S.W. Campbell//When Is It Due?
Katie announced her pregnancy at the barbeque. The women made their sounds of delight, sweeping in to hug their friend. The men smiled and shook Kevin’s hand, voicing their congratulations and trading a few jokes as they always did when they were unsure what to say. Katie beamed, a sleek porpoise riding the waves of attention and affection now flowing her way. Kevin blushed and smiled big, a nervous bit player in the upcoming production. Of the friends, Devin was the loudest. She squealed and babbled, her voice rising in volume, her eyes getting watery. She jumped up and down in her excitement, holding Katie’s hands in hers. Devin’s boyfriend, Leo, was out on the balcony, grilling burgers. He did not come inside to see about the commotion emanating from the open glass door. He stared down at the sizzling meat and grease fueled flames as though nothing else in the world mattered.
Lisa did her part. She went and gave Katie a hug and voiced the proper words. Then she moved back and watched the commotion from the perimeter. She was unsure how to hold her hands. Pockets seemed too casual, arms crossed too stand-offish, and clasped in front far too formal. One of Lisa’s hands unconsciously tucked a blonde lock of hair behind her ear. Devin had her hands up, clutched as though in prayer. She went outside and yelled the news to Leo, who only grunted his affirmation of having heard. All conversations in the room were derailed, forced onto a new single track. When is it due? How long have you known? Do you know what it is? The carrier was coy, basking in her moment. Lisa’s eyes tracked across the room, studying pictures and random art purchased at yard sales and Goodwill. Her stomach gurgled, an uncomfortable shift in its arrangement.
Lisa moved to the kitchen and poured herself a glass of wine. She sipped slowly. The sounds of the living room were subdued but still noticeable. Buns, lettuce, tomatoes, and sliced cheese waiting in neat piles for the burgers to be done. Potato and macaroni salad sat in their containers, the plastic film on top still intact. Everything ready. Everything waiting. Devin came, a too wide grin stretching its way across her face, tears flowing down her cheeks. She dabbed her face with a dish towel, poured herself a glass of wine, and downed half of it with a single gulp.
“I can’t believe it. It’s just so exciting, isn’t it?”
Lisa forced a smile.
“Yes, very exciting.”
Devin took another drink of wine and wiped her eyes again.
“I’m just so happy for them.”
Devin chattered on. Katie would make such a great mother. Kevin would be such a good father. They’d be the best parents. She had known it would just be a matter of time. They were so lucky. Auntie Devin would spoil the shit out of that kid. Lisa nodded, but her eyes kept skipping away, taking in every detail of the small kitchen. The twist in her gut was growing. She was feeling a little sick.
“There’s no watermelon.”
Devin was startled from her soliloquy.
“No one brought a watermelon. You can’t have a barbeque without a watermelon.”
Devin bent her head to the side in puzzlement, the teeth of her grin stained red by the wine.
“I’m sure nobody cares.”
“Nonsense. I’ll just pop out to the store and grab one.”
Lisa put down her wine glass and moved back into the living room. Devin followed, but split off to rejoin the celebratory group. Lisa slipped out the door, through the hall, down the stairs, and into the sunshine of the outside world. Devin was out on the balcony, having a quiet argument with Leo. Lisa moved on without listening. The apartment building was a four story structure of weathered brick and old time charm. Lisa wondered if Kevin and Katie would retain their current domicile, or migrate. It didn’t matter really. They would do what they did. Change was inevitable.
It was a half mile walk to the Safeway. The streets were crowded, but they felt less stifling than inside the apartment. Lisa’s stomach had unclenched the moment she walked out the door. Summer was coming to an end. The air was crisp and flavored by scents of decay. Tourists and locals shuffled through the hemmed in streets of downtown. An aimless herd on the move, dodging each other, banging into one another, and only stopping when commanded to by the stern red hand of the crosswalk light. Katie pregnant. How about that? They’d known each other since college. Katie had been the Maid of Honor at her wedding, and the one to take her out drinking during the divorce. Crazy Katie. It seemed strange. A different person. Paul had always wanted kids. At least he had always said he did. Lisa had never really been all that sure. She wasn’t against the idea, but it really wasn’t a demanding urge either.
