Issue 14 Table of Contents

Cover Art
Collages from The Home Project

Special Feature Section
Catholic Social Services of the Miami Valley Valley (CSSMV) Refugee Resettlement Program
The Home Project: Collages and Statements

Poetry
Spring Fever
the Master of Manhattan
Truck Stop Morning
Biscuits and Gravy
Fossils of Ohio
Sorcery
Prism
Hibernation
Riding to the County Line After Work

Nonfiction
Angled View, Black and White

Fiction
Pruning

COVER ART: COLLAGES from THE HOME PROJECT

cover1

cover2

COVER ART COLLAGES BY STUDENTS PARTICIPATING IN THE HOME PROJECT,
A COLLABORATION OF CATHOLIC SOCIAL SERVICES OF THE MIAMI VALLEY’S REFUGEE RESETTLEMENT PROGRAM AND PARTNER SCHOOLS

See the Special Feature: Catholic Social Services of the Miami Valley (CSSMV) Refugee Resettlement Program and Special Feature: The Home Project for more information and artwork.

SPRING FEVER

FRED KIRCHNER

—Saturday, February 27th, 36 degrees

The four-item dryer load spins through
a few quarters in Waynesville’s
only laundromat. Wool socks and
shoe inserts stick to the hot metal drum,
centrifugal force and cold Little Miami
River water holding them in place.

A barefoot man, alone, sits on a stool,
unwrapping his Subway, the bicycle parked
against the counter.

After ignoring pylons and the high
water sign, he ducked under the hilltop
backhoe blocking the road and pedaled
through swollen river overflow. Six inches
of current, wide as a valley,
flooded the low fields.

To thaw his stiffened knuckles
he puts down his lunch, walks to the dryer
on the cool cement floor, puts hands
on the warm glass circle and stares
into the dark, whirling vortex.

He loses a minute—or maybe a year—there
looking through its depths. There was a world
at the other end of the appliance portal
in which he almost believed.

During the 25 mile ride home
he will pass more farm fields—dirt-brown,
ready-to-turn—flecked with grey
remains of the harvest’s corn stalks,
edged by barren trees. For months,
winter’s sky has fit Ohio like an overcast
skullcap, stretched too thin
to keep out the icy wind.

about the author
Fred Kirchner has published a chapbook, Platform of an Unacknowledged World Legislator (Main Street Rag), and his poetry has also appeared in several anthologies—most notably, The Art of Bicycling: A Treasury of Poems (Breakaway Books). He is overjoyed that his cycling poetry’s in the same book as a poem by Marco Pantani, the last man to win the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France in the same year. Marco “Il Pirata” Pantani was one of the greatest climbers in cycling history—racing up the steepest alpine roads in Europe. Fred can make it to the top of Thruston Rd. hill in Oakwood.

THE MASTER OF MANHATTAN

EDWARD BOGGS

Michelangelo lived down the alley
where he tagged by night
and sipped cheap Merlot in the day
by the city where the lady stood tall
while striking a pose
and waiting for her ship to come in.

With no more than a sigh and a glance
he mocks her while his friend Julius
persuades him to pursue a greater calling.

Now he sells tie-dye T-shirts on the boardwalk
that some swear even the angels dare covet.

about the author
Edward G. Boggs has loved language and reading since a young age, and has carried that love into his adult years as a theater major. He has found writing to be his greatest expression and fulfillment of that purpose.

ANGLED VIEW, BLACK AND WHITE

GWEN E. OWEN

He would have passed the home goods—bright dish towels, candy-colored nesting bowls, end tables and lamps. He may have seen rows of small electronics encased in plastic. There would have been clothes on hangers, lines of shoes, tools and toys. Everything would have had the slightly surreal effect of fluorescent lighting, and the oppressively hollow feeling you get in a cavern.

At least that’s what I see in this Walmart, where I’m waiting for an unfriendly man in a blue vest to retrieve the bathroom scale I had ordered. While he’s gone, I wait and look around. It isn’t the same Walmart, but they are all the same.

It’s jarringly colorful now, but it was black and white when I watched John Crawford die. I wasn’t there, but security cameras were, and they watched and recorded, watched and recorded, so that all of us could be witnesses if we chose to be.

So, from an elevated angle and with grainy grey vision, I watched John Crawford roam the store, a cell phone to his ear, lost in conversation while his friend shopped for marshmallows and graham crackers. It was like watching a hamster rolling in a clear plastic ball: he was mobile, but not really engaged in the space he inhabited.

I watched a woman push a grocery cart nearby, two children orbiting. Was she in a cheerful mood? Was she annoyed? Or was she living one of the million moments we live that don’t really register at all? What words was she giving to her children?

I watched as John Crawford wandered through Sporting Goods and picked up an air rifle as he passed. Such an absent-minded act, as if his hand reached out of its own accord. I’m sure he had no idea of the significance.

If he had picked up a box of lightbulbs, a mop, or virtually anything else for sale in the store, his day probably would have continued exactly as he had expected it to. He would have left the Walmart with his friend, carrying marshmallows and graham crackers, and someone would have eaten s’mores that night.

Angela Williams, the shopper, would have continued with her day as well. She would have left the store with her children, and a couple of weeks later she would have gotten married, just as she’d been planning. If John Crawford had idly walked around the store, chatting on his phone and carrying a mop, I would not know his name, or hers. I wouldn’t know anything at all.

But he wasn’t carrying a mop, and someone called 911 to report a black man carrying a gun in the store. They said he was waving it around, pointing it at children, even loading it, but I watched him do none of those things. From a distance of time and miles, I wanted to shout that lies were being told. I wanted to warn him that he was in danger. But I only peered through the window of my computer screen, powerless as a gargoyle crouched above the scene.

