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Category Archive for 'Issue 7'

Spring is the ultimate time for renewal. We’re pleased to feature writers in the seventh issue of damselfly press who illustrate their interior lives, thoughts and passions. Whether questioning their beliefs, remembering past fears, or simply saying this is who I am, these writers are candid and courageous.

This season, damselfly press would like to renew its commitment to women writers. As always, thank you to our readers and submitters. We welcome your submissions and feedback.

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POSTCARD TO MY SISTER FROM RUE DE TURENNE

It’s gray again and I feel I could do anything today; gray takes the edge off, softens the world, makes me feel invisible, invincible on this bench beneath a canopy of old poplar, eating pain au chocolat, shooing sooty pigeons from my feet. A miniature street park, so Parisian: wide boulevard, painted wooden bench, statue – this one a bronze of Turenne Enfant – and the trees, the trees I know by heart: buckeye, maple, poplar,

and apple. Our apple trees in the spring – opalescent showers, cave of green we crawled into, our refuge, me with that leatherette accountant’s journal, even then a fountain pen.

You, fearless, freed those brief hours from perpetual scrutiny, graceful arabesque on the tire swing –

A young woman has just ridden by on a bicycle, long brown hair, silk scarf, pedals tucked in the arch of black stilettos.

Oh Dawn, for a moment I thought it was you.

-Southern California poet, Kim Noriega, reads locally and abroad, most recently at the Ugly Mug in Orange, California and Shakespeare & Co. in Paris. She teaches poetry at Crossroads Women’s Recovery Home and workshops for teens through public libraries. Her poem, “Heaven, 1963,” was featured in Ted Kooser’s syndicated column, “American Life in Poetry.”

Contacted Tree. Empty Road. Waited Evening.

Don’t worry.
You don’t have shoes
to take off. If you’re not fond
of the sky, there isn’t one.
In theory, we are likely trading
it for the idea of falling.
I come prepared to catch
myself in the act
of being someone else,
of holding the incapable
birds in my shirt
and surprising everyone
by showing them
what magicians are like
and how often
birds appear.

-Jennifer Denrow lives in Denver, where she is currently pursuing a PhD at DU. She is the poetry editor at fireHabit Press and has stories forthcoming in Thermos and The Iguana Review.

In the Moment Before Waking

they stop their wandering,
make a brief appearance.

Maybe you’re in the kitchen,
and you’re the you you are now,
but the house is of your childhood,

only brighter, more lights,
the paint somehow bolder
than you’d remembered. Or is it

the living room, you sitting
on a white sofa, toy horse in your lap,
stroking its goat’s hair

mane, braiding it’s tail. Sometimes
you’re in the blue
bed and they’ve gathered

at the foot of it. You begin to say
how glad you are
they’ve come home again,

how well they look –
the dead – always glowing
after a long sabbatical.

But you find there’s never enough
time for chit chat, and they wish to offer
advice, hand you a packet of papers –

and you’ll be damned
if you can remember the words
when you wake.

-Ronda Broatch is the author of “Shedding Our Skins,” (Finishing Line Press, 2008), and “Some Other Eden” (2005). Five-time Pushcart nominee, Ronda is the recipient of a 2007 Artist Trust GAP Grant. Her work has appeared on Verse Daily, and in the Atlanta Review, RHINO, Blackbird, and Rattle.

POETRY

Some poems read like a bookshelf.
The poets carefully putting each word
in its place, snug and sure and right.

And other poems feel like Polaroids,
poets waving them about in the air
to make the scene come into focus.

Still others feel like a come on,
something you can’t believe still works,
and yet here you are, in bed with it.

My poems are like the panic
you feel when you’ve lost something
and dump your bag on the table.

My poems are the things which
tumble out of the bag: the menus,
the post-its, the articles your mother

cuts out and gives you at Christmas,
the books, the receipts, the leaky pens,
the old gum, the unflattering photo,

the lint, the dust, the dirt, until…
there it is. You find it.

-Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in McSweeney’s Internet Tendancies, Barrelhouse, Monkeybicycle, Pank, decomP and The Other Journal, among others. Her latest book, “Words in Your Face: A Guided Tour Through Twenty Years of the New York City Poetry Slam,” was published last year by Soft Skull Press.

