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Category Archive for 'Issue 9'

With each passing month, time seems to pick up speed. We spend much of autumn preparing for the coming winter. We begin to burrow, yet often don’t get the chance to spend an afternoon reading. So we thank you for carving out your time to read through our ninth issue, which is packed with thought provoking writing just right for these fall days. Take a few minutes for yourself and stop by again soon.

Our tenth issue will be available January 15th, 2010. If you’d like to submit, please visit our guidelines section and send us your submission by December 15th, 2009. Thank you to all of our submitters.

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The Geese

Still, the sun contributes its honey
and a large raindrop magnifies the thin branch,
here, where I am, and where my mother,
many miles away in her kitchen,
is quietly aware of each

as they pass, over flat land and long grasses,
the lone, strong, open-branched tree,
and the rain that gathers somehow,
to flow over large boulders,
highlighted like hair by sunlight.

In the scheme of things, I too, belong.
All I need do is try, heed the geese,
their squawk and wildness.
If it is meant to be, she thinks,
they will return again.

– Roberta Visser leads creative writing and poetry workshops for students and adults and has been a contributing writer for the daily Keene Sentinel. Most recently her poems have been published in Women in Judaism, The Worcester Review, Entelechy International: A Journal of Contemporary Ideas, and Late Blooms Poetry Postcard Contest.

Mirroring

I am giving up beauty.
Not the silver thickets and the sandpipers
Not the grass beneath the lake,
not the way your hair eddies
when you rinse it in the bath–
but the lighted rooms when
tall and cool
I am effortlessly suspended in the
wordless hush of sight and gifted desire,
drifting quiet like a trout at the water’s edge,
pulled by a gentle current.

I will learn eyes that look outwards.
Since I no longer pull and sing like the current,

when a river butterfly
touches silent surfaces with delicate feet,
I will bend to meet it myself.
When an egret stands in the
marsh shallows with folded wings,
I will call it lovely.
This is beautiful, this is not, this
is an endless garden of reeds,
this is the forest after a rain.

– Kristin Roedell is a wife, mother, and retired attorney living in Lakewood Washington. Her work often concerns the daily lives of women, as well as mental health issues. She has been published in the online magazines Breath and Shadow, Metromania, and Switched on Gutenberg. Other works will appear in Flutter, Chantarelle’s Notebook, and Open Minds Quarterly. Her chapbook Seeing in the Dark will be published this fall by Tomato Can Press.

Witness

I do not laugh at bubble letters on the bathroom stall.
The pretty cursive, the delicate loop in the y.

Even when the words spell, help me. I hate my life.
I am willing to witness your toilet paper autobiography.

Who am I to judge, after all? I have spent hours considering
how many other people’s photographs I have wandered into.

That couple from Minnesota in Times Square at Christmas.
The bottom left hand corner.

There I am, wearing my blue coat.
Trying to turn away from the camera, blurry.

– Sarah Kay is a NYC based poet whose work has taken her uptown, downtown, and out of town. She is the Founder and Director of Project V.O.I.C.E., which promotes creative self-expression among high school and college students through writing and Spoken Word workshops. For more information please see www.project-voice.net

Market

She buys those eggs with little scenes in them,
a frosting tree and icing child within glittering
walls. She places the village on the end table,
the forest scene atop the television and tiptoes
across the carpet so the deer by the brook won’t
startle. She dusts the ovals in all tenderness
every weekend, shaking her head, remembering
how her life was once that small, the curls on her
head, miniature, her heart a veritable smudge of
gumdrop, neck held in abeyance by the dazzle
of the domed white sky—until the day of the
hammer and shout and sugar shards, cathedral
piping falling across the lintel of an opening door.

– Jenn Blair is a Park Hall Fellow at the University of Georgia. She has published in Copper Nickel, The Tusculum Review, Miranda, Fairfield Review, and Hamilton Stone Review among others. Her chapbook “All Things are Ordered” is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press. She lives with her husband Dave and daughter Katie in Winterville, GA.

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Six Strands of Separation

I sit in the hair salon, facing myself in the mirror, screaming with laughter. I am with my hairdresser, Lexie, and we’re laughing about something frightening that could have happened to me but didn’t. I laugh at both inappropriate and appropriate times. I laugh when I’m describing things that scared me, hurt me and made me sad. I laugh at eerie things that have no real explanation. I find the funny bone in tragedy.

