Issue 2.1

Close to the Ground by Jennifer Hawthorne

We children lived close to the ground.
We noticed mud and fire ants,
low-hanging nests,
fairies on toadstools.

The earth was our lover.
We rolled in the velvety ryegrass,
somersaulted, cartwheeled our way through summer.
We sat in the clover and wove white-pink blossoms
into crowns for our princess heads.

We drew hopscotch grids in charcoal
on the driveway—
our feet dropping
into the hollow spaces.
We resisted dusk’s call to supper,
pleading for one more dance
with winking fireflies around the bridal veil.

And when at night we fell asleep
and dreams lifted us,
we were unafraid to leave the ground,
still covered in green
and the smell of the sacred earth.

My Mother’s House by Jennifer Hawthorne

I stand at the door of my mother’s house,
hand on the doorbell,
longing to hear the chimes
that once set dogs barking.
But what will I say if the new owner answers the door?

I could show him the patch of front yard
near the pecan tree
where the white clover was always thickest—
where my sisters and I raced
to see who could catch the most honeybees
in the Ball jars our mother gave us.
We added grass and clover blossoms,
punched holes in the gold metal lids
so the bees could breathe,
dozed in the sweet grass
to their musical murmuring
while the sun turned our skin the color of honey.

I could point out the stand of longleaf pines
in the far corner of the backyard—
or what’s left after sixty years of summer storms.
He’s looked at them many times, of course,
but has he ever lain on the thick carpet
of lemon-scented needles in the middle of the copse,
thick with fairies dancing on every branch?

There’s the wisteria that spills
over the bones of beloved family animals.
And the mimosa tree—
Panther Girl’s refuge in times light and dark,
widespread limbs that welcomed me
to stretch out, bask, press my face into flowers,
drunk on the sweet scent of pink feather blossoms
and Louisiana summers.

My fingers press the bell.
The door opens.
Hello, I say. I used to live here.

A(nother) Wedding I Meant to Have by K. Ann MacNeil

We had celebrated Easter, in his and hers pink shoes,
outside Richmond,
regrettably, not downtown, with lads in hats, but
at a Midlothian country club,
with my newly-transplanted-there-from-north-of-Boston brother, his wife, their kids,
at an egg hunt with live chicks and an alpaca,
with your arm around my shoulder,
where I had confessed that you were one of only two men on my to-ask list.

By then, my then-
partner had tried for two years
to make a baby with an unknown someone,
who was open to contact,
who had my coloring and build,
his sample
and her patience had run out.

“I’ll do what lots of girls have done:
close my eyes,
think of someone else,
and take one for the team,” I cracked,
as you nodded your head.
You slept with one girl a year,
and long too indulgent of me,
you reasoned, “It year could be my lucky year.”

This, remembered and rehashed, though not yet in sing song, years later,
after you picked up my daughter and me
in Charlotte, where, at the airport you had hissed,
“For Christ’s sake, woman, let me carry that bag for you here…” before you squeezed us to you and
explained why our zip -zag from north to south was still the best way to your folks’ mountain house.
We drank improbably sweet and milky coffees, late,
while your almost teen god-baby dunked her toast dinner between us on the porch
where I shivered in your middle school hoodie and smelled pine.

“I might need real health insurance, ”
you had sighed,
back then
as if that would settle it.
And it had.
We had been
to each other for so long already.

If you were asking, I was accepting
on that same porch two nights later,
still in the apron your mother had handed me to help wrap your father’s seven layer caramel cake,
after your favorite sister and her three kids pulled my daughter into hiking shoes and down to a turtle pond
in the shadow of your South Carolina mountains unlike any in New Hampshire,
but before we laughed over the huffy disapproval of some butch girl I was talking to
and the delight of some boy you were seeing.

“Your mother would want you to have a ring.”
I wanted to argue, but allowed that it was true, if not as much as yours would want me to have a ring.
Before I could turn the punch line into a joke, you proposed
with one made from a button salvaged from a suit, made, you claimed,
in a mill not far from where I was born, in the city where I was raised,
worn by your mother’s father, “up North”
before she had broken their hearts forever when she fell in love with your father
and his Greenville family.

That trip, you drove us to his office on Vardry Street,
minutes from your boyhood home, where he still saw patients, his age and older, only,
where his own father had seen neighbors before that.
My daughter jumped up then down then up the stone steps where you had played at her age and younger,
and breathed in through the ferns around and the moss underneath, when you showed her (but not me)
where you used to hide things you had borrowed
but weren’t ready to give back:
a key, a photo of a boy, a belt buckle, a baseball.

You insisted that grooms don’t have favorite flowers
and that you pick my dress:
silk and wool, dove gray knee length,
a suit, really,
so that I could be bare armed on that porch at two o’clock and
covered up
after our cake and punch reception,
of which both of our mothers approved.

I picked your tie, wool,
my family tartan, a green and navy plaid too dark for spring,
a joke with my father, who would tease, mostly you,
at least it wasn’t a kilt.
Even though I felt a little old to carry peonies,
my daughter did;
I pinned some on your lapel and in my hair
with dulled hatpins that had been my nonna’s.   

