Thursday Throwback featuring Susan Terris with “Before Cortéz” from issue 295.2

Susan’s poem “Before Cortéz” was a finalist in the James Hearst Poetry Prize in 2010.

Thoughts from the author: “I’m always interested in the plight of women past and present and in women’s potential for power. I have an inordinate admiration for women who find a way to use this power to change their lives. Yes, I admire the  women who do not simply Ophelia-like cave in and choose servitude or death.”

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Before Cortéz

Bitch they call me. Whore. Yet in the blink of
a puma, I—Malintzin—was changed from
Aztec princess to Mayan slave. But still beautiful,
I think, as I scrub other women’s linens on
the bank of a slime-green river. Testing, I smile.
My reflection meets my eyes, smiles back.
With a chapped left hand, I rake
through my hair. My double uses her right.
I have no rights any more. Angry, I
spit in the face of the washerwoman who
looks like me. A feral cat, she bares her teeth.
But my lips are still pursed. Puta! she cries,
La Chinganda! Curds of water stir as the circle
of phlegm grows wider, thins and vanishes.
The other Malintzin, wet clothing molding
the arcs of her body, rises from the river,
moves slowly, sinuously. She makes no ripples.
Her dress sheds no water. Eyes dark with
menace, she advances until I see myself
reflected in her pupils. Run if you can, she
whispers hoarsely. But, rooted there, I breathe
out and in. When I exhale again, the other
Malintzin steps up close, grabs hold of me,
presses her mouth firmly against mine. Inhale,
she murmurs, shape-shifting into
a plumed conquistador. As bidden, I breathe in
and so begin to vanish….

Susan Terris’s most recent book is Ghost of Yesterday: New & Selected Poems (Marsh Hawk Press). She is the author of 6 books of poetry, 15 chapbooks, and 3 artist’s books.  Journal publications include The Southern Review, Denver Quarterly, The JournalNorth American Review, and Ploughshares. A poem of hers from Field appeared in Pushcart Prize XXXI. Susan’s piece, “Before Cortez,” appears in issue 295.2 of NAR. She’s editor of Spillway Magazine. Her book Memos will be published by Omnidawn in 2015.

Illustration by Justin PerkinsJustin graduated from College for Creative Studies. A freelance illustrator and designer, he teaches art in Detriot. Justin’s first illustration for North American Review appeared in issue 298.4, Fall 2013.

Fish Cleaning Makes for Dirty Work, Good Poem by James Proffitt

An article I wrote for Ohio Outdoor News this summer detailed the industry that, in Ohio, is uniquely Lake Erie: Fish cleaning houses.  They are smelly, wet and when the fishing is good, extremely busy.  The workers are paid piecework, generally — that is, by the pound.  The more they clean, the faster they clean, the more they get paid.  It is long, hard, dirty work, but can pay well.  While I usually clean my own walleye, I always take my yellow perch (which are tiny compared to walleye) to the cleaners.  And there began my admiration, and there began my poem, “The Fish Cleaners.”  A little imagination, a little thinking, a little verse.

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Mostly the cleaners use commercial food prep knives, and not birch-handled knives.  But there is a company in Ohio, Warther & Sons, which has been making beautiful knives, including fileting knives, for years, so why not birch handled knives?

And the anglers bringing in fish are often giddy, and often childlike, filled with their joy.  Yet it is the fish cleaners who tackle the toughest task, the cleaning.  And while there is a honkeytonk in the area with great specials on eggs, ham and whiskey and such, it ain’t dockside and the fish cleaners ain’t there at dawn because they finish at night or in the early a.m. and sleep, waiting for the next catch to come in.  So yeah, it’s clear I embellish, I move things around, I make it fit.

