Issue 10.2

10.2

Welcome to forgejournal.com, the online iteration of Forge.

Nunc lego qui nunc scribunt – I read now those who write now

-Robert of Cricklade

The Fall 2016 issue of Forge is here!  Grab yourself a hot chocolate, get comfortable, and take a look to see what’s inside.

If you prefer paper to pixels, you can order a hard copy online.

Enjoy!

~Melissa Venables

Uber-editor, Forge 10.2


CONTENTS of ISSUE 10.2

—PROSE—

 

DA Cairns: The Death of Isaac

Richard Key: How to Stay Healthy

Cassie Title: Reviving Ophelia

James Valvis: The Misfit on the Island of Misfit Toys

—POETRY—

 

Christopher Kuhl: Passing Through

Rachel Mehl: Self Portrait as a John Hughes Extra

Charles O’Hay: The Dolls of Palomar after Italo Calvino | Inside Josh

Simon Perchik: 15 Poems — Fall 2016

Alison Stone: Morning Ghazal

VittorioCavalli.com

Morning Ghazal

By Alison Stone

In bed. First cigarette of the morning.
Short reprieve from the threat of the morning.

Champagne in the afternoon. Beluga
and limos at night. Debt in the morning.

My lover’s eyes look green by lamplight, blue
when he’s lying, violet in the morning.

Tiger on the prowl after dark. Back
through the cat flap, a pet, in the morning.

Sleeplessness. Self-loathing. Prayer.
Vows you forget in the morning.

Go, confused moon — it’s the sun’s turn.
Odd, your slim silhouette in the morning.

Halfbacks fumble, horses stumble. Cards turn
fickle without warning. Bet on mourning.

Say Alison’s gone when the past knocks to
drop off its sack of regret in the morning.

 

——————–

Alison Stone’s latest collection, Ordinary Magic, is forthcoming from NYQ Books in 2016. She is also the author of Dangerous Enough (Presa Press 2014), Borrowed Logic (Dancing Girl Press 2014), From the Fool to the World: Poems in the Voices of the Major Arcana of the Tarot (Parallel Press 2012) and They Sing at Midnight, which won the 2003 Many Mountains Moving Poetry Award and was published by Many Mountains Moving Press. Her poems have appeared in The Paris ReviewPoetryPloughshares,Barrow Street, Poet Lore, and a variety of other journals and anthologies. She has been awarded Poetry’s Frederick Bock Prize and New York Quarterly’s Madeline Sadin award. She is also a painter and the creator of The Stone Tarot. A licensed psychotherapist, she has private practices in NYC and Nyack. She is currently editing an anthology of poems on the Persephone/Demeter myth.

15 Poems — Fall 2016

By Simon Perchik

*
The night behind the night
is closing, makes its descent as mail
though this envelope has lips

is familiar with darkness, can see
your throat become swollen
from kisses —you spit, over and over spit

as if her letter finally arrived
from daylight into water
where each word somehow weighs less

can easily be pulled across the page
as the river where your arms
are reaching under the surface whose seal

has been broken so many times over
lets her breasts float up, waterlogged
the way your forehead is now held

and with both hands the ink
passes through your heart
as the silence that’s left.

 

*
You right the nail on this wall
as if it were a boundary stone
was already used to distances

before the house was built
board by board inside a picture frame
so the shingles can’t fall out

make it impossible to prove
crows once gathered here to mourn
the way ancients preserved their dead

—it’s your usual photograph
wrapped in glass, flooded
as you would water a beginner tree

once its likeness sets up shop
getting it ready to stay
take hold a wall that is in need.

 

*
You wipe your face on this mirror
the way a cemetery whitewashes its looks
has the mourners take one last swipe

before their eyes empty and leave
—you lost everything! the forehead
once was yours and each morning now

you water your hands, more than enough
see only your likeness where there should be
light, dirt with nothing more to give.

 

*
You warm these ashes one by one
the way every shore now ends
in pieces, piled among your graveside stone

as rain —from the start, its great height
narrowed, became a stream, overflowing
with the wishes mourners leave

to break the surface where moonlight
is now a sea, could guide you back
then grow a second moon, keep you company

hold your hand, pull one night from another
that is nowhere on the calendar, whose shadow
is still covered with darkness and gathering.

 

*
Before each mouthful this spoon
rests beside the bowl
as the shallow turn a shovel

learns to widen, sift the dirt
for washed out roads
—it’s your usual breakfast

facing the window, humming
over your shoulder
to a canvas bag growing wild

alongside the woolen socks
and rope for the hole in your chest
—you pack till there’s no room

for cardboard and the dress
still wanting to go somewhere
still telling you it will be back.

 

*
It was magic though what’s left
are the tears —together
they cover the ground

the way these headstones come by
to drink from a river
where there was none before

—you wave a cane that opens
another, further and further
as curtains and doors and stars

—in such a darkness every stone
is flint, becomes the fire
that counts you in, over and over.

 

*
You fold the canvas as if each corner
needed more darkness and the tent lowered
with the same yank that in summer

began as the warm breeze and stars
that won’t let go —it had a constant slope
content with twigs no longer cold

and rain that couldn’t fall any further
though this rope becomes a wick, is lit
the way your arms are tightened

no longer open, barely remember the nights
and how —it’s a small bundle, taken away
covered with thorns burning to the ground.

 

*
You squint the way one eye still aches
was shaped by rising water
as it flattens out in the silence

that wants you to make good
without asking why or what for
—it’s how moonlight works, half

disguised as tears to soften the ground
half as a sea that long ago left
all these bottom stones uncovered

as the mist where their breath used to be
—somebody owes them all something
though you come by to pay down one

that still has its arms around you
is pulling you closer to shore
by wiping the foam from your lips

—you darken the Earth to get a better look
and with child-like fingers count out loud
the letters in her name.

