Roots, Summer 2016 Edition
About Noel Bolinger
Noel Bolinger grew up in the wondrous town that we all know as St. Francisville, staying inside because the sun would cook her like a Christmas ham, and the heat would make her want to crawl into a cold lake and disappear forever like the Loch Ness Monster.
Alongside being terrified of driving because she doesn’t wish to die in a fiery inferno, she reads, writes, and draws. Some of her hobbies include astronomy, folklore, urban legends, electro swing, and playing video games that may or may not lead to her broken sanity.
She loves science fiction, fantasy, and some romance here and there, but at the same time she really likes dark and macabre things. She has an unimaginably big crush on Sylvester Stallone, because it’s a free country. Noel is robot husband trash and proud. She also likes to write in third person to appear less crazy than she already is.
I'm at the crossroads, and only God knows
Where to go from here, it's so unclear that I've lost hope.
It fills my mind with questions. Where is the light that stretches
from the tunnel, a compass
to point me in the right direction?
Where is the drinking gourd? Where is the Star of David?
If I don't know where to go,
then does it matter how far I've made it?
I need guidance. I'm lost and don't know where to find it.
It's like I'm blinded in the blackest darkness and the deadest silence,
But even if it seems that life has taken my dreams away,
I'm not giving up. I'll keep moving my feet today.
It hurts more than I can even say, but the pain seeps away
As I face the mirror and proceed to say...
"lead the way."
About Cecil Carrell
Cecil Carrell utilizes verse as his preferred form of self-expression. He believes the feelings that are the most difficult to include in everyday conversation are the easiest to exhibit through poetry. From Egalitarian activism to introspective analysis, Cecil's multi-syllabic poems are his written testimony on everything, including himself.
Of No Tribe
Every man is an invention of his own design, an evolving portrait painted in memories selected with parsimonious precision. Spoken facets judiciously dealt to each audience recreate who we are with each new interaction. Like the chorus in an ancient Greek play, our audience repeats the pages that make up our life chapters. The Greeks were tribal, their stories shared around campfires. Even in our nascent cyber-social culture, modern humans remain tribal creatures that linger close to those who remember our first stories. People are most comfortable with those who know the most about them so they remain in the shadow of their high school years. Over time, our social circle becomes the keeper of our identity. They repeat our stories and further winnow which aspects of our lives fall into the accepted story of us through their retelling of “our facts.” Over the years, I have been blessed with more friends than I can count but I am not tethered to them. I have no tribe, no hometown where everyone has a secret name for me. This anonymity, is both liberating and hindering.
In 2005, I blew out of O’Hare airport in a rented Hyundai. An hour later, Woodstock, Illinois came into view. I’d call it my hometown but that’s just it, I’ve never lived anywhere long enough to have that hometown pull. This isn’t the part where the theme from the Good, the Bad and the Ugly begins to wail in the distance. It isn’t like that. My itinerance has never been a deliberate effort. In fact, it wasn’t until I saw Andy Hartlieb at the High School reunion that my life up until now began to make sense. Andy had several brothers, all of them went on to play college football. Andy wasn’t just a jock, he was a mountain of a kid and was as intelligent as he was athletic. On top of it, he was a pretty decent guy. Everything just went his way because he was great at what he did. In short, Andy was better than most of us in school. A party wasn’t a party unless he showed up. The reunion was our 20 year reunion. I made my way around from table to table trying to say hi to as many old classmates as possible. As I moved from cluster to cluster, at least one person would ask, “have you talked to Andy yet?” or maybe mention “I golfed with Andy last week.” I’d smile and nod, unsure what to say as these old social norms surfaced and my indifference to them became more blatant. I caught up with Andy at the bar, exchanged a few pleasantries and prepared to walk away when he asked, “where’d you go?” I looked at him, slightly confused, “what do you mean?” He said, it’s been 20 years,man. You just fell off the face of the earth.” He seemed almost, hurt. “Lot’s of different places,” I said. I was taken aback that he even noticed my absence but I realized he was as connected to those who sought his audience and his presence in their golf cart as they were desperate to have it. Every tribe needs an Andy Hartlieb but every Andy Hartlieb needs a tribe to be great. That’s when I understood, I have always moved from tribe to tribe. I fit in, followed the rules and worked my through the pack but I howled at my own moon and wasn’t afraid to wander.
