Spring 2016


 – Cheyenne Marco

Ask a
The one
I won’t bother to answer
with a
human tongue.

Words I
will not speak.

the language of dandelions
through sidewalk cracks.
with a concrete vase.

believe they survive
children to find
learn what isn’t a flower.

No one
plants them in gardens.


is an act of stubbornness,
yellow on carpets of perfect green.

this of me.
Let it
shatter into a hundred tufts of dander
and fly
away on a gentle breeze.

Marco grew up on a Minnesota poultry farm and finds inspiration for her writing
in her rural upbringing. She teaches at USD, works on the South Dakota Review,
does outreach for Friends of the Big Sioux River, and fantasizes about sleep.
Her works have appeared in Lake Region Review, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and Prairie



Cheyenne Marco

to me
in the
dialect of fire devouring copper.

Take up
your weapons,
them beneath my own skin.
Do not

your arteries, your veins.
Tell me
how you will house a thousand pebbles
reject the stone.

will not shelter me from sand in the wind.

Tell me
not to look for the unnecessary.

your concessions in a spider’s web,
I will never be able to seize
connection in the white maze.

yourself in leaves and twigs,
listen to the spinning of the earth,
as you
revel in the sorrys not sworn.

will never say them.

will run as the prey though you may be the beast.

through my pleas for water by the fireside.
I won’t
repeat them.
does not dwell at the site of a predator’s feast.

I will
judge you,
as I
taste the individual raindrops that make up the lake.

yourself before the pride.
will be held for your worth,
lioness does all of the hunting.

Live in
the highest tree tops
enjoy the limited reign of our domain.
that your wing may break.

have the right to shatter.

Word is yours,

and you

warp it

but it
will be mine.

Marco grew up on a Minnesota poultry farm and finds inspiration for her writing
in her rural upbringing. She teaches at USD, works on the South Dakota Review,
does outreach for Friends of the Big Sioux River, and fantasizes about sleep.
Her works have appeared in Lake Region Review, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and Prairie


musical harm

– Jake Tringali

drunk stupid
bumps viv, a
enters the mosh
bar and its
fleeing her

the pit
dwellers come
and a geared
kicks her
blood no

share songs with friends

the pit
and the
crushed in the human
for hot
breath her
her head swivels
hair cascades
the pit

to the
front stage
familiar drunken grin

humans get
cellular debris in
eyes they

stage lights flicker viv
when a
stagediver vaults
the top of her head
neck compresses
that grin again
all too

hugs the
her stomach
spine cracking to the
wants the music to
back and it kinda

band’s front
reaches down he
her the
mic she
keening cry
vivid memory
of a
with her
vivid memory

friends we
songs like we

Jake Tringali was born in
Boston.  He lived up and down the East
Coast, and then up and down the West Coast, and currently lives in Los Angeles. He runs rad restaurants.  He thrives in a habitat of bars, punk rock
shows, and a sprinkling of burlesque performers. Throughout
2015, his publications include Catch & Release, Boston Poetry Magazine, Indiana
Voice Journal, and twelve other fine journals.

Darren L. Young

Sheer violence of stimulation bombarded Will’s intake.
Unfamiliar faces careened by, fixed atop bodies blended amongst the choppy
crowd. Loud noises from unseen sources barked directives toward alien ears.
Motorized carts loaded to the brim with worn baggage cut a path within the
chaos carrying disabled, yet fortunate travelers toward distant destinations.
Somehow Will managed to make his way through the confusion with a determined
outlook. Just before reaching his gate, Will paused in front of a series of
dimly lit monitor screens. His flight was on time, but an hour still remained
before departure.

Will peered through the crowd and spotted a storefront that
flaunted a guaranteed escape. Walking toward the establishment his anxiety
subsided. One seat was available within. The seat looked like a makeshift
arrangement. It was built on top of a wall separating the dining area from the
bar. The surface of the barrier had been converted into a table-top. Will
grabbed a stool and sat down in between two other solo travelers. As he pulled
the chair forward he peered down upon the booth within an arm’s length below.
He inadvertently spied upon a family in the midst of enjoying their meal.

A server rushed by.

“312 wheat please,” Will said with a raising hand
and voice. “Tall!”

Will removed his cell phone from his three days unlaundered
denim pants pocket. He collected his thoughts for a moment before hitting send.

“The wedding was really something.” Will said.

“I can barely hear you,” his mom said. “The
wedding went well? What all did you do?”

Will cupped his left ear.

“For the bachelor’s party, we roasted Kody.” Will said.

“Did you have anything to say?” Mom said.

“Yeah, I brought up some old stuff from childhood,” Will
said. “Remember Kody’s big head?”

“The big head?” she said. “Yeah sort of.”

As the waiter proceeded to set down the beer in front, Will
removed the hand from his ear and cupped the glass before it made contact with
the table top. He brought it to his lips and sipped.

“I made a skit about it,“ Will said. "Big head

Will set the glass down.

“You know, I  had
doubts about whether the roast would be a success, but it turned out
magnificent. Everyone brought genuine insight. Kody has some really witty and
sincere friends.”

Will reached back for the glass.

“Remember Mark’s wedding?” Mom said. “His best man
made such a great toast.”

Will swigged down the top quarter of the container’s liquid
content. A bitter aftertaste coated his mouth.

"Yes, I remember Mark’s best man was his wife’s cousin,”
Will said. “Honestly, I was quite inebriated during the event. But my
recollection leading up to it is clear. Mark didn’t have a bachelor’s

A robotic pronouncement blasted from a loudspeaker outside
the bar.

“Everyone was,” his mom said. “It was such a
great time.”

“Wait, it’s coming back now. I remember making out with
two bridesmaids,” Will said. “And didn’t dad give a speech at some

“They just couldn’t resist your uniform,” his mom
said and then groaned. “Your drunken father made a fool of himself like

Will observed a family walking in front of the bar amidst the
chaos. The husband and wife shielded two children with gentle smiles.