 

*
There is no leak though your lips
drip as if the kisses they still feed on
will slip and once in your jaws

stay wet, covered with milk and darkness
the way a mother nourishes her breasts
with lullabies and honey kept warm

as the drop by drop that becomes an ocean
where night after night you are held
close to shore —just born and already

you were taught to dig with your teeth
devour the heavy perfume from under the tree
growing in your chest as snow

widening, wrapping around you as salt
bleaching the stars, the soft dirt, the shovel
upright in your heart so nothing is left over.

 

*
You fill in the name then prop it
with the same black ink
that will widen for the underline

and keep the word from falling
as your shadow still holding on
to the pen and your fingertips

that stop by twice a day
and each evening draw a name
on wood the way rings in a tree

keep count how many times
you circle her graveside
to keep it from moving, warmed

under a sun made from paper
whose silence goes on living
as just another word for two.

 

*
It’s all they know —these drops
fall, then feed —by instinct
coil around their prey till a puddle

oozes out the ground —rain
will never stop swallowing you dead
though for a few hours at a time

you become water, make your escape
as mist where there was none before
rising the way your tears even now

are burning out between your fingers
as the stench you need for ashes
and forgetfulness —you become a sea

ankle deep, with tides and a shoreline
where something will happen
someone will turn up pulling a boat.

 

*
The man in the mirror pictures you
covering his forehead with a cap
the way a grave is held in place

by a lid piecing together his grey hairs
makes you lean closer to the glass
—it’s a ritual, a tight fit

and though you tilt the brim side to side
the dirt stays blanketed with ice
and every morning now —the man facing you

wants you to close his eyes then sing to him
over and over the same lullaby, help him
remember the darkness, its little by little.

 

*
The lamp she drank from never dries
is kept on though its glint
still remembers when this cup

was lit by boiling water then darkened
for clouds and the turbulence
when you would reach in, hands on fire

and among the coat hangers a dress
still warm, dangling, slowing down
snared, swallowing the sleeves

—from this light a tide still goes out
as the hot glue keeping the cup open
fastened to every coast, every rim

stained with its emptiness and your mouth
coming back every few hours to touch
where her lips should be.

 

*
Before paper becomes paper it already knows
a great weight was needed :ink that will drift
into a sea as the silence mourners leave

for bottom stones though you dead
can tell from the stillness a boat is near
were given a ticket the way gas lamps

now line these streets so each grave
is lit, is fastened to the ground
by those footsteps from someone

who offers their hand disguised as a note
asking you to come or let it in as rain, puddles
drenched, dripping from each word and fingertips.

 

*
Listening among its slow turns
you hear this flower sometimes
luring the sun closer —by noon

the dew will be gone, swallowed whole
while the sky waits for rain to come back
ripen, become the scent lovers feed on

when apart —you hear these laments
as seeds still in the air, breaking apart
and mornings alone —it’s the sound

you dead trust, slumps on its descent
then waits in the ground as those footsteps
moving away from each other.

 

——————–
Simon Perchik is an attorney whose poems have appeared in Partisan Review, Forge, Poetry, Osiris, The New Yorker and elsewhere. His most recent collection is The B Poems published by Poets Wear Prada, 2016. For more information, including free e-books, his essay titled “Magic, Illusion and Other Realities” please visit his website at www.simonperchik.com.

The Dolls of Palomar after Italo Calvino

By Charles O'Hay

All the dolls of Palomar stood together. Some were missing limbs, others were blind, some had no heads. The half-murdered and forgotten dolls blocked the road in and out of town and sang glass chandeliers down from the steel drum sky. The church bells rang and shoals of sardines leapt from the sea and dropped like silver purses in the streets. The mayor ordered the town police to disperse the dolls, but when the officers arrived they were so moved by the sight that they lowered their weapons and began to sing along. One even fell to his knees and wept, for he saw the doll that had belonged to his daughter, who had died of fever the previous winter. A tiny thing made from a sugar sack, she wore a green dress and had no face at all.

Inside Josh

By Charles O'Hay

Lilly walked into the grocery store that was her husband. Half the shelves were empty, and a drunk was asleep and snoring in one of the carts. One aisle was devoted entirely to television sets. Another to fishing poles. There was no produce section. The frozen foods aisle, however, was a crystal cathedral of potpies, ice cream, and pizza. Lilly selected a few items and placed them in her cart. The checkout clerk seemed high and all the bar codes were fart jokes. As Lilly placed the groceries in her car she thought, “This is the last time I come here.”

Self Portrait as a John Hughes Extra

By Rachel Mehl

I’m the wiseass sidekick
who smokes a cigarette
during gym class,

and later is murdered
by her boyfriend.
That’s a lie.

I’m the girl
in the background
with frizzy hair and a denim shirt.

See her in the hall?
She is turned the other
way. Look closely

at the books in her locker,
Catcher In The Rye, The Bell Jar,
Corso’s Mindfield.

She’s got the nervous energy
of someone who’s never been kissed.
She peels a spotted banana.

 

——————–
Rachel Mehl is a graduate of University of Oregon, where she received an MFA in Poetry. You can find her work in Alaska Quarterly Review, Willow Springs, Natural Bridge, and several other fine publications.

Passing Through

By Christopher Kuhl

Hannah moves

 

At her own pace

 

In her house

With three cats

On Hunter Lane. A wasp

 

Crawls on an inside window;

She captures it with a can and a lid

And releases it out the front door,

 

As though bidding farewell

To an honored guest.

 

The air cools.

