Pushcart Prize Nominee: Elizabeth Evitts Dickinson

Along with publishing emerging writers, one of the public roles and great pleasures of an independent, small literary journal is to nominate individual poems, essays, and stories for awards like the Pushcart Prize. This is one more way to say “thank you,” to the hard working writers, without whom LPR wouldn’t exist. These nominations also require renewed attention to the craft and presence of the pieces LPR publishes, and often that attention is rewarded with renewed joy.

Danish Modern

Isabelle wondered how long it would take for the police to arrive.

Five minutes?

Fifteen?

It depended on the store’s security system, she supposed. A silent alarm would be nice because then the racket wouldn’t disturb her (although she’d become quite adept at tuning out noise: conversation, TV, crying).

What she wanted was right there in the window, a mere six feet away. She could scramble through the wreckage and have a few quiet moments before the cops shuffled her off in handcuffs. She would get caught, of that she was certain, but at least there would be no eyewitness to testify against her. This town shut down on weeknights, making it easy to stand here, undisturbed, at 11 p.m. on a Tuesday, with a cinder block cradled in her arms and a diaper bag spilling its contents on the ground a few feet away. She’d abandoned the bag—an oversized Vera Bradley with kitschy flowers and quilted material—after discovering the cinderblocks next to the warehouse. All that stuffing puckered between thick stitches reminded her of cellulite. When her mother-in-law gave it to her, it overflowed with poop-related paraphernalia including a bottle of something called Jr. Lil’ Stinker Spray Poo-Pourri.

“You spritz it on the diaper before it goes in the trash so it doesn’t smell as much!” her mother-in-law had said.

“Wow,” Isabelle had replied. “Who knew crap required so much crap?” and her mother-in-law had cocked her head and blinked the way she does when Isabelle mentions politics.

Isabelle had meant to transfer her wallet and keys to a real purse before going to book club earlier that night, but Jim had been late and she couldn’t remember where a “real” purse was. Or real pants. Or real shirts. Seven months out and she still wore maternity jeans. The other women at book club had bemoaned their pillaged bodies as they scooped guacamole and gulped margaritas to the chant of “Pump and dump!” Isabelle wanted to discuss the book—it was her pick tonight—but it became clear no one had read it. Except Margot, of course, and she immediately pulled Isabelle in close, so close that Isabelle could smell the garlic and see a piece of tortilla chip stuck in her lip gloss. “I just didn’t get it, Issy,” she slurred, “I mean it’s so dark!” It wasn’t dark, Isabelle wanted to say, it was Philip Roth. It was literature for Christ’s sake. Just because a romantically slighted woman didn’t toss off her life to travel the globe (funded by what?) in search of cannolis, Capoeira and cunnilingus didn’t mean the novel was dark.

Cameras. Isabelle hadn’t thought of that. She was safe from the police-issued ones mounted to poles, the ones with the blinking blue lights. This neighborhood had too many white people now with warehouses metamorphosing into loft apartments and gluten-free bakeries and day spas. Blue lights would be bad for business. But maybe the store had its own camera looking at her, recording everything. Maybe she was busted before she even began.

She pressed her nose and forehead against the cold of the window and squinted inside. Her eyelashes swished the glass. The warehouse had been disemboweled, its skeleton exposed and painted a glossy white. HVAC pipes, vents, concrete pillars, the floor, everything. All white. How many coats of paint did it take to cover up 150 years? That was a feat. Keeping a white room clean, now that was really a feat. Not so much as a scuffmark on the floor.

The first and only time Isabelle had lived alone, her apartment had been immaculate. Wood floors gleaming from Murphy’s Oil, dust-free ledges, Windexed windows. A slim Parsons table for a desk; impractical, really, with no drawers for pens or papers, so she stashed bills and stationery and stamps in a bag in the coat closet. The only other furniture included a bed, two knock-off Eames chairs, a steel and glass coffee table, and a walnut dresser that a woman in a flea market said was an original Paul McCobb.

Isabelle had no idea who Paul McCobb was, but the woman extolled his importance to the modernist movement and the dresser was an apparent steal at $300. The man-before-Jim had complained of a lack of comfortable places to sit and she had explained her search for the perfect sofa and wouldn’t it be fun if they went together to scour thrift stores for an affordable piece of Danish modern, something clean-lined and simple and with no fabric duster sweeping the floor? The man-before-Jim demurred. He had called her apartment “spartan” and apparently meant that as a critique.

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” So said William Morris, according to a quote cross-stitched onto a hideous and uncomfortable throw pillow in her mother’s living room, the irony obvious to Isabelle even at the age of 10. Nothing was as useless as a throw pillow and her mother had scores lining a down-filled sofa so deep that you couldn’t sit up straight no matter how hard you tried. The cushions sank under your weight and pulled your butt backwards and your legs upward so that you looked like a mollusk trying to escape its shell. Perplexed houseguests attempted not to spill afternoon tea while being swallowed by furniture, having found no place to set their cup. Her mother’s tchotchkes assaulted every flat surface. A menagerie of ceramic animals marched across the sideboard, end tables teemed with chinoiserie jars and crystal candlestick holders (devoid of candles) and replica yellowware vases. Plastic maidenhair ferns filled brass buckets atop full-to-bursting cupboards. Every little box, jar, vase, and drawer held something more, something smaller—coins, matchsticks, marbles, pebbles, beach shells. The house was a Russian doll opening, opening, opening, until you felt like a tiny speck of plasma trapped inside all those layers. Maybe her father hadn’t up and disappeared after all, maybe he’d simply opened the wrong closet.

