Foliate Oak March 2014
Before the Storm
By Kyle Beasinger
The air was thick and induced sweating within moments of exposure. It was the kind of morning where it was almost too difficult to take a deep breath. The grass smelled sweet and the cicadas rang loud throughout the golf course. Clouds were moving in from the East -- George and Phil would have to hustle to beat the rain.
George and Phil stood at the tee box watching the group in front of them, then the sky above. They would switch their gaze every few moments as if they expected the sky to fall and crush everyone in front of them.
George pulled a small, yellow Bic lighter out of his plaid shorts pocket. A long Macanudo cigar was perched in his mouth, the tip covered in slobber. His Callaway Big Bertha driver leaned against his hip like a skinny third leg. He fiddled with the lighter, making sparks but no flame. The humidity had made his fingers swell and the sweat that covered his skin made his fingers greasy. He wiped his hands on his purple polo and he rolled the lighter in the hem of his shorts. He held the lighter up to the end of the cigar and tried again. With a click click he was able to finally get flame and light his soggy cigar.
He took a few deep drags and blew the smoke straight up, craning his neck. The smoke hung in the air like a portrait; it made the air sweet for a moment, but only for a moment. The humidity quickly swallowed it and reminded George that the sand bunkers weren’t the only adversaries this morning.
Phil stood behind George with a cup of ice between his feet and his Taylormade R7 driver wedged under his elbow. He had a Rolling Rock in one hand and tried to twist off the top. The bottle was covered in condensation, standing no chance against the day’s heat. Frustrated, he untucked his yellow, mesh polo and spun a corner of it in his hand. He used the covered hand to twist off the cap which he threw at the golf cart, pinging off the front wheel rim. He picked up the glass of ice from between his feet and poured the beer into the cup.
“Hey, Georgie. Did I tell you about my brother in Michigan that was in that polka band?” Phil’s gaze never left the cup.
“The song about beer and ice. Yeah, you told me.”
“They were practically famous. You know... for a polka band.”
George picked up his driver and pointed the head down the fairway. “Do these assholes know their not the only ones on the course?”
A portly woman in a white skirt made her way to her ball and took her stance. She wound up and hit. The ball puttered down the fairway about thirty yards.
“Women shouldn’t be allowed on the golf course on a Saturday morning-- taking their sweet ass time,” George took a long pull on his cigar. “It’s like they forgot that at one point that didn’t have any rights in this country.” George sent a thick stream of smoke into the air and walked back to the cart and sat in the driver’s seat. When he sat the seat squeaked like fingers swiping across a balloon. He adjusted his shorts which were sticking to his butt cheek.
Phil stood to the side of the cart sipping his beer and tapping the head of his driver softly against the front cart tire. “Don’t worry, Georgie. We’ll beat the weather.”
“I know that. I just have a date tonight.”
George was a retired dentist and a widower. He had lost his wife to pancreatic cancer the previous year. They had plans to tour the European golf circuit but never got the chance to do so. After her death, George grieved for several months. He took comfort in solitude until his sister-in-law stopped by one afternoon and consoled him in a way only a woman could. After that George took up dating again. He dated former patients and other friends of his deceased wife.
George’s outlook on life changed. He bought designer jeans and wore shirts unbuttoned down to his sternum. He wore a gold chain necklace and several rings; he looked like a nursing home pimp.
He enjoyed golfing with Phil and did so at least three times a week. Phil-- also a retiree-- was married with no children. His wife spent her time at the clubhouse playing cards and gossiping with the other gray-haired ladies of the club. Both, George and Phil, having grown up an only child, bonded quickly and rarely did things without the other. Through the painful struggle of his wife’s death, Phil was George’s closest confidant.
George tapped the excess ash off the end of his cigar and hoisted himself out of the golf cart. “I’m not waiting anymore. I’m hitting.”
George teed up his ball, took a few practice swings and hit. The ball soared through the air with a slight draw. With a few bounces the ball made it’s way down the fairway and into the back of the pudgy woman’s golf cart. The loud thwack made her jump and drop her club.
A tall, spindly woman with a long, flat visor stepped out of the cart and examined the back of the it. She meandered back and forth, scanning the ground. The pudgy woman clutched her chest and took long, labored breaths. The ball laid just behind the right tire which the tall woman picked up with her spider-like fingers. She cocked her arm to the side and threw George’s ball back towards him but only traveled around fifteen feet. Her mouth flapped open and closed and she held one arm straight up in the air as if pointing to the sun. Closer examination would reveal that she was, in fact, not pointing at the sun, but giving George and Phil the middle finger.
Phil laughed and rocked on his heels. “Oh hell, Georgie. No worries, brother. I’ll give you a free drop. That shot was right in the tailpipe.” Phil took a sip of his iced beer and walked over to the golf cart.
George stood on the tee box, never breaking his gaze from the ladies down the fairway. He took another ball out of his pocket and teed it up. “Mulligan.”
“What?” said Phil, cocking his head. “Georgie, come on, brother. You almost hit them already. They’ll pick up the pace.”
But George was already in his backswing and didn’t stop. He swung as hard as he could, blasting the ball down the fairway. That ball didn’t have the same trajectory as the first; it was more of a straight shot, like a rocket.
George dropped his driver and cupped his lower back. “God damn it!”
The ball danced past the ladies cart and into the rough.
Phil hobbled up the tee box and over to George. “You alright, Georgie?”
“Fine. Just over rotated.”
The older ladies down the fairway took off in their golf cart, running over George’s second ball as they went past.
“Just hit,” George nursed his back, rubbing in small circles. “We need to beat this weather.”
Since his retirement, George had finished every round of golf he played-- rain or shine. George was a man that saw things through to the end no matter how things were going. He only retired because his last patient died in the dentist chair during a routine cleaning. Death was George’s only deterrent.
The patient was an older gentleman that had just moved to town from Sarasota, Florida. He was a heavy drinker and smoker. His teeth were stained and caked with tartar and plaque. He came in for several visits in one week because everything couldn’t be removed in one sitting. The buildup was so intense that the man asked to be put under so as not to feel any pain. George was in the middle of an intense flossing when his assistant came into the room and told George that he had a phone call that he needed to take. George excused himself and patted the gentleman on the shoulder. It was George’s wife with news of her cancer.
George returned an hour and a half later, dazed and overwhelmed. He figured the large gentleman’s anesthesia had worn off by now and would have to apologize for the inconvenience, and reschedule for another time. He pulled up a chair and slid to the side of the patient. He took a deep breath, ready to explain what had happened. Before he said a word he noticed that the man’s complexion was off; his skin was as white as the tiled floor. George slipped on a pair of bifocals and popped on the overhead light. He lightly pressed the patient’s chin, opening his mouth. The patient’s gums and esophagus were stained red. “Oh, Jesus,” said George. George ripped off his latex gloves and grabbed the man’s wrist. Feeling no pulse, George jumped out of his rolling chair and smacked his head on the overhead light. George grabbed the back of his head and tried to balance himself on his chair which rolled out from under him, sending him to the floor with a thud.