So many scenes in movies, plays and books take place at the hairdressers that I believe that, in some way, it is a place on a par with the bedroom and the dinner table. I hear more stories here than nearly any place else. I also tell many stories here.

I have a specific relationship with Lexie. She and I recently attended a live performance of Dancing With the Stars but we don’t socialize outside of that. I enjoy this limited relationship with her. She is a petite blonde, twenty-three with an angelic face, single, with a four-year-old daughter. She has a sunny nature and is a great laugher. Also, she’s a size 2. I’ll say nothing more about that other than I forgive her. She has an extreme form of a popular hairstyle. It is a bob, long and blonde on the sides, and colored a dark chocolate in the back, shingled short. Over the years, I’ve noticed most stylists I’ve seen seem to take their hairstyles one or two degrees farther than those of the hirsute citizens on the street.

It’s a wonder any of us go to the stylist. And so often. I think it’s the nurturing and cosseting we return for, not so much the styling. I’ve been known to stay with an inept or abusive hairdresser for eons. It may be guilt or perhaps a substitute for my mother of blessed memory. Lexie is neither bad nor abusive. She thinks I’m funny, which is a baseline requirement.

Lexie tells me about the new man she dated who has been either following her or stalking her. Rick works for the company that supplies product (that ubiquitous style term) to the salon.

She has recently ended a long-term relationship with Rex the Cop, which is the only way anyone ever refers to him. According to Lexie, Rex the Cop is a good man but spends more time with her parents than with her so that was that.

“So, I had to meet Rex the Cop at my house to return some stuff to him, and I noticed as I was driving, there was a car following me,” she says. The scissors balanced on her hand, wide open and winking.

“You’re kidding!” I say.

“Yeah, and I pull over on the street and start to get out of the car with my stuff, and there’s Stalker Rick in his car, pulled over about a half a block down.”

“Shut up!”

“Later,” she continues, “when Rex the Cop drives away from my house, Rick follows him and Rex the Cop pulls him over with the flashing lights and says ‘Are you following me?’”

How ironic, I think.

“And?”

“So Rex the Cop tells him to cut the crap or he could be in trouble.”

“No way!”

“Yeah, and I told Rick I couldn’t see him one night and I walk out to my car after the salon closes, and there he is sitting in his car.”

“Creepy,” I comment. “So what’d you do?”

“I said to him, ‘You’re frickin’ nuts! I don’t want to see you anymore, you head case,’” she says snipping away at my hair with gusto. I let out a brief hoot.

“You tell him!”

Amazingly, in the midst of this dramatic account, my hair looks great. I watch my hair creation emerging like a sculpture out of a block of stone.

“Well,” I say, “there are so many wackos out there. I’ve been pretty lucky throughout my long dating life, but I’ve had a few scary experiences myself.”

Lexie remains quiet, waiting for me to spill. “It’s an intuition thing,” I say. “If you don’t listen to what your gut tells you, you could get yourself into serious trouble.”

I met Brad on Match.com. There are not a lot of avenues of choice other than on-line dating these days, though I have to admit I don’t cope well with it. Too much pressure up front. There are of course potential drawbacks to meeting someone on-line. You have no idea who you’re meeting. You’ve nothing to base trust on. It’s a blind date without the friend referral. You have to be more careful when you meet someone this way. Your instincts have to be acutely sensitized. Otherwise, you might find yourself alone with a dangerous person, a pathological liar or a con man. Still you have to take some risk if you want to meet someone.

Brad was a fireman at Conrad International Tradeport with the National Guard and had held that job for many years. He was physically beautiful. About 5’11” and built rugged, like Tonka Trucks. Soft brown eyes. Curly thick salt and pepper hair. No male pattern balding in his future. Perfect, smooth skin with sun kissed dark brown hair all over his arms. His skin was firm and elastic. He was the kind of handsome guy who gets chosen for those firemen calendars. First we emailed. Then we spoke on the phone. He sounded charming and anxious to meet me. So we set up a date to meet at the cafe in my town.

He looked exactly like his photo, which is often not the case with on-line dating. There was something vacant in his eyes but maybe I imagined that. He exuded animal sexuality and he smelled wonderful, like warmed earth and sunshine. Smell is a big thing to me. If the person doesn’t smell right, he’s quickly crossed off my list. Brad passed the smell test without breaking a sweat. Now, it was a matter of communication. We talked about all the usual mundane things that people who don’t know each other talk about. Work, education, family, friends. Everything was okay. He didn’t seem terribly bright but no red flags. Eventually, we left the café and since we didn’t want to end the evening, we moved to sit in my car. In the way of those things, we kissed. It was great.