I was born in Houston, Texas. We lived on a cul-de-sac in a suburb. Our house sat on the edge of the subdivision bordered by a seemingly endless fence. Back then, a fence was a challenge to boys. We spent every day breaching that barrier and plunging into the unknown beyond.
My mother dropped me off at this stucco covered, pastel hell known as Springside Elementary School. Classes were already underway when I arrived to stand in the doorway which seemed suspiciously small for a portal to Hell. The desks did not look inviting. None were empty anyway so I defiantly remained at the threshold of doom. The teacher wasn’t pleased with my independence. She approached with a cicada like clacking of heels and peered down at me. Her pinched face and toxic cigarette and Chernobyl petunia smell triggered a serious flight response deep in my 5 year old being. Sensing that she was a horrible harbinger of the awaiting twelve year stint of oppression, I bolted past her to freedom. Outside the school, I was scaling a fence at the edge of the playground when I spotted the blue Pontiac station wagon my mother drove barrelling down a side street after me. For the remainder of my public education, the phrase “straighten you out” would frequently be spoken in my general direction. Paddling became so frequent that I was once paddled an additional set for not showing enough remorse.
It seemed to me that all of those adult faces with their earnest, chiding expressions of disapproval had one thing in common, they didn’t like who I was. Rules and following rules soon felt like walls rising around me. Like the wooden fence, it would fail to hold me.
The school rules and routine are an obvious social instrument to teach us to adapt, adjust and conform. The organic component, the humans around you with their collective norms and designations of social order and protocol, is the grit that both erodes and polishes your identity. Those social interactions from twelve years of school with the same cast of people are powerful and defining which is why most people never escape them entirely. These interactions ingrain rules of conduct and a sense of who we are in the scheme of things is ingrained in us by our peers.
I switched kindergartens mid year. By the end of eighth grade year, I had gone from a kid who never won a wrestling match to an undefeated conference champion. The “it” girls were finally talking to me at parties. And then, I transferred to the Catholic School for my freshman year of high school. The process began anew. I was “a stranger in a strange land.” Everyone was paired off in couples, cliques moved in their own orbits and the footing was treacherous no matter how delicately you tread. My general indifference to fitting in and requiring the approval of others made for a difficult start. I made friends. I had friends in the public schools. I knew the Mexican kids that hung out by the movie theater because I wrestled with them. I knew kids in other towns and went to proms at other schools and parties in multiple counties. I just didn’t need anyone.
Senior year arrived. My classmates drifted off in chunks, many attending the same universities. My parents dumped me in front of my dorm at the University of Wisconsin - LaCrosse. I knew absolutely no one. I stood in my dorm room wearing jeans, my wrestling shoes and a tee shirt. I put up a poster of Jimi Hendrix, considered my room decorated and pondered my next move. A voice speaking with an English accent spoke through my door. “Hey, what’re you doing?” I turned to see a slightly built black kid who was as well dressed as I was shabby. He said, “you hungry?” I replied, “yeah, now that you mention it.” Peter Khiba Noto was from Lesotho, Africa and for the next two years we were inseparable partners in girl chasing, late night coffee fueled discussions of music and books and very little studying. I will never know why he stopped by to drag me out of my dorm room but my life was better for it and I grew as a human being during the two years I knew him. When our funds were low, he taught me how to eat a meal in grocery store and I taught him how to grill chicken like a hobo.
My second year at U.W. LaCrosse, I ruptured my eardrum wrestling and ended any hope of wrestling at the college level. Pete had to go back to Africa at the end of the year. These two factors led to another transition. I transferred to Purdue University. In LaCrosse, I had lived in an apartment with 1 redneck, 1 African, 1 football player and 1 skateboarder-punk rocker.. Our parties were populated by Africans, middle easterners and white kids in flannels. Hockey players missing teeth would be talking to 6’5 Sudanese kids named Muhammed while reggae music blasted from a turntable. I had a great life at LaCrosse.
At Purdue, I moved into a dorm and took a job in the dorm cafeteria. Before long, I was in a fraternity and had earned one of eight seats on the Purdue Varsity Rowing team. After graduation, I studied in Austria for six months. On weekends I lived on the train. It seemed like I was with someone different everywhere I went. I found myself allied with an Italian kid I met on the boat to Greece. We both spoke German and watched each other’s back as we walked through the streets of Corfu at 3 am.
