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Category Archive for 'Issue 13'

Here at damselfly press, we think autumn is synonymous with creativity. As you will see, our thirteenth issue is abundant with writing that reflects that spirit. We have all you need to enjoy the bounty of the season with fascinating poems, honest fiction, and contemplative nonfiction. Sit back with a cup of coffee or cocoa and enjoy our ode to autumn.

We’re pleased to announce three publications by poets previously published in damselfly press:

Judith Skillman’s The Never (Dream Horse Press, June 2010)

Ann Tweedy’s Beleaguered Oases (tcCreative Press, Summer 2010)

Wendy Wisner’s Another Place of Rocking (Pudding House Press, September 2010)

Our fourteenth issue will be available January 15th, 2011. If you’d like to submit, please visit our guidelines section and send us your submission by December 15th, 2010. Thank you to all of our submitters.


a lake

I have been a lake for you,
and I worry that my waters
take too much:
your best fishing lure,
banded with a stripe of red paint,
a discarded shoe undone
by surface currents working
through laced knots,
even a white t-shirt that the
wind took after you placed it
beside you in the rowboat,
bronzing your back even browner,
but not as brown as the shirt,
now silt-soaked and drunk
in my mud.

but all you can talk about
is what you caught:
a great, shining bass with rainbow flesh
and little smooth sunfish batting their fins.
once, a tiny song-frog that leapt from
puddle to puddle pooled in the
bottom of the boat,
and a couple of honey-colored perch,
blinking knowingly with marble orbs.

– Irene Mathieu is a writer, photographer, medical student, painter, public health aficionado, and musician from Virginia. Her work focuses on themes of personal growth, change, and rebirth, travel experiences, relationships, and occasional forays into social justice fare. Previous publications include poetry and photography in 34th Parallel, Magnapoets, and The Meadowland Review.

Slow Cooker Stew

I rinse, peel, slice potatoes,
cut into an onion, wiping my burning eyes
with the back of my hand. I once believed
onions channeled sad thoughts,
whispering like oracles, your mother
will die one day, your father, you.

Easy to imagine wizardry from root vegetables
back when the kitchen was my parents’ domain.
Not that magic doesn’t happen now.
Tomorrow, already late for work,
I’ll pile these pieces into a ceramic crock,
add stew meat, a can of soup, then simply
flip a switch. Six o’clock, the aroma
of a simmering meal will meet me at the door
and I can feel, in that one moment at the threshold,
like somebody’s daughter again, or somebody’s wife.

– Ona Gritz’s poetry has been published widely. In 2007, she won the Inglis House poetry contest and the Late Blooms Poetry Postcard competition. In 2009, she placed second for Lilith Magazine’s Charlotte Newberger Competition. Her chapbook, Left Standing, was published by Finishing Line Press. She has received five Pushcart nominations.


I left the house,
boxes stacked, sealed and labeled.
You loaded them alone into some dark interior.

For a month we talked only of schedules, lists, divisions.
Mornings arrived sweet with the smell of wood pulp —
boxes flattened, stiff.

The Picasso’s print came off the wall, shelves were cleared,
the rooster napkin holder from Portugal wrapped,
other souvenirs tossed in the trash.

You kept the knife sharp so the cut could be made cleanly,
scoring and bending boxes for holding in. You muscled
through the silence. I, as usual, spilled enough words,

for both of us, but not to you.
Now, My feet no longer tiptoe across the floor
And room after room opens up.

-Diana Cole is a professional singer and teacher. She has translated many poems for concert programs, leading her to write her own poetry. Magazines that have published her poems include Off The Coast, Blueline, Tipton Poetry Journal, The Aurorean, The Christian Century, and The Chaffin Journal. Her poem, “Though I Walk,” set for double chorus by Thomas Stumpf, was selected by the Pharos Music Project and performed in New York City.

Searching for Sorrow

The little girl in the field,
stooping, bending nose to grass,
and “searching for sorrow” is what
I thought I heard someone say,
so I wondered, as I watched her peer
under the shrubs and brush aside
the daylilies, why would anyone
go searching for sorrow? It being
so good at finding us on its own,
abruptly plumping itself down
in our favorite easy chair, pouring
bitter dregs into our wine glasses
and settling in for a long stay. But
“searching for sorrel” was what
was really said, a particular kind of grass
with thick fanning leaves, and why
would anyone go searching for sorrel?
I wondered. It being so common
and green, so easily crushed and such
the shape of ordinary things, dirt
and sunshine and pigeons in the park,
and I almost turned away when the child
presented a handful of it to her mother,
fingers stained with the earnestness
of discovery.

