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Category Archive for 'Issue 22'

Happy 2013 from damselfly press. It’s hard to believe this year we turn six years old. Enjoy our twenty-second issue, which is rich with poetry, fiction, and nonfiction that will engage your intellect and capture your empathy. The writers’ stories, true and imagined, are evocative and universal in their common theme of humanity. So take a little break from your day and join us for an intimate look into the lives of women.

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


How She Died
for C

It was a deep, rich Florida night,
skies clear, stars all around. She was
driving a taxi cab, and here I like to imagine
the rosy glow of the radio turned low,
and the way the headlights burrowed
through the darkness, two tiny stains
of light opening before her.

I don’t know when the pains started,
if they whispered all night,
dull whimpers of heat across her chest,
or if they came on suddenly, like a shout
or a blast of wind so fierce you know
you are doomed to fall over.

She wasn’t alone, she had passengers with her,
and later they told us how she said,
“Whoa, there,” as if remembering the farm,
the way we herded cows
and raced horses through that tall, yellow grass.
She veered over in time, tires hitting
the curb as she slumped across the steering wheel.
She was wearing a pink blouse,
jeans, her hair held back in girlish combs.

But she didn’t die alone,
that’s something, even if they
were strangers there was
someone to soothe her,
maybe not hold her, but still,
voices in the background,
the smell of someone else’s skin,
like the way it feels to curl in the corner
of the living room and read, the television
voices in the background reminding
that you are not alone.

That’s one thing,
not nearly enough, but still:
that’s one thing.

– Cinthia Ritchie writes and runs mountains in Anchorage, Alaska. Her work can be found in New York Times Magazine, Memoir, Sport Literate, 42opus, Slow Trains Literary Journal, Water-Stone Review, Under the Sun, Gloom Cupboard, Miller’s Pond, Breadcrumb Scabs and others. Her first book, Dolls Behaving Badly (Grand Central Publishing/Hachette Book Group), will be available February 2013.


All day
we drive through mountains
not speaking.
I read a book about
women writers
as the car moves through
charcoal rain,
stretches of blurred-out farmland.

Five years ago we
came to this place
by the sea. The fall was
bright and we laughed on
the ferry, held hands while
seagulls floated above us,
weightless in the wind.
It’s strange what gets lost along the way.

Now we wait for breakfast
by the long window.
Outside, whitecaps break on the edges
of gray-blue water.
A hammock tumbles in the wind.

You touched me in my sleep last night.
One arm placed lightly across my ribs.
Intentional, as if to say
I’m still here with you in the dark
of this long road.

– Kim Johnson-McMechan is a Canadian songwriter and photographer. Her writing has been published in Room Magazine, Today’s Parent Magazine and Literary Mama. She currently lives and writes on Hornby Island, BC, and blogs about it all at TreesWaterSky.

Listen to the Poem

Before touch there is

the standing close; breaths, slurred beat

of hearts the only sound, breaths

through the nose like horses

that stand quietly together, 

faces close, taking in each others’ air.

– Theodosia Henney is a circus enthusiast who enjoys standing in the spaces between raindrops. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in over a dozen journals, including Bloom, Grey Sparrow, Gertrude, (T)OUR, Plenitude, and Fifth Wednesday.


Listen to an Excerpt

Excerpt from Uprooted

The fire in the clay tamdyr was hot, ready for the dough to be stuck to its walls. It looked like an oversized anthill, Tohtagul had always thought—rounded with a big hole on top. The difference was what lay below, or rather what didn’t. There were no underground tunnels, no villages of bakers beneath the earth’s crust waiting to be discovered if one were to crawl in.

Tohtagul’s mother had just finished stamping the bread with the metal seal, which marked it as hers with a flower and let the air in, too. You could always tell one woman’s bread from another just by looking at it. Her mother picked up the jar of water and dipped her fingers inside. She splashed the water against the sides of the tamdyr; the water hissed against the hot clay and steam rose up in clouds. She put the mitt on and picked up one round, flat, unbaked loaf of nan. Slap, she stuck it firmly to the hot wall of the oven. Slap. Slap. There went another and another.

