Category: Issue

From Issue 22: She Came Over on the Mayflower

Jim Daniels
My grandmother moved in with us when I was seven. Broke, she’d come back to Detroit from Arizona on a train. A Mayflower moving truck arrived the next week with a yellow box twice my size that contained her life like one of the Reader’s Digest condensed books she read. She pulled out some clothes for her dresser in the room she’d share with my sister, then the box sat for years like an upright double-wide coffin in the corner of the basement. My father put it on bricks to save from the occasional flooding. We used to climb in the box that smelled old like my grandmother, to hide in or to dream of going somewhere far. We never went anywhere that was not in the palm of Michigan’s hand. All we knew of Arizona was the petrified wood she handed us in tiny beds of cotton as gifts when she arrived. We saw cactuses only in cartoons. She never talked about what happened out there housekeeping in a convent. My grandfather died before I was born. She’d gone out west with a lady friend, then came back alone and lived the rest of her life in my sister’s room in a space curtained off that was as big as that box laid flat. She died when I was twenty-one years old, and I got drunk in that basement at her wake. When my mother had had my dog put down one day while I was at school, I barely shrugged, then headed off to my job at the party store, then after work to dry-hump my girlfriend in a way that was remarkably similar to my dog humping my leg during his glory years. My sister cried as hard as she cried when Elvis died, which was remarkably hard. I wonder now about my grandmother’s friend Hilda and what broke down out in the desert. If grandma kept any pictures, they weren’t in that box. She collected rosaries and kept a heating pad on her back every night and sat on her bad watching a tiny portable TV with an ear jack so she could crank up the volume without disturbing my sister—the last of the five kids, the only girl. We called her Little Grandma as she got littler, her brittle bones hunching her into nothing. To have a long life reduced to one Mayflower Moving box. Whenever I see one of their trucks, I fold into myself in shame for leaving her in that lonely box all those years, making fun of her farts, just like the dog’s. Old, and I’m one of them now. Put down. Put to sleep. Take me home, she said, and we didn’t know where to take her. You know the rest. How one day the water rose too high and ruined everything.
 
Jim Daniels‘ recent books include Rowing Inland and Street Calligraphy. His forthcoming books include his next collection of short fiction, The Perp Walk, and his coedited anthology, R E S P E C T: The Poetry of Detroit Music, both to be published in 2019 by Michigan State University Press.

From Issue 22: Wild Boar

Jim Daniels
Last night, I ate wild boar for the first time at the home of my friends Pierre and Christine. We sat on their terrace overlooking a hillside of vineyards lush green at the end of June. As the sun set, we had to put our sunglasses back on and hide behind a pillar. Five minutes, Pierre said, and the sun will disappear. No clouds willing to filter out the sun against all that blue surround. The colors here—the old painters loved them. It may have been five minutes in French time.
Pierre had showered and was ready to eat for a change. Usually, he shakes my thin hand with his thick one, or if he is too dirty, he offers his forearm for me to grab, then runs in for a shower. He works hard in the vines. He is a man of the earth who can tell where and when it’s going to rain, contradicting all available signs to us watching dark clouds hover, listening to the low thunder rumble. Knows where the wind is coming from and why and all things visibly invisible.
Where did you get the wild boar? I asked.
Christine said it’s a long story, then told us that story: a man in a nearby village has healing powers in his hands—particularly his thumbs. Nothing to do with Jesus. Once, he saw a cow moving awkwardly, favoring one shoulder. The man ran his thumbs down into the flesh of the cow until it moved normally again. The news spread through the village, and neighbors soon began dropping in, saying touch me the way you touched the cow. He did. He relieves pain, stiffness, pressure. People wait quietly on a bench outside his tiny house.
The man refuses payment. He has no training in chiropractory. The word spread to other villages. Since he refuses money, the lame and aching bring gifts. The countryside has been overrun with wild boar, and the farmers all hunt them. The man cannot refuse all the meat. He redistributes it to those who visit him. He gave a chunk to Christine. They were waiting for a special occasion. They are old friends of twenty years. For our visit, Pierre pulled the meat out of his giant freezer, where he keeps such things.
Restaurants can’t serve wild boar. The government inspectors won’t allow it. The idea of sharing the meat, a ritual here in these small villages. The howling of hunting dogs thickens the air in season after the grape harvest. The braying of hounds carries miles through this clear blue sky.
Roasted with gravy, accompanied by fresh vegetables. We sighed on the terrace as the sun dropped below the village on the hill. Juice of wild boar around our mouths, wiped with tissues Pierre handed around, in lieu of napkins. The soft waft as the tissues pulled out of the box after the cicadas kicked back for the night. I was skeptical at first, Christine said. Then she pointed to her back and lifted her thumbs to mime the man’s actions. She told us the name of the nearby village, but I’m not telling you. The man is 89 but the signs point to clear skies ahead, a steady tailwind.
When Pierre offers you his forearm, it’s a gift. He expects nothing in return. Happiness is the sun setting on a good meal and good story. The massive, shaggy beast reduced to stew, overshadowed by an old man with magic thumbs.
You might be skeptical, as I was. Christine was speaking French, of course, so I might have missed something in translation or time travel. But I don’t think so.
 