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Revelations

I stumble and catch myself before I fall. Not bad for a clumsy middle-aged walker in a foreign landscape on an icy March morning. This rocky path winds through a ranchland of brown hills, tottering fences, and emptiness—except for the nearby country club and surrounding homes.

I’m living a new life as a Congregational minister in the northern Arizona high country where I landed a few months ago at a small church made of local wood and stone. Sacred light comes into the interior through faceted glass placed high in the sanctuary walls. The abstract blues and yellows, reds and greens make patterns on us that change with the movement of clouds. No Christian icons adorn the church walls, except for a brass cross on the gray stone. The air inside feels fresh, crisp—neutral.

“A pagan temple!” some people call our church. “New-age fright!” others say. Gossips tell me the Baptists don’t approve, claiming it looks like a witch’s meetinghouse. I don’t care. The non-traditional building with its peaked roof suits me fine, down to the lone rosebush by the front door.

People have left my church because they distrust a woman in the pulpit. Members tell me my voice doesn’t sound right. Folks wonder if the ceremonies over which I preside are valid, and some male clergy won’t welcome me as a colleague. In a place formerly called ‘Lonesome Valley’ where scorpions lurk, gravel is the paving element of choice, and a Safeway and dime-store comprise the shopping district, I feel like a hothouse flower among cacti. Still, I like it here. Most of the members of the small church—a gentle, forgiving group—circle me with no rancor.

I trudge the Old Chisholm Trail wearing my heavy red jacket and my husband’s blue knitted cap with California Bears on the front. The cold air whips my cheeks. Some mornings I feel this desert is the proper setting for a woman in a pioneering role. I feel strong and capable in this bracing world, a lone crimson cowpuncher. We women ministers forge modern tools, clear old brush, speak new truth. We’re needed to bring fresh ideas into the church to preach liberty to the enslaved and compassion for the poor. This morning I’m just not so sure-footed.

I’ve left a lovely city, San Diego, with its beaches and boats and flowers, a place where I’d been a single mother, a high school teacher, and an actress in local theater. But something drove me into a religious profession. It wasn’t courage. I had no wanderlust. I had no spiritual calls. I’m an ordinary soul with this itch to meet God.

Arizona high country is a place where solitude is visible outside your window. To step into the landscape is to find yourself in a vastness where it’s easy to think, where thinking is required. The air, the clouds, the hawks and desert emptiness teach you to observe. This morning the skies have a pristine clarity and dance with swinging raptors. The surrounding Bradshaw Mountains are bastions of integrity. Hillsides of pine and juniper stand untouched by human development. My walk helps me clarify, discern, and I like to think I stumble toward more truth.

I’d wanted to try ministry on my own for the past five years while I’d worked as an assistant minister in San Diego. With a seminary education in my pocket, a degree in literature, a tour of raising children and high school teaching experience, I felt qualified. Today, in the March cold, I confess: I’m not a traditional believer. I can’t and won’t teach a strict orthodox Christianity using the Bible to proclaim Jesus as savior of the world, the only way to God.

I’m a fraud. A roadrunner darts in front of me with a young snake in its beak. I start. Danger. The pronghorn antelope, grazing on the open desert beyond the fairways, stop their business to stare at my pilgrim’s progress. The atmosphere changes, smells earthy, of pastures and growth. A handsome buck, proud of his magnificent antlers, turns his mighty head to regard my long-legged stride. Being observed with disinterest makes me uncomfortable. The gentleman sees into my heart. He knows how much I doubt myself. I don’t belong in Arizona among the faithful. What have I done? I’d like to sit down and watch the animals, stop the momentum, but I walk on. The antelope goes back to his grazing. The roadrunner hides somewhere with her meal.

Perhaps my questions about Christianity come from my being a woman, an alien in ministry. I question old ideas, but my church members don’t. They haven’t accepted biblical research or scrutinized the stormy contradictions in Christian theology. They like the stories. Questions are beside the point for them, and the point is comfort. My dilemma is whether to let the questions and doubts stay packed away. The effort is getting harder.
I sigh a burst of warm air into the cold March atmosphere and try to keep up a brisk pace. The church members don’t know I have doubts about conventional Christian beliefs. I should have told them the truth during our initial conversations when I applied for the job, but I didn’t. I carry a backpack of guilt on this hike. Only movement gives me energy to keep trying to make sense of my ministry.

