“Amalo” by Sarah Fisch

At dinner the night before their sightseeing excursion, and after half a frozen margarita, Alice had misspoken the next morning’s destination as the “Amalo.” Her husband, Lee Henry, said “that’s your sense of history,” and exhaled hard with a “hoooooo” sound. “Hate to think how’d you pronounce half the historical places we’ve been to.”

“Appomattox,” Alice replied with exaggerated care, her gray eyes cool, then took a quavery sip from her sloshing, too-heavy glass. “That’s probably the hardest one to say.”

“We never were at Appomattox.”

They’d dropped their gaze from each other then, and concentrated on navigating their nightmarish meals. A laconic girl called Crystal, her black hair streaked alarmingly with pink strands, had brought them piping-hot platters spread with pools of gravylike pinto beans hardening a deeper brown, oily corn tortillas filled with some red-sauced meat too spicy in odor to be safely edible, ominous rectangular items buried in melted yellow cheese, guacamole that Lee Henry devoured on corn chips, but that after one dip of fork tines from green mound into her mouth, Alice had abandoned entirely. Acceptable rice, thank goodness. On each of their plates, deeply puzzling the Thomases, sat a quartered lime about two-thirds smaller than a normal lime.

The restaurant’s patio held umbrella-shaded tables on the bank of the San Antonio River, landscaped concrete walkways on both sides, bars and restaurants, all sort of Spanish, reminding Alice of an old-timey movie set, as though consensus had determined a re-enactment of something quaintly festive. The trunk of a great big cottonwood next to their table was protected by a tiled planter. It must be so much older than all the buildings, Alice thought. Lee Henry watched for bands of young servicemen, discernible even in civilian clothes. He remembered. At intervals, flat motorized passenger barges nearly as wide as the canal glided by, almost close enough for Alice to touch. She waved a fluttery hand at the passengers every time. Somebody always waved back.

But it was so hot on that patio, and no stopping the flies. The Thomases had returned to their hotel room at the Palacio del Rio by seven-thirty. Indistinct crowd noise awoke Alice at a quarter to ten, and she went to the window and pulled the heavy drape. Below the Palacio del Rio, on the dark river, another barge was passing. There must have been a dinner table on it laid for, oh, twenty people, Alice guessed, hearing them laughing, and the put-put of the motor, a glass breaking, unsteady candlelight filtering up at Alice through tree branches, all amplified and warped for a moment as the boat passed under an old concrete footbridge, then all vanished around a bend. Alice felt she’d seen something she shouldn’t, but wouldn’t have chosen to miss. She stayed looking down at the funny little hemmed-in river for several minutes, hoping for another boat.

The next morning, she didn’t spot the Alamo right away as she and Lee Henry made slow time towards it across a broad flat bright stone square. Alice used to be be about three inches taller than Lee Henry but had shrunk down, and walked gingerly; she had a new knee, so her straw-visored eyes scanned for un-evenness in the paving stones.

There was quite a crowd, and no length to anybody’s shadow. Lee Henry thought: Mad Dogs and Englishmen, something something noonday sun. So hot at only a quarter of twelve. A majority of the people gathered appeared Mexican. Where would they be visiting from? Henry wondered. Why would Mexico-Mexicans visit the Alamo? And the San Antonio Mexicans, why weren’t they ashamed to have lost here? Do they not know the story, the battle? He puzzled over this, and startled with sudden shame. They’d won, actually, the Mexicans. At the Alamo, they’d won. It was another battle they lost. But they’d lost everything, then.

Old men sold sno-cones from pushcarts. Lee Henry wished Alice could walk with him as she used to, to get past them faster, these old men, older than they, still working jobs. Sticky children and their parents ate these sno-cones and other things under the shade of a gigantic live oak, or in a gazebo. Babies screamed from their strollers in the heat, while yet more clumped families in unbecoming shorts ambled over from the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum across the street.

Lee Henry’d brought his camera from Athens, the new digital kind that Amy had gotten him for Father’s Day a month ago. He’d spent four days dedicated to learning how to use the damn thing. Now, though, Lee Henry’s idea of photographing himself and Alice in front of the Alamo struck him as mysteriously cheap. And who’d you hand your camera to, anyway, who wouldn’t run off with it?