The knock on the wooden compound door didn’t cause any alarm. Tohtagul stopped sweeping the path to the house and unlatched the metal gate, ready to greet whichever neighbor or relative had decided to stop in. Her house robe was cinched tightly around her thin waist. Slap, another nan took hold on the tamdyr walls. Tohtagul pushed the metal out of the latch and pulled the door open with a creak for each year it had been on its hinges.

“Salam,” she said and then turned her eyes to the ground. Slap.

“Is your father home?” the thin, dark-haired man asked. Slap.

Tohtagul thought he looked like a turtle. His neck had a little too much skin, and it sagged beneath his chin. His eyes were on the beady side and bulged just enough to make him rather unattractive. She had seen him around town before and knew he was from the mayor’s office. Her mother looked up. She took the mitt off.

Gyzym,” she called, referring to her daughter as such, “come finish the nan.”

Tohtagul leaned her twiggy straw broom against the compound wall. Mother and daughter switched places. Slap. Another loaf clung to the clay. The heat of the fire in the bottom of the oven warmed her face and scared her. She was always afraid that one day the whole tamdyr would catch fire and the smell of burnt bread would singe the air for days. Bread was too holy to let burn. She couldn’t hear what the man and her mother were saying, but it couldn’t be good. Anytime anyone from the government came, it was never any good. Her mother led the man inside. Slap.

Moments later, the teakettle whistled. The first few loaves were ready to be pulled out, so Tohtagul opened up the bread cloth and placed the warm sweet-smelling loaves inside. She quickly ran them in to her mother, who was busy setting up the tea. She had the guest cloth spread on the floor, the good cookies were out, and the bread was placed reverently in the middle.

Tohtagul ran back outside, not wanting the bread to be any darker than the golden brown it was meant to be. Another knock at the door.

“Allo?” Her father’s voice questioned deeply through the compound door.

“Coming, papa,” Tohtagul placed another loaf onto the bread cloth and went to the door. She gave him fair warning of the man waiting inside. A cloud came over his face briefly, and he went inside the house, slipping his shoes off deftly as he did. Once the bread was finished, Tohtagul tied the neatly stacked discs inside the patterned cloth and then wrapped it again in a thicker, embroidered quilt-esque one. She brought them through the back door into the kitchen. As she was about to escape back into the compound yard, her mother appeared.

“Come,” she said. “He is here about you.”

“But I haven’t finished sweeping,” she pleaded.

“The dust can wait.”
She followed her mother into the living room and sat down with her legs folded to her right side. Her father was leading the man out the front door.

Tohtagul’s mother poured her a cup of tea.

“Do you see the bubbles?”


“That’s good luck. It means true love will come to you.”

“But doesn’t it always have bubbles?” Tohtagul asked.

Gyzym,” she began affectionately, “you are fourteen now. The man who was here works for the Khan. He is making the bride selection for a young man in the village.”

Tohtagul almost choked on her tea. She stared at her mother, wishing it could all be a joke, but the pit of her stomach told her it was all very real.

“One week from today, we must bring you to the town hall. If you are chosen, you will be married.”

With that, her mother got up to prepare dinner. She was never one to waste words, even when a little sugarcoating would have been nice. Tohtagul popped each of the bubbles in her tea.

That night, she dreamed that she was locked out of every compound in the village. She kept knocking and knocking, but no one let her in. She could hear them all on the other side, laughing and talking, but she was stuck in the street, alone. She woke up with a pillow soaked in sweat and a heaviness in her chest. Six days remained until Huday would decide whether she could remain a girl for a while longer, or cross the bridge into womanhood.

Those six days seemed to fly by. Tohtagul tried to slow the seconds down, tried to stay awake as long as possible to keep the days from ending, but time passes whether it is watched or not. She had no excuse not to be at the town hall. Everyone would be there. These kinds of things always drew a crowd. She pulled on her best dress, the one she’d had embroidered for her cousin’s wedding. The neckline was stiff with the thousands of stitches ringing it. She sat on the floor in front of her mother, who began to braid her thick dark hair, firmly yet still somehow, gently. That was the essence of her mother. It was written in her hands, strong from years of kneading dough and scrubbing floors, with an indestructible delicacy that only a woman’s hands can have.