Hearing the commotion, George’s assistant ran into the room. “Doctor?”
“Call an ambulance,” George said as he rolled on the ground.
“Oh my God,” she cupped her hands around her mouth. “Oh my God. Are you alright?”
“It’s not for me -- it’s for him,” George held his back and gritted his teeth. “He’s dead.”
The assistant’s mouth gaped open and her face paled. She turned on her heels and took off out of the room.
George yelled after her, “And get me some ice.”
Later, it would be revealed that the man suffered from hemophilia which he neglected to fill out on his patient information form. Apparently the flossing had cut his gums which caused him to bleed, drowning him in his own blood.
Needless to say, George retired only days later.
George and Phil were about to start the eighteenth hole when the bottom dropped out and the rain came pouring down. They found shelter under the awning of the bathroom that sat between holes seventeen and eighteen.
George’s cigar was smoked down to a nub which he held bit between his teeth. This gave his face a perpetual grimace. He examined his back: ran fingers on each side of his spine, pressed softly on his tailbone, bent slowly up and down.
“I got some Bengay in my bag, Georgie. You want it?” said Phil.
George just shook his head and looked out at the rain.
Phil ran out into the rain, over to the golf cart. He rustled through a cooler in the back of it and fished out some ice. He plunked the cubes in his glass, grabbed a fresh Rolling Rock, and ran back under the awning.
George pulled the cigar out of his mouth, spit, and checked his watch. “This rain needs to pass in the next ten minutes or we’re playing through it.”
“Don’t think that’s a good idea, brother. I can see lightning out over those trees.”
“Well, either it passes or I play through. It’s only one hole for Christ’s sake.”
“I’ll ride with you, Georgie. But I’m not playing in this.”
George extinguished his cigar on the side of the bathrooms, twisting it deep into the wall. “Your call. But I paid for eighteen. So I’m playing eighteen.”
The lightning drew closer. Thunder blasted through the air and reverberated in George and Phil’s chests. George was still around two hundred yards away from the pin. He pulled a five wood out of his bag and walked over to his ball. Rain stung his face and had thoroughly soaked his clothes. Phil sat on the passenger side of the golf cart, bundled up in a raincoat. “Adjust for the wind,” Phil said. George hit his shot which landed twenty feet from the pin, just off the green.
George and Phil pulled up to the side of the green only to find the ranger-- Thomas-- waiting for them. George pulled the cart up next to Thomas’.
Thomas was a retired manager from a plastics corporation that specialized in toilet seats. George and Thomas had become friendly over the past few years. Thomas took interest in George when his wife died. He and his wife had George over for corned beef, roasted potatoes with butter, beet salad, and wine on several occasions. George dated several of Thomas‘ wife’s friends.
Thomas turned his body slowly as if something could break internally at any moment. He adjusted his bifocals and licked his upper lip. Each movement he made swished because of his raincoat. “Thought you fellas would have gone in long ago,” he said.
“Last hole, Tommy. Almost done. Georgie here wants to make a complete round,” Phil said.
George shivered, “Don’t want to screw up my handicap.”
“You boys better get inside,” Thomas wiped his nose, “I can’t let you play out here in this.”
Phil leaned out from behind George, “That’s what I told him, Tommy.” Phil slapped George on the shoulder, “You know how stubborn this guy can be.”
“I heard about it today, actually. Some ladies in front of you guys came in complaining about you to the club pro.” Thomas took out a handkerchief from his pocket and coughed deeply into it. He face flushed red and his eyes teared up.
“Jesus, Tommy. That sounds horrible. You should get that checked out,” Phil took a sip from his glass.
“It’s just this fluctuating weather. Hot, cold. Hot, cold; it’s messing with my lungs.” Thomas wiped his mouth and put his handkerchief back into his pocket. “Come on, George let’s wrap it up. Hurry so I don’t get in trouble.”
George grabbed a pitching wedge out of his bag, “Thanks, Thomas.” He scurried over to his ball and took a few practice swings. His body shivered and snot gathered on his top lip. His clothes hung on his body like wet dish rags. He felt as if he were carrying a loaded backpack, pulling him down.
Lightning flashed and thunder roared. Cars splished and splashed puddles as they zipped by.
Thomas had another coughing fit and finally squeaked out, “Let’s go, George.”
George took his club back and swung through the ball. The ball popped up in the air, bounced, and rolled into the cup. George threw his arms in the air and yelled. He hopped up and down, swinging his club like a baton. “Did you see that? Did you see that?”
Surprised by the silence, George looked back at the golf carts-- which were empty.
“Where’d you guys go?” George said as he jogged back over to the golf carts. As he got closer he heard muffled coughing.
Thomas was on his back coughing and clutching at his chest. Phil was over him holding his hand, reassuring him. Phil craned his neck back to George, “Call 911, Georgie. Hurry.”
George’s mouth hung open. He blinked several times and shook his head as if to rid a hallucination. He tossed his club back into his bag and reached deep into his pants pocket. He pulled out his cellphone and flipped it open. He mashed a few buttons then shook it. “Damn it!”
“What is it, Georgie?”
Kyle Beasinger is a writer, producer, and independent filmmaker in Atlanta, Georgia. He enjoys music, movies, and his dogs.
* * *
By Michaela Derrick
Tristan. My sun. Tall. Dark. Handsome. His eyes were a deep blue, so blue in fact that when I looked into them I felt free as if I was drifting through the sky. Dark brown hair just above his eyebrows. Built like Adonis. Teeth as white as pearls. Canyon dimples. The smile could brighten anyone’s day.
I never could wrap my head around commitment. I had avoided him in school for days, but he was always on my mind. Later in the week I was at the local hangout when I heard, “Hey Gracie!”
I thought to myself, I hope it’s not him.
I turned around, and there they were. Those blue eyes. My face turned red. I felt the nerves turn into butterflies, then the redness rush to my face as if I were upside down. I replied, “Hey,” with a shaky voice. I figured he’d make fun of me like everyone else because everyone labeled him a player. I mean, why would someone like him even talk to me? What he actually said, “How are you, gorgeous?” threw me off.
“I’m fine. How are you?”
“I’m well; I have a question for you.”
“Just ask it.”
“Why have you been avoiding me? My rep isn’t that bad is it? You can’t believe everything you hear, Gracie. I just want to show you I can be a good guy!” He winked at me. He actually just winked at me. I didn’t know what to say. I was shocked. Why me? He was a god, and I was just a plain Jane. Come on Gracie, reply. He’s waiting on you. “I…I Just don’t know.”
“Well maybe we can hangout; I’ll pick you up at seven tomorrow, and we can find something to get into and just talk. Then you can make up your mind.”
“I still just don’t know… I don’t know if I can.. I don’t know..” What I really didn’t know was that night would change my life.
“Come on, it’s only one night. What do you have to lose from just giving me a chance?” My mind told me no you can’t do this, but my heart said you have to. I went with my heart.
“Ok...just one night. Just to try.” I was still trying to convince myself it was a good idea. He smiled that smile with those deep dimples, and then turned around to leave. As soon as my heart was starting to slow down and the color was coming back to my face, he turned around and pressed his luscious lips against mine. I didn’t need any more convincing this was a good idea.
