In post-Artemis posture, with red thigh-highs,
spangled bustier, lasso of truth and unbreakable
tiara, Wonder Woman was invented…
Miciah Bay Gault is the editor of Hunger Mountain at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She's also a writer, and her fiction and essays have appeared in Tin House, The Sun Magazine, The Southern Review, and other fine journals. She lives in Montpelier, Vermont with her husband and children.
In post-Artemis posture, with red thigh-highs,
spangled bustier, lasso of truth and unbreakable
tiara, Wonder Woman was invented…
When the thumb of summer presses down
and the creek dries up,
a subterranean babble rises from under bed-rocks,
lapping at the roof of a mouth.
The overcast skies split to allow a few pale rays of sunlight to bleed through the seemingly solid clouds. Below, an Assistant Professor of English sits on the platform bench. She is alternately grading the stack of papers in her lap and contemplating the advent of her thirty-fourth birthday tomorrow—the end of her “Jesus Year,” as her friends in the Department of Theology call it. She is not certain she ought to be evaluating her students’ work along with her life, but she sallies forth nonetheless.
A new moon and a clear, cold Michigan night, the sky dead black and loaded with stars, so clear you could see the tendrils in the Milky Way dust—things were aligning, and Arthur Reel was prepared. He called the two neighbors across the road, who were kind enough to turn off their automatic lights whenever Arthur said he would be skywatching. Three a.m. found him perched in his rooftop observatory, sitting in his padded folding chair next to a telescope that was almost as big around as a basketball, waiting.
Daisuke would find them in varying levels of decomposition, bleeding out into the snow or scattered over hiking trails, half eaten. Most would be hanging from the trees, the trunks so close and tight that in the perpetual twilight of Mount Fuji’s shadow their limbs looked like strange branches sprouting from the shaggy moss. They were businessmen or star-crossed lovers, victims of incest and criminals. They came from all over.
I was nine years old when my mother came to me,
told me of her
designs for the modern black woman.
“No more pain,” she said.
It’s 4:15 am
and I have woken (again)
to read a chapter
of Lolita and the Metamorphosis, two books
that were never meant
to be read together
Ninjaboy is not Japanese. Ninjaboy is not even Korean. Ninjaboy is white. His mother is white. His father is white. Perhaps somewhere far up the line, as his mother claims, there is noble Cherokee blood, but it doesn’t show in Ninjaboy. Ninjaboy is pasty white, the color of Wonderbread, which is one of the few things he allows himself to eat. You can never be too careful when you have enemies like Ninjaboy’s.
Dear Susannah like a bird
I am going to drive out today
to the desert, you know the place
I live in a town called Winthrop in Suffolk, Massachusetts. Population: 18,303.
I attend Winthrop Senior High School along with every teenager in my block, aside from Ashleigh Brown, whose dad took her out of school after she got her front tooth knocked out in Gym in the sixth grade.
Name me America
Because I am discovered
I am here. I am this body.
This breath a gust. This pulse a drum.
I am poised and fist-ready…
He gives me a soft punch in the shoulder. “It’s only high school, Tullin. Try not to look so scared.”
I swallow. “R-r-right,” I say out loud, just to prove I’m tougher than I look.
It was Gaga, my grandpa, who told me about Vesak lanterns.
Vesak is a holiday. People celebrate it in Sri Lanka, Gaga said, but not here in the United States. Vesak is for remembering Lord Buddha, a teacher who lived a long time ago. Lord Buddha was very wise, and he understood the truth about everything.
When Theresa Miller told her mother that she’d almost been kidnapped, the neighborhood went nuts. She told her mom who told the police who told all the moms on our street that a scary man with a spiky purple mohawk, yellow eyes, tattooed arms, piercings, and a gold medallion around his neck had tried to get her into his convertible by offering her candy.
A young girl has a dream about a monster. The monster is gray. It enters her window at night, just pulls it open and slides through, facing her, sagging and infinitely wrinkled, with rotting teeth. It reaches its long shadow-arms into her parted lips and down her throat to grab her life, to take it from her. She wakes up screaming.