Back at the high school reunion, I told Andy a few of these stories. He was still huge. His drink glass disappeared in his hand. He was a banker now. “You climbed the Berlin Wall?” he asked. “Yeah, I was with this Spanish kid. We broke chunks of it off threw it into the crowd. Some Turks were trying to sell pieces of the Wall and they got pissed at us,” I said laughing at the memory.
I said my goodbyes to Andy and made one last circuit through the crowd. My closest friends from my high school years were not there, a fact that only further endeared them to me because they too were still writing their own stories. Upon returning home from the reunion, I made a point of seeking them out. My determination to forge my own path and hammer my own history into stones of my choosing had caused me to turn my back on people with whom I had the most in common. I have reconnected with many of my classmates from that first tribe. Our conversations are sometimes smattered with bits of our shared past but we are all interested in where we are now. I like that. The past can have four walls and it leads nowhere. I’m myself when there is a doorway left open.
About Jim Gardner
Jim Gardner lives in rural, southern Illinois on a pond in the woods with a one-eyed cat. Depending on the day, he can be found on a tractor in a hay field, sorting cattle in a dusty, fly filled stockade or teaching High School History.
His short story October Horse October Baby was selected for publication by Writers Digest. His non fiction articles can be found in Hoosier Family Living and Southeastern Illinois Family Living.
"I always found creek beds and the contents of abandoned houses more interesting than a playground. There is a presence on old farms. You can feel it when an owl drops from the high branches of trees silhouetted by the moon and in the silence of places which time has abandoned but men once toiled."
A Bargain With Hecate is his first self published collection of short stories.
He is presently at work completing several longer novels.
Searching For Loretta
Dead Leaves Under the Snow (Cobb's Tree)
Seeds of Mama Busseron
Sons of Belial
My Accidental Scent
Bean dust. The tan, Carhartt colored, fine, powdery substance that seems to betray your nose. An arsenal, ready to attack at any minute, shooting bullets and cannons off in the form of sneezes and sniffles. It bounces off the walls, invisible to the human eye. It’s the ultimate enemy, only visible in the brightest of light.
I was eight. The sky was almost too picturesque. The clouds formed perfect, symmetrical, lumpy bubbles, like the ones you used to scribble onto your kindergarten art projects. It was breezy out, but not cold. The sun alone sparked the sweat glands on your body, but when added with a breeze, the embers sizzled out. You shelled the corn and fed it to the hopper, while Grandpa drove the bright green tractor, positioning it wherever it was needed. This was your work day. This you have always loved to do. You are a gardener to Mother Earth. However, this was not my work day.
My day was spent crawling in the dry dirt that lay under the crumbling, white farmhouse that was never restored. The doors, which were always locked, served no purpose. You never liked that house. You thought it was “An accident waiting to happen,” but I was a clever girl. Casually hidden beneath a wooden board was a hole big enough for a young girl, such as myself, to crawl through. I spent hours exploring each and every room, leaving no detail overlooked. The hand-crafted fireplaces in each room were as tall as I. The only modern thing in the house was a red, shag carpet that laid in the master bedroom. The three living rooms, six bedrooms, and two bathrooms all served as my playhouse. The bones of the house were strong, yet dust--bean dust--always seemed to fill the rooms.
When I wasn’t defying my father, I was staring. The silver, metal, circular buildings that housed the grain always reminded me of skyscrapers. They were my Sears Towers, out in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by nothing but the earth and its fruits. The staircase leading up to the top was open at the bottom, so one could watch the ground get further and further away with each step. When my foot finally reached the platform, my hands always clenched the railing. Everytime. I don’t know why. I climbed those stairs so many times that one would think that I was used to the towering height, but I wasn’t.
You could see for what seemed like miles. Each row of corn formed perfectly straight lines, minus the few outliers. The houses looked like little green monopoly pieces. The breeze was always stronger up there. My hair was pulled in every direction. The latch that was attached to the grain bin always had a lock on it. The door would only open maybe five inches or so before it was restrained. It was plenty.
Surrounding the base of the bin grew a patch of yellow dandelions. I always grabbed a handful before making my descent. Once I opened the latch, one by one I tossed the flowers inside, into the dark, bean dust-filled bin.
