Tuesday, June 26, 2018

June 26: Emily Sinclair • Linda Sage • Sylvia Chan • Renée E. D’Aoust • Beth Weeks • Virginia Marshall • Jane Piirto • Connie Clark • Lisa Roylance • Nicole Walker

Today we present ten more dispatches from June 21, 2018 to you. More details on the project here, but, in brief, we asked you to write about what happened on one day in June, and are publishing the results, largely unedited, for the next few weeks, about ten a day. If you wrote something (btw it's not too late), send us your work by the end of June via this submission form (it's okay if you didn't RSVP before: the more the merrier).

—The Editors

June 26: Emily Sinclair • Linda Sage • Sylvia Chan • Renée E. D’Aoust • Beth Weeks • Virginia Marshall • Liza Porter • Connie Clark • Lisa Roylance • Nicole Walker


First thing in the morning, the chickens set the tone. In their coop, they’re alert, murmuring, ready to be released into the day, into the orchard, to begin their work: scratching, pecking, fertilizing young trees with manure. When I open the coop door, they march down the ladder, orderly as commuters on public transit, and exit the coop, hustling toward the door to their run. I open the door. Released from their run into the orchard, they run, flap, squawk, and then get busy on the bugs.
     I long for such focus. A year and five days ago, we moved out of Denver and into a quasi-country neighborhood. We wanted something different, more peaceful, a respite from a world turned upside down, but still Colorado. As a concept—leave the city for the country and spend the hours of my days when I’m not writing outdoors, working—it’s been a good one, but today, it’s already clear, two cups of coffee and an hour of desk time in, that I’m going to be unproductive.
     This essay, that essay. A little research, a little reading. Type a few paragraphs in an old short story. Think about upcoming classes I’m teaching. But today, I’m all ideas, struggling for follow-through. There on my desk is the list of five different essays I’m working on, and a couple of stories. A couple poem-y things. In my mind, I can see how to move forward, how to finish the work. But I don’t. A therapist once told me I was afraid of success and that’s why I get distracted. Sounds like bullshit to me, that idea that success is right there, is in fact already mine—it’s just that I’m avoiding it! It’s a theory that’s got a smugness to it, like those people who’re always talking about how they can’t keep weight on. But what’s got me today is the news. All week, it’s been children in cages. They’re clutching Mylar blankets, they’re crying. The images of the children are something beyond the latest political distraction: they’re unbearable. Also in the news is the death of Koko the gorilla, who used American Sign Language. In college, I wrote endless papers about her, about syntax and meaning. Reading the news, I see that I have forgotten her relationship with her kitten. It seems odd that I’d forget about a relationship, but there you go. Late morning, I go grab myself a chicken, and hug it, stroke its feathers. My dog yips with jealousy. The chicken doesn't want to be held, but too bad. The dog does want to be touched. How do any of us live in this world, in the gap between what we want and what we actually have?
     Around noon, I made a stack of waffles for breakfast. This is my new diet: waffles and fruit. A plateful holds me until dinner. I haven’t lost any weight, but I love waffles so it’s a good diet.
     After lunch, I head over to the barn for my weekly horse lesson. I’m learning to be a cowgirl. It’s hot and sunny, but my mare seems glad to see me, until I get on and ride her. I’ve changed my seat position recently, which is mostly a good thing, until we start loping, when the angle of my leg is such that I inadvertently spur the mare on her tender flank with nearly every step. She’s not happy about this turn of events and has started bucking or trying to kick my foot with her foot. All the spurring and bucking makes for a sloppy, angry ride, but my trainer is a determined woman, and despite the heat, the horse’s frustration, and my inability to do anything better, she says we’re not stopping until we get two correct circles in each direction. No spurring. I can imagine stopping now, just saying I’m too tired and sad, but the trainer has this idea that you don’t stop until you achieve success. So, we achieve some success, and the mare drops her head, finally, relaxed, and we walk down the trail aways so she can eat some grass, which is the least she ought to have after all the spurring. The trainer thinks that you always end on a good note. Some days it’s hard to get to a good note. The mare eats some grass and I think about how small my life is and yet how epic the spurring/bucking battle felt to me.
     After the barn, I go to the grocery store. I had volunteered to make dinner for me and my husband. Gnocchi with sausage, and salad. I sit in the car, reading emails on my phone when some guy starts yelling at me. Hello! Hello! he says.
     I open the car door. What?
     We have something for our lady shoppers today! he yells. He’s young, blond, ponytailed. He’s swinging a pink bag with gold lips on it. Not my thing, that frothy girly stuff. I’m covered in horse hair and sweat.
     You’re trying to sell me something while I sit in my car?
     I don’t want you to feel left out, he yells.
     I don’t feel left out, I say, and slam my door. You can’t go anywhere these days, or even stay home, without someone trying to sell you something.
     Have a great day! he yells.
     I consider giving him the finger, but I don’t. Instead, I get my list and a cart. Mostly, I think the way I spend my days is merely a structural device to push away bad feelings and summon good ones.
     I cook dinner, and my husband and I talk about ennui, despair, and laughter. We’ve both been a little out of sorts all week. After dinner, we walk the dog, then coop the chickens, and get in bed. In bed, I feel wayward and fractious. I want to read, I want to write, I want to have sex, and yet something keeps me from moving decisively toward any of those things. This night, all nights, I fall asleep much as I wake, in the gap between what I dream and what is.

—Emily Sinclair

Emily Sinclair is an essayist and fiction writer. Her work has appeared in River Teeth, Colorado Review, The Normal School, The Pinch Journal, Empty Mirror, Third Coast, Crab Creek Review, and has been recognized by Best American Essays. She lives with her husband on an apple orchard west of Denver. 


