A Special Saturday featuring “STANDING DEADWOOD” by Thomas M. Atkinson from 294.3-4

Thomas M. Atkinson’s short story “Standing Deadwood” was featured in issue 294.3/4, spring/summer 2009. This is the first half of the story and the conclusion will be posted tomorrow, Sunday June 7, 2015.

“STANDING DEADWOOD”

The raccoon took a crap in my truck last night. Inside the cab, in the cup-holder. I was still a little bleary this morning and my coffee thermos wouldn’t sit straight so I kept trying to push it down. That’s how my day started. That and a sore knee. He must have dropped down out of the pine and pushed in the cardboard I had over the busted rear window. I can’t remember what Gwen threw to break that out. Back when she still had the strength to throw stuff and hadn’t pawned everything in the house worth throwing.

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Some night if I can stay awake long enough, I’m going to put out a can of Super Seafood Supper cat-food and when he’s fat and happy and licking out the bottom of the  can, I’ll shoot that little fucker right through his eye, just so he knows it was me. Skin him out and hang his carcass in a tree to warn off his buddies. I’m starting to believe the house was built on sacred ground, cursed by a great Ohio chief like Cornstalk, right before one of my wife’s relatives cut off his nut-sack for a tobacco pouch. I don’t know what else would explain everything going insane, even the animals. My great grandmother was Shawnee, and claimed an unbroken bloodline back to Black Wolf, who
raided up and down the Big Sandy and Tug Fork, down into Virginia and crossing the big
river up into this part of Ohio, killing the men and babies, stealing the women, and
trading the children to faraway tribes. But besides black hair thick as fishing line, which I
passed on to my daughter, and being a sorry, sloppy, and cheap drunk, I don’t see it when
I look in the mirror. That’s why I can’t ever catch him, because by my third beer I’m
either drooling on the sofa or I’m out on a tear chasing down Gwen.

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This time last year I got the ladder to clean the leaves and needles out of the gutters. Blocked gutters in the winter can cause ice dams and do all kinds of damage. I was a roofer for seventeen years right out of high school, back before the Mexicans started doing it for free, and I got nothing to show for it except bad knees and a shingle hatchet under the seat of my truck that slides out if I brake too hard. Now I work at the
discount tire place over on Route 4. Down the whole length of gutter on the east side of the house, every six inches, like he had a tape measure, were little piles of raccoon turds. Not piles that had been on the roof and got washed in by the rain, but direct deposits. In the quiet hours of the night, a raccoon is climbing on my roof just so he can hang his fat ass off and crap in my gutter. I don’t know why. There’s a square hole in the front porch where there used to be a rail post and he likes to go in there too. Last August he took a dump in the swimming pool of Amber’s Barbie Wee Three Friends Splash Splash Splash Play set and chewed off the little blue plastic umbrella. She and the Wee Three Friends were already living with my sister up outside Akron by then so we both didn’t have to watch her mom go bat-shit crazy every couple of days. She asks about it every time I call,
and if she doesn’t forget about it soon I’ll have to get my mother-in-law to find a used one on the eBay to send her for Christmas.

When I got to work Billy was already out in the service truck and Grimace was
climbing up out of the pit from underneath an old BMW.

He said, “Hey, Chief.” But it didn’t really sound any more like Chief this morning
than it did any other morning. Billy named him Grimace after that purple thing in the old
McDonald’s commercials. A few years back, the batch of meth he was cooking blew up
in his face, so like the original, he has no ears or nose to speak of and what’s left of his
lips are pulled back so tight he has a hard time closing them around words or food. Every
morning his senile mother paints eyebrows on the angry purple skin and he lets her
because it was her house that got burned to the ground. They change a little each day and
sometimes it can take hours to put your finger on just what mood he looks like he’s in.
But not today.

I said, “Concerned. You look concerned.”
Grimace said, “Really?”

He’s not big on mirrors and each morning it’s up to me to let him know how it
turned out. He thought a moment and said, “Yeah, I am. But I wonder how she knows?”

More often than not, Ma Grimace’s work with the eyeliner pencil seems to
capture what’s going on behind the hillbilly Botox.

I said, “Mothers know these things.” And there was a time that I believed that,
back before Gwen left Amber alone with only a cigarette smoldering in the shag carpet to
keep her company.

