elsewhere / 10

Suppose You Want to Leave Your Life but Instead You Go Back into It and It Is Red


Your red life runs a river through you—it opens the ocean of your body with a single shard of grass, a red blade grown in Spain, and desirous of slow, slow shadows, like one first cast across you, the shadow that sung you out of your own skin.


Shadows here are made of windows that never open, of birds painted maroon, but you want shadows made of glass, shadows that will burn this river out of you.


In your red life you’ve never seen the ocean. You’ve never felt your own wrists. You’ve never looked at the sky.


In your red life, a handsome man taps at your door. He has dark hair and skin, leans in, whiskey-singed, whispers- I am going to make love to you like a real Spaniard.


The real Spaniard love-making is everything you’d imagined.


The real Spaniard asks to live in your red life with you and the wind whistles and the moon unhinges.


You tell the Spaniard you are waiting for a cowboy with a real nice haircut and he looks out the window, makes the strong, dark coffee like every other morning- only this time he puts on his extra large hands first.


The real Spaniard spends the rest of the day in the red wind. You look out the window and he is singing into his hands. You look out the window and he is holding up the sky.


One night, you play a blue violin and the Spaniard says come back to bed but you are cutting a thousand red ribbons into stars and the Spaniard says come back to bed but the moon is slicing you in half and you look at your body and it is an unknit glove, and you look at your body and it is a room you are running out of.


Some days, it’s like you’ve captured the desert stars. Others, you can feel the antelope losing hope. You wake up and watch the air fall apart.

Lauren Bledsoe has lived in both California and Utah. She writes poems and makes pictures.

Questions Other Kids Ask My Brothers at Camp

Maybe there are so many different ways to tell a story that you don't need to know the beginning, how on the first night, two city boys hugged a highway on the back bench of a church bus, landed on their new planet as kings, planted a flag in the wet, hot soil of a place they’ve never dreamed could hold their weight. On the second night, they fanned a fire, roasted a moon beam; other kids asked, “What is black and white and so embarrassing,” and the city boys say, “My dad, my sister,” and everyone rolled on the ground with laughter; everyone hugged everyone else’s shoulders to keep their bearings in the dark. Day three there was a package in the mail from two states over, and it was a thing of lunchtime legend: the way it sat on the table between plates of hot dogs, uneaten cole slaw, a vessel from far away, a message sent across time. By day four all the other kids couldn’t help but ask where the color came from. City boys wanted to talk about lightning, talk about water moccasins, but there were so many whats and wheres, what was lost was not measured by what was gained until it was unmade. On day five there was a creek and a waterfall and a lunch in the ravine between sloping footholds. Day six was a catapult. Day seven was a sandbar where turtles came up for air. At sunset everyone broke into teams for capture the flag, scattered like ash across hillsides: red team and green team, boys clinging to girls like tarps to treelimbs, yellow team and blue team, black team and white.

Sarah Carson was born and raised in Michigan but now lives in Chicago. She is the author of three chapbooks and two full-length collections of poetry: Poems in which You Die (BatCat Press) and Buick City (Mayapple Press). Sometimes she blogs at sarahamycarson.com.

