Archive for the 'fatherhood' Category

The Architecture of Things

Fiction by Andrew McNabb 

I.

To John Thomas’s mind, architecture didn’t relate exclusively to the form and shape of buildings, but to the form and shape of everything.  For example, he knew that it was their physical forms that had brought him and Aoife together; and he also knew that it wasn’t because either of them possessed overwhelming physical beauty, but that their respective flaws were comparable—some might say, complementary—and that none couldn’t be overlooked. 

Her form, though, often made him wonder, what made a woman with a small waistline and large breasts and full lips and a pear shaped bottom the best of what was to be desired?  And why did a dimpled behind and small flat breasts and ill-defined calves represent something less than perfect?  Whatever the detailed answer was, in short, it was human.  Human?  But what did that mean?  That it couldn’t be helped? 

Some might say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and that might be true, but John Thomas would say it’s in the mind, and it’s in the fingers.  A man has needs, the saying goes, and when the mind triggers the body so that blood rushes to his penis those small flat breasts and that big dimpled behind and those ill-defined calves could actually look quite nice.  But even more than that, to the human fingers those parts were all covered by the same thing, flesh, and when your eyes were closed, flesh on one feels pretty much the same as flesh on the other.  The substance beneath that skin might be different—one posterior might consist of more of that visually-valued muscle mass, another, more fatty tissue—but it was the job of the fingers simply to feel, and in each case what they felt was exactly the same: the epidermis. 

But finally, thought John Thomas, and perhaps most importantly, when it came to physical feeling, in that ultimate act of human contact, that cavern into which the penis is inserted is essentially a piece of hardware and can, by no realistic man’s definition, be considered a thing of beauty; and in his experience, which was not record-breaking, but hardly inconsiderable, all of those he had had experience with looked and felt approximately the same. 

 

 

II.

But to stay together, the architecture of a relationship needed to be on firm footing.  And because one measure of a relationship is the intensity of physical contact, imagine John Thomas’s surprise when Aoife said, “I’m a virgin.” 

Like him, she was thirty.  Wow.  So what were you supposed to think about when you heard news like that?  His thoughts, for a moment, went to the fact that that bit down there was still intact.  But that bit was just a line of skin, a physical representation of an idea, really.  What was more compelling was imagining all those years of her slapping hands away, of pulsating down there, being kept awake at night, of going quiet when the girls talked about their escapades. 

At first, Aoife’s ardent Catholicism was a curiosity he indulged, an eccentricity he found no different than if she had had a thick series of tattoos running up and down her arms, or a lifelong collection of Asian Barbies—amusing, peculiar, and something he didn’t want for himself.  But it ended up defining the both of them anyway.

It was confusing the way she wouldn’t let him penetrate her, but would wrap herself in all sorts of unusual positions to make him climax, each more lurid and depraved than the next; and then not more than an hour or a day later she’d have no problem going up and sticking out her tongue to receive her Christ. 

Long after the newness had worn off, and shortly after a fight about what they were doing, where they were going, and after a series of news bits from friends who were advancing in careers, getting married, having babies, a particularly heated sexual episode occurred that needed to go somewhere further.  Aoife got herself down on all fours.  When he moved right in she stopped him. 

“No, higher,” she said. 

He complied.  That was a different bit of hardware, for sure.

When they were done, she sobbed, and he said they wouldn’t do that again.  He said he loved her.  And after a half hour of lying there and feeling like he really did, he said, “Why don’t we just get married?”

And so they did.

 

III.

By no means should the architecture of buildings be discounted.  Bodies needed to be protected, of course, but it wasn’t just that; being inside the proper architecture, immersed in a space and surrounded by thoughtfully designed details could provide a feeling that everything would be okay.  Except that maybe it wouldn’t; if you were Aoife, at least.  She said she tried to live her life as if material things were fleeting, and John Thomas couldn’t disagree that that was the case, but he also made the point that those things were still a component of this here life, just be sure to not let them rule you. 

And that was the reason they finally settled on Portland.  You could buy a house more cheaply there than you could in many other places.  Not that they were in a position to do so just yet.  But for the here and now at least you could walk among the turreted peaks and the orangey brick facades they’d seen nowhere else, floating on the thought that if they searched hard enough, they would find an interesting place of their own.

The first place they saw, however, was not one of them.  It was part of Aoife’s general view on life that good things should be saved for.  That’s why she was always carrying around that damn calculator.  When they found themselves standing in front of a three-decker on Montreal Street in the East End, John Thomas could see her clutching the calculator in her pocketbook, and he wasn’t surprised when she said, “I could live there.”

He didn’t respond.  And they didn’t go in.  He tried to tell her that he didn’t need to see it to know what was already there.  If the floor inside the front door was not covered by a worn red carpet and the walls by a shiny brown paint job, then peeling linoleum and fading flowery wallpaper would surely be the case.  A wasted ten-speed would be tethered to the stairs, or maybe a child’s plastic bike just left, forgotten until the next time.  Three metal mailboxes, names scratched in and out, scattered take-out menus on the floor, an empty bottle of Diet Coke in the corner.  And all of it wrapped in the smell of decades of comings and goings in a place that would never really be treated as home.  So despite the rent, no.

Moving on, all it had taken him to decide on the place they were now living was the cast iron awning out front.  It was a signal, a beacon.  This building might be boxy and not so complex, but there were details here that you wouldn’t find in any three-decker.  The weathered mahogany door in the lobby, the black and white mosaic tile floor, the simple but well-polished banisters, the flowered plaster moldings.  It even had a name, Northcourt.  And after much debate, Aoife assented.

 

IV.

So with all of that now taken care of, John Thomas was remarking to Aoife just the other day how there were all sorts of things that enter and leave and surround our bodies, and she remarked with a smile that that was an unusual thing to think about.  The smile was because she loved him, the way they talked about things like that a lot. 

When it got to be her turn she made the point that how, finally, when certain things were in place, basic human needs met, what greatly formed the rest of you was what you ended up doing with your time.  She, the music major, had just gotten a job as a secretary, and he took this as a nudge.  He couldn’t do the same class of job, and his new neck tattoo prevented discussion of it, but she wondered if maybe there were other opportunities that, if his creativity was competently engaged, could be worthwhile.  He’d told her he’d think about that, and he did.

And so here they were, forming a life’s rhythm together, indulging, somewhat, the conventions of what it took to exist and to be able to pay for things.  They had been in that spot a month now, and just as he had said in selling the place to Aoife when they first saw it, it was nice being able to sit at the table by the window on a weekend morning and push down on a coffee press while you looked out at the little pocket park across the street.  That was the case right now, except he was all alone. 

As always, there were complications. 

Aoife was in the bathroom peeing on a pregnancy stick.  He thought it might come to this.  He didn’t want her to be pregnant.  He thought they should wait, and when he’d said that to Aoife, she’d replied she’d done all the waiting she could handle.  Her sexual maneuverings had become more mundane, more functional, and she’d also said that they couldn’t be stopped now, and the act couldn’t be covered in a plastic sheath for his penis. 

The stream of urine coming from the bathroom was lusty, fueled by morning coffee, and perhaps by Aoife’s intense wishes; and despite the gravity of the impending outcome—he couldn’t do anything about that—John Thomas let his mind settle on that little plastic stick, how it was something that you emitted the body’s waste on and then how it would tell you if there was a tiny life growing inside you.  My God, the architecture of that little piece, and the architecture of a woman’s body, a little potential something taking root right up there in a woman’s—in Aoife’s—womb.  All of that interconnected hardware.

The seconds dripped past, and then finally, with a flush, a verdict was upon them.  The door opened and Aoife emerged.  His eyes darted to her belly.  Could something be living inside her?  His eyes went to her face.  She was smiling.  But what did that mean?  That she would soon start to grow, her belly expanding and distending, a little life inside her taking its own form and a shape? 

As Aiofe kept coming, and with the sun at her back giving the appearance of flight, John Thomas had an overwhelming desire to talk, to remark that when a life was conceived wasn’t it incredible that with each passing week body parts and organs would just appear and be added?  And how when complete the tiny being would just smooth down the uterine tract and push through that cavity that had once seemed like hardware, but that now seemed like something else entirely. 

“So?” said John Thomas.  “So?”

Aoife sat, and a conversation just emerged.

 

Andrew McNabb is a writer, a husband and a father of four.  For more information, please visit www.andrew-mcnabb.com.

 

Poems by Sidney Thompson

MY WORD

In ribbons the blinds
make of the courtyard

light, I press my lips
to your mother’s moon

belly and whisper,
“It’s me again.”

As if in answer for you,
my child, eyes-closed,

she says, “Hmmm,”
a sort of smiling om.

The catalog of my day
is my night’s prayer.

Oh, I’ve never prayed
this way, god no, but now

someone’s listening,
aren’t you? And from this

memory of comfort, you
will recognize my voice,

won’t you? You will say,
“Father,” a miracle, and I,

your child, will answer.

THE SEVENTEENTH WEEK

Your mother once snaked her legs with mine
so that, I swear, with each moon phase
they seemed multiplied, my cat-eyed snake

goddess with navel ring. Now the magic
is slighter, hidden in an egg as if in a hat,
how you pull and pull to round her belly

and back, stretch a piercing into a crater
because it’s moon’s nature to want more
moon, I understand, but to steal her legs—

uncanny. But if you could see her pull back
against you, the mounting effort to marry her body
to full-body Boppy—the squirm, the hump,

the whole canine scooch-and-scooch to land
you atop the pillowed pedestal, to reduce
your effect—you’d regret your tidal slosh,

I know, but you needn’t. And if you could
see me behind her, uncovered by the fuss,
flat as sky, a shell shard, a dragonfly ring melting

under dust by the bathroom sink—like Boppy
was once suspended in plastic and shelved
in a distant store, a fossil’s reminder that nothing

foregrounds like background and is abortable forever—
you’d remember to rest easily, too, and wait
your turn because that is what moons do.