Sadly, those days always came to an end. They ended when you yelled my name as the sun started to hide behind the peak of the farmhouse’s roof. They ended when my stomach started to growl at the thought of dinner. They ended with my mother staring at my feet as I walked through the house, creating a trail of dirt. They always ended with bean dust following me, staining my clothes with its scent.
I no longer wake up to sunny days filled with adventures and mysteries. I guess as you get older, things aren’t as special. I guess I’m grown up now. I’m different. I’m not lost or confused, but different, and although my perfume may say Prada, my favorite scent will always be you; it will always be bean dust.
About Erin Gartner
Miss Erin Elizabeth Gartner of Lawrenceville, Illinois, is a fifteen year old girl compatible to the color beige. On the outside, her personality tends to more muted, but on the inside, she is raging with color. She enjoys late night dates with her favorite pals, Ben and Jerry, and watching two hour marathons of Bob’s Burgers episodes. She is often complimented on her stylish physique, being called quote, “A fashion goddess.” She enjoys her God-given talent of being able to write about her true feelings in a way that doesn’t come across as an overbearing, preachy voice. She is so thrilled to have been accepted to this literary journal, and she hopes that you, the reader, will enjoy her pieces of work as well.
The Yellow Valise
The dusty valise stood by the front door of my house after having been recovered from its undisturbed resting place in the top of my grandmother’s master closet for more than half a century. Its fully intact imitation tweed covering that was the fashion of its time was a pleasing tan color with lighter, near yellow stripes, and despite a little rust on the latches and the word "keepsakes" scrawled in blue ballpoint letters of archaic shape under the well-worn leather handle, it was in relatively good condition.
More than once, I found myself checking to make sure it was still there as I unloaded precious relics of sentimental value as well as an assortment of non-priceless antiques from my SUV stacking them by the entryway. I would have many hours in seeking out appropriate homes for all the items I could not stand to part with yet did not have the need for myself, but that was for another day. The curiosity of the artifacts within the case’s belly was almost more than I could bear. As a child, I had been intimately acquainted with the contents of that closet, and a "new" object that looked as though the shelf itself had been built around it more than peeked my desire to pry into the history of my grandmother's mysterious life.
As I made trip after trip, I recalled the inventory of special things from the lower regions of the closet. The first, a complete man's wardrobe -- my grandfather's, as though he would be dressing for a day at the newspaper office, or a Rotary luncheon, or a night at the philharmonic, or a three day sailing voyage down the Hudson -- all present and accounted for, completely oblivious to the fact that he had long ago heard those sweet words, "Well done, good and faithful servant." There were fishing poles, shoe boxes with Christmas decorations and other seasonal items, and a smallish metal toolbox, which smelled of sweetened rust, that was filled to the brim with matches, twine, fishing line, electric tape, washers, assorted fuses, piano tuning gear and other useful things. A two–tier shoe shelf covered most of the bottom, and deep behind the full-length coats and behind a gigantic box labeled "tablecloths and linens" an old, forgotten .22 lurked in the corner. Having discovered it while exploring one day as a child, I never touched the gun.
At one point, I stumbled as I failed to appropriately negotiate the giant concrete steps onto my own porch and reached down to assess the damage to the wounded shin while picking up the box. Again, the little suitcase caught my eye.
The latch hesitates, but eventually the stubborn case opens its maw revealing a tattered King James, a Washington, D.C. traveler’s guide, and hundreds of unlabeled snapshots. There is no need to formally inventory its contents because without your mind -- the latchkey to unpacking their significance -- I am no closer to knowing your past than I was before.
And so I write, write stories about the people and the places and the lives contained within that yellow valise.
About Katherine Kiser
Katherine Kiser is a wife, mother, musician, and closet writer who resides in Southeastern Illinois. She has survived as a teacher of English and media studies at Lawrenceville High School for ten years. Primarily composing works of poetry, Katherine typically writes “real,” that is to say creative non-fiction, especially drawing inspiration from her family. Her hope for the essay “The Yellow Valise” is that it will eventually become a preface to a collection of poetry about all the people from her past she will never know.
The Coal Miner
Eyes that cut through the soul.
Glossed over with exhaustion.
Dirt caressing his imperfect skin.
Often staining his freckled, pale complexion.
Coal dust invading his lungs.
The same dust that coated his father’s.
Stress. Arguments. Eighteen years of marriage are ended.
Alcohol. Cigarettes. Addictions begin.
