CutBank 88

Spring 2018


Dry Border
Fiction by Courtney Craggett [read an excerpt...]

Crow Moon & Elegy for Metalworking
Poetry by Kathryn Merwin [read "Crow Moon"...]

Surrender: Who Will Plough My Vulva?
Nonfiction by Joanna Pocock [read an excerpt...]

Poetry by Virginia Smith Rice

Winner: Big Sky, Small Prose Flash Contest, by Allie Mariano [read the story...]

Holding His Fire
Runner-Up: Big Sky, Small Prose Flash Contest, by Daryl Scroggins [read an excerpt...]

A Posture of Grace
Runner-Up: Big Sky, Small Prose Flash Contest, by Kim K. McCrea [read an excerpt...]

Witness Marks 
Poetry by Andrew Szilvasy

Come and Play
Nonfiction by Christopher Collins [read an excerpt...]

Would You Rather Die and Go to Heaven or Nothingness?
Poetry by McKenzie Zalopany [read the poem...]

Paradise Never Lasts
Fiction by Mark Steinwachs [read an excerpt...]

Poetry by Amie Irwin 

Fiction by Henry Goldkamp [read an excerpt...]

Contributor's Notes

Masthead 88

Bryn Agnew

Online Managing Editor
Barry Maxwell

Fiction Editors
Liana Imam
Connor McElwee
Taylor White

Poetry Editors
Georgia Dennison
Zack Rybak
Aya Satoh

Nonfiction Editors
Jason Bacaj
Emma Pfeiffer

Interviews Editor
Emma Pfeiffer

Reviews Editor
Molly Gray

Social Media Coordinator
Skylar Salvatore

Special Events Coordinator
Jordan Chesnut

Publication Intern
Jeron Jennings

Beach Snack by David Miles Lusk
Digital manipulation by CutBank

Courtney Craggett | Fiction

Dry Border

In Odessa, the protestors line the streets, sun rising hot and bright behind them. They are oil field workers and businessmen, landmen and lawyers, babies in diapers, holding signs they are too small to lift, words they are too young to read.

Danny and his father fight their way through the traffic to join the other day laborers under the pavilions. They gather there every morning, thermoses filled with coffee, to wait for work, swap stories of their children, the families they’ve left behind, the new ones they’ve made.

“It can’t be true,” says one.

“Of course not,” says another.

“But who knows,” says a third.

There is a rumor, all anyone can talk about, not twenty-four hours old, as sudden and surprising as the West Texas wind that stirs up dust storms and rolls tumbleweeds across the desert. When the Río Grande is dry, the rumor says, the international border will be dissolved. There will be no more separation.

“It is almost gone,” Danny says to his father, Juan Ramón. The Río Bravo. Danny is just a boy, not yet sixteen. He speaks to his father in Spanish, although his English is strong enough that he could make it through high school, even go on to college if the risk weren’t too great. He hasn’t been to the river since he and his father crossed it three years ago, but it’s never left his thoughts, that line that determines there and here.

He was twelve when they crossed, still a child but old enough to work. He left behind his mother, Carolina, his brother, Benigno, and his baby sister, Mary Fernanda. His father promised he would send for them once he and Danny worked for a few years and earned money and legal visas. Since then, they’ve scraped up just enough money to send down to Mexico, just enough to keep Beni and Marifer in school, to offer them a better childhood than the one Danny had, but not enough to bring them up here.

“It’s only a rumor, son,” says Juan Ramón. “Neither side would sign such a treaty.”

“Why not?” asks Danny.

Juan Ramón reminds Danny of all the people who want to keep them out, all the fear that would accompany an open border, that accompanies even a closed one.

“I know,” says Danny, “But the world is changing. It already has.” 

Juan Ramón laughs at this, at his son’s ability to hope, but then again, once the Rio Bravo roared through northern Mexico and kept his forefathers alive. Now it’s only a weak trickle that snakes through the desert.

“Just don’t get your hopes up,” he says.

Beyond their pavilion, the town is a madhouse of hope and fear and noise. A church marquise on the corner reads OUR GOD IS A GOD OF ORDER. PRAY FOR RAIN. Environmentalists pass out flyers asking for donations, listing steps to save the river. They have been talking for years and no one listened until now.