“He does tend to do that,” Will said. “He was
mostly sober for Kody’s wedding.”

“How is your father?” mom said.

“He’s doing well. He just sold a house.”

The televisions within the bar spewed sports jargon.

“Why’s he selling property?” mom said.

“Getting ready for retirement I suppose.”

“I babysat your nephew this weekend,” she said,
changing the topic without a pause.

The booth to his front had cleared. Will cupped his hand over
his mouth to belch.

“It’s too bad that Mark didn’t make it out to the
wedding,” Will said.

“He had drill,” Mom said. “You know how busy
he is.”

“Kody was pretty bummed out,” Will said.

The loudspeaker outside spouted a notification about someone
waiting for their party.

“Does Mark’s absence have something to do with
dad?” Will said.

“Oh, surely not,” Mom said with a guarded tone.

“Well, why doesn’t Mark talk to dad?”

“I wasn’t aware of that,” Mom said.

Will brought his free hand to his forehead, “Mom they
haven’t spoken in years. Practically since Mark’s wedding.”

“Well, I’m not involved. It’s between them.”

Will motioned toward the waiter. “Another…”
Will said as  he motioned with his free
hand toward the empty glass.

“Okay. Let’s go back at bit. Well actually, way back,” Will said. “Remind
me. Why did you get a divorce in the first place. I don’t recall the details
very clearly. It happened so long ago.”

“You remember,” his mom said. “He was mentally

“I’m not sure that I even know what that means,”
Will said. “Anyway how can you
blame him? Weren’t you the one who cheated on him with a younger man? And then had the police escort him away
from his own house as he returned home from work?”

The waiter brought a full glass. Will grasped it.

“That was a long time ago,” his mom said.

“Exactly. And just because your marriage failed, doesn’t
mean that you have to carry on the grudge. During my graduation and at Mark’s
wedding – the only times that you two have been in contact in recent years –
let me remind you 15 years after the divorce, you were still bitter toward him.
There must be more behind it.”

“He drank too much,” mom said.

Will took a swig from the container.

“You’re absolutely right. There is no doubt about it –
he is an alcoholic. So when he became mentally abusive, was he drunk?”

“He drank very often.”

“And why do you suppose he drank so much?” Will

“Will I don’t like where this…”

“Mom, you have to stop this constant berating of all of
dad’s actions. Let it go. Your marriage failed. It’s unfortunate. You weren’t a
good match. And life goes on. But yours hasn’t. You’re still carrying the
burden. And now you’re influencing Mark’s decisions in a negative way.”

Will took the glass down halfway. He brought it down to the
counter with a thud. The froth rose to the rim.

“It just occurred to me that for a very long time,
throughout my entire young life I had no idea what family meant,” Will
said. “I recall a time just before starting my undergraduate degree during
freshman orientation, this sad realization was made clear. Although, I didn’t
notice it at the time. It was during a group activity led by the Resident
Assistant, when I was supposed to jot down on a worksheet the five most
important things to me. I wrote down something like my T-bird, lifting weights,
and my favorite metal band. But that’s all
that I could think of.” Will swigged from the mug, “Much to my
surprise and dismay, when we went around and shared our thoughts, everyone else
had listed family at the top of the list and love of specific family members
just under. Looking down at my unfinished list, I was embarrassed. When my turn
came around, I didn’t want to appear superficial or materialistic, and so I
followed their example and spouted out the something along those lines. But it
was a lie. When the RA collected the
papers, I didn’t hand mine in. Why is that? Why do you suppose that I didn’t
consider writing down family in the first place?”

There was no response. Will waited, but the line remained
silent. He wondered if she had hung up.

“Mom, dad folded his hand long ago. Please stop the
competition,” Will said. He pressed end.

Will placed a twenty under his half full glass. He walked
toward his terminal and past the radiant departure screens. At the gate his
plane had arrived. He stood as he waited for the passengers to exit. The mass
confusion subsided for a moment as Will watched smiling strangers greet their
loved ones.

Darren L Young was born and raised in the rural Midwest. He served for
10 years in the United State Army before settling down in Arizona, where
he earned a Master of Science from Arizona State University. Darren has
publications in Dual Coast Magazine, Heater, Gravel, and Black Mirror
Magazine. He can be found at www.darrenlyoung.com.

Listen While I Play (Play, Play, Play)

Terry Barr

funny how you hear about things you’ll never forget. In sixth grade, our
English teacher read

Animal Farm

aloud to our class. It wasn’t like I didn’t eat pig meat before that, but
afterwards, I enjoyed barbecue pork sandwiches in a different way. I didn’t
hate the superior pigs or even believe they were insidious or untrustworthy
creatures. Still, they broke their own rules, were “dirty little commies,” and
betrayed the friendlier, more compliant horses, dogs, cows, and
chickens—animals I also loved.

teacher, Miss Miller, also told us about Orwell’s other novel.


The year was 1968.
After the telling, I’d think almost every day about what the world would be like
in sixteen years. If what was prophesied would come true. If “Big Brother”
would rule us and be watching us from the Arlington School play court, from my
own den, or from the washroom of the Bright Star restaurant, Bessemer’s favorite
place to dine.

Perhaps to deflate
what we didn’t know then was dystopian doublespeak, Miss Miller also let us
bring our favorite pop 45’s to play for each other on the classroom’s portable
phonograph that had previously sat in the left-hand back corner of the room as
if it were trying to hide from Orwell and everyone else. She played “Hey Jude
(Don’t Make It Bad),” her favorite song, and watched our reactions will
all-expectant joy. Robert Carnes brought in “Judy in Disguise (With Glasses),”
which I always got confused with “Lucy in the Sky (With Diamonds), a song Miss Miller
also loved. Karen Fenstermacher brought in two: “The Last Goodbye,” by local
WSGN-AM DJ Dave Roddy, and “Green Tambourine,” a psychedelic tune that none of
us could truly appreciate. I had no records then, and didn’t listen to the
radio to know all the popular songs. My pop/rock world was confined to daily TV
doses of “Where the Action Is” (where I first heard Sonny and Cher, Paul Revere
and the Raiders, and Steve Alaimo), and Saturday’s “American Bandstand,” where
I grew to love Dick Clark and wait patiently each week for him to reveal the
nation’s Number One song. I remember the Saturday it was “Snoopy vs. The Red Baron.”
Animal Farm indeed.

