Dear Ms. Ainsley

BY JOEL STREICKER

April 2, 2003

Ms. Wendy Ainsley

Greenmoor Country Club

Winnetka, Ill.

Dear Ms. Ainsley,

I wanted to phone you after receiving your voice message last Thursday but thought it would be better if I wrote as I can put my feelings down better on paper. I purposely didn’t call either because of the guilt I felt for leaving such a rude message on your voice mail. I sincerely hope you can forgive me ‘cause I’m not a bad guy. I’ve been married for almost 56 years to the same blond girl I met after I got out of the Navy in 1946; I helped raise three great children the oldest just retired from Warner Brothers record Co. as their Senior VP, in charge of business and legal affairs; A Cum Laude student at Harvard University; a daughter who was rated the best attorney at the U.S. Government Legal Office in Portland, Oregon; the youngest son an anthropologist and an instructor at Stanford University. So what I’m saying is, I must of done something right although they didn’t get the brains from me; they all came from the blonde. I majored in football, baseball, and tennis in high school and college.

I would like to have a rep to call you, but unfortunately, I do the calling as I’m the founder and the president of Ace Golf Products. As you can see from the attached article, I’m mainly the chief cook and bottle washer. I started out in 1964 in the silk screening business and also offset printing. I sold the company, named Ace Decal and Silkscreen Co., Inc. to a couple of jerks who bankrupted the business in two years. I threw in the golf label business which was a big mistake as they are my only competition in this business. I started back in the business three years ago mainly to save my life. I was an avid scuba diver for almost 30 years but in 1992 (two years after I retired) I had a serious diving accident in Cozumel and suffered an air embolism to my lower spine which has left me 50% paralyzed from the waist down. As a result, it has changed my life completely and I often find myself getting angry for minor things. I’m lucky I can still walk, with a cane, but can’t feel the ground because my legs are chronically numb. But believe me, Wendy, I am not using this as an excuse for treating you that way its just that there are some mitigating circumstances regarding my temper.

Probably the main reason I was upset was because I had called you 5 or six times and your voice on the recording sounded so pleasant I bet myself $5.00 that you’d return my call. You see, I am on the phone almost all day talking to GM’s and, lately, lockerroom supervisors all over the U.S. and, since the advent of automated phone systems, almost 90% of my calls are recorded. I might as well be in a vacuum as far as response goes. I estimate that only about 2-3 per cent of male GM’s return calls and 15 to 20% of female managers do so which, as you can see, is far better than the men. I guess the amount of rejection gets to me… I know I shouldn’t let it, but it does. Sometimes I feel like quitting but its not in my nature especially when I pick up some of the most prestigious clubs in the country; clubs like Augusta National, Augusta Country Clubs, Waialae C.C. in Honolulu, Ravisloe in Illinois, Exmoor in Highland Park, Knollwood in Lake Forest and on and on in all 48 states. I had been laid up for over eight years and spent almost eleven months recovering from surgery that did nothing for me. But I’m no stranger to adversity. I broke both legs and an arm in a car accident just a couple of years after I went into business. I had to undergo an operation on my right ankle to fix it but I made the big mistake of letting a softball buddy, who was a big-shot doctor in Highland Park, do it and he messed it up. I wound up having to have four more surgeries until the doctors threw their hands up and just fused my ankle bones so now I can’t bend my ankle and sometimes I’m in terrible pain. The ankle looks like a mass of bone bulging out of my leg; believe me, it’s not a pretty sight.

But once I got back in business I felt a bit better. I don’t subscribe to all that mind over matter stuff—between you and me, I think it’s a load of malarkey—but keeping busy takes your mind off your pains, whether they’re physical or mental. My daughter is always trying to get me to try yoga, or breathing exercises, or rolfing (which sounds like what you’d do if you had too much to drink!), to deal with the pain. She’s tried everything under the sun and the moon to handle the back pain she got while working as an attorney, but nothing’s helped. She’s even gone to psychologists and told them that I’m the root of her problems, that I did terrible things to her when she was just a little kid, but all I did was love her like any father would love his only daughter. I know she’s still angry at me, but at heart she’s a good kid and I don’t mind all her cockamamie suggestions about yoga and such because at least it shows she cares. Not like my sons. Like the joke goes, they don’t call, they don’t write. You’d think they were so high and mighty they couldn’t call their old man every once in a while. The oldest never married, and I don’t know why: he always seemed to have a steady girlfriend. He lives in New York City. The youngest got married to a lovely Spanish girl, from Columbia, South America, but they split up ten years ago, I don’t know why; he says he doesn’t want to talk about it. He lives in San Francisco, and sometimes I worry that has something to do with it. I wouldn’t worry so much if he was happy, but he’s not. A father can tell.

