Red Dirt Forum is an online monthly publication that features American Southern voices of poetry, fiction, and cross genres. It also features contemporary musicians and/or bands and author interviews. We are dedicated as well to publishing voices that speak volumes regarding issues of social justice at the grassroots and global levels.
Submission Guidelines: Send submissions to [email protected] stating in header this is a submission for Red Dirt Forum and attach your work in Word format with full name and email in top left corner on first page of submitted work. You may submit up to three poems, two pieces of fiction. If we wish to see more, we will let you know. No word count, but please be judicious in submission of works. Include author bio, 75 word count, maximum.
I see myself running down a pock-marked street with pimples
the size of oranges on my back. Someone is chasing me.
I look behind and I see mathematical equations and a few
words in Spanish. The day is night-colored and I have to jump
over neon bulbs that flash warnings about invading cockroaches
and falsified bills of sale. In my hand I carry a hand missing
all of its fingers and a paint brush I can’t hold on to. I curse
in French and manage to slip into a forest where I sprout
branches. At brunch or communion, I listen to my father’s
lecture on ownership. I awaken to green sheets tucked under
my chin. I’m exhausted. Dreams are bounced checks. Dreams
are showdowns. During the day I walk slowly, a touch
of John Wayne swagger. At night I run, as I have since
I was thirteen my face cut open at third base by a sliding
steel spike, and a nurse holding me with tears. I learned
empathy then. For years I was ugly, empathy a companion,
until college when sports hardened me, as did graduate school,
as did marriage, as did the years when banks said pay now
or you lose all, as did the night a tenant held a gun to my face
until he stopped shaking. I can be kindly—when someone’s
condition hauls me back into memory, but I tend to
to first sentences only. I know your name but I’m not good
at facial recognition. I won’t remember you.
You’re two months behind, in arrears, abaft.
That’s blood on the tail of an unforgiving sun.
Let’s say you’re a dried-up umbilical stump,
diaper refuse, the last thing a father smells
on his way out.
is where we come from, and I signed
an open-ended lease, so you can’t get
cash-in-hand from my absence
and expect me to pay for jurors
who would judge me a grifter or worse.
I am a tenant of the earth, alive or dead,
and if anything you should pay me
for my resolve.
I walk-thru your sad necromancy—
a Lug Life clock, one soleless sandal,
a hieroglyph of owls in the corner.
You say your deposit should be returned.
I have seen a Laughing Falcon disappear
in the Rain Forest. We take nothing with us
but our plumage and the number of years
we survive. I am sixty-five. Go now.
I’ve listened in. Watched from the hallway.
Walls smell like the inside of old shoes.
From the empty kitchen a grinning songster
intones “Solamente Una Vez,” and then breaks
for tea time (you’re kidding!). Old Chen stirs
chá from Shishi, Pedro thickens té from Mérida,
Buckhead adds a dab of Johnny Walker
to a jar from Aaron’s Pantry, Turkeytown, TN.
“Any juicy orange chunks in that mess
y’all brew?” and the endless squabble resumes,
cheap shots as regional and universal
as harvesting arugula in the fall. Who will be
the first to fart-laugh, miss the corner spittoon,
scribble Puszy under the KilZ, check the clock?
Time. Slowly, from cracked linoleum, they rise
in a strained harmonious stanza of grunts,
a United Nation of hands reaching for other
hands to pull them up. They vote aye,
and then like maps of other countries, turn
toward their place in the universe. The floor
needs sanding, change locks, replace blinds,
separate strong from delicate teas.
Apt.2, now vacant, a marvelous space where walls laugh
at starting-over jokes and bad dreams lick the poison behind
the stove and die. Rooms are cooled by a mostly quiet AC,
the doors have dead-bolts, your neighbor has a photo signed
by Spiro Agnew, and in the laundry shed soap dispensers
occasionally work. Don’t worry about the scratching behind
baseboards. We welcome guests without a green card.
For all tenants, empathy, that wonderful word, empathy
brings us together in the backyard for a summer cook-out.
A chance to hear the face that walks by your window
every morning toward the ’91 chevy (WASH ME, PLEASE).
She smiles, does not mention the bruise under her eye.
Maybe the old man in the lawn chair will talk about Trotsky
or explain the mysterious origins of dolomite. Maybe
the landlord will show up, a return of the knight-errant.
