The Physics of Grief by Kimberly Peterson

++++As I slide my tray towards the cash, “Code Blue, Emergency” punctuates the hospital cafeteria’s clangs and chatter. How inconsiderate to interrupt my supper. “It’s your father.”

++++I have frequently wailed at television medical dramas for feeding viewers hollow hope by presenting three medical miracles each episode and thus inverting odds so that every casino patron wins the jackpot. Liar, liar! I know the medical team rarely resuscitates patients; but, my father is fifty and fit.

++++My apprehension grows as I approach a quiet room instead of one emitting the luminescent glow and monotone whirl of medical equipment. Daily tools (airway, IV, EKG pads) appear alien attached to Dad’s dusky body. My memories are syncopated by a strobe light alternating between numbing darkness and brief piercing light. Mom and I are both nurses. Instead of offering condolences, the supervisor ruminates about finding replacements for our shifts. “Shut up, I’ll work for both of them.” 

++++I hold grief like a sapling humbled by freezing rain. My family physician says Dad’s death will make me a better nurse. I bend in half as I long to bend back time, stifling sobs into the sleeves of my scrubs. I’m already a great nurse; I want my father back.

++++Dementia has regressed Auntie to infancy. Each breath crackles as she sucks it through the lime green sludge of pneumonia invading her lungs. Her family does not want to “play God” by withholding resuscitation. I cannot convey the futility of this assault that resists rather than accepts God’s will for one who is already so ill. Words flee my reach like a startled flock of Canada geese flapping into flight. The family is equally at a loss when I ask them to tell me what Auntie wanted.

++++Dad died wearing his favourite green plaid shirt. Its fragrance of honeycombs and rabbit hatches mingles with the hospital’s antiseptic alcohol odour as the only tangible item in the room.

++++A thin crust of icy calm coats my deep-water grief when the next death occurs on my unit. Like a grandmother clock whose winding mechanism is broken beyond repair, the matriarch fails to take her next breath in a brief interlude when family members sleep. Even though the family knew grandmother was dying, I choose my words knowing the deep groove each one leaves in waxy memory heated by grief. I remove medical supplies, place a fresh orange speared with cloves in the room, change this matriarch from the standard-issue blue hospital gown into her rose-flowered flannel nightgown and wait to offer my condolences.

++++On Mom’s first day as a widow, wisps of snow whitewash the farm mirroring our monochrome ache. A neighbour’s red plaid coat cuts through our view. He lowers Dad’s flag to half-mast before returning to his chores. His simple act of acknowledgement provides a sharp contrast to many who glance away.

++++Daughters surround the unconscious elder like an aureolin halo as her blue limbs cool, her breath waxes and wanes.  Because her physician deemed it premature to discuss “no resuscitation”, I’m obliged to start CPR when her heart stops. I landmark on the sternum to begin compressing; but, like a seized piston, cannot press down. I ask the daughters about allowing a natural death, invite them to touch their mother, talk to her. The geese land having found a safe pond.

++++Words begin as sounds, molecules of osculating air funnelled by the ear channel to rattle the ossicles and ripple across cochlear fluid on a journey to the temporal lobe. Here the brain treats words like puzzle pieces and assembles them into meaning. Grief taught me that, once assembled, those puzzle pieces can float me up into the atmosphere like a bouquet of helium balloons or tumble me to the ground and scatter as dangerous for me to collect as mercury.

++++I did not try to erase the words I heard following my father’s death; instead, I recorded their vibrations in my mitochondria. I use them as the scale to measure the density of my words so I can titrate each one to soothe rather than inflame as I guide people through grief on the path of least regret. Had my family physician said I could honour my father’s death by harvesting my grief to help others, I may have found my way sooner.


Kimberly Peterson’s experience as a nurse informs the themes of grief and joy which she explores. Her pieces have been or will be published in Poetry Breakfast, Drunk Monkeys, 3Element Review, Black Napkin, Byword, Generation Magazine and Room Magazine. She received honourable mention in Banister’s 32 annual contest.

A Brush with Death by Laura Hampton

A year and a month after Dad died, mom was finally ready to fulfill his last wishes and distribute his ashes in the mountains. We had grown up going to the mountains: my dad a true mountain man trapped in the wrong century. He had always threatened that, when his time came, he would wrap himself up in a blanket and disappear into the woods, like the last of the Mohicans. He did manage to die with as little fuss and inconvenience as possible, and left behind simple stipulations for his funeral. He wanted to be cremated, a great party thrown, and then, his ashes spread somewhere in his beloved Sierra mountains.

My siblings and I studied the maps, and after long deliberation, decided on a summit above Lake Tahoe. The map was inaccurate, and the road impassable. Thwarted, we drove back down the mountain, and halfway to the bottom found a green valley looking between two peaks at the sky-blue lake, the sides gently embracing us, framed by dark pines. Spontaneously and unanimously, (unusual for our family) we agreed this was the place. After a picnic lunch I was elected (less squeamish than the others) to divide up the ashes into little baggies for each of us to distribute. I had been prewarned by friends about the ashes: be sure to shake them up a bit as they settle, and, they look nothing like fireplace ashes. Grittier, heavier, substantive.

We took our baggies and wandered off, each finding our own private spot. I felt an awkward panic, not knowing what to do, or expect. Modern day doesn’t prepare us for these rituals. We had been so busy planning the trip, picking the location, packing the lunch, we hadn’t thought through the actual dispensation of ashes. However, as I looked out at the Teutonic landscape, I calmed. I thought of the centuries of people who have dispatched their dead, some with great ceremony—flaming biers, processions, ululations– some quickly, a hasty burial and nothing more to mark the event. We were part of these, connected to the grand succession of life and death. I hadn’t felt this connection at the funeral service, with its soft chairs and microphones and slide show. Being here in the old mountains– near a lake formed from prehistoric heaving earth, feeling the afternoon sun on my face, smelling the spicy clumps of mule ear leaves, letting the scratchy low pine branches rasp my legs– the deep magic of mortality and the ancient custom of mourning became palpable and authentic.

I held my baggie out, hoping the breeze would take the ash. But the ash was too dense, rather, it slid out of the bag, as if sowing seed, piling up on the ground. Not ethereal flighty stuff, rather, the remains of my father’s body; bone and tooth. I braced myself for being grossed out, but instead: relief. Here he was, here he is.

