Supreme Decisions

Supreme Decisions
 –Jim Piatt

Promises,
discarded, broken,
lie beside
other dusty laws of the past,
trampled
under the grime of ideology:
Hopes, shattered lives
thrown into the pit of Indifference
born of greed…ignorance,
untried principles:
Compassion wilting in the darkness
of shattered dreams,
kindness melted
into the fiscal indifference
of our time,
all under the weight of
Supreme Decisions.

 

 

Jim Piatt’s poetry collections include “The Silent Pond,” “Ancient Rhythms,” and “Light.” He has had over 1,135 poems published, and several of his poems were nominated for both Pushcart, and Best of Web awards. He earned his BS and MA from California State Polytechnic University, and his doctorate from BYU.

THE TRUMPETER

July Web Feature

THE TRUMPETER
John Grey

No one noticed his brown eyes,
receding hairline, or the goatee
poking out of his chin.
He was only ever the trumpet he played.
On stage, that was understandable.
His mouth was wide open and brass.
His fingers, valve slides and buttons.
But, even on the street,
he was only recognized
as a conveyance for his instrument,
a wind machine
for some of the sweetest notes ever blown.
That’s how he saw himself as well.
Slumped in a chair after a show,
that trumpet on his lap,
he shrunk to the size
and function of a spit key.
He well understood the two kinds of “solo.”

One corralled an audience
in its audacity, melody and flair.
The other trudged home alone.

 

 

John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in the Homestead Review, Harpur Palate and Columbia Review with work upcoming in the Roanoke Review, the Hawaii Review and North Dakota Quarterly.

The Ping Not Taken

May Web Feature

The Ping Not Taken
Storey Clayton

 

In 1998, the year I graduated high school, Gwyneth Paltrow starred in a movie called “Sliding Doors.”  The basic premise of the film was to illustrate the momentous differences in one’s life that can hinge on a comparatively small matter of timing: e.g., making it through sliding doors on a subway train or just missing them.  While the movie (spoiler alert?) illustrates a literal life-or-death difference in the ultimate outcome, Hollywood couldn’t resist making a cutesy ironic point about destiny in the end, since Paltrow’s protagonist ultimately leaves her boyfriend in both storylines, loses her baby in both storylines, and ends up in love with the same new guy in both storylines.

Real life, of course, is probably not governed by such an attachment to destiny.  When you just miss the train, certain experiences you might have had thereon are forever lost, while new possibilities are created through the later train.  The odds of this being a life-changing decision are probably lower for any given train-ride than they are for, say, jobs offered and taken or not, or the college one chooses to attend.  In 1998, I myself was choosing where to go to school and at one point became utterly overwhelmed by how much of my future life would stem from this single choice.  I had full rides to Brandeis and UC-Berkeley and realized that all of my new friends for the next four years, plus the path my life would take geographically and professionally, would all be traceable to this one binary decision.  Internalizing it was so paralyzing that I had to will myself not to think about it.  I ultimately chose Brandeis.  And while I regretted the decision at several junctures (it’s an aesthetically ugly campus filled with Stalinist architecture and many of the first classmates I encountered seemed sad to be there, preferring colleges I’d declined to attend that had not admitted them), I ultimately think I made the right choice.  If nothing else, reconsidering the decision also means erasing many of my closest friends and immediately becomes unimaginable.  Even if those friends would be replaced by other (perhaps equally good) friends who went to Berkeley, the counter-factual seems impossible to retroactively entertain.

Admittedly, which Uber rider is paired with which driver is a lot more like a mundane train ride in its import than where one goes to college.  And yet I spend a little bit of each night fascinated by the amount of willful randomness involved in letting an automatic app match me with riders and arrange the constellation of my travels.  The app is not really in the driver’s seat, so to speak, since I control where I steer my vehicle and, importantly, which pings to accept.  I, like most serious drivers, accept almost all pings that don’t involve driving well out of my way and prioritize those which offer significant surge.  But there are times when I’m barreling toward an area of surge on the map and, just on its edge, get a ping that is offered at the regular fare.

Sometimes I take these fares and sometimes I don’t.  There was a period when three straight pings I accepted in these circumstances all ended up giving me a significant cash tip (at least $5 each), overriding the potential difference in fare that the surge would have given.  After the last of these, I felt like I was being karmically rewarded for not insisting on surge in my rides and started taking these rides at all times.  Needless to say, the pattern did not persist.  But it was an important reminder that surge is not the only factor in the bottom line of one’s night, much less the quality of the overall driving experience.  After all, riders are less likely to tip the more surge there is on a fare, understandably noting that they’re already paying more than normal for the same ride.

Of course, driving a car in the best of circumstances is still a high-stakes activity.  Car accidents are a frequent reality and often result in fatalities, not all of which can be prevented by unilaterally safe driving.  Are there rides I could have accepted that would have literally led to my death?  And then there are the rare but existent nights when a shooting hits Bourbon Street, one of the most common places for me to pick people up.  Or the night on the Saturday before Mardi Gras when a drunk driver plowed past a barricade and into a crowd of parade-goers at Endymion (one of the season’s largest parades).  My fiancée, Alex, called me minutes after that happened to ask if I was anywhere nearby.  I wasn’t; I was on the other end of town.  But our first thought in the developed world when a car goes awry and hits people is now terrorism, so it took more than an hour before Alex felt comfortable with me driving near the parade route.  Miraculously, no one died that night.

One night on Halloween weekend, six freaked-out West Virginians asked if they could all cram into my car to flee an incident on Frenchmen Street, one that might be labeled “a series of unfortunate events.”  It’s one of the best examples I know of a story where everyone involved made the sequentially worst decision, which led to escalating mistakes.  In their dramatic retelling, a car made the poor initial decision to drive on Frenchmen Street, which was packed elbow-to-elbow with costumed revelers celebrating the holiday weekend.  It’s unclear if he had to scoot past a barricade to do so or if it was just obvious to all other drivers that the thronged mass of humanity made this an inadvisable plan.  At one point, the driver almost hit a person standing in the street.  The people in the street then started gesturing rudely at the driver.  The driver then accelerated slightly, tapping a couple people and knocking them over.  The people then started hitting his car, with a few people sitting on the hood and jumping up and down on it.  The driver then got out of the car with a gun in his hand and started brandishing it.

