The MFA in Creative Writing Program at Manhattanville College

November 19th, 2014

The ladies laughed darkly

Five harpies converge
Their barman must emerge
Ice cubes hide submerged
In the late hours
The ladies laughed darkly

Five harpies converge
Their barman must emerge
Ice cubes hide submerged
In the late hours
The ladies laughed darkly

Eyebrows drawn, mouths cuss
Cloudy tattoos subcutaneous
Their alcoholic rage is just
In the late hours
The ladies laughed darkly

Giggles conceal secrets within
Abyssal midnight, howling
Deep in drink, prayers hidden
In the late hours
The ladies laughed darkly

Whispered plans of attack
Each, a wicked pyromaniac
Ember eyes, shades of not black
In the late hours
The ladies laughed darkly

These scorned flowers
With fathomless powers
Mankind cowers
In the late hours
The ladies laughed darkly

 

*

 

Jake Tringali was born in Boston and has lived in LA for 8 years. Currently, he is living back in his home city where he runs rad restaurants. He is surrounded by artists and the occasional physicist.

 
 

What motivates him to create:
“Girls, mainly.”

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November 12th, 2014

Cabin Fever

Envy is like feeling cold
and eating cookies
instead of turning up the heat
or putting on more clothes.

Envy is like feeling cold
and eating cookies
instead of turning up the heat
or putting on more clothes.

Like fighting a bout of cabin fever
by taking a nap
instead of stepping outside
in the snow
and running till the boots
get stuck in a drift
crossing the park in the soft
sounds of late afternoon.

Envy is like reading all day
about miracle foods
and then eating the whole
blueberry pie still warm
out of the oven,
sugar throbbing in my ears
like a sparrow caught
in the warehouse at Lowe’s.
 

*

 

Lucia Cherciu is a Professor of English at SUNY / Dutchess in Poughkeepsie, NY. She was born in Romania and she writes both in English and in Romanian. She is the author of two books of poetry: Lepădarea de Limbă (The Abandonment of Language), Editura Vinea 2009, and Altoiul Râsului (Grafted Laughter), Editura Brumar 2010. Her poetry appeared in Connecticut Review, Connotation Press, Cortland Review, Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and the Environment, Memoir, Off the Coast, Paterson Literary Review, The Prose-Poem Project, Spillway, Oglinda Literară, Pro Saeculum, Salonul Literar, Timpul, Hyperion, Contrapunct, Astra, and elsewhere.

 
 
What motivates her to create:

“The guilt that I didn’t spend more time with my father or that I didn’t listen more to his stories inspires me to try to piece together fragments of memories with him. Additionally, writing in a second language makes no sense because my mother doesn’t speak English and so she can’t read my poems. But it’s the need to retell all those stories, to celebrate our laughter together that brings me to my writing chair after my daughter goes to bed.
To me, my poems are like the apricots my father picked from the garden and saved on the table for us.”

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October 16th, 2014

Measured

I am standing at the edge of the woods. There is a doe listening to my heart. The trees measure me with their bodies full of uncut rulers. What size do I have to be to fit this forest? I’ve been here before. I have seen a bear, believed the way it pulled was nothing …

I am standing at the edge of the woods. There is a doe listening to my heart.

The trees measure me with their bodies full of uncut rulers. What size

do I have to be to fit this forest? I’ve been here before. I have seen a bear,

believed the way it pulled was nothing less than some crumb of gravity,

its memory: a heartbeat and a bruise. The hunter pulls back his bow

then lets it down like a snowflake being made and then melting on a tongue.

The secret of the woods is that the trees have hearts. The doe treats me

like a heap of corn or a bullet flying slowly toward her. I am measured

in her round black eye but neither of us can define how small I am.
 

*

 
C. L. O’Dell was born in Suffern, NY. His poems are published in Ploughshares, New England Review, Barrow Street, Southern Indiana Review, and Blackbird, among others, and his poem “My Father Named the Trees” was selected by Dorianne Laux for the Best New Poets 2014 anthology. He is Founder and Editor of The Paris-American, a poetry e-zine and annual reading series at Poets House.

 
What motivates him to create:
“I create because the mind doesn’t allow the hands to enter; not mine, nor a stranger’s.”

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October 2nd, 2014

Early & Late

When I chose you, I was young & the future I’d won promised to fan open like a peacock’s tail, sweeping the world’s riches before my feet. So what if the slipper didn’t fit— I could learn to walk a little differently. How could someone so unlike myself know of my cramped feet, the bleeding? …

When I chose you, I was young & the future
I’d won promised to fan open like a peacock’s
tail, sweeping the world’s riches before my feet.

So what if the slipper didn’t fit—
I could learn to walk a little differently.
How could someone so unlike myself

know of my cramped feet, the bleeding? Exchanging
future & looser confederations
for a single stolid Nation, I stood

on a platform like a promised set of
Hèrmes luggage never to be opened.
As the train pulled out, past all whistle

stops, I looked back, already blaming you—
princely husband— cause of all my future
woes, forever trying to sooth my stumped toes.

