Confluence front

By Sandra Marchetti:


               “figurations of mist
               at the turn of the corner,
               figurations of time
               at the bend in this pause,”
                              ~ Octavio Paz, trans. Eliot Weinberger

Beyond the body itself
is the thin blue line,
the sky folding back on its spine.

I saw today the paper gold mists,
the terrible last burnings off of morning;

I have an idea that you ate me then,
and slid belching through the fog—

you slicked my breast
on past your teeth and tasted
my unsalted skin.

I’m small; I know when I’ve been
swallowed whole, been rounded out
gold and beaming,

become a curve in your smile,
the element of light—broken on the tide—
the start of day.


By night
my body disconnects, falls,

lies on the bed in bones
and curls of hair.

There is nothing
to join it.

Skin flicks off
through shudders, and furls—

I lay and am unhitched,

I see what is done darkly,
between shadows and the neatest black.

The low lake below
lets go its nets,

from joints I wash toward confluence,
dissolved in a room of night.


The womb a tent,
lit from within, flutters
golden on the wind.

I’m given to pregnancy
dreams again.

Sleeping, the world becomes round once more—
sleeping atop my midriff. Sleeping in
silence and veins and skin—a globe, a missive.

I’m told the child
is ghost; instead

the sleep is lifted into,
alight with curiosities
curling out from the hand.

Sleep. The light sheet ruffles within.
White moths in flight
lift from the body—the skin.

Today’s poems are from Confluence, published by Sundress Publications, copyright © 2015 by Sandra Marchetti, and appear here today with permission from the poet.

Confluence: “’Roam the ground where you are’ writes Sandy Marchetti in Confluence, her impressive debut. Mediating the world in between—lover and beloved, day and night, lost and found, now and then—this lyric poetry celebrates the intimate as ebullient, charged. The lyrics, read through imagery and felt through sound, ‘riff in bits and licks.’ Sandy Marchetti has convincingly made us a world.” —Sally Keith, author of The Fact of the Matter and Dwelling Song

Sandra Marchetti is the author of Confluence, a debut full-length collection of poetry from Sundress Publications, and a co-author of Heart Radicals, a collaborative chapbook of love poems. Eating Dog Press published an illustrated letterpress edition of her essays and poetry, A Detail in the Landscape, and her first volume, The Canopy, won Midwest Writing Center’s Mississippi Valley Chapbook Contest. Sandy’s work appears in Subtropics, Sugar House Review, Ecotone, Green Mountains Review, Blackbird, Southwest Review, and elsewhere. She is a Lecturer in Interdisciplinary Studies at Aurora University outside of her hometown of Chicago.

Editor’s Note: Sandra Marchetti’s Confluence is incredibly vivid, electric with unique imagery, and rife with moments of depth and contemplation that force the reader to slow down in wonder. “Beyond the body itself / is the thin blue line, / the sky folding back on its spine;” “I’m small; I know when I’ve been / swallowed whole.” The body is at times singular, existing in pieces, dissolved: “By night / my body disconnects, falls, // lies on the bed in bones / and curls of hair.” The I is the ever-observer, seeing the world as one only can from the lone darkness: “I see what is done darkly, / between shadows and the neatest black.” The lines are blurred between life’s joys and devastations: “I’m given to pregnancy / dreams again;” “I’m told the child / is ghost.” No matter the consideration or the angle of the reflection and the poet’s gaze, forever driving these poems is a rampant lyricism, steady and rhythmic as a heartbeat, fervently alive.

Want to see more from Sandra Marchetti?
Pre-order Confluence from Sundress Publications
Appalachian Heritage
Thrush Poetry Journal
The Rumpus
Words Without Borders

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By Barrett Warner:


Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 11.44.40 PM


My friend Keith Martin is dead. He died in early April.
It’s kind of a busy month to die. The ground is softening—
rows raked and sown—jealous hues emerging like rye.

It’s weird that he died the same month I was born.
Now the ghost would be forever Aries, the passionate one,
the one who gets things almost right, who gets in his own way.

A friend is a brick against the sweet hereafter. Lose a friend
and you lose a brick. Lose Keith and you lose a wall.
It’s just a matter of time until the roof falls down.

Marsha his wife sat cold on offers coming quickly on his land.
I don’t blame her holding out for more, but suffered lifetimes
are always cheap. I gave away anything I ever tried to sell.

No one ever wants to buy what you don’t love.

Their house is a quarter mile away, through dense spite trees
planted by our neighbor so he wouldn’t have to look at Keith getting out of his car.

I can’t imagine hating someone so much I’d plant trees.

One dog’s not enough, and two dogs are too many.
That’s how Keith would talk, like Ben Franklin.

He wanted me to feel better, but I never did.


My friend Larry McKee notices each leaf in an oak forest.
I see firewood, fence boards, squirrels, squirrel stew.

I hustle through life’s minor beauty to make myself sweat,
wearing work on my face like khol.

I am trying to say I don’t belong here, don’t deserve
this world. I need to earn every second of it.

If I stop sweating I’ll stop earning.
It’s why I’ll always have a job, and Larry, a passion.

Someone ate this, he says.
He holds a 175-year-old raccoon femur.

Someone knelt here in 1841 and prayed for something.
Maybe, yes, there was singing. Listen! Sobs and singing.

I have been sweating all day and all night and all year.
It’s only a matter of time before I exile myself.

It would be nice if Larry could learn from me too
but I have nothing to teach, even about drinking.

Larry grows the mint, makes ice from spring water
collected in caves, smokes the bourbon over apple wood.

He has a special black basalt rock that fits his hand
to crush the beautiful ice into manageable debris.

He takes so long to make a two minute drink
that I’m drunk on beer and hung over before his first sip.

Still, it’s the best I ever tasted.
And of course, the next day, I steal the rock.

The things I’ve bashed. The cars. The lives. The dogs.
The sweat that flew off my brow. The wasted muscle.

One night I pound some lamb into burgers, smother it
with sheep cheese, and I think, Larry would have admired this.

I call him up to brag about the recipe. His wife Hannah
passes over the phone. Sounds delicious, he says.

We haven’t spoken in thirty years. Leftover enchiladas for us,
Always better the second night, filled with grilled chicken cut up

Small mixed with salsa and corn cut off the cob. On the patio,
Watching fireflies and hummingbirds until dark.

