Issue 6. Fall 2016.


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

Interview: Alexis M. Smith...........
Interview: Amanda Coplin...........

Don’t Worry, Anca Szilágyi...........
Unplace, Chris McCann...........

Essay: A Multiplicity of Gray, Monet P. Thomas...........
Essay: Senior Time, Kelly Froh...........

About Moss...........
Issue Archive...........
Call for Papers...........






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Letter from the Editors
Los Angeles, CA & New York, NY  ·  November 2016

The internet is a powerful space for disseminating literature and offers unique benefits as a publishing platform—low overhead, the ability to reach a broad audience, and aesthetic flexibility. Since 2014, when we founded Moss as an online-only journal, we’ve worked to harness these benefits to celebrate and strengthen the Northwest’s flourishing literary culture. We’ve used our online platform to pay dozens of Northwest writers for their work, and to put that work in front of tens of thousands of unique online readers.

Last year, we expanded into print with the release Moss: Volume One, an anthology collecting our first three volumes into a beautiful, physical, print book. We funded the volume via Kickstarter with overwhelming support from our friends and readers, and since publication we’ve placed it in libraries and bookstores across the Northwest, as well as at quality independent booksellers in other cities, like McNally Jackson in New York City and Skylight Books in Los Angeles. Moving into print allowed us to reach broad new audiences, and to come closer to financial sustainability; between Kickstarter pre-orders, sales at bookstores and on our online store, and events and festivals (such as at the fantastic APRIL in Seattle, which is sadly having its final festival in April 2017), we’ve almost sold out our initial print run—which was ambitiously large for a new and independent literary publisher like us.

Now, as we prepare our second print volume (which will collect Issues 4, 5, and 6), we’re thrilled to announce a new way to support Moss and purchase our print editions: annual subscriptions, through a new crowdfunding platform called Patreon. Subscribers will be the first to get a copy of Moss: Volume Two when it

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ships this December, as well as other benefits like early access to every new issue, limited-edition shirts and merchandise, and discounts on back issues. Starting at only $20/year (or just over $1.50 a month), subscribing is the best way to support Moss now and into the future, as we continue to support and publish Northwest writers, grow our fantastic editorial team, and offer more content and events between issues (such as our recent events at Hugo House and Folio: the Seattle Athenaeum).

If you can, please consider subscribing today at We’re incredibly grateful to everyone who has helped us along the way, and especially to our readers, whose insatiable appetite for quality Northwest literature is simply inspiring; we couldn’t do this work without your help and support.

    —  Connor Guy and Alex Davis-Lawrence
      Editors, Moss

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“Begin and End with a Landscape in Peril”:
an Interview with Alexis M. Smith

November 17, 2016  ·  Interviewed by Sharma Shields, September 2016  ·  Digital Exchange

Alexis M. Smith was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. Her debut novel, Glaciers was a finalist for the Ken Kesey Award for Fiction and a World Book Night 2013 selection. In 2015, she received a grant from the Regional Arts & Culture Council and a fellowship from the Oregon Arts Commission. She holds an MFA from Goddard College. Her latest novel, Marrow Island, has been called “transporting” (Vanity Fair), “weird and glorious” (BookRiot), and “intoxicating” (The New York Times Book Review). She currently lives with her wife and son in Portland, Oregon.

Sharma Shields holds an MFA from the University of Montana. Author of the novel The Sasquatch Hunter’s Almanac and the short story collection Favorite Monster, her work has appeared in such literary journals as Slice, Electric Lit, Kenyon Review and Iowa Review. A contributing editor to Moss, she has garnered numerous awards, including the Washington State Book Award, the Autumn House Fiction Prize, and Tim McGinnis Award for Humor. Shields has worked in independent bookstores and public libraries throughout Washington State and now lives in Spokane with her husband and children.
Reading Marrow Island, which has been described by many as an “eco-thriller,” I was instantly struck by your impressive range as a writer. Glaciers and Marrow Island are very different books, structurally speaking. Can you describe how you tackled those differences?

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I think the first, biggest difference—and the one I was most conscious of as I wrote Marrow Island—was the more complicated plot in the second book. Glaciers hardly had a plot, and it wasn’t meant to; it was always more meditation than story. With that postcard motif in Glaciers, I could begin almost anywhere and drop in details of the landscape as casually as a traveler. Marrow Island had so much more story that I wasn’t sure where to begin, plotwise. Have you ever gone out for a hike and not been able to find the trailhead? It was like that at first. But landscape has always been my entry to storytelling, from very early days in Alaska, so that gave me a framework: begin and end with a landscape in peril.

But I also needed to have a more specific idea of how the story would end before I could begin. This was true for both books, but especially for Marrow Island. The two different landscapes in that book offered different possibilities for the story, and that, ultimately, saved my ass in terms of plot. I think this could have been a really soggy story, but the Malheur landscape—and the Palouse!—introduced different energies.
In Marrow Island, a colony attempts to rehabilitate an island destroyed by environmental disaster. The narrator, Lucy, knows this place intimately: It’s also the island where her father disappeared. Were there similar historical instances of civil—or uncivil—disobedience that helped guide the details here?

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One of the big events of my early twenties was the WTO protests in Seattle. I marched with the Lesbian Avengers one day (we were very popular with the Teamsters, who were marching right in front of us), with the Sisters of the Holy Names another evening. I saw Vandana Shiva speak on the environment and poverty, and Michael Moore speak on politics. Friends were gassed. A childhood friend was the spokesperson for a group of protestors squatting in a building downtown; I had accompanied her to lectures before the protests and was pretty sure my home phone was tapped. It was an experience in civil disobedience and social justice that I’m not sure I will have every again: a coming together of so many disparate groups to oppose the consolidation of global power by and for the wealthy. I’m not sure that it did anything to stop what was coming (global markets crashing; the poor getting poorer; global warming; the sixth extinction), but it was a formative experience and I’m sure that it influenced Marrow Island.
You made an interesting choice in Marrow Island regarding time. An important element of the plot is a fictional disastrous earthquake—the “big one” that everyone is waiting for, which in the world of your book has already occurred long ago, circa 1993. The protagonist, Lucie Bowen, narrates from 2016, so she’s functioning in a world parallel to our own. I think many authors using a plot element like this would have launched the story into the future. I like that you

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avoided the futurism trope: After all, our planet is in imminent danger, not in the future but now. What made you decide to choose the time line that you did?
I love that you call it a parallel world, because that’s how I thought about it. I don’t know much about quantum physics, but I like how multiple universe theories are the perfect model for what we as fiction-writers do. How different or similar from our reality are the realities we’re creating?

I thought about projecting into the future but it felt wrong. For one: I love science fiction, but I feel like I’d be a shit sci-fi writer. I don’t care so much about imagining future technologies or political systems. I wanted to tell a story about people you could know, trying their best to deal with how we’re fucking up in the here and now, but with different set pieces.
What inspired the earthquake?
Those of us who grew up west of the Cascades have been living with the idea of “the Big One” for most of our lives. When I was in high school in Seattle in the

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early 1990’s, we had earthquake drills and emergency kits at school. My mom left the Northwest for New Mexico fifteen years ago after the Nisqually Quake—she had lived through the massive Good Friday Quake of 1964 as a child in Alaska (my father did as well)—and she just didn’t want to live with the possibility of another one. I have pretty intense anxiety about disasters myself, and I think that’s where the quake in Marrow Island came from—I wanted to imagine my way through a big earthquake. I interviewed my Grandma Betty about her memories of the Alaska quake, and letters from my Grandma Margie to her mother in Washington informed a lot of my description of what it was like during and after the quake on the islands. Setting it in the past allowed me to present a vision of survival—like the one my grandmothers and parents described, and as much as that was an artistic choice, I think there was definitely some therapeutic value for me, too.
Mushrooms are also a really significant part of this book—I don’t want to give too much away by saying how, but there is a thin line between their ability to heal and their ability to kill, and in one gorgeously written scene, the latter proves to be more merciful. Tell me about the mushrooms, the metaphors they carry, the research you clearly undertook in learning about them, how you spun them into a flesh-like character. The mushroom kiss scene, I should add, is one of the most powerful scenes I’ve read in a very long time. (Gives me goosebumps even now. I won’t say any more than that.)

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Yes, I think the title for this book could have been The Shrooms. But that totally would not have made it past the publicity team. (My editor, Jenna Johnson, on the other hand, is a mushroom fanatic, so she might have approved.)

As for the significance of the mushrooms, my readers (and my friends) are smarter than I am. It wasn’t until late in the book that I had a clue what I was saying metaphorically with the mushrooms. Life and death and decay are certainly on the surface here, but what you describe as “the thin line between their ability to heal and their ability to kill”—I was working that out the whole time I was writing, though it seems so obvious when people say it back to me, now. I researched quite a bit—reading and interviewing people and learning to identify mushrooms—and when you get so close to the actual thing, you can forget that in your story they’re going to operate on more than the literal level. Which is fine—premeditated symbolism doesn’t always shake out the way you want it to—but after I figured it out, in revisions, I struggled a bit with how to let the symbolism come through. It can feel like you’re smacking your readers upside the head with it, when you’re writing it. So, yes: the mushrooms are the key signifier in the story. And I’ll let readers figure out what the signified is…

That was one of the more fanciful scenes—along with the mushroom kiss scene. I loved writing it.
This reminds me of another book I love in which mushrooms allow both life and death, Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Who are you reading

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right now? Did any books specifically inspire or serve as guides for this novel? I know you and I have discussed in the past how we both gravitate toward reading women writers almost exclusively…
I love I Have Always Lived in the Castle, as you know. I, like many writers I know, have chosen spirit guides (and probably a few unchosen, who influence us despite our best efforts to ignore them). We cycle through them, so as not to exhaust them and ourselves, I think. Glaciers was very Jean Rhys, Virginia Woolf, James Baldwin. Marrow Island was mostly Margaret Atwood (yes, I know she’s still alive). The book I’m brewing now is Jackson, Barbara Comyns, Sylvia Townsend Warner, Zora Neale Hurston.
So much of Marrow Island is about recapturing time and place and relationship. Lucie thinks of her father, who died during the quake, but even more deeply she thinks of Katie, her best friend from childhood. You write very beautifully about the attractions girls have for one another, as friends and as sexual beings, and the longing between the two women to regain their relationship’s foothold. I thought of Elena Ferrante as I read, the Neapolitan novels. I wonder if Katie and Lucie’s relationship was your starting point in the book? Or did their friendship come to you as you wrote? It feels beautifully organic to the story.