I watched police arrive at the store that must have seemed oddly quiet and mundane, considering an armed man was reportedly threatening children there. I watched as they found John Crawford in the pet food aisle, and shot him almost instantly. He would have had no idea anything was wrong until his protective bubble exploded under the fluorescent lights. I imagine his mind filled with question marks and exclamation points as he fell to the floor.

I saw the shopper Angela Williams react to the sound of shots. She abandoned her grocery cart, reached for her kids and ran toward the exit. They almost made it, but she collapsed behind a digitally pixilated circle so I could not see her lying on the floor. I saw her kids though, held by employees in Walmart vests, and I saw paramedics kneel around the blurry circle.

Later, in a small police interrogation room, John Crawford’s friend Tasha was questioned for hours by police before she was told that he had died.

I was there too, a ghostly presence in the room.

I heard the shouting, the questions and the accusations, and I watched her cry. She died a few months later in a car accident. More recently, Angela Williams’ teenage son died in a drowning accident. He was 15.

Now I imagine a sort of cartoon afterlife in which John Crawford, his friend Tasha, Angela Williams and her teenage son all find themselves pulling up chairs at a table. I don’t know if they would have liked or hated one another in life. I don’t know if they would have found things in common, or if they’d be too disparate to connect at all. But in this afterlife, they sit down together awkwardly, expressions of surprise on their faces.

“Well, look at this,” one of them says. “Things sure do go sideways, don’t they?”

The unfriendly man in the Walmart blue vest brings me the digital scale I ordered. I pay for it and turn to leave as quickly as I can. I don’t want to be there. The lights are too bright, the space is too vast, and there are too many overwhelming, insignificant, extraordinary stories in every aisle. Too many plans, big and small. Too many expectations and assumptions. Everyone wants to make their selections and then make more. Everyone expects to finish their conversations and then start new ones. Everyone wants to go home.

I want to go home.

I maneuver through aisles of merchandise, all of it wanting to be picked up. I pass other shoppers and the bits and pieces of their lives. And, from an elevated angle, I watch myself heading toward the exit, my purchase in hand, and my vision in black and white.

about the author
Gwen E. Owen is the Content Writer for the Dayton Metro Library, which means she writes content, and she’s quite content doing so. She lives in Kettering.

TRUCK STOP MORNING

BRENNAN BURKS

Grizzled men swollen
in scratched-leather
Carhartt jackets
standing in front
of giant engines
     idle
     rumbling

Huddled,
side-by-side
staring into Styrofoam
cups steaming

     the grit of road
     of factories
     of bodies
          churning

     on stiff and stained
     oiled hands
     smeared with shadows
     of a hard-earned past

Cracked faces
in the morning
light
Pockmarked
like abandoned
stone quarries

ground down
to a tired

          I do not understand

about the author
Brennan Burks writes poetry and fiction, and writes for the Dayton City Paper.

BISCUITS AND GRAVY

DAVID LEE GARRISON

Her side of the family had old fashioned names—
Caddus, Philander, Latitia, Ruby June—and hers

was one my great grandmother dreamed up.
Maizelle owned and ran The Q-Spot,

a greasy spoon with pool and foosball tables,
and people loved the place so much

she had to get a liquor license to keep parents
from sending kids there after school.

A hundred kinfolk came to the reunion
she hosted every August, when she deep fried

catfish her children caught in a nearby lake.
She and her eight siblings would stay up

most of the night singing and telling stories
and playing card games like “Spite and Malice,”

then get up and make biscuits and gravy.
Maizelle lost her first husband to cancer

and her first granddaughter to a gun,
so grief slowed her down, but nothing

stopped her. Her second husband, Stretch,
had been a relief pitcher for the White Sox,

and they went to ballgames all over the country.
A few months before she died, at ninety-eight,

Maizelle told me, “Something of the best that life
has to offer is in each day. Our job is to savor it.”

about the author
The poetry of David Lee Garrison has appeared nationwide in journals and anthologies, and two poems from his book Sweeping the Cemetery were read by Garrison Keillor on The Writer’s Almanac. The title poem from his Playing Bach in the DC Metro was featured by Ted Kooser on his website, American Life in Poetry, and read on the BBC radio program, “Words and Music.”

FOSSILS OF OHIO

GWEN E. OWEN

When I cut the grass in tidy rows,
concentric squares and zigzags of green,
I step in and out of a hollow place
where something big once grew—
a maple maybe, or an elm.

The molecules are different in the air
above the hollow —looser, leaving room
for the tree that isn’t there,
and I step through like a spirit,
like I’m passing over a grave.

The ghost tree’s roots have long since
loosened their grip on the earth,
relaxing into soft arteries stretching
through soil that sighs and settles
a bit deeper each season.

Once there might have been
a fire pit hollowed here,
hushed figures huddled round
and smoke rising into the canopy,
a stream flowing where the road is now,
the sounds of crickets and cicadas
not so different from today;
a single arrowhead lost in tall grass.

Deeper yet, a mammoth may have
left a footprint pressed in mud,
where cold grey rain collects
and reflects a stormy sky,
and tiny birds splash and drink.

Oceans and ice beneath my feet.
The weak and the weary lie down to rest,
and don’t get up again.
Now sleeping bones in shrouds of stone
are lulled by the far off, far away hum
of my fossil-fueled mower,
and ancient smoky atoms
stick to my sweaty skin.

It seems the earth grows larger,
a new ring added each year,
a planetary snowball rolling downhill,
and the past is wrapped in cotton
like a fragile vase in storage.