I lay in my sleeping bag listening to birdsong. I pick out a blackbird’s alarm call and the two-note song of a chiffchaff. John is still in a huddle, breathing deeply. From a sitting position I open the caravan window to release some of the fug from the room: of sleep, damp clothing and last night’s meal, before snuggling down again. The clock blinks 5.00 a.m. 
     My mind wanders to the Summer Solstice of 1983 BC (before children): I am riding Amber, my 14.2hh Welsh Cob x Arab mare through Sherwood Forest with the Endurance Horse and Pony Society of Great Britain. The day tumbles out of my head: loading Amber in the horsebox, driving from the stables, arriving at Southwell Racecourse in Nottingham, stomach all a flutter—our first ride. Amber neighs and kicks the side of the horsebox; she feels the excitement too. We unload and prepare for the vet’s inspection before making our way to the start line—map in my riding boot—heart in my mouth. We begin the twenty-five miles at a steady pace, keeping close to the railings on the gallops as some of the one hundred milers thunder past us to the finishing post—the route is in a loop. At the end of the gallops we follow a path down a precarious slope. I wonder if I have gone the wrong way but see a rider in the distance and feel relieved. Amber pricks up her ears. We reach a main road. Marshalls in high viz tabards see us safely across the road towards the forest. We pass a row of chicken sheds. The stench is sickening. We hurry by and enter the coolness of the forest. Amber wickers to another horse as it disappear from sight. The smell of pine and decomposing leaves is refreshing. The forest is deserted save from squirrels scurrying up trees, marshals guiding the way at various check points and an official photographer who periodically creeps out from behind a tree to photograph us—frightening the life out of me and making Amber shy. We trot on. Amber picks up her pace when she senses home and slows as we turn away. After fifteen miles of shade we cross the road again. Amber is impatient. At the bottom of the slope she snatches at the reins and leaps forward. I lose a stirrup and land on her neck. As Amber bolts up the slope it takes all my effort to stay in the saddle. We arrive at the top; Amber sweating and me red faced. I’m back in control. We reach the gallops and, tempting though it is to gallop, we walk steadily to cool down before the finishing line and the ensuing vet’s inspection. 
     I wonder how it’s possible to remember such events so clearly at my time of life when I haven’t got a clue about what I was up to this time last week. 
     John breaks my train of thought by handing me a mug of tea. 
     ‘Hey sleepy head, what do you want to do today?’ 
     Then I remember the weird dream I had in the night: I was in a hospital outpatient clinic with two doctors who were in remission from cancer. They told me I had a tumour somewhere unreachable (probably over-anxiety about a headache I have trouble shrugging off). This was not in my head, they said, but in my pancreas. The doctors were reconstructing my insides with cardboard tubes, cellotape and bits of string to explain how digestion works. One said, ‘this is where we digest carbs.’ The other said, ‘this is what happens when we eat fat.’ It’s then that I realise the bar of Cadburys whole nut chocolate I consumed the evening before was causing the trouble. Then one of the doctors pointed to another tube and rolling her eyes said excitedly, ‘this is why we don’t eat washing machines!’ 
     ‘Where would you like to go today?’ John says again. 
     I take the tea, smile and shrug. 
     ‘Okay, Churchill’s grave it is then,’ he says. 
     We stuff away our sleeping bags and turn the double bed back into a seating area, breakfast on Swiss muesli and soft boiled eggs with toast, shower and get ready to walk the twenty minutes to St Martins Church in Bladon. The sun is shining but the wind that’s been blowing since our arrival three days ago is still persistent. A buzzard rides the thermals above us as we leave the caravan site. I am intrigued by a new arrival in a blue van towing a dome shaped construction. By the wording on the side I figure there may be some sort of racing car hidden inside. I must pluck up the courage to ask the owner later when we return to the site. I am nosey! I can’t speak German, so I hope the owner speaks English, otherwise we will play that game of pointing and nodding. 
     John and I follow the busy main road to Bladon. The route is flanked with Cotswold stone cottages, some only built in 2006. Their garden hedges consist of hazel, yew and laurel. Roses are in abundance. We pass The White House public house, the Old Forge and the Wesleyan School built in1843. The houses peter out and it dawns on us that we have walked too far and have missed the church. We retrace our steps and John spots the tower of the church to our right behind more cottages. We climb a narrow path lined with hollyhocks, which have yet to flower, and follow a sign pointing to the church. 
     The white stone tomb situated within the chained off family plot is of simple construction, with only the name Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill 1874–1965 and written below, his wife, Clementine Ogilvy Spencer Churchill 1885–1975. Placed in front of the tomb are wreaths of red silk poppies from the Parachute Regiment and airborne forces. On the wall opposite is a memorial plaque, which reads ‘The Danish Resistance movement pays homage to the memory of Sir Winston Churchill.’ There are wreaths from the Royal Danish Embassy and Holger Danske from Denmark - ‘To all the wonderful veterans throughout the UK – We’ll meet again.’ 
     Entering the church we are instantly dive-bombed by two house martens feeding their chicks in the rafters above the porch. I stand and watch for a while. The chicks squawk excitedly every time the parent arrives, then fall silent once alone. The parents relay the food and keep an eye out for predators from the telephone wire outside the church. 
     The church is small but pretty. I light a candle for my parents and brother and put the 70p charge in the appropriate slot in the church wall. 
     On the right hand wall of the church is a stained glass window in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Sir Winston Churchill’s death. Her Royal Highness, The Duchess of Cornwall, unveiled the window in 2015. 
     The left light of the window depicts the Roman soldier St. Martin of Tours, Patron Saint of the Church. On the right St. Alban, also a Roman soldier, who became the first English Christian martyr. The many Symbols around the borders of the window relate directly to Sir Winston Churchill: his Coat of Arms, Spitfire and Liberator aeroplanes, the tank championed by him at the end of World War One, House of Commons Symbol (the port cullis), black swans from Chartwell (his country home), two dogs (Rufus 1 and Rufus 2), his famous cigar and a selection of butterflies and plants he loved. There are also symbols he and his wife used to sign off letters to one another – “the woo” (cat which Clementine used) and “the wow” (little pig Winston used). 
     Before leaving the church I sign the visitors book and watch the house martens soar in and out of the porch once more. Wild birds fascinate me with their dedication in raising a brood of chicks and the thousands of miles they fly to reach their annual feeding and breeding grounds. 
     The sweet smell of honeysuckle greets us as we leave the church grounds and make our way back to the road. Herb Robert clings to a dry stone wall along Park Street where we come across an old water pump, not in use, but well preserved. 
     I stop suddenly to avoid stepping on a triangular shaped butterfly/moth; black in colour with yellow and red dots. I take a photograph for identification purposes. I try to transfer whatever it is to a nearby bush but it insists on flitting back onto the pavement. I get the message and leave well alone. As I look up I notice a poster fixed to a telegraph pole with a picture of a cat: Lily, a black and white two year old female missing since 22nd April. I feel sad for the owner, as the chances of being reunited with her pet are slim. 
     Back at the caravan I check my mobile for messages. I have three: my friend Jane is now a grandmother to seven and a half pound Henry; my daughter has been chosen (one of ten in the whole of Cheshire) to take part in a digital art installation at Jodrell Bank, and Manchester Metropolitan University reminds me that there are four days to go before I will find out the results of my contemporary arts degree. I text congratulations to my friend and daughter and text my son to check he is still alive even though I know he won’t reply—he works in a call centre and once he’s done his shift he refuses to pick up a phone again—fair enough! 
     I make a trip to the washroom to freshen up and notice the cover has been lifted from the mysterious car—not a racing car as I thought earlier on in the day, but a vintage Triumph open top sports car. What a beauty. 
     John and I walk into Woodstock, twenty minutes in the other direction this time. We decide to eat at the Crown pub, which looks tiny from the outside but once inside, reveals a large restaurant. The Wi-Fi connection is good but I have problems with sending and receiving emails. This is worrying, as I have been typing up notes of the day’s events to send off to Essay Daily. I will be mad if I am let down by the Internet. Hopefully I can find a Wi-Fi hotspot tomorrow when my notes are complete and it is time to submit. We make the journey back to the caravan site in silence. 
     With a belly full of wood smoked pizza and more pinot grigio than I would normally drink, I am ready to crawl into my sleeping bag. I draw on my memory from the Summer Solstice once more and remember how difficult it was to load Amber back in the horsebox for the return journey home. Life is full of obstacles. I lay awake for a while listening for the call of a tawny owl I heard the other night. I drift off. It has been the longest day!

—Linda Sage

Linda Sage has become interested in writing later in life.  She has just completed a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University and enjoys writing about nature and place. She also writes flash fiction, short stories and travel features and hopes to work as a freelance writer now that her university assignments have come to an end.


To my former beloved, who angers me when I wake from my nightmares around 4:45 a.m., I wonder how it is we both belong to the same earth of lightness and hope.
     This time last year, I dismissed the thought you were harassing and stalking me for half a year; I did nothing until you tried to hurt me four months later.
     A provocation. Understand: people of domestic violence are, I think, not a doctor, the son of a cop; a court advocate, a foster kid. But that is precisely the danger: we are humans who know the discord of waking.
     I am angry my closest persons thought I was paranoid. That I, too, believed I was. That they asked about him and compared their breakup with my domestic violence. That is not fair, and I am angry I did not say, Shut up. That, if I didn’t know 911 and to run to the corridor—to leave my students in the classroom—I may not be here.
     Today I wake and teach summer school from 7:30-10:30. We speak of provocation, a coming to terms. Childish Gambino disrupts his America with something more palatable—unrelenting gunshooting, a vigilante justice. Add a white horse to allow Death to hold us down at night.
     Mid-video, my publisher informs me I have a new book review (I am not paying attention to the America I have watched twenty times). Ben writes of Juliana Spahr’s “Nov. 30, 2002,” the influence for my poem, “The Part About Fate or Counterpoint:” does her invocation “I speak of” still follow me—to this poem in 2018?
     Only the most spineless teacher would leave her students unguarded. Alternatively, because I knew my former beloved was after me, I allowed him to follow me.
     We only have one body.
     To my former beloved, I go to the staff meetings. Is it an English teacher problem—to spend twenty minutes discussing the art of telling a male student not to play with his crotch during class? (Seriously debated upon questions: Is it an issue of accessibility? Does the man not have looser pants? We dismiss other motives to spend five minutes on the art of manspreading).
     I look at my colleagues and wonder what it is we think we’re doing.
     Three passerby men, dare I say undergrads, say I look pretty. I don’t tell them I didn’t comb my hair. On the way home, I cry for the first time in eight months. The conversation is domestic violence: my friend and I are going back and forth; he tells me didn’t know I’m still scared.  I’m missing a few months of my life and I can’t remember. I love the dailiness of my life—the thrum of my fake fingers on the most real piano keys, 3-5 p.m., as regular as the crickets singing from the backyard—yet I can’t remember.
     I struggle with telling my friend what pains me most. Understand: saying I am a foster kid who has been through all the basic and extraordinary darknesses of trauma, grief, and loss—that is not difficult. What is harder is admitting that, precisely because of the good, the success, the compassion I fight for and write such that I can, one day, uphold it—this is why my former beloved did not love me.
     It seems obvious, on this end, he was a depressed addict who lost his contest to my order of protection; lost his firearms. But am I loyal even with our good and bad, when I have failed to sense my grief in advance? Stuck on my back in bed, I remember shaking in court when I had to speak to him.
     While I sleep uneasily, my friend pokes me, pushes back the hair from my eyes. He calls me an angel for caring nothing about money, for wanting to be behind projects in foster care and domestic violence. He calls me “the one who would take the oxygen mask and put it on everyone else before yourself; you’d die for them.”
     Miguel asks how I will write this day. I speak of being unable to lie, to omit the fact that I cried today. He suggests I make it funny: I cried in the Nissan Sentra. He says if I leave out the crying, he will write that Sylvia cried in the car, and there I am—absolved of omitting my vulnerability.
     What is lightness turning to hope? Former beloved, we pitted our mouths against one another, the push and pull of a vulnerability. I love this about the mysterious eloquence of piano slurs. They emphasize segments. They contradict our connection in order to increase the listener’s desire for it, counteracting each other simultaneously by their time spans.
     After showers, water trickled from our elbows. If we can only split as responsibly as the changing dark.

