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Essays

Essays

Victoria Anderson

September 18, 2018

Swarming Season

May

Spring too long delayed. Months of wet, cold days, and half-lit sky. In Chicago, my friend S., who wanted one more spring, is going about the slow business of dying. In my Michigan rental house, a buff-brown female cardinal nests on the second rung of a ladder leaning against the house. Her mate feeds her while she sits for eleven to thirteen days until the eggs hatch. If S. is alive, I will send her pictures of those unhinged beaks waiting to receive.

A correspondence with a Slovenian beekeeper sparked my interest in bees. He keeps Carnolian bees (Apis melliferea carnica). I mention this because he tends his bees unsuited. For beekeepers from mountainous region that was once Austria and is now Slovenia, the Carniolan Grey is a cultural icon. Citizens view themselves in the context of what they admire about their grey bee: its diligence, cooperativeness, gentleness, and cleanliness. My bee keeper has never been stung.

 

I just got back from a trip from Arizona where I learned about apiculture, as much as one can learn in a week. I wore the white suit, the hood (which made me feel I was looking out a screened door), and the gloves and booties. I looked like I was prepared to be part of a hazmat crew, or, minus the gloves, ready to enter an operating room to perform surgery. I signed two disclaimers before I could approach a hive.

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Essays

Robyn Allers

September 18, 2018

Naked

The Polaroids arrived in a padded envelope marked “CONFIDENTIAL.” After thirty-five years, my ex-husband had returned photos he took of me during the first year of our brief marriage. I was twenty-one years old at the time, and I was naked.

We hadn’t spoken since our divorce, my ex and I, but a mutual friend interceded. “He came across these nude pictures of you when he was moving,” she said. “They were—and these were his words—‘studies’ for a painting.”

I had no memory of posing nude for any “studies” and only faintly remember our blip of a marriage. “Tell him to toss them,” I said.

“You sure?”

I imagined the trash bag breaking and the Polaroids, flecked with coffee grounds, strewn across the sidewalk and discovered by a stranger. (You laugh, but I once found—right in the middle of my street—a trove of elicit email correspondence between my neighbor and her secret online lover, so it can happen.) Also, I was curious.  “Give him my address.”

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Essays

Marie Harris

July 24, 2018

Bruised Hearts

On the Day Before Something Happened

Nothing much happened.

August morning on the Parker River Refuge. Shorebirds working the salt pannes. Tree swallows staging for the journey south. Harrier hunting low over the marsh. The last osprey of summer. My first least tern.

Nothing more happened.
And something terrible didn’t happen
until it did.

 

Close Calls

 The first: my daughter-in-law,
her voice from the ambulance
speeding her away from the crumpled car
back to their home town.
Their son is with her, unhurt.
The last she saw of her husband
he was still trapped
and a helicopter on the way
racing to beat the storm.

The second:
We’re there for you.
Four words that can mean less than nothing.
Except they are there. Understudies. Two friends
who simply walked out into the soft Carolina night,
turned the key in the ignition and sped down from the mountains
to his hospital bedside in another city
to watch and wait the long night
until we could get there.

Holly gave me a cotton throw that looked just
like a receiving blanket, printed as it was with little flowers.

 

Sindonology

He remembered everything. He told me everything. In exquisite detail. The impact. The noise and the fire. The suffocating cloud of extinguisher foam. His wife without breath for an eternity. His pinned legs. And he told me that a man and a woman and their son tried to help them. But there was nothing to be done short of spiriting their backseat carseat boy far enough away from the wreck that he could still see but not see. Then, he said, they talked and talked at them until the EMTs arrived.

 Months later, I found the woman’s name through the newspaper that had carried a paragraph about the accident. On the way across the road to help your family, she told me over the phone, my husband and I passed by the other car, the one that hit them head-on. And we glimpsed the driver slumped over the wheel. He had a long gash on his forehead. Then I saw. And then I knew. His heart had died before. Because all there was on his shirt . . . all there was were five drops of blood.