As if she were the
star of her own record, Miss Miller got married that spring and became Mrs.
Thames, and many of us went to her wedding. She was only 22 at the time, fresh
out of college. We, of course, were only eleven or twelve, depending on our
birthdays. It was a strange and wonderful thing seeing our teacher get married,
seeing her so happy.

Seeing that our
teacher was a real person and not just an authority looking to penalize us for
bad spelling, for talking to our desk mates, or for chewing gum.

She had a policy
on that, actually. Bring all the gum you want, chew it at your pleasure, but if
you get caught, you have to spit it out. For the first week or two, everyone
bought more gum than they would in a year and brought it all to class: Bazooka,
Dubble Bubble; some even brought whole packages of multi-colored gumballs. We’d
chew, get sugar rushes, and when Miss Miller would smilingly ask us to spit, we’d
do so with only the barest grins of shame.

Maybe two weeks
later, almost as if we decided as a class, no one brought gum any more. Such a
smart teacher.

Miss Miller wasn’t
our first teacher that year, however. She started just after Christmas break
when our first teacher, the one who was supposed to be with us the entire
year—Miss Carson—resigned, or was forced to leave, or just couldn’t go on,
depending on the version you heard of her story. The version of her story I
heard came from the mouth of my own mother. I recently asked my mother if she
remembers telling me this story. She doesn’t, and when I reminded her of its
details, the details she told me, she said, “Hhmph, imagine that.”

I have imagined
it, and not too long ago, I contacted Mrs. Thames—now just “Beth” to me since
I’m 59 and she’s….” She didn’t know the circumstances of Miss Carson’s leaving
either, only that she herself was supposed to get a high school class that
year. Instead she got a mid-year sixth grade class. She got us.

I told her what I
thought happened, what I’d heard.

“That would be a
good story to write,” she said.


I never thought
about it much then, in elementary school, but it must have hurt to hear throngs
of kids screaming every day from 11:15-1:00 in the Arlington School lunchroom,
where the three teachers at a time couldn’t begin to herd 75 rambunctious,
would-be hellions unleashed. Naturally, we were supposed to be quiet everywhere
else: in class, in the music room, in the hallways as we traveled to and from
the other places we had to be. Not that we didn’t try and sometimes succeed in
talking without permission; after all, we weren’t angels. And yet, by the time
I entered Miss Carson’s third grade class, someone thought we should be. For my
first two plus years at Arlington, the lunchroom was the one place we could
“express ourselves,” through talking, through mixing our peas and “whipped
potatoes,” or through blowing into the straws stuck in our milk cartons so that
the milk bubbled up and overflowed over the carton.

Was it the
teachers who demanded silence and good conduct so that they would not have to
break up the seemingly constant shouting matches between Hollis Todd and Sandra
Roberts and so could eat their tomato aspics in peace? Was it our principal,
“Coach” Horace Peterson–who would one day graduate to principaling our high
school—who “suggested” that quiet time is godly time? Or was it the lunchroom
staff itself, led by Head Lunchroom Lady Mrs. Miller, who finally exacted
absolute silence; who agreed to watch over us undisguised?

The rule change
happened somewhere in the middle of that third grade fall. I had been home sick
for a week either with bronchitis or strep throat, my recurring ailments. Upon
my return, I found that at lunchtime, everyone had been assigned partners, four
to a table, instead of the loose and preferred arrangement of letting us sit
with our clique of friends. So while my friends, Keith Clark and Randy Ford,
were kept from blowing milk bubbles at other tables now, I found new mates:
David Baughn, a burly guy with extra-large pores, David Phillips (later Kirk
after his adoption went through), the fastest guy in third grade, and Steven
Wood, a curly redhead who stuttered badly and whose eyes bugged so largely that
he could have been the poster child for those children in Village of the Damned, a movie playing at Birmingham’s Ritz Theater
that I was not allowed to see.

It’s not that I
minded these guys. In fact, I wanted to talk to each of them at lunch. Except
during my absence, rules had been rewritten.

We were not
allowed to speak one word at lunch. If we did, our table would earn demerits
whose ultimate punishment I no longer remember, though it must have been to
earn the particular disfavor of all teachers, staff, and interested onlookers.
However, for the table of good boys and girls who remained absolutely quiet
during the entire 25-minte lunch, tabulated on a weekly basis, each tablemate
would get an angel pinned to his or her lapel to wear for the following week.

As I say, upon my
return, there I was with the two Davids and the Village of the Damned stand-in, each of them wearing angel pins.

I, of course, had
no pin. I hadn’t earned one.

That first day as
I leaned into one, tried to confer about that day’s football game at recess
with another, each of my new friends in turn put his finger to his lips to keep
me quiet; the second day, each shook his head at me. The third, each one
ordered me to “shush” at least twice. On the fourth day, our angel pins were
re-distributed to Laurie Guyton, Susan Watson, Mary Ann Headley, and Sandra

Our table never
got the angel pins again, but in some ways, that was the least of my troubles
in our lunchroom.


The lunchroom
lady, Mrs. Miller, wore a white, starched uniform with white lace-up uniform
shoes, all of which complemented her silvery hair. When I first met her at her
perch by the register in the lunch line, she took to me mainly because she
lived next door to my best friend Robert. He introduced us, and her smile made
me feel pretty good. All that year, she’d encourage me to clean my plate, which
wasn’t hard when we had spaghetti or spoon burgers or vegetable soup. I even
poured ketchup all over my macaroni and cheese like everyone else did on the
days when it was our main course. But then came the days when we had navy beans,
again as our main course. Big white mushy looking beans, served with spinach or
some other green. I wouldn’t eat them. I couldn’t, and when I’d leave my plate,
Mrs. Miller would appear and make me feel small:

“Just put ketchup
on them like you do with the macaroni,” she’d say.

