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Category Archive for 'Issue 39'

In this issue of damselfly press, our writers demonstrate that in order to meet the present, we first have to face the past. Memory and experience shape us and give us strength to meet our frustrations and sorrows, whether personal or political.

Moving forward, damselfly press will read year round and publish twice a year: in April and October.

We are pleased damselfly press has such a strong community of readers and writers. As always, thank you to our submitters.

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Whiteout, October 2016

Listen to the Poem

This poem is for tomorrow
when America will again offer
me a slippery sense of calm in
exchange for a promise to forget.

Tomorrow is a cloth covered in chloroform
easing its hand over my mouth. Tomorrow is
amnesia: I know something
was making me so terribly angry, yesterday.

Every morning tomorrow whispers:
Calm down. The cops won’t shoot
your white body in the street. Your son.
Your sister. Your lover will still be
with you tomorrow. We promise you this.

With every evening comes
the blunt ache of being had.

– Anna Lee-Popham’s writing is deeply informed by the political contexts of home: recently, Atlanta; currently, Toronto. Anna is completing a creative writing certificate at the University of Toronto and writes poetry to make sense of the world.

 

Into Your Singular Room

Soft around your shoulders like a shawl
you draw me

and I come

unready, up-ended, to attend
my new calling and you, no matter how

bewildered.

I bring your meager groceries.
Hand you your cane.

Have I thanked you

for your blood which formed me,
for your milk and your wounds

which furnished me?

And is it prayer – this space we inhabit
that is larger than ourselves and

beyond words?

Afternoons of curled photos.
Laughter thinned by time

and apprehension. The patient

search for things discarded or misplaced
(a shoe, a name, our affection).

Love letters.

This is mine to you. You draw me
near but not into your final privacy

where I rest my hand on your days.

– Marg Walker lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, where she pursues her abiding interest in the human voice through poetry and creative nonfiction. Her work has recently appeared in Red Wolf Journal, Wilderness House Review, By&By, Page & Spine, and is forthcoming in The Stray Branch.

 

Garden

“These are begonias,” she said
leaning on her knee
polyester
damp with mud
from the morning rain.
She took a pair of scissors
traced fingers
along the length of the stem
and snipped.
Held it
to the tip of her nose,
smiled,
held it out to me.
I toddled
unsure steps
of someone still new
to the world,
wrinkled petals
in my clumsy fist,
then watched them
scatter
like an exhale
across the lawn.

– Jessica Alverson has worked and studied as a behavior analyst but has been a poet and writer for most of her life.  She has published poems in Nourishment for the Spirit: A Collection of Poems and Short Reflections and Live Poets Society of NJ American: High School Poets Regional Winners Winter 2000.

 

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On Werewolves and Vampires

One of the last times I saw my dad, we planned to walk a few blocks from my St. Louis apartment to get pizza. It was late May but already sweltering, and I was eight months pregnant. My toddler, Becca, was only one and glued to my side most of the time, weary of my growing belly and new furniture and car seats showing up. I had just landed a job as a professor, so I was fairly happy but also careful as usual around my temperamental father.

He was always quiet around me; I did most of the talking, and that day was no different. When he rang the bell, he already looked exasperated that I didn’t answer within 15 seconds. I still needed to find my keys and my daughter’s shoes, which I knew he wouldn’t like. I started chattering mindlessly about our day at the park, sing-songy in tone, trying to uplift the mood.

When I was a teenager, I listened to The Who’s “Behind Blue Eyes,” quite a bit, and felt that the song nailed him:

“No one knows what it’s like
To be the bad man,
to be the sad man,
Behind blue eyes.
No one knows what it’s like
To be hated
To be fated
To telling only lies.”

Growing up, our house was governed by his set of rules, and breaking the rules brought sudden, sharp consequences. One couldn’t open a can of Coke or take a bite of banana without finishing it. One couldn’t leave a pair of shoes out. One could never touch the wallpaper. Spilling milk was a crime, despite the idiom.

Because he never said more than a few sentences to me even though we lived in the same house for 17 years, he had been a mystery to me as a child: What had his parents been like? Why was he an accountant? Did he believe in God? Why was he so strict? Why didn’t he ever talk to his two sisters? I never found answers, and eventually I stopped wanting to know.

The one chance I had to discover something was the time I met one of his sisters when I was 27. I waited for her at a restaurant and finally saw a worried looking woman approach the door and then change her mind, deciding to go back to her car. I ran after her. “Are you Anne?” I asked. She nodded. “Let’s go back to the restaurant,” I said. What was this woman so hesitant about when it came to her brother? I still don’t know, but I realized she cared little about forging a relationship with my brother and me.