Sylvia Chan

Sylvia Chan lives in Tucson, where she teaches at the University of Arizona and serves as court advocate for foster kids in Pima County and nonfiction editor for Entropy. Her debut poetry collection is We Remain Traditional (Center for Literary Publishing 2018). She is easily swayed by coconut jam, Oscar Peterson, and burgers.


Dispatches from Lugano, Switzerland: June 21, 2018

This morning, my body makes strange lubricating sounds while I drink my second latte macchiato. I take my tiny “cimifemin forte” pill for perimenopause; it seems to make a difference in my fluctuating moods if not my cold sweats. (It’s a Swiss product made of black cohosh extract.) I’ve had many physical challenges over the past four years, and I’m exhausted.
     While my husband and I talk about my Swiss residency permit, our dachshund Tootsie slides down onto her belly, her stumpy legs flaying outward, splayed at an adorable angle from her small but large and long miniature hound chest. Her tubular body doesn’t have far to slide, as there are only 2.4 inches of clearance between her belly and the ground. (We find the tape measure and check.) She lives her life on the lowdown while I fluctuate between gratitude and grievance.
     The floor tiles are cool in summer, and now we are all splayed out on these tiles. Sometimes we arrange ourselves in a row—the three of us on our backs—but more often, such as right now, we all just slide down, letting the floor embrace and cool our bodies. I discover with glee that I’m wearing my bright orange T-shirt inside out. These words are next to my chest: “Gay? Fine by me!” (My husband and I bought matching shirts years ago during grad school to support the LBGTQ alliance at the University of Notre Dame.)
     Today is the summer solstice. I’m thinking about how climate change is a central, urgent issue of our era, and how Trump is purposefully wasting our time. He tosses paper towels at Puerto Ricans and starburst candies at Chancellor Merkel, and in the grand tradition of the American propensity to deny reality, creates his own. It’s exhausting to track, but we must.
     I check the BBC to see if Trump has reversed his policy of forcibly separating families seeking asylum. Trump makes a show of reversing his policy; now families will be detained indefinitely. As my husband says, “Trump is a teenager who sets your house on fire and then expects praise for phoning the fire brigade.”
     In the heat today, I wilt. I become bitter. The taste dissipates. I eat cherries. As I look back to my country of origin, the United States of America, I feel guilt, the guilt of a person who had the means to leave.
     In the heat today, I sleep. I make a note to include E.B. White’s “Once More to the Lake” on next fall’s syllabus.
     There are palm trees outside my door.
     To celebrate my fiftieth birthday this past year, we drove to the annual dachshund parade in Krakow, Poland. Our miniature rescue dachshund Tootsie waddled down the parade route, wearing a dog dress that matched my skirt—both red with dachshund prints. The parade watchers clapped and laughed when Tootsie peed en route, and she tilted her head at the sound. When she had finished peeing, she waddled on. After the parade, a guy tried to book us on a tourist trip to Auschwitz. We didn’t want to go. He said it was important to witness history.
     On the way to the dachshund parade, we had stopped in Upper Austria at the Mauthausen concentration camp. My husband’s grandfather was a prisoner of war at Mauthausen. He served in the Italian army in Tuscany, and when Italy switched sides in 1943, he was taken prisoner by the Germans. The one thing my husband’s grandfather said about those years in the concentration camp was that he could smell burning human flesh. After the war, he returned home (as did my husband’s other grandfather who was a prisoner of war in Berlin). At Mauthausen, my husband and I cried. There is no smell. It is clean. There is a new housing development on a hill just outside the camp and with a view directly onto the camp. My husband and I did not know how to navigate the knowledge that his grandfather had been at Mauthausen, that we walked on ground made holy by murder.
     It has taken me months to speak of this pilgrimage, and today is the first time I have written it down.
     I read today that supporters of Trump’s internment of children say that the children are given food and a bed. These are children forcibly separated from their parents.
     At Mauthausen, my husband’s grandfather was given food and a bed.
     Today, it is hot, but it is not a heat wave.
     I live in an Italian-speaking canton of Switzerland, and I understand a bit of what it is like to arrive in a country where one does not speak the language, where one is asked questions one does not understand, where one says “Si” or “No” yet does not know in answer to what. Imagine being two years old.
     This summer, I am again climbing the mountain called language learning. Sempre, sto imparando.
     I drive to the pharmacy and pick up a prescription for blood pressure medicine. My blood pressure is consistently low, and I’m exhausted all the time, so we’re going to see if a bit of a boost will help. I stop at Foto Pucci and have photographs taken for my permanent residency application. I navigate all this in Italian. The four photographs cost CHF 20.00, but I don’t get a receipt because I momentarily forget the Italian word for receipt.
     Now that I’m home, this evening Tootsie and I cuddle. Oh, how we cuddle. Tootsie’s tongue slips out of her mouth like a little pink pull-tab. Dogs in Switzerland answer to many different languages: German, French, Italian, English. Osvaldo, a Chihuahua down the lane, knows Russian. Tina, who lives across the street, knows the local dialect.
     On Twitter, the Washington Post editor and columnist Ruth Marcus asks the following: “Is there no one—not a single person—with a political appointment in this [Trump] administration who has the soul, the decency, the moral backbone to quit over family separation? Not one?” I note what Ibram X. Kendi writes in Stamped from the Beginning: the Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America:
It is in the intelligent self-interest of White Americans to challenge racism, knowing they will not be free of sexism, class bias, homophobia, and ethnocentrism until Black people are free of racism. The histories of anti-Asian, anti-Native, and anti-Latina/o racist ideas; the histories of sexist, elitist, homophobic, and ethnocentric ideas: all sound eerily similar to this history of racist ideas, and feature some of the same defenders of bigotry in America. Supporting these prevailing bigotries is only in the intelligent self-interest of a tiny group of super rich, Protestant, heterosexual, non-immigrant, White, Anglo-Saxon males. Those are the only people who need to be altruistic in order to be antiracist. The rest of us merely need to do the intelligent thing for ourselves.
     This evening, the heat has barely lifted. My husband, Tootsie, and I walk through town down to the lake. Once more to the lake.

Senior Dachshund Menu, June 21, 2018
Dr. Hill’s dry kibble (35 grams)
1 doggy vitamin
1 natural doggy stress capsule
½ doggy glucosamine
¼ blood thinner

Boiled carrots (We pronounce them “cawwots.” Tootsie’s snout is so very long that it is hard for her to curl her lips around a double “rr” sound.)

Dr. Hill’s dry kibble (35 grams)
½ liver tab
¼ blood thinner

Human Menu, June 21, 2018
Latte macchiato (two)
Chocolate croissant (one)

Linguine with homemade eggplant/garlic/yogurt sauce and freshly grated Parmesan
Salad (no dressing, just lettuce)

Sausage roll (It tasted more like “Pigs in a blanket,” which is not what I expected nor wanted, but I was curious and it was ½ price.)
Fanta (I never drink Fanta, but I won it from a Coop grocery store World Cup scrape-off promo. One of the cool things about the World Cup is seeing all the huge Swiss flags draped outside windows. It’s also common in Switzerland to see Serbian, Portuguese, and Brazilian flags outside windows and on cars. Tomorrow night, we’ll watch the Swiss-Serbian match.)

Salad with olive oil and burrata (Burrata is Italian buffalo milk cheese made from mozzarella and cream. It comes in its own cheese pouch.)

Random Music, June 21, 2018
The Beatles, “Let it Be”
Gerry Rafferty, “Right Down the Line”
Paolo Conte, “Via Con Me”

Reading, June 21, 2018
Kim Adrian, The Shell Game: Writers Play with Borrowed Forms (University of Nebraska Press)
Jo Scott-Coe, Mass: A Sniper, A Father, and a Priest (Pelekinesis)

Line Cut from this Dispatch, June 21, 2018
The yoga in you is not the yoga in me.

Passages, June 21, 2018
Koko, reports CNN, “the gorilla who mastered sign language and showed the world what great apes can do, dies in her sleep at age 46.” Further: “[Koko] liked to read and be read to, a blog post by The Gorilla Foundation said. She purred at parts of books she particularly enjoyed.”

—Renée E. D'Aoust

Renée E. D’Aoust is the author of Body of a Dancer (Etruscan Press). Follow @idahobuzzy and visit www.reneedaoust.com.