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Katie and Lucie’s relationship was there from the beginning, and I thought a lot about whether their romance would be the central one of the novel, but it didn’t work for a story about disasters. Their relationship is very much the kind of intense relationship young women have—and have been having for millennia, I suspect—when they’re becoming women together. Becoming a woman is a process of sheer panic meeting utter despair (the earthquake can be read as a metaphor for sexual awakening/onset of menses). We officially become sexual objects at the same time we are able to become mothers. It’s a ridiculous mindfuck. And the only way to navigate it is with other women (a former nun leading the Colony wasn’t a happenstance detail, either), though as you said of mushrooms earlier, the ones who are most likely to heal us are also the ones who know exactly how to hurt us the most. I don’t want to give too much plot away, but it felt right that Katie and Lucie’s relationship should be a ghost story.
Finally, I want to ask something related to the Inland Northwest, where I live. Being from Spokane, I loved this passage when Sister Janet comments on the strangeness of the phrase “Inland Empire,” “The mountains, the rivers, the Palouse, all the way down to the Columbia. It doesn’t feel right. Using a word like empire in this day and age. As if we could ever own any of this. It owns us.” Can you tell me a little bit about your experience with the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary? And with the Inland Northwest?

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I went to a school in Seattle run by the Sisters of the Holy Names, who have a Provincial House (which is sort of like a regional headquarters) in Spokane. One summer a group of my classmates and I went on a pilgrimage to the Provincial House to spend some time with the sisters there—many of them elderly and retired from their posts out in the world (many of them were teachers; they’re a teaching order). As a non-Catholic, my experience of Catholicism through the Sisters of the Holy Names was one of women living in community with each other, with education and social justice (in the name of Jesus, of course) as their missions.

I was the only outspoken feminist and openly gay, but I was nurtured in their community. You can see the influence here on the story, I’m sure. The sisters in Marrow Island are more fanciful than the sisters I met at the Holy Names provincial house (they are not all named some variation of “Rose,” obviously, that’s an inside joke, of sorts)—and obviously Sister J is entirely made up. One thing that I wished I had been able to better express in Marrow Island in general—and there was a moment in the very last revision in which I tried to add a paragraph, but my editor nixed it as a panic-add—was that the presence of the Church, like the Colony, was another expression of the imperialist instinct of white people, whose intentions may be good or not, but whose mere presence tends to obliterate the existing culture and/or ecosystem. In my research on the

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San Juans I came across stories of missionaries marrying young Coast Salish women as cultural/economic transactions. And stories about Coast Salish children being removed from their families and shipped off to boarding schools in Spokane. We now know the enormity of this practice, and its legacy on the land and the indigenous people here. Sister J’s “empire” comment came somewhat in response to this. They called themselves Marrow Colony, and in that way, they might as well have been the lost villagers of Roanoke.
Can you comment on your experience as a writer in the Northwest? Apart from its clear influence on the landscape in your novels, how has living in the Northwest, with its writers, its readers, influenced your writing life?
Being a regional writer isn’t something I set out to do, but I’m proud to be one (if that’s what I am after only two books) especially at a time when the Northwest is seeing a population boom of writers and creative types from other parts of the country who maybe don’t relate to the history of the place, are still learning about the geography, or the geology, or the plants and wildlife (or don’t care—that happens, too). Portland has become such a polished, urbane place, full of great writers, yes, but, I feel like a rare beast here, writing about the Northwest landscape as a living, breathing thing. Regionalism doesn’t seem to appeal to as many readers as cosmopolitan dramas, or even domestic ones, for which place is just a set piece.

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I’ll admit to being grumpy about this. Some foreign publishers called Marrow Island “too American,” which just baffled me. How are natural disasters and climate change “too American”? I think they meant “too regional” in its setting. Emily Carr, the Canadian artist and writer, painted some of the most incredible landscapes of her time, but she’s not known like, say, Georgia O’Keefe. Why? Is it because the Northwest is still being “discovered”? I’m of two minds about this: I relish being a rare beast and knowing the lesser-known places and plants and writers (like Carr, and M. Wylie Blanchet, whose book The Curve of Time is my favorite memoir ever written); but I also can’t stand the idea of regional writers as purveyors of novelties. Our landscapes may be strange—and they are dramatically variable from one mile to the next—but the stories that run through them are universal. I want to hoard the secrets of the Northwest, but I can’t help myself—they’re all I want to write about—therefore, I want them to be taken seriously.

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An Interview with Amanda Coplin
November 17, 2016  ·  Interviewed by Amy Wilson, October 2016  ·  Digital Exchange

Amanda Coplin was born in Wenatchee, Washington and raised amid her grandfather’s orchards. Her debut novel The Orchardist, set in the Wenatchee Valley around the turn of the twentieth century, was a New York Times bestseller and was named a best book of the year by National Public Radio, Publishers Weekly and The Washington Post. Coplin is a recipient of the Whiting Award for emerging writers and was selected by Louise Erdrich as a National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 honoree. The Orchardist has attracted particular acclaim from Northwest audiences and critics, winning the 2013 Washington State Book Award and the 2014 Reader’s Choice Award from the Oregon State Book Awards. Bonnie Jo Campbell wrote of the book, “To read this mysterious, compelling, elemental novel is to immerse yourself in the world of an old folk song.” Coplin recently relocated from Portland, Oregon to Vermont.
The Orchardist is a work of historical fiction about a region and a moment that are seldom depicted in contemporary literature. Reading it as a Pacific Northwest native, I felt a sense of groundedness that I don’t usually feel with other works about American history. The Northwest is often portrayed as a destination or a landing, the end of a trail or a journey, but in The Orchardist the region is the starting point, the point of return, and the boundary of experience for the characters. How did you decide to write The Orchardist as historical fiction? And

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how do you see the novel’s relationship to both Pacific Northwest history and to the larger fields of American history and historical fiction?
I spent my early childhood in the Wenatchee Valley, often in the company of my grandparents who owned orchards there. In the summers they would pack us grandchildren in their camper and we would meander around the state, stopping at all the historical sites. Their interest in regional history, and the history of the Pacific Northwest at large, rubbed off on me, without question. I often wondered what the landscape was like before the advent of the orchards. I didn’t realize until I began writing The Orchardist the extent to which that moment in history—the landscape on the cusp of major agriculturalization, at the turn of the last century—fired my imagination.

I didn’t set out to write a work of historical fiction, per se. I value historical fact—of course—but I don’t consider it to be the cornerstone of my work as a novelist, as writers in that genre do. It’s more important to me, for example, to successfully depict the atmosphere of the place I’m writing about, and how the characters’ interior lives relate to others’ and events. Not that it’s impossible to achieve both this and historical accuracy—they are not mutually exclusive—but I just don’t value historical fact in the way that other die-hard historical fiction writers do, and that’s an important distinction to make, I think.

As for how the novel relates to actual history—I was certainly playing with tropes of the American West, but beyond that, it’s not for me to say. Let critics decide.

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I’m curious to know which tropes of the American West you were playing with, consciously.
Well I realized early on that Talmadge could be considered a kind of cowboy—a strong, silent type. But of course we come to understand that these perceived qualities come not from allegiance to some masculine code but rather from a lifetime of managing complicated grief. One reader said that Talmadge is the most stereotypically maternal character in the book—I thought that was interesting. It’s true, though: he cooks for the girls, he constantly focuses on building them nests—literally. His constant fretful concern. The way he gently nags Della to be a better person, to come back home, to let herself be embraced by the structure of the family. Hardly the cavalier, macho type. And the fact that he sets out to “save” these girls, Jane and Della—that is a trope in itself, the man swooping in to save a couple of young females. I mean, the most optimistic reading of this is that he somewhat succeeds in helping Della. And he “saves” Angelene in that he offers her love and relative stability, at least for a short time. But he plunges her into grief, too, at different times. In my opinion these women save themselves—or, rather, they take their fate into their own hands. It doesn’t even occur to them to give Talmadge that power, though they may—I’m thinking of Angelene here—love him.

Also, with the focus on horses—I wanted to go beyond treating them as props, I wanted to draw them deep into the narrative, so that they became part of the foundational humus of the novel. I wanted the reader to feel the ancientness of

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horses, of what they have meant to humankind over the ages—both practically and imagistically. Also, they are majorly important to Pacific Northwest native culture, and I wanted to emphasize that here, I wanted the horses to work as a kind of point of synthesis between the native culture and different themes of the book.

I could go on—I’m especially interested in what you said about the West being regarded in the larger cultural imagination as a destination, the end of a trail. I think there is great romance and beauty to this idea, but it is inadequate—inauthentic, really—to the place itself. What the place wants to say is something else, something greater. I don’t know what it is, but writing is one way to get at it. I expect, and hope, that the literature of the place in the years to come will reflect this authentic voice in various ways.
How would you describe your relationship to the Pacific Northwest, as an individual and as a writer? You’ve lived both inside the region and outside—how do you find your physical location affecting your thoughts and feelings about the Northwest?
The Pacific Northwest created my imagination. From the beginning, even before I knew what I was doing, I was constantly, obsessively attempting to translate the landscape into words, trying to frame and shape my experience.

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Whenever I’m away from the Northwest, I am homesick for it, and this can sometimes help my writing. There is that story about Hemingway, that he wrote about Michigan best when he was in Florida, or Idaho. I can’t remember the quote exactly—but it implies that we must have distance—physical distance—from the beloved place in order to see it clearly. On the other hand, there are advantages of living in the landscape of which you write: to be a witness to it in the present moment, to love it and honor it with your physical self, and also to be able, by your presence, to contribute in other ways to the community. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my responsibility as a writer who cares so much about landscape—as a writer who places landscape as the central concern, artistically, in my work. Do I have a responsibility to live in the Northwest? I don’t know. I wrote The Orchardist mostly while living in Minnesota and Cape Cod. I think the immersion in other landscapes forced me to envision my own—that of the orchards of Central Washington primarily—and of course this isn’t a bad thing. Now I live in Burlington, Vermont—I moved here because my partner got a job here. Vermont is beautiful. But I’m uneasy, being so far from the Northwest.
You’ve said, “there’s something powerful that happens when you read about the specific place where you’re from, and about the people who live there.” What in particular was important to you to capture in writing about the Pacific Northwest? In writing The Orchardist, did you see the work as specifically regional?

