me to believe her.

became even more frantic than she had
been before the beer.
“People change, you know?
Everybody changes,” she said. I nodded
and smiled.
“I wish I had seen him, my dad, I
wish I had seen him before, you know,
before he died. He would have wanted
to see me, you know? I know he would
have wanted to see me.”
It was only when she lifted a hand
to wipe her tears that I realized we were
holding hands. Her hands were warm
and rough. Her fingers were littered with
mismatched silver rings. She noticed
me staring and pulled them away back
into her lap. The plane landed, and she
stayed close behind me as I followed
Boone down the aisle and off the plane.
She grabbed my arm as we walked
towards the baggage claim and turned
me in the direction of her pointed finger.

62 Never Trust an Addict Taylor Dowell

She showed me her brother who was
waiting for her. He was wearing a black
rain coat and khakis. He wasn’t smiling. I
turned and hugged her. Admittedly it was
a selfish act to let her know that whatever
this was was over, and I was leaving.
“Thank you,” she said, turning away
and walking toward her brother.
I stood there, confused and angry.
Why was she thanking me? What had
I given her or better yet what had she
taken? I panicked and started to go
over everything I had said. No specific
answers, no details, no last names. I
looked in the side pockets of my carryon and in the pockets of my shorts.
Nothing was missing. Boone grabbed
my hand and we started walking toward
the shuttle. Why had she thanked me?
I hated how I felt. I hated the familiar
feeling of leaving an addict and knowing
they had taken something.
The shuttle came, and we rode from
parking lot to parking lot waiting for our
stop. Boone again sat to my left but now
there was no addict between me and
the window. I started thinking about my
grandfather and all of the late nights we
had spent talking about Mary. We would
compare the different lies she told us
and, if he was tired enough, he would
tell me more juicy details about Mary’s
life. The kind of details my grandmother
banned from the dinner table. My hatred
for Mary went beyond the hurt she had

caused me. It was a hate that stemmed
from the worried look on my father’s
face each time I said, “Mary’s on the
phone.” The hate grew each time my
grandfather asked what he had done to
fail at being Mary’s father and protector.
In the fourth grade they told me,
“Drugs kill.” They were right. Drugs kill
opportunities and potential. Drugs kill trust
and accountability. Drugs kill teeth and
veins. Drugs kill family and relationships.
Sometimes drugs kill addicts.
I began to wonder why I had been
seated next to this woman on the
plane. I have always believed in signs.
I considered that maybe I was seated
next to her because she just needed
someone to listen to her. Maybe I was
sent to her to nod and smile and hold
her hand. Maybe, through my kindness, I
changed her life. Maybe I am narcissistic.
The woman’s stories started racing
through my mind. I wondered how
her ride home was going and how the
rest of her family would receive her. I
remembered her brother, standing there
in the airport with his hands in his pant
pockets and a blank expression. The
man’s father had just passed away. Still,
there was no hint of excitement or
happiness at seeing his sister for the
first time in years. I realized, then, that
I am her brother. I am the unforgiving
relative who refuses to give anything
else to the addict, not even a smile. I

realized I would never be able to change
the condition Mary will be in when she
walks off the plane the day before my
grandfather’s eventual funeral. I can,
however, decide who I will be as I stand
and wait to greet her.
I wondered how many people,
strangers rather, have sat and listened
to Mary. Even if they didn’t believe her
stories, I bet they nodded and smiled. I

It was only when she lifted a hand
to wipe her tears that I realized we
were holding hands.
wondered if Mary ever realized that a
stranger offered her more kindness than
some of her own family. In all reality she,
like the woman on the flight, probably
only remembered the taste of a free beer.

Grub Street 63

John J. Trause

Object to Be Eaten
My father loved to cook the Italian dish
known as capozella, lamb’s head,
pronounced without the final syllable, capozell’.
Though always bought fresh from the butcher,
he would often freeze it and defrost it
when ready to cook it.
In the days when the microwave became a fixture,
I noticed once that he was defrosting the lamb’s head
in the microwave, the eye spinning around
as if a Surrealist assemblage:
capozell’ on a carousel.

Paco
William Strang-Moya
Digital photograph

64

Grub Street 65

Bird Nest Warmth
Eleanor Leonne Bennett
Digital photograph

It’s Electric! by Glen Banks, Photograph

66

Grub Street 67

Big Dog

Michael B. Tager

“LeRon’s paying both of us for the rats, you know. Don’t matter how many you kill,
we’re splitting it down the middle,” Nat said.
Telly ignored him and poked his head out the window of the old Buick to aim the
air rifle. When he chose one of the rats that scurried around the junkyard and fired,
the chosen rat flopped over, twitched twice and stilled. Its fellow, a big rat, dark gray,
came out to sniff it and Nat jumped in his seat. “Big Gray’s mine. Don’t touch him.”
“I know,” Telly said, his attention diverted as the rats scattered in anticipation of
the big dumb dog pottering into the clearing. Nat watched Telly hop out of the car
and run to the dog, ruffling its fur and muttering into its floppy ear. When the dog
waddled off, Telly dragged the dead rat by its long pink tail, throwing it onto the
knee-high pile of rats next to the front fender. Only one was Nat’s kill: an old, fat rat
that had been sleeping in the sun.
In the beginning of the summer, when LeRon started watching them, they’d
been promised a quarter per rat. Nat had felt too old for it—he was nearly thirteen—
but agreed anyway, bored with wandering the junkyard all day. The little trailer
was boiling hot and didn’t have cable. There were dogs, but besides the ancient
mutt—Igloo—who followed Telly around, they were guard animals. Besides, Mom
didn’t have any money for allowance and Dad always forgot to send the money he
promised. Nat could use a little pocket change.
He missed their old house, before Dad moved out and before Mom sold it and got
a job and met LeRon. It had been a little townhouse, but there’d been air conditioning
in Nat’s bedroom and cable and an elm tree in the front yard. Dad kept on saying
they’d get a better house, but the few times Nat saw his new place, it looked like he
hadn’t been planning on moving anywhere.
Nat took the rifle and opened the passenger side door. The Buick was in the
best shape of any of the cars at the junkyard; it had not-quite-rotted leather seats,
crank windows, and didn’t smell of vagrant. Most mornings they sat in the big open
space where the junkyard paths met. Mounds of trash rose: chairs at twelve o’clock,
newspapers and paperbacks at one, refrigerators at two, stoves at three. The stench of

« A Desultory Omnibus by Ian Postley, Mixed media
68

Grub Street 69

the junkyard—decomposition, stale oil, stagnant pools—used to drive them crazy.
Stepping out of the truck, Nat pumped the air rifle, held it to his eyes and waited.
The rats made their homes in rusted car engines and empty stoves, venturing out
through the clearing to scavenge. LeRon’s dog slept beside the Buick on sunny days.
After a few moments, the rats rediscovered their boldness and ventured out of
their hiding spaces of McDonald’s bags, old tires, boxes and shoes, sniffing their way
to the clearing’s center. Big Gray, mean looking and puppy-sized, stood out. Big Gray
was special.
His heart racing, Nat closed an eye and squeezed the trigger. “Die.” A puff of
smoke sprouted just to the left of Big Gray. Nat cursed. He’d missed again.
A hint of a smirk on his face, Telly grabbed the rifle back, reloaded, leaned out the
window and aimed at a Firebird a dozen feet away, its headlight shattering seconds
later. Familiar rage boiled in Nat’s throat. “Dad’s taking me to the Tigers game,” he
said. When Telly didn’t respond, he continued. “For my birthday. He told me.”
Telly took the last swig of water from an old milk jug and burped. He was still
scrawny—at eleven—he hadn’t yet put on teenage weight like Nat—and wore a
drenched-in-sweat white T-shirt and blue jeans. His blond crew cut glistened. “You
know, you’d do good if you didn’t think about it so much.” He grinned and tapped
the empty bottle against the steering wheel. “Just lead a little, exhale, pull the trigger.”
He made a gun with his fingers. “Bang.”
“I don’t need your help, I’m fine,” Nat said. Sweat trickled into his eyes, and he
brushed it away with his forearm. Taller by a head, his thick brown hair lay in sweaty
curls. “Say I’m fine,” he said, reaching over to twist his brother’s ear, releasing after
yelps and swats.
“You’re totally fine,” Telly
mumbled. He poked his head out
the window again, aimed at re“Just lead a little, exhale, pull the
emerged rats, fired and snickered.
Another rat twitched in the baking
trigger.” He made a gun with his
sun.
fingers. “Bang.”
“Gimme that.” Nat snatched the
rifle, the butt ringing against the top
of the car window.
“Be careful. Daddy gave it to me for my birthday.” Telly’s eyes were wide in worry.
“Yeah, I know.” Telly’s birthday came right after the divorce and Dad had made

70 Big Dog Michael B. Tager

a big deal of it, taking him out to dinner and giving him the gun. At the end of the
night, Dad had said that Nat’s birthday would be just as big. When he repeated that to
Mom, she just shook her head.
“Remember that it’s mine,” Telly said. Nat wanted to throw it out the window and
stamp on it. Telly carried the dumb thing everywhere, even when Nat complained
to LeRon.
LeRon had said, “It’s his gun, isn’t it? Seems he can do what he wants.” LeRon was
a man of few words and considered the matter closed. He was tall and light-skinned,
their mother’s first boyfriend since the divorce. Nat had thought she should have
waited longer to start dating, forever maybe. Dad wasn’t dating as far as Nat knew.
“Now shut up. You’ll scare them off,” Nat said, waiting for the rats. An ugly, brown
one marched straight across the clearing toward the Buick. Nat aimed and squeezed
the trigger. The shot blasted into the dirt. The ugly one ran off. He tossed the gun
back into Telly’s lap in disgust.
“Don’t worry about it. Next time,” Telly said. The smile quickly wiped from his
face but not so fast to be missed. A tone deaf whistle came from Telly’s pursed lips:
“Jimmy Crack Corn.”
The whistling raised hackles up Nat’s spine. He gritted his teeth and then opened
his mouth to tell Telly to shut up when the mutt shambled back into the clearing.
A sheepdog mix, most of Igloo’s fur had gone gray. LeRon didn’t neglect him but
seemed to accept that he had lost usefulness along with his teeth and left eye. Telly
had unofficially adopted him. Sometimes he mashed his hamburgers and hand-fed the
dog. Nat didn’t see the appeal.
Igloo sniffed at the rats re-emerging from under carburetors and stoves. “Think
he’s going to try to eat a rat-sicle again?” Nat grinned.
From behind a busted toaster oven, Big Gray advanced. Igloo stalked him and Nat
watched. Every day, the half-blind, arthritic, toothless animal loped after the quick, feral
rats. Nat laughed whenever Igloo half-limped after them, the rats easily evading him.
The driver’s side door slammed. Telly held the pellet gun loosely, his face pinched.
Igloo and Big Gray faced each other, the rat’s whiskers quivering, Igloo’s tail swishing. Nat
licked his lips in anticipation. Igloo’s hind leg scratched at the earth, ready to charge.
Telly brought the rifle to his shoulder, sighted briefly and fired an anti-climactic
whip-crack. Big Gray toppled. Igloo barked at the suddenly empty clearing. Nat
clenched his fists, ground his teeth. His stomach flipped and churned. He did it
so easy.

Grub Street 71

“Why the hell did you do that?”
“Sorry,” Telly said. Nearby, Igloo panted, saliva dropping to the hot ground.
“Big Gray was mine.”
“I didn’t want you laughing at Igloo,” Telly said. He held out his fingers and Igloo
trotted over, flopped to the ground for a belly rub. “He’s old.”
“I didn’t make him old. I don’t know why you like him. He’ll be dead any day.”
“Good baby,” Telly told the whimpering dog. Igloo stood on shaking legs and licked
at his extended hand. He waddled back the way he came, sending the rats scurrying.
Telly watched him disappear, grunted and handed the rifle back to Nat, climbing up
on the hood of the Buick to sit against the cracked windshield. He pointed with a dirty
finger at two rats already gnawing on Big Gray.
“Go ahead,” Telly said. “Those two aren’t looking. You can probably get one.”
Nat licked his dry lips and wished for water. “I’d get ’em even if they were.”
“Yeah, you’re fine at this,” Telly said.
Nat stared, warring with the urge to raise the gun and point it at his brother’s face.
Finally, Telly sighed and blinked, leaning against the cracked windshield.
Nat wasn’t sure if he’d won or if it translated as, You win, Nat. You the big dog. He
spun, took aim at the two rats feasting on Big Gray, fired.
Dirt kicked up yards away, not even disturbing their meal. He took a deep
breath, reloaded and aimed again. His brother snickered, his face to the sun. Nat
gritted his teeth and yanked the trigger. A second puff of dirt sprayed even farther
away. Telly laughed.
“Stupid thing’s broken!” Nat chucked the rifle at the ground.
“That’s mine.” Telly jumped down, his eyes wide, pushing Nat aside. Nat felt his
brother’s hand on his back and burned inside.
Nat grabbed and spun Telly around, his punch meeting Telly’s face. Telly fell, blood
streaming from his nose. Nat gasped; he’d never hit someone in the face before.
Telly scampered up, his eyes tearing. He yelled and lowered his head into Nat’s
gut. Nat grunted and fell. On his back, he bunched his hand again, smashed it against
Telly’s temple and then, hooking him around the neck, twisted until his brother fell to
the side. Then he got on top, his knees pinning Telly to the ground.
“You piece of crap,” he yelled, slapping Telly in the face, ignoring his sobs. “So you
can hit some rats with a dumb BB gun.” He wasn’t even aware of what he yelled, his
blood was so hot. An angry, aching joy welled from his stomach at his dominance.
He leaned back to grin and rest his stinging palms, sitting on Telly’s stomach. “Little

72 Big Dog Michael B. Tager

punk. So Dad gave you a rifle? He’s going to take me out for my birthday!”
Telly growled and launched up, dislodging Nat and dumping him to the ground.
Nat grunted, stunned. He lurched to his feet, braced. Instead, he heard barking.
Igloo growled at the edge of the clearing, his good eye watching Nat. “Your dumb
mutt here to rescue you?” he asked. Ignoring the dog, he turned back to Telly, still
tensed. Instead, Telly lay on the ground crying. Nat advanced, hand outstretched.
Before he decided whether to hit him or help him up, a furry head slammed
into the back of his knee. Nat’s leg collapsed, and he crumbled to the ground.
Igloo, slobbering and slavering with snapping, toothless gums, stood atop him, feet
scrabbling at his stomach and chest; Nat couldn’t breathe. He gasped and slapped at
the dog’s head. Igloo didn’t budge, didn’t seem to feel it, kept biting and growling. Nat
bunched his fist and punched half-a-dozen times, his blows thudding off the dog’s
heavy skull.
“Get off him, boy!” Telly yelled.
Suddenly, the dog stopped biting and walked over him, paws driving his head into
the ground. He gasped for
breath. Telly stood over
Nat stared, warring with the urge to raise
him, pulling at the dog’s
the gun and point it at his brother’s face.
collar.
Snot and blood mixed
on Telly’s face and trailed
to his upper lip. Dirt caked his shoulders and face. Slowly, Nat stood. Igloo sniffed the
ground and lay down in the sun.
Nat backed up and stepped on the rifle’s barrel, daring Telly to try to take it. He told
himself he didn’t much care what Telly would do next, his racing heart be damned.
“Dad won’t take you to the game,” Telly said. “He didn’t even call on your
birthday.” Telly turned and walked away, miniature dust devils stirring with each
footprint, dying before the wind could catch them. Nat wondered if he should have
thanked his brother for helping him with the worthless dog. Instead he shouted, his
hands clenched, ears filled with white noise.
“I could have taken care of that stupid mutt. Damn thing’s better off dead anyway.”
Nat grabbed the rifle after his brother disappeared, noted the patches of darkened
ground from his little brother’s blood, sweat, drool. He walked to the Buick and rested
against the hood. He jumped when he heard barking.
The rats were back out and Igloo, awake, pounded through the clearing, snagging

Grub Street 73

one in his toothless mouth, its legs churning, pink tail swishing. Even a one-eyed dog
was better than him at rat catching. Snarling, he brought the rifle to his shoulder, his
brother’s instructions running through his mind. Breathing through his nose, he lead
carefully, squeezed the trigger.
Igloo’s right eye disappeared in a squirt of blood and fluid and the rat fell from
his mouth. Igloo rolled over howling, rubbing his snout against the ground until
blood ran. Rising on shaking legs, still scratching at the missing eye, he ran, bumping
headfirst into Nat’s leg. With a scrape of metal, Nat dropped the rifle onto the rusted hood.
“Igloo?” he asked. The animal perked its head before pawing at its eye again. He
repeated the name, thought about petting it. He extended his arm and waited.
Igloo raised his head and snapped. Toothless gums worked at Nat’s hand; saliva
ran down his wrist. He let the dog try to maim him, shut his eyes to block hot tears,
and waited for the rats to come.