ECOSYSTEM

Your mother, if she can sleep, must sleep like a door
that won’t stay open, wedged by pillows to keep her
propped on the hinge of her left side, to keep you left,
too, close to the heart, a metronome for sleep.

There’s no crowding or kinking of the old sewer line,
the Inferior Vena Cava, which recycles breathless blood
below the waist, up along the spine, past the placenta—
the scenic route— to the right atrium. The best flow

prevents hypertension, hemorrhoids, and swelling, too,
of ankles and the already spreading feet of the exterior she.
Ultrasound shows by absence you are not a boy—you are
a half-this, half-that girl in your stylish vernix, urinating

and drinking where you swim, our 26-week-old baby fish
fountain we call Emerson. Everything in the amniotic
compost tastes delectable. Sometimes I hang my arm
around you both, my hand wedged beneath her globe,

feeling for kicks and heartbeats like hooves. Is this
how gods, not goddesses, pass time, waiting for function,
a door to open—your mother to finish the bottled water
on the night stand so I can fetch another?

DISCOVERY PARK

In our neighborhood, where Texas Instruments
put up that barbed wire to make calculators,

where rental houses have aluminum siding
in the back instead of brick, your mother’s spine

curves like a bough of ripened apples. She’ll try
anything to coax you out. At bedtime, I inserted

suppositories of evening primrose oil, retrieved
maxi-pads when she forgot. Now, it’s sex we take,

our daily dose, and I confess it’s weird
inducement—my hormones plus her orgasm.

The cervix is dilated 3 of 10 centimeters, as if
a microscopic artillery shell exploded through

the chapel ceiling—I can almost touch you.
Mornings, I teach and drive to school, but afternoons

when I return as student, your mother needs the Jeep,
so I ride the bus. It’s a double life, doctoral husband.

Wednesday night is Fiction Workshop night,
and January 18th, a Wednesday, is the semester’s first

meeting, the last day before your birth, when I get
the call that stands me up in the middle of class

to announce, It’s time, like I’m trying out the fiction
of movies. Outside, I race over shadows and lawn

and spotted light because my line has only one bus,
and missing it could mean missing everything,

but like the movies again, I find a bus parked
at the stop: not Eagle Point, not Mean Green,

but mine, Discovery Park, waiting as your mother
waits, when it’s never waited for me before.

I haven’t believed in miracles or God in ages,
not since the eighties, when I discovered in high school

the pleasure of annotating the Bible. That was before
I got old and fat, lost my hair, my dogs, and forgot

how to play the piano, the trumpet, before I knew
death and divorce were synonyms. On board,

it’s just me and the driver, just destination and delivery,
and silence, until the bus climbs.

 

Sidney Thompson is the author of the short story collection Sideshow. He received his MFA from the University of Arkansas and is a PhD candidate at the University of North Texas. His poetry has appeared in The Midwest Quarterly and Metrosphere, and is forthcoming in RHINO Poetry. This series of poems is dedicated to his wife, Sara, and daughter, Sydney Emerson.

Five Poems by Kate Bolton Bonnici

ROBBERY

The children sleep, closed
faces warm and lush,
round fruits. I leave them
curled in blankets to curl
around my computer
or The New Yorker.

My husband asks me to sit with him
on the sofa. I see too late

he meant to be kind.

His voice held something
warm and timid, an offering
gone now. He licks
his hurt by saying
I’ve abandoned us.

I didn’t mean to bruise the pear.
My thumb pressed
heavy

into milky green flesh.
We flush with misread wants.

I race to catch the only scrap
of self I can still see.
It shudders away, thin
paper napkin tossed
along the freeway. I run,
breathing too fast to tell him

I’m lost.

MORNING, LOS ANGELES

Two now reach for me, want to hold
more than I can give. We stroll into clusters
of flies. Their hard, green bodies pop
against my face. My older daughter shouts,
“Shoo, fly!” I wave a pocket
of purring wings. The baby in my arms
nudges my chest, wanting. A white truck drives
past, radio loud enough to vibrate
my shoulders. I taste it in my throat,
chew on the squall of voices
and potholes. My mother went for a run
and didn’t return. She wrote a letter
from Phoenix of birds rising black
in the desert. Above us, a gold-throated
hummingbird shivers, suspended
like the dime-store Christmas ornament
on my father’s tree, glitter-sweet angel
spinning.

BLOOD LINES

Daughter, we are floating.

Your fingers whisper. Somewhere my mother jerks awake. On the yellow couch. Beside the kitchen counter. She remembers her name. You sleep with one new hand on my chest, asking for my breath. We have only just met, but you curl into me. Your lips flutter and click, nursing through our sleep.

Beneath us, Los Angeles. Lights shudder like the trilling mouths of birds. In the old place, robins swarmed South, draping an orange net over the yard and yanking berries from the hedge. Our front walk graffitied with their purple-berry shit.

I bled when you were born. Your sweet, bulging body pressed through me with all I’d rejected. An emptying. The sound of my groaning brought you caked-white, mouth searching, blue cord heaving between us: I offered up everything. When it was time for me to stand, I couldn’t, and we waited a little longer in the space of your first being.

Morning emerges now, dust fizzing on the plastic, half-closed blinds. You wake with startled arms, a beetle on her back, belly warm. You need to press your cheek to my cheek, mouth open to my neck. Breath smudged with milk.

I lie with you on the crackling chuck pad, aching where your body opened up mine to be born, sacred space stitched pink. I once wove these lines upon my mother. For days after she shuffled close-legged, torn perineum, holding her re-written body like a shaky glass egg that could lope away end-

over-end down the street.

MY FORMER OBJECT OF EVERYTHING

You tore me as you emerged a formed
person, saying masquerades, gorgeous birds
dissolve, we have strings for our antiquities
.

I forget that you are so young, that you were only
just born, in the scheme of things. I can’t stop saying
what you will remember years later to your daughter,
words frothing like yellow-jackets in the black oak,
their flashing bodies hard pebbles, stinging,
stinging into death.

You are three: Don’t hit me.
I could. I almost do. You know this before me.
Between us, the baby you once were nurses,
her mouth noisy and pleased.

You hold one hand on your hip, a painted tambourine
in the other, purple plastic heels rattling too big on your feet.
My name is Linda, smiling a thin-mouthed secret:
I am a mother too.

The baby mumbles. You play the bright tambourine.
See, I’m laughing! Don’t you see?
The tambourine chatters and skates like branches scraping
the tin roof of the barn where I hid, a sound

large enough to blanket the missing earth beneath us,
loud enough to soften
our fall.

I CAN’T REMEMBER SLEEPING ALONE

From the time you slid out with all that blood and feces,
you began to leave me. I began to leave you.

You clutch my necklace, my thumb, my nipple. A strand
of my hair loops around your ear. Outside, a green truck

heaves past. Our walls shiver. I lay you in the little-used
brown bassinet. Your cry leaps out, a coiled and trembling

deer. I wait too long to answer, air clotted like my grandmother’s
gelatin salads, tender boiled bones, my arms lost, sockets

aching, unable to reach for you again. Under the weight
of your sound I am quiet; I don’t tell everything. Dark words

skulk, broken-eyed, waiting. Some days omission
is the best love I can give.

Kate Bolton Bonnici is a writer, mother, and lawyer living with her family in Los Angeles. Kate is a graduate of Harvard University and New York University School of Law. She is originally from rural Alabama.

Spring Classes: Sexy Mommy Stories and The Poetry of Fatherhood

I’m proud to say we are nearing the final week of Mother, Writer, Mentor’s first ever on-line writing workshop, To the Cradle and Beyond, Excavating the Poetry of Motherhood. We will be offering this course again throughout the year (please check the website for our latest classes). Our next two on-line writing workshops include:

Sexy Mommy Stories: Writing Romance Back Into Motherhood

Instructor: Jessica Powers

Dates: April 9-April 30

Who says romance is over just because of baby spit up, dirty diapers, sleepless nights, and breastfeeding? This workshop is for writers who want to write romance and love stories about and for mothers. We will cover the basics of fiction-plot, characters, and theme-for beginning writers and probe deeper for writers with more experience. We will consider the necessary elements for a good romance story and reclaim motherhood as an arena for romance, sex, and, yes!, eroticism. Sign up here.

Excavating and Writing The Poetry of Fatherhood

Instructor: Tania Pryputniewicz

Dates: April 30- May 25

You’ve watched the wife’s body transform before your eyes, witnessed first-hand her incremental emotional, psychological and spiritual migration to places you may or may not be able, though willing, to follow. Your own metamorphosis, while less physically apparent, is in actuality no less arduous or multi-layered. Or you and your partner have gone through longer gestations: reams of applications, false leads, interviews and further scrutiny while attempting to adopt. Or you’ve chosen not to father, but find the words of your own father coursing through your mind. Join this on-line poetry class for a chance to mine poetry of the past as well as contemporary poems (including those we’ve published at The Fertile Source) for structural and thematic inspiration towards the writing of a new crop of poems reflecting the continuum of experiences that comprise fatherhood. Sign up here.

Possible Futures: Poetry, Puerto Rico and Adoption with David-Glen Smith

Headshot Poet David Glen Smith

Poet David Glen Smith

Your poem “Learning Spanish” provides a sensual recreation of the experience of immersion in a foreign language morphing familiar via the body—here through the lens of love and fatherhood and the translation into body rhythms. Can you talk to us about this rich braided layering of history, family history, and future? How you arrived at your metaphors and the process of writing this poem?

