Vibrations Through Wire and Air

by Kirsten Burningham

"Uprooted" by Samantha Snyder

“Uprooted” by Samantha Snyder

As a college freshman, I stretched my wings, and it was irritating to feel my mom’s desire to tether herself, ever so slightly, to me. I took pride in how little I needed—perhaps, even, how little I wanted from her. I can’t remember exactly what was bothering me about our last phone call; perhaps it was simply that she called, interrupting my socializing with her interest in my life. Whatever the reason, I was festering, and her needs were pestering me, so I walked from the back row of my Intro to Sociology class, passing metal-backed and spring-seated chairs, to the front of the auditorium for advice from my professor.

 After a brief description of my angsty mother-daughter relationship, my professor asked, “So, when do you call your mom?” 

A simple question, really. But the answer that formed in my mind pummeled me like a tidal wave that still today tumbles me senseless in its undercurrent. 

“Only when I need money,” I responded. 

**********

Alexander Graham Bell’s mother was hearing impaired. As a child, Alexander would speak to his mother forehead to forehead, so close she could feel the vibrations of his voice. Did she understand the words he whispered into the wisps of her hair? Was the closeness—having him near and sensing his vibrations—was that enough for his mother? For him? I imagine his hand curled around the back of her head, interweaving between strands of her hair as he purred into her temple. 

**********

I am now approaching forty-years-old, and as I look back, I can say, “Of  course, I’ve always needed my mom.” But because of the elemental role she played in my life, I couldn’t then see my reliance on her in the compounds that were forming into my life. I leaned on her for support, but told myself I was running free—my strength, my grit alone, got me to my destination. Like a child’s prayer that is at first a parroting of a parent’s bite-sized phrases, adjusted to their ability to repeat in full—our lives are mere impressions. Only later do they become independent and individual. But how does one know when a mother’s phrases end and a child’s personal prayer begins? When did her bedrock, formational words finish and my unique petitions form? The lines are blurry at best, and it’s been easy to write her out of my story of growth. If it weren’t for her soft “please bless this” and “thank you for that,” would I even know how to pray?  Or why to pray? Or when to pray? Would I know how to live?

**********

I made my first phone call from our faded mustard-yellow rotary phone. It was attached to the wall above our wood stove fireplace in the kitchen. My mom guided my hand to show me how each digit had to go all the way around the circle to connect. You had to be patient when dialing on a rotary phone. It could not be rushed. She had every relevant number from the phone book memorized, so I would wait for her voice to cue the next number and then pull it over with a satisfying zip. 

**********

One night, when I was about eight years old, I was sharing a mattress on the floor with my mom while on vacation. We were exhausted from traveling, but I watched as she lay on her back and prayed. I’d somehow imagined up for myself a towering, indignantly regal God who expected nothing but a quivering bow, who would only ever hold an audience with the profoundly obedient. My mother’s prayer, which some may measure insouciant, was, I felt, a deeply spiritual devotion: a spirit of the law of transcendence that challenged my basic and pharisaic notions of prayer. So the lesson I learned in that moment wasn’t really to pray—she’d already taught me that. It was that God hears us even when we are tired, even when we know we should kneel up but can’t muster the energy, so we send up a wish, a hope, a need, a soft call to the divine, before we sink into our mortal slumber. I prayed more after that; I even sent up the sloppy prayers I would have previously thought too unfinished for God. 

**********

The first flip phone was introduced when I was eight years old, but I wouldn’t own one until my first year of college. That first year of college was like middle school on steroids. I was testing truths and pushing boundaries to see if they were really where my parents said they would be. Some boundaries were more flexible than I had imagined, others I was still working out—like how often I really needed to call my mom, and how often she should be calling me. Others were exactly where I had been taught they would be, though I’d occasionally feigned ignorance. However, at least one truth was reiterated for me on a deeper level. I remember standing in the football stadium endzone, my phone’s qwerty keyboard clicking like an incantation. After selecting the name of the person I wanted to contact, I stood spellbound when the right person answered. It weirdly strengthened my faith. Though I wouldn’t have acknowledged it in this way at the time, it was like seeing my mother pray while flat on her back, almost casually, but knowing she was heard, and knowing that she knew she was heard—wherever, whenever, and however. It seemed that if that little pressed cube could spit forth an almost exact duplication of my voice through invisible airwaves to the precise location I desired, then yes, God did hear my frantic and mostly fervent prayers, and They even heard the sleepy yawning prayers, maybe even the prayers I forgot to say.

**********

Famously, the first words spoken from a human voice and transmitted through wire were sent from Alexander Graham Bell, who bounced them across the laboratory to his assistant, saying, “Mr. Watson, come here. I need you.” Later, in a demonstration, he would say, “Mr. Watson, come here. I want you.”

Come here. I need you. I want you. I believe those words summarize the increasingly throbbing core of every phone call I made to my mother after my professor’s question exposed my self-centered blindness, my ignorant, toddler-like use and abuse of my mother’s forbearing, swaddling voice. Slowly, heavily, I exposed the many layers of need I had for my mom. Money was merely the most urgent, superficial, and salient demand that peaked above the icy waters. Below the surface, my needs matched and then outsized her own. Increasingly, I wanted to draw her forehead closer to mine, to hug the soft wave of her hair to me, and whisper my vibrations, my resonance, so she could feel the truth of my need. 

Eventually, I called her on a steady, rhythmic basis. Just because I wanted to, because I needed her advice with this wild thing called pregnancy, and then with the downright deception of breastfeeding. (I mean, some women make it look like eating chocolate, or taking a stroll in the park. I, on the other hand, was being devoured and chased down by wailing sirens.) If I called and my mom didn’t pick up, I knew her phone was at the bottom of her purse or the battery was dead; she never upgraded past a flip phone’s three-hour battery life. So, I would immediately call my dad—never to talk to him (bless you, Dad. I love you, but you’re terrible at phone conversations). After the obligatory salutations, I asked him to please pass the phone to Mom. 