My original voice message explains why so many top clubs across the country are adopting the Ace Golf Product’s Identi-Shu, so I won’t go into it again. With our customized club-logo ID labels you simply write the members names on the label and then seal them with a clear polyester laminate attached to the label and your members will never lose a pair of golf shoes again. It is so simple I don’t know why no one thought of it before. Did you see last December’s article in “Pro Clubhouse” magazine on the problem that lockerroom managers have with lost shoes? Now, my shoes would never get lost because I have to wear orthopedics on account first of my ankle and now the spinal damage. Have you ever had chronic pain, Wendy? Do you know how debilitating it is? Do you know how many pills I take every day just to manage it? Twelve. If you are thinking, that’s a lot, then you are right, it is. It’s hard to keep them all straight—thank God for the blonde, she keeps them all organized for me—and the doctor keeps changing them because they don’t always work so well.

Like I said, I am very sorry for my outburst on your message machine. As I believe I made clear, it is very aggravating to make phone calls all day long and not get a live person. It is also aggravating to make five or six calls, leave a message, and not get the courtesy of a reply, even if just to say no. I can take no. I used to be in sales—I sold advertising, I sold watches, I sold clothes, I sold steam cleaners, I even sold old batteries for recycling right after the war in Fresno, Calif., when jobs were scarce and I went out there to marry the blonde because her pop had taken a job there. We only lasted a couple of years before we came back to Chicago. So I can take no for an answer; you develop a thick skin. But what I can’t take is silence. You don’t like what I’m selling? Fine, but tell me. Do you really think your time is so important that you cannot return a call from someone who might just help you solve a problem that is afflicting your members? What about my time? It’s disrespectful, especially coming from someone who, I am imagining by your voice—a very pleasant voice, as I’ve said—on your voice machine, is quite a bit younger than me. Or am I wrong? Can you please explain where my logic is faulty? I have politely requested a few moments of your Oh so precious time, and spent quite a lot of my own to explain how I can help to improve your business and you don’t even have the courtesy to reply? Do you think you’re better than me just because you’re the GM of some fancy country club? You were probably brought up with a silver spoon in your mouth and a stick up your ass and told not to give the time of day to tradesmen and salesmen. Maybe if I’d finished college instead of getting married so young I’d have gotten rich and become a member of your club—if they even accept people like me—but that’s no reason for you to treat me like I don’t even matter.

You know, Wendy, sometimes I cannot sleep at night because of the pain and so I lie in bed and think of all the things I would change about my life if I had the chance to do it all over again. Maybe I’d finish college, or run off and become a jazz drummer, or, God help me, marry someone else or at least maybe fool around a little. But then I think of my kids and it makes it all worthwhile. What’s any of this mean if we don’t love our kids, wouldn’t you agree? So if I had to do it all over again I would make the same choices, but I would try to figure out a way that they could all live close by. You cannot really realize how big this country is until your children live on either coast. I do not know whether you have children or not, but they really change your perspective on life. I had mine so young that I never had time to be an adult without kids—or without a wife, really. If you have kids, then I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.

Well, Wendy, I am going to wrap up what has been a much longer letter than I intended. I hope that you’ll find it in your heart to forgive me, and to call me back at your earliest convenience so that we can discuss what I truly believe will be a game-changer for the members of Greenmoor Country Club.

Sincerely,

Al Schleicher

Joel Streicker is a writer, poet, and literary translator. He was raised in suburban Chicago and now lives in San Francisco. His fiction has been published in Hanging Loose and The Opiate, and is forthcoming in Kestrel. His English-language poetry appeared in the fall 2016 issue of California Quarterly, and my Spanish-language poetry was recently featured in El otro páramo (Bogotá, Colombia). Común Presencia (also located in Bogotá) published a book of my Spanish-language poetry, El amor en los tiempos de Belisario, in 2014.

In 2011 he won a PEN/Heim Translation Fund grant for my work with Argentine writer Samanta Schweblin, and in 2012 I was a translator in residence at Omi Translation Lab. His translations of Latin American fiction have appeared in numerous journals, including A Public Space, McSweeney’s, and Words Without Borders. My translation of a story by the Argentine writer Mariana Enríquez is forthcoming in Freeman’s. His essays and book reviews have been appeared in The Jewish Daily Forward, Moment, and Shofar, among other publications.

