Two Poems from a Dream of Anna Akhmatova by Jacqueline Marcus

6-4.1Sort of a strange experience on the writing of these two poems. I was an avid reader of Anna Akhmatova’s poetry, but it’s been years since I’ve read her work. The other night I had a dream about her: I was in a dark café—probably the Stray Dog, a name that always stuck with me in the biography, where Russian poets would meet and read their poems. Akhmatova stood up on the stage. I was trying desperately to make out the words of the poem, but I couldn’t hear her. The only thing I could hear was the sound, the tone of her voice that was like a very sad cello. And her eyes, I remember her eyes—those huge, mournful eyes. I could vaguely remember the dream when I woke up at 4 am And then I sat down and wrote these two poems. Both were written in less than ten minutes. I didn’t touch a word.

Abandonment

Bent on the weather of distraction,
I watched the blackbirds from the large framed window
make their way to the northern sea for the last time.
I don’t know why I was feeling the need to go with them,
or why the rain spelled the music of elsewhere,
or if the moon signaled its lost joy, like a child’s drawing
that had been left in a box of memories. All I know
is that the time had come for the end of summer.
A cold sun pressed its palm against the pane of glass
as if my heart would shatter—
so many pieces of impossible nights, a splash of leaves, perhaps,
in a field of elegant trees…

There was no point.

There was only the sound of a lifetime,
diminished. It drifts across the sea and a million stars.

It has no destination.

You come to me, dear soul, in the middle of this winter,
stubborn as a fierce storm.

What exactly do you expect from me night after night?
You follow me like an abandoned dog.

Crimes against Humanity

In the awkward moment of farewells,
small talk, coffee, the clatter of silverware at the café,
we left our signatures beneath the prose of endearments.
The train muttered the sound of towns with its gray whistle and scarves,
a cold wind embraced the warmth of the fire.
No one could have guessed by now how the country had changed.
We were strangers passing through centuries of farms,
cobblestone streets and mothers hurrying with their children,
bargaining prices for fish, cabbage and flour for bread…
The train sang through fields of wheat. Each time
it entered the tunnel of years,
it was a new dawn.
I got off, and stepped down to the platform.

I could tell you what I saw through the steamy windows:
the faces of the young, the faces of the old—

and the long, dolorous smoke of what we’ve done to one another.


Jacqueline Marcus is the editor of Forpoetry.com and EnvironmentalPress.com.  She is a contributing guest writer for Buzzflash at Truthout.org.  She is the author of Close to the Shore by Michigan State University Press. Her e-book, Man Cannot Live on Oil, Alone: Time to end our dependency on oil before it ends us, is available at Kindle Books. She taught philosophy for twenty years at Cuesta College, San Luis Obispo, California. Her essays, “The Beauty of Sadness: An Essential Human Emotion Exiled in a War Society”, “Neruda”, and “How Nazism Shaped US War Policies: Thousands of SS War Criminals Recruited to the U.S. by CIA-Pentagon after WWII” appeared in the North American Review blog. Her new collection of poems, Summer Rains, has been accepted for publication at Iris Press.  


Illustration by Eric Piatkowski. Eric was raised in Arizona, and after a few years of working in theater, he switched gears and studied illustration at the Pratt Institute. Now in Des Moines, he splits his time between drawing, drawing, and more drawing. Give him a call, he just might be the perfect man for the job. Prints of artwork are available through Etsy at Eric Piatkowski Art. The illustration above is titled “Adrift” for a story in issue 299.2, Spring 2014.

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Crack by Amy Glynn

Amy Glynn gives us an excerpt from her in-progress essay collection “Knotweed, Bindweed, Crabgrass, Thorn: Field Notes on Making Your Bed and Lying in It, Bolting, Reaping What You Sow, and Other Useful Domestic Metaphors.” 

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I see humanity now as one vast plant, needing for its highest
fulfillment only love, the natural blessings of the great
outdoors, and intelligent crossing and selection.

Luther Burbank

The damned thing split right along the midline of one of the primary limbs. Cracked under its own weight.

Ham-fisted symbolism in this backyard has just gone far enough already. Things wither unexpectedly, things overproduce and go to waste. Things you nurture and encourage and coax into giving you fruit instead rot, drop dead, get gnawed by rats, stolen by morbidly obese squirrels, set a bunch of fruit and then pitch it all before it gets ripe. And I feel badly for the tree, because that splintering exposed heartwood looks painful, but I am aware of a brooding, smoldering sense of—what?

Say it. Betrayal.

I tended this tree. I put it in the ground, a sapling, a baby, small enough for me to carry with one hand. I have groomed and clipped and shaped and fed and harvested the thing for nine years. Why must it, like everything else in the world and on such obnoxiously, face-slap-obvious timing, break?

The plums dangle in huge clusters, rosy or bluish, softly glaucous and exuding a whispery, oddly amorous perfume—I don’t have another word for it; it’s a come-hither smell, a come-on-take-me smell. The tree is one of storied horticulturalist Luther Burbank’s most enduring masterpieces, a Japanese-hybrid plum called Santa Rosa. That you can also find them in any west coast supermarket made them relatively unattractive to me, but they were recommended as the best pollinizer for my fetish plum, a green-skinned, scarlet-fleshed “blood plum” called Satsuma, first sent to market (also by Burbank) in 1899. Look it up and you’ll see it says it’s commonly cultivated, but I find it elusive to nonexistent even in farmers markets. Truth be told, I did not push to come back to this county, in the valleys east of Oakland, for the “good” public schools. I came because of that plum. Childhood next-door neighbors had an overbearing beast of a Satsuma—who could imagine so much fruit from such a petite tree? Outrageous floods of them, all ripe at once, nothing for it but to learn to preserve, not to mention eat nothing but plums for three weeks. Refugee grocery bags of them found themselves on our front porch every summer. Because no one could eat them all.

