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On Werewolves and Vampires

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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At Arm’s length
For my niece, Oliviah

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You remember watching your two year old daughter flounder in a pit of foam during gymnastics. She looks like you feel. She grimaces with struggle and grunts with fight. She is so unaware of your arm reaching out to her. Or is that focus—determination? Her body wiggles tactfully; displacing her weight amongst the jagged foam squares. The same movement she made in the bath tub months earlier as a mermaid in rough seas. Was that her practice? Was that her preparation for this pit? Her chest heaves onto the platform, chubby legs kicking foamy edges for better leverage. She crawls to a stand. Her victory is equal to yours. She pursues balance without hesitation. Removed from the scene, is that grimace now a smile? Weren’t those grunts really giggles? You couldn’t get close enough to tell and she was too unaware to fail.

– Victoria Lozano is a lecturer at Appalachian State University, teaching 2nd and 3rd years the beauty and empowerment of rhetoric. From poems to news articles, she has been published in the Carolina Forest Chronicle, Archarios, PaniK: Candid Stories of Life Altering Experiences Surrounding Pregnancy, and her blog “Why We Teach College.”

 

MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS

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The day started out blue & white,
like a tile. And I was happy with the spoon ring, resting
on a layer of dried lavender which made me think of
the Bement farmstead, cedar smoke, a hot
glowing horseshoe.
When I went back to the museum, I was really
going back to that house, to the yellow sparks
spreading like pollen.
In the statuary I was
a statue in the kitchen, in
an apron, standing near the blackened hearth,
the beehive oven,
eyebrows drawn together like the hinge
of a half-open door and on the other side
someone was playing a harpsichord.
And that was all it took: we were back where we started.
There was still a little color
left in us. We were an Egyptian procession, a little ochre
still on the granite wall. And silver was the rarest thing:
what the hearth god’s bones
were made of.

WAITING FOR THEIR ARRIVAL

On the table, the paper cups. And the tablecloth. The blue tablecloth. The blue tablecloth and the blue sweater she was wearing. The blue window. Somewhere the sound of a car radio. It was April and the smell of old snow and new earth. Like we had cut out frozen squares of lawn and just turned them over.

The story is – we were new at pretending. The cups I turned over on the table and their sound, like pulling a plug. Like yanking a core of bluegreen ice from a glacier. Like tapping a sugar maple. I didn’t think anything. I just turned them over.

And somewhere the sound of old snow dropping from the gutter. In my gut something turning over.  A shovelful of earth.

The blue tablecloth, a fistful of burlap.

The paper cups, a row of tin pails.

– Katie Hogan recently completed her MFA in Poetry at the University of New Hampshire, where she studied with Charles Simic, David Rivard, and Mekeel McBride. Hogan’s poems have appeared in Ragazine, Pure Francis, The Light Ekphrastic, and CRATE Magazine.

 

The Pieta is Featured on Yet Another Website for Bereaved Moms

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There’s Mary again, Mother of God, holding the dead
Christ, her grief agleam and bowed beauty intact.

The way her raiment gathers so delicately
over her forehead is enough to make me doubt.

Some of us identify with another Mary, mother
of dead Willie and dead Tad, with her hysterics and wild hair.

Even Abe called her Mother, until the day he was murdered
in the theater. Now she’s a mother with whom to wail.

I summon her like she called her dead, and together
we’ll buy hundreds of hats that we’ll stack in unused rooms.

We’ll interview mediums until we find one who can shake
the table and whip the ether into stiff peaks.

We’ll bid on armoires and buy ball gowns. We’ll hold
one another. We’ll laugh and keen with the same screech.

Mary Todd, I love your rough chapped cheeks, upended
brilliance, and the way you kept your pain stripped and shaking.

The lustrous Mary’s son was back from the dead before her mind
had time to untwine itself. Oh Mary Todd, our kids stayed dead.

You are my pieta, wailing for Willie, for Abe and for Tad,
you, hot-faced on the floor, in the crumpled pile of your stiff dress.

– Sue Reed Crouse was selected for a 2-year poetry apprenticeship at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. Her work, largely elegiac in nature after suffering the death of her 20 year-old daughter, appears in Grey Sparrow, Aurorean (showcase poet), Earth’s Daughters, Talking Stick (honorable mention) & Verse Wisconsin.

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The Girl Version

Fourteen single women from a half-dozen countries lived together in Kathmandu. We were volunteers with an organization that distributed literature in remote areas, and we trekked in pairs and trios for weeks at a time in the Himalayas. We added a few new members every six months. This time we added three Americans.

