• 2020 Volume 15
Apple Slices
Ella Houden


March 29, 2020

            He always sliced the apples that he brought out for our midday snacks. He claimed that they tasted better that way, that eating an apple whole reminded him of Snow White, and I wasn’t supposed to be a damsel in distress. I was always “supposed to be the hero of my own story, because men are usually the ones who screw up, they're the real damsels, just not in fairy tales.” So we ate the apples as slices, bit into the fruit and let juice spill on our shirts without wiping it away; life's messy, there’s no need to conceal it. I guess the apple slices became synonymous with summer in my mind, because we only ate them on the back porch, the one overlooking the lake in Hayward, Wisconsin, the one with the wooden pole marred by grizzly bear claws, when the sun beat down on us, stained my skin pink, left its permanent mark as freckles and never as a tan. 
            He told the greatest stories in between bites of Granny Smiths, his eyes sparkling with each tale he wove. His favorite way to tell a story was to sing it, to let his words out in a tonedeaf attempt at song, his voice echoing over the black ink water of Stonelake. I always wondered if the Northern Muskies froze when his words made the water ripple above their heads, if the frogs in my brother’s hand stopped their squirming for a moment to appreciate the spontaneity of a story drawn from his mind and lungs. 
            The pink roped nets with plastic handles held the fish that we had caught by dropping fish food into the lake, and pulling our hands, brandishing the nets, up when the smaller fish came to eat it, capturing them as they flopped in horror. We tossed them back into the water from the edge of the pier, suspended in the air for a moment before they were free again. He had taught us how to catch them with our hands, but, more importantly, he taught us to also let them go. They didn’t cook right, and tasted like leather when he poured olive oil over them in a frying pan to prove his point. There was no need to let them dry up on the docks, to needlessly kill another living creature.
            I grew to love exploring the woods with him, singing the Going on a Bear Hunt song. He always changed the steps to the cave where the bear supposedly lived, making each journey different. I tried to mimic it later on, when my younger cousins gathered around the campfire, but I could never remember my favorite parts, the parts he made up.
            We stopped visiting the lodge overlooking the lake when he was in the hospital. We stopped visiting altogether as a family. He had the same sparkle in his eye, it was just dulled beneath the fluorescent lights and linoleum floor. He turned his head away from us, electing to watch the game on the television tucked in the corner instead. He wanted to go outside, especially when our Easter celebration was held on the patio adjacent to the sliding glass doors in his room. The patio was a glorified sidewalk protruding out of the hospital like a thorn in it’s side, dully unlike the one we had eaten apple slices on in the summer, the one where storytelling became our pastime. 
            After he passed, after the funeral, I went back to the lodge. It was emptier without his voice, but it was the only place I could remember where he had been alive, not in the sense of a beating heart, but in songs rustling over his vocal chords and sparkling mischief in his eyes. I found an apple in the kitchen, left in a bowl with nothing else, forgotten in the center of the table. I picked it up, ran my hands over its dusty skin. I ran it under the tap, and found a knife to slice it up, the same way he had. Cutting board from the cupboard on the far left, hands curled while my nails dig into it, the tip of the knife going in the pocket where the brown stem protrudes from like a belly button. I bring the knife down to the cutting board, repeating it all the way around until the apple falls apart in pieces, the poisonous seeds revealed in the center. I bring the slices out on the cutting board, not bothering to grab a plate from the bottom drawer, and sit in our spot on the deck. The two rocking chairs angled towards each other with a side table wedged in between. I bite into the apples, and watch the sun as it dips nearer to the black water, letting the juice spill over my shirt. The breeze picks up, combing between the branches of the trees, and makes the rocking chair next to me, the empty one, shudder and rock gently back and forth. I can’t help but think he’s sitting there with me, watching the sunset on our lake, watching the juice of the apple dribble off of my chin. 


Pedal Gracefully


The petals will be sand in my rain jacket pocket.
They lick dryly against the polyester static
in the zipped cell set flat against my chest.
I was taught to leave them until they
shriveled by their own means, the only pressure
my movement, my legs gliding through circles
on the spokes of my droplet-dotted bicycle in evening’s rain,
the jerks and shifts to avoid senseless puddles threading waves,
energy, loops of ice pebbles
up through my muscles, startling my core
and promoting the slight saunter, delayed erosion
of the curled-up, cocoon shape of decay
beyond replenishment dangling
in my hidden pocket.