I could, though. My parents kept saying I’d make myself sick. I never did. 

In typical fashion for this holy war I call a garden, the thing I had planted as a concession thrived. The thing I planted for love withered. Still, no complaints about the plum that lived. Santa Rosas require little care, bear heavily (sometimes overwhelmingly), and, maybe because they’re naturally full of serotonin or maybe just because they are idyll incarnate when conveyed directly from branch to mouth, they just make you happy.

Plants speak to us, however wild or trained they are, however apparently simple or complex. They just don’t use words—though I suspect they appreciate them. The plum’s message is this: be patient and you will be taken care of. Tend me and I will tend you. Abundance and want follow one another eternally, so stop right now and enjoy this. You won’t receive that message from a plum plucked from cold storage in your supermarket. It might still taste good, but it has been detached from its source for so long it no longer remembers what it was trying to say.

I am alone. The children are with their father. Sun and tree alike past apogee, trending downward. It is early evening, late June.

Early evening, late June. The air smells like mesquite smoke and chlorine and plums; warm from the sun, the tree exudes a kind of exotic yet eerily familiar perfume. It smells like renewal, like rot, like love.

It’s still 98 degrees outside, down from an unpleasant pinnacle of 105. The kids are in the swimming pool; water rebounds off tiles, chaotic small waves that catch the sun and throw little liquid sparks.

Laughter; husband playing pool games with kids, friends cracking jokes, the soft pop of the cork being pulled on another bottle of the insanely beautiful orange Roussanne made by friends of ours. The heat has its own sound; an arid, windless composite of air rising from the scorching pavement; of the sharp, chiding voices of the hummingbirds and of the whirring of their wings; of the low scraping of cicadas, the high distant scream of a red-tailed hawk; foliage wilting audibly in the garden; the gentle slap of water against the pool’s coping; all underscored by a profound and almost subsensory hum which seems to be the actual sound of radiation from the sun.

I am gathering plums in my skirt; now that the mercury’s back in double digits I’m going to brave the kitchen and make a tart. One of our friends trails me, gathering the ones I’m missing. The Satsuma is bothering me. Planted in the same soil on the same day, it is a quarter of the size of the Santa Rosa, and the fruits are fewer, tougher and smaller every year. This year I’m not even picking them. I can see its slow trajectory toward defeat, the tree kind that takes years of agonizing burnout. It still flowers and bears fruit and grows and drops leaves, but it will be dead within five years.

In spite of every conceivable intervention, so will my marriage.

 “My God,” my friend says. “Your garden is magic.”

Don’t get me wrong, this “magic” is the product of constant sweat and scratches and back spasms but still, yes, at the moment I think so too, how what I have managed to do with the trainwreck we bought is in fact amazing, that I criticize my failures to prune or weed or plant something in time far too harshly, and that I should learn to see what other people see, which is a sort of domestic paradise, part idyll, part micro-farm. My kids have never seen the inside of a McDonald’s, but they know which weeds you can eat and which ones are better left alone; they know what strawberries taste like when they’ve had a transit time of 3 seconds from stem to stomach, they know which beans are the Romanos and which are the Dragon’s Tongues. They can tell you when Meyer lemons ripen and which chicken lays which egg.

Everyone is the picture of pure voluptuous, indolent, summer-Sunday contentment.

What they don’t know is that once they drive off, my husband and I will not speak to each other. He will busy himself with putting the kids to bed and leave me with the dishes and the remarkable amount of recycling left in their wake.

They don’t know he will stay up watching the most inane television he can find so he does not have to go to bed with me.

They don’t know I’ll go to bed early to ensure I am asleep by the time he comes in because I know if he falls asleep first the snoring will cause me to stay up all night seething and fighting the urge to kick him awake.

They don’t know things have been cracking for so long I no longer remember what it felt like when they weren’t.

When my friend called the garden “magic,” she didn’t hear the sotto voce reply from the swimming pool, “Yes, there are lots of things with thorns. In places where people walk.” He has a knack for doing that in a way no one hears but me.

They don’t know it is always like this.

They don’t know it has almost always been like this.

Or has it? Am I making that up? Justification? Pathological focus on “the negative?” Am I crazy, wildly, violently unfair? Didn’t we love each other?

Didn’t we promise to? 

But here, now, it is a beautiful hot early summer Sunday, this group of our friends are gathered under our palm tree in our backyard and are about to be treated to a large amount of amazing food that was alive and growing hours or minutes ago, and I have plum juice all over my hands and my skirt and running down my chin like some beautiful simile about abundance and prosperity and plenty and sensuousness and the rewards of effort and no one knows. They don’t know the other me, the other him. They don’t know what happens when the door closes.

I’m not strong enough to pull the halves of the split branch together to try to bind them. I don’t want to call anyone for help. I am tired of needing help. I know this is wrong: none of us really accomplishes anything alone, at least not the big stuff. It’s one of the reasons we get married. Because you can do more that way, accomplish more, have someone with whom you share—oh, say it—the fruits of your labor.

Or I could leave it, pull the plums as soon as they’re ripe—I think they will still ripen —and then prune the branches and hope the thing scars over and heals, a lame limb, a broken limb, but—you know, still part of the tree. The entropy method. “Lassitude” or “Let Nature Take Its Course” depending on your perspective.

It might be the right move and it’s certainly the easiest. But to be honest, I’ve had it with broken things. I want all of them gone. Even if, as Leonard Cohen famously sang, “There is a crack in everything: that’s how the light gets in.”