You have to have a place to live. You have tried the hollows
of a distant alley, a warm cuddling in a mother’s armpit,
the underbelly of a tanker. For a life that’s always elsewhere,
you have mastered homelessness, anonymous, on the move.
You are your own home until walls fall down. Then the dark
isn’t where it was yesterday. We do paperwork. The closets,
tub, bedroom floors are as clean as a maternity ward.
Find your own way here. You can stand in sunlight
in the kitchen and wail like you’ve been born again, again.
No hell. No Zodiac cycles. No Baskervilles, our apartments
are civilized, modern mess allowed: aerosol mist, popcorn,
closet laundry, dumbbells, sink dishes, unmade beds, stacked
calendars, comic books, and no dogs. A mouse may sneak in
under a cabinet, squirrels may thump in the attic, flies fly,
but no Shug Monkeys haunt the stairways or Black Shucks
howl or prowl. No dogs. If one, sauntering by on the sidewalk
with master in-hand, squats in our bottlebrush bushes, prickly,
no harm, but next time pooch may swerve from the posted sign
No Dogs Allowed
ASW: Good afternoon Phil, thanks for joining us at Forum for a chat about your latest poetry collection, Rented Lives. These poems explore the tenant-landlord relationship and in doing so, you dually examine the cultural underpinnings of what it means to be a “renter” in the United States and how it feels to be a member of this class of persons known as “renters.” This is a compelling and unique topic to spelunk the depths of in a poetry collection. Talk to me about the impetus for writing about this subject through the lens of a tenant narrator.
PR: Hi, Amy, good to be with you, and thanks for asking me to talk a bit about my recent work. I have been happily submerged in a number of projects for a couple of years, and it’s a pleasure to be the seal rising at a breathing hole.
Rented Lives is a completed collection of poems about the world of landlord and tenants. Since I didn’t approach that subject as an ideologue, perhaps a bit of context here would be helpful. I was a faculty member at Old Dominion University, when my wife, who was a journalist and tracked real estate sales for the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, piqued our interest in owning some apartment buildings. We did get involved and I became a landlord for almost thirty years, while also continuing my academic and writing careers. Now, we’re out of real estate, I’m retired, and I have time to look back and assess.
I have to admit, Langston Hughes poem, “The Ballad of the Landlord,” hovered over me all those years:
My roof has sprung a leak,
Don’t you ‘member I told you about it
Way last week?
I spent conscientious hours keeping ahead of last week, but the issues were always deeper than fixing ceiling tiles and clogged drains, which brings me to your point about “cultural underpinnings.” For many people, renting is merely a stage in their economic lives. They are students or divorced or just starting or leaving a job or military or credit challenged or ex-cons or voucher families or on and on. Most of us have rented in our lives, and we didn’t feel like we were in a class; we were in-transition. The landlord, corporation, banking system which collected our money weren’t better than we were. They had power and we, well we, had to have patience because they had a lease and lawyers and, so it seemed, the law on their side. For most of us that didn’t matter. We spent our rental lives without confrontations. We wanted a good, clean place to live, and a landlord that would provide it.
For many people, that is not the story they would tell about their time as tenants.
As we know, this arrangement in America is part of a capitalistic system, which Chris Hedges observes, in Wages f Rebellion: The Moral Imperative of Revolt, has become a kind of corporate totalitarianism. Renters are workers and workers are oppressed. Rents are always too high, services are spotty, managers are absent. I didn’t set out to test that premise, but I was interested in the vast gap between so-called managers and victims. I thought I would set up the situation where the owner was thrown in with the tenants, a kind of reverse Rome’s Colesseum. Eventually, I decided not to make it so dramatic and simply have the landlord, recently separated, move in to the apartment complex—and see what happens to him and them when basically he is living with the other tenants.
ASW: In Rented Lives, I hear echoes of the outsiders and rebels from your collection, (one of eight I might add), That Naked Country. What is your take of “renters” in these poems? Do you write about them as cultural outsiders? Those locked out of the American Dream?
PR: In That Naked Country (Standing Stone Books, 2019) I am concerned with the insider forced to the outside, and in Rented Lives I am concerned with the outsider forced to the inside. I am playing a bit with words here, but in both collections my interest is in the dynamic by which people are driven to discover themselves and act accordingly. In Naked Country, for example, Emmeline Pankhurst is goaded from her privileged life to take on a leadership role in Britain’s women’s movement of the 1920’s. In Rented Lives, my landlord, who doesn’t spend time with his tenants, must do so when he moves into one of his own empty apartments.
