Browsing Tag



Lisa K. Buchanan

December 16, 2019


My mother never announced having spent the day with her older daughter, but I always knew. Suddenly, my spaghetti spill was catastrophic; my loss of a gym sock, reckless; my impersonation of the school principal, unkind. Mom had a way of dropping a cheekbone onto the heel of a hand while she sat at the kitchen table, long after dinner was over. No doubt, while I was playing tetherball after school, she and her older daughter had lingered at the yarn shop and the antique store, errands I found interminable. Maybe the two of them sipped iced tea: liquid cat box. Maybe they played duets at the piano where my mother and I could only fight. “F shaaaarp!” The correction missiled from the kitchen, down the hall, and into my ear while I practiced scales. Mom had perfect pitch, but I often suspected it was her first daughter, five years older than me, calling out the note. When my mother was bored with me, I knew she was missing Pickle Puss—she who was musical and hopeful in the way our mother had been musical and hopeful; she who was freckled and photogenic in the way our mother had been, with bouncy auburn waves and coveted curves. Mom’s perfume smelled reachy on me, but when her older daughter wore it, our house was queen-scented. With her inherited cheekbones, nimble piano fingers, and even the wry humor that earned her nickname, the older daughter was our mother’s legacy to an otherwise disappointing world. Their symbiosis was absolute; it was the longing that got to them. Unlike me, the older daughter had emerged from my mother’s own womb. And unlike me, she had been still and silent and softly purple, a girl baby shrouded, a dream from which my presence could only awaken our mother, day after day, most cruelly.



Lisa K. Buchanan’s work has appeared in the Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology, Fourth Genre, Narrative, New Letters, and The Offing. She likes Brahms’ short waltzes, spinach with mango, Downward-Facing Dog, and breaking the Rule of Three


Kent Jacobson

December 16, 2019

I Set a Fire


I don’t know why I set the fire. I haven’t wanted to think about it since. Though I know what I joked for years afterwardWe had to find that baseball didn’t we?” Like I’d been one more dopey kid.

It was a brutal July day that summer of 1955, not far from the ocean, and a too long bike ride away from the center of our small Rhode Island mill-town. I was about to turn twelve and enter the seventh grade. There’d been a steamy haze that morning, but now the sun was out full and what air that moved came warm off the land. Nobody wanted to play baseball, nobody, especially not slow-moving Earl. “Too hot,” Earl said, “too hot,” and it was, and still I pushed him to the ballfield right across from Dr. Gongaware’s and my big house on the hill. Dad called me “a bull.”

The game I wanted to play was my game with two players (call it “catch”), a game almost as good as our regular five against five, our neighborhood too little for baseball’s usual nine on a side. I played shortstop and Earl played first, his back to the high grass that surrounded the field the Gongawares mowed for us kids.

I stood at short on the yellowing grass and faced first base as Earl got ready, the unlevel field sloping down behind me to the missing leftfielder. Was that smell honeysuckle? I waited in the hum of insects and the flash of redwing blackbirds, the smell of saltwater heavy in the air, a seagull drifting down to the backstop behind home plate. The heat. The quiet.

“Come on, Earl, let’s go. Roll me one.”

Earl was a class grade behind me though we were about the same size. He never hurried, unlike his father who worked a machine at Cottrell’s factory and was always in a rush to a new home-project: “Why are those goddamn boys never around when I need ‘em? Where’s that lazy Earl?” And despite the hurry and the anger, he’d look at me and smile: “Howya doin’ Butchy-boy?” (Butch, my family nickname). Did he hope my straight A’s would rub off on his sons?

Earl took his time, and finally rolled an easy grounder at me and I charged it in a low crouch, gloved the well-used ball, and fired a rocket back. Earl shook his gloved hand in pain.

“You have to throw that hard?”

I didn’t answer. My arm was my one baseball talent. I couldn’t hit, I wasn’t the best fielder, he’d have to stand the pain.  And even so, the problem was largerI threw wild. We’d search for the ball in the high grass for forever.

“Jesus,” he whined. “Throw straighter why don’t chu. . . .”

I’d get better. I had to. I dreamed of being as good as the Yankees’ Phil Rizzuto, or maybe just better than I’d been the day before. I had to get better to be someone, to prove that I mattered, to prove I deserved respect on the field and was more than a “brain.” Work was the way. Dad said so: “Do every job right or don’t do it at all.”

I threw over Earl’s head the fifth time and he glared like I’d made him swallow puke.

I glared back. “Why don’t you learn how to catch?”

The pain in his hand, the searching, my pushingate at Earl. We were baking in the soggy late-afternoon sun and pouring sweat, t-shirts stuck to our backs, blue jeans gummy on our thighs, BVDs grabbing at our crotches.

Find the ball, find the ball, the only ball we had, the ball we’d used the whole summer. Why’d you lose it? kids’d say. How’d you lose it? Who’s gettin’ a new one?

Not me. And definitely not Earl. He didn’t like baseball that much. Anyway, who had the money? I’d saved two years from my paper route for the Dee Fondy first basemen’s glove he was using.

Earl tromped around in the grass in his black high tops. “Where’s that stupid thing? Come ahhhhnn. Come aaaahhhhnnnn . . . .”

He couldn’t stop groaning. “We should block out areas,” I said, “cover ground a small block at a time. Ball couldn’t have gone far.”

Earl ate early and he had to go soon or his father would yell when he came home from the mill and parked the rusted Chevy in their dirt yard: “Where are those damn boys?” His father’d moved the family out here by the saltwater to get Earl and his brothers away from the reform-school kids in town. No one fooled with his father.

Earl tromped into my block again.

