Raven Yoder majored in English with a focus in Writing Studies at TAMUCC. She produced a Haas-award winning research paper, presented “Coinage for Caring,” at the 2019 TAMUCC graduate conference, and has published multiple original poems. She worked as a writing consultant and has also served as Assistant Editor of Fiction for TAMUCC’s literary journal, The Windward Review. In her spare time, she enjoys exploring nature, reading, and spending time with family in Waco, Texas. Learn more about Raven by viewing her portfolio
The Feeling of Yellow
Nineteen years ago, a time when my knees barely rose above the willowy grass of our lawn, found me cowering in the doorway of our house, my tiny body consuming the fiery heat of the late afternoon sun. From a vantage point I was much accustomed to, I watched my mother. My frightened eyes peeped timidly upwards where they were soon shocked into attention. A loud bang rattled the room, and I screamed as the walls shook and wood splintered to the floor around my feet. My mom was a recognizable savage. Her rage filled the air, and the chair she’d thrown laid in mangled pieces not even inches from where I’d stood.
And even at two years old, I was used to these eruptions. These volcanic explosions of fury and fervor were the only impressions I had of my mother—the only side of her I saw and the only one I knew. And even then, I was haunted by them, assuming, in my innocence, that the release of her demons was my fault. It wasn’t until many years later that I understood: it wasn’t only the demons to blame, it was the spirits.
From the time of that first memory, an air of mystery and anarchy permeated my thoughts and surrounded my mother. Her sporadic appearances became only added to the charade and secrecy she portrayed. She was a being only present some birthdays and Christmases, but one omnipresent in the confused consciousness of my cluttered young mind. ‘Mother’ became synonymous with ‘dread.’
That day the chair splintered, my mom taught me how yellow felt. The sun sucked up the color, introducing me to a liquid and hazy hue. Where the sun should caress, it burned. Much like my mother, where it should enlighten and inspire, it ruined and scalded. Yellow whispered provision and renewal but its touch was scorching isolation.
I wish I would have known fences then. I didn’t yet know how to shield myself from suffering. I didn’t know there were things in the world that warranted boundaries at all. And I didn’t learn until later how to form fences. But what I did know even at my young age: yellow was a lie.
If I stood within the little diamonds that formed the chain-link and stretched my neck to the point of strain, I could almost see over the top of the fence and into my neighbor’s yard. The yard was sparsely decorated and always empty. But it held one thing that captivated my attention: an old yellow wooden swing. I didn’t know then that the swing would introduce me to a home that held me better than my own.
I was five when they moved in. I watched as the once barren yard became a miniature amusement park. They added a tire swing, a zip line leading to shallow waters, and a tree house.
Again, I stood in the chain-link, hands raw and red, and wished there were no boundaries.
Through the fence, I called to the blonde boy. “Can I use your swing?” He was currently rocking back and forth on the yellow board I so envied.
The boy shrugged. “I guess, but it’s my turn right now.”
That reluctant statement was all the confirmation I needed.
I finished my trek over the fence and looked behind me. A jungle met my eyes. The bushes barricaded any real view. But the glowing summer jasmine drifted towards me in the breeze, and the bamboo towered behind the wooden shed in the middle of our yard. I had never seen my yard from a visitor’s viewpoint before. But I had an entire amusement park now. Why would I want a jungle?
I turned back to my newfound adventure and found the brash blonde looking at me with crossed arms. “I guess you can have your turn now,” he said, his hand stopping the swing’s sway.
The painted yellow board creaked as it swung me higher. Higher than anywhere I’d ever been before, towards Heaven’s light. The breeze caught my hair, causing the long golden waves to tremor and fall. Up here, the glimmering sun rays caught me with eyes wide open before releasing me into my new reality.
Summers stayed and strayed, leaving in their wake little memories with my new friends: tomboy madness and bunkbed secrets, home-grown garden suppers set inside the lawn-mower-created homemade baseball field on the lawn. There were zip-lined brigades to the shallows at the edge of the yard and tree-house carvings and codes that all disappeared, secreted behind our lips, once we crossed the kitchen’s watery linoleum tiles.
I learned a sense of adventure fences never could confine, and the sunshine was the right shade again: a pale and inviting saffron that saturated my very bones.
Chicken Wire: From A Viewpoint Across the Fence
The finish rubs off in your hands, cheap chicken-wire plastic yielding to iron. Fingertips rusty and red, you guide the wire around its new partner: damp wood embraces the weakened, feigned fibers.
Sunshine has birthed this day, and you think it forged her, too. Today, she smells of lavender and sweat swirled with a spice and sweetness you can’t quite put your finger on. Her hair glints violet in this afternoon’s summer. She was blonde long ago, but you think she looks better this way, more real. Occasionally, she pushes her hair over her shoulders in your direction as if it wasn’t already magnetic enough. As if you weren’t already hopelessly welded to its shimmer.
The heat kisses her cheeks crimson, and you know that, later, once she’s washed the day off and her cold palms find her face, she’ll tell you she should have worn sunscreen. And you told her so. Had told her that the lemon summer wouldn’t hesitate to cook everything in its path, including her. Her stubbornness should bother you—especially when it hurts her—but, instead, it pours through you like honey: warm and lilac.
Your eyes braze her body, fluid hips yield to sharp ribs that soothe. She stiffens and turns at the waist, purposely accentuating the curves your hands cradle like a Catholic holds a rosary.
She smiles. And her cheekbones display it well. Her happy coaxes her spine straighter and lightens her russet eyes. The same smile that encapsulates and enchants strangers is yours. All yours. Damp earth stains the crimson stain across her cheeks. Yet, somehow, she seems even more warm this way. Like she is honey, too.
The chicken wire hugs the post, its new home, and you hammer in the nail that you hold. Minutes ago, she wouldn’t stop asking you to let her help.
“It’s our garden after all,” she whines, emphasizing the second word.
You wouldn’t hear of it. She could accidentally hammer her finger instead. Her fragile, lily white fingers grip your arm in case the hammer slips. And, even though she hurts herself, you’d never let anything touch her. Lilies, iron, and sunshine were never meant to coexist.
Fences for Miles
I hold tighter, mesh my solvent elbows with the lines of his chest. Maybe, if I hold tighter, it’ll stop his ribs from shaking. Blue so deep it claws its way out in sputters and sobs. An overflowing well: the brim is clouded with murky tears and phlegm-coated words. If he is midnight right now, I am amber. His light in the dark—but I am trying to illuminate my own onyx: splashes of dandelion against a dripping, draining dusk.
Light sparks, flickers, fades. And I am leaving here today. Putting miles of fences between him and I, later and now. He talks, and I cannot hear—words are writing themselves over and over and over again in my head. I’m listening to their slow sprint, their scrawl on the slick velvet canvas of mind over matter: “Maybe if I hold him tighter, it’ll stop his ribs from shaking. Hold him tighter. Tighter. Hold him tighter.”
I don’t pray except during the last eighteen seconds when I’ve been begging God to give him some peace. Plead, wait, hold. Feel amber melt midnight. Pause, wait. Hold. Tighter. Their sprawl is artifice—slipping sharp against silk. I cannot hear him—these words have pulled me too far away into another abyss altogether. But all of the darkest darks look the same.
I listen to rhythm, wager with Myth, and tense in the too-loud dandelion-drenched air. Wisps of shadows sneak in, drench an embrace already flooded with collapsed faces. I want to stay his yellow, but I can’t even be my own.
Rebecah Hall was born in Pecos, Texas. She lived in the U.K. for 10 years and currently reside in Rockport, Texas with her tuxedo cat, Jazz. More about Rebecah at the end of this section.
I worked in the cotton fields
of New Mexico
beside grandma and Rosa.
I dragged that heavy canvas bag
from one row to the next
pulling cotton from sharp bolls
that cut like knives
Rosa shared her
tortillas, rice, and beans
that were rolled tightly
and sealed in foil.
I shared my pbj.
And when we'd worked
from sunup to sundown,
Rosa slept in our cellar.
She said it was cooler down
there with the spiders
and other squiggly creatures
on an old army cot
that sagged slightly
and grandma would say,
and Rosa would laugh
like wind chimes in a breeze.
Rosa bought me gloves
to keep my hands from
bleeding on the cotton
and ruining it.
I bought her a crucifix
One day, I stumbled from the
bus and walked in to
see my grandma
her face wracked in pain
tears streaming from her eyes
and sobs choking her words
that hovered in her throat.
They took Rosa
and said she could never return.
The absence of her
laughter and joy of life
haunts my vaulted heart
as I remember shared food,
small gloves and wind-chime laughter
At the grand old age of 38, I faced a monumental life crisis. I was finally dealing with the source of my unhappiness. I felt suicidal. I knew that my decision to reveal myself could and would destroy the deceptive world I had carefully built on shimmering sands that were being eroded daily. When I crawled out of the dark closet society had given me to hide away my darkest secret, it was with fear and trepidation. This was it. Face the truth, reveal it, and live it, or be locked into a marriage where I found very little love or even attraction for the man I married 19 years before. The hurt and damage I inflicted upon him were enormous.
At 39, I told him I was a gay woman and wanted a divorce. He was stunned. We had no relationship other than me talking to him and his replies were always, “I’m tired,” or “Not now.” Upon that day, I made him listen. I forced him into a conversation that revealed the greatest lie I ever spoke. I was right. It cost me everything.
Now, as I reflect on that time, I know that simple statement, “I’m gay. I want a divorce,” was the voice of a woman who wanted nothing more than to be free to be who she was. I began the search for my authentic self. For ten years, I explored, found my broken pieces, and put them back together, sealing the puzzle with gold. I found freedom and began to walk into a light I never knew existed. That divorce may have cost me everything, however, it gave me more than the marriage ever had. I could breathe. I could smile. I could be authentic.
The authenticity of self cannot be over-rated. It comes at a cost, yes. However, anything of authentic value is expensive. 30 years later, I stand before the world that scorned me and my fellow LGBTQ sisters and brothers with pride. Not just pride because I am gay, but proud because of the courage and dignity I found within when the lies fell away, and the truth enfolded me. I am a lesbian. I live quietly and love greatly because finally, I love myself and the woman I walked into the day I walked away from the carefully crafted woman I was.
I am Becah. I am made of light and love. I truly believe that is all that matters. I love and share the light of that love with everyone I meet.
In short, I fought the battle of becoming myself and claim that victory. I pray that each of you finds your path in the light and discover your authentic self and live it every moment you are given.
