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It’s amazing to realize this is our fortieth issue. For a decade, we have been fortunate enough to read work by women from across the world. We have published poems, stories, and essays as diverse as our submitters.  It’s a pleasure to read and write with you.

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World View

“Every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there –
on a mote of dust suspended on a sunbeam.”
– Carl Sagan, “Pale Blue Dot”

Only twenty-four people have seen it
whole, the orbital perspective,
celestial point of view,
our snowglobe island sleeping in liquid ink.
In the photo taken from miles above,
timelapse, 3D, just before solstice,
a machine voyager’s distant viewfinder
telescoped just enough to glimpse
our defined vessel,
stilled in reverent waters.
Once seen, a shift,
glass in a lens.
The image on posters,
book covers, flag of frailty.
Seven-billion member crew,
a litter curled in one small hollow.
On this small stage in a cosmic arena,
we strain, strain for footage,
an anchor’s fluke. Meanwhile,
in Aleppo, one five-year-old boy is pulled from wreckage,
breathing.

Faith Paulsen has worked as a technical, travel, and freelance writer, and in the insurance industry to support her family and her writing habit. Her work has appeared in many venues ranging alphabetically from Apiary to Wild River Review. One poem was nominated for a Pushcart. Her first chapbook is A Color Called Harvest (Finishing Line Press, 2016).

 

Flying Off the Overpass

Dreaming the incline too steep
I slam down hard
on gas, but the car
lets go
and I fall back through black air
forever before waking.

In daylight, that bridge sits
just outside Post, Texas, along
a ninety mile stretch of Highway 84,
halfway
between a place where I am
scholar, writer, called by name,

and home,
hearing “Mom”
always once too often.
I yell at the kids to shut up,
go to sleep (please),
so I can study, then miss them
in a quiet house.

And sitting in class, I worry
the oldest forgot
lunch money, or that
my blue-eyed boy won’t forget
I missed his school play.

Years from now,
when knife-bladed dark dreams
slide under their skulls,
will my children only know
I was always driving away?

And what if, one night,
my wheels touch the bridge
at the exact moment
the moon becomes full
and ripe enough to burst,
and I spin out to meet
dark

with one gleaming fang
and patches of fur
blossoming
down my back,
neither half of me knowing
on which side of the bridge
to fall.

– Janice Northerns, a native Texan, currently lives in Liberal, Kansas, where she teaches English at a community college. Her poems have appeared in Concho River Review, RiverSedge, Southwestern American Literature, The Cape Rock, College English, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Poem, Coal City Review, Sweet Tree Review, and elsewhere.

 

Sometimes

driving down a street you’ve driven
many times, hardly
noticing the brick houses or
shriveling snow, you’ll see
a telephone pole
reflected in a puddle with
a wash of cloud in bright
blue sky, filling
your soul with tranquil joy,
the day a dime,
turning. Or
you might journey
across town to buy
a vacuum cleaner –
because the old one,
the Kenmore Whispertone with
broken wheel was found
by the repairman to have
too many faults – a write-off.
How many faults add up
to a write off … but this isn’t
a good line of thought, you need
to make your way to Vacsmart
on Eglinton, where
Frank will ask about your floors
rugs or carpets and scratch
behind the erect ear of
B.T., his Boston terrier,
in the one sunny
spot by the window, and warn you
not to pay big bucks for a Dyson
because it’s really
a Panasonic motor with expensive
TV ads, and mention that he’s
from Goa, where he was
a pastry chef, but it’s hard
to make a living
selling perishables, so he
sells vacuum cleaners now.
Sometimes we were happy, sometimes
we weren’t. What poem
was that from, a line,
a title –
it would make
an intricate map,
cirrus clouds, shifts
of bright and pale
in a puddle, asterisks
here and there: good dog,
genial man, shimmer
reflected telephone pole

 

Swan Pond

1  oak table

easy
to divvy up

wobbly round oak table
portable TV

how to tease apart

the snowy trail we left
in spring mountains

 

2  basket

girlhood dreams

gathered
happilyeverafter
in one basket

how blithely I asked you to carry it

 

3  Swan Pond

Mine: beeches and hickories
tawny in fall across the water

coonhounds at night bawling
a topography of ridges

morning’s yawping crows
in the wind-swung pines –

I’m claiming Swan Pond
from seasons I folded away,

labeled: Ours.

And the monarchs too – I claim

their sun-flamed orange, black filigree
carpeting that April hour

the warm brick patio,
lobed wings not quite

fluttering,
poised for flight.

– Sue Chenette, a classical pianist as well as a poet, grew up in northern Wisconsin and has made her home in Toronto since 1972. She is an editor for Brick Books and the author of Slender Human Weight (Guernica Editions, 2009) and The Bones of His Being (Guernica Editions, 2012).

 

Small Comforts

It is their names:
Paul, Jacob, Nathan.
Names I chant, stitch
in vivid colors on my heart.