When I feel their knots and spikes
jutting slightly against the thin, glossy fabric of my coat
to skim my chest, I know that their abrasion
counts on more than the donut circulation
of pulses in my legs, the swaying of my torso
set on an evening of shades lighter than gray
but softer, less blinding than white:
an evening where my head moves from ground
to overhead, to every side as lustrous cars,
colors of maroon, navy, black,
ripe cherry
paint strokes of my reflection beating by.
The people on the sidewalk
glance down at their puddle-tinted soles
though inside their heads feel nothing close to dread.

When I halt by the sidewalk, slip off my bike,
tumble on sleekness,
When I rush through the black metal
gates, dripping and shedding minced tile slates,
trickling beetle skins of paint to the garden,
my hand hesitant as it hovers before my chest,
I think to
pinch the crinkling petals of the tulip
which once sat dry above dampened dirt
that had not yet turned to mud. I remember there was
a fresh series of days when stems cascaded white silk,
were ruffled against softly by brown rabbits,
so delicately skipping, wisping their rain-stained,
acute triangle noses
against flourishing roots and petal skins, glazed by a natural
film of strawberry milk, frosted white or evergreen-mist blue.

Never bring fingers
like pennies
of frozen plush
to a dry, wrinkled yellow stem:
a stem that may wiggle, hold on
but proceeds to crack.

Art: Flower Fossil by Grace Baranko



Born anew in elasticity, beige and borrowed,
I bathe in barrels of crimson wine
Until it stains in droplets of sacrament on my skin,
Unrelenting, like ashen sediment.

I bathe in barrels of crimson wine
In drunken baptisms veiled by vapor haze.
Unrelenting, like ashen sediment,
My morals bleed in the eggshell of stolen scriptures.

In drunken baptisms veiled by vapor haze,
Could I distill what drapes above in a sole stream?
My morals bleed in the eggshell of stolen scriptures,
Like ink tarnishing cobalt-stained glass.

Could I distill what drapes above in a sole stream?
Its contents coursing, intravenous and acute,
Like ink tarnishing cobalt-stained glass.
I exist outside of solemn syllables and damning.

Its contents coursing, intravenous and acute,
I’m ridden with rituals composed of moss and memory.
I exist outside of solemn syllables and damning,
Evergreen and unforgetting.

I’m ridden with rituals composed of moss and memory,
Curiosity like venom dispersed in opaque milk.
Evergreen and unforgetting,
Do I fear both the life I live and its residue?

Curiosity like venom dispersed in opaque milk,
I feel tangible when speaking in what is not said,
Do I fear both the life I live and its residue?
Sordid in silence, an apple in my teeth.

I feel tangible when speaking in what is not said,
Like how blind blends into midnight with ease.
Sordid in silence, an apple in my teeth,
The remnants of the Sistine chapel on my palm.
Like how blind blends into midnight with ease,
At the week’s closure, I lament and wash away
The remnants of the Sistine chapel on my palm,
Calloused from judgment’s embers.


Art: Angel by Anthony Sanchez

Ramesses II


I used to lounge on the Nile flood plain
to watch the river churn and cut the sands,
and to think how people cheered
for my glory long ago
and now there is only the same glory to cheer for.
Yes, I was great;
I saw it in the flames,
the cascades of shifting bodies in the streets,
proud of swordsmen, land-winners,
fledgeling charioteers.
For them I was enigma,
Ramesses, the Great Ancestor, the god
who tinkered in the life-forge.

But sulking at the Nile bank, I saw rocks
moved and smoothed and shattered, simple water
ravaging the earth, and my mind sprung
up and asked the gods to let me
become water, so Ra told me,
smirking, I was a man.

Yes, I was a man, but maybe
if I climbed high enough
I would be a man emancipated
from the anchors of the world.
Yes, I was a man, but I was a man
deserving, and for years
I climbed the climb to power.

In the seventh year I summited, stumbling
in the sky-wind as gods blew
out their lungs to sound
a warning over the winds, calling
you are no god, just
one speck
on Ta Dehent. Nothing around.
No yielding soldiers, complacent
prince, palace, throne,
glory. Sand. There was sand and I wilted
into it. I took to the tomb.

Now, at night the Nile is not mine;
the red sky sees an empire
and a man in the gloom stands
with a pensive lean.
I am granite; I cannot turn;
neither of us can see the other’s eyes.
In the prelude to boundlessness,
marble does not freeze him,
though his body
mocks me. He forgets
how it is to have everything
and still for the world to spin

Art: Destruction by Jade Wilson