French Macarons - Raspberry Buttercream

Photo by Mariko

Managing editor Matt Weinkam on today’s bonus fiction: Please, I beg you, read “The Quiz and the Pledge” out loud. Few stories are so rich with sound or crafted with such care for rhythm that they beg to be recited like a poem. But—goddamn—just listen to the sentences here. JoAnna Novak wields words like fire, the prose sparks on the page, but only by reading aloud can you appreciate the full blaze. So find your partner, your cat, a half-empty cereal box, whatever, and read the shit out of this story. You won’t regret it.

The Quiz and the Pledge

True and true: Willie thought of herself as Weepy Willie, blobby and blue-haired. But also: the first non-binary TKE pledge. A macaron maven. A nocturnal voice against the far-right. Breather of oh, Dad. Tugger of the uncalloused hands of god, Mom, whose goodness could only be considered when their knees were next-door neighbors on the pew.

She swiped her answer across the screen, glinting in the glare. Her roommate had given her a haircut, and now Willie’s blue was close to the scalp and feather, and the sun was burning her neck.

She was on the patio, out back. Inside, the stovetop timer was counting down from twenty-two. She would hear the minutes run out. The beep, she knew, would came jabby and short, like being pecked to death by a hummingbird.

True and true: She had completed other surveys about movies on her phone in the last three month; no one in her household worked in the marketing, entertainment, or automotive industries. She was on spring break, but even back in the dorms, she suspected the women and two-spirits with whom she shared affinities for certain web series and one made-to-movie musical and hard cider and kimichi turnovers would not immediately come to mind when the app asked what comprised her household. Would TKE—that ricky, racky, gingerbready monstrosity on the corner of campus—reorder her brain?

Willie touched her neck. It was so hot her hand was a relief. Her fingers were cooler than her palm. Even still—she got up, rotated the lawn chair, and faced the other way.

Now her face would burn.

Her mother was out and thank God. In the family room, her father was dunking his mustache in a midday Scotch. Soused walrus, she shushed him. He liked that word—soused.

So did she: soused in the house in the south.

She tipped her chin toward the sun and watched the world darken through her glasses. Yeah, they were Transitions; no, she didn’t care. Willie leaned back, until she saw the bricks her mother had hired the El Salvadorians next door to pave. She let melanoma souse her jaw. She licked her lips—mm, cancer. Macarons were mostly sugar, sugar and nuts, almonds, pulverized.

Pul—that was another sound she like. Pulchritude, pula, Pulaski, pullus.

She listened for the timer. When her family first moved to sunniness, Willie had spotted a baby hummingbird: pullus. A pulchritudinous pullus, the size of a pustule.

False and true: She enjoyed dramas and romantic comedies. She lived in a house where other languages were spoken. Her mother trotted out the French like a show pony. And every Uber driver got an hola.

You couldn’t help what rubbed off.

It was her mother’s suggestion Willie make the macarons. And now they were in the oven. They were growing sturdy pink feet. Rosewater flavored the cookies—it would flavor the filling, too. (Cream + white chocolate) x stir = ganache.

Willie waited. Her screen had stopped feeding her questions. She tapped the device, where a mandala was dialing around and around. When her mother took her to therapy, they passed a billboard for hypnotism. Had she been clouded by the sun? Something about her answer meant she hadn’t qualified to complete the survey.

She closed her eyes and watched a dollar in quarters sizzle away in the heat. Laundry, a tube of trail mix, a packet of Top Ramen. The surveys paid for whatever—it was Willie’s call, no questions—not like her mother.

It was then the figs started falling, a shower of uncracked walnuts. They were hard from the sun, withered after winter, and purple and green, the size of Willie’s burns. Her mother had tricked her, taken her to the beach shop on the pier and bought her a new bathing suit—why? Just to admonish Willie.

What my daughter has done to her thighs! And before a dinner.

As though Willie would be serving macs in the nearly-nude.

The fig that dropped onto her phone screen was wizened, so purple it had become brown. It made a sound—Willie knew it—the plop of a fist hitting a thigh from up-close. Her thighs were blobby. Bruised blue on the tops, blistered red on the insides, where she’d used a cigarette lighter from her roommate’s old Accord to administer the burns. No questions, her own single in TKE: was life such a miracle? Locusts, figs, families—and birds, baby birds, hummingbirds bashing their beaks against the hood on the stove.

JoAnna Novak is a writer of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Her debut novel, I MUST HAVE YOU, will be available spring 2017.