Graduations. Births. Band concerts missed.
Never missing a day of work.
Tears never escape his frigid expression.
His daughter’s are not as adamant.
Loneliness is not something to cross his mind.
A social life is not an option.
Smiles that could light up their mother’s heart.
Merely a memory that decorated the pictures on the wall.
A daughter married. A daughter engaged. A daughter still growing.
A missed wedding. A son-in-law to be. A bottle to his lips.
Eyes. Dirt. Coal dust makes him who he is.
Daughters. Stress. Tears are who he used to be.
About Abigail Love
Abigail Love has a passion for people, art, and writing that drives her to do what she loves most and to enjoy it. She was influenced by Mrs. Kiefer, a published writer and dedicated teacher, to write what hurts and to write it well. Abigail has progressed into a gritty writer that creates original pieces that not only make the readers feel but also think. Her passion for words developed at a young age, helping her to progress into a mature writer with an interesting outlook on life. Abigail's works are products of a caffeine crazed brain and a big heart, making her works feel real and genuine.
Her back I climb, fingertips red from bark
Dad numbed his coal infested lungs with liquor
Mama called for dinner, her eyes red
Dirt hugged my fingernails
Her hair I pull, balancing myself
My knees threatened to buckle
My nervous limbs shake
Mama’s cracking voice cries out again
Her heart I hear, shaking the leaves
I press my ear against her side
Ba-bum Ba-bum Ba-bum
Mine falls in beat with hers
Her ear I whisper, secrets only to be kept
Words flow out of my mouth
Wind howls, my hair in disarray
Dad calls this time
Her hand I hold, my soul connecting to hers
I’ll be back, I promise
My feet meet the ground with a thump
Old, red cowboy boots carry me inside
Her love I keep
Sheltered in my chest, no escaping
Her love I keep
A few glances back, never to return
About Chandler Lynch
Living most of his life in the same place, Chandler Lynch has always been fascinated with escape from his surroundings. As such, the western sky always tends to be a touch more colorful in his work, and the rose takes on a fiery crimson like that of a forge. As for his stories, they tend to lilt atop the scene like the birdsong of the morning floats on the breeze, often offering a dark contrast to the specially crafted, vibrantly colored setting.
I’m five feet, ten inches tall with legs that are longer than most strips of road in my small town, and so my mother is constantly telling me that there is absolutely no reason to limit my wardrobe to shirts and long blue jeans. I own two pairs of shorts that travel to my knees, covering the tops of my reptile legs yet exposing the worst half to the general public. I never wear them. I can’t remember the last time that I did.
For as long as I can stand to remember, my legs have been comfortably covered by long socks and blue jeans with the sole purpose of hiding my limbs from the rest of the world. The legs which have carried me since birth are a source of boundless insecurity, showcasing countless scars from softball on top of peeling, dry skin that lotion just can’t seem to help. I loathe my scaly legs, cursing them as I do everything in my power to hydrate the skin that covers them. While other girls my age count the days until they can wear short-shorts to school again, I’m dreading the second that jeans won’t be practical anymore.
On countless occasions, I’ve found myself making decisions based on the amount of skin that would be showing in the outcome. I refuse the entire idea of immodest clothing, pushing away sleeveless shirts and inch-long shorts in favor of baseball tees and blue jeans. My friends have often asked me why the clothes don’t appeal to me, and my answer is always the same, “It’s immodest,” or, “I don’t feel comfortable with showing that much skin.” They frown, then, trying to convince me to shove myself into tight shirts and too-short pants. I have never given in, not because of my reptile legs, but because of the morals that my small insecurity taught me to stand by.
People around me will always believe something different; I was taught that principle at a young age. However, no one ever told me that those people would often try to convince me that what I believe is small or insignificant. I was never told that my peers would pile their ideas onto me with total disregard for my personal beliefs, and I was certainly never told that it would be my job to stand up for myself. After years of holding my standards high in the safety of my quiet mind, I was forced to learn how to voice my opinions, and believe it or not, my legs were one of my main sources of power. Through my rough, well-hated walking machines I figured out just how important it is to defend the morals that I choose to uphold. I’ve figured out what I believe, even, and I continue to learn more about the ideas that make me who I am every day. I, personally, believe in modesty. I believe in standing by my beliefs, no matter what. I believe that there can never be too many bottles of Gold Bond lotion.