Jim Daniels‘ recent books include Rowing Inland and Street Calligraphy. His forthcoming books include his next collection of short fiction, The Perp Walk, and his coedited anthology, R E S P E C T: The Poetry of Detroit Music, both to be published in 2019 by Michigan State University Press.

From Issue 21: For Kurt

Andrey Gritsman
I am sitting at McSorley’s
alone. He is late.
Raining, and cabs are scarce,
I guess.
Notes GIs left before
embarking for Europe,
1917, still stuck behind the bar.
GIs, who never came back
to McSorley’s.
I am sure he’ll show up
shortly.
Candles dying slowly,
trembling, melting.
The beer is straw-colored,
strong, eternal.
I am on the second one,
thinking of his 6th Ave. poem,
Then leaving, wandering,
stopping at Pete’s by O’Henry’s table.
Then Union Square Market,
inspecting gladioli from LI nurseries.
Another drink at Algonquin,
Chelsea, thinking of those greats
ended up flying from their windows
to the pavement of the 14th Street.
All the way down to Cornelia.
Red-faced Robin, raconteuring
at the bar after tasting
new delivery of Sancerre.
Angelo, absentmindedly
nursing his cold cigar,
his quiet, sad smile lives by itself
in time and space.
But Kurt is not there,
hasn’t come yet, getting dark.
And then I realize—
he is also looking for me
in some other domains.
 
 Andrey Gritsman, a native of Moscow, immigrated to the United States in 1981. He is a physician, a poet and essayist and has published several volumes of poetry and essays in both languages. Poems, essays, and short stories in English have appeared in over ninety literary journals and were anthologized. Andrey Gritsman edits the international poetry magazine in Russian Interpoezia.

From Issue 21: Sea Gate through a 35mm Amourette 1928

Eric Berlin
Maybe the glare is why she scowls as she turns,
the shutter convulsing in the handheld camera
her husband keeps between his open eye and her,
but I’d wager my life that he said something cruel,
focused tight on her nape with its gossamer curls,
then tapped the button, not noticing her pursed brow,
her downturned mouth, only the fluid way the strap
of her bathing suit rounds her back, spans the hollow
from shoulder to collar bone. Buckling shakes and stucco
bake in the summer light beyond her. This is half
of the split-frame photo. To the overcast sky
that burns out the other, his left hand holds aloft,
as if for sacrifice, some orphaned animal,
a puppy or kitten, its details mostly lost
to the brilliance above (nothing automatic
back then) and below too, where the sun strikes his watch.
Squinting at me as if I weren’t her grandson,
she stares through the greater part of a century,
distrustful, but not used to feeling such disdain,
bracing herself as if for necessary pain.
 
 Eric Berlin’s poems have won the University of Canberra Vice-Chancellor’s International Poetry Prize, Bradford on the Avon Poetry Prize, National Poetry Prize, and The Ledge Poetry Prize. Currently, he’s researching various genres of oral literature and teaches online for The Poetry School.

