Issue 93 — 

Sophia Elan(ArLiJo#93)
Penelope Gristelfink(ArLiJo#93)
Laura Mayron(ArLiJo#93)
Teresa Stores(ArLiJo#93)
Tan Sze-Leng (ArLiJo#93)


Sophia Elan


Featured in ArLiJo Issue No. 93.

Sam

I want to write about Sam. His green Filson jacket smelling of wood smoke and pot. The crooked canine overlapping his right incisor that you could see when he sang. Wide palms tracing the neck of his guitar. The gray grime that would coat the steel strings from hours of playing. Dylan, The Dead, Hendrix, Young.

But what I really want to write about is how he loved me. That day I cut off all my hair. Tired, dry clumps at my mirror, crying. How he said I was so beautiful. How he taught me about riding bikes and jam bands and psilocybin. We’d pick wild blackberries in the summer. Chanterelles in the fall. We’d skip school to eat omelets by the boats. Chinese food. Pastries and coffee.

And what I really want to write about is how I loved him, but didn’t love him enough to stay. So I left. I left in the choppy, messy way of 17-year-olds. I’d see him around town from time to time like a once-favorite dress, donated, and seen on a woman at the grocery store. A gentle recognition. Distant familiarity. He was still playing music. He was still making sushi. He was still getting stoned. He’d smile at me so I could see his crooked tooth.

But what I really want to write about is the night he died. How he exited the car barefoot and stumbling, chef’s knife in his hand. How the blood pooled around him. Hot, rerouted, confused blood. How he had three bullets fired into his torso, but fell to his knees after the first. Sloppy red and blue lights arching over t-shirt and glass and road. Radio static and shouts and the chaos of dying too soon.

And what I really want to write about is why the police officer had to shoot Sam. Why in the chest and why three times? Where were his shoes? Why was he holding a knife? What was going through his mind as he lie there on the asphalt?

But what I really want to write about is what happens to the heart when someone you
love dies.

I want to write about Sam. How, as a boy, he rode horses and could name all the bugs
he’d find in the garden. I want to write about how he was kind and gentle. I want to write about his crooked tooth.


About the Author:
Sophia Elan spends her summers commercial fishing in Alaska and her winters writing in Port Townsend, WA. She is currently working on a collection of creative non-fiction.
 

 
Penelope Gristelfink

Featured in ArLiJo Issue No. 93



The Importance of a Clean Stove: Advice to a Young Black Swan


“The Chinese believe the stove has a direct connection to wealth, so be sure to keep your stove and burners in good working condition and keep them very clean.”

—from “How to Use Feng Shui to Attract Wealth and Prosperity”


Sometimes mere human reflex can seem like a miracle.

Black ice had been in the forecast, sowing mistrust and tensing the minds and grips of the commuters on I-95. All the snow mounds had hardened and sullied into ugly rubble after weeks of storms. Achieving consciousness in the morning, you felt like a wounded bird rallying at the bottom of a stone well. An asynchrony between muscles and mind, when you were awake but cold pressed your body into stillness so solid that you had to torque heavily against it to blink, to yawn. You came back to your body more slowly, as if dragging it back from some other/underworld, ancient, dark, glacial and peated, the stages of sleep like steppes and banks you traveled with pack animals of the submerged mind, avoiding mastodons, avoiding the otherwise extinct. You didn’t wake up so much as you thawed. You didn’t come home so much as you survived your coming home.

This winter night, I wanted to sleep, perhaps was already asleep on my feet, but little bits of dried stuck-on food clung to the surface of the stove. Charred clumps like dirty callouses. Little nub-like bits, upraised chain links, calcified of long days of work and lonely nights of single-girl cooking. I felt the need to pick them off, as if by scrubbing I could cleanse the insecurity of living in Connecticut during the “Great Recession”, without a man, sometimes employed, sometimes not. Fisted hand to mouth.