It is the scent of chicken stuffed
with thyme and lemon, roasting
in the oven’s heat, of rich
dark wine and ripe blue cheese,
of pomegranates and popcorn.

It is those prayers with wings;
eagles, hawks, the bright goldfinch,
the shy hummingbird.

It is sunlight as it polishes the day,
starlight that fractures
the night sky, the glow of lamps
brightening winter’s dark.

It is lilacs and peonies, cypress trees
and aspens, strong coffee and flannel
shirts, fuzzy slippers, the quiet of snow.

It is rain-drenched leaves, lakes reflecting
clouds, languid streams and curving rivers,
fierce oceans and leftover puddles.

It is piles of books that slip
and sprawl across my desk,
their mad pages waving, begging
for attention.

It is words drifting to my ear, slipping
from my mouth, forming in my mind.
Words of praise and pain, longing
and grief, beauty and darkness.
Words I seize with the point of my pen,
turbulent, bristling, dangerous
words clashing and swerving, daring
to be heard.

– Valerie Bacharach conducts weekly poetry workshops with the women of Power House, a halfway house for women in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Uppagus, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, U. S. 1 Worksheets, Pittsburgh Poetry Review, VerseWrights, Pittsburgh Quarterly, and The Tishman Review.

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Tango

One star-drenched August night the year we both turned twenty, Michael and I ran naked into the Atlantic Ocean. The water was cold for August—too cold to do anything but hug each other in a futile attempt to keep warm. I told him I had to get out and waded back toward the shore.

“Alicia.”

I turned.

“You’re beautiful,” he said, wrapping me in a blanket of love. “Marry me.”

His proposal was a confirmation of something we’d known since we were children, long before we’d discovered sex, or loneliness, or loss.

I was reminded of that night by the two beach photographs hanging on the therapist’s wall. In one, three little girls were holding hands and dancing in a circle on the beach. In the other, a couple twirled on a fishing pier jutting out into a moonlit sea. Even if I hadn’t known the therapist’s specialty, the pictures would have given it away: dance therapy.

I had come to interview Dr. Gordon for a feature article on unconventional therapies I was writing for the San Francisco Chronicle. Dr. Gordon was tall and angular with crystalline blue eyes, a generous smile, and a full head of white hair, though with his unlined skin he couldn’t have been older than forty.

“People come to me because they like the idea of dancing,” he explained as we sat in his office, “but they’re often uncomfortable the first time they’re actually in the studio. So we talk first.”

“I can understand that.”

“But since we don’t have the luxury of time, I’d like to start off in the studio so you can get a feel for the whole process. I find that my patients express their feelings better in my office after they’ve expressed them in the studio,”

He led me into the dance studio, an intimidating expanse of hardwood floor and mirrors.

“Why don’t we start with some stretches and then a little free movement?”

I turned my head to avoid looking directly into the floor-to-ceiling mirror. Maybe it was because the hairdresser had cut my red, curly hair too short like Little Orphan Annie’s. Or it could have been the discrepancy between the image of myself in my head and the one facing me in the mirror.

“That’s okay,” he said. “A lot of people are uncomfortable looking at themselves at first.”

I turned to face the side wall, and he led me through a series of head rolls, shoulder shrugs, and arm stretches. Then he put on some Middle Eastern music and told me to close my eyes and move with the music. I was there for the story, so I did what he asked, but I hoped he wasn’t looking.

“It’s all about the relationship between emotion and movement,” he said as I followed him into his office and sat down on the couch facing his chair.

He stretched his legs and crossed his feet at the ankles. His legs seemed to go on forever.

“How did you feel in there?”

“Awkward.”

He nodded. “I tell my patients that we hold the truth in our bodies.”

“Truth is, I’m a klutz. My husband and I took dance lessons before our wedding so we wouldn’t embarrass ourselves. He took to it, but I was pretty hopeless. Still am after ten years of marriage.”

He laughed, and I took out my notebook. During the interview, I found myself subconsciously imitating his movements—crossing my legs at the ankles, straightening my shoulders. Who was I kidding? Though blessed with the long, lean body of a dancer, I was anything but.
As he walked me out, he said, “With practice I could teach you to loosen up.”
I smiled. “That would make you a miracle worker.”

* * * * *

The sun had won its daily battle with the San Francisco fog, leaving blood red streaks in the sky as it descended. Outer Sunset was one of the foggiest districts in the city, so the glorious sunsets were all the more precious for their infrequency. Ours was a tract house with the merest slice of a beach view from the corner of our balcony. But the salt air and the sound of gulls made up for the obstructed view. And on clear days the light shimmered like a Monet painting.

“I’m loving this assignment,” I said to Michael’s back as he went through the mail.

“Mmm,” he said, half turning.

“Learning all the ways people can get shrunk. Yesterday I interviewed a sand tray therapist. Can you believe…”

He looked at his watch. “Sorry. Got a lot of work to do before dinner. Let’s talk after.”

The old Michael would have said something funny, maybe conjugated the verb “to shrink.” When had he stopped laughing?