From Issue 21: The Queen of Moloka’i

Kirby Wright
A Snapshot of My Grandmother’s Life
 

Brownie’s on horseback. The ratta-tat-tat of a seaplane spooks her mare, causing them to charge into roadside kiawe. Brownie pulls back hard on the reins. She chose Bella over the jeep because riding makes her feel mighty. She’s a hair over five feet but up here on her thoroughbred she’s the queen. Today brings memories of Chipper’s cattle drives and summertime rides with her boy, Buddy. Chip called him keiki manuahi. Now Bud fights in the South Pacific. Brownie remembers a Zero low-flying taro patches and Chip pulling his .219. He fired at the Rising Sun.
She’s riding west to check the First Aid station at Puko’o. She feels bad it’s a shanty, with walls of termite-riddled lumber, bamboo flooring, and a single window facing the outhouse. Still, there’s a stack of emergency cots and a cabinet filled with bandages, rolls of gauze, sutures, aspirin, syringes, and vials of penicillin. The haole doctor from the Red Cross approved it, along with nine other stations Brownie helped build the month after Pearl Harbor. Rumors of paratroopers and an invasion by sea triggered a patriotic frenzy on Moloka’i, from joining the Armed Forces to volunteer nursing to building barbed wire blockades on beachfronts. She joined the USO and became District Manager for the Red Cross. She knows the appointment came only because she looks more haole than Hawaiian.
***
She stands offstage at Kaunakakai Community Center wearing rouge, pink lipstick, and a string of pearls. Brownie doubles as the USO’s event coordinator. She taps a victory roll in her Betty Grable hairdo watching girls kick in unison to Benny Goodman’s “In the Mood.” Soldiers hoot and holler as waiters hustle by balancing trays. When the song ends, the girls blow kisses to whistles and catcalls. They exit the stage to applause that rattles the floodlights.  
Brownie joins her troupe backstage. These wahines are mostly piha kanaka maoli, but two have a smattering of French blood. Keiko, the girl from Okinawa, is the best hands down. Brownie tells them, if they keep practicing, they’ll give the Rockettes a run for their money. Puanani hugs her. She loves Puanani like a daughter, despite catching her sister in bed with Chip. Her girls slip into denim and tug on boots. She smells pikake perfume. Soon they’ll be prancing to “Home on the Range.”  
She finds the table of mothers. “My Mona stay ready fo’ Hollywood,” brags Ruth Kamakeaina. “Rita goin’ Broadway straight off,” Marvely Naki says. Brownie knows the stage brings hope during this time of rationing, living off the aina, and waiting for news of husbands and sons fighting overseas. She wanted the girls to be at their best so their mothers would have tonight. She made them rehearse for months, teaching them the two-step, tap, and the Lindy Hop. She showed them how to link up and kick as a team. She studied fashion magazines sent by the USO and spent weeks with Ruth and Marvely sewing Rockette-style skirts. They even stitched sequins and feathers for the pillbox hats.  
She spots a man in a khaki uniform seated at a table, his cap slanting at an angle off his temple down to an eye. He lifts his glass. He seems comfortable as a lone wolf. Their eyes meet. He lowers his gaze to light a cigarette. He wears a chain bracelet and has a ruddy complexion. He’s younger than her. Not much, but she can tell. The ends of his tie are tucked in the breast of his shirt. He looks up, blowing smoke through his nose. She looks away. She shifts her chair so Ruth blocks him. She listens to gossip until curiosity forces her to peer over Ruth’s pompadour. She watches him order another drink. 
Brownie excuses herself. She hula-swings over to the bar, using that strut she perfected as a girl with Sue, her big sister. She’s glad the years of work kept her body hard and strong. She orders bourbon. She feels sexy in the red wiggle dress Sue sent last Christmas. The soldier extinguishes his cigarette. He gulps down his drink and gets up. His stride is confidant yet boyish. No wedding band. Broad shoulders. Thin waist. He sweeps off his cap, giving her a bow. “What’s your name, doll?” he asks. His jet-black hair shines like the oiled barrel of a rifle. “Julia,” she answers. “Pleasure to meet you. I’m Fletcher.” She’s glad he didn’t extend a hand—she doesn’t want him feeling her calluses from cutting and chopping. He has a good name. His lapels are pinned with captain bars. He sounds like the newsmen on the radio, the deep-voiced ones who keep her company whenever Chip takes off. She feels guilty for not using her nickname. But “Brownie” brings thoughts of swinging axes, driving cattle, and dressing like a kua’aina. “Julia” makes her feel young. Part of her wants to pretend she’s still free to love whomever she wants, even after her mother told her nothing good can come from it.  