I found them on my living room couch when I came home one evening, all lined up and waiting expectantly.

“We just finished the trekking orientation with Timo,” one of them offered in explanation.

“And?”

I had sat through the same trekking orientation. The principles were simple: always carry boots and two litres of water; don’t pack more than you can hold with your arm extended straight out to the side; find a place to sleep before dark.

“And he said to ask you for the girl version.”

The Girl Version was a secret, corporate, need-to-know code. A code of ethics. Standard operating procedures. A survival guide to an activity that we always survived, but sometimes just barely. Something we laughed about later, sometimes much later, over mugs of tea and pans of brownies. The Girl Version was sacred, confidential, classified.

I sat across from the three newbies, their eyes wide with interest in what nuggets of wisdom I might dispense from my accumulated trekking lore. And I had nuggets. After six treks of my own and hundreds of stories from friends, I felt qualified to speak for the group, the International Society of Foreign Trekking Women.

“The Girl Version of trekking orientation,” I began, “is that Caucasian skin glows in the dark, especially areas of skin that we do not typically expose to sunlight. The Girl Version is remembering that Nepal may appear to be wild and undomesticated, but it is also severely overpopulated, and no matter how many days’ walk we are from a road, if we yell, someone will answer. That someone is already watching us.”

There was much more. The Girl Version is about more than privacy, which is a privilege forfeited by those of us who choose to trek in the most rugged mountains in the world. The Girl Version is a new set of norms. A surrender of rights. An acceptance of a standard of living that no one in the world abides by except white women travelling on foot in densely populated third world countries.

My first attempt to wash was at a spring under the direct observation of a water buffalo shepherd. I thought I was very astute to have brought a lungi, a colourful sheet to wrap around me before I removed my clothing. Undressing and bathing were easily done. Redressing my damp skin in clothing made from non-stretch fabric proved far more challenging. I became completely entrapped in my tunic, with one arm extended vertically through the sleeve. The other hand clutched the soaked lungi in which the rest of me was wrapped. The situation proved so dire that I had to be rescued and dressed by a more experienced member of the International Society.

Bathing modestly in public requires cunning, strategy, and self-awareness. When we do not have a lungi, we roll our pant legs up to, but not above, our knees, and scrunch our shirt sleeves up towards our shoulders. We bend double to immerse our hair under water taps or ladle stream water from empty bottles.

Our clothes we knead on rocks and walkways, chafing dirt and soapsuds from the fabric. Sometimes we wade into the river and wash our clothes and our bodies at once, smearing ourselves with one all-purpose bar of soap and squeezing black shampoo from single-use packets like a condiment. As we learn we become more flexible, more adept, and more clean.

We change clothes beneath inquiring gazes and open skies. We learn to always wear shawls as the Nepali women do. We learn to wrap and secure the shawls beneath our shirts so both hands are free to remove our tunics and pull on our clean clothes. We learn to drape the shawls in fashionable and practical ways so the ends do not catch or drag. We learn to gather the ends in our hands to lift cooking pots from open fires, or if our shawls are too thin, we gather leaves from nearby scrub and fold them into organic hot pads.

The Girl Version is walking in places where a single misstep means certain death. We wade barefoot through streams and balance on logs over rapids and trundle in hand-powered cable cars over flood-stage rivers. We climb many hundreds of metres on blistered feet and descend as many hundreds of metres on throbbing knees. We cross landslides that have torn away the mountains. We stop for rest and stare over precipices and into canyons and up at the thinning sky. We spot beehives in the shadows of the cliffs and water buffalo rummaging in narrow pastures. We listen to rumours of tigers and rebels and kidnappers. We pick leeches from our skin with our fingers, or we sprinkle them with salt and watch their skin melt and our blood spill out of their writhing bodies. We are cruel. We are brave. Sometimes we are overcome.

Sometimes we cower in our sleeping bags late into the night, pinching the openings shut over our heads with trembling hands, feeling rodent footsteps on our bodies. Often we refuse to look up, knowing the ceiling is scabbed over with spiders, and that we can’t kill them all, and if we do there will be more insects, so we bury our faces in our arms and dream of bubble baths and mosquito netting.

Sometimes we don’t sleep for days, not really, and we begin to lose our concentration, our language skills, and our nerve. We eat nothing but rice and lentils for weeks and our digestive systems begin to collapse on themselves. Our hands shake from lack of blood sugar. Our muscles quiver from lack of protein. Our immune systems no longer heal scratches and bites. We begin to believe that we can walk no farther. That we can’t even lift our backpacks from where they have fallen by the side of the road. We run out of water, and when we find water, we run out of patience for the purifying iodine, but we convince each other to wait, because we know about giardia and typhoid and cholera.