Joanna Pocock | Nonfiction

Surrender: Who Will Plough My Vulva?


As for me, Inanna,
Who will plow my vulva?

Great Lady, the king will plow your vulva.
I, Dumuzi the King, will plow your vulva.

Then plow my vulva, man of my heart!
Plow my vulva!

~ From an ancient Sumerian poem


EcoSexuality is about honoring the divine sexual nature of our
planet and of us as part of the interconnected web of all existence.

~ Sarah Heartsong



Chuck picks me up on the dot of 10:00 AM from a house in Northeast Portland where I am staying with friends. What you first notice about Chuck are her long unshaven legs, huge blue eyes, easy smile, and unfaltering politeness. She is open in that American way as if ready for just about any eventuality: rain, sun, the end of the world. It is all to be taken in her stride. This is good because Chuck and I are complete strangers and are about to drive two hours to somewhere called Wahkiacus, where Surrender, the fourth Ecosex Convergence, is taking place. It wasn’t easy finding Chuck. Back home in London, I had given up on getting to Surrender. I am not a driver and had come up empty-handed after asking every person I knew in the American West if they or a friend would be able to ferry a fifty-two-year-old woman to a sex festival. At the last minute, my partner remembered someone we knew who had recently moved to Portland. She had a friend who had a friend and so on… which led me to 27-year-old Chuck who had just quit her job and sold a house she had co-owned with her ex-fiancé. In her words, she was “out to find freedom.” So when I suggested that in return for driving me to the Ecosex Convergence, I would fork out the 230 dollars for a ticket, she couldn’t believe her luck.

We head east along Highway 14, hugging the Columbia River which cuts through high basalt cliffs strung with thin waterfalls. I am distracted from the scenery by our conversation. Chuck seems to know what ecosexuality is—put simply, it is a social movement whose adherents put their relationship to the earth on equal par with their relationship to humans. Chuck also tells me she is into the kink scene. She is twenty-five years younger than I am and identifies as non-binary. I air my concerns about ecosex—or more specifically, my reluctance to be sexually open with strangers.

“You’ll just have to get in touch with the untouchable goddess within you,” Chuck shoots back.

A dirt road after the tiny town of Klickitat takes us up some steep, sharp switchbacks. We come to a patch of cleared, hard-packed land dotted with a few small wooden huts and some open-sided wall tents selling t-shirts and scarves. Beyond the cleared area is a forest of Douglas fir and oak. People are hefting coolers and backpacks out of their trunks. As we roll up to the Surrender reception booth in Chuck’s white Subaru, we are greeted by three smiling women. They tell us where to park and where we can pitch our tents. A friendly middle-aged woman with close-cropped red hair, initiates me by sliding a bit of string around my neck upon which is a small dangling shell. This represents my chosen pathwork, or course of study.

She then asks if she can hug me, to which I reply, “Yes.”

I stand slightly stunned in the drizzle. The planning that went into me being here has conspired to make me feel extremely tired. Crossing the ocean with borrowed camping gear and finding someone who would agree to drive me were only two of the many logistical issues. But here I am. The 175 people around me look so interesting. So free. So happy. So unlike me. I am wearing jeans and a heavy fleece to ward off the cold. But there are people in gauzy numbers, in bikinis, circus pants, flowing dresses, bare chests, leather straps criss-crossing torsos, hats, tattoos, and tribal piercings.

I am a schoolmistress among mermaids and sprites.

Daryl Scroggins | Runner-Up: Big Sky, Small Prose Flash Contest

Holding His Fire

Before he died from spilling bug killer on himself, Mr. Gallardo would show us neighborhood kids his command center. If you knocked and offered to mow his lawn or clean his gutters, anything, he would open his door and tell you to come on in. Most of his house never had any lights on. 

What he liked to show off was in a room with a world map on the wall, where bright tube lights made you squint. There were racks of rifles and shotguns in there, and a long table that looked like it was made out of pistols. He made his own bullets at a table on the other side of the room, and he showed us special kinds he had invented himself—some he said could never be sold, even in America. He had a 4 gauge shotgun shell he said was filled with glass eyes. He had a pistol cartridge with a star-shaped slug that he said would turn into metal spaghetti on impact. I think he had some magical beliefs too, because he said he had a shell that Would Not Fire unless you said a secret word before pulling the trigger, and a pistol that, if stolen, would fire the first time the muzzle lined up with the thief’s face.

