We are excited to release our official nominations for the Pushcart Prize for 2018. These four pieces stood out among our excellent publication list this year for their beauty, poignancy, or lasting resonance. The works we chose to nominate are:
The enemy is fear. We think it is hate; but it is really fear.
The story begins when Jude and I flew up to my childhood home in Naperville, Illinois on Christmas Day to see what Santa had brought. It’s a tradition, he said, and he was correct. However, when I was married, we used to spend Christmas proper at home in Nashville, the three of us. But, one of the first things I set out to do in my new reality as a single dad, was build new traditions. This was one of them. My folks were particularly happy about this; he was their pride, their only grandson and, in an unexpected turn of events, the divorce enabled them to spend more time with him, not less. You never know. On the other hand, I’d also created a new tradition for myself, namely that I wouldn’t fly alone. I was never afraid to fly, per se, but I didn’t want to take any chances on Jude growing up without a dad.
Chicago was hit with a proper northern snow just before our visit, so the city was blanketed in white when we arrived, in a Currier and Ives sort of way. The temperature was low enough to keep it on the ground, but warm enough, if that isn’t an oxymoron, to make it bearable to be out and about. And, because the snow had just fallen, it was yet to be sullied by delivery trucks, school buses, and other slush creators.
Christmas night, Jude and I gathered with my brother and my parents, who sat joyfully watching him open his loot, games, science kits, legos, and books. It would’ve been dinosaur books at that time, if I remember correctly. The next day he engaged his grandparents in board games. They were good sports and loved it, although my mother could never understand the point of the newfangled “collaborative” games we sometimes played. “Doesn’t there have to be a winner?” she would say.
“We’re all winners, mom,” I would respond.
After game time, Jude read a bit about the Mesozoic era, and then told me he wanted to take a walk on the Riverwalk to “enjoy the beauty of the fresh snow.” His words. His choice. I was proud of this and, for a moment, I imagined him as a young man, courting a young woman who would understand guys who liked to slow things down, a girl who would appreciate sensitivity and thoughtfulness and would love my son for who he was. But that was a long time away.
My folks’ house sat on a cul-de-sac, on the perimeter of old Naperville, and our next-door neighbors’ backyard ran down to meet the DuPage River, where I used to play hockey with my friends when the ice was frozen smooth and solid. One of the end points of the Riverwalk began a few hundred yards away, and followed the bank of the river past trees and parks all the way downtown, two or three miles away. Jude and I bundled up and headed off down the paved path, taking pictures, throwing a snowball now and again and watching birds hop from tree to tree, occasionally landing on the alabaster snow, leaving dark dotted footprints as they searched for seed.
Newly fallen snow seems to make the air clean and the world silent. And, just as every snowflake is unique, every moment in that landscape is unique and magical. But it isn’t just the snow. Every day when I made breakfast for Jude and got him ready for school, I’d put a note in his lunchbox with some happy words, and I’d tell him that it was a magical day ahead. I got in the habit of doing that because of my role as a father, and I’d talk about the magic even when I felt less than magical. But after a while, it became natural, and it made me feel better, as giver and receiver. Why not? If you find the magic in those simple things, you are in the moment, present, unafraid. Snow on the branches, ducks waddling along the path, kids skating in the park. Chalky perfection surrounded us.
Close to downtown, we arrived at the Millennium Carrolon, a giant bell tower the city built as testament to itself, bordering a vacant swath of land known as the sled hill. Often it’s just a place to picnic or listen to music by bands the park district brings in to try and keep the kids off the street. The “mad youth,” as my Dad called them, after which he would chuckle and add “What are they mad about?’ On this particular day, however, the hill echoed with the sounds of laughing, screaming, and shouting, as sleds raced across the snow, from the parking lot at the top, across the Riverwalk, to the edge of the frozen river. A wide swath of snow acted as the fast lane for sledding, while on either side, a rope acted as a borderline and hand rail for participants trudging back up for another run.
Jude and I watched for a moment.
“Let’s get a sled, Dad.”