Our heroes the six West Virginians did not stick around to discover the rest of the story, not wanting to become a statistic in exchange for witnessing the end result.  But we can be pretty sure there was some sort of de-escalation since this story didn’t even make local news, much less national.  I don’t think any damage ensued, other than minor injuries to the people and dents to the car.  But all six individually said how lucky it was that I was just around the corner so they could avoid getting shot that night.  They gave me a $20 cash tip at the end of the ride, expressing gratitude for my willingness to ferry all six of them from danger at once.

On one of my own Uber rides, heading home from the airport after a trip back to New Mexico, my driver told me that he thought he’d met the love of his life the previous week while driving.  He said he’d kicked himself for not getting her number, but he was pretty sure he could find her again.  He explained that he was spending most of his time on Uber hanging out near where she worked (the initial pickup spot the week before), hoping to grab her going home again or even going to lunch.  He would still take other rides in the area, but he was always rushing back to that part of town trying to find his would-be love.  While I can’t imagine that Uber corporate would interpret this story as anything other than creepy, the driver insisted that his feelings seemed reciprocated, that she was really flirty and interested on the ride, that he’d just lost his nerve at the end because she seemed out of his league, but after a week he couldn’t stop thinking about her.  He planned to play it cool if he finally did get her again as a rider, and asked whether he should lay it on thick about destiny if so.

“How much is too much?” he asked me sincerely.  “Should I just say ‘I’m so glad I got to see you again’?  Or ‘I knew we’d find each other again’?  Or should I just ask her out on the spot ’cause it was meant to be.”

Maybe this is what the sports commentators mean by “controlling your own destiny.”

How many relationships start in an Uber ride?  How many eventual marriages?  There are all sorts of reasons that Uber doesn’t advertise itself as a dating site or the next Tinder, but I have no doubt they’d have enough material if they chose to pursue this angle.  I can just see the stream of too-pretty huggy couples with that peppy eHarmony beat in the background, telling the condensed stories of their whirlwind ride-share romance.

Of course, being engaged, this is not an angle I care to pursue.  I can detect audible, almost physical, relief from women riding solo when I mention my fiancée in passing conversation or in answer to a question about how I ended up in New Orleans.  Usually mentioning this early can be the difference between a stilted, stifled exchange of a few words and an extensive friendly conversation.

What I am after, really, are good stories, good conversations, and (sure) good tips.  Those are the difference-makers in my night.  And ideally to avoid the belligerent drunks, the arguing couples, the vomit (knock on wood), and the awkwardly silent.  A vast majority of my riders fail to fall into any of these undesirable categories – I have been pleasantly surprised at how much friendlier, more appreciative, and positive most riders are than I anticipated.  But I can’t help but wonder after each unfortunate experience whether I should have stopped for gas first, whether I shouldn’t have run through that last yellow light.  Driving is full of constant near-misses and split-second decisions, all of which lead to a computer app pairing me up with one request instead of another.  And, of course, I have the same series of random and barely chosen processes to thank for every story I’ve told about Uber, every great and heart-warming interaction, every person I’ve met and connected with for the first time in my car.  Far more often, I look back on my driving decisions thankful that they led me to this precise series of riders and no others.

I took a couple on their first date the other night.  They were flirting in that shy, tentative way of asking permission to say something risky.  They were dressed in overly formal clothes for a night of dancing in the bars of New Orleans, an activity they admitted they both thought would be fun.  They were bright and bubbly and optimistic and promised me that I’d be a big part of their long-term story if they made it, if they got married.  They’d send me their wedding invitation and say remember when we had that Uber rider who took us to Bacchanal and gave us advice.

But I could tell, from the front seat, that they weren’t going to make it.  She took a second too long to laugh at some of his attempted jokes, like she wasn’t sure they were supposed to be funny.  He talked about himself too much, rarely reciprocating when there was a clear opening to ask about her.  Ditto his response to her attempts to touch him quasi-innocently.  I was struck by how easily I could know their fate as an objective observer, a stranger, a fly on the steering wheel, before either had internalized it themselves.

Sometimes I like to think of the Uber app and its algorithm as a self-aware intelligence, seeing who will connect and who won’t, as it deploys pings to drivers and acceptances to riders.  That it is the omniscient technology that creates order from anarchy and links us all to a future where we have the opportunity to find new or reassuring experiences as we make our way home at night’s end.  And yet, every time, it is really my choice whether to tap the phone and accept the latest suggestion.  In the end, all we have is these simple binary decisions in the cacophonous chaos of riders and drivers traversing the streets of the city.

Where are you headed?

poems by Bridget Richardson

Cupide and his lyste of arwes or The path to my degree

My first love forgot to love me back so I buried him and found another.

My second love imagined he were a Russian spy – he faked his death. In good fashion, I pretended to mourn and moved on before he could resurface.

I lost myself in a book or two – not even a good read and espionage would find me there.

Hawthorne – the fraud – chose death over longevity and forgot to haunt me. How perfectly unromantic.

William was an obsession and threatened to bind my next 40 years at least. Conscience bid me move forward – I left him in 1386 plagued by sorwe of losing another – and frolicked by the river with my swete fo on Seynt Valentynes day in the dede of October.

But my white hart has not been killed and I dream anoon –

If Degaré’s legs can make the body speke like Jenkins, this game will take flite ageyn.

 

***

Unignited

Desire courted Inspiration &
together they faded into irises,
gold, brown, &
green like the rows
of forsaken oak
in her vision of trees;
bowed deep against
wind currents,
their trunks shallow
wounds in gravel.
He suggested she stop
& she did.
A cool gaze left wrapped
in icy ashes, her eyes fall
on another chess match
with Passion she lacks
the strategy to win.

 

***

 Jellyfish and Paper
               for Josie

Watch insanity
develop silently, twisting in
on itself – a jellyfish
sputtering outwards
in hiccups
of halted breath.

why?

Can a jellyfish rein in the undertoe brought on by its own thoughts?
She could not reach out and harness it because
how could she catch the current?
How could she stop the wind, the rain, the waves, the ice cold
bitterness of eternal frost caught
in a world that wished it were
warm?

Search a forbidden voice –
paper and ink. Watch darkness flow –
distress in knowing no
matter how much is written, lungs fill
with life’s poison
at every exhale
the page has nothing
better to do than sit idly by while ink stings across it.

Each moon-rise – dreams become terrors
and darkness is not solitude.
Doomed characters cast reflections in a midnight pool of burnt salt
and it resembles her,
who forgot to write the hero.
She couldn’t scream for help
when her words were gone.
Surrounded in an embrace of twisting tentacles,
she was left to drift.

Watch the bubble escape
a book torn from her grasp.

