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Category Archive for 'Issue 4'

We are proud to announce the publication of our fourth issue, which marks the close of our first year. In it, you will find writers from all backgrounds and experiences – an integral part of our mission statement.

Throughout the year we have continued to receive submissions from all over the country and the world. This particular issue boasts fiction from Mumbai, non fiction from a Cuban background, and poems ranging in scope and geography, including Romanian and Greek landscapes.

We are grateful for the submissions that we receive, and look forward to bringing readers a second year of damselfly press. We are pleased that our journal has been selected as Best of the Web 2008 by Dzanc Books, which is an anthology available at Borders.

Our fifth issue will be available October 15th.

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AT THE WIND TOWER, ATHENS

Finally they go in contrary directions,
east and west, each breezing
into the life of someone else.

And even then each remembers the same scenes:
the dip from snow into the hot spring,
the hotel room in the blue-olive-tree valley,
the tzatziki and wine under a string of lightbulbs,
the wedding band thrown at him in the parting.

The throwing is in the forgetting,
but the ring, gold with three sapphires,
lies extant somewhere—
in a bureau drawer, a coin cup, deep
in the middens of lives. The abandoned

is safe—like ashes that after the flame
are the deadweight log
liftable on a strong wind.

-Anne Harding Woodworth is the author of two books of poetry and two chapbooks. Another of her books, SPARE PARTS, A Novella in Verse, is due to come out in October, 2008 (Turning Point). Her essays and poetry have been published in journals such as TriQuarterly, Painted Bride Quarterly, Cimarron Review, Antigonish Review, and The Dalhousie Review. Woodworth is a member of the Poetry Board at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C.

Doina
A type of traditional Romanian melody

They load the dead
On rough low trundles at night,
Laden with stones
So that they will not walk again.

The cold skin of dead faces
In moonlight by the rough, dark-powered Danube—
The cart squeaks and thuds, stops,
Throbs over mud as thick as tied sacks.

The fierce blood of language
Is the river’s song this night
While trowels ring on stone
And scrape clogged rivermud.

The tour guide laughs frankly:
Stupid peasants. He is modern,
Taking the road at a trot,
The legends with salt: fearless.

The others are filled with it,
The fear, till their eyes turn white
And their hands come knotty like knuckled wood.
They watch

For any unwanted resurrection
Among the naked limbs
Stacked like ricks of wood.
There has been much death this year,

Even for those used to the carts,
The stains, the riverbank’s unclimbable slip,
The lean bones and blooded tongues.
The ringing of shovel on stone ends.

They tilt the cart downhill.
The harvest god accepts their offer.
Inch by inch the dead sink.
Coveted by the earth.

-Savannah Thorne’s poetry has appeared in journals such as Conclave, The Iowa Rag, The Missouri Review, Potpourri, The Wisconsin Review, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, The Lyric, Parabola and The Atlanta Review. Thorne holds a B.A. from the University of Iowa where she studied in the Writers’ Workshop under Jorie Graham, James Galvin, Gerald Stern, and others, as well as a M.A. from DePaul University and a M.S. from Norwich University.

Season in Sussex

That winter I had nothing to do
but study picture window sheep
grazing on the wet downs
or put on boots and slicker
and walk between the green fields
to Lewes over a chalk path
that unwound like ribbon
so high the railway below seemed a toy.

At the High Street when I passed
the house of Anne Boleyn, I drew
my scarf close around my neck,
her short life marked there by a plaque
next to the gray and silent church.

Sometimes I’d stop to read and drink
tea in the crowded shop
by a bridge over the Ouse,
study its metallic surface
and think about Virginia’s last walk
into dark water one afternoon
Leonard was in London.

All that damp and chilled season
I dreamed them under constant clouds
that cast shadows over the sheep,
dreamed we held onto the hills
on thin ropes of rain.

The sheep stood as still as the stones.
Sometimes I didn’t breathe.

-Beth Paulson lives, writes, and teaches workshops in the San Juan Mountains of Western Colorado. Her poems have appeared widely in small magazines and anthologies. Her second collection, The Company of Trees, was published in 2004 and she received a nomination for the 2007 Pushcart Prize.

