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Our autumnal issue contains an essay, fiction, and poetry that are definitely a welcome respite from political matters.

We are so pleased damselfly press has such a strong community of readers and writers. As always, thank you to our submitters.

The thirty-eighth issue of damselfly press will be a themed issue of courage. If you’d like to submit, please first visit our guidelines section and send us your submission by December 15, 2016.

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Noodle Day at the Senior Swim Center

Silver-haired mermaids eagerly wait all week
while, each morning, their arthritic hands lift
and lower water-weights, legs with new knees
jump imaginary barrels
and every heart muscle braces
for the water-running session.

But on Fridays—Noodle Day, they
mount styrofoam seahorses,
stampede wildly across vast expanses,
ford rushing rivers and frolic girl-like
in Southern California surf.

And, during that weekly hour,
in the only slightly chlorinated salt-water pool,
qualms about plantar fasciitis,
forgotten keys and eyeglass cases,
complaining husbands and non-responsive kids,
slowly sink down through the blue,
to the bottom of the pool and rest.

– Sandra Rokoff-Lizut, retired educator and children’s book author, is a printmaker and poet. She is a member of Oregon Poetry Association and was 1st place award winner in their Spring 2014 contest. Rokoff-Lizut studied poetry through OSU, as well as at Sitka and Centrum. Previous publications include Illya’s Honey, The Bicycle Review, Wilderness House Review, The Penwood Review, Wild Goose Poetry Review, and Verseweavers.

 

White Pine

We race for the swing, mornings,
as we wake. You reach first again.
By one pole I fall upon the grass,
encased in the thick wet. I watch
you face the pines, and climb on.
You pump, and from high on the bridge,
higher even than trees, the knots creak.
You hook one rope in your elbow
to pull out a splinter and then
pump and the rough ropes grandly
sweep you back again, and to,
and back and to again, for the grove.
As it comes, I yes. I yes the moment
you hurl your weight and wanting
toward its shine, knowing: in the soft needles
of scent that sift out all sunlight
you’ll be in the Cool Dark alone
again, and I alone will remain.
I hear them calling as I start up the path.

– Jacqueline Leigh is an ESL teacher who lives both in Michigan and Sierra Leone. In addition to writing poetry, she trains teachers to run ESL writing workshops and writes books for young readers. Her recent poems have appeared in The Ofi Press and Lost Tales from the Mountain.

 

There is Little Known of Peace

we look for it in
sodden sole-weathered feet

in hot shrill cicada mornings
and field-empty crow evenings

in the weather-worn salt of day
the punch prose weakness of night

tumbling hands as they
sway astride the body

grave frostbitten eyes
that remain shut

while the news of the world
carries on unknown

while the days of the world carry on

in pop-gun attitudes
the croak of an old cat’s meow

slam-shut screen doors at the
hands of hurried children

there are too few clean lines

we need each word of the day
slow and full in the mouth

– Sarah D’Stair has been published in Burningword and is the author of Roulettetown (Kuboa 2011) and Petrov Petrovich Is in Love (Kuboa 2016). She is currently a graduate student writing a dissertation on a subject of sublime importance.

 

Summer in the City

The slow tumble

of me

began long before

I walked along

tapering avenues

and perched myself at cafes

where my cold coffee was sweating more than me

I refused to fill the lacunas

with wilted compliments

or charred nostalgia

or something vascular

my shards were just that—mine.

a place to spring from

before I was this

Saturday of a woman

– Saumya Dave is a writer and psychiatrist in New York City. Her work has been featured in The New York Times, India Abroad, Open Beast, British Medical Journal, and others.

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In the Wind and Sand

I had an eloquent speech planned out. And now I don’t know my name. Twenty dilated eyes waiting for me to speak. Say anything.

What was the question? I can’t remember the question. Shit. So I sit in silence, wondering how it was I ended up here: cross-legged on a folded blanket in a side-street Jamaican yoga studio. Squished in a circle with twenty people I’ve never met. Waiting for my mouth to open.

“When I was little, I was riding my tricycle down the street. And all of a sudden I fell into one of those manholes. Off the sidewalk, you know? Who knows why it was open. But it was and I fell. And my mother said she looked up and I was just, gone. So she ran over and found me ten feet down in this hole, just sitting there. I was crying of course, but I was just sitting there. No scratches, no nothing. So I waited and she finally got somebody to pull me out. She always said it was my guardian angels that saved me.”