Fiddles strike up “Home on the Range.” The girls return in denim skirts twirling lassos. They square dance on a stage decorated with wagon wheels, sawhorses topped with a saddle, and pine barrels. In the background, a prairie schooner painted on butcher paper hangs off a big bamboo frame. Keiko and Puanani ride in on hobbyhorses and receive a standing ovation. 
Fletcher leads the way down the stairs to the coconut tree courtyard. Brownie likes the pencil moustache and the perfect posture. He smells like gin. She has not felt like this since her days chasing haoles in Waikiki with Sue, not since the Moana Hotel Ball when the Englishman kissed her under the eyelash moon. “Married?” Fletcher asks. She wants to say no. Why shouldn’t she lie about a man who chases every skirt on the east end? She tells him about Chipper and scratching out lives on homestead land. Fletcher’s married too. Martha’s in Columbus waiting for his R & R, but he’s been ordered to report to Schofield Barracks. His steamer leaves the wharf at dawn. Fletcher pulls her close. They kiss. The coconut fronds rattle in the onshore breeze. “Spend tonight with me,” comes the radio voice, “at the Pau Hana Inn.” She doesn’t answer. But she knows by her silence that she will, even though the inn is little more than a bungalow perched on a mud flat overlooking the wharf. Will she do it to punish Chip? Brownie’s not sure. She imagines cigarettes, drinks, and geckos patrolling the walls. His uniform hangs off the bedpost, the captain bars glowing in the harsh light from a naked bulb. She sees herself lying on a narrow mattress as fingers test her bra. She believes tonight she’ll become a princess, a wahine naïve enough to believe in dreams.   
Notes:
aina: land
haole: white
keiki manuahi: bastard child
kiawe: mesquite
kua’aina: country bumpkin
palaka: checkered red and white
piha kanaka maoli: having 100% Hawaiian blood
pikake: Arabian jasmine
wahine: girl or woman
A Note from the author: 
This creative nonfiction story is based on the World War II stories told to me by my paternal grandmother during my summer visits to her Moloka’i ranch. She wanted to write them down but had trouble composing sentences because of her third grade-only education. I promised Gramma I would write down her stories, while she was still living. I failed. I failed her, partly because the creative writing students at my college got bored and dismissive when I read anecdotes about an old woman living on a remote island. But the real reason I didn’t write her stories was because I gave in when my father when said writing was a frivolous waste of time. He stressed practicality, pointing out that only a handful of writers made a living at it. He convinced me writing was at best a hobby and that I should take a more practical path through life, such as going to law school or pursuing an MBA. Instead, I went into sales. I was good at sales but felt guilty abandoning the written word.    
I know what Gramma said was true because she’d repeat stories verbatim, including scraps of dialogue and how she felt. She loved horses. Six mares roamed the once forest-dense pastures she helped clear with her husband Chipper. Her name was Julia Gilman. She was nicknamed “Brownie” by the locals after a boy saw her likeness to a cartoon character on his Brownie camera box. In 1942, the Red Cross appointed her District Manager from Kainalu River east to Puko’o Harbor. A year later, she became Show Coordinator for the USO in Kaunakakai. She wanted military men and women on R & R to forget about the war, if only for a night. As a girl she loved to dance and attended the various balls in all the big Waikiki Hotels, such as the Moana and the Pink Palace. She organized extravagant dance numbers for GIs, Marines, and sailors who’d taken steamers over to Moloka’i from Oahu. And, yes, Julia did fall for Fletcher, even though she was only with him that one night at the Pau Hana Inn. She carried those few bright hours she spent with him without shame or guilt, a summer night in 1943 as shiny as the chrome bars on a young captain’s lapel.  
 

