Delmarva Review: Stickman by Tom Larsen

Share

The guy at the door doesn’t look like Danny, though a case could be made for the nose. A mashed-in version, dramatically scabbed and weather beaten, and the hair, filthy but spiked in defiance. A strange, Dan-like head on a body that would make an anorexic flinch. Withered limbs swimming in cutoffs and stained polo shirt. Dead-end Danny after the rock fight. It couldn’t be, yet the voice assures us it is, the South Philly accent unmistakable.

“What have you done to the real Danny?” my wife demands.

“C’mon, Andree, let me in.”

It was little more than a year ago, during the last dismal round in his squabble with the hospital administration, that we saw him last. Bloodied but unbowed, he vowed to fight them to the end. Master of the-cat-and-mouse game of drug counseling, Danny was as close to a legend as anyone in that line is likely to get. Confrontational, abrasive, streetwise to a fault, he did what you have to do to reach the reachable. The bureaucrats were another story. The end was never really in doubt.

Now he’s sitting in my kitchen eating Froot Loops and making phone calls. The calls are brief. No one wants to hear from Danny these days. We’d heard rumors, but nothing could have prepared us for the wreckage. I console myself with a single thought. Originally, he was Andree’s friend.

“I won’t give you money,” she sets the limit.

“Two bucks? Two bucks and I’m outta here.”

 “I’m a nurse. I can’t give you money to cop.”

 Strange, after all these years, to hear her talk the talk again. He turns to me.

“Tom?”

 “Jesus, what can you get for two bucks?”

 He smiles. By God, it IS Danny.

 “Where’s Libby and the kids?” Andree asks. Again he smiles.

Somewhere in the depths of her secretary desk is an in-house magazine with a faintly sneering Danny on the cover. Pre-crash and burn addict-savant in a black leather jacket. In the archives of the very hospital that fired him is a Dan-directed recovery video that leaves the unaddicted feeling strangely unversed. What have we to overcome?

“Where’s little Danny?” Andree grills him. He mumbles something unintelligible

It is her job to disapprove. Dazzled as I am by the plunge, the physical devastation, the ridiculous polo shirt, I try not to stare. It occurs to me that the bulk of the homeless once had a home and a bathroom and a closet full of clothes. This will not always be the case. The next generation is fast upon us.  

He pours a small mountain of sugar on his Froot Loops and we watch as it dissolves. The tattoos have not fared well, the dagger on his bicep reduced to a hatpin, the naked lady shriveled to a smudge. But it is the shirt that gets me. In real life, Danny would not own such a thing.

Andree plays the nurse/interrogator to Danny’s strung-out supplicant. They speak in code, a mix of medicalese and doper slang. All the while, Danny smokes my cigarettes and shovels in the cereal. It’s a toe-to-toe performance by masters of the genre, Andree projecting tough love with a no-bullshit bottom line, Danny a perfect blend of psychic pain and sardonic wit. I sit fiddling with my fingers, in the loop but out of my league.

“You want something else to eat?” I ask him. “A sandwich maybe?”

“No way, Jose. This guy gave me a sausage sandwich yesterday.” He clutches at what’s left of his stomach. “Tried to kill me, I tell ya. I said later for you, Mr. Sausage.”

Danny has a jargon all his own, Port Richmond patois laced with goofy names and words you have to look up

“I got some green chili salsa,” I make a joke. They roll their eyes and tune me out. Different treatment centers are suggested and rejected. Andree persists, Danny resists. References to HIV are impossibly oblique, pauses mostly, a hardening of the eye. It’s a pointless exchange when you stop and think. Danny invented the game. If anyone knows where the treatment centers are, it’s him.

I slip him three bucks under the table.

“You need a ride somewhere?”

He reaches past me and steals another cigarette.

 “Florida,” he gives a wink. “Winter’s coming, don’t you know.”

For the next hour Andree works the phone, calling in a decade’s worth of markers. The old-girl network of admission nurses finds a place for him in the Benton Institute, though he has no medical card or even a valid ID. During the negotiations, Danny tells me about the car he shares with a friend on the west side.

“Well, at least you can get around.” I put my clueless spin on things. His look says later for you, Mr. Andree.

He was clean for seven years. Worked a job, got married, bought a house, and had kids. Amazing what you can do in seven years. At the reception for his son’s christening, he commandeered the stage to serenade his bride. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Neighborhoods. Where you can still be a hero, or even worse.

A week later, we go to see him. Benton Institute, with its pillared porches and fairway grounds looks more Main Line then medicinal, its present function as unlikely as its location. Walled off from surrounding badlands, a fair share of the city’s pipers could walk there in minutes. We meet him at the med station, still wasted but showered and shaved. The only patient we’ll see who looks like a patient.

“They’re cutting me down to 40 milligrams a day,” he complains as he leads us down lavish hallways to his room. “I mean, whatever happened to coddling?”

“You’re here to get well, not to get high,” Andree tows the line. As usual, my presence is not required. I trail behind them, scanning the paintings and Queen Anne furniture.

“Nice place,” I tell him.

“Oh, yeah, it’s like drying out in Graceland. I heard some of the rooms even have fireplaces.”