I even believe in reptile legs.
About Michaela Moore
Michaela Moore is a young writer who loves animals unconditionally and finds her inspiration in the little things. She constantly struggles with her writing, but she doesn't allow that to stop her from sharing words about what hurts--and what doesn't. Her passion lies in her family, friends, and of course, what makes people, people. You can find her featured in Autumn Voices, a local university’s literary journal.
November 16th, 2009
There’s a little girl on the porch steps again, counting the cars as they pass by even though they don’t come often. Her grandparents are watching through the glass windows, nostalgic smiles on wrinkled faces as their eyes follow her clumsy movements. It’s chilly, the kind of cold that forces the girl to wear a puffy, pink coat that she never really liked all that much; she felt like a good marshmallow. The leaves have been falling for a while now, covering the ground in a patchwork of browns and not-quite-reds. An Elvis record is on the player, like it always is when the older of the pair is feeling particularly chipper. It sings happily in the background, stretching the sounds of Jailhouse Rock until they can’t be stretched any longer. The girl’s eyes are bright, shining with a youthful glint that hasn’t seen real loss before--it’s too bad the same couldn’t be said for the couple behind the glass.
The woman’s eyes were in a constant crinkle--the kind you get when you laugh too hard--and her body was riddled with scars and skin tremors, fissures across her arms and legs from operation after operation. She often joked that she was more metal by now than she was skin and bone, but her granddaughter didn’t think that was strange. She thought that everyone had metal under their skin and marks across their arms. It was normal to her, and the constant laughter and music that seemed to shroud her grandparents never gave her a reason to believe otherwise.
Grandad--that’s what she called him--was a jolly old man, constantly dancing along and singing young songs even if they didn’t match the way he looked on the outside. On the inside, under the diabetes and dyslexia, people always spoke of a heart that was too big for his chest, beating loudly under skin and bones damaged by basic training and shrapnel. He probably shouldn’t have been alive, but he was, and he was the best person in the world to the little girl who had no one to play Legos with. Everything was perfect.
November 16th, 2011
Two years pass, more nuts and bolts are added to Granny’s arms and legs, but the little girl still sits on the porch steps and her grandparents still watch her fondly through the glass windows. She’s older now, no longer seeking a playmate from her grandad, but the old man is still happy. He still sings children’s rhymes and engages her in races to complete word search puzzles even though she sees the letters much better than he does by now. Granny still puts on the Elvis record when a smile curls across her cheeks and she still arranges dates to bake even though her granddaughter doesn’t show up sometimes.
Two years does a lot to a pink jacketed little girl, even if it’s something as simple as changing the part in her hair or tossing out awareness to the awkwardness of her smile. She doesn’t like to think of herself as young, even if that is exactly what she is. She smiles at pretty things and collects the leaves that carpet the ground, adding them to a pile that she might come back to, but she might not. Everything is different for her, but at the same time it’s found a way to stay the same. People have come and gone and maybe she’s felt loss--she’s not so sure yet--but her grandparents are still here and taking her on nine o’clock ice cream runs, and that’s all she really needs.
November 16th, 2013
Practice ran late again, but she doesn’t really mind. She thinks she likes basketball--it always seems to get her mind off of the things she doesn’t want to think about. It was something about the swish of the net, she thought, that really made her feel like she was going to be okay. If she could make a basket, she could get through anything.
Her brother is by to pick her up rather than her mom, and maybe that’s when she realized that something was wrong. She throws her duffel bag into the car and tucks herself into the passenger seat. The older of the two is looking ahead with wide eyes and asking her questions--too many questions. More than usual. They should be fighting by now, right?
They move slowly, painfully around curves and up hills. Her brother gave up on questions a long time ago and she gave up on solving the mystery. She didn’t feel right, like something horrible had happened, but she couldn’t figure out what it could be. The fields were dragging themselves on in blurs of greens and yellows of grown corn, only interrupted by the occasional house and--
Her eyes widen as she presses herself up against the window. She recognizes ambulances among the red and blue mess in her backyard, picking up pieces but never linking them together. Her brother is gone, already inside of the house after turning off the engine in record time. The porch steps of the neighboring house--her grandparents’ house--are as empty as the glass windows of the back door. People are milling around the front, struggling to hold open the front entrance and juggle something down concrete stairs. She frowns, deciding to head inside her own home and ask her mother.