Blessings to all of you.
Should you ask me
what defines poetry
I might gaze upward
at a cruising cloud
searching for a parking place,
listen to a seagull’s
raucous screams in its
relentless search for food,
I might caress an early leaf,
hug an aging tree.
I might gaze into your eyes,
listen to your voice,
touch your hand,
for you see, my friend,
you are as much a poem
as the other three.
It's a thing of never-ending beauty:
the metaphoric lover trailing laughing fingers
lazily across the impending birth of the poem
a creation of a roaring cascade
the living river directed to the inevitable ledge
where the foaming fall of words
plummet down and down upon the rocky page
a simple symphony the driving simile
all to the destination of meaning
and the transcending ascent to something
deeper and more profound than the mind
ever perceived but the soul always knew
I was watching Brene Brown's show on Netflix today, A Call to Courage, (fabulous by the way). She said that being brave makes you vulnerable. I've been thinking about that simple statement for the last four hours. Then the penny dropped. Yeah, it does make you vulnerable—especially when you are speaking of the Arts.
Once a month, I attend an Open Mic here in Rockport. I read my work and applaud others on theirs. I think what really strikes me is that so many people don't realize that when you create and expose that creation to the world, just how vulnerable you really are. Every single time I read, I open myself up to criticism and negative remarks. So does every other artist. The moment art is displayed in any form, the artist then loses control over it. We are revealing not only our innermost thoughts but our hearts as well. It's easy for people to say, “I didn't understand what you were saying,” and then walk away. It's easy for the audience to bombard the artist with negative remarks. So, the artist must develop a thought process that says, “It's okay. It doesn't matter.” Yet, it does matter at some level. My dream is to change this world one poem at a time. I tackle the controversial because the voice within says, “Somebody has to.” It's an interesting progression. Giving birth to a poem, shaping it, fine-tuning it and then releasing it upon the unsuspecting world. I wouldn't trade it for the world. I want to provoke thought and discussion. I want people to remember just one line that may have resonated within them and helped them through a dark time or even through a life-changing event. It's not so much ego as a sincere love and hope that I might write something that helps that one person.
So, to all of my creative friends, don't feel alone. We are all in this one together. Maybe, just maybe, our time has come to storm the Bastille. Blessings. xxxx
I’ve been putting pieces together in the puzzle I refer to as my life. I had so much repressed anger for the first 40 years. Looking back at the time when I was diagnosed early on with Sjogren’s, I wonder how much that anger contributed to that disease—autoimmune—the body attacking itself. How much anger had I been forced to swallow as a part of the creation of it all?
The past few days, aside from working on my manuscript, I’ve been going back in time reading my journals. Every significant health event occurred after mismanagement of emotions. Is there a link? I think there must be. Here are some examples I am pulling out that refers more to the past few years.
After Hurricane Harvey hit: I am so angry about the loss of the tiny town I love so much. Side note: Every joint in my body just aches. I wonder if I will ever find what is wrong with me?
I am so frustrated today! I just can’t deal with news and talking heads speaking over each other and spewing hatred. Today the pain is at a 9. Ibuprophen isn’t touching it. I just want to cover up and pretend this day is not happening.
Today was a really great day! I stayed away from Facebook and read “The Immortal Diamond,” by Richard Rahr. I feel fantastic—better than I have in weeks!
Another good day! No pain, no angry voices speaking in the background, no politics . . . just Jazz and me listening to music and floating away on a peaceful cloud.
When I looked at that, I knew there had to be some truth to the statement that suppressed emotions are detrimental to our health. Bobbie made that statement yesterday when we were coming back from the doctor’s visit. Another E.N.T. who is honestly looking for the underlying issue causing vertigo. It might be Meniere’s.
Anyway, the whole thing boils down to not expressing feelings in a way that is constructive rather than destructive. Learning that I don’t have to take anyone’s opinion personally. It’s theirs, not mine. So rather than allowing knee-jerk responses and angry retorts, I have given myself permission to mentally say, “This isn’t mine to own or to argue. I will not accept negativity and allow it to damage me even more.” I’m not saying this is for everyone. Right now, it’s the only way I can cope.
And as an aside, I do believe the media is fueling the divisiveness in this country. I am not playing those games. I have enough to deal with and I am sure you do as well. Blessings xxxx
She is more than you can imagine in your wildest escapades or your careless littering of plastic.
She is more than the luscious gardens that feed you and give you dripping flowers which scent the air with non-duplicating smells.
She is more than the sidewalks and highways, the trails and paths cut deeply into her skin, the blasted tunnels through the mountains.
She is more than the pipelines desecrating her rivers and lands with their contents, or the spewing refineries vomiting their ugly fumes.
She is more than the towering buildings cutting the air with razor edges lining the landscape with artificial lights.
She is so much more than you know or recognize, She is your mother . . . mistreated and abused.
copyright Rebecah Hall 2016
Rebecah Hall was born in Pecos, Texas. She has 2 daughters and 3 grandchildren. She pursued a Communications degree at Black Hills University in Spearfish, S.D. After that she lived in the U.K. for 10 years and pursued a Masters and PhD in Creative Writing--poetry. She currently reside in Rockport, Texas (a Hurricane Harvey survivor) with her tuxedo cat, Jazz.
She's been writing poetry since the age of 9, and went through the typical teenage angst period. Her poetry began to mature at the age of 17. Presently, she addresses controversial topics more than the everyday. Her hobbies include photograpy and music.
Roberta Shellum Dohse practiced law in Corpus Christi for many years. She has always loved to write. More about Roberta at the end of this section.
The old tree where you first pulled down a branch
to pluck me a sweet blossom,
where you first gazed so deeply into my eyes,
it is leaning so wearily into the wind.
The old gas pump is still standing at the edge of town,
though the station is now long abandoned.
It was there you first put your hands on my shoulders
and drew me close, just to smell my hair.
And just up the hill is the old barn
where we had our first dance,
swaying so slowly to the rhythm of the band.
I still remember the deep musky smell of you.
There is music! And despite my best intentions,
I am drawn in to gaze at the big dance floor,
at the band at the far end, up on the stage,
just getting started.
People filter in to sit at the rough wooden tables,
and I lose myself in the lively tunes.
I can almost taste the beer.
A smile steals across my lips.
Then a loud commotion erupts at the door,
and you burst in,
your bigger-than-life laugh filling this space.
You move through,
greeting old friends, eyes sparkling,
legs twitching with the pulsing rhythm.
The very air has come alive.
But you are not with me,
and the tears spill unbidden from my eyes.
I stifle my sobs, fade back into the shadows,
then out into the twilight.
Still, I cannot keep from looking back as I drift
slowly down the hill, and,
like Lot’s wife, I am rooted to the spot.
The last rays of the setting sun
arc through the gaps in the walls,
through the places where the roof has crumbled,
where moss and leaves have tumbled in.
And, with a great a flutter of wings,
a covey of dove bursts out into the cooling air.
Shadow and color mingle, and glitter in my tears.
When am I and where are you, my love?
copyright Roberta Dohse
read more poetry by Roberta Dohse in Corpus Christi Writers 2018
I once read a book about a woman who ran away from her life,
changing her name to that of towns through which she passed,
names so unique and different
that no one would think them the name of a woman.
She cut free her tethers and floated into a new world.
There are still times when I wish to pull up stakes, leaving behind all that is
I still thirst for new challenges, new mountains,
different faces of the sun.
What am I searching for?
At those times the moments appear like facets in a gem,
turned one way and the familiar stares back,
turned another and the unknown glints in the light so enticingly,
luring me with possibility.
Those moments last only so long as the light refracts just so,
but an urgency still remains and presses on me
to change the air I breathe, the job that I do,
the routine of my life.
I want to see a different mountain, listen to a different sea.
So I dream. But they are waking dreams.
My restlessness is strong.
And though my wandering is a poor substitute, it helps slake my thirst
when I watch the sun rise, or set, on a different sea,
taste the salt in the air and smell the pines.
There is a respite as I breathe in heather and lilacs,
new rain on freshly turned earth
leather being worked into scabbards
and iron being forged,
melted wax being formed into candles,
alfalfa in the fields and dust on the wind.
I grow herbs and imagine I am of a different age in the gardens of a castle.
And, sometimes, I linger at the faint strums of a guitar and think of you
and wish I did not have to wander just to catch a hint of your
read more great writing like this in Corpus Christi Writers 2019
Roberta Shellum Dohse hails primarily from California. She is a graduate of the University of California Berkeley. After a stint on a farm in northern Minnesota and time in Oregon, she moved to Texas in 1980. She attended law school at the University of Houston and practiced law in Corpus Christi. She was formerly a flight instructor and a college professor. She has always loved to write, and conveys her love of the land in her poetry. Her poetry has appeared in numerous anthologies.
Robin Carstensen is the Poet Laureate of Corpus Christi. She directs the creative writing program at Texas A&M University-CC. More about Robin at the end of this section.
Even the minimalist drinks beer, though he lives alone in a modest place
and walks everywhere. Sits on the floor with Rumi and a frying pan
with couscous. He touches himself to the rhythm of pixels on a screen;
contemplates the mystery of a bulb, red and yellow flame of Semper
Augustus streaming down his face. A wasp is crawling on the ceiling,
lost among plaster stalactites. He perceives it has taken a wrong turn, opens
the window for the breeze to draw it out, watches it regain a sense of bearing
and fly home. He writes new song as the high bard, prays for the whole world
to listen and not come home empty and grieving at the hour of their death.
He also rents Gag Factor, one through ten, stares, unblinking, at Asian
spice and honey blondes fresh off the bus from Winnipeg, their mouths
pulled open wide for communion—his one offering of faith in free enterprise.
Dear Search Committee for English Faculty at Midwest Prairie University:
I am a swinger. I can swing from one vine to another all day long, on and on. I am the tree and the vine. I will bend, but not break. I am the sky and the range, and the deer on the range where the antelope play and seldom is heard a discouraging word, and if so it won’t be from me, because I am a “we,” and there is no I in team.
Dear Search Committee for English Faculty at the University of King Rooster Ranch and Possibly Eden:
My sweet nectar will feed your shimmering green student hummingbirds, while I serve free-range chickens to the faculty from my own feathered flock that I raise, slaughter, and defeather single-handedly. I can assure you with the highest confidence, I am an ace in the hole, and you would be an ass in the hole not to hire me.