“Yes ma’am,” I’d
say, and do so, but I still wouldn’t eat them. We never had navy beans at home,
and even if we had, I wouldn’t have eaten them. My parents tried to get me to
eat other things I didn’t like the looks of: cauliflower, black-eyed peas,
sweet potatoes. They never won these battles, and Mrs. Miller didn’t win hers
either, though I saw my shame reflected in her eyes.

By third grade I
had convinced my mother that on navy bean days (which everyone marked on the
weekly mimeographed lunch calendars distributed to classrooms each Monday), I
needed to bring my lunch. So she’d dutifully pack my ham sandwich, golden
apple, and Fritos. I’d still buy a half-pint of Sealtest chocolate milk at
school (always chocolate because we all thought the white milk tasted sour), for
a nickel. I don’t know the other kids’ experiences of walking through the
cafeteria line with a sack lunch, or a “James Bond” lunchbox like Rodney
Rockett had, but when I went to pay my nickel, Mrs. Miller would look at my
brown sack, and her eyes would rival Steven Wood’s.

“What’s the
matter? Why aren’t you eating with us today?”

Her shaming look
pierced me even more deeply now. Not enough, of course, to try navy beans, if
that’s what this admonishment was all about anyway.

I think Miss Carson
felt bad for me. In many ways, I was her favorite. My spelling, my
multiplication, my overall brightness caused her to intercede in the lunchroom.
Occasionally, she invited me to invite my mother to lunch and sit with her. Only
on these occasions could we, and we alone, talk. I don’t know how Mrs. Miller
felt about that, about our talking, about Miss Carson’s intercession. About
Miss Carson herself, but then that’s something else I never wondered about back
then, in elementary school.

In a world where I
assumed the adults who governed me all knew how to play well together.


Despite Miss Carson’s
favoritism toward me, there was no way I should have won the third grade “Good
Citizenship” award. My good points barely outweighed my bad, as evidenced on the
board she kept on the wall to the left of her desk. I’d get bad marks for being
out of my seat, for excessive talking, and for my pretty bad absence record. On
the other hand, though his grades didn’t match mine, Reggie Bowen had a
sterling conduct record. He was mainly quiet, except on the playground where he
dominated all sports because he was fast and could wallop a baseball, and he
listened well to Miss Carson’s instructions on the perfect cursive style of
writing. As I watched the board all year, I’d see my bad marks erased by good
ones, and those good ones marred by the latest bad.

Reggie’s marks,
however, were always good, and even, and usually one or two paces ahead of
mine. Yet on the last day of class, there were Susan Watson, her parents, my
parents, and me, standing in the back of the classroom as Miss Carson brought
out the little gold cups with our good citizen names engraved on them.

Reggie got second
place, and I remember him sort of sidling around everyone else, head hanging

“I felt sorry for
that other boy,” my dad said.

He should have,
for Reggie should have won. My good conduct marks might have reached his at the
end, but anyone could look at that board and see that compared to his marks,
mine were a mess—a mess Miss Carson didn’t even bother cleaning up before
announcing the winning good citizen.

Why wasn’t Reggie
her favorite? The nature of “favorites” means that we might not ever know why
we’re picked and someone else isn’t. But we know when we are. I think Miss Carson
was pulling for me all year long, manipulating my bad marks to good, maybe because
my good grades showed how hard I tried, how bright I was. Maybe because my crew
cut and slightly overweight body touched her somewhere. Maybe because I was a
boy who wanted to be liked.

Or, maybe because
I wasn’t always compliant, wasn’t always the best behaved. I could behave; it’s
just that I didn’t always want to, though I wanted, always, for Miss Carson to
like me, to notice me.

We all wanted to
be noticed by Miss Carson who was so young, so beautiful, so engaging, with her
deep red hair, her gorgeous smile, her model-slim stature, and even the bluish
mole on her right cheek, just to the side of her nose.

“We never had
teachers who looked like that when I was in school,” my dad offered.

As if it weren’t
lucky enough to have her for one year, when I entered sixth grade, I got
luckier. The school had decided to prepare us for junior high by splitting our
day between two teachers—one who would teach math and science, the other who
would teach language, social studies, and writing. And there, standing in the
back classroom of the third floor on that first day of sixth grade, as my
homeroom and language teacher, was Miss Carson.

There also was my best
friend Randy Manzella, whose grades, accommodating nature, and profoundly
involved PTA mother, contributed to his becoming Miss Carson’s favorite for that
year. Or rather, that half-year.


As I said, when
you’re in elementary school, you don’t think much about your teacher’s life
outside. It was hard for me to picture that my teachers actually lived in houses
separate from the school, though of course I knew they did. My first grade
teacher, Mrs. Baird, was married to our veterinarian, so I knew some personal things.
Like most kids, I referred to each of my teachers as “Miss,” pronounced “Miz,”
before that became a sign of liberation. Many of these teachers were married,
or widowed, or, like my second grade teacher, Miss Mittis Pearson, confirmed
spinsters. Miss Carson was none of these.

None of us knew
where she lived, the things she did after we were dismissed at 3:00 every day.
Of course most of us never imagined these things either: the life of a
schoolteacher, of a young, working woman.

Someone, though,
must have been watching, worrying, taking into account that young female
teachers have lives and very certain affairs. Are often in disguise.

In early November
of that sixth grade year, we started getting substitutes for Miss Carson:
ancient ladies who sort-of babysat or attempted to correct our hormonally
heathenish ways. Women like Miss Sturdivant who never understood why The
Beatles were big or why we might care more about them than when to use “shall”
instead of “will.”