After the Earthquake

Jorge’s manslaughter trial is set to begin in the morning, but who can tell? The only visible difference between this cocktail party and countless other cocktail parties Jorge has thrown is that this is easily the best turnout to date. Jorge is an excellent host. He slips methodically from circle to circle. Everyone feels welcome. He hired a caterer. A bartender. “Simple elegance with natural, rustic elements is the current prevailing taste in decor.”Jorge is alone. He nearly married once or twice. He was successful. Before the earthquake he was the Civil Protection Minister. But Jorge is no alarmist. A budding young technician in a nearby physics laboratory, on the other hand, was. So Jorge met with three seismologists, a volcanologist, and two seismic engineers to put public fears to rest. They had lunch. There was no need to run tests. “The ongoing tremors are actually a positive sign,”Jorge and the scientists agreed, “because they discharge energy, making a major earthquake less likely.”The public let out a sigh of relief. Once again, everyone felt safe to stay at home. After the earthquake, the big one, Jorge’s guests began arriving from the basement, months in advance of the party. Started sauntering upstairs for cereal. First one, then two, then dozens. Beds fill. They curl up on the floor to sleep. In the middle of the night, Jorge has to tiptoe around them like lava pools in the carpet to get to the toilet. They mob the big-screen. Squeeze shoulder to shoulder when the Pistons play, thighs to ears, head to crotch. Drummond scores and one hundred hands go up at once. Jorge spends time getting to know them. “How many are in your family?”“What are you most afraid of?”“Would you rather fight a wolf with your bare hands or a bear with a sword?”“Drool abnormally in public or moan audibly during every conversation?”They grow close. Brainstorm convoluted and exclusive handshakes. When the morning of the trial finally arrives, Jorge sneaks through the crack in his basement and seals the entrance with a caulking gun. He is formally charged with Failure to Appear. All throughout the house, his party guests listen with ears pressed against walls and drains. They climb on each other’s shoulders and press their ears to the ceiling. “What was that rumble?”they ask. “Did you hear that?”They imagine Jorge shimmying up and down the pipes and wires. His face is burnt onto toast. They light candles. The police burst in with a warrant to point and laugh.

Tyler Corbridge is an MFA candidate at The University of Alabama.

Note to self:

When the semester is over, remember to write a poem about the "welcome back"/"we hate you" dinner held for you by your colleagues upon your return from sabbatical where, under the guise of celebrating your return, they leveled all their complaints against you then decided it was probably best if we all went dutch.

Other Particular Strangers

My seatmate takes out a roughly creamy envelope and pulls out a card of a pretty window IRELAND and a photograph slipped inside of a woman who looks like she could be my seatmate’s mother cuddling a child who looks like he could be my seatmate’s nephew? and studies this photo forever, as if it’s a signifier, as if it’s talking, and maybe it is, and when she slips it back in, her hands are shaky or maybe that’s just the train.

Across the aisle a child throws her lollipop stick on the floor, litterer, and she is kind of a dirty child though her dimple is pretty. She puts her dirty pink hat on the woman next to her who is like a big still mountain, still but impatient. They get off at Belmont.

Somewhere a leaf falls. It’s the highest mold count in five years. Somewhere it is not a city, unbelievably.

Before her semiotic photo, my seatmate was making magical gestures on her iPad.

In many places there are children, but not once I arrive at the office.

When my seatmate takes out her iPad again, I spy with my little eye that she has almost entered Peter’s CaringBridge site. I was just sent a link to a CaringBridge site yesterday for my sister’s rabbi’s seven-year-old daughter Cara who has (unbelievably) a curable tumor. I first heard about CaringBridge from Rachel because of her doula trainer who died a death surrounded by loving. What to make of CaringBridge when I want a real tiny bridge over a little creek and to bring lentil salad and muffins to those in need? I almost entered Cara’s CaringBridge site but did not verify and enter; I decided I could not enter the life of a seven-year-old girl I do not know with so much other caring I need to do. Was this cold, or connected? I do not know.

The mountain woman has been replaced by a blonde in sunglasses reading The Girl Who Played with Fire. Everyone is.

Now my seatmate is staring at a photo on her iPad and sighing and I am too shy to spy it: it could be of Peter, and Peter could be the boy in the IRELAND photo, and could be sick. My seatmate gets off at State and Lake so I will never know, never enter the life or death of that particular stranger.

When this train goes around the next bend, I will get off at Library.

Arielle Greenberg’s most recent books are Slice and Locally Made Panties. She is co-author, with Rachel Zucker, of Home/Birth: A Poemic, and co-editor of three anthologies: most recently, with Lara Glenum and Becca Klaver, Electric Gurlesque. Arielle writes a column on contemporary poetics for the American Poetry Review, edits the series "(K)ink: Writing While Deviant" for The Rumpus, and lives in Maine, where she teaches in the community and in Oregon State University-Cascades’ MFA. She really likes Sarah Carson and her work.

Our Neighborhood Off the Highway

There was our neighborhood off the highway. There were exit ramps. Congregations of dried decorative grasses nested in brown mulch. A whole office building was up for lease. The wormtube stacks of distant factories directed fantasies of self-immolation.

We rode our bikes to the fields. That was where we met the man floating on a rope.

