Keep Your Dead Close

A story about my dead husband begins “I remember” or “remember how”: “Remember how Robb stapled yellow-highlighted Xeroxes of restaurant listings for every driving trip, and we’d eat six different barbecues in one day, and he knew whether we should order chopped or ribs and if the hush puppies were famous, and how he’d go, ‘Pecan pie here is worth belly space.’”

            I want people to laugh at these stories, to nod in recognition. I’m practiced and tell the stories effectively. I quote dialogue for humor, insert conversational asides, arrange the phrasing and patter and pauses just so: “There we were, in that broken-down Chrysler with the duct tape holding up the back window, careening around New Haven because he just haaaaad to go to Frank Pepe, this legendary, coal-burning oven pizza place from the 1920s, and we’re totally lost—this is before GPS, before cellphones—and I’m carsick from squinting at a tiny corner of a giant altas map, and outside is pitch black. We’re running out of gas, and he’s shouting, ‘Where’d you learn to read a map?,’ and I’m going, ‘You navigate if you’re so smart….’” On the story goes, as I hit the punchlines and each detail, now embellished and burnished. This story, all these stories, have been repeated so many times, told to so many different people that the words are to me a fairy tale or a legend. Nothing about this story feels true.

            I stick the ending: “…but that clam pizza was the best we ever had, worth nearly getting divorced for.” My audience at the party or bar or around the table is snort-laughing, everyone believing they know something about Robb, even if—especially if—they never met him. I tell stories about my first husband that my second husband could recite exactly as I do, word for word, inflection by inflection.

            This is how the dead finally die, by being transformed into the stories we tell. Possibly this is how we all die. As a writer, I want to resist this conclusion: aren’t stories and memories how we live? Don’t Romeo and Juliet exist forever thanks to Shakespeare? Shouldn’t stories keep our dead close?

            I understand that we don’t (or can’t) (or shouldn’t) meander through our daily lives as oozing, gaping wounds, sobbing out our tragic losses to drugstore clerks and Uber drivers. But as the immediacy of grief subsides, a new form of story arises, clinical renderings of the loved one, a practiced tale of a fond memory transformed into narrative or, worse, reduced to words doled out at a certain point of conversation or when questions tug toward this answer: “My first husband died when he was 37 and I was 35.” I always get the murmur: “I’m so sorry.” Maybe there’s a quizzical head tilt, as the listener tries to figure how long ago this was, how old I am; or narrowed eyes show a desire to suss out details, but I’m silent. Eventually, our conversation continues, neatly leaping over this uncomfortable bit of information wedged between us.  Sometimes I’m more forgiving and mention that Robb died in 1997 and let them do the math they care about.

            My silence isn’t anger or distress or anything really, because after I’ve spoken that simple fact, my mind is elsewhere. I’m braced for that awkward, “I’m so sorry,” but at this moment of what might be considered emotional revelation, I’m not thinking about Robb or that time in my life when I was a young widow or any of the thousand-million memories of my long-ago life with him. That single sentence is now the story of what happened to me once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, a shortcut to quickly convey one fact that suggests an iceberg of experience. Those words are the well-worn path of how I explain the single most traumatic event in my life thus far, differing from the well-rehearsed story only in length.

            Stories are tidy, with beginning, middle, and end. A story imposes order. There might be a lesson to a story. Memory is a mess, is disarray; think back over a loved one’s life (or your own) and you face a hoarder’s haul of material. In memory, the precise way someone looped together the shoelaces of his scuffy work boots are on equal footing with the marriage proposal in your parents’ basement on Christmas Eve because a life is chaos. We can’t hold our own lives in our minds. Dare we presume to understand another human’s life?

            In the end, we’re forced to reduce the sloppy lives of the dead into stories. This thin gruel is what remains, and we persuade ourselves it’s a feast. You’ll always have those beautiful memories, are words I’ve heard countless times, with angry stabs piercing my gut at each cheerfully oblivious utterance. The man is gone forever, the memories ease into stories, and the stories are repeated even after we stop listening to ourselves tell them. “My husband died when he was 37 and I was 35.” Isn’t that a sentence to break a heart?

