Author Archives:

The Summer with No Mosquitoes


I’m about to make a left turn into the YMCA on Spears Road. The traffic light turns red. I hate this traffic light. It must be programmed to turn red whenever I’m here. The parking lot of the Y is filling with cars of other moms who have just dropped off their kids at school. After circling three times, I find a spot.

Rushing in, I take my phone out of my pocket to check the time. 9:05. This is my life: always five minutes late. In the changing room I realize that I’ve accidentally brought a bikini with a zebra-patterned push-up bandeau instead of a schoolgirl tankini. Shit. You’re supposed to take a shower before entering the swimming pool, but I just pass through the area and open the door to the pool. In the water float a number of white-haired heads, bobbing up and down to the blaring Olivia Newton-John. A portly man in the corner throws a woo-hoo look at me. I shake my hands and head, pretending to be shivering after a cold shower.

On my way back from Aqua Fit I pass along the glass panes to the gym, and look inside. Now Step Fit is going on, women in Lululemon tops step up and down the small, slim risers in front of them, jabbing their arms straight up in the air. Isn’t this the right age group for me? I wonder. Someone at the far end catches my eyes. It’s an elderly Asian lady. Totally lagging behind, though not seeming to care, she steps up and down, slowly, with her arms up, elbows bent, as if she were holding a huge watermelon in the air. It reminds me of the Japanese bon odori dance at summer festivals.

The moon is out, out, the moon is out,

Over the coal mine, the moon is out, eh, eh …

Continue reading

Prologue to Green River


The village of Green River is inhabited by two groups, insiders and outsiders. The insiders move. No matter which direction they travel, it is always away from reflection, away from thought. As a result, they live sane lives. They are deliberate. The boxes of their calendars are sketched with deadlines, whole weeks blocked off for travel, for the flight schedules of their visiting kin. They are charming, as if they had never thought to be afraid. Whatever despondency they have met with, they have either conquered and are too humble to be proud about it, or they have refused to acknowledge for so long that they are certain it no longer exists. I envy their blindness, their courage. I envy their children who fit neatly into society, smiles reaching over the crowd as if they were above it. At least they feel that way. Perhaps that is their consolation. If so, it is also their delusion.

The outsiders are still on the inside. Their exile is social rather than geographical. They own their margin. They are the filthy, drug-addicted rednecks. The trailer-bound white trash. They have dirty elbows and the rotting teeth. They wear grease-stained jeans and sleeveless shirts. These are people I come from, the people I love most on earth—and hate most. Who could not hate a people who always require a victim? Who could fail to love a people who protect their poverty as fiercely as they reject the culture that shaped them? They improvise like stoics, throwing nothing away that doesn’t burn in the garbage pile behind their house, keeping all dead machines in the backyard, and over the decades they pick them clean until all that’s left is a chassis, and from it they build a buggy and get drunk and go mudding. Their ingenuity is endless. They are moths to the flames of mischief. Among machines, they move like insects, with the stealth and knowledge of a tick, attaching themselves with precision to the point from which they can draw the most power.

Continue reading

Exit…Stage Left


My Uncle Mark was the black sheep on my Mom’s side. He moved to Windsor during Vietnam, saying, “Good luck with that bullshit war – I wanna live.” When he got back he hustled the pool sharks at some east side Ferndale bar and made so much money that he bought a double-wide on Harsen’s Island, an hour north of Detroit, and never came back. My dad and I would go up there for a week every summer and Uncle Mark would drink too much Canadian Club and smoke too many cigarettes while watching reruns of Snagglepuss – an obscure Yogi Bear Show segment about the misadventures of an ebullient pink mountain lion – telling everyone what was wrong with them.

He pissed off everybody; that’s what he was good at. I always found it funny. I mean, the only reason he did it was to get a rise out of people, and you’d have thought they’d catch on after a while and just roll with it. I always belly-laughed, and I’d like to think he appreciated that, like some washed-up comedian honing in on the one son of a bitch in the stupid, bloated crowd who appreciates his act.

So it didn’t necessarily floor me when he dropped dead at 58 from a heart attack after all the whiskey and Marlboro smoke, but it did surprise me when he left some cryptic note in his will for me.

“Let me read it again,” my mom said after the funeral.