Why don’t the years lift off in layers
drifting into space? Archaeologists
would trade their trowels for telescopes
and lift their faces to read history
in the sky.

I never stood in the shade of the tree,
or leaned against its trunk,
but I caretake this piece of green,
stepping in and out of the hollow
like a cupped palm, offering me today
and all the days beneath.

about the author
Gwen E. Owen is the Content Writer for the Dayton Metro Library, which means she writes content, and she’s quite content doing so. She lives in Kettering.

SORCERY

T.J. MCGUIRE

A     B      R      A     C    A    D     A      B      R      A
is a word that conjures rabbits from a
Black top hat by some white-gloved whackjoB
in a rented tux. Yet the word for me is a
Reminder of the way things seem to disappeaR
through misdirection; how childhood was
A sleight-of-hand coin trick, sleeved without A
promise of return; or how marriage can
Close people together within a prolonged toxiC
box, a casket that is sawed in half
And never reconnected. I think of abracadabrA
when candidates use deception with verbal
Dexterity, pledging the impossible at crowdeD
rallies full of slack-jawed voters. Are we
Astonished when every pledge has failed? Is A
magician booed or politician sued for
Boondoggling us?  We know what a whackjoB
is. But every four years expect vows like
Rabbits once missing to all faithfully reappeaR
with every con who waves a wand and says
A     B      R      A     C    A    D     A      B      R      A

about the author
T. J. McGuire is the author of the forthcoming chapbook Mid-life Chrysler (Alabaster Leaves Publishing) which is set for publication in December 2016. His work was recently selected as a finalist for the Slippery Elm Prize, and he is part of the Antioch Writers’ Workshop alumni for scholarships awarded to him by Mock Turtle Zine in 2014 and 2015. Works of his can be found in Slippery Elm, Mock Turtle Zine, The AWW Collection and Flights.

SPECIAL FEATURE: CATHOLIC SOCIAL SERVICES OF THE MIAMI VALLEY (CSSMV) REFUGEE RESETTLEMENT PROGRAM

CSSMV’s Refugee Resettlement Program serves refugees in the Greater Dayton area. Refugees are individuals who have fled or been forced to flee their countries of origin because of fear of persecution and violence. Often, they leave their homes with few possessions. They may spend decades in refugee camps before being resettled in other nations. Many never return to their home countries. As part of this special feature, which showcases a collaborative project by U.S.-born and refugee students, we had the chance to ask a few questions of Katie Jipson, TAG-D Coordinator of the CSSMV.

MT: Your organization serves as a portal for refugee resettlement. What does that mean? What support do you provide refugees who come to the region?

KJ: Refugees are funneled into cities through nine national volunteer agencies, or volags. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is our agency’s umbrella volag. All refugees coming in to the country have a specific location to which they are being sent. This means that each case (family, individual, etc.) is selected by a volag, and then sent to one of the city locations. We are the only portal, or service agency, for refugees coming into the Dayton area as there are no other agencies under any other volags in the city or surrounding areas. Cincinnati and Columbus have agencies under volags, but those are the closest two.

MT: What support do you provide refugees in the region?

KJ: The post-arrival support we provide is mainly as a referral agency. Pre-arrival is preparing and securing housing, and setting up the house, utilities, etc. Post-arrival we refer
refugees to social services agencies, schools, hospitals, health care, etc. We do not provide language access for any other agency outside our own.

MT: How many refugees does your agency help resettle each year? How many do you expect to help in 2017?

KJ: We resettle about 250 refugees each year. Last year, there was a push to resettle more, so we resettled more than 300. This coming year, our numbers are again at 250.

MT: Who are the refugees that come to Dayton? What are the circumstances that they are fleeing?

KJ: Our largest population comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire). We also see some refugees from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iraq, and Sudan. Everyone is fleeing from persecution, that is what makes them a refugee. Each circumstance depends on the country from which they are fleeing. The Congolese have a long history of persecution, whether by colonial powers, governments, or business empires.

MT: What do refugees bring with them when they resettle? What do they need when they get here, and in the weeks and months that follow?

KJ: Depending on where the refugee is from and where they have lived, they might bring with them as little as nothing but the clothes on their back to upwards of 15 suitcases. It always depends. They need everything. When we are setting up their housing, we are using money that has been set aside for them specifically for housing (rent included). We try to stretch every dollar, so donated household items are important. Everything from a couch to shower curtain rings to utensils to shoes.

MT: What is the biggest challenge that refugees face here?

KJ: Language access. That includes the individuals learning English and organizations providing language services. The Dayton community is in need of interpreters. There are just not enough to meet the demand.

MT: What should people in the Dayton area know about the people who resettle here? What would you most like them to understand?

KJ: They should know that these families are just like me or you. They want to be safe, happy and successful in their new lives. They did not necessarily want to come to the United States but were forced to do so. Some people were very successful doctors, teachers and business owners in their home countries, and now they have to restart here.

MT: How can people in Dayton help individuals and families who resettle here? What are the most important needs that your organization and the people you serve have?

KJ: Help can come in so many ways! Donating household items or volunteering time. Welcoming new families into their neighborhoods, schools and workplaces. Asking our agency to speak at their church or organization to learn about these wonderful people. Learning Swahili or
Kinyarwanda would also be a big help.

To learn more about CSSMV, the people they serve, and how to help, visit them online at http://www.cssmv.org/services/refugee-resettlement/, or phone 937-223-7217. You can also read refugees’ stories and learn more about refugee resettlement in Dayton at http://www.welcomedayton.org/.