            I have a confession: I intended to use another memory of Robb in this essay, not the pizza story, not the bit about the barbecue restaurants. I had a specific incident in mind that would read as beautiful and quirky, a story appealing to readers and editors. My dead husband draws close—at first—as I sketch the details, find exact words, compose elegant sentences, remember him, remember this particular day. It’s a memory I’ve never written about, something not in my collection of short fiction about my life as a young widow, a memory I never tell for laughs or for sympathy or to fill an awkward silence. It’s not anywhere except right here inside my head—where maybe I imagine I’m keeping it safe.

Leslie Pietrzyk

Leslie Pietrzyk is the author of the novel Silver Girl, released in 2018 by Unnamed Press, and called “profound, mesmerizing, and disturbing” in a Publishers Weekly starred review. In November 2021, Unnamed Press published Admit This to No One, a collection of stories set in Washington, DC, which The Washington Post called “a tour de force from a gifted writer.”


Maybe the poet killed someone and buried them on a night so dark she can’t find the spot, just

memories of stone on stone. Even the spade disappears in her driftwood hands, in the broken

laths, in the crumbling foundation cramped with rampant daffodils.

Maybe she killed the poet and swallowed shreds of yeast and tears. Maybe she was a whale of

oil-lit caverns, a palace for suffering biblical satisfaction. Maybe she birthed an orchard of

discarded cores.

The poet wrote letters on a scrap of paper, made a note with her phone, took a pen to her arm,

bought a shirt for a reading, then didn’t wear it.

The poet owns her well. She never tests for pH or E. coli. She drinks the water anyway. The

bucket is wood, the rope hemp, the handle, hand-hewn cuneiform.

Moss grows along the sides of the well. The water carries that smell of forest skin: soft,

discarded, green.

The poet is a broken nose in a fight that has never begun. The poet is a bloody nose. The poet is

no nose. The poet is running.

Running in jeans with artful slashes at the thigh, with knees torn out, and unmatched socks.

She swallows a fraternity of rain, bone drops in the ribs of dream.

She swallows a cat, the night, a nightingale, a thrush, a hummingbird.

The poet swallows them whole.

Ellen White Rook

Ellen White Rook is a poet, writer, and teacher of contemplative arts residing in upstate New York and southern Maine. She offers workshops on ikebana, Japanese flower arranging, and leads Sit, Walk, Write retreats that merge meditation, movement, and writing. Ellen is a recent graduate from the Master of Fine Arts program at Lindenwood University. Her work has been published in Montana Mouthful, New Verse News, Red Rock Review, and Trolley Literary Journal. In 2021, two of her poems were nominated for Pushcart Prize.

revisions to the catalogue of folktale types

410 needs to be revised:
“Once upon a time” needs to be once upon a time when you were
dormant (not a doormat...) when you passed out in the tragedy intrinsic to awakening,
when princes climbed the ladder princes think is manning like peyton quarterbacking,
more a habit of the Grimm than subtle magic ™ with the wand that does the trick
(shall I say it?)—of pleasuring. Why take chances

with happy ever after? With wicked exes? In-laws? Sisters? You have to wield the wand
yourself, when princes stay convicted for a minute (see Cosby), weaponize the spindles
with GHB or “roofies”—pricked again?

You have to tell the tale yourself: That sleep is when the anima reveal in little dresses ample
asses. In heels, well-toned calves. They have the banging bodies that you used to have, and
they’re disdainful. O, you again, they say, tired of this game in which you gin the dim
excuses. The hags appear at crossings (wink). Can you hear? they ask, in whispers. Princes
always sleep with someone else. THE END of happy ever after.

Kathleen Hellen

Kathleen Hellen’s latest poetry collection is The Only Country Was the Color of My Skin. Her credits include two chapbooks, The Girl Who Loved Mothra and Pentimento, and her award-winning collection Umberto’s Night. Her work has appeared in AscentBarrow StreetThe Carolina QuarterlyColorado ReviewFour Way ReviewGrist, jubilatNew American WritingNew LettersNorth American ReviewPrairie SchoonerPuerto del SolThe RumpusSewanee ReviewSpoon River Poetry ReviewSubtropicsThe Sycamore ReviewVerse Daily, and West Branch, among others.