The next morning I woke up with a bright smile. I’m normally not a morning person, but something about today made me so ready to get up and start the day. I went to open my window and the sun shined so brightly. The aroma of fresh grass lingered in my room. The birds chirped their beautiful melodies. I hoped that this day would be amazing. Throughout the day I kept the smile on my face. As time approached I felt the butterflies. The time had finally come. After I got ready I sat in the living room constantly looking out the window. Hours had passed and still no show. I finally gave up. I should have known he would stand me up. What was I thinking someone like him wanting someone like me? I knew I wasn’t worth it. I crawled into bed and went to sleep.
I woke up, and I couldn’t breathe. I felt like I was having a panic attack but why? What was happening to me? There was an elephant on my chest. I tried to calm myself but it wasn’t working. I grabbed my inhaler. Finally I felt a little better and I turned on the TV. The news was on and they were talking about a bad wreck that happened last night. Then they showed the truck and how damaged it was. I recognized the truck and my heart sunk. The heading stated that there were no survivors. Tristan was gone. He hadn’t stood me up. He had been in an accident. I’d never see him again. Never see those blue eyes that made you feel free. I started to feel the pain in my chest again. I got up and looked out the window. It was morning but the sky was black. The rain drops pounded against the ceiling. Why did this feel so bad? I barely even knew him. It’s like this left a whole in my heart.
The next couple of weeks I was a zombie. If Tristan wouldn’t have kissed me would he have died? Do I have a disease? Kiss of death. My mom suggested I go to a counselor so on Monday during English I went. The counselor’s name was Julie. “Come here, Hun.” She came to hug me then sat me down. “ I know what you’re going through.”
“No you don’t. I have a hole in my heart and don’t understand.”
“Actually, I do. I lost my husband two years ago.”
“How did you get through?”
“I reminded myself he wouldn’t want me like this.”
The next day I made a trip. The day was bright. You could taste the crisp wind. The birds were chirping and you could hear the squirrels running through trees. The leaves were an energetic green. Everything looked so beautiful. I looked over to the hill with the metal fence and cement stone sticking out of the ground. The sun seemed to shine through the trees right on the stone. I looked over and saw a deer and its baby prance across the field in front of the hill. Tristan.
Michaela Derrick is a resident of Arkansas. She is a junior in high school and loves to hangout with friends.
* * *
Field of Dreams
By Eric Howerton
On the south end of town the Field of Dreams used to border the Block of Lost Time and the Grotto of Spent Futures. As a child, my parents warned me that journeying into these shadier neighborhoods meant nothing short of contaminating my
“Why’s the Field of Dreams so dangerous?” I asked dad once on the way home from Little League. I’d recently turned ten and started challenging my parents’ convictions through a veil of innocent curiosity.
Dad wore canvas work clothes and smelled of oil from the machines. The dirt under his nails looked thicker than the nails themselves.
“It won’t do you any physical harm, but that doesn’t mean the Field is safe.”
“When you come up on it you’ll see dreams sprouting wild over rolling hills. They’ll look glittery and new. And once you catch a glimpse, that’s it. You won’t be able to keep your hands off.”
“At school they’re always telling us to dream big. To reach for the stars.”
“I know they are. But listen. I grew up with a guy who bought into all the muck they preached at us, and it did him more harm than good. Few years back he went to the Field of Dreams and saw ‘Governor of Pennsylvania’ shimmering in the sun like a head of dewy cabbage. So what does he do? He puts it in his pocket, takes it home.”
“What’s so bad about wanting to be governor?”
“I only interrupted a little,” I said meekly.
“A little is still a lot.”
We passed a Burger King and a Dairy Queen. I was hungry from practice, but I knew mom had dinner waiting and we couldn’t afford detours.
“Governor of Pennsylvania is a damn ambitious dream, and there are plenty of people out there better suited for the job--wealthy people. This guy was a rice farmer from Louisiana with a hole in every shirt. What I’m saying is he didn’t have the wherewithal to govern sheep, let alone a state. Hell, I don’t think he’d even left Louisiana but once for a funeral in Dallas.
Here dad paused.
“Before all the governor nonsense this guy loved farming rice. The Field messed him up something awful. He used to eat boudin and crayfish, find joy in the simple things. Now he’s miserable: drinks too much, jabbers on about cheese-steaks and reviving the steel industry and raising money for his campaign. You put a plate of bugs in front of him; he wrinkles his nose like a nutter and asks for pierogies. And the worst of it--he couldn't care less if the Saints lose, but if the Eagles take a beating he locks himself up for days.”
“The Block of Lost Time is no safer,” dad continued. “Your mother got confused once leaving the yarn store, took a wrong turn. You know how she is with directions. You ask her which way’s north, and she points at the sun.” This was true. Mom had a miserable compass, but Dad’s wasn't much better. “Claims, she spent a year driving from one end of the block to the other watching the seasons change. When she finally got home she burst through the door and demanded I tell her the date. Her eyes begged me to say she’d been missing more than a few hours, but that was all.”
I asked, “Did she ever stop for gas?”
"She said the tank was always full. That’s how we knew something wasn’t right.”
“And the Grotto of Spent Futures?”
“That’s just where people go to buy drugs. Stay away from there.”
“What do drugs do?” I asked, playing the fool. I’d seen people smoke joints at parties—parties my parents had taken me to—and all that seemed to happen was their eyes got bloodshot or they laughed and ate chips until their stomachs distended.
Dad shook his head. “You get too high, then you go real low,” he said gravely. “You’ll do yourself a favor and not give that grotto another thought.”
I told him that one of the older kids on the team, Jose Sin Zapatos, lived in the industrial park the grotto loomed over.
“I don’t want you hanging around Jose, understand?”
I said, "ok," though I had a hunch my father’s fears were misdirected. True, Jose lived in a bad part of town, but there was nothing bad about him. He was generous and kind, with the eyes of a doe and the heart of an angel. He even felt bad about stealing bases. Coach rotated Jose to every position except shortstop, and when he stepped up to the plate he hit home runs farther than any twelve-year-old I’ve ever known.
I smoked my first joint, not with Jose or anyone from the grotto, but at a New Year’s party while my parents toasted champagne on the porch--ignorant to what changes were taking place in the garage. I was sixteen. By that time Jose had left town. Rumor had it after graduation that he’d gone straight to the Field of Dreams and picked “Play Major League Ball.” He never made it pro, though he did end up playing Triple A for a farm team in Wisconsin. A long way to go for a poor kid from Louisiana.
Nowadays, when I drive past my old diamond, I think of Jose and how my dad was wrong to tell me to steer clear. Maybe if I’d spent a little time with him, I would have found the courage to visit the Field of Dreams myself and pocket something before the city plowed it down and sold it off to strip miners. In another life, I could have avoided these canvas work clothes. Instead, I kept my eyes on the nearest horizon and spent all my energy moving toward it. Whenever i stepped up to bat, I hit nothing but line drives. All along I should have been aiming up and overhead.