Dear Lords of the Upper Echelons of English and Lost Humanities at the University of Cheese:
You might want to hire a poet to teach that poetry class listed at the bottom of your course guide in Baskerville Old Face font, size 8. Looks like the lit prof, who teaches it now has no poetry publications in print, cyberspace, or on any planet in our galaxy, though she did write an essay twenty years ago published in the Daily Moo. While I don’t mean to milk its provincialism, I am compelled to question the Moo’s peer-review process. More importantly though, you could have saved us all a lot of trouble by encoding something in your job posting about the insider you intended to hire regardless of 363 applications. Solution: next time, insert the word “moo” after minimum qualifications, as in “must have experience with exploitative for-profit online universities, and be able to moo well.”
Dear Search Committee of the Tabernacle of the Most Holy and Some Polygamy Here and There of Red Earth Canyon:
I really wish you would not have teased me by insinuating that you were seeking to become more open, affirming, and diverse. If I had known you were deeply entrenched in the Most Holy of Red Earth Canyon and Some Polygamy Here and There Culture, I would have had a different notion of open and affirming. For starters, I would not have brought in Judith Ortiz Cofer’s “The Changeling” for my teaching demonstration, and asked you to break into groups and act out each stanza. While I think your Chair did a fine job performing the young girl who plays the warrior with her father, I think the Director of Composition could have put forth a little more effort as the mother who feverishly braids her daughter’s hair and forbids her to hang out with the boys again. She was supposed to follow my script and emphatically demand, “Be sweet, damnit!” I feel she was not very enthusiastic about her role and therefore didn’t adequately convey the subtle nuances of gender construction. On the up side, I got to play poker with the big boys on my way back home through Sin City. I mean to say these were real men, studs with cigars and whiskey, up all night. Not you wussy willow boys from The Tabernacle of the Most Holy and Some Polygamy Here and There on Red Earth Canyon.
Dear Gulf Coast Breeze Community College with No Journal, Not Even an Undergrad Vanity E-Zine with Misogynist Comic Strips:
I’m accustomed to the humidity that slaps onto one’s skin and coagulates one’s hair into a Brillo pad. I can stick through hell and high water like flies on shit, like shine on Shinola. I have a small RV, will travel. Well, okay, it’s one of those pop-ups. I can set up camp anywhere in a flash. You’ve got swell beaches, and I’ll have students and faculty over for poetry nights and weenie roasts. And I don’t mean “weenie roast” in any subterfuge of male bashing, so no worries! I’ll even pitch in the Boone’s Farm. “Oh, the places we’ll go, the things we’ll do.”
Dear Enchanted Castle Northeast, Up with the Picture Perfect Postcards of Autumn in the Trees, for the English job posted two weeks ago, indicating Position Open Until Filled:
I’ve been around the block a few times, so trust me, I can fill your position like the fourth of July. I’ve been on Skype and campus interviews for the past thirteen months, and I can assure you I have the flexibility and the wide-open range and depth to not only fill your position but overflow it. I am the position.
Dear Reverend of the Search Committee for English Faculty at Big Moose Small Liberal Arts Catholic University and Sisters of Providence Somewhere Near Brokeback Mountain:
It felt weird to say “father” to someone who isn’t my father; it’s like I was in the confessional booth forced to say “daddy” to a BDSM who wants to top, so I was taken slightly aback when trying to leave that voicemail inquiry. I also realized my feminist dissertation would probably not lend itself hugely to me making the phone interview cut, but you should know I was cutting you some major slack despite the recent press biz about the bishops cracking the whip on abortion and birth control. I regret my willingness to sacrifice my principles for a job, but the thought of meeting the Sisters of Providence was tempting. I confess wondering how much versatility lingered beneath those providential habits—the quantum potentials of a Sister and I becoming enrapt in one another on a fine Spring day, frolicking in the lilies and The Lucy Poems. I should clarify I was actually saying Take me, take me to the sisters when I left that whispery message on your phone.
Dear Pizza Hut Night Shift Manager:
I know, I know. I locked myself out of the car during the delivery-driver orientation, with ten pizzas stacked inside on the passenger seat, and the engine running, and I apologize; but to be fair, your nephew distracted me by repeatedly rubbing his crotch and staring at my breasts while we were getting lost in the maze of cul-de-sacs and dead-ends down by Laguna Reef and the Volunteer Fire Station, and I had to get out before his pants caught on fire. Thankfully, one of the firemen came out to help. After putting your nephew out, we took swift action and found an old license plate in the bed of the truck to jimmy open the car door latch. I know we took some poetic license, but you have to admit we showed innovation under pressure what with two engines running hot, and the pizza going cold and lard-hard as well…. not someone’s mama.
Dear Search Chair on Humanity’s Last Lost Horizon:
You can take the dog out of the fight, but you can’t take the fight out of the dog. I’m four years in and 121 rejections later on a book of poems that could break your ribs (which is what I want to do to the editors every time some young chump barely 21 years of age gets a book published like he’s got something to say on the planet). I’m tougher than Tungsten Carbide, baby. I can bounce back up like a Jack-in-the-Box. You don’t even have to wind me up. You’ll just be walking by one day, minding your biz, and bang. I’ll pop up, and you’ll screech. I’ll laugh so hard I’ll pee in my pants (getting to that age now, what with not doing my Kegels), and then you’ll laugh too, because sometimes it really is the best medicine, isn’t it; and we’ll be ROFL, honey, which I’ll bet my cheese puffs is the best response to the wild call from every form of capsized humanity, SOS, SOS, SOS…..!!
read more great writing in CORPUS CHRISTI WRITERS 2019
Read more great writing in Corpus Christi Writers 2020
Beyond the Buena Vida Senior Village
sprawled across the old grain field,
your cloud nearly touches his hovering
over the desk, where you’ve both made it
after all to this last office down the hall,
far end of Del Mar West, the outreach campus—
edge of the oil refinery city, South Texas
Gulf Coast, where you finally finished
your own heavy lifting, defended
your dissertation after playing medic,
dishwasher, short-order cook, pizza-hut
deliverer, now trying to catch a new
break, he lifts his draft—essay one—
above the shaft of afternoon dust,
gauzy thick like revision-talk for making
clear and academically sound his life
on the industrial edge, the drug lords
who track him to every address,
tempt him with rolls of bills—favor
for his father and brother behind
Beeville’s bars, whose sealed mouths
and flared eyes command him to stay
his course. The vapor from their locked-in
dreams beating like the Royal Tern’s
wings heavy with metal residue
lifting against the chemical sky
has gathered in the atmosphere
of his face and yours when you look
into the large, black shades that veil
his eyes, you freeze, hear the distant
pierce of an engine’s gullet full-throttling
down Old Brownsville Road, or urgent
call of gull. The sound is closing in,
and now it strikes you—here, escaping
his throat. His brick shoulders shake,
his lips are wet, and the issue at stake
is cracking the surface, beyond the point
of saturation, his life, and yours, dark
chambers in the cold room about to break.
Read more great writing. CORPUS CHRISTI WRITERS 2020
Robin Carstensen reads "When I Swam With Dolphins," which is in Corpus Christi Writers 2020
Robin Carstensen is the Poet Laureate of Corpus Christi. Her book In the Temple of Shining Mercy was awarded an annual first-place award by Iron Horse Literary Press, and published in 2017. Poems are also published in BorderSenses, Southern Humanities Review, Voices de La Luna, Selena Anthology (forthcoming), and many more. She directs the creative writing program at Texas A&M University-CC where she advises The Windward Review: literary journal of the South Texas Coastal Bend, and is co-founding, senior editor of The Switchgrass Review: literary journal of health and transformation.
I was 17 years old in the summer of 1969, when I announced to my parents that I was going to upstate New York to a three-day music festival. They looked at me like I was crazy. They said "oh really, and how do you plan to get there?" I told them I would hitchhike if I had to, but I was definitely going. I whined about it. I got my twin brother Michael and my younger sister Lynn to whine about it. My mother reminds me that I was the ringleader and instigator. I had roused my siblings to the cause, and we all wanted to go to Woodstock. Our teenage mantra was that we would get there any way we could. We had seen the poster. We heard about it from everyone we talked to. The festival's energy was simply omnipresent in our world. My parents relented but only on one condition, if our 20 year old brother Marc, who was home from college would drive us in his fine 1967 Ford Galaxy 500 convertible. My mother tells me now that she gave him her credit card and cash to encourage him to take us. She even paid for the gas. So, he agreed to chaperone and chauffeur us, and our high school buddy Susan, to the celebration of peace and music: Woodstock.
We borrowed sleeping bags from our neighbors. We didn't even have backpacks so we didn't pack a thing with us. No food, no change of clothes. We were kids from suburban Fords, New Jersey, who had never camped out in our lives. Despite being seasoned anti-war protesters, open-air music concerts was out of our ken. We brought an extra blanket, like we were going to a picnic, loaded ourselves into the car and drove the 125 miles upstate to a show we didn't have tickets for. I think we must have assumed that we would buy tickets at the gate. It all seemed very reasonable to a 17 year old.
The ride was uneventful until we arrived fairly close to the site on Friday afternoon. Suddenly there were cars and people everywhere. Everyone looked just like us. My older brother told me that that's what he remembers most about Woodstock, how it was a great equalizer. No one stood out. There was a moving sea of blue jeans and flowing hair, beads, embroidery and flowers. We just parked our car in a field of other cars and joined the throngs. We didn't even have to know where the event was being held exactly, the movement simply took us there. We had heard in the crowd that the fences were down and people were being allowed in for free. That worked for us. We were going to Woodstock and we didn't even need tickets anymore!
A sea of people spread before us in the largest crowd of humanity we had ever seen amassed in one place. There was a stage in the distance, and smoke was rising from pipes and joints. Everyone smiled at each other like we were all members of the same lost tribe, now rejoined. There was camaraderie, a likeness of spirit. It reminded me of Walt Whitman's: And what I assume, you shall assume; For every atom belonging to me, as good belongs to you."
I remember listening to the music of Ravi Shankar, Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez. Darkness fell to their sounds on Friday night. People came and went. Joints were passed around. Someone gave us amyl nitrate. The world inverted and then righted itself. The rain started. We moved our wet sleeping bags closer to the stage. The rain continued. We were part of the sea of people.
I don't remember sleeping, but soon it was Saturday morning.