Looking up, at the others a bit off, and at the sky, water and dark trees, I felt Dad among us. Not as a claustrophobic haunting, but as a spacious warmth, a presence, a shining blessing. But very specifically, him. I experienced the comfort I’d had as a child, camping out under the dark, star-studded sky, where potential bears or wolves might materialize, and yet, Dad was nearby, rolled up in his red sleeping bag, and all was well with the world. I didn’t see a ghostly apparition, or at the very least, hear his voice, but all the same, he was there.

I knew people had these visitations. Appreciating his anticipation of being in heaven, and his predilection for not making a fuss, I hadn’t thought we’d get a visit from him. I marveled at how the barrier between the living and the death could thin so conveniently in this place, now. A mystery.

I wondered if he had followed us bouncing up the dusty, rutted mountain road, and then halfway back down, had watched us scurry the picnic out of the car, then fold it all up again, waiting for us to be still. Always he was like that, a quiet manner, restful. He had been in some pain and discomfort when he died, and his presence felt free, unburdened, whole and well. Neither he nor I were much for small talk, and often we’d just sit side by side, quiet but communing. One more time, we sat together.

After a while, quietly, baggies emptied, the family came back together. Walking to the car, we

picked up pieces of gray granite. Like eons of mourners who have gone before us, at the road we built a cairn to mark this spot. Perhaps we would return, and perhaps, Dad too, would return to bless us again with his presence. Out of the way as this spot was, probably not. It is a gift, this one last exchange, between the living and the departed.



Laura Hampton lives in Houston, Texas. A former book editor, her current incarnation is as a Pilates teacher and Master Instructor, living in Houston, Texas. She has had numerous pieces of short fiction, essays, and poetry published in on-line and print publications.

Fragments by Geraldine Mac Donald

“I’ll bet that woke you up,” I hear the doctor say over my grunting as he yanks the cystoscope from my bladder. I feel it scrape along the urethra in every aching millimetre. Why’s he so jovial, I wonder.

“Looks good,” he says, while I try to man-up and not cry. “Was probably just an infection. I’ll write you a prescription before you leave.”

Leave. That’s exactly what I’d intended all along. Have a little fun. Learn the language well enough to put it on my curriculum vitae, right there beneath top-of-the-class and hot-as-Latino-hell, and then adios amigos!

At the beginning I’d warned her with the standard protocol. I told her I was leaving when my fellowship was done. I had no intentions of marrying anyone in this country. My plans were set like cured cement and they didn’t include her. But that was before. Before she brightened sterile hallways and sweetened free weekends and warmed cold sheets in rented apartments.

Before my mother met her.

Did she do it on purpose? You have to ask, right? Questions whisper. Is it even mine?

These are the thoughts that distract me while I take the long way home around English Bay, calculating just how much everything had suddenly, instantaneously, changed.
Bladder cancer, no. Fatherhood, yes?

I’ve always detested kids. Pediatrics was never going to be my first choice. I’d rather deal with an adult coughing up bacteria-riddled sputum than a crying child in a wet diaper. So when they called her with the results I knew, even before she turned pale and hung up the phone, that my choices no longer mattered.

“It’s either twins or I’m further along than we thought,” she said as the room swayed.
I’d felt earthquakes before but this one was different. Was she threatening me with twins when I was barely able to contemplate one?

One: I silently prayed for one being the lesser of two evils. And I envisioned the conversation I’d have with the attendant when checking in at the airport on my way home next year.

“Sir, you’re only allowed two bags.”

“How about two bags, a foreign wife, an unplanned child, and all the baggage that goes along with them?”

“That’ll cost extra, sir.”

There had to be a right thing to say at that moment, something honest and helpful, but it wasn’t yet in my lexicon. I hadn’t been here long enough to adopt that sort of innate diplomacy.

“Is it mine,” was apparently not the right thing to say. It was an honest question, yes, but not helpful.

They were the longest nine months of my being, filled with the expected ups and downs of unexpected pregnancy: a wartime rife with the kind of turmoil that is hard to claim victory over until your very last enemy is left breathless and begging for mercy at your feet. But Change begs mercy to no man, and Victory is just another name for Acceptance.

I slept while she sat in the living room re-reading yesterday’s news and pretending that she wasn’t terrified by the storm of contractions wracking her body. I ate, showered, and read another article in The New England Journal of Medicine while she systematically, minute-by-minute, changed everything there was to change about my life.

Time. Taxi. The room was ready, like a hotel, with dimmed lights and soft music. Did she want an epidural? No. Why not? Where I come from women of our social class pre-order epidurals and plan their c-sections weeks in advance, marking it on their calendars as if it were a date out to the theatre. They wear lipstick to the operating room. Fathers stand aside and watch from behind walls of sheets.

So what was I doing standing here rubbing her back with numb hands, holding up her leg so she could push more effectively, wiping away tears with a soft towel and kissing her forehead to ease her pain? Did her water finally break? Is that meconium-staining? Hurry-up, can’t she push any harder? Faster. Quicker. I need to see my child. Is it? What’s his APGAR? Nine. He’s perfectly healthy. He’s perfect.

We’ll give him my name of course. It’s right. It’s best. It’s what we do. I need to call my family now. They’ll want to know.

And there it was, the fragment of self I thought I’d somehow lost, cloaked by the everyday way we go about owning our decisions, facing Change as friend not foe; broken into smaller pieces and left to set in a colourful mosaic where the fractions make it whole.
He’s twenty-three now, still perfect, and the other three followed close behind, equally right; like a small band of home-grown warriors all draped in the colours of two flags and ready to stand for what they know.

We’ll help them if we can, together.

Pediatrics was never going to be my specialty.


Geraldine MacDonald was born and raised in Ontario, Canada and holds a Bachelor of Nursing Science Degree from Queen’s University. She presently writes fiction in different genres and creative nonfiction in short form. Her first fiction novel for young adults, Sumac Summer, was released in December 2015 with rave reviews. Print editions are currently available through the author at or in the following brick and mortar stores: Novel Idea in Kingston and Books Galore and More in Port Perry, Ontario. Digital editions area available through and in global territories. Her second novel, a YA action/adventure, is planned for release in autumn of 2016. Geraldine resides in Kingston, Ontario with her spouse, their four children, and one very spoiled dog.