For Ryan, I leave you the relic behind the holy water in my cathedral.”

She shook her head. “He’s pulling your leg. Isn’t this just like him.”

The rest of the family said they didn’t mind that Uncle Mark was gone because they didn’t care for him, and that at least the holidays would be peaceful now. Christmas was a week away, and they chatted excitedly about the absence of tension, rudeness and condescension during the Advent season.

Continue reading




On election night, Dory sat in front of the TV eating the gamey, greasy stew from the night before. Her name and Falk’s jockeyed on screen—Dory ahead by three, Falk closing in. Margins stayed in her favor, but Dory didn’t relax. She lifted the spoon and chewed the stew—meat, carrots, and potatoes gone tepid—until she had no choice but to swallow.

She had represented her neighbors on the county board for twelve years and never campaigned. Never had to. (They knew her from childhood; what they cherished she cherished.) Meanwhile, Falk—tall, baby-faced and rich, recently relocated from Boston—took his false humility, his do-gooder grin, and yard signs door-to-door. Word got back to Dory about how he was met: with an incidentally lifted crowbar, a loosely held rifle.

Even so, the race was a “nail-biter,” according to the toothy TV anchor.

What had Falk heard and said about Dory? In the neighbors’ wallpapered kitchens and paneled dens, did they call her a lowlife because of her bear kill? Hunting was fine, hunting was good, but the kind she’d done, on the state’s northern border, with a paid guide, was something like cheating. Did neighbors wonder why? “For once,” she said how-many-times in imaginary debates, “I wanted the thrill of taking down a beast twice my size.”

Two weeks ago, Dory had followed the hunting guide into a doughnut shop at dawn. Locals lifted their hands and Dory waved back as she passed them, her boots rasping the shiny linoleum. She thought they’d stay for breakfast, but the guide drove her straight to the woods, where, as instructed, Dory placed the box of crullers in a clearing and lifted the lid. A half hour later, a bear swaggered past. Like a toddler he plopped his bottom onto the bed of pine needles. He scooped out pastries two at a time. Paws as big as headlights. Frosting-smeared snout. Downwind in the tree stand, Dory smelled the bear’s musk and appraised her stance. You don’t squander opportunity. You don’t waste a hundred-dollar license, the hide and the meat, even if it’s gamey. You act. You win.

Afterward, the guide snapped photos of Dory with her giant prey, sun splintering through the branches behind her. The man pointed to the ivory muzzle and grinned. “You’ll make headlines.” This boar must have been a legendary menace, she’d thought, terrorizing dogs and children, smashing grills and birdfeeders. Driving home, feeling heroic, she guzzled a half liter of Coke. She worked up a story about the hunt, but by the time she had the chance to tell it, everyone knew.

Continue reading

Sculptural and Spatial Practices

Screenshot 2017-11-18 12.53.24BY AMELIA HAWKINS

I come from flyover country. That’s what people here call it. My grandparents slaughtered pigs. Strung porkers and sucklings up by the feet to bleed out, collected the blood in mason jars that I carried from slaughter shed to my grandmother’s kitchen for Sunday blood sausage. Mitch likes this part of me best—little girl holding jars of black blood, warm in her hands. My gritty farm girl, he murmurs. With hair the color of straw. I like when he calls me his.

I don’t tell Mitch that my dad is a dentist. That my mom drove me forty-five minutes into Omaha to go to a private girls’ school on partial scholarship. Checkered pinafores and white bobby socks. Parties at friends’ parents’ lake houses and bumps of cocaine on granite countertop. That, in biology class, I liked slicing through cat belly, pulling out uterus and pink clump of intestines, inhaling formaldehyde. That my family took vacations to Branson every year, and that, for fun, I stole refrigerator magnets and shot glasses from the hotel gift shop. That I am so terribly unremarkable.

I want Mitch to think I’m special. Any version of me. Milk and corn fed farm girl. Good girl. Middle American beauty.