Michaela Derrick is a resident of Arkansas. She is a junior in high school and loves to hangout with friends.
* * *
By Edward Palumbo
The ample, red bench seat nestled Tommy’s tiny frame. The pickup coursed over the dirt road that linked a half dozen gray farmhouses and a trail of dust marked the passage. Eddy approached a rise and he increased his speed in effort to negotiate the incline as well as to give Tommy a brief thrill.
"This is like riding in an air-o-plane,” Tommy said with a smile.
“You been in an airplane, boy?"
“No, sir, but I can imagine it."
“Imagination is a good thing,” Eddy replied, “don’t ever let her get away. No matter how old you might get, don’t ever lose that."
“Mama says you been in an airplane lotsa times—in the war."
“And that you was a hero.”
Eddy peered out the driver’s window if for no other reason than to avoid the child’s gaze.
“I don’t know if I was a hero,” Eddy said, “just a man in a bad time who had to do his job and he did it. I didn’t like what I had to do, but I did it.”
“Was you scared, Uncle Eddy?”
“When I went in the Navy, I didn’t have a gray hair on my head. When I came out, I was as gray as a ghost. I suppose fear did that. I’m not the man I was when I went in the service. Never will be that man again."
“Mama says you got medals and such, will you show me some time?”
“Yes,” Eddy promised, “yes I will.”
“Mama has my daddy’s medals, but she only showed me them once or twice. She doesn’t like to show them.”
“Well, your mama knows what is best.”
“Was my daddy a hero?” Tommy asked.
“Yes, son—yes he was.”
“Mama says my daddy was handsome, but that you’re the most handsome man she ever laid eyes on.”
“She’s knows her business,” Eddy conceded,“anyway, I wouldn’t argue her the point.”
Tommy laughed and slapped his thigh. The boy sat up, as they passed a horse farm.
“Will you teach me to ride a horse some day, Uncle Eddy?”
“I don’t mind. I don’t mind at all.”
Edward Palumbo is a graduate of the University of Rhode Island. His fiction, poems, shorts, and journalism have appeared in numerous periodicals, journals, and anthologies including Rough Places Plain, Flush Fiction, Tertulia Magazine, Epiphany, The Poet’s Page, Reader’s Digest, Baseball Bard, Dark Matter, and poemkingdom.com.
* * *
Poetry by Chrystal Berche
Twilight hides her tears
Mingling tye-dyed blood tinged swirls
On mossy wormwood covered bones
In shallow graves, shadow hidden fear
Lurks rotting, voicelessly silent protests
The tread of the living on sacred ground
Thoughtlessly disturbing ancient sleep
With melodramatic demands
That the cadaverous dance
Of deep-south blues
Lament for Morrigan
She said, “breathe” so I held on tight
calloused fingers digging into too soft flesh,
sweat soaked forehead pressed to sweet smelling shoulder
lilac and lilies calm remembered smell of smoke.
“Help me” I mutter, shivering, clinging
Scared I’ll fall and never stop falling
She holds on tighter, pets my hair
Doesn’t mind that I act like a frightened child
Nightmares sink talons in deep, rip; she’s always there
With hugs and lace and leather thread to sew up the tears
“Breathe”, she said. I screamed ‘til my lungs scorched with effort
Even as the screaming continued inside my head
In the dark corners cluttered and choked with memory
She sang “’Ol Man River” the way my mama used to
Words, a lifeline draggin’ me outta my hell.
She glows in moonlight, an angel, my angel
‘N I’d be soaked in blood without her to keep me sane
In a world of restless illusions, she is the whisper and the wind
The gossamer string holding my shattered pattern together
‘Til she cuts the cord, all my dreams melt away
I fought and she breathed for me, uneven heartbeats, erratic and scared
Melting, the edges frayed, colors swayed, the walls tumbled
House of glass and sand and cards washed into the breech
Waves crashed, and swallowed us
We danced in the sea; she led while I floundered
Cried, fell into pieces unrecognizable
The villains laughed; the Dreamweaver’s cackled
Bonedaggers pierce flesh, I wonder if it’s true
If you die in dreams are you dead for real?
Isn’t death just the next step in my evolution?
She wavers, stumbles, falters, and hits the floor
I curse the fates for taking something so precious and smashing it
look down at my hands, her blood, her too pale face
seeing what I’ve destroyed, prophesy fulfilled:
we all kill the things that love us.
Weathered and Deep
Weathered and deep are the lines in an aged face
Bright blue are the eyes that peer from a map of wrinkles
Even angels age
Raven hair turns white with the passing of time
Blond was the hue of youth, yet white it changed
Thinning, brittle before it fell
Gnarled hands could no longer hold the trumpet,
Nor could arthritic fingers play the strings
Wizened lungs gasp
Sputter on songs they sung with ease
The heart grows heavy, the tread slow
Weariness seeps into bones and pores
But the soul still sours
Ancient wings lose their shine yet retain their grace
And wisdom that can never be found in youth
World ending heartbreak to the young is but foolish folly
To those who smile fondly over past mistakes
Weep not for the old ones,
for they’ve found more than Prada and Ipods
hundred dollar hair styles and fake plastic smiles
May we be so lucky in the years to come
To embrace the beauty of a life well lived
And find contentment before we say goodbye.
Chrystle Berche is an author, photographer and artist living in North Central Iowa.
* * *
Poems by Christopher Mulrooney
the little horns are just blithering
out they pop the face cherry red
the eyes two coals for the oven where they bake the bread
it talks idly sizing up the situation
parading the obvious before you
sole and heel and stirrup they’ve heard it a million times
and still get a boot out of it
the same old leather same old feet
on roads that are astonishingly the same
tent in the park
an Alpine affair no question of packing crates or cardboard
might serve a Himalayan expedition
a man at the top of the world or the bottom
conversely some kid sleeping out in the backyard
Christopher Mulrooney has written poems in Red Branch Journal, The Germ, Auchumpkee Creek Review, Epigraph Magazine, Exercise Bowler, Futures Trading, Pomona Valley Review, Or, The Ofi Press Magazine, SAND Journal, The Hour of Lead, Black & BLUE, The Cannon's Mouth, The Seventh Quarry, and The Criterion.
* * *
2 Poems; 1 Reply
By Douglas Penick
(In Memory of Ray Johnson, magical artist and founder of the New York CorrespondAnce school, who took his own life and was last seen waving to the shore as he swam the backstroke out to sea)
Sent: To Genevieve Kapular
Of clinging to a self
On the great ocean of Mind.
Above currents forever unseen,
Pressing on above the depths and shallows,
Warmth and cold,
Darkness and filtered light,
It seems to stop.
And here or there,
He seems to die.
Reply: From Genevieve Kapular
appeal is so poignant,
Sharp as a ferret’s tooth,
With an element of the hunt,
With the beauty of the grasses and the trees left behind
And now the sky....
Reply: To Genevieve Kapular
Above the trees
In the wide night sky,
There is no realization.
Goals, like huge, white, fragrant peonies,
Gently drop their red-tinged petals on the sea.
They dissolve in darkness.
The hunt gives out
In silent waves of endless surrender.