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I think first and foremost I was intent on capturing a particular atmosphere—it is difficult to describe, and that’s why I wanted to do it, to set up that project for myself. There is an atmosphere there—I’m talking about the orchards, being in the orchard aisles themselves, but also how the hills look against the sky; and the silence, and the odors of different seasons. I wanted to capture all that. I wanted to write about the ocean, too, the Pacific Northwest coast—that was a mythic place out of my childhood. I yearned to write about that as well, even if for a short span in the book.

In terms of seeing The Orchardist as specifically regional—sure. Does this mean that people living outside the region will not understand what I’m writing about? Of course not. What people respond to is the emotion encapsulated on the page. So often “regional” is a dirty word, but I’ve never understood that. I hope works are regional: I want to read an insider’s view of what’s going on. Don’t you? I remember reading Alistair MacLeod’s story collection Island for the first time, and being awestruck not only by his prose, but also by the evocation of place. He wrote about Nova Scotia, his home. His intimate knowledge of the region was his great strength.
I do want to read an insider’s view! I think “regional” is sometimes falsely understood to be at odds with “universal.” It’s also hard to ignore the political aspect of the word, in that only certain regions are perceived as having “regional” qualities. It’s interesting that you bring up the interlude in the novel on the Pacific

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Northwest coast, which was also a mythic place in my childhood. I really felt a sense of difference in the text in that section—the sense of expansiveness and softness, or even humility, that the Northwest coast inspires. Even within the “regional,” there are so many textures to any place.
I couldn’t agree more. And I think what you point out here about textures is right. What’s so interesting and rewarding about studying one particular place—one could also say the same about a person—is that you see beyond surfaces, which might be stereotypes or assumptions, and perceive what’s beneath: differences, even contradictions, paradoxes. This makes people wildly uncomfortable, of course. That is why it is so often difficult to focus beyond stereotypes: because the true thing is variable, and unable because of its complexity to “fit” into boxes we have prepared for it. That’s why the sustained focus of art-making is so vital, both to the health of our imaginations, but also society at large. A thing needs to be constantly re-imagined to be understood properly.
You’ve spoken in interviews about your sensitivity to “the desire to get something down just right, to generate emotion by arranging particular words in a particular order.” This clarity of expression is evident both in the prose of The Orchardist and in the themes of intuition and silence that define parts of the book. What does it mean to write about silence? Do you ever experience any tension related to the ability or inability to express your thoughts in writing and if so how do you manage it?

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The simplest answer is that I wrote about silence because most of the characters are so extremely reticent. Mostly they are this way by temperament, but also they do not wish to disturb the great thing at the core of their lives that gives them trouble. To me the main challenge of writing about silent characters, and passive characters, is figuring out how to generate tension and drama. There is much passive action in the novel—people are physically laboring, they’re traveling between destinations, they’re in an orchard or garden working, thinking, remembering, speculating. This is what drives the movement of the novel. The pace is slow, but that’s the point. When most of the action is passive, the violence is especially startling. And that’s what I wanted to underscore too, the fact that the characters are most of the time surrounded by outer calm, performing their duties, and then suddenly they are engaged in, or forced to witness, terrible violence. I wanted to write about these extreme states of being—passivity and quietness, and violence.

In terms of feeling tension about getting thoughts down on the page—for me it helps, especially in the beginning, the early drafts, to just let myself go, give myself lots of space—and time—in which to explore on the page what I’m thinking. This is how the book becomes itself—from this letting out (drafting/writing) and pulling back in (reading over what I have written with a critical eye, cutting, revising, etc.). I engage in this back and forth until a shape emerges, eventually. This takes a long time, at least for me. I always err on the side of casting my net farther and wider than is probably necessary, a process that takes longer but ultimately yields more interesting material.

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One aspect of The Orchardist that I found remarkable, and that many reviewers commented on as well, is the psychological depth of the characters. From a writerly standpoint, what’s your approach to your characters’ internal lives? For you is this the work of the imagination, is it observation, is it analysis, or is it something else entirely? I’d also love to know your thoughts on the role of the internal in writing more generally.
The characters are formed from people observed throughout my life, but the process of creating them and accessing their internal lives is rooted entirely in the work of the imagination, especially in the beginning. Later, when I’m revising, or working with a critical reader or editor in trying to improve the work, there might be some conscious character analysis going on. Sometimes, of course, as a writer you get stuck—you get confused about a character, or you can’t see an action clearly or you can’t follow a certain emotion as it develops, or tries to reveal its source. Sometimes, for whatever reason, you cannot see. That’s where a careful reader or editor will come in and offer suggestions. In terms of the approach to my characters’ inner lives, in the beginning—usually I begin with an image or action, something visual and exterior, and then I write into it, and see where it goes. If I try to write into a character and something feels off somehow, I just try over and over again, until something reveals itself. Or, if I’m really stuck, I’ll step away from it—this is so difficult because I would rather just keep hammering away at it—or I’ll talk to someone about the problem I’m having. These things work out eventually, but an ungodly amount of patience is required, often.

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When I first started writing The Orchardist, there was no interiority at all—I was trying to emulate Cormac McCarthy, who is so adept at relating emotion through exteriors. I admired his style so much, and still do. But I chafed against that way of writing, ultimately, and had to forge another method. I found a point of view and a tone, a voice, that suited what I wanted to say. The approach I used mostly had to do with tracking how a character moves through the physical world, moves through physical space, landscape, and performs physical acts and engages in relationships—with the land, animals, and humans—and how all of these objects act as triggers and cues for an internal play of thought, memory, emotion. To be able to track all this gracefully and at depth, all while showing a character or characters engaged in beautiful action, and then to make a shape for the whole thing, a shape that understands the story it is trying to tell—well that is the whole aim of novel-writing, of fiction, I think.
So much of what we think about when we think about setting in writing is about describing the way things look or are experienced externally—the way they smell, sound, feel, etc. Setting can be kind of passive in that way, as something that is objectified by being experienced. But by adding in the internal of “thought, memory, emotion”, it’s possible to achieve a new depth of setting by forging a connection to place that approaches the way it’s actually experienced subjectively by an individual.

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That’s an interesting way to think about setting—as symbiotic between place and individual. We often think of the physical landscape as drawing out a character’s interiority, but what about vice versa? Would this be attributing a mind or consciousness to the landscape?

Do you know the work of the philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty? I think he has written about human creativity and the landscape along these lines. One of my favorite professors at the University of Oregon while I was an undergraduate there, Molly Louise Westling, wrote a book about Merleau-Ponty, The Logos of the Living World, where I remember reading about some of these ideas.
Another one of the most compelling aspects of the book for me personally is the strength and tenderness of the relationships between Angelene, Talmadge, Caroline Middey, Clee, Jane, and Della. These are highly unconventional relationships as they are neither sexual nor (for the most part) biological. I’m curious as to whether this was something you approached deliberately in structuring the book, or whether it was an outgrowth of plot elements or something else. To put it in a more general way, in what sense is The Orchardist about human relations to you and how do you see these characters’ relationships in context of the larger project of the book?

25  ·    ·  

One of the major themes of the novel is family—not so much in the biological sense, but in the sense of those with whom you fall in with, to whom you are drawn, for better or for worse, with whom you settle even despite constant psychological agitation. The novel is about, too, I hope, that truth of how we deal emotionally with those family members who estrange themselves from us or even abuse us, or abandon us; they are not there, they cannot be physically accessed, but we must grapple with them in other ways. How we have been treated by our original family affects those relationships that we have later in life—of course. This is something, it does not have to be stated, but in art we must be constantly reminded of this: if we do not see clearly where we come from, the puzzle will present itself to us over and over again, until we see, or until our blindness kills us. And often, especially before we see clearly, we need people in ways that confuse and frustrate us. It’s exciting in fiction to untangle these relationships, to understand which characters and situations echo others.
What about the relationship between the human characters and the natural world? Another Moss editor who read and enjoyed The Orchardist was struck particularly by Della’s fascination with the wild horses. Angelene is also occasionally represented as an embodiment or extension of the orchard itself.

26  ·    ·  

This focus on landscape reveals characters’ interiority, certainly. I’m interested in how humans are connected to the physical world—beyond the obvious biological sense, but psychologically, spiritually, and in ways that are related to these things but cannot for whatever reason be defined. One of my favorite books is The Tree by John Fowles. It is a book-length essay, a meditation on the relationship between human interiority and wild landscapes. Fowles argues that it is essential to the health of our imaginations and spirits that such places exist in the world. And I believe it, not just theoretically, I feel it to be true from experience. When we encounter such places, we are uniquely moved. The experience is deeply, fundamentally, related to how we define ourselves as human.
Yes. I just read an interview with Barry Lopez by Nicholas O’Connell wherein he says, “The reason you go into unmanaged landscapes is in part to get out of a world in which all the references are to human scale or somehow devised from a sense of human values… it encourages you to think in a pattern that’s nonhuman.” He says it’s a remedy for solipsism.
Yes! And I’m so interested in these nonhuman patterns—and how they might inform literature, how we shape stories.

27  ·    ·  

Speaking of Barry Lopez—there’s an edition of The Tree with an introduction by him, and it’s very good!
Final question! Who are your favorite writers of the Pacific Northwest, either historical or working today?
The Haida myth-makers. Marilynne Robinson. Barry Lopez. Robert Bringhurst. Mildred Walker. Gary Snyder. Michael McGriff.