Amy Glynn Headshot

Amy Glynn‘s poetry collection “A Modern Herbal” was published by Measure Press. Her work appears widely in journals and anthologies including The Best American Poetry. She has been the recipient of a James Merril House fellowship, Poetry Northwest’s Carolyn Kizer Award, and the Literal Latte Essay Award for 2014. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.


Illustration 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 and his most recent work will be in upcoming 300.3, Summer 2015. Find more of Anthony’s work at http://www.tremmaglia.ca/

Throwback Thursday featuring Roy Bentley from issue 293.2

“Funerals in the South” first appeared in issue 293.2, March-April 2008. It was a finalist in the James Hearst Poetry Prize in 2008.

DVD 731 GRIEF FOOD . (Mobile Register, John David Mercer) LIVING RELIGION

Funerals in the South

We didn’t sing “My Old Kentucky Home” or “Dixie,”
but we might as well have. Without fail, neighbors
poured in with Tupperware-sealed Texas sheet cakes,
Jello, to-die-for fried chicken, ham, pecan pie. Grief,
it turns out, swallows easier than you might think.
I can tell you now the adults scared us, the children,
opening their hearts to loss. The scariest of mourners
had to be Myrtle, my aunt, a holy-roller fond of saying
Satan had her by the throat—she called him Beelzebub,
as though a sort of respect or friendship had sprung up.
At the eulogy—hellfire and damnation were preached
over our dead who, byGod, had to listen—she’d raise
a bony arm to signify that the Holy Ghost, “the Spirit,”
was upon her. Sooner or later, shouting Je-sus! Je-sus!
until it echoed in the funeral home like a braking train
whose wheel-song of descent calls to mind journeys,

an end to journeying. If the casket was closed, she’d
pound a lid; if it was open, she’d take hold of a hand
or trace the rouged-and-powdered contours of a face.
Thankfully, she had limits. Mouths were sacrosanct.
No smooching the chill lips of the Departed. Which
I understood, even then: a body’s temperature after
embalming isn’t a thing to have register at any age.
If April is the cruelest month, then it’s always April
in some part of eastern Kentucky. I wanted to sing:
Weep no more my lady. Oh! Weep no more today!
But I was a kid. I sang what and when I was told.
If there’s a God, enthroned in some obscene palace,
weeping because one Cross and Savior isn’t enough,
not in the coal towns, then she was right to sign on
as cheerleader. If not, there’s the solace of food—
napkins under chins to catch the hallelujah crumbs.


Ohio, 2014

Roy Bentley has received fellowships from the NEA, the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs, and the Ohio Arts Council. Poems have appeared in The Southern Review, Shenandoah, Pleiades, Blackbird, North American Review, Prairie Schooner and elsewhere. Books include Boy in a Boat (University of Alabama, 1986), Any One Man (Bottom Dog, 1992), The Trouble with a Short Horse in Montana (White Pine, 2006), and Starlight Taxi (Lynx House 2013). He has taught creative writing and composition at universities and colleges throughout the Midwest and in Florida. These days, he teaches English and composition courses for Georgian Court University and lives in Barnegat, New Jersey. 

A Teaching Moment by Paul Crenshaw

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The assignment is this: explicate your favorite song as we have been explicating poetry for the last several weeks in Introduction to Literature. I get mostly the usual: Britney Spears or Kelly Clarkson from the sorority girls; some Dylan from the over-achievers who want to impress me with their dedication to the assignment; Grateful Dead from the long-haired kids; Jack Johnson or John Mayer from the girls with bare midriffs and navel rings. I want them to understand literature through lyrics, to assess the world through words, but they’ve mostly cut-and-pasted, clinging to cliché and settling on summary instead of searching for any meaning in the song.  

E– brings in a song by Rascal Flatts in which a high school girl has cancer. During her chemotherapy treatments she loses her hair. She is worried about, among many other things, how she will look for her prom, but on prom night her boyfriend shows up with his head shaved in hopes of allaying her fears. The song, E– tells us, is based on a true story.

5-27 nurse

She also tells us that she has recently been diagnosed with cervical cancer. She flies home every weekend for chemotherapy treatments. She leaves my class at 4pm Thursday and boards an airplane for home, where she will be hooked to a machine that pumps poison through her veins and drains all her energy and sends her spinning to the restroom every few hours to kneel on the tiled floor and empty herself of everything. On Monday she flies back and attends her classes. She is afraid of, among many other things, losing her hair.

My class claps quietly after she has finished speaking. We sit stunned through the Dixie Chicks, Billy Joel, Don Henley. In the hallway outside the classroom E– is waiting for me. She is smiling. She is young, twenty perhaps. She apologizes to me for failing the assignment. She says she couldn’t remember everything she wanted to say, so she only summarized the song. She missed the bigger meaning, she says.   

I hold out the part of her presentation she handed in, and that I read biting the inside of my mouth hard enough to bring blood while the rest of my students were struggling through their songs. “You had it all written down.”

5-27

She is twenty, young, perhaps dying. I am thirty-one. I drink too much on the weekends and worry about my job, whether I am accomplishing anything in the classroom. I worry if my wife and I are eating right and exercising enough, if we are putting enough money away for our children’s college funds, if we can afford to fly home this summer, where I can buy a new CD with lyrics I haven’t listened to.

“I didn’t present it right,” she says. “I guess I was afraid.”

Looking at her I am thinking about fear: the fear of losing your hair, losing weight, losing your life. About drugs that run rampant through your body, changing moods and balances and outlooks. About cells that multiply and mutate and take over. About being twenty years old and flying home every weekend to sit in a cancer ward while trying to find the greater significance in some stupid assignment an adjunct literature professor has given you, yet still being scared of standing in front of a class and explaining what a few words might mean beyond the surface of a page or the lyrics of a song.