Pigeons & Doves by Nessi Alexander-Barnes, Ink on paper

74 Big Dog Michael B. Tager

Grub Street 75

The Broken Chain
Mike Clough

The boy could hear them along the hallway. They were trying to keep their voices
down. He said something. She said something. And then the shouting began. He
turned over and pretended to sleep. Sometimes she’d come into his room, sit on the
edge of the bed and sob. She didn’t do that tonight, and he was grateful for it.
In the morning they were gone. He leaned against the stove, and the warmth
working its way up his spine made him tingle.
There was a note on the table saying he should get breakfast. If the chain came off
again and he couldn’t fix it, he’d to find a call box.
He put on his sneakers. It would be hot later, and there was no need for gloves.
The road going away from home was long and flat, and the chain did not come
off. It only came off once he was in the hills. He leaned the bike against a tree. The
sun was dappling through the leaves and branches, patterning his face. He took the
toolbox from the satchel and did what he’d done a hundred times before, squeezing
drops of oil from the rusting tin onto the cogs and then levering the chain back on,
very gently, with the spanner. He didn’t yet know that he was being watched. When
he nicked his thumb he got frustrated and swore. But the chain was on, and he rode
farther into the hills until the sun was shining right upon him, and he could unbutton
his jacket.
There was a promontory. On a clear day you could see far into the valley. You
could make out the towns joined together by long, zigzagging roads. His mother
worked in one town, his father
in another. There was a sign
Sometimes she’d come into his
telling you about the valley
room, sit on the edge of the bed
but the writing had faded and
you could only make out the
and sob.
occasional word. He watched red
ants crawling across its bubbled surface. He put his hand flat and let them crawl over
it, although there wasn’t much sensation and he quickly got bored. He thought about

76

winter, everything blanketed in pure whiteness.
He took off his jacket and folded it into the satchel. He got on his bike and began
cruising down, steering between the ruts and the bumps. He liked to feel the cold
plastic of the seat pushing against his thighs.
It was only now that he realized he was not alone. He could hear the screeching of
brakes, the wheels grooving through the dust. He could let whoever it was catch him
or he could keep going down. If he kept going he’d reach the road in five minutes or
less, and then he’d be away.
The decision wasn’t his to make.
There was a familiar clanking as the
It was only now that he realized
chain left the cogs. Whoever was
he was not alone.
following wouldn’t think much of
him if they saw he was riding
without a chain. They’d think he didn’t know how to fix it, and what was he doing
riding all this way into the hills with a bad chain? He got off, laid the bike on the
ground, and once more took the toolbox out of the satchel. He could hear brakes,
the rattling of mudguards. He almost had it back on but there was a voice now, a
wooahhhh sound, and he knew it was too late.
One moment he was alone, thinking about how he’d time to fix the chain and be
gone, and the next his light was being blocked by a figure standing over him. It was
a boy of his own age, perhaps a year his senior, although he didn’t recognize him. He
had a crew cut, a narrow face, and there were pimples sprouting out on his chin.
“I can help you with that,” he said. “I’m good with my hands.”
“It’s the chain, the chain keeps comin’ off. But I know how to fix it.”
He knelt beside him. “You’ve got too much oil. It’s gonna keep slippin’ if there’s
too much oil. You’re gonna have to wipe it down with grass or somethin’, otherwise
it’s gonna keep slippin’.”
“I know all that, I’ve tried all that. If there’s not enough oil it won’t turn and it
comes off anyway.”
“Then you need a new chain, you need a new bike. This is an old bike.”
“It’s the only one I’ve got.”
“My bike gives me no problem. But it’s a new bike. I’ve had it less than a year. Do
you want me to help?”
“It’s back on now,” the boy said, returning the spanner to the satchel and lifting his
bike off the ground. “I’ll be getting along.”

Grub Street 77

“I’ll come with you. Where you off to?”
“Nowhere really.”
“I’ll race you. If you beat me you’ll be the first. But I don’t think so. This is a new
bike. And my legs are stronger than yours. Look at my thighs, look at the muscles. I
do this hill twice every day.”
“Then why’ve I never seen you before?”
“I could say the same about you.”
“But I mean, which school you at?” The question was lost in the air; the older boy
was cycling fast, and he needed to keep up with him. If he raced too far ahead, and
had to go back, it would look bad. He pushed on with all his might, until his legs
ached and he’d broken into a sweat. It was a miracle the chain didn’t come off; he
prayed it wouldn’t.
Soon they were in the valley, on the path winding past the river that was tainted
with copper. They said if you swam in the river too long you would turn orange. He
knew that was a lie. You wouldn’t turn orange at all. They only said that because of
some kid who’d drowned there, years back.
Ahead, he saw the older boy stop and jump off his bike, the back wheel spinning
out dust. He slowed now because the race was lost, and he was panting, his clothes
sticking to him. He caught a look that said I’m better than you. He’d seen this look
before. There were three schools in the valley, and one of them you had to pay to go
to. The kids there gave out this look whenever they saw you.
“Give you a dollar if you can swim to the other side faster than I can.”
“I don’t need your money.”
“Okay, we’ll call it a sportsman’s bet, then. Do you know what that is, a
sportsman’s bet?”
“Of course I know what that is. Everyone knows what that is, a sportsman’s bet.”
“It means there’s no money involved, the only thing you lay down is your pride,
and maybe that’s worth a lot more. It hurts when you lose a bet like that. It’s the best
kind of bet there is. It tells the world what you’re about, what you add up to. So you
want to make a bet on it then, on your pride?”
“You think just because you’re older than me, and richer than me, that you’re
gonna win.”
“You can have a head start. I’ll give you a head start if you’re afraid of losing.”
“I’m not afraid of nothing. I don’t need any head start from you.”
“A sportsman’s bet. Lay down your pride.” The older boy was already stripping

78 The Broken Chain Mike Clough

off; his torso was brown and you could see the developing muscles. He took off
everything, his sneakers, his jeans, his shorts, and when he was naked he jumped in
making a whooping sound. “There and back. It’s your pride on the line now, and I’m
already winning.”
The idea appalled him. He couldn’t imagine getting naked and jumping in, and
nor could he imagine cycling away. His heart beat fast. The back of his legs tingled.
He watched until the older boy was at the far side and then got back on his
bike. He didn’t stop, didn’t look behind, until he came to the town where his father
worked. It was a small town with a broad open road through it, along each side of
which there were farm stores and stores selling bric-a-brac that you would never
want. He didn’t think much of this town. He only ever came here to get a shake or a
soda at the 7-Eleven; you could sit inside or out and the manager was too obese to
chase you off if you gave him trouble. He would stare at you instead, and then walk
off shaking his head. He’d often heard this obese manager saying all he wanted was
a peaceful life, without trouble, and you could take advantage of that. He parked his
bike and, looking disdainfully at the chain, went inside and emptied his pockets onto
the counter.
“You really want a hot coffee on a hot day like this? I’ll serve you that if you want,
kid, but it’s awfully hot today.” It was meant as a joke; the obese manager’s hair was
plastered down with sweat, and when he turned you could see dark patches where
it was breaking out on his back. By the day’s end the shirt would be soaking and his
wife would tell him to strip it off and put on something else, she wouldn’t have him
stinking up the car like that. The boy had seen them arguing. She’d held her nose in
a way that he could only think of as theatrical, like something from an old black-andwhite movie. It was one of the few times it had prompted his father to say anything.
He’d said, “That’s what happens when a fatty marries a thinny, there’s always gonna
be a gulf. She will hate him til the day his heart stops beating because of all the fat
he shovels in that big fat mouth of his. And then after they put him into a big fat hole
in the ground she’ll be all weepy and desperate. It won’t make any sense to her, all
those years they put up with one another. And why? Because they’re lonely, that’s
why. It’s the only explanation.”
Usually when he spoke to adults the boy got nervous; he’d say please and thank
you too much and would feel embarrassed about it afterwards. But with the obese
7-Eleven manager he felt he could say just about anything. He didn’t feel the need to

Grub Street 79

say please or thank you, even when he was on his own like today, and part of him
wanted to snap his fingers at him and abuse him. In a way he liked to be around
him, in all that heat and sweat. “A Slurpee, mister. The hottest you got. I’m dying of
hypothermia here.”
The obese manager worked the machine. “Hypothermia, huh? No really, it’s gonna
be a hot day today. There was a chill this morning but now the sun is up it’s getting
as hot as yesterday, if not hotter. You takin’ this out, or you sittin’ in? You know it’s
extra if you want to sit in.”
“Takin’ out.”
“That’s right. You don’t want to be sittin’ in on a day like this. They’re too mean
to put in air-con and then they think you ought to pay for the privilege. It’s hell on a
day like this, the fiery furnaces of hell. You don’t want to end up workin’ here. Instead
you work hard at school, you lay it all down, and you get to go to college. Otherwise
you end up in this stinking hell.”
“I don’t need your advice,” the boy said, snatching the carton. “What the hell
would I need your advice for?”
He sat on the pavement next to his bike, sucking the froth through a straw and
then lifting the small cubes of ice about an inch or two above the rim before letting
them fall. It occurred to him
that his father might pass by; he
you
l,
schoo
at
hard
work
you
ad
“Inste
worked in the feed store on the
edge of town but had to drive out
lay it all down, and you get to go to
this
in
up
to farms down in the valley. He
end
you
wise
college. Other
was always complaining that they
stinking hell.”
never gave him a tip, although
they were charged next to nothing
for delivery and it barely covered the gas. He’d seen him before, driving along, and it
always stirred in him a strange feeling like it was something he shouldn’t be seeing.
He stared along the road expecting a white dot that would become a pickup but there
was nothing but the haze lifting off the tarmac and the fields either side of it.
He tipped the dregs into his mouth, crunched the carton, and then saw him. He
was cycling so fast that his hair lifted in the wind he was making.
The boy got on his bike and pedaled hard, hoping to God that the chain would
not come off. He figured that if he kept ahead then the older boy would never catch
him. It even occurred to him that his father might drive by. He imagined him pulling

80 The Broken Chain Mike Clough

over, and there’d be a confrontation.
There was no name he had for this fear. It wasn’t like the fear you got before a
test when the teacher says it will determine your future. It wasn’t the fear you got
watching a horror. It wasn’t even the fairground fear of the ghost house or ride. All
of these fears he could control. They would coast over him. This fear was powerful.
It was as bad as when he had got lost in a storm and the search party found him
huddled under a tree; a fear where you knew life was in peril. It had him tingling all
over, out of breath. It sucked the air from his lungs, put lead in his legs.
He pedaled as hard as he
could but when he glimpsed
There was no name he had for this
behind he could see the older
boy gaining on him. The road
was flat and stretched far into
the valley. His mother had a job in the next town where she did filing for a lawyer
and answered his phone. The town was large and gray. It was the main town for
hundreds of miles, and there was a railroad running from it. You would not see it
until the track turned away from the hills, and then it was laid out before you like a
checkerboard: houses, factories, and offices. He pedaled hard, praying that the chain
would not come off.
The sun was high and it cut into his eyes. He chanced a look behind and saw that
the older boy wasn’t much more than ten yards. He could hear him panting, the hot
slap of tires against tarmac.
He pedaled harder than ever, so hard that it felt his legs were on fire
And then there was a familiar sound. He didn’t get off, he kept wheeling along,
and when he came to a stop he continued to straddle the frame.
There was no need for words. The sun beat down. Laughing, the older boy turned
and cycled away.
He looked along the road towards the town where his mother worked. He got off
his bike and saw that the chain was rusted and broken. He didn’t know what to do.
He could only think of his mother and father arguing, how she would come into his
room and sit on the edge of the bed.

Grub Street 81

fear.

Joel Allegretti

The Abortion
Let’s not
bury the evidence
in a dumpster grave
and perplex the raccoons
as their inquisitive paws
scavenge for taco shells.
Let’s not
immerse the shapeless error
in formaldehyde and store it
in a pathologist’s cabinet
like a pickled moon-eyed
alien on The X-Files.
Let’s, instead,
swaddle it in Plexiglas®
and put it on display
in the living room
as an objet d’art.
We’ll call it “Untitled.”

Air Jordanstein
JLaw
Digital print

82

Grub Street 83

Air Memory
JLaw
Digital print

84

Yeezy Rebirth
JLaw
Digital print

Grub Street 85

Bewildered:
An iPhonic Narrative
John Gillespie

< Messages

Ma

Details

Today 5:09 AM
Ma, I woke up last night and started crying on Maider’s
shoulder. She started to ask me, “Are you okay? What’s wrong?
What’s wrong?” At first, I couldn’t speak. I cried into her
shoulder, afraid to share the truth and mortified to continue
in secret. “My heart is beating fast,” I told her. “I’m scared,
Maider.” I hope that you don’t take anytime to tell me about
the dangers of sleeping with your girlfriend before you’re
married, because she was the only voice of reason at the
moment encouraging me to breath when it felt like my heart
was panting, begging for a chance to quit. She was the only
consolation, and besides that, I am messaging you because I
need to know very important information.

I want to know if you could read the doctor’s synopsis of my
Long QT syndrome. The paper is on the table in the living
room. I didn’t read it well. Selective perception. I focused on
the reassuring parts. To be reassured is to go on living in the
illusion of safety. The fragility of life is elegantly veiled behind
the illusion of safety. I am in constant search for the illusion
of safety. Even if I never believe I’m safe. Even if perhaps, as I
believe to be most likely, I am dying.

86

I need to know what number of the condition I have. There
are 17 possible genetic mutations. I’ve read that some are more
severe than others. By determining which one is mine, I can
prepare myself better for life, and everyone else can prepare
themselves better for my death. Preparation is knowledge and
knowledge has a keen way of making us feel better about life
and more evasive of death.
Ma, Maider has been telling me to just relax. She’s making
me breathe slowly, calmly, meditatively. I keep telling her I
need to pray; I haven’t prayed in a long time, but I always
want to when I feel like I’m dying. I guess this isn’t the best
time to tell you, but Maider isn’t religious at all and I’m only
religious when I think I’m going to die young. Only then
do I wish that I had never heard of Darwin, or sought out
education at a secular university, or read Sartre’s essays.
Only then do I believe in sin, the power of forgiveness, and
celestial sanctuary; only then do I want the kind of education
that makes us feel better about life and absolutely evasive of
death. That’s what religion does: it makes life more satisfying
and death unobtainable. It’s only when the rhythm of my heart
matches the synchronicities of the world that I can shred those
religious comforts. It’s only then that reason makes sense.
I’m feeling a little better now Ma. Something about writing,
even if it’s a text message, makes me feel better about this
heart condition and its potential repercussions. I think writing
has some form of infinity etched inside of it, and making your
way into the infinite is the confusion that eases all confusion.
That is why Heaven exists; it’s a confusing idea that absolves
all other confusion. I know you may disagree with much of
what I’ve said, but please love me enough to keep these text
messages if I die. I don’t want you to worry too much about
my condition or about my soul or about my sleeping with
Maider. I know you’ll tell me to relax and pray, but I just want

Grub Street 87

you to send me the doctor’s synopsis, and let me know if there
is anything else we can do.

You don’t know that Ma. You don’t know if I’m alright. You
want to have faith that I will be, but you don’t know that.

Today 6:10 AM
I apologize for the literary tone of my messages. I’ve heard that
Long QT syndrome can either be an unnoticeable dysfunction
or a silent killer, and when my heart started pounding I could
have sworn I was going to die. I don’t want my last words to
you to be whiny and sad; I want them to contain something of
substance, something you can share with Jerone so that he’ll
know that his brother believed in something. I love you Ma. I
am going to try to get some sleep now. Maider says goodnight.
Today 9:51 AM
JJ? Are you awake?
I called you twice. I’m trying to find out if everything is alright.
I messaged you on Facebook. It says you’re online. Are you
avoiding me?

JJ, your heart condition is controllable. It can’t be reversed, but
it can be controlled. You just have to believe.
I want to believe I know something about what is happening to
my body, what is happening to my heart, but I have nothing. I
only know that occasionally I can’t sleep because I’m terrified
that I won’t wake up. I only know that when my heart is
palpitating, I imagine that it’ll only be a matter a time before
the palpitations cease, and a permanent stoppage will take its
place.
You’ve had a life of the perfect illusion: certainties, faith and
God. You’ve had a long life. You’ve had the bliss of ignorance,
and I’ve been dropped into an incomplete knowledge of an
absurd condition.
Why are you talking this way? Why are you saying this to me? I
am your mother!

Are you alright?
JJ respond or I will have to call the police to check up on you.
Today 11:43 AM
Yes. I’m awake now. Ma, I’m sorry about all that stuff I was
sending. I was scared. I’m afraid of the catastrophe Ma.
What are you talking about? Everything is going to be alright.
We are going to work this all out. I am contacting your doctor
now.

88 Bewildered: An iPhonic Narrative John Gillespie

Despair, Ma, have you ever felt despair? An inevitable despair?
I feel it every day, looming over my chest and caving it in. I
put my faith in Maider. But who knows, maybe she’ll leave me.
Maybe she’ll fear exactly what I fear and be brave enough to
save herself from the feeling of grief if I die. I’m sorry, Ma, but I
am afraid, and fear and faith cannot live together. What is faith
if it is poisoned by the fear to jump, to run, to lift, to leap, to
love, to live? Faith is hoping tomorrow will come, and that is it
all I believe in Ma until this heart stops, that is all I believe in.

Grub Street 89

Okay JJ.
Okay?
Yes, okay you’ve got it all figured out now—so it’s fine.

I am going to set up an appointment for you in Baltimore just
like last time. It’ll be at Johns Hopkins. The doctor will explain
the synopsis and answer any questions you might have about
your heart condition. I have to straighten things out with our
insurance and you will be scheduled for your appointment
immediately. You don’t have to worry about that.

Today 2:00 PM
Ma I don’t have it figured out.
You seem to. You’ve got love, life, God, knowledge, religion,
preparation, everything just about figured out it seems like to
me.
No, Ma, I am confused. I am worried. I don’t have anything
figured out. I don’t know anything, and that’s what worries
me the most.
Today 6:00 PM

But you will. See JJ, the thing is exactly that, you will. You
will die. You will sleep with your girlfriend at college when
I am an hour away from watching over you. You will meet
someone who loves you enough to console you while you’re
crying because of all the fears you have about one genetic
mutation. You will get the knowledge you seek about this
heart condition. And you will, if you keep faith, make it to
Heaven. God knows, I know. I don’t care if you believe in this
moment or not, but I do believe that we return to truth in our
despair. Truth will bring you into despair and truth will take
you out. That’s why you pray when you cry because the truth
of your death is a despair that can only be alleviated with the
truth of Him who gave you life.

Ma?

Ma?

I’m not going to sit around and let your fears get in the way of
your sanity, and your foolishness get in the way of truth. So, I
will pray and I will cry every night until you come home and
say, “Ma, I’m not afraid to go at any time because God is going
to take care of me.”

Ma, please answer me? Please, it’s getting late.

