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Category Archive for 'Issue 8'

We are pleased to present our eighth issue filled with insightful writing for these meditative months of summer. Our featured authors remind us the art of creating the poem, story and essay can capture life’s various stages. As always, we are proud to publish talented writers whose work has gifted us with another noteworthy issue. Thank you to all of our submitters.

damselfly press is pleased to have been selected again for inclusion in the Best of the Web 2009 Anthology by Dzanc Books. We have included their banner on our site.

Our ninth issue will be available October 15th. If you’d like to submit, please visit our guidelines section and send us your submission by September 15th.

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THREAD

When a friend says her youngest just left
for a job in Manhattan,
I think of my girl on the verge
of middle school, the necessary
journey every morning.
I’ll stand at the corner
as the bus yawns open its doors
to deliver her into its chaos
of warmth and noise
where I cannot follow,
the spool between us spinning
and spinning, unrelenting
rotation, the thread
growing longer and longer
like a scarf from a magician’s hat
until I can no longer see her from where I stand.

– Andrea Potos’ collection of poems, Yaya’s Cloth, was published by Iris Press in 2007 and received an Outstanding Achievement Award in Poetry from the Wisconsin Library Association. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Women’s Review of Books, Poetry East, Southern Poetry Review, CALYX Journal, Blue Unicorn, and The Comstock Review.

Elegy for Us

I scrubbed the floors though it was useless—
the windows open to the March air,
the trees with their sad pregnant look, red
bud, the pavements littered with detritus of
winds, a breeze warm and scented with
garbage. The water turned the color of
coal, a gray tinged with specks of black,
the suds rivered and pooled across the pitted
soft wood floors. I could see where you
had thrown the coffee cup against the wall.
You slept past noon; you always
slept. Later, the voices would come out and
I would remember how you shifted in
sleep, your face slack as a stoppered gun.
Where had you gone? In a dream I had
those years, we were living in a cardboard
box on our own corner. Every morning I carved
out windows, propped up walls, filled
bowls with day-old bread from the
Italian bakery. I think now of the games
of children—the vast and terrible forests,
the curious intentness of their faces as they
move around the small speckled seeds or stones.

– Sheila Black is the Visiting Professor of Creative Writing at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. Her poems have appeared in Diode, Copper Nickel, LitPot Review, DMQ Review, Willow Springs, Poet Lore, Ellipsis, Blackbird, The Pedestal, and Puerto Del Sol. Black’s first book, House of Bone, was published by CustomWords Press in 2007. Her second book, Love/Iraq, is forthcoming from CustomWords Press in November 2009.

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Identical Me

My mother became a doll maker in Tehuacán after my father died when I was less than a year old. Doll making helped my mother pass the time during her widow’s withdrawal from the world, and unwittingly, helped disclose a unique talent. This was 63 years ago before all the North Americans came down here to sell their white haired dolls wrapped in bright pink packages.
She started out making simple dolls with cottony stuffing and stray buttons for eyes. As time passed, she refined the craft until people in the town started asking her to make dolls for their daughters. Before she knew it, she became a busy woman with a booming business.

Needless to say, I had the best dolls in town, and I was the envy of all the girls in my school. They especially loved the dolls that my mother made in my likeness. Each year my mother would take my measurements so she could make the doll’s measurements correspond with mine. She special ordered the chestnut eyes with golden flakes from Europe. She even saved my wavy tresses after hair cuts and used my hair on the doll’s head.

Of course, the birth of a doll made in my likeness became a colorful ritual celebration. Everyone we knew came to see the introduction of a new me. We would rent a hall and each year the crowd grew bigger reaching to over 200 people on my 15th birthday. At the celebration, my mother would make me sit next to the new doll, which was always covered with purple velvet and waiting to be unveiled. She’d line up all the other dolls in order according to age.

Once the unveiling was complete, everyone would comment about the way I had changed from year to year. “Ah, she’s big-boned like her mother.” I heard someone declare on my 15th birthday. That comment was too much for me to take, so I decided to discourage my mother from making the 16th doll.

“Mamá, please don’t make any more dolls that look like me,” I begged as I saw her gather her supplies to make a new me.

“Don’t you think this obsession is just a little, well, twisted?”

“Twisted? What kind of silly talk is that? Shame on you. You should be flattered. Do you know how many mothers have begged me to make dolls in the likenesses of their daughters? Hundreds have asked. But I save that for you.”

I already understood the great mechanism that was my mother would be hard to fight. She was a force in my life. She was a strong wind pushing me in the direction she wanted me to go.

“Can’t we skip a year?” I persisted even though I knew her answer.