Grimace worked his chin against the pull of scar tissue and said, “They’s holding
a driver’s side caliper for me over at the Beemer store. Hey, you know the difference
‘tween a BMW and a porcupine?”

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Counting Billy, I’d heard it at least twice for every BMW we’d ever put tires on, but it was so painful to watch him get out “porcupine” that I just said, “Seems like I’ve
heard this one.”

He said, “Porcupine has the pricks on the outside.”

Grimace’s laugh would scare Christ down off the cross.

He said, “If you go get it for me, I’ll fix that flat that’s waiting on you. Billy don’t
have to know.”

Billy likes Grimace to take care of his own work, even if that means a customer
lounge full of staring strangers on his way to a parts counter. Me, I don’t mind helping
him out.

I said, “Is that it?”
He said, “That’s it, Chief.”

On the way to the BMW dealer, I could hear a song in my head like the bandit
raccoon had returned the ghost of my stolen CD player. It was “Chief,” by a singer named
Patty Griffin. I used to like it, liked it so much I bought the CD for Gwen, called “1,000
Kisses,” and gave it to her on Valentine’s Day. At first, Gwen and Amber would sing and
dance around the kitchen. Then Gwen started listening to it over and over, just that one
song, and she’d sing along with the part about dreaming and flying and laughing “way up
high” as loud as she could. And hour after hour, day after day, that’ll wear on you. I came
home from work one cold October day and Amber was sitting up in a pine, in a little
pony t-shirt and stocking feet because freezing to death seemed better than another four
hours three minutes at a time. I went in the house and snapped “1,000 Kisses” into a
thousand pieces and that was the last time I’ve heard it anywhere except inside my own
head. For a while I tried to remember the lyrics, like maybe there was a riddle hidden in
there somewhere, but all I could ever hear was the part Gwen sang.

But nobody but Grimace ever called me “Chief,” and I can’t remember now
whether I first liked the song because he called me that, or if the name came later, in one
of those twists you won’t ever figure out. I could ask him, like I could buy another “1,000
Kisses,” but either one would make the answer disappear like summer fog. Better that it’s
out there and I never find it than have it gone forever.

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Two crows were picking over scraps of fur in the turn lane in front of the BMW
dealer, and they hopped out of the way at the very last moment. The parts counter is
inside their “courtesy bay,” a long, double-wide garage with doors at each end, tiled walls
and a spotless floor. The customers drive in one end to drop their cars off for service, and
even though the “customer care team” wears white shop-coats that make them look like
doctors, the first thing they do is cover the seats in plastic and put paper mats down under
the pedals. The best you can hope for at Discount Tire is a complimentary ass inspection,
when we show each other the seat of our pants to check for any obvious globs of grease.

While I was waiting for the parts guy to get off the phone, I watched a blond in a
black sedan. She’d pulled in a few minutes before and was checking her hair in the
rear view mirror while she talked on her cell phone. She had a good ten years on Gwen,
but she had the kind of money that works like polishing compound because she was lean
and tan and buffed to a soft glow. And she sure didn’t have an addiction piling extra
years on her wasted body. Maybe she might make herself puke after a big meal at the
club, but she didn’t have sores on her arms that she scratched bloody in her sleep or death
on her breath.

Two mechanics in blue shop-coats yelled, “Close the doors! Close the doors!”
The one in front had three feet of two-by-four over one shoulder and the other one
followed at arms length with a flashlight and they both stepped like Elmer Fudd hunting.

The one in back yelled, “We got him now!”

The parts guy hung up the phone and customers and salesmen crowded in to
watch and all of the employees were wearing white or blue. The blond closed her phone
and dabbed at the corner of her open mouth with her pinkie. She opened her door and put
out a black high heel and a length of calf as hard and smooth and polished as a furniture
leg.

The parts guy said, “Ma’am, you might want to stay in your car a minute. We’ve
got a little bit of a situation here.”

She closed her door and I turned and said, “You got a caliper for Discount Tire?
A guy called on it.”

He looked at my mesh-back cap and said, “Look alive there, Slick. We got a
sewer rat running around big as a ‘coon.”

And I said, “And we got a shitbox beemer clogging up our alignment pit.”
A girl screamed and someone yelled, “There he goes!” and out of the corner of
my eye I caught something a foot long and rust colored disappearing under the sedan.
Flashlight knelt down behind the car and after a quick look said, “Shit, he’s got up in her
undercarriage.”

The parts guy said, “That don’t sound good.”