“Hey, get out! What’re you doing? What’s wrong with you?”

The sun beat down, the dry grass scratchy on our arms as we moved around now on our knees. We’d lose the ball and the older kids’d rag, You crapheads never do anything right. You’re lucky we let you play.

I knelt in the grass and lit a matchwhy was I carrying matches?and the fire took off in the off-shore air. The fire would burn the top of the grass and leave our ball buried below untouched, at least that’s what I hoped.

The flames spread, they flew, it was fire season, and they burned the dry brown grass all the way down to the ground. The fire’d scorch the ball and leave a black nothing, a black and brown nothing we couldn’t use, we wouldn’t use.

Earl slapped at the flames with my brand new first baseman’s mitt and I slapped with my old falling-apart infielder’s glove. Earl peeled off his clammy t-shirt and tried that. Nothing worked. Nothing. And I could see my house not far up the road. Dad ran the state forest service and wore a .32 for “those crazy sons-a-bitches” that set fires.

“Call the fire department,”I yelled, Earl’s house a good half-mile away and we didn’t have our bikes. “I’ll go get help.” Earl ran for home, and I ran for the house across the road, the Gongawares.

What would they say? We used their field with the bases and backstop, and drank from their freshwater spring, even ate apples from their trees when they weren’t looking and now I was torching their grass, their land, maybe their orchard, the blueberries, the lilacs, the rhododendrons, maybe their house . . . maybe mine.

No one outside. Was anybody even home? I pounded on the door, chest rising, chest falling, I couldn’t get breath. I pounded. No response. I pounded. The door opened, a woman my mother’s agelean, a tight jaw. Her disapproving sister would be my English teacher in September.

“Fire. We’ve got a fire.” I didn’t say why, I didn’t say how big. She turned and disappeared into the house while I stood in the open door gasping. Was she phoning for the fire trucks?

She came back with two long, wooden brooms and handed me one, and nodded in the direction of the field. I ran, my left arm thrashing about with the broom, and she ran too and said nothing, back across the road to the field, her head down and broom thrashing about like mine, skirt churning around her legs, and . . . we were at the fire.

She bent from the waist and whacked the flames with the broom, her long hair falling into her face. She whacked and I whacked. Her house might go, my house might go, our field, her field, our world, her world, and my fault, I had to do it my wayfor a game, for a ball, my bottomless wanting.

I beat the flames and she beat the flames. How did she know this would work? I could feel my arms and back, my wobbly legs, the rasp of my breathing, the broom, my eyes filled with sweat. Could we win? I lost track of time. . . .

And the fire seemed to diminish slightly, ever so slightly, grow smaller, to ease off and die away, a few flares, some last flickers.

Mrs. Gongaware and I straightened up and leaned on our brooms. A woman I didn’t know, my neighbor, side by side with her in a scorched field, and we examined our work in silence. The blackened grass, some scrub pines burned, some tiny shrubs burned. . . . But not the lilacs, not the blueberries, not the raspberries, not the goldenrod and honeysuckle, not the flowering purple and pink and white rhododendrons, not her house, her house still standing, and my house. . . . What will Dad and Mom say? And what is Mrs. Gongaware thinkingthe field, the fire, us kids. Is this the end of baseball?

I heard sirens, trucks, fire trucks, men I knew, men who knew me, Swamp Yankee volunteers my father fought fires beside. What will I say?



Kent Jacobson taught for nearly 20 years in Bard College’s Clemente Course in the Humanities, a 2015 winner of the National Humanities Medal. His nonfiction has appeared or will appear in Hobart, Under the Sun, Thread, Brown Alumni Magazine, and Northwest Review, among others. He lives in Massachusetts with his wife, landscape architect Martha Lyon, and their English Setter puppy, Ben.



E. A. Farro

December 16, 2019

It Becomes a Question

A conversation with Jericho Brown


“Your interview is not happening, the interviewer is sick,” the volunteer at author check-in told Jericho Brown. His smile fell, he paused. It was the inaugural Wordplay event hosted by the Loft Literary Center to celebrate readers, writers, and great books in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Jericho is the recipient of a Whiting Writer’s Award, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, Harvard, and the National Endowment for the Arts. He is author of three books of poetry. The most recent, The Tradition, published by Copper Canyon Press, came out in April 2019.

I had seen him that morning with an entourage of cameras in and around the shiny royal-blue Guthrie Theatre. On the four-story-high escalator, he knelt down on one leg with the fluidity of a dancer. On a couch in front of long windows with views of the Mississippi River, he rested chin to fist. Between poses, he talked to the crew, threw his head back to laugh. Just watching him made me smile. Out on the Endless Bridge that extends 178’ from the face of the building and overlooks the former mills the city built itself around, Jericho stood face upward, eyes closed, shoulder length braids swaying in a breeze coming off the river. He was beautiful. The photographer was close enough to where I was drinking coffee that I heard him sigh with what sounded like satisfaction at capturing this image on film.

After hearing that his interview was cancelled, Jericho looked up and asked, “Is there someone else who can interview me?” He was both joking and earnest.

Without thinking I stepped out from the group of volunteers in matching conference t-shirts and fanny packs. “I can.”

He smiled.

Three months before I had finished an intense job at the Minnesota State Capitol. Instead of getting the next big job, I was writing. When I found creative flow, I know I was where I needed to be, but the battle to get there was exhausting. I wrote with one hand while the other held back a giant wave of demons. I volunteered for the interview because I wanted to know what made this poet glow.

Jericho’s presence was both quiet and loud. He paused speaking on stage and before answering my questions. “Trying to tell the truth means that I have to take a second and search myself, make sure I’m saying what is really the case for me,” he told me.

