Isabelle in Sienna
Stomping on thick short legs up cobblestones as large as your feet,
glued to my hand with gelato, you bellow the Sesame Street theme
song—Sunny day, chasing the clouds away! On my way to where the air
is sweet! Isabelle. Ah, Isabella! Bella! Bella! say the museum guards who gather
around you—young women, old men, fellow citizens of the small world we
wander, just another queer American family
with nothing to conquer but fear. Grazie, you reply, at my prompt, as they bend
to return the blankie—your best friend, making new friends—
that you have dropped while playing I Spy with me, looking up at the art,
a painting of that woman and baby (everywhere), the animals friendly in the dark
edges. It’s his birthday, I explain, grimed with Tuscan dust, gelato, sweat
and the stress of travel—Mommy, Mom and toddlers—so obviously out
in the world. Tilting your head back, you sing, Happy Birthday to you, screaming into the silence, your brother joining in, and the Italians smile at our scene
as we shush, meeting kind eyes. And then we too are smiling. Now, blankie dragging the cobblestones, you tromp on thick short legs, blond ringlets bouncing, batting
your lashes at admiring nonas and bambinos on bicycles. At three, it’s simply
Sesame Street in Sienna, hills up both ways, all ways, and so hot, such a sunny
day; at three, this is your neighborhood too, no muppets but Italians and castles and narrow
twisting streets and Madonnas and babies and all of us
together with blankie and gelato, and you’re chasing clouds away on your way to where the air is
sweet. Isabelle, ah bella, bellisima bambina, this day
you show me how to live in this large world on top of my lungs.
-T. Stores’ third novel, Backslide, is due from Spinster’s Ink in July. Her poems, stories and essays have been published in Sinister Wisdom, Rock & Sling, Cicada, Out Magazine, Bloom, Earth’s Daughters, Blueline, SawPalm, and Kudzu, among others. Her honors include grants from the Vermont Arts Council and the Barbara Deming Fund, a Bread Loaf residency and a scholarship to The Community of Writers at Squaw Valley. Stores is an associate professor at the University of Hartford.
The bus from Strasbourg
Near dawn the lines between things are softer:
fence, trees, town no taller than a steeple. You remember
the newscaster’s voice while you dressed in the dark—
mass death averted, chaos at Heathrow.
Again the feeling of a trapdoor
knocked out beneath you.
You are young. Was it only last year you believed
you could float, just a little, if you knew
how to ask the air?
Every day the world grows more alien.
Here, the window glass, cool against your cheek,
electric towers rising from a cornfield
like steel angels. Your body
last week, in a room with curtains for walls,
the doctor saying it could be cancer.
We’ll analyze the cells. We’ll let you know.
The body the one thing you imagined was safe.
You came from the hospital then,
windows brightening the street.
The rush of men and women, shapes
you fell into, like looking up
when the sky has opened to snow.
Outside Frankfurt, your bus slows.
Factories in the distance are smoldering
castles: smoke and brick and flame.
As a child you dreamed of holes that opened
wherever you went—the park, gravel walk, front porch.
Your mother’s lap. Holes as far as you could run.
You would wake then, listen for a sound.
-Claire McQuerry teaches writing at Arizona State University. Her poems have recently appeared in Harpur Palate, Comstock Review, West Wind Review, and Relief.
In the car my father turns and asks, “Do you know
what city I was born in?” I hate these questions.
Odessa. He knows I know. Answering, deadpan
to the windshield, the edges still curl in anger.
The coin he bought is from the ancient Greek city
that thrived in the same place. “Odessos,” he says.
I am filled with a slow, heavy sadness,
and I wish the air was something other than our silence.
We drive into the cemetery and walk through the snow
to his mother’s grave. The snow is covered
with a thick layer of ice, and if I step lightly enough,
I can slide across without breaking it. My father falls through.
The sound from beneath our feet is the only one we hear.
“This place brings you back to earth,” he whispers to me.
He slips two smooth rocks into my hand. Their warmth
is eerie and fluid in my hand, stiffened with cold.
The engraving is written in both English and Cyrillic,
and the coin is for his mother as much as his collection.
The frozen branches shine with frost.
In the wind, they make no sound.
He brushes away dried pollen from invisible blooms
and finds a spot to place his stones. They are pink,
and veined with blue, just bigger than pebbles. He has
had these in a little dish on his dresser for months.
Somehow, we knew not to ask what he was saving
them for. Back in the car, my hands are empty.
My father takes the handkerchief that had held the stones
in his pocket, and lifts it to his face.
-Rachel Malis is an MFA candidate at Arizona State University and recipient of the Virginia G. Piper Fellowship. She graduated from George Washington University, where she was awarded the Academy of American Poets Junior Prize for 2007. In Washington, DC, Rachel was a Lannan Scholar at the Folger Shakespeare Library.
Driving from Sorsogon to Magallanes
beneath a sky thatched with palm and vine and heat,
we hit a boy who darted across a road – a thump
of arms and legs dark and scraped like husk, a sinew
of mosquito bites and mornings in coconut trees, not enough
years to know better. My husband’s father didn’t wait
for the van to stop before thrusting open the door, charging
into the dust. The boy’s father met him halfway, after smacking
his son across the back of his head like a fruit fly. It was the boy’s
fault, father said to father and back again, in a language I needed
someone to translate, a language that sounds like the juice
of a ripe kalamansi dripping down my husband’s chin,
a tangy bite of tongue and throat. Man to man, more words
and dirt and spit, then somehow we are on our way again, leaving
behind the heat and the boy in a punishing swallow of jungle
and an angry tin of huts. My husband rubs my wrist in the seat
between us and I realize that here, a land forever trespassed by tsunamis
and seafarers commissioned for the take, a boy must watch
where he is going or he won’t live long. I hold my breath and listen
to my husband’s father, still reprimanding the boy and the other father,
this time in English, his words sharp and skinned so I understand.
-Michelle Lee is a PhD student of English Literature at the University of Texas – Austin, who is, at different times, a poet, playwright, and fiction writer. Her work has appeared in a variety of journals including Diner, Farfelu, and 580Split. Recently, she was honored by StoryQuarterly as a Finalist in their 2007 Fiction Contest. Currently, she is the Assistant Director of the Masters Program in Creative Writing at UT.
The way the spoons stay in the drawer, face down, obedient.
The way the house groans in a storm, train, mare foaling,
old odd limbed thing struggling water up a hill.
The way the clock on the wall shifts in flight, splitting
dead wood, breaking brush.
The way the attic harbors the chipped lamb, sealed
bag of straw, wise man whose arm’s hairline fracture
was once healed with a whisper of glue.
The way the brittle crescent on the corner bathroom tile
evades the broom.
The way frames rim yellow icing flowers and held aloft
strands of fish caught by maggots kept warm in the mouth.
The way a woman stands in an empty room and thinks
of her life, for the first time, in sum. Light pooling
inside her like a fist.
-Jenn Blair is a PhD candidate in Creative Writing and English at the University of Georgia. She has published in Copper Nickel, Melus, Stone Table Review, Panamowa, and Stirring.