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Category Archive for 'Issue 20'

For our twentieth issue of summertime reading at damselfly press, we are pleased to present poetry and nonfiction by MFA students and graduates. As we all know, there are many paths to becoming a writer, and the MFA is one route that has gained momentum over the last several years. This is an example of excellent work being created by this group of writers. We hope you enjoy reading the poems and essays as much we have.

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

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Development

We arrive at a house
without a doorknob,
yet. We allow ourselves
inside, step among supports
and piled plywood.
When my father says watch
your head, he means
for nails. He means to watch
the placement of my
hands against fiberglass.
He says, suppose you
have 3 children. Suppose
you have a birthday.
Suppose a dog.

*

It is time to pull together
a nation. You have: a handful
of sticks, some brush, a match.
Lean these into a little hut,
kindling beneath. Gently puff
a flame into its rafters. If you
wish, permit its collapse.

*

A man in a hardhat poses
in front of a backhoe.
He has unearthed bodies,
probably Confederate.
A man in a suit says, the more
they dug, the more they found.
This site intentionally
obscured by the developer.
He says, we are all concerned.

*

How is your nation coming
along? You may need to
find a few additional hands,
someone off the street.

*

It is easy to recognize
the narrow box of a powder room,
the stretch of a master suite.
Before the pilings, we guess
which door will lead to a porch.
In one house, I suggest a larger
window for the foyer. My mother
says, you have an eye for this.

*

Weary of the nation, you
have been rooting around in
your garden again. It has smooth
plank edges and a tiny fence.
You uncover a necklace.
Do you keep digging?

– Kate Partridge is a student in the MFA program at George Mason University, where she teaches composition.  She is the Editor-in-Chief of So to Speak: a feminist journal of language and art. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in MAYDAY, Barely South, Weave Magazine, and Prime Number Magazine.

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SCIENTISTS WORK ON ‘TRAUMA PILL’ TO ERASE BAD MEMORIES

Change O and Orange has no meaning
as a color, just range: palette, rainbow,
alphabet, sunrise to sunset without
fire.  Remove any before moment—

rainbow colors arranged on a palette—
and you get no picture, just blue flowered
fire removing all that came before
the match.  With a slow intentional burn

you get no picture, no blue flowery
hydrangeas, no paisley paper walls
matching slow intentions.  Burn
your past and you lose the range, memory

of hydrangea colored paisley walls.  Papers—
certificate, transcript, license, diploma—
you’re past memory.  Losses range
from black shoes to a grape dress. Take

a certificate, transcript, license, diploma
and drop their letters one by one:
lack shoes, rape dress.  Take
what’s broken and erase it

in your scalding bath.  Rewrite
the alphabet. Without sunrise, sunset?
Persimmons, California poppies—if you
change O then orange has no meaning.

– Melisa “Misha” Cahnmann-Taylor is Professor of Language and Literacy Education at the University of Georgia. She is the winner of Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Prizes and a Leeway Poetry Grant, and has co-authored two books, Teachers Act Up:Creating Multicultural Learning Communities Through Theatre and Arts-Based Research in Education.

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Gentleman’s Friend

He has a chair at the far end of the living room. It has become his sanctuary, the one inanimate object that provides a sense of orientation.  Otherwise, he might forget where he is in their house. He might ask where the bathroom is, or where he left his teeth. On occasion he will try to get ready for bed without assistance. He will put his pajamas on and dress himself again – putting his sweater and trousers on. He will frown in confusion when his wife orders him back out of bed and assists in removing the extra layers. He will drift into sleep unable to comprehend what has just happened. He is my step-father, Hugo. Papa, to his grandchildren. He will sometimes forget my name and struggle to tell my mother that I phoned; the woman we went on holiday with called. It will take him time and many attempts to get these words out. Complete sentences often evade him. Words tease and torment him, their characters rearranging themselves like Scrabble tiles waiting to be placed on the board.