When he walked into the house that served as the green room for the authors, he didn’t hesitate before approaching people. He was not taking up space, but opening up new space none of us had realized were there, spaces we felt ourselves pulled into as sparks of smiles and jokes took off into full-blown conversations between acquaintances and people meeting for the first time.

I asked what drove him to be so friendly, so welcoming. He told me his parents taught him as a young child to walk into a room and talk to every adult, to make people “feel that you are a part of them when they saw you.” Making people feel seen may have made him charming, but that wasn’t why his parents taught him this behavior. “My mom and dad really believed that it was sinful to greet people without a smile. You greet people with a smile, that is the right thing to do.”

Up on the roof deck, a chill moved over us and then lifted as the clouds shifted back and forth across the sun. We sat on wood benches that ran the perimeter of the deck, and pulled layers on over our long sleeves. Jericho sat close, leaned close, looked into my eyes. After answering a question he would say, Ya’ Know? Do you follow? Do you understand what I mean? He paused, made sure I was with him.

Jericho pulled a KIND Bar out of his gift bag. Voices from the closest stage floated up from a National Book Awards panel. He told me he loved eating junk: Doritos, Lay’s STAX sour cream and onion, white cheddar Smartfood popcorn. He followed this up by saying, “I go through these periods where I only eat very healthy and I try to do it for a twelve week period. I’ll only eat some protein and something green. I’m a big kale fan. And then for carbohydrates, I’ll have sweet potato or brown rice or quinoa.”

“When did you start eating quinoa?” I asked.

“When I moved to Atlanta.” Jericho moved from San Diego to Atlanta in 2012 where he is the Director of the Creative Writing Program at Emory University.

During our interview, other writers came up to greet Jericho. They paused before leaving, one offered to read him a poem later.

By this time we had known each other for less than an hour and I felt like we had everything in common. We both worked for elected officials! I only recently discovered quinoa too! We both liked plants! That this interview was happening was obviously because we were both the kind of people who said Yes!

This sense of being kindred spirits didn’t come from our chemistry, nor was it something about me in particular. It was him. It was his particular magic, a special ability to connect with others. Poets sometimes get stereotyped as quiet and withdrawn. Jericho is not just a poet on the page; he is also a performer. When he is on stage, he feels like he could, “do it forever.”

But his laughter and smiles were not performance. They were the laughter of someone who knows the sadness and joy of their own heart.

I asked where he gets his energy from, Jericho told me, “I like a lot of old school music. I like Motown from the sixties and seventies. I like to hear women, Black women in particular, singing, hollering.” He went on, “I exercise a lot. I do burpees. I do weight training. I think it’s a good idea because it gets me out of my head. You know when you are out of breath and you gotta do ten more reps?” Jericho has put out burpee challenges on Twitter where he has over 15,000 followers, pushing, encouraging, and asking people to let him know how it goes.

The Tradition came to Jericho quickly. He wrote most of the book between Thanksgiving of 2017 and Martin Luther King Jr. Day of 2018. “It was chasing me,” he said. “I couldn’t stop writing. I was actually scared I was going to die because I was writing so much.”

“I invented a new form, I cut up all the lines I had left over from poems failed going back as far as 2004. I was splicing things together, making fragments work in ways I had never made them work before.” Jericho’s new form is called the duplex. It was like listening to a scientist explained the set-up of an experiment when he explained the structure of the duplex. Put simply, it is a combination of the sonnet, the ghazal, and the blues.

The book is about tradition in our culture, exploring what it means to live in a country where we normalize rape culture, mass shootings, and police violence. It’s about tradition in our families, like planting gardens. “This is the stuff men in my family have cared about for generations just for the sake of beauty.” Jericho recently bought a house and found himself planting begonias and creeping myrtle. The book is about tradition in our daily lives, “If people see me as someone who falls in love, it might keep them from shooting me.”

Jericho juxtaposes images of black men and flowers in his poem The Tradition. The first line names flowers. Aster. Nasturtium, Delphinium. And the last line names black men killed by police. John Crawford. Eric Garner. Mike Brown. In his headshot on the back of the book, Jericho wears a bright yellow shirt that matches a garden of yellow daffodils behind him. In his iconic social media headshot, he wears a wreath of flowers, mirroring the image of the African American child painted on the cover of his newest book. By juxtaposing flowers and black men, he asks a question of the reader about what images come to mind when they think of a flower, a black child, a black man. It’s a question that creates an opportunity for examination, opens the possibility for change.

“Can poetry change the world?” I asked.

“Yeah!” He exclaimed, then went on in a quieter voice, “but, I also think its a powerful force for those who let it have power on them. You have to be exposed to it; you have to be in the position to know it. That is part of what we are doing as ambassadors of poetry. We poets are putting ourselves in a position so that if you might be interested, here we are.”

Jericho doesn’t wait for inspiration to strike; he prepares himself for it by consuming art and writing daily. He writes for two hours first thing every morning. “I set appointments with myself, and I honor them. I feel exhilarated by that fact.”

“You get to create your life,” he told me. “As soon as you realize it, it becomes a question. I get to create my life? And then you say to yourself, yes!” He laughed before saying, “You realize you are looking into a void.”

He went on, “It’s the same thing that happens when you make a poem. You are looking at a blank sheet and suddenly you have made a thing that literally changes thoughts and emotions simply by typing. Suddenly you have a trigger.” A question, like a poem, is an act of change.