Two-by-four said, “Rock the car. Bounce it and I’ll get him when he drops
down.”

Flashlight looked at exactly how close he’d have to stand to bounce the car, and
quietly said, “Fuck that.”

One of the salesmen yelled, “Get her to pull up and brake hard. That’ll fix him.”

Two-by-four yelled at her and made big motions with his bat and when she
cracked her window open just an inch, like maybe he might be crazy, he still yelled like
she was way across the river. When she pulled up and stopped, the rat dropped down and
ran, ran without thinking about where he might be running. I turned on my heels and
drew back, and just before he reached me, the toe of my boot was there to meet him. My
sore knee twinged and he sailed over the black sedan, dead before he hit the tile wall. It
went quiet for a moment, then the salesman threw up both arms like a football ref and
yelled, “And it’s good!”

Flashlight and Two-by-four worked their way around to the other side of the car
and Two-by-four poked at it a couple of times. I was watching her and she was watching
me, and I don’t know why, but I took off my cap. Two-by-four opened her door, and she
turned, wool skirt on leather, and paused with her ankles crossed. She looked at me, past
the greasy jeans and the hard hands, and bowed. Not a big bow, from the waist, but a
slow dip of the neck and head, lowering her eyes for just a breath.

She said, “Thank you.”
And Two-by-four said, “You’re welcome.”
But I don’t think she was talking to him.

Flashlight walked up to me and said, in a voice filled with hurt, “You didn’t have
to kill him.”

When I got back to the garage, Billy and Grimace were in the grubby little office
with their heads together listening at the phone. Billy turned it back to his ear and said,
“Yeah, he just come in the door. So why do suppose the turd herding rats are all over at
your shop?…Well, you know what they say, ‘Fuck the best, die like the rest.’”

Billy hung up and smiled.
I said, “It’s ‘fuck with the best,’ not ‘fuck the best.’”
Billy said, “Is it?”

Grimace looked at me with an eyebrow smeared sad by the phone and said,
“Dang, Chief.”


Thomas M. Atkinson is an author and playwright. His new novel, Tiki Man, was named one of four finalists in the 2014 Leapfrog Press Fiction Contest. His new collection of linked stories, Standing Deadwood, which includes “Standing Deadwood,” has been selected as a finalist in the 2014 Spokane Prize for Fiction (Willow Springs Editions) and the 2014 St. Lawrence Book Award for Fiction (Black Lawrence Press). “Ruint Horse” was just named 1st Runner-up for the 2014 Chris O’Malley Prize for Fiction at The Madison Review and will appear in the Spring 2015 issue. His short story, “Grimace in the Burnt Black Hills,” published in The Sun magazine, was twice nominated for a 2013 Pushcart Prize, and is taught in English 11 & 12 AP courses in San Diego, California. “Ruint Horse” and “Red, White & Blue,” were finalists for Tampa Review’s 2013 and 2014 Danahy Fiction Prize. His short play, Dancing Turtle, was one of six winners of the 2013 38th Annual Samuel French Off Off Broadway Festival, and appears in an anthology of the same name. He has won numerous awards for both fiction and drama, including five Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Awards. His short fiction has appeared in The Sun, The Madison Review, The North American Review, The Indiana Review, Tampa Review, Fifth Wednesday Journal, The Moon, City Beat, Clifton, and Electron Press Magazine. A new print edition of his first novel, Strobe Life, is now available. He and his wife live in Ohio and have two sons.

Come back Sunday June 7, 2015 for the conclusion of “Standing Deadwood”.

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On a Secret Language of Women as Fragrance, or Postscript to “A Short Autobiography of Perfume” by Karen An-hwei Lee

If I could sprout wings and fly anywhere in the world, where would I go?

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Maybe to an overseas parfumerie where I’d try new fragrances all day long, or fly back in time to the earliest history of perfume ~ a narcotic blue lotus ancient Egyptians would hold right to their noses, for instance, or unadulterated rose petals distilled in copper florentines only centuries away from modern laboratories of ethers and esters, and oils such as horseradish, olive, and sesame mixed with a resinous fixative, as described in Jean-Pierre Brun’s “The Production of Perfumes in Antiquity” in The American Journal of Archaeology. “A Short Autobiography of Perfume,” appearing in the Spring 2015 issue of The North American Review, arose from these inklings.

