2011

She stormed into the dimly-lit study in her sleep shorts and baggy grey sweatshirt drenched in sweat, brandishing the intricately woven web of string, feather, and beads. She shook it violently above her head as if it had a neck that could be strangled. “You said this would work, Jay!” A single feather fell from the ornate piece as she glared at her husband’s tired face, careless of what she may have interrupted in the delicate thoughts of the under-paid scholar. There was nothing beyond the horrifying images that constantly streamed through her head, like a filmstrip she could not stop running. She did not notice his equally tired eyes and the worried look that was beginning to permanently crease the space between his eyebrows.

“Annie…Sweetheart, you have to believe in it for it to work for you. The man in the store said that if you do not trust the dream-catcher, it won’t be able to help. You have to force them away; visualize the release of those thoughts and let it carry that burden for you.”

Her arm fell. She was so incredibly exhausted. Her downcast eyes brimmed with tears and she slumped to the floor in a delirious sob of defeat. “I can’t do it. I cannot imagine him away. It’s like trying to force these scars to jump off my skin and sear into someone else’s! It’s been a month and they still hurt me! All I think about when I try to fall asleep is his face staring at me from each bead—twenty of his faces—all waiting to come alive and tear me apart.  I’ll just sit there, counting each bead and wondering when they will attack me.” 

Annie sat, whimpering like child whose parents had forgotten her at an amusement park and drove twenty miles away, clutching her head with both hands as if doing so was the only way of keeping sanity inside. She rocked back and forth, shaking.

“Honey…Dammit.” Getting up from his seat, Jay knocked over the mug of lukewarm black coffee that had been standing post next to his keyboard all through the night. The noise of shattering ceramic caused Annie to jump. Eyes red, she looked over at the source of the noise. Wiping off his desk and floor with the paper towel he had used to clean his monitor earlier, Jay rose back up with as many shards as he could grab at once and walked over to the wastepaper basket near a window behind his wife. It was a small study, with more scattered papers than books. The dark green wallpaper was torn in many places from age and a lack of funds to replace them. 

As he neared the window, he saw his own reflection against the black night. His pale face and dark baggy circles made him look skeletal. He felt the pain that had been growing in his chest over the past few weeks; a piercing discomfort he had yet to see a doctor for. There was something he did not want to face when questions were asked about where the tension could be coming from. He turned and kneeled next to his sobbing wife. 

“This man, he won’t ever be able to hurt you again. They have him locked away and he will never see you or anyone else outside those bars again.” 

He paused, and taking one hand away from her head, held it in his own. He wondered if it was his imagination or if it actually felt like holding his grandmother’s hand when he was a child—frail, and colder than was comfortable. He looked at the hand for a moment and a different look began to shadow the creases between his eyebrows. The tiniest muscle movement changed the worry lines to anger. 

“Even if he could walk free, he would die before he even looked in your direction. I would kill him.” 

He looked back into her swollen eyes and felt the pain in his chest intensify. Her eyes had not changed and no comfort had been drawn from his words. He knew the thought before she had even opened her mouth. It was that tension he did not want to face, that he had buried deep within his own guilty heart and tried to imagine away as he busied himself in his work. 

“But Jay, you were here when he came. You didn’t even know it was happening.” 

All he could do was hold her, trembling on the floor. He knew he did not need to go to a doctor to find out that guilt was the greatest cause of the searing in his chest. Her inability to be touched anymore, the scars all over her stomach and thighs would haunt their marriage forever because he could have stopped it and was oblivious. He cradled his sobbing, petrified wife and all he could see now was the beads of the dream catcher, scowling at him from the floor.

I hate and I love. Maybe you need to know why? 

I don’t know, but it happens. I feel it, ripping me apart. 

– Gaius Valerius Catullus (ca. 84 BC – ca. 54 BC) – trans. by James Esch

I think of you and tendrils of despair 
entwine my heart. It chokes and gasps for breath
and yet I know your cold chair remains bare – 
will stay that way. How personal is death?
It never knew you like I did and yet
it came. Attacked. Left stone that aged and cracked
and weeds that sprout, transcend, can’t pay the debt  
to bring you back and so they grown and smack
your grave. Ensnare my heart. Wind fiercely blows
as in a winter storm. Summer has fled
and buds no longer tinge, ceasing to grow.
I have to face the fact that you are dead.
Occasionally, chirping birds bring hope
and gnarled branches reach down toward your grave. 