Michigan Bestseller List for May 2017

Screen Shot 2017-06-21 at 12.29.04 PM1) Dan Egan, “The Death and Life of the Great Lakes” (W.W. Norton & Company)

2) David Maraniss, “Once in a Great City: A Detroit Story” (Simon & Schuster)

3) Steve Hamilton, “Exit Strategy: A Nick Mason Novel” (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)

4) Sarah Shoemaker, “Mr. Rochester: A Novel” (Grand Central Publishing)

5) Josh Malerman, “Black Mad Wheel: A Novel” (Ecco/HarperCollins Publishers)

6) Viola Shipman, “the hope chest: A Novel” (Thomas Dunne Books/Macmillan)

7) Betsy Bird, “Funny Girl: Funniest. Stories. EVER.” (Viking Books for Young Readers)

8) Michel Arnaud, “Detroit: The Dream is Now—The Design, Art, and Resurgence of an American City” (Harry N. Abrams)

9) Steve Hamilton, “The Second Life of Nick Mason” (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)

10) Adam Schuitema, “The Things We Do That Make No Sense: Stories” (Switchgrass Books)

 

Upper Peninsula Bestseller List for May 2017

1) Dan Egan, “The Death and Life of the Great Lakes” (W.W. Norton & Company)

2) Steve Hamilton, “Exit Strategy: A Nick Mason Novel” (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)

3) Steve Hamilton, “The Second Life of Nick Mason” (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)

4) Adam Schuitema, “The Things We Do That Make No Sense: Stories” (Switchgrass Books)

5) Jim Harrison, “A Really Big Lunch: Meditations on Food and Life from the Roving Gourmand” (Grove Press)

6) Steve Hamilton, “A Cold Day in Paradise” (St. Martin’s Press)

7) Kath Usitalo, “100 Things to Do in the Upper Peninsula Before You Die” (Reedy Press)

8) Jack Driscoll, “Goat Fish and the Lover’s Knot” (Wayne State University Press)

9) Louise Erdrich, “LaRose: A Novel” (HarperCollins Publishing)

9) Ernest Hemingway, “The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway” (Scribner/Simon & Schuster)

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All the Way in Charlevoix

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BY ALEC HERSHMAN

In a Monday rude with sunlight
are each of many, native leaves

I no longer recognize. Two teens
on a bench laugh like lactic acid. One jokes

to the other about his “beef feather”
and the nearest tree seems to be made to be

taller by the smallish song of a new bird
I can scarcely make out. Light jazz like smoke

in its woozy branches. The heft of my stupor
is first lead, then wax, my satisfaction

both fundamental and ridiculous.
Forget the forgetting and my ears in the world

take on a preternatural tone. I am not surprised
at the bridge, for instance, when the siren divides

the town that was two towns in half.

 

Alec Hershman lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He has received awards from the Kimmel-Harding-Nelson Center for the Arts, The Jentel Foundation, The St. Louis Regional Arts Commission, and The Institute for Sustainable Living, Art, and Natural Design. More of his work appears in forthcoming issues of Cimarron Review, Western Humanities Review, The Adroit Journal, Bodega, and Columbia: a Journal of the Arts. You can find out more at alechershmanpoetry.com.

Grandville, Michigan: The Rose Room

BY CARLY SHISLER (Grand Valley State University)

StemsThis essay was an honorable mention in the 2017 Narrative Map College Student Writing Contest. 

Kelley hoisted the door open and a ding promptly followed. We peered around the empty shop, the vacancy of other people was unimportant because we felt welcomed into a room with only flowers. The scents met our noses with a cooling effect, almost like when mint Chapstick encounters lips. Our eyes were pleased with the blurred view of different hues coming from every which way. Without focusing in on a specific flower, the room looked like an abstract painting. We were stopped in the doorway taking it all in.

“This place is so cute,” Kelley spoke softly to me as she reached out stroking the petals of this grand, crimson, wonderfully fresh Chrysanthemum.

“I’ve never been to a place like this,” I claimed, sharing my awe. Kelley and I didn’t have much to our lives in Michigan but school and lacrosse. It wasn’t our home. This was the first place in Michigan I felt undoubtedly comfortable and serene.

The silence inhabiting the shop hushed us and forced our other senses. We waded through the aisles admiring the bushels and blobs of color that surrounded us. We took in the gentle scents of lavender, sage, and dirt creating the perfect blend. We took our time admiring the bundles of flowers, no two alike or the same. The stems already cut and the thorns already pricked. The room began to open up as we saw the flowers each individually and instead of them consuming us.