Concurrently, I was teaching Diane Ackerman’s A Natural History of the Senses in a lyric essay workshop where I invited students to write a short exercise inspired by the olfactory sense.  Here is an excerpt, quoted from Chapter 1 (“The Body of Memory”) of Tell It Slant: Creating, Refining, and Publishing Creative Nonfiction by Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola, one of our required texts:  “Which smells in your life are gone for you now?  Which ones would you give anything to smell again?  Have you ever been ‘ambushed’ by a smell you didn’t expect?”

Laden with vials of perfume, subsequently, I’d fly to a village in the Jiangyong county of Hunan province where Chinese women, for centuries, lovingly hand-stitched books as gifts to their daughters.  Sisters and grandmothers, what is the aroma of your memories? Would you teach me a few words of your language?  This special language, nüshu  女書, not only existed in written form; as an oral literary tradition, it was sung aloud by memory, too.  In exchange for showing me books of nüshu 女書, I’d share the essence of this language in the form of perfume.

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Sadly, the last surviving writer of nüshu  女書, Yang Huangyi, passed away in 2004.  According to Henry Chu of the Los Angeles Times, “At a time in China when most females were illiterate and considered the property of men, these women turned objects of domestic life into avenues of escape and found solace among ‘sworn sisters’ with whom they communicated in their own language.”  As a tribute to nüshu  女書, here is my sister-poem to “A Short Autobiography of Perfume.”

              On a Secret Language of Women as Fragrance

If I could, I would bottle nüshu as perfume.
What is the aroma of a secret language written only by women?
How would gynocentric proverbs translate to our daughters
via memory as fragrance or vice versa?
Without vessels, where would we pour
our grievances against the patriarchal order?
On the broom-swept dirt in the village?  Dust raised by bicycles?
The threshold of a school we could not cross as girls?
If our language enfleuraged as perfume –  no other linguistic traces
aflame  – we could revive the chemistries of aroma
without translation, wafting the base notes of female experience
at a draught.

Mexican women create their own paper from scratch using boiled ash, lye, and peeled bark. Brazilian chapbooks or foletos are sold on a string outdoors in folk-art markets.  I love hand-stitched books.  In Massachusetts, where I spent most of my girlhood, I read about Emily Dickinson’s fascicles and loved her poetry.  Nüshu  女書 is unique in Chinese, however, not only in its matrilineal transmission via handwritten journals, but the type of cursive script Hunan women invented.  To share their wisdom in a language transmitted only to daughters, the Hunan village women hand-bound their cloth journals and wrote nüshu女書 inside the pages.  In other words, without access to formal education, the women developed their own culture of literacy.

Japanese professor of socio-linguistics, Orie Endo of Bunkyo University, hosts a digital archive of research on nüshu 女書. Not purely derivative of tetragraphs, not quite pictographical nor alphabetical, nüshu  女書 (nü = 女=woman or women; shu = 書=writing or script) was written by ink brush with a thinner, finer hand than the robust strokes of classical calligraphy.  Incidentally, the eponymous poem of Kimiko Hahn’s electrifying collection, Mosquito and Ant (W. W. Norton 2000), refers to the culture of nüshu 女書The fine script was originally compared to the legs of a mosquito or ant, a dismissive observation initially made by patriarchal contemporaries.

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When I lived in Berkeley during the late Nineties, I’d visit a shop displaying (for sale) reams and rolls of handmade paper from all over the world.  Once, I used long sheets of handmade paper ~ turquoise, gold, crimson ~ for a giant accordion chapbook as a part of a family literacy program. The chapbook, like a tall child, stood on the floor to the height of my arms.   What if all this paper suspended from the ceiling, layer upon layer of color as self-revelation ~ gave voice (i.e. wings) to the memories of women who made them? 

After I moved south of the Bay Area to a coastal mesa in southern California, I would make recycled paper.  The year-round sunshine in Orange County is good for shredding old paper, re-soaking it in glue and hot water, then drying the mess with zoysia grass, one-winged samaras, and bougainvillea.  In my little art closet, scraps of silk-screened washi mulberry and dyed rice paper sang forth in a range of vivid hues: cerulean, ochre, scarlet, midnight, dove-gray, fuchsia, saffron, or ultramarine.  If saffron were a woman, how would she hum in a language of windborne pollen: a diasporic fragrance of this late season?

