Delmarva Review: Hospital Visit Number 19 by Kristina Morgan

The doctor will try to shake loose my shadow and fail. My schizophrenia is in full bloom. I seek sleep in the hospital gown and am left with wrinkled cotton creating patterns on my back. The hospital gown is not flattering and catches breeze from the movement of other people. I stand still as a hinge. I am told the elephants have moved. The teeth of the comb have been cleaned. It is another calendar year and I am again in the same place protecting my heart from the suddenness of a light snowfall. The snowfall will wait as it is summer in Phoenix. The hospital is the same as I remember; a series of doors the same color marching down a long hall.

When my hands are locked at the knuckles I cannot plant alfalfa. I am told alfalfa is good for arthritis. I need to let my grandmother know this. Her knuckles are tinged by muscle ache. I can’t tuck the charm bracelet she gave me into velvet. Instead, the elephants with their ruby eyes get tossed beside the comb on the tiny nightstand. Strands of hair now wrap around the teeth of the comb.

It is cold in my skin. In two hours my shadow will appear obvious. It will reach the knob of the door before I do. The door does not lock. The psych techs need to be able to enter on a whim. They are in place to protect me from myself. I didn’t realize I was in danger until it was almost too late. I thought back to yesterday. The bottles of Tylenol and Ativan lined up on the counter begged for my attention. Had my grandmother not walked in, I would have swallowed mouthfuls and then laid down to leave. I have no idea who is on the other side to greet me, if anyone.

I am at the end of the long hall in front of the nurse’s station, in front of the desk where the psych techs spend most of their time. The telephone is on the wall across from them. They can hear whole conversations. No words leave my mouth. How will they know my heart has stopped since noon? I protect it the way a child does her first hat.

There is not enough room in the hall for the tall man to shout, but he tries. It does not get him the cup of cocoa he craves.

I do not enter the rec room on my left. The voices I hear are louder in there. They compete with the television which is only still from midnight to five a.m. The nurse says she sees me talking to myself. She is wrong. I respond to the voices in a friendly way so as not to irritate them into calling me names. Slut. Cunt. Beanstalk. Irritant. Fucker upper. Slut is my favorite one as I am rarely sexual. I remind them of this. They don’t care.

I miss you. I have been days tucked away. The days slope near weeks like a long slide on the playground. How does it happen that you are always who you are? At least to people like me who have not seen you naked. Lights out. Bare skin. Toe nails. I see you in your favorite boots—black, cowboy, loose soles. I don’t wish to see you naked. You are too strong for me to do so.

You always wear a pressed black shirt with enough girth to disguise the belly you say you have. Black pants, smooth pockets. Empty? No. I think not. Maybe an odd tissue waiting for you to sneeze. And a peppermint. My grandmother carried peppermints in her pockets. The Tibetan prayer beads you wear hint at color. In the right light they are blue. Your long white beard is warm. Your white hair, wisdom attached to roots like a small hand on a Radio Flyer.

You touch lives.

The earth rotates so slowly that I imagine we remain standing still in a rush of daisies. You see wind in breeze and send it on to hurricane across young pages the color of wheat. I am lucky to have you as a writing professor. The first time I met you, you touched me like lightening striking a tree that had been asleep even with wind. Nothing rustled in my branches. It is like now. Nothing rustling in my branches. The air is so still in the hospital. If I weren’t breathing, I would think I was living in a capsule on a mission to Mars. I send you a letter telepathically. The water you drink has a tinge of sweet this day. Thank you for blessing my life. I am brushed by your kindnesses.

The hail has yet to completely crack the lens of my glasses. I know my case manager is trying to make this happen. Where is Kristina? She is lost in the prison of her own thoughts. I try to explain to him that my thoughts don’t belong to me. They extend past the length of my arm, through my outstretched fingers. I am lost in sentences that remind me of mud. Schizophrenia is nothing to write home about. The hospital has too often been my home. I am not allowed to cook hamburgers with onions and mushrooms.

I miss my boyfriend, Guy. It is not easy to touch anyone in here. Even a visitor. He has become a visitor. I don’t feel his arms around me in a tight embrace, matching that of Santa Claus at Christmas. Am I being a good girl even when I am in trouble? The hospital staff considers me good but sick. I don’t feel sick. I feel tired. A flat tire with no donut available. It becomes necessary to tow. I am moved here to watch the tall man beg for cocoa. I am moved here to catch up with myself. The marathon is over. I am learning only now how to untie my shoelaces. They were knotted to my ankle. It didn’t matter that they had sturdy soles. I needed to feel the carpet between my toes. It is hard to be this vulnerable.

The hospital staff and Guy remind me that I have schizophrenia. It is something that does not go away. Not like the pain of a pulled rotten tooth. I cannot pull this from my mind. I am wired, attached to hallucinations. Why do they feel so real? I am the extension of the antennae on an old-fashioned television set. Aluminum foil. Yes, it is rigged. I am rigged. Through medication and support of people, they are trying to make the rigged part go away. They are trying to help me stand even when I sense that I am falling. Not falling into sickness, but falling into a different me, one I can only understand with the help of medication and clean people.

I will fall asleep in the hospital once again. I will be awake for medication and meals and the occasional conversation with the doctor and staff. I will be awake for my boyfriend. Sadly, I will be awake for the voices, too. They are with me like loose sleeves on a jacket that is to tight across my chest. Occasionally, they drop through the wrists of the jacket. It is in these moments that I exalt. I can count ten fingers and ten toes. I can make peace with my God. And most importantly, I can feel the love from those who touch me, warm like a wet washcloth used to remove the dust from my cheek. I am loved and I do love. This slides into my thinking like a person sliding into home plate, scoring the winning run, beating out the baseball sent from the outfield.

My mind slowly gets better. A cake bakes at 400 degrees for twenty minutes. Eventually, the toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. Eventually, my mind comes out clean. I am able to communicate in simple sentences not requiring a great deal of thought from the listener. My silence is no longer the result of a sickened mind hiding from the florescent bulbs of the hospital.