For a number of years, after many attempts at learning conversational Spanish, I reached the conclusion all languages are musical in origin, and my approaches conflicted with developing a poetic understanding of the phrasing—sometimes, on a basic level, there is a satisfaction just listening to a group of people absorbed in their cultural conversations without my comprehension of the words: the meaning transforms to music. From that starting ground I wanted to describe the sensation of a persona’s developing understanding of another language through a close relationship: a partner born from another culture. And the persona’s need for his child to understand the background of both parents, both cultures.

Likewise the process of creative thought is similar to language comprehension— in the sense writers often drown themselves in a collection of impressions and sensations in order to sort out and organize the flow of relevant themes and emotional impact to provide their readers. In this poem’s case, by mirroring the experience of language and creativity I opened myself to a wide assortment of material I needed to weave into a specific tapestry of information.

On a recent trip to Puerto Rico I discovered how vast the quantity of history and literature and music were hidden from me, through no one’s fault but my own. Borrowing from my experiences of San Juan —the copper-blue cobble stones for instance, the carts of candy and chipped ice, the older men playing dominos in the town square— I discovered my persona would likewise be alien to the past life experiences of his partner as well as the average day-to-day speech of an unknown city. Once I acknowledged that fact, the watery metaphors quickly swept over the poem.

In “As A Figure of Hermes” the narrator open with the writer’s dilemma: “A moment of confrontation: me and the blank paper,” dilemma enough without the presence of a child to raise and love and imagine a life for over the rest of one’s days. Eventually the narrator latches onto the metaphor of Hermes, sliding into reverie about mortal son. Can you speak to the relationship between fatherhood and writing? How has fatherhood come to bear on your writing life?

With the experience of becoming a father last year, and the whole process of the adoption of our son Brendan, I quickly fell into a mode of redefining myself. Almost immediately a whole new understanding of my goals and aspirations emerged—I know it sounds cliché, but once the title of Father is attributed to you, a strange mindset develops without warning: no matter how much mental preparation you are supplied.

The poem in particular was a projection of a future possibility once Brendan reached his middle teen years—written before a birth mother had even matched with us. What I find interesting, although the projection of him as a dark-haired boy is inaccurate, my fear of a loss of communication with him is very similar to the fear of losing touch with my creative energies. Once, in the mid Nineties, I experienced a long spell of writer’s block, partly self-imposed, partly circumstance. My fear if the blank page echoes my fear of Brendan not understanding the creative energy of a writer-father.

“Without hesitation, / shove kindling and kerosene-soaked-rags / under the foundations of any structure / binding your slender body to the past” opens your powerful poem, “I Tell My Son to Burn Down All Bridges.” This poem strikes me as the kind of letter, as a poet, I would hope to find in my “baby book” (or, from the prenatal birth classes parents of our generation might attend, where one is often asked to write a letter to one’s future child). Can you talk to us about the inspiration behind this poem?

The “Burning Bridges” poem is another example of writing which appeared before we were matched with the birth-mother. It was the first full length poem I wrote addressing my son as an actuality, rather than a possibility due to the fact we were processing the paperwork and profile information for the agency. As you mentioned, it is a letter “exercise” I heard about years before as a means of developing ideas into something stronger and more stable.

Most of the inspiration is based off negative experiences from my immediate past—mainly a one-time corporate employer telling me to not burn any bridges in my exit interview. This of course only made me burn a huge pyre when I left the company to pursue my writing and editing positions. I pray he is never put into such situations of corporate middle management—or ill-advised authority figures—which of course became the backbone of the poem itself.

Furthermore I did not want to bind him to any expectations of my own. Certainly I want him to be involved with the creative arts in same fashion, but it will have to be up to his own choosing, not mine.

Most importantly, I wanted to prepare him in a sense for the opposition he will bump into later in life due to the fact his parents are in a same-sex relationship. I hate that expression; it sums up the situation in a very cold, clinical fashion. Regardless of that fact, I want him to be able to see beyond the definitions and restrictions society often places on diverse thoughts, diverse ideas, to hold firmly to his opinions and live according to a moral code based on his own choice construction, and analytical process.

How do the practices of sketching and writing compete/complement your imagination’s processes?

At one time my sketching was more intensive, more of a ritualized practice which helped explore new ideas—during the drawing process I discovered that the development of new schemes with a different manner of expression brought new focus to writing. However, with Brendan’s birth, my regular practice of drawing and painting has stopped temporarily. Once the demands of raising him lessen slightly, or offer windows of opportunities, I’ll start the process again, exploring a way of bridging the two different fields into one project. I have partially generated a series of Japanese tanka verses partnered with ink-brush illustrations—a project only half realized at the moment. As it stands currently, what resulted is that my two selves, illustrator and poet, tend to argue who is in control of the output. Oftentimes the original idea seems to suffer between the two extremes. A compromise needs to be built between the two aspects of my personality.

Any writing mentors you wish to share with us?

When earning my MFA in Creative Writing at Vermont College, then affiliated with Norwich University, I was fortunate to work with three established writers of merit: Susan Mitchell, Lynda Hull, and Mark Doty. Each of the trio, with their unique methods, did instill a better sense of direction for my writing. Through their individual approaches I strengthened my style of building connections between a variety of themes and story-lines. I always admired the manner their particular styles braid more than one conceit through one body of work. Some quick examples from their creative efforts I often use in my classes: Hull, “Ornithology;” Mitchell, “Havana Birth;” Doty, “Tiara.”

There is much talk recently about the validity of a higher degree in creative writing; at the time I was working towards my own, I felt a strong connection to the concept of guided study for developing a stronger sense of self, a stronger sense of craft. It is not a direction suited for everyone. On a practical level, I chose the MFA specifically to enable me to have a background for teaching university-level courses. On a more emotional approach, I needed to learn how to feel comfortable in my own skin and how to be honest with my own personal experiences.

We understand you are at work on a new series of poems, Quintet, with a unique structure. Can you tell us a bit about it?

Quintet is a manuscript, near completion, which explores numerous interior monologues. I do like the idea of a tight “concept album” in the music industry—in a tongue in cheek manner I created the same idea for a poetry collection. In this sense, the full narrative of a five member modern jazz group is heard. Edgar Lee Masters’ book Spoon River Anthology proved a valid inspiration ever since I read it in high school. In my case, the thoughts and impressions of the band are shown in a manner mirroring the sixties jazz be-bop movement, sudden solo improvisations popping into the middle of a memory without warning. The verses appear alternating between a tight, traditional form and an abstract, expressionistic pattern on the page. In this manner I follow the Modernists from the Twentieth Century, their rebellion against expectation and strict definition.

David-Glen Smith’s work appeared in various magazines including:Assaracus (where “I Tell My Son to Burn Down All Bridges” first appeared), The Centrifugal Eye, ffrrfr, Houston Literary Review, Lady Jane Miscellany, Louisville Review, Mid-America Review, Saltwater Quarterly, Slant, The Steel-Toe Review,and The Write Room. In addition, a recent print anthology titled Ganymede-Unfinished accepted two of his poems. Currently residing in Cypress, Texas with his partner of ten years, they recently adopted a baby boy, a welcome edition in their lives: new topics and inspirations for poetry projects. Smith teaches English Literature at both Wharton County Junior College and Lone Star College-CyFair. He received his MFA at Vermont College, and his MA at the University of MO at St. Louis. For more information visit his website.

Learning Spanish, As a Figure of Hermes, I Tell My Son to Burn Down All Bridges: Three Poems by Poet David Glen Smith

Learning Spanish

1.
It’s too easy to fall
into the ancient sea of your family’s
conversations, into the phrases
of their language— woven with birds
and paper roses.

I lean into the current
of their thoughts,
into the flood of indecipherable
rhythms, the latin root
heavy as cobblestones originally imported

from Spain, copper-blue stones
which served as counter weights on trade ships
arriving from the Old World, sent to balance
the absence, the expectation for cargo on return
trips: dark rum, raw sugarcane, aboriginal slaves.

2.
Later, my throat mumbles words
which you drop on my tongue, casual as communion:
camisa,
               tabillero,
                              portada—

the syllables jostle in my mouth,
between my incisors as chips of ice,
or homemade candies—membrillo de mangó—
sweets purchased from a middle-aged woman
with a pushcart in a courtyard of Old San Juan.

The tart pricklings accent against
the roof of the mouth, the double vowels heavy
as two empty rowboats
which brush against each other
at the water’s edge,

and pull back, both caught in a short sway,
in unison, the same manner your parents
move about their narrow kitchen, a casual salsa,
following rituals and patterns
of making cafe con leche. Then,

they simmer pink beans
with chunks of stewed gourd,
while on the counter a stalk of green plantains arches,
leans forward to a ripeness,
leans forward to listen

to your parents humming
an unrecognizable lyric with the radio,
a washed-out blue tune,
the same color of the streets in the capital-city,
which run as streams of faded beryl.

3.
When I practice phrases
my phonetics falter, they arch and unwind
the language into nonsensical syllables,
the words transform to awkward birds
settling into the evening

spilling out a chorus of blue-black voices,
the sounds clutter wires along crossroads,
verbs jostle for placement around wide-eyed nouns,
misplaced adjectives seek new positions to roost
along the established hierarchy on cable-lines.

Yet there are times, rare moments,
when you forget and pour over me
a pitcher full of indecipherable phrases,
sudden shock of cold water,
or a broken levee of vocabulary,

similar sensations to my waking in the night
to find you rocking the baby in full parental mode,
whispering Spanish lullabies. I lean forward
to listen, drunk on lack of sleep,
and watch your body sway in a private tide,

a personal conversation. And my ears recognize a few
isolated words— take in scattered phrases.