 

Hannah gets a glass of wine;

Clouds amass, gray,

Steady. She hears

 

Her neighbor outside

On the gravel road, skidding

Into his driveway.

 

The wind rises,

 

And it starts to rain.

 

 

                                                                                                                        Blount County, Tennessee

                                                                                                                        July 2015

 

——————–

Christopher Kuhl credits his father with his love of language. (“What’s big and red and eats rocks? A big red rock-eater.” Or a little less metaphysical: “Not a bunch, a cow herd. What do I care about what a cow heard? I have no secrets from a cow.”) He has published extensively in both on-line and print journals. By nature a poet, Christopher also writes the occasional piece of short fiction. His story, “Wade,” won Editor’s Choice for Fiction in Inscape Magazine 2016, and earned him a nomination for the Pushcart Prize 2017. Varied in form, tone, and subject, Christopher’s writings explore the human and natural world as perceived by all his senses, which he feels driven to share with and through his readers.

The Misfit on the Island of Misfit Toys

By James Valvis

t1

eddy arrived at the Island of Misfit Toys. He was supposed to be a Teddy Bear for a nice little boy or girl, but he had sailed on the wrong ship and ended up here. He was soon surrounded by other toys, many of whom seemed broken and unbalanced.

“We’re all misfits like you,” the first toy said. He was a bus with square wheels.

“Listen, I’m not–”

“Let us introduce ourselves,” an eyeless doll said. “I’m Betty and my eyes are sewn into my chest. Let me lift my dress so you can see.”

Sure enough there were eyes where one might find nipples on a little girl. It disgusted Teddy.

“Some factory worker with a sick mind,” she said, shrugging. “What is your deformity?”

He needed to look away.  “Well… I…”

“Don’t rush him,” said the bus with square wheels. “Let him work up to it. It takes some time to come around to admitting you’re a freak.”

All the misfit toys laughed and agreed.

“Jack, help him out by admitting your condition.”

“I’m a Jackal in the Box,” said a dog on a coiled wire. Blood was painted on his face. He was very frightening. “No kid wants a Jackal in the Box. That’s why I hate kids.”

“You hate kids?” Teddy said.

“We all hate kids,” said a cowboy who was riding a llama. “Kids are the worst. I’d like to round them up and–”

“Hey, they don’t want us,” Betty said. “So we don’t want them.”

“But… but,” Teddy stuttered. “It shouldn’t be too hard to get you round wheels, or get someone to sew your eyes on your face, and there’s probably some disturbed kid out there who might want a Jackal in the Box. And as for the rest of you–”

“You don’t talk like a misfit,” a spotted rhino said.

“No, he doesn’t,” said a gun who shot mustard. “Not at all.”

“I’m not,” Teddy said. “I’m perfectly fine.”

“Nobody here is perfectly fine. That’s why we’re here.”

“Well, I am,” Teddy Bear said. “I’m exactly how I should be. Maybe I have a bit too much fluff in the midsection, but otherwise I’m normal.”

“We hate normal,” the misfits said in unison.

They began to move in on him.

“Wait a minute,” Teddy said. “Wait. Listen.”

“No, you listen,” the bus said. “We’re misfits. We don’t like normal.”

Teddy was still backing up. Behind him was a wall. Toys were to his left, right, and front. “But if everyone’s a misfit, is anyone really a misfit? Isn’t the normal one the misfit?”

“Normality is evil,” Betty said. “That’s the law of our Island! No normal toys!”

“Everyone must fit in!” roared the Jackal in the Box. “Everyone must be different!”

“This isn’t the Island of Normal Toys!” yelled the mustard gun.

“Everyone must be a misfit!” the spotted rhino screamed. “Missing arms! Missing legs! Something! Get him! Make him a misfit! Make him a misfit!”

And so they did.

 

——————–

James Valvis has placed poems or stories in Ploughshares, River Styx, Arts & Letters, Southern Indiana Review, Adirondack Review, Natural Bridge, Rattle, Hot Metal Bridge, The Sun, and many others. His poetry was featured in Verse Daily. His fiction was chosen for Sundress Best of the Net. His work has also been a finalist for the Asimov’s Readers’ Award. A former US Army soldier, he lives near Seattle.

Reviving Ophelia

By Cassie Title

i’ve been hearing lists of names since nursery school. We would sing them with the cantor: Elohei Avraham, Elohei Yitz-hak, v’Elohei Ya-ah-kov. The sanctuary was mahogany pews and wood paneled walls and elegant white candles dripping wax. There were stairs there, special stairs, carpeted in deep blue, the same color as the bimah they held up. There were sandy bricks on the wall behind the bimah, behind the ark and the Torahs and the white curtain that covered them.

There were more lists of names: Elohei Sarah, Elohei Rivkah, Elohei Leah, v’Elohei Ra-hel. We’d sing them with the cantor. There were plaques on the walls, too: hundreds of golden tiles with names that seemed both familiar but not quite modern, like a generation removed, names like Edythe Hershman and Sid Schlossman and Isaac Weisman. We would sing more songs and read more prayers and recite things from memory. We would open our siddurs and press the smooth pages down. If we dropped the siddur, we’d have to kiss it after picking it up. The rabbi wouldn’t say anything, but we knew that God was watching.

Of course, we didn’t know what God was. We knew he had many names: Adonai, Elohim, Lord, Yahweh (which we weren’t allowed to say). We knew he wanted us to read the Torah, and to say blessings, and to drink grape juice from shiny, silver Kiddish cups. We knew he was friends with Rabbi Steinberg. We knew he was involved in some really interesting stories—tales of a magic staff separating water, of a tower that stretched to the sky, of a father about to kill a son, stopped by an angel.

