Green Mountains Review is pleased to feature some work here by readers at the 2017 Waking Windows in Winooski, VT.
This year’s festival features, Emily Bernard, Nat Baldwin, Alexandria Hall, George Osol, Ian Robert Hemley, Sam Hughes, Meg Reynolds, Alison Prine, Robin McLean, Henry Finch, Lee TD, and Phillip Williams.
We kick off at noon at Scout & CO on the roundabout in Winooski. Come for the readings, stay for the music!
(originally published in BOAAT)
There was too much moon over the night in Middlebury
so I put a man’s face in front of it, and then I loved
that man. There was too much hair soaked in sweat
along the trails in Galicia, so I cut off my head
and put a man’s face in front of it, and then my love
poured out like water over a copper bust, or the rain
along the trails in Galicia, where I cut off my head
and kept walking. There were too many monuments
pouring water over their copper busts, a verdigris rain
on the fountain of the Hamburger Rathaus. Too much to remember
so I kept walking, learning the names of too many monuments.
I wanted to go home. I do remember
the Hygieia fountain at the Hamburger Rathaus. Remember
there were too many shadows and they changed too often.
Remember I wanted to go home,
which was a shadow, so I didn’t.
Ian Robert Hemley
i am a sycamore
as old and
as any tree in the forest.
as your friend, or
for protecting me
since i know
what all this coded environmental justice
you conserve me
only to serve your own ends.
my death would close
your pretty picture book
of democratic equality,
maybe even open
the final chapter
of malthusian tyranny.
i see now
how you need me,
a breath of fresh air,
how you need me
to love and reproduce
in your image.
so i won’t just
kindly thank you
or your government’s
whose budget is primarily devoted
to cutting new roads
for corporate logging.
i refuse to bend over backward
i refuse to curtsy
in the interest
of your patronizing protection.
you are little better than those
you protect me from,
those who would cut me down
just to burn me
out of blind fury,
stripping me of my identifying bark,
tossing me in a mass
with other bundles of sticks.
yes, sticks and stones may break
but i am old enough to know that words
words can cut the deepest,
tearing up my roots
severing my trunk
leaving my sap bleeding
but my soul untapped.
your principles of conservation
legitimize certain cuts
socially acceptable classifications
fire lines in the forest
erasing many of us,
but leaving enough upstanding
to ensure reproduction.
but you won’t protect me
from those who would cut me down
in the interest of
where children of two parent homes
would frolic freely
or from those who would cut me down
to fuel the campfires of boy scouts
or from those who would cut me down
to build beautiful altars and steeples
or from those who would cut me down
to build bigger ships
with more sailors
out on the open sea.
so don’t tell me
to say thank you.
don’t even politely ask.
my brothers and sisters,
on the outskirts of this forest
will still be cut down,
just the same:
the sickest, diseased trees
with the canker, the heart rot, the sooty mold
the overpopulated, invasive species,
the black locust, the dog strangling vine, the yellow cockspur
the trees that look too old,
the gray birch, the gray dogwood, the gray pine
the rarest, queerest trees
the black cherry, the slippery elm, the bitternut hickory
the incestuous, intertwined, inosculated trees
those young sprouts hugging us old trees
striped maples, yellow birches and eastern hemlocks
living in harmony,
they will all be cut down.
the trees that refuse to flower
the trees that refuse to cross-pollinate
the trees that refuse to drop acorns
the trees in border states
the trees that are forlorn
the trees that are lightning struck
the trees that provide no shelter from the storm
they will all be cut down.
the trees no one understands
the trees that no one needs
they will all be cut down.
i am an old tree.
i have lived in this great American forest my whole life,
so i remember how this all works.
the loggers will fall back
on the same tropes
that once hung bodies
from my limbs.
(Originally published in Hunger Mountain No.21)
I knew when the small plane I was riding in
touched down in the fog.
I knew watching my stepmother’s hands
work the rock garden behind the house.
I didn’t want the circle to close.
I couldn’t see myself in the dress, so shaven.
I knew because I loved to move through water –
the way it yielded
the way it took me in its mouth.
I knew watching our fox hound
when he slipped out of the leash –
how he tore after a scent down our shady street.