Alice, finally looking up, squeezed Lee Henry’s arm and chirped, “Why, now, there it is!”
As though Lee Henry hadn’t seen from the beginning, hadn’t already had his heart broken. They’d gone and mis-re-built it somehow, set it amid encroaching hotels and cheap curio shops, all wrong. Lee Henry had always imagined the Alamo as squatting massive and austere, its defiant gaze cast over a desert, mournful-like, its perfect shadow slicing red dust, walls a garland of prickly pear and, Lee Henry realized, dead Mexican soldiers in blue Napoleonic uniforms. That’s part of what was missing. Also other, live Mexican soldiers fixing their smooth-bore muskets at the… Lee Henry squinted up against the white sun at the flat-faced buiding. Where would the Defenders have stood? Davy Crockett, James Bowie, Whatsit Travis, and Lee Henry’s very own great-grandmother’s brothers: Asa and Jacob Walker, of Rockridge County, Tennessee. A lifetime of imagining Asa and Jacob, nearly-identical in their buckskins, bayonetting to the last, and now he couldn’t place them. The roof was sloped, and new; they couldn’t have hunkered down up there.  Lee Henry believed that the walls the Texians had defended had been high-up, second-story like, and hard to scale; where would they have been?

Alice Thomas didn’t mind Alamo Square, though; indeed, found herself touched by the human scale of this historic mission, and the families enjoying themselves, the regular everyday people walking by on their lunch break, maybe. She sang in a high hoot, swinging Lee Henry’s hand,

“Across the alley from the A-lamo, lived a pinto pony and a Na-vajo—”

He tugged her along. She giggled.

“But isn’t it funny to think of all those men fighting and dying for that little old thing?” she asked.

It wasn’t.

Lee Henry customarily enjoyed Alice’s companionship on their vacations together. She charmed him with her gift for enjoying herself, her unfailing politeness, how she’d lean against him, wearing her newest dress, while he’d explain to her about the volume of Niagara Falls with its mist kissing their faces, or the complex maneuvers of the Second Manassas while the sun set on her hair. But Alice had always seemed happy to go anywhere —history was just a dead thing, or divergent, inessential. Lee Henry always knew it, too. Knew he was a beloved obstacle to the orderly and present-day conveyor belt of thought that made up Alice’s mind.

Finally, clutching hands as they stepped through the arched doorway, and panting a little, the Thomases ventured into the refreshing semi-darkness of the Alamo. The doorway opened into a sort of chapel, with a vestibule, and a short, barrel-ceilinged hall, all of sand-colored limestone. There was an improbable, if attractive, electrical wrought-iron chandelier above them. Plaques, flags and wreaths were placed ahead where the chapel’s altar would be. Lee Henry was conscious of a cool, profound relief; the embrace of the historical, and the air conditioning, and man-made light, and the soft echo of visitors who spoke in stage whispers.

“This is lovely,” Alice said. “It’s not at all what I expected.” She made her halting way to where the flags were, and bent to examine the wreaths of flowers in their stands. Lee Henry set about the perimeter, glided his shaky fingers across promising holes in the walls, recoiled at graffiti etched into the soft stone, peered at the glassed-over cases full of maps and pistols, espied with pleasure that some of the explanatory plaques, verdigris-tinged, seemed older than he did. This was all proper and correct. Whatever happened outside the Alamo, this grave quiet space held court here forever, however small.

Lee Henry had always wanted to feel something of the Walkers, to touch some tangible history in his living life. It was hard to explain. It was near impossible to explain to Alice. He’d seen mimeographs of Walker letters, the handwriting over-stroked and hard to read, and none of them about the Alamo, but about mundane things like crops and livestock purchases. As a boy, he’d seen a miniature painted portrait of both, a lens-like glass oval of young men, set in a tiny, tooled leather box. He’d even bestowed upon his only son, now forty-seven, their names — all their names. He called the boy Jacob Asa Walker Thomas. Lee Henry’s firstborn. He had even given up a possible Lee Henry Junior, that’s how strong he felt about the Walkers. He would have liked to make Jacob and Asa know it, somehow. And maybe he could: Asa and Jacob Walker had surely stood where Lee Henry now stood, facing with steely, inheritable character the specter of certain death, as they readied their weapons in the cool of the…morning?