Sometimes, Rabbi Steinberg would take the Torah out of the ark. We’d all have to stand up. He would walk around the room, and we’d reach our siddurs out to the aisle, touch them to the Torah, and kiss the book. Other times, we’d have to stand on our tip toes and chant kadosh, kadosh, kadosh. We knew the words meant holy, but we didn’t know what holy meant.

 

I met Josh on a park bench. It was one of those ferociously cold winter days, yet the sun wouldn’t stop shining. I’m not quite sure why, but I wanted to be out in the frozen air, so I was reading in the sun and squinting. He offered me a pair of cheap sunglasses.

It seemed like something that never actually happens in real life, so I went along with it. When he asked me what I did, I told him that I was a professional slacker. He understood that I was in graduate school.

I think I liked him instantly, which never used to happen. I’m not sure I can really explain it. It used to take me months to like potential suitors. We would go on five dates and I’d do weird things like wait two weeks to call them back or act like their conversational skills weren’t impressing me at all, and then as soon as they would write me off, I’d decide I was madly in love with them.

But Josh was different. It seemed like he talked to me because he genuinely wanted to talk to somebody, not because he was trying to hit on me. He was wearing a collared shirt and slacks with neatly parted gelled hair—all perfectly, disgustingly made up—but his footgear didn’t go with the rest of him. I must’ve liked the way his shoes were scuffed. I’ve never trusted anybody with clean shoes.

He was writing a book about Eskimos. It seemed like a luxurious thing to do. I pictured igloos, ice castles, palaces of hardened snow. And then I saw fairy tale princesses, swans in carriages, silver skates making stitches on ponds—I’m not sure why. It’s not like they had anything to do with Eskimos—I was just picturing some fantastical winter wonderland. When he told me the study was “anthropological in nature,” I thought of names: Inuit, Aleut. I thought of land bridges, animal furs, ice fishing. Of people who crossed the Bering Strait tens of thousands of years ago. Walking over Beringia, and ending up in a different continent. Did they even know they were leaving Asia behind?

I was writing a book about nothing. Eventually, it would have to be about something. It was unclear how much longer I could keep getting funded for my Ph.D. in history. I was interested in monarchial politics, the kings and queens of Europe. How they were pretty much all related, so at one point, all of the wars were really just family disputes on a worldwide scale.

He wanted to see if he could call on me for “my expertise in historical matters.” He said it like he knew it sounded ridiculous. I gave him points for that.

 

Before he died, my grandfather would come to our house every Friday night. We weren’t particularly observant, but we always celebrated Shabbat. I would help my mother bake challah—we’d mix the eggs and the oil, twist and braid the dough, watch the yeast rise, and brush it with egg whites. This was my favorite part—getting to use a paintbrush on food. It felt rebellious—like how I felt the time I snuck into the kitchen to try the yeast mixture while the dough was rising, thinking it would taste like raw cookie dough.

My mother would make roast chicken and carrots and string beans and chicken soup with matzo balls and noodles. We’d have chopped liver, which was creamy and sweet, and red wine for the adults and grape juice for me. I’d chant the blessing when my mother lit the candles, and I’d watch the fire leak light onto the table, orange in its glow.

After dinner, I’d help my mother polish the candlesticks and the fancy silverware we used just for Shabbat. We’d wash the lacy tablecloth we only used on special occasions. We’d have coconut macaroons for dessert, even if it wasn’t Passover. And when I was really young, my mother would sing and my father and I would dance, my feet atop his, spinning around and around until he twirled me up the stairs to my bedroom, and tucked me in before I went to sleep.

 

The second time I saw Josh it was snowing. We ducked into a coffee shop.

We pored over the chalkboard menus. I ordered something embarrassing. He paid.

We talked about caramel macchiatos.

__What are they? He asked.

I told him that they didn’t exist.

He seemed intrigued.

__Starbucks has bastardized the term. A macchiato is an espresso shot with a couple of dollops of foam. The drink that most people associate with a caramel macchiato is really just a caramel latte with vanilla syrup.

__So you have expertise in caffeinated beverages, too.

He said that. I didn’t correct him.

 

While I was in graduate school, going home became strange. Ever since my grandfather died, my family no longer did Shabbat dinner, we rarely went to the synagogue I grew up going to, and when we did, I hardly recognized any of the people or the tunes or the names. I used to love visiting: driving around the suburban streets, counting how many minutes it would take that one traffic light on Lakeview Ave to switch to green, wandering through Millers Park, swinging on the swings, dipping my shoes into the gravel, watching kids cup fresh mud in their small hands.

Now, everything feels even stranger. It’s like looking at your reflection in a mirror after getting a drastic new haircut—it takes a couple minutes to even recognize yourself. Despite the fact you know it’s you, and nothing has really changed, everything seems different, far more different than you could ever have imagined.

 

__Let me make you dinner, Josh said on the phone.

I paused for a minute, maybe two.

__Oh, no. The dreaded two-minute pause.

__What? I said.

__You’re trying to figure a way out of having dinner with me.

__Wow, so insecure.

He laughed.

__What can I bring? I asked.

__Nothing, he said. Just your company.

Later that day, I put on my snow boots and walked to his place. I looked at the trees covered in ice, counting as I passed them by: maple, spruce, elm. I stared at dogs being walked: golden retrievers, beagles, German shepherds. When I got to his apartment, and he opened the door, I found myself making another list: great smile, witty sense of humor, warm, bellowing voice.

__Greetings, I said.

__Salutations, he laughed. Won’t you come in?

I did. He led me to the table, but nothing was on it. I sat down.

__So we’re having an invisible dinner?

__Clever, he said. But not quite.

He poured some wine, handed me a glass. Then I followed him into his living room.