The whole family went to the town hall together. When they arrived, she could tell who the other girls were simply from the look in their eyes. It was sheer terror in each one. The Khan’s Assistant, the man who had come to their home, lined them up in a very straight row. It was uncomfortably hot already, not even the slightest breeze, and barely even an exhale. It was questionable whether or not the girls were breathing. It was far too still for any of this to be real. The girls looked at each other, knowing exactly what the others were thinking. No one dared to say a word. It was as though, if they were still enough, if the whole world was still enough, they just might disappear.

The groom-to-be was hustled through the crowd, his parents beaming with delight. His tunic-length robe had been embroidered with care, just for this occasion. His pants were brand new and finely sewn as well. His shoes sparkled in the sunlight. His little brother, in tow, had a telltale streak of black shoe polish on his left arm. It had been a family affair to get him ready for such a momentous day. He stood, as only a teenage boy can, with his thin limbs dangling awkwardly as though he didn’t know where such long things could have sprouted from. He tugged at the new clothing, looking boyish rather than manly. The ten girls stood, a row of eligible beauties from the right tribe and the right families. The boy’s parents could envision the dowries behind each pair of eyes. They saw rugs and dresses and gold and flour and goats. They were prepared to pay the bride price, even if it meant calling distant relatives for help.

The Khan’s Assistant, now looking like a puffed up turtle who had just shined his shell, approached the boy and his parents.

“Orun,” he said to the boy. “Are you ready?”

“Yes, sir. I am.”

“May Allah help you choose well.” He said and handed the woolen telpek to him.

Orun held the large hat in his hands. It still smelled a bit of sheep, and it was heavy, much too large for a boy. The inside had been stitched well and the outside was covered in beautiful gray wool curls. Looking at it from the top, it seemed big enough to fit two heads inside, but it was only built for one. He put the hat in one hand and then the other, to feel its weight. He felt eyes boring into him. He looked up at the ten girls lined up for him, for him to choose. He scanned the row. They all had their eyes on him, all except one. Her braids shone in the sun as she stared at the ground. What could she be looking at? he wondered.

Tohtagul was watching an ant stumble around. It kept climbing over obstacles in the dirt, obstacles which seemed so small to her but must have been mountains to this poor creature. She watched it try to find its way somewhere else, but it kept going in circles. There didn’t seem to be any other ants around. It must have gotten separated somehow, and now it was lost and scared. So, perhaps, if it were a she-ant, Tohtagul thought, maybe it’s not lost at all. Maybe it’s right where it is supposed to be, here with the other scared girls. She smiled to herself as she finally looked up.

Orun saw her smile and thought it was for him, as boys and men often do. He caught her gaze, lifted the telpek, and hurled it at her. She didn’t realize what was happening until the wooly hat hit her square in the stomach. It knocked the breath out of her, but she caught it. She stared at the telpek fiercely, as if it had decided to throw itself at her of its own free will. She was definitely still standing.

The crowd cheered. Murmurs of the new match and the wedding to come wafted through the crowd like wind through leaves.

The girl next to her hissed, “What’s the matter with you? Why didn’t you fall?” Her unibrow was lifted high in shock.

“Fall?” Tohtagul was perplexed. “Why would I?”
 “If you fall, then you’re not ready for marriage. You could have stayed at home a while longer.”

“But I didn’t know that! No one told me to fall. Who told you?”

“My older sister. She tells me everything,” The girl with the unibrow walked off with the lightness of girlhood in her step. Tohtagul still held her ground and the telpek, unsure of what would come next.

The family didn’t have to ask what came next. The preparations for their toy were rolled out like dough in the hands of an expert baker, which, of course, all Turkmen women were.