“Skip a year? I won’t have a complete set. I wanted to make a doll every year in your likeness until you’re married. The last doll will be you in my wedding dress. That was my original plan and I have to stick to that.”

She concentrated on her pattern a moment before she spoke again. “Believe me. Some day you will appreciate the effort I made for you, when you have your own children, these dolls will mean something to you. I would promise to do it for your children, but I’ll be dead by then.”

The words were never there to answer my mother.

Finally I said, “I don’t want a party this year.” I wanted a party, but I didn’t want her to invite the dolls. If I were this specific with my mother she would never accept it as my honest wishes. So I had to side step. Ok, manipulate, carefully.

“No party? This is your 16th birthday. I have some special things planned this year.”

I groaned. “Shouldn’t I be able to make some of my own decisions about how I want my birthday party?”

Turning sweet as she always did when she was tired of arguing. “Oh, Daughter, we’ll see. You might change your mind.”

I didn’t change my mind, and I stood my ground. As usual, however, my mother didn’t listen.

As my birthday neared, I watched my mother working on my look alike. Of course, she didn’t want me to see the doll until it was completed. I did get glimpses as my mother closed the door to her workroom or through the window before she noticed me and closed the blinds. I saw my body parts all over the table ready to be assembled, my hands, palms up, every palm line matching mine, the back of my bald head before my mother put my own hair on one strand at a time.

Once, I even got a full view of the doll’s face. Seeing myself look back at me with an expressionless face made my heart stop. As I stared into my unblinking eyes, the doll smiled raising one side of its mouth unsteadily as if it were drunk. I jumped away from the window and fell to the ground.

In the dining room down the hall, I could hear my mother hum while she set the table to eat. She always feigned innocence when she was most guilty.

The day came, my sixteenth birthday. I had managed to talk my mother into a smaller get together. I had insisted with a warning. If the celebration were too big, I wouldn’t show up for my own birthday party. It was the only threat that made my mother agree to the terms. She explained my rudeness to others with a simple explanation. “She’s a teenager now. She’s moody. What can I do?” People nodded with soft understanding eyes.

That evening, ten guests arrived dressed casually. They mulled around in our living room. The atmosphere was gloomy. This wasn’t how I had wanted things.

After a time, they took their seats in front of the figure sitting in a chair and covered by the purple velvet blanket. My mother told me to sit in my chair by the figure. The other dolls were standing clumsily together in the corner of our small living room.

“I don’t want to sit next to the new doll this year,” I told my mother. She didn’t seem to hear me as she pushed me in the direction she wanted me to go. Before I knew it I was sitting beside the lump of purple velvet. Our guests talked amongst themselves quietly.

I looked over at the 15 other dolls set up in a group. There I was as a one-year-old. My mother was just learning how to make dolls at that time so it doesn’t really look like me. At five, she’d managed to make my dimpled hands just right. I was chubby and funny looking at 10 years old, but my doll look-a-like was slimmer, more acceptable. In fact, as I examined the dolls, I realized that all the dolls looked just like me, with one exception. They looked better than me. I wondered if this was how my mother truly saw me or if this was the way she wished I looked. I shivered.

I found myself staring at that lump of purple velvet beside me. I wanted to smack it off the chair. I glanced back at the guests. They weren’t looking at me. Without moving my head I slowly turned my eyes toward the lump of purple. Mmm… Smacking it wouldn’t accomplish anything so why do it? I asked myself. Because it might feel really good to smack it and hear the thump as it hits the ground, I thought. Hitting that doll won’t make you feel better. Don’t do it, I told myself.
I won’t. I won’t, I told myself back.

But then before I could stop myself, my right hand reached out and backhanded the doll. It slumped to the side. I thought I’d feel relief, but instead I felt angrier so I gave it a punch with my closed fist. It wobbled around a bit but still didn’t fall off the chair. My hatred and my anger escalated. I looked around to see if anyone noticed. No one was even looking at me.

I was about to hit it again, but I saw my mother walk in the room. She took her place beside me. She positioned the doll up in the seat again and whispered to me. “How did that happen?” I shrugged my shoulders. Our guests were taking their seats. I squirmed in my chair fighting the urge to pounce on that dummy that looked like me. My mother began her speech.

“You are our closest friends, and you were all here when I unveiled the first doll of this long line of unique dolls made in the likeness of my daughter, Pilar.” My mother gestured toward me with a sweep of both her arms. “Each year you may have noticed that I improved the dolls making subtle but very important changes. I’ve perfected the look in the eyes, the skin tone and its texture, the wrinkles on her knees and on her throat.”