There was a picnic blanket on the floor, topped with candles and fresh cut flowers in mason jars. There was salad and steak and orzo with feta and grape tomatoes. It was all of my favorite things. I couldn’t remember mentioning them to him.

We started eating.

__How’s your dissertation going?

It wasn’t going well. In fact, I was starting to think that it didn’t matter at all anymore.

__Fine, I told him.

__I’d love to read it when you’re done.

__As soon as you show me your Eskimo manuscript.

He laughed.

__I’m afraid to show it to you, with all of your historical and research and writing experience. Besides, you’ll totally hate the part about how ancient aliens came to Alaska and Canada and invaded the native peoples and then their descendants became the Inuit and the Aleuts.

__Oh, okay, I smirked.

__See, this is exactly what I was afraid of. You laughing at my belief in ancient aliens. A guy can’t show his crazy this early in a relationship.

__Oh, so this is a relationship?

__I sure hope so. He laughed. Then he got up to go to the kitchen, where he stayed for five minutes.

__Josh?

No answer. I heard a machine.

__Have you been taken? Are they here?

He came back in.

__Funny, he said. He handed me a mug.

__What’s this?

__Oh, the ancient aliens came and made some caramel macchiatos. I thought you might like one.

I said nothing, and just grinned.

 

Before Josh, there was Ryan and Aaron and Jeb, all musicians: guitarist and bassist and saxophonist.

I had a habit for dating inappropriate men. Men who were too young, too old, too unemployed. Too into alcohol, cocaine, heroin. Too Morman, too Jewish, not Jewish enough.

They were baristas and college drop outs, exotic pet trainers and moving men—but if you were to ask any of them, their “true calling was music.” Josh worked at an app company. He seemed somewhat successful. He didn’t make me feel embarrassed walking down the street with him, even when he took my hand, switched our glasses (we had the same prescription, oddly enough) and insisted on waltzing through the sidewalk. Then he’d walk me to my door—not to my building entrance, but to my actual apartment door—without ever expecting to come inside. He’d kiss me slowly, slide his fingers through my hair, and then he’d tip his imaginary hat to me before leaving. Granted, he only did this a handful of times, because we only went out a handful of times. And then the last time, he simply said “he was falling for me,” and would see me tomorrow.

 

Growing up, I had a new name every day. My parents couldn’t keep track, so they’d keep a list on the refrigerator. Lily, Chloe, Olivia, Roxanne, Layla, then back to Ophelia, which is actually my name.

I couldn’t understand how I had to commit to just one thing, one name, one identity. I wasn’t sure why I had to choose, why it was so important, why it mattered at all.

I don’t remember settling on Ophelia, but I must have finally accepted the name I was given.

 

My mother has developed an obsession with Ancestry.com. It started as a hobby, something to pass her newly retired time with. Now, there are lists of potential relatives all over her computer screen. There’s a photo of the house my grandfather lived in as a toddler in Queens, the church my great grandmother was baptized in in Irvington, New Jersey. This brought up questions: my great grandmother was baptized? We knew one leg of the family was non-practicing Irish Catholic, but to be baptized? It seemed like a serious lapse in familial knowledge.

Then there are the passenger records of ships from Galicia docking in New York with names like Clara and Haskell and John. In school, my friends’ families came from places like India and Romania and Switzerland. Everyone in my family was fourth generation Newark, New Jersey. We had to go back a fifth generation for any sort of cultural identity, which always turned out to be Galicia, a place that no longer exists.

There is a myth in my family, that my father’s grandfather was a British pirate. I may have been the one who started it: his name was John and he was from England and I was in sixth grade reading Treasure Island, so I convinced myself that he was Long John Silver. I eventually realized this wasn’t the case, but I still thought I had “this much” British in me. So, I started speaking in an awful English accent for a full month. Nobody—not my mother or my father or the very grandfather whose father I bestowed the pirate identity onto—had the heart to correct me. It turned out that the British side was really from Galicia, too.

There is another myth in my family, about being Irish on my mother’s side. My grandmother spent years telling us she was Irish. I took to studying Celtic myth, Irish folk songs, Gaelic. But my mother sorted through the archives of huge steamships and censuses and churches and temples and street addresses, and it turned out that the Irish part of the family had actually originated in Galicia, too.

I asked her about this Galicia, which was not to be confused with the one in Spain. She told me it no longer existed. I didn’t understand how a place could physically be there but not, how a place could be called something else. She told me my great great grandparents lived in what is now Poland or Ukraine. But back then it was Galicia. They were Eastern European, Ashkenazi Jews. They spoke Yiddish, not Polish. When they got to America, they settled in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Newark. They married other people from Galicia. They cooked corned beef and cabbage and kreplach and worked as seamstresses and mechanics and food purveyors. They had kids who forgot their language, their cooking, their culture. They were part of a world that forgot their country existed.

 

Josh never saw me tomorrow. On his way back from walking me home, an icicle fell on his head. They say in Russia, 100 people die a year from falling icicles. They can impale you, like a dagger—even in America. I read about it in the local daily newspaper.

It seemed like an impossible thing: death by sharp snow. I knew he had a thing for ice and igloos, so I wondered if his death was poetic, if he would have approved. I didn’t even know him, not really. But I put on a nice black dress and stared at his open casket and thought about giving my condolences to his parents, who I didn’t know and didn’t know me. But I knew that it was all my fault that he was dead, that he never would have walked that way if he hadn’t been walking me home. So I left without talking to anyone and got myself a caramel macchiato, because the drink didn’t exist and Josh didn’t exist and where I came from didn’t exist, so what did any of it matter?