28  ·    ·  

Don’t Worry
Anca Szilágyi

Johnny’s teaching math in the fall and we’re on our honeymoon. Venice, Rome, Paris, Amsterdam. A whole month. Sexy sexy cities for sexy sexy times. I planned most of it. He got Amsterdam.
Here we are at the Rijksmuseum and it’s too late, 5 pm, closed. We couldn’t sleep at all the night before, our first night in Amsterdam, the last leg of our trip: Airbnb sheets stained yellow, bed narrow, EuroVision blaring next door; and in the silences, inexplicable pounding, scraping sound of metal on metal, someone sobbing, a halting sort of sob, loud like they were pressing their mouth to the wall, then quieter and quieter, a wandering away.
“Oh well,” says Johnny. “Coffee shop?”
We bumble on to the first one we find, Reefer Madness, and sit down in the back, an herby haze to smooth over life’s wrinkles.
“This is nice,” I offer, relieved at least, to not be milling about yet another big museum. I lean back and exhale luxuriously. “Our honeymoon should be relaxing, after all.”
Johnny’s eyes go soft—melted butter, olive oil. Satisfied I’m not mad about the Rijks, I think.
We step out into the early evening.
“I’m famished.”
Johnny nods.
“I’ve got just the place. I’ve been waiting all month for it.”
Off Leidensplein, the Times Square of Amsterdam: a smoky restaurant.
“The best in Europe.”
“But are ribs Dutch?”

29  ·    ·  

Johnny shrugs, runs his large hand through his hair. It’s so thick it stands upright, makes me want to jump on his back and muss it up.
“What’s Dutch anyway? Potato? Cheese?” He sweeps his arm in a grand gesture and says with a relishing sneer, “Herring?” His eyes glitter. I snatch his arms down, hug him until he says ouch.
We each opt for the smoked ribs and a baked potato and the waiter eyes us with a twinkle, must think we’re fools. Heaping platters, fit for four. Four Americans, in fact, so make that eight. We rub our hands together. The salt is marvelous. The grease coats our lips, cheeks, fingers. Smack, suck. Tear strips of meat off the bone.
Eat your salad, I almost say, but it’s just our honeymoon. Why nag?
Our bellies swell and groan.
“Wish I’d worn a sundress.” I’d let my gut hang. I feel it spill over my low rise jeans. Little beer-meat baby.
The weed-food coma spreads open my mind. Like there are big wide gaps, like the spaces in a video game. Leap to the platforms with red-capped mushrooms to make thoughts go ba-BLING.
“Well, we should see something of Amsterdam,” I say. Almost stamp my feet.
“Like what? The Red Light?”
My mind rifles.
“Anne Frank. That’s the one. Everyone goes.”
“Well,” he says, and I can see him tamping down an eye roll. “This way north, then cut west.” He’s memorized the map. Good boy.
“Is it even open?”
His fingers smudge oil in the pages of the guidebook. “’Til 10. Golly!” We grab hands. He leads the way.
The streets get busier and drunkier. Bunch of handsome scruffies sit on a dirty white couch on a broken terrace overlooking a canal, guzzling beer. Opera’s

30  ·    ·  

playing in their house, big windows open to the world. Like they’re looking to be looked at. Like Abercrombie models debauched. Nasty pretty frat boys on a gap year. One of them one day will murder a hooker. You can just tell.
Here come the sex shows. Pics of slick naked bodies in all variations of thrust. Johnny nudges me.
“How about it?”
“Well. If they’re short.”
There’s nothing to them. Acrobatics to a techno beat. Change positions when the rhythm shifts. In out twist thrust boom boom boom boom. I yawn.
Outside, red bulbs switch on and curtains open. A skinny brunette sidles close to the glass. Little blue bruise on her arm. Blonds with boob jobs. Half of them slump on stools, scrolling through phones. Race car red or hot pink and studded with rhinestones. A fat one chugs a Red Bull. An older, larger lady, eyes lined real dark, looks askance, worried. And one, real cut, dances with her head down, silky hair hiding her face. The only one smiling is at an open door, talking up a prospect.
Johnny lets out a rib burp and laughs.
“C’mon, we did a show, now this. How about it?”
“No way!”
“But we’re already here.”
Impish smile.
“Should’ve got me a bigger diamond for that.”
His bear paw of a hand swipes at me, gentle like a cub. Snakes his arm around my neck, gives me a noogie.
The line at Anne Frank Huis is short but slow. My stomach’s still tight with pork. My mind still full of plastic boobies and pink silicone coochie coos. Nubbed vibrators.
At the admission desk, Johnny gets real serious, puts on his teacher face.

31  ·    ·  

But his eyes are still glazed. The security guard shines a light inside my purse. A sex dancer sneers up at us from a flyer and I zip it real quick with a sheepish grin. Security guard just chucks his chin. Move along.
We shuffle through a short film and empty rooms. Not much to see. Here’s where they snapped a wedding photo. A woman named Miep (Meep). A woman named not Beep or Boop but Bep.
We wait for the crowd to trickle up steep, narrow stairs.
“You’re in The Twilight Zone,” Johnny whispers, breath all herb and wood smoke. “That episode where you have to choose to be one of two kinds of people. Except the choices are now Meep and Bep. How do you choose? How?”
I knock his head with the heel of my hand. Upstairs, more empty rooms. Except their toilet’s there, behind Plexiglas. It’s actually pretty, blue flowers on porcelain, like fine china. In the next room, the wall’s collaged with Anne’s favorites: movie stars and kittens. She named her diary Kitty.
Then there’s the pictures of the piles. Naked bodies. Gristly rib bones come to mind. My stomach gurgles, mad about all the churning fat inside. We pull on our sober faces. The next room moves real slow. I can’t see over shoulders. I wait. Johnny shimmies forward, darts ahead, a reconnaissance mission, darts back.
“C’mon,” he’s saying, pulling on my hand. “It’s just papers.”
Anne’s dad is on a video. I had no idea he survived. He’s saying something about being surprised by her diary, how you never really know your children.
We’re outside again, the air cooler. What a relief. Imagine the heat of those cattle cars. The thirst and stink. “I need a drink,” Johnny says. There’s an unsteadiness behind his face now. He runs his hand through his hair again and it looks even crazier.
We find a chill pub by a canal. You can always find a pub by a canal. That’s nice. The old sidewalk is tilted. We order two gins. Waiter looks peeved. Bunch of stupid whacked out tourists.

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“Johnny,” I say, fiddling my drink.
There’s a nasty look, but he wipes off that face with a Justin Bieber smile.
A long-legged brunette bicycles slowly toward us. She’s dreamy, indifferent, her straight hair so long it drapes over her small, buoyant breasts. Her chemise is gauzy, her blue shorts real short and real blue, twilight blue, her skin golden. She rides upright, posture perfect, earbuds in, and as she passes she’s singing off-key, blasé, “You don’t love me like I love you.” I think this is perfect this is the perfect moment and there’s the sound of something dropping. Italian dude at the next table dropped his steak knife on the cobble stones. A cruiser of red-faced blond bros glides by behind him on the canal, they’re shout-singing Bob Marley, “Don’t Worry,” but with a military drum and martial beat, and the Italian guy, the Italian guy, he reaches for his knife and tumbles forward off his chair into the street.

Anca Szilágyi is a Brooklynite living in Seattle. Her fiction and essays have appeared in Electric Literature, Gastronomica, The Rumpus, Fairy Tale Review, Washington City Paper, Jewish in Seattle, Kirkus, and elsewhere. Hailed by The Stranger as one of the “fresh new faces in Seattle fiction,” she is the recipient of fellowships and awards from Made at Hugo House, Jack Straw Cultural Center, 4Culture, and Artist Trust.

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Chris McCann

Like birds through the trees

The blood was everywhere in the little room in Abumombazi. Spatters turned the concrete walls into ragged curtains, and the air hung heavy in the thick afternoon light.
She plunged into the man who would not stop bleeding, trying everything she knew to contain him. November and it was near 100 degrees, air so viscous she had to push it aside with both arms to move across the room.
Later, in the lull before dinnertime, she rubbed the blood and dirt and sweat deeper into her still-pale skin with a damp rag. As the dark fell like birds through the trees, she imagined for a moment the line between the sea and sky as the sun began to rise. On the coastal plains, she walked between the sea wrack and the gorse, squinting out toward the western horizon, waiting for the angle of the sun to illuminate the division between water and air.
Although she did not, would not, admit it to anyone later, she marked down the first day she began to cough, a dry, shaking thing that did not seem appropriate in this climate. Lacking her usual energy that Wednesday, she barred the door and sat inside the closet-sized room that held her bed. Past the wood slats of the window, she heard the first fat drops of rain hit the leaves of a banana tree, clattering around in the branches, and tumbling to the ground. Though her eyes were closed, she saw the puffs of dust rise up from the dirt, like holes in the body of the earth.
Too dark, she thought, and coughed. Soon she would leave. There was a part of her that understood, even though no one at that time could have said what it was, the thing that had begun to unravel her. Later, there would be tests

34  ·    ·  

and batteries of medication, flights where she would skim the earth to be examined, the bright lights of home, the engaging sea. In her nurse’s arms, she would then subside, after all this, having not been able in the rush to even clean the walls of blood. Having not, in the end, been able to even save herself.
For now, though, she chewed carefully, tongue probing for the sharp chicken bones that sometimes made it into her moambé. The children no longer ran from her, and that, then—despite what came after—was what remained with her, long after she’d forgotten everything else. Their wide eyes, their silence.
In the north at that moment, the sea shone for a few hours at the end of the vanishing year, while down here in the forest, all the light was red.

Whose body?

Autumn leaves. A swirling cloud of carmine, pumpkin, ocher. The thing was, she thought, because she could not stop thinking. The thing was that the hard edges of the leaves, the brittle leaves, the ones that could not hang on in the latest wind, although it had not been overly strong—how sad, she thought, knowing that sadness really had nothing to do with it, nor did trying, nor did—but the edges, their small serrations. This one, in particular, because what was anything if not a single instance, a peculiarity even in the midst of sameness? She asked herself these questions, although she was not really asking herself anything. Instead, the voice that asked the questions came from somewhere else and did not expect any answers.
At this point, the phone rings and someone—her mother, she thinks—starts banging on the door. Or the window. The birds outside still sing, but she can tell that something is wrong. The ringing and ringing. The doorbell, a shattering of glass. She holds the leaf in her hand, tracing its edges with her own

35  ·    ·  

ragged fingernail. Because she is the singularity, or at least that’s what the voice is saying over all the commotion that disturbs her but does not change the way the leaf seems to be singing.
And this tune—no words, of course—gives her the permission she hasn’t asked for to rise and walk toward the back of the house. As she does, she feels arms like vines—or vines, like arms—attempt to hold her back, to slow her progress. It is like walking through seaweed, the slime on her arms and face and legs, the sucking noises. Still, she proceeds.
This is one of those times that she knows she is screaming, but she cannot hear herself. Like at the dentist when you smell the burning, but don’t feel the drill. But she is the drill. She is always the drill.
In front of her, the forest looms, with more trees than she expected. She feels deceived, or the voice tells her she does, by the sheer number of things she has mistaken. The leaf, though, it says. Its edges. How it angles at the same time away toward the forest, toward the kitchen, toward the body. Whose body? Whose indeed.
Separated by a single—no, double—pane of glass from all these trees, she launches herself toward them, only to be pulled back by the vines, by the arms. Now she hears the screaming. As the leaf falls from between her fingers, she watches it drift toward the floor. Restrained, she feels its flight, the late light illuminating the borders between it and the air and her body as they continue, continue, continue to erode.