I would have the cleanest stove in all the history of all the lands. A snow-queen white stove. I would not rest until I could lean over and see my own face reflected back to me, fair, fairer . . . the fairest. No, the free-est.

The importance of a clean stove is that you never know who might be coming over.




For four years I had not spoken to anyone in my family.

I had memories that I had drowned in years, submerged in time like a nest of snakes sunk in a basket to the bottom of a muddy river. They seldom stirred, the memory moccasins. Psychologically speaking, I was keeping more and more to dry land those days, which helped. In college, by contrast, I would sometimes fall to weeping three or four days at a time. It was then that I would be with the memories, tending to their nest. The rest of the world could see me weeping. I was eating and feeding my shadow.

In A Little Book on the Human Shadow, Roberty Bly writes about the Jungian concept of the shadow, of energies and desires and traits that human beings repress. The metaphor Bly often uses is that we place unacceptable things in a bag, the unconscious, that we drag behind us. “We spend our life until we’re twenty deciding what parts of ourself to put into the bag, and we spend the rest of our lives trying to get them out again — Every part of our personality that we do not love will become hostile to us. We could add that it may move to a distant place and begin a revolt against us as well.”

Doing the work of dealing with the repressed parts of ourselves Bly calls “eating the shadow.” He writes that women may repress their masculine energies, and this can cause all kinds of problems. “If a woman, wanting to be approved for her femininity, has put her masculine side or her internal male into the bag, she may find that twenty years later he will be hostile to her. Moreover he may be unfeeling and brutal in his criticism. She’s in a spot. Finding a hostile man to live with would give her someone to blame, and take away the pressure, but that wouldn’t help the problem of the closed bag. In the meantime, she is liable to sense a double rejection, from the male inside and the male outside. There’s a lot of grief in this whole thing.”

Like a new lactating mother who just whips out a breast on a park bench, I had this necessary, time-consuming task and could not be bothered with shame on top of it. Besides, it was the least I could do to the rest of the world, to inflict it with this discomforting spectacle of me crying anywhere, for making me leave the house, for its relentless demand of activity, for existing apart from me and my suffering.

Once, between classes my senior year, I took a blanket to the stretch of green grass between campus buildings and sobbed publicly for an entire afternoon. A village idiot, on the quad, my solipsism and emotional incontinence flanking me like limp limbs bracketed by stocks. I watched people who knew me only a little bit, teachers and fellow students, cross my path, squint at me and pause squeamishly. Mostly they passed on without saying anything, giving themselves that little shiver of plausible denial in the end, when you have decided to proceed as if you did not in fact recognize the person you are consciously avoiding.

At home, I listened over and over again to interviews of Richard Pryor. I cleaned and cooked elaborate and experimental vegetarian meals—overstuffed mung bean burritos, sweet and sour tempeh cacciatore—and paced, and often had equally intense jags of laughter, followed by a tremendous discharge of aimless, amorphous “Everybody Hurts” style empathy. I thought obsessively of my parents, of their pain. Of my father beating my mother until her lip burst out bleeding like a slit tomato. Of his father before him, in similarly wretched scenes that took place before I was born. Of how heartbroken both of the men were as they beat their wives, who would then go forth seeking someone to pass the pain on to, and, finding few willing, make them. Fucking monkeys in fucking trees.

I waited it out. Panicking was pointless; it only prolonged the episodes. During one particularly “mixed mood” weekend I was so distracted by my loud and unwieldy emotions that I could not follow the plot of an Owen Wilson-Vince Vaughn movie. It passed; it always passed, often leaving me exhausted, tilted over but intact, like a shrub that had survived a hurricane, bent in the wind but still possessing of a sinewy, fibrous, if disheveled, strength. I worked doubly hard to catch up on whatever work I had neglected.

