Tag Archives: Issue 10

Bourbon

The universe began as a grain so dense

its burden was precisely the blossom

of existence. Bourbon begins as at least 51%

corn. The mash is gathered, ground, & slurried

to sourness, consumed by yeast & funneled

into copper pots that rely on nothing but fire

to yield clear liquor then calmed by years

in barrels of new burnt oak. No one

has sinned so fully to escape forgiveness

when treated by heat, time, & circumstance.

I knew that everything worthwhile started

as something lesser when dad didn’t defend

his decision to leave. What is polished

to fullness is done so through acts of love.

Sam Wilder

Sam Wilder was raised in Boone, NC, and Marietta, OH, the product of two staunch regions of Appalachia, and he bears that heritage with honor. He went back to Boone for undergrad, and earned his BS in Journalism before moving to Washington, DC, to earn his MFA in Fiction from American University. He currently lives and writes in Chicago, IL.

The Sadness Scale, As Measured by Stars and Whales

It’s easy enough to find, sadness, for there are so many stories of it disseminated on social media we might all stay quivering in our small rooms for as much time as we have left. In only the last week, besides the politics and polemics, the pipe bombs and opioid epidemic, I’ve learned that we live on a world where sunlight causes cancer, and a large number of Australian koalas have an STD. I’ve read that several times in our long and polluted history we’ve managed to catch water on fire, and everyone you see today is someone who just hasn’t died yet.

I know there are enough nuclear weapons in our arsenals to keep the earth burning for a thousand years, long after all the time capsules we’ve buried to speak to our future selves should have been opened, and there’s a thought, how often we record ourselves, through pages or pictures, for posterity, afraid as we are of endings.

The nearest any other planet ever gets to Earth is around 160 million miles, and no one knows how big the universe really is, nor how it began or where it ends. No one knows if the voices we spoke back when we were crawling out of caves are still rebounding into space, still hoping someone hears us.

Most laugh tracks were recorded in the 50s, which means you’re hearing dead people laugh when you watch a sitcom to ease the tension of your life or political leanings. That star you saw last night is likely dead too, and out of all the sweeping of the universe we’ve never found a sign we’re not alone: not a signal or song from any planet, and despite the vastness of space it’s a little depressing to think how alone we are as we careen through the void.

One day your mother put you down and never picked you up again, and your children will never again be as young as they are right now. The smell of fresh cut grass is the grass trying to heal itself after you’ve cut it, and that smell after a rain is the way the world really smells, which makes me wonder why it can’t always be like that, why we have to wait and wait for what we really want and afterward wish it were still that way.

There’s a whale in the Pacific Ocean that sings at such a high frequency no other whales can hear it. Scientists have been monitoring it for over twenty years, and for all that time it’s been alone, still hoping someone is listening. Speaking of singing, every year on the anniversary of its arrival the Mars Rover sings Happy Birthday to itself, millions of miles from anyone, and if that doesn’t send some wind sweeping across the ocean of your insides, I don’t know how to reach you.

It seems every day there’s a new loneliness loose in the world. Last week I read about a turtle whose shell had been fractured so the zoo made a wheelchair out of Legos, and watching it crawl around I cried like a child, that here was something so beautiful it hurt, like my grandmother in the days before she died saying she didn’t like the color of the curtains in her hospital room.

There’s also the unbearable sadness of school shootings, the systemic violence and oppression, the men who grease the wheels of government with their greed, but even without the wars and the worry and all the horrors we hear every day, we carry too much weight with us. Our thin skins can’t even keep out the weather, much less the changes in our atmospheres. I try to remember the last time I picked up my grown daughters and I might as well be searching the vastness of space.

Still, the search is worth it. Out there, past the bright unbroken stars of what we remember, is what we do not know. And somewhere in the asteroid belts of our lives lie the fragments we are forever trying to piece together, to understand what it means to walk around on this good earth.

