Issue 07. Summer 2017.




Contents.



Letter from the Editors...........

Interview: Emily Ruskovich...........

Whir, Tara Roberts...........
The Smallest Bones in My Body, Richard Chiem...........
Me, Undecided, Amber Krieger...........

Essay: The Survivor’s Guide to Kerouac Country, Kate Lebo...........

Poetry: Blackfish State, Laura Da’...........
Poetry: Whiteys on TRAPPIST-I, Azura Tyabji...........
Poetry: Fish Hook, Troy Osaki...........

About Moss...........

  
...........2

...........4

...........15
...........33
...........49

...........61

...........12
...........46
...........76

...........79



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Letter from the Editors
Los Angeles, CA & New York, NY  ·  June 2017

Since 2014, Moss has brought you a slew of interviews, short stories, and essays from some of the Northwest’s most talented writers. We’re incredibly proud of the body of work we’ve been able to put together, and honored by the enthusiasm with which it’s been received.

Over time, however, we’ve come to realize that something was missing from Moss: poetry. We’ve considered publishing poetry since the beginning, but we also knew that if we were going to take that step, we needed to do it right. Of course, we knew that we would need to be able to pay our poetry contributors. Just as importantly, we knew that we would need the help of poetry editors who really understood the craft of poetry inside and out. With this seventh issue of Moss, we’re pleased to announce that we’re bringing on two new contributing editors, who will be in charge of launching Moss’s poetry section. We’re beyond lucky to have Dujie Tahat of Seattle and Ashley Toliver of Portland joining the team—you can read more about them on our blog—and to be launching our poetry section with such stellar work from Laura Da’, Azura Tyabji, and Troy Osaka. (Ashley Toliver had prior commitments during this editorial period, so all three poems in this Issue were chosen by Dujie Tahat.)

Our fiction for Issue 7 includes an unsettling story from Tara Roberts about a small, mysterious creature that quietly infiltrates a woman’s home; an energetic, frenzied tale of crime and vengeance from Richard Chiem; and an intimate portrait from Amber Krieger of a juror grappling with notions of justice and morality. The issue also features a piercing personal essay from Kate Lebo, who takes us on the road with her during a book tour, and meditates on creative

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identity, Jack Kerouac, and invasive masculinity. Finally, we offer a conversation with Emily Ruskovich, whose “shatteringly original” (San Francisco Chronicle) debut novel, Idaho, was recently published to great acclaim.

If you like what you read, please consider becoming an annual subscriber to receive Moss: Volume Three when it releases in 2018 (containing this issue in print, as well as Issue 8 and 9). You can also find Moss: Volume Two online now, and at select independent bookstores across the country.

We hope you enjoy the issue, and appreciate your continued support. Our growth into poetry is incredibly exciting, and we couldn’t have done it without our dedicated, thoughtful, and passionate readers.

    —  Connor Guy and Alex Davis-Lawrence
      Editors, Moss
















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An Interview with Emily Ruskovich
May 2017  ·  Interviewed by Connor Guy  ·  Digital Exchange

Emily Ruskovich grew up in the Idaho Panhandle on Hoodoo Mountain. Her fiction has appeared in Zoetrope, One Story, and The Virginia Quarterly Review. A winner of a 2015 O. Henry Award and a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she currently teaches creative writing at the University of Colorado Denver, but will be joining the faculty at Boise State University in the fall of 2017. Idaho is her first novel.
Interviewer
One of the most striking features of your writing, and one of its greatest strengths, is its sharp sense of place. How did place figure in your conception of Idaho?
Ruskovich
The place and the story cannot be separated. I never decided to set my novel in Idaho; Idaho was there from the very beginning, the first element of the story, the first breath of its life. It was not just a place; it was a feeling, a tone, an atmosphere, a character of its own.

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Interviewer
In your biography and elsewhere, I’ve read that you also grew up on a mountain similar to the one where the main characters in your book live. Is the mountain in the book based on your mountain? Are there similarities between the way that the characters in your novel relate to their mountain and the way you relate to yours?
Ruskovich
Yes, the mountain where the Mitchells live is a fictional version of the mountain where I grew up. It was called Hoodoo. It was a beautiful, scary, fascinating place. There are some differences between the Mitchell’s house and my childhood house, but the layout of the land is very similar. The mountain was a place of joy for me, the landscape of my happy childhood. But for the Mitchells, of course, it’s a place that’s haunted by the absence of Wade’s first family, and so the beauty everywhere is touched by immense pain.

But there is one way in which Ann and I are similar in how we relate to our mountain. Like Ann, my family was always looking for traces. A long time ago, there was a family who lived on our property. I’m not entirely sure of the timeframe, but based on the artifacts we’ve found, I would guess they lived there in the late 1800s. Knowing how difficult it was to live on that land in modern times, it is shocking to think of a family surviving up there so long ago, before there was anything there at all, before there was even a road. My siblings and I would find traces of their homestead when it rained. Broken antique porcelain would trickle in the water that cut through our dirt road in tiny streams. My

5  ·    ·  



sister found a tiny porcelain hand, about the size of a fingernail, so we imagined that a little girl lived there once, and that this was what remained of a cherished doll. There were irises planted at the head of a small bit of square, sunken earth, which we always imagined was her grave. It was a sacred place to us. We found barbed wire, rusted tin cans, and, deep down in the soil, mattress springs so rusted they were brittle and flaking, a deep blood red. The most cherished thing I found was a woman's boot that was so old that it had been made with tiny nails to keep the sole on. I still have this boot, filled with soil. It was very vivid and haunting and also moving to spend our lives up there, feeling a kinship with this family lost to history except in these traces.
Interviewer
I understand you studied with Marilynne Robinson at the Iowa Writers Workshop, and it’s hard to resist comparing Idaho, as the New York Times Book Review did, to her first novel Housekeeping. As I read your book, I was continually reminded of when, in that book, Robinson describes the small (fictional) town of Fingerbone, Idaho as “chastened by an outsized landscape and extravagant weather, and chastened again by an awareness that the whole of human history had occurred elsewhere.” To what extent does a sense of remoteness inform your narrative?
Ruskovich
I am very touched and humbled by the comparison to Marilynne Robinson. A sense of remoteness was crucial to my narrative, but, at the same time, it doesn’t

6  ·    ·  



feel like a choice I made. It was a part of the fabric of the Mitchells’ lives, this vastness and intimacy and isolation. I feel it really formed the Mitchell family.

The physical setting is a part of everything; it’s the landscape of the characters’ interior lives, and it holds its own memories, which the characters sense and respond to within themselves. The Inland Northwest is a crucial part of who I am, and so I feel it might always be the setting of my fiction.
Interviewer
Your novel is essentially built around an act of violence, a killing that we as readers never quite understand. There is a kind of moment of resolution that comes later in the book, but the specifics are never brought into focus. There are no answers. Why did you decide to leave the central event in the story so ambiguous?
Ruskovich
What I wanted most was to be honest, and for my novel to be real. And what is most real to me, when thinking about a sudden and shocking death, especially the death of a child, is an unanswered question that the living victims will be forced to chase forever and forever, without resolution. How terrible it must be for those families never to know “why” their loved one was killed. I can’t imagine the pain and frustration and agony of that unanswered question. But I also think that the families who do know “why” are still forced to live in the same kind of uncertainty, because the answer will never actually be an answer. There never is a “reason” to kill a child. There is a passage at the end of the novel, from Elizabeth’s

7  ·    ·  



perspective, that hints at this: “Why would anyone choose to believe a thing so ugly as an equal sign? … When compared to all that blood, when compared to that new, swimming dimension ripped into the world by her act, intention is nothing. It is diminished to the point of nonexistence.” So in a novel, to try to summarize such a thing by providing a motive or a reason diminishes the total shock of what occurred, the complexity, the mystery, and the horror, and to diminish those things to any degree doesn’t seem true to me. And what I wanted more than anything, even more than a reader to feel satisfied, was to write what was true.

But the novel is not wholly without an answer to the question “Why?” Ann gives us the answer she has found. She has imagined the event so deeply that she feels that her imagining has brought her close to truth, and she has found herself in that truth. But this answer comes through her perspective only, and that’s the closest the reader can come, to knowing “why” it happened. And maybe Ann is right. Sometimes, I really feel that she is, that maybe she has come closer to the answer than anyone. She has felt her way through this tragedy for years and years, trying with all her heart to understand. She has searched for this answer with compassion and with pain. And she has let us into her understanding. We'll never know what May was singing in the truck that day, and Ann will never know, either. But this is as close as she can come, as any of us can.
Interviewer
For me, one of the most intense elements of your novel was Wade’s struggle with a hereditary disease that gradually saps his capacity for memory. There’s a particularly haunting passage late in the book, in which Wade is playing the piano and Ann is turning the pages of the music—and as the weeks pass and Wade’s ability declines, Ann must turn the pages of the book backward. And at times in

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the book’s narration, we’re doing just that, moving backwards chronologically. Is there a connection between Wade’s disease, the way he experiences time, and the way the book is set up chronologically?
Ruskovich
Yes, you are very right. The novel is structured in part to mimic Wade’s disease, the way memories are lost, and return suddenly. As the disease progresses, he is grasping at memories he only half-understands, and they arise in him without order, with cruelty, but sometimes as a source of peace.
Interviewer
Music seems to play an important role in your storytelling, and in how your characters perceive and interact with each other and with the world around them more generally. At times, you seem to be emulating musical concepts and techniques with the pacing and intensity of your narration. What connection do you see between music and storytelling—and how does this play out in your novel?
Ruskovich
Music and rhythm are very important to me in my fiction. I read aloud everything that I write, many times. I can’t really write without speaking. And so

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the musicality of the language was both something I labored over a great deal, and something that I also couldn’t do without, because it was often through the musicality of the language that I learned the most intimate things about my characters. One review mentioned that the language, the music of the language, was a kind of consolation, and I am very moved by that, and hope that it is true. I do feel that my novel is a kind of song, in that it moves forward in feeling. Its structure is more instinctive than it is rational, guided by feelings and refrains.
Interviewer
Aside from music, there are so many other forms of artistic expression depicted here in the book that in many cases are deeply meaningful to the characters—drawing, poetry, etching, even collage. Why is this? Do you see an inter- connectivity in these different forms of creative expression?
Ruskovich
The collage on the prison wall was a way of seeing the overlapping of lives in a very physical way, and that was of great comfort to Jenny and Elizabeth, even as it was painful. The drawing, sent from one life to another, one era to another, is beautiful and painful to Jenny, because she can now hold in her hand this actual piece of her old life. It's a work of art, imperfect, yes, but it has endured through her, past her, separate of her, and yet it still is her, saved from all the rest of her life and the horrible things in it. And poetry is the only way for Jenny to access what is too painful to face directly. Poetry gives her the ability to read between Ann’s words, to find in them some small forgiveness both women know is not Ann’s to

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give, but the fact that she wants to give it, even as Jenny would never accept it, makes Jenny feel just a little more connected to the world.

I'm not sure if I have a resounding statement about what all of this means about art and how it connects people. I just feel that it does. It’s so beautiful, so unbelievable really, that we can actually save a moment by writing it down, or drawing it, or turning it into music. When our feelings become physical things on the earth, even if they’re just casual sketches or journal entries or snatches of song, I just think it brings us closer to who we are, and therefore closer to each other, because we can actually put our feelings into someone else's hands. My novel, just as an object, just as a thing that I can hold in my hands, brings me so much peace. It is a moment of my life, a piece of myself, and I can just hold it, look at it. The book as an object has a texture, even a smell of ink and paper and glue, holding who I am inside of it. It’s astonishing that I have been given this privilege, that we all have been given this privilege if we want it. I can’t express what it means to me to have made physical something that for so long seemed intangible, so deeply mysterious that it sometimes seemed impossible that it could ever become a thing that I could hold. But it has. And that’s how I feel when I read, too. Like I get to hold in my hand a physical piece of someone else’s interior life. It is deeply meaningful to me.







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Blackfish State
Laura Da’

1.

My son points up to the
ship’s name—The Kaleetan.

Arrow, I say
in Salish.

A breeze tweezes a flight
of my hair with his,

so tonally similar
our locks

are inseparable—
murky raspberry brunette

in the softly drunken
beforehand light.


2.

Once I dipped
into the cove
on a dare.

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Dumbstruck—
cold water in my ears,
blanket of silt
resting on the starfish
so thick on the rocks
that I couldn’t help
balancing myself
two fingers
on a bright magenta tentacle.
Shivering up the beach
I lobbed a dirt clod
at a faded church billboard
asking me if I had
a God shaped hole.

There was a pod of orcas
on the ship home,
rippling neat and frisky
as a row of dominos
toppling in perfect order.

The woman next to me
gripped the guardrail
with such frenetic thrill
her false fingernails
popped off one by one.
A bright coral ellipsis
gliding into the wake.