His is a corner suite with a view of the rose garden. Two single beds and a chest of drawers. Fireplace. Despite our protests, he insists on showing us his feet, which have suffered some withdrawal-related malady too gruesome to get into. My own toes curl in sympathy. Andree turns away.

“Will they get better?” I ask him.

Danny shrugs and wiggles the big ones at me.

 “Will we?” the right one wonders in falsetto.

“Beats me,” the left one bows from the waist.

He didn’t last long at the Institute. A late-night phone call confirmed, Danny checked out against medical advice. The news came as no surprise, and whatever comes next will not include us. And I’m thinking, clawing your way back should be enough. Do the right thing, and the right things should happen. But the way of addiction rigs it differently. When the game is never over, how can you win?

 You don’t hear much about crackheads these days, but that’s just because we got tired of listening, too much to worry about, troubles of our own. In the meantime, they’re out there hitting rock bottom, the scufflers, the sidewalk sleepers, the stickman who used to be Danny.

The Spy is pleased to republish Tom Larsen’s nonfiction essay from The Delmarva Review, Volume 9. The literary journal is published by the Eastern Shore Writers Association with support from private contributions and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. For information, visit: www.delmarvareview.com.

Tom Larson has been writing fiction for 25 years. His work has appeared in Best American Mystery Stories, Newsday, Puerto del Sol, and the LA Review. His novels FLAWED and INTO THE FIRE are available through Amazon. Originally writing from Milton, Delaware, he now lives in Philadelphia.

 

Delmarva Review: To Three Suburban Moms Too Frightened To Drive Their Girls To My Detroit Neighborhood

Share

Did you miss our latest spectacle? And the outcome—urban renewal so bright it’s visible from satellites buzzing overhead? Look now, toward construction ticking like clockwork at every downtown corner, cranes hanging like kites at our choppy skyline. See the buildings still standing. The earthmovers shoveling remnants of those that tumbled to the pavement. See Woodward Avenue gutted like a silver trout as commuter trains aim from suburbs to city for the first time ever, while church choirs in every nook and crook of Motown proclaim Hallelujah to packed houses and God in His heaven!

Come this way. We won’t sting or pinch, won’t give you a second glance—these days most of us are wary as turtles, heads crammed in shells. Weary as sloths beneath the weight of everyone’s attention, the any moment now when it swings like a trapeze to the next calamity. So by the time you read this, we’ll already be forgotten.

I promise—my own neighbors barely shoot their guns anymore, and then only on holidays, only into the sky—which clearly had it coming! We’re grounded as century oaks. Check our brick foundations, how firmly they’re jammed into the dirt. We’ve stood through decades of hail and sleet and funnel clouds all. We’re so airtight our basements sometimes burst into flame, even as fire hydrants trickle 24/7.

Look how ivy climbs arm over fist across our roofs. How every spring the day lilies shove headfirst through our crusty soil. See how high our roses grow in summer, how the squirrels eat the pumpkins every Halloween and nobody begrudges them. How Christmas lights go on twinkling all through the long winter and into the thaw—it’s our civic duty and we take it damn seriously. And down the street in neon red, Jesus Saves! shines all year long from someone’s bedroom window.
So what if a little litter loiters at our crosswalks, the band flyers riding the wind, some crinkled Kit Kat wrappers because who doesn’t love those? The empty MD 20/20 bottle rolling like a puppy into a lonely pothole that’s only swallowed one VW Bus. That one time. We know of.

So breathe easy, my dears. These days nature mostly keeps to itself. And what doesn’t, we work around because we’re slippery that way. No one bothers when packs of unloved, spotty mutts come shuffling and snuffling at our garbage bins. And if you ignore the wild turkey lording over the golf course behind my house, she’ll leave you be.

Where I live, raccoons and possums only go about their errands at dusk. Disregard reports of fox, of gray wolves near the river, their midnight songs blending with sirens, so we only moan along in our deepest dreams.

It’s true—somewhere across the city, families of hawks circle the clouds, plummeting to Earth like glossy missiles to pick off unlucky bunnies or rats—quicksnap and it’s done. Feral cats squat like hobos in abandoned storefronts, pheasants disappear into grasslands where blocks of houses are right this moment sinking beneath the press of rain. But you’ll never see this. No one comes here anymore. Not like my good neighborhood.So pack your girls, point your car toward the incinerator, and drive.

Never mind the factory fire at our northern border, how it’s smoldered three days now—only watch your direction in the smoke plume! Look for landmarks—Praise Him Beauty Salon here, The Booby Trap over there, a hundred little pot shops all in a row, their ubiquitous green crosses sprung like saplings from naked ground. Hand-painted signs declaring Club Medz and House of Dank and Puff Detroit so we’re all kind of embarrassed. Shut your windows to avoid the contact high, and just keep driving.

Corner of 8 Mile and Woodward, pass Face-Tattoo-Guy looking rougher by the week. Beside the bridge, see Old-Lady-With-Snaggletooth who keeps an eye on Toothless-Guy. There’s Young-Guy spelled by Other-Young-Guy, their cluttered patch of landscape like a refugee camp. There’s Crazy-Guy who’ll point at you and laugh—just fair warning. Give him a buck, or not. Offer a nod. Or not.