Mitch has a condo in Park Slope that I’ve never seen. He lives there Thursday through Sunday with his wife, a visual artist, whom he doesn’t talk about, at least not with me. I Googled her, and found out she’s known for a critically acclaimed series of videos she took of herself visiting the homes of old men, stripping down to her underwear, then watching them do the same. Belts unbuckled and pleated pants pulled down to reveal sagging folds of pale skin, faded boxers with tears in the waistband. You think they’re about to have sex, but they don’t. She just stands there, staring at them, like she’s fascinated by how ordinary they are. She has the kind of body people like to call unrealistic to feel better about themselves—curving hips and full breasts, but petite, tight, contained. Almost like a teenager. There are pictures of them on the internet—Mitch and The Wife. At her art shows, at her gallery talks, at her book party. Mitch looks old standing next to her.

Continue reading

Life is Unbearably Vivid: An Essay on Sundog by Jim Harrison and Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte


In a 2016 New York Times Book Review interview Jim Harrison responded to a question about his favorite fictional heroes and villains with, “My original favorite fictional hero was Heathcliff in Bronte’s ‘Wuthering Heights.’”[1] In Heathcliff Bronte creates one of literature’s quintessential Byronic heroes, unique among Byronic heroes in that his mystery derives from his locale: he embodies the tumultuous remoteness of Wuthering Heights.  Thinking over the corpus of Jim Harrison stories, especially those stories set in wintery brooding Northern Michigan, place becomes persona in characters actively trying to lose themselves in their surroundings pursuing what Anthony Doerr characterized as “unencumbered-ness.”[2]  This unencumbered-ness invokes an aura of Heathcliff.  This essay will argue that Jim Harrison’s Sundog clearly has a relationship to Wuthering Heights, and while it is by no means a retelling of that story, a reading of Sundog through Wuthering Heights enables an exploration of locale and the charismatic hero.

Jumping out from the two books is the parallel in the narrative scaffolding.  In Wuthering Heights Mr. Lockwood is a first person narrator, who retells Nelly Dean’s account of Wuthering Heights, that itself relays accounts of events told in detail by the story’s characters.  In Sundog Jim Harrison is a first person narrator, there are interviews with Robert Corvus Strang, and the “verbatim” transcriptions of tapes the Narrator makes as he comes to grips with how Strang’s story intersects with the transition he needs to make to keep his life from coming unglued.  The different narrative modes and moods create a push and pull tension within both novels–moods that for Harrison create a structure for the Narrator to internalize Strang’s story, to let the story under his skin, and for Bronte a space for the competing scenes of passion and/or ferocity.

Continue reading

Sitting Guard

Screenshot 2017-11-01 07.15.47BY VICTOR WALKER

Some days are better than others,

some days are worse than others,

some days just are.


This was going to be one of those better days, I hoped.

Did I resent my mother’s remarrying?

It was Dr. Runner who suggested that I write down my feelings between sessions.  So that’s what I’ve done:

I was happy for her.  I even gave her away at the wedding.  She made a beautiful bride.

I showed Dr. Runner the pictures I had taken on my cellphone.

He’s a year younger than she is, I told him.

Does that bother me?  Not really.

My dad had been almost ten years older, however.  That can be quite a lot when a couple gets up in age.  Personally, I don’t think most people can stay married for more than seven years before serious problems begin to appear.  It’s like owning a car.  After seven years you get another one.

Your first car is just about speed and fun and driving with the top down.  You’re not thinking about the long haul—the countless errands, the endless lines of traffic, the forty dollar fill-ups at the gas pump.

Where the highway was once a chance to air her out, that open road is now just a place to close the windows, turn on the air, and hit the cruise control.  Seven years is all any car really has in her.  And maybe only two really good ones at that.  The way I look at it, my mom and dad were way ahead of the game.

Next week would have been their ruby anniversary.  I looked it up.  That’s almost six new car lives.  Ruby is also my birthstone.  I’ll be forty this July.

Does that bother me?  Not really.

Anyway, I’m very happy for her.  For both of them.  It’s no good getting old by yourself.

They’re going to Costa Rica for their honeymoon.  You know, my mom’s sixty-one—no, sixty-two—and this’ll be the first time she’s ever really been anywhere outside of the country.  I had to drive her down to our post office to help her apply for a passport.  She refused to wear her glasses.  She wouldn’t wear them to the wedding either.  To tell the truth, I was a little afraid that she might trip when I walked her down the aisle, but she didn’t.

Continue reading

Ashtabula, Ohio: The Biker


This poem is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project.