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Grief and Grace in the “Ghazal for Emilie Parker” by Carolyne Wright from issue 299.2

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This poem was written quickly, in response to the murder of twenty young students and six educators by a deranged shooter at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, on December 14, 2012.  The world was horrified by this event; outpourings of grief dominated the news and social media; and like many people I felt a need to respond in some way, as I followed the unfolding story over the next few days on National Public Radio. But the poem began only after I heard the NPR report on December 16, 2012, which featured Dr. Robbie Parker’s tribute to his daughter Emilie, one of the murdered children. The story and interview, written by NPR reporter Russell Lewis and hosted by NPR’s Rachel Martin, are still accessible on the web site of my local NPR affiliate station:

I wrote a few lines that afternoon, inspired by this news report of Emilie Parker’s father’s press conference, as he recounted his final conversation with his daughter. He said, “I’d been teaching her Portuguese. So her last conversation was in Portuguese. She told me good morning and asked how I was doing. Said I was doing well. She said that she loved me. Gave me a kiss and I was out the door.”

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Of Dioramas and Human Bondage By Laurie Frankel

For our year-end Salon meeting (please don’t call it Book Club), we members assigned ourselves the task of making dioramas of a scene from a favorite book. Here’s mine. Can you guess?

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It’s Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage, when Philip Carey meets Mildred Rogers in the coffee shop. Yes, that’s a teeny Philip Seymour Hoffman shoved off into the corner playing the part of self-abasing Mr. Carey. While reading the book, I always pictured rail-thin Mildred as rail-thin Keira Knightly (but with her top on). Imagine my delight when Keira decided to set all photo-manipulating editors straight by bearing some of it all. When I saw the photos, I thought, how better to portray the sexual power Mildred wielded over hate-my-stinkin’-clubfoot Philip (Carey not Hoffman) than with a Godzilla-sized photo of Ms. Knightly proudly showing off the twins. The fact she donned black opera-length lace gloves for the shoot (and in my diorama) is proof there is a God.

Initially, I neatly set the coffee cup and saucer on top of an upright table and extra chair, but when my dog knocked the whole thing over, I saw the disarray and said, “Good boy!” It was as if my dog’s tail channeled Mildred’s fury.

How many ways did Philip “The Masochist” Carey self-flagellate? Don’t make me count them, but I never tired of it. That Maugham articulated obsessive infatuation and its close cousin self-hate with such depth and precision amazed me because at one time or another we’ve all experienced Philip-Carey type longing. I mean, haven’t “we?”

Author, short-story writer, and humorist Laurie Frankel knows pain is the root of all comedy and is thrilled her life is so damn funny. Her books include “I Wore a Thong for This?!” and “There’s a Pattern Here & It Ain’t Glen Plaid,” about which Kirkus Reviews has this to say: “. . . laugh-out-loud funny . . . great practical suggestions . . . A quirky, earnest guide to regaining self-esteem for the modern woman.” Frankel’s literary work has appeared in ShenandoahThe Literary ReviewNorth American ReviewAlaska Quarterly Review, and The Pedestal Magazine. She is the host of the upcoming website In the meantime, feel free to reach her at LauriesLoveLogic.

Following Your Character Down the Rabbit Hole by Chad Koch


Conrad, my main character in “Equinox”, barely existed in the first drafts of this story. He was supposed to be a teenager dealing with his dad going off the deep end, but instead he was somewhat shy, somewhat hesitant, somewhat sad and confused. He was barely a side character. I tried pushing him into an ending–forcing him to blow up on his dad—but that ending didn’t make any sense at all. I didn’t see Conrad making that decision–and worse, because he was only “sort of” sad and confused, I didn’t really see him making any real decisions at all.

I was caught in the black hole of revising without progress. I changed endings, added plot devices, removed plot devices, and rearranged paragraphs. I added single lines of dialogue. I erased other lines of dialogue. I changed the setting from mostly Conrad’s home to mostly Conrad’s school. None of these decisions did anything except create hours of work, a countless number of interchangeable drafts, and, of course, still left me with a character that wasn’t able to take any action I wanted him to.

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Let me step back and say that as a kid, I was pretty nerdy. I don’t mean book smart nerdy or honors program nerdy, but video games nerdy, playing Dungeons and Dragons nerdy.  I loved running table-top role-playing games as the “dungeon master.” I’d make up dramatic stories where one of the people in the party would be afflicted with an illness that could only be cured from a potion held by a dangerous goblin. I’d relish having my friends see the game turn upside down as I revealed to them that the world in which they were slaying dragons was actually not a world at all, but the dreams of an insane wizard!

