Issue 1.7

For the Weary Women by Prairie M. Faul

My thoughts are living elsewhere
these days
Back to the air so thick it
holds history trapped in pockets of humidity
Where Virgin Mary’s wait
standing a silent sentinel
amongst the browning prairie grass
It first caught my eye
through another native’s lens
slipping into the fields
and longing to begin my watch
over La Prairie des Femmes
I have found no place
within my home
or a name for me
passed down in our tongue
Replace the fascination with the traitereuses for the fields
as my magic has dried up
when I wrung the last drops of swamp water
from my tangled hair
Un traiteur à une traitereusse
has been an association
too close to the fleeing traitor
Will I continue to dry up?
With each step further away
calcified while the waters trudge slowly on
rationing what is left in me
of the bayou teche we were raised on
enlisted as the stony vanguard
anointing the women who ran away

[birds of disparate feathers: a confucian call for commonwealth] by Changming Yuan

Come, come, you peng
From the Zhuangzian northern darkness
You swan from the Horacean meadows
You pheasant from under Li Bo’s cold moon
You oriole from Dufu’s green willow
You dove from the Dantean inferno
You phoenix from Shakespeare’s urn
You swallow from the Goethe oak or
The Nerudan dense blue air, you cuckoo
From the Wordsworthian vale, you albatross
From the Coleridgean fog, you nightingale
From the Keatsian plum tree, you skylark
From the Shalleyean heaven, you owl
From under the Baudelairen overhanging years
You unnamed creature from the Pushkinian alien lands
You raven from near Poe’s chamber door
You parrot from the Tagorean topmost twig
And you crows from among my cawing words

Come, all of you, more than 100 kinds of
Birds from every time spot or spot moment

Come, with your light but strong skeletons
Come, with your hard but toothless beaks
Come, with your colored feathers, and flap your wings
Against Su dongpo’s painting brush strokes

Come, all you free spirits of nature
Let’s join one another and flock together
High, higher up towards mabakoola

June in Flowery Branch by Monique Kluczykowski

The smell of Casablanca lilies wafts up
to the porch, vaguely sweet like decaying flesh.
The thrumming hum of cicadas still
muted, a few nut-thatches and bluebirds muttering.
Even the mosquitos have given up, called it a night,
as a feral cat, a black and white tuxedo
picks his way through my overgrown lawn,
intent on some conquest in my woods.
Oh but I knew a man like that once, beautifully dressed
with handmade Italian boots and blue-brown eyes,
hungering, never fully satisfied though
I gave him enough, and more.
A lone firefly lands in my glass, swimming in moscato,
blinking on and off, pink lantern staccato in my hand.

The Way Life Is by Jewel Beth Davis (fiction)

The last time I saw Shelly, she was in a hospital bed, having been hit by a drunk driver. She was only twenty-three. She’d been driving home from the rodeo in Houston, her mother told me on the phone. A drunk guy in a truck ran the intersection and hit her Toyota broadside. He had a red light; she had green.

She’d been ticked off at me before the accident. But she was my closest friend since third grade, so I drove over from Montgomery, Alabama to see her in the hospital. I listened to an Elizabeth George mystery during the drive over but my thoughts sifted in and out. I couldn’t tell you who the murderer was, who died, or who slept with whom. I’d have to start over on the drive home. I don’t even remember the towns I passed on the highway. I just wanted to get there, that’s all.

I guess it was visiting hours because no one tried to stop me from entering her room. I found it hard to look at her and harder to look away. She was lying so still in that bed. It was unclear if she was sleeping or unconscious. Tubes protruded rollercoaster-like from every orifice on her body. Her lip was split and she still had blood crusting in different places on her pale face. They hadn’t bothered to take her eye makeup off either. The blue eye shadow was bright and party-like in contrast to the rest of her. I wet a washcloth and wiped away the blood and shadow. She had a brace around her neck, and both legs were in casts under the sheet. I had no idea of her prognosis, but she was in ICU so she had to be in rough shape. Lord, I’d missed her.

I pulled a chair up to her bedside and reached out to hold her hand. Her mother walked in just then, holding a Styrofoam cup of black coffee. No lid. She wrapped her arms around me from behind. A few drops of coffee landed on the front of my North Face jacket.

“Hi Maude,” I said. “What do the doctors say?”

“What do you think they say, Jolene? That she’s lucky to be alive. How was the drive?”