 

*

 

Paula Goldman’s “The Great Canopy” won the Gival Prize for Poetry and published in 2005. Her work has appeared in the Harvard Review, The North American Review, Poet Lore, Poet Miscellany, Briar Cliff  Review, Slant, and other magazines.  Her poems have appeared in Boomer Girls published by the University of Iowa Press,  The Party Train: A Collection of North American Prose Poetry published by New Rivers Press and most recently Conversation Pieces published by Knopf.  Former reporter for The Milwaukee Journal, she served as a docent and lecturer at the Milwaukee Art Museum.  Her manuscript “Late Inamorato” was a finalist for the 2012 Gival Press Poetry Award.
 

What motivates her to create:
“I find that writing poetry gathers all sorts of associations which one would not consciously think about bringing together like The Red Shoes and Hermes in Early & Late. By writing, I come closest to myself in no other way possible. One never knows, for sure, what one is going to discover, and it is this discovery that is so worthwhile.” 

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September 4th, 2014

2 Poems

Guitar Woman* For many years, Joni Mitchell was the lumpy wool sweater of the music business. You dipped into that hearty bowl of nuts, dried fruit, and Joni Mitchell the same way you might slip on a third layer of clothing on a cold morning. Joni Mitchell signified back-to-the-earth; her name a synonym for organic …

Guitar Woman*

For many years, Joni Mitchell was the lumpy wool sweater of the music business. You dipped into that hearty bowl of nuts, dried fruit, and Joni Mitchell the same way you might slip on a third layer of clothing on a cold morning. Joni Mitchell signified back-to-the-earth; her name a synonym for organic granola. Decidedly not chic, Joni Mitchell could be many things, from a jazz collaborator to a parfait topping. But take a closer look at Herbie Hancock’s River: The Joni Letters, a tribute in which Joni Mitchell makes a small appearance in the re-recording of “The Tea Leaf Prophecy (Lay Down Your Arms).” Granola has traded in the scratchy sweater for a little black dress. All over the country, Joni Mitchell would have been a booming sector, an elegant and wide-open canvas for experimentation, if she hadn’t lost the high notes, if she didn’t suffer from possibly delusional Morgellons, festering flesh. Joni Mitchell, Roberta Joan Anderson in variations that are whimsical and sometimes like itchy fibers sticking out of the skin.
 
 
*A partially found poem, the words “Joni Mitchell” replacing various nouns in the strung-together text fragments.[back to top]

 
 
 

Patsy Retrospective Album

                                  A collage of quotations from: “Walkin’ After Midnight,” 1957; “Crazy,” 1961; “I Fall to                                   Pieces,” 1961; “So Wrong,” 1962; “She’s Got You,” 1962; “Faded Love,” 1963;                                   “Always,” 1963, all by Patsy Cline.

It was in the springtime that
you said goodbye, and made
me cry, not just for a day, and
not just for a year.
With every heartbeat, with
every backbeat, with every two-
beat, you made me weep with
the realization that you’d love me
only as long as you wanted.
How could I be just your friend
when you walk by and I
fall to pieces? I’ve been so wrong
for so long; time only adds
more steel guitar and banjo,
time only adds to the flame. Crazy
for thinking that my love
could hold you. Now,
unless I decide to stalk you,
I’m left with just my songs.
After midnight, night winds
whisper to me, hillbilly themes
of lost love and pity: I’ve got
your memory, or has it got me?

 

*

 

Susana H. Case is a Professor and Program Coordinator at the New York Institute of Technology. Author of several chapbooks, her Slapering Hol Press chapbook, The Scottish Café, was published in a dual-language version, Kawiarnia Szkocka, by Poland’s Opole University Press. She is the author of four full-length collections, including Elvis Presley’s Hips & Mick Jagger’s Lips (Anaphora Literary Press), and, most recently, 4 Rms w Vu (Mayapple Press).

What motivates her to create:
“Freud said creativity was how we rearranged the things of our world in a new way and that’s what I do.”

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August 7th, 2014

Trackside Commissary

Every night men on line avoid commuter eyes,
while women restlessly dig into their purse,
bartender’s face eclipsing what’s ahead—red, immobile, already dead.

Every night men on line avoid commuter eyes,
while women restlessly dig into their purse,
bartender’s face ellipsing what’s ahead—red, immobile, already dead.

Descendant of upended goblets, amber gold, clear proofs, fruited reds,
sometimes I taste home so fast my empty glass shocks friends.
Daughter of two from a transatlantic chain to British Isles and France,

I envy narrowing life to swallow and burn.
Next day, always sadder—what they rarely knew.
Nervous teetotaler, who barely escapes, I do.

Their thirst, my body: curious, rampant and not so smart,
which imagines stepping up to the line—that part.

Instead I speed toward long black tunnels,
half-filled aluminium trains that snort and spark,
close my eyes for the 10-minute ride from dark to dark.

 
*
 

Ann Cefola is the author of St. Agnes, Pink-Slipped (Kattywompus Press, 2011), Sugaring (Dancing Girl Press, 2007) and translator of Sanguinetti’s second book, Hence this Cradle (Seismicity Editions, 2007).  She won a Witter Bynner Poetry Translation Residency from the Santa Fe Arts Institute and the Robert Penn Warren Award judged by John Ashbery. 

What motivates her to create:
“Creating is more like eating or sleeping, a necessity rather than something that requires motivation.  Not as natural as breathing or blinking, it requires listening, stillness, and craft. When some moments resonate on a deeper, fuller and richer level than those in ordinary time, I have already entered the poem.” 

