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Welcome to the Summer 2014 edition of The Fox Chase Review, our 18th. We are pleased to present:
Poetry by: Vinita Agrawal, Andrea Applebee, Jose Angel Araguz, Peter Baroth, Mike Cohen, Erin Dorney, Zach Fishel, Kristina Moriconi, Ariana Nadia Nash, Salvwi Prasad, Zvi A. Sesling, and Kimmika Williams Witherspoon.
Fiction by: Katie Cortese, Beverly Romain and J. Erin Sweeney.
The Fox Chase Review
Copyright @ The Fox Chase Review. All rights reserved.
Vinita Agrawal, Summer 2014
Chop me like a tree
bringing my torso to the ground –
an obeisance to the soil for its nurture.
Let me lie there, dying in the sun
drying in the sun.
My limbs, like branches,
torn by passers-by for firewood
My eyes, like leaves,
settling into the top layer of soil,
making humus and moisture;
food for worms and insects.
Such a death would be more useful
Than this imitation life.
Vinita is a Mumbai based, award winning writer and poet. Her poems have been published in Asiancha, Constellations, The Fox Chase Review, Spark, Open Road Review, The Taj Mahal Review, CLRI, SAARC Anthologies, Kritya.org, Touch- The Journal of healing, Museindia, Everydaypoets.com, Mahmag World Literature, The Criterion, The Brown Critique, Contemporary Literary Review of India (CLRI), Twenty20journal.com, Sketchbook, Poetry 24, Mandala, Spark and have found place in several international anthologies.
Andrea Applebee, Summer 2014
It Happened at Once
Clothed and pergola’d clouds stood still
as sheep before. Sweetsuckle piling on
the fence gate-creak and the path leveling
before our feet.
I grow into myself arms into arms hips
into hips. But grape-heavy rain does not
fall. Vaulted cool pleasure below ground
attics of light and the lure of cold fires in
certain flowers. If it could stay this way grooming
as if for love or battle.
Bridled morning with freedom and a
mother of vinegar burning under your
throat. So prised by your own demands
darling surrounded as you are by stars
and flies. Don’t let that throat lump rise.
Loosed open the doorframe creaking the
plants growing unsteadily as we go in
violation by mere day to day living. In
broken axled headlong a wreckage of
lustworthy but resourceless and so
Not designed by memory for anything
like easy happiness we could ride some
faithful horse over the mountains and
never return. What difference does it
make if we wait to grow into this
situation or if it grows into us.
Rain abrupts every horizon. We never
heard back from the dead. We cannot
even see if the leaves’ve turned. We hear
small wooden flowers creak open
and continue by chance and fight
wagering everything on love as in tales.
It ends there and since.
Spokes of low light bind the day and the
day after it rains. Heat pressure and the
grass stained wind in your eyes.
All the songbirds of the valley alight at
once and the cows lie down nosing the
air until the dark rubs smooth the insects
and stars still and glowing.
Andrea Applebee is a poet, essayist, and editor based in Durham. Her poems, essays, and reviews have appeared in Absent, Ditch, Ocean, Hot Metal Bridge, Boog City and other magazines. In her work she has explored themes ranging from the nature of objects and the body to geology and weather, and is currently working on a manuscript grounded in the study of local plants. Andrea is an Associate Editor at Tupelo Quarterly and has taught critical and creative writing for the past six years with a focus on photography, philosophy, and poetics. She holds an MFA in nonfiction and poetry from the University of Pittsburgh. She grew up in Charleston, SC and attended college at Davidson in North Carolina.
Jose Angel Araguz, Summer 2014
Whatever is worked out in death,
a blank page
to a word,
rain falling into a river.
Whatever is worked out in death
(words like rain passing through air,
rain like words passing – )
I am a word
breaking the silence
of my father’s death.
Whatever is worked out,
(giving over, falling, breaking)
the current carries it away.
Jose Angel Araguz has had work most recently in Barrow Street, Gulf Coast, Slipstream, and Right Hand Pointing. He is presently pursuing a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Cincinnati.
Peter Baroth, Summer 2014
Mystical drugstore cowboy visions.