As soon as my mouth closes, I remember the question. Tell us your name, where you’re from, and why you’re here. I shut my eyes tightly and don’t crack them until I hear the woman next to me. Sharon from Wisconsin. She needed a break from her corporate job and a yoga retreat by the beach sounded like the perfect opportunity. Right.

After we make it around the circle and pack up to leave, Sharon lays a hand on my shoulder.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name.”

“Beth.” It comes out quietly and I offer a soft smile to combat the lunacy I displayed earlier. It’s going to be a long thirty days when everyone already thinks I’ve lost it.

“Well, Beth. I believe in guardian angels, too.” She winks before turning to leave the room.

***
The first time it happened, I was at a baseball game with my husband. His thirty-fifth birthday surprise. My hand clutched my stomach before my mind even felt the pain.

“Oh babe, I think I ate too many of those damn fries.” I forced a laugh and passed him the remainder of the ones I’d been hogging.

“Here come those pregnancy hormones.” He kissed my cheek and crammed the fries in his mouth.

Five minutes later, I didn’t know my name or what the cheers around me meant. Only that I couldn’t feel my breath in my throat or lungs. Only that knives and fish hooks were dancing inside of me.

When I stood up, Eddie grabbed my hand and pulled me toward the exit. He’d seen the blood on my white shorts.

The tires screeched as he sped to the hospital. I couldn’t manage to produce tears. Not now. Just panic that burned my chest like acid.

After the examination, the room stood quiet. A framed picture of a crimson-haired rag doll hung on the wall. A piece of me yearned to keep my eyes locked on it forever. The way her head dangled towards her chin. The way her body drooped and draped. I knew her then. I knew what it was like to live without bones.

We finally broke the news on a Tuesday morning. I wore a purple dress whose hem I had balled up inside my fist when my mother covered her lips with her hand. The tears pooled at her pinky tip. Well, what did the doctor say was wrong? She asked. Nothing, these things just happen. No. She shook her head vigorously. No, these things don’t just happen. It must have been something you ate. Or maybe it’s all that yoga. I told you it wasn’t safe. A mother knows these things, Beth.

And then came the phone calls. The ones to check on me, each one revealing a new theory. Aunt Una told me that her friend Karen had a miscarriage last year. Remember her? That tiny little Karen. Barely 100 pounds. No wonder. You can’t be a vegetarian, Beth. Not when you’re pregnant.

You must have starved the poor thing.

***
Another night in a bed dampened by sweat. Another night without sex. Another night praying to a God I’m not sure has ears.

I could hear Eddie’s breaths, deep and steady like a lullaby. In the corner shadowed by pastel walls stood the unopened box. The one Eddie hadn’t yet moved or thrown away. Maybe he was still clutching onto hope that one day he’d assemble the crib that was supposed to comfort the child we’d never hear cry.

“We can try again. We can’t give up. Not yet.” His arms wrapped tighter around my waist and I flinched. “That is, if you even want to try again…”

I want a child. I don’t want its death. I don’t want to kill it without even trying. I felt like screaming but the only sound in the room was the whipping of phantom branches against the frosted window.

***
In the mornings, I meditate by the water as the sun rises. Some mornings I close my eyes and listen to the waves that keep rolling and rolling, even though there’s nowhere to go but back from where they came. Other mornings I let my lids crack open. I gaze at the sand and the way the grains blow when the wind claims them. As if the wind has a right. It doesn’t have a right. So I fling my hands to the ground, holding the sand in place. I’ll keep you safe, so you can stay. I’ll keep you safe.

The afternoons consist of two different classes: power yoga after lunch then restorative before dinner. I move through the motions without thought. The passion has seeped from my limbs.

Once, the mat was my sanctuary. Rolling it out each day, I’d place my palms against it and press back into downward dog. Here: take my breath, take my pain, take my worries. There were a million fragments of myself in one mat- the one I practiced on for twenty years.

Now, on this new mat, in this new place, this new body and mind, I’m not anybody or anything.