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July 21st, 2014

The Deserter, the Priest, and The Gun

The deserter and the priest sit in the church playing Russian roulette. The deserter’s face and hands are black with gunpowder and grime—only his eyes and teeth glow white in the dim candlelight. He gives the priest an exuberant smile and pulls back the hammer on the revolver. The cylinder spins with a reptilian hiss.

               The deserter and the priest sit in the church playing Russian roulette. The deserter’s face and hands are black with gunpowder and grime—only his eyes and teeth glow white in the dim candlelight. He gives the priest an exuberant smile and pulls back the hammer on the revolver. The cylinder spins with a reptilian hiss.
               “Perhaps if you told me what was troubling you,” the priest says tentatively. The game was not his idea. He had been hiding under the altar when the deserter climbed in through a breach in the wall. The war had been raging along outside for days and everyone but the priest had fled.
               “Nothing is troubling me,” the deserter says. He holds the gun to his temple and pulls the trigger. The hammer crashes, shockingly loud, on the empty cylinder and the sound echoes off the ruined walls of the church for a very long time. The deserter gives a dry little laugh and places the gun gently on the altar, his eyes on the priest. “I told you. I have come for a duel with God. If the bullet chooses me, God is stronger. If it’s you, well…” He shrugs, and his overcoat makes a strange rustling noise as it settles back around him. It is torn in many places, black and stiff with blood. “Your turn,” he says.
               The war had been sniffing around the town like a jackal for months, but it arrived in force ten days before, with the rebel army taking up positions in the surrounding hills. The priest had been instructed by his bishop to protect the church from looters, so when the metallic crackle of gunfire drew close, he bolted the tall oak doors shut.
               For over a week he heard the ebb and flow of the battle outside—small-arms fire, explosions, the despairing tramp of refugees, the cries of the wounded—tidal currents of violence and motion washing continually around him. The priest roamed the church in an agony of doubt. Was this truly what God wanted from him? That he should hide in this church, concealing himself from the struggles of the world? He imagined opening the doors, the oak spreading like angel wings before him, and striding bravely out into the inferno. But then he thought of his instructions, the stern warning that the purity, the sacred ground of the church depended entirely on him. Sometimes at night he would hear voices outside, women and children pleading for him to let them in. He would stand, his hands shaking on the latches. “I can no longer stand idly by,” he would tell himself. “Now, at long last, I will act.” Each time, however, he stepped back. He was so small, and the suffering outside so large. He would wander through the church, stroking the tapestries, running his hands along the inspirational inscriptions carved into the walls. But the saints of the stained glass windows cast their dark eyes heavenward, having already dispensed with the works of man.
               “I could shoot you. I could fire into the air,” the priest says.
               The deserter looks disappointed. “If there is a bullet in the chamber and you kill me, then God wins. Otherwise I suppose I will be forced to club you to death. It’s only fair.”
               After a week or so, the sounds of the battle began to ebb. It seemed that he had endured the worst, that the war would move on, leaving the church unscathed. With each new morning the priest felt faith swell inside himself with a hard brightness. The rising sun shone through the windows, the delicate panes still impossibly intact, and bathed him in the glorious light of God. The priest found himself filled with a brilliant feeling of joy. He had won. He had submitted himself to the will of God and, though he had endured a great trial, had emerged transfigured, humbled, and purified.
               Then, in the middle of a nearly silent afternoon, there was a deafening explosion. A single artillery shell had landed near the front of the church, shattering the stained glass windows and blowing a jagged black crevice in the stone wall facing the street. Smoke and dust filled the church, and fires caught and burned fitfully on the tapestries and some of the pews. The priest, his ears ringing, his breath coming in gasps, huddled behind the altar with a bottle of sacramental wine where, a few hours later, the deserter found him.
               “There are riches here,” the priest says. “Treasures. I can show you. You could be a wealthy man. You can take anything you want.”
               “This is what I want,” the deserter says. He looks at the gun, and then expectantly back at the priest. The priest doesn’t move.
               “You know, all of this,” the deserter waves his hand around airily, somehow including not just the ruined church but the whole town, the countryside, the world at large, “this was me. I did it.” He reaches over and grabs the priest’s bottle, draining it and throwing it down the nave where it crashes on the flagstone floor and shatters into bits, scattering among the sharp shards of stained glass, the remnants of God and the lives of the saints. “I was an artillery man, you see, before I settled on my new career as assassin of God. We sat up in the hills for days, tossing explosives down onto this town. We wrote prayers on the sides of our shells before we sent them off, our most heartfelt wishes, that your town be reduced to rubble, that everyone in it die a painful death. We would launch them heavenward, the embodiment of our desires, and God would bless them and offer them back to you.” He paused, craning his neck to look at the gash in the church. “I can’t be sure this was one of my rounds, but it’s very lovely nonetheless.” He gazed thoughtfully at the breach, and then looked back at the priest. “All good things must come to an end, of course, and the war moved on. But I had a powerful urge to see what God and I had done. So I slipped away from my company in the night, and came to visit.
               “I met such devout pilgrims on the road, father. You would have wept at their piety. I saw a young man, his chest shattered by a blast. With each breath I could hear the grate of his ribs against each other, and the burble of blood in his lungs. I found a woman in a ditch. I imagine that she was beautiful a few days ago, but her legs were bloated and useless and smelled of the putrefaction of the grave. I saw a baby. Someone loved that baby once, but when I met him he was alone, shivering and whimpering at his dead mother’s breast. His skin was wrinkled and gray, already ancient and tired of life. I gave them all the only gift I had, and they each met the bullet with joy, having had their fill of God’s presence in the world.” He paused and looked slowly around the church, at the vaulting ceiling, now torn open to the sky, the great gray walls painted with soot, the windows, their edges still jagged with bright fragments of glass. “When I had only one round left it occurred to me that I might be equally generous with myself, for I too had grown sad and weary with the burden of God’s love. Just then, I saw your church, and I thought that perhaps there was one sacrament I might yet perform—that God, selfish to the end, might want my final bullet for himself.”
               The moon, clear in the sky, beamed through the rent in the roof and the shattered walls of the church gleamed silver. The priest imagined a bullet tearing through his skull, admitting all of that light while a fine mist of blood and brains scattered onto the stone beyond. The revolver, silent and inscrutable on the altar, shone with such brilliance that he thought it must sear the flesh from his hand, but when he touched it, it felt bitterly cold. He picked it up and looked into the eyes of the deserter. A warm breeze sprang up, whispering through the walls, and he smelled gunpowder and smoke, the sweet odor of a new spring, rotting flesh, shit. Rats and carrion beasts shrieked and squabbled over corpses outside as birds, just beginning to stir, opened their throats in tentative song. The priest realized he was biting the inside of his cheek, and the taste of blood mixed with the scent of flowers in his mouth. He looked up at the sky and thought that the dawn, when it came, would be the loveliest thing anybody had seen.
 