 

My mother used to sing in the choir at temple. She wore these long cream robes and sat with the other members in stiff-backed chairs to the left of the rabbi and cantor’s podiums. I’d sit in the first row, waiting and waiting until her solo. Her voice sounded clear and sweet and she didn’t even need a microphone to project like the others.

Other people would follow her in their siddurs or song sheets, reading from the back to the front, from right to left. It was confusing for me, all these languages I grew up hearing: English and Hebrew and Yiddish, two you read left to right, the other right to left. I started reading my English books from back to front and my Hebrew books from front to back.

For a year in Hebrew school, I stopped reading along in the services. It was easy enough to memorize the prayers and songs, so I did: the Mourner’s Kaddish, the Mi Shebeirach, the V’ahavta. I could say them in Hebrew: Yit’gadal v’yit’kadash sh’mei raba, Mi shebeirach avoteinu m’kor habrachah l’imoteinu, V’ahavta et Adonai eloheha. I could say them in English: You shall love the lord your God with all your mind with all your strength will all your being.

But when my mother sang, I didn’t sing with her. I just watched her gracefully open her mouth, look at the congregation, and let the words, all the words, flow out.

 

I was sitting in the graduate school library, the night before my dissertation draft was supposed to be submitted to my committee. It was dark outside, so I couldn’t see the sky. I just kept staring at the lamps on the desks, made to look like old-time oil lamps, despite the fact that they were clearly electric.

My computer screen was blank. Completely. I tried to remember why I was interested in all the Henrys and czars and princesses. I couldn’t think of anything.

Then I made a list.

Con: Loss of academic integrity and/or career. Sense of doing something very wrong. Not allowing myself to reach my potential.

Pro: It would be written and I would be done. No more incessant stress and pressure. Everyone does it, everything we do or write or think is merely a copy of something else, so what would it matter anyway?

 

When I took the train to my parents’ house after Josh’s funeral, they didn’t know that I’d be staying there for good. They picked me up at the station, all happy and laughing and “great to see you!” I evaded their questions: How long are you staying? Are you seeing anyone special? How’s the dissertation coming along?

A list of these truths would look like this: indefinitely, I might’ve been but he died from an icicle attack, and not so well, mostly because I got kicked out of grad school for plagiarizing.

 

The therapist my parents are making me see has taken quite an interest in my listmaking. We have talked about medicines: Zoloft, Lexapro, Klonopin. We have talked about exercise regimens: adult soccer leagues, master’s swimming programs, yoga. We have talked about Henry VIII’s lesser-known wives: Anne of Cleves, Kathryn Howard, Katherine Parr.

He uses the wives to get me talking history, my dissertation, about “my next step” which is really a veiled way of talking about my “misstep.” He is trying to understand why I plagiarized. I wish him luck, as I am still trying to figure it out.

I think back: there was my parents’ disapproval in my chosen field, their disbelief that it was a worthwhile degree. My advisor saying my funding was running out, that I had to finish this year. There was all the reading I had to do, from left to right, all the time I didn’t have. There was the phone call I got about my grandfather dying, how he slipped in the shower and my mother had to see him, sprawled, on the floor, after the assisted living called to tell her he was gone. There was the funeral, the eulogy, the dirt I shoveled onto his grave. There were these words of mourning, words I’ve memorized since five but still know nothing of their meaning: Yit’gadal v’yit’kadash sh’mei raba. There was the fact that my parents put me on Lexapro at thirteen, because they thought I was too anxious. There was Josh and his Eskimos and blood-covered ice. There were two languages that were supposed to be dead, but resurged; there was a kingdom that was dead but its land still stood under peoples’ feet. There were the Habsburgs and the poor farmers and tailors from Galicia and the Torah stories, the fact that Jacob’s name changed from Ya-ah-kov to Yisrael. There was the fact that, when you really think about it, all of this has happened before and will happen again and so what does any of it matter, really? There was too much to think about, the therapist noticed, so he said I should list it all out and come back next week.

 

A word about my grandfather’s funeral: he was old, ninety-one, so it wasn’t as tragic. He was always giving me fifty dollar bills to hide in my wallet “in case of an emergency.” I called him once a week, sometimes more, and we all had a running gag about keeping him on the phone. The standing record was three minutes, although the rest of my family didn’t believe that I had achieved such a feat. My grandpa just wasn’t good on the phone—he’d rather come over and see you, talk to you in real life.

He used to bring us Portuguese rolls, soft and fluffy and fresh and warm from the bakery’s oven. My father talked about this and his generosity while he eulogized him. Before that, they asked if I wanted to see him. My mother warned me that it would be the last time I looked at him, and I had never seen a real dead body. I didn’t think I wanted to remember him like that, like a mannequin, so I never saw.

We said the Kaddish and my feet hurt from my heels and I couldn’t think about anything but the way my grandfather used to pick me up on his shoulders as a toddler, bounce me up and down and tell me he was sending me to the moon. I wondered if he thought it was funny that I loved it so much, that I told my friends in school I had been to the moon plenty of times, that I was practically an astronaut, that I space traveled in my rec room every Saturday morning.

I still wonder if I should have looked at his body when I had a chance, to see his remains. We closed the casket because thousands of years have taught Jews that open caskets are tacky, disrespectful. I just thought they were weird, but maybe I was wrong. Maybe I needed to see what was left of him, to feel his death was real, to acknowledge that he no longer existed like the place where his grandparents came from, but still, still was there.

 

My mother takes me to see her manicurist, Olga, who she’s been going to since I was three. I remember hiding under her table, stealing the polishes my mother wanted and scooting around on the floor to the other manicurists’ stations, switching the colors. She would paint my nails for fun and for free and I liked the way it looked but hated the way my lacquered nails felt.