Couple extra chairs at the table if you’re ever in the neighborhood.
The things I learned from Larry. The things I never learned.

Today’s poems are from My Friend Ken Harvey, published by PubGen, copyright © 2014 by Barrett Warner, and appear here today with permission from the poet.

My Friend Ken Harvey: “Nostalgia and sentiment were dirty words in poetry until Barrett Warner’s My Friend Ken Harvey came on the scene. Here we have a chapbook that shows us the many forms of love, how relationships can be measured as ‘not enough war or too much war in someone’s life,’ and how the simplest moments can be transcendent, all while dipping in and out of the sepia tint of memory.” —Dakota Garilli, Book Review: MY FRIEND KEN HARVEY by Barrett Warner

Barrett Warner’s poems, stories, and essays have appeared in newsprint, paper and online since 1982, and most recently in Entropy, Revolution John, and Four Chambers. In 2014 he won the Salamander fiction prize and the Cloudbank poetry prize. He has a website where he blogs about bathing, medication, gardening, Proust, and Kalamazoo.

Editor’s Note: Struck by the unique nature of this collection, I asked the author if he would share a few words on his vision and process. “To me,” he replied, “the biographical poem is an ekphrastic poem, but instead of writing about a Hopper painting or a Grecian urn, I’m writing about everyday people with whom I’ve had some moment of fantastic empathy.” What is “fantastic empathy,” and how does it translate from lived experience to poem to reader, I wonder. I find my answer in my own experience in reading these poems. “I’ll have the starfish, Bomba says,” because “Everyone should be allowed to order what they want / even if it’s not on the menu.”

This collection is at times hilarious, at times touching, at times lyric, simple, and stunning. “A friend is a brick against the sweet hereafter. Lose a friend / and you lose a brick. Lose Keith and you lose a wall,” Warner writes of the death of his friend Keith Martin. “I am trying to say I don’t belong here, don’t deserve / this world. I need to earn every second of it,” he writes, from some honest place between existentialism and a search for meaning. In a way, these poems are–as the poet says–ekphrastic, biographical, minute in their reports of human interactions. Yet in another way they are meta, like staring up at the night sky and trying to truly grasp what you are seeing. From the minutiae to the horizon, I suggest reading and rereading these poems and seeing where the experience leads you.

Want to see more from Barrett Warner?
Cultural Weekly
Lines + Stars
Quarter After Eight

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By Jaimie Gusman:


The baby carriage on top of the roof is too much. The husband says to his wife, it has to end here. Years before they were in love, the kind of love that was quiet but infectious. The kind of love that made their friends feel all the complexities of love with great jealousy and excitement. Now, the baby carriage is on the roof again, even though he brought it back inside just yesterday, after 13 hours of work at the shed. He was driving home when he saw it – navy blue with periwinkle-ruffled trim.

She sewed that trim herself. He remembered her pregnancy, her sewing. She made sure the detail was just right for their little boy. Her friends all said ooh and ahh and complimented her dedication and creativity. He remembers being proud of his wife, how that pride filled him, heated him up and up where the atmosphere was tempered by a soft breeze.

When they lost the blue baby she held him close. She sang him the lullabies she practiced late at night when she couldn’t sleep. She put him in the carriage and showed him off to the other mothers in the ward. And after even that, she did not want to let her blue baby go. Friends and family were worried. She sang lullabies all the time.

One day, her husband came home to a dozen watermelons swaddled in a bright cerulean celestial covered fabric. Our blue baby is safest at night. His wife put her head against the cloth of one melon. She looked bright. Sweet boy, she sang, dissolving into the fabric. And he thought that was enough, this tone, this textile. That she could be happy with this.


I hold my wedding dress tight,
the bottom, like tissue paper
prepped for plastering to a mannequin.
All the other brides, too,
hold white birds
against their thighs.

When we get to the altar,
the men pour forth.
They step up, one by one,
and point to a dress. A dress!
The man then opens his mouth,
and a bride crawls right inside it.

None of the brides are terrified,
but I can’t help but be disturbed.
These are swallowed women,
women that cling to rhinestones,
while layers of organza and silks
sway with an effortlessness numb.

When a man chooses me
I blush, but try not to.
He grabs my hand, lifting me
to the altar. I know what’s next,
I know I must get in position
and drop the dress so the train
makes a trail of feathers. I do.

What happens inside the mouth?
Nothing! A dark wet corridor
leads to another dark wet corridor.
I find a cool bench and listen
to his echoing thoughts.
I love this man, I begin feeling
and then saying out loud.

Where are the others?
Where are the glistening waistlines
that so briskly walked down
aisles before me? History?
I search my own wet echoes.
Hello, is this thing on?

Today’s poems are from the chapbook Gertrude’s Attic (Vagabond Press, 2014, © Jaimie Gusman ), and appear here today with permission from the poet.

Jaimie Gusman’s work has appeared in The Feminist Wire, Moss Trill, Sonora Review, B O D Y, Trout, Mascara Review, Unshod Quills, LOCUSPOINT, Capitalism Nature Socialism, Hearing Voices, Hawaii Women’s Journal, Tinfish Press, Spork Press, Shampoo, Juked, Barnwood, DIAGRAM, and others. She is the 2015 Rita Dove Poetry Prize winner, and has three chapbooks: Gertrude’s Attic (Vagabond Press, 2014), The Anyjar (Highway 101 Press, 2011), and One Petal Row (Tinfish Press, 2011). She lives and works in Kaaawa, HI.

Editor’s Note: What I love about today’s poems is the stories they tell. The lives–both inner and outer–they reveal. Stories reminiscent of beloved favorites like “The Yellow Wallpaper,” “Hills Like White Elephants,” and “The Story of an Hour.” Brimming with social commentary and strong with the struggles we don’t always speak of, these are the stories that must be told. And how brave, moving, and enchanting they are when Jaimie Gusman tells them.

Want more from Jaimie Gusman?
Jaimie Gusman’s Official Blog
One Petal Row
Gertrude’s Attic
The Anyjar
Two Poems in The Feminist Wire

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IN PLACES FAR NICER: On Being Adjunct Faculty at a Liberal Arts University


On Being Adjunct Faculty at a Liberal Arts University

John Carr Walker

1. 5:00 AM

I pull back the bedroom curtain to see if it’s snowing. An orange slash from the streetlight cuts across my side of the bed, as if to lead me back where I really want to be, under the covers again—outside, the asphalt’s black and dry. I shut the bedroom door behind me. Coffee. I stand watching the machine hiss and spit because I don’t dare sit: any soft surface would claim me and I’d lose the morning. The alarm felt earlier than usual because I was up late last night grading forty-two expository essays, mostly by college sophomores, though some by procrastinating seniors, and some by freshman creative writing majors others. Cereal. Thyroid pill. The coffee can’t brew fast enough.