***
The second time it happened, I was in the produce section of the supermarket. Bagging lettuce. Then the cramps that overtook my back and abdomen like a thousand greedy hands twisting the doorknob of my organs. My elbows sank into the shopping cart as I pushed past the apples, past the carrots, past the potatoes to the bright red bathroom sign.

I collapsed onto the toilet seat without pulling down my pants, pressing my head into my hands. I already knew. Why should I need to bring the burden to my eyes? So I kept my pants on, tying a sweater around my waist to hide myself as I walked to the car.

Three hours later, Eddie found me in bed. I still hadn’t taken off the pants. Or pulled them down or done anything I should have. He scooped me into his arms and carried me to the car where we drove to the doctor in silence.

When Eddie reached for my hand, I retracted it to my side. When he took my face in his hands- look at me, Beth– I memorized the pattern of his shoes against the white tile. The way the laces weaved in and out.

We stopped laughing. We stopped being intimate. We stopped talking about a family. And me, I choked on the taste of self-disgust.

At breakfast, Eddie sighed into the toxic silence. “Maybe we should reconsider our lifestyle, Beth. I mean, something has to be, I don’t know… off. Don’t you think? Health and fertility go hand-in-hand.”

I wanted to vomit as guilt swelled in my throat. So many voices screamed in my head, mixing with my own and never relenting.

You must have gotten pregnant too soon. I read recently that you have to wait at least a year.

You know, stress is also a big factor. Have you been working too hard again? You have to relax, Beth.

God does funny things sometimes.
Having children isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, anyway.
Maybe you’re just not fit to be a mother.

Who would want me as their mother?

***
The next morning, we work on back-bends in class. I lie face down to the ground, press my palms into the mat and lift my chest and shoulders. The teacher crouches beside me. Then all twenty eyes dart my way. I feel the stares as if they’re fingertips grazing my flushed face.

“Try this again, Beth. But this time, reach out through the crown of your head.” I lift once more. “Good. Now relax your belly to get more length.” Again. “Relax your belly, right here.” He presses a finger into my side. Again. “Good. Relax your belly. Relax through here.” I’m not getting it. Again. “Relax. Right here. Right in your belly, relax.” More fingers. Relax. Relax. I push myself back onto my heels. Find his eyes.

“I don’t know how to relax my belly.” It comes out stunned and child-like. My forearms clutch around my abdomen protectively. My lower lashes dampen.

In an instant, his cheeks go long and his gaze turns soft. He’s young and gentle and the multicolored tattoos running up his arms are faded. Even things we force into our skin don’t want to stay.

He turns toward the class I had forgotten. We all sit in silence. He begins talking about emotions and their connection to the body. About how we can find what we hide through movement. And there’s a creak in his throat like a rusty door.

“We have to talk about these things. We have to. If we can’t talk about them with each other, then who can we talk to? It’s time to feel.” His arms drop to his sides.

Feel. The word tumbles around my mind, becoming more and more foreign until I wonder how it ever existed, ever made sense. Like when you repeat a word enough, even your own name.

Feel, Beth.

***
It’s past midnight and the stars seem dimmer than normal. The sand itches the back of my legs as I spread them until my toes touch the water. It must be hours that I spend on this patch of sand. Hours of feeling trapped even in open air.

“It’s a beautiful night, isn’t it?” Sharon plops down onto the ground beside me. Several minutes pass as we gaze into the night. I haven’t talked to her since the first day, almost three weeks ago. She asks how I like the retreat.

“It’s great.” I nod my head to emphasize what isn’t true. “But some days I feel like I’m doing everything wrong. Everything.” A sigh escapes and the wind claims it as always. Sharon’s lips purse to form a pattern of wrinkles that display her unrest.

“You know, I’ve spent forty-five years thinking I was doing things wrong. People would tell me things and I’d believe it, truly believe it. But I’ve realized that the only thing that is ever true is your intuition. Your gut. We’re always right about ourselves, even when we don’t want to see it.” I nod and we watch the flickering and burning of far off lights.

