Editor’s Note

Everything is an attempt. My friend taught this concept to me last year, pointing to my favorite novel (the one I cherish above all others, the Holy Grail of books as far as I am concerned) and said simply, “That was just an attempt by the author. It’s all attempts.” 

I’d never thought of it that way. Of course, I knew the author was a writer like me, but at the same time, I believed they were nothing like me—they were beyond attempts, they’d made it! No more trying, just doing, and succeeding. I reckoned they probably never failed, or if they did, it was a different (cleaner, easier) failure. Certainly, if they failed—and that was a strong if—it was in a graceful way, not in the knee-scraping, plummeting face-first, head-over-feet failing that I am familiar with. 

But, of course they fail. Every day has its failings—we forget something, accidentally say something cruel, burn the sauce for the meat that is drying out in the oven, misplace a comma, spell the words separate, restaurant, and tired wrong on the first, second, and third tries. Three steps forward one step back, or maybe no steps at all because we laid in bed the entire day reading fanfiction.  

Life would be boring without our daily failings, without the challenge of trying to do better, without reaching, without attempting. It’s all attempts. 

Remember the best cake you’ve ever eaten, the one you hold all cakes against, for which you would do questionable things to taste again. Consider the album that makes you feel like your nerves are on fire when you listen to it, and it’s all you can do not to dance or cry or sing right out of your skin. Try to recall how you used to draw as a child, or the way you used to write your capital “E”s, your first poem, the first photograph you took on your mom’s purple digital camera, the worst piece of writing you’ve ever created, and the best one, too. They were all attempts, some more successful than others, but attempts just the same, and a laundry-list of failings came before them. And there are successes, too—the everyday attempts you think will be spectacular failures but turn out to be your most triumphant wins! We celebrate these attempts and are grateful for every person who sent them on to us. 

So here is our latest attempt: an online edition consisting of art and writing and interviews, each piece brimming with something we loved. As you read, imagine us, a staff of editors sitting around tables in the library in the dead of winter, doing our best to give all of the submitted attempts the respect they deserve and shine light on our favorites. I hope you’ll love them as much as we do.

May we all keep attempting, failing, attempting again, until we have something that someone somewhere might love just a little. 

Kath Richards 
Winter 2022

 

 

University Place

by Marissa Albrecht

 

Marissa is a visual artist that finds excitement in everyday environments and material. Her artwork elevates the ordinary and allows items to be seen for something other than their original function. Marissa graduated with her MFA from Brigham Young University and now shares her love of art with her own students.

Greenhouse Vending Machine & Clubhouse At Night

by Madeline Rupard

Madeline Rupard is an artist and educator. Born in Utah and raised on the East Coast, she grew up moving frequently around different parts of the U.S. and traveling across long distances. She paints pictures to describe the overwhelming sensory effect of the modern American landscape and the experience of moving through spaces.

Fragments from Ernesto and Leti

by Isaiah Rubio

"caves" by Janessa Lewis
“caves” by Janessa Lewis
He rode The Beast. She walked miles.
On The Beast, he said, I saw a man fall off
to the tracks. Just gone. She set off 

from a small village in Jalisco at 15, said, 
I was the only girl there. All the other people
were men. But there was one older gentleman.
He took care of me and made sure 
I was protected. Once, he got caught

and was sent back to his village in Oaxaca.
He said he’d try it one more time.
He held onto that Beast 
until he abandoned it. In Reedley, 

they found work in those endless fields. 
He was already in a relationship
when we met, she said, but they eventually separated. 
30 years later, with three sons, she reflects:

When we got close to the border, 
we told each other ‘Good-byes’ and ‘good lucks.’ 
I never saw the older gentleman again. At a stop 

and inspection, he hid in a shipping container:
I saw the officer with his flashlight 
looking around. I swear to God, he flashed his light 
on me and he saw me, eye to eye,
but he kept looking until he left. In that silence,
he waited until the Beast roared and moved again. 


Isaiah Rubio is studying poetry in the MFA program at Brigham Young University.

(Art) Janessa Lewis was born in 1998 and is from Springville, Utah. While receiving her BFA from Brigham Young University, Lewis has been in several group exhibitions. She makes work that revolves around the human experience with land and how the earth is transforming. The earth is the common thread that weaves between nations, cultures, and communities, tying individuals together through shared experience and a foundation of empathy. Through visual symbols and imagery often seen in land, she communicates ideas around the themes of memory and place, pain and growth, and our relationships with humans and deity. Lewis gravitates toward painting, drawing, and printmaking techniques.