When Lisa was in nursing school she had worked in the maternity ward. It hadn’t been what she wanted to specialize in, but they all had to. It was one thing to read about it in text books. It was another to see it in person. The screaming. The stretching. The tearing. The shit. The literal fucking shit. It had been disgusting. However, when all was said and done, not one had ever looked disappointed. They had all looked so serene. Thirty-five. It wasn’t really all so uncommon now. Even forty was not outside the norm. Life was not so bad now. Why transform it? Just musings. A lot of steps would have to be done before that one. A lot of choices. Paul would make a good father, but that was no longer her concern. Did he still want kids? When he looked at his black haired mouse, did he ever picture a squirming bundle in her arms?
The last bit of the walk was diagonal across the park. The red and white sign of the grocery store was visible across from the far corner. The homeless sat on the benches and watched the luckier ones move past. The sidewalk was less crowded. The bums made the tourists nervous, only the locals moved through the gauntlet. The bums stood alone and in clusters. Smoking cigarettes. Asking for change. Eying the world through glazed eyes. Some talking to others. Some talking to no one in particular. One man was yelling at the statue of Lincoln in the park center. All had been babies once.
What was it like to carry a baby? It seemed strange. Almost like having a parasite. The thought made Lisa feel sick. Something alive, growing inside, a part of you, but independent. Paul’s mother had once said that having a baby was just getting a dog that learned how to talk and tell people your secrets. That didn’t sound right, but maybe for Paul it had been, he was a bit labradorish in character. Life. There was life in Katie’s belly. A belly that had been used repeatedly for body shots while in Cancun. That had been a long a time ago. Crazy Katie having a baby, and looking as tranquil as Lisa had ever seen her.
The inside of the store was almost too cool. They had the air conditioning up and running. Lisa went back to the produce and found the watermelons in their high cardboard box on the floor. She selected a seedless one, perfectly round, smooth green skin, probably five pounds in weight. She hefted it and moved to the front of the store. She read the covers of the celebrity rags while she waited in line at the checkout counter She moved to the front of the line. The woman at the register was in her early sixties. Lined face, thinning hair, and a gap between her two front teeth. She rang up the watermelon with a slow but steady hand. Five and a half pounds. Lisa had been close.
“Having a barbeque?”
“It’s the weather for it. You wanna bag?”
“No thank you.”
Lisa paid for the watermelon and headed for the automatic doors. The glass slid open. A woman ponderously made her way inside. She was younger than Lisa, probably in her late twenties. She was around seven months pregnant. Her belly large and round. Her body thrown back to account for the extra mass. Lisa moved out of the way as the woman waddled into the store. She glowed. All eyes were upon her. The feelings of goodwill radiating through the air towards her from her adoring spectators was palpable. The woman smiled her thanks as she moved past. Lisa carried her watermelon outside.
What was it like? What was it like to be that woman? To look so uncomfortable, but yet so sedate. A misshapen goddess adored by all. An ideal form beaten into ruin by the ravages of motherhood. The park was nearly empty. Just the homeless, milling about, filling space. What did it feel like to have that growing weight? It couldn’t be easy. A wild thought flit through her brain. She held the watermelon, running her fingers across its shining rind. She was wearing a loose sweater. She slipped the watermelon under her sweater and clasped her hands beneath to support it. The round mass pressed against her stomach. It was cold. One of the hobos cackled. He was watching her, itching his chin through a greasy beard. Lisa ignored him and moved on.
It didn’t seem so bad. At the edge of the park she waited for the signal, and then crossed into the thick mass of pedestrians. It was different. No one bumped into her. Nobody jostled her. Everyone was careful to give her extra space. The crowds parted. Eyes fell to her falsified belly and gentle smiles crossed downturned lips. Strangers bowed their heads in greeting. Old and young alike beamed with happiness. Couples took each other’s hands and gave each other a gentle squeeze. Old women gave her knowing looks, remembering their own time in the sun. Children openly stared, their mouths agape. She was an island. Heathen and saint alike bowed to the power within her belly. The power of new life. A last bit of magic in a world with little to none. Lisa felt her steps become slow and easy. She floated on an altruistic sea created by those around her.