Scrabble was a long time ago. Word Search papers have been put away in a drawer. The names of common objects will not travel from his brain to his lips. He will journey around the names of things that slip from his mind more often now. What is it? The thing you put the tea in. He will raise his voice slightly, something he has rarely done before. My mother will try to hide her frustration, her sadness at the rapid deterioration of the gentleman she fell in love with thirty-seven years ago. She will try to help him. Is it the teapot you want? Or the tea cup? It will take him time and many attempts to get these words out.

At times Papa will forget his wife’s name. Mum will stifle tears, and gently coax the love of her life into recognition. While his memory will leave him, he never forgets his chair. When he is stressed, tired, or appears to feel humiliation at the loss of control of his most basic physical functions, he seeks comfort in his chair.

Mum will be angry. She will feel cheated by this indiscriminate disease. She is appalled, disgusted, and bitter about the daily laundry she must do, the physical assistance she must provide Papa. It wasn’t me, he insists as he stands in the bathtub and mum takes the hand shower and rinses him down.

Then who was it?

This is a new excuse, another marker on the slide; a clinging pause testing the strength of resistance. The fella out there! He is adamant.

Which fella?

The one out there.

Do you mean to tell me there’s a fella out there who comes in here to soil your pants?

Ay. When he speaks, his Northern Irish lilt sings, sometimes staccato, sometimes legato. He gave up singing in church three years ago. The members of the choir sigh at the loss of this extraordinary bass.

Mum judges herself harshly. She is unforgiving for the infrequent times when she shouts in frustration, a thing she thinks she should not do. She is torn between her love for him and her deepening sadness at her loss.

There is beauty in this disease.

The author, David James Duncan, has a word. He keeps it on a slip of paper stuck to his computer screen where he sees it every day. His word is “fun.” Duncan says there is fun in everything somewhere. All you have to do is embrace it. He does not belittle tragedy, the pain and sadness, the shock and horror of war torn lives. Duncan finds the fun that will lift and hold the sagging minds and bodies of adversity. He will find the fun that will provide momentary relief.

Papa has fun between his lightening strikes. He has given me my word – simplicity. And as one word borrows another, I add Duncan’s word into the mix.

There is the simplicity of long gone child-like ways that surface from deep within this beautiful man. He graces us with the responsibility of his trust – the simple dependency he visits upon us.

It is almost two years since my mother and I took Papa to the south of France. Do you want to go? Mum asks him hopefully. She needs a break. If she takes him back to where they have been before, she hopes he will remember. She hopes he will feel secure in the arm chair in the morning room where he has had many breakfasts. Ay. I do. And hours later when he has circled the thoughts in his head into words, it would be a good idea. The words Mum needs to hear.

***

Where is she? He asks.

Mum has stopped to look in a window. She would like to find something special to wear, something different that speaks of the sophistication of the south of France. Something that says I have been somewhere that will define me for a few moments. Something to wear that will veil the reality of the struggling moments. A dress, perhaps, that Papa the elegant man, will smile in approval.

She’s right behind us. I slide my hand inside his. He folds his soft warm hand around mine, and tightens his grip ever so slightly as he turns to look behind him. See? She’s right there. Look at me a moment. He turns his head toward me. Look. Can you see that little café? Can you see the tables with the umbrellas? He frowns and looks back at me. We are going to walk slowly toward the café. We’ll sit down and order coffee, and before you know it she will be back with us. He seems okay with this. We walk. He shuffles head bent, shoulders facing forward.

There is a staircase in the small hotel. It is as wide and spiraled as the stories of our lives. I will never forget this staircase, and the warm night of a memory it gave me. It was after dinner, a dinner of crepes in a cavern, of champagne in tired glasses before we left the hotel for our nightly dinner. The faded chintz and sagging upholstery mocking Louis XVI, and all the antique silver couldn’t persuade us to eat where mushrooms grew out of the hotel restaurant ceiling. Nothing could compete that night, with the sizzling pan of gossamer galettes dressed with sheaths of ham and gruyère.  Almost as secure as the morning-room chair, was the salvatory reminiscence of the crêperie in the cave. I slipped on the pavement outside the hotel on our way back. I was trying to catch Papa who had bent over so far toward his feet that he lost balance. I caught him, but in doing so I rocked over on my left foot into a hole and the cracking sound of my broken bone shocked us all. “Jeepers!” Papa exclaimed. I limped in pain with a fractured foot.