“I remember this one time, as a little girl,” Sharon starts, “we found these duck eggs, my brother and I. So we brought them back to the house and waited for them to hatch. I started to hear this little pecking from inside one of them. This desperate sort of pecking. The little bird had broken a small hole through the shell. And I wanted to break it all open to help it get out. But my father, he pushed me aside and said you have to let it get out by itself. So I just sat there listening to this clicking get faster and more frantic. A couple hours later, I could hear it screaming, wailing for its mother to help. It tore me up inside but I just sat there and prayed it would be strong enough. So it kept pecking and pecking and pecking for hours. Until finally, at three in the morning, it died of exhaustion.”

“That’s terrible,” I whisper.

“I’ll never forgive myself for that. For not listening to myself and trusting so deeply in what someone else believed. Anyway, I think you just need to trust yourself a little, Beth.”

I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and drift off to the sound of shifting waves and floating sand.

***
Sharon and I spend the last few days of the retreat splashing in the sea and eating fresh mango before class. I tell her how I’m scared to adopt. How maybe I’m really not supposed to be a mother. She tells me how she’s terrified of leaving her job, even though the thought of another meeting on Sales Tactics Every Entrepreneur Must Master makes her want to crawl beneath her desk and never come out.

There’s magic in the moments when I clutch my belly from the pain of laughing too hard; when we visit the natives at a local school and play hand games with the children; when we jump naked into a murky watering hole, paddling our limbs so full of pain and age. There’s magic in every moment.

***
The plane lands later than expected. When I step off the runway, Eddie is waiting by the ticket counter. I feel the soles of my feet caress the tile as I sprint towards him. He wraps his arms around my waist and I collapse into his warmth.

“It’s not your fault,” he whispers into my hair.

“I know.” For the first time, I know. Walking hand in hand, I can feel layers of the shell falling from my frame. All this time I spent pecking and pecking. Pecking until I died of exhaustion. Crying at the bottom of a hole I fell into too soon. Waiting for someone, anyone to help me out. Let me out.

Be still and feel, Beth.

– Malia Bradshaw is a writer and yoga teacher residing in Austin, TX. Her most current fiction, nonfiction, and poetry can be found in Maudlin House, Wilderness House Literary Review, and New Literati.

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Love What You Got

Twice a year, I go to San Francisco to see Jay, my stylist. I never feel guilty about spending a couple hundred dollars because afterwards, eyeing my new ‘do in the sleek storefronts, I am not wife or mother or teacher. I am not anxious or fretful. I stop worrying about my student evals or my limp libido. I am just myself, the one I used to be years ago before the OCD intruded.

Jay works at the tres chic Di Pietro Todd salon, where I can expect cucumber water and head massages, elaborate sectioning and sculpting, the royal blow-out. I go in with half a year’s grown-out hair stuffed into a bun on top of my head and come out looking like a new, refreshed me. I usually fall in love with the cut while it’s still wet.

Until Jay, I hated my frizzy brown hair. As a seventh grader who worried way too much, about things of little consequence (like imperfectly addressed letters or my perfume wearing off), my hair became another fulcrum of obsession. No amount of Sun-In or Finesse conditioner could ever transform it into the straight silky hay-colored locks I coveted. I don’t know where I got my hair from, but I inherited my OCD from my mom, who always understood my quest for perfection. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been anxious. Lately, my worries have blossomed from letters and perfume (which, thanks to some good therapists, I can now confidently mail and wear) to death by earthquake or cancer.

Last January I was completely undone when a routine dental x-ray unveiled a calcification in my neck. One ultra-sound and blood test and excruciating week later, I learned it was likely a salivary stone. No biggie. But I’ve since been haunted by worst-case scenarios, wincing at sirens, victimized by my own mortality. I’ve become tormented by The Big One, imminently expected to shake California apart. Anxiety propels me forward, away from the Now. My mind trips over the future. I sometimes Google salivary stones and cancer and get hot with fear (unlikely, but, it seems, possible).

Anything is possible, people say cheerily. But for me it’s the very unpredictability of life that has become unbearable. When my mom sent me a newspaper clipping about David Adam’s new book, The Man Who Couldn’t Stop, I immediately checked it out of the library. For longtime OCD sufferer Adam it was the possibility that he could contract HIV in absurdly unlikely ways, like scraping his heel on a step that could have been tainted with infected blood. As he writes,, “OCD dissolves perspective. It magnifies small risks, warps probabilities and takes statistical chance as a prediction, not a sign of how unlikely things are.”