But I don’t say any of that. Like my students, I cling to cliché. I settle for summary.

“Don’t worry,” I tell her. “You’re doing fine.”


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Paul Crenshaw’s stories and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Best American Essays, anthologies by W.W. Norton and Houghton Mifflin, Glimmer Train, Ecotone, North American Reviewand Brevity, among others. He lives in Greensboro, NC with his wife and two daughters.


Illustrations 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 and his most recent work (top illustration featured above) will be in upcoming 300.3, Summer 2015. Find more of Anthony’s work at http://www.tremmaglia.ca/

Can Books Fly? by John Smolens

truckAs a kid, I had a recurring dream that now seems Dali-esque. What I recall is images, grossly out of shape, out of proportion, and in odd relation to one another. There was always the truck, an eighteen-wheeler. One moment I was inside the dark, cavernous trailer, while the next moment I was outside the truck and it was small, like my own toy trucks. The only “human” image I recall in this dream was a thumb. (Freudians just shut up and go away.) And there were other images, things gleaned from childhood, a life of being small, a life of crawling and toddling on the floor, a life of looking up: a chair, a coffee table, curtains that extended from the floor to an incredibly high ceiling. But the most vivid image in this dream was the book. Periodically, it would fly overhead, spine skyward, pages flapping in the languid fashion of a bird with a substantial wing span. We are defined by questions, I suspect, and as a result of this dream a question that has been central to my existence all these years is Can books fly?

flying-books

Sometimes we say, when sales are brisk, books “fly off the shelf,” but with the demise of brick and mortar book stores, the simple, pleasurable act of entering a book store, perusing its shelves, not in search of a specific title necessarily, but just looking, has all but disappeared. Used to be that when visiting a new town or city, you’d keep your eye out for book stores. A good book store in an unfamiliar town was a haven of contemplative quiet which smelled of paper, the quality stuff in a new hardback, mingling with the brittle, yellowed pulpy stuff you’d find in used paperbacks with cracked spines. Very often the pleasure of being in a book store was not knowing what you were looking for, but hoping that, because you were in a book store, the exact right book would reveal itself to you and leap—or fly—off the shelf into your waiting hands. Call it a leap of faith.

When books aren’t being bought and sold, they’re often given away. (Or purloined, if you heeded Abbie Hoffman’s advice regarding his book entitled Steal This Book.) Books are loaned, lent, thrust into your hands by a fanatic with Rasputin eyes, proclaiming, You must read this!” A few days ago I was on Plum Island, which is north of Boston, and I stopped at an establishment that had a sign in the window which read Beer Wine Help Wanted (no ordinary sign, this might be, for some, a philosophy, or a mantra). I discovered that though the establishment was closed someone had put a cardboard box outside the door with Free Books writ large on the side in black Marks-a-Lot. I sorted, I sifted: lots of Clive Cussler; several romance novels, which from the cover art might be classified as Bodice Ripper Lite. But then I found it—or them. Toward the bottom of the carton were two copies of The Great Gatsby. Both paperbacks in excellent condition; both sporting the famous original cover art featuring the sad yellow eyes (the pupils gimleting naked nubile women) peering out from the tear-stained deep blue field above what might be a carnival or city lights. Though over the years I have had several copies of Fitzgerald’s novel, I took one copy from the carton, because you can never have enough copies of Gatsby; you can never read it enough times. It’s a book from which one can’t help selecting sentences that resonate far beyond Gatsby and the world of East and West Egg:

“Conduct may be founded on hard rock or the wet marshes but after a certain point I don’t care what it’s founded on.”

“To a certain temperament the situation might have seemed intriguing—my own instinct was to telephone immediately for the police.”

“Something was making him nibble at the edge of stale ideas as if his sturdy physical egotism no longer nourished his peremptory heart.”

And though the novel’s concluding sentence is justifiably one of the most memorable in our literature, it is the first line that sets Nick Carraway’s narrative in motion with such grace and conviction:

“In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.”

Like the book I found in that carton, his father’s advice, offered in the next paragraph, was free.

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Books are often associated with freedom; a book that is given, whether it’s a gift or is left in a box marked Free Books, is a unique expression of freedom. When they’re banned, when they’re burned, our sense of a just freedom is not only compromised but threatened. In recent years, there has been a tendency for people to place what are often called Little Free Libraries outside their homes. According to Conor Friedersdorf, who wrote about this phenomenon in The Atlantic, these “Give one, take one” Little Free Libraries began in Wisconsin in 2009, when a man established one outside his house in honor of his deceased mother, an avid reader, and the notion has since spread throughout the country. Some Little Free Libraries are compact architectural gems, sporting shingled roofs and handsome glass doors, which make it easier to peruse titles without exposing the books to inclement weather. Leaving books outside of one’s house is a matter of freedom of expression, yet there are people who, in the thrall of civic-minded idiocy, take exception to such exchanges. In many communities they have registered complaints with the local constabulary, citing building code violations and zoning laws. Friedersdorf continues that there’s a certain type of American who is determined to regulate every last aspect of community life. Due to selection bias, they are overrepresented among local politicians and bureaucrats. And so they have power, despite their small-mindedness, inflexibility, and lack of common sense so extreme that they’ve taken to cracking down on Little Free Libraries, of all things.

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Somewhere inside every avid reader resides an unremitting, unrepentant dreamer, one who knows that books can fly, one who knows that the fate of free books will not be determined by impassioned letters to the editor or incensed diatribes at community zoning board meetings. Such dreamers know that the solution is in the air. Rather than stacking volumes in a cardboard box or some weekender’s building project, we need only to stand in the front yard and hurl books skyward, allowing them to glide and wheel and circle overhead, always just within reach of innocent, unsuspecting passersby.