You send me another one, at work, mid-morning,

pixels flying through the ether to form pictures of a life

five feet closer to perfect: emails that link to dream house

after dream house, each one more virtuous than the next,

at the beach, in the city, hidden in towns we’ve never heard of.

You don’t tire of looking because what if it exists—

that single spectacular find—like an undiscovered planet

in an infant universe spinning miles from the skittish

dogs next door, the cops stopped across the street again,

and the bleary-eyed woman, cigarette alight,

whose racist slurs fail to break the lawn guy.

What if it’s out there, far from small-town ugly

and rural kitsch? The house we live in now, one hundred

years old, sits on stone, telling fortunes to the wind, whispering

sweet nothings we love but should ignore. Remember,

years ago, on the train ride out west, my hand

warm under yours, yours solid over mine as we sliced

through the night, shrinking valleys and mountains, searching.

Remember the births—a girl, then a boy—their tiny bodies

like harbor lights in the darkness of our room, signaling this

is home? Still, we’re restless: it’s enough and never enough.

We all deserve a roof—of metal, wood, or clay—but also

something diaphanous that lets in moonlight and distance,

that serves up stars in their eternal shining. We’re always

building houses, all of us, in our blood, in our lover’s eyes,

real ones for shelter and metaphors to stretch out in as we run.

Heather Lynne Davis

Heather Lynne Davis earned a B.A. in English from Hollins University and an M.A. in creative writing from Syracuse University. She attended the Bucknell Seminar for Younger Poets and is a winner of the Hayden Carruth Poetry Prize at Syracuse University, a Larry Neal Writers’ Award, Bethesda Literary Festival essay and poetry prizes, and the Arlington County Moving Words Poetry Contest. She is the author of The Lost Tribe of Us, which won the 2007 Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award. She lives in Washington, DC with her husband, the poet José Padua, and their son and daughter.

On Eating Walleye Pike at the St. Paul Grill

These are FARMED, Grandpa,
something you could never have imagined
as you sat patiently chewing on the stump
of a cold cigar, straw fishing hat squished down
over your bald head, “There’s Old Man Diamond,”
Daddy would tease, as you sat waiting for
the solitary-as-you-were walleye pike as he
swirled at the bottom of Big Floyd Lake.

They cooked it in PECANS AND MAPLE SYRUP,
Grandma, a taste you could never imagine, as you stood
aproned, the red gingham curtains behind you and that
old toilet that ran all the time as background music
and you shook the fresh caught fish in your brown paper bag
of Bisquick and laid them lovingly in the sputtering pan
over sliced onions. Crispy, the slight dark parts of their
flesh a hint of the deep shadows of the lake’s underworld
from which they were drawn…

Farmed? Pecans and maple syrup? Did I fly two thousand
miles for this? No rhubarb crisp on the menu, no canasta
duels deep into the night betwixt the two of you, the lamp
over the oilcloth-clad kitchen table swinging slightly, circling
your nightly playing field. All of this I had for ten summers
in our perverse and war-torn world and was never asked
to pay the bill.

Doreen Stock

Doreen Stock is a poet and memoir artist living and writing in Fairfax, CA. Her works include: Bye Bye Blackbird, poems of her mother's last years (The Poetry Box April, 2021); Tango Man, a collection of love poems (Finishing Line Press, 2020); In Place Of Me, poems selected by and with an Introduction by Jack Hirschman ( Mine Gallery Editions, 2015);  My Name is Y, an anti-nuclear memoir (Norfolk Press,2019).  A selection from her poetry and translation work has been video-archived at Marin Poets, Live! She is a founding member of the Marin Poetry Center.


I go to Pluto. Imagination
faster than any rocket.
387 degrees below zero.
We bring beach blankets.
And stars, psychedelic popcorn!
They resist being counted,
dislike getting herded
into an equation.

A soothing night settles around us.
Five moons fluff our pillows.