*

 
John Haggerty’s work has appeared widely in magazines such as Confrontation, Nimrod, Salon, Santa Monica Review, and is the recipient of the 2013 Pinch Literary Prize. His novel Saline Springs, which he hopes to finish very soon, was a finalist for the 2013 James Jones First Novel Fellowship. He is enrolled in the MFA program at San Francisco State University.
 
 
What motivates him to create:
“My first thought was that I create out of envy and fear. Envy because, when I see a piece of great writing, I think, ‘Damn, I wish I had done that,’ which spurs me on to do something similar. Fear because the world is a scary place, and I use writing to try to make sense of it. But viewed in a more positive light, beautiful things, especially beautiful writing, makes me wish that there was more of that in the world, and inspires me to add my own pale contribution. And whether I am afraid of the world or not, art remains the best way for us to examine it in its entirety—its joys and sorrows, the terrible beauty of life.”

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July 2nd, 2014

Before and After

My bus swayed gently,
straddled across the railroad tracks.
I saw the back end of a train
stopped, out of place.
The windows opened
with spring muscling in.

It was a cool, blue, March morning,
the scent of grass light in the air.
We walked as a pair,
Two sisters;
One sixteen—
                passionate, poetic, full of promise.
                An exotic flower bursting into bloom.
One twelve—
                shy, soft-spoken, small.
                Not even a hint of a bud in sight.

We said goodbye,
a strawberry lip-glossed kiss
against my cheek.
She to her school bus,
I to mine.

My bus swayed gently,
straddled across the railroad tracks.
I saw the back end of a train
stopped, out of place.
The windows opened
with spring muscling in.

In the still of the early morning
two strangers had met;
A bus—with a driver too impatient to wait.
A freight train—with eighty-two cars in tow,
transforming a sleepy cornfield—
books, backpacks, bodies scattered,
sirens sounding,
the red ebb and flow of flashing lights.

And I,
cocooned in my yellow bus
thought twelve-year-old thoughts
for thirty minutes more.

 
*
 
Ann LiPuma Nieporent has dedicated her life to reading and writing. After graduating from Boston College in 1981 with a BA in English, she worked as an Assistant Editor at McCall’s Magazine, publishing several pieces of her own during her time there. After a long hiatus while raising children, she returned to her writing and it was like reconnecting with a dear old friend. She completed her MFA at Manhattanville College in 2013 and has spent the last few years working on her first young adult novel, The Sible Box. Before and After is from that work in progress.

What motivates her to create:
“I spend most days noticing ordinary things, like the color of a morning sky, and automatically search for just the right words to capture what I see, always striving to push past clichés. Taking those words and organizing them into meaningful sentences, paragraphs, pages that reach someone in an unexpected way, or make them feel something on a deeper level, is what keeps me connected to my laptop.”

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June 25th, 2014

Some Bluebird

Has given a single feather
To this bluegrass meadow

Has given the blue sky
A few more million miles

Has given a single feather
To this bluegrass meadow

Has given the blue sky
A few more million miles
Of immensity

Has given
The silence
Surrounding it
A new version of the blues

I saw the cat
Which ate the bird
This morning
And something like
The color blue

Crawled across its eyes

 

*

 

John McKernan grew up in Omaha Nebraska and is now a retired comma herder / Phonics Coach after teaching 41 years at Marshall University. He lives – mostly – in West Virginia where he edits ABZ Press. His most recent book is a selected poems Resurrection of the Dust. He has published poems in The Atlantic Monthly, The Paris Review, The New Yorker, Virginia Quarterly Review, The Journal, Antioch Review, Guernica, Field and many other magazines.

