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Category Archive for 'Issue 18'

Happy 2012 from damselfly press.

We were pleased by the varied interpretations of our wintering theme that were submitted. As you will notice in the well crafted fiction, nonfiction and poetry collected in our eighteenth issue, the writers each made the topic their own.

We will be at the Chicago AWP Conference attending panels and browsing the bookfair. We hope to meet our readers and submitters.

The nineteenth issue of damselfly press will be available April 15th, 2012. If you’d like to submit, please first visit our guidelines section and send us your submission by March 15th, 2012. As always, thank you to our submitters.

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We Have Tried To Be From Here, But We Cannot
Listen to the Poem

Despite all the fantasy
Iowa was just an interstate
coated in ice. 16-wheelers
abandoned in fields, unearthly
sparkle of 24-hour
gas-stations on a moonless
December night.

The span is not just the iced-wheat
past the windbreak, it is not just
the grid-work roads dropped
by rulers across the flat,
not box houses behind the lone tree,
but how white
is the fuel of a cold
sky; and a little hopping
bird somehow left behind,
amid ripped magazines, near
an empty vodka bottle, lays
frozen in the drainpipe.

There will be more snow on Tuesday.
It will get colder by Sunday afternoon.
We will hold up our soup bowls. Identify tracks
in the snow: here bird. Here rabbit. This: dog.

The cold means we search. It means we are leaving.
It means we are growing old together. It is not even a dream.

We do not live upstairs, but we hear
the footsteps and the trains come
and go like wind. At first they rattle
you, but soon they are less
than noon bells, soon they are
just shadows doomed to return
in time, like us, to where
we are not from, again.

In our daughter’s bedroom water freezes
on the nightstand. Perhaps she will not
mind how we moved her from house
to house, she will find comfort in things
emptied, in the last sweep with an old
broom, final click of the latch, in the white
expanse beyond her brittle with possibility.

– Shana Youngdahl is the author of History, Advice and Other Half-Truths (forthcoming Stephen F. Austin State University Press 2012) and the chapbooks Donner: A Passing (Finishing Line 2008) and Of Nets (Gendun 2010). Her poetry has appeared widely in journals including Third Coast, Shenandoah and Margie.

December 30
Listen to the Poem

I’ve written you plotting and plodding,
sweet one. I say this is now.

You are key, lock, bed clothes
pulled off. I am a register

you sing in. How is it love’s
consequence has been so light?

I’ve written you sundry and careless,
a catapult of windchime.

I sometimes think of us as forgetful
and only remembering each other

like claustrophobes wanting the dense
space of football fields, the silver

scaled seats of empty stadium.
Or deep
in the night’s
sorrow, when you hear me

breathing, we are one
continent. You found a scrap of paper

with Cormac McCarthy #5
scrawled on it and wondered

what I meant, and you wanted to get it
so bad. You wanted Cormac McCarthy #5

to mean something prayerlike and rood,
something heard in a blood text

falling from the sky like a Leonid.
I’m telling you, and I’m telling you

it doesn’t mean anything and it
does, sewn in my hem, published

inconsequentially, as love sometimes is.

– Lindsay Illich’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Gulf Coast, Clare Literary Journal, Dos Passos Review, Hurricane Blues: How Katrina and Rita Ravaged a Nation, The Mom Egg, Rio Grande Review, Sojourn, Coachella Review, The Buddhist Poetry Review, and Texas Poetry Journal. Currently, Illich teaches writing at Curry College in Milton, MA.

As the Men Sleep
after Jeffrey Skinner’s “As the Women Sleep”
Listen to the Poem

It’s just coyotes and me
awake at this hour.
The faucet drips. A winter
so cold I’m losing sleep.

Vanilla vodka—cheap,
don’t even bother with a glass.
The bottle’s rigid lip,
the sick-sweet burn and swallow.

Up all night, I write a little.
I’ll tell them I wrote a lot.

