By Doc Polk
A work of autobiographical creative non-fiction, contains scenes of war
Image: Untitled (Demi-cône), by Alexander Calder, 1972.
Is it colder than the day before? I don’t see how that’s possible. Thoughts pass through my head like soldiers dragging their feet on a forced march. Maybe the frigid air has been freezing my brain. Maybe the endless cloud cover obscures the sun, causing a gray haze. “Doc!” the call jerks me from my deep contemplation about the weather. I turn and realize I have walked right past the entrenched soldiers on the front line. A voice from miles away whispers something about being exposed to enemy fire, but it is too far away for me to care. I trot back to the front line more to keep the blood flowing than from fear. “Damn, Doc. Their snipers would have taken you out. You got a death wish?” The question strikes me as odd. What soldier in this frozen Belgian forest doesn’t have a death wish? I ask my guys how their feet are doing. “They’re there,” one says. I tell them to keep them dry and call me at the hotel if they need anything. “Ha! Hotel. If that’s the case, then bring me a bacon sandwich!” I start to walk down the line. “And coffee! Black, two sugars!” they call after me. As I walk, I remember something that brings a smile to my face. I have two cigarettes that were delivered along with a small resupply of medical equipment. I make my way to my best friend’s foxhole to share a rare morning smoke. I try to remember the last time I had even a spark of happiness like I do now. It had to have been right before D-Day. Seven months ago? Seems like years now. I look up and my buddy turns to see me approaching. He waves and I wave back. A painful smile splits my face as I pull out the cigarettes. Then the foxhole explodes. I stand frozen in place, still smiling. Suddenly I am on the ground. The world is silent and fuzzy. It has started snowing again. The silent flakes float safely to the ground. It is beautiful. I feel a quiet, peaceful solitude while watching snow fall. Black smoke flowing from the flames engulfs my buddy’s position. The world comes flying back to me as another explosion rocks the ground. “Doc! DOC!” The Germans are shelling us again. I hate artillery. BUZZ! SNAP! I also hate German machine guns. “DOC!! Let’s go, we got four!” I begin to stand…
By Justin Greene
Image: “Nana bleu,” by Niki de Saint Phalle, 1987.
Nuclear Family Bricolage
“The dog dies
if I don’t feed it.”
A woman finds family
in dependence. A man’s mother
is carried on his back. He jumps and
the bones jangle in his bag. They clamor
an aftershock. A crisis rhythm suspends
in the wake of disaster. There are no bodies
but salvaged slabs of drywall, eyes and ears cut off
at the edges of photographs, dog bones, bones of dogs,
of your dog, your dog who may now be your mother when
things all look the same. Scrub the relics clean (when did this
become an archaeology?). The waterspot becomes a watermark;
the soiled polaroid becomes a new family history. “I’ve come to feel
narrow in this low-ceilinged room.” “When we sat we never actually sat
at square tables or even octagons, only at circles. This was to avoid all of
the edges that divide us.”
Image: “Lumières allumées,” by Bella Chagall, 1948.
Liz Cettina: How did you begin writing “are you there?”
Anna Schwab: Well I found a message in a bottle actually, the summer before I wrote it. And it was kind of the feeling of finding a message in a bottle and being really excited, and it was actually a family from Nantucket—and it wasn’t very exciting, so I thought I was not going to respond. But my boyfriend, Jack, said,“No, you have to write them back! When do you find a message in a bottle?” And so I wrote them back, and it was a really sweet experience, and all the kids sent me photos of them waving, and they were so happy that someone actually found their message in a bottle. They kept emailing me saying, “Where are you from? Who are you?” It was really sweet.
By Anna Schwab
Image: “9 x klingeln,” by Johannes Geuer, 1976.
It was July. The afternoon light was slowly sinking behind the sand dunes. She was standing alone in the ocean foam. She was whittling away at a piece of driftwood, the woodchips falling with the wind. She was watching a catamaran slowly circling its mooring.
A knock at her ankle. A flash of light. A whisky bottle. Jack Daniels, with the label peeled off. She picked it up. There was a message inside with wet ink stretching spiny spores on the page. “We have figured everything out,” it said. She read the words aloud. She tossed them around in her mouth, said them one by one, said the syllables two by two saving the last for the rush of hot air and the cool snap of the t.
There was no number, no address, no name. Just “we.” She knew she did not belong to that we. The knowing we the everything we the we that wrote these words in a cheap bottle of whisky and threw them into the sea. A message in a bottle! The moment was taken by the importance of it all, by that sometimes illusion of future prospects.
She went home. Her father was sitting at the dining room table, grading summer-term papers. She told him about the message in the whiskey bottle, about the mystery of the we, of the we have figured everything out. Send one back, he said. Try sending your own message, he said, see if you can reach someone. At that idea she felt the shift, the maybe sea change of her life in watercolor.
So she went back to the beach with the whiskey bottle but this time it contained her own message sealed tightly in a plastic bag.
I am here
it said. At the bottom:
Image: Claudia Schatz in her first grade production of “Misty Gets Lost.”
Liz Cettina: How did you begin writing “Deadweight”?
Claudia Schatz: Well, it’s based on a true story. I first got the idea from reading an article about this happening in Idaho. A two-year-old shot his mother in a grocery store. It was pretty big news so you might have heard about it. It was in the same vein as a story I’d written in the past also about accidental shootings though that one was more of a general exploration and less of a specific event. Reading this article gave me the concrete: This is what happened, and I wanted to explore the after-effects of that. So that definitely sparked the idea in the first place. And hearing that story, I felt like I had to write it. But by the end, as we discussed in my workshop [Art of Revision], the initial catalyst was taken out so I guess in that regard it’s interesting.
By Claudia Schatz
Image: “The Little Owl,” by Albrecht Durer, 1506.
We can’t change the channel. “This is why they used to put buttons on TVs,” Dad said, studying the reporters on screen. They chattered over him, gesturing.
“What did you say?” I said.
He shook his head. “Darn remote. Well, it’ll show up.”
It wasn’t so bad at first. Our TV is always on anyway, but it’s not usually stuck on the news. After a few hours it starts to bug me. No matter where I stand in the house, I can hear it. It never stops talking.
* * *
I took the first gun today. I found the key in the top left drawer of Dad’s dresser and unlocked the tall wooden cabinet and picked it up, holding my breath–well, not exactly holding my breath, but I don’t know, I couldn’t breathe that well. I walked through the house to the back door, out across the yard covered with old grey snow, into the woods behind the house. The sound of the TV faded behind me–the first silence I’d heard all day.
I knew Dad would be home soon. We had planned that morning to make Mom’s sauce for dinner, the one with sausage and oregano. Then we’d turn on the radio and see if we could beat our record for emptying the dishwasher: three minutes and forty-one seconds. I would have to do my math homework while Dad fiddled with the stereo, making up words to the songs he doesn’t know. “That’s how it goes, right?” he always teases.
“That music doesn’t go so well with isosceles triangles, Dad,” I say, tapping my paper.
acute angle we have here.”“Triangles?” Dad would switch off the radio and sit down at the table with me. “Well, what
“Dad, no,” I moan. “No puns.”
He laughs. “All right, big guy, let’s show these triangles who’s boss.”
Dad was not home yet, though, and the sun had sunk so low that only the tops of the trees were still golden. I walked fast, my fingers freezing on the metal, until I found a good spot. I carved out a hollow with my pocketknife and left the gun in the earth and pushed the dirt back over it, then the snow, then a layer of pine needles. Safer already.