The Answer to Your Question is, “Benevolence, Trees, and Horses”

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BY CAL FREEMAN

Considering a height that sheers
to concrete,
you remember that backyard elm from
your youth with its three forking boles,
how you’d lay a two-by-four
between them as a bridge
and move among the upper branches
on that precarious scaffolding
as if you couldn’t come to peril,
as if, looking down at the rounded backs
of garden stones, soul and providence
were givens. One night
as a summer storm approached,
you climbed to better hear
the dry leaves sing and to feel
the way the whole tree swayed
to keep from breaking, reaching
toward the fence line
and the dark ground. Years later
you took to horses in the same oblivious way,
bucked a dozen times into sand
and gravel and dirt, somehow never
busting a bone in any of those falls.
You’d read that trees speak
to each other through their roots, sharing sugars,
huddling against wind, and that their peril
was in being alone—they willfully
give us nothing and it might, after all,
be incorrect to speak of single trees—
suckers, widowmakers—but copses,
stands, and forests, whole subterranean
networks of roots and molds—
but isolated crowns in gales still resemble
the head of a panicked Arabian fleeing
your white-knuckled grip
and your shrill voice at a dead gallop.

 

Cal Freeman’s writing has appeared in many journals including Commonweal, The Cortland Review, The Journal, Passages North, and Hippocampus. He is the recipient of the Howard P. Walsh Award for Literature, The Ariel Poetry Prize, and The Devine Poetry Fellowship (judged by Terrance Hayes). He has also been nominated for Pushcart Prizes in poetry and creative nonfiction, as well as Best of the Net and Best American Poetry. His collection, Brother of Leaving, was published by Marick Press, and his chapbook, Heard Among the Windbreak, was published by Eyewear Publishing (London). Freeman’s book, Fight Songs, is forthcoming from Eyewear Publishing in the fall of 2017.

Three Emily Poems

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BY DARREN C. DEMAREE

 

EMILY AS DEEP NIGHT

Reclined in the back
of a borrowed black
& gold truck, Emily

& I are not lost
& we cannot be found
& the short, metal valley

we’ve claimed as shelter
in the unending Ohio
night, is just enough

cover to leave fingerprints
all over the epic.
We are the evidence.

 

EMILY AS SHE’S NEVER BEEN MINE

Do you think
that Emily
isn’t choosing

these words?
She dressed
as fire

for Halloween
& now all
I can think

about is Emily
as fire
& she knows

that. I am
simple. She
knows that.

I am the act
of typing
& I am hers

& she is putting
together one hell
of a mythology.

 

EMILY AS THE ROOTS REMEMBER THE BLACK DIRT

I’ve had sex with Emily.
I am not, currently,
having sex with Emily.

This terrible withering
has me longing to be
fed by her existence.

I need to learn to
appreciate the sun without
feeling like I must

take over the garden.

 

Darren C. Demaree is the author of six poetry collections, most recently “Many Full Hands Applauding Inelegantly” (2016, 8th House Publishing), and the Managing Editor of the Best of the Net Anthology and Ovenbird Poetry. His poems have appeared, or are scheduled to appear, in numerous magazines/journals, including the South Dakota Review, Meridian, New Letters, Diagram, and the Colorado Review. He is currently living and writing in Columbus, Ohio with his wife and children.

 

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.

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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.