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Schools out

Photo by jonathan lopez

She wears her hair in a tall blond beehive. The first time I saw the documentary, I couldn’t stop staring, the freckles barely visible under her face powder, the unflinching gaze. She looked like my childhood southside Chicago babysitter, missing only a Virginia Slims cigarette and a can of Tab. She’s the one who now, when I re-watch the 1977 documentary The Word is Out on DVD, is so matter of fact, so hey this is who I am, OK? I fell in love with the woman next door so they took my kids, but still I can’t change. I fast forward to find the next time she talks, in her starched flowered blouse, a thin gold chain around her neck, sitting on her couch, a knitted afghan at her back, next to her sturdy lover who is a bit shy compared to her, but that’s no surprise. Even if the butch is a top, the femme is usually the tougher of the two. Don’t mistake a lesbian femme for a girl—that’s my survival story.

It’s no surprise that this old school femme and old school butch are way out of lesbian style now, but so is the butch-femme renaissance of my late-1980’s lesbian generation. The hard gender split between two women in love, this magnetism of queer opposite attraction—but too simple now for me to just say I am a femme who goes for the butches. Even my longtime butch-is-the-least-of-it spouse says if we were young today then she might self-define as trans.

Every generation is right to carry on the queer reinvention story, but of course I miss when we were the ones remaking. The resurgence of gender differences between women that made my 20s are for my students the stuff of their parent’s, or even their grandparent’s, generations. I speak to them from an indeterminate space between their parent’s and their grandparent’s lives—the space within which the lesbians in the movies are still wearing stiff tweed suits and tilted fedoras, loners who smoke and keep the books. The space within which Liberace still glitters from his prime time TV specials, my grandmother tittering when he squeezes the puffy fur collar adornments of his white mink coat as he asks, in his high gay closet inflection, “So do you like my fuzzy balls?”  The space within which later all that changes, where lesbians sit in first Donohue’s, then Oprah’s chair to say I am, I do, I knew. The space within which Audre Lorde makes up the word biomythography, telling us there is even a special name for our stories, that we are a joyful creative people who get to make up more words as we go.

I teach an undergrad course called LGBTQ Memoirs in the college catalog, but which the students and I together decide to just call Queer Memoirs. This a general education, literature-of-identity class and my job is to teach them that art has layers and indirection and nuance, and that identity is more mutable and strange than what they read in web memes listing “Ten Things You Should Never Say to Your Genderqueer Friend.”  We read books related to the kind of books I write, but right away I see that my body—the body of their tattooed Queer Nation era professor, always wearing high boots and dresses with pockets, always waving her arms around trying to get them to listen to her stories about how the generations before them lived— is also a book, a badly organized archive of queer history, of which they know little. This is one of the problems with memoir, not knowing where our bodies end and our books begin. What part of my body is a survival story and what part is just what’s left of what didn’t endure?

The beehive blond and her mannish husband were even more out of style when I first saw the movie, in the waning days of lesbian androgyny, all that utilitarian short hair, plaid shirts, and work boots, as if at all times we needed to be prepared to change spark plugs or cut down trees. When I saw them first, when I was just coming out, I didn’t see all the ways they were a part of my story, but now I know how little I knew then, having not yet learned that what holds us all up is the same force that keeps that blonde beehive from tilting—hard and attentive will, intelligent construction, some support, and some massage, and a whole lot of hairspray. In Queer Memoirs I screen not only The Word Is Out but also other documentaries where body after body parses out identity, each word—butch, stone butch, soft butch, bulldyke, stud, lipstick, fluff, femme, high femme, stone femme—is a marker of surviving in worlds where as Audre Lorde said “we were never meant to survive.”

And we might say the words themselves are our stories—the kind with voyages and conflicts to overcome, drama and tears and finally arrival. We talk in class about the interrogative power of language, about how testimony and memoir overlap but are not the same, about how the ways stories are told changes the meaning of story itself, and I ask them to talk about why queer stories matter. The slender trans student who always sits to my right, the only one in the class who requested we refer to them using the pronoun they, laughs in recognition when I say “The one in the movie with the big blond beehive is my hero.”


The Elements of Literary Memoir;

  • Not just memory but interpretation of memory;
  • Frankness and honesty;
  • Emphasis on the inner life;
  • Attention to childhood and youth;
  • Everyday experience as earthshaking as a grand battle.

Like that night in the early 1990s, when the park near the art museum in the center of the city is filling with women. Tattoos glisten under the streetlights and some of the women take off their shirts. The Lesbian Avengers have learned a few good circus tricks and now they’re standing on the tops of cars and are literally eating fire. We pour into the streets, ready to march, no marshals, or street barricades, or police, as there will be tomorrow at the regular Pride Parade. This is the first year of the Dyke March in this city and we march where we please. We start to move, motorcycles first. On the curb are some boys, friends of ours, with signs that read Cocksuckers for Muff Divers. We wave as we pass, me on the back of Linnea’s motorcycle, Linnea muttering about running her engine too slow. We walk, or we ride, and the boys are not the only ones with signs, but there is just one other I remember.  A lone woman with gray hair holds a handmade placard that reads LESBIAN FEMINIST. She is not shouting, or smiling, or eating fire. She is just holding that sign. Maintaining her position. At the time I rolled my eyes, but now I get it. Those words were her story.