As a Figure of Hermes

A moment of confrontation:
me and the blank paper.
So I breathe. Fidget with the seat.

Adjust placement of the pen
in the hand and stare at the lamp
to expect miracles—or to simply wait

for inspiration to arrive
as a figure of Hermes, god of messages
and proclamations. Young, dark-haired,

olive complexion— the eternal youth appearing
as a reinvention of my son:
his unkempt hair, a rough unshaven face,

brimming with assertiveness
after soccer practice, smelling of green youth
and over confidence—

I want this figure to personify my work,
my athletic poems stacked in slightly
disorganized piles on my desk.

I want my boy to represent an appropriate,
valid body of work which explains
my creative process, my desire for writing,

yes—my raison d’être. Go ahead. State the fact I want too much
as I daydream, glancing outside my study window,
watching my neighbors settling into their lives

and their chores, sorting trash for the weekly pickup
or sweeping their wet driveways clear of the leaves
floating around the subdivision,

and here I am falling into images of the mundane
in order to fill out the page with material
that may turn into something other when the mood

returns. A time when Brendan is less averse
to fatherly affection: my son with his facial expressions
slightly wind-burned from the rush of

falling through the skies, freckles across his shoulders,
wings on his ankles, a figure of mid-summer himself,
god of thieves and alphabets, delivering me a note

from the Muses, offering a stronger sense of direction
and greater sense of self worth, acute awareness of
my writing career as it stumbles along with my notations,

as I jump from the deep edge of the pool
without paying attention to how deep the water
actually is. When my awkward body hits the surface

it submerges as a stone
into the furiously cold waters.
A new horizon expands overhead—

which brings me back, almost full circle,
leaping headfirst into a project without
a scope of the territory or full knowledge of the exact

limitations of theme or topic.
Only a revision of the unknowable future
in my hands—my head filled with

a want of my son to turn,
look back, and maybe,
just maybe

gain a full understanding of me
with a rush of winged epiphanies—
yet, without further declarations from the world. 

Or without formal edicts of fate.
Or the domed heavens spiraling persistently
above our heads. Silent. Without purpose.

I Tell My Son to Burn Down All Bridges

Without hesitation,
shove kindling and kerosene-soaked-rags
under the foundations of any structure
binding your slender body to the past,
incinerate the litany of misguided perceptions,
broken advice, miscalculated directions
which led you down dead-end gravel roads
at dusk, where even technology fails
to establish a connection to your self worth,
self validation.

Without regret, fulminate,
strike bundles of matches, cup the small flames close,
and shield the fever against your chest,
then light all combustible materials within reach,
the cracked plywood planks
built across the river of your life—
fuel the developing fox fires
with tinder and last year’s seasoned branches—
collect brushwood to throw into the pyre
with glorious affirmation.

Without looking back,
acknowledge the ash which rains down as soft snow
and the sheets of fire which expand, licking up
further beyond any flash point. Encourage the blaze,
to vesicate, sear lumber and stone—
without turning, you must visualize the heat
at your back, blistering the nape of your neck,
singing the tips of your coal black hair, and then,
only then, step away. Motion forward—keeping your eyes
centered to the cool darkness ahead.

David-Glen Smith’s work appeared in various magazines including:Assaracus (where “I Tell My Son to Burn Down All Bridges” first appeared), The Centrifugal Eye, ffrrfr, Houston Literary Review, Lady Jane Miscellany, Louisville Review, Mid-America Review, Saltwater Quarterly, Slant, The Steel-Toe Review,and The Write Room. In addition, a recent print anthology titled Ganymede-Unfinished accepted two of his poems. Currently residing in Cypress, Texas with his partner of ten years, they recently adopted a baby boy, a welcome edition in their lives: new topics and inspirations for poetry projects. Smith teaches English Literature at both Wharton County Junior College and Lone Star College-CyFair. He received his MFA at Vermont College, and his MA at the University of MO at St. Louis. For more information visit his website.

Birds and Egs

Fiction by Don Kunz

Wendy awoke in the master bedroom of the restored Victorian on Prospect Street.  She lay listening to the lovebirds shredding newspaper in their cage next to the bay window and her husband making breakfast in their downstairs kitchen.  She stared at the ceiling.  The new light of an August morning had streamed through the stained glass to cover the cracked plaster with sky-blue and blood-red streaks resembling a child’s finger painting.  She thought of a shiny white egg the size of a marble.  She thought of nesting.  At almost five months she was definitely showing.  Beneath her flannel nightgown Wendy’s stomach was no longer flat and hard from years of abdominal crunches and five-mile runs along Blackstone Boulevard on the east side of Providence.  She heard Bill breaking eggs into a ceramic bowl, whisking them with a fork, pouring them spattering into the cast iron skillet.  The skillet had belonged to Wendy’s mother who had died of colon cancer on Valentine’s Day.  She remembered her mother’s distended belly rising beneath the sheet of her hospital deathbed and imagined she would look like that herself before she delivered in December.  Wendy found it disturbing that on the surface life and death should look so much alike.  She wished her mother had lived long enough to share the mysteries of pregnancy and childbirth with her, especially because this would be a Christmas baby, a miracle.  Then, Wendy smelled freshly brewed coffee and felt the familiar first wave of morning sickness.

Bill dropped four slices of whole wheat into the toaster then turned back to stir their eggs in the skillet.  He sang the chorus of a top-forty tune he remembered from his younger years, “Hang on Sloopy, Sloopy hang on.”  After a miscarriage during the second month of Wendy’s first pregnancy, this had become their theme song.  Bill could almost picture this second fetus adrift in amniotic fluid trying to find a grip on the uterine wall with its newly formed hands.  If Sloopy could just hang on, then, what?  Bill would be a father for the first time at age sixty-one.  At a time when his colleagues would be looking forward to retirement, Bill would be heating formula and planning his schedule around day care.  He was still not certain how to feel about that.  But he was trying to stay positive.  From the beginning of fertility treatments he had told himself that becoming a father would make him young again.  Bill wanted to believe that at seventy-five he would have a dark tan, ropy muscles, and lungs like a Sherpa.  He tried to imagine playing one-on-one basketball in the driveway, making a fade away jump shot against his taller teenage son while his retired colleagues across town shuffled about in walkers, dithering over long-term care policies and bingo schedules in nursing homes.  Bill turned into the hallway, carrying two full plates toward the dining room.  He paused at the foot of the stairs.  “Breakfast,” he hollered.  “Eggs and toast.  Breakfast for Wendy and Sloopy.”  No answer.  From the bathroom at the top of the stairs came the sound of his wife retching.  Bill walked slowly into the dining room and set the plates on the table.

Wendy rested her forehead on the forward edge of the white porcelain toilet bowl, reached up and flushed.  “Coming,” she hollered.  “I’m coming, for Christ’s sake!”  She heaved herself up and reached for the Aquafresh on the pedestal sink.  The bristles on her toothbrush were splayed out like the legs of an old dog trying to stay upright.  Her voice tumbled down the stairs toward Bill.  “I’m not too sure about Sloopy.  I may have barfed him up.  I couldn’t bear to look.”

Christmas baby or not she thought as she brushed her teeth, no one could call her the Virgin Wendy anymore; that’s for sure.  At work, Joe Early had christened her with that nickname when they were dating, because she was holding out on him.  She glanced into the speckled mirror over the sink.  She was foaming at the mouth.  Rabid bitch she thought.  She remembered snapping and growling at poor Joe, formerly her would-be lover, now barely a colleague.  Joe Early, one of four senior partners at Robinson, Bender, Early & Touché, Attorneys at Law had spent four months after his third divorce trying to get into her pants.  Back then she was in her fifth year at the firm and had wondered if giving into sexual intimacy would be a quid pro quo for making partner in the firm.  So Wendy, who hadn’t been a virgin since she was seventeen, decided to keep their relationship platonic as a test.  A week after the vote which made her a partner and head of the firm’s workman’s compensation division, Wendy dumped Joe when he tried to grope her in the small kitchen off the second-floor conference room at the end of the hall.  Mooning about with unrequited love was unprofessional but, nevertheless, flattering; feeling her up at work was not.

Wendy took a gulp of tap water, grimaced at the taste of chlorine, thought again about buying a filter for the tap, and rinsed her mouth but did not swallow.  She recalled she had not been able to read anything but embarrassment in Joe’s face, like when he had received a Victoria’s Secret Catalog at work.  She was hoping for disappointment.  She would have preferred epic heart break.  But Joe just blushed briefly.  Then he reached past her, poured himself a coffee (no sugar) and turned away.  She had been tempted to ask if he knew anything about sexual harassment statutes but decided not to rub it in.  Three weeks later Wendy had tried to imagine what Joe would think about her having intercourse with an economist she had met through a dating service.  At first it had amazed her, but later Wendy figured she was overdue.  At age thirty-seven having committed all her energy to marathon training and a seventy-hour workweek at the law firm, she decided it was time to stop acting like a cloistered nun.  What could she have told Joe if he had asked why him and not me, especially when Bill was almost twenty years older than either of them?  Bill just smelled right?  Wendy believed in the science of pheromones.  Now she was pregnant at forty, trying to believe in miracles.

Bill ascended the stairs wearing a red T-shirt, khaki slacks, and a denim apron that read, “If you laid all the economists end to end, they still couldn’t reach a conclusion.”  He shoved both hands into his front pockets beneath the apron and stared at Wendy in the bathroom mirror, admiring her brown eyes, perfectly oval face, and short auburn curls.  Bill watched Wendy wipe her mouth with the green guest towel.  “You were just kidding about Sloopy, right?  Because I’ve got his breakfast ready.  He needs to eat to hang on.”