I have to admit I don't remember much else. My older brother left us for several hours in search of food. That was some time on Saturday. I do recall that he showed up with a dozen hamburgers and a good-sized box of big soft pretzels that someone had given him on the side of the road. We shared the bounty with our neighbors. Lynn, Susan, and I walked to the port-a-potties. There were tables set up where event organizers were handing out information; there was food somewhere; there was a makeshift medical tent. I don't know how we found our way back to our family and our little square patch of place, everything looked the same in every direction, but we did. I remember feeling safe everywhere we went.
It occurred to us, though, we were completely unprepared to stay. We were in the same clothes from the day before. We had spent the night outside unprotected from the elements. We were cold, and we had no way to change our situation. So, we decided to leave. One of our neighbors was handing out acid. My siblings and I didn't indulge, but Susan did. She opened her mouth, and he tossed in a tab. Just like that. We headed back to the car, found it and headed south on the New York Thruway. By then It was late Saturday afternoon.
Exhaustion does not begin to describe the state we were in. Giddy and hungry, we talked and dozed. We pulled off on to the thruway shoulder and slept, with the top down. Susan was still tripping away. She sat on the top of the back seat and watched the sky change colors. She told us that while we slept she had walked into the field of cows we had parked next to and had communed and communicated with them. It's very likely that's exactly what happened. We had just come from Woodstock. We knew anything was possible.
If I had to summarize those 24 hours we spent at Woodstock, I would say that we did not hear much of the music, but we celebrated with a half million other people the first festival of peace.
I love being reminded of Allen Ginsberg's poems. I had the wonderful good fortune to cross paths with him in 1982 in Boulder, Colorado. I volunteered at Naropa Institute where he was teaching a poetry course. I did a summer poetry apprenticeship with him and would go to his house to help him with all kinds of stuff. He had an old file cabinet with a giant folder in it called "Faded Yellow Newspaper Clippings" that I would add to on a regular basis. It was the summer of the Kerouac Conference celebrating the 25th anniversary of the publication of On The Road. All the old Beat poets and writers were there. I was the volunteer coordinator for that week-long event. One of most favorite summers of my lifetime.
Here's another anecdote from the 1982 era. For some reason I had William Burroughs in the back of my car driving him somewhere. He had a companion with him, but I can't remember who. Burroughs said in his very strange voice, "I want to stop and get some strawberries." The way he said strawberries sounded so bizarre, I never forgot it. Many many years later on the the campus at UC Santa Cruz, the library had just gotten many works by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. He was on campus to celebrate. I was coming out of the library for a completely unrelated reason and saw him walking up the steps. I had to stop and ask, "Are you Lawrence Ferlinghetti?" He said, "Yes, I am." I said I was the volunteer coordinator at the Kerouace Conference at Naropa in 1982." He looked at me and his eyes twinkled with happiness. He said "Oh that was a time...that was quite a time."
Roger Lawrence lives in Corpus Christi. He founded the Navy Office of General Counsel for the Chief of Naval Air Training Command. In that capacity he represented the Blue Angels and the National Museum of Naval Aviation. As a sailor, he earned a Coast Guard rescue. He is barred from every golf course in South Texas.
The December cold fronts this year have forced small rodents to seek the warmth of our garages and yards in the Garden Court subdivision of Corpus Christi, Texas. We’re a small, gated community on a half-street adjacent to a swath of coastal marshland along the Oso Creek estuary. For our rodent neighbors, Garden Court is a welcoming refuge area that is just a short march from the marshy bottoms.
After another wet cold front blew through last night, I was up at first light to inspect a trap for mice on the track at the bottom of my garage door. Instead of a mouse, a triangular head popped up with its midsection caught in the trap. I froze. The eyes were slit. Gray-brown diamonds interlaced on its back, and its bobbing black tail was interspersed with silver racoon-rings. A rattlesnake. My instinctive reaction was both quickened heartbeats and breathing. I then felt the hot fear on my skin that if anything went wrong—the snake got loose, struck me, his fangs found a blood vessel, delays getting to hospital, the vaccine was not in stock, or I was allergic to the vaccine—if any of this happened, this snake could make me miserable, and, maybe, dead.
I resolved to strike first. After all, I had a collie puppy to protect.
I would be in good company. The residents of Garden Court see themselves as living in an unremitting siege from snakes seeking moisture from our sprinklers in times of drought, high ground in floods, or the warmth of our sun-bathed concrete driveways when the weather turns cold. A week ago, a retired policeman shot a six-foot rattlesnake on the green walkway behind our homes with a 12-gauge (which, being within city limits, was not strictly legal). He was miffed that the shot ruined the snake meat. Two days ago, a buzz-cut Marine Ready Reservist hoed the head off a rattlesnake his wife flushed out while tending her roses. She was alerted as the off-white rattle on the snake’s tail poked up through the leaves and the snake hissed, sounding like air escaping a tire—as she later recounted to my wife, who subsequently began watering her roses from afar with an outstretched hose.
But standing wedged between the trunk of my car and the garage door, I realized that none of these instinctive first-strike strategies would work in the tight confines of my overstuffed garage. After giving my mortal enemy a closer look, I realized that he was only about 14 inches long—a baby that hadn’t yet grown a rattle for his tail. Given his size, he couldn’t coil and strike any longer than two–thirds of his length, at least, if I recalled the warning to hikers from the National Park Service correctly. I decided to scoop him out, still in the trap, with a spade. But even so, if anything went wrong he was still venomous and potentially as lethal as his elders. As I shoveled up the pint-sized poisonous snake, he writhed, coiled, and struck at me. No doubt from his perspective, I was a hulking Satan with the mythical pitchfork in my hand. He struck nothing but the cold air between us. In less than a minute, his rapid-fire strikes faded, and he rested his head in the spade. His airy bites dissolved into lazy yawning.
The yawns threw me off my game. Despite the constant reminder of his fangs to keep my spade fully extended from my feet and legs, I brought the snake toward me to have a closer look. I then realized that my prisoner’s status had changed from lethal insurgent to exhausted infant. My initial plan to summarily execute him, in the rodent graveyard in the yellow grass beyond the reach of the sprinkler, was no longer a valid emergency response. I decided instead, to execute him in the marsh whence he came. I knew my wife would favor my forced march down to the marsh bottoms. Removing all traces of the snake from the yard would allow her to back down from her own emergency watering protocol. Besides, I told myself, the snake, as a hunter, deserves a separate burial ground from his prey.
Wielding the spade with my prisoner in front of me, I hiked two hundred yards out my back gate and down to the coastal marsh grasslands to the execution site along the Oso Creek estuary. Once there, I noticed that the rain from the fronts had turned the grasses into a spongy, musty, tan-gray mat that threatened to deflect the strike of my blade, staying the execution.
When I reached the execution site, the foundling stopped yawning, too fatigued to extend his forked tongue. He made sideways caterpillar movements head to tail. I loosened my death grip on the handle, and reverting to my former persona as a military prosecutor, rendered his sentence: Little serpent, your kind are not compatible to live side by side with humans in their habitat. You are, however, found NOT GUILTY of constituting a clear and present danger to Garden Court. You entered without malice, with the sole intent to seek warmth and food in the form of refugee mice. I release you back to Mother Marsh—incubator of reptiles, fish, fowl, grazing mammals, scavengers, live oaks, and the grasses of costal south Texas. I planted one foot, and with the other gingerly freed his tail from the trap, and slid him off the spade. As I stood motionless over the freed and quivering snake, the memory cells of my rattled brain then recalled another statistical caution to hikers—most venomous snakebites are caused by victims trying to kill the snake.
The little guy disappeared through a bunch of switchgrass, the only bunch still hardy and glowing green on the marsh. But I knew that this singularity of switchgrass was not long to survive alone and green on the cold marsh bottoms, and so I made a contract with Mother Marsh: You will nurture the infant snake back to health; whereas I will take her sacrifice of the endangered green switchgrass, with my spade, on the condition that I preserve it through the coldest days of the year.
That same evening, I assembled our tree of wire and green-dyed bristles in preparation for the observance of Christmas. I transplanted the clump of withering, but still green switchgrass, in a flowerpot and placed it at the base of the tree. Mother Marsh’s spring-green blades graced our home with the promise of warmer days for Garden Court, and a thaw of hostilities with our neighbors on the marsh. You can’t kill every rattlesnake in Texas.
Ron George retired in 2015 from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi as a research development officer. He is a former journalist and retired presbyter of The Episcopal Church. His newspaper stints include The Corpus Christi Caller-Times, The Dallas Morning News and The Houston Chronicle. He was an instructor in the Journalism Department at Texas A&M University in College Station and news adviser for The Battalion student newspaper from 1999 to 2006. A 1965 graduate of Texas Christian University (BA, Journalism), George holds a Master of Divinity degree (cum laude) from Nashotah House Theological seminary (1976) and a Doctor of Ministry degree from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary (2009). In retirement, he writes for pleasure at https://pelicandiaries.wordpress.com/.
His family had been stonecutters for generations. His father and grandfather worked all their lives on the great Temple in Jerusalem. He was born in the city of David, almost in the shadow of Herod’s great work as it rose above the Kidron Valley. Previous generations of his family had been itinerant craftsmen, ranging as far north as the Galilee and across the Jordan River valley. They were a proud, talented clan, and the gleaming cities they left behind were their legacy.
They were Jews and spoke the common tongue of Palestine but also Greek, for it was the language of trade. There hadn’t been much need for it in his time, but grandfather always insisted that the family keep its Greek, even after more than 40 years of living in mountainous Judah. You can speak Greek to the ends of the earth, he used to say; and someday, you may have to go there to make a living.
He had no yen to travel, though. Jerusalem was home, the center of his world, his life. Now his children were learning his craft and trade; and soon, he would be the grandfather of his family. Thirty years of life, most of them in quarries and climbing construction scaffolding, had left their mark, but he was glad to have lived so long. Many of his generation had not. He no longer scaled quarry ladders, but neither had he quit working. He was a tomb cutter, one of the best. The pay was good for an old man, but best of all, his feet never left the ground. He had seen too many of his old friends end their days falling from where they had climbed to put finishing touches on high stone. Some regarded tomb cutting as unclean. There was nothing unclean about a new tomb, though, which he was weary of explaining to neighbors.
His clients were wealthy and had taken to the burial practice of cutting family tombs into limestone with enough space to lay out a corpse and then store the bones in niches in the walls or floor after the flesh had totally decayed. Thousands of such tombs in Jerusalem were filled with bone-boxes inscribed with the names of the dead. Every handbreadth of space was used for storing the bones before a new tomb was cut. Hiring a tomb cutter, especially the best, was expensive.