His daily writing practice starts with meditation and prayer. He reads modern spiritual writers like Ernest Holmes, Marianne Williamson, and Michael Bernard Beckwith. “The spiritual part has always been there, because that is how I was raised. But, I started taking responsibility for my own spirituality at a certain point,” he explained, “and when I did, my poems got to be a lot better.” His spirituality helps him “put myself in a place of faith and trust,” this creates the space and safety for play.

Jericho’s daily appointment has many forms. “Writing sometimes means revision, sometimes means drafting, sometimes means putting up things that aren’t working. Sometimes writing doesn’t go so well. It doesn’t mean any of that. It just means reading stuff or wishing you had something. But there are two hours I dedicate to it everyday.”

I pictured him like a train going up a mountain at a steady pace then reaching the top and coming down the other side faster and faster as he neared the end of his last book.

“When a book comes out, I run behind it pretty hard for a year, which is why I am here. I say yes to everything. I try to drum up whatever I need to send the book out into the world so people know it exists.”

Jericho’s goal was to sell at least 4000 copies of The Tradition in the next three months. I asked, “Who do you want those 4000 people to be? Who do you want to buy the book?” He started listing states he had never been to.

THIS IS A PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT – if you are in North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Hawaii, Alaska, or Idaho, Jericho has you on his mind. He has never been to your state, and he wants to come. He will walk in, look you in the eye, and shake your hand. And if you meet him again, a year later, in different clothing and in a different place, he will remember you. He has timed how long it takes to read each poem; he is ready for whatever venue you have. The room where his parents taught him to walk in and greet everyone, it has expanded to be the entire country.

Later that afternoon Jericho spoke on a low stage with a backdrop of exposed brick. The panel was on Art & The Body with T. Fleischmann, moderated by Lisa Marie Brimmer. Jericho’s preparation was evident in his clothing; his thin peach sweater matched the color of the sky on the cover of The Tradition, and his grey-blue pants matched the color of the ocean.

The panel started with an acknowledgment that we were on stolen Indigenous land. This is something said more and more often at events in Minnesota. The statement was followed by a beat to considerstolen lands, Indigenous—and then the schedule continued. In my own head, I heard Jericho’s voice, It becomes a question. We create our own lives.

At the end of the Q&A, an older African American woman asked Jericho to read his poem about cuddling. It’s called Stand. “Cuddling is my favorite thing to do,” Jericho said with an open-mouth smile, and we all smiled back. At each line break, I was uncertain of what would come next: violence or beauty?

When he was done, he didn’t look up to see the crowd holding its breath and considering how bodies making love fit into our landscapes of crisis. He didn’t smile or laugh. The poem had taken him elsewhere, as it had taken each of us.

I had asked him earlier if poetry is a political tool, and he didn’t pause before shaking his head no. “I think every poem, I think every book, is for a single heart. When someone is reading it, it is your heart to their heart. It’s not your heart to a mass of people.”

I biked home along the beautiful Ȟaȟáwakpa Misi-ziibi Mississippi River. Cars zoomed by me on one side. On the other, trees blushed green with spring leaves along the steep riverbank. I cast questions into the void: Is it a responsibility to greet everyone when I walk into a room? What would it mean to have a culture of connection? Every room of people an opportunity to change myself, every person a poem?



E. A. Farro is a scientist and artist who spent the last seven years working in politics. She is the founder of The Nature Library, a literary art instillation in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Her publications have appeared in Rumpus, The Kenyon Review, and The Normal School, among others. She is a recipient of a 2010 Loft Literary Center Mentor Award and a 2019 Minnesota State Art Board grant.

Book Reviews

Timothy Parfitt reviews Rachel Z. Arndt’s book, Beyond Measure

October 30, 2019


Beyond Measure
Rachel Z. Arndt
Sarabande, $15.95
190 pages


It might be fitting, given Beyond Measure’s subject matter, to critique it by ascribing a point value (ignoring for a moment that Punctuate. doesn’t employ a Pitchfork-style rating system). For Rachel Z. Arndt’s debut essay collection concerns itself with measurement: how we as modern citizens quantify our own desires, how society determines our worth, how numbers do and don’t capture the nuances of lived experience. Oh, how we burden our measurements with so much meaning.

The collection kicks off with “Sleep,” which covers Arndt’s sleep studies she had to undergo to “prove” her narcolepsy to doctors and insurance companies. Except that in Arndt’s experience, the results of these studies never settled anything. If the results did not mirror her experience, does the fault then lie with the tests, or with her perception? This question provides the springboard for an incisive and frequently profound collection of essays, one that pulls apart how modern personae depend on frequent self-measurement using evolving and sometimes suspect criteria. In this way, much of the collection acts as a riff on Eulas Biss’s classic “Pain Scale,” another essay concerned with how we quantify and communicate individual experiences.

In “Elliptical,” Arndt elevates the well-covered subject of exercise by probing its contradictions of utility and progress. Gyms offer machines to keep oneself in place while promising individualized progress. “We measure ourselves so we can compare who we are now not with other people but with previous and future versions of ourselves.” This sentence goes to the heart of what Arndt finds fascinating about the landscapes of gyms, where rows of machines make the user both the worker and the product. In her hands, the drab gym becomes a post-modern dance in which personal meaning is only available through endless measuring.

Arndt builds and deploys her sentences with great care, and many unfold in surprising ways. Consider how she describes her experience taking Xyrem, a narcolepsy medication that moonlights as GHB, colloquially known as the club and date rape drug:

The lack of control while under its effects seemed sickeningly fitting, as if the only way to treat a disorder is with more disorder, entry against entropy, all control wrested from the patient’s hands and given over to pharmaceuticals that tempt with the sweet waft of warm chocolate chip cookies.

As the clauses progress, Arndt captures the bind narcolepsy puts her in, one in which pharmaceuticals promise both relief and also a further loss of control.