We compared stories after he died, and we had all asked him what gun he would use on a Tyrannosaurus Rex. He had it in the crawl space under his closet floor. The barrel was as long as he was tall, and instead of a stock it had a trailer thing with wheels that unfolded, and it had chains and metal stakes to keep it from rolling back too far when it was fired. Whenever someone asked him if he had ever shot it, he always said he would not have a gun he had not fired. I was the one who had to go and ask him how that could be true, if the new gun you buy has never been fired before you shoot it, you own it and haven’t fired it. I think that hurt his feelings. He stopped letting me in, and everybody says that was the start of him not being so friendly. I said I was sorry, but they all said who could tell what might make a guy like that go twitchy.

But I think maybe a question can kill you. One that has the magic in it that has a way of slipping up on a person like a little piece of dirt in your mower’s gas tank.

. . .

An ambulance came, and they him out of there, and then the bomb squad came for the gunpowder. There was yellow tape all over the place and extra locks put on all around, but Mr. Gallardo had shown us The Tunnel. A tunnel works both ways if you know where the booby traps are, and we did. He had said he didn’t have any family, so we figured it would be a shame to see the police get everything when they already had a SWAT team.

Someone said the funeral home director let a story slip out about what happened when Mr. Gallardo was cremated. There were some loud popping noises while he was in there going up in smoke, and when they raked up the ashes to put in an urn they found an almost melted .22 derringer. It was a mystery, but we figure he knew he’d be going to the hospital when he called 911, and he didn’t want to go unarmed. So he, you know, did what people do when they hide drugs.

As far as I know, the T. rex gun is still there. It would be hard to get it through The Tunnel, so you would have to take it right out the front door. I bet there’s at least one pistol still in there too.

. . .

Sometimes, I dream about that big gun in the crawl space, and it’s always the same dream. There’s a family like mine living in that house, and aliens are invading, everything blowing up and people screaming, and everybody runs to hide under the floor. Someone shines a flashlight on boxes and boxes of ammo stacked up all around. They are wondering what it’s for when the spotlight finds it—the only gun that will make you feel safe again when you don’t know what world the trouble is coming from. 

Kim K. McCrea | Runner-Up: Big Sky, Small Prose Flash Contest

A Posture of Grace


April shattered at my feet, a barnacled shell salvaged from a maze of days, days battling kelpies at the bottom of the sea. This morning, I look up to see it is May. The grass is thick, riotous and defiant. The buds of the honey locust tree, the last leaves to unfurl, open fists of gold, the misers. Rosemary is blooming and the rhododendrons shine like starfish. A black crow flies east against a white cloud, blue sky. I am prone to seasickness. I am back on land.

On the first day of April, I sat at my father’s cluttered kitchen table and clutched the edges like a tipping raft, fighting to keep my balance. 

In my father’s house, keeping watch. Walk him, faltering and wizened, to the toilet. Inspect his leavings expecting to read an oracle: tea leaves, this is, omens found in flights of birds. In two weeks, he will be the same age as his own mother when she died, died at last, alone and unmoored in a house of strangers caring for the old and unanchored. Stand watch. Old men enduring assaults on their flesh to repair the rending of time threatening to choke the bowels. Slipping backward, further under the waves, with each incision and intrusion--glasses of water, pills of different colors, oatmeal and soup, laundry to wash away the blood and urine, a cane, a heavy walker, a cane, a slow recovery, if it comes, silver hair a broken halo from hours upon the pillow, bandages on his head where he slipped and fell and bled. I sit alone and keep watch. Three days ago, a tiny golden bird hit the window above me and broke its neck. I put it in a box to see if it would survive, somehow. Later, I wrapped it in a shroud of paper towels and whispered a small prayer for forgiveness, for the waste, my sorrow. Ask pardon.

My father was sinking below me, fading into the distance, sifting down in the murk at the bottom of the sea. I tucked him in bed and kissed him goodnight. I stood watch. The next day, I maneuvered him somehow back into the hospital. Each morning, I stopped at the hospital cafeteria and cheated the self-serve espresso machine into adding an extra shot to my latte. I tipped the cashier extra because I felt guilty. I drew the curtains around the hospital bed, straightened the blankets, and consulted the nurses. I asked for clean towels and soap, filled the plastic tub with warm water, and swished a washcloth through it. I sat beside the bed and read my book. Gradually, Dad got stronger. Kicking toward the quivering surface, we struggled upward.