So, we turned around, hurriedly walked back to my folks’ house, and drove over to Ace Hardware, where I bought two plastic sleds, a little round plastic one shaped like a saucer and a two-man narrow green toboggan. Jude took the round sled out for a trial run in my parents’ yard, and my dad set up a chair by the window so he could watch, smiling, likely remembering his childhood and mine, holding the memories in his now-shaky hands. Up and down Jude went, creating a path from the side of the house to the fence. Soon he was ready for the sled hill, so we packed up the sleds and drove to the high school across the street to park the car.
There was a small crowd gathered at the top of the hill, teenagers and families excitedly but patiently waiting their turn. The gateway to sledding was marked by a large wooden sign that read, “WARNING. DANGER. NOT LIABLE FOR BODILY HARM.” They were huge letters, foreboding, followed by lots of fine print excluding the city from any liability. The only responsibility lies with you, the sledder, about to take what was apparently a great risk.
I observed as we waited. People were racing down the hill, quite fast. Sometimes it was a single child on his or her own; or a mom and dad, holding tightly to their son or daughter. Some kids were stacked two or three high, going down on their bellies. Some teenagers decided to surf down on their sleds standing up, all arms and legs, making it only so far before tumbling and falling, rolling down the rest of the hill. Jude had come to me relatively late in my life, and although I was in good shape, I looked around at the other parents. They all seemed younger than me. I saw broken bones in my future. I thought of Jude and his safety.
Jude spotted me reading the sign, thinking.
“They’re just trying to scare us. It’s like the Grand Canyon.” He was correct, in that every time we visited a National Park, there was some sort of overblown warning like this one. Lots of graphics of people falling off things, with big round slash circles cancelling the stick person into oblivion. Good common sense prevails, but rules, regulations and legal counsel strike a fearful note.
Jude had always been a cautious boy, though, so I wondered how he could so quickly lose that aspect of his personality. Maybe he was 8 going on 14. But then I had an epiphany, namely that he wanted to go on the two-man sled with his father, a built-in shock absorber and, if need be, a human shield. Fair enough. The line moved quickly and when it was our turn, we set our two-man plastic toboggan on the hard packed snow, with me at the back, Jude in front. I took hold of the reins, wrapped my legs around Jude, and pushed off with my hands. Down the slope we went, quicker than I would’ve expected, bumping up and down, snow kicking up along the sides, splashes of wet flying in our faces as we laughed and shouted like every sledder around us. At the end of our ride, we spun a little bit, and cruised to a stop. Our spaceship had landed.
“That was AWESOME!” Jude shouted. “Let’s do it again!”
So we got up, brushed the snow from our pants, and headed to the walkway on the side, carrying our sled and holding on to the rope that bordered the runway and led back up the hill. And, we did it again. And again. And again. At first, we weren’t very good at steering, and I experimented with putting more or less weight on the sled and using my gloved hands to guide us. Sometimes our trajectory was straight and narrow and we made it to the bottom like a sleek racing car; other times we spun out like an Edsel, falling off the sled. We hit bumps in the path, where it felt like we were in a winter rodeo. My butt quickly became sore from hitting all those bumps, but I didn’t care. I had completely forgotten about the sign at the top of the hill. We spent the next couple hours in a free zone, where only the cold of the snow and the spin of the sled made us think of anything but the moment.
The next day Jude and I went into Chicago to visit the Shedd Aquarium. But the day after that, he played games with my parents, read some more (the Paleolithic era), and then asked if we could go back to the sled hill. Of course. This time it was a week day, and people were back at work, so the hill was less populated. It had also turned to ice with the drop in temperature and I knew the slope would be faster. I’d taken the precaution of wearing sweats under my jeans, to better pad myself. I also wore heavier gloves, as did my son. But, even though we were riding on a sheet of ice, I was determined to show no fear.