“I’m heading over to the gift shop,” Alice whispered, suddenly very close.

“What?” said Lee Henry, though he had heard her.

“The gift shop. It’s out the back way. There’s a nice garden out there, too. I wonder if they don’t have those little Mexican girl dolls like they had in Santa Fe that time. I’ll bet you that Hunter and Shelby would just love one of those little Mexican dolls, with the braids?”
Lee Henry stared through her, not not-listening. Or not deliberately. Alice sighed. She patted Lee Henry’s chest, and made a half-laugh.

“Well, I’ll go-on and go, and you come find me.”

He was alone in this mission. He had hoped Alice might take special interest in this landmark sacred to his mother’s family. Jacob and Asa Walker had made their way to the West, and now he had retraced their steps. By car, but pulled by fellow-feeling and destiny in their direction. Lee Henry knew that Alice had made allowances to come to Texas: she would have just as soon have gone to Louisville again. But that the Alamo held no more allure to Lee Henry’s wife than any historical marker he pulled off the interstate to take proper note of, bruised him. This hushed and reverent place where, if there were ghosts, there’d be so many and of such importance — she’d like an aquarium just as well. And while Lee Henry had no idea what the hell dolls Alice was talking about, Amy’s girls were twelve and fourteen now. Even Lee Henry knew his granddaughters were past dolls. Long past.

But Alice loved gift shops. She particularly liked buying gifts from the shops in museums. Back in Athens, she had a desk drawer with a folded-up canvas tote bag from the Spartanburg Art Museum, a blue-and-red spherical Murano glass paperweight she’d picked up at the National Gallery, and a commemorative enamel pen from the Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum in Savannah, all wrapped and at the ready just in case somebody’s birthday crept up on her.

Alice liked the gift shop at the Alamo very much. It was housed in a spacious stone structure with another high barrel-ceiling, a very handsome architectual detail that Alice looked forward to describing to Amy, and surely it used to hold something useful, too, in olden times. Grain, horses. And the Alamo gift shop’s selection of merchandise was particularly funny. Scorpion lollipops! And “Texas-sized” this and that; a giant pencil, a hugely outsize pair of sunglasses, a monstrous flyswatter. Plastic guns and plastic knives and plastic army men and plastic… dinosaurs? Davy Crockett faux-fur hats with real raccoon tails. It had been just forever since Alice had seen anybody wear one of those, and she racked the photo album of brain, seeking a little boy for whom she might purchase it. Alice always ignored t-shirts, as the images and tag phrases thereupon increasingly proved either vulgar, or incomprehensible. One in this shop had read, “Texas Women: the Best-Kept Secret in the South.”

How could that be? Alice thought. Why would they be kept a secret in the South?

A middle-aged light brown lady with her thick ponytail in a white cotton scrunchie and a red gingham smock materialized near the racks of t-shirts and said to Alice, “Ma’am, these t-shirts all in here are 40% off.” She patted one with a photo of bluebonnets on it and smiled. “These right here.”

“Oh, I hardly ever buy t-shirts,” Alice heard herself explaining. She hoped she didn’t sound judgmental. If she did, the gift shop lady, whose nametag said “Dolores,” didn’t let on.
“Where are y’all visiting from?”

“Athens.”

“Georgia?”

“Tennessee.”

“Oh! I hear it’s real green up that way.  Real purty. Wish y’all would send us some of that rain.”

“I wish we could!”

Both women laughed a little longer and louder than they otherwise would have. Amy would say that they were glad to have “made a connection.” Dolores observed that there seemed to be an Athens, Everywhere. There was an Athens, Texas, she said, but allowed as to how most of the people from Athens she met in the gift shop were from Georgia. Dolores always enjoyed meeting all the different vistors in the gift shop, she said. Often people would ask her where the basement was. Alice couldn’t fathom why people would ask that.

“It makes no sense whatsoever. They have basements up North,” Alice stated, with conviction.

Dolores admitted that her son had told her — several times — why people would ask about the basement, but it was something silly from TV and Dolores always forgot.

Alice told Dolores that she and her husband, “he’s still in the museum,” had been to Athens, Georgia, and to Athens, Alabama, but never to Greece, because Lee Henry didn’t like to fly.

