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Category Archive for 'Issue 21'

Autumnal greetings from damselfly press. As the days get shorter, we’re more inclined to take time and sit down with a compelling online magazine. Issue 21 is chock full of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction that will make you glad you sat down with our poets and writers.

We’re pleased to announce damselfly press fiction writer Olivia Chadha (“He Said, She Said,” from our second issue) whose debut novel BALANCE OF FRAGILE THINGS is available this month.

The twenty-second issue of damselfly press will be available January 15th, 2013. If you’d like to submit, please first visit our guidelines section and send us your submission by December 15th, 2012. As always, thank you to all of our submitters.

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Winter Driving

Four white-tailed deer bolt
As the low flame of sunset ignites the orchard.

Directly, we fall silent, lacking conjunctions,
broken hearted. Hooves and a dusting of snow,

muffled pounding. It always comes back to that
black hole at the center—neither matter nor half-moon—

flames of ice pierced by headlights.
Without fear of gravity

momentum will get you over the next rise
or into the soft, dark shoulder.

Even small failures are unforgiven.
The one thing you may never do is stop.

Deer leap in four directions over drifts
that go black outside the range of our beams.

Broken hearted or not, a doe stands in the pelting storm
just taking it.

– Laura Smyth is a writer and book designer, which is how she manages to have the best of both worlds in publishing. She holds an MFA from Columbia University and is a partner in two small publishing companies, Thimbleberry Press and Mudminnow Press. She lives with her family in a small, refurbished miner’s house on the rustic Keweenaw Peninsula of Upper Michigan.

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Not Talking

I am sick with talking
in the parking lot, the class room,
the grocery aisle where apples

and oranges look like stained glass.
I am sick with talking at the bakery
and the bank, the drive through

where a woman with glittered nails
thinks I want to talk about my
self, herself, our personal weather.

I want words that stall to keel
and vaporize. I want a noun exact
as a swung axe tracing the eye’s

plumb line from north to south. I want
a verb precise as the optic nerve,
gravity’s burn, a beak’s first tap.

I want every noun’s geometry
to flare into eternity; I want the vowels
in Silence to convene and testify.

– Laurie Lamon’s poems have appeared in The Atlantic, The New Republic, The New Criterion, Ploughshares, and others magazines, including Poetry Daily and Verse Daily. A Pushcart recipient, she also received a Witter Bynner award, selected by Donald Hall. Her poetry collections are The Fork Without Hunger and Without Wings (CavanKerry Press 2007, 2009).

Not An Elegy

The workshop focuses on elegy and so
we read a few – O’Hara, Roethke, Tate –
and she says maybe every poem is an elegy.
And the workshop is over so I
drive home and think about it.
And the day is over so I go to bed
and wake thinking about it again,
and I think about my poems, the ones
that celebrate life, and so I sit and write,
Can every poem be a kind of elegy?
And I notice the loops of the g and y
fall beneath the blue line on the page,
I watch my pen and see the ink dry
as it glides from one word to the next,
I see my hand’s shadow moving slowly.

I think about the poem I once wrote
that can’t possibly be an elegy, the one of you
in the infant tub set into the kitchen sink,
your pearl-sized toes and tootsie-roll arms
quivering as the water sloshed over you,
the o of your mouth glistening and dark
with the words you would begin to say,
the plastic tub the color of new daffodils,
and I remember you like a hairless puppy
in my arms, remember the exact pitch
of your whimper, the infant tub dented
with use by older cousins and sold
by summer’s end in a yard sale.

We’ve lived in three houses since I stood
at that kitchen sink to bathe you,
and sometimes still in my dreams you
are small and wandering and lost and you
cannot hear me calling you. In dreams
we are both small, always, in my poem
like a photograph you are still small, you
have stayed small, I feel the mere weight
of you in my arms as I lift you from the water
to drape you in a towel, I see the water
pool down into the drain and I think about how
tiny pieces of your newborn body will disappear
into the pipes below and be dispersed
among the rocks and soil and sand and clay.

– Kate Hutchinson’s experiences as a high school teacher, a single mother of an adult son with special needs, and a lover of the natural world, feed her poems and essays, which have appeared in over two dozen literary magazines and collections. Her first chapbook, The Gray Limbo of Perhaps, was recently published by Finishing Line Press (2012).