Lisa’s arms were getting tired and sore. The red hand flashed and the crowd came to a halt to wait. Across the street, at the front of the mass, stood a woman, the belly beneath her shirt equal in size with the fraudulent mass beneath Lisa’s. Their eyes met. The woman smiled with understanding. They were companions. Equals. Sisters. Two divine beings afoot amongst the mortals. Lisa smiled back.
A man next to Lisa reached over to stroke the watermelon beneath her sweater. Lisa jerked away, her hands instinctively moving to stop his unwanted advance. The watermelon dropped to the ground. It shattered on the sidewalk with a wet splat. Red mush speckled the concrete and the legs of the waiting people. Eyes were wide in faces contorted with shock. Somebody gasped. Across the street, the other woman’s face went from confusion to disgust. The bond was gone. Lisa was nothing. A liar. A false idol. A man began to laugh. The signal changed. The woman started to cross the street, her eyes locked on the phony before her. Lisa turned and fled.
Daniel Sundahl //The New Book of the Grotesque
” . . . the grotesque functions as an existential experience . . . .”
–Remi Astruc, Spectacles Grotesqu
AFTER THE EGGPLANT SPEAKS
You been keepin’ busy Madell or just layin’ back. You got people comin’ for Easter or you goin’ away? We got his folks comin’ up from Pioneer in Ohio. He hasn’t seen his sister since Thanksgivin’ day. She’s got that new baby now. You plantin’ lots of flowers this Spring?
I got those new shields for the tannin’ booths. I tell you about that? They had these sheets of saran-wrap coverin’ the plastic. I stood those shields up and peeled off that saran-wrap. Static electricity made my hair stand straight out from my head.
She starts then on another tack, describing the face of a boy who came in the beauty shop holding the hand of a wordless Negro woman. Her name was Yellow Lola and the boy was Tolliver. His hair was blonde and still damp with water plastering it smoothly into place.
It wasn’t too much time after that Beulah told me a dream she’d had. Oh it was absolute darkness and then a kind of little spot of light waverin’ and winkin’ kind of. It was a kind of grand thing–and then she paused, the bangle on her wrist making her arm sweep in a circling flashy gesture–over-powering me, leapin’ and flickerin’ kind of.
She talked herself like she was proud of it, as if that leaping and flickering light had come and stood at the foot of her bed looking down at her like some kind of evidence. I’m sure she was telling the truth just like a flash of exaltation. Just like when you know something’s going to happen but the fear’s not there.
That must be it, I said, my tongue coming out to lick my lips; that must be it.
But she was deep in thought, and this is the queer part because in the distant part of her eye was a reflection of some sort, some sort of misty beauty.
When grandmother Toby-Sachs died in February there were big piles of snow on the ground and big drifts against the hillsides covering the tombstones. One drift was almost completely over the big mausoleum of David Savola-Mellen who was Black Wietzsche’s uncle. Where grandmother was there were no big mausoleums, just those slabs of stone level with the ground so the lawnmowers can go straight and even, criss-crossing the level lawns of Saint Andrew-Mercy. Lotté Lippermann told me she remembered being disappointed sitting by the grave during the service because Rod Patila-Lapolomé, the mortician, hadn’t bothered to put that artificial green grass over the mound of dirt. The back-hoe idling over by the cemetery fence-line was, she said, in bad taste. But when spring came, Mr. Patila-Lapolomé came to our house and said grandmother would have to be moved two feet over because she was two feet over into the Chikee CunBliffe family plot, which is interesting because grandmother hated Mrs. Chikee CunBliffe. Mr. Patila-Lapolomé said daddy would have to come out to the cemetery and watch when the back-hoe dug grandmother Toby-Sachs up and moved her two feet over where she was supposed to be.
Daddy said it all seemed so disorderly.
When he came back he said it had been close. Grandmother had been only about six inches from Mr. Chikee CunBliffe himself. He spread his two index fingers about six inches and laid them on the edge of the dinner table. If it had been grandfather Toby-Sachs who was buried on the other side and Mrs. Chikee CunBliuffe who was buried on the other side of Mr. Chikee CunBliffe, Daddy said it would have been a worrisome affair for grandmother. She would have pondered it in her heart and made it into a subject as important as geography. But it didn’t happen that way and now she’s two feet over and next to grandfather where she belongs and more happy with the symmetry and geography of things and where she wanted to be. It’s much nicer now because everything is settled and we can just relax. We can just relax and forget that thing ever happened and shut our eyes and just be ourselves again.