Thank you Ma.

Ma?

I woke up this morning with my heart racing and a chest
piercing pain that felt like a stabbing in the heart. I was
in bitter confusion, absolute bewilderment, indescribable
disarray. Maider held me, and I almost felt ready to die in that
moment; but the word that spun around my head, that made
the thought of death so uncomfortable, so unbearable in that

Ma, are you there?
Please don’t do this to me Ma.
Ma?

Today 8:30 PM
The doctor’s synopsis says a lot of things that are very difficult
for me to understand.

90 Bewildered: An iPhonic Narrative John Gillespie

Grub Street 91

moment was the word “sinner” and for some reason it was
so compelling to me because I had told myself that I didn’t
believe in sin. I didn’t believe in believing, and I didn’t believe
I was capable of sinning. The word came to me as if out of
my subconscious, as if it formed as a response to my anxiety,
my agony. That’s why I began to think that sin was not what I
thought it was. Sin is bitter confusion, absolute bewilderment,
indescribable disarray. Sin makes death sting, it makes death
unbearable for believers and non-believers alike. Doctors
make things less confusing, less sinful; good girlfriends make
things less confusing, less sinful; writing makes things less
confusing, less sinful; friends, family, religion, purpose, caring,
loving—all make things less confusing, less sinful. I love you
Ma, not only because you are my mother and you care about
me, but because you help clear me of my sins and you make
death feel more bearable.
I love you too. Everything is going to be alright. I promise you.
I’ll pray for you and I’ll promise you; everything is going to be
alright.
I hope so, Ma. I really do.

Al Maginnes

Guardian
I, who was absent from the coupling that made you,
who, on the day of your birth, stood unsuspecting,
my shadow a simple blank, a self I can’t help seeing

as empty now, I will forever feel the ghost-membrane
of that woman—a girl, really—and the young man
who made you and then, in sacrifice too great for human praise,
trusted you to strangers on the thin rope, the pious
assurance that the child could be delivered to a life of classrooms,
of air conditioners, the milk and vegetables we can offer.
It is no small thing to make a child. Or to raise one.
The week after bringing you home, I sat bolt upright,
cradling you in the position that would let you sleep.
If I nodded into my own half-dream, if I slipped off
my moorings, your screams tore both of us back
to wakefulness. Your appetite was for the soft organs,

the tarnished lungs, the recalcitrant liver, the long mile
of intestine before you reach the underside of the heart, which beats
too soft for our notice, though mine must have hummed some trance
for you when your sweat-humid face pressed my skin, as though what lay under
could be tasted, taken like communion wafers between the lips,
like crumbs of ice I gave you once when you fevered, unable to sleep,

92 Bewildered: An iPhonic Narrative John Gillespie

Grub Street 93

stranded beyond any real comfort I could give. No longer guardian
of sleep, I could only whisper the reassurances I crooned
on the plane from Guatemala when you screamed with the pain
of an ear infection we didn’t know you had. I felt your forehead
as I always do, reflex of every parent against
the fear that lies, live as electricity, in our bodies. After you wept
into damp sleep, I lay beside you, blood heavy as tar, body sluggish
and primed for a butcher. The fever would course through you
as they all do, your body a way station, a port where
passengers without tickets dream new destinations. Before
I was used to saying your name, when you were a smile
in photographs, before I coaxed you with fruit or spoonfuls
of soft egg, it was clear you would be no footnote
or happy ending, but a story built to parallel mine,
the story this body came out of the shade to tell.

Cumulus Congestus
Helen Bell
Digital painting

94 Guardian Al Maginnes

Grub Street 95

How to Go Hiking in
the Adirondacks
Olivia Godwin

It’s likely that you’re going to plan this trip at the end of the summer, when your travel
fund is as bone dry as the Mojave in June.
“Honey, shouldn’t you be saving money for school?” your mother asks on one of
your Sunday visits.
“I’m fine. Besides, I need this trip. This summer has been so stressful. I need to get
away, to relax.”
You’ve actually spent the entire summer vacationing in several cities, located in
multiple countries, but you justify to yourself that this is a vacation to unwind after
all of your other vacations. A low-key vacation, in the kind, nurturing arms of Nature.
It will do wonders for your psyche, and help you transition smoothly into the school
year. Choose Lake Placid because it sounds, well, placid.
Do not worry too much about whether you have the proper gear: the other
hikers may have Gore-Tex boots that keep out rain, snow, heat, and pestilence, but
your sweatshirt brings out the brown in your eyes, so you’re coming out on top.
You want to go for a minimalist aesthetic this time around. When you backpacked
the Maryland portion of the Appalachian Trail, Tee laughed at you and Steph. You
sweat and swore your way down the trail as you lugged a backpack the size of a
baby pachyderm, containing things like five jackets in varying shades and textures,
waterproof matches, regular matches, a tent (what if the shelters had spiders?), a bottle
of Riesling, watercolor paints and paper, and three novellas by Steinbeck, Hemingway,
and Michaels, respectively. Not this time. This time, you’re bringing a water bottle, a
granola bar, and yourself. How romantic, you think, just you and the fresh mountain
air, the feeling of being one with Mother Earth, tapping into your primal, early-Man
self… Stop daydreaming. It’s three in the morning, and you need to be up at six to
drive the eight-hour slog up to Lake Placid.
A couple days later, on the day of your hike, don’t decide which mountain to

96

climb. Preparation takes the excitement out of things. Instead, just start driving from
the cozy Airbnb home you booked, and stop at the first trailhead you find. Don’t even
consult Greta, your host, even though she lives here and hiking is as natural to her
as breathing. Why bother? You are an adventurer, like Columbus, sailing into foreign,
uncharted waters. A sense of direction, organization, or even a map would hinder
this feeling. You end up stopping at the Cascade trailhead, or at least, you think you
do, but when you set out into the woods you see a big red sign with white lettering
stating, “Cross-country skiing only.” You stop and look around, suddenly feeling like
the forest is watching you. People cross-country ski up Cascade? Are they for real?
You wander back out to the parking lot, feeling like the wind has been knocked from
your sails, when you see a fit, active-looking family in matching flannels heading into
the woods a hundred yards down. You confidently head in their direction, acting as if
that had been your plan all along. Keep up this false confidence; it’s going to come in
handy later.
Decide that the forest has eaten that family, because by the time you get to the
trailhead, they are nowhere to be seen. If you’re being honest with yourself, this forest
does look like a throwback to the Cretaceous period, with everything dripping in
moss, ferns, and lichen. There might be dinosaurs still lurking here, for all you know.
This feeling unnerves you
slightly, and you decide
Strike out faster in case the
to write your name on
songbirds start laughing at you.
the stiff, dampened-dried
paper of the log book
posted at the trailhead. You know, just in case.
Panic excessively every time you hear a noise. There are thousands. Squirrels
frolicking in last autumn’s leaves sound like bears lumbering towards you. Birds flitting
through the upper reaches are easily arrows from some brutal hunter. The squelching
of your Nikes in mud is actually from a pair of phantom Nikes behind you, the ghost
of Cascade waiting to snag unsuspecting hikers. All this panic and tension should build
quite nicely, culminating in you running headlong into a wisp of spider’s web and
uttering an ungodly shriek. Realize that it’s just a spiderweb, and start to feel a little
silly. Strike out faster in case the songbirds start laughing at you.
Farther along the trail, take advantage of a moment to salvage what little pride you
can, by judging the hikers a few yards ahead. They’re wearing their school uniforms—
wait, what? Their school uniforms? And Converses? What is this, an end-of-school

Grub Street 97

picnic? Laugh at them in your head, and then nod in that hiker’s way as you pass them.
“Morning.”
“Good morning!” they say in unison.
“Wow, she must do this all the time,” the pony-tailed girl says to the plaited one,
as you begin negotiating the boulders up ahead. “She started way behind us and she’s
lapping us.”
Think to yourself that if they hadn’t picked such ridiculous getups that they would
be much farther along. But hey, their poor choices become your chance to feel false
confidence, so whatever.
Stop for a moment to pull out the water bottle from your fashionable cognac leather
backpack. Immediately resume without getting the water bottle when you hear other
hikers not too far behind you. Stopping is a sign of weakness, and they will judge you
for hydrating yourself. Repeat this process at least five times until your tongue feels
like parchment paper, and you begin to feel like little atom bombs are being dropped
inside your skull. Finally, hide behind a spruce tree and take a quick swig. Hurry back
out onto the path as if nothing has happened. Judge the family sitting on the fallen
birch logs as they eat their turkey jerky and drink Powerade. Those sissies.
Start to complain to yourself, stream-of-consciousness style, once you’ve hit the
rock scramble. Talking out loud and swearing profusely will intimidate the boulders
into submission.
“Stupid fucking rocks, damn stupid awful rocks, God when will this be over, this
was such a shit idea, goddamn these rocks…” You stop when you see a fit, tan couple
in spandex and thermal jackets going down the rock scramble. Remember, everyone
else on the trail is your competition, and you cannot show weakness. You pass them,
hopping sprightly from rock to rock like a rabbit on caffeine.
“Morning.”
“Morning.”
Take up where you left off once they’re out of sight.
Divide your time spent on the trail into different trains of thought, in no particular
order: what you’re going to eat when you get back, why you didn’t bring more than
just a granola bar, why you only brought one bottle of water when you’re not even
to the summit and it’s already half empty, why the sky is blue, why your sweatshirt
is blue, what social media has done to the values of society, what this hike is doing
to your pride and integrity, and why forests aren’t outfitted with toilets and air
conditioning. Spend as much time as you need on each subject but make sure to

98 How to Go Hiking in the Adirondacks Olivia Godwin

interject these thoughts with lots of complaints. Oh, and threats to the flora and fauna
of the Adirondacks, because the moss obviously made itself slippery this morning in the
hopes you would trip, the rocks re-piled themselves on the trail so you would have to
haul your ass over them, and the goldfinch is clearly warbling only because it knows it’s
driving you batty.
Allow yourself to be overly
excited when you begin to see
You’ve made it. You’ve won. You
patches of blue sky through the
intrepid wanderer! You mighty
treetops and feel the breezes of
hiker, conqueror of the woodlands,
the open mountain face. The
majestic scaler of rocks and timber!
summit must be just around
this bend. No, just over these
boulders. Or maybe through
this copse of trees? Hate yourself for getting excited when you see the wooden sign
posted in the dirt, “Cascade Summit, 2.5 miles.”
Debate the merits of throwing yourself into the pine needles and allowing the
beetles to feast on your exhausted flesh, when, all of a sudden, you see it. The end.
The summit. Joy floods through your blood vessels, boosting you up and over the final
stretch of rocks and bringing you into the wonder that is bright sunshine, blue skies,
and swaying tree tops. You’ve made it. You’ve won. You intrepid wanderer! You mighty
hiker, conqueror of the woodlands, majestic scaler of rocks and timber!
Notice the couple that is sitting on a rock slab above you, enjoying the last bits
of their Cliff bars. The man holds the leash of a stoic-looking German shepherd. The
woman still has her pack strapped to her back, a sturdy, heavy-looking thing. And,
strapped to her chest is a baby, a chubby, human baby. They towed themselves, their
packs, and two other living things up this God-forsaken mountain.
“Should we do Porter after this? That guidebook said it’s a less-crowded view,” the
man asks.
The woman, finishing her Cliff bar, stretches her leg in that confident-athlete way.
“Yeah, let’s do it. It would be a nice cool-down hike. Are you ready to head out?”
The man rises, gently tugging the dog’s leash. “Yup. Come on, Prince. Atta boy.”
They head back down the mountain.
Become painfully aware of your pride and confidence tumbling down the mountain
face, like so many tiny pebbles.

Grub Street 99

Al Maginnes

My Country
My country is the billow of breath-steam
flaring from the shotgun-barrel-sized nostrils
of a carriage horse in front of the Peabody Hotel.
It is the river that runs treacherous
and full of stories a few blocks west, rolling over
soft crusts of boat hulls, the pitted marbles
of bone. A fishing lure dangles from a branch
thick as a broken finger, a pendulum keeping time
over the small creek. An oil stain on pavement,
a wine bottle shattered to claws of green glass.
My country is lightning on the horizon, thunder
calling long distance, smell of rain like a light beam
over a dark field. It is the lamb led from
the herd, abandoned to the appetite of wolves.
Heedless, it survives and finds its way back
to the tribe. In fall, blood-smeared wool will
be taken. My country is a rock and a breath of wind,
a dream of steel and steel itself. The shaking hand
of a friend who said “I’ll be all right” so often
it was clear he would not be. My country is
the light we hid from when we crawled
into culverts to drink warm beer and stare
into a sky until we could pretend
the rip-rap laid down for drainage was a footpath
to lead to the shifting border of the moon.

100

Thanksgiving Morning
Gillian Collins
Oil

Grub Street 101

Timothy Dodd

The Wrong Way is
Richmond
Give me that gut for the regret.
Or horsehair, twine.
Got to say what history never tell
over the moans and under the wail.
Yes, for that taste of gold I entered their mines
and for sweet messy Morganna came out blind.
For a few two bits I’ve played them medicine shows
and picked under the stares of Culpeper’s Courthouse.
But with tire come ruin, and forgotten are the fields to guide.
Trees axed and soil grubbed, no place left to hide.
I tried for west, the thirty-mile bridge to backcountry again,
but I failed to inhale them melodies of Old Rag Mountain.
Instead I sit pressed to this cold cell,
the walls holding my hands of hell
from sliding down the neck,
from turning devil eyes to gold.
If I killed that old woman of mine,
let not the reason bind.
Sometimes an axe feel like a banjo,
and at the whipping post, song is vine.
Yes, I made it to Cripple Creek.
Don’t let my legs deny what the eye can’t see.
New York man tell me this one sacred, this one profane.
But they all the same to me. 

102

Epistle of St. Luke
Matt Prater

Dear Charlie (and let your sisters see this, too, if you think it’d be useful):

I wanted to thank you again and let you know just how much I appreciated
you feeling like you could be so open with me when we had just met. It really
was so good to meet you at our conference last week, and I’m glad we got to
talk about your life. I hope you do find a way to make the decision you feel’s
going to be right about moving or staying. All I would say is you can’t feel guilty
about using a gift. If there’s somewhere you have to go to do something you
were meant to do, and you were really meant to do it, the people that care about
you will understand that. I know it doesn’t seem like it right now, from what
you’ve told me. But trust me, they’ll come around.

And don’t think, by the way, that just because it’s not something that I would
do right now, at this point in my life, doesn’t mean it might not be right for you.
I mean, I wasn’t even torn when I was your age; I mean, hell, I’m not that old
now, but… If you could have been where I was when I was where you are…
Hell, I couldn’t have got out of where I was fast enough.

I mean, my growing up was a whole strange mix of things. I don’t want you
to get the wrong idea; we weren’t poor, but you could tell we didn’t always have
exactly everything we wanted. I mean, our kitchen was always a little cold, and
there was always just a little bit of dry rot on the edges of that fake linoleum.
But at the same time, I had my own truck since I was fourteen years old. I mean,
it was an ’87 Mazda, but it was still a truck. My dad wasn’t a monster, wasn’t a
drunk, never hit my mother, always had a job, always treated me well, bought
her things when he could. She worked; she cooked and did old-fashioned mom
things, too. We were never dysfunctional.

But, yeah, there was always something.

I mean, my dad was good to me, you know? I remember one day he
brought me a guitar, a nice one, out of the blue and really for no particular
reason, just ’cause I’d mentioned it offhand a couple of weeks before. I’m sure
he knew I’d never really play it, but though he didn’t really have the money to

Grub Street 103

afford it, and though I’d told him, in one of my drunk sneakings-in that summer,
that I didn’t want to listen to a man who made less in an hour than me (I worked
part time my whole way through school), even though his weeks were sixty-five
hours and mine were just fifteen—one day he just comes in and hands it to me
and says, “I’d heard you mention something about this and I thought you might
like it,” and just went on about the whole rest of the day like that was nothing. I’ve
never known, really, what to do with that.

Whether any of this applies to you or not, I don’t know, but… Maybe it’d help
to know it. And by the way: you need to stop worrying that you’ve turned out
alright just ’cause you ain’t broke the bankroll yet. You’re doing a lot better than
most of my friends did when we were twenty. I mean—and I can remember this
exactly and tell you what’s happened to every one—there were sixteen boys out
of a class of forty-five when I graduated. All of us, by coincidence, had prophets’
names: three Daniels, one Amos (we called him Pigeon), two Jeremiahs, one Cole
surnamed St. John (the Baptist), one Micah, one Ezekiel (Zeke), two Zachariahs
(Zack and Zak), one more for each of the gospel writers (me included), and a Peter.

Daniel and I went out working in the mines in east Kentucky, and he was
making good money for a while actually. But then he had an accident, and now
he’s on workman’s comp, and he’s trying to go back to school and get on with the
police force. Daniel II joined the Army Reserves to pay for school; after he finished
his associate’s, he spent two spring breaks in Fallujah. Daniel III went to school on
a scholarship but got his third strike sophomore year at a party when he punched
his girlfriend.

Pigeon (Amos) came out better than the average. He owns a sandblasting
outfit-slash-garage, and gets to work with old muscle cars and big industrial
vehicles. He likes his work.

Jeremy, too, went working in the mines—him in West Virginia. But he’s doing
alright with it, from what I’ve heard. His company follows all the regulations, for what
that means. He even got to get in the newspaper for getting a reclamation award.

Jeremiah got in trouble with drugs. Got out, then got back in trouble again. I
saw him the other day and, yeah, he’s pretty thin.

Cole St. John got a forestry degree and works in wildlife management at
Jefferson National Forest.

Micah teaches school at Bland Middle and coaches eighth-grade girls’
basketball and JV high school baseball.

104 Epistle of St. Luke Matt Prater

Zeke manages a Pizza Plus in Beckley, West Virginia.

Zack died in an accident in his tractor-trailer when he was driving back from
Ohio on 77.