Olga hasn’t seen me in years, maybe two, maybe four, but she hugs me tight and hands me bags of Polish chocolate, candies with names like Paluszki and Chalwa and Pawetek. They taste like milk and nougat and cocoa, and I think about how Olga moved here from Poland thirty years ago. She may have even lived where my ancestors lived, where Galicia was and is not anymore.

When we leave, my mother reminds me to write a thank-you note. I ask if I can call instead. She looks at me knowingly, and I think she wants me to be ashamed that I can only write things that are meaningless: lists of couples I know and colleges I’ve visited and particular categories of people—Jewish girls from camp, Jewish girls from high school, names that I made up.

I know she saw my trash can, with at least fourteen crumpled pieces of paper stuck inside. They were crinkled almost beautifully, like weird origami figures that were only halfway made. I know she saw the etches of writing on them, black scribble against an otherwise white background. She probably opened them, saw list upon list of random names.

I know she is furious, concerned about my sanity, trying to understand why someone who was having so much trouble writing that she needed to plagiarize her dissertation can now not stop writing lists of names that do not matter in the slightest.

I see her think about this, and she tells me I don’t have to write a thank-you after all, that I can give Olga a call.

 

In Hamlet, my namesake goes mad and starts singing songs and listing flowers and herbs: rosemary, pansies, rue. She tells people they’re for remembering, thoughts, regret.

There is a book my mother loves, a psychological manual for teen girls, called Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls. It was written after I was born, but my mother always fancied herself a psychologist, so she tells people that’s what she named me after.

It was a pretty tragic name to give someone, I thought, which is what I told my parents in middle school. My father said he liked the way it sounded: Oh-fee-lee-ah. He heard wind chimes and bird calls in the four syllables, musical notes like my mother’s singing voice.

I used to climb a willow tree in our backyard, and my mother found it ironic, considering Ophelia fell off a willow tree into a brook and drowned. There was no water underneath our tree, so it seemed I was safe.

I’d think about what it might mean to drown, to fall into water, to not be able to push your way through, to feel like liquid was that thick. I’d think about the flowers she had given out, the madness she had fallen into, the lucidity of it all. Then I’d wonder what it would feel like to drown from the smell of flowers.

 

I’ve started archiving the horticulture books and historical documents at the town library. I make piles of huge, dusty books and write down their names. They didn’t even ask me to do it—I just started and soon enough they saw and approved and I was doing inventory in the children’s section and the fiction section and for all the biographies, too.

There’s a room in the library, with glass walls and a door and steps and a floor and it looks like a bimah in reverse, with the stairs leading down to the platform instead of up. I used to sit there for hours when they had children’s programs like book clubs or story time or my-parents-work-so-I-have-nowhere-else-to-go-time.

Now I make my lists there, sitting on the floor in this great, wide space of carpet. They’ve offered me a desk but I’ve said no, preferring to feel the plush fabric on my skin. They leave me alone, for the most part. They appreciate the help. They like the lists.

 

My grandfather’s Yahrzeit is tonight, so we go to the synagogue and wait till the end of the service, when the rabbi reads the long list of names. When he says my grandfather’s name, I feel surprised. We’ve been waiting an hour and a half for just this one name, and then he says it, and it’s over, and the mourning, for the night, is done.

It’s a funny thing, the anniversary of a death. We light a candle for twenty-four hours. We say the Kaddish too many times. We wait an hour and a half to hear the one name we came for, then go to the Oneg and eat rugelach and fruit and drink soda and then leave.

My parents go home but I walk around. I pass the baseball field and the park, the middle school and the bus stop, the traffic light I have to wait a whole ten minutes at to even try crossing the street. I peer through cracks in the sidewalk, holes in fences, spaces in air. I am trying to fit it all together: the names and the lists and the deaths and the prayers.

I see lists everywhere: in the shadows of tree branches, the old street signs, the license plates on all the cars. There are deaths everywhere: in America and Israel and even Galicia, a place that technically no longer exists. I keep walking and sorting, speaking in three tongues. I think of my mother’s solo, how when there was an instrumental break in the song, the congregation stood up, one at a time, called on by the rabbi, and recited the names of their sick loved ones. Then I sing it: Mi shebeirach avoteinu m’kor habrachah l’imoteinu, and only later do I realize it’s the prayer for healing.

 

——————–

Cassie Title is an MFA candidate in fiction writing at Emerson College, where she teaches composition in the First-Year Writing Program, creative writing to high school students through EmersonWRITES, and works as a writing consultant in the Writing and Academic Resource Center. She graduated with a BA in English from Tufts University, and has written for Interview magazine.

How to Stay Healthy

By Richard Key

picture yourself thirty years down the road, the victim of poor health choices. There you sit in your bedchamber, pale and greasy, practically unable to move from sore joints, back problems, and generalized weakness. You make the portrait of Dorian Gray look like an ad for the fitness club. Years of excess have caught up with you, and now you’re a wasted heffalump whose only amusement is trying to defeat toenail fungus.

Now imagine a healthy, vibrant you taking charge of your life, making excellent health decisions, maintaining a normal weight, eating wisely, and preaching to all those around you about how, with a little work, they too can be full of vitality and energy well into their golden years. Decades later, after you’ve run off all your friends, you can be proud of the way you stayed the course, and can enjoy your remaining years lonely, but full of health and vigor.

He has little who doesn’t have his health, a wise fortune-cookie scribe once wrote while moonlighting from her real job as a copywriter for Procter & Gamble. In fact, health has been chosen as the official bodily condition of the 2016 Summer Olympics. And the easiest way to stay healthy is to remain young. Young people, naturally, have far less disease than older folks. Unfortunately, the only way to beat aging is to constantly be traveling near the speed of light, which they don’t let you do anymore, even in Texas. So, that leaves the alternative—lie about your age. No, of course I wouldn’t ask you to do that. What that leaves is following several guidelines and recommendations that lead to a healthy lifestyle, and ergo, a healthier life.