John Smolens short story “The End of the World” appeared in the North American Review (Winter 2013). His new novel Wolf’s Mouth will be published spring 2016.


First Illustration Link
Second Illustration Link

Third and fourth illustration by: Gigi Rose Gray, an illustrator born and raised in New York City where she received her BFA in illustration from Parsons New School for Design. She now resides in sunny Los Angeles. Her works are inspired by the grace and elegance of women, mid-century design, french renaissance interiors, the colors olive green and mustard yellow, dreams, cypress trees, Greco-Roman art, and nostalgia. 

Poetry and Other Cities by Tobias Wray

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Notes on “The Archeology of Music” from issue 300.2, Spring 2015

My father had a certain expression on his face whenever he played. His eyebrows arched high on certain notes and his forehead would round and dip in anticipation of a run. The correct embouchure for a clarinetist tightens the lips and flattens the chin into the comic appearance of a chimpanzee communicating a dramatic feeling. Yet, he seemed the most himself then—much more accessible somehow than the stormy man who complained about the state of the kitchen or the rudeness of store clerks. Here was a man who existed only once his case opened and the first note filled the room.

5-19.2

Here is a city you used to live in, one you are only returning to now after many absent years. The towering buildings seem familiar, as does the scent rustling over the streets, but it is another city you know, a city that has already ended. I haven’t spoken to my father for years now. There are no adequate explanations for such things, except that he left and his leaving has stayed. I remember tiptoeing past his practice sessions in the living room, afraid my distraction would draw his haunting notes to a halt, the authority his clarinet imbued on space. The sound of rustling sheet music and the angular towers of stacked CDs carve at the edges of my childhood. Music for me is a world of artifacts, physical yet emptied. What is left to us but to wander the city and to leave it strange?

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I imagine that I remember the music as it was, distinctly. Of course, it is more than its pitch, its demarcations of sound—the idea of a sound shaped by memories since. Poetry is often like that, too, something more than lost, more than artifact. In 2011, I went to a lecture on the Tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng, which was buried for over 2,400 years, famous for its set of unique bells and other instruments. The unburying of the site is what captured me, the careful way we are always rediscovering our own histories. The insinuation of archeology, that nothing made should be lost, appealed—that a sound might wait so long to be heard, how it seems so inevitable once it is. It touched on a desire I hardly knew I had, to hear my father play again. It is as much what we bring back to the site as it is what we pull.

 Everything we know has been recovered. This is what we fill the cavity with, our recovery. 


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Tobias Wray is a poetry editor for the cream city review. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Third Coast, Blackbird, Bellingham Review, The Fourth River and elsewhere. He’s been a finalist for the Black Warrior Review Poetry Contest and the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing Fellowship. He holds an MFA in poetry and translation from the University of Arkansas and is a doctoral candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.


Illustrations by: Allen Forrest. Born in Canada and bred in the U.S., Allen Forrest works in many media: oil painting, computer graphics, theater, digital music, film, and video. Allen studied acting at Columbia Pictures in Los Angeles, digital media in art and design at Bellevue College (receiving degrees in Web Multimedia Authoring and Digital Video Production). He lives and works in Vancouver, B.C.

Why I Do This by Eric Barnes

In one of the best rejection letters I’ve ever gotten, an agent told me recently, I honestly don’t have a clue who’d be a viable publisher for this.

A line like that is a condemnation of sorts. In 2015, this agent goes on to declare, there is no market for the kind of literary fiction I am trying to write.

That she said this about a manuscript I spent nearly three years writing means I should feel some heavy mix of defeat and depression. Hopelessness and hatred.

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I don’t feel that.

I should. I really should.

But I don’t.

I’ve been doing this for a very long time now—this being the seemingly endless act of sending queries to agents and short stories to editors and manuscripts to book publishers and in return receiving, far more often than not, rejections that vary from the generic to the cruel to the inane to the insightful.

In the fray of all of this rejection, I can say that I’ve had some successes. Two novels published. Nearly thirty short stories in journals and magazines. Agents of note who signed me on and agents unknown who nonetheless committed everything they could to my writing.

None of it, though, has been what I want. I’ve never been reviewed in The New York Times. Never published a story in The New Yorker. Never made more than a token amount of money.

I know writers who’d kill for the successes—such as they are—that I’ve had. I should, in that sense, accept and be happy with what I have done.

But this is a cruel business, where moments of achievement are either very rare or very fleeting or are shared only with yourself, alone in the dark or well-lit room where you work.

My first short story was published more than twenty years ago. My first novel was published more than fifteen years after I committed to writing seriously. Two novels I’ve written have gone unpublished, rejected by publishing houses of every possible size.

The time has gone by more quickly than I can honestly calculate.

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Why do I do this?

Two different agents that signed me up then left me in limbo for years before giving up on my writing after a mere handful of rejections. I never read more than the first fifty pages, one agent admitted after sending me a letter that said he was, immediately, dropping me from his list.

And he—like the other agent who kept my manuscript for nearly three years and finally wrote to say he’d sent it to just six editors during that time, who said this while also dropping me from his list—was a big name agent. An agent whose writers you know very well. An agent who, if you are a writer and he offered to represent you, you’d say without the slightest hesitation, Yes, of course, do whatever you want, take as much time as you need. Yes. Please, yes. I’ll be having a celebratory drink in the bar, yes and yes, this is it, the one. Yes.

Yes.

Why do I do this?

The number of rejections of short stories I’ve written totals far more than one thousand.