Leon Russell’s Stranger in a Strange Land.
Experience rises to the occasion – on occasion.
Like after the Norman Mailer lecture.
All roads leading to the old watering hole
where the be-suited, besmirched intellectual once held court –
quoting Chomsky with exactitude
as if the fate of the world were at stake.
The sirens cried that night, too.
Too close to home.
As if the rest of the world were wallpaper for the
Northeast Corridor episode of my adventure.
Steaming like my blood – like a portion of porridge.
Or like childhood nightmares still haunting but now recalled
with humor next to a fleshy lover now providing providential comfort
with a rare theatrical touch – skin peachy keen;
neck elegantly curved like an immigrant Gibson Girl from years past.
Curved enough that if uncurbed it might cause riots in Tehran.
I rarely venture out in the day come the Winter Solstice
but rare walks are sweet ones – sweet as the laundry air.
Recalling Hyde Park, Chicago or Italian Hill, St. Louis with Proustian precision.
Met them all from the righteous ministers
to an El Greco version of Jesus Himself.
No longer in the manger suckling miraculous virgin’s milk –
but the One who took a hit for humanity –
no Roman helmet for armor.
Nearly nude – as I was while relieving myself in the alleyway.
So the wanderer there and her dog Scout
knew nothing but my weakness and – not drunk this time – my embarrassment,
as if my humanity were at issue.
But a drugstore cowboy is still better than a hat act.
A Lee Hazelwood hassled by a Chuck Norris world.
Get up, Tony! Arise like Lazarus and play a set!
Tennis or Jazz after 6!
In California perhaps a little Hampton Hawes at the 88s –
or Wanda Coleman in Watts – turning a page of poetry –
turning a page of history.
And during the day Latin phrases, cozy bookshelves,
and Anton Rubinstein concertos.
You stare at the bricks of the old Bandstand
in West Philly
as Gamble and Huff daydreams drift in your mind
like plastic bags in an aimless, gusting wind.
You said Kaddish when Eddie Fisher died.
You have your favorite South Philly Italian bistro.
And then it all went West
like the sun,
A pebble tossed against a window,
boring a little hole.
A slight imperfection,
You think of Joey Bishop
cracking jokes on Federal,
bound for the Borscht Belt.
You die a little on that curve of Lincoln Drive
where Teddy Pendergrass crashed.
One day you hope to find the block
where Cameo Parkway records once reigned –
signed ? and the Mysterians and Bobby Rydell.
The Hungarian restaurant on Sansom that closed down.
What do the Hungarians know that you don’t?
When to bail out?
No, you don’t know.
You, with your glib Buddhisms,
your abstract art,
your Coltrane LP’s,
and finally your survivor’s mien.
here comes the renaissance up Broad Street
like a rusted rattling Yellow Cab barely under control.
Like a gliding, barreling Philadelphia Flyer
headed for the wall.
Because you know what?
You just sold your first painting!
Peter Baroth is a Philadelphia area writer, artist, and musician. He is a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis and Temple Law School. He has published a novel, Long Green (iUniverse), and a poetry chapbook, Ski Oklahoma (Wordrunner Chapbooks). He won the 2009 Amy Tritsch Needle Award in poetry. He is on the editorial board of Philadelphia Stories magazine.
Mike Cohen, Summer 2014
TIME IS LOSING FACE
10:48… and though I do not disbelieve the numbers,
there is still a part of me that doesn’t know what time it is
without looking a clock in the face.
But time’s familiar face is being replaced
as the digital standard takes hold.
The venerable clock that stood on the mantel
or in the square
may not have been precisely synchronized
with the high temporal god of the Thames,
but there was an affable honesty to those fallible old clocks.
They told us all they knew and begged our pardon for what they did not,
and they did this with one look,
the look they returned to us each time we consulted them.
It was a reassuring look that said
all is not perfect, but it’s alright.
No such comfort is offered by today’s digital devices.
Receiving their commands directly from a higher authority,
they neither seek nor grant any leeway.
The frigid precision of digital standard time
allows not a second’s second-guessing.
This is chronology without a heart.
And sure as it is now 10:49,
I miss the reassurance I used to get
every time I looked a clock in the face.
