Anthony Emerson
Covering FAMILY, PLACE, AND HEALTH
TDR Regular Contributor / October 20, 2021

Part Three: Promised Land

There is a place that I love so much I wish nobody else knew about it. And yet, people do know about it. I’ve seen other souls haunting the space, blind to my reverence and sense of ownership over this strange and wicked place that exists at the edge of the world, and center of my heart. I’ve seen planes overhead scoring the stratosphere with their contrails. I’ve seen fishermen trolling for trout behind rowboats and I’ve seen them casting ties waist deep in water that is only months shy of hardening into ice. The men themselves looked hardened by time and cold. I’ve seen moose tracks, bear scat, eagles and toads, and watched loonlets grow to become ferocious nighttime sopranos. Once, in the fall time, I watched an orange streak glide across blueberry barrens with a vulpine gait while her kits squealed out of view. I’ve heard the din of pubescent screeching from either a parliament of owls in distress or, more likely, the summer camp across the way. I don’t own this place, but I feel a sense of pride and defensiveness over it. It’s a feeling I can’t quite describe and I really don’t know what to do with it, except that it makes me wonder… should anyone really own the land?


The wilderness is more than space filled with natural formations of earth, water, weather, and beasts to be conquered or inhabited, preserved or developed. The wilderness is an idea. The men and women of centuries past who had faces shaped like mine and names that rolled off of Anglo tongues with sloppy, exaggerated vowels, who laid bricks that became cathedrals and factories, who helped found the modern institutions that continue to prop up our proud democracy— those people went to the woods for work. They cared only about opportunity, and sought to make something great that could have a chance at surviving long enough for me to lay my ungrateful eyes on it. They were building a legacy. They did it. It’s our’s. Now what should  we do with it?

To the rivermen dancing atop logs, the cookees baking beans and brown bread, the sawyers, the boat captains, the teamsters knee-deep in horseshit, and the rest of the weary old lumbermen, the woods were a resource. The regal White Pine was as good as gold. And so they felled them. They felled them until the great north woods were all but free of White Pine. The human capacity for greed and ingenuity is astonishing, and the primitive men of the early 20th century with their oxen and axes were able to ravage the virgin forest of the northeast’s last frontier. And despite the upsetting reality of the intrinsic flaw in capitalism’s need for constant growth on a planet with limited resources, I don’t blame a single woodsman for the state of the woods today. They worked the woods so that my kin could eat and grow and populate the cold little forest towns that provided paper to the world. And I am damn proud. Among those men who I admire for their self-reliance and fearlessness, I am sure was a bard, a philosopher, a man who not only heaved steal by day, but also waxed poetic about a life lived outdoors, who wrote by candlelight over a black tea whose steam mingled in the air with pipe smoke, fire smoke, and the fumes of singed hide. But even he who saw poetry in the humdrum of wilderness living, could never imagine what those wild places would come to mean to a man like me.


I fell in love with the wilderness through kayaking, camping, and hiking. Though I was never a weekend warrior, outfitted in neon parkas and matching goose down gloves, come to the forest to beta test my gear and wilderness tech, I was rarely present or aware while in the woods. I was there to recreate, I lacked gratitude, and that meant I mostly considered nature a venue. It wasn’t a thing to be exploited for value, or to be valued. It wasn’t a portal to an enlightened state of mind, or a lens with which to access the ethereal and holy. It was an amusement park created by god for the benefit of man. Mine was the Genesis view of the natural world. The idea that everything natural and beautiful and valuable in the world was constructed for the benefit of man. Then something changed.

I don’t imagine kids who grow up in the city ever crank their necks skyward to admire the titanic steel monuments to modernity and wealth. Not the way tourists from Des Moines do anyway. Growing up with tourist destinations like Baxter State Park, Acadia National Park, the Appalachian Trail, and the Maine coast just beyond the borders of my town jaded me to the power of the wilderness. It took turning thirty and feeling an existential displacement from anything resembling a home for me to yearn for the wildness of my youth. I sit on stoops in Brooklyn and watch teenagers smoke cigarettes and skateboard on cobblestone streets and I am nostalgic for my childhood when I ran bare chested through rose bushes with slurpee stains on my face. I biked to the video store and bought penny candy and left coins on train tracks and thought about them being squashed as I laid in bed and listened to the train roll through town on the last leg of its journey to Quebec. I am angry and confused and I find myself pining for a thing I am sure I don’t understand. Simplicity, wholesomeness, oneness, cooperation. I miss the 90’s, low tech toys, laser discs, and the incorruptible joy of picnics, camping, and swimming at night.

So I went back to the forestlands of my childhood, the wilderness that stood adjacent to my formative years. I’m looking to connect with something that feels right and good and meaningful; I’m trying to find the thread. Now, when I walk in the Maine woods I am wholly present; I am open to it all. But I struggle with contradictory feelings that vacillate between paternalistic preservationism, which would ultimately be too austere and stifling for an insular town whose very existence is tied to the notion of the forest as a product to be cultivated,  and naive grandiosity that asks for an unrealistic level of cooperation and the suspension of hardlined beliefs from a people whose worldviews are shaped by decades of economic insecurity and conservative cable news. I am torn between the town and the wilderness, and I am both a local and an outsider.


Conserving the forested tract of land that begins at the edge of town should be a priority for anybody who cares about clean air and water. The Katahdin region contains a multitude of flora and fauna, lakes, rivers, mountains, and a historic and fertile ecosystem that should be in thriving existence for the rest of time. Which is easy for me to say because I don’t rely on the town or surrounding wilderness for my income. But people I love still do, and they are hurting. I want them to have secure jobs and benefits again. I want them to have access to what used to be called the middle class; the lifestyle that came from hard work and brought humble people the modest prosperity that they deserved. No man with calloused hands and a mastery over the inner workings of a small engine should be forced to wear a blue vest and greet patrons beneath fluorescent lighting. I’d like to live in a place where people can have families again and I don’t have to drive 70 miles to order a veggie burger.

On the other hand… I don’t want the views from my trailer at the end of town to be marred by chair lifts, vacation homes and Cabella’s super stores. I don’t want the rural charm of this town to be diluted by the presence of well-meaning gentrifiers trampling our precious soil with their Blundstones and electric cars. I also know that for a town that has never had to be good at anything but papermaking, a full fledged pivot to the service industry is out of the question. That kind of transformation is a generation or more away. Besides, a service industry economy means people, lots and lots of people, and the carrying capacity of the north woods can’t sustain that influx of human visitors and maintain its status of authentic wilderness. Frankly, I’m glad. I want the town to resemble for my young cousins what it is in the stories my grandmother tells us about her childhood. I wish the town could achieve long term stability while also preserving the forests around it. I want to feel a sense of pride when I look forward and not just backward.

More than anything though, I just want to be alone in the woods.

So yes, there is a place north of town where thousands of  acres of mature forest scrape the clouds. Through the stand of ancient trees, a backcountry pond reflects the granite cliffs above. The pond, accessible only by foot or floatplane, is home to a rare fish called the Arctic Char. The water is always cold and clear. To the northwest, the final scenic miles of the Appalachian Trail kiss the bluffs at the pond’s shores and snake through an emerald wilderness once referred to by the natives as “the carrying place.” With its grand views of Katahdin, palpable remoteness, rich anthropological history, biodiversity, and dense forests teeming with the splendor of the north country’s flora and fauna, this place I won’t name, is as good as any to step into the wild and gain whatever is to be gained from such an experience. It’s a place to seek reprieve, peace or solace, to better understand the natural world, or to better know yourself through the beauty and suffering that are mostly a package deal in the woods. This is a place to explore the tactile wonders of mycology, dendrology, geology, and to master the art of campfire coffee, shitting in the woods, and to wake with the sun and birds and share your slumber with the earthworms who dwell in the soil beneath your tent. You can walk among trees who were witness to history—pillars and symbols and totems for men and women of bygone civilizations who knew how to love a natural thing in ways we all now aspire to, though it may be too late for us. You can wash your body in icy waters sheltered by primordial rock where birch bark canoes once dotted the shores like sea-scarred flotsam. You can go there, and maybe it will give you what it has given me: a sense of pride over place, a connection to my biological and spiritual forebears, and the release of my soul from the bondage of modern anxieties. You can go there, yes… but I wish you wouldn’t.

Afterword

This essay was a few weeks late and I’m not exactly sure why except that I had a crisis of confidence; Or I was feeling disconnected from my muse, my home, my place.

That place is Millinocket, Maine. It is where my family comes from and it’s the mystery at the heart of these writings. It’s been a challenging, confusing, strange place for me to live and make a go of it over the last couple years. But as I write this right now from Brooklyn, New York, I really miss it there. I miss the cold grass beneath my feet at night, the way the stars look when they don’t have to compete with the purple spire of One World Trade, and I miss the people and how they drop their r’s and love nothing more than to talk shit about the Patriots and feed me. Nobody in all of King’s county cares if I ate today. I did, it was trendy and delicious, but it tasted nothing like home…

Nicole Zelniker
COVERING A YEAR LATER: HOW LOCAL COMMUNITIES CONTINUE TO ADVOCATE FOR BLACK LIVES AFTER GEORGE FLOYD’S MURDER
TDR Regular Contributor / October 19, 2021

George Floyd’s death resonated with people across the country and around the world.

In the immediate aftermath, protests cropped up in cities near and far. Politicians and grassroots organizers have come together to change laws around policing and police brutality. Larger corporations began giving funds to organizations doing racial justice work, allowing them to expand their reach.

When the Derick Chauvin verdict finally came down, people celebrated from coast to coast. On that day, George Floyd’s uncle Roger Floyd said to ABC11 that, “As a family, we are so gratified to get the result that we had prayed for. A verdict of guilty on all three counts. It was just solidified today, what the world had been anticipating for almost a year.”

Some mourners have even come out to see the place where Floyd was killed. New Yorker and journalist Lisa Argrette Ahmad, who visited the site of Floyd’s death with her daughter, wrote that Floyd’s death resonated a little too closely. “Had I been born to another mother, in another city, at another time, this could have been my life,” she wrote.

But Minneapolis, specifically, is still struggling.

Just this month, over footage of police officers joking about “hunting civilians,” surfaced from over a year ago. The officers in a separate fatal shooting of Winston “Boogie” Smith were recently exonerated. And as LaTonya Floyd mentioned in a previous article, three of the officers involved in George Floyd’s murder have yet to be tried.

Despite this, the community is doing its best to heal itself. On Oct. 14, George Floyd’s birthday, friends and family came together to celebrate his life. Local activists have come together to try to put systems into place that would prevent more police violence from once again tearing the city apart.

The election

That prevention, in part, is contingent on the upcoming Nov. 2 election, where one of the questions on the ballot has to do with expanding public safety in the hopes that they will be able to handle certain 911 calls that do not require police officers with guns.

One coalition, Yes4Minneapolis, has been trying to spread information about the question, which will be number two on the ballot. The coalition consists of several organizations, such as ACLU Minnesota, Asian American Organizing Project, Jewish Community Action and Women for Political Change, among others.

“The charter amendment is proving to be very controversial,” said University of Minnesota professor P. Jay Kidrowski. “There are some that are sponsoring that and working to get it approved, and there are a number of other org working to keep it from happening.”

The amendment was first approved by the city council only to be rejected by a district court. The Minnesota Supreme Court cleared it in time for it to appear on the ballot.

Of the court’s decision, Terrance Moore, an attorney for Yes4Minneapolis, told Minnesota Public Radio, “As ugly as it sometimes looks, the process went through from beginning to end, and in the end, the Supreme Court followed the law and its precedent. And the voters get to vote on the ballot question.”

The mayoral election is also on Nov. 2 and includes 16 candidates. Incumbent Jacob Frey is running along with four Democrats, two Republicans, and a number of independent and write-in candidates. The last time Minnesota elected a Republican mayor was in 1957.

Candidates who are also proponents of Yes4Minneapolis’ goal of having a more public-safety-oriented approach to policing include Frey, AJ Awed, Sheila Nezhad, and Katherine Knuth, all registered democrats.

“Many organizations of color support it and want to have an amendment, but there’s a lot of misinformation that’s gone out there,” said Minnesota resident Denise Konen. “[Proponents] just want a public safety department, which would mean we wouldn’t always have to send a cop with a gun.”

Community healing

Konen does not see politics as a path to healing for her community, though. Whatever happens in the election, she believes the community itself is what will change things.

“There are a lot of grassroots things happening,” Konen said. “I think that’s the stuff that’s going to change things in the end. There’s so much changing among us and in us.”

She cited George Floyd Square as a place for people to come together and grieve. Located on the corner of East 38th Street and Chicago Avenue, George Floyd Square boasts sculptures, murals, and art installations.

The “Say Their Names Cemetery” falls into the latter category. A total of 150 headstones sit marked with the names of police brutality victims, including Breonna Taylor, Philando Castile, Tamir Rice, Jamar Clark, and Aiyana Jones.

Konen herself works with Black Lives Matter Lawn Signs, an organization that sells Black Lives Matter signs and donates the proceeds to Black-led organizations. She has headed up the organization since 2015 and says they generally see spikes after very public instances of police brutality, which can be frustrating, as she would prefer for people to care all the time, not just when Black people are killed on the news.

Still, Konen has seen “a lot of transformation in people’s hearts” over the last year or so. In an ironic twist, she has been using the pandemic to her advantage as a way to reach out to more people. She has met with activists from all over the country because of the push to online meetings.

“There’s so much that’s changed,” she said. “People are challenging themselves and creating communities. That will make a difference. Nobody can stop that if it’s real.”


Read Nicole’s Books:

A Poem by Anita Nahal

Graphite pencil art by Anthony Gartmond New Jersey, USA

Quietly awaiting my return. Arms crossed, kinda slouched, in grass blades drenched to their core, at the corner of where Arlington and DC shake hands. Puddles around me…tiny pools of hope glistening and swaying, grooving with drops that fall incessantly. Not the stormy kind. Enough to wet me, though leaving me thirsty. Cities are strange creatures. Souls of millions smacked upon each other like cardboard boxes in windowless gowdans without anything to color. That’s why, maybe, perhaps, colors of big cities can be grey, gloomy, and depressing at times, like shades of gloom at funerals. Yet, sometimes, cities when wet are like butter I love spreading on a slice of untoasted bread, sprinkled with sugar granules. Or like caramel evenings in my pointed pumps, I hasten out. Petrichor that comes from ground admixed with cloud spray uplifts me. I see outlines of bodies rejoicing, dripping clothes palpitating, enticing, despite their clinginess. New Delhi monsoon rains also join me as I walk through Arlington and DC rain. Just the petrichor and the olfactory are not buddies here. That’s why I love synesthesia. Dali’s pliable clocks seemed to be sneaking, a bit misty. Many umbrellas had pitched tents around my soul. Some had my parent’s faces on them. Some of friends. Some of school mates with whom I blurted puzzlements of adolescence. Some of my son with whom I drove in and around Arlington streets. Building new lives. I will always love you by Whitney was humming itself to warm bittersweet Thanksgiving kinda rum-spice-apple-cider memories I take along in a mason glass jar filled with tiny lights, iridescent like fireflies waiting for my soul. At the edge of Arlington and Washington DC, its face full of salt from tears. The clocks in Dali’s painting clicking loud and clear.

*Gowdan: A Hindi word denoting a warehouse

Anita Nahal is an Indian American poet, flash fictionist, children’s writer, columnist, and professor. Anita has three books of poetry, one of flash fictions, four for children and three edited anthologies to her credit. Her third book of poetry, What’s wrong with us Kali women, was released by Kelsay Books in August 2021. Anita teaches at the University of the District of Columbia, Washington DC. Two of Anita’s books are prescribed in a course on multiculturalism and immigration at the University of the Utrecht, The Netherlands. More on her at: https://anitanahal.wixsite.com/anitanahal

A Poem by Michael Cox-Maldonado

for Fred D’Aguiar

To search online if it’s your prostate?
Petrifying, like spotting
a poison tree frog on your palm.
A lump that pollutes.
My professor, polite and playful,
I will write, just like you.
Us drinking Shock Top at Wolfgang Pucks.
Picture us poeticizing with all the p’s and piss.
Pick up the pace? How with plague and police?
Us! Slices of pie, like a couple of pals,
when life pitches us into garbage pails.
I see my-writer-self, at a bay window.
Now I recall that it was you, having just moved here.
I’m happy that on this earth you’re still here,
where we play like petite princes on this planet here.

Michael Cox-Maldonado went to the University of California, Los Angeles to study English literature and creative writing. A local to Southern California, he now works as a Lighting Technician for film/tv, where he writes on the side. He has poetry published in Westwind and Beyond Words Literary Journal.

Ronald McGuire
Covering The Business of Being a Writer
TDR Regular Contributor /October 1, 2021

So you want to be a writer, and the starting point seems obvious, write something! Therein lies the problem. Writing, creating, storytelling, that is the beginning of the journey, not the destination. The next step is getting published, and as hard as producing good work can be, getting it in front of readers (other than friends and family) can be the most difficult step to take. 

Let’s say you’ve done the work, you’ve refined your novel, you’ve even got objective feedback and some editorial guidance. Now what? Find an agent or a publisher or go the self-publish route? There’s a lot to unpack related to those decisions and processes, so I will save that for my next essay. 

In this essay, I’m going to focus on the business of getting your short work published digitally, in print, or both. Because you can go big and swing for the fences with your first novel if that works for you, but there are rewards to be reaped when you go small and submit your short stories, creative non-fiction, and essays for publication. 

A quick search of the internet will turn up thousands of places to submit your work, including literary journals (online and print), writing contests, publishers (particularly anthologies), and several blogging/self-publishing platforms (e.g., Medium). The latter offers an opportunity to build and monetize an audience in ways that didn’t exist before the internet. 

Before I dive into the more traditional offerings from this shortlist, I want to caution new writers. If you choose to post your work on a blog (even your own) or sites like Medium or Wattpad, be aware that the overwhelming majority of literary journals, writing contests, and publishers consider anything published to any digital platform to be previously published work. This means either they will not consider the work for their platform/publication or it will be treated as a reprint, which at a minimum means any pay rate for the work will be lower than that for previously unpublished work. 

I have a WordPress site and I publish almost nothing there. I post links to my published work, which helps both my site and the publishing website. Right now, my site generates about 2000 page views per day, which means several hundred people every day have the potential to discover new platforms where my work exists. Is it breaking any records? No, but if a literary journal publishes your work, it’s in everyone’s best interest if you direct readers to that journal. The goal, as a new writer, is to get published and connect with readers. I recommend that you consider yourself in a symbiotic relationship with any publisher that gives your work a platform. 

With all that said, let’s talk about my three favorite places to submit work and why. 

First and foremost, I love literary journals. I said there were thousands, but this is an understatement. There are online and print journals to match any and every taste and genre. Some are run by large, well-funded teams affiliated with a university, others are side projects by young writers, some still in high school, and still others are the result of dedicated writers and editors who are passionate about the written word and give their heart and soul (as well as time and money) to an effort that might never generate revenue. 

One of the great things about submitting your work to a journal, whether online, print, or both, is that you will often receive editorial feedback on your submission. You may pay a reading fee to get that feedback, but as I said in my previous essay, this is a legitimate and valuable tradeoff, a win-win situation. 

Keep in mind that most literary journals have limited resources, and it takes time for submissions to go through the review process. Patience when submitting your work isn’t everything. It’s the only thing. If you’re not comfortable waiting, perhaps months, to find out if your work has been accepted, then you’re a good candidate for additional fees. In other words, if you want an expedited response, there are quite a few journals that will give you one for a price. To me, this is fair, but keep in mind you are likely one of many writers who have submitted and paid a fee for a fast turnaround. The fee guarantees nothing beyond the response time – your odds of acceptance don’t go up and might even go down due to the speed of the reply. Spend your money wisely. 

It’s a good idea to have multiple active submissions at any given moment, even if you’ve only produced one piece of work you feel is ready for submission. I do not like simultaneous submissions (submission of the same work to multiple journals). Yes, it is a numbers game to some extent, and you need to write, submit, repeat. But as good as it feels to get a “yes” from one journal, if you’ve submitted to multiple journals, you’ll have to withdraw your work from consideration from all of them. This is not fun, and while most journals accept work that has been submitted elsewhere, having a piece of work withdrawn is no fun for them either. 

My strategy: write, write, and write some more. When I’m not writing, I’m editing. When I think a piece is ready, I find a match (if I haven’t already) and submit it. Then move on. Once you submit, it’s out of your hands, so you might as well start something new. 

Because you never know when an opportunity will pop up, a call for submissions or a contest, that is a good match for your work. 

Writing contests are second on my list of favorite places to submit my work. Second because they tend to have a long run-up before even a shortlist is announced. I submitted two stories to a competition. By the time the winners were announced, I had revised both stories several times, and they were accepted for publication in two different journals. This is where my simultaneous submission rule breaks down. I’d rather withdraw from a competition if my work is accepted for publication than miss out on a chance to get published. To each their own on this point. 

Whether you win a competition, make the shortlist, or are rejected outright, there’s a lot of value in the process for new writers. At the least, you’ll see where you stand against other writers by reading the work of those who place in the competition. In some cases, your submission will garner critical feedback. Such a competition may have a higher entry fee, but in many cases, it’s worth it. Just be clear on the vetting and feedback process before you pay your entry fees. As with anything, not every competition is worth the price. Of course, there’s always the chance your work will win the top prize. If this happens, make sure you shout it from the highest mountain top because you deserve the recognition, as does the competition. For lists of sites that can guide you to excellent writing competitions, check out the links in my first essay in this series. 

Finally, let’s talk about publishers. In this case, I’m referring to book publishers who also publish anthologies of short work. An example of this would be Ab Terra, the sci-fi imprint of Brain Mill Press. While Ab Terra’s focus is on publishing novels, they also produce an annual sci-fi anthology. As with most publishers, submissions for these publications are usually open for a brief time once per year (more often for more frequently published anthologies). This is where preparation and patience are critical. Make sure your work is ready because there are no do-overs, and be certain you are a good fit for the publication because it could be months before you learn whether or not your work is accepted. 

The beauty of submitting your work to a publisher for an anthology like this is that the publication will be available in print, and if your piece is accepted, there’s nothing quite like holding a book and opening it to the page where your short story or essay lives. I just ordered two copies of the “Queer as Hell” anthology from Haunted MTL to give away because I honestly can’t wait to crack open the cover and see my story in print. This may not be special to everyone, but to me it’s the first time one of my short stories will appear in print, and in the end, getting published is, for me, the point. Getting published in a print anthology? That’s icing on the cake, and who doesn’t love a little icing now and again?

Just remember, like I said, it is a numbers game. If your work is solid and you know it’s ready, submit it and get back to writing. The more your write, the more you can submit, and in so doing, shift the odds a little more in your favor. Yes, you’ll have to deal with more rejection, but if you’re not ready for rejection, you’re not ready to submit. 

But if you’re truly ready, rejection will only make you stronger. Keep writing, keep reading, forge on. You got this.

TIP: If you’re submitting your work, you need a third-person bio. If you don’t know what that is, or how to write one, check out this great set of tips from the folks at Coverfly. Note that these tips are geared toward screenwriters, but they are still useful in helping any writer hone their “pitch.”

A Poem by Nicole Cosme

           My father has a pet snail, he named it One 
Because it has one antenna. When the antenna grows back, 
the name will be ironic.

