When Michael Hower began digital photography ten years ago it was founded upon a fascination with abandoned buildings and landscapes. His work focuses on historical themes, portraying human objects/structures in modified environments now devoid of human activity with a particular interest in places of industry, prisons and graffiti. Mike’s work conveys themes of wear, deterioration, and nature’s reclamation of manmade environments via architecture and landscape. He has taken dozens of place-seeking journeys across the Mid-Atlantic states showcasing a whole range of forgotten, other worldly and bizarre places, including the pieces in this series of the abandoned Hospital for Contagious Diseases on Ellis Island.
A crack of thunder jolted Sarah from a dream as lightning flared, casting shadows on the bedroom walls. She blinked. A fleeting thought: secure the unfurled patio umbrella and outdoor cushions, or the storm would ruin morning brunch with her parents. Beside her, Nick snored. She slipped out of bed and left the bedroom. After living with her family in the two-story colonial for over twenty years, she navigated by the storm’s light with confidence.
She descended the stairs, her bare feet sure-footed on the carpeted steps, her hand gliding lightly on the staircase rail, smooth from years of Murphy’s Oil Soap buffing. Rain pelted on the roof while the wind howled through a downstairs open window. Quickening her pace, a series of lightning bursts illuminated a view of the kitchen below.
At the counter, a side view of Powell, her nineteen-year-old son, naked. When was the last time she had seen him naked? He stood hunched behind a nude woman, her bent torso sprawled face-down on the kitchen island, his flesh pressed against hers, his large, bony hands gripping her hips. The freckled pallor of his skin contrasted against Serita’s complexion as he banged her from behind, his face contorted, eyes closed.
Long dark hair cascaded across pale granite swallowing Serita’s face. She panted the softest of moans. Waifish arms extended beyond her locks. Serita’s fingers gripped the opposite edge of the counter. Silver nail polish shimmered. Was metallic in fashion?
Powell uttered a low cry, squeezed a final release as his eyelids fluttered. A tympani drum of thunder rolled. Sarah’s hand broke from the railing to cover her mouth. She stopped herself from gasping, but she was unable to stop the downward, automatic motion of her feet, and when her eyes connected with her son’s, she stumbled, tumbling down the last steps.
Julia Poole is a writer and former speech-language therapist who worked with a variety of patients, including incarcerated youth. Her writing has appeared in The Sheepshead Review, Hypertext Magazine, and Dunes Review, among other publications. She’s received a Pushcart Prize nomination. A Midwesterner at heart, she has lived on both coasts but prefers the wooded tranquility of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Mowing the field west of the train car my grandfather bought in 1935, a retired Pullman, the “Constitution.” It perches above Rock Creek, overlooking a floodplain of thick woods where bluebells carpet the floor in spring.
I’ve waited too long. The grass, two or three feet tall, hides mounds of dirt and winter-downed branches dropped from oaks fringing the field’s perimeter. My right foot rides the Deere’s clutch continuously, my right hand on the mower’s lever to raise when hearing the blade hit wood or hillock. Duck out of the way as brambles and branches the vertical exhaust pipe catches then sweeps back at me. The first pass goes slowly, in first gear, gas levered high to speed the mower’s revolutions, my path a snail’s coil into the center, throwing what amounts to hay bubbling out like a wake behind the five-foot blade, the right front tire treading on previously mown grass. The fuzz of dust and seeds build on my naked back. Something briefly blinds an eye. The knuckles on the index finger of my left hand turning the steering wheel burns like it’s been macheted. The mower lowers to kill what poison ivy it can. I swing as close as possible to the trunks of outlying trees to cut the flora around visible and invisible roots.
There used to be beef cattle here. We’d climb the fence, the top wire barbed, and walk with our hardballs, mitts, and Louisville sluggers to the open area of the field from which we’d chase any cattle grazing there back into the woods and ravine beyond left field. We’d pitch and hit, run to first while the outfield ran down the ball, no one not stepping in cow pies, their crusted shells squished open to gooey yellow filling spreading onto the rubber bottoms and up the canvas sides of Keds. Rules were Main Man out, right field closed if not enough players, at-bat team pitches to itself, and any ball thrown to home plate for an out can’t be intentionally dropped.
Now the fence is down, the farmland’s sold, and the floodplain where my brothers and farmers on horseback herded cattle up to the barns for feeding has been given to the town for a public park. Our family owns only the five acres around the train car.
A third time around mulches, somewhat, the long, bunched, pale green clumps of stems, thistles, and occasional early wildflower. The field needs raking. I’ll wait for people to help me with that. It’s illegal, but we’ll burn the piled grass, the gray smoke giving us away. No one will bother to come. It is, after all, early spring, and nature needs to be governed.
Richard Holinger’s books include the essay collection, Kangaroo Rabbits and Galvanized Fences, and North of Crivitz, poetry of the Upper Midwest. His work has appeared in Southern Review, Witness, ACM, Ocotillo Review, and Boulevard, and has garnered four Pushcart Prize nominations. “Not Everybody’s Nice” won the 2012 Split Oak Press Flash Prose Contest, and his Thread essay was designated a Notable in Best American Essays, 2018. Degrees include a Ph.D. in Creative Writing from the University of Illinois at Chicago and a M.A. in English from Washington University. Holinger has taught English and creative writing on the university and secondary school levels and lives northwest of Chicago far enough to see deer, turkeys, and foxes cross his lawn. He’s working on two collections, creative nonfiction and short fiction, many pieces already appearing in journals such as Iowa Review, Western Humanities Review, Chicago Quarterly, Hobart.
according to her story / a woman, blind in one eye / didn’t tell her parents / she couldn’t see / until she was twelve. / Horrifying, but / she made it funny / and tragic because / obviously. / Got me thinking / what I’d kept quiet / not as cool as a blind eye / but a good story / like Dad’s wooden leg / trophy of a motorcycle crash / one he never talked about / not even at the dinner table / us kids quiet and still / not rapt, terrified / because wrong moves went noticed / no one wanted to be guinea pig / for whatever reproach / Dad delivered that day / eyes fixed on our plates / eating dinner with his gun / to our heads. / He could have said grace / could have bared his teeth in smile / could have seen us / two good eyes and all.