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Past tense—
a sleek hole inside me,
moving in the shape
of a blackfish.


3.

One hand to steady
the mild June currents underfoot,
it feels off to clasp my son
to my left hip, but my right
abdomen is a swollen coil of dialysis tubing.
I shade his forehead from the rain
with a brochure
for a bed and breakfast
and register
the avid track of his eyes
taking in the water’s blurred end-line,
the flicker of recognition
at the island’s
hump-backed breech.


Laura Da’ is a poet and public school teacher. A lifetime resident of the Pacific Northwest, Da’ studied creative writing at the University of Washington and the Institute of American Indian Arts. She is Eastern Shawnee. Her first book, Tributaries, won a 2016 American Book Award. In 2015, Da’ was a Made at Hugo House Fellow and a Jack Straw Fellow. Da’ lives near Seattle with her husband and son.

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Whir
Tara Roberts

Megan leans into the bathroom counter, palms pressed between scattered bobby pins and globs of toothpaste and lotion bottles she never remembers to put back in the drawer. Aaron stands beside her, arms crossed.
“Listen,” she says. “Be really quiet. You can hear it best if you’re standing right here.”
He stares toward his own reflection in the mirror. She stares at him, watching his face for any sort of reaction. His jaw remains set, eyes blank. She waits another moment.
“Did you hear it?”
He crosses to the window and opens it. She pushes herself off the counter and reaches over his shoulder to slam it back shut. “What are you doing? It has to be quiet!”
He watches the closed window. “It’s just crickets or something. A bird. Something outside.”
“No.” She paces from window to sink, a five-foot path between him and the counter. “No, it’s too steady to be something alive. It has a rhythm. Like it’s mechanical. Didn’t you hear it?”
He shrugs.
“Maybe it’s a pipe or a pump or something. Are there any pumps under the house here?” The thought crosses her mind that if it is coming from beneath the house, it could be from something broken, or about to break. “Is the water heater under here?”
“No.” He walks out and shuts the bathroom door behind him. Megan stands by the counter and closes her eyes. At first she only hears the usual symphony of the house—the buzz of the fan at the end of the hall to cool the

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bedrooms at night, the hum of the refrigerator, the whoosh of the white-noise machine they bought when James was first born and that he still, at nearly two years old, can’t sleep without. But then the noise rises above it. Whiiiiiine whir. Whiiiiiine whir. Whiiiiiine whir.
She stays a long time and listens.


She told Aaron about Nick two weeks ago. They were lying in bed just after turning out the light. For a few minutes she considered just lying still until he started snoring, but instead she whispered, “I have to tell you something.” And everything went from there.
“Nick from your softball team?”
She nodded, her hair swishing against the pillow in the dark.
“With the mustache—Nick?”
She nodded again. He sat up and grasped around on the floor for his T-shirt. He pulled it on, sat on the edge of the bed a moment, and left. She stayed, flat on her back, hands clasped on her stomach where she could feel the heat of her skin and the manic beat of her heart. She waited to hear something. The creak of his chair reclining. The front door opening, his car door slamming, the engine starting.
But then it was only his footsteps in the hallway, the brush of fabric on skin as he lifted the shirt off again, the gentle squeak of the bedsprings as he settled back into place.
She waited for him to say something, but he didn’t. That was two weeks ago.


Megan doesn’t notice the noise in the bathroom when she’s getting ready the next day. She spends the morning wandering the backyard with James, then drops him

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at the sitter and spends a few fruitless hours sketching in her studio before picking him up again. She makes dinner early so they can all eat together as soon as Aaron gets home from work, before she heads out to a concert in the park with some of her friends she met earlier that summer on the softball team. Not Nick.
One of the younger women sneaks in beers in her enormous purse, and they all sit far away from the stage, leaning on an elm tree and drinking. The band has at least fifteen people in it—banjo player and conga drummer and brass section and backup singers with tambourines—and Megan can’t keep track of when one song ends and another starts. Her feet start tingling after the second beer and she’s glad she’s close enough to walk home.
Aaron is already in bed, motionless, when she arrives. She leaves the hallway light on, changes into her pajamas and tiptoes into James’ room to lean over the crib and listen to him breathe. In the bathroom she brushes her teeth and washes her face and is about to turn off the light when she remembers the sound.
She hears it right away. Whiiiiiine whir. Louder than before, maybe. And not coming from under the house. It’s in the room. She paces the same path as before. The sound is loudest by sink, like she told him. Even louder when she leans into the counter. She looks up at the frosted-glass sheath covering the lightbulbs above the mirror. She braces herself with her palms and lifts her knees onto the counter. From here she can hear it perfectly. It’s coming from the light.
She examines the little brass knobs in the corners of the fixture and wonders what kind of tool she’d use to take them off. Maybe there’s a screw somewhere in the back? She presses her cheek to the mirror to look down the inside of it. Something moves.
Megan knocks the toothbrush cup and sends it clattering to the floor. She freezes and realizes the noise has stopped. This time, slower, she peers into the light cover. The lightbulb closest to her is burnt out. Something blocks the glare from the bulbs beside it—the silhouette of a little box.

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She reaches in, careful not to touch the burned-out bulb, and taps on the box. It might be hot, she thinks. But it’s only warm and smooth. She gains the confidence to touch it again, this time with two fingers. It feels not quite like plastic, not quite like metal. She runs a fingertip around the top edge, which is slightly rounded, no sharp corners. As delicately as she can, she slides her fingers down its sides, lifts it over the darkened bulb and pulls it out.
The cube fits neatly in her palm, the size and shape of a ring box. It’s deep grey with the slightest metallic shine. She examines it for latches or openings, but it’s perfectly even on the top and sides. She inspects the bottom, and just as it reaches her eye level, it wiggles.
She jerks backward but manages to stay on the counter and keep the box in her hand. She shifts from kneeling to sitting cross legged, one knee crammed against the wall and the other hanging over the lip of the sink, not caring she’s sitting on the junk on the counter, probably getting some sort of goo on her pajama bottoms. She lifts the box again, and it wiggles again. Without meaning to, she laughs. The box wobbles, seemingly in response. She draws it close to her face and, not sure what else to say, whispers, “Hello?”
A tiny popping sound and eight legs emerge from the surface, two on each of the four sides. They’re delicate, spindly, long jointed tubes of the same grey material as the box. They sweep around Megan’s hands, pointed tips poking into her skin, but not enough to hurt. Then they stiffen, boosting the central box, which pops again as the lid collapses into the rest of the cube. From the resulting hole rises a smaller box, more rectangular and lighter grey. It spins, mounted on a tiny stalk attached to the body, then stops. A purple light appears at its center.
An eye, thinks Megan. It’s a robot.
As fluidly as it had unfurled, the robot springs from Megan’s hand. Its legs soften its landing and it navigates the counter and scurries up the mirror, effortlessly defying gravity. But instead of returning inside the light cover, it

18  ·    ·  



perches on top and arranges its legs for a moment. With a soft whistle a thin, shiny wire extends from its body, just beside the neck, spooling to four times the length of the robot. The wire flails, feeling around like an arm searching in the dark, then turns toward the inside of the light cover. Megan scrambles to her knees so she can see inside, and looks in just in time to see the wire slip into the thin space at the base of the burned-out bulb.
The robot is still. And then: Whiiiiiine whir. Whiiiiiine whir. Whiiiiiine whir.


Hours later, Megan lies in bed, awake. If she concentrates she thinks she can hear the sound of the little robot from down the hall. For a long time she had just watched it sitting there on top of the light, but after a while she couldn’t resist the urge to touch it again. She was getting tired, and instead of a gentle stroke she prodded it with an ungraceful finger. It flicked its wire back into its boxy body and scurried inside to its place among the bulbs. She thought about climbing back on the counter and pulling it out again, but decided that might upset it. So she went to bed.
She keeps replaying the scene in her head—the first glimpse, the way it felt, the awe of watching it unfold in her hand. The robot was such a remarkable experience that thinking of it feels less like remembering something she’s actually done, and more like recalling a movie she’s seen or a story she’s heard.
She rolls it across her mind again and again. Each time it feels less real.
James’ cry from his crib shakes Megan awake. She’s not sure how long she slept–doesn’t remember falling asleep, or the last time she looked at a clock. Could have been minutes. Hours, maybe, but not many. James shouts again and Aaron mumbles something into his pillow. Megan lifts herself onto her elbows but is shoved back down by the pounding in her head.

19  ·    ·  



Aaron tilts his eyes out of the nest of his arms. “You OK?”
She presses her arms over her face, head still swimming. “I feel awful.”
“You sleep OK?” He sleeps so deeply he doesn’t usually notice if she’s up, even if she’s in and out of bed.
She squeezes her arms tighter and shakes her head. “I think I just need some rest.”
“Go ahead,” he says, and as he dresses he talks about calling the sitter and seeing if he can drop James off early, or maybe just taking him to the office for a couple hours. Megan doesn’t offer any thoughts. She just breathes deep and slow through her nose until she hears the bedroom door click shut and James’ happy squeal across the hallway. Then she falls asleep.
When she wakes the house is still. She sits up slowly to test her headache and when no wave of pain comes, she smiles and stretches back out on the bed. She could still go back to sleep, she thinks. All day if she wants. But then her mind finds the robot again.
She rushes to the bathroom, greeted by the now-familiar noise. She bounds onto the counter but misjudges and kneels on a jagged lump—a pair nail clippers—the force of metal into the unyielding flesh of her knee sending her heaving back to the ground. Her first instinct is to just sweep everything onto the floor, but she catches herself. If she cleans the counter, maybe the robot will wander around on it. So she sorts things into drawers, scrubs up the soap scum and sticky toothpaste, leaving just the toothbrush cup, which she moves to the other side of the sink.
This time she is fearless and reaches into the light and plucks the robot out. She sets it on the counter and kneels on the floor, so the box is at eye level. “Hello,” she says, just like the night before. “Hello there, little guy.”
And again the box stirs and the legs appear and the robot is there. It scuttles forward to her, its purple eye sweeping across her brown ones. The light

20  ·    ·  



blinks off. She holds her breath. It blinks back on again and the robot retreats, right up the mirror and onto the light case. It sends out its wire, which this time does not search but instead threads directly inside to the burnt-out bulb. Whiiiiiine whir.
“Hey,” says Megan. “Hey, there. Don’t you want to go exploring?”
Whiiiiiine whir.
“I cleaned the counter for you. See?”
Whiiiiiine whir.
She supposes she could just leave it to do whatever it’s doing. It seems peaceful there, whirring away. But she can’t just leave it alone. Not now. Not when she has it and the whole house to herself and time to spare. She can’t help herself.
She eases up onto the counter, planning her strategy as she goes. She slides one hand up to the light first, blocking the robot’s entrance. Then she pokes it, a little less sloppily than last night but hard enough that she hopes it will react—and it does. But before it can duck back into the light, she grabs it.
Immediately the robot sucks into itself, becoming again a sleek, featureless box. Megan swears. She sets it on the counter, takes a step back, and waits. It just sits there, silent and lifeless.
“Oh, come on,” she says. “I’ll leave you alone. I just want to see what you can do. Come out.”
She realizes she’s not sure if it can understand her; if it’s been reacting to her words or just the sound of her voice. She touches its side, careful to barely let her skin slip along the glossy surface. Nothing.
She scared it. She moved too fast. She needs to give it space, give it time to feel safe again. Her heart wrenches at the thought it might be frightened of her. Can it feel fright? Maybe if she leaves, waits a bit, she can come back and be calmer, more soothing. She picks it up, trying to be swift but light, and nudges it back into the light fixture.

21  ·    ·  



She closes the door and stands outside, her mind still on the robot. If she stays in the house, it’s all she’ll think about for the rest of the day. She decides to go to her studio, and on the way out the door stops. She wasn’t listening closely enough to Aaron’s mutterings to hear when he’d be home. She doesn’t want to bother him at work, but he’ll be worried if he finds the house empty.
She finds a piece of paper and scribbles, “Felt better, went out.” Not a lie.


A painting in progress is on her easel, a landscape of central Washington’s channeled scablands commissioned by a wealthy couple from Seattle. She has been struggling with it for weeks, trying to give brightness and movement to a swath of brown and desolate land pockmarked by columns of basalt and the thin, measly offshoots of rivers. It was carved this way, she knows, by the enormous movements of glaciers and winds and time. But the canvas doesn’t show it. She adds a cow, a tiny black-and-white Holstein, standing in a distant field, scraping tan and green around its legs for grass. She perches on a stool across the room and stares at the scene. It has no light in it. The cow looks ill.
With a surge of energy, she yanks the canvas off the easel and flings it onto a table in the corner. She pulls a fresh canvas from the cupboard and smears a clean palette with paint, grey and charcoal and blue and black and lavender and white.
The shape is easy: the perfect cube with its barely rounded edges. She swirls the colors together, laying down strokes of marbled pigment, darker at the bottom of the cube, brighter at the top—the reflection of the unseen light. She hasn’t bothered with a background, just created it alone in the bare white middle of the canvas.
She steps back. It’s not right, not at all. It’s not smooth enough. It looks too cold. It doesn’t look light enough, not like it could sprout legs and walk. Not like it’s alive.