           My father says, No his name will still be One.
He comes outside for a smoke, 
pulls the snail from its place beneath the stairs. 
It lives in an old take-out container filled 
with dirt, leaves, and shallots. 
Tiny holes perforate the lid,

           My father sits at a table with the container before him. 
It’s my pet, he beams beneath an umbrella, 
beneath his own perforated heaven.
but it’s only mirrors, 
it’s only a hole to catch your breath
He wraps his snail in laurels and honey,  
and my teeth turn to severed stingers, not fangs
Not really, just like a dagger is not a mirror, 
It’s only shattered glass. It’s only a million versions, 
and they’re all mocking each other, 

           My father knows Fibonacci and other snail facts, 
this is a land snail so it needs air, 
he points to the holes, takes a drag.
Look at that palace, watch that container fill,
Its occupant is indifferent to the hand until— watch. 

           My father tells me his snail had a mate but—
He shrugs, says he’ll find another mate for his snail.
To forget its lover’s fragile spiral
It’s only a shell, it’s only a moment
Only significant to some.

           My father puts One on the ground,
Watch your step, he says.

Nicole Cosme is an emerging writer/poet from New England. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Prime Number Magazine and Seisma Magazine. Most recently her work was recognized in the 90th Annual Writer’s Digest Competitions. You can visit nicolemariecosme.com for ongoing updates and information regarding recent publications.

A Prose Poem by Saba Nourollahi

They say you need strength to like those who disagree,
Even greater strength to love through the disagreements.
But why is it that when it comes to you, whom love should be unconditional, it feels like love and support are currencies
Only given when you have the desire to.
It seems that desire only exist, when I act as you see fit.
But I don’t think I can go much further,
Being someone I’m not
Chasing a future, carefully drawn by you.
And what happens after you?
I would have to live, to be happy.
But I can only do that, if I draw my own pictures, not trace the ones you’ve drawn.
And the thing is, I think I’ll be good at it.
I like to use my pen to draw what I like. Maybe France or Italy?
So please, these currencies you held so dear to your heart, keep them if it makes you happier.
But once in a while take a look at my drawing too.
They may not be perfect but their mine. and maybe just maybe, you will grow to like them, just a little.
I wouldn’t dare suggest love, even though that is what I hope for.
But I can live with Like too.
People don’t give Like enough credit, it’s not passionate enough.
Love or hate, that seems more common.
But I think if you look close enough, Like can be pretty good too.

Saba Nourollahi is 24 years old and moved to U.S. 8 years ago with her family.She recently graduated from University of California Irvine. Her work has been published in Poet’s Choice Literary journal and in Palomar College literary journal Bravura.

Nicole Zelniker
COVERING A YEAR LATER: HOW LOCAL COMMUNITIES CONTINUE TO ADVOCATE FOR BLACK LIVES AFTER GEORGE FLOYD’S MURDER
TDR Regular Contributor / September 20, 2021

LaTonya Floyd wants justice. She wants justice for her brother, George Floyd, and for every other person who has, like her, lost the people they love in an epidemic of violence.

As of Aug. 26, 2021, police have killed 705 people in the United States.

“We have so many people who have lost loved ones because of police brutality, and we’re going to stand with them like they’ve stood with us,” LaTonya said.

Like in Avon Park and Fayetteville, Floyd’s family in Houston, Texas, is not done with their activism. LaTonya still lives in Houston, where she and George grew up hanging out with his friends and playing football at Jack Yates High School.

Now, the community has come together through marches and vigils.

“We’re not going to stop protesting,” LaTonya said. “We have three more officers to take down.”

Thomas Lane, J Kueng, and Tou Thao, the other officers who stood by while Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd, are scheduled to stand trial in March 2022.

After Chauvin was convicted of murder and manslaughter after kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, Black Lives Matter in Houston organized a vigil to bring the community together and remind them that there is still work to be done.

Community coming together

Carl Davis, another alum of Jack Yates High School and the chairman of the Houston Society for Change, has been a firsthand witness to the power of bringing the community together.

This past February, Black History Month, he joined with several organizations to create and unveil a two-block long Black Lives Matter mural painted on the streets in front of the high school.

“We all collaborated with Commissioner Rodney Ellis, and we all got together to paint a Black Lives Matter mural,” said Davis. “On the front is the school mascot, and on the other side, George Floyd’s jersey. We want the kids to understand every day they go into the school that their lives matter.”

As of 2021, Houston is 22.59% Black. Jack Yates High School is 99% students of color, mostly Black.

When Davis says we, he means people from organizations 88 C.H.U.M.P. and Youth and Society for Change. The first organization is named for Floyd’s high school jersey number, which was 88, and was founded by his friends.

Another project they have taken on in recent years includes renovating the high school football field. They kicked off the project on May 28 with money from NFL, among others. The field has been renamed in honor of George Floyd.

One of the things Davis loves most about his work is working with the kids.

“They are asking questions,” he said. “They’re concerned about the environment. There’s been so much violence in the inner city. There’s mistrust of law enforcement. Each day, those kids go in that school, and they see that message we’ve put on the street. We’re instilling in them that their lives are just as important as someone of another race.”

Jack Yates High School currently ranks as having some of the lowest test scores in the state, which is not surprising. Schools with a majority of Black and brown students are consistently underfunded.

This is why Davis stresses the importance of education for young people. He and 88 C.H.U.M.P. have worked so hard to provide opportunities for young people, show them how to get internships, and offer trade opportunities.

“Not every kid is going to be college-bound, but we want them to be able to sustain themselves in their industries,” he said. “We want to empower our kids and let them know they can do anything they can imagine.”

Floyd’s former classmate and friend, Herbert Mouton, is the operations manager at 88 C.H.U.M.P. In addition to building stronger relations between police officers and the community, he says the organization is also working to educate people about the importance of voting, especially in local elections. and filling out the census, which he says is important because that is largely how the community gets funded.

“One of our biggest movements was voter registrations in Houston,” he said. At one, “we registered maybe 98 people, almost 100 people, from young to old. We had people out there, first-time voters. That was very impressive.”

His biggest goal in the community is to educate people.

“We’re keeping his name alive and pushing forward to better our community,” he said, referring to Floyd. “We’re starting in our community first. Once we set a foundation there, other communities will follow along or want to partner up. It’s one community at a time.”

Bodily autonomy and Black Lives Matter

As much as the community has rebuilt since last summer, there is a ways to go. Texas recently passed a bill into law that banned abortions after six weeks. The Biden Administration has sued the state of Texas over this law.

Brandon Mack says the right to bodily autonomy is a Black Lives Matter issue. Mack is an organizer at Black Lives Matter in Houston, the same organization that held a vigil after the Chauvin trial.

Abortions are especially difficult to access for Black and brown women, and Black women are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women. Black women are also more likely to die while giving birth.

The Houston chapter of Black Lives Matter, in Mack’s words, aims “to address is the devaluation of Black lives.” They have worked on electoral justice projects, Black voters matter and have done work around homelessness in the community.

Now, they are supporting organizations that do work around abortions and reproductive health.

“What happened in Texas was a complete disregard to the rule of law, the constitution, and Roe v. Wade,” he said. “It was the grossest show of legal maneuvering to put that into place. The fact that the supreme court refuses to see that shows how white supremacy operates in this country and the depths to which people will go to maintain that supremacy.”

Organizers have seen a definite improvement in the past year. Mack says that the new police chief, who is from Houston, is willing to work with activists to create a helpful presence in the community rather than one that disregards the community’s needs.

Still, there are a ways to go. Last year, Mayor Sylvester Turner’s task force to look at policing in the community, which had 45 community remembers, came out with 104 recommendations, which rendered almost all of them ineffective, as no one knew where to start.

Of the initiative, Mack said, “task forces and commissions are the new versions of thoughts and prayers.” Mayor Turner’s office did not respond for comment in time for publication.

Mack also doesn’t think the police haven’t tried to engage with the community in a productive way. He says the police aren’t trying to engage the community as a “two way street,” but rather tell the community what to do. They rarely listen to what the community needs from them.

COVID-19 and the Delta variant have also made organizing difficult. Houston, like many cities, is coping with a shortage of hospital beds. Given that Black communities are most impacted by the virus, this is another Black Lives Matter issue, and organizers do not want to contribute to rising COVID numbers.

At the same time, Mack stresses the importance of finding ways to bring the community together.

“There have been several memorials and there are several murals that bare George Floyd’s likeness,” Mack said. “Those things have helped the community heal.”


Read Nicole’s Books:

A Poem by Wayne David Hubbard

wanderlust is my middle name
unpenned verbs in the book of longing
alanis morissette crooning irony
through tinny speakers
   at a bar in arizona

i raise a shot glass to you
   and swallow it whole

Wayne David Hubbard is an author and educator. His work appears in Button Poetry, Eloquent, and Wild Word magazine. His first book Mobius: Meditations on Home was published in 2020. He lives in Virginia, works in aviation, and writes creatively about experience, history, and culture.

A Poem by d w Stojek

                              O’ it’s a lonely maypole
                      in three footfall snow,
                      and where may I go
                      without reason, without clothes?
                           
                      By the seat of my bicycle,
                      full of frost and icicles                           
                      let my Fancy sway,
                      unfettered in the winter’s shortened day…

                         “Yes, but well, what are you doing here?”
                      Had you noticed my axe you would not have asked.
                      Well, you wouldn’t now, would you dear?
                      Alas, I whittle with what is Little--                         
                        	    
                      I am tired traffic. A faltering star. 
                      Spring, too distant, too far,                           
                      and where would I go,
                     O’ if not to the lonely maypole?

d w Stojek is a poet, photographer, and general nuisance to those within earshot. He is eagerly awaiting the day when ‘Build-a-Bear’ re-opens as a series of genetic labs that will enliven the blighted strip malls of Suburbia.

Robert Fromberg
Covering Autism and Creativity
TDR Regular Contributor / September 15, 2021

Now available: Robert Fromberg’s How to Walk with Steve

Join Us on September 26, 2021, at 1 pm for our How to Walk with Steve launch party. The event is free and will feature readings from Robert Fromberg, Adrienne Marie Barrios, Victoria Buitron, and Amy Burns. Register now @Eventbrite so you can receive information and a link to participate on the day.

My brother Steve will not walk beside me. Sometimes he walks in front of me, charting his own course and infrequently looking back to see if I am still in sight. More often, he walks behind me. That allows him the time to register and then, accompanied by twitches, foot shuffles, and finger taps, emulate every choice I make as to pace, direction, and whether to go right or left around obstructions. If we are in, say, an airport, this approach also allows Steve the time to make an occasional dive to grab a brochure from a display. (Steve’s collection of brochures is the stuff of legend.)

When we walk together, I represent the external expectations of the world—numerous, subtle, barely not random. For Steve, who has autism, such inscrutable expectations are ever-present oppression. He would surely feel more comfortable walking without me and the expectations I embody, but because I am there, he does his best to observe and follow.

Surrounded by this hurricane of external unknowability that passes for normalcy, Steve does not completely sublimate his internal proclivities. He must have his moments of freedom—to select one or three or five brochures, to take photographs of a yield sign with an unusual shape, to glimpse the new location to pay highway tolls, and to study the knobs of interior doors in a house he visits. To me, these impulses of Steve’s resemble those of a poet or painter, acts of freedom against, or carefully sheltered from, the world’s normalizing external forces.

The poet William Stafford called writing “One of the great, free human activities.” For Steve, it is more like whatever freedom exists in the eye of a hurricane. And perhaps the same is true for most writers.

In the first few years I taught creative writing at Northwestern University, my first assignment was, “Write something.” I wanted to make Stafford’s point, that writing is freedom. “Here,” I tried to say, “here is some freedom. Take it.” Simple, right? Some students thanked me (or sometimes thanked god) for this dicta-free approach to writing, and they hurried off to write whatever occurred to them. Others told me, either in person or in semester-end evaluations, or they told the dean, that they needed more direction, that they wanted to understand the path and be given some propulsion along it.

With Steve as my mentor, I’ve since looked at the freedom of writers with a little more nuance.

What Stafford called a writer’s “weak, wandering, diffident impulses” are constantly under assault from the external world. A corporate leader told me that being a high-performing employee is flat-out impossible if that person seeks any sort of balance between work and the other parts of his or her life. (Jeff Bezos told Amazon workers to view their careers and lives as a circle, an even more insidious notion.) And the construct of a person having only one job, one career, is so dated as to be quaint. At the same time, the breathtaking amount of time we devote to unpaid caregiving, already rising rapidly before the pandemic, is now a far more intense burden.

Then there is the sheer misery of the recent external environment. Trump. The anti-vax movement. The Texas abortion ban. Twitter wars. Write? I just want to huddle in a corner. Or run screaming through the street. Which probably gives me a glimpse of what Steve goes through each day in the eye of his particular hurricane, which has become far worse during COVID. He now calls me between four and 14 times each day to say he’s worried that everything will be canceled for the rest of his life.

At the same time, I see writers inviting external forces to meddle in their work. On social media, writers (sometimes through well-shot and edited videos with clever soundtracks) talk and gesticulate about how hard they are laboring to choose what their “MC” should do next in their “WIP” so that they can produce the number of pages per day designated by a computer program or a contest or a self-created schedule in order to send work to agents who will apply their own criteria for public palatability before, if the planets are in proper alignment, deigning to pass the work on to another set of gatekeepers displaying another set of criteria at the doors of Reputable Publishing Houses. None of this sounds like anyone is having fun. And it certainly doesn’t sound like freedom.

Whether this burden of external pressures is self-imposed or an outgrowth of societal wretchedness, it leaves writing a “great, free human activity” that, like Steve’s love of highway signs and doorknobs, is engaged in constant battle with a confusing, demanding, and dislocating external world.

When Steve walks, every shuffle of his foot to find the right position, every series of taps on a stair rail, every sudden veer to put a wide distance between him and a person walking toward him testifies to this battle. Yet, while Steve darts and swerves through these external forces, he always has his eyes open for something that belongs only to him. And when I steal a glimpse of those moments, here is what I see: the firmness with which he grasps each brochure he selects and the decisive suddenness with which he pulls it from its rack. For Steve, darting and dodging through an unknowable external world, the impulse of the artist is indomitable.


Now available from Latah Books:

“Robert Fromberg knocks me out.”
Marilynne Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Gilead

“In refusing easy consolations, Fromberg has created a memoir that shines like polished bone.”
– Patricia Eakins, author of The Hungry Girls and Other Stories

“Without a trace of affectation or adornment, Fromberg depicts the searing moments that made him who he is. Never have I read a more authentic, deeply-felt rendering of a child’s developing mind.”
– Leslie Lawrence, author of The Death of Fred Astaire and Other Essays from a Life Outside the Lines

A Poem by Susan Miller

It will be like a snow day —
all of us penned in our holes,
yearning to topple onto
barstools, strip off our
winter wool, order rounds
of Jack and uncork
our weather war stories.

Yeh, just like a snow day,
that’s what you said, as
always so rock-solid sure.
You didn’t want to hear
my what-ifs, feel my
clammy palms, see
my screaming phone.

You tried to make me laugh
at your downward dog in
our fuzzy Facetimes,
teach me Crazy Eights
by text, clink cocktail
glasses at laptop screens.
Just like a snow day.

You said the tickle was
nothing, maybe some
sneaky spring pollen
or your hardwoods
belching dust. No worries
at all — just pieces of what
would be one stellar tale.

I wanted to call you to
tell you that I finally made
it outside. How every step
felt slippery and uncertain,
how I dodged sidewalk
slowpokes before I
burrowed back indoors.

How 15 months later,
I peeked into the pub
now electric and pulsing
with people. How you should
be there, we should be there,
hugging and holding court.
Yeh, like after a snow day.

Susan Miller is an editor/reporter for USA TODAY who enjoys writing poetry as a hobby. Her work has appeared in Whimsical Poet, Gemini Magazine, Months to Years, Common Ground Review, Under the Bridges of America, Sandy Paws, Quaranzine, Written in Arlington.

Joseph Fleetwood

JEFFREY HAMPTON
COVERING CONTEMPORARY CLASSICAL MUSIC ARTISTS
TDR REGULAR CONTRIBUTOR /September 13, 2021

I struggle to find something unique to say about the music of J.S. Bach, an extremely difficult task for a composer who died in 1750—almost 300 years ago. It is clear, however, that his music has remained relevant to this day. Like many, the first time I remember hearing the music of Bach was with the wonderfully eclectic recordings of Glenn Gould. Since then, I have had the pleasure of hearing many recordings of Bach’s music, and I have enjoyed playing some of them myself. Edwin Fischer, a legendary figure from the piano’s golden age, would tell a pupil, “When in trouble, play Bach.” Many pianists would seem to agree with Fischer, as there is no shortage of exquisite recordings of Bach’s music.

Joseph Fleetwood, a pianist with a refined touch and relaxed manner, has found his career gaining momentum in recent years. He has been awarded the Narramore Fellowship from the University of Alabama, where he pursues his Doctor of Musical Arts Degree in Piano Performance. But his academic studies haven’t kept him from releasing this wonderful set of performances of Bach’s six partitas for keyboard. J.S. Bach: The Six Partitas shows Fleetwood in fine form as he works through these keyboard suites. It appears that many would share the same opinion as me—the album, released in 2020 by Sheva Collection, has now sold over 720,000 copies.

This collection groups the partitas by key. The first disc contains the three major key suites, and the second is dedicated to the minor key pieces. The playing is pristine, with a full, singing tone that Fleetwood coaxes from the Yamaha CFX concert grand featured on the recording. The tempo choices for all the partitas are deliberate and thoughtful. Attention is paid to the details—the differing voices and how they all blend on the piano. This is a refreshing change of pace from what feels like the increasingly hectic interpretations of others, as if the pianists are trying to win a race and see who can get to the finish line. While nothing is wrong with faster interpretations, many of which can be exhilarating, the measured choices and broader tempi allow the listener to keep up and enjoy the many delightful details in this complex music. When taking a slower approach, there is always the risk of the pace dragging, leaving the listener bored and waiting for the whole affair to end. But that is not the case here, and Fleetwood’s temporal judgment maximizes the sense of cohesion in each partita, elevating them above a mere collection of dance movements.

The result is an enjoyable experience. While listening, I found my eyes closed and my senses soaring with all the twists and turns found in the working parts of these pieces. A standout moment in the Ouvertüre of Partita No. 4 in D Major, BWV 828, felt the gentle singing of the highest voice bouncing gracefully, dancing along—a captivating performance. This set is full of such moments.

The music is made to sound easy throughout—Bach himself said that he had composed them for music lovers, and at his own expense, published them together as his Opus 1. For those new to listening to Baroque music, these pieces were not written for the piano. Like most Baroque music, the label keyboard can go for several instruments: in addition to the piano, the harpsichord, organ, and clavichord. These latter instruments are more likely what this music was meant for rather than the piano. One would not be able to tell this by Fleetwood’s performances, though, with each piece sounding natural on our more modern and robust concert grand.

J.S. Bach: The Six Partitas stands out from the pack with Joseph Fleetwood’s stellar playing, attention to detail, and gorgeous tone on showcase. If one has not listened to Bach’s keyboard works, this album is the perfect board for diving into the deep end. I invite anyone to sit back, relax with a drink of choice (whisky on the rocks for myself) and let the music of these suites wash over them.


A Poem by Mercury-Marvin Sunderland

today i woke up
at 7 am
so i could sign up
for my fall quarter class
at 8 am

i ate
a quick sandwich
of dollar store white bread
mustard & mayo
kraft singles
garlic baloney
pickles
potato chips

& i grabbed
one (1) pre-made canteen
of morning coffee
from the fridge

poured one (1) mug
& reheated
for three (3) minutes
then put it back
in the canteen

today i told my therapist
that i’ve just started taking legal action

for two (2) years
of stalking and sexual harassment

the title ix
just placed
a no contact order

which is basically
a restraining order

which expires
as soon as i graduate

in december

& i’m not saying
it doesn’t help but
it’ll take three-to-six (3-to-6) months
for the trial to go

& i’m just
so scared

& i know that
i’m taking the right action

but this coffee couldn’t be strong enough
to prepare me for

the reliving
of my trauma

& uncertain futures

i’m all out of creamer
& my hands

are shaking.

Mercury-Marvin Sunderland (he/him) is a transgender autistic gay man with Borderline Personality Disorder. He’s from Seattle and currently attends the Evergreen State College. He’s been published by University of Amsterdam’s Writer’s Block, UC Davis’ Open Ceilings, UC Riverside’s Santa Ana River Review, UC Santa Barbara’s Spectrum, and The New School’s The Inquisitive Eater. His lifelong dream is to become the most banned author in human history. He’s @RomanGodMercury on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

A Short Story by Mark Hall

“Christ!” Daniel McRae’s father cried. The back door slammed shut with such force that it shook the house. “Daniel!” John McRae bellowed, drawing out his son’s name. “Get your ass down here! Now!”

For an instant, all was quiet. Daniel crept from his room at the top of the stairs. On the landing, he froze in the silence. Then, heavy footsteps as his father made his way through the house. “Shit,” Daniel muttered to himself. Quickly, he searched his mind for what could have set his father off this time. His hands shook as he ran them through his mop of dark hair. He gripped the stair rail to steady himself. Then he remembered his bike.

Daniel looked down over the banister in the direction of the kitchen. His face bruised with anger, John stalked his son, one hand gripping a sturdy broom. There were specks of dried blood on its thick handle from the last time he had struck Daniel. Halfway up the stairs, he stopped. “How many times have I told you not to leave that bike in the driveway? How many, goddamn it?”

Daniel was fourteen, slight for his age. There on the landing, he stood several steps above. From this vantage point, his father appeared only slightly less threatening.

“I’ve told you and told you!” John roared. “Put your goddamn things away!”

Daniel took a step back. Cornered, he turned his back to his father and steeled himself. He covered his head with his forearms as John raised the boom with both hands. He struck his son hard, again and again. “Goddamn it!” he shouted with each blow. “Goddamn it! Goddamn it! Goddamn it!”

As the blows struck, Daniel’s mother, Aida-Claire, appeared below. She could have stopped her husband. She knew that Daniel hadn’t just left his bike carelessly in the drive. He’d put it there deliberately, to replace a tube in a flat tire. Daniel had talked to her about it that morning. There wasn’t room enough to work inside the garage. He’d only just finished and left the bike for an instant to run upstairs for his shoes.

But instead of intervening on Daniel’s behalf, Aida-Claire mirrored her husband’s anger. “Your Daddy has told you time and time again not to leave that bike in the driveway,” she echoed. Aida-Claire kept her eyes on John as she spoke. She was performing for him. “Someday, one of us is going to back over it.” She glanced, briefly, at Daniel, her voice trembling, “Then you won’t have a bike.” Daniel registered the fear in his mother’s eyes. He hated her for that. Bile rose in his throat. Aida-Claire was trying to remember her lines. “Maybe,” she added, her voice rising, as in a question, “you shouldn’t have a bike in the first place, if you can’t take care of it.” Like an actor on a stage, she looked to her husband for approval. Whenever his rage exploded, Aida-Claire stood on the sidelines like this, egging him on. Sometimes she’d even pile on additional transgressions from days or even weeks past that Daniel ought to be punished for. If John’s anger was directed at him, Daniel understood, then it wouldn’t be aimed at her. But it wasn’t enough simply to avoid her husband’s wrath herself. Aida-Claire had to become his ally, his accomplice.