SPECIAL FEATURE: THE HOME PROJECT

homeprojectThe Home Project represents a collaboration among several Dayton-area high schools and Catholic Social Services of the Miami Valley’s Refugee Resettlement Program. Altogether, about 30 students from Dayton Region STEM School, Belmont High School, Oakwood High School, Longfellow Alternative School, Chaminade Julienne High School, and Ponitz Career Technology Center met and worked together to produce the collages and statements that appear on the cover, the back cover, and in subsequent pages. Below, Noah Meyer, a senior at Chaminade Julienne, describes the project, which lasted from January to June 2016:

“In 2015, my brother and my mother began volunteering their time to tutor and mentor refugees with Catholic Social Services. Inspired by this, beginning in September 2015, my friend Spencer and I decided that we wanted to work with young refugees in our local area as well. We set up a meeting with Michael Murphy, Director of Refugees, to talk about our options. Initially, we had hopes to organize a tutoring program at our high school, but we soon came to the understanding that more than help with school or language, these young refugees needed a base of support and friendship in their new homes. Based on this, we developed a program to connect refugee and native-born teens through regular get-togethers in which they worked together on artwork and fun activities.

“This art project acted as the mediator between two different groups of people. You cannot force people to get to know one another, but this art project brought us all together through a common project. The goal of the art project is to capture each person’s idea of home. Refugees are tossed into an entirely new place under poor circumstances, so we hoped that this would give them a way to express their ideas of their original home while incorporating their feelings about their new home in Dayton. We decided to group people in pairs and trios so that we could merge every person’s ideas. It quickly became apparent that, despite our different backgrounds, none of us are all that different.”

All photos and collages courtesy of Catholic Social Services of the Miami Valley and partner schools.

ARTWORK from THE HOME PROJECT

STATEMENTS from THE HOME PROJECT

about the authors and artists

Belmont High School
Eric
Stephen, originally from Democratic Republic of the Congo
Valeur, originally from Democratic Republic of the Congo
Bereket Gebre Belmont High School, originally from Eritrea
Ahmed Seid, 9th grade, originally from Eritrea

Chaminade Julienne High School
Katie Bardine, 10th grade
Beatrice Hawthorn, 10th grade
Phillip Hawthorn, 12th grade
Hkawn Myat Labya, 10th grade, originally from Myanmar
Esther Labya, 10th grade, originally from Myanmar
Noah Meyer, 12th grade
Spencer Mullins, 12th grade
Jacob Troutwine, 12th grade

Dayton Regional STEM School
Fatima Boumahchad, 12th grade
Zayneb Moumkine, 11th grade
Anjali Phadke, 11th grade
Maya Quale, 11th grade
Vyshnavi Ramini, 11th grade
Pooja Shirrahati, 12th grade

Job Corps
James Gar, originally from Kenya and South Sudan
Bior Gar, originally from Kenya and South Sudan

Oakwood High School
Elizabeth Ordeman, 12th grade

Ponitz Career Technology Center
Fred, originally from Democratic Republic of the Congo
Florida Gebrehiwot, 11th grade, originally from Eritrea
Fanuel Gebrehiwot, 11th grade, originally from Eritrea

PRISM

COMMON CENTER

Instruments: 6-string acoustic, xaphoon, heavy chains, broom and sand paper, trash can
Key: G# Minor

(Introduction)

Built like a prism
Manifest division
Peeling through the air like a hawk on a hunt

Prose like the knows
Never really shows
Beating to the rhythm of a medicine drum

In the old ways they say

Catapulted sages
Ripping through the pages
Folding up the secrets like a fawn on the run

Slung like the departed
Wishes never started
Divided by the earth and the sky in your eye

In the old ways they say
You’ve got no sense
No sense
No sense of escape

(Interlude)

Man I’d like to show ya
Separate the old ya
Depart ya from the senses of what might have been

Shake you by the fault line
Send you to the surface
Disengage your doubts and all your might have beens

In the old ways they say
You change to live
And you live through change

Ra       Oh     Uuuu
No sense of escape

about the authors
One summer’s day, the ghost of an ancient samurai warrior crawled into Liam’s guitar. The other six showed up for an exorcism, but couldn’t get the darn thing out. We’ve been writing songs ever since.

PRUNING

LUZ REZENDE

Mark came up behind her, put his hands on her shoulders, a vacant look in his eyes. She had pruned the clematis to a single stem. It would never come back.

“Don’t worry,” Nicole said. “I’ll get a new one at the nursery.”

“I liked the one I had,” he said, sizing her up and wandering off alone, leaving her frowning, her eyebrows almost touching. She let the pruning scissors fall—no longer a menace. Her stillness nestled in the heat of summer, an insect encased in amber. The neighborhood too seemed immobilized.

He was lying on the sofa, an open book pressed against his stomach. The day before, she had mentioned she might stay on after the workshop finished.

“We could go for a walk. Before sundown. Have dinner somewhere.”

“You forget I’m writing a book. Going out breaks the spell.”

She wanted him to stretch his arm and pull her down to the sofa, but Mark had glanced at her, letting her know she was intruding. He got up and moved away, disappearing into his room with his book, shutting the door.

Beyond the tall spruce in the driveway, thunder rumbled far out, building up one of those storms that leave a dark trail between the corn fields. That year, nothing would grow on that Ohio farmland, where scorched grass across the fields told of desolation. When she first arrived, driving out of town, he had pointed to the rare old wooden barns, now abandoned beyond repair, their red paint withering against the rolling countryside.

They had met in Cincinnati on a Sunday. Nicole had gone to the game with her new friends from the writers’ workshop she was attending in Yellow Springs. Mark, a professor on the workshop board, was lining up to buy a ticket at Riverfront Stadium.