The substitutes
would come and go for a day or two and then Miss Carson would return. She’d
seem the same except for two things: her usual good temper cut itself short at everyone
including me, and sometimes even Randy Manzella. Both of us, after all, were
little know-it-alls.

And then she quit
smiling, at least at most things.

I no longer
remember what we were supposed to be learning during these weeks before the
holidays, and I’m not saying that it was due to Miss Carson that we might not
have learned anything worth remembering at all during the first half of sixth

What I am saying
is that even to an eleven-year old boy, our teacher seemed distracted, distraught,
though I didn’t know that word then much less the emotions it triggered.

Christmas break
came and went. But as we sat in our classroom that first day back, Miss Carson
didn’t arrive to greet us.

Miss Miller did.

Or perhaps Miss
Carson did return to introduce Miss Miller to us. It hardly matters now,
because the result was that our teacher was leaving us, abandoning us, and we
didn’t know why, where she was going, what she would do, or whether this was
against her will or not. There are so many ways that a kid can fail, but having
your teacher leave so abruptly and not having any explanation why left some of
us feeling like we were to blame.

Rules are written
and re-written. Often, those writing or conceiving the rules don’t imagine that
those who must follow these rules might just be capable of understanding the
reasoning behind the rules—that they might have agreed with or accepted these
rules more readily if they understood them. So the rule-writers, in their arrogant
way, simply erase or paint over what is there and so often expect us to go on
with our lives as if we can’t see the old paint shining through; as if we can’t
tell that though almost faded away, the past is never actually gone.

That’s what it
felt like at first to see Miss Miller standing at Miss Carson’s desk, with no
explanation for this change. We knew it wasn’t her fault. It’s funny now to think that any school kid could ever
miss his teacher. But I did.

Soon we all
softened under Miss Miller’s smile, her softer voice, and in my case, her
encouragement and belief that my poor cursive scratchings could improve, could
become legible–a belief, I’m sad to say, Miss Carson never had in me.

“That’s so much
better, Terry,” Miss Miller would say, and in those moments I felt something
familiar, something almost new. I felt like a pet again.

When Miss Miller
got married in Bessemer’s First Presbyterian Church that March, our entire
class was invited. She hugged us all in the reception line, and to each one of
us as we passed she said, “Hi____, I want to introduce you to my husband Walter.”
We felt so large then, so included in this new set of rules.

Several boys in
class edited our class newspaper, and for their lead story that week, they
headlined, “New Teacher Gets Married.” The story came complete with a drawing
of the new “Mrs. Thames” on the front page that they hand-copied from the one
in The Bessemer News that week. These
were the days of blue mimeograph ink, the kind that would get a kid semi-high
when it was freshly smelled.

The kind that
doesn’t copy hand-drawn sixth grade pictures very well.

Still, Miss Miller
passed into Mrs. Thames seamlessly, and we learned to call her by her new name,
to listen to her stories, both real and fictional. We loved her as our own, and
by that May, we had nearly forgotten our other teacher, Miss Myra Carson.

Some people can
never be forgotten, though, regardless of whether you know what happened to
them or not. I would have never forgotten Miss Carson anyway, even had I not learned
this part of her story.


It was ten or even
fifteen years later. My mother had become a decorator for a local carpet and
drapery store, and I was home visiting from grad school.

“You won’t believe
who came into the store today,” she said over supper that night.

I didn’t have time
to make futile stabs at guessing names no longer fresh in my usually good
memory. My mother never gives much time for guesswork anyway.

“Your old third
grade teacher, Miss Carson!”

“What? Why…”

“She’s a sales rep
now for a big line of carpets. She still looks the same, you know, red-headed,

I knew. I
remembered her so vividly, and periodically during those intervening years, I
wondered what happened to her, why she left us.

“It was too bad
what happened to her,” I heard my mother say as I was reflecting on what seemed
like a recent past.

“What do you mean,
‘too bad,’ and what did happen to

“Oh, she had some
kind of breakdown. She had been going with this guy and they said she was in
love with him, but he left her or something like that.”

I thought for a
minute about a man who would leave Miss Carson. How stupid must you be to walk
out on a woman who’s both beautiful and smart? I was in my mid-twenties at this
time. I still knew so little about relationships, or about the watchful eyes of
small-town gossip either.

“Yep, they say she
just couldn’t face coming back to Arlington because it reminded her too much of
that man.”

The only men at
Arlington that I could think of were Mr. Peterson, and Coach Douglas who left
after I was in second grade. Oh, and Frank, the custodian.

“What man are we
talking about, Mom?”

“Oh, no one you
know, but you remember Mrs. Miller, the lunch lady? Well, it was her son that
Miss Carson loved.”

I thought then
about our lunchroom, about angels and all that noise. I thought about the day
my mother and I and Steven Wood and Miss Carson sat at one of the central
tables having lunch together. How my mother ate only rolls that day, saying
that she had another lunch to go to afterward. About how Miss Carson made us
all feel at ease, made me feel like I was special.

Of course I
couldn’t see and never wondered then what she was seeing as she gazed across
the room at Mrs. Miller. Maybe it was all still to come for her: meeting this
son, falling so in love. Teachers got special lunches sometimes and so weren’t
always expected to eat our supposedly balanced meals.

Our navy beans.

It seems, too,
that they weren’t expected to lose their hearts and equilibriums either to
certain forbidden sons. That was a rule that no one saw.

Across all the
years and spaces of radios playing forgotten songs; in reflections of the music
that is or isn’t or has always been mine; in listening to teachers reading
dangerous visions of pigs and diamond skies, I think now about Mrs. Miller and the
consequences of a time when she watched us all so closely. How quickly she turned
on us if we didn’t eat our beans, if we left food of any sort on our plates, if
we brought our lunch in a brown paper bag.

Or–and of course
I won’t ever know whether this is true or not–if a young woman fell in love
with her son and refused to let him go.