*
Jay and I were both 25 when we met, starting our careers, newbies in the fields of hair artistry and teaching. . I’ll never forget my first appointment, when he gasped appreciatively at my natural waves. I’m sure I said something along the lines of “Ugh, I hate all that body,” to which he responded, “You just haven’t learned how to embrace your curl. You gotta love what you got, girl.” When I walked out over an hour later, I actually did.

Two days before my wedding five Septembers ago I managed to sneak in on a cancellation, desperate to have Jay trim up my dried-out summered ends. He’d just gotten back from Massachusetts where he’d wed his long-time partner Patrick. We couldn’t believe the coincidence. Two weeks before my due date, blissed out on baby, I tottered into the salon. “You could literally pop at any moment,” Jay said as soon as he saw my watermelon belly. It’d been so long since my last cut he didn’t even know I was pregnant. He marveled at my thickened hair and told me to bring the baby in next time. “You can nurse right here in the chair if you need to,” he offered.

We’ve come so far. I teach writing to college kids, he schools the apprentices on technique. He makes the music choices (“Don’t get me wrong, I love Whitney—RIP—but we’ve already heard ‘I Will Always Love You’ once today”) and has an assistant fetch him a kale salad for lunch.

I love watching him work my hair, all that pinning and snipping. Every now and then he lapses into silent concentration, gives his glasses a gentle push up his nose, as he expertly contemplates a chunk. I’m vulnerable in the swivel chair in the giant mirror, but I’m also relaxed. I surrender my control; he’s making the decisions, and I’m just along for the ride. I have to trust in the okay-ness of it all.

*
On this most recent trip I was especially unsettled, abuzz with anxiety. When I’d admitted to my husband that our upcoming vacation (our first ever without our three year-old daughter) to Panama had me gripped with fear, he’d suggested I talk to my doctor about trying medication. I was resistant.

But I had to face facts: my mind had become my worst enemy, adamantly spinning narratives of disaster and heartache, dissolving perspective at every turn. As soon as I approached the Golden Gate, I imagined an earthquake striking just then, collapsing the bridge and dashing the cars into the sea. Once safely across, I noticed a plane in the sky and saw us crashing on the way back from Panama—I took a deep breath to steady my quickening heart, but still a flash of our panicked, screaming faces— and my own mom delivering the news to my daughter that her mama was gone. Or what if she had to watch me wither away, ashy-skinned and sunken-eyed, from cancer? Another awful flash: me in bed, can’t even lift my head to look at my little girl.

She would miss me most at bedtime, I thought. She would cry for me to sing “Tomorrow.”

What a relief to make it to the salon chair! I calm down. So much remains reassuringly intact. It smells like product, buzzes with conversation, is at once intimate and public. More gray flecks in each heap of downy hair, yes, but when I bring up coloring, Jay says, “We don’t need to have that conversation yet. Look at my gray,” he says, “I like it.”

This time I want something really different. Even shorter than my usual warm-weather cut. Jay nods, excited. “Something piecey and textured,” he says. “Maybe even cut some side-swept bangs. Really bring your face out for summer.”

If I’ve learned anything: it’s all about the cut. And if I can go from long layered locks to messy hip bob, why not a more profound transformation? Maybe if I accept that my brain chemistry sets me up to have intrusive thoughts, that for whatever reason (parenthood, reaching my mid-30s) my OCD seems to be flaring up again, then I can seek real change. Maybe doing more yoga and reading Thomas Merton aren’t enough; maybe I should give Zoloft a try, just to see if it does, as my mom promises, take the edge off. Maybe acceptance is what makes true transformation possible.

In that chair I exhale and watch the hair accumulate around me. Jay spritzes water and measures my ends. A fresh intern with two-toned hair gushes over my emerging new cut, and then sweeps all that old hair away.

– Jessica Dur Taylor lives in Sonoma County, California, where she teaches English at Santa Rosa Junior College and Sonoma State University. She’s penned essays for Cactus Heart, Superstition Review, Prick of the Spindle, Recess Magazine, Brain, Child online, Fractured West, Mutha Magazine, and others.

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The submission period for the thirty-seventh issue of damselfly press is now closed. Look for the issue October 15, 2016.

As always, thank you to our submitters.

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