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Exit 109 Staff
Editor-in-Chief, Justine Jackson
Assistant Editor, Chris Bradbury
Assistant Editor, Kayla Harless
Design Manager, Jade Truong
Cover/Typography, Autumn Pittman
Head Copy Editor, Emily Morris
Copy Editor, Matt Parr
Staff, Paul Davis
Staff, Lindsey Kamerer
Staff, Rachel Turner
I took this job because I love to write, read, and create. I love to see the work of talented hands that wield a pen, pencil, paintbrush, or camera. I also took this job because a certain someone called me a smartass and recommended that I apply for the Editor-in-Chief position. Well, here I am presenting to you the 2011-2012 edition of the magazine. Our concept for this year was to incorporate a traditional literary arts magazine layout with the scrawled doodles from various people in the Radford community. We wanted to do something that anyone could join in on. This concept also reflects the blurred lines between professionalism and individuality for a college student. We may be preparing to earn our degrees and enter the so-called “real world” but we are also given the chance to freely express ourselves in and out of the classroom. As Radford University’s only literary arts magazine, Exit 109 exists to publish the creative talent of Radford students and share this talent with the rest of the community. I want to thank everyone who has supported this magazine. To all our contributors, whether you’ve been published or not, don’t give up expressing yourself. Keep working hard and continue to strive for the best. For those who either missed the deadline, didn’t know we existed, or didn’t have the guts to submit - think about contributing now. Finally, thank-you, reader, for bearing with me in my inspirational spiel and picking up a copy of this year’s magazine.
Table of Contents
08 09 11 12 14 16 17 18 20 21 23 25 27 28 31 32 33 34 36 37 38 40 43 Invitation Substance Sky-fishing My First Kiss Court the Reaper Coffee and Cigarettes We lie. Horrifyingly Beautiful ...and you were a hero To a Victim Child Under Control Abnormal William Shortt Shots of Life It’s Raining Forests Full of Life Encroaching Staircase Vertigo The 2nd Floor Sweater Transformation Chickens Senior Year Haikus Paul Davis Cecil Lee Jordan Chelsea Cronin Marissa Wilder Rebeccea Burnett Alexander J. Cardona Daniel Ray Bedsaul Amanda Thompson Bryan Orcutt Kiera McIvor Rebecca Burnett Amanda Thompson Alexander J. Cardona Marissa Wilder Victoria Large Kaleb Eller Newago Amanda Thompson Melissa Lawrence Paul Davis Whitney Atkins Rebecca Burnett Marissa Wilder Deanna Perry
45 Musician 46 The Window of Eden Perspective 47 Encased Waterfall 48 Boston, Massachusetts Sailboat 49 Finching Around Water Drops 50 Last of Fall Late Snow Ian Bray Bel Sulayman Joshua Gyovai Joshua Gyovai Bonnie L. Catron Bel Sulayman Joshua Gyovai Marissa Danielle Lette Lee Tolley
51 Elemental Tribar 52 Videotape Heaven’s First Light 53 Through the Door of Perception I Can Fly 54 Hey There Jack Kerouac Untitled 55 America 56 Confidence Nathan Popp Megan Zalecki Marissa Danielle Leete Bel Sulayman Marissa Danielle Leete Cat Dickerson Jesse Sutphin Stacy Sadler Stacy Sadler
58 61 68 72 76 77 78 83 That Dreadful Question Self-fulfillment Love and War Rent Aranea Fairy Hearts The Ballerina Biter Granny Shirley Guetio Cecil Lee Jordan Sharon Channon Paul Davis Emma Lutz Emma Lutz Justine Jackson Cecil Lee Jordan
92 Interview with Tim Poland Kayla Harless & Justine Jackson Emily Morris
100 ROBOT VS. DINOSAUR
I remember the preacher And my hand like a leper’s in his His big teeth swallowing a grin The Bible thumping The heel rocking The Glory to God’s The altar call. I threw the seatbelt off And drifted while a furnace Sky lit crooked matchsticks. Dad scooped me up And carried me like a Savior To my bed. He tossed the sheet Across my small legs. I thought I might never wake up. I remember from the open window A breeze slipping in Like sandals scraping the floor. And I thought, The diseased always call for an answer; They reach always from pain; They tear always from the hem The glory, in flame, disappearing Down a narrow dirt road. And the Savior passing by Senses only the touch Then hurries on to the next town His Bible thumping His heel rocking His God’s Glory The Altar Call.
Cecil Lee Jordan
I gaze into this world’s wet natural beauty, Shining a fluorescent green, Life buds into fruition. Debate begins— “…why are we here?” You believe only a higher power explains us; I trust in the carbon that makes up my body. Insignificant molecules, recycled— They could have been stars but They are me. You speak constantly of Him, often He. I express a scientific approach. I follow facts, you follow faith, Both of us stubborn, Neither quite blind. No middle ground exists between us, Yet our debates never turn violent, Neither of us throws stones. You ask about Jesus. I state I don’t need a carpenter. “But you must FIND him!” Are we playing Hide and Seek? Now I’m being insensitive, you say… Why did we climb to the top of this mountain to speak philosophically? I live in a world of substance, I see it, I smell it, I hear it, I taste it, I touch it. I love everything about it. I don’t have to believe in the invisible man to see Earth is filled with splendor. The tree above us filters out the sun’s bright light— Here we glow, Brightly, like your angels. In this beauty we fight over thoughts of fluidity,
While this substantial world begs for us to appreciate— Appreciate the solidity it provides. I breathe deep, air fills my lungs. “You wouldn’t enjoy that lungful of air if He didn’t love you.” I smirk. The cosmos swirls above us, the leaves below. We stand under this large birch; kiss, laugh and walk down this steep mountain Hand-in- hand. Conversation easily forgotten, We can talk about it later. Right now is important, this magnificent life, and this splendorous day.
I see a face in the Moon With my lasso, I pull it close, Pull it closer to my chest With all the strength of my heart. I climb aboard, Tight-rope walk, Take a nap, Cradled in its crescent, Feet and arms dangling carelessly. It’s what I want, To be amongst space cadets To go sky-fishing for stars. Dip my toe in the atmosphere. It’s chilly down there. I’ll stay. It’s what I want, Where it’s always night And I can always dream, Living lucidly in the universe, It’s what I want.
My First Kiss
I’ll never forget the day I saw the first boy I kissed at thirteen lying in a cheap blue coffin. My parents told me together because they were afraid I’d be upset. He was into drugs, not the kind that get you high but the drugs that make you forget you’re human— the drugs that screw your memory and cause your eyes to roll in the back of your head. Prescription drugs. He had a kid, a little girl, with a birthmark on her forehead in the shape of a small Texas and a set of mediocre green eyes— not because she wasn’t beautiful but because they were her momma’s green, not her daddy’s. Her name was Bethany, and the first time I met her she gave me a wet, slobbery kiss on the cheek. He smiled warmly and said he was glad she liked me and all I could think about was the engagement ring on my finger which he noticed in due time. I smiled politely when he told me he could buy me a better ring, but didn’t have the heart or the guts to tell his pretty green eyes that I’d never fall into his arms again. Those drugs got him into trouble, and pretty soon he struck a deal with the D. A. to turn in his partners for amnesty. He didn’t know they’d have a gun and see the tip of the wire sticking out of his shirt. Being a snitch was against the code.
He was shot in the leg, and the doctor swore that if the bullet had been an eighth of an inch to the left he would have lived. But it wasn’t, and he died in the driver’s seat of the truck where, at thirteen years of age, shaking with nerves and wondering if I would go to hell, his lips first touched mine. It was a bad kiss, but it was my first, and I remember that his breath smiled like the peppermint candy he always passed me in study hall, and that his hand cradled my cheek awkwardly because he was trying to act experienced when he didn’t have a clue what kissing meant. I remember the truck smelled faintly of blood because it was deer season and he had just killed and gutted a buck in the bed, and the cab window was open, letting the iron smell waft into my nostrils as I tried to appear calm, steady, experienced. His wife was with him when he was shot, and the newspaper reported that she tried to cover the wound, but the blood spurted through her fingers like a pricked water balloon on the Fourth of July. I looked down at his face settled on a starchy gray pillow and his mouth was twisted into a fake smile because his lips were glued together. I asked him if being a snitch was worth never seeing Bethany go to the prom or get married. I gazed at those lips, those glued up lips, and thought of our first kiss, and how he tasted like peppermint, and how I was scared to death.
Court the Reaper
Cigarette lighter in hand, scars marring his wrists, Cameron waits outside the clinic doors, blowing rings of smoke into the night air. This isn’t beauty; this is pain. But if I try to tell him that he’ll say I’m wrong. The doors slide— open, closed, open, closed— humming a mantra as random people amble through them. There’s a baby wailing in the lobby; a woman shouting at a child to “sit down and behave”; an old man huffing as he trudges into the building; and two teenage girls clad in skirts and tank-tops their faces coated with a surplus of makeup, whispering and snickering. “There’s so much noise,” I say, but Cameron shrugs it off. Nothing drowns out the screaming in his head. The thing about pain is that it’s loud. It doesn’t creep up behind you at night, dark camouflaged black halls shadowing its long, skeletal fingers as they curl around your throat. No, it shrieks into your ears until you can’t tell the difference between sound and silence and you have to cut yourself open on the outside because you can’t cut out the horror from the inside.
“I danced with death,” Cameron chuckles, flicking his finished cigarette to the street corner. I can’t help but smile because it’s true. He’d let death lead, pull him close, gently trace the blues along his face where pain had kissed him like a lover and begged him to touch those festering memories. “Yeah, man,” I say, half-amused, as the doors slide open for us, “you tangoed with mortality.”
Coffee and Cigarettes
Alexander J. Cardona
The coffee stares up at me A black expression on its face The cigarette’s masochistic ritual Between my fingers continues The morning buzzes round my head Draining my veins To fuel its activities My focus drifts The call still haunting my thoughts Like an egg that’s rolled underneath the fridge And taken the opportunity to rot I get up Still thinking of her I get up And with the little strength I have left I leave the room I was in
Daniel Ray Bedsaul
We lie. To ourselves to the others our friends and mothers There is nothing sweet about the way we tip-toe through the shadows on throbbing feet This kiss we share though misleading is one of lust; not hard to bare Into my skin you bite a thin layer of salt pupils expand before we even dismiss the light
Strapped down, Unable to move my limbs, Numb from eyelids to toenails. The straps unnecessary burdens I can’t move anyway. I am rubbed with an unknown thing, Asked if it is hot or cold. I cannot tell. I know that it is on my stomach And it moves between my naked breasts To make sure I am completely numb, It travels to my forehead Its final destination. On my temple I can tell it is an ice cube, Frigid and melting into tears Across my flushed cheeks. I will be awake the entire time. I guess it’s true… When one sense in hindered The others kick into Adrenaline induced hyper speed. They have taken my glasses off, No metal allowed on my body, Other than the scalpel and scissors Gleaming in their hands. I am hidden from my lower half By a baby blue paper drape. The rest of my blurred and distorted vision Is blinded by 8 florescent bulbs Hidden in a metal saucer above me. I can smell bleach on the tiled walls, The iodine brushed over me, The salty sweat on their brows, The drugs entering me through my spine And wrist.