It changes nothing. But come anyhow. I’m serving brownies from scratch, and chamomile tea with honey from city bees. You’re so close, your mouth waters.

Or not. Don’t fret, we’ll be fine either way. My daughter will shrug like teenagers do. Whatever, she’ll say. She’s used to it by now. And you’re nestled like shiny pennies in your houses, your green-as-a-dollar-bill lawns edged in perfect squares, cars snug as ponies in every garage. All of which makes me want to tell you something important, something about our stars and how they’re misaligned.

Or that a butterfly flap flap flapped its wings fifty-some years ago and the weather shifted, the storm rose between us—then faded from Technicolor to gray, to ghost.

But that doesn’t matter. We are here. Come if you like.

The Spy is pleased to reprint Ms. Bernstein-Machlay’s creative nonfiction from The Delmarva Review, Volume 9. The literary journal is published by the Eastern Shore Writers Association with support from private contributions and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. For information, visit: www.delmarvareview.com.

Laura Bernstein-Machlay is an instructor of literature and creative writing at The College for Creative Studies, in Detroit, Michigan. Her poems and creative nonfiction have appeared in numerous journals including Michigan Quarterly Review, New Madrid, Concho River Review, Oyez, Redivider, and upstreet. She has work forthcoming in The American Scholar, Soundings East, and Moon City Review.

Just Released Delmarva Review with 36 Authors

Share

The Delmarva Review announced publication of its ninth annual literary journal presenting original prose and poetry from thirty-six authors in 11 states. The review welcomes submissions from all writers.

delmarva-review-small“From almost 2,000 submissions, editors selected forty-seven poems, 10 essays and memoirs, eight short stories, and five books for reviews,” said Wilson Wyatt, executive editor.“They probe the human themes of love, loss, aging, addiction, physical and mental illness, personal identity, a sense of place, and, of course, death.”

The cover photograph, “Significant Other,” by George Merrill, of St. Michaels, Maryland, is suggestive of human relationships, depicted by two weathered picket gateposts (in Oxford, Maryland), with expressive “eyes,” bound together by a simple tether. The image invites one’s imagination.

In recognition of the 400th birthday of William Shakespeare, the Review features an essay and poems by actor James Keegan, from Milton, Delaware. The veteran actor describes how he draws human qualities from his Shakespearean roles to build characters in his poetry. Mythological undertones surface throughout much of the writing in this edition.

True to the regional namesake, the Delmarva Peninsula, this issue includes a special section listing 114 current books published by authors from the Chesapeake region. The new books cover most genres and show the diversity of creative writing by regional authors.

Published by the Eastern Shore Writer’s Association (ESWA), the Delmarva Review has printed the original literary work of 254 authors over a nine-year history. Some are newly discovered. In all, they have come from twenty-eight states, the District of Columbia, and nine other countries. Over half are from the Delmarva and Chesapeake region.

The Review’s published work has earned over 40 nominations for a Pushcart Prize, as well as notable mentions in published anthologies and critical journals.

For writers, the submission period is open from November 1, 2016 through March 31, 2017 for new poetry, short fiction, and creative nonfiction. Writing will be considered for the tenth annual edition in 2017. All submissions are made from the website’s guidelines page at www.delmarvareview.com.

The journal produces print and digital editions. Both are available worldwide via Amazon.com and other online booksellers. It is downloadable in a digital format at Kindle for tablets, computers, smart phones, and other reading devices. Two-year subscriptions are available on the website.

It is sold regionally at the News Center, in Easton, Mystery Loves Company, in Oxford, The Writer’s Center, in Bethesda, and other bookstores for $10. The e-book edition is $3.99. It is also available at many public libraries in the region.

In addition to ESWA, publication is supported by individual tax-deductible contributions and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council, with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council.

Information about the Review and the authors is available on the website: www.delmarvareview.com. ESWA information is available at: www.easternshorewriters.org.

Delmarva Review: Autumn Morning by James Keegan

Share

AUTUMN MORNING

Winter is sitting not far away
on an old park bench,
its green paint flaking and cracked.
His brown coat is open and he
is peeling a tart apple
he swiped in the market.
His dead father’s pocketknife,
all the old man left to him,
turns the skin from the flesh
in one sharp red ring.
Smell the air and there
the blue edge, oiled and fine,
grazes the tender hair
at the top of your spine.
James Keegan is an author and actor, who, for over a decade, has been a member of the resident acting company at The American Shakespeare Center’s Blackfriars Playhouse. He is an associate professor of English and theater at the University of Delaware, in Georgetown, DE. His poems, essays, and short fiction have appeared in Poet Lore, Southern Poetry Review, The Gettysburg Review, and The Best Small Fictions of 2015. He lives in Milton, Delaware.
The Spy is pleased to reprint Mr. Keegan’s poem from the coming Delmarva Review’s ninth issue. The literary journal is published by the Eastern Shore Writers
Association with additional support from private contributions and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. For information, visit: www.delmarvareview.com.

Delmarva Review: Tidepool Strata Near Half Moon Bay by Judith McCombs

Share

Tidepool Strata Near Half Moon Bay

I was there at first light, in the minus tide,
picking my way across weed-strewn strata
risen from sea. Wave crests, far out;
white gulls at the edge of a bay revealed,
shore beyond shore. A grey shape lifted
from hidden fissures, heron, great blue,
pterodactyl beak gliding and stabbing.