“Hey. Why not join us?” She was surprised she had said that, panicking at the thought he might think her fast. He turned his head slightly, without any sign of recognition, refraining from commenting. She shortened the distance between them, insisting. “Remember Teresa and Joyce? We met at the Workshop reception. You got us drinks.”

He gave no sign of recognition. “Sure,” he said.

But once inside the stadium he loosened up, giving details about the game’s box score, strategy, top plays, home runs, why it was important to sweep and dust the artificial turf while the players warmed up—how an umpire had died at the stadium’s opening game. They went behind the stands to buy mulberry-flavored ice-cream.

As the game continued Nicole watched his face. He seemed distant, eyes fixed on the field, assuming a new personality, a shadow merging with the teams, losing substance. The Cincinnati Reds defeated the Houston Astros that day. After the game, the four went to a bar overlooking the river. Mark sat next to her, legs touching, eyes locking over the beer, his excitement over the winning Reds giving way to anticipation. He signaled to the waiter, waited for the bill, and when it did not come, he got up and settled at the counter.

“Let’s go. I’ll drive you back,” he said.

On the way, she chatted about her favorite rock music, but he told her he preferred the far more intricate sound of a Mahler symphony. She was totally ignorant about classical music, as she had been about the ballgame, but nodded, giving up on conversation, preferring to let herself warm up to the touch of his hand on her knee. She put hers at the back of his neck, but he kept his eyes on the road.

When they reached Yellow Springs, he went up to her rented room, stayed the night. They rolled in bed but he seemed distracted, never came. He turned from her, faced the wall, knees close to his chin, his body pulsing, like a sulking child. She thought she heard him sobbing. Darkness hid her disappointment.

Despite the frustration of their initial love-making, they slid into a more intense affair, melding their awkward limbs in tight embraces, riding on the edge—baffled by their own desire. Mark would signal the end of their lovemaking by turning toward the wall, his naked body shaking. He seemed to find comfort in his childlike, curled position, but when she woke up in the morning, she found him gone. She stared at the crumpled sheets, her appetite for breakfast ruined. The view from her single window became unbearably common. One morning she paid her landlady, packed her bags. She would fetch them later.

She relished the thought of trimming his neglected garden, sitting out on the porch before sundown under the black parasol he had bought in the new Oriental shop at the edge of town. The assistant had suggested a red one with a Japanese pattern, but when she saw his look, she did not insist.

At first, Mark had been skeptical. “Why move to my place? You’ve got privacy at that guest house.”

She had swept away all arguments with the kind of rash innocence that usually goes with youth. “Who wants privacy? I’m getting writer’s block from that dreary view. Besides, I can walk to the grocer’s from your house. We can eat at home. Save on food. I’ll sweep, do laundry, wash the car. We’ll get drunk . . . listening to Mahler.”

He flinched, but in the end he gave up.

Sipping coffee at the kitchen table, he sounded dreamy, enthralled by the symphonic intricacies of Mahler’s First, as he began recalling his past. He would linger on detail about his childhood, giving her details of his mother’s work at the telephone exchange, her bleak war memories, as if his mother were still holding his hand as she walked him back from grammar school, guiding his first steps as a boy—now a man.

Nicole waited, hanging on his words, as he filled in gaps in his tale, wishing to learn from what he craved in the past.

“We always stopped at my father’s used car lot on our way home from school. All I could think of was that battered gunmetal Hudson with the bulging chrome grill and its the shiny ornament—a glittering goddess darting sparks. I would rush toward that car, sitting on its faded leather seat, fidgeting with the wheel, glancing sideways at my father, who would wink at me in silence from the passenger seat, avoiding war talk.”

But the thought of that glittering goddess was powerful enough to break his dream.

“Junk,” he said, his voice rising above Mahler’s winds—“like a marriage.”

Nicole ignored his remark and walked out onto the deck, shutting the connecting door behind her. The sun hung low, close to the fence, bringing shadow to the backyard. Ohio’s damp summer heat brought out dragon flies buzzing above the artificial pond. The sound of water cascading over the waterfall’s basalt rocks mixed with the male toad’s hoarse croak. Nicole lay on the deck squeezing one of Mark’s sweaty t-shirts.

Night fell, but Mark remained inside the house listening to Mahler, as if his passion for music excluded her. He never called her in.

His solitude remained a mystery to Nicole. Often, when they shared a meal, she would look
into his granite-speckled eyes, fixed on some azimuth, while listening to his modulated voice, her coffee getting cold as Mahler’s First came to an end with a clashing of sound. He would fall silent, listening to the reverberating notes disturbing the air, then brush her mouth lightly with two fingers. She parted her lips waiting for a kiss.

But he continued to stare, and she noticed the furrows in his brow grow deeper, his mood
changing, as if an ill wind was blowing from some hostile dark matter from an earlier life—the failed marriage, the ex-wife he seemed to have relegated to a hidden pouch in a shadowy recess of his mind. Whatever was catching up with him—some elusive, chilling flash into his past—became invasive like Japanese honeysuckle.

She glowed with a sudden happiness, her senses heightened by her recent experience with Mahler’s dissonant sound. The sight of the natural, violent world out in the garden made her bold, as she watched the erratic flight of bats, birds pecking, fighting for worms in the rain-soaked grass, wings rustling, uneasy at the proximity of the squirrel. She could feel the wilderness within her, as she paced the backyard counting her steps, but her frustration mounted as she realized she could never equal the beauty of sunsets and flickering glow worms in the stillness of summer night. She would be the one falling silent, sensing tears coming to her eyes, while she deliberately slowed the unbuttoning of her blouse to show her breasts cupped inside her bra.