Wendy brushed her fingertips across the dark circles beneath her eyes as if to erase them.  She wondered when she would see the glow that younger women seemed to get when they were pregnant.  Since marrying Bill three years earlier, she had wondered if starting a family this late was an unrealistic prospect.  Now she tried to push doubt aside.  She told herself it was like hitting the wall at mile eighteen in a marathon when the body had used up all its glycogen; if she kept pushing, she could do it.  And so could her husband she thought; he was a tough, old bird who looked and acted younger than his years.   Bill’s reflection appeared beside hers in the mirror, a square chiseled face with scar tissue around the eyes.  Wendy spoke to his image.  “I’ve got to believe this one’s got a grip.  This baby’s a keeper.”

Bill bowed his head, rested his chin lightly on Wendy’s shoulder, and wrapped his arms around her.  He wanted to hold on more tightly but feared he might break something.  “It had better be.  I don’t think there are many more where he came from.”

Wendy rotated inside the circle of Bill’s arms and gave him a peck on the cheek.  “Thanks for fixing breakfast.”  She wrinkled her nose.  “Oh, God.  I think I’m going to be sick again.”  She pushed Bill away, put both hands on her knees, and leaned over the toilet.  Her hands turned into fists as if she could fight off the nausea.  “Morning sickness is supposed to go away by the third month.  It’s too late for this.”

“It’s probably the damned eggs,” Bill said.  I should have fixed oatmeal.”

Wendy straightened up.  “Yeah, probably just the eggs.  But I ought to be able to keep something as simple as an egg down.  Eggs are supposed to be good for you.”

“Why don’t you save a step, leave the toilet seat up just in case?”

“Don’t be a damned pessimist!” she snapped.   “I refuse to be sick any more.  I’m going to take a seat at the table, and I’m going to finish everything you put on my plate.”

Wendy waited for Bill to get out of her way.  But he reached out and placed both hands on her belly.  His knuckles were heavy, thick, and scarred.  Sloopy wasn’t kicking.  Wendy reached up to brush toast crumbs from Bill’s lips.

 

That evening Wendy and Bill lay in bed with their heads propped up on pillows and watched a rerun of “The Best of Johnny Carson.”  Wendy was nibbling on soda crackers to settle her stomach.  Beneath the sheet Bill’s feet framed the screen on the twenty-one inch Sony at the foot of the bed.  When he forced his toes together, Johnny disappeared; when he let them flop to the side, Johnny reappeared.  Now Johnny was wearing a black velvet turban and holding an envelope to his forehead; he was playing the Great Carnac, solver of riddles.  The routine reminded Bill of “Jeopardy,” but every answer was a joke.  Johnny closed his eyes, furrowed his brow, and let the suspense build.  “Sis boom bah,” he proclaimed.  Then Johnny tore the end from the envelope and blew into it.  The envelope bellied out, Johnny extracted a piece of paper, unfolded it and read:  “What is the sound of a sheep exploding?”

Seated on the sofa to Johnny’s right, Ed McMahon burst into gales of hearty laughter.  “Yes, oh Great Carnac, The Magnificent.”

Bill brought his toes together and erased Johnny.  “Looks like we didn’t miss much the first time around.  If this is the best of Carson, I wouldn’t want to see the worst.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Wendy said, “maybe that would be more entertaining.  You know, less scripted, more spontaneous.”

Bill moved his feet apart.  Johnny popped up on the screen again.  Bill wondered if that was true about being funny.  He thought it was true about sex.  Now that sex was a regular part of his life, he was relieved and grateful.  But it seemed less exciting.  He remembered the thrill of picking up chicks in bars and bookstores down city when he was fresh out of Providence College with a graduate degree in economics.  It had helped that he looked like a body builder, that he had trained in gyms from the age of thirteen, and that at seventeen he had become New England Welter-Weight Champion in the Golden Gloves.  Whenever some flighty woman in a bar reached up to trace the scar tissue beneath his left eye or paused to focus on his twice broken nose or asked about the callous on his knuckles, Bill knew he had her.  If he wanted her.  But after hitting forty-five, suddenly all the knockout women close to his age were taken.  On weekends he saw them in minivans driving their kids to the Roger Williams’ Park Zoo or swimming lessons at the Barrington Y.  By the time he was fifty, Bill had gotten used to going a year or more without getting lucky.  Eventually, he found the women in bars divided into two types:  Young and giggly or old and desperate.  They were either caught up in trivial details of undergraduate work or seething with anger about divorces.  They all were obsessive about gaining weight.  Inviting them out to dinner was like asking them to step into the ring.

In hindsight Bill knew his sexual exploits had been a crazy game, the worst-case scenario being AIDS.  Meanwhile the sexual climate had changed.  Pretending to love and to be loved by a stranger no longer seemed possible.  When he had stopped scoring regularly, he told himself that he was being prudent.  The newspapers were filled with cautionary tales:  Sexual harassment law suits filed against CEOs; college administrations issuing strict guidelines governing relations between students and faculty; a picture in the Providence Journal of the Rhode Island Supreme Court’s Chief Justice zipping up his pants while emerging from a liaison with a prostitute at Johnston motel.  At First Federal Trust, where Bill worked, sexual harassment training became mandatory, and officiously scripted dialog replaced flirting.   Being a lapsed New England Catholic, Bill diagnosed these symptoms as resurgent Puritanism.  Once again the culture seemed determined to take the fun out of sex by handing out scarlet “A’s, but this time around it would be to men for exploiting women in a rigged economy.  So, at fifty five, William Williams, now Chief Economist at First Federal with offices throughout New England, began to talk openly of looking for a wife and perhaps starting a family.  Bill’s male colleagues, who had been entertained by his earlier sexual exploits, were amused by his transformation.  Privately they began to refer to him as Bill Squared.

Bill found a wife two years later through a dating service called ForPlay, which operated out of a former fitness club and karate studio on Broadway.  It catered to athletes, arranging dates around workouts and sports—skiing, tennis, swimming, even swing dancing. This appealed to Bill.  As a boxer, he had done a lot of roadwork and weight training.  To stay youthful looking he had continued working out long after he stopped fighting.  So, when Bill read a feature article on dating services in the Providence Sunday Journal, he canceled his health club membership at Gold’s Gym on Bald Hill Road and signed up with ForPlay.  He liked their policy of no embarrassing interviews (“Well, after graduate school at NYU…”) or videotapes (“Hi—SMILE—my name is_______”) or newspaper ads (“SDWM loves walking on the beach, candlelit dinners, and stimulating conversation”).  ForPlay was just a chance to find a healthy mate.  In that way Bill met Wendy on a fun run, scrambling along Blackstone Boulevard on a Sunday afternoon in late April, passing five younger men to catch up to her because he liked what he saw from behind.  He was pleased she was a marathoner.  He wanted a woman who could go the distance.  They began to work out together—five mile runs and resistance training.  By the following January they were married.  She was thirty-seven and wanted children before it was too late.  Bill was fifty-eight and wanted to give Wendy anything that would make her love him.  Now at sixty-one he was trying to become a father.  And now Johnny Carson was razzing Doc Severson about his sportscoat looking like something a pimp would wear to an Easter egg hunt.  Johnny was saying “Where’s the hat with the Peacock feather?  What’s up, Doc?”  Ed McMahon was hysterical.  He cackled and hooted.  His head snapped back, then slumped between his knees as he fought to control his joy.  Finally Ed straightened up, wiped tears from his eyes and cut to a commercial for Tidy Bowl.

“Uh oh,” Wendy said.  “I’m bleeding.”

 

Wendy closed her eyes, leaned back in the passenger seat of their Saab station wagon, and pressed a supersize maxipad between her legs.  Bill drove through rain slick streets and swiped at the foggy windshield with a white towel.  The defroster had died several Sundays ago on their way to the United Church of Christ on Angell, and, although the car was still under warranty, they hadn’t found the time to get it to the dealer’s in Pawtucket yet.  Down Prospect and up Waterman there was almost no traffic.  But as Bill passed Hope, he realized that he was going the wrong direction from habit.  Accustomed to driving Wendy to the Ob-Gyn suite in Wayland Square for fertility treatments and monthly checkups, he had driven her away from the hospital not toward it.   There was no traffic, so he ran the light at Brooke, doubling back toward Hope, then Wickendon and the Point Street Bridge.  He checked his rearview mirror and listened for sirens.  The night was very dark.  Rain sluiced in the gutters and swept twigs and scraps of newspaper into storm sewers.  A Basset Hound frowned wrinkles as it lapped water from a puddle on the broken sidewalk under a streetlight.  The headlights cast small pale yellow pools on the pavement.  They reminded Bill of broken egg yolks.  As he passed beneath the freeway and approached Dudley, he could see the sickly green mercury vapor lights that marked the entrance to Women and Infant’s Hospital.  They made Bill want to vomit.  Hang on, Sloopy, Bill thought.  Hang on. 

The car felt like a cinderblock on wheels; he wondered if he was losing the steering as well as the defroster; Bill wrestled it into the space in front of the glass double doors marked EMERGENCY ROOM.  The asphalt was crosshatched with yellow lines, and a red neon sign read AMBULANCE ONLY.  Bill put on his hazard lights and leaned on the horn until he could see a blur of white coats and stethoscopes appear through the wavy path of the windshield wipers.  The Emergency Room doors burst open, and the water cascading off the roof broke all around them as EMTs pulled Wendy from the car, put her on a gurney, and wheeled her into the hospital with a blood pressure cuff already inflating around her left arm and Wendy holding up the blood soaked pad with her right hand and an EMT pressing Wendy’s hand back down against her crotch and hollering for her to just keep the pressure right on it.