I take the first cup into my office, a room the size of a walk-in closet with my desk pushed against the far wall, and sit in my purposely-hard chair. I turn on the space heater. I don’t dare pull the throw blanket over my shoulders. I open my laptop and maximize the file of my most recent short story, but not quickly enough—the Outlook icon jumps to indicate I have unread mail. Fuck me. I forgot to pull the Internet cable last night.

2. 6:00 AM

Between the hours of five and seven I’m supposed to write fiction. I am supposed to be a fiction writer. Ostensibly this is one thing that qualifies me to teach a four-course load—my publications are supposed to bring prestige to the university, an emerging writer to watch. Instead, as I read student emails, the only thing emerging is a migraine. Revised versions of their papers are attached. Professor, I realized that I printed out my first draft instead! Here’s the version to please be graded. In my head I prepare the talk I’ll give my classes: too bad, you spoiled twats. Then again, I’m meeting with the English department chair this afternoon, for vague reasons, which I hope means he’ll offer me spring classes. I need spring classes. We just bought this house. Maybe I shouldn’t call my students twats.
One hour of my two is gone before I write my first sentence. It’s terrible, I know, but a start. A seed. I still don’t dare shut my eyes to visualize the next action. My fingers sit on home row, waiting. Have you ever tried to move something with your mind? That’s how writing feels this morning.

I check the weather forecast—revised: snow isn’t expected until this afternoon.

3. 7:00 AM

Hearing my wife in the kitchen tells me my time is done. Cereal dropping in the bowl. The fridge door sucking shut. Have you ever tried moving something with your mind? Everything is loud under that kind of mental strain. I close my laptop. I load my backpack with the books I need, the pages chaotically flagged, and the graded papers in manila folders.

My son’s eating his breakfast at the television tray. “No accidents!” he says, beaming proud. Recently there have been incidents with his urine in the night. I affirm this good news on my way through the room. I have just enough time to grab a shower before my wife leaves for her teaching job, and she’s looping her keys around her neck as I come out in a towel. Her car idles in the street, defrosting. I position my son outside the bedroom and have him sing the alphabet through the door while I dress. Any silence lasting longer than a natural breath makes me draw still, heart rate on the rise—H, I, J, K. Relax, John.

Except for the threat of snow, and the meeting with the Chair, it’s a routine day.

4. 8:00 AM

After checking my son in at preschool I have an hour commute over Cornelius Pass. I’ve lived in Oregon five months and recently experienced my first orange and russet fall out the windows, but I’m not yet used to the twisting, rising roads, and I’ve never in my life driven in snow. I moved here from my hometown in California’s San Joaquin Valley; I had thirty years of heat and flatness. The weather here’s been a subject for me, a surprising novelty, but now the low platinum sky, the cold dry air, and the way this wind smashes instead of tickles the arms of the pine trees makes me nervous. I feel like a child behind the wheel, everyone in the line behind me older, better, and tougher as I take another swinging, climbing corner.

5. 9:00 AM

I do like a university campus. For seven years I taught high school English in concrete bunkers and portables, where the available resources depended on what you managed to horde and hide from your colleagues—walking the stone walkways, the walls of redbrick castles visible through evergreens as old as the state of Oregon helps to lower my blood pressure. In teacher education I learned about the importance of cultivating a safe space for ideas; the campus collectively works toward this goal. It’s part of why I want to teach here in spring. America’s best college campuses resemble benevolent downtowns or gothic hamlets; seem, in fact, other worlds than the suburbs, cities, and countryside that sends their young to be educated; seems, to some, unconnected from the real world. Tenure comes to mean pampering, grants welfare. The landscapes of colleges are used against them. As an adjunct professor, however, I’m always angered when I’m accused to working in a fantasyland; I work in a beautiful place, but I’d take so-called real world conditions over the meaner realities of adjuncting.

My cubicle is in a corner of the old library. With the shelves all moved out, the counters and workstations abandoned, the vast ceiling seems to sag toward the tile floor. Four of us share two spots in the cubicle, arranging our office hours for the least overlap. I find Tommy in my chair—not a shock, given that it’s almost finals week. He blinks at me through slim eyeglasses. “Is it your day? I don’t even know what day it is. Is it all right if I finish up on this screen?”

I sit on the side usually shared on alternating days by Blaine and Marie and log in to the closed network. Back in August, Marie marked her territory by tacking postcards, prayer beads, and dream catchers to the soft skin of the divider, and by adorning the desk with wire document baskets and bowls full of bird feathers. Blaine’s been getting even ever since by turning random postcards upside down and planting her feathers in the monitor vents. Lately, though, there’s less to mark Marie’s side of the cubicle, a slowly filling file box under the desk.

“What about this snow?” I ask Tommy. He’s a Portland native. “You think it’s going to close the roads like the forecasts are saying?”

He turns in the swivel chair, squints out the shaft of window behind us at the cold, slated landscape. “Is that what they’re saying? I think the last time I blinked there were leaves still on the oaks.”

6. 10:00 AM

My student Laura visits my office hour in tears. She holds a zipper binder to her front. Wears fuzzy house shoes speared with grass clippings. Did I get an email from her earlier this morning? I direct her toward the conference table outside the cubicle. She lays the binder flat on the tabletop and I see her painted nails are trembling. Eight years of teaching experience tells me this isn’t a problem with her paper. “My fiancé is going to Afghanistan. He’s army reserve,” she says. “He’s going to be shot at in Afghanistan.” Hot tears, red cheeks burn through the film of composure she managed.

No matter how much I’m not a counselor, no matter how much I’m not paid for handling emotional baggage, sometimes this is my work. I listen. Sit. Wait. I try not to be a monster by referring to the syllabus. The echo of her sobs travels through the gutted library. I’d offer her a tissue, but Marie packed the Kleenex.

“I wondered, since I want to go back with him to be with his family in Washington, before he goes—” she holds onto this remade composure by a thread “—I wanted to take your final early. Kirk said it’s fine.”