 

 

Bridget Richardson is an extremely stressed ENMU graduate student working too many jobs.  Her hobbies include picking up strays and hosting scheduled crying sessions with herself on the weekend.

Highway 50

March Web Feature

Highway 50
Ahsha M. Vigil

The payphone beeps loudly, the operator’s monotone voice pours through the earpiece. “Please deposit one nickel for five more minutes. You have thirty seconds before I must disconnect the call.”

The hitchhiker looks for another nickel in his empty pockets. The phone goes silent and beeps loudly. The hitchhiker sighs and exits the telephone booth, taking a drink from his flask and lighting a cigarette. He looks to the East, over his shoulder towards the shallow grave of his companion. He decides to forget about his time on the desert as he climbs back into the rusty old Buick and turns his wheels west.

***

The man is an actor, aspiring to be the next bigshot in Hollywood. He, like most of his peers, has nothing to his name. His mother would fret over him and call him a fool if it wasn’t for her comatose state guarding her from what she was better off not knowing. It protects her from knowledge of how and where he’s been getting the money to keep her alive, from knowing that the money has run out and she doesn’t have much longer. He walks down the side of an unknown desolate stretch of highway in the middle-of-nowhere Nevada, hitchhiking back to Los Angeles. The road signs guide him, updating him on how far he is from any other human life form every twenty miles or so. The pavement radiates heat and aside from the mirage on the horizon, only dry, and dirty land stretches as far as the eyes reach. There is rarely an automobile passing, always a semi-truck traveling in the opposite direction. The hitchhiker expected more traffic, but he doesn’t completely reject the solitude. He rather prefers it for his humble reflection of life.

A billboard stands tall a little way up the road, its big red letters warn him of approaching civilization. “BETTY LOU’S DINER! GAS AND GOOD EATIN’!…3 MILES!”

He stops for a moment, looking up the road, licking his lips. He empties his flask, gulping the liquor down his throat. A new motivation to keep walking. The hitchhiker hums to himself, a tune he heard years ago. It keeps him better company than the tumbleweeds that play chase in the distance. He closes his eyes and strolls mindlessly, recklessly. The mid-day heat beats down on him. Sweat drenches the layers of clothing and drips from his face. He stumbles and opens his eyes, his vision blurs. Perhaps I was a fool to think I could go it alone. That fella back in Austin wasn’t feeding me a line. I ain’t gonna get back to Hollywood for dang near a week if I gotta keep up like this. Ma won’t last that long.

The diner comes into view. The faded, pink, stucco building stands out against the gray-brown landscape. A busted, neon, arrow sign flickers and flashes. In front of the diner stand two gas pumps. The parking lot is empty. Dull green weeds creep up the sides of the building, finding a home in the cracks and chips of the stucco. There is only a battered screen door to guard the entryway.

The hitchhiker walks in and a tiny bell rings above his head. A ceiling fan rattles and echoes throughout the empty diner, drowning out the jukebox’s melancholy tune. Everything is red and green patent leather or velvet on aluminum chrome and walnut wood. The inside of the diner is much more pleasing to the eye than the unkempt outside. The nicotine-stained air is hot and dense. The hitchhiker seats himself on a swivel stool at the bar, extinguishing the privacy of employee gossip.

The waitress and the cook draw back from each other. The waitress sets her cigarette in an ashtray and turns to the hitchhiker. She places a yellow paper menu in front of him. “Well hello, Sugar. Can I getcha some coffee?”

“Water.”

“You got it, Babe.”

“You wouldn’t happen to have a bottle too, would ya?”

“Sure, we do.”

The hitchhiker holds out the empty flask. “Mind topping me off?”

She smiles and takes the flask.

“Thank ya, ma’am.”

They are silent for a moment. The waitress hands the hitchhiker his renewed flask. “So, where you headed, Mister?”

“L.A.” The hitchhiker takes a swig and places the flask in his pocket.

“Another one of those hot-shot wanna-bes, yeah?”

“I was out on loan for a minor part in one of them new movies. They called me in day before yesterday. Cut my vacation short to go speak three lines.”

“Hey, it’s better than nothing right? Tell me more about Hollywood.”

The hitchhiker shrugs. “There ain’t really much to tell ma’am.”

“Oh c’mon. Hollywood’s so glamorous.”

The waitress sets the water down in front of him and leans on the counter flirtatiously. She continues to coax him with small talk. He looks at her over the menu now and then, raising his eyebrows and nodding or shrugging slightly. Occasionally, he interjects, hoping she’ll be satisfied soon enough and return to her cigarette.

“So, why’re you walking to L.A?”

“Hitchhiking.” He corrects her before continuing. “My car broke down back in Eureka, something with the tranny. Don’t got the money or the motive to fix it.”

“Must be lonely. Can’t imagine having no company out on the road all by myself.” She pauses. “You know, I always wanted to—”

The sound of the doorbell cuts her off, saving her from the rejection of the hitchhiker. A man walks in and seats himself at the end of the bar near the window, so he can watch his Buick accumulate rust. The waitress jumps at the new opportunity for amorous toying. It must be a slow day. She abandons the hitchhiker and rushes to the drifter’s side.

“How are you today, Honey? What can I getcha? Water? Coffee?”

“Coffee, please.”

“Sure thing, Baby. Let me know if I can grab anything else alright?”

He plasters on a faux smile and nods, trying to mask his disinterest. She notices and takes leave. He has seen this waitress a million times, different places and names, but to him, they are all the same. If he would let her, she’d fall in love with him for the day, only to be left behind tomorrow when he turns his wheels in another direction. There have been so many short-lived love affairs that he’s unsure where all he’s had a lover. He never stays in one place long, has no reason to. He has no wife and no kids— at least not to his knowledge. He’s a drifter, a loner trying to make it by traveling the country selling the miscellaneous trinkets for some CEO from back East.

The hitchhiker and the drifter take notice of each other. The drifter’s curiosity eats him from the inside out. Crazy fella out here by his lonesome without a car. Wonder where he came from.

The hitchhiker plays his curiosity off as the intrigue of the unknown. The hitchhiker doesn’t want to know the drifter’s story. Wonder where he’s headed. Maybe he can help me get to Cali faster. They watch each other for the duration of the drifters stay.

The hitchhiker studies the drifter and follows him out when he departs. “Excuse me, Mister. I don’t mean to be a thorn in the side. But which way you headed?”

The drifter points west. “Need a ride?”

“If it ain’t too much trouble.”

The drifter nods towards the passenger door. “Saddle up, Cowboy. Make yourself comfortable.”

