Some remembered the final crackle of radio transmission like campfire. Others, the explosion over the Everglades. The chrysanthemum of combustibles: orange and white and red at the edges of the clouds. The terrific noise that had no echo. Some insist to themselves the travelers died of oxygen deprivation, as in falling asleep as when their mother or father read that long bedtime story, never completing it, tucking them in as they drifted into sleep.
Some will remember the sound of riveted seams wrenched apart. Some might contemplate the ease at which falling metal crumbles in collision with an immoveable object, such as the earth. Airplane parts folded like sodden origami underfoot.
Numbers that accompany the crash: the barometric pressure as a thunderstorm builds, the velocity of the aircraft in descent, the latitude and longitude of the crash site, the few ounces of fuel left in the helicopter when the wreckage is discovered.
What came to rest, charred and indiscernible––a precipitation of sorts: women’s embroidered handbags, men’s hats punctuated with guinea hen feathers: key limes, Miccosukee patchwork, contraband Cuban cigars. Within twisted luggage, clothes folded meticulously as a nun’s hands in prayer.
In years to come, remembered at the oddest moments: set in the nestlike hummock of sawgrass growing in brackish water, a perfectly filled and intact plastic bag with 50 shimmering tropical fish, some orange, some white, some red at the edges.
Catherine Sutthoff Slaton
Catherine Sutthoff Slaton is a West Coast writer graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in English/Creative Writing. In July 2017, she traded in her REI raincoat for a longer REI raincoat and her Doc Martens for a pair of ultrahigh Bogs and moved from Seattle to the small farming community of Chimacum on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula where in addition to writing she works her bee hives and raises dairy goats. Her poems have been published in Soundings Review (Pushcart nominee), Switched-On Gutenberg, Till, Hummingbird Press, Raven Chronicles, Tupelo, and King County Metro Transit’s Poetry on Buses Series. Her essays have been published in Inkwell, (February 2020), and WORK Literary Journal (Spring 2020). She will also be published in Rumpus, Fall 2020.
The car idled in the middle of the street. With the glint of white sky reflecting on the windshield, I could not see a driver. Detour or continue? How suspicious I’d become. Murder, drugs, kidnapping. So much mayhem in my town at the edge of the Alaskan wilderness. I was headed to the woods to forget all that, and more.
I edged to the side of the road and kept going. Closer, level with the driver’s side, I peered into the window. A young man sat at the wheel, a boy really. Dark hair, a hockey emblem on his jacket, maybe on his way home from the local high school. He faced away from me, studying something on the opposite side of the street. I followed his gaze to a weathered wooden fence a few paces away. There, atop a post, a dark shape, foreign yet familiar. My brain struggled to explain what my eyes beheld.
The boy opened his window and leaned toward me. His skin was smooth and clear.
“Hasn’t moved,” he whispered. “At first I thought it was a juvenile bald, but maybe it’s a golden.”
A boy who stops to parse eagles.
Up close, the size and power of the bird stunned and unsettled me. Standing on the ground, it would surely reach my waist. Its beak curved sharply into a deadly tip that could rip my flesh just as easily as a hare’s. It seemed indifferent to us, focused on whatever lie inside the bounds of the fence. Cat? Chickens? Small dog?
A slight breeze rippled the rich brown feathers along its back, revealing the paler juvenile tones beneath. Surely a bald eagle, since we were far from the mountainous haunts of the golden. Last summer while driving to town I spied the unmistakable white head of an adult bald eagle perched on a power pole above the marsh. Maybe this was an offspring, here in late November when it should have moved south. With winters turned so mild these past few years, if food was plentiful in a neighborhood with easy prey, why leave?
“I’ve never been this close,” he said, eyes wide.
No one passed. For minutes we shared the street. The boy, the bird, the jaded woman.
At last, the eagle raised its head and glanced back at us as if to say, “What are you doing here?” Silently, it spread its magnificent wings and lifted off.
The boy and I stretched our necks to watch it soar over the neighborhood.
“Wow,” he said.
He put the car in gear and inched forward.
“Have a great day.” he said finally.
As he pulled away I waved and followed the eagle into the forest.
Susan Pope’s work has appeared in Pilgrimage, Under the Sun, The Southeast Review Online, Cirque: A Literary Journal of the Pacific Rim, Hippocampus, Under the Gum Tree, Burrow Press Review, BioStories, and Writers’ Workshop Review, among others. Her writing reflects intimate connections to home and family in Alaska as well as a restless exploration of faraway places. Her essay entitled, “Canyon,” which appeared in Bluestem, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2012.
He says the only way to learn is to watch him make it first.