It is breakfast time. All of us gather in the main area and receive a tray. I am able to enter the rec room and claim a seat at one of the round tables. French toast and sausage. Cereal and a carton of milk. The voices are soft. They no longer berate me. Pick up the fork, they say. Eat, they say. It tastes good, they say. I’m okay with them repeating what it is I’m doing. It is so much better than being told to die or told to call the fat man obese and the skinny girl anorexic. My voices can be cruel, can ask me to do cruel things.

After eating, I return the tray to the cart. John, the psych nurse, approaches me, clipboard in hand, like he does every morning.

“Good morning, Kristina.”

“Morning.”

“Are you feeling suicidal today?”

Only in a psych hospital would a person start the conversation with this question.

“No,” I respond.

“And the voices?”

“Still there, but not bad.”

“How was breakfast?”

“Good. I’ll be going home soon, I think.”

“Are you ready?”

“Yes.”

“Maybe so. Maybe so. The doctor should be in soon.”

John leaves me with this parting thought. It is up to the doctor as to whether or not I get to go home. Dr. Purewal really listens to me. When I am able to hold a conversation with him and let him know I’m ready to go home, he usually agrees. He knows me well. He has been my doctor in the hospital for years.

It is cool in the hospital. I am glad for my thermal shirt, jeans, and thick socks.

Bobby approaches me and says hi. I say hi back.

“Wow,” he says, “You can speak.”

I give him a smile.

“And smile.”

“Don’t get too use to it,” I say with a grin the size of the Cheshire Cat’s in Alice’s Wonderland.

Dr. Purewal arrives at noon. We meet for twenty minutes in which time he determines I am good to go home.

I am on the patio of the hospital. The Phoenix sun is strong, wood thrown onto an already burning fire. The heat reaches my bones. I will be released in an hour. John will go over my medications and aftercare plan.

My mind is a slow hum. The sound is soft like a T-shirt being dropped on a tile floor. Today, my mind is my friend. My mind is something to pay attention to. It is a waterfall. Thoughts dropped entering into a pool of calm water, the ripples smoothing out and again returning the pool to calm.

I will go home today and feed my cats. I will sit in a straight-backed chair at the kitchen table with my grandmother and eat soup with rye bread. My depression has lifted. I am able to wash the dishes in the sink, dry them, and place them in the cupboard. Exhaustion has lifted. I am no longer surrounded by dust. Life has become clean again, not just a mirage in the desert. I press my hand to my chest. My heart beats strong again. I will protect it, but not to the point of eliminating all relationships. I can be strong and vulnerable at the same time.

I am happy to have my psychosis end. It’s not me that is horribly affected by my loss of reality. It’s the people around me. I am oblivious. I am lost. Those outside myself are well aware. Are present. I am glad to hold hands with my loved ones again. We wish on the stars together and delight in the moon. My wish is simple, stay home and love.

“Hospital Visit Number 19” has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Author Kristina Morgan lives in recovery from two diseases, schizophrenia and alcoholism. Her full-length memoir, Mind Without a Home: A Memoir of Schizophrenia, was published in 2013 (Hazelden Press). She received an MFA in Creative Writing and Poetry, from Arizona State University. In addition to Delmarva Review, her writing has appeared in LocustPoint, Open Minds, and The Awakening Review.

Delmarva Review is a literary journal discovering outstanding new poetry, fiction and nonfiction from writers within the region and beyond. Celebrating its tenth year, the nonprofit Review is supported by individual contributions and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. For information and copies, visit: www.delmarvareview.com.

Delmarva Review: Nursing 101 by Margaret Adams

It was getting easier, touching strangers. Still, I hovered for a moment in the doorway of the hospital room, pausing before jumping into the pool of their personal space.

It continued to amaze me, after two months, how willing the sick were to let themselves be touched. Their abdomens palpated, their gums examined; the undersides of their feet inspected, repositioned, unwrapped and rewrapped in socks. I’m just going to check your capillary refill, you said, and then they let you pinch and prod them, quiet, supplicant. It felt so intrusive to even ask, and then shocking to gain such easy entry. May I take your blood pressure now? If it’s alright with you, I’d like to listen to your lungs.

The navy blue school uniform scrubs, embroidered at the shoulder with the name and seal of my nursing school, were the same shade as those the nurses wore at this hospi- tal. Between that and the stethoscope draped proprietarily around my neck, it was hard for the patients to know that I was a student. When I’d purchased those scrubs, their pressed and professional folds had impressed me with their aura of importance; I had tried them on at home in the eve- ning, turning and admiring my reflection. Once inside the hospital, though, on my first clinical rotation, I wished for something less assuming. Colorful cartoon scrubs, the kind of thing that patients automatically took less seriously. Too often patients asked me questions, trustingly, as if I would know the correct answers for them right away.

The hospital has its own noisy, constant cadence. The rhythm is marked by beeping IVs, thrumming respirators, shouted questions to the hard of hearing and hollered announcements across the nurses’ station. It’s constantly in the nurses neither sit, nor eat, nor step out to use the bathroom. It’s not a place where a nursing student, uncertain of herself, can wait, poised at a doorway, for too long.

I walked into the room. “Hello, Mrs. Douglas,” I said. “How are you feeling? Can I get you anything?” And, with her open eye contact and assent, I laid my hands on her wrist, carefully curving my fingers around the line of her pulse. She turned her head towards my shoulder and sighed as I counted the surges of blood beating through her fragile, small-boned arm, watching the movement of her breath in her chest. One, two, three, four…

A first-semester nursing student knows few things. We cannot administer medication, or yet be counted upon to make assessments on our own. What we can do is give bed baths, change beds, hold hands and steady elbows; we can listen, take vitals, and we can try not to get in the way. I was learning, slowly, to get beyond my own self-absorption and my preoccupation with what these ill people, the patients I was here to help, thought of me. The constant worry and consideration—Can they tell how uncomfortable, how new I am? Am I irritating them? None of it really mattered. No one cared who I was, whether or not I looked or acted like what they expected, if my hand shook or fumbled with the washcloths. They just cared about getting clean, about feeling better. A task I would have thought myself incapable of—brushing an old woman’s teeth—was accomplished when the reality of her need surmounted my awkwardness. It was humbling to do it, and horrifying to realize how such actions were carried out every day, roughly, by people hardened to it by routine.