He had cut large and small tombs, always with a ledge for laying out the corpse. He took great care in making the tomb seem more like the room of house than a hole in the side of a hill. Most tomb cutters did no more than this, and of course, their prices were lower. He had spent too many years, however, carefully measuring and measuring again before making just the right cut.
It was a hallmark of his work that his tombs were secure, ingeniously engineered to make it impossible for grave robbers to steal whatever was precious in the bone boxes. Once the custom-cut stone, shaped like a globe, was rolled into place, it took special tools to move it. He was not only the cutter of tombs but the opener as well for those he made, which was another reason his prices were high.
He had for some weeks worked on a modest tomb for a member of the Council from Arimathea. It wasn’t far outside the northern wall of the city, between roads leading from the Fish and Sheep gates on the way to Samaria. Nearby, a putrescent waste dump fouled the air, the Place of the Skull, so called for all the rotting animal carcasses and even human remains. Beggars’ corpses were dumped there—and criminals’, especially of those crucified on that foul heap. He detested the tomb site. He’d almost turned down the work, but the Arimathean was persuasive—and paid a little more. He’d finished the tomb just a week before Passover.
The holiday was relatively uneventful, which is not to say the city was calm. While tens of thousands of pilgrims thronged upper city streets and the Temple precincts, his family crowded into his house in the lower city to commemorate Passover with the traditional meal. Permanent residents of Jerusalem had learned to stay home when pilgrims jammed the streets. They had stored extra food and provisions for weeks before the holiday. His sons had secured the lamb and had it duly sacrificed, but everyone else stayed far from the Temple. They would pay their respects some other time.
As usual, the family remained together through Passover night, all sleeping in the tomb cutter’s modest house. They would stay together through the Sabbath, which began at sundown the next day. An unspoken prayer churned in everyone’s breast: Let there be no riots this year.
There weren’t, although a Galilean rabbi had been arrested for making trouble at the Temple, or so his sons told him. He spat upon hearing the news. Nothing good comes out of Galilee, he said. Some criminals were to be crucified, and it was rumored that the rabbi might be crucified, too, although no one was sure. Residents in the lower city heard only bits and pieces of what was going on at the Antonia, the Roman fortress built immediately next to the Temple. He was relieved that he’d finished his work for the Arimathean. The dump was especially foul after a crucifixion. It took days for victims to die and then putrefy as carrion birds picked their bones clean.
Not long before Sabbath sundown, a messenger came from the Arimathean. The new tomb had to be opened. Reluctantly, the tomb cutter set out through the city, which was quiet though still crowded with pilgrims. Fortunately, his sons had been close at hand, so they joined him, which would make the work go faster. They made for the Fish Gate and then for the new tomb.
The large closing-stone fit snugly and had been rolled into place over a lip of stone he had cut intentionally so it would fall into the round, low entrance of the tomb. He had left a slot at the top of the stone and had fashioned a special tool that, when slipped into the slot and down the back of the stone would engage a notch that enabled one man to pull the stone away from the entrance; without the tool, however, it was impossible to get hand or lever behind the stone to pull it out. He and his sons made short work of removing the stone. A few moments later, the Arimathean came with a small group of men carrying a corpse, followed by a few women.
This is one of the criminals, he thought, stepping back. The Arimathean said nothing but stood aside as the men carried the corpse into the tomb, which was no easy matter. The entrance was no more than three cubits across. The Arimathean passed a taper inside; a few moments later, the men came out. The women, carrying blocks of spices and a long piece of linen, went in for a few minutes then emerged. Everyone looked more frightened than grief-stricken. The sun was just above the horizon. Shadows were long. The tomb cutter aligned the closing stone then let it roll into the entrance of the tomb.
The Arimathean asked that the stone be removed early on the first day of the week. The tomb cutter agreed, then he and his sons hurried home. He wondered why the wealthy Arimathean let a criminal be put in his new family tomb; otherwise, he didn’t think much about it. It was the Sabbath, a day of rest. There had been no Passover riots. His family was safe and secure. Perhaps the day after tomorrow would shed more light on this strange burial.
Chill air and darkness greeted the tomb cutter as he rose the morning of Yom Ree-Shom, the day after Sabbath. Snoring and deep breathing rose from his wife, sons and daughters, their spouses and children. He walked carefully through the house then picked up his tomb-opening tools—a large iron hook threaded with long leather straps and a stout wooden staff he’d put near the door. He splashed cold water on his face from a cistern then donned and cinched his stonecutter’s leather tunic, a protective outer shell worn over his garments.
Jerusalem’s streets lay empty. He decided not to carry a lamp but made his way in the dark through the city’s narrow but familiar streets. He passed through the Fish Gate no more than a half hour after leaving his house in the lower city. He picked his way carefully along a rocky path through an orchard then down a steep bank to the tomb he had made for the Arimathean. Golgotha’s stench rode the morning breeze. He marveled at the silence—no moans from the crosses, no screams. They must have died sooner than usual, he thought, which made the burial of the crucified man two days ago all the more strange.
He worked quickly to remove the globe-shaped stone from the mouth of the tomb. He dropped the carefully-fashioned iron hook behind the stone through a notch he’d made at the top of the stone, then skillfully let the hook slide down the back of the stone until it caught on a deep notch he’d made to fit the hook. He tied the strap ends together to form a loop, then used the staff put through the loop to pull the heavy stone from where it lay secure against the tomb entrance. It came to rest with some precision a few feet away from tomb’s mouth. The tomb cutter would align the stone carefully before replacing it after the body inside had been treated. He walked some distance away to wait for the women who would come to clean the body and drape it with linen. He would keep his distance and replace the stone when they left. He had no desire to see that corpse again. He found an olive tree, sat to lean against it and promptly dozed.
He was awakened by women’s voices as dawn light began to make its way over the Mount of Olives. The tomb cutter smiled as they marveled that the stone had been removed from the mouth of the tomb. He hoped they would be quick about their grisly business so he could replace the stone and return home. The first woman crouched to enter the tomb but quickly emerged, shouting at the others and tearing at her hair. She screamed, They’ve stolen his body! The other women looked into the tomb. All began keening their grief and fear. Surely this was the work of the Temple guard. The final degradation—a second death!
The tomb cutter slowly approached the grieving women, but before he could reach them, they rose and hurried back the way they’d come, almost running along a path to the Sheep Gate road that would take them across the Kidron Valley to the Mount of Olives and then Bethany two miles away. He turned back to the tomb and stooped to enter. Sunlight scarcely shone into the cave, but there was enough light to see that the corpse put on the ledge last Sabbath sundown was not there. The spice blocks and linen remained. Pungent spices only amplified the sickening odor of dried blood and human waste on the ledge. The tomb cutter left the tomb quickly but not quick enough to avoid vomiting.
No one could have stolen that man’s body, he thought; no one could have rolled away that stone. The Arimathean would be furious that someone had stolen the body. He had paid a premium for the tomb cutter’s reputed guarantee that tombs he made could not be robbed. He’d have to return his pay for this tomb. That setback, though, was nothing compared with damage to his reputation. Then came an even more frightening thought: He would be accused of stealing the body, because he was the only one who could open the tomb. He began to sweat as fear churned his innards. Morning had broken, and it would not be long before nearby roads would be swarming with traveling Passover pilgrims leaving the city. Rumors would spread quickly once the women told others what they had found. All eyes would be looking for the tomb cutter.
He staggered then collapsed in despair.
Don’t be afraid, said someone nearby. The tomb cutter leaped to his feet but saw no one. I’m here, said the man, behind the olive tree. Please don’t look upon my nakedness. The tomb cutter ignored the man’s plea and began walking toward the tree where he had sat waiting for the women. He took off his leather tunic, and without saying a word held it out for the man to take. The naked man slipped into the tunic then stepped from behind the tree.
Dried blood caked and matted his hair. Bruises covered his swollen face and blackened eyes. Torn flesh hung from his knees, which still oozed as he stood. Worst of all, the man’s hands and feet had been pierced and still bled. The stunned tomb cutter could but gawk at the man who wore his tunic.
I was one of them, the man said through labored breath as he sat down on a large stone. I was crucified two days ago, but then I awoke in the tomb. I was frightened, he said. I didn’t know where I was. It was so dark, I thought I was in Sheol. I couldn’t get out of the tomb. I prayed I would die. Then I heard the sound of metal against the stone, and the tomb was opened. I saw no one at first when I finally crawled out. I looked for a hiding place because I was naked.
The tomb cutter found his voice: Who are you?
Yeshua, the man said. I am a teacher from Galilee.
The tomb cutter backed away. He had seen a dead man laid in the tomb, a man flogged and crucified; and now, that man was speaking to him. His body hadn’t been stolen—or had it? What was he seeing now? A ghost? A demon? Something from Sheol come to haunt him? Moments before, the tomb cutter had feared for his reputation; now, he feared for his life. Perhaps this shade had come to kill him and take him to Sheol. The strangeness made his head swim as he backed away, reached for his tools and then turned to flee the way he’d come.
As he stumbled along a path through the olive trees, he heard voices behind him. Turning, he saw men and women coming to the tomb, but he didn’t see the Galilean. His family, thought the stone-cutter. They will accuse me. He plunged on through the trees to the Fish Gate road.
The Arimathean never came to accuse him. It was well known who had made the tomb, and rumors of a crucified man risen from the dead percolated through the city. The tomb cutter kept silent. He knew nothing of the man, he would say when asked. He had opened the Arimathean’s tomb and then went home. Ask a Galilean, he would say as he spat with disgust.
Temple guards once came to ask about the Arimathean’s tomb. Yes, he said, I opened it. There was no body in it. No, I didn’t steal the body. It was unclean, and I am a religious man. How then, they asked, did the dead Galilean get out of the tomb? I don’t know, said the tomb cutter; maybe his disciples stole his body, though I don’t know how. That tomb could not be opened without my tools. Then you must have stolen the body, they said. No, he said, it was unclean. And so it went, round and round. The guards threatened to torture him but didn’t. The tomb cutter was known to be an honest man from a good family, generations of stonecutters who had helped build the Temple. The tomb cutter told no one, ever, that he had seen the man and fled. In any case, it wasn’t long before the story of the crucified teacher from Galilee who vanished from the Arimathean’s tomb was all but forgotten.
Almost, but not quite.
Ron George reads from "The Tomb Cutter" from Corpus Christi Writers 2020
I hear the voice of Jesus on the Cross:
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
I like to say I can’t help what I don’t know,
it’s not my fault,
don’t blame me,
if only I’d known.