Calling my mom became a preamble to talking with God. I’d wrestle a tough topic out with her on the phone, and then I could take a clearer picture of my challenge to God. It became uncomfortable to go too long without talking to her. She patiently listened to me as I tacked awkwardly through the early headwinds of motherhood. She was my safe harbor as I voyaged through the tumultuous swells of bearing and raising children.  

I had a three-year-old who played like Houdini, and Mom understood my anxiety. I’d call to tell her how he had escaped through the locked backyard fence and played chicken with the FedEx truck to cross the busy road. I laughed and cried with her after reading a neighborhood Facebook post about a little lost boy. That same afternoon, probably while I was sucked into my chair nursing the baby, my son had apparently waltzed out the front door and let himself into the first unlocked house he could find. We now have a top lock on our front door eponymously named the “Eli” lock. 

Being an independent, disconnected daughter lost its smack. The increasing weight of children depending on me had me smarting for my own freedom to simply depend on someone else. I wanted more and more to sink into my mom’s lap, to tuck my head into the crook of her neck, to let her caress my hair and soothe me back to sleep. I could rest on the other end of an eternal phone call, curling and uncurling my fingers in the cord, just to sit with her voice.

**********

The last good phone call I remember with my mom when she still sounded like mom, was about three months before she passed away. She called to check in on Eli. With unusual urgency and clarity, she told me she loved Eli so much, that I was the perfect mom for him, and that she was sure he would grow up to do great things. “Just hang in there, honey,” she said. 

Then, in November 2020, we gathered as a family on a Zoom call. Did Alexander Graham Bell imagine this future for his technology? Images of a whole person soaring effortlessly through the air to fill a visual square for other squares of people with ears and eyes to behold? 

We received the news that this really was it for her. Again she lay prone, lightly covered over with a hospital sheet, feet protruding, her hands clutching the sheet and fisting together over her heart. There was nothing left to do; the cancer had settled deep in her bones, and like a lion leaping for the jugular, it slashed her throat to bits. She could hardly emit sound. Her vocal cords turned from velveted tapestries to scrub brushes, the abrasions scraping away at her lovely soprano. Phone calls became nearly impossible for her to bear.

**********

So, when do I call my mom? 

Never, now. I try to. Instinctively, I pick up the phone; she is still on my favorites list. I have four saved messages I’ll never be able to delete. They end with her cheery, “Love you, hun, thanks, bye-bye,” her voice crackling through the recorded airwaves, cracking a little on the bye.

During my first few prayers after she passed away, I felt like she was somehow on the other end. It was as if God rerouted the prayer because They knew she was the one I was really trying to dial. I kept forcefully pulling the numbered circles all the way to the end, anxiously waiting for them to bounce frenetically backward, begging her to answer. Mom, come here. I need you. I want you.

 

 

Kirsten Burningham is a first-year graduate student at Brigham Young University studying British modern literature. Her research interests include ecological and motherhood studies. She teaches a first-year writing course for the university and delights in helping (often reluctant) students develop into passionate communicators. Outside of her on-campus work, Kirsten and her husband, Steve, have five children, and together they love to hike, read, and explore the world. (Mt. Kilimanjaro is next). 

(Art) Samantha Snyder is a mixed media artist who was born and raised in the Central Valley of California. After graduating from Brigham Young University, she spent the next several years teaching elementary school in Texas. She is currently working on an MFA in Studio Art at BYU. Her artwork is greatly inspired by her and her family’s time residing in the Pacific West. Her work consists of a variety of media, including collage, artists books and prints. Samantha currently resides in Utah Valley with her husband and 3 children.

Two

by Chloe Allen

"Forever" by Phyllis Green

“Forever” by Phyllis Green

I don’t remember you.

I should, shouldn’t I? I should see you in my own reflection—in my eyes, my nose, my smile. Does it make me a bad sister, a bad twin, do you think? For not remembering those moments when it was just us two, when you were my world, and I yours? When in our own unborn existence, you were the one I knew better than myself?

Losing the other half of myself ought to have left a mark. A scar. Something broken, at the very least. Don’t you deserve that? A visible cry out to the world so that someone other than me and my parents would feel your absence?

In my head, you’re a girl. I’m sorry if that’s wrong. I should remember, but I don’t remember. We would have shared a room and stolen each other’s clothes and talked about boys and driven each other absolutely insane. I would have been jealous of your nose, and you would have been jealous of my eyes, and you would have told me in high school that my glasses were a bad fashion choice even when no one else would. And our great-aunts would get us mixed up and we would roll our eyes because we aren’t identicalbut we wouldn’t ever say anything. And I think you would have been loud. Someone ought to balance out the silence I speak at any given moment. But I wouldn’t have minded. You would have said what I wanted to when I was too afraid to open my mouth. 

But instead, everything is quiet. Four siblings, and somehow it isn’t enough. 

Did you know that Charlotte didn’t know you existed until a couple weeks ago? You would have been her sister, and she had no idea. Is that my fault too? I should have talked about you more. But what do you say when your other half is a stranger? I wish I knew.

Somehow, in the lottery of life and death, I lived. And you left. I don’t blame you. But that doesn’t change the fact that every day I do the things you never got to. There’s nothing quite like feeling air effortlessly move through your lungs, somehow giving your body strength. But you don’t know that. You never got to pet a dog or go to prom or jump on a trampoline or rollerskate or drink water or scream or tie your shoelaces or run until it feels like your heart is going to explode or go to school or hug our mother or dance. You never got to live, to experience this beautiful chaos we call life.

So, I’ll live for you. You can come with me.

Let’s go.