A Loss of Seabirds by Stephanie Madan

++++++I’ve always found collective nouns appealing – a flutter of butterflies, an unkindness of ravens. So many groupings to be described, so many as yet unnamed. Now, looking back to the year I was five, recalling how imagination and speculation spun my world, I choose a name for a certain tender group – all the mystified, fanciful five year-olds. I name them a query of wonderers.

++++++Wondering was my full time occupation at that age. Dot, my great aunt, had died and my confusion regarding the intersection of Dot, God and my parents led to unnerving beliefs. Among them – Dot could observe me and whatever I was doing and thinking at all times. Alive, she had alarmed me with her fierce bushy eyebrows. Dead, hovering over me at will, she still held all the power.

++++++If, for example, I did not brush my teeth, only dampened the brush, too late it would occur to me that Dot was watching me commit this sin. I had already decided God was a very large testy human, one not necessarily rooting for me. With Dot in the picture, I became certain she alerted him to each transgression and he, with somber relish, reported all to my parents. They claimed they knew through eyes in the back of their heads, but I knew it was God tattling.

++++++As punishment, I was always required by my parents to relinquish whatever I cherished most – the dime that represented my entire financial health or perhaps my beloved music box with the popup ballerina, “until we decide you’ve learned your lesson.” If I had lied about my favorite, I knew Dot would tell.

++++++The period the item was absent never exceeded a day or two, but resembled forever to me. This strategy of deprivation was, of course, a source of fascinated dread. What would I lose next? And why? The rules I broke were often hazy, and extenuating factors were not taken into consideration.

++++++For instance, what was I to do when my sister spoiled my irreplaceable Snow White page in the coloring book? (We shared this coloring book. I assumed then that this measure of household economy was normal, and possibly it was somewhere, but I have never met another soul who had to share a coloring book.)

++++++Yanking my sister’s hair for scribbling on my page seemed reasonable retaliation. Dot would surely agree this was not me being bad. Then again, how confident was I as to her definition of bad?

++++++During my childhood I embraced this larger-than-life perspective. But eventually, inevitably, my belief a celestial panel was eagerly plotting to impose more losses faded. However, navigating the world on its terms has taught me reality is not so different after all.

++++++The sense that loss is non-negotiable, that what is valued will disappear, endures. Life driven by the random, the unfathomable, compels me to proceed with wariness along a vague path, tensed for unmapped chasms, fissures – a failed marriage, a lost friend. I watch and wonder as landmarks shimmer and disappear when one parent dies, the other becomes my child. Powerless, I exist knowing my world follows an unreliable orbit.

++++++I have a house in Mexico where I linger late afternoons on the terrace, gazing at seabirds soaring and swooping in formations above the bay. With casual optimism they ride the wind, never questioning whether it will maintain. I admire their calm confidence, envy their mantles of assurance.

++++++Then, some evenings, when clouds obscure the stars, I return to the terrace and gaze into the night’s deep nothing. I envision those wheeling seabirds as creatures filled with all I know – magically, instantly, internalizing all the lessons I have learned. I feel them recognize that their world spins in perilous rotation. I feel their fierce anguish as they search for a long-departed sea, beg for comfort from expired stars. Absorb the pain of absence.

++++++I name them a loss of seabirds when I see them drifting in wobbling parabolas, wings working ceaselessly to maintain lift, understanding only slowly that no currents of air remain to buoy them. That the punishment for life is loss.


Stephanie Madan has worked as a fiction and essay columnist with My Table magazine and The Buzz, chronicling life lived mostly in restaurants. Her fiction, essays and poems on subjects such as murder, good dogs and the fate of truth and compassion are published in numerous anthologies.

Two Works by Barbara Ruth


A lune for naked protesters

“Green sex to fight climate
change!” First learn
how to tuck yourself in.

Dyketactics: Leaderless

+++++++When we said we had no leader it wasn’t just our theory talking, it was the reality.
Nobody passive, no one deferring. Passionate, difficult women, egging each other on,
cracking each other up. Such naiveté. Such courage. We did the actions, then we
wrote the press releases and it was there, in the hammering out of the press release
that we figured out the theoretical bases for why we did what we did. Theory followed
action. No sitting around talking about Lenin and Luxembourg for us. Without leaders
anybody could suggest anything. Anything could happen. We got to know each other
within the demonstrations, in our collective houses and beds, found out who would do
what. I would have risked my life for any of us. I did. We all did.





Barbara Ruth was a member of DYKETACTICS!, an anarchist action group based in Philadelphia in the mid-seventies.. We were the first LGBT group in the US (possibly the world) to bring legal action against the cops for police brutality.. We are all still alive.

Why Are You Here? by Kristine Brown

Please list, in detail, the reason(s) why you are seeking services from ________

psychological and counseling services. The more specific you are, the easier it will be to

assess your needs and begin a treatment plan that best serves you:

“You’re a very angry person. I hope you find peace.”

The recommendation to seek help for my rage hasn’t been issued by just one person.

In 2013, I graduated college. I didn’t join a sorority, nor did I study abroad. Simply, I didn’t have the resources to, and already felt so out of place. Kind of funny, considering much of my time preening before mirrors and giggling over Instant Messages transpired just thirty minutes away. Forty-five with traffic.

In other instances I’d refer to 2009 through 2013 as “college.” At times, I understand why older friends who found their success in pragmatic entrepreneurship would snicker as I gushed about an essay I did well on, or a test I tackled. “So what? Doesn’t everyone at this age, in this day?”

To a large degree yes, to a large degree no.

Some teachers I’ve befriended, over coffee, barstools, and discussions over yesterday’s headlines, may be aware of the conveyor belt mentality. As many degrees as possible, within that four-year frame. Four years and a semester, instead of four? Unacceptable.

Perhaps too much was shared with me those past four years. And while it’s best to let it go, I can’t stop thinking about this.

When more than one former professor and classmate tells you about so-and-so student who can’t find a job, and you’re asked if there are openings at your place, I mean, would you feel odd? Kind of insulted? Maybe it’s just me. After all, the individuals concerned laughed in that crowd. “You’re too dumb for the law schools you’re applying to. You shouldn’t be considering schools like that.” “Okay,” I said, proceeding to apply nonetheless.

But regardless of my acceptances, I didn’t go.

I didn’t feel I deserved to go.

“It’s crazy to me that you were able to get a job on a livable wage, months after graduating college, and here are my classmates from graduate school, with 4.0s, and yet they’re looking for adequate work. Why? How? Is that fair?”