The Elements of Queer Memoir (the teacher’s list):

  • The personal is political;
  • Identity is a navigational map between places and communities;
  • Heteronormative and cis-normative expectations are enforced in mundane and often invisible ways;
  • Queer storytelling makes queer what has previously been considered normal;
  • Sex is on the page.

I found more stories from The Word is Out in an archive in San Francisco.  The filmmakers were making something that hadn’t been made before, and like a lot of us didn’t know what they were making until they made it. And so they interviewed everyone they could find, cases of tapes, queer story after queer story. I was working in the archives on another project entirely, but the documentary outtakes waylaid me.  I kept asking the librarian for more, spent days hunched over a video monitor, observing unedited testimony. The inarticulate hippie. The revolutionary poet in no mood for the children’s questions. The novelist with the dirty laugh. I understood why the filmmakers cut what they cut. The first queer documentary ever had to represent. The subjects needed to be coherent, likable, and friendly enough to keep from scaring the straight people. They needed apparently brave stories. Less flawed than typical human stories. This was not the time for novelistic complication or even a place for a complex documentary rendering of contradiction. The first documentary subjects to speak of the love that dare not speak its name had to speak in a manner that would be heard by an audience barely willing to listen.

But that’s the trouble with conventional story, with linearity, with the desire-plus-obstacle-plus–action-plus resolution equation. Sometimes story inscribes when we need meaning to skew, codifies when instead we need meaning to break free. I want another movie made of all those outtakes. If at first we need a neat arc in order to live, later we will likely need something else, to survive the disappointment when we get to the end of the journey to find the terrain has changed.


The Elements of Queer Memoir (the student’s list):

  • The narrator grapples with internalized oppression;
  • Unconventional genders and sexualities flourish within queer communities;
  • Intersectionality means all queer stories are not the same;
  • Memoir is an act of self-redefinition.

I think of the lesbian feminist placard at the Dyke March whenever my story and another, newer, story don’t mesh. Do I carry a placard for a fading story, and if so what does my sign say? My lesbo-queer faculty colleagues and I, at the university where I teach, chatted about this recently. What does the L in the LGBTQ mean now, not as a descriptor but as a political category, in the wake of the beautiful explosion of trans visibility? If gender distinctions as we’ve known them are false, then what is a woman-loving-woman?  We were talking about our activist students, how some of them won’t claim the identity lesbian because to their ears the word invokes something like what the lesbian-feminist placard meant to me— a self-rendering stuck in the past, an unwillingness to keep evolving—but much worse. To them “lesbian” equals transphobic, so they identify as trans, or genderqueer, or queerfem, or just queer. They’ve changed not only the names but the lens through which they see what the names are supposed to describe.

Some lesbians my age are enraged by this conversation, charge the youth with erasing their forbearers’ stories, but I think questions keep us alive. Still, this leads me to a linguistic hitch in my own story:  a lesbian femme, in love with a butch who might be trans due to not feeling right inside the word woman, leaving me to be a woman no longer defined by loving a “woman,” which within the current alphabet of non-normative identity is what?  A trans chosen-family nephew of ours says that makes me a B for Bi, but how can that be correct when the last time I fucked a “man” was in a rustic cabin in 1982—this also being the last time I ever slept in a rustic cabin—and even then I did neither with much enthusiasm.


The Elements of My Queer Memoir

  • My life has been lived within shifting political histories;
  • My home is located on an ever-looping map between my given and my chosen families;
  • Femme lesbians are curio cabinets of misplaced heteronormative expectation;
  • I hate the conflation of women and beauty, but secretly love when you tell me I’m pretty;
  • Queer femmes resist tidy stories about our bodies to avoid confinement inside the stories others tell us about our bodies;
  • Sex will always be on my pages;
  • Queer friendship has always been my liberation;
  • If I am now normal then I have changed normal.

And the self-redefinition at the center of memoir? In the 30th anniversary edition of The Word is Out they re-interviewed the beehive blond, still sitting aside her hubby, both of them in lawn chairs this time, great grandmothers now. She’s still high femme, but wears her bleached blond hair unbound and long. Time is change with echoes. Perhaps my placard will be just an image, a take-no-shit, old-school femme from the high hair days, not anyone in particular, just an enduring bottle-blond fortress, holding against against the elements, no plot, no redemption, more poem than story, swaying, never toppling.

Barrie Jean Borich is the author of Body Geographic, winner of a Lambda Literary Award in memoir, and My Lesbian Husband, recipient of a Stonewall Book Award in nonfiction. She’s an associate professor at DePaul University in Chicago where she edits Slag Glass City, a journal of urban essay arts.

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Photo by Pen Waggener


We at the Passages North office have officially been on summer break for a few weeks now! To celebrate, we had our editors finish the following statement: “You know it’s summer break when _____.”