In Connecticut, in my early 30s, I didn’t do these things anymore. I had graduated. I had become a police reporter. I divorced the husband who seemed to love me more when I was considered so psychologically frail that professionals told me I might not ever be able to graduate or to work. He later bemoaned the burden he had incurred from having married a “bipolar” person, but nothing could solve the paradox of our marriage: that he loved me more when I was weak even as he found ever more fault in my weakness, which was, more and more, a distant memory. He had certainly taken on the “hostile man” aspect. I got laid off. I got another job. It didn’t pay the bills. I got other jobs. I paid the bills. I resolved. I hopped to it. By hook and by crook. I slept regularly. I cooked, and I cleaned. I took vitamins. I worked out. I worked out other women, as a personal trainer. The alarm went off at 4:30 a.m., and the car was warm by 5. First shift started at 6 and lasted till noon. Second shift 4 to 9. The wheel of fortune turned with the dismal routine of a time clock, and I let myself spill like an anonymous portion of water over mundane tasks and mindless work, for the bucks were better in training that reporting. I lived sore and discovered that muscle soreness was like being dosed a thousand tiny times a day with a highly effective anti-anxiety med. I made my boyfriend go back to his parents. I kept the shoreline apartment they owned and where I’d fashioned all the shab into a renter’s prideful, domestic paradise. The cat slept on neat piles of laundered towels and even kept her own routine. Whole days passed in peace and solitude as simple as an elongated bicep curl. Concentric and eccentric earning and spending. Oblations to commerce and survival.

My mind must have squired itself away. It wrote a novel. Page by page, word by word, key click after click. And save. And save.

I thought all of this was what people meant when they asked things such as, Are you keeping yourself up? I would never, ever, by the grace and the power invested in Feng Shui and cardio, go back to the tribe of violent drunkards I’d left in the blown dust and barbed weeds of the Texas panhandle.

That night, I made tea and poured the remainder out onto the stove to loosen and dissolve the bits of charred food. The water pooled around the burners. I remembered my father coming over to my first apartment, a charming backyard efficiency I got in the spring of my senior year of high school, so that I could work and date men unsupervised. How he found me mouthy and saw that the place was an untidy sty of teenage lust: dirty panties and bras and CDs and loose change strewn all over the floor, cigarette butts on the countertops. My childhood daybed unmade. He picked up a handful of change from the floor, shook his fist at me and threw it back down. “Someday, this will mean something to you!”

How different I was now. If he only knew, how insistent I was on my stove being clean. How I could run thirteen miles in an hour and forty minutes. I picked up a sponge and put my bare hand into the water, and it leapt back, of its own accord. Unburned.

Then my parents came into my kitchen as apparitions of self-talk. It was like they had sprung out of my head into what appeared a live dialogue. My tiredness had split me off from myself as in a lucid dream, and I stood there and watched them and listened to them. They were all full of rage at having been uninvited for years.

“You wipe that down right now! You are not going to bed until that stove is clean,” my mother yelled. “You wipe that down! You clean that damn stove! Clean the stove, Penelope. Clean it!”

But it wasn’t my mother speaking at all. It was my father’s voice. Mother’s voice, father’s words. When I was a toddler and my parents were both drunk and fighting on the front lawn, he punched her in the face and drug her up the porch steps by her hair. He kicked her legs out from under her. She was suspended by his grip on her hair. She was sort of half-kneeling and scraping the door. She had the keys in her hand, but she fumbled too much to get them into the lock.

“Open the door, Leta! You open that damn door!” He shook her. “Open it!”



My mother’s full name is Ileta, but she goes by Leta for short. For many years, I mixed up the myth of Leda and the rape of the swan in my mind. I thought that Leda had been the swan when in the actual myth Leda was a mortal woman whom the god Zeus lusted after, so he took the form of a swan and raped her, causing Helen of Troy to be conceived.

My father used to insist that my mother was always the one to attack first, the initiator, the aggressor. When I’d share my memories of those times when he abused her with him, he’d say, “But don’t you remember her taking her beer can and crushing it on my head?” He’d become indignant that my memories did not encompass every act of abuse she visited on him and that I did not automatically take his side.