The truth is, of course, that not everyone rises to rebel against an oppressive system, even at the urging of the Boston Tea Party patriots or the Black Panther Movement. And self-doubt and self-serving don’t disappear automatically when one discovers that empathy is part of one’s character. I feel, I guess, that the panorama of historical lives (Prometheus, Nero, Bacon, to Charlottesville) in the earlier book, and the exploration of the inner life of the narrator in the current one, tracks my primary interest. What happens when the passion for community reform meets the individual’s need for self-fulfillment? In one of the poems, I have Woody Guthrie address that particular issue:
stop thinking this land is our land—of gandy dancers,
broke dicks, gritters; we can’t put a hand out, we can’t
get a hand in. My head spins like a shadow boxer
in a granary. How do we get a time card, a paycheck,
a night-on-the-town. “I ache and pain and bleed,”
says Woody. Yeah, and we got born just to bear it.
In the end, Woody says what he is willing to accept: “Lady, / we got people to find, love to find, before we love.”
In Rented Lives my narrator has to face the dissolution of his marriage, his own reticence about being a landlord, and an attack on his property by a local gang. My approach has always been more narrative than lyrical, but the more he finds out about his tenants the more self-reflection is required. As a person who first sees a tenant’s eviction as merely “blood on the tail of an unforgiving sun,” to one who says that “I have a life now / both separate and engaged, transformed / by what has changed,” the owner is willing to see his tenants as individuals and their needs as different.
He comes to think of all of us as renters rather than owners of our lives.
ASW: Talk to me about your writing process of the collection. Are you a poet who adheres to a word count per day quota? A free ranger agent who lets the muse move you to write only? Something in between?
PR: As with most writers these days, I squeeeeeezed in writing before or after my day job(s), but now I arrange my day jobs (yard work, golf, to-do lists, etc.) around my writing. My routine varies, but I carry with me at all times a notepad, phone recorder, and memory pills to be sure that anything that is useful in my head doesn’t escape in a heartbeat. The middle of the night? Push a button. A line of poetry with morning coffee and yogurt is fine. However, once I do get settled, I am a long-distance runner until I start to stumble and find myself running backwards. Then I quit and take a swim.
I would say that with each work I start on, I think through to a certain point, and then I let the material and my subconscious run on, sometimes gripping me like a water bottle. By now, I think I know when my mind is simply pushing forward, and anything I write today will have to be severely revised (or tossed) tomorrow. That means I have had to learn patience. Quit for the day when nothing fresh is happening on the page. Thus, one page one day and seven another. I think I have learned to enjoy being in the middle of a poem or story and not desperate to get to the end. Revision, I find, is the most enjoyable track of all to run around in.
ASW: A shift of gears here. You implemented the Old Dominion University writing program in 1978. What do you believe university writing programs offer new poets and authors? And, what advice do you offer young authors who dream of that first book—and what the cover will look like?
PR: We didn’t have any creative writing courses at ODU in 1977, though a few faculty members and students wished we did. Kick forward a year, and as serendipity would have it, we had both undergraduate and graduate courses, a visiting writer (Pulitzer prize winning poet W. D. Snodgrass), relocation of the AWP home office to our campus, a new fiction position, and an annual Literary Festival (now in its 46th year). My article (“Amazing Grace: The AWP/ODU Years”) on that euphoric time appeared in The Writer’s Chronicle in May, 2002. I served on the Board of AWP off and on during its seventeen years at ODU.
As our program and others grew during the past several decades, I came to understand that sharing had become an important part of the creative process. Not everyone will agree that handing over a draft to others or mingling with hundreds of writers at an annual meeting in Seattle or Oklahoma City is essential to getting the work down on the page, but substantial scholarship funding, workshops, online communities, open and celebratory readings, regional panels, writing centers, Friends of MFA support groups, and other unifying programs attest to a desire for apprentice and mature writers and their readers to join together. Tough mindedness, selecting friends carefully, and controlling time are now a part of the young writer’s portfolio. I know, I know, you just wanted to write the poem. Why all of this interaction? Many, many young writers coming out of these creative writing programs are publishing fine first books and even prize-winning work. Something must be in the water.
ASW: You are quite prolific. In addition to Rented Lives, what other works can we look forward to from you in the near future?