Isabelle extricated herself after college and lived gloriously alone and clutter-free until Jim came back to her apartment one night for a Limoncello. A few months later he took her to a trendy Chinese restaurant near the theater district in D.C. on a surprise weekend getaway. She ordered dumplings in a shiso broth because the dish sounded simple and exotic. A glistening fist-sized lump arrived, leaden and white and drowning in a tasteless brown broth. Not at all what she had envisioned. She debated returning it for something else, but that would draw attention to herself or admit to Jim that she had flubbed the order. She extracted piece after piece of the doughy mass with her chopsticks, felt it expand in her stomach like insulation foam, while Jim shoveled Kung Pao chicken in his mouth with a fork and exclaimed over and over again, “Isn’t this fantastic?”

Later—after the musical, after the cordials, after the chocolate torte at the lobby bar—she rallied and made the most of the Westin’s signature “Heavenly Bed” (more furniture suffering an overdose of pillows and down. Like fucking in meringue.).

Several weeks later, with another white lump expanding inside her, she would remember that meal and go hurtling for the tiny toilet in Jim’s tiny rowhouse. When she finally emerged, there was Jim smiling like the Cheshire cat, hand reaching for her belly. “Isn’t this fantastic?”

Jim didn’t see the point in buying a couch, not when he had a perfectly good hand-me-down from his mother. Isabelle tried hiding the blue and gray gingham with a store-bought white slipcover, but the proportions were all wrong, too tight on the bloated armrests and too loose on the cushions. A custom-fit cover cost too much, halfway to a new sofa, so why bother? Besides, Jim said, no use buying something just for it to become one giant burp cloth.

Piles of laundry now buried the Parsons table and the McCobb (a fake, she later learned) sold for a loss on Ebay in favor of an armoire for Jim’s sweaters and socks. Isabelle aspired to knit organic rompers for the Dumpling, handmade and soft to the touch, in muted colors like Wheat or Oatmeal, but instead she had baskets of second-hand clothes, garish made-in-China neon onesies emblazoned with cartoon animals captioned by “Mamma’s Little Monkey” or “Daddy’s Grrrrl”.

Was the Rainforest Jump-a-Roo beautiful?

Was the Tickle Me Elmo useful?

Each morning she vowed to vanquish the clutter, but let’s face it, babies come with infrastructure and the Dumpling was winning.

In the evening, after the Dumpling finally passed out, and before Jim got home from work, Isabelle poured a glass of wine and flipped through home magazines. Her architectural porn, Jim called it. She liked to imagine that she lived the kind of life that inspired the articles. “Tiles from Marrakech inform the color palette of the foyer, with the subtle blue and orange tones mimicked in the paint trim. The foyer affords a startling reveal to the mammoth living room beyond, which boasts floor-to-ceiling windows and original Hans Wegner Wishbone Chairs discovered at a vintage boutique in Montauk.”

 Isabelle didn’t have a foyer. There was no “reveal” in a rowhome, there was only the front door opening smack into the living room and, if swung too heartily, smack into the gingham couch.

She clipped images of rooms she loved and glued them into a Moleskine sketchbook. Bright, airy spaces with whitewashed walls and exposed beams and ceramic bowls filled with clementines. An Eva Zeisel tea service on a teak dining table or a Chemex coffee carafe next to Heath Ceramics mugs suggested the homeowners who lived just off camera, but the rooms she clipped were always devoid of people. People were messy.

She always kept an eye out for her sofa. She’d seen many that she liked—B&B Italia, Blue Dot, vintage Arne Jacobsen Series 3300—but nothing quite like The One. She’d spotted it, years before, in a coffee table book on Scandinavian design and had she known she’d have such difficulty finding it again, she would have shelled out the outrageous cover price for the hardback. She had all but given up and then she saw it. IT. On a Tuesday night. Glowing bright white in a window as she drove home from book club half in the bag because pico di gallo did nothing to stave off the effects of tequila.

Unlike the boxy gingham at home, this sofa was long and lean, a marathon runner. A clean, rectilinear box perfectly sliced in half, clad in nubby cotton fabric and held aloft by elegant, tapered teak legs. Four tufted cushions lined the backrest. She guessed it wouldn’t even fit in the rowhouse and with a price tag of $9,500, it never would.

All she wanted was to crawl inside the store, lie down on that firm, clean couch, and pretend it was hers. Just for five minutes. Maybe take a nap.

The cinderblock dug into her palms. She could lob the thing from her chest as though shooting a basket, but she knew she wasn’t strong enough. The most upper body exercise she’d had lately was pumping the air out of a pinot noir bottle with the Vacu Vin Wine Saver. Besides, the trajectory needed to be less arc and more direct force in order to break the window. Underhand would be best, like the way she bowled as a kid. Two hands down between her legs, knees bent, a few practice swings of the arm, aim and fire.

Crickets chirped inside her diaper bag, stopped, then chirped again: Jim wondering where she was. The cinderblock weighed more than the Dumpling. About thirty pounds she wagered. Ninety-seventh percentile, this one.  She laughed. On second thought, maybe a witness would be beneficial to her defense. “There she was, teetered against the window, laughing and talking to herself, a concrete slab in her hands. Clearly insane.”