His anger exhausted, John threw the broom to the floor below and turned toward the kitchen. For several minutes, Daniel remained still, to be certain it was over. Then, with difficulty, he unfolded. Slowly, he made his way back to his room, leaning against the wall as he went. He was careful not to slam the bedroom door, though he wanted nothing more than to tear it from its hinges. Curled up on his bed, his head throbbing, Daniel caught the sound of his bike as it clattered into the back of his father’s pickup. “Godfucking cunt!” John shouted, as the tailgate failed to catch. Then the truck scratched out of the drive.


The first time Daniel’s father struck him, John and Aida-Claire had been out one evening. Daniel was looking after his little brother, Will, who had had a nightmare. When their parents returned home, Will was in tears, groggy, incoherent, lost between waking and sleep. He cried out from this in-between state. They found Will on the floor, next to his bed. His father concluded that Daniel must have hurt his brother somehow. But that was ridiculous, inconceivable. Daniel would never hurt Will. But John had come for him. He’d pierced Daniel with a low, steely voice: “Go to my room and get the biggest belt you can find.”

By now, Daniel knew well how the next day would go. Ordinarily, on Sunday mornings, the whole family attended church together. But after a Saturday night beating, only Daniel and his father would go, just the two of them. Daniel hated this worse than the beatings, riding silently in the car, alone with his father, sitting next to him through the service, watching him pray, then the mute drive home.

Knowing his father would expect him at the ready, when morning came, Daniel dressed slowly, painfully. He hadn’t left his room since yesterday. Will had brought a sandwich, which Daniel hadn’t touched. His little brother sat on the edge of Daniel’s bed and laid a hand on his hip. He patted Daniel gently for a long time. Will had come to tell Daniel that he’d hidden the broom behind the living room drapes so their father couldn’t hit him anymore. Daniel could not respond. He was sore all over. Even his teeth hurt. He was deep inside himself now. There he would remain. He would not speak, unless prompted. He would not look at his parents tomorrow. Or the next day. Or the day after that. He would give nothing. He would be a blank.

As Pastor Lealand droned on, Daniel ruminated. He’d heard the expression, “This hurts me worse than it hurts you.” Daniel didn’t believe it, but he understood that his father suffered whenever he beat him. Daniel read it on his face, the deep trough between his eyes. That’s why they were at church together in the first place, just the two of them. His father felt guilty. That’s probably what he was praying about right now, Daniel thought. He took pleasure imagining his father’s anguish. How could he add to his pain, Daniel wondered.

He could tell. Daniel could tell a teacher at school how his father beat him. On Monday morning, Daniel could raise his shirt and show the angry welts across his back. By then they’d ripen, purple, black. He could show his teacher, Mrs. Winfield. “My father did this,” he would say. Mrs. Winfield would gasp as her eyes filled with tears.

Among his friends and colleagues, John McRae was respected, well-liked. Out in the world, he was charming, jovial, a successful businessman, a deacon in the church. His family was handsome and happy. But at home, Daniel’s father was silent, brooding. Night after night he sat in a worn leather wingback chair, working a crossword puzzle. From time to time, he cleared nothing from his throat. “Uh, uh, uh, uh, uh.” Daniel hated that sound. He cringed at the thought of it. No one would believe what John McRae did at home behind closed doors. If Daniel told, then maybe he would be removed from his home, he fantasized, taken into care. Even if a foster family was horrible, it would be worth it. It would be worth it to shame his father and mother. She’d be the talk of the next Junior League luncheon. His parents would hate that, all the talk. Imagine the looks they’d get at church next week when word got around.


After church, Daniel put on his headphones and set out to mow the grass. The front lawn was wide and deep and took hours to finish. Normally, he chafed at the task, but not today. Today, Daniel didn’t care, because mowing the lawn gave him an excuse to avoid his parents. This afternoon Daniel took more time than usual, moving slowly, wincing at each turn. His shoulders ached. But he pressed forward into the heat, knowing that afterwards he’d be too exhausted to think, his mind washed clean by the scorching sun and the ordered lines drawn with each pass of the mower.

Midway through, the McRae’s neighbor, Dave, pulled up, a small boat hitched to his truck. It was a Boston Whaler, just like the one they’d rented once on the Gulf. Uncle Dave, who wasn’t really an uncle, had taken Daniel and John fishing at Apalachicola Bay, not long before John began beating Daniel.

Inexperienced with saltwater fishing, the three of them had nevertheless enjoyed themselves immensely. Daniel had been impressed with his father. On the pier at Cedar Springs, a tiny fishing village on the Bay, John McRae seemed at home among the people they met there. He chatted up the old salts to learn where the fish were biting, what lures to use. On the water, John was easy, relaxed. He and Uncle Dave drank beer, while Daniel downed Cokes. They ate sardines from a tin and peed off the back of the boat. They joked and made up fish stories about “Hog-o-rilla,” the big one that got away, again and again. Lines were tangled. Hooks were caught in their hats and fingers. They bled prying them loose. A rod snapped. A pricy reel was lost in the water. They laughed through it all. Then, in the heat of the afternoon, the three of them leapt from the boat to swim in the Gulf. Together with Uncle Dave and his dad, Daniel had felt a part of something, the world of men that had seemed so strange and distant to him before.

John beamed with pride when Daniel caught the largest speckled trout of the day. “My boy,” he said with a wide smile. Afterwards, back at the pier, Uncle Dave showed Daniel how to gut and clean a fish. Daniel could tell that his father was surprised to see how deftly his son handled a knife.

At home, John set a wide, black cauldron of grease on a gas burner in the backyard for a fish fry. Neighbors gathered. The McRaes always put on a good party. Daniel watched with admiration as his father sliced potatoes neatly, with the skins on, then fried them up, at once crisp and tender. Then, without a recipe, John made up a batter of hushpuppies, with onions and jalapenos chopped fine. Before he dropped a fillet into the grease, John held up each one and praised its perfection. “My boy,” he said again, as he told the story of how Daniel had wrestled the big one into the boat, then, later, on the pier, how he had cleaned the entire catch all by himself, like a skilled fishmonger. Looking back on that day, Daniel considered it the happiest time he’d ever spent with his father.

“Nice work.” Uncle Dave said, as he surveyed the half-mown lawn. “What do you think?” He smiled back at the boat and made a sweeping motion with his outstretched hand, as though he were presenting a lavish prize on a game show. “It’s just like the one we rented at Apalachicola Bay.”

Before Daniel could speak, from behind him, John stepped out the front door and down from the porch. “Uncle Dave!” he drawled loudly, a wide smile, all hail-fellow-well-met. Daniel tensed as his father laid a hand across his shoulders, his thumb and forefinger resting lightly around his son’s neck.

“What do you say we take this baby out at the end of the month?” asked Dave. “Your Mama says your birthday’s coming up, Dan. Let’s make a day of it. Bring home that Hog-o-rilla this time.”

John squeezed Daniel’s neck slightly. Daniel stiffened. “Yes, sir,” he said to Uncle Dave.


At school on Monday morning, Daniel didn’t tell. Nor the next day either. As one day led to another, he found that he had folded so completely inward that now it was difficult to imagine turning out again. In his mind’s eye, he could see the scene in vivid detail: the raising of his shirt, the turn of his back to his teacher, Mrs. Winfield. Her eyes would widen. Tears would well up. Her doughy fingers would reach toward Daniel to touch the ugly bruises, tentatively, gently. Then Mrs. Winfield would pull him to her. She was a big, expansive woman. Daniel would wince in her fierce, soft embrace. He might cry too, as he gave himself over to her protection. But Daniel could not summons up the words to tell her what was happening at home.


The next time John struck his son, Daniel had been sitting at the kitchen table, shelling peas, while Aida-Claire stirred a pot on the stove. More than two weeks had passed since the last beating. Tensions had lifted, though Daniel, wary, continued to steer clear of his father. But he and his mother were mostly back to their old selves. Daniel enjoyed watching her cook. She was relaxed at the stove, organized, efficient. She could juggle lots of tasks at once with calm. Whenever they were alone together in the kitchen, theirs was a quick, easy, banter. They teased one another often. They laughed. Aida-Claire confided in Daniel, sometimes airing complaints about his father. Daniel enjoyed her confidence, which made him feel grown up.

On this evening, Daniel had said something joking to his mother. John had walked in at the tail end of Daniel’s remark. He hadn’t liked whatever he thought he heard. Then, in a flash, John was on him. That’s the way it was. One moment, calm. The next, pure rage. From zero to ninety in an instant. Anything might set him off. In his unpredictable volatility, John McRae was utterly predictable. He snatched Daniel up by his arm. His grip was fierce. Daniel was up and out of his seat before he knew it. The chair clattered to the floor. The peas overturned. “I won’t have you talk to your Mother in that tone of voice,” John shouted.

“What? What did I say?” Daniel screamed, his voice high, breaking. Already he could not remember his own words. He could not reconstruct the conversation he and his mother had been having. His heart pounded in his ears. He opened his mouth to defend himself. “I, I . . .” But nothing would come. Daniel looked to his mother. She would explain. It was just an innocent joke. She hadn’t been bothered by it at all. But Aida-Claire’s mouth was a straight line. Still holding a wooden spoon in the air, she would not meet Daniel’s pleading gaze.

John dragged Daniel out the kitchen door and into the backyard. He took a wide stance and held his fists up in front of him like a boxer. “Put up your dukes, boy!” he demanded.

His father’s pose, his words, struck Daniel, unexpectedly, as comical. Surprising not only John but also himself, Daniel erupted into bitter laughter. “You wanna hit me? Is that what you want?” Daniel laughed. He looked at his father squarely now. His dark eyes, the mirror of John McRae’s, narrowed. Laughing at his father, Daniel discovered in that moment, diminished him. Suddenly Daniel felt strong, commanding, and so he continued to provoke. “You wanna hit me, big man?” he taunted. “That make you feel powerful? Big man gonna beat up a fourteen-year-old kid?” Daniel’s own fists were balled tightly at his sides. His voice was low and steady now. He pressed, “Beat up a kid. That make your dick hard, big man?”

The next day, Daniel woke with a glistening black eye. He smiled wryly as he examined it in the bathroom mirror. He laughed again, the same bitter laugh he had laughed the night before, seconds before his father decked him.

Later, at school that day, Daniel told anyone who asked that he’d hit a pothole and gone head over handlebars on his bike. He hadn’t told anyone that he no longer had a bike.


With the black eye, something had shifted in Daniel. He was no longer afraid of his father. He could see his weakness clearly now. After he had laughed at him, Daniel had felt something rise up inside of himself and break loose.

Nevertheless, Daniel continued to brood about his father’s increasing violence, an endless loop of white-hot resentment, turning over and over again in his mind. Early on, his father had demanded, at the slightest provocation, “Go to my room and get the biggest belt you can find.” John knew which one he meant. So did Daniel, who learned quickly that the beating would only be worse if he chose the wrong belt. The broom had come later, then anything close at hand, once an extension cord, another time a brass candlestick. Only lately had John pared down to bare knuckles.

Daniel puzzled over the why of his father’s behavior. What had he done wrong, Daniel wondered. Aida-Claire had tried to explain once. She reminded Daniel that John had lost his own father when he was only eight years old. The grandfather Daniel had never known had died of a heart attack in his mid-thirties. “And so, you see,” his mother had said, “your Daddy doesn’t know how to be a father, because he never really had one himself. He doesn’t know what to do with a teenage boy. He’s afraid. Afraid you’ll challenge him. Afraid you’ll outstrip him, outshine him.”

To Daniel, this sounded more like an excuse than an explanation. His mother was merely propping up her husband, taking his side again. If he was a threat to his father, Daniel reasoned, then before long he would come for his brother, Will, too. Will was only eight. His father had not yet hurt Will. But he would. Daniel would kill his father first, before he’d let him do to Will what he’d done to him.


The night before their fishing trip, Daniel was lying in bed, when through his noise-cancelling headphones he heard a shriek from the bathroom that separated his bedroom from Will’s. His brother had been splashing in the tub, sloshing water onto the floor. It had soaked clear through to the downstairs, leaving a dark stain on the silk wallpaper in the dining room below.

His father had surprised Will, still naked in the tub, beating him violently with a hairbrush. “Goddamn it! Goddamn it! Goddamn it!” he roared.


The next morning, Daniel and his father and Uncle Dave were to leave in the dark hours well before dawn, driving south to Apalachicola Bay. They would be on the water by daybreak. Dave’s boat was too small for the open ocean, Aida-Claire had worried. It wasn’t safe. She wouldn’t think of letting Will go along. He was too small, she insisted. After last night, Daniel thought, Will wouldn’t have wanted to spend the day with their father anyway.

In the kitchen, Daniel tiptoed around his father, making sandwiches, packing the cooler, gathering up their gear. Already on edge, he startled at a knock on the kitchen door. Outside in the dark was Dave’s wife, Sara. Still in her nightgown and slippers, damp from the wet grass, she’d come over to say that Dave was too sick to go fishing. He’d eaten a bad oyster last night, she thought. But Daniel and John should go on without him. The boat was all loaded up and hitched. She handed Daniel the keys to Dave’s truck. “He won’t be going anywhere today,” she said, as she turned on the stoop. “Happy birthday, kiddo. You two have fun.”

Daniel smiled weakly. “Yes, ma’am,” he said. His stomach tightened, as he thought of the long, seething day alone with his father. Without Uncle Dave as a buffer, Daniel wished that he himself had eaten the bad oyster.


The drive south was silent, tense. Daniel put on his headphones and tried to sleep. But he was too restless, and so he only pretended to doze, his eyes closed, nothing in his ears but his own thoughts. He’d been wide-awake most of the night, trembling with rage about Will and the hairbrush. After his parents had shut themselves behind their bedroom door, Daniel had crept into his brother’s room, where he spooned him up in his arms, still teary, trembling, gasping from time to time, until Will finally drifted off into a fitful sleep.

As soon as John stepped out onto the pier at Cypress Springs, it was as if he had flipped a switch. He was at home on the water. It was early yet, still dim. A few old salts were tying chicken necks into tattered crab baskets and tossing them off the rickety pier. John talked tide charts and wind speeds with a toothless old man, so brown and weather-beaten he looked like a desiccated leather bag, washed ashore from some distant land.

Daniel stood beside his father, gazing out over the Gulf, John’s hand resting lightly on his neck. “My boy,” John said to the old man with pride, “Turning fifteen today. Near ‘bout grown, he drawled. He’s gone land a hog-o-rilla today!” For catching speckled trout, the small, wizened man recommended a white rubber grub with a weighted red head and a double salmon hook. He rooted through a battered tackle box and handed Daniel a small packet of lures. “Good luck catching that hog,” he said with a wink.


Daniel remained taut until he and his father had successfully launched the boat. This was just the sort of cooperative task that could easily go wrong and set his John off. Not until he settled into the bow of the boat did Daniel take his first deep breath of salt air. His father stood behind the wheel and sped, full throttle, toward the open Gulf. Daniel braced himself as the small craft bounced against the chop. One hard bump, he thought, might catapult Daniel right out of the boat. His mother had been right: The Boston Whaler was too small to be safe on the open water. With the wind in his ears, Daniel was both afraid and exhilarated in equal measure.

The first pink rays of sun peeking up from the east, John brought the Whaler to a stop and they dropped their lines. After some time, Daniel could feel a loosening inside himself. He could see from his father’s smooth, easy casting that he, too, was relaxing. They both enjoyed the quiet. On the water, the silence wasn’t strained, as it had been on the drive down, as it always was at home. Here, the silence was purposeful, attentive. The only sounds were the gentle lapping of the water against the hull, the occasional plop of their lures on the surface, a light breeze in their ears.

There was nothing to talk about until something powerful struck Daniel’s line. He popped up his rod sharply to stick the hook. John leapt up and grabbed a net. Sparked with adrenaline, for several minutes Daniel wrestled, expertly reeling in, then releasing the slack to tire the creature out. His arms began to throb, but Daniel remained cool and steady. His father praised and encouraged. “That’s it. Bring that hog in,” he coaxed. When a streak of white flashed alongside the boat. John leaned over and scooped up a shark, nearly eighteen inches long. “My boy,” he said with pride, as he held it up by the tail. Daniel didn’t want to care, but, in spite of himself, he felt the warm rush of his father’s approval.

This jolt of excitement shook both Daniel and John out of themselves. As morning turned to afternoon, they talked a little, then a little more. They talked about college and Daniel’s interest in veterinary school. His father knew a local veterinarian from his business-networking group, who might be willing to take Daniel on as an intern. Daniel was pleased when John offered to arrange for them to meet next week.

When the sun rose high above, Daniel and his father raised the Bimini top and retreated under the shade. At lunchtime, they devoured their sandwiches. John pointed out that they’d packed beer enough for two, expecting Uncle Dave to be along with them. He offered a can to Daniel. “Just one,” he said, looking over the top of his sunglasses, raising his eyebrows. “You’ll be drinking on the sly soon enough,” he smiled. “Happy birthday, kid.”

“Cheers,” Daniel said, looking at his shoes.

They clinked their cans together. Daniel had tried beer once before, but he didn’t much care for the taste. He drank anyway, to please his father.

Daniel considered the moment. This day met up with other joyful days, though Daniel had to search for them now, when he had been happy in the company of his father, like the first fishing trip with Uncle Dave. But too many other days, terrible days, had stacked up against him and made Daniel wary. Anything could shatter the calm. Daniel might say or do the wrong thing at any moment. And when he did, his father’s rage would flash. His voice, that howl, “Christ!” like a wounded animal, would make Daniel whither. Then the bottom would drop out. Thinking of it now made Daniel nervous. The sweat turned cold on his back. Suddenly, he felt trapped on the tiny boat, alone with his father.

When it became too hot to fish any longer, John tossed over a small anchor and he and Daniel leapt into the water. By now, they’d tried several spots with mixed results. As the day wore on, they’d traveled further and further out into the Gulf. Closer in, near the shore, they could see the bottom clearly, even stand in the open water in some places, the sea grass tickling their legs. But now they were far out, where the water was much deeper, colder. They could barely see land now.

Once in the water, Daniel thought of the small shark he’d caught that morning. Where there were small sharks, there were large ones. He climbed back into the boat and dosed under the Bimini top.  The beer had made him drowsy. When his head nodding snapped him awake, Daniel scanned the surface of the water, searching for his father. He found him in the distance, floating on his back. John had drifted far from the boat. If Daniel closed one eye, he could almost make him disappear.

Daniel’s mind turned again to his brother, Will, and to the hairbrush of the night before. He ground his teeth.

Just then, his father waved, swam a few strokes, then returned to floating on his back. Daniel closed one eye and made him disappear again. He thought about starting the motor and making his way toward his father. John was a strong, confident swimmer, but here the current was stronger. He had drifted too far to make it back to the boat on his own.

Daniel could make his way toward his father, he considered. Or he could turn the boat in the opposite direction, toward the shore. He held this thought for several minutes, like a delicate sharp object cupped in his hands. He unspooled the idea. There were no other boats nearby, none in his field of vision. There was no one to call for help. Their cell phones were back on shore in Dave’s truck. There would be no reception this far out in the open water. How long, Daniel wondered, could his father swim in the open Gulf? How long before he got a cramp, or just tired out? Daniel would need to take his time getting back to shore to call for help. Anything could happen. His father might have been drunk when he went in for a swim. Daniel could pour out several more beers on the way back to shore. Maybe his father had drunk all the beer, intended for Uncle Dave and himself. Or maybe his father had had a heart attack while swimming. Anything could happen. His father had been there, floating on the water, and then he wasn’t, Daniel would report. He had searched and searched, he would say. He hadn’t given up, even when a late afternoon thunderstorm rolled in. Only when night began to fall did Daniel return to shore.

Daniel looked up and considered the darkening sky. He scanned the surface of the water again. It was becoming choppy. Thunder rumbled low in the distance. When he spotted his father again, Daniel closed one eye and made him disappear once more.

Then Daniel pulled in the anchor and lowered the outboard motor. He turned the key in the ignition and the engine sputtered to life, belching a cloud of blue smoke and fumes. The sound of the motor caught in his father’s ear. He popped up and waved vigorously, this time motioning for Daniel to swing around and pick him up. Daniel stood and waved back. He smiled. He turned and squinted toward the shoreline, then back at his father. Daniel put one hand on the wheel, and with the other, he pressed the throttle lever.

Mark Hall is a professor of writing, rhetoric, and digital studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. His creative nonfiction has appeared in The Timberline Review, Lunch Ticket, Passengers Journal, the Sand Hills Literary Magazine, Hippocampus, The Forth River, and others.

A Poem by James Croal Jackson

(Columbus, Ohio, 2018)

Shades of Colorado, bleak
as winter sky packing gear
in the trunk before your
flight, reverberations of
song trapped in guitar
from the blinking purple
show at the grime dive.
I went to exhaust their
pierogi supply, to sit
in crowded silence
watching the people around
me, wondering why I came
here, the question resonating
along the ceiling, silent
as raindrops falling
from the bare rafters.

James Croal Jackson (he/him) is a Filipino-American poet who works in film production. He has two chapbooks, Our Past Leaves (Kelsay Books, 2021) and The Frayed Edge of Memory (Writing Knights Press, 2017). He edits The Mantle Poetry from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (jamescroaljackson.com)

Welcome to the 2021 Dillydoun International Fiction Prize

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6
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0
1
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4
6
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2
9

Enter Now

Entries must observe an 8,000 Word Max / No Min

Open to all works of fiction and all genres whether categorized as a short story, flash fiction, or self-contained excerpts from longer works.

Please familiarize yourself with all the Rules & Guidelines prior to entry.

Contest Opens: June 2, 2021
Contest Closes: October 31, 2021 Midnight CST / GMT-5
Winners will be announced by November 30, 2021

Cash Prizes

1st Place – $2,000

2nd Place – $1,000

3rd Place – $500

Honorable Mentions – $50

All winners and honorable mentions will be published in the print anthology,
and will receive one (1) free contributor copy.

All other entries will be considered for publication in a TDR Issue or TDR Daily. All TDR publications are considered at the end of the year for our Best of the Best print anthology. The writer has the right to refuse this offer of publication.

Entry Fee: $25

You may enter the competition as many times as you wish prior to the closing date. All entries must be accompanied by the $25 entry fee.

