Publishing the Best Writing We Can Get Our Hands on . . . since 1973.
Art: Linda Hall, "Cake for Dinner"
Featured in this issue
Questions from My Daughters
I. Why Do We Need Sadness?
--Alli, age 14
I think of Son Thomas, bluesman, grave digging understudy
of a one-armed gravedigger. He’d drive down from Leland
and play for us on Fridays when not sculpting human skulls
with river bank clay, sticking in loose teeth from a deep jar
he kept on a shelf, shaping a new look for sadness. Sadness
builds the juke joint. Joy cuts the rug. At the Lebanese
rib-joint in Clarksdale at the crossroads, joy and sadness feast
on the same pecan-smoked pork, then wait by the ditch
for a dude to roll down the window of his Cadillac at midnight,
pedaling glory. But nobody waits for sadness, let alone
with a weirdly tuned guitar and a black cat bone stitched inside
their coat pocket. Why do we need sadness? We don’t.
Like weather, sadness just is. Like weather, sadness is what
we’re working with, the mojo, the adios, the unforeseen
logos, the tightrope anti-dope for a snake-bit Mississippi.
II. Is It Scientifically Proven That Dinosaurs Said “Roar”?
-- Sofia, age 13
Not unlike the river that separates
Vicksburg, Mississippi from Delta,
Louisiana, home of Daiquiri Stop,
there’s a swift gap between Hollywood
and reality, and yet another between
what’s perceived and what exists
beyond our limits, and this further
jeopardized by the many-layered
obfuscations of dust. My guess: Giganotosaurus,
ole Claw, ole Three-Finger, coo’d
like a ten-ton pigeon, a throaty
welling up from early earth, notes
of root and cave river. A sub-woofed
ululation so righteous it made the horizon
twitch the way a cow’s back
shakes off horseflies. Or maybe its cry
was in proportion to its brain, the kind
of refined frequency that steers
bats to mosquitos, turns a lost
hound home. Like Chagall’s violin,
like chickens and rain in Patterson,
New Jersey, so much depends on
distance, how you bridge it, how you climb
into an ancient skin, sniff around
creek banks and tree tops with a snout
three feet long, scanning valleys
through eyes the width of footballs.
How round the day in its pre-fossil
mist and leafiness, free of drink
machines and Teen Vogue. Where
to go with each star a pilot, each
corner a cornerstone? Sure as rain,
sure as the ache for dinner
and friends and home, you have to
find your register, the sound
you make, your call, your song.
III. Why Don’t We Just Talk about Politics?
--Darbi, age 11
Not the question to ask over family reunion dumplings,
though she means to steer talk away from the Baptist
vs. Episcopal Church. Not wanting to juju the potluck,
I keep my mouth shut. To my right, my uncle,
a Vietnam Vet. To my left, our cousin, raised in England,
gay and proud. O family navigations! O tender steps!
O black and white children singing happy birthday
to the same Diabetic grandmother! Here’s to taking
none of it for granted, neither u-brown’m rolls
nor turnip greens, not the Lebanese mailman
nor the judge talking hunting dogs with his nephew,
a cannabis farming statistician. We’re all here
at the Ag Center, our way forward lit by the match-tips
of history, safest on smooth, on common ground.
So no, we don’t talk politics. Unless it’s one-on-one.
Unless it’s election year. Unless there’s beer involved.
Unless it’s a bad idea. Unless one leaves a clutch
of campaign signs and bumper stickers in a washtub
by the front door that another, tower of messy
plates in hand, mistakes for a shallow garbage can.
Featured writers/Featured Prose
WORK PERFORMED IN SUPPORT OF A WRITING HABIT
Man with a big belly in a Hard Rock Cafe T-shirt leans on a newel post at the foot of stairs leading up to a scruffy foursquare. Winter wind nudges me along Ormond Street. It’s the kind of weather you don’t want to be out working in. He’s delivering phone books. He curses those stairs. Something about Christ on a crutch.
Once I did that.
Once I waited tables at a Bible camp.
Once I clerked in a library.
Once I assisted at a daycare in a bowling alley, cigarette smoke fog-like over me and all the munchkins.
Once I was a barista in the steam and squeak of an espresso shop and I laughed falsely — nearly every day — at my boss’s jokes. That’s work, too.
Once I folded wool sweaters at a stand-alone shop. We could see the mall proper, that oasis, but we were not allowed to go anywhere for lunch. We sweater-folders ate our smashed tuna sandwiches knee-to-knee in the utility room, the fusty odor of a mop bucket overtaking the tuna. Sometimes I was banished to the rickety balcony to sew labels into sweaters on an old black Singer sewing machine. The word sweatshop comes to mind, but I’m not recalling this to align myself with oppressed people. I knew or thought I knew all along that privilege was mine, waiting down the highway.
Once I sold handguns and Virginia hams at a roadside stand. The men who came in to own the handguns with their eyes made my skin crawl. They were excited by the guns, as if by porn.
Once I cleaned houses. Big houses at Big Sky. Places where the walk-in-closets were lined with twenty pair of cowboy boots.
Once I wrote real estate ads and answered the phone for the realtors in their stilettos and false eyelashes.
Once I cooked the evening meals for paying customers on raft trips.
Once I sold Christmas trees.
Once I taught aerobics classes.
Once I picked potato bugs off potato plants and drowned the bugs in a coffee can of kerosene. I traded that labor for a burlap bag of wheat berries that lasted most of the winter of 1976.
Once I pruned apple trees in February, my cheeks chapped, my trapezius muscles seized up as if in cartoon shock.
Once I picked apples.
Once I picked cherries.
Once I picked pears, but that only lasted a few hours. I couldn’t stand the sticky pesticide that clung to my hands and hair.
A friend from that era used to say, “Enlightenment can be found at the end of a shovel.” He died of an auto-immune disease. I can still hear him playing his flute among the lodgepole pine. I can picture him, in the brassy light of a lantern, reading Lord of the Rings to kids we knew. He taught me how to use a misery whip. How to hoist a bag of grain on my shoulder to save my back. How to ration my breath while hiking up a steep switchback in the Enchantment Range. He taught me attitude I’d call tough, or stubborn.
Now, a young neighbor tends her roses and says to me, “Don’t you like to be outside? I never see you outside working.” Times like that I zip it. Times like that it comes home to me how little my neighbor, or anyone, knows me. The exhaustion that colonized my body or the euphoria of hard work, the way it fixes in your mind and sinews. I still dream about those apples. Winesaps. Reds and Golds. Braeburns and Cameos. In the dream my bag is always full and my bin is always empty.