Meredith Madigosky

leaves limply curl like hands in death
donut glazed with frosty tips

sleet patters tiny pin drops  
forcing limbs to kiss the ground
white crushed lungs
from avalanches never threshed

like amphibians our bloodstreams slow
bitter winds cover our entwined 
tracks with snow 
unmarked graves
surrender glints from glassy eyes 


I work as a secretary at a university, and one of my faculty members came into the office to get his mail. We have the typical office mail slots with each professor’s name on the front in alphabetical order. I explained to him that we were getting new mailboxes. He protested because he is over 6’5” and his mailbox is at the bottom; the slots should not be done alphabetically, but by height.

I pointed out that students and other faculty who stop by do not know how tall each professor is. They should stay the way they are.

He protested again, “I should be on top because I am a man and men should always be on top!”

I told him to consider me his Lilith.

Beth Durkin

 

Many Christmas traditions have to do with food.

For instance, how about the day that someone was eating popcorn and decided, “Gee, let me get out my needle and thread and put this on a string instead of eating it; hence, I can stick it on the tree in my living room so the white of the popcorn really brings out the green needles on the tree.”

What about those gingerbread men? Why are they in need of a house? Especially since they can’t get inside it because the door does not open and the house is gutted. You don’t see humans making houses out of other humans.

Ponder this: why would you want to put candy in a sock/stocking? I’ve heard of finger food, but the only thing I can think of having to do with feet is fungus, which is not appetizing at all.

My all time favorite has to be the Christmas pickle. It’s not even edible. Did some parent give their child a pickle with their dinner and the child didn’t want it so they stuck it in the tree because they didn’t have a dog to pass it under the table to, and ever since then this occurrence has been replicated using a fake pickle just like the commercials where the latest headline has been captured, and for a limited time, placed on a coin for only $19.95?

I would like to know what inspired the person/persons who initiated these rituals.

Beth Durkin

lareviewofbooks:

JOCELYN HEANEY

on teaching in a community college and
the talk about higher education.

Soldier Reading a Book © JoAnn S. Makinano

Marjorie Garber
The Use and Abuse of Literature

Pantheon Books, 2011. 283 pp.

Geoffrey Galt Harpham
The Humanities and the Dream of America

University of Chicago Press, 2011. 256 pp.

Mike wouldn’t sit with his back to the door: “I can never be sure who is on the other side,” he explained. I’d seen this before with my cousin Frankie, a veteran of Vietnam. Once at lunch, Frankie switched chairs so he could face the windows of the quiet Santa Monica café I’d taken him to. Twenty years later, in a junior college classroom, Mike sat next to me in the circle of desks where I’d gathered the students to discuss Tim O’Brien’s novel The Things They Carried. Once Mike had a clear view of the front and back doors, we continued.

We were analyzing the oft-anthologized chapter “How to Tell a True War Story” in which O’Brien debunks the simplistic myths of heroism fed to Americans through Westerns and war films, replacing redemptive clichés with his definitions of a true war story: “A true war story makes the stomach believe … shows its absolute allegiance to obscenity and evil.” A character named Mitchell Sanders tells his own “true” war story about a group of soldiers sent on a “listening post” in the mountains where they are eventually driven crazy by the silence, and by their own inability to express their fear. “They can’t joke it away,” Mitchell explains.

“Let’s start with Mitchell’s story of the six-man-patrol,” I said. I glanced at Mike’s book. I couldn’t tell whether he’d read beyond the chapter or opened a page at random.
“In five seconds,” he announced, tipping his chin to indicate the back door, “I could be out of this chair, kicking the door down and shooting whoever’s on the other side.”
The other students stared at their books or looked at me with expectant, nervous faces. Many of them had brothers, cousins, or friends that had fought in Iraq or Afghanistan. Maybe Mike was saying something they’d heard before, or voicing things their own loved ones could never say.

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