What motivates him to create:
“Many different things.

Involuntary Memory is a powerful source of material which calls out to be made into a poem.

That curious mixture of longing-desire-wish-hope is another good cauldron with a poem or two bubbling in it.

Sometimes a poem will appear magically in a dream. Complete. There it is if I go and write it down.”

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June 4th, 2014

Evangelical Initiative

              The morning after his old man pressed charges and I bailed Roy out of jail, he asked me about cabbing. Roy’d been to my house a couple times, sometimes nursing a black eye his father had given him when Roy interrupted the fists falling on his mom. We’d talked about taxying before, but he’d said …

              The morning after his old man pressed charges and I bailed Roy out of jail, he asked me about cabbing. Roy’d been to my house a couple times, sometimes nursing a black eye his father had given him when Roy interrupted the fists falling on his mom. We’d talked about taxying before, but he’d said it sounded like slave labor.
              I explained about owning my own car and making my own hours and rules, and Roy started coming around. I flashed my wallet and said, “John Chisolm, independent businessman.”
              I didn’t tell him about how it’s scary sometimes to have people riding behind you or about the immigrants, the way they stink up your car, Somalis worse than Hmong. I didn’t tell him how they travel in packs or jaw on their cell phones, screeching so fast there’s no way anyone on the other end can understand.
              At the kitchen table, Roy used single words for questions cause of his cut and swollen lip. His voice sounded scratched. I gave him a couple of ice cubes to put in his coffee, so he could drink it. I ran my hand over my beard and watched him weigh his options. He was thinking of leaving the plant where his dad worked even though the money was decent. I offered him my couch for as long as he needed it, my place empty, Amber and her cheating long gone by then. By Sunday, he’d written a letter giving his two weeks’ notice, filled out an application for Cab College, and moved a few things from his parents’ house in Anoka to mine while his dad was out and his mom nursed her own split lip. Twin Cities Taxi’s not the best company to work for. They take a huge chunk of your fares, but it’s a place to start because they supply the cabs.
              Roy and I might have met having drinks at the bar, or maybe the track. Can’t remember. But I know when we met, he was the same age Buck was when he walked into bullets in Vietnam. Roy and I clicked, probably more than Buck and me ever did. Feels like Roy’s closer to my side of sixty than his side of twenty. He’s got that salt of the earth thing. I like to think that if Buck was around, he’d hang out with Roy and me on Fridays. He’d work the graveyard shift and come over for beers. We’d stop bitching about airport runs and shitty tips and sit by the garden and watch the sun rise over the rotting wooden fence. He’d a liked that.
              I don’t remember saying goodbye to Buck. Feels like something a person should remember. It gives me a little cramp in my side that I can’t see it. Now that Mom’s gone, I can’t ask her. Sure as hell can’t ask Dad since he took off long before that. Buck left on a bus, but I don’t remember being at the bus station. Maybe I was in school. Maybe I was sitting in Mrs. Sutton’s algebra class trying to look down Vanessa Beeker’s sweater while my brother boarded a bus, his first steps toward those bullets.
              Funny, if that’s true, that now I drive a cab. Kind of similar though hell if I’d be caught dead driving a bus. A cab’s just one step away from a limo. A bus is a slum on wheels. And no bus driver owns his own bus. He’s not an independent businessman.
 

#

 
Near the end of his first Friday night in the cab, I called Roy on my way home from dropping off my last fare. “You finished?” I asked.
              Roy showed up around four a.m., after taking his last bunch of yawping college kids from the bars downtown to the apartments near the U. His eyes shined, and he hardly sipped his beer for all the telling me about his customers. “Can’t believe how many of ‘em leave trash in the back, but it’s cool. Some kid left a Hustler.”
              I nodded. It reminded me of my own first day. My first passenger— downtown, briefcase, trench coat— to one of the hotels that’s not even there anymore. Polite guy, tipped okay, and luckily didn’t ask for change. I’d forgotten the cash on my dresser. A neat pile of ones and fives, back when ones meant something. Now the pile of fives is as soft and warm in my jeans pocket as the pocket itself. The woman that day, I remember her too. Black woman, dressed in heels and a suit, coming out of the hotel where I dropped the first guy off. Thin, not big like so many of them. “Hennepin and Second, please.” A short drive. Maybe came to five bucks back then. She tipped too.
              And it seemed everything would be right for a long, long time.
              I remember wiping my first Old Yeller down, using Pine Sol on her interior. On the stone driveway of my old apartment building, I scrubbed her and told her we would have a long time together. I’d spent good money on her, a ‘93 Crown Vic, an old squad car, so she knew a thing about loyalty and reliability. Used all my money for the down payment, and hoped she’d be good to me and bring in what I needed, so some day I could buy a house of my own for someone (not an Amber, even then I knew, not someone like Amber) and maybe some kids and a dog. Turns out I got Roy instead.
              Sundays and Mondays we always take off. It’s slower then, and we let rookies have the fares. In winter we play a lot of cards and meet at Scamp’s Bar. Summer’s better; we sit outside drinking beers, bullshitting. We talk about how it feels good to help the old people to their door. Roy always has questions. Little and big ones. He asks a lot about how to fix cars, but he wonders about other stuff too. Once he asked what my happiest memory was, and I had to think for a while. I almost said, “banging Amber,” but that wouldn’t have been true, so I told him about the garden. Being little, seven maybe, laying in the dry dirt, feeling just as light as clumps of soil. Dad weeding the vegetable garden and humming, Mom nipping suckers off tomato plants, so that each time she did, the peppery smell mixed with her cut flowers in the basket nearby. Buck and I snapped ends off beans, tossing the tips at each other, aiming for the small opening that gaped at the neck of our t-shirts. It was close to sunset and real nice.
              Roy shook his head. Slurred his words a little and said he couldn’t imagine having a memory like that.
              I can’t remember how it went from good in that old garden to bad. Dad, suddenly gone. Though, now older, I guess I can pick out the signs. His too sweet smell of whiskey, his whiskers grown so his hugs, less frequent, scratched instead of soothed. Gone a lot, then just gone. So Mom said Buck and me were the men of the house. And then three years later Buck got on the bus. The Chisolm men, gone except for me, just a boy.
 

