This Word Is Cop

By Harmony Button

I had a pretty awesome childhood. My best friend Greg lived on a hill out in the middle of farm country with corn fields and grape vines and crab apples. In the fall, the trees would drop buckets of gnarly apples that would roll down the drive and collected in a soupy bank at the side of the street. This was back in the days when disgusting things were totally entertaining, so of course we poked at them, squealing at the worms and mush. We didn’t have The SnapChap or The Twittergram, so instead of taking pictures of ourselves pretending to eat nasty worm-apples, we had to get a little devious.

I don’t remember whose idea it was, but it didn’t take very much effort to relocate the sweet heap of semi-rotten fruit into a speed-bump-ish berm that spanned both lanes of Dublin Road. Then we crouched down behind the corn stalks in the field on the far side of the road and waited, gleefully, for the next vehicle. Continue reading

If the Shoe Fits

By Joelle Berger

“Oh babe, those look phe-no-me-nal!” cooed the saleswoman at Saks.  With such great articulation, she must have been serious.

“Seriously, the sparkle is like, so special – SO special.  They will look fab-u-lous with your wedding dress – they’re SO you.  They’re you!”

After being an integral part of my life for about nine minutes, she certainly thought she had me figured out.  I wobbled toward a full-length mirror for a closer look at these Jimmy Choo four-inch silver stilts.  Rocking my gray boyfriend tee, weekend hair knot, and hole-ridden short jorts – a relic of jeans from college – I twisted and heel-toed my feet to see the sparklers in action.

“Uh, I’m sure they’d look better if I was in my dress,” I called back to my seated 78-year-old Mom-Mom.  Under grandma goggles, she usually thinks I look beautiful in everything (or hides her true feelings quite well).  But this time, even my utmost supporter looked concerned.

“Can you walk in those?” she asked, as if it mattered.

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Mount Kearsarge, 2012

By Cory Johnston

Maybe it’s because I’ve been here before. In previous years, down to the day, down to the hour. Sweat pools on our shoulder blades. A Camelback is passed around the circle, same as always. But the view from atop Mount Kearsarge is different.

We see the same things, of course: the vast green forests of western New Hampshire that stretch out under the blue afternoon sky on their way towards becoming eastern Vermont. We hear the same sounds: the wind against the steel weather tower, the conversation of fellow hikers echoing off the stone mountainside before falling into the shaded forest path.

But to hear people’s words echo, to stop once more, and once more, to examine a small film of lichen on some nearby stone, summons no deep chill from my spine. That sense of awe does not return, as I do. I accept that the scene is beautiful. I consider the fact that it must be so. But the mountaintop that once blinded me with brilliant sunlight reflecting off stone and trees—reflecting off everything—today falls in the penumbra cast by a slate grey cloud that passes through the sun’s gaze.

The others laugh and breathe deeply. They exchange the Camelback’s water for bottles of pale beer I brought in my pack. They line up cameras and take pictures, then line up cameras at different angles and take more pictures.

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A Little More Pirate Now

by Harmony Button

“A Little More Pirate Now” is part of our “This Word Is” feature.  Please see the submissions page for details, and then send us your words!

I’ve always loved a good heist story.  It starts with an underdog: usually someone clever and lovable with morals that don’t necessarily adhere to social standards.  Sometimes our hero has a dark past, but has worked hard to get back on the straight and narrow.  Sometimes this figure, heretofore innocent, has been so vastly wronged that the only avenue for justice is one of criminality.  The social system has failed, or has fallen into corruption, and Robin Hoodery is the only choice.  These are the honorable thieves, and they are cheeky, courageous and righteous in their cause. 

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Super Happyman

By Thomas Burke

Svetlana is so efficient and organized that it’s borderline nauseating. But she’s a laugher with knockout dimples, and she wears bright, eccentric European couture, so it’s easy to like her.

She’s not the director, but I’m her subordinate. If our employer, the annual Summer Literary Seminars program in St. Petersburg, Russia, were an old car, Svetlana would be the carburetor. I, on the other hand, would be something of a backseat window that doesn’t always close all the way.

In the welcome sheet given to all the North American participants and faculty, my bio lists me as the one that can help “if you need some heavy lifting done” or if you want to know a “decent place for lunch.”

Here’s a scene: Svetlana has cell phones to both of her ears, she’s pecking something into the computer, she’s hugging to her chest seventy-five passports and two thousand dollars cash, and I grimace and say, “Can I help you with something?”

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Birds Call, Dominik Mosur Listens

By Elizabeth C. Creely

Dominik Mosur stood in the middle of schoolchildren, who were busily running through San Francisco’s Randall Museum’ wildlife exhibit. A tall, powerfully built man with a mild expression, he wore a tee shirt that read  “Made in Poland”. Mosur was born in Poland and although he has the laid back attitude and accent common to most coastal Californians, he pronounces his surname with a distinctive Eastern European lilt.

Just then he looked tired. “There aren’t usually this many kids at once,” he explained. “I think there are actually two classes here at the same time. Someone’s always gotta be on the floor with all these kids.”

As an animal care attendant for the museum, he’d also dealt with an emergency that morning: a sick Great Horned owl.  The Randall Museum, which functions both as a natural history museum and as a refuge for the city’s wildlife, has had the owl in residence for many years. (Born blind, the owl would have died in the wilderness.) The stress of transporting a sick owl to a wildlife vet showed on Mosur’s face. “I’m pretty behind right now,” he said.