Relapse

by Isaiah Rubio

"RESIDUAL I" by Samantha Atzbach
“RESIDUAL I” by Samantha Atzbach

                                          With this handgun
                                                                 I pull 

                                                            the trigger
                                                                   to
                                                  de  stroy

             my third eye. The muse
                      says nothing,
                                                               closes
                                                               her 
                                                               vision,

                                                 and
                                           leaves me

                      in silence. I burn
                                    my pile of wood
                                    on the first day

              of winter. I hide in churches
                                                                to save
                                                 time

                      for the retribution. I think

                                     I want this. 





Isaiah Rubio is studying poetry in the MFA program at Brigham Young University.

(Art) Sam Atzbach (b. 1998) is currently living and working in Provo, Utah. Her foci are painting, 
textile, and sculpture. Her work examines the relationship between predecessor and successor, the 
weight of being, and the immutable collective unconscious that exists within the sentient and 
insentient, irrespective of time and space. She seeks to reconcile the constant pull from the past and 
push of the future to find space in the present in-between through an assemblage of apparition-like 
figures, guttural marks, found stones, and organic forms, both human and non-human.

Self-Portrait as Flying Turtle

by Carol Berg

               “Florida Woman Survives Being Hit By Flying Turtle”—Huffpost headline

I am old-born and come haunting you through sky-encounter.
You misunderstand the messages I bring of knees and breasts.
The knots of the air are uninvolved in this four-cornered world
of windshield. My leather paws gripping you like a lonely
masturbator. Can you rearrange this stumble? I might be the small
god of preconceptions but you must empty your house of dragons.
Do you see my candles flickering under my shell? Meditate on my
moth-breath that has kissed your forehead, tasted your mind.

 

 

Carol Berg’s poems are forthcoming or in Gyroscope, Crab Creek Review (Poetry Finalist 2017), DMQ Review, Hospital Drive (Contest Runner-Up 2017), Sou’wester, Spillway, Redactions, Radar Poetry, Verse Wisconsin. Her chapbooks, Her Vena Amoris (Red Bird Chapbooks), and “Self-Portraits” in Ides (Silver Birch Press) are available. Her poems have been nominated for Pushcart Prizes and Best of the Net. She was winner of a scholarship to Poets on the Coast and a recipient of a Finalist Grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

Interview with K.A. Hays

by Ariel Hochstrasser

K.A. Hays’ most recent book is Anthropocene Lullaby (February 2022, Carnegie Mellon). She is the author of three prior books of poetry:  Windthrow (2017), Early Creatures, Native Gods (2012) and Dear Apocalypse (2009). Her poems appear widely in journals and have been selected for two editions of Best American Poetry. Born in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, she earned an MFA from Brown University. She teaches Creative Writing at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, PA, and directs the Bucknell Seminar for Undergraduate Poets, a 3-week all-expenses paid summer writing retreat and conference for undergraduate poets from any university or college in the United States.

Inscape: What inspired you to start writing poetry after receiving your MFA in fiction?

K.A. Hays: I’ve been writing poetry on my own since I was a child—but I’ve always wanted to write stories, too. In college, I became obsessed with Virginia Woolf and with fiction that shows the interiority of a character. I applied to graduate schools where I could emphasize in fiction, with the knowledge that I was a very lyrical fiction writer. When I went to Brown, I was happy that they embraced hybrid-genre work and experimentation. I kept writing poems throughout graduate school while also experimenting in my fiction, and then after graduate school I began to only write poetry. I just knew myself better then, and knew that—while I absolutely loved fiction—poetry was what I needed to be writing. I’m still open to returning to fiction, though it has been a number of years since I last worked on a piece. 

Inscape: What elements of fiction do you find yourself borrowing in your poetry?

H: In Anthropocene Lullaby, the book that just came out, I’m thinking more and more about scene. I’m choosing very carefully which details to reveal, using all five senses. I have a couple of prose poems in this book, and they all attempt to create a scene in prose just the way a fiction writer would. Each of the prose poems in this book forms mini-narratives, which show certain scenes I’ve experienced personally. So, it’s a kind of fiction-nonfiction-poetry hybrid thing happening. 