And so the four of them stole through the dark grounds, Mack and Ty holding hands like absconding lovers leading the way—Mack a little ahead of Ty, tugging on his hand in excitement—and Jonas behind them, with Caleb on his back. It was exhausting, and he never would have imagined he’d have the strength to do it, except that Caleb weighed about eighty-five pounds, and Jonas was high from rule-breaking and night air.
In the winter of 1917, Helen Stevens was a college girl living in New York City. She’d never held a hoe or milked a cow. And she’d certainly never worn men’s overalls.
The bus is on fire.
No, wait—before that.
It’s 5 AM and I’m in a panicked scramble for my duffel bag.
Anyone walking down Feltwhip Road early that morning would have noticed the light in the shop window. The clouds were heavy with water scooped up from the sea, and they threatened to dump it all at once onto the dark streets of Graves. Even so, the golden flicker of that lone candle in the window might make someone stop and linger for a moment.
Old Crabcake Charlie was a sun-wrinkled man, with a face like a shriveled raisin. His jaws bristled with stubby white whiskers (for he only shaved on Sundays) and his eyes danced blue as chicory by the roadside.
Batshit crazy. That’s what Mikey would call anyone who predicted he would run for senior class president, in an election that would nearly kill him. But aside from his best friend Smiles, Mikey doesn’t talk to many other students, let alone anyone clairvoyant enough to see one batshit crazy week into the future.
You waded in knee deep, toes reading the slimy uneven stones, skin crawling through weeds. Pushed off. Boogie board slapping the stillness. You were tempted to lift your knees and feet and hands and arms out and above the murky unknown, balance on your belly and hold the monsters at bay…
I’m in a stranger’s bed
a college guy from the cigar shop at the mall. He smells like
tobacco, tastes like mints. He pulls my shirt over my head, weaves his fingers
through mine to pull me down. And I get the same thought.
Every time. The same. I shouldn’t be here.
Chapter 1 The moon is a pearl against the black skin of night. Morgiana reaches for it as she lies on her mat beneath the window. She cups her hands around it and sighs. Her little brother sighs too. The snores of the nearby women and children drone in their ears like mosquitoes, but that’s […]
Rosa woke up long before Jose, the old one-eyed rooster, began his morning crows. Today was January 17th, the Feast of St. Anthony the Abbot. For years, she’d watched her brother Daniel take his pet turtle out of its cage, wipe its shell carefully with oil until it shined, and put it into a new […]
He was waiting there as I finished my jog, just standing on the corner, acting like he was out for a walk or whatever, but I knew he was looking for me. “Hello,” he said. Steve Wilkes, my across the street neighbor. He had the arms of a ten-year-old girl and a chest like a […]
One morning Field Mouse woke up in her nest, which was tucked in a hollow between the roots of a big, old maple tree. She had been sleeping for a long time, on and off, through the cold and ice and snow. But something had changed. Something was out there, calling to her. Not in […]
Maybe it was some kind of Christmas spirit that trailed along after me from Vandalia when I joined up as a drummer with an Illinois regiment in ’63. Or maybe I was just following in Pa’s footsteps, when it come to playing Santa Claus. It was surely something other than good sense that prompted me to deliver a Christmas gift to a Reb camp, in the dead of winter. In secret, almost.
They committed her again.
Kay’s seventy-two-hour hold ends today. She called me to come get her. I guess the doc put her on suicide watch, but now that she’s sober they decided she’s not a risk. I wish they’d just fix her already.
I fly. Here in the white air I am not Catherine George, invisible sister of Invincible Ivan, champion skier. I am not Dear Catie, accommodating daughter with yet another weekend alone. And, I am not Klutsy Kate, fifteen-year-old ditz who totally bombed her first real kiss. Up here in the air, I am Cat, Crazy Cat, daredevil dame of the mountain, red hot chillin’ explosion of white air.