I started to think about Michigan in terms of why I was there and why I hadn’t decided to let go of where I came from. Michigan was completely foreign to me. Walking through those aisles, my mind kept flashing back to my hometown. I saw the downtown lights flooding the street sides as I looked at the ceiling lamps. I noticed some flower cutters on a back table and it took me back to hot sweltering days of poking and prodding the trees in our yard. My mind raced back and forth from my home to this new place, finally calming as another door came into my sight.

I curiously shifted towards the door. Grasping the handle, which felt like a car door in the middle of February, we shuffled through the door and into the chilled room letting the door collapse behind us. It was a long, narrow hallway-type room. Our pupils grew about two sizes bigger and mirrored the wall of colors before me. They weren’t mixed together this time though; the blues were in one place, the reds were bunched together, and the pinks covered their own space too. This was the rose room, filled to the brim and covered wall to wall with fresh roses giving us a sense of tranquility and relinquishing a bit of their purpose to us. We were in a trance. Time stood still.

We weren’t even acknowledging the presence of each other anymore, standing next to one another as if we were ghosts. I began to move forward, planting one foot at a time. Rooted in one place, I noticed a smaller clump of roses. An off-white base, almost cream, topped with a deep red color. The petals were big and full like the in drawings you see of roses. Perfectly imperfect in the way the petals seemed to fit together, like a puzzle. I reached for it touching the smooth stem between my fingers, feeling a chill run up my arm and then down my spine. I held that rose as I continued down the narrow hallway. I felt like Alice, but instead of Wonderland, I was in a room of roses that towered over me. The next rose I grasped was a vibrant, yet subtle yellow rose, and I kept wandering. The room seemed to continue forever. A new flower popping up as soon as I would turn the other way. Each flower represented another tie to this place, another memory for my mind to escape to. Something I desperately wanted away from home.

I ended up with enough roses to fill at least five vases. I could go on to describe each rose individually, as they each seemed to possess their own personality. We walked out the door, flowers in hand and grins extending beyond our faces. Nothing else at that moment mattered. My mind was numb with happiness and was content where it was. There was no curious racing from state to state. In fact, I still have the flowers. A bit duller and shrunk, but perfectly frozen in their state of beauty. I still think about that day every time I look at the roses. An insignificant day in the grand scheme of things, yet still holds power over me. I had found a place that manifested joy in the present rather than force a memory from the past.

Carly Shisler is a student-athlete at Grand Valley State University seeking a degree in Marketing with an Advertising and Public Relations minor. She was born and raised in Naperville, IL and came to Michigan to play lacrosse. She loves to write as a hobby and hopes to continue using writing within her future career. 

Crab Apples

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BY MICHAEL WEBER

My doorbell sang till it was as out of breath as you.
Between huffs you said, you gotta see this,
it’s not too far. Far
meant something different then, a journey beyond
the concrete teeth of our neighborhood. Far
only required an imagination, a small pack,
and still being home for dinner.

You pointed to South Mountain—
the evergreens beyond our parents scream.
I knew well the lower ring of trails, trails
where the road was still visible, trails
who hinted but never dared. This time
at the fork we went up, right
at the white birch that V’d, left
at a mangled blue tent. You always led the way,
bragging about your new slingshot;
in foreign lands shooting acorns out of trees,
until I said, squirrel.

I stand in the road, somewhere
in the middle of thirty-two, looking up
to South Mountain, and I bet
it’s all overgrown—blended too many times,
no visitors to rewrite its way.
I spot a frantic squirrel, maybe red, rushing
from tree to tree, preparing for acorn-less months
this chill air promises will come.
I think of that red squirrel, its ombre’d tail
glowing crimson as it bled out in your hand.
Remember how fast it slipped? How that night
you sold Mickey your slingshot?
You saw my guilt, or maybe I envied your instinct.
I knew you could’ve been born in the trees—
cheeks always camo-ed in soil, callused
hands barking to climb, needing to know
you could survive here, sad
when you learned you could.
You buried that red squirrel in silence, sighed,
it’s just a little further.

We arrived at the orchard, your hands
still sticky with blood, insisting,
you first, I’ve had plenty.
I bit the first apple I saw. My face
went tart. I spit its bitter skin till you cried
laughing, stuttering crab between tears. My face
warmed with joy feigning anger. A jester
pretending to get madder, upon seeing you
roll in the fallen apples with laughter—learning
instincts of my own.