The thick and rusty scent of blood In a plastic container to my right, I don’t have to look to know it’s my own. My ears are the only part of me left whole. I hear their language in my native tongue Even though I can’t understand the words. A snip, A demand for more suction. Tick, click, tick, click – And I know I am in half. Bladder and intestine beside me On the deformed, vinyl, inch-thick-padded Table. Still awake. I signed up for this. I knew this would happen. Then I hear the one sound That makes everything worth it. My parts are put back Then the needles pierce my flesh Putting me back together. They add a string of staples To my bikini line And pump sedatives into my veins. I want to see my accomplishment Before I am allowed And forced to shut my eyes.
... and you were a hero
A stranger. An outsider. Bent with helpful intent among the tides of cruelty That wash the world in apathy. A torrent of bystanders and onlookers. Yet kindness clings to the cliffs, Without reason, Without direction. A hand for one in need. A bastion. Towering with selfless action While the pillars of righteousness come crashing down Leaving naught but a desolate ocean. A desert. Where life once flourished Now it has been forgotten. And a simple act of kindness becomes A heroic deed.
To a Victim Child
It’s on: the tape is coming off, I’m no longer being quiet This silence can’t be ignored Thinking because we’re kids we don’t have any worries, they’re wrong Life is just so crazy I get called “stupid” cause I’m Black All the boys take my lunch money “Cause all white kids got it like that” And I get pushed around for being smart My eyes are small and most Americans claim I’m short I don’t understand why most kids complain, I get jumped every day My classmates say my family’s taking all the jobs because we accept lower wages I tell my parents out of fear They say, calm down kids are just being kids That’s what Stacey’s parents said now she’s no longer here And I refuse to lose my life over another kid’s fear Of change And I blame The TV shows and music videos that portray what people assume as being right Am I not as brilliant and as skilled as my pale friend because my skin isn’t white This is blasphemous All these emotions are firing inside of me Screaming to be free Trying to save another kid from slitting their wrist or hanging themselves with a rope from a tree Or using a bed sheet, to escape this prosecution This shit is stupid, a 12 year old kid shouldn’t be worried about cupid or if this world is better off if he were to leave it Faith, you can’t lose it
Those kids who belittle, it’s not their fault They are taught to hate Some parents just ignore the fact that change is near I mean it’s here The only thing constant in the world is change so why fear This rage that they birth I use to motivate So to anybody out there who feels the pressure of being different It’s God out there who did it for a reason Just know you’re here for a purpose And any time in your journey You start to feel weary And you don’t think that you belong Just turn to him and pray or check the fingerprint on your thumb It’s unique just like you, he made you like no other A child of the best you’re his special little solider
I thought I was pregnant once as I sat in a bathroom stall, gazing down at a blue plus sign in a small window. I imagined a little wonder child swelling up inside me, encased in my internal fluids, vulnerable to my every whim. “You’re pregnant?” he asked. I felt the guilt surface on my face as my cheeks flushed red. “I’m so sorry.” I wanted to tell him how beautiful he was, slouched on the loveseat like that in a t-shirt and boxers with a bottle of Jack at his feet. Instead I asked him what he wanted to do and he said, “Up to you. You’re the one carrying it.” That night, headlights shown through the window of our bedroom, illuminating the scene against our droopy eyes. I sat up in bed, clad in a white nightgown, and watched as his hand inched towards my waist. “I’m gonna take you out of here,” he promised, half-drunk. “Just as soon as I get me a truck, we’re leaving this god-forsaken place—you, me, and the baby.” Yes, and the baby, I thought. Wherever we go, the baby goes. Or, wherever I go. When he had drifted off, I tiptoed into our bathroom and downed one of the pills I once thought would never fail me. Then I gazed into the mirror, pointed, and whispered, “You are beautiful, baby.” I dreamt that night that I was on my hands
and knees, vomiting up blood and flesh and skin and bones onto his white carpet. When I woke up, it was dark, he was snoring, and my stomach throbbed. But I kept swallowing the pills. I did it the following night, and the night after that. I swallowed them up until one day I was staring down at a negative sign in a small window. I showed him this one morning, told him he was beautiful, and that I had been wrong.
When they told me, I cried. Tears of what I had planned for down the drain. Something so innocent, so beautiful, so new, so awe inspiring, broken down into medical terminology that flew over my head and into the unknown corner of mind labeled - “Things you don’t know yet, but will have to figure out.” Words spoken by people I don’t know. People that think they know what it’s like to be in the shoes of the person they’re talking to. But they don’t. They apologize, because I am crying. They think I’m crying over what they term “abnormal.” But I’m not. There is nothing “abnormal” about the tiny boy cradled in my arms. There is nothing “abnormal” about the love that overwhelms me. I cry because they used the word “abnormal.” I cry because their ignorance is far-reaching, and astounding, and painfully misplaced. I cry because I thought they were supposed to be smarter than this.
I cry because others will be just as ignorant. I cry because my heart is expanding and enveloping another chromosome to love and cherish. That is something no childless doctor will ever be able to understand. Something there is no medical term for.
Alexander K. Cardona
My whole life, I’ve known you only as my grandpa You may be someone else to someone else But to me, You’re made up of memories You’re the man Who filled my plate And told me to eat And when my sister and I refused You forced us Cole slaw Potato salad Down the hatch Seasoned with tears You’re the man who took us out to eat Flirted with the waitress Told us stories with no end All your experiences Till we were bored But you still wanted more Black coffee So we stayed Fidgeting
Shots of Life
When I was four years old my papaw gave me my first taste of coffee with a splash of milk and a teaspoon of sugar. As he screwed the lid on my sippy cup he winked secretively and made me promise not to tell. As my lips settled over the chewed plastic and I sucked in that first bought of caffeine my eyes grew as big as the saucer his white, chipped cup was resting in. This was better than candy. When I was nine years old and still relatively naïve about the vices people foster, I noticed a white Styrofoam cup sitting peacefully beside my papaw’s tan leather chair. I had seen this cup before, but this time as I slid my hand over the circular surface and pushed hesitantly to see the material give under my petite fingers I was curious about the black juice swirling at the bottom. So I tipped back the cup and was met with the acrid taste of tobacco and slimy black leaves and all things disgusting. My mamaw didn’t yell at me for spitting it out on the floor and my papaw only laughed and clapped his hands in merriment.
When I was fifteen years old I woke up one morning feeling as if my head had swapped places with a volleyball, because it was heavy and full of pressed air. I was so sick that I didn’t go to school, and when my mom came at me with the Vicks-VapoRub I sighed in relief at the fiery tingle on my throat. When my papaw sauntered into my room later that day and told me “Hurry up an’ drink this,” I saw no reason not to follow his instructions. As I began to tilt back the small shot glass he shook his head. “Drink it slow. It’ll burn.” I sipped the liquid and felt the soft fire ease down my throat, opening passages I didn’t know existed. The syrupiness of the honey was pleasant on my tongue but the hint of lemon caused my lips to pucker and my eyes to squint. “What is that?” I asked. “Hottie tottie,” he replied with a toothless grin. My mother entered the room seconds before he could slip the glass into his pocket. “Did you give her moonshine?” He laughed, kissed my forehead and left, while I sat stunned, annoyed. My papaw had given me my first shot of liquor and didn’t even tell me so I could fully appreciate my drinking freedom.
When I was twenty one years old I gazed up at the funeral home from the passenger’s seat of my husband’s car and nursed a diet Coke between my cold hands. “Why are you drinking that?” my husband asked, “You don’t like diet Coke.” I glanced down at the sweating silver can cradled in my palms and thought of my papaw. As he lay inside I attempted to choke down one last gulp of the god-awful caramel colored liquid, because it was his favorite late in life. I placed the empty can in the cup holder and the metal rung empty as it hit plastic.
Glistening dewdrops descend from Heaven, Painting the sidewalk in shadows. Suspended In the time between tick and tock, they reach Back to their home of clouds and mist, Dividing into a million fragments, rebounding, Catching the light for that one moment of Dazzling stillness, before shimmering down Into the grip of gravity. Rippling puddles Echo the dying, desperate gasps of life, Repeating the final few moments, the last Breathed murmurs of those that have Left us. The phantoms of the many fade Into the growing pool of the past. Cursed To forever repeat, to continuously play The same game of life, it continues to rain.
Forests Full of Life
Kaleb Eller Newago
As I walk through the forests, which are so full of life; I can hear the cardinal’s song, so much like the Redcoat’s fife; when I glance towards the lake, shimmering with gold; I immediately realize to this place I am sold. I can see the eagle soaring through the sky; I can hear the crane readying to fly; the bass do swim as fast as they can; fleeing from the persistent, ever lurking man. But some do not see the beauty in nature this way; they can not feel the same passions I convey; through the many ways man pollutes I can’t help but ask why? yet the only answer I ever get is that nature must die.
The autumn leaves Are brightest Right before their death. Like suicide victims Appear happiest In their last hours, Giving away their possessions Under the guise of gifts. Knowing their pain will Soon cease to exist. As gone as they will be. Yes, The autumn leaves Are beautiful. Until you’re the one That has to sweep up The remains. Until you’re the one That has to clean out The gutter. No matter how many times You rake them up, You can never Pick up all the pieces. You begin to hate the leaves, Ever encroaching On the porch you just swept. Every time you think You’re done, More appear. Until you give up And realize You will never be able To control them. All you have left Is to pray For winter.
Wobbly legs Over multi-shaded, brown shag carpet, Cautiously approach the ever-treacherous stairs. My body sways and trembles as I stare, Down, down, down. That staircase grows longer With every moment of hesitation. Steps stretch steeper and deeper. From below, as usual, I hear music howling From the speakers, through Dad’s air guitar, Up those haunting stairs, to my now smiling face. I reach up, Try to get a good Hold on the wooden railing, Lifted foot, Bent knee, One step at a time. Hendrix beckons me to the living room; there I go, Down, Down, So quickly down Those mountainous stairs, And—THWACK, Aching—head first into the antique table That holds the fish whose home I have Jostled and disturbed—again. I struggle to stand, My hands, knees, hips— Pulsating like the roaring speakers I have tumbled closer to. My head, pounding, Feels as though my brain tried to escape my skull As I bounced from stair to stair, corner to table,
As I stand I look to Dad, Frozen, wide-eyed, Yet bearing a large grin across his warm face, Reassuring me my brain will Remain in its rightful place.