I just wanted to sleep in the wild strawberries
with my chopped off hair.
I climbed another mountain and spat on a boulder
because climbing a mountain means nothing. To fish
from the middle of the stream, fresh catch flailing
breathlessly on the shore, gasping frivolous moonlight,
their widened eyes confused: that is my percussion
of temptation, the drum I’d rather follow through the rain
heedlessly, giggling, mooing, etc. I am a freight train
whistling through a blizzard, dragging boulders
between monotonous cities. I am the percussion
heard crossing a river by bridge. Below, fish
gather in the shallows, mouthing Woah in the moonlight.
A boy fishing in a rowboat is having a seizure, flailing
in the floor of the boat. I am the boy. I am flailing,
knocking my head against starboard. Of course the rain
is shattered glass reflected in the moonlight.
Of course you’re safe here waiting on the boulder.
My name is in the belly of a fish.
And yours? Swelling a balloon of percussion?
This is where the air comes from, exactly what percussion
flutters my rolled eyes, gives my flailing
its certain quiet rhythm. I was impersonating a fish
out of water. I was putting you on. Doesn’t the rain
sound wonderful against the water? Come down from the boulder
and listen from the river. Step into your dress of light
already. The train is long gone, leaving us the moonlight
to watch as I give in to your percussion.
Isn’t there room on the boulder
for both of us? Our reflections are flailing
in the ripples of the steady rain.
We are filled with the very fish
gathered in the shallows, holding fish
congress. It’s not what you think. The moonlight
is wavered. The boulder is cool. The glass rain
traverses the bordering pines, hissing percussion
toward shore, and drums on a bluegill displaced and flailing
in the sand. Your hair is draped across the boulder,
but I am not the boulder. The fish continues flailing,
streaked with moonlight, thudding percussion under the rain.
(Originally appeared in The Salon)
About the time to write on you, I thought.
I never spoke aloud about the ways
we were unraveling. Of course, you’d say
I think too hard, but you were sleeping, draughts
exhaustion poured into your lungs and then
you threw your arms out, biting at the air.
I folded you back into place. I cared
your craning arm into your side. I bent
myself inside the space you made. So thin
this awkward origami—built with touch
and quiet as your acts of love. My faiths
in you are fragile, resting, barely drawing
breath, but large as ancestors. You waste
the time. The paper cannot bend enough.
(Originally published in Green Mountains Review)
“Fight on the roof!” A steel door slammed above.
Tommy clapped his hands. “Let’s go.” He jumped two steps at a time and Billy followed skipping three up the stairwell to the roof party.
The fight was more of a skirmish: two guys, one girl, someone’s dog. It was mostly played out by the time Tommy and Billy slammed through the door. The contestants were still chest-to-chest at the burn barrel.
Snow was falling on their jackets and hoods pulled up.
“Hey Tom,” people said and Tommy said, “Hey.”
“Be good,” their mother, Rose, had said a thousand times. She spoke loud in Polish to her seven boys and they all understood.
“Come on,” said Tommy to his little brother.
The fire in the barrel burned old kitchen chairs. People were breaking them up with a bat and their boots and other people were stuffing the chair parts in the flame.
“We should build a snowman or something,” someone said, but no one did.
There was snow on the TV. The extension cord was completely covered up until it appeared in the gap under the stairwell door and snaked away to some plug-in below. A La-Z-Boy collected snow on old leather. A girl with a blanket watched a sports channel, pitches in slow motion, a jockey tossed off his horse over and over, trampled over and over, commentary, golf scores. The stereo speakers thumped. The people stood in groups near the edge and swayed and drank and laughed in the green light of the hotel sign high across the street. Billy shifted his eyes just in time. Girls clustered, an amoeba, or a many-headed amoeba with smoke from its nostrils and slanty mouths. Or a dragon. The girls weren’t pretty. He’d thought they’d be pretty.
The pretty ones turned to check Tommy out. Billy was still just a kid. People and girls sat on the brick ledge swinging their legs over pedestrians four-floors down. Billy tied his laces. He zipped his coat to his chin. He breathed on his hands and made friends with the stairwell wall.
