Editor’s Note by Lauren Bledsoe

This issue is dedicated to two poets: Mark Strand and Craig Arnold.  As a first-time editor of a literary journal, I could not be more thrilled to bring you two previously unpublished poems by these tremendously talented and respected artists.  However, as simply a person who has been trying to write poems for many years, I would like to briefly address the impact these poets have had on my own life.

I first encountered Craig Arnold’s work through a podcast from the Poetry Foundation.  It was 2009.  Craig had recently disappeared in Japan while hiking a volcano, and the podcast episode was a tribute to his life and work.  As a poem “Asunder” was read aloud, I distinctly remember the impact that poem had.  I was entirely taken over by language in a way I had no idea was possible.  It was in that moment that I realized the powerful vehicle for empathy poetry can be.  It was as if my own experience was being uttered back to me in a visceral, palpable, utterly real way.  The idea that someone else had felt something similar to what I had felt, and could render it so precisely and distinctly, was a moment of revelation.

I ordered Craig’s collection, Made Flesh, immediately and connected as powerfully with each poem in that slim volume as I had with “Asunder.”  I read this collection obsessively, and within a month or two I had memorized most of it.  The poems in this collection contain the kind of sophisticated sounds, vivid images, and explosive lyrical moments that accomplish that impossible act of rendering human experience on the page.  Reading Made Flesh was my first experience with contemporary poetry, and it is because of that collection that I decided to try to write poems of my own.  I knew that if poetry could have the power to make someone feel less alone in the world, it was an enterprise and endeavor I needed to be a part of.  I never met Craig Arnold, yet his poetry had a tremendous impact on my life, and I am very honored to be able to publish one of his poems in this issue.

Unlike Craig Arnold, I did meet Mark Strand.  Three years after discovering Made Flesh, I had transferred to BYU and was devoting myself to becoming a poet.  At the time, however, I was particularly pessimistic about my writing.  I had come to conclusion that the immense amount of effort I was investing in writing poetry had amounted to nothing, and that my poems were not very good at all.  When I flew to Tennessee to attend Sewanee Writers’ Conference, I bleakly imagined it would be my last hurrah in the literary world, and that afterward I’d probably give up altogether.  Cue Mark Strand.

Mark was the faculty member at Sewanee who was assigned to give me feedback on my work.  It is an understatement to say that Mark was a rock star at the conference.  Mark Strand was a rock star in the poetry world.  And there I was, meant to get feedback on my “poetry” from this icon.  In spite of his status, Mark was one of the most disarmingly warm and charming people I have ever met.  When we met to discuss my poems, I was taken aback by his support of my work.  He took me seriously as a poet, and urged me to continue writing.

In one of our conversations, he told me, “Lauren, your poems are sexy.”  I knew this was supposed to be a compliment, but I struggled to see it that way.  I admitted it was something I was worried about.  He seemed baffled by this, and asked why.

I answered honestly.  “Isn’t it kind of a taboo thing?  To write sexy poems?”

He lit up with his trademark wry grin.  “Only in Provo.”

Throughout the ten-day conference, Mark approached me multiple times to urge me to keep writing what he called my “wild poems.”  On the last day of the conference, he gave me his email address and said to keep in touch, and to keep writing.  We kept an intermittent correspondence after the conference, sending poems back and forth, and he never failed to keep encouraging me.  When I began working on this journal, I asked him if I could publish one of the poems he sent me.  He graciously agreed.  About a month later, I received news that he had passed away.

Mark Strand was a brilliant man and a gifted artist.  Among numerous equally impressive achievements, he won a Pulitzer, taught at Columbia, and was regarded as one of the best poets of his generation.  And yet, he took the time to be a friend and mentor to me, a person who could do very little in return and to whom he owed nothing at all.  All this to say: Mark was not only an accomplished artist, he was a deeply generous and kind human being, and it is a personal joy to include him in Inscape.

This issue is a very personal one to me.  It includes work that I feel is important, meaningful, and most of all, deserves a place in the world.  So please, read & enjoy.