In his book, Bly writes about the archetype of the witch, and how men can project their inner witch, a shrewish, judgmental reenactment of maternal rejection, onto their lovers and spouses. The power of spiritual projection between a man and woman can become so powerful that these projections influence the behavior of each. The man and the woman act out each other’s projections. As a small child, I saw the way my parents’ projections took on a life of their own. Like a powerful swan, they swooped in and caused all kinds of chaos at times. It broke lamps, the swan did; it turned over the dog’s bowl, it broke the shower curtain rod, and it shattered our lives temporarily.




The releasing of shadow material has five different stages, Bly writes, centered around “exiling, hunting and retrieving” the shadow, how people become whole again, after such shattering.

In the fifth stage, one deals with the witch archetype, taking her on, taking her in, letting her go, until she is no longer able to be the director of the show. Such work helps clarify and release much of the angst a woman feels about her darker energies, to stop dwelling in the hell of dichotomies that Darren Aronofsky depicted in his film Black Swan. Natalie Portman plays a tortured, sadomasochistic ballerina. She is a white swan: innocent, a virgin, pure and good and angelic and technically proficient. She confronts her opposite at a prestigious dance school where she meets a rival: an undisciplined, sexually open but more inspired dancer who cares less for the perfectionism and domineering and male authority of the school’s director. The black swan does forbidden, taboo things such as smoke and drink, but still the director prefers her dancing, for it is more soulful. This rival, the black swan, is all the rejected parts of the protagonist’s self, and it scares her half to death.

The Natalie Portman character can’t get to the fifth stage in Bly’s spectrum of dealing with the shadow. She has issues with her mother, and an eating disorder. Bly writes: “As a person grows older he or she becomes more wise about this stage. The mother feeds, after all, but the witch eats. So the witch has to be brought back, I think, for the person to eat a significant portion of his or her shadow. When the person begins to bring in rejected or projected authority, for example, and eat that, Saturn enters, and our passion deepens, and melancholy, always a mark of Saturn, and of retrieved shadow, brings its sorrow in, and its opening to the spirit. We sense limits, and limits begin to seem a part of us, a natural agency of life.”

The importance of a clean stove is setting limits.

Small but stoic, defiantly still, I stood there with the hot water from the sponge dripping down around my wrists and still not burning, as if I had it shoved inside some kind of torch that did not touch me, as if my skin had somehow sealed out hurt.

I put down the sponge.

I threw my parents out with cauterizing scorn.

“I’m glad we had this talk,” I told them. “If you’re still here in the morning, you are going to be asked to leave.”

I went to bed.

In hindsight, the real miracle was mental. Full sanity brooks no compromises. Full sanity doesn’t take any shit from anyone. I had acquired somehow the self-worth and the motivation to catch myself in the moment just before some impulse to self-abuse then to question the impulse as if it were an entity. In the ensuing interrogation, it would be revealed that the impulse had not nearly as many rights as it had presumed upon first entering. It fled, hissing but defanged, an alarming intrusion but one that was ultimately unable to strike.

Psychological healing is generally slow as tree rings forming, but not always. Just as there are epiphanies in artistic creation or scientific research, healing can dart in and turn everyday moments into salvific acts. Healing can also be a quick, slingshot blow to old feelings of pain and unworthiness, the Goliath-like ogres that slumber in the caves of unconsciousness and make the air there beastly-stale. Healing can be a Eureka cry, a psycho-chiropractic adjustment to a misaligned soul.

These are the powers young women would like to give their lovers, but can’t.




I had never been one to cut or burn, but I had my moments. Once I got lost trying to find a particular Circuit City. I had planned to buy a laptop. I think I had a coupon, but something went awry. I could not find the store or I found it but had not the money I needed after all. Something like that; I don’t remember the why. I do remember being so angry with myself over poor planning or lack of abundance or both that I ended up in my car punching the steering wheel until the nerve channels from my knuckles to the tendons in the back of my neck bristled with fiery pain. Little, twitchy aftershocks would show up weeks later. The knuckles still give me backtalk, the bones of my dominant hand crack and betray, even now, years after I stopped having these tantrums; it’s like they are telling war stories under the skin that only I can hear.