What would the police think when they arrived to find her prostrate in the display window of a furniture store? What would she say? “I’m sorry officer. Modernism made me do it.”

Oh shit, what if the glass crumbled into tiny bits like a windshield and got all over the sofa? She would have to clean up the mess first and that defeated the whole enterprise. If she wanted to ferret Cheerio-sized objects out of furniture she could do that at home and save herself the B&E charge. Or worse, what if it wasn’t safety glass and it shattered? She’d need to hoist herself over the stalagmites careful not to gut herself. Goddamn logistics. Everything logistics.

Isabelle pulled back from the window. Her nose and forehead had left a greasy smear on the pristine glass. Now she’d ruined it. Her perfect view marred by sebum. The crickets were having a picnic in her bag, chirp, chirp, chirping away. She needed to get rid of that smear. That goddamn smear. The more she looked at it, though, the more it looked like a bullseye. She stepped back a few paces and got in position. She held onto both sides of the cinderblock and swung her arms through her knees. Just for laughs, she thought, just pretend. Just to see what it would feel like. She would come to her senses, put the cinderblock down, get in her car, apologize to her husband, tiptoe into the dark nursery and put a hand on the Dumpling’s chest to feel it rise and fall. But at that split second when the cinderblock had upward momentum, at the precise moment when she should have stopped, she let it fly.

About the author: Elizabeth Evitts Dickinson’s articles, essays, and short stories have appeared in The New York Times, TriQuarterly, The Southern Review, McSweeney’s, and PANK among many others, and her work has been recognized in Best American Essays. Her essay “On Nostalgia” won the Hrushka Nonfiction Prize, and her writing has been supported by the Maryland State Arts Council, the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation, and the Sustainable Arts Foundation. Elizabeth has been a fellow at Vermont Studio Center, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and the Cuttyhunk Island Writers’ Residency, and she is the winner of the 2017 Mary Sawyers Baker Prize in the Literary Arts.

This piece originally appeared in Little Patuxent Review’s Winter 2013 Doubt issue.

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Pushcart Prize Nominee: Daniel Hudon

Along with publishing emerging writers, one of the public roles and great pleasures of an independent, small literary journal is to nominate individual poems, essays, and stories for awards like the Pushcart Prize. This is one more way to say “thank you,” to the hard working writers, without whom LPR wouldn’t exist. These nominations also require renewed attention to the craft and presence of the pieces LPR publishes, and often that attention is rewarded with renewed joy.

Possibly Showing Tonight at the Quantum Theater:
*colon is part of original title

You want to go to the theater tonight because it’s a random Tuesday in May and you’ve heard that the Quantum Theater will be presenting one of all possible plays. What are the chances of seeing Molière, you wonder, it’s been so long, or Chekhov? Maybe some little-known Scandinavian drama or an ancient Greek tragedy? In some universe tonight, they’re presenting Beckett—could it be yours?

You pick up the phone and for a moment you think about calling all possible women with a phone number, women whose numbers you don’t even have but are out there at the other end of the phone line, oblivious to your momentary dialing dilemma. Women who you’ve seen at the grocery store or while out jogging. The sexy Russian woman you met at tango class who always wears the spiked heels, even to the practica, the woman in the strapless black dress you saw at the concert last week but who you didn’t have the nerve to strike up a conversation with at intermission, Grace, who you met at the bookstore, the cinephile you sat next to at the Godard film last weekend who, with much more subtext than context, gave a breathless interpretation of the penultimate scene involving a man and a woman, women you used to know who percolated into your mind, the girls from your school days now all grown up, some happily, some miserably, many who wouldn’t know what to make of a phone call from you for a random theater invitation.

You dial. It’s busy. You dial another. This time there’s no answer, not even a voicemail pickup. You try again. Finally, she picks up. It takes you a moment to connect her voice to the number you dialed to the image of her face to your idea of where she could possibly be in her apartment on her cordless. Is it really Erica, who hosted the crazy birthday party last month? You’re impressed by the warmth of her voice; she sounds poised, something you find terribly attractive—a calm self-confidence that, try as you might, you can’t achieve for yourself. You tell her about the play. She seems interested but wants more details. You fear she takes your information reticence as game playing, or worse, a sign that you lack the very quality of intelligence that she finds attractive. Perhaps she’s not the spontaneous type. Maybe she needs a more reliable indicator of the possible outcomes—she could be the fastidious sort who needs to know exactly how things are going to proceed, what the parameters are, the trajectory of start middle finish for the evening. You imagine endless honest talks that suffocate the relationship in a vast cloud of verbosity.

Sometimes you just have to take a chance, you say, as much to yourself as to her.

This seems to resonate with her and she agrees to come with you. Because the Quantum Theater is small—in the past some have described it as microscopic—you recommend getting there early to improve your chances of getting one of the few seats.

That sounds logical, she says.

The time might be a problem, you explain, because, being uncertain, there’s a small but nonzero chance the play has already started. In fact, you can’t rule out the possibility that the actors have taken their bows, the curtain has come down, and the audience has long since drifted back out into the downtown streets, their minds infused with existential angst and emotional bravura.

I see, she says.

Fine with me, she says.

Oh, she says.

But that’s unlikely, you say.

Okay, she says.

She doesn’t sound reassured.

She laughs.

You suggest picking her up at seven, parking randomly in the theater district and hoping for the best.