Jacque Boucher
Spoken Word Poetry
Juneau, Alaska

The reason you haven’t gotten around to reading all those books you said you would gets a little fuzzy. (See: “it’s so nice today,” or “I’m not wearing pants.”)

Hayley Fitz
Associate Editor, Fiction
North Ridgeville, Ohio

instead of “busy” meaning “i have 12 books to read and 283472983 papers to grade,” it means “well i still have three seasons of Always Sunny to finish and it would take a lot of work to put clothes on at this point”

Matt Weinkam
Managing Editor
Cincinnati, Ohio

Two midgets shitting into a bucket. (Wait, I thought this was a Cards Against Humanity setup. I guess I know it’s summer break when I can’t distinguish between appropriate/inappropriate, a card game/ reality.)

Ashely Adams
Associate Editor, Creative Nonfiction
Watervliet, Michigan

Black flies.

Robin McCarthy
Managing Editor
Belfast, Maine

Today I showered for the first time in 8 days. That was my tip-off.

Mike Berry
Associate Editor, Fiction
Troy, Michigan

I get random cravings for stadium hot dogs, $9 beers and frozen lemonade and I start hearing phantom loud drunks cursing the White Sox.

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Being Watched

Photo by Tony Alter

Associate fiction editor Ben Kinney on today’s bonus story: Kyle Ellingson’s “Weekend Out” isn’t a word longer than it needs to be, but the story is stunning in the sheer scope of what it manages to deliver in a few hundred words: characters that seem real, jokes that land, and images you will think about for the rest of the day.

Weekend Out

With Dad:
Walked out of potentially sexy film, at Dad’s behest. He intuited approach of soft-core denouement and swept us out “just in time.”

Napped on enormous L-shaped couch, head to head on long wing, plus Dad on short wing. Awoke when Dad gagged, bitten by own cat, likely in prompting of feeding hour—though really nowhere close to feeding hour. Cat is senile incontinent, name of Hucky, with drooling condition. Learned noun: feline macular degeneration. “Why can’t you be courteous, like my daughters?” Dad, dribble of blood and drool from ankle, said in style of cursewords at Hucky, who flattened ears, aggrieved.

Trod on already kinked tail of Hucky. Whiled night handling raw salmon scraps, coaxing Hucky out of nook of towel cupboard, so Dad could administer vital insulin shot.

With Mom:
Chaperoned to sex talk for adolescents, hosted by open and affirming unitarian church. Lectured to by “loving” couples in sexless chevron shawls, holding hands: man + woman; woman + woman; man + man; amputee + intact; Russian + Somalian; blind + dwarf. Learned adjective: pansexually monogamous.

Afterward, scolded with frown for asking whether handicapped + 180 IQ is acceptable pairing. Learned catchphrase: gray area.

Up late with flashlight, temple to temple in top bunk, snickering at homework pamphlet of mating techniques of diverse species:

Cats—Linked together during sex by male’s barbed penis.
Dogs—Linked together during sex by ballooning tip of male’s penis.
Humans—Linked together during sex by desire for stimulation or by various senses of social or financial obligation.

Breakfasted with Mom and Mom’s significant other, who kept wondering aloud if Mom would like to sit on his lap. Polite, as if lap were platter of hors d’oeuvres: “Lap?” Watched blushing Mom issue same excuse over and over: couldn’t get up with kitten dozing in lap. When kitten stirred, Mom clenched forepaws until, tired from much writhing, it again dozed off.

With Grandma:
Sat at picnic table in park without picnic. Grandma proffered rerun analyses of demise of our parent’s union. Listened with abiding interest as lifetime subscribers to Grandma’s penchant for explanation.

“Your father is afraid of intimacy that results too regularly in hippity dippity. As in, Does she love me or love the hippity dippity? Your mother is afraid of aging and disease and confuses a profusion of hippity dippity with youth and health.”

Cat below, harnessed at end of leash. Munching grasses. Empty-headed bovine calm. Turning head to snack on fronds. Occasional regurgitation and resettling in grass away from unwanted cud.

With Grandpa:
Elbow to elbow, bowed heads at foot of sunken patch of soil. Greener grass on patch than around it.

Beloved son, father, grandfather, lottery winner.

Grandpa there below, with cat decaying in sphinx pose on stomach, the spot it slept on so decisively in life, through nightly tosses, swattings, and turnovers.

Kyle Ellingson lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota, where he works for Garrison Keillor’s Common Good Books. He held a few moderately physical jobs before sitting down to sell books: raking sand traps at a country club, policing the mist button of the bearded dragon coop at a pet shop, bathing fruit in a university kitchen. His favorite recent reads include Elizabeth McKenzie’s The Portable Veblen, Greg Jackson’s Prodigals, and Teju Coles’s Every Day Is for the Thief. Kyle’s fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in journals such as The Carolina Quarterly, Hobart, Redivider, and Chicago Quarterly Review.