Inscape: How do you get inspiration for your poems? What’s your process between getting inspiration—being in a scene—and producing an actual written poem? 

H: I carry a notebook with me, and the things I jot down in that notebook are seeds for poems. So, I’m collecting seeds when I’m living my life. Any random image, set of words, or quotation from something I read, can be a seed. Then I need to see which seeds grow. When I’m writing poems, I like to play and sort of witness what the poem seems to want to be, rather than feeling I am personally controlling the poem. I’m making a poem, but I’m also collaborating with the language. When things are going well, it feels like there’s something outside of me that’s helping the poem along, and that excites me, and keeps me engaged.

Inscape: What do you think makes a good poem?

H: I don’t think there’s any one right answer to that question—there’re so many ways that a poem can be good. Sometimes when I read poems, I feel a chill go down my arm, or a sense of being in wonder, or being startled, or as if some aspect of an emotion I have dealt with is being expressed in a new way that I can connect with. Maybe what makes a poem good is its unique way of being in the world. It’s liberating to be a poet because you know that there’s no one way to write good poetry—you have to discover what it is for you that’ll make you satisfied or help you feel that your poem is good. As readers we personally discover what each of us thinks is good, and that discovery can be different on different days. 

Inscape: What was your hardest poem to write in Anthropocene Lullaby?

H: Oh, that’s interesting. I think that the hardest poem was the long poem, “On April 22nd, 2020, I remembered the bodies in which I lived.” I didn’t know what form that poem would take for a very long time—years. The title of that poem refers to a specific date, as if I was just writing the poem on that day, but I was actually finishing the poem on that day—revising, adding, and putting it into a new form. I’d been trying to work on that poem—coming back to it, leaving, rearranging, cutting, and adding—for probably two-and-a-half years at that point. It was difficult to know what it needed for a long time. 

Inscape: What was the most surprising thing you discovered while writing the poems in this collection?

H: I noticed that I became comfortable with more of a sense of messiness in my poetry, being more personal and vulnerable than I typically used to in the other three books that I published. That’s a bit of a surprise. I notice in this book a stronger sense of rawness, and more of the human-built world—technology and the way much of life is lived on-screens now. I used to want to scrape that away, and have more of a human-encountering-the-nonhuman-world focus in my poems. That still appeals to me—looking beyond what’s human-built to insect-built life, plant-built life, all of that. But in this book, it’s more human-encountering-human world and how that human-world is imposing itself onto the nonhuman-world. So, I guess I’m surprised by how much I didn’t edit out of this book, and the fact that I allowed myself to be a bit more vulnerable and open about my immediate experience. 

Inscape: When you’re creating a book of poetry, do you start out intending to write poems that work well together?

H: It’s a long process. While writing, I’m not thinking about writing a book. I’m just writing poem by poem, day by day. Over time, maybe after a year of writing some poems, I might start to see that certain themes keep coming up for me and allow myself to keep doing work with those themes, knowing they could lead me towards a book manuscript. That’s the way this book ended up coming together. After my third book, I felt that I would not write any more poetry for a very long time. When I did need to write a poem, I just let myself write it, but I was like, “I’m not working on anything—I’m just letting myself write poems that I need to write.” Only after a couple of years did I start to notice that it seemed like maybe I was working on a manuscript that would become a book, one that reflected on what it means to be conscious as an affluent, Northeastern American person living in the Anthropocene age. 

Inscape: Is there one poem in your collection that holds a special place in your heart? If so, why?

H: “Lines written in the Walmart Supercenter parking lot, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania” holds a special place in my heart, in part because both of my children like this poem and delight in the fact that Pokémon entered my poetry and got published. 

Inscape: My favorite poem from this collection is “As after a hatch tadpoles heat the bank.” How did that poem come to be?

H: This poem was written while I was in Johnson, Vermont for the Vermont Studio Center’s two-week fellowship as a writing resident. I was noticing how tadpoles are starting to hatch earlier than they used to hatch, closer to what’s traditionally called winter, because it’s not winter anymore—climate change is changing our seasons. I was also reading The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming by David Wallace-Wells. Those ideas were bouncing around in my head: that sense of impending climate catastrophe, how climate catastrophe is already underway, and how governments are delaying meaningful action in so many respects. The U.S. government is a major one, because it’s politically unpopular to make certain decisions if they would negatively affect the economy, even though they would really help with this devastating situation—which will affect the economy in an awful way if they don’t act now. Those ideas were bouncing around in me, but I didn’t want to write nonfiction, because that’s not the kind of writer I am. Instead, I allowed for what I was reading in the book by David Wallace-Wells, and what I was observing with the tadpoles, to interact in a pared-back, lyric poem. I wanted it to be an obsessive, songlike poem that allows for a sense of concern about the environment to interact with the immediacy of observing tadpoles that have hatched and recently come into the world. 