She likes the sound of that sort of optimism and gives you her address. You hang up the phone and pace about the room. Such luck, you think. Your mind fills with possibilities: theater, dessert, coffee, her place . . . ; or, theater, drinks, your place . . . ; theater, tea, detailed deconstruction of third act, intellectual sparring, kiss-on-the-cheek, home; or, theater, hot chocolate, awkward silences, car, unexpected and unbelievably good sex; or theater, subscription to entire series, vacation together in Costa Rica, spontaneous wedding in Vegas, two angelic kids, inspiration for best-selling novel, philanthropy, death with a smile on your face, public holiday for grieving; or, alas, theater, headache, just friends, home early.

You shower and get dressed. You whip up a stir fry with chicken, carrots, shitake mushrooms, and asparagus over a tasty bed of rice. God, you’re good. You put on loud music to pump yourself up. You imagine the sort of comfortable, thoughtful conversation that you’ve been missing recently. She has a voice you could get used to. You shovel down the last two bites, put the dish in the sink, and do a few twirls around the living room in case she wants to go dancing later. Good idea, you think: theater, drinks, dancing, closer dancing, even closer dancing, she sleeps over even though it’s a week night, and hot, steamy sex in the morning.

You go to the bathroom. You clip your nostril hairs and adjust the collar of your shirt. You dash out the door.

All possible routes to her place converge into the route with the fewest turns, despite the unpredictable traffic. You park and ring her door. As far as you can tell, she lives in any of the apartments inside because you see no light go off and hear no particular door close. You wonder if you’ll be privy to this information later.

She looks lovely, even prettier than you remember. As planned, you park randomly, walk to the theater, and line up at the ticket window. Ticket pricing is random. You ask for two tickets and the woman behind the glass asks for an astonishing amount of money. You ask if they are good seats. She tells you that all seats are treated the same. You open your wallet and see that all possible amounts of cash collapse into a random amount. Fortunately, it is enough. You count out the exact amount and hand it to her. She hands you the tickets. You give one to Suzanne and join the queue of people waiting for the house to open.

Have you been to the theater lately? you ask her.

No, she says.

Yes, she says.

I don’t remember, she says.

Oh, really, you say. You must be busy.

Oh, I see, you say. What did you see?

Oh, well, it must not have been very dramatic then.

You’re tickled with the timing. In a moment, one of the doors opens and people begin filing into the theater in an orderly fashion. The queue moves a few feet and—just as you begin to trudge forward—that door closes and the door next to it opens. As if nothing has happened, people continue filing in. From what you can tell by standing on your toes, they take the seats directly beyond the doors.

You are about to say something about the seating to Maggie, who, in the steady progression of the queue, has slipped in behind you, when you see the first door swing open again. Both doors are now open and the queue presses forward. You aim for the door on the left but, as you approach, the door on the right seems more tempting. Out of the corner of your eye, you notice Rachel moving independently of you, targeting the right-hand door. You feel you should take her hand but it’s both too soon and too late—theatergoers crowd up from behind and suddenly you’re pushed through. Buoyed along, disoriented, it’s like you surged through both doors at once and met your alter ego on the other side. You feel vast, like you contain multitudes, too much to be confined to a mere theater seat. You could take up a whole row, an entire section.

Instead, down near the front, you spy a pair of seats that are perfect.

Where is Julia? She was right behind you. There, you see her, two sections over, on the far side of the theater where she has already thrown her coat over a couple of seats. You wave to her, point to your prime location, and when she comes over you take her hand so that she doesn’t disappear again. You take your seats.

Well, that was chaotic, you say.

Yes, she says, squeezing your hand.

And strange, she says.

I didn’t notice, she says.

Around you the theater fills up, though slowly, as if no one really knows the time the play will start and they tentatively take their seats as if to try their luck for half an hour and see if it starts and if not, maybe they will find some little French café for a bite to eat and come back in an hour or so.

You ask Samantha, What time do you think it is? You explain: some people try to imagine what breed of dog or animal other people look like; your game is guessing the time. It’s amazing how often you can come within five minutes of the correct time when you have no real cues; it’s just some random time of the day.

But as soon as you say it you fear two things: either she thinks you’re bored or, worse, boring.

I have no idea, she says.

7:42 and a half, she says.

Why? Do you think we missed it? she asks.

I never wear a watch, she says.

Why don’t you just ask that basset hound over there? she says.

Oh, I see, she says, trying not to laugh.

She bursts out laughing at something you hope is truly funny and not truly pathetic.

You look at her, wait for her to say something.

Do you know any more sophisticated games? she says.

My game is to imagine what sort of face a man makes when he comes—but not necessarily inside me, she says, adding the last bit after a dramatic pause.

What happens when you win? she says, or lose?

And which breed of dog do you think I resemble? she says, taking care not to blow smoke in your face, though she’s not smoking.

Is this your idea of foreplay? she says with a wink.

Shouldn’t we be betting on what the play’s going to be? she says.

Considering that space is already occupied, time is the only unknown at the moment, she says, relatively speaking.

I should caution you, she says. I’m a sore loser.

Oh, look, she says, it’s starting.

Much to your surprise, the curtain rises.

A country road. A tree. Evening.

Elsinore castle. The platform of the watch.

A street in Venice.

Galileo’s sparsely furnished study.

A room painted yellow.

A streetcar.

In front of the palace of Oedipus at Thebes.