Then, he said, “Let’s go back to your place. I want to make love to you.”

I’d just met this man an hour and a half before. I looked at him and there was nothing behind his eyes or his words. No passion, just physical need.

“I don’t think so,” I said. “It’s not my way. It takes me time. I don’t trust that easily. With good reason.”

“Why not?” Brad said. “It’ll be great. I can tell. I’ll make you a good boyfriend.”

Red flag waving briskly.

“Come on,” he says. “Let’s go.”

We didn’t.

“So,” I tell Lexie, “I can’t give you a good reason for this, other than animal attraction, but I went out with him two more times. Is that crazy or what? My intuition was screaming at me, ‘Don’t get involved with this guy.’” She is laughing her high trill laugh. “I mean, what did I think was going to happen on the second and third dates? He was going to magically metamorphose into a mensch? He never gave up trying to coerce me into bed. I never give it up to anyone who wants it that badly to the exclusion of anything else.”

“Totally,” Lexie agrees. “How stupid can men be? They never get that.”

“Well, some do,” I amend. Some know how to manipulate a woman into bed, I think, by talking about anything else but sex. And there are some who want everything, body and soul. Those are the men I’ve loved and some have loved me back.

Lexie looks thoughtful for a moment as she rolls my hair around a large round brush, focusing the blow dryer. I could do this every day but the thrill would fade.

“You know, it’s funny,” she says. “I have a client who is married to a Conrad fireman. And he has salt and pepper hair too. I met him once.” She swings my chair to get the other side of my head. “I’m sure it’s not the same guy but you won’t believe what happened to this woman.”

She tells me that this woman, Lynn, met this Conrad fireman, fell in love, and married him after seven months.

“Duh,” I comment. “Never a good idea as far as I’m concerned.”

“They were married in the Caribbean,” Lexie adds. “On an island.”

Is that a rationale I wonder?

Lexie tells me that Lynn is a nurse and works at the local hospital here in town. They’d been married a couple of months, and everything had been going fine.

Lynn has a fifteen-year old daughter who usually lives with her biological father but was staying at their apartment one night while she was at work. A phone call comes in to her work. It’s Lynn’s daughter. She says she’s been raped by Lynn’s husband.

“You’re going to think I’m making this up but do you know what kind of nurse Lynn is?” I don’t have time to think or respond. “She’s a rape-crisis nurse, for God’s sake. Can you believe it?” Lexie blurts. “She was at work when the call came in. That’s why she got the call. Her daughter called the Center right after it happened. The police brought the daughter in for testing and the results showed she’d been raped.”

My mouth is a big O. “What happened to the fireman?” I ask, finally.

“He took off and holed up in some nearby motel under a false name for a couple of days. Then the police found him. They drove him to the psych hospital in town because he attempted to kill himself twice.”

I think about all the lives involved that are, in some ways, destroyed or at least epically changed. I am sad for all three of them because the fireman is clearly ill. Somebody should have spotted it at work or somewhere. But no, Lexie is telling me that the fireman’s boss refuses to terminate his employment because he’s worked there for seventeen years and he’s such a great guy, a great worker.

A great rapist, I think.

“Well,” I say, “What’s the fireman’s name?”

“I don‘t remember,” Lexie says. “Brett or something. And Lynn has a different last name. But just go on-line to Foster’s to search for fireman and rape. It just happened recently. It was all over the papers.”

We look at each other in silence and our eyes meet.

“It can’t be the guy I dated,” I tell her firmly. “I don’t see him doing that.” But something inside me is curling like a question mark in my stomach.

“Right,” says Lexie.

“It can’t be,” I repeat.

“No,” she agrees. Her scissors dip and fly around my head for several moments.

“But wait, you have to hear this last part. The wife goes to visit him in the county jail. He’d been out on his own recognizance but the idiot removed the leg bracelet they put on him and took off again. So they found him again and took him to jail. Then Lynn the wife goes to visit the guy and you know what? He says to her, ‘You’re not my wife. I’m not married.’”

“Very convenient,” I say.

“Yeah,” Lexie says, “She thinks he’s trying to act psycho to get out of it.”

I think that if this happened to me, I wouldn’t have gone to visit him in jail. I definitely wouldn’t be discussing it with my stylist, especially with an upcoming court case. Suddenly, I’m glad my haircut is finished because I just can’t bear any more of this story.