Eventually by the time I had a baby, it grew clear that my dad and I were never going to understand each other, but perhaps we could get a slice of pizza together once in a while. The only thing we have in common is that we both run every day, in snow or sleet or ice. Whereas he is a stoic vampire, I am an emoting werewolf, all howl and bark and bite.

That day, though, he bared his vampire fangs at me, and I bared my teeth at him. Once I put my daughter’s shoes on, grabbed my wallet and shut the door, I could feel the heat emanating from him. Finally, it became clear that he thought my one-year old was walking too slow. He grabbed her hand from mine, and started walking quickly with her, forcefully, and she fell. He dragged her on the sidewalk, and her knee began bleeding. My firstborn, also a werewolf, was never one to suffer in stony silence and the entire street could now hear her wails. I caught up to them and picked her up. I stood as tall as I could, even though he still towered over me. I started screaming, and this was never my style with this man. Brooding in silence, jogging until my nipples bled or my toenails fell off, sneaking a cigarette, that was my style. Screaming in public at a man I feared for half my life, not my style. I screamed that I forgave him for being abusive with me, but that I would not allow him to act this way with her. He refrained from speech and movement, his face oddly blank and expressionless, while I winced noticing bystanders turning to stare at us: a weeping child and a very pregnant woman howling at an aging man.

In Judaism, we ponder forgiveness each year, fasting and atoning for our sins. Forgiving is thought to be a mitzvah, a divine command. I wish I was strong enough for all of this, but I still may not be.

A few weeks ago, I used the word “abuse” in a conversation with my mother and she denied the word, saying that it did not apply to her, nor did it apply to me or our fam-ily. I stared her down across the table and understood that this was something she needed to believe.

But I don’t believe it. Abuse is a word that most people don’t want to hear, most people don’t want to think about, but I am going to keep saying it until I don’t need to say it anymore.

All my life I ran after words, and he gave me none of them, but I found them an-yway. In many ways, this is why I am a feminist. So I can use the words. So I can look him in the eye at my brother’s upcoming wedding and introduce him to his grandchildren. It was the words of the women writers, the sisters, the mothers I read for so many years that strengthened me that moment on the sidewalk when I was 32, and I will always thank them for that.

– Jamie Wagman’s work has previously appeared in Nashim: A Journal of Jewish Women’s Studies & Gender Issues and The Adirondack Review, among other places. She teaches Gender and Women’s Studies and American History at Saint Mary’s College in South Bend, Indiana.

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Love Story: Witness 87

I fell in love with Jack—as I’ll call him—in February of my junior year at St. George’s, the elite ocean-side boarding school. St. George’s was a long tradition in my family. When in 1977 my parents were assigned to a Foreign Service posting in Laos, they thought it fortunate the school had gone coed several years before. I would be the first Roberts girl to attend.

According to my friend Anne, Jack was weird. He had high cheekbones, straight longish brown hair, and a long straight nose. He exuded broody-literary cool, a sensitive soul but with a sense of humor about it. He loved Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, e.e. cummings, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. He played the guitar and listened to jazz. He liked to wear black leather gloves indoors and when we were at meals in the dining hall (chandeliers and wood paneling) liked to wiggle his gloved hands fiendishly at Anne, strangler-style, causing her to shriek and the rest of us to laugh.

Jack used to pay a lot of visits to one of the nurses in the school infirmary. Then in her mid-30s, Nurse G. (as the students called her) had curled blonde hair and wore full nurse regalia: white starched dress, white cap, white nylons, white crepe-soled shoes. She had a youthful yet motherly charm rendered even more appealing by her willingness to bend the rules for her favorites. And all of us in the class of 1980 were her favorites, because, as she explained, she had arrived with us as ninth-graders.

Boys and girls alike were in search of a listening ear and a friendly word, and the infirmary was the place to go when you wanted in from the cold. Nurse G. dispensed tea and sympathy. If you’d missed breakfast, she’d make you toast; if you were a girl with a broken heart, she’d write you a dysmenorrhea excuse slip so you could get out of sports practice.

My girlfriends and I were devotees. “Nursie G.’s on duty, let’s go visit,” someone would say on a Saturday afternoon, and off we’d rush to sit on the counter, weigh ourselves on the medical scale, and tell her everything going on in our lives.

My first connection with Jack happened in the infirmary on a January evening. I had gone after study hours to grouse about an unwanted change to my class schedule. As I stood in the fluorescent-lit hallway complaining tearily, Nurse G. making empathetic noises, Jack walked out of the nurses’ office. He was wearing what looked like a silver-fox-fur jacket, lavishly fluffy, over his blazer and tie. “How do you like my coat?” he asked, striking a pose.

