Delmarva Review: Summoned At First Light, Melville’s White Jacket by David Salner

Delmarva Review Editor’s Note: David Salner’s poems are full of fresh and evocative images. He invites his readers in with exacting language, surprising metaphor and a subtle music. His work bears reading over and over as we discover layers of meaning. In “Summoned At First Light,” the poet imagines how Herman Melville, in his memoir “White Jacket,” may have looked back on an episode in his life from the vantage of many years. Melville is recounting a sailor’s flogging, commonly used at the time by the U.S. Navy as corporal punishment. Here, he conjures the thought of what to do with “beauty” at a time of man’s suffering.

Summoned At First Light, Melville’s White Jacket

Bare feet on deck, 

he felt the waves wash through the boards, 

the long swell, the tender holding of the sea. 


But when the boatswain twirled his cat, 

he guessed what they’d been summoned for. All afternoon, 

as the keen scourge hissed, he listened. Just listened,


which left a mark. Our lives are made of water, 

a wash of salts within us, a tide 

rising and falling back. As an old man, 


he watched the sun sink to a line

where sea and sky are blended, a measureless

haze at the horizon. And studied how the darkness


spread from wisps of pink and orange. And wondered, 

what am I to do with beauty?

What am I to do with that man’s pain?


David Salner’s writing appears in recent issues of Threepenny Review, Ploughshares, Salmagundi, Beloit Poetry Journal, Prairie Schooner, North American Review, and previously in Delmarva Review. His third book is Blue Morning Light (2016, Pond Road Press) and his fourth, From House to House, is to be published by Broadstone Media (fall, 2019). He worked as an iron ore miner, steelworker, machinist, longshoreman and has a MFA from the University of Iowa. He is writing a novel about the lives of the sandhogs who built the Holland Tunnel. Website:

“Delmarva Review” publishes the best of original new poetry, nonfiction, and fiction selected from thousands of submissions annually by authors within the region and beyond. The independent, nonprofit literary journal is supported by individual contributions and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. The print edition is available from and Mystery Loves Company, in Oxford. An electronic edition is also sold at Website:

Delmarva Review: My Dad Just Died After All by Michelle Berberet

Author’s note: “Puzzled, intrigued, and a bit embarrassed by my reaction to my dad’s death, I wrote about it to make sense of it. Through this process, I discovered some of the mysteries and miracles of grief. I found some peace.”

I didn’t think when Dad’s time came, he’d really die; I figured he’d bully God like he bullied everyone else and continue to live, forever. So even though my dad was ninety and suffering from serious congestive heart failure as well as various infections, his death was a shock.

“He’s gone,” my brother said from California after my husband, Bill, handed me the kitchen phone. It was the Sunday after Thanksgiving 2009. Thick autumn sunlight shone through the window over the sink.

“Hmmm. When?” I asked from Virginia. I had no idea how I felt, what to do. I wished tears had sprung to my eyes, but they didn’t. I didn’t even choke up. I nodded my head. Dad was a difficult man to love. Grieving him wasn’t turning out to be any easier.

With Bill watching me, I hung up the phone and said, “Dad died,” though I was sure he already knew. He nodded in silence. Bill stepped closer with his arms open to hug me, but I stepped back and wrapped my own arms around my torso. Undeterred, he took another step and hugged me as best he could.

Once released, my feet moved me step by step out of the kitchen toward the dining room where I could sit down. I didn’t make it. Instead, I had to settle for the doorjamb between the two rooms to prop me up. I repeated the details to Bill, such as they were. The caregiver was turning Dad to prevent bedsores when his heart stopped. My brother was upset because he had been on his way to the house, but he was running late and wasn’t there when Dad died. Bill and I exchanged a glance and small smiles at this. My brother was usually late.

Then I was silent. I didn’t know what to do. Dad was the first of our parents to die. I wanted to go about doing whatever task I had been doing, as if the call had never come, but feared that wasn’t appropriate. Apparently, my silence disturbed my husband, who was accustomed to me being more talkative and active.

“Anything I can do? Anything I can get you?”

I shook my head “no” out of habit. But the offer took root. What I really wanted was a nice glass of spicy red zinfandel. I hesitated. Was this a polite offer I was supposed to decline? Would he really go get me a bottle? I might have been numb, but my brain was still able to analyze⎯hyperanalyze, actually. I felt like I was observing myself as a stranger.

Now, you have to realize my husband is a wonderful, generous man. That said, he is not a “Can I pick anything up for you from the grocery store on my way home?” sort of guy, like my dad in that regard, now that I think about it. I tried to convince myself that I could do without the wine, or I could go get it myself or go with him, but the harder I tried, the more I wanted the wine and the more I wanted my husband to go get it for me. My dad had just died after all.

“I’d really like some wine.”

“OK, what kind?”


“Where should I go?”

“Safeway or Fern Street, I suppose.” Both stores were less than two miles from our house. Fern Street, a small wine shop, was closer.

“I’ll be right back. Anything else?”

I shook my head. After he left, I realized I hadn’t said red zinfandel. I dismissed my concern. Surely, after twenty-six years of marriage he knew that.

And then I was alone, still propped up by the doorjamb. I wanted to cry, tried to cry. I even hugged myself, dropped my head and pretended to cry, hoping this would stimulate real tears. But I had the crying equivalent of the dry heaves. No tears came.

Something else did. It felt as if two unseen hands reached into my stomach, my whole abdomen, and probed for something. I tightened my arms, which were already wrapped around me and bent over in pain to resist this force, but those hands continued to search. The pain intensified. The invisible hands dug deeper. Even in my distress, I was pretty sure whatever the hands were after needed to come out. But still, some part of me resisted. Did I not want to lose what those probing hands were after? Was I just resisting because of the pain? Either way, whatever the reason, part of me wasn’t giving up without a struggle.

I continued to hug myself and rocked slightly, trying to breathe. I was powerless, and I could only wait this thing out. I realize now, I still didn’t cry.
Who knows how much time passed? It felt like a long time and an instant all at once before those hands, with a final tug, left with their prize. I gasped. I remained bent over, my hands on my knees, trying to make each breath a little deeper.

I felt my aching abdomen with my hands. No blood, no particularly sensitive areas. With each breath, a bit of calm entered my body, my mind. Finally, on an inhale, I stood up slowly as if I were in a yoga class. I exhaled, put my hair behind my ears, and looked around the dining room and kitchen. The sun was now blasting in the kitchen window, one last show before descending below the horizon for the night. I was relieved to see everything was the same, no evidence of the attack. Was it possible for an emotional experience to feel so physical?

I made my wobbly way to the dining room table, planted both hands on its surface before sitting down. I shook my head. A ridiculous smile spread across my lips. I must have looked like an idiot. I felt like one. My dad had just died, and I couldn’t cry and now I couldn’t stop smiling.

I didn’t know why I was smiling then, but I think I do now. I wish I could say that I was smiling because those hands had ripped out all my fear of Dad and anger toward him, but that wouldn’t be true. It took me years to replace those feelings with compassion and forgiveness. But I like to think those hands at least started the process. I was glad he was out of pain. I was glad he couldn’t hurt me anymore. And I was glad I had survived his death and those hands ripping from me something deep within. Perhaps I was smiling at the irony that it wasn’t easy for me to let go of the man I’d kept at arm’s length for so long.

There were good reasons I kept Dad at a distance. I think back to the evening of the Fourth of July when we had just arrived home from a long trip. I must have been in my late teens. We hadn’t unpacked when my best friend, Meg, came up the driveway.

“Do you want to go to the beach and see the fireworks?”

“Yeah, but I’d better stay and help unpack.” I didn’t even want to ask Dad if I could. I knew better than to ask.

Meg and I were looking out at the ocean. The moist air felt, smelled, and even tasted good, a welcome change from the desert we’d returned from. We didn’t see or hear Dad come up from behind, a beer in one hand.

“Hi Meg. What’s this about fireworks?” Dad asked with a cheeriness he reserved for nonfamily members.

“Oh, Meg’s going to the beach to see the fireworks and wants me to come. I told her I couldn’t. That we just got here. Need to unpack.”