I was halfway through administering my second bed bath ever when my patient, a woman whose body was swollen beyond recognition and covered with open sores, began to cry. “Have I hurt you?” I asked, horrified. “Are you okay?”

“No, sweetheart,” she said. “It’s just that no one has taken the time to give me this thorough of a bath in weeks.”

On our breaks, we students talk about what we’ve been allowed to do, or what interesting procedures we’ve seen. We mark our time here by how tough our stomachs get, by how many IVs we’ve been permitted to change. We talk a little about the people, about the fact that now, as students, we have the time to do things for patients that we will never
have time to do as professionals, but not that much.

“How was your clinical?” classmates assigned to other hospitals asked me. “Did you get to see anything cool?”

I talked to a senile woman’s stuffed animal for her, I thought. I put water in a dish for it so it wouldn’t get thirsty. She was grateful. “Fine,” I said instead. “I saw a stage 4wound…you could see the bone.”

On mornings when I have clinical I get up at 4:30, giving me a full hour to drink my coffee before going in to the hospital. I need that time to wake up, to get on my A-game before walking into this other world where the macabre is embraced intellectually and where the iron gates of intimacy are as malleable as tinfoil. I meet my carpool on the pre- dawn corner of my city street and arrive at the hospital just in time for morning report.

“Who has bed 142? Find me when you’re ready for the hand-off. Jane? I’ve got bed 147. Is that my coffee?”

The night shift briefs the day shift RNs on how things have gone during the night. Bed 143 is refusing to eat anything…bed 145 is overdue for her medication, I didn’t get to it in time. They speak of the patients by number, rather than name, identifying them in the corners of their notes with abbreviations: J.D., 87 y/o WF.

I was assigned Mr. Jones that day. An easy, interesting patient, my instructor told me, an elderly man with heart problems who didn’t throw things or swear. I read the front pages of his chart through twice, quickly, before going to introduce myself.

He was missing a large piece of his face, from the left side of his upper lip towards his nose, disappearing under a large, frayed bandage that covered a four-inch swath below his eyes. The bandage was old and ratty-looking; dried blood crusted around its edges. He held a napkin spotted with fresh blood up to it thoughtfully, dabbing at it. I smiled my brightest, most winning smile and made a hasty retreat.

“What? His face is half gone? She didn’t tell us that during the morning report. Oh, the skin cancer surgery he had done before the angina started. Well, let’s go in and have a look.” My preceptor Jen, a tall, sturdy woman with intri- cate braids woven around her head, gave a low whistle as she examined his bandages. “What happened here?” she asked.

“I’ve been picking at it,” he said, matter-of-factly.

“You really shouldn’t do that. We’re going to have to put you in mittens,” she said.

“Yes. I know.”

“How long ago was your surgery?” she asked, scanning his chart.

“Last week,” he said.

“It says here you had this surgery over the summer,” she said. “Can you tell me what month it is, Mr. Jones?”

“July.” “Do you remember Thanksgiving?”

“No…maybe…why?”

“It’s December, Mr. Jones.” She snapped a pair of gloves on and began inspecting his bandage with careful fingers. “Can you tell me how long this has been bleeding?” she asked.

“Um…no…an hour? I’m not sure,” he said.

“Okay. I’m going to go get some new gauze to help fix this up a little. I’ll be right back.”

Alone in the room with him, I felt that familiar sense of being at a loss. He held up the blood spotted napkin, looking at it with a perplexed expression on his face. “Is this a
clock?” he asked me.

“No,” I said. “It’s a napkin.”

“Oh. I was hoping it would have the time on it so I could tell her how long I had been bleeding.”

Jen came back in with the gauze, putting on a fresh pair of gloves, and I busied myself with my own pair. “Here, Meg,” she said. “Hold this.” I handed her supplies and stead- ied his chin for her as she reworked his bandage. “I’m going to put mittens on you if you can’t stop picking at this,” she said.

“You’d better,” he said, placidly. “I like picking at it.”

A young man in a transport team polo shirt with thin wrists and a spotty face stuck his head in the door. “Almost ready, Jen?” he asked.

“Yep, he’ll be ready to go in a minute.”

“Is that my dad?” Mr. Jones asked. “My father is coming to see me today.”

“No,” the nurse said. “That’s the transport team, getting ready to take you down the hall for that test today. Do you remember?”

“Oh,” he said. “Well, if my parents come in while I’m gone, please tell them I’ll be back soon. They’re coming to visit me today.”

“How old are your parents?” she asked, giving him a considering look. I glanced at his birth date again on the chart and read May 24, 1925.

“He’s 80, I think…and she’s 82,” he replied.

“Well. Breakfast should be here when you come back,” she told him. “We’ll see you soon.”

I stripped off of my gloves the way I’d been taught to, balling the first one up into the second one like a package, and washed my hands for the full 30 seconds before sweep- ing the extra gauze off of the counter and stuffing it into my pockets.

This wasn’t the work that I had decided to go to nursing school to do. I wanted to be abroad, helping with the International Red Cross, Doctors without Borders, tending to refugees in desert field camps. I wanted to be in the rural recesses of the U.S., delivering primary care to migrant workers in the fields and to children in the mountains of Appalachia. I was on track to become a Nurse Practitioner, a job granted a greater measure of autonomy and respect than the RNs who run the hospital ever received for their pains. Still, I knew I needed to learn this: needed to spend my time in the trenches, in the blue-collar, work-a-day world of medications, IVs, of calling doctors by their last names and nurses by their firsts. I had wanted a trade, the capability of learned hands, and this was the apprenticeship, the oil-changing days that come before craftsmanship. But I hated the hospital, hated the disease we spread and the discord we encouraged, the assembly-line feel of being part of a big-box health dispensary.