LB

Remembering by Wesley Turner

Jeremy was changing Mr. Thompson’s bed sheets when Sally told him the apocalypse was underway. An asteroid–melting ice caps? Jeremy didn’t quite catch it. There was an endless list of things to do, and he had learned long ago to take his days one at a time. But when he entered the rec room during free time, the end of existence was all anyone wanted to talk about.
“Jeremy, is it true Berlin has been swallowed by the sea?”
“Yes, Jeremy, tell us, have the mountains been made low and the valleys made high?”
“Is it true the stars are falling? That the weight of a soul can be measured at death?”
Jeremy felt uncomfortable. All of the patients were facing him. He looked at Sally, his fellow CNA, for answers. She shrugged sadly.
“I don’t have any answers,” he said finally.
“What?”
“No answers,” Jeremy said, loud enough for Mrs. Baumgartner to hear. They all moaned.
“We’re afraid,” they said, “and no one cares about us.”
“I care for you,” Jeremy insisted. “Maybe you should contact your families?”
“We can’t remember their phone numbers,” they said.
“I’m sure we’ve got their numbers around here somewhere,” he said.
“Why can’t they call us?” they said.
“Perhaps they don’t know our number,” he said.
“Can’t you make love to Sally?” they said. “We’ve forgotten what it’s like and how it works.”
“Sally is married,” Jeremy said. “And the chemistry is all wrong.”
The patients moaned again.
“Jeremy,” said Mr. Penksy, “Tell us about Michelangelo, won’t you? I’ve quite forgotten him. I know he was important once.” Mr. Pensky used to be a teacher, or an artist. Jeremy couldn’t remember.
“Michelangelo was an artist who lived in Europe. He was a painter and he liked to paint pictures of God.”
“God?” said Mr. Pensky.
“Did he have a family?” Mrs. Bennet said.
“Yes,” Jeremy said.
“Was he a good father?”
“Yes, I’m sure he was.”
“Did his children visit him on Thanksgiving and call during the week?”
“They always called on Thursday, because that was Michelangelo’s Sabbath (he so often had to work on Sundays), and Marta brought the sweet potatoes on Thankgiving, and Boris brought the cranberry sauce. Harry didn’t attend Thanksgiving because his shrew of a wife insisted they go to her family’s.”
“Oh, yes.” And those who could remember became nostalgic for the old days when Thanksgiving was ruined by controlling daughters-in-law.
“And which one is God?” Mr. Penksy asked.
“God is God,” Jeremy said. “Many people worship him.”
“What people?” they said.
“Well, there’s Protestants, like Baptists and Methodists, and there’s Catholics, and I’ve heard of Greek Orthodoxy, and I guess Jews believe in God too, and Muslims. And Hindus believe in more than one God, and Buddhists believe in something as well.”
“And which do you believe?” they asked.
“My grandmother was a Quaker,” he said.
“And which is true?”
“I’m not sure.”
“How does one know which God to follow?” Mrs. Bennett asked, “How can one be sure of their convictions?”
Jeremy thought hard. “We could all make bets.”
“Yes! We like that!” they said. Mr. Bennett bet on the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Mrs. Bennett bet on the Unitarians. None of them argued, because none of them remembered where they had worshipped as children. There were a surprising number of votes for the Zoroastrians because Mrs. Abernathy had observed that it sounded like an exotic and beautiful flower. Mrs. Baumgartner bet on Darwin until everyone started booing.
When the very last bet was made, the door to the building flew open, and flames and smoke erupted around the room.
“Can you see, Jeremy? Can you see who it is?” they said. They wanted to know so they could enjoy their winnings for a few more moments of mortality.
Jeremy stared at the person in the doorway for a long time. He saw the features; he could see the eye color and the clothes. But he had no idea who it was.
“Why, it’s Michelangelo!” Jeremy shouted, raising his hands over his head and laughing. There were tears streaming down his eyes. Sally kissed him.
Everyone cheered until, a few moments later, they each forgot about the apocalypse and Ahura Mazda and the weight of souls and returned instead to their dominoes.

Instructions on Your First Day at Work by Abbie Harlow

Are you listening? No, you’re not. I’ll say it again, but for heaven’s sake, pay attention this time. I said, by no means should you ever accept fifty or one-hundred dollar bills from customers. There isn’t a slot for them in the cash register and it’s against company policy anyway. Molly took a fifty from a woman once because that was the only bill she had, and she’d ordered forty-seven dollars and sixteen cents worth of McGriddles anyway. Things didn’t go over so well for Molly. Who’s Molly. Don’t worry about her. She doesn’t work here anymore. Actually, it’s her job you’re taking. Why do you look so surprised? If there’s a job opening, someone has to lose their job first, right?

You see that man working the drive-thru window? The one with the handlebar mustache and the potbelly? Yeah, him. That’s Mark. Stay away from him. He’s after my job as Head Fry Cook. Actually, he’s after everybody’s job because he’d rather be anywhere besides the drive-thru. Soon enough, he’ll be after your job too. Actually, come to think of it, he applied for it but got rejected early on. In fact, it’s probably best if you don’t talk to him at all.

Now, see that kid to the right of Mark? Yeah, the young one with the freckles. That’s George. He regularly steals food from the fryer. His average haul is one medium-sized container of French fries and one Big Mac or two hash browns and an Egg McMuffin per day, depending on which part of the day his shift is. Everybody knows he steals food, but nobody tells on him ’cause he’s the only one who knows how to fix the McFlurry machine. Don’t laugh. That thing breaks a lot. You should be nice to George. He’s alright. He might even give you some food, if you’re nice to him. Like me—he gives me five French fries a day. He doesn’t give Mark anything at all. Stay away from Mark.