The first thing to do is stop inserting Latin words and phrases into your sentences ad nauseam. Latin is a dead language, and no good can come from peppering your speech with morsels of a lingua mortua.

Secondly, never ever sit down. Ever. Sitting, we know now, can knock years off your life. If you never sat down, you could live to be a hundred and fifty. You’re sitting now, aren’t you? I can tell from my writer’s perch that you’re sitting. I sense it. So much for longevity! Now, get off your keister right this minute, and toss out every chair in the house. Just throw them out in the yard. Honestly!

As you already know, your immune system is critical to your health. A finely-tuned immune system can fight off infections and lower one’s chances of getting cancer. A weakened immune system, on the other hand, invites disease. That’s how you get shingles. The chicken pox virus hides deep in your body, waiting patiently for just the right moment to pop out and cause problems. Like that girlfriend with the frizzy brown hair you once dated. She was an emotional wreck and your mom never liked her. You tried several times to break up, and each time she weaseled her way back into your life. Finally you broke up for good, and she moved to Milwaukee to study interior design. Then, fifteen years later, right after your divorce is final, she moves back to your small town where you run into her at Target, ironically. Suddenly, half your face is covered in painful sores.

You must develop good eating habits. Junk food is out. Soft drinks are out. Red meat is out. Cold cuts are out. Sugar is out. Fried stuff is out. Rice contains arsenic, and fish contain mercury, so they’re out. And you can kiss gravy good-bye. Salt is bad for you too, but if you don’t get the iodine in the salt, your thyroid gland will swell up like a tick on a vampire.

The bottom line is, there is very little that you can eat that won’t destroy you eventually. It really comes down to whether you want to starve to death or be slowly poisoned. You must be constantly vigilant as you shop for groceries to avoid all the harmful chemicals, additives, and disease-promoting components that are found in almost everything in the store. So, caveat emptor.

The one loophole here—and you really should take advantage of it while it remains open—is that coffee, nuts, and chocolate have been determined to be good for you. So, for now, force yourself to have some chocolate every now and then, and wash it down with a cup of joe. And eat a handful of almonds while you’re at it. Pointy-toed scientists are working around the clock to find ways to shut this down, so enjoy these foods now before they’re linked to teeth warts or earlobe dysfunction.

Drink plenty of water. Begin your day with two tall glasses of clean, sparkling water to purge your system of impurities that have built up overnight. Then have at least six more glasses of water throughout the day to ward off dehydration. As you slosh around the workplace, you’ll find yourself having to raise your hand during important meetings to go to the little room by the watercooler. That lets you and everybody else know that your kidneys are functioning properly. And after you turn in for the night, you’ll find your dreams filled with panicky situations where you can’t find a real toilet, and you are forced to relieve yourself on the houseplants in the Oval Office, prompting Secret Service agents to announce a “code yellow” and haul you away.

Green tea has been shown to contain disease-fighting substances and is super good for you. Fill your bathtub with it once a day and soak for an hour. And don’t forget to drink a bit of it too. Green tea contains antioxidants. Otherwise, no one would touch the stuff. Actually, some people do like its subtle flavor, which they describe as “even tastier than plain hot water.”

Health food stores are full of nutritional supplements and various herbal remedies: St. John’s Wort, echinacea, ginkgo biloba, fish oil, etc. These are substances that organized medicine doesn’t want you to know about because of their natural ability to correct imbalances in your system and heal many common illnesses and conditions. Conversely, they’re unregulated, potentially harmful nostrums produced by charlatans to milk profits from the udder of misinformation. So take these substances at your own risk…But just remember, they might be exactly what you need…If they don’t kill you first…Which they won’t because they’re harmless…Ha!…Ha yourself!

Develop an exercise program and stick with it. Touch your toes every day—or if you can’t manage that, pay someone else to do it, especially if that fungus is still there. Keep moving, and get one of those gadgets to count your steps if you need to. Ten thousand steps per day is recommended to stay healthy. March around the TV set if you have to. You won’t miss anything. Download John Philip Sousa’s greatest hits into your iPod, and high step around the neighborhood to the Washington Post March carrying a rake like a drum major’s baton. If people think you’re crazy, just remind them that people once thought Charles Manson was crazy too, and look at him.

And, get some sunshine! Vitamin D is necessary for good health, and natural sunlight relieves depression for many people. So, step outside and soak up some rays. Okay, that’s enough sunshine. Go back inside. Are you nuts? Sunshine is full of ultraviolet rays that cause your skin to age prematurely, and can even cause cancer. So, for heaven’s sake, wear dark clothes and a hat if you go out there!

Try to get seven or eight hours of sleep per night. A good night’s sleep is essential to maintaining good bodily function. Sleep allows your brain to process the events of the day, and gives your immune system a chance to refresh itself. If you’re unable to fall asleep right away, it’s okay to use pills. Go to your pharmacy and ask for the strongest placebo they have, and get about a thousand. Now pretend they’re tiny sheep and count them over and over.

So, there you have it, your concise road map to health. No more excuses. Carpe diem!

 

——————–

Richard Key was born in Jacksonville, Florida and currently lives in Dothan, Alabama with his wife. He works as a pathologist by day, but has been writing short stories and essays for about eight years. His work has been published in several literary journals and a few pieces have won awards. This essay is the third in his “How To…” series which seeks to help the reader navigate the choppy sea of modern existence.