Our preceptors made a production of granting us a lunch break, refusing our offers to bring food back from the cafeteria for them. “I’ll eat something in an hour or two,” they insisted, making sure that we knew that they were lying.

I step out of the smells of latex and iodine and into the cold December air to call my mother.

“How’s it going?” she asks.

“Okay,” I say.

“Yeah?”

“One of my patients thinks that his parents are coming to visit him today. He’s really looking forward to it. He’s in his 80s and there’s no way they’re still alive.”

“Oh….”

“He keeps saying that they’re coming to see him soon.” “Maybe they are…just, from the other side.”

“Wow. Thanks, Mom, for making this even grimmer than it already is.”

“It’s not grim. It’s…I mean, everyone wants their parents at the end of their lives.”

“Yeah. I just don’t know what to say. The nurse is just avoiding engaging with it. I don’t want to tell him that they’re dead, but I don’t want to lie to him, either.”

“Does it matter?”

“I don’t know. Would it matter to you?”

“I don’t know.”

The names of illnesses, the rounds of medication, are still a foreign world to me: GERD, synthroid, albuminemia. Diverticulitis. It sounds like the Spanish verb for enjoying oneself, divertir, a relic of the world of my previous degree in Hispanic language and culture. Divierto, diviertes, diver- timos, diverticulitis. Except that all I do know about diverticulitis is that it isn’t fun.

The patients are subject and object, listened to and talked at. Compassion sits on one side of a perfectly balanced scale, with sleep, coffee, food, and workload on the other—the needs of the nurses, stretched to the limits by an institution which is necessarily economically driven, not the needs of their patients, define the extent of care.

“I feel like a waitress,” one nurse confessed to me.

“I feel like Atlas,” says another. “With a whole hospital on my shoulders.”

I’m a half-hour from the end of my shift when an alarm breaks through the usual cacophony of bells and shouts. Someone has called a Code Blue. I freeze, panicking, and then remember my instructor’s words about what I should do in an emergency and flatten myself against the wall. More nurses and doctors than I have seen all day boil out and into the hall. “Grab the crash cart,” one yells. “Bed 143, no pulse, no respirations.” Security runs past me, open- ing the elevator doors and holding them open so that the pa- tient, if resuscitated, can be rushed immediately to intensive care. The madness coalesces around the patient’s room and I hear the unmistakable sounds of two-person CPR, accompanied by the inevitable crack of breaking ribs.

It’s over quickly—the patient is packed neatly into the metal square of the elevator, accompanied by three sweaty but otherwise calm-looking RNs. I feel like the sudden reminder of what is happening here has swept my feet out from under me. We’re serving medicine, not burgers. We’re trafficking in lives. The cause of pit stains under my arms, a brief adrenaline rush, was someone else’s everything. Knowing that can’t be thrown in the laundry and washed away. It can’t be comprehended. I hope that I don’t get used to it, but I can’t deny that getting used to it might be the only way I will get by here.

I go into see Mr. Jones one last time before I leave the unit for the day. Fresh bandages cover the hole in the middle of his face, still bloody on the edges but less frayed. “Can I get you anything?” I ask.

“Could you bring me some water?”

“Sure.” I grab a fresh cup and a straw, open the tap, and watch as the clear liquid fills the Styrofoam container. I place it on the tray by his hand and he brings it to his mouth. Just enough of his lip is missing that the suction of mouth around straw is incomplete, and the straw rattles with each suck.

Here,” I say, taking the cup and cutting out part of the lid to make it an improvised sippy-cup instead. He nods with approval, drinking deeply before leaning back against his pillows.

“My parents are coming to see me this afternoon,” he says.

I pause, and then smile. “They must love you an awful lot,” I say simply.

“Yes…they do.”

I closed the door behind me.

Margaret Adams’s “Nursing 101” was published in Volume 4 of the Delmarva Review when she was a student in the Johns Hopkins University nursing and public health program. She is now a family nurse practitioner in Seattle, WA. A former columnist for The Bangor Daily News and a Pushcart Prize nominee, her essays and fiction have also appeared in The Portland Review, Baltimore Review, Bellingham Review, and Pinch.

The Delmarva Review is a nonprofit literary journal in partnership with the Spy that publishes compelling new poetry, fiction and nonfiction from writers within the region and beyond. It will celebrate its Tenth Anniversary edition in November. The Review is supported by individual contributions, the Eastern Shore Writers Association, and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. For more information, please visit: www.delmarvareview.com

Delmarva Review Announces 10th Anniversary Edition Featuring 40 Writers

The Delmarva Review announced publication of its tenth annual literary journal presenting original prose and poetry from 40 authors in 18 states. The nonprofit review welcomes all writers.

“The tenth anniversary issue touches on the themes of change and hope,” said Emily Rich, editor of the review’s tenth edition. “Amidst the uncertainties of life, people grasp for what is eternal in the human condition.”

The cover photograph, “Recycle,” by Cal Jackson, of Easton, Maryland, displays oyster shells ready to be re-used in the oyster’s life-cycle as beds for newly hatched larvae.

The 2017 Chesapeake Voices Prose Contest first place fiction is featured in this edition. The winning short story, “The Future is Not For Sale,” by Jeremy Griffin, of South Carolina, was hailed by contest judge Laura Oliver, of Maryland, as “sophisticated with especially strong characterization.”

Editors selected 41 new poems, 11 short stories, five nonfiction essays, and five book reviews for the tenth edition.

Since the first issue, the journal has printed original literary work of over 280 authors. Some are newly discovered. In all, they have come from 35 states, the District of Columbia, and 10 other countries. Half are from the Delmarva and Chesapeake region. Forty-seven pieces have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and some have received notable mentions in anthologies and critical journals.

Delmarva Review is published by the Delmarva Review Literary Fund, supported by individual contributions and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council, with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council.

For writers, the submission period is now open for the 2018 issue. It closes on March 31, 2018. Guidelines are posted on the website www.delmarvareview.com.