“Go ahead,” Dad batted his hand at us. “We can unpack tomorrow.”

“Are you sure?”


“I’ll be back right after the fireworks,” I assured him.

“Have fun, don’t rush.” I gave Dad a quick hug and a peck on his cheek without his usual prompting.

A few hours later, after saying goodbye to Meg, I walked up the driveway to the front door and found a very different father waiting for me.

“Where have you been? You left your old dad here to do all the work…”

He ranted on and on. I listened. I knew if I said anything, it would make things worse. It couldn’t go on forever. I waited for him to lose steam while I listened to the waves and repeated to myself over and over in my head: I knew I shouldn’t have gone. I knew I shouldn’t have gone. I just knew I shouldn’t have gone.

By the time Bill came home, the smile was gone, and I was sitting at the dining room table, exhausted. Bill triumphantly pulled a bottle of white zinfandel from a brown bag and offered it to me. My lips flexed into a fake smile, but I didn’t reach for the bottle. I was too numb to be angry.

“What’s wrong?”

“It’s white zinfandel,” I said. He looked at the bottle.

“Yeah, so? Isn’t that what you drink?”

“No, I like red. White is sweet, cloying.” A hint of annoyance made its way into my voice. I knew I couldn’t pull off a thanks anyway sounding the least bit sincere, so I didn’t try.

Bill remained amazingly good tempered given my displeasure. Under different circumstances, he would have been hurt, upset. He would have said, “Well, I’ll drink it,” before putting the bottle in the fridge and going off to read. But he remained and chatted as if I weren’t being totally ungrateful.

“I wondered. I saw the red too. But I thought you liked white. Don’t you like white?”

What did he think? That I was mistaken? I had misspoken? That he knew what I liked better than I did? I knew he was trying to make things better, but I only felt worse.

“I’ve never bought white zinfandel,” I said with a hardness in my voice I instantly regretted. I had no control over my emotions. I felt angry one moment, giddy the next, just not sad. At least not the respectable crying sad I longed for.

Didn’t he know me well enough to know what kind of wine I liked? Still a part of me knew I wasn’t being fair to Bill. I hadn’t said “red,” after all. He’d tried. Plus, he was probably upset too. He and my dad got along fine, each respecting the other, neither wanting more than the other could give.

I didn’t have the energy to fight, but I also didn’t have the energy to say my usual Oh, it’s OK. I said nothing.

Again, my silence spoke for me.

“Do you want me to go back? Get the red?” Bill asked while his eyes pleaded, Please, no, no, no.

Unbidden, a small smile came to my lips, a real one this time. He was so cute, trying so hard to be nice in a way so foreign to him. I desperately wanted to say the usual, “Oh, that’s OK, I’ll be fine.” Or “I’ll go get it.” Or even, “I’ll go with you.” But as the smile grew, I dropped my eyes, and my head made the slightest nod. Bill had offered. I really wanted a glass of red zinfandel, and I really wanted to say what I wanted. After all, my dad had just died, he hadn’t been able to bully God, and I had survived his death and those probing, ripping hands. I braced for his reaction.

“You really want me to go back?” Bill sounded more surprised than annoyed.

I looked into his eyes.

“Yes, I do.” I said as a matter of fact. What he did with this information was up to him.

“OK, I’ll be back.” Bill said with a big smile.

I hadn’t demanded, I hadn’t hinted, I hadn’t begged. I’d spoken clearly. I couldn’t believe how good that felt and how effective it was. I was just glad to tell the truth, to say what I wanted. I had learned not to do that as a child. What I wanted wasn’t important, if it inconvenienced my father, which it did, seemingly, all the time. Apparently, I had learned this lesson so well I was afraid of telling my husband what I wanted.

And soon, he was back. When I heard him come in the front door, I walked from the kitchen that was now in shadows into the dining room to meet him. Once again, he pulled a bottle triumphantly from a brown bag. I gave him a wan smile. I took the bottle, looked at the label, nodded approvingly, and placed it on the table.

Dad had just died. A dull ache was settling in replacing the severe pain of the probing hands and the numbness of the unknown. This was an improvement.

I opened my arms wide, and took the last step to Bill.

Michelle Berberet is an artist-in-residence in the Arts and Humanities Program at the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, in Washington, D.C. She writes and creates art with patients, family, and staff. In addition to “Delmarva Review,” her writing has appeared in “America Magazine” and on the Alexandria DASH buses and trolleys. Her mixed media artwork appears on the National Academy of Medicine’s website.

“Delmarva Review” publishes the best of original new poetry, nonfiction, and fiction selected from thousands of submissions annually by authors within the region and beyond. The independent, nonprofit literary journal is supported by individual contributions and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. The print edition is available at Mystery Loves Company, in Oxford, and An electronic edition is also sold at The website is

Delmarva Review: Bodrum Hamam By Katherine Gekker

Author’s note: “During a recent trip to Turkey, I visited a traditional hamam. I wasn’t sure what to expect. The tenderness and intimacy of the visit surprised me and reminded me of having my face washed by my parents, something I had not thought of in decades. It also brought back memories of seeing their arms crossed after their deaths.”

Steam echoes off blue and yellow
tiles, rivulets stream down walls.
Roof’s oculus opens to Turkey’s hot sky.

We have this round room to ourselves.
We dip ladles into heated pools, then tepid,
like a Finnish sauna but inside, in summer.

My feet appear, disappear in clouds,
our red-checkered pestemals like
keffiyeh, like Arafat wore, wet as puddles.

A man enters. I lie down. He folds my hands
over my heart. He washes me with huge
towel-covered hands, suds fly everywhere,

like blowing bubbles. He and I laugh.
Then he washes my face – no one
has ever washed my face except my parents.

I remember crossing my mother’s hands
over her chest after the end, seeing my
father’s hands crossed by someone else.

My bones sharp against the tiles,
all liquids have escaped me. I’ve
never been so thirsty or so clean.

We dress to the muezzin’s afternoon call
to prayer. Outside, I hear seagulls,
smell the Aegean, then the Baltic.

You take photos of me at the hamam entrance.
Later I notice how sunken, how hollow-cheeked
I look, everything sucked out of me.


Poet Katherine Gekker is the author of “In Search of Warm Breathing Things” (Glass Lyre Press, 2019). In addition to “Delmarva Review,” her poems have been published in “Little Patuxent Review,” “Broadkill Review,” “Poetry South,” “Apple Valley Review,” and others. She has received nominations for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. Some of her poems have been set to music, including a collection “…To Cast a Shadow Again,” by composer Eric Ewazen, and a seasonal cycle of poems, “Chasing the Moon Down,” by composer Carson Cooman. She was born in Washington, D.C. When not writing, she practices piano.

“Delmarva Review” publishes the best of original new poetry, nonfiction, and fiction selected from thousands of submissions annually by authors within the region and beyond. The independent, nonprofit literary journal is supported by individual contributions and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. The print edition is available at Mystery Loves Company, in Oxford, and An electronic edition is also sold at The website is

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Delmarva Review: Daybreak by Darien Gee

Author’s Note: “While I was working on a collection of ‘micro narratives’ about my matrilineal line, my mother shared this story with me. Her memory of these small details during a chaotic and difficult time struck me as both poignant and powerful, but lingering in the background was a secret that travelled with her from China to Taiwan, and then eventually to the United States—the truth about my grandfather’s other family.”

The Communists are coming. On the boat, my mother is 11.
They have suitcases, trunks, crates, a Simmons mattress stowed
below. Money and jewels sewn into the folds of clothing, papers
declaring who they are. The Liang Family. Nationalists.
Kuomintang. They leave behind furniture, dishes, a piano⎯a
country. My mother steps onto a bridge that joins the dock to
the ship, holding her older brother’s hand, their mother pressed
close. Behind them trails a nurse with a young boy,
my mother’s half-brother. Her father, resplendent in a brown
western suit, waves them to their room.