Summer, summer, summer, I imagine.
Xiatien in Mandarin, the women echo.
. . .
Fragrance of ellipsis in honor of nüshu 女書.


Karen An-hwei Lee is the author of Phyla of Joy (Tupelo 2012), Ardor (Tupelo 2008) and In Medias Res (Sarabande 2004), winner of the Norma Farber First Book Award.  Lee also wrote two chapbooks, God’s One Hundred Promises (Swan Scythe 2002) and What the Sea Earns for a Living (Quaci Press 2014). Her book of literary criticism, Anglophone Literatures in the Asian Diaspora: Literary Transnationalism and Translingual Migrations (Cambria, 2013), was selected for the Cambria Sinophone World Series. She earned an M.F.A. from Brown University and Ph.D. in English from the University of California, Berkeley. The recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Grant, she serves as Full Professor of English and Chair at a liberal arts college in greater Los Angeles, where she is also a novice harpist. Lee is a voting member of the National Book Critics Circle.


Top and bottom illustration by Claire Stigliani, a drawer and painter known for her works inspired by paintings, photographs, magazines, posters, YouTube clips, literature, performance, and plays. These works explore the act of watching and being watched and blur fiction with reality. Her recent shows include The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, The Chazen Museum of Art, Madison, (WI), The Dean Jensen Gallery, Milwaukee, (WI), Russell/Projects, Richmond (VA), and the Jenkins Johnson Gallery (NY). She is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Art in Drawing, Painting, Printmaking and Photography in the School of Art at Carnegie Mellon University.

Throwback Thursday featuring Michael Spence from issue 294.2

Michael Spence’s poem, “The Unbroken Code” was an Honorable Mention in the 2009 James Hearst Poetry Prize from issue 294.2.

Note from the author: “The image of blackberry vines coming over the back fence and encroaching on the yard of a childhood home came to mind as I found myself writing a poem about my father. It occurred to me that his natural quietness was perfect for the kind of engineering design work he did for both the Space Program and various military projects. In my mind, he was bound in his silence as someone might be wrapped in those blackberry vines. This was, in an everyday sense, both heroic and tragic: this quiet meant he’d never reveal secrets, but it also rendered him unable to admit or express his deepest thoughts and uncertainties. His mother’s apparent suicide–an event that was rarely mentioned and whose cause was left to dark rumor–seemed to me a strong motivation for his keeping his feelings inside himself. I tried in the poem to bring out the complexity of his character and actions resulting from this silence, which made him completely trustworthy in his job, yet hampered and rather cut off in his private life. The title is meant both ways: a code of honor that won’t break, but also a code that can’t be cracked, even by its keeper.”

The Unbroken Code

I.

The Plant demanded silence. Something thorned And tangled as the blackberries, which waved Behind our house. Tentacles reaching
For me—this is what I saw when Mother
Said: While Father’s at the Plant, he’s not allowed
To talk; he’s building secret things.

My comic books explained the Code of Silence— I could see the ritual to get your job.
Tied to a chair as someone hissed questions, You clamped your jaws tighter than the vise Numbing your hand, and wouldn’t even utter Your name. You were the perfect man to draw

Blueprints of missiles and anti-missile Missiles whose letters never spelled a word. The rockets you designed flew astronauts Two hundred fifty thousand miles away—
To a place beyond sound. For you, these heroes Signed a giant photo of the moon.

II.

I thought for years all fathers held their tongues. Your children nearly grown, the family ringed The Christmas tree; to catch our banter, Mom Set out a tape recorder. When it played back, Your voice was missing: as if you weren’t there.

Near middle age, I crossed the ocean with you To Australia. We swam through water hiding The Great Barrier Reef. Jellyfish trailed
Tentacles in the vast cold your sub had patrolled, Where the slightest word could be your death.

I asked about torpedoes. Short as a fuse Or the rapid taps of Morse you’d sent
As a radar man, you quoted your father—

Useless talk is so much crow-squawking.
I wondered why you’d been born with a mouth.

III.

Now you are gone. Attempting to construct The puzzle of your past from these fragments, A meager handful, I’m forced to cut my own.

I learned your father left his family nothing— No money, food, or word when he’d return— The times he’d disappear for weeks in the swamp

To hunt. His girlfriends were a secret, too; One the whole town whispered. What promise
Made you keep those other secrets? Did you blame

Yourself for the way your mother died?
That day, Grandfather leaves once more to hunt
“Two-legged deer.” Your mother sends you out

To play, then sets the house on fire. Lifting
His shotgun, she ends her darkness with a shout
Of light. You never spoke of this: thorns

Had wrapped your throat, cinching off the words. I didn’t see—your flesh sealed over the barbs.


