Thinking in Two Languages

by Shiksha Dheda

Screen Shot 2021-12-29 at 5.23.46 PM

Shiksha Dheda is a South African of Indian descent. She uses writing to express her OCD and depression roller-coaster ventures. Sometimes, she dabbles in photography, painting, and baking lopsided layered cakes. Her writing has been featured(on/forthcoming) in Brittle Paper, Daily Drunk Magazine, Door is a jar, Luna Luna Mag and Versification, amongst others. She is the Pushcart nominated author of Washed Away (Alien Buddha Press, 2021) She rambles annoyingly at Twitter: @ShikshaWrites. You can find (or ignore her) at https://shikshadheda.wixsite.com/writing/poetry

Weatherman (CW: allusion to physical violence)

by Shiksha Dheda

His                                                       face                                  rained                             today
      -much                                                     contrast to
the                     rainbow                                                                                  smile


                                                            of                                                                             yesterday



The                                               droplets                                                         began
                            uneasily                                                                and


paced                                                                                    themselves                                     to                                                                    a
rhythm-less                            tempo

They                                                                                                                                                  erupted
in                                                    a                                                         hailstorm -
                                                        complete                                         with              the heavy
                      stones      of                                          heartache

The                                  thunder                                                                                   came
                                                                        -suddenly-

                                                                         - quietly-


with                             a                                             low                         note          of               howling

Later – unexpectedly-


came                        the bolt                 of                              burning, bright                      lightning

His face returned to
the genuine colourful
burst of rainbow-
 after the insincere rainfall

Sunlight shone amiably,
whilst I held the ashy remnants of his lightning
to my cheek.

 

 


 

Shiksha Dheda is a South African of Indian descent. She uses writing to express her OCD and depression roller-coaster ventures. Sometimes, she dabbles in photography, painting, and baking lopsided layered cakes. Her writing has been featured(on/forthcoming) in Brittle Paper, Daily Drunk Magazine, Door is a jar, Luna Luna Mag and Versification, amongst others. She is the Pushcart nominated author of Washed Away (Alien Buddha Press, 2021) She rambles annoyingly at Twitter: @ShikshaWrites. You can find (or ignore her) at https://shikshadheda.wixsite.com/writing/poetry

 

A Conversation with Esther Vincent Xueming

 SC: With poems covering such a range of topics, the sectioning of the collection helped contextualize my reading of the poems. As a fiction writer, I found that I continually sought out an ‘arc’ to follow along. I wonder if you could speak about the intention behind each distinct section of the collection? Do you see them building and telling a story, in a way?

EVXM: Thank you for this question! This particular editorial decision was something I grappled with for some time. You’re right to say that my poems cover a wide range of topics. They also traverse expanses of geography as well as landscapes of memory and time. When I embarked on this project, I wanted to produce something like Grace Nichols’ I Have Crossed An Ocean. I was also reading and inspired by Linda Gregg’s Sacraments of Desire, Joy Harjo’s She Had Some Horses, and Li-Young Lee’s The City in Which I Love You, all of which were sectioned meaningfully into four to five parts. My working manuscript comprised four sections, but my supervisor felt that four was too disparate and that three might be better in terms of the book’s coherence. Again, I am indebted to his guidance and from there, I started to think about the three sections. I knew I had to create a section for the dream poems, and decided to title each section after a poem within the section. Dream fruit held most of my dream and meditation poems, and poems evoking sleep and the subconscious. I wanted to open the collection with Dream fruit as a way of inviting the reader into my dreams and subconscious, into a mode of dream-like envisioning.  

 The second section About love, is truncated from the first poem in that section, which writes after Boland’s “Quarantine”. I had to think about how to arrange the poems in this particular section, as they ranged from romantic, familial love to love for the land and home in which one is born into and resides upon. I have to admit that this was the most tricky section but I am satisfied with how it has materialised. “Falcon” was the last poem to join the collection and I decided to include it in About love rather than Dream fruit even though it draws from a dream too as I found that the peregrine falcon’s migratory nature would serve as the connection between this section and the next, just as how the bird in the poem connected the speaker’s home to other places, bird to self.  

The final section Pilgrims contains my travel poems, or poems about ‘elsewheres’. One of the questions posed by this section is the mobile nature of home, and whether or not we can feel at home away from home. The poems in this section are seeking poems. They search for home and belonging, to place and to Earth. They recognise their status as outsider, as transient visitor, as pilgrim. Yet, they dwell in place and establish roots through routes. I wanted to end with a grounded sense of self, and chose stone, which across many cultures signify permanence in the face of rapid industrial and urban change. “Memory stone: In fragments” pays tribute to the various places I visited in Croatia, and traces the speaker’s memory that is held within each stone. The stones also symbolise time, and reminds readers that long after the human body perishes, the stones will remain, weathering to nature’s rhythm. I intended for the final lyric in this poem “6 Ensemble” to wrap up the section and collection. This ultimate lyric is concerned with “the history of home / away from home. Collected over time”, with memory recreating an “ensemble of remembered places” and an image of “sojourn”. The temporary nature of the “traveller’s sojourn” and “drifting” is also a commentary on our fleeting time on Earth, and the final image of the “undercurrents crash / beneath, waves breaking reef ashore” can be read in many ways.  

I would love to hear what readers think, but personally I find the sound of waves crashing and the image of the broken reef so powerful and evocative, as it returns the poem, the book and reader to Earth, to water, to the sea. In all honesty, the book would not have been possible without Earth. We are not possible without Earth.  

SC: This is a broad question, but I wonder if you could speak a little about your process when it comes to poetry? Do you generally begin with an image, a line, a subject, etc or does it depend on the piece? I’m thinking specifically of “The Blue Mountains;” I keep coming back to the image of that “leaking hose.” Imagery is so strong throughout this collection, but I was occasionally more swept away by the concept of the poem itself, as in “Montenegro in Two Scenes.” What comes first for you when drafting, and what do you work to hold onto as the poem evolves? 

EVXM: Every poem is different, and so my process differs for each poem. Typically, I draw from recurring memories or dreams or experiences. This could be in the form of an image, line or emotion. If I refer to “The Blue Mountains”, the poem happened because I was reading some news about the particularly bad bushfire season in Australia sometime in June 2019 through May 2020. Australia holds a special place in my heart because my family (we grew up working class) actually had to sell our apartment to downsize from a spacious (by local definition) four-room to a much smaller three-room flat just to afford this family vacation. I was twelve, on the cusp of adolescence, and this was our first family trip outside of Southeast Asia. This was a big deal for us and as a child, everything about the place was magical. In particular, I recall how my mother loved The Blue Mountains, which offered our family a welcome respite from the city. In turn, I resolved in my childish heart to retire there one day. The place represented for me some kind of memory of familial bliss and natural beauty, and so when I read news of the bushfires destroying the land, I felt a kindred sense of grief and sorrow.  