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Stir Fry

Photo by Petterl Sulonen

This week, we asked our editors: What recipe best describes your current writing project?

John LaPine
Associate Editor, Creative Nonfiction
Ishpeming, Michigan

Stir fry.

Sara Ryan
Associate Editor, Poetry
Ann Arbor, Michigan

Cheese and crackers. Mostly because I’m still trying to figure my shit out and I don’t have time to make myself a proper meal (or poem or whatever). But it’s sustenance/nutrition anyway.

Sarah David
Associate Editor, Fiction
Minocqua, Wisconsin

A recipe my husband invented called the “whatever” when you just throw a bunch of random tasty ingredients into a pan and hope they tastes good together…mainly because I have a lot of ideas at the moment and I’m not sure yet if they’re going to mesh well in the end.

Ashely Adams
Associate Editor, Creative Nonfiction
Watervliet, Michigan

Step 1: Grab some freshly diced monster kids and a smoked unnecessary research (everyone likes reading about Venusian orbital variation right?)
Step 2: Throw into quesadilla shell. Add cheese
Step 3: Throw into the microwave for about 3 minutes
Step 4: Pull out storydilla. Scream at it for the next three hours
Repeat for next ten years

Jacque Boucher

Spoken Word Poetry
Juneau, Alaska

Right now, my thesis is “So You Committed to Throwing a Dinner Party 6 Months Ago. Now What?”

1. Read the entire Write Bloody library and draft an elaborate plan for a five-course meal. Tell EVERYONE. Invite all your friends. Really ham it up.
2. Let marinate for 3-4 months while you read more and watch a lot of horror movies and cartoons for “research.”
3. Wake up from a stress dream where you serve your friends hackneyed haiku and Saltine crackers. Briefly consider hiring a caterer or moving someplace where no one’s ever heard of this dinner party.
4. Choose instead to double down on the showmanship. Become intolerable.



Patricia Killelea
Poetry Editor
Alameda, California

Assemble ingredients: Emotional/Experiential/Linguistic.

Toss everything into a bowl that’s too small and stir. Gather what’s displaced and save it for another recipe.

Now set the mixture to music, then play that mixture backwards. Let rest for one season, preferably in silence.

Return when only the bones remain. Listen for the song in the marrow.

Take the utmost care in plating, and leave the dish somewhere hungry.

Learn to ignore the sound of people chewing whatever it is you’ve made, and set your hand once more to the great work.

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Photo by marc falardeau

by Sarah Bates

Where there is no love, put abstract animals. Where there is no love, put lipstick. Put mascara. Put lipstick down the throat of a rat.*

Where there is no love, put information.

Every time I pick up Sarah Vap’s Viability it’s the gush of pink ribbon. The horoscope and the children inside. It’s the pounding of a circle into the side of a barn and waiting for the sun to strike it.

It’s like I’m someone else walking out of my life and into another.

Another time at my dining room table crying over infants and boats, someone else’s weather and a bear in a skirt. Another time falling asleep to a meditation on J.Lo and loss, Paris Hilton and critics of globalization.
There isn’t language enough to process what Vap has exploded in this stunning collision of lyric and exploitation, absurdity and capitalism, slavery and time’s thickness. Just like that, Viability becomes one of the most urgent books of poetry.

From the start, Vap’s language is as dreamlike as it is jarring. With bodies filled with splintered logs, a mother carving out her own eye, the infant and the carriage— alone, we are immediately taken to an entire night of loss. Loneliness as performance. Strong fat legs. The shivering seed and the climbing vine. Every page asking its reader, another time, how to live differently after encountering the last. How to replace an embryo with a bikini.

Where there is inability, put worth dragging down ones own weight. Where capital is misused and drawn away, put more inability.

Every sentence questioning a world without speculation. Human emotion that drives consumer confidence. The glass we’ve trapped the roach under.

Slaverys failure is the fault of slaverys inabilityput much more fault, put membranes between the faults, and there you will find inability.

Every other sentence asking what we do with the body between four boats. Petrol prices. Foreign waters. The other glass that broke.

To let alone something that I might have touched.

Vap is relentless, addressing the evils of a world that looks away, a world that gorges on a multi-million dollar fish industry, a world that bought twice as much lipstick after the Twin Towers fell.

A world trying to measure a stillborn god and a growing, the wire wrapped around its torso and a love that begs you to be brave in the face of the killing and the giving at once.

After my fourth reading of Viability, I still don’t know how to tell you everything.

Vap’s work has me waking up at 2am thinking about everything I’ve ever lost, the value of security, how it may decline. It has me waking up to motherhood, blackened milk, and life in regards to profit.

Bodies of women in regards to profit.

The bear in the skirt in regards to profit.

The woman’s body as a list of hard facts.

The pull.