PR: Don’t let anyone tell you that writing is not a life-long experience and that you will burn out before you retire. I agree that happened to me with playing basketball and running a business. Maybe in my last year of teaching, I lost the sharpness I had tried to hone every year.
You will only stop writing if the fire to live burns out. You may need an additional desire to want to be recognized for the quality of your work. You will need to care, give a damn, about the world you live in. I think that state of mind has kept me on a track to continue to write and publish. Having completed Rented Lives, I am now concluding revisions of another collection of poems, The Breathing Season. Also, I am halfway through a hybrid work of poems, flash fiction, short stories, and essays. Great fun! And, if the opportunity arises (which I am working on) I will submit a revised version of my memoir Outside Shooter (2003) to a publisher interested in a re-print. March Madness comes every year.
Thanks, Amy, for the opportunity to talk with you.
About the author: Philip Raisor has published eight books, most recently That Naked Country (2019). Outside Shooter: A Memoir (2003) and Headhunting and Other Sports Poems (2014) were influenced by the Civil Rights and Anti-War Movements of the 1960s (as well as the fact that he played with Wilt Chamberlain at Kansas). His collection, Swimming in the Shallow End (2013), was nominated for the Poet’s Prize, and Hoosiers the Poems (2013) won the Palooka Press Chapbook Prize. His edited volume of essays on W. D. Snodgrass was published in 1999. Raisor’s literary work has appeared in Southern Review, Sewanee Review, Prairie Schooner, Poetry East, Aethlon, Chautauqua, Poet Lore, The Writer’s Chronicle, and elsewhere. His essays on Shelley, Browning, Joyce, and Faulkner have been published in numerous scholarly journals. He has taught at Louisiana State, Valparaiso, Kent State, and Old Dominion University, and now lives in Virginia Beach, Virginia. See philipraisor.com.
It was June 1962, and my family was taking our first real vacation to Michigan to visit my mother's younger brother Phillip, his wife Angie, and their young sons Phil and Glenn. Two months earlier my maternal grandmother had died, and my mother needed a trip away to help her heal from her bereavement. She also just wanted to spend time with Phillip, who had moved up North to work in an automotive assembly plant after his stint in the U.S. Navy.
Accompanying my mother, father, older brother Steve, and me were my mother's sister Clarabel and her fifteen-year-old daughter Lola. I had just turned six in April, and Steve was ten.
Our car journey there was not memorable except for an overnight stay in an Ohio motor court. The rooms were dingy and the mattresses worn and lumpy. After that night, we were all anxious to get to our destination.
Once we arrived in Michigan, Phillip and Angie took us to the tourist sites: Greenfield Village, the Henry Ford Museum, and the Detroit Zoo. We even took a day trip into Canada. At the Detroit Zoo, my father and I stood at the polar bear exhibit and watched the bears bounding and sliding into each other. “They’re having fun,” he said, and we laughed at the bears’ antics.
Phillip and Angie made us feel at home at their suburban house. I loved spending time with my four-year-old cousin Phil, splashing in his inflatable backyard pool and playing on his swing set. Neighborhood children came to play with us, too.
When it was time for us to leave, Phillip and Angie begged us to stay longer. “See if you can get off from work another week,” they coaxed. So my father called his and my mother’s hosiery mill boss back in Marion, North Carolina, and arranged an extra week off. We were all thrilled.
Our vacation in Michigan was exciting and enjoyable. However, it was a stop on our way back home that was most memorable to me.
My father was born in East Tennessee in Campbell County—a coal mining area in the Cumberland Mountains on the Kentucky-Tennessee border. He lived here in his early boyhood until his father moved the family to Western North Carolina. His parents were born and raised in Campbell County, and many of his kin had been laid to rest here, so his roots ran deep in this place. Naturally, he wanted us to stop for a while in this part of Tennessee on our journey back to North Carolina.
As my father drove us in our Mercury through the streets of downtown Jellico, we looked at the store buildings and took pictures. And when we stopped at a general store, my father took a picture of an elderly man who had been sitting on the porch whittling and whom he must have known in his boyhood. He took a second picture of this man sitting with my mother, Steve, and me. We also stopped at several houses in Jellico. One in particular, a white frame house, seemed to have special meaning to my father. Here, Steve and I posed for a picture in the front yard.