It’s interesting how we can feel kinships to places away from home, and feel at home away from home. As a child, I felt at home and at peace in The Blue Mountains, with its invigorating mountain air and wide expanse of space. This memory helped me to empathise with the place. I think the impetus for writing the poem came in the form of the image of the charred joey, published by The Times of India in one of its articles. Local news coverage reported the numbers of lives lost on a daily basis, human and more-than-human, and my heart somehow went out to the latter, who were dying by the millions. I began this poem in grief but ended on hope. The dead joey taught me that my poem could be “brimming, undefeated, full / of life… against the raging dark” of the fires and I am humbled each time I think about the lessons nature has taught me by just being.  

Ironically, I don’t try to hold on to anything but let the poem speak through me. I see myself more as a vessel, and the poem as the voice, message or journey that needs to take place through me. That’s why my poems begin, but I never know where they lead. Each poem surprises me as I write and when I revise my work. Sometimes, when writing a draft, I know it’s still raw and unfinished when the poem is clouded by negativity, anger or bitterness. It’s important to let these emotions through though, so that the poem can gain clarity and light. The revision process is important for me in finding my way and finding out what the poem really wants to say. It’s quite an intuitive process and I know a poem is ready when it teaches me something I never knew before.  

 You mentioned “Montenegro in two scenes”. My first draft was actually a collection four lyrics, of various places in Montenegro. My supervisor read it and said I was trying to do too much without enough depth, and so I let go of two other lyrics and decided to focus on two more poignant ones. I think this was a good decision because it allowed me to take my time to get to know Perast and Cetinje again. It also meant I had to focus on these places and what they taught me: the old man’s joy immortalising the young boatman who never returned home in the former, and the stray dog’s wisdom and lack of attachment in the latter.

SC: When it comes to ecopoetics as a genre, a characteristic attributed to it by James Englehardt is that “it is connected to the world in a way that implies responsibility.” This genre feels heavy in a way, as if it carries even more of a weight due to the present moment. In creating an entire collection within the genre of ecopoetics, how did that ‘responsibility’ manifest for you? Was it more beneficial to your craft to lean in, or was it necessary to put certain connotations aside in order to create more freely? 

EVXM: You refer here to Englehardt’s “The Language Habitat: an Ecopoetry Manifesto”, where Englehardt begins with the opening line “Ecopoetry is connection.”, and goes on to define ecopoetry’s entanglements with language, science, the non-human world, spirit, body, family, culture, society, ethics and lastly, play. I appreciate this way of thinking about ecopoetry as “responsibility”, an ethical framework through which literature engages politically with the world and our environment. In fact, one of the ways I might describe ecopoetry is as a form of eco-social activism. I like to think of Red Earth as my contribution to Earth, through poems that mourn and celebrate Earth, that seek communion with Others (places, people, cultures, more-than-human beings) while recognising our differences, that search for home at home and away from home to come to an enlarged, expanded, planetary vision of Earth as home and the self as at home on Earth. While the word “responsibility” might seem heavy, another way to look at it is through the eyes of love. We can also be responsible for a thing that we love. In this light, we can think of ecopoetry as poetry of loving attention to Earth, with an ongoing awareness of human-induced environmental damage to Earth and the fragility of ecosystems should we not act responsibly.  

For me, when I was working on the collection, I didn’t know as yet what its theme or genre would be. I was writing poems that were eco-conscious, I was writing poems about family, I was writing poems about places away from home, I was writing poems about home. I was writing poems motivated by awe, deep anger, love, grief, hope. To respond to your question more directly, I created freely under the guidance and advice of my MA supervisor, Boey Kim Cheng, who told me to write without concerning myself too much about the collection’s theme. I think this freedom enabled me to delve deep and reach out without limiting myself to any one topic, theme or genre, i.e. ecopoetics. However, it was clear that across my poems, there were similar concerns about the speaker’s place on Earth, and how the speaker related to Others and by proxy, the self. As I prepared my exegesis, my research and critical examination of my work naturally began to gain clarity in two areas: ecopoetry: place and the making of home, as well as ecofeminism. I have to thank Kim Cheng for directing me to specific poets and readings. Independently, I devoted much of my research to the study of women authors like Mary Oliver, Joy Harjo, Eavan Boland and Grace Nichols whose poetics spoke to me and influenced my work.  

As I mentioned earlier, I did not consciously set out to write a collection of ecopoetry. However, I found myself writing a collection of ecopoetry by engaging with issues close to my heart, in responding to places or news or policies or art or memories or objects or subjects that somehow had eco-social resonance. We live in time and in place, and so I was simply writing as someone conscious of her time and place on Earth.


Esther Vincent Xueming is the editor-in-chief and founder of The Tiger Moth Review, an independent eco journal of art and literature based in Singapore. She is co-editor of two poetry anthologies, Poetry Moves (Ethos Books, 2020) and Little Things (Ethos Books, 2013), and Making Kin, an ecofeminist anthology of personal essays by women writers in Singapore (Ethos Books). A literature educator by profession, she is passionate about the relationships between art, literature and the environment. Follow her on Twitter @EstherVincentXM. Her debut poetry collection, Red Earth, is available for purchase from Blue Cactus Press here in North America and Europe and here from our distributor in Asia and the rest of the world. In Singapore, you can get a copy of Red Earth
from any Kinokuniya store.

 

Tender Collections of a Shared Planet: A Review of Esther Vincent Xueming’s Red Earth

by Allen Means

When I was in elementary school, I was best friends with a little girl who loved trees. She loved them so much in fact, that she would cry when other children plucked leaves from their branches. She used to tell me that the roots of trees were their hands, buried deep in the earth. The way she described it was like their tree-ness was simply an accident of nature, and only by chance were they alive and quiet instead of alive and tumultuous (like us). At the time I didn’t understand it, especially when she would make me ask to take their flowers or lean against their trunks, but I knew I loved her kindness. I assumed I had to think of the trees like people in order to understand, imagining that the trees were once children who had pressed their fingers too far into beach sand, letting it climb up their forearms and elbows, and been fossilized just like that. Their roots and branches just limbs.  

In beginning to read Esther Vincent Xueming’s debut poetry collection, Red Earth, I could not help but imagine the speaker as my dear friend, someone with an incredible empathy and a powerful vision to share. Red Earth is an admirable account of our planet’s condition and a kind offering of hope and healing, seeking to transform not only our connection to the earth but our connections to one another.  

This collection of ecopoetry is sliced gently into three parts, Dream fruitAbout love, and Pilgrims, each dedicated to their own meditative lens, although more largely connected by a preoccupation with the vast and unknowable. In her poems, Esther Vincent Xueming embarks on a search for lost roots— familial, spiritual, and metaphysical— through reflections on family, memory, art, nature, and poetry.  

