Here at the Lee Review we like to look back at some of the works from past years. While there are almost too many excellent works to even read, here are a few from the 2014 publication that we think you’ll enjoy.
Editor’s Choice: Poetry 2014
By Abigail Bryan
Manitou Springs, CO
Thin air swirls with the chill of December as we step out onto the busy sidewalk.
Covered in the passing flurries of bundled blues and grays
Eyes and faces flushed with cold
moving in streaks in front of warm shop windows.
My skin is too thin, accustomed to the hot streaks of dull southern sunshine
and moisture hanging heavy in the air.
I shiver as I stand surrounded by the twinkling of reds and greens
strung like a fiesta over the concrete road
glowing vaguely against the stone and rocks.
This place is all memory and nostalgia
A notch on a doorframe, marking my growth as it never changes.
I hear music floating among and above us.
Each note melancholy,
sort of warm and silver like the last night of summer.
Like Tunisia though I have never been there.
Like how rain would sound if it had a voice.
Rhythms and melodies that flow over one another
like the creek by the waterfall trickles over the smooth rocks.
I see a man, sitting alone by a tree,
only a sweatshirt to shield him from the bitter cold.
older than me
but still younger than responsibility and obligation.
His hair is long and it waves back and forth
as he taps skillfully on the edges of a piece of metal.
It resembles a grill forgotten by some suburban picnic,
but I can tell its value by the careful hold he has on it.
His hands make invisible waves along the rounded metal surface,
laying light strikes on seemingly random places.
He is producing the sounds of Tunisia, of melancholy.
Each pat of his thumb on the cold metal surface is a church bell chime
calling all to lend an ear and listen. Few are.
His eyes are distant; he is far from me.
Farther than the few steps between us.
He is content in his thoughts, in the music.
And I realize that I am always waiting for something.
The ring of my cell phone, the next location.
My next trip, my first occupation.
My bed, my drive home through the mountains.
I am forever stuck on a park bench waiting for who-knows-what to arrive.
I am a breath held.
I’m the photo of your tenth birthday
when the shutter closed just as you blew out the candles.
The moment captured, the wait for the wish eternal.
Yet here, in these mountains at dusk,
I’ve seen someone who has broken the chains of waiting.
And as I watch him, his eyes closed as he sways to the ever-changing melody,
I wonder if he will always be that happy.
If I will ever be.
Editor’s Choice: Fiction 2014
By Hannah Clark
Because There’s Blood on the Walls
The moment my silver BMW rounds the curve at the painted white sign that indicates I’m headed in the direction of Lone Mountain, I lose cell phone service. It had become a joke to my brother and I when we were grumpy teenagers headed to visit some relative we hardly knew. Service always cut off at the exact moment you turned toward the mountain, its way of forcing you to look at it and nothing else.
Lone Mountain is solely the property of my family and always has been as long as anyone can remember. Each tiny house along the five mile stretch up has belonged to various uncles, grandparents, great-grandparents and beyond. Tiny white homes nestled into the side of the green forest are half buried in its girth and, in the occasion of a slide, completely covered with the mountain with just the top of the chimneys reaching out for air.
The house and land at the top is referred to as the family homestead; the place that everything after flowed from, the first sign of human existence to grace the ancient landscape. To get to it you must travel beyond the abandoned cars, tiny old-fashioned Independent Missionary Baptist churches, cemeteries and old barns with missing doors used nowadays only to house testy mules. You have to pass through the tobacco-filled air and the musty, constricting atmosphere caused by the vast amount of trees and smokehouses. You have to survive the gravel roads to find the red dirt ones that lead up to the front door. The house sits solemn and alone, surrounded by other mountains and hills of various sizes, all, at this time of year, sporting leaves of vibrant red, yellow, and orange. The clearness of the air always enters and leaves the lungs with ease.
Mama approached my brother and me about making the trip up awhile back. It’s been at least a decade since she’s been to the house and she wants to make sure everything’s alright. The cancer has left her too feeble to do much of anything let alone make the trip to the top of the mountain. Between my brother and me, I chose the short straw and therefore find myself driving this forsaken road, my jaw clenched and my knuckles white so as to avoid the grappling trees below.
My great-great-grandparents built the house as soon as they were married, both seventeen years old. I’ve seen pictures; straight ominous faces with the little house looming behind them. The house is small, but sturdy. It’s solid wood, dark in the black and white photographs, with a conservative porch, uniform fence and two windows on every wall. A sizable chimney made with rocks plucked from the river across the property sits at the north end. Although his facial expression doesn’t reveal it in the photograph, my great-great-grandfather stands with dignity, his right arm gripping his wife’s waist tightly and his chest swelling with pride.
By eighteen the couple had newborn twins, Fred and Jed, who were born in one of the coldest winters on county record. My great-grandmother always said that they “wrapped them little babies up in the pillow cases to keep ‘em from a dyin’.” Fred and Jed looked exactly alike and had hair the color of fresh carrots. Both grew up to be wifeless and hold the profession of cock-fighting. Behind the house, the boys would keep their blue holding barrels, all lined up in straight rows rising out of the earth. The isolation inside those barrels was more than sufficient to get the roosters angry enough to go after a grown man, let alone another of its own kind, willing to fight to the death.
The story goes that one evening Fred and Jed were training their best birds in a ring they had set up down next to the river. Jed accused Fred of switching out Jed’s bird for one of the newbies, the ones that hadn’t been kept in the barrels long enough. Fred ended up dead in the river, Jed standing over him with a bloody fist and fire in his eyes. My great-great-grandparents blamed the whole incident on a fall, one where Fred hit his head on a rock in just the right place. He’s buried on the riverbank. The gravestone is the unmarked river rock that looks out of place between the two oaks.