I’m still working at Niswonger.

Matt teaches English at Milligan; son of a bitch is dating an LPGA golfer.

Mark died. I don’t know where Zak is—maybe Florida.

John went to Virginia Tech and got a BA in Ag Ed and an MBA and now
he works part time as the middle school ag teacher and handles the money for
his family farm; they do all the grass-fed beef for the restaurants in Boone and
Abingdon and Bristol and Wise and Roanoke and some other places, too.

My point is, you don’t know how you’re going to end up; not all of us
that ended up well started out well; and not all us that had problems, well, had
problems. It’s complicated. If you can manage to keep your head above the whole
fray (and you are, whether you think you are or not), just keep going. When I
was in high school, I was the eccentric kid with the fedora and the suit coat, the
one who listened to vinyl records and brought weird things to school and didn’t
really fit in any group and didn’t have a lot of girlfriends and didn’t like the fact
he came from where he came from. But you know what? It turned out okay. Now
I’ve got an NP and a big pickup truck, and I’ve worked with kids with leukemia
and all other kinds of problems, and sometimes I’ve been able to help them. But
I had to go away and realize I was miserable before I could come back home and
start my work. And I’ve still not come back, really, all the way. Maybe with you,
it’s different… Maybe you hate away like I hated home, and maybe you’ve got to
take some push, and you’ll find that where you’re supposed to be is out away from
home. Or maybe not; maybe you are supposed to stay. But you’ve got to try it, I
think, or else you’re never going to know.

I’m getting all preachery and dad-talk on you, I know, so I don’t want you to
think I think I got it all figured out. I don’t think any of us are ever going to figure
it out. I mean, take me and Pigeon for example. I drop by his shop the other day—
my dad needed me to take his truck and get tires done and all that—so while his
guys are doing the rotating I go on and talk to him and just wanting to see what
he’s been up to. “Hand me that box of piston gaskets,” he says; and I do, although
I only know which box is which because all of them are labeled.

So we get to talking about this engine he’s been fixing. Apparently, some
asshat from Ohio was down here on vacation, heard about the Street Fights at

Grub Street 105

Thunder Valley, went down, and got his ass, quite literally, smoked. So he hears
about Pigeon, and brings his car down for a repair, which Pigeon usually enjoys
doing more than just about anything. You get him on the weekend, you know, or,
hell, take him to a strip club and he’s still talking to the dancers about transmissions.
But this time, and so pretty soon I realize something is up, he really doesn’t seem to
into it, you know?

“I heard him say something about C.J.’s teeth,” he tells me finally. “And he was
talking on his cell phone for twenty minutes while I was trying to ask him questions,
and before he let us touch his car he had to take everything in it out—sunglasses,
magazines, empty bottles—and he’s just standing there with his arms full for half an
hour, and he won’t sit down. Finally I tell the guys to start laying transmission boxes
in all the seats so that he can’t sit down even if he wants to. I’ll tell you what: he’d
better be glad jackass money spends as well as regular or else I’d be doing more to
him than I’m going to.”

Still, before I can find out what that is, though, C.J. (whose teeth are coffee
yellow, maybe, but no more) comes over and tells me they’re finished and gives me
the bill. I tell Pigeon I’ll see him later and hop out without him finishing the story.
Two weeks later, though, I’m back at the shop (this time I have to bring my own
truck in for inspection), and while I’m waiting for them to finish Pigeon hollers me
over to his desk.

“Hey, you want to see what I did to that guy?” he asks and pulls a merchant’s
copy bill slip off the nail. It looked as regular as any other piece of paper would to
me, of course, so I ended up having to ask him what it meant. “You see that two
dollar charge under the muffler, right there? Muffler was the only thing in the car
that was still working.” Of course, it took me two more weeks to figure out just what
that meant, until I couldn’t stand the stink anymore in my own truck and found the
Scotch tape and the fish bones fall out when I sprayed the undercarriage. “Yeah, but
I didn’t charge you for it, ’cause you’re my friend,” he said when I bitched to him
about it afterwards.

I mean, what am I to take from all of that? Am I an insider or an outsider or
what? The truth is, I don’t know. I think that’s maybe both of our problems, when
we get down to it. But the more I start to think about it, the more I think we’ve got
to be comfortable with the fact we’re not ever going to know. Like, my dad called
up the other day to ask me and my daughter over. He isn’t dying yet, and I haven’t
moved that far away, and we never were estranged enough to be estranged, even

106 Epistle of St. Luke Matt Prater

though sometimes the two of us are quiet around each other and it can be pretty
weird. My mom—and she isn’t dying either—had kvetched at him until he bought
some wood screws and said that he’d unsqueak the bathroom jams. He called and
asked if I would hold the door up and hand him screws (and listen to him bitch)
while he fixed the doors, though I could have done the work myself, and though
he always bitches when I help him as much as he did when I made my first potato
bin and onion shelf—or at least tried to make one—which my mother took potatoes
from, and fried them, with creasy greens and unburnt bacon on the side, and made
us stop our work to eat them when she’d finished, and didn’t make us wash our
hands (or make me pray).

So I know this life isn’t everything I’ve ever wanted. If you asked me if I was
happy, maybe it’d depend on the day if I would tell you yes. But I keep a few
things in a cheap little safe—birthday cards and small tools, stuff like that. My high
school baseball uniform. And I call my parents more than once a week (I don’t think
everybody does that anymore, even around here), and I’m home at least four days
a month. And I called it home, I notice; I still do that. And I’m not really ashamed
anymore of much about where I come from.

I thought I was. I told myself I was. But—no.

You remember that old guitar I was telling you about? You know the one my
dad had bought me? It’s still sitting in a closet in my old room at home. When
we were there last visit, I was talking to my folks and Emily was in there playing,
looking around. So after a while I hear this music coming from in there, like actual
music, like she can play the thing, you know? I mean, Emily is seven, and nobody’s
ever taught her how to do that, and least so far as I can tell. You know, at least I
haven’t. So I come in there, really actually a little curious to see what she’s up to.

“Whatcha doing, buddy?” I ask her.

“Nothing, buddy.”

“Do you want to take it home with you?”

“No. I don’t want to take anything from Paw Paw’s.”

“But it’s mine, buddy. You can have it if you want it.”

“But we don’t live here.”

“Yeah, buddy; yeah we do. We live here just as much as we live at home.”

It was the first time in years I’d heard myself thinking like that out loud. Didn’t
even really know I thought it, to tell the truth. But I guess I do. I said it; I wasn’t lying.

Now do not get me wrong: I do NOT want her going to my high school. And

Grub Street 107

then again, well, then again maybe I do. I’ve seen a lot of people that haven’t turned
out well, and I can tell you for a God-damned fact growing up how they did had
something to do with that. But then, same town, same street, no more money and no
more luck, and it’s a different story. I remember Cole, when we were growing up,
hell, we looked like millionaires to him. I said that only ’cause he had said that to
me one time when I was whining about being a poor kid.

Like I said, what all of this means I really couldn’t tell you, because I really
haven’t figured it out myself. But I do feel like I’m part of something, like there’s
some person I’m supposed to be and place I’m supposed to be it in. Or maybe not
in, but at least from. Pigeon—you know I guess if I had any friend in this world,
then it’s probably him—told me once about somebody, “that boy don’t walk out his
own front door every morning’s his problem,” which I didn’t get at the time because
I thought he was being literal. And because I didn’t realize that he was really trying
to talk to me about myself. But I think I get that now—or I’m getting closer. I’m
nowhere near where I want to be yet, but I think I’m starting to get to like coming
from the place I do.

As for you, I can’t really tell you what I would or wouldn’t do. But I wouldn’t be
afraid to be wrong. Some of the best things in my life have come from being deadass
wrong. I got a daughter ’cause I picked the wrong woman to be with for the rest of
my life. I’ll take that. It doesn’t mean my ex-wife’s not still absolutely insufferable,
but I’ll still take it. And when you mess it up (and trust me, you’ll mess it up), you’ll
end up finding the thing you were supposed to find in it, and you’ll be able to take
it all eventually, too.

Take care, and please do let Brently know I was thinking of her. She was my
best friend when we were in clinicals together at Vanderbilt, and if you get the
chance you really should spend some time with her.

Dr. James, too.

Again, be well; you’ll make the right decision, even if you have to make the
wrong one first.
With love,
Luke
(P.S. Your sister was right: a little red meat isn’t going to kill you, and you need
the iron, especially as much as you work out.)

108 Epistle of St. Luke Matt Prater

Liz N. Clift

Plastic Jesus,
Among Driftwood
I wonder how He wound up there,
sprawled next to a twist
of yellow rope,
spring beneath His feet
not even rusted, hands pressed
in prayer
for the weary traveler
or perhaps the oceans
or the swift end
to tumbling in waves,
to snagging in kelp.
Perhaps He wanted, instead,
to be swallowed
like Jonah
by a large fish,
like the beaked whale
that washed up
in Puerto Rico
with 10 pounds of plastic
lodged in its belly,
or maybe Jesus
is just looking
for someone to pick Him up,
or maybe He just wants
someone to dry Him out
because He got drunk
on altar wine
when He learned
He could no longer walk
on water.
Grub Street 109

Jordan Wilner

Tangier
We Watermen, we island-bred,
bleed brackish water in blood’s stead
and mark our graves with our grandfathers’ names
in the same black mud that our grandfathers claimed
and made their homes and dying beds.
But now our children turn their heads
and sail for cities grand instead,
and from the ferry rails disclaim
we Watermen.
Our one-room schoolhouse has been bled,
the crabber’s child has been misled
while bare traps dangle from feeble frames
of shanties to which none lay claim
but we Always-Dying, we Never-Dead—
we Watermen.

Flight by Gillian Collins, Oil

110

Grub Street 111

ts
oe
nP
To
ws
o

sm

an

ub

Str

ee

tW
it

Ta
li

Discovering who we were; finding who we are.

et
e
r
t
S
Grub

Gr

ation

ublic

The P

Encompassed

s
Tower

This project reflects and commemorates seven decades of literary
magazines at Towson University, starting with the 1950s and ending
with the 2010s. We collected pieces that represent each decade,
that were published in Towson’s literary magazine during a particular
decade, or that illustrate the state of the magazine in that decade.

1950s

1950s
Athina Koulatsos is a graduate student at Towson University soon to complete her
degree in the professional writing program. Her poem, “Ode to Howl,” was published
in 2014’s Grub Street.

I was introduced to Allen Ginsberg’s epic
poem “Howl” in 2010 while I was living
in New York City during my freshman
year of college. I was deeply affected
by the intensity and the honesty of the
words Ginsberg offered his readers,
and I have grown more infatuated
with his work with each passing year.
Now, as a graduate student in my final
semester at Towson University, my
admiration of Ginsberg has expanded
to include his friends and colleagues
such as Lucien Carr, Jack Kerouac, and
William Burroughs. These writers spoke
of their experiences with unapologetic
authenticity and sincerity.
What I admire most about the work
these writers put forth in the 1950s is that
their writing was reflective of their lives,
and the truths the writers offered often

came with consequences. Ginsberg’s
“Howl” was confiscated, banned, and
even led to obscenity trials. Kerouac
wrote freely about the time Carr killed
a man. The artistic choices of these
men inspire me to write without fear.
Their confessional tendencies are still
admirable today, but when I think of the
gumption Ginsberg must have needed
in order to publish a poem that detailed
homosexual acts during a time period
when people were still being jailed for
those very acts, I often wonder how
anyone could ever produce another work
or collection of works as brilliantly or
courageously as he did. The bravery of
the Beatnik writers is what I find to be
most evocative about 1950s literature.
—Athina Koulatsos

Athina Koulatsos

Letter for Lucien Carr
Ten years ago, Donald Trump funded an extension of Riverside Park.
I wonder if he knew David Kammerer died there.
I didn’t know when I’d walk through the still trees
near the West Side Highway, 108th Street.
In the mornings, I could spot the usual suspects—
Carr, Kerouac, worm-eating warblers and hooded ones, too.
The birds and the boys are harder to see now
because of the “removal of invasive species,”
like Japanese knotweed, Norway maple,
the robins and jays have gone away.
The Hudson at 116th is often empty,
except for the occasional red-throated loon,
the star of the waters,
Kammerer’s keeper.
There is one loon I like in particular.
He often floats above the spot I imagine
Carr dropped Kammerer with rocks in his pockets.
“H” is not for “Hudson,”
it is for “honor slaying.”
Marion Howland wants the jury to know
it is never for “homosexual.”
Hush.
Lucien got to have a son, Caleb,
life is sometimes like that.
He got married, and I think of it every time
I look at Riverside Church’s bell tower,
where a peregrine falcon has lived for years.
I wonder what Caleb thinks of his father
for killing Kammerer in a dying park.
I wonder if the falcon’s great-grandfather saw it happen.

114

Grub Street 115

It was 1965, my last year in college. I
knew I was going to be a writer, even
though I hadn’t written a word. It was
the only thing I’d ever really wanted,
and it occurred to me that I had better
get started. The year before, I’d studied
Henry James with my great professor,
Frank Guess. I was filled with high
culture references and had become
something of a literary snob. Eliot and
James and Woolf were three of my gods.
I felt that normal people like my parents
were impossibly dull. I had even started
smoking a pipe! On the other hand, in
my private life, I was hanging out with
the wildest people in town. My friends
were musicians, like Dale Coleman, a
rock god, and Jim Sporrer, a hippie and
explorer of the new consciousness via
LSD, which was still legal. I was torn
between the whispers of high culture
and the underground world that was just
being born. “The Value of Evolon” is a
story that reflects both worlds. The hero,
Patch, heads out to find the real America,
but his snobbery and fear get in his way.

116

It’s told with irony and some humor.
I handed it in to the Talisman literary
magazine, and lo and behold, it won first
prize: 120 dollars from the Three Arts
Club of Homeland.
More importantly, winning gave
me the confidence to send the story to
novelist William Harrison at the new
graduate program in creative writing
at the University of Arkansas. Again,
I was floored to find out that my very
first tale had won me a full scholarship
to the program, as well as a teaching
assistantship. So, two years out of
school, I was teaching college and on
my way. Since then, I’ve had a terrific
career in New York and Hollywood as
a screenwriter, and I’ve published ten
books. It all started with this little story
that became the basis of my first novel,
Shedding Skin. I could have none of this
without my three great professors: Frank
Guess, Don Craver, and most of all, Ray
Franke, who was like a father to me.
—Robert Ward

Excerpt from “The Value of Evolon”
Robert Ward
Originally published in Towson University’s Talisman, 1965
He walked into the shopping district. The town looked like every other one he had
ever seen. And the sun was already unbearable. As he went by a clapboard clothing
store, Patch stopped and looked in the window. The clothes were even more boring
than the rest of EVOLON. In fact, they seemed to symbolize the monotony of the
place—work overalls, farm boots, handkerchiefs (red with white spots), etc. They
represented people who were small, who worked, slept, and prayed, then died. Patch
hurried on until he came to a restaurant called Rose’s Cafe. He pushed the door open
and went in. The place had no air-conditioning. Instead, two fans noisily screeched
away. He took a counter seat and surveyed the menu. It read, BREAKFAST SPECIAL—
TWO EGGS (ANY STYLE) AND THE FINEST COFFEE IN TOWN—$.85. A middle-aged
woman, with the usual weatherbeaten skin, came up and took his order. He sat there,
his mind on nothing, staring at the cereal ads. The door opened and an old bum on
crutches hobbled in. He badly needed a shave, his eyes were small and red, and he
smoked a cheap cigar that smelled horrible. Patch put his head in his hands. But the
old man moved only two stools away and immediately sized up Patch as a stranger.
“Hey you, son. You from round here?”
It was no use. He would have to talk with the old bum.
“No, I come from Baltimore.”
“Where?”
“Baltimore, you ever heard of it? You know, Maryland. It’s in the United States.”
“Ho, ho. I guess I never hearda that. No, I never hearda John Unitas or Lenny
Moore or that Oriole team with Brooks Robinson. Not much I ain’t.” He smiled widely
and gave Patch a friendly wink.
Patch put on his DISGUST look and turned away.
“Say, listen son,” the old man said as he moved over one seat, “I wonder if you
ever met any of them boys. You know any of them stars? I mean it don’t matter,
’cause even if you ain’t, you still got something there. Boy, I wish we had ’em here.”
“Yeah, old timer. We got somethin’ there all right.” The guy was really beginning to
get on his nerves.

Grub Street 117

1960’s
1960s

1960s

1960’s

Robert Ward is a Baltimore native and Towson University alumnus who worked on
the 1980s television show Hill Street Blues and was a co-executive producer of Miami
Vice. Ward has written for New Times Magazine, GQ Magazine, and Rolling Stone,
among other publications. The 1981 film Cattle Annie and Little Britches was adapted
from Ward’s novel of the same title. Ward lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Celeste.

118 1960s Robert Ward

1960s

1960s

“Well, I’ll say you have.” He moved over to the seat next to Patch. The fan blew
just enough breeze to make the cigar smoke go in Patch’s face. “I mean you got a
darn good team in all sports. Take that Lenny Moore for instance. He can fly with the
best of them. I once seen him dodge six guys in one run. And these was big guys…
tackles and guards…”
Patch interrupted the old man. “Would you let Lenny Moore go out with your daughter?”
“What…?”
“I said, would you let Lenny Moore take your daughter out? Or would you just let
him live here? Would you let him do that, old man?”
“Why… I don’t understand, young fella. I mean don’t he live with his wife in Baltimore?”
“You get it all right,” Patch was shouting now. “Don’t come off with the fake white
liberal bit to me.” Patch jumped up and started for the door.
“Wait a second, there, young fella. I didn’t mean to say nothing. What’s wrong?
What’d I do?”