Fault lines of granite angled me out:
at my feet a skittery n
ew-winged cloud
of insects risen from chasm. I saw
how barren the channels where alien landwater
ran undersea; how fierce with life
the crevices, hollows, inlets where waves
surged and withdrew, flotsam and foam.

I stepped between weed-mounds, myriad black snails
coiled in their pearl, small anemones shut
to the air, fisting their grit-studded muscle.
I bent to the tidepools where sculpin hovered,
the sidelong hermit put forth its black limbs,
and the great anemones opened their ancient
animal flowering, corolla and mouth.

I gave thanks for the ancestors, foam cell and breath,
for the bones and the softness; for the deep flood-tides
of the young, the slowing blood-tides of the old.
For the lessons of stone, breaking down, and of water,
flowing on. For the unseen life that feeds,
and the seeing. For the great primordial light
that pulls the tilting earth; for the lesser
light pulling and heaping the seas. For all this,
and the salt in my mouth, the sea in my hands.

By Judith McCombs

Maryland poet Judith McCombs has been published in numerous literary journals. Her fifth book is The Habit of Fire: Poems Selected & New. She has held NEH and Canadian Senior Fellowships and won the Maryland State Arts Council’s highest Individual Artist Award for poetry, in 2009. She teaches at The Writer’s Center.

The Spy is pleased to reprint Ms. McCombs poetry from The Delmarva Review, Volume 8 (2015). The literary journal is published by the Eastern Shore Writers Association with additional support from private contributions and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council. Print and digital editions are available from libraries, local bookstores, and Amazon.com. For information, visit: www.delmarvareview.com.

Delmarva Review: A Conversation With Lars By Rose Strode

Share

The year of my divorce I taught Sunday school in a room the size of a large walk-in closet: a windowless, cramped pen in the gymnasium basement of a cinderblock building. At the end of every class, my four-year-old students burst forth like starlings out of a tree: chattering, swirling, looping around the gym in pandemonium. I loved to watch and to think about how good it feels to burst out of a too-small place, even if it’s a place one loves. I worked hard to make the cell assigned to me a haven, and I knew I succeeded because my old students sometimes migrated back. My most frequent visitor was Lars.

I met Lars the year before, at Sunday school “summer camp,” and we bonded. Lars was a skinny seven-year-old whose gray eyes, blond hair, and translucently pale skin reminded me of a watercolor left out in the rain. Lanky and twitchy, he stood in the doorway so those going out had to push past him. That was Lars: the kid who somehow could not figure out how to join the ever-moving flock.

I once asked him why he stood there, and he told me, “I like to watch the little kids.” Lars sometimes confided in me: why his Halloween costume had been a flop; his doubts about Santa; and his parents’ refusal to get him a kitten. All of his stories involved thwarted plans, and he seemed to brood over a worry he could not yet articulate as he watched the other children from the safety of the classroom that once had been his.

One day, as I folded a tablecloth Lars piped up: “Rose, which kids are your kids?”

I didn’t understand him at first. “I teach the four-year-olds,” I reminded him. From my classroom’s open door we could see the gym, and I pointed at my students as they raced by: “There go Jessie and Tamsin; there’s Diego on the table.”

“No, I mean, which ones are your kids,” he said, pointing right at my stomach.

“Oh,” I said. “None of those kids are mine.”

His eyes got big. “None of them?” he asked.

“Not a single, solitary one, Lars,” I replied, and tossed the tablecloth at the shelf. It missed.

“Where are they?” Lars peeked into the big carpetbag where I keep my toys, as if maybe my children hid inside. “Did your kids stay at home today?”

As I retrieved the tablecloth, I drew one of those deep breaths I find necessary before explaining something complicated to a child. “There are no children at my house,” I told him. “Even though I am the same age as a mom, I’m not a mom.” I put the tablecloth on the shelf and began picking up puppets. I paused when I realized he wasn’t moving.

“If you’re not a mom,” he said, “what are you?”

Of course I already knew that I was the only teacher in the school that was not also a mother, just as I knew all the mothers spent time together socially, but not with me. Yet I’d never wondered what conclusions their children, my students, might draw.

“I’m not sure how to answer that,” I said. “I’m just me, like you are just you. I’m the same as other people in some ways, and different in others. One difference is: I don’t have kids.”

“But,” said Lars, “I thought you liked kids.”

“Of course I like kids,” I said. “I like elephants too, but I don’t have any of those running around at my house.” I thought about that. “You know, I’m not sure how I’d even get an elephant up the stairs.”

Lars laughed, and I could have made my verbal escape by embellishing on the elephant story. But I didn’t. Part of the reason was I hated the idea he thought I was some sort of aberration because I had not reproduced. I was also motivated by Lars’s vulnerability and my hope that if I modeled sharing my feelings, he might find a way to speak of his own. I had this notion that he was like a well of clear water under the ground, which with effort might come sparkling to the surface.

But when I look back, I realize I had a third reason I did not recognize at the time, which would not allow me to turn the moment into a joke.

So instead of gliding to a safer topic, I told him: “I did want to be a mom, Lars, but it just didn’t work out that way.”