Some hours, while I sat with my father, I read from Home by Marilynne Robinson. The novel is set in Iowa, in a small town called Gilead. The author’s spare language, with lines as lean as an Amish chair, is often difficult for me to grasp. I must read a paragraph several times to take its meaning, sounding out each sentence like a primer. Perhaps it’s a difference in vernacular, a syntax of rhythms that is unfamiliar to me, or the gentle piety of Midwestern pastors that is foreign. I’m still working my way through the book.

It is the idea of grace that Robinson returns to like chaining psalms. “Assuming a posture of grace,” is a phrase I read and ponder as I sit with my father. I conjure Isadora Duncan draped in a sheer pale gown striking an arabesque. And what is grace? What does it mean to assume a posture of grace?

Recovery was slow, yet steady. In the middle of the month after he was discharged, we celebrated Easter and his 85th birthday together. With a posture of grace, first comes the possibility of forgiveness. And, with forgiveness, then comes the possibility of understanding, Robinson goes on to write. I have come to realize a posture is not a pose, but a raw and persistent readiness, that grace is simply, but not only, a tender embrace of mercy. I return to the idea as I stand in the garden, pondering how we broke the surface in our embrace and found footing again. As I’m pulling up long blades of grass, I notice the grape leaves are unfolding. The new green leaves are edged in rose.

Christopher Collins | Nonfiction

Come and Play


Senior Rater: Selected to Commandant’s List for Academic Excellence. He will be a tremendous platoon leader.

My injury is one with an alliterative cause—an internal brainbashing within the skull. Put a large, ripened cantaloupe into a paint shaker and press “on,” then “off,” then “on,” then “off.” And then press the paint shaker button a few more times. The physician at the VA hospital in Cincinnati tells my wife and me the traumatic brain injury is a result of a “coup-contrecoup concussion.” Its name magnetizes the air that surrounds the chairs where we sit. Dust particles suspend in morning light, slipping through aluminum blinds. I cannot help but smile at the diagnosis, the way in which its name immediately captivates all my concentration. It’s the cacophony of the “k’s.”

•  •  •

In March 2009, the wind gusts at the central Indiana drop-zone (DZ) are high. Much higher than twelve knots, some bursts of the early spring air are cresting above twenty. Jumping is only allowed when the air current steadies at twelve knots or below. But each one of us are “jump hurts”—reservist paratroopers behind in our mandatory four parachute jumps per year. We need this jump. I need this jump. Or the Army will dock my pay for the next year to recoup the money already given to me. Twelve times $150 is a large sum of money to give back. What I have learned in my seven years in the military is that the Army provides slowly, but it’s one that extracts promptly.

The Indiana DZ itself is breakneck—a small, hilly circle of green peppered with broken tree branches and various-sized stumps surrounded by autumn maples full of leaves. During my last jump at the location in 2006, I didn’t even float into the circle. From the Blackhawk, I twisted in the air, drifting 400 meters west from the DZ, straying over a concrete access road before sinking—my body tight, knees slightly bent, elbows and forearms rotated forward in front of my face—into a nest of leafless trees that thrusted their thick branches into my abdomen and nuts.

SGT D, the DZ safety and jumpmaster, screamed, “Jumper, you okay? Jumper, you okay?”

Suspended in a tree, I just yelled, “My nuts,” before a tree branch broke, and my body fell fifteen feet to the ground.

Mark Steinwachs | Fiction

Paradise Never Lasts


Heck had returned from lunch near the courthouse and was drafting a will in his office at 1 Sarasota Tower when he heard a voice in the hall, boisterous as a man ordering drinks after last call.

“You can’t go in there,” his assistant said from the other side of the door. “You need an appointment.”

 The paneled door opened, and Loudon strode into the room with Heck’s assistant close behind.

“I couldn’t stop him, Mr. Hilbrand. He’s not on the schedule.”

“I’m always on the schedule.”

 Heck turned his legal pad over, and Loudon dropped into a tufted leather chair.