I shouldn’t have mentioned I was no longer waitressing the night I caught up with a so-called friend.

When asked about why I feel that I don’t deserve the things I have, I try to explain my remorse in terms of personal accomplishments. I know generational entitlement is a topic heatedly discussed, but I witnessed it, in politically correct forms. A program for this group, and a program for that. Despite all my witnessing and experiences from childhood to independence, I was the privileged princess. If anything, what I did was at the prodding of a domineering mother. I, a soulless robot, knew no hardship.

I clearly recall several lectures in non-related courses touching upon the flawless Asian. The dancer without passion, the writer without a creative thought. “These are the ones you have to beat,” a professor boomed, his yardstick pointed at the class in condemnation. “The Asians. They have it out for you.”

While I’ve read plenty and gleaned inspiration from online bloggers sharing similar experiences, writing flash pieces specifically about my experience as a Southeast Asian was kind of a step towards “getting over” my longstanding issues of cultural confusion and admittedly, ethnic self-loathing.

I have a Caucasian last name. My father is Caucasian. My father was also in the military. While the country is different in Full Metal Jacket, that notorious scene and laughable catchphrase are relevant to my conception. On that part, I won’t elaborate further. But when I think of college, I remember the following:

– Classes dumbed down to where most people knew, towards the end, that just showing up gave you an “A.”

– Being brought into offices because I apparently wrote good research papers, only to be mistaken for another ethnicity and in one instance, was asked if my mother owned a buffet restaurant, and if I worked there. I left feeling the professor implied it wasn’t right that I, not belonging to the targeted group of the research program concerned, was enrolled in college. It’s kind of like that “they’re stealing our jobs” talk when relatives get mad about immigration. In actuality, a Bachelor’s degree was antithetical to my mother’s wants. I remember the day she expressed her displeasure in explaining to her boss why I wouldn’t be working at the franchised gas station full time, even if my mother’s position got me the job in lieu of an interview.

– Finally expressing my senior year of college, in hopes that I’d get the proper advice, that I was interested in applying to prestigious law schools, only to be told that “it wouldn’t be fair to your peers.” At this point, I’m not exactly sure of the nature of fairness. I wouldn’t say I was necessarily an applicant with grandiose expectations, but I suppose just taking a shot was anathema enough.

– The woman who asked me if I was Japanese when interviewing me for a clerical position. I later learned that even for a federal work-study job, her asking was illegal. Prior, I was offended solely because she supplemented her query with comments on my eyes and pixie haircut. “Your eyes suggest you’re part Japanese.” A declaration, perhaps?

– The same woman, exclaiming, “I didn’t know you were in the Honors Program,” when I mentioned to a peer a book I was reading for class. “Doesn’t the G.I. Bill pay for your school?” To my knowledge, nothing mandates a parent to allocate his military benefits toward a child’s educational costs. My father chose to continue his own school, telling me I should work for my own.

I possibly have bored and annoyed you already. Never did I mention to professors and classmates my father was in the military. Just, that “Caucasian” last name. “Are you adopted?” “Well, no.”

(I am not disparaging anyone who is a military dependent, and has education funded through a parent’s G.I. Bill. I mention it to illustrate how blatantly stereotypical some statements and perceptions were about myself in an environment that I believe should have been primarily focused on merit).

My family, they operate a bit differently, as did the families who lived nearby. The city, it’s family-oriented. On your own when you turn eighteen? What, did you sleep around? I mean, seriously, What did you do? Nothing is all I can say. It was protocol. And as for “You’re Filipina. Family first.” Well, for some families, I’m sure that’s priority. In mine, things were different. It was difficult enough, explaining how angry my mother was when a mandatory presentation for a research fellowship conflicted with a last-minute request to drive her to the pharmacy. “Doesn’t your mother value education? She’s Asian, isn’t she?”

In high school, I remember being told, “You aren’t one of us. You don’t make the grades, and your parents don’t seem to push you to get into good schools.” The same was said in college. In both exchanges, the messenger was an East Asian. It was then that I grew aware of the divides between East, Southeast, and South Asians, and the debate among fellow Filipinos as to whether they were “Asians” or “Pacific Islanders.”

Interestingly, I was told by the president of our Filipino Student Association that I “did not look Filipino” enough to be a member. It was funny, to note how many other Filipinos got Facebook invites to FSA festivities, while I did not get a single notification.

So a short while ago, there was an episode at work where someone asked me what my ethnicity was. I think the person was genuinely curious, and once again I was trying to be believably social. So I told him, and one of the older women loudly said, “Oh, well that explains everything! We were talking about you the other day. Thought you had an eating disorder.”

Really, what do you say to that? And really, is she forty-three?

And while I may be Asian, “petite,” and “perfect,” think of the movie Gran Torino. Yes, different Asian group. But what you see in that movie very much describes the outcome of other kids of the same ethnicity (often mixed. Caucasian fathers. Both military and non-military) within my immediate periphery. Graduating high school without getting pregnant was apparently an achievement. By the time I was twenty-one, a handful of these girls my age already had their second child. While I’m not disparaging young motherhood, it’s worrisome when parents actively ask for money to pay for their grandchild’s diapers. It’s worrisome to hear of this-and-that’s kid who lost his scholarship due to shoplifting. It’s worrisome to hear of twenty-five year-olds, still living with their parents, dropping out of community college and dazzled with that white Audi mom gave them just to brag at church. At eighteen, I was told that as law dictates, I was on my own, and responsible for myself. Still, I do not see the anomaly in this. It had always been protocol.

This was my experience. Perfection, is it not?

And no, while my mother may have communicated this, as doctors and nurses did tell me what she disclosed as her occupation, she is not a nurse. My father is not a physician. My parents did not support my going to college, though my mother continued to tell her coworkers (some who were classmates of mine in high school) that the only reason why she was working when really, she should be enjoying the “wealth of your husband’s retirement”, was that she was paying for me to go to this private, Catholic university in full.

My parents did not pay a dime. And I’m sure a good handful of people, both Southeast Asian and non-Southeast Asian, didn’t have family pay for their tuition either.

(Not that I’m disparaging those whose parents did fund their education).

I haven’t visited my “hometown” in two years. Throughout college, I was happy just to visit and stand at the checkout line without my former high school classmate reporting my total and asking me if I felt bad about my mother working so hard to pay for my supposedly fancy pants college. This happened at the home improvement store. The bookstore. Wal-Mart.