My mother swallows a lungful of air, holds it in. Another boat,
the Taiping, was sunk two months ago—fifteen hundred people and
their gold lines the bottom of the Strait. For three days, they
drift over those bodies, those ill-fated treasures. On the fourth
day, the rise of a dark green mountain range set against an
orange dawn sky. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever
seen. Paddle boats idle as they pull into port. Hello, friends,
hello! The locals are selling bananas. In her pocket, my mother
fingers a silver dollar before tossing it to the man below. She
awaits, arms outstretched, for a first taste of freedom.


“Daybreak” is the first of four of Darien Gee’s powerful micro narratives in Volume 11 of Delmarva Review. Gee, from Hawaii, is the author of five novels, published by Penguin Random House, and an award-winning book on writing memoir. She is a former Vermont Studio fellow and received a writing grant from the Sustainable Arts Foundation. Her creative nonfiction has appeared in numerous literary journals. Say hello at:

Delmarva Review publishes the best of original new poetry, nonfiction, and fiction selected from thousands of annual submissions by authors within the region and beyond. The independent, nonprofit literary journal is supported by individual contributions and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. Obtain the paperback edition from Mystery Loves Company, in Oxford, and An electronic edition is also available from Website:

Delmarva Review: Saudade by Luther Jett

Delmarva Review Editor’s note: The meaning of “saudade” is from the Portuguese and not easily translated into English, though it imports a feeling of longing, melancholy, or nostalgia. Poet Luther Jett explains that Portuguese “saudade” songs are ballads of intense poignancy, often incorporating images of the sea and of cities. He was intrigued by the concept and composed this poem.

Delmarva Review: Saudade
By Luther Jett

While the river overruns its banks,
I sit by an open window — The light
breeze carries salt and a memory
of tar, of small boats bobbing on the tide.

The cities we have left behind, the towns
we’ll likely never know, turn up their lamps
when twilight drifts across the green
as sighs of dying lilacs scent the air.

You were my first, my last, my neverending
road escaping over nameless hills,
my flight of arrows, my cascade of spears,
my brown wren weeping under the clematis.

Seas that have parted and seas which roar
between us, stars whose names no voice
will ever sing — These are the gifts I leave
behind with nothing in my pockets but my hands.

If you listen in the morning to the dew-
fall, you will hear the footsteps of my melody,
and in the evening the sky will burn red —
My blood is on fire for wanting you.
W. Luther Jett’s poetry has been published in Delmarva Review, The GW Review, Beltway, Innisfree, Potomac Review, and Little Patuxent Review as well as several anthologies. His chapbook, Not Quite: Poems Written in search of My Father, was released by Finishing Line press in 2015. He is a retired special educator from Montgomery County, Maryland.

Delmarva Review is a literary journal of national scope, with regional roots. The nonprofit review publishes compelling new poetry, fiction, and nonfiction from authors within the region and beyond. It is supported by individual contributions and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. Visit the website: Obtain the paperback edition from Mystery Loves Company, in Oxford, and An electronic edition is also available from Amazon.

Delmarva Review: A Love Letter to My Sister’s Dog by Frances Park

Mama had a dream last night, Jefferson. You were still alive but barely, your liver failing, your shaven belly mustard yellow, and the vets said there was nothing they could do, so we brought you home, and we gave you a bath where something biblical happened: the water washed away your jaundice.

As Mama told me about her dream, every cell in me stirred, because it was like her love for you. Powerful. Mine, too, though I know I’m just Mama’s sister whose visits were cameo appearances that began with a car beep. Baby’s here! You went nuts whenever you heard that, didn’t you? Howled your head off! And whenever I began to gather my things to go, you’d grow quiet. Disgruntled. Traitor…

You know, Jefferson, a person can’t count on many things in life, but as I’d begin to drive away, slowly, my foot barely on the pedal, the chance that you’d be staring back at me through the window was always excellent. I’d brake, and our eyes would lock like magnets, and we’d stay in that pull for a long time. In a way, that’s as deep as it goes. Famous friends, not like you and Mama—I’m not delusional, you two were twin-spirits roaming this plane, and the next, if there is a next, Mama and Jefferson forever. Though sometimes your attachment was extreme, and you’d become so glum we’d say Jefferson’s on suicide watch, because you’d lie in bed all day, not eating, not moving, just waiting for her to come home. Mama aside, when it was just you and me, we occupied a special space, a poetic place with your paw over my wrist. Didn’t we? By the way, Jefferson, when I say we gave you a bath—in Mama’s dream, I mean—she didn’t say whether “we” included me, but I like to think I was there, in dream life, helping to rinse death off you.

Wherever you are, I want you to know I’m writing this on a gray January morning, spheres removed from that dreamy day when your parents and brother picked you up at the airport and brought you home in a puppy crate. You were something called a golden doodle—your brother had allergies, and, well, it boiled down to a poodle, a doodle, or nothing. Our family had been dog-less for a quarter century, which was fine with me—confession: I was never a true dog lover, always thought they were a bit of a bother—but after work, the summer sky still light and bright, I stopped by just to catch a glimpse of you. A what doodle? A decade ago, that’s all you were to me. Not that it was love at first sight for you, either.

So there you were, and will always be, a beautiful little lamb, a red-collared pup on all fours, refusing to face us. Wherever we set you down, on the grass, on the floral rug, you’d make an about-face, taking orders from your instincts. Paralyzed. I guess if I were plucked from a peaceful farm in Oregon and took a loud scary plane ride for five hours, I’d turn away, too. But I also think that’s how God made you. Introverted. Stony to strangers.

Your love, once bloomed, was reserved for us, your family. That drew me in; made you and your love more special. Some things I found so fetching: the way you’d position yourself so my hair would fall on your face whenever Mama trimmed my ends. The way you growled whenever my husband hugged me—Hands off my Baby! You were a thinker, like my long-gone dad, and call me nuts but were you trying to tell me something with those soulful brown eyes? Oh, if paws could write… Spiritual, too, in a doggy way. Sometimes you broke into a crazy—okay, I’ll just say it—possessed bark, and if I didn’t know better, I’d swear you were barking at ghosts dancing around my head.

Granted, you could be dogs-just-wanna-have-fun, too.

Give me treats!

Hide my tennis ball!

Take me to Hidden Pond!

Ah, Hidden Pond. Granted, you loved your home, especially your spot by the big lumpy elephant-gray sofa, but mention Hidden Pond, and everything flew out the window. It was your favorite place in the world, where your soul became one with every enchanting rock, trail, stream, and falling leaf. Hearing Mama say Let’s go to Hidden Pond! could awaken you from your deepest sleep. Well, almost.

I’m regretting something right now, Jefferson. I rarely went to Hidden Pond with you, just a couple of times, and always opted for the easy trail, otherwise known as the Orange Path, which cheated you, a little. The Green Path, your trail of choice, was too long and treacherous for me. Believe it or not, I started out life as a tomboy who could outrun and outjump any boy in class, a skateboarding fiend, but then I got all poetic and lost myself in words, not woods, and emerged a rock in some ways yet a delicate flower in others—ugh, I agree. Maybe Mama can hop over steep rocks while eating gummy bears, “but I’d fall into some crevice and never be heard from again.

By your tenth birthday, you could still pass for a fluffy puppy but then, abruptly, you slowed down. The staircase was a struggle, each step a crawl-hop. Once, after a long walk in Hidden Pond, your legs gave out, and you had to be lifted into the car. Born with hip dysplasia, you had surgery early on, but here it was, back to haunt you. Oh, you were such a good boy at the vet acupuncturist office last summer, model-still with all those needles sticking out of your doodle fur. But it was worth it because your breed’s lifespan is fifteen years. Miraculously, the acupuncture worked.

Back to Hidden Pond!

With a spring in your step!

True, your walks were abbreviated now. That majestic tree, the grandest in Hidden Pond, standing like some ancient tree of life, now marked the end of your journey. Time to turn around.

But damn it all, one day in mid-December, you stopped eating. The following afternoon you were admitted to the animal hospital—your bilirubin levels were high, pointing to liver disease. The next night, Saturday night, Mama and I went to visit you, though she’d been in and out all day. The hospital staff and décor tried to be cheery but failed miserably; frankly, I had bad vibes as we waited in a room with a maroon rug for an eternity, you weren’t going to get well here. Finally, a nurse walked you in. You plopped down, your shaven belly and ankles and the whites of your eyes all yellow. Worst, your expression was gone.