 

Michael Weber is a poet from Binghamton, New York. He has an MA from SUNY Binghamton and an MFA from the University of Tampa. Prior to his graduate studies, he savored a brief career as a professional hockey player in Turkey and New Zealand. His work has appeared in the Triple Cities Carousel. 

Grand Rapids, Michigan: First Lessons on Lost Things

scluttBY PATRICIA SCHLUTT  (Aquinas College)

This essay was an honorable mention in the 2017 Narrative Map College Student Writing Contest. 

Setting courses for sailboats taught the boy about scars: the lake was a gouge in the earth, the sailboats left fluid white gashes in the water which healed in moments, red punctures and bruises bloomed across his forearms as he fought to right the masts of boats that overturned on blustering mornings.

In the budding sun, before the sailors arrived, the eastern sky sang with blues and reds. With a push-broom he cleaned the docks, alone, pushing seaweed and goose shit into the water, where it broke through the surface and then disappeared.

During a race once, a sailor dropped his watch into the lake as he rounded a buoy and made his way to the finish. The sailor called across the wind to him, not wanting to cede the race. “My watch fell! Find my watch!” he bellowed toward the crash boat, where the motor idled and the boy watched for wrongdoing or danger. The boy revved over to check. After the water cleared, he could see the watch, beneath the surface, sinking, sinking. There was no way for him to get to it. It was going to make its way to the bottom, where things seldom change or heal, where seaweed undulates and where mysterious creatures click and mutter among the mud and the other lost things which remain forever lost.

Scar #3

It was in the grey shadow of winter that I smoked my first blunt. When Victoria and I walked with friends to the high school to catch a bus, she pulled me aside and shook my hand, passing it to me then. It was at once a satire and a serious event.

An hour later I pulled on my winter boots and walked to the backwoods alone. The sun had split the sky open and the snow was dressed in a sheet of pearly ice, reflecting the light of the afternoon. My fingers fumbled out the old mint tin, opened it, and unclasped the dusky smell of weed and peppermint. There it was: she had even rolled it for me, which was good because I didn’t know how, not then. My toes tapped the ice as I looked up from the tin and the dead pines behind me to the bushes and vines that form the rest of the woods. Birds hummed and chirped from the trees. The sun blazed over snow. I reached out to touch the Great Old Tree which marks the dividing line between Forest Explored and Forest Unexplorable.

The Great Old Tree was my sister’s favorite tree. It was a hearty, fat evergreen with low branches that were easy to climb and nest in. Squirrels pockmarked the boughs with stores of nuts and leafy needles. Its trunk was weighty, grey, lined with black and brown. It is the last tree before the forest is overrun with intertwining bushes and vines too thick to walk through without a machete.

The trunk was surprisingly warm and streaked with lichen. Somewhere far off, a motor gurgled to life. I pulled my fingers back from the bark, extracted the blunt from the tin, and fumbled for my matches. The tiny flame blossomed. If I had looked into that fire, I would have seen my life- tiny, but full and bright- burning there, full of beginnings.

(I was setting myself on fire. And I burned so bright.)

*

Fat old carp circle think that the paper you tear up is bread, so they circle beneath the knoll they stand on. She leans against a tree, he rips little chunks out of the syllabus, balls them up, and chucks them into the lake. It is the last day of class. The sun is high, golden, and hot.

As he throws, he asks about time. “Have you ever thought about our sense of time? We both have a sense of what time is right to move, to speak…” She shifts her weight off the tree, steps out toward the lake. He steps forward, his feet shifting to point toward the library, over the backs of circling carp. After a moment’s pause, he adds, “See? We know without thinking, without speaking, to move. It’s time to adjust.”

She is thinking that she doesn’t want their times to be connected. She already loves somebody. She thinks he does, too.

“I really hope it works out for you:” the chorus of a friendship, then a signature at the bottom of group emails, and finally a note at the bottom of the syllabus he will give to all his students.

Patricia Schlutt is a recent graduate of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids where she studied Community Leadership, Theology, and Writing. She has been published in The Albion Review, The Louisville Review, Hanging Loose Magazine, and the Aquinas College Sampler. She grew up in Michigan, where she fell in love with the forests, beaches, and the rich family history that imbues the landscape around her. In her studies she explored activism, community organizing, immigration, family, religion, whole foods and the intersections between those subjects. She looks forward to a life of continued learning as she travels, works on farms, and writes her way across Michigan and the world.