The best essays use the rituals and yardsticks of today to probe existential and eternal questions. In “Match,” Arndt deftly articulates the ways in which the merry-go-round of available options can often ultimately compound loneliness. The measurement in this case is one of comparing every current or potential mate against the theoretical ones offered up by gamified apps. But for me, not all of the essays wrenched insight and texture out of their subjects. Arndt’s essay on Bed, Bath and Beyond, for example, attempts to tease out the narrator’s feelings about becoming an adult by analyzing her habit of endlessly exchanging cooking and houseware. There’s no shortage of wit at play, but Arndt couldn’t quite manage to make her toothbrush purchasing decisions interesting to me.

As a whole, Beyond Measure pulls off the surprisingly powerful trick of articulating and then undermining our current metrics for living. Without a point or star value to lean on, I’ll simply say that days after finishing it, Arndt’s collection of essays has me reassessing the world through her eyes.


Timothy Parfitt is an essayist and critic whose work has appeared in Contrary, X-R-A-Y, riverbabble, Thread and Newcity.


Daniel Uncapher

May 28, 2019

Nancy Ave.

After my parents got married they purchased a mobile home on a gravel road called Nancy Ave in southern Maine, where I met Zack, who showed me what circumcision was.

My parents had always dreamed of becoming landlords, and when they’d finally saved up enough money for a bigger house down by the river they decided to rent out Nancy Ave. They offered it to a woman named Sue, a former friend from work with four dogs, a nicotine addiction, and depression.

No one is more sympathetic towards mental illness than my parents. So we spent a lot of time on Nancy Ave trying to help Sue out, which I hated. She made me sad. Her dogs smelled like cigarette smoke and her cookies tasted like tar, so I gave them to Zack unless he didn’t want them, and then I threw them in a ravine.

 One afternoon my parents picked me up from school on their way to Nancy Ave to collect rent. I decided to wait in the car while my parents went inside. No one answered the bell but the door was unlocked so they let themselves in, stepping in full view of the bodies: after hanging all four of her dogs, Sue had hanged herself.

Zack had all kinds of questions about it for me but I couldn’t answer any of them. I wished that I’d gone inside and seen the bodies just so I’d have something to tell Zack about. I wanted to impress him. I wanted him to know that I knew things.

A family of bikers from New Hampshire moved in shortly after. They had two daughters, even younger than me, towards whom my parents were deeply sympathetic, but they didn’t like to pay rent, with which my parents didn’t sympathize. They fell three months behind and then skipped town overnight, ripping out everything they could carry and leaving the rest for us to clean up.

This time I was happy to help. The bikers had left behind all kinds of valuable loot for an 11-year-old boy: I found a boombox, which my parents let me keep even though I didn’t have any tapes or CDs for it, and a Playboy, which I took straight to Zack’s and didn’t tell them about at all. After all, my parents had their own interests to protect. They took the bikers to small claims court and won, but couldn’t actually collect any damages, and had already moved on to higher-profile projects anyway.

So they decided to wash their hands of Nancy Ave.

The mobile home sold quickly, and after the closing we went to Applebee’s as a family to celebrate. My parents gave my sister and me two checks, small in the scheme of things but astronomical at the time, to compensate us for all our work at Nancy Ave, especially because they knew I’d been eyeing a Gameboy Advance.

My sister bought a Gameboy Advance, but after studying my options I decided to get a Playstation 2 instead, which lived next to the boombox at the foot of my bed. No one else I knew had one yet, and Zack was so impressed that he’d come over almost every day to play. We’d walk home together after school and play games together with our pants down, the Playboy open on the floor, taking turns on each other while the other one tried not to die.

Zack tasted like cigarettes, too, and I tried not to touch him with my tongue, although I did everything else he asked me to do. This is how gay people live, he said, trying to impress me. One day we’ll go to college and live together and it’ll be like this all the time. Let me sleep over tonight and I’ll show you.

But I didn’t let Zack sleep over that night, and I never went back to Nancy Ave again. I didn’t know what Zack knew or how he’d learned it, and even as it was happening I didn’t understand what exactly it was that he wanted—from me, from my friendship, from my body, which was ever so slightly different than his. I’d never heard the word gay before; I didn’t know two men could do that kind of thing together.

Had I understood it then like I understand it now, however, I would’ve let him stay the night.


Bio: Daniel Uncapher is an incoming PhD in Creative Writing student at the University of Utah and a 2018-2019 Sparks Fellow at Notre Dame, where they received their MFA. Their work has appeared or is forthcoming in Chicago Quarterly Review, Tin House Online, The Carolina Quarterly, Penn Review, and others.


Mallika Mitra

May 28, 2019

The Houses

The living room is made of sticks. Moss as the carpet, shreds of bark as the roof. 

“Where will they sleep?” my sister asks, crouched beside me at the foot of a maple tree. I run my hands through the dirt in response, pushing together a bed. Grass as the pillow. 

From the road, we must look so small. Two girls with wood chips pressed into our knees making a tiny home out of Mother Nature’s offerings. Behind us, a two-story house raises into the sky. Our mother’s silhouette visible through the front window, setting the table, making a home. 

“When will they come?” 

I glance up while twisting blades of grass between my thumb and pointer finger, making them into stairs. 

“They come at night.” 

I don’t know this for sure, but it would make sense. I never see fairies during the day. 

A twig snaps beneath my foot as I lean across my sister to pick up a dead leaf. 

I never see fairies at all. 