“I guess that woman should have paid attention to her gut,” I say as I leave.

“Maybe her gut wasn’t working,” Lexie says to my back.

When I get home I immediately Google the story. An enormous headshot of the alleged rapist is featured on the front page. It is Brad. I sit staring at the screen. I suppose I’m in shock. The photo is so large and close-up, I can’t even pretend to myself that it might not be the same person. There is no doubt. I call Lexie and leave a message on her cell telling her that the main character of my story and her story are one in the same. When I put it all together, I feel sick, like I just ate bad meat that was sitting out in the summer heat. I know I’ve had a narrow escape. This story could have been my personal tragedy. It comes to me in a moment of stark clarity that I dated an accused rapist.

He’s the guy next door. He’s just down the street. He’s on the dating websites. He’s a fireman, an accountant, a policeman. Perhaps he was a sex addict for a long time but something pushed his anxiety to the breaking point and he raped a little girl. And I could have chosen to get involved with this man but I didn’t. I’m not sure why. I feel relieved. I feel vindicated for trusting my instincts. For not doubting myself.

Recently, I go back to the salon for a trim and Lexie and I return to the subject briefly. Lexie says, “I have his wife as a client. I have you who dated him. And it turns out, Brad’s best friend is also my client.”

“There’s something really strange about all these coincidences,” I say. I’m not sure I believe in coincidence. I feel very uncomfortable about my involvement in this drama despite that it’s peripheral.

“So,” Lexie continues, “the best friend comes in this week and tells me he’s known Brad all his life and even though he may have done it, he’s going to stand by him.” We both shake our heads in wonder at this revelation.

“So his wife visits him in prison, his best friend will stand by him, and he raped a fifteen year old girl,” I say. Lucky rapist, I think.

I watch my stylist sweep my hair together with those that have already fallen into a big pile onto the floor. I wonder whose hair is in that pile with mine. The wife? The friend? What happens to all that DNA? Deep inside, when I allow myself to think about it, I know that, in a parallel universe, I didn’t listen to that still small inner voice, and I am sitting somewhere crying and broken.

– Jewel Beth Davis is a writer and theater artist who lives in Rollinsford, NH with her cat Lizzie. She has an MFA in Writing from Vermont College and won awards for her acting and playwriting. Her work has been published in Compass Rose, SN Review, Moondance, Cezanne’s Carrot, Bent Pin, READ THIS, Sylvan Echo, Lilith, and American Diversity Report.

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The New Normal

Someone has tried to brighten up the room with paper cutouts of watermelons and beach balls. But decorations cannot compete with medical monitors or pods of plexiglass isolettes and tiny metal cribs. I spy my baby, born not two hours ago, the newest resident of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Nursery Five.

A nurse beckons me over and I squint to see beyond the wires and tubes to my son. A Gerber baby he’s not. Long and scrawny, he weighs two pounds, nine ounces. My shoes weigh more. His fingernails are smaller than Chiclets, his face gaunt and wizened, and he is the red-purple color of a sugar beet. At twenty-seven weeks gestation, the baby is breathing from a respirator, his lungs too young to function. I open an isolette porthole and stroke his leg with my finger, hoping I don’t break him.

The nursery houses six infants. Four of them are five or six pounds, baby giants, but one is even tinier than my son. I’m proud, however inappropriately, not to have the smallest infant in the nursery. On day two, the baby basks under neon blue lights. He wears a mask to protect his eyes, an alien elfin superhero. The following day, the baby grasps my husband’s fingers, one in each of his little hands. He has a strong grip.

A week passes and routine gains a hold over chaos. We rise at seven and leave for the hospital. My husband works there and will visit throughout the day, but the NICU is my new nine-to-five. I whisper good morning to the baby, and listen to the nurse reciting the night’s events. I watch him sleep as his monitor stands a silent guard.

I am sent to the waiting room when the doctors round to discuss the babies in the nursery. The chairs are ugly red vinyl, but oversized and comfortable. In the afternoons I sometimes nap in them. I often see parents sleeping in the chairs, giving in to exhaustion and boredom. Families don’t intermingle in the waiting room; the fear of comparing stories and coming up short is greater than any potential comfort.

The baby is opening his eyes now. They are disproportionately large in his tiny head. The attending physician grants permission for me to begin “kangaroo care,” where the baby and I will snuggle bare-chested. The nurse sets up a privacy screen; she presents the baby to me and I lay him against my chest. The nurse positions his head so that his breathing apparatus stays connected and places a blanket over us. He is so tiny. I am afraid of dropping him, of crushing him like a bug. My arm goes numb before fifteen minutes have passed, sending off waves of shocks and tingles. The baby nestles in and falls fast asleep.