Kirk is the Assistant Dean of Students. Everyone important here is on a strictly first-name basis.

“How early?” I ask, trying not to be a monster.

“Next week.”

My final isn’t even written yet. I thought I’d be ahead of the curve if I started next week. Now I’m supposed to be done? But even if I’m a sucker, I can’t refuse her.

“Thank you, Professor,” she says, pulling the binder to her front once again. “So much.”
Professor. Not John. I listen to her house shoes scuff endlessly away across the tiles.
On Marie and Blaine’s side of the cubicle I open the anthology and find the flag that marks today’s reading. The pages are layered with pencil lead and two colors of highlighter, notes slanted in the margins. I’ve been over and over this essay—other late nights, other stolen mornings—but now is the first chance I’ve had to make discussion notes. I fold back the leaves of a legal pad and hold it on my lap; I transfer some of the marginalia, point myself toward some specific highlights, circle things, draw connecting lines. I’d like to let myself sink in the ideas—this is my favorite part, the preparation—but I’ve got thirty minutes to be ready for class.

7. 11:00 AM

As I pass back their papers, I explain to my students why I didn’t read the versions so many of them emailed. I spend the next twenty minutes quelling a low-level mutiny, answering questions, hearing their points of view (provided it’s stated civilly), and walking them through the rules and philosophy of using the semi-colon, again. I’d probably hurry this along if my preparation had been better, but I ran out of hours—the best I can hope is a chance to add to my notes on this essay in spring. Judging by the cold stares some students wear, I wager their emails will be with the English Chair hours before I am. Students know the power they can wield over adjuncts: they’ve seen my office; they’ve analyzed the dubious facts of two chairs and four names on the divider; they’ve synthesized the many cubicles tucked into every corner of the old library; they’ve compared these stations to the faculty offices in Victorian Houses, and to their own Leeds Certified dormitories, some of which still smell of paint and new carpet; if I could teach my students to be as adept at exploring the nuances of argument as they are at sensing their own advantage I’d be known on campus by my first name. Instead I’m wondering for the hundredth time, in the back of my mind, if I’m a fraud.

The class discussion ranges between jagged and circular, but however inefficiently it happens, we construct the salient points. I’m working harder for being underprepared, though, and the payoff in class is less than it would have been—in the back of my mind I’m chiding myself for not staying up an hour later, or getting up an hour earlier, though the front of my mind barely gets enough sleep as it is. I come back to consciousness, the sound of my own voice holding forth on the fine examples of pathos as an expository technique.

8. 12:00 PM

Tyler follows me back to my office. He’s a freshmen, and entered the university as a creative writing major, with an eye toward getting his MFA after his BA, then a year of struggle, then sudden fame, then fortune, then a long career showered with literary prizes and blockbuster sales. On our walk through the gutted library he asks for my advice on publishing, though what he really wants is for me to do the work for him, bless him by submitting his work to my contacts. He thinks I have contacts. All he wants to learn from me is if he’s a real writer or not. This conversation and its subtext echoes around corners.
I leave him at the conference table and put my bag in Marie and Blaine’s chair. Tommy’s coffee cup sits by the keyboard, saving his place while he’s away at lunch. I’m hungry. I take out the legal pad, and as I sit across from Tyler, turn back the pages to a blank sheet.

“I wanted to talk to you, Professor. About your handwriting.” He rotates his paper and leaves it between us. The horizontal line I folded in it late last night makes it sit like a book with a broken spine. “It’s too much work for me to decipher your comments,” he says.

“Can you read them?”

“Eventually. But like this one—” he points to a word slashed in the margin.

“It says, ‘Good,’ Tyler.”

“I know. But, like, how good? I don’t get enough out of your notes, and it’s so frustrating to have to read your writing.”

Sometimes this is my work: to decide between rage and calm, gentleness and outright dismissal; to try and preserve the teacher-student relationship in the fading hope I’ll be able to teach something, someday. I put my elbows on either side of the blank, yellow page, and press my fingers into the sides of my head. Have you ever tried to make someone vanish with your mind?

9. 1:00 PM

I buy an egg and cheese muffin from the dollar rack at the campus bistro. The line for the twin microwaves is long but moves fast. I heat my lunch and wrap it in a napkin. I cross the width of the cafeteria, packed full with students, to the conference room isolated in a far corner. A colleague is giving a post-sabbatical talk, and sometimes, my work means attending, listening, and being counted among the present. The door’s already shut and I hear a voice being projected from the other side. I feel the stares as I sidle to an open chair at the side of the room. Tommy ignores me from across the room.

When I introduced myself at the August all-faculty meeting, I followed a colleague born and raised in Texas; “I’m from the San Joaquin Valley,” I quipped, “the Texas of California.” I got the laugh I wanted, but my colleagues understood the shorthand: Rural, Conservative, Fundamentalist. Places where academics, and our intellectual/creative pursuits, are discounted. This is one of the reasons I want to come back in the spring: I don’t want to lose the intellectual/creative fellowship—indeed, the acceptance—I left my hometown to find. But the stares I feel coming late label me provincial, product of a rural, conservative Bible belt. I wish I’d said I was from New York. Then I’d only be rude.

Out the tall windows beside me lies a beach volleyball court abandoned to winter. I don’t like the unfamiliar look of the metallic sky.

10. 2:00 PM

I take my backpack, heavy with books, binders, notepads, and the second expository section’s graded papers to the new library. I carry everything since I don’t have an office door, or even a locking cabinet. I climb to the third floor, which is a kind of loft high in the pitched ceiling, spread with tables, chairs, and study nooks. It’s a quiet place to hide. I don’t trust myself to sit on one of the couches so claim a nook with a wooden chair where the gray light shines down through a skylight. I’d like to improve my discussion notes before this evening’s class, but first I have to review the lesson I’ll be teaching in my literature class.

I like my literature class. It’s small, intimate, with the minimum number of students enrolled instead of the maximum. I add to the notes I started yesterday, clarifying my own thinking, gleaning the story for more textual support, leaving myself reminders to check for student comprehension, and trying to anticipate student questions. (And yes, Tyler, I also fix a few things for the sake of legibility.) I whisper aloud a few passages I especially want to highlight, that I especially love; the few students with me in the loft don’t stir from their work.