Online Entry Only

RULES:

  1. You may enter as many times as you wish but each entry must be accompanied by the $25 entry fee. We accept entries via Submittable / Online Only.
  2. Entries must not have been previously published in print or online, been broadcast, or won a prize. Online publication includes your own personal blog/website/social media.
  3. Entries must observe an 8,000 word max. No minimum. All genres, themes, and fiction categories are welcome. Work must be original.
  4. This competition is open to all writers whether published or unpublished with the following exceptions: writers who work or have worked on The Dillydoun Review Editorial Staff (or are related to a past or present member of The Dillydoun Review Editorial Staff).
  5. There are no geographical restrictions on this competition. All international entries are encouraged but must be written in English.
  6. Judging will be conducted by the TDR Editors. Judging will be blind. Please do not include any personal, identifying information about the author in the actual manuscript.
  7. Please format your entry as follows:
    • Give your entry a title. This is how your entry will be identified throughout the judging process. If your work has been short-listed or long-listed by another contest, please make sure to give the entry a different title to ensure our ability to blindly judge.
    • Number the pages but do not add any other information that would identify the author.
    • 1.5 or double-spaced.
    • Use an easily readable font like Times New Roman (or similar) 12pt.
    • Use reasonable margins, preferably 1″ on all sides.
    • Accepted formats: doc, docx, pdf.
  8. Refunds will not be considered. No changes, alterations, or substitutions can be made after your entry is received.
  9. Simultaneous submissions are fine but please be aware, if you place the work elsewhere during the deliberation period, the entry fee is forfeited. If you would be so kind, please notify us as soon as possible should the work become unavailable so that we may remove it from consideration.
  10. Prizes are as follows: 1st Place: $2,000, 2nd Place: $1,000, 3rd Place: $500, Honorable Mentions: $50. All winners and honorable mentions will be included in a print anthology and will receive one (1) free contributor copy. The number of honorable mentions will be determined by the contest judges.
  11. The Dillydoun Review is not responsible for contributor copies once we post them. Please make sure that you provide the correct postal address.
  12. All winners and honorable mentions will be awarded cash prizes via Submittable.
  13. By entering the competition, writers agree that honorable mentions and winning entries can be published, using the author’s name, on our website and/or in our print anthology, in local or international media outlets, on social media, or may be broadcast with media outlets for up to one year after the closing date without further remuneration. After which time all rights revert to the author.
  14. Winning and honorable mentions included in our print anthology will not receive future royalties beyond the payment of the cash prizes stated above.
  15. Winners and honorable mentions will be notified by email. Results will be made public on our website and celebrated via social media and newsletter.
  16. All other entries will be considered for publication in a TDR Issue or TDR Daily. All work published by TDR is considered for a Best of the Best print anthology at the end of the year. The writer has the right to refuse this offer of publication.
  17. By entering, acceptance to all the Rules and Terms & Conditions are implied. Entries that fail to comply with the Rules and Terms & Conditions will be disqualified. No correspondence will be entertained in these matters and all judges’ decisions are final.
  18. Please feel free to contact us at thedillydounreview@gmail.com if you have questions or need clarification about the Rules and Terms & Conditions.

Enter Now

Welcome to the 2021 Dillydoun International Fiction Prize

WeeksDaysHoursMinutesSeconds
0
:
6
:
0
1
:
4
6
:
2
9

Enter Now

Entries must observe an 8,000 Word Max / No Min

Open to all works of fiction and all genres whether categorized as a short story, flash fiction, or self-contained excerpts from longer works.

Please familiarize yourself with all the Rules & Guidelines prior to entry.

Contest Opens: June 2, 2021
Contest Closes: October 31, 2021 Midnight CST / GMT-5
Winners will be announced by November 30, 2021

Cash Prizes

1st Place – $2,000

2nd Place – $1,000

3rd Place – $500

Honorable Mentions – $50

All winners and honorable mentions will be published in the print anthology,
and will receive one (1) free contributor copy.

All other entries will be considered for publication in a TDR Issue or TDR Daily. All TDR publications are considered at the end of the year for our Best of the Best print anthology. The writer has the right to refuse this offer of publication.

Entry Fee: $25

You may enter the competition as many times as you wish prior to the closing date. All entries must be accompanied by the $25 entry fee.

Online Entry Only

RULES:

  1. You may enter as many times as you wish but each entry must be accompanied by the $25 entry fee. We accept entries via Submittable / Online Only.
  2. Entries must not have been previously published in print or online, been broadcast, or won a prize. Online publication includes your own personal blog/website/social media.
  3. Entries must observe an 8,000 word max. No minimum. All genres, themes, and fiction categories are welcome. Work must be original.
  4. This competition is open to all writers whether published or unpublished with the following exceptions: writers who work or have worked on The Dillydoun Review Editorial Staff (or are related to a past or present member of The Dillydoun Review Editorial Staff).
  5. There are no geographical restrictions on this competition. All international entries are encouraged but must be written in English.
  6. Judging will be conducted by the TDR Editors. Judging will be blind. Please do not include any personal, identifying information about the author in the actual manuscript.
  7. Please format your entry as follows:
    • Give your entry a title. This is how your entry will be identified throughout the judging process. If your work has been short-listed or long-listed by another contest, please make sure to give the entry a different title to ensure our ability to blindly judge.
    • Number the pages but do not add any other information that would identify the author.
    • 1.5 or double-spaced.
    • Use an easily readable font like Times New Roman (or similar) 12pt.
    • Use reasonable margins, preferably 1″ on all sides.
    • Accepted formats: doc, docx, pdf.
  8. Refunds will not be considered. No changes, alterations, or substitutions can be made after your entry is received.
  9. Simultaneous submissions are fine but please be aware, if you place the work elsewhere during the deliberation period, the entry fee is forfeited. If you would be so kind, please notify us as soon as possible should the work become unavailable so that we may remove it from consideration.
  10. Prizes are as follows: 1st Place: $2,000, 2nd Place: $1,000, 3rd Place: $500, Honorable Mentions: $50. All winners and honorable mentions will be included in a print anthology and will receive one (1) free contributor copy. The number of honorable mentions will be determined by the contest judges.
  11. The Dillydoun Review is not responsible for contributor copies once we post them. Please make sure that you provide the correct postal address.
  12. All winners and honorable mentions will be awarded cash prizes via Submittable.
  13. By entering the competition, writers agree that honorable mentions and winning entries can be published, using the author’s name, on our website and/or in our print anthology, in local or international media outlets, on social media, or may be broadcast with media outlets for up to one year after the closing date without further remuneration. After which time all rights revert to the author.
  14. Winning and honorable mentions included in our print anthology will not receive future royalties beyond the payment of the cash prizes stated above.
  15. Winners and honorable mentions will be notified by email. Results will be made public on our website and celebrated via social media and newsletter.
  16. All other entries will be considered for publication in a TDR Issue or TDR Daily. All work published by TDR is considered for a Best of the Best print anthology at the end of the year. The writer has the right to refuse this offer of publication.
  17. By entering, acceptance to all the Rules and Terms & Conditions are implied. Entries that fail to comply with the Rules and Terms & Conditions will be disqualified. No correspondence will be entertained in these matters and all judges’ decisions are final.
  18. Please feel free to contact us at thedillydounreview@gmail.com if you have questions or need clarification about the Rules and Terms & Conditions.

Enter Now

A Poem by Anita Nahal

Blame It on My Wild Heart, 12×12″, mixed media on canvas by Lorette C. Luzajic
Toronto, Canada

Which might explain why like pieces of bread dunked in hot tea or milk I may fall off suddenly. Pliable and desirous to be held. You’ll try picking up remains metastasizing like kneaded dough gone awry, rolling like a gooey ball stuck. Stuck and stuck, refusing to budge. Not mine nor your peace wanting to smudge. A wholesome life I crave, and craving has a mind of its own, walking behind or eons ahead. It’s not that my heart is not beating love, not that my heart is not oozing desire, not that my heart doesn’t wanna give or receive. If not, why would I be waving it as a flag then? Or place it bejeweled and blushing outside my body, then? I even carry a magician’s hat tossing and turning, conjuring spells out the Book of Shadows.

At twenty-nine I gazed at distant stars gently urging and rubbing shoulders with them, wistfully beseeching voyages. Now stars rubbing shoulders with each other gaze at me, nodding sympathetically at the frayed knots of my virgin romances gone astray. Baggage becomes dense and worn out, yet wheels are not ready to squeak and repose. I let the stilettoes of yesteryears go. Switching to block heels instead. Shorter I appear and the shorter and shorter I become, wider and wider the distances between you and me. On many tongues sit #&’s and the #&’s increase in quantity and volume as they attempt replacing, #buts. A mammoth robotic lottery wheel circles my face becoming one with partitions in my brain. Not many can keep rolling without any moolah coming their way.

*Book of Shadows: A book containing religious text and instructions for magical rituals found within the Neopagan religion of Wicca

* Moolah: slang word for money. Being employed in the poem to denote anything of value.

Anita Nahal is an Indian-American-diasporic poet, flash fictionist, children’s writer and columnist. Anita Nahal has three books of poetry, one book of flash fictions, four for children and three edited anthologies to her credit. Her third book of poetry, What’s wrong with us Kali women? was released by Kelsay Books in August 2021. Two of her books are prescribed in a course on multiculturalism and immigration at the University of the Utrecht, The Netherlands. She teaches at the University of the District of Columbia, Washington DC. More on her at: https://anitanahal.wixsite.com/anitanahal

Anthony Emerson
Covering FAMILY, PLACE, AND HEALTH
TDR Regular Contributor /September 1, 2021

Part Two: Mill Town

I love nature. 

Being in and around the wilderness makes me feel a razor-sharp closeness to my truest self, and to my spiritual antecedents like Percival Baxter, the visionary and namesake of Baxter State Park—a promise kept by Baxter when he vowed to keep Katahdin the mountain of the people of Maine. There were also lesser-known figures who roamed the valleys driving logs, felling trees, trapping fur, and making a way in the wild. Some of those obscure men who helped etch a society out of the forest and eked out a life for themselves and their families in the brutal north country were related to me by blood. Percival Baxter, I know, had an intense and enduring love for nature; he fought and paid to preserve Katahdin and the surrounding forests, and when it came time to write the parameters that would regulate the park in perpetuity, he couldn’t help but wax poetic when he decreed that the land “shall remain forever wild.” What I don’t know is how the men who worked the woods—and shared my family name—felt about the wilderness that took them from their families, reamed them of their blood and sweat, and not infrequently ended their lives. Was it awe or agony they felt when they took to the woods?

Moving through groves of hemlock, spruce, and pine, beneath the green spires of the near wilderness feels— especially in the quiet cold of winter—like a journey to my self; the whole self, that contains the unbroken chain of wildness that lives in me and was borne of some ancient ancestor embarking on an overland odyssey to the fertile wilds of whatever continent he inhabited, searching for a food source and the raw materials necessary to build a life. And maybe it was he who passed along the love for mossy river rocks, the smell of fire spilling across the scarlet leaves of autumn, and high, open spaces that I inherited. 

The relatives of my past who are not abstractions or the manifestation of my romanticized relationship to the snow-covered earth were mill workers and mountain men. They were men of pride and little wealth, and so they went into the woods out of an abiding drive to provide for their families. My great-grandfather—a man who lived until I was in my mid-twenties—started work at age twelve. His hands were thick and strong, and he had knuckles like boulders. At only twelve years old he shoveled coal at the trainyard to support his mother. At sixteen he started work at the mill but left after two years to join the Navy and fight in WWII.  During that time the mill continued to run with the wives and daughters of the enlisted men making paper from trees that were in part provided by the prisoner of war lumber camps that contained German soldiers captured in North Africa. My great-grandfather, Atlee, never graduated from high school, but was a lifelong employee of the Great Northern Paper Company, and a union leader. His family lived comfortably in the quiet mill town that sits on the banks of the Penobscot; some of us still live there, though the mill remains whole only in the memory of those that saw it at its greatest. While Atlee’s biological father was a construction baron and alleged prohibition-era bootlegger with a taste for pinky rings and fur coats, the man who adopted him and raised him was a simple man whose life was filled with work and little else. He was among the mill’s first employees. Lloyd would tend his trap lines after an eight-hour shift in the paper room, in the middle of the night, walking the entire distance with my great-grandfather by his side, and then the entire way back, with the two of them sharing the load of fox and beaver pelts, their footfalls penetrating the early morning silence as they found their way home in the dawnlight. 

If my meanderings among the boreal forests of the Katahdin region don’t put me in closer touch with the countrymen who shared my DNA then I think it is because of the nature of work. Recreation feels like a modern luxury, one that my grandfathers wouldn’t understand. Hiking, camping, kayaking, photographing birds perched atop snags, and sitting on the dirt shaded by clouds and canopy contemplating life would have seemed a peculiar waste of time.  Thoreau, who was built of relatively feeble constitution, was scared out of his wits by the ruggedness of Katahdin, and said of the barrel-chested men who dwelt at its base “the mission of men there seems to be, like so many busy demons, to drive the forest all out of the country, from every solitary beaver swamp and mountain-side, as soon as possible.” They did what they had to. And although I have no family who relies on my labor to eat or be sheltered, and I have a combined two hours of experience with axe swinging, I feel a primal urge to build with my hands something that would make the great men of my past proud. And I will. But right now I am focused on telling their stories and the stories of the town they founded and grew so that I can help in the resuscitation of its spirit and vitality.


The mill is gone.

In the final days of July, my grandmother and I drove on logging roads and snowmobile trails and trespassed on private land in search of the best spot to view the back of the former mill site. It was hot and dry and a soft grey haze from the wildfires in western Canada hung in the air and fed dim rays of light into the river valley. More than once we were stymied by impassable windthrown trees; moose tracks crisscrossed the roads and I expected to see one around every turn, but we never did. From the closest disused logging road, my grandmother—a humble, brawny, broad-shouldered woman who walks slow and with a slight hitch in her gait—hiked alongside me down to the spot on the river directly across from the old mill, following the sound of the river spilling over the dam. We wanted to get to the backside because it reveals the truth about what remains of the mill. To the cars driving down main street the mill could seem only shuttered, not destroyed. There is a Potemkin structure that faces the town and makes the former mill seem whole, but it is an illusion. Though the skyline looks the same, the town’s pride has been gutted from the back. I once looked at the chimney stacks leaking foamy steam across a canvas of sky as monuments to my ancestral roots. Standing on the banks of Penobscot’s West Branch, staring into the ruins behind the facade, absorbing the carnage with my grandmother—a native daughter—it felt like we had uncovered a hidden desecration of a once holy place. And maneuvering the logging roads on the way back I noticed numerous patches of new growth lining the road in perfect rows. The paper company planted seeds after cutting; they took the old growth that was provided by the land and they at least replenished the soil and had an eye toward the future. I wish they had done the same for the town and its people.


The community is broken.

The feeling of being witness to something’s end sits heavy over the town like a cloud of smoke. This town is filled with ghosts. When my grandmother was a young girl, the town was a charming place where success and stability were attainable for everyone. Today the town is ailing from a lingering opioid epidemic and the detritus of late-stage capitalism has clogged our main street. Most of the young people with the means to flee have, and what is left is an aging population too old to work… and the rest of us. It can feel at times like the town of the past was a dream, that what we are are vaguely similar strangers chained by circumstance to the same carcass; we tread upon the same dirt and our personal vicissitudes read like slant rhymes in the bygone manifesto of the American dream, but most notions of being in this together were left to die when the mill bailed, and the recent political climate was the final, lethal dose. Rather than weep for the great loss at the heart of it all, I take to the woods and summon the essence of my forebears by walking through spaces they once occupied, through fields and forests they influenced with their physical might. I want to connect to my past, in part, because I want to be brought closer to the people who are now my neighbors. 

I think about the winters of my childhood when the snowdrifts touched the eaves, and I would pluck six-foot icicles off the porch and bat them at trees to watch them shatter like frigid glass. There always seemed to be an exchanging of Tupperware and casserole dishes between my mom and our family and friends. The house smelled of slow-cooked meats and we ate sticky, starchy meals throughout the day. On weekends we would drive the snow sleds to the various clubs and wilderness camps–—the East Branch Sno-Rovers and The White House Landing. There was always hot cocoa, beans, and slow-cooked game of moose, venison, and bear. The adults would huddle around each other drinking booze and eating hot food and talking with their snowsuits still on. I remember the smell of gasoline and cigarettes and the sound of revving engines behind human chatter. This was the thing to do, to quell the anxious pangs of cabin fever, and to feed and be fed by your neighbor. 

There is a comradeship that comes with sharing the experience of winter in the rural north woods. The wicked cold is more easily endured as a community. Handled together, the indignities of poverty are diminished and transformed into the foundations and fodder of communion. As northerners, Mainers, and the remaining progeny of this former boom-town, we have the stuff we need to return our region to glory; it is coded into our being from generations of men and women who survived the savage privations of the lean times and built a magic city that sat on the shores of the Penobscot River and the vanguard of industry. It is our duty to access the tools they gave us—wildness, humility, a high tolerance for suffering, and whatever sorcery gives us the ability to feed a family of five with a single can of tuna—and to use them to build a new way of life here. We have to search for the remnants of our past that we can build upon and also preserve the things we cannot afford to lose.

Ronald McGuire
Covering The Business of Being a Writer
TDR Regular Contributor /August 30, 2021

You’ve done the work, you’ve written and re-written your story or manuscript multiple times, and you’re ready to submit your work to a publisher or agent. But how do you know your work is ready?

It can be difficult for a writer to turn a critical eye to their work. It’s easy to overlook flaws or mistakes when you’re the one who created them. I’m talking about things like word choice, grammar, plot holes, and dialogue. Do you have textual crutches you fall back on when you write, easy phrases you don’t realize you’re using? Are there phrases or words you repeat throughout your manuscript which, while they seem fine to you, might drive your readers crazy?

There are limited strategies for sussing out these sorts of problems, and like most things in a creative endeavor, they can be highly subjective. Honest critical feedback is critical to improving a story or manuscript and to improving writing skills overall. Unfortunately, while honest feedback is your best friend, your best friend probably won’t give you any.

So how, as writers, do we critique and edit our work or find someone else to do it? I’ve adopted three strategies for addressing this problem. 

Read Your Work One More Time with These Things in Mind

First, my go-to process was created by Samantha “Sam” R. Glas on her exceptional blog “Writing Like a Boss.” Sam has condensed a masterclass into a single post with “10 Warning Signs of Amateurish Writing & How to Fix Them.” 

Number 7, “Unnecessary Word Choice,” includes a list (from Writers Write) of filler words you can cut from your manuscript, words you and your readers will never miss. This may seem elementary, but the first time I used #7 to review a draft of a new novel, I found I’d used the word “just” over 400 times. It’s excessive, even for a sci-fi epic clocking in at 110k words.

Four hundred edits because of one word. There were more I had to remediate, like “now” and “sort of.” It took a while, but it was worth it. I learned from it, and I now perform this “checklist” review for all of my work. It’s objective, simple, and effective. 

It has enabled me to approach my work differently, and I’m finding fewer issues over time as I learn to check my bad habits while writing. But this won’t help with things like plot holes, ineffective dialogue, or other problems related to your story or writing style.  For that, you need a human, which could be a costly endeavor but doesn’t have to be. 

Time to Get a Fresh Perspective

When you need a fresh perspective on your work, try a manuscript swap. The best thing I ever did with my first sci-fi novel was sharing it with a fellow writer. We exchanged manuscripts, then sent each other feedback. He called out critical problems I’d overlooked, and I was able to fix them with a series of edits, the removal of a chapter, and a change in sequence for a few other chapters. 

Seek out fellow writers and give this a try. You may disagree with the feedback you receive, but at least you’re getting feedback, and all it costs is time.

Speaking of cost, this need for critical feedback has created business opportunities within the publishing industry, some of which are legitimate, some of which are not. 

I’m not going to try to list all of the illegitimate businesses in the industry. Winning Writers has put together an excellent resource for this purpose, and I urge you to review it before spending money on anything writing-related. Writing communities on social media can be a good resource, but always consider the source. 

One particular piece of advice for novelists: Be wary of vanity presses masquerading as publishers. There’s nothing wrong with self-publishing, but some businesses exist for the sole purpose of fleecing writers. Be sure to check out “The Best Self-Publishing Services and the Worst: Rated” created by The Alliance of Independent Authors. Combined with the information from Winning Writers, this can save you money, time, and a lot of grief.

What About Reading Fees?

If you’re not there yet, consider paying reading fees instead. What are reading fees, and why should I pay them? Great question, and it’s the third method I use to improve my writing. 

The exception here is novels. Never pay a reading fee, editing fee, or any other service fee associated with publishing your book to someone claiming to be a publisher or agent. Please save your money and spend it on a legitimate editorial services provider whose purpose is to help improve your book before you submit it to a publisher or agent. (NOTE: Some publishers offer editorial services, but they make it clear that these services are not part of the submission/acceptance process.)

For everything else, a reading fee, for those who don’t know, is precisely what it says, a fee charged in exchange for reading your work. Let’s say you’ve written a short story, and you’ve made all the revisions you think it needs. You find a literary journal you like, and you click the “Submit” button. You’re redirected to a submission management platform, like Submittable, and prompted to set up an account and possibly provide a credit card to cover submission fees. 

This is totally legit, nothing wrong here. Literary journals and book publishers use several platforms to manage submissions and contest entries. Submittable is a popular one, and most of the submission opportunities (not all) require a fee or request a donation.

This is where you want to proceed with caution. The questions I always ask are:

  • What will I get in return for this fee?
  • Is this the right publisher for my work? 
  • How many times has this publisher rejected my work previously?

I’ve submitted numerous stories this way, but I’ve also submitted work via publisher websites and email at no cost. In the end, if you’re not comfortable with a submission process, the easy response is don’t do it. I’m fine to pay reading fees, especially when the fee comes with an expedited response, say 24 hours, or it’s an entry fee for a writing competition, or, and this is the best, the fee includes an editorial critique of my submission. For me, this is a low-cost, high-impact way to hone my skills.

If you can afford reading fees, look for publishers who offer detailed feedback when you submit your work. It’s a fast way to get a measure of your writing from a neutral party. Some of these fees are as low as $5, and some range to $25 or higher. If a fee seems high, check out the masthead of the journal. You might find the fee is worth it to get insights from an experienced and talented editor. 

But take note, paying for feedback should never guarantee acceptance, and paying for an expedited response might speed up rejection. Always manage your expectations. Also, make sure your work is a good fit for the publisher by reading what they’ve already published. Otherwise, you may be wasting their time and your money. 

In some cases, a rejection letter will come with a note encouraging a writer to submit again in the future. In one case, an editor rejected my story because she didn’t connect with it but asked me to submit something else if I had anything ready. I did, and the second story was accepted. It’s all part of the process. 

However, if you’ve been rejected multiple times by the same publisher, you should consider moving on, at least for a time. You’re not connecting with the reader, and your money is better spent elsewhere. This isn’t terrible. I was rejected three times by one literary magazine, and each rejection came with feedback. I used their feedback to improve the stories, and the revised versions were accepted for publication elsewhere. 

To Sum It Up

I use three methods to gain a more critical view of my writing. First, I take a “checklist” approach to find and fix flaws. It creates objective space between me and my writing. Second, a manuscript swap. It’s a quid pro quo that works. Finally, consider feedback in exchange for reading fees. This is another win-win. I receive actionable feedback, and the editor/publisher can keep the lights on and get a cup of coffee. 

Above all, remember, no matter what anyone says about your work (good or bad), take a deep breath, accept it as part of the learning process, then forge on. 

Footnote for scriptwriters: Coverfly.com has a ton of scriptwriting competitions, most of which provide exceptional “coverage” (feedback) for an additional fee. These are expensive, so make sure your work is ready. They also host prose competitions for published and unpublished novels. 

A Poem by Anna Papadopoulos

She’s twelve —
a faux-leather fringed bag
holds her confidence in place.
The tips of her ballet shoes
peep out like a Labrador’s face
framed by the partially rolled-down
car window.
Her pigtails swish back and forth
and greet the day.

He’s older —
with limbs that have outgrown
their roots
like wild weeds.
His red cap flaps
without saying much.
His Pumas hit the pavement with a groove as he draws closer.

It’s unclear, even years later,
why he pushed her into that well-manicured,
prickly, piercing bush;
tore the bag from her torso
until all that was left
were the bag’s fringes —
hanging on the shrub-like ornaments
and waving the summer goodbye.