The card table was in the middle of the roof under a saggy beach umbrella. It was lit-up by a construction work lamp that someone had dragged up there. Buckets were turned over for seats. Tommy was looking over the players’ shoulders. Tommy wanted in the game but it was the last hand before intermission. The hermit crabs had arrived. The crab handler had a brown bag he held over his head. He circled the table. When the hand was over, he dumped ten crabs on the table by the potato chip pile. Some crabs balled up in the cold. The live ones were going everywhere on the table between the bottles and half-empty cups. The derby would begin momentarily.
“First one to the edge wins,” someone said.
Tommy put ten dollars down to buy in the derby. He picked up his crab, chugged his beer, and drew the starting line with cheese whiz. The crabs lined up. Tommy’s was medium-sized, built for speed, black and healthy looking.
Tommy said, “My crab will kick ass.”
He chugged a bottle that was near.
“He’s Billy Super Crab for my baby brother.”
A few people looked over at Billy on the wall. Billy liked peace. Billy was scrawny, fourteen and slim, but taller by the day, a rocket on the launch pad at T minus ten seconds.
“On your mark, get set…”
They were off in the first heat.
The flag over their building was only a block and a half away but M.I.A. in this snow. Billy closed his eyes and could see it anyway. The flag was the same year and model as Neil Armstrong’s moon flag. Same dye lot, same bolt of cotton. Their granddad’s company made the moon flag. When he died, he left Rose a stack of backups. The boys would divvy them up when she died. They were folded in plastic in the front room closet. Rose was conservative with replacements. She made repairs until there was no other option. But if too much city grime had caked the cloth, or if cracks had formed along the stripes, or if the field of blue began fading into the stars, Rose went to the closet. She shellacked the fresh flags on the fire escape for fumes. They dried on the grating in the sun until they stood straight out like zero gravity. When the flag was absent for repairs or replacements, the old neighbors yelled complaints.
“Billy, where the hell’s our god damn flag?”
“Sean, tell Rose to hurry-it-up with Neil Armstrong.”
Rose had the boys rig up a spotlight system for night-time viewing.
Billy could not see the moon either. The snow. The smoke billowed thick from the burn barrel and people’s liquored breath made him dizzy-headed. He would never see grandpa’s original. Hardly anyone got to go to the moon.
People gathered under the umbrella for the second heat. Billy Super Crab had won the first heat by better than five lengths, though three other crabs never even stuck a leg out to try. The money on the card table was divided with little controversy.
“Give it to me, baby,” said Tommy and he kissed his crab for luck which stirred the crowd.
“On your mark.”
Billy inched off his wall.
“Get set.” He stepped closer.
A boy might walk the ledge on his hands. A cartwheel. Billy inched closer to Tommy’s back. Billy stuffed his hands in his pockets and watched the racers go. When the race was won, he opened a beer for himself.
Billy Super Crab kept winning.
“He’s a natural athlete,” said Tommy.
“Mine was half dead when it got here,” said one of the losers. “I should get my money back.”
“Whine, whine. You got to want it. My guy wants it more.”
“Shut the fuck up.”
“I could tell it about my boy first thing I saw him. He’s serious,” said Tommy.
“Shut the fuck up,” said the loser.
“My little brother’s my rabbit’s foot.” Tommy nuggied Billy into the circle under the umbrella. “Fuck off all of you.”
Rose’s magic child was born at the beginning and end of the astrological calendar, her Sweet William. Future President of the USA, and bulletproof. Future baseball star, a left-batting righty, future badass of Wall Street. Future ball-buster, and rich. Horses and pull-tabs would obey him someday.
“Come on, baby, come on.”
Super Crab triumphed again.
“How old are you?” said one of the girls.
“Seventeen,” said Billy.
“You’re taller than your brother.”
“Your brother’s mouthy.”
Tommy ate pretzels like a bear. He belched and the girls laughed.
Billy Super Crab won the sixth race and the seventh. Someone turned the music off. Most contestants were in permanent hibernation, eaten by the dog, or lost in the snow with the dog digging. People were shivering. The beer was colder and they drank it fast. Only three crabs were still going strong. One guy offered a twenty for the Super Crab, but Tommy said, “Hell no.”