 

Chloe Allen is an undergraduate at Brigham Young University, where she obsesses over the English language with her fellow editing and publishing majors. She enjoys reading, singing, and watching The Great British Baking Show, and has recently discovered she has an intense aversion to writing about herself in the third person. After graduation, her goal is to become an editor of fiction novels, so that she can read for the rest of her life.

(Art) Phyllis Green is an author, playwright, and artist. Her art can be found at ArLiJo 123, Gulf Stream magazine, Novus, New Plains Review, and soon in CALYX, Aji, I 70 Review, Rip Rap, and Cinematic Codes Review.

One Clear Voice

by Celisa Fullmer

We were lucky to even be there.

Beating diligently overhead, the sun penetrated the plains with a dry heat, contending with gusts of Albertan wind in periodic spats. It whipped at our ponytails and howled in our eyes, yanking the moisture straight out of their blurred corners. It quarreled with the truck’s engine, drowning out its mechanical protests and hurling grasshoppers toward the windshield.

For how remote and foreign it was, our destination might as well have been a distant island. Our truck sailed through a sea of grain. Fields of wheat billowed on either side, hushed not by the wind like we were, but by a reverence I couldn’t quite quantify. The land radiated as if the sun itself had plunged fiery tendrils deep into the soil, defiantly rummaging beneath the plains for gold, before evaporating in a gentle retreat, leaving gilded stalks in its wake, each glittering with grain. 

When I was assigned to serve in rural Canada, my untraveled mind defaulted to a snowy log-cabin scene with a moose somewhere in the background, not the never-ending flatness of blonde fields, not a dome brimming rim to rim with gold—and I definitely had not anticipated Hutterite colonies. 

It was rare for the Hutterites to invite outsiders, let alone missionaries, into their private corner of the world. The boundaries of colony property were not treated lightly—nothing about their lifestyle was treated lightly. Laura Baxter and her husband, local members of our congregation, had long been neighbors of this particular Lehrerleut branch. Through shared experiences in farming and ranching, the Baxters had earned the Lehrerleuts’ trust and the privilege of visiting in person, on the mutually unspoken condition that religious conversation remained off-limits. My companion and I had spent weeks helping the Baxters with their cattle, and Laura had grown fond of us. It had been her idea to entreat the Lehrerleuts to give us a tour.

Our truck rumbled onto the property in a procession of dust, cotton seeds, and abnormality, attracting a flock of curious Lehrerleut women. Two men with wide-brimmed hats stood to greet Laura. My companion and I hopped clumsily out of the back seats of the truck, awkwardly lingering behind as Laura’s ecstatic sheepdog circled our legs. Besides the fact that they lived in religious colonies and made exceptionally good bread, I knew very little about the Hutterites, and I became keenly aware of my ignorance. 

The women stared at us—amiably, but with obvious fascination. They stood in a cluster of blue skirts and polka-dot bonnets, all with freshly-washed faces and hair up in conservative, middle-parted buns.

I suddenly became self-conscious of my boots, my jeans, my uncovered head. In their eyes, these were men’s clothes. I stood there, feeling oddly defiant and a bit naked: my hair high in a ponytail, my shirt pleated, my jeans form-fitting, my eyes lined with makeup.

Like a heathen.

Laura and the colony leader gestured for my companion and I to join the throng, explaining that the girls would show us around the property. For how warmly they enveloped us, an observer would never guess that my appearance probably appalled them. The younger girls bustled excitedly around us, telling us their names and inquiring after our own, as if this simple act would officially make us friends. Though my companion and I, as missionaries, typically went by Sister, it felt more fitting to tell them my first name. The girls had never heard a name like Celissa before and were intrigued by the idea of my parents simply making it up because they liked the way it sounded, rather than choosing one from the Bible.

Next thing we knew, we were being whisked about the property. We visited the homes first, all uniform and utilitarian—not one decoration on the freshly painted walls, not a single speck of dust on the gray slatted floors. One family had a Roomba, and absolutely brimmed with glee upon demonstrating to us how the marvelous contraption worked. To the Lehrerleuts, home was a sacred space, and cleanliness truly a sister to godliness. Any technology that aided in that effort was a welcome gift. Already my misconceptions had been corrected: they were not exactly like the Amish.

This mentality of efficiency also accounted for their immaculate schoolyard, central to the perimeter of their homes. I stared at the playground; its minimalistic toys and rigid equipment were so different from the messy wood chips, pinchy-chained swing sets and fluorescent, static-shock-inducing plastic slides of my childhood. Nearby, I noticed a wooden scooter lying on the ground, painted green with the name “Thomas” in white. 

“Can I ride this?” I asked abruptly, lifting it upright. 

The girls laughed at my unintended joke. “That’s a boy’s toy! Girls don’t ride those!” But one of the older women smiled and shrugged, quite ready to let me make a fool of myself, so I gave it a go. Kneeling to fit onto the tiny contraption and peddling around in wobbly circles, I once again became conscious of the liberty of movement afforded by my pants and boots. The girls laughed and laughed! To them the act appeared so contrary, so ridiculously masculine, as to be downright comedic.

We moved on from the playground to the school, with its rows of tidy desks, absent of what was surely an attentive, obedient troop of children. On the front wall hung an alphabet chart in German cursive. All around us hung sheets of the children’s own impressive renditions of the cursive, along with endearing crayon doodles. The young woman leading the tour happened to be the schoolteacher; she explained to us that Lehrerleut girls could no longer attend school once they turned fifteen years old, but that they could sometimes continue in education by instructing the children in the basics of mathematics and reading. 

“Amanda wants to be a teacher, right Amanda?” the teacher asked, turning to address a teenage girl with deep brown eyes and dark braids. Amanda nodded shyly, smiling.