Too much happened after that. Screaming. Crying. Maybe-I-could’ve-done-something’s. She knows, of course, that there wasn’t much to be done. Granny had always been a victim of minor sleep apnea--it must have finally taken her that night. It was that simple, but it still didn’t feel real.
They had been talking just last night. The teenager had just finished a close game and was excitedly chattering away to her equally excited grandparents. Granny was in her spot on the left and Grandad was filling in on the right. They were asking the kind of questions that she was happy to answer as music played quietly on the record player in the back. Everything was perfect until ten o’clock the next morning, when her mother had received a call from a panicked grandfather.
“She won’t wake up. She’s cold.”
November 16th, 2014
There’s a girl on the porch steps again. She’s been thinking a lot more than usual, counting cars absentmindedly as thoughts swim about in her head. The leaves have been falling for awhile now, but they just look gray to her. She shakes her head, dull eyes radiating knowledge of loss that she didn’t have five years ago. Pulling her legs out from beneath her, she stands, closing her eyes in an attempt to rid some of the thoughts from her mind.
She doesn’t like basketball so much anymore; countless hours on end of shooting and dribbling and passing for nearly a year has worn her down, rusting the love that she once held. The time she spends now is with her Grandad--he never really took it well, so she tries to help when she can. She was helping now, actually, as she pushed the door open as quietly as possible in an effort not to wake her sleeping grandfather. As a familiar record played softly in the back room, she found herself wishing that things were easier for the veteran.
After being in the military for years, you would expect for someone to grow accustomed to loss. Grandad isn’t one of those people. He mourns in his dreams--the nightmares that she has to be careful when waking him up from nowadays. His eyes tell stories of shots fired and missed--of love had and lost. His twisted lips show emotion she finds herself praying she’ll never have to feel. She tries to remind herself that he hasn’t always been this sad. He used to sing along to nursery rhymes and race her in word search puzzles. He used to take her for ice cream at nine in the morning, just because. He used to be happy before his wife left.
He plays her music when he misses her the most--Granny, that is. He doesn’t think his granddaughter notices the absence of his smile and the tears in his eyes. He used to laugh a lot before, but it’s been a long time; she can’t quite remember what his deep chuckle sounded like anymore. She just knows that when he plays the music he’s sad, and she’s never wanted him to be sad.
My girls sit by a tree
in the shade
painting nails and braiding hair
talking 'bout what's cool to wear.
These days go so fast
enjoy them now while they last
you'll be grown someday
away from home and on your way.
On the phone to a friend
making plans for a wild weekend
talk of boys and being teens
wearin’ makeup and stylin’ jeans.
These days go so fast
enjoy them now while they last
you'll be grown someday
away from home and on your way.
“Can we go? Mom, Dad, please?”
hands folded and on their knees
you say yes but hesitate
pray to God it's not a mistake.
These days go so fast
enjoy them now while they last
you'll be grown someday
away from home and far away.
About Bobbi Pierson
Bobbi Pierson is a dedicated mother of three successful girls that she raised by herself. Her struggles and children were her main inspiration for her song “Daughters.” Her first husband and the father of her children, Neal, had taken the three girls out for some Taco Bell one night without her. Alone in her chair, she began to strum her guitar, humming along subtly. Out of the soft pricking of her fingers developed the song she would use to sing her daughters to sleep every night that followed.
I am forgotten Thursdays.
I am torn up,
I am the button that fell from your favorite flannel
years and years ago.
I am faded blue jeans, and like faded blue jeans
I have lost touch with you.
The things we love fade away.
I am lovely and so are the roots of wildflowers on the side of the road.
My veins are the roots of my body.
Wildflowers dig their roots into the cracks of my skull.
I am a poet, and I will write with every inch of my tainted blood.
About Natalee Reynolds
Natalee is a junior at Lawrenceville High School. She spends her time in classes doodling and writing haikus, poetry, and other short story ideas. She plans to attend VU and IU Bloomington and major in Secondary English Education. Her ideas for the future include: becoming a high school English teacher and write books during her summers, becoming a soccer mom, and driving a badass Tahoe or BMW when she becomes a soccer mom.
They thought you picked a name that sounded good--
everyone else was Mary or Elizabeth or Joan
and more than a few Johns,
their name was double John--
hardly anyone did research
but not you.