Dolores’s husband’s family lived in Piedras Negras, just across the border, three hours away, on the Mexican side of the river.

“Oh!” Alice said, uncertainly. “Do you often go visit?”

“Girl, not anymore,” Dolores said, mysteriously. Alice wasn’t sure what she meant. Was this woman afraid of Mexicans? Was her husband’s family all dead?

There was a pause, then, and both women ran their hands over things; Dolores straightened the t-shirts, and Alice fondled a child’s Indian headdress of dyed feathers.

Finally Alice asked, “Why are Texas women the best-kept secret in the South?”

Dolores cocked her head, and smiled attentively. Her teeth were very good.

“Well, I don’t know! Why?” she said.

Alice stood for several seconds. “Oh! I just meant… one of those shirts…”

“…You know, you’re right,” said Dolores, remembering. “I never have understood that one either.”

*

Instead of finding the Alamo’s rear exit, Lee Henry stumbled back out the front door, and was immediately sunblinded. There was no garden.

“Dammit!” Lee Henry said, a half-gurgle. It was so hot, so hot he could barely catch his breath. More sweat than he ever knew he had came pouring down him, even squishy in his shoes. I’ll make it over to the bench by that tree there, he thought, and sit down. I’ll buy a cold drink in a minute. Waves of shimmering heat rose from the stone and cement plaza, making it hard to tell how far away the tree was.

*

Alice had decided to buy a Davy Crockett coonskin cap for Cody, the boy who mowed the Thomas’s lawn. Alice thought he must be twelve or so. Although, she reflected, he drove a pickup truck. Dolores wrapped the hat in hissing tissue paper, and was saying, “We do sell an awful lot of these,” when both women heard the sirens.


Sarah Fisch lives in San Antonio, TX, where she writes about arts and culture for the San Antonio Current. Her writing has also appeared in McSweeney’s.

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“Interview with a Starving Man” by Juan Carlos Reyes

Driving into town, rising bubbles of green and yellow mark the main boulevard formerly known as McFarland. Wanderers, survivors, remnants of the city’s elite line the road that used to be riddled with alcohol and tobacco shops, firearms blowout sales, and gas stations.  Six years since the blast and the city’s recovery is still marred by caustic waters of yellow and green algae. Bright orange dogs, strays, scamper beside the car as we ease our way off the highway. Their mutated tails drag nine feet behind them as they run.

Our first unofficial stop comes at a blinking red light. Disconcertingly, traffic lights still run at full power, a byproduct of the radiation that, though waning, has permeated enough of the soil and, in turn, penetrated enough underground high voltage cable lines to sustain working electricity for at least the next twenty-five years, according to a report published by Southern Peoples of Mechanical and Electrical Integrity (SPMEI) two months predating our arrival. Looking down the road, one toppled convenience store after another stand with empty shelves amid broken storefront glass. At one particular broken gas pump, I ask my driver to stop, to allow me a quick glimpse at a hairless woman whose heels were exposed and whose arms had been stripped of skin, two layers deep, by the radiation that suffocates the air and clouds the city. A purple fog covers the leafless remains of oak and magnolia, something like the awful stench of God had God actually been the Devil and let loose upon the world a detonated blend of uranium and hydrogen and fire.

My driver and I wear the protective masks the FDNA (Federal Deterrent to Nuclear Atrocities) suggested we wear, not to mention the two-inch thick coverall coat and pants that the USOJC (United States Obstruct the Journalists Committee) gave us as thick cloaks and pants, the latter surprising us in both its willingness to help and its suggestion we map the entire city for them while we’re here in Tuscaloosa. “The uranium oxide has turned the soil in many places into charred carbon, whatever the chemical composition had been before then,” said Jeremiah Jinga, Deputy Director for Emergency Broadcasting at the USOJC. “And so sinkholes have suddenly appeared everywhere, and the town might very well be a huge canyon or an irreparable crater by now.”

He was partially right. After we arrived to the intersection formerly known as McFarland Boulevard and 15th Street, we saw the canyon Dr. Jinga had hypothesized. According to our estimates (the driver’s and mine) the canyon was approximately a quarter mile wide, and its length in both directions ran as far as anyone could see. It didn’t seem plausible any longer to cross the chasm on auto, and so we decided to walk the ridge, going West, until we encountered a hanging bridge, a concoction of twine and boards as flimsy as we were sweating.