When we got back in the car, ready to head home, my father gripped the steering wheel and then put his face in his hands and began to cry.
“Don’t cry,” my mother said softly to him, her emotions still rife with her own grief.
I had never seen my father cry before. He was a tough former Merchant Marine, having served in World War II, ferrying supplies to Europe in a Liberty ship and traveling through the Atlantic War Zone.
I sat with Steve and Lola in the backseat, everyone quietly waiting for my father’s sadness to pass. Soon, he wiped his eyes and started the car.
That was my family’s first and last trip to Michigan and our only visit to Campbell County, Tennessee. But it was a pivotal moment for me, seeing my father cry. Even though I was very young, I someway understood that this place in Tennessee stirred something indelible in my father’s heart.
About the author: Julia Nunnally Duncan is a Western North Carolina freelance writer, whose ten books of nonfiction, fiction, and poetry explore life in a small Southern town. Her 1960s upbringing in a working class family plays a prominent role in her work. She has essays and poems appearing in current issues of Smoky Mountain Living Magazine, WNC Magazine, The Backwoodsman Magazine, World War One Illustrated, blazeVOX Journal, and Arlington Literary Journal. A new collection of essays All We Have Loved is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press in November 2023. Julia lives in Marion, NC, with her husband, Steve, a mountain woodcarver. They enjoy spending time outdoors and with their daughter, Annie.
AW: Thank you for sitting down with me this afternoon to discuss your work as a poet and translator. You are the author of seven books of poetry and have translated numerous works of literature. Let me begin by asking how you got your start as a translator?
AY: When I was still a student in the English Department, Faculty of Education in Alexandria University, translation was a subject among many others. Some of my friends from high school who were in other departments began asking me to help them in translating small texts from English, texts they had to study and keep by heart for their exams in English as an additional subject. Later, I began translating longer texts for post-graduate students. That was in the 1990s.
In 2004, I began working with an NGO in Alexandria as a volunteer, and part of my work was translating the proposals and releases of this association from Arabic to English. But I think my real start was in 2005, when I was thirty years old, and a teacher of English in poor governmental schools since 1998, and a member of the cultural scene in Alexandria since 1999. In 2005, the American poet Andrea Young and our friend Khaled Hegazy, an Egyptian poet living in the United States, had the idea of creating a bilingual periodical called Meena (which in Egyptian Arabic means a port and refers also to the name of the first Pharoah to unify the Upper and Lower Egypt). They both asked me to participate with poems and translations in the first issue of the magazine. This venture joined writers from the USA and the Arab World and was edited between Alexandria (Egypt) and New Orleans. When Andrea and Khaled came to Alexandria to work on the issue with us, they both chose me and my friend Samy Ismael as assistant editors. The meetings of the editing team were my real first lessons of translating creative writing. I was an assistant editor in the three issues that were published of Meena, in 2005, 2006, and 2009.
In 2012, I took another important step as a translator by working for about a year with Human Rights Watch office in Cairo. I learned a lot. And during the next two years, I translated some reports for the office of the UNESCO in Germany and the UNFPA in Cairo.
In the same year, 2012, I went to Frankfurt Book Fair where I met the publisher Mohamed El Baaly who gave me two books; he had bought the translation rights of them and asked me: “Which one would you like to translate?” I was a little overwhelmed by the direct offer and trust. I chose a collection of modern Irish stories and I worked on them from October 2012 to June 2014. It was published in September and was the first whole book to carry my name as a translator.
AW: Who are some of your mentors and role models as a translator?
AY: I have a special respect for the efforts of the Egyptian professor and translator Mohamed Enani (1939) whose studies about translation are important; his translations of Shakespeare in particular were enlightening models to me. Also, I am a big fan of the works of the late Palestinian translator Saleh Almani (1949-2019), whose translations from Spanish are of great quality in Arabic. I like and wait always for the translations of Samir Grees from German. I have learned, too, from the work of my friend the poet, novelist, and translator Ahmed Shafie. There are also other names I enjoy and learn a lot from.
AW: What is your process or approach to translating fiction?
AY: I begin always with searching for any data about the writer and any review of the book. Then I read the first chapter to see if I can get the style of the writer, and see if I like the work at all! Ninety-five percent of the books I have translated were offered to me by publishers. Next, I begin working very slowly at the beginning, just two pages or three a day. I prefer not to read the whole work ahead, as I like to pretend to be the writer who doesn’t know the next step, or the reader who waits for the end to reveal itself! After I finish the whole book, I go through the whole translation draft from the beginning, revising the spelling and grammar mistakes, editing some sentences to be more accurate or beautiful. Then I send it to the publisher and I ask to have the PDF of the work before the printing to check it once more.