One thousand No’s. Some stories rejected fifty or sixty times before they were published. Other stories still out there. Other stories given up on, filed away in a folder where they will stay from now on. An inbox—and prior to that a physical mailbox—filled with form letter dismissals.

The number of rejections I’ve received from agents totals in the hundreds—plus the one I just received while typing this post.

Why do I do this?

The answer is longer than I can possibly explain. The answer, in truth, is something I’ve never fully articulated to myself.

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There’s ego. That’s part of it. If a writer tells you otherwise, you ought to be skeptical.

I keep writing because The Millions called my second novel remarkable.

I keep writing because a short story of mine was later picked up in one of the Best American series.

I keep writing because after more than a decade of being rejected by the North American Review, they suddenly said yes to one of my short stories.

Because Steve Almond published a short story of mine, telling me—nearly one hundred years ago, as we talked via landline between South Carolina and my first kitchen in Memphis—I told my students this is how you fucking want to fucking write.

Because a friend of one of my wife’s best friends had one of his friends in San Francisco hand him a copy of my first novel and say, Dude, you need to read this book.

(That he said dude only made my joy that much greater.)

Ego. Exposure. The knowledge that there are—finally, actually, maybe, always—people out there who’ve read the words I’ve spent so much time and energy stringing together.

Maybe that’s why the “email” from the agent telling me, in effect, there is no publisher for my new novel didn’t depress me more. She had some kind words for what I’d written – just a few, but they were kind and they accurately captured the intent of what I had written. The agent called me talented, said my work is inventive, compared the manuscript to Kafka as she described it as a dystopian, surreal fable of sorts.

All of that made me happy. All of it, I think, is true.

Or maybe, sadly, I’m just that desperate for praise. Token praise, probably, meant simply to soften the blow of rejection.

But also I think I liked that agent’s email because it was honest. The business of publishing, she has in effect said, does not have a place for me.

Maybe it should.

But it doesn’t.

That much, at this point, is painfully clear.

Ours is not an industry that is big on fiction as social commentary, she wrote, except when cloaked in the [guise] of a commercial novel.

There’s a formula behind this, a multi-layered puzzle maybe, or a maze of rooms and hallways and doorways to navigate.

Whatever the analogy, I’ve yet to solve it.

So I keep chasing agents for my work and publishers for my novels and editors for my stories. Another big name agent has asked to see my new novel. An agent who’s interested seems to be up and coming in the industry. There’s a Canadian agent who might be a gateway to a better, less commercial, more artistically accepting publishing landscape (but who, it turns out, would reject me while I was still writing this post).

Why do I do this?

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It’s a thought that haunts me every day. Every time I sit down to write. Every time I receive another rejection of any sort.

But then I tell myself there are other Canadian agents.

I tell myself there are good books published all the time.

I tell myself the story, the novel, the paragraph I’ve just finished is certainly the best I have ever written in my life.

I tell myself there are people who have enjoyed the things I have published and who will want to read more of what I write.

If only I can find a way to get the words in front of them.


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Eric Barnes is the author of the novels Shimmer, an IndieNext Pick from Unbridled Books, and Something Pretty, Something Beautiful from Outpost19, which The Millions called a “remarkable book … where cars are freedom, stories are everything, and home is thick with ghosts. ”

Additionally, Eric has published nearly thirty short stories in publications such as North American Review, Prairie Schooner, The Literary Review, Best American Mystery Stories, and more.

Eric is publisher of newspapers in Memphis and Nashville that cover business, politics and most things in between. Additionally, he hosts and co-produces a local news talk show on public television. In the past, Eric was a reporter and editor in Connecticut and New York. Years ago he drove a forklift in Tacoma, Washington, and then Kenai, Alaska, worked construction on Puget Sound, and, many years ago, graduated from the MFA writing program at Columbia University. Eric’s story “One Day, One Week, An Hour” appears in issue 298.2, Spring 2013.

More at www.ericbarnes.net and on Twitter at @ericbarnes2.


ldNX3rfo (2)Illustrations by: Rob Dobi is an editorial illustrator from CT.

“For the past decade I have been designing merchandise for the biggest bands in the world, photographing the decaying ruins of the northeast, working on his t-shirt brand Fullbleed, co-running the apparel design community at Mintees and poking fun at hipster stereotypes.  Lately my focus has been on editorial illustration, providing media outlets with meaningful work similar to the style I have been honing in the music industry for the past ten years. I have a BFA in illustration from RISD and currently reside in Connecticut with my wife Christina and dog Buddy.”

Concerning “Man in Flower” by Brian Patrick Heston from issue 300.2

Man in Flower” was an Honorable Mention in the 2015 James Hearst Poetry Prize contest.

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With “Man in Flower,” I was attempting something of an urban pastoral. Yet rather than celebration, I was interested in something more detached, where wild nature could take precedence in a place, the city, which we usually attribute to civilization. However, since detachment is so foreign to how we humans experience the world, I decided the scene needed some form of human presence, but not a living presence, because a living human would ultimately take over the landscape both physically and metaphorically. The man in the poem is dead because death has a way of lifting our veil of illusion. When we bury bodies, we do not see the equalizing force of decay. Yet, what happens to the man in the poem is exactly what goes on once we are buried in the earth. I wanted to present the man, objectively, as dissolving organic matter that feeds other organic matter. Ultimately, I am attempting to explore a vision of a connected nature, where nothing is wasted and everything, including human bodies, are transformative matter.

The last layer of metaphor I hoped to get across in the poem was the very fragility of civilization itself. Though it may be the greatest invention of the human species, it is never far from collapsing under the immense weight of all the demands we put on it. Countless civilizations before us have disappeared, and before their disappearances, the inhabitants of those civilizations felt just as secure, just as indestructible as many of us do today. Therefore, the poem borders on the apocalyptic, but I hope it resists apocalypse because nature once again reclaims the cityscape.