Photo on 1-26-14 at 2.30 PMMichael Spence retired last Valentine’s Day from thirty years of driving public-transit buses in the Seattle area. His poems have appeared recently in THE HUDSON REVIEW, MEASURE, THE NEW CRITERION, THE SEWANEE REVIEW, SHENANDOAH, and TAR RIVER POETRY. New work is forthcoming in THE HUDSON REVIEW, THE SEWANEE REVIEW, and SOUTHWEST REVIEW. His fourth book, THE BUS DRIVER’S THRENODY, was released last September by Truman State University Press. He was awarded a 2014 Literary Fellowship from Artist Trust of Washington State. His fifth book, UMBILICAL, is slated to be published by St. Augustine’s Press this fall as the winner of The New Criterion Poetry Prize.”


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.

Continue reading

Braiding My Life: On “Living at Tree Line” by Yelizaveta P. Renfro

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When I wrote “Living at Tree Line” some ten years ago, I had never before written a braided essay. In fact, I didn’t even know the form had a name, and what’s more, I didn’t consider myself a writer of creative nonfiction. At the time, I was working on my MFA in fiction, and as part of the requirement for the degree, I enrolled in a class in another genre, creative nonfiction. It was in that class, taught by Alan Cheuse, that I read Annie Dillard’s “An Expedition to the Pole,” an intricately constructed piece that brings together the history of Arctic exploration with the author’s own personal experiences attending church and exploring her faith. This was the first braided essay I encountered, and I was enthralled by its possibilities.

After reading Dillard’s essay, I used it as a model to write my own braided essay—though I still didn’t know the name for it. The resulting piece, “Living at Tree Line,” was about bristlecone pine trees and my experiences working at a cemetery (the job I held while working on my MFA). I found the form to be freeing and innovative; I was especially taken with how placing two unlike things side by side causes each to cast a light on the other, illuminating previously unseen facets of both. Continue reading

Putting the Extra into the Ordinary by Deborah Doolittle

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First and foremost, I am a community college English instructor. That’s my day—and sometimes night—job. I look for teachable moments in everything that I encounter. I am also a quirky reader. I suffer from periodic “misreads” wherein I drop a letter from a word or rearrange the letters in a word. Perhaps I am too distracted or in too much of a hurry, but the result provides me with an initial misinterpretation not intended by the author. I soon recognize my error. However, once I set the spelling straight, the misread continues to prick at my imagination. Continue reading

THE EUCAPLYPTUS TREE: Some thoughts on the process of growing a novel by Bill Meissner

A finished novel is like a full-grown tree in your backyard. As your readers walk past, they see—and hopefully appreciate—the solid trunk, a kaleidoscope of branches, and the succulent green leaves shimmering in the sunlight and glowing in the moonlight. But what a casual reader doesn’t see is the complexity of what’s below it, the tangle of roots they never know is there. Some Australian eucalyptus tree roots reach down 180 feet—almost as far as the height of the tree—and your novel/tree is no different.

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So, what are those roots beneath a finished novel?  What are those  extensions down there in the darkness that curl around rocks, anchoring the tree as they search for water and nutrients? Continue reading

The Artist’s Vision by Jeffrey Ethan Lee

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Recently, I heard the results of The Fifth Annual James Hearst Poetry Prize sponsored by the North American Review (573 Entrants 2,583 Poems). I was a finalist with one poem, which is below. I did not think the judge Billy Collins was going to pick my poem as the winner, to be perfectly honest, because the poem I sent wasn’t really up his alley, so to speak. I was glad to make the finalist group though because that means they will publish this poem. I have always liked this poem despite the fact that it is “difficult.”

I’m going to do an unusual thing and actually say how this poem was created. It began like, jesuschrist (!) more than twenty years ago. Yeah, it was 1984, and I was staying at a friend’s house due to being somewhat temporarily destitute (okay, okay, I was homeless for a while after I was a literally starving artist in a real third-floor garret with bullet holes in the windows, blah blah blah. It may sound romantic, but it really was mostly ugly and nasty. Stuff that makes you prone to anti-social habits and rots your teeth, etc.) Continue reading