It has me waking up to the glow of the planet, to bees in bikinis, the hands that deliver the infant. Bodies upon bodies then spring.

It has me measuring the way we talk to God.

Sentence after sentence creating an index of all the things one is afraid of someday losing. And isn’t this why we write? Why we keep picking it up? To process, to understand, to grapple and explode. To be the child waiting in the horoscope. To keep waking up when our heart is so open it hurts.

Isn’t that why we live?

Vap’s work is a brutal meditation on love, on increase, the “cash cow,” asking, what do you secretly believe in? What do you secretly want?

How do we keep believing, keep wanting as the infant grows, as love’s holler collapses and silently screams into our mouths? When the heir to memory is a love that might hurt us?

Where there is no love, put continuation or put increase or put proliferation and there you will find the love untenable. Language is not infinity. Language is not hopeful. There is no rapture in language. Language is always doing. Language is never undoing. I admit that I had hoped to love and be loved.

Vap has created language which questions itself. Language which begs us to consider how we measure the losing, how we value the human life in regards to economy and time, how we let alone something that we might have touched.

The infants breath moves with my fathers breathing machine.

Todays slave can be bought for a few hundred dollars.

As the infant grows it will be crushed.

This haunting collection manifests the gaps. It’s lyric carving out canyons in the midst of silence. Silences collapsed in the middle of relentless speech. Sentences that enter through wormholes in order to be let into the darkest places.

We learn about the fluctuation of cotton, one plate of rice a day, and enslaved fishermen murdered at sea.

Page after page, line after line, we become enamored with the returning to, corporate takeover strategies, chemical elements and summer as adolescence. Spring as infancy.

We wake up to the power of loss. Fill our coffee mugs to the power of the fear of loss. How it grows.

We watch it creep into our dreams, feel it swell through bodies we are bound to.

We search for the final color, we hope for something permanent.

We wait for the coffee to brew.

We laugh when someone makes us that happy.

Now I can whisper something to you and it didnt hurt.

[* Note from the editors: All italicized text is from Sarah Vap's Viability.]

Sarah Bates is a creative writing MFA candidate at Northern Michigan University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Washington Square Review, BOAAT, First Class Lit, Pacifica Literary Review, and The Normal School, among others. She lives in Marquette with her goldendoodle, River.

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Photo by Rising Damp

Spoken-word poetry editor Jacqueline Boucher on today’s poem: Mehrnoosh Torbatnejad’s poem, like the color it embodies, resists being classified as just one thing. On the page, and in Torbatnejad’s hypnotic reading, “Blue” is neither meditation nor obsession. Rather, it’s something like an unfolding, a diving deep through shades of ocean water.

Listen to the poem here.

Read a transcript of the poem here.

Mehrnoosh Torbatnejad was born and raised in New York. Her poetry has appeared in The Commonline Journal, The Coe Review, Kudzu House Quarterly, and The Chiron Review. She lives in New York and practices matrimonial law.

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[Listen to a spoken-word version of Blue here.]


He tells me, I see you rock a lot of blue,
pointing to the icy glitter painted on my eyelids,
blue blizzard hue manicured on my fingertips,
cold topaz stones hanging low from ear lobes,
and the cool navy lace stretched tightly around my skin

Impressed, I tell him, I do rock a lot of blue,
and then, as if to reward his observation,
I suddenly open
like mussel shells abandoned,
risk jump, dive
into an Atlantic ocean of truth,
fearlessly recite my biography
inked in blue

Yes, I rock blue, like the blue whale:
flippers flecked, polka-dot skin,
long bodied, flat-headed
Though she’s the largest animal that lives,
still can’t escape the fear of extinction
A heart that weighs a thousand pounds,
still not loved enough to be protected
Visitors watch her only from a safe distance
Museums will come close only for her blue-lost skeleton

Yes, I rock blue, like Persian blue:
calculated lines and symmetrical designs
perfectly combined
in geometric glory painted on these tiles
that speak my history in turquoise calligraphy,
but how quickly
they discount my identity,
as if I wasn’t once an empire
They just want the blueprints
to the nuclear power’s
Misidentifying shades,
they tell me,
is only foreign policy

I tell him, but let’s turn the conversation light
blue, because tones don’t just carry woes, and
I can still relax blue like jazzy blue,
and I love the background screens
of Jeopardy blue, and I dance 80s blue
to Madonna’s True Blue,
and I sing along to blue jays, Beyoncé Blue, and every
World Cup I cheer for Seleção’s blue, and I’ve been
collecting words and letters in a mailbox blue,
and I’m a compulsive cookie eater,
but still a friendly monster blue,
and I know God’s love is royal blue, whether in cyan domes,
or His sky blue; even midnight blue
unfolds streaks of a holy view

But he tells me, I mean,
I see you rock more of that other blue,
and how much do you trust someone
before you show them your black and blue