AW: What do you consider the most challenging aspect of translation?
AY: For me, every new translation has its own challenges, but mainly I try mostly to have as complete and thorough comprehension of the text as I can. This is not an easy task, especially with fiction and literature in general, with the different layers of meanings and cultural contexts. So, I search a lot behind every idiom and cultural reference. I remember that my first attempt to translate a novel was upon suggestion by the American poet and friend Andrea Young. She gave me a copy of The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West, and told me that this novel should be translated into Arabic. I spent six months between 2009 and 2010 and I finished it, filling it with footnotes about songs, artists and films mentioned in the novel. Luckily, my translation of the novel was not published before 2017, as I got some more experience so could edit the draft and omit some of the footnotes.
Another challenge is to forge the translation into correct literary Arabic style, and to not betray the original text and at the same time allow the Arab reader to enjoy what he/she reads.
AW: What were your two favorite stories in the collection you translated from English to Arabic, The Alexandria You Are Losing by Yasser El-Sayed?
AY: I fell in love with most of the collection, but I told Dr. Yasser that for me, A Winter for Longing is a masterpiece. I also liked a lot and enjoyed tremendously translating Magdalena by Evening.
AW: You are also a poet. How do you characterize your style of poetry and who are some of your influences on your own poetry?
AY: Well, I write poetry in Egyptian colloquial, or what they call Egyptian Arabic. I have already published seven books of poetry, six of them are mainly in the style of prose poetry. Naturally, my influences came from the classic Egyptian poets of the twentieth century: Bayram Al-Tunsi (1893-1961) Fouad Haddad (1927-1985) Salah Jahin (1930-1986) Abdelrahman Elabnoudi (1938-2015) and Sayed Hegab (1940-2017). But I am also open to the classic Arabic poetry, which has a long history, and the modern poetry whether in classic Arabic or in Egyptian colloquial.
While still in the faculty of Education, I was exposed also to English poetry. I fell in love with the works of John Donne, some of Eliot’s, Yeats, Robert Frost, Sylvia Plath and many others.
AW: What is on the horizon in terms of poetry and translations in the near future?
AY: I can say that I have had a writing block in poetry for more than two years now, and I find some condolence in translating literature. I do have two finished books of poetry in the drawer which I will try to publish next year. However, after the death of my father last May, I began writing a long poetic text about him. Perhaps this is point of returning to poetry.
Concerning translation, I was very glad to see the publication of The Alexandria You Are Losing by Yasser Elsayed. I am also waiting for publication of my translation of the novel Castillo by the Maltese writer Clare Azzopardi. I have recently finished translating an interesting book by the Indian journalist Taran Khan entitled Shadow City, A Woman Walks Kabul, and it is to be published soon by a Kuwaiti publishing house.
AW: Thank you so much for chatting today. You are certainly prolific and we all look forward to more and more of your poetry and works of translation.
About the author: Abdelrehim Youssef is an Egyptian poet and translator. Born in 1975 in Alexandria, he graduated from Alexandria University in 1997. He worked as a teacher of English for twenty years before retiring in 2018 and devoting his time to translation work. He has published seven books of poetry in Egyptian Arabic and has translated over twenty books. He received the Encouragement Award of the Egyptian State for translation in 2017 for his translation of Three Studies about Morals and Virtue by Bernard Mandeville. He is married to the Egyptian writer Omayma Abdelshafy and they have one son, Yehia, who is 16 years old.
Music low, you danced in your nightgown across the bare floor. Hugged your shoulders, sang the words to the songs. I watched until the aching made me fall back into the shadows of the doorway.
Outside, the sound of cars reverberated against the walls, and a river of ice coursed through my veins. It’s been six months and usually I can forget the engines, but at night I am immersed in their clamor, and in my mouth, I taste only things metallic.
We slept in the same bed when I first got home, but I grew to hate the nights. And so I’d sleep sitting in my chair by the living room window looking out at the Canada Dry sign flickering in the midnight across the river, or I’d wheel myself to the kitchen where it was warmer in winter.
You protested at first. “I love you Andrew. Nothing matters except that. Come to bed.”