#

 
After six months with Twin Cities Taxi, Roy had saved enough to get an apartment and buy his own cab. By then his mom had taken off, fleeing the bastard that beat them. Roy didn’t have anyone else. So when I saw an ad for the auction in March, Roy and I went together. I was real proud of Roy and I knew he had enough money saved, but I told him on the way over that I’d make the down payment. He didn’t say much, just reached over and grabbed my shoulder. He nodded at me as he pulled his hand away.
              The auction was jammed, but I knew right away which trooper would be best for Roy. “The ‘04. Can bang that dent right out,” I said, running my hand through my beard.
              Roy popped his knuckles. “You sure?”
              “Wouldn’t steer you wrong, brother.”
              When the car was painted to match Vivid Taxis’ specs, it looked damn close to mine. I smiled at the sight of the two of them sitting next to each other in the driveway. Roy worked on the car at my place because his apartment building didn’t have a hose. The way he was with it, hand washing and waxing, scrubbing the white walls, and polishing the interior brought back all the old pride I’d felt for my first Old Yeller. “What you gonna call her?” I asked.
              Roy continued buffing the wax he’d just applied. “Thought I might call her Buck, if it’s okay with you.”
              I kicked a pile of grey melting snow and rubbed my hand through my beard. “Shoot.” I walked over and gave Roy three quick slaps on the back. “Hell yeah that’d be okay with me.”
 

#

 
Initially, Roy struggled getting used to someone always sitting behind him. Someone he didn’t know. What with a Dad that beat the shit out of him, it would be tough to trust strangers. I told him to watch the rearview mirror, and after the first few months, he got comfortable. Close to his year anniversary with Buck, some white kid pretending to be black, wearing his pants all low and stupid, pulled a gun on Roy and refused to pay. When Roy told me about it, he shook and his voice cracked, and I wanted to kill the little punk bastard. Afterwards, I told Roy my own gun and knife stories, told him that never once had I been hurt. Just scared. We drank a lot of beer that night, skipped work the next day.
              During those first few years of Roy working as a cabby, I thought a lot about how his timing had been off. He didn’t have the same advantage as me, driving close to eight years before the Hmong and Somalis really started buying in. It used to be that I just had to pick them up. They reeked, didn’t tip much, and left garbage on the floor. But then I started counting the immigrant cabbies. More and more of them kept coming, and a bunch of them, sometimes a whole family, got together and bought a car, so they were always out. One of them would sleep, one would drive, and there was always another one waiting to start the moment the other was tired. Even the ones who don’t share, they’re not afraid of working twenty-four hour shifts. Or doing pickups in North Minneapolis at 2:30 in the morning. Can’t compete with that kind of shit. Nothing personal.
 