Meals. Short-lived bliss. “We’ll do with salad. Chickpeas. Tuna.” She spiced her cooking with exotic herbs, coloring rice with saffron, turmeric, adding an Indian flavor to mango-yogurt paste. When she lit a candle and burned incense sticks on a special copper-engraved wooden block, he blew them out before sitting at table, giving no explanation.

She was unsure about his liking Mediterranean or Indian food. He never complained, refraining from commenting on the meals, eating in silence, indifferent to her talk. He would lower his eyes, scraping his plate clean, pushing it aside. She watched him pick up the milk carton, then stand facing the open refrigerator, glaring at the bright light, scrutinizing its shiny interior, the food stacked and aligned in neat rows.

“We’re out of butter, leeks, celery . . . corn. Make a list. I can’t afford taking you out.”

The shopping lists were endless. She made sure the refrigerator needed replenishing, throwing
leftovers to the birds, sensing his rage at having to interrupt his work on the book, while he felt an urgency to leave things behind, slam a door. Like Scheherazade, she tried to hold his attention, forever suggesting errands to the local grocer’s, the distant mall and its bright crowds, where he would wander around, sizing up giggling teenagers. She would leave her bra on the sofa, walking naked from the waist up before going to bed. Once he grabbed his jacket and placed it over her shoulders.

Trash—leftovers from lunch. Splintering Mark’s best dishes—the porcelain ones with the thin gold rim and the Zodiac signs he had fought over with his sister when their mother died. His granite eyes darkened, roaming over disaster.

“What the hell have you done now? Those were my mother’s plates. Priceless.”

Nicole saw him stare beyond the fence, disembodying himself from her presence. He seemed to speak out of memory, as if recalling a scene painted in somber colors, perhaps from the early marriage—a time he seemed reluctant to recall, even when she pressed him for details. He stalked from the room, dismissing the matter over his shoulder.

“Forget replacing them.”

Next day, after dinner, she ventured, “I saw plates, much like your mother’s. I could get some.”

“You’ll only break them again.”

“Give me a chance. You can’t hold on to things forever. Let your ex go.”

“Stop.”

She regretted her last remark, touched his cheek with her hand, drew nearer to him on the couch. But he seemed absent, isolated inside some bubble, carried away by some enthralling Mahler cadenza. Her eyes scanned his tall figure, disproportionate to that low-ceilinged house sitting on the edge of town, where birds fought over spilled seed in the aftermath of storms and bats swished close to the French window, possibly aware of reflections—life inside the house.
Wrestling in bed, naked, sweating to exhaustion, he would fit his mouth to the hollow between the two protruding bones at the base of her neck, before turning against the wall in fetal position. She thought she heard him crying.

“You make me nervous.”

His inertia disturbed her, as he continued to lie in the bed, without moving. She would get out of his narrow bed and head to the bathroom, splashing cold water over her face and neck, then take a deep breath, before heading back to the bedroom. His silence told her he had relegated her to the tool shack, among harvest knives, hedge shears, pruning scissors. She clutched to his naked body, curled like a threatening Kafkaesque beetle feeding on her dream. A sense of déjà vu.

In the weeks that followed, Nicole’s energy throbbed, building up to its usual peak. Sensing a resistance from the house—a negativity surging from some gutted quarry on the property—she would get up when darkness was at its quietest,  rearranging the library and Mark’s CD collection. Later she would watch him silently restoring books and CDs to their original order. She found the incense sticks and candle in the trash.

When his friends from the university came to visit, curious about the new guest, she remained silent, afraid to spoil the evening by some inappropriate remark. She retreated to the kitchen, leaving the crowd to their bickering.

Days vanished like a magician’s illusion. Soiled dishes piled up in the sink, since she had silenced the dishwasher, clogging the drain. The water had ploughed across the kitchen and into the living room, running freely over the wooden floor, soaking the Kazak Oriental area rug—another irreplaceable item that had belonged to his ex-wife.

Cursing the marriage, he dragged the wet rug out to the garbage pickup at the end of the driveway. Nicole watched him walk back to the house, uneasy at the thought that he cared more for the rug than for the woman who had left him. He stood looking at his mother’s carved walnut chest, which had stood on the now useless rug, entertaining some idea he had no intention of sharing.

The telephone rang, but before he turned away to pick up the receiver, she heard him say to no one in particular:  “Aha! The chest looks better without it.”

That evening, he had shut his bedroom door, his telephone busy late into the night. She had waited for him to return to the living room, but he never did and she fell asleep on the sofa.
Some days later, the ballgame was on, and Mark had left the door to his room ajar. This was his inner sanctum, an untidy space, unlike the rest of the house. She leaned against the bedrail, watching the game, the Reds pushing to win. Larkin singled to right field. Sanders scored.

“Lucky, if they make it to second place this season.”

Nicole brushed against the TV, aware his remark was not directed at her. She sensed he was keeping her out of his private enclosure, slumping on his couch, inert and aloof, dwelling on the game’s mathematical combinations and infinite dead ends. He glanced swiftly at her and she seized the moment, moving toward him, sitting on the edge of the bed undoing her jeans.

“Want a beer?” she asked.

But nothing could drag him out of that stupor—not even desire.

Outside, the tangy smell of freshly-cut grass heightened her senses, as she walked past the
untamed bitternut hickory, shedding its woody nuts, casting a mottled shadow over the back porch.

Inside the garden shack she kneeled to inventory the array of tools neatly stacked on the lower shelves. She honed the hedge clippers and pruning hedge shears, their cutting edge sharp against the wood, then reached for the razor-tooth pruning saw hanging on the wall. Her arms had grown stronger from clipping.