Yards of solid golden silk were bent beneath the needle of a sewing machine powered by feet and a pedal to slowly, seam by seam, become a long elegant dress. The bridal tahya, a stiff square Muslim cap, was adorned with gold beads and shiny sequins, embroidered in the swirling shapes of flowers and leaves. Long beaded strands were attached to three sides and shorter strands, like bangs, hung from the front. A transparent veil would be draped as another layer on top of it. Her feet would slip into delicate slippers, also adorned with beads and sequins, so that the parts of her touching the earth and reaching for the sky would match.

Then, the food preparations began. Kilo upon kilo of flour was bought for the ubiquitous round loaves of bread and the traditional puffed triangular fried dough which were necessary at any major celebration. Her sisters ran their hands through rice sacks at the bazaar and let grains slip between their fingers to find the best one and then haggle for the cheapest price. They also selected cuts of mutton, yellow carrots, onions, and garlic for the traditional pilaf dish plov. Once all the ingredients had been lugged home from the bazaar, her sisters, aunts, and neighbors all sat outside in their housedresses with their legs crossed, beneath the trellises of dangling green grapes on the raised patio platform of the tapjan. Together, they kneaded dough, washed rice, chopped vegetables, and cleaned the meat. The air was heavy with heat, sweet with the smell of grapes, sharp with gossip, and punctuated with anticipation.

Of course, all weddings were important to the culture, and they were celebrations that people looked forward to, but there were so many. Weddings were not limited to family and friends; they were community affairs. The young couple’s ears would be filled with toasts wishing them longevity, fertility, and prosperity from each one of the guests. The ceremony was to be kept simple; it was about eating and dancing. It was about merging two families and ushering in the start of a new generation.

People would put on their gold and make their way to her cousin’s compound. It was on the edge of town, and they had a large plot of land, big enough to hold all of the guests. Very soon, it would fill with small cooking fires, upon which kazans of plov would be placed. The meat, carrots, and onions would be set at the bottom of the huge round cast iron pot first. Then all the washed rice would be poured in. Cottonseed oil would be added. Their tamdyr, along with many others, would fill with round loaves of nan for the occasion. Shallower cast iron pans would be filled with oil, which would crackle when hot and then cling to the dough for the fried dough in agitated bubbles until the dough puffed up and darkened to a golden brown; then fished out with a wire sieve and placed into a clay serving dish.

It seemed the whole city was making their way to her wedding. The courtyard swelled each time she peeked outside. Once the imam recited the prayers and everyone dipped their hands into communal dishes of plov to celebrate, she would be a married woman. Sharing a meal could be more powerful than all the laws in the land.

On her wedding day, Tohtagul stood very still as her mother brushed her hair and started weaving it into forty tight braids. She rightly assumed it would be the last time for such girlish things. From tonight onward, she was supposed to become a woman, except the hormonal right of passage that marks a girl’s entrance into womanhood hadn’t yet arrived. She still hadn’t felt the twisting of insides into cramps, that shock at seeing the first smear of brownish-red blood staining the inside of her underwear, the panic at wondering what to do, and the experience of walking around with cotton between her legs to absorb the flow. But just as she didn’t know not to fall down, she didn’t know that she was missing anything. Women never warned their daughters about menstruation until they faced it firsthand. Another thing that went unspoken was what really happened after the wedding, once the young couple was alone. Although a woman’s virginity was paramount, she was unaware of what that meant physically and why she would likely bleed when she and her husband consummated their marriage. Physiology was purely what could be ascertained by looking at someone. They could only be certain about what they could see; what went on inside the body was a mystery.

The bride’s arrival to the wedding was greeted with music and cheering. Though the bride’s body faced the groom, her eyes trained down on the ground, lingering on the pointed tips of her groom’s shoes. The veil was never lifted from her face during the ceremony. That intimate act of opening was always reserved for the husband later in the evening. It was improper to show such public displays of affection. Since Tohtagul still hadn’t gone through menarche, though, her veil and her legs would stay closed a while longer.