Various pieces in the collection include dedications from the poet to those (people, animals, places, poems) in her personal and artistic life, something that becomes noticeable as part of the foundation on which Red Earth was written, in its abundant practice of giving ode and acknowledgement to that which gives and inspires. These dedications come in a form that differs from poetry that often seeks to “capture a moment.” Because while Xueming has a gift for reflection and description of life’s intimate moments, these poems seem to contain no desire for ownership, but a desire to cherish and give.  

The poem, "Crossing" is a tribute, after William E. Stafford's "Travelling through the Dark," that provides a devastatingly gentle remembrance of a deer put to death. The lines "And though I never / knew her, I want to remember" express a dedication to preserving life, even of those we do not know. This collection of a memory is meant to affirm and honor a life lived and is followed by a section break and the beginning lines "Imaginary friend, let me resurrect / your broken body from the dirt and ash" (28). The speaker of these poems has a powerful sense of energy and vitality, finding and making connections to others through our shared life and shared soil. Xueming’s poems seek for a way to not only preserve, like the photograph in "Crossing," but re-document and "resurrect" the life that might otherwise be missed or forgotten. It is a deeply admirable feature of the poet in this collection, in her attempt to give and create space for that life, and provide us a mindful, loving look into what it means to reflect rather than capture or take.  

"The Blue Mountains" is another poem that gives us insight into that reflection of moment, in which the speaker recounts her past home in Australia and attempts to grapple with the news of its devastating wildfires.  

 

"Australia is burning, and the mountains of my memory 

are turning blue. I think how this poem 

 

could be a leaking hose running out of water 

to quench a dry and angry land. But I also think 

 

how it could be brimming, undefeated, full 

of life in its last breath before the raging dark." (57) 

 

There is a kindness in this reflection. In the sentiment that poetry, perhaps, may provide a testament to that which has existed or lived. And while a poem might work to amend or to advocate, it might also, in its simple extension of words, work to preserve memory of— to instill the respect and honor of attention, re-documenting the fullness of "life in its last breath."  

In the last section of the book, in a poem called, "Monsoon," the speaker recounts an experience during monsoon season, in which the speaker describes the relationship between the environment and the people who must both labor under its conditions. 

 

“The southerly winds have arrived, 

and with them, occasional showers and thunderstorms 

washing the afternoons down with the shingle of rain. 

They will stay for four months, returning again 

 

next June. Our plants rely on this gift of seasonal rain 

to survive. We try to care for them, inventing a way 

to collect the rain with a wooden pole and a small bucket, 

fourteen floors above the ground. In another place,…” (83) 

 

In this poem, the speaker spirals slowly from her account of the season into a recount of a specific memory, in which an unknown temple keeper offers her shelter from the wind and rain beneath his red-roofed temple (84). This sweet, touching narrative then plays out with a tinge of irony, in which the temple keeper kindly takes the speaker’s shoes and keeps them dry beneath a 'No Shoes' sign.  

In a book that so highlights a suffering environment at the hands of humanity, it is touching to see how Xueming approaches the world’s condition as one that is complex and multifaceted. In all its grappling with the vast and unknown, Red Earth still comforts with its attention to the sweet, humble moments of humanity where those that are connected to and by the earth can still find hope in the kindness of others.  

And although the poems in this collection still seek for roots, for peace, for belonging, for wholeness— they are grounded in moments that offer rather than take. “The Red Earth” provides and contains life, but the speaker documents, cherishes, and collects in an attempt to connect with the earth and give back. Like a dear friend who asks us to respect and honor, Esther Vincent Xueming's Red Earth is tender and thoughtful in its craft and attention, drawing connections between us through the inhale and exhale of an earth that is just as alive as we are.  

 


 

Allen Means (he/him) is a queer poet and writer from Boulder, Colorado, where he earned a degree in Creative Writing and Japanese. He currently resides in Miami, Florida, where he is pursuing an MFA in Poetry.

Cowabunga Sunset

 

by Ross West

 

JACOB 

I got a resupply pack in the Repair & Maintenance Shop and lugged it out to the floating wooden  dock where we rented kayaks. The ocean air was filled with the lazy calls of sea gulls, and out on  the beach the park’s visitors were having their fun. From the pack I took the electronic controller  and punched in the command. A harbor seal stuck its head out of the water and, with a few kicks of its powerful tail, propelled itself up onto the dock next to me. Another command launched the  seal into its roll-over routine that brought it to a rest propped up on one fin, belly exposed. I  inserted the special wrench and opened the door in the seal’s chest. Out popped the old toaster sized battery pack. I slid in its replacement, snapped the door shut, and punched the DONE button  on the controller. The seal barked, scooted across the dock, and dove back into the water.

When I first started working at the COWABUNGA! water park I thought the seal was about  the coolest thing I’d ever seen. I still did, but recently something else had definitely caught my  eye. I was stationed at Lifeguard Tower Four when I first saw her, wearing a T-shirt and a pair of  gym shorts, walking barefoot on the dry sand. One of her hands held a pair of flipflops, the other  occasionally brushed aside a strand of her long, wavy, chestnut hair. Never had I seen anyone so  beautiful.  

Turned out that she, Mary, had just been hired. A week or so later our shift supervisor  assigned us to pair up later that afternoon doing Special Needs Aquatic Support. I couldn’t  believe my luck and bounced through my morning duties grinning, whistling, and feeling all  kinds of stupid goofy happy. 

If any of this had happened even a few months earlier, I wouldn’t have been ready for it.  Back then, I didn’t do much except play high school water polo and hang out with guys from the  team—guys who had girlfriends and were always telling stories about burning the love light. But  I was shy and super busy with water polo practice and games, school, and two part-time jobs I  worked to help Mom with the bills. The guys used to razz me pretty hard about my lack of  experience in the female department.  

All that changed right after graduation when I got hired at COWABUNGA! On my third day  on the job I met the park’s owner, Greg. When I got off my lifeguarding shift at Tower Four he  was standing there waiting—forty-five or so, shaggy-haired, in a Hawaiian shirt and a pair of  dude shorts. 

“Hey man,” he said, “let’s you and me take a walk down the beach.”  

As we wove our way between the kids running in and out of the water, he asked me,  “Why do you think all these people come here?”

I was a little nervous—new to the job, talking to the big boss—and all I could think of  was, “To have fun?”  

“Exactly” he said. “For fun and to get away from the crazy stuff outside the park.  Drought, mass starvation, water wars—half the world’s starting to look like freakin’ Mad Max.  Even in this country, things are getting a little . . . scary. So, it’s important we give our visitors a  vacation from all the doom and gloom. Make sense?” 

“Totally.” Mostly I didn’t pay attention to all the environmental stuff in the news, but  yeah, he was right.  