11. 3:00 PM

My student Emma’s already in the classroom when I come in. Her arms crossed on the table seem to suspend her a little ways off the seat, head down, reading. She grew up on a family farm outside Colusa, California, in the agricultural valley north of Sacramento. Her home place resonates with my home place: a family farm outside Caruthers, south of Fresno. She brings her experiences to literature with sophistication uncommon in a twenty-year-old. My work, as far as students like Emma go, is to provide them with a challenge.

I cannot express how important an intellectual/creative challenge was to me growing up, except to say the challenges saved my life. I spent much of my childhood working for my father in his vineyard. My fifth birthday present was a shovel. Mechanical cleverness was valued—look what I made out of Lego, look what I made in the woodshop—but drawing robots was cute, then wasn’t, and music, which meant everything to me in high school, would make a nice hobby in my decrepitude, I was told. By sixteen, the only thing that could un-bore me at home was writing lyrics for the garage band I played in with my friends. I wrote hard, fast, sometimes with a flashlight under my bed, but it didn’t count as work. I started to hide the folders filled with loose-leaf paper. Then I read Jane Eyre and fell in love. With Jane.

There I was, then, mounted aloft: I, who had said I could not bear the shame of standing on my natural feet in the middle of the room, was now exposed to general view on a pedestal of infamy. What my sensations were, no language can describe; but, just as they all rose, stifling my breath and constricting my throat, a girl came up and passed me: in passing, she lifted her eyes. What a strange light inspired them! What an extraordinary sensation that ray sent through me! How the new feeling bore me up! It was as if a martyr, a hero, had passed a slave or victim, and imparted strength in the transit. I mastered the rising hysteria, lifted up my head, and took a firm stand on the stool. (End Chapter 7)

Jane was my passing girl, lifting her eyes to me on a pedestal of infamy. I copied this passage on my binder and memorized it during Algebra II.

My literature students all fit around one big table. Sometimes my work is sharing, and curating a safe environment for sharing, and being brave enough to share what makes one most vulnerable. It’s important work, the nuances difficult, the stakes high. I know: I never suffered from shyness until I was a sixteen-year-old boy in rural, conservative, fundamentalist Caruthers High, sheltering a pure love for Jane Eyre against the cries of faggot! Home wasn’t much safer: aren’t you wasting your time reading that book again? Sometimes my work is rereading again.

12. 4:00 PM

After class Emma and I walk a little ways together, she to her dorm and I to my meeting, her book and binder in the crook of her arm, my backpack over one shoulder. We watch the pathways underfoot or the looming sky above, now and then tipping our heads if the wind muffles the words. I like talking with my student in the residual energy of class, for the sake of curiosity, not formal learning. Is it work? I can say for certain it isn’t rest, because the conversation keeps my mind reaching for remembered examples and for the language to express them. Let’s say it’s happy work. My dream literature class doesn’t happen in a classroom or under a shade tree, but is a walk around, telling stories that the buildings or birds remind us of. Reading list constructed by landscape. I suppose this too is the kind of trippy Ivory Tower thinking non-academics and parents get nervous about. They want for their children results, not nature walks.

I say goodbye to Emma then cross the one-way street that divides the body of campus from its limbs, property bought up over decades as the university expanded in size and scope. The English department calls a squat turn-of-the-century house home. What were once bedrooms or dens are now cozy faculty offices. It’s named for a pioneer feminist. This sort of touch assures me I was right to move, to trade a tenured high school position to chase a professorship, leave behind the San Joaquin Valley for Portland, Oregon—it also tells me how much I want more classes here in the form of a body check; I swear, I almost lose my footing on the steps I want this so badly. I’ve worked hard to earn it. Haven’t I?
Richard, English department chair, waits in the common room. A manila folder of papers balances on one thigh; he makes a mark and shifts the top paper to the stack on the sofa cushion beside him. He looks up then moves the stack for me to sit down. Is this foreshadowing? I sense meaning in every expression that passes in his face.

He asks me about my teaching, if I’m connecting with my students, keeping my head above water with the grading—I make it sound interrogative, but it passed like small talk. I worry he’s going to ask about my measly publishing credits.

“Are you protecting your writing time?”


“So. Spring—” he claps his hands softly.

What does that mean? I’m not cognizant until now how much I’ve been auditioning. I’m not proud of it, but the work gone into cultivating a patch for myself at this university is every bit as demanding as instruction. It’s a pressure put on adjuncts more than any other group on campus, a constant improvisation about your own worth. Does this kind of thing happen in the real world?

“Tell me about your availability.”


13. 5:00 PM

I sit on my side of the cubicle. I have office hours till seven. I’ve moved Tommy’s cold travel mug to Marie and Blaine’s side. I enter my evening section’s paper scores into the spreadsheet. I’m trying to multi-task: record data, consider those discussion notes that still aren’t up to snuff, and congratulate myself. By the time Tommy comes in, I want a celebration, discussion notes be damned! I ask if he wants to grab a bite at the bistro.

“Negative,” he says. He scans the desk for his mug.

“I spoke with Richard.”

“Me too. Mind if I—” and gestures at the file box stored under the desk, which my chair is blocking access to.

I tack a sign to the outside of the cubicle wall—John in Cafeteria—and leave Tommy to do his work without an audience.

14. 6:00 PM

I work on improving my notes before my next expository class. Even in the glow of good news—spring classes!—I feel unreasonable pride in finding a gap in the day big enough to sit with the yellow pad on my lap. Sometimes my work is sitting with a yellow pad on my lap and thinking about more than I write down. I go over the morning section in my head, feeling for the flat spots, trying to invent new ways of coming at next hour’s discussion. Sometimes my work is feeling.

It’s the first time all day I’ve trusted myself to sit in a soft chair. The fireplace in the corner of the cafeteria crackles and shoots sparks up the chimney pipe. I have the urge to call my parents. I want my dad to know that my gamble, at least for another semester, is paying off. I’m liked and wanted here. (I’ll be Biff. Dad, you be Willy Loman.) Yet will he be proud of me? I grew up listening to him dismiss teachers and the teaching profession. He lambasts even the memory of his father-in-law, a middle school shop teacher, for taking four hours to build a jig for a project that should have taken only one working freehand. He used to scour my mother, a high school biology teacher, for staying late to set up the next day’s lab experiments; in his cruel logic, her working more hours made her worth less. Those who can’t do teach: that’s the bromide he’s hung his educational philosophy on. The fact his own family’s crowded with educators—my sister and my wife are both teachers as well—doesn’t change his mind. Maybe we all reinforce it. But he reserves his deadliest venom for college professors. They live in ivory towers. They haven’t set foot in the real world since they got tenure. You know the bromides. All the things that make adjuncting difficult—its low pay, its temporary-ness, and its part-time-ness (Ha!)—set it on a yet-lower rung of my father’s estimation. The fact I’m also doing, writing every morning at five, should refute all his theories up to this point, but don’t. To achieve his definition of hard work, callused hands, a sweaty shirt, and dust in your eyes are helpful, but efficiency is vital. Hard workers don’t waste anything. Certainly not time, looking into a fire from a sofa.