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The Central Governor

You should know this is all theoretical. It has not been replicated in controlled environments. It has not been tested on diverse populations. It remains hypothetical—no more substantiated than my mother’s assertions: If you stand too close to the microwave, you’ll end up with cancer. The dead are watching, and they know if you start to forget them. Someday that boy will want to marry you. I know to be wary of hypotheses, that my mother was often wrong. I know I have not developed cancer, and that my brother is not a shadow stalking the cemetery, waiting for me to grace his grave with flowers or tears. I know that when you finally asked the question my mother foretold, you were not talking to me. So I know there’s no reason to believe the theory of the central governor, no reason to pretend that my brain knows how best to protect my heart, that it kicks in during intervals of extraordinary stress or exertion, that it weakens my muscles preventatively, promoting homeostasis, keeping my organs from harm. But I know this, too: when my brother died, I could not get warm. I spun the thermostat to ninety degrees. I cocooned myself in blankets and palmed mugs filled with steeping tea. It did not matter. I shivered so violently that I spilled the boiling water. Mother said I would start sweating. Mother said I would grow overheated. Mother said and said and said, until finally I quit listening. I knew it was not about science. I knew that my heart wanted to stop the way my brother had stopped, knew that my head had to outsmart and retrain it, had to coax it to embrace a life without. Now, after all these years without you, some part of me understands you will never be here again, that you are never coming back. I believe anyway, watching at the window while I wait for the water in my mug to color, believe I am governed by a system that knows just how much my body can handle, believe in the voice that reminds me just to keep steeping, to stay and warm.

– Elizabeth Wade’s work has appeared in such places as Kenyon Review online, The Rumpus, AGNI, and others. She currently teaches literature and writing courses at the University of Mary Washington.

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Walnut Shells

On those long ago Sunday afternoons when I was seven or eight years old, my father would place a crystal bowl full of unshelled nuts on the dining room table. The bowl always contained a wide assortment including Brazil nuts, almonds, pecans, cashews, and walnuts. When he asked me to choose one for him to crack, past experience told me to select the roughly textured walnut.

“Are you sure this is the one you want?” he always asked.

“Yes,” I always replied.

“Alright then,” he would say, taking the walnut between the steel prongs of the nutcracker and very carefully breaking the shell into two neat pieces. He would then exclaim over his discovery, which for a few moments he always cupped within his large hands.

I would plead to see what he held there until his unfurling fingers slowly and more than a little dramatically revealed, not a meaty walnut, but some other treasure: a bright red marble, an intricately folded piece of paper containing a cryptic but funny saying, a dime store ring. Once there was even a tiny rubber spider inside the shell.

Not until I was eight, maybe nine, did I realize it was my father who planted these treasures inside the humble halves of a walnut. When anxiety or nightmare woke him during those pale hours before dawn, I liked to picture him sitting at his study desk, carefully parting walnut shells using one of his sharpest knives, then gluing each shell back together, after secreting the treasure inside.

More than twenty five years later, on a recent visit home, I stood at the kitchen sink washing breakfast dishes. When I turned around, my father stood before me cradling a rectangular, wood-rimmed mirror in his outstretched hands.

“Dad,” I said. “I’m not ready to look at myself in the mirror right now.” And I wasn’t, for I’d just returned from the gym, and my skin was sticky. My hair, tangled and in need of a good wash.

“Where do you think this came from?” he asked, ignoring my vanity. “What do you think this is?”

“A mirror,” I replied, irritation punctuating my voice.

He placed the mirror in my hands, where I felt its weight and simultaneously its oldness, for the wooden frame was cracked, and the mirror itself pocked with age spots. “But where do you think it came from?”

I shrugged and immediately felt guilty for something about the brightness in his pale blue eyes told me that this was important; this mattered.

“It belonged to Babushka,” I said, mentioning my grandmother for the first time since my arrival in Chicago three days earlier.

“Close,” he said, revealing the white, straight teeth of which he has always taken such superb care. “It belonged to her father.”

I frowned. Of all the things to carry across several countries and two continents, why would anyone bother with an old mirror?

“The mirror was part of your great-grandfather’s military kit,” he explained. “He took this mirror with him when he negotiated for prisoners in Japan after the Russo-Japanese War. This mirror,” my father said more urgently, “was in your great-grandfather’s kit when he was gassed in Germany during World War I.

I looked back at him, still not understanding.

“I want you to have it,” he said, placing the mirror in my hands. Then, clasping my own face between both hands, he proceeded to kiss me twice, once on each cheek, as is the Russian way.

Since my grandmother’s death five years ago, my father has begun parceling out her possessions. Last Christmas, I received an amber brooch and a long string of her amber beads. For my birthday, he gave me a rose gold ring set with a ruby, a sapphire, and an emerald. Yet this was the first time my father had given me something that had belonged to his own grandfather, a man my father revered.

Almost all I know about my great-grandfather I have learned, not from my father, but from my grandmother and my own mother. My grandmother once told me that her father kept a Saint Bernard, a dog that she was especially devoted to. Apparently, when the family’s cat had kittens, the mother cat carefully carried each of her offspring over to the dog. One by one, she placed the tiny creatures between the many folds of his thick, fleshy coat.

“Then,” my grandmother said, “she forbade him to move.”