You always knew, when the candles
passed lightly over your trembling throat,
that he was for you.
An idea of kindness,
simplicity, the sound
of a single fawn’s labored breathing
slowing down, evening out,
and you fed him goat’s milk
to make him strong.
Something in the way you
treated all creatures with compassion;
the way you kept to yourself,
and quiet; always pictured you in a very
broken block hut, with wild things growing
and surrounding you,
open to the elements.
Blaise, I wear you around my neck like a fish bone,
and own your name when
I feel alone. I become still,
and remember that, even alone,
you cure illness.
And when I see a creature
lashed to the roof of an SUV,
I pray and believe you are with it,
wrapping its wound in a soft arm embrace,
kissing and whispering softly, also, in its tufted er,
all I need for healing.
About Eric Shoemaker
Robert Eric Shoemaker is a Chicago based poet-playwright, theatre artist, and arts journalist. Eric’s work has been seen at Redtwist Theatre, Gorilla Tango Theatre, City Lit Theatre, American Theater Company, 3 Brothers Theatre, Mary-Arrchie Theatre Company, Skokie Theatre, the Chicago Musical Theatre Festival, and others.
Eric is the author of PLATH/HUGHES, BERNARDA ALBA AND HER HOUSE, WILDE’S SALOME, PHAEDRA, RELEASED., WAR OF THE WORLDS, TRANSFORMATIONS: AFTER OVID, and several other plays seen in Chicago.
Eric’s writing has been featured in Rollick Magazine, Literature Emitting Diodes, The Chicago After Dark Anthology, Mosaic, Thought Collection Journal, and his book “30 Days Dry”.
Follow his work at reshoemaker.com.
Bring back my mystic,
my ecstasy, my passion,
show me the mansions within my soul.
Dogma is just strict enough
to whisper through prayer beads,
but today’s people need an Awakening.
Heresy is misinformation
caused by conflict
with existing delicate conventions.
Faith should be violent,
a kiss too long, leaving you light-headed
from lack of breath--
and introspective, staring into the eyes
of purest love,
your own desire matching fire in possibility.
Pray like a beast,
pray like a lover,
use your whole self.
Every inch of skin and nerve tensed
for the release, someone else
caring as much as you.
If Once You Were German
If once you were German, you are now my piece of history.
You floated in the streets of Berlin before it became a nouveau-riche haven,
and you threw bricks
hollowed out into real glass windows
and broke the rules.
You tell me how fragile your childhood experience
how happily you called out to Father Christmas from the porch stoop
as Father Schweizer crept sideways with
his tar-black boots and cheap presents.
You wrinkle your eyebrows, your whole face wrinkles,
pursing up like a very wise walrus with broken tusks and soft skin
and you say it again: how fragile your childhood,
when you walked onstage and dropped the armful of plates.
If once you were my heroine, you are now China on a shelf
not an exotic land none of us have ever seen.
Inside a lacquered cabinet, unable to collect dust, as is natural.
I wonder what it would be like to polish your broken tusks, lather up that pruned face,
and take you out for one more whirl about the town, hot and scanty, we!
Would you remember me
as my Volkswagen turned about the familiar streets where once
in dreams you sauntered?
Once you were historical, but now we are a history
as we float through the streets of Godland: one hand on a cane, one hand on the earth.
I remember most
through bloodlines, blackberry juice
squeezed in the palm, great-grandmother grew
all across the backyard,
runners scampering across green matte, something sparkling,
like green lava plumes to me, a child,
running through the grasses of my ole’ Kentucky.
Graham Hill was the setting for all I know,
even in dreams, now, I see it there,
as it used to be,
despite the modern mods for family function that have taken from it
the wildness, the wilder trees in the backyard than any I now know.
We never had beef; beef don’t keep.
The dogs would run wild, pack-like, sometimes home, sometimes off
Great-grandmother Alice fixed us vegetables, would say grace, and, evenings,
flying at the low-hanging sun, we knew no mortality.
Something in me says, don’t you remember,
you grew up on Hill-crest, don’t you remember,
and I interrupt – yes, I was of an electric age
I flapped youngling wings to the tune of textacy,
I snapped not peas but my neck at those people
who knew my history better than the lines of their own skin--
but my soul grew up on Graham Hill,
my feet treading snakes in the grasses so flaming.