22  ·    ·  



She swaps the canvas for the channeled scablands again. She paints over the cow and feels her headache creeping back, and goes home.
Aaron and James greet her with sloppy kisses and stir fry half made. They have a good night, a normal night. After dinner Aaron tells Megan to take a break, read a little or play on her phone, he’ll give James his bath. Megan almost insists on doing it herself, even though she finds bathing the baby one of the most stressful parts of her day—the tub so slippery, the boy so willing to test his small, fat feet on its slick surfaces. He howls when she rinses the shampoo from his hair, and she hasn’t figured out how to cover his eyes the right way and convince him to tilt his chin. But she thinks about the robot before forcing herself to sit down with a book.
When James is in bed Aaron asks if she wants to watch a movie or play a game or something. She suggests a card game and teaches him Egyptian War, which she hasn’t played since high school. The game involves racing to slap certain cards, and he laughs when he’s faster than her and her palm smacks the rough, warm back of his hand. After a few rounds her hand stings, and she says she’s tired. She falls asleep before 9, while Aaron is still cleaning the kitchen.
For days they go on like this: the morning routine, the rituals of childcare, the rites of bedtime, the liturgy of breakfast, work, dinner, sleep. At home Megan forces herself to avoid thinking of the robot. It has not made a sound since she frightened it.
But in the studio, she returns the canvas with the little box to her easel, adding black and yellow, smudging on new shadows, the brush swishing across the layers of paint below.
After a week she can’t contain herself. She wakes one night when Aaron and the baby are sleeping, checks her phone and sees it’s just past midnight. She goes into the bathroom, wipes down the counter and rises onto it. She holds her breath and moves slow, keeping her body pressed to the mirror.

23  ·    ·  



When she’s hovering just below the light fixture she opens her eyes and is stunned by her own reflection. She does not normally look at herself this close up. She doesn’t spend much time looking into the mirror at all, really, just stands the counter’s width in front of it a few times a day to brush her teeth or wrangle her hair into place. She has never been a woman to gaze at her own image, but now she’s started by the freckles and pores, the tiny scar on the left side of her nose, the wispy pale hairs on her upper lip, the smooth curves of her cheekbones.
She sits back and looks at herself. She is wearing a dingy white tanktop and blue zig-zagged sweats, the same pajamas she wore the night she discovered the robot. But she’s happy with the gentle curve of her hips, the breadth of her shoulders. She hadn’t realized how thoroughly the wilted looseness of having just had a baby has worn away from her body. She looks young, she thinks, and strong.
That was the whole idea behind joining a rec league softball team earlier this summer. She’d enjoyed the sport enough in high school but hadn’t picked up a bat in years. But it would be good for her, Aaron had said, and she’d agreed. It would get her out of the house, into the fresh air. Get her moving. Let her meet some new people outside her usual, and often half-hearted, relationships with other artists and mothers of small children. She seemed, Aaron said, to need something new.
And she’d met Nick, green-eyed and lithe. Younger than her by six years, still practically a kid at twenty-three. An accountant. Not actually that great of a center fielder, standing behind Megan’s post at second base, cracking jokes and whistling at the batters. She stretched and turned during a slow inning once and saw him, glove loose in his hands, watching her. He didn’t turn away.
Megan realizes she does not look like she did when she was younger. She looks like she never has before.
And suddenly there’s an electric snap and the second light bulb in the fixture just inches from her head burns out. She hears it, bright and sharp and

24  ·    ·  



louder than before. Whiiiiiine whir. Whiiiiiine whir. Whiiiiiine whir.
She peers into the light fixture and the robot is there, perched on the very edge, its wire in the second light socket, its purple eye on her.


Aaron never says anything about the burned-out bulbs in the bathroom, which is odd.Things like lights and fire alarms and door locks are his territory, a “man of the house” tradition left unchallenged. Megan can’t remember the last time she changed a lightbulb, actually. But the late-summer mornings are bright, and showering in the warm morning sunlight through the window rather than in harsh electric rays is kind of nice. Brushing their teeth in the fading evening lit by the lone bulb is soothing. So maybe he just doesn’t care.
Megan has concluded the bulbs aren’t burned out, anyway. They’re the coiled energy-saving kind, installed when they bought the house when James was six months old, and shouldn’t have burned out by now. The robot has been diverting power from them, sucking their sockets dry. She’s decided it was attracted here, wherever it came from, by the three bulbs burning hot in a row. It was hungry, or thirsty, drawn to the lights like a honeybee to a flower. If it could reason on the level of knowing to camouflage itself—and Megan is somewhat sure it can—the long, opaque light cover must have appeared to be a perfect hiding spot. But that sound gave it away.
She hears it constantly now, the whiiiiiine whir always in the back of her brain. Sometimes she stops thinking about it, but she never completely tunes it out. Sometimes she hears it even when she’s in the backyard or at her studio or in the grocery story, imagining it so perfectly it’s indistinguishable from reality, the way she used to imagine James’ newborn cry and rush to him, only to find him sound asleep.
It doesn’t distract her, exactly, just keeps her from putting her attention

25  ·    ·  



fully on anything else. She dozes through television shows and books, stares into space as she hands puzzle pieces and plastic animals to James, finds herself frozen at the cutting board, the knife poised and unmoving above the carrots she’s chopping for dinner. And every moment she finds herself free and alone in the house, she runs to it.
The robot doesn’t make the noise when it’s with her, of course, out of the light. It stays out much longer now. Maybe it’s stronger or less afraid. She isn’t sure. It never sits on top anymore, but is always at the edge of the fixture, as if waiting, when she looks in. It scales the mirror and wanders the counter and even, if she carries it, will climb around the tub and shower, prodding the faucet and soap and razors with its legs. She takes it to the kitchen and lets it skitter around the sink and scurry up the window. She lifts it to the light over the stove to see if it might be interested in tasting a different stream of electricity, but it just crawls up the range hood, disinterested.
She wonders if she can teach it tricks and sets up an obstacle course of towels and bottles on the bathroom floor. From the hallway she calls to it. Its purple eye swivels to her, but it takes a straight route over and between, refusing to follow the path. A game of fetch with a paperclip fails, too. She does manage to convince it, though, to perch on her shoulder like a strange metallic bird.
One morning, when the climbing tricks are beginning to lose their luster, she decides to take it out in the backyard. She cups it in her palm and slides the door open. But the moment her foot crosses the threshold, it whirs loudly, sucks into itself and becomes an expressionless box.
“What,” Megan says, “you don’t like that? There’s sunshine out there. Isn’t light kind of your thing?”
The robot stays in box-mode so long she stuffs it back into the light and goes to the studio for the rest of the day. She fixed the channeled scablands painting by adding a distant waterfall and has since started another landscape, this

26  ·    ·  



one of an easier and more pleasant lake scene in Montana, but whenever she tires of crystal water and stately pines she practices painting the robot. She hasn’t attempted its legs or eye stalk. The mix of color and shadow to replicate the box is getting better, though. Almost exactly right. She paints it over and over again, watching the strokes of color blend into the familiar shape. She finds herself gazing at the painted creature and remembering the flushed, awed moment she first saw it in real life.
Aaron stops by the studio one day, without warning, the baby in tow. When he turns to admire the Montana painting, James dives for an open tube of Prussian blue. Aaron whisks it away just in time and crosses the small studio to hide it on a tall shelf. Megan sees something else catch his eye—one of the robot paintings, leaning in a pile against other rejected canvases. He picks it up.
“What’s this one?”
“Just an abstract I’ve been working on.” She’s amazed at how easily the lie comes.
He holds it out in front of him, arms stiff, brow furrowed, teeth anchored between lips, for what feels like minutes.
“I don’t like it,” he says, and offers it back to her.
He’s never criticized one of her paintings before. She pulls it from his hands and stashes it back across the studio, turning the painted surface away from him so they can only see the back, the rough canvas stapled to wood. “Sorry,” he says. “I just like your landscapes better, is all.”
She goes to the sink and begins scrubbing paint-caked brushes. She slams the faucet off and looks over to Aaron, still standing there, holding James. He shifts the baby to his side, strokes James’ hair, cups his cheek and ear in his hand as if to keep him from hearing what he’s about to say.
“Is it over?”
For a moment Megan thinks he’s talking about the painting. But no. She

27  ·    ·  



knows what he means. “I haven’t seen him.”
Aaron nods and turns to leave, James waving over his shoulder.
A week later the Montana painting is nearly done, but Megan hasn’t bothered to pick it up again. The ash-colored pits under her eyes grow deeper as she begins waking nightly to sit in the bathroom and watch the robot wander what must feel to it like an expanse of tile and glass and porcelain. Sometimes she only sleeps during the day, while Aaron is at work and James is with the sitter. She tries, three times more, to take the robot outside, and each time it refuses. Once she tries to coax it out a window and it disappears into itself for four days, leaving her blank and exhausted, waiting.
She starts talking to it. She always has, in some ways—a few sweet words to encourage it, a running commentary of the things it touched as it explored her house—but she finds herself now emptying her mind, letting the words melt and rush out, a snow-swollen stream in spring. One day she lies on the kitchen floor and closes her eyes and lets the robot roam while she speaks. She tells it about Nick, about the clear apple green of his irises, the scrape of his cheek beneath her palm, the sound of his voice when he said her name. All the things she can’t tell Aaron; all the things Aaron has never asked her. The moment in the studio was the first time they’d spoken about it since she told him. And she told him the truth, too. She hasn’t seen Nick, hasn’t heard a word from him.
She bathes in the twin sorrows of loss and shame: Nick won’t speak to her, and maybe never should have; Aaron won’t hear her, and maybe never will again; she sorry, but maybe not as sorry as she should be.
She tells the robot that, too. She relishes the way her words echo through the room, the way they mingle with the click-click-click of thin metal feet on the floor around her.

28  ·    ·  



The sitter calls in sick one morning. Aaron has meetings. He furrows his forehead and asks whether Megan might be willing to skip her studio to spend the day with James. He can miss his meetings, he says, if she needs him to. But he doesn’t know she hasn’t been to the studio in days. Painting the robot has ceased to be satisfying. Even as she perfected her replication of its colors and shadows and silky sheen, it was never real. And she could be with the real thing whenever she wanted, and it would bob around the house, just listening, just letting her watch it move.
She considers telling Aaron she really needs to work on the Montana painting, but James is in a bright and burbling mood, chattering away to his bananas and Cheerios in his booster seat at the kitchen table. The robot has been in high spirits lately, too. She was up half the night as it sprang across the counters and tested its ability to walk straight up walls, finally whirring with what seemed like joy just before dawn when she placed it back in the bathroom so it could slurp the last lightbulb through its wire. Maybe, she thinks, it’s time the two should meet.
“No, no, I can stay home with him,” she tells Aaron. “We’ll have a fun day.”
She decides to wait until an hour after Aaron is gone. She checks the fridge to ensure he’s taken his lunch with him, his dresser to make sure he’s remembered his wallet and phone. Nothing remains, she thinks, to draw him back to the house. She and James stack blocks as she waits. The baby uses his fists and feet to knock his towers over, giggling at the clattering wood. Megan laughs at his laughter, helps him restack the blocks high and counts down “three, two, one!” before he batters them again, but she keeps turning to check the clock over her shoulder.
Satisfied finally that they have the house to themselves, she sweeps the blocks behind her and takes James’ butter-soft cheeks into her hands. “Are you ready to see something amazing, buddy?” she asks. James leans away from her at first, searching for the blocks, but she holds out her hand and he grabs it. “Come on, let’s go see Mommy’s surprise.”