Grub Street 119

Here are some memories of mine as the
first adviser of the Grub Street Wit and a
friend of the founders:
• The GSW originated in the eighteenthcentury British literature course
with the class’s high interest in the
century’s clear, balanced writing and
its enjoyment of satire. These interests
became the hallmarks of the magazine.
Pope, Swift, John Gay, Addison and
Steele, and Samuel Johnson appealed
for their wit and courage to mock
every folly. (Of course, some of them
walked armed in defense against
people they’d satirized. It was their
wit and style that the GSW’s writers
brought to the book.)

hunting ground for equal-opportunity
satire. (Political correctness and “being
offended” then were not defenses
against mockery.)
• The name Grub Street alludes to the
London street where many poor writers
lived. And Wit refers to the agile
mind and sharp speech valued in the
brisk thrust-and-parry of coffee-house
conversation and London newspapers
and magazines. The founders of
the GSW also wanted a logo/mascot,
and they chose it to parallel The New
Yorker magazine’s Regency dandy,
Eustace Tilley, with his top hat, cravat,
and monocle. (Those witty editors
may have had someone else in mind
as well, but that’s not for me to say,
though I have some strong suspicions.)
Those original editors and writers
of the 1970s and 1980s were stars in
Towson’s sky. To name just a few:
Fred, Tim, and Amy Hasson; Tom Troy;
Tom Brandau; Jamie Hunt; Michael
McCartin; Chris Walters; Christine Gregg;
Tom Hammond; Glenn Small; Quincey
Johnson; George Athas; Todd Ramsey;
Mollie Sprinkle; Erin Mackie; Fred
Asafo-Agyei; Terri Cofiell; and Lynn
Wiczkowski.
—H. George Hahn

• The early days of the GSW, like those
of eighteenth-century England, were a

The Fop

by Arthur Campbell

120

Grub Street 121

1970s

1970s

H. George Hahn II (Ph.D.) is a
Baltimore resident who teaches
English at Towson University and
is also the chair of Towson’s English
department. He has authored or coauthored five books, an abundance
of scholarly articles, and more than
sixty op-eds in various newspapers,
including The Baltimore Sun. In 2002,
the Sun quoted Hahn as saying he is a
“naturalized citizen of the 18th century.”
He is an expert in eighteenth-century
British literature, literary research,
war in literature, rhetoric, and writing
argument.

In the mid-seventies, I was an English
major at Towson University. My brother,
sister, and several friends also attended
Towson at that time—English majors
all. Sometimes I wrote articles for the
Towerlight, mostly book and movie
reviews. One day, Tom Troy, a reporter
for the Towerlight, approached me about
starting a campus literary magazine. This
seemed like a good idea, since everyone
I knew was a self-styled budding writer,
photographer, or artist. So I said okay.
We signed on a select group of
mutual friends. People I remember
are Chris Walters, Mike Reid, Arthur
Campbell, Michael McCartin, Jan Sherrill,
Steven Ciesielsk… For a faculty sponsor,
we enlisted the late Dan Jones, who at
the time was the chairman of the English
department. The new crew put together
the beginnings of a plan. The magazine
would have to be literary, maybe
even “artsy,” so as not to duplicate the
efforts of the excellent and widely-read
Towerlight. We’d publish fiction, poetry,
maybe reviews of “serious” books, timely
essays, and so on. And we’d shoot for

one issue per year. I believe we set
the goal at a relatively modest three
thousand copies for our first edition.
Then we learned on-the-job the
challenges of such an endeavor. Tom
Troy, the nominal editor-in-chief, did
the heavy lifting, which consisted of
wrangling funding from the Student
Government Association during a series
of contentious public discussions. We
were granted a small office in the Student
Union building. We put out a call for work,
which we advertised mostly on bulletin
boards and copier-printed signs taped on
various walls and trees around campus.
Still, we needed a name. At the time,
my friends and I were all enrolled in
Dr. George Hahn’s excellent eighteenthcentury British literature course. It was
an early-morning course, Monday/
Wednesday/Friday schedule, and Dr.
Hahn was our tour guide through
eighteenth-century London—the society,
the politics, the royal court, and, of
course, the coffee houses of Grub
Street. Dr. Hahn, always bedecked
in impeccable three-piece suits, held
court as much as he taught, showing
us around the world of Pope, Swift,
Addison and Steele, the epic poems, the
early novels, the coffee-fueled polemics.
So it was only natural that we
turned to eighteenth-century London
when it came time to name our own
nascent publication. Among the heroes

122 1970s H. George Hahn, Fred Hasson, and Quincey Johnson

and heavies of the Grub Street scene,
there were two figures who caught
our attention: the Wit and the Fop.
The Wit was known for his ability to
turn a phrase, sometimes known as a
lowly scribbler, sometimes a celebrated
social critic. The Fop, a common figure
in eighteenth-century literature (and
society), was a dandy, an overdressed
fashionista who aspired to wit and
generally put on airs, usually earning the
derision of the writers and readers alike.
We decided after some discussion
to name our magazine the Grub Street
Wit, though immediately and forever it
was referred to simply as the Wit. We
selected a suitable font for our cover
title and an artist friend designed a
graphic featuring an oil-fueled, handlit London street lamp, something that
was new to London and the world in
the Grub Street era. (Many think it’s
a gas lamp, but gas lamps did not
appear until the next century.) Finally,
another artist sketched out the Fop,
our cartoonish mascot of sorts, who
appeared here and there throughout
the magazine. Dr. Hahn later told me
that he always felt the Fop looked
suspiciously like him, but of course that
is something I’d never admit to.

Quincey Johnson is a Towson
University alumnus who has worked as
an editor at United Press International
and in media relations for National
Public Radio. Johnson is currently
the director of Professional and Legal
Studies at Towson and has been a
lecturer at the university for the past
nineteen years.
The Grub Street Wit in the late 1970s
and early 1980s did not have a working
editorial board. A group of students lead
by Christopher Scharpf, editor–in-chief,
brought the publication back to life. I
remember having a great time with the
highly creative Scharpf, Michael Martin,
Jeff Savoye, and Vicki Byard pulling
together stories, visual art, and poetry. 
  I loved the Winter 1983 edition that
included a parody ad imagining Francis
Ford Coppola as directing a movie
version of Paradise Lost. I remain proud
of the work we did and the literature
and art we published.
  —Quincey Johnson

—Fred Hasson

Grub Street 123

1970s

1970s

Fred Hasson is a Towson University
alumnus who worked on both Grub
Street and the Towerlight. Hasson
has worked as a freelance writer,
photographer, and editor. He manages
sales and marketing for Bike Doctor
Bel Air.

How did the Grub Street experience
change for students when the club
changed into an English class?
It was a change for the infinitely
better. First of all, the staff went from
being a handful of devotees to being
twenty to thirty strong. Instead of staff
trying to find a few minutes here and
there to work on the mag, they had an
hour-and-fifteen minutes twice a week—
with attendance taken by the editor!
People got grades for their work; a boon
for the hard workers and a definite
quality control for anybody thinking of
shirking. (People were known to get Fs.)

What was your Grub Street role, and
how did that change over time?
I started out as faculty adviser for a
sort of club, i.e., the small but devoted
GS staff. Because I have run a publishing
company off-campus for decades—was
doing so way back when I was asked
to take over GS by then-adviser George
Hahn—I realized that the mag could
be radically upgraded in format for a
reasonable price. At that time GS was a
student activity, so every year (through
my 2011 retirement!) we had to go to
the Student Government Association and
grovel to get funding. Now the Provost’s
Office pays for GS’s printing (the mag’s
only big expense).

«

Clarinda Harriss by Jasmine A. Harvey, Graphite pencil
Grub Street 125

1980s

1980s

Clarinda Harriss served as the adviser
for Grub Street from 1986 to 2010.
Currently, Harriss works as director and
editor-in-chief for BrickHouse Books,
which she founded. Harriss has penned
and published multiple collections
of poetry, including Dirty Blue Voice,
Air Travel, and Mortmain. At Towson
University, her name is synonymous
with the dedication and passion
required to edit and publish Grub
Street. Web Editor Jenna Kahn emailed
Harriss to ask about Grub Street over
the decades.

What advice would you give to students
who are inspired by your legacy?

What a joy it is to work with
TU students who are interested in
literature—a talented, dedicated crew. I
continue to use TU interns for work with
BrickHouse Books, Inc., my publishing
company (a nonprofit Maryland
corporation and Maryland’s oldest literary
press). Being a GS worker is one of the
highest recommendations an applicant
for the internship can have.

Work hard, be kind but useful in your
critiques of others’ work (and your own),
beware of in-groupishness, be aware
that any work with any publication will
bring you headaches, delight, deep
gratification, and rewards that are mostly
not monetary! Know too that your work
with Grub Street is solid gold when it
comes to job hunting, so in that sense
I guess GS does have some monetary
rewards. And on a more mundane note,
proofread, proofread, proofread.

1980s

1980s

What did you take from your time
overseeing Grub Street?

What is your most unforgettable
moment from your time working with
Grub Street staff?
Oh my, alas, that’s easy. Sitting among
the students/staff staring in stunned
disbelief at a tiny black-and-white Philco
portable TV (lent to me by my colleague
and friend Margaret Benner, TU’s chief
grammarian) watching the second of
the two Twin Towers topple–in real
time. I’ll never forget the look on Hilarie
Szczygiel’s lovely face (she was editorin-chief and was in front of the room
leading the group). Or any of the faces.
Later we all agreed we were blessed
to watch the horror among supportive
friends. Many had to watch it alone.

126 1980s Clarinda Harriss

Grub Street 127

In the post-grunge, pre-iPod span from 1997 to 1999, a swarthy, poorly dressed
character of suspicious design could be glimpsed traversing the campus of Towson
University, generally under the cover of darkness, wending a path between Tower
D and the cafeteria, his backpack full of chicken sandwiches, and with a black-andwhite string-bound composition book tucked under one arm. This was me at my
most austere (with the exception of a two-week period I didn’t leave my dorm room,
scribbling horror stories and sketching pictures on lined notebook paper that I would
ultimately tape to the wall above my bed). Yet I was summoned, somehow, to attend
a meeting of the Grub Street staff one evening. Memory recalls a dimly lit room,
some lukewarm soft drinks, and a cute, bosomy co-ed who was a bit too friendly.
A mediocre student at best, who’d spent more time skipping classes than studying
for exams, I was suddenly enthused by the prospect of working with my fellow
students to publish a journal of fiction, poetry, and artwork. I was writing constantly
at that time but had only been published twice before, so I saw Grub Street not only
as an outlet to possibly submit my own fiction but as an opportunity to learn from
my peers. I just barely recall from memory the fiction I had published in Grub Street
between ’97 and ’99, but I don’t have to remember—I still have the issues tucked
away in a steamer trunk in my basement. They’re not the high-quality publications
you see today—in fact, they’re every bit a relic of the late nineties, with poorly
transferred black-and-white artwork and basic font (at the time, I thought the glossy
covers were pretty cool, and I suppose they still are)—but they’re filled with a ton of
heart. Much like the mysterious jar I keep under my bed…
—Ronald Malfi

128

Excerpt from “Blue”
Ronald Malfi
Originally published in Towson University’s Grub Street, 1998
I don’t think that’s a story I’ll ever tell anyone—not even my wife. Some things are
ruined by words. I think that’s a story for my own mind to play with. In time, it may
come out, but for now, I’m satisfied with its confidentiality. So then I think back to that
night when Billy and the others locked Lucas in the janitor’s closet as if he were not
even a human being, and how they had simply gone back to the party and enjoyed
themselves all night, never once caring about what they had just done, only caring about
their friends and their grades, and getting scholarships to schools for playing basketball.
Yeah, well, Billy got his scholarship, as I have said. But he also died at thirty-two, having
been gunned down in a 7-Eleven by two young kids. He died thinking he was at the
top of the world, the greatest man alive, with a successful job and a good home life.
He died thinking that he had once killed a boy because he was different, and it never
bothered his soul one bit.
He died never knowing that I had gone back and unlocked the closet door.

Excerpt from “Burgers at Finn’s”
Ronald Malfi
Originally published in Towson University’s Grub Street, 1999
Outside the sky was a snapshot of bright, frightening colors seemingly enhanced a
thousand times over, just beyond the stretch of the horizon. It was like focusing in on
one tiny section of a giant oil painting. Almost directly above me loomed the largest,
blackest cloud I had ever seen, covering the key like a wet shroud, its perimeter rimmed
with fiery brilliance. It burned my eyes to look at it. I felt sick beneath the angry sky and
decided I would call Finn back and tell him I was not coming and that I would just stay
home and wait out the storm. Suddenly, I didn’t feel very much like hamburgers. But I
found myself climbing into my car anyhow. I had always been fickle.
After starting my engine, I clicked the tape deck on and listlessly cranked the volume
knob all the way to the right until my speakers began to rattle; the muddy air was laden
in hissing, droning bass so thick I could taste it like a sharp explosion of acid at the
back of my throat. I shut it off and heard it anyway for some time afterward.

Grub Street 129

1990s

1990s

Ronald Malfi is an award-winning author of several horror novels, mysteries, and
thrillers. He is the recipient of many awards including two Independent Publisher
Book Awards, and the Benjamin Franklin Award for Popular Fiction. His work has
been nominated for the Bram Stoker Award.

Will Fesperman won the Grub Street High School Creative Writing Competition in
2011 for his poems “Dog Poem” and “At Penn Station, A Monday In July” when
he was a student at Towson High School. During his time at Brown University, he
worked with American poet C.D. Wright and wrote for The Indy and The Brown
Daily Herald. Fesperman now teaches English in Spain. Because he came of age
in the first decade of the twenty-first century, Grub Street asked him for poems
suggestive of the decade.
I don’t know that much about South Beach, Miami, but I think lots of people have
written about Florida weirdness. Mid-Atlantic weirdness, not so much. In May the midAtlantic has a lot of static in the air. Toads are migrating. The plants are aggressive.
Postbellum, post-Jim Crow dirt, but still the weeds are Technicolor green by I-95. In
the woods you can feel the buzz of surveillance from the Capital.

Will Fesperman

South Beach
“Oh my god, the flip-” he said “flop trash,”
and I was thinking how the Earth
is four point five four billion years old or
one trillion six hundred billion something
days and “those bitchy South Beach gays,”
he said, and took off his Ray Bans and
dangling them stared, the sun is seven
hundred million years older than Earth and
it sprang to being when the gold god flexed

—Will Fesperman

Frequency

2000s

2000s

Are trees green at night
motioning shadow or
is night all yellow,
humming
the Waffle House electric
sign seen years ago, Virginia
through rain and
what color
is a whale’s lung
when it forms in another
whale underwater
on this Atlantic
night
and thinking this I felt
again and again this animal
pelt, afraid.

130

Grub Street 131

Chris Gaarde is a proofreader with Stansberry Research in Baltimore. He served as
Grub Street’s editor in the 2013-14 academic year.

Grub Street turned out to be one of my favorite college experiences. I was honored
to be given the opportunity to work so closely with some amazing writers and
artists. The experiences I had working on the magazine broadened my horizons and
expanded my love for literature even further than I thought it could go. I read short
stories, creative essays, and poems that I still think about today. I wonder where
some of my favorite characters ended up, and if they ever went on another adventure
across the page.
During my time at Towson University in the communications and English
departments, students were told constantly that our futures were going to be working
in online media. While working in the digital space opens up a lot of creative doors,
it was refreshing to know that with Grub Street we were creating something tangible.
Seeing our work in physical print is something I will always cherish.
The skills I used managing the magazine have helped me immensely in the
professional world. I am not currently working in publishing, but I am working for a
nonprofit, planning major fundraising events. The organizational, management, and
communication skills I used on the magazine are crucial in my daily job.
I am so grateful for my time at Grub Street, and I am so happy to see that it
continues to grow each and every year. It is a legacy that I am proud to be a part of!

Whenever I reflect on editing the 2014 issue of Grub Street, I can’t help but think how
lucky I was. I will be the first to admit that when I stepped into the role of editor, my
experience with creating a literary magazine was limited. I had been a student editor
for both semesters of Grub Street the year prior, but critiquing poetry and short fiction
hardly prepares you for the challenge of managing the creation of a magazine. I also
went into the position knowing that I wanted to do something entirely different with
the issue. I wanted it to stand on its own. And somehow, against all odds and in spite
of my limited experience, we created an issue that exceeded any expectations I had.
At the time, I was reading a lot of postmodern fiction: short stories by authors
like George Saunders and Nathan Englander. I liked poetry but rarely read it and
never wrote it. And my art knowledge was limited to an art history class I took in
community college. But I was hopeful that I would have a team of editors with
diverse backgrounds and points of view. Somehow, I ended up with editors that were
also photographers, singers, dancers, musicians, athletes, graphic designers—some
of the most creative and talented people I have ever met—a team that took on the
thankless task of reading and critiquing hundreds of poems, short stories, and works
of art in order to create a magazine that they hoped others would want to read.
Fortunately, the submissions blew us away.
One submission I’ll never forget was from writer Rick DeMarinis. I’m fairly certain
that the email said little more than, “My submission to Grub Street is attached,” but
our faculty adviser recognized the name and helped us determine that yes, this was
award-winning author Rick DeMarinis, and the story, about a woman raising an apelike child in Depression-era New York, ended up closing our issue. (We later learned
that DeMarinis decided to send us his submission simply because he was familiar with
Grub Street’s name!)
Today, two years later, I’m a proofreader for a publisher of financial newsletters.
The job isn’t nearly as difficult as editing Grub Street but it is enjoyable, and from time
to time I get to proofread original pieces from authors like P.J. O’Rourke. Would I be
here had I not had the opportunity to edit Grub Street? I can’t say for sure. But the
experience is one that I will never forget, and I can only hope the other editors of the
2014 issue are as proud of our magazine as I am.

2010s

—Susan Connelly

—Chris Gaarde

132

Grub Street 133

2010s

Susan Connelly served as editor for Grub Street’s 2013 issue. She works as a
community manager for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life.