On her wedding night and every night until that tender transition came, she would sleep beside her mother-in-law. It took Tohtagul a long time to fall asleep in those first days. She lay awake next to the large sleeping mass of her mother-in-law, slowly expanding and contracting with each breath. She watched the woman’s body as she slept and wondered what she looked like with her eyes closed. She felt like she was watching a secret. It also empowered her a little bit to know that at least now, in the middle of the night, time and space was hers.

– Jen Wos studied creative writing and film at Emerson College and was an editor at Oxford University Press for six years. While serving in the Peace Corps in Turkmenistan from 2004–2006, she met Haticha K., whose memoirs and family history are the basis for Uprooted.



So, in the end, you decide to schedule that mammogram.

Four years ago when you turned forty your doctor gave you the party line. And then she gave you the truth. The best she could do was commiserate with you about how mammography is not the best diagnostic tool and how insurance companies won’t pay for ultrasounds. The false positives and accompanying unnecessary stress and medical procedures, the then-recent news that mammograms may do more harm than good…yes, it’s confusing, she agreed. Every woman has to decide for herself.

In general, you don’t like to go looking for trouble. You have spent a lot of years learning to trust your body. You believe that if you eat right and exercise and do yoga and pray and meditate your body will perform and heal as God designed it to. And you do all those things. You understand and believe in and do your best to honor the body-mind-spirit connection. And you try not to let fear run your life.

But you sometimes don’t handle stress very well. You get easily overwhelmed with work and homework and schedules and life as a single mom.  Minor frustrations accumulate without you even noticing, until one day you fall apart in a fit of rage or a puddle of tears for a thousand tiny reasons you can’t put your finger on.

And you didn’t always eat as well as you do these days. There were those decades, for example, when diet soda was a constant, beginning with Tab in junior high, then various alliances with diet Coke and diet Pepsi as they went through different formulations.

Starting in your mid-20’s, you diligently kept up with the latest health trends and tried to do all the right things.  You drove yourself and others crazy with your phases: low-fat, low-carb, high-fiber, no dairy, raw food, food combining, no sugar, then no agave.  You read The China Study and found it very convincing, but those years you went without meat you felt the worst. So then you read the studies debunking The China Study and discovered it was not meat that was the problem, but grains.  So you learned to make “bread” from cashews and “rice” from cauliflower, and coconut in all its many forms became your new best friend.

You gave up coffee years ago, although now it seems maybe you shouldn’t have…at least as of this week, “they” are saying coffee is good for you.

You don’t have any family history of breast cancer. You don’t smoke or drink. You’re not overweight.

But you haven’t had a baby, either.  Not that you didn’t want to, but your now 13-year-old baby chose to arrive through another birthmother.

And then there was the complication of the unexpected hysterectomy at age 30, after which you started taking estrogen because yours was suddenly gone and estrogen is important for bone health. Your bones are doing great, and you very much appreciate how that little patch keeps the hot flashes away. But there’s a risk with those hormones…a higher risk of breast cancer.

Too much information, no real answers.  For every point, a counterpoint…

So what to do about that mammogram?

You think about it. And you pray about it. And, at last, you decide a compromise is in order. You’ll do it, but only every other year.

You get a mammogram at 40 and at 42 and both reports say something like, “no findings, but this test is not perfect so don’t put too much stock in our conclusion and don’t go trying to blame us if we’re wrong.” This, you understand, is their typical jargon. Your doctor says you’re fine.

And now it’s been two years again. Already?

The imaging place calls to ask if you want to schedule an appointment. You are having a very terrible day at work and say, “Yes, I do, but I can’t right now.” And the woman on the other end hears the stress in your voice and understands. She suggests you call back as soon as you can and wishes you a good day.

Work settles down and, a few weeks later, you make that phone call. You have a day off coming up and figure that would be a good time to take care of it. But there are no openings on the 22nd and 22 is your favorite number so you have to decide whether to wait until next month or find another time this month. The 19th at 8:30 a.m. is open. At least that won’t disrupt your workday too much, so you say okay.

After that, things get weird.