Terry Barr’s essay collection, Don’t Date Baptists and Other Warnings
From My Alabama Mother, is published by Red Dirt Press. His work has
also appeared in South Writ Large, Under the Sun, The Bitter Southerner,
Hippocampus, and 3288 Review. He lives in Greenville, SC, with his

– Ronald Pelias

The infestation of ants crawling over the morning paper, finding their way to whatever was left exposed

Or the words that were never spoken and the ones that were

Or how they saw themselves buried, under a stack of demands, under a pile of pressures, under an avalanche of missteps

Or the trash accumulating, waiting to be put out

Or a mother leaning toward the house, a tilting telephone pole after a storm

Or the dust that settled, asking not to be disturbed

Or those nights when the moon appeared as an angry eye

Or two children, one difficult as the desert sun, and the dog, always wanting to be fed, always licking, always wanting out

Or the gun, supposedly for their protection, kept under the pillow

Or the broken birdbath, its stagnant water a home for falling leaves

Or the neighbors, their television always blaring, their refusal to say hello

Or the lights that needed to be on, the water that needed to run, the grass that needed to be cut, the rent that needed to be paid, the car that needed to be repaired, the loan that needed to be settled, the fence that needed to be fixed, the credit card that needed to be destroyed, the booze they needed to drink

Or the rain that would never stop and the muddy shoes at the door

Or the empty, backache jobs, unnatural labor, best suited for a machine

Or the anniversaries that came and went without notice

Or the wind with its howl, with its promise of another place

Ronald Pelias’ work has appeared in a number of journals, including Small Pond, Yet Another Small Magazine, Out of Line, Midwest Poetry Review, Margie, and Whetstone. His most recent books, Leaning: A Poetics of Personal Relations (Left Coast Press), and Performance: An Alphabet of Performative Writing (Left Coast Press), and If the Truth Be Told (Sense Publications) call upon the poetic as a research strategy.

The Moon Doesn’t Like Us Anymore

Kenneth Pobo

If it were
up to me,
I’d drop you
down a well.
I’d do it

turn a tide,
make strong tea.
You’ll be
happy in hell—
if it were
up to me.

For my serenity,
I’d risk a
demon’s cell,
I’d do it

to squish
you like a flea.
You’re a
rotten egg smell.
If it were
up to me,

I’d cut you
down, a tree
that wept
before it fell.
I’d do it

without any
You’ve no
more lies to tell.
If it were
up to me,
I’d do it

Kenneth Pobo had three new books in 2015: When The Light Turns Green
(Spruce Alley Press), Bend of Quiet (Blue Light Press), and Booking
Rooms in the Kuiper Belt (Urban Farmhouse Press).  He teaches creative
writing and English at Widener University.  He gardens, is somewhat of
an authority on Tommy James and the Shondells, and plans to read Hardy’s
Return of the Native this June.

Gail Slater 

My day begins in moonlight.  I smell a wind shift
lifting blades of grass from somewhere,
skipping over stones, surrounding my heart.
I am so glad of this.  
Come with me to the edge of tears
where candles gutter but stay lit
to cast a protective light over blue-iced holiday store fronts.
Let’s gather our cohort. We have places to get to
now that the streets are cleared of snow.
Let’s go full tilt.  That way we’ll never fail.
My brain sings with passionate intensity.

Gail Slater builds her life around poetry and teaching ESL. She’s published in Northeast Journal, Old Ship Poets, Castle Rock Press and has workshopped her work in Cambridge MA, New York NY and Sligo Ire. 

The author with Seamus Heaney. 

– Kay Merkel Boruff

When a [man] is killed,
the cicadas go looking for their shells,
and put them on again and climb
back into the earth and the year
returns to February … .

A woman tries to remember
the name of her [husband]
but each letter is so heavy
that carrying a whole word
to the front of her [brain]
is hard.

              —Tim Seibles

“I swear, Merk, the American Embassy is run by
a bunch of goddamned ingrate maggots.”  I
folded tissue paper around the red silk kimono Merk bought me in Hong Kong.

know.”  He listened to my tirade, nodding
in appropriate places.

a hard day at school, I walked into the Embassy office at one o’clock and left
two hours later, when they completed the paper work for our exit visas. Of
course, we would have to live in a county that requires an exit visa.” I put
rings and bracelets in a silk travel case, medication in pill boxes. “I mean
entrance visas are hard enough to get. The woman tells me, ‘Remember, dear,’ as
though I were a child, ‘we’re
visitors in their country. We must
follow “their policies.”’ I felt like telling the bitch, ‘Remember, deary, this
we pays your salary, and we could be a bit more helpful.’”

and several guys got thrown in the clink in Singapore last month, for something
minor—disorderly conduct or something—and the American Embassy never lifted a
bloody finger. They finally ended up sending for someone from the British
Embassy who—with great expediency—got them out of jail. I guess the British
have been at international diplomacy longer than we have,” Merk said.

looked at my Day-Timer, studied the open armoire filled with rows of silk
dresses and pants, the bottom lined with a rainbow of leather sandals.

love to go on STO, but it frazzles my nerves, never knowing if you’ll get leave
time, never knowing if we’ll get exit visas, never knowing if Air Nuoc Mam is
flying. I never believe we’re going until the plane is airborne. Actually, not
until we land.”

quit contemplating your navel and finish packing.”  He grinned. He found the word omphaloskepsis
in our unabridged dictionary one day, walked into the bathroom, announced to me
as I soaked in the tub, he’d found the key to my existence. He lorded his
psychology degree over me, that and his four years seniority. He knew me better
than I knew myself. “You still have a few things handing in the closet.” I
couldn’t bear to be uncomfortable. “The Princess and the Pea Syndrome” he
called it. And I insisted on being perfectly put together, in the 50s tradition
we were raised—the “revised” Christ Complex: be ye perfect.

phone rang. “Let Nhàn get it.” He looked out the window. “There’s the van. If
you need anything, Baby,” he reached under my short miniskirt and snapped my
lace pants, “we’ll buy it in Bangkok.