Mosur has the distinction of identifying the most bird species in one year in San Francisco County and has mastered the art of bird identification by listening rather than looking. This is sometimes the only way a bird can be identified. Songbirds like the Pygmy Nuthatch measure three inches in size and roost in the tops of mature conifer stands. “If you’re lucky, you might see one fly by,” observed Mosur, sounding doubtful. Listening for bird calls depends on a sonic atmosphere uncluttered by anthropogenic noise. In San Francisco, this can be a challenge.

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Familiar Shore

By Jim Ross

I am standing on the beach at North Captiva Island, Florida. It is 4:30 on a July afternoon and I’m gazing at the most beautiful natural sight I’ve ever seen. The sun shines onto the sea, making the Gulf of Mexico look like a giant sheet of wavy green velvet on which a million diamonds sparkle. Before me is a strip of white sand. Behind me is a dead tree, perched on the edge of a protected preserve overgrown with palms, sea oats and salty scrub.

Like most Florida residents, I grew up someplace else. I was raised and educated near Chicago and came to Florida during college for reporting internships at the St. Petersburg Times and the Miami Herald. At age 21 I returned for a full-time job at the Times.

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Up in Smoke

By Erin Ollila

I used to sleep with a man who would wake me up in the morning to a lit cigarette and a cup of coffee. I thought that was so romantic – being woken up by kisses from a man I adored, taking a drag of his cigarette while I watched him light one of my Marlboro Menthol Lights with his monogram-engraved silver Zippo. The coffee was always too hot; I’d lean over his side of the bed to put the mug on the scratched hardwood. I’d lay back, pull the sage sheets around my more-than-likely-naked body and watch him get ready for work. I loved the way he put on his socks: Instead of leaning down to pull the sock over his foot like most people do, he lifted his foot off the floor and put on the sock midair. He’d then stand up, stuff his foot in his black Chuck Taylor All-Star sneakers, grab his keys, and head toward the door. Inevitably, I’d have to stop him from kicking over my coffee. He had no nightstands.

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Aqualung

By Medea Isphording Bern

A private soundtrack plays for us who venture down, who kiss the surface goodbye and plunge, feet first, under the waves. The big blue, our languid concert hall, offers measure after measure of muffled hush, accompanied by the ‘schlippp-pssshhh’ of the diver’s rhythmic breathing and the pop and crackle of a thousand jamming reef dwellers.  Aside from an occasional percussive rap on a tank, the chime that draws attention to some elusive or reclusive marvel–a turtle, a hammerhead, an octopus–we flutter toward the sea floor in near-perfect, crystalline silence.

Neutral aural compliments psychedelic visual.  A benign patch of sand sprouts eyes, orbs that dart staccato in their sockets like a watch’s spastic second hand.  A pretty, frilly, sponge-covered rock suddenly sprouts a tongue and uses it to stun a passing goby, swallowing it instantly. Blink, and you miss the spotted eagle ray flying over a knob of lime green brain coral, the snowflake eel warning away intruders, the coral crab playing its castanets.  Glide slowly, all senses ‘go’, and Neptune will reveal the secrets hidden inside every crevice and crenellation.

I was born with seawater in my veins, and curly red hair that, when wet and plastered against my skull, could pass for seaweed.   Our family passed weekends slicing Florida’s shimmering blue waters in our 19’ dive boat, ‘Mal de Mer’ (‘Sea Sick’ en français.)   Several times a year, we traveled with dad’s dive club, the North Osprey Otters, down to the Keys, boat in tow.  We slept on deck or in pup tents on the marl of uninhabited out-islands.  We washed everything–hair, clothes, dishes–in the sea with lemony liquid Joy (according to old timers, it cuts the salt.) We gave wide berth to the grinning barracuda that always hovered under our hulls. We floated within schools of Spanish mackerel, piscine clouds of citrine scrawled with horizontal turquoise stripes, a communion unlike the usual wine and wafer, but that left us feeling reverential and a little bit holy.

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Why We Don’t Buy

By Harmony Button

I never used to snooze. It was the button on my 1990s Big Lots clock radio that I never fully understood: why wake up just to suffer in limbo, knowing more real sleep is not an option? Then, I met Jason, and suddenly I started wearing skirts, hitting snooze, and learning to cook artichokes. Jason is a handyman photographer who knows how to appreciate poetry: with a spoon, unwittingly. Sometimes, I catch him mouthing words just for the sound of them. Festoon, my breadbasket Rothschild! he rumbles from the belly, impatient at red lights. I had found my own dream of a common language. I found, at least, a basis for comparison.

Like most other addictions, snoozing leaves me disoriented and unsatisfied, and yet, I really do enjoy it. I can take a look through the spyhole in the door and tell the morning knocking to be patient while I find my slippers, fix my figurative coffee. The morning steps back, wall-eyed face blurring into sight, and shuffles foot to foot, a package of day in his hand. He rings again. Leave it on the doorstep, I shout from inside, but the muffled voice of morning says I have to sign for the delivery. I sigh and open the door, clutching bathrobe tight at the neck. It’s a new day, the morning says, handing over the package while I sign on the dotted line. Funny, I say, I thought it might be my new self.

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