Where were you, Jefferson?

Just before we left, you perked up in a pup-like way only because you had to pee bad, really bad, so Mama leashed you and the two of you charged out of the room, through the hospital lobby and automatic front doors, leaving me in the dust. Suddenly, it was like it always was, Mama and Jefferson together forever, and what I’m about to tell you will break Mama’s heart when she reads this: something about the starless vision of your silhouettes running into a pitch-black night shook every molecule in me, and all I was thinking was, Run you two, keep running, somewhere, anywhere, don’t turn around, even if it means you never come back because if you come back, Jefferson will never get out of this deathtrap alive and the dream will be over.

I was wrong. You came home on Monday, the same day I developed a cough, easy to ignore at a time like this. The hospital vets said there was nothing more they could do except give you meds and let’s see what happens. Uh, five thousand dollars later and let’s see what happens? What happened was an emotional rollercoaster: one hour you were walking around the block, the next hour your legs buckled; one hour you were barking at the television, the next hour one breath from death. Jefferson, I’d say, knowing you’d come to life if only for a split second, you’ve got to get better so we can go to Hidden Pond.

What happened in the end is that on Friday, December 23 at ten in the morning, eight days after you stopped eating, the in-home euthanasia vet arrived with his assistant. I’m telling you this because I’m not sure how conscious you were, lying on the floral rug, Jefferson. You seemed at peace, even ready to leave us, but when I later learned you were doped up on morphine, I wasn’t so sure of anything anymore. Maybe you were in some drugged-induced state, dreaming of Hidden Pond. All I know is that you surrendered to the vet’s needle without a stir. In case you weren’t aware during those last moments, your grief-stricken Mama was sobbing Mama loves Jefferson, Mama loves Jefferson, petting you so feverishly no doubt you’ll feel her love forever. When you were gone, she collapsed on you, and I, her sister shadow, collapsed on her. You know, Jefferson, I never got to say good-bye to my dad—he was here, then gone forever. So, despite the tragic hour, I’m grateful I could say goodbye to you.

Her next blink, your inconsolable Mama began lamenting Where is Jefferson now? I need a sign he’s OK…

I’m not a religious person, not by a long shot, and only in dream life could a baptismal bath wash away your jaundice. But signs of afterlife, I’ve had a few, and I’m not talking about when someone’s thinking about their dead friend Mike, and then a Michael & Son truck happens to drive by. God, no, that’s not what I mean. I mean something tangible and magical when you least expect it. Yet poor Mama couldn’t wait—Baby, I need a sign he’s waiting for me now. I could believe she might get her sign from you someday but not today, not this soon.

On Christmas—two days after you left this earth—your parents and brother went to Hidden Pond in your honor. I would’ve gone, too. You know that, Jefferson, but by now my cough had progressed to bronchitis. Their original plan was to walk the Green Path trail to the majestic tree, scatter some of your ashes along the way, but Mama couldn’t bring herself to give any of you away, and I don’t blame her.

When your family reached their landmark, they discovered something that wasn’t there last time, something uncanny. On a bed of leaves in the crook of the tree’s hollow, nestled if not deeply rooted, sat a tiny pup with a red collar—a figurine, of course, too sacred to touch, of ancient thistle or twine, Mama guessed. The figurine, Jefferson, was you. At least the image of you just out of your crate one long-ago summer day.

Now, if that wasn’t Mama’s sign from beyond the universe, then signs just don’t exist.

Well, Jefferson, under cursed skies, my little ode to you comes to a close. It’s still January, and I’m still coughing here—that’s how fresh your loss feels. However silly, a part of me wants to hold onto the cough as if otherwise your memory and a bewitching figurine will fade into a dream or a myth. No…not a chance. Maybe I’m not Mama, but I cried writing every word of this, and I’ll be looking for you in the window for a long, long time.


Frances Park is the author of ten books including novels, memoirs and children’s books. She has been interviewed on NPR, The Diane Rehm Show, Voice of America, and Good Morning America. In addition to Delmarva Review, one of her essays earned a spot on The Best American Essays 2017 Notable List. She lives in Alexandria, Virginia.

Delmarva Review is a literary journal of national scope, with regional roots. The nonprofit review discovers compelling new fiction, nonfiction, and poetry from authors within the region and beyond. It is supported by individual contributions and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. Visit the website: Obtain print or digital editions at or Mystery Loves Company, in Oxford.

Delmarva Review Fiction: American Dream by Mark Jacobs

Nothing that happened the night Nelson killed the raven was funny. Especially not what happened to me. Started happening, I should say. The mystery was why I kept laughing. I thought if I figured that out, I would know what I was supposed to do. For the record, Nelson did not mean to kill the bird.

Nelson Pacheco was the Hilltoppers’ catcher. He was having a terrific season, batting .285 and making some killer plays at the plate. Somehow he managed to connect with a vicious curve ball delivered by the opposing pitcher. The ball popped up over the third-base dugout at the exact moment the bird happened by. They collided, the bird came down dead, a few morons in the stands laughed, and the ump called a time-out. Everybody thought it was a crow, me included. But there was some sort of professor at the game that night. He recognized the dead bird for what it was. Eventually the play-by-play guy announced it wasn’t a crow, and the ump hollered play ball. Our guys went on to win by a run and hold on to second place in the standings.

From what I read, later on, we didn’t have all that many ravens in our area. Knocking them off with foul balls couldn’t help.

I loved baseball. I loved our stadium. It sat on a hill on the west edge of the city, and from just about any seat in the place you had a knock-out view of the Blue Ridge mountains in the distance. Summer nights, the sun going down softened the scenery. It glowed, and the glow made you feel like you had stumbled into a significant moment. You sat there sipping a cold brew as your eye swept from infield to outfield, over to the scoreboard and up over the fence to the trees, and finally to the mountains in the distance. You wished you could stop time because there it was, right in front of you, the American Dream.

Nelson, the catcher, was living in our basement, in Pete’s old room. Single A ball did not pay much, unless you had a signing bonus. In that case nobody expected you to stick around longthey bumped you up to a Double A or even a Triple A club pretty much overnight. One way the players got by was living with families when they were in town. Most of the host families were pretty well off. Realtors, car dealers, that kind of person. The guys who stayed with them had a good thing going. A big comfortable room of their own, sometimes a private apartment. Nelson did not have it that good, staying with us. I was a welder. My wife worked at Big Lots. Luck of the draw, Nelson’s and mine. Ginny Elizabeth and I tried to make up for not living in a showplace by feeding the hell out of our ballplayers.

We had been hosting players a long time. We got free season tickets out of the deal, but that was not the reason we did it. My wife liked baseball, although not the way I did. It had something to do with the solid feeling you got, making a contribution. In my experience, most people like doing something generous. No one puts a gun to their head to force them to do it.

The night Nelson killed the raven, Ginny Elizabeth was out playing spit-in-the-bucket with her friends, but our daughter, Carrie, came with me. That surprised me, her wanting to see the game. From Carrie’s point of view, baseball was nothing but embarrassment. It meant a strange guy staying in the windowless room her brother fixed up for himself in the basement back when he was a teenager and wanted to get away from us. She knew how the other host families lived. But she was a month away from turning eighteen, and there was not much I understood about her, so when she said she was coming with me, all I said was Great. In the bottom of the second inning, she got a text from a friend on the other side of the stadium and moved away to sit with her.

After the game, I went looking for her. Found her where I did not expect to. She was down on the field staring at Nelson. He was swinging a bat with a doughnut on it like he was warming up. He was staring back at her.

That was all it took. What made fathers so dense? My daughter was growing into her looks. She was not the kind of girl you were going to see on a magazine cover, but there was a freshness about her. Ginny Elizabeth said Carrie was earnest, and earnest was attractive. After a three-month bout with blue, she had let her mother’s wonderful auburn hair grow out again the way it wanted to. The pouty air she had been cultivating through her senior year bugged the hell out of me, but I knew better than to make a big deal out of it. And I was not naïveI also knew it had something to do with sex.

“You going home with me?”