was a special STO. It was my birthday and our second anniversary. Last year we
went to Hong Kong in September. We loved the city, its night life. Then at
Christmas, we went to Singapore. That holiday was a dream sequence. At the
Raffles, we ran into Bridgett and Frank Ulrich, close Air America friends. We
had “slings” and my first chicken Kiev and baked Alaska. The shopping in Hong
Kong and Singapore was better than Bangkok, but the Thai city remained my
favorite, I had conquered it on my own.

ease of traveling today is never the same as it was with Merk. His Air America
ID whisk us through customs almost as fast as a diplomatic passport. After a
two-hour flight, Company transportation in Sai-Gon and Bangkok, we were at the
Siam International Hotel in three hours. At the Siam, the Thai clerks knew us,
gave us the best rooms, arranged three dozen tiny purple orchids for our
arrival, and decorated my chocolate birthday-anniversary cake with white
violets. I am amazed Merk and my marriage lasted two years. I would have run
home with each fight if I’d been in the states. I always retrieved an incident
I’d been harboring for months, hurl the incident at Merk, no matter who was at
fault, and finally lose face and apologize for being a twit. The last apology
was for getting pissed at Merk and leaving him at Raush’s party. I don’t
remember what I was pissed about. He had to scale the six-foot wall outside the
house, wake Nhàn at three in the morning, and sleep on the couch. Merk seemed
grateful that I loved him. At our wedding in Texas two years earlier, his
friends from Virginia told me he had never been happier.

Merk took pictures of everything. Had he not,
I would have few memories. I sometimes wonder if he was recording memories for
me to have later—when he was gone.

night in Bangkok, we had a romantic dinner, great sex. Pictures at dinner.
Pictures in my new peignoir. Pictures I was sure couldn’t be developed. The
next day we went sightseeing, early before the sun was too hot, early so we
could see everything. More pictures on the floating market tour. A lady and her
husband sat by us in the small narrow boat. I remember being shocked when she
told me she lived in South Korea. It was dangerous, wasn’t it? I asked her. She
gasped when I said I lived in Viêt-Nam. I explained Sai-Gon was perfectly safe.
Minor tear gas incidents, the occasional rocket, monks torching themselves. I
rarely noticed military fatigues and Mattel toy guns. More pictures of a
solitary monk and his oarsman in a boat beside us on the klong. Pictures of a man
brushing his teeth in the muddy water. Pictures of the King’s royal barge, the
Queen’s smaller one.

the floating market tour, we dashed to the Rama Hotel on Sukhumvit to see Thai
dancing. More pictures of the instruments, a glawng khaek, bongo drums, a pi
chaw, bag pipes, and chings, tea cup size cymbals, the songs now less
offensive, even melodious in their dissonant patterns, the 5/4 rhythm set by
the sitar and tiny finger cymbals less irregular. Pictures of the first dancers
in batik tops and sarongs, dancing slow, like Indian round dances I saw growing
up, simple turns, eight counts, then a skip. Pictures of six Elysian female
dancers performing classical Thai dancing, embellished faerie queens in a
Wagnerian opera—three in ballooned pantaloons to the knees, three in
sarongs—heavy costumes beaded and jeweled, gold and silver brocade, like
iridescent nacreous shields in the sun. All the diminutive dancers wore
spiraling crowns the shape of temple dome spires, haloes framing their faces of
flawless complexion, their dancer hands, smooth, willowing backward, each nail
covered with a jeweled guard. The women move in unison, one flowing river of
light gliding over a faille emerald sea. At the performance’s end, the dancer
closest to me meets my eyes. The girl, who looks my age, shyly smiles at me
before she bows her head, remaining in unison with the other five dancers. Merk
caught the smile. She raises her head. I return the smile.

Merk went out on the lawn after the dance was
over, the sun to his back, so the pictures would be more brilliant. The girls
frozen: arms jutting skyward, legs perpendicular to the ground, feet in awkward
angles to the sky, caught to place me in their world. My sixth-grade students
ask me what it was like, living there. Girls want to know things like that. I
lie, tell them it was wonderful. The pictures seem wonderful.

pictures at the King’s Summer Palace and a souvenir, a temple bell for our bo
tree in Sai-Gon, now hanging in my house by the front door. Merk and I enter
the gate of the ten-foot wall surrounding the grounds and leave the little boys
hawking souvenirs, the traffic and noise, the reality of time. I stumble into a
mirage painted by a Persian artist, a fantasy for kings and queens and other
ethereal characters. The temple walls, the courtyard walls, everything is
covered in gold. The reflection teases the bright sunlight. A photograph of a
two-story statue, my figure dwarfed by it. I beg to see the Summer Palace.
It’ll be cool, I say.

temperature inside is degrees cooler. Everything is spotless. Pictures of
murals, mythological beasts and fables, oversized carved teak furniture,
Chinese Buddhas, rigid arm positions, rounder faces, eyes more pronounced. Not
pictured are my mood swings. A tender bud, brittle and unresponsive in winter,
a butterfly, buom, tattered-winged
and disoriented, backwinded in a hole in summer.

drag Merk out of the palace. We brush against a scaffolding hanging eight feet
up from the walkway. A young Thai woman sits cross-legged, applying thin
squares of gold leaf. She turns to smile at us. Another picture. The swish of
Merk’s Nikon engages numbered images for the future. This
picture I remember, even though the slide’s been lost, probably some
careless student borrowed the slide to prepare a report, but I don’t need it
now. It’s real. Merk says in her lifetime, she will barely complete one wall,
square inch by square inch of gold leaf. The contentment of the young Thai’s
face is mine. Her perfect posture is mine; the straight spine, the green and
golden patterned cotton wrapped gently around her hips, mine; the white
polished cotton blouse, her hair in a chignon, shining iridescent in the sun,
mine:  a living lotus:  the sarong a lily pad, the blouse a glossy
lotus, petals opening, tan arms joined with reflecting gold, mine.