THE LIFE STORY OF SEAMORAN WRIGHT: an epistle
Seamoran’s down in Indiana, but he sends his love. Seems he’s got a new girl friend down there weekends. I tell him it’s ok for him to go down there but what does he do those weekends when she’s at the National Guard? Seamoran says it’s ok for he sees her a bit on Sunday night before he drives I-69 back up north. I guess it’s ok but I worry about the news and all. Seamoran says she’s ready to go and do battle dressings and all, she being a nurse. We aim to serve, Seamoran says.
I ask him why he doesn’t take the Winnebago? When and if he gets tired he can pull over into a rest stop. Seamoran thinks that’s like inviting trouble. He thinks those rest stops are like invitations to disaster. It’s a revulsion he says what sometimes goes on in those places. Seamoran gets kind of gaga about those things.
Once he said he saw something like that on a street down in Fort Wayne. Two men were walking along and smiled at him. He said he felt a sudden vividness and dryness in his throat. It made his skin itch. I made him go ask the Monsignor about it all who told him never to throw anything away but think about it in more generous ways. It’s a different kind of creation, he said, just a different kind of creation.
Well, sister, it’s near spring here. One day it’s cold the next day it’s warm. Yesterday the telephone lines were looped with ice and near dragging to the ground. Today they’re tightened up and a warm south breeze has got them buzzing. Seamoran called from Indiana. He says the reverse gear had gone out of his transmission. He’d stay over until he got it fixed. He’d know how much it’d cost by Monday. He’ll call then just to see if we need anything. I said we were having liver and stuffed cabbage for dinner. I told him daddy was feeling a little more social now. He apologizes for what he said.
Audrey Shipp//“Damn Darnell”
Darn it, Darnell!
In the heat of the moment following the police shooting
spontaneously after the tackling and asphyxiation of that black male there:
Eric Garner (#)
After the disappearance of said black female in police custody
only to reappear named
Sandra Bland (#)
Subsequent to that almost-white civilian exercising his own
2nd Amendment Right to bear arms on said property
to protect aforementioned domain of dominance from
Trayvon Martin (#)
Darn it, Darnell!
Why you gone take your (unsorry) self and march in protest of
promising you reparations (since January 16, 1865)
in your own neighborhood, historical legacy of red-lining
where blacks can rent (cheap)
or buy (on sub-prime loans)
past the Check-Cashing offering payday loans (at 460% interest)
past the factory that picked up and moved manufacturing (to China)
past the schools, public (or partially-privatized)
that don’t know your history and ring so much life out of Black children
that they don’t want to return (and teach)
Where your little sister, who is no dad’s princesa, whiles away the time
Fighting (other little Black girls)
past the jail where your homie at
In this neighborhood where the few Black middle class (done up and left)
Why you gone take your (unsorry) self to that liquor store
where they look at you funny behind the bullet-guard window but watch your every move
To that beauty supply owned by a pharmacist (in her own country)
now selling gels and extension hair from around the world
To the damn supermarket where yo’ own mama go
to buy the food she put on her table
The supermarket where you applied for work
that summer you were feeling good about yourself and saw a better future
beyond the horizon (that never drew closer)
Damn it, Darnell!
Why (in God’s name) you gone flee in the night
fix your hand on the wrought iron expandable fence
yank hard with all your might, heave a city trash can
then hurl it into aforementioned place of commercial business
Dash inside, nab they loot, grab a gas can, light a match
And stand back watching it all go up in flames.
In your own neighborhood?
Damn it, Darnell!
You need some
Catherine Chen //Living After the End of Literature
After TaRosa Jacobs and Itoro Udofia
Beneath the house
Beneath the table
Beneath the lawn chairs
and the path I walk
What I took for myself
What I was afraid to touch
What I stole
The silence of a room. The pulsating tremor of recognition, a haunting. When you look across the ocean horizon and fantasize about the bodies who stand beyond waves and islands and geopolitics and find in themselves the desire. To return your gaze. Then look at me.