Chapter 1 It was June, the middle of the day I was supposed to quit being a boy. We were all of us sitting in rows watching Miss Pipe chalk out a problem on the board, a problem I wasn’t going to bother with. Normally I would, but not today, not now. Someone had made […]
Winter was almost over, but deep in the woods where old Jess lived, the nights still grew cold.
One evening, as the sun slipped through the trees’ fingers, she gathered twigs for her fire. Tying them into a bundle, Jess thought she heard someone sigh, or maybe groan.
We stop at the red light even though we don’t really have to. There’re no cars coming; a few, maybe, if it were Saturday when the little men and ladies sally from their wooden houses, making their way to vigil mass at St. Bridget’s, a semi truck maybe lumbering up the hill from the warehouses […]
I didn’t think white people got jobs the way Latinos did, just by talking to each other. But they do, and that’s how it happens for me. My first big job as a writer. It’s the end of a journalism class at New York University. The room fills with the familiar cacophony of a class […]
Taken from the ancient city of Pompeii (In the basilica): Let everyone one in love come and see. I want to break Venus’ ribs with clubs and cripple the goddess’ loins. If she can strike through my soft chest, then why can’t I smash her head with a club?—Anonymous (On the walls of a tomb): […]
1. Years ago, on an employee retreat for a publishing company I worked for in my twenties, I met a magician who levitated. A group of us stood before him and watched as his body rose a foot off the ground. My first instinct was to suspect conspiracy. Was there a trick camera somewhere? Did […]
A dead bird is impossible. It is impossible to feel my own death before my own death. The dead bird, my own death, is impossible to touch, to pick up, to hold. Yet, as a child, I often found dead birds completely intact, lying at the base of a building or under a tree as […]
Nearly every day, seventy-seven-year-old Yoshida Katsuji drives across the city from his modest home to the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum. Always early, Yoshida moves through the museum corridors and office hallways with ease, greeting each staff member with an energetic “Good morning!” and a slight bow of his head. As the museum lobby and sidewalks […]
We smoked crack, not heroin. Jeter Flint bought crack on 16th and Mission and brought it back to the loft (which was on 19th and Bryant, not 23rd and Shotwell) where we cut the crack with cigarette ash, packed it in a pipe and smoked it, exhaling into someone else’s mouth to make the crack last as long as possible. The film gets Jeter’s basic facts right, though: a painter, from Laredo, Texas via Las Vegas, New Mexico.
A man does not set himself on fire.
A man works. Strapped to the ceiling, dangling over a half-made truck, he welds, he solders, twelve hours, fourteen hours, weekends, overtime.
Thus, he is tired at day’s end.
Right around the time that Martha’s marriage fell apart, her only child became a runner. A distance runner. A runner of distances so long and arduous that some nights Martha crept into her room to examine her daughter’s sleeping feet. How did they do it? Mile after mile, hill after hill? The slapping and pounding! In the light from the hallway the twin soles glowed slick as sea stones. Martha could remember when they were brand new, and fit into the palm of her hand.
In the beginning, don’t talk to your daughter, because anything you say she will refute. Notice that she no longer eats cheese. Yes, cheese: an entire food category goes missing from her diet. She claims cheese is disgusting and that, hello? she has always hated it. Think to yourself…okay, no Feta, no Gouda—that’s a unique and painless path to individuation; she’s not piercing, tattooing or voting Republican.
I thumb through a pocket-sized pink book, rediscovered amongst multiplication tables and half-finished watercolor still-lifes from art class in fourth grade. I can see that it used to have a lock but doesn’t anymore, this dime-store diary that must have been a party favor. I turn the pages slowly, mesmerized by the loops of my h’s and my cursive b’s, by handwriting that is both mine and not mine simultaneously.
The sound of this country is the cowbell. That same five beat refrain:
ding ding ding DING DING,
The background for beer as well as church, the pulse underneath the red earth. Everything is in the dirt here, the body, the blood and the Holy Ghost.