-Janet Barry, a New Hampshire musician and poet, has poems published or forthcoming in numerous journals and anthologies, including Ragged Sky Press, Off the Coast, Naugatuck River Review, Compass Rose, Tygerburning, and Canary. Janet holds an MFA in poetry from New England College and received a 2009 Pushcart Nomination.


Mother of the Bride

Janie tries to hide that she hates the man who is dancing with her daughter.

The music isn’t so bad, a cover of one of those jazz standards that she knows well enough to hum. The shiny-faced band leader’s Louis Armstrong imitation has gotten better as the night’s gone on, although his voice doesn’t have the same sweet hoarseness as she heard on the records she once listened to with her father.

It’s not just her new son-in-law, who on most other occasions she thinks is a good match for her stubborn daughter. Tonight she also hates her husband, Michael, who has tried on his tuxedo after dinner several times this week. You’d think you were the one getting married, she told him.

Does it looks all right? he asked. Fatherly, yet handsome?

She even hates her daughter.

Janie nearly crushes the slender stem of the glass in her hand. The view through the empty glass leads her eyes to the window.

Outside, the wind has started to scar the surface of the lake.  Women begin to put their shawls on, men who are normally idiots offer up their coats, looking surprised and pleased as they make the gesture as if they’ve stumbled on an unknown treasure, their buried chivalry.

Her father hated weddings, too. He swept her mother off to Las Vegas so he could get married in his favorite Hawaiian shirt, with only two tired blackjack dealers as witnesses. When Janie was little, invitations with their curlicue writing came in the mail, and she would trace the embossed letters with her small fingers. Her father would open his checkbook.

When she was older she slung her arm around his thick neck as he slowly copied out his signature and asked him what he was doing.
This way, everyone gets what they want, he said.  He ripped the check from his checkbook and folded it into the envelope.

But what do you get?

He reached up and squeezed her hand. More of this, he said.

Janie’s friends have whispered to her all night that she looks young enough to be the bride. She’s taken her hair down and had it blown dry and she can feel it around her shoulders. Normally, she’s got it up in a tight knot behind her head, in accordance with the look she’s tried to bring to the principal’s office at the city’s second-worst high school –-severe, she thinks, but fair.

The music swells and she looks up and she sees Michael now twirling their daughter around the dance floor, installed like tiles on the grassy lawn, and she can feel something pressing against her throat, hard.

Her father, her daddy—does she still think of him as Daddy? Janie is three years away from sixty, so that is ridiculous–did not know how to dance. At her own wedding, there had been no dancing, just a justice of the peace, a woman whose bifocals slid down her narrow nose as she read from her script.  Just the two of them, and the woman, who had a slight stammer that Janie imitated later, in their hotel room at the shore, so that she could stop thinking about the reason they weren’t having a real wedding—because she couldn’t bear the moment where she’d have to walk up the aisle and into Michael’s arms alone.

Michael hadn’t seemed to care one way or the other about weddings. When they get invitations from her former students, she declines, always, and sends a nice check. That’s what they need, she says, and Michael agrees. But after Sarah told them she was getting married, Janie watched Michael through their kitchen window the next evening when he got home from work. He climbed out of his car and flipped back the seat to grab his briefcase, which he’d thrown in the back. Then as he was walking across the driveway, something seemed to pause him, as if he’d heard a gunshot.

Janey leaned forward, wondering if she should call the police this time or just call Michael inside. Then Michael started to dance.  His feet shuffled to the side, to the back, they came together and parted again. His feet spun him in circles, his arms opened to hold someone who wasn’t there. He swayed his way around the car, ending up beneath the window from which Janey watched him, but seeing only his daughter in his arms. Then he brushed himself off, picked up his briefcase, and came inside to her.

Janey’s hands start shaking and she sets her glass on a table. One of the servers picks it up, almost a moment after she sets it down. Janey looks in the young woman’s eyes and sees a moment of pity, and she is angry at this girl, too. Earlier she saw her and the bartender, still with a goggle tan around his face even though it is June, flirting and trading jokes as they filled up the large tubs of ice with beer and soda. This is what a young girl should be doing, Janey had thought, not mourning a father who killed himself the day after his daughter’s high school graduation. That was a job for a woman.  