We ate dinner with the TV on and took our dessert out to the balcony. All that remained of the day was a brush stroke of light tracing a line between sky and sea. I asked him if he thought the cake I’d baked was good (yes), if he’d had a bad day (no), if he thought the sunset was especially beautiful (yes). That’s how the dinner conversation went. Call and response. If I stopped calling, he stopped responding. His eyes were focused somewhere between the beach and infinity.

In the past, I would have told my astronomer husband he looked like he was lost in space. I would have asked about his research at the university or his visit to the local elementary school to talk about why Pluto was no longer a planet. What the hell, I thought. Let’s give it one more try.

“The sand in that tray yesterday reminded me of New Jersey sand.”

“Tray?”

“The one I mentioned before dinner. At the sand tray therapist’s office.”

He gave a distracted nod.

“Reminded me of all those summers we spent next door to each other down the shore. Know what my first memory was?” I was talking faster and louder, trying to hold his attention. Sometimes it was exhausting trying to keep him engaged. “I thought of the tin can and string telephones we used to stretch between our two houses. Remember how we’d send messages to each other at night? Made faces until our parents made us turn out the lights?”

He smiled and I caught a glimpse of the boy who’d evolved from best friend, to lover, to life partner. But too soon, his mouth straightened to its default shape. I wanted to weep.
I’m a writer, I thought. I know words, know how to string them together to create stories that move people. Why can’t I come up with the right words to move him?

* * * * *

Driving home from work the next day, as the sun passed behind a cloud, I remembered when Michael had stopped laughing. It was after his father’s death a year earlier. He’d told me about his father’s passing casually, like he’d mention the death of a classmate he hadn’t thought about in years. Dr. Markowitz had been a presence in our summer lives—magnetic, dark, handsome. Women had certainly taken notice. Michael vaguely resembled his father—long legs, brown-black hair—but what Michael lacked in magnetism he more than made up for in warmth. Thinking back on all the summers we spent next door to them, I don’t think I ever saw Dr. Markowitz hug his son.

I tried to get him to talk about their relationship, believing children always mourn the loss of a parent regardless of the distance between them. But it was like flipping through pages of a photo album where someone had cut a father-shaped slice out of each picture.

“How did you feel, Michael?”

“Why are you asking me all this now?”

Why now, he asks? Like this isn’t the first time I’ve tried to get through? “Because it’s time for you to talk.”

“He’s not worth talking about. We weren’t close. I don’t miss him. Full stop.”

* * * * *

Michael sat at the breakfast room table, books and papers spread out before him, while I was sprawled on the floor, writing the final draft of my article.

“Michael, we need to talk.”

“About what?”

“Us.”

“What about us?”

Everything about us. “I don’t know.” I got up from the floor and sat down at the table across from him.

“Things have changed.”

“What things?”
“How you’re not interested in hearing about my work anymore.”

“Well you’re not interested in hearing about mine either.”

“That’s not true. I’m interested, but you’re not talking.”

I reached out and touched his upper arm. He brushed it off.

“Christ, Alicia. What do you want from me?”

“I want… I want…tango lessons.”

“Tango?” He looked as astonished as I felt by my answer.

“Yes, that’s all I want from you. I want you to dance with me.”

Señor Robles looked like a tango instructor. Licorice-slick hair, thin mustache, slim hips accentuated by tight pants. No surprise there. It was Michael who surprised me. He’d always been coordinated, but I couldn’t get over how quickly he took to the complicated tango rhythm. He instinctively knew how to hold his body, turn, lead me in the right direction. I don’t know why I chose tango. I’d have had an easier time with something like cha-cha or box step. When you have a lousy sense of direction, you should steer clear of dances where there are so many unexpected turns and direction changes that you never end up where you expected. Maybe it was the posters of the Tango Flame Dancers that captured me, their bodies pressed together as if glued.

“Keep your back straight, like Miguel,” Señor Robles would remind me. “Lean back, Alicia. Trust your partner. He won’t let you fall. Look into his eyes when he brings you close. In that moment there are no secrets between you.”

He spoke like a character in an old black-and-white movie from the thirties. Señor Robles told us to practice at home, and gave us records of the music he used during our lessons. I had to nag Michael to practice with me, but once we started dancing, he took charge. Once when we were practicing and everything was going right, I imagined someone looking in our window, jealous of the intimacy on display. But the truth was, even when we were pressed close as lovers, our talk was all business. “Turn, turn, lean.” “No, Alicia, go left.” It was no different than when we weren’t dancing.

Señor Robles was right when he said anyone could master basic tango with enough practice. Even me. As some of the steps became automatic, he had us concentrate on attitude. “You dance tango with the feet, yes, but also with the eyes.” He’d reach over to adjust the placement of a hand or tilt of the head.

“Passion, indifference, disdain, passion again—that is the face of seduction. Look deep into his eyes, Alicia, as he pulls you close. Now turn away.”