Jude loved it just as much as before, but he still didn’t want to go on the main hill by himself – only the two-man. This time, I noticed that no matter how fast people went down the hill, they almost always got off their sleds slowly, either laughing or shaken, oblivious to the speed of the oncoming sled traffic. On one occasion, a girl of about Jude’s age stood directly in our path and as we struggled in vain to veer off, we simultaneously shouted WATCH OUTTTT, at which point she finally darted away and we luckily swerved in the opposite direction. Many of the bumps in the sled path felt like small icy mountains, higher as well as harder, and one ride lifted us into the air like Olympic skiers, my butt taking the shock as the hard plastic toboggan hit the ground.
“That was AWESOME! Let’s do it again!!!!”
So we gathered our sled, walked back up the hill, and did it again. And again. And again. Every time we raced down the hill, we laughed and shouted. Every time we trudged back up the hill, we beamed. There was a sort of informal bonding going on with the community of sledders, as we watched each other spin out and get up, all the children and families taking the day off to come out and enjoy the ride before it melted away. Jude came relatively late in life for me, and once again, I looked around at the other parents. The first day, I thought I might be the oldest parent there. By the second day, I felt like the youngest kid.
Because it was AWESOME.
And I’d do it again. And again. And again.
Raised in Chicago and residing in Nashville, Doug Hoekstra’s short stories, essays, and poems have appeared in numerous literary journals and two book-length collections (including Bothering the Coffee Drinkers, 2007 Independent Publisher Award finalist.) He is also a musician, with eight CDs released on U.S. and European labels. https://doughoekstra.wordpress.com/
We talk about the wreckage, a hillside of trees stacked
the saws have been buzzing and snarling for weeks.
Trees come down like great knuckle cracks.
Another development with “river views.”
A catastrophe. There have been others:
the election, something wrong with the fridge,
your Gran passing.
We are heading into a catastrophe of clouds;
some storm kicked up over Lake Ontario
or Erie. A dead tree is weathered into bone;
some cars flicker, a procession of candles
parallel the train; red-and-green running lights,
a single tractor trailer against the green base
of the mountain. So that’s night,
I dream we are together, though we will meet
somewhere below the Middle West. Past midnight
in Ohio, the carriage fills with Amish,
moonlight hollows their faces, but they smile,
read magazines. We pronounce it
with such overweening, personal pride,
It is only the turning point, the last unwinding.
Of the barren hillside, I regret only the no more
deer at dusk, frozen in my passing.
Mule-eared and white muzzle shining, I could run
my hand along its bristle-furred back.
Life goes on. The longer we have,
the more we lack.
Benjamin Harnett is a historian, fiction writer, poet, and digital engineer. His works have appeared recently in Pithead Chapel, Brooklyn Quarterly, Moon City Review, and Tahoma Literary Review. He holds an MA in Classics from Columbia University and in 2005 co-founded the fashion brand Hayden-Harnett. He lives in Beacon, NY with his wife Toni and their pets. He can be found most days on Twitter.com: @benharnett. He works for The New York Times.
Julio Monteiro Martins
Translated by Donald Stang & Helen Wickes
To be in the world
as on a ship:
to attend to the wellbeing
of the passengers,
inspire their confidence
in the crew.
Attend to the engines,
which mutiny and rebel
just as people do,
and to the passengers,
who get jammed
just like machines.
Feel at home
in the kitchen,
in the laundry,
not allowing the wind
to shred the flag,
and if that happens,
replace it immediately.
Then, once in a while,
through the porthole.
Because beyond the small world
inside the ship
is the larger world
swirling around it:
in the night,
fireflies that float by.
And also the currents, the winds,
clouds heavily charged,
pregnant with lightning,
and the terrors of the sea,
mountains of water
that suddenly rise
like a god staring at you.
tidy the beds
for the children
asleep in the life jackets;
every man and every woman who,
without the will or the courage
to look outside,
that they are aboard a ship,
that they are few in number—
every man and woman
will be protected.
They will have to be put ashore
in some port
before the storm.
They will have to learn to swim.
They will all have to get into—good God!
the little lifeboat:
women and children
who will paddle?
Who will carry them to safety
past so many horizons?