Greg stopped walking and faced me, dead serious, eye to eye. “You and the rest of the  staff make that vacation happen. You’re the COWABUNGA! vibe.” He talked to me like an adult— very different from any of the bosses and teachers and coaches I’d ever had. “The way I look at  it,” he said, “people are suffering. This place is a hospital, the beach is our medicine, and you, my friend,” he tapped a finger against my chest, “you’re Dr. Feelgood. Can you dig it?” 

It was like he’d knighted me or something, like all of a sudden I had a mission to help  people. I felt ten feet tall, ready for anything. And yes, I could definitely dig it.  

On the afternoon Mary and I were assigned to work together in Aquatic Support, we got  to the parking lot just as the van from the state hospital arrived. The driver, a nurse named Roberto, had brought us one tiny and very shy little girl about five, Jeannie. Earlier on the  telephone Roberto had filled us in about Jeannie—that she had had eleven surgeries and spent  most of her life in the hospital.  

We wheeled her out to the access ramp and got her into the floatation jacket. She was  scared—maybe headed for a meltdown.  

Mary bent in close, stroked Jeanie’s little stick of an arm, and said, “Can I tell you a  secret?”  

With tears about to spill out of her eyes, Jeannie gave a shaky nod. 

“Jacob here is about the best swimmer in the whole wide world. Did you know that?”  Jeannie shook her head. 

“See that island way way out there?” Mary pointed at the man-made atoll we called Gilligan’s Island, a quarter mile offshore. “He can swim all the way out there and back.” Mary  rested her hand on my shoulder. “Isn’t that right, Jacob?” 

“Done it a hundred times,” I said.  

I gave the kid’s cheek a little brush with the backside of my finger, something that used  to help when I babysat my cousins and they needed a little reassurance. It didn’t work any great  miracles with Jeanie, whose fingers were clamped on the arm rests of her chair as we rolled her  down the ramp and eased her into the Aquatic Support swimming area. The water came up  around her and the flotation jacket lifted her out of the wheelchair. Mary and I held her, one on  each side, but even so, Jeannie was panicky, straining her head upward and gulping down breaths  like a hungry baby bird. 

Every time she bobbed down and the water came up close to her mouth, we made sure  she bobbed right back up. After a while she calmed down, enough so she started to notice how  different rules apply in the water—how light she was, how easy it was for her to move her frail  body. She made a few tentative strokes to test things out, tried some variations, and it wasn’t  long before she got pretty good at floating and paddling, an accomplishment she signaled with  open-mouthed glee and a string of excited chirps.

“I’m flying,” she squealed. And she was, flinging herself back and forth between Mary  and me like a giggling little motorboat, spinning around and around, slapping her arms onto the  water to make big splashes.  

She swam and played until Roberto honked the van’s horn and waved his arm.  “I don’t wanna go,” Jeannie cried.  

We rolled her out of the water and got her all bunched up in a towel.  

Don’t. Wanna. Go,” she insisted, pushing her fists into her cheeks. 

“We’ll always be here,” Mary said. 

I took her hand and gave it a squeeze and a little shake. “You can always come back.”  “Promise?” she asked, her face lighting up. 

“Promise,” we said together.  

Roberto got Jeannie and her chair strapped into the van. She bounced happily up and  down, talking to us through the glass, saying words we couldn’t hear. The van turned out of the  parking lot, and she waved and blew us a kiss.  

I waved back. “What a cutie.”  

“Hope we see her again,” Mary said, pulling her hair into a ponytail. 

We just stood there in the parking lot like neither of us wanted to leave.  

Finally, I asked, “So how did you know I’ve been out to Gilligan’s?” 

The corner of her mouth curled up in a sneaky little smile and she aimed her green-green green eyes at me. “I’ve been watching you.”  

I totally froze.

“See you tomorrow,” she said and walked off toward the Operations Center. I couldn’t  take my eyes off of her—the graceful way she moved, her swimmer’s shoulders, how her  ponytail swayed. 

MELINDA 

Greg approached us at CJQ Capital Partners with a rather modest pitch: Six months of profitable  operation constituted proof of concept for his themed water park; now it was time to open a  second park to test out the feasibility of spreading the COWABUNGA! brand by way of the  franchise model. Greg and his CFO walked us through the financials, construction cost estimates,  timelines, projected return on investment, and the rest of their package. The numbers penciled  out and I was intrigued. 

I had my team run our own analyses and rather quickly saw that, like many newcomers to the universe of venture capital, Greg was fixated on growing sunflowers while the market was  crying out for redwoods. His vision of piecemeal expansion through franchising would fail to  fully leverage disruptive impacts and the first-to-market strategic advantage. 

At a second meeting I laid out our counterproposal: Financed by a consortium of  institutional and private investors, we would roll out nine beach parks at or near major coastal  cities around the world—simultaneously inventing and dominating the market. 

When I finished, Greg’s cheeks were wet with tears of joy. I loved his honesty, his  unguarded emotions; at one point he said with complete sincerity, “Hey, I’m not really a money  guy.” As if we hadn’t noticed. 

Far more important than his good heart and clever idea, he possessed the necessary  ingredient of every entrepreneurial success, exquisite timing. This is how my team’s Cultural  Analytics Specialist summed it up in her evaluation: 

The intensifying global emergency of catastrophic climate change (including the  worldwide disappearance of beaches resulting from rising sea levels) is forcing governments to impose unprecedented draconian restrictions, eliminating  freedoms of activity, behavior, expression. Constrained consumers are resentful of these severe austerities. Their compensatory desires thus stimulated, they crave respite and distraction as never before. COWABUNGA! offers the succor of escapism  via an otherwise unattainable resource. 

Simply put, we had ourselves a moneymaker. 

So far, both meetings about the COWABUNGA! proposal had taken place at our Manhattan  office. At these sessions Greg repeatedly implored us to make a site visit, claiming that “all the  spreadsheets in the world won’t tell you half as much about the park as spending an hour on the  beach.” 

We scheduled a visit.  

JACOB 

Nights were super popular at COWABUNGA! We had bonfires and weenie roasts and s’mores, full  moon surfing, romantic walks along the sand. But the day after Mary and I worked together in  Aquatics Support, the park closed early—the staff swept all visitors off the beach and out the  doors even before the Sky-Tron kicked into its sunset routine. A maintenance crew was coming  from the wave machine company to do their quarterly check-up on the hydraulics. My job was to  let them in and make sure they had whatever they might need. 

With the crowd and the staff gone and the crew not yet arrived, I was the only guy in the  whole huge park. Very cool, very peaceful, like being on my own island. I went for a walk on the sand and stopped at one of the cement fire rings that held a pile of ashes and some charred wood  left from last night’s luau. I found it amazing that in the middle of a global climate train wreck we could have open fires on the beach. Outside in the real world just about anything that releases even a puff of greenhouse gas is regulated seventeen different ways by six different branches of  government. Not to mention the scary EcoGuardian vigilante groups that go after “Earth killers” by burning down their businesses, cars, and homes. But Greg wasn’t about to have a beach  without campfires, so he purchased ten times more carbon offsets than were required and ended  up winning a Green Hero award. Smart guy.  