The girls asked us if we had ever gone to school, and what we planned to do after completing our missionary service. My companion responded that she planned on becoming a nurse or a surgeon, which won smiles and nods of approval. A bit uncomfortably, I explained to them that I studied rhetoric and literature, and that I hoped to become a professor one day. Nodding gravely, one girl said, “The only way to go to university is to leave the colony.” The others nodded silently. I made a mental note to ask Laura about that exchange later. Amanda looked up, her brown eyes piercing me with their depth; she seemed to be searching my face for something. 

Our group quietly shuffled out of the schoolhouse and into the dairy barn, where we ran into a handful of young men tending to the cows. The girls whispered excitedly as one particular boy walked by, tipping his hat.

“What?” I asked eagerly, “Who was that?”

“Jacob,” one girl replied while the girl next to her blushed and covered her smile, staring after him. 

“He and Rebecca are cour-ting!” said another in a singsong voice, and the others exploded into giggles. Pretty soon all of them were telling us about the boys of neighboring colonies, who was seeing who, and who would be married soon.

I grinned. Missionaries don’t date while serving. I had missed girl talk.

After that, it was on to the nursery, then the hospital, and the bakery and the butchery and the dining hall and the warehouses and chicken coops and the stables—all of it an absolute whirlwind of foreign familiarity. Somehow, it felt like a long-lost home and another planet all at once. We spent the entire day learning about their lifestyle, conversing easily, and strolling pleasantly. 

I was stunned by the massive machinery they had for drying meat, plucking chickens, making bread, and harvesting corn. For the level of isolation they strove to maintain between themselves and the worldliness of modern society, the Lehrerleuts were certainly masters of efficiency and consistency. One had to admire it. From their top-of-the-line farming equipment to the meticulous mechanics of their lifestyle, every gear and cog knew its place.

Finally, we arrived at the church, with windows and pews as pious and polished as a Sabbath sunrise itself. There, the eldest girl explained to us the practices and purposes of their fundamentalist Christian faith, rooted deeply in Germanic traditions of worship. They listened with fascination as we explained how we taught people about Jesus Christ and helped prepare people who wanted to be baptized. 

One girl asked my companion and I to recite our favorite Bible verses. Fifteen pairs of eyes expectantly lit upon us. My companion spoke her favorite verse in German, which won her a reverent round of applause. I recited Isaiah 53:3-5. The girls clasped their hands to their chests, overjoyed at our shared ability to recite from memory verses about the Savior. Perhaps not all outsiders who came to tour the colony had such similar beliefs. 

“Come,” they said eagerly, “You must meet the others before you go!”

And so our tour concluded at a construction site, a home being built for a newly-wed couple, following the exact same pattern as every other home. Teenage boys and their male mentors tracked sawdust back and forth through the framework, carrying planks of wood and hammering at door frames. The pounding and shuffling ceased when the women arrived; tipped hats and respectful nods accompanied us into one of the nearly completed rooms. We sat on the empty white floor and some of the boys joined us, lining all four walls, sharing cups of water and bags of popcorn for their snack break. From the cheerful chatter and back-and-forth banter, it was easy to tell that they were all good friends. 

Suddenly, Laura suggested that the group of youth sing for us. I thought it an odd request, but they enthusiastically complied.

One girl began singing, her voice strident but confident, setting the tone for the others to join in. By the second phrase, I recognized the tune. It was not a hymn, as I had subconsciously anticipated, but the late-90’s ballad “One Clear Voice” by Peter Cetera:

Whole world is talking, drowning out my voice
How can I hear myself with all this noise?
But all this confusion, just disappears
When I find a quiet place, where I can hear

One clear voice, calling out for me to listen
One clear voice, whispers words of wisdom
I close my eyes, till I find what I’ve been missing
And if I’m very still, I will hear one clear voice

Their voices brought my mind to the wheat fields, rising and falling in tides of resplendent harmony. Each stalk a sweet sound, collectively: the symphony of the plains. Here, in the middle of nowhere, their own sacred privacy filled their lungs—lungs adapted to the virgin atmosphere of a haven untainted by the chaos of the world—distilling upon the air like audible, crystalline waves. A unified sea of gold.

One clear voice—I knew that voice. It was the same voice I had followed my entire life, the same voice that had brought me to Canada, the same voice that calmed my heart and heightened my joys and numbed my sorrows and silenced my fears. And the same voice that reassured me, in that moment, that there were people who still believed in Christ, people ready to tell the world all about Him, people who loved Him.

All too soon, the song ended. As we gathered back at Laura’s truck, the girls teased that they would be more than happy to sew us dresses and bonnets to properly outfit us. One even invited us to learn Germanic cursive in their school, alongside the five- and six-year-olds, which they found hilarious. They begged us to stay. A part of me—I couldn’t explain it—yearned to stay. This place was such a spiritual haven compared to the world we would soon return to. They wished us blessings as we searched for people to teach. How they beamed as they hugged us! And oh, how I needed that.

Saying goodbye was harder than it should’ve been for people who had only known each other for a day. And yet—even though I knew I would likely never see them again in this life—it felt powerfully introductory to a certain unspoken chapter of sisterhood. Something deep within me knew that these women had a place within my frame of experience that would extend far beyond this single day. From now on, my understanding of and questions about what it meant to be a woman would be gently sculpted by their unexpected influence.

We drove away from the property, the wheat fields nodding farewell to us with newfound intimacy. Laura broke the silence by saying, “Pretty different world out here, eh?” We agreed. 

“That was amazing,” I said.

Laura nodded solemnly. “They have an impressive lifestyle.”

After a pause, I brought up the conversation in the schoolhouse. 

“Ah, yes,” she said, “Yes, you ladies were certainly exotic in their eyes! Lehrerleut girls don’t often leave the colony. I’m sure the idea of university absolutely boggled them.”

“Do you know anyone who has left?” I asked. 