He gathers peaches in a large bowl and rinses them with cold water then pats them dry with a paper towel. Next, he peels away the fuzzy skin to expose the fleshy fruit. He does this slowly, meticulously, to remove all the baby fine hair. The peaches must be completely bald, he says. They’re sweeter that way, more enticing in their bare state, soft with the natural juice that coats his fingers, and if he sneaks a taste, just one bite—so inviting, so fresh, so young with summer—they’ll leave behind a sheen on his chin, his upper lip.
To remove the pit, he slices the peaches down the center and splits them wide. It takes concentration and force, but not so much force that the peaches bruise and congeal in his grip. “If you bruise them, they’re no good,” he says, and licks his fingers. He can’t help but to remove the juice that way.
He slices the peaches into cubes and stacks them in a colander to allow the extra juice to drain away.
Next, it’s the mangoes. He palms them, adjusting his grip around one, then the other, squeezing gently and playfully, checking for spoils.
The mangoes are quickly sliced and chopped and tossed into the bowl without concern. They don’t require the gentle handling afforded to the peaches.
The fresh mint is next. He yanks them from their stalks, tears the leaves, and mixes them in with a splash of lime, and some crushed—nearly massacred—pitted cherries. Everything is tossed together and poured into a bowl.
The recipe calls for red onions, but he leaves them out. Chopping onions makes him cry and he won’t risk crying in front of me.
He doesn’t ask me to chop them, either. I’m not old enough to use a knife.
He scoops the mixture onto a spoon and suspends it in the air in front of my mouth. I’m in his world now, unsteady on my feet, uncertain as to what happens next or how we got here.
“Try it. You’ll like it. I promise,” he says.
I reach for the spoon, but he pulls away and shakes his head.
And so I do.
Melissa Grunow is the author of I DON’T BELONG HERE: ESSAYS (New Meridian Arts Press, 2018), finalist in the 2019 Independent Author Network Book of the Year Award and 2019 Best Indie Book from Shelf Unbound, and REALIZING RIVER CITY: A MEMOIR (Tumbleweed Books, 2016) which won the 2018 Book Excellence Award in Memoir, the 2017 Silver Medal in Nonfiction-Memoir from Readers’ Favorite International Book Contest, and Second PlaceNonfiction in the 2016 Independent Author Network Book of the Year Awards. Her work has appeared in Brevity, River Teeth, The Nervous Breakdown, Two Hawks Quarterly, New Plains Review, and Blue Lyra Review, among many others. Her essays have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net, as well as listed in the Best American Essays notables 2016, 2018, and 2019. She is an assistant professor of English at Illinois Central College. Visit her website at www.melissagrunow.com for more information.
The fallopian tubes. I remember them. I don’t remember the teacher’s name, the one who was showing us the filmstrip in the girls-only, 7th grade health class. Her mouth was always a little off on one side so her lipstick was kind of smeared, and she wore heavy pancake makeup, though she was younger than our mothers, and it was Florida where no one usually wore that. The room was darkened for the projection, and she stood just outside the light’s beam, clicking through the frames.
The shape of the whole setup of the insides, our insides, floating adrift on the white screen always reminded me of a cattle skull with the horns still attached. The fallopian tubes, I remember, had little fringed edges like stunted fingers reaching down into nothingness where one egg – one special egg each month—was chosen by something or chose itself to make the filmstrip staccato journey through multiple frames up the fallopian tubes and down the uterus into nothingness.
The teacher disappeared suddenly during the first semester. No one told us why. “Substitute” days stretched into weeks, and we gossiped “pregnant,” but somehow we thought we overheard “electroshock.” We speculated whether it would make her mouth even more crooked. She never came back. But it didn’t matter for us; we already knew everything we needed to know about being a woman.
Linda Buckmaster has lived within a block of the Atlantic most of her life, growing up in “Space Coast” Florida during the Fifties and Sixties and being part of the back-to-the-land movement in midcoast Maine in the Seventies. Former Poet Laureate of her small town of Belfast, Maine, her poetry, essay, and fiction have appeared in over forty journals and four anthologies. Two of her essays have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and one of her pieces was listed as a Notable Essay in “Best American Essays 2013.” She has held residencies at Vermont Studios Center, Atlantic Center for the Arts, and Obras Foundation, among others. Linda taught in the University of Maine System for 25 years and has an MFA in Creative Writing from the Stonecoast program of the University of Southern Maine. Her hybrid memoir, Space Heart. A Memoir in Stages, was published in 2018 by Burrow Press. She is currently working on a literary journey across the North Atlantic following the cod. www.lindabuckmaster.com
A word was written on an overpass, 20 feet above the splashing cars, and rising diesel exhaust. Tucked beneath the shelf of the roadbed, it’s large letters sulked in the shadow of a rainy day. They were cored in black, outlined in white, and framed below the girders of green scissoring iron. They stood as tall as a man, rising, and presumably illustrated, from a slippery narrow flange.