My phone rang. The maintenance crew leader said one of their trucks had broken down  and they’d have to reschedule for another night. Before we even finished the conversation I was already thinking about Mary and working up the courage to ask her if maybe she might want to  come hang out.  

“Oh perfect,” she said when I called, her voice happy and bright and not hesitating for a  second. “I’ll be right over.” 

While I waited, I went into the Control Room, fired up the Sky-Tron controller, and  bumped up the intensity of the sunset routine for the dome that covered COWABUNGA! I paced  around and looked at the clock about five times then went back to the Sky-Tron controller. What  the heck—I cranked all the inputs to the max. 

Mary arrived and we ran to the beach, laid out our towels, and dove in. Soon we were  beyond the breakers, moving in the open water as easy and happy as a couple of otters. I had  jacked up the Sky-Tron settings so much that as the sun dipped toward the horizon the western  half of the dome throbbed in bright neon colors—orange, red, gold, green, and purple. I told her  what I had done. 

“You made us tie-dye sky,” she said, a big grin on her face. She slapped water at me and  dove. I felt her gliding smoothly past my calf.  

We swam back to shore and toweled off in the fading light of the greatest sunset in the  history of the world. I lit a fire while Mary uncorked a bottle of red wine. We sat and drank and  watched the flames and laughed and listened to the crackling fire and the shushing waves and  drank some more and got a little buzzed.  

“Oh my god,” she giggled, looking to the eastern horizon, “What is that?”  The full moon I’d programmed on the Sky-Tron was rising. It wasn’t a normal full  moon—no, this thing was gigantic, twenty, maybe thirty times regular size, with the Man in the  Moon gazing down on us, obviously quite pleased to be setting the mood for what was to come. 

MELINDA 

Greg had fervently insisted CJQ Capital people visit him at COWABUNGA! and here we were,  myself and Lou Moretti, dressed, as our host had recommended, in “beach casual attire.” Perhaps  Greg had feared Lou would show up in his wingtips and I would be in heels. In fact, Lou was  just back from two weeks on a sailboat with his wife and kids and looked almost as tan as Greg. I  was a little pasty (having been working for months on both the COWABUNGA! project and a  leveraged buyout of an Indonesian mining outfit), but I felt fashionably beachy in a batik sarong  I had picked up in Bali.  

Greg first toured us around the park’s headquarters. Everything state-of-the-art, with an  admirably cost-effective structure: staffed and operated largely by low-wage labor supported by  contracted maintenance and engineering services. Every employee seemed competent; morale was high. When we got outside, the waves made a soothing hum and the air smelled of salt. I  took off my sandals, the warm sand felt wonderful on my feet. 

“A mile and a half of beach,” Greg said proudly. “Boogie boarding, snorkeling,  volleyball, pipeline surfing—everything.” He wasn’t overselling one bit; in a quick glance left  and right I saw all he described plus sunbathers, Frisbee tossers, joggers, inner-tubers and  kayakers, body surfers, picnicking families, roaming clumps of teens, and an old couple with  long poles fishing near the jetty.  

Greg swept his arm toward an ultramarine sky streaked with two clouds shaped like white  feathers.  

“Our Sky-Tron dome gives us a completely programmable environment. We can dial up  wispy clouds, a typhoon, or anything in between. The synthetic sun emits infrared heat. Out at  the horizon, you can see a sailboat regatta and, closer in, surfers riding the reef break. All  holograms on the Sky-Tron.” 

Lou, an engineer notoriously hard to impress, emitted an appreciative “Wow.”  “Every afternoon we’ve programmed a pod of gray whales to swim past,” Greg said.  “They put on quite a show—fins, tails, spouts, breeching. Our guests love it.” “But those are real,” Lou said, pointing at a group floating on their surfboards, waiting  for waves while two skillful riders cut up and down the sloped face of a perfectly formed six-foot  curl rolling toward the shore. “Must be one hell of a wave machine.” 

“A mechanical marvel,” Greg said, smiling and shaking his head, as if he could hardly  believe what he had created. “When I was a kid, I spent as much time as I could at a beach a lot  like this one. Never felt more alive, more optimistic.” His face was blissful, but quickly turned  solemn; his tone grew somber. “When I heard about beaches around the world disappearing. I said to myself, hey man, this is a bigass problem. In fifty years or maybe a hundred we’ll get  ocean levels under control and natural beaches will come back. That’s the hope. In the meantime,  my job, my sacred duty, is to keep the flame of the beach vibe alive.” 

A thin gauze separates the visionary from the lunatic. I needed to make sure which side  our future partner was on, so I had to ask, “Why is the beach vibe so important?” “Global warming is just bummer after bummer after bummer. And that’s a soul killer.  The more depressing and dispiriting things get, the more people need a break—a place to have  some fun, to recharge. We’re Homo ludens, man. As a species, we want to—need to—have fun. And we can’t afford to bum out and give up. The stakes are way too high.” He raised his arms  and opened them to take in all that surrounded us. “We need surfers and slackers, parrot heads  and pirates, a place where lovers can rub suntan lotion on each other and lay in the sun, where  kids can chase each other into the surf.” 

He was on a roll and would probably have continued his lilting beach rhapsody but stopped abruptly when something behind Lou captured his attention. He squinted and tilted his  head as if he wasn’t quite sure what to make of the sight. Lou and I turned around and saw a tall white-haired man in a funeral-black suit lumbering across the sand toward us. When he arrived,  he adjusted the hang of his still buttoned coat and asked, “Greg Becker?”  Greg nodded suspiciously. 

“I’m with the Office of Cultural and Historical Disambiguation.” The man reached into  his coat’s breast pocket, withdrew an envelope, and handed it to Greg. “You have thirty days to  cease this facility’s operation.” 

JACOB

Down at the tidepools with a group of kids gathered around me, I talked about the starfish I had in my hand and about how, when one of these amazing creatures loses a leg, it can grow a new  one. The kids thought this was pretty cool and responded with oohs, aahs and a ton of questions. 

I noticed Greg standing off to the side, watching. He had his arms folded across his chest and  didn’t look like his normal cheery self. I tried not to let his presence distract me and passed my  visual aids to the kids—the starfish and a glass jar holding some hermit crabs, limpets, and a  spiny purple sea urchin. I got the kids wading in the pools, touching the muscles, chasing striped  shore crabs, and having their fingers sucked on by sea anemones—to shrieks of joy.  