Mike Cohen’s poetry has appeared in the Mad Poets Review, Poetry Forum Anthology, Fox Chase Review, Schuylkill Valley Journal, the Mt. Airy Times Express, and the Philadelphia Daily News. Currently, Mike hosts Poetry Aloud and Alive, a popular monthly poetry program at Mt. Airy’s Big Blue Marble Book Store. His articles on Philadelphia sculpture appear in the Schuylkill Valley Journal in which he is a contributing editor. Mike’s poetry can be found on his blog at http://mikecohensays.com/ and in his book BETWEEN THE I’S – POETRY FROM FIRST PERSON TO FIRST PERSON
Erin Dorney, Summer 2014
The universe tastes the way gasoline smells—good until you’re dizzy. Some days, it tastes like a nesting doll, with layers upon layers, but only when it’s raining. The universe tastes like a telephone that’s always ringing but never leaving a message, like an orange two-pocket folder, a napkin holder with a photograph of a woman inside. Once, it tasted like watermelon but I think that was just a fluke. Another day, the universe tasted like shavings from a pencil sharpener, washed down with a cup of black coffee, like the newspaper when it’s wet and the sentences bleed into one another. My brother said the universe tastes like cookies but I think we’re tasting different ones, or his taste buds are broken, or maybe we’re not even related. Maybe he is adopted and that’s why his universe tastes like a cold stone bridge, like a blue wall instead of a permanent marker.
I was lint
but more specifically
I was hair—
the cats, yours, hers
(and also his)
I was the receipt for four clipboards
the sticker from an avocado
red fuzz from a new shirt
I was lint
but it was more than that
Erin Dorney lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Her work has been published in numerous magazines and journals including Painted Bride Quarterly, Birdfeast, The Pinch, The Found Poetry Review, Rufous City Review, The Newer York, Girls Get Busy Zine, No Assholes Literary Magazine, and Really System. Erin is co-founder and editor of The Triangle (http://thetrianglepa.com), an organization that hosts and promotes literary events in south central Pennsylvania. You can learn more about her at http://erindorney.com or follow her on twitter at @edorney.
Zach Fishel, Summer 2014
Cardiology (Letter to a Monk in MA)
Every time I tear a bucket of chicken in half
to fit the weak-mouthed plastic bags of uncommitted trash cans,
I make sure to become a tractor. Smeared bright glossy ketchup,
my fingers greased pistons pumping crude oil like the
giant earth turners your dad taught you to drink on. Big wheels
“keep on turning”
plaque in the drive-thru of my heart.
Remember drinking whiskey from green glass until
I punched your sister ‘s face? I don’t,
but I do remember carving an ugly moon right through my father’s
tomato patch, a six-pack bungee corded to the back of my mower.
Never again was I allowed to watch the leaves spray from the guard,
chunks of vegetable hewn all over, a real tossed saladdripping with
piss and vinegar.
I called you in tears, the blade bent, toppled again
the horseshoe pit came from the zucchini blossoms
your laughter saying
“flowers kill us all dummy,”
Aorta made from grizzly bones and something
always about pulmonaries as the sunbeams burned rainbows in the atrium
like the trout you and I used to cook out behind “J. Central Trucking.”
In our secret creek. With great heat on the foil, I’d have to cut
the heads from the fish
even though they’re lucky, because you never could stomach
death, even one this delicious.
Coal trucks rumbled in the gut old man style
along the hills with beer bottles in our pockets,
harvest moon and a baby coyote in the dirt. You held it’s
scruff neck like a shaman, howling with it above
Strange mother wanting
monuments of womb.
You need new carpeting wiping the slime of New England
In the foyer, waiting for it unloading like a pistol,
Mandolins stringing wayfaring stranger and bindles
Together a nest stewing round burn barrels.
Making soup from Train cars and rail ties slugged
Remember the screech down with each sip— the harmonies
of blue jays and banjo men of murderous crows and dust bowls
Around the fires of alcoholic prairies. Mojo hands rubbing coins
stewing the teeth of deer in cast iron until potent. We cooked
slow goat necks and oak trees breaking twigs to keep things alive.