Who’s the cashier at the front counter? That’s Rachel. She’s been here for a year already. Don’t let her perky smile fool you—that’s only for the customers. Really, she hates everybody’s guts. Even yours. Especially yours. She hates newbies. It’s best to avoid her. Unless, of course, Mark wants to talk to you. Then you should strike up a conversation with Rachel as quick as you can. She’ll glare at you, probably swear at you, and most likely yell a little, but that’s a whole lot better than having to cope with the repercussions of talking to Mark. Molly talked to Mark once. As you’ll remember, she doesn’t work here anymore. This is her job you’re taking. For heaven’s sake, don’t be like Molly.

The Procedure Thus

by Lindsey Webb

He takes in one hand a large grey realm of linen,
slightly rough. To the woman standing far across he
holds it up, or pushes, tightens. Across the room
she, looking gray, feels slightly rough—stretched
along the bias. No one sees her move. He lays it
down her back and folds it in at her stomach; she
appears to recline, look away, then fall—sharp
edges—inside, taking it with her, growing inward
like a bud.

The Way Things Grow by Emma Hoskisson

There are rooms here we don’t know what to do with. We planted them, and they grew, and now there are rooms all around us and we don’t know what to do. They’re beautiful rooms. I’m amazed, we only planted them on a whim. We had this room, this first one we began with, we were cutting out the flesh. It was just time, you know? And we found the seeds. We laid them out to dry. In the late August sun. Maybe that’s why these rooms have so many windows, they love the sun. I’ve filled these three up with things I found on the ground. That, yes, that plastic toy there, I found him on the floor of a sushi restaurant. Spotted him immediately while waiting to be seated, a nice hidden joint in a section of downtown, saw the little plastic guy and thought, Maybe a kid’ll come back for him? Sometimes I find something on the ground and think, Some kid must miss that, so I leave it. Sometimes I hope other people will see it and think about the kid who must be missing his toy car. I’ll set it on the yellow parking block next to the grass at the edge of the parking lot and hope other people see it and think about all of the people who have seen that toy. Then I hope the little kid gets his car back.

It’s snowing outside now, you can see it well out of that east window in the back room. One time I was watching the snow fall in that room and I wished I had a wood-burning stove and then I had one. I had to go outside during the snow–it was ok, it was a light snowfall, more like a haze of flakes gently falling, you know–and cut down a tree. Then I thought, what have I done? This has to dry out. This has to dry out just like the seeds for my rooms did, in the late August sun. So I placed the tree parts on the coffee table and I sat on the empty wood-burning stove and watched the snow fall until late August. Then the tree and I laid outside in the sun together, and when we were both dry we curled up in the ground and grew.

Rubies

By Sophie Lefens

You know that it has been weeks since he last washed his sheets, but you decide that you don’t mind. It smells like stale shampoo and leftover sweat; like morning bodies, even at night. The smell is dimly masculine and it reminds you of your dad and sometimes you like what’s foul so long as it’s familiar.

You lie next to this man/boy/guy in a tourniquet of sheets, tasting new love like infants gumming solids. But this thought of your dad moves like ink underwater, spreading and thinning into see-through memories of Greek myths in the grass and your mother hating jazz and fuck you from inside the master bedroom. Then more, the crutches he used when he broke his leg driving drunk and you said nothing, and then tents zipped open, which somehow sounds both wet and dry.

You know these thoughts are out of place so you push them aside, literally moving your head back and forth quickly like a cartoon shaking off a dropped anvil and you laugh at yourself for being cartoonish and you laugh to the man beside you, who knows only that you’re burying your chin into his neck and laughing because ha ha ha, you are having such a good time and isn’t this cozy and cute?

And maybe it is a good time and maybe you don’t mind sharing this zero-neck-support-pillow because you like the way it feels, easy and nice, having his head rest next to yours.

In the morning, alone, you sit on the edge of the bed and notice a tiny black stain at the very end of the sheets where your feet spent the night. You look closer, and see that this black freckle is actually the color of rubies without sun, and when he comes back into the room you ask, and he tells you he cut his toe last week and he laughs because he knows that you think it is gross but he takes pride in it like a ten-year-old with a dead frog and you think, what a sad misdirected attempt at manhood.

Outside it’s wet-towel raining, no lightning or thunder, just steady slow soaking.

After Tillie Olsen’s “I Stand Here Ironing”

By Sophie Lefens

I stand here painting my son’s bedroom blue and what you asked me drips heavily under the brush.

“I’m sorry I didn’t protect you. You’re my daughter. I love you. How can I take care of you now?”