Lars handed me a rabbit puppet. “If you like kids, why don’t you just have them?”

I looked down at the puppet in my hands. “Did you ever imagine something special happening, like your birthday party you waited a long, long time for? But then when it happened, it didn’t look like the picture in your head, and even though the party was still good, you were a little disappointed?”
Lars nodded, leaning back against the wall.

“Well,” I said, “that’s what happened to me. I wanted a family with children in it. But it didn’t happen the way I thought it would. I can’t tell you all the reasons, because those are private; but the important thing is, my real life is different from the picture in my head.” I rearranged the puppets in my bag, tucking them in. “If I worry too much about the old picture, I can’t think about what new picture I might make. And I can’t enjoy the real kids already in my life, like you, if I’m always thinking about imaginary kids I don’t have.” I waited a moment to make certain he was looking at me. “I love kids, I just don’t have kids.”

“That’s sad,” said Lars, picking at a rough patch on the wall and swinging his leg.

When an adult tells me my lack of offspring is sad, it is often a kind of judgment disguised as sympathy. I braced myself. “Why is that sad, Lars?”

He shrugged, not looking at me. “Because I wanted to be friends with your kid.”

Before I could respond, he added:

“Your kid would be my best friend.”
I swallowed twice before I answered. “You would be a good best friend, Lars.”

He smiled at me. “So, when will you have some kids?” he asked. “Because I want to be their best friend.”

Would we ever run out of monkeys in this barrel? “Lars, in the new picture of my life, I am a teacher, not a mom.”

I saw Lars open his mouth. “Let me explain it this way,” I said, holding up my hand. “The other teachers have kids, and when their classes are over, they go home and are moms. But the kids in my classroom are the only kids I get. So I am a teacher all the time. It’s what I’m doing right now.”

He smiled and wound his arms around my waist. “You’re a good teacher,” he said, his voice muffled against my stomach.

I pitched my voice low so it would not shake. “Thank you, dear,” I said. My hands caressed his head as it lay against my belly. It was, I realized, the same protective, possessive caress made by pregnant women.

After a long moment, Lars leaned back to look up at me. “I still wish I could be friends with your kid,” he said.

“You had a picture in your mind that you and my child would play together,” I told him. “It’s a good picture, even if it can’t happen for real.”

“But, still,” he said.

I closed my eyes. “Yeah, I know. But, still.”

We were silent together. He did not let go, so I didn’t, either. Then he whispered, “I wish there was some real magic, like in the stories.”

When a child pines for magic, often what he’s longing for is hope. “I’ll tell you something magic, Lars,” I said. “When we are in this classroom, the children are sort of like my children. Not for real, of course, but close enough that if you want to be a friend with a child of mine, make friends with any child in the school.”

Lars’s face tightened, and his thin body tensed. Sudden trepidation flickered over me like a shadow.

He whispered, “How?”

And that was it: the question that he’d been waiting to find the words, or the courage, to ask. It was the question that summed up Lars.

I paused to think. “There are lots of ways to meet a friend,” I said at last. “But the easiest way is to find someone who needs your help. Sometimes you have to help a lot of different people before one of them becomes a friend,” I cautioned him. “But you’ll know you’ve made a friend if that person likes to help you, too.”

A sudden light filled Lars’s face. “Yeah,” he said, as if amazed. “I could do that.”

“Good,” I replied. Before he could ask me any more questions, I added, “You know, I think I saw they have cake in the gym. You’d better go get some before the other kids eat it all up.”

He dashed away without saying good-bye.

I glanced around the room. There was nothing left to put away, so I hauled my carpetbag over my shoulder and stepped through the doorway of my classroom.

Out in the gym, the parents stood facing in toward each other in little groups, their backs to me as they discussed soccer camps and parent-teacher meetings: difficult conversations for a divorced, childless woman to wedge into. Directly outside my classroom, a six-year-old girl jumped up and down, trying to reach the water fountain. Let her be, I thought. Don’t help her solve a problem she can fix on her own, just to make yourself feel necessary.

Then I saw Lars, rushing against the tide of children. His face glowed pink. In his hands he gripped the small, grubby plastic step we kept in the bathroom so kids could reach the sink. He held it over his head, like the Olympic torch. He dashed past me to the side of the girl by the water fountain.

“Here!” he crowed. “Let me help you!”

He stopped in front of the startled girl and placed the step before her. She advanced toward him then stopped, her dark eyes uncertain. Lars awkwardly held out his hand, focused as only a lonely kid can be. He was being weird again, acting out the part of a Disney prince in front of the water fountain; yet he had the intent look of a person trying to coax a young, wild animal from the shelter of the trees. Perhaps this is why the girl put her brown hand in his and stepped up to the fountain.

Lars stood frozen for an instant, then collected himself and pressed down on the lever: the silver water arced up, the girl pushed back her hair with both hands and bent her face to drink.

Then I saw Lars’s mother close beside me. She, too, noticed Lars and began to move suddenly toward the water fountain. I stuck my hand in her way and whispered, “Wait.”

“But,” she said, then stopped and whispered: “But…they need help.”

“Seems to me they’re doing fine,” I replied. “Watch.”