The bike wobbles as he turns his head
to say hello to the girl and her dog
and the handlebars swerve the way they do
the first time the training wheels come off, but
he’s been riding for seventy years now.

Once, he could throw a paper and hit
the front door of every customer on his route,
one hand on the bars, the other swinging up
over his head, fingers following the paper
towards the stoop, but now
he must keep both hands gripped firm
just to stay upright.

Once, he could ride to the lake with a pretty girl
perched on the front, her auburn hair blowing
into his eyes, her giggles filling the air
as they coasted down the hill, but now
he has to concentrate on lifting his own heavy knees
with each rotation of the pedals.

Once, he could ride on the road with cars whizzing
while his children weaved down the walk beside him
on their way to the Squire Shoppe Bakery
for donuts each Saturday, but now
the cars threaten his stability and he must shift
back to the spot his children vacated years ago.

Elizabeth Devore teaches English at Kent State University at Ashtabula. She loves exploring her harbor neighborhood with her dog and meeting the retirees who have spent their lives making this city a place she has come to love.

Marquette, Michigan: Pristine Inland Sea

Courtesy of author

Courtesy of author


This essay is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project. 

As a lifelong resident of Marquette, Michigan, located on the south shore of Lake Superior, I consider myself fortunate. Wherever I have lived in the city, I have been only moments from the lake, able to see it from outside my front door

Throughout my life, the lake and I have harmonized. As a child, I mimicked its spontaneity, dove in to dodge waves, oblivious to its cold temps. As a teen, I became intimate with its passionate pulse, perfect background for young romance. As an adult, I relived the intoxication of its danger, its wonder, watching over my own child’s fear and wild delight at the force of its storms. As I grow older, I find reliable companionship, the comfort of lifelong friendship in its rhythmic accompaniment during contemplative walks.

Recently, I realized how I have taken this relationship for granted as the result of a trip to the Atlantic coast.

When I first viewed the Atlantic Ocean from a New Jersey boardwalk, I said “It looks like Lake Superior.” This seemed to disappoint my host who knew I’d never seen the ocean, and I think felt deprived of the vicarious experience of my amazement. I explained that it appeared to be not so different from something I see nearly every day. However, as I spent more time getting to know the ocean, I realized the difference.

True, there are obvious similarities between the two bodies, which share vast breadth, unending horizons, but each has unique aspects, better appreciated after experience of the other. The fact that the sea is salt water, the lake fresh, is a difference which is a source of many others, for example, scent. Superior, though it has its own fishy ambience, does not overpower with pungent brine. To the panoramic view, colors differ, the sea being more aqua green than Superior’s robin egg or cobalt blue.

The large turbulent waves of the Atlantic make Superior’s seem clear and hard by contrast.  Under similar weather conditions, breaking waves of the ocean are foamier, spread and hiss a greater distance up the sand, while the sharper-edged waves of Superior seem to shatter and scatter. Because the lake is a smaller body of water, it feels more dense, compact. Ocean water has more space to stretch out, travels a greater distance, seems more diffuse. I hear this in the sounds of surf. While the ocean roars and pounds, the lake glugs, dunks, and gulps. Superior has less predictable shifts in water level, and where the regular tides of the sea litter the beach with shellfish, shells, and sharp mosaic fragments of shells, Lake Superior beaches are awash with pebbles, and agates, and driftwood.

Risks to the swimmer also differ.  There is no danger of jellyfish or shark attacks in fresh water, the most threatening creature likely to be found in the lake a transplant lamprey eel.  More remarkable is the difference in shoreline water temperature. Compared to the oceans moderate temps, Superior’s unmatched frigid bite is a nerve-numbing awakening not for the timid heart. This ultimately protects Superior’s purity, and primarily, it is this characteristic I have most taken for granted.

Marquette may be the most populated area in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, but even so, its beaches, for the most part, in contrast to those I visited on the Atlantic, are generally open to the public at no cost. No purchased pass is required to spend a day or season of days on Superior’s convenient sands.  Yet, on most of those days, one will not find huge concentrated crowds taking advantage of that. In contrast to the popular East Coast beaches I visited on the Atlantic, the public beaches around Marquette are not massed with people, packed like cliché sardines under miles of striped umbrellas.  There are no troupes of solicitous hot-dog vendors, armed patrol guards, enormous bulldozers at daybreak, turning over yesterday’s garbage strewn surface, no airplanes with flying billboards urging the purchase of dinner reservations, no blocks upon blocks of full parking lots, no rows of expensive clubs playing conflicting raucous music.