I didn’t need to think about characters and their motivations when running these games. The players automatically played “heroes”–the kinds of people you’d expect to be slaying dragons. And obviously it didn’t cross anyone’s mind that the “it’s just a dream” trick came out of nowhere because in the world these heroes belonged, people ate magic and miracles for breakfast.

I learned a lot about plot and setting from all this gaming but understood very little about character. And so, when I started writing, I knew the trajectory of the story–I knew the very last scene—before I even wrote a single word. This was great–at least in the first draft. I could pound out the five or six scenes and get to the dramatic conclusion no problem. However, looking at it a few days later, the writing would feel stiff, stale, and overly directed. The ending didn’t really match anything the characters were up to. There was a plot with an ending, but the characters could never realistically achieve or earn that ending.

Back to Conrad . . .  At the time, actually, I don’t think I even considered the character “Conrad.” I thought of him as a vehicle for my plot. People who read early drafts told me something about the character seemed off. Perhaps they meant flat? They sometimes thought of him as crazy. He acts completely differently than he thinks. He’s not insane, I’d say to myself, he’s just boring.

I hate free writing. I want to be in control. But after enough revolving, unchanging drafts, I got a suggestion to write “off the page.” I was told to follow my character. It was something I’d probably heard before but simply ignored. I’d never considered not writing a character within the context of a story, so I thought it was a waste of time. I approached it cautiously. What does a character do when exciting and dramatic things aren’t happening around them? Well, Conrad went to the park, he rode his bike around the high school, and he nearly put me to sleep with my own writing. It meandered. There were a couple pages of him eating apples and watching TV. I was bored with it and ready to give up.

Boris_Semeniako-big-31 blog for chad But then something appeared out of nowhere. I can’t point to anything in particular other than the boredom in my head gave way to mischievousness. I suddenly wanted Conrad to break the law. Nothing major. He was going to shop lift, like everyone does as a teenager. It started at a gas station, but then, and I have no idea why, I had him in a Walgreens. But why? Was he going to steal pain medicine to make crystal meth like on Breaking Bad?Just what was in a Walgreens?

In the story, one of the things Conrad grapples with is his coming to terms with being gay. I had trouble inhabiting the experience of a teenager in that situation now that I’m an adult and a lot of the awkwardness has thankfully been forgotten. So I found myself walking around a Walgreens near my house. I was a little embarrassed and felt crazy for doing this on behalf of my character. I was ready to buy a soda and leave, but then I walked past the pharmacy.

Next to the counter for prescription orders was a shelf of condoms. A lot of condoms; of all types and styles. Wouldn’t this be exciting for any fourteen-year-old boy to see? Maybe. But I didn’t really see that as interesting for Conrad. He wasn’t really at the stage where he’d want to use one or even think about that possibility. Which was a weird thought for me to have–this question about what Conrad might be interested in was something I hadn’t considered until I started writing away from the plot.

I turned the corner and the shelf extended farther. It had other prophylactics, but at the very end there was an entire section devoted to personal lubricants. There were tingly ones, self-heating ones, some that had a flavor of strawberries, and others that smelled like coconuts. That’s when a bell went off in my head, as if Conrad himself was telling me: that’s it! And then everything made sense.  Wouldn’t these be the things a boy that age would be curious about?  Wouldn’t he secretly want that instead? As some way of trying to uncover what real sex might feel like? I followed Conrad’s lead and suddenly everything about the story opened up. His curiosity about boys in gym class, his wonderment of the older boy Daniel, his desire for love—all of it came to life. Conrad started to have a direction. The ending of the story completely changed. The largest struggle became cutting back on Conrad’s thoughts and feelings. He suddenly made sense to me.

From then on, I’ve started following my characters as part of my first drafts. I’ll end up with several two-page rabbit holes in laundry mats trying to steal a candy bar out of a vending machine, hiding under the bed to avoid church, or hacking into a significant other’s email account to see if they’ve said anything good or bad. Somehow the characters rise from these nooks and crannies of non-stories. They become people, and the stories themselves become clear.