Inscape: Your book deals with many important topics—the Anthropocene Era, climate change, and social awareness. What message do you hope your readers take away from this book overall? 

H: I hope readers take away an understanding of some of my personal concerns and curiosities that the book brings up, especially as they interact with their own concerns and curiosities. I want the book to be a meeting place between what I’ve been thinking about and whatever the reader brings to the page in terms of their own emotions and thoughts about climate change or what it means to live in this digital age. I’m hopeful that maybe a certain poem will speak to a person reading in a way that a good poem by someone else speaks to me, where I think, “Oh, yes, this. I wouldn’t have put it that way, in language that way, and now I’m obsessed and changed by this thing that I just read that articulates something that feels new to me.” That’s my hope. 

Inscape: Are you currently working on any projects?

H: I’m writing poems, but I’m in the stage of total mess and telling myself, “this is not anything that I will publish,” because that’s the most liberating thing. That sense of not-knowing, and of not-trying-to-get-somewhere but just being-in-the-mess is such an important part of my writing process. So, I’m just leaning into that and letting it be what it is. 

Inscape: What advice would you give to someone wanting to write and publish poetry? What do you wish you knew when you first started writing poetry? 

H: I wish I knew that sending out work and the public part of being a poet is completely different from writing poems and sharing them with friends. If a writer can build a circle of friends and fellow writers who are willing to read and appreciate their work, that’s everything. The responses a writer receives when submitting work to be published are not reflective of the importance of what the writer is doing. The importance of what you’re doing comes from within, and always needs to come from within so you can validate yourself. External validation isn’t the driving force. It doesn’t need to change how you feel about yourself and the work you’re doing.

Interview with Amy Leach

by Fleur Van Woerkom

Amy Leach grew up in Texas and earned her MFA from the Nonfiction Writing Program at the University of Iowa. Her work has appeared in The Best American Essays, The Best American Science and Nature Writing, and numerous other publications, including Granta, A Public Space, Orion, Tin House, and the Los Angeles Review of Books. She is a recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award, a Rona Jaffe Foundation Award, and a Pushcart Prize. Her books are Things That Are and The Everybody Ensemble. Leach lives in Bozeman and teaches creative writing at MSU.

Inscape: How much research did you specifically do for your most recent book, The Everybody Ensemble?

Amy Leach: For three of the essays (the moose, the goose, and the mesquite tree) I did a lot of deep and specific research, inspired initially by the extreme lives of all of those subjects. I pursued those topics particularly through reading library books, textbooks, and abstracts. For other essays, I used research that had accumulated over the years, which had lodged in my imagination. For the essay “The Land of Importunity,” I was interested in the bird called the solitaire. I was interested in its name, the solitariness of this bird, and I started researching the now-extinct bird (kind of like the dodo that lived on Mauritius island). However, so much of the research came from journals of this Huguenot who had been exiled from France to an island. He kept a journal of all the animals he saw on the island, and the more I read his accounts of the solitaire, the more I was interested in him. It turned into an essay about this man who was subject to historical forces and fell in love with these animals that are now mostly extinct. 

Inscape: What were your favorite topics to research for the book?

AL: I think, again, I was inspired by animals and plants living extreme lives. The mesquite tree sends its roots 160 feet down into the desert to look for water, and the moose has these 70-pound antlers it carries around on its head that are so heavy it mustn’t lower its head down to the ground for fear it will never raise its head up again! These little goslings, who three days after they’re born, have to jump off a 400-foot cliff in Greenland before they can fly. I don’t know if I was consciously pursuing extreme lives, or if it was something I was subconsciously attracted to—it was interesting to me in my life at the time, which felt kind of extreme. I read about blueberries, and how they nourish everybody. One of the themes that guided my sensibility throughout the writing of this book was the idea of something that supports everybody and makes no distinctions between person or animal. I’m trying to celebrate everybody, if that’s possible!