Crossing, our steps were awkward. The rope bridge swayed, and so we held onto the rail rope so tightly, we flattened the twine in various places along the way. Only once did I look down. The penetrating shadow beneath us was breathtaking. I saw nothing concrete, and neither did the driver walking ahead of me, who froze after his only glance into the canyon, and after we’d reached the other side, he fathomed in his own silent breathless way, with matching hand gestures that only managed to point, that the full depth of the canyon was endless.

On the canyon’s north side, our biggest surprise was simply that life seemed even more destitute than on the southern front. Walking through the streets, we saw no one. Here and there, bare cracking walls stood. Solitary empty doorways stood with no surrounding walls, not even a shattered door or broken hinge on its frame. This, the driver and I reflected upon later, had essentially become the city’s remnant marker of human survival. Upon every bare standing surface, the words Feral Swine covered the brick and wood in near feral script. This part of town had clearly been lived in, and subsequently left abandoned, by whomever it was that feared those words.

The script should have been our first recognizable premonition of the kind of person we’d find here, the kind of person riddled in boils, missing hands and forearms and toenails, and watching us from his elevator shack home as we approached what had been known as the city’s cathedral, the city’s gladiatorial soil, its arena to dwarf all arenas, much like Boston’s Fenway Park and what Chicago’s Wrigley Field had been before Shanghaian suicide bombers destroyed the ivory wall back in 2052.

As we approached him, he waved to us, a man of standard height for this part of the world, and of standard girth, by which I intend to imply an extreme obesity and giganticism that resulted after uranium-enriched fumes swept over the city’s barbecue sauce brewing plants. The elevator in which he lived still lay embedded in its shaft. Because of its thick metal exterior and wooden wall interior, the elevator proved cooler than I had expected. The man had sticks for hands. Standing just two feet away, I could smell those hands, riddled in what had perhaps been the only untainted barbecue sauce stash left. The sticks embedded in his fleshy wrists were like well-carved forks, and they seemed interchangeable; well-carved wooden knives lay in piles on the ground. Shining red on this man’s elevator wall, there hung a replica of the Chinese flag. Holding the flag in place was a fully entrenched dagger, barbecue sauce covering its handle.

Prior to the Mandarin War of 2054, Tuscaloosa, Alabama had been the nation’s leading producer of onion-scented barbecue sauce, barbecue-glazed frozen chicken fingers, and chicken-flavored duck grease. The nation’s, indeed the world’s, insatiable appetite for the canned and refrigerated products spiked in 2041, at around the same time Chinese garment workers began to die by the thousands, and many in their own working factories, due to intestinal disorders, colon complications and four-valve heart attacks. Chinese diplomats traced the artery-clogging grease found in the blood stream analysis of more than 4,500 Chinese corpses to the United States. Furthermore, chemical inspection revealed traces of crimson soil in the duck grease (something of a culinary staple in China by Summer 2039).

China’s Supreme Chancellor declared cultural sabotage after the findings’ revelation.  The country’s Vice Chancellor was quoted in the Beijing Chronicle as asserting his lifelong distaste for everything Alabama. China’s State Secretary cut diplomatic ties to the United States and recalled all Chinese ambassadors, income tax advisors and low-wage cooks. And Beijing’s Deputy State Secretary left the WCF (World Culinary Forum) early due to fever, raised blood pressure and traces of duck grease in his stool sample.

Needless to say, tensions between the two countries ultimately spiked and then spiked some more. And now we find ourselves on the edge of Bryant-Denny Stadium, or, rather, on its concrete rubble, having crossed an Earthen divide so unexpectedly deep even our best interstellar satellites have found it impossible to zoom in on anything but deep dark shadow in its basin.

This man we met, whom we ultimately interviewed, this last man standing, if you will, proved suspect of us and intolerant of our cameras. He asked us to shut them off and remove their batteries, and so we did.