The 2nd Floor
Where I walk among an isle of words And rest in the corner by a large window Where I open you like a flower in my lap And drink rain from your petals Then ascend to the surface With your wings on my back The words whispering in the aisles In that whiiirr of quiet Where I had drifted among them Down there, below me Flightless and shadowed Subterranean Waiting for a poet, or perhaps a scholar Or even a gardener of language Who merely rests In the corner by a large window Tucking seeds into his soul
I felt nauseous sitting on the vinyl booth at the Dog Café. You ordered a yogurt parfait and it disgusts me. How could you consume that slimy, appalling substance? I had to eat it once, (when I was eight) but only because I was sick and it only made me more so. You keep scratching at your ugly sweater because, sadly, you still don’t know how to do your laundry. It is terribly annoying and it makes my hands ache to think about touching it or you. You asked me to come here and you can’t see that I don’t want to be here. (Even though I cancelled three times) But now you have me here and all you can talk about is yourself. I want to leave. Sit on something that doesn’t make my legs sweaty and stick. Eat a burger rather than watch you eat that mush. But you make me feel obligated to listen to your melodramas. I realize sitting across from you that the hardest thing for me right now is to restrain my urge to scream at you, show you how foolish you are, but I shouldn’t. Sometimes the hardest thing and the right thing are the same. No matter how much your sweater irks me.
He says he’s a woman trapped in a man’s body and puckers his lips as he smears them with gloss. He flips his hair—it’s gotten so long now—and then twirls in the little strapless pink number his boyfriend got him. Sometimes I ask if he’s sure he’s not just gay, but he swears on his Catholic mother’s grave that he was meant to have a vagina. “A straight woman born into the wrong body,” he professes and I wonder what his pastor, not to mention his holier-than-thou father, would have to say about that. Whatever feels right, I suppose. But I can’t pretend I like it. There are too many memories—memories of him in ripped jeans and baseball caps, memories of me trembling and sputtering out barely coherent sentences as I tried to make him blush, memories of me writing my first name with his last on pages of notebook paper. Funny how people find themselves— how they look for answers in all the wrong places and assume they’ve finished the puzzle when there are still so many pieces missing.
He tells me he won’t be coming back tonight, and that I should consider going out more often. “And for the love of God,” he adds before prancing out the door with stilettos, a white purse and shaved legs, “fix your goddamn hair.” And then he—or should I say she?—is gone and I am left to wallow in nonsensical laughter as I sink into the naïve, lovesick child I once was who only knew girls and boys by what was between their legs.
I’m thinking about buying my mamaw a chicken and naming it Mike. Or Mikey. Or Nick. These were my papaw’s names. He loved animals: horses, pigs, dogs, cats, chickens. But not cows. No sir’ee. Not cows. The day our backdoor neighbors extended their fences and ran their cow field along his backyard he threw a holy fit. “Ain’t no cows gonna stink up my house!” I can vaguely remember the pigs and where their pen stood below the garden. But I’ll never forget the first time I saw him slaughter one. I asked where bacon came from one morning and he simply told me to follow him. I walked down the sloped hill to the garden and noticed for the first time, it seemed, the large wooden pole sticking from the earth with another pole nailed securely at the near top. It looked like a lop-sided cross. There was no grass under the pole, only dirt, and the markings on the wood were black. He took a sow who had just weaned her piglets and separated her from the others. The piglets didn’t seem to realize their mother was being led to slaughter. He was gentle. He patted her head, spoke in a soothing voice as he unsheathed the knife in his back pocket. She didn’t see the silver gleam in the sunlight as he swiftly sliced her neck open. There was so much blood. The iron smell filled my nostrils and as he hefted the sow up after tying a noose around her hind legs. I swear I remember tears in his eyes.
But this was how he fed his family. He also had a pony named Spence. I wish I would have asked him where the name came from before he died. I was afraid of the horse during my childhood, simply because he was big, foreign, smelly. I knew the hoofs the size of my head could trample me to dust. But my papaw loved him. He would go to the fields and pet him for hours. He always started by petting the long slope of forehead, and then moving his way down his mane. Then he would encircle Spence’s neck and lean on him. He whispered magical words to the animal and Spence whinnied, moving his head as if he were agreeing with his words. He plowed the garden with ease under my papaw’s guidance. Eventually they both grew gray and the garden fell by the wayside. One day, Spence stumbled in the field. He was old. My dad and papaw knew instantly that he had broken both of his back legs. Each time he tried to stand he let out a strangled cry. My dad asked my papaw if he wanted him to do it. He shook his head and took the shotgun. He knelt and encircled the horse’s neck one last time, kissing the side of his neck and whispering a farewell. Then he stood, and pulled the trigger as tears flowed down his cheeks. He walked away as my father dug the grave.
In my papaw’s final years, when the pigs were gone, Spence had died, and the dogs and cats had passed, too, he started building a chicken coop. It was ridiculous, with old paneling lining the walls and discarded tin making a roof. Chicken wire outlined the wooden frame in the front, and he built a door and ramp for the chickens. He wanted Banty roosters, the small, pretty kind. He would chuckle as he held up his thumb and finger in a description of how small the eggs would be. Before he bought the chickens he passed away, and now the chicken coop stands empty. I’m thinking about buying my mamaw a chicken and naming it Mike. Or Mikey. Or Nick.
Senior Year Haikus
I don’t care where you Come from so long as you leave Me the hell alone Facebook saddens me It’s where ambitions go when They prepare to die Neighbors are best at Midnight when it seems they just Woke up for the day Crawling under stuff Peering through mountains of crap For the damn remote College can be fun When it’s still new then you get The hell over it I don’t always eat At Dalton, but when I do I throw it all up
The Window of Eden
Encased Waterfall 48
49 Boston, Massachusetts Sailboat
Bonnie L. Catron
Last of Fall
Marissa Danielle Leete
53 Heaven’s First Light
Marissa Danielle Leete
Through the Door of Perception
Marissa Danielle Leete
I Can Fly
Hey There Jack Kerouac
That Dreadful Question
My home? I could feel the familiar clench in my stomach as I got ready to spit out the words that lurked around like an acidic aftertaste. The nausea that came up every time I thought about those very same words felt like rotten vomit I had to taste over and over again. Suddenly I became aware of the eyes that stared questioningly at me, waiting for what seemed like a thoughtless answer. “Ok then,” said the professor in response to my silence. “My home is in Tennessee because that’s where I grew up, and that’s where my whole family is from. When I retire, I plan on going back there because all my memories are engraved there and no matter how many places I’ve been, I always want to go back. So what do you consider to be your home?” The professor asked again. House, in my primary language, French, is maison. At the sound of that word, my brain always flaps rapid images like one you would see on a motion screen. I remember my younger days where I could easily let the airplane be my place of rest as my father dragged me to three different countries a year. I can recall our various aids; the guard Sebastian, who was convinced I would marry his son; the nanny, Justine, who insisted I take naps like “normal kids,” and the cook, Clementine, who had a smile plastered on her face even in her sleep. La’aa is the word for “home” in my dialect. Ohm a la’aa the language strongly emphasizes the village. The village was what I’ve come to know after my father lost everything, and we moved in with my grandmother. When I close my eyes I can still bring up a visual image of my grandmother’s red-brick house back in the village. On one of the many sun-scorching days my grandmother and me were out on the farm digging yams for my brothers coming home from school. I can still vividly see myself and the other village kids chasing the fireflies and the crickets that engaged in their evening lullabies as the sun bid the villagers good night. I wondered whether I should tell various stories that my grandma had told me about her grandparents moving from
Israel to West Africa. I always believed that story made me much more attached to them than I’ve ever wanted to admit. I imagined them, my great-great grandma especially, wrapped in purple veils riding her trusted camel into southern Egypt, across what is Chad today, and into Cameroun. That idea always made me smile, but one thing that tormented me was why they left home. I guess that’s one thing that’ll always remain unanswered. Nevertheless, I know the one thing that they didn’t leave behind was the culture. I have grown to appreciate my grandmother getting up earlier than the birds to bless the house, heat water for the daily cleansing, and anoint every head in the house with a bit of olive oil she kept carefully under the rocks. The scent to me was always alluring, so on my way to school I never failed to run a finger across my forehead and wipe it on the warm pita bread we had most days for breakfast. France. The country of my childhood. I remember Auxerre. It was absolutely my favorite place to be. I suppose it had something to do with the massive St. Etienne Cathedral it was known for. But not to me. I was a child. All I cared for was running around freely in the streets that seemed to welcome me blindly. The old fashioned town with its rivers and magnificent architecture loved me and I loved it back. What about Reston, the small community I either eternally proclaim my love to every time I’m out on a walk, or complain and curse it for being so plain? I always welcome the sense of comfort Reston seems to bring me. “It’s so green” is always the first thing I seem to tell people about Reston. I just love it. It’s as simple as that. Maybe I’m looking at this all wrong. Maybe I don’t have to choose. Even that thought still doesn’t stop the nausea and nostalgia that seems to wash over my body. It often occurs to me that if I hadn’t traveled so much, I would find it easier to answer that question. But I cringe at the thought of never knowing those places and never knowing those people, never learning all those languages. I would like to think it all goes back to the roots, where my ancestors started passing on the bittersweet lifestyle of the global nomad.