Not so different in the burlap Morality saying we can’t leave
Bags coated in manure eyes open after departing
Jingle of vine and seed so you drum out each pulse by hand
From old bear shit twice the size of a human heart,
You’d gather after stalking wet in the fields as the wheat weakened
Ursa Major in heaven up above the dirt in your boots.
Zach Fishel is a poet and outdoor educator residing in the Berkshires. His poetry has appeared in a full-length, Windsock Etiquette, from Red Paint Hill Publishing as well as two chapbooks by NightBallet Press.
Kristina Moriconi, Summer 2014
Survival Lesson No. 87
Each arm, its own story: remember
inked along the radius,
the perfect pause of a semicolon
on the knife-scarred wrist.
I expect no one to understand;
it is the permanence that I need.
Spoken words are not enough. Listen,
I kept some of hers inside my phone.
Do you hear the way her greetings break up,
all her goodbyes weaken, blow away?
There is nothing left—her skin, lavender
and eucalyptus, gone before spring.
My body is a book that began as a memo
in response to being afraid.
Along the spine, my ghosts gather. Maybe,
if you stay, you’ll hear their stories,
tales of too much sorrow, how one kind
of pain always replaces another.
Floating in a pool
beside the rice fields
his arms and legs
pull the water toward him,
hers curl in
like a body just before
Then, at night, beneath
the net around their bed,
he turns toward her,
and so easily she becomes
the shape of him.
The next day, a healer
instructs her: form barriers
between what is good
and what brings discomfort.
The women of Bali
and lilies, mangosteen,
what she must do:
set free her words, spill ink
into the gutters
of her precious writing books—
tiny rivers, mouths of light.
It has taken years
for her to tell him:
there is not enough space
in between. For too long,
she’d mistaken this for love.
Kristina Moriconi is a poet and essayist. She received her MFA in creative writing from Pacific Lutheran University’s Rainier Writing Workshop in Tacoma, Washington. Her work has appeared most recently in Cobalt Review, The Schuylkill Valley Journal, Prick of the Spindle and Blue Heron Review. She is the author of a chapbook, No Such Place (Finishing Line Press, 2013). Kristina is currently the Poet Laureate of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.
Ariana Nadia Nash, Summer 2014
It is impossible to say
when objects began
to lose their boundaries. But
as night smoldered charcoal
I asked is there a bottom we can reach? If there is,
then maybe when we reach it,
we can climb back up.
Some lake at the base
of the horizon’s cave, brackish
water where sky
and earth meet. I don’t mind
if you put your arms
around my shoulders
and I carry you, and
I don’t mind climbing hand
over hand, clutching the stars,
using unseen planets
as footholds. Maybe
the night, now still,
will let us rest sometimes
in its warm palm.
But I said, if there is no bottom to this night,
then when will we stop falling?
Asking Night About Autumn
The collage of leaves is a mobile, spinning
into the brightness of coral, the lightness of canaries.
The leaves pretend there is no terror in their flight,
no desolation in their wake.
The leaves should be lances and arrows.
They should rise in such a wave against me,
the front lines are explosion and foam.
Shouldn’t the leaves be ash, grief and mourning?
What monsters the trees become.
Pale with moss. Strange white ghosts of kings.
Ariana Nadia Nash is the winner of the 2011 Philip Levine Prize in Poetry for her collection Instructions for Preparing Your Skin (Anhinga Press, 2013). She is also the author of the chapbook Our Blood Is Singing (Damask Press, 2012). She is a recipient of a Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Prize and a MacDowell Colony residency. Her work has been published in Rock & Sling, Poet Lore, Cimarron Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, and The Southeast Review, among other journals.
Salvwi Prasad, Summer 2014
Cry of my empty womb
Of flesh and blood,
I write this story,
Untidy, unstrung chords,
Unforgotten lullaby lost,
Crippled cradle cries,
Knitted socks unwind,
To cuddle, to dandle,
A broken toy lies,
As plaits and red ribbons,
Traverse a torturous journey,
Might, mightier, mightiest wins,
Her first breathe incomplete,
Her last cry unheard,
As an un-satisfied family
and a helpless mother,
Stand to witness,
my daughter’s brutal murder,
Filled with guilt and pain,
All I have is your wondrous nine months
and now shame,
No flesh, no blood in me remains,
Only your carcass;
And my empty womb laments.