Kenneth Pobo

Kenneth Pobo is the author of twenty-one chapbooks and nine full-length collections. Recent books include Bend of Quiet (Blue Light Press), Loplop in a Red City (Circling Rivers), and Uneven Steven (Assure Press). Opening is forthcoming from Rectos Y Versos Editions. Lavender Fire, Lavender Rose is forthcoming from Brick/House Books.

Lục bát for Early Winter

November again,

And the soft ice had been returned

By a low sun. I’d learned

Nothing: the same street turned early

To dark; the man bitter

From glasses of pearly Champagne I’d egged

Him to buy. The lamps begged

Off their halos, cold, pegged me for

That inevitable worn-

Out shame. Tell me, what more could I

Have asked of love but my

Intimacy with blame?

Emily Dorff

Emily Dorff received her MFA in Creative Writing & Writing for the Performing Arts from the University of California, Riverside. She has presented at the “Writing Our Future” program at the Los Angeles Public Library Downtown and is currently a board member for the Saskatoon Writers’ Collective. Her work has most recently appeared in the literary journal FreeFall.

How to Save Your Marriage Before the Elevator Reaches the Hotel Lobby

15th Floor: Wait for an empty elevator. Push all the buttons so it stops at every floor to give yourself time to think on the way down.

14th Floor: When a woman gets on and sees the buttons all lit up, blame it on a bunch of obnoxious kids playing on the elevator: “Ridiculous.” Think of your own kids and wonder if you should’ve left your panties on.

13th Floor: When the woman tries to chat with you, avoid this by staring intently at your phone’s lock screen, a picture of your happy family. Wonder what they’re doing right now and think it's probably something fun, because no matter what else you can say about him, your husband’s always been a good dad.

12th Floor: When the woman decides the stairs would be faster and gets off, shiver as the breeze from the closing doors gently lifts your skirt. Become keenly aware of your missing panties. Remember waiting for the maître d’ before your anniversary dinner a few years ago when you surprised your husband by flicking up your skirt just enough to show him your bare ass, and how when you were seated in the corner booth in the dark alone under the white linen tablecloth your husband slid his hand up your thigh and slipped his finger inside you and kept it there even when the server came to take your drink orders.

11th Floor: When an elderly couple shuffles in and the man hesitates before all the glaring buttons, blame it on the drunk businessman who just got off: “Surprised he could even walk.” Think about the man you’re meeting tonight. When the old man chuckles at something the woman said and the two link arms and rest their heads together with the ease of continuous practice, wince from coveting.

10th Floor: When an actual drunk businessman gets on, looks you up and down like he knows you’re not wearing panties and steps closer to you, grimace at the smell of minibar wasabi peanuts and move closer to the elderly couple so like your parents. Wish they were your parents, so they could help you figure things out, but be glad they’re not, because how disappointed they’d be to see you here.

9th Floor: When the businessman’s phone rings and he’s all “gotta take this, sorry” and leaves, breathe a sigh of relief. Try again to think about the man you’re meeting. Wish the old couple would get off already because it’s hard to work up any anticipation with the poster children for marital bliss standing right there.

8th Floor: Consider taking the stairs but decide there’s no way you could make it down all those flights of stairs in these outrageous new stilettos without falling. Imagine your shame if the paramedics had to come, and there you’d be, sprawled in the lobby with your skirt flipped up over your head and your naked ass and venial intentions exposed for everyone to see. Decide against the stairs.

7th Floor: Think fuck this old couple. Force yourself to think about the man you’re meeting: his dark eyes and easy smile, his clever jokes, how he actually listened, how he talked about his wife and his kids, who are the same age as yours, how those things made spending the whole week with him seem safe somehow, because he’s clearly not the skeevy conference-predator type your friends warned you about.

6th Floor: When a couple with one too many small children to manage responsibly gets on, plaster yourself against the rear of the elevator. Flinch when the littlest boy tugs on your skirt to show you his lost tooth. Pray he doesn’t tug harder or there’s gonna be a full moon rising in this elevator. Giggle, imagining your husband’s laughter when you tell him about this. Remember you can never tell him about this.

5th Floor: Feel dirty.