I’m trying to let it go, and stake my claims on confidence, but this is quite difficult. Writing, about pretty much anything, has recently helped. I’m not as explosive as I used to be. You could also say quitting my job where I was continually ridiculed because of my alma mater helped too. At my current job, your tenure is determined by how hard you work, and how well you work. No one talks about my school being a fallback, and I’m working towards accepting the praise I receive.

Yes, professor. I am Asian. But no, my parents did not promise death or a scalding if I didn’t get into Harvard College. They did, however, feel somehow ashamed because I wanted to pursue what I thought was right, something that for some reason, we couldn’t see eye to eye on. For a cluster of families, that thing may concern the question of what a child majors in. For my family, the issue was my attending college altogether.

So, if this were written on a big paper square, eventually folded into a crane, how big would the bird be? And if I were to crumple it, would I have a basketball?

Tossing it in the trash. It’s probably the best thing. Though writing remains feasible, and recollection bleeds. At this point, the crane is mine, to chuck away or refine at the creases. No matter the salience of ignorance, the off-the-wall presumptions, and the fact that I’ve chipped yet another tooth from clenching my jaw in annoyance, what to do with the crane, inevitably and irrevocably, is a choice only I could make.

Help me make the best choice.





When not at her day job, Kristine Brown works as a freelance writer and editor. She frequently tends to her hobby of making hand painted coasters. Some of her writing has been featured in Journal of Asian Politics and History, Sanglap: Journal of Literary and Cultural Inquiry, In-flight Literary Magazine, Dulcet Quarterly, and Thought Catalog. She regularly writes poetry, flash stories, and essays at her blog, Crumpled Paper Cranes

Why My Father Never Voted by Gershon Ben-Avraham

Older men declare war. But it is the youth that must fight and die.
— Herbert Hoover

All the ills of democracy can be cured by more democracy.
— Al Smith

+++++++There are many reasons that a significant percentage of
eligible American voters do not vote. The reasons are as varied
as the voters themselves. They range from something as seemingly
simple as the inconvenience of getting to the polling station to
something as complex as the inability to find a candidate whom
one can support unequivocally. Some voters, frustrated by what
appears to them to be the recurring need to select the lesser of
two evils, turn pessimistic, drop out, and elect to stay home.
My father never voted, not once in his entire life, but I have
never seen his reason listed in any of the analyses of voting
results I have read. His reason was rooted in something that
happened when he was twelve years old. I did not learn about it
until almost twenty years after his death, and then quite by

+++++++I grew up in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960s. It was a
difficult time to be there. Mississippi was harshly segregated
along racial lines, and violence, including murder, was often
used by white supremacists to deny Blacks their economic and
civil rights. Medgar Evers, field secretary for the NAACP in
Mississippi, was assassinated in the driveway of his home in
Jackson in 1963. In 1964, three civil rights workers, James
Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner were murdered by
the Ku Klux Klan in Philadelphia, Mississippi. In 1967, the Klan
bombed the only synagogue in Jackson, as well as the home of its
Rabbi, Perry Nussbaum. However, not only Mississippi was in
turmoil. At the national level, the country endured the
assassinations of John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and
Robert Kennedy, the Watts riots, the tumultuous 1968 Democratic
National Convention in Chicago, not to mention a divisive war in
Southeast Asia that eventually claimed over 58,000 American
lives. As a young man growing up in the 1960s, I felt that my
country was coming apart.

+++++++Somewhere in the middle of all of this, I had a Civics
class at school. In Civics, I learned about my rights, duties,
and responsibilities as a citizen of Mississippi, and as an
American. I learned about how our government is organized, our
political system, and political parties. I learned about
democracy, and the importance of voting. I was not yet old
enough to vote, but I was aware of what seemed to me to be an
injustice, young men old enough to be drafted and sent to fight
a war, but not old enough to vote for or against the politicians
who sent them.

+++++++I decided to talk with my father about how I felt. I wanted
to know if he believed things could be fixed and, if so, what he
thought needed to be done. I wanted to know for whom he voted,
and why. When I discussed it with him, he told me that he had
never voted. Never. I was shocked. My father had lived through
the Great Depression. He had served in the military in World War
II, and during the Korean War. He had lived through the McCarthy
era, the beginning of the Cold War, and the Cuban missile
crisis. I felt certain that he must have voted, at least once. I
was wrong. When I asked him why he never voted, all he said was
this: “I once knew a man who killed a man over an election.”
That was all. I was so deferential to my father that I did not
even think to ask him for details; and for his part, he did not
volunteer any.

+++++++My father died in 1976, and my mother in 1986. It is not
uncommon, I think, that the death of parents leads a person into
exploring his family’s history. It certainly did me. In the
early 1990s I went to Asheville, North Carolina, where my father
had been born in 1916, to research his side of the family. I
knew that his father had been born in a small place called
Democrat, North Carolina. I visited Democrat, really just a
small crossroads a short distance off I-26 north of Asheville.
Nearby, I found a two-story square log house built along Sugar
Creek, according to local tradition in 1825, by one of my
father’s ancestors. Not far away, at Morgan Hill Cemetery, I
visited the graves of my grandfather and grandmother. I walked
around, took several photographs, and then returned to

+++++++In Asheville, I went to the public library to do a
newspaper search. I knew my great-grandfather, Lee Plemmons,
father of my father’s mother, had died in 1928. Not sure of the
exact date, however, I slowly worked my way through the
microfilm records of the Asheville Citizen newspaper for 1928.
In the edition of November 9, I found what I was looking for,
“Plemmons Rites This Afternoon.” I also found something that I
was not looking for, a subheading that read, “Inquest is Held.”
In the article I read the following:

+++++++Lee Plemmons, merchant of 75 West Haywood Street,
came to his death ‘from a blow with a blunt instrument
at the hands of his son, Zeb Plemmons,’ according to
the verdict of the coroner’s jury at the inquest held
Thursday morning…The injury to Mr. Plemmons is said
to have resulted from an election day quarrel between
father and son, the elderly man supporting Hoover and
the son, a World war veteran, supporting Smith.

+++++++The man my father knew who had killed a man over an
election was his uncle; the man who was killed, was his
grandfather. At the time of my great-grandfather’s death, my
father was twelve years old. He was living in Asheville. I have
no record of how he felt about what happened, but the impact of
it would last his lifetime. No matter who was running, no matter
how important the issues, he would never, ever, vote.