“My home is in Israel,” I finally replied. Smalls oohs and gasps escape some lips. “That’s amazing!” The teacher exclaims. “When did your family move here?” Oh no. “Well, actually…”
Cecil Lee Jordan
~1~ One day I realized that the only person who could afford to ensure my happiness was me. I used to rely upon various bitches and bastards to help me with any problems I encountered, and people, be they friends or family, would always say, if asked, that they would help me with anything I could ever need. Weeks later when asked if they would be willing to come help with one small chore or another, they would deny me time and time again. Yet, of course, they always had a good excuse; they had a lot of work to do, or it was their third-cousintwice-removed’s birthday, or they had a headache, or they really needed to masturbate because they hadn’t masturbated in at least 30 seconds and that takes clear priority over any other commitments they could possibly ever attempt to schedule. ~2~ It’s the moment when you know you have had a great night and you know you are getting laid. You bring her back to your place, both stumbling and giggling, hormones high, you are ready for that moist fulfillment that only another can provide. She lies down on the fluffy hand-sewn quilt and begins to undo her shirt. Then you go into the bathroom for that last-minute teeth brushing and to fumble with the damnable condom wrapper that is so unholy difficult to unwrap in a drunken stupor. You walk out of the bathroom wearing nothing but some latex, an erection and a smile, only to realize that she is barebreasted and passed-the-fuck out. ~3~ I stand in the line of the pretzel place in the mall waiting to get that soft, chewy goodness I have been craving for weeks. All I want is a single, large, salted pretzel with that delicious gooey cheddar sauce that is oh-so-perfect for dipping. I can smell the delightful smell. That distinct carb-loaded smell and I can actually see the little cups of cheddar sauce waiting. I’m about twenty people back, God knows why they are so busy, but eventually I get my turn. The young man at the counter asks, “How may I help you?” and I confidently give my order only to be told, “Sir, we just ran out of cheddar sauce, would you like
another sauce?” My face, elongated, eats my dry ass, old pretzel with mustard. I stare down the man behind the counter with contempt. Next time I will bring the melted cheddar myself. ~4~ That night with the drunken, bare-breasted girl, I discover that self-fulfillment is a bottle of lotion and a closed bathroom door away. It turns out I can do this myself. The condom wasn’t needed either. ~5~ I was walking over to her apartment; she says she had a stressed week and wants me over for drinks and scrabble. I’ve had a rough week too. It’s cold outside and my jacket is too big and it doesn’t really keep the cold out and the wind bites. I get there to be greeted by her and her roommate with the limp, the speech impediment, and the eyes that loll laxly around the room while she speaks. The scrabble board smells of vodka probably spilt upon it during the 1970’s and it is physically lumpy from the vodka damage and half the tiles are missing and I have all vowels and the drinks turn out to be cheap wine, served very warm. ~6~ “Sure, I’ll come with you to the art exhibit,” he said on that warm spring day. “I’ll meet you by the fountain at seven tomorrow.” Waiting by the fountain, I observe the birds chirping and I feel the gentle warm breeze. Clouds are rolling in, but it doesn’t appear that it’s going to rain. By 7:15 I go to the exhibit alone, and I found it less than satisfactory. On the way back it poured down the coldest rain in existence. I was wearing mixed fabrics that reacted badly to the moisture, and I had no umbrella or coat. ~7~ Sometimes I read alone while listening to classical music using only a dim lamp to light the words on the page. It’s more pleasant than being around people, but it hurts my eyes. ~8~ They always want something and some time. “Hey Cecil!” They inquire, “can you make the time to help me write
a poem, so filled rhyme?” I concede and I help and the rhymes are fantastic. We finish real quick then I jump up and down and rip the elastic lining in my shorts. I ask her to sew the small rip really quickly, but suddenly I see she must be feeling real sickly. I can see her sewing kit, it lies close at hand, but it turns out she must leave *cough cough* she’s in a band. ~9~ He walked into my room and then vomited. I had an exam the next morning, but I helped him survive the night and had to clean my whole room from top to bottom at about four in the morning. My room smelt like Four Loco, and I had to spend eight dollars on laundry. I didn’t do as well on my exam as I hoped, and the girl who sat next to me asked me if I was alright. I answered back, “Just a little sleepy, but otherwise fantastic.” The bags under my eyes were almost as big as my smile. ~10~ Apparently I can sew just fine. The needle pricked my finger approximately a million times during the small mending job, and my finger was sore the next day, but the seam looked great. I wore the shorts out in public for the first time, proud of my workmanship, and the first time I moved the shorts almost ripped off of me. I didn’t find being almost naked in public unpleasant. In fact the breeze on the way back home was kind of nice. ~11~ On move in day I saw a hideous girl walking the hallways. She talked to me, and her hygiene was questionable. Lucky for me she lives just down the hall and wants to be good friends. ~12~ My Facebook is filled top to bottom with hundreds of friends and they are always contacting me to talk. They all have problems and I am just the person to solve them. I talk to them while I write and it is a distraction and I act like it doesn’t bother me. No one was online when my dog died.
~13~ Sometimes it is easiest to bury your own dog. Even in the deepest dankest clay a rotting dog is more of comfort than most Facebook friends. At least a flower comes back on his grave every year as a consistent comfort. I buried my dog. ~14~ Those giant tits made a shelf because of those push-up bras that seemed to be doing the impossible. I could sit a drink upon them on most nights, and, on some nights, I did. She always drank at my place so I had to take care of the party fouls; the spills, the thrills, and the chills were apparently my responsibility. I had to DJ. I had to buy. I had to clean. Every time. One night I awoke after a night of drinking with her, and it was dark and humid and I’m scared. I can’t breathe. Something smooshy is compressing my whole face. I struggle to escape, and it turns out she had rolled on top of me, and I was trapped in those tits that made the shelf. They tried to kill me. It turns out they were best made for holding drinks and strangling sleeping men. ~15~ When I am at my most stressed, maybe about to break, to rip quicker than old elastic, people come to me with their problems. They have large problems you see? Their iPhone’s screen is more dim than usual and their nails are chipped and during their manscaping they `scaped just too much. It looks like a fucking baby down there and I am supposed to care. Also the dining hall was out of chocolate cookies and they are everyone’s favorite, so I console the bleeding masses, and they never even asked how I was doing. I’m pretty sure I know how I feel so there is really no need to tell anyone anyway. I’m a good listener with good advice. Eat the sugar cookies, they are amazing. ~16~ Drinking with others has become a chore. Maybe I should drink these bottles of wine alone? It’s easier to clean up after yourself. The fifteen dollar bottle of cheap vodka looks more and more like a one person serving every time I buy it.
Also there is never anything to not remember the next day and usually there is bad poetry to read in the morning. If I’m hungover they sometimes leave me alone. ~17~ She bit me. I wasn’t expecting it. ~18~ He really began to bother me. His Justin Bieber hair and his accent, and the way he was a constant distraction during my homework. He couldn’t fuck with me via Facebook like the others; he actually came to my room every night and sat on my bed. He would talk while I typed, and I couldn’t stand it. I would kick him out of my room only to spot him standing outside of my open window listening to my music and the sound of my typing. I would watch the bobbing orange ember burn in the night then close my windows and the blinds. He would be back. Sometimes he would try to stay the night, and one time I literally dragged him back to his room. It’s easy to resent people. ~19~ I do yoga to keep limber and cardio so I’m not one of those fatties that huffs and puffs after a single flight of stairs. I read to expand my mind, and I used to want to meet people. I used to crave new human interaction. Now I avoid eye contact whenever possible and if someone calls my name from behind me on the sidewalk and I don’t recognize the voice I walk faster and pretend I don’t hear it. They probably just want something, and I have stuff that needs to get done and no one is going to do it but me. I can do it myself, and I can handle my emotions. Most people don’t care either way. I make my bed, I think my thoughts, I pay for college, and I avoid eye contact. I can also put my leg behind my head. ~20~ We used to spend so much time together but then we went to different colleges. We still talk, but it’s not the same. We used to talk about life, now life has become talking about what a bitch it is to write essay after essay, squeezing out words onto paper to meet the ever-present deadline. Neither of us are on Facebook much to talk anyway. Life became busy.
~21~ It was the day I was wearing my new shirt. I paid too much for it. At lunch my friend was trying to open his last ketchup packet because he had three fries left, and they would be rendered inedible without ketchup. Upon attempting to open it the packet exploded. My new shirt was hit and the stain never came out. ~22~ I now carry around Tide-to-go pens for those little condiment explosion accidents that seem to happen more often than the condiment packaging companies would like to admit. Maybe ketchup should come with a warning label. The pen stopped working so it helps to avoid disappointment by always wearing stained clothes. No, that isn’t mayonnaise. ~23~ I went to the party that she invited me to last weekend, and although I arrived at a decent time, the punch was already gone and all they had was beer. I don’t like beer. The walk home was decidedly sober and unpleasant. I could still taste the one beer I drank the previous night, the next morning. ~24~ He and I went on a hike. He talked about sports. I thought about escape. ~25~ I went to the hedge maze with a friend who assured me she was good with puzzles. I’m claustrophobic. After several hours of wondering around, I found the way out myself. She was freaking out worse than I because it was almost dark. It felt good to accomplish a goal by myself. The sun hadn’t yet set by the time we escaped that well-manicured green hell. I can escape my own mazes. ~26~ She said she liked my scarf. I couldn’t help but think she was being sarcastic so I asked, “Do you really?” “Actually, no,” she replied. I still wonder why she said anything at all.
~27~ He assured me that the vacuum would never lose suction. The first time I turned it on it worked great. It even supposedly filtered the air. When I turn it on now, a mere three months later, it barely lifts the lightest confetti. It doesn’t filter my air either. I miss the money I spent on it, and if I ever saw that man again I think I would shake my clogged HEPA filter onto his head. ~28~ I try to keep my thoughts nice, my statements true, and my floor clean because the vacuum doesn’t work. I don’t like to lie, and I find that the only person who can consistently make me happy is myself. The best way to find cynical happiness is to become a self-sustainable one person ecosystem. You’re always happiest when the only person you talk to is yourself.
Love and War
Characters: Michelle: 23-year old girl living in suburban America. She is an easy-going people pleaser who is preparing for college. Amanda: 22-year old suburbanite. She is a very caring girl, always putting others’ needs before her own. She is also preparing for college. Liam: 25-year old man. He is a soldier in the Army and surprisingly sensitive. He is preparing to deploy to Afghanistan. Curtain rises on a Middle America coffee house. The café is pretty empty with Amanda and Michelle sitting at a small table in the foreground. The scene begins mid-conversation. Michelle: So Liam should be here soon. I don’t know if I am ready to have this conversation. Amanda: You can handle it, honey. Besides, you guys are running out of time. He leaves for Missouri in two weeks and is deploying in a month and a half. Michelle: Like I don’t know all that already? I just… I’m afraid of what he’s going to say. What if he says he doesn’t want to be with me? Amanda: [rolling her eyes] Michelle, I’m not going to explain this to you again, so listen up. It doesn’t matter what he says. You… and everyone else for that matter know that he cares about you. Even if he can’t admit how he feels, you know he loves you. Michelle: [getting close to tears] He knows that I like him, love him even and yet every time another guy talks to me, he says go for it. That it doesn’t bother him and I can do what I want. I know he cares for me, but it’s not fair that he won’t tell me. Is it so wrong that I want to be with him? I get that he’s leaving soon, I am too, but still, I love him and if he loves me I should hear it. And I mean sober. He only tells me when he is drunk. I deserve to hear it from him stark sober. Or he will leave and may never come back, and I will never have heard I love you from his lips. That isn’t asking too much. Not after all we’ve been through.
Amanda: It’s not, honey. And it’s not fair, I know. But he is leaving for Afghanistan in a few months. We don’t really know how that feels. How could we? Michelle: So he should explain it to me. I deserve that much from him. And if he loves me, he should want to be with me. Amanda: I know sweetie, but he has a lot on his plate right now. Michelle: I have to at least try and get him to talk to me. Liam enters the coffee house and heads over to the girls. Amanda: [whispering] He’s here. Michelle: [whispering] Oh man…. all right, I will call you after. Liam: Hey, girls. Liam sits down as Amanda gets up. Amanda: Hey, Liam. Sorry, guys, I gottta go meet my mom for lunch. [Hugs Liam, then Michelle and whispers in her ear] Good luck! I love you. Liam: That’s weird, why did she leave so quickly? Michelle: [avoiding eye contact] We need to talk. Liam: Great. Those are my favorite words to hear from a girl. Michelle: Well we do. I’m so confused by you. Liam: Have I not been upfront with you from the beginning? Michelle: Yes, but… Liam: [interrupts] I told you from the get go that nothing can come of this. Michelle: Yes, but something has come of it. You can’t say that we are still just friends. Not after everything we’ve been through. You told me that you love me. Liam: I do. We will always be more than just friends now… Michelle: See?! Then what are we? If we aren’t friends, then what are we? Are we dating? Liam: You know I can’t date anyone. I am leaving for war.
