Photo by Greg Gunn

This week, our editors and interns were asked what literary characters they would like to dress up as for Halloween!

Jennifer Howard
Escanaba, Michigan

None of you better say Harriet the Spy because she’s mine.

Ethan Brightbill
Associate Fiction Editor, Fiction
Allentown, Pennsylvania

Kylo Ren counts as a literary character, right? Right.

Krys Malcolm Belc
Associate Fiction Editor, Fiction
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

I would love to do a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory group costume with my family but they are way too cool for that.

Willow Grosz
Managing Editor
Talkeetna, Alaska

I think I dressed up as Bunnicula three different times as a kid. Vampire fangs and bunny ears forever.

Jacob Hall
Associate Fiction Editor
Decatur, Illinois

When I was young, I got a hooded mask with a dark face cover, so you couldn’t see what was inside. I picked up a stick from the yard and draped what might have been a purple tablecloth over my shoulders. I was the coolest Voldemort around. I think I’d do that again.

Sara Ryan
Associate Poetry Editor
Ann Arbor, Michigan

It would be cool to go as Sylvia Plath or Virginia Woolf or like Mary Shelley because they’re all creepy/badass lady writers. But most Sylvia costumes I’ve seen are kinda… oven-y and slightly tasteless. I’m going as a triceratops instead. Jurassic Park reference?

Skyler Sars
Editorial Intern
Miami, Florida

The March Hare.

Melissa Orzechowski
Volunteer Reader

For years I’ve wanted to dress up as a hambone (more specifically as Scout dressed as a hambone). Maybe this year I’ll actually get around to making the costume.

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Atwood Machine - Up

Photo by Paul Anderson

PN’s editor-in-chief Jennifer A. Howard on today’s bonus story: Kelsey Englert’s flash feels important and timely: for teachers, readers, writers, people living in this too-often ugly world. Who among us hasn’t let what’s coming next distract us from what we’ve already done wrong.

Textbook Endings

“Students, do you understand? The confirmation of gravitational waves is extraordinary!” Mr. Hazaki announced from the front of the classroom. He squeezed the rolled-up pile of papers in his hand, waving it as he spoke. “Einstein called it. Then it took the rest of the brains a century to prove it.”

Someone in the back row yawned. Notebooks rustled on desks as we started packing up early.

Sometimes I felt guilty that we wouldn’t match his enthusiasm. Hazaki ran pink and yellow highlighters all over articles on technological advancements every morning and shared them with our tenth grade history class at the end of each class period. He wanted us in awe. He proclaimed that a tech company had developed a new, superior cell phone battery with the same energy a person would announce, “Holy shit, aliens just touched down in the cornfield outside!” He wanted us to jump up and paste ourselves to the window of his announcements. To Hazaki, every advancement needed to be celebrated as a ground-breaking, an earth-shattering, a utopia-has-arrived achievement.

He stood in front of us with the same wrinkled khakis he wore every day and one of five sweaters he kept on weekly rotation. “Innovation is everything,” he’d say, eyes glimmering. “Evolve or die.”

We suspected his loafers were weighed down with steel. Otherwise, he would have bounced off the walls with enthusiasm.

We hated it.

We also sort of liked it. We couldn’t say that, but there was something about his energy that made us laugh on the inside, even if our bored exteriors never cracked. The tiny, balding, middle-aged man loved his job. We knew he wanted us to love what he loved. He wanted it so badly. He’d tell us about the newest advancement in sole inserts for footwear arch support and say, “Isn’t this wonderful?” like he might cry right there in front of twenty indifferent, average, going-nowhere students. We didn’t even understand arch support. We walked through the halls with five-dollar foam sandals thonged to our feet. We had different color flip flops for every day of the week.

But we’d half-heartedly nod at him, and he’d ask us with more pep in his voice, as though he could springboard us out of the teenage coma with his enthusiasm. We couldn’t find pep. But when Marky asked if we were ever going to get to the Vietnam War part of the textbook, Hazaki said, “Yes, of course, maybe, if we have time.” We knew we wouldn’t. And it had to be assigned. We weren’t going to turn to the end and read it on our own. Somehow, no matter the history course, we never made it past World War II. The Holocaust. That got us by the throats. It squeezed us and wouldn’t let go, wouldn’t let us find out what happened to our grandfathers in Korea or our dads in Vietnam. Hazaki knew exactly what happened to his grandfather; we got that far.

We probably can’t blame the Holocaust though. If Hazaki would have just cut out all the technology talk at the end of each class, we could have made it to the Gulf War our older cousins never came home from.

Maybe it was a conspiracy. Maybe our soldier grandpas paid Hazaki not to tell us.

Either way, we didn’t know the war stories of our living.