“And I love you,” I’d say, letting you see only my profile, seated, immobile.
In the rehabilitation center you came to see me every day. All the nurses knew you by name. They’d wheel me to the window overlooking the entrance so I could watch you getting out of the cab and cross the street in the gray winter light. Sometimes you’d see me by the window and wave. Once inside you would kiss me until one day I turned away, looked out the window, and you stepped back.
“Why Andrew?” You said.
My silence weak, selfish. You lowered your eyes to hide your frustration.
This morning I was seen at the clinic. You came with me. You helped me undress. The doctor’s hands examined my abdomen, probed where all feeling stopped, where sight and touch abruptly divorced. He looked through my chart again.
“At some point you may need a bladder augmentation and a colostomy,” the doctor said.
“Is all that really necessary, doctor?” you asked, a tone of desperation barely concealed.
He turned to you, a thread of impatience in his voice, “If his bladder and bowels can’t do their job, and all other alternatives fail, well then his kidneys will get damaged. He’ll get infected. Septic.”
He started to describe what would be involved, but then stopped abruptly. “I’m not saying now,” he said more gently. I sit between them, their voices arcing over me.
At home you drifted to the bedroom and I heard you crying. I heard you crying for a long time, and then it was quiet and I imagined you asleep.
Outside, an endless stream of headlights from the night traffic.
You are naked under the nightgown. My body which desires but cannot respond, fails me. You stopped dancing. You looked at me across the room.
“Andrew, I don’t like that doctor. I won’t let him mutilate you.” You turned the music off. “It’s so stuffy in here,” you said. “Andrew aren’t you warm?”
“No,” I said. My hands are cold. My face feels cold.
You threw open the window. I am filled with the sound of engines.
“I am suffocating,” you said, taking in big gasps of air. “I can hardly breathe.”
I looked out the window, at the immense dark of the night sky.
You loved the sea. And once we came upon the shore completely by accident. I took one turn and there it was, clear, blue, vast. I ran after you into that warm water. I could feel the warmth everywhere. Running I remember the blood that pounded to my neck, the thud of my feet on the sand, the tightening of my back; my muscles which were then, still, alive. In the water we climbed the peak together, and I stood for a moment at the edge and exploded in a way that is now only a memory.
You have gone to bed, and I wheeled myself to the open window. The sound of engines was everywhere. With each breath I smelled only gasoline.
I will never forget your scream. Sometimes when you sing I can hear it in the background, like another voice coming to the fore, thin and shrill. You were saying something when the car turned over. Then your voice became a scream that wouldn’t stop. There was a lot of noise, and I remember trying to stop the noise, but when I tried to move I couldn’t. In my mouth I could taste only metal.
Outside, desperate flecks of starlight against an inky black sky. I imagined letting myself slide into the realm where legs and nerves don’t matter. I would keep my eyes closed, afraid not of seeing the expression on your face which would fade in the distance, but of the shadow I would cast as I fall. Huge and rigid, descending without movement. Dark. Almost extinct.
About the author: Yasser El-Sayed was born in Alexandria, Egypt, and is a physician and professor at Stanford University where he specializes in high-risk obstetrics. He was a finalist for the Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing, 2016, and his stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best American Short Stories. His short story collection “The Alexandria You Are Losing” was published by Red Dirt Press in 2019, and the Arabic translation was released by the Cairo, Egypt based SEFSAFA Publishing House in 2021. He is currently working on final edits of his upcoming novel, “A Storm Over Tripoli” set largely in Tripoli, Libya. He is represented by Julia Kardon at HG Literary agency in New York.
Golf and I were separated for fifteen years. Now we’re happily, romantically reunited. How, you ask, does a couple disengage for so long only to return to each other desperately, passionately, with the ardor and fervor of aroused youth?
Few utterly broken relationships resulting in bitter breakups experience that improbable second chance. Yet golf and I, notwithstanding trials and tribulations, painful parting and emotional scarring, have reunited. Here’s our inspiring story.
Golf, as you know, is much older than I. She’s been around. Her first lover, apparently, was the Scottish King James IV.
She and I met when I was only eight. She seduced me, enchanted me, pulled me close to her bosom and lovingly cultivated our complex relationship through highs and lows, joys and tumult. An older, more mature woman can teach a young man curious things. Her hormones peak late whereas his peak early. The match is, in that respect, for a matter of time at least, perfect.