I brushed my throat with my fingers. I had wrinkles on my throat?

My mother kept talking. “I’ve even worked with the small hairs on her arms.” She took a deep breath before she said, “This year I did something even more amazing. Behold!” She carefully took the blanket off the doll.

The doll made a few jerky movements before it said, “Hello.” I gasped, but our guests all had very pleased looks on their faces. They looked from the doll to me back to the doll again. I doubted whether the doll had actually spoken.

My mother said, “This doll is my finest achievement. Notice every detail.”

My mother’s voice faded into a low hum in the background of my mind. I glared at the thing sitting next to me. It looked straight ahead pretending it didn’t see me. I was sure of it. But then it turned its head and looked toward me, not exactly at me. I expected to see pure evil in its expression, but I was surprised to see a tear fall from its chestnut eye. I leaned over and wiped the tear away with my index finger. It sparkled like a diamond before it dried up.

I heard clapping and realized our guests were applauding my mother. From my seat I watched her. There was something in the way she held her hands, in the tilt of her head and in the set of her mouth that made me see my mother as a woman, just a mother who saw a special image of her daughter, something no one else really saw unless they were looking at their own daughter. I looked back at the doll. If this was the way my mother chose to see me, than so be it. I wasn’t going to stop her anymore.

Eventually, I joined the family business, and I made a good doll, but nothing compared to the dolls my mother made. Hers was a realistic fantasy of soft baby dolls with big brown eyes and full bronze lips and dancing dolls with wavy dark hair and long black eyelashes. We had fun designing clothes for the dolls and we made a fortune. We expanded the business and opened doll factories all over Mexico.

I never did get married. As for the dolls my mother made in my image, she made 53 all together. She was making the 54th doll when she died. She was 75 years old. I found her passed out over the pattern, which called for a broader waistline and a flabbier chin. Yet, the reflection of me was to be thoughtful and knowing. She always thought I was more than I was.

– Kendra Paredes Hayden has written a collection of stories called “Beyond the Colored Mountains” that take place in Tehuacan, Mexico. One story, “The Ugly Woman” published by The Louisville Review at Spalding University, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

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Thoughts in the Woods

On my first morning in an isolated cottage in the Appalachian Mountains, I sit on the deck looking into the forest. I look into the higher branches of oaks, tulip trees, sycamores and maples, and through a tiny gap to a distant mountain ridge. I see the rich dark greens of moist deciduous woodland and bright spots of sunlight sprinkled on the green foliage and on the bed of fallen leaves that cover the ground, where brown and cream and dark red fungi and mossy logs and stones tell of damp weather.

The warm air reminds me of Februaries in Brisbane and discomfort of school uniforms – those thick tunics with shirts and wool neckties striped with the school colors, the long socks and later the black cotton stockings and suspender belts, heavy black lace up shoes, the gloves that must be worn in public, the big panama hat. There were heat-wave days when we were allowed to wear our gym tunics in class – square necked green cotton tunic, matching green bloomers, short socks, tennis shoes. I seem to remember that this began after a rash of faintings in morning assembly during a heat wave – hymn, prayers, Old Testament, New Testament, hymn, prayers, announcements. Our teachers remained stockinged, corseted, and high heeled.

And I remember working in Nigeria years later, with a team of entomologists in the forest – counting grasshoppers in the great humid heat, as we tried to figure out their lifestyle, mortality, the causes of their pest status and the best way to manage the problem. Nothing had prepared me for the wall of warm moisture I encountered whenever I walked outside, the air so thick even breathing seemed difficult.

Here in the early morning, as the dew in the tree tops drips noisily onto leaves below, I hear four different bird songs, but cannot see who makes them. Looking onto the leaf litter below my deck, I see a small, deft, brown bird foraging silently. Nearby is a strangely bright patch of orange, the size of a golf ball, and I go down there to look. It is the only flower I have been able to see in the dense woods – a tiger lily, orange petals curled back to meet on top of its drooping head, and underneath, spots on waxy yellow, the long white stamens with brown anthers at their tips. It is a bright jewel in a world of green and brown.

Young saplings, a foot tall with half a dozen big leaves, wait for the time when a large tree falls, allowing them the space and sunlight to make their urgent growth – not wasting an opportunity. By mid morning, groups of cicadas in different parts of the forest sing – within each group the individuals sing in unison. First there is a slow soft noise, rising fast and shrilly to a crescendo, then falling away again to almost quiet. Occasionally there is the sound of a busy woodpecker. Each creature is busy with its reproduction and survival. And I hear drips, moisture accumulated and still finding the ground after a brief light rain shower. Behind me, there is the soft whirring of a fan – otherwise the air feels dense and too heavy to make a breeze.