The Girl Version is knowing that feminism is foolishness in these mountains. We know that girls can’t do anything boys can do, and certainly not better. We don’t have the muscle mass to carry as much up steep hills or over far distances. Some of us can trek harder than some of the boys, but collectively we are weaker, so we become more strategic. We learn to pack lighter, and to catch rides on Jeeps and tractors and pack mule trains.

We trade bulky hairbrushes for plastic combs. We risk bedbugs in village blankets and carry sleeping bag liners instead of the warmer, heavier version. We give up pyjamas. We turn our socks inside out and pretend that they are clean. But we still carry candy, and lip balm, and sometimes our extra set of clothes is pink. We carry cloth headbands to cover our greasy hair because we may be trekkers, but we are still girl trekkers.

The Girl Version is getting credit for showing up. Sometimes we are the first foreigners ever seen in a village, and while we frighten the children, we impress the adults. They assume, always, that it is our first time outside of Kathmandu, and when we begin to name the districts we have trekked, their esteem grows. The women are sympathetic. The men are protective.

“It is not safe for women to travel alone in these hills,” they warn, “not when there are so many dangers.”

“There are kidnappers,” they tell us, “and they will sell you to brothels in India.”

“There are snakes,” they say, “you should not go off the trails. You will stay here for the rest of your time.”

Arguing is useless. They will not listen to women, especially not foreign women, and we do not have the words to argue their logic. They will not allow us to travel alone. They do not respect our plans. They consider us reckless and foolish and weak. We cannot leave unless they show us the trail. And so we do not argue.

But we do not stay. We wait, and we listen to their plans, and we sigh and nod, and we consider their warnings, and we sit by the fire and drink tea and ask about their crops and their children. When the moment is right, and the light is gone, and they are finished speaking, we  thank them for their hospitality and their advice, and we inform them that we are leaving in the morning, at first light.

We do leave, but not at first light. Not until they have killed a chicken and their wives have cooked it along with rice and lentils and we leave the village with bloated stomachs in the heat of the day and already our plans and resolve are wilting. But the men have given in, and they show us the trail. Occassionally they come with us to carry our backpacks because they know the hills are too steep.

We are grateful for the help, since the rice has turned to gravel in our stomachs, so we hand over our backpacks only to watch them disappear up the trail on the shoulders of the men who don’t realize that we walk slowly, not because of the weight of our packs, but because of the thinness of the air. So we straggle behind them, trying to keep our water bottles in sight as they bound ahead over the boulders. The gravel in our stomachs grinds to a heavy paste and our blood sugar crashes and our lungs are being impaled with a thousand burning spikes and we’ve lost sight of our bags completely.

The men wait for us at the top of the mountain, and we feel guilty for taking them from their fields and their families, so we do not stop to rest on the way. We keep climbing as fast as we can, but now there are two thousand burning spikes in our lungs and our hands begin to shake and our knees tremble. We wish that we had stayed in the village. We wonder if they are being helpful or punitive, and we wish they would just leave us gasping on the side of the trail, but they are too considerate for that. They shame us along to our destination village.

When we arrive, we collapse in a scrap of shade and hug our backpacks and gulp water, even though we know it will add to the pain in our stomachs. We are unable to stand or to speak. Our chaperones introduce us to the patriarchs of this next village and explain that we are foreign women traveling alone. They say abrupt goodbyes and return to their homes, passing on the burden of caring for the helpless foreigners.

“It is not safe for women to travel alone in these hills,” our new chaperones warn, “not when there are so many dangers.”

“There are kidnappers,” they tell us, “and they will sell you to brothels in India.”

“There are snakes,” they say, “you should not go off the trails. You will stay here for the rest of your time.”

And we do not argue.

But we do not stay.

The Girl Version is about resilience, not strength. About how fast you can recover, not how much you can survive. It is silent evenings beneath a masterpiece of stars, staring up at heavens that dwarf even these mountains, and the places we came from, and the distance in between. We stare, and we feel small, and we know that our tiredness and our discomfort are also small. In these moments the mountains are not so high, and the rivers are not so cold. We know that what we packed in our thirty, thirty-five, forty litre backpacks is all that we need in the world, for days of climbing and nights of wonder, and it makes us feel safe to need so little and to marvel so much.