29  ·    ·  



In the bathroom she hoists him onto the counter. He presses his palms to the mirror and smiles at himself. He and Aaron play a game sometimes, talking and making faces at James’ reflection like it’s an unfamiliar child. “Baby?” he asks.
“No, bud, not the baby in the mirror. This is way better, I promise.” She points at the light fixture, from which comes the roar of the robot’s whirring. He follows her finger with his eyes and tilts his head, listening.
She kneels on the counter behind him, bracing him to her with an arm around his stomach, and gently taps the glass covering the light. The robot appears.
“Oh,” James whispers as it crawls down his mother’s arm. “Ohhh.”
Megan slips off the counter and swings James onto her hip, holding him as they watch the robot dance across the sink and down the vanity and onto the floor and out the bathroom door. It seems to know it is performing for a new audience, scaling every appliance in the kitchen, scampering across the tops of the sugar and flour containers while James continues to point and laugh and make sounds of awe.
Before long, though, Megan’s arms grow tired of holding the boy. Her head rings and her eyes ache. The robot is a novelty for James, but she watched it do all this just last night. This morning, really. She slept two, maybe three hours? James’ naptime isn’t until early afternoon, but if she gives him a pile of books and blocks she can buy a twenty-minute nap.
She tucks the robot into the light and leaves James and his toys in his crib. She drifts off to sleep hearing the baby babble gently to himself, backed by the robot’s steady, comforting whiiiiiine whir.
She wakes to silence. It is so stunning she lies still for a moment, trying to process it. All summer now she’s listened to the robot, counted on its presence, let it seep into her days and nights. There have been times she’s been distracted and failed to listen, but it has never before stopped unless she made it, unless she

30  ·    ·  



earned it by drawing the robot out of the light.
And then, a sound from James’ room. A small, startled cry.
She leaps from her bed and crosses the hall, her eyes taking a moment to adjust to the dim light through the thick curtains. James is there, sitting up in his crib, as she left him. But the robot is there, too. It perches on the baby’s knee, its legs puncturing the fabric of his sweatpants. One front leg is lifted, outstretched, and as Megan creeps closer she sees it: a thin line of light glinting off glass. A tube extending from the robot’s leg to James’ inner elbow, piercing the thin, pink skin.
James is still, stiff, watching it, his lips dropped open in a silent oh. For a moment, Megan is frozen, too.
It begins, barely perceptible at first: whiiiiiine whir.
James whimpers, and his eyes, glassy with tears, dart to Megan. Whiiiiiine whir.
An intangible cold rises up her neck, across the crown of her head, through her ribs, down her arms, into her stomach. She fumbles, flails, dives across the room, swooping her arms into the crib. She rips the robot up and back, her fist tightening around its legs before it can retreat inside itself. She torques her wrist and slams the robot into a wooden slat of the crib, then raises it and beats it against the thick top rail. James screams but Megan keeps bashing the slight grey box against the thick oak. She doesn’t stop until James gasps from exhaustion and buries his head into his blankets, and she realizes the sound is gone.
She takes the body of the robot to the kitchen and retrieves a brown paper sack from beneath the sink. Somehow the box is undented, the legs unbroken, but the robot is limp and silent. She drops it into the sack and rolls the top tight.
In James’ room she tugs the blankets off his head. His face is pressed to the tear-damp crib sheet, and she runs her fingers through his knotted hair. He rises, raw cheeked and puffy eyed. She smiles at him and he smiles back. “Want to go for a walk, buddy? Just you and me.” Before she puts on his sweatshirt and shoes,

31  ·    ·  



she digs a bandage out of the bathroom cupboard and sticks it over the faint red mark on his arm—a mark she knows she will watch until it’s gone, but he seems to have already forgotten about as he plays with the velcro on his sneakers.
Outside they walk and she listens to the distant rumble of traffic across the city, the neighbor’s bellowing sheepdog. James twists in his stroller to get a better look at a crow calling high in a cottonwood tree. They pass an apartment complex with a dumpster and Megan drops the sack in. Its thud echoes as it hits the empty steel bottom. She slams the lid and they walk away.
That night, she climbs into bed as soon as James is curled in his crib. She closes her eyes and listens to the slow, delicate rise and fall of her own breath. She is nearly asleep when Aaron comes in and flicks off the light. He gets in beside her, scrunching his pillow and shifting until he settles on his back. They’re quiet for a moment.
“That noise you were hearing in the bathroom?” he says. “I think it stopped.”




Tara Roberts lives in Moscow, Idaho, with her two wild children, patient husband, and odd poodle. She is originally from Laclede, Idaho, and studied writing at the University of Idaho. (She hasn’t managed to leave Idaho yet, and probably won’t ever.) Her stories and essays have appeared in Bayou, 5x5, and Give: An Anthology of Anatomical Entries. Her essay “The Smallest of the Small” was included as a notable essay in The Best American Essays 2014.

32  ·    ·  



The Smallest Bones in My Body
Richard Chiem

Autumn embalms the hour. Sarah takes codeine to kill the dull pain in her head, and says, I kill any pain. I kill any pain, she says to herself in her eyes in the rearview mirror. Her skin starts to feel softer, almost luminous and featherweight. Her right hand bounces with the beat and flow of a pop song. Her left hand grips the steering wheel. Cool wind blows through the leaves in the tree branches and some are destroyed into a hundred thousand floating pieces. Baby lungs no more, she says, blowing weed smoke at the closed car window, seeing spots. She has a tingling all over: confidence. Outside the car is a picture perfect postcard view: gorgeous bright yellow leaves covering the sidewalks streetlamps and parked cars like wet stickers, children holding hands huddled in their coats crossing the street in a clumsy single file. Sarah takes another codeine pill and stares through the lit crack in her fingers, shielding the sunlight from her eyes, watching the children.

Sarah turns down the hypnotic music and nods knowingly. I believe in each and every one of you, she says to herself in her eyes in the rearview mirror.

Who are you talking to, asks David in a ski mask in the backseat. Only his mouth and beard are showing, with bread crumbs in his beard. His shotgun is pressed like a clipboard across his chest.

David in a ski mask, she says. Hide your fucking gun.

Don’t say my name, says David in a ski mask, sliding his gun down and out of view. His moving squeaks the cheap backseat leather. Light glares off the gun.

33  ·    ·  



David looks disheveled, sweating through his faded black clothing.

Is your name Fuck Up? Sarah turns on the ignition, turns the music on louder, and looks to the clock on the dashboard. Thirty seconds, she says.

The children are downhill and long gone, the school bus has departed for school. She waits for the green light and speeds around the corner to the bus zone right outside the Wells Fargo.

Brian in a ski mask and Spencer in a ski mask walk out of the spinning glass lobby doors into the walking street traffic with large duffel bags, looking left and right as they approach the car. Heads of strangers bob and pass them by, though some pause in place, watching Brian in a ski mask and Spencer in a ski mask briskly walk away from the Wells Fargo, some taking out their phones to take pictures and point. Brian nearly stomps a pigeon rushing to the car, and crows watch silently from the rooftops. Sarah turns on an app on her phone, a police scanner: there’s nothing.

She feels connected to the car as though through a living bloodline, feeling completely in control of the vehicle, from the pistons to the radio to the stiff hairs on the tires. She can feel the cold air outside on the chrome body: feeling sweet familiar rushing adrenaline in her own body. There is so much risk in the world. Sarah takes a deep breath as though taking a dive into cold water, as she catches view of Brian and Spencer getting into the backseat, and throwing their duffel bags full of cash on top of David. David grimaces in pain as small crowds from the street gather near the car taking more and more pictures. The crows don’t make a sound, the pigeons are fat and stupid.

34  ·    ·  



Before they can pull off their masks or even speak, Sarah speeds off through a busy intersection, the abrupt acceleration slamming the backdoors shut as she burns off. Black steam rises from the black pavement. In her mind’s eyes, she can see a map of the city and one hundred thousand streets and she is moving through secret routes like neon burning on paper. 90 on the dashboard and wind in her hair. The app comes alive the phone vibrates and the police are manically looking for their exact make and model, a silver Chevrolet Impala. One of the most popular cars on the road.

I come alive in the fall, Sarah says. She can see the half moon in the sky in broad daylight, and she feels closer to childhood, and accelerates even faster, cutting corners and drifting through traffic. Shrill horns blare and blare. Her black leather gloves have purple electric streaks stitched along the cut off fingers, and it matches her purple hair perfectly.

What is she talking about? Is she talking to herself? Asks Spencer, pulling off his mask. He holds on to the car, catches his breath.

She’s been doing this all morning, says David, red in the face. She called me David.

You are fucking David, screams Brian, still wearing his ski mask, taking a bump of cocaine from his left hand.

Seat belts! Sarah screams. I hate that fucking warning beeping sound.

She changes the radio for a basketball game, dipping into side streets away from the blaring sirens, her driving momentum slamming Spencer’s head

35  ·    ·  



into the car window as she drifts closer where they need to be: home base, headquarters. Dirt clods and pebbles shoot up into the hood. Spencer’s nose starts to bleed instantaneously the blood is beautiful bright red and they’re so ahead of schedule, she can hardly contain herself. Away from the loud city stars flood the black. Trees tower above them and the dirt road. Sarah’s right hand this whole time stays with the beat, and it waves up and down like a knife with the flow, 90 on the dashboard, killing any pain. She says, Because after a bottle of Hennessy everyone looked like an enemy.
Because after a bottle of Hennessy everyone looked like an enemy. They park on a gravel road near a hidden house in the woods: a shipping container home painted clear silver and gunmetal black. It reflects the rough dark acres surrounding them. There seems to be smoke rising from the roof. There is a lake on one side of the house like a dream with a small wooden pier that seems to extend all the way to the center of the starry water, waves lapping against the thick pillars. Killing the engine and bright headlights, the car disappears in the dark while tree branches continue to sway wildly in the wind. Moss dresses the trees and goes rogue to the roots. Sarah seems to wear power like a coat, unafraid of the fog and cold, and her all black shoes crunch gravel as she leaves the car. The only white on her outfit is her sharp white collar popped out from her sweater, and everything else is all black, her ski mask sticking out of her back pocket.

Nights this cold always remind her of childhood. The hair rises on her neck as though she’s staying up late for the first time ever, as though being awake at all this late is forbidden, and what little lights are out here, the half moon stars and fire from the rooftop, glow in her eyes with comfort. Sarah has a sense that she is crossing over a dangerous threshold and it’s exciting for her to keep walking as

36  ·    ·  



though growing braver by the second. She exhales a cloud and says, My headache is finally gone.

Spencer, with his face and nose still bloodied, climbs out of the backseat, limbs dragging on the gravel like a rag doll. I’m still bleeding, he says.

Yeah, I can see, she says. Sarah still has most of a joint left in her pocket, and she takes it out and lips it, still not looking at the men, each departing the Impala one by one. Brian still has his mask on breathing in the cold, still holding his gun ready for war, too coked out, too anxious to do something.

In the dark of the woods, stone cold air, Sarah lights the joint and inhales once. She walks over to Spencer and hands it to him, and he looks genuinely touched, still bleeding dark red running from his nose.

Spencer takes a hit too, and it slows everything down, the other men just watching them. Sarah stands tall and waits for him, thinking that if this was another time, perhaps another place, she would find Spencer attractive, for his height, good manners, and for this weird playfulness he has almost despite himself.

He looks stoned and he says, I’m a hemophiliac. Spencer points to his nose and says, This shit won’t clot.

Sarah’s breath stops and she says, What the fuck?

I’m just kidding, he says, still bleeding and looking very pale. I’m just kidding.

Spencer hands her back the joint and walks toward the house, waddling more than walking. His left foot drags on the little rocks.

37  ·    ·  



He turns back once and says, There’s moose somewhere out there. He looks over them and not at them toward the deep dark woods again.

David, still sweating but less panicked, follows closely behind him. David whispers, He’s probably in shock or something. They both walk holding guns as though they have never held guns before.

Sarah watches the two of them enter the shimmering shipping container house mirroring the trees, but Brian is still waiting there, standing too closely next to her. Brian uses his gun to scratch his head, as though it’s just another extension of his body.

When you look at me, what do you see? He asks, What do you see?

Sarah barely looks at him, then stares him in the eye. She nods, No. The wind blows her hair in front of her face.

Brian says, I don’t sleep. I’m a soldier, I don’t sleep.

You should sleep, she says. I love sleep.

Brian finally takes off his ski mask and his eyes are somehow more bloodshot without his mask on. His face is remarkably simple, symmetrical, boring. He nods and stands there uselessly, no longer having any real relevance for Sarah. He looks absolutely fucking silly.

Brian finally walks to the shimmering shipping container home, and Sarah walks behind him.

38  ·    ·  



Immediately upon entering the home, there is a steep staircase leading to the rooftop positioned underneath a single skylight. The moon glows on the steps, and Sarah can smell BBQ meat cooking somewhere in the house. There is almost no furniture, no paintings on the walls. Immaculate floors and carpets.

She takes stock of her surroundings, pays mind to the exits and corners, and it's as though a mirror flips and flips behind her eyes and a complex puzzle is solved.

Go on, Brian says. He wants her to go up the staircase first, but Sarah doesn't move. She hates going down any pathway or hallway or stairway first so she won't and she stares at him.

You go, she says. Smoke rises from the roof, delicious meat is cooking. Sarah punches Brian in the chest. He seems as though hollow and faraway.