At times I was sorry I’d insisted on dance lessons instead of dance therapy with Michael. My patients express their feelings better in my office after they’ve expressed them in the studio, Dr. Gordon had said. That wasn’t happening here. We were becoming better dance partners, attuned to the subtlest gestures. A light touch on the shoulder was a signal for me to turn; his palm pressed against the small of my back meant he was about to bend me backward. But that did not make us better life partners.
Señor Robles gave us a DVD of Tango Flame to inspire us. “Watch,” he ordered. “Then practice. Repeat, repeat, again, again. The message of the dance is passion, but you can’t show passion until you’ve mastered technique.”

* * * * *
Nothing was going to change. We’d go on living our split lives, one where we danced and one where we did everything else. We even missed the Perseid meteor shower, something we’d watched together every August since we were kids. We’d stretch out on beach blankets and scan the skies. Did you see that one? Look over there above the pier. Oh, wow. We hadn’t missed a single year, not even when we went off to different colleges. Every year we’d reunite to watch those streaks of light shoot like flaming bullets from a celestial firing range. I suspected that my astronomer husband hadn’t forgotten the Perseids; he’d simply decided it wasn’t important for him to celebrate them with me anymore. When we weren’t working late, Michael and I watched television, God’s gift to dysfunctional couples. It didn’t much matter what we watched. We sat on the sofa with a bowl of popcorn or chips between us, touching only accidentally when we reached into the bowl at the same time. We went to bed at different times, so the touching there was accidental as well.

A week after my article was published, we were watching something on TV with a twisty plot. Unable to follow it, I gave up and thought about my upcoming lunch meeting with Dr. Gordon. He’d called me earlier that day to tell me how much he loved the article, and invited me out to lunch to thank me in person for all the new client calls. I imagined how our lunch would go. He’d ask me to call him Robert, and after lunch he’d give me a dance lesson at his studio. You’re good, Alicia, he’d say. Let me show you how to relax. And I’d tell him how my life was not as I had expected. He’d tell me of his own lost dreams. Equally unburdened, our feet would barely skim the hardwood floor.

I didn’t notice Michael get up from the sofa, so when I heard the intro to El Dia Que Me Quieras I thought it was TV background music. But then I felt his hand under my arm, pulling me up roughly. When he fitted my body to his, I could feel his tension. We got to the part of the dance where he was supposed to push me away, but instead he gripped my arm and locked me to him.

“There was this kid came up to me after I gave my astronomy talk to his class,” he whispered in my ear. He had to bend awkwardly to reach my ear but we kept dancing. “A second grader with a bowl haircut. Latched onto me, arms around my waist, and said he wanted to be an astronomer just like me. Then he said something else. I couldn’t make it all out, but I think he said he wished I was his father.”

The music ended. “I know that little boy, Alicia. I know him.”

“Yes, yes, I understand,” I lied soothingly, waiting for him to go on. But he had nothing more to say.

* * * * *

I arrived early at the little restaurant in the Haight. Dr. Gordon was already there. During lunch he told me how he’d studied ballet and then switched to modern. He’d broken his ankle when he was thirty, so he’d gone back to school and gotten a PhD in psychology. I told him about my family on the East Coast, our summers at the shore, and the excitement of working for big city newspapers. I didn’t talk about my relationship with Michael or about tango, but he was a psychologist, so he may have intuited all that. I told him I might want to schedule an appointment with him to discuss some of my “issues.” He said he’d be happy to listen.

As we finished our coffee, his leg brushed mine. It may have only been accidental—him arranging his dancer’s legs—but maybe not. I hadn’t thought about another man that way since before I got married. I was sure Michael was all I needed. At some level I was still sure, but there I was, sitting across from a man with a sympathetic voice and eyes the color of the afternoon sky. He was wearing a wedding ring. So was I. Maybe his partner’s a guy, I thought, and this is all perfectly safe. I told him I’d call to set up an appointment.

That night, I caught Michael looking at me as I reached for the popcorn. “What?” I said, but he shook his head and turned back to the screen. I considered slipping a note under his dinner plate. Dear Michael. How are you? I miss you.

When an old friend from back East called, I knew it would be a long conversation. We hadn’t talked in a while. I picked up the landline extension in the bedroom, stretching out across the bed and hanging my feet over the edge like I did when I was a kid. We reminisced about old friends at the shore, and when she asked about Michael’s parents, I told her both of them had died.

“It’s funny, Shelly. He talks about his mother all the time, but never about his father. It’s as if he never had one.”

Latin music played softly in the background, and I thought maybe Shelly had taken up tango, too. But when the music got louder, I realized it was coming from the next room, through the phone I’d forgotten to hang up when I took the call. Como rie la vida si tus ojos negros me quieren mirar. I hung up and walked into the living room. Michael was standing by the table, his hand on the phone, which was now resting in its charger. He wasn’t angry. He wasn’t anything. Then he said, “Dance with me.” He held me and we swayed.