Virgin

Flashlight

One Christmas, buried in my stocking beneath a new gel-handled hairbrush and a roll
of Sweet-Tarts, I discovered a silver circle. It was at least two sizes too small for my
chubby left-hand ring finger. My parents assured me they would get it resized to fit and
that we would have a conversation about what wearing this ring meant, what wearing
a “purity ring” meant. Neither of those things ever happened. The cheap metal clouded
over and left a green circle in the pink velvet of my ballerina music box. I was eleven
then. Until fourteen, I thought virgins were people from Virginia.
When I was seventeen I spent a lot of my time between community college classes
in Leonardtown’s square, that small town fed by the bay just across the street from
campus. One day at the North End Art Gallery I caught sight of a delicately thin silver
band in an abalone shell under locked glass. It was pockmarked with thin lines, a
mere gesture of decoration. It fit me perfectly, and I kept it on my finger while I paid
for it. I twisted it in slow revolutions below my knuckle as I browsed faded bindings in
Fenwick’s Used Books and Music across the street. I liked the subtle scratching sound
it made against the coffee cup I sipped from as I surveyed the choppy water off the
wharf. I was glad to have a ring of my choosing. I had decided for myself, and even
then I knew what this would mean. I was going to be a virgin for a very long time.

My momma didn’t say sin tasted so sweet. She thought I was safe at JoAnne’s church lockin. JoAnne’s momma thought she was at my house. Bobby and I dismembered the grass,
rolling through nature like we owned it, until the light came.
Y’all git on, Sheriff Bud said. He was a good man, and his job was to turn us away
from sin. I rubbed my face, but I had dirt on my hands. It stung like the flashlight.
Then the beam swiveled, and we watched it make its way across the field. Bobby and
I looked at each other.
We’ll git home. He licked his lips, and there was a shimmer in his eyes. It’s too late.
But I was desperate for Bobby. He made me wild inside, and I could feel it swirling
down deep in my stomach. The far field, I said. No one’s there at this hour.
We ran. Only our hands held us together.
Some months and the swirling spun up in my belly. JoAnne and I both went through
it, wiping each other’s tears. Nothing was as sweet as that time with Bobby when he stood
by the bedside and said, I don’t want no baby. The shimmering came back to his eyes, a
blank spot of wetness in a primary world.
I hear my momma singing, but I can’t see nothing but the flashlight. Click on, click off.
My momma sings about God’s light and a little candle. Voices carry the beam. They talk of
dilation and timing. They act like it can stop the swirling, but I know it moves on.

Chelsea Cassity

134

Maria S. Picone

Grub Street 135

Grasp by Brianna L. Pleasant, Oil on canvas

136

Masculine by Shelagh Cully, Mixed media: watercolor and acrylic paint
Grub Street 137

Christine Nichols

face value
Shadows peek under a sag of hammock lids.
Conservative collar starched
and round—she strides into every
room wearing someone else’s suit.
She wishes she was dressed in sweat
shirt, jeans and tennis shoes or that she
was comfortable in this skin.
She thinks all day about the cubic weight
of shame. How can she be less—how to show
inside, she is still a fifteen-year-old waitress,
slinging waffles down a Formica
run, mamma’s stolen lipstick
wrapped around a menthol slim,
a fuck-everyone tilt to her chin;
or a married twice too-young
mother in a transparent Goodwill
nightgown, white trash in a sinking
trailer—its shoulders collapsing;
warding off bad-dream monsters
with Avon talcum powder,
calling it “magic dust” to her baby girls
while possum paw prints appear in the white
under the bunk come morning. How
does she let you know inside her head a spin
of quarters still jangles on the countertop,
beaded eyes glow red in the dark, claws
still scrabble down the hall—and what else
she carries, tucked inside a pressed
cotton shirt.

138

The Good Witch
Eleanor Leonne Bennett
Digital photograph

Grub Street 139

Finding the
Happy Ending
Marianne Janack
Angela Carter called the spirit of fairy tale “heroic optimism,” a better phrase for the
promise of the happy ending.
—Marina Warner, Once Upon a Time:
A Short History of Fairy Tale
The Prince, like most aging princes,
looks his worst in the morning. Having
rolled out of bed and having given up
the habit of wearing the crown, he puts
on his pajamas, shuffling from his dark
bedroom into the bathroom, where he
sits to pee. He leaves the door open.
“I’m dying,” the Prince tells the
Princess as he shuffles into the kitchen
in his Black Watch plaid flannel pajama
bottoms and a long sleeve T-shirt. The
T-shirt is like a petrified forest of their
dinners and breakfasts of the past week:
a spot of tuna noodle casserole, some
spaghetti sauce, a flowering spot from
olive oil they had on their salads two
nights ago, a dab of almond butter. His
progress from bedroom to bathroom
through living room to kitchen, where
he makes this announcement, has been
marked by intermittent moaning.

140

“Join the club,” the Princess says over
her shoulder as she pours hot water over
coffee grounds to make coffee. “We all
are.” The Prince has been roused by the
sound of the coffee grinder; he hates
getting up before the coffee is made.
The Princess wanders over to the sink in
her red plush robe, puts a plate in the
sink, and opens the dishwasher to grab a
coffee mug for the Prince.
No one could look less like they are
dying than the Prince does. If lions could
be transformed into humans, they would
look a lot like the Prince. As he bends
slowly, with more moaning, to pet the
cat, his shaggy mane of silver hair does
not move; his broad back comes into
view, and he places his large feet farther
apart to make the bend easier. As he
straightens up, he grunts, “Where’s the
coffee? Is it ready?”

“Almost. Just a bit more water in the
Prince. “Coffee’s ready,” she tells him as
kettle.” The Princess pours the last of
she pours it out for him.
it into the funnel; the grounds expand
He heaves himself up from the couch,
quickly, soaking up the water, bubbling up
maneuvers around the ottoman and the
and threatening to breach the edge of the
cat, and slowly shuffles into the kitchen.
funnel, but then, just at the right moment,
“Oh, thank you,” he says dramatically, as
the expansion stops. The water begins to
if she has offered him water after a long
drip, slowly, down into the carafe.
walk through the desert. He leaves the
As he waits, the Prince stretches, then
kitchen with his coffee and descends
goes to sit on the couch. They have
to the basement, where he turns on the
been using this low-tech approach to
TV to watch the news and check email
coffee-making for the last three years
on his iPad. The Princess picks her nose
after going through a series of expensive
absently, then washes her hands before
coffee makers that could grind the coffee, making breakfast for herself.
turn on automatically, and nearly deliver
She notices that he has spilled
the coffee to you in your bedroom. But
coffee on the stairs going down to the
they all broke or were impossible to
basement. With a sigh she grabs a paper
clean, and so the Princess suggested
towel and goes down the stairs to wipe
that they opt for a cheaper version. She
it up, holding up the bottom of the robe
bought a plastic funnel for $5.95; the
so she will not trip, which reveals her hairy,
Prince bought a stainless steel electric
white, veiny legs. She is always amazed
kettle for $50 and a stainless steel
that he can spill this much coffee on the
carafe for $40, not trusting that cheaper
stairs and not notice. And that her legs have
versions of these would be as good. He
become so unattractive, so old-looking.
still insists that she makes better coffee
They’ve been following this script,
than he does with this system. And after
with some variations, at least since the
three years he still finds this low-tech
last coffee maker died. Maybe some
coffee-making process frustrating. He
aspects of the script have been the
generally doesn’t have to get to the office same for longer than that. The Princess
very early, so the Princess finds this
can’t remember. The Prince has been
frustration mystifying. “What’s the rush?”
announcing his impending death
she thinks.
regularly only for the last two years now;
Once the water has dripped down
the need for coffee, though, has been
into the carafe, she removes the funnel
part of the script for at least twenty years.
and pours the coffee into the cup for the

Grub Street 141

Others identify it as blind hope, or
as wishful thinking, the life principle
in action.
—Warner, Once Upon a Time:
A Short History of Fairy Tale
She wonders when they’d mislaid the
other script.
He had kissed her under a streetlight
on a sweetly warm May evening in
Syracuse twenty-four years ago, singing
a romantic song—something from Neil
Young—“Harvest Moon.” Which it wasn’t.
It was May. And maybe that’s when the
script went wrong. Maybe that’s when
they started living by this different script.
Sometimes she can see the magical
world out of the corner of her eye or
when the sun comes into the house at
just the right angle. Sometimes the cat’s
inky black fur glows with an iridescent
peacock blueness when he sits in the
sun. Sometimes the steam that rises
from the coffee cup seems to glitter as
it twists and twirls and catches the light,
almost alive.
That cat, by the way: really a
disappointment. The Princess found
him living outside behind a dorm at
the college where she teaches, and
she brought him home. He showed
no sign of magical powers and didn’t
promise her anything, but she thought
maybe he was just shy—that the magical
powers just needed some time to show

themselves. Maybe the blue iridescence
is his only magical quality.
Sometimes the Prince looks more like
a prince—usually when he is washed
and dressed and has had several cups
of coffee. Or if she catches a glimpse of
him walking toward her, but before she
knows that it is him.
She wonders if there is a magic that
allows them to go back, fix that little
glitch, go back to the real script—you
know the one where they live happily
ever after, where neither of them gets old
and dies, where they don’t wait every
Sunday for their daughter to call (she
never calls).
Real life ends with death; fairy tales
end with the wedding. Maybe there is
some other dimension in which Snow
White and her prince, or Cinderella and
her prince, make coffee, talk about banal
things, spill shit on the floor, watch TV.
Emma Goldman said that it was just a
legal form of prostitution; in The Second
Sex, Simone de Beauvoir said the young
bride is not promised love in marriage,
but happiness “which means the ideal of
quiet equilibrium in a life of immanence
and repetition… A gilded mediocrity
lacking ambition and passion, aimless
days indefinitely repeated, life that
slips away gently toward death without
questioning its purpose—this is what
they meant by ‘happiness.’”

142 Finding the Happy Ending Marianne Janack

In 1988, when I was a new graduate
student in philosophy, I found myself
sitting on a bench with Alan, a fifth-year
graduate student in religious studies. I
was eating my lunch—Alan was smoking
and drinking coffee. Alan seemed so
much older than I felt, so much smarter.
He was in my Foucault seminar. He had
dark, short hair and wore round dark
glasses that made him look very serious,
but his face could break into a wry smile
or become animated with passion when
a topic he cared about was under debate.
He was a dedicated gay rights activist,
and we were discussing the goal of
legalizing gay marriage, something that
seemed impossible at the time.
I’d read my Beauvoir, my Goldman,
my Firestone. Marriage was politically
troublesome, not something to be
extended or exalted, but something to be
abolished. I asked Alan why he thought
that extending marriage to gays and
lesbians was something worth fighting
for. As far as I could tell, the exclusion
of gays and lesbians from the institution
of marriage was part of what made gay
politics so potentially subversive. The
taming of gay life, its inclusion in the
apparatus of the state regulation of
kinship, was not something to aspire
to. Shouldn’t he be resisting the drive
among gay activists to try to get access to
the institution of marriage?
I don’t really remember his response.

I remember that he did admit that the
mainstreaming of gay life might not be
that desirable. And I think he said that
he didn’t himself want to marry. But you
can see how the argument would go:
if heterosexuals can do it, we should
allow gays and lesbians to do it, too. But
that argument, from the liberal impulse,
would not have satisfied me. I suspect it
wouldn’t have satisfied him either.
Let me be clear here: I wasn’t singling
out gay marriage for opprobrium. I didn’t
think heterosexuals should get married
either. My twenty-four-year-old self did
not want children or marriage. I was
adamantly opposed to the latter and
uninterested in the former. I suspect
she would disapprove of her fifty-oneyear-old version. A sell-out. A dupe.
Succumbing. I’m sure that’s how she
would see me. All the old machinery
of fairy tales and romantic love used
to prop up the patriarchal institution of
marriage and child-rearing had finally
done its work. Simone de Beauvoir or no.
Few tasks are more like the torture
of Sisyphus than housework, with
its endless repetition: the clean
becomes soiled, the soiled is made
clean, over and over, day after day...
The tragedy of marriage is not that it
fails to assure woman the promised
happiness—there is no such thing as
assurance in regard to happiness—

Grub Street 143

but that it mutilates her; it dooms her
to repetition and routine.

mostly diverges from it in the way it
works, taking the protagonists—and
us, the story’s readers or listeners—to
another place where wonders are
commonplace, and desires are fulfilled.

—Simone de Beauvoir, “Situation: The
Married Woman” in The Second Sex
Repetition: It is the enemy of
transcendence. The repetitive nature of
married life promises “happiness,” but
that happiness is a kind of comfortable
contentedness that is an escape from
the demands of freedom, a denial of life.
Marriage, home, children: all conspire
to reduce both husband and wife to
immanence. They are chains.
But Simone, Emma, Shulamith—isn’t
there something to the heroic optimism?
To the idea that a happy ending can
be claimed even from an institution
as troublesome as marriage under
patriarchy? The heroic optimism of the
repetitive—of being willing to face each
day with only a glimmer of the magical
world? The hope that the repetition
might, like a sacred ritual, allow a
glimpse of that other world of the fairy
tale? Am I just rationalizing here?

—Warner, Once Upon A Time:
A Short History of Fairy Tale
The coffee, so far, seems to be the
elixir of life—the Princess continues
to make it, and the Prince continues to
live. The cat still sometimes glows in
the sunlight. And people continue to get
married—old people, young people, men
marrying men, women marrying women,
all heroically optimistic, all happy to
embrace the repetition of a life together.

Fairy tales report from imaginary
territory—a magical elsewhere of
possibility; a hero or heroine or
sometimes both together are faced
with ordeals, terrors, or disaster
in a world that, while it bears
some resemblance to the ordinary
conditions of human existence,

144 Finding the Happy Ending Marianne Janack

Haunted
Shelagh Cully
Mixed media:
watercolor and
acrylic paint

Grub Street 145

Memory
Velvet Smith

“What’s it like?”
You don’t have an answer. You have a
script. It’s terrible, it’s horrible, it’s not the
way he is at all. Antithesis. Horrible.
“It’s like, you know, you can’t see
many stars in the city.”
“No. There’s too much light and too
much pollution. Light pollution.”
“Right,” you say. “At the horizon,
where the stars fade out and the light is
stacked, you know, because you’re not
just looking up out of your own light
pollution anymore, you’re looking over
the whole city and all of its light, all
stacked and mixed in with pollution, and
the sky is the prettiest shade of violet.”
“That’s because of all the pollution.”
“Right. But it’s very pretty.”
“It’s sad, though,” he says.
Pollution. You have two different
scripts for this, both wrong. “Is it?” or
“To you.” One is annoying because it
denies the normal reality. Of course it is
sad. He knows you know it is sad. That’s
what’s wrong with that. The second? It’s
too true. Men don’t want you to tell them
that their opinions are opinions. It’s been
years since you knew how to actually
talk to people. You don’t remember the

146

last conversation you had with him. You
followed the script. It didn’t work, though;
the script was wrong. He didn’t take you
home. You decided that you must have
disagreed too much. Disagreeing is not
part of a script that makes men love you.
“Yes” is the shortest, most reliable
script. He’ll love it.
“Yeah,” you say. “But that’s what it’s
like. Like, I’ve lived in the city my whole
life, and, like, purple is my favorite color.”
It’s not a fact when you say “like.”
It’s a possibility or a comparison. You’re
not telling him he’s wrong. You’re not
commenting on what he said at all. You’re
telling him about yourself. But he’ll still
want you to be uncertain.
“Then you would have never seen the
stars. That’s so sad.”
To him.
Stage directions. Look directly in
front of you, into the middle distance,
instead of at him, because you don’t
want to seem confrontational. Pause for
a moment. Let your words baste in your
mouth. Flavor them with your longing to
be loved and understood.
“I really like the color purple, though.”
End the movie on that shot. Roll credits.

When did you stop remembering
things? You don’t remember, of course.
You never remember anything that
happens. Why do you rely on scripts? It’s
dangerous not to. You have to know the
facts. You have to know how to make
the right things happen. It’s unsafe to just
remember and not actually know. Why do
you always feel unsafe? Do you remember
why? You don’t try to.
Memory is fallible; memory is
suggestible. Eyewitness accounts are not
credible. So many boyfriends have told
you this. That didn’t happen like you
remember it. You’re acting crazy. Let’s
have sex. Why are you mad at me? That’s
not what happened. You’re so mean to me
for no reason. You make me hate myself.
I’m going to kill myself.
You remember some things. Your
birthday. It’s in December. Your mother’s
maiden name. It’s Lithuanian. Who
you don’t trust. Police officers, your
roommate’s boyfriend. Who you trust.
When was the last time you remember
being happy? It’s just a flash. You’re in
bed with your then-boyfriend. He’s asleep.
You’re on the right side. It is too hot for
you to sleep. Do you remember more?

More of what happened, a little. More of
being happy, no.
Is there anything before that? Another
flash. Years earlier. In a mosh pit at some
shitty basement show. It’s just the feeling
of being pressed between other people.
No audio or visual. Just pressure.
Before that? What about Nate the Great?
He liked pancakes. And Spot the dog
had a schoolmate who was a hippo. And
Babar, who was an elephant, wore a green
suit. And there was a lion who had his
mane curled for his friend’s party, but then
the friend didn’t recognize him and locked
him out. Then it rained and the curls
were ruined. And there was a bull named
Ferdinand, and your family would go to a
steakhouse called Ferdinand’s. It was the
first restaurant where you ordered a steak.
You no longer eat meat, correct? You
are a vegetarian now? Yes, for many years.
You don’t remember exactly how long.