Lament For My Sister At Harvest

Hungry from a touch of rain, water strains
Against the rocks in the seasonal creek at daybreak;
I return to the orchard, to face the heaviness
Of plums, the pull and the weight. By dawn, by dusk,
I have seen my older sister covet her solitude
And hold her fingers to a stem. She need not stay
Under the trees to spend her life alone.

The pulling up of the body is sufficient
To wound her bones. Those tall branches
Take from the turned soil more than minerals;
Fueled by the flame of fall, fruits drop,
Lie to rot beside her wicker basket.
The dry season holds her downward in a bushel
Of brightness
Under October’s flight of rain.

-Gabrielle Myers has been published in Caesura, Produce, and Art for Autism. Last summer she attended the Squaw Valley Writers’ Workshops. Myers is currently pursuing an MA in English at the University of California, Davis, working on her first manuscript of poems, and cooking in restaurants.

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Juliet

I met her on a sweltering afternoon in Bombay, on the kind of day your feet boil within your shoes. I asked her if the bus had already gone by, and she told me the story of her life. As I watched her speak, I wondered what kind of person actually spills out her soul to another within the first fifteen minutes of being acquainted. But she talked on and on, because it was, according to her, ‘God’s will’ that she should confide in me.

She was a beautician by profession. Slim, her hair streaked with brown and white, she had hands that were orange and a deep brown, the strongest testimony to her occupation, coming from years of working with henna. She had a couple of hairs on her chin, which I wondered why she didn’t trim, considering her familiarity with the beautification process. She came to Carter road to drop her daughter at a parlour nearby, insisting that she snap out of her adolescent lethargy to get a job and make something of her life.

She told me she’d had to hurry and pack her lunch, eggs and bread, and to make countless sacrifices of clients in order to get her here, for the little fool didn’t know her way around Bombay. I had a vision of a typical Christian Bombay family life, sadly recreated through broken memories and stereotypes: fluttering white curtains at a barred window, pictures of Jesus and Mary on the walls, the aura of a lifestyle that hasn’t changed much for the past few generations. By the time I had tuned in, she was halfway through a detailed introduction to the business of cutting hair. ‘It’s a science’. There are projects to be done (‘consisting of four haircuts, two pedicures…’) and then finally one is turned loose to a client and left to find one’s own feet.

Just around now the bus came, and we thankfully scrambled in. Two other buses of the same number came around, causing great confusion. One was 45 minutes late, the other was on time and the third was early. We boarded one of this medley of the past, present and future, whereupon Juliet began to discuss bus routes with me and instructed me as to which would be most convenient for me on my way to Kalina. I listened with half my attention, as I always did when people launched into detailed directions.

My poor sense of geographical orientation is legendary, and by force of habit, I tune out because I know I will get lost nevertheless. I usually nod as though I understand, because people have the annoying habit of not moving on to the next point until I recognize the damn landmark that they have picked out from some remote corner of the world. Like ‘You know what Aliah’s boyfriend did? Arrey, the one who stays near that bridge in Matunga? You don’t know the bridge? It connects Mahim to south Bombay…accha, you know the tea shop near there? Its famous for its filter coffees…” and I spend all that time vaguely echoing the speaker’s expressions (brilliant trick, works every time),wondering what this description has to do with what Aliah’s boyfriend did in the first place.

Having completed her expansive explanation of bus routes, she started on ticket prices. “If you go by the 384, you’ll save, say 50 paise either way, so coming and going…that amounts to four rupees saved a day! You have to look at these things, no…”

When the conductor came around, the same woman who talked of saving 50 paise on each bus trip, and who had known me for less than a quarter of an hour, paid for my ticket and looked mighty offended when I tried to pay her back.
“You are younger; I cannot allow this,’” was all I could get out of her.

Returning my change into my wallet, I wondered what life must be like being a beautician and supporting two young daughters all by yourself. Her husband, named Romeo in some warped game of fate, left her and set up a house in Goa. Since then she had been caring for her girls, one of whom grew up to work in a call centre and refused to support her now.

“They eat my food, but don’t give me anything…If only she had set me up in some parlour today…”

She gave me a crooked smile, which looked suspiciously like a smirk. I smiled back. Like most people who talk a lot (and most people do), she wasn’t paying much attention to what I was doing, so I could relax, provoking a torrent of conversation with a single statement.