“Sometimes my father came to my room late at night. I never told my mother. It would have killed her.” His words were barely audible. “I’d wake up and there he was next to me. I didn’t cry. I just went somewhere else until he left. I don’t remember much. Just touching, I think. But I went so far away I’m not sure.”

The music pulsed, but we moved to our own rhythm, rocking from side to side. The beat was relentless, the same music from the Tango Flame dance where the man grabs the woman and pulls her close, and she tries to pull away, but he twists his leg around hers and traps her.
The music stopped, but we swayed in silence.

“That night when we dove into those waves and it was so cold and we came up and the stars were so close, I felt… I guess it’s how those Jesus people feel when they’ve been born again. I’d been born again—without a father.”

I shivered, as if plunged once again into those cold waters. We stood motionless in the silent room, his arms wrapped tightly round me as if I was a life preserver. I wanted to soothe him with words, but I let my body comfort him instead.

-Natalie Zellat Dyen’s fiction and poetry have been published in Philadelphia Stories, Willow Review, Every Day Fiction, the Schuylkill Valley Journal, Wordhaus, and the Jewish Writing Project. Her humor and non-fiction essays have appeared in Global Woman Magazine, Intercom Magazine, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Montgomery County Times Chronicle, and other publications.

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In this issue of damselfly press, our writers demonstrate that in order to meet the present, we first have to face the past. Memory and experience shape us and give us strength to meet our frustrations and sorrows, whether personal or political.

Moving forward, damselfly press will read year round and publish twice a year: in April and October.

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

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Whiteout, October 2016

Listen to the Poem

This poem is for tomorrow
when America will again offer
me a slippery sense of calm in
exchange for a promise to forget.

Tomorrow is a cloth covered in chloroform
easing its hand over my mouth. Tomorrow is
amnesia: I know something
was making me so terribly angry, yesterday.

Every morning tomorrow whispers:
Calm down. The cops won’t shoot
your white body in the street. Your son.
Your sister. Your lover will still be
with you tomorrow. We promise you this.

With every evening comes
the blunt ache of being had.

– Anna Lee-Popham’s writing is deeply informed by the political contexts of home: recently, Atlanta; currently, Toronto. Anna is completing a creative writing certificate at the University of Toronto and writes poetry to make sense of the world.

 

Into Your Singular Room

Soft around your shoulders like a shawl
you draw me

and I come

unready, up-ended, to attend
my new calling and you, no matter how

bewildered.

I bring your meager groceries.
Hand you your cane.

Have I thanked you

for your blood which formed me,
for your milk and your wounds

which furnished me?

And is it prayer – this space we inhabit
that is larger than ourselves and

beyond words?

Afternoons of curled photos.
Laughter thinned by time

and apprehension. The patient

search for things discarded or misplaced
(a shoe, a name, our affection).

Love letters.

This is mine to you. You draw me
near but not into your final privacy

where I rest my hand on your days.

– Marg Walker lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, where she pursues her abiding interest in the human voice through poetry and creative nonfiction. Her work has recently appeared in Red Wolf Journal, Wilderness House Review, By&By, Page & Spine, and is forthcoming in The Stray Branch.

 

Garden

“These are begonias,” she said
leaning on her knee
polyester
damp with mud
from the morning rain.
She took a pair of scissors
traced fingers
along the length of the stem
and snipped.
Held it
to the tip of her nose,
smiled,
held it out to me.
I toddled
unsure steps
of someone still new
to the world,
wrinkled petals
in my clumsy fist,
then watched them
scatter
like an exhale
across the lawn.

– Jessica Alverson has worked and studied as a behavior analyst but has been a poet and writer for most of her life.  She has published poems in Nourishment for the Spirit: A Collection of Poems and Short Reflections and Live Poets Society of NJ American: High School Poets Regional Winners Winter 2000.

 

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On Werewolves and Vampires

One of the last times I saw my dad, we planned to walk a few blocks from my St. Louis apartment to get pizza. It was late May but already sweltering, and I was eight months pregnant. My toddler, Becca, was only one and glued to my side most of the time, weary of my growing belly and new furniture and car seats showing up. I had just landed a job as a professor, so I was fairly happy but also careful as usual around my temperamental father.

He was always quiet around me; I did most of the talking, and that day was no different. When he rang the bell, he already looked exasperated that I didn’t answer within 15 seconds. I still needed to find my keys and my daughter’s shoes, which I knew he wouldn’t like. I started chattering mindlessly about our day at the park, sing-songy in tone, trying to uplift the mood.

When I was a teenager, I listened to The Who’s “Behind Blue Eyes,” quite a bit, and felt that the song nailed him:

“No one knows what it’s like
To be the bad man,
to be the sad man,
Behind blue eyes.
No one knows what it’s like
To be hated
To be fated
To telling only lies.”

Growing up, our house was governed by his set of rules, and breaking the rules brought sudden, sharp consequences. One couldn’t open a can of Coke or take a bite of banana without finishing it. One couldn’t leave a pair of shoes out. One could never touch the wallpaper. Spilling milk was a crime, despite the idiom.