Grub Street 147

Giving Up the Ghost
Kristen McCurdy

I realize now that ghosts are real. Not
Ghostbusters-Scooby-Doo straight
cryptozoological, ectoplasmic shit. But
ideas, choices—even dead people—can
grab ahold of you and shake you until
your teeth rattle. Rather than in an old
abandoned building, I know that we
are just as likely to be visited by the
paranormal while standing in dappled
light on the massive steps in front of the
Sacré Cœur, surrounded by hundreds of
people swaying and singing along to the
broken sounds of an Algerian immigrant
singing James Taylor. We never agreed
on much, but we always agreed on him.
We were constantly leaving, but I really
did always think that I’d see you again—
just not like this. You were right there
with one hand on my shoulder and the
other around my throat.
That which we choose to give up
from our past and what we choose to

cling to, or allow to cling to us, ends up
defining us—haunting us.
Shirley got it just about perfect.1 The
idea rather than the thing itself is what’s
scary. Is it the house, or just the idea of
it? Is she or isn’t she?2 What did you do?
What should you have done? What did
you say? What did you leave unsaid?
Should have said this, should have
said that. Now you’re gone and it’s too
late. I say it into the air and, with no one
alive to hear them, the words follow me
around. Boom. Ghost.
If I think about it too hard, I’m afraid
that I’ll end up pacing around in a forest,
clutching my tail and chanting “I do
believe in spooks, I do believe in spooks.
I do, I do, I do, I do, I do believe in
spooks, I do believe in spooks, I do, I
do, I do, I do, I do!’3
Meanwhile, Carl4 is off in his own
forest, unpacking coincidences. Carl

1
Shirley Jackson, author of The Haunting of Hill House. Note:
The author thinks that a greater level of understanding of
this contemporary idea of haunting can be gleaned via an
understanding of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House,
considered one of the greatest modern ghost stories, in which
Jackson employs the use of terror over horror, the important
distinction being that terror is derived from the anticipation
of something rather than the something itself. The terror
that Jackson instills is mainly via the unfulfilled promise of
something horrifying.

2
Note: At the heart of Jackson’s novel are the final questions
of whether the main character is merely a young woman
suffering from an emotionally disturbed psyche or whether her
death was at the hands of the supernatural via the house.

148

3
The Cowardly Lion, The Wizard of Oz. Note: The author
has always admired the pragmatism of the Cowardly Lion in
contrast to the unbridled overconfidence of other fictional
characters faced by a potentially scary situation. As such,
the author might be predisposed to the aforementioned tailholding scenario.

talks of synchronicity, claims that all
significant twists of fate are necessarily
connected and, as such, are in fact not
coincidences at all. That in reality all
meaningful occurrences share an acausal
connectedness, ultimately the genesis for
all that is paranormal. Everything is cyclical
and interrelated… Never jam to-day…

it, that one’s memory works both ways.”
“I’m sure mine only works one way,”
Alice remarked. “I can’t remember things
before they happen.”
“It’s a poor sort of memory that only
works backwards,” the Queen remarked.5
And isn’t that the thing, don’t we all
want to live backwards? The time is out
of joint indeed. Don’t we want there to be
meanings behind the coincidences? We’re
building our own ghosts again.
He was specifically talking about
Marx when he came up with hauntology,
but Jackie was really just talking about
people.6 Immediacy of presence doesn’t
exist. We’re never alone. We’re always
escorted by our ghosts—neither present
nor absent, neither dead nor alive.
Virginia thinks that Henry comes
the closest.7 She says that the way he
writes them, ghosts that is, they have
their origin within us. They are present
whenever the significant overflows our

“The rule is, jam to-morrow and jam
yesterday—but never jam to-day.”
“It must come sometimes to ‘jam today,’” Alice objected.
“No, it can’t,” said the Queen. “It’s jam
every other day: to-day isn’t any other day,
you know.”
“I don’t understand you,” said Alice.
“It’s dreadfully confusing!”
“That’s the effect of living backwards,”
the Queen said kindly: “it always makes
one a little giddy at first—”
“Living backwards!” Alice repeated in great
astonishment. “I never heard of such a thing!”
“—but there’s one great advantage in
4
Carl Jung, Theory of Synchronicity. Note: The author generally
ascribes to Jung’s school of thought and finds that it does a
decent job of explaining those somewhat ephemeral feelings
of déjà vu, disquietude, and overall ooky-ness that arise in
everyday life. That being said, the author finds reading Jung
relatively unpalatable and can only recommend it with the
caveat that the reader remember that it was originally written
in German and that its original title is: “Synchronizität als ein
Prinzip akausaler Zusammenhänge.”

From Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass. Note: This
excerpt was cited in Jung’s lecture notes as an instance of
synchronicity illustrated by the Queen’s insistence that one’s
memory isn’t merely comprised of linear thought, but rather
is composed of cyclical occurrences that work “both ways.”
The author is generally of the opinion that this works, though
becomes both more confusing and disturbing the longer you
look at it straight on. Perhaps best not to give it too much
direct thought but rather just let it wash over you and then go.
5

6
Jacques Derrida’s Theory of Hauntology. Note: Derrida
presents his theory of hauntology in his book Spectres of Marx,
wherein he asserts that immediacy of presence is supplanted
by the haunting elements of the ghost. The author believes
it is imperative that the reader note that Jacques Derrida
was in fact born Jackie. It makes his work a lot less daunting,
although it perhaps ruins some of Derrida’s mystique for the
author—now he just sounds a little pretentious.

Virginia Woolf on Henry James’s Ghosts. Note: The author
finds this essay, in which Virginia Woolf dissects the Jamesian
ghost, to be perfect and really does not have much to say on
the matter save that the reader ought to find it and read it.
7

Grub Street 149

powers of expressing it; whenever the
ordinary appears ringed by the strange.
The baffling things that are left over, the
frightening ones that persist—these are the
emotions that he takes, embodies, makes
consoling and companionable. I think I
agree with her. But then, I usually do.
“Everything dies baby, that’s a fact.
“But maybe everything that dies
someday comes back…”
Bruce wrote it but The Hold Steady
made it a mantra.8 Alone, they sing it,
threefold and then threefold again. Just
voices, cramming in the almost-too-many
syllables before the next go-round, like
what they’re singing is the most precious
thing—the secret to the world. Around
and around we sing about the hope that
what is gone is not lost forever to us—our
broken, solitary voices praying that this,
this is it. We always think we’ll see you
again. Until that last refrain, when the

8
The Hold Steady covering Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City.”
Note: The author would like it to be known that, despite all
evidence to the contrary, including Springsteen’s appearance
here and in a song cameo at the author’s wedding, the author
does not actually like Bruce Springsteen. This fact only further
serves the author’s overall argument for that which haunts us…
9
Jorge Luis Borges, “The Other Tiger” (translated by Harold
Morland). Note: This Borges poem, in the author’s opinion,
perfectly crystalizes the slippery sucker that we’ve been
chasing throughout this entire essay. The third tiger, which
Borges cannot fully materialize through his words, is:

bright brass band comes bounding back
into the song and brings it home. Even
the ones holding steady are haunted by
Bruce who came before them.
In the end, we’re always just skirting
around this idea of what came before and
what’s to come, never really able to look
it straight on in the face. Never really able
to give it a name. We’re hunting for it
constantly, like Jorge’s other tiger9—that
which is not in verse. It’s in our periphery,
just out of sight. Like a ghost.
So here it is, the big finish. What
do we take away from our meander
through the forest, our dance with
Bruce and James, our chat with sweet
Virginia? It comes to us courtesy of Chuck
Palahniuk—a writer in the midst of a life
that is undoubtedly troubled by ghosts of
the past. It’s inescapable.
“We’re all of us haunted and haunting.”

{

Disclosure of potential bias:

It is worth nothing that the author has
recently experienced a significant loss. The
kind where someone is there one day and
then gone the next. Consequently, there
is the strong potential for incidence of
reporting bias. This is all stated merely
to help you calibrate the sensitivity and
acumen with which you synthesize what
we’ve discussed. Do with that what you will.

a system of words
A man makes and not the vertebrate tiger
That, beyond the mythologies,
Is treading the earth.
Ultimately, Borges leaves the poem still searching for the tiger
that is just out of reach.

150 Giving Up the Ghost Kristen McCurdy

Grub Street 151

Jordan Wilner

Prayers to
St. Penelope
I suffer small
in comparison to war wives,
whose stakes are higher than
Aegean tides promising in fluid white noise
to devour the time and heart they have spent
waiting for the last cycle of the nostos
with the mortal finality of teeth—
blades, bullets, bombs; war
changes its dentures every century,
but as long as there are lovers to swallow
it will chew them.
The horror of the real martyrs’ sacrifices
are not lost on me, Queen of Ithaca.
I am unfit to kiss your sandals.
My loss is impermanent,
and I have only ever perceived the dogteeth of war
with imaginative fingertips.
Still I prostrate, weak-backed from poor
driving posture, at your loom, the altar
at the Temple of She Who Waits.
My man is close enough to reach
by car. I offer you synthetic pine incense,
four hours stale.
My man is too far to touch

triangles by Anna Martin, Mixed media: digital art and photography

152

Grub Street 153

by hand. I offer you his portrait,
unaffected on a screen.
My man comes home
for days at a time. I offer you every
calendar and clock on the sharp end
of my darting eyes;
Even as he kisses me I see the clock,
over his shoulder I see the clock,
cheek to cheek with his lips on my neck
I see the clock and wait for him
to go;
Do I love him, Penelope,
more than I hate the clock?
Good Queen,
I wait as you wove,
to take up arms against time the only way I know.
Did you cry on your tapestry?
Did you doubt that a single drop of salt water
in the whole sea was his tear for you?

and with this, Penelope,
hear my final prayer:
make me Odysseus.
Make it so
that my wait and his are the same,
that cyclopes
are only warped reflections of suitors;
Make it so
that we are both
ship and harbor,
warrior and wife.
I suffer small,
but such economy leaves space
for me, both in your ear and in your
cunning tapestry.

This doubt, the fear of being made a fool, of
feeding time and heart to a monster
smaller than war but with meaner teeth,
is what I beg you to take from me,
to wash from my body like sin
in your housemaid’s basin;
When I am clean
my skin will not bruise with the absence of his hands.
When I am clean
my skin will warm with their memory.
When I am clean,
my skin will anticipate its own homecoming,

154 Prayers to St. Penelope Jordan Wilner

Grub Street 155

Ghosts of
Yam Market
Ekweremadu Uchenna

Back then, all the area east of this motor park used to be referred to as Yam Market.
Although it is now occupied by Grant’s Rehabilitation Centre and St Eunice’s
Cathedral, it used to hold a cluster of over fifty pubs. Contrary to what the name
might imply, nobody sold yams anywhere around the place. Even now I still have not
met anyone who could tell why a body of pubs managed to acquire such a name.
Yam Market was a ghost town during the day but got busier than a trade fair by
night. One sat inside the parlour to drink and choke under the thick fog of cigarette
smoke while some lady sat on one’s thigh to stroke one’s head. And when indoors
proved too hot, one could sit outside under the night sky to drink or dance, not
minding the reek of body odour that hung in the air. One was at liberty to bawl with
the music, or to drink until one fell down and rolled in vomit. Sometimes all it cost
to pat the waitress’s buttocks as she walked by was a slap. Nobody judged anybody.
People trooped in from the surrounding Kaduna slums to loiter about at the service
of whoever needed a one-night stand. One’s marital status didn’t mean anything.
Besides, it was the perfect rendezvous for a tryst. To serve the class of honourable
folks who would rather not be seen setting foot on the corrupt soil around Yam
Market, some of the girls took to standing along the main road, from where they
would run to the cars once they stopped a little way ahead. There were moments that
the dark cloudless sky gave the place the look of a large hall with a high arched roof.
By then, the distant blinking stars would resemble fancy lights dotting the ceiling, and
the cold breeze that occasionally swept over one would seem as if it was emanating
from some fan or air conditioner.
Our favourite pub was Urchmantero’s, which sold everything from local gin to
Guinness Stout. There, one was sure to get the best fish soup, too. But most of all,
Urchmantero’s hired the prettiest waitresses, the brightest of whom was Estella. Estella
was polite but not loose, self-conscious but not arrogant. Estella was one of those

Impasse by Nessi Alexander-Barnes, Ink on silk, mounted on brocade

156

Grub Street 157

who didn’t need the help of make-up, because God had lavished it on already. And she
could be a no-nonsense type of girl. One night, I watched her slap a man on the face
despite his giant stature and the fact that he was in the company of friends. The man
had pinched her behind as she made to place the seventh bottle of Star Beer on his
table. By the time the man and his friends recovered from the shock and were bawling
at the top of their voices, threatening fire and brimstone, she had sauntered away to
another table. And when the proprietor came out and called her back to the table,
she took his scolding calmly and apologised to
the man, having been taught that the customer
Contrary to what the name
was always right. Unlike her colleagues, who
might imply, nobody sold
seemed to have accepted the life and the price
yams anywhere around
that their vocation required of them, Estella was
like an eagle that found itself amongst chicks,
the place.
not forgetting it didn’t belong there. She carried
out her duties with all sense of commitment.
Keeping her apron snow-white, she’d balance
the tray on the tips of her five fingers, wearing
that professional smile as she moved from table to table. When I had drowned enough
alcohol to trick my senses and the coloured lights played on her form, I would think
she was Chinwe, a girl I used to know in my childhood. And whenever she came over
to our table, and I flattered her for her hairy arms and large eyes, she would grin in that
special way that I could almost swear she was actually Chinwe. All that Estella seemed
to want was a quiet life spent with a man she loved. She had nothing against celebrities
and famous figures, but it wouldn’t break her heart if she never became one. Although
it was difficult to read her mind from the look on her face, I always thought I caught a
gloomy shadow underneath her smiles, an echo of boredom in the background of her
laughter, flashes of despair under her cheerful eyes.
“I cherish your company,” I blurted out to her one Wednesday evening she came
around my table.
“Me too.” She smiled. Not that much needed to have been said, though, for it was
plain enough that we were attracted to each other. And that was how we started seeing
each other.

158 Ghosts of Yam Market Ekweremadu Uchenna

I was one in a clique of seven that went by the name Seven Wonders and which
haunted Yam Market nightly. Murphy would ride ahead in his Mercedes 220E carrying
two or three guys, while I followed behind in my Toyota Carina with the rest of the
crew. We engaged in occupations so intense they heated up our guts before the close
of the day such that we would need cold drinks and plates of rabbit broth to assuage
our tempers. It was that phase of life when one realized that this reality called life
could be horrible and boring, that one would do anything to find relief no matter
how short. Some found such escape routes in alcohol and smoke. Some found it
in prayer books. We in Seven Wonders found it in all of these and in many other
channels. We could not have been counted among the rich, but we were well off
in our own way. We had notes in our wallets. We were young. Pretty girls were
everywhere. Life was beautiful.
I ran a garage on the outskirts of town. After my junior secondary, I had
proceeded to the technical college at Malali to read automobile mechanics. Business
was good enough for me to afford a life that many guys my age would envy. I had
the shoes and the clothes. I owned a silver-coloured Technics stereo and a tall Singer
refrigerator that almost touched the ceiling. I lived in a two-bedroom flat.
Victor, my friend from the technical college, was a horrible engineer who
was frequently visited by the police because he wouldn’t fix his clients’ electrical
appliances on time even though he was always quick to ask for advance pay. He
had not visited home for over a decade, since after his family found out the lie about
his studentship at Ahmadu Bello University, a discovery that had rendered his father
hypertensive. The old man had sold
off his land and had gone deeply
I was one in a clique of seven
into debt in order to satisfy his first
that went by the name Seven
son, who always came back home
for money to either pay some
Wonders and which haunted
college fees or to buy some books
Yam Market nightly.
when he wasn’t actually a student.
On beer-sodden nights, he would
gaze into his frothy tumbler and think of himself as the black sheep of the family, the
prodigal son.
Sammy was a bookworm who shouldn’t have had anything to do with running
an auto parts shop in the first place, for he spent more time sitting under the shade
in front of his shop reading books than promoting his business. He had to drop out

Grub Street 159

of secondary school when he lost his father at the age of seventeen, and join his
maternal uncle at Panteka Market to learn the trade. He would always bore us with
his hopes of acquiring a university education someday. And, eventually, we all got
tired of trying to make him see the absurdity of this dream, considering the reality on
the ground. But as if to prove to us that he was actually going somewhere, he sat for
GCE as a private candidate and came out with an impressive result.
Adamson was a loafer who cared for nothing else in the world so long as he was
satisfied with his looks, for he was always working to impress some new girl. But
once his father fell down from a hospital roof he was working on and broke his back,
the mantle of carpentry fell upon Adamson, who took over and introduced modernity
to the family business.
Orji had risen to junior foreman in the same construction firm he had started with
as an unskilled labourer. His outfit was never complete without the tape measure
hanging on his waistband like a pistol in a cowboy’s holster. And it gave him great
pleasure drumming his two fingers on the measuring tape as if he was striking the
strings of a bass guitar. It seemed he had no fonder plaything than this tape measure,
which he would pull out, then smile as it rushed back inside in a zip. Orji begrudged
his boss who he claimed hated him for no special reason and hindered his promotion.
And to counteract this, he took to marking his forehead with a cross of olive oil, a
bottle of which he had gotten from some prayer house he patronized. Moreover, he
would stand over his bathwater with an open Bible to read out loud the entire verses
of Psalm 109, and then pour in a spoonful of the anointed oil into the water before
taking his bath.
Charles was an industrial artist who was unlucky at falling in love. He had suffered
heartbreak so many times he had lost count. After his last breakup, he wallowed in
agony and solitude until some weird illness shook him to his very core, an illness
which the doctor said was psychosomatic. That was when he found us. He had been
occupying the table beside us, fixing a miserable gaze at his frothy glass of Star Beer,
when he woke up to the revelry emanating from our table. He had come over to sit
with us and to even order drinks for us, a gesture that became his entry fee.
And then, there was Barrister Murphy, another childhood friend, who did not
desert our company even after he was called to the bar.
Things started to fall apart that cold evening at Yam Market when Barrister Murphy
broke it to the group that he was going to marry Amaka, a barmaid at Sista Vick’s.