You go, she says. Go, now.
I want to see a show of hands then, says a voice behind the door. A deep voice resonates through good wood and steel and then there is the sound of glass breaking. A radio voice: I want to see a show of hands. At the top of the narrow staircase, there’s an immaculate loft with a worn out daybed right in the center. A ladder built into the wall leads to the rooftop. Sarah can still smell BBQ cooking, and her mouth waters. She has not eaten all day and the hunger clouds her brain for a moment. The voice comes from the rooftop and more glass breaks.

39  ·    ·  



Once Sarah opens the heavy door, she can see a man in a gray Michael Mann suit with broad shoulders and his back turned to her. He’s throwing empty beer bottles from one side of the roof to the other, and Sarah watches his shoulder blades shift underneath his blazer. She loves watching fabric move. David, Brian, and Spencer are all standing nearby, all in a line with their hands raised in the air like children, quiet idiots in unison.

Spencer, shivering and looking as though about to die and keel over, turns his head back to Sarah and says, I’ve never seen someone drive so quick. He barely stands there. He says, She was magic on the street, man.

Spencer smiles at Sarah. His left eye twitches.

She gets my vote, for sure. Spencer’s face is whiter than teeth, his cheekbones are gaunt and ashen. He passes out and collapses to the cold hard floor, and Sarah watches each limb fold onto each other, and the floor drums.

David rushes over to him, and Brian in the background seems to be casually scratching his crotch with the barrel of his gun. Sarah wishes for a malfunction and imagines a boom.

David goes for Spencer’s neck to check for a pulse and waits a beat. David says, He’s out cold, man, but he’s good. Bad blood circulation or something but he’s good.

The man in the gray suit, straightening up, seems to be get even taller in the moonlight. The man in the gray suit says, Take him downstairs. The voice is calm, almost soothing and sleep-inducing.

40  ·    ·  



David lifts Spencer over his shoulder with great effort and starts to carry him downstairs. Before leaving, David a little out of breath says, Spencer is right, you know. She was magic on the street, Jack.

Hearing them talk about her is a little intoxicating and she knows she has them on lock. The constant wind blowing makes her hands cold but she doesn’t show her discomfort. Sarah watches David stagger and disappear downstairs with Spencer on his back and she finally sees him as a strange gentle creature, someone out of place, a soft dude among hard men.

How is he even part of this crew, she asks?

Brian, slowly and greatly dazed, follows suit and says, I’ll be downstairs.

No shit, she says, not moving from where she is. Brian waddles off with his slouched gun.

The other men are gone and Sarah can hear the door downstairs click closed. The roof floor creaks as though about to cave in and Jack, the man in the gray suit, finally acknowledges Sarah and walks closer.

You passed the test, Jack says. His large tattooed hands grip her shoulders and he shakes her. You passed the test. If you didn’t, I would have shot you tonight.

Sarah doesn’t blink and chews her lower lip in the wind. She says, I made record time, and it wasn’t even fucking funny.

With his grip getting tighter, Sarah leans in as though about to smell Jack’s jaw

41  ·    ·  



line. He smells like Texas BBQ and she can see the dragon tattoo wrapping around his neck to his ear lobe, a kiwi spiked in each dragon claw.

Your boys are B minus, she says. I got the job done, I made the job shine. It wasn’t even fucking funny.

Sarah leans back and looks around her and enjoys the views. There really is just beautiful forest everywhere all around them, no other houses, and no more people. Lush tree branches sway and sway and she feels surrounded.

He lets go, wiping a little BBQ sauce from his lips with the sleeve of his suit. I’m impressed, he says. You’ve done a lot to get here.

I like it here, Sarah says, smelling the BBQ again. At the edge of the roof, she spies the smoking grill.

Jack, taking off his blazer, walks closer to Sarah, blocking her view of the BBQ.

You like it here?

Yeah.

Why do you like it here?

I wanted to get you alone here.

You know, making love on a king size bed is different from a twin, he says. Again, Jack grips her shoulders and tilts his head, pupils dilated. Actually, there’s one last test, he says. It’s a special test. His fingers move from her shoulders to collarbone.

42  ·    ·  



Sarah says, You know, you’re getting harder and harder to resist. Sarah leans in, and grabs his collar to bring him closer to her face and she openly smells him in the cold wind. Completely animated and invested, Sarah breathes in through her nostrils with all her force and might as though her life depended on it, taking in all the air she can which horrifies Jack. Waves and waves of confusion rise to his face. She keeps smelling him.

Kiss, Sarah asks?

Sarah leans in and sticks her skinny shiny dagger through his chin, his mouth, and his nasal cavity: squish.

Do you not recognize me? I hope you recognize me, Sarah asks, shaking while speaking. I’m flying out of here tonight to go after your brother next. His eyes fill with adrenaline and freeze open. His dead face touches her face and she pulls out the dagger. Jack falls backwards into the smoking grill, and hot coals and embers spill in all directions, some flung from the roof into the cold air like sad rockets.

A perfect drumstick remains on the grill, and it’s smoking there on the floor like nothing has happened.

Sarah picks it off the grill off the ground and takes a bite. Although she blows on it, she still burns the inside of her mouth a little bit, but it’s all so worth it. Her feet is surrounded by scattered BBQ meat, broken glass, and burning embers. She devours the delicious chicken skin and wipes her mouth with the back of her hand still holding the bloody dagger.

43  ·    ·  



You can mail a knife in the mail, she thinks, even a bloody one, and the postal service worker behind the counter won’t even miss a beat nor bat an eye. You can’t mail food if you tried but you can mail a bloody knife. The sun crawls from one night into the next. Sarah throws a stone far overhead to see the black lake swallow it up in deep ripples.

She slips away in the dark down the pipes, takes the car, and leaves the gang stranded there in the woods. The highway expands into four then six lanes with the woods and glowing streetlamps on both sides.

Nothing is stress. All is good in the terrible world.

Sarah parks under a freeway overpass a mile away from the exit and walks the rest of the way to the airport along the highway. The duffel bags on her shoulders look too much and she smells like raw meat and cheap beer. Tired from the evening, her legs and knees ache and burn. Cars speed on the highway roaring next to her.

She takes out her phone and sends a poem in a text message walking in the dark:

When we
kiss, the
smallest bones
in my
body amplify
and I hum
all over
I fucking
savage through

44  ·    ·  



days.
I’m coming
home soon
My dear
sweet tired
universe.

She receives a text message back, right when she gets to the gate, when she shows her passport to the person. Her phone vibrates and glows:

I miss you.
Can you please bring home some toilet paper Diet Coke and vodka on your way here?
I haven’t left my apartment since you’ve been gone.




Richard Chiem is the author of You Private Person, a collection of short stories published by Scrambler Books in 2012 and re-released by Sorry House Classics in 2017, and the novel King of Joy. His work has appeared in City Arts Magazine, Fanzine, and Everyday Genius, among other places. An excerpt from his novel, King of Joy, was adapted into a short play by the Satori Group in Seattle in 2014.

45  ·    ·  



Whitey’s on TRAPPIST-I
Azura Tyabji

inspired by Gil Scott Heron

one.
Another black woman
has crumbled to take a bullet in record time again
there is no spaceship named after her
we forget she had a name outside of bulk order eulogy
meanwhile
Whitey is 40 light years away
making history in the way white men
love to be the fist to tame something that is content with being left alone

Whitey has dreams of more heroic adventures
than his name being remembered after his funeral

two.
Ben Keita is lynched in Lake Stevens
and Whitey is 40 light years away
He’s terraformed his new planet by now, living the fantasy of growing trees unhaunted by a black boy’s neck
all the fruit that hangs here is cruelty-free
history too heavy to ship
So Whitey left it behind

46  ·    ·  



three.
The families of all the Black kids gone too soon
turn their faces in the pictures towards the wall as Whitey lives a new slate
One step for mankind, but we’re stuck ⅗ of the way
So why applaud a white man for doing what he does best? Gaslighting our trauma to fuel his spaceships/industry?

four.
The Keystone XL Pipeline starts running and Whitey is 40 light years away
He has discovered unfrozen water
Puts his feet in a lake as compliant as a mirror
The long drink goes down easy, but starts to blister his throat with lead and oil
Rashes bloom angry with nostalgia on his skin and he thinks he’s learned what it is like to starve
to have a planet set against you
Reach into a well and lure only up betrayal

five.
Whitey is dissolving in lead and don’t this feel familiar?
He is on some other hero’s leftovers
This planet too, has nothing left to give.

six.
Meanwhile back on Earth
America’s crumbled under its weight
History too heavy for the flag to fly straight anywhere but a funeral
We have decades of mourning and centuries of healing.

47  ·    ·  



seven.
Whitey returns to Earth thirsty for forgiveness and we turn his ass away
We don’t need him no more and we be damned if we let him appropriate this joy
In our renewed Earth
we have forgotten the language for “thank you, officer”
We have dissolved his borders, broken his prisons, and blocked his revolving door of oppressors
Here the water is GOOD again
In it we have baptized our families with names more fitting than criminal
We’ve renamed our constellations after our dead, for they deserve the heaven you kept from them
Here, every brown kid is a star worth wishing on and every black girl is a sun so bright she can never go missing
And Whitey asks how much a ticket back to Earth cost

And we say we don’t need your money no more
We’ve burned it all for warmth, but mostly for fun
We ask “what are you willing to give back?” instead

We are the reparations at the center of the universe
And Whitey
Is 40 light years away


Azura Tyabji is a poet born and raised in Seattle, Washington. Brought up through Youth Speaks, she was the 2016 Youth Speaks Grand Slam champion and has competed in Brave New Voices, since then performing at stages from protest rallies to Town Hall. She continues to write to heal, inspire, and invoke a future without injustice.

48  ·    ·  



Me, Undecided
Amber Krieger

Underpants! says the text. We’re not supposed to have our phones out during deliberations, but we’re just voting now—again—so I risk it. I’ve been hearing the vibrations in my bag for the last half hour. I hold my phone under the table, looking down with just my eyes, like a kid using a cheat sheet. I’m not obvious at all.
There are eight texts, all from Frankie. I scroll back and read them in order.
Where R nail clippers?
Nvr mind
Can’t find Elephant Elephant
Have u seen elephant elephant
Could she be at school
Nvr mind
Someones wild
Underpants!

This last means our almost five-year-old, Eliza, has finally given up her beloved pull-ups. It figures that it’s happening tonight, on my first ever night away from her. After four days of commuting downtown, I’ve decided to stay in a hotel closer to the courthouse. I’m glad for this, especially now that the judge has ordered us to stay late and try to come to an agreement. But it’s not just that. This case has been disturbing and I was having trouble switching gears when I got home.
On the first night, Frankie couldn’t believe I wouldn’t talk about it.
“It’s against the rules,” I said.
“They don’t mean your husband,” he said.
It was dinner and we talked in snippets, under the sounds of salad tongs

49  ·    ·  



scraping glass, while Eliza pushed food around her plate.
“You’re the only one,” he said. “The others are all talking about it.”
He was probably right, but I’m a born rule follower, and instructions from judges are right up there with airline safety regulations and how to prepare plastics for recycling. If the others were talking to their partners, it’s not the only way we’re different. Among the list of charges we’re considering—intimidation, unlawful sexual penetration, assault—the prosecutor has included attempted murder. The intent to kill. It’s this last that we’re debating now and so far, nine in our group are for the prosecution, two are for the defense, and then there’s me: undecided.
Not that I’ve told them that. The last time we voted, I wrote GUILTY because I figured I would get there eventually. I should. It’s how I land on the other charges. Plus, I’m female, educated, liberal. A parent. It’s this last part that’s my downfall.
The victim is a fifteen-year-old boy. The accused is also a fifteen-year-old boy. Looking at these two boys at their two tables with their two legal teams, I could barely tell them apart. Both thin and long, good candidates for the cross-country team. Both victims of some unfortunate acne, one with a crusty looking volcano perched on his nose, the other with a string of scabs along one jawbone. From my seat in the jury box, first row, second from the right, I thought these were the first stragglings of a beard. It wasn’t until he sat in front of me to give his testimony that I saw them for what they were. It made me like him a little better, this thing over which he had no control.
But neither boy is very likeable. They sat straight in their chairs, one with his fleshy lips set hard together, the other with his mouth slightly open, which made him look a little sleepy, or a little dumb. They stared straight forward almost all the time, never looking our way, as if we weren’t even there, we whom they should have been wooing with their shy smiles or heartbreaking fear.
They gave themselves away though, in the little things. Like when the

50  ·    ·  



victim stood to approach the witness stand and caught the corner of his hip on the table. He staggered a little and two bright red splotches flared up in his cheeks and his eyes cut over to us for a second. I thought I saw desperation there but then he stuck his chin out and sauntered to the stand like nothing had happened. If only that red, that need, had come during his testimony. Instead, he was defensive, sullen and utterly unconvincing. He couldn’t remember many specific facts about the incident. His description of the attack itself sounded canned, like something he’d read in a book.
“They have to prep them,” said Carla, a spunky twenty-something, when one of the pro-accused made the same objection. Carla made up her mind as soon as she heard what the crime was; it was simply too awful to doubt. “His lawyer has probably gone over this with him a hundred times, they have to with someone so young,” she said. “That’s why it sounded weird.”
Even Carla knows it was weird. Unsettling. I’m sure she’s right about the prep, but still, the posturing, the rehearsed lines, the way they worked so hard not to look at each other, made it feel like these boys were as unsure about what happened as we are. Carla is eager to protect the unprotected. When I was her age, I was just the same way. I still am. It’s just that my definition of the unprotected has changed.