The elevator shack man was a serious man, and he did not appreciate jokes. I tried humoring him once about how “neat” his holed socks were. I even asked if he could take them off so I could see them closer, which I meant as a joke, but which he clearly received otherwise. He heard me, having turned his right ear to me after I spoke, and then he put his fried chicken down, and then he leaned in and whispered, “This is why I look around like you trying to kill me.”

I assured him as best I could I most certainly was not there for that purpose. “I stand here,” I said, “because you are, from what I can see, the last remaining survivor on this side of town.”

He nodded, emphatically, and he took another bite. “That’s right, my house burned down because it was too close to the sun, and no one want to come close to me, those feral swine.”
By sun, I assume his hot boiling yellow star of reference was, in fact, a flash of light, the flash of light to end all flashes of light. Modern atomic weapons being what they are, Tuscaloosa bordered the blast zone limits. The bomb actually landed and detonated some one hundred and forty-two miles from the city, but, reportedly, the epicenter blast heat was felt upwards of 110 miles from the detonating core — and, in some places along the Gulf Coast, as if within walking distance.

When the driver asked the man about his hands, the blast survivor kicked over a tin can. The can slid to a stop at my feet. I crouched, and when I opened the can, the fragile charred remains of the man’s fingers scared me back and I unintentionally dropped the box. I fell back several steps, coughing, and the holocaust survivor railed me for coming this far only to break all his things. I had never seen a tin grave before, and I’m sure I won’t ever again. Our interviewee referred to it simply as his “glove box.”

When the driver and I walked over to a large ash mound, its onion garlic smell almost stopped us. That’s the thing about all this safety equipment and protective suits. I still smelled things, which I didn’t notice until we’d been at the stadium’s rubble site for some time. And if we still smelled the stuff, what’s to stop its nuclear fumes from mutating my spine and intestinal coil. And so when I saw the driver take off his gloves and pick up the last butt of a clove cigarette, I urged him to put everything down and get into his full equipment again. He turned to me. He nodded sheepishly and then stood up.

When we decided to leave the elevator shaft (to cross the canyon again, to regroup and recollect the details of our first city excursion), we informed our interviewee about our intentions to go. The man in his elevator shack nodded. He didn’t seem in the slightest bit moved, and yet he immediately balled his right fist and pounded his breastplate.

“The indomitable is indomitable is the indomitable spirit of it.”

He coughed and almost choked. He spit out a piece of chicken.

The man’s expression did not surprise me. Every knowledgeable expert of the South knows exactly what it means where it came from and why it stems from near mental incapacitation.

Nicholas Lou Saban carries a near sainthood air in the minds of the atomic holocaust’s rugged survivors. It has been said by many that, had this legendary leader still been alive, he would have annihilated China’s nuclear bomb by staring into its growing shadow on the ground until the bomb vanished entirely into the ruffled puff of his hair. However, and unfortunately for Alabama, Mississippi, and most of Louisiana, the man did die, and he died long before the international conflict that produced this last of all last atrocities peaked.
It has been said that on his deathbed, under duress from rattling intestinal pain and swollen lungs that had nearly given way to the poisoning duck grease in his bloodstream, Nicholas Lou Saban squeezed his wife’s hand and groaned his children close. He tried to clear his throat and, in the process, only coughed up more blood. His son wiped the father’s chin.  The father smiled.  As doctors shuffled into the room, Saban’s valve monitor ringing wildly, he pulled his family close, pressed his wife’s hand and almost bit his son’s ear, and then his lips met his daughter’s cheek and he whispered, “The indomitable is [cough]… indomitable is [cough]… the indomitable spirit of [cough]… it.” And then he died. Saban’s wife slowly let his head down onto the hospital pillow. Saban’s son and daughter turned away in tears. The lone newspaper reporter (at the time, disguised in medical garb), left the room immediately and called his editor at the Birmingham Daily to report on the incidents of death and the now famous quote, words hurled, it seemed, as fragments of a larger poetic opus.

To find this holocaust survivor now, this man in his elevator shack, upon the concrete rubble of Tuscaloosa’s athletic cathedral, and shouting the rallying cry of the Alabama 2100 movement, I can’t help but recall our enduring spirit as Americans, our collective momentum to drive this nation’s history forward, our obsessive determination to make this one thing clear: Southern history has not coughed up its last pint of blood. Holocaust survivors, like this man in his elevator shaft, have proven that, indeed, hydrogen bomb revenge will be theirs — it will be ours. “The indomitable is indomitable is the indomitable spirit of it” is the evolved adage of an earlier motto that had formerly been reiterated like a prayer: the South will rise again, and then again after that, no matter how many exploding misfortunes accompany the nuclear gusts.