I rely on the baby’s monitor as an oracle. Standing above his isolette, it shows his heart rate, respiratory rate and blood oxygenation levels. If they drop below a certain number, an alarm sounds. The first time it happens, I look at the monitor; the baby’s heart rate has dropped from 140 to 70. His nurse, who is with another baby, glances up, returns to her work. The alarm continues to go off. She walks over, opens the isolette door, and taps his foot. That’s it. His heart rate jumps back to 100, then 150. The nurse records how much stimulation it takes to bring him back. Right now he needs only light stimulation.

The respirator has been replaced by something called CPAP – continuous positive airway pressure. CPAP exerts a certain amount of force as the baby breathes, “nagging” him to keep breathing. The baby turns his head to wiggle out of the nasal prongs. It must be like having a wind tunnel up your nose. I like that he is solving problems already.

The baby is not tolerating the feeds that he is getting through the feeding tube. His belly is distended, a post-Thanksgiving dinner bloat, and the doctor orders tests to rule out infection. There is a constant see-saw of good and bad days, of turbulence and calm.

Now the baby is not tolerating the CPAP. As the second week ends, he has more episodes where he stops breathing, and it is getting progressively harder for the nurses to snap him out of it. The doctors decide to put him back on the ventilator.

The baby is one month old on my birthday. He now weighs three pounds two ounces. He does well on the ventilator and after a week is put back on CPAP. But now he is having trouble maintaining his body temperature. The doctors order more tests – an EEG; bloodwork; a rectal biopsy. He poops on the pediatric surgeon during the biopsy. The labs come back normal, but his body temperature remains unstable and his belly stays distended.

One afternoon I enter to find the baby screaming inconsolably. His belly is hard, unyielding, and stays that way after he has finally dropped off into an exhausted sleep. The doctor is paged. She orders a chest x-ray, which shows air bubbles in his intestine and liver, an infection that has led to a bowel perforation.

In the waiting room, the physician on call explains in a thick Asian accent that part of the baby’s intestine is dead and gangrenous, a condition called necrotizing enterocolitis. It sounds awful. It is awful. The baby will need immediate surgery to repair his bowel, and even then, the infection could kill him. We can barely understand the doctor’s accent, but what I hear is her saying that babies can die from this. My baby could be dead by tomorrow. My husband sits beside me, tears streaking unnoticed down his face. I have never seen him cry in public.

In the nursery, they have re-intubated the baby, now pale as the floor’s linoleum. His blood pressure is beyond low. No one seems to know if he’ll survive the move from the nursery to the operating room. But he cannot survive otherwise. The surgeon comes over and puts his arm around my shoulder and tells us that we can kiss the baby before he goes to surgery. So we do, tears falling on his face.

The waiting begins. We talk trivia, processing nothing. Truly, I don’t know how we manage this feat for hours until the surgeon finally comes in and tells us the surgery was a success. Our baby is alive, although he still has to survive the infection. We move into a sleeping room next to the NICU. During the day, I sit vigil and sing to the baby, folk songs and lullabies. He is puffy, like he has swallowed a bag of marshmallows. On the fourth day after surgery, he tries to open his eyes, but can only raise his eyebrows, as if asking “What the hell happened to me?” I tell him that if he beats the infection, I’ll buy him a car.

One week following surgery I can hold him. The baby seems pleased. He stares at me for fifteen minutes and drifts off. Progress comes much faster now, and the baby graduates to the step-down unit to continue his recovery. While this is good news, I am loath to give up the security the NICU has provided. Clouds decorate the ceiling in his new room and I have my own couch to sleep on. No more red chairs. I change his diaper, feed and bathe him, all the normal mom duties.

When he is discharged six weeks later, it strikes me that all the time I was wishing for normal, this baby had welcomed each day as just that. A mom’s voice, a dad’s finger, a warm chest were his only requirements. And this is how a baby who can’t even hold up his head teaches me to make my own normal – a parenting life lesson that I, the most remedial of students, must re-learn every day.

– Toddie Downs lives outside Seattle, Washington. Her work has received recognition from Ohio Writers and Pacific Northwest Writers Associations and her essays have been published in The Plain Dealer Sunday Magazine. Her son, the subject of this essay, is now a thriving 7-year-old.

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