 
Kirby Michael Wright‘s new book is THE QUEEN OF MOLOKAI, which is a prequel to the story by the same name published by Two Cities  Review. He won the 2018 Redwood Empire Mensa Award for Creative Nonfiction. 

From Issue 21: The Doll

Joan Colby
At Marshall Fields that year
When I was eight,
They took a photograph to make
A doll with my face,
My wavy auburn hair.
I unwrapped that doll
On Christmas day. She had
A wardrobe of clothes
Just like mine. A green wool coat
Trimmed with muskrat fur,
A taffeta skirt and lace collared blouse,
A skating outfit and small white skates,
Flannel pajamas and scratchy underwear,
All sewn by my mother
Late at night on the Singer.
The doll was eerie, my
Doppelganger. A better child
Than I would ever be.
She had a pimpled leather prayer book
Fit for a believer,
Unlike me.
She sat in my bedroom
On a quilted chair
Before the vanity mirror
Where we were both reflected.
Her hair brushed to shine,
Her smile impassive,
Her complexion putty-colored
Minus my freckles, her brown eyes kind
And compliant.
My mother named her Dolores, her choice
For me vetoed by my father who said
It meant sorrow.
Dolores’ legs bent
So she could kneel
With her little rosary
In her little fingers.
 
 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.

From Issue 21: A Note to Hemingway's Women

Twila Newey
I saw your shadow pass in the high window near La Rue Moufftard. You, his first wife, the baby in your arms waiting, not knowing. I penned run! as the rain drizzled and turned cobblestones to fish scales. Sealed the envelope and slipped it under the door.  You didn’t read it.
It isn’t then. It’s now. You already got out of there, eventually. Left him after he left you. More than once. Stopped leaving your baby in the care of the cat to follow him to café or salon or bar. The baby grew up, which takes decades. He wanted the short, straight line. Avoided the curve of comma, the complication of semi-colon. Though his dogma stretched fifty years past his lived life like a petulant poltergeist banging out periods on a typewriter.  He claimed to love you.  He claimed to love. A short sentence. He wrote about you, looking back through winter drizzle, through film of age, romanticized you, but did not see the bruise healing; green, purple, rust, in cobblestone. The soft wound beneath his feet.  
He was good at the sharp, the blunt. Limited in his ability to appreciate the subtle, many colored circuity. Blind to the beauty of tangle.  It’s why he left her, Paris, and his other women. Just part of his collection. Lovely severed heads to mount on his memory wall. 
His only true love the fast thought. The shotgun sentence.
 
 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.

From Issue 21: Dream of the Red City

William Doreski
The streets run parallel. No cross streets, no vanishing point. I toil along a dreary stretch of abandoned warehouses. I want to reach the next street over, where restaurants and theaters gleam like rhinestones. But when I try cutting through the warehouses I find they have no back doors, and between them range high metal fences crowned with coils of razor wire. The stink of decay and wasted lives sours the night. I can’t see moon or stars. The reddish dark overhead looks solid as a concrete dome. The faint urban glow tastes salty and glib. If I could get on the roof I might see a way of reaching the populated district. I find a spiral staircase that opens onto a flat tarred surface and realize I could leap to the building facing the other street. But the long fatal drop between is daunting. I remember Jimmy Stewart in Vertigo, hanging with both hands while a uniformed cop falls to his death. So I descend and exit into the broken street with the reddish glow washing over me. Laughter and loud conversation, drifting from another world, encourage and disgust me. How much humanity do I want to assert? How much wants to claim me?
 

William Doreski has published three critical  studies and several collections of poetry. His work has appeared in various journals. He has taught writing and literature at Emerson, Goddard, Boston University, and Keene State College. His new poetry collection is A Black River, A Dark Fall. 

From Issue 20: No Fear

The enemy is fear. We think it is hate; but it is really fear.
Mahatma Gandhi
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.”
You bet.
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. 
Jude’s reaction? 
“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.
Why?
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/

From Issue 20: Catastrophe

Benjamin Harnett
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,
“catastrophe.”
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.