Bill lowered his head to the steering wheel.  The windshield wipers thumped, thumped, thumped like an endless succession of barred doors closing.  Even with his eyes shut the sign’s red glow colored his thoughts.  Without this baby to keep him young, how could Wendy still love him?  He thought, who am I kidding?   I must have been dreaming!  For the first time he could picture himself alone, toothless, hooked up to an IV drip, lying in a nursing home like the one where he had visited his father when the old man was dying of heart trouble.  And like a split screen in a movie, he could see Wendy, seemingly ageless, standing in a navy blue power suit offering her summation to a jury.  This image dissolved into one of their two lovebirds, Anna and Fritz, stretching their clipped wings and singing to the mirror in their cage.  Tonight he knew Anna was sitting on the small white marble that he and Wendy had substituted for the real egg, which they had destroyed after reading about the mortality rate of lovebird chicks in captivity.  Bill imagined Anna and Fritz together now wrapped in silence and darkness by the night curtain.  Then his throat tightened and his eyes watered.  Bill shifted into reverse, backed out of the restricted area, and hunted for a place where he could park the Saab.

 

The voice came from behind the brilliant white light above her.  “Rate your pain on a scale of one to ten, ten being the worst pain you ever had.”

Wendy lay swaddled in a gray blanket on the sterile examination table inside the emergency-room cubicle.  Her feet were in stirrups, and a doctor was probing between her legs.  “Oh.  Two.  I think.  You know.  Like cramps, maybe.”

“When did the bleeding start?

“About twenty minutes ago.  We were watching Johnny Carson.  I felt this wetness between my legs.”

“Did you do anything strenuous today?  Lift anything?”

“No, I’ve cut way back on my running.  I stretched a little.  My husband and I had sex this morning after breakfast.  You think that could trigger it?”

“Did intercourse hurt?”

“No.  To tell you the truth, it felt terrific.  Better than usual.

“Good.  Just what Mother Nature intended.  That way, you’ll probably do it again.  If sexual activity isn’t painful, and it’s not too . . .ah . . . . athletic, it can actually be beneficial up until about the eighth month.  It usually keeps the parents happy, and if they’re happy. . .”

Wendy shifted on the examination table, recoiling from the pressure of the cold instruments against her pelvis.  The sanitary paper crinkled under her.  Her voice was suddenly husky.  “I lost the first one.  I don’t want to lose this one.”  She cleared her throat.  “I gave up biking.  And I’ll give up running altogether if I have to.  Just tell me.  I mean, I’ve cut back to six miles a week anyway, you know, like three two-mile runs?  And I swim laps when I can get to the pool at the Y.”

The doctor slipped Wendy’s feet from the stirrups and set them down gently.  She pulled Wendy’s green hospital Johnny down.  “It’s better to stay active if you can.  But walk, don’t run.  Swimming’s okay.  Most women know not to overdo.  However, the bleeding is a concern.  It isn’t just spotting.  On the other hand, it’s just about stopped now.”  The doctor turned off the examination light, and pulled her mask off.  “Some bleeding during early stage pregnancy is not uncommon.  But you’re, what now?  Four months?  Five?”

Wendy tried to blink away the dark spot in her eyes left by the examination light.  She could barely read the physician’s face, just making out a woman of about fifty in green scrubs, short blond hair protruding beneath a paper cap, no makeup.  “Almost five.”

The doctor nodded.  “Yeah, okay.  So, I want an ultrasound.  It won’t hurt anything, and it might tell us something.”

Wendy turned her head to follow the doctor as she edged around the foot of the examination table and held out a hand to help her sit up.  Wendy felt lightheaded.  “I’m not sure I want to know.”

Abruptly, the doctor crossed the cubicle, picked up a second blanket, returned, and draped it around Wendy’s shoulders.  “It’s always better to know.  That’s the only way we can help you have a healthy baby.  I think you’d be surprised how much the medical profession does know.  We’ve got so many options now.”  She glanced again at Wendy’s chart.  “Anyway, I’ll make sure this episode gets into your file so you can go over it with your regular Ob-Gyn, who is Dr. . . . ah . . .oh, looks you’ve got a whole team working on this.  A year and a half of fertility treatments with Wayland Gynecological Associates.  You’re in good hands.  Those guys have childbearing down to a science.”

“We’ll I’m forty, and I guess science got me this far.  But it seems more like a miracle.”

The doctor took a pen from her breast pocket and began writing on the patient chart.  She glanced up.  “Yeah.  We see those, too.  Now let’s get that ultrasound.”

 

Bill punched in the security code, shutting off the alarm system in their Prospect Street home.  He glanced at the darkened stairwell leading up to the master bedroom as he helped Wendy out of her wet raincoat.  He hung it up with his own double-breasted trench coat in the hall closet and shut the door.  He threw the keys down on the dining room table, pulled out an end chair, and collapsed into it.  “I’m beat,” he sighed.  “And I wasn’t even the one doing the bleeding.”

Wendy slipped up behind Bill and placed a large envelope on the table.  Then she bent and put her arms around his neck.  She kissed him on the ear.  “Oh, I don’t know.  You looked pretty white in the face.”  She straightened up and massaged his neck with both hands, digging her fingers in deep like a boxer’s corner man loosening him up for the next round.  His muscles were rigid.  Wendy sighed.  “You know what?”

Bill tipped his head back against Wendy’s belly, hoping to feel movement.  Instead he felt the rising and falling of her breath on the top of his head.  He wondered if he was getting a little bald.  The need to feel his son had become an ache too profound to be massaged away.  It made him weak.  He thought, give me a poke, kid.  Give me a kick in the head.  Your old man is out here waiting.  Finally, Bill grunted, “No, what?”

“I’m starving.  I wish Johnny Rockets up on Thayer Street were open.  I’d get a deluxe hamburger with lots of onions, French fries, a frosty chocolate malt.”

“Yeah, but it’s closed.  It’s, what?”  Bill looked at his Swiss Army watch; there was a Red Cross embossed beneath the numbers.  “A little after midnight.  Nothing’s open.  Nothing but emergency rooms and bars.”  He turned and looked up at Wendy.  “Is this an emergency?  I could pop some corn.”

“That sounds good.  Pop the good stuff, the Orville whatshisface.  The kind where all the kernels pop.  You know, no old maids.”

Bill heaved himself up and took Wendy’s hands in his.  He pushed fatigue aside, forcing himself to speak.  “There are always going to be a few lonely old maids,” he said.  “But you’re not going to be one of them.  I won’t let that happen.”

Wendy stood on her tiptoes and pressed her forehead against Bill’s.  She thought of a lovebird staring at its own reflection in a mirror.  “I know,” she said.  “But it’s not entirely up to you.  I don’t care how tough you are.  That’s too big a responsibility for anybody.  We can’t control everything.”

“So what do we do?”

“We hope.”

“What if we lose this one, too?”

“Cross that bridge when we come to it.”

“It might be too late for me.”

“It might be too late for both of us.”

“So what do we do?”

“What we can.  Let’s look at it one more time.”

Bill let go of Wendy, then, turned toward the table, and slid the grainy black and white image from its beige envelope as if he were the one giving birth.  There it was on the table.  Together they stood, heads bowed, staring at the 8 1/2 X 11 Polaroid enlargement of the ultrasound monitor.  It seemed like a miracle, this projecting sound through flesh and blood to create a shadowy image of more flesh and blood.  There was Sloopy, one hand clutching his umbilical cord, the other raised as if waving to his parents.  Bill’s voice was a hoarse whisper.  “I don’t know if he’s waving hello or goodbye.”

Wendy ran an index finger over the image of her son’s upraised hand, then turned to Bill.  “Damnit, don’t!  Don’t you dare do that to us!”  She paused, fighting for control.  “We’ve got to believe it’s hello.  If you love me, give me that much.”

Bill placed his hand on top of hers.  “Jesus, Wendy, it’s all about probabilities!  When I look at the numbers, it’s hard not to be pessimistic.”  He squeezed his wife’s hand.  “I do love you.  I love you no matter what.”

Wendy swallowed.  Her voice was hoarse.  “This is family were talking about now, not some abstraction.  This is as personal as it can get.  Both of us have got to believe we’re going to be parents.  Both, okay?  All I’ve seen of our son is this crummy looking Polaroid, and I already love him more than I’ve ever loved anything.”

Bill raised Wendy’s fist, unclenched it, and kissed the palm.  “Me, too.  I think we have to show him.  Let’s give him a sign.”  Slowly Bill went down on one knee at Wendy’s feet, like a boxer knocked halfway to the canvas and waiting for the count.  He began to hum “Hang on Sloopy, Sloopy, Hang on,” resting his face against her belly so that their son might hear.  Wendy joined in on the second chorus, singing the lyrics softly.  Over the sound of their voices they could hear the lovebirds in the darkness hanging over them.  Anna shredding more newspaper for the nest and Fritz pecking against the bars.

Don Kunz taught literature, creative writing, and film studies at the University of Rhode Island for 36 years.  His essays, poems, and short stories have appeared in over sixty literary journals.  Don has retired to Bend, Oregon, where he writes fiction and poetry, volunteers, studies Spanish, and is learning to play the Native American Flute.

Breakfast

by Z.R. Davis

He would not cry today, he was going to be happy. The waitress, a moderately beautiful twenty-something, approached the table he shared with a briefcase and the morning paper. Her eyes were light blue, and her small mouth, free of lipstick, was opened slightly as if she was whispering something to herself, but had stopped midway. He wondered what she might have been saying: perhaps a song, or maybe a bit of poetry. No, not poetry; she was far too pretty to know any poetry. Only ugly women liked poetry. Maybe that was wrong. Did ugly women read poetry, or did it just seem that way? Did they just talk to themselves out of loneliness?