“The colony? Oh yes,” Laura said. “George and I are good friends with several who have left. One young man, Jeremiah, told us that it all used to drive him so crazy that every morning he would run, just run. He’d run to the edge of the property and stare out at the fields, wanting to scream. He finally left. So restless. It’s hard out there but most of them make it; they figure it out. Has a beautiful wife and two kids now. They seem very happy.”

She continued, “If men leave the colony and happen to want to come back, they have to consult with colony leaders and work things out. If women leave, they can never come back. That’s why so many of them simply stay. Security and community.”

I looked out the window, unsettled. Something about the image of that boy, driven to madness, screaming into the wheat-field void, felt so eerie. 

For the rest of the trip home, my companion sat in the front seat chatting with Laura. I lounged in the back of the truck, pensive. Despite how fascinating the day had been, a strange surge of concern settled upon my mind like the cloud of a summer storm, vast and bleak. The type of sky-sized cloud that seals its grayness from one horizon to the other, blanketing squalls of heat into fitful dust devils. The kind that hangs ominously but refuses to precipitate, clutching the dry ground below while garish light beats upon its back above.

I had nothing but profound admiration for the Lehrerleuts. It had been an incredibly eye-opening day. Those girls were some of the happiest, most delightful people I had ever met. 

So why was I bothered?

To this day, the sound of their singing is as freshly sutured into my mind as if I’d been with them just yesterday. It was the most magnificently raw sound I’ve ever heard. They were searching for “One Clear Voice” amid a world of turmoil. They’d established a lifestyle entirely centered around preserving and heeding that Voice.

So why did their voices both enchant…and haunt me?

They seemed so happy; were they happy?

Was I?

A summer storm did roll in, later that day. My companion and I returned home, waved goodbye to Laura, prepared for bed, said goodnight, and knelt to pray. Jealous of  my already-unconscious companion’s steady breath, I knelt in the darkness alone. Slowly, I began untangling my thoughts by thanking the Lord for the experiences of the day. Tentatively, I prayed that someday we would understand. I wasn’t sure who “we” was, but the identity of a Christian woman has always been slippery, vague. Indisputably, there is joy in the life of a mother, a sister, a believer. But I couldn’t help but wonder whether, like the golden sea of wheat—planted, raised, and hewn for consumption, year after year—it didn’t matter how rich a soil was, if the harvest was always the same.

Were roots for stability? Or immobility?

This cloud of consternation followed me into bed, rumbling, unsettling. Someday, I thought, staring up at the ceiling, someday. I didn’t know what it meant, but it felt fitting.

I closed my eyes, listening to the thunder above, and all of a sudden—blessedly—it began to rain.

 

Ever since she could hold a pencil, Celisa has loved to write everything from poetry to essay. She currently works as a content writer and will graduate this spring with a degree in Professional Writing. Her husband is the joy of her life, and everything they dream of together revolves around a future family.

A Car Ride, Beastie Boys, and John Lennon’s Ghost

by Evie Darrington

"riot grrrl!" by Evie Darrington

“riot grrrl!” by Evie Darrington

NO SLEEP TILL

BROOKLYN!

Count of 15 on the beat keeping time, head nodding and finger tapping—

Your cup holders carry expired coupons, the dented tiara from when you were crowned prom princess (you swear you ran as a joke), and those tinted circle hippie glasses, the ones with the scratched lenses from when we went as John Lennon (and not his ghost, mind you) and Yoko Ono to that one dinner with the family with the boy with freckles that I talk about too much. You wouldn’t let me put you in that dingy bed sheet because you said you looked too much like Jesus. The ghost of John Lennon frowns down disapprovingly from heaven (or hell? Satan has yet to claim rock and roll as his own), clutches the still-bleeding bullet hole in the center of his chest, adjusts his wire-framed glasses and decrees that dressing like him is in fact offensive, and maybe a little sinister. Even if you’re using a seemingly harmless bed sheet to do it.

The crimson patches in your cheeks, red like freshly-scraped knees or premature rebellion. The boys are especially loud tonight; Mike D. sounding brassy, MCA a little brash, and Ad-Rock bold. I savor the bite of each new verse and swallow. 

And these days are cherry-scented chap stick flavored, like the beat up lipsmackers from the seventh grade that I have at home crammed in the very back of my desk drawer behind the three different pairs of tangled earbuds and the stupid love poems I wrote about you-know-who. I got a haircut and chopped it short short—it slashes off at about my chin in a straight blunt line, but it isn’t like the time Dad buzzed my head in the kitchen of our old house and the collar of my hand-me-down pj shirt itched red-hot with short shorn hairs for weeks. The dull dim years of high school whisk out of sight on this canyon road and ahead is crisp and shiny and brand new. My head hangs a couple feet above the rushing highway; I stare up at the expanse of sky and the tiny pinpoint of stars, stretch my arms out and inhale the vast mountains in cool shadow looming overhead. I breathe it all in until my lungs ache with icy pine-stained wind and try to reason with it to stay for as long as possible—thirty seconds, sixty seconds. The song ends, the boys never making it to Brooklyn. A minute thirty. I exhale.

 

 

Evie Darrington is a sophomore at BYU studying graphic design. She is from Seattle, Washington, and the rare instances it rains in Utah make her think of home.