This dog may have accompanied my great-grandfather on all of his military campaigns, and eventually died from the poison gas that did not kill my great-grandfather (who was on horseback). Nevertheless, my grandmother stressed that at home the huge dog was subject to the female cat’s will.

In my grandmother’s story about the cat, I inevitably saw her. Strong-willed and at times dictatorial, my grandmother, or in Russian, my Babushka, presided over a household filled with immaculately arranged crystal vases, framed family portraits, and hand-embroidered pillows. My elegant grandfather in his fedora hats and tailored clothes may have been fifteen years her senior, but it was clear from the way my grandmother organized their lives as precisely as she tended her sumptuous rose garden that she, the three star general’s daughter, was the one in charge.

The only other story I know about my great-grandfather, one my mother told me after she and my grandmother argued after some holiday dinner, is far less enchanting. According to my mother, my great-grandfather established a whole other family—illegitimate of course—during the time he spent away from his wife and two children.

“Your grandmother eventually learned that she had a half sister. That half sister,” my mother said, leaning wearily against the china cabinet after a long family dinner, “once tried to get in touch with her.”

“So what happened?” I asked, already mourning the fact that my very small circle of cousins had not been expanded, even slightly.

“What do you think?” my mother said, the edge in her voice revealing her own fraught history with my grandmother. “Your Babushka refused to have any contact whatsoever with this half sister.”

Although I did not defend my Babushka, I believed I understood her reaction. Above all else, my grandmother was proud. When she told me about the night during the First World War when she and her own grandmother buried her family’s jewelry in the nighttime garden so that the invading soldiers could not steal, not just their valuables but their heritage, her voice acquired a vehement, defiant energy.

Five years after her death, I remain convinced that my grandmother’s pride, more than anything else, enabled her to survive, not just a series of wars, but the transatlantic crossing to the U.S. after World War Two. Given the humble circumstances in which she and my grandfather found themselves living in Chicago, especially during those early years when they labored in the city’s poorly-ventilated factories, what more—other than her pride—did my grandmother have?

Given his abiding love of the whimsical, not to mention his desire for the continuation of a family decimated during the twentieth century’s wars, it seems only natural that my father would like a grandchild. Two years ago, just after I married a man who is the ninth child in his family and a decade older than me, my father anticipated the arrival of a baby in the immediate future. He even made a toast to just such an effect at our wedding.

A year later, when there was still no hint of a coming grandchild, my father took me aside on one of our visits to Chicago. It was a cool August morning, and we were waiting for the train into the city. When my father pulled me out of hearing distance of my husband and my mother, I feared he was going to tell me some bad news about his health or my mother’s. Instead he fixed those same clear, blue eyes on me—eyes that are so like my grandmother’s—and said, “Don’t you want a child, Jackie dear? Bill is older than you. I don’t want you to wind up alone.”

Looking back, I find it hard to remember how I answered, despite the fact that my father’s words remain etched in my memory, as does the meaning contained within those words. For my father, family, howsoever fraught, ensured community, solidarity. survival.

“I don’t want you to wind up alone.”

At the end of her life, my grandmother was not alone. My parents, who lived just over a mile away, were almost daily visitors to the home she came to share with a Lithuanian caretaker. On their visits, my parents paid her bills and kept her company. But they also came to encourage her to talk about her life in as many languages as she could still navigate, for my grandmother had once been fluent in Russian, Lithuanian, Polish, German, French and English. Mostly, my grandmother talked about her childhood and teenage years, the period that still seemed the most real to her, and she primarily spoke about this period in Russian and Lithuanian, with other languages coming in to create emphasis or a different context. English, the last language she learned, fell away, so that it became a blessing I could speak German so as to communicate with her.

Last Christmas, a few months after he took me aside at the train station, my father sat unhappily at the dining room table and spoke longingly, if not regretfully, of the possibility that he might still hope for a grandchild. As I sipped my wine, I remained convinced that he was disappointed with me. Only later did I learn that my sister had phoned the day before to tell my parents that, despite her recent marriage, she was not going to bring a child into this world of terrorism, environmental destruction, and general chaos.

At age eleven, my father found himself a child in Nazi Germany where his parents had found refuge with friends after the Red Army invaded Lithuania. They had fled to Lithuania from Russia during the Revolution. In Hitler’s Germany, my father became the non-Aryan target of many of his schoolmates. The nightmares that still wake my father from sleep go all the way back to that friendless time when he endured god knows what kind of brutality. In all these years I have been afraid to ask him for the details, and not once has he volunteered a single story. Then there were the bombings in Munich. In one of these bombings, his beautiful half sister Galena, an architect and pianist, was buried alive.

To my father, the world has always seemed unstable and chaotic.

Yet he filled my childhood years with small treasures secreted in walnut shells.