As I watched her speak, I wondered how she had managed all these years. Single handedly, with no help to support her daughters. She seemed to see it in my eyes and smiled.

“’I managed. You always do when you have no choice. Going insane is like drowning. I thought I would drown someday. But I kept treading water. I had occasional glimpses of what it was like to be insane, but I kept afloat. I swear I don’t know how.”

Soon it was time for me to go. After sincerely admitting that it was nice to meet her, I got off the bus. Crossing the road, I looked back and found her waving happily at me. An interesting person. I left her behind, thinking that was all I would see of her, and wondering if I was late for college, already putting her out of my mind.

The next day, walking to the bus stop, I saw a familiar figure in a red salwar kameez.

I stopped next to her, saying “Hi aunty,” lapsing into conversation with her again like we’d known each other for years. When the bus came, I tried to con her into buying her ticket. But the moment she saw what I was up to, she took the ticket when I offered her one and smoothly slid a 10 rupee note into my hand before I even knew what she was doing. I sighed and put it into my bag. Some people tend to get very ferocious in these money wars. Best not to mention it further.

Today it seemed she wanted to expound on her theological beliefs. She confessed that she had wanted to take my number the first time she had met me, but I had slipped away.

She said, “God told me that I should do this. The moment you got off the bus yesterday, God told me you were a good girl but the signal had already started.”

God had also told her to talk to me and tell me about her lord. A firm believer, Juliet had the firm conviction that she was in a world of non believers and had resigned herself to it. Taking out a book out of her bag, she handed it to me. A small booklet of 50 pages, it was some kind of brightly coloured religious pamphlet.

“Return it to me if your parents shout at you.’”

I assured her they wouldn’t and she went on.

“The first time my client handed me one, I ignored it. Then sitting in my parlour, I read this and ran to her, telling her to give me all the copies she had. Since then I have been giving these to people. Read this and you will feel blessed. I know I am. They say ‘there is that blessed woman,’ even when they see me walking on the road. My husband deserted me, but I did not give up. You see this, it will do you good. Read this prayer first, and then this one. You will feel the difference.”

She was warming up to the topic. “It explains things in a very clear way. I’ll give you one example. Suppose your mother asks you to make her some tea. The Devil and the Lord are standing outside the door. And you say, ‘Mama, why’re you’re asking me to…’ and grumble about it, then the Devil steps in and your entire day is sure to go badly. On the other hand, if you say to her ” Yes, mother, I will certainly make you some tea,” your day will surely go well.”

I listened. My religious beliefs were nowhere near hers, but it was like a refreshing breeze to have someone talk enthusiastically about their faith. For me God was something personal, a private faith without the interference of religion. There was a direct connection, which could be opened up at will. God was at once a very specific and a very vague concept. For her, I can’t even begin to imagine. Her faith was her whole life. I wondered if one word from me criticizing it would make her give up. But I wasn’t about to try.

I got off the bus again, thinking I would meet her many more times, and that this was just the start of an interesting relationship. Looking forward to meeting her the next day, I reached the bus stop. But she was gone. That night, I sent her the phone number of an art class for her daughter that she had asked for.

I still haven’t heard back from her.

-Tanushree Vachharajani completed her undergraduate studies in English Literature from St. Xavier’s College in Mumbai, India, and is currently pursuing her Master’s in English Literature from Mumbai University. She won second place in an all India short fiction contest, published papers in school and college magazines, participated in Ithaka, the St. Xavier’s theatre festival, and worked as a script writer for Tinkle, a popular Indian children’s magazine. Her most recent work, a short story titled The Sun Bronzed Room, has been in published in Ascent Aspirations, a Canadian based magazine.

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Failed Secrets

There is no one to whom I can tell this story, Mami. It’s sealed tight, cauterized with thick keloid skin, smooth and impenetrable. So, I tell it, filling in all the blanks, going back to the brief, blessed time when love, trust and safety is the kind embrace of a doting father. But he dies when you are seven, your padre, your saint. And she—beautiful, distracted, who enjoys the company of men more than motherhood—offers no comfort. She remarries quickly.