My commitment to this vocation came out of a sense that the Christian Church was on to something, and I set myself on a path to figure out what the something was, hoping to meet God in some way. Or maybe I chose ministry to put myself in the presence of people like Dave Palmer, a born again man in the congregation. The man has soul, you could say, eyes that offer his heart. Or maybe it was the role, the robes of clerical authority.

Boulders, pampas grass and cacti are the shrubs of choice in front of the homes lining the street, but a few gardeners have planted burgeoning tulips. The tulip people come from verdant eastern places. They bring in fresh soil and grow tulips to transform our wilderness into Eden. I’m not sure what to make of their effort. Do I want the desert to look like a watered place? Even so, I identify with the tulip, a transplant from another world; I’m not a native species. Like a proud tulip, I can stand up in imposing costumes pretending I belong.

Silence. My feet touch the pavement, but they make no sound. No cars speed by, as if Arizona hasn’t come to accept the wheel yet. There’s something newly born about this setting. I’m the first to touch down.

The emerging tulips and noisy birdsong remind me that Easter is coming. My sermon for Easter Sunday will have to be elegantly Christian. I’m expected to affirm that Jesus is God and will come back to earth after dying for humankind. I should assure my listeners that He awaits them in an afterlife. My faith, however, does not include that scenario, let alone the literal resurrection of Jesus. I walk to overcome worries about being a fraudulent minister unworthy of the trust of believers. I walk so I can stop walking on Easter Sunday and stand alone in front of a faithful congregation.

*

I gave that Easter sermon in the shimmering green and yellow light of Easter morning. I affirmed the rebirth of hope, including the story of a man much like Dave who gave dignity to fishermen, held children in his arms, and fed the hungry. I could do that much, but my sense of displacement and fraud continued to weigh on my conscience as the Easter month turned into a summer of thunder, lightning and downpours. The fall shouted change. Finally, winter. Snow on cactus.

My fitness walks sustained me for another five years while the antelope watched my movements. I spun thoughts about the mysteries of religion and marveled at Arizona high country where unexpected snow fell, tulips appeared in the desert, and nobility drove a pickup truck. But I continued to doubt the comfortable beliefs of church-goers until the stones in my path became boulders. I couldn’t see over them to make my way and realized I was no more connected to the Christians around me than to the antelope. The separation between me and the others grew too wide, and I walked away from ministry aware I was leaving behind spiritual revelations from clean, untamed earth.

– Elaine Greensmith Jordan is a retired minister who lives in Arizona. Her essays have appeared in South Loop Review, New Works Review, The Georgetown Review and other journals and anthologies. An excerpt from her unpublished memoir, “Mrs. Ogg Played the Harp,” won an award from the American PEN Women and the California Writers Club.

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Radiant Red Violet

It is the last week of summer, a wicked August afternoon that makes your skin drip just from standing still. Megan and I spend the morning as we do most summer mornings. We walk mindlessly through town and mark our names on the walls of buildings with fat black pens. We sneak through the back lots of shopping centers, take turns pushing one another in wobbly carts and ultimately crash into curbs. We stop into an old-fashioned ice cream shop and drink strawberry malts until we think our brains might freeze. By lunchtime, our t-shirts are wet with perspiration, and our vision blackened with spots of sunshine, so we decide to stop off at the closest place we can find to briefly find refuge from the heat.

The aisles of the beauty supply shop overflow with candy-colored beauty products packaged in plastic and in glass. Rainbows of petite polish bottles line pre-made display racks, rows of color that spread from indigo to burgundy to brown. Megan and I brush our fingertips over the labels of mane & tail shampoo, gallons of mango and cocoa body lotion and jars of lemon cuticle crème. We glide across the floor, as though possessed by the acetone smell that seeps from every crevice of the shop.

Megan pulls off her knit beret and shakes her head. Several thin, red braids fall and frame her face. She strokes one of them between her fingers and lets out a short puff of a sigh.

“I’m ready for a change,” she says and rolls up her eyes to examine the strawberry blonde strands.

We peruse the shelves slowly, icy air blowing across our damp necks, and take our time to shake and sample bottles of glittery polish, dabbing beads of sweat from our faces before we swipe the color across our toes. A twenty-something salesgirl sits at the front counter and eyes us from behind the cover of a glossy magazine. She snaps her gum loudly and twirls a piece of her over-processed hair around her fingertip.

“You girls looking for something?” she says and breathes heavily, exhausted by her efforts.