Saugatuck Dunes, Michigan: A Sweet Beginning at the Bitter End Coffeehouse

ShanleyBY SYDNEY SHANLEY (Grand Valley State University)

This essay was an honorable mention in the 2017 Narrative Map College Student Writing Contest. 

The exterior looked how I felt: dirty red brick, tired neon signs, a dead tree, and a lot of ashtrays. Every time I went, the routine was the same but the faces always changed. A bunch of strangers chainsmoking outside, bonding over bummed cigarettes and borrowed lighters. Huddled together on the most painful metal chairs ever created, there was an an intimacy only possible between two and six o’clock in the morning. It was the stomping ground for self-proclaimed philosophers and recluse savants; my favorites being the sidewalk savior, the socialist hermit, the flighty poet, and the cloaked artist.

One night, about a week into my college career at Grand Valley, it was the usual spread of characters. The flighty poet feverishly sold his views on prostitution to the unfortunate crowd who trapped themselves in one of his political ravings. His unassuming, effeminate demeanor always quickly unraveled in his mania. His fiery locks consuming his glasses. Darting eyes filled with equal parts excitement and desperation.

Listening in, unimpressed, was the socialist hermit. Even in his dilapidated Cubs slippers and stained pajama pants, he held a silent power over all the other pseudo-intellectuals. His best friend, the sidewalk savior, was always too busy trying to convert, pray with, or heal strangers to pay attention to anything but God. Not interested in his almighty powers, I wandered over to the cloaked artist. His small frame was always hidden by a massive pleather, floor-length coat, and I had never heard him speak, so his mystery was either very forced or completely accidental. While asking him to draw me a pinup, a lost-looking, visibly drunk man appeared, moaning loudly of a “bleeding heart.”

The sidewalk savior jumped at the sound of anguish, immediately offering to heal the stranger. After a long debate between the atheists, the spiritualists, and the Catholic, the moaning man seemed to have calmed down, or at least sobered up a little. Exchanging smokes, the Hermit, the Poet, the Moaner, and I began exchanging “what-ifs”: “What if we go to the lookout right now?” “What if we go to the zoo?” “What if we go to the dunes?” At five o’clock in the morning, they all seemed equally absurd, but none of us wanted to split up our newfound alliance of misfits. So like any insane person would, I agreed to drive an hour to the Saugatuck Dunes with three bizarre men I had known for only a few days.

An eager trek to the water instantly turned into an exhausted limp, because climbing up vertical piles of sand is exactly as hard as it sounds. I watched, amazed, as the Moaner and the Poet hopped up the infinitely reaching, eroded facade with ease, each step springing up from the sinking sand as if they defied gravity. In the darkness, I struggled to follow their figures, relying on the bouncing orange glow of a phone light. It hypnotized me, burning into the darkness, cutting through the sharp angles of the impending shadows. As the pair disappeared behind the mound, taking the light with them, I sat on the edge of absolute darkness. It felt like if I took a step I would fall into the abyss, doomed to fall forever towards the water, to watch the waves lap but to never feel them. In an attempt to ground myself in reality, I filled my lungs with the dank lake air. I watched the sand swallow my toes while the reeds tickled my legs, while the outlines of clouds drifted over the soft, omnipresent glow of the moon. I felt totally absorbed, like grains of sand were replacing each cell of my body.

I hazily glanced back towards the orange glow as the Moaner and the Poet emerged from the dunes. We clumsily trickled our way down to the beach. It all felt so vaguely nostalgic, like I had been there in a past life. Bouncing across the wet sand, giggling with the Moaner, chasing after the Poet, it felt like I had found a long-lost family I never knew I lost. Drained, I sat next to the Hermit, who had been oddly silent while the rest of us jabbered and danced in euphoria. I asked if something was wrong, and he replied in one of his cryptic mantras, “I would never want to be anywhere else but where I happen to be.” I saw the same tranquility in his eyes that I felt. The other two joined us, and we let the water wash over our pants. But it was not enough, the water was calling, and we went running. Laughing, screaming, howling, I met the water with glee, and it met me with a splash to the face. Weighed down by my soaked clothes, I had never felt lighter.

I settled into the sand, away from the others, lulled by the ebb and flow of the waves until it matched my heartbeat. In the obscurity of night, amongst the stillness, it resembled a surreal wasteland of a world lost long ago, with us being the only survivors. Expecting devastating loneliness, I was met only with a sense of wholeness. We had conquered the unsuspecting night. And as the sky became flushed with pink, the water bursting with lavender, I knew reality would set in again. In an attempt to hang onto the sweet, somber kiss of night, we all left the beach, gliding over the sand like shadows. When we all came out of our trances, I asked, “Do we exchange information or let fate take over?” and the Moaner reassured me, “I have no doubt that we will find each other again.”