Black people don’t live within thirty miles of Lone Mountain. They just don’t come. After my great-great- grandparents died, the house at the top of the mountain went to their youngest son, Joseph, and his new wife. They adopted a young black boy that had stowed away on a coal train out of Virginia to escape a father who scarred him on a regular basis. The boy went to school with my grandmother (my mother’s mother) and was not necessarily the subject of teasing, but rather just stares. Most of the children had never seen a black person before in their life. The boy’s name was Nathan. He had the darkest eyes my grandmother had ever seen and she said the scars on his face and arms made her cry.
One night Joseph heard a whoosh outside the house and the popping crackle of flames. He opened the front door to a ten foot tall wooden cross, set on fire and staked in their front yard. Beside the cross were three figures draped in white and standing around the cross. They didn’t touch the family that night; they only stood and watched. After the cross there came the death of Nathan’s sheep he’d been given to look after by Joseph and his wife. One by one they would be found hanging by their necks from the barn rafters, all the wool shaved off their limp bodies. Occasionally, blood-written messages would be found on the sides of the house, warnings to the family. It was a common thing to see Joseph outside on a Sunday after church scrubbing the blood off the walls. He would smile and wave as his friends passed and continue to wash away the threats to his family.
The morning that the family missed church, friends went to look for them and there was no trace. The house looked just as if they had vanished into thin air; while cooking a pie for Sunday dinner and shaving in the bathroom, door standing wide open to let in the cool breeze of the beginning Spring. No one ever saw or heard from them after that. People loved to talk about it, but nothing was ever done. Joseph never could quite get all of the blood off the walls. The faint letters of hate are still visible in the right light underneath what was once Nathan’s bedroom window.
When I was very young, the only time we traveled to the mountain when it wasn’t some holiday was when my brother and I were forced to accompany Mama to visit her father. By this time the house was more of a shack, struggling with all its might to keep itself in one piece. The tiny living room inside was dominated by an enormous pot-bellied stove and the place smelled of wood shavings and general use over the course of generations. Every door frame in the house had at least three pest strips dangling from it, always completely covered in flies and the hair of the person who had last walked into it unexpectedly. My grandfather always sat in a worn upholstered recliner that was saturated with age and some sort of dampness. It let out a moan of discontent every time he rocked in it. Water bottles filled with Levi Garret chewing tobacco spit formed a barricade around the old man as he haughtily discussed the lack of work ethic the country was beginning to see. My grandfather voted in every election he was able to, yet had never learned to read or write, besides his name. Mama said it was always her job to go with him to read off the ballot.
Mama told me all the time that my grandfather had worked harder than anybody in the coal mines. Two of his brothers were killed in a blast and Mama said the sky was black for days afterward. Luckily, he inherited the house on top of the mountain to raise his family. Mama always said my grandmother had better plans for her life than to be a coal miner’s wife faced with the impossible task of keeping six babies fed. She wanted to live in Atlanta and ride in taxi’s to the theatre in her brand new red dress to see pictures and smoke cigarettes outside afterwards with her dark, curled hair billowing in the chilly air. She wanted to go home to her wide front porch and speak to her parents in her perfect drawl and be spoiled by her Daddy with all the old money. My grandmother named each of her children after characters in Gone with the Wind. My aunts are named Suellen and Scarlett while Mama is called Melanie. My grandmother wished more than anything that the O’Hara lifestyle would rub off on her daughters. Aunt Ellen works at a Laundromat in the closest town. Aunt Scarlett is a hairdresser and Mama works as a school teacher’s aide.
My grandfather died when I was seven and after that we visited the house every Memorial Day when we drove up the mountain to decorate the family graves with matching flowers. My brother, cousins, and I always sat on the porch enjoying our potato salad and fried chicken while pricking our fingers on the outstanding nails. Various family members stood round talking and plucking banjo strings to where twangs rang in the mountains and danced like fairies through the leaves. No one ever went inside the house except the older men, my father and uncle among them. After my grandfather died, and even before, the inside of the house became so dirty, disheveled and structurally unsound that none of our parents would let us inside it. This was mostly for fear of contracting tetanus, but I did manage to peek in the windows from time to time. Everything inside was black: black wood, black doors, dirt stained windows and gigantic black widow spiders that had been loitering in the window sill for who knew how long, hanging suspended with their un-hatched egg sacs beside them. I’d seen the inside before several times, but it’s now forbidden atmosphere drove my imagination. My childhood mind saw raccoons and opossums living under the old beds and inside the kitchen cabinets, pictures on the walls and shelves covered in cobwebs and having the moving eyes of a family ghost. I knew no such pictures existed, but I always imagined they were there, watching every move we made.
I drive up the last of the dirt slope to the top of Lone Mountain and park my car at the front gate. I reach into my trunk and bring out a can of gasoline I purchased at the tiny gas station right before the turn to come up. It’s time to break off, I think. A billowing cloud of smoke is soon rising and curling into the sky. Two of the house’s walls are down in a matter of minutes. Flames lick the chimney as the wall with pure hate inscribed in blood falls to the Earth. No fire trucks will fight this blaze, no onlookers will hold their hands over their mouths at the sight of it, whispering to each other about the poor family left out in the cold with nowhere to live. I sit on the hood of my car and watch. I decide that I will tell Mama that everything is fine, just fine. I sit there until my family’s house burns to the ground, until the last ember has extinguished itself in the dying autumn wind.