Daytime. The stage of a theater.

I can’t see. Let’s have a little light please . . .

        Yes sir, yes, at once.

        Come along! Come along! Second act of Mixing It Up.

Is this a rehearsal? she whispers.

This looks like one of those detestable postmodern plays, she whispers.

What’s going on? she whispers.

Six Characters in Search of an Author! she whispers; I should have bet you.

Much dialogue. Characters come and go. Gesticulations, laughter, weeping, some shouting.

The curtain falls.

She smiles at you.

She squeezes your arm.

She puts on her coat so slowly that you help her.

She stands up without looking at you.

Good choice, she says.

Did you like it? you ask.

Are you kidding? she says; I loved it!

It was interesting, she says.

Parts of it, she says.

It’s one of my favorite plays, she says.

How could you not? she says.

Only one exit door is open but the audience exits in an orderly fashion. Outside, the crowd disperses all directions into the streets, and in no time the street is full of cars unable to get anywhere. You’re glad that parking randomly gave you some distance from the theater.

Where should we go? you ask.

She smiles alluringly.

You know, she says, I don’t really go to bars, so you can just pick one.

I’ve got the play at home, she says; why don’t you come over and we can reread parts of it?

Things appear promising. You park randomly in front of her building and go inside with her. Natalie puts on some music and brings out two glasses of wine and a tray of cheese and crackers. You look at her books and CDs. You find a collection of Pirandello’s plays on the shelf. You admire the view out her front window.

You flip through the book and quote from the play: We have no reality beyond the illusion, you must not count overmuch on your reality as you feel it today, since, like that of yesterday, it may prove an illusion for you tomorrow. 

Subtle, she says, aren’t we?

And just what is our present illusion? she says.

Oh, she purrs, I love illusions.

She sits on the couch and you sit down near her. With every new slice of cheese, you reposition yourself slightly closer to her on the couch. Laughter ensues. And silence. Boldly, you kiss her. She seems happy to be kissed. You kiss her again and let your hands caress her neck and shoulders, her arms, all over. She moans. It’s nice. You nibble on her neck, her jaw. Your heart beats harder, her breath deepens. Then, you stop and pull back. She looks at you quizzically. You hesitate, then lean forward and whisper that you prefer to stop at foreplay because then you can enjoy the superposition of all possible future positions.

She pulls back and looks at you.

Super-what? she says.

Is that some kind of joke? she says.

You can’t be serious, she laughs.

What’s the matter? Don’t you know how to satisfy a woman? she says.

Sorry, she says, it’s not the superposition that matters but the probability of the various end states and, at the moment, yours isn’t looking so good.

Hey, she says, don’t pull that macroscopic quantum shit on me!

Well, she says, why don’t you call me again some other random Tuesday and we’ll take it from there.

Nice try, Schrödinger, she says; your illusion just collapsed into my reality.

You know she could say anything. She smiles, keeps you in suspense. So, she says finally, shall we have a game of Scrabble?

At last, you think, someone who gets you.

About the author: Daniel Hudon, originally from Canada, teaches astronomy, physics, math, and writing at various colleges in Boston. He has new work appearing or coming up in Canary, Toad, Dark Matter, and The Chattahoochee Review. He is the 2011 winner of the Tiferet Nonfiction Prize. Some of his writing links can be found at people.bu.edu/hudon. He lives in Boston. This work originally appeared in Little Patuxent Review’s Winter 2014 Science issue.

Pushcart Prize Nominee: Kat Hellen

Along with publishing emerging writers, one of the public roles and great pleasures of an independent, small literary journal is to nominate individual poems, essays, and stories for awards like the Pushcart Prize. This is one more way to say “thank you,” to the hard working writers, without whom LPR wouldn’t exist. These nominations also require renewed attention to the craft and presence of the pieces LPR publishes, and often that attention is rewarded with renewed joy.

Nine Circles

The boy heard
ringing in his ears

that left a hole
in her thigh
the size
of a button.

It bled in her hand
into the patterned sofa he hid under
and he ran

feet loco-moting
like the Road Runner from Coyote.
River Street retreated

into bars and liquor stores.
He turned the block
nine times or more
before

Miss Geneva called him in
her tiny kitchen
gave him lemonade, said:
“Don’t be afraid, Jabo.
Your momma and your daddy
just don’t see things quite the same.”

About the author: Kathleen Hellen is the author of the collection Umberto’s Night, winner of the Jean Feldman Poetry Prize, and two chapbooks, The Girl Who Loved Mothra and Pentimento. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in American Letters and Commentary, Barrow Street, Cimarron Review, The Massachusetts Review, The Nation, North American Review, Poetry Daily, Poetry East, Prairie Schooner, the Sewanee Review, Southern Poetry Review, Tar River Poetry, and elsewhere. Recipient of the Thomas Merton poetry prize, the H.O.W. Journal poetry prize, the Washington Square Review Poetry Prize, and twice nominated for the Pushcart, she teaches in Baltimore. This poem appeared in Little Patuxent Review’s Winter 2012 Social Justice issue.

Pushcart Prize Nominee: Benjamin Burgholzer

Along with publishing emerging writers, one of the public roles and great pleasures of an independent, small literary journal is to nominate individual poems, essays, and stories for awards like the Pushcart Prize. This is one more way to say “thank you,” to the hard working writers, without whom LPR wouldn’t exist. These nominations also require renewed attention to the craft and presence of the pieces LPR publishes, and often that attention is rewarded with renewed joy.