+++++++My great-grandfather Plemmons was buried in Green Hills
Cemetery in Asheville. The newspaper listed his survivors. I
used the list to search the Asheville phonebook to see if anyone
might still be living. I found a daughter named Lillie Gee. I
had never met her. I decided to call her. My opening question
was “Did you have a sister named Minnie who had a son name
Ralph?” She said, “Who wants to know?” I said, “Minnie was my
grandmother, and Ralph was my father.” She asked me what that
made us. I told her she was my grandaunt, or, if she preferred,
my great-aunt and that I was her grandnephew. I asked if I could
come see her. She said yes.

+++++++When I met Lillie, I asked about the death of my great-
grandfather. She told me that she had been sitting on a counter
in her father’s store. Her father and her brother Zeb had an
argument over the election. Zeb went outside and in anger threw
a stone through the store window. It struck his father in the
head, fracturing his skull. I asked if she would mind going with
me to visit her father’s grave. She said she would like to.

+++++++We drove to Green Hills Cemetery. She easily directed me to
the grave. I stood at the foot of my great-grandfather’s grave
thinking about him, and what I had learned. After a few moments,
Lillie touched my arm and pointed to a flat stone marker beside
her father’s grave. I walked over to it. It was a veteran’s
marker. It read:

APRIL 27, 1893 JULY 24, 1958

+++++++That was the first and last time I ever saw my grandaunt,
Lillie Plemmons Gee. She died on February 1, 2005. She was one
hundred and one years old at the time of her death. Like her
father and brother before her, she was buried in Green Hills
Cemetery in Asheville, Buncombe County, North Carolina.

+++++++In August 2016 my father would have turned one hundred
years old. Do I think he would have voted in the 2016 election?
I would like to think so, even hope so, but I think the answer
is no. Some wounds are so deep they never heal, no matter how
long the convalescent period.



Gershon Ben-Avraham lives in Be’er Sheva, Israel where he writes nonfiction, fiction, and poetry. His short story “The Janitor” is in the current issue of Jewish Fiction .net. His nonfiction piece “I Didn’t Mean To Do It” appeared in the Fall “Forgiveness” issue of Snapdragon: A Journal of Art & Healing.

Anything to do with food by Falcon oHara

It’s the summer of 1977. I’ve gone to work as a vegetarian cook at Cold Mountain Institute, a personal growth centre on Cortes Island, a hundred miles north of Vancouver in BC. Jim Sellner, one of the two property managers who, with his wife, Judy, is working on his MA in humanistic psychology and co-leading staff group, has offered to do bodywork. I’ve taken a couple of sessions, and now I notice I can no longer eat. I tell Linda Wyness, one of my fellow cooks, who has taken the intensive Resident Fellow Program and is very much in touch with the Cold Mountain vibe. She suggests I lie down in my room, do a relaxation, then create a self-guided visualization, imagining entering my mouth and walking down into my stomach to see or hear what it might have to say. I do that, and what I discover is that I’m afraid if I do well with the bodywork, Jim Sellner will no longer be willing to do sessions with me. I reflect on that and realize what I’m feeling has more to do with my relationship with my largely absent father than it does with Jim Sellner and the bodywork. The other thing that Linda suggested was that I eat whatever I am drawn to, even if it’s just toast and peanut butter.

Now it’s the spring of 1983. I arrive in Montreal after visiting my sister, who’s doing a mystery school workshop with Jean Houston in New York. I’ve been fasting a lot while working as a dishwasher at the Green River Cafe, in Greenfield, Massachusetts. I’m down to 116 pounds and can barely walk up stairs. I’m surprised that I’m still having issues with eating when I saw into the core of the issue right from the beginning. I go to a drop-in health clinic at CLSC Metro, and the public health nurse, Mary Carol Case, is alarmed. She does some tests, finds that I’m anaemic and that my thyroid has shut down. Apparently it’s one of the body’s self-protective measures, to slow the process of self-digestion. She gives me a photocopied article about Karen Carpenter, says I have anorexia, and that after adolescent girls, gay men are the next most likely to suffer the disorder. She says I no longer have permission to not eat.

I remember going shopping at the food co-op I’m a member of, Co-op du Plateau, going through the shop and choosing my food, then all of a sudden having to race around the store to put everything back before I fly out into the street, to freedom.

I remember walking back to my apartment on my way home from Concordia, where I’m taking summer classes in the teaching of English as a second language, darting into the little Portuguese corner store to pick up a round loaf of corn and soy bread and a carton of milk, then dashing home.



As a poet, singer/songwriter, and performance artist, Falcon oHara takes part in poetry readings and writing events in Vancouver. He is currently working on a revision of A Summer’s Tale, his musical work-in-progress, a solo show for Vancouver Fringe 2017, and his first novel.

Nightingale by Geraldine Mac Donald

“Is he breathing?” I whispered, so as not to wake the others.
“Gimme a minute, I’ll…” She listened hard at his barrel-shaped, white chest with her pink stethoscope. Her eyes focused somewhere beyond the wall, searching for his life in a murmur, or a breeze. The flimsy curtains were pulled tight around the bed, protecting us all from nothing.

“No. He’s not,” she sighed.
We paused, simultaneously, and looked down at the man in his bed. She’d done this a thousand times. It was my first. He reminded me of my grandfather. His chart commanded in blood-coloured letters, Do Not Resuscitate, so we obeyed.
“Who calls it then?” I asked.

She looked at her watch. “Time of death eleven oh eight pm. I’ll notify the Coroner. We’ll transfer him downstairs until morning.”

I don’t care what anyone says. You never forget your first death.
I was still following her lead, my mentor, my guide, as we covered his face with the thin blanket, pulled up the bedrails, locking him in; and left him there, shrouded and alone. The other patients slept, or feigned it.

Once she had written her notes, documenting the facts, we returned to him for the transfer. It was a rackety process that should have woken the man up, were he not dead.
“Grab the bottom sheet like this.” She’d rolled it up tight against his side and had hiked her skirt to climb up on the bed for leverage. Her modesty had obviously flown out the window with the man’s soul. I leaned across the stretcher and waited for her count of three.

His head lolled while we worried about the body. I’d always imagined lifeless remains would feel weightless, but I had a lot to learn.