 Like the Shroud of Turin, I thought.
A white shirt that kept a kind of image of those moments.

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Essays

Rich Furman

July 24, 2018

Has to Go

The emergency room doctor clamped down on his right wrist to steel his trembling hand. I shifted my gaze from the confluence of foot and hand to her; she flatly shook her head, a rare, bewildering emptiness. Was this a call for help? An assessment of the absurdity of the moment? An instruction to keep my often-too-careless mouth shut? I watched her face for some clue, but her eyes slammed shut; she was then somewhere else. Once he controlled his turbulent hands, he commenced picking flesh out of the wound on her foot.

“See this layer of stuff here?” he asked.

I was not close enough, so I leaned in. His breath, cigarettes and mint.

“It has to go.”

He twisted his tweezer, plucked and grunted under his breath. She twisted and gnashed her teeth. We looked at each other—I constantly on the verge of stopping the unsteady healer.

He lifted his eyes from his unstill fingers, and the yellow and green that surrounded the scab that had developed on her surgical site. He faced me.

“It’s called wound care, and you’re going to have to learn to do it.

There was no empathy in his voice. Nor was there any contempt, nor rancor, nor any sort of judgment. He could have been a bored city bureaucrat responding to a lonely call, informing an enraged citizen of the actual date of her recycling pick up. He could not have known how much wound care I had already done, would continue to do, that which had nothing to do with the infection in front of us.

Usually at night, I would wash her foot in the bathtub, rinse the tweezer with alcohol, and begin wound care. The problem? It is difficult to discern the healthy from the dead. It may seem obvious, but wounds and infections are contested places, as is the line, no, the field, between pains that must be suffered, and pains that signal destruction. How much damage did I do to her, attempting to cleanse her flesh? How much damage to us?

And as with much during those years, I struggle to recall the details. After all, my mind was dull.  I could only sleep for a couple of hours each night; her cries usually crescendoing three hours after she took her pain medicine. It was that final hour that was the worst, she would twist in agony, was rarely lucid, and pleaded with me to give her a premature dose of opiates that might kill her. How did I ignore her sobbing, and her insistence that I did not care about her suffering? After two years, perhaps there were moments when I didn’t, but I continued wound care, striving to learn what would not cause too much pain, but would liberate the living from the dead.


Rich Furman, PhD, is the author or editor of over fifteen books, including a collection of flash nonfiction/prose poems, Compañero (Main Street Rag, 2007). Other books include Detaining the Immigrant Other: Global and Transnational Issues (Oxford University Press, 2016), Social Work Practice with Men at Risk (Columbia University Press, 2010), and Practical Tips for Publishing Scholarly Articles (Oxford University Press, 2012). His poetry and creative nonfiction have been published in Another Chicago Magazine, Chiron Review, Sweet, Hawai’i Review, Pearl, Coe Review, The Evergreen Review, Black Bear Review, Red Rock Review, Sierra Nevada Review, New Hampshire Review, Penn Review, and many others. He is professor of social work at University of Washington Tacoma. He is currently a student of creative nonfiction at Queens University’s MFA-Latin America program.

 

 

Essays

Leila Philip

July 24, 2018

Venous Lake

It all began with a little black spot on my lower lip. “You should get that looked at,” said the woman at the Aveda store, handing me the rhubarb lipstick I had picked out to cover it. As she stared at my face, I felt panic rising. I was fair skinned and blue-eyed and of the generation that had coated our teenage bodies in baby oil while roasting in the sun. Although I knew to wear sunscreen now, I often didn’t. “I don’t have a dermatologist,” I blurted out. She quickly wrote down the name of a doctor she recommended highly.

Two weeks later, after my HMO cleared the visit, I was sitting in the doctor’s office, wondering just how many hours of unprotected sun exposure it took to get skin cancer. Continue Reading

Essays

Courtney Kiehm

July 22, 2018

Fort Myers Beach, Florida

I walked along the plastic white boardwalk. My feet were sizzling, and I could hear the boards rubbing together. It sounded like someone was twisting a disposable water bottle.