“It’s all right, Pete, I have a minute. Take a seat, Loudon.”

For anyone else, Heck would have added, “Make yourself at home,” but Loudon Potter Townsend was not anyone. He was the man for whom, nine years before, Heck had scuttled his life and abandoned his career. Like an athlete past his prime, Loudon was thicker at the waist but with the same insolent grin, his hair windblown as though he had been sailing all morning, navy shorts embroidered with lobsters, loafers supple as bedroom slippers. He could dress like a man of no consequence because he had always been and would always be rich.

“What can I do for you?” Heck asked.

“So this is where the magic happens, where cases are made and writs are written?”

“In a manner of speaking.”

“I tried calling.”

“I’ve been busy.” Heck shrugged his right shoulder. “You know how it goes.”

“Not necessarily.”

Though he served on several boards and committees, Loudon had not been employed since a brief stint with Lehman in 1996. When Heck had seen him last, he was investing in foreign markets and, in his words, pursuing personal interests.

“I’ve come to apologize, Heck.”

“For what exactly?”

“For being the man I used to be. I’ve been making some changes lately— not drinking as much, not bouncing from one man to the next. I bought a place in Southampton and sold the rest. I’m putting down roots and changing my act. Since the old man passed, I’ve been working the twelve steps.”

 Heck leaned forward as though his jacket were weighted at the pockets.

“Which one is this?” he asked.

“Making amends— seven or eight. I’m having trouble with accepting a higher power.”

“I was sorry to hear about your father.”

“You were the only one he ever asked about. What happened with the lawyer? He always wanted to know.”

“You’re looking at it.” Heck raised his hands to indicate the modest office with its framed degrees and stacks of books, dark paneled walls, and hand-knotted carpet. The partner’s desk had belonged to his favorite judge, Henry Friendly, the finest never to have been appointed to the Supreme Court, cluttered with paper clips and bank statements, binders and folders and printed precedents.

“It’s nice,” Loudon said, “charming almost.”

“It’s no Hogan Sterling.”    

“They wouldn’t take you back?”        

Heck shook his head.

“Your father warned me, but I wouldn’t listen.”

Henry Goldkamp | Fiction


You are impossible. Everything I possibly could—the hotel telephone cord a beige knot on the thick of my door knob, my room’s shower left running, myself scouring each night before this one in lieu of savage prayer—short-circuits on the thought of your body’s skin. Me me me: I practice a throaty selfishness. I’ve since blocked mine with other bodies, men and women from discos, explaining I was a priestess years ago, my silly pickup line. You insulted my insulation—I wore those jokers like furs both real and faux, depending on the occasion. You merely hibernated inside me, sleepy, likely smiling. I shed them as you woke, stretched, scratching the door of my teeth like some whimpering bitch. Still, I haven’t spoken your name. I don’t believe in bribing the poor air to hang you. I swallow.

After our split, I naturally changed my approach, ticking the usual boxes: move west, marry twice, have a nameless son who stares into screens as if holding outer space. Two yellow wedding bands served as unholy talismans to ward you away with, two little Indian merchants filling my head with chintzy trinkets commemorating our war. My take on spring cleaning involves burning the ranch house down, smoking out the goldfish and the fine china from my first father-in-law. At the very least, my fantasies.

I never expected to speak with you—to be alone with you—ever again. Eleven years shed like good skin, and you’ve caught me in the hotel bathroom at Bernard’s wedding. You’ve broken a rule—the door clearly states WOMEN. Or is this simply appropriate, those roles we blossomed out in the bedroom? I threw away my strap-on with the eggshells and pepper stems that morning you left me.

Hours ago, I’d gifted my son Mouse Trap and Guess Who?, giving Santa all the credit. I’ve no idea if these excited him, though I am grateful he said thank you. Rinsing my hands in this sink of fancy glass, I reprimanded you —Let’s make this evening as uneventful as possible, shall we?—and shook off any excess water. I’m giving off fumes—I want to flick your face into a card. I want you trapped in a red cage. My fumes blur my image in the floor-to-ceiling mirror. I despise champagne.

C O N T R I B U T O R S ’ N O T E S

Christopher Collins, a combat veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq, is a poet and essayist who lives in rural Kentucky. His full collection of poetry, My American Night, was published by University of Georgia Press in February 2018. “Come and Play” is Chris’ first published nonfiction piece. He is an Assistant Professor of English at Wilmington College (Ohio).