I was talking to both of them. I guess this is the place to say that Nelson was from the Dominican Republic and spoke English with a pretty heavy accent. And had brown skin. People are going to climb all over me for mentioning that. All I can say is, it was relevant.

“Thanks, Mr. Boggs,” he said. “I’m going out with the guys. Home later.” He dug in his pocket and brought out a key ring with a neon orange fish head, held it up. Ginny Elizabeth had given him a house key once we decided we trusted him.

He smiled. It was a smile you could imagine seeing on a baseball card some day. He was handsome in a sports-hero way.

The ride home with Carrie was not one of my finer moments.

“I know what you’re thinking,” she said.

“What am I thinking?”

“That me and Nelson are going to…do something.”

I won’t repeat everything we said. My part came down to, Nelson was too old for her and wasn’t going to be around anyway. Her part was accusing me of being a racist.

“He’s living in our house,” I said. “He sits at our table. Tell me what’s racist about that.”

She pounded the dashboard in frustration. It was her way of telling me I didn’t get it. At home she flounced off, made herself scarce. I watched a little TV then went to bed. Six a.m. came early. By the time Ginny Elizabeth came to bed, I was sawing serious wood.

It must have been fatherly intuition that woke me in the middle of the night and sent me to the window. When I looked out, there was my daughter dancing with Nelson on the flagstone patio I’d laid myself three years ago. Dancing, and no music. There wasn’t much light, either, just a couple of lanterns on the picnic table.

Ginny Elizabeth sat up in bed and said What’s wrong, Patterson? I didn’t answer. I tore downstairs and outside and broke up the dance party. To his credit, Nelson knew he had crossed a line. He hung his head. Meantime, Carrie was furious, spouting every kind of nonsense about me not trusting her and her having the right to live her own life and…fill in the blanks based on your own experience.

“Get out of my house,” I said to Nelson.

It was two o’clock in the a.m. He had no car. There were no buses in our neighborhood. He might or might not have had enough cash on him to cover a hotel room. But he went.

“You’re mean,” my daughter moaned when he was gone. “You’re a racist pig.”

Well, I was mad, but I took it. What choice did I have? Harder to take was Ginny Elizabeth’s analysis of the evening’s events. She said I overreacted. After a while, I put a pillow over my head and did my best to sleep.

At Cushman Machine & Welding the next morning, my head was pounding like it used to when I drank too much and got hangovers. Not enough sleepit brings out the darkness in a new day. My friend Randy Bullock and I were working on a rush job for the foreman. The customer had invented a machine for sorting gravel by size. The novelty was how the shaker connected to and moved the sorter tray. He needed a working model to try and sell the idea. It was a kick-ass concept, and normally I would have enjoyed working on it. But the incident with Carrie and Nelson had me rattled.

“It’s simple,” said Randy.

For Randy, everything was simple. He spent way too much time listening to the hotheads on talk radio. There was gray in his beard now, and he’d been walking with a limp since he took a spill on his brand-new Yamaha, taking a curve on one of those mountain roads meant for scenic cruises, not daredevil bikers past their riding prime. He lifted his mask and prepared to lecture me.

“This country was started by guys with names like Patterson Boggs and Randy Bullock. Am I right or am I right? They’re turning it into a country that caters to guys with names like Nelson Pacheco and Ali Baba. They sneak over the border and look for a sign called Easy Street. They park their ass and stick out their hand. Before you and me are in our graves, they’ll outnumber us, and the whole thing is over.”

My friend’s immigration theory did not make me feel better. I did not regret throwing Nelson out of the house. He had betrayed my trust. But I liked the guy. And now it was going to be hell, getting through the rest of the summer with Carrie. In the fall, if everything went the way it was supposed to, she started college. To make that happen, Ginny Elizabeth and I were taking out a humongous loan. Which, be it said, we were more than happy to do. I didn’t give a shit what she studied as long as she studied.

After work, I drove to Hilltoppers Stadium and hunted up Will Abbott. Will handled community relations for the team, including which players stayed with which host families. I found him in the grass outside his office having a smoke. He was a long drink of water with hands like grandma’s spaghetti bowls. Way back when, he used to play third base for the Richmond Flying Squirrels. Never made it to the big leagues but handled defeat better than most of them. He was leathery now. The baseball life will do that to a person’s skin.

When I filled him in, he shook his head, let out a mouthful of smoke. His voice rumbled like a gravel sorter. “Too bad. Pacheco is a decent kid. But they know the rules. No fraternizing. Never mind, I’ll find someplace for him to stay.”

“Ginny Elizabeth and me, we’re happy to take another guy.”

He shook his head. I didn’t know what that meant. He told me, “‘Course, you hear this all the time.”

“Hear what?”

“Guy’s got a future in the game.”

“You got scouts looking at him?”

He wouldn’t say much more. Team management held that kind of information pretty close to the chest. They had their reasons. But it stabbed me in a soft place, thinking about Nelson moving up. He had a consistently hot bat, he had the command of the field of play a catcher had to have. It would be sensational to watch a ball player who had eaten your meatloaf and mashed potatoes rise through the ranks. Nobody that stayed with us ever got beyond Double A. The best was, one time a guy they called Skinny Pockets hit a grand slam in a playoff game while he was with the Binghamton Rumble Ponies.

Driving home, I kind of wished I hadn’t kicked Nelson out of our house. Not so much because he might make it to the bigs but because, as a person, he was one of the nicest we ever hosted. Polite, soft-spoken, and you got the impression he didn’t mind a bit staying in a welder’s basement. But by the time I pulled into the driveway I was facing a fact I did not particularly want to face.

Think of it as a movie trailer, and here’s the plot: Dominican kid makes it to the majors. Bam, he’s a star, a fence buster with a slugging percentage to die for. The baseball world gushes, look at those XBH numbers. Cameras follow him home, where his young wife is waiting to hug him. Welcome home, sweetie. She’s got stunning auburn hair. A couple of kids are horsing around in the yard. They’ve got light tan skin, a color a lot of people considered cool.

Watching the trailer, feeling a twinge when the ball player’s wife hugged him. Did that make me a racist?

The team was away for a three-day series against the Mosby Raiders. At home, we managed to keep the peace by talking about anything that wasn’t Nelson Pacheco. Carrie went around the house looking like I had run over her dogon purposebut if I asked her a question she answered, and I figured time would smooth things out.

Wrong again.

The next home game, I told Ginny Elizabeth I’d meet her at the stadium and went early. I had no plan, only a hunch. I ate a hot dog and watched the team warm up. There wasn’t much of a crowd. The weather was hot and muggy, and our guys were playing the team in the cellar, who played like ice hockey was their sport. Not much drama.

My brain took notice of the atmospheric conditions. It slowed down, the way you imagine a bear’s brain does in hibernation. Ginny Elizabeth texted me that she was taking an overtime shift at the store. In all the years we’ve been together, neither of us has ever said no to overtime. That’s part of the American Dream, too, but don’t ask me to explain how, it just is.

So I watched the game by myself. Nelson had another good one, smacking a three-run homer. He also made an impossible catch at the plate, body stretched out like a ballerina’s, foot on the bag. Out. It felt strange, cheering my lungs out for a guy I had booted out of my house. Live an adult life long enough and you’re guaranteed to feel something similar.

After the game, the guidance from my slow brain was to stick around and spy. Aye-aye, Captain. I stuck. What I spied was Nelson getting into Carrie’s car and the two of them driving off laughing like a couple of hyenas. He’s only nineteen and a half, she had huffed once in a moment of exasperation. Meaning not too old for her.

I could have followed them. I didn’t. Not because my noble nature stopped me. Hill City was small by anybody’s yardstick.

First time Carrie looked in the rear-view mirror, she would see my F-150, which was both old and purple. Also, I thought I might do something stupid if I caught up to them. If I was going to do something stupid, it needed advance planning.

All the planning I was capable of that night was getting smashed, something I had not done in maybe ten years. That was the one drawback to Ginny Elizabeth’s overtime shift. It left me alone. I found the bottle of Jack we kept for company and did some major-league damage to it. I fell asleep on the couch. When Ginny Elizabeth got home from work, she shook me awake and told me I smelled like a brewery. She meant distillery. I didn’t correct her.