#

 
It was an accident the initiative ever started. The January cold had been keeping people home, and the weekend had been stale, so I went out on a Monday for the “tight ass shift,” Roy’s name for 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. because all the suits go to their meetings, cocktails, and dinners. Tips aren’t great, but a steady stream of cash passes through. That Hmong was the last one of them I picked up for a long time. Dressed in a suit, his back faced me because he hailed a cab coming from the other direction. The approaching cab was a Twin Cities Taxi, and I always loved screwing those guys out of a fare since they’d screwed Roy out of his due cash his first six months.
              When the Hmong got in my car, he said, “Immigration,” all quiet and tentative. I thought he’d be okay. They look as smart as the Japanese and Chinese.
              The traffic moved on 35, and I calculated the trip to be about forty bucks. A good lunchtime fare. If the guy tipped. When I pulled up on Metro Drive, gangs of Hmong, Somalis, and Mexicans stood around. Future cabdrivers of America. As if anyone can drive a cab as well as anyone else. From the back, the man said, “Wait. I be back.”
              I turned around to face him. “Whoa buddy. I don’t wait without cash. You pay now.” I held my hand and rubbed my thumb and two fingers together.
              He smiled and kind of bowed to me and got out of the car, taking his briefcase with him. I got out and met him on the curb. “You pay now.” I said it loud and crossed my arms in front of me. A group of immigrants nearby shut up and watched.
              “I be right back.” He tried to step past me.
              “You be paying right now.”
              He showed me the inside of his pockets, nothing. I grabbed at his briefcase, but he swung it away from me just in time. I lunged again. He swerved and the pack of immigrants laughed. I stepped toward him and swung my fist, but it only glanced off him as he turned and darted through the glass doors. A police officer stood just inside with his back to the door. I was pissed at the cop for not doing anything to help, but he had to keep immigrants in order all day long, so I let the Hmong go. He’d get what was due.
              At the curb, a Somali family stood at my cab. The man asked, “You give ride?”
              I’d already done my charity work for people who didn’t bother to learn English, so I shook my head, got in, and drove home. I put my window down and let icy air wash over me. I opened my phone and pushed speed dial number one.
              “Hey, bro,” Roy answered.
              “Coming over?” I asked.
              He had planned to work a couple more hours, but when I told him I was done for the day, he said he’d pick up beer on his way over after he dropped his last fare.
              Two hours went by before Roy showed. He looked the same way he did when I bailed him out of jail after his dad beat him. His left eye closed, bottom lip fat and eking blood. It was a Somali. Jacked Roy when he stopped for beer.
              After Roy told me about the asshole taking off with the cash, I got a bottle of aspirin and told him about the Hmong. We sipped beers and swore. I said, “Not taking them anymore. No matter what. Even if it’s slow. Sick of helping them- they don’t pay taxes, got better health care than we do, living off our hard work. Fuck ‘em.”
              Roy listened and messed with the pop top on his beer. I crushed my can and got us two more. As I passed Roy his, he said, “Like those fuckers at Twin Cities Taxi. Just cause the Hmongs own all the damn cabs doesn’t mean I shouldn’t make my cash.” He took a long pull off his beer. “Time to take the initiative. Enough letting them have everything easy.” On board without me ever asking him to be.
              “Initiative, I like it,” I said. In bed that night, I thought it over. A kind of pledge for brothers.
              Winter passed. We met a few women at Scamp’s. None of them interested me much, and I thought back to Amber and wondered if I should have tried harder to keep her around. Mostly Roy and I drove, late winter and early spring always the busiest. The snow and salt forced a car wash after every shift, and I was itching for some warm days.
              I brought out the seeds, grow light, and plastic trays the first week of March. The tomatoes and peppers could start now. I’d bite into the first tomato like it was an apple, let the juice run down my arm right there in the garden. But that was a long ways off yet.
              Roy brought beer over and watched as I filled each of the holes with a bit of dirt. He’d looked at me funny the first year he saw my seedlings, but he just watched now. He said, “I been thinking. About the initiative.”
              With my finger, I pressed a tomato seed into each plastic depression, sinking it into the dirt.
              Roy said, “The problem is, if we aren’t picking them up, and the others are, they’re the ones making money.”
              He had a point. It had occurred to me on occasion that I was giving up multiple fares a day cause of the promise I’d made to Roy. And coming into spring, we’d need the fares we could get as people who took a cab all the rest of the year, didn’t when the cold and snow let up. I asked, “Just pick them up like it doesn’t matter they’re taking our jobs?”
              Roy shook his head. “No, if we allow them in our cabs, we can teach them. Make things clear for them.”
              It was an interesting idea. Tired of watching me plant seeds, Roy flipped on playoff hockey. I’d stopped watching as soon as the Wild blew their chances at the Cup.
              I covered the seeds with pinches of good, black dirt and thought about Roy’s plan. A way of educating immigrants, letting them know what it takes to be an American, a way of making up for Buck.
              We talked through it. I added my own ideas, and by the time the trays of seeds had been watered and grow lights buzzed, we knew what we’d do.
              Only later, after I’d seen a news story about another group of men on a mission on the Texas border did I ask Roy about calling it the evangelical initiative. “Because we’re doing the work of angels. Angelic work.”
              “Sounds like a chick job,” said Roy.
              “It means publisher of glad tidings.”
              We laughed.
 

#

 
We piled the D class rocket engines into our cart at Wal-Mart and moved to the checkout line. The big black woman at the register smiled when she saw the engines and said, “My boys love these things. My husband pretends he hates it, but he loves those rockets. You all got kids?”
              I ran my credit card and listened to Roy mumble no. One late night last week after too many brews, he confessed he needed a woman, liked his new girl Becca, said he wanted to be a dad. Hurt me a little, but I remember feeling that way once. Caught myself wishing Buck was still around.
              I snatched the bag from the woman’s hand, and we went to my place to break open the engines.
 