Because he never said more than a few sentences to me even though we lived in the same house for 17 years, he had been a mystery to me as a child: What had his parents been like? Why was he an accountant? Did he believe in God? Why was he so strict? Why didn’t he ever talk to his two sisters? I never found answers, and eventually I stopped wanting to know.

The one chance I had to discover something was the time I met one of his sisters when I was 27. I waited for her at a restaurant and finally saw a worried looking woman approach the door and then change her mind, deciding to go back to her car. I ran after her. “Are you Anne?” I asked. She nodded. “Let’s go back to the restaurant,” I said. What was this woman so hesitant about when it came to her brother? I still don’t know, but I realized she cared little about forging a relationship with my brother and me.

Eventually by the time I had a baby, it grew clear that my dad and I were never going to understand each other, but perhaps we could get a slice of pizza together once in a while. The only thing we have in common is that we both run every day, in snow or sleet or ice. Whereas he is a stoic vampire, I am an emoting werewolf, all howl and bark and bite.

That day, though, he bared his vampire fangs at me, and I bared my teeth at him. Once I put my daughter’s shoes on, grabbed my wallet and shut the door, I could feel the heat emanating from him. Finally, it became clear that he thought my one-year old was walking too slow. He grabbed her hand from mine, and started walking quickly with her, forcefully, and she fell. He dragged her on the sidewalk, and her knee began bleeding. My firstborn, also a werewolf, was never one to suffer in stony silence and the entire street could now hear her wails. I caught up to them and picked her up. I stood as tall as I could, even though he still towered over me. I started screaming, and this was never my style with this man. Brooding in silence, jogging until my nipples bled or my toenails fell off, sneaking a cigarette, that was my style. Screaming in public at a man I feared for half my life, not my style. I screamed that I forgave him for being abusive with me, but that I would not allow him to act this way with her. He refrained from speech and movement, his face oddly blank and expressionless, while I winced noticing bystanders turning to stare at us: a weeping child and a very pregnant woman howling at an aging man.

In Judaism, we ponder forgiveness each year, fasting and atoning for our sins. Forgiving is thought to be a mitzvah, a divine command. I wish I was strong enough for all of this, but I still may not be.

A few weeks ago, I used the word “abuse” in a conversation with my mother and she denied the word, saying that it did not apply to her, nor did it apply to me or our fam-ily. I stared her down across the table and understood that this was something she needed to believe.

But I don’t believe it. Abuse is a word that most people don’t want to hear, most people don’t want to think about, but I am going to keep saying it until I don’t need to say it anymore.

All my life I ran after words, and he gave me none of them, but I found them an-yway. In many ways, this is why I am a feminist. So I can use the words. So I can look him in the eye at my brother’s upcoming wedding and introduce him to his grandchildren. It was the words of the women writers, the sisters, the mothers I read for so many years that strengthened me that moment on the sidewalk when I was 32, and I will always thank them for that.

– Jamie Wagman’s work has previously appeared in Nashim: A Journal of Jewish Women’s Studies & Gender Issues and The Adirondack Review, among other places. She teaches Gender and Women’s Studies and American History at Saint Mary’s College in South Bend, Indiana.

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Love Story: Witness 87

I fell in love with Jack—as I’ll call him—in February of my junior year at St. George’s, the elite ocean-side boarding school. St. George’s was a long tradition in my family. When in 1977 my parents were assigned to a Foreign Service posting in Laos, they thought it fortunate the school had gone coed several years before. I would be the first Roberts girl to attend.

According to my friend Anne, Jack was weird. He had high cheekbones, straight longish brown hair, and a long straight nose. He exuded broody-literary cool, a sensitive soul but with a sense of humor about it. He loved Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, e.e. cummings, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. He played the guitar and listened to jazz. He liked to wear black leather gloves indoors and when we were at meals in the dining hall (chandeliers and wood paneling) liked to wiggle his gloved hands fiendishly at Anne, strangler-style, causing her to shriek and the rest of us to laugh.

Jack used to pay a lot of visits to one of the nurses in the school infirmary. Then in her mid-30s, Nurse G. (as the students called her) had curled blonde hair and wore full nurse regalia: white starched dress, white cap, white nylons, white crepe-soled shoes. She had a youthful yet motherly charm rendered even more appealing by her willingness to bend the rules for her favorites. And all of us in the class of 1980 were her favorites, because, as she explained, she had arrived with us as ninth-graders.

Boys and girls alike were in search of a listening ear and a friendly word, and the infirmary was the place to go when you wanted in from the cold. Nurse G. dispensed tea and sympathy. If you’d missed breakfast, she’d make you toast; if you were a girl with a broken heart, she’d write you a dysmenorrhea excuse slip so you could get out of sports practice.

My girlfriends and I were devotees. “Nursie G.’s on duty, let’s go visit,” someone would say on a Saturday afternoon, and off we’d rush to sit on the counter, weigh ourselves on the medical scale, and tell her everything going on in our lives.