I paid for it, next day at work. Randy and I were really pushing to get the gravel-sorter done on time. That morning, however, I did not hold up my end. Which Randy found highly entertaining. His color commentary made my head pound worse. He kept yakking on that I had to have it out with Nelson. The kid had to know there would be consequences if he didn’t leave my daughter alone.

“What about Carrie?” I said.

“Ginny Elizabeth is talking to her.”

“What makes you so sure?”

“What makes you so dumb?”

Everything was worse because I had drunk the Jack with Coke. On the rocks would have been smarter.

That was when I started laughing. I had no idea why. Randy gave me a look like I was going soft in the head. When we pulled our masks down and went back to work, I was still smiling.

I laughed when Ginny Elizabeth told me Carrie was AWOL.

“What’s funny about that, Patterson?”

We had been together a long time, since two years before we got married. We sagged more than we used to. We told old stories. We saw more yesterday than tomorrow in each other’s faces. None of that was bad, it only meant we had to be deliberate in the way we touched each other.

She asked me again what was funny.

“The situation, I guess.”

She shook her head. I didn’t understand me any better than she did.

Carrie was working at the Sonic on Ward’s Road for the summer. She left a voicemail on our land line saying she was calling in sick and, by the way, she was thinking about taking a year off before college. Rich kids did it all the time. They called it their gap year. There was no law said you had to be rich to do that, was there?

The message hit both of us hard. At that point, we’d have broken our arms and legs and whistled Black Sabbath tunes in a nudist colony if it meant she went to college. We were devastated. And she wouldn’t pick up her phone, she wouldn’t answer her mother’s texts. The night was long.

“She’s in Keysburg,” I said.

“Not necessarily.”

“Count on it.”

“Then why are you laughing?”

“I’m cracking up. In a good way, maybe.”

The Hilltoppers were playing an away game against the

Keysburg Mighty Mice. A two-hour drive. The question was whether Carrie came home that night.

She did not.

Next morning at work, Randy told me it was time to play hardball.

“He’s a catcher,” I pointed out.

“But is he a U.S. citizen? Call the border cops. ICE, they call ‘em. I seen it on the backs of their jackets on the news. If he ain’t a citizen they can deport his ass right back to Taco Land.”

“You’re a piece a work,” I told him.

Which was objectively true. My friend and workmate was three times divorced. He believed he was sexy, down to the Colt .45 tattooed on his butt. He drank too much and thought too little. His favorite sport was telling me how to run my life.

The upshot of Randy telling me I had to do something about Nelson Pacheco was I spent the rest of the day building up a scenario in my mind where I had it out with the guy. You know how you can get carried away with an idea? I got lost in mine. Sometimes the scenario ended in violence. Sometimes it ended in tragedy, and sometimes it was black and bitter. But no matter how it played out, the scenario had me stalking the kid, tracking him down.

So it threw me that afternoon when he showed up at Cushman. Lisa, the secretary, strolled out to the work floor to tell me there was a Spanish guy outside wanted to see me. This was no sacrifice on her part. She came out on the floor on any flimsy excuse so the guys had ample opportunity to ogle her in her clean dress, her red shoes, sashaying across the crowded space where we did our dirty work.

“Now’s your chance,” Randy told me. He was looking up the ICE phone number on his phone.

“Forget it,” I told him.

“What do you mean, forget it? And what’s so funny?”

I found Nelson in the parking lot leaning against a red Hyundai he had borrowed from somebody. He was calm and cool, just like an innocent man. I asked him what he was doing there.

“I want to explain something.”

“I don’t give a damn what you want,” I told him, which was a lie. I really did want to hear what he had to say. I thought for a second about pleading with him to leave my daughter alone so she would go to Lynchburg College like she was supposed to. But the picture in my mind of me begging him was so pathetic I couldn’t open my mouth to try.

“It’s me, isn’t it?” he said.

“What’s you?”

“The way I look.”

“You look like a catcher. You’ve got the ideal build to play the position.”

He shook his head. “That’s not what I’m talking about.”

“The end of August, Carrie goes to college.”

“I know. She wants to study Spanish.”

“That’s news to me.”

“I don’t get why you’re laughing,” he said. His tone of voice was respectful. “It’s like you are full of anger and laughing at the same time.”

I was beginning to understand why that was happening. He was the last person I was going to explain it to.

“Last night,” I said.

He waved at me, not like I didn’t matter but like he was giving me his blessing, which of course he had no right to even think about doing. But that was all it took. It came to me on a silver plate, shining and new. From here on out, I had no control over what my daughter chose to do. That part of our life together was over.

“I won’t talk about last night, Mr. Boggs.”

I had two choices: tell him to fuck off, or turn around and go back to work. I turned around and walked away.

“Wait, please.”

I stopped. I waited.

“I grew in a place called La Vega.”

He meant grew up; that was okay.

“We played a lot of baseball. Two years ago, a scout showed up. His name was Moseley. He brought me here.”


“Before I got on the airplane, he told me something muy importante.”

Saying the Spanish words was like taunting me. That was okay, too.

“Moseley was black. African American. He told me here in this country you have to go into every situation expecting to be treated bad. But at the same time, you must keep an open mind.”  

“An open mind about what?”

“There might be a situation where the color of your skin don’t matter. If that happens, you take advantage of it. I just want a shot, Mr. Boggs. If they give me a shot, I can make it.”

That was it. All there was to say on both sides. He was behind the wheel of his borrowed car before I was halfway across the lot. Then I had to put up with more of Randy’s foaming nonsense. He had the ICE number up on the screen of his phone. His thumb, the one with a mangled nail thanks to a claw hammer and too many schnapps, was poised, ready to punch it. There was more like that until we finished the shift, lots more. But I had the laughing figured out.

I went to the next Hilltoppers game by myself. Since Carrie had come back from Keysburg, there was not a lot of conversation going on around home. Ginny Elizabeth had already figured out what took me longer to tumble to, that the girl was making her own decisions. But at that point none of us could take on a conversation about what came next.

We were playing the James City Night Hawks. The two teams had been neck and neck all season. This game mattered. If we beat the Night Hawks, we elbowed them out of first place. And there was another reason the game was significant. Scouts.

There were half a dozen of them in the stands behind home plate with their clipboards and velocity guns, their ground-out- to-fly-out ratios, their bequeathed runs scored numbers. I had mixed feelings about those guys. They were an important cog in the wheel of baseball, sure. But they were guessing, just like you and me. They had a certain power of death and life when it came to signing bonuses. Their recommendations to management carried weight. But often as not, they guessed wrong.

The Hilltoppers played a terrible game. By the end of inning four, they were trailing five zip. And Nelson’s game was horrendous. He whiffed every time he stepped to the plate, and behind it on defense he played like a Little Leaguer under psychological pressure from his asshole father yelling at him from the stands.

I felt bad for all concerned, but more for Nelson. Okay, it was not the only game where scouts showed up. And they had his stats. They knew good players had bad games. But if I had been one of those judges in short sleeves, I probably would have put a line through Nelson’s name and moved on to the next prospect.

I toyed with going over to where the scouts were sitting, engaging one of them in conversation, casually talking up the Hilltoppers catcher. But I was a nobody, and nobody was going to give me the time of day.

The game ended worse than it began. A botched double play in the eighth inning brought in three more James City runs, and we were humiliated, as in skunked. The scouts left at the end of the seventh, which I guess was some consolation. They didn’t see that double play disaster. On the other hand, they didn’t have to.

The stands emptied out, but a feeling of gloom kept me sitting there. I was done laughing for now. It turned out I had not been laughing at the situation after all. I was laughing at myself. Why? Because I was a crusty old dude with a bad attitude and no imagination. Because I’d been listening too hard to Randy Bullock for too long. Because I felt a chilly hand squeezing the secret space around my heart and decided the world was coming to an end. Because I didn’t know how to let my daughter go. Who wouldn’t laugh at a guy like that?

Eventually I stood up. I made my way to the parking lot, which had quickly emptied out. There was Carrie’s blue Focus, parked a couple of rows away from my truck. She was standing alongside the car, facing off against Nelson. I couldn’t not go up to them.