My car was eastbound, traveling at 60 miles per hour, and a random look caught the tag head-on. But only for an instant. The dark wing of the overpass slipped across my hood and rooftop and quickly receded into the narrowing V of my lane. But I suddenly felt strange. I’d been nicked under that bridge, some small penetrating injury, and was trailing a thin line of guilt.
Ache was the word. Not ‘fuck’, or an angry scrawl. Not some unintelligible inside encryption. And not masterfully executed. But, amplified by these stylistic inversions the word stuck. And its placement on tired ‘60’s infrastructure was like a glimpse of an SOS.
It lodged perfectly, the proper screw for my specifications. In my professional life I have had a hand in a series of bland assaults: pooling of wealth, dimming the sun, warming the earth. A part of a collective worldwide lean. But, outside the muffled backslapping circle of industry, the sound of struggle still carried. It was in the headlines and sprinkled among the homeless tents in their tiny off-ramp wedges. It was in the storm drain run-off of needles, bottles, lottery tickets, and pain pill blister packs. It flew with monarchs and swam with salmon, chased receding snowlines, and sat quietly beside silent springs. All sounds of a world aching.
I don’t pretend to know what the tagger intended with this word. It could be a nickname, an inside joke at the local high school or an homage to the Irish tag artist, Aches. But I do know this: Someone identified a spot perched high above one of the busiest freeways in town. Then, under cover of darkness, felt the way over a guard rail and shimmied along a potentially wet, two-inch flange lubricated with bird shit and sheaved paint chips. Scrabbling blind above quivering calves and speeding lines of traffic, they clutched spray cans and reached out in broad gambling sweeps again and again, until the four tall letters stood, fully formed and outlined. All under conditions many free-climbers would never attempt.
My thoughts on poverty, environment, and the future are churning. But at their heart is a spectator’s wonder and guilt. Because one of us acted. Threw a leg over. Gripped and teetered in the footlights of vans and trucks. Then vanished into the night leaving the word to shimmer high above in an invisible haunting resonance. Leaving their work to be captioned by their risk and our conscience.
Michael Parker is writing while living in complicated times, in Portland, Oregon.
At the orphanage, the Sisters dressed us in street clothes, brown leather shoes, and white socks that standardized our economic backgrounds. Yet, we could distinguish ourselves from one another by our thinness, broken or twisted limbs, cigarette burns, and other scars from abusive parents or caretakers. Even our facial expressions in scallop-edged, black-and-white photos shouted, “Caution!”
The other scars, those internal injuries that no one saw until we cried, bullied each other, or withdrew, we carried years later like a bursting backpack that rounded our adult shoulders wherever we went. Its contents might empty with hard work. But, how many of us pretended we could stand straight when we forged ahead into the world unaware that we needed a better sense of ourselves separate from our accumulated traumas? That we would struggle with forming a stable identity, of becoming autonomous. And how many of those internal scars would keloid into permanent mantras? “I don’t trust you. Love me. Don’t love me.”
But I had optimism. Some days, parents interested in adopting a child would arrive at the orphanage to decide which girl or boy would fit within their family, which one they could picture eating at their kitchen table, which one they could love. Around four or five us pre-selected by the nuns, bathed, and cautioned to behave, waited in a room. We had to smile, stand straight in a line, and not fiddle with one another. If we picked our noses, she added nose-picking. I liked to pick my nose.
While waiting for another nun to bring in potential parents, a Sister waited with us—saplings that one set of parents would pull out by its roots and transplant. She clasped her hands in front of her bib or fingered her rosary at her thigh while she scrutinized us as though attempting to guess which child the parents would select. Afterwards, she nodded her head and smiled at the designated child and parents as though, “Why yes, that is the child I would have selected for you myself.” And while I had waited and hoped they would take me, I continued to look up at them, smiling my best, hoping they would change their mind, their selection. Each time the parents left the room with one of my friends, I wondered why I stood behind.
Perhaps I had forgotten and picked my nose, so they didn’t pick me.
Sharon L. Esterly
As a freelance writer and journalist, Sharon has published articles in many newspapers and national magazines. She has taught highschool language arts, written educational grants, and provides private writing lessons to children and adults. She won First Prize in Nonfiction at the Philadelphia Writers Conference, 2016. In their Winter 2020 Issue, the literary journal Ruminate Magazine published a selection from her recently completed memoir, Bastard. At the University of Pennsylvania, she received her MLA in writing and worked for their Critical Writing Program where she edited and published 3808: Journal of Critical Writing, as well as res: A Journal of Undergraduate Research. Additionally, Sharon belongs to the Brandywine Valley Writers Group and The Authors Guild and is a board member at Glen Mills Schools.