The effects of the human

The road just ends, like that. In nothing. In a field that is not a field at all. Instead, a landscape of harrowed orange-red mud, oozing toward the town. And it

36  ·    ·  

is into this non-field that Guillermo walks, walks away from the last buildings, the house where nobody lives, the house where people go to disappear, the house with the curtains drawn.
His boots squelch in the mud. He trudges. And trudges. And still he is not far enough. The border, if that’s what it is, lies at least another day’s walk away, according to the people who’ve been there, and come back. A very small percentage, he remembers thinking, later, as he sits somewhere without a name, without the papers he never had to begin with.
But he does cross the line and then keeps walking as the mud becomes grass becomes fiery bushes bright with thorns becomes dust becomes stones. When he stops, it is in a small town called Lagarto, though there is no water for miles. The name, some old man chewing his tongue tells him, comes from the mine. Are you here to work?
Despite the endless hours of walking and sleeping in silence, in holes, in the declivities of the land, in the gullies, the ravaged valleys of the south, Guillermo has not yet had the opportunity to consider the answer to that question. Though opportunity might be the wrong word because it was that process of consideration precisely that he was walking away from when he left a small village he’s already forgotten the name of.
The question, then. Yes, he says, believing it to be the most correct of any number of plausible answers. But the man shakes his head, glances darkly at the sky, and spits upon the ground, causing a small plume of dust to erupt from the surface of a stone, rise briefly, dissipate, and then fall, diminished. In moments, all trace of it is gone. The effects of the human on an inhuman landscape, Guillermo thinks, because he has not stopped analyzing that which lies outside his mind simply because he has left his home.
A ferric line of ants bars the ground, separating the two men’s boots, Guillermo, and the man who could never be his father. Best to move along, the

37  ·    ·  

man says, but Guillermo’s already walking away down a road that has recently been graded, small mounds of dirt and rocks at fairly regular intervals off to the side like mountain huts for small travelers. A bed, a cook stove with some gas, a small window. What else does the hiker need?
Companionship, perhaps, but he knows better than to expect a replacement for what he has so willfully left behind. Instead, the dun serpent wallowing in the gray dust. The dead lizard, desiccated, brittle. The new road, foundering unsurprisingly just 200 steps from where it began.

Something you can do to save yourself

The problem was that the board needed a hole. You could get a plastic seat and some chains at the hardware store, but if you wanted a wooden seat, you had to make it yourself. Which involved a drill that had a large enough bit and enough torque to do the job. Meaning, today, that this job would not get done.
Again. He feels the summer slipping away from him. Already, slipping. As in that moment when you’re about to fall, but haven’t hit the ground yet. When you believe, mistakenly, that there is something you can do to save yourself. The disparate parts of your body all searching for purchase when there is none to be found.
He stares out the window over the kitchen sink at the tree branch holding the rope. Where is the swing that will entertain us? the voices say. The voices echoing against the brittle chambers of his head. Oh, where is the joy of summer, the elation of swinging free from the branch of the old oak tree?
The coffee pot grumbles, the dishwasher chokes on something. All the windows that have been closed overnight now need to be opened. Again. The scent of the lawn, the birds. Those glorious, flitting birds. He cannot stop

38  ·    ·  

the plunge of the day to watch them, but he would if he could. Slow the whole damn thing to a slug’s ooze and just stand and stare at those, he has no idea what they are—swifts? sparrows?—as they zing through the fragrant air like machines, brushing the very tips of the newly shorn grass with their bellies for what appears like the sheer fuck of it all. Those brilliant birds.
Perhaps he can borrow a drill. Perhaps he will need to retrench and admit that a plastic seat and chain will not cause the summer, this summer, to collapse around them all in despair. Indeed, the red plastic seat might seem almost jaunty in the sparkle of the early morning. With the birds—swifts, sparrows—darting among the various waves of light to stitch up the sky.
From its wounds. Because let’s not kid ourselves, there are wounds and they will not just go away with the heady feeling of flight, transient though it may be. No, they will not go away with the kick of a foot off the spongy grass, but they may be lessened, they may be lightened. And at least it will be complete, that sweet arc from ground to sky and back to ground again. And back to sky. He drinks his beer amid the skimming of the birds, as all the humans, too, perform their practiced motions. Until—and here he finally catches the breath he’s been chasing—the whole thing looks not unlike a great, silent machine run entirely on air.

A good, solid weight

She had been waiting for weeks and then all at once it was over. A dark, cloudy evening, the smoke in the air. At the tips of her fingers, she could tell that it was almost, but not quite, spring. At that point, which is why she and several others had chosen it, the Tuman was shallow with a sandy bottom, and slow moving. All she had to do was not get caught.
The brightest part of the night was the water, carrying a slick scum of

39  ·    ·  

industrial pollutants that gave it an orange sheen she wouldn’t be able to fully shake for another few days. And the smell… something between diesel fuel and bubblegum, sweet and familiar.
On the other side, near a small graveyard town called Yueqingzhen, the others had people waiting for them, and so were quickly whisked away, cloaked in warm synthetic comforters dotted with cherry blossoms or smiling cats. She waited until the night had inhaled them all before rising from her crouch near the bank. Under a different sky, she walked away from town south toward Bailongdao, a town with nothing, she’d heard, to recommend it except a man who would take people to a slightly larger place called Tonghua, where, if you were lucky, you might be able to convince someone to bring you to Shenyang. And from there, well, she thought, she might as well be in Beijing.
She repeated these names to herself as she trudged through the mud and marshes that lined the river. With each step, they lost more and more meaning, becoming not places she would arrive, but talismans she felt clinking in her pockets, along with the modest amount of kuai she’d been able to collect using methods she’d not discuss with anyone.
Just like them all, she’d left a family and she still couldn’t imagine any way to talk about that. She whispered Chanxinping, Xiashijian, Zhongping, Heqitun, Bailongdao to herself as she walked. It was so dark and desolate here, and the river murmured unceasingly, so she almost didn’t see the man with the gun who was standing atop a small hill looking back across the river.
There was no question, however, of him not seeing her, backlit as she was by some great redness in the sky she imagined might be dawn. He turned his gun toward her and approached. Stricken, desperate, she couldn’t move until he was just a few steps away at which point she threw herself down at his boots and began to pray.
He touched the barrel of the gun to her neck and prodded her up. He was

40  ·    ·  

Korean, she saw, but that meant nothing until he whispered that he, too, had crossed the river. That there were more of them coming and he was the lookout. She closed her eyes and imagined them lining up across the river, then wading in, what was it called? Baptizing themselves in the sickly waters, then washing up here, nowhere, having been reborn into, what did they say? The spirit.
She returned to her knees, not believing anything, but feeling, now, so tired. And not knowing what to do next, other than keep walking to connect the names of the towns she’d memorized. Which suddenly seemed like a stupid, hopeless thing to do.
Come with us, the man said. Are you alone? We are going to Bailongdao. Her heart leapt such as it never had. The pieces of her former life began to shine with all the reflected light that stayed inside her for fear of illuminating everything.
And that’s when she knew he was lying. There were no others in the river waiting to be born again. Bailongdao was just some name on a map; it probably didn’t even exist. She began to question whether the river she’d crossed was even the right one. Perhaps she was only halfway home, stuck in some isthmus of no country, unable to return or go on. She spat in the man’s eye, and turned to run as he struck her with the butt of his rifle, knocking her down into the mud.
When she awoke, she was in a room made of glass. She’d had no choice. Anyone would have done the same. As she smiled for the tiny cameras that dotted the unbreakable windows like splattered bugs, she repeated her own name again and again, louder and louder until she was screaming it, but still nobody came.

Buy them all

The first mistake was the Greenpeace fair. I mean, up till then, we’d kept to ourselves, tight, like that. But then I wanted her to start thinking about the

41  ·    ·  

world, its problems, and do something, anything, to help. So I suggested the fundraiser, helped her make the signs and staple them to poles around town. Clunk, clunk, clunk, clunk, I can still hear the staples as they bedded in the wood.
It was one of those things, you think. That your kids should be exposed to. So that they understand. And she took the money she’d made on cookies and lemonade and selling some of her dolls and toy cars, and she counted it out and brought it to me in a box. I wrote the check and kicked in the stamp, and then, as far as I was concerned, it was done. Good, and done.
But for her, it was just the beginning. Over the next few years, she emptied our house with fundraisers, even selling my records for Burma or Myanmar or wherever. Summers, she got internships and externships and handed books to my wife and me, that serious look in her eye, pressing our hands as she made the handoff, as she trusted us to allow this book, and the next and the next, to change our lives.
It turned out that I was too old for that, although she was successful with my wife, who left when she realized the extent of suffering going on in the world, literally, as she said, literally under our noses. On our watch. She disappeared into the trackless wilds not three years ago, and while I still receive postcards from places I never knew existed, they never say anything that I can understand.
My daughter, although she did not go then, has left recently, for good, I think and she says. For good. I believe her and force myself to be proud of her, although I wake every night gasping. Visions of her coming to me, blood streaming out of her eyes. Or lying on the ground covered in snakes. Or half-buried, clumps of dirt like rotting flowers in her hair.
Of course, these are just dreams. I sit here now, picking out words on a keyboard, waiting for her replies. She tells me about the markets there, how you can buy voodoo charms that will keep you alive forever. Buy three, I type, but she goes on to discuss the distribution of water and how there aren’t enough clinics set

42  ·    ·  

up to allow the volunteer nurses and doctors to treat the sick.
Buy three, I type again. Buy them all. But she does not write back. The Internet goes out so often during our conversations that I’m not surprised, but I still sit here, sick, too, with no one coming to take care of me, no fetish dangling from my neck. While I watch the cursor blink, I see her there, in that yellow light, the dust from the east rough on her rough skin.
Sandpaper, she writes, as though she were here with me, listening. A hammer and nails. A gun. And I realize that someone else is with me, someone who is not my daughter, who, perhaps, has never been my daughter. There does not seem to be enough air in this room for me to catch my breath. I open a window, which helps a little, and then I type goodbye to that person who responds with a question mark, and the colon and parenthesis of a smile.