And if the drinking water
who will choose—what bad luck!—
those to be
thrown into the sea?
But for now,
no one thinks of that.
One is at home
in the world,
even though onboard a ship:
warm the milk,
reattach the arm of the doll
and the wheel of the tractor,
the breasts of the beloved
smile at her.
But the corner of the eye,
peers out of the porthole.
And the eye knows
that out there it is dark
even at midday.
A giant wave?
A passing cloud?
Inside one plays
in the darkness.
everything is moving.
Julio Monteiro Martins was raised in Brazil, then lived in Italy. He was widely published in both countries and died in 2014. Our translations of his poems from Italian into English are the first to be published in the US.
Sitting on a child’s chair in the doctor’s office, I fold a thin line, make a crease in the paper. There is a sentence here about an old woman’s heart. He sits next to me on a small blue chair, nine-years-old, tall and thin as green meadow grass. He begins sorting little wooden animals into their habitats.
The thyroid is shaped like a butterfly. It wraps its glandular wings around the front of his throat and mine. We feel the flutter, its urge to dislodge and fly up and out of his mouth, like something wild. Most apparent in the rare moments when he is still. At night when I lay my ear on the thin bones of his chest and listen to the race of his heart.
We sit and wait for the pediatric endocrinologist: a specialist who will give us the answers we already have. His T4 levels are high. His TSH is normal. His skin is hot to the touch. His emotions volatile. His heart, on fire, burns the body of evidence: four pieces of French toast, a full bowl of yogurt and granola, two milkshakes, three large plates of roast, mashed potatoes and gravy.
I am re-reading the line about the old woman’s heart when they begin. They are well dressed. The woman is blond and wears lipstick. The man clean-shaven, in a suit and tie. In unison they chant,
This is your fault, your failure. Another one.
I know. Shut up. I’m trying to read. I’ve read this same sentence nine times.
We followed the long curve of double yellow lines for an hour. He sat quietly in the back seat. What is the thyroid?
It’s a gland that tells your organs what they need.
Mine isn’t working?
That’s what we’re trying to figure out. He breathes on the window, with the tip of his finger draws a butterfly in his breath.
I love you.
His smile in the rearview mirror, crooked. His wavy blond hair a nest for wild birds, a tangled net to catch blue winged meadow flowers.
Love you too.
By the ninth explosion on a normal day, the twenty-seventh on a bad, I sometimes forget to breathe. In and out. In and out. Instead of breathing I yell:
STOP! STOP! STOP! STOP YELLING AT ME!
My voice rising to match his. My heart racing to match his. My body full of adrenaline. As if my child is a threat that I must flee or fight. Nothing solved, least of all his fluttering red mystery.
You are a bad mother, they chorus.
Pull him in close. Feel his body wanting flight.
I lick the folded edge of the paper and tear, as though I am calm. His BMI is less than one percent. If he gets sick and cannot eat, his head may stop growing to compensate. His bones might be as old as the earth, might crack beneath the weight of air. The door opens. A small woman in a white lab coat comes in. I slip the line between the pages to hold my place. The old woman’s heart beat like a blue butterfly. I reach out catch the flit of his hand and feel him settle in next to me.
Twila Newey graduated from The Jack Kerouac Disembodied School of Poetics in 2003. She has completed her first novel and is currently querying agents. A portion of that manuscript won publication in Exponent II Midrash contest. Her poetry has also appeared on Poetry Breakfast and in Rust + Moth. She lives in the mountains west of Denver with her husband and four children.
Philip St. Clair
Near the Empty Plinth on Wednesday afternoon: we were adrift,
mixing with tourists on the broad gray steps,
and above us, overcast presaged rain. Not much busking going on:
no woodwind trios from the conservatory nearby,
no morris dancers, no painters of children’s faces – even Yoda,
who levitates as he sits in lotus, had taken the day off.