The journal produces print and electronic editions. Both are available worldwide via Amazon.com and other online booksellers. It is downloadable in a digital format at Kindle for tablets, computers, smart phones, and other reading devices. Two-year subscriptions are available at a discount through the website.

Delmarva Review is sold regionally at the News Center, in Easton, Mystery Loves Company, in Oxford, The Writer’s Center, in Bethesda, and other bookstores for $10. The eBook edition is $3.99. It is also available at many public libraries in the region.

Delmarva Review: Grief by Daniel Ford

Grief goes unrewarded. We make death masks

of chalk dust, stuff our living selves into

hollow trees. A circling owl rips the seams

made of our lips and eyelids and returns

the thread to the spool with a simple cry.

It is not enough that we grieve among

heat sinks and cooling pools thickly carpeted

and layered with muted woods and tarnished brass

handles on drawers forever closed, no piles

of papers or skittering batteries,

push-pins, no heirloom spoons or silver-hafted

carving knives. No detritus of human lives.

Daniel M. Ford is a poet, novelist and teacher from Maryland. As a poet, his work has appeared in Soundings Review, Phoebe, Floorboard Review, The Cossack, Vending Machine Press, and the Delmarva Review. His first novel, Ordination: Book I of the Paladin Trilogy was published in 2016 (Santa Fe Writer’s Project). He can be found at www.danielmford.com or on twitter @soundingline.

The Delmarva Review, a nonprofit literary journal, publishes compelling new poetry, fiction and nonfiction from writers within the region and beyond. The Review celebrates its Tenth Anniversary edition in November. It is supported by individual contributions, the Eastern Shore Writers Association, and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. For more information, please visit: www.delmarvareview.com.

 

Delmarva Review: Women Of A Certain Age by Sue Ellen Thompson

We all have worries, sleepless nights.
Fears of ending up alone and frail.
Have children, grown, who’ve failed
to thrive, sleeping in their old beds.
Have husbands who drink, who work
too much, who flirt
with waitresses. Who are already dead.
Have bodies missing pieces,
swathed in scarves. Wish we could see
our mothers one last time.

So we get on the phone and talk.
We take long walks
in spirit-killing weather.
Spend our evenings clumped together
over salads. Toast
our losses. Agree on almost
everything. Are known to scream
with laughter at what once made us weep.

 

Sue Ellen Thompson, of Oxford, MD, is the first “featured writer” in the Delmarva Review. These poems are from a collection in the journal’s first edition, in 2008 edition. Among her published works, a fifth book of poems, THEY, was published in 2014. She has been an instructor at The Writer’s Center, in Bethesda, since 2007, and has previously taught at Middlebury College, Binghamton University, the University of Delaware, and Central Connecticut State University. She received the 2010 Maryland Author Award from the Maryland Library Association.

The Delmarva Review is a nonprofit literary journal publishing compelling new poetry, fiction and nonfiction from writers within the region and beyond. It will celebrate its Tenth Anniversary edition in November. The Review is supported by the Eastern Shore Writers Association, private contributions, and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. For more information, please visit here.

Delmarva Review: After the Houseguests Leave By Sue Ellen Thompson

I unmake the guestroom bed and let
the washing machine twist the sheets
into heavy coils of dampness. I erase
all evidence of breakfast, scour the sink,
and sweep the drive clear of all the leaves
that twirled so frantically in the wake
of their departure. Pressing memories
of dinner from the table cloth, I think

of how it was before they came⎯
the house a vault of quiet on the quiet street⎯
and before that, of the summer day
I found my mother twisted in a sheet,
wondering why her fever had returned to visit.
There was an even earlier day:
I was a guest in my parents’ house,

before I came to stay. Rising from her chair
at dinner, my mother pressed one hand
to the vault beneath her ribcage. The leaves
of unease stirred in me. The day before,
I’d dozed beneath a dome of trees, listening
as the girlish breeze of a neighbor’s child
twirled among the ghosts of laundry.

Sue Ellen Thompson, of Oxford, MD, is the first “featured writer” in the Delmarva Review. These poems are from a collection in the journal’s first edition, in 2008 edition. Among her published works, a fifth book of poems, THEY, was published in 2014. She has been an instructor at The Writer’s Center, in Bethesda, since 2007, and has previously taught at Middlebury College, Binghamton University, the University of Delaware, and Central Connecticut State University. She received the 2010 Maryland Author Award from the Maryland Library Association.

The Delmarva Review is a nonprofit literary journal publishing compelling new poetry, fiction and nonfiction from writers within the region and beyond. It will celebrate its Tenth Anniversary edition in November. The Review is supported
by the Eastern Shore Writers Association, private contributions, and a grantfrom the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts
Council. For more information, please visit here.

Delmarva Review: Clues to John Barth’s Genius: Jimmies, Jazz, and Scheherazade by John Lewis

John Barth wanted to be a jazz musician. He played drums in a combo—with his twin sister, Jill, on piano—that gigged around Cambridge on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, and after high school graduation in 1947, he high-tailed it to New York City to study at Juilliard. “It was an absolutely clear and unambiguous experience to learn that what I had hoped was a pre-professional talent was, instead, a pretty good amateur flair,” he told me, over crab cakes at Easton’s Tidewater Inn. “This was the big band era, and I was studying orchestration. I was a drummer, but I didn’t want to spend my life on the road. Being an arranger sounded more respectable.”

Barth had hoped to emulate Billy Strayhorn and Pete Rugolo, his heroes. “But I knew from the first week at Juilliard that the young woman on my left and the young man on my right were going to be the professional musicians of their generation,” he recalled, “and I was going to have to look for something else to do.”

Barth actually has the angular and craggy appearance of a jazz musician, a look that’s accentuated by a closely clipped, white beard and the occasional beret atop his bald pate. But his personality is infused with professorial confidence and sharp wit, a testament to his rapport with the fiction muse he tapped after transferring to Johns Hopkins and finding “something else to do.”