Anna Papadopoulos has been a cashier, columnist, wedding photographer, chandelier, marketing professor, and corporate executive. She adores New York City’s gritty beaches and littered streets, where treasures exist everywhere. She and her husband share their home in Staten Island, NY with their twin sons, daughter, a poodle, a Siberian cat, and her mother’s neglected Lenox collection. Her poetry has been featured in The Monterey Poetry Review, Newtown Literary, The Dillydoun Review, The Closed Eye Open, Second Chance Lit, Conestoga Zen, and the Poetry and Covid Project, an initiative funded by the UK Arts and Humanities.

A Poem by Joshua Bridgwater Hamilton

When winter solstice turns
the river slows.
It will slow again.

From the alcove
I watched you:
a disaster of peppermint.

Saints with fractured smiles
trod carpets of clover.

You pressed a silver ring in your palm
I never gave you.

Outside, a pale ferry glides
on ice
across the Ohio

To a shore dotted with lanterns
our grandparents bring
from farms.

I wake you to tell you
something has happened.
You come to

pissed as hell.

A blurred
train sweating diesel
tears me
away:

oak tree rotting
in my hands.

Golden cloud, your hair
fades in the window.

I never make it to shore.

Joshua Bridgwater Hamilton is a Louisville, KY native who migrated to Corpus Christi with his family. Between Kentucky and Texas, he has traveled and lived in several places, including Spain, Appalachia, Panamá, Peru, the Philippines, and the Colorado River. He has two chapbooks: Rain Minnows (Gnashing Teeth Publishing), and Slow Wind (Finishing Line Press), and his poetry appears in such journals as Windward Review, Driftwood, Voices de la Luna, Tiny Seeds Journal, and Sybil Journal

A Prose Poem by Mary Lynn Reed

The bluffs drop fast to crumbling sand, a dangerous cliff to startle, lose your footing. Late afternoon sun glimmers across the ancient scrub plain where the Torrey Pines grow slow and steady, their roots burrowed, deep and twisted. Sometimes you have to stop and close your mind to everything and everyone. Stop trying so hard to dazzle, to win. Why do you drive so fast? Why is there no time to waste? The trail is flat, roped off, switches back and forth slowly. Until you reach the sign with the red line through the wheelchair and you know things are about to get worse. The ropes are gone, the path narrows, rocks appear. The thing you never think about, the thing that’s been lost for so long you wouldn’t know how to retrieve it if you tried, is: What the hell do you want? Where are you going and what are you looking for? A boardwalk covers a fragile low pass. Singular chirp from the brush gives pause. The absence of birds, now noticed. To walk alone is not such a horrible thing. The pace is your own and the sky is still blue. No other comfort to worry. No other’s need to serve. Hold your head up. Look around the bend. A jogger stops short and holds his hand out. “Shh—,” he says, pointing down. Six feet long with soft diamond markings slithering slowly across the sandy path. Breathless while your senses search for the rattle, quick impulse to coil. But its movement stays smooth, silent. Harmless, you think, peering under the brush, watching it go. At the summit the hill breaks wide open and the light hits the cactus just right and you can hear the waves crashing onto the beach, far below the cliff’s edge. Stand there a minute, take it in. Be still and whisper: here we are.

Mary Lynn Reed is a writer, mathematician, and editor. Her work has appeared in Mississippi Review, Colorado Review, Smokelong Quarterly, and many other places. She lives in western New York with her wife, and together they co-edit the online literary journal MoonPark Review

A Short Story by Bill Garwin

One more time, am I dining in the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory?

I’m sorry, what?

The darkest place on earth.

A little obtuse, but okay. They call this dining in the dark.

Because?

Because it’s very dark.

No shit. But why are we dining in the dark? Our first date and you bring me here. Is this your online dating debut? Are you embarrassed?

Of course not. You’re beautiful. After two weeks of serve and volley, I feel like I know you. I wanted something special, something you’ll remember. They say the other senses are heightened when you’re deprived of one. The food will smell better, taste better, the conversation will be sharper, more focused, absent visual distractions.

Glad I spent so much time getting ready. I should have cut a slit in a little black trash bag. Would have been more in keeping with the ambiance. Can you help me find my water?

Right side at two o’clock.

You’re saying that only because water is always right side at two o’clock. I absolutely assure you, if I spill, it will not be in my direction.

You won’t spill.

Oops!
Is that your chair I heard sliding away?

You didn’t spill, did you?

Nope.

Just having fun?

Yep.

At least they let us order in the foyer. Do you remember what we ordered?

Honestly, no. I couldn’t keep from staring at you. You’re so much prettier than your picture. Why?

Life lesson. Set a low bar and exceed it. Instant success without effort.

You’ve done a lot of this social app dating?

Some. How about you?

Lately, yeah.

Madam and monsieur, my name is Aramis, and I will be serving you tonight.

Aramis, as in the cologne?

No madam. Aramis as in the Three Musketeers. My mother was a Dumas fan. But enough of me. I am prepared to serve your appetizers. Please place your hands in your laps to avoid any culinary catastrophe.

How can he see our hands?

Night vision goggles.

Why can’t I have night vision goggles?

Kind of defeats the purpose.

For the madam, the fried squash blossom stuffed with a savory ricotta filling resting upon a cushion of our house-made marina featuring local heirloom tomatoes,

And for the clearly more adventurous monsieur, the pan-fried pufferfish tails with a delightful sweet and sour apricot accouterment.

Wait, I didn’t order pufferfish tails.

I may have made a menu modification for you when you went to the restroom. You surprised me with this dark dining. Thought I’d spice things up for you.

Aren’t pufferfish poisonous bottom feeders?

Monsieur, our chef is highly skilled and can only remember a single instance of adverse reactions to this most delicious morsel.

Aramis, you’ve tasted them?

No. But more importantly, I’ve served them numerous times.

More importantly, to whom?

That would be who. But I assure you, prepared by a knowledgeable chef, the toxins in these delicate tidbits cause nothing more than a pleasurable tingling or numbness in the lips and mouth and a slight high.

And the chef is knowledgeable?

So he has informed me.

I’d like to change my appetizer.

Aramis, you still there? Where is he?

I think he’s gone. Left in a puff of smoke. Man up. If I hear a loud thump on the table, I’ll call for help. Besides, I’ve got more important problems. I’m certain the squash blossoms are wonderful, but how do I find my mouth.

It’s below your nose and above your chin.

Eat up. I’ll just wait for the thump.

Too late, I already took a bite.

I’d put you on the clock, but I can’t see my watch.
You feel okay?
Did you hear me? Are you all right?                                                                                           That was your fist hitting the table. Say something.

May I offer you a taste?

Very funny. Not a chance.

Can I ask you a question?

Why do people do that? Ask if they can ask a question. You’ve already asked a question. You should say, may I ask you two questions? Sure, you can ask a question. After you answer mine. What do you think of Hawaiian pizza?

Suddenly I wish I could see your face. Are you kidding? No answer, so I’ll assume you’re not kidding. You’re serious.
Okay, a question demanding a multi-layered response. Medically, adding a food group to an otherwise divine entre can only be a healthy choice. Theologically, there are those who say God didn’t intend pineapple on pizza. Structurally, the wet of the fruit may damage the integrity of the crust. Politically, liberals are more likely to accept, while conservatives will look back for guidance to Queen Marguerite of Italy. And of course, libertarians believe it’s the domain of the individual to decide. Philosophically, is it still pizza, although possibly quite delicious, does it become something else? Sociologically, can Americans justify making radical changes to a dish created by Italians or is it an inappropriate appropriation?
How’d I do? And as important, why’d you ask? Maybe this restaurant wasn’t such a good idea. I wish I could see your face. A little help; I’m working hard here. You still there? Why so quiet?

You are different.

Different good. Right?

Yes, intelligent, funny. A good man. You care about this. It’s not just dinner.

Finally, this stupid restaurant is serving a purpose. You can’t see me blushing.

You wanted to ask two questions. You’ve asked one. What’s the other?

Madam and monsieur, we will be removing your appetizers and serving your entrees. You have both selected the salt-encrusted branzino. The chef has chosen a little-known method which allows the crust to seal in moisture. The fish will steam in its own juices, while the crispy skin prevents the salt from penetrating. The crust is a mixture of kosher salt and egg whites reminiscent of the appearance and texture of wet beach sand. Please enjoy.

The madam has a question. This branzino, does it have a face?

Of course, madam.

Can you guide me as to where I might find the face?

Above the shoulders.

Great question, but he’s gone again. Am I right?

I believe you are. I’m going to use my finger to figure this out. I’m not eating fish eyes. Give me a second, then you can ask your question.

Right with you.
Found it!

Ditto. Executing a lobotomy. You ready for my question?

The wind-up has been massive. The question better be commensurate.

How do you feel about short-term relationships?

Short-term relationships? Isn’t that an oxymoron? I’m not even sure what it means.

Let me help. Picture your normal relationship, but with an abrupt ending.

You do remember this is a first date? You’re proposing some relationship with a baked-in exit strategy? Is it because I’m only semi-worthy?

No. No. It’s not you, it’s me.

Finally, we agree.

I have an expiration date.

What are you, a bottle of milk?

I’ve got cancer. A year, maybe eighteen months. I don’t want to be alone, but I don’t want to lie. I don’t want to make impossible promises.

Suddenly dining in the dark makes nothing but sense. You’re hiding in the anonymity of the shadows.

It’s a balancing. I’d love to see your reaction, but I’m not sure I could ask the question in the reality of full light.

You’ve done this before and I’m guessing with zero success. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be here. Look, I like you, although it’s more accurate to say I’ve enjoyed our 45 minutes together, but this is insane. What if I just commit to give you an answer sometime in the near future?

I can work with that. I just don’t want to hide anything.

Can you get our waiter’s attention? I need to use the ladies’ room. I’m feeling the stress of your second question in my bladder.
Did you just whistle?

Sorry, trying to be helpful.

Monsieur, you beckoned?

The lady wishes an escort to the restroom.

Madam, please place your hand on my shoulder.

If I can find it.

Monsieur, I am sorry for the delay, but the madam seems to have vacated the premises.

Aramis, she’s not coming back, is she?

No sir, I do not believe so.

Did you offer her the money?

Yes sir. As always.

Her response?

Quite typical. She hit me.

Slapped you?

No. Hit me. Fist to face.

I knew I liked her.

She did leave you this note. Take my flashlight. Please place the note under the table as you read it.

The Dance – Garth Brooks

And now I’m glad I didn’t know
The way it all would end, the way it all would go
Our lives are better left to chance

Thank you, Aramis. Did you read the note?

I must admit, I did.

The lady should have paid more attention to the last two lines of the song.

I could have missed the pain
But I’d have had to miss the dance

Will you be dining with us again tomorrow night?

It seems I will.

Bill Garwin has several degrees and a third-dan karate black belt. He believes stories indelibly enrich our lives and relishes in their telling. His novel, City of Schemes, received first place, Utah League of Writers 2020 Quill Awards for its opening chapter.

Nicole Zelniker
COVERING A YEAR LATER: HOW LOCAL COMMUNITIES CONTINUE TO ADVOCATE FOR BLACK LIVES AFTER GEORGE FLOYD’S MURDER
TDR Regular Contributor / August 23, 2021

George Floyd left a lasting impact on Avon Park, Florida, where he went to South Florida Community College for two years. His coaches all loved him, and his classmates admired him.

“He was a very fun, outgoing person,” said former classmate Gerald Snell to Fox13. “I really remember him when he would come to church with Coach Walker. Walker would bring the team in from time to time to attend services at the Avon Park Church of Christ.”

According to Scott Dressel, the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer, the local police department made several changes in the aftermath of Floyd’s death. First, they modified their use of force policy. Deputies are now required to intervene if they see another deputy using excessive force.

They also increased the number of hours needed in de-escalation training, which includes training in active listening and how emotions dictate behavior.

“We have a community-oriented policing unit that spends a lot of time interacting with minority communities to try to increase non-serious encounters with law enforcement,” Dressel added. “They spend a lot of time on foot and bike patrol in what we call our Partner Communities, meeting people and having discussions.”

The community also came together in mourning. When Floyd’s former coach George Walker and his wife returned to Avon Park, which is 31.29% Black, they reminisced about Floyd’s time there.

When Floyd’s family visited in 2020, representatives from South Florida Community College, now South Florida State College, met with his son and memorialized Floyd with a basketball jersey. Floyd played the sport at SFSC.

Advocacy in Avon Park

More recently, Floyd’s son Javionne has chosen to carry on his father’s legacy in a new way.

“We don’t have problems with the police here, but we do have problems with poverty,” said Javionne. “So we’re trying to get a scholarship set up with South Florida. We’re trying to make it so we can grab kids and show them things they aren’t being taught.”

These things include building credit, buying cars, starting businesses, and anything else kids may not learn in schools. Javionne’s program would cater to middle and high schoolers in the area.

“I don’t try to focus on the negative side,” Javionne said. “If you can try to catch something before it happens, we can make things better.”

Recently, Javionne took a group of kids to pick lychee fruit off his tree and sell them to the public. The kids all got to keep the money they made. “I’m trying to show them how to make money without risking their life,” he said.

As Javionne put it, he isn’t reinventing the wheel. He has modeled his program after the RISK Club, an organization in Lakeland, Florida. Jeffery Williams, a teacher, and his team teach their kids about financial management, navigating college, and applying for jobs.

“I’m basically doing exactly what he does,” Javionne said of Williams. “He’s taking kids who have murder charges and reinventing them. When you’re a juvenile, and you get convicted or accused of something, they can still make it out if nobody gives up on them.”

Studies show that children who grow up in poverty are more likely to both commit crimes and be the victims of crime in the future, but that providing these children alternative paths can change their lives. This is what Javionne wants to do.

Remembering George Floyd

Before George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis, Javionne says he was in a really good place. After, Javionne struggled to get back to that.

He finally went to Minneapolis on the anniversary of his father’s death in May, which he said was the first time he was really able to enjoy remembering his father. This was also when he realized that contributing to his community would be the best way to lift himself back up.

“I just want to help people,” he said. “That was what my dad was about, helping people. No amount of money or publicity would make me happy if I wasn’t helping people in my community.”

About his father, Javionne added, “That’s part of why his death was such a tragedy. They killed a man who didn’t want to hurt anybody, who would give you the shirt off his back. He was really well known on his own.

“He had a lot of impact in the third ward, in Avon Park and, as you can see, in Minneapolis. In the places we have family, they call him Big Floyd. He’s a big guy, but he’s a gentle giant. You’re gonna notice him and love him, and he’s gonna show you love. That’s what I’m all about.”

For George Floyd, family was everything. Javionne says he used to have a saying, ‘One roof, one family.’ This meant that no matter what happened and no matter how many people were literally in one house, he loved and supported them all.

The rest of his family lives by this mantra. The George Floyd Memorial Foundation is working out in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Fayetteville, North Carolina, instilling programs like Javionne’s. “We don’t want people to think we forgot about the world after the world gave to us,” he said.


Read Nicole’s Books:

Robert Fromberg
Covering Autism and Creativity
TDR Regular Contributor / August 22, 2021

Now available for pre-order: Robert Fromberg’s How to Walk with Steve

Forty-three years after seeing it for the first time, I still think almost every day about a drawing of a highway sign done by my brother Steve.

The sign indicates a junction to Interstate 474, a bypass around our hometown of Peoria, Illinois. After five years of on-and-off construction, monitored breathlessly by Steve, the highway opened on August 30, 1978, a few weeks after Steve’s 15th birthday, and nine months after our father died.

Shortly after the highway opened, Steve, who has autism and at the time was only moderately verbal, made an unsanctioned solo pilgrimage to the centerpiece of the bypass, the Shade-Lohmann Bridge, which was 45 minutes from our house by bicycle. We found out because a neighbor happened to see him pedaling away as cars whizzed by. At that time, my mom, always deeply uncomfortable around people other than my dad, was still reeling from Dad’s death and not supervising Steve very closely. She died one year and ten months later.

In the drawing, Steve’s lines and letters are shaky, like those of a child younger than he was. Every item in the drawing is in the correct relative proportion. Each part of the sign is given attention, from the prominent “474” to the nearly invisible diagonal metal strips attaching the sign to its post.

The drawing has no shading, no sense of perspective. The only nod to anything surrounding the sign is a simple, short line representing the ground. Yet the sign is obviously in situ. If you observe highway signs beyond the information they provide, you will note that few are absolutely perpendicular to the ground. In Steve’s drawing, the sign leans slightly to the right, as the actual sign did.

To me, this drawing is elegant, careful, and proud. The sign, standing naked, has shed its context, its mere utility, its universally accepted purpose, and exists before us as an icon recognized and captured by a singular vision and artistic talent.

Several years earlier, I asked my mother, a painter, how she decided what to paint. She picked up a catsup bottle, turned it upside down, and set it back on the table, long neck supporting broader base. She gestured toward the bottle, but said nothing.

Despite, or perhaps because of, Mom’s lack of explanation, I got the point. You don’t paint a catsup bottle. You don’t paint a table. You don’t paint a person. You paint shapes, colors, light, shadow. You paint what you actually see, not that thing’s function.

Mom’s demonstration partially explains the success of Steve’s sign drawing. He, too, cast aside utility in favor of a more personal experience of an object. And Mom’s demonstration seemed particularly apt as I embarked on writing, first poetry and then fiction, and as I taught fiction writing, particularly description. Don’t describe what you think a house or a tree or an arm is supposed to look like, I would say, describe what you truly see.

Still, I was lousy at description.

I admired other authors’ elegant analogies, perfectly chosen adjectives, and bright choices of detail. Writing and reading my own descriptions, I felt nothing but the labor of their execution.

Steve’s drawing, I was convinced, presented an ideal of observation, an ideal of description. The stakes were high in that drawing. Five years of waiting. One-third of his life. Straining from the back seat of our station wagon for a glimpse of any fragment of concrete barricade or orange traffic cone or pavement or sign that suggested the highway taking shape, coming to life. The completion inspired not only Steve’s bicycle journey to see the result, but his first and only piece of creative writing. On a piece of typing paper, positioned horizontally, he wrote in large letters, “Route 474 is here now.” He adhered the paper to his wall with Scotch tape. It remains the greatest poem I have ever read.

My mom’s paintings also were, to me, ideals of observation and depiction, as well as lessons in description. They were nothing like Steve’s drawings. Where his drawings were spare, exposed, Mom’s paintings were thick, practically oozing. My favorite paintings of hers were encaustic, a mixture of pigment and hot wax. Mom would paint with a blow torch in one hand and a narrow palette knife in the other. Her paintings featured people—frequently herself—in silhouette and shadow. Facial features were suggested, but never clear. I once asked Mom why she didn’t paint faces. She said she just wasn’t very good at painting faces. Mom was an incredible technical artist. She could draw or paint anything she wanted in whatever medium she chose. But for some reason she didn’t, or couldn’t, paint faces, especially her own.

What Mom and Steve had in common was a form of courage that comes from confinement. Defined by a deep sense of the world as a place of beautiful hostility, Mom’s art staked its claim with her own insistent anonymity in the midst of sharply observed, ominously commonplace surroundings. Defined by the need for a narrow form of order within a world of painful illogic, Steve presented the purest, most direct, most controlled observation of the structure that gave him relief and joy.

Confined by their relationships with the world, Steve and Mom tenaciously occupied their defined positions, their art an act of courage that insisted on the integrity of those positions.

I quit writing in the early 1990s. I had had some success—stories and a short book published, almost 20 years of teaching. But I no longer knew what to observe in the world or inside my head or my body. And for what observations I could muster, I had even less idea of how to translate them into words. I still was terrible at description.

The skill I lacked, however, was not technical. I lacked the courage that Steve and Mom had to so an intent degree. I lacked the courage see and accept whatever vantage point I had on the world. I lacked the courage to observe fiercely from that vantage point. And I lacked the courage to stake my claim with descriptions that were as thin or extravagant or silly or studious or colorful or stark as they needed to be.

These days, as I think about Steve’s drawing of the Interstate 474 sign, I want to write something as perfect as his narrow lines representing the sign’s strips of supporting metal. And these days, it seems increasingly possible that the courage to make such highly selective observations can be accompanied by an equal measure of comfort.


Forthcoming September 7, 2021 from Latah Books:

“Robert Fromberg knocks me out.”
Marilynne Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Gilead

“In refusing easy consolations, Fromberg has created a memoir that shines like polished bone.”
– Patricia Eakins, author of The Hungry Girls and Other Stories

“Without a trace of affectation or adornment, Fromberg depicts the searing moments that made him who he is. Never have I read a more authentic, deeply-felt rendering of a child’s developing mind.”
– Leslie Lawrence, author of The Death of Fred Astaire and Other Essays from a Life Outside the Lines

The Kanneh-Mason Family

JEFFREY HAMPTON
COVERING CONTEMPORARY CLASSICAL MUSIC ARTISTS
TDR REGULAR CONTRIBUTOR / August 21, 2021

I have always been a fan of classical music at work in other art forms, whether performance art, poetry, or photography. However, in my opinion, the choice of music in many artful amalgamations is relatively safe, verging on mundane. The often paired Pictures at an Exhibition (Mussorgsky) and visual media come to mind. But the Kanneh-Masons’ debut album, Carnival of the Animals, is anything but mundane

This collaboration sees the Kanneh-Masons – a family supergroup of seven siblings, all classical music prodigies – team up with Michael Morpurgo and Olivia Coleman.

Micheal Morpurgo, known for the novel War Horse (adapted into a film by Steven Spielberg in 2011), provides poetry and narration.  While Academy Award winner and star of The Crown, Olivia Coleman, also contributes as a narrator on the album. 

You might recognize the Kanneh-Mason family name as some of the siblings have already enjoyed high-profile gigs. Sheku Kanneh-Mason played at Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding and has released several critically acclaimed pieces for the cello. His older sister, Isata Kanneh-Mason, had a strong debut with Romance – the Piano Music of Clara Schumann.  A personal favorite album is her new release, Summertime, from July of 2021, featuring American composers.

The centerpiece of Carnival of the Animals is the lovely suite for a chamber group of the same name.  Here the music is woven with poetry, each providing context imagery and humor to the music.  The music is wonderfully played, and the whole performance gives the work a storybook quality, a vibe heightened by the cover art, which depicts the Kanneh-Masons as cartoons surrounded by animals.

Carnival of the Animals has always been a funny work, with some of the movements named after animals. As it progresses, it seems to juxtapose humans and animals by capturing pianists in their natural habitat, running scales, and finger exercises as two pianos slowly lose time with one another.  The poetry is never distracting, giving each movement an excellent introduction.  One funny moment happens before the movement “The Cuckoo in the Depths of the Woods,” which has a poem that plays up the humor as the clarinet joins in early with the narrator. One can’t help but hear “Cuckoo” every following time we hear the solo clarinet.

The second half of the album doesn’t fair as strongly, though. The second half is a short story of sorts. “Grandpa Christmas” is excellent and sentimental in its own right, but the synthesis we find in “Carnival of the Animals” is missing.  The music is a variety of different composers and instrument combinations. Here we have pieces of Edvard Grieg, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Bela Bartok, and Eric Whitacre.  They are delightfully realized but do not gel as well with the narration.  Often the narration runs longer than the piece of music (none of which are long), resulting in a disjointed and distracting experience.

The final piece on Carnival is an arrangement of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song.”  Overall a pleasant arrangement and warm finale to the album as a whole.  The arrangement was done by the Kanneh-Masons and is delightful.

