elsewhere / 16

Glowering Buildings

I live in the shadow of a university I never attended. Well, that is not strictly true; I did attend it, and I don’t live in its shadow, merely its presence, which is heavy and ominous. It is built atop a hill at the center of town and can be seen from very far away. Only the new hotel off the interstate can be seen from more various locales throughout the area, and I have only been there once, and never above or below the ground floor. The hotel is, for me, a mystery, and one that is unimportant to this story.

When I said I never attended this university, it is because that is how it feels. The paper degree in my desk drawer contradicts my own memory, and I am inclined to believe in it. Then there are the creditors who say I owe them money for my time there, and I have no reason to suspect they are lying. Each month I send them a payment that, for me, is crippling, but still the owed sum never seems to decrease. I suffer from flashes, too, like remembered dreams, thin memories tying me to that place, so when I say I never attended that university it is a lie, but not a malicious one.

Sometimes I will walk my dog through campus to remind myself that it is an actual place, and not just a looming presence on the horizon, but only at times when I know it will be abandoned, or mostly abandoned, and I never approach it head on, but only from one of the more oblique entrances, like the steep stairs near the river. I can’t stand the faces of the students. Now that I can no longer be one of them, or even mistaken for one of them, I don’t want to see them.

Being on the grounds of the university is quite different from being in its shadow. There are good, solid brick structures, and stairs that, if I didn’t know better, could lead somewhere quite wonderful. There are statues of men and animals and abstractions that you can touch and study. There are buildings with doors and windows, but I no longer go inside them. There was a time, I suppose, when I spent many hours inside the walls of these buildings, but I am no longer welcome.

Once, while walking the grounds late at night, drunk, a sudden need overcame me. I tried several doors before one opened. Then I rushed inside to relieve myself, leaving my dog tied to a bench in the courtyard. When I returned from the restroom, he was straining at his leash, barking quite ferociously at a uniformed man with a flashlight who told me to get out and followed after to make sure I did. Together we passed through the valley beneath the glowering buildings. I pulled the collar of my jacket up over my neck to protect myself from the jeering high windows, the only ones alight in the silent brick faces.

Jacob Austin moves boxes in a grocery store warehouse and writes from a detached garage in the Texas Hill Country.

from Exquisite Damage: A Midwest Gothic

I trade you a happy childhood and give you a summer dusk, filled with fireflies and headlights skimming the asphalt. The salt that gathers at the back of your neck is the same salt licked by horses in the meadow. The shadow of their bodies moving heavily in the dark. A killer waits in the garage, in the ditch, in the back of the van. We are moving through summer and the death of it clogs the gutters like rotten leaves. At the drive-in across town, bodies rub themselves against each other until they explode like stars. But in the car, a woman’s head thumps the backseat. When he drives her home and leaves her at the curb, the night swerves against her. The expanse of midwest sky curving til it breaks open with black.

These days, I carry my terror with me like a pair of scissors in my book bag. It cuts through houses and trees, the paved driveways lit by streetlights. Through the body of a woman watering her roses on the lawn. Through the house where a girl brushes her hair in a mirror. The boy in the next room, loading a 12 gauge. The realization that everything we thought was scary wasn't, not really. Our bodies placed carefully, like dolls in the tiny house. Our monsters big, but without any teeth. The backroads, the backyards of fear large and rambling. The real danger in the way we lined up for the killer willingly. Then lay down, playing dead.

A writer and book artist working in both text and image, Kristy Bowen is the author of a number of chapbook, zine, and artist book projects, as well as several full-length collections of poetry/prose/hybrid work, including SALVAGE (Black Lawrence Press, 2016) and MAJOR CHARACTERS IN MINOR FILMS (Sundress Publications, 2015). She lives in Chicago, where she runs dancing girl press and studio.


One dad turns to this other dad and says “I bet a coffee my girl wins.” This other dad leans over the railing and exhales. Beside the warm-up pool, kids chew gum and clean goggles. “I bet two bottles of brandy my girl sets a new record,” this other dad declares. They both take a step back. There is a last call for the 100 meter freestyle. The volume on the speakers is too loud and many eyebrows rise. “I bet my next paycheck my girl goes to the Olympics,” the one dad offers, “and takes the gold.” His bicuspids twinkle as he speaks. He has a tattoo of a Labrador retriever on his wrist. Then, a splashing, and the dads swivel to see—false start. This other dad wipes his hands on the inside of his shirt. “I bet the house my girl is the first to swim on another planet.” He thinks maybe this is too far. Just recently, his partner and him remortgaged. Their eldest daughter studies glacial archeology in Ohio. The job market is slim, but it’s important to stay optimistic. A whistle blows for longer than is needed. The girls wave at their respective dad.