“It was the opposite of what happened at Juilliard,” he said. “When I stumbled into fiction, I had the unequivocal feeling that this was my true calling: all I had to do was learn it from scratch.”

Barth felt the Cambridge education system left him largely unschooled. In fact, he has said “nothing since kindergarten prepared me for [college]” and noted that, despite being on the academic track in high school, his career counseling amounted to a 10-minute talk with the phys ed teacher.

I’ve heard folks question how a “backwater” like Dorchester County produced such a keen intellect, and—if you ignore the inherent snobbery of such a comment and consider Barth’s claim that his formal education was lacking—it is a mystery. Lord knows what it was like between the Depression and World War II, when Barth called Cambridge home. But he obviously got something vital from the Shore that informed his writing and worldview. And, it turns out it was

the perfect incubator for an autodidact with a pen- chant for brilliant meandering. In fact, meandering is something of a refined art in that part of the world, and it’s key to getting at the essence of Barth’s particular type of genius.

Meandering permeates just about everything in Dorchester County—from the unhurried and digressive conversations taking place on the street and in country stores to the flatness of the landscape itself, which is characterized by its tangle of curving roads and bending shoreline intersected by cuts and creeks and other bodies of water that rise and fall with the moon.

Coupled with the flatness, such undulating and fluid geography is endlessly fascinating, though it can be downright disorienting, and it’s no wonder Barth had to look beyond the horizon to his “navigation stars” for direction. Barth told me he considers Scheherazade—the female storyteller of One Thousand and One Nights—one of his “principal navigation stars.”

“With her life ever on the line, only as good as her next piece, Scheherazade remains for me the most piquant emblem of the storyteller’s lot,” says Barth.

These days, Barth, whose noted books include The Sot-Weed Factor, The Tidewater Tales, Giles Goat Boy, The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor, and the Scheherazade- inspired The Book of Ten Nights and a Night: Eleven Stories, is now a navigation star in his own right. He gets mentioned in the same breath as Thomas Pynchon, Vladimir Nabokov, and James Joyce and is considered one of the greatest figures in world literature. He’s swooped in and out of the mainstream, won the National Book Award (for Chimera in 1973), and influenced the likes of David Foster Wallace and Jonathan Lethem. He’s actually achieved adjective status— Barth-ian, or Barth-like is synonymous with intelligent, metafictive, postmodern literature.

Thinking a map might be useful in navigating around Barth’s hometown, I was in luck: the Cambridge library has put together a Barth walking tour. With commentary from the author himself, a map directs pilgrims to sites of interest, which include his boyhood home on Aurora Street, his grandparents’ house on the corner of Maryland Avenue, and, according to Barth’s comments, “East Cambridge Elementary school, where I once got paddled for writing a naughty poem about our teacher, my introduction to the pleasures and pains of authorship.”

The tour leads down to the river—again, in Barth’s words—“The Choptank rivershore at Aurora Street’s foot, where we kids [including my twin sister, Jill] played year-round, and the Route 50 bridge nearby, where we swam and dived among summer sea nettles.”

More than a baptism, Barth equates his immersion in these waters with life itself. “I never tire of remembering that the salinity of these waters is about the same as that of the amniotic sea that we all first swam in,” he told the Dorchester County Friends of the Library during a 2005 talk. A copy of Barth’s text is on file there.

At the riverfront—which is still accessible, although you’ll have to maneuver around a hospital that’s been built in the intervening years—it’s easy to see what captivated Barth and fired his imagination. From this spot, small waves approach from the horizon to lap against a shoreline that stretches out on both sides. Looking up, you’ll see the Choptank River Bridge leading north to Baltimore and Washington. Looking down, you’ll find teeming life at your feet, an entire ecosystem just below the surface: minnows, patches of sea grasses, jellyfish, and the occasional blue crab.

The Maryland blue crab remains a potent symbol of the region, and it flourished in the bay’s brackish waters when Barth was a boy. In the summertime, the Choptank’s waters were teeming with hard crabs, soft crabs, and peelers— jimmies (males) and sooks (females) alike—scurrying sideways across the river bottom. They not only caught Barth’s eye, they subtly influenced his approach to writing. In fact, Barth tells me he comes at subjects sideways, “as blue crabs incline to do.”

Here, the crab becomes symbolic of postmodern literature, with regards to crafting Barth-ian metafiction in which the storyteller moves sideways through streams of information to systematically and subtly change perspective along a narrative bend. That’s the way Barth thinks, writes, and speaks.

In conversation, he can sound downright annotated, as I learned during lunch. When discussing novellas, for instance, Barth noted, “The market for them is gone.” He added commentary, “an interesting form that was popular from the time it was invented,” along with when (the 18th-century), where (Germany), and who popularized it (Goethe). He opined that it is “a lovely narrative space.”

He then playfully defined a novella as “a work of fiction too long to sell to a magazine and too short to sell to a book publisher.”

And finally, he offered advice: “When you perpetrate one, you usually need to add on a few short stories [in order to sell it].”

An Eastern Shore native would recognize, if not the subject matter, the measured pacing and wry tone of such comments. It’s the same sort of discursive storytelling that’s been going on for generations around potbellied stoves, across shop counters, and on docks and wharves throughout Dorchester. Barth relishes being that sort of meandering storyteller, (not so) plain and (not so) simple.

The locals say he got the storytelling gene from his father, Whitey. At the house where he wrote his first novel, The Floating Opera—it’s part of the walking tour— the current owner was out sweeping the sidewalk when I visited. At the mention of the Barth name, he lit up. “He was a natural storyteller, the best you ever heard,” he said, leaning on his broom. “He was extremely erudite.”

But this guy wasn’t talking about John Barth, who’s known as “Jack” around town; he was talking about Whitey. “If Jack could write as well as his father talked, he’d really be doing something,” he added. “It seems like Jack takes ten pages to tell something that could be told in one.” He set the broom aside and lauded Whitey’s storytelling prowess, noting that he had owned a popular soda fountain, called Whitey’s Candyland, on Race Street. Although the building has been torn down, the location is noted on the walking tour, and Barth recalls that it’s “where we all occasionally helped out but mostly hung out.”