I look down at the water, waves crashing up against the boats, causing them to rock back and forth. The water has a grayish-blueish-green color, making it murky so I cannot see very deep. I was always searching for a shark fin to be sticking out of the water.

Ma is like a storm nowadays. Her doctor diagnosed her with bipolar disorder, but she doesn’t think anything is wrong, so she refuses medication. Sometimes she calls my mom crying. Sometimes she calls my mom yelling, asking where Pa went. I’ve called my grandma and grandpa Ma and Pa since I was a baby, and that’s the way it stayed. Continue Reading

Essays

Joan Connor

July 22, 2018

Flying to New Zealand

Thirty hours in the air to spend forty on the ground.

The flight attendants feed us every ten minutes to try to make us forget that our knees are setting off our ears like scare quotes, that we are hurtling through the sky in a modified tin can.

I am going to Wellington to present a conference paper. The fat girls are going up and down the airplane to do what, I do not know. Limited diversions on a plane. How many times can one use the stinky bathroom? To bump the snack carts inconveniently out of the way?  Why is it always the fat girls—up they go and back they come, jostling everyone as they make their passages. Up and back. I am being mean. Sorry, fat girls.  But, of course, they cannot hear me.

I watch a super creepy movie The Counselor Cormac McCarthy wrote, in which Brad Pitt gets garroted. I consider garroting the current fat girl butting into the snack cart. I am not a nice person.

For months I have been reading histories of New Zealand to prepare a paper for my audience.  As an American, I am deeply aware of my cultural ignorance. Due to its remoteness, New Zealand was settled late by Europeans.  But the Maori were there well before the time James Cook arrived, likely migrating from Eastern Polynesia. Although a minority today, the Maori consider New Zealand a bicultural rather than a multicultural country. The Maori name for their country is Aotearoa, land of the long white cloud.  The impact of the Pākehā, white New Zealanders, on the Māori is not dissimilar to the impact of the white population on Native Americans. Devastating. Sinful. For its short history, the United States has a long history of sins.

I try to recline my seat that does not recline. Sleepless, I consider garroting a first-class passenger. They have beds. I watch Gravity. Actually, I watch my neighbor’s movie, Gravity, a movie which requires no soundtrack.

Aoteroa by way of Australia. I wander the airport seeking real food. It does not exist in airports any more than it exists on airplanes where they serve you mystery meat—no, worse than mystery meat—Koan meat. With mystery meat, you ask what?  With beef stroganoff served on a plane, you ask why? Airports sound like hospitals; they always make me sad.

En route New Zealand, I cross the International Dateline and the equator. No longer a Pollywog.

No jet lag either since we have moved just a day. I will celebrate Valentine’s Day twice, which means that I can twice be miserable about my lovelessness.

Australia to New Zealand. It is farther than I thought. Maps are deceptive as, in my experience, are lovers.

Wellington is on the water and very beautiful, pristine. I have too long been far from the sea. My taxi driver is benevolent, obliging and tours the city for me, chatting and pointing. Norfolk Pines line the streets.

My hotel is on Cuba Street, which apparently never sleeps, and neither will I. Rod Stewart and Springsteen blare simultaneously. Hipster girls and tat faces hit the clubs and used-clothing stores, coffee bars. Drink your coffee flat and white. I give my cigarettes to a homeless man. Cheers. No worries.

 

I have packed all the wrong clothes; it is cold and windy. I left cold behind expecting summer. Cold to cold. In a used-clothing store, I buy jeans, flat shoes, socks, and a hat.

 

The hobbit is king in Wellington. Gollumses, hobbits, Gandalfs abound. On the screen in the airplane, in the airport, in the Weta Workshop. More than a little unnerving.  I feel them watching me.  I may well be the only person alive who did not see the movie.  Nonetheless they watch me.

I cannot sleep. Technopop is playing on Cuba Street. Somewhere a car alarm is bleating. Finally, I surrender to sleeplessness and head for the lobby. On the sidewalk below the balcony, a man and a woman make out on a heated sofa. It is four a.m.