When I did, I saw tears in Nelson’s eyes. They were the tears of desolation. He knew exactly how bad he had looked to the scouts.  

The sun was going down over the Blue Ridge in a pale gleam that seemed like a promise, although I could not have said a promise of what.

Nelson said, “It’s over, Mr. Boggs.”

A squad of crows started up from a pine tree and flew across the parking lot in saw-tooth formation. At least I was pretty sure they were crows. As it happened, I had two twenties in the pocket of my jeans. I dug out the money and held it out to him.

“Buy Carrie some dinner.”

That was worth doing if only for the look of amazement on my daughter’s face. She said something that did not quite come out in words. The sound was like gargling with salt water. I was prejudiced, of course, but she was beautiful just then. The pouty look was gone.

Nelson cautiously took the money. “It was the worst game of my life.”

I nodded. No use pretending it wasn’t.

“It’s all over for me.”

But he was wrong about that, and I told him so.

“What you need to see, Nelson, is that it’s only beginning.”

I hoped he understood what I was driving at. Because what I had in mind was, you might say, muy importante. 


In addition to Delmarva Review, Mark Jacobs has published 133 stories in magazines, including The Atlantic, Playboy, The Baffler, and  The Iowa Review. His stories are forthcoming in several magazines, including The Hudson Review. He has published five books. Among them are A Handful of Kings (Simon and Shuster) and Stone Cowboy (Soho Press). Website:

Delmarva Review is a literary journal of national scope, with regional roots. The nonprofit review discovers compelling new fiction, nonfiction, and poetry from authors within the region and beyond. It is supported by individual contributions and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. Visit the website: Obtain print or digital editions at or Mystery Loves Company, in Oxford.


Delmarva Review: Cotton Mouth by Holly Karapetkova

“And the field for cotton goods, that is every day enlarging, as
the East is answering to the impatient calls of commerce, gives
no prospect of a speedy check to this vast power of the produce
of the slave.”
⎯ A Carolinian, Slavery in the Southern States, 1852

Luck is a field
white as stars
in a sky of jade

harvest season
heads full of cotton
hands full of cotton

we dream of buds
aching green with envy
flaring their white

blossoms open at dawn
pink by sundown
then red

withering until
the bolls beneath
crack open

foaming white
this high cotton
we’re rolling in

our mouths
so full we choke
on our own spit


Holly Karapetkova’s poems and translations from the Bulgarian have recently appeared in Prairie Schooner, Alaska Quarterly Review, Poetry Northwest, Delmarva Review, and other publications. Her second book, Towline, won the Vern Rutsala Poetry Contest and was published by Cloudbank Books. She chairs the Literature and Languages Department at Marymount University. Her website is

Delmarva Review is a literary journal of national scope, with regional roots. The nonprofit review publishes compelling new poetry, fiction, and nonfiction from authors within the region and beyond. It is supported by individual contributions and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. For copies and information, visit the website:

Delmarva Review: On Being Enough (or Paris M’a Libéré) by Abigail Johnson

The morning dawned early and clear over the grey cobbled streets of Paris. Rosy golden sunlight crept over the tops of sleepy Parisian eaves, as I lay awake in my bunk, aware of the cold chill coming through my open windows. The pleasant noises of a city just were beginning to wake filtered through those windows. However, I had been woken up precisely at 6:55 a.m. not by those sounds, but by my iPhone softly playing one of my favorite folk songs, a tune laced with what I thought were the echoes of the most beautiful sorrow. A few minutes passed as I took in the beautiful chorus of a Paris morning, a smile reaching all the way down into my soul. My alarm suddenly sounded again, its biting yell worming its way through the haze of sleepiness coating my mind. Relinquishing any hopes of more sleep, I rolled over to shut my phone off. The time now read 7:00 a.m.

My sister Eryn stirred in the bunk above me, making the entire bunk sway and creak with a seemingly ancient groan. I slowly rose from my bed, shivering as I pushed aside my cozy blankets. Goosebumps stood sentry on my arms and legs as I ambled over to our small table in front of our tall, French-style windows. Truly, it was a sad little black folding table with brightly colored plastic stools, one grape purple and one bright red, but to me it had begun to stand for so much more. That table had quickly become my favorite place in the entire hostel. I’d lost track of how many times I’d sat down at that table in our wonderfully dinky little room and stared out at the narrow streets, savoring just being in the City of Light. I’d never been so far away from home before.

Thunk! I was broken out of my dreaming. Time and place came back to me as I turned to see Eryn jumping off of the bunk bed’s ladder.

“Morning!” I said with honey in my voice. She threw me a sort of good-hearted, pained grimace.

“How are you?” I tried again.

She gave a quiet chuckle and smiled, saying, “I cannot believe that you’re making me get up this early to go do this.”

“But it’ll be fantastic!” I promised.

“But it’s soooooo early, Abby,” she laughingly complained with a twinkle in her eye. “You really wanna do this? Like, it’s something that will break your heart if we don’t?”

“Yes!” I declared dramatically. “My heart will shatter into a million bloody fragments if we don’t!” I put a hand to my forehead and gave my best Oscar-winning sigh. Eryn shook her head and gave a good-natured groan.

“Hey,” I said, “Remember, it’s an experience.”

Her eyes started to glow. Got ya! I knew that my sister valued experiences above all else. The chance to experience something brand new always piqued her attention. Defeated, she grinned and rolled her eyes. “It’s a good thing I love you,” she said as she quickly grabbed her towel and clothes, heading off to lay claim to the bathroom before another hosteller could take it.

“Love you, toooooo,” I called out after her, turning my attention back to the waking city just outside of my window. Still mesmerized by its beauty, I happily sighed and reached for my clothes and makeup, relishing the day to come.

Twenty minutes later, dressed and freshly perfumed, we headed downstairs, grabbed croissants, said goodbye to the hostel cat, and flew out onto the street. The city welcomed us with open arms, calling out to us to come and see all of the little treasures hidden in her depths. Alas, time had a different plan.

“Eryn, it’s 7:23. It starts at 8…think they’ll let us in if we’re late?”

“I would hope so!” she giggled.

I tried to laugh along with her, but I couldn’t help but think about how crushed I’d be if we didn’t make it. We were still at least a half-hour metro ride away from our destination, after all. I walked faster, feeling the icy fingers of the cold stabbing through my thin sweater. My god, it felt like Christmas was in the air! There was a certain magic to this feeling, and I did indeed feel as though I was a child on Christmas morning. The feeling of the clock running down, however, lingered in my mind and propelled me forward.

We hurried through the streets to the metro, joining the friendly bustle of the city. We walked out of our home neighborhood, Montmartre: the historic artists’ district. We passed Parisians outside of warm cafes and bakeries, sipping espresso and munching pastries. We saw small grocery stores opening and women on their way to do their daily shopping. We saw young professionals, smartly dressed and braced for the cold, hurrying to work. Kids riding bikes passed us on their way to school, and cars cruised down narrow streets. People called out to each other, and friends walked the streets gossiping,

“Bonjour! Comment allez-vous?”

“Bienvenue dans ma boutique!”

“Alores je lui ai dit…”

The city was alive and dressed in the beautiful array of the colors of her people.

We eventually reached the metro and jumped down the stairs into the relative warmth of the subway-tiled tunnels. We giggled and chattered while we tried to figure out how to get tickets from the bright purple ticket machines. We plotted our route on the complex metro lines, and I kept tabs on the time. Eryn had been to Paris before, so I mostly let her handle it, letting myself be swept away by the beautiful, colloquial, and melodic French being spoken all around me by beautiful Parisians. I drank it all in greedily.

Eryn figured out the ticketing machine, and we went on our way, hopping from subway to subway in a race against time. Baby blue line to pink line, pink line to sun yellow line. Hurry hurry hurry. Faster faster faster! The tunnels seemed never ending.

We finally ended our journey on the yellow line. I glanced at my phone. 7:50. “Aghhh, Eryn! It’s 7:50!”

“Okay.” She laughed. “Don’t sweat it.”