On Christmas Eve, the night before my father spoke of his desire for a grandchild, he spent hours playing with his goddaughter’s little boy. As soon as we entered his mother’s house, the boy rushed over to my father, who dotes on him with all the longing of a surrogate grandfather. Why did it not surprise me to find my father in the living room, down on all fours, despite his bad knees and even worse back, building a town out of blocks with the child?

If I am blessed with a child, there is no doubt that when she is old enough, she will join my father at the dining room table where he will produce that same crystal bowl of nuts. “Choose one,” my father will say.

Will it take her more than a few such occasions before she intuitively reaches for a walnut, a walnut she will hand over to her grandfather, who will grin broadly, then make an elaborate show of opening its shell, that single gesture hinting at so much magic and mystery still to come?

– Jacqueline Kolosov’s work has appeared in Orion, The Southern Review, Shenandoah, Ecotone, Western Humanities, and in numerous anthologies. Her third poetry collection, Memory of Blue, is forthcoming from Salmon Poetry in February, 2013.

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Conjoined
(Barcelona 2008)

The president from Mexico had a decoy, so the people said in Barcelona.

I translated this to my parents.

It could have been a rumor.

We waited thirty minutes to see him and his reaction to the protestors. Painted signs, loud-speakers, a sort of communal verse, “Y los femicidios en Juarez?!” The loudest protestor, a young woman with long dark hair.

Juarez, I tell my parents, is near my home. Imagine pasted pictures near the border bridge. Sun-streaked photographed faces of young women.

The president is here to talk about the drug cartels. The president is here to talk about trade agreements. The president is here to talk about having more of Spain in Mexico and more Mexico in Spain. The president is here to talk to the financial genius of Barcelona amidst tourists wearing tennis shoes—bright white gleams to investors.

This is the second time the president has visited Spain, and he is taking advantage of the sites. He and his wife just saw the Goya exhibit at the Prado Museum in Madrid. His wife had her picture taken smiling in front of the famous painting—the second of May. One man in white sleeves, another with a gun cocked. Goya lived through violence. Perhaps she saw this painting in her art history books. Now fully restored this face captivated by black steel violence, by what connects us all like the global concern of water discussed at the World Expo in Zaragoza where the president and his wife bought postcards and visited the cathedral, to kiss the holy Pilar, two bombs dangle near like earrings to this church, historic miracles of praying.

In the desert, we find elephant bones. A cranium here—see the size, it almost looks like a child. See the dental work—that tells us it’s our daughter. We think. The ratty tennis shoes, a piece of denim, a hair follicle, a broken cheekbone.

The president will be walking across the plaza soon. The protestors are moved off to the corner of the small concrete rectangular plaza. A whole city of Roman ruins underneath their feet.

Dad wants to go to the ruins.

But it’s politics and we stay and wait to see the Mexican president or his decoy or both walking like some sort of Tweedle Dee or Tweedle Dum act. Or maybe the president is crawling through those tunnels, that city within a city past tourists taking photos of the old laundry shop and a sign that states that the Romans used the ammonia in human urine to clean clothes, to take the stains out.

Urine, piss collected in barrels on every street corner. Easy to take a leak and feel you are contributing to society.

Yes, he walks past those. Under the booming voice of the woman, of the crowd yelling—give us answers and then we’ll give you money. Give us answers and then we’ll commerce.

Across the ocean in Barcelona, you see, they feel those palm lines, that ancestry, that family—those women are cousins. And you help your cousins. You take them in, bathe them, put them in the light to warm their skin, you teach them recipes and lullabies, tell them where to get the best deal in the best market and watch out for Las Ramblas—only tourists and pick pockets go there.

I don’t translate this to my parents. My mom has a purse strung over one shoulder. Dad pauses, hands in pockets, fumbling change and cough drops.

I translate what I can but the rest is quiet, the rest is me wanting to be the woman whose voice the president can hear while he walks through the ruins, next to the piss deposits.

And the decoy? Well, he holds the hand of the woman he has to act like he loves and prepares to deliver the lines he practiced in front of the hotel restroom mirror and on the plane between peanuts. He has salty answers. And the knowledge of how to walk the president’s confident strut and how to convince the press that he loves Spain, Goya, Roman ruins, and the Expo. He’ll tell them that he thinks that Spain and Mexico will be a beautiful partnership in the future. Beautiful just like he and his wife. See his wife, whose teeth glow white under the camera man’s blow.

– Heather Frankland earned her MFA at New Mexico State University and has been published, most recently, in Lingerpost and The New Purlieu Review. She currently lives in Lima, Peru where she is serving as a Peace Corps Response Volunteer.

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The submission period for the twenty-first issue of damselfly press has closed. Look for the issue on October 15th, 2012. We are now accepting submissions for our twenty-second issue, due out in January, 2013.

As always, thank you to all of our submitters.

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