There’s the warmth of your mother’s hand on your forehead, the coolness of the other side of the pillow. The fresh spill of snow that means no school today, the brightness of the world when we get just a minute to look at it. The tickle of carbonation on your upper lip from the Sprite right after a swim the year you turned eleven and learned about girls. Or boys. Or football or music or whatever you learned that year, still skipping across the hot summer cement, before acne and awkwardness set in.

And even that wasn’t so bad, remembering the way your date looked at Prom your junior year. Or the way your whole small town stood and cheered when your basketball team ran onto the court to the tune of whatever song was popular then or the way on summer nights you circled town like the stars spinning in the night sky or the way everyone told you to stay cool when they signed your yearbook.

At the end, I bet you’ll remember the sound of the garbage truck on the street in the morning with something like nostalgia. You’ll remember your first wife putting on her make-up, mirror still steamed from the shower, before all the growing apart began. You’ll see again your father, and I’ll remember the last time I held my daughter, the time I put her down and never picked her again, except to say, when she was overwhelmed by all the anger in the world, that I was still here, that whatever happens my voice will still be searching for her through space.

I’m trying to see stars the same as when I was a child, wondering not what’s out there for me, but just what’s out there. I’m trying not to imagine dead solar systems but that light still leaks from them long after they are gone. I want to smell the air after the rain and be thankful for that moment, no matter how long we have to wait for it. For every injustice in the world there is a spider crawling up a waterspout. For every anger, an echo. For every wrong, a right now.

You’ll never be as young as you are right now, which makes right now the best now. If our parents put us down and never picked us up again it’s because the weight of their worry grew too much, the same as we’ll be unable to carry our children to completion, the same as we’ll be unable to walk with them into the wherever.

But what beauty it will be to hear those long dead live again, not the pre-canned laughter of some stupid show but what waits for us in the wherever. I hope if we do end up burning the earth aliens will see the smoke from the fire and perhaps make different mistakes than ours. Or none. Or all of them, and learn, before they begin the burning, and when the light of our fire gets to them, they’ll see only a night sky, our planet perhaps a little brighter against the darkness.

And sometimes I think of that whale and realize he’s still singing, even if no one else is listening. It’s beautiful, that song, the way it moves through the water of our bodies, where we are all alone. And the Mars Rover, singing to itself as well—someone programmed that. Someone marked the milestones in its metric or electric or whatever it is the Rover runs on, years maybe, or lines drawn in the Martian soil to measure its days so far from home, so far from where it came into being. I don’t know what the song sounds like, but I know it is good. It is sad and slow and sweet, and it echoes all through the universe of our small hearts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paul Crenshaw

Paul Crenshaw is the author of the essay collection This One Will Hurt You, published by The Ohio State University Press. Other work has appeared in Best American Essays, Best American Nonrequired Reading, The Pushcart Prize, anthologies by W.W. Norton and Houghton Mifflin, Oxford American, Glimmer Train, Tin House, North American Review and Brevity, among others.

George Washington

The first President of the United States owned slaves

& although he did release them upon his death

while he was alive he would take their teeth

& attempted to graft them into his gums

undergoing bold & radical surgery

even by today’s standards

 

It is doubtful that anyone willingly

had their teeth pulled

not even for old George Washington

whose discomfort can be seen in photographs yellowed & cracked

like the wooden dentures making his face pucker in pain

as if sucking on a lemon or trying chewing tobacco

 

Just as the mouths of slaves puckered around tong

& pliers, trying not to scream while they suffered

egregious indignity and barbarism, to have teeth

harvested only to see them go to waste

Jason Arment

Jason Arment served in OIF as a Machine-Gunner in the USMC. He’s earned an MFA in CNF from VCFA. His work has appeared in The Iowa Review, the 2017 Best American Essays, The New York Times, among other publications and on ESPN. His memoir, Musalaheen, stands in stark contrast with other narratives about Iraq, in both content and quality. Jason lives in Denver, where he coordinates the Denver Veterans Writing Workshop with Lighthouse. Much of his work can be found at jasonarment.com

Cardiomyopathy

A waiting room at a hospital. Three people (A, B,

and C) are sprawled out, waiting. It should be

noted that none of these characters are gender

specific, and may be cast in any way, though they

have all been denoted as “she,” for simplicity and

also as a sort of a screw-you to the patriarchy.