Inscape: You mentioned this book was a response to the extreme things in your own life. What were those extreme things in your life?

AL: Well, we moved to Montana, and Montana is such an extreme place. It’s so extremely beautiful, so extremely cold! Because of the high altitude, the sunshine feels very extreme. Also, I had my little babies influencing me, and babies are very extreme!

Inscape: How does your environment affect your writing? Are there any environments that inspire you more than others?

AL: One interesting thing that happened when we moved to Montana from Chicago was that I felt like I wasn’t able to write for a while. As beautiful and inspiring as Montana was, I felt like I couldn’t write because I didn’t need to! Chicago is beautiful in its own way, but I felt like when I wrote my first book I was largely living in my imagination. When I moved to Montana I felt like I didn’t have to live in my imagination anymore. I could just go out the back door and revel in the mountains, the stars, the creeks, and the wildflowers. That was one surprising way in which my environment did not inspire me to write. But after a while I got over it. Towards the end of writing this book, I was kind of running out of time. I had to produce two essays in two months, which is like warp speed for me, so I tried something that I hadn’t tried so much in the past: writing about what I actually knew. We’ve gone to Yellowstone park so many times since we’ve moved here, and while I usually write about things that I don’t know (so I can learn about the panda bears or the jellyfish), those weren’t things I was encountering in my personal life. But because I didn’t have as much time to research these last two essays (I had a deadline coming up), I thought, well, I know a lot about Yellowstone! It was a new experience, to write about something that I did have a relationship with, and it came quite quickly. This experience also kind of inspired my next book, which is much more writing from experience than writing from research.

Inscape: What’s your next book about?

AL: It’s more about babies, and music, and religion. The things that I constantly think about all day long. I thought, Hey, I’ll try writing about the things I actually think about all the time!

Inscape: What was the timeline like for writing and revising The Everybody Ensemble?

AL: It really sped up. For a while I wasn’t writing at all. “Green Man,” the first essay I wrote for this book, took me about two years, due to many factors. “Pedestrians” took about five months and “The Benevolence of Blueberries” took three months. They sped up as I gained my momentum back. The whole thing took five or six years, including editing.

Inscape: What helped your momentum pick back up?

AL: I think . . . my children started going to daycare. That’s probably the main thing. And, because I was paying for daycare, that really put the pressure on; I wasn’t just going to come home and twiddle my thumbs. That pressure really made me sit down and write every morning, and then writing every morning turned into a habit. Nowadays, I have a little bit more time, and I could sit around and twiddle my thumbs. But I don’t, because I have that habit built up, so what else do I do? I sit down to write, and inspiration may or may not arrive.

Inscape: Your essays in The Everybody Ensemble feel very cohesive. Were all the essays written with the intention of being published together, or did any of them start off as solitary essays?

AL: Because I had published a previous book, I think I was hoping that they would coalesce into a collection. However, I didn’t have any conscious themes or orders in mind when I was writing them. That they were cohesive—and thank you for saying that—was kind of accidental, or not accidental, but you access these sensibilities when you write that might not be conscious otherwise. That’s a fun thing about writing: accessing things you wouldn’t otherwise access. So, while I didn’t set out with a plan, a design, or a formula, I did find my mind going back to the same place. It’s really exciting to write like that, where you’re discovering your obsessions as you go, rather than starting out with a blueprint and trying to adhere to it.

Inscape: How has your writing style changed over the years?

AL: When I started writing in Iowa, I used a lot of levity. Over time, I’ve learned to combine levity and gravity. It’s a good combination for me. If I write just with levity, I’m spinning out into space; if I write just with gravity, it’s just heavy. Over the years, I have tried to combine those two. Also, there’s probably more me in this book. In my first book, I was trying an experiment where I kept myself out of it, at least overtly. I was behind the curtains, and I was just pointing at the panda bears and the jellyfish and the porcupines—pay no attention to me! It was a good experiment, because it was a way to keep my own conventions out of the work. But with this book, I learned to trust my own thoughts a little more, and it was just easier to include my own thoughts and experiences in it. It’s quite an exercise to keep yourself out of something, and I think I just got a little older and a little tired of that exercise. It was a good exercise at the time, but if you persist in any exercise longer than you need to, it can just turn into artifice or a gimmick. 

Inscape: Are there any habits you try to avoid in your writing?