One of these boys is accused of bullying the other because he is gay. It started, as these things often do, with rumors. The witnesses—teachers and students—had all heard them, but no one could say where they came from. They darted about school like poltergeists, gaining strength with each knowing look, each exaggerated swish of hips or flop of wrist when he passed, until they were able to manifest as objects. Tiny digs etched into a bathroom stall. A pair of girls’ panties planted in his stack of clothes in the locker room, so they’d slip out in front of the

51  ·    ·  



other boys when they dressed after P.E.
Who’s to say, speculated the defense attorney with a choreographed wave of her hand, that these things even came from the same person? She was desperate to spread around the blame. But the rumors, the small acts, are not what matter. It’s what came next. Hatred shaped by fifteen-year-old hands. A headless bird in a Barbie princess dress strung up in his locker. Shit smeared on the seat of his bike. And then, the reason we are here, an attack in a wooded area on his way home from school. The accused allegedly beat and then sodomized him with what may have been the butt of a gun, then held the probably-gun to his head and threatened to shoot.
Simply too awful to doubt.
But.
“Saying you’re going to shoot someone is not the same as shooting them,” I said on our second day at the table. Mike, the pensioner, the NRA man, who spent the first thirty minutes of our deliberation ranting about the “sickening” things “these faggots” do, nodded vigorously and then fell back into his stupor. I’ve never seen such a stone face, the features absolutely still, even when spewing the most vile ideas. I wanted to hate Mike, but then I saw him wipe his sweating palms on his cheap polyester slacks, old man slacks, with a roomy enough rear to fit an incontinence diaper, and I started thinking about him wetting himself in the jury box and then sitting with it while the flustered first-time prosecutor gave the victim yet one more chance to be likeable—smelling himself, regretting that second cup of coffee, wondering how long until the next break—and I got a sinking feeling in my heart. How can you hate an old man in diapers?
The woman with the vest, Mel, the know it all, the wannabe lawyer, said, “When you put a gun to someone’s head and say you’re going to shoot, you’re very likely to shoot.”
“But he didn’t,” I said. It’s the thing I keep coming back to. While the

52  ·    ·  



others seem firmly lodged in their camps of he did or he didn’t, I am spiraling over how much and why.
“He got scared off,” Mel said.
“We don’t know that,” I said. “Maybe he only meant to scare him.” Maybe he was jacked up on adrenaline and was as surprised as anyone when he saw the barrel of the gun pushing up that fuzzy hair, resting against that milky skin, set there by his own hand. Maybe that was the thing that made him back him off, run away.
“We don’t even know if the attacker had the gun with him,” said Mimi, the pregnant lady. Mimi who was supposed to be a shoo-in for the prosecution, with her huge belly and her hormones and her three other kids at home, including a son who’s been bullied. I’d wondered why the defense let her through, but now I know. She’s a raving nut. After her son was bullied, her husband beat the shit out of him for being the kind of pansy who gets bullied, while she stood by. “It makes me so sick,” she said, on the first day of the case, “the way this government is always interfering in people’s personal lives.”
It was hard to admit it, but Mimi was right about the gun. The police found it properly stored in the defendant’s parents’ gun-case. We’d all looked at it in the courtroom, and most of us had latched onto its presence at the attack as a fact, solid in our minds, evidence of intent to do more than a little harm. But like so much else in this case, whether it was even there that day is something we’ll never know.


“Pass in your votes on attempted murder,” Sam says and I text a quick smiley to Frankie and slip my phone back into my purse. Sam’s a frat boy/business major/project manager/get-it-done kind of guy who jumped at the chance to be foreman. This is our third time with the secret ballots, a process that is very

53  ·    ·  



important to Sam, even though everyone knows who has been voting how. We slide our folded scraps of paper across the table.
“All in?” Sam asks.
Mimi holds up a hand. Her paper lies open in front of her, but she does not appear to be struggling with her vote. She is simply waiting until she finishes her muffin. I am as fascinated by Mimi as I am repulsed: a small woman with chin-length hair that moves as a unit when she turns her head, settled into her chair in the same way she’s settled into her ideas. I wonder what it’s like to go through life like that, with your convictions drawn out in front of you in a sharp black line. Between her and Mike, it seems pretty hopeless that we’ll ever come to a consensus.
She dabs the crumbs from her lipstick, writes her verdict in careful cursive, and passes it to Sam. He mixes it in with the rest and then opens them into two columns in front of him. When they’ve all been arranged, he winces like he’s been poked in the side.
“Same,” he says.
The others grumble about yet another day, and at first I think that’s all it is. Then I get it. What’s really bothering Sam. We’re still ten for the prosecution and two for the defense, but he can tell from our handwriting that our makeup has changed. Last time I wrote down GUILTY but this time I wrote down NOT. And that means that either Mike the NRA guy or Mimi the libertarian has also switched sides.


We break soon after that and I go back to my hotel room. It’s thrilling to be away from my family. I take a long, hot shower and get into bed with the remote and flip through the most promising hundred channels. Friends reruns. A whole channel devoted to Law & Order. I stop on a man with a mic, asking people on

54  ·    ·  



the street about Obamacare. Over and over, people make fools of themselves on camera, bashing the president’s health plan as un-American and socialist and then singing the glories of it under its official name. “I prefer the Affordable Care Act,” one man says. “It’s more affordable.” He looks like he can’t believe the idiocy of the interviewer. “Just the name says it all.” It feels good to laugh at these people, to believe that this moment of on-camera ignorance separates me from them.
Frankie calls at 10:00, right before he goes to bed.
“Eliza did the finger gun again,” he says.
Our newest trial. If she were a boy, maybe it would be different, boys will be boys, but she is a girl and not even five, so when she makes her thumb and forefinger into a gun shape, it must mean something. Now half the parents in her class think we are the NRA folks, the right-wing nuts. The first time it happened, I didn’t even notice. We were on the school playground and what caught my eye was the look on another mom’s face, her jaw falling open in classic disbelief. What’s making her do that? I wondered. I followed her eyes to where my daughter was playing by herself, pointing her “gun” up into the sky and twirling.
I didn’t think much of it then but the next day the Volvo moms ganged up on me. I call them that both because that’s what they drive and because of the way they always want to put lines around things, to square off the messy edges of life. “We don’t let the kids watch any TV,” said the one who was pretending to be my friend. “It makes it a little harder to cook dinner, but we have to put their well-being first, right?”
Frankie and I have decided to not say anything to Eliza about the finger gun. We don’t see what good calling attention to it will do. But still, we report on sightings. This is the fourth time this week. If anything, it’s becoming more frequent. After we hang up, I flip over to an I Love Lucy marathon. I watch as, over and over, Lucy and Ethel’s schemes go hilariously awry and then the world rights itself again, all in concise thirty-minute blocks. I fall asleep during a

55  ·    ·  



particularly convoluted episode in which the Ricardos and the Mertzes are plotting to kidnap the neighbors who they think are plotting to kill them. There are so many layers of misconception and deceit, I can’t parse what is actually happening. I sleep restlessly and dream of jurors held hostage by housewives with finger guns.


My TV binge has made me feel hungover, but it’s not just me. Everyone arrives looking haggard. I take my usual seat, keep my eyes on the croissant I bought in the hotel lobby. The buttery flakes cling to my fingers and lips and the table.
Sam comes in with an urgency to his stride. “I don’t know about you, but I did a lot of thinking last night,” he says. “Let’s take another vote.”
“Enough of the secret ballots,” says Mel. “We need to know who’s voting no and why so we can talk this through.” People are nodding.
Sam gets that poked in the gut look again. He’s clearly uncomfortable with this idea. Maybe he knows that talking doesn’t always change your mind, it just wears you down. Maybe he has had endless debates with his partner, and then the Volvo moms, and then his partner again, about finger guns.
“Okay,” he says. “Let’s go around and state how you vote and what piece of evidence or testimony convinced you. Sound good?” People nod again. “Fine. I’ll go first.” Ever the leader. I admire how quickly he regains his composure. “On attempted murder, I find him guilty,” he says. “His parents own a gun and he had access to it. Even his teachers say he’s a bully, and that gym teacher who said he had it out for the victim—I believed him.”
Yes, the teachers were believable. The parents, devastated, all of them, were believable. Clueless, but believable. But where is the evidence? The beyond a reasonable doubt? The victim doesn’t know for sure if there was a gun. Even the doctor’s report is inconclusive. He didn’t go in for four days, when his mother

56  ·    ·  



discovered blood in his urine and forced him to reveal the bruises that purpled his torso like paintball splats. There was no question he’d been beaten, but by that time, the expert explained apologetically, the appearance of his rectum—noticeably swollen, with micro tears—could have been the result of “consensual anal play with a hard object” from up to a week before.
We go around the table clockwise, guilty guilty guilty, he was mean, he has no alibi, his family has a gun.
Simply too awful to doubt.
“I find him guilty, too,” Mike says. We all stare at that wall face. “It’s simple. If I had a gun and that faggot was near me, I’d do the same damn thing.”
Sam cringes, Carla opens her mouth and closes it again. Mimi, her pink-nailed fingers clasped around her belly, nods like it’s a fair assessment. People like that shouldn’t have babies, Frankie would say.
“I don’t think he should go to jail for it,” Mike adds. “But the law’s the law.”
Mel says, “So who doesn’t find him guilty?”
Mimi reaches into her purse, comes up with a banana, digs a fingernail into the non-stem end. “I think the attack was random,” she says. “Not related to the other stuff.”
Mel holds up a hand before anyone can protest. “And, who’s the other one?” she says.
There are only a few of us left to speak and the eyes go back and forth between our faces. I wish that we had stuck with the private ballots, that I could have kept my turmoil a secret, figured this out on my own. I wish I had just written down GUILTY. I should get there, eventually.
“It’s me,” I finally say.
“And do you think the attack was unrelated to the bullying?” Carla says. She can’t keep the derision out of her voice.

57  ·    ·  



“No,” I say. “Of course they’re related.”
“But then—,” Sam says.
“If we set him loose, he’s going to kill that kid,” Carla says.
“I don’t think so,” I say. “I don’t know. Maybe.”
“Could you live with it if he does?”
Of course not. But.
“He beat him up in the hall, just the week before.”
Yes, but.
“Everyone says he had it out for him.”
“His family owns that gun.”
“How can you possibly—?”
I wish I had a neat answer for these people, my so-called peers. I wish there were a piece of evidence, a line of testimony, something concrete I could point to as the basis for my vote. But the fact is, I am checking off all the same boxes as they are and coming to not at all the same conclusion. The path from intimidation to assault seems clear, but after that it becomes murky. Must this kind of hate always lead to the desire to kill? Are we really that simple?
“What is the sentence for these crimes?” I say.
“We’re not supposed to weigh that,” Sam says.
“But what is it? If we convict on all four? Five years? Ten? He’s a teenager.”
“Twenty-four years,” says Mel. “Give or take some months.”
We are all silent. What can we say? Even Carla is shocked. Whichever way we decide, if we are wrong, one of these boys could lose his life.
I close my eyes and try to see what Mike sees. A boy in the woods, full of hate, a boy with a plan. But as he gets closer to the crime, I no longer see him from the outside. I am inside him. I see the victim in front of me. My heart is pounding. My hand moves, raises a gun. Ugly words swirl in my brain, come out

58  ·    ·  



of my mouth. But I am not confident. I am scared. I am confused. How did I get here?
I have doubt. I have so much doubt.


It’s getting late and we’re not getting any closer. They tell us to take a break. I walk down the hall to the women’s room, which is oddly palatial, like something out of an old department store. There’s a separate outer room with a sit-down counter and a long mirror on one side, and a wide chaise longue on the other. I’m thinking I might lie down in there for a bit, but when I open the door, I see someone else has had the same idea. The lights are off and the daylight through the tall windows is waning, but it’s easy to recognize Mimi’s pregnant form.
“You can come in,” she says softly. “There’s room.”
I sit on the edge and take off my shoes and then lie on my back with only a couple of inches between us. Her breath is shallow, a little labored, punctuated every few minutes by a sharp intake, a little gasp. After a few minutes of this, I turn to look at her and she nods.
“How long?” I ask.
“It’s been building since this morning,” she says. “The last two were just the same.” That little gasp, her eyes moving involuntarily away until it’s over. “I figure I’ve got about four more hours before I need to go in.”
“We’re not going to be done in four hours,” I say.
“I know.”
“Why don’t you say something?” I ask, but what I really mean is why don’t you change your vote? Why don’t you convince me to change mine? It would be so easy for us all to go home.
She doesn’t answer. She is totally inside herself. Tomorrow there will be peace and joy and sore nipples and a tiny reaching blank slate.