I didn’t realize it was Nurse G.’s coat; I did, however, have a 15-year-old girl’s instinct for flirting. I walked up to him, said, “I love your coat. Can I cry on it ?” and put my face on his shoulder.

I never slept with him, but we had make-out sessions that seemed magically exciting, one on a cold dark train—or was it a bus?—headed to New Hampshire for our class’s ski weekend, lights flickering by outside like the beam of an old movie projector, his coat (an ordinary parka this time) draped over our heads as we sipped from a bottle of Amaretto and kissed.

We talked about T.S. Eliot, Tim Curry, and Ancient Greece. We went down to the beach and sat in the dunes and he played his guitar for me.

Equally good were the cozy evenings we spent with Nurse G. when she had night shift. As juniors, Jack and I were supposed to be in our rooms or the library for study hours, but we would go to the infirmary instead. There in the tiny office from 8 to 11 pm Nurse G. sat at the desk doing paperwork and we sat close by in folding chairs doing our homework or reading books, all three of us silent in the glow of the gooseneck lamp. I remember one evening I was reading The Princess Bride and thinking I would never be so happy again as long as I lived.

On an evening in early April, Jack broke up with me. We were in a classroom, one of the nighttime make-out spots. He sat on the floor with his head in his hands and said, “I guess I want to break up.” There had been no warning of this, so at first I didn’t understand what he was saying. When it sank in I ran out of the classroom, through the corridors back to my dorm, out the external door with the steel-bar handle, and across the grass to the stone bench behind the hedges. I sat down, bent double, and howled in pain.

Nurse G. was on duty a few days later. I went to see her and told her what had happened. She said she knew, and was very angry with Jack for hurting me. She had given him quite a scolding, she said. We both rolled our eyes, commiserating about the perfidy of men.

I took up with another boyfriend and eventually moved on to college, more romances, grad school, husband, career, daughter, life.

***

In the summer of 2015, St. George’s, pressured by several alumni who had been raped or molested during their time there, launched an investigation to uncover the truth about decades of sexual abuse. Dozens of witnesses came forward to speak to the independent investigator. In September 2016, a 390-page report was released to the public. “Faculty and staff members at St. George’s sexually abused at least 51 students during the 1970s and 1980s,” the report states.

The report names six adult perpetrators. We alums already knew about five of them: four teachers and one athletic trainer, all male. The sixth was a surprise: A part-time nurse. Female.

When I saw Nurse G.’s name in the Boston Globe article about the report, my first reaction was: Oh, come on. She was no abuser. That is ridiculous!

I opened the report and found her name in the summary section. Not ridiculous. I knew who the male student was; of course I did. Then again, a lot of boys used to hang around the infirmary. Maybe, I thought, it was one of those other boys.

I turned to the detailed section of the report. “When G______ distanced herself from the student shortly after his graduation, the student attempted suicide by driving his moped into a wall.” He sustained five skull fractures but survived.

So it was Jack. When I’d gone back in 1990 for my tenth reunion, Nurse G. herself had told me about the terrible moped accident. Was anyone in touch with Jack now? she had asked, standing there in the examining room surrounded by reunion-goers, her old devotees. No, we said. How I miss him, she said.

The account provided by Witness 87 (as Jack is labeled in the report) includes many details. He and Nurse G. were lovers for two years, beginning in his junior year. They had sex in the infirmary whenever she had night shift. They had sex in his dorm room and in motels. She would warn him not to talk about being tired the next day. At one point she told him she was pregnant with his child, despite her tubal ligation, and that she wanted to keep it; he was conflicted, but agreed. Later she told him she had miscarried while jogging.

He was 17 and 18, over the age of consent, so none of it was rape, legally speaking. Nevertheless it is clear from the account that she manipulated and took ugly advantage of a child. Of children.

What sort of therapy is in order when you find out, decades on, that your first love left you for your mother figure? Well, Freudian psychoanalysis, obviously, plus viewings of The Graduate.

But can I honestly say this messed me up when I didn’t even know it was happening?

I feel sad for Jack and hope he’s ok, wherever he is. But there is nothing I can do for him now, and there was nothing I could have done for him then. As for Nurse G., there is nothing I want to say to her. It is not my job to produce the remake.

At boarding school, a kind lady made me toast and listened to my troubles. A beautiful boy kissed me passionately and played his guitar for me on the beach.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

– Jocelyn Davis is a writer living in Santa Fe, NM. Her first career was in leadership development, consulting to large companies. In her latest book, The Greats on Leadership, she combines her business expertise with her liberal arts education. She is an alumna of St. George’s School and Swarthmore College.

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The submission period for the thirty-ninth issue of damselfly press is now closed. Look for the issue April 15, 2017.

As always, thank you to our submitters.

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