The rope was tied to the man’s ankle as though to tether him to the ground. We hit the rope with a stick and the man woke up.

How are you doing that? I asked.

Wouldn’t you like to know, the man said.

He looked up at the sky’s dome and folded his arms behind his head. Leave me alone, he said.

We left, stealing backward glances. But the next day we returned.

I thought you’d be back, the man said. Climb on.

We hesitated. He laughed.

You’re afraid, he said. Children are so stupid.

I stepped forward.

Good, he said. Climb up.

I could reach the man’s shoes if I stood on my toes.

Give me your hand, he said. He bent down and grabbed my hand. It hurt the way he grabbed it, but he hoisted me up and turned me around so I was standing on the tops of his shoes. I could see over the fields to the gray housetops and factories. I could smell the man. His fingers dug into my shoulders.

Should I drop you? he asked. He thrust me forward. It was not that far down, but I thought I would be hurt if I fell so I grabbed tightly to his clothes. The man laughed. I won’t let you fall, he said.

I squeezed him as he let go and I climbed back down.

The others wanted turns. He let them.

Then the man said, Go tell everyone what you saw here. Maybe I am magic. Maybe I am an angel. Go.

We did not tell anyone. We let the secret of the man swim between us, thread the silent wavelengths that connected us to the night.

The next day he was gone. The rope remained, thrust upward into the air. I pushed it down. It flew back up. I pulled at it, but I could not pull it from the ground. Holding onto it, my feet began to rise.

It wasn’t the man, I said. It was just the rope.

We tied things to the rope. Our bicycles, ourselves, anything we could gather from our childhoods.

We tried to balance on top of it, see who could stay up the longest. Michael did a handstand and toppled over, landed flat on his back. We laughed. Michael did not. He grabbed a stick and poked the rope. We laughed some more. Michael started beating the rope. The rope bent, fell, but shot back up again. We all joined in. We got it down and stomped on it, pummeled it into the dirt. Sal took out a pocketknife, a gift from his grandfather, and hacked away. Soon the rope was just a frayed knob. We dug around it, pulled at it, tried to get as deep as we could. With our hands and sticks and rocks there was only so far down we could go. Sal cut again. And again, until there was nothing worth cutting. I heaved a big rock on it. Over and over. The rope was a few splayed shreds and there was nothing more to do but to leave it, buried there under the rock.

We panted; we glowed. We rode our bikes home, taking the exit ramps into our neighborhood, where we never spoke about the rope again. But that wasn’t true. We did speak of it. In fact, it was the only thing we talked about, though we never said a word.

Joel Morris's stories and essays have appeared in The Citron Review, the Journal of Literary Studies, The German Review, and American Literary Review, among others. He is translating a series of Paul Scheerbart’s 1915 science fiction stories from the German.

Relaxation Tape

We listened to relaxation tapes to help us sleep. The purple sky was too bright and all our pillows were made of rawhide, so night after night we lay on our cots while a woman’s voice cooed at us over the loudspeakers. We found a comfortable position. We let our legs, then arms, then neck go limp. We knew the script by heart. We would walk down a forest path dappled with light. The sun would feel just right on our faces. The air would be cool but comfortable. We would not panic. Clench your fists, said the voice. I clenched my fists. Focus on where it hurts, it said. I did. Then I relaxed and let the tension float away like smoke on the wind. Beneath my feet was soft moss. Beneath my palms was bark. Remember that you can return to this place whenever you’d like. We remembered. We felt very comfortable and at ease. We were climbing a gentle hill made of tires. The ground was dappled with bleach. We felt a light breeze. A scenic lookout awaits you at the top of the hill. Our bodies were becoming very warm and very heavy. We felt very comfortable and at ease. Bodies were dropping from the trees. Continue to enjoy this peaceful place. Continue to breathe.

Claire Wahmanholm's poems most recently appear in Best New Poets 2015, BOAAT, Tinderbox, The Journal, Parcel, The Blueshift Journal, and 32 Poems, and are forthcoming from Winter Tangerine, DIAGRAM, Handsome, The Kenyon Review Online, Sugared Water, and Third Coast. She is a PhD student at the University of Utah, where she co-edits Quarterly West. You can find her online at clairewahmanholm.com.