Carnival of the Animals is a robust initial effort from the Kanneh-Masons and breathes new life into the piece of the same name. The sheer amount of talent put into this album produces a unique performance.  Even though the second half may not be as strong, it is worth a listen.


A Poem by Benjamin Rose

In the autumnal mode

The cowards of state have panicked and fled;
The young men lay down their rifles for lost,
For we have betrayed the quick and the dead,
And roots dug in vain are slain by the frost.
Now in the glare of the harsh summer sun
The bullet-bit banner wavers and fades
Corrupt and deserted, scorched in despair;
The skies are vacant and void as the grave.
Dreams dissipate, and the hopes of the young
Fade into nothing. Dissociate, numb,
Frenzied with panic, they take to the air.

The streets of Kabul are filled with grenades
Borne upon shoulders, recalling the scars
Carved through the city when rockets arrayed
The city in terror; when Hekmatyar
Strove with Massoud to portion the spoils
The Mujahideen had won from the Bear
By strength, Stinger, and obstinate valor
Ripped from the Soviet’s maw. But the snare
Of greed and ambition marred the toil,
Till blood flowed current, bitter as oil,
And chaos trailed the contest of power.

The copter’s propellers sever the sky.
What hubris drove us to make such an end?
Turn and bear witness as their nation dies.
The world shall know we abandoned our friends,
Abandoned the young to torment and death,
Abandoned women to murder and rape,
Abandoned the roll–call last and the toll.
Now, for the many there is no escape.
Fanatics will rob the land of its breath,
And garb in oppression those who are left
To bear the long grief arms could not annul.

Benjamin Rose is a poet based in Washington, D.C.

Robert Fromberg
Covering Autism and Creativity
TDR Regular Contributor / July 21, 2021

Now available for pre-order: Robert Fromberg’s How to Walk with Steve

Autism is repetition.

As a boy, my brother Steve would play the same 15 seconds of “A Day in the Life” by the Beatles 50 times in a row. Today, he sometimes has to touch a doorjamb with the edge of his foot five times before entering a room. Our phone conversations must occur at the same time on the same day each week, and they follow a strict template for what I ask and how he responds.

Some of Steve’s repetition is for fun. The passage in “A Day in the Life” that he used to repeat is the accelerating sound collage toward the end of the song. The effect is really cool, and who wouldn’t want to listen to it multiple times?

Some of Steve’s repetition is for comfort. He used to do what we called “bounce.” When he sat, he bounced forward, fell back into the seat, bounced forward, fell back, bounced forward. As a boy, I tried to bounce. It felt good, like sleeping in motion. This type of repetition, in the autism world, is called self-stimulation and has an addictive quality. I don’t know about Steve, but I wanted to bounce forever.

Steve’s repetition sometimes creates order. He craves minor variations as a means to reinforce highly familiar structures. He adores the small differences among the omnipresent sameness of McDonald’s restaurants and interstate highways, to cite just two examples. In a world composed of movements, behaviors, words, signs, and symbols that operate in a way that seems inexplicable to a person with autism—and to me as well, I suppose—the ability to create order through repeated sorting is an understandable refuge.

And sometimes, his repetition is an expression of despair. I have been tempted to write an essay about Steve during the COVID-19 pandemic that would consist solely of the following statement repeated 4,800 times (that’s roughly the number of days of the pandemic so far multiplied by five repetitions per call, multiplied by two calls per day):

“I’m worried the pandemic will last for the rest of the year or two years or ten years or for the rest of my life. I’m worried I won’t go back to work for the rest of the year or next year or for ten years or for the rest of my life. I’m worried I won’t be able to see you for the rest of the year or next year or for ten years or for the rest of my life.”

Writing is also repetition, sometimes for obvious reasons, and sometimes not. Over his 50-year writing career, Rex Stout repeatedly used the name ‘Darst’ for peripheral characters in his novels. (Speaking of repetition, I didn’t notice this until I had read his books more than 10 times.) In his brilliant novel The Glass Key, Dashiell Hammett repeats the full name “Ned Beaumont” 860 times. The central feature of Raymond Federman’s oeuvre, along with frequent textual repetition, is an evocatively inconsistent rewriting of his own life story.

Repetition of words, phrases, syntax, and grammatical structures is critical to transitions, pace, emphasis, and parallel concepts, among a thousand other facets of prose and poetry. Outside of verbal repetition, there is repetition within an author’s body of work of detail, character, theme, setting, and, well, you get the idea. Despite this presence and usefulness, repetition gets a bad rap in writing specifically and in the arts in general.

A quick Google search shows that the internet is dotted with articles warning against unintentional verbal repetition in writing. One begins: “Children love repetition. Adults not so much.”

When I used to be a speechwriter, more than once I was reviewing an intended-to-be-inspirational scripts with speakers, only for them to point to some repeated word or phrase I had used for emphasis and say, “You have this word here” (pointing at the one spot on the screen) “and the same word here” (pointing at the next sentence). “Why would you want to do that?”

I remember in my graduate writing program when I was 21 years old being told that I had done one type of story enough and should now try something different.

I am a prodigious watcher of the TV show Project Runway. I re-watched the entire (at that time) 16 seasons plus several seasons of Project Runway All-Stars while going through a divorce. The contestants are forever being praised one week for mastering a certain type of design and criticized the next for repeating it: “You’re beginning to seem like a one-trick pony,” the judges inevitably say.

How many artists of any kind have enough breadth to master more than one style? How many of our lives have more than one idée fixe? Surely, any form, technique, subject, or style has enough richness to warrant a life’s attention, and surely the richness of any one life warrants spending its creative portion immersed in that singular richness.

Skepticism about repetition seems rooted in the same ideological framework that would presume it is not necessary but wrong for my brother Steve to draw pleasure from listening to a 15-second portion of a song 50 times (at its extreme, the “normalization” school of thought for the developmentally disabled would not tolerate Steve in his room for a couple of hours with a Beatles album on the turntable and one hand on the tonearm).

It is not wrong but necessary for Steve to touch a doorway five times before he enters. It was not wrong but necessary for me to draw comfort from 240 similarly structured episodes of Project Runway during a period of upheaval. It was not wrong but necessary for my brother to issue as many repetitions of despair as he wants during a pandemic that has blown apart his experience of a pleasurable present and his expectations for a predictable future.

Writing, like all expressive arts, and like autism, is a necessary life-long grappling with what each of us craves and fears. Repetition is how we do that.


Forthcoming September 7, 2021 from Latah Books:

“Robert Fromberg knocks me out.”
Marilynne Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Gilead

“In refusing easy consolations, Fromberg has created a memoir that shines like polished bone.”
– Patricia Eakins, author of The Hungry Girls and Other Stories

“Without a trace of affectation or adornment, Fromberg depicts the searing moments that made him who he is. Never have I read a more authentic, deeply-felt rendering of a child’s developing mind.”
– Leslie Lawrence, author of The Death of Fred Astaire and Other Essays from a Life Outside the Lines

Anthony Emerson
Covering FAMILY, PLACE, AND HEALTH
TDR Regular Contributor /July 15, 2021

Part One: Where I’m Coming From

There is a town north of Bangor, east of Moosehead Lake, and 200 miles west of the Bay of Fundy, where great men went into the woods to make a life. Their wives lived with quiet, determined intention, and their children were reared beside a river engorged with timber and lakes bespeckled with rocky isles. These families built a life, a community out of the northern forests of snow and pine. They lived off the land because they had to, because prosperity loomed in the collective imagination of the community. But it was not ripe for the taking, it was a thing to be etched in hard stone like a sculpture, a promise seen only by those who knew their way in the woods. Like a birch bark canoe, it had to be coaxed from the hardwoods of the north country by men with skill and grit and a drive to go places that were unforgiving and wild. Those men were pioneers who turned their backs on the sea and the sun-weathered faces of their fathers, said goodbye to their mothers and the dreary coast, the fisheries and promises of a good life; or bid farewell to their mother countries like Italy and Lithuania, and followed the hallucinations of manifest destiny inland, to the Maine frontier. And there they built a city in the wilderness, the largest paper mill in the world, and churned out newsprint for publications like the New York Times. This town, named after an Abenaki word, that means “land of many islands,” that sits on the West Branch of the Penobscot River, with its leafy gold that lays in the shadow of a great mountain, where tough men drove logs and felled trees the size of buildings, and made paper out of pulp… is still there, though long past its glory. It is called Millinocket, my people are from there, and today I call it home.

People that I love, love it here. They fit in. They drop their r’s and eat fiddlehead soup.

They’ve mourned and wedded and grown up and then became old here. They’ve sat in the pews, the grandstands, headed unions, hosted knitting groups and Tupperware parties, and joined or started every organization that makes a person a bona fide local.

Today, the mill is gone and only rubble and emptiness occupy the space where the pride of Millinocket once stood. The last version of the mill left in 2008, but the dream of a day when the mill would again be up and running and return the town to paper-making splendor has died only recently. In my time as a resident, I have felt the slow anguish of a dying thing fade into the cold nothingness of death. For more than a decade, the people of Millinocket have resisted the tides of change, balked at non-papermaking proposals, and languished in economic hardship exacerbated by the opioid crisis. There is a confounding ethos of anti-conservationism, something the locals refer to as “tree-hugging.” I feel like an outsider. And yet, these are my people. I want to know them. I want to know what they want for themselves, for their community, and for the wilderness just beyond their homes—the forests where our fathers’ fathers worked and lived and made a life for themselves; and where our fathers drove trucks and built second homes after they got hired straight out of high school and “followed the window.” What are we to do with the acres of pine and hemlock and hardwoods that were to be our birthright, but that stand to this day steadfast in the face of climate change and the inexorable will of man to forge on— all while our dreams dissolve into dust?

This is not a love letter nor an appraisal of what is right or wrong about a place or a community. It is not a critique, nor could it be; I don’t know how I feel. I don’t know what it all means to me, but I find solace in examining the bonds between myself and the here and there. No matter how I feel about it, I come from here. But I came back for the woods.

Beyond the borders of town, a brilliant expanse unfurls in all directions, blanketing the earth in summer’s green, autumn’s amber, and the soft cotton of winter snow. Just past the banks of the Penobscot River’s West Branch—in a far-off country—the crown jewel of Maine rises from the wilderness. It is a special place that I love wholly and inexplicably, where men I admire found meaning in the formidable landscape and where I search for my own meaning among mountains and men.

Without ever having reached Katahdin’s peak, I knew I was in the presence of something special. The way the mountain materialized on the horizon, beyond a lee or muskeg and around every wooded corner of the backroads outside of town—was a gift; it was a thing that never got old, its majesty deserving of celebration. Katahdin’s crown seemed to hang from the sky like an ornament and changed color with the seasons or glowed different purplish hues with the cloudbursts of spring and early summer. It remains a monument in my life, both literal and abstract: it’s a wellspring of inspiration—the mountain and the wildernesses that skirt its base—and a vestige of my childhood; it’s a place on earth that scrapes the firmament, where I have always stored my aspirations, and a luminary, a symbol for what I care about: the land and its most vulnerable inhabitants. It is an idea, a gospel, a thing created in the image of god; it is a revelation. Man could never conquer nor make sense of it, only fight to preserve it and store it in our consciousness. The wilderness at its base is the altar upon which I worship; on Knife’s Edge I risk becoming a martyr, and in the waters of Chimney Pond, Katahdin Lake, and Wassataquoik Stream, I am baptized. Fording the rapids of the West or Each Branch I pay my respect to past disciples, wild Bodhisattvas like Thoreau and Roosevelt; I can feel their presence and their reverence too. Their wilderness dreams are mine now, we store them in the clouds with the words of the man who made it happen, the one who decreed that this land remain “forever wild.”

I want to know myself and I never feel more rawly myself than when I am paddling or hiking or camping. In fact, just being in nature strips me down to who I essentially am; and being in this nature—the north Maine woods— makes me feel rooted, connected to a timeless throughline that is elemental to my personhood. Who I am in relation to the Maine woods is who I am as an individual, on the most basal and primal level; in the wild, the good and bad of my character are revealed. But I am not a hermit, the whole of my spiritual and psychological makeup cannot be deduced from the wilderness alone; I am a member of a family, a community, and a generation. MY generation, whether born and bred or interloper, has no memory of the good times, the prosperous years when Main Street had an opera house and teenagers could afford to buy their own homes. We may be few in numbers, but we carry the burden of ancestral trauma with an unentitled poise that I am genuinely proud of.

This essay and the ones that will follow are my attempt at probing the consciousness of a place, a people, and a landscape, so I may better understand what it means to be from Millinocket, of the north woods, and to see what remains of the noble lumberman of our past. Is it only names, geography, and frostbitten skin we share with the strong men and women who built this town? Or is an inimitable desire to live and work in a place where most men couldn’t coded into our DNA? Who are these people? And how do I fit in?

Ronald McGuire
Covering The Business of Being a Writer
TDR Regular Contributor /July 12, 2021

Writing is not easy, it seldom pays well, and it fills your inbox with rejection. In early 2020, because I’m a glutton for punishment, I decided to write full time. If I knew then what I know now, I would have made the same choice, but with a better strategy.

Writing is emotionally rewarding, intellectually stimulating, and can provide a good living for those who persist and hone their craft. As for rejection, it’s like table stakes in a poker game. If you can’t manage the baseline bet, you should sit out the game.

With that said, I am no expert. I did write for a major news outlet years ago, but that was a side job to my real job. Since last year, I’ve completed three novels, a book of poetry, a script for a TV pilot, and have a growing collection of short stories. In my first year, I made every mistake a rookie writer can make, and it’s possible I invented some new ones.

The last six months have gone much better. I’m not a rookie anymore. What do I have to show for all this you ask? Good question. 

My first script was a finalist in a TV Pilot competition, my self-published novel (under a pen name) was a finalist in another competition and cracked the Top 100 in its genre on Amazon (#98 briefly), and I’ve had several short stories accepted for publication. I have one novel in the hands of a publisher right now, another one just completed, and I have begun querying agents.

So far, I’ve made exactly zero dollars. The Big Payoff for me is experience. I learn best from hands-on experience. Now I’m on this journey, and I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned so far. Let’s start with the most basic – Do the Work. 

Do the Work

It sounds simple, but many aspiring writers never write, and for active writers, writing is haphazard and filled with distractions.

I spent years dreaming of being a novelist, and I didn’t write a single word toward my goal, mostly out of fear and self-doubt. Your dream of being a writer won’t materialize if you don’t sit down, put your fingers on the keyboard, and type. Hemingway wrote his first drafts in pencil, so that works too. 

As new writers, the odds are already against us in this business. But there are ways we can start to tilt things in our favor. I’ve found the three most important things for me are:

  • Having a dedicated space to work
  • Blocking out distractions
  • Setting a writing a schedule (and sticking to it).

I work in the afternoon, six hours per day minimum, on average. This includes research, querying agents, or submitting to publishers, contests, and literary magazines. Mornings are for strong coffee, light reading, and walking the dog. In the evening, I do more research and a lot of brainstorming. Yet, I still struggle.

My schedule was recently obliterated by a piece of mail. Its contents presented a frustrating problem, but not an urgent one. I spent ninety minutes of my afternoon dealing with it. Then I spent the rest of the day trying to refocus on writing. I got next to nothing done. It felt awful. I didn’t properly prioritize my time, and I paid for it with a lost afternoon.  If I’m to have any hope of succeeding as a writer, I have to learn to be selfish with my time, my space, my priorities, and my writing.

A loss of focus can cost even more time by allowing loads of errors to sneak into my work. The less focused I am, the more likely I will make mistakes which will cost time in the editing phase. The most insidious of these are typos. I am a self-taught typist, so I make a lot of typos.

But Editing is Easy with Tools Like Spellcheck & Grammarly, Right?

For the record, spellcheck is not your friend, and auto-correct is your declared enemy. Spellcheck won’t tell you when you’ve typed “form” instead of “from,” and it won’t tell you when auto-correct changed a mistyped “decided” to a correctly spelled, but wrong, “denied.” 

These tools are unreliable and can often be more hindrance than a help. Plus, I tend to read right through typos and incorrect words, my mind filling in where my eyes refuse to see. 

I’m not saying, ‘don’t use them,’ I’m saying, ‘don’t trust them.’

I learned this the hard way when I wrote my first novel and decided to self-publish. I ran spellcheck and grammar check, fixed what was found, and sent the manuscript off to The Land of E-Book Publishing. 

When I loaded the ebook into my reader, I discovered it was filled with typos. I stopped counting at 47, across 42 chapters. One was in the opening paragraph. It wouldn’t have mattered if no one had downloaded the book. But they had, and I was embarrassed.   

Don’t trust automated tools, ever. Reread, reread, then reread some more. If you have someone in your life to proofread your work, or can afford to pay someone, consider yourself lucky. 

Quick Tip

My solution is to reformat my text every time I read it. Change the font, the spacing, the borders, or even print the work if it’s not too long. If it’s a novel, I export it as an EPUB and read it on my favorite device. Think of it like driving down a bumpy road, then driving down the same road after it’s been repaved. Same road, different experience.

When I do this, I’m more likely to catch my errors and correct them before anyone else sees my work. It’s not a perfect system, but I’ve gotten good results from it.

In the end, writing is editing and editing is writing. I allow myself one exception to this rule. I try to avoid extensive editing while writing a first draft, whether it’s a novel or flash fiction, or anything in between. I like to capture my thoughts, finish the story, and clean up the words later.

Whatever I write, I expect to edit and revise until the work is polished. 

Another Quick but Helpful Tip

Here’s another useful tip: take some time between each pass. A day, a week, a month, you’ll figure out over time what length of break works for you.

Work on something else, read a book, improve your third-person bio, or research publishers, agents, journals, and competitions. Create some space to let your mind forget some of what you just wrote, then come back to it and edit with fresh eyes. 

A Final Thought

Don’t believe everything you read about writing. 

People like to Tweet quotes by famous writers, and Hemingway’s missives are no exception. The attributions are often wrong, or the words taken out of context.  Hemingway is often quoted as saying, “Write drunk, edit sober.” 

I’d argue that’s objectively bad advice. But, according to Katherine Firth, Hemingway never said it. What he wrote in A Moveable Feast was: 

‘…my training was never to drink after dinner nor before I wrote nor while I was writing’ (p.61).

You can see the difference. 

The internet, and book stores, are loaded with advice for writers and a lot of it is good. But even the good advice won’t always be a good fit for you, and the bad advice can send you on some costly detours. Consider the source, take what works for you, leave the rest. 

I said I was no expert, but after 18 months of full-time writing and research, I know where to find a few experts. 

Below are links to some websites I’ve found useful. If you’ve been writing for a while you know them already. If not, they make terrific companions for your writing journey. 

To sum it all up, work hard, be selfish with your time and attention, write-edit-repeat, take advantage of the help that’s out there, trust yourself, and learn from your mistakes. 

You got this.

Helpful Links

Writer’s Digest: workshops, free downloads, how-to articles, competitions, you name it, they’ve got it, and most of it is free.  https://www.writersdigest.com

Winning Writers: one of the Writer’s Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers, they’ve got a focus on competitions and a massive list of links to great resources for writers, everything from advice, to literary forums, to ways to spot scams targeting writers. https://winningwriters.com

Alliance of Independent Authors: This should be your first stop if you’re considering self-publishing. There’s a LOT here, just like the two websites above, but one of the most useful things you’ll find is their ‘Best Self-Publishing Services’ list. If you read nothing else before you self-publish, review this list. https://selfpublishingadvice.org/best-self-publishing-services/

Lit Rejections: A site with stories, quotes, and a blog about literary rejection, it also has some great interviews as well as information about literary agencies. If none of that sounds useful, at least visit and take a look at the collage of book covers from best sellers that were initially rejected. It’s eye-opening. http://www.litrejections.com 

Authors Publish Magazine: Everything is free on this site and their email newsletter is filled with great information, but not overloaded. They research publishers and provide links to ones that are open for submissions, with a healthy dose of paying markets. https://authorspublish.com

A Short Story by Amanda Schroeder

Echo and I dream up powers that no one will believe. In the midday Summer heat, we lay side by side in her backyard under a linen teepee. She’s so tall her legs poke out the front holes, but I fit perfectly.

We spent the whole day in her backyard, exploring every patch of grass as though the lawn behind her house was the whole world. We catch box elder bugs and stow them in pencil cases while we build them a castle made of dirt and sticks. When we come back to release them into their new kingdom we find them dead, suffocated slowly in the yellow plastic. I hold back tears of frustration, but Echo assures me everything is going according to plan. We dump dead box elders onto the muddy castle and assign them their roles, moving their bodies like they’re Barbie dolls. I think This must be heaven.


Echo’s parents are never at home, which is why we always spend our days at her house. Her dad works at a law firm where they make money when people get injured at construction sites. Her mom works in marketing and is always talking about the copy for her latest mock-up. When my parents would ask me about her parents, I would always pretend to know that they are doing well.

Echo and I always like to make up games. Echo would play dead and I would dance around her like a witch, trying to bring her back to life.

Or we huddle in silence in her living room, listening for any sounds the house makes, making up stories for the ghosts that created them. The tapping of the heater springing to life is the soul of a young dancer who died dramatically on stage, a loose latch under his tap shoes plummeting him 8 feet to his death. Echo and I always argue about which of us he is in love with. The moaning of the pipes was a woman who died hot and heavy in the middle of childbirth. We don’t know what childbirth looks like, but we imagine it orange, like a flame in the dark, and damp. We imagine her wafting through the house trying to find her baby and we sit close, holding our breath so she can’t find us instead. Echo can hold her breath for longer than me, but I always cheat, sneaking in air through my nose.

We sneak into her mother’s closet and dress ourselves up in her clothes, smearing makeup on our faces and pretending to be prostitutes. We don’t know what prostitutes are, but we know the way men talked about them from the movies. We look at each other in the full-body mirror and think THIS was what it means to be a woman.

One day, we painted our faces red with her mother’s lipstick and chased each other around the house, screaming for our lives. We didn’t hear her mother come in over the sounds of yelling and laughter. When she found us with a full tube of Mary Kay’s Red Stiletto smeared onto our faces, she started hiding her makeup.


In fourth grade, Echo’s parents move to a house with big windows overlooking a flower garden Echo isn’t allowed to set foot in. She starts at the catholic school in the neighborhood and I don’t hear from her for weeks.

One day, my parents tell me Echo is coming over. They say it like I have no choice and I look down at my dinner, embarrassed that my loneliness is so apparent my parents need to intervene.

When Echo comes into our house, it feels like welcoming in a stranger. Echo and I sit in my basement and our silences feel like smoke. When the heater makes a creaking sound, I imagine an old man who died in a rocking chair opening the doors to the heating closet peering out at us, but Echo doesn’t seem to notice. She tells me about her new life and her new school and I try my best to picture it, but I’ve never imagined a place I’ve never been before. I ask her to describe the coat rack where they hang their book bags in the morning, but she doesn’t understand the question.

I try to ask a different way – where are you in the first five minutes of school, between where you drop off your backpack and walk into the classroom. Those minutes had always been my favorite, but I dreaded them without Echo to fill the silence. I found myself praying that she was just as lonely as me.

She tells me Tommy always waits to walk in with her. When I ask her about Tommy, she says they kiss after school lets out. She shrugs like it’s nothing and I blush thinking about all the things she has done that I have not.


Five years later, I hear that Echo has died. I haven’t heard from her since the day in the basement in fourth grade, but my parents still get a call from her parents.