Beat.

A

Nothing worse than a waiting room, huh?

B

Hm?

A

Uh, I said, nothing worse than a waiting room, y’know?

B

Oh, ha, yeah.

A

Even when it’s slow, you still wait around forever.

Like they’re trying to weed out any fakers.

B

Lots of paperwork, I guess.

A

True, true, lots of paperwork.

B goes back to her phone. Slight beat.

A (cont’d)

So whatcha in for?

B

Oh. Just an appointment.

A

Check-up?

B

Not…exactly. Uh…

A

Oh, sorry! Sorry, I’m prying. I didn’t mean – waiting

rooms just make me so anxious, y’know?

B

(relaxing)

Yeah. Um. I’m just here for a consultation.

2.

A

Oh, for…?

She gestures toward her heart.

B

Well, that is what they do here.

A

Ha, true.

(Pause, then:)

I’m having it done today. Just –

She makes a quick snipping motion.

B

Wow. It’s quite a step.

A

It is, but I’m ready for it. I’m – I think, it seems

like the best decision. Logical and all.

B

Right…

A

You don’t think so?

B

What?

A

You sound like you disagree.

B

Oh. No. I don’t know. I think it’s different for

everyone.

A

Sure. But you’re here for a consultation, aren’t you?

B

Yea. But just a consultation. I mean, it’s a big

decision to make. I probably won’t go through with it.

But hey! Good for you.

A

Yea.

(Pause.)

Can I ask why?

3.

B

Why what?

A

Why don’t you think you’ll go through with it?

B

I just don’t think it’s for me.

A

But you’re here.

B

I mean I don’t want to close myself off from the

possibility.

A

So you’re saying you might do it.

B

Frankly, it’s not any of your business.

A

Right. Sorry. God, sorry.

A turns away. A beat.

B

I…lost someone incredibly important to me. A few

months ago, and I just thought I should…explore my

options.

A

Oh. Yeah. Um. I’m sorry for your loss.

B

Thank you. I get it, you know. Why you’d wanna do it.

If you don’t have a heart, it can’t get hurt anymore.

That’s what they say.

A

That is what they say. For me, it wasn’t really one big

event for anything like that. It’s just like – there’s

always been this sadness, this like little piece of ice

that just sits in my heart and makes everything seems

so cloudy, like somebody’s covering the world with

plastic wrap. I’d like to see the world without those

clouds. Just once. And if they can’t remove the ice,

well, then, I guess it’s better if they just take the

whole thing.

4.

B

Are you scared?

A

A little.

(relenting)

A lot.

C

And that’s exactly why you need it done!

C, who has been reading a newspaper in the corner,

joins the convo.

A

Huh?

C

That fear is exactly why the procedure is necessary.

Everyone should have it done. Honestly, it should be a

requirement.

B

A requirement?

C

You heard me.

(to A)

See, you’re scared now – and I suppose we can’t blame

you, with your heart pounding away in your chest – but

once it’s removed – poof! No fear! About anything.

A

No fear? At all?

C

None! The promotion you were so nervous about asking

for? Easily attained. Worried about that big meeting?

Not anymore! I’m telling you, I was a hypochondriac

before I had it done. Now I’m calm as a clam!

B

Isn’t the saying, “happy as a clam”?

C

Well, sure, but have you ever actually seen a clam?

Nothing that ugly can possibly be happy.

A

It’s really that great?

5.

C

Having my heart removed was the single greatest

decision I ever made. I am one hundred percent more

productive now than I was before. You really don’t know

how much emotions slow you down until you no longer

have them. How many hours a day do you waste taking

care of everyone’s feelings or sorting through your

own? How much money do you waste getting drunk so you

can get over the asshole who cheated on you with your

sister?

A

Oddly specific, but I take your point.