4th Floor: Pay attention to how close and stuffy this elevator is, how loud those kids are, how happy the elderly couple looks watching them, maybe remembering their own. Remember your own.

3rd Floor: Fear that this elevator hangs by the thinnest of threads.

2nd Floor: When the door opens and the Brady Bunch and the old couple get off and the man you’re meeting lurches in with another woman, recognize her from the conference, think her name may be Mary, wonder if she's drunk, watch him tongue her neck, notice his smile when he sees you watching. Recoil. Feel sick. Realize the man actually was a skeevy asshole. Think holy crap think narrow escape because that desperate slut he’s slobbering all over could’ve been you. Forget why you ever got on this elevator. Yearn to tell your best friend all about this but remember that’s your husband. Remember it’s always been your husband. Shove yourself out through the elevator doors before they clamp shut. Drop your stilettos on the half-eaten omelet congealing on the room service tray outside Room 204 and run barefoot to the stairwell.

Julia Tagliere’s

Julia Tagliere’s work has appeared in The WriterPotomac ReviewGargoyle Magazine,
Washington Independent Review of Books, and numerous anthologies. Winner of the 2015
William Faulkner Literary Competition for Best Short Story, the 2017 Writers Center
Undiscovered Voices Fellowship, and the 2021 Nancy Zafris Short Story Fellowship, Julia
completed her M.A. in Writing at Johns Hopkins University and serves as an editor with The
Baltimore Review. She is currently working on her first story collection, Reliance, and hosts live,
bimonthly literary readings through the MoCo Underground Reading Series. Follow her at


Across the street, the girls have begun yelling at each other. They are each dramatic in their own right. The oldest one is twelve and a regional theater star with a Los Angeles agent. Her little sister has a perpetual pout and has sung the Star-Spangled Banner at the opening of our local baseball games. But now, they are yelling. They hate each other. They hate their parents. They have been home from school for ten days in a row without friends over for distraction. They have a set of grandparents in Los Angeles they cannot visit because they might infect them, and another set who live in Mexico they cannot visit because, in one of many recent unexpected twists, Mexico has closed its borders on us.

The girls’ parents pull the furniture back against their living room walls, and they Zoom into their classes, their dance practices, their singing lessons. But despite all these attempts at normal, ten days into what we don’t yet know will be a year, the girls are done with it all. They are filling the air inside their house and outside their windows with words loud enough to defeat the ugliest strand of an invisible virus.

In truth, we are all yelling. We scream at our neighbors from distances our voices barely bridge. “Pretty day!” we shout. “How’s everyone over there?”

We are all okay. For now, we are okay. But the boy down the block may have it. He’s in an AirBnB. His parents sent him to one when he came home from his junior year in France and sat next to a man on the flight who coughed for twelve hours into cocktail napkins until the pile got so high they tumbled off the man’s tray and onto the son’s lap. They have quarantined their son for fourteen days.

“Only sixty dollars a night,” his father tells me when I pass him on the sidewalk with my dog, backing farther and farther away as he talks. “Worth every penny.”

We live on a corner, and the neighbors across the other street are flight attendants. The husband is retired and stuck in Hawaii. In California, we say things like this now: stuck in Hawaii. The wife worked her last shift and is furloughed, back from a flight to Australia and home now for what she believes will be a month. Maybe two. Their grown children are scattered: Japan, New York, LA. The one in LA may have Covid, or it may just be the flu. We used to live an hour from Los Angeles, but now without traffic, we live only a half-hour away. My neighbor drives up and leaves groceries outside of her son’s door. There are fewer cases in Japan, she tells me. “That was the son I was most worried about, but he says they know how to fight it in Japan.”

Here, we don’t know how to fight it. We close our windows tight against it. We open them wide and let in fresh air. We tie on our homemade masks and go for walks. We don’t leave our houses. We leave our shoes outside. We eat only takeout. We eat no takeout. We shop only at farmer’s markets. We eat only fresh vegetables soaked overnight in pink Himalayan salt. We eat only canned food. We eat only individually wrapped granola bars peeled open with our neoprene-gloved hands.