Don’t Go Over Your Hipboots

I lie awake my first night in rehab, a few days after my first arrest, sleepless counting ceiling tiles. A row of 5.

I think about what it was like to be 5 and think about my parents in their separate houses in separate states looking at the same picture of me in a stroller holding a brook trout on a stick, wearing a Mickey Mouse hat and a smile. Dad always says, “You can’t fish without a hat on,” and I followed this advice even then. I think I can remember that exact day the picture was taken, those worm-and-bobber afternoons in the stream-fed pond loaded with native brook trout down the street. I remember Dad’s exact words, “Put your finger on the line, open the bail, and let ’er go!” and he’d draw out the “goooo” and make me laugh until the line and bobber hit the water, over and over and over again until I got it well enough or at least until he pretended I did. I remember watching the red-white bobber come to life, disappear, take off running, as Dad set the hook and handed the small blue fishing pole to me, telling me to “reel, reel, reel!” until I was holding the tiny fish in my tiny hands, smiling.

I think forward a few more years to learning how to cast with a kid-sized fly rod with yarn tied to the end of it instead of a fly so I didn’t hook myself or anyone else. I was wearing the same Mickey Mouse hat and now equipped with a ridiculous pair of shades Mom made me wear to shield my eyes because everything was so bright then but mostly because she thought it was cute to dress me up in a hat and glasses like Dad always wore.

He said, “Fly fishing is an art performed between 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock.”

Dad’s giant hands holding my wrists and flicking them back and forth to 10, and 2, 10, and 2, 10 and 2, 10 and 2 until I finally got it a few weeks later, or at least he pretended I did.

The tiles in a column. 9.

I was around 9 when Dad took me to a real river—not a lake not a pond not a stream not a creek, but the West Branch of the Delaware where he had bought a plot of land and built a cabin outside of Deposit. The drive was long, and I remember watching the telephone wires and how they seemed to move in the same rhythm as the truck. He sat me on the tailgate overlooking the cornfield and the nearby factory pumping plumes of smoke into the air and showed me the pair of tiny hipboots he had bought as a surprise and helped me put them on repeating over and over again: “Don’t. Go. Over. Your. Hipboots” as I waddled alongside him on the path through the cornfield, this time with a Mets hat (because I knew by then that you can’t fish without a hat) and sunglasses that I knew were without a doubt the coolest sunglasses in the entire world. I waddled the whole way and tried to make sure he didn’t see how many steps I had to take to keep up with his because I figured I was a grown-up now or otherwise he wouldn’t have taken me here to begin with, so I better act the part.

We reached the riverbank and he held my hand for the first few steps. I remember being surprised at just how cold 45 degrees was, even with a pair of hip boots and the three pairs of adult wool socks Mom made me wear.

“Remember, don’t walk over your hipboots!” He let go of my hand and smiled and walked out into the river a little bit above his waist. He began to tie on an alewife imitation he cleverly coined “the white fly” because, well, it was white. He was close enough that I could still hear him humming.

I remember those first steps deeper and deeper into the river watching the water grow closer and closer to the top of my boots and the way it got so much deeper so much faster than I thought and how for a moment the water seemed to pause, the meniscus yet to break. Before Dad even started casting, the boots were filled with cold water and I was crying “I’m sorry, Daddy,” over and over, hysterical. The snot and tears poured out of my face as he carried me back through the cornfield to the truck, more embarrassed at the failed attempt at adulthood than miserable from being wet and cold.

“It’s okay,” he said, propping me up on the tailgate with a half-grin that seemed to say he would have been more surprised if I didn’t walk over my hipboots in 5 minutes.

This was about the same time the Wednesday night visitations started fresh after the divorce and the first move and how this was a new thing to everyone involved so we all did what we always did and fished. The closest lake was just close enough that Dad could swing by the new condo after work and pick up my younger brother and me, get dinner and fish for a few hours before he had to drop us off again and we wished he didn’t have to keep leaving but were finally starting to understand why. The lake was named the Monksville, which we cleverly renamed Skunksville due to the incredible amount of times everyone left there fishless.

Dad’s friend Larry would meet us there and he would bring his son Joey and the five of us would fish together, all wearing hats, catching nothing, wondering why exactly we continued to come here every week. But we all showed up the next week anyway.

Joey pulled a record musky out of that lake one afternoon and my brother and I hated him for it.

One row plus one column: 14.

The first joint and first drink, both alone in that same year, and how I got caught the first time smoking pot inside the house on a snow day by burning three bags of popcorn in the microwave to hide the smell, and how Mom to my complete shock declared, “It stinks like fucking pot and burnt popcorn in here,” the second she opened the door. Nobody believed me when I said it was my first time because nobody smokes pot alone for the first time, but I did and continued to most of the time and tried almost everything for the first time alone because I thought I was conducting some kind of experiment with my own body as the test subject and wanted to feel whatever it was I was supposed to feel without the hindrance of other people to interject their way of using drugs onto mine, man. Or at least that’s what I said when people asked, but really I just wasn’t very good at making friends or keeping friends or interacting with people in general.

My first funeral that same year. Record-musky-holder Joey died from a motorbike accident at a party and he smashed his head on the pavement and his brain swelled and they had to put him on life support until they found out he wasn’t going to recover. I smoked way too much that day before receiving the phone call that said we were going to the funeral. This was the first time I’d seen two grown men cry in each other’s arms and one of the only times of maybe four or five that I’ve seen Dad cry, only over drugs, only over his sons.