But there was a piper in kilts, his skirl muted from the damp,
and there was a mime in leotards, her chalk-white face
twisted in fear as she ran both palms inside the invisible box
that trapped her. Near the statue of George Washington
a man in a knit skullcap cradled a sign: I AM NO TERRORIST.
A sudden gunshot made us flinch; the pigeon flock
burst skyward with clumsy flaps. Alarmed, we looked about —
no one crouched or ran and the police were unconcerned.
My wife knew at once. Just a recording of a shotgun blast
set to play at random five times an hour, a farmer’s trick
meant to drive off any nuisance birds by making them wary,
by keeping them uneasy, but it wasn’t working here:
the pigeons scattered to the air, wearily circled Nelson’s Column
for a moment or two, then drifted back down.
Across St. Martin Place to the church. Three homeless men,
fitfully day-sleeping, had huddled together
on the narrow edge of the portico, kept there by a metal railing —
the vicar, we suspected, must have had a talk.
They wore the livery of the down-and-out: grimy sweaters,
shoes without socks, trousers ragged at the cuff.
The church was empty. We walked down the center aisle,
sat in a pew halfway to the altar, better to see
the great east window, once blitzed in a wartime raid,
now a field of plain glass squares, and in its center
a tilted oval of milk-white crystal that seemed too heavy
for the cross of glazier’s lead that held it.
Then it erupted in white flame. The blaze pulsed once, twice,
disappeared, and for a moment I sat astonished,
thinking that unbidden grace had come upon me,
but then I knew that rifts in the low gray clouds
had let the occulted sun strike it and fill it twice,
and I remembered one afternoon with friends
who chatted and laughed over wine on a suburban porch:
fatigued by all their banter, I stole a moment
away from them to stare into the tree-lined distance,
and I saw a space ten feet before me
begin to churn, and as the light within rumpled, folded,
a small round portal opened, and first I thought
it led to a hidden universe, but it was only a cloud of gnats,
swarming as they left for somewhere else,
and then I thought I should come back and take my place
among my witty friends, tell all of them
what I saw and what it came to be, eager to enter their talk
by a joke at my expense, but a voice within
said no, not now and not here and not with these people:
you must keep covenant with yourself
and not betray what has been revealed in your fragment
of solitude, your time of elsewhere and other,
your flash of wonder and delight unmapped by reason.
Three more tourists had entered the church:
stage whispers, the rustle of shopping bags. They wandered
down the left-hand aisle, pausing at the stairs
that led to an elevated pulpit, and when one of them touched
her sandal to the lowest tread, an old parishioner
rose out of the shadows, waved her arms, drove them away.
Philip St. Clair has published six collections of poetry. He has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Kentucky Arts Council and was awarded the Bullis Prize by Poetry Northwest. He lives in Ashland, Kentucky.
Philip St. Clair
The baptismal font, an octagon of marble carved
seven years after the Fire,
bore a palindrome in Greek more clever than reverent –
cleanse my sins,
not only my face, the guidebook said. Then I wanted
to visit the altar,
and as I walked down the left-hand aisle upon the stones
carved with the crests
of the noble and wealthy buried beneath my feet,
I thought of a deck of cards
and the robes and sashes of crimson and gold
on the kings and queens and jacks,
and I remembered a winter evening fifty years ago
at Dover Air Force Base
when I walked into the barracks after an eight-hour shift
loading cargo on the flight line,
and I saw Jim Mayhew at a table with only a desk lamp
to light the dark:
a red poker deck scattered beside him made a pool of fire.
He wore an expression
of deep sadness as he stared at something in his hand,
and for a moment
I thought it was a Dear John letter from his girl back home,
but when he saw me
he silently raised his arm to show me a Queen of Diamonds
he’d cupped in his palm,
and I remembered Kennedy coming on TV in the dayroom,
telling us that the Russians
had sent a fleet of freighters loaded with nuclear missiles
to Fidel Castro in Cuba:
next morning we trudged up ramps through the clamshell doors
of C-124 Globemasters,
piled our duffels on the platform beneath the aft winches,
buckled ourselves into seats
made of canvas webbing, got the word from the loadmaster —
we’d be flying TDY
to a SAC base on Florida’s panhandle, just north of the Gulf.