The girl slipped away during this exchange, but three more children arrived: Tamsin, Jessie, and a chubby toddler with fragments of Cheerios stuck to the drool on his face. Lars helped each child, and each scampered away after drinking. Lars stood alone again. One corner of his mouth drooped, his narrow shoulders slumped, and the glow in his face diminished.

Then the girl seemed to flit out of the doorway of my empty classroom. Her hand flashed out to press down the lever for the water. It leapt up, sparkling. Lars turned toward her. I could no longer see his face. He bent his head to drink, and when he finished he wiped his mouth on his wrist, sprang down, and together the two children galloped away.

Beside me Lars’s mother stared. I bent my mouth into a smile shape: I hoped it looked kind, but I was so tired I was no longer sure. “Sometimes it’s good to let the kids solve problems together,” I explained. “That’s the first step toward becoming friends.”

Lars’ mother gave me a look of admiration. “What a shame you’re not a mom,” she said.

I knew she was trying to be friendly. But still. “I’m a teacher,” I said, turning toward the door.

“Oh, but it’s just not the same,” she said, turning with me. I was afraid she’d try to put her arm around my shoulders. “There’s a bond between a parent and a child you can’t understand unless you’re a parent yourself.”

Since when, I wondered, do experiences have to be identical to be equally precious? I sped up, but Lars’s mother kept stride.

“This is such a waste of your talents,” she added, shaking her head. “You must become a mother before it is too late.”

I don’t remember what, if anything, I said in reply.

Somehow I crossed the room and left the building, climbing the concrete stairs with the rusted pipe bannister to the street. A cold, damp wind shook the flagpole lanyard so its clips clanged, metal on metal.

“Lars won’t be back,” I thought to myself. “That’s sad.” And I laughed, remembering him saying the same thing, and how it hadn’t meant what I expected.

Suddenly I wasn’t laughing. I hung onto the bannister, pulling the cool air into my lungs with deep breaths. Something seemed to be physically crushing me, and though I knew it was not real, I felt that if I let go of the bannister I would be pressed to the ground. I couldn’t seem to draw enough air into my lungs, as if the weight was squashing them closed.

“Stop it,” I thought to myself. “This is ridiculous.” But my body was not listening; my lungs were not listening. I was opening and closing my mouth like a bird stunned after flying into a window that looked like open sky.

Rose Strode, from Virginia, received a 2014 Undiscovered Voices Fellowship from The Writer’s Center, in Bethesda, MD, where she has been a student. Her personal essays have appeared in The Gettysburg Review and The Little Patuxent Review. She also studies acting at The Studio Theatre in Washington, DC.

Spy Publications is pleased to reprint Ms. Strode’s personal essay from The Delmarva Review, Volume 8 (2015). The literary journal is published by the Eastern Shore Writers Association with additional support from private contributions and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council. Print and digital editions are available from libraries, local bookstores, and Amazon.com. For information, visit: www.delmarvareview.com.

Delmarva Review: On the Third Shelf of My Aunt’s Library by Rosanne Singer

Share

On the Third Shelf of My Aunt’s Library
Picture the inch-thick phonebook of a small city,
the single-line entries, the almost-transparent pages.
Is it a myth that a great actor can make you cry
just by reciting names, addresses and numbers?
Now imagine that same book with names and birthdates only.
No one is returning home, no one will make a phone call.
This is the book of my grandmother and her small city
with its clinical name—Convoy 55, June 23, 1943.
Can there be this many pages, this many names?
She is on page 132. I want the tiny type of her name
to be raised, to feel something of someone I could never call.
Instead I read it aloud for the first time. No actor necessary.

By Rosanne Singer

Rosanne Singer is a teaching artist with the Maryland State Arts Council and part of small arts teams working with pediatric patients at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, DC and with military families at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, in Bethesda. She has been published in numerous literary journals.

The Spy is pleased to reprint Ms. Singer’s poetry from The Delmarva Review,
Volume 8 (2015). The literary journal is published by the Eastern Shore Writers Association with additional support from private contributions and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council. Print and digital editions are available from libraries, bookstores, Amazon.com. For information, visit: www.delmarvareview.com.

Delmarva Review: Connected By Shawna Ervin

Share

“Tell him your name,” the woman holding the horse’s reins said again. She looked down and twisted the toe of her boot in the dirt.

I stood several steps away from the horse and said nothing. It was morning, the shade long from the barn to the corral, reaching mud puddles lying by the fence. After a week of heavy rain, the July heat pressed on my back. Flies buzzes around me, the horses, the mud. A trickle of sweat ran from the brim of my stiff, new sun hat, along my hairline in front of my ear. I brushed it away, then rubbed the back of my hand on my jeans.

“Go ahead, tell him who you are.” The woman shifted the reins from one hand to the other and patted Cisco gently on the side of his neck.

I didn’t know what to say. I had learned of the workshop through WINGS, a nonprofit for adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, and had received a scholarship. Was I merely a survivor? Was I limited by other parts of my identity? Did I still harbor the little girl who liked horses and watching my dad groom them?

I considered giving a false name, maybe Gretchen or Zoe, something so unlike my given name that I could be someone with a very different past and not need the workshop at all. I stepped forward and brushed my fingers down a strip of white hair on horse’s nose.