sun had risen higher and higher. The gold refracting from the buildings,
momentarily dazes me. I peer into the sun, now directly overhead, the red tile
roof piercing thirty feet into the clear sky looms above: the red shifts
upward. The roof repeats the Oriental pattern again and again in romantic
refrain, each lilting point swinging up, around, under, up, around, under,
shaped to ward off evil. No negative Karma must enter the temple: insouciance
preserved and repeated. I hear the bells and look up to see them swaying from
the tipped roof points. They create a lotus blossom. The faerie-like
tintinnabulation of the miniature dome-shaped bells harmonize with the gold
effulgence in the sunlight. Looking at the dome of the temple, staring into the
sun, I feel faint. Our excursions from one alien culture to another upset me
more than I allow Merk to know. Shocking infusion of Eastern mores into my
fragile psyche: alien feelings woven into the warp and woof of my life, all
absorbed into my schema. The dream continues, a schizophrenic disputation: Why
am I here? What is the purpose of my life? But I’m afraid to pause long enough
to find answers.

climb the thirty steps to the temple, then remove our shoes to cross the holy
ground. At the top, before entering the temple, I turn to look below, my eyes
gazing down the steps, steps worn smooth by disciples drawn to this holy place
for millennia. I can see myself in the courtyard at our casita in Taos, sitting
in a worn but comfortable can-back chair, a frayed straw hat down low, shading
my face; in my lap, palms raised upward, fingers suppliant. In the shadows, dew
hangs cloyingly on cornflowers heaped on the patio. A grey field mouse nibbles
on apples stacked by the wood pile. Tiring of the chore, it scampers to the
figure in the courtyard and sniffs, whiskers twitching at bare feet. I sit,
meditating on my writing, compelled to delve deeper into the past, to find
answers. A lone hawk silhouette in the noon sun. A fluorescent luna moth dances
from blue spruce to pine, aspen to cedar, mercurially through the paint brush
and dandelions and thistledown, to light on my left palm, the curling, twisting
tail caressing my encircled thumb and forefinger. I stroke the velvet chartreuse
wings, the Argusian eyes. The black and white etched wings kiss my fingertips.
Opening. Closing. Opening. Closing. Opening. Closing. I am a dry well filled.
Muscles loosen as pieces of a puzzle comfortably mesh. Behind me I feel a
shadow approach. Perspiration runs down my pale cheeks and drips onto my
sundress. The sparrows stop their chattering. The sky is cloudless with the
smell of bitter almonds. The image fades. I feel the thread from Merk tangle.

let’s go in. Are you okay?” One of his hands grips tight at my waist, the other
tight on my arm. His lips reassuringly brush my ear. I cannot allow him to see
behind my mask. I smile, obdurate, and enter the room through the center of the
three doors.

sunlight diminishes. I am with the dark again and out of the light and at
peace. The cool floor calms me. My feet feel fresh and clean, as though
removing my sandals and the dust on them had removed my questioning.

the temple, the sparsely furnished room has a feeling of asceticism. Remotely
placed at the other end, away from the three doors, the altar holds the small
Buddha. I anticipate a huge room-size god. This altar, however, possesses a
two-foot high, lotus seated, graven image. Carved from a single piece of
emerald jade, the statue is covered in a garment sewn from silk spun with gold.
The focal point forcing my attention, seducing my eyes as I approached from the
outside of the temple, is the small Buddha, beginning initially with the ascent
up the step—elicited to come up the path—educed to enter the temple
doors—magnetism compels me to cross the floor, to stand in front of the emerald
idol. I feel a oneness: a wholeness, a sanctifying fusion. The encounter is
unlike anything I have experienced in a Christian sanctuary. A suffusion with
Buddha Dahmna, the truth.

continue to stare into the statue’s eyes, into the emerald brilliance of opaque
darkness: into the gauche lightness of dark. I feel fear, sitting like a mother
brooding over her young, clawing, demonic, refusing to relinquish the
imprisoned offspring, damning me to an existence of pain, a symbiotic existence
without Merk.

shoulders shake.

what’s wrong? Are you alright? You look pale, baby.”

He allows me my silence.

just get scared … far away from home … without Mother and Daddy …
sometimes … I feel small and alone … . “

here.” He runs his fingers through my hair and pulls me toward him. “I’ll never
leave you.”

scent of bitter almonds draws me to the three doors. The flicker of a shadow
passes by the middle door and for a moment darkens the sun.

New York Times 18 Feb 1970

CIA Pilot Killed
First Casualty Plain of Jars

A U.S. helicopter pilot was killed by sniper fire while ferrying
supplies to beleaguered Laotian government forces on the Plain of Jars. The U.S.
Embassy  spokesman reported Sunday the pilot was identified as Jon Merkel of
Fort Worth, who was flying for Air America, a contract airlines to the Central
Intelligence Agency.  


History is written as we speak, its borders are
mapped long before any of us open our mouths; and written history, which makes
the common knowledge out of which our newspapers report the events of the day,
creates its own refugees, displaced persons, men and women without a country,
the living dead: Are you still alive, really?

                 —Greil Marcus

Kay Merkel
lived in Viet-Nam 68-70 & was married to an Air America pilot who
was killed flying in Laos 18 Feb 70. Her work has appeared in the New York Review of Books, Vanity Fair, Texas
Short Stories 2, Taos Magazine, The Dallas Morning News, and the Wichita Falls Record News. In
addition, she has work in Suddenly,
Grasslands Review, Behind the Lines, Fifth Wednesday, Adanna, Stone Voices, and Paper Nautilus. Letters of her husband’s
and hers were included in Love and War,
250 Years of Wartime Love Letters. NPR interviewed Boruff regarding her
non-profit Merkel & Minor: Vets Helping Vets: A Class Act Production. She
attended Burning Man 2012 and then climbed Wayna Picchu in Peru on her 71st