One of us had been there.
He’d seen big brown pelicans flying like fighter escorts:
sometimes five or six
in V formation, sometimes ten or twelve
in a single ragged line.
He said they could glide so slowly it was a wonder
they never fell to earth,
but when they’d see a fish on the crest of a wave
they’d fold like a jackknife,
hit the water like a bullet out of a thirty-ought-six.
But I never saw any
either time I was there: all those aircraft coming and going
must have driven them away.
Once I saw fifteen transports circle the field and land
in fifteen minutes:
three thousand troops with BARs and fifty-calibers
and mortars and bazookas,
And a year later, not long after Kennedy was shot,
I sat in the back row
of a Gaumont cinema close to Prestwick Airport
and watched the end of the world:
a single B-52 flew like a pale shark through gray clouds
and over gray mountains
on a bombing run to Russia that could never be recalled –
the cowboy captain, some
thick-jawed dipshit caught up in his own private rodeo,
straddled an H-bomb
and rode it down to target with a one-handed hoo-raw,
and during the montage
at movie’s end, when fireballs swelled to the size of cities
in a half-second,
I laughed out loud in astonishment as Vera Lynn sang
“We’ll Meet Again,”
And forty years later, soaking in the chlorinated pool
of the Hilton Hotel
at Daytona Beach, I saw pelicans against the noon sun:
fifteen of them
glided above my head in single file toward the window
of my room:
dark, graceful shapes with great beaks and broad wings
gathering near my balcony,
suspended as if they were made of mist and smoke.
I held my breath
as I watched them hang in sunlight for a long moment
as if they came
out of some other dimension to stop time just for me,
and for seven days after
I carefully watched the sky over chrome-plated diners
and retro-deco towers,
over tee-shirt warehouses and fast food bungalows,
but I never saw one dive.
Philip St. Clair has published six collections of poetry. He has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Kentucky Arts Council and was awarded the Bullis Prize by Poetry Northwest. He lives in Ashland, Kentucky.
I have been the half
of a person I’ve needed
to stay sober.
It is true that I am alone
all of the time,
even with Emily,
but I am alone in a way
that will bury me
with a small smile
on my face. I am still
with her. I watch
her small dances the same
way a guitar player
It doesn’t make
sense when I sing,
but I always do.
A cutting from the willow tree,
Our newborn child sunning
As I rooted it in water. A dozen years later
It wept over the house falling
Into our intemperate climate. Children
Calling in the dusk, catching fireflies
While we argued or didn’t speak.
A rainfall of wishes. The street buckled,
Sewers blocked by eager roots arranging a thirst.
Everyone drinking, smoking pot or sleeping
With someone else’s spouse. The dogs barked
At nothing. The willow tree
Swayed its gentle hula as jackhammers
Tore up the blacktop. We
Moved elsewhere with our books and tools,
The drama of our children. Green braids
sheltered the Immeasurable.
Joan Colby’s Selected Poems received the 2013 FutureCycle Prize and Ribcage was awarded the 2015 Kithara Book Prize. Her recent books include Carnival from FutureCycle Press and The Seven Heavenly Virtues from Kelsay Books. Her latest book Her Heartstrings was published by Presa Press in 2018.
Mary Jane White
From the countryside
To wait out the term
To delivery. And return.
To go through rehab
And then return. To town.
Going to Toronto —
An old way of speaking
In front of you . . .
Who recall how it was:
In the countryside,
A suicide . . . Gone to
Toronto. No return.
For Michael Andre
November 18, 2017
Mary Jane White: MFA Iowa Writers’ Workshop, NEA Fellowships (in poetry and translation). Tsvetaeva translations: Starry Sky to Starry Sky (1988) New Year’s, an elegy for Rilke (Adastra Press, 2007); Poem of the Hill (The New England Review); Poem of the End (The Hudson Review), reprinted in Poets Translate Poets, (Syracuse 2013).