In its range of mutability, healing mimics pain. Force, counterforce. Unto the point that the sufferer cannot tell the one from the other. Pain can be long and protracted. It can be the bone-deep ache after chemotherapy releasing poisoned particles and the irradiated cells angrily and vibrationally accumulating life like hot dew gathering. Or pain can be acute. The sudden pierce of a lance over a tightly swollen abscess. Stabs of organ pain in all the -itises so sharp you gag. When healing works with the efficacy of sudden pain, all you get is a flash of sword so instant as to make you think the dragon died of a sudden heart attack.



Depressed people have enhanced powers of “social realism.” Studies have shown. They are better able to report how others actually see them than non-depressed, “normal” people. One of the more humbling aspects of recovering from depression is that it makes you realize how unoriginal you are and always were. It frees you up.

A few months ago, I saw a woman in the cafe section of Wegman’s doing this public crying thing. She was a wiry thin woman with a slick, black pixie chop, big, baleful eyes and baldly make-upless, pinkish skin. She had a bag full of vegan protein powder and assorted health foods, but she was not eating anything. She cried silently and without making much use of the Kleenex she clutched, with the ultrapurpose I recognized from my long ago self. It looked from across the room like some sort of a hormonally driven dialysis was taking place through her face. A man asked her for directions, and she stopped sobbing and spoke to him clearly and calmly. When he went away, she resumed crying. Like myself at that age, she had the ability to plunge into deep sorrow then “snap out of it,” to ration her responses and her lucidity suddenly when dealing with the external world. I was debating the proper response to this clearly karmic opportunity—to leave her alone or to get up and perch myself beside her and say something, say anything—when the woman got up and left. I ate the rest of my lunch thinking about my utter gratitude for kale and butternut squash and for the fact that I was no longer in my 20s.



When Elizabeth Wurtzel, author of Prozac Nation, was interviewed by Jezebel while undergoing treatment for breast cancer, she said that breast cancer was “annoying” compared to her bouts with depression in her early 20s.

Right on.

A physically healthy 24-year-old woman in Belgium recently applied for state-administered euthanasia due to emotional distress. At 24, no doubt, the intractability of the illness seems insurmountable. I had hoped that the state would make the tough but humane decision to deny her the death she is seeking, but it instead greenlighted her for execution in what appears to be a tragic miscarriage of medical ethics.

So what would have been my advice to the young crying woman in Wegman’s, knowing as I know that giving advice to the young sufferer of depression is like strapping a cord of damp firewood on a hunchback and telling them to run an up-mountain marathon?

Maybe I would tell her: Know that all things remit if given enough time and distance, let it get better, let it get worse, then better again. Buck the wooly, bronco-like terror of recurrence. Don’t love it back; don’t let it drool on you. Let it teach you nimbleness and resilience. Take joy in small, free things and only those things you can see and hear around you: whiffs of chimney fires, muzak renditions of Tori Amos’ “Cornflake Girl,” glabrous, full moons, clever, colorful graffiti, children improvising in the back of a pickup truck on a July afternoon, a tarp in the bed, water in the bed, instead of a swimming pool. Get a bonsai tree, grow your hair out, eat a fucking steak every few months or so, and be not afraid of any comers; count on none because you are not Rapunzel. Because, if you let down your hair, instead of it being a tool to rescue you with, you will just end up being scalped. This is neither the fault of you, your hair nor your well-meaning would be rescuer. It is merely the weight of the work you have to do to rescue yourself being greater than your hair can support. It is merely the fact that when you are in your early 20s, there is not even a window in your tower to let down your hair by. You are going to have to knock one out, painfully, assiduously, like Andy Dufresne in the Shawshank Redemption chiseling his tunnel out of prison with a tiny rock hammer. At night, after a hard day’s labor, of coerced accounting and double-bookkeeping for some twisted, self-serving prison warden, and by the light of a single bulb-only lamp. A handful of dirt at a time. Could take years, and you will need to preserve your hands, your dexterity, every ounce of covert grit and finesse you’ve got. Not even your therapist may notice the grains slipping from your pants’ leg as you leave your sessions dry-eyed and sighing and only a few grains lighter.