I found them illustrated in a book a few days earlier. Their wings looked too big for their bodies. Their bodies looked like they could be snapped like the twig beneath my foot. I wondered where they rested when their wings stopped fluttering. My mother cooks my food each evening, humming as she leans over her pots and pans. She wakes me up every morning, pulling up the curtain, her outline the first thing I see. She runs the bath for my sister and I, dipping a finger to make sure it’s not too hot or too cold. The fairies didn’t have a home in the book. 

So I decided to make one. I wanted to make a home like my mother. 

When I recruited my sister she didn’t ask if fairies were real. 

The dead leaf is now a blanket, draped over the bed and pillow. My sister puts her pinky into the ground and spins it briefly, making a small hole. She places the stem of a weed into the hole and gently fills in the dirt around it. The beginnings of a fence. She repeats this over and over, her breath heavy as she concentrates. 

It didn’t matter if they were real. 

Inside, my mother wipes down the tables. I pull off the top of an acorn, making it a footstool. My mother rearranges the books on our shelves. My sister rips a flower petal into a square, a table cloth. My mother makes the beds. My sister and I make candles out of stems. How else will they see what we’ve made? 

Until dusk falls, we mold tiny homes for creatures neither of us know if we believe in.


Bio: Mallika Mitra is a New York City-based writer. She is currently a master’s candidate at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York where she is studying business journalism. She received her bachelor’s in English from Kalamazoo College.  Mallika has previously been published in Entropy and The Cauldron.  


Whitney Jacobson

May 28, 2019

Racking-up Signposts

Grandma Walters’s souvenir spoons hung on a three-tiered spoon rack in a nook next to her kitchen hutch while I was growing up. The spoon rack consisted of three horizontal 1x1x15 inch pieces of wood on a 15×15 inch back panel with additional wood framing each side. 

When I visited the farm as a child and wasn’t busy playing with my cousins and sisters, I’d occasionally climb on top of the Z-shaped metal stool with an orange vinyl-covered cushion stored underneath the spoon rack to order the spoons alphabetically by state. I apparently had no concern about whether my grandma had arranged them in a particular way, though if she had, she never scolded me for rearranging them to my liking. However, given that I remember organizing the spoons multiple times, someone else must have rearranged them too.

My process was straightforward and logic-driven: take all the spoons off the spoon rack, lay them out on the nearby kitchen table to sort them alphabetically, and then place them back on the spoon rack. The final step became an issue when I realized the spoon rack didn’t have fifty slots for all fifty states—it only had thirty slots (ten cavities per row), and though she didn’t have a spoon for every state, she did have multiples of some states. I compromised by pairing spoons from the same state and pairing similarly sized/shaped spoons ordered next to one another as needed. 

One time, after finally arranging the souvenirs to a standard I could live with, I announced, “There, Grandma! Your spoons are organized!”

As she walked over from the stove, to survey my handiwork I assumed, she off-handedly remarked, “Oh, I have some more in here, honey-girl!” and pulled a glass filled with additional souvenir spoons out of the hutch.

I sighed and resigned myself to the work ahead. 

My compulsive organization has a long history. When I was as young as eight, I’d pull out the fresh laundry my dad had put in my dresser drawers, refold them, and arrange them in the drawer to my liking. To this day, I am particular about having things organized—my husband, Ben, curses my knowingness: “You can tell if a cereal box is moved two inches to the right!”—and my spoon rack today follows the same ordering system I implemented on my grandmother’s.

I started collecting state souvenir spoons when I was 21. Ben and I had decided to go camping at Itasca State Park after he had been horrified to learn that I had never been camping: “How can you call yourself a Minnesotan?” 

“My grandparents have a cabin on a lake in a tiny town in northern Minnesota that I’ve visited multiple times nearly every year of my life” I huffed. “It doesn’t get much more Minnesotan than that!” 

Indeed, the summer I was born, my parents dipped me in the cabin’s lake off the side of the boat. The cabin itself is around 450 square-feet that we cram ten or more people into for sleeping purposes each summer. The furnishings are all odd cast-offs from various home updates and garage sales. Many are still the originals placed there when my grandparents bought the cabin in 1970, including the heavy, yellow Formica and chrome chairs and expandable table from the 50s. It is not a lake house.

Acknowledging my experience, but still unsatisfied I had never slept outdoors, Ben borrowed a tent from his parents, and we gathered food, bug spray, outdoor clothing, sleeping bags, and other essentials before setting off to our remote campsite. 

While biking around the trails at the park, we stopped in the Jacob V. Bower Visitor Center to view the displays and considered the souvenirs available in the gift shop as we were leaving. As I rotated a rack of magnets, pens, keychains, and postcards, a flash of silver caught my eye. 

“What’d you find?” Ben asked when I walked up to the cash register.

“A souvenir spoon!” I replied as I handed him the five inches of detailed metal with an Itasca State Park sticker on the handle.

Seven years later, my souvenir collection contains 22 spoons, but I hope to collect one from all fifty states. Twenty spoons are from states I have travelled to—I am particular on this point. I only collect them for places I have visited and done something significant in, i.e., around five years ago, Ben and I road-tripped from Minnesota to Colorado and back. Spoons from Iowa (my parents lived there), Missouri (my parents now live there), Kansas (my parents lived there), Colorado (we visited a variety of places near Denver), South Dakota (we visited the Black Hills), North Dakota (Fargo is the sister-city of Moorhead where Ben and I met), and Minnesota (hello, Itasca State Park) hang on my spoon rack. However, I didn’t buy a spoon in Wyoming since we merely drove through a corner of it.