My first connection with Jack happened in the infirmary on a January evening. I had gone after study hours to grouse about an unwanted change to my class schedule. As I stood in the fluorescent-lit hallway complaining tearily, Nurse G. making empathetic noises, Jack walked out of the nurses’ office. He was wearing what looked like a silver-fox-fur jacket, lavishly fluffy, over his blazer and tie. “How do you like my coat?” he asked, striking a pose.

I didn’t realize it was Nurse G.’s coat; I did, however, have a 15-year-old girl’s instinct for flirting. I walked up to him, said, “I love your coat. Can I cry on it ?” and put my face on his shoulder.

I never slept with him, but we had make-out sessions that seemed magically exciting, one on a cold dark train—or was it a bus?—headed to New Hampshire for our class’s ski weekend, lights flickering by outside like the beam of an old movie projector, his coat (an ordinary parka this time) draped over our heads as we sipped from a bottle of Amaretto and kissed.

We talked about T.S. Eliot, Tim Curry, and Ancient Greece. We went down to the beach and sat in the dunes and he played his guitar for me.

Equally good were the cozy evenings we spent with Nurse G. when she had night shift. As juniors, Jack and I were supposed to be in our rooms or the library for study hours, but we would go to the infirmary instead. There in the tiny office from 8 to 11 pm Nurse G. sat at the desk doing paperwork and we sat close by in folding chairs doing our homework or reading books, all three of us silent in the glow of the gooseneck lamp. I remember one evening I was reading The Princess Bride and thinking I would never be so happy again as long as I lived.

On an evening in early April, Jack broke up with me. We were in a classroom, one of the nighttime make-out spots. He sat on the floor with his head in his hands and said, “I guess I want to break up.” There had been no warning of this, so at first I didn’t understand what he was saying. When it sank in I ran out of the classroom, through the corridors back to my dorm, out the external door with the steel-bar handle, and across the grass to the stone bench behind the hedges. I sat down, bent double, and howled in pain.

Nurse G. was on duty a few days later. I went to see her and told her what had happened. She said she knew, and was very angry with Jack for hurting me. She had given him quite a scolding, she said. We both rolled our eyes, commiserating about the perfidy of men.

I took up with another boyfriend and eventually moved on to college, more romances, grad school, husband, career, daughter, life.

***

In the summer of 2015, St. George’s, pressured by several alumni who had been raped or molested during their time there, launched an investigation to uncover the truth about decades of sexual abuse. Dozens of witnesses came forward to speak to the independent investigator. In September 2016, a 390-page report was released to the public. “Faculty and staff members at St. George’s sexually abused at least 51 students during the 1970s and 1980s,” the report states.

The report names six adult perpetrators. We alums already knew about five of them: four teachers and one athletic trainer, all male. The sixth was a surprise: A part-time nurse. Female.

When I saw Nurse G.’s name in the Boston Globe article about the report, my first reaction was: Oh, come on. She was no abuser. That is ridiculous!

I opened the report and found her name in the summary section. Not ridiculous. I knew who the male student was; of course I did. Then again, a lot of boys used to hang around the infirmary. Maybe, I thought, it was one of those other boys.

I turned to the detailed section of the report. “When G______ distanced herself from the student shortly after his graduation, the student attempted suicide by driving his moped into a wall.” He sustained five skull fractures but survived.

So it was Jack. When I’d gone back in 1990 for my tenth reunion, Nurse G. herself had told me about the terrible moped accident. Was anyone in touch with Jack now? she had asked, standing there in the examining room surrounded by reunion-goers, her old devotees. No, we said. How I miss him, she said.

The account provided by Witness 87 (as Jack is labeled in the report) includes many details. He and Nurse G. were lovers for two years, beginning in his junior year. They had sex in the infirmary whenever she had night shift. They had sex in his dorm room and in motels. She would warn him not to talk about being tired the next day. At one point she told him she was pregnant with his child, despite her tubal ligation, and that she wanted to keep it; he was conflicted, but agreed. Later she told him she had miscarried while jogging.

He was 17 and 18, over the age of consent, so none of it was rape, legally speaking. Nevertheless it is clear from the account that she manipulated and took ugly advantage of a child. Of children.

What sort of therapy is in order when you find out, decades on, that your first love left you for your mother figure? Well, Freudian psychoanalysis, obviously, plus viewings of The Graduate.

But can I honestly say this messed me up when I didn’t even know it was happening?

I feel sad for Jack and hope he’s ok, wherever he is. But there is nothing I can do for him now, and there was nothing I could have done for him then. As for Nurse G., there is nothing I want to say to her. It is not my job to produce the remake.

At boarding school, a kind lady made me toast and listened to my troubles. A beautiful boy kissed me passionately and played his guitar for me on the beach.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

– Jocelyn Davis is a writer living in Santa Fe, NM. Her first career was in leadership development, consulting to large companies. In her latest book, The Greats on Leadership, she combines her business expertise with her liberal arts education. She is an alumna of St. George’s School and Swarthmore College.