I hoped that the feeling surging through me was being reflected, mending the Moaner’s bleeding heart.

Sydney Shanley is a freshman at Grand Valley State and hasn’t decided a major. She loves the beaches in Michigan because she’s from Fort Wayne, Indiana.

*

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BY SIMON PERCHIK

It’s a simple thing, you weep
and though your eyes are silent
they don’t reach –what you see

is your heart covered with stones
that have no mornings either
except far off where all mist starts

the oceans are grieving on the bottom
holding down your forehead
–so easy a flower could do it

say in its face-up way, Leave!
there will be no more kisses
and from your mouth all Earth

overflows, becomes lips and distances
–that’s why nobody asks you
lets you imagine you see her clearly

knitting a blanket, a white one
rusted needles in both hands, you
walking by, already thorns, roots.

Simon Perchik is an attorney whose poems have appeared in Partisan Review, The Nation, Poetry, Osiris, The New Yorker and elsewhere. His most recent collection is Almost Rain, published by River Otter Press (2013).  For more information, including free e-books, his essay titled “Magic, Illusion and Other Realities” please visit his website at www.simonperchik.com.

 

Battle Creek, Michigan: The Smell of Cereal After Goodbye

Battle Creek PictureBY APRIL KRAGT (Spring Arbor University)

This is the third place winner in the 2017 Narrative Map College Student Writing Contest. 

As a teenager, I cringed at the idea of staying in Battle Creek. I looked down on the people who grew up in Battle Creek, raised their own families in Battle Creek, and sent their kids to the same schools in Battle Creek. I was determined to be different than all of them. I wasn’t going to get stuck in in this place; instead, I was going to depart for college and leave for good, pile my belongings into my tiny blue Saturn, and fly down I-94, never to look back. Really, the city could burn for all I cared, because in my escape of Battle Creek I thought I left a wasteland. I thought I left the rundown buildings, the pathetic mall, the potholed roads.

But that’s not all I left.

I left the smell of cereal on hot mid-summer days…

My friends and I compete with each other, trying to see who can name what type of cereal Kellogg’s is making. The air is sticky and thick with grainy starch and sickly sweet sugar. The first person to recognize this wonderful scent shouts, “Frosted Flakes!” And then, of course, we all pine for a heaping bowl of the stuff; but mouths watering, the taste of the air will have to do.

I left celebrations of the World’s Longest Breakfast Table…

One wonderful day every summer, I wake up much earlier than a kid on break normally does, and I crawl, half asleep, into my dad’s car. We travel downtown for an event called the World’s Longest Breakfast Table, where the streets are flanked with, well, long breakfast tables. My dad and I are energized by the cool morning and the increasing warmth of the sun. We sip coffee, the caffeine sinking into our veins and into our psyches, filling us with euphoria. We navigate swiftly through dense throngs of people, eyeing all the food. We show the world we are multitasking champions because we can walk through a stuffy crowd while balancing our coffee cups in the crooks of our arms, our hands occupied with flimsy paper bowls of cereal. We stuff ourselves silly with a hearty breakfast, mainly the expensive types of cereals my parents can’t justify buying. For me, that cereal is Krave—you know, those crunchy little nuggets with a gooey inside, the ones that come in only two flavors: chocolate and double chocolate. While I polish off my last few bites and begin delightfully slurping the remaining chocolate milk—the best part of the cereal—Dad chows down on some Reese’s Puffs, shoveling mounds into his mouth faster than I can say, “Let’s get some Pop-Tarts.”

I left hot air balloon festivals…

Every year, Battle Creek becomes a launching pad for hot air balloons and their pilots. There are always balloons like Tony the Tiger, Sugar Bear, Post, and others made up of checkered and striped patterns. It’s a tradition for my dad, brother, and I to get into the car and drive to the balloon launch. We always get there early, eager with anticipation. Sometimes, we even wait an entire hour to see the balloons slowly ascend into the sky. Once they finally launch, we pick a balloon we really like, and we “chase it.” With my dad behind the wheel, we follow Tony the Tiger in the car until it lands. This task is more difficult than it sounds. We often get stuck in traffic or take a wrong turn until our balloon is out of sight. Then, we race down back roads until we find it again. Once our balloon lands—in a park, in a parking lot, in someone’s backyard—we “land” there too. This is my favorite part because I get to meet the pilot, who is basically a celebrity to me. He gives me a card that has a picture of the balloon on it, and he signs it. Before we leave, we help the pilot pack up the balloon. When we get home, I place the card with the rest of the thick stash I keep hidden under my bed.