Lets me off the hook.
Lets me off, Scot free.
I’ve never been so moved by an art exhibit as I was by "Gordon Parks: The New Tide, Early Work, 1940-1950" at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. -- frame after frame of images created from life, composed with deep care and concern, and not just for the black people but also for glam-fashion women, celebrities and, yes, film stars – Ingrid Bergman, most notably.
Parks didn’t take pictures; he made photographs – light writing images in silver halide media – and it was work to get it right. He must have made tens of thousands of images, but we see only the outcomes. It’s how artists work, by producing so much more than anyone ever will know in order to reveal whatever truth they’ve discovered and distilled from the mass.
That leaves most of us out, because it seems as though being an artist, doing art, is magnificently obsessive. When I say the reason I don’t or can’t write fiction is because I lack creative imagination, it’s also because I am not possessed by the urge to make creative words or photographs or anything else, for that matter. I’m a rank amateur who can take it or leave it. Given the opportunity, I’ll take it, but I’m not going to build my entire life around the making of art. Frankly, I wish that were so, but I know it’s not; and, you know, it’s not just the Deadly Sin of Sloth but personal disposition.
True artists are few and far between. There are many more aspirants and pretenders than there are those who work obsessively, who practice and are disciplined by their talent and who aspire to develop and grow into a kind of perfection called fulfillment – although, I’ve heard it said, that last bit seldom enters the true artist’s consciousness, because they themselves never sense that kind of completeness. There’s always more, and it seems beyond their reach, but they sally forth just the same, intrepid, even though they may not know where the path is leading – or when it will end.
Sara Kaplan received her M.F.A. in poetry from the University of Idaho, and she also holds degrees from Miami University and Sweet Briar College. Her chapbooks include Moon Talk and Touring West of the Mississippi. Published interviews with notable poets are on Poetry Daily and in Conversations with Natasha Trethewey. Her poems appear in the following journals, and several poems were nominated for The Pushcart Prize: The Antioch Review, Harpur Palate, LIT 9, The Cincinnati Review, Talking River Review, The Meadow, InLand, Ruminate, The New Vilna Review, decomP magazine, Failbetter, Splash of Red, MO: Writings from the River, & Gulf Islands Review. As an Associate Professor of English at Del Mar College, she specializes in teaching Poetry and British Literature
The Shoal Creek vitex against the brick spikes
12-inch fragrant flowers of deep lavender blue
by May and a second flush in August. You keep
the tree shapely and tame. Until the dark, you stand
in the yard with your clippers, undecided. Butterflies
and hummingbirds never stop except when the dark
root of electricity grows through the rain.
When the early morning wakens, you put handfuls
of Rose Glo over the knockout roses in the bed
by the back fence and feel the ground for water.
You try to make things grow. You try to keep order,
prune. And here it comes, the dry light, cobwebs form
in the shrubs. You inspect the eaves with a broom
and recaulk and repaint the siding along the patio.
I can imagine the torment at the lift and rot
and spill and tear and crack of paint and wood and brick—
glowing imperfections—and you go around the house
looking for something broken you cannot fix.
Scott Wayland Griffin has traveled internationally and lived in other parts of the U.S. He returned to his hometown and works as an industrial mechanic. Hobbies include medieval re-enactments, blacksmithing and creative writing.
While I was working in the shop last night, an opossum decided to come visit. (I was certain that it was an opossum even though it was larger than my neighbor's yapping dog.) I did not share his desire for companionship and defended myself with the weapon in hand . . . a full can of green exterior spray paint.
He escaped but now I must warn my neighbors. . .
Beware of the Green-Tailed Opossum!
The green-tailed opossum (think I'll refer to it as the GTO) is still lurking in my shop at times.
It seems that spray painting its butt did little to deter these visits. He smells terrible and is using my shop as his own personal latrine. He's definitely got to go.
I set out a small game trap (attached with cable to a heavy shop stand) loaded it with sausage and the GTO ate the sausage without setting off the trap.
I set out a rat trap loaded with cheese, it ate the cheese, set off the trap (which is wired to the cable) and I never heard a peep.
Next tactic involved hanging the rat trap from the metal stand and placing the game trap directly below that on the floor.
I figured if he didn't set off the big trap while eating from it, he'd get his butt caught when he went for the rat trap.
This time I tried peanut butter as a lure. GTO really likes peanut butter, he ate till he was full, set off both traps and I think I heard him burp as he wandered off unfazed…. This isn't over, not by a long shot.
Added a new, small game trap to my arsenal.
Teaser night for the GTO—Traps are baited but not set.... A few days of this and then I'll set the traps again! Mwuahahaha! It's my turn to toy with him.
Ohh clever fella, he tried to move one of the traps to use it against me! Lucky thing I turned on the lights before I entered the shop. I swear, he placed the trap directly in the footpath. What kind of opossum am I dealing with here? His intellect is amazing. He is indeed a worthy opponent. I will sing a dirge in his honor & wear his skin with pride.
11:36 pm and all is quiet on the Possum Front. I just played in the rain, standing naked in the backyard, intimidating the opossums.
Regularly scheduled feedings of the green tailed opossum were interrupted last night because I was too tired to mess around with resetting the traps that he uses for exercise equipment.
Today, I find a large hole in my water heater…. I'm choosing to blame him.
Tonight, I'm adding a steel box to the traps, along with a spring-loaded spiked post…. At this point, I really need to put up signs to warn people to stay away, just like Area 51!!!
This is no ordinary opossum. He managed to lift the box off himself, escaped multiple spring traps and ate all the bait.
Perhaps if I were to hook the trebuchet up to the box . . . he would be launched to the next block & then he'd be my neighbor's problem.
Oh, I'm spending today replacing the water heater & sheet rock that the GTO destroyed.
Penny was here dropping off pewter when we heard the GTO making squeaking noises.
"AHA! Finally caught him." I declared. Upon checking the traps, they were undisturbed…. Turns out we heard him laughing his green butt off at my feeble efforts. To prove his point, after I went to sleep, he ate every bit of bait without setting off a single trap.
Tonight, I might bring out the night vision goggles and play sniper. . . although the next post you read might be from the opossum demanding ransom for my safe return.... This is one clever critter!!
This weekend's battle ended in a stalemate. Fully aware of my night vision capabilities, the enemy took a strong defensive position. It refused to engage me in open battle and I made the trap system so deadly that he didn't even touch the bait. Finally, from the back corner of the shop, I saw a tiny white flag being waved frantically. I hoped for a full surrender but instead the opossum merely wished to parley a temporary ceasefire.
We talked with each other (him still hiding behind a stack of expensive ceramic tiles) but negotiations began breaking down when I refused to allow him Television privileges & he stubbornly refused to let me shoot him. In the end, we reached an agreement that I will not use poison and he will not damage my new water heater.
(He obviously hadn't noticed that I used sinew to fasten the bait to the traps. His days are numbered.)
It's amazing that the possum has lasted this long. Even with a motion detector to let me know he's in my yard (the dog next door barks at it) I can't find him in the tall grass. I'm betting that if I get the lawnmower out that I'll be able to chop him up nicely. I mean after all, remember the job it did on my neighbor's pet turtle when I ran over it on accident?
Neighbor: "Was that my turtle?"
Me: (embarrassed) "No ma'am, this turtle only has three legs"
Someone had an opossum trap on Craigslist for cheap (strong emphasis on "cheap") so I finally bought one along with cat food which everyone seems to think is like the holy grail of possum bait. Trap was set, baited and promptly ignored by Kenny... yeah, he left me a note that reads, “Do I look like a F@#$%* cat?!? You will pay for this insult human!" Then he signed it—"Kenny O Possum".
Strange coincidence, my son had a goldfish also named Kenny. Perhaps this is it, reincarnated and seeking revenge for the flippant disregard for a decent burial. My version of a burial at sea. (Flush!)…. (Actually, it also could be any of the four consecutive Kennys who followed. They were all goldfish and each was disposed of in similar fashion) (Flush, Flush, Flush, Flush). Maybe I should try some fish food in the trap?
So, I get home late last night & decide to check on the traps before dinner.… Voila! There, in the live trap, is the biggest meanest (and dare I say, smelliest) opossum I've ever encountered. I’ve heard opossums hiss before but this beast actually growled & roared like a mountain lion.
We're talking Uber-Rodent with a terrible disposition!
I could hear him growling the entire time I ate dinner while deciding his fate. Hmm, I do have that new cleaver that I've been wanting to test….
Trash day isn't until Thursday so there's no way I'm going to kill him here & have him stinking up my bin.
I load him into the truck and we drive out to the river, on a deserted country road. It's dark so I set the trap in the beam of my headlights and with sword in hand I pull the release to open the cage.
Now the way this beast is acting, I'm thinking he might be rabid and could come at me, so as he jumps out, I leap backwards into a fighting stance, preparing my downstroke of death. Kenny O. Possum seizes the chance to escape rather than fight.
He fled from the cage faster than I've ever seen a opossum move and began running onto the bridge which spans the river.
"Oh fine. Whatever", I say to myself. I'm not going to chase him, he's been a fun opponent and after all the laughs I've gotten through our battles, he deserves to live.
A warm glow fills my heart as I look on this noble, majestic (albeit ugly) creature of God.
Kenny looks back at me and gives me a mean stare and one last growl before he leaps over curb....
I'm guessing he didn't realize he was in the middle of a bridge because as he fell, he looked back at me again with a shocked expression on his face as he disappeared over the edge, descending into the dark waters below.
"KERSPLASH!" - Actually, it was more of the "kersplat" sound of a belly flop. I giggled, "And the Russian judges give him a 3.5"
I rushed to the spot I'd last seen him and pointed my flashlight down, hoping to find him swimming away. As my light probed the darkness of the water, there was no sign of him. Then, I heard a loud splash further downstream and pointed my light there to see ripples and a few bubbles on the surface.
"How odd", I thought for a split second before I noticed several pairs of yellow-green eyes in the water, staring back at me. . . . . . .
This could be bad. I had no doubt as to the outcome of this battle between rodent and reptile so I rushed home to prepare my defenses against Kenny O. Possum for when he returns, wearing alligator skin armor.
I set the traps and barred the door.
read more great writing like this in Corpus Christi Writers 2019
Moshadoe & Mohirae quickly learned the finer arts of hunting with the pack under the watchful eye of Garoun. They were allowed to follow the hunters at a respectful distance at a much younger age than usual.