C

That ice in your heart, my best friend had it too. And

it drove her mad. The day she killed herself is the day

I decided to have my heart removed. I couldn’t go on

feeling her pain if she couldn’t stick around to feel

it herself. And now, here I am! Thriving and making

more money than I ever imagined.

B

What’s the point, though?

C

Excuse me?

B

What’s the point of all the money? What do you do with

it?

C

I put it in savings. Go on vacations. I buy things.

B

But why buy things? Because they make you feel good?

C

They don’t make me feel anything. That’s the trick of

it.

B

So you just buy things to buy them.

C

I buy things because they cultivate a certain sense of

status. They build my brand.

B

Okay, what about the vacations? Why take those if not

to relax and enjoy yourself?

6.

C

I take vacations because it’s scientifically proven

that relaxation increases lifespan and productivity.

B

So that’s it, then, the whole point of life is to be

productive.

C

What else would it be?

B

I don’t know, happiness, I guess?

C

(laughing)

Oh, sure, happiness. I used to think that. I used to

think that I was striving toward happiness and the pain

I experienced outside of that was just a roadblock I’d

eventually push past. But happiness is never just

happiness. That’s what they don’t tell you. In order to

experience euphoric joy, you need to understand

absolute despair. Is that worth it?

Slight beat. B is at a loss.

B

I don’t know. Maybe you’re right. Maybe getting rid of

your heart really does make life easier.

But.

One of the last days before he died, Greg, my… we

went up to this state park that’s like an hour outside

of the city. And we hiked for like three hours, which

was a lot for him, cause the cancer, at that point,

made it really hard for him to do pretty much anything.

But he was so determined, he was gonna make it to the

top of a mountain. And we got to this cliff, and we

looked out and all you could see was just trees for

miles and miles. Greg said nobody would be able to hear

us if we screamed. So we did. We stood there on that

cliff and tried to scream our lungs out into all those

trees. It was the first time in a year that I didn’t

feel like crying. I just felt free.

That memory, it doesn’t take up space in my brain. It’s

in my heart. All the days with Greg are. If I take it

out, he’ll just be facts and figures. Everything will.

B gathers up her stuff and turns to go. At the

door, she turns back.

7.

B (cont’d)

(to A)

I don’t think you should have the surgery. It hurts a

lot, but it’s really beautiful too, isn’t it?

A says nothing. B turns and exits. When she’s

gone, C sighs.

C

What an odd individual! Who would seriously want to go

on living with all that pain? Not us!

A

Right.

C

It’ll all be better once the surgery is over, you’ll

see.

A

Better, yeah. Better.

They sit in silence. A tries to make a decision.

THE LIGHTS GO DOWN.

Samantha Auch

Samantha Auch is a poet, actor, and burgeoning filmmaker based in New York City. Her poem details was recently published by the Poeming Pigeon, and she has had other poems featured on Babbling of the Irrational and Lit.cat. The Company, her first self-directed/written/produced web series, is set to come out spring 2019.

Bedtime Story

My father rapes me every night and I cry.

I don’t like him in my bed—until I do.

Poor child, so young, no voice, only

legs spread, open and aching, I grow to love him.

He yanks his pajama bottom strings

leaving me alone in a puddle of goo.

 

Leaving me alone in a puddle of goo,

he yanks his pajama bottom strings.

Legs spread. Open and aching. I grow to love him,

poor child, too young. No voice. Only

I don’t like him in my bed until I do.

My father rapes me every night, and I cry.

Viriginia Sutton

Virginia Chase Sutton’s chapbook, Down River, was published last fall. Her second book, What Brings You to Del Amo, won the Morse Poetry Prize and is being re-issued by Doubleback Books. Embellishments is her first book and Of a Transient Nature is her third. Seven times nominated for the Pushcart Prize, her poems have won a Poetry Scholarship at Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference, the Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award, and the National Poet Hunt. Poems have appeared in The Paris Review, Ploughshares, Puerto del Sol, Comstock Review, Laurel Review, and Peacock Journal, among many other literary publications, journals, and anthologies. She lives in Tempe, Arizona, with her husband.