Dragons die of natural causes, too. Remember.

Or maybe I would just say, “Hey, honey, why don’t you go home and clean your stove? It will make you feel better.”

I hope I see her again soon.

I hope she remembers seeing me.


Copyright © 2016 by Penelope Gristelfink



About the Author:
Penelope Gristelfink’s first novel will be published by Propertius Press in 2017. Her poems and fiction have appeared in or will appear in Loch Raven Review, The Potomac, Eclectica Magazine, Bird’s Thumb, Adanna, Foliate Oak, The Seattle Review and The Pedestal. She is a graduate of Temple University. She currently lives in Norristown, Pennsylvania.

 

 

Laura Mayron

Featured in ArLiJo Issue No. 93



Midwestern Gothic
— 2016 Honorable Mention for the Gival Press Oscar Wilde Award

I know your ghosts like the back of my hand
(which is to say,
from drinking spilled wine from the skin)
I remember the first time they came to visit,
peering over my shoulder
at our board game,
my knuckles stained plum
from knocking over my glass.

Since then, the metallic oil of my skin
fresh on my wine heavy lips,
I notice your ghosts
(newer to me than my own,
but present all the same)
wandering casually between rooms,
standing at the window.
I arrive to hold you, retreat in fragrant sadness
when I must leave you,
and they come and go as I do.
I see them around the house,
but only
out of the corner of my eye:
I know, by accident,
that I have surely lightly run my lips
over the crook of their elbows.
They smell faintly of lilies and hyacinth.

On some nights,
when the weather is ripe for weeping,
(the faintest crackle of light
and clouds bruised by coming rain)
I can smell their ectoplasm,
sharp, like the ozone drifts collecting
on my windowsill.
You embroider our fingers together
and I give your hand a gentle squeeze
as we wait for the rain and the ghosts to roll our way.

I know which phase of the moon you masquerade as
when they come to call
(their knocks on the door are light,
but still the barometer plunges)
and you draw back the curtain
to see them respectfully clustered
at the door like an abandoned bouquet.
I watch you in worship,
your paleness given a halo of lightning
as you open the door,
honeyed, violet storm rushing in
alongside ghosts.

We kiss,
and drink wine from each other’s lips
(as your ghosts sit on the edges of the couch,
inspecting the almanac)
and you lead me to the haze of bed.
The night smells like gold and salt.
and, in the dropping pressure,
shimmering with your ghosts in a lace robe
around you,
you are waxing, rose-hipped, storm,
My legs tremble just as the wind sighs
the release of the dark rain,
and you, your ghosts, and I
settle down to wrap ourselves
in freshly starched sheets,
so white that they are nearly lilac.


Copyright © 2016 by Laura Mayron.



Body, electric

The dogs stopped howling
long before you kissed me.
Bones filled with the moon,
I wax at your touch,
unwhole,
unholy,
I am made divine
in the gentleness
of our lips humming
oncoming thunderstorms.
You, tenderness,
I, heart a spinning weather vane,
unite in the smell of ozone, earth, wanting.
You know my words:
blood, communion, sacred
as I, with the longing of lightning
seeking shelter
in weeping handfuls of soil,
hold you.
I hold you, the power lines
crackle, dance,
and your opalescent eyes
float above mine in space.
Dazzled, dazed,
our breath settles
in the sudden quiet
broken only by the velvet
flash of your voice,
raining down like dawn:
I love you.


Copyright © 2016 by Laura Mayron.



