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.

Birthday and Christmas

by Giorgio Palladino

Annie was given two dogs in the same year. One on her Birthday (partially black, fixed, the Hornbergers’ Mom had decided the kids couldn’t take care of it) and the second on Christmas (blonded, younger, a rescue). The first was meant to curb the loneliness her parents could hear compressing her childhood. The Christmas pet was to keep the loneliness dog company. The dogs would gnaw and grow and get lost on separate occasions. The loneliness would too.

Unlike when the dogs went missing, there were no posters put up in search of the loneliness when it would disappear. Annie’s parents offered no reward. Mostly they made scones and watched as much television as they could together before her fever of optimism inevitably broke. She could stay home from school, was the agreement, if she could produce some proof of illness. Any abnormal excretions were fair game and often she would borrow Birthday’s latest concoction  and mix it with the plunger in the toilet bowl. Mom was willingly and nobly deceived.

When things got bad, Annie would lie on her stomach and speak with her dogs: whisper to the Christmas dog things the Birthday dog would likely fail to understand and stroke Birthday’s belly when Christmas was asleep. The secrets she harbored gave her something to tally and possess. At night she imagined pitting the animals against each other, inciting a rivalry or contest within them. She wanted to see their affection played out with violence—a kind of love her home was incapable of producing. Her efforts did not bear fruit, as a dog cannot be against anything. A dog or dogs can only be unconditionally for something, for you, about you, with you.

Her shyness gave off a gentle amber shimmer, it drew people toward Annie, and Annie further into herself. Mom and Dad couldn’t help thinking there were worlds under their daughter’s hair, that each strand was a Rapunzel rope to a different part of her mind. That a boy could discover the ropes and make his life work the exploration of her mind, tirelessly interested in Annie. First she had to manifest herself to a boy, as a girl.

Annie became a woman at the magazine drive assembly in March. The presenter had finished the what and how, and now they were talking about the why: prizes promised if you got your relatives to subscribe. Annie was not considering participation and was instead reading Proust when she felt the warm menstrual creek developing out of her lap. She stayed put, knowing that movement could elicit the attention that could compromise her anonymity. Instead she casually pulled the covers away from the pages and held the protective flaps together in one hand; the pages fanned out in sympathy and sopped up some of the blood from her legs and chair. Under the cover of the torrential cheering for the stretch hummer limo ride to Boomers, she got up, the stained book now closed and, and exited the building. Successive adolescent shrieks escaped the double doors, her blood had been found. Annie was exposed.

The quad was humming with absence. Unoccupied tables with fiberglass umbrellas made up a system of emptiness. She was still bleeding in transit, leaving little red stars—exploding spots of puberty—on the concrete. In the ladies’ room, she wept as she inserted the feminine product. She hated that she was dripping more of herself into the world. She wanted to be picked up early, but a sixth period Ms. Hagishida would not be mocked with excuses. The potential for tomorrow’s embarrassment (and the anxious hours before that embarrassment took shape) eclipsed today’s discomfort. Annie stayed.

At home she wore her backpack while she removed the soiled baton and replaced it with a pad. She walked past the sink and into her room, hungry. From her laptop, she played “Forever Dolphin Love” and surrendered to her duvet. She kissed the silence with open lips, and prayed to God that no one would say her name ever again. Christmas raked softly against the door until he found the lever and broke through. On her bed, she washed him with kisses and wrapped him in the prison of her arms.

“Where is the sun, my present?” Annie pleaded, cupping his ears with both hands. “Where is the light and the morning and the strawberries in yogurt?”  Looking into his eyes, she found a question, “do you like being touched?” It had not occurred to her that her concern might smother her pet. The door sighed once more and Birthday made them three on the bed. Synchronized together in the safety of her sheets, Annie wouldn’t have to wake up, she thought, for a month. She could sleep with her dogs until finals and still pass her classes. When she reached for her phone to read them some Rumi (their favorite poet), she discovered a ghost trauma of her menstrual mishap: two bleeding streaks on her bed. She sat up, then off the bed, following the syncopated trail to the bathroom trash bin. Christmas remained in bed with Birthday, licking the sweet crimson. When she realized that Birthday had eaten the cotton soaked in Annie’s insides, she laughed incredulously. “My dogs,” she thought, “know every part of me.”

Birthday and Christmas continued gnawing at spring until it gave way to summer. Before school got out, Mom and Dad became concerned that the generosity they had demonstrated on her Birthday and at Christmas was not curing her disease—the enveloping darkness of her loneliness had expanded, tinting the windows and graying the water. Annie’s father stopped taking baths. Maybe, they thought, Birthday and Christmas only dislodged her loneliness onto another plane. Perhaps they only distracted their daughter from confronting her demons. Annie could sense their concern and looming preparations. She braced for the ambush that took place upon coming back Thursday after tennis practice.

The homosexual her parents had brought into their home was smiling in the living room. He introduced himself wrongly, with his first name. Grown-ups that pretend their last names aren’t important cannot be trusted, Annie had discovered. The only teacher at her school that insisted on going by his first name had to leave in the middle of the school year for inviting one of his pupils to his house during spring break. The rumor that this former teacher had also been a homosexual only bolstered her suspicions.

“Annie, do you know why I’m here?”

“…”

“I’m here because your parents are—they love you very much and…” he paused when his prologue produced no visible results. The professional had been a top-rate student, he was bright, idealistic, and handsome. But terrible with children.  “Do you ever feel out of place, Annie?”