Pushing the wooden ladder outside, she positioned it under the hickory, ignoring the pain from the blisters on her fingers, as she handled the saw expertly with one hand, back and forth, while humming a familiar childhood rhyme—Eggs, butter, cheese, bread, / Stick, stock, stone dead. / Stick him up, stick him down, / Stick him in the old man’s crown—the rhyme turning into a dreary warrior song, her voice growing harsh, rasping, as the hickory branches tumbled to the ground. The woody nuts clattered on the deck, as if echoing the sound of the crowd on a big day in Riverfront Stadium. She heard the gray squirrel’s chattering sending out alarm signals, flicking its tail, growing nervous—aggressive. She raised her eyes from her work with the saw to look at the grimacing squirrel doing his balancing act on the fence. Fixing her eyes on the rodent’s furry coat, she arched her slim shape, both waiting for the other to make the first move.

The ladder was back in its place. Nicole grabbed the heavy-duty garden broom, the finger hedge shears and some smaller weeding tools. A tremor crawled up her spine at the thought of worms breeding in the undergrowth. She edged closer to the shallow Japanese pond. Overgrown papyrus grass had clogged the drain, stopping the pump from recycling the water, making the pool overflow, wetting her garden boots. She crouched to inspect the muddy green pool, a decomposing reptilian universe pulsing at her feet.

Rising from her position, she surveyed the backyard, its narrow brick path cluttered with untamed ivy creepers, the yucca’s glossy white buds littering the deck, fading to a rusty shade. The bordering Virginia creeper stretched across the path narrowing it every day. The heat was stifling, sweat made her T-shirt cling to her breasts, but her feverish hands had acquired a life of their own, tugging at the thriving dandelions and musk thistle, uplifting them by their roots from the cracks in the brick walkway.

Like a frightened animal, her ears perked up in attention to summer vibrations, she listened for some friendly sign, or call from inside the house. She watched tiny drops of blood on her parched hands as she snatched off the gloves. She crossed over to the heavy-duty trash can in the garage, raised the lid and ditched the pair.

Walking down Main Street the day before, she had stopped at the hardware store and bought the boots and the pair of rubberized garden gloves, choosing them for toughness.

“How much?”

Old man Chester took a while before answering. He saw an attractive woman, probably in her fifties, the outdoor type, tanned arms and legs, her smile showing the eye wrinkles beginning to surface. His eyes traveled over her face, no thrill, no questions, letting her know he was aware she was staying with his faithful customer, the professor living on Suncrest Drive.

“I’ll give you a discount,” he said. “You’ll be back,” he added, while he thought, like the others. Many of the professor’s women had come his way, and he usually gave them a rebate, volunteering advice. “Check on soil acidity for azaleas; make your own compost. Watch out for invasive species, treat them with care. Don’t kill them all. Leave some for your next visit.” He laughed, paused before adding one last comment: “The professor likes clematis—the indigenous type.”

Like a player entering a scene, she remembered her lines. “I’ll keep that in mind. I’ll be seeing you.” She enjoyed Chester’s mischievous babbling, already feeling at home with him, treading her ground with assurance, unaware of the silent audience hiding in darkness beyond the crude summer light.

Nicole refrained from talking, as she watched Mark revert to his usual lethargy, revolving in his silences, muttering, barely moving his lips, his eyes frozen on the TV screen. Another home-run for the Reds. Larkin was still hitting well.

Fireworks showered, decaying into low energies, then a nothingness. The Reds won six to one over the Cardinals. The green field drained itself of possibilities as the teams wandered off, turning their backs on the crowd. He slid the volume down, stared at the commercials.
The late night phone calls increased when the baseball season was in full swing. She could tell something was ablaze, noticing he had been unusually hungry. Nothing seemed to last inside cupboards.

Young women in tank tops and ragged shorts would come to the house, flocking in and out,
staying only long enough to feed their appetite, draining his energy. Nicole had no idea where they came from, as they were too young to have been his former students. They made her afraid, and she would retreat when she heard giggling coming from the bedroom. They seemed to be everywhere, sitting cross-legged on the couch, showing white cotton bras and slivers of soft skin, their T-shirts hanging from the back of chairs, or lying on the floor, as if setting a scene for an artistic photo.

Nicole watched them wrenching open the kitchen cupboards, snatching at chocolate-chip cookies, emptying the lemonade pitcher. She would find hair in the shower, running socks under his bed. Gum. Unexpectedly, they would dash into her bedroom, looking into the medicine cupboard, leaving the door ajar.

There were no pledges, few words. He would walk out the door, waving from the driveway. “Won’t be long.” Never returning before midnight, sometimes only for breakfast, or a late lunch, just putting food in his mouth, not even hungry. She would stand dumbfounded, finding her breath coming short, her tongue stuck in her throat, knowing he had been with that restless crowd always pulling at his elbow, those sparrow-like young girls in tight sweaters with shiny belly-buttons peeping out of their jeans, invading his house, never apologizing for messing up his papers, his sheets, using far too much toilet paper, not wearing enough makeup.

Those days she would wander aimlessly around the house bruising herself against furniture, chewing cookies, killing bugs. She would pull at the phone cord, her icy blue veins on the back of her hands arching over the age spots. She tore at her clothes, then at the flowering bushes, trampling on the buds. Surveying the devastation, she circled the koi fish pond, crouching close to the fence, waiting for the neighbor’s lawnmower’s soothing drone. Mark would return and notice the trail of debris, but he would only shrug, reverting to his usual silent sidelong stare, ignoring the broom, the pail—the warfare.