I smoke too, as they sleep—
clove cigarette, its black length
between fingers, its sweet
smoke sucked up through the vent

over the stove. No one
mentions they smell it
each morning over
pancakes and sausages.

No one mentions
the summer, the nights
I spent love-blitzed,
smoking cloves by the lake
with my so-called mistake.

The boys sit by the fire
with their father.
I find my warmth in guilt,
in a memory.

These are the smells
that see me through
till spring: cedar Christmas
tree we chopped down

with a broken ax,
the pine tar soap
on his hardworking hands,
the man I married—

smell of my days.

Fistful of hair
I pull around
to my nose all day,
the smoke still strong—

smell of my nights.

The men breathe
like machines
in their rooms—
their engines run
on the fumes of my loneliness.

Space heaters buzz—
some kind of love,
something steady
in the quickening
light, in my deepest season.

– Heather Foster lives on a farm in Tennessee with her husband, kids, and Ozzy, the heavy metal rooster. She’s an MFA candidate in poetry at Murray State University. Her writing is featured or forthcoming in PANK, Monkeybicycle, Anderbo, South Dakota Review, Cutthroat, Superstition Review, and Country Dog Review.

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What Gretel Knows

Gretel is a six-year-old beagle and the keeper of my secrets. Sam, for instance. She smelled him on my hands and face, even after I’d washed up. Or maybe it was my step that tipped her off; maybe she heard the guilt in my gait. Or was the shame on my face?

A dog’s mind is too wide and pure for judgment. Gretel’s foremost concern is my happiness, which she endlessly encourages me to pursue. Still there are times when I walk in the house after being with Sam and she gives me a long, questioning look. Do you know what you’re doing, she telegraphs. Are you sure this won’t wreck our lives?

More than once she has found me in the kitchen helping myself to a juice glass of Chardonnay at two or three o’clock in the morning. There I am, sitting at the table in my robe, back lit by the stove light, then click, click, click, I hear her nails on the linoleum and she is standing in front of me, her brown eyes kind and searching.

Last month she caught me reading Hannah’s diary. I wasn’t looking for punishable offenses, I was only hunting for clues as to why my daughter despises me. By the time Gretel walked into the room and saw the green binder in my hands, I had read nearly half the entries.

These secrets must weigh on Gretel, which might be the reason she sighs like she does. All dogs sigh, but Gretel’s long groans seem to come from the depths of her being, as if she is trying to get free of herself, to utter the unutterable.

Even as a young woman I was not especially keen on sex. In this respect at least, Alan and I are a match. No more than twice a month we make good-natured, uncomplicated love; a ration that suits me just fine and seems to keep Alan satisfied. . Given this agreeable arrangement, I can’t explain what happened between Sam and me, or why it’s still happening. I love Alan. I do.

Sam is a lepidopterist. While he lectures on both butterflies and moths, he is especially devoted to moths. He has written three books about them, including a children’s guide. In search of exotic species, he travels all over the world; last winter, in Singapore, he came across a dozen or so giant Atlas moths. He said you could hear the whoosh of their wings as they cruised the cherry trees.

We met on a muggy, moonless night in August. Sam had run an ad in the local paper inviting anyone interested to join him in Turner’s Park for a moth hunt. I knew next to nothing about moths and had no idea what this excursion would entail, but it sounded more interesting than the book I was reading, certainly better than anything on television. It was indeed a night of surprises, the first one being the number of people who showed up—sixteen in all, half of them young boys, the other half adult women, my age or older.

Sam’s preparations amazed me. Earlier that day, he had painted a syrupy patch on three dozen trees along the trail, then marked each tree with an orange ribbon. Moth bait, he called it, a homemade elixir that contained stale beer, brown sugar and rotten watermelons. Guided by our flashlights, we walked quietly along the path, stopping to inspect each painted tree. Sam had covered the lens of his flashlight with red cellophane—less disturbing than white light, he said—and it was true that the moths didn’t stir when he aimed the beam on the trees. Some of the trees had nothing on them but slugs and carpenter ants, but many hosted some kind of moth, the names of which Sam whispered into the night:

“Glossy Black Idia….Copper Underwing….Cloaked Marvel.”