“Hi, Cisco. I’m Shawna,” I muttered, running the syllables together. The other participant, a woman brimming with confidence and horse knowledge, boldly introduced herself to a white horse. I shuffled beside Cisco, shoved my fingers through the handle of a blue jelly brush, and hoped someone would issue a set of instructions I could master. It was quiet.

The workshop was called Horse Ibachakali, ibachakali meaning “connection” in Choctaw. The Choctaw language has several words for connection; ibachakali is the type of connection aspen trees have. On the surface each tree appears to be independent, but underground the trees belong to one large, intricate root system that holds the trees together as one, strengthening them individually and collectively. We were going to learn how to be a part of a reciprocal relationship with a horse, the instructor said.

No, I thought. I can’t. I am a liability in relationships due to the damage I’ve sustained. I will hurt the horse if I get close. I might break myself. I can’t afford closeness or connection. No.

I placed the brush tentatively on Cisco’s reddish-orange back, brushing slowly in small strokes along the side of his spine. Around me I noticed splinters in the rotting picnic table, the changing shapes of wispy clouds over me, where the paint had chipped off the metal fence. There were crops of dandelions by several fence posts, the dirt was a pale brown, more dust than dirt.

“Look at the horse,” the instructor said.

As I brushed, his hair rose and fell in tiny waves, leaving thin tracks. I followed the brush lightly with my left hand and rubbed my fingers together. They were greasy.

_____

My dad’s hands were callused and strong. He wrapped them around my slight child’s body and held on. The calluses snagged on my skirts, the seat of my pants, nightgowns. His body was thin, his nearly six feet hunched forward, as if saying he wasn’t sure of something. Strength erupted from him with rage or desire, his frame stretching until his arms reached around me and held on like tentacles. When I moved, they squeezed tighter. It was love that I wanted.

“You’re getting so big,” he said pulling me close, looking from my hips to my chest where small bumps had appeared and were growing despite my hatred of them. “You’re so pretty.” The snaps on his Western shirts cut into my chest, the love between his legs and mine lumpy and swollen. I left my body there a series of limp limbs and escaped into fantasies in my head, focused on seams between the wood paneling and etchings in the plaster. I didn’t feel the pain when I bit my lip to keep from crying.

_____

“Let go of any judgments, memories, or thoughts,” the workshop instructor said. “Focus on your breath and the present moment.”

I gasped a breath in and held it. With a long brush stroke, I let the breath out in a big huff, then struggled to inhale again. My eyes widened and I stepped back from the horse. Liability, I thought. The instructor walked toward me. Her shirt was green plaid, the snaps the same pearl my dad would have worn.

“Just think about your breath.” I copied her raspy, deep breaths. Inhale. Brush stroke. Exhale. Brush stroke. Inhale. Exhale. I closed my eyes and smelled manure, fresh hay, mud, dust.

_____

“Take this one,” my dad had said when I was twelve. He quickly slipped a harness on a white horse. “Go wait up by the street. Don’t let him eat leaves or weeds.” He dropped the rope in my hand and busied himself harnessing another horse.

I longed for the privilege of going with my dad to the neighbor’s barn to groom and exercise their horses. I hadn’t been allowed to go before. That day was special; I was special too. When he leaned against the frame of my door and nonchalantly mentioned I had been good enough or was old enough to go, I crammed my feet in my shoes and scampered down the street with him.

In the barn he moved confidently, his long arms gracefully reaching for blankets, harnesses, and tightening buckles. He spun on the toes of his boots, stepping over piles of hay and sinking into soft dust. His arms and legs worked like a team, his power matching that of the horses, their partnership formed without language. My dad pressed on a horse’s shoulder; the horse moved. The horse stamped its foot; my dad shook a blanket. He pulled out a burr, held it up to the horse’s eyes, then tossed it in a trash can. From outside the barn I admired the elegant pas de deux; through the afternoon sun, dust floated gently over them like Nutcracker snowflakes.

“Almost there,” my dad said. The muscles in the horses’ backs twitched against flies.

I held the white horse’s lead rope tight under a cottonwood tree to keep the horse from eating. My knuckles were white; the frayed threads dug into my hand. The horse jerked its head toward the leaves.

“Hold that horse away from the leaves!” My dad clipped a lead rope to the other horse’s harness and started out of the barn. “Remember, you’re in control!”

I jerked the horse and saw his eyes blink.

“That’s the way.” My dad leaned forward into his steps, walking up a small hill.

My stomach burned with the shame of failure. I wanted to be special to him, worth the privilege of time with him and the confidence he had in me. His love was something to earn, something given, something I could lose even more easily if I reached for it.

I was no match for the horse’s strength. It nuzzled its nose and mouth against my arm, flared its lips, and bit. I saw the pink tissue inside my arm, then blood filling the wound in my triceps, saw my arm jerk away, as if it was someone else’s arm, as if my body was no longer mine.

My dad stretched his lips wide, flared his nose. “I told you to hold him away from the leaves!”

I waited for tears, but none came.

_____

At the workshop it was time to try putting a harness on a horse, then walk around the corral. I lifted the harness, then stopped.

“Where does this part go?”