Holy Water

A cat yowls outside a church in June.
Baptized in sweat,
mind numbed by mass,
feeling a heartbeat
in pressed-together legs:
this is a communion of salt.

The air is the opposite of empty,
and smells like honey:
yellow, warm, motionless.
Churchgoers shift their ribs
and seek and exhalation of coolness.

The most sacred thing there
is you, wanting.
You are blush and heat
spreading across cheeks,
thighs:
blissful obscenity
of skin stuck to skin,
damp like the darkest pit of a peach,
shaking
between homilies.
Blasphemy in b minor.

You can feel it down to the bones
where your teeth lode:
excess of dreaming, holy water arousal.
Like the low growl of thunder
that is your hips on mine,
pelvic bones rustling in prayer,
you want,
are wanting,
in a gospel of aching.

Somewhere, on the edge of afternoon,
the cat hisses silent,
and the rain seeps its way
into earth,
bloody and hungry,
heavenly in its release.


Copyright © 2016 by Laura Mayron.



About the Author:
Laura Mayron is a graduate of Wellesley College and was born and raised in Maui, Hawaii. A queer poet, she is off to study queer, surrealist Spanish literature at Boston University, and she worked for three years as the poetry editor for The Wellesley Review. She has won Wellesley College’s Florence Annette Wing Prize for poetry, and has been previously published in Vagabond City, Gravel, Glass Kite Anthology, and Whiskey Island. If she could go back in time, she’d have a drink with Spanish surrealists.

 

 
Teresa Stores

Featured in ArLiJo Issue No. 93




Good Humor Man
—2016 Honorable Mention for the Gival Press Oscar Wilde Award


In the finished basement of Aunt Ginny’s brick Baltimore bungalow, the toilet flushed up. Two eternal adolescent weeks I slept eye-level with a sexy lawn with woman’s curves, bulges and bumps for which I had no words welling up from within. Here, a girl like me could live part under ground—under ground that didn’t seep and ooze and shift like the quicksands under our house down South, a concrete-block-on-a-slab pastel ranch—and the other in temperate zones. Up North, summer melted something, like ice cream dreams on coned tongue.

Cousins Darren-and-Dwayne, unmended, never torn, segregated by zoo animals, closeted with unscuffed leather loafers and snowy sneakers, laces unknotted, in an alliterative play group—Ashley, Amanda, Eric, Erin—put games away, puzzles with no pieces missing, before swinging—not too high—on a shiny swingset with no sharp parts. Clean unburned-by-rope children, unsloshed by rubbery rainwater from inside, their Mother—not Mama—served white milk and Oreos on china plates with folded cloth napkins at precisely half-past. Who were these relations whose ice cream remained unmelting?

Suit-and-tie nine-to-five Uncle Tom, neat crescent-moon nails grease-free—my father’s brother?—never undressed on the back porch to keep linoleum ditch-digger-mud free—except he had a deck not a porch, and wood floors waxed gleaming by a black maid. White shirts with starch-creased sharp sleeves came in cardboard boxes from the dry cleaners next to the delicatessen next to the vegetable botique next to the butcher shoppe where Aunt Ginny bought polysyllabic foreign foods, not Wonder Bread and Jiff at Winn Dixie, nor collard greens picked in the garden out yonder. Sorbet. Gelato. Sherbert.

In the evenings, below I listened to the hi-fi above while Aunt and Uncle drank blood-colored wine—hooch, licker, the Devil’s brew, Mama and Daddy would say—and ate together alone, the children in bed, speaking with eyes, not yelling Mable Mable strong and able get your elbows off the table in the blue light of Walter Cronkite. This other Northern family can’t be my family either. I sneak a peek above stairs. They kiss—man, woman, elegant strange—in the glow of candles, melting like ice cream.