No withering, no death

Two hours outside the capital, there are no roads, only rivers. There is no illusion. There is no cessation of illusion. In the afternoon, the crumbling asphalt between road and no road steams. The encroaching greenery is making it nervous, because once one foot is lost, once one inch is reclaimed, then is it not only a matter of time until the capital itself, great city of dreams, is smothered in vines and given back to the river?
For three days, Gilbert’s teeth have been aching, but he cannot afford to see a dentist, even the one who practices under the trees in the Garden of Palms. After work one day, he borrows a shovel from a friend and takes the bus to the Krikie Nigi camp where he will begin digging. It won’t take much, and the ground is full of gold, or at least that’s what they say, the Brazilians, the ones who stand too close and look too deeply into your eyes. The ones who have arrived in

43  ·    ·  

the night and say they will never return.
In moments, Gilbert is covered in sweat and mud. The others, up to their waists in pits of their own digging, seem to be having success, but he does not even know what to look for. He thinks they would tell him, but he’s embarrassed to ask them, the bulging muscles of their arms, their hands full of shining mud.
There is no withering, no death, no end to withering and death. Therefore, he thinks, why am I not free of these aching teeth, this endless futile searching for relief, for rest? He feels something in the pit and thrusts his hands into the mud, scrabbling for a finger hold as though he were a doomed climber. Gold. It must be gold.
Up to his arms in mud, he realizes he is stuck. When he tries to pull his boot from the mud, his upper torso inclines further downward. The body as a simple machine, he thinks. Then, fuck. Now, his face is just inches above the muck, so even if he were to cry out, no one would hear. A new pain rushes into his ears and out his gasping mouth, stuck there with no one to help him, although he knows he has found something that will change his life.
With the sun gone, the red mud turns black. The sounds of the forest switch on, but he also hears the engines of trucks as they rumble back toward the city on that crumbling road. He struggles a bit, then begins to cry, but it is only when he has given up completely that four arms wrestle him out of the mud. He sits there, staring up into their headlamps. The streams of light muscle their way through the particulate darkness, glinting off the crudely shaped nugget of gold he holds in his dripping hands.
One of his saviors says something in a language he doesn’t understand, then snatches the nugget before turning off his headlamp and striding away into the night. The other man hands him a small flashlight and then, too, turns away. As he begins the trudge back to the city, he notices that his tooth has ceased to ache.

44  ·    ·  

There is no beginning to suffering, no end to suffering.
In the night, the night birds sing for all the gold that is left in the ground.

The abdication of the subject

Ask anyone about it and they’ll tell you that Rottumeroog is uninhabited. Has been since the vogt died in 1965. What they don’t know is that Wilhelm has been building his bunker there since 2003. Bit of a hiccup when the island split in two back in 2012, but work progressed, after the requisite bit of soul searching.
As in, why am I building this bunker here, a place that will surely be washed into the estuary before I die? But, I argued, it was precisely the fact that it would be washed away, elided by the sea, that made it all worth doing.
Wilhelm has renounced his citizenship. German, originally, but now, he is nothing. He likes to say that he is himself, alone, but only under his breath when no one is listening. And I, well, you would say that I am Wilhelm’s prisoner and have been since he abducted me from that Shell station outside of Maarssenbroek some seven years ago.
Although, as with everything in this country, it’s a little more complicated than that. See, I was running away and was, to be completely honest, not averse to being abducted as long it took me far away from my village of K. A place that had grown odious to me. Exponentially with the years, with my deepening understanding. The red faces, the constant striving, the false cheer.
I welcomed the abduction, especially since Wilhelm is not your typical abductor. I should stop myself there. I don’t have the breadth of experience to make that claim, having been abducted only once in my 34 years. Once is enough, Wilhelm always says, though not about that.
I think that if he knew I was as happy as I am, he might return me. There is

45  ·    ·  

that side of him that is fueled by unhappiness, his own as well as the misery of others. It’s the reason he embarked upon this doomed experiment, and also why he’s been so successful.
Because it is a success, at least for now. The bunker houses the two of us, protects us from the predatory seals and the occasional official who motors over to the island to reassure himself that it is still evolving. The mainlanders seem obsessed over the constant changes to the shape of the island. And there’s a fair bit of self-congratulatory talk. As in: “The island has been largely left alone.” Note the abdication of the subject. They are so laissez-faire that they’re not even in the sentence.
Not Wilhelm and I. We are pioneers on these shifting sands. Beneath, actually, but let’s not quibble over semantics. We come and go by night, under the power of no engine, no sail. We tread the seas together, captor and captive, both unnamed, unnamable. And what you understand of our lives together would fill a teaspoon, while we gaze over the water at your own doomed enterprises, comprehending the vast scale of your failure.
Still, I take no pleasure in unhappiness, even when it is that of my oppressors. Instead, I keep my eyes on the water. I model my life after the oystercatchers, those obvious and strident birds, as I nest in my own bare scrape, pebbles and sand—amid the constant wash of the sea.

It hurts

There was a time that he was on the island of Palau in the middle of the South Pacific. He couldn’t remember now what had brought him there, but what he did was build cabinets to be installed in the houses that were being constructed. There were not many houses being constructed at the time he was there, but he built the

46  ·    ·  

cabinets for all of them. And he was a very careful carpenter, despite being young, probably too young to be so far from home.
He did not get homesick. He was not that kind. Instead, he focused on his work and he drank Red Rooster amber with the other men who worked for the contractor who built most of the homes on Palau. At the time, this contractor was quite upset that he had not received a recent contract to build a large waterfront home on a piece of property that was owned by a minor Hollywood actor. The carpenter told him not to worry about it, that he already controlled most of the construction and remodeling trade on the island.
Still, the man said. It hurts.
After a year, the carpenter began to feel restless and decided to return home. He met a woman at the grocery store and the two of them bought a small house together where they would grow old and die. The house had a front porch and some room in the back for a vegetable garden, although the carpenter did not particularly enjoy vegetables with the exception of fresh-shucked corn. He would eat as much corn as you would give him.
Despite the improvements that they made to the house, the woman realized that she no longer wanted to live there and so she left. The carpenter fixed a few things that had broken and then sold the house to a young family with a baby and two dogs. Since it was a small town, he met the new owners and told them about his time on Palau. He said he was thinking of going back there, although he knew he never would.
Instead, he drove to Alaska to work on the boats, but he had never enjoyed the sea and would often become sick. After he made enough money to justify the trip, he returned to the small town where he once owned a home. The house was still occupied by the young family and the carpenter saw that they now had another baby, but that one of the dogs had died. There was a small grave marker in the backyard, the place where his former wife had planted a row of cucumbers,

47  ·    ·  

several rows of peas and some kale.
During the days, he would drive by the house once or twice, just to see if the older child seemed to be happy playing in the front yard that he’d fenced. She did. But at night, he would park his car several blocks away and walk through the alleys until he reached the back fence and the gate that he’d fixed. It was fixed so well that he was able to open it without a sound and then walk slowly into the yard, sticking to the shadows made by the trees that had been there long before he’d bought the property.
He reached the grave of the dog where he would sit with his head in his hands, concentrating. The dog’s spirit was still there, he could tell, and that reminded him of something he’d learned from the contractor in Palau. If a thing died and it was remembered too fondly, it could never move on to its rightful place in the other world. And the carpenter cried, then, for the dog and for the children and for his wife and for the contractor.
Outside the fence, the police were waiting, and he shook hands with the two officers before they escorted him to his car and followed him as he drove out of town, into the unincorporated lands of the county where the summer fires had already started to burn.

Entwined like weeds

Under a small tent, not so long ago, a woman waits for a man. She drinks coffee from a small thermos and pages through a collection of poems saved from Mongols during the 13th-century destruction of Baghdad. As a girl, she had been taught that everything in the House of Wisdom had been destroyed by the invaders, but over the past 20 years she’d found perhaps a dozen books that had survived, spirited away by a conscientious scholar, tucked into a hole in

48  ·    ·  

an unmarked wall, buried in the sand.
The survivors were often missing parts of themselves, in this case the first few pages, so that it was difficult to identify the authors. But the names were not important, not anymore, not after so many years.
She sat halfway between the world and the rose garden of the poems, the mystical divan she felt she would never truly understand. She drank her coffee black although she gravitated closer to the dervish than the ascetic. And still, the man did not arrive.
He was a soldier and so her first thought was always of death, though there was no war now. And so she would walk herself back from the calamity of her soldier’s death to an irritation with his lack of a sense of time. For he was always late, no matter the engagement, and reading medieval poetry under a small tent on the shores of a lake alive with fierce black flies, she had to admit, was probably not one of his favorite things. Still, he had said she could choose. During this time when he was not fighting, they’d agreed on that.
With a whisper of wild barley grass and a parting, briefly, of the cloud of flies, he arrived. She pushed herself into him, murmuring words we could not hear, not even with the microphones stationed at regular intervals around the small patch of land they occupied. And then began the interminable process of poetry, first one and then the other whispering the words to each other, pausing, looking out onto the flat, green waters of the lake, embracing, embracing again.
This stuff, while not illegal, should have been, and I kept the cameras rolling in the hopes that some future administration would see this effrontery for what it was—a kick in the teeth of all good people everywhere. It had to be said that the flies were getting worse, though they seemed to be leaving the lovers alone, and at one point I stumbled in trying to remove one from my ear. Stumbled and fell. And looked up into the barrel of a gun, for soldiers here, even when there is no fighting, do not forget to carry their weapons.