Okay, yes, my birthstone is the sapphire blue, but
what use is a precious stone if not
chiseled and treated, sculpted slim,
carved thin, cut and fractured,
made presentable,
angles and edges acceptable
to the buyer
Waxed and sparkled steel,
blued to prevent the surge of rust,
but though polished and varnished
even solid gems erode,
and the electric blue spark will lose its glow
because this color was born and bruised
into my fibers,
like the cornflower blue coats donned by
the Kennedy kids at the funeral

I showed him
that this tall glass of water
is only clear because it’s filtered,
but my body of water is just
a deep blue sea,
and the courage to reveal this
comes once in a blue moon

So tell me, you,
You, who knew I rock a lot of blue,
why did you add a new shade
to be named after you

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Eigerøy - Norway (2)

Photo bY Sten Dueland

This week, we’re well into our end-of-semester exhaustion and anxious to get away for a little while. With that in mind, we asked our editors: If you decided to just pack up and leave to live your dream life, where would be the first place you went?

Robin McCarthy
Managing Editor
Belfast, Maine


Mike Berry
Associate Editor, Fiction
Troy, Michigan

Toss-up between Boulders Beach in South Africa where a penguin colony lives or Bury Quay in Ireland, where the Tullamore Dew distillery is. Penguins or Irish whiskey. Whichever seems like a better idea at the time.

Mariel Murray
Associate Editor, Fiction
Berkley, Michigan

Jeffrey’s Bay, South Africa.

Amy Hansen
Associate Editor, Poetry
Sycamore, Illinois

Rural Illinois.

John LaPine
Associate Editor, Creative Nonfiction
Ishpeming, Michigan


Jacque Boucher
Spoken Word Poetry
Juneau, Alaska

A town on the edge of a large city in the Pacific Northwest. Beaverton, OR, maybe.

Sara Ryan
Associate Editor, Poetry
Ann Arbor, Michigan


Hayli Cox
Associate Editor, Creative Nonfiction
Morenci, Michigan

Stratford, Ontario Canada. Or the Redwoods.

Andrea Wuorenmaa
Associate Editor, Creative Nonfiction
Ishpeming, Michigan

Arctic Circle.

Matt Ftacek
Associate Editor, Poetry
Niles, Michigan

Can I pick anywhere? The moon.

Ethan Brightbill
Associate Editor, Fiction
Allentown, Pennsylvania

Wherever my wife is to pick her up, and then Norway.

Jen Howard
Escanaba, Michigan

Where is Broadchurch filmed? That’s my first stop. Give me a cold beach with tall cliffs any day.

Ashely Adams
Associate Editor, Creative Nonfiction
Watervliet, Michigan

Maui. Please God and/or Satan let me go back to Maui.

Ollie Mae
Associate Editor, Creative Nonfiction and Poetry
Kalkaska, Michigan

I’d go home to make a snack, can’t start living your dreams on an empty stomach. After that I’d go for a walk in the woods. I’d walk until I found a river with some good rock hopping then I’d stop.


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Managing editor Matt Weinkam on today’s bonus essays: Ekphrasis, I recently discovered, literally means “to speak out.” In Kathleen Rooney’s three ekphrastics she doesn’t describe the paintings of Belgian Surrealist artist René Magritte but rather lets his wife, Georgette, “speak out” about the silence of paintings, stopping time, and their beloved Pomeranian dogs, all called Loulou.

Le Galet

If someone invites you to come over and enchant them, but you arrive with a plan to outrage instead, you’ll likely succeed. Georgette understands that when she talks about her husband’s Vache paintings, she has to proceed under the assumption that nobody likes them. Except she does.

This image is fast. This image is aggressive. One of the ones Mag painted in a handful of weeks for his first solo show in Paris, 1948. He wanted people to hate them, and hate they did. This image piques.

Femme vache means a nastily corpulent woman, but this woman here is perfectly proportioned, modelled off Georgette herself. The word scruples—as in hesitation or doubt—comes from the Latin rough pebble; Georgette admires this title for its suggestion that her husband had none about orchestrating this car crash of bad taste: a caricature, a comic, a Matisse, a Manet.

She’s the Venus de Milo with Olympia’s head and a little bit of Fauvism draped around her waist, and arms she’s using to grab a handful of her own boob. Behind her—is that stuff wallpaper or what? The critics called him rude. Georgette feels a catharsis, crude and joyful. Oil on canvas and nude nude nude. The way she licks her own shoulder!

The pearls around her neck made the public clutch—predictably—their pearls. Obscenity, they moaned. Pearls before swine. It failed to sell so he ended up giving this one to Georgette. “You’ve never quit wooing her, have you?” asked Loulou the Pomeranian when he did, having brought it back to Jette. “No, my friend, I haven’t,” said Mag. Which is fine with her.