Chad Koch’s first published story received Transfer Magazine’s Leo Litwak Fiction Award. He was the 2012/2013 Fourteen Hills: The SFSU Review co-Editor-in-Chief, and the 2010 recipient of the Miriam Ylvisakar Fellowship. He recently received his MFA from San Francisco State University. “Equinox” is his third story to be published, and it was published in issue 300.1, Winter of 2015.

Top illustration accompanies the story “Equinox” in issue 300.1, Winter 2015. Catherine Byun, a freelance illustrator based in San Francisco. She spends her time drawing, watching movies, and hiking around California. Her work appears in the North American Review’s Winter 2014 and Winter 2015 issue.

Middle illustration by Errata Carmona, a freelance artist who focuses on graphic design and illustrations for magazines, book covers, children’s books, branding, posters, logos, etc.

Bottom illustration by Boris Séméniako, a freelance illustrator since 1999. His images have been published in major french newspapers and magazines, such as Le Monde, L’Express, L’Humanité, Le Monde diplomatique, and Les Echos.

Both artists and their portfolios can be found on

Flashback Friday featuring Michael Kriesel with “Mineral Kingdom” from issue 295.2

Michael Kriesel’s poem “Mineral Kingdom” was published in issue 295.2, Spring 2010. Michael was also just announced the 2015 James Hearst Poetry Prize winner.

Notes from the author:

“Mineral Kingdom” comes from an 18-month period during which I wrote 72 Abecedariums & Double Abecedariums, all with a metaphysical / occult theme. I was working 4 hours each evening as a janitor in a small rural elementary school, a job intentionally chosen for its low mental stress. The rest of my my day was writing / revising / reviewing / etc…all the bureaucracy that attends writing. After that year and a half period, I found myself surprised to be decompressing from the mental stress of the prolonged period of intense creative activity.


Mineral Kingdom

Angleworms as an abstract alphabet,
blacktop wet. Phone lines repeating blackbirds,
calling me. A corn stubble field grows crows.
Dreaming of flight, I glide new roads. Driveway.
Engine block ticks down…frog starts. Evening.
Frogs full blast. I light a firecracker.
Golden Lotus brand. Shoot my paper gun.
Hold off. Let them start again. This is how
I say my name tonight. Something else I’ll
just say. The world’s jammed with miracles. Just
kneel. Behold grass. Blue caves. A corn kernel’s
light sings from one, tiny life dropped lightly,
now as darkness rises like ground mist. Now
opalescent, gold gone, it oscillates.
Pale milk tooth, baby moon, it becomes pink
quartz and vibrates with all other quartzite.
Rib Mountain’s quartz monadnock resonates
subtly in pebbles and nervous systems,
twelve miles west, a crystal set transmitter
upthrust two billion years ago, urging
vowels on evolving brains. Vibrations,
whale songs tease fillings. My teeth are a white
xylophone of voices. Exorcisms,
yoga, dentists yield before this yawning
zoo of noises— the inner sphere’s Muzak.

Since 2010,  Michael Kriesel has become President of the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets, won the 2012 Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets Triad Award, and the 2011 Wisconsin People & Ideas Poetry Contest. He judged the 2014 Wisconsin Writers Association Jade Ring Poetry Competition. He was featured poet for the 2010 Great Lakes Writers Festival. His latest chapbook (2013) is Whale of Stars (letterpress / haiku) from SunnyoutsideHis book ms. Forgiving the Grass was a finalist in the 2014 ABZ 1st Book contest. Micheal will also be featured in issue 300.2 as the 2015 James Hearst Poetry Prize Winner.

Illustration titled Plight of the honeybee by Anthony Tremmaglia, an Ottawa-based illustrator, artist, and educator. His clients include WIRED, Scientific American, Smart Money, HOW, and San Francisco Weekly. Anthony is featured in issues 299.1, Winter 2014 & 299.4, Fall 2014. Find more of Anthony’s work at

Notes on “Frankie at Fort Lewis” by Jo Ann Heydron from issue 300.1

In “Frankie at Fort Lewis,” I tried to imagine what would happen if the political differences between members of an extended family rather like my own were put to the test.  If a family emergency arose like the one in this story—a battlefield wound that threatens to be fatal—would we show up for each other? If we did, would we reach inside ourselves for patience and fellow feeling or take the opportunity to air some of the judgments and resentments that we drag along behind us?  Both, I decided. Definitely both. So I tried to make room for both in the interchanges between Frankie and Amy, the twenty-something cousins in this story.