“Say! Gee thanks, Mister.”

The drifter displays himself as humble, a wall to camouflage his loneliness. The desert blurs as the car picks up speed. The hitchhiker looks out the window as they drive. The men are silent for a long while. The drifter pulls a cigarette out of his shirt pocket, offers one to the hitchhiker.

The hitchhiker nods. “Got a light?”

The drifter pulls out a card of matches, tossing them at the hitchhiker.

“Thanks.” “That gal back there sure was talking up a storm.” The drifter pokes at the man.

“Why ain’t you offer to take her with ya?”

The hitchhiker shrugs. “She’s getting paid to make a pass at every fella that comes through there. We both know that.”

“Seemed pretty stuck on you. She looked at you like you was the shiniest penny in the jar.”

“Oh, hang it up, Mister.”

The drifter puts his hands up for a moment, chuckling. The hitchhiker tosses his cigarette butt out the window. They fall quiet for some time again. In the distance, the men can see a thunderhead; the dark gray storm looks like it could be violent. They watch as the sun sinks into the desert, tired of scorching this side of the planet until tomorrow. The drifter flicks a switch, and the headlights illuminate a mile marker.

MILE 72: FALLON 40, DAYTON 91.

The hitchhiker puts his feet up on the dashboard and pulls the flask from his jacket pocket, takes a big gulp. He gestures to the drifter. “Want a sip?”

“I’ll wait.”

“Suit yourself. More for me.”

The drifter lights another cigarette, unsure what else to do with himself. The hitchhiker takes another swig, and another for good measure. “So, we stopping in Fallon or what?”

“We won’t be there for another hour—”

“That ain’t what I asked.”

“We can stop if you need to.”

“I might.” The hitchhiker takes a big gulp of liquor and burps loudly. He is silent for a moment, taking another sip before speaking. “How far are you going anyways?”

“Aw heck, Carson City maybe? I ain’t got the slightest idea if I’m being honest though. I go ’til I can’t no more.”

The drifter looks over at his intoxicated companion. The hitchhiker lifts his head and screws the lid back on the flask. “How far you taking me?”

“Far as I can. State line, maybe. Depends on how long we’re headed the same direction.” Fear rises in the hitchhiker’s chest. State line won’t be close enough. That’s three days’ worth of walking at least. He retrieves his pocketknife and begins to clean his nails. In the clouds, electric charges battle for dominance. Thunder shakes the land. The hitchhiker uncaps the flask, takes another swig, and places the flask back into his jacket pocket.

The drifter breaks the uneasy silence. “You’re quite the swigger, Cowboy.”

“What of it?”

The drifter falls quiet again.

“I said, what of it, Mister? Don’t go giving your two cents where it ain’t due.”

“Ease up, Cowboy. Don’t blow a fuse. I was just trying to make conversation. I wasn’t looking for trouble.”

“Bustin’ my chops ain’t the way to do that, Mister.”

“C’mon cool down, man.”

“Aw, shut the hell up would ya?”

The drifter’s knuckles turn white, he clenches the steering wheel, biting his tongue. The air outside stirs and a gust of wind shakes the car around a little.

The hitchhiker becomes more agitated. “Didn’t anyone ever teach you how to drive, Mister?”

“If you don’t like my driving, I can let you out.” The drifter’s dry voice echoes in the hitchhiker’s head. The drifter slows down to counteract the wind.

“No. No. You can’t let me out—” The hitchhiker pales and panic courses through his veins, sending him tumbling over the edge. His hands shake, his vision flashes black. The drifter notices the change in the hitchhiker and pulls over.

“Don’t spew in here now, Cowboy. You don’t look so hot.”

“You can’t kick me out here, Mister. I gotta get back to Hollywood. My Ma needs me to get that part.”

“What are you getting all cracked up about? I was just trying to let you out if—”

“I said you can’t kick me out!”

The hitchhiker lunges at the drifter, pocketknife still in hand. The drifter jumps and reaches for the hitchhiker’s wrist to stop the impending blow. The drifter’s eyes cloud over with pain as the stainless-steel point penetrates his abdomen.

***

The hitchhiker looks over his shoulder at the rusty-old Buick as he steps into the telephone booth. He picks up the phone and dials the number.

The operator comes on the line instantly. “Please insert one dime for ten minutes. Thank you.”

The hitchhiker puts a dime into the machine. He hopes the call won’t take long. The dial tone hurts his already throbbing head. There’s a click on the other end of the line.

“Hello?” A man’s sleepy voice pours through the phone.

“Hey, man. I’ve got a problem, I really screwed up—” The hitchhiker trails off, unsure.

His companion on the other end of the phone grows more alert. “What’s eating you?”

“I killed someone man. I mean I think it’s okay, not a big deal, but—”

The other end of the line is silent.

“This guy gave me a ride, started giving me some trouble. He was about to kick me out on the side of the highway. I just couldn’t take it, you know? So, I let him have it.”

The phone cuts out and beeps. The hitchhiker inserts another nickel into the machine before the operator can interject.

“I see. Where are you now?”

“I don’t know, exactly. I’ll be back in L.A. tomorrow.”

“Why don’t you disappear for a little while?”

“Just call and tell my manager I’ll be there tomorrow evening.”

“How do you know they ain’t gonna be looking for you?”

“He was a loner. Nobody will miss him for a long time. I was out on the desert when I ditched him. I don’t think anyone will find out.”

“You better hope not, son. They’ll send you to the big house for this one.”

“How’s Ma?”

“Same as yesterday.”

“I’ll come up with the money soon.”

“Don’t fret none about her. Don’t you go stirring up no mor—”

There is silence on the other end of the phone. The silence begs for another deposit. The hitchhiker sighs and rubs his temples. The payphone beeps loudly, and the operator’s monotone voice pours through the earpiece. “Please deposit one nickel for five more minutes. You have thirty seconds before I must disconnect the call.”

The hitchhiker has run out of time, and his pockets are empty. He can only hope that there’s enough gas to get him off of Highway 50.

Amazonians Have a Hundred Words for Green

February Web Feature

INFINITE KARMIC LORE
from Amazonians Have a Hundred Words for Green
by Gerard Sarnat

Here we are living in bliss on the “D” type exact epicenter of the San Andreas Fault’s apocalyptic Richter earthquake risk. Redwoods almost as ancient as the ancientest dinosaur from the Triassic era nearly a quarter of a billion years ago.

Grandest tallest oldest trees ever, they are just beginning to be threatened by Silicon Valley shiny objects’ air pollution.