Green Solstice

“See you in Denver,” I tell my friend Carrie as I pull away from our second goodbye hug. Outside, church bells ring twelve times and the train whistles over the tracks by Fifth Street. I don’t realize the reference I’ve made until later: On the Road, which had been my bible for years before I started writing. “See you in Denver,” I used to write in my journal, a code phrase to remind me to leave my comfort zone as often and voraciously as I could. Carrie and I have just graduated from an MFA program where we’ve spent the past two years. She’s moving to Denver because it seemed like a good place to go, and I’m planning to stay in Dayton as an adjunct until I get up the guts to go somewhere else, which doesn’t seem likely, considering I’ve lived here my whole life.
     I promise Carrie I’ll come visit her in August so that this doesn’t feel like a permanent goodbye. She’s wearing a cute floral sundress; we spent our last day together writing and talking and watching TV. She always makes me feel good, like we’re both destined for greater things and we’ll get there together, so when I hear her car drive off back to her apartment, I pull up a story I finished revising and read through it a final time before I start submitting.
     Normally at midnight I watch a movie—a summertime habit of my dad’s. We always had a theme: classic sci-fi, baseball flicks, spy movies. He died in 2011. Last summer my theme was Michael Fassbender’s filmography, which was disappointing aside from a couple gems like Shame and Fish Tank. This summer I’m dedicated to age gap films, movies that feature a romantic relationship between two people of discrepant ages. Lolita (both 1962 and 1997), The Reader, Leon the Professional, Taxi Driver, Fish Tank (again—one of my favorites), Secretary, Girl with a Pearl Earring, Lost in Translation, Oldboy, Stoker. Movies that speak to me on a level I find difficult to explain to other people. Movies I can only watch at midnight in summer. Sometimes I deviate, though, like last night I watched Wreck-It Ralph, which my friend Alex worked on, and I paused the screen at his name in the credits and took a picture like I do for all his movies.
     But tonight I spend the hours between midnight and two submitting a short story to six publications which have all previously rejected me but encouraged me to submit again. I revise my bio and cover letter to reflect my most recent accomplishments which I am afraid sound stupid and petty and like I’m bragging. I Google the names of editors. I scan archived issues to make sure the aesthetic matches, but honestly I still don’t know what that means. Sometimes I wonder if editors want writers to stop writing for the sake of impressing people and just write their truth. But maybe for most people the truth is too boring and ugly to write, like doctor’s office waiting rooms.
     I go to bed a little after two. My house is a hundred years old and it’s renovated so I have central A/C, but those are conflicting things. Cool air does not make it to my upstairs. Yesterday I tweeted:

benefits of having a 100yo house in summer: nonstop porch sitting, backyard fireflies, creepy spinster vibes 
     For some reason I received three well-meaning suggestions that I purchase an air conditioner. I turn on a fan and kick my covers completely to the floor and pull up Archive of Our Own in my Safari app and pick out a fic to read. I’m in The 100 fandom right now even though I don’t like the show, but it involves pretty people doing stupid things so obviously my lizard brain is drawn to it. In the two months I’ve been watching it, I’ve written sixty thousand words of fanfiction, in addition to plodding through an original novel and trying to finish my short story collection to defend as my thesis next month.
     I pick a fic about the dude character I like (Bellamy: hot, loyal, over-protective) and the lady character I like (Clarke: hot, smart, badass). They’re in a secret relationship and keeping it from their friends. It’s by an author named Chash, a mutual of mine on Tumblr who I gather is one of the most popular authors in the fandom because her fics are good and plentiful. It makes me momentarily yet blissfully happy, reading a story about two people falling in love and the witty conflict of their secrecy, so I kudos it and try to fall asleep. Nothing happens. I turn over and pick up my phone and scroll through Instagram for a while. Then I try to go to sleep again. No go. By now it’s nearing four in the morning.
     I’ve had narcolepsy since I was seven years old, so I can count the number of sleepless nights I’ve had on one hand. Being narcoleptic means I spend my life with sleep clutching at me while I drag it around everywhere I go. When anyone asks me, “What do you want to do?” my secret answer has always been “Sleep,” and I didn’t know that was weird until a coworker once told me, “You’re supposed to want to be awake.” I had no idea.
     Tonight is one of the sleepless-est nights I’ve had in my life, like someone else is babysitting sleep for a while so it’s not longer desperate for my attention, and I miss it. Sometimes when I have too much caffeine close to bedtime, I end up in a fitful sleep riddled with bouts of wakefulness and anxiety where for some reason all I can think about is how much I hate my tattoos. This doesn’t feel like that; I’m not thinking about my tattoos at all. I’m just genuinely not tired. I start to plot a fic in my head, a coming-of-age story about Clarke meeting Bellamy in high school drama club and having a massive-yet-unrequited crush on him because he’s two grades above her and, like, the coolest boy in school. I wonder if it’s stupid. It probably is. It sounds a lot like Twilight sans vampires. Normally writing stories in my head helps me fall asleep, but this one urges me further awake and I consider getting up to start writing it. I promise myself one more go at trying to sleep.
     Nothing. I pick up my phone again and scroll through Twitter and read about babies in concentration camps. Some idiot fanboys want to get funding to remake The Last Jedi. Buzzfeed Tasty teaches me how to make a rice crispy treat chocolate mousse pie. I read three threads about the Tender Age Shelters in Texas and watch Rachel Maddow cry about it.
     I switch to Instagram where I click through Stories from my friends and various celebrities. John Mayer posts so much I wonder if he’s lonely, because speaking to the internet like it’s your friend is what people do when they’re lonely. My friend Heba is in Chicago. My friend Kat got back from Hawaii. A girl I used to have a crush on dyed her hair blonde and she looks super cute but I’m too shy to tell her. An acrobat couple helps their toddler swing safely on a trapeze. Gem City Catfe got some new cats from the Humane Society. Calligraphy. Cookie decorating. Paint mixing. Bookstagram. New tattoo. Book birthday. Advertisement for Luke Cage on Netflix. Flint still doesn’t have clean water. Parts of Puerto Rico are still without power. Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain killed themselves last week. There have been 23 school shootings this year so far, more than one a week on average. Children are in literal goddamn concentration camps.
     I plug my phone back in and try to sleep. It doesn’t work. I plot out the rest of my fic. At five-something, I get out of bed and go downstairs and sit outside on my porch even though I’m only in my underwear and a t-shirt. I watch the sunrise. I think for what feels like the thousandth time about loneliness, mine and everyone else’s and John Mayer’s, how no one in the world knows that I am awake when I should be asleep, knows I am on my front porch in my underwear curled up on my dad’s old canvas chair he used to bring to my softball games. There are six bites on my legs and a mosquito lands near my knee to make a seventh. No one knows about them, either, because no one looks at my body. There is no one in my house to notice that I couldn’t sleep, to roll over and ask lazily what I’m doing up, if I need anything, if I’m feeling well. I think about packing a bag right now and driving to the airport and flying wherever a standby seat will take me. There are no consequences to my actions. No one would have to know unless I chose to tell them. I wonder if I am lonely, or if I am free. I wonder what John Mayer would think.
     Around six, the sunrise turns green. The air is thick and breathing it feels like the hard force of drinking a milkshake. Every fifteen minutes, the church bells ring. The sky is so green it hurts my eyes. I’ve only seen it like this before tornado warnings. Yesterday I wrote a scene in my novel-in-progress where a woman who finds out she’s terminally ill wakes up early for the first time just to watch the sunrise. It feels prophetic, but I don’t think I’m dying. Not quickly, anyway. I scratch my mosquito bites. A neighbor a few doors down gets into his car and drives past my house and I realize I’m in my underwear so I go inside. I open my laptop and start writing the fic I was thinking about. For some reason I include several references to Les Misérables even though I’ve only seen it once and it has absolutely nothing to do with The 100. I do a number of Google searches and pull up a YouTube video of the song “Red and Black.” I forgot Eddie Redmayne could sing.
     By eight I’ve written two thousand words. I pick up my phone and call my orthodontist and cancel my appointment which was supposed to be at 10:40. We reschedule for all the way in September. It’s a ten-minute appointment a five-minute drive away wherein my orthodontist will look at my permanent retainer and go, “We’ll have to keep an eye on that,” but having spent two years and several thousand dollars on adult braces, I will take him very seriously and do whatever he tells me to do to keep my teeth straight, except that jaw surgery he once recommended to shift my mouth a fraction of an inch so my lower teeth would line up neatly with my upper teeth. “They have to take the whole jaw off, and then sand down the bone, and put it back on,” he had said, illustrating with a plaster-cast mold of my fucked-up teeth while I nodded politely and pretended to consider it. Then he told me to get a bleach injection to make them whiter, and I wanted to point out no matter how white my teeth are, in my head I’ll still always look like Jabba the Hutt, so maybe this was all a waste anyway because I will never be beautiful.
     I text my sister and ask what the common area was called in our middle school, the place we all ate lunch and had pep assemblies. It’s relevant to the fic I’m writing. She tells me “The Commons” which doesn’t sound right, and then she asks if I’m okay, and I know it’s because I normally don’t wake up until noon. I tell her I can’t sleep but otherwise I’m fine. I switch over to Tumblr and scroll through my dash for a long time. I reblog some gifsets of Bellamy and tag them things like “this is so daddy” and “i’m gonna nut” and “i’ve been staring at this for five hours.” I lose three followers. I get an anonymous ask telling me politely my Italian is wrong in a Captain America fic I wrote in 2015. I get another ask inquiring how to go about writing original fiction if all you want to do is write fanfiction, which happens to be my exact problem today. I’m not feeling up to answering either of them yet.
     My alarm goes off to wake up for my rescheduled appointment but I turn it off and go back upstairs to bed where I pass out. I dream about the coming-of-age fic I’m writing with the Les Misérables references and my middle school cafeteria, and when I wake up I know Bellamy will have to join the Marines at some point and he’ll be estranged from Clarke for several years and it will make my readers very sad. It’s definitely stupid, I think. Garbage. All of it is a ridiculous tire fire, every idiotic horrible thing I write, but without it, I know I’ll become untethered, like I did this time last year. I ended up in the ER completely nonverbal and was subsequently diagnosed with PTSD and prescribed some medication and twelve weeks of intensive outpatient therapy. But since I graduated, I don’t have health insurance. I can’t afford another breakdown.
     At noon the church bells wake me up. I look at my phone and have a text from my friend Justin who tells me he had a dream about a story I wrote and also that he could do infinite pull-ups. He’s in Indiana with his family taking care of his sick grandfather. I don’t feel up to replying to him because I’m afraid I’ll say something stupid. My best friend Heather who lives in LA texted me asking if I wipe front to back or back to front. I reply, “I’m unwilling to disclose that information” and fall back asleep until two.
     It’s four when I realize I’m dissociating again. I poured myself cold brew coffee in a ceramic cup at some point but didn’t drink any of it. I filled an ice cube tray and left it sitting on the stovetop instead of putting it in the freezer. I scroll through my text messages to see where I went for the last two hours and read a rant I sent to Heather that I don’t remember at all. It says, “At this point I can’t post political stuff on Twitter because my views are growing increasingly violent and extreme.” Then I added, “I think all Nazis should be given the death penalty. Trump and his entire cabinet should be executed for their crimes against humanity. The NRA should be dismantled and everyone therein stripped of their right to vote. All extremely wealthy people should be taxed at 99.9% and their wealth redistributed in the form of UBI. The Republican party should be completely dismissed and all former members tried for their participation in Trump’s administration.” Heather still hasn’t replied but I know she agrees with me.
     I space out again and keep writing until my hands ache and begin to tremble. I realize distantly my stomach and head both hurt, from hunger and dehydration, probably. I’m considering getting in my car and hoping my body drives me to food and then my phone rings. It’s a number I don’t recognize so I don’t answer and keep writing my terrible fic. A few minutes later I have a voicemail.
     “Oh, Eric, give me a call you on the telephone please,” it begins, barely coherent. I’m not Eric. Her voice sounds older, slurred. Drunk, maybe. Or high. Dayton is the number one city in the country for opioid overdoses.
     “Please, please, please call me back. Eric, I know you’re there,” she continues. The earnestness and desperation in her voice is startling. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Oh boy. Eric. Answer the phone. Answer the phone. Answer the phone.” It sounds like she’s crying. “Oh, god. Hello? Hello? Oh. Oh, Eric, please, hang up the phone. Hang up the phone. Two-oh. Two-oh-one. Nine-nine. Four-four. You there? What is wrong with me? What is wrong with me?” A long silence where I can hear the sound of a TV in the background. “I’m going to call 911.” A longer silence now. My hand is over my mouth and my heart is pounding. My eyes have started tearing up. In the background, another woman’s voice says, “Do you want to eat your ice cream?” and I breathe in relief. She’s not alone, maybe. The message closes with, “C’mon. Hm. Hm,” and thirty seconds of silence. I imagine a woman overdosing in the back room of some house and calling her son to say goodbye. It seems too dramatic to be real but I can’t think of anything else. I message my friend JLowe via Twitter and ask if I should call her back. JLowe normally lives in Galveston but right now she’s in Rhode Island doing ketamine infusions. She has PTSD, too. She tells me I should call the woman back if it’ll make me feel better, and I realize it will, so I do.
     “Hello?” she answers.
     “Hi,” I say. “This number called me a few minutes ago looking for Eric.”
     “Yes, Eric. Need to talk to him. Eric.”
     “I don’t know Eric but I was calling you back because you said you needed to call 911. Is that true?”
     She starts giving me numbers again. Two-oh. Two-oh-one. Four-four. I think it’s Eric’s number, and I can see how she got mine instead. It’s only a few digits off.
     “Are you hurt? Do you need help?”
     “Yes,” she says, “I need help.”
     “Medical help?”
     “No. Eric. I need Eric.”
     “Are you alone?”
     “Yes. Two-oh. Two-oh-one.”
     “Okay, can you give me your address?”
     She recites some more numbers and I write them down along with North Main Street. I ask for her name. She tells me Lois and a last name ending in -son. It sounds like Erikson but I doubt she would have named her son Eric Erikson.
     “I’m going to see about getting you some help, alright?”
     I decide not to call 911 because I’m pretty sure she’s Black and I don’t want the police to kill her, so instead I Google the address she gave me. It’s a nursing home. I call the them and explain the situation, and they toss me around a phone tree until I eventually reach a nurse who knows Lois and I say, “She called me and said she needed help and that she was going to dial 911.”
     “She’s fine, I just walked past her room a minute ago.”
     “She said she’s trying to get ahold of her son.”
     “She probably is. I’ll go help her do that.”
     “Okay, thank you.”
     We hang up and I realize I’m shaking with hunger and fear but at least I’m not dissociating anymore. My body is my own. I call my mom and tell her what happened and she says I did a good job and tells me she loves me. I know she’s worried because it’s going on the one-year anniversary of my breakdown and I spend so much time alone and outside of my body. I feel bad that she has a daughter like me. I text my sister and cancel our dinner plans for tonight because I will have already eaten. We were supposed to go to my favorite restaurant—Bunny’s Hasty Tasty Pancake House which everyone just calls the Hasty Tasty—with her new boyfriend Jared because he’s never been, but I’m hungry now and I can’t wait. I get my keys and drive to Wendy’s where I order a junior bacon cheeseburger, a crispy chicken sandwich, a strawberry lemonade, and a chocolate chip cookie. It comes to seven dollars. While I’m waiting I text Heather about Lois and the green sunrise and then copy the text to JLowe and she tells me maybe a green sunrise on the solstice is lucky. A teenage boy who calls me ma’am three times hands me my food in the drive-thru window and I drive home and see a one-legged man walking down Wyoming, and at the bus stop near my house is a man with no legs in a wheelchair whom I know for a fact is not waiting for the bus. He yells mean things at people as they walk past, like he does every day. A woman in a lavender hijab and her three kids are walking down my street toward the Wyoming Food Mart and I drive past hoping the man with no legs doesn’t yell mean things at them.
     When I’m walking up my steps I notice one of my neighbors is blasting the song “Follow Me” by Uncle Kracker from 2000. Justin had tipsily typed out all the lyrics to that song on my typewriter at a party I had last winter and I never took the page out because whenever I look at it I always laugh. It’s still there, waiting for me inside to give me something to smile about. A black kitten is stretching on my front porch and yells at me. She has a purple collar with a little bell on it. The sky is green again like it was twelve hours ago and I wonder if that’s lucky, too. My lemonade is sweating in my hand. My yard is overgrown because my lawn care company dumped me and I know the city will cite me soon. It’s one of those moments that feels too surreal to be anything other than a dream, and you know that even if you could describe it, you wouldn’t because anyone you told it to would find it boring and think you were being melodramatic. The kitten runs back to her house and I look at the mail in my mailbox but it’s just an ad insert and a letter from my health insurance reminding me it’s been canceled so I leave it outside.
     Then I remember it’s the 21st, and I had gotten an email from one of my professors forwarding a call for essays about the 21st of June, and while I eat my crispy chicken sandwich I pull up the email and read the guidelines and open a new document in a new tab and start typing. I realize as I type that my hands still hurt but at least they’re not shaking and I miss Carrie already and I forgot to reply to Justin and the asks I got on Tumblr. I feel self-conscious that I did nothing all day but sleep, dissociate, write fanfiction, and make sure a woman with dementia wasn’t dying alone somewhere on North Main. I pay attention, not to all the things I did, but the things I didn’t. Tomorrow I resolve to call my congresspeople and do what the Twitter threads say to do to be a good and moral citizen, and get caught up on sleep, and not cancel my plans to see the Jurassic World 2 premiere with my friends. Tomorrow will, by definition, be shorter.
     Now it is ten on the dot and the church bells are ringing. A carpenter bee slams its big body into my window to get at the light in my living room. It sounds like someone knocking with a bizarre cadence. My friend Andy texts “Meow,” which is how he says hello every day. Then he says, “Ready for Jurassic World?” My friend Emily sends me a snap from New Zealand in which she is waiting in a coat and scarf to diversify her investment portfolio. JLowe sends me a DM saying she told her friends about Lois. Heather finally texts me back because she’s off work. She says, “I am absolutely furious about the current state of labor and the structure of literally everything,” and, “Things are so bad????? There aren’t enough resources and they’re unevenly distributed and the smarter you are the harder it is to wrap your head around the cosmic point of continued existence,” and, “Also I love Uncle Kracker.”
     My sister comes over to check on me and brings me my mail and I tell her I don’t want it because it’s bad news from my health insurance.
     “And coupons,” she says excitedly. She tells me the Hasty Tasty was good and Jared liked it a lot and sits down with me and I tell her about Lois but don’t make her listen to the voicemail because it will make her sad, and she asks me if I’ve written about it yet and I tell her I already wrote an essay. Then she asks why I was asking about middle school earlier and I tell her it was for a story. She says whenever I text in the single digits of morning, she gets worried. I tell her Heather asked if I wipe front to back or back to front and she says very seriously, “There is only one acceptable answer to that,” and looks concerned as to why Heather would ask such a thing. Then we speculate for a long time about if you can get a tapeworm from draft beer and she leaves again.
     I am afraid to say goodbye to today, but it’s Midnight Movie time, and I think tonight I’ll watch Les Misérables.