We rushed out of our metro car, ran up the metro stairs, and found ourselves in a square in an older and quainter part of town. We quickly consulted our map, and it took us a little while to orient ourselves. Time: 7:55 a.m.

Walk faster. Walk faster. HURRY! No other thoughts but those. We speed-walked past tourists, small French soap shops, and more grocers. Jeweled heaps of sublime oranges, ruby apples, and emerald pears lined the streets. Keep going, keep going! The moments were speeding by me, wrapped up and laced with obsession and the mind. Yet, as we ran toward our destination, it suddenly hit me.

I am in Paris.

I am in Paris.


The me who grew so depressed at the thought of being stuck in my little town, George Bailey-style. The me who my well-meaning parents thought needed to be protected from the world at all costs (my father had even gone so far as to show me Taken before I left!). The neurotic me. The obsessive me. The me who needed to control it all. The me who was so sheltered and seemingly helpless. The me who had lusted after the dream of traveling the world.


I had traveled on my first international flight all by myself to get here. I had found Eryn, who was already in Europe, all on my own in a land where I did not speak the language. I had navigated both the complex metro system and Paris herself. I had planned this trip to Paris all on my own. I did all of that. Me. All to fulfill a dream.

I was not helpless. I was not dependent⎯at least, not as dependent as my parents had led me to believe I was. I was going places. I was here, despite everything, or rather in spite of it. I was enough…and I was in Paris. Running through the streets and running toward another dream. So why was I so worried about trying to be on time to a dream?

I found myself while running through the narrow streets of Paris. I let go of the conscious and surrendered to the moment. I let go of worry and just was. I forgot the clock and time itself…and it was one of the most spiritual moments of my life. I found myself while sitting beside those windows back at our hostel. I found myself while line hopping in the metro. I found myself while listening to the harmony of a foreign language.

Those were all the real me. The real me was wantonly running across a bridge over the murky Seine at 8:00 a.m., every fiber of my being screaming with joy. The real me was pausing to take a picture of that quiet, romantic river as the bells of a nearby church gravely tolled. The real me was outrunning the lies of helplessness and dependence, flying out of their midst on winged soul. The real me was late, beautifully late, and that was okay. The real me was running alongside my sister, whom I dearly loved. The real me was running past a sunken church garden, gloriously almost out of breath. The real me was jogging into the cobbled square just outside of Notre Dame, giggling and dodging people as I went. The real me was passing through her timeworn doors with my kindred soul, hearing the soft whispers of the just-begun Mass that graciously awaited our presence.

The time? It didn’t matter.

Abigail Johnson, of Delaware, is a gap year student with OneLife Institute in Central, South Carolina. A creative soul, dreams of travel and exotic adventure are never far from her mind. She spends her days baring her soul on the stage, scribbling out notes for a future novel, and devouring new reads with a hot mug of her favorite green tea by her side.

Delmarva Review is a literary journal of national scope, with regional roots. The nonprofit review publishes compelling new fiction, nonfiction, and poetry from authors within the region and beyond. It is supported by individual contributions and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. For copies and information, visit the website:

Delmarva Review: Ninety-three Pounds by Helen Sperber

She weighs ninety-three pounds. Her legs are drawn up against her body. Her hands clutch at anything they come in contact with, pulling it to her mouth, clenching it between her teeth. Her eyes are half open, unseeing.

An IV drips fluid and antibiotics into my mother’s arm. A catheter drains the fluid from her bladder and away from her body. A nurse comes in and holds a mask over her face, willing the mist into her lungs.

When the nurse leaves, my sister, Ruthie, and I hover over our mother’s gaunt body. We coax her to take nourishment from a straw. She takes the straw into her mouth but chews on it instead of sucking. She accepts a bite of pureed food from a spoon, but her tongue moves the wrong way, pushing it out of her mouth instead of moving it back into her throat.

She doesn’t know me, her youngest daughter. I live nearly 1,000 miles away, in Colorado, and only visit three or four times a year, so it is not surprising that she doesn’t recognize me. Ruthie lives nearby and sees her daily, but Mom doesn’t seem to know her, either. Maybe she just doesn’t care if we are there.

She is ninety-seven years old. For ninety of those years, she was one of the most capable, independent, and strong-willed women I have ever known. I saw her digging ditches and changing tires alongside my father at the businesses they owned⎯first an automobile service station, and later a mountain resort⎯and she taught herself the bookkeeping skills required to run a business. When Daddy died at age 50, she moved to California, where she became caregiver for her own mother and worked at a hospital for nearly twenty years to support them both.

For five years now, she has been unable to move around, feed herself, or communicate effectively. Extreme agitation, daily anger, and chronic pain have been only partially controlled with medications. The nursing home staff has provided total care for all her physical needs, feeding her, changing her diapers, turning her over in bed.

They brought her to the hospital two days ago with severe diarrhea, dehydration, a bed sore on her bottom, fever, low oxygen, skin tears up and down her arms. Now they have confirmed MRSA in the blood and are looking for C-diff in the stool.

My sister and I look at each other and shake our heads in mutual disbelief, tears welling up in our eyes. We’ve seen her like this in the hospital four times in the last two years. Why must this woman we love and admire so much endure what she is going through?

The priest comes to visit. He has already administered Last Rites. He understands that of course we wouldn’t want to do CPR or tube feedings, but he says withholding fluids in the IV would be a different story, and not condoned by the church Mother has been so strongly devoted to all her life.

The doctor consults with us. He can treat the MRSA with another antibiotic in the IV. She is almost fully hydrated again. How long? Six months?

Mother of God, why?

Every time I have seen her in the past two years, I have thought it would be the last, but at every crisis, treatment has bought her another six months.

Ten years ago, she lived with me for a while. With some assistance, she was still taking care of her personal daily needs then, although dementia and anxiety were causing her mental ability to fade in and out. She had purchased a prepaid funeral plan years before and carefully went over the details of it with me. She made sure both Ruthie and I knew where these papers were, and whom to contact with them when the time came. She had always been meticulous about planning ahead.

Finally, I remember. There was another paper she had shown me. She called it an “Advance Directive.” Where is that paper? Ruthie and I look for it among the files we have, but we can’t find it. It must be in her medical chart. We ask at the nurse’s desk.

They find it and bring us a copy. It has been with her chart since admission to the nursing home eight years ago. No one has ever looked at it. No one has ever even looked for it. No one has ever asked what she wanted.

It is very clear and detailed. She describes the conditions under which she does not want life-prolonging procedures administered: conditions she has been living with for five years. When these conditions are met, she specifically rejects even antibiotics and IVs, “even if this allows me to die.” Medication to relieve pain or provide comfort is to be given “even if it may hasten my death.” She worked in a hospital. She knew what she did and did not want.

My sister and I read it⎯over and over again⎯sitting beside her bed. She moans weakly, and I cover her contracted hand with mine. Ruthie has tears on her cheeks, and a quiet sob escapes her.

We give the paper to the doctor. He looks doubtful. You aren’t comfortable with this, I say. He hesitates. I could be, he says. I could be. We give him time.

He returns an hour or so later. It is very clear, he says. She made it very clear. He gives the orders, contacts hospice, and prepares the paperwork.Now she lies in her bed at the nursing home. Comfort measures only. Do not transport. No IVs. No antibiotics. Morphine as needed. A few days, perhaps a few weeks, they won’t predict.

She knew me today. She asked in a clear but weak voice, “When are you going back to Colorado?” The first complete, lucid sentence I’ve heard her speak in a long, long time. Am I imagining that I hear relief and comfort in her voice?

Still, I can’t answer her with complete openness and honesty. I tell her I’ll be leaving tomorrow and will come back when I can.

I wish I had told her good-bye.

Helen Sperber’s writing has appeared in numerous publications, including Diverse Voices Quarterly, Sanskrit, Meridian Anthology, and Front Range Review. Her novel, The Blue Wildebeest, promotes active living in retirement. Website:

Delmarva Review is a literary journal of national scope, with regional roots. The nonprofit review publishes compelling new fiction, nonfiction, and poetry from authors within the region and beyond. It is supported by individual contributions and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. For copies and information, visit the website:

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