Sadly, not all the older wolves appreciated having two pups tagging along. One in particular, named Badu, took every opportunity to snap at the young pair. He wasn't very bright himself and he'd had a tough time learning the skills of a hunter. When he was young, he'd been picked on by Garoun for making mistakes that usually cost the pack a missed kill.
Badu's mistakes were pretty serious and as such, he deserved a little nip on the nose or a bite on his ear because that's the way wolves treat idiots who lost the pack a meal. Garoun wasn't being mean about it, he was just handling the situation in the traditional manner.
Some wolves hold a grudge however and Badu was one of them. In his dim memory, he remembered the bites and nips being much worse than they really were and he also imagined that his mistakes were not so very bad. So, when Garoun brought the pups along, Badu took much pleasure in biting them every chance he got.
If Mohirae breathed too loud, Badu would snap at her and loudly tell her to stop being too loud, "You'll scare away the rabbits!" Of course, Badu was much louder than her little puppy breathing would ever be. If Badu was scratching an itch and he saw Moshadoe scratching too, he'd stop scratching just so he could bite Moshadoe's ear & tell him gruffly, "Stop scratching! You'll scare away the deer!"
All this the two pups endured and more, but the worst thing that Badu would do came after every successful hunt.
When a pack brings down a deer or elk, the older hunters get first turn at eating. Once they have grabbed what they wanted then the others could come take bites, according to each wolf's status in the pack. The youngest and smallest always had to wait till the last to get a small bite and Moshadoe & Mohirae knew this. They almost always waited to take their rightful turns, but Badu would bite at them and drive them away, snarling that he still wasn't finished eating. He would eat slowly, sometimes not really eating at all, only gnawing noisily on a bone as he tormented the pups by announcing how tasty this deer or that elk was.
If Garoun noticed he would shake his head in disgust with Badu. He would sometimes still have some scraps left from his part of the kill and he'd let them finish it, but he couldn't stop Badu because that wasn't how things worked. If he tried to force Badu into letting the pups eat before all the other wolves were done, it would cause a terrible fight. The tradition of taking turns according to one's status in the pack was not a thing to interfere with and if Badu said he wasn't done then the pups had to wait. The trouble was that by the time Badu grew tired of his game, one of the other wolves would resume eating and the pups would still be sitting there, waiting with rumbling bellies. Several times the pups would get nothing at all to eat from the pack's kill.
One day the pack had brought down a deer that was too small to feed all the larger wolves so the pups knew they wouldn't even get a bone to gnaw on. Moshadoe turned to Mohirae and said, "Let's go see what kind of food we can hunt on our own. There might be some rabbits near the frozen lake."
As they made their way along the path, they noticed several other wolves were hunting up mice and rabbits in the area. "Let's go farther, we don't want anyone telling us we scared away the mice by making too much noise" said Mohirae.
The two traveled on until they reached the very edge of the frozen lake. At the same instant, a large old rabbit emerged from his hole right in front of them. They stared at each other for a second before the rabbit leaped, heading away on the icy surface of the lake with the two hungry wolf pups hot on his tail. They slipped all over the place but finally managed to trip up the rabbit and then the hunt was over. The pups began to sing the song of the pack to celebrate their kill, but the rough growls of Badu made them stop. Turning around, they saw him coming towards them over the ice. "Don't be singing over that rabbit, he's mine" growled the older wolf.
It looked like he'd be taking their dinner, until the ice broke from under Badu and sent him into the freezing water below. He paddled around in circles trying to pull himself back onto the ice. He called to them, "Help me out you little runts, my tail is frozen." Moshadoe told him, "We will gladly help you, just as soon as we're done with this tasty little rabbit."
As the two pups ran off with their rabbit, they could hear Badu snarling at them as he tried to pull himself from the water. "I'm going to have that rabbit, it's mine I say!"
The pups went back up the path a little way before they began eating near a thorny cactus. They'd almost finished when a very unhappy and frozen Badu caught up to them. Moshadoe dropped the rabbit remains and it landed on the cactus. He snarled in his little pup voice, "Leave us alone. That rabbit is so small that a big hunter like you could swallow it whole. Well I won't let you, it's ours!"
Mohirae looked at Moshadoe in shock, she couldn't believe he had just talked to an elder in that tone. He whispered to her, "Just watch, he'll eat it now for sure."
The pup's torment worked. Badu was so angry that he pounced on the rabbit and indeed, he tried to swallow it in just one bite. That was all it took, for in his greed he had grabbed the small cactus in his mouth also. As he felt the long thorns stabbing at the insides of his mouth, Badu went cross-eyed and his ears went up in surprise. He tried to push the evil thorny rabbit from his mouth with his tongue, but the needles pierced that as well. He managed to pry the cactus and rabbit from his mouth with his paws, but they too suffered injury. Now he had thorns in his paws, his mouth, and his tongue. He was in no mood to cause trouble for the pups as he slunk away with his tail tucked between his back legs in shame. In fact it was days before Badu was able to eat anything and he never again tried to stop the pups from eating with the pack. He no longer snapped at them or bit their ears, for he had learned his lesson and had lost his taste for rabbits, all in the same day.
copyright Scott Wayland Griffith
read more great writing like this in Corpus Christi Writers 2018: An Anthology
Skylar is a local actor and college student. She’s a novice writer and would like to advance her craft. TUB MIRE is her first published work.
There is a cozy town named Mentisdolum. With its greenery and thick fog, it is one of many towns and cities clustered on the outer rim of the bathtub. The tub is filled with swampy water that stretches beyond the horizon. It stands like an ancient monument to a time that no one remembers.
Tom looks over the edge, gripping the damp fence and pressing his feet firmly to the tub. Down below, eight miles away, he catches a glimpse of what looks like a green field through the thick clouds. What is it like down there?
He scrapes his finger back and forth through moss on the fence, letting it build under his nail. Dozens have been lost to the unmerciful trip down, and now he’s about to go. It’s commonly said that joining the Vanguard is something that’s only done by three types of people: the brave, the broke, and the bored. Tom wants to believe he’s the first type, but he’s probably more akin to the last. The thought of spending his whole life as just another moss farmer or beekeeper scares him way more than the long drop down into mysterious land with no hope of ever returning. Besides, the population cannot sustain itself on the rim, and everyone will die if they can’t establish new colonies. So, it seemed better to volunteer and be thought of as a hero.
“Thomas,” A man calls out. “Suit up!”
He steps away from the fence and flicks the moss from his finger.
This will be both his first and last time abseiling all the way down. He puts on his harness and gloves and takes one last look around. He’s leaving his mother behind, but she will be taken care of, he tells himself to relieve the guilt. And she has her candle making hobby.
He begins his descent. It’ll be at least four hours before he reaches the ground. He looks down at a view that no longer induces vertigo. Staring over the edge has been a favorite pastime since he was accepted into the training program and given access to the outer fence.
Two others are descending alongside him. “Hey, how are you guys doing?” he yells to them.
They are slightly above him and on either side. One of them gives a reassuring-sounding response. It’s Abi. She’s the first woman to make this descent, and she hasn’t been able to think about anything else. They initially weren’t accepting women into the program. Obviously, women would be needed to establish future colonies, but the current rate of survival during descent coupled with unpredictable living conditions below made them reluctant to consider sending a woman. Even so, Abi isn’t someone who takes no for an answer. The other person is Doug, not as memorable as Abi, but Tom had seen him before.
The wind is too loud, and they can’t understand him, so the descent continues uneventfully. Four hours later, they reach the bottom with no injuries aside from heat rash and a little chaffing.
Ground level isn’t as otherworldly as Tom had expected. He takes his glove off and presses his hand against its surface. It’s somewhat rough, almost like a white stone, and it’s warm from where the setting sun has been hitting it.
“So, what the hell were you saying up there?” Abi asks as she approaches, gleefully swinging her knee pads around like a child that’s been cooped up inside for too long. “Me and Doug were taking bets that you had already lost you mind.”
“I appreciate your concern,” Tom replies, smiling for the first time since he began this trip. “But my mental health is still as intact as ever. So, who won the bet?”
“I did of course,” Doug chimes, raising one eyebrow at Abi in a peculiar way.
“I see,” Tom answers, not quite sure what just took place.
Two men approach and lead them to a camp. A hand-carved sign reads Camp Praevalus. After a meal they’re escorted by another group to Camp Litore. By this time the sun is all but gone. The journey so far had been lackluster. They were warned of dangerous animals and plants, but they hadn’t seen anything more interesting than a bird so far.
There are torches lighting up the entrances to each of the tents and people sit near a communal fire. They are talking about what they did before they joined the Vanguard. It’s gotten too dark to travel, so Doug and Tom go their tent. Abi, being the only female, gets a tent to herself.
The next morning they make their way to Camp Evanescent. This is the last stop before they will be sent out to stake ground for a new campsite. It’s really happening, Tom thinks to himself. All the years of training are finally paying off. He is about to be a part of history. They all are. And he will tell his grandkids about it, assuming he lives.
It doesn’t take long however to notice that everyone in this camp is somber.
“What do you think is wrong with these guys?” Doug asks, squinting as he looked suspiciously at the camp’s many inhabitants from the corner of his eye.
“This camp is the farthest out,” Abi says, looking pretty somber herself all of a sudden. “It’s setting in that we’re really never going back.” She had been bubbly the whole time, and the change in mood upset Tom.
More escorts meet them with another man in tow.
“This is Leon,” one of the escorts says. “He’ll be in your group now.”
Leon has messy hair and a round face. He is somber like everyone else. The escort leads them to a tree line at the edge of the camp
“Why is everyone here so somber?” Tom asks.
Without hesitation the escort answers plainly. “Because none of the groups we send out come back.”
“What do you mean they never come back?” Doug demands. “No one? Are you telling me you’re sending us to our deaths? You expect us to just go knowing this? Doesn’t somebody have some idea as to why they don’t come back? Shouldn’t you be doing something to prevent it? I mean, hell! Stop the damn expeditions until you figure out what’s happening to people!”
The escort doesn’t flinch. He replies matter-of-factly. “We used to send large groups, but now we send only three or four. Too many casualties with larger groups. With small groups there are fewer casualties, and we figure someone will eventually make it back and tell us what happened.”
“What happens out there?” Tom asks.
“We have no idea. We thought it was wild animals so we sent in large groups with weapons. Then we thought it was toxic plants or gasses, so we tried masks. Ever since that first mission all of our troops have been instructed to come back at the first sign of danger, but even so. . .”