Douglas Penick wrote the National Film Board of Canada’s prize winning two-part series on the Tibetan Book of the Dead (Leonard Cohen, narrator) and the libretti for two operas: King Gesar (Sony CD w/ Ma, Serkin, Ax et. al.) and Ashoka’s Dream (Santa Fe Opera) with composer, Peter Lieberson. He is the author of A Journey of the North Star and Dreamers and Their Shadows.
* * *
New Years Eve
By Ren Austin
New Years Eve is approaching, and once again I am despondent. It seems everyone is having the time of their lives, dancing away the night, sipping champagne and kissing merrily at midnight. I am despondent because I am a nondrinker. For me this is a night of sitting in the corner, watching the clock tick slowly away.
I am starting to think sobriety is overrated. I can hardly remember why I quit. But I think I've been misled. My life is good, but without the obliterating effects of alcohol, some minutes move slowly. Some minutes are best seen through the light of 6 beers. I have endured these minutes for 18 years.
The holidays are particularly difficult. So I avoid the drinking parties in my neighborhood. And I am thinking about having a non-drinking party, but what’s the point? Who comes to a party without alcohol? It’s clear that drinkers are the cool ones. TV can tell you that. All the happy people are drinking a certain brand of beer. All of the happy people are gathered around a wreath, or under mistletoe, or at an office party, with a glass of something fabulous in their hand. It’s not that I don’t want to drink. It’s that I can’t.
I never could fit in at parties. There is something strangely wrong with my hair, and my thighs are too large. I think that is why I started drinking in the first place. Alcohol is a cure-all for social awkwardness. After only two or three beers I was much funnier, and much prettier. I exuded confidence. Even dancing came easy.
Then, in 1994, the worst happened. I decided to quit. I was a fine alcoholic for quite a while. But it was time to look for a new vocation. I began taking those little quizzes on the Internet. Those “Are You Drinking Too Much?” quizzes. I hedged my answers, making myself fit into the “moderate to heavy drinking" category. It wasn’t an easy decision to stop. I didn't kill anyone, I didn't harm myself. I don't even know what happened, and that’s a bad sign. But when I stepped off the plane in New Orleans, I began drinking right away. I bought a funny smelling drink from a little stand on the street. I wasn't sure what was in it, and I don’t remember anything after that. I woke up in the bathtub. I felt like I had contracted swine flu and meningitis at the same time. Luckily my husband is a kind fellow. Without him, I would still be there, looking for my car keys, stranded in the hotel lobby without a reservation.
I asked him to call 911.
"I am not calling 911, you shouldn't have drank so much. “He said.
"Go get me an IV bag and I will insert it into myself."
I made him miss the flight back to Dallas, and he had tickets to the Cowboys game. The very next day, I quit drinking. I went to an AA meeting, and scared out of my mind that I might have to keep going there, I never drank again. There were certainly times, New Years, Halloween, every day I had children, when a little blurriness, a little fogginess around the edges would have been oh so helpful.
I am afraid of the holidays. Family gatherings are the worst. Sitting on a bed of fire ants would be more enjoyable. I like my family, but they drink like fish. My father in-law asks me every single year if I would like some wine.
"Oh come on," he says, "why not just have one."
This is perhaps the dumbest question he has asked me, and he repeats it year after year. I have never had just one drink, and I imagine I never will. Recently out with a friend, she ordered a glass of wine and I had a coke. She had one glass. She didn’t ever order another one. My anxiety climbs when people drink responsibly. I was surprised and appalled. How is that done?
"You're not having another one? Why not?” I asked her.
"I don't know, I just don't feel like having another one."
"That’s not right, I need you to order two more."
"But I don't want two more."
"I can’t go out with you anymore if this is how you are going to act."
With the legalization of marijuana, I thought for a minute smoking could be my avenue to "the party scene". Then I remembered smoking in college one time. I had a vivid and horrible hallucination that I was burning on fire. No one ever offered me anything else. What a lucky break.
I used to wish I had grown up in the hippie period. I had the wavy hair already. I wanted to protest anything. I wanted to live in Height Ashbury, sing with Janice Joplin and go to Scarborough Fair. The slacker lifestyle was a great fit for me. Unfortunately, I would still end up sitting on the hill, looking down at Woodstock, wondering if I should try acid.
So this Christmas, I will suffer as usual. For New Years, I am going to try my Peruvian friend’s tradition. She puts on a backpack and puts everything in it that she treasures. Then she walks around the block, thinking of all her blessings.
I imagine neighbors will look out their windows. Maybe they will be slightly buzzed, talking easily with each other and wearing tight little dresses. I wonder if they will think, “there goes that strange lady again.”
But this year I won’t regret sitting in the corner watching others have fun. This year I will leave the champagne sitting in the pantry, waiting for the relatives to show up.
Ren Austin is a 53-year-old writer living in Dallas, Texas. She has three children, a dog and a husband. She is not looking forward to the holidays.
* * *
The Road to Heaven
By Michael Lacare
She is a friend of my grandmother’s and her name is Adiya Fields. She is a survivor of the camps and has volunteered to speak to my Sunday religious school class.
Standing barely five feet tall, Mrs. Fields stands in the front of the class, looking frail, hands trembling at her sides. Her gray mop of hair sits atop her head, and her skin hangs loose from her face. She speaks in a mild-mannered way about the day the soldiers came and took her and her parents and younger brother away. She pulls up the sleeve of her cardigan and shows us the faded numbers etched beneath the skin.
You can hear a pin drop in that room, the way she talks about the death of her mother and father and brother, like a dream she says, so matter-of-factly, as if the reality of it never existed.
This is forty-two years ago.
How could God have allowed such atrocities? Mrs. Fields has no answers, but she remains faithful to Him just the same. I am not sure I could have been as loyal.
“We must never forget,” she says. “It is your duty and responsibility to ensure that the next generation does not forget as well.”
Mrs. Fields is a woman who frequents our home. She is a woman whose husband has died of a stroke and finds herself alone again. She sips coffee and nibbles on cookies at our kitchen table, occasionally flashing half-smiles at the things my mother and grandmother says.
When you are young, it is difficult to spot the pain and anguish of others. But it is there, lurking behind each face. It is always there, a quiet resiliency that resides within those that have experienced inexplicable things. I see it more that day in class than any other time, because today is the first time I hear Mrs. Fields speak of such things. She is like a stranger to me.
“Can you picture,” she says, “living in a country where they come for you and stuff you into boxcars and lead you away?” She scans each face, including mine. Each eye is riveted to her. “These words I imagine seem foreign to you.”
They are foreign to me. I am not sure how it all began; how one man, with just his words, can stir such contentment, such hate that it arouses so many to turn on their neighbors.
A hand goes up. It is Seth Koenig. “How did you survive?” he asks.
That half-smile again from Mrs. Fields. “That is a very good question,” she says. “How did I survive?”
Questions without answers. Maybe she is part of God’s cruel joke placed upon humanity, the survivors themselves having become nothing more than the new Job, unwilling participants in this test of faith between good and evil.