Perspective II: Le Balcon

All paintings, thinks Georgette, are dumb, which isn’t to say stupid, but rather to say silent. We come up and search for answers, which they cannot give because they cannot speak. Her husband has spent his life in provocation of seeking. “Every single thing which we see conceals something else,” he says. “We would dearly love to see what that which we can see is hiding from us.”

From each other Georgette and Mag conceal nothing. He reads his letters to their dear friend Harry in the States aloud to her before he sends them. On January 17, 1966, he wrote: “I am responding to existential circumstances with less (if possible) vitality than usual: I am numb from the cold, I have a cast on my right wrist (I fell on it and it won’t be healed, according to medical prognostics, before February 7th).”

When she was younger, Georgette found a painting’s non-response coy and almost erotic: a crush going unrequited. But as twilight falls, the quiet seems more death-like. A portrait might as well be a coffin for all it can offer of the person therein.

Mag knew this years and years ago, when he painted this perspective in reply to Manet: Caskets sitting. Caskets standing. Caskets staring at the inaccessible distance. He left the blue hydrangea in, but removed the dog with a ball, perhaps not wanting to call to mind the eventual death of their Loulou—though the Loulou they have now is a newer one, and white, not the black pom they had in 1950.

Behind the coffins is a cozy room with good dim lighting like the one her husband prefers, of late, to spend his time in: Loulou beside him, or at his feet, or upon his lap. Mag’s body is failing, and that mutilates her emotions. The railings and shutters in both paintings are green. She’s read that when Manet debuted it in the Paris Salon of 1869, one mean reply was: “Close the shutters!” Everybody gets shuttered, though, sooner than you’d think. A balcony is a gateway between worlds, but there are some thresholds where crossing is solitary.

She hears Magritte on the telephone, of course, holding the receiver with his left hand so as not to disturb his plastered right. Today, he says to the person on the other end of the line: “For the first time while painting, I’ve gotten some paint on my hand.” Georgette does not want to hear this, nor does she not want to. Soon enough, death will afford them a permanent privacy.

La Légende Dorée

Georgette is a morning person not because she’s virtuous, but because she happens to be one. Her husband happens to be one too, as happens to be their Pomeranian Loulou. Georgette adores their quiet mornings when the world is silent like the interior of a snow globe. When their apartment is mute with understanding, unspoken.

Magritte sits at the kitchen table. Loulou sits at Georgette’s feet. She readies their breakfast: today, brioche. Usually, they buy their daily bread from a bakery up the street, but she’s been wanting to work on this recipe and at present it’s one of the few things Mag can eat.

He suffers liver problems from which he has long sought to be delivered. He composes a letter to their dear friend Harry in the States. He hates, Georgette knows, to complain, but if he doesn’t talk about it a little bit, it takes over his brain and keeps him from painting: “Days of hepatitis attack,” he reads back to her. “I’m on a very strict diet—I can’t eat or drink anything decent, like coffee, tomatoes, fries, etc. It seems that cold weather would be very bad for me.”

At least today looks to be golden and sunny, and he’ll start a new canvas. Right now, he replies to Harry about one that Harry has acquired, the one in which the world looks like the interior of a bread globe: Hovering loaves and their crispy crust-sound as they float all around, outside an open window.

In the letter, over which the two of them and Loulou laugh, Harry has said: “The golden legend—the legend of the centuries—has arrived, superbly intact after having gone astray at the New York airport. Everyone, large and small, is enthusiastic: my nephew, an avid professional at 13, said: But they’re submarines. Here, ‘submarines’ are gigantic sandwiches stuffed with lettuce and served in the summertime at vacation spots. My youngest daughter, Denise-Elizabeth, asked, ‘Why you always stand in the same place on your balcony when you look at the sky,’ and the eldest, Evelyne-Ray, announced that we’d have to repaint the dining-room walls so that they would go with the colors of the Legend of the Centuries. My wife, Marcelle-Hoursy, joins me in expressing to you our joint and repeated admiration.”

The Golden Legend is named after a medieval book of saints, compiled around the year 1260 and added to over the subsequent centuries, full of fanciful etymologies and miraculous cures.

Georgette finishes slicing and wipes the crumbs from the countertop into her hand and throws them outside for the birds who flock to the ledge. She can’t cure her husband, but she can occasionally stop time—she hands him a plate and some jam and he kisses her cheek and Loulou squeaks with delight at his share of the treat—and take their disbelief and suspend it like the sky. The sky. Always with the sky.

Kathleen Rooney is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press, a publisher of literary work in hybrid genres, and a founding member of Poems While You Wait. Co-editor with Eric Plattner of The Selected Writings of René Magritte, forthcoming from Alma Books (UK) and University of Minnesota Press (US) in 2016, she is also the author of seven books of poetry, nonfiction, and fiction, including, most recently, the novel O, Democracy! (2014) and the novel in poems Robinson Alone (2012). Her second novel, Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, will be published by St. Martin’s Press in 2017.

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