Cast Shadow

Everyone notices the blue lotus as it uncurls, lullabies, asks the sun for forgiveness, then dies. We hold the wake at night along a small creek. Crickets mark the passage of time. This space folded like a love letter still sealed after all these years. You can feel the quiet like a riptide. Catfish try to gobble up a vermillion spark. It's a game they play to help forget our lack of direction. A question skims the surface of the water and we catch it between our bodies. What are we so afraid of? We swim the darkness. We slowly fall apart. In town, someone is up late crocheting a hat. The rain starts soundless and it is warm enough to feel it in dreams. It seems the perfect thing to do is dance until anything left of us slips away. Soon, morning steadies itself. A lime-green lizard zigzags across the wooden deck of the old house. Howdy neighbors, she wanders from ledge to ledge. Over here, she feels a splinter the size of her lungs. Over there, she notices refracted beams from a kitchen window cracked after last year's flash floods. Look how wonderful this is, she thinks, look at all this light.

Dylan Ecker is currently an MFA student at Miami University of Ohio where he won the 2019 Jordan-Goodman Prize for poetry. He has a poem in Hobart. Also, he loves quality tunes, so please share your playlists.

Linnaeus’ Prayer

By the time of his death the Swedish botanist and zoologist, known as the “second Adam,” had classified and named more than 4,400 species of animals and 7,700 species of plants.

thank you Lord for creations so numerous we have something to do with all these words

for words words enough to cull order from chaos sort flesh

forgive me for pressing flowers in books instead of boiling them down to make medicine

for lingering at streams for bowing to weeds

for naming us Homo sapiens after you wise being our echo our kin

for thinking your great work unfinished

vast dark crowded uncertain

but I have been faithful in my way

I do not write confessions or journals or poems about love or naked goddesses

I do not express myself

there is too much to do the earth is still wild we must labor and sweat

give me words that ensure what exists will survive

and words that will grant life to swamps deserts moldering bones

take under your protection Carl Elisabeth Sophia Lovisa Sara Johannes and small Magdalena

and those who departed too soon without tasting air

without being named

teach me to speak so that they will rise and greet us

that we may dwell on the banks of the great delta

where all creatures gather

to be called forth and known and made whole

that this work might continue in excelsis forever amen

The Poet Decides to Do Laundry

Ambition is good. To justify the ways of God to man is good. To try and to fail is good, since such striving is rarer than lazy successes, so grand in its dismount that no one sees where you crash-land, or cares.

But to make tea where there was no tea is good too. To plant cabbages, to throw the ball in so pure an arc that it lands where the dog predicted, just inches in front of her arrowing nose.

Think of the life you deserve and could have if you put down your epic-in-progress, at least for today, and do what you can, right now: turn disarray into lavender air, into softness and order, right angles, the waters of chaos receding, a livable country appearing through fog.

Just to get to this country is hard. Just to live is ambitious enough. You say Sing to me, muse, of a hero, and she says poor fool, I have been. The dog’s at the door again, waiting. The dishwasher’s broken. The thistles are starting to bloom.

Michael Lavers is the author of After Earth, published by the University of Tampa Press. His poems have appeared in Crazyhorse, 32 Poems, The Hudson Review, Best New Poets 2015, TriQuarterly, The Georgia Review, and elsewhere. He teaches poetry at Brigham Young University.

Still Life with Drones, DJ, and Signs

To be a painter of dead things is to look and not turn away to turn away is vanity to look is honest labor the mirrored heart sweats and the mirrored skin feels the pain of torn skin. I want to remember our names. But my mind is filling with flies. Let’s reframe this, step outside for some sugar because the mind craves it.

Death has a foul after-taste, a thing goes off, and we know it by the smell. Death comes for us in life by refrigerators and photographs. Death coughs, makes its polite presentments. Death sneezes and distant walls crumble. Death has sinus trouble, makes a high nasal whine, and everyone is covered in white lime, the dust of stone walls, walls that never catch fire, walls that bury their dead.

A man so tall and thin as to seem extruded into the world is dancing. His hat says “Cold Lampin.” It is a commitment, watching the deformed dance, and we are all deformed, some beautifully. A neon butterfly sips the peeled lemon light. We drink the moment in with our fingers, remove all but one to signal fermentation. We need this drink because it hurts to look back, to review the context that gives meaning, rubble beneath turntables, new construction’s crooked seams, sister cities drowned or drained dry.

Is it grotesque to dance like a pair of birds held upside down on a string? The beautiful iridescence of spoilage sets in among ivy and shells. Death sets a fall banquet for the living. We cannot look away. The fingers splayed convey disgust, the thumb near the lips, liking drinking from a spilled cup. The intestines unroll, the lead-heavy lure of a small body to eat. It is honest labor to look, to blister with shame, and vanity to look away. The mind will erase what it can’t continue to know, names buried under a white fallout like snow.