The soldiers at the station all had guns. Mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins are packed into boxcars like cattle. They clutch one another, the tears drip from their faces in rivulets. The soldiers are shouting orders; the older citizens who are a little slower getting across the platform will be the ones who will likely feel the wrath of these ruthless men.
And there it is. For reasons unknown a young Adiya witnesses a soldier wrench an old man away from his wife and clubs him across the back of the knees. The man slowly crumples to the ground, his wife pleading with the soldier to please let him alone, but the words fall on deaf ears.
The man tries to stand, but his legs abandon him, the pain much too great for his fragile bones. The soldier shouts at the old man to get up, but it is like talking to a wall, for all the old man can do is howl in agony. His poor wife is at his side, begging him to rise up, just try to stand. I’ll carry you, she says, her eyes wet and frantic as she tries to lift him off the ground. But she cannot. Her arms are not strong enough.
Adiya glances up at her father. His eyes are riveted to the scene that is unfolding. Another soldier keeps the line moving and Adiya and her parents and younger brother continue on their inevitable trek towards the train.
“What will happen to them?” Adiya asks once they have climbed into the boxcar, but she receives no answer. It is crowded and as more people are tossed inside, Adiya is forced against strangers, their elbows and shoulders pinning her against her parents.
She can no longer see the old man and his wife. A child is thrown into the boxcar and the little boy reaches out for his momma, who has still not gotten onto the train, the soldiers holding her back, as she desperately tries to dislodge from them. He cries out, but the doors are closing and a woman with blond hair pulls the boy’s arms away before they are caught in the door.
Pure darkness envelops them as the train begins to pull away from the station. People are sobbing and the dank stench of fear rises into Adiya’s nostrils. She can feel her mother’s hands clutching her close. Adiya tells herself not to be afraid, but her heart thumps against her chest and small beads of sweat slide down her ribs and back. A woman begins to pray in Yiddish.
Where are they taking us? she so badly wants to ask, but the words are frozen in her throat. The blond woman presses the boy in front close to her and begins to hum a lullaby. It is working, for he has stopped crying for now.
This is a dream, Adiya thinks to herself. You are in your bed and soon mother will come to wake you so that you can eat.
The train ride lasts almost three hours.
Mrs. Fields sits down on a wooden folding chair. Our teacher, Mrs. Finkelstein, inquires whether she would like a glass of water, but Mrs. Fields declines.
“Did you know Anne Frank?” David Simcha asks.
Mrs. Fields shakes her head. “I’m afraid not.”
David looks somewhat disappointed.
“What happened when you got to where they were sending you?” Haley Eisenberg asks.
“What do you think happened?” David Simcha pipes in.
“Shhh,” Mrs. Finkelstein says. “Class, please show Mrs. Fields some respect.”
“Maybe I will take a little water,” Mrs. Fields says and Mrs. Finkelstein nods and leaves the room.
The camp is in Sobibor and it is built by utilizing Jewish labor. The approximate eighty Sonderkammando, who once resided in the surrounding ghettos, will now become prisoners of the camp. Upon completion of the project, each Jew that assisted in the construction is shot. One by one they collapse onto the hard, cold ground, their blood slowly being absorbed by the earth.
The Sobibor camp, the Jews are told, will primarily function as a transit camp. It quickly evolves into a labor camp, and then a place where the activities of extermination are undertaken. Erick Fuchs, a skilled motor mechanic, and one of the men responsible for the method in which Jews there had perished, describes how the gas chamber became the method of choice.
“Sometime in the spring of 1942 I received instructions to collect a gassing engine which I then took to Sobibor. Upon arriving in Sobibor, I discovered a piece of open ground close to the station on which there was a concrete building. We unloaded the motor. It was a heavy, Russian petrol engine, presumably a tank or tractor engine of at least 200 HP carburetor engine, eight-cylinder, water-cooled. We put the engine on a concrete plinth and attached a pipe to the exhaust outlet. Then we tried out the engine. At first it did not work. I repaired the ignition and the valve and suddenly the engine started. The chemist whom I already knew from Belzec went into the gas chamber with a measuring device in order to measure the gas concentration. After this a test gassing was carried out. I seem to remember that thirty to forty women were gassed in a gas chamber. The Jewesses had to undress in a clearing in the wood which had been roofed over, near the gas chamber. They were herded into the gas chamber by SS members. When the women had been shut up in the gas chamber, I attended to the engine. The engine immediately started ticking over. I stood next to the engine and switched it up to "release exhaust to chamber" so that the gases were channeled into the chamber. On the instigation of the chemist, I revved up the engine, which meant that no extra gas had to be added later. After about ten minutes the thirty to forty women were dead. The chemist and the SS gave the signal to turn off the engine. I packed up my tools and saw the bodies being taken away. A small wagon on rails was used to take them away from near the gas chamber to a stretch of ground some distance away.”
Mrs. Fields leans forward in her chair. “When we got to the camp, we were made to undress in front of everyone and distribute any valuables, but there were none to be had. The soldiers had taken everything.” She brings the glass of water to her lips and takes a slow sip. “Before we were ordered to remove our clothing, a man in a white lab coat came to talk to us,” she says and her eyes look pale and distant. “He looked like a doctor to me.” She sets the glass down on the edge of Mrs. Finkelstein’s desk. “He announced that we would have to work and that we would be required to take baths, to disinfect us of any disease.”
Mrs. Fields remains silent. I can hear a siren and car horns in the distance.
“And then what happened?” Rebekkah Weinstein asks.
Mrs. Fields glances up at the sound of her voice. “My parents and younger brother were directed to go towards a structure they called, The Tubes and when the doors closed behind them, I never saw them again.” She snorts and reaches for the glass of water again, but before she drinks from it she says, “They were gassed. They were all gassed.”
A heavy silence passes between everyone. I wonder how much of this my grandmother knows. I wonder when they are together at the table, does Mrs. Fields not mention these terrible things? Perhaps my grandmother simply directs the conversation elsewhere.
“I was led to the barracks where the woman with the crying boy saw to me. The following morning one of the SS men pointed to a large pile of naked corpses and told us that was where our family was. We were then responsible for burning them.”
I glance away, out the nearby window. I observe a sparrow take off from a tree and fly through the brilliant blue and cloudless sky. I see a young girl standing before a twisted mass of limbs, rummaging through all the lifelessness.
“The Road to Heaven,” Ana Kemper says. “It’s what my grandfather said they called the path that led to the gas chambers.”
Mrs. Fields eyes become like saucers. “Yes, that’s right.”
Rabbi Switak appears in the doorway.
“Hello, Rabbi,” Mrs. Finkelstein says.
“Hello,” Rabbi Switak says.
“Tell us how you got out,” Seth says.
“Oh yes,” Mrs. Fields says. “My story of survival.”
There are only two known successful attempts at uprisings by Jewish prisoners in the camps, and Sobibor is one of them. There are rumors floating about that the camp will be shut down. This begins to stir agitation amongst the inmates, and especially since the number of prisoner transports have descended dramatically over the recent weeks. The few Sobibor transplants from the Belzec concentration camp are discovered with notes on their persons reflecting what it would mean to the Jews if, in fact, the camps did close. They are shot without question, most times right there on the train platform.