Michelle: [getting gradually more excited and animated] I also know that you told me that you love me last night. You were so drunk you almost started crying when you saw me with Mike, and you dragged me in the other room and told me that you love me and can’t stand to see me with other guys. Liam: [spoken softly] I know what I said. Michelle: And what? Now you want to take it back or deny it in some way? Liam: [struggling for words] It’s not that I… just… I never intended to fall for you. Michelle: And you think that I wanted to fall for you? Honestly, I told myself long ago that you weren’t ready for a girlfriend. Besides you’re leaving and I’m starting school. A relationship could never be. But still I find myself in love with you and I think…you feel that same… Liam: I told you, I do… but what can I say or do about it? I can’t trust another girlfriend, I just can’t. And more importantly, I just can’t leave someone that I love behind. Michelle: You are already doing that! You are leaving me behind whether I am your girlfriend or not! Liam: It’s not the same. Michelle: [getting louder, more upset] It is! It is the same! And you said you trust me completely. I am not just some random girl; it’s me. We have been friends for ten years. You cannot justify not wanting to be with me by saying you can’t trust me as your girlfriend. Liam: That’s not it. Michelle: So that’s just been a lie? Some excuse to get me close while keeping me at arm’s length? Just take up your time until you have to leave? Liam: That’s not it. Michelle: [almost yelling] Then what is it? Liam: [loud outburst] I can’t do that to you! I just can’t leave you here waiting for me! What if I don’t come back? Michelle: [speaking loudly at first but almost in tears at the end of the line] You think I won’t be waiting for you anyway? I love you, Liam. I want you to come home, home to me.
Liam: [quietly] It’s hard. You don’t know how hard it is to leave someone like you behind. I have been trying to convince myself that I’m alone. As long as I am alone, it won’t matter what happens over there. It won’t matter if I die. The other soldiers come first. If I have you at home, then I may not be able to do my job. Michelle: [speaking gently] I realize it’s hard. I know the timing of all this sucks. We finally get our chance and you have to deploy… but no matter what happens with you and I, it matters what happens to you. Even if we aren’t together I still want... need you to come home. Liam: I don’t know what to say. I can’t do this; I just don’t know what to do. I love you, but my job is not safe. I just can’t make you my girlfriend and leave you for a year… possibly forever. Michelle: [loudly and excited] But I am your girlfriend. With or without the label of a couple. If we really do love each other, we owe it to ourselves to be together while we can. Don’t you see that? Liam: [starts out quietly and gets emotional] I just can’t do that to you. I can’t make you into one of those girls that sit and wait for their men to come home from war. It’s not fair, and I just won’t do that to you. Michelle: [almost in tears] I already am... I already am one of those girls. [Puts her head in her hands as Liam gets up and walks away] Lights dim and curtains close.
On Sunday mornings she would flame the stove and stir the sauce and rock before the oven. She sang hymns. Her voice was especially soft and on those mornings it very often threw slumber like a hot sheet from my mouth, grey light from outside tracing a liquid square around the wall. I would pad softly into the kitchen and watch her drop the spices from her palms into the pot. She would stir and sing and morning would fan itself into silver, shining bars across the linoleum. I remember most of the words that she sang, stretched like bleeding flowers – roses from splinters flung from behind the teeth. Those words in the back of her throat, heaved to her lips, and bursting like the light above the stove. Until it was time to go, she seldom moved away from the heat. She stirred and shook carefully the spices she had so meticulously selected the night before. She sang hymns. And if she didn’t know the words to one particular stanza, she would hum the tune through the tight line of her mouth, her bright red lipstick going the color of a dull pink. I was just awake, a dream diminishing in my mind like some ethereal fog burning away from the long flaming fingers of a sun in midafternoon. Yet, it was still cold and the linoleum blazed through my socks. I stood there and watched her sway, the weight and creak of a misstep bringing her song to an abrupt halt. (The bubbling sauce and the smell of spices lifting like smoke to the Sunday air.) “I’m tired of walking on eggshells,” she announced to the room. To say her statement was directed to me I could not know, because she always seemed to speak in ambiguities and until I was reproved for whatever it was I had done prior to my presence in the room, my mind bobbed in cold and unfamiliar waters; still, I often unfurled her words carefully, much like those transcribed from old sun-scorched scrolls uncovered from the sand in some dust-spun corner of a disciple’s desert.
Now, in the dust motes playing in bars of an early morning sun, I stared at the tangled nest of her black and grey hair pinned in a ball to the top of her head. I waited for her to turn to me, but she stood like an emaciated sentinel, tossing mechanically the spices into the pot. This was her way. “You know I work nights.” She toiled through the passage and I listened to the words rise in the shards of shadowed leaves from trees tossed by the wind to the curtains at the sink. I loved her voice when she sang. Then: “I’m tired of being quiet for you. When I want you to get up you’re still asleep, so I try not to disturb you. It’s not easy leaving you in there during the day. We’re all awake and it’s like you’re the dead in there.” “I’m sorry. I try to keep quiet.” “You’re a good deal louder when you’re asleep. But you don’t know that, do you? No, of course you wouldn’t. Nor do you seem to care what the rest of us are doing with our day.” (The gurgling pot, her hum, the sway moving the soft light around the kitchen.) The dream wavering at the fringes of my mind dissipated – some last silver light on a sparkler popping and fizzing to its end. “I’m still looking around,” I explained. “Got my feelers out.” I knew those words had sunk, listed on my tongue like some forgotten and ghostly ship snagged in a shallow cove. She knows it, I thought. She always seems to know. Like the time I came home from school and she could smell the cigarette smoke on my hands. Jesus reveals all to her, I thought. From His throne all things are precipitously lit. I tended to detest her more during the epiphanies than I had ever tried to love her now; standing here in this Sunday morning tinsel, wondering how I was to take so seriously all of what she would have had me believe.
“Have you paid your father for last month?” Having slowly turned from the stove, her gaze bore into me. She folded blindly the spices into the pungent sauce. I thought I caught the faint glimmer of a smirk on her lips and a twinge in the deep churning in her eyes. I remarked quickly, “I don’t get paid until Friday. You know that.” She turned back to the gurgling sauce and began singing a stanza from The Old Rugged Cross. She had gotten one line wrong, I noticed. She hummed. “Get ready for church,” she tossed suddenly over her shoulder. “You aren’t wasting your time in that room. You’re going with us. Get dressed, it’s Easter. You’re alive and you need to find something to fill your time with.” I passed my father on the way back to my room. He stopped at a smudge on the wall and gazed at it with grey, vacant eyes. He scraped at it with a finger, cleared his throat, and straightened his tie. He said nothing to me and when I passed he shambled towards the kitchen, averting a scrutinizing glance. I wanted suddenly to shout at him. I wanted to lift insults and accusations to his ears. But he seemed that morning both mute and deaf and I knew nothing lifted to my tongue would ever much impress him. He wants reparation, I thought not for the first time. He wants something in return for my stay. I closed shut the door behind me, I heard him breathing just outside in the hallway like some watchtower patrolman armed with a rifle. Still, I dressed in slacks and a polo shirt and sat at the edge of my bed. Head in my arms, I gathered all the strength I had to rise up and go to church. I heard him move away quickly from the other side of the door. Then, I heard their soft liquid voices in the kitchen, talking in riddles. I rose up from the bed and I met them both on the burning linoleum, the sun dancing like flames on countertops. The smell of something sweet and equally acrid rose to the air. Storm clouds spread from the orange flaming sun outside like
some deepening bruise on the skin of the sky, the sword of another Sunday morning slicing through dark, bloated reefs. She dropped into the sauce darker flakes and stirred, cleaning her fingers with her mouth, and kissing the corners of his lips. She turned down the stove and the light above the plates clicked into darkness. She hummed, tried to remember something, pursed her lips. As she straightened his tie, she smiled tenderly and slammed shut the front door behind me. She yanked from her heart another hymn and I tried to remember how much I loved her voice, how much I had always loved it. But the smudge remained, indelible. And the sun, sliding like an empty, white pupil behind the lid of the sky, never again, that day, appeared. I said, “You know I work nights.” She quit humming and the petals on her lips curled into a dark wine-colored vellum as she thought of something wise to say. “I only get paid on Fridays. You know that.” A low moan of thunder crumpled into the sky like a shattered, rusting hull hurled suddenly against a crag thrust up from some black ocean. Rain, in sheets, slashed at the windshield. My father loosened the knot at his throat and she smiled as another hymn rose to her tongue. But the smile quickly faded and she stared darkly into the wet, shining streets before us, her small frame lost in her best Sunday dress. She said, “It’s like you’re the dead in there.”
This is a story about time. Time tells us when we’re young and when we’re old. Time is great to have and greatly feared as it fades away. Time is the reason the spider is dangling at a dangerous angle to the sun. And time is exactly what she’s running from. Stars watch from the nearby heavens as the spider floats back and forth among the clouds. The tips of her web are caught in the moon’s crooked crescent nose and tangled in the stretching beams of the sun. She worries that her silk is not strong enough. “Will it break,” she wonders to herself. “When the moment comes, will I succeed? Or is this just a foolhardy dream of mine, to stop time?” The sun and moon just spin in their tracks, the curious observers of a possible anomaly. Planets gauge the silver threads, placing bets and speculating on their demise. She can feel the doubt and skepticism; from them, from her own heart, but she doesn’t accept it, she can’t. She will not admit defeat even as the fragile veins holding together two globes begin to snap. And for a moment, for a single second that lasts a thousand years, everything stops. Bound to one another across the sky, the moon looks bewildered at the sun, the sun to the moon, both to the spider. She clings gently to the remaining strands of her masterpiece, again wondering. “Maybe this dream of mine was not so ridiculous as others made it out to be. But is this what I really want? To preserve this moment of life for an infinite amount of moments? Or do I want to move on, to have another time I wish I could save forever? I wonder if it would be more foolish to stop time or to live without it?” Nimbly, with all the grace her body can offer, the spider cuts her web. And in this moment, the single second that seems to last a thousand years, life begins.
My people, if you choose to call us such, are a vicious lot really. We do nothing except for our own pleasure and many creatures call us demons. For many ages we have been hunted. But the silly charms the creatures hang in trees are of no use in most cases. But perhaps we do not give others as much credit as is deserved, for if we did, I might not be stuck in this horrendous situation. I only wanted to look at the color, you know. For some reason it mesmerized me. I wondered if the inside might be even more tantalizing. And I fell in. It was a mistake, naturally. If I had known that I couldn’t get out again, I would never have gone near the damned thing in the first place. Unfortunately for me, it has cost me my freedom, and I worry that soon it will take my life away too. The curse of my kind has trapped me at last. Now I hang in this, my beautiful prison tossed by the wind, and sparkling in the sun. My only consolation is my own personal hell. There sits a someone under my glass. He cannot see me, but oh! To see him is ecstasy itself. If I were but free, his story would be mine to tell. I would enchant him, steal his chaste heart, and swallow it whole. But I cannot touch him. For the obvious reasons of my imprisonment and for others just as painful. As I said before, he cannot see me, but he does see another. Another of his kind, with a mild heart and not a thousandth of the attraction mine could offer. If I could, I would not touch her. Hers is a heart to make me cringe. In her is all that is not in me. To see her heart in him and his in her is too much. I almost wish I could change, to make my heart white instead of black. If I could be like her… but such thoughts are folly, I will never change. My heart will still smolder like coal, burned by the infernal light of their souls. Maybe it will be my salvation to suffer. This stupid piece of glass, this bottle, it is not so pretty as I thought.