When Ronald Reagan was President, my boy transplanted a few dull toy sprigs by the shady west side of our small cabin.

For now their majesty dwarfs this A-frame, though on the east there’s wide-open space past wild oak and Japanese maples.

The next entrepreneurial probable gazillionaire owner of the lawless unfenced no-lawn rustic structure will start upgrading it.

My short squat family lives an easy life in hardscrabble gorge gardens at the bottom of a forest saucer, but gazes up at stars.

Peering toward the not quite yet set sun in parallel blazing orange chez lounges, we babble ourselves into a twilight muddle.

She has been with me forever, is the mother of above son plus both daughters — then became Bubbe to one and still counting.

The two of us, smoked-flirted more than enough, stare over a nook of flowering angelicas before a crook lying on the skyline.

I fall in love with a gloveful of some turquoise fronds looking halfway like such very delicate needles bobbing in the wind.

A pair of red robins, three fluorescent squirrels, quivering Peter cottontail, a five-pointed buck shield the sliver of new moon.

Shimmering flora and fauna trigger timeframes that don’t seem to notice my pale chloroformed glop which nests here a lot.

If ecojustice isn’t much better supported, none of these glories will be around for Spring generations of offspring offshoots

 

 

Gerard Sarnat, MD, has authored Homeless Chronicles (2010), Disputes, 17s, Melting The Ice King (2016). Gerry’s recently published by Gargoyle, Oberlin, Brown, Harvard, Stanford, Margie, Main Street Rag, New Delta Review, LA Review, Brooklyn Review, San Francisco Magazine, New York Times. Mount Analogue selected Kaddish for distribution nationwide Inauguration Day. His work appeared in his Harvard reunion Dylan symposium.

Your Pet Turtle

January Web Feature

Your Pet Turtle
William Doreski

We agree that nothing is absolute, not the dark of closets, not clock-faces, not the stink of cooking fat. But we disagree on the exceptions. You place your plastic crucifix on the wall and claim that it represents the ultimate. I prop Wallace Stevens’ Collected Poems against the bassinette to make the baby cry. You prod my undercarriage with the skewer you used for lamb until I objected to cooking the young of innocent animals. I scratch you very slightly with a genuine Thoreau pencil I bought in a rare book shop forty years ago. You respond with the word “Animula.” I reply with “Condensed.” We agree that if we laugh it has to be aloud.

The room sweetens with the breath of your tiny pet turtle. It walked all the way from the Caribbean to live in your terrarium. Soon the immigration police will arrive to arrest us for importing disease from the furthest reach of the galaxy. We will explain that nothing is absolute, not even the furthest reach of the galaxy, and that law enforce peters out beyond the limits of the atmosphere. They will arrest your plastic crucifix for violating the religious clause of the Bill of Rights but allow your turtle to remain with you until a judge hears its case.

 

 

 

William Doreski recently retired after years of teaching at Keene State College in New Hampshire (USA). His most recent book of poetry is The Suburbs of Atlantis (2013). He has published three critical studies, including Robert Lowell’s Shifting Colors.  His essays, poetry, fiction, and reviews have appeared in various e and print journals and in several collections, most recently A Black River, A Dark Fall (2018)

Poems by Simon Perchik

December Web Feature

by Simon Perchik

*

You feed these birds at night
the way every feather they use
comes from a quarry where the air

darkens with each landing –it’s Tuesday
and you still have not forgotten
their return for seeds, endlessly

weeping for a missing child
a brother, mother though their eyes
are unsure how to close

when listening for a name, a flower
a river –you fill your hand from a bag
as if at the bottom they could hear

an emptiness that is not a night
falling behind step by step on the ground
–how open it was, already grass.

*

And stubborn yet these wicks
warm the light they need
to blossom as stone

then cling, smell from hair
burning inside, clawing for roots
heated by butterflies

and the afternoons coming together
to the light the fire, be a noon
where there was none before.

 

 

Simon Perchik is an attorney, born in 1923, whose poems have appeared in Partisan Review, Poetry, The New Yorker and elsewhere. His most recent collection is The Gibson Poems published in 2019. For more information including free e-books and his essay “Magic, Illusion and Other Realities” please visit his website at www.simonperchik.com.

Poetry Throw Back: Steve Bellin-Oka

A former guest poet/mentor turned Artist-in-Residence, Steve Bellin-Oka, shared the following piece with El Portal on November 11, 2016. We always knew he was bound for great things and are deeply honored to say, with a full heart, “we knew him when.”

Still Life with the Plague of Darkness
            — for my daughter

I woke this morning before dawn
to find the nation’s hearts had hardened.
Something stretched out its hand—a darkness
so thick it felt like gauze.
It seemed it would last for days.
Even the pavement cracks were wider:
more thick weeds forcing up
through the ridged concrete.
Overnight, someone stepped on them
and now we think our backs are broken.

But they’re not—I think of you
in another time zone, just turned thirteen,
the same sun rising from the far end
of the city. We’d wanted a land
less dangerous for you. To find
our questions answered. To wipe layers
away from the cocoon you struggle
to break free of. Forgive us.

But the November branches define
themselves against the slow sunrise.
Brown and red leaves still cling to them.
Inside the house now, I’ve pulled
the curtains back. Already so much
light pours in—nothing can keep it out.


A previous assistant professor at ENMU, Steve Bellin-Oka  is the 2019 Poets in Parks artist-in-residence for The National Parks Arts Foundation (NPAF), the Poetry Foundation, the National Parks Service, and the Gettysburg Foundation. He is the author of two chapbooks, The Frankenstein Poems (2014) and Dead Letter Office at North Atlantic Station (forthcoming in 2017). His work has appeared in Cream City Review, Mississippi Review, William and Mary Review and Yalobusha Review, among other journals, and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He is the recipient of an Academy of American Poets prize and fellowships from the Vermont Studio Center, the Virginia Center for Creative Arts, and the Hambidge Center for the Arts, and was shortlisted for the Key West Literary Seminar’s Scotti Merrill Memorial Award.

Welcome Back!

Spring 2015

School is back in session at Eastern New Mexico University and the Fall 2015 issue is well underway, which means El Portal is now accepting submissions for its Spring 2016 edition. Prose, poetry, flash fiction, photography, and art are welcome internationally! Deadline October 31st.