Instructions for a Life
unfurl the gravel road as a tablecloth, a bedsheet
drifting low towards horizon, stars spiriting upward
into the gloam. tug on the string of night, open
the door of birds blown from muddy fingers
their songs like sermons, like recipes. suds
buds bulging knots on limbs, massage
into being with fingertips dipped in wine. you
are halfway there. now comes the wait
weight of it all, trucks ticking time along
the highway hauling burdens to & fro
in shutter-speed time.
sleep. when the breadbox of morning lifts
it’s time to water the grave, excited as you’ll be
to untangle the fathomless frog of your throat
in the cattail bog harboring fairies in the marsh.
Cyn is an Associate Professor of English at Knox College where she teaches creative writing and literature. She is the author of Ten Tongues, a collection of short stories and also writes nonfiction and poems, some of which appear in such places as Still, Fourth River, American Writers Review and Poetry South. Cyn makes her home in Forgottonia, a downstate region on the Illinois prairie.
This town has a rusted roof gas station,
a store shelf where you would find
charm and shame sitting side-by-side,
as inseparable as lovebugs,
buy-one-get-one for the last 50 years.
You can still buy a scratcher ticket – or twelve,
and sit, welcomed, on the sidewalk
with your dreams of a less-debted life,
or watch as barefoot beauties walk west to work,
carrying babies bulging with
Dollar General budget-nutrition.
Don’t forget your manners if you’re just visitin’,
one proper and polite nod to say,
“just like my daddy did,”
to all those with their collars blue
just like the sky-paint on the gulf.
“Poor, rural, and southern”,
is meant by most
to sound scary and scabbed
just like the shallow intimidation
of pitbull pups scratching and slobbering
against their chain-link boundary lines.
But to me it sure looks a lot like
lovin’ and learnin’ that the things
worth having take the most time,
saturating slowly like sun tea
brewin’ in the porch-pitcher.
I spent a decade patting makeup
onto the warm red tones of my neck
to conceal a crime of culture,
instead of questioning
why moving up
had to mean moving away.
These memories had a lesson for me,
like a neighbor pulling my ear
back to my mother for new wisdom,
chastising me for talking to strangers,
forgetting my manners,
and not listening to my father.
These memories are like mangrove mud,
hugging my ankles until I am stalled,
anchoring me to mindfulness of a moment
tinged with something sour,
like that sulfuric smell across the marshes,
that is hard to romanticize – yet still cues a smile,
when its rotten earthiness tells me that I am home.
It is only in this pause,
the stillness before a shifting tide,
when I can clearly recall and recite
the scripture –
the allegory of me,
and where it was written.
It was composed here;
In the nimble thank you wave,
at a neighbor kind or neglectful enough
to turn an eye as I swiped citrus slices
from yard overhangs,
to rub into my vulgar mouth,
with dirty hands.
On the sweet-wind steeped from
magnolia blooms and orange blossoms,
the perfect perfume to compliment
a blushing heat-sick face.
It was spoken over the rumble of thunder,
during the can’t-miss primetime storm watch,
hurricane season 2004,
sung with the intoxicating breaths
of the gulf stream,
scented with pheromonic petrichor.
They say that one man’s white trash
is another’s treasured upbringing,
and through the catharsis of return,
a lowbrow renaissance,
I know both to be true.
My only infallible faith is in the
beauty visible from the gutter,
and I will celebrate each day
in the midst of a perennial
like the Christmas lights draped
on fences, roofs, and trailer tops,
hanging on with staple-gun hugs,
all year ‘round.
Elizabeth Curley lives a dual life as both a poet and a social work researcher. Elizabeth received a Silver Medal from the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards in 2012 and is still writing a decade later. Elizabeth’s time is spent consuming, collecting, carrying, crafting, and quantifying the human experience.
Larena Nellies-Ortiz is a photographer and arts educator who lives in Los Angeles, California where she loves to color, texture, and shadow hunt in the early morning hours. Her photos are featured or forthcoming in Barren Magazine, Burningword Literary Journal, Local Wolves Magazine, Stonecoast Review, 3Elements Review, and Sun Magazine.
Issue 107, published July 2023, features works of poetry, flash fiction, short nonfiction, and photography by JC Alfier, Linda K Allison, David Blumenfeld, Rose Mary Boehm, A. Cabrera, Tetman Callis, Megan Cartwright, George Choundas, Michael Crowley, James William Gardner, Kaisha A. Girard, Jaime Greenberg, Tae Won Kim, Rebecca Klassen, Amy S. Lerman, Anne McCrady, Anna B. Moore, Donna Obeid, Terry a. O'Neal, Geon Park, Dian Parker, Sara Pirkle, Christy Prahl, Niles Reddick, Nicolas Ridley, Claire Scott, Patricia L. Scruggs, Mara Adamitz Scrupe, Erika Seshadri, george l stein, Eric Fisher Stone, The Nature and Psyche Project, Scott Urquhart, Viviane Vives, Emma Wells, and Stephen Curtis Wilson.