When my parents break the news to me, they hold hands and cry. I don’t shed a tear because I don’t feel a thing. Echo has died so many times and has always risen again. I try to let the truth sink in, but all I can remember is playing Romans in her backyard. She was Jesus and I was Pontius Pilot. I washed my hands in the little puddle at the bottom of the drainpipe, then dragged her body to the cross, a tree low enough where she could hang her arms from the branches. She hung there for three full minutes until her skinny arms gave out.

We played this game on Good Friday the year before she moved schools. Echo called it her favorite holiday after we sat in the chapel at school and got chills on our arms when the pastor slammed a book into a wall – the closing of the tomb. The silence was so dramatic and our exhilaration was so high that we sat giggling into each other’s necks.

I can’t imagine the person Echo became at 14. She died of alcohol poisoning, something I have never even tried. We miss the open casket but show for the burial. While her parent’s friends all give speeches about the person Echo would’ve become, I stare into the face of the girl in the memorial photo. She looks like a fox, except she’s cold instead of warm. Older than 14. I don’t recognize a single thing about her except for her white-blonde hair, a color most people lose as a baby.

I try to fill in the blanks of who she became. I imagine her as a doll being thrown around in a castle made of sticks and mud, her exoskeleton keeping her safe from prying fingers trying to get inside. Her pretty blonde hair never gets dirty. I imagine her in cars with leather seats going places I’ll never be at hours I’m already asleep at. I imagine her dying little deaths every day, only to get back up and start again. I imagine her smarter than me, the kind of person who realizes we need to seize the best of life every day, but who slipped too early and couldn’t get back up.

Amanda Schroeder is from Utah but is currently based in San Francisco, California. She has a B.A. in English Literature from the University of Utah and her work has appeared in Cathexis Northwest Press, The Crack the Spine 2019 Anthology, and others. She is the co-founding editor of F3LL Magazine and currently serves as the web editor for Split Lip Magazine.

A Poem by Gabby Mijalski-Fahim

Four tires marry the border of two states
while the rain falls with the temperature and
trees trade in their mottled hands for pined hooks,
dipping down to kiss the roof of the car
that soon abandons acres of empty pasture lands,
left to settle in the mirror of its left wing.
Ahead, the road tenses and buckles its neck, producing a stampede of several breeds,
some silver and flat with tinted windows, others auburn and stout,
seesawing within lanes across a bustling plain that spares no time for living.
Tamers at the head of each beast steer semi-trailers with tattooed claws sailing
in the wind while they mouth a song too distant to hear.
I take the exit; a beastless road soon acquiesces to the night’s darkness
as I perch the tips of my lips on the head of my styrofoam cup,
following the dwindling path of light before.

Gabby Mijalski-Fahim is a 22 years-old cat parent, queer poet and karaoke aficionado who lives, breathes and works in the somber state of Oregon. Her work is featured in Passengers Journal, Tempered Runes Press, and Cathexis Northwest Press.

Nicole Zelniker
COVERING A YEAR LATER: HOW LOCAL COMMUNITIES CONTINUE TO ADVOCATE FOR BLACK LIVES AFTER GEORGE FLOYD’S MURDER
TDR Regular Contributor / June 28, 2021

Last summer, it was impossible to turn on the news without seeing protests. George Floyd’s murder on May 25, 2020 sent people into the streets in record numbers.

Last year, police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for about nine minutes during an arrest for counterfeit bill, resulting in Floyd’s death. Chauvin previously had 18 misconduct complaints. Because several bystanders took videos, Chauvin was arrested and found guilty of unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

In Fayetteville, North Carolina, where Floyd was born, the scene was much of the same. People came out to demand police reform and justice for Floyd. Though people are not in the streets to the same extent now, that doesn’t mean activists aren’t doing important work.

Criminal justice reform advocate Kimberly Muktarian is one such person, though she’s frustrated with the lack of change on a community level.

“With George Floyd, it woke a lot of people up, but not to change,” said Muktarian. “America doesn’t want to change unless it’s done by force.”

Six months ago, Muktarian and her allies requested an African American affairs board, but she says the city government is still debating what that looks like. Additionally, activists are asking for subpoena power, police accountability boards across the state and the dismantling of North Carolina qualified immunity. Muktarian hasn’t seen any of this happen.

“Even down to the Juneteenth federal acknowledgement, we’re getting symbolic victories but not real victories,” she said.

The Market House

One of the biggest frustrations for activists is the still-standing Market House, building where white settlers formerly sold enslaved Africans. Especially given the removal of so many confederate monuments across the country, Muktarian and others are frustrated that the house still stands. The city plans to turn it into a museum.

The Market House has existed in Fayetteville since 1832 and has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1970. Market House advocates argue that enslaved people weren’t sold there “that often” or that white settlers only sold enslaved Africans “occasionally,” though it did happen, resulting in at least dozens of enslaved people sold at the Market House.

“We should not have to pay for the upkeep of a slave house or slave plantation,” said Muktarian.

During protest after Floyd’s murder, local activist Mario Benavente says several people tried to break into the Market House.

“I was present for things after the sun went down, and at that point the police started coming around,” Benavente said. “It was at that point I made my way to the streets and documented everything I could that night, May 30. I went live and I was on there for a while. My focus was on making sure the police were doing what they should be doing.”

Earlier this year, Benavente occupied the Market House with several others in the community. Folks would bring them water, generators and canopies, so they were able to stay at the protest around the clock and offer their excess supplies to people experiencing homelessness.

At last, city officials promised to make changes. Benavente has yet to see them do so.

Fayetteville Mayor Mitch Colvin has a different take, although he agrees that doing nothing is not an option.

“We chose to repurpose it,” he said of the city turning the Market House into a museum. “History has a dark past, but we have to tell it in its entirety.”

Kathy Greggs, co-founder of Fayetteville’s Police Accountability Community Taskforce, says the Market House is one of the reasons she feels there hasn’t been any change since George Floyd’s death. She says people look at it and understand they are still in bondage.

Greggs and others asked the City of Fayetteville to remove the monument back in 2014.

”To me it’s just the most ignorant thing right now when we have other states removing their confederate monuments,” she said.

Police accountability

Greggs and the other organizers at Fayetteville PACT are dedicated to assisting folks in Fayetteville in regards to racial disparities, which for them includes issues of the criminal justice system, climate justice and more.

In the last few years, they’ve worked on cases of police planting of evidence and police corruption. They’ve worked with the North Carolina Justice Center, the ACLU of North Carolina and Black Voters Matter.

Right now, their main goal is to get an independent citizen review board in Fayetteville.

“Police have edited and tampered with plenty of evidence,” said Greggs. “We’ve had that here in Fayetteville.”

In the last year, Greggs said, “I don’t believe there’s been any change in Fayetteville. There’s been no policy changes.”

In fact, there have been few changes in the last decade, Greggs noted. She cited the “driving while Black” controversy in Fayetteville, a term coined to express how police officers are more likely to stop Black drivers just because of their skin color. Black drivers are still dealing with this disparity.

“Nothing has changed since George Floyd,” Greggs said. “No policy changes, not even budget changes to help the homeless. We’re in still water and have not moved.”

Greggs believes that until officials work with the people, there can be no change. “In order for us to be in unity, we must trust our officials,” she said. “Without trust, there is no unity.

“Right now, no one is held accountable. Everything they do is based on what they want and not the people.”

In fact, the city has requested four times that the North Carolina legislature give them the authority to make a review board according to Mayor Colvin. They have yet to do so.

He says that the frustration from the community is that “the police are policing themselves.”

“Even before the national conversation, we had some severe problems with our police department,” he said. “In 2013 the Department of Justice came in and gave us an analysis that showed we were targeting Black drivers. We had a number of police shootings. They worked with us to institute more community policing. Of course activists want to see more, but if you look at the last few years, we’ve made a lot of progress.”

Local activist Mario Benavente, however, said that there is still a lack of accountability, and that it was very present during the protests immediately after Floyd’s murder. He saw police officers teargassing small pockets of people protesters during the May 2020 marches.

“People were literally tripping over themselves, falling on the floor, choking,” Benavente said. He is still waiting to see an investigation done.

“It’s not just the Minnesota cops,” he said. “Every police dept. across the country has those root issues. Their focus at the end of the day has less to do with public safety than cracking sculls.

“A year later, nothing has changed. Our city council has been cowardly. I’m not sure what special interests are afraid of upsetting, but they’re not doing anything regarding the demands activists are making of them.”

A little bit of hope

In spite of all of this, some activists are still hopeful that things can change.

Dawn Blagrove is one example. As the executive director of Emancipate NC, she has spent the last year fighting for transparency from the police department.

Folks like Blagrove at Emancipate NC have dedicated themselves to dismantling systemic institutional racism and mass incarceration. They do this largely through community education.

“Our overriding philosophy is that the people closest to the harm are those who are most well equipped to find solutions,” said Blagrove. “So we do community educating and meetings. We created a program called the Justice League where we bring in people who have been touched by the criminal justice system. We then give them the tools they need to make change in their communities.”

Similarly, much of the change Blagrove sees is how we talk about race, which she says is just as important as taking to the streets.

“Part of the change we’ve seen is one of a change in the collective psyche of America about what conversations are acceptable to have,” she said. “Without the uprisings of the last year, there would not be interest in abolition. Defunding the police has been a thing since years ago, but has only come into the public lexicon in the last two years. That’s progress.”

Blagrove won’t stop at conversations, however, and hopes that others won’t either.

“We have changed the conversation,” said Blagrove. “We’ve introduced terms and ideas to the American psyche. Now the work is turning those ideas into concrete changes that result in equity.”


Read Nicole’s Books:

A Poem by Lorrie Ness

Leave room in the duffle
for Velveeta and dryer sheets,
the pool of light below the lamp
and your appetite for chewing
pencils. Toss them in—
a collection of wine-stained corks,
fishhooks and thread. We’ll string them
into a necklace of bobbers, wear it
as a flotation device because shiraz
has always kept our heads above water.
Go ahead and pack the froyo,
the modesty we lost in high school
and a vintage can of Coke.
Strap the hammock to the roof rack
but leave the trees. When we get there
don’t forget to remind me that the cooler
in the trunk is empty, the macaroni is back home
and our Velveeta will never miss it.

Lorrie Ness is a poet working in Virginia. Her work can be found at Palette Poetry, THRUSH Poetry Journal, Typishly and various other journals. She was twice nominated for a Best of the Net Award by Sky Island Journal and she was a featured poet at Turtle Island Quarterly in 2021. Her chapbook Anatomy of a Wound is being published by Flowstone Press in July of 2021.

Robert Fromberg
Covering Autism and Creativity
TDR Regular Contributor / June 23, 2021

Between the ages of about 5 and 12, my brother Steve, who has autism, drew many hundreds of pictures. Although the number of pictures was large, the number of subjects was small: school buses, highway signs, house layouts, and street maps of Peoria, Illinois.

Steve drew with the shaky hand of a child, but with relentless precision, capturing minor variations in the window shapes among the city’s school buses; the subtle differences in logos and lettering among interstate, state, and county highway signs; and the shape of toilet bowls and direction each door swung in a house he had visited only once. He drew accurate freehand maps of the entire city of Peoria, which is 50 square miles and at that time had a population of 120,000.

As Steve, who is now 59 years old, entered his teens, he drew less and then not at all, shifting his attention to postcards, then photography, and later the internet. However, his subject interests have remained consistent. He still investigates new brands of school buses, describes the exit sign from interstate route 474 to Illinois highway 6, knows after one visit whether a house has two basins or one in its kitchen sink, and finds a YouTube video of the slight curve on Kickapoo Creek Road just outside the Peoria city limits.

Steve’s interests are not choices. To Steve, choice is excruciating. Just watch him try to select a candy bar from among the dozens of varieties at a convenience store and finally wail, “This is hard!” Steve’s interests chose him, not the other way around, and he has pursued those non-choices for a lifetime without the hesitation or doubt that defines pretty much everything else he does.

For writers, the notion of choice is in a constant war with the creative process. Our fertile but fearful brains wade through options from subject to diction, assessing them against criteria from significance to salability. As for what has chosen us, we are ready, even eager to ignore those mysterious things, so tiny and weak and weird and wrong-headed they seem when held up against our notions of what others expect from our work.

As a writing teacher at Northwestern University for almost 20 years, I had only one idea. At the time, I felt pretty silly, leaning on just one idea when my colleagues and students seemed to have so many. But I feel better these days about my idea, which was simply to point at something, anything, that reminded me of my brother Steve, that is, anything that seemed to have chosen the writer from among the many things the writer seemed to have chosen.

It wasn’t so hard to do. Often, it was just a matter of sensing when the writer was having fun. At other times, it was a particularly sharp detail. At other times, it was an unexpected digression. At other times, it was a sidestepped convention or conventional wisdom.

These non-choices stood out like bright marbles on a sidewalk. There was the student who, in an otherwise conventional crime novel, wrote an outrageously long description of the contents of the shelves inside a roadside gas station. There was the student who wrote a computer program (this was in 1990) to randomize the sequence of his story and included the code in the manuscript. There was the student who, in the midst of a typical I’m-sad-that-Grandma-died essay, suggested oh so briefly that the clicking of Grandma’s dentures had made the writer’s scalp feel like it would leap off her skull. There was the student whose dialogue was so lengthy and digressive that any sense of narrative was buried. There was the student who wrote a story about a lonely boy who joined a club of people learning to speak Esperanto.

More recently, I see writers online talk about choosing the next scenes of their novels in progress or choosing between traditional and independent publishing. Thank goodness, there is also Alex DiFrancesco, author of the story collection Transmutations, who posted this recently on Facebook:

“I’m saying again: There is straight up Neutral Milk Hotel and Leonard Cohen fanfic in my new book and it’s being widely reviewed and loved and I’m saying this because you should definitely, without a doubt, no questions asked, write the things that matter to you, and to fucking hell with everything else.”

The challenge for so many of us is to recognize, not choose, those things that matter to us and to have the courage to hold them up to the light.

I am jealous of Steve. Unencumbered in this respect by the tyranny of choice, he has a direct line to what is important to him. For those things, he is a fan, a recorder, a student, an interpreter, and an accelerator. A true artist, Steve is defined not by his choices, but by his celebration of what has chosen him.


Forthcoming September 7, 2021 from Latah Books:

“Robert Fromberg knocks me out.”
Marilynne Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Gilead

“In refusing easy consolations, Fromberg has created a memoir that shines like polished bone.”
– Patricia Eakins, author of The Hungry Girls and Other Stories

“Without a trace of affectation or adornment, Fromberg depicts the searing moments that made him who he is. Never have I read a more authentic, deeply-felt rendering of a child’s developing mind.”
– Leslie Lawrence, author of The Death of Fred Astaire and Other Essays from a Life Outside the Lines

A Poem by Anabell Donovan

My friend is dying.

His life is torn
memory brocades
fluttering in arched
window panes
about to be blown
into a dark night,
and no corner
is hidden enough
for me to cover him.

He is lost on a stroll
by crumbling mud walls
on abandoned
tarragon tangled gardens
bitter in the sun.

Where is the undiscovered
healing temple?
I blame it for yesterday’s headlines
and tomorrow’s hauntings.

He’s trapped in
a limbo of tubes
and induced sleep
until prosaic
instruments beep
a prolonged alarm,
his son told me
matter of factly,
as if quoting
today’s weather forecast.

Overhead,
thunder and wind,
hurricane brothers
want rum to run
thick on their tongues.

Anabell Donovan (Anna Eusthacia) is a psychologist and educator dedicated to student success of minorities and under-represented individuals in higher education. She loves words and would always like to “start where language ends.”

A Review of Jeeyoon Kim’s Over.Above.Beyond. (Namus Classics, 2018)

Jeffrey Hampton
Covering Contemporary Classical Music Artists
TDR Regular Contributor / June 21, 2021

Over.Above.Beyond. is the 2018 release from pianist Jeeyoon Kim on Namus Classics.  I bought my copy of the CD from the pianist’s website, but it is available on most music streaming platforms.  The liner notes open up with a user’s manual for listening that gives several easy-to-follow steps, providing an original way to enjoy the album.   This user’s manual encourages the listener to take a moment to breathe and be present while listening to the music, cultivating the perfect environment to engage their imaginations. It is recommended that the listener read the liner note for each individual piece which shares Kim’s thoughts and feelings while encouraging the listener to imagine their own scenes that they can look for when out in the real world and share on social media with #OverAboveBeyondProject.

This is a great idea! Listening to classical music can sometimes feel intimidating. But Jeeyoon Kim’s liner notes provide a rather original way to engage with the music for those who want to take the musical journey with her.  The first time listening to this album, I found myself enjoying the small anecdotes from each piece and imagining my own scenery and stories over the music.

The pieces chosen present a variety of composers, displaying some of their easily digestible, shorter works instead of hammering the listener with one titanic warhorse after another.  The first three pieces—Nikolay Medtner’s Forgotten Melodies I, Op. 38, No. 8, Edvard Grieg’s Wedding Day at Troldhaugen, Op. 65, No. 6, and Frederic Chopin’s Nocturne in D-flat major, Op. 27, No. 2—are wonderfully played, showing off fine attention to melody in all three works.  The works are played without an overwrought sense of sentimentality, which could drag the pace of the music.

The next piece, Johannes Brahms’ Variations on an Original Theme, Op. 21 No. 1, spans almost 20 minutes, making it the longest piece on the album.  Kim’s liner notes make clear her love for the piece, which is not often performed.  She encourages the listeners to imagine something different for each variation.  This piece is an emotional journey that needs unpacking, and Kim is up to the task.  The opening theme, easy to follow, is given to us with a thick, full-bodied harmony of luscious chords. Each variation grows organically from the last, and Kim never loses sight of that original theme from Brahms.  The piece, despite its length, never grows dull and is full of many wonderful surprises.  When one reaches the end, they can almost feel the sun on their back after an incredible journey.

The following two pieces are from the famous French impressionist composers Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy.  The pieces are not as heavy as what has come before and are both popular piano solos wonderfully realized here.  “Pavane pour une infante défunte” is both powerful, yet tender.  The music paints a picture of elegance fitting of a pavane, a dance that used to be performed by young princesses in the Spanish court.  Golliwogg’s Cake Walk is a playful romp full of humor.

The next piece is a rarity of a piece by Giuseppe Martucci. The Nocturne in G-flat major, Op. 70, No. 1 is wonderfully melancholic, with once again great attention paid to making the melody sing. Kim’s liner notes describe this one as an image of an old man remembering his past—an apt description of this nostalgic work that could have been written off if played by a lesser musician.

The album ends with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Twelve Variations on “Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman” K.265, a famous set of variations based on a melody most commonly associated with “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” This is the perfect lighthearted way to end the journey.  The playing here is dazzling—playful but elegant and ultimately delightful.   It is the second-longest piece on the album, but that does not weigh it down, as it leaves us feeling refreshed.

The “User’s Manual” provided in the liner notes gives a perfect way to listen to the record overall.  I found myself more engaged as I connected both with the playing shared by the pianist as well as the guidance offered.   I found it easy to picture various images of nature and even some of my own stories with the music. Many times a classical record gives us either a concert program or a collection of pieces all from one genre with no clue of how to engage in it. Personal preference for more programmatic presentations in albums, the idea of the user manual was a breath of fresh air.   None of the music is overwhelming, and it is all aesthetically pleasing to the ear.  Jeeyoon Kim’s playing shines here. It is confidently assured and beautifully realized; the pieces played are melodic and beautiful, but not overly sentimental—a guilty pleasure of a lot of musicians who will drag and distort a melodic line until it is unrecognizable.  For anyone who wants to embark on a thoughtful musical tour, this is the album for you.

A Poem by Wren Donovan

We burn the witch, the old goat
the little old man of the old year
and our scapegoat carries our sin.
We are blameless now, we are forgiven.
We burn the Other for easy atonement, give over the bad ones
surrender the sorceress, conjurer, evil eye
hand over the misfit, misbegotten, miscreant.
Consensual fire cleans bone to white
and dissolves fleshy folly to ashes
while we sleep gently tucked beneath a blanket of snow
by cool white long slender hands.
Come a cold morning those ashes
will mark each clean brow with grey dust
but tonight we dream the blank white screen
while our shadow selves scream in the bonfire.

Wren Donovan (she/her) writes poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction. Her work is published in The Mark Literary Review and upcoming in Cauldron Anthology and Luna Luna Magazine.  She is also a Tarot reader and meditative dancer who tends to hide in plain sight but likes to wear things that jingle. Wren wanted to be a mermaid when she grew up, but when that didn’t work out she studied literature, Classics, folklore, and psychology at Millsaps College, Chapel Hill, and the University of Southern Mississippi.  She lives in Tennessee among many trees and can be found on Twitter @WrenDonovan.

A Poem by Oakley Ayden

— after Lucinda Williams

Raw heartache is
axed clean by my
prairie smoke love
somewhere deep in
honey wheat Helena.

We stay up eating
up only sweet
truths, potato
plain as pie.

Oakley Ayden (she/her) is an autistic, bisexual writer from North Carolina. Her poems appear in Ghost City Review, The Cabinet of Heed, Maw: Poetry Journal, Not Very Quiet, Blue Bottle Journal, Brave Voices Magazine, Neologism Poetry Journal, and elsewhere. She lives in California’s San Bernardino National Forest with her two daughters. Find her at oakleyayden.com, on Twitter (@Oakley_Ayden), or Instagram (@Oakley.Ayden).

A Poem by Sarah Warring

“The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.” – Albert Einstein

Does God create a human’s skill for wit-
Or maybe spiritual enlightenment?
Some cleverness of carpenter’s kit
An analysis and environment

The insight is in adapting to change-
An understanding in the need for shift.
The ingenuity to accept strange-
Athena has wisdom to coexist.

The tidings brought are not always wanted
Cailleach may freeze your mental flow and flux-
While Lakshmi’s brilliance makes one bonded.
Information, by pixies or by pucks.

Words from the cosmos, may never be true
Knowledge leaves, unless you find it in you.

Sarah Warring has a B.A. in English Education, a M.S. in Literacy, and is a New York State certified in English Language Arts. She has been writing for over 20 years, and has been both an unofficial and official English/Literacy/Writing teacher for the past 10 years in classrooms and various organizations. She was accepted to the Inaugural Yale Writers’ Conference. She was accepted to be a speaker for the World Literacy Summit. This talk was published online, but was originally slated to be given at Oxford University. Recently, she has had 2 articles published on the World Literacy Foundation’s blog.

A Short Story by Dylan Webster

Blue foam reflux collects on my hands as I scrub the bathtub. Some of it pops up into the air like fireworks as I shove my weight into every stroke. I have to hurry – time got away from me again. I hate rushing – the sweating, the stress of trying to beat some sort of impending deadline. Like I’m the servant of the house, waiting for the master to return.

I finish the tub up quickly, and sprint to the kitchen to grab some more of the cleaning supplies that I forgot. Yet another thing I hate – the forgetfulness I suffer from while rushing. But I guess it doesn’t matter, it has to get done. None of my complaining will alleviate anything. And it definitely won’t help me if I try to use that as an explanation for why the house isn’t finished.

You’ve had all day!

I know, I’ll say. I’m sorry I got… I got distracted wi –

Ohhh you got distracted? Of course you did! The impact of the keys on the table will startle me. It’s always something, or you’re always too damn tired. Well how you think I feel? Huh! I’ve been at work all day!