The Ballerina Biter
A child’s first dance recital is usually filled with those mesmerized parents as their child goes up on stage, remembering a few steps from the instructor before looking to the next little girl beside her or sucking her thumb because seventy-five dollars a month still isn’t going to force a four-year-old to learn the routine. My four-year-old daughter, however, specializes in the art of ballerina biting. Forget the pliés and pirouettes, Layla Ray is ready to take out any ballerina that dare holds the hand of the boy she loves. At my daughter’s persistent request, we enrolled Layla into ballet lessons and watched as she suckered her best friend forever, Raphael, into the same class. Raphael, being the only boy, became the immediate center of attention. I knew right away that Layla wasn’t happy with this as ten other little girls wanted to also be best friends with Raphael. “Raphy’s my friend. He can’t be friends with all those girls.” The first night after her dance class, Layla didn’t want to talk about ballet at the dinner table. My wife had attempted to ask our youngest if she learned anything but to no success. “Raphael can be friends with whomever he wants,” my older daughter Clover told her little sister. “You have to learn to share.” “I don’t want to.” Layla shook her head, “Can’t make me.” Clover went back to picking at her baked chicken with a fork. She might have been an advanced student at her school but she certainly didn’t know how to reason with a four-year-old. “Hey Layla,” I finally spoke up. “Just remember that no one else gets to hang out with Raphael outside of dance class. You guys get to watch TV together and go to the playground –” “And play Angry Birds!” She was happy now, but I was afraid she was going to ask for my cell phone and drain the battery yet again. She had a knack for taking my phone and downloading dozens of games. “See how lucky you are, Layla?” I knew I had to change the subject before she put on her best begging face to ask for my phone. “Oh yeah, did you want to hear the funny story about
what happened to me at work today?” “Yeah! What happened, Daddy?” Both my diversions were a success. The next few months Layla’s dance lessons went by swell, partially because she knew this was the only time Raphael would be around the other girls and that, as it turns out, Raphael didn’t really want to talk to any other girl but Layla. Unfortunately, Gloria, who was by far the best dancer, was determined to be Raphael’s friend. Raphael wasn’t so keen about this. He asked for advice in the car when I picked him and Layla up from dance class. “I don’t want to be mean,” Raphael let out a frustrated sigh. “But Gloria’s annoying. What should I tell her?” “I don’t know,” I shrugged. “Tell her that she’s got a dumb name.” I wanted to laugh though because I still like to think that Raphael was named after the Ninja Turtle and not the painter. “If that doesn’t work you could always be honest.” “Gloria is a dumb name,” Layla butted in. “My name’s cool because it’s a rock song.” “It is cool,” Raphael commented. “I’ll tell Gloria next class I don’t like her.” Their next dance class ended up being a surprise for both the kids as the instructor finalized her placement for each dancer. She split Layla and Raphael apart and made Raphael front and center, next to Gloria. Raphael didn’t end up saying anything to her, and all Layla could do was whine. Their ballet lessons and Layla’s frustrations continued until it was finally time for the end of the year recital. The weekend in May the recital was scheduled had unfortunately fell at the same time Raphael’s parents were at a medical conference. I ended up being alone in the audience as my wife’s photography studio was hired to photograph the dancers, and Clover decided to go camping with her friends rather than see her little sister’s first recital. Layla and Raphael were able to sit with me for a short amount of time before I had to take them to the dressing room. Thankfully my wife was able to take a few minutes off from work and get Layla and Raphael into their costumes. I sat waiting in the audience, staring at the program booklet, trying to find out when their
ballet number was finally up. The curtains would close after each performance. Eventually I heard the familiar jingle that Layla and Raphael had been rehearsing to. The curtains opened, and I could see on the dimly lit stage the eleven girls dressed as princesses and Raphael as the prince in the center. All of them were holding hands until the lights grew brighter and the music louder. Most of the girls lifted their arms to sway to the music except Gloria who was still holding on to Raphael’s hand. Layla craned her neck to see Raphael before she heard the cue in the music to move. The girls near the end were tiptoeing to the center as the center dancers were stepping forward. Gloria was still holding Raphael’s hand under hostage as he tried to gently shake free from her grasp. Breaking from her spot, Layla went up and tapped Gloria on the shoulder. The woman next to me let out an “aww” probably thinking my daughter was trying to help Gloria remember her steps. I knew that wasn’t the case with my daughter though. There was a quick word exchange between the two girls, and then Gloria turned her head away from Layla. Seizing this opportunity, Layla bit the unsuspecting Gloria’s arm. She quickly released Raphael’s hand and let out a holler. Gloria began to tear up. Some of the girls with frightened faces stood still while Layla and Raphael continued to dance like nothing had happened. At the end of the number the two held hands and took a bow, the curtains closed. Part of being a parent are these instances of embarrassment and the questioning of your skills. I immediately got up from my seat to meet my daughter and avoid the angry mothers that just saw their child’s first ballet number ruined thanks to my kid’s jealousy streak. “Come on, Hannibal Lecter.” I took Layla’s hand, “I don’t think you’ll be dancing here again.” “What!” The mistake was using the word “don’t.” You don’t use a negative around a child because they’ll use one right back. “No! I don’t want to quit dancing!” She started to
squirm, “You can’t make me!” “Layla, come on. Let’s just go.” “No!” By this point I knew I had to pick her up or else I’d be dragging her out the door. She started to choke up, ready to unleash the waterworks. “Don’t cry, it’s going to be all right.” She dug her head into my neck, and her tears began to damp my shirt. “Raphael’s going to be coming home with us today. He’s even spending the night.” “That’s right,” Raphael said. “We can dance at your house.” She looked up with red blotchy eyes and sniffled. She nodded but hid her face again. I tried to leave with the two so we could find my wife, but Gloria’s mom stopped me. “Um, Mr. McCrary.” She surprisingly didn’t have an angry tone to her voice. I’d be livid if another child bit mine, but she seemed worried. “I know you’re a nurse at the hospital. Do you think you could look at the bite mark on Gloria? Layla broke the skin.” Why is it always after you tame your screaming child that someone wants your help? I shouldn’t complain, though, because after all, it was my kid who bit hers. “Yeah, I can look at her.” I put Layla down. “And I’m sorry about all this. This is unusual behavior from her.” That was a lie, but Gloria’s mom didn’t know that. Gloria didn’t pay any attention to me as I cleaned up her arm. She glared at my daughter who was occupying her time by watching Raphael play Angry Birds on my cell phone. “It’s not fair,” she said. “Hm?” I took the bandage from the first aid kit Gloria’s mom gave me and peeled it. I was getting ready to stick it over the teeth marks my daughter made. “All I wanted was for him to be my friend. I like him too.” I looked over my shoulder to see Layla and Raphael laughing together. They had known each other since they were infants. They were connected on a level that Gloria couldn’t
quite understand yet. “Don’t worry. One day you’ll find that person who takes a ballet class just to be around you.” I smirked, “Or maybe you’ll be the biter.”
Cecil Lee Jordan
I think back to the time when I was young, and my Granny Phyllis was alive and we would just sit and talk. Sometimes it seemed she could talk for days as she slowly sucked on hard butterscotch candies, and I would sit, wide-eyed, and absorb her unconventional, sordid, old-person wisdom. I remember one incident with particular detail: I was thirteen and she was only sixty-two, and we sat in her living room, in the little house that was about a mile off of The Main. I was wearing little khaki pants and a light blue button up shirt, and she was wearing her typical flowery nightgown. This was the day I discovered that all Granny really thought about was sex. Grandpa had been dead for about a year, and she hadn’t been quite right since he died. It was my turn to stay with Granny to try and make her happy and to make sure she doesn’t “do anything crazy.” I sat in Grandpa’s old favorite chair and the red velvet always tickled … __________ … it always tickles the back of my arm on that small pale underbelly that never tans no matter how often I go outside, and Granny is steadily sucking on her candy. She is always tan all over because she’s full Italian, and I’m pale because I’m only a fourth of her. I watch her wrinkles smooth and bunch with every pucker of her cheeks, and I can smell her perfume, White Diamonds by Elizabeth Taylor, as it mingles with the scent of cedar that wafts constantly from the open hope chest. She is crocheting an afghan using two oversized metal needles, and her fingers are surprisingly dexterous given her arthritis and those large, bunched knuckles. She sits on the couch, and her flowery, silky dress almost blends into the flowery tweed couch. Her face is elongated and her eyes are red and watery. The purple walls glow with the light the fireplace releases and the room is extra warm, but Granny asks me to put another log on the fireplace, and I do because you can’t disobey Granny. I’ve been told not to do anything to upset her. I come back and sit across from her in my chair and pick back up the loops of yarn I’m holding so she can make this blanket she feels she must
finish before “she finally dies.” She talks about dying a lot. The large needles rapidly go in and out making small knots in the yarn and square after square of taut fabric appear before me. Hanging on the wall behind her is a picture of her and my grandfather. Enclosed in the tarnished frame, they are both young; her hair is only slightly mottled with grey and not a single hint of Alzheimer’s is present to pervert my Grandpa’s face. They look happy, young, and affectionate. She always takes furtive little glances to where he sits on the mantle above the fireplace as her fingers work. With every glance, a small frown appears, and her eyes are moist as the needles work in and out of the small loops of yarn. The gold urn glints in the spotlight that shines on it, and a large golden crucifix hangs to Grandpa’s right. I say, “Granny, can I ask you something?” This appears to disturb her dog Tink who was laxly eating from his bowl in the kitchen. His grey body was almost limpid as he munched his kibbles. “Sure, honey.” Her eyes become inquisitive, and she stops crocheting for a moment to look at me. She drops the needles and grabs the rosary that hangs between her large sagging breasts with her delicate fragile hands. I pause, unsure of how to continue. “Granny, there’s this girl at school…” I begin, but she interrupts. “Oh, say no more. I know what happens to young men at your age. Is she pregnant,” she asked with a slight smile. Her smiles are always slight and hesitant since Grandpa’s death. “We can deal with this, honey. It isn’t any big deal. I remember my first sexual experience. Randy Bruce Harden laid me down in that field of wildflowers, of course, this was before your grandfather, back in 1953, this would be. He slowly took off my top with his teeth, and he ravished me. Oh, he ravished me, and the sun warmed my bare breast. This was right after school, you see? Me, Margaret, and Shirley were walking down the long dirt to the bus stop, and it was a beautiful spring day. Margaret said, “Phyllis, I think your man is following us…” and I said right back…
__________ “Oh, now Margaret, don’t be silly. Why would he do that?” But she clearly knew because a mischievous grin was gleaming on her eighteen year old face. Her teal eyes squinted against the bright light of the sun and seemed to reflect every sunbeam in an interested highlight. “Phyllis! I think you know why he would follow. You’ve been veritably teasing him all week with those low cut tops and skirts that barely cover your knees.” The sun was glowing, and all three of them were in good moods, but Phyllis was feeling even feistier than usual. Her plaid skirt barely brushed her knees, and her white closely-knitted tights clung to the supple young flesh underneath. Shirley, never one to stay quiet said, “You’re asking for trouble, Phyllis. I saw the way you looked at him and the way he looked back. You are playing games with the devil. Remember the evil of the sins of the flesh.” “The sins of the flesh, huh? Well I think maybe a little sinful fun could be nice. I’m tired of going to school, and I’m tired of nuns hitting me on my knuckles with that damned ruler, and I’m tired of walking this dirt road day in and day out. I’m a senior, and there is life outside of Sister Mary High, ladies.” She pulled up her skirt a little higher and kept walking slowly down the road, now with just a little more spring in her step. Randy inched closer to the clique as they stopped to talk. After this one minute speech, Shirley looked revolted and Margaret bounced up and down at the mere thought of fun. Phyllis turned and waved jauntily at the other girls and began to walk slowly towards Randy, buttocks filled with gentle sway. He was wearing his usual school uniform; a dark blue jacket, matching trousers, and tie. His dark brown hair’s side part was beginning to unravel and a small cowlick stuck up at the top of his crown. “Hey, Phyllis,” he said with a slight bit of hesitation. His deep brown eyes seemed uneasy and his skin was almost too tight. His right hand was snuggling with his rosary.