Captivated, we studied the creatures with budding reverence, as if in those deep woods we had all fallen under a spell. Why had I never noticed how exquisite they were, how intricate their markings? Why had I never seen their furry little faces?

“That’s an Oldwife Underwing,” murmured Sam, shining his light on a charcoal- colored moth that had opened its wings, revealing another set below, twin brown fans with bright orange stripes. Hidden jewelry.

“Do you think we’ll see any Luna moths?” I asked as we walked to the next tree.

“Too late for Lunas,” Sam said. He has a deep voice, almost mournful; his walk is slow and long-strided. He is, in fact, exactly what you might think of when you think: lepidopterist—lean, bespectacled, with a long narrow nose and deep lines running down his cheeks.

“And they wouldn’t be on these trees anyway,” he added. “They don’t eat.”

“They don’t eat!” blurted one of the boys.

“They can’t,” Sam replied. “They don’t have mouths.” His words hung in the darkness, allowing us to absorb them.

I couldn’t imagine the things he knew. At home in the dark, here was a man who was spending his time on earth learning the names and habits of moths; a man for whom these fluttery, powdery bugs were reason enough to be alive. Though months would pass before we mated, I was drawn to him that very first night.

There is no mention of me in Hannah’s diary. Evidently I am not worth comment. When I was pregnant with Hannah I used to imagine the two of us strolling hand-in-hand through meadows and forests; I saw us sharing sunsets, gazing at the Big Dipper. Even before she was out of her crib I knew this wasn’t likely. Hannah wanted action: talking toys, musical mobiles. Her favorite possession was a pink plastic phone which she babbled on for hours and dragged everywhere. Now she has a shiny red cell phone to which she is similarly attached.

Not long ago I was sitting at the kitchen table looking through a book I had borrowed from Sam. In front of me was a photograph of a Verdant Hawk moth, a species from Africa. I was admiring its powerful green wings and sturdy body when Hannah’s sudden voice startled me.

“You and your moths!” she said with a shudder. “Why don’t you study butterflies? They’re a lot prettier and you wouldn’t have to be outside in the middle of the night.”

“Actually,” I said, “there are lots of pretty moths.” I looked up from the book. Hannah was standing beside me, her dark hair hanging in her eyes. “And quite a few of them fly in the daytime.”

“Whatever,” she murmured, walking out of the room.

Maybe we’re like moths and butterflies, Hannah and I, sharing a few traits but living in separate domains. It helps to think so, at any rate. To know this divide is not our fault.

By day I manage a gift shop, a faux log cabin heavily scented with potpourri and filled with the sort of things tourists expect to find in a small New Hampshire town: maple syrup, hardwood bowls, pine-scented pillows, miniature birch bark canoes. Selling these quaint curios doesn’t require much effort and in the slower months I have ample time to write—not that I do much of that anymore. After college I did manage to publish a handful of poems in some decent journals, but at some point I lost momentum, then I lost heart.

Alan is a sales rep for a large organic fertilizer company. Nine months of the year he travels the byways of New England, stopping at nurseries and box stores. He doesn’t grouse about his job. I know the driving must get tiresome, if not hazardous, and how many times a day must he repeat himself, explaining the benefits of microorganisms and carbon-based compounds?

I’ve wondered if Alan, in his travels, ever has any dalliances—surely there’s plenty of opportunity. It’s not hard picturing that blue Sebring nosing in and out of seaside motels having trysts as trackless as windblown leaves. I have seen other women, friends even, look at him with a certain avidity. He still has a boyish smile and all his hair, and for someone who spends so much time behind a steering wheel, Alan is remarkably fit, thanks to those gadgets he takes with him: chin-up bars that fit in doorframes, stretchy bands that hook around his feet.