It’s like this, and it is no dream: First off, a plastic palomino and its stiff-armed rider float above a toybox. The rider is a dyed Custer, and everything’s red. I mean boots and kerchief and holster and eyebrows even.
If it takes a kind of genius to strike gold, then I am a genius. In fact my genius blows me away sometimes. Today, reading George Saunders’ story “A Lack of Order in the Floating Object Room” for the first time in many years—since 1986, to be exact—I am transported to my old living room […]
Bobby Alamo’s dead. Just don’t know it yet. No footprints. Hair stopped growing. Sense of taste is gone. He only exhales now. Like he’s got one last breath inside him and needs to dole it out.
For the “Firsts” issue we reached out through social media and asked our Hunger Mountain friends to share their favorite first lines of literature. Here are a few of them.
The house we stood in front of had a stained glass representation of the birth of Christ as a picture window. I put down one of my cases of beer and looked at Robert, my college boyfriend. The New Year’s Eve party was here?
Among barnacles and agates
as tides leak up the beach
she picks through litter
to choose a new labyrinth…
Hard to tell the birds from their voices
in the darkening field where hemoglobin
clouds drift low to the earth, bleeding
along their underbellies
Greedy doll, so greedy you swallowed
four more like you, each with a rosebud mouth
matching floral blouse and hair kerchief too.
Well I was definitely a cat, in one of them,
and I think I might have also been the captive
of a pirate or a robber, someone swashbuckling…
Like a lot of people approaching their first book review, I have no idea what I’m doing. So, for my sake, and for the sake of other would-be reviewers, I decided that, in addition to my review, I would compile a guide on writing book reviews. Never mind that I’ve never done this before…
Hunger Mountain Roving Editor, Donald Quist, snapped these photos of Siam Commercial Bank’s ad campaign celebrating life’s firsts. [doptg id=”4″]Authentic Sneakers | Nike Off-White
Sometimes a great opening never becomes a book–even for an award-winning author. A.S. King was kind enough to share this enchanting beginning that never bloomed into a novel.
Here we have the story of two ways to open a book.
Hunger Mountain editor Bethany Hegedus is the author of Grandfather Gandhi, a new picture book she co-authored with Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi. The book, released in March 2014 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, was illustrated by Evan Turk. Here, with an introduction by Matthew Winner, Bethany interviews Evan about his picture book debut.
Mom always said my first kiss would make my scalp tingle—make it light up like a summer field filled with fireflies. My first kiss wasn’t like that at all. My legs dangled from a chair in Nurse Jenkins’ office. I had a roll of gauze twisted into my right nostril.
That’s what you, dear writer, must do. Whether novel, short story, memoir, or essay, all prose openings must seduce your reader to keep reading, an increasingly difficult task in our world of constant distraction. You must make your reader fall in love.
As assistant fiction editor at Hunger Mountain I read a lot of fiction submissions, and sometimes writers ask what I’m looking for in a piece of fiction. The simple answer is that I’m looking to fall in love. We all feel this way, all the HM editors: we love to fall in love with your […]
the first song?
What human throat
first set free a note
The Fish came on. If you listen close enough to “Section 43,” you can hear the beating heart of God. The first time is still the best.
Hallucinatory fever dreams, the taste of blood in my mouth, the smell of mildew from the old volume’s pages…
I paced around my house for several hours, too afraid of the Misfit to turn out the lights, too excited about what writing could be to not read the story again.
I was five or six the first time I had the living daylights scared out of me by the bugling of elk. We were high up in the Rocky Mountains, lost in the deep-sea darkness of the wilderness at night, and I was perched on the roof of my parents’ car. My mom had wrapped […]
This was not, strictly speaking, my first time. I had done it now and again with the famous one, Charles, and a posse of anonymous theatrical types. Every one of our hook-ups, if you want to call them that, as alien and lovely as Victorian horsehair upholstery against bare legs. There was always that papery feel of aged skin under my fingers and a lingering scent of the last century…
The