What it means to enter
To sit down
To feel at last the body come alive
By which I mean
Looking over your shoulder
Take a sip of water
Feel its molecular potency
In your center
In your intestinal tract
In your fingertips
“i am imperfect and full of wanting, i am reckless and ugly,” or:
“digging myself into a hole because it is the hole i would like to be in / it is the hole i feel most myself in / it the hole from which i have begun to identify the stars and the leaves and light of a distant plane during the daytime / it is the hole is where i belong”
It was spring
Time and time yet still
& we needed
Money to pay off our loans
Money to bail out our friends
Money to afford our retreats
Money to live which is to survive
With joy & without meaning to
It was spring
What my mother’s mother calls
The unhappy summer
I trained my eye
For light, like an
Abandoned pink Easter egg
Down by the decaying fence, then
Birthday streamers in
Every shade of the rainbow
Blue crown of a bird atop
Our tool shed like
It was spring
My mother who never rose before noon
wrote me a note. a geography test
that day. no idea where Tanzania was.
I said I was sick, feverish, nauseous,
my fingernails hurt. she only wanted
to go back to sleep, so she wrote a note
to Mrs. Haddleton. I stayed home. played
with my Madame Alexander dolls who
didn’t care where Tanzania was.
Will the note work today?
the doctor looked grim.
talked of another round of chemo,
a Phase One clinical trial,
clicking away with crimson nails,
avoiding eye contact.
I know where Tanzania is.
I need to give Death the excuse
to move on without me.
Your shawl tossed across our bed
the Hermès we bought in London
for your sixtieth birthday
your pale yellow toothbrush in
the I HEART YOU mug
a shopping list on the bulletin board
cilantro, asparagus, eggs, fontina
for sure an omelette tonight
your desk covered with papers and poems
one about our grandson
whose blue-green eyes are like yours
gym clothes on the closet floor
waiting to be washed
Impossible to grieve
while you are still alive
Say It Isn’t So
roared Einstein, woolly eyebrows
wings of white hair
the universe can’t be expanding
a cosmological constant needed
AKA a fudge factor
to make equations come out right
so the universe stands still
but the universe is expanding
galaxies galloping apart
by the nanosecond
is that why you came home
smelling of Arpège
is that why you talk on the phone
in your closet, do your own laundry
take two sandwiches for lunch
learn Latin Tuesday nights
can we bring back the fudge factor
can we let Einstein be right
can we stand still together
just for tonight
To My Mother
As in a child with blueblack bruises as in a child with a hollow belly haunted dreams
as in a girl pimped out for crack crotch aching wobble-walking down a midnight
street Lord Jesus save me as in a woman with scriptures of gin gospels of scotch
by her bed right now as I read that you are dead OD’d on coke on anger on bitterness
buried deep in a pine box as in now you can’t hurt me. Mother. Any. More.
S.W. Campbell was born in Eastern Oregon. He currently resides in Portland where he works as an economist and lives with a house plant named Morton. He has had numerous short stories published in various literary reviews, and his first novel, The Uncanny Valley, and first short story collection, An Unsated Thirst, are available for purchase at his website, www.shawnwcampbell.com.
Daniel James Sundahl is Emeritus Professor in English and American Studies at Hillsdale College where he taught for thirty-three years. He’s working at retirement while living in Greer, SC with his wife Ellen, two cats, one dog, and a 97 1/2 year old mother-in-law who also has a dog.
Audrey Shipp writes both essays and poetry. She aspires to bring to light the effects of migration on African-American culture while connecting her writing to the international Black Diaspora. She has been published most recently in “A Gathering Together Literary Journal” and formerly in “Americas Review (Arte-Publico Press).” A teacher in a public high school in Los Angeles, she holds an M.Ed. and B.A. in English from UCLA and an M.A. in English from Cal State L.A.
Catherine Chen is a poet and performer. Their work has appeared in Slate, Entropy, Asian American Writers’ Workshop, among others. Their chapbook Manifesto, or: Hysteria will be published in June 2019 by Big Lucks.
Claire Scott is an award winning poet who has received multiple Pushcart Prize nominations. Her work has been accepted by the Atlanta Review, Bellevue Literary Review, New Ohio Review, Enizagam and Healing Muse among others. Claire is the author of Waiting to be Called and the co-author of Unfolding in Light: A Sisters’ Journey in Photography and Poetry.