The potent male likes you, little stick-skinny girl with expressive eyes and vulnerable lips. Was it one of her lovers or a stepfather who violated your core, shattering your belief in love? Did she accuse you of baiting him?

You get skinnier and there’s a campaign initiated to fatten you up; a different type of bean every day, meat run through the grinder, thinner than the air surrounding you. At one point, you are forced to drink fresh calf’s blood to fortify your own, your deep-socketed eyes and jutting cheekbones incriminates them. Then your baby sister’s born colicky, just in time. You can go off to school, and mother doesn’t care that your socks are falling around your ankles and your shoes aren’t brightly polished. She’s just glad you are out of the house so she can put that child down and sleep (you carry the baby every chance you get, soothing her with old songs you remember from Papi; it doesn’t help though it calms you).

You excel in school, higher scores every year; you even win a prize for recitation of a patriot’s nationalist lyric. Some popular girls adopt you, their skinny but almost pretty friend. Many of them plan purposeful lives, university studies. It’s 1943; in Cuba women now can be professionals. You dream of being a doctor; it makes sense. Your grandfather studied medicine (until he was disowned by his family for slumming with la puta negra—dark hussy); your father tried to become a pharmacist. You decide to ask for your patrimony; Grandfather left money, properties.

It goes something like this. One day after school, you approach your mother, who is sitting on the wide front porch in the afternoon breeze.

I want to have my share. I want to go to university, to study medicine.

Did she laugh? Did she pause before she crushed your dream to bits under her stacked heel? Did she turn to her lover and comment on the wastefulness of educating girls?

Was this betrayal worse than the first?

You decide to get away; it takes some doing—girls don’t leave the house unless they’re married. But by then another baby sister and your oldest sister’s children crowd the house. Nineteen, unmarried, you go to live with the eccentric maiden aunt. After all, everyone expects you to follow suit. You work in your father’s family’s pharmacy, mixing tonics, giving injections. You are in heaven all day, until evening when you return to a bare room, bed bug-ridden mattress, peephole reopened every night by the neighbor pervert. In a nightmare, you see yourself tubercular, like your aunt coughing in the next room, living in squalor even while there is means to avoid it, you almost understand the pride and think you can learn to embrace it but in the morning you awake to blood-covered sheets and oozing scabs all over.

You decide to get away again, this time to leave completely. The first leaving was easy, just across the city and without scandal. This time you take a plane to live with a school chum who’s gone to el norte. She lives in a boarding house run by a Spanish matron who has seven sons who need wives, willing to marry them off to Cuban sluts since they are neither handsome nor skilled. You are 22, undereducated but not ignorant, single, speak no English, and have never been anywhere outside of Havana but your passport is a door you intend to step through. The plane lands in Miami; you board a bus to New Jersey and hope Elsa will be there when you arrive. She is and you are finally safe in this new life.

This fight might be difficult at times, your tongue thickens at every attempt in the new brutish language, but it is easier than being back on the island. You get by by taking shitty jobs in factories surrounded by unintelligible Polish and Italian ladies sewing dainties for years, but every night you can go to the movies and listen over and over to the dialogue, deciphering the romance of America. And every night you can go to your own apartment, not a home but your own room, sleep in a clean bed with clean sheets. No peeping toms and no immediate danger.

You order your own life without regard to what others think—those others are left far behind, across the ocean. No one sees what you do or don’t do. If you take English classes at night, go to church everyday, no one will ridicule you. You are expert at economizing, save all your pennies but things are difficult in Cuba and you start to send money, generously acknowledged by your sisters. You feel guilty, not knowing exactly why, but you learn to accept your independence. You learn to be proud of your strength built on such a scrawny frame that shakes sometimes, knocking your no-longer skinny knees together.

You didn’t have to tell me your secrets, you see. They betrayed themselves over the years anyway. But tell me, Mami, what did I miss?

-Cecilia Rodríguez Milanés was born in New Jersey to Cuban parents, and educated in Miami and in New York. These facts contribute in large part to the themes she treats as well as the language she uses. She enjoys writing fiction, creative non-fiction and poetry. Marielitos, Balseros and Other Exiles, a collection of short stories, will be published by Ig Publishers in May 2009.

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