But we knew that there was a laser procedure that burned the brown melanin out of the anterior layers of the iris to reveal the blue underneath. All the brown eyes are really blue below the surface. Just shovel the shit to the side.

Kelsey Englert’s writing has appeared in The Citron ReviewBartleby Snopes, and The Broken Plate, among other literary magazines. She is a Pennsylvania native and earned her MA in creative writing from Ball State University and MFA in creative writing from West Virginia University. She currently teaches at the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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Photo by Jill Allyn Stafford

Grief in Fragments

Much of my nonfiction work is about grief. I used to try and disentangle myself from it by writing about dating or science. But how can I write about dating a medical student without nodding to my own experience lingering the halls of the oncology ward? How can I write about visiting a boyfriend biochemistry major in his lab, without relating my own interest in how the glial cells in the brain are able to both coalesce and corrupt? How can I write about myself without writing about the loss of my father?

Neuroscience research tells us that memory is pliable and plastic. When I introduce memoir to my high school students, it’s inevitable one will ask, with arms-crossed defiance, “But how could she actually remember all this?” Some students think the truth of experience is more important than fact, but I have some students, especially those would rather be looking through a microscope, who resist memoir. I’ve seen the fickleness of my father’s brain as the tumor grew. I’ve seen the fickleness of my own brain, as it pieces together fragments after a long night of drinking. Truth in nonfiction is not an argument I want to rehash here. I follow the course of my memory’s truth and seek to write it dutifully, but, in writing about someone who has died, I find myself stalled by recollection more than when writing about those who are alive.

Since I defended my MFA thesis, I’ve been turning over a committee member’s comment. She gestured to the series of essays and said, “Your father feels like a shadow here.” In life, my father wasn’t a shadow. He was a robust, healthy man with a big laugh. He rode his motorcycle across the country, ran marathons, and taught me how to use a hammer, identify trees, and swim in the ocean. On the page, he appears fragmented. One of my biggest challenges is dialogue. My writing group this year noted that I never use direct quotes for my father. He rarely speaks in my pieces. Is this because he died a quiet, unlikely death? Or because memory fails me? I don’t remember the last thing he said to me. I had been away for the weekend and when I returned, he was in a sleep he’d never wake from. I can’t even precisely remember what I said when I had my turn alone with him, though it was just me speaking. When writing conversations of the past, I load with phrases like, “I think I remember,” but this phrase can’t be tacked onto every sentence.

On the page, my father serves a nebulous catalyst for my own grief. Greif, to me, feels more truthful. I can write about how it felt, how it feels, and how it’s changed over nine years because it’s a living fact. It’s undeniable. I can write scenes where people ask me about my dad and I have to fumble to tell them I don’t have one. I can write about the time I cried so hard and so drunk that I threw up a dinner of lobster and white wine and spent the night on my bathroom floor. I can write about the heaviness of the weight, how it feels like I’m carrying organs encased in lead. It seems to me, attending to a corporeal reality is more truthful than reanimating the dead. It worries me though, my memory is already pitted (I’m always losing my keys), so if I don’t try work to shape my father on the page, what else will I lose?

Verity Sayles is an essayist from New England. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Normal School, Proximity, Crab Creek Review, Under the Gum Tree, and others. She earned an MFA in nonfiction from Oregon State University in 2016, served on the board of 45th Parallel, and fell in love with pine trees. She now lives in Seattle, where she teaches English and creative writing at an independent high school. She can be reached at veritysayles.com or @saylesteam.

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https://www.twin-loc.fr  Essaouira - Chèvres dans les arganiers - Maroc / Goats in Argan - Morocco - Photo Image Photography - Huile d'Argan Argan oil www.supercar-roadtrip.fr

Photo by www.twin-loc.fr

Passages North is pleased to announce our nominations for Best of the Net! Take a look at some of our favorite bonus content from the past year, and congrats to the authors below.




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Associate poetry editor deziree a. brown chats with Danez Smith about music, weirdness, and self-care.

PN: The cover of Don’t Call Us Dead is beautiful, as is your other book and the chapbooks you’ve released. I’ve been told more than once that authors have little say in the design of their book. What’s your secret? How do you avoid a lackluster cover?

DS: I am a book cover geek and i also have been blessed to work with presses that also think about covers and the book as not just a vehicle for text, but as an artifact. I love visual art. I think loving a piece enough to let it be the gate into your book is a big deal. I think having as keen and loving an eye for the still image as I do the written word has helped me stay with a good cover. There is no secret. You just care and try or you don’t.

PN: In an interview with The Rumpus, you say there was a “weirdness” that came with publishing your poems in your first book, [Insert] Boy. With this book releasing three years later, how has that weirdness changed—or not changed? Has the written page started to feel less foreign?