Catfish

by Alex Faletti

We stop at the 32nd Street Market, “Third World Market.” It’s
after midnight, and I look over my shoulder as I leave the car.
Sue wants to read, so she stays behind.
“I’ll be right out,” I say, and I lock the door.
I dodge a half dozen kids carrying groceries for a buck, wonder
why they’re out this late, and pull myself through the rails that
keep carts inside the store. I walk in the out door. Through the
glass, I see a man, and he’s mad that I come in the wrong way,
madder than I figure he ought to be.
I step to the side. The electric doors open and I follow them
inside. I’m almost inside, and the man insults me from across
the barrier separating the in door from the out door. It’s like
he’s spitting words at me, but they’re not really words, just
sounds, and I hear what he says, but I don’t listen. Nobody pays
attention to him.
I nod at the security guard and push through the one-way
stiles. A crowd blocks my way through the housewares, so I take
the meat department. The smell of blood and fish halt my
breath. A pig’s head stares up at me from behind a glass case,
and I enter a gap in the crowd.
A glass tub filled with catfish faces the aisle. A mass of mucus
and bloody ice, the fish press against the glass. Imagine frying
up an unskinned catfish. It’s like I test myself, force myself to
gag, but I don’t.
I get to the milk. I want a clean gallon, one without dirt on
it. I find a good one, but the date’s bad, so I settle for lowfat.
Still fresh, looks good. I leave the meats, look for the caja rapida,
the fast lane. I wait ten minutes to pass the cashier and decide
rapida doesn’t mean “fast” in English.
The grocery bag digs into my fingers and I work my way to
the exit. The guard stands to the left, in the same spot. I nod-
whatever I suppose he expects- and wait for the electric door.
Outside, the kids talk back and forth. When they see me, they
smile, reach for my bag with one hand, grab my arm with the
other. I walk through them to my car.
Sue stops reading. She’s looking over the backseat, out the
window. I try to knock, but the bags are too heavy. My arm burns
from the weight. Sue jumps back, surprised at someone being
so close. She looks around and opens the door. I hand her the
milk and start to sit down, when a man walks up from the curb.
He talks about poverty and children and about having no money.
I want to get in the car and ignore him, but he has me in a bad
way. I’m saying something sweet to Sue, something like, “I love
you,” or “Hey, hey, how ’bout some mac and cheese,” with a smile
and a corny look, something from that part of me that loves her.
And then I see this guy and I remember it’s late, and I put the
bags on the seat and hope to start the car, but he beats me.
He says he’s from the South, moved to California for a new
start, says Job Service found him a job and tonight’s his first
night. He works at the Coliseum and wears a blue and gold
“Event Staff” jacket. The story makes sense: a U2 concert, at the
Coliseum, ended an hour before. He tells me, “I’m not gonna
tell you a lie. I just want to work and make some money for my
family. I ain’t a bum, but I won’t get paid for a couple of weeks.
I need food for my kids.”
“I don’t have any money;’ I tell him and get into the car. I
expect him to get mad, maybe get a bit pushy like some bums
do, but he doesn’t. The man’s face changes from a plead to the
most pitiful look I’ve ever seen.
I want to give him some money, but I’m broke. The milk I
bought is for macaroni and cheese, and I don’t even like it. So
I look at him for the first time and reason with him.
“Do you know how many times I get hit up for money in this
parking lot in a week? How do I know you really need money,
and that you’ll use it for your family? And, besides, I really don’t
have any money. All I have is a checkbook.”
”All I need is some food. You can buy that with a check,” he
says. He’s right.
I look at Sue. She shrugs and gives me an 1-don’t-know-about-
this-but-be-careful look. I turn back to the man and tell him,
“Okay.”
”I’ll be right out. Keep the doors locked,” I say.
We walk back. The security guard gives me a long look, makes
me wonder what I’m doing with this man. I figure walking into
“the 32” with a black man’s no big deal if he’s another student.
But this man’s no student, and I walk with him, and it’s odd,
and we’re together.
We take the same path I followed earlier. The crowd’s not as
thick as before, so we have more room to move. The man pushes
a cart ahead of us. I figure we’ll head for the milk, buy some
mac’s and cheese and be out of here. But he stops in the meat
department. He eyes a bottom round steak, the cheapest cut.
“Can I get this? It would be good. We haven’t had nothing
but pancakes for three days,” he says.
“Yes . . . that’s fine . Go ahead,” I say, and I hesitate.
“You sure?” he says. I nod and poke a tenderloin with my
finger. I push in the plastic and leave a dent. He throws the steak
into the cart and moves up a few paces.
He stops in front of the catfish. I give him a wave of approval,
and he tells the butcher two pounds. The butcher reaches under
the window and drags out three fish. He weighs them and wraps
them in white paper. “Thank you! Thank you!” he tells the
butcher and drops the fish in the cart.
We move aisle for aisle through the store until we run out of
aisles. I want to get this over with. Every time the man wants
something, he asks me if it’s okay. I say yes, but I grudge every
purchase. Does a beggar get three Hershey’s bars? Applesauce?
Bread and milk. Bread and milk are beggar food . The cart’s half
full.
“Come on, let’s go. You’ve got enough to last you a week,” I
say. He stops and looks around like he’s lost something, but then
pushes the cart to the cashier. We make it through the line
quickly and head for the parking lot.
He holds four bags in one hand, three in the other, and
he’s staying on 54th Street, South Los Angeles. A bag tears.
The milk bounces. I look at Sue, and she shakes her head.
She says “No,” and I want to say “no;’ but the milk has rolled
close to my feet. It’s a foot from me and it’s got dire on it and
I don’t pick it up.
I drive him, but I don’t like the idea. Already, my plan to buy
him a gallon of milk and some noodles has cost me thirty-two
dollars, and now I’m putting him in my car with my fiancee and
driving to 54th _Street at 1:30 a.m.
We load the groceries in the backseat, along with our friend,
and head for Watts. I don’t feel good. My thoughts are bad. I
expect him to reach over the seat at any moment, kill me, take
the car, rape Sue, and go home to a steak dinner.
“I think I’m going to leave you at the bus stop,” I say.
“It’s a couple of minutes,” he says.
“If it was just me, I’d do it, but I’ve got my girl here. It’s kind
of foolish,” I tell him.
“It’ll only take ten minutes,” he says over the seat.
“No. I’m letting you off. I mean, come on, you’d have to walk
home anyway.”
I turn south on Broadway and find a bus stop. We put the
bags on the curb, and I shake his hand. He asks me for bus fare.
I give it from the money I didn’t have. He waves goodbye, as I
walk back to the car, and then he starts to thank me.
“God bless you! Jesus bless you!” he says from the curb, and
he keeps saying it, “God bless you! God bless you!” he says.
I sit next to Sue and drive towards school. I feel like crying but
don’t, which only makes me feel sick. My face tightens and one
side twitches. I blink, and I can’t stop it. I feel like a fool for
leaving him.
I say nothing to Sue. I drop her home. Then I drive to my house.
I drive slowly. I see every bus stop. I notice every person. I feel
sicker every minute, and I think about him frying those catfish
for his family, telling the kids a joke, telling them about the poor
man at the market.