Tom takes this all in. There’s no way to turn back now. The government won’t let them back up anyway because they don’t want people to know that the Vanguards are a suicide squad.
Then again, Tom thinks to himself, this could just be some kind of half-cocked way for the government to be trying to cull the population, but what would be the point in that when we’ve already made it this far? If anything, preventing that possible outcome is just one more reason these missions are a necessity.
There’s a long silence, but no one bothers asking what will happen if they refuse to go. Tom assumes he knows the answer, and the rest of them may have come to the same conclusion.
We’ll probably all just be killed if we refuse. We’re obviously expendable anyway and the only way anyone would agree to this is if staying was also guaranteed death.
None of them say anything. It’s clear from their faces that they all know going back isn’t an option. Leon is the first to begin walking. Doug goes next. Tom gets the feeling that Leon had heard this all already and had time to come to terms. Tom and Abi just watch them until they begin to disappear from view, then almost simultaneously they begin to follow suit.
About an hour in, something drops to the ground in front of them with a thick thud.
They pause, prepared for anything while also having no idea what to expect. The grass is too high to see exactly where it landed.
Another something goes flying, barely missing Tom’s head. It is green, but it’s moving too fast to get a good look.
Leon takes a long dagger from his bag.
There’s a screech and something else comes flying in their direction. It hits a nearby tree and plops to the ground. Leon lunges and stabs it with his dagger. It oozes a sticky liquid. At the same time they hear a loud guttural chirping and the tree limbs above them start to shake aggressively. Tom looks up to see a long-armed creature baring its teeth.
“It’s a monkey,” Leon says in a relived sigh as he stands. He holds up some kind of green fruit on his dagger. The liquid drips down his arm. “Some of the guys at the camp told me about them while I was waiting for you to arrive. They said they caught one once.” He pulls the fruit off and chucks it hard back at the monkey. He misses, but the animal disappears into the treetops. “When there’s one there usually more and they’re territorial so that probably won’t be the last thing we get thrown at our heads, but they aren’t a real threat. Just don’t get close enough to one to get bit.”
Leon puts his dagger away, and they look in the treetops as they continue. When they reach an empty field, they are cautious. Doug sticks his leg out from the cover of the foliage and slides his foot back and forth along the ground, edging his way further and further into the field. Leon’s eyes frantically dart around searching for anything out of the ordinary. Tom’s pulse races faster than it did when they were jumped by the monkey. They wait a few minutes, listening and observing.
The grass is a few inches high and billows peacefully in the wind. There are more familiar-looking trees across the way. A shadow passes over the field. It may rain soon. “It’s almost worth turning around just to report how far we’ve come,” Doug says somewhat hopefully.
Abi agrees. “We could mark this spot for a camp when someone comes back.”
“As if the big empty field isn’t marker enough,” Doug retorts teasingly “Maybe it really was some super poisonous pollen, but the plant is out of season. Who’s to say this whole field wasn’t filled with deadly dandelions that are all shriveled up now?”
Doug continues to shuffle his feet as he slowly moves further across the billowing field, just in case. Abi and Leon carefully make their way behind him inspecting the ground for any signs of unfamiliar plant life.
“If that’s the case we could probably come back with a bigger team to dig up this field before they’re back in season,” Tom says, also beginning to feel hopeful again.
But there are no remnants of dandelions or of anything else.
“I don’t mean to be macabre, but I had kind of expected to find bodies,” Abi says. “Not that I’m complaining.”
No one finds it macabre though. They find it comforting. They laugh.
Tom scans the field.
When he looks back, Abi, Doug and Leon are gone.
He spins around looking for them. They are gone but that is not possible. They could not have just disappeared.
But they are gone.
He stays there for hours. No one returns. Not knowing what to do, he heads back to camp. They cheer his return. “You are the first!” they yell. “The first!”
A team escorts him back to each base and then eventually back up to the rim of Tub Mire.
He is a hero and travels through every town. There are bigger celebrations at each stop as word spreads of his return. They ask what happened. He can’t tell them because he doesn’t know, nor does he know why he was spared. So, he never says a word about what had happened down there, and people are happy.
Time passes. People call him Father and gather to hear him speak once a week, so he makes up a story about a man he met down there.
“And the man said ‘though shalt not leave the tub for I have provided everything for you and to leave the tub is blasphemy.’ Think about what he said. To leave this tub you are saying God, holy creator, I have decided this is not enough. I want more. You cannot provide for me as well as I can provide for myself.”
He shakes his head. “If you leave the tub, you are leaving his mercy, and you are doomed. There’s a reason the rest of the world is down below us. This tub was created for us. To lift us up out of that wretched world. Away from the path to destruction! It’s hard to get down there for a reason. Don’t you think, our God, would have made it a little easier if he wanted us to go down there? He made it hard in order to save us. And now we betray him and throw our lives away. And for what? More land? Well at what cost is that land coming? How many lives have we already lost to that land? Do you want your children growing up in a place that’s capable of swallowing up men whole? The same land that stole your husbands and brothers and sons? Ladies and gentlemen pray with me. Let us bow our heads and say the prayer of the Lord, and as we do this let us keep in our minds those who have strayed. And let our loss be a reminder that the danger is very real and the danger is very near and if we do not heed the word now and teach our sons and daughters to respect and appreciate that which has been so lovingly created for us we will all suffer the consequences.”
Father Tom bows his head and begins to chant a prayer in a similar but older sounding language. The congregation follows suit.
S.Matt "Smatt" Read is an avid hiker, author, puzzle writer, and comics programming promoter. His work has been featured in the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, the Missoulian, NPR's Weekend Edition, GAMES magazine, and elsewhere. His assorted personal accomplishments include receiving two design patents, thru-hiking the A.T., and publishing Rubb-Origami, a how-to guide for making rubber band sculptures. From 2009 to 2010, he hiked around the perimeter of Texas, clocking about 3,200 miles. This story is from Day 248, roughly around the 2,000 mile mark. Originally from Corpus Christi, he is currently based in Massachusetts where he lives with his wife and dog.
It’s flat where I am, and dusty. The ground is packed good, and it’s scrub brush in all directions. I know the Guadalupe Mountains are somewhere in the distance, but I don’t see them yet. It’s been a few days since I was interviewed by a journalist in Kermit, a day or two after spending the night at the courthouse in Mentone. This is West Texas where the phrase “lonely stretch” offers a different meaning, and I’m waking up on the ground a few steps away from a town called Orla.
Orla supposedly has two residents, but I don’t know how true that is. There’s a post office and a restaurant and a few scattered buildings. It’s also the last stop to get food and water for a week, but what I’m thinking about at the moment is mail. Inside the post office, I’ve got letters waiting for me marked “PLEASE HOLD FOR PERIMETER HIKER.”
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Sydney Spangler is a senior English student at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi pursuing a minor in creative writing. She is the managing editor of the Windward Review, a literary journal showcasing the unique narratives of South Texas, the Coastal Bend, and the border, and a writing intern for Marketing and Communications at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
When I was a child I would take a straw and blow air into my chocolate milk until the bubbles overflowed, making a mess of the table. I was six years old and sitting in the kitchen alone. My parents liked the phrase, “Children are not meant to be seen not heard”. They slept in separate bedrooms; I was faced with two doors instead of one. There was no open-door policy. I spent my time in books and television and toys. Looking back now, I was lucky to have parents who would buy dolls and stuffed animals for a little boy.
My favorite stuffed toy was a beanie baby named Trumpet. He was a Christmas gift from some aunt I never met. I received him in the second grade. At that time, I slept with my mother. She would scare me at night. Her eyes watching me in the dark, a protective gaze that felt predatory. I kept Trumpet by my side. At night, I would tuck him in; a silent “I love you” exchanged.
Comradery was not something my parents excelled at. My father’s interactions with me were minimal. My mother’s interactions were threatening.
My father worked nights. Sometimes, on a Saturday, he would take me to the park. I was always too scared to play with other children—afraid I would somehow disappoint at basic human interaction; afraid of their gaze as I struggled to connect. We would sit on a bench and watch the kiddos play tag. My dad, sitting next to me with a cap shielding his eyes from the sun, would tap me on the arm, “Tag. You’re it,” before getting up and faux running away. Eventually I would break away from my father and play with the other kids or find myself sitting in a wooden enclosure, like a hideout, where kids would graffiti on the wood. Phone numbers, stick figures, S luvs M. Bffs 4eva. Call me if you wanna have a good time. Hidden by wooden bars, I watched children live.
“Let’s go to the swings!” my dad would call out.
I didn’t like heights, but my dad would push me forward propelling me towards the sky. It was scary. I was frightened as my body approached the top, my little grubby hands gripping the chains like it was a matter of life or death, but I appreciated the view. The blue sky seemed limitless; my body—my small little child body—soared.
Read more great writing like this in Corpus Christi Writers 2019
Shannon Dougherty has English and creative writing degrees from Southern Methodist University and the University of Texas at Austin. Her poetry has appeared in Acorn, Modern Haiku, Oyster River Pages, and The Chaffin Journal. She has lived in Corpus Christi for fifteen years.
Kept fed, the bull alligator
basks on the grass
by the pretend stream
like a child’s abecedarian picture book.
If not for his arrowhead teeth
and scimitar claws, his ocher stare,
he would be only beached driftwood,
one less fear in a fearful world.
The children peek through the picket fence
whispering in case the giant sleeps.
Are we the ones being watched?
Unblinking eyes give away nothing,
yet seem to measure our callousness,
how deep in fat our hearts are buried.
Tonight children will wake crying,
clutching plush replicas,
for in our imaginations he stays lean, awake,
keeping our senses sharp, in spite of this
carefully managed wildness.
Love, I have loved you before
and will again as barrels fill
in rainy seasons.
I have reservoirs for you,
I thought would never run out.
But now I am down
to clear ripples over rocks.
Soon my face, reflected, will disappear.
I will not fear running dry. One good rain
is all we need, and then, shedding reflections over the rim,
love will be full again.
Dancer with a spear beak, the great blue
sidesteps, wary as the vanishing fish
it would be catching if we weren’t here
to photograph streaked clouds, lava glow,
the tide returning to the threatened dunes.
Inching forward, when will the ocean and city collide?
The wings unfold, and with a guttural call
the heron sails the disputed edge of sea and sand.
Before it settles the world separates
into them and us, winged and housed.
The heron flies over the rising waters, away from us—
our backs to the land, the future sea.