On the shores of Lake Superior, one is more likely to find a bike path winding through stretches of sparsely populated beachfront pine forest than commercialized entertainment. Even on the most popular Superior beaches, one can easily wander only a short distance to find solitude, privacy, peace.

Certainly, both the northern “Inland Sea” and the Atlantic Ocean are lovely at sunrise, or under the full moon of a July night. Still I have to admit, my visit to the East Coast of the great Atlantic only deepened my preference for the Great Lake above the Mackinac Bridge. I now more fully understand its unique beauty, and more greatly appreciate the privilege of living with it daily.

Jennifer Stanley is a native of upper Michigan, and has an MA in writing from Northern Michigan University. She has contributed to a variety of publications, including The Marquette Monthly, The Great Lakes Poetry Project Anthology, Above the Bridge Magazine, Country Woman, and The American Poetry Review.

Tagged , ,


Photo by David Anstiss, courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Photo by David Anstiss, courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.


Last night, I remembered playing pitch dark hide and seek in a muddy field, a ruined pair of Air Max 95s, and the joy of black college freshmen running fearless through the night.

I am certain I will never again find that exact pair of sneakers. I’ve seen the blue, orange, and white colorway in stores, but something about them is never quite right. Maybe I’m holding onto a twenty-year-old memory that’s fuzzy at the edges. Or maybe they are the shoes, but now they aren’t as magical.

What is magical was that night, a crisp fall midnight after a day of heavy rain. In one of the many open fields dotting the campus of Kent State University, we ran with reckless abandon, shoes squelching and sticking in the thick mud. We’d congregated in the courtyard of the freshman dorms, dressed in black, our key cards and IDs slung beneath our shirts on lanyards.

Trekking from the lighted pathways of Stewart Hall, we’d unplugged ourselves from the lure of Yahoo! chat rooms and the newness of an Internet we had never experienced at home. What wonder and joy was a 24/7 computer lab? The lot of us would line the far wall four at a time and slip on the masks of usernames and ask A/S/L?

But that night, when the tentative cross country flirting had died down, we chose to retreat to our individual rooms to change into black t-shirts, sweatpants, and beanies. What a sight we must have been, a bevy of black kids marching across the field to a set of low bleachers. There is no recollection of how we chose teams or what exactly the rules were, but I do remember the sound of our laughter pealing out across the night and the chill that pressed down from above.

We sprinted and dove and rolled in a field torn up by intramural leagues, oblivious to the mud and the wetness seeping into our skin. Sometimes, we tackled each other into the juicier plots of grass and lay there backs flush against the earth, staring up into the Ohio sky. And soon, the group of us were side by side in the night, chests rising and breath clouding above our heads.

We rested there until oxygen pushed back into our lungs and then it was time for another sprint across the field, another squelch of shoes in the mud. We tore through the darkness until there was no more energy to pick up the heaviness of our feet or our bodies from the ground. So we found ourselves on the low bleachers again, the steam rising from our shoulders like spirits to heaven. The laughter still pealing out across the distance bounced back to us from the brick dormitories.

Save the bobbing beam of an officer’s flashlight, we would have stayed there throughout the night, a collection of newly minted clay statues set out to dry. In the morning there were Sunday breakfast buffets at one of the food halls. Monday would bring class and campus jobs. That Saturday night, however, was an endless stream of thighs pressed together, shoulders bumping, the splitting of groups until two figures walked towards the dorms alone.  What was left of that magic was a muddy pair of Air Max 95s, coated to the ankles, left drying next a door and a memory twenty years later whispering Ready. Set. Go. 

Athena Dixon is a poet and essayist. Her work has appeared in various journals both online and in print. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and is a Callaloo fellow. Her chapbook, Way Station, is forthcoming from Winged City Press. Athena is Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Linden Avenue Literary Journal. Originally from Northeast Ohio, she now writes, edits, and resides in Philadelphia. 

Tagged ,