#

 
The first teaching I did for the evangelical initiative was for a Somali family I picked up downtown. That morning I’d checked on my tomatoes. They’d grown strong under the false light in April, struggled through thin sunshine in May, even survived a heavy inch of wet snow that came the third week of the month. Now, yellow flowers produced their first fruit, golf ball to baseball size, and in another month they’d begin to blush red. I’d share the crop with Roy.
              The second the Somalis got in Old Yeller, I could smell them. They smelled the way they all do, thick and spicy, and I could feel their pores leaking onto Old Yeller’s seats. Only the lemon wipes I had in the trunk would help. I put my window down though the June morning felt cool and damp. The man said, “Immigration first, then the airport please.” I’d been back to immigration a few times since we discussed the initiative, but the timing was never right. But this one, this one I knew would work. I’d be glad to wait. I imagined Roy and I toasting beers, Becca nowhere to be seen.
              The operation was smooth. The Somali handed me twenty bucks over the fare he’d already run up, helped his wife and young boy out of the cab, and took his briefcase into immigration with him but left their suitcases in the trunk. “Wait right up there for you,” I said and pointed to a loading zone.
              He nodded, and I pulled a few car lengths ahead, put my hazards on, grabbed the plastic margarine container from under my seat, and went to the trunk. The Somalis two bags looked new, none of the zippers broken, and no rips in the black cloth. I checked behind and in front of me and peeled the lid off the margarine container. I shook some of the gun powder we’d collected out of the rocket engines onto the suitcase. Gently, I turned the bags over and sprinkled the other side too.
              The powder matched black most closely. When we first discussed the initiative, we started inspecting all luggage. After our shifts, I talked to Roy about what suitcases were best, some blues, some dark greens. I mentioned a U.S. army duffel some Hmong must have bought at the Army Navy store, but drab green looked risky. Blue was good, black best. I assumed Roy had had the same off luck I had until today—opportunities close but not quite right until now. We didn’t talk specifics—might bust the luck.
              I snapped the lid back on the margarine container. I got in the car and thought about calling Roy to tell him what was in the works but worried I would jinx myself. On the radio a caller from Blaine bitched about the Twins’ pitching. The meter ticked, already the Somalis were up to fifty-two dollars; by the time we got to the airport, it would be about eighty.
              I turned the radio down as they approached. Again the Somali helped his wife and child into the backseat, then slid in himself. I put the car in drive. We cruised on Crosstown. Sun and wind came through open windows. The airport was quiet, and before I could ask what airline, the Somali said, “Northwest.” I pulled up to the door, popped the trunk, and hustled to the suitcases. I sat them on the ground carefully so as not to shake much of the powder off. He gave me the rest of my cash, folded neatly. I watched him roll both suitcases and watched his wife take the boy’s hand, as they walked through the first set of double doors. I wished I could wait around to see the lesson. I closed the trunk and got back in the front seat. He gave me a total of ninety bucks for an eighty-two dollar cab ride. What I expected.
              I stayed in the same lane and inched ahead, but kept checking back through rows of glass doors. Soon I lost the Somalis, and by the time I turned my attention back to the road, I had merged into a cluster of cars and cabs. As I was about to reverse, some asshole in an SUV parked me in. I cranked around in my seat to see if I could get one more glimpse of the Somalis and their black luggage, but I couldn’t find them. As I waited, a pack of Hmongs spilled out of a Gopher State van. A man in a blue sport coat lifted two little boys out of the middle seat as two older girls helped a grandmother type out of the front. As the Hmong herded his family through the door to ticketing, the brothers laughed just loud enough so I could hear them over the radio. Some debate about local schools came on, and I turned it off. Finally the SUV pulled away.
              I pushed on the gas and flipped open my phone and speed dialed Roy. He didn’t answer. As I merged onto Crosstown, I called again. “I did it,” I said.
              “Did what?”
              “The initiative. Just leaving the airport.” I told him about the Somalis, immigration, the luggage.
              “You really did it?” Roy asked.
              “Hell yeah, I did.”
              Nothing came from Roy’s end, and I pulled my phone from my ear to see if I still had a signal. “You there?” I asked.
              “Yeah, yeah.” Then nothing.
              “Roy?”
              “You really did it? They’ll be arrested. They have a kid.”
              “Good way for him to learn, right?” Again nothing. Again I looked at my phone. “This connection sucks. You coming over?”
              “I don’t think so, bro. Seeing Becca,” Roy said.
              I snapped the phone closed and punched the gas to pass a minivan. Old Yeller’s engine droned.
              At home, I let the door slam, grabbed a beer, and gunned it in the garden. I thought of the black powder but didn’t want to waste it, didn’t want to burn my own shit. I stomped on the can and picked the biggest green tomato, careful at first, prodding it from the stem, but it wouldn’t come loose. I yanked on it and bruised the tight fruit, the spot under my thumb pulpy and slack. I studied the spot, saw a weeping insect hole nearby where some bug had bored, the edges black. The beer’s aftertaste bittered in my mouth. I pulled back my arm and slammed the tomato against the fence. Not even the thwack of it against the dry rotted boards satisfied.

 
*
 

Heather E. Goodman grew up in the woods of Pennsylvania where her family raised raccoons, opossums, kids, and dogs. Her fiction has been published or is forthcoming in Shenandoah, Gray’s Sporting Journal, Hunger Mountain, The Crab Orchard Review, Minnesota Monthly, and the Chicago Tribune, where her story “His Dog” won the Nelson Algren Award. She lives in a log cabin along a creek in Pennsylvania with her husband Paul and pooch Zane.

What motivates her to create:
“Of course, creative motivation is everywhere: the wren’s scribble song, the magician’s skunk, the elk that got away. But broadly, there are two motivations I always come back to: one, to thank the people I love for the experiences they’ve given me, whether it’s butchering a deer or growing a hellebore. And two, to try to understand different perspectives. If I dismiss an unfamiliar point of view, I contribute to a problem. Through writing, through empathy, I try to riddle how a person might arrive at her belief system, try to figure out where that will lead her. I attempt to see how the world breaks a person and if there’s a way to unbreak her. If not, as in this story, I let her hang herself.”

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