AL: I think you have to just write it all down, and then look at it, and say, “Whoops!” I feel like writing crystallizes all of somebody’s strengths and faults. You get to know yourself. The strengths are what you keep, and, hopefully, the faults are what you delete. It’s a fascinating process. I was mostly trying to write this as a book of praise, but I also found that criticism comes very naturally to me. Criticism was something that I tried to retain as long as it wasn’t facile criticism—if I felt that it was criticizing things that I do feel are small minded, literal minded, and lopsided. But I tried to take out the facile criticism that’s easy and automatic. I also try to erase all conventional thoughts. Writing allows me to see those thoughts. There those thoughts are on the page, and I can take them out. What I love about writing is that I can think the way I want to think because I can see all my thoughts there on the page. I can see my thinking; I can see where I’ve gotten into easy thinking, and I can take it out. It’s a very long and arduous process (to think hard thoughts and new thoughts) and it does take a lot of writing, erasing, and rewriting.

Inscape: Who are some of your favorite authors or books?

AL: One writer who influenced this book quite a lot was Walt Whitman. I think I contracted the impulse to celebrate everybody from reading Leaves of Grass—where Whitman has long lists of different people, angels, animals, moss, worms, ants, and the spirit. Whitman puts them all in the same list, where there’s no hierarchy. He celebrates them all equally.

Inscape: Is there any specific message that you hope readers take away from the book?

AL: I think . . . the message of appreciation, and celebration. I don’t really write for a message, I write for myself. If someone else finds a message in it, then hooray! One thread I tried to follow was confusing certainties. A lot of the things that I’m celebrating, like babies, music, and donkeys, are really beautiful confusers of certainty. Thinking about a message is kind of like thinking about God’s “message” in the book of Job. Job and his friend were engaged in a long academic conversation, and they wanted answers. Then, when God suddenly entered their conversation, God didn’t deliver a message. All He talked about was donkeys, baby goats, and baby ravens. So, maybe my message is that I’m trying to emulate God, in His non-message, in celebrating plants and animals, creation, clouds, storms, and rain.

Winter 2022

Clubhouse At Night by Madeline Rupard

Editor’s Note by Kath Richards

Fiction

A Few Miles Off by Ella Jakobi (Inscape Contest Winner) 
A Bullet for the Renafern Man by Benjamin Vance
Thetis by Courtney Lehikainen
Wild Geese by Abby Knudsen

Nonfiction

One Clear Voice by Celisa Fullmer (Inscape Contest Winner) 
A Car Ride, Beastie Boys, and John Lennon’s Ghost by Evie Darrington
Vibrations Through Wire and Air by Kirsten Burningham
Two by Chloe Allen

Poetry

Translation of Relics by Elizabeth Tervo (Inscape Contest Winner)
Fragments from Ernesto and Leti by Isaiah Rubio
Relapse by Isaiah Rubio
Self-Portrait as Flying Turtle by Carol Berg

Art

Clubhouse At Night by Madeline Rupard (Cover)
Greenhouse Vending Machine by Madeline Rupard
Mardi Gras by Phyllis Green
Forever by Phyllis Green
Harmony by Phyllis Green
caves by Janessa Lewis (Inscape Contest Winner)
RESIDUAL I by Samantha Atzbach
Uprooted by Samantha Snyder
Fallen by Nicholas Rex
Unknown Body II by Katelyn Garcia
Sister Vol. 2 by Nicole Konecke
The Meek Shall Inherit by Pamela Parsons
riot grrrl! by Evie Darrington
The Fall of the Albatross by Sydnie Poulsen
Organic Bananas by Marissa Albrecht
University Place by Marissa Albrecht
When Elements Collide by Alexandra Mazzola

Interviews

Interview with Amy Leach by Fleur Van Woerkom
Interview with K.A. Hays by Ariel Hochstrasser

 

Another Spring

by Amy Harris

 

Something is wrong. It is blue—somewhere between navy and royal. A couple of teeth are missing, but it still works well. I have never paid so much attention to my comb before, but this morning it suddenly seems immensely important. Important because I can hear people in the kitchen talking, an alien sort of talking—hurried, hushed, and desperate. I have heard that talk somewhere before. I am only sixteen, but I have heard that kind of talking before.

Something is wrong. I leave the bathroom, taking the comb with me, and go into my parents’ bedroom. Their room has a bigger mirror, and besides, it is farther away from the strange talking. I leave the bedroom and meet my sister in the hall. She says three words to me. Something is wrong.