—Beth Weeks

Beth Weeks received her MFA in creative writing and pedagogy at Miami University in Ohio. Her work has been featured in Quarter After Eight and Midwestern Gothic, and she has been nominated for a PEN/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers, as well as won the Jordan-Goodman Prize in Fiction for a story about a dildo. In her free time, she enjoys dissociating in the shower. 


Decatur, Georgia.

Woke up to the sound of talking outside the window. My half-asleep mind struggled to understand. The alarm a few minutes later, at 6:45 am. A pee, which means going into the slightly cooler bathroom in our summer sublet, a chilly relief. Then breakfast with my boyfriend. We usually listen to NPR on one of our phones as we eat cereal with banana (same thing every morning). But the hosts were speaking too loudly and too fast, so I asked him to turn it off. I am already so sad about the children separated from their parents by Trump, and had spent a good part of the day before reading about it. We ate in silence and then went about getting ready. I work as a waitress at a diner a few days a week, a summer gig, but today I have the day off. So, after my boyfriend left I spent about ten minutes deciding what shirt to wear. I actually put on a necklace, bright red (not like me) and matching earrings, also bright red. For the solstice, I guess. It made me feel older and less like a slouch with a day off on a Thursday.
     I had the best peach I think I’ve ever had sitting at the library. Might as well end the day there, it was that good. Bright-tasting and so peachy it was almost artificial. The fleshy part warm from sitting on our counter and chewy skin, which I ripped with my teeth. 
     I couldn’t write, which has been happening a lot lately, so I went outside. Too muggy to write the letters I had brought with me, so I decided to drive to the pool in Piedmont Park. Spending a summer somewhat alone as my partner works at a challenging internship has been hard in its own way. But it was good to be driving, the AC on and the bends in the road coming swiftly enough to keep my hands busy. 
     Pool babies are fun to watch. One little boy with water wings that propped his arms out in a T jumped into the pool again and again while his older brother swam un-ballasted, goggles on, mind busy making up stories as he explored the underwater world. Two preteen girls rested their arms on the side of the pool and chatted, their bodies not quite filling out their baggy swimsuits. After the whistle for “adult swim,” I got into the pool—the only adult, apparently, who wanted to be in the water. I did an odd sort of frog stroke on my back and once I got to the middle of the pool, I floated there for a while. I do not often appreciate my body, thighs never the right size and my arms pudgy. But in the water, I like my buoyant limbs. I have always been able to float effortlessly—it’s all the blubber, my mom used to say. She is also a good floater.
     The sky spit some rain at me when I went to the post office. I mailed some cute socks to my roommates and a birthday present to another friend. My boyfriend and I had drinks on the porch to celebrate the solstice and I told him we should get married one day. He agreed, and then we took the laundry in. Jeans stiff from the sun and cotton socks somewhat crunchy. I didn’t fold his socks because he likes them just lying next to each other, like friends.

—Virginia Marshall

Virginia Marshall is a writer and radio producer. You can read or listen to her with on WBUR, The Harvard Review, Atlas Obscura, and Brevity.


The cats wake me up—Tiny and Roxi crying at the door at 5:20 a.m. or so—it’s already light outside here in the Sonora desert. Tiny and Roxi want to be fed, but it’s not time yet. Their schedule will be blown, if they weren’t on a schedule they’d wake me up earlier and earlier and, well, I need my beauty sleep, as my mother used to say.
     [How your day goes is an odd phrase, Mr. Monson, but the day does go somewhere, doesn’t it? Or do we go into the day? I don’t know. But I wanted to prove I’m paying attention to everything today, so I brought that up.]
     I drink coffee first thing—strong Peet’s ground fine and dripped through a filter in a bright red plastic cone. Yum! I eat breakfast, do my yoga nidra meditation from a youtube video (although there’s no video, only a spoken word recording). I think about how meditating over the last few years (started again on 6-19-12) has changed my life in so many ways.
     I do my stretches on a folded quilt on the floor—twin size with a palm tree beach scene repeated every so often on white background. I bought it for my mom when she moved in with us a few years back. She’s gone now, the quilt reminds me of her.
     I eat a snack of cashew butter on rice cakes which I’ve just started eating again because I love them! I take a shower in the big bathroom my husband built on the back side of our little old house, I love this bathroom every time I walk into it! I dress in my work clothes—shorts, the store logo T-shirt and my comfortable boots—pack my lunch and head off to the store.
     I listen to Philip Glass’s “Metamorphosis” on my phone piped through my car stereo (with my free Apple Music trial). I absolutely love how my iPhone can play music through my car speakers! I am almost 62 and just got a smart phone and I love all the things it can do, but I am also determined that it not take over my whole life.
     I drive to work in my Alien Green Kia Soul (I love my Soul!) and go inside the art/antique store (Artiques, North Oracle, Tucson, AZ) and greet the owner and my co-workers. I love my job! I love all the people I work with! I know I’m sounding like some worst kind of Pollyanna, but I am the happiest I have ever been in my life and I’m not ashamed to say it. I have enough to eat, a place to live that I love, I work part-time and I write, and I take care of my three grandkids one day a week, go to their band concerts, bowling league, etc. What more could a person want?
     Work is one 6-hour long artist date! I am surrounded by art and home furnishings (leather couches, antique record cabinets, old oak tables, beautiful dishes, paintings, huge glass art bowls in red and yellow)—a lot of things I’ve never been exposed to before. I unlock glass cases for people to look at jewelry or Native American pots or strange ceramic art flowers or crystal goblets or crystal figurines. I dust the shelves and the things.
     All the art and things are taken in on consignment. Things come in several times a day. A beautiful wood trunk with brass hardware comes in while I’m in the back marking merchandise down. When I come back up front and see it, I ooh and ah and buy it! I try not to buy too much because I could spend my whole paycheck in one day, but this trunk I have to have. It’s perfect. It’s beautiful. The lid stays up by itself.
     Eva, my coworker, rings me up and helps me carry it out to my Soul. I am so sure of this purchase I have no guilt whatsoever. It only cost 65 dollars (minus 10 percent because of the June sale). It’s perfect. It’s beautiful. It’s mine. I also buy a huge coffee table book “The Art of H. Leung and Thomas Leung,” which I discover when I’m marking things down to half price that have been in the store a long time. The painting on the front catches my eye because it looks like watercolor, a landscape. The paintings are 99 percent landscapes, and the colors pop out at me, beach sunsets, tiny villages peeking out of the Chinese mist. I can’t even explain how beautiful they are.
     My friend Bridget comes into the store, I haven’t seen her since my daughter’s baby shower three months ago. I give her a big hug. I ask her how her son is doing. She shakes her head, tears in her eyes. He’s 15. She told him: I hope you live through this. I hope we all live through this. She shops a bit. I give her another big hug on her way out. I tell her my younger daughter is moving back to town and we can all tie-dye together soon. My daughter is a super ace tie-dyer and teaches me things. This news seems to cheer Bridget up.
     At quarter to closing, a slew of customers arrive. It’s gotta be 100+ degrees out there and they all look wilted. One woman wants to buy an old oak table that expands to double its size. One of the hinges is broken but she doesn’t care because her husband is handy. She tries to talk me down in price, and I find out after we close that she tried to talk Eva down in price, too. I slide the table out to the loading area in front, and Eva and I help her lift it into the bed. I feel proud of the shape I’m in because four years ago I weighed 65 more pounds than I do now and was horribly out of shape. I’ve been working hard to stay healthy. I am also more tolerant of the heat. People have no idea how difficult it is to be fat in the world. I am grateful I am managing to keep the weight off all these years.
We close up the store and head out. I listen to NPR on the radio. It’s all about the South American immigrants seeking asylum in the United States and their children who were taken from them, but now the Army might house them on some of their bases so at least the parents and kids can be together. The logistics sound horrendous and I want to scream: “What the fuck! Whose idea is this?” I know damn well whose idea. I know who started it all. I can only listen to the news for a few minutes at a time anymore, without going stark-raving mad, yelling at the radio, then yelling at bad drivers, a vicious cycle. I love my country and hate the president. I did not vote for him.
     Traffic’s okay on the way home. I stop at Sprouts on First Avenue and buy cashew butter, bread, strawberries and a pineapple, and a carton of yogurt. It costs almost $37.00. I get $40 cash back, since it’s payday.
     I feel so lucky. I love my life.
     I think about the kids. I think about the parents. I can’t help it.
     I have this great life.
     I don’t know what to do for the immigrants.
     I get home, kiss my husband, check the mail, take a one-minute cold shower, eat dinner, call my daughter to wish her luck at work tomorrow—her first day back after 12 weeks of maternity leave.
I look at every painting in the Leung book. The colors are marvelous, there’s mist and ocean and clouds and surf. Those tiny villages with fog around them. I can’t believe I am so lucky to find this art. I might cut a few of the paintings out of the book (no-no) and frame them for my walls, or give them as gifts.
     I read myself to sleep. A Lee Child-Jack Reacher novel. I love Jack Reacher!