In fact, the rumors prove to be false and there are plans to expand the camp at Sobibor. This leads the prisoners to organize a movement aimed at escaping from the camp.
A transport of ex-military Soviet-Jewish prisoners is brought to the camp. “Their military training will become of use to us,” Mrs. Fields says. “On a cold October day, we were successful in killing eleven SS officers.”
I watch what had been a small slit on the mouths of the students stretch to grins.
“The plan was to kill all of them and walk free out of the front gate.” Mrs. Fields lowers her eyes. “But this did not happen.”
As the grins fade, Mrs. Fields continues. “The deaths of the guards were discovered and suddenly we found ourselves under fire. There were six hundred of us initially that tried to escape. There would have been more, but some of them were too afraid. All in all, about half of us made it out. We ran towards the forests.”
“That’s three hundred more than would have survived had they remained,” David Simcha says.
Mrs. Fields clears her throat. “What is your name?”
“Not all of them survived, David. There were land mines buried beneath the ground and then winter descended upon us.”
Here is the universe again with its great big joke.
“Some of them were recaptured and put to death,” Mrs. Fields says. “We hid until we knew for sure that they had stopped looking.”
“Whatever happened to the little boy and to that woman?” Sara asks. “The one who took care of you in the camp.”
For the first time a smile crosses Mrs. Fields face. “They both made it.”
There is a collective sigh of relief that sounds as though a valve has been turned.
“Shortly after our escape,” Mrs. Fields goes on to say, “the chief architect of the camps, a man named Himmler, closes Sobibor and orders trees to be planted in its place to hide any trace of their existence.”
“What an idiot,” Seth says and draws a small giggle from the others.
“There is a small museum there now,” the Rabbi adds. “I saw it when I was there visiting not too long ago. If you go, and you should go one day, you will see a pyramid there on the grounds. It is made of the ashes and crushed bones collected from the cremation pits.”
My thoughts once again turn to Mrs. Fields’s parents and brother, their bones and ashes. We meet each other’s gaze and I can see the strength inside of her. I can see the faith and the love, but most of all, I can see the hope.
Michael Lacare has been published in Salon.com as well as Junk Lit Fix Magazine.
* * *
Chatting With Cathy
By Randi Proescholdt
“Nothing cool or funky ever happens to me,” said the middle-aged woman with long, curly, brown hair. I was sitting on a bench in front of Hancher Box Office in the Old Capitol Mall with two close friends and this woman I had just met. A few Thursday evening shoppers wandered by as we chatted. “Everything cool happens to my sister Darla. But I could tell you stories about her... Do you know who Clint Eastwood is?”
Whoa. Not the direction I expected the conversation to take. I nodded, and the woman proceeded.
Darla looked up from her vodka cranberry to see who the voice was coming from. She was almost speechless when she saw the black-and-gray-haired man who had sat down next to her at the bar.
“Hi…” she choked out.
“What’s your name, sweetheart?”
“I’m Clint,” he said.
When she had heard he was in town filming some new movie called Pink Cadillac, she hoped she might catch a glimpse of him. She thought it would be amazing if a celebrity were staying at the same hotel, which actually did seem like a possibility, considering the luxuriousness of the one she was staying at here in Lake Tahoe. However, she had no idea she would end up dancing with, and even kissing, Clint Eastwood.
“Care to dance?” he asked.
Darla stood and readjusted her blond hair and tight black dress in a daze. She took Clint’s hand and he led her to the dance floor next to a stage where a singer warbled a Frank Sinatra song. She let him lead her as she tried to decide if this was really him or if she had had too much to drink. Before she knew it, the song was over.
“Well, it was great to meet you,” said Clint, “but it’s time I head out. Goodnight, Darla.”
Darla looked up at him to say goodbye, but she was not expecting him to lean forward and press his lips against hers. She stood in shock as he walked away, then put her palm to her forehead and started to laugh. She couldn’t wait to tell her sister about this.
“Wow,” I said, raising my eyebrows. Darla was a lucky woman.
“That’s just the kind of thing that happens to my sister,” Kathy said, matter-of-factly. “Then this other time, about four years ago, maybe, Darla was gonna go to Vegas. She asked me to come too, but I couldn’t because of work. It was around this time of year. I really like cowboys, and she had asked me who my absolute favorite cowboy was.
“‘Justin McBride,’” I told her. ‘I’d like to have his autograph.’”
Darla stepped outside the hotel and into the dark night, her ears still ringing from the Justin McBride concert. She and a couple friends were going to catch a cab and go to a party. Despite the late hour, plenty of traffic still meandered through the well-lit streets, passing by the hotels and casinos the city was known for.
As Darla and her friends approached the street, she noticed an illuminated figure in a cowboy hat under a nearby street lamp. Nothing unusual about that, considering they had just gotten out of a country music concert. He turned to face Darla and her friends as they walked near him. Part of his face was hidden in the shadow of his hat, but they immediately knew who this man was.
“Justin McBride!” Darla’s friend squealed.
“We were just at your concert!” Darla told him. “It was amazing!”
“Well, thank you,” he drawled, that familiar crooked smile spreading across his face.
“Do you think we could get a picture with you?” Darla’s friend asked. Justin agreed, and a passerby was recruited to take the picture with Darla’s cellphone. Justin also signed their concert tickets before getting into his taxi that had just arrived, leaving Darla and her friends awestruck as they watched the taillights disappear around a corner.
“Darla gave me her autographed ticket,” said the woman, “but the picture didn’t turn out. You could see his smile, though, so you knew it was really him. I was just thinking about that story because the PBR, Professional Bull Riding, is going on right now.”
“Those are great stories,” I told her. I meant it, too. When I had begun speaking to this woman, I had been expecting to hear about something much more mundane than celebrity encounters. “Thank you so much! What was your name?”
We said goodbye to Kathy, thanking her again. She left me thinking about the powerful connections of all people, even the ones who don’t know each other. Though I had never met Darla, I felt as if I had been there when she met Clint Eastwood and Justin McBride. My image of Darla and her encounters was so clear I felt I knew her.
Kathy was my connection to Darla, and Darla was my connection to Clint Eastwood and Justin McBride. As long as these stories are told, they will continue to connect whoever hears them with everyone else who has heard them. So even though Darla got to have all the “cool or funky” experiences Kathy didn’t have, Kathy is still connected to her favorite bull rider and Dirty Harry through the great network of human relationships that links everyone together in some way.
Randi Proescholdt was born and raised in Marshall County, Iowa. She is currently a freshman at the University of Iowa. She is an English major interested in creative writing.
* * *
Interloss by Benjamin Adelmann
Benjamin Adelmann is a working artist from Los Angeles California, now living in Tokyo. His paintings begin in an abstract mode and are worked and reworked through multiple layers of paint.
Poetic Discourse by Michael Mira
Michael Mira is a writer and photographer based in Houston. His work have appeared in various publications, such as The Nervous Breakdown, Identity Theory, Poetry Pacific, Coalesce Magazines, Negative Suck, among others. He is currently working on a book about abandoned buildings in Texas for Lamar University Press.