A rock. There is a rock in my stomach, and it is growing, overtaking me, filling me with pain and anger. I can’t stop it, and it finally comes out: I cry. Betsy hugs me and holds my hand. Funny, I don’t remember hugging her for a long time, and I never remember her holding my hand. Why now? Something is wrong, something to do with those three words.

Somehow I have moved into the front room. Betsy is still in the bathroom. Dad and Mom and Alan and Susan are also in the front room. Where is Barbara? Strange, she should be here if Alan and Susan are. Then I remember, and the rock is back in my stomach. Barbara is the something that is wrong. Her name is one of those three words.

Tears, or their memories, hang in the air. Mom hugs me and holds my hand. But she can’t make what’s wrong go away. She knows that, so do I, but we keep hugging and holding hands. I am sitting, and she is standing over me. I can see her dress. It is black with some small white pattern. The pattern seems to be a cross between flowers and butterflies.

***

The butterflies dance around the spring blossoms on the apricot tree. I love the smell of apricots in spring. I stare at the tree with its blizzard of flowers. I almost forget that I am playing “Hide and Seek.” I remember to come back to the game. I know where my neighbor is hiding. I am just about to look behind the bush where she is hiding behind when I hear the honk. Our car comes speeding out the gravel driveway, Mom and Dad in the front with Barbara in the back. The car heads down the road and quickly moves out of sight. I move towards the bush again.

Someone is yelling my name. It is my sister, Deborah. She tells me to come inside for the night. She has been crying and she is upset. She’s hardly ever upset.

The next day is tense at home. There are hushed conversations. Everybody is edgy, except for Barbara because she isn’t home. I know why she isn’t here: too many pills. Take too many pills, trying to end it all and going to the hospital. Mom and Dad tell me about Barbara’s being in the hospital—too many pills. Only sixteen and too many pills.

***

Sixteen. I’ll be sixteen this fall. I was ten when I played “Hide and Seek.” I am sixteen now, and I’m not playing anything. It’s spring again, but there are no apricot blossoms. There’s no apricot tree anymore. We moved away from that tree and its flowers. I don’t want apricot blossoms after those three words: “Barbara shot herself.” Three words, six syllables. Six syllables that won’t stop echoing: “Barbara shot herself … Barbara shot herself … Barbara shot herself.” I can still hear those three words. They won’t stop echoing.

***

I hear the nurse’s footfalls echoing off the walls of the intensive care unit. Her white shoes on the white floor under the white ceiling. Too much white. Not enough color. Not enough life. I’m in Barbara’s room now. I am with Dad and Susan. Susan is crying. She talks to Barbara. Barbara can’t hear. Maybe she won’t hear. Susan still cries. She takes Barbara’s hand and squeezes it. I look at Barbara’s hand. She needs to clip her nails. She needs to wash her fingers. There is blood on the cuticles. Blood. I can’t see the blood anymore for my tears. Dad is silent and controlled. He takes my hand, and we leave the room. We are walking down the hall. We’ve left the white behind. Now we are on light brown carpet. We go to the waiting room. He squeezes my hand and leaves. I can see the wallpaper. It has flowers on it. A few hours ago I liked flowers. Now there are too many of them, too many flowers, and it is too cold. The heater must be broken. It is so cold in here.

***

It is still cold. I started feeling cold four days ago, and I am still cold. Dad is talking. It’s cold, but the chill isn’t coming from the room. I’m cold, but tears are hot on my cheeks. I can see Barbara’s hand through them. She gestures towards the Kleenex box across the room. Dad keeps talking. I still have tears, but I can see the box. It is covered with flowers and butterflies. I don’t want to think about flowers and butterflies. I look at her hand again. I try to touch it; I just can’t. I once wanted to be just like her, and now I can’t even hold her hand.

***

“I want to be just like her.”

I’m looking up at Deborah and Susan. They are putting on makeup and brushing their hair. I can feel the cool white tile of the rim of the bathtub beneath my hands and the rich purple rug at my feet. We are getting ready for a birthday celebration. Barbara’s birthday celebration. She is thirteen today. I tell Deborah and Susan that although Barbara is officially a year older, she does not look any different to me than when she was twelve.

“I want to be just like her when I grow up,” I proudly tell them.

“Oh ya do, do ya?” Deborah smiles down at my five-year-old frame.