Our trips are canceled one by one. National Parks and a flight across the country to visit relatives. Sometimes we cancel them; sometimes the airlines do. We were supposed to get married on April 14. Instead, this will become the day we did not get married.

Our children come home from college and cities where they have jobs that have closed their doors, and we don’t hug them. One got Covid early on, before the lockdown. Fevered, she thrashed and coughed and ached and then slept straight through for three days in her apartment, her roommates not yet sick themselves whispering “Are you okay?” outside her door. Now she’s here, working on her laptop from her childhood room. So far, the others are okay. We thrust vitamins at them, hand sanitizers, Clorox wipes.

I have asthma, which keeps popping up on lists of problematic underlying conditions. I have been to emergency rooms unable to catch my breath, shot with adrenaline and written a prescription for steroids and have no interest in returning now, especially since steroids don’t work on this virus. We smile at our children tentatively as if they’re distant relatives we forgot we’d invited to visit if they happened to be in town. We think about scrubbing them down with acid or bleach or renting them rooms in someone else’s house like AirBnB son down the block.

The mother of that son says hello to me when we pass each other at six or nine feet distance. Her husband told me about the AirBnB, and I’m not sure she knows I know.

“How’s everyone?” I ask.

“Oh, good,” she says. “Good for now.”

On day fifteen, the girls across the street have taken a turn for the better, or they’re having a better day. They are outside with their parents, and they are cheering up the neighborhood with their colored chalk rainbows and STAY STRONG messages and hearts and flowers.

On day seventeen, in my house, I have taken a turn for the worse. I develop a sore throat and rapidly lose my voice. Far scarier, I can no longer taste the chewable vitamins I used to love. Still, I chew the rubber they are now every morning. I download power-of-attorney forms and type up a sheet of facts to accompany my body to the hospital since my fiancé will not be allowed to come in with me. I stop cooking and stay in my room drinking chamomile tea and water and sucking on zinc tablets and sliding droppers of phlegmy umcka down the back of my throat every four hours. I pretend not to be alarmed while I wait for the worst of it. But it never comes. Instead, my voice slowly comes back and a week later I am okay, which feels like a miracle. Which is, in this new world, a miracle.

Tests are still hard to get. Maybe I had it. Maybe I didn’t.

In this house, we are all lucky for now. Lucky not to be sick. Lucky to have jobs. We work online. We have young adults who want out even as they regress, their bodies curled up in the fetal position on beds. We have a dog and a cat and enough rice to feed a small town. Social distance might now be nine feet. It used to be six. Maybe it’s six. Maybe it was three. In the house, it might be three. We can convene in groups of eight and then it’s six or maybe two or maybe we cut ourselves in half and convene with no one. It’s hard to keep track. Every day it changes.

In this house, we sometimes get too close. We step on each other’s shadows when we walk up the stairs at night, the hall light flickering in that way that used to be annoying but now feels ominous. Like all of it. “Used to Be” and “Now.” These are the only two periods of time we know. Remember, we say, how it used to be?

In the morning, the girls across the street are at it again. YOU’VE GOT THIS! they write in fat pastel letters, their fingers and knees covered in chalk dust.

Suzanne Greenberg

Several years after receiving her MFA from the University of Maryland, Suzanne Greenberg began teaching creative writing at California State, Long Beach, where she is currently a professor of English.  Her short story collection, Speed-Walk and Other Stories, won the Drue Heinz Literature Prize and her novel, Lesson Plans, was a Library Journal Editor's pick. Her creative work has appeared in a variety of publications, most recently, the Santa Monica Review and Aquifer: The Florida Review Online.

Embroidered Sleeves

She loves how the night sky
promises nothing.

It just falls as powder falls,
as much by accident

as by design.
Her embroidered sleeves

envy crows that smoke
cigars in old cartoons.

She sometimes wishes
that someone cared enough

to portray her completely wrong.

Glen Armstrong

Glen Armstrong (he/him/his) holds an MFA in English from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and edits a poetry journal called Cruel Garters. He has three current books of poems: Invisible HistoriesThe New Vaudeville, and Midsummer. His work has appeared in Poetry NorthwestConduit, and The Cream City Review.

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