“Hey, how are you, Randy,” she asked with a gentle flutter of her eyelashes. Phyllis became in this moment a master seductress. Randy stood stock still, leering. His eyes moved up and down, looking at the highness of Phyllis’s skirt and the cleft of cleavage that stuck haughtily out of her white top. She grabbed his hand and led him through the small copse of trees that followed the winding road. After dodging several thick branches, they breeched into the other side and entered a large open field. Phyllis immediately began to take off Randy’s tie as she pulled off his jacket. He threw her down into the long-legged clover and into the throngs of honeysuckle. The clover was warm from the sun but its phloem was filled with wetness, sticky self- sustaining liquid. Phyllis rolled, and then Randy took his teeth and pulled down the cotton of her school uniform; pale flesh began to peek into the glinting sun. His tacky mouth moved down her now bare torso, and he began nibbling on the thick flannel skirt. Phyllis took her fingers and undid the buttons on his shirt. Randy said into her ear, “I don’t think they teach this…” __________ “…and then he whispered in my ear ‘I don’t think they teach us this at Sister Mary’s.’ Next, you won’t believe what happened. The most unexplainable feeling began to take over my loins. I was hot. I was flustered. I was ready for Randy. His young smooth hands began to caress my humid jungle. I could feel his heft through his coarse woolen pants, even my rosary beads quivered in excitement.” I sit in confused and nervous shock as Granny relays this story to me. All I wanted to ask her was if I should tell this girl in my eighth grade English class that I liked her. Now Granny is thrusting on the couch and has almost lost her hard candy. A string of butterscotch spittle is slowly oozing down her chin. She is completely reliving this moment between her and Randy, and I am horrified. She is in revived ecstasy, and I can’t help but wonder if she has taken her medication today. At least her eyes
are filled with tears like usual. “Granny,” I say, but she doesn’t hear me. “Then the world became fluid, liquid, swirling movement and stiffness. We began the act that the nuns at Sister Mary never do. Pants down and skirt up, he entered…” “Granny! Stop!” I shout as I finally catch her attention. She looks at me, agitated and flushed – sweaty. I’m so fidgety the red fibers of the velvet are rubbing onto my clothes. “What, honey,” she says slightly panting. Her brightly colored silk muumuu flows out onto the couch and one liverspotted brown leg hangs out of the large bottom. “All I wanted to know is whether I should try and kiss a girl I like in my class…” “Oh, honey let me tell you. This is also the story of the first time I kissed a girl. Margaret came back and caught us in the act, and we didn’t know what to do, so we just all joined together in a mottled ball of flesh and saliva. She pulled her skirt up and then she leaned in over me, and Randy watched and had his hand down his…” “Granny, Granny! I get the point. I’ll tell her I like her sometime this week. I love you, Granny, but that story was… detailed.” I said as I squirmed in the red chair that was suddenly more uncomfortably stiff and itchy than ever before. I look up, and hanging Jesus and Grandpa are both watching down over me. I feel like I am covered in a gritty greasy substance, and I just want to take a shower; a long, long shower. “Oh, honey, that’s nothing. Don’t be so sensitive. There are only two things in this world that should be as sensitive as you, and they don’t talk. You’re too easily embarrassed. Your grandpa couldn’t be humiliated. One day when he was too old to safely do the beast with two backs, he walked into Isabel’s Lingerie and bought all sorts of fun toys for us to play with, and he never blushed. He walked into that store with his bald head held high and his bushy, steely eyebrows were proud, and he brought me back so many superior latex phallic shaped products, and Oh! The batteries! Triple A’s and double A’s and nine-volts. One of the toys even plugged into the wall, and I tell you that
you just can’t stop something with that kind of current running through its latex realistically colored veins.” “Granny, what toys are you talking about?” __________ Now I sit in Granny’s old house twenty years later and I think back to that conversation. And yes, while it is my house now, it will always truly be hers. The furniture is different, and the walls are different. Grandpa’s urn is gone because my mother has him, and he sits beside his wife. I now realized that this is a question that I never should have asked. Yet curiosity got to my thirteen-year-old self, and since Granny didn’t answer immediately, I asked again… __________ “Granny, what toys?” I asked. “Well, these are special adult toys that bring happiness to adults just like video games bring happiness to you. I had this one, oh it was my favorite. Your Grandpa called it Big Bubba, but the box just called it Magnus. Once your grandfather started getting sick he would bring out Bubba, and oh, the times would be had. You know the only reason we had to get such a large toy is because once you get old, things just don’t stay as small as they used to. My knuckles got larger, my nose got larger, and well let’s just say…” I began to zone out. I noticed the small crack in the thin gesso that covers the wall, and I notice a tiny naked cherub in the painting of Mother Mary, flying around in its chubby-naked baby glory. I notice that Granny hasn’t dusted Grandpa in almost a week and that she missed a small spot on the top last time, so it isn’t quite as shiny as it usually is. I see Tink, her miniature whippet, sleeping on a blanket in the corner, with one small ear standing like a soldier at attention, the other flopping over like a badly-made sex toy. A speck of dust flounces through the noontime sun that spills into the room from a large bay window. All the meantime Granny keeps on talking.
“…and that is how we broke Bubba and ruined our good sheets. So you see, there is life after AARP.” She said then laughed. It was good to hear her laugh, and I smile despite the interesting circumstances. I look at Granny and her cheeks are pink as if she has applied just the right amount of rouge, but I know that can’t be so because she hasn’t worn make-up since Grandpa died. She looks happy, even her wrinkles look content. The needles have been working franticly during this whole exchange, and the blanket is almost finished. I was so entranced by her vivid storytelling that I didn’t even realize she began connecting the squares. She hasn’t looked up at the urn in a while. “So, Granny, about my original question…” “Oh, oh, oh, yes honey, of course. The girl. What’s her name?” “Clarissa Lucrezia Seton.” “Oh, what a pretty name. Tell her that you like her, honey. Love is a beautiful, messy, latex-filled event in your life, so you should try to get it whenever you can. I had twenty-nine beautiful years with your grandfather. It can’t hurt to tell her your feelings. Well, enough of this talk, let’s make some chocolate cookies. I know those are your favorite. And look, I finished the blanket.” She holds the large, green, tightly-knotted blanket in the air with pride and satisfaction. “I do love cookies… and I love you too Granny.” “Aww, you’re such a sweet little boy.” She climbed slowly off of the couch and folded her newly made afghan, laying it down on the couch behind her. She reached up with her bunched, dark hand and wiped the last sticky moisture off of her chin from her moments of excitement. Then she walked over and gave me a long, lingering hug. Her silken muumuu was cool against my cheek, and I could feel the texture of her wooden rosary beads on my ear. The smell of old, cedar, and White Diamonds filled the air as Jesus and Grandpa watched our lingered embrace. Granny ruffled my hair and then went to lick her finger to wipe a smudge of something off of my cheek, but I said, “Granny if you don’t mind, I can get
it myself. I know where those hands have been.” She laughed a gravely laugh, and we walked side by side into the kitchen to make cookies, leaving Jesus, Grandpa, and Bubba behind us.