15. 7:00 PM

With fourteen hours of my workday complete I start teaching my last class. It meets in a second floor room of the flagship building, directly below the president’s office. From the outside, the hall appears like a castle through the trees, all turrets, slate roofs, and soldered windows. In the classroom, old green chalkboards shed dust from a day’s use and erasure, mismatched tables and chairs crowd the floor, and the split that runs the length of the carpet has been repaired with duct tape but is splitting again. It takes going inside a college to know what it’s like. This university’s building state-of-the-art student dorms at a rate of one building per three years, places far nicer than our recent graduates or faculty are likely to live in, in order to attract ever-larger freshman classes, but one wonders where those future students will be taught, and by whom. A university’s image, its curb appeal, does not project adjuncts into the picture. We’re represented in the gap critical readers will notice between the published numbers of students and faculty and the advertised ratio between the two groups—adjuncts make up the difference, like ghostwriters, or the night crew that cleans the chalkboards before morning.

I’m so tired. The adrenaline’s worn off. Dwelling on my father’s ideas have left me grumpy. I know I sound like I’m complaining, but the fact is I know I’m lucky: so many with my qualifications and experience commute between three or four campuses to teach the same load that I do on one. At the moment it’s beyond my comprehension to know how they do it. Those extra commutes alone so tightly wrench the available time that I wonder how I’d manage to live up to anyone’s expectations.

I push it to the back of my mind. I put my improved notes on the midget lectern on the narrow table at the front of the room. My students straggle in from dinner. I never try to start this class sooner than five minutes after it’s supposed to anymore—that’s a battle I fought and lost sometime around Halloween. At least I don’t have to worry now if this lapse in authority will cost me spring classes.

This time, I handle the paper situation better. It’s cold comfort to know I can learn from my flubs. Then again, this section is always more subdued. All of my students want to get this prerequisite done with. They’re tired too, and after dark don’t rightly care about the status of the person teaching them.

16. 8:00 PM

Outside the doors of the old library I call campus security to come let me in. After seven p.m. the building’s secured and if I use my key I’ll activate the alarm. As I wait for the guard, it starts to snow fat flakes that stick to the walkways and lawns.
He arrives on a golf cart. Before he lets me in, he checks my name against the roster of authorized personnel—I’m thankfully included—and asks how long I intend to be in the building.

“I have just a bit of work,” I say. “What about this snow? I have a long drive to make tonight.”

The radio on his polo shirt blares before he can answer. I watch the tire tracks cut through the snow being slowly covered. In the cubicle I check the state’s road advisory website; the snow is general over Portland. I could leave now or wait and see; I have no points of references for snow driving, central Californian I am. Or was. Which is it? Will today mean anything in the ultimate course my life takes between two places?

I decide to wait and see. I can use the time. On the computer I start writing my final exam for Laura to take early. I leave myself notes on my literature discussion for next time, thoughts on how it could go better, markers of where I need more textual support, more discourse, more illustration, as well as a reminder to look up the title of a story for Emma that I couldn’t recall earlier. Sometimes my work is about grabbing the moment before I lose the thought.

17. 9:00 PM

I make the sure the building door shuts firmly behind me. Snow ladders the pine trees and blankets the ground, bouncing the streetlights back into the air, doubling their brightness. I can hear students outside playing in it, concealed from view in one of the dormitory quads. It’s beautiful, but seems less so behind the wheel. I’m nervous. The lane lines are gone, and all I can do is follow the tracks of the cars that went before me. For the thousandth time since moving here I feel like a fraud, an interloper, and after only a few hundred yards decide I’ll get a hotel. I have to be back on campus at eight o’clock tomorrow morning for my Tuesday-Thursday class. Sometimes my work is knowing the ways in which I don’t want to kill myself.

The local hotel is a brewpub in a former Masonic Temple-turned-insane asylum with European-style rooms, a Japanese soaking pool, a book at registration for guests to record their encounters with the world of ghosts. All I’m interested in is the bed, and for a tense moment, my credit card being accepted.

In my basement room I strip to my underwear and get under the covers, lie looking up at the painted pipes on the ceiling. I don’t have a change of clothes for tomorrow. I don’t have my Thyroid pills. I don’t even have a toothbrush. When I was working for my father in his vineyards, digging trenches or driving tractors, my body would melt into bed at night, and I’d struggle to keep reading my book or writing lyrics. The kind of mental, emotional work I do now makes my mind electrostatic—I’m still working, details of my final popping into my head unbidden, ways to smooth things with Tyler, and finally the name of that story I wanted Emma to read. Have you ever tried to silence a barking dog with only your mind?

When your mind is the dog, chained and barking into the night?

18. 10:00 PM

After an hour I give up. I put my clothes back on and take my backpack to the bar down the hall. I’ll write down the ideas as they come. I’ll drink a stout. Both should help ease me down from the height of my day.

From the doorway I spy Richard, department chair, drinking alone at a table. He sees me, but before either of us can acknowledge it, he drops his face toward his glass and twists his shoulder to snub me without turning his back. Sometimes the work is being alone with ideas. It doesn’t matter. He’ll see me in the spring.


John Carr Walker’s story collection Repairable Men (Sunnyoutside) appeared in 2014. He’s the founder of Trachodon Magazine and a 2012 Fishtrap Fellow. A native of California’s San Joaquin Valley and former teacher, he now lives and writes full-time in Saint Helens, Oregon.

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Photo by Marion Ettlinger

Photo by Marion Ettlinger

By Patrick Phillips

It will be the past
and we’ll live there together.

Not as it was to live
but as it is remembered.

It will be the past.
We’ll all go back together.

Everyone we ever loved,
and lost, and must remember.

It will be the past.
And it will last forever.