Courtney Craggett holds a PhD in creative writing from the University of North Texas. She is the author of the forthcoming story collection Tornado Season (Black Lawrence Press, 2019). Her fiction appears in The Pinch, Mid-American Review, Washington Square Review, Juked, and Booth, among others. Her reviews appear in American Microreviews and Interviews. She is an assistant professor at Weber State University.

Henry Goldkamp has lived alongside the Mississippi River his entire life. Recent work appears in Blood Orange Review, SLANT, Pretty Owl, Permafrost, Swamp Ape Review and others. His public art projects have been covered by Time and NPR.

Amie Irwin has been published in Prairie Schooner and About Place. She earned her MFA at the University of Mississippi where she was the John and Renee Grisham Fellow in poetry. She is currently at work on her PhD and lives in Oxford, MS with her two daughters.

Allie Mariano lives in New Orleans. Her writing has appeared in Saw Palm, Day One, and in New Orleans’ Times-Picayune. She is the nonfiction editor for Midway Journal. She is working on a novel, and she’s happy to be here.

Kim K. McCrea worked as a system analyst for 25 years, building out the internet of things, before returning to letters. In 2017, Kim won the Treefort Wild West Writing Prize and was a finalist in both Proximity Magazine’s Essay Prize and the Barry Lopez Creative Nonfiction Contest. Recent work appears or is forthcoming in Tishman Review, Thoughtfuldog, and Watershed Review. Kim lives in Eugene, Oregon, where she wrangles her Labrador in the rain and scouts for Great Blue Herons.

Kathryn Merwin is a writer and artist from Washington, DC. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Carve, Prairie Schooner, Blackbird, and Sugar House Review, among others. She has been awarded the Nancy D. Hargrove Editors’ Prize, the Blue Earth Review Annual Poetry Prize, the 2017 Sixfold Award, and has been nominated for a Pushcart. She is currently living in the Pacific Northwest while pursuing her MFA at Western Washington University.

Joanna Pocock is an Irish-Canadian writer living in London via Montana. Her essays, reviews, and travel pieces have appeared in Distinctly MontanaLitroThe Sunday IndependentThe Los Angeles Times,  The Nation, OrionThe Tahoma Literary Review3:AM and on the Dark Mountain blog. In 2017, she was shortlisted for the Barry Lopez Narrative Nonfiction Prize. In June 2018, she was awarded the Fitzcarraldo Editions Essay Prize for a book-length narrative non-fiction project based on "Surrender." She teaches creative writing at the University of the Arts in London and works as a freelance editor for a variety of publishers. 

Virginia Smith Rice is the author of the poetry collection, When I Wake It Will Be Forever (Sundress Publications, 2014), and a poetry chapbook, Whose House, Whose Playroom (Dancing Girl Press, 2017). Her poems appear in The Antioch Review, Baltimore Review, Cimarron Review, Cincinnati Review, Denver Quarterly, Massachusetts Review, and Southern Poetry Review, among other journals. Collaborative poems written with Christine Pacyk will appear in They Said: A Multi-Genre Anthology of Contemporary Collaborative Writing (Black Lawrence Press, 2018). Virginia is poetry editor at Kettle Blue Review, and associate editor at Canopic Publishing.

Daryl Scroggins lives in Marfa, Texas. His poems, short stories, and creative non-fictions have appeared in magazines and anthologies across the country, and his most recent book is This Is Not the Way We Came In, a collection of flash fiction and a flash novel (Ravenna Press).

Mark Steinwachs lives in Sarasota, Florida. His stories have appeared in CrossConnect, South Dakota Review, and Tampa Review. This is his first publication in ten years.

Andrew Szilvasy teaches British Literature outside of Boston, and has poems appearing or forthcoming in Barrow Street, Permafrost, and Smartish Pace (where he was a finalist for the J. Erskine Prize) among others. He lives in Boston with his wife. Aside from writing, reading and teaching, Andrew spends his time hiking, running, and brewing beer.

McKenzie Zalopany has appeared or is forthcoming in The Odet, The Roanoke Review, Bad Pony, and elsewhere. She is a rad queer single mom and currently lives in St. Petersburg, Florida.