Back at the hotel, I traded places with Papa. It was my turn to ride in the one person elevator, and his turn to climb the stairs to our rooms. I stood watching him and Mum as they ascended the stairs arm in arm. Mum steadied him gently, one step at a time. Papa looked back. He smiled at me, paused and then chuckled with a regal wave.  In that moment it felt as though time stood still, the distance between this moment and the next suspended in the delicateness of a gossamer thread. Papa saw the moment for what it was. A reversal in our situation. In the same moment I recognized it and laughed out loud forgetting the pain, my pain, his pain. All of our pain.

This memory is a moment of beauty. A memory Mum and I will be able to recall in the winter when remember when? is a soothing lullaby.

There are many friends who will visit Papa as he sits in his place. There are friends he speaks to, laughs with, searches for; these friends of his imagination. And then there’s the fella out there still causing trouble. The best friend of all is the one that holds him secure. This friend is this gentleman’s chair.

– Belinda Shoemaker received her MFA in Creative Writing (Fiction and Creative Nonfiction), and a Post MFA Certificate in Teaching Creative Writing from Antioch University at Los Angeles. Her essays have appeared in Literary Magazine Review and Wellness and Writing Connections (Idyll Arbor.) She is currently writing The Same Size Shoes, a memoir.

 

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Love Like Saltwater

As I study my genealogy chart, I love to say the languid names of my Cajun ancestors, names like Jean Baptiste Olivier and Marie Magdelaine Monpierre, liquid names that curl in the mouth like minnows, then unfurl and swim off the tongue. I come from a family of fishermen. My immigrant relatives made their living catching silverfins and tiger prawns in the murky coastal netherworld of Bayou Black, the swamp singing in their veins, as lush as mellifluous green rivers.

On a still, sweltering Sunday afternoon in August of 1856, before hurricanes had female names, a violent storm ravaged Terrebonne Parish where my ancestors lived on the Louisiana coast, killing over two hundred people. The hurricane destroyed the hotel and gambling houses at nearby Isle Derniere, the island left bereft, void of vegetation and split in half, the once bustling seaside resort transformed into a feral haven for brown pelicans and black-backed herons, royal terns and laughing gulls. Rains flooded the Mermentau River and destroyed crops along the bottom lands. Saltwater soaked rice fields in Bayou Black, stripping fruit from orange trees, smearing the air with fragrant swirls of tangy brine and sweet citrus. Survivors clung to bales of cotton and washed ashore as the storm subsided. My great-great grandmother Delphine, whose name is a French-Greek hybrid of “dolphin,” was fifteen when the hurricane hit.

I imagine that Saturday night before the great storm, Delphine—thin as an egret wading through a tangle of bible-black vines—crept to the lip of the pier, dipped her net, and waited for crawfish. Maybe Sunday morning after dawn, the sun turned the moor to loam, and a violet sheen skimmed the gulf. I picture Delphine sprawled on the front porch, watching the veined sky glower and sink and watching the vultures wheel and dive like black angels. I imagine that my great-great grandmother, like me, was a Catholic girl who harbored a secret pagan heart. On Sunday afternoon, the storm loomed. Delphine’s limbs aquiver, she whirled and danced like a dervish while the sea swelled. She was Hurricane Delphine, deciding whom to love when she saw what could crawl from the shambles unscathed, who could cling to a bale of cotton and sweep ashore, his swamp-green eyes singed with salt, his blue-black hair braided with seaweed—her own personal Poseidon. This is how she would choose her mate. I like to pretend this is how she met Pierre Zephirin Olivier, my great-great grandfather.

A century and a half later, their ghosts dance on my ribs, their maritime blood brewing inside me, imbuing me with a hunger for salt and brine and sun. Perhaps this is why I swam as soon as I could walk, staying under the water until my flesh puckered and my green eyes burned, flicking my imaginary fins, twirling like a drunken ballerina. A timid child too scared to climb trees or ride bicycles, I was always the first to dive, fetching pennies that glimmered like buried treasure at the bottom of the pool. Once I swam with dolphins off the Mexican coast of Isla Mujeres, my hands gliding easily over their satin spines as they keened and twittered, their lithe, powerful bodies coiling around me, weaving human and dolphin skin into one skein. It felt like home.