Pancakes today, two big fluffy ones both larger and thicker than the plate they rested on. The midpoint of the pancakes had been eaten out, and in the exposed portion was a small pool of sugar-free maple syrup. He was on a mission to lose weight this year, although he was not fat in any clinical sense of the word. His stomach was slightly engorged, and he only had three pairs of pants that fit him comfortably, but he was skinnier than many people, and in fact was considered scrawny by some. The guy his wife was currently sleeping with was rail-thin, though.

 He wasn’t sure what his wife saw in her rawboned lover, but if she was looking for a skinny guy, he could become that for her; she would love him again in six months. He would be nearly transparent. Thinking about that made him feel terrible, however, and he sat with his fork suspended in mid-bite, a line of syrup falling from the bit of speared pancake. He was already transparent to her.

Despite his inward feelings, the image he presented was that of a strong, able-bodied man who had entered into middle age with most of his hair free of gray and a look of good-natured intelligence and wisdom that shone in the corners of his eyes and in the lines of his cheeks. Today he was wearing his nice suit jacket with a long-sleeved white dress shirt underneath with no tie. He left the top button—the one that presses against the Adam’s apple whenever a man swallows—unbuttoned. Looking good was important because a man needed to project an image before he experienced what the image suggested. If he looked successful, he would be successful. Happiness was just a matter of showing the world how happy you were, and eventually the heart and mind would cease their stubbornness and become happy.

“Can I get you anything else?” the waitress asked, and when she closed her mouth, her face set in an expression of somewhat hurried benevolence, he could see small lines at the corners of her mouth that made her lips look curiously like parentheses. He was shocked he hadn’t noticed when he first ordered.

“No, thank you. I’m fine at the moment.”

The waitress walked away, and he stared at the hole he had made in his pancakes and thought of the waitress’s mouth. Those oddly shaped lips, nearly curlicued in construction, would not leave his mind. He was surprised to discover he did not want the thought of her mouth to leave his mind. He wanted to call her back and ask what the specials were so he could stare at her lips as they bounced over every word. He wanted her to read the menu to him, and when she was done, he would ask questions about the food.

Is the bacon from a local farm? Is the gravy homemade? Do the eggs come from actual chickens, or does the restaurant use that liquid egg substitute I sometimes see in the supermarket at the end of the egg cooler, the sight of which always brings a queer sadness upon me. It’s derided by children as their mothers push carts loaded with offspring and cereal, their eyes skyward so they can pretend the obscenely loud noise does not come from their children. They had no children—oh no—they were still young and had so much going for them. They never got married at 17. This goes on until one of the children grabs its mother’s arm and cries “Mommy, look! That eggy stuff is gross!” but it’s not gross, it’s just different. You can never get kids to understand that because it’s one of so many things you cannot explain to kids. Reflecting on it now, I think it was probably a good thing our baby died because I’m not sure I would have had the patience to explain things like egg substitutes to a child. It would have been nice, though, to have a little version of me, dressed for success, standing next to me and calling me daddy. I could explain other things to him, like why boys are different from girls and why mommy works and daddy stays home. That would be nice. I don’t know why she chose (because I sure didn’t) to get rid of the person growing inside of her, and it was you, my son—I don’t know why she didn’t want to keep you. She said she just wasn’t ready for a family, but it was really because she had met that skinny guy, and wherever women go to find insubstantial-looking guys like that, I’ll never know. I want to hear the waitress read the menu and watch her strange, pretty mouth move easily over the words she is so accustomed to saying every day, and maybe if I’m lucky I can tell her about my wife and how I’m going to get her back. She might even be proud of helping me get her back by bringing me the sugar-free syrup with the pancakes. She’ll say she’s glad to help and that she knows a guy who can take care of that skinny punk, no problem, and I’ll say no thanks—not necessary—because I’m lifting weights. One day soon, I’ll walk to the house from the restaurant and open the door and mount the steps and not listen to the skinny guy’s heavy breathing or my wife’s moans. I will stay focused and alert because she wants me to, and she will be impressed by my focus when I go into the bedroom. I will lift up the skinny guy as he is on top of you and carry him down the steps and out the front door and throw him down on the curb like the worthless trash he is, and I’ll go back in and wash my hands and go upstairs. You’ll be smiling brightly and will tell me you never loved anyone but me and that you’re sorry for playing around with trash. You’ll be ready for a real man, and I’ll make love to you like the skinny guy never could, and your moans will be louder because I am a man and not walking trash. You will want to have a baby—a son we’ll name Jack, just like he would have been named if we had kept him the first time—and we will grow old together in each other’s arms as Jack turns into a fine man just like his daddy.

A man walking by bumped into the diner’s arm just as he was about to take the bite that had been suspended for so long. A bit of sugar-free syrup fell from the fork and landed on the diner’s shirt. There was no “excuse me” offered, and he doubted there would be one in the future, the sort of rudeness that is even more insulting because the person doesn’t even acknowledge that he’s done something rude. If he had maybe spit on the diner’s face, it could have been forgiven—at least it would have been honest. The diner could not understand why some people felt the need to act as if kindness and basic decency were foreign concepts. Just like the scrawny man. Just like his wife. She never once thought to bring up the subject of her infidelity. She kept trying to hide it, and that was unforgivable. There are certain things you should be honest about no matter what, and anyone who wasn’t deserved what they got.

The diner felt something within himself shift, and then break. He thought how awful people were because they insisted upon their rudeness but lacked the decency to be straight about it. He was hedged in all sides by the callous and uncaring. There was no escape.

He was too hot, the room was too hot, and he needed to cool off. Feeling like he was aflame from within, he rose from the booth and started swiftly toward the door. He realized as he stood in the doorway that he had left his briefcase at the table. A family of three trying to leave stood behind him. Trying to decide whether or not what was in the briefcase was necessary to go back for, he turned around and began to bite his nails and spit them out absentmindedly, not noticing the ragged, brutally shorn ends of his nails were landing in the hair of the woman in front of him.

“Oh, excuse me,” she said, “you just spat on me.”

Realizing this was his chance to be courageous, the husband stepped forward and placed his index finger mere inches from the face of the diner—this man who had offended his wife, and by proxy, him as well.

“Nobody spits on my wife, you get me?” The husband, feeling his statement to be insufficiently tough, added, “You don’t even spit near my wife, asshole.” Getting bolder, he said, “Maybe you and I should go outside and talk about your manners. I’ve got my family here, and they don’t need to be exposed to that kind of rudeness. What makes you so special you can spit on people, huh?”

At this, the husband spit a viscid glob of saliva, yellowish from the orange juice he recently finished, onto the diner. Although he was aiming for his face, the glob, perhaps too heavy or not expelled with enough force (just in case the diner would happen to take offense) landed on the collar of the diner’s nice white dress shirt.

The husband stepped back and raised his hands to chest level in anticipation of the coming fight, but the diner walked past him to the table where he left the briefcase. The husband, considering himself to be the victor in the exchange, marshaled his family through the exit and toward their car; the only physical contact between himself and the diner was the soft brush of fabric as the diner, in his finest suit—the one he wanted to be buried in—walked past, the shoulder of his jacket touching lightly the husband’s pullover sweater.

Zach Davis is a writer living and working in West Virginia. His work has appeared in print (Sans Merci and Shepherdstown Chronicle) and online (Martinsburg Journal). He has been writing since a first grade assignment to write a three page narrative; the teacher hated the story, but his classmates loved it.

Nature Writing, Procreation, and the Human Condition: an interview with Mike Freeman

Two weeks ago, The Fertile Source published Mike Freeman’s essay “Referential.” This week, he answers some questions about the writing life, nature writing, and procreation.

“Referential” is an essay that explores many parallel lines of thought. Among those lines of thought are the havoc that human habitation wreaks on nature; the fragility of nature but its ability to bounce back; and the fear you have, as an expectant father, that the world you’re bequeathing to your child is too damaged. How do you balance the tension of multiple lines of thought in your writing?

I’m not sure I’ve ever thought about that.  Like most people who write, I wish I had the talent to be a poet, as poets expel the most thought from the fewest words.  Emily Dickinson can braid multiple uncertainties into a few lines, thoughts that talented novelists take four-hundred pages to achieve, even then losing much clarity along the way.  Poets are additionally attractive for their penchant to ask questions rather than answer them.  Like Dickinson, people like Robert Frost and Wallace Stevens pose several of the questions that terrorize all people in compressed space.  They do all this best, it seems, with images, or descriptions of the living world, a vividness out of which their various themes emerge.  If I can’t be a poet, I’ve tried to mimic that use of imagery. 

You wrote “Referential” when your partner became pregnant rather quickly after you started trying, to both of your surprise. Despite the mutual decision to have children, your essay explores the feelings of ambivalence you had going forward, considering the world we live in. The sparse lines referencing those feelings speak volumes—the “newfound life burdening her womb.” Now that you have not one but two children, have some of your fears been resolved or have they been strengthened?

My parental experience has amplified every emotion, positive and negative, as I imagine is the case with most new mothers and fathers.  If my fears of what sort of world we’ll bestow were previously unsettling, they’ve ramified exponentially since our two daughters were born.  Keeping pace, however, is hope.  I have no idea what sort of world they’ll inherit, only that it will be different from the one in which I reared.  I hope, however, as that’s most of what I can do, that different won’t mean worse, that they’ll adapt to the changes accordingly and find happiness in the environment they inhabit.  This hope, in fact, has probably eclipsed the fear, which might be a great gift of parenthood.  Blind or no, without such hope mothers and fathers might be sunk.

Can you talk about what “nature writing” can offer for our understanding of the human condition, particularly as it relates to this ongoing project of bearing and raising young?