“Kerry, I need you back here, now,” a voice says. The girl smiles again and steps away, her youth kicking her into a near-gallop. She sweeps one long red braid back over her shoulder and pushes herself and the trays she carries through the kitchen door.

Janey is not going to cry. There’d be no way to hide that she was crying, not because her daughter was so beautiful, but because she hated her so much. Janey makes her way across the room, mumbling something about the cake cutting if she feels someone turn to look at her.

She gets so close to the dance floor that her heel slips on the shiny surface, where so many feet had crossed before. So many fathers and daughters, wrapped up in each other’s arms, not seeing anyone else. And she can’t stop looking. It’s like the fights she sees at school–her one weakness, she knows. Three seconds before she wades in with security guards behind her to stop it, she watches the crowd pour out away from the fighters like a whirlpool in reverse, and she sees their arms and legs pushing at each other, at once looking ordinary and more beautiful than anything she’s ever seen.

Now Michael and Sarah spin toward her. She puts her head down and moves away. Soon they will turn and she can be alone and hate them in privacy while she plucks petals from the wedding cake. Anyone would think she’s a nervous mother of the bride, making sure everything is so perfectly perfect.

But her husband and daughter keep moving toward her.  They pull away from each other, stretch out their arms, and draw her in.  The three of them together: Michael, handsome grey Michael, who has danced with her late at night in their silent kitchen, much like the one at the cabin here, one that she thought would be too cold; her daughter, her small child, who will always have something that she won’t. And Janey. But that’s how it is, your children are supposed to have things that you don’t. You are always dancing, she thinks, with the things you can’t hold on to, with the things you always will. Over their heads Janey sees the young waitress again, her red hair coming loose from the braids. She is now folding napkins and resetting them on the table, smoothing down creases and dusting away crumbs.

– Cameron Walker has an MFA from the Rainier Writing Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University. Her stories have appeared in The Missouri Review and Aspect Journal. She lives in California with her family.


The Bird’s Nest

Two thousand and eight Chinese Tai Chi Masters move in unison on the TV screen that hangs on the waiting room wall.  Close-ups reveal fierce dark eyes, but when the camera pulls back the performers’ bodies form massive, pulsing circles in the middle of the “Bird’s Nest,” the Olympic stadium in Beijing.  Unhappy to be back in a hospital waiting room, I lose myself in the watching.  “It’s incredible that two thousand human beings can create such perfect circles!” a commentator says.  The Tai Chi masters, dressed in white uniforms, jump and twist, then land on the ground and freeze as one.  Their movements are controlled, somehow weightless.  Fabric billows around their taut bodies.  I wonder how they know exactly where they are, and where they fit, individually, into this colossal experience going on around them.

To the left of the TV, large red letters spell out EMERGENCY across two wide doors next to a registration desk.  My husband, Jean-Paul, and I rushed to the hospital after a nurse called to tell us his mother had fallen out of her wheelchair.  It must be the hundredth time this has happened in the last year and a half, since she was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor.  Judith refuses to consider moving into an assisted living facility or paying for in-home care, even though the biopsy caused swelling in the brain and she is paralyzed on the left side.  She relies on us to handle all of her needs even though we live in another town and both work. 

She wheels herself around her small Cambridge house, a telephone clipped to the collar of her shirt.  Each time she falls, she dials 9-1-1 and the local fire company sends an ambulance.  If her door is locked when the EMTs arrive, they are forced to climb through a window.  Usually after they’ve put Judith back in her chair she refuses to go to the hospital, so they are forced to leave her alone in the house.  Sometimes we never even find out it happened.  Tonight they apparently over-rode her angry protests, because they transported her here.

A voice crackles over the PA system.  “Mr. Stevens, Mr. Stevens.”  I glance around the half-filled room and see a man I assume is Mr. Stevens.  He stands up and walks toward the doors.  I have been waiting at least an hour for my own name to be called, or for Jean-Paul to come back out to the waiting room and tell me what is going on.  The doors open; Mr. Stevens walks through.  The doors close again.

Tired and frustrated, I turn back to the television.  I think about the Olympic motto: “Faster, higher, stronger.”  When I was young this dream seemed possible, even for me, a small-town gymnast in upstate New York.