Walking on Seafloor in Iceland
By Nancy Penrose, Photography by David Muerdter
Iceland is an island that nudges the Arctic Circle and is set within the sapphire blues of the North Atlantic Ocean. Iceland is tall blondes with Viking genes, all-night pub crawls in Reykjavík, the music of Björk, hand-knit wool sweaters, smoked lamb and dried cod. Iceland is a financial meltdown in 2008. Beneath these clichés that are truths is the land: a banquet of geology.
We traveled to Iceland, writer and photographer, to feast upon the island's volcanoes and geysers, ice caps and shorelines, hot springs and headlands. We went to walk on seafloor that has recently emerged at the surface of the planet, to observe for ourselves some of Earth's newest scenery.
Iceland sits where two great tectonic plates — pieces of the hard outer shell of the planet —are spreading away from each other. The North American plate pulls west; the Eurasian plate pulls east. Here, between the shifting plates, molten rock — magma —oozes out and solidifies into Iceland, sometimes with the drama of an erupting volcano or a house-crumbling earthquake.
The island sits at the northern end of the 6,000-mile-long Mid Atlantic Ridge, a chain of underwater volcanoes that stretches from the Arctic to the Antarctic. The Ridge is part of an Earth-circling system of spreading plates and
mountain ranges mostly hidden beneath the oceans.
But Iceland is also the child of another geological phenomena: a hot spot. Here a plume of magma rises from a fixed source very deep within the Earth and multiplies the volume of molten rock emerging from the suture between the
plates. Iceland is the only place on the Mid Atlantic Ridge that rises to break the surface of the sea.
The results of all this geology can be as cataclysmic as they are beautiful; we moved through landscapes shaped and shaken by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions since the island's birth 25 million years ago. And although we traveled no more than 60 miles from Reykjavík, we discovered volumes of Earth writing born from deep below, edited at the surface by wind and by water in all its forms.
1. Stykkishólmur Harbor
Most of Iceland is basalt. When molten this volcanic rock can emerge at the surface to flow across landscape like thick, hot taffy. It can cool and harden into columns like the clustered pipes of a church organ. The powers of wind, rain, snow, ice, and saltwater etch most deeply where the rock is the weakest, along the joints.
Here, in the harbor at Stykkishólmur, there is a headland of columnar basalt. Glacier-capped mountains in the distance. Salt water. Three elements that define Iceland. But the mirror surface of the sea speaks of what is missing: the wind. Iceland sits where Arctic waters meet a curling branch of the warmer Gulf Stream, where currents of warm and cold air clash above in the atmosphere. A setting for wind as a frequent and persistent visitor. Except on this day in May when the fever of sun on our skin was undimmed by what was missing.
A sleeping volcano clad in the ice of glaciers and snow. Nearly 5,000 feet tall, Snæfellsjökull sits like a jewel at the western tip of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula north of Rekjyavík. The mountain first erupted 700,000 years ago but has been quiet for at least the past 1100 years. Jules Verne's imagination took him to the heart of Snæfellsjökull when he used it as the setting for Journey to the Center of the Earth.
The mountain was our beacon as we drove the perimeter of the Peninsula. It first rose within our view from the road on the outskirts of Rekjyavík, and it anchored our journey even as its aspect shifted with the angles of our proximity.
The name holds a tiny lesson in Icelandic, a language close to Old Norse that shares roots with English. Snæ means snow; fells, mountain or hills; jökull, glacier. Many Icelandic names seem dauntingly long but can be teased apart so that speakers of English may grasp a linguistic life ring.
3. Black Stones at Djúpalónsandur
Near the shore at Djúpalónsandur, not far from the base of Snaefellsjökull, sit grotesque stacks of volcanic rock that we deciphered as more resistant stone surviving the erosion of a surrounding softer rock.
This is a landscape that feeds the imagination, and some Icelanders will admit to believing in huldufólk , the hidden folk — trolls, elves, dwarves, and fairies — who are said to make their home among the rocks and mountains and plains.
The sound on the beach at Djúpalónsandur was the song of stones tumbling in waves. I could not resist the dark and appealing shapes of the water-worn and rounded rocks, licorice-black basalt warm from the sun. I plucked some for my pockets.
On the drive back to Rekyjavík, we stopped at an art gallery that displayed works of Icelandic stone. The man behind the counter was friendly, and on impulse I spread my pocketed rocks on the counter, sensing he too would admire them.
"Ah. You were at Djúpalónsandur," he said, touching one with his finger. "These are very powerful stones."
"Is it OK to pick them up?"
"Yes, they have a good power."
Then he hesitated a moment before speaking, glanced at me as if to judge his audience.
"You know the big rocks?"
"Some say those are apartment houses for the elves," he said with a smile that seemed unwilling to release the possibility.
Geysir is the birthplace of the word used in many languages to mean an erupting hot spring. Here Strökkur Geyser bubbles up from some 30 feet below and explodes out of the ground, streaks skyward with a roar. Our nostrils winced at the smell of sulfur leached from the rocks below. The gaseous imprint of this Earth exhalation hung in the air for an ephemeral moment.
Only a short drive from Reykjavík and a popular stop on the tourist trail, the Geysir geothermal area expresses a fact of life in Iceland: more than three-quarters of Icelandic homes are heated with Earth energy. The cycle begins when roundwater percolates down through fractures in the ground. Hot rock, so near the surface on this island of volcanoes, quickly heats the water. Steam forms and rises toward the surface. This energy is harvested by drilling, is tapped to heat homes, schools, offices, greenhouses, and an abundance of geothermal swimming pools.
A short walk from the exuberance of Strokkur lies the quiet spring of Blesi. One of its holes is milky blue; the other is clear and blue-green, edged with the white lace deposits of geyserite, an amorphous silica that precipitates out from the hot and mineral-laden water. Steam kissed the surface of this Earth portal. Shades of deepening aqua drew my eye into the allure of the subsurface, tempted my imagination with the hazardous desire to enter and explore.
Standing in the suture that is the Mid Atlantic Ridge, I strike a joyful tourist pose. I am here! David stands on the bridge to take the photo. We each have one foot in North America, one in Europe. Or so the sign says. We know it is only symbolic: the Ridge is really made of miles-wide fractures of brittle rocks at the surface of the Earth, broken by earthquakes born from the constant shifting of tectonic plates. The Ridge emerges from the sea in southern Iceland as two prongs, does a fractured zigzag across the island, and then plunges into the Arctic Ocean to the north. Nonetheless, I am made happy by this evidence that I stand on some of Earth's newest scenery, am held among rocks that are usually seafloor.
Nancy Penrose is a well-published and award-winning writer of literary nonfiction.
David Muerdter is a consulting geophysicist but has a history of exhibiting and selling his work at art fairs.
By Shara Sinor
Shara Sinor writes literary nonfiction, mostly centered around her travel experiences. She is an amateur photographer, she displays primary travel photography, but has also created a technique for photographing through a kaleidoscope.