“Where,” she asked, “at school?”

“At school, or with friends. Or at home?”

“I guess I don’t really have a place I’m supposed to be. So it’s hard for me to feel out of place?”

“Okay then, when do you feel most yourself? Where does Annie feel most comfortable?”

The way he talked about Annie’s feelings was physical, as if he was talking about the curves and the corners of her soul’s body, heretofore untouched and still in the throes of maturation.  She did not like his words or his mouth and she wanted out. Annie excused herself without permission to check on her presents, explaining she would return.

In her room, Christmas was alone, damp with mercy and commanding the top of the sweatshirt pile Annie cycled through each morning for school. His eyes were glinting resolute silver and his jaw rocked softly with his panting. Annie looked at her dog and the dog did not look away. Shame is a singularly human phenomenon, sometimes advantageously projected onto other living things to relate better to their own suffering. Remember that it was woman, not beast that broke the rule and ate the fruit. Golden Retrievers and Jackals and Corgis were spectators to man’s curious performance. Man found himself naked and put on clothes. God threw man out of the garden. Toil and sweat were prescribed to man. It didn’t occur to the dogs they were naked or lazy, but they chased after man when they saw how sad he was in his clothes. Dogs might feel pain, but they cannot feel shame.

Annie wiped the blood echoes from Christmas’s mouth and understood: Birthday was now a part of Christmas, consumed out of compassion. The cubist remains of his companion were swallowed up and rolling in festive acid. Though she had not been present, she chose to believe that her pet’s spirit had left this world without a peep. Annie cursed aloud for the first time as she applied baby powder aimlessly to Christmas’ head and spine. The desultory white dust felt like courage on her hands. She lifted the weight of two dogs and carried him into the living room and onto her lap.

The therapist shifted in his seat, reorienting his hips to face his client’s daughter. He asked about the dog. She had lived enough years in silence to know when someone was unwanted and the therapist clearly did not approve of Christmas’ presence during his session. But Annie had also lived long enough to know that this was not a session, strictly speaking, and whatever it was it would happen on her terms. She rubbed her hands on Christmas’ sloping skull, feeling the helmet under his fur speak friction to the joints beneath her skin. She decided not to hear what the stranger in her living room was saying—she had learned to tune out unwanted voices as a way of protecting her autonomy. She ran the underside of her knuckles back and forth along Birthday’s ribbed crypt, feeling out a jagged piecemeal in between cell bars. Christmas would lift his head and groan dryly when Birthday scraped against his stomach wall. The homosexual left and Annie went swimming to wash the layer of tennis salt that colonized the region above her nose. Christmas and Birthday joined her.

The dog trailed Annie in the water, tripling her wake. He excitedly shook in the pool water, splashing forget all over her face. She would go under and Christmas would pull her back up. Their wet friendship produced a clever game: How deep could she get before Christmas stopped her? She would descend and Christmas would nudge her back up. On her fourth attempt at the bottom, Christmas gripped her nylon bottom half in his teeth and swam heroically. Annie could feel the stretch in her suit and extended her right arm out, hoping to make contact with the floor. Sensing danger, he pulled harder—his efforts mirrored her resistance. She broke the surface with her knees and tumbled into oxygen. In the quarrel, she hadn’t touched the bottom and Christmas had taken in chlorine. He began wet-hacking, waltzing in seizures toward the shallow end. Annie, by this time, had recovered her hearing and was bouncing over to him. Every cough birthed economy, exchanging something out for something in. He was drowning himself in Annie’s arms. Red and bones and brown and soft formed an estuary from the river of his body. The protected watershed was breached and fed into the ocean of a Southern California swimming pool. Christmas stopped coughing; Annie floated in Birthday.

From the window, Mom saw Annie battered and buoyant on her back and called to her husband. He left the television promptly and ran to the pool deck in socks. Annie could hear their confused parenting, but could make out no words. The sun sang vespers on her skin. The glowing girl lifted Christmas, now less heavy, out of the pool and laid him motionless on the grass. She took the shovel from the garden steps and knelt on his chest.

“You rescued me,” Annie prayed and plunged the head of the shovel into Christmas’s neck. The animal was alive and muted. She pulled the metal from his throat and with her weight on her foot severed his head. When she had separated the body from his mind, she placed the corpse into the pool and dried off with a towel.

The next day the pool cleaners were paid extra to remove Christmas and Birthday and disinfect the pool. The avocado trees dropped their fruit in mourning and the gum tree tower shed a thousand eucalyptus tears. Annie learned to shave her legs in the summer that soured before it began.

 

 

Giorgio Palladino lives and works in Spanish Fork, Utah.

Fall 2017 Art

Love Story Tilted by Jacqui Larsen
“Climb” by Jacqui Larsen
“Labradoodle Man” by Maren Loveland
“In the Mix” by Colby Sanford
“Stars Without Number” by Jacob Stebbing
“Woman of the Cloth: subversion 1” by Annelise Duque
“Nap by the Window” by Colby Sanford
“In the Morning” by Colby Sanford
“Lexi” by Nick Bontorno
“Schoolboy in Silence” by Alison Kolander
“Sweaty Freddie” by Alison Kolander
“Hierarchy” by Garrett May
“Hawa from Somalia” by Madeline Rupard
“Several Attempts at Making our Places the Same” by Ellie Goldrup
“If a Tree Falls” by Bette Hopkin
“Family Portraits: Dad” by Tanner Williams