A half-pretty girl showed up and Tommy knew her. She leaned in like Queen of the Rooftop. She stood by Tommy.
In the next race, Billy Super Crab pulled away in the last six inches beating out a little orange speedster who came from nowhere.
“Super Crab, Super Crab, Super Crab.” They pounded the roof with their boots and threw peanuts at the third place finisher who had not moved from the starting line. He gazed at the chips like warm sand, but Billy knew dead eyes. He drank. He picked up Mr. Third Place, blew heat on him, and put him in his pocket. The sirens whined across town in a swirl of blue flash far away.
Rose made only boy children. She said she didn’t want girls since this world was a bad place for girls. Making boys was easy, she said, pound fast and hard for a minute and a half, and no more. It took five minutes at least to make a girl, and some pleasure. Billy’s dad slept on the couch in the front room. God had been nasty to Rose, she said, but it skips generations and a boy was a good thing to be: like the ending of a Sunday matinee, she said. Like the pilgrims in Technicolor starving for months and months then fine and saved when the Indians finally show up in loincloths. The big beautiful brown men enter from the edge of the big screen. Feathers and fancy leather. They have arms the size of Rose’s front door. The arms are looped around huge baskets of bread, and dried fish, and late red apples the size of this boy’s head. It is the camera angle. The enormous feast is set at the pilgrims’ table, grateful, THE END.
In the second feature, Martians pack for travel at low velocity. Back home is far, Rose said. The mission is not really over yet either, since part of the mission is just looking around, hovering. Meanwhile, over at the saloon, the black hat draws but the white hat is faster. The ladies swoon while townsfolk watch the last loop of the last reel.
Billy pulls off his shirt under the marquee. He stretches in the summer sun and yawns. He reconnoiters with his brothers at the corner and they cut down alleys, over fences, between buildings, then they pick up speed through the old bat’s yard just because they have all day. Since the old bat’s got her own patch of grass. Since the old bat doesn’t have to share. She stands in the window and hollers, “I’ll be calling Rose about this private property infraction!”
“You do that, lady!” Alan calls over his shoulder. “See what Rose says! Hope it’s in Polish!”
They stomp instead of walking. They clang chain links and kick cans instead of stomping. Pretty soon Teddy’s making up a song which doesn’t make sense but it’s funny as hell with every cuss word known harmonized with the seven: Paddy, Matty, Alan, each louder, Teddy, Sean, Tommy, and Billy the loudest since Billy is the loudest word in the English language.
Billy Super Crab was ready for the final. It will be sudden death against the only other crab still on its legs, a big pink-shelled bruiser twice Billy’s size. They were calling the challenger Pussy Crab for his losing record. Some guy was pissing on the ledge. The Queen of the Roof whispered something in Tommy’s ear. He tipped his head and slid his crab-cold hand up her shirt. She had no coat on.
“Super Crab, Super Crab, Super Crab.”
The racers were off fast. Pussy and Billy neck-and-neck. Billy was finally getting tired, he hesitated on his legs. His crab eyes shifted right to Pussy who saw his chance and surged. Then Billy collected himself. The crowd leaned in for the photo finish. Both crabs went over the edge but Tommy was on the spot. He scooped Billy from mid-air, held the champ overhead, and pumped his arms.
“Super Crab, Super Crab, Super Crab!”
Pussy bounced off. The dog barked.
Of course the race was under dispute. The construction lamp crashed over first. Then the table and everything on it. Tommy was after a big guy who was mad about everything and Super Crab went flying. The dog was running around and didn’t know who to bark at. Arms, fists, the usual, but the fight was green in the hotel sign that was extra dim from several missing letters and old bulbs too, while the crab was lost under all of this mess with only his ocean shell for protection. It had nothing to do with him. Hopefully he would tuck and hide, wait it out, what shells are for.
Billy the Boy crawled on the ground. He reached and swam and groped amongst bottles and bills, chips and heels, cards, cords, glass and thighs, and parts he wasn’t supposed to touch yet.
He called out, “Super Crab, Super Crab, come here, boy.”