Shortly after I learned to swim, in order to make myself useful to my father, I figured out how to mix his martinis—gin rather than vodka, shaken instead of stirred, laden with green olives and poured over ice. I remember the heady, acrid smell of the liquor, the clink of ice against the tumbler. I remember how he chilled the olives in champagne until they were smooth as emeralds bobbing in frothy bubbles. I used to dive for the olives submerged at the bottom of his rocks glass, and I would suck the juice out of them, rolling them around on my tongue, loving their briny, gin-and-champagne-soaked taste. They tasted like the ocean, like the swamp where my father’s people lived, like fishermen, like olive skin and sea-green eyes and ink-dark hair…like my father himself.

While most of the girls I knew received cars and college educations from their fathers, the Olivier genealogy chart is the only thing my father ever provided for me after I turned eighteen and he no longer had to pay child support. My father and I never knew each other very well, and all we shared was the same saltwater in our veins. A born seaman, he served as a lieutenant commander in the Navy and was often stationed overseas at exotic-sounding places like Guam, and Bahrain, and Okinawa. When I was in elementary school, he lived in Japan for two years, so I became obsessed with that seafaring country—their painted Kyoto dolls, their sushi rolls and squid salad, their modular beds as compact as cupboard drawers. When my father would return to my mother and me in Shreveport, he didn’t have much use for me outside of my bartending skills. He found me too fey, too fanciful, too peculiar. He called me a “bleeding heart liberal.” He called me “an egg about to crack.” Then he left us for good.

My father never really knew his father either—Alcide Olivier, nicknamed “Frenchie”—because he died when my father was a little boy. In the only photograph I have ever seen of my grandfather, he stands, haggard and swarthy, next to my elegant grandmother, his shock of sable hair mussed and oily, a hand-rolled cigarette dangling from his mouth. Working as a roughneck on a Gulf Coast oil rig, Frenchie traded in a life of fishing for a life of drilling. He swapped the salt air for sulphuric acid, and his blackened, sea-starved lungs couldn’t take it. So I suppose it isn’t my father’s fault that no one ever showed him how to be a dad.

In the French folktale, “Love Like Salt,” a king asks his daughter how much she loves him. She replies, “I love you as much as fresh meat loves salt.” The king is so perplexed by his daughter’s unusual answer that he disowns her and banishes her from the palace. Years later the banished daughter marries a prince from a neighboring kingdom and invites her father to the wedding. Still desperate to please her father, she requests that the food for the wedding feast be prepared without any salt. But the king spits the food from his mouth, declaring it “tasteless.” The king then embraces his daughter, admitting he was wrong to misinterpret her words. For the rest of the wedding banquet, the king relishes plump shrimp curled in crimson sauce, fat scallops soaked in butter, and brine-drenched oysters dipped in sea salt, affirming they are the best foods he has ever tasted.

Unlike the mythical French king, I doubt my estranged father will ever appreciate my odd way of looking at the world or will ever forgive me for being who I am. But I can try to forgive him. After all, his blood is the salt that flavors my food. He gave me more than a genealogy chart, more than a lilting list of French names printed in black font on twenty pages of white paper. He gave me a rich history from which I can weave stories, spinning them around in my mind like dolphins spiraling up from the bottom of the sea. He gave me sea gods washing ashore after great storms. He gave me Delphine fishing under the feverish flambeau of the bayou, luminous as a selkie drying her silken skin in the sun. He gave me the water.

– LeeAnn Olivier is a full-time English instructor at Tarrant County College in Fort Worth, Texas, and a graduate student in the creative writing program at the University of Texas at Dallas. Her poetry has recently been published in the literary journals Illya’s Honey, SWAMP, and Sojourn.

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The submission period for the twentieth issue of damselfly press has closed. Look for the issue on July 15th, 2012.

We are now accepting submissions for our twenty-first issue, due out in October, 2012.

As always, thank you to all of our submitters.

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