A row of 2 behind the dresser.

Then 2 to 14 years, and I stopped wearing hats and sunglasses and Dad was very confused by this, stating, “How can you fish without a hat?” over and over shaking his head and I used to hate it just so much. I’d stand there listening to him hum and the noise would never stop between my ears and the humming and the silence made me so crazy and by then my brother and I, who had also stopped wearing a hat, used to sneak off the river and into that same corn field by that same factory, now forgotten and overgrown, to smoke pot and cigarettes and drink and fall asleep in the sun. And we both wondered just how and why the fuck Dad spent so much time on this stupid river humming to himself and I wished I was at home getting fucked up in some kid’s basement and dropping acid and talking about philosophy and stuff and the interconnectivity of all things that people who don’t drop just don’t understand, man, but mostly just laughing for 12 hours and trying to do anything, to run away from ourselves.

That same year over Christmas break my friend said he went through his parent’s cabinets and found a lot of Percocet and that he would gladly give away for free, since we were such good friends and all, and I snuck out of the house at the exact moment he said this via AOL Instant Message and walked 3 miles to his house in the middle of the night in the snow. His dad walked out right after he gave me the pills and asked “What exactly in the fuck were you two doing talking outside at 2 in the morning on a Thursday in a fucking snowstorm?” and my friend made up some ridiculous story that I needed to talk to someone right away and his dad just kind of shrugged and went inside and then carefully made sure not to talk about that night again. I took a Percocet that night and went to bed not sure about what all the fuss was about, but the next day figured out how much to take and understood exactly what all the fuss was about.

A column of 4 behind the dresser.

Add 4 to 14 for 18 when I had stopped fishing completely.

“It’s just not my thing anymore,” I’d tell Dad who still asked every single weekend if I wanted to fish even though he knew the answer he’d get. I wanted to tell him how my head couldn’t stop racing and I couldn’t stop thinking about all the things that I had done and couldn’t stop doing that I wasn’t raised to do and things I was supposed to be and wouldn’t ever be every time I went somewhere quiet, but couldn’t.

Fresh out of high school and I’d already had been kicked out, dropped out, fired, and selling drugs to keep the habit going. After painkillers exploded in high school it was easy to think all of this was okay because, well, everyone was doing it, and some were just doing it a little more and if people felt the way I felt they would be too. That same year this kid Nick who I used to swap pills with asked if I could get heroin because he had heard me brag about how I’d sniffed it before. I told him no, but he must have found it somewhere because he was found dead in his bathroom two days later, the first of many deaths from my old school.

I remember thinking about those almost-overdoses and almost-911 calls when friends wouldn’t wake up and thought of all the times waking up to a pounding on the door on the floor and all the blackouts and the times waking up places I didn’t remember going to and thought about how good of an addict I must be, how good of a criminal to never get caught, avoiding the truth that it was the only thing I ever really put my mind to.

I thought about an ex-girlfriend who was there through all of this who overdosed in a sporting goods store parking lot that I used to go walk around in with Dad and my brother years before and how her lips turned purple and her face turned white, then blue and how I took out the phone to call 911, screaming “Someone help!” as she woke up and said “What happened?” and “Can I have more?”

Then 18 and just so goddamn cool because I could get people anything and the phone was always ringing from people who only talked to me when I had drugs and never ringing anymore from the people that loved me for who I was. Fresh out of high school and freshly addicted and we all knew what we were doing and the ones that weren’t right there with us would try to warn us. “Relax,” I’d say and scoff, “I can’t get addicted because a pill or a chemical couldn’t have that kind of power over me,” because I was just too smart and knew all about dopamine and serotonin receptors and how drugs affected them and that they should worry about their own fucking lives because what I do with my body was none of their fucking business anyway.

Another row of 2.

Now 20 years old with a serious collection of junkie friends in their late 20s or early 30s who got a kick out of having a young kid who was such a mess around because I always figured out ways to scam somebody to get money and had an honest face and geeky glasses so I was good to talk to the cops and got out of a lot of shit because I was just so goddamn cool and slick, man, and knew that “the key to a good lie is to believe it yourself,” which I told them all to make myself sound just so cool but really had stolen from an episode of Seinfeld.

Eventually the day came that they, they, said, “Man, you need to get some fucking help; you’re a mess,” and I could never believe the nerve of these people, stupid junkies, always so goddamn rude, and moved on to a new set of friends but the same thing kept happening until I found two men in their late 30s with enormous heroin habits that I would surely never be worse than, that I quickly became worse than. “Man, you need to get some fucking help,” they both said from the couch in between bowls of ice cream, half-dead blinks, and un-ashed cigarettes. Goddamn junkies, always so rude.

Another column of 9 on the other side of the ceiling.

9 months alone nodded-out in bed, disappearing once a day for about 3 hours to go to a ghetto between the changing shifts of cops and rush hour, still just so fucking smart, to wait in some sketchy neighborhood for however long hoping to not get beat again and that the dope is as good as it was last week and that I please oh please don’t go to jail today. Fly rods and waders dusty and forgotten in the garage somewhere but fucking Dad kept leaving voicemails to call him sometime if I’d like to go fishing with him with a sad scoff before he hung up the phone that always went unanswered.
9 months walking that tightrope all junkies know between having lost the will to live but not wanting anyone to have to find me dead in the basement one sunny afternoon because, well, they’re already fucked up enough and that would just be fucked to do to somebody. But that voice that keeps saying to shoot shoot shoot those few extra bags gets louder and louder every single day and by then I’m sure, absolutely sure, that I’ve crossed an imaginary line that people just don’t make it back from.

