Category Archives: Words

The Summer with No Mosquitoes

BY YOKO MORGENSTERN

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 …

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Prologue to Green River

BY CHRISTOPHER LEE MILES

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.

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Exit…Stage Left

BY JOSEPH HARRIS

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.

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Incumbent

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BY TAMARA DEAN

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.

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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.

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

sundogBY PAUL DOTY

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.

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Michigan over Matter

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BY BETH PETERSON

Three months in Michigan and suddenly
I’m writing knock-off poems in my head
I turn off lights that were never on
I prepare for a time change five weeks in advance
I watch a long line of men, shovels in hand,
pitching it into the night and I think
maybe
one day
I’ll be like them,
smooth, easy, rhythmic,
seeing it all like paper on grass, seafoam on cars
over-exposed photographs
or something less crushing
Me, I’m always throwing it all into trees
and wondering what will come down

A wilderness guide before she began writing, Beth Peterson has an MFA from the University of Wyoming and a PhD in creative writing and literature from the University of Missouri. Her writing has appeared in Fourth Genre, River Teeth, Passages North, Post Road, The Pinch and other publications. She lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan where she’s an assistant professor in Grand Valley State University’s writing program. 

Fall football in the leaves

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BY BETH PETERSON

 

It’s a sweatpants day
Phil launches the football
            into my memory
the slant of the light there
is red, not the red of a match-just-struck
but something cleaner
where runs always crunch into quarter
sand what we forgive is the cool air
with hot cocoa in tall metal thermoses
that somebody’s mom sent along
and sweatshirts collide
with the weekend dusk
while we run touchdowns
over the leaf covered line
the last football days
fall in our lives together

 

A wilderness guide before she began writing, Beth Peterson has an MFA from the University of Wyoming and a PhD in creative writing and literature from the University of Missouri. Her writing has appeared in Fourth Genre, River Teeth, Passages North, Post Road, The Pinch and other publications. She lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan where she’s an assistant professor in Grand Valley State University’s writing program. 

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.

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A Coven in a Small Town

wiccan shop
BY CAREY MILLSAP-SPEARS

meets every Thursday night
across from the pizza joint
and the all-night gas station.

One-by-one, they enter
a run-down strip mall space
and suck in the flavored-smoke
slinking off the incense stick.

Behind the industrial-glass door,
the coven gathers in secret
to learn the old arts
and to buy new, mass-produced and

overpriced supplies.
Everything here seems desirable,
where twinkle lights temper
the glowing overhead fluorescents.

One-day-a-week, they practice
divination, recite incantations,
and trade home-brew recipes
before putting children to bed and watching a little TV.

Leaving together, thirteen
weekday witches living nowhere special
wave at the local folks filling up
while cackling off into the night.

Carey Millsap-Spears is a writer and teacher living in Hobart, Indiana. She’s lived most of her life in Northwest Indiana—also known as the Region. Her academic work has been published in Studies in Popular Culture and The Dark Arts Journal.Carey’s poetry has appeared in the GNU journal. She holds a MFA in creative writing, poetry and a Master of Arts in English and is Professor of Communications/Literature at Moraine Valley Community College.