Hanging out, he was exposed to storytelling as a lively and witty art courtesy of Whitey, who also served as judge of the Orphans Court for 44 years, worked with the volunteer fire company, was a devoted American Legion member, and was an in-demand after-dinner speaker at functions throughout the county. “By comparison to his life,” Barth has written, “my own (literary and academic) seems almost reclusively detached, its radius much wider but its roots far less deep.”

Where Whitey burrowed, his son scuttled.

Besides passing along the storytelling gene, Whitey helped expose his son to popular and modernist fiction. Barth devoured the paperbacks his father stocked at the shop, and it was there that he first encountered books by Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, and H.P. Lovecraft, along with William Faulkner’s Sanctuary and John Dos Passos’ Manhattan Transfer.

He’d go on to devour books in the Hopkins library, where he shelved classics as a part time job and spent countless hours browsing the stacks and discovering the vastness and diversity of world literature. Like his Cambridge days, it left an indelible mark on his body of work. “If you happen to be a refugee from the Dorchester County tide marshes, as I was and remain,” Barth once told a Washington College audience, “and particularly if you aspire to keep one foot at least ankle deep back in your native bog while the other foot traipses through the wider world, it is well to have such an off-the-cart smorgasbord under your belt, for ballast.”

Barth returned to Cambridge for the unveiling of a historic marker honoring him, and, perhaps most tellingly, he’s set his last few books on the Shore.

His 2008 book, The Development, was comprised of nine related stories set in an Eastern Shore retirement community where “a failed old fart fictionist” (Barth’s words) named George Irving Newett lives. G.I. Newett. You can practically hear Whitey chuckling at that one.

Barth tells me, via email, that his forthcoming book features Newett as its narrator: “The novel’s full title is Every Third Thought: A Novel in Five Seasons. Title borrowed from Prospero’s remark in Shakespeare’s Tempest, of course (`Every third thought shall be my grave’); subtitle from the five seasons of the story’s present action (First Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer, Last Fall) and the corresponding `seasons’ of the narrator’s life.

“After an accidental trip-and-fall head-bang while [Newett and his wife] are touring Shakespeare’s house in Stratford-Upon-Avon, he experiences a series of five seasonal dreams/visions/hallucinations/whatever that trigger recollections of his boyhood, young manhood, maturity, and later age in `Bridgetown’ and adjacent `Stratford,’ in `Avon County’ on MD’s Eastern Shore.”

Barth, now 81 years old (in 2011), seems intent on coming home, again and again. When asked if this will be his last novel, he writes that “time will tell. Since its completion, I’ve written no further fiction.”

But Barth says he has started writing a piece about his years as a jazz musician— presumably doing so while keeping one foot at least ankle deep in his native bog.

John Lewis is editor at large at Baltimore magazine and teaches writing in the Curatorial Practice MFA program at Maryland Institute College of Art. This story was published in Volume 4 of the Delmarva Review, in 2011. His work has appeared in The Oxford American, Rolling Stone, The Washington Post Magazine, and many other publications. He lives in Cambridge, MD with his wife and two children.

The Delmarva Review is a nonprofit literary journal publishing compelling new poetry, fiction and nonfiction from writers within the region and beyond. It will celebrate its Tenth Anniversary edition in November. The Review is supported by the Eastern Shore Writers Association, private contributions, and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. For more information, please visit: www.delmarvareview.com.

Delmarva Review: Poems on Gilbert Byron and Maple Leaves by Kelley K. Malone

PICTURES: REMEMBERING GILBERT, CHESAPEAKE’S THOREAU

Toward the end, you wanted to take my picture.

Your eyes, blue under a milky veil, turned in my direction.
I took your hand, light and dry, and we made our way
out the groaning door you had built generations before,
out into the woods shrouding your cabin, out with Old House Cove

cupping the creek of San Domingo, shimmering in the sun behind.

Was it I who clung to the sleeve of your sweater, stumbling over roots elbowing up from the earth?

I gave you the camera and backed away.

Dear, where are you?

Light streaked down the tall oaks and stout pine, Light filtered through the crouching dogwoods offering delicate plates of white petals.

Gilbert, over here!

Standing firm amidst the splashing light,
you aimed at the center of the sound of your name and shot.

Later I told you the pictures were lovely—
one, a partial sky eclipsed by thumb,
one, a floor of dry leaves restless as bones,
one, I wore an explosion of light in the midst of something black.

On all, I signed my name on the back. I did not know what else to do.

MAPLE LEAVES

I admire the dignity of the maple leaves,
lifting their green palms to the sky in summer sun
and turning silver backs to the north wind
and bowing down to the earth in rain without moaning or pouting or expecting reward for being
what they were born to be.

And in the fall when the coolness comes and the life blood of the leaves retreats down the trunk
through roots burrowed
deep into the bosom
of the earth
and the leaves
blush and curl
and crumble

they do not
as I might
break down
into despair rather,
in breaking down
they feed the hungry ground

breaking down
they feed the hungry ground.

Kelley K. Malone has devoted her career to working for people with disabilities on Maryland’s mid-shore in the not-for-profit sector and has served as an elected official on the Easton Town Council. She has one son, Michael, a bachelor’s degree from Salisbury University in Secondary Education and an executive MBA from Loyola University. She writes in rare moments of free time.

The Delmarva Review is a nonprofit literary journal publishing compelling new poetry, fiction and nonfiction from writers within the region and beyond. About sixty percent are from the Delmarva and Chesapeake Bay area. The journal is supported by the Eastern Shore Writers Association, private contributions, and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. For more information, please visit: www.delmarvareview.com.

Delmarva Review: The Bone Bag by Michael Keenan Gutierrez

They don’t tell you there will be bone. That it will be white. That it will have texture. You thought it would just be ash, like that of fire pits, the dead ends of cigarettes.