Salvwi Prasad was born and brought up in Cuttack, Odisha. Currently she works as software professional. She has been writing poems for some years now. Salvwi writes a poetry blog titled “POETICbug”. Her poems have been published in local magazines and anthologies like The Taj Mahal Review and Aatish. Her first published collection of poems is “26 Footsteps”.
Zvi A. Sesling, Summer 2014
Thoughts On A Dying Tree
It is the salt
the Bobby loves June in a heart
with an arrow carving
the car that backed into it, gouged its bark
it is the lightning that nearly split it in half
sent from on high
to let the tree know
its time is up
the fire place awaits
to give someone heat
Zvi A. Sesling’s poetry is in print & online journals in U.S., France, U.K., N.Z., Ireland, Canada and Israel. Publications include: Ibbetson St., Midstream, Black Heart Review, Paradise Review, Levure Litteraire, Green Door, baseballbard.com and Main Street Rag. His poetry was in the Spring Rain Poetry Festival on Cyprus in 2012. Featured readings include: Jewish Poetry Festival, Brookline, MA, Massachusetts and Boston Poetry and Massachusetts Poetry Festivals and Open Books in San Diego, CA. He publishes Muddy River Books and edits Muddy River Poetry Review. He reviews for Boston Small Press and Poetry Scene. Sesling authored King of the Jungle, (Ibbetson St., 2010), Across Stones of Bad Dreams (Cervena Barva, 2011). He edited Bagel Bard Anthologies #7 & #8. He lives in Brookline, MA with his wife Susan J. Dechter.
Kimmika Williams-Witherspoon, Summer 2014
Poet Parlance Remix
I am language
I wonder about words without meaning
I hear silence still
I see thought in all its manifestations
I am language
I pretend logic is key & yet
I feel idle talk burrowing holes in me
I touch echoes and distance &
I worry both the sacred and profane are true
I am language
I understand flesh but,
I say word songs that sing without music
I dream expressions clear
I try discourse to debate it all
I hope talk will one day wrought change
I am language.
Drugs in North Philly
Notions of “home”
Time “in” &
Time Out with
the province of
for the next
the next “trick”
dumb shit package
Those I suppose
for “a rock”—
made to swallow
for some kind of
“cracked out” fun
or taking it
pocket full of nothing.
Kimmika Williams-Witherspoon, PhD (Cultural Anthropology), M.A. (Anthropology), MFA (Theater), Graduate Certificate) Women’s Studies, B.A. (Journalism); is an Associate Professor of Urban Theater and Community Engagement in the Theater Department at Temple University. The author of Through Smiles and Tears: The History of African American Theater (From Kemet to the Americas) (Lambert Academic Publishing, 2011); The Secret Messages in African American Theater: Hidden Meaning Embedded in Public Discourse” (Edwin Mellen Publishing, 2006) She is a recipient of the 2013 Associate Provosts Arts Grant; 2008 Seed Grant, 2003 Provost’s Arts Grant; 2001 Independence Foundation Grant, the 2000 PEW fellowship, and1999, DaimlerChrysler National Poetry Competition. Williams-Witherspoon is a contributing poet to 26 anthologies and recipient of a host of awards and citations.
Katie Cortese, Summer 2014
Fine Art at the San Diego Zoo
At the center of her dusty habitat, Sarai lifts her gray trunk, curls it into a gentle“S,” and bumps the wooden easel set before her in the dirt. It shudders but does not topple and there are titters from the crowd gathering beyond the perimeter fence. Weaving through the parents and children and Girl Scout leaders, volunteers in green polos shake plastic donation buckets loud enough so I can hear them jingle.
“Easy, girl,” I say, offering a carrot stub to calm her. She snuffles at my palm andwith a cool, sucking breeze, grasps the stub with her trunk’s fingerlike end.“Easy, sweet girl,” I say.