DS: I don’t believe when I spoke about that weirdness that I was speaking to a discomfort or unfamiliarity with the written/page based word. What I was trying to get at was the finality of the book as an object, the drafts that are now cemented and final, and the vulnerability with releasing work so based in the self. And yes, that has changed. There is only 1 first book for everyone, and that experience was wonderfully weird and affirming. But I am coming to this book more familiar with myself, my world, the publishing world, and the world into which I am releasing these poems.

PN: How does Don’t Call Us Dead expand upon or move away from the themes in your first collection, [Insert] Boy?

DS: It does both at one time. We don’t get to choose what we gravitate towards and are called to call up as artist, so a lot of similar themes pop up, but I’m a better poet than I was when I wrote [insert] boy and, thankfully, I already wrote that book once so this book what comes next. Idk, I’m still black, still queer, still ready to fuck some shit up, still riddled with desire, still seeing the surreal possibilities in the world around us, but how I express that feels more mature, more exact.

PN: I noticed that you’re really feeling SZA’s new album (as anyone with ears should be). What else are you into right now? How does music influence your writing process?

DS: I listen to music from the time I wake up until I go to bed. I like to reach for music that creates a soundscape when I’m writing. The more layered or complex the sound, the  more texture there is to the groove, the more encouraged I feel to experiment in image and sound. Poetry is a music to me, but i can’t write poems while listening to poems. Music helps me access my most jazzy poetic spaces. Lately, my jams have been H.E.R., Syd, The Internet, Nick Hakim, and an embarrassing amount of disco.

PN: In the days after Charlottesville, I found myself reaching out for your poem “Dear White America.” Poetry heals, soothes…rejuvenates. How do you see your newest collection (and poetry as a whole) continuing to work against these seemingly never-ending systems of oppression?

DS: I can’t speak on poetry as a whole cause no one should ever speak for poetry as a whole. Not all poetry is invested in dismantling the same things. We don’t all consider the same things worthy or just. I don’t like making statements about what I see my work doing cause that’s not the artist’s place. My job is to create and others will decide if and what work my poems do. I just hope to be useful to those who need to heal, to charge, to settle, or to uproar.

PN: When you’re burned out/filled up/tired of the world, how do you rebuild yourself? How does Danez Smith do self-care?

DS: A lady has to have her secrets and private rituals.

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Photo by Janaina C. Falkiewicz

This week, Associate Fiction Editor Ethan Brightbill asked our editors who their dream judges would be for the upcoming Passages North fiction and flash contests.

Jacqueline Boucher
Managing Editor Emeritus
Juneau, Alaska

Ryan Bradford and Kathleen Jones!

Ethan Brightbill
Associate Editor, Fiction
Allentown, Pennsylvania

Charles Yu would be fantastic. I love how each story he writes seems determined to do something new, absurd, and always wonderful.

Krys Malcolm Belc
Associate Editor, Fiction
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Nicole Walker!

Brenna Womer
Associate Editor, Fiction

Michael Czyzniejewski; Allegra Hyde, who is amazing and just came out with a book of short fiction; Michael Nye, who also has a novel coming out.

Tianli Kilpatrick
Associate Editor, Nonfiction

Kate McIntyre!

Willow Grosz
Managing Editor
Talkeetna, Alaska

Amelia Gray! Jenny Offil! Nicole Walker! T. Fleishmann! OMG, Zachary Schomburg! Maggie Nelson!

Guys, could we get James Franco?

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Our Last Weekend in Savannah

We walked on sidewalks heaved
by roots, stepping over the cracks

with the quick feet of people
who have forgotten they should not fall

in love, and he named for me
each of the trees.

He traced the patterns in leaves
and bark, took my hand

and said, gently, that heartwood
is bad at defending itself.

He taught me the signs
that a dead limb needed to be cut

and where to set the teeth of a saw
to allow a callus to grow,

a thickening that might protect
the sound wood inside.

A wounded tree, he said,
is not able to heal.

It wants only closure.

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Photo by Chris Jones

PN’s Jacqueline Boucher on today’s bonus spoken-word poem: With “Our Last Weekend in Savannah,” Weaver and Hutchings have achieved a kind of symbiosis. Neither Weaver’s quiet, meditative poetry, nor Hutchings’ understated musical backing overwhelm the other. Instead, they walk together as the speaker and the subject do: treading lightly, thoughtfully, with care and attention paid every step of the way.

Listen to Our Last Weekend in Savannah here. Click here for a transcript of the poem.

Poet Anna Weaver and musician Stephen “Doc’” Hutchings live and work in Raleigh, North Carolina. As half of the acoustic duo FreeRadikal, Doc has recorded two albums, with a third in the works. Anna’s poetry has appeared in in Connotation PressOneRat’s Ass ReviewO-Dark-Thirty, and elsewhere. Their creative partnership took root at a local open mic.