When we break off our stargazing we return to the village fires to warm our hands and drink tea. When we are silent in the dimness the villagers sometimes forget that we are here, or that we are foreign. We squat with our feet flat on the ground in rubber sandals and stretch our walking muscles in preparation for another day.

In the mornings we crawl from our sleeping bags to the smells of tea and smoke and poverty. Our muscles have contracted in the night and we crouch from our room and perch like reptiles on flat stones beside the road to soak in the weak morning sun. We are frozen like pale gargoyles until the warmth frees us to stand and lace our boots and heft our packs and walk again.

– Brenda Sallee specializes in contrast. She grew up in Haiti and Russia and enjoys both sappy girl movies and trekking in the Himalayas. She is a graduate of the University of Central Florida’s MFA program, where she worked as an editorial assistant at The Florida Review. She currently lives in Orlando, Florida.

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Winter Driving

Four white-tailed deer bolt
As the low flame of sunset ignites the orchard.

Directly, we fall silent, lacking conjunctions,
broken hearted. Hooves and a dusting of snow,

muffled pounding. It always comes back to that
black hole at the center—neither matter nor half-moon—

flames of ice pierced by headlights.
Without fear of gravity

momentum will get you over the next rise
or into the soft, dark shoulder.

Even small failures are unforgiven.
The one thing you may never do is stop.

Deer leap in four directions over drifts
that go black outside the range of our beams.

Broken hearted or not, a doe stands in the pelting storm
just taking it.

– Laura Smyth is a writer and book designer, which is how she manages to have the best of both worlds in publishing. She holds an MFA from Columbia University and is a partner in two small publishing companies, Thimbleberry Press and Mudminnow Press. She lives with her family in a small, refurbished miner’s house on the rustic Keweenaw Peninsula of Upper Michigan.

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Not Talking

I am sick with talking
in the parking lot, the class room,
the grocery aisle where apples

and oranges look like stained glass.
I am sick with talking at the bakery
and the bank, the drive through

where a woman with glittered nails
thinks I want to talk about my
self, herself, our personal weather.

I want words that stall to keel
and vaporize. I want a noun exact
as a swung axe tracing the eye’s

plumb line from north to south. I want
a verb precise as the optic nerve,
gravity’s burn, a beak’s first tap.

I want every noun’s geometry
to flare into eternity; I want the vowels
in Silence to convene and testify.

– Laurie Lamon’s poems have appeared in The Atlantic, The New Republic, The New Criterion, Ploughshares, and others magazines, including Poetry Daily and Verse Daily. A Pushcart recipient, she also received a Witter Bynner award, selected by Donald Hall. Her poetry collections are The Fork Without Hunger and Without Wings (CavanKerry Press 2007, 2009).

Not An Elegy

The workshop focuses on elegy and so
we read a few – O’Hara, Roethke, Tate –
and she says maybe every poem is an elegy.
And the workshop is over so I
drive home and think about it.
And the day is over so I go to bed
and wake thinking about it again,
and I think about my poems, the ones
that celebrate life, and so I sit and write,
Can every poem be a kind of elegy?
And I notice the loops of the g and y
fall beneath the blue line on the page,
I watch my pen and see the ink dry
as it glides from one word to the next,
I see my hand’s shadow moving slowly.

I think about the poem I once wrote
that can’t possibly be an elegy, the one of you
in the infant tub set into the kitchen sink,
your pearl-sized toes and tootsie-roll arms
quivering as the water sloshed over you,
the o of your mouth glistening and dark
with the words you would begin to say,
the plastic tub the color of new daffodils,
and I remember you like a hairless puppy
in my arms, remember the exact pitch
of your whimper, the infant tub dented
with use by older cousins and sold
by summer’s end in a yard sale.

We’ve lived in three houses since I stood
at that kitchen sink to bathe you,
and sometimes still in my dreams you
are small and wandering and lost and you
cannot hear me calling you. In dreams
we are both small, always, in my poem
like a photograph you are still small, you
have stayed small, I feel the mere weight
of you in my arms as I lift you from the water
to drape you in a towel, I see the water
pool down into the drain and I think about how
tiny pieces of your newborn body will disappear
into the pipes below and be dispersed
among the rocks and soil and sand and clay.

– Kate Hutchinson’s experiences as a high school teacher, a single mother of an adult son with special needs, and a lover of the natural world, feed her poems and essays, which have appeared in over two dozen literary magazines and collections. Her first chapbook, The Gray Limbo of Perhaps, was recently published by Finishing Line Press (2012).

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