“Where do we take them?” I asked, as if there were more than one. I envisioned a grey, stainless room with square, numbered doors and sliding trays carrying desiccated, blue cadavers; like we’d had in the student anatomy lab. Like they have on TV.

I wanted to kiss his cold forehead. Someone should do that, shouldn’t they? But he wasn’t mine. I was new. I was inexperienced. It was my first night shift and I didn’t even know his full name. But the urge remained, and I still believe that everyone deserves to be sent into the afterlife with a tender kiss for luck.

“They go down to the maintenance room.” She must have read my look of shock. “What? It’s a forty-eight bed hospital. We don’t have a proper morgue. Besides, the coroner will come to pronounce and then the body is taken.”

We wheeled him out, rattling through the hallways like an old train on new tracks.
“It gets easier, you know.” She knew the tiles, the walls, the doors so well she didn’t need to watch where she was going; so she watched me instead. The freight elevator dinged. We manoeuvred in with the stretcher parked like truth between us.

And I wondered how long it would take me to get to where she was at that moment.




Geraldine MacDonald was born and raised in Ontario, Canada and holds a Bachelor of Nursing Science Degree from Queen’s University. She presently writes fiction in different genres and creative nonfiction in short form.  Her first fiction novel for young adults, Sumac Summer, was released in December 2015 with rave reviews. Print editions are currently available through the author at or in the following brick and mortar stores: Novel Idea in Kingston and Books Galore and More in Port Perry, Ontario. Digital editions area available through and  in global territories. Her second novel, a YA action/adventure, is planned for release in autumn of 2016. Geraldine resides in Kingston, Ontario with her spouse, their four children, and one very spoiled dog. 