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For me writing this story (maybe writing every story) was an exercise in remembering how particular a mix each of us is of traits and opinions, generosity and self-protection. Soldiers wear uniforms to identify themselves as members of a group, and Frankie arrives at Fort Lewis believing that this self-designation is all encompassing. She regards Amy’s injured husband, Stephen, as “indistinguishable” from Amy’s father and brothers, who are also in the military, until she remembers how Stephen joked with her at his wedding about her multiply pierced ears, until she notices that Stephen’s baby boy has inherited his wide mouth, until Amy tells her that Stephen was troubled by what happened at Abu Ghraib. She sees Amy and her mother, Frankie’s Aunt Liz, as equally committed to the life of military wife until she understands that Amy is trying as hard to separate from her mother as Frankie is from her own.

I’m interested in the space between remembering that all of us are alike in feeling pain, fear, and love, and noticing we are all very different, too. Making assumptions about others is a dangerous business, whether they are members of our families or perfect strangers. I’m exploring that space in this story, probably ineptly, but I’m a slow learner, as the members of my family would no doubt testify.

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Jo Ann Heydron’s father retired from the Air Force as a master sergeant, and she spent many happy childhood hours at the PX, the pool, the bowling alley, and the movie theater of McClellan Air Force Base in Sacramento, California. Both her sister and brother served in the Army, but Jo Ann has frittered away her time reading books and raising children. She holds a B.A. and M.A. in English from what were once stellar and inexpensive public universities in California (see how her political opinions creep in) and an MFA from Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon.  Her stories have appeared in Puerto del Sol, Pilgrimage, So to Speak, and elsewhere. She is currently working on a novel and a memoir. Jo Ann is featured in issue 300.1, Winter 2015.

Illustration: Jess Fink  is an illustrator and graphic novelist. She is the author of We Can Fix It, a Time Travel Memoir and Chester 5000 xyv (Top Shelf). Her work can also be found online at Fink is featured in issue 300.1, Winter 2015.

What Is Said by Hope Wabuke

On June 16, 1944, George Stinney, a fourteen-year-old black boy, was executed by the state of South Carolina for the murder of two white girls. George was so short he had to carry a Bible to use as a booster seat when sitting in the electric chair. He was so young the death mask would not fit his face. He took five full minutes to die, the mask slipping off to show his eyes melting, his body convulsing.

There was no evidence that George had committed the murders. There were no actual witnesses to the murders—in fact, George had an alibi for the whole day in question. The “confession,” which George denied having made and which had not been recorded or written down, was the fabrication of three white police officers. But after a single day trial, an all-white male jury returned a conviction and death sentence for the fourteen-year-old boy in less than twenty minutes. George’s family had been run out of town by its white citizens so that he did not even have the comfort of his mother’s arms in the days he was imprisoned before his one day trial and ensuing execution.


A few days ago, on December 17, 2014, the state of South Carolina overturned this conviction as wrongful and unjust.

On November 22, 2014, Tamir Rice, a young twelve-year-old black boy was playing in the park in Cleveland, Ohio. Police arrived and immediately opened fire on Tamir. In the minutes that the twelve-year-old boy was bleeding out onto the pavement, the shooting officers did not deign to attempt CPR and save his life. Tamir Rice died at the hospital a few hours later.

One cannot avoid the similarities in the cases of George and Tamir. Both black boys, both executed by the state without cause. One was given the farce of a “trial,” the other was not. We have regressed it seems, from allowing even that when it comes to black boys.

Tamir Rice’s shooting happened two days before a grand jury decided not to indict another white police officer for shooting another unarmed black boy named Mike Brown six times. I couldn’t process it. I understand this is what is called shock. I was numb. The only conscious thought I had was to love my two-year-old baby boy, love every minute with him because I did not know how many days until he, too, could be shot down to contain the “threat of his skin;” Aiyana Jones, a black girl, was seven and also unarmed when white police officers, again uncharged, shot and killed her.