Suddenly, your whole life is colored by this appointment on the calendar. It’s similar to what happens when you are in possession of a plane ticket, only now, instead of being highly attuned to the words “crash” and “terrorism” and random news stories of things going wrong with and on airplanes, your antennae — without your conscious permission — seek information about cancer and breast cancer and mammograms, mastectomies and chemotherapy and radiation.

You find yourself the star of a dramatic movie inside your head. Without even realizing it – as if asleep – you construct stories with a variety of endings: your tragic death or your triumphant recovery or your spontaneous and miraculous healing.  You don’t watch the news, but you don’t have to…you’re inundated every day with the made-up and all-too-real stories of women on the front lines: Kristina Braverman in “Parenthood;” a friend you met six months ago when she was right in the middle of treatment; a writing classmate who is working on publishing her survival story; Tig Notaro, who got onstage and performed her comedy show the day after her diagnosis.

You want to distinguish yourself from these women. But you can’t. Because they are you…or were, before they were diagnosed.

You wonder how you’d handle it. Who you’d tell. If there would be any surprises – good or bad – as to who your friends are. The worst would be telling your mom, because she worries so much anyway. Worrying would not be helpful. Would you be an open book in the process, posting Facebook status updates and blog posts to keep people in the loop? Would you know how to ask for help?

Song lyrics and quotes and poems all take on special significance that fuel your preoccupation. You catch yourself playing DOE instead of DIE in a Scrabble game even though you have five “I’s” that will be impossible to get rid of.  You know you’re being ridiculous. You can’t help it.

Three days before your appointment you and a co-worker hang pumpkin lights in the hallway of the office. A few minutes later you’re back at your desk and hear some activity outside your door. “I’m building a little graveyard outside your office,” she says. The plastic skulls and RIP headstones would not fit on the string of lights, and your bookshelves happened to be empty, so she’s arranging a macabre display for passers-by to enjoy. The macabre voice in your head says, “That won’t be so funny if….”

Two days before your appointment you find a note on your almost-brand-new car as you’re leaving work, a note explaining the large dent on the passenger side. It’s not a big deal. The driver who hit you is very nice, apologetic and willing to pay. But still you wonder…is it a bad omen?

One day before your appointment the principal at your son’s school calls to inform you that he’s been skipping classes for the past two weeks and getting into all manner of trouble off-campus with some other boys. You decide that you’re barely capable of managing your life and his as it is. What if…

And as if all this wasn’t crazy-making enough, you have to contend with your knowledge of the law of attraction. You have to face the fact that your fear is what draws to you the thing you fear.

You recognize this spiral from two years ago, and four years ago. But this time it’s worse because, no matter how you look at it, you’re two years closer to the end of your life. And you have worked very hard these last two years to heal your limiting belief systems, to figure out who you want to be when you grow up…and to put yourself on a trajectory of becoming that. So now there’s more at stake, more to gain and more to lose. It all just seems so precious and tenuous and temporary and fragile. 

And that…is the gift in this madness. Ultimately, all this obsessing is your flawed human way of noticing and appreciating your life as it is. It’s not perfect…but you love it. You love your wild child. You love your sometimes-stressful job and all the ways it makes the rest of the life you love possible. You love your body and your breasts. You love your relationship with God and, even inside all the fear generated by your over-active writer’s mind, you trust that He’s got your back. He’s got the big picture. You don’t always like the pieces of it that you can see. You don’t have to. But you do have to choose — again and again, sometimes minute by minute — what you want to believe.

On a dark, blustery, rainy Friday morning you drop your son off at school, encouraging him to end the week on a high note. You put gas in your dented car. You arrive early, sit in the parking lot and say some prayers. When it’s time, you go inside and check in. You sit down and breathe and wait for them to call your name.

– Alizabeth Rasmussen is a freelance writer and baseball mom exploring what it means to be perfectly, imperfectly human. She is a former food columnist for the West Seattle Herald and currently blogs about God in real life at Faith Squared.


The submission period for the twenty-second issue of damselfly press has closed. Look for the issue on January 15, 2013.

As always, thank you to our submitters.

Happy holidays from damselfly press.