Sam and I were in his backyard, that first time, studying the moths that came to a sheet he had strung between two trees. In front of this sheet hung a bug zapper he had disabled—the black light inside was all he wanted. (Sam loathes bug zappers and refers to them as “indiscriminate killers.”)

What we were hoping to see, on the cool May night, was a Luna moth, though Sam said the chances were slim as the species was in danger.

“Why?” I asked. “Pesticides?”

He nodded. “The BT they’ve put in corn seed—the pollen goes everywhere.”

We sat in lawn chairs under the stars, blankets on our laps. Sam’s white sneakers shone in the grass. We could hear small frogs leaping into the pond at the edge of Sam’s property. The tree tops were black against the sky and the night smelled of pine and marsh.

We’d been sitting there for nearly an hour, watching the various moths and bats that flew through the night, when what we wanted to see came floating across the yard. The soft green glow of its wings was unmistakable. You could almost believe it had come by way of the moon. I caught my breath as it cruised over our heads, trailing those long tips, before deftly landing on the sheet. We both rose at the same instant and approached the creature slowly.

“A female,” Sam said. “The males have thicker antennae.”

“It’s amazing,” I whispered. I peered at the luminous wings, edged in maroon, the four transparent spots that resembled large eyes, a device to fool predators.

“I wonder if she’ll attract any males,” I said. I had read about moth pheromones and knew that the scent from a single female could draw males from several miles away.

“She’s already mated,” Sam said. “The females mate even before they make their first flight, then they find a tree and lay their eggs. This one has done all that.”

“And she doesn’t eat, right? How much time does she have left?”

Sam shrugged. “Not much. Maybe a day or two. Their life span is about a week.”

I smiled at him. “What a tidy life. You’re born, you mate, you fly, you lay eggs, and then you’re just a lovely thing. Free to be. And you don’t even know you’re going to die.”

That was the moment Sam turned to me and touched my arm. His fingers rested there, lightly. In the glow of the black light his face was serious, questioning, and it didn’t take long for me to close the space between us. That’s where we made love, that first night, on a blanket in the wet grass, not four feet away from a Luna moth. I had no second thoughts. I had no thoughts at all. It was as if we too were running out of time and only doing what we must.

Two years later I don’t know why we persist. Falling upon one another on a pheromone-drenched night in May is one thing, but where is the urgency in our random couplings now?

“What are you thinking about?” Sam asked last week. We were in bed and he was idly running his hand down my side. I had my back to him. His dresser was a couple feet away. I saw a gray sock sticking out of the top drawer.

“It’s different now,” I told him.

“What’s different?”

“Us.” His hand paused on my hipbone. I stared at the dresser. “It feels like stealing for no reason.”

Sometimes I think that what I like most about the affair is being in Sam’s cottage, which is musty and dark and nothing like the house I live in. There are books and papers everywhere, odd pieces of furniture covered in snug coats of dust. Sam lives like the bachelor he is (he was married, briefly, in his twenties), with a clutter of dishes in the sink and sheets that need laundering. This peaceful disarray soothes me—I’ve never so much as washed a cup, nor does Sam expect me to. Sam makes no demands. He is happy to see me when I can manage it; beyond that, I don’t kid myself. If Sam had the chance to see a Black Witch moth or me, I know I’d be curling up with a book.

Gretel never gives up on me. Every day of her life she waits for me to have some fun. She cannot understand why something so easy should be so elusive.

“Like this,” she seems to say, dropping onto her forelegs, rump in the air, tail wagging. “Just do this!”

Obliging her, I will sometimes start to run; I’ll put some excitement in my voice, and she will leap and bark encouragingly. It doesn’t matter to her if this eagerness isn’t genuine. She only wants the effort.

We have no idea how it happens, how the death of a caterpillar gives life to a moth. Here is this plump green crawler, busily sawing through sassafras leaves, shedding one loose-fitting suit after another, until, with a hidden nudge from nature, it stops chewing and gets down to the business of dying. If the weather is still warm, it will spin a silk sheath and wrap itself in a leaf. If winter is approaching, it secretes a hard shell and spends the cold months underground. In either case, the bug begins to disintegrate, bit by bit, leg by leg, breaking apart in its own digestive juices. But then, in this wretched dead sea some rebel cells start swimming. Having served no purpose in the larval life, they are finally called to muster. Their task: to make something marvelous, a creature—with wings.