“Fine, I guess. Didn’t notice much of it,” I said. “Did they get the guy?”

“They got the guy. He’s here too; just banged up a bit, of course.”

“Of course,” I said.

Maude smiled, though her eyes filled up. I stood to hold her. We both shed some tears. At least Maude wasn’t mad at me. Or she could have been but set it aside for this emergency.

A few years back in college, Shelly and I were roommates and best friends. Until I fell in love with Shelly’s boyfriend.

Getting Jet for myself seemed like the only priority at the time. It wasn’t that hard. Men are simpletons when it comes to temptation. I stole him. Shelly moved out of the dorm and went home to Plano. I felt bad but obviously not that bad. She never spoke to me again. I didn’t blame her. It was a done deal and I could never make it better. She was furious with both of us. Trying to apologize didn’t do any good. Trying to explain that it was an uncontrollable passion didn’t work either. I was blinded by love. I burned with my need for him. Eventually, Jet and I married and moved to Montgomery.

Now I feel different. I love Jet, but renewing my friendship with Shelly is more important to me. Priorities change. He doesn’t know how I feel. I wonder what it would take to mend things between Shelly and me. What could I say or do that would make a difference to her?

Shelly needs me and if she wakes up…when she wakes up, I’m thinking she won’t let me stay. She’ll throw me out. I’d throw me out.

A nurse with short platinum hair entered the room and checked on Shelly’s vitals. They were holding firm, I guess, because she didn’t stay long except to admonish us not to do anything to disturb the patient. I think maybe she noticed the blood on Shelly’s face was gone. I wondered if she took that as a comment on her professional abilities. I certainly would have.

A phlebotomist entered and plugged a tube into the port on Shelly’s wrist. He nodded to us but said nothing. He filled several more tubes, wrapped labels around them, detached from the port, and left. A male nurse entered and hung a bag on the IV pole. Next, the doctor, a young resident entered. She lifted up Shelly’s eyelids and shined a pen light into them.

“Her pupils reacted so that’s a good sign. We won’t know more until she wakes up,” the doctor told Maude. I wondered if the doctor was thinking, if she wakes up, but wasn’t saying so. “You should get some rest.”

Maude hung on every word the doctor spoke, hoping for something sanguine. Her face sagged when it wasn’t forthcoming, the pain and exhaustion settling into her wrinkles as the doctor left. I placed a hand on her shoulder.

“Maude, I’m really sorry for everything. With Shelly. And Jet.”

“Not now, Jolene. Not here and not now.”

That shut me up fast. I don’t know what I had been thinking. We were both silent. Then Maude said, “And if you upset her when she wakes up, you’re going to have to leave. I want you to promise me.”

“I promise.”

“She was just starting to put her life back together, and now this.”

“I’ll only stay if I can be of any help.”

She gave me one of her long looks and then collapsed into the recliner closing her eyes. I held Shelly’s hand and prayed silently. The hum of the ventilator was the only sound in the room. Next thing I knew, my hand was empty and cold. I looked up. Shelly’s eyes were open, boring into me. She couldn’t speak but her anger was palpable. I was so happy to see her awake, I laughed. She was not laughing. Or even smiling. Though with the tube down her throat, it would have been impossible. Maude was sleeping. She must have fallen asleep quickly from exhaustion. I needed to tell the nurses that Shelly was awake so I pushed open the door and went down the hall to the nurse’s station. One nurse called the doctor and the other rushed off to check on Shelly. I found a pad of paper in case Shelly wanted to write something and followed the second nurse after she hung up. When I walked in, there was a lot of activity in the room. The nurses were checking Shelly, discussing her condition as though she wasn’t there, and writing in her chart. Maude was awake and I could tell by her hovering that she wanted badly to get closer to hold her daughter.

“Oh, Jolene, isn’t it wonderful.”

“It sure is, Maude,” I said. I stayed on the outskirts of the room. I didn’t want to get in the way or take the chance of upsetting Shelly. She looked sleepy but off and on stared at me with pinched eyes.

The doctor entered, her strawberry blond ponytail swishing back and forth in a no-nonsense way. She checked Shelly’s eyes and heartbeat. She told the nurses, “If things remain this way consistently for two hours, I’ll come back and see if we can remove the respirator.”

Shelly moaned to express her disappointment, and without warning, fell back asleep. The doctor stepped back and allowed Maude to kiss her daughter.