160 Ghosts of Yam Market Ekweremadu Uchenna

The rest of us did not like the idea, for the girl in question was fond of the crucifix,
which suggested she was the highly religious type. And, just as we had feared, the
more he settled down, the less he came to cherish our company.
Victor, being the only son out of seven children, had always been under pressure
from his aged parents to take a wife. One day, two of his uncles arrived from home
with a teenage girl whom they said he must either make sons with as soon as possible
or be ready to bury a disappointed, old father. Moreover, they informed him that
their investigation into her family history showed that the women had the tendency
of having three males out of every five children. At first, Victor had in mind to make
the poor girl so uncomfortable that she would run back to the village. But on second
thought,
seeing that
she too was
Before long, one of them slid down his rifle from
equally a
his shoulder, pressed hard on the trigger, and
victim of
swung his arm in a wide sweep.
circumstance
as he was,
he resolved to provide her food, clothing, and shelter. Nothing more. At night, he
would bring over a pillow to the sitting room and sleep on the sofa, relinquishing
his prized mattress in the bedroom to his child bride. Victor began to dread nightfall,
at some point during he would have to leave us and go home if for no other reason
than to ensure she had not burned down the house while trying to put on the gas
cooker. Besides, once it was eleven p.m. and he wasn’t back yet, his bride would sit
at the veranda of the house and cry as she waited for his return. There were times
he would stagger home and find her lying out there, having cried herself to sleep.
One day, he got a telegram from home reporting that his old father had taken ill.
Despite our efforts to get him relaxed in the evening, he remained dispirited, guzzling
tumbler after tumbler of beer. He left us earlier than usual, rushing home with a heavy
heart and a turbulent hip to rock the dear mattress which he had missed for so long.
Victor began to put up flimsy excuses for us to not visit his house. But it didn’t take
long before we discovered that his child bride had become a potential mother. Sam,
whose sense of humour knew no bounds, began to call Victor a child abuser. And at
such times, the latter would just keep mum, fix his gaze at his glass of beer, and flare
his nostrils in anger or embarrassment. And one night at Urchmantero’s, barely four
months after he first went into his wife, Victor blurted that all we did was a waste of

Grub Street 161

time and money, and then he bolted out and didn’t show up the following night.
Orji was caught sleeping on duty one afternoon and was dismissed. Not knowing
what to do with his life, he left town with some woodcutters, and the next we heard
of him was that a felled tree had crushed him to death.
Adamson, who had been growing alarmingly wane lately, left a note one night by
his bedside saying he had AIDS before leaping into a well.
Another evening, Sammy got so excited he offered to take care of our bills. At the
middle of our revelry, he rang one of the empty beer bottles with the opener to get us
to listen to what he had to say. Something told me he, too, had found a wife and would
be signing out of our league like Victor, but he took another draught and cleared his
throat before saying that his brother-in-law had come in from the States and had made
him an offer he could not refuse: come over to Lagos for a university education.
Days came and went. One Saturday evening, I spent over an hour staring at the
empty chairs I had arranged around the table with the hope that the other boys would
all show up somehow. I had never felt more alone in my life. It seemed like hours
later before Charles, the only person with whom I had continued the fellowship
after all the others walked away for one reason or another, showed up looking so
crestfallen, like a cock that was caught in a rainstorm. I quickly signaled Estella to
bring him two bottles of Bergedorf, hoping for the best but expecting the worst.
“It’s over,” he sighed as he slumped on the seat directly opposite me. “Cecilia. She
said goodbye,” he creaked. “Just when I thought we were finally going somewhere.”
When he was done with the first two bottles, he swore on his mother’s grave that
he would have nothing to do with love again. Barely a fortnight after then, it began to
dawn on me that the charm of Yam Market was losing its hold on Charles. Since after
he turned to the Bible, growing his awareness of sin and holiness, and of heaven and
hell, he became haunted by a divine call to the priesthood. But one afternoon, barely
a week before he should leave for the seminary, he lost his mind and murdered his
ex-girlfriend who had visited him with a baby she claimed was his, threatening to
frustrate his ambition if he didn’t agree to contribute to his upkeep.
Several times, on my way from work, I would pull over across the road and just
stare at Yam Market for close to half an hour, wanting to get a glimpse of that garden
once again, yet dreading the very thought as though a fiery sword-wielding angel was
standing by the entrance to bar me from doing just that.
In the third month of her pregnancy, Estella quit her job at Urchmantero’s and
moved in with me. Knowing how much she loved fish soup, I took it upon myself

162 Ghosts of Yam Market Ekweremadu Uchenna

to stop at Urchmantero’s at least once a week to get her some. Estella was such an
angel. I couldn’t have made a better choice. She made me feel needed and useful
for once. I began to want to rush home to her from wherever I was, once it was past
six in the evening. Finally, I began to understand how Nelson and Victor could find
happiness and fulfillment outside our old fold.
On the night of Christmas Eve, the eight-months-pregnant Estella and I went out
to Yam Market with a pack of cards. We would play ten games and whoever scored
the highest would choose the baby’s first name. Three or four soldiers occupied a
table quite close to ours. Already drunk, they raised a barracks song and exploded in
a wild howl midway. Estella and I were still on the third game when these soldiers
began to argue over what arm of the military was the most important in wartime.
Before long, one of them slid down his rifle from his shoulder, pressed hard on the
trigger, and swung his arm in a wide sweep. One of the two bullets that went through
Estella’s back and shot out from her chest broke my bottle of stout and brushed my
left shoulder.
I woke up in a new, iridescent world where I lived with Estella and our
transmogrifying baby, who kept changing from Adamson to Charles, or Orji, or
Sammy. It was golden until the day some hostiles, among whom I recognized
Murphy, broke into my shell, fastened me onto a stretcher, and confined me to a
larger, lonely shell…
I got a letter from Murphy last week. They had named their first son after me, and
Amaka was pregnant again. He wrote from Port Harcourt, to where he had relocated.
Mainly, he wrote to inform me he had arranged a small place for me down there and
would come for me once my discharge was due.
One of the attendants tells me it was Murphy who brought me in and directed
that my bills be placed on his account. Two days after Estella’s death, this attendant
informs me, I had locked up myself, subdued by hunger and agony for my great loss,
dazed with alcohol and Indian hemp. Concerned neighbours had contacted Murphy,
who showed up immediately with the ambulance and nurses.
For us back then, campaigns at Yam Market were not just a way of life. They were
the Way. They were the Life.

Grub Street 163

Al Maginnes

John J. Trause

Never mind the decades since he died. He has
never been silent and I have never stopped

Cattedrali di fiori
millefiori
stella, stella
stelle
stelae

Reading One of My
Poems to My Father
listening to him. Tonight, a cicada tunes
in the great ballroom of grass. The moon coughs
into star-free dark. And these syllables disappear
as they rise, like smoke from the Camels
he quit over and over, like glasses
of spring-clear vodka, spirits raised and vanished
into thirst and desire. In a field beside
one of our houses, he threw a flaming skillet
of grease and potatoes. It may be there still,
rust-scaled, filling with the rains, molecules
leeching into red soil. In the place he has gone,
his weather-grayed flag hangs

Stelle e fiori *

asters, pastors
astrophysical inflorescence
held together by cerulean vistas
histrionic histories
and constellations come in all colors
become
come
cum instellations, catasterismus
asterisk and it will be open
little stars
stardrops
starburst
flourishing
come

by the front door no one uses.
The only words are these that I read
loud and slow as prayer, offerings
in place of stories we can only tell
parts of. No one knows his own story
completely. But when I read my poem—
and never mind which one—I can call him,
wherever he’s gone, whatever he’s become.

164

* “Stars and flowers” in Italian.

{

Inspired by Joseph Stella’s
painting Flowers, Italy (1931).

Grub Street 165

Moon
Helen Bell
Collage pieces made with graphite, pen,
and china marker on paper, digital
painting, and Hubble telescope pictures
from the public domain

166

Walk
Helen Bell
Collage pieces made with graphite, pen,
and china marker on paper, digital
painting, and Hubble telescope pictures
from the public domain

Grub Street 167

D.G. Geis

Aubade with Hangover
and Bug Zapper
“Never go to bed before daybreak.”
—Charles Simic
If it’s daybreak you want,
Try waking up naked
In a backyard (yours?)
After a night of epic carousing.
Catch dawn’s middle finger
Flipping off the moon and the sky’s
Untrimmed fingernails scraping
Ten miles of blackboard horizon.
See the sun as white as strychnine
Dissolving clouds like Drano
Simmering in a toilet bowl. Feel the tilted
Elliptic of the earth as it spins, and you
Spinning with it, the thrashing tail rotor of a
Helicopter crash-landing in a rock garden
Beside a mortified St. Francis. Remember
The flashbulb pop of last night’s mosquitoes
As they flew into the patio Bug Zapper.
And you, crawling towards the commode
On all fours, thinking of those stupid insects
All rushing to embrace the light.

168

Contributors
Joel Allegretti is the author of five
collections of poetry, most recently The
Body in Equipoise, a chapbook. His
next full-length collection, Platypus, is
forthcoming from NYQ Books. He is the
editor of Rabbit Ears: TV Poems (NYQ
Books, 2015).
Glen Banks is from Baltimore, Maryland
and in his free time enjoys exploring old
buildings and photography.
Nessi Alexander-Barnes achieved a BFA
in art and design and a BS in art history at
Towson, and is going on to pursue an MFA
in Fall 2016. Xe makes allegorical paintings
about xyr experiences as a genderqueer
and generally queer individual.
Helen Bell is ecstatic to be in included
in Grub Street. Ending her third year at
Towson University, she has been working
towards a BFA in digital art and design
with a minor in film, which she hopes will
prepare her for a career in animation. She
can be reached at hjebell.art@gmail.com.

Eleanor Leonne Bennett is an
internationally award-winning artist of
over fifty awards. She is an art editor for
multiple publications around the world.
Her photography has been published
in British Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar.
It has been displayed around the world
consistently for six years since age
thirteen.
Erica Lee Berquist has a bachelor’s in
English from Towson University. She has
worked at Bancroft Press, NCM Publishing,
KWF Editorial Services, and is currently a
correspondence editor for Washington and
West, LLC. She lives in Towson.
blkVelma simply asks that you visit her
website, blkvelma.tumblr.com.
Margot Block has been writing since the
age of fourteen and has been published
in Zygote Magazine, Contemporary Verse
2, Juice, The Collective Consciousness,
and the online journal BlazeVox. She
participated in a high school mentorship
program sponsored by the Manitoba
Writers’ Guild, working with Canadian
poet, Carol Rose. Subsequently Block won
first prize in a poetry contest sponsored by
the Writers’ Collective.

Grub Street 169

Contributors
Samantha Brunner is an English major
with a double minor in creative writing
and Spanish. She has always dreamed of
writing a contributor’s note for Grub Street.
Her aspirations include becoming a
television sitcom writer and a competent
yodeler.
Vivian Calderón Bogoslavsky is a
Colombia native born to Argentinian
parents. She has studied art for over
thirteen years with a well-known
Argentinian art master as well as studying
in Florence, Italy and in the United States.
Today, she is living in Madrid exploring
her art. Vivian has shown her work in
both individual and collective shows in
Colombia, the United States, and Spain.
She has been published in various books,
magazines, and webpages, and she has
received multiples awards.
Chelsea Cassity is a recent graduate and
long-time key collector. She enjoys hours
in empty ceramic studios, spiral staircases,
and German shepherds named Bailey.

170

Sydney Chanmugam is an egg who
was accepted to Towson University with
the stipulation that she grow arms and
legs and run the English Forum. She
gratuitously accepted and now speaks
Spanish under her breath everywhere she
goes. Additionally, she wears contacts, but
only needs one for her third eye.
Liz N. Clift holds an MFA in creative
writing from Iowa State University. Her
poetry has appeared or is forthcoming
in Hobart, Rattle, Passages North, The
Collagist, and elsewhere. She currently
lives in Colorado.
Mike Clough pays his bills by teaching
English. He has published stories in literary
magazines in North America and Europe,
as well as contributing articles to a national
newspaper. He has completed several
novels but has yet to find a publisher.
Gillian Collins’ interpretation of her
environment is visually displayed in
abstraction and/or in her plein air
landscape work.

Shelagh Cully is an artist and illustrator
based in Baltimore, Maryland. Her work
is inspired by circumstances that she finds
troubling and worth changing. She hopes to
engage the viewer in a visual discourse that
challenges pre-conceived notions with each
work of art.
Tamela Davis is a recent graduate from
Towson University with a Bachelor’s of Fine
Art and English. She lives in Baltimore.
Timothy B. Dodd is from Mink Shoals, WV.
His poetry has appeared in The Roanoke
Review, The William & Mary Review, Big River
Poetry Review, Crannog, Two Thirds North,
and elsewhere. He is currently in the MFA
program at the University of Texas-El Paso.
Taylor Dowell is a Baltimore-area native
and a senior English major at Towson
University.

D.G. Geis lives in Houston, Texas. He has
degrees from the University of Houston
(BA, English) and California State University
(MA, philosophy). He will be featured in a
forthcoming Tupelo Press chapbook and
is winner of Blue Bonnet Review’s Fall
2015 Poetry Contest. He is editor-at-large
of Tamsen.
John Gillespie is a Towson University
junior majoring in philosophy and English.
The focal point of his work in both fields
is black psycho-politics wherein he tries to
produce essays and/or creative nonfiction
pieces that can become a form of what he
calls “radical literary therapy.”
Olivia Godwin is a senior, majoring in
English. She’s been devouring books since
the tender age of three, and she spends a
bit of time writing and journaling. Hiking
and boxing save her when she’s sick of
being studious. Her extensive travels inspire
her work. This is her first published piece.

Grub Street 171

Contributors
A four-time nominee for the Pushcart
Prize, Jonathan Greenhause was a finalist
for the 2015 Aesthetica Creative Writing
Award and was highly commended
for Southword Journal’s 2016 Gregory
O’Donoghue Poetry Prize. His poems have
recently appeared or are forthcoming in
FOLIO, Green Mountains Review, Mantis,
RHINO, and Stand, among others.

Marianne Janack is a professor of
philosophy at Hamilton College. She
teaches courses in philosophy of science,
philosophy of literature, feminist
theory, philosophy of mind, and pretty
much anything else she’s interested in.
She is working on a mixed-genre book
about teaching, David Foster Wallace,
and philosophy.

JLaw is a recent graduate of Towson
University. He explores contemporary
themes and popular culture through digital
design. His art is not created to simply
fulfill what seems to be marketable to a
certain crowd, but rather to capture the
uniqueness and individuality of life and its
experiences. His Instagram handle is
@jlaw13_ and his website is artbyjlaw.com.

Jasmine A. Harvey is a graduate student
in the counseling psychology program at
Towson University. Her medium of choice
is graphite on paper, though she also
works in chalk pastel and paint. She often
completes commissioned pieces as well as
freelance artwork.

Jenna Kahn is studying English and
German at Towson University. She
embraces her status as a digital native,
and she loves social media, blogging, and
all things web. She probably spends too
much time online.

Monika Lee’s book, gravity loves the body:
poems by monika lee, was published by
South Western Ontario Press in 2008. Her
chapbook, slender threads, was published
in 2004 (HMS Press). She has had dozens
of poems published in literary journals
and anthologies. Monika is a professor
of English literature at Brescia University
College in London, Ontario, Canada.

Kristin Helf is working towards a
bachelor’s degree in English and
journalism at Towson. She writes for the
Towerlight and the tattoo on her leg is
a washing machine, not an oven. She’d
like to thank her dog, Gypsy, for the
unrelenting support and cuteness she’s
provided consistently during the past year.

172

Erick Kogler is an illustrator and artist
from California. He is an illustration
major at Towson University with plans of
pursuing his MFA. Satire forms the core
emotional component of his work as a
means of investigating modern life, ego,
and human connection.

Al Maginnes has published ten collections
of poems, most recently Music From Small
Towns (Jacar Press, 2014), winner of the
annual Jacar Press contest, and Inventing
Constellations (Cherry Grove Collections,
2012). He has recent or forthcoming work
in Meridian, The Southern Review, The
Cape Rock, and many others. He lives in
Raleigh, North Carolina and teaches at
Wake Technical Community College.

Anna Martin is a digital artist, writer, and
photographer. She is an avid explorer and
much of her artwork is inspired by her
travels and life experiences; her aim is to
inspire others with her work. Anna also
works under the pseudonym Vacantia, and
you can view her portfolio at vacantia.org.
Kristen McCurdy is a D.C. native who
now, along with her husband and their
two dogs, calls a little, old rowhouse
in Baltimore home. When not writing,
Kristen spends her time reading, visiting
with family, going on adventures with her
amazing friends, or traveling the world.
Michael P. McManus currently lives in
Millheim, Pennsylvania, where he roams
the Penns Valley. His poems and short
stories have appeared in numerous
publications. He is the recipient of the
Artist Fellowship Award from the Louisiana
Division of the Arts. He has work
forthcoming in The Moth.

Grub Street 173

Contributors
Emily Reinhardt Welsch is a recent
graduate of Towson University with a
master’s in humanities. She is currently
working in transcription and as an editorial
assistant, but her ultimate goal is to be an
author, specializing in horror stories.
Stephen Scott Whitaker is a member of
the National Book Critics Circle, and the
literary review editor for The Broadkill
Review. Punks Writes Poems will publish
All My Rowdy Friends in 2016. His previous
chapbooks include The Black Narrows,
Field Recordings, and The Barleyhouse
Letters. Whitaker teaches in rural Maryland.

174

Stephen Williams has a bachelor’s and
a master’s degree in mathematics from
Central Michigan University and graduated
from the UCLA creative writing certificate
program. He has worked as an engineer, a
mathematician, a real estate developer, and
a commercial vineyard manager.
Jordan Wilner is in her third year at
Towson University, working toward a
degree in English with a minor in ancient
Mediterranean studies. Her greatest assets
are her sea legs and her “carrying voice.”
She is very small.

Grub Street 175