59  ·    ·  



I picture Eliza as I first saw her, pulsing, magnificent, covered with vernix. And now: with her pull-ups laid to rest and her finger-gun under her pillow.
These creatures we bring into the world. How they will hurt and who will protect them and what they will do and will they be right or wrong.
We lie face to face. Mimi’s breath is warm in the space between us. I can smell her conviction and the turkey sandwich she ate for lunch. When the next contraction comes, I give her my hands and she squeezes.












Amber Krieger’s short fiction has appeared in Nailed, Juked, B O D Y, Carve Magazine, and elsewhere. She is a 2017 Oregon Literary Fellowship recipient (under the name Amber Keller). When not writing, she can often be seen riding around Portland with her seven-year-old on a very large bicycle.

60  ·    ·  



The Survivor’s Guide to Kerouac Country
Kate Lebo

Around midnight in a remote corner of the Pacific Northwest, on the very first night of my very first book tour, a man breaks into our cabin. Jessica, my best friend and my book’s illustrator, opens the front door to tell the person who’s been knocking that we aren’t accepting visitors, but he’s already climbing up to the second floor. Through the dining room’s picture window, we watch his boot, his leg, a flap of fabric in the porch light. We watch it disappear.
“He’s on your balcony,” Jess says. “He’s in your room.”
She’s narrating the sounds I am too deaf and scared to hear. I have upended my beer into the sink so it won’t spill when I smash the bottle over his head and stab him in the heart.
“Hello?” Jess shouts. “Hello?”
Bootprints to the stairs.
“We can hear you up there,” she says. “You’d better come the fuck down.”
“Cassady is the cowboy crashing,” wrote Gary Snyder about the real life inspiration for Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.
That is the only thing about the book I can stand.
I’ve been telling myself a story about the road, being on it, having a body, learning to be a cowboy, or pose like one. Like I’m writing my own song. What I learned from my boyfriends, the professional musicians and professional drunks, is what they learned from Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings: musicians are cowboys and tour is a long party that ends by burning your house down. “Turn out the lights, the party’s over. They say that all good things must end,” Willie

61  ·    ·  



sings, contrite but not asking forgiveness. “Low down freedom, you done cost me everything I’ll ever lose,” croons Waylon in the only “travelin’ on” song that makes me believe he wants to stay.
Willie and Waylon’s road songs need a woman in the bed sleeping quietly, never knowing. They need a man who thinks she’s one more thing he’s going to leave behind. I am retelling their story, fitting it to my figure by changing the roles. The book I wrote at my kitchen table is now the vehicle that drives me through the country making friends and crushes and leaving them immediately, spending my small press’s money on steak and gasoline, sharing a bed with no one but Jess, allowing me to think, with the clichés and blessings of old Americana, that distance is a mentor and each new mile can teach me how to be free.
For a week in Austin I wake in twelve-square feet of a room stacked with building materials, cabinets, sinks. I stud these surfaces with earrings, makeup, bras, books, the cowboy hat I “can’t call a cowboy hat” while I wear it in Texas. Coral, cotton, paper, and felt arranged neatly, as if I’ve always lived in plywood. During the day, my hosts chip plaster from walls, peel scrimcloth and strip nails from wood. It’s the nails I hear most, metal unpeeling. Which is also the sound of my hangover.
In Northampton, after obsessively rooting through every apple bin at the co-op (“I’ve never seen anyone get so excited about apples” my host says), we’re driving back home with pie ingredients and dinner and confessing the worst things that have happened to us this past year. We exchange pain and jokes with quick intimacy that makes me think, already, I need to be careful with this guy. Suicides in both our years. We hit a lump on the road. “I think that was an animal,” I say. He looks horrified. He keeps driving. “I think it was already dead,” I say.

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In Missoula, I have a cold. Jessica buys medicine from the gas station (“Bring me the kind you can make meth out of,” I plead), plus two tubs of ice cream, a brownie. We layer brownie and mocha almond fudge to the rims of paper hotel cups and watch Footloose. Cheap sugar gives me a sore throat, a too-many-Ho-Hos sort of scratchiness. I text stills of the movie to my crush across the country, substituting Kevin Bacon’s face for what I mean to say, I wish you were here, because I only half mean that. Jess is on the bed next to me, making my longing bearable. Making it fun. She giggles and flirts with her own long distance dude, our texts to these men coded with jokes that say the same thing over and over: I’m here, you’re there, I’m here, you’re there. My crush says he’s watching the movie too, he’s right outside. I text him a photo of our empty hallway. Funny, he writes. I was sure I was there.
In Kerouac’s story, this happened, then that, then this. Points in time connected by the speed with which we move from one sentence to the next, the plot just a pileup of happenings. He writes, “We got to the house where the waitress sisters lived. The one for me was still working; the sister that Dean wanted was in. We sat down on her couch… Bottles rolled on the floor. Three o’clock came. Dean rushed off for his hour of reverie with Camille. He was back on time. The other sister showed up.”
Time is measured in sexual plunder, the “hour of reverie” pursued and attained. Time is “Camille” (the woman and moment returned to, recurring), “the other sister” (the discrete point, a woman never met again). Bottles rolled. The depravity of Kerouac’s characters is heroic. They hunt transcendence by moving through the country, extracting its resources—women, booze, gas, drugs, free rooms, hustled food. Like locusts. Fucking around, building nothing, leaving

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nothing but “empty bottles and broken hearts,” as Gram Parsons might sing it. A lyric where the men, not the women, are the bottles. Where the men have the broken hearts.
I feel closest to understanding why people love On the Road when my friend sidles his pickup to the curb of the house where I’m staying in central Austin. “Oh hello again,” we joke. This has happened every night I am in town, this moment of climbing into his truck and saying hello again, comfortably collapsing the week into a windshield greeting before we drive off to one of ten-thousand rooms in this music-obsessed city where a body can master time with liquor.
We’re on the same team, us two. All we have to do to win is keep the party going. Never turn out the lights.
Later, on a day I’m home, I text my friend that I’m writing this essay and he responds, Make me three inches taller and 20 pounds lighter.
You got it, I text. As if this story wasn’t already a tall tale.
On a well-lit Seattle street the day before my book release party, I park on the curb outside Elliott Bay Book Company and cross the street to get a taco with a friend. When I come back, alone, there is a man inside my car. He’s shoveling through my dresses and food. “Who the fuck are you! Why the fuck are you in my car!” I punch the hatch-back window, pound around to the passenger door that he must have crawled in through, making the biggest noise I can on this suddenly empty street, making my fists huge with it. When he steps to the curb from his kneeling position in the backseat, I grab the bag in his hands.
“That’s my bag,” he says.
It’s his bag. I shove it back to him. On his head, a stocking cap with a snowflake pattern. On his back, a big puffy coat.

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The police will ask me if the bag felt heavy, clunky at all. “Like there were weapons in it?”
No. Full of clothes, I think. Wordlessly, the man takes his bag and saunters toward the park. Crowds return to the street. There, in the window of the bookstore, my book. Do I need help? What would I say? There was a man in my car. He didn’t take anything.
“You know you wouldn’t be able to do what you’re doing if you had these guys,” says my oldest friend. Her sons are three and one. When we have dinner, she keeps the youngest from screaming while her husband keeps the eldest entertained and fed. They look like they’re working, like they haven’t had time to talk to each other today, like this is a normal day. Against their patient ministrations, my talk sounds like chatter. “You’ll have your time for all this,” my friend says. “Get out there while you can.”
Sometimes while you can makes home sound like a disability. Sometimes it sounds like my longing, Why not me? Why not now?
When people ask me where I live, I tell them I am homeless. I use the term lightly. I should use a different term. I’m a nomad, I tell some people. I’m a writer. I lost my house, I say. Gentrification happened to me.
I want sympathy. I want to feel safe. I want to explain why I’m not home in my little Seattle fishing village, which isn’t little anymore, which my friends and I helped make not-little before a new cycle of wealth kicked us out and welcomed people who could afford the new cute neighborhood. What am I trying to say when I explain how, while living in that old Boeing cottage, I couldn’t walk into a grocery store without clucking over a baby plant? That I bought peat pots of lemon verbena instead of clothing or art or shaving cream because growing things

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made me feel good about living alone? That I loved living alone? That I was miserable. I want to explain how strange it is to walk through a garden without mothering. My home is my body, some poem probably goes. No shit. To feel that way makes the road possible.
In a remote corner of the Pacific Northwest, in the minutes before a man will rig patio furniture into a ladder and climb into our cabin, Wayne’s World blares in the living room. Jess and I have settled in for a VHS night and high gravity beers. Rob Lowe is telling Wayne and Garth about the money he’s going to pay them. Then someone knocks on the front door.
We are in our pajamas, there is no cell reception, and we are drunk. We do not answer.
This isn’t even a discussion. The person who wants to visit our cabin in the remote corner of the Pacific Northwest needs to go away.
He knocks again. We see our spooked reflections in the bare front windows and make the same split-second decision: hide. Jess goes halfway up one staircase, I go halfway up the other.
I think, We should be together on this, so I army-crawl to her, keeping low, trying not to be seen. We creep up a back staircase to a room full of bedding and bath towels. The only possible weapon is a laundry rack. If he breaks in, I can swing it at his head. If he breaks in, I can smother him with linen.
“What are we doing?” Jess says. “We’re in a weak position. Let’s just answer the door.”
She walks to the front door, opens it. No one’s there. On the TV, Wayne is confessing his love to Tia Carrere. I turn it off. When I look back at Jess, I see a black boot in the front window behind her, climbing. Then silence. Footsteps.

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The floor above us creaks with him.
“We can hear you up there,” Jess yells. I grab my beer bottle, my weapon.
We hear him coming down the stairs.


We’d met him earlier that evening, this man who decided to climb the front of our house, open my balcony door, and walk in when we didn’t answer his knock. He’s got his hands up. We’re saying get out, get the fuck out. He’s saying sorry sorry sorry.
“I was ready to kill,” Jess says after we slam the door on him. “My mother made sure I knew how.”
My mother taught me to find safety in refusal: refuse to acknowledge, refuse to engage. Don’t speak to that man. Don’t answer the knock. “Girl training” is what I call it when we talk about it now.
Our would-be rapist/Romeo was in an anarchist band whose songs enjoyed heavy rotation on alternative radio when I was in middle school. Today they’re regarded as a one-hit wonder. “He probably thought it would be punk, climbing into someone’s house like that,” Jess says. “He probably thought we would be flattered.”
On future tour stops I go on YouTube to tell the story, load his band’s song, point him out in the ensemble and laugh my fear away. Can you imagine that guy climbing our house? Can you imagine that guy breaking in? “You should sell the story to Spin,” someone says, when they hear the band’s name. “You weren’t asking for it,” someone says when they hear the anxiety beneath the joke, the exhale of no harm done. Except this harm: he gave face to our fear. Our bodies are our homes and our homes can be broken into.