In the morning I drink my coffee flat and white and decide to hike to Katherine Mansfield’s girlhood home. It is in Thorndon, a long walk along the water, Jervois Quay to Customhouse, across the motorway. The wind tears at my raincoat. My eyes tear.

Eventually I find the little Victorian house with the lovely garden. A charming neighborhood. Restored and furnished with period pieces, the home is cozy, kind. It would be a lovely place to write. Mansfield compared it to a piggery. She had edges, more edges than a dodecahedron. I buy some postcards and thank the docent.

The conference opens with a mihimihi, a song of welcome and introduction, sung by a Maori woman. The song is beautiful, and I am so tired, so emotionally thin that I near tears.

The writers are Maori and Pākeā, mainly from Australia and New Zealand. Some seem to be jockeying for position, what New Zealanders call Tall Poppy Syndrome.

I stand to present the keynote paper and suddenly feel as if I am reading a paper that I  have never seen before like finding a dress in my closet that I do not recall buying, the when and the where. My jokes are not going over—and then I know—I am the fat girl in the aisle. I bumble and stumble through it, jokes and all.

Later my peers want to meet for a drink. I enter a long deco, arched hall that looks like the entry to the Wizard of Oz’s receiving room. A surreal architectural approach for a glass of wine.

Only later will I learn that it is actually the Embassy Theater, designed by Llewelyn Williams in 1924 and recently renovated for the world premiere of The Lord of the Rings.

For dinner, we meet at the Ortega Fish Shack where I have Panzanella and chocolate sorbet.

My sense of time is further warped by wine. In Maori myth, Maūi and his brothers slow Tamanuiterā, the sun. They twist ropes of flax and wait in the East for the sleeping sun to stir from its bed in the pit. They net the sun and thereby slow time.

Time feels either slow or fast; I am uncertain which. At my age, I sometimes wonder if I had it to do over again, would I? No. But might I slow what remains me? I do not yet know.

At the conference’s open reading, Tim Upperton read this poem:

Spring

is coming. This is a poem about spring

which is too much. Everything is too much.

This is a poem about everything.

I ruin everything I touch.

I ruin the jonquils, the daffodils.

I ruin the I love you.

I ruin the blue remembered hills.

The apple trees vomit blossom. I ruin the morning dew.

Which is to say, I am terrified.

Meanwhile the grassy goodness, the lengthening day.

It’s not as if you died.

You come closer and closer away.

            (from The Night We Ate the Baby, Hanunui Press, 2014)

 

Everything is too much.

 

In the morning I head for the Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa to find gifts for my family. There is a stunning view of the bay from the top of the museum, but my vertigo prevents me from walking to the edge. From afar, I admire the ships with gratitude, then head to the gift shop. Mainly Kiwis, lots and lots of Kiwis, Kiwi key chains, Kiwi pillows, carved Kiwis, stuffed animal Kiwis, and I have, of course, never seen a Kiwi except the fruit.

 

On the wall in Te Papa, it says, Titiro whakamuri. Embrace the past. I do not know if I embrace the past, but I certainly have trouble letting go of it—places I have lived, failed loves. Closer and closer away. If I need to learn anything it is to embrace the present. And maybe that is what was this trip is finally about. I am too old to have made this trip, the brutal sixty hours in the air. The exhaustion and consequent confusion. And yet how could I not? I will return and rise and teach and still not have fully recovered who I am. But maybe that is the point—to make a trip and become someone else—if only for a little while. But it is all for a little while. Just a little while after all.


Joan Connor is a professor at Ohio University and a professor in Fairfield University’s low residency MFA program. She is a recipient of the AWP award for her short story collection History Lessons, and of the River Teeth Award for her collection of essays, The World Before Mirrors. Her two earlier collections are We Who Live Apart and Here On Old Route 7. How to Stop Loving Someone won the 2010 Leapfrog Fiction Contest, adult category.