Lula’s Strategy for Keeping Secrets From Her Grown Daughter, Who Always Overreacts by Cynthia Sample

When your husband dies, just omit that you have to self-pleasure to keep calm.

Don’t discuss that you can’t bear to go to the cemetery or that it makes you furious every time you drive by it.

If she doesn’t realize you’ve had Botox and your lips plumped, why should you admit it? You just want to look rested. It’s not like you got a facelift or anything. For that, you’d have to directly lie about where you’ve been. Although she probably wouldn’t notice a thing even if you got one.

Whatever you do, refuse to admit you gave up white cotton panties for black lace thongs. After all, one never knows what’ll happen.

Keep taking that estrogen; it’s years ‘til she’ll see the Medicare bills. Who cares if the government doesn’t pay for it? They should: it’s their moral duty.

Under no circumstances mention that your girlfriends are getting you dates or that you go to bars with men you’ve just met at church. Children just don’t understand how lonely a person can get.

If your estate lawyer just insists, you can show her your new will and all the financial statements. Financial statements don’t have to list what you’ve bought. If Frank knows from heaven, well, he can just be mad. Some day, God forbid, your daughter will probably understand just how tempting it is to numb yourself at Neiman Marcus. Your spending her inheritance is your own business!

Never talk about crying or being maudlin or desperate. Do not tell her about the pictures you can’t stand to see every day and stuffed in the guestroom closet. And absolutely do not mention the stockpile of Tylenol P.M. you’ve hidden in the bottom drawer of the night table. After all, these feelings might pass and there’s no reason to get her all frantic and have to fight her on the nursing home thing.

There’s absolutely no reason to clarify how you met her father in the first place. She’d never accept you were alone in a strip club by mistake. The whole myth you and Frank made up is just fine and it actually could’ve happened that Granny Belle introduced you to each other. There are just things she doesn’t need to know. The only thing that should matter to her is that you and Frank loved each other, made a baby and gave her a good life.

The dizzy spells in the shower are nobody’s affair. You can take care of yourself and besides, you had a handrail installed on your own initiative. They mean nothing; the doctor said so.

If you forget your beauty parlor appointment, just let it go. The only person who should care is Flora the stylist that replaced Holly that replaced Suzette that replaced whoever it was twenty years ago.

If you neglect to pack those thongs when you’re on your way to visit her in California, don’t fret. Just buy some new ones once you get there. Or else use the jumbo size Ivory that, for some reason, you stuck in your bag.

Puffy eyes should be no one’s concern. A person can always claim allergies and deny not being able to sleep. Everybody worries. You don’t want to plant death and dementia and not-enough-money in her mind.

If a person can’t remember someone’s name right after being introduced at church, it is just not that big a deal. For one thing it’s your daughter’s church and all those hippy-people talk after the worship. It is way too loud in there for God, not to mention yourself. Maybe that woman didn’t even say her name. Now if you’d forgotten your daughter’s name, that’d be an entirely different story.

There is absolutely no reason to mention the incident with the rental car. It was the agent’s fault anyway; he should never have insisted on that hybrid, which makes no sound whatsoever so a person has no idea it’s still on when they get out. Plus why would they even make a car that didn’t require a key in the ignition.? Locking the keys in the car is just way too easy, causing no end of trouble for all concerned.

No matter how funny it is to you, just shut your mouth when you start to admit the security line at the airport. That TSA woman doesn’t know anyone you do, and therefore cannot tell anyone you insisted your bag hadn’t come through the scanner thing-y while you were leaning against it the whole time.

Going on and on about how real life is all encapsulated in each moment will bore her to death, and even on that FaceTime thing, she’ll be rolling her eyes which you hate. The toddler-grandsons get it and that really should be enough for you.

Revealing your excursions with Theo on the back of his Harley would just be mean of you. Listening to your daughter harangue about safety helmets will not change the fact that under no circumstances are you going to smash your hair down. Plus no one should be required to hear about rear-views of their muffin top or their more-than-ample buttocks. Theo faces forward, keeps his eyes on the road and tucks his gray locks behind his ears.

About the Contributors

Jennifer Hawthorne is the author/coauthor/editor of seven books, including the number one New York Times best sellers Chicken Soup for the Woman’s Soul and Chicken Soup for the Mother’s Soul. Her poems have been published in the anthologies Amore: Love Poems, Painting the Eucalyptus Midnight, and In the Cathedral of Trees, and a book of her poems is forthcoming from Blue Light Press.

Ann MacNeil is a teacher and writer now living and working at the top of an island, near the bank of an estuary (where the Harlem and Hudson Rivers meet), at the edge of a two hundred acre forest.  She (and her grown-ish daughter) routinely toy with the idea of writing a collection of urban fairy tales set there. Her work has been published most recently in This Assignment is So Gay: LGBTIQ Poets on the Art of Teaching; Love Always: Partners of Trans People on Intimacy, Challenge, and Resilience; andThe Still Blue Project: Writing with Working Class Queers in Mind.  

Cynthia Sample’s work has appeared in Blue Five Notebook, SLAB, Numéro Cinq, Summerset Review, Steel Toe Review, Sleet, After the Pause, and other journals. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She is completing a volume of short and flash fiction, Forms of Defiance.