I’m probably not qualified to answer what the writing can offer, but will speak to what general observation – from which we create everything – might tell us.  People of both religious and secular philosophies are usually in violent agreement about the fundamental questions, something that a day observing nature can verify.  Most religions, for instance, have some variation of the Garden of Eden, a time when humanity wasn’t distinct from nature.  Pure evolutionists feel the same way, though they use a different route to get there.  Now, however, everyone has the sense that we exist in limbo, not entirely separate from nature but not entirely a part of it.  It’s quite difficult to imbibe any other feeling when immersed in nature, even for an hour.  One place where we both simultaneously diverge from nature while running parallel with it is procreation.  Biologists have a distilled, quite dull answer to the meaning of life.  “Life exists to replicate itself.”  While most of us feel there’s far more to it than that, this statement is indisputable.  All life reproduces, and watching many creatures raise their young gives you a great sense of kinship, along with the fantastic risks and exhaustion that parents experience in creating the next generation.  Humans, though, have been so successful that we now grapple with the ingrained urge to reproduce while having the sense that we need to limit that same urge.

You reference Adam and Eve in your essay. In Genesis 1, God charges Adam with taking care of the earth (“subduing” it, in the New International Version) but also to “be fruitful and multiply.” Can you explain some of your thoughts about how, as humans, we can balance our need to protect the world we live in with the imperative that seems built into our genes to “be fruitful and multiply”?

The Bible is difficult stuff.  Terrific stories, terrific themes, some dreadfully unfortunate phraseology.  We’ve had to subdue – or at least beat back – nature enough to enjoy the success we’ve had.  On the other hand, we’ve almost certainly overdone it, which now threatens our drive – whether genetically or religiously mandated – to be fruitful and multiply.  How we balance this I’m not sure, but voluntarily decreasing family size seems to be a good place to start, though I certainly have no desire to judge anyone who chooses to have a big family nor do I have authority to do so.

Another terrific story from Genesis is the Flood, which secularists share as well.  Lately, there seems to be a particularly high rate of apocalyptic prophesying, likely stemming from a collective intuition that humans have become too numerous, too corrupt, to live as they’ve been living.  Secularists point to global warning while those with religious inspiration tout some version of the End of Times.  Again, same anthropogenic catalyst, same catastrophic end, different narratives.  Most of us, then, no matter our background, feel the need to strike some sort of balance between our undeniable success and its impact on the world in which we live.  How that can be done, however, will be a trick, and an increasingly large amount of people seem to crave some sort of version of the Flood, to wipe us clean where we can start anew.  I’m not among these, but I do understand the sentiment.

How has fatherhood meshed with your career as a writer?

As I imagine is true with most new parents, fatherhood has cut away great chunks of time that I normally devoted to writing (and reading, which is of course a great portion of writing).  On the other hand, having children has taught me too much to ever have more than passing regret.  In addition, it certainly provides a great deal of new material.  Our oldest daughter, for instance, has autism, which at the outset is as alien a wilderness as any explorer ever experienced in the remotest corner of the globe.  People largely write, though, to try to understand what questions plague them, if not answer them, and writing has helped in some small way understand our family interplay.

Please tell us about your forthcoming book with SUNY Press.

The book is entitled “Drifting: Two Weeks on the Hudson”, and centers on a canoe trip I took down the Hudson River.  Karen became pregnant while I was living in Alaska.  We barely knew each other, and I quite abruptly left my home of ten years to come back east in lockstep with the Recession.  Needing a way to make money, or at least try, I proposed the idea of floating the Hudson to reflect upon its cultural influence, using that history to frame our most delicate current tensions – race, labor, energy use, pollution, gender politics, and others.  Throughout, a personal thread wrestles with the anxieties of stay-at-home parenting and family life in general.  The link is here.

Referential

 An essay by Mike Freeman

“It’s beautiful.”

 Four months pregnant, my partner Karen sat in the bow, the canoe gliding unfretfully as I took an occasional stroke.  She’d barely whispered, and didn’t specify her mark.  There wasn’t one outside the estuary itself.  I’d nearly forgotten that, what nature can do, take the air out of you for no other reason  beyond its own depths.  Across the marsh, the backloader’s long, hydraulic arm craned waste about the landfill, the joints squealing where they needed oil, and closer to us a cluster of Canada Geese murmured unalarmed from some vantage in the grass.  Far above, an osprey traced the swamp’s southern arm, while the post-rushhour traffic hummed along the interstate, the distant vehicles scarcely visible between a lattice of feral grape draped from a pair of hickories to our right, their half-turned leaves rotating the light of the late September sun.

It’s jumpable, Pine Creek, trickling beneath the highway, then bleeding into Long Island Sound on the Connecticut side.  Since the glaciers’ retreat, tides have routed a narrow canal around a treeless island, a half-mile square.  It’s unfloatable at low water, and Karen and I had been lucky, getting off the train from Grand Central then making the mile walk to my father’s, where we launched the canoe as the water crested, pushing it through the marsh grass and bobbing bottles and tattered Styrofoam.  After ten years in Southeast Alaska, I’d moved back a few months before, to Queens, and the canoe below and fragrant assertions of high-slack unbound skeins of fond memories, all drenched by hundreds of square miles where glacial mountains meet boreal rainforest meets littoral fecundity meets the Pacific, scarcely a trace charactered by human hands.

My father revels in Pine Creek.  Hemmed in by ocean to the south, a dump to the west, the interstate to the east, and the concentrate of beach houses to the north – including his own – the scant acreage provides his only access to the world he adores.  While out west I’d listen to his beleaguered recitations of the region’s waning life – scarcely a Baltimore oriole this season; haven’t heard a wood thrush in years; not a brown thrasher to be seen.  As a younger man these birds had been in relative abundance, but gradually fell away, he’d said, the way daylight dissipates from solstice to solstice.  These laments, though, were countered by other news, like an indigo bunting, its inky delight harrying a neighbor’s hedge, or the plaintive declination of an oven bird, put forth from the wild rose banking the creek across the way.  Coyotes, too, seemingly everywhere again, hunt the estuary for whitetail fawns and residual mayonnaise, and skunks fuss about his tiny lawn each night, sniffing recycling bins, digging for grubs.  His enthusiasm, then, while hobbled, is hardly repressible.

Karen’s back rose and fell, each salted breath feeding the newfound life burdening her womb.  I dipped the paddle for a lazy stroke, mulling the ambivalence wrought by our developing daughter.  What sort of world do we bequeath?  Doubtless a diminished one, I thought, watching Karen’s sight line trace an undulant tern, and perilous too, feeling foolish in the same breath.  These same questions vexed Adam and Eve, I imagined, or at least their secular counterparts.  Drifting amidst the clamp of macadam and diesel fume, though, air traffic and municipal waste, this tatter of swamp seemed the final thread of that prelapsarian vim.  The setting, then, deemed the inquiry pertinent.  I slipped the paddle in and drew it forward, my pregnant partner and I floating above the occluded water.

A quarter-mile off, a cloud of starlings materialized from the sedge beneath the dump berm.  They banked in concert, then again, and once more on approach before littering the grape tresses with anxious, iridescent forms.  Their manic chatter reigned down upon several mallards and a lone black duck, who fed amidst the high-bank grasses the tide afforded.  When our daughter turned our age we’d be eighty.  Forty years.  What rift, then, between our own baselines?  Birds with whom my father reared were scarcely known to me, but there was also a federal raptor bounty, and he marvels at the hawk life he now sees.  A moose was hit and killed not far from here the previous summer, and black bears, too, down from the north, have begun re-colonizing, like palmers to neglected shrines.  To Karen, Pine Creek is a refuge, where nature permeates you unencumbered.  To me, it’s an oversight, a tainted vestige.  After months within urban confines, however, that stance had weakened.  Terra firma, terra incognita – no two perspectives tread the same patch of land, even within a single mind, and how forty years’ of such revolutions would resolve remained a mystery.

While the past and future may inform the present, though, they never knock us out of it for long.  Where the marsh opens to sound, a pair of jet-skiers carved circles in the flooded delta, but Karen noticed something closer – dozens of needly fish broaching the marble of expulsed motor oils and gentle slack water.  Juvenile blue fish – or snappers – must have been frenzied below them, and I vaguely recalled their gray, brainy flesh, so different than a salmon’s.  We passed a black-crowned night heron, waiting out the tide in the island’s reeds.  Once the water had flushed away it would move to the flats, to raid the fiddler crabs come up from the mud.  Passing the last houses to our left, I looked up.

I hadn’t seen an oriole’s nest for ten years or more, but its bulbous, hang-drop form couldn’t be mistaken.  We slid beneath, and Karen asked what it was.  My naturalist’s love is governed by an amateur’s ken, and I didn’t know whether it was a Baltimore’s or orchard oriole’s, and said so.  It dangled from a cherry branch, while a moth dithered about the grassy stitchwork.  Two months’ abandoned, the delicate weave remained stout.  Not long ago birthy hatchlings peered from the hole that I now glided under, to get a glimpse of their newborn world.  I craned my neck as far as it would go, then righted myself.  Karen trailed a finger in the water, looking ahead where an amalgam of gulls lifted and lit as the backloader allowed, falling upon our remains.  The ocean, as it does, fell out of favor with the moon, and I steadied the canoe in its first subtle tug, saying, “It is beautiful.  Isn’t it?”

           

Mike Freeman lives in Newport, RI, with his wife and two daughters.  In September, 2011, the State University of New York (SUNY) Press will release his nonfiction book Drifting: Two Weeks on the Hudson, centered on a canoe trip down the Hudson River while reflecting on Recession-era America and the delicate frictions transforming its culture.

Read our interview with Mike Freeman conducted by Jessica Powers, Nature Writing, Procreation and The Human Condition: An Interview with Mike Freeman.




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