Juan Carlos Reyes is originally from Guayaquil, Ecuador.  He received a PEN USA Emerging Voices Fellowship in 2007 and is currently pursuing his MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Alabama.  He has presented his work at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books and the Benham Gallery in Seattle, WA, and has published in Tertulia Magazine and Black Warrior Review.

Three Poems by Chris Hayes

Editor’s note: “Red Paint Hill” was nominated for the 2010/11 Best of the Net Awards.


Red Paint Hill

-Clarksville, TN

This is the confluence, the wishbone split
where Clark’s men lifted their dripping oars
out of the river and shaped the watershed
into a commerce town they could live with

dying in. Now the hill’s a cemetery for
Revolutionaries like Virgil Deathridge,
whose name sounds too damn mythical
to mean anything genuine here in 2010.

We’d be unimpressed with his outdated
version of Hell: musket fire and gangrene
too tame for the likes of our chemical rage.
So enough about all that soft limestone

we carved into effigies and left towering
above the bones of the men they resemble.
The river tribes knew better than to chisel
their names into stone, which in the end

is owned by no one but the falling rain.
I’d pray for a flood, but that seems cruel.
And why pretend to believe in such holy
wizardry? The last flood ruined two old

churches, then stopped at the threshold
of our only porn shop across the street.
A flotilla of black hymnals drifted past
the narrow doorway to Southern Secrets.

**

Variation on a Theme by Larry Levis

-after In the City of Light

Descending, I looked down at light lacquering fields.
A fresh layer of rainfall settled into the spaces
between soy leaves. Clouds pasted shadows
of glue across the two-lane highway.

I was home again, and I had never left
for longer than a year before driving back
to the place of my father’s birth, and mine.
All those familiar clusters

of pale vines, and small towns, each
blocked-off neighborhood
its own city of light and growth.
How easy it was to crawl back

into the muddy womb
of river bottoms where I spent
years fishing for God knows what.
What did I want that night

with a water tower? Then the shadows of wings,
my own arms, appeared as I climbed.
The steel rungs slick beneath my sneakers.

Heaven hung above me like a flag,
black and rippled, mottled with stars.
Not much sound within earshot
to crack the stillness. Only night traffic,

then nothing. My own truck’s engine
still warm in the overgrown ditch below.
You can’t hover between heaven and earth
for long without wanting one of them

to claim your body. How easy it was,
the blind drive home. The roadmap
folded squarely in the glove box.

**

Return

Some winter nights I hear them
perched in the river birch outside,

shaking snow from their wings
after a long and difficult flight.

They blend in with the bark—
ash-grey and shredded, bereft.

You tell me they don’t exist,
and my throat fills with feathers.

I point to the curling wind,
ask you how it arrived here.

Heaven-sent or kicked loose
by a gathering of hooves

along the river’s sloped banks,
the result is always the same.

I want you to feel my hands
slipping the curve of your waist

in this wine-soaked hour before
the house is sealed with sleep, but

there’s nothing worse than a swarm
of black eyes behind a windowpane.

This is what happens when prayer
wears so thin they have to descend

on our dark yard in Mississippi
with their ice-crusted bodies

to press their faces against the glass,
to remember what any of this was like.


Chris Hayes is a Tennessee native who is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in creative writing at Florida State University. His poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Beloit Poetry Journal, Fourth River, Barnwood International, and Zone 3, among others. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife and daughter.

“Botanical Gardens 1, 2, and 3” by George Mostoller

Botanical Gardens #1
Botanical Gardens #1
Botanical Gardens #2
Botanical Gardens #2
Botanical Gardens #3
Botanical Gardens #3

George Mostoller, formerly of Birmingham, AL, is a librarian, songwriter, illustrator, and renowned food collector. He was a co-recipient of one of the first Hammer awards and has illustrated for Visions, Downtime, and other publications. He lives in Philadelphia, PA.