Interview with Tim Poland
Kayla Harless and Justine Jackson
Tim Poland is a published author and professor of English at Radford University. His first book, a collection of short fiction, Escapee, was published in 2001 followed by Other Stones, Kinder Temples in 2008. His most recent novel is The Safety of Deeper Water (2009). This interview has been transcribed and shortened with edits as many laughs were had during our conversation. When did you become serious about writing, and did you ever think you would be a published author? When did I become serious about it? That’s hard to define. Actually, kind of approaching mid-life. In college I wrote really bad poetry and really bad song lyrics, but I think everybody does that. I can recall probably early 90s, somewhere early mid-90s. I can actually recall – this is probably not something I want to have in a university publication – but realizing the kind of writing you do as an academic, you know, scholarly essays, conference presentations, book reviews, and things like that – it was all fun, and I had done a lot of that, literary analysis, these sorts of things, but I suddenly found it very unfulfilling. In particular, I had a kind of conscious awareness that I felt parasitic. You know, living off other people’s work and that I maybe should do something myself, and so yeah, I just started writing fiction. Writing little sketches and stories. I didn’t really know what I was doing. I had some creative writing classes in college, but they didn’t amount to anything. I was a reader, and I started taking a whack at it. I stuck with it, and it became something that I do now. But I do remember sort of consciously wanting to make a change in how I spent my professional time. Now what’s the other part of the question? Did you ever think you’d be a published author? No, I didn’t think about that. I just tried to do it. I probably didn’t sit around and consciously think “I’m going to be a published author,” but at the same time, I probably spent more time thinking, “I hope somebody will publish some of this stuff.” That’s probably more the case, but as a person I realized over the years that I don’t really have expectations. I do the work
and hope something comes of it. I don’t ever sit and think, “I’m going to do this and this is going to turn out like this.” I never really viewed the world that way. I’m always a little bit surprised every day, which I think is fine. Your first book Escapee was published in 2001. Eight years later we revisit the first short story in your collection with the opening chapter of The Safety of Deeper Water. What made you decide to turn the short story into a novel? Because I wasn’t done with her. I’m afraid it’s really that simple. The story started with a quirky idea. Listening to a news report, there was something about some guys had broken out of one of the prisons in the area. They had gotten away from a work detail, and the local authorities had said, “they must have had an accomplice.” And after I got done laughing because that’s pretty damn obvious, I immediately started thinking, “well, who’s the accomplice?” I wasn’t interested in the prison break but the person who is waiting for them. I had also recently taken up fly fishing, and I realized I’m never going to get this damn story done if I don’t put fishing into it. The story evolved. It was published in a journal and became the titled story to that first book. Then I had done other things. I had written other stories and things such as that, but Sandy sort of kept pecking at me. She doesn’t have a name in the first version, but then she gets a name later on. I realized that one, I wasn’t done with her and two, I really enjoyed spending time with her. That sounds silly, but part of it, especially if you’re writing novels, there’s got to be something about these people that make you want to spend that much time with them because it takes a long time. Especially if you work for a living, you got other things you have to do too. I’m not some writer who goes off in the morning to their little writing cottage and spends the day there, everyday, doing that. I wish but I’m not. Like I said, I have to work for a living. At first, it was a question of feeling that there was more that I wanted to know about her and see what would happen after she leaves this guy in the middle of the clearing at gunpoint. And she takes off
because she’s thinking about something else now. I kept following her was what it was. I’m glad it came out the way it did because I enjoy spending time with her. Talking about writing in general, what do you think creates a dynamic character such as Sandy? There’s about a million fiction writing text books out there that try to tell you that, but in the end it is somebody that’s not finished yet. In other words, somebody whose got to go through some change, be tested in some way, to see how they’ll carry themselves. The thing that interests me, here is someone who is maybe admirable, well-intentioned, but has some kind of flaw. There’s something that’s a little bit off, there’s something a little bit not right, something missing in them that they want to either add or remedy in some fashion. Because a character that’s got it all together is a bore. Plus, if they’ve got everything figured out, well, what is it for them to do? So somebody like Sandy, she doesn’t have it all figured out at all. She’s in fact emotionally pretty distant, and she’s referred to as a “cold fish.” That’s only partly tongue and cheek. She’s not very good at expressions of emotions. That’s part of what she has to learn. In that novel, she is slowly learning to love something which she hasn’t been very good at. She’s got Margie there to carry her through that because Margie is completely without affectation. She will say whatever the hell pops into her mind and will give Sandy a place to respond. It’s a really fundamental thing like learning to love someone or to love anything. To love at all. She doesn’t seem to have those parts in her and she’s learning how to do that. For Sandy, she learns to love a place and a set of conditions. Keefe is there, but that’s part of it. Margie’s part of it. The problem with Vernon is that Vernon sees love through a very trite and conventional way. “You’re my wife and I love you” kind of thing. Sandy goes along with that for a while, but it doesn’t really resonate with her. Love is something other than that. She’s still learning I think. I don’t think by the end of the novel she’s really figured all that much out, but at least she’s starting to experience things in that way. So some kind of a flaw. Some-
thing missing or something broken in some way. It’s as simple as that because I think anybody in the world is interesting to write about. We all carry so much love and longing, and we all have flaws. You don’t have to be some special, fabulous, gorgeous teen vampire or boy wizard to be potentially interesting. I think Joe Schmo on the corner is probably interesting if you have a way of looking at it. For me, that makes a much more interesting and dynamic character. How do you feel about music when you write? Do you find it distracting? No, I have music thumping, pounding the whole time. In fact, well not always, but some days I have to have it be quiet because over the years I go through phases. I listen to a lot of jazz, and I like a lot of rock and roll. The last few years in particular, when I work, I really kind of crave loud rock and roll and things you don’t expect. I find what it does is sort of seals off everything else, and I can focus on the work. Plus, it just gives me a little physical punch. It keeps me going. The beat of it all. Probably that most of what I listen to is old rock and roll because that’s what I know and have. The Clash is really good for writing. Those things vary. They change from mood as well. But I generally like having music going. What are some of the biggest clichés as well as bad advice that’s been given to writers that you think should be avoided? There’s so many things. I don’t even know what kind of clichés are being thrown around out there. But I think the first one is the cliché of inspiration. It’s crap. There’s no such thing as inspiration. You get ideas. Things occur to you. You pursue them. In the end, it’s work. You sit down, you put your fingers on the keyboard, and you start writing sentences. What you’re doing is built out of that, so inspiration – replace that with work and discipline. That’s what you need. The idea is an old idea, really old. Emerson wrote about this. It goes way back, and I think it still lingers a little bit that you’re going to go out, get
intoxicated, it’ll loosen your inhibitions, and you’ll be able to come up with better ideas. No, anything written on a cocktail napkin in a bar after midnight, the next day it’s going to be crap. You need a clear head, a well-fed, rested body. The idea of the starving artist – what an awful idea. You can’t write if you haven’t eaten. You need food, so all those kinds of myths I think are terrible. I think it’s probably between somewhere foolish and lazy to think that you’re also just going to pour out your feelings on the page. In the end, nobody gives a shit. Secondly, that’s what diaries and journals are for. And even that, you’re not pouring your feelings out on the page, you are constructing a persona and an image through language. So I would chuck that kind of thinking out the window too. It’s work that happens on the page, and it’s built that way. Writers talk about fiction being plot driven or character driven. I heard one writer interviewed about this, and he said, and I agree, “work is not plot driven or character driven but sentence driven.” For me, it happens all the time. There’s a particular sentence that will actually shift the direction of action or plot. It happens in the actual sentences, it happens in the work, and there’s no inspiration. What you’re writing, in the end, is for something for somebody else to read. Some place that they can enter into and there’s another cliché for you. When a tree falls in the forest and nobody’s there, does it make a sound? I emphatically say “no” because sound is a creature of audience, of ear. Those are some that I would definitely say stay away from. To the writers who claim to have writer’s block, what would you suggest for them to do to defeat it? Tell them first of all to stop whining. There’s no such thing, that’s bullshit. Writer’s block? The means you don’t have the discipline to do the work. If you’re writing line after line of stuff that you toss back out that isn’t the right thing, you do the work. There may be times when there are problems to be figured out. There will be plenty of times when things aren’t going the way you want it to go, but writer’s block is an excuse. It’s a cheap excuse. I’ll be blunt on that. There are all kinds of things that
get in the way, and there are all kinds of problems you have to deal with. About a year ago or two, I did a summer writer workshop up in West Virginia, and we had a panel where we were being asked questions by the audience. Someone asked, “what inspires you,” and we all kind of gulped and looked at each other. One by one we gave a different version of the same response. Nothing inspires us at all, we work. One of the guys said, which I think is a great old adage, “get your ass in the chair.” That’s really what it is. If someone has writer’s block, get your ass in the chair and do the work. Well after of course putting the words on the page, the next step is revision as well as cutting. Do you have a general statement towards revision? I think a lot of young writers have such a negative attitude towards editing and revision. Believe me, they do. One of the hardest things I have to instill in my students is that the first draft is just that, a first draft. It’s the old, “you don’t know what you’re writing until you’ve written it.” Now you get down and start making it work. A lot of times people don’t want to do that. Revision is absolutely crucial. Nothing happens right the first time. You may do really well, you may get the basic framework, but at the very least it’s going to require all kinds of tweaking and refining and if nothing else, just on the sentence level. To make sure each sentence works in relation to the sentences around it. Certain things in our day and age are a lot easier than it used to be. First of all, the editorial work of correcting, spelling, things like that, a lot of that is so easy. In fact, a little bit too easy because we get so lazy about it. Plus, a lot of rewriting is done as we write now. When I was younger, when I was your age, we used a typewriter or you wrote in a notebook. There’s always a certain part of you that stays an undergraduate, you want to get it right so you don’t have to do the extra work. That’s fine but the maturity comes in when you realize you have to do extra work. There’s always going to be more. As a person who comes from both eras, I can say as soon as I got a computer, I literally started working twice
as fast because I lost the anxiety of correction. It’s just too critical. Sometimes you cannot see the overall dynamics of what you’re creating until you’ve done it. An example I will give is The Safety of Deeper Water. That started completely focused around a particular character, and he was going to be encountering and following Sandy in that novel. The whole germ began with that. He doesn’t even exist anymore. Once the novel’s done, he doesn’t have any purpose here because Sandy took over for one thing, but the point is he had no purpose. Somebody else took a look at it and said, “you know, the only reason this guy is in here so someone can kill him later in the book.” I realized, “my god, you’re right.” He was gone. He had no value in the book. If you’re not willing to bring that critical eye to your own work, you won’t see those sorts of things. In the end, I think it’s a much better book than it would have been if those things hadn’t been picked up on. It takes time to see what will work best, and that comes back to discipline and work. A lot of time it’s like “I want to write something” and “poof, there it is! It’s a direct expression of my feelings.” That’s not what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to make a thing that will have a life of its own, and you have to go back and tinker and refine. Every writer in the world will tell you that. Really, it’s a question of what is your relationship to the text that you’re writing? That text you’re writing is not some direct extension of your feelings, your emotions. Get away from those clichés of some sort of self-analysis. The text is a thing and you can move the parts around. It can liberate you because you can go back and fix it later. Do you think writing is based more on talent or selfdiscipline or what kind of relationship between those two? I think there are some people who really have a load of talent, but everyone of them has to work really hard to bring that talent to life and to the page. There are very few people that are Toni Morrisons, that have a special kind of genius that rises above things. There are other writers like that, and everyone of them
will tell you that they had to work really hard to do that. I think in the end it is more about being willing to do the work. Most of us who are toiling away are not fabulous and are not geniuses but rather people who are telling a story. Trying to tell a story, make something for people to read. That’s the vast majority of people who are doing it, and that is something that is mostly work ethic, discipline. You have to have an imagination. You have to be willing to imagine these possibilities, so somebody who is rigidly pragmatic and only thinks about the bottom line, they’re not going to do this. In that sense, there has to be something we call talent, or desire might be as good as a word. You have to have that, but in the end, I think what keeps it going is a willingness to do that work. We asked if Dr. Poland would like to draw us anything, but he politely declined. As a show of our thanks, here’s Walt Whitman in stunner shades and a lady’s hat.
Exit 109 would like to thank: Anyone with a creativity streak and vivid imagination; our contributors to this year’s magazine; and to you, the reader. We’d also like to thank Dr. Donald Secreast, our advisor; Geoff White, the Assistant Director of Student Media; The Beehive, Radio Free Radford, ROC TV, The Tartan, Whim, and SMADs; Jonathan Mayer for his crash courses in InDesign; Autumn Pittman for her work on the cover and typography pages [Credit for texture goes to spiteful-pie-stock.deviantart.com and fonts courtesy of Borys Liechti and Letters & Numbers at dafont.com]; President Kyle for letting us print in color; Dr. Tim Poland for allowing us to interview him and making us laugh; the Radford English Department for always helping to promote the magazine; everyone who stopped by The Bonnie to draw with us; the fearless poetry readers at the Fall Poetry Reading; all our supporters; the Radford community; and most importantly, coffee.
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