Why did you think this? Films, perhaps? You don’t know, but as with so much of the territory you’ve traveled, you’ve brought the wrong map.

According to the website for the National Funeral Directors Association, cremation is a “two-step” process, where first the body is “heated” for two hours at between 1400-1800 degrees, and afterwards the remains are put through a “processor” and what’s left is supposed to come out uniform, industrial, a sort of pre-fab mourning.

That’s not what you see though.

You see your father’s bones. You see them in your hand. You see them slip through your fingers and drop into the water to be taken out by the breakers.

Even though he died four months earlier, you can’t get home right away because of work, because your adult life won’t let you, because you’ve already drained your savings on a last minute flight during the summer, just a few weeks before he died, when he’d been too high on morphine to remember you’d ever visited. He didn’t remember you dressing him, turning on his oxygen. He didn’t remember you pulling away his cigarettes when he was on that oxygen. You’re glad about this.

When you finally do come home for Christmas, your mother shows you the box she’s kept in a guest closet. You’d been expecting an urn—like the movies, again—but no, it’s just a simple brown box, a carton really, something for shoes. Inside his ash and bone are sealed in a plastic bag, the kind you’d get at a carnival, but instead of water and goldfish, there’s this sort of dust.

You think of Star Wars, when at the end of Return of the Jedi, Luke burns Darth Vader’s remains on a pyre. Some part of you wishes you’d done the same. That primal part of you wants that ritual, to have the rite of passage consecrated formally, but you know it takes you two hours to build a shitty campfire and then there’d be the stench and the sight of his body burning and you know you haven’t the stomach for it.

So you settle for a bag inside a box.

The day after Christmas, you and your family all put on something nice and you walk out to the nearby beach and look out at the dark Pacific. It’s a beautiful beach. It should be, for him. It should be because you got married here the previous Christmas. He was there, sallow and struggling to stay standing. But he’d endured, long enough to see you marry.

You don’t talk.

You lead your sister to the line where high tide meets dry sand and she is holding your arm as if you’re walking her down the aisle, except she can hardly stand. Your mother opens the box and pulls out the bag and your future brother-in-law slips you a pocketknife because you hadn’t thought of that.

Now you’ve also got your mother’s arm and while your wife and future brother-in-law and aunts and uncles hang back on dry land, you and your mother and sister make for the water. You shed your shoes and wade in. In December, the Pacific here averages 59 degrees and you feel the shock run over your feet and up your calves.

You go knee deep then think about the knife, but your mother has already dug her thumb into the bag and each of you takes a handful. That’s when you see the bone. It’s not uniform. It’s not pre-fab. It’s definitely a man. It was him.

You scatter him into the water, careful not to get him on your pants, but he does anyways. A small wave surprises you, and all three of you jump and you’re soaked but laughing. Why are you laughing? Because it is ridiculous to be out here? Because it is ridiculous that you all put on something nice to wade into cold water to dump him in here? Because what else are you going to do except return to dry land, him beneath your fingernails, and you return to the empty house where died….

The Spy is pleased to republish Mr. Gutierrez’s Pushcart Prize-nominated essay from The Delmarva Review. The ninth edition of the nonprofit literary journal was published by the Eastern Shore Writers Association with support from private contributions and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. For more information, visit the website: www.delmarvareview.com.

Michael Keenan Gutierrez is the author of The Trench Angel (Leapfrog Press), a finalist for the James Jones First Novel prize. In addition to The Delmarva Review, his work has been published in The Collagist, Scarab, Public Books, We’re History, The Pisgah Review, Untoward, The Boiler, and Crossborder. He lives with his wife in Chapel Hill where he teaches writing at the University of North Carolina.

Delmarva Review: Dry-Dock Music: Baltimore By David Salner

Dry-Dock Music: Baltimore By David Salner

“It was therefore an act of supreme trust on the part
of a freeman of color thus to put in jeopardy
his liberty that another might be free.”
—from The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass

Surprising, most of all,
Stanley himself…. On the way to work that day,
he walked through clouds of cinnamon, an amber fog
enveloping the port, all the way to Fells Point
and the dry docks, where he works—

building a ship with four-pound mallet,
driving cotton-white strands between oak planks,
sealing a sharp-built hull with oakum
from keel to turn of bilge. Dry-dock music
freights the air, saw-scrape and mallet-knock,

chatter of carpenter and caulker,
craftsman and slave, of black and Irish
joined in an uneasy hug of labor. He knew the trades,
sailing and caulking, and others that a free man needs
in this slave port, like how to keep his freedom papers

always in his pocket, for the eagle stamp
protects him from slave catchers, the lowest form
of life, who love the music of another’s chains.
His papers say that he was born right here,
born free, but it was in the port of Charleston,

when he was just 15, that two white sailors
who hated slavery, grabbed him by the arms
and told a port patrolman, “This here’s
the cabin boy of our good ship, the Mother Mary.
His name is Stanley Johnson—he’s had a bit

and captain needs him sober, so let us pass.”
He had the wherewithal to play the drunk,
although he’d never had a sip, not then,
and with their help, he slipped
the chains of bondage, set sail on Mother Mary,

kidnapped into freedom. From that day on,
he’s worked on ships, on shipboard only,
where he feels free. Now that he’s old,
the ships he works on are in dry dock,
his papers always in his pocket.

They describe the bearer by his age,
color, height. . . . But they could just as easily
describe a man named Frederick, on his way
to freedom, with papers in his pocket
in the name of Stanley Johnson.

The Spy is pleased to reprint Mr. Salner’s poetry from The Delmarva Review, Volume 9. The literary journal is published by the Eastern Shore Writers Association with support from private contributions and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. For information, visit: www.delmarvareview.com.

Maryland poet David Salner worked for 25 years as an iron ore miner, steelworker, and general laborer. In addition to the Delmarva Review, his writing has appeared in the Iowa Review, Prairie Schooner, Threepenny Review, Salmagundi, River Styx, and many other magazines. His third book, Blue Morning Light (2016, Pond Road Press), features poems on the paintings of American artist George Bellows.