Now I watch the Tai Chi Masters’ punches and kicks, hear the force of their unifying “kiais,” or yells.  Tai Chi was one of the arts I practiced in my thirties when I studied martial arts.  I remember part of the form we learned.  At the beginning we held our hands in just the right way, then lifted our arms slowly with our elbows slightly bent.  We arched our wrists, then reversed them so our palms led the hands back down as we breathed.  In a slow, sweeping motion, with a turn at the waist, we switched direction and formed circles with our arms, one arm up, the other down.  “Imagine you are cradling a large beach ball,” our instructor used to say.  The goal was connection, a sense of peace, the perfect circle.

The performers in the Bird’s Nest now encircle a group of schoolchildren.  The children hug backpacks to their chests and smile as they watch the flow of activity around them.  The commentator explains the symbolism involved.  The circles represent the current generation as it protects the generation that follows. 

I wonder if Judith ever protected Jean-Paul.  She was emotionally fragile even before the brain tumor.  A tall, blond beauty growing up in Missouri, she married her first love at twenty.  They moved to Massachusetts with their son when he was six, but divorced just a few years later.  Judith stayed in Massachusetts but became anorexic and depressed, had bouts of rage and hysteria.  When Jean-Paul was eleven, she packed her bags and threatened to move out.  He had to block the doorway until she calmed down and agreed not to leave him alone.  She was an unusually talented painter and sculptor, and settled into a career teaching high school art.  For the next thirty years, she rarely dated, even though she remained slim and striking.  She told me once that Jean-Paul’s father, who died at forty-seven, would always be the love of her life. 

The P.A. system intrudes again.  “Maria Sanchez?  Maria Sanchez?”

I try to ignore the interruption and turn my attention back to the Tai Chi Masters.  My throat has tightened over the thoughts of Judith, and I want to keep my feelings under control.  She did not ask for this horrific illness.  She would give anything for the last eighteen months to be a bad dream.  Still, I feel my shoulders and neck start to stiffen, and I shift uncomfortably in the hard wooden chair.  I have no desire to be here tonight.  I don’t even want to be myself in my life.  I would rather be in China, in that stadium on TV.  I would rather be a Tai Chi Master.  At the very least I would rather be home, watching the opening ceremonies in the comfort of my living room.

I notice a man in the waiting room.  He is cradling a little girl in his arms.  She has dark eyes and little black pony tails wrapped inside gray, shiny coils.  They look like Mickey Mouse ears.  The girl doesn’t appear to be injured or ill, but she is crying.  The man holds her and comforts her with gentle words.  She notices the television mounted on the wall while tears stream down her face.  The instant she sees the Tai Chi masters all dressed in white, moving in unison in perfect circles, the little girl stops crying.  She just stares at them in wonder, and starts to watch.

Judith told me once that she hated everything about her teaching career except, of course, her students.  She was known to champion the underdogs, the kids who didn’t fit in.  At night she taught adult education classes.  She set her own dreams aside for the future, when she would have a hefty retirement fund and a comfortable pension.  When she finally retired with that pension in hand, her mortgage paid off and her son long grown, she started pursuing the things she wanted.  She opened a business applying permanent cosmetics.  She purchased closets full of shoes and new clothes.  She bought a Porsche Boxter.  Then she was diagnosed with a brain tumor.

The Tai Chi Masters are leaving the stadium.  A new group of performers pours into the arena and melts together to form a huge dove.  A swarm of bodies, thousands of bodies, runs back and forth until the wings of the dove appear to be flapping up and down.  The huge human bird is flying!  I shake my head in disbelief.  I cannot imagine how they are doing this.   I think about the people of China, such a huge nation, putting on a show for the world.   It strikes an emotional chord in me.  They are trying to establish a new China, a new era for their country.  Everything they demonstrate is beautiful, flowing, flying, as if nothing is more important than hope.

We learned recently that my mother-in-law’s tumor is growing again; the doctors can’t help anymore.  The average patient with her type of tumor does not live longer after diagnosis than she has now lived.  Chemotherapy and radiation no longer work.  Judith is furious, terrified.  She blames everyone, including her son.  She has accused her friend Fran, a frail woman of eighty who has visited every Saturday since Judith got sick, of wanting to steal all her money.  She has insisted I want her to die. 

When all of this started I felt grief and compassion; by now I am worn down and tired.  Every day now is painful and difficult, and we have had little time for ourselves.  I am ashamed of my thoughts on this side of those doors, while my mother-in-law lies in a hospital bed.

A man just walked through the doors.  He is talking to a woman who sits in a row of chairs right behind me.  “We’ve decided to keep you here,” he tells her.  “We were planning to send you home, but we spoke to your insurance company and we’re going to keep you for the night.”

I force my focus back to the television.  How do the performers do it?  Yet another group has entered the arena.  They are dressed in glowing green costumes and have formed another massive circle.  So many circles.  They are hoisting themselves onto each other’s shoulders, setting up for something big.  The camera pulls back and then, yes, I see it!  It is the Bird’s Nest itself, the Olympic stadium!  The stadium has been reconstructed, within itself, by thousands of human bodies.  Now it is somehow flashing white and green.  Ninety-one thousand people in the stands are enraptured.  Each has been given something to hold up.  They are holding lanterns, thousands of red lanterns with lights inside that flicker like cherry stars.  The commentators are beside themselves, and so am I.   The sight is so stunning that I can hardly breathe.  One commentator says, “You might as well put away the trophy for Opening Ceremonies.  This is it, no one will ever match it.”  Everything on the screen is surreal, deeply and intensely beautiful.  Everyone in the Bird’s Nest is joyful and safe, oblivious to the world outside.

The PA buzzes to life again. “Kathy, please call the front desk.  Kathy, front desk please.” I swat at the noise mentally as if it were a fly.

The performances at the Opening Ceremonies are coming to an end.  The dancers turn and swirl, run off the floor.  Announcers speak in French, then English, then Chinese.  The parade of athletes begins.  Men and women led by flag-bearers march into the stadium.  Some teams are dressed in suits, others in colorful folk costumes traditional to their cultures.  I can’t tell what order they are marching in; it is not alphabetical, at least not in English.  The announcers’ voices ring out over the loudspeakers and echo through the Bird’s Nest.  They say the name of each country as its excited athletes arrive.  They flood in, the “youth of the world,” answering the call from four years ago to assemble in Beijing. 

I am no longer part of the “youth of the world.”  I am forty-five, twenty-eight years past ponytails and balance beams. 
A commercial interrupts the parade of athletes.  I look at the clock and think about the time.  It is after 9:00 p.m.  Because of the time difference between Boston and Beijing, the Opening Ceremonies actually took place twelve hours ago.  The program was taped for the U.S. audience, and in truth all of this is long over. 

I have been sitting in this waiting room for two hours now, and my head is pounding with pain.  My shoulders are rigid.  I have to ask someone what’s going on.  I stand up and feel that my knees are sore from sitting cross-legged on the waiting room chair.  I take a deep breath, nervous to face what I might find out, and walk past the nurse seated at the reception desk.  I press the metal button so many others have pressed before me tonight, and watch the word EMERGENCY split in two and the doors slide open.  A large nurse’s station is located behind the doors, then a long, wide corridor lit by blinding fluorescent lights.  I walk past a line of rooms with half-open doors. A man is standing in the hallway, talking into his cell phone. His shoulders are hunched, his head bent forward.  He looks exhausted.  “I’m in the hospital,” he says into the phone. “It’s my mother.  She fell again.” 

Is our story not so unusual then?  Are others living through the same type of hell?  For months we have felt so alone.

I look for my husband. I see him standing outside one of the rooms.  He is speaking to a middle-aged woman in a white lab coat.  They are looking at papers on a clipboard.  I approach and notice the strained expression on Jean-Paul’s face.  He looks up without smiling, nods quickly at me and holds up a finger, indicating that I should wait a minute until he can explain what’s going on. 
Does this mean she’s being declared legally incompetent to handle her own affairs?” Jean-Paul asks.  Then he adds, “Will she think I have done this to her?”

I step backwards to give Jean-Paul and the doctor some space so they can talk. The motion is strangely unsteady.  No Tai Chi Masters move with me; no audience watches, enraptured.  I am not in a stadium or bird’s nest, high up and safe from the fray.  I am in a hospital in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the circle is collapsing.

– Faye Rapoport DesPres’ essays have appeared in Ascent, Hamilton Stone Review, InterfaithFamily.com, Writer Advice and International Gymnast Magazine.   Her journalism has appeared in The New York Times, the Writer’s Chronicle, Animal Life, Trail and Timberline and other publications.  Faye holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Pine Manor College.