—Liza Porter

 Liza Porter is a poet and essayist in Tucson, Az.  Lizaporter.com


Hapless: June 21, 2018

“It was quite a night with you two,” Guy said when I woke up. “Buddy got under the covers because of the thunder, and you were kicking my leg and I couldn’t get you to stop.”
     Thus began June 21, my husband reporting on the misdeeds of our dog and me, but he was smiling, even though we disrupted his sleep. I made my way to the living room couch, picked up my phone, checked Twitter: More state-sponsored tragedies against children. Guy and I talk for a minute before he leaves for work. I’m on sabbatical from my job as the pastor of a small Episcopal church, trying to figure out how to structure my days. I started with coffee and consumed more bad news. I kept advising my parishioners to detach from this steady stream and focus on other things, but I find this is advice I do not follow.
     I was determined that today I would get to the rec center pool for a water aerobics class. I have been determined to do this every day this week and have failed every day, either because thunder and lightening mean the pool has to close, or because I could not force myself to get off the couch. I checked the weather: No thunderstorms expected from 3 to 7 p.m. The pool should be open. I would definitely go.
     My sister has texted me: Lunch with her and the girls (my grown-up nieces)? I accepted with alacrity: some pleasant structure provided for the day! I got dressed and drove to our regular place. The four of us squeezed into a booth and ordered salads. We avoided political talk as always, though the unfortunate result of Melania’s plastic surgery was mentioned (“She looks like that cat-woman!”). We bemoaned the weather: Rain, thunder, flash floods, and/or very hot and humid. For some reason, this lament never gets old.
     As we were leaving, Guy texted. He had a flat tire on Dyke Road (read: deep in the country). My phone call wouldn’t go through out there, so I texted: Should I come get you?  Have you called AAA? (We are both inept in the ways of mechanical things.) My sister, who used to carry a mayonnaise jar full of water with her in the days before plastic-bottled water, reminded me to take him water in this heat. It turns out he had water and had called AAA and just needed me to call an auto repair place to see if they could fix the tire if he got it towed there. I did, and both of our days continued.
     After lunch, I headed for the library, where I could use a computer, print things out, and not be at home. I typed up everything I’ve written since May 14. It wasn’t enough and yet I was glad I had that much, including a poem I’d forgotten about that is weird but interesting. I finished typing after about 90 minutes and printed stuff out, thinking, “I really MUST set up the new printer at home,” and knowing that I didn’t want to fool with it. I had a moment of realizing how lousy I am at anything practical—one of many such moments—shrugged and went on with the printing. A horde of small children came literally screaming into the library, followed by hapless moms who appeared not to know how to do anything with them. I winced at the noise but felt grateful that I was not alone in my haplessness.
     I walked out into the non-predicted daily rainstorm and heard rumbles of thunder. The pool would be closed again. I had not brought my gym apparel for non-water activities, such as riding a stationery bike, which I hate but will do when motivated. Sitting in my car in the library parking lot, I checked Twitter, which was lit up with Melania’s “I really don’t care, do you?” jacket. I wanted to reply, but honestly, what is there to say about a person who would figuratively spit in the eye of traumatized immigrants? 
     I drove home, careful to check for water on the country roads I drive daily. A few weeks ago, a couple in their car were washed away in a flash flood on a similar road not far from us. I would prefer not to die like that, so I drove more carefully than usual. I arrived home to the ever-enthusiastic greeting of Buddy and Kiko, who keep hoping that even though they can see the rain out the window, it might not actually be raining when I open the door. Alas, disappointed once more! In a pause between downpours, I let them out to wander a bit. The thunder reappeared and they cowered in the garage till I let them in.
     I returned some e-mails, noticing how much the volume has dropped off now that I am on sabbatical—a true and great benefit. Guy would be home around 7:30, and I felt I had accomplished very little so far, so I channeled my vague energy into making dinner. We had salmon, whole wheat couscous, sautéed summer squash, and salad, sitting at our dining room table while the dogs took shelter underneath it. (The thunder was loud.) We talked about the immigrant children and the lifelong effects of their mistreatment. He is a therapist who works with people living in poverty here in rural Virginia. He sees a lot of traumatized children, as well as adults who lived through trauma as kids. He knows, as I do (having served severely mentally ill people as a chaplain for years), that the damage has been done. It can’t be reversed, but if the children are reunited with their families, further harm can be avoided. 
     We said to each other: “It is awful to feel so powerless.” We were talking about ourselves, unable to do anything more than send donations to groups fighting this atrocity. But we might as well have been talking about the immigrant families.
     I listened to Rachel Maddow while working on my version of a craft, an adult coloring book page with an abstract, repetitive design. I filled in colors, finally feeling like I was accomplishing something. I attempted to pray for the immigrants and felt inept in my praying as well as most everything else. As I got into bed, I kissed Guy, petted Buddy and Kiko, and vowed that tomorrow, regardless of the weather, I would definitely get to the swimming pool.

Connie Clark

Connie Clark lives in central Virginia and is working on a book about her years as a chaplain in state psychiatric hospitals.


I dropped back into my seat. “What’s the writing prompt about?” I asked one of the writing conference co-directors. The room was silent as everyone worked out their ideas onto the page. Every morning of the three-week conference we started with a prompt—a scribble, we called it. As an assistant, I had just returned from a Walmart run because we were low on forks. 
     “Hyperbole and a half,” he said. 
     “Uh, okay, so what do we write?” 
     “Butterflies attacking lions. If enough of them got together, they could do some damage.” He turned back to his computer. 
     I opened mine but couldn’t get any words down. Aside from still being confused about the guidelines of the prompt, I was then caught with that image beating behind my eyes. Brittle wings so dense the fur disappears. The brush of orange and yellow and black up a thick tail. A yawning mouth coated in the translucent membranes of colored wings. The image was startling, beautiful and unnerving. As the ten minutes ended and I still had barely anything on the page, others around the room began to share what they wrote. The responses ranged from the ins and outs of parenting to how society has recently adopted the word “adulting” to mean all the unpleasant, yet unavoidable, things in life. 
     The group then moved on to the rest of the day’s agenda—presentations by writer J. Scott Savage, long lunch and socializing, a poetry lesson by one of the conference participants where we all tried our hand at writing rap. My attempt centered on the sixties and even as I wrote about burning bras, the rebel freedom and chaos of shared love and drugs, I returned to the butterflies and the lion, the delicate of the sky devouring the violent underbelly of the South Sahara.  

Lisa Roylance

Lisa Roylance is a recent MFA graduate from Brigham Young University. Her fiction and nonfiction have won various university and state awards. Between big-kid job hunting and toying with getting a Phd, she plays guitar and enjoys the company of her dog, Bay.  