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The man might be dead, but everything else continues to live, which is very much something we seemed to have forgotten in our mad rush to set wider and wider boundaries between our civilization and the rest of the nature we share the planet with. So, I guess, in the end, I wanted to write a poem of recognition rather than a warning. Warnings seem too human-centric and only end with a fear that moves us to protect ourselves. Recognition, though, offers us so much more than fear. It offers us understanding, and in this particular case, the understanding that polluting and destroying the nature that sustains us is not only foolhardy, but also ungrateful. We have had the privilege to exist on a tiny blue oasis in the middle of frigid airlessness. It has given us oranges, sex, and Paris. It has allowed us sunny stoop and porch days filled with birdsong and the scent of baking pizza, and if there’s one thing our probes sent into the abyss of space have communicated back, it’s that nothing of what we have here can be found out there.

We are, as far as we know, stranded on an island, but unlike Crusoe, we do not long for England because there is no England. There is only the island for as far as the mind can fathom. And here we remain blissfully ignorant of how truly rare we really are.   


Man in Flower

The man lies in the tall grass by the old railroad yard.
No one walks this way anymore, it’s moon-filled
and sun-stilled. Trains haven’t run here since before
the bicentennial. Weedy trees rise up around the man
like a jungle, or barley waiting for the farmer’s scythe.

A white flower has burrowed its way through his temple,
blossoming from his bottom eye. He is man with flower
now/man-flower. Above him, in the ratty leaves
of an ash, starlings have made a noisy nest. Each day,
they speckle him. Seeds also gather, stubby sprouts

already rising from his thin jacket, his faded jeans,
the loose skin of his face. His body will be safe
for a while. But once covered in grass, in the heaviness
of daisies, everything the man is will shrink, flatten out,
until what remains is a field where no one ever goes.


Brian Patrick Heston grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His poems have won awards from the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Foundation, the Robinson Jeffers Tor House Foundation, and the Lanier Library Association. His first book, “If You Find Yourself,” won the Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award and is available from Main Street Rag Publishing. He is also the author of the chapbook, “Latchkey Kids,” which is available from Finishing Line Press. His poetry and fiction have appeared in such publications as Many Mountains Moving, Rosebud, West Branch, Harpur Palate, 5AM, The Spoon River Poetry Review, Poet Lore, South Carolina Review, River Styx, and is upcoming in Borderlands, Tampa Review, and Canary. Presently, he is a Ph.D. candidate in Literature and Creative Writing at Georgia State University.


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 issues 298.4, 299.1, 299.3 and the most recently is in issue 299.4, Fall 2014 and most recently 300.2, Spring 2015.

Happy Mother’s Day

Happy Mother’s Day to all mother’s out there from the North American Review.

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Did you know that Mother’s Day was first celebrated in 1908, when Anna Jarvis held a memorial for her mother at St Andrew’s Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia, which now holds the International Mother’s Day Shrine? It was her campaign to make “Mother’s Day” a recognized holiday in the United States that began in 1905, the year her beloved mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis, died. Anna’s mission was to honor her own mother by continuing work she started and to set aside a day to honor mothers, “the person who has done more for you than anyone in the world”.

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On May 9, 1914 Woodrow Wilson signed the proclamation creating Mother’s Day as a national holiday and “as a public expression of love and reverence for the mothers of our country.”

Today, the United States and most countries celebrate Mother’s day ion the Second Sunday of May but not all. For more information on when your country celebrates Mother’s day click here.


Ruby Nerio Barron is originally from San Antonio, Texas, who is currently attending theUniversity of Northern Iowa in pursuit of her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. Ruby ultimately wants to work for the Department of Corrections as a Mental Health Counselor as well as a Psychologist. She wants to make a difference in the rehabilitation process of inmates who are in the prison system. Passionate about all aspects of psychology, Ruby also has “mucho amor” for reading, writing and all sorts of literature. She adores working for North American Review as the Social Media Coordinator, Intern and when needed volunteer. Ruby resides in Cedar Falls, Iowa

“Throwback Thursday” featuring Annie Dillard by Amanda Husak

Weasel of Memories 

In light of our Bicentennial Creative Writing and Literature Conference June 11-13, 2015, I’d like to introduce a piece from one of our very own contributors, Annie Dillard. Annie is best known for her narrative prose in fiction and nonfiction

Her pieceFive Sketchesexplores the notions of religion, behavior, and the perception of self. This piece is featured in the North American Review Vol. 260, No. 2, Summer, 1975. Dillard also published “At Home with Gastropods,” Vol. 263, No. 1, Spring, 1978. (Below is the original piece “Five Sketches” which was published in 1975.)

Dillard’s honest narrative and memoir won her the Pulitzer Prize for Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974) and An American Child (1984).

ottawadetDillard’s personal essay “Living Like Weasels” found its way into my nonfiction class this semester. This was the first time I had read any of her work. I was captivated by the way Dillard developed scene and held the reader’s attention with her simple language over her encounter with nothing other than a weasel. Her description of the way weasels slaughter their prey by “either splitting the jugular vein at the throat or crunching the brain at the base of the skull,” came alive. The weasel does not seem to release its grip.

I first encountered a real weasel when I was eleven. A family friend had given us four adult yellow and black ducks to accompany the other animals on my family’s farm.  We had only had them for a week when a midnight visitor squeezed its way into one of the holes of the old building the ducks were temporarily housed in. When my father awoke the next morning to check them, he found not a single survivor. My father warned me not to look. I snuck open the door anyway to find the chewed and bloody necks of four ducks.