Today’s poem is from the collection Boy (The University of Georgia Press, 2008, © Patrick Phillips), and appears here today with permission from the poet.

Patrick PhillipsElegy for a Broken Machine was published in 2015 by Alfred A. Knopf. A recent Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts fellow in poetry, he is the author of two earlier collections, Boy and Chattahoochee, and translator of When We Leave Each Other: Selected Poems of Henrik Nordbrandt. His work has appeared in many magazines, including Poetry, Ploughshares, and The Nation, and his honors include the Kate Tufts Discovery Award, a Pushcart Prize, and the Lyric Poetry Award from the Poetry Society of America. He lives in Brooklyn and teaches at Drew University.

Editor’s Note: I came across today’s poem on the New York subway as part of the MTA/Poetry Society of America collaboration, “Poetry in Motion.” Whenever I see a poem on the subway I read it. Of course I do. How often does one come across poetry in public spaces in America these days? But not since I came across Reznikoff’s “If There is a Scheme” on the PATH train has a poem in a public space so moved me.

What is so wonderful about today’s poem? Is it the way it plays with time, making the future of the past? “It will be the past / and we’ll live there together.” Is it the subtle way the poet uses rhyme and repetition, as if the poem were a lullaby — “together / remembered / together / remember / forever”? Or is it the promise of the poem? That within our future lies our past, that heaven is where we might relive our memories over and over, that we will be reunited there with everyone we ever loved, “And it will last forever.”

Want more from Patrick Phillips?
Buy Elegy for a Broken Machine from Amazon
Patrick Phillips’ Official Website

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Five Thoughts on Cecil the Lion—Or: How the Internet Really Botched This One


Five Thoughts on Cecil the Lion—Or: How the Internet Really Botched This One

by Okla Elliott

I had initially decided to ignore all of the Cecil the Lion outrage and counter-outrage, thinking it one more oddity of the internet, but as the debate continues on, I feel compelled to offer a few thoughts on the matter. Thoughts 1 & 2 below basically sum up what I see as the salient factors of the initial internet outrage over Cecil’s death and the internet backlash to that outrage. More importantly, to my mind anyway, are thoughts 3, 4, & 5, which I hope offer ways we might have a more productive conversation and move forward beyond reductive memes, Twitter quips, and zero-sum/binary thinking.

1) How often do humans have empathy for animals? Very rarely, so I suggest we applaud this instance of trans-species empathy. That being said, I often imagine a majority of the people expressing outrage over this one senseless act of killing which led to great suffering in an animal were eating a cheeseburger while posting their outrage. I am glad we are seeing empathy toward an animal, but now we have to train ourselves to feel that same empathy and outrage for the hundreds and hundreds of millions of animals we consume every year after offering them nothing but a torturous existence before their slaughter. And here I am optimistic, because a recent statistic shows Americans are slaughtering tens of millions fewer animals a year for their sustenance. May we continue this trend.

[Side note: I discuss part of why we feel more empathy toward Cecil the Lion than other animals in thought #3.]

2) I want to discuss the outright empirical inaccuracy of the claims going around the internet that people are showing outrage over Cecil the Lion’s unnecessary and excruciating death yet are ignoring other ethical issues. Take the popular meme suggesting that no one showed any concern for the Iraq War or the war on drugs. It would require about a minute of honest research to know this is just factually inaccurate. Tens of millions of 1cecilpeople protested the Iraq War, and many people have been criticizing the war on drugs for decades now, including but not limited to presidential candidates in both major political parties, thousands of lawyers, many celebrities, and millions of concerned citizens.

But the real issue here isn’t that all of the quips, memes, op-ed pieces, and meta-moral outrage are empirically inaccurate (though they are), but rather that ethics is not a zero-sum game. I bet you a hundred bucks that 90% or more of the people who have posted about the murder of this lion have, at some point, also posted about racism, sexism, wealth inequality, the environment, etc. – and I bet you another hundred bucks that they’ve posted more about these things throughout their time on social media they have about than the death of one lion.

It is entirely possible to have multiple political convictions and to be an activist for more than one issue. We have got to jettison this zero-sum thinking from our ethics and politics if we’re going to solve more than one problem at a time.

In short, the issues you think are important are still getting millions of posts and certainly have and will continue to receive more attention than one lion’s horrific death. In particular, some have suggested that people have cared more about this one lion’s death than the murder of black Americans at the hands of the police. Here a simple Google search will suffice. There have been literally over ten thousand times more posts about #BlackLivesMatter than #CeciltheLion. Of course, these posts have not solved the heinous problem of systemic racism in the United States any more than posts about Cecil the Lion have solved all animal rights issues, but if your metric for caring is online posts about a subject, it is clear that many more people care about the rampant racism in this country than Cecil the Lion—which is exactly as it should be, since it affects millions of sentient beings suffering unnecessarily, as opposed to just one lion.

[Side note: I want to be as emphatic as possible here when I say that all of these movements—#YesAllWomen, #BlackLivesMatter, and many others that don’t yet have hashtags but have many supporters—are absolutely important and even necessary if we are going to move our culture toward a more empathetic and therefore just society. I am merely criticizing the idea that posting about one might diminish someone’s support for another.]

3) There are of course entirely different angles of inquiry that are being flooded over by all this outrage and counter-outrage. One such angle is the way aesthetics shapes our ethics. Lions—especially healthy, robust ones—fit most people’s definitions of “beautiful” or “majestic,” whereas an emaciated, disease-ridden cow would not. We are therefore much more likely to show outrage over the murder of a healthy lion than a sickly cow, precisely because the former meets our aesthetic requirements for beauty. This is a question rarely discussed, but it is equally important when we discuss ethics and the law in the human realm.

What role does aesthetics play in our legal system when we see that a white woman (the standard of Western beauty) is the least likely of all demographics to be convicted of a crime, and when our culture views the violence (sexual or otherwise) toward a white woman a more heinous crime than the violence toward a woman of color or a male of any race? Practically no one discusses the connection between aesthetics and ethics/law, and the current quips on Twitter and the evidence- and logic-poor memes going around the internet are adding nothing to the conversation, simply going back and forth in a zero-sum ethical game that reinforces bad thinking about ethics.

I propose, therefore, a long discussion about how our aesthetics informs our ethics.