Cemetery Day

by Paul Rawlins

We’re late getting up to the cemetery this year. Usually we’re up
early in the morning, Grandma and my aunts bustling around
the kitchen between arranging flowers and getting dressed while
the rest of us finish breakfast. This year it’s two o’clock before we
even start up town where my Grandpa Rawlins is buried in the
Lewiston City Cemetery.
I was only two when he died, so I never knew him. He knew
me, I suppose. I’ve seen his picture. But I know his grave. I’ve
visited it probably every year since he died-I know I’ve been there
in May every year I can remember. Memorial Day in Lewiston is a
funny thing. I see relations I don’t see any other time of the year,
and the whole town makes it out to the cemetery. My grandma’s
there, and she used to talk for hours when I was little, when hours
were longer. My dad sees old school buddies. He tells them no,
he’s not in the tire business anymore, says this is his wife LaJune,
this is his boy-Mike, Paul, Robert, whoever’s around. And we
go grave to grave, trying to make sense of who is related to whom
and how. Only my grandma knows it all. She could probably tell
you something about almost everybody in the cemetery, or at least
their families. I believe small towns are like that, kind of close-
knit, nosy in a concerned, family way. I don’t know-I’m not from
a small town – but that’s what I believe.
And I hear stories about the people I came from. I know
I’ll wish I remembered the stories some day. They’re supposed
to be a part of me somehow-somehow, whether I know them
or not.

The cemetery sits on a bluff sort of overlooking a river, sur-
rounded by a partial ring of trees. I suppose they used to run
round full circle. Now there’s a gap-maybe for the living to come
and go. We come in on the west side, and we drive a loop all
the way around to the east side to start over at my grandpa’s grave.
His isn’t far from the edge of the bluff and the river. You can
see the old sugar factory across the road. My dad used to work
there. My grandpa probably did, too. He worked a little bit of
everywhere.
We don’t have peonies from home this year. We always used
to have peonies. We still bring roses from our yard, though. And
there’s columbine, in a glass jar, from out front of my grandma’s
house. My aunts have a nice store-bought arrangement and a
wreath in fall colors that work well. Somebody from out of town
has left lilacs. The wind’s blowing, so we anchor everything down
with little shepherd’s crooks bent from hanger wire. They’re
always too long or too short, and the ground’s always hard. But
we finish, and everything stays up.
I have the camera this year, so I take the picture. My aunt’s
pulled handfuls of grass from around the headstone, and she’s
going to dump them over the fence. My other aunt’s saying
something about the guy who mows the lawn.
Then we start the loop. The cemetery’s full of Talbots, Ponds,
Van Ordens, Leavitts, Lewises, with a good handful of Rawlinses,
too. The Rawlinses go back to Harvey M. His grave makes the
far end of the loop; he’s to the north, kind of in the center.
The faded white stones mark children’s graves. I pass a row of
them along the east side for children who died in Decembers and
Januaries. I think the winters in the valley were hard on children;
I have a tendency towards the dramatic. Dad says a Rawlins would
have been the first newborn in Lewiston, but it was too cold, and
the parents wintered in a warmer house in Richmond. The children
in these graves weren’t even newborns. The older two were nine
and eleven; the younger two were three and five.
My aunt points out the grave of one of my uncle’s best friends.
She tells me someone in the family had a fit about his grave being
so close to his mother’s. And he was a tall boy, she says, and
he should have a flag. He was killed in Vietnam, stepped on
a Claymore mine. It was one of those things -the point man got
through.
A couple of kids horsing around get a talking to.
“Do you know what reverence is?” Their dad is being strict.
“This is sacred ground.”
No chasing and stepping on headstones. No being disrespectful.
I used to worry about stepping on the dead. I could never keep
straight which way the graves ran. And I used to feel sorry for
undecorated graves and put a spare flower here and there. My
mother, my grandmother, they still right tipped bouquets.
My aunts take care of the family headstones, clean off the bird
droppings, trim the grass, raise them when they start sinking.
The dad asks the kids if they understand. They look sheepish.
They’ll nod their heads, but it’s an adult thing, death and
memorial. Cemeteries are just scary places to be alone or at night
to kids, like the one in my hometown where the statue looks at
you if you walk around it three times at midnight. There’s nobody
here for them yet.
We stop by the grave of mom’s dance teacher. This is new to
me. Barbara Monroe. A beautiful lady. Handsome husband. She
died in 1968, the year my youngest brother was born. I’ve seen
a picture of my mother sitting in front of the old house on
Liberty Avenue with her ball gown spread around her on the lawn
like a pond. Barbara Monroe wasn’t teaching in Lewiston when
my mother took dance. My mother isn’t from northern Utah, but
everybody knows somebody from Cache Valley. I could go to the
end of the earth, I think sometimes, and mention that my dad is
from Cache Valley, Utah, and someone would say, “My grandfather
was from Smithfield” or “My wife’s folks are in Cache Valley.”
Maybe that’s what dad means when he calls it God’s country.
It’s some kind of Eden, some source. Dad insists on being buried
here. He comes as close to looking forward to it as you can without
being morbid. He talks about being buried under a tree for shade,
maybe one down by the stream along the south side of the
graveyard. My mother says he’ll have to be buried with his heavy
cotton sheets, or he’ll be complaining about the cold. Maybe
a reading lamp. He says he’ll come back to haunt us if we bury
him anywhere but up here, especially if we leave him in the city
cemetery down in Ogden. Too much traffic, too noisy.
Most of the direct family is over to the west. Harvey MacGalyard
Rawlins was the first of the family to come out West. He’s here.
And Jasper Alphonzo and Cora Mae Burbank, dad’s grandparents.
My great uncle still lives in their place up town. There is a string
of small cement squares here, too. They’re numbered, and they
sink and get lost in the grass along the roadside most of the year.
They mark babies’ graves, babies my great uncles lost. They don’t
even have headstones, but every year my aunts hunt up the graves.
They tug back the overgrown grass and talk about whose child
each was and how they died.
Ruth is here, too. Ruth’s grave always got a little metal basket
of flowers, but the silver was starting to show through under the
paint, and this year my aunts have a new arrangement. They never
miss her grave, and I wonder if anybody here even saw her, except
maybe my grandma. Ruth was my grandpa’s baby sister. She died
on Armistice Day, “while the rest of the world was celebrating,”
my grandma tells me.
My aunt says that once my grandpa let my uncle shoot a cow
they were going to slaughter. My uncle asked about the convulsions
the animal went through as it died, and grandpa said that death
was just like that. My uncle was being smart-alecky and said,
“How do you know?” Grandpa said, “I watched my baby sister
die.” That’s all he ever said to anybody. He always said he couldn’t
remember, when people asked.
I know that Ruth died of influenza. Ruth’s mother, Cora Mae,
grieved until her own mother came back from the other side and
told her to stop, that she had Ruth and that the baby would be
fine until Cora Mae got there. The day seems right for telling
these stories, and my grandma and aunts tell me more. Ariel
talking with Horace after he went, Lynn having visits from his
mother and father, my uncle and my own grandfather – I think
it must run in the family, this closeness to the other side.
Here and now, these aren’t ghost stories; they aren’t tabloid stuff.
They belong because the family is here. We think about those on
the other side, they worry about us over this way, we all talk. But
I tell my dad he can write me a letter if he has anything urgent to
say after he’s gone. I don’t want him tapping me on the shoulder.
We walk back to the car, gathering up stray members of the
family, finishing the loop. “I know more people here than I know
alive,” my aunt says. I guess time will do that to you.