When we finished up and the kids drifted off at around 2:30, Greg walked up to me. “You were good with them,” he said, close enough that I could smell alcohol on his  breath. There was plenty of red in his light blue eyes, the skin around them was puffy. “Thanks.” I had a bad feeling he was going to bust me for my night with Mary—exactly  one week ago.  

“Let’s have a drink,” he said. 

We chit-chatted as we walked down the beach to his hut, the casual talk made me all the  more certain he was going to let me have it. It would explain why he’d been drinking—he didn’t seem like the kind of guy who liked to dish out discipline. I felt crappy for putting him in an uncomfortable position. Still, if there was a price to pay for being with Mary, I was willing to  take the hit. It had been the best night of my life. 

The hut was on a rise away from where any of our guests would walk. It had a great  view of the ocean and a hammock strung between two palm trees by a covered lanai. On the  outside, the hut was a rickety frame of weathered boards, bamboo, and palm fronds, but inside it  was like a regular modern apartment.

Greg rattled ice into a blender, unscrewed different bottles and splashed in a couple of  jiggers from each one, squeezed a lime over the top, and let it rip. He pushed the button to make  the clattering roar stop, then turned his back to me, getting glasses from the cupboard. Over his  shoulder he said, “I see you and Mary Yeager seem to be hitting it off.” 

My face grew hot. Since our night on the beach, she and I had been spending every spare  minute together, but I hadn’t figured anyone else had noticed, especially not Greg. He came over  and handed me a water glass filled to the brim with the icy margarita. 

“She seems like a real fine young lady,” he said with a wink and a smile. Obviously, I  wasn’t busted. That was a relief. Okay, things were on the upswing. A drink in the middle of the  afternoon with the owner—heck yeah. Beats working. 

Before I’d had more than a few sips of the sweet, strong drink, he was back with the  pitcher, topping off my glass. He dumped the remainder of the slush in his the tumbler he’d  already drained. He tilted back a swallow then returned to the blender and mixed up another  batch. As we drank, I got more comfortable and relaxed. My mind drifted to Mary and the one week anniversary celebration we had planned for after work. Life had never been so great.  I’d been lost in my daydreaming when I noticed that Greg hadn’t said anything for a  while. I looked over at him and saw he was fidgety and kind of agitated. 

“I saw your hammock outside,” I said, thinking he could use some fresh air. “Could I give it a try?” 

He grunted and led the way, his steps a little shaky. The warm breeze carried the sounds  of the waves and of a bunch of kids squealing down at the waterline. I rolled into the hammock and made a big show of rocking back and forth.  

“This is awesome,” I said.  

But he wasn’t listening. He had his arms spread out wide, his glass in one, the pitcher in  the other, thrashing around the lanai, mad, mumbling something about a letter. Then he got  louder and clearer, “—god damn idiots—wrecking everything. Pissy little pissant bureaucrats . . .  addicted to their pissant power.” He scowled, burped, and came over to the hammock and put his  sweaty flushed face close to mine. “Beware the man who knows only one book.” 

He was raging, no question about that, but it wasn’t aimed at me. I figured he just needed  somebody to vent to, so I listened. He ranted on and on about the letter, about people being blind  and stupid, about there being many paths to the top of the mountain. I just swayed in the  hammock and nodded and sipped my drink. Maybe it was the booze, but I found the whole weird  situation kind of amusing. 

Something big was up, yeah, definitely. But as far as I could tell, it wasn’t my problem. In  a couple of hours I’d be with Mary in her bed—next to that, what else could possibly matter? All  was right with my world. No, not just right, all was perfect and radiant and glorious. Just the two  of us, Mary and me. And nothing was going to ever interfere with that—ever. 

DELILAH 

To: Office of Cultural and Historical Disambiguation 

From: Delilah Mallet-Grimshaw  

Subject: Progress Report, Case No. 1307 

BACKGROUND 

In accordance with the Accuracy in Historical Representations and Communications Act  (8.3.26b), I am reporting progress related to actions taken by my office. 

On April 19 it was reported to this office that a commercial enterprise—COWABUNGA! (hereafter referred to as “the replica beach”)—was operating in violation of numerous provisions  of AHRCA. 

Field investigators were dispatched for initial information gathering. Upon confirmation  that the replica beach promoted and/or portrayed inaccurate historical representations, I formed  an Action Team for further investigation (electronic surveillance warrants obtained). Formal  analysis, assessment, and response preparation activities ensued. 

OBJECTIONABLE REPRESENTATIONS 

Numerous violations of Class 1 restrictions were identified including, but not limited to: • Romanticized and unhistorical representations (as set forth in AHRCA subsection 1.1.4:  “no description of an historical time, place, situation, etc., may be shown/presented inconsistent  with the full and accurate context of the historical dynamics of anthropogenic geodegradation”). • Denial of basic tenets of science-backed consensus on Global Warming mechanisms  and impacts. 

  • 103 specific infractions of the Code of Observance.  

ACTION TAKEN 

Sole proprietor of replica beach, Gregory L. Becker, was served with a Letter of Finding  enumerating violations of the AHRCA and demanding cessation of operations. Letter informed  recipient of how failure to comply would render proprietor subject to the full extent of the Act’s  punitive remedies (17.1–67).

CURRENT STATUS 

Replica beach operations suspended. Historical Reconciliation improvements begun  under auspices of the Office of Cultural and Historical Disambiguation, Office of Narrative  Compliance.  

ANTICIPATED OUTCOME 

Successful removal/remediation of offensive, unhistorical, and dangerous (in terms of  public perception) misrepresentations of significant natural and cultural activity associated with  ecological dynamics/degradation/dysfunction.  

Submitted respectfully, 

Delilah Mallet-Grimshaw 

Assistant Director, Office of Narrative Compliance 

JACOB 

When the government lowered the boom, everything went down the crapper fast. Greg fought  the shutdown order with every ounce of his strength, his lawyers made appeal after appeal—with  zero success. He showed up at the park less and less, and when he did, he mostly spent his time  alone in his hut drinking and smoking weed. 

The government brought in all these Narrative Compliance people to transform the  place—an Artistic Director, Experience Designers, code writers, a crews of construction  workers, and the main man, the Story Czar who had one droopy eye and oversaw the whole  project.  

The Czar was big on living history dioramas. One day we gathered in the Operations  Center, and he told us his vision, which was mostly of schoolkids on field trips having the 

experience of learning about global warming by talking to real (fake) people—a boatful of  climate refugees, island people whose village was half-submerged, a climate scientist in a lab  coat, a UN delegate working on global environmental policies. Could anything be more  stimulating for young minds? Some of the laid-off COWABUNGA! staff got rehired to put on  costumes and be actors in these dioramas—though most were laid off again when the majority of  the living dioramas got replaced by holograms.  