Two spoons were kindly gifted to me by my sister, Amanda, after she travelled to Texas and Oklahoma on a Students Today Leaders Forever trip in college. But, as I have not yet travelled to those states, they are separated from the rest of the collection by a 45thwedding anniversary spoon passed down to me by a great-grandmother. Ben and I haven’t quite hit that mark as we got married just last year, so it serves as a clear boundary between the two sets of state souvenir spoons. 

As I look at my collection, the similarities and the differences among them draw my attention. The spoons are usually silver colored, though two of mine (Illinois and South Dakota) are gold colored and the exception to the rule. They typically come in two lengths: three inches or five inches, plus any additional adornment on the finial (the end of the handle). Most commonly, the finial denotes the state or a specific location within the state via a sticker or a plate within a metal design, though the bowl of the spoon may also have words, images, or an outline of the state etched into it. Some spoons have unique finials, such as my Missouri spoon that is shaped like the skyline of Kansas City or my Hawai’i spoon with silver sea turtles and the Hawaiian Islands raised in a painted blue circle with silver trim. Additionally, some have a charm that dangles in a circle underneath the top decal, such as the Space Needle charm on my Washington spoon. 

Some of my most unique spoons include my North Dakota spoon, which is real plated silver and quite tarnished. It has the state name engraved along the neck and the years 1889-1989 engraved diagonally in the bowl to commemorate the centennial denoted in its finial. I inherited it from a great-grandmother, who obtained it while visiting relatives there. I bought my Colorado spoon at the Denver Mint’s gift shop, and it has a blackened paisley print along the neck and clear crystals around the circular plate of the finial. 

My Massachusetts spoon was purchased quickly at Boston’s airport in a gift shop, and it may be my most disappointing piece. The finial is ovular with the Old North Church emerging, while Paul Revere riding a horse along with the word Boston are raised from the bowl. Despite common and satisfactory features, the metal is what disappoints me—it is a matte metal that looks handmade and as if it is painted silver. Some may argue that the metal makes the souvenir unique among my collection, but I prefer uniform, stamped shiny metal among my spoons, despite their individual distinctive features. As I recall, I could not find a spoon fitting my preferences in Boston, so I purchased the one I now have to avoid the risk of not buying one at all—and indeed, I didn’t see any others on our short trip. So, I have a spoon from Massachusetts. 

I’m keen to only purchase spoons from places I’ve been because I see them as a figurative map on the wall with colored pins inserted where the owner has visited. They are tokens that invoke stories about travels. They are tangible evidence of memories. As I’ve asked my grandpa, dad, aunts, uncles, and cousins about Grandma’s spoons, their faces have lit up in remembrance of the trips they were part of and stories they were told about the travels. 

“Your grandpa drove their motorhome through Times Square!” my dad laughed. 

“You know they drove that motorhome up where they weren’t supposed to in Yellowstone,” my aunt, Betty, snickered. “He had to back that motorhome down the edge of a mountain.”

“I remember looking through Grandpa’s eight-tracks when we went with them out west,” my cousin, Jason, grinned. “Country-western and gospel—nothing I was interested in.”

I look at my spoon from Oregon and remember renting a car with two friends and driving from Portland, where we were presenting at a conference, to Cannon Beach to put our feet in the Pacific Ocean and see Haystack Rock. I pick up my Kentucky spoon and recall the grind of a long week of contract work, but also the pleasure of making new friends, trying new food, and visiting Churchill Downs.

Sure, some I have bought in retrospect from an initial visit, like my Iowa, South Dakota, and Wisconsin spoons, but they still represent a life lived and a continent explored. I couldn’t place the first time I travelled to Wisconsin and Iowa if I tried, given that I grew up in southeastern Minnesota, approximately eleven miles from the Iowa border and 125 miles from Wisconsin. But I do remember going to Lake Okoboji in Iowa on a boating trip with my family when I was around ten, just as I recall driving to Madison, Wisconsin to buy a car with Ben in my twenties and anxiously watching the grey-green sky for hail as we drove home. My Wisconsin spoon was bought in an antique shop in Duluth. I purchased my Iowa and South Dakota spoons when Ben and I visited the states on a road trip, though I had visited the Black Hills in my teens with my family. So, ideally, I buy the spoons when I initially visit, but when that’s not possible, or not considered, I look for new adventures to obtain them.

When Ben and I recently visited New Hampshire for a friend’s wedding, we didn’t encounter any gift shops or gas stations selling the spoons. I was so disappointed we hadn’t found a spoon that I ordered one off of Amazon when we arrived home. In retrospect, I wish I’d asked my friend to find one for me, but not wanting to be a bother, I took the easy route. The spoon’s arrival was anti-climactic and disappointing. There’s something about the hunt of finding them that is essential to my collecting experience.

One may ask, how did my grandma accumulate all of her spoons if she and my grandpa were farmers? Well, when my grandpa retired from farming and the local bar he subsequently bought and sold in his late forties, he and my grandma bought a 1977 GMC Midas motorhome that they used to travel around the continental United States. Along the way, my grandma, a perpetual collector of antiques and dishes, bought her spoons. They took a three-week trip out to the East Coast to see the monuments and museums, in addition to trips to Florida, Texas, Tennessee, Las Vegas, California, and Yellowstone. Their travels were helped by my family living in Nebraska for a few years and my uncle, Jeff, moving to Colorado. After living on a farm in southern Minnesota for her whole life, my grandma wanted to see as much of the United States as she could, and my grandpa went everywhere my grandma did after they got married when she was 19 and he was 21. They didn’t see all 50 states, but I’d like to think they saw enough for my grandma’s liking before nestling down on the farm again, my grandpa’s favorite place. 