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The submission period for the thirty-ninth issue of damselfly press is now closed. Look for the issue April 15, 2017.

As always, thank you to our submitters.

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Issue 38 highlights poetry that takes a stand. Courage comes in many forms, and our poets show us what it means to be unapologetically brave.

We would like to say congratulations to damselfly press contributor, Jean Harper, on her forthcoming book, Still Life with Horses. Her essay, “A Good Mom,” appears in the book and was first published in our combined Issue 26/27 in 2014.

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

The thirty-ninth issue of damselfly press will be a themed issue of kindness. If you’d like to submit, please first visit our guidelines section and send us your submission by March 15, 2017.

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Anthem

I am raising my voice to shout back to the censors.
I am raising my voice which has been a whisper too long.

I am raising my voice to be a bridgespan across darkness.
I am raising my voice as a homing signal for the lost.

I am raising my voice to untangle craven confusion.
I am raising my voice like a snowdrop in the spring.

I am raising my voice to honor bleeding bodies, battered heads.
I am raising my voice to find a way to walk on alligators.

I am raising my voice to draw a line in the sand – not here. Not again.
I am raising my voice to sing ancestral songs.

I am raising my voice as a note in a long symphony of sisterhood.
I am raising my voice to dance like a moth seeking light.

I am raising my voice to pierce the toxic bubbles of the greedy.
I am raising my voice to pillory the soulless gluttony of the few.

I am raising my voice to pillow the agony of the homeless.
I am raising my voice to recognize the gods in the street.

I am raising my voice.
I am raising my voice.

I am raising my voice for wrens who locate crumbs in trash and teach me persistence.
I am raising my voice to warn the children it is their turn to fight.

I am raising my voice with voices unseen and unexpected.
I am offering my voice as a pyre and a beacon
and a dream.

– Catherine McGuire has 3 decades of poetry in publications such as New Verse News, FutureCycle, Portland Lights, Fireweed, and on a bus for Poetry In Motion. She has four chapbooks: Palimpsests (Uttered Chaos) and three self-published, a full-length book of poetry, Elegy for the 21st Century (FutureCycle Press), and the upcoming deindustrial science fiction novel Lifeline (Founders House Publishing, 2017).

 

Camp Good-Wishes

Bald children, hollow-eyed —
catheters sprout from sunken chests —
fashion boats of driftwood,
frigates, freighters, tugboats, yachts,
to launch ablaze with candlelight,
hopes of health and wishes,
safe return to camp.

When I was ten, I, too, launched
Dreamboats here,
a shining fleet all sailing on the tide.

Perhaps, my own boat
reached some distant port
candles burning bravely still
for I watch these Dreamboats
heavy with their fragile loads
sail gently into summer’s night
with prayers for answered hope.

On the Welsh Coast

Near Llanelli, just off a little road,
on the slim path down to the cove,
dawn arrives lonely in this wilderness
and the mist settles here

in a thin valley of long grass.
A herd of wild ponies huddles together,
tans, browns, whites and spotted grays,
they watch as I pass under the moon.

Above them on the hill a ruined castle,
its crenellated walls crumbling with age.
A stone falls while I pause to wonder
at the lives of ancestors living here.

The waves lash the cliffs below,
and the sky begins to lighten.
The birds have not begun to sing.
Only the horses and I here at sunrise,

I and the ghosts of defenders,
sentries on the ramparts
eyeing the sea for Viking ships,
marauders who would sack their home

leaving behind the dead and wounded
in the rubble of the dream of safety.
Yet, this day, I remember the longbows,
their arrows and deadly vision,

strong hands and heavy grip, their spirit
unquenchable. They breathe in me,
as I stride toward the cove
unvanquished, unconquered.

I will gather up the light of morning.
and hold it in my arms.

– Francine E. Walls lives in the Pacific Northwest. She has also enjoyed living in Wales and Botswana. Her poems appear in the book, Writing Across Cultures: A Handbook on Writing Poetry and Lyrical Prose, and magazines such as Pontoon, Arnazella, PoetsWest Literary Journal, and others.

 

Because I Had To

She wanted me to know her profoundly. Wade in the water.

A sea of open and buried treasure, my mother
stood in herself like waves. Composed herself.

Wrote index cards full of feelings.
Hundreds from one year during her divorce.
Grouped by theme. Anger. Inadequacy. Depression. Acceptance.
Regret. Happiness. Love. God. Roaming like zebras through an endless savanna.

I had someone else tear them to pieces. Shred them like a predator.
My inheritance so craggy, a series of mountains. I heard them howl.

– Nina Bannett’s poetry has appeared in Open Minds Quarterly, The Bellevue Literary Review, and CALYX. She has published a chapbook, Lithium Witness, and a full-length collection, These Acts of Water. She is Professor of English and department chairperson at New York City College of Technology, CUNY.

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