49  ·    ·  

I had nothing to say, and so I began talking about the dissolution of the Abbasids and the nightingale and the rose. I showed, even there in that godforsaken place, that I was not unlearned. And the gun barrel slowly descended, leaving in its place the face of a man who watches sparrows.
Sitting together, under the small tent, I pointed out the placement of the microphones and showed them the video. We discussed the predicament of the inconstant beloved when presented with the fervent lover. While they, entwined like weeds, offered me sweet dates and pistachios in exchange for my promise of silence.

Some half-crazy dream

Hands shaking, perspiration dripping from his forehead onto the already slick keyboard, Dr. Bhagooli, senior lecturer at the University of Mauritius, amends the last few footnotes to his soon-to-be-published paper announcing the discovery of a new endemic species of the brown seaweed Sargassum robillardii. He stops to sip his sweating gin and tonic and grimaces as the bitter quinine hits the back of his throat like a needle.
Too late, he thinks, and then downs the rest of the drink. He’s had malaria for 16 years, 11 months and 23 days, which is almost as long as he’s been working with seaweed. The two facts of his life intertwined like an adolescent Hypnea musciformis, its cylindrical branches with their desperate tendril-like hooks. And in all likelihood attached to a hardy sargassum, the two plants and all their meanings coexisting forever in the warm, shallow seas of his imagination. Time, my god, for another drink.
Outside his small house in the sugarcane fields near Piton, Dr. Bhagooli listens to the humming of the mosquitoes as they zing through the heavy air. He’s

50  ·    ·  

taken to leaving the windows open and has torn down the screens, which once protected the porch, because at this point, who cares. There’s no saving him now.
Still, he’s been intrigued lately by the research pointing to the ability of some varieties of the sargassum species to inhibit the in vitro growth of the malaria parasite. And although he has told no one, Dr. Bhagooli has established a small seaweed farm of his own just off the coast. The robillardii, of course, his now-adolescent child, the hope of his old age.
And when he drives down to the sea, it is in the dark of the night, when no one can see the tremors that rack his body, his constant stunned amazement in the face of an illness that cannot be cured. Except, he thinks, through the studied application of years of research and an unhealthy willingness to toss it all away in the hope of some half-crazy dream. He drives to the sea each night, because the plant must be fresh, with the tang of salt still sharp in its tendrils.
He drives to the sea each night, because the fever has caused his body to separate itself from his mind, as a defense mechanism perhaps. The result, however, is that his conception of the world he inhabits has veered so far away from the experience of his body in that world, that he has achieved a sort of ecstatic optimism, which is in no way grounded in what most of his colleagues insist on calling reality. He is buoyant with hope, on his drive to the sea.
And when he arrives, he strips off his sweat-soaked clothing and steps into the still-warm waters, thrilling to the brush and sway of the plants against his naked skin. Sometimes there is a moon above, and other times, all he sees are stars. Whatever the source of the light, he lays himself open to it, photosynthesizing as best as he is able at this late point in his life. The energy produced—frisson, spark, charge—is his alone, and he hoards it against the endless lassitude of coming days.

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Their portion of things

While the Paradise Hotel is in Manila, it is not in the Philippines. It has no address and it is quite difficult to find, except for the people who are already on their way there. Who have been invited. For them, it is impossible not to find the Paradise Hotel.
The men who stay at the Paradise Hotel, and they are always men, are like the ants in a field of long grass. They climb the blade nearest to them, look around, and realize that the blade they are climbing is not the blade they are meant to be on. And while the blades have not been artificially sharpened, they retain the ability to slice through skin all the way to the bone.
So the men in the Paradise Hotel must be careful. And careful they are. Because the men in the Paradise Hotel are not here to die. Not yet. They have not come this far—because some of them come from half the world away, just for this, for these moments of climbing, of surveying, of epiphany and despair—to lose their footing and bleed out here, on the multicolored carpet of an unnumbered room at the Paradise Hotel.
The Paradise Hotel employs a tattoo artist, although most of the men who come here do not get tattoos. Would not consider it. For the ones who do, however, consider it, there is quite a gauntlet to be run. The tattoo artist—he has long black hair and a wispy beard, dark eyes and a steady hand—says that he knows within five minutes of a client’s appearance whether he will do the work.
Because the client must deserve the work just as the work must benefit the client. And for those worried about pain, about permanence, about regret, the tattoo artist sends them on their way. For there are other tattoo artists in the world who are all too happy to spill their ink on any paying customer. The tattoo artist at the Paradise Hotel will counsel restraint and forbearance, will advocate for hesitation and second thoughts. And then he will take the client by the hand

52  ·    ·  

and he will walk him to the door that leads out of the studio. It is not the same door that leads in. That was one of the conditions the tattoo artist placed upon the Paradise Hotel before he accepted the contract.
When the disappointed and confused client is shown the door by the tattoo artist, he re-enters the public spaces of the Paradise Hotel. There are many things to do here, but very few of the guests have any interest in doing them. Instead of visiting the gym or the indoor swimming pool or even the hair salon, the men who stay at the Paradise Hotel shuttle from room to room, discussing matters in low tones. Each of them has the undying belief that what they are doing at this very minute could affect the course of the world to come.
As do we all. Although not all of us stay at the Paradise Hotel, which exists only insofar as it is imagined by those of us not invited as guests. Just as our skin is marked only by the absence of tattoos from the tattoo artist who occupies the penthouse of the Paradise Hotel. Just as we are unmarked, so, too, we begin to exist in our imagining of the men who come and sometimes go, always disappointed with the lack of finality that they had imagined would be their portion of things in this world. Of course, none of us receive that, not even when we are worthy. If there is one thing we will always lack, it is a satisfactory ending.

Chris McCann’s work has appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, Pedestal Magazine, Salt Hill Review, and Noctua Review. He lives on Bainbridge Island.

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A Multiplicity of Gray
Monet P. Thomas

“Her focus on works in palettes of white, black and a multiplicity of grays could not appear more dramatic nestled in the ivory bays and continuously flowing spirals of the Guggenheim’s interior.”
                                                        —Michael Fitzgerald, The Wall Street Journal

I should’ve been in Philadelphia, not queued outside the Guggenheim with A-. On exhibit: Picasso in Black and White. Just after Christmas, in the throwaway days of December, we should not have been together. Not that way. Now, years later, this day feels made up, ridiculous. I don’t want to believe I could be unfaithful, that I chose to be unfaithful. But the day did happen. Standing there in the line, the morning so cold in the city, my body shook. And A-, visiting home from Spokane, was so close that the air between our bodies was warm.
The truth is, parts of that day I engineered: making him pick me up for bagels and coffee, the ride into the city. Other parts were chance: how we got lost, realizing I wasn’t going to make the bus to Philly even as we sped toward it. I should’ve said, A-, take me home. I’d wanted a few moments with him, I admit, but I didn’t expect a whole day. We didn’t know about Picasso. We just saw the iconic white building against the sleet sky, decided Why not?
It took Frank Lloyd Wright years to complete the blueprints for the Guggenheim, after countless revisions and fights with the patron. He would never see the physical manifestation of his work before his death. Before the Guggenheim, just about all museums and art galleries used an open design, consisting of a series of inter-connected rooms, which forced participants to retrace their steps and experience the art a second time as they exited. Wright’s original vision, utilizing a sloping ramp and an elevator, directly contradicted that

54  ·    ·  

model. Using the elevator, museumgoers would begin at the top of the gallery andfollow the downward momentum of the ramp, engaging with the art in a uniform and linear experience.
Standing in the lobby and looking up at the winding bays, the skylight, I couldn’t help but think Wright accomplished even more than he aspired to. The structure was overwhelming and church-like in its dignity. I felt the urge to pray, though I never prayed. I had to tell myself, “You are not a tourist. Close your open mouth.” But like tourists, ignorant of our ignorance, we started up the ramp, not understanding why there was a line for the elevator.

“You feel art and architecture converging as you turn from the daring yet delicate spatial enigmas in The Accordionist (1911), one of the grandest of all Picasso’s Cubist compositions, to the shifting spatial arabesques that are revealed all through Wright’s mobius strip of a museum.”
                                                                                  —Jed Perl, The New Republic

I knew next to nothing about Pablo Picasso prior to our trip to the Guggenheim. I knew the artist was Spanish, had seen pictures of Guernica and knew vaguely of its implications. My explanation of Cubism would’ve involved hand motions as well as words. And I knew that, like Wright, much of Picasso’s mythos was tied to his numerous affairs. Standing behind A-, who always got as close as the crowd and security allowed, I looked past him, tall and thin, and saw what books and lectures couldn’t teach me. Art should stand like a building or a child grown to be an adult—without help or explanation, without preamble or backstory. Even as I try to tell you about this day, I can’t know if I’m telling it right.
Up and up we went, the crowd growing as the lunch hour neared. I followed close on A-’s heels, but didn’t hold his hand, though I wanted to with

55  ·    ·  

everything inside me. Instead, I held onto the dark hem of his winter coat as his height and determination parted the crowd. The biggest group formed in front of a section of Guernica in monochrome, the artist’s draft before the famous version. The horse’s head in white with box teeth. Black shapes of space, an open gray mouth.
“Interesting,” A- said.
“I think I like it in color better.” I said.
“Yes,” said A-, said, “but look how many shades of gray there are.”
I looked. We moved on. I’d always thought of Picasso in riotous color, but over and over we saw he’d found infinity with just black, white, and gray. And despite the reviews I’d read later, I still saw Picasso’s women: his daughter, his wife, his mistress, his other mistress, his muses. He could never be without them.

“Black and white intensifies our sense of Picasso’s changeableness. You see black as line and plane, surface and substance, pure thought and pure emotion.”
                                                                                  —Jed Perl, The New Republic

I know what it means to be changeable. I’d changed my mind about what was more important to me more than once, but in the end I went with knowing there would always be food on the table. I didn’t know if I could be an artist without a muse, but I knew I couldn’t be an artist at all if I was starving.
The night A- finally kissed me, we were standing outside my Spokane apartment building, the night air cooling around us. Summer was slowly giving way to autumn. I’d be gone in a week. Even now, I can feel his hands on my body: one on my face, the other gripping my side, like he’d been waiting his whole life. I kissed him back. I already loved him. I didn’t want to use those words then, but it

56  ·    ·  

was love filtered through a multiplicity of gray, closer to black than white, and not enough.