“Right here.” The instructor patted a spot behind the horse’s ears.

My breath sped up. I had forgotten or didn’t know how to harness a horse. My only option was to fail, I thought. Not even halfway through the workshop, I faced failing the leaders of the workshop, the horse, myself. I can’t do this.
My water bottle and keys were close. I considered silently walking away. My reasons for registering for the workshop—to reconcile who I tried to be vs who
I was meant to be—felt ridiculous in that moment. It was easier to hate my dad, every part of him, even the parts we had shared. I wanted to wipe him from my DNA, wipe away who I had been before his tenderness had transformed special into shame. To accept myself, I had to accept our shared love for horses, and let myself enjoy a connection with a horse both with and without my dad’s DNA. I had to love the pieces of my dad that were part of me. I had to love myself and learn how to connect.

“It’s OK to bend his ears. It won’t hurt him.” The instructor reached over his head and helped me put the rope harness in the correct spot. I tied a knot by the side of the horse’s face, then patted him.
“Ready to take him for a walk?”

I nodded as if following an order and took a step. Slowly the horse followed me. Inhale. Exhale. I watched my feet, thinking not of where I was going, but of where I had been. The horse pulled me toward by a patch of weeds. Oh no, I thought. I tried to pull him back gently without letting the workshop leaders see; too gently. He chewed.

“Come on,” I begged. “You can have a snack in a little bit.”

I worked hard to breathe, to tell myself that moment didn’t define me. I didn’t believe myself, my breath, anything there. I wanted to shout, stomp, and scream until my throat was raw. I wanted to run into the field past the fence and sit alone in the tall grass. I give up, I thought. I quit. I can’t connect with a person, a horse, anything. I have earned the sting of solitude.
_____

“Keep breathing,” I heard. My breath was shallow and fast. I clenched my eyes tight and rolled my feet in my boots. My feet felt heavy. I tapped my fingers against my thigh and bit my tongue.

I’m here, I thought to the horse. We’re here. Please, tell me who I really am. Please tell me I’m OK.

The rope rested loose in my hand. Step. Inhale. Step, step, step, Exhale. Cisco’s nose flickered, his tail swished. I walked and breathed until I found a rhythm, felt and heard only the sound of my boots and Cisco’s feet. Breathe. Step. Breathe.

“Look,” the instructor whispered. Cisco and I walked in perfect rhythm. Inhale. Step. Exhale. Step. Step. I placed my free hand on the side of Cisco’s neck, expecting to pat an acknowledgement of our connection. He blinked, hung his head low in relaxation, and kept walking. I left my hand on his neck.
The instructor held a dirty thumb up and smiled. I smiled too. Ibachakali.

Cisco and I had connected. I was a part of the underground root system.
I longed to rest my head against Cisco’s neck, to feel his breath and mine together, to feel his hair on my cheek. I wanted to be close in a way that allowed me to let sadness and anger out, let tears run down his hair and fall into dots in the dirt. I wanted to say thank you in a way he’d understand, in a way that reached past words. There was no need to explain what I felt, what I had known, who I knew I was. All I needed to do was breathe.

Shawna Ervin’s nonfiction essay “Connected” was published in Volume 8 of The Delmarva Review and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Ms. Erwin is a member of Lighthouse Writers Workshop in Denver, Colorado. She is writing a memoir about adopting her kids and what it means to belong to a family. Recent publications include poetry in Forge, and prose in The Diverse Arts Project and Sliver of Stone.

The Delmarva Review, Vol. 8, contains original prose and poetry by 35 authors, including regional writers. The literary journal is published by the Eastern Shore Writers Association with additional support from the Talbot County Arts Council and private contributions. Volume 9 will be published in November. For more information, see the website: www.delmarvareview.com.

Delmarva Review: Romeo and Juliet, Horseshoe Crabs, May, Pickering Beach by Catherine Carter

Share

ROMEO AND JULIET
Horseshoe crabs, May, Pickering Beach

Juliet’s helmet is clogged with eggs
like slate-blue shot (most, red knot bait.)
This is the night. She cannot wait.

Romeo is a third her size,
his head (which is his back) studded with eyes.
Sooner than unclasp, he’d die,

as many do. Along the wrackbreak lines
are strewn the corpses, hinged on the tail-spikes
that tried to thrust them free, turn them upright.

Sand-smothered, Juliet lived through
the sucked-back tide, the sunken moon,
her Romeo buried with her in the tomb,

and who among us can guess what it’s like
when, dug out, she can scrabble toward the tide,
with Romeo still clinging for dear life?

—dear life. It’s what the clawed, the mailed—the bugs,
the aliens—throw on the sand, when their cold blue blood
beats to the tides, the moon, and love.
Catherine Carter’s poem is reprinted from The Delmarva Review, Volume 8 (2015). Ms. Carter was raised on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and now is associate professor of English at Western Carolina University, in Cullowhee, North Carolina. Her poetry collections include The Swamp Monster at Home (LSU, 2012) and The Memory of Gills (LSU, 2006).

The Delmarva Review publishes literary fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction annually, in print and digital editions. Published by the Eastern Shore Writers Association, it welcomes outstanding submissions from all writers, regardless of residence (see the website for information: www.delmarvareview.com).