That day of Tamir’s death, I heard the echo of June Jordan in my head saying that “self-love is the most revolutionary act.” My baby boy is the best part of myself. I would spend the day with him, loving him. I would take him to the park and his favorite places. That would be my protest.

We took baby boy’s buckets and shovels with us, and like magnets, a small group of boys flocked to us in the sandbox.  They looked so young, with their knocking knees and beautiful afros; I thought they were seven years old. “Are you in second grade?” I asked them. “No,” they told me, “we are in seventh.”

I did the math in my head and realized they were twelve. I remembered twelve was the age Tamir Rice was when he was shot. “Twelve,” I repeated. “Twelve.” They did not know why I started to cry. But they looked so young. They looked like babies. I was seeing their blooded brains and stomachs, bleeding out onto the playground.  Twelve, with a gun, shot down.


All that day I had moments of sudden tears, not crying, just water slipping out from my eyes.

In April, 2014, Cliven Bundy and a group of middle aged white men drew guns and yelled threats at federal agents and police officers. ‘I’ve got a clear shot at four,” one of Cliven Bundy’s men is reported as threatening.

Stated Assistant Sheriff Lombard: “They pointed weapons.” And: “we were outgunned and outmanned.” But Bundy and his men, unlike the unarmed black children, were not shot dead, or even arrested.

It is, you see, about unequal application of force and justice depending upon race. It is about police brutality and racial profiling.

Darren Wilson, the white cop who killed Mike Brown called him a “hulk,” a “demon.” A witness called him a nigger. This is how they see us. Not as human. It has been documented by psychological studies that black children are seen as more criminal and not as young as white children are perceived, and the police act with increased violence accordingly when facing black children.

When I was a young girl of color growing up in Los Angeles, California, I wanted to become a writer to help end the virulent racism and sexism I had experienced, beginning when a white classmate called me “nigger” and pushed me off the swings in second grade. But now, as a black mother of a black boy, the systematic, often state sanctioned acts of violence by white men upon black bodies have become realer to me than they have ever been.  Trayvon Martin, Aiyana Jones, Jordan Davis, Renisha McBride, John Crawford, Akai GurleyMike BrownTamir Rice. The list is endless. I realized that the only way I would be able to keep my son safe would be to use my writing to help make the world a safer place for black boys walking.

They call you a “political writer” then, as if that were a bad word. But everything is political. “Political” is only given a negative connotation when it is thrown at people of color for writing about our experience of living.


“How many of us have been told not to write about race? That, just by writing about your experience in the world as a black person your book is ‘too political’ and will not sell?” I asked my peers at the Junot Diaz’s Voices of Our Nations Arts Fellowship a year ago and nearly all of my brothers and sisters of color raised their hands.

I know I will be told this again and again—as does nearly every writer of color. It is said in workshop as critique, by those in the industry as dismissal. But that doesn’t matter because there are more important things. There are some things that need to be said. There are some moments in history when, if you are a writer and been gifted with this uncanny ability to observe and make meaning in harmonious forms, you have a responsibility to look. To bear witness. As Junot Diaz said at VONA: “those of us who have been systematically erased or marginalized throughout history have a right, a responsibility, to speak for those of us who now cannot.”

aslan and mommyHope Wabuke is a California based mom and writer. Her poetry appears or is forthcoming  in the North American Review, Kalyani Magazine, Fjords Literary Journal, Potluck Magazine, Ruminate Magazine, Literary Mama, Weave Magazine, Cease Cows, Split This Rock and joINT Literary. Her essays and criticism have been featured in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Salon, Gawker, The Root, Ms. Magazine, Los Angeles Magazine, The Daily Beast and Kirkus Reviews. She has received grants and fellowships from The New York Times, VONA Voices and the Barbara Deming Foundation. Follow Hope on Twitter @HopeWabuke. Hope is featured in issue 300.1, Winter 2015.

Illustrations by  Clay Rodery, an illustrator who lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Clay’s illustrations have been featured in the North American Review, most recently in issue 299.4, Fall 2014.