Megan squeezes a glob of ice blue serum into her palm and runs it through the hair at the nape of her neck. I pose momentarily beside a yellowed mannequin, her fake, plastic head trapped beneath a giant bubble-shaped dryer.

“Nope,” Megan says. “We’ve got everything covered over here.”

She mists coconut body spray into the air and dances beneath the fragrant cloud, as though it is rain.

I follow Megan as she breezes towards a back aisle, waving my hands in front of me to help the fresh polish dry. As I do this, I study Megan’s movements: The way her bag slaps her side each time she takes a step; The way she pouts her lips and tilts her head with wonder while she browses through acrylic nail kits; The way she rests her hand on her hip and pulls a braid across her lips. But mostly, I think about how alone I will feel without her. Next week, high school will begin and, for the first time in our lives, we will be separated. Town lines have marked our fate. She will move to the left and I will move to the right. We will sharpen our pencils each day on opposite ends of town.

I wonder what it will be like to wander through foreign hallways amongst unfamiliar faces. Will anyone notice me without her there? Will people find me interesting when she is not standing beside me? I think about how I’d like a change, too. I’d like to become someone that people notice. Someone that people recognize for more than just her offbeat fashion. I want boys to think I am pretty and ask me to school dances. I want teachers to smile as they describe the success they are certain I will find. But I want these things for her, too. I crave a sense of normalcy for us both.

Megan pauses beside a shelf lined with countertop mirrors, various sized ovals situated across it like a funhouse wall. As she moves forward, her face spreads from mirror to mirror. She narrows her eyes, observes her many reflections and combs her fingers through her hair. My stomach aches as I wonder what it will be like to wander the halls of some new building without her. I swipe my greasy palms down the fronts of my denim cutoffs, leaving behind a faint lotion stain. As I step closer to Megan, she moves away, preoccupied by a display of tortoise shell combs. Now, my reflection multiplies across the shelf. I pause, smile a half smile at myself and slide a tube of ruby red lipstick across my lips.

“Down here,” Megan whispers from the end of the aisle.

Amid paddle brushes and economy-sized cans of aerosol hair spray is row upon row of synthetic hair – coarse, one-inch strips, organized according to color, from silver to platinum to auburn to brown. Megan and I rub the samples between the pads of our fingertips, squat down and press them against our foreheads. We imagine how much more interesting life would be for us as blondes.

Megan crouches and begins to fumble through tubs stacked on the bottom shelves. Unlike the other coloring kits, these tubs do not have colorfully displayed pieces of rough hair, but rather, are concealed in generic, white containers, like some dirty secret the storeowners are ashamed to admit. She unscrews the cap and reveals a thick paste the color of a Caribbean sea. Her eyes widen and she laughs a malicious belly laugh, the sort reserved for occasions like this, when she knows she is about to be up to no good. I lean down beside her and stick my finger into the dye.

“This,” Megan says, “is just the kind of change I’m looking for.”

We swipe the dye across our palms and envision our faces beside wild hair colored in magenta, fuchsia, or lime. One by one, we uncap new jugs, bright hues of electric purple and blue and green that surround us like a piece of pop art. Megan’s eyes glitter with anticipation.

“>“Help me pick out one you like,” she says.

“My mother will murder me if I dye my hair with any of these,” I say.

Megan skims her finger across the backside of one of the tubs.

“No she won’t,” she says. “Not if I do it with you.”

I swirl my pinky through a jar of mutant green and think about the fact that she is right. Each time we pull stunts like this together – purposefully tearing our clothes, or coloring our eyelids ebony, or sneaking off to dingy places to have metal jewelry stabbed through our skin – they seem, to our families, like silly teenage things rather than, what we will later learn, is the deeper, more complex rebellion of my friend.

“I think it’s about time we were devirginized, anyway,” Megan says.

She remains quiet as she waves the open jar beneath my chin.

“So,” she says. “You in?”

I nod. Sure, I think. I’m in.

Megan spins one of her braids like a tiny lasso.

“It’s about time to say goodbye to strawberry blonde,” she says.

We drop two plastic tubs of hot pink dye onto the counter and wait while the saleswoman finishes reading about orgasms and pant hems. She lays the open magazine down with a sigh, examines our purchases and places them into a plastic bag.

“You girls know you need brushes for these, right?” she says and pops her wad of bubblegum with a loud snap.

Megan and I shrug and toss our crumpled singles and coins onto the counter.