I left the Festival of Lights…

On frosty winter nights, I trek downtown through the snow with my dad and brother, peering at the lights the city puts up every year. We “ooh” and “aw” at snowmen, reindeer, and geese decked out in reds, blues, and greens. Though my heart is joyful, my little fingers are frozen and my nose is snotty, so we walk to a restaurant called Clara’s on the River and sit inside, gratefully gulping down hot chocolate. The warmth sets in, and my bones are joyful, too. Done for the night, we drive back home for bedtime. My dad tucks me into bed, and I whisper, “See you at the lights.” We always say this to each other. We play this game in which we pretend we visit the Festival of Lights in our dreams; we agree to meet each other at a specific light. The next morning I wake up, and over breakfast he grins and tells me, “I saw you at the snowman light.” Thrilled, I lean closer like I’m sharing top secret information and say, “I saw you there, too!”

These memories continually draw me back to a place I once refused to call home. There’s a reason people use clichés; they’re often true. You never know what you’ve got until it’s gone.

I left my home.

April Kragt is originally from Battle Creek. She is currently an English major at Spring Arbor University, where she tutors in the Writing Center and has been published in the campus literary journal, the Oak Tree Review. 

Michigan Bestseller Lists for April 2017

MICHIGAN BESTSELLER LIST FOR APRIL 2017

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1) Jack Cheng, See You in the Cosmos (Dial Books for Young Readers)

2) Laurie Keller, Do Unto Otters: A Book about Manners (Square Fish Books/Macmillan)

3) Jim Harrison, A Really Big Lunch: Meditations on Food and Life from the Roving Gourmand (Grove Press)

4) Stephen Mack Jones, August Snow (Penguin Random House)

5) Daniel P. Keating, born anxious: The Lifelong Impact of Early Life Adversity—and How to Break the Cycle (St. Martin’s Press)

6) Danny Schnitzlein, The Monster Who Ate My Peas (Peachtree Publishers)

7) Dan Egan, The Death and Life of the Great Lakes (W.W. Norton & Company)

8) Ed Shankman, I Went to the Party in Kalamazoo (Commonwealth Editions)

9) Dave Coverly, Night of the Living Worms: A Speed Bump & Slingshot Misadventure (Macmillan)

10) Kath Usitalo, 100 Things to Do in the Upper Peninsula Before You Die (Reedy Press)

 

U.P. BESTSELLER LIST FOR MARCH 2017

1) Jim Harrison, A Really Big Lunch: Meditations on Food and Life from the Roving Gourmand (Grove Press)

2) Dan Egan, The Death and Life of the Great Lakes (W.W. Norton & Company)

3) Kath Usitalo, 100 Things to Do in the Upper Peninsula Before You Die (Reedy Press)

4) Keith Taylor, The Bird-while: Poems (Wayne State University Press)

5) Louise Erdrich, LaRose: A Novel (HarperCollins Publishers)

6) Jack Driscoll, Goat Fish and the Lover’s Knot (Wayne State University Press)

7) John Smolens, Cold: A Novel (Michigan State University Press)

8) John Smolens, Wolf’s Mouth: A Novel (Michigan State University Press)

9) Steve Hamilton, The Second Life of Nick Mason (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)

10) William Kent Krueger, Ordinary Grace (Atria Books/Simon & Schuster)

The Michigan Bestseller List for March 2017 lists books about Michigan topics, written by Michigan authors, and/or published by Michigan publishers, compiled by Ron Riekki from 12 Michigan bookstores: The Book Beat in Oak Park, www.thebookbeat.com; Bookbug in Kalamazoo, www.bookbugkalamazoo.com; Dog Ears Books in Northport,www.dogearsbooks.net/; Kazoo Books in Kalamazoo, www.kazoobooks.com; Michigan News Agency in Kalamazoo, 
www.michigannews.biz/; Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor, nicolasbooks.com; North Wind Books in Hancock, 
https://bookstore.finlandia.edu/; Saturn Booksellers in Gaylord, www.saturnbooksellers.com; and Schuler Books & Music in Grand Rapids, Lansing, and Okemos, schulerbooks.com.; and Snowbound Books in Marquette, http://www.snowboundbooks.com/.  These stores support Michigan books, authors, and publishers.