And it’ll just go to shit from there. It always has. How am I supposed to react? I don’t know? What can i say to not set off that bomb?!

I spray the windex haphazardly on the mirror, squinting as some of the droplets kamikaze themselves into my face. I fold the paper towel into my favorite sturdy square, and quickly wipe the glass. I need to hurry. There’s still so much that needs to get done. I’m not even sure how long I have left. I reach for my pocket to find my phone, but I freeze as my fingertips make contact with the cool aluminum. I don’t want to look at the phone. It always makes time slip away faster. There might be a text. A question. And how am I supposed to respond?

I’m almost done! Love you – maybe a loving emoticon? But that text will only beg for the response I dread.

Almost?!?! Babe, it’s 4 o’clock… what’ve you been doing all day?

And I know what I’ve done all day. I’ve been taking care of our son, of course, he needs to be fed and washed and played with.  Not to mention the fact that if I try to clean the house while he’s awake, it’s almost a useless venture. I mean, all he’ll do is pull everything out again as soon as he sees me put it away!

Not that I’m angry, he’s two. What should I expect? What should we expect?

I can tell you what I expect! I expect that we don’t live in a damn pigsty!

My heart quickens its beat as I think of these things. It’s a frightening feeling, really, but it’s more than just frightening. It’s haunting. The changes that people can go through. Most of the laughter and the dreams have all died out, and in their stead are these conversations and sighing exasperations. I don’t know if it’s the stress of having a child, or the stress that comes from work, but it wears people down. It drives them against those they love, even spouses.

I toss the paper towel in the wastebasket and make my way to the living room, where many of our son’s toys lie strewn across the tile; like a grand battle of nations has taken place, and here lie the dead. I reach down to pick up some of the action figures, and suddenly I remember the wastebasket I just threw the paper towels in is full.

I toss the toys into the bin and rush back to the bathroom to take out the trash. But I forgot a replacement bag! Dammit.

I stop now, for a second. I need to breathe. I need to calm down. I’m getting so worked up over cleaning a house. Over trash bins and toys.

But that doesn’t help as much as I’d hoped. I can still feel the soreness swelling in my throat. The heat in my face. I hate this, I hate the feeling of teetering on the edge of tears.

Oh god, now we’re gonna cry about it? So, instead of you just doing what I say, we’re going to have a little counseling session? Nice.

I’ll jump again as the wall implodes in the shape of a fist. Then the windows rattle in their old sills as the door slams shut. And I’ll just sit there. Feeling… well, I don’t even know really. The last time I felt so many things, I don’t know if I could actually describe them. A lot of my friends say I look sad, but I hate that word. Some of them say I should be angry, but how could I? There’s nothing left to fuel that anger when I’m too busy trying to get our screaming child to sleep, and get some ice for my face.

Should I just haul off and lose control? But how is that going to really change anything? I guess it could, if I got a good enough hit in, grabbed my son, and left right away. But if I don’t get a real blow in, then I’ve just stoked the flames, and I don’t know if I could handle the blind rage that would follow.

I wipe the miniscule pools from my eyes, and head to the kitchen for some old shopping bags to put in the wastebasket. I try to sneak past my son’s room so as not to wake him up.

I take the bag out of the trash, replace it, and walk outside to throw it away. The sun is threatening to give up, and I know the drive home from work doesn’t take too long. I better hurry. Not all the toys are picked up yet, and there are still way too many dishes.

Maybe if I’m still doing the dishes, it won’t be too bad. But who am I kidding? Of course it will be. It always is. It has been for so long now, I don’t know how to think of it any other way. But though I know it to be hopeless, I still try. With the cleaning, and with the relationship. It’s so interesting to me.

Interesting.

My own life has become an interesting phenomenon to look upon. Like when you see some wild animal’s carcass being eaten by even wilder animals. Maybe that’s why I don’t say anything – do anything. The carcass is already being eaten, and there’s no more life to be saved anyway.

I think this a lot, lately. It’s like I’m watching myself in a video game. I’m the third-person camera right behind the character, and I watch as they rush around and worry and get beaten. I watch as this character cares for its wounds in secret, and lies to protect. But I’m not the player. I don’t have the controller. I’m not sure who does, but I know it isn’t me.

I’m back inside scrambling after the last of the plastic warriors from the tile battlefield, when I glance at the time. God, it’s insane. It’s like time winds up and goes faster when I’m trying to get something done. Time has no consideration for what I may endure.           

Now that the floor’s clean I begin sweeping. I can’t help but think about how I’m not going to make it in time. I won’t be able to finish! My mind wanders into the myriad ways in which this will end, and all the different ways I will suffer.

Suffering has passed the oppressive phase at this point. I no longer feel crushed, defeated. I had felt that once when I had to explain a bruise that I couldn’t have hidden – but that passed. It was overtaken by humiliation. For a while I could not believe that I had put myself here in this position. But now, I am numb. I don’t feel much of the physical pain, I don’t feel trapped – I feel nothing. I feel it slipping away into that nothingness faster and faster. I only fear for my son. He is what has kept the bullets out of the chamber and the barrel out of my mouth. I cannot bear to leave him here alone in this house. In this environment.

But there is still hatred, although now it is hatred for myself. I find myself with these thoughts that feel foreign. As if it’s not me who thinks these things, but more like they are placed in my mind, and then forced to the forefront. This self hatred, and this guilt.

I put the broom away and run over to the kitchen sink. This is finally the end, the last thing I have to finish. I clatter all the plates into the right side of the sink, and start washing the pots and pans. There are quite a few of them now, as they seem to pile up so quickly if you miss even one day. And naturally I will be the only one to do them. But my mind begins to clear a little bit, knowing that this is the end; and once this is done, I’ll be okay. I won’t have to worry about the abuse.

And that sends a chill down my spine.

Abuse.

But that’s what it truly is. Even the times where I’m not left with a bruise or a scar, there is still the emotional aftermath. The manipulation. When I feel obligated to cover things up, and to lie. When I’m feeling boxed into forgiveness and forgetfulness, and the impetus remains on me to move on and make things work. This stings, and I can’t help the introspective inclination to reconsider so many aspects of my life. I need to stop dwelling on the dreams of the past, the hopes I had when we first married, and recognize what’s actually happening.

I’ve thought this before, but it’s becoming clearer now. Now is the moment when the fear begins to set in heavily. In my lungs, in my stomach. Sinking and weighing me down. This is the moment when I always turn back, but I know that I can’t do that this time. I know I can’t. I need to be strong, and I need to find the strength some—

My son is screaming in his room. I thought he was asleep? His cries are growing louder, so I know he won’t fall back asleep, something’s wrong.

I try to dry my hands, but only leave them moist rather than wet. I set the rag down on the counter as I turn and—

The high, cracking sound of glass shattering echoes in the kitchen. I look down and realize the rag knocked one of the glasses off the counter. A million glinting shards now glitter on the tile. My son still screams from his room.

My heart kicks back up to its high beat, and I feel the pressure on my chest. The anxiety is beginning to take control. Like a phantom version of myself wrapping around me, trying to become the real me. Whatever that is.

I carefully tip toe over the shards, and head to my son’s bedroom. I open the door, and the acidic smell of vomit crashes into me immediately. I turn his light on and see his entire body covered in the chunky orange vomit. So are his sheets.

I can’t stop my shoulders from slumping at this point. The nearly breathless anxiety, again, seeps in. The shattered glass in the kitchen is all over the floor, and probably also in the dining room, knowing how the little fragments go flying. Now my son’s sheets need to be washed, the mattress sprayed and flipped, and my son needs to be showered and changed. All this! Right as I was trying to get the last of the house finished in time. I don’t know what the hell I’m supposed to do now. I feel my fingers running through my hair.

I grab my son, and take the wet clothes off. I remove his diaper and put him in the shower, knowing he’ll be able to occupy himself for a moment and cease the piercing screams. I take the sheets and his putrid clothes and throw them in a bag quickly. I glance at my son, and then begin thinking about how quickly I can clean the mess in the kitchen.

The sweat begins to gather in a small audience of beads on my forehead. I wipe it away, and try to wash my son as fast as possible. He babbles now, happy and unaware.

The front door reverberates through the hall.

“What the hell?” I hear the car keys slam onto the kitchen table, as I’d feared. Shoes kicked off, impacting the wall. I can sense the frustration and anger.

My heart is pounding now. I’ve failed. It’s too late, and I can’t try to cover everything up. Here comes another long night, the heart gripping anxiety, the anger, the fighting. I’ll say nothing. Again. What can I say? And if I get hit, what can I do? I can’t hit back. 

“What the fuck happened in here?” She says from our son’s bedroom.

Dylan Webster lives and writes in Phoenix, Arizona. Previously published in The Dillydoun Review and Quillkeepers Press.

A Prose Poem by Anne R. Gibbons

Were they desirable because they were forbidden? Had they been
freely offered would we have turned away with a shrug? No thanks.
We’ll use the ones from the kitchen.

For a certainty the others—in bedroom, kitchen, study; the ones we
could use without fear of reprisal—they held no allure. The forbidden
pair tempted us from where they dwelt inside the satin-lined basket
with other accoutrements for patching and darning, hemming,
mending, and dressmaking.

The sewing scissors were not for cutting pictures out of McCall’s or
making colorful chains from construction paper. They were not to be
plied on paper napkins folded and refolded and refolded again into a
multilayer rectangle that my brother transformed into starbursts and
doilies, snowflakes and birds on the wing. They were not to be used
for curling ribbon on packages or trimming hair.

They were to be used for cutting cloth. That was all. Period. End of
discussion. The sewing scissors were for sewing projects. Fabric was
their medium and they were to have no truck with anything except
cloth. We had been admonished and scolded and fussed at more than
once about misuse of the sewing scissors.

Other scissors were not taboo. No objection was raised when they
were pressed into service. Scissors from bedroom, study, and kitchen
were fair game. We knew the rules.

But the sewing scissors beckoned. They crooned in their siren’s voice:
we’re right here . . . so close . . . reach out your hand . . . you only
want to trim one paper crown . . . just one crown . . .

Sometimes we succumbed to their blandishments.

Anne R. Gibbons grew up in the Deep South in an atypical southern family—they did not drink iced tea. Neither sweet nor unsweet. Adults drank coffee, children drank milk. Anne now lives in Vero Beach, Fla., with her husband, Bill Fitts, and their two cats, Amos and Luna. She still doesn’t drink iced tea.

A Flash Fiction by Kate MacDonald

Is there a place somewhere for me, a cosy cave, complete with soft furnishings and WiFI? There are deadlines to meet. I also need quiet to concentrate. Unfortunately, at this moment, every nerve ending in my body is vibrating. The cacophony made by my three children echoes through my skull.

The tenth circle of hell is reserved for writers, awaiting readers. Therefore, the dichotomy of a writer’s existence is the need for solitude to write, the desire for an audience to exist.

All true, but as a working mother, life intrudes, interjects, influences. If some considered hell to be on earth, I knew where that tenth circle was.

There was not so much a lightbulb moment, more the slight flicker from a guttering candle. My Celtic heritage might be of some use here. I was the keeper of our family ephemera, going back generations.

Great-great-grandma Harraughty had earned the soubriquet of Wise Woman. I knew there was a tattered book of her’s, in the obligatory battered old tin trunk, in the attic. Among the dust motes and the cobwebs, there it stood, as I remembered it. At the bottom, I found the aptly named “Book of Shadows.” Back in my study, I riffled through the pages. I was amazed to find this passage;

Take a tallow candle.
To harness time, etch “one minute= one hour” down the length of the candle.
Light the candle. Chant:
“While fully conscious mine eyes shall see, a portal open up for me.
I summon the space that I desire, to come to me for just one hour.”

I am sure there will be questions. For example, did it work? All I can say is, I have written four books in two weeks.

Kate MacDonald is a retired septuagenarian insomniac. She dabbles in buying junk and selling “Antiques” online, but writing has become her quiet passion. So suitable to help fill the still dark hours. Kate has only returned to writing in the past year or so. Kate has had five poems published in Stardust Review. She has also had two short stories published, one in Stardust Review, the other in Nonsensically Challenged. A poem, “Surprised” has just been published by High Shelf Press, volume XXIII. WinglessDreamer printed Dark Danger and Different Drum. A Tanka “Languid” was published by Spillwords Press.

A Flash Fiction by Jeff Harvey

With his toothy smile and black hair, Robbie reminded me of Donny Osmond. On Labor Day weekend his mom found him in a shed with their preacher and kicked him out, but she continued attending the same church. My mom let him stay with us until graduation. He slept on an air mattress in my room and always wore a red Speedo. I listened to him for hours insisting President Nixon worked for the Chinese government.

On New Year’s Eve, we hung out alone at my church rec hall playing ping-pong and chugging wine I’d stolen from my dad. Robbie asked if I would ever get married. I told him no because I preferred men. He threw the paddle at me and called me queer.

That spring Robbie started speaking with me again. He’d met the director of a local theatre group and was using expressions like drag queenfag hag, and what a dump. I wanted to be his friend, but he scared me when he talked about the voices. At the end of May, we graduated and went to another kid’s party. After smoking weed, he jumped off this kid’s roof in an attempt to fight the man. I felt relieved when Robbie moved to live with his dad in Ohio.

Jeff Harvey lives in San Diego. His fiction has recently appeared in MoonPark Review and Potato Soup Journal. Find him on Twitter @JeffHarveySD.

A Poem by Penny Senanarong

I dream of Oðinn upon the towering tree,
Its bone-like branches, a spine jutting through the earth.
Tight throat, choking on a swollen tongue–
How long is nine days and nine nights
When you can’t breathe?
Time constricts and dilates into an eternity.

The Hanged Man says to let go and Four of Swords to rest.
Forget the envious, evil eye that pierces and
Nails you with its gaze.
I pray to the Devil: defend me from those eyes,
Against the people’s eye, against the stranger’s eye,
Let no eye bear witness to my shame.

Let me tell you a secret, sweet one:
The blame is not yours to take.
Thrice-born Zagreus committed no crimes
Yet he too was torn asunder.
May you be an isle in the sea, my love.
May you be a staff to the weak.

Wear an iron coat, iron cap, iron mantle and iron boots.
Snow-white of heart and innocence,
Make the tithe of wrath though the heavens fall.

Penny Senanarong is a Bangkok-born poet whose work can be found in Better Than Starbucks, Burnt Pine Magazine, 50-Word Stories, and ENIGMA Journal. She is a human rights advocate with interests in queer theory, mythology, and the occult. During her free time, she likes to sing to musical show tunes.

A Poem by Benjamin Rose

To himself as he was at six years old

Let me rise from this bed insensate
Where, with inconsolable eyes, I weep;
A child of no–one sobbing in darkness.
Desperate to ease the burden of his fate.
They have gone, they have gone—Damnit, where am I!?
Where is the shining joy of the light?
Of amber candles inflamed in the night
Dappling with splendor the husk of Spring.

O crimson branching Nihon sentinels
Richer in loveliness than blood red wine,
From your shadow I passed to Orodruin
Longing now only to sleep in oblivion.
But the land of my dreams is one of nightmares,
Of Nazgûl shrieks and Ixion pains,
Beaten, blinded, broken and castrated,
A weight of gold suffocating my throat.

All that was green and good in this world
Long since hurled in the furnace of wrath,
I grope across a barren land blindly
Turning on the throats of my friends with a sword.
For I have forgotten the taste of bread,
The sound of wind whistling in the leaves,
Till all that remained was the unfulfilled knell.
Hide me in darkness till I pass away.

They have gone, they have gone—Never to return.
No, spare me your contemptible pity.
For, though it shone with consummate tenderness
I would run horror–stricken from you.
I would render my flesh with the razor,
Quick–shattered shiv of self–flagellation.
But, though I beg through enervated tears,
I am sunken forever in loathing.

Give to me now, O halfling melodist,
Wherever your heartbroken reed may blow,
In tremor beyond all fruitless words
The sanctity to remember and pretend
That I, in my righteous gall, might have spared you
This burden unbearable that degrades.
Now we are far from the light of the Valar.
Beyond all human subscript of grief.

Benjamin Rose is a poet born and raised in Washington, D.C.

A Short Story by Heather Whited

Christmas Eve. The unheated attic. Marcy and Otis, passed a joint back and forth and drank ciders as they watched Christmas unfold out the window. The neighborhood was brittle, gray. No snow this year, not even rain, just a sharp wind that ripped at the empty tree branches. Still, decorations were up, and a tree glittered in most windows that they could see.

It wasn’t late, only around 9:00, but the house was quiet. Silent in the tense way a space that should have been filled with happiness, created a chafing, nagging void instead.

Dad was out with Uncle Rod, probably drinking too, probably enough to make tomorrow uncomfortable, and Mom was asleep. The house smelled of cooking though, enough to lull them into thinking for seconds at a time that the holiday was going to go well. It never did though. It hadn’t for years, not since they were children.

Next door, a half-deflated plastic Santa wavered on someone’s roof, battered by the wind. A group of carolers sang for their neighbors. Their scarves whipped around their faces, their sheet music rustled and threatened blow away, but the singers clutched at them, joyous still.

Marcy grinned tiredly down at them, passing the joint back to Otis.

“I wonder if anyone’s told them that the new family there is Jewish?”

“I’d guess not,” said Otis after a too long pause.

He pulled his coat closer around himself and blew smoke out the open window. They sat watching for several minutes and the carolers shuffled off and started up a new song at the next house.

“You’re in a shit mood,” said Marcy. She popped open another can and watched Otis fidget as he smoked. “What’s up? You’ve obviously got something to say.”

He looked away, briefly toward some boxes in the corner, at the joint in his fingers, then down at his shoes.

“I… saw something in the news. But you can’t tell Mom and Dad.”

He pulled out his phone and passed it to his sister. On the screen, a picture of a dark-haired young woman about their age, taken at just the right moment to catch her smiling. Underneath, the circumstances of her death the month before. Marcy’s heart sped up as she skimmed, wishing with each word that she hadn’t read it. Marcy stared at the spot where, “murdered by her partner,” appeared in the text. Her shoulders slumped as the words weighed her down. She absentmindedly set her cider on the windowsill.

“Is that…” she started to ask, not looking up at her brother but still staring down at the woman in the picture who had been their sister for a few years, when they were children.

“Yeah, it’s Mindy.”

“Well, she got a new name with her next family. I guess, really, it’s Candace. Was Candace. Fuck. Where did you find this?”

Otis worried at the dry skin of his lips. He was too thin, Marcy thought, chiding herself for not noticing sooner.

He continued to look out the window as he spoke. “You remember Mike Salas?”

She did. Her brother’s friend from elementary school who’d run around their yard, up and down their stairs, and jumped through their sprinkler in the summer. Ate bologna sandwiches on the front steps with them, back when the siblings were three. He’d only lived a couple of streets over and he and Otis had run back and forth from each other’s house for a few years, inseparable. It was a name she hadn’t heard in over two decades, not since she was barely ten years old. Much like Mindy’s name, relegated to whispers.

“You still talk to Mike Salas?”

“Not really,” said Otis. His hands were shaking. Marcy noticed he’d been biting his nails. One finger was bandaged. “But we kind of keep in touch. Comment on posts and things every now and then mostly, but he’s nice, checked in on me when I was…”

He did not say ‘in the hospital,’ but he didn’t have to.

“His mom saw this last week and he sent it to me.”

Marcy locked the screen, and it thankfully went black before she had to look to look at Mindy’s face again, or read the new name she’d been given when their parents decided they didn’t want Mindy anymore. She passed the phone back to Otis, who stuck it in his pocket.

“How did he find out?”

“Well, I don’t know if you remember, but his family moved away a few months after everything.”

Everything. The most concise way, the most polite way to talk about it, when they needed to, which was rare. The weeks of their sister running away, tearing through the neighborhood in her bare feet, darting across traffic as cars screeched to stop in her path. The broken television when Mindy threw a block at it as hard as she could. Mindy one day going red in the face at lunch and biting their mother. A screech escaping their mother’s throat, a slap that sent Mindy reeling and dislodged her. Dad running down the stairs. A green towel with blood seeping through. Black stitches snaking down from Mom’s thumb. Visits from people they didn’t know, always couples in beige and pastels, all of whom wanted to meet tiny, five-year-old Mindy, who had become their sister three years before. Marcy and Otis were always made to play outside then, no matter the weather. Then one day, after school, they came home and Mindy’s bedroom was empty. The smell of fresh paint and Mom washing her hands over and over to get the specks off. It’ll do wonders, she’d said to herself as she scrubbed and scrubbed. New paint always does.

Marcy looked at Otis and said, “Yeah, I remember they moved.”

Otis nodded. His overlong hair, the ends bleached and parched as the dead grass of the lawn, had fallen into his eyes and Marcy fought the urge to push it back. She also remembered that he hadn’t talked for weeks after Mike and his family left.

“Well, his parents were apparently disgusted with Mom and Dad. They were all part of this Christian parent’s group that had been encouraging Mom and Dad through all the rough spots of getting Mindy settled. You know, the tantrums and things. Mr. and Mrs. Salas hated everything about what had happened. Giving her away after being her parents for three years, how they’d done it, just letting some other family take her and not letting the agency know for months. I guess there was some big fight about it and then Mike’s family decided to move. Mike says his mom searched for Mindy and wanted to make sure she was okay.”

“Shit,” muttered Marcy. Her stomach lurched and she was suddenly freezing. She didn’t want to be up here anymore. She didn’t want to be at home. At her parent’s house, that is. She wanted to be back at the apartment she shared with her friends two hours away. That was home.

“Mrs. Salas found out her new name and she searches for her every now and then to see how she’s doing. Last week she found this. Mike decided I’d want to know.”

“Did you?”

Otis shrugged and wiped at his eyes.
“I really hated all that,” he whispered. “I was so scared. I went to school and came back and she was gone and all the pictures of her were gone and Mom just said she’d found a new family that was better for her, that could take care of her. I used to worry myself sick. Actually sick, puking sick. I used to get so scared I’d just…”

He mimed scratching at his arms.

“There was blood. It got infected once. Mom took me to the doctor then never said anything again.”

“I know,” said Marcy. Her voice barely audible. She hugged herself and looked out the window. Christmas lights twinkled in most of the houses. At her real home, her roommate Kate would be baking, there would be a movie on. She hated it here.

“I know. I wanted to help. I just didn’t know how. I was only ten.”

“It’s okay. It wasn’t your job. It was Mom and Dad’s.”

Marcy picked up the cider she’d abandoned and took a large swig, then another. It dribbled down her chin. Now she was sure she would be sick later, maybe very soon, actually, but she wanted to keep drinking. Sick would not be bad, the blackness of a deep, drunken sleep would not be especially welcome. She had never understood her father so well. She finished the cider and her stinging eyes again wandered to the boxes in the attic.

“I wonder if they kept anything at all?” she asked.

“No,” said Otis. He glared back at the boxes, their lids gaping. “I looked at everything. Everything. They got rid of it all.”

“I figured.”

Mindy opened another cider.

“Was she happy? Do you think she did okay after those new people came for her?”

“No.”

They both jumped at a noise from downstairs. They peered out the window to see the group of carolers on their front porch. A tall blonde woman at the front started singing and the others followed. They did not look up at the attic window where two young people watched, unmoving.

Heather Whited is a writer and teacher from Nashville, Tennessee currently on the west coast in her second home of Portland, Oregon. She lives with an evil dog and a much nicer cat. She’s been lucky to have a number of magazines take a chance on her.