Cruising Altitude of Gods

The gods are not so haughty now—just high and wearing stretch clothes. The smallness below makes it hard to care. The gods read magazines about events in war zones. A machete enters the brain as an abstraction, a series of strange symbols translating pain into a signal, packets of data, a series of tiny dots that break up the closer you get. From the sky, gods read counties captioned by rivers, read neighborhoods and the roads written into them. If someone is sitting behind the wheel of a parked car weeping, the gods cannot make it out.

Within a bubble of artificial dryness, liquids zero out feeling, become the zen of anhedonia, breathing out the residual fear of weather, hot brakes, lack of lift, a broken fan, technical difficulties, general angst, wind rotation. The gods lick calamities off a map like an old-fashioned stamp. If bullies circle a child, the gods can’t see it through the tripled panes pressurized, stabilized. The landing is always delayed. If bullets circle a child, the gods can’t hear the buzzing over the engines whine, but they do feel the sting.

The moonlight finds the window’s edge and winks. It’s easy for gods to engage in hypotheticals, pieces of data metastasizing. If there is bedroom with a black polyester comforter and a small mauve pillow nearly empty of stuffing, the gods can’t see it, feel only a stabbing pain in the back ribs. The sky is the sky in sickness and in health. The ocean is its mirror. A faint smell of burning fuel stings the eyes. If there is a body down below hiding in the grass, waiting, the gods can’t see it.

The belly of the engine rumbles, petitions do not rise to 35,000 feet, do not bounce off satellites, do not transmit from towers. Hands on high reach for the blue-chip snack, offer back trash, a ritual transacted. No one is completely satisfied. A refugee in one aqua sandal and one black loafer makes do. The gods struggle, too, with deep vein thrombosis, a neighbor’s halitosis, practically airless in midair. The gods are sorted neatly into rows and dream of going home, their loved ones close. They imagine anyone would feel the same.

The gods are forgetful. Is it a sorrow or itch that drains the eye? The question is rhetorical because the gods are too tired to wait for answers, the mind dances as if in a trance, ideas tapping like toes distractedly. The gods are always full or always hungry. The ache barely changes, the harvest never ends. The grain is spoiled, the brain is made of quantum leaps. The balsamic moon soaks the berries all summer, makes a humid wine of night air. The gods understand there is grace in receiving. The gods assume they can gather up all the rivers and mountains. They assume you are satisfied with the words for awe and grief.

Tina Posner’s work appears in the anthology Resist Much, Obey Little (Spuyten Duyvil), Dispatches from the Poetry Wars, Truck: I35 Creative Corridor (April), Texas Poetry Calendar, 2016 and 2019 and Defenestration. She is the author of more than a dozen nonfiction and poetry YA books. She lives in Austin, Texas.

Apt 103

We lived in a loft with the potential for so much echo, but nothing we did or said, you and I, ever made so much sound as the trains that passed just outside our back-bedroom window, loud as the flight lines I’d grown up next to and the only part of our space together that felt like home to me;

so much sound as the gunshots and freeway traffic and hypermasculine exposition from your video games while I tried to write at my desk around the corner from you in our maze of walls without doors;

as the porn I watched while you were at your corporate office job because you stopped going down on me after we moved in together, and when I worked up the courage to ask why, you didn’t have an answer but weren’t sorry and nothing changed;

the fight we didn’t have after I said, while walking out of Walmart with plastic bags of plastic cylinders filled with plastic ornaments, that I realized I don’t want kids, and you said deal-breaker;

men yucking it up, day in and out, in the barber shop on the first level just below our floorboards, their R&B Christmas playlist wafting through plaster, pipes, wood, acrylic, and a foot of water to me, soaking in a hot bath with my ears dipped below the water line to drown out the sour gravel of Grand Theft Auto V on Christmas Eve;

my electric typewriter late into the night once you’d moved out, the too-predictable end coming on Christmas Day in the twinkle-light of our decorated tree, torn giftwrap and ribbon still a mess at the skirt where we’d opened presents that morning;

as the orgasms I faked with the men I brought back to the loft after you were months-gone because I thought that’s what I was supposed to do, on the twin mattress my grandmother let me borrow because you took the queen along with the couch and the golf clubs that occupied half the closet and the DIY booze cart I fucked up by spray painting in the grass on a windy afternoon;

so much sound as the Adele I blasted in the kitchen that was the living room was the hallway the bathroom the bedroom while doing the dishes we were always waiting for the other person to do;

We lived in a loft with the potential for so much echo, but nothing we did or said together ever made so much sound as the laugh I cried when I realized the privilege of being without you, of being alone to watch the sun set over slow-moving train cars through my back-bedroom window, to watch until the room went dark.

Brenna Womer writes prose & poetry in the Upper Peninsula, where she teaches creative writing and serves as an associate editor of Passages North. Her nonfiction has appeared in Indiana Review, DIAGRAM, Grist, and elsewhere. She’s the author of Atypical Cells of Undetermined Significance (C&R Press, 2018) and honeypot (Spuyten Duyvil, 2019).