“The spiral layout, affording generous views ahead and behind, might actually be the perfect format for Picasso displays. The artist, after all, was always looking back at himself even as his creative drive corkscrewed ahead. The theme-and-variation dynamic that emerges establishes not just the high level but the true nature of Picasso’s intelligence.”
                                                                             —Sebastian Smee, Boston Globe

The day at the Guggenheim was a stolen day. The last of its kind, and we knew. For us, sharing art was as much an act of infidelity as going to a hotel room. We didn’t talk about the past, the other people in our lives. I was myself, in love, distant. He was himself, quiet, sure. We looked at the Picassos, shoulder to shoulder when space allowed, unfaithful together. At the top of the gallery we leaned forward against the railing and looked down. The lobby was swarming like a hive but without a seeming purpose. A woman in a trench coat had her head tilted back, looking up at the skylight, her straight black hair falling behind her.
We failed to fulfill Wright’s vision—a clean path from elevator and ramp is rarely fully realized by the average museum-goer. But on reflection, I found the second viewing of the art instructive. I followed A- down, studied the line of his neck, and remembered how my mouth felt against that one soft place. I remembered the nights I knew I loved him, but would not pursue it, instead choosing to stay with who I was already with, the two of us quiet and content. I remembered the first day we met in a park. Down we went along the sloping

57  ·    ·  

ramp. It had been summer, and then was winter. The lobby came quickly, the ground flat again and then we were stepping out onto the street. It was snowing, the flakes melting when they touched the ground. The sky still, and light, and gray.

Monet Patrice Thomas is a writer and poet who currently lives in Idaho. Her work has been published in Hobart, Nailed, Knockout Poetry, Arcadia Magazine, Cobalt Review, and Word Riot, among others. Born in Virginia and raised in North Carolina, she holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the Inland Northwest Center for Writers at Eastern Washington University in Spokane, Washington.

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Senior Time
Kelly Froh

I’m a failure.

In many ways.

I’ve been laid off from several jobs. The last time I asked for it. I literally said, “Let it be me.”

I left the office and vowed never to dress “business casual” again. I dumped four pairs of worn thin black pants into the nearest donation bin. I also stopped shaving my armpits, why not?

That job was killing my body. My knees pulsed with unearned pain. My lower back was in a constant throbbing knot. I said to people as a joke, “I’m the same shape as my office chair!”

I still sit a lot, but in a lot of different seats.

I started my own small business. I sit with seniors in their homes and we talk about what’s on their minds, and the latest shooting, and if Donald Trump could really win.

I go buy their groceries. Sometimes we take a walk. I balance their checkbook, do some dishes.

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“See you next week!”

I sit on the bus. On the 8, 5, the D, and the E; the 10, 21, and the 44 to the 43.

On Fridays, I host “Coffee Corner” at a nursing home and try to make it fun despite having to serve lukewarm decaf. I have a list of topics and I fire them off one by one until someone is engaged enough to speak—
“Yeah, I was at the Seattle World’s Fair, it wasn’t that great.”

“The worst thing to have happened to Seattle is when it started calling itself a city instead of a town.”

On Mondays, I run an art class for seniors. I suggest to one lady to maybe paint some clouds in the sky and she says, “Where?” and I say, “Up there, at the top” and she does it, but then says, “Now what?”

One of the best students in the class is blind. She asks me where her colors are and I describe the palette: red at noon, blue at 3, yellow at 6. She paints wildly for 10

60  ·    ·  

minutes then shouts, “DONE! (pause) Do you see the red butterflies, flying sideways, and the kitchen with the blue drawers?” “I see them,” I say, and I do, mostly.

Sometimes I teach kids how to make comics, or, I try to.
“What are we doing this for?”

“So you can express yourself creatively and feel the satisfaction of making your own little book.”

Later, I pick up the comic left behind on the table and it’s mostly blank except for the center pages that read,

“Hate You.”
When I’m not doing these odd jobs, I sit at home at my laptop with my electric heater burning quietly beside me. I think about drawing, but instead I reply, forward, like, comment, schedule, create Google docs, and try to mark off items on my “to do” list. I spend more time organizing art events than making art myself.

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That wasn’t really the plan when I volunteered to help organize a small, one day comics fest 5 years ago.
Now my partner and I plan festivals two years in advance because of grant deadlines and we text ideas back and forth no matter the time of day. My boyfriend told me to stop telling people that I didn’t have a real job, or that I was still officially unemployed. But to me, unless it was 40-hours a week routine drudgery, it didn’t feel like something I could claim. I am finally working in the arts, in a way I never expected.
“Dear Applicant, this is your third and final warning, if you do not pay by the end of the day, we will have to give your table away.”

“Dear Donor, as you likely well know, being a nonprofit does not mean that we don’t desperately need your money…”

All these actions used to be sneaked in at the office, when an eight-hour day was

62  ·    ·  

endless—when the time it took to get to noon was a whole day in itself, and after 3 pm felt like several. I’d look down at my outfit and think, “OMG I’m wearing the same clothes I wore on Monday. Oh wait, this is Monday… still.”

I’m making less money now at 41 than I did at 21, but I feel I am doing my greatest work. I am piecing together a living with four jobs and time is speeding away like it doesn’t want to be near me. I feel like I am always working, even when I’m obviously just watching TV.
“I feel like I am going die, Kelly.”

“Well, you are. But probably not for a few more years.”

We toast with little cups of green tea, “To NOT having cancer!” and then joke about the good looking Safeway pharmacist and how he could give us a flu shot anytime!
Perhaps I’m now on senior time, since I’m so often in their world. Is there something coming up behind me? What is that in the distance? It’s two parts anxiety and one part ‘eh, …who cares’.

63  ·    ·  

“What are we doing now?”

“I’m wheeling you down the hall.”

“To where?”

“Your room.”

“Then what?”

“Maybe you’ll watch TV, or eat a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.”

“Then what?”

“Well, maybe you’ll get tired and take a little afternoon nap.”
“Then what?”

“Then you’ll eat dinner, maybe talk with your neighbors for awhile.”

“Then what?”

“Then, it’s bedtime and you’ll fall asleep and have a long, vivid dream of a full life; of childhood, and playing, and growing up, learning, coming into yourself,

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successes and failures, finding something you are good at that you can call your job, challenging times, good and bad but always meaningful relationships, places visited, meals eaten, homes cared for, pets, books, time alone—a life filled with lots of love and happiness.”

“Then what?”

“Then, you die.”

Kelly Froh was born in Sheboygan, WI, and graduated from Emily Carr University of Art & Design with a BFA in Fine Arts. She’s self-published numerous mini-comics and zines, including the all-comics magazine “The Weeknight Casserole Collection” and the Ignatz-nominated “Stew Brew” (in collaboration with her partner Max Clotfelter). Her comics have appeared in Seattle Weekly, Poetry Northwest, and The Women’s Review of Books. Currently an art and creative writing teacher with Seniors Creating Art and WITS (Writers in the Schools), Kelly has performed her comic stories at the Hugo House’s acclaimed Literary Series, Gridlords, Lit Crawl, Pecha Kucha, On the Boards, APRIL, Spark Central, and at Bumbershoot. Kelly is also the co-founder and Executive Director of Short Run Comix & Arts Festival, and in 2015 was nominated for a James W. Ray Venture Project Award.

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About Moss

Moss is a literary journal of Northwest writing. 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. As The Seattle Review of Books put it, “Moss is at the vanguard of modern Northwest literature.”

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.

Connor Guy
Alex Davis-Lawrence

Contributing Editors
Sharma Shields
Michael Chin
M. Allen Cunningham
Elisabeth Sherman
Diana Xin

Manager of Outreach
Amy Wilson

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Issue Archive

Volume 01 (2014-2015)

Issue 01 (Summer 2014)   |  Available online or as a downloadable .pdf
Features an interview with Ryan Boudinot, an essay by Donald J. Mitchell, and fiction by Christine Texeira, Clayton McCann, and Nate Liederbach.

Issue 02 (Winter 2015)   |  Available online or as a downloadable .pdf
Features interviews with Peter Mountford and T.V. Reed, essays by Charles Finn and Matt Briggs, and fiction by Eric Severn, Corinne Manning, and Robert Cantwell.

Issue 03 (Spring 2015)   |  Available online or as a downloadable .pdf
Features an interview with Rebecca Brown, essays by Rebecca Brown, JM Miller, and Steven Moore, and fiction by Miriam Cook and Jenn Blair.

Volume 02 (2016)

Issue 04 (Winter 2016)   |  Available online or as a downloadable .pdf
Features an interview with Elissa Washuta, essays by Eric Wagner and Gina Williams, and fiction by Michael Upchurch and Kjerstin Johnson.

Issue 05 (Summer 2016)   |  Available online or as a downloadable .pdf
Features an interview with Mitchell S. Jackson, essays by Tiffany Midge and Leah Sottile, and fiction by Leyna Krow and Sonya Chung.

Issue 06 (Fall 2016)   |  Available online or as a downloadable .pdf
Features interviews with Alexis M. Smith and Amanda Coplin, essays by Monet P. Thomas and Kelly Froh, and fiction by Anca Szilágyi and Chris McCann.

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Call for Papers

We accept fiction and nonfiction submissions on a rolling basis. Though we will consider pieces of any length, we prefer submissions of at least 1,800 words; shorter pieces may be paid at a reduced rate. We are not accepting poetry at this time.

Submissions are limited to current residents of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and British Columbia and those with a substantial connection to the region. Simultaneous submissions are acceptable, with the condition that you notify us immediately if your piece is accepted for publication elsewhere. Please send only one submission, attached as a Word document, to mosslit [at] gmail [dot] com.

Moss pays $125 for each accepted piece. We buy First Serial Rights. There is no fee to submit.
Interested in supporting Moss? Subscribe today to get the annual print anthology (starting with Moss: Volume Two this December) delivered to your door before it hits shelves, and get other perks like early issue access, special edition merchandise, discounts at our online store, and more. You can also follow Moss on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr for news, links, events, and conversation about Northwest writing.

For occasional updates on the journal, including news on our upcoming issue, subscribe to the email list below.

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