When Haven’t I

The first human cremains I should have seen? What kind of question is that? I have an answer — my mom’s. I did not see them because when they were done (is that the right way to put it?) I was living 300 miles away. I had them overnighted to her mother, 1,200 miles away. The first human cremains I actually saw were on the east bank of the Susquehanna River in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Heavy-duty plastic bag, from a distance like sand. But then, label, name, death date, crematorium address. The name was Duka. I thought it was a cremated dog, like a female Duke. I regret this assumption but I volunteer at the dog shelter and they aren’t no-kill, so.

The next morning I returned, re-read the label, saw a surname. A person. Two coins by the bag. Fare for Charon? A straight shot to one of the islands, the afterlife. It’s a wide river.

I searched for an obituary, found none. Do I often search for obituaries? I’m not going to answer that. Saw references to the ethnicity. Nepalese. The city had accepted Nepalese earthquake refugees. They lit funeral pyres on holy rivers, part of the passage to reincarnation. I guessed that waterborne funeral pyres were not allowed in central Pennsylvania. I could picture elderly Nepalese doing the next best thing, ferrying ashes to the river’s edge, just setting them there. And the coins not for Charon, but maybe Lakshmi coins. Wealth.

I went back day after day and crouched by the bag, curious and sad. Who else visited? Is that a question you’re really asking?

I had this question: Why ashes? Cremains look like smashed coral. When have I seen smashed coral? When haven’t I. I kept thinking of the scene in Cheryl Strayed’s Wild where she tastes her mom’s ashes. I could not imagine putting this fine gravel of bone against my lips. I could envision reincarnation, however. Even Charon, I could imagine him.

What happened to the cremains? A flood, rafts of branches pummeled the bank, broke the bag. When the river level dropped to shallow, I could see a white swirl embedded in the mud, like a shred of a shroud. Wouldn’t the flood have taken it all away?

I hate your questions. Why not ask what compelled me to return and look.


Jen Hirt

Jen Hirt is the author of the memoir Under Glass: The Girl with a Thousand Christmas Trees, the essay collection Hear Me Ohio, and the poetry chapbook Too Many Questions About Strawberries. She is the co-editor of two anthologies of creative nonfiction. She is the editor at the Journal of Creative Writing Studies. Her work has won a Pushcart Prize, has been listed as “notable” in Best American Essays, and was nominated by Terrain for the John Burroughs Nature Writing Award. She is an associate professor at Penn State Harrisburg. Read more of her work at jenhirt.ink

Dragonfly Puzzle Box


Honeyed mystery of mahogany,

oak, walnut, teak, Fall’s tawny

offerings sanded into curves,

smooth invitation to touch,

like the sun-warmed thigh

& rising hip of that sunbaked

young woman you once were,

drowsing on a black sand beach

in Santorini, water beading

on your belly.



This box hides your secrets:

How did you get from there to here?

What bodies? What lies?

The stolen quarters/kisses,

the unmade bed, the 6 a.m. departure.

What did you know & when?



After you’ve been unmade,

can you learn trust like fitting

pieces of different puzzles

together? Remember how

they returned your uterus

to its wet cave after the knife

discharged its shrieking cargo?



How do you birth yourself

into a new name, receive

the gift of it in another’s mouth,

let it melt onto another’s tongue

like Amaro—bitter/sweet & smoky,

let that same tongue undress

your inhibitions, rendering

skin & sinew, splaying bones,

exposing the last hidden chamber?



Is it too much—

all this allowing?

How your ribcage’s rusty hinges

once oiled with clamor and hush

swung wider and wider in desire.



Were you too much, wearing

your need like drought?

How he slipped away

in millimeters of silence,

disappearing even as he stood

before you—naked, dripping,




Your blind fingers stagger

around the subtle lynchpin.

Had we arrived at the end

of each other? Or could a box

be a road to reunion?



Relax. Let surrender carve

a door to a new dimension. Step

through. Let his arms curve

around you. Let his elegant hands

reveal what was jigsawed shut:

a lacuna large enough

for hope.


Elya Braden

Elya Braden is a writer and mixed-media artist living in Ventura County, CA, and is an editor for Gyroscope Review. She is the author of the chapbooks Open The Fist (2020) and The Sight of Invisible Longing, a semi-finalist in Finishing Line Press’s New Women’s Voices Competition (March 2023). Her work has been published in Anti-Heroin Chic, Prometheus Dreaming, Rattle Poets Respond, Sequestrum, Sheila-Na-Gig Online, The Louisville Review, and elsewhere. Her poems have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and Best New Poets. www.elyabraden.com.

Stephen Curtis Wilson





The Office

The Office

Time for a Change

Time for a Change




Remembering Reid’s

Photographs by Stephen Curtis Wilson

In late 2020, Wilson was contacted by a family member of Reid Larson, owner of Reid’s Mobil Service Center in Edwards, IL. Reid would soon retire after over 50 years working with cars and trucks and 40 years as owner of his own station. Reid’s family wanted to give him a large, framed photograph of his station. Meeting Reid was a joy for Wilson. During his time with him, he stated that it was easy to see Reid loved his customers, and they loved him right back. After photographing the building façade, Wilson asked Reid for permission to photograph the interior of the building. Along with the requested large, colorful, framed building portrait, Wilson provided the family a copy of everything he photographed that day. Reid was given a photobook at his retirement gathering. These are a few of Wilson’s favorite photographs from the project.


Stephen Curtis Wilson

Wilson photographs Central Illinois. He was a medical and generalist photographer, writer, and communication specialist in the health care and library science fields for 36 years – cut steel in a foundry and drove a truck for a time. He graduated from the fine arts program at Illinois Central College, received a BA from the University of Illinois, and is a juried Illinois Artisan for Photography at Illinois State Museum.

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