While she chews slowly, I kneel to open the cans of paint beneath the easel, releasing an acrid smell that cuts through the manure and sweet hay and warm animal reek of her. She tugs at my apron, rattling my stash of thin wooden paintbrushes. When I hold one up, she delicately grips it with her prehensile trunk. Then my part is over. I step back and watch her find the can of brown paint, dip the tuft of horsehair, and bring it up glistening at the tip.
“No way,” someone calls from the fence. Of course, she’strained. And though I never know which form her pictures will take, it’s always one of three scenarios. There’s the self-portrait—an elephant appearing stroke by black stroke against a field of white. Then there’s the ocean with its flock of red-gold sea-birds. The third is the one she starts on now: a human girl and a boy whose hair is five black sticks.
Every time, the girl’s dress is blue. The boy’s hair is black. The elephant bleeds a red smile. There is nothing remarkable in a well-trained animal performing a trick designed to impress, but the scientists are wrong to say it’s all rote memory. No one tells her which scene to paint. Sometimes she starts with the girl’s blond hair. Sometimes with the red-gold birds.
I don’t go in for dog psychics or talk to my petunias, but I’ve looked deep into Sarai’s dark eyes the size of river rocks. She plays. She throws tantrums. I’ve seen her spray a trunkful of water at a pair of third-grade brats throwing pebbles through the fence. Why people comb the heavens for signs of intelligent life is beyond me when we have creatures like her in arm’s reach. She has thoughts. Likes and dislikes. Why not feelings too?
This time, Sarai starts with the girl’s brown shoes. Adds peachy legs with a new brush. I’m waiting for her to give the girl five sticks of straight red hair. A long-sleeved beige tunic like all the trainers wear. I’m waiting to see my own pointed chin; my knock-kneed stance; my spotted, sun-ruined skin. I’ll take it to the scientists, that portrait, the same day she paints it. I’ll give every expert a copy. Take a good look, I’ll tell them, Take a good long look. Who among you can prove that’s not love?
Katie Cortese holds an MFA from Arizona State University and a PhD from Florida State. She has earned prizes in contests hosted by Narrative Magazine, River Styx, Silk Road, and elsewhere. Her fiction, nonfiction, and poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Gulf Coast, Third Coast, Blackbird, Word Riot, Monkeybicycle, and elsewhere. She currently teaches creative writing at Texas Tech University in Lubbock where she serves as the Fiction Editor for Iron Horse Literary Review.
Beverly Romain, Summer 2014
I remember the troubles they had getting me into the house. The first difficulty was getting me through the doorway. The house was small and old and the doorway did not seem to be the standard size. They had a hard time removing the hinges. After much tugging and some frustrated cursing I was in, but the troubles were not over, there was still the stairs, they were narrow and had a sharp turn. There was more sweating and cursing but soon I was ensconced in my frame.
She opened a set of their wedding sheets and spread them over me, gently smoothing out the creases as best she could. He took a shower while she made the bed. Then she took a shower. By the time she was done he was snoring loudly. She also fell asleep almost immediately both exhausted from a long day. I remember the early morning lovemaking. My springs laughed and moaned with them. It was wonderful. They rose flushed and naked. He kissed her neck as she stripped the damp sheets from me, we three, naked and in love. We shared seven blissful months of lovemaking, lounging on weekends, their hair rumpled and my sheets rumpled. It was heavenly.
I remember she emerged from the bathroom with the strip of pink paper in her hand, the cup of urine sitting on top of the toilet tank. She smiled broadly when she showed him the strip. He lifted her off the floor and spun her around in his arms. They kissed long and tenderly, then he laid her gently down on me, I laughed a happy laugh.
I remember our sweet baby boy, all chubby and red-cheeked with soft wispy blond hair. He was a quiet baby, too quiet. We slept together, us four, a happy family. Five months later our too quiet baby was gone. My sheets stayed wet with tears. It was a hard time. My moans and groans lessened and lessened, after two years they ceased completely. I existed in a silent house. My voice grew slow and mournful, my sheets unchanged. I was forgotten.