Billy planned to be a huge man someday, six-foot-ten and three hundred pounds of pure, good, unadulterated Bill. He would walk through town and it would move aside. Their dad was small and mean, a little mean dog on a long chain, and they moved aside. He never worked a full day, though his office had papers in piles, no business was transacted there. He kept a diary in the front room, locked, which Paddy Jr. would inherit and the key around dad’s neck. The seven stayed clear of the front room on the first of the month, when rent was due, and when the bottle was empty by the couch. They took the back hall to the fire escape. He sang in the shower. Nobody starts out mean. Everyone is born clean and good, a little pink baby with a smile in a carriage and fresh skin and pink lungs to cry out with. Once, a cow died in the creek on dad’s father’s farm. Before the men came for the carcass, the brothers played a game with the cow. Oldest to youngest they ran and jumped and bounced off the spongy cow into the water. Dad was last. By his turn the cow was deflated. He fell in the cow. He was pulled out by his brothers. He smiled whenever he told this story.
“Go fuck yourself, yourself.” Billy found Tommy in the dark.
“Better have his parachute ready,” said a bad voice with bad laughter. Two of them had Tommy hogtied at the arms and legs. A third man had Tommy’s belt buckle, laughing and barking. They staggered with Tommy under all his thrashing. Billy tugged on the leg-man nearest the ledge.
“He won’t even die,” said the hand-man.
“He’ll die,” said the leg-man and pushed Billy off him. “Get him off me.”
“No, I heard of a guy who fell from six thousand feet and lived,” said a hand-man.
“You’re high,” said the leg-man.
“Guinness Book. Look it up, shit-head. Landed in a cornfield,” said the hand-man, then the swinging got synchronized. “Broke every bone, but lived.”
“There must have been a tree or something he fell on,” said the belt-man, who was holding off Billy with a free hand.
“Watch it, kid,” said the Queen. She was on the hand-man peeling his fingers.
“Hey, get this kid, get him off me.”
“There was no fucking tree, look it up,” said the hand-man. He shoved the Queen. “Hey, get this girl off me. She’s impeding our work.”
Now, the Queen was on the edge tugging Billy, who was tugging the leg-man, who swatted Billy like a fly.
“Billy!” called Tommy.
“Look, he’s smiling.”
“Get this kid off me. That’s not smiling.”
“Tommy!” called Billy.
“Man-who-fell-to-earth, it was a special on TV,” said the hand-man. “Jerry somebody, a postal worker. Broke every bone, my back hurts.”
“Freaked the cows,” said the belt-man, who must have weighed a thousand pounds, ten thousand pounds.
People were laughing, watching the show, and rolling around on the ledge.
“I bet that postman guy goes to church now.”
“Someone get this kid. I mean it.”
Someone lifted Billy from behind, jostled him.
“Paddy! Sean! Teddy!” called Billy. The brothers would be pulling their coats on as they ran for the door.
“Hey, easy, easy,” said the Queen on the arm of the leg-man, who pushed her off, and she fell in the La-Z-Boy.
“My back hurts,” said hand-man. “I’m done here.”
“We’re not done,” said the leg-man. “Not even.”
“Alan! Matty!” called Billy, their boots stomping three flights down to the Lincoln sidewalk with the flag and a net for circus jumpers.
“Swing him higher,” the leg-man said, “I hate this little smiling shit.”
“Hey don’t, hey don’t, hey don’t!” said the voice of the Queen, dusty and sooty, then Billy fell.
A satellite circling the earth into gravity is falling the whole time.
He fell for an hour, equals 40 boys back-to-back, or 12 girls with some pleasure.
The air was nice. The snow slapped his chin.
A fly is the lowest thing always repenting.
A siren for a meteor a mile wide crossing into Polish gibberish.
The rocket blasted past the blue ambulance stairwells.
Mother would cry, don’t cry. Dad will be dead in two years, I promise.
The snow will be one hundred feet deep, I promise, silky like flour.
Brothers with nets, yes.
Dragon girls, yes.
The headline: Miracle Boy.
No cornfield or cow.
Super Bill, Sweet William.
Out of my way.