I am twelve,
   blemished and bumpy, a patched, silent daughter of the South, where you
        hop-scotch bare-foot on tar-sweating
        streets—a rag-tag hand-me-down twanging
        gang of Leroys and Darlenes—cuz there ain’t
        sidewalks, and lawns are dirt yards, and Mama
        mends jeans at midnight, makes eggs’n grits at dawn
        for Daddy, gone early to the job—any job—so the Sears man
        won’t take the credit card again, and my land is flat—like I still am
        in my upside-down backwards mute dreams: flat flat flat, please
   God, flat—where
        even grass is rough-hot, and sand-spurs
        and prickly pears stick twixt grimed tough
        toes if you don’t be careful, and you get ringworm
        if you play in the gutters after booming thunderstorms—the devil
        bowling—and nits if you use somebody else’s comb—nitwit, nitpick, dumb
       hick—and pink-eye if you use somebody else’s mascara—but us
        Baptists ain’t ’lowed makeup no-how—and pregnant if you mess
        with boys and have to join the Air Force if you don’t—and you
        know what they say about them military
   girls—and the wisteria
        is choking the pine tree in our backyard,
        sure as the day is long.

In his tidy white truck in his neat white suit and dapper white hat, he ding-a-linged up suburban Maryland hills between edged green grass, unbroken concrete walks, trimsmooth hedges, picketed white fences, his melody dignified, cityfied, spotless—Northern. I knew what the Good Humor man thought when I drawled Pop-ci-cle not Good Humor ice cream, please:
Dumb hick.

Now, you say, You don’t sound Southern. You don’t look gay.

Blame that summer of dreaming ice cream curves
stretching tongue uprooted below. Blame
the Good Humor man.


Copyright © 2016 by Teresa Stores.






About the Author
Teresa Stores is the author of three novels, and her poems, essays and stories have appeared in journals including Sinister Wisdom, Rock & Sling, Cicada, Out Magazine, MotherVerse, Blithe House Quarterly, Oregon Literary Review, Bloom Magazine, Earth’s Daughters, Blueline, SawPalm, Kudzu, Fourth Genre, and others. She was winner of the Kore Press Fiction Prize and has attended BreadLoaf. Stores teaches at the University of Hartford and lives in Newfane, Vermont, with her partner and children.
 

 



Tan Sze-Leng

Featured in ArLiJo Issue No. 93



Song of Creation

With my hands, with my hands, with my hands
Not my head, analyzing the this-and-that
Not the distractions imposed on my mind
With my hands, I build my worlds.

With my heart, with my heart, with heart
not my ears, polluted by cacophony of Fear
not the illusions conformity would give
With my heart, I create my words.

With my hands, with my hands, with my hands
not the systematicity that blinds my eyes
not the ideology fed into my tender dine
with my hands, I build my worlds.

With my heart, with my heart, with heart
I create my words.
with my hands
I build my worlds.
With my hands
I create my words.

Copyright © 2016 by Tan Sze-Leng.



Winter Fright


The silence dawned in
The pale shade hugged the land
The white shawls sailed us
Potent threats and your forceful urge
I got it! I got it! I got it!

The slimy trails you left
The danger they prevails
If ever we expand our steps
In the silence of your whispers
in the carelessness of your might

Falling short running out of time
The vampire in the castle you built

The looming of the your sight
The weight of your sighs
Come in please with the heights you bring me each night
Potent threats and your forceful urge
I fought it! I fought it! I fought it!

But please have restraints on your might
The chains of your flights
Under the piles of visions
Volumes of dreams
Mysterious. You dream creator!

Falling short running out of time
The vampire in the castle you built

Distant invasion of your requiem
Pounding long beating strong
This fanciful repercussion of your wanting
Potent threats and your forceful urge
I got it! I got it! I got it!



Copyright © 2016 by Tan Sze-Leng.



About the Author:
Sze-Leng Tan is a poet and writer of short stories and travel stories who lives in Selangor, Malaysia. Her poems have been featured in The Malaysian Poetic Chronicles, Blognostics, and Aji Magazine. Her short stories have appeared in The Anthill and Eastlit, while her travel stories have appeared in Travelmag, Litro and other publications.