“Thank you so much, doctor,” Maude said.

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” the doctor said. “She woke up. It’s a good sign, but she’s not out of the woods yet. I’ll take another look in a few hours.” She left the room without ceremony.

“I am so relieved,” Maude said, rubbing sleep from her eyes. We hugged.

“Me, too,” I said in her ear.

Maude looked at the sleeping Shelly. “Would you mind if I went to the cafeteria to get some coffee and a muffin?”

“No, go, Maude. I’ll stay here.”

“You want anything?” Maude said.

“No, thanks. I’m fine.” But she was already gone.

I sat by Shelly’s bed and tried to imagine what I would say to her when she woke up again. What I could say to her that hadn’t already been said. Still, two years had passed, so maybe she’d feel differently. I listened to her breathing and watched the machines. That gave me some comfort. I had missed her so much. Her humor. Her laugh. The way she listened. What had I given up? What had I gotten in return?

 *

Jet was a good man but I thought about a recent interchange we’d had.

“My mom wants us to come there for Thanksgiving. We haven’t been in years,” he said.

I disliked going to his family for the holidays. His mom was very controlling and had to plan and execute every detail and dish. What she did allow me to make, she commented on with a smile on her face. “Oh, Jolene, I’m sure you didn’t mean to put that much rosemary into the stuffing. We want Jet’s Dad to be able to eat it.”

I put my arms around Jet and applied a trail of kisses up his neck. “Oh, honey, not this year. I’m worried about my Dad’s cancer even though it’s in remission. And we never get to sleep together in the same bed at your parents’ home. You know how you feel about that, lover.”

“Mmmm,” he said.

And that was the end of that conversation.

 *

I couldn’t manipulate Shelly. With her, we had always leaned on each other equally. Women always seem to put men ahead of their female friendships. It’s dumb, because it’s the women who are there after the men leave them.

Shelly opened her eyes. She looked like she was trying to remember where she was. Then she spotted me and started looking around frantically. Maybe for her mother? For a nurse? For paper and pen? I ricocheted out of my chair. Her mother walked in at that moment with a tray of coffee and a corn muffin. She set it down on the table and rushed to Shelly’s side.

“Oh, honey. I’m so happy you’re awake. You gave me such a scare. Jolene too. She’s been here the whole time.” Maude started to turn towards me. Shelly looked like she wanted to say something but waved her hand towards me.

I slipped quietly out of the room, memorizing her face as I left. My throat felt thick. My eyes prickled. I didn’t wait to see if she would tell me to leave. I’m a coward. I took the easy way out. That’s my M.O.

I moved swiftly down the hallway to the elevator, towards the nearest exit. I pushed the button with the arrow pointing down. Then I halted and turned back towards her hospital room. Had I made the right decision? The elevator door opened, and I stood there unmoving, caught between two possible universes.

About the Contributors

Prairie M. Faul is a Cajun poet and flagrant transexual currently living in Portland, OR. She is the author of the chapbook Root-Heart. Her work can be found at motsduprairie.tumblr.com.

Changming Yuan
, 9-time Pushcart nominee and author of 7 chapbooks, started to learn English at age 19 and published monographs on translation before moving out of China. With a PhD in English, Yuan currently edits Poetry Pacific with Allen Yuan in Vancouver, and has poetry appearing in Best Canadian Poetry, BestNewPoemsOnline, Threepenny Review and 1209 others across 38 countries.

Monique Kluczykowski
is a Pushcart-nominated poet and former assistant professor of English at the University of North Georgia: her most recent poems appear in StepAway Magazine, Cactus Heart, The Magnolia Review, Two Cities Review, and The CyberToad Review.

Jewel Beth Davis
is a writer and theater artist who lives in Rollinsford, NH. She is a Professor of Writing and Theater at NHTI-Concord Community College. She earned an MFA in Writing at Vermont College of Fine Arts, in addition to her theatre degrees. Her creative nonfiction and fiction has been published in 31 literary magazines including Entelechy International and Diverse Voices Quarterly, which nominated her story for Dzanc’s Best of the Web 2011. She is published in This Guild Itself, the anthology of the Writers Guild of Iowa State University. She has just completed her first novel, Sadie and Irving Fix the World. Her play, Shadow Dancing, has been chosen to be part of the Athena Play Festival in NYC, which will hold a play reading at the Dramatists Guild on September 27, 2016.

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