However, Dillard’s essay is not just about weasels. It’s also about not letting go. About finding something to sink our teeth into. To gnaw on just for a bit. It’s about your deceased grandmother’s cubic zirconia ring or that coveted Boston Celtics jersey you can not seem to let go. It’s about attachment. It’s realizing your current life is partially married to the things of the past. As Dillard writes, life is about either living in necessity or in choice. We can’t help but become like the weasel—holding on to what we think will sustain us but only leaves us searching for more. Therefore, our whole lives become shaped upon what changes us and what we change ourselves. Are we more like the weasel or what the weasel latches onto? Do we cling to things, like I do to my grandmother’s ring? Are we okay with giving that jersey away to someone who claims to be an even bigger fan?

insideWhat parts of our past are we going to divorce and let go of? What parts are we going to marry and remarry again and again? If it were up to me, I’d divorce my thumb from that cubic zirconia ring. I’d get rid of the physical proof that seems to weigh me down. Instead I’d travel back in time and remarry that memory of my grandma showing me her jewelry collection. That is where the true beauty lies. So marry your memories. Remarry them again and again.

Annie Dillard’s writing appeared in the North American Review in 1975, the year she won the Pulitzer Prize in general nonfiction. In both “Five Sketches” and “Living Like Weasels,” she reveals much larger truths than what the reader finds explicitly on the page. I hope you, as future readers of Dillard’s insightful work, can appreciate the same.

Below is the original piece “Five Sketches” which was published in 1975, Vol. 260, number 2. 

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Amanda Husak is a volunteer for the North American Review and is earning her undergraduate in English Education at the University of Northern Iowa. Amanda’s work has been published in the 2014 issue of Timber Creek Collections.


Illustrations are by Anthony Tremmaglia. HE is an Ottawa-based illustrator, artist, and educator. His clients include WIRED, Scientific American, Smart Money, HOW, and San Francisco Weekly.


Coincedently, it is also Annie Dilliard‘s birthday today and we here at the North American Review would like to wish Annie a very, merry, Happy Birthday. Thank you again for your contribution and becoming apart of our editioral family.

The Personal is Confessional by Metta Sáma

& so what.

This is personal. In 1993 and again in 1994 I was pregnant. By two different guys. One was my guy (’93) and one belonged to someone else (’94). Before I knew I was pregnant – pregnancy one and pregnancy two – my parents knew. My dad dreamt about fish and my mother looked into my face. By pregnancy two it didn’t affect me, that someone could dream my pregnancy into reality (not existence, just into the speakable & spoken word), that someone could look into my face and see a pregnancy. Pregnancy 1, however. . .

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A friend who had been pregnant and had a child said of her pregnancy that her body became a publicly consumable object. An object. For consumption. Of consumption. A free-to-consume body. Think of all of the times your own hands have reached towards a pregnant woman’s stomach. Without her permission. How many times your mouths opened to form the obvious pronouncement: you’re pregnant. How many times your eyes rested on a pregnant woman’s stomach and had thoughts travel from your brain to the woman’s body? How many of those pregnant women were strangers?

Pregnancy 1: my mother said to me: you need to go ahead and tell us. What could I tell them that I didn’t know? She said: your father has been waiting for you to tell him. She said: he thinks you’re trying to hide it. She said: your father’s been dreaming of fish again. And this is how I discovered my own pregnancy. My father dreamt of fish. My mother looked into my face. Who else could see it? Who else had seen it? How long did I have before the side-eying strangers would see it? Before the baby bump? That little bump that gives permission to say it, to see, it to touch it.

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When l think of the monster Argus, I think of the man, the young man, the teenager, the adolescent, the child, the toddler, the infant, the fetus, Argus. How easily my eyes travel to the interior. The uterus that provided shelter for the fetus. All of the eyes forming inside of the body. The eyes outside of the body. The fetus’s eyes. The community’s eyes. The storm of eyes. The congress of eyes. The rumor of eyes. The gaggle of eyes. The murder of eyes. Mine. Theirs. His. Yours. What is it like to be the pregnant woman? The body of consumption. For consumption. The freeto-consume body. The woman who is hyper woman. The woman who is no longer woman. Who is object. Objectified. Pedestaled. Whose pedestal is burnt while she teeters on it. The pregnant woman who is made Mother before she becomes a mother. The pregnant woman who is judged, castigated, brandished, branded before she becomes a mother.

What is the story of Eve before Cain and Abel? The story of a fallen woman. What is the story of Eve before The Fall? The story of a rib. Who was Mary before her body was burdened with the body of Christ. No imagined being. Who was Mycene before the monster Argus was slain? No imagined being.

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What a tragedy. To bear the body of a child whose 100 eyes will be the death of him. Whose 100 eyes will watch her imagine her construct, her deconstruct, her reconstruct, her deconstruct. Whose 100 eyes will overshadow the woman who bore him. The woman who was no one until after the making of the monster. Life in reverse.

My eyes, your eyes, the community’s eyes, the fetus’s eyes, the writer’s eyes.

Here is a different title to this piece:  To Dream Mycene I Became Mycene.


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Metta Sáma is author of Nocturne Trio (YesYes Bøøks2012) and South of Here (New Issues Press 2005 (published under her legal name, Lydia Melvin)). Her poems, fiction, creative non-fiction, & book reviews have been published or forthcoming in Blackbird, bluestem,Bone Boquet, Drunken Boat, The Drunken Boat, entropy, Esque, hercricle, Jubilat, Kweli, The Owls, Pebble Lake Review, Pyrta, Reverie, Sententia, Transitions among others. le animal & other strange creatures will appear from Miel Books later this year. Sáma is Assistant Professor & Director of Creative Writing and Director of the Center for Women Writers at Salem College.