Naked. Slouching on the couch watching the sports channel, he would pull her into bed when she passed within his reach, remaining flaccid, condescending, never complaining about her presence—quietly breathing out disaster. Desperate, Nicole would cling to an old image of Mark holding her tight after her orgasm, never seeming to let her go. The phone would ring, shattering the moment, as she would hear him whisper into the mouthpiece, his eyes glued to the TV screen.

She hesitated on the doorstep, eyeing the garden with indifference, dwelling on the faded plants and dried bushes—watching blue bottle flies buzzing around a dead field mouse, ants busy, lining up for a snatch at the flesh. She watched Mark put on his walking shoes, going over to talk to a young man in khaki shorts and Birkenstocks. He had contracted the youngster, out of rehab, to do the mulching.

The young man stood there, balancing his weight from one foot to the other, looking at the sweet peas entwining through the trellis that divided the garden from the sundeck facing west. Nicole saw him nod his head, then he raised his eyes and met hers through the open French windows.

“Is he your husband?” The youngster from rehab was leaning on the rake, looking down at a pile of compost. He had traded his shorts for some faded overalls.

“I’m just visiting,” she said, staring hard at his cheekbones. “I love gardening too.”

He looked up, as if seeing her for the first time.

“Pretty blouse. White suits you,” he said.

Her tight jeans showed just enough of her belly below her small breasts.

“It’s too hot out here. Come on in. How d’you take your coffee?”

Bees hummed close to the open window. A metallic blow fly hit against the pane. She turned on the ceiling fan at a high speed.

“He comes and goes,” she said. “I should have stayed away. Who knows?” She looked straight into his eyes, holding her gaze. “You got a name?”

“Brad.” He was holding his mug with both hands, as if trying to steady it. She ignored his embarrassment, peering into his grayish-blue eyes.

“More coffee?”

“I better go now. The ivy in the back fence threatens to fall.”

The slim young man moved quickly to the sink, rinsing his mug, leaving it upside down to dry.

“Damn.” Nicole spilled the remains of her coffee, wiped the table clean. She opened the front door wide to mop the rough Indian slate floor, glancing at Brad tearing at the gooseberry bushes along the driveway. He worked relentlessly, his bare arms tanned from the harsh sun, revealing his salient bluish veins.  She watched him drive away in his pickup truck, vanishing in a great cloud of dirt, taking with him strings of knotted ivy and cut offs from the gooseberry bushes. Nicole stared at the rake lying on the front lawn.

Undressing that night, she heard the telephone ring. She stood facing the bathroom mirror looking at the fine lines under the eyes, dipping her fingers into her cleansing cream, rubbing the paste on her face, wiping it clean. The face that stared back at her had a glossy, rubberized texture. She kept pulling tissues from the box and letting them drop on the floor.

The next morning, Mark still had not come home. Nicole packed her bags, called for the shuttle. She clipped the phone lines with the hedge shears, left early before the garden began to stir.

about the author
Luz Ruzende was born in Lisbon, Portugal, has studied and lived in England, and worked in Portugal as a Project Manager with the U.S. Agency for International Development. After retirement, she went back to studying literature and philosophy at the University of Maryland University College (UMUC) and began writing fiction. She has participated in Oxford and Cambridge summer literary programs and is a member of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars.

HIBERNATION

KATHY B. AUSTIN

I bundled up my words
for the winter,
wrapping them in soft,
cozy quilts.
I sent them to bed,
not at all sure they would wake
with the sun,
or if they should.

But here they come,
yawning and sleepy,
staggering down the hallway
of my mind.
They don’t bother to ask
if I’ve missed them,
and I pretend
they were never gone.

about the author
Kathy Austin is a retired graphic designer from Dayton, Ohio. Her poems have appeared in The Writing Path I anthology published by the University of Iowa Press, the online Poppy Road Review, and various local publications such as Mock Turtle Zine and Flights. She has been featured and interviewed on Conrad’s Corner, WYSO 91.3, and enjoys giving poetry readings in the area. Her poetry will be included in the upcoming anthology, From the Tower. She has received awards for poetry from the Iowa Poetry Day Association and the Paul Laurence Dunbar Memorial Competition. She describes herself as a Buddhist, half-hippie tree-hugger who enjoys biking, Dharma center activities, guiding meditation, and hiking.

RIDING TO THE COUNTY LINE AFTER WORK

FRED KIRCHNER

—May 26th, low 80s, sunny and clear

The sun set behind
the Preble County Line,
an orange glo-ball staining the cirrus
wisps caressing the horizon.

I turned my back on its glory
after 25 blazing miles
to the corner of County Line
and Dayton-Farmersville Rd.

After making the right
to head east, the direction home,
the full moon ascended,
rising weakly above early corn.

For each degree the star fell, a satellite
rose. As the sun purpled and dimmed
below the land, the moon whitened
amidst the darkening blue.

They were opposite jewels
balanced on the wheeling sky.
What day’s harbinger burned away—
my sweat, my spit—the night globe

returned to me, curling mist into
shaded groves edging farm fields,
moistening the dry lump of my tongue.
Deer strolled across the road,

moonlight-addled, brown tails down.
Their whites sprang erect and they fled,
hearing chain spin through sprockets, my pedals
rotating the heavens from day to night.

about the author
Fred Kirchner has published a chapbook, Platform of an Unacknowledged World Legislator (Main Street Rag), and his poetry has also appeared in several anthologies—most notably, The Art of Bicycling: A Treasury of Poems (Breakaway Books). He is overjoyed that his cycling poetry’s in the same book as a poem by Marco Pantani, the last man to win the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France in the same year. Marco “Il Pirata” Pantani was one of the greatest climbers in cycling history—racing up the steepest alpine roads in Europe. Fred can make it to the top of Thruston Rd. hill in Oakwood.