For Terms of Submission: Click Here

For Submission Guidelines: Click Here

El Portal is also seeking submissions for its Monthly Web Feature! On the final Wednesday of each month from September through April, we will be showcasing a piece of prose, poetry, photography, or art right here on our blog. If you would like to submit a piece for consideration, please contact us at el.portal@enmu.edu with the subject line “Web Feature Submission.”

For Web Feature Terms of Submission and Guidelines: Click Here

To read some of our previous web features: Click Here

An Interview with El Portal’s Incoming Editor: Kayleen Burdine [by Alexandra Itzi]

p1030248

A native of Carlsbad, New Mexico, Kayleen Burdine will be assuming editorship of El Portal in August 2015. After graduating with a Bachelors of Arts in English from Eastern New Mexico University this May, she will be entering the Graduate Program in English at ENMU in the fall semester of 2015. Although Burdine will be hard at work as El Portal’s editor, she will hopefully still have time for some of her favorite activities which include playing video games, reading, and writing fantasy and general fiction. She enjoys reading young adult and fantasy literature and her favorite novel is House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski.

El Portal will be in capable hands—Kayleen is an excellent reader with a critical eye for quality writing. She is familiar with the aesthetic and workings of the journal, as she has served as Assistant Editor since August of 2014. Burdine says that she first became aware of the journal when one of her professors handed her a copy and encouraged her to submit her own writing. In fact, her submission entitled “Uncomfortable Truths” took first place in El Portal’s short story contest in the Spring of 2014.

Burdine’s interest in the journal transformed her from contributor to staff member. Regarding her experiences working for El Portal, she says: “I really enjoyed my work as assistant editor, and I’ve always wanted to have a career in editing. Being editor of the journal is a great way to gain experience in my field and it also just sounds really exciting to take charge of something and hopefully improve it in a way that’ll be beneficial to future contributors and staff members.”

El Portal will not see any drastic changes in the coming year. Instead, Burdine will focus her attention on improving the infrastructure which is already in place. While El Portal will continue to encourage submissions from the national and international writing community, Burdine wants to draw attention inward as well. She says that “the number of submissions El Portal receives nationally and internationally is wonderful and I always encourage more, but comparatively very few are from our own student body. I’d love to see what sort of material a larger pool of student submissions would bring to the journal.”

Burdine’s drive and passion for editing—which she hopes to make into a career after graduation—coupled with her professionalism and willingness to work hard promise an exciting future for El Portal. We hope you’ll join us in celebrating her achievements with the journal.

Kayleen Burdine can be reached at: Kayleen.Burdine@enmu.edu

El Portal Seeking Submissions for Fall 2015 Issue

El Portal is currently seeking submissions for its Fall 2015 issue. The deadline for Fall 2015 submissions is 31 March 2015. If you have any questions about submitting to El Portal, please feel free to drop us a line at el.portal@enmu.edu. For submission guidelines and official rules, please visit our official Guidelines and Terms of Submission pages for more information. Also, be sure to check out this month’s web feature by Jenni Baros.

Call for Submissions (El Portal, Fall 2015)

El Portal is currently seeking submissions for its Fall 2015 issue. If you have any questions about submitting to El Portal, please feel free to drop us a line at el.portal@enmu.edu. For submission guidelines and official rules, please visit our official Guidelines and Terms of Submission pages for more information. Also, be sure to check out this month’s web feature by Jenni Baros.

The Well by Jenni Baros (Web Feature)

“Well’s dry again,” Travis says. He kicks the front door shut against the gnawing cold. His arms are full of damp pinon for the fire. The tang of manure and fresh hay follows him in.

“It’s winter,” I say. My fingers are numb from chasing dishes around in a sink full of suds. I’ve been waiting for him to ask about my day. But both our hands are busy with chores, and he won’t stop till they’re done.

“Checked the cisterns. They’re about half-way.”

“We’ll have to watch it.” I am guilty with the water in the basin. Laundry’s waiting by the washer and we’ll need to shower tomorrow. Seems there’s always more need than have.

As he kneels at the hearth, his knees creak and pop with the weight of years spent scraping at this dirt, fighting it. Wood chuffs against the rough cotton of his mud brown Carhartt. There is meticulousness in his stacking log upon log; he might have been an engineer. Instead, we’re just two washed up rodeo-ers, pretending we aren’t failing at being farmers, too.

The phone rings. He keeps his back to it, crouched away like a beat pup. There’s nothing new to say to the bank. I dry my hands on the back of my jeans before answering.

“Hi, Lisa.” I say her name so he knows it’s not for him. I should have let it go to voicemail. She chatters on about a Tanya’s baby shower and I set the last plates to dry. Travis finishes stacking the wood and heads out to the barn to shut the cows in for the night.

 ***

Just before we got married, he took me to Santa Fe. He needed a qualifying ride and I was just happy to be with him. We stayed the night on the square for Zozobra. The effigy of Old Man Winter, paled-faced and leering, was rising ten feet out of a pyre. The people all around us danced to the mariachi, their arms lifted in the air as they burned away the old and welcomed in the new. When he was lighted, the fire was so hot I had to turn away. Travis held onto me and whispered that he loved me. Right then, I had everything I ever wanted.

 ***

We go to bed early because there is nothing else to do. I put a thick log on the fire and turn out lights. He eases weary onto the mattress and I think this is the moment for me to tell him the truth. But I look at his sun-lined face and see his eyes hollow. The words lose their shape in my mouth. I reach my hand out, touch the sinew in his arms. I must be ice against his skin because he flinches. I pull away.

“Love you,” I say.

“G’night,” he answers, rolling to face the closet. His breath comes in familiar rhythms and I turn away, too. Cold air slipping under the covers between us.

 ***

We’d been married two years when I ended up the in ICU for rolling my trailer outside of Gunnison. My horse didn’t make it. Travis dropped out of the rodeo the rest of the year just to sit and read Jane Austen out loud. The following year, a bull caught Travis in the chest and I finished her collected works waiting out his surgeries. We both hate her to this day.

 ***

I stand outside the closest Wal-Mart, a forty-five minute drive from the house. As I walk to the automatic doors, the wind drags my hair through the gloss on my lips then covers them with a gritty layer of dust. Empty convenience store cups roll swirling dances around smaller tumbleweeds against the cinderblock walls. A fast food wrapper skips by, hurried along with intermittent gusts. The smell of cow shit lays a hazy veneer over everything, even my teeth when I open my mouth. I am only here for water.

An hour later, teal nail polish beeps across the scanner and the cashier says, “You take the day off?” I don’t recognize her at first. But under the lavender hair and watery, red eyes, I see the Mallory I knew years ago; back when we all thought we’d get the heck out of this town. Can’t go to Wal-Mart without seeing someone you know.