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When I first read Kerouac at 15, I wasn’t embarrassed. The classics were my inheritance, a kind of money I could spend in private while waiting for life to begin. At 31, back home in Portland, I hide the soft sea-foam spine between two used Auden books as I walk them to the front of the Powell’s Bookstore line, as if I’m buying tampons or porn for the first time, ashamed of this object and what it indicates about what I need. Even at 15, I knew the story wasn’t for me. I was a pious white girl and these characters sounded like the losers my friends kept losing their virginity to. Older boys who still lived with their parents, worked fast food or movie theaters or tried to become DJs, which seemed to me like a way of not working. A funny judgment now, when most mornings I wake late to the badly matched wallpaper of my childhood room.
Kerouac drafted On the Road over and over, unable to find a way into his story. Finally he tried writing absolutely everything down as he remembered it in the order it happened, as if he was telling it to the wife he’d leave as soon as he finished writing. In three weeks, he composed the first draft on a 120-foot roll of taped-together tracing paper.
The book’s immediate popularity is a sign of how well Kerouac’s story fed a particular longing in 1950s America. To be a “beat” was to have freedom from the responsibilities that accompany the privileges of being a white male, to pursue an “exalted exhaustion” that was, for Kerouac, related to a Catholic mysticism that gave the soul direct connection with God in heaven. To be a beat was to mainline everything that mattered (philosophy, sex, conversation, friendship) like a drug, with the assistance of drugs. To get drunk and laid and all worked up, to party yourself into wisdom, to laugh and cry and sleep in fits—to be, yourself, a fit—to resemble, on your best days, a demented child, a charming bum, a junkie professor, a high priest.
Kerouac’s story endures as an American classic. This, to me, is a sign that when we say freedom in this country we also mean we’ll fiercely protect the right

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to go where we please, to pass unimpeded across borders, to be ourselves an impassable border, the car a country unto itself, the road trip a kind of pirate’s journey or explorer’s quest. Photos and tweets and Facebook updates become a way of marking out private property within a landscape we conquer simply by passing through with a focused lens. Kerouac taught me that the road trip and the tour are a kind of conquering. That a traveller is a kind of king.
On a sunny morning in downtown Omaha, I miss a stop sign, accelerate through an intersection, and hit a silver sedan. There’s a moment just after impact when my feet aren’t my feet and the car idly rolls, brakeless, toward a curb. There’s a moment when I see the woman in the car I’m about to hit—how she’s braking with her whole body, her “shit!” expression—and from her expression I understand what I’m about to do. My head smacks the window with a crack that’s almost pleasant because it doesn’t hurt, not yet, just a tingle of blood above bone. When we come to a stop, we’re blocking the entrance to I-605. Cars zoom toward Des Moines on the freeway above us. My coffee has exploded over the center console, but not on me. We’re fine. We’re both fine. We get out of our cars. “Are you okay?” we ask. We are okay.
When the man broke into our cabin, I thought it was a fluke. Later, when I came back to my car with a man inside it, I thought, This is a pattern. Things come in threes. I could expect to be scared shitless one more time, then let off the hook. I kept my eye out for whatever was coming, but still I missed that stop sign.
In Omaha, I babble to the other woman about this theory, that maybe hitting her was the third thing. As further evidence of my idiocy leaves my mouth, I see her shrink to a character in my story. “It’s okay,” she says. “These

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things happen.” She’s talking about the accident, but I let her magnanimity expand into a bigger forgiveness, the one I need. I give her a copy of my book to say sorry, but I don’t sign it. That would be ridiculous. “Good luck on the rest of your tour,” she says, before stepping into the tow truck that will take her and her ruined car to the shop.
At the Mill City Museum in Minneapolis, while I wait to enter the Flour Tower, a paean to the flour industry that takes eight floors to complete, I think about my car accident. I can feel the impact glowering in my left hip and shoulder blade. I wonder how the woman I hit feels. If she, like me, is housing a system of pain that’s repaving the byways between her neck, shoulder, waist, and hip. I line the encounters up beside each other, a psychic mugshot of my tour: invaded, burgled, hit. Not asking for it, but the phrase still haunts.
What did I learn?
I am a king. I can protect myself.
The road to freedom is paved with people like me.
Forgive us our trespasses: a line of the Lord’s Prayer that Kerouac and I knew by heart before we could read.
Did that make us think our choices are countries we roam, borders we cross? That we could reject the church by rejecting the idea of trespassing—the fences of received morality, rules of proper place and behavior—and if we did that, we could turn trespassing into claiming?
My body is my home. My territory is wherever I travel. The traveller is a kind of king. But remember, Kate: Only a tyrant crowns herself.

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I had expected a third thing but not to be at fault for it.
I did not expect the fault to feel like relief.
For a time, it gives me an illusion of being in control—I did this, my fault, forgive me—even though it proves the opposite. “The road to hell is paved with people like you,” my religion teacher used to say. A joke to get our attention.
“You’re tired,” a friend says on one of my weeks back home. “Of course you are. Going on tour is like going on first dates for 60 days.”
On the road I cultivate my body the way I cultivated my yard, as protective ritual and fertility spell. This time with eyeshadow and jewels and clothing, with perfume and lotions, clouds of hair products. The custom of applying liquid blush to each cheekbone in two red stripes makes me feel like a warrior, painted, rubbing the blood back in. Supposedly, this blush was invented for strippers to pinch onto their nipples, to keep them pink. This thought is also part of my ritual. “Are you shopping for armor today?” my friend asks when he knows I’m on the hunt for a dress. The cowboy hat that I can’t call cowboy hat and a camel-colored coat with a pop-collar—walking in them down the street in San Francisco, in Manhattan, in Decorah, in Spokane, I feel armed. This is my body. Where will I put it? On a futon, in a seam of couch.
All tour I add to a notebook that starts with a quote from Kate Zambreno’s Heroines, where she’s writing about the birth of the Great Male Author. “He was milked and fed and cultivated and allowed. He was encouraged, and enabled, to

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become… That is how one writes. Slowness. Wait. And in the isolation of that room, a belief in oneself that could be construed as monstrous.” She’s writing about Flaubert, but this could just as easily describe Kerouac. Like Flaubert, he lived with his mother for a time. She worked a factory job while he stayed home writing. Becoming Kerouac.
I live with my mother too. While I’m allowed to write and tour and call that a job, I grow monstrous, sucking up all the air in the room, taking the attention, the resources. At every reading, in every town, wanting love love love.
On the Road is “a novel whose background is the recurrence of the pioneering instinct in American life and its expression in the migration of the present generation,” Kerouac wrote. He wanted readers to adore his sentences and ideas. They adored Dean Moriarty instead. Wanted Kerouac to be Dean, despite protests that Sal Paradise was his true avatar. The book’s literary ambitions were, like Sal, spun around by Dean’s version of freedom: desire answered by immediate movement. “He’ll leave you out in the cold any time it’s in his interest," says girlfriend Marylou as she watches Dean drive off again.
Readers made the author and his character into surrogates for their own longing. That’s not why On the Road has an audience. That’s why it has a huge audience. Kerouac spent the first part of his career struggling to write his classic. He spent the rest struggling to live it down.
In the paved wasteland that lies between my childhood home and the Columbia River, there’s a muffler shop with a bikini espresso bar in the parking lot. I go there when I finally drive a hole into my muffler. While I wait to be repaired, I watch coffee traffic. Inside the windowed hut a woman makes iced lattes in a pale

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bikini, her bandeau top a flash of white-on-tan that flickers with practiced movement. Cars crawl counter-clockwise around her, idling, waiting their turn. When she opens her window to take an order, I catch the spill of her cleavage from her swimsuit top and the high thin harmonica of Willie’s Nelson’s “On the Road Again.” She catches me watching, looks quickly away. Slips back into the darkness of her booth. I can barely see her. She’s barely there.
In a picture on the wall by the bar, the owner of this Austin honky tonk smiles with Dolly Parton. Her makeup is a Dolly mask, a face that’s equal parts image and skin. I see her bright eyes and ripe lips overdrawn on faces all around me on this night. They look great in photos, on the dark dance floor. A thin blond woman spinning in a vinyl dress, smokin’ hot, not like a movie star, but like a woman who’s used to twirling while you watch her. When we meet by accident later over the ladies’ room sink, she dazzles me with a smile. I can see foundation sink into expression lines that fan around her blue eyes. Eyeliner and blush and boobs that say, “Fuck time.”
“How ‘bout them cowgirls? Boys ain’t they somethin’? Sure are some proud girls,” sings George Straight. There’s a cardboard cutout of him leaning against the wall next to the band, where he can watch us all night while we dance. George gets it. To love Dolly Parton is to love her face and her facelifts.
Country songs tell me a woman’s body—my body—is a home. That’s why cowboys sing the blues. Why, as Jack Clement wrote, they like to “get hurt and all

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that bit. Let their hearts hang out so they can write you all a hit.”
“So ladies,” Waylon Jennings sings, “if they ask you, don’t refuse.”
Their road is a performance that’s equal parts presence and absence. It’s a promise they make for someone else to fulfill.
Monstrous. That’s what I called myself a minute ago because I took Dean Moriarty’s share; his bread and love, my portion under the sun. I trespassed in Kerouac Country and was punished. I trespassed in Kerouac Country and got away.
Jack Kerouac drank himself to death in 1969. When I went on the road he was too dead to stop me, not dead enough to let me pass unscathed, and so he gave me a frame for this story: invaded, burgled, hit. Risks I took because in 2013 they were the price of being a woman on tour, and I thought it was my turn to answer desire with movement, my turn to try and write everything down—if not as it happened, then as it started to make sense, a pattern of migration that let me fuck around beyond the borders of my previous life, on the road, unprotected and alive.
The day after we meet a man at our first author reception, and that evening meet him again when he breaks into our cabin, Jessica and I rock our first reading. He is at the festival, possibly watching from the crowd.
I wonder if his choices last night were part of a longer-running performance, one where artists forgive themselves their trespasses so they might make something happen—a pattern, a plot twist, an idea-bearing image, a chance to assert aesthetic and test power. I wonder if the meaning we make or find or steal from our trespassing can become a request for forgiveness, or a reason to forgive. If so, then art is a church where we engage the fraught encounter

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ecstatically, worshipfully, as if it can reshape us into higher beings, people with loud tongues, wild gestures, and a pulse the whole world can feel.


Later, the man pulls us aside to apologize again.
He is a writer. It is quite likely that we have friends in common, that we will see him again.
We call what happened a misunderstanding. It ends the conversation with a distribution of blame.
To Jess and me, the word misunderstanding comes naturally. It is not a just answer or a correct one, but it gives us a quick escape.
The next day, he requests our friendship on Facebook.
The next day, we get back on the road.









Kate Lebo is the author of Pie School and A Commonplace Book of Pie, and co-editor (with Samuel Ligon) of Pie & Whiskey, an anthology of writers under the influence of butter and booze. Her work has appeared in Best American Essays, Best New Poets, New England Review, Gettysburg Review, and Gastronomica, among other places. Her new book of nonfiction, The Book of Difficult Fruit, is forthcoming from Farrar, Straus & Giroux. She lives in Spokane, Washington.

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Fish Hook
Troy Osaki

November 21, 1945

As he departs the ship,
my grandfather propels his legs
like fins thrusting beneath him.

Hair like smooth scales adorning his skull.
Posture, the gentle curve of gills
as he absorbs coastline air.

Before anchoring to San Francisco docks
the United States promised
to liberate his homeland from Japanese occupation
as if feeding a mouthful of bait to bite on.

When the emperor surrendered
American military refused to withdraw.
Each base another fish hook
impaled into the Philippines’ throat.

His islands carefully lured back into colonization,
a bobbing decoy of independence
cast for his country to swallow.

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Soldiers tangled into the depths of shores
like a spool of copper line
as generations of Filipinos
were reeled in to be gutted of resources.

Their nation a butterfly fillet of flesh
carved of its backbone.

In the present day, I am taught how non-violence
is the appropriate response to oppression,
how collaborating with the elite
will guarantee my freedom
as if requesting to not be invaded
granted my ancestors safe passage from being displaced.

Populations of people uprooted from their homes
like captured prey from the Pacific.

America, migrants are not merchandise
you can stockpile like a fish market.

My grandfather’s body is not a disposable product
you can sell for profit.

Do not demand professionalism
when you continue to fish his lands for conquest.

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My blood is the surviving offspring of diaspora.
I will not plastic wrap myself in peaceful protest
for you to co-opt as progress.

Social movements are not wild animals you can domesticate.

I will not ask the system politely
to dismantle itself.

The ocean has always been armed resistance.
I will submerge the state beneath our tides
until it breaks under pressure
before I ever bow in obedience.




Troy Osaki is a Filipino Japanese American writer and performer. He is a Kundiman fellow and a Youth Speaks Seattle alum and mentor. He has competed in national competitions such as Brave New Voices, the College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational, and the National Poetry Slam. He earned his Juris Doctor degree at the Seattle University School of Law. He also organizes with Anakbayan, a youth and student movement working to address issues affecting Filipinos in the U.S. and the Philippines. Troy writes in hopes to build a safe and just place to live in by reimagining the world through poetry.

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About Moss

Moss is a journal of writing from the Pacific Northwest. Published three times a year online and once annually in print, Moss is dedicated to exploring the intersection of place and creative expression, while exposing the region’s outstanding writers to a broad audience of readers, critics, and publishers. Since its debut issue in the summer of 2014, Moss has received praise for its sharp design, strong editorial hand, and its commitment to supporting new and emerging writers.

Moss was founded by Connor Guy, an associate editor at a publishing house in New York City, and Alex Davis-Lawrence, a filmmaker and creative producer based in Los Angeles. Both were born and raised in Seattle.
Editors
Connor Guy
Alex Davis-Lawrence

Manager of Outreach
Amy Wilson
Contributing Editors
Sharma Shields
Michael Chin
M. Allen Cunningham
Elisabeth Sherman
Diana Xin
Dujie Tahat
Ashley Toliver
Special thanks is also due in this issue to Maddy Burton, for her help with events and special projects.

For further information on Moss, including our current call for submissions, our archive, subscriptions, our online store, and more, please return to our landing page. You can also sign up for our mailing list below.

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