I was among the people who were lucky enough to keep our jobs as COWABUNGA! got reconfigured into the Beach Museum—the BM, as we dubbed it. Even though this  transformation was slow and horrible, like watching a beautiful animal die, I stayed on. What the  hell else was I gonna do? I was a beach bum, that’s all I knew.  

Once the BM was up and running, there was hardly anything going on, just a fraction of  the activity from back in the COWABUNGA! days. Mostly we marched groups of schoolkids  through the museum’s fourteen Info Stations. At each one they’d have to listen to a staff member  or hologram drone through an indoctrination speech filled with bleak and demoralizing facts— another glacier melted, another forest burned, another species gone extinct. The happy squirrely  energy that buzzed in the kids as they got off the bus would be completely drained by Station 3,  replaced by yawns and glassy-eyed stares.  

I had the most seniority of anybody left on the staff, so one of my jobs was to break in the  new hires. This kept me pretty busy as the BM had a hard time keeping people on the payroll. Randall was my latest trainee, a chubby, baby-faced kid who, like almost all of the hires since the swimming requirement had been eliminated, wasn’t half as physically fit as staff  members used to be. I took him to the employee dressing rooms and got him squared away with  a locker and a set of work clothes to match the ones I already had on. 

“Time to costume up,” I said. Randal awkwardly wiggled into his pea-green rubberized  rain suit (with hood) and the knee-high rubber boots. The bosses said this gear was designed to  protect us from contact toxins and environmental pathogens—what it was really good for was  making us sweat like pigs. Once he was suited up, we stood in front of the dressing room  mirror—a couple of Gumbys. 

I unscrewed the cap from a tube of white zinc oxide cream and squeezed a thick gob onto  my finger.  

“Really?” Randall said, narrowing his eyes. 

“Don’t worry,” I said, “it’s just sunblock with an SPF of like ten thousand.” I applied the  white goo to his nose, cheekbones, and forehead in kind of a starburst pattern. “We could use  regular sunscreen, but the Narrative Control Team decided that this fits better with the E.D.N.’s  section on the resurgent ozone hole and skin cancer.” 

“The E.D.N.?” 

“Environmental Degradation Narrative,” I said, looking in the mirror and dabbing the goo  onto my own face. “That’s our bible, the document that controls everything we do.” I led the way out to the beach, which the E.D.N. had staged with a soiled diaper, cigarette butts, random plastic crap, crude oil and beach tar, dead fish, rotting bird carcasses, and a  condom. Not far offshore, a one-tenth scale cruise ship was anchored in a vast gyre of floating  plastic trash—from a pipe in its stern gushed a waterfall of chunky gray-brown waste.  Randall’s face pinched with repulsion.  

“Right over there used to be our number-one surfing area,” I said, leveling my gaze at the  slack water. 

He squinted to see through the smoke (non-greenhouse) rising from a pile of (simulated) burning tires. “Surfers? Here? Are you kidding?”  

“The wave machine’s still out there—it’s just turned off. The accountants say that saves a  ton of money. And why not? With the E.D.N., the water’s so filthy it would be like surfing in a  toilet.” 

Randall wiped his sweating forehead.  

“Getting a little warm?” 

He nodded.  

“The temperature inside the dome is set at 93 with 95 percent humidity under an always overcast sky. The only break is every day at four when we get a Category I hurricane—the air movers rev up to a godawful howl. Keep your peepers peeled for flying debris.” 

It was a lot for him to take in and he didn’t look too happy. Still, my job was to give him  the skinny, so the skinny he would get. 

“Just down there is something pretty cool,” I said, picking up the pace. We arrived at a  child-sized body lying face down on the sand just at the waterline, wavelets lapping around the  lifeless form. 

“The Experience Designers went through a bunch of different models before they settled  on this one. The first version was too stiff—like a mannequin. Then there were a few that were  kinda loosey-goosey, jiggly like water balloons. Technically this guy is the CMBC-6, for the  sixth version of the Climate Migrant Beach Corpse. We call him Ricky.” 

“My god,” Randall said. “That’s disgusting.” 

“Narrative Compliance says it really hammers home the tragedy. The schoolkids are  totally grossed out, but it’s the only thing in the park they actually pay attention to.”

We trudged back across the sand toward the parking lot where a yellow school bus was  pulling to a stop, the noise of high-spirited kids pouring from its open windows.  Randall fixed his eyes on the bus. “I’m planning to become a teacher,” he said. “The ad  for the job said I’d get to work with kids.” 

My gut tightened as I thought of Jeannie, the little girl in the wheelchair—how I had  promised her we’d always be here for her, how I had broken that promise.  “Kids we got,” I said. “Class field trips make up ninety-six percent of our visitors. That’s  the business model now. Technically we’re still owned by our founder, Greg Becker, but really,  the government subsidizes the whole operation. We don’t make squat on gate receipts anymore.”  Next to the bus, the teachers straightened the wriggling elementary school kids into lines. “What happened to Becker?” Randal asked.  

I wondered about how to reply, even as I recalled being on a midnight beach patrol, my  flashlight beam sweeping onto a very wasted-looking Greg staggering with an empty bottle of  tequila in one hand. He fell to his knees, doubled over, and spewed violently into the sand. “Greg doesn’t come around much anymore,” I said. 

“People come, people go, huh?” Randall said with a stupid laugh, like he’d said  something clever.  

It was just then that we came to Lifeguard Tower One, the place where I’d last seen  Mary. She too had kept her job during the transition to the BM, but it hadn’t taken her long to see  where things were headed. She was smart that way, lots smarter than me. We were standing right  by the Tower in our knee boots and our dorky rubber rain suits when she said she was leaving.  She told me had dreams of finding somewhere that was more like what COWABUNGA! used to be.  “This place is the shits,” she said. “You know that, right?” 

“We could go together,” I blurted. But by the time I said it, I already knew we wouldn’t. There was something about the way she stood, the way she spoke—she’d thought it all out and  decided.  

“I need to do this on my own,” she said, looking out to the horizon. “Do you  understand?” 

I didn’t, but I said I did—like it was the thing I was supposed to say. 

“When I find a good place, I’ll call,” she said, brushing away a tear from my cheek. “Maybe you’ll wanna come be with me.” She gave me the gift of her warmest, twinkliest smile  then took my head in her hands, looked into my eyes for a long time like she wanted to  remember, then kissed me soft and slow.  

“Be brave,” she said.  

She turned and walked down the beach. I watched her get smaller and smaller and then  she was gone.  

It almost killed me. Mary was my whole world. There wasn’t anything without her. I told  myself we’d only be apart for a few days, or at most a couple of weeks. When I didn’t hear from  her, I imagined she was off the grid someplace in Peru or Thailand or maybe New Zealand, doing whatever it was she needed to do. But she would call. I was sure of that, and I still am.  She’ll call and I’ll go to her, wherever she is, anywhere on earth, and everything will be like it  was before. 