By midday the cicadas stop and I hear instead the squawking of some distant hidden bird. A dark brown butterfly spends five minutes ambling close by and I notice small dots of light going by – tiny flies whose wings are lit for a few seconds by sunlight. A few large flies land on the railing. With the light above now I see sections of a few bright threads – spider webs across space between tree trunks. A squirrel descends in silence from the top of a tree, running down its trunk to the leaf litter.

The quietness of this nature is imposing. I am a part of it on the deck of my rustic cottage. Along with all the trees of this rich forest, I mature and grow old and die. If I burn, the ashes will become part of the dust that helps create a brilliant sunset. If I decay, the molecules that formed the living body will become part of other living things, and the messages encoded in my DNA will disappear forever. Some of these trees will have passed on their DNA to offspring, but not all of them, and not me either. My time here will end without a biological meaning other than the re-use of constituent parts.

In the heat of early afternoon the silence in the forest is palpable. It could be that there is some persistent very high-pitched insect, though I suspect it is tinnitus. But there is moisture and in the air there is carbon dioxide, and those green leaves obtaining sunlight are busy building complexity. Beneath the apparent lack of activity and in the great silence a huge invisible biochemical industry is in progress, and from those millions of little flat green leaf machines a vast source of potential energy is being created. Most of the leaves are intact. A few have insect damage from earlier in the season. All of them are rich green with only minor differences in hue.

The light in the forest decreases and increases and I know that clouds are building. If there is a breeze somewhere out there it doesn’t penetrate here. Mid afternoon and the sweat begins to drip down my neck in spite of the fan and I get sleepy. My mind goes back to times almost completely forgotten. Queen Elizabeth, young and newly crowned, visited Australia in the summertime. All the Brisbane schools were to take part in a display at the big exhibition grounds – the biggest arena available. The thousands of children would make a huge E.II.R. of bodies, upon which she would gaze in the February heat. I was to be part of one of the dots. I remember playing truant on the practice day in order to go swimming. I remember taking part in the display on the equally hot big day. Dozens of children fainted in the heat. I wonder what the poor Queen made of it all.

I remember Mother ironing with the sweat dripping from her face down onto the clean clothes – I think it was Mondays – seven shirts for my father and five detached starched collars for the weekdays, and twelve or more shirts for my older brother who wanted a clean one for the evening’s courting. My sister and I did our own ironing.

Window screens became popular and my mother scoffed – well, they’ll get no breeze now. Our houses, built on stilts, were supposed to gather what air movement there was, and screens reduced that. So we had air, and a multitude of moths and mosquitoes at the lights fascinated my unschooled brain. We all sat out on the wide veranda on the hottest evenings to get what breeze there was, talking in the dark, with just the red glow of mosquito coils and my parents’ cigarettes. No one had air conditioning then, and I don’t remember fans either. We came into beds under mosquito nets hanging from a circular hoop above the pillow. I remember waking heavy in the head those hot humid days. The first department store to get air conditioning made a killing.

The great humidity eventually brought rain and how wonderful it was to run out and get wet through, to arrive at school so wet we were allowed to remove shoes. Washing remained on the Hills rotary hoist for a day and was then brought in to the washing line under the house, where it sometimes remained for several days to get dry. Mildew grew on the walls of my bedroom, toadstools covered the lawn, moss covered the slate roof, Mother rejoiced that the 40,000 gallon tank was full, Father cursed the amount of mowing and scything, the car skidded on the clay surface of the driveway up the ridge to our house, frogs croaked and the poincianas bloomed, flying foxes enjoyed the palm fruits and grasshoppers ate the acalypha hedge.

But this hot moist green forest is new to me. Though I see leaves drop now, in three months time they will rain down in their millions, and leave the skeletons of trunks and branches. The cottage will be bathed in light, and the brown walls of natural, unpainted wood will be warmed with sunshine through the many windows as the days become colder.

On the north side of my cottage, outside a screened porch, is a flat area covered in moss. Its not easy to tell directions most of the time, but I have a mental map of the area and know that my doorway faces north. I rest here in the splendor of a warm dark forest, exploiting as best I can, all my senses, my memories, my small understandings and my sense of being alive in the world, and know who I am.

– Elizabeth Bernays grew up in Australia, then studied agricultural pests in developing countries. After being a professor of entomology at Berkeley and Regents’ professor at the University of Arizona, she obtained an MFA. She publishes in various literary journals and won several awards including the 2007 X.J. Kennedy prize.

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