“Kinda.” I brush bangs from my forehead, aware of the few grey strands I found last week, almost white against my tawny brown.

Beep for a jug of water. “How’s Dixie,” she asks.

“Oh,” I say. My insides have been doused in ice water. Beep for matches. “She’s gone.”

“That’s sad.” Beep for chili beans. “Y’all were a good team. Hard to find a roper like her.” Beep for canned soup.

I wave a flippant hand. The hurt is an August fly, fat and lazy. “She deserved better.”

Mallory nods. “$15.62,” she says. “You keep her tack?”

I swipe my card. “No.” My throat catches. I’ve tried not to think about the hand-tooled saddle, mine and Travis’ initials interwoven with sunflowers in the leather; capped with an authentic Mexican silver saddle horn. The one my Daddy gave me as a wedding present. “We sold it.”

“Too bad.” She doesn’t care. “Enjoy your day.”

“You, too.” I hoist the water into the cart, the plastic bag flimsy in my grip. I hate coming in to town.

 ***

My soup is cold.

Travis was already gone when I got home. I didn’t bother with his cell, mostly because I don’t know what to say to him. I dip my spoon into the bowl but can’t bring it to my mouth. Tires on the gravel drive have me bracing for the rush of cold air when he opens the door. “What’re you doing home?”

“Sit down,” I say, pushing the bowl aside.

He tugs his sweat-stained ball cap off, walks to the sink. The facet sputters when he tries to fill a glass. “Damn it.”

“There’s a jug in the fridge.”

He brings the empty glass to the table and sits across from me. He looks at the floor. “Bank’s coming this afternoon. They’re taking the tractor.” Titling the glass, he looks through it. “And the livestock.”

My throat is squeezing in on itself. I can’t swallow. “I got fired yesterday.”

He looks up, green eyes bright against the red of his brows. I doubt he expected a pissing contest. Trouble is, we’re both downwind, facing the wrong way.

“Gibbs said I took too much personal time. Didn’t care that it was for the doctors.”

“Well,” Travis tries to make the best of it, “Gibbs is an asshole.”

“Dr. Cross finally just said it,” I say; I can’t wait any more for him to ask. “I can’t keep a baby. There’s just too much scarring.”

That’s the one. He winches, the same crumple I saw when the bull’s horn got under his chest plate. It’s the kind of hurt that ruins a life. He studies the table between us; deep breath. “It is what it is,” he says. The ball cap is back on his head and he shuffles for the door.

“Where you going?”
“Water the stock.” His glass is on the table as he opens the door. The winter scuttles in, brushing my skin into cold fury.

He’s back around time for dinner. I don’t know what he’s been doing out there, the cows gone to auction and the tractor back to the bank. But he comes up behind me while I’m setting out bowls and folds his arms around me. His hands are cold through my sleeves. “I love you, Ruth,” he says. “That won’t change now.” Then he’s gone to wash up. At dinner, he is quiet and I just sit there, running the cornbread through my chili, trying to swallow without water.

When we’re in bed, I reach for him and he is accommodating. It’s the only thing we know. I lay on his chest tracing the scar where the bull gored him. “Why’d you marry me?”

“You had a roper’s ass.”

“Seriously.”

“You don’t quit.” He has that half smile, an echo of the one that knocked the breath out of me every time I sat in the stands, watching him in the arena. “Even when you were outside the time: you’d still tie ‘em up, like you didn’t hear the whistle.” He laughs. “Then you’d throw your hands up in the air and wave like you were the damn rodeo queen.” His lips are soft on my forehead.

“You had a bullrider’s ass.”

He laughs again. I remember this, remember me. I could stay here, warm and drowsy, as long as the heat holds. Then he says it quiet, like he doesn’t want to wake from this. “We would ’a made great babies.”

I choke. “I’m sorry, Travis.”

“Me, too.” He sighs. “Shit happens, you know?”
I feel the warmth draining from my body and I start to shake. “I can’t do this.”

“Come on, Ruth.” He pulls his arm from under me. The thunderstorm he’s been hanging onto breaks, but I’m the ground too dry to soak it in. “What more do you want? I’ve got nothing.” His eyes are full and he is fighting to keep his voice from shaking. “You want me to say sorry that we had to sell your saddle to pay the doctor bills? ‘Cause I am. More than you know. And I’m real sorry you’re stuck on this piece of shit dirt with a man who can’t do squat to make a life.” He is standing now, yanking pants off the floor, belt buckle ringing as he pulls them on.

“Travis,” I say. “This isn’t how we wanted it.”

“I’m thirsty.” And he walks out, like it’s as easy as that.

 ***

The sun’s coming up; but the chill is worse in this moment than it has been all night. Travis will be up soon, no matter what the day will bring. He’ll find my note propped against the coffee pot. I sincerely hope he reads it, so he knows that this life, and not him, has taken too much of me already. The canvas duffel I used when I was on the rodeo circuit, is packed with only the essentials and half our savings. It’s in the back seat of my dirt-road crusted Focus, the only things I own outright.

I smell like gasoline. The ground in front of me is wet with what I could find in the barn. I crouch close to the packed dirt. It is a small thing to light a match. It is an even smaller thing to let it go.

The tiny pyre of twigs in front of me catches. On top perches a corn husk doll, the one I made when we first started trying. It isn’t long before a prickly spire of flame finds the gas. With a rush of heat, the fire chases the line of fuel toward the barn. I blow a kiss to baby Zozobra. By the time I stand, the whole row of stalks is involved, inviting its neighbors to join their flickering dance. The field is full of ochre and melting gold.

I turn my face toward the well. I can see Travis leaning against my car, bag slung over his shoulder. I feel a grin cracking open on my face.

“You coming,” I ask when I’m in earshot.

“Yeah,” he says. “If you want me to.” I nod and his smile breaks like the sun over prairie.

I drive slow out onto the highway. The wind has picked up, blowing smoke in front of the house so I can’t see it anymore. Travis holds his hand out and I lace my fingers into his. “You’re warm,” he says, leaning his head back, closing his eyes.

“I am.” I put the sun behind us as I lay the pedal on the floor.

March’s El Portal Web Feature

This month’s web feature includes a short story by Jenni Baros.

Jenni Baros is a graduate of the University of Alaska, taking the long way to a Masters from Denver Seminary. She lives with her husband and two children in the Rocky Mountains outside Golden, Colorado. She has summited five 14ers and contributed to A Surrendered Life. She blogs at http://www.jenbaros.com.