I played golf well as a junior, winning multiple Atlanta Junior Golf Association tournaments, as well as the Atlanta National Junior Club Championship several times, and I competed in tournaments hosted by the Southeast Junior Golf Tour. I carded my first under-par round in the eighth grade, before I started high school. I recall shooting 74 from the tips when I was a barely fertile 13. Grown men admired my swing on the driving range—some of them, I suspect, recalling the virility they once enjoyed themselves—and I boasted to them in the locker room about pronation and supination, supple positions I’d learned from Ben Hogan’s salacious Five Lessons.
That all changed in high school when I took a mistress, a flesh-and-blood human being, which is to say, a girlfriend. She, a popular cheerleader, was jealous of golf. She made me choose: her or my clubs. I couldn’t have both.
I selected the human. Golf and I slowly, painfully drifted apart. I stopped playing her. She, hurt, her needs unmet, stopped tempting me with her delicious charm. We rekindled the flame briefly—during my last semester of college—but it didn’t work out. I quit her completely.
That was in 2005. Then, in 2017, a remarkable thing happened. I decided to build a house on a golf course lot overlooking a pulchritudinous par three, the green guarded by a sprawling lake over which, each dawn, an auburn sun rose with sublime majesty. There, beside the rocky shoreline and muddy banks, amid refracting rays of light from sparkling water, as the geese and ducks cackled with wild abandon and the lush ground luxuriated in the soft spray of daybreak sprinklers, lay the smooth and verdant fairway, so fertile and epidermal that the flagstick stood erect even in high winds.
I recall, after I moved in, taking in that enthralling view, the hole like a bathing beauty, my lustful eyes unable to look away. In a suddenly soundless moment, I accepted responsibility for my failures, decisions, and mistakes, and imagined my life with golf in it again.
Had our mutual anger and suffering occurred merely during a season of sorrow and heartbreak, reflecting circumstances beyond our control that weren’t intrinsic to our relationship? Had I turned away from her because of my insecurities and bitterness, my fear that I would never play at the high level I envisioned for myself? Were my resentment and contempt misdirected or misplaced? Could I accept the fact that I would never become a professional, never know what it feels like to crush a drive 340 yards or pitch and putt before roaring crowds at Augusta National? Might I overcome anxiety and self-loathing if I were open and honest with golf about them, describing to her, my once darling partner, my deepest vulnerabilities and desires? Had I ever found true happiness apart from her?
Humbled, and with a renewed sense of purpose, I decided, right then and there, to seek healing and forgiveness. I dusted off those old irons that I’d owned since 1994. Sure, the company that made them was out of business, and the graphite shafts were more suited for a fishing pole than a golf club. But they were mine and had served me well in my adolescence.
My return to the driving range wasn’t pretty or triumphant. I struggled to elevate the ball. I hooked and sliced and even shanked the ball from time to time. I remained determined, though, to prove to golf that I was serious about changing and would work through any problems, however difficult, to ensure the full restoration of my feelings and commitments.
Golf and I are back together again, I’m pleased to report, and our passions couldn’t be hotter. I’m now playing at a four handicap; my low index is 1.8, achieved during a 2020 streak when the economy closed for the pandemic. I’ve got new clubs, clothes, and shoes, a spring in my step and a tanned face. I’ve started working out. I feel healthy and happy. Golf and I are, by all accounts, affectionate partners with a promising future.
The only problem is, how to tell my wife?
About the author: Allen Mendenhall is a writer and attorney who serves as an associate dean of the Sorrell College of Business at Troy University. (AllenMendenhall.com.)
This inaugural issue includes music lyrics by StumbleEast bandmates Kevin Hall and Jay Tracy, poetry and prose by William Bernhardt, Vaibhav Saini, Julia Nunnally Duncan, and others.
This issue includes music lyrics and an interview with Shawna Russell, an author interview with Lara Bernhardt, poetry and prose by Nancy Dillingham, Carl Sennhenn, Suzanne Hudson, John Dorroh, Patricia Taylor, Joe Formichella, William Bernhardt, and others.
Issue three contains works by Fred Chappell, Joseph Bathanti, Julia Nunnally Duncan, Yasser El-Sayed, Bruce Craven, and others.
The Music issue includes work by George Perrault, Rajashree Koppolu, Susan Zurenda, Alec Solomita and others.