“They’re in the back,” the woman says and sighs again. She leans across the counter and points towards the far end of the shop. “They look just like mini paint brushes.”

She looks down at the cover of her magazine, anxious to return to her reading.

“Look. Just go grab one and I’ll pretend I didn’t see anything,” she says and shuts her register drawer. She picks up the magazine and flips to a new page, returning to the glossy world she dreams of.

Megan’s parents are at work for the afternoon so we set up shop in their laundry room, converting the sink into a rinsing station, the dryer lid into a miniature beauty display. I lean my head into the sink and allow Megan to splash my hair, warm water trickling down my jaw line and across my cheeks. My heart races as I think about my mother, and the furious reaction I am certain she will have. But more so, I think about the camaraderie this moment brings to Megan and me. That each time I receive a judgmental stare from a new classmate, I will know that someone, somewhere, is experiencing the same thing.

“My mom’s going to murder me,” I say again.

But Megan pretends not to hear me over the rushing sound of water. Instead, she looks at me with a smirk and massages her fingers into my scalp. When my whole head is damp, she tugs the hair at the nape of my neck and lifts my dripping head from the sink.

Megan scoots herself onto the washing machine and sips warm beer from a can. I stand beside her, waiting like a child on Christmas morning, anxious for her to unscrew the tub and reveal our selection. She uncaps it slowly, full of suspense, and exposes the goopy, pinkish shade. Radiant-Red Violet.

I sit on a folding chair in the center of the room, the floor and my shoulders lined with bath towels. Megan begins to paint small sections of my hair neon pink, while the room fills with a stinging ammonia scent. Once my hair is saturated with chemical color, we switch places. Now, Megan sits in the middle of the room and taps her foot in anticipation.

“You know,” I say. “It’s something like only one in a hundred people who have natural red hair like yours.”

“So what’s your point?” she says and lights a cigarette.

“Are you sure you want to say goodbye to it for good?” I say.

“It’ll grow back,” she says.

“Yeah, but, it will never be exactly the same,” I say. “It’s like when you lose your virginity. You can go a while without having sex, but you’ll never be a virgin again.”

Trust me. I’m ready,” she says. “I want to be a new version of myself. I don’t want to look like me anymore.”

She tosses her lit cigarette into the damp sink.

“I don’t care what the statistics say,” she says. “I’m ready to become someone new.”

I dip the brush into the dye and smear a thick line of pink down her center part.

“Goodbye strawberry blonde,” I whisper to her head and spread the color across her crown.

When the egg timer buzzes, we both rush to the sink, and furiously rub our fingers through our hair, a puddle of red-tinted water swirling near the drain. Megan presses a towel against her head. Her curls fall delicately and frame her face. Even through the dampness, I can see that her natural hair color has been transformed to a rich shade of sultry pink, a candy-colored version of Hollywood red. Instantly, she embraces her new character and seductively shakes her hair the way women do in movies, just before they make love.

“You look like a star,” I say and slip my fingers through her wet strands.

Outside, Megan and I sit like starlets. We dangle our feet over the edge of the pool, half-moon shaped ice jangling in our cocktail tumblers, our eyes covered behind black, oval sunglasses. I swirl my feet through the water, sip my drink, and turn toward Megan. When I do, I catch glimpse of my reflection in her lenses.

I know the moment I walk through my door, my mother will scream and my father will look at me with an expression of disappointment. I know that in just a few days, I will move through the halls of some strange, new building, void of familiar faces, and receive many unwelcome stares. But right now, during this singular moment, as I shift my eyes between my reflection and Megan’s head to observe the similarity in our appearances, I pretend that we are one. Our strengths and our weaknesses combined to create one perfect person. And with this thought, nothing else seems to matter.

I reach out my arm and touch one of Megan’s curls.
“We’ve never looked the same before,” I say and withdraw my hand.

Megan lights two cigarettes and places one between my lips. She fingers a strand of my hair. For what feels like hours, we blow thin streams of smoke toward each other’s faces. And here, beneath the humid August sunlight, we study the striking new resemblance that we share.

– Angela M. Graziano holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, New Jersey, where she teaches writing. To date, her writing has appeared in Apple Valley Review, Ariel, Dislocate, Lost Magazine, Portal Del Sol and Miranda Literary Magazine, among others. “Radiant Red Violet” is excerpted from her recently completed first memoir.

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