All this from the cemetery will come back later this afternoon
when I’m standing on an old spreader in a corner of the field.
I’ve seen the spreader from the road on the other side of the ditch
every time I’ve walked by, but I haven’t been out on it for years.
It’s a long box on wheels with a lip sticking out along the top
edge, and the wood is white like bone and cracked like dry clay.
The lever on the right-hand side is frozen tight with rust. You
can squeeze the handle, but the cogs won’t move. I won’t stand
on the wood for fear of its giving way. The tires aren’t fl.at. I’ll
find that hard to believe. And I’ll wish I knew my grandfather.
I heard once that my grandfather was a good wrestler. His
brothers used to gang up on him, and they still couldn’t take him
down. I don’t know if he ever wrestled like I did in high school
or if it was just roughhousing, but I wish he had been around
to give me any pointers he might have had. I wasn’t a good
wrestler. He might have had a trick or two. Who knows.
I know from talk that my grandpa was a short man, with arms
half again as big as my dad’s-and his arms must be two or three
times the size of mine. I’m long and narrow chested. I’m not even
wiry. I’m not the kind that works twenty-four hours a day like
dad says my grandpa did. I’m not a farmer. I think there’s some
morality tied up in the country and farmland, and I don’t com-
plain about the smell of silage, but I was born and raised in the
city. I had a paper route instead of a milk route, and the ditches
I dug were for sprinkling systems in residential lawns.
But I’ll think this afternoon that there comes a time when you
need to come to know the dead. To know what of being a Rawlins
is or isn’t tied up in my father and my grandfather and another
father on back past James Mason, who changed his name (we
think) during the Revolutionary War. I owe them things. If it’s only
growing up in Utah and in my faith and with my name and life-
style. Or I might even look something like somebody back there.
And I’ll want to lay a claim on these people. I respect the
grandpa I didn’t know because he could work my dad into the
ground. I can’t, but I’m thinking I must come from solid stock.
I come from small farmers on both sides of the family, and
they’re the only ties to land and soil I have left. And I come
from pioneers who trekked a thousand miles into the American
wilderness for their religion. And I hope we had a horse thief
back there somewhere along with our seventeenth-century governor.
I don’t care much whether royal blood is in my veins, but these
days, a bit of something passed down from a freebooter probably
couldn’t hurt. And I like the glamor.
My great-grandfather, Jasper Alphonzo Rawlins, had a solid
reputation in the valley from what I’ve heard. A couple of his sons
needed to get their car pulled out of the mud one night, and the
farmer they asked for help held back until he found out they were
Alf Rawlins’s boys. Then he got his horses, hauled the car out,
and told them to make sure to mention to their father who had
helped them. I belong to Alf Rawlins somehow, too. And to Owen,
my grandfather, and to La Vere, my dad. And they belong to me.
Out there on the spreader, something in me will be glad for all
this, and something in me will want to know just what it means.

I’ll walk through the field as the sun goes down behind the
mountains on the far side of the valley. I’ve heard jokes about the
family waiting for Jasper Alphonzo’s and Cora Mae’s good looks to
surface again one ‘of these generations. Maybe in some of my kids.
Maybe I’ll have a boy named Alf someday. And we’ll come up
to Lewiston in May and decorate the graves, make the loop.