[Side note: There are of course other issues at play here. People will also often get more outraged when a member of an endangered species is killed than when another more abundant animal is killed, thus the disparity in public outrage between a rhino (not usually considered beautiful in the classical sense) being poached in Africa and a cute bunny rabbit being killed by a hunter in rural Pennsylvania. We also have to take into account the fact that Cecil had a name, which individualized him for many and thus increased the emotional connection. The aesthetics angle I propose here is by no means the only angle by which we could approach this subject to find a more fruitful conversation, but I think it is one of the most productive since aesthetics plays such a huge role in much of our ethical thought without us realizing it.]

4) Tolstoy once said that the best stories aren’t good versus evil, but rather good versus good, and this is certainly a story of good versus good. Everyone seems to be outraged about legitimate ethical wrongs and want to see these wrongs corrected. I simply argue that the best way to do this is to develop an omni-ethical approach, where we can empathize with animals not of our species and with members of different demographics 2ceciland beliefs within our own species. It is not a binary or zero-sum game; every ethical impulse becomes a habit of mind that we must foster to the fullest, aiming toward feeling as much empathy for as many sentient beings as our finite minds can manage.

5) I am a great believer in the powers of the internet to raise awareness for issues and political candidates and literary endeavors, etc., but that is not to suggest that it is without its flaws. One of the biggest ones is that discussion on the internet is often reduced to memes and the sadly reductive space of a Twitter post. We must make use of social media to raise awareness of issues and to promote good ideas and good books and underrepresented thoughts. We must also, however, remain ever-vigilant against the possibility of shrinking the complexities in these arenas. I beg everyone to take a step, or a few steps, back and re-assess everything going on around these series of issues and make more complex analyses thereof. We should also endeavor to take greater action than merely posting online and criticizing the posts that we see online.

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By Stephanie Bryant Anderson:


I sat on the floor
in a blue room choking

on emotions, confessing
sadness to the cake falling

down my throat, wondering
how I have come to hate winter

when it snows
such beautiful white flowers.


it’s the way I’ve neatly folded the laundry
over and over.

It’s the way fear visits me twice,
and courage once.

It’s the way I move alone at night
from the couch to the door

to the curtains,
back to the couch.

It’s how you catch me dreaming
and step over my body.


When the door closed this time, she knew it
       would be different. She saw his eyes—
emotionless ticks that had grown into the plural

patterns of empty walnut shells. Someone once
       star-mapped Aries the Ram, and generously
gave him horns. I am strong as an Ox

he reminded her as she stood to leave. Reminded
       her that she was the Year of the Rabbit with closed

Safety over risk, she recalled looking at the door,
       but her body lied, it could not carry her there.
You cry too easily— he said, after the first hit

into her eye-bone crunched, sounding the way
       the nutcracker sounded when breaking open
walnuts. He stood over her

using the same angle God used to look down from.
       But, here, for her,
there was no longer a down—


Last November my sister got married.
My heart cropped, carried

for months in my handkerchief. At night
it would cry out from extinction.

This amputation being no small ache, I left
Tennessee, my heartbeat slow.

Memphis with her strange spell
filled my piano-ribs

with a slow blues loaded
with heavy bees and suicide ghosts.

The road tasted like salt. I drove until
I couldn’t see the shape of us,

until my heart could again beat
on its own.

Today’s poems are from Monozygotic | Codependent, published by The Blue Hour Press, copyright © 2015 by Stephanie Bryant Anderson, and appear here today with permission from the poet.

In Monozygotic | Codependent, Stephanie Bryant Anderson’s poems are concerned with splitting the self and uncovering the woman beneath the familial myths. Yet the essential paradox for Bryant Anderson: when the self has a twin—a ‘shadow,’ a ‘dark-haired mirror girl’—what then of the split? These poems ache; in the style of Southern gothic, these poems are ‘filled [with] piano ribs, a slow blues loaded with heavy bees and suicide ghosts.’ Bryant Anderson’s are poems of survival, built in fragile and beautiful shell casings, stanzas deceptively elegant and delicate, for what pinions each graceful couplet is a fierceness of spirit, a deep-seated desire for life, always life, even in the midst of pain and memory, ‘shaped as an open field plagued by black irises.’ I am broken and remade by these poems. —Jennifer Givhan, 2015 Winner National Endowment for the Arts fellowship

Stephanie Bryant Anderson is author of Monozygotic | Codependent (The Blue Hour Press 2015). Recent or forthcoming publications include Vinyl, burntdistrict, Rogue Agent and The Blueshift Journal. Besides poetry she enjoys kickboxing and math. Stephanie is founder of Red Paint Hill Publishing.

Editor’s Note: Monozygotic | Codependent opens with a quote from Sylvia Plath: “I do not know who I am, where I am going – and I am the one who has to decide the answers to these hideous questions.” And so Stephanie Bryant Anderson sets the stage for this brave, vulnerable collection. The journey the poet takes us on is deeply confessional, beginning in loneliness and ending in leaving, with panic, regret, abuse, anxiety, divorce, codependence, death, and God doggedly pursuing the I in-between. This is not the story of a light at the end of the tunnel; it is a story of survival. But there is so much beauty in the words, in their brutal honesty, in the intimacy of what is revealed, in the shared experience that arises when one speaks up about that which is too-seldom talked about. In this way, this book is Plathian, reflecting the intersection between lived suffering and staggering art.

Following the Plath quote, Monozygotic | Codependent welcomes us into its world with “Loneliness Came Inside My Home, Unpacked Its Things.” Here we sit on the floor. Here we are choking. Here we are eating our feelings. Here we are “wondering / how I have come to hate winter // when it snows / such beautiful white flowers.” A line so beautiful, it hurts to confront it. Like the idea of stepping over a woman dreaming.

From stepped over to stepped on, “Like the Black Hole Cartographer Who Went Hunting for Walnuts” takes us deep into the reality of a woman abused. She is not safe. She cannot leave. She is looked down on by man and God alike, only “here, for her, / there [is] no longer a down.”

In “Anxiety While Crossing the Tennessee-Arkansas Bridge” we encounter one of the major themes of the book: twin-ness. What it means to be a twin, to have been born into that level of codependence and to have to survive that conjunction into the individuality of adulthood. The result is a heart that must be “cropped, carried,” that has to learn to beat again on its own.

Want to see more from Stephanie Bryant Anderson?
Stephanie Bryant Anderson’s Website
Buy Monozygotic | Codependent from The Blue Hill Press
Follow Stephanie Bryant Anderson on Twitter

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