My sentiments and desires toward collecting the souvenir spoons are certainly grounded in the fact that my grandmother collected them. My grandma was rarely out of the kitchen for long, so as I organized her spoons as a child, I’d ask her about when she got certain ones, and she’d tell me about the trip to that state. Sometimes they were labeled with a place I couldn’t connect to a state (for example, my Itasca State Park spoon has no mention of Minnesota on it), so I’d ask her where the spoon came from. Occasionally, she’d have to come over and look at the souvenir herself before closing her eyes, as if to place herself at the location in her mind’s eye, before telling me where she bought it.

Her kitchen was the location of endless conversations and card games, as well as numerous memorable meals. Along with the traditional fixings, Thanksgiving meant her signature, slightly lumpy mashed potatoes; pumpkin pie doused in whipped cream; raspberry Jell-O with garden raspberries immersed; and two dozen or more devilled eggs. Christmas Eve meant chili and oyster stew with aunts, uncles, and cousins crammed around the kitchen and random card tables. Afterward, as we digested, we’d play rummy, tic, 500, or if you could partner off from the large group, cribbage.

In early November, during my senior year of high school, my family found out that Grandma Walters had colon cancer, and the prognosis wasn’t good. She started the process of chemotherapy but stopped and moved to hospice after deciding she didn’t want to live the remainder of her life in misery from its effects. I was conscious of the necessity to record the recipes that she used no recipe cards for. However, my anticipatory grief and need for hope prevented me from acting on that awareness. She died in May, two weeks before I graduated. Her death left me searching for ways to recreate that kitchen, both in taste and feeling.

In the past year, I inherited my grandmother’s spoon rack due in large part to my grandpa moving off the farm and into assisted living after he fell multiple times. Since my grandpa’s move, my dad and his siblings have been organizing, dispersing, and throwing out 100 years’ worth of possessions collected on the farm. My sister, Makayla, was there one weekend when they were sorting through items in the garage and out buildings, and when she saw grandma’s spoon rack in a discard pile, she pulled it out and noted that I’d want it for my spoons. It was quite dusty when I received it, and it doesn’t hang flat on the wall after being stored in a garage and thus exposed to Minnesota’s temperature changes. Nevertheless, I happily removed the flat spoon rack I’d found at an antique shop from my kitchen wall and replaced it with my grandmother’s cleaned and warped one. 

Receiving my grandma’s spoon rack helped bring her presence into my kitchen, but it also made me wonder where her souvenir spoons went. I’ve since confirmed that my aunt, Debbie, my grandma’s only daughter, has them, which is fitting. I’d love to have the spoons, but I respect her privilege to them. In particular, I’d be interested in spoons from states I visited prior to beginning my collection. Many I have not visited again to be able to buy a spoon from, such as states I visited on a week-long school-organized bus trip to Washington D.C. as a high school freshman. Since my grandparents never travelled outside the continental United States, I’ll have to either visit places such as Puerto Rico again, which I travelled to on a training trip for swimming in college, search for the spoons in antique shops, which is satisfactory in its own way, or purchase them on the internet, which is particularly disappointing.

In addition to the souvenir spoons on my rack, there also hang four stainless steel Stanley Roberts Lancelot teaspoons, which I treasure more than all the souvenir spoons. As I’ve gotten more and more of my grandmother’s (and now mother-in-law’s) itch for antiquing, I’ve also been on the lookout for additional silverware to make a complete set, and recently picked up a matching box of six knives. They’re heftier than the spoons.

Each individual spoon is heavier than any other teaspoon I’ve held and consciously paid attention to its weight. The spoons are thick—nearly twice the depth of most spoons I’ve seen. Beyond the neck of the spoon, the handle is a honeycomb pattern with a dot in each honeycomb. There are four dots going down the center and five along each side of the center. Between the dots and the honeycomb outline, the metal has been darkened. 

These four were given to me when I was in my early teens by Grandma Walters. She always had a hodgepodge of silverware sets, but these four spoons didn’t have any matching forks or knives in her silverware drawers on each side of the kitchen sink. I’d always seek out one of the spoons when I ate ice cream at the farm. I’d pull the Kemps gallon ice cream bucket out of the freezer located underneath the windows at the end of the kitchen counter, along with a glass jar filled with garden raspberries out of the fridge. 

Each summer, my grandma would go out and pick ice cream buckets full of raspberries and black raspberries from the roughly 10×16 feet patch behind her garage. (If I was “helping,” more berries were making their way into my mouth than the bucket.) After rinsing the berries off inside, she’d spread them out on cookie sheets and coat them with sugar. Then, they’d be divvied up into any jars she had available and frozen. 

After my ice cream turned burgundy from all the berries I dolloped on it in one of my grandma’s Anchor Hocking Fire King milk glass chili bowls, I’d grab my spoon and settle in on the couch to savor the delicious treat. I loved to take a scoop and flip the spoon’s bowl upside down in my mouth, to make sure I didn’t miss a drop. After noticing that I always pulled one of those spoons out to eat, Grandma Walters said I should take them home with me if I liked them that much, so I did. 

I wonder what my future children will collect, if anything, how it will be influenced by the people in their life, and what it will mean to them—just as I wonder how my future children will remember the sleek concave set of silverware Ben and I received as a wedding gift, if they place any significance on the household silverware at all. They will certainly see my souvenir spoon collection in a warped spoon rack on the wall, though, and hopefully they’ll ask me about it. Maybe they’ll even create some of their own memories by acquiring some of the spoons with me. 


Bio: Whitney (Walters) Jacobson is an Assistant Professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth and an Assistant Editor of Split Rock Review. Her poetry and creative nonfiction have recently been published in DASHFeminine CollectiveLikely Red PressWanderlust-Journal, and Voice of Eve, among other publications. Visit her website at