“Sure. Only I’ll have long hair.”

“Of course.”

Growing up to be like Barbara is my greatest hope, but I don’t think I could give up my long hair for it. I lean back against the rim of the tub again. I feel the refreshing cold of the white. Reveling in thoughts of growing up to be like Barbara, I contentedly put my hands on the cool tub, and dig my toes into the endless depths of purpleness.

***

The deep purple of the petals shine in the sunlight. I put the flower on the mound. Barbara helps me stamp the dirt around better, and she says a few gentle words. She calms my seven-year old fear of death. Boris had been a good puppy. She explains why all beings, including humans, must die. She helps me understand that dying is not the end. That dying leads to something better. I don’t completely understand, but I feel better. I look down at our dirty, summer-hardened feet. I feel the dirt pushing between our toes. The dirt that covers Boris. It feels warm and pleasant. It makes my feet look black.

***

The night is black and cool. The crisp autumn air feels good on my face and the football feels slippery in my hands. I hold the ball tighter in the crook of my arm and run. I feel her hands grabbing me and pulling me down, but she is too late. I have already scored the touchdown.

Next we practice offensive patterns. We’ve been working on these for the past year, and at eight years old I feel experienced. She is great at offensive patterns, and she is teaching me everything she knows.

The cool grass tickles my feet and makes me run faster. The rays of our backyard floodlights cast a shadow as we throw the ball back and forth. Our shadows leap and tangle in the light. I can see our shadows together, then apart.

I run back for a pass. I know that I’m going too fast. I trip and fall. I ask Barbara to come help me because my ankle hurts. She jogs over. Before she reaches me, I look up. The floodlights are behind her—glowing. For a moment she pauses, and the lights cast her shadow across me and the lawn. Through the shadow, she puts out her hand and picks me up.

***

But that was when I was eight; now I am sixteen. Why doesn’t she keep picking me up?

***

Why? I don’t know. All I know is that there are no more dribbling practices, no more summer evenings playing games, no more watching the sunrise from Bear Canyon, no more lessons on right and left. No more of anything, except pain. Pain and fear. Fear and anger. Anger and guilt. Guilt because of anger. Just guilt remains.

Guilt and talking. Everybody seems so intent on talking. No one will just be quiet and let it disappear. They just keep on talking and asking questions. But I don’t want the answers.

***

Questions. So many questions. Why did she do it? Why did she let me down? How could she take my hero away? Doesn’t she understand how bad it is? Doesn’t she care about us? Does she hate us? I can’t believe she would let me down. I can’t forgive her. I can’t love

NO! That’s bad. Of course I love her. How can I not? I do love her, but I hate her too. No, I can’t hate her—she’s my sister. No, I can’t hate her. I hate what she did to me, to our parents, to our brothers and sisters. Why did she do it? Why? Why? Why? I don’t want to answer that. I don’t want to think about it or talk about it. Talking takes too much energy and hurts too much.

***

I am downstairs. Barbara is with me. She is doing her laundry. I am watching television. Barbara asks me a question. I evade it and notice the yellowness of the light bulb. Why can’t they make a pure, clean light bulb? Why yellow? Yellow is so hollow, so decayed. She asks me the question again.

“Mad. Why?” The question makes me cold.

Good, now I’m cold again. Cold is good. Oh no, I’m getting hot. It must be that light bulb and its yellow light. No, it isn’t; it’s tears. No, please not tears again. I hate tears. There have been too many of them over the last six months. I’m mad at the tears.

“Mad. Why?” The question makes me cold.

She has tears also. Hers are pain and love. Mine are anger. I look at the carpet. It is an awful combination of browns and oranges. It looks soiled and deteriorated.

“Mad, you. Why?”

Mad at tears because they are hot. Mad at light bulbs because they are yellow. Mad at you because—sorry. I’m so sorry, so sorry, so sorry. There are even more tears, but they have more pain and love than anger. I’m sorry, sorry, sorry, sor—please no more sorry. Please forgive. Forgive you. Forgive me, please. Please let me say it. “Forgive me, please.”

“Forgive ……. Forgive?”

Through the tears I can see her hand. It’s moving. She takes my hand. I can feel her skin. It’s been so long since I touched her, but I remember the touch and feel of her fingers from so long ago. I remember feeling spring. I remember smelling apricot blossoms. I am smelling apricot blossoms now. She holds my hand. And I hold hers.