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seagull birds

Photo by C Watts

In Bloom

When asked invisibility or telekinesis?, I respond
invisibility, but what I really want to say is knowing

when: not knowing when I will die (this has long been
estimated), but knowing when the first spore trespassed

through my lungs; the moment it began to craft
an electric nest in my thoracic spine.

Imagine the power of X-ray vision!
Me, in a pair of cardboard goggles mail-

ordered from the back of a 1960’s comic
book, seeing through clothing behind red

& white spirals—past the pink parts of breasts
and under skirts into the meat, the bloodstream:

the amazing division of abnormal white
blood cells dancing under veins for me

like the grass on the skirt
of a dashboard hula girl.

My daughter answers flight, definitively and without
pause, craning her small neck to the sky to look for birds

and airplanes while we hold hands in parking lots, because
she doesn’t yet know about the infinitely expanding blossom

between my bones. A pair of seagulls encircle the hot tin
cars; their caws shatter the air as they cast shadows over us—

in one fell swoop, they dive down, fighting desperately over
discarded trash, drawing blood, looking for bits of food.

Jen Hahn Nielsen is a poet and taxidermist from the Midwest. She’s currently an MFA candidate at Bowling Green State University, and her work can be found in Prairie Schooner, Heavy Feather Review, Rock & Sling, and elsewhere.

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Photo by LongitudeLatitude

Good Floats

It was a part of the show at first. A miniature car rolled to a stop. A Shriner, not with red fez and black tassel, but painted up like a clown, a lopsided smile slipping from his face as he realized he was stuck. Wedged in. Knees at an angle from which he would never recover.

Kids still reached out their hands. Magic is capturing sugary treats tossed from cars covered in crepe paper and pretty colors. Those kids and their outstretched hands. Those kids were the magic. Those kids.

The sky was not blue and cloudless but held off against promised storms. Many people were thankful for that. Thankful all morning and saying it over and again. Their faces held smiles as they spoke.

Realization did not crest at once but washed over us in waves down either side of the parade route. The flotation did not happen at once, either. It too went up in waves. The children took off. One by one. Left the ground. The innocents. Those are who left us that day. Floated off into nothingness. If only it would rain, they might return. But not to me.

Effortlessly, they rose, meaning, they did not attempt to stay. They grasped no trees. No light poles. No power lines. No loved ones. The ungrasped remained planted; an underground network of roots connecting them to one another and the ground. Some of the tethered reacted quickly enough to reach and flail for those leaving.

“She might as well be covered in grease,” a man said about his daughter. I did not reach but I watched those who did come up empty. Those of us who remained along the parade route looked skyward. The clown, bloodied float and road, were forgotten. As sorry as it sounds, this was our truth.

We shared a moment as a town but a trumpeter would not stop with the fucking “Louie Louie.” The band was well disciplined. I’ll give them that. They overcame their initial shock. Regained their steps. He, the trumpeter, their leader. They marched through, around, and over accidents, piling higher and higher, greater and greater in number. Their lines straighter than ever. Their phalanx moved on to “Baby Elephant Walk.” The song conjured images of the circus and everyone knows clowns perform there. Beneath tents. Beside elephants. That’s the connection. Was I the only one who saw this connection?

I called out to the band but they would or could not understand. “Clowns perform at the circus.” I yelled these words over and again. My brain could paint my thoughts no more clearly. Paramedics and first responders, two without uniforms, in attendance with their families, surely having lost members to the air, held up beach towels and jackets left behind by the risen. They were small. They were children’s. They covered and hid the clown from our view.

The band did not yield, and they went into a medley of circus songs performed as dirges. As if they’d planned this moment from the beginning of their careers. I thought, wrong as it might be to accuse a high schooler of orchestrating this, that we might ought to check into the trumpeter. Search through his uniform for objects sharp enough to cut wires, tiny wires, belonging to tiny cars. Tiny wires that kept our children grounded to the earth.

The band reached the end of the parade route but did not stop marching. Did not stop playing. I found myself running toward the band’s music. To the band’s music. The noonday sky blacked out by clouds and shadows of those who had drifted off. I slammed the trumpeter with a right to the temple at the exact moment I placed their song. “Send In the Clowns.” That motherfucker. He dropped like a sack of shit. But I was not finished even though they ceased, unable to carry onward without their leader. I took up his horn and broke the bell off against the brick laid street. I kept smashing it against the ground. I kept a valve as memento. When I polish it, I think about stopping the music that day. I remember myself as one who did something.

Shane Stricker holds an MFA from West Virginia University and is starting coursework toward a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Tennessee. He was a 2016 fellow at the Writing by Writers Workshop at Tomales Bay. His work appears in The Anthology of Appalachian Writers, Midwestern Gothic, Moon City Review, and other magazines and journals.

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