“Take care of you now . . .” Even if I did tell you, what good would it do? You think because you are my mother you can soften every jag and jab? I have lived for thirty years. There is all the life that has happened despite you, because of you. And when is there time to forget? I will make lists of memories in between sips of cold tea and squeezing pears at the market, trying to smoke out the bad with the good.

You loved being a mother, peeling open each day’s color for my fresh eyes. In the garden, you put snapdragons on my ears and called me queen. Why do I remember that most?

You said flossing saved lives and sang to us in your hard, rain voice while my brother and I marched towards the tub. You taught me fire and salt and the difference between strength and conceit. I breathed in the air you exhaled.
I was seven and nine and twelve, feeling too much and knowing too little, and you forgot to edit your sighs. My ears tuned to the slow build of marital friction and to the dissonance of midnight weeping. I waited at the edge of the stairs, checking  for silence before I could sleep. And even without hearing, I heard. I swallowed your grief with my morning cereal.

A friend of yours, the mother of my middle school best friend, asked me how you were doing, if there was anything she could do for you. I said no, she is fine, I will take care of her. But at night you drooped in my doorway, told me you were too sad and too lonely before collapsing into my bed. I patted your head as you fell asleep. I was a hero then, not knowing how you would slowly smear my childhood sun.

I will never total it all. I will never call you and tell you how to take care of me now. You were heavy and dark at a time when children need light. You were a mother of desperate, not calming love. Your wisdom came too late and is still coming.

So let it be. So all that is in you will not bloom. There is still enough left to live by. Only know that you are more than this paint dripping downward, spreading thin, helpless beneath the brush.

Winter Art 2018

Chaos and Control 02 by Joselyn Torbenson
Chaos and Control 01 by Joselyn Torbenson
Tower by Joselyn Torbenson

 

Untitled by Joselyn Torbenson

Joselyn Torbenson graduated with a BA from BYU in 2017 and is currently a student in BYU’s Education Policy masters program. Joselyn’s work often is documentary in nature and records found places of complex order. She is interested in the way that we care for the earth, each other, and ourselves. As a mother and an artist she makes work that deals with the limits of her time and attention and ways in which she can merge her studio practice with her family life. In the past couple of years, she received a juror award from the Mayhew show, exhibited her first solo show, and was an artist assistant to international artist Joanna Kidney.

Underwater Knees by Hannah Ruiz
Recourse 7 by Julian Harper
Recourse 2 by Julian Harper

Julian Harper is currently a senior at BYU, and a BFA studio art major. He is interested in the story and empathy, and he has found that photography can channel a sort of empathy that other mediums struggle to have. He is interested in the relationships had between the viewer and the subject of photographs. Julian feels there is also a need for a better, wider, vocabulary for explaining individual experience. And this series visually describes that.

 

Memento Mariposa

by Anthony Pearce

“Each winter they flee the cold,” the paper says of the little gods of instinct. Monarchs hanging in polished bone branches in Michoacán, finding south out of crumpled chrysalis. Each winter they find haven. “This winter the chill of an unexpected storm found them.” The paper shows them scattered dead on the forest floor like tiles of the Alhambra opening into geometry. A man in the picture walks among their fermenting bodies, treading along lifeless wings, wrinkled origami. I wish my hands would reach and gather a handful to bring home and pin to my bedroom wall like puckered autumn leaves.

 

Anthony is a graduate student in Hispanic Literature at BYU.

The Threat of Happiness

by Rich Ives

Vigorously mewling wet humor loops surround themselves,
hide in the handsome vacancy in the oars,
and they eat and they eat themselves
until they are equally relevant.

I create understandings for what happens,
and I lay the metaphors on the table
and cut them in equal portions,

overly cautious with passion,
as if already married to a lawn chair,
until you have been correctly mistaken
for who you must become.

There could be a furnace and leaves digesting,
the awnings spilling the wrong rain,
softly scheduled,

one blue heron knitting an irrevocable gate to the cloudless sky,
kind of like talking to you when I’m listening.

Rich Ives has received grants and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, Artist Trust, Seattle Arts Commission and the Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines for his work in poetry, fiction, editing, publishing, translation and photography. His writing has appeared in Verse, North American Review, Massachusetts Review, Northwest Review, Quarterly West, Iowa Review, Poetry Northwest, Virginia Quarterly Review, Fiction Daily and many more. He is the 2009 winner of the Francis Locke Memorial Poetry Award from Bitter Oleander. He has been nominated seven times for the Pushcart Prize. He is the 2012 winner of the Thin Air Creative Nonfiction Award. His books include Light from a Small Brown Bird (Bitter Oleander Press–poetry), Sharpen (The Newer York-fiction chapbook), The Balloon Containing the Water Containing the Narrative Begins Leaking-What Books) and Tunneling to the Moon (Silenced Press–hybrid).