I remember how I cheered when he returned and plopped his bag on the floor and flung himself on me. I was dirty and smelly and so was he. I did not care. One of my loves was back! He buried his face in the sheets and wept and wept. He must have missed me a lot. I wailed when he rose from me the next morning. I wanted him to stay. I heard the shower and soon he was dressed and gone. He returned late that night and threw himself on me, hugging the gold-framed picture of her, our other long gone lover. He was drunk and smelly, but he was back. I shook with the racking of his sobs. After a while, he rose groggily and dragged himself to the bathroom. I heard him open the medicine cabinet and run water in the sink.
It has been three months and he is still lying on me, unmoving. All is quiet, except for the worms and the buzzing of the flies.
Beverly Romain has been published in Prints, a 2nd Saturday 20 year reflection, and has had one book published, The Day the Bell Rang, with all the proceeds going to support the Cathedral Choir School of Delaware.
Erin Sweeney, Summer 2014
An angel showed up beside me as I walked into the courthouse on the first day of jury duty. I’ve seen him several times since then and its best if I describe him like this: He’s a tall Asian guy. He’s fairly well built. He looks nice in a suit. I only picture him this way because of a dream I had once in which he made a peripheral appearance. Anyway, he joined me at the courthouse door, and I took this to mean that whatever happened in there, it would be for the best.
The trial lasted for three weeks. It was a complex matter involving political corruption, conspiracy, and hapless citizens fleeced like sheep–money laundering, influence peddling, offshore accounts, that kind of thing. After the closing arguments, when we were sent into the jury room to deliberate, it was not difficult to establish authority among my fellow jurors. As a dentist, I’m used to this. I rarely have trouble obtaining my will among casual collections of strangers. I was elected as the foreman, and I presided over 16 hours of occasionally heated argument with the angel beside me. He was calm and silent and appeared at times to be reading a magazine. Once he left, maybe to search the courtroom halls for a vending machine, though I never saw him eating any snacks.
We found the defendant, a city councilman, guilty on 25 out of 27 counts of fraud and wrongdoing. Most of this wrongdoing could be filed under “furthering the scheme”, which ties into the larger crime of conspiracy and requires the prosecution to provide some repetitive and overlapping elements of proof. I had gotten through most of my life without knowing these things, and in fact learned of them for the very first time while receiving instructions from the judge. The thing about jury duty is, when you do it, you learn many things that you should have known all along. It’s all in the fine print you sign when you opt to live on the grid. That’s why so many jurors are middle school civics teachers—it’s good viral marketing.
Angel or no angel, teachers or no teachers, the evidence was obvious. As jurors, each one of us could have been plucked out and replaced by infinite combinations of others with the same results. The sameness of the results under various permutations of events was actually quite crushing. Devastating, the more you thought about it. We were here to do something important after all, but it could have and easily would have been done without us. No matter how far away we might have been, it still would have proceeded exactly as it did. Each of us could have been in a foreign land, on the top of a mountain, dying in a hospital. It all would have been the same. Truth doesn’t care who discovers it,so this is a perfect and sorrowful system.
That’s what I have to think about now. The defendant has been released on bail and has climbed up to a high window of the building across the street from the courthouse. He’s on the ledge. They’re sending people up there, of course. News cameras have gathered. But it’s all up to him at this moment. He could go either way.
“How can this be?” I ask the angel, who is standing next to me here in the street. His gaze, like mine, is upward. “This really doesn’t seem like my life.”
“But it makes sense, doesn’t it?” he says. “I mean, when you put it all together.”
On the ledge, the councilman’s tie whips around. Is he losing his balance? No. The wind pushes against him, but he holds his ground.
“Look over the facts one more time,” says the angel.
I look over the facts one more time.
The facts are the same. Nothing has changed. Nothing is changing even now.
Erin Sweeney grew up in the Philly area, left, and lived in ten other places before coming back here to stay. Of the ten, the best was a shack near a beach in Brazil and the second best was in Salt Lake City, in the attic of a huge Victorian house built by a polygamous family in eighteen eighty something. Her fiction and poems have appeared in American Short Fiction, McSweeneys, Cream City Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review and a few other places, and they’ve also been performed onstage a few times. She writes blogs for a living. She will be reading from her latest collection, “Hungry all the Time”, forthecoming from Pear Noir Press.