I can’t walk past a moth anymore without stopping to peer at it, to marvel over its tiny, unfathomable dramas. Some nights I walk out on my porch just to see who’s showed up at the light. Sam says that moths are not attracted to light so much as they are pulled into it; stunned, they stay there. Turn off the light and they break away.

I do that. There are times when I step off my lighted porch and slip into the welcoming shadows alongside the house. The night absorbs me. There, under impartial stars, in a perfect wedge of darkness, I disappear.

– A native Vermonter, Jean Ryan lives in Napa California. She has published a novel, LOST SISTER, and her stories and essays have appeared in various journals including the Massachusetts Review, Pleiades, the Summerset Review and Earthspeak. A collection of her stories will be published by Ashland Creek Press in 2013.

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Listen to an Excerpt

The Painting

My boys are four and two the summer my mother throws out one of her paintings. It is a scene of a lake and trees, surrounded by a handmade frame she’d crafted from some old pieces of ceiling molding. She’s on one of her crazed clean-out-all-the-crap kicks, and she has decided that this particular painting isn’t worth saving. So there it sits, on top of a pile of rickety furniture and dust-caked knickknacks, out by the side of the road in the afternoon sun.

As I pull my red station wagon alongside the curb, Mom looks over and smiles her big smile, wiping her dirty hands across her jeaned thighs. From the back seat Billy and Steven yell “Hi, Grandma!”

Mom helps me unbuckle the boys and haul them out of the car.

“What you doing, Grandma?” Billy asks.

“Cleaning. I have a lot of old stuff I need to throw away.”

“Mom, that painting has been hanging over the living room sofa for years. Why’d you decide to get rid of it now?” I ask.

“I never liked it,” she says.

I think about taking it, but honestly, I’d never liked it either. There didn’t seem to be anything special about it. It was like one of those generic landscapes you see in the furniture department of Macy’s.

The boys and I head around to the back of the house to spend the rest of the day playing in the pool. My parents had bought an above-ground pool, four feet deep, twenty-four feet round, a few years earlier. “For our grandchildren,” my father said.

“I’ll join you guys soon as I finish with this mess,” Mom says.

Mom is like a big kid. She loves the water and spends so much time in the pool that she gets those crinkly-wrinkled fingertips and toes all the time. Usually when we arrive at her house on summer days I find her out back, half asleep on a blow-up float, one hand dangling off the side playing with the water. The sun shines on her multicolored bathing suit, emphasizing its fluorescence, and her fair skin looks tan from the crowding of all her freckles.

Once her grandsons arrive, though, that is the end of her relaxation. They climb the ladder in a hurry, pulling at each other, trying to be the first one to jump in and splash Grandma.

We aren’t in the pool long that day before Mom joins us. “My back is killing me,” she says as she slides off the side of the deck and into the water.

“You finished throwing out all your junk?” I say.

“I’ll finish later. I thought I’d give you a break, play with the kids.”

My boys are already good swimmers, but as soon as Mom is in the pool, they cling to her, taking turns riding on her back, and then climbing up on the deck and jumping into her arms. Her energy seems endless, and I take full advantage of her generosity. Now I am the one lounging on the float, paddling my hands to steer clear of the commotion my boys make.

As I lie there, eyes closed, mind drifting, I am pulled back by the laughter of my boys. I let her delight them; I need her to attend to them. On my own, alone at home with them, the episodes of joy, of innocent mayhem, are meager. Often bored with motherhood, missing my days working at the museum, my time with coworkers discussing exhibits and lectures, I know I am cheating them. When we are at home, I have schedules, rules, activities planned for them, and I can see my obsession for purposeful enterprise crowd out their playfulness.