The perimeter of the tiles. 28.

28 days later and I’m leaving and chainsmoking the whole way home thank god and passed the program with flying colors, ready to start anew and get back on track and I’ve got everyone fooled except myself and I’m high again that same night, high again looking in the mirror after the rush wears off and nobody knows but I do and for the first time in a long time that actually makes me feel something I can’t suppress with a syringe.

I decide to give myself a chance and go to a 12-step meeting the next day, already certain it will be awful, and I analyze how it’s all just a clever pyramid scheme based on a lot of bullshit and pseudo-psychology.

I walk in way too early and ask the only guy who’s there already if he needs help setting up the chairs to which he responds, “Well, they don’t set up themselves,” so I start grabbing chairs and wait until he is just far enough away that he maybe could and maybe couldn’t hear me say, “Fucking asshole,” under my breath and that’s all I remember happening, not anything anyone else said. But I went home with a list full of phone numbers from people who all insisted that I call them, please call them, because they want to help, but a room full of strangers couldn’t help and most of those people were probably high and just lying about it anyway.

That night I’m trying to sleep but I still only sleep for a few hours at a time and tonight I can’t even get those few hours and I don’t believe in God or fate or anything like that because I am smarter than all that and “religion is the opiate of the masses” and anyone who’s anyone knows that and plus if there is a God in the Catholic sense I was just so incredibly fucked at this point so why bother but I ask for a sign anyway, for a stupid burning bush from whatever imaginary force will listen just to get some sort of fucking clue as to where I go from here because I just simply don’t know and this fact makes me cry until I can’t breathe, snot and tears pouring out of my face for however long until I finally take a second to think about how ridiculous I must look, face all swollen and red and covered in mucous and laugh at myself for the first time clean and grab the list of phone numbers and notice that one name, Sean, has an asterisk next to it. And I think “what kind of self-centered dickhead is this guy putting an asterisk next to his name to make himself more noticeable or something Jesus Narcissistic Fucking Christ” but call him anyway because I remembered he looked young. He picks up.

“Hello?”

I ramble that I hope I’m not bothering him and that I saw him at the meeting tonight and that I don’t know what to do or say and I was never good at this kind of thing or most things really and usually just kind of average or below average and that I always tend to give up on everything and everyone so prematurely and how the fuck did he stay clean for so long at such a young age and how the fuck could I possibly expect to adjust from the fast-paced lifestyle that I was so accustomed to living to one without drugs and was he really happy and he should tell me the truth and just what the fuck do you guys do with your spare time because it seems that quitting heroin has kind of freed up my entire schedule and—

“We fly fish,” he says. “Me and two other kids from meetings. This guy Larry and this guy Danny. We have extra gear if you need it and can teach you—”

“Where?”

“This weekend we’re going up to the West Branch of the Delaware outside this little shitty town Deposit, you can—”

“What pool?”

“Umm, there’s this spot we go to by what used to be a cornfield a lot? There’s this ugly fucking factory right by it, but the trout are big and everywhere year round. They release water from the dam so it stays cold year—well, you probably don’t care. . . .

“Hey, Ben, are you still there?

“You been fly fishing before?

“Hello?

“Ben, you there?”

Five years later and the four of us still spend as much time as possible together side by side waist deep in some river somewhere listening to the sounds of the river and the fly line zipping in and out of the guides, all wearing hats.

I find myself humming often.

About the author: Benjamin Burgholzer is a Ph.D. candidate at Binghamton University and an English professor at Rockland Community College. When he is not teaching or writing, he spends as much time as possible in the mountains, woods, and rivers. This piece originally appeared in Little Patuxent Review’s Summer 2014 issue.

Pushcart Prize Nominee: Myra Sklarew

Along with publishing emerging writers, one of the public roles and great pleasures of an independent, small literary journal is to nominate individual poems, essays, and stories for awards like the Pushcart Prize. This is one more way to say “thank you,” to the hard working writers, without whom LPR wouldn’t exist. These nominations also require renewed attention to the craft and presence of the pieces LPR publishes, and often that attention is rewarded with renewed joy.

Myra Sklarew was profiled by Lalita Noronha in the Winter 2014 Science Issue. Then-editor Laura Shovan reads this poem at the Winter 2014 issue launch.

The Sunflowers of Umbertide

Before I go into the dark places, before I enter
the tunnel of the past, before I climb down
into the pit where I kneel on the earth,
where those I once loved leave me a remnant
of bone, before their lost names scatter
to the wind, before the trees forget what they witness,
before for no reason at all a child is taken
from life, before before . . .

I stand in Umbertide

where the sunflowers turn their bountiful heads
eastward, their buds still in circadian rhythm.
And I am warmed by them, my eyes fill
with their seeds and petals, florets in perfect spirals,
their golden offerings risen high on their stems.
I carry them in my arms, the entire field of sunflowers
from Umbertide, so the coldness of the pit
in the cold country will not freeze me entirely.

Order your own copy of the Winter 2014 Science Issue.