If you have questions concerning El Portal web features, feel free to drop us a line at el.portal@enmu.edu.

Marlboro Marlboro (Poem by Alexandra Itzi)

Marlboro Marlboro

Where are you hiding tonight my curled fingers

Search out feeling like briny brackish seaweed

The nightstand with its crumpled dollar bill the

Offering

Pay the tithe

Urging urging the tickle in the back of my throat like too much

Too much candy maybe how it was growing up the corner store

Those nickel and dime candies make your mouth dry like

Sawdust around the edges of your feet dad those big feet poking beneath

The lip of the bed where I hid from you I’m

Sorry it came out of me possessed was I those words not my own

I Didn’t Mean It.

Marlboro

Marlboro

where are you hiding it’s time

It’s

Time.

ItNothing (Poem by Alexandra Itzi)

“No.”

“But I—“

“I said no.”

There was a slam,

a bang,

and then a sigh.

 

That’s how the story started,

and also how it ended.

 

She looked down at his body,

at the crooked bend of his neck.

She peeked into the crater of flesh,

at the bored-out hole in his skull.

She sniffed the air,

the gunpowder and smell of

shitty

shitty

death.

 

“Fuck,” she breathed.

His old motorcycle jacket

went around her shoulders.

She dropped the gun into

the big triangle shaped pocket,

and then patted the lump of it three times for good luck.

 

Opened the front door.

Locked it carefully for

No reason at all.

She kicked over their lawn-gnome,

Stumpy,

on her way down the cracked foot path.

He smiled sideways at her through

a tangle

of overgrown weeds.

 

“I had to do it,”

She told herself,

On the bus-ride to Toledo.

 

“He was ruining me,”

She sniffed,

During a thunderstorm in Vegas.

 

“It was me or him,”

She bleated,

To her mother is Southern California—

To the queen of Cacti and martini’s,

Of silk scarves and old men with mustaches.

 

Where she patted the gun three times

For luck,

Her mother patted her

Yves Saint Laurent ROUGE PUR COUTURE

 

Within a garden,

Of purple desert flowers

And black lacquered chaises.

She told her mother.

 

And her mother,

Sunglasses perched near the place

Where her nose was

Before she cut it off;

Her mother,

Smiled her peroxide smile,

And said

Nothing.

Silencing Rivers by Jade Smith

Rio Grande (2)

I reached down to the bottom of the back bar. I poured another tequila shot and slid it down the crumbling lacquer to Marcos. He didn’t look down as he caught it. He had been sitting there the entire night watching me tend. I wiped the tables down and I could feel his body shift and his legs open when I bent down to grab the towel I dropped. It was a Monday night and Marcos and the other loyals were clamped tight to their half-full Bud-lights and if they’d gotten paid, a short whiskey and ginger ale. I tried to quit once. But Raul told me he’d give me a raise. Promises are always made when a girl like me tries to get out. So I smiled, flipped my long black curls, and stuffed singles into the back pocket of my jeans. This was the only way for a girl like me. Smile. Flip. Wipe. Pour. Smile.

My father had fixed Raul’s carburetor. There’s no money in housing regular drunks and giving them free tequila. So, the next day, I was behind the bar. Papa said it would help me pay for school. Hopefully a teaching gig after graduation. A degree. This was the only way. “Smile,” Marcos said. “This is for you.” I stuffed a single in my back-pocket and wiped drooling beer foam off of counter-tops.

The bar was crawling with sticky sweet cockroaches and flies that clung to the walls because of the brawls that sent men and glass shattering against the stucco. It was any other night, the pool tables were full and the beer was dripping out of men’s gaping mouths as I slid out from the back of the bar and made my rounds of delivering tequila. He was standing in the corner. Watching. He had a bow tie and leather shoes. His silk handkerchief was folded in a triangle and placed neatly in his breast pocket. His pants were pressed and he wasn’t drinking tequila. He signaled me over with a nod. “Whiskey sour”, he said. That’s all it took. I was already his. When my father gave me away six months later he said, “Smile, hita. You’ve made it.”

There was no way a bartending job was suitable for a married woman. Not a lot was suitable for a married woman of his. Skirts were longer. Makeup was less frequent. Carlos didn’t want me away from the girls too long, the twins were just newborns and they needed their mother. He stopped paying tuition right after that.

Errands were monitored by the gossipers of the town. Somehow, Carlos always knew if we had gone somewhere else than the store or to the dry cleaners. Soon, those were the only places acceptable for a wife and a mother. Soon, I was quieted every time I spoke against him. A sharp jab to the cheek one night ended any craving I had for ice cream. Or a movie. The market was the only place for a black eye and a grasp mark on my arm. No one asked questions there. They looked down when I wheeled the cart of screaming twins and parmesan cheese to the cashier’s counter.

Soon there was no need for reprimands. Carlos was gone most weekdays, a job out of town, only twenty minutes away in Las Cruces but he knew he no longer needed to be home every night. He spent his time between the site and strip joints full of college girls majoring in finance or business at a state school. He stroked their backs, and placed singles in their strings. “Smile,” he’d say. And they’d flip their hair and pour him sours. He came home with bags under his eyes and glitter in his pockets. I’d empty them and put them in piles for the cleaners. His blue pair had a tear near the zipper; I stitched it, folded them, and placed them in the trash can.

That night the twins were screaming in unison. Their wails could be heard down the street and no matter how much I tried, they were inconsolable. Carlos called and said he wouldn’t be home for dinner and not to wait up. Said he had to stay in Las Cruces. “Besos for my girls.” I hung up the phone and listened to our children wailing. It was dulled by a slight rushing sound that rang in my ear. It grew stronger and muffled the twin’s crying. It was a river. I couldn’t hear the twins anymore. I went down the hall to their room. Their faces were wet with tears but all I could hear was water. Gushing Violent.

I dressed the twins in their white lace baptism dresses. The buttons wouldn’t close in the back. I put bonnets on them so their ears wouldn’t be cold. I tied their pearly shoes. And folded the silk ruffle on their socks. Their cheeks still wet, I loaded them in the sedan and pulled on the interstate.

The Rio was full. Rain from the recent month brought the water close to the tree by the shoreline. I waded in with them. The white lace at their hemline turned a muddy brown. Their sobs muffled still. I didn’t feel the water. I just heard gushing. We were up to my shoulders. Then our necks. I kissed their silent open mouths and tasted salt on my lips. This was the only way for girls like us. “Smile.”