A Glimpse of the Divine by Patty Somlo


The sign at the summit of Haleakala on the island of Maui says, “Walk slowly. You are at 10,000 feet.” I do as I’ve been told, moving deliberately down the Sliding Sands Trail into the crater, in part because I’ve just read the sign and in part because I’ve never been any place quite like this. The trail is soft and deep, causing a sensation on my booted feet that’s both difficult and soothing. Just like the landscape, I think. Startling and disturbing. Slowing me down.
From the overlook at the parking lot, the crater on a clear day looks like a moonscape left in New Mexico for years, taking on the burnt orange, black and brown hues of that Southwest landscape. In places, the crater is smoothed by wind and erosion to look as if it has been sculpted by skilled artistic hands. In varying light, the drama of its shadows and darkness is haunting. It is such a silent looking landscape that, at the same time, appears to still be moving.
On a clear day, the tour buses make the slow climb up the hill, passing the bikers racing down, the occasional cow that has wandered onto the road and the periodic signs warning, “Nene Crossing.” The Nene is a small, gray-brown Hawaiian goose that moves rapidly across the ground like the California quail, and is both protected and serves as the Hawaiian State Bird. Passengers emerge from the tour buses at each of several overlooks and scurry to the rim, cameras in tow, which are quickly raised to capture the view and take it home.
What strikes me on the trail is that only a few foot descent from the overlook, the place turns completely silent. Other than my husband walking behind me, I don’t see another human being. Neither do I see birds, animals or any sort of plant life, just this volcanic land, orange here, black there, and in some areas, green. I stare and stare, listen and breathe, because I’m just not sure about this place. I have traveled my whole life seeking something, I’ve never been exactly clear what — a kind of beauty that will bring me peace, a vista so striking it will hurtle me straight into the present moment so I’ll never be able to leave. But here is something else. Here is the end of the line, where life burst forth and then stopped. Forever. And I haven’t got a clue what to think.
Ten thousand feet down the hill and south, past the last luxury resort and the umpteenth golf course, the landscape alongside the road reverts back to scrub brush. For a time, the ocean disappears from sight. A little further south, the road narrows and starts to twist and turn. Then the water comes back into view. The shore is black, jagged volcanic rock, shiny under the sun from the sprays of surf. The water, a deep, almost blackish blue, curves into graceful coves, bordered by the volcanic rock, weaving in and out in dramatic patterns.
The weathered brown sign indicates that this is the Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve and fishing is not allowed. In the Pidgin English spoken throughout the Hawaiian Islands, the sign also instructs visitors, “No Feed Fish.”
The reserve stretches over 2,000 acres of land and ocean bottom. Almost one hundred larval fish species and two dozen types of stony coral have been found here. At one beckoning cove, we step carefully on sharp rocks and slowly wade into the water. Even when the water only reaches the middle of my calves, I can see bright yellow and blue fish, darting in between and around my legs.
Donning flippers, snorkel and mask, I paddle further out and look down. A floor of color lies below me, pale yellow and pink in places, sometimes off-white or green. Here and there, the coral rises into massive walls. There are so many fish I don’t know which direction to point myself. No matter which way I look, fish swim up to meet me, brushing my arm, and running into my face.
I learned to swim when I was only six, in a pool on another Hawaiian island, Oahu. Wearing a red-flowered Hawaiian print suit, my mother stood in the water holding me. Suddenly, she would fling me out in front, open her arms, and urge me to swim back in. The following year, I was good enough to win a second-place ribbon for the breast stroke, in that same pool across the street from my house, and fearless enough to do one and a half flips off the high dive, entering straight as a pencil into the water.
In those same childhood years, my parents used to rent a cabin for vacations on the Windward side of Oahu. Friends of theirs, with children in tow, rented the adjoining cabins. The grownups mostly stayed inside and played cards and drank, while we kids jumped and swam in the surf. I remember floating in the shallow water, watching the waves curl and mount, before they crashed over my head. I would edge myself back until just at the moment when the wave seemed ready to begin its descent, then paddle furiously forward, so I’d be in a position to ride the wave into shore.
Most times, I made it. But when I missed, the water tossed me around like a sock in a washing machine, eventually dumping me onto the sand. Battered and exhausted, I’d stand up, lift the elastic on the bottom of my bathing suit to let the water and sand drain out, then run back in the ocean for more.
Only in recent years have I returned to the water in Hawaii. Unlike the fearless child I used to be, each time I enter the ocean, I feel afraid. The fear stays with me for a time and then, without warning, the fear recedes, replaced by the soothing sensation of floating.
I sometimes think what I am looking for in travel is to immerse myself so completely in a place that all thought of anything else vanishes. Here, suddenly, I am in a special world, a fairy tale place of multicolored coral and fish, and we are all floating, our eyes opened very, very wide.
At the end of the paved road, you cross over the 1790 lava flow, the last volcanic eruption on the island of Maui. On both sides, the landscape is comprised of dark, jagged rock. Facing south, the West Maui Mountains are to the left, green and cloud-covered, keeping rain on the island’s Windward side.
The wind is fearsome here at La Perouse Bay. Sometimes, I feel I might get blown over. The sign indicates one pile of rocks as a heiau, a spiritual place for Hawaiians. I pause there a moment to rest, look and reflect.
I walk on a rocky volcanic path and gaze southward, to deserted beaches, palm trees and deep blue water that appears as close to paradise as one can get. I’m relieved that no one has built anything here, that the land is protected, and the wind blows so crazy a golf ball would go flying off, never to be seen again.
A fellow traveler has told me he saw a giant turtle in one of these small coves but warned me to be careful, because the tide is coming in. I stand next to a blow hole waiting for it to erupt, so I can safely walk past. Then I head onto the slippery black rock that juts out into the water. Before I make much progress, a fierce gust of water-laced wind puts me back in my place.
La Perouse Bay is one of several places in Maui where you come to the end of the paved road. At the summit of Haleakala, the road also ends, and the only way into the rest of Haleakala National Park is on foot. If you walk far enough, you will eventually come to the Kipahulu Valley Biological Reserve, where entry is prohibited. This is one of the last intact native rain forests in the Hawaiian Islands and scientists are struggling to preserve it.
It’s easy to miss seeing the short gray Nene as they move leisurely across the road, since the color of their feathers blends so easily with the pavement. On the island of Kauai, you have to watch out for wild chickens, oftentimes walking with several baby chicks in tow. Across the sweeping green hills of the golf courses that blanket these islands like blackberry bushes cover parts of Washington State, cattle egrets stroll in search of food. They are small, about the size of the snowy egrets we have where I live in Northern California. But unlike the snowy and the larger, more majestic great egrets, they are not impeccably white. Their feathers are smudged with red dirt, for which these islands are famous.
When I was a child, my Air Force father flew all over the globe. When he returned home, he regaled us with stories of those far-off places. I grew up believing that movement and change and the next best place would make me happy. So much of my life, I have traveled in search of the extraordinary, believing that in finding it, I would discover some missing part of myself. I also tried drugs and dropped in and out of various Eastern religions and practices, all the while moving from place to place, overlook to overlook, hoping for a glimpse of the divine.
Here in Maui, I realize that the divine is complex, flawed and oftentimes impenetrable. I also understand that it just might be sitting right in front of me. The divine is the complicated mess of too much development and a twisting, turning, frequently one-lane road to Hana that keeps your nerves on edge. It is the need to slow down and pay attention to a small plain bird, who in certain light resembles the oft-despised pigeon. It is having to take care of the last best places right now, before it has become too late.
A few months before this visit, during a routine exam, my gynecologist suddenly said, “What’s that?” She assured me it was probably a cyst and that it would most likely go away on its own. To be safe, she suggested I come in for an ultrasound several months down the road. In the following weeks, as much as I tried to tell myself there was probably nothing wrong, I felt a persistent ache, just to the left of my right hip, the presence of which seemed to suggest a diagnosis much less benign.
As I worried my way through the waiting period until my scheduled test, I realized how hard I had worked my entire life to shield myself from thoughts about death, dying and illness, especially the big one, cancer. I scrupulously avoided reading first-person accounts of cancer survivors. At the same time, I gobbled up articles on the latest studies showing what foods were likely to provide another ounce of prevention and felt safer when I added them to my diet.
One morning, when I was suffering from a particularly bad anxiety attack over my fears I had cancer and that it was in an advanced stage, I decided to draw, since I knew this would quiet my nerves. I put on a nice CD of cello solos, arranged some flowers in a vase on the table and got to work.
As expected, I instantly calmed down, lost in the music, the flowers and the movement of my hand on the page. Then I suddenly had the most comforting thought. Surrendering to illness would make everything all right.
A few days before my ultrasound appointment, the low ache suddenly went away. And the results of the ultrasound were as my gynecologist had predicted. The technician saw nothing to be concerned about there.
Coming up the Sliding Sands Trail, I walk more slowly than I think I ever have before. This time, I am not thinking about my pace. The pace is being dictated to me, because in this thin air, it’s as fast as I can go. I have hiked for years on many steep trails and always enjoyed the uphill climb. I like to go fast, usually leaving whoever happens to be my companion behind in the dust, endorphins pumping through me.
As I slowly put one foot in front of the other, a smooth orange slope of wind-sculpted rock on my left, I wonder if perhaps I am supposed to go slow in this dead place, to think about all the years I furiously pumped my legs just to get somewhere. Getting older, at a time when the planet is increasingly endangered, maybe I need to walk slowly, as if the air is always this thin, making the act of breathing and life itself, what I have always taken for granted, so fragile. I can’t help but be conscious of my breath here, as I try to do as meditation practice but so often fail, because my monkey mind is leaping from branch to branch, in an endless forest of worry, plans and regret. I have read that this volcano is still thought to be active, the last eruption in 1790 considered quite recent in geological time. But the greatest changes have occurred from weather. If I were able to come back several thousand years from now, all of what I am seeing today might be gone.
At this slow place, it is easy to think about my feet walking on the earth and my breath traveling in and out of my nostrils, as a walking meditation I know asks me to consider. It’s also easy to walk just to be walking, as the Zen Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh instructs meditation students to do. It’s not hard to see that the extraordinary exists right here, at the spot where I set my dusty boot down on the ground. And right there. Where I pick my dusty boot up and get ready to put it back down again.

Patty Somlo has received four Pushcart Prize nominations, been nominated for storySouth Million Writers Award and had an essay selected as a Notable Essay of 2013 for Best American Essays 2014. Her second book, The First to Disappear (Spuyten Duyvil), was a Finalist in the Fiction: Short Story category of the 2016 International Book Awards. Her work has appeared in journals, including the Los Angeles Review, the Santa Clara Review, Under the Sun, Guernica, Gravel, Sheepshead Review, and WomenArts Quarterly, and numerous anthologies. She has two forthcoming books: a memoir, Even When Trapped Behind Clouds (WiDo Publishing), and Hairway to Heaven Stories (Cherry Castle Publishing). Find her at, on Amazon at, or follow on Twitter @PattySomlo.