 


 

Ross West has placed fiction, essays, journalism, and poetry in publications from Orion to the Journal of Recreational Linguistics. His work has been anthologized in Best Essays Northwest, Best of Dark Horse Presents and elsewhere. He served as senior managing editor of Oregon Quarterly magazine and as text editor for the Atlas of Oregon and Atlas of Yellowstone.

What Really Happened That Night in Bedford Falls (after It’s a Wonderful Life)

by Kevin Grauke

The angel, flightless as a penguin, shows him a world where his brother died beneath skate-scored ice and his wife, a virgin married to books, desiccates in a library: a gray world with no hero to save them from their horrid fates. Standing on the snow-muffled bridge a second time, bleeding from his lip yet again, he is meant to see that life is wonderful, but wait, isn’t his uncle still a yarn-fingered old fool? And isn’t the money still gone? Yes. And yes.

Such old news, this. Yesterday’s hero: today’s failure. Why? Because this land was made for you and me and What have you done for me lately? There above the icy water, he knows nothing of the basket of money making its slow way to save the day; he knows only that Christmas brought nothing but bankruptcy with its guiding light, and prison too, not peace and joy; he knows only that he’s worth less breathing than not, and so, no, he does not run through that snow-globe town joyously screaming—no, he jumps and he drowns, freezing another tiny bell’s clapper before it can swing. Family and friends will cry and say goodbye at his funeral and then mourn into the next year’s second month, but by March they’ll return fully to their own pressing troubles—house payments, food missing from the forks of their children—all the while thinking of him less and less and still less, until one green Monday in May they’ll notice having not thought of the man in weeks, the man who has lain cold in the town cemetery since just after Christmas, the man in whose pocket his daughter’s flower petals have long since disintegrated.

 


 

Kevin Grauke is the author of Shadows of Men (Queen's Ferry Press), winner of the Steven Turner Award from the Texas Institute of Letters. His fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared (or are forthcoming) in journals such as The Threepenny Review, Bayou, The Southern Review, Fiction, Quarterly West, and Columbia Journal. He’s a Contributing Editor at Story, and he teaches at La Salle University in Philadelphia. Twitter: @kevingrauke

Bahía Solano

by Benjamin Faro

Geography
isn't the only thing
that        separates          us.
Sometimes it is dancing.
Sometimes, like when we
were playing dominoes by
the ocean, listening to Ozuna
among French tourists on coke
and colorful amphibians, as the
whole equator listened in, understanding
everything that was said and left unsaid,
you joke with locals and decide                            not
to let me in.

Perhaps it is                   unconscious.

You forget                       who I am,

becoming driftwood while
the water leans a little closer. The
jungle eavesdrops, just devouring your words,
this carnal opera; and when you direct the melody,
the world happily takes part, and for just a moment, I
see it in your eye—that wishing that I could keep up, that
my ears were ripe for harmony,                    or maybe                 that
you could stay here when I leave,                 having found your home,
or at least for the next six months, sitting in the sand waiting for the whales’
migration, when they come singing in July.

 

 


 

Benjamin Faro is a green-thumbed writer and educator living in Asunción, Paraguay, on stolen Guaraní lands. He is currently pursuing his MFA at Queens University of Charlotte, and his prose and poetry have appeared or are forthcoming in EcoTheo, Portland Review, Atlanta Review, Invisible City, and elsewhere.

For Fear

by E. Bowers

in 1996, all the turkey vultures died in ohio / and, for fear of repercussions, we took their place / sat in what should have been the cool shade of trees crowding the asphalt of unmarked roads to wait / the waiting was hard / air a sausage skin around us, swooping in between our tank tops and bug bites and filling our belly buttons, so we could never forget it was there / and the waiting was hard / until one too many things walked in front of wheels that wouldn’t stop / then the moving was hard / because animals became daubs of paint / we swirled red and grey together, watching as they turned blacker by each day, developing on our fingertips / and every day we returned / cracked open the hard cast on top of our masterpiece to see what colors waited within/ we crooned to them / the waiting – it’s hard / consolations / and spread them only two inches higher up our wrists each day

 

 


 

E. Bowers is a writer from Enon, Ohio. She has a B.A. in English, Creative Writing, from Wright State University. Bowers interned as Managing Editor for Mad River Review from 2018 – 2019. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Mock Turtle Zine, Rogue Agent & ActiveMuse.

The Pinery Provincial Park Dance Company

by DM O'Connor

Leaping from roof to deck rail was easy. The sneak
home more complicated, especially in frost. At first

I’d lug a cassette player until batteries became
a drag and costly so I decided to dance to the woods.

In winter slushy thuds kept the tap in the toe.
Autumn was a poly-hued dead leaf soft shoe shuffle.

Hear that sandpaper rub. Spring all vault to branch creak
heels rarely hitting earth. Nut-cheeked summer squirrel

beady eyed with envy, poison ivy rash below tan line.
Proof I’d been birthday-suiting up to no good again.

I can’t name the birds that performed. Nor remember
the trunks hugged. Loved each bud and left them.

Moves mastered not from basement-TVs nor recorded
live-studio-audience, each snake groove top secret.

We grew out of seasons, build a shack, abducted a generator,
CDs, kegs, schnapps, pot, brawling, sex. Rock, other people.

We slammed the front door at all hours came and went at pleasure
too self-drunk to care who saw and who swung to what promise

 

 


 

DM O'Connor is a contributing reviewer for Rhino Poetry and fiction editor at Bending Genres. He is the recipient of the 2021 Cuirt International Award for Fiction, Tom Gallon Short Story Award, and is the current writer-in-residence at the Kerouac House Project, Orlando. He is grateful for the support of the Arts Council of Ireland and Words Ireland.

Stella Maris

by Lorelei Bacht

I am the girl in red riding
the crest, my presence
a warning, a sign
 
*
 
of tsunami: wave upon
wave of foam waiting
 
for birds, for mud, for businesses.
 
I am the change you call 
and regret having called, the cold,
cold hand of growth
 
undercut. 
 
I am weather.
 
*
  
You watch me drive my eyes
into your homes, make room
 
for silts, for my darkened  
transparencies –
 
it is too late when you see me coming.
 
*
 
A clock, a clock, nothing.
 
*
 
Those of you who survive
up on the hills will farm
the land remade:
 
my gift of sediments.
 
*****

 


 

Lorelei Bacht (she/they) is currently running out of ways to define herself, and would like to reside in a tranquil, quiet form of uncertainty for a while. Her recent work has appeared and/or are forthcoming in Anti-Heroin Chic, Visitant, The Wondrous Real, Abridged, Odd Magazine, Postscript, PROEM, SWWIM, Strukturriss, The Inflectionist Review, Hecate, and elsewhere. She is also on Instagram: @lorelei.bacht.writer and on Twitter: @bachtlorelei