3:00 A.M. The first animals I looked for were my cats, Zane and Hazel. They’re usually pretty good about coming inside at night but not this night. Maybe they sensed that this was the day that the year folds in half, bows to the sun and then turns toward the moon.
     At 7:00, I check the hummingbird feeder. No hummingbirds. Also no dead hummingbirds caught by the cats who finally decided to come inside and go to bed. When the cats fall asleep, the dogs wake up. Zoe, Max, and I get ready to take them for a walk, which involves a lot of sunscreen and finding shoes and leashes. Max decides to ride his bike. I can’t find the new leashes so I get the old ones and they remind me of the time when we used to be able to walk in the forest but now the forests are closed because this is the driest year on record and June is always even drier. The trees are tinder, waiting for a spark. I’m not sure how the dogs or I could cause that spark but I also don’t want a thousand dollar ticket so we walk on the streets. We see a robin hopping across the road and then a feather on the next road which I hope I cannot blame my cats for. A brown butterfly, wings outlined in yellow flies in front of the dogs who try to pull me toward it but these old leashes still do their job at least until a deer jumps out from the juniper and Bear the dog lurches and Max turns his bike into me and I yelp and Zora the other dog yelps and also tries to chase the deer whose hooves, not used to the road’s surface, beat hard.
     It is summer and it’s hard to be places by 9:00 A.M. but the kids and I have a date with my friend Karen and her boyfriend’s nephew Sam. I call him Ben on the drive to her house but Sam it is. Zoe lists the animals: raven, vulture, bloody print—remnant of a dead squirrel, dog in the window of a car, a plane that looked like a huge bird, another raven flying over Butler, a raven flying through the park, an eagle’s aerie with no eagle in it, a teensy weensy bird that we don’t know the name of. Daisy and Alice, Karen’s dogs, meet us at the door. They jump up on me which is only fair since my dogs jump up on Karen when she comes to visit. We put Sam in the car. He is 16 so he doesn’t talk for the whole 40 minute drive to Bearizona on I-40 but that’s OK because we see three red wing blackbirds, cows on the left of us, cows to the right, and a red tailed hawk above us.
     Bearizona is part refuge, part zoo. The first leg of the trip is a drive-through park where animals are cordoned off but mainly get to roll around in the forest dirt of their own accord. Rocky Mountain Goats, reindeer, ravens, raven, mule deer, burros, elk, tundra wolves, raven, arctic wolves, one of which came up to Karen’s car last time she was here and sniffed her bumper where she’d hit an antelope years before and then walked up to her window where his eye met her eye at just the same level and although she was tempted to roll down her window, she kept it up. On this trip, the wolf stays by his wolf house and watches, junior bears, white bison, baby bison, big horn sheep, two baby big horn sheep, 7 big bears, two of whom walk toward each other and look like they may brawl but then don’t, and also two more ravens.
     Then we park the car in the shade because it’s going to be hot in Williams, Arizona today. It’s already 10:12 and the thermometer reads 86 degrees. It’s not supposed to be this hot in the mountains of Arizona, either here or in Williams, but supposed to be is language for another century. In this century, we have high temps and Bearizona where we meet first a Madagascar cockroach, which is no big surprise, since Max raised his cockroach Storm for months thanks to Bug Camp. We met Lucy the 3 banded armadillo from Brazil. Jaguars can eat armadillos. Perhaps this armadillo is just a tease for the new Jaguar exhibit but still, the armadillo, when rolled into its shell, is as strong as a bowling ball and only Jaguar jaws can crush bowling balls. I touch the shell. Supposedly, it feels like turtle but I think it feels more like armadillo.
     We see a white peacock. Are peacocks real? And then the otters, which are so real, but also such big hams, which kind of makes them fakey—this one otter hams it up, stands up on a rock and folds his hands out and in, out and in, in a step-right-this-way kind of come on and we all come on and watch him even though we all have to pee. Then, the otters swim and we can’t miss that. And then they twirl around each other like scarves and we also can’t miss that. Max asks, “Can I get one” and I say yes and we put in our order for an otter to the otter gods. I tell Max I swam with the otters in the Sandy River in Oregon. He gives me an incredulous look but I swear to him it is true. We didn’t swim with them with them. There was no scarf-like twirling between me and otters in the Sandy River but they were in the water and so was I. Swimming. Together.
     We head to the jaguar exhibit because it must have bathrooms because it’s brand new but we can’t find them. We find the jaguar, finally, and no one is around and I think, well, the animals pee wherever they want. maybe we can too Max smells the windows of the jaguar enclosure, “Mmm. They smell so good.” I smell them. So does Zoe. They do smell good. Zoe points out an outhouse but instead of taking her up on that idea, we go inside the gift shop to ask about the bathrooms. “They’re in the restaurant but the restaurant is broken.” “Broken?” “Yes, it’s closed for today.” I should have asked more questions about broken restaurants by the jaguar exhibit but now we all really, really have to pee so we go to the other bathrooms across the park/zoo. Then we look at some enclosed bears where there are 15 ravens picking up the bear’s food because bears are messy eaters. One raven managed to carry an apple away while the bear was peeling some corn. The raven dropped the apple. Apples are too big for ravens.
     Apples are fun but bobcats are more so and there is one in a tree! He runs up the tree and out on a branch and down the tree. I love him because he has triangles for ears and triangles tufting out of his neck. His bobcat colleague comes out from hiding to see what we’re all looking at. We think he’ll climb the tree but he won’t. One bobcat in a tree is gift enough for we who rarely see bobcats even though they supposedly live all around us: which is true, too for the rest of the animals at Bearizona, porcupines, skunks, squirrels, red foxes, badgers, raccoons—some of these animals are in enclosures. Some of them are not. The Swift Fox looks hot. He opens his mouth to pant and we are sorry but we have to go get hot ourselves and watch the bird show. Two horned owls fly overhead. “We are furniture to the owls,” the bird presenter says. She’s cute but still doesn’t quite make it as an otter.  One is named Olivia. She was found at a campsite in Tucson riding on the shoulder of a boy on a bike. This bird is imprinted on humans and may also be male-identified. She flies silently too as does the kestrel and the Harris hawk. There were a lot of ravens and a blue jay at the bird show. Usually, I love the bird show but Zoe is making a face that says it’s too hot and Sam’s face is red (he’s still here. He just hasn’t said a word) and I’m hot so the bird show is hot and short but Karen took some excellent pictures which I will link here one day.
     Lizard Lizard. Raven.
     The turkey used to be in the petting zoo but he stalked too many customers and shook his feathers at them in a disturbing, possibly angry way so now he has his own enclosure and only goats and sheep are to be pet. We pet two baby goats and some older goats and a pregnant lady goat whose hand we put on her belly and feel the very tiny goat move inside. Karen points out the rectangular pupils in the goats’ eyes. All the goats have rectangular pupils which doesn’t make a lot of sense but I do not really know the ways of goats even though Max would also like to get a baby goat, maybe even instead of an otter. Max says, “He has a goatee” about the last goat and he laughs maniacally because he is eight years old.
     The last animals we see are small, unhappy donkeys. One of them has a very long penis coming out. Max wonders why the other one doesn’t have a penis. But maybe it’s a woman donkey. Maybe this donkey with his penis hanging out doesn’t have anywhere to put it, I suggest. I mean, donkeys don’t get underwear.
     We eat lunch at Pita Jungle. The only animal to see is the turkey Max eats. There’s a dead rat in the Whole Foods parking lot and two dead branzino and one dead salmon. We eat the branzino for dinner but not the rat. Fredricka, our neighbor, is home from Vietnam so we run to give her a hug hello. She loved Vietnam but says, “The scariest part of the whole trip was crossing the street. You just close your eyes and walk across. Don’t stop or change your pace. The motorbikes predict where you’ll walk and just drive around you.” Fredricka’s friend told her, “I love driving my motorbike. It’s like swimming in a school of fish.”
     After the morning, the day becomes mostly metaphorical. We go swimming but kid- swimming does not look like otter or fish swimming. Kids bounce off the floor of the swimming pool somewhat like buoys. Even an analogy between them and penguins may be a stretch. Owls bob their heads when they are immature and looking for approval but these kids are not looking for approval. They are splashing me. And yelling very loudly. Owls are silent. Under the water, it is quiet. I swim laps for a little silence.
     On the way to see the Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlins show, I’m driving so my husband, Erik, makes a list of animals we cross. It’s the same list Zoe made on our way to Karen’s with one extra vulture. I think the animal stories will end at the show but Karen, whom we’re meeting, tells me that Koko the Gorilla died. Koko was 46. She spoke using sign language. She made humans wonder at the capacity for animal speech. She made humans wonder at animal’s capacity for wonder. I was sad she died.
     Gillian Welch sang my favorite Gillian Welch song so there was yet another animal crossing.
Six white horses coming two by two
Six white horses coming two by two
Coming for my mother, no matter how I love her
Six white horses coming two by two
I think it’s a song about horses taken you to your burial plot. I saw no horses today.
     During the show, Karen, Erik, and I say we wish we were Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlins. Think of the communication between them. Between each other and then also their audience. “We’re not dead yet.” I said, “There’s still hope.” I struggle with rather I’d be Gillian Welch or an otter. Gillian Welch is a little too skinny but maybe she likes to swim too.
     When I get home, I read about hummingbird food. I used too much sugar in my concoction. I add a little more water. Maybe now the hummingbirds will come. I put on my penguin eye mask and think of my friend, Athena, in Tucson and how she loves penguins. There are no penguins at Bearizona but I think I could teach her to like otters.  

Nicole Walker

NICOLE WALKER is the author of two forthcoming books: Sustainability: A Love Story, Ohio State University Press, and The After-Normal from Rose Metal Press. Her previous books include Where the Tiny Things Are, Egg, Micrograms, Quench Your Thirst with Salt, and This Noisy Egg. She also edited Bending Genre: Essays on Creative Nonfiction with Margot Singer. She’s nonfiction editor at DIAGRAM and Professor at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Arizona where it rains like the Pacific Northwest, but only in July.

Check back for more dispatches from June 21, 2018 tomorrow. —Editors

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