My mother observes me. When she comes to my house, she comments on the orderliness, the quiet. “When you kids were little, our house looked like a tornado hit it,” she’d say, and I take those words as an insult, the slight I believe she means them to be.

Now I float and am happy that my boys are having fun.

A week later, I run into an acquaintance, Brenda, at the grocery store. She tells me she took the painting off the pile of trash outside my parents’ house, and it’s now hanging in her dining room.

“You’re kidding? My mother painted that!”

“Really? I love it.”

“Well, now you know who the artist is,” I say.

Mom is proud and thrilled when I tell her about Brenda and the painting.

“Wow, so someone liked it. That’s nice. That’s funny,” she says.

We are sitting by the pool again, the boys in the water with my sister, Deb, and her kids.

“Hey, Deb, did you hear that? Someone has my painting hanging in their house.”

“Yeah. Vicki told me. I wish you’d told me you were getting rid of it.”

“How come you didn’t want it?” Mom asks me.

I am annoyed by the question.

“I don’t know. I have nowhere to put it.”

“You just didn’t like it,” she says, turning her face away, blowing cigarette smoke up to the sky.

“Well, neither did you. You didn’t ask me if I wanted it anyway.”

“It doesn’t matter,” she says, adding, “I know it’s not your style.”

Mom thought I was a snob when it came to her painting and her crafting. Because I had gone to college, and majored in art history, she assumed I thought myself too sophisticated to appreciate her dabbling.

My going to college was still a touchy subject between us.

Back in my senior year of high school, as our family sat around the dining room table eating dinner, I told my mother and father about the parents’ meeting for college that was coming up. My father spoke first.

“You’re not going to college. We can’t afford college. Besides, you’re a girl; you’re just gonna get married and have kids anyway.”

Mom added, “Just get a good job, like your cousin, with health insurance.”

Following her advice, I went ahead and got a job as a bank teller. But two years later, I quit. I wanted to go to college. Mom thought I was nuts.

“You have a good job, with benefits. Why would you quit?”

I applied for financial aid and loans, moved on campus, and after graduation I was hired at the university art museum. When again I had a good job, Mom apologized for not having been more supportive.

Once in a while, though, she still let it be known how she felt: my college degree made me act superior to her. And sometimes, that was true.

Two years later, September. My mother has been dead for three months.

This morning, I have an hour to walk before it’s time to pick up my boys from school. It is cool out, cloudy; the night before we had rainstorms, thunder, lightning. But now blue is beginning to peek out between the clouds, and I walk briskly along my usual route through town.

I climb the hill of Stewart Place, where Brenda lives. In front of her house, I see a pile of soggy cardboard boxes leaking old books and magazines, a rocking chair with a broken leg, and my mother’s painting. It sits on the ground facing the street, my mother’s name brushed in white paint in the lower right-hand corner. The frame has warped with the rain, and the image ripples across the canvas, splashed with mud.

I’d heard Brenda was moving. Obviously, my mother’s painting is not going with her. I know I have to take it home, rescue it.

I stop and pick it up. It is heavy, and I have a long walk. I’ll have to come back with my car, so I move it away from the road, onto the front lawn and hope I get back before it is taken away.

I drive back with Billy and Steven. The painting is still lying on the grass. I lift it into my car by the passenger side door and slide it between the front seats, through to the back, between my boys.

“Guys, do me a favor, hold on to Grandma’s painting, okay?”

“Okay,” they say, each putting a little boy hand on the warped wood frame.

“You know what we’re gonna do?” I say. “We’re gonna get Grandma’s painting cleaned up and put it in a new frame, and we can hang it in the living room. We can look at it everyday.”

Billy cocks his head to one side, examining the picture. “I like it,” he says. “It’s pretty.”

– Vicki Addesso has kept a journal for 30 years, the wellspring for her stories. After a career in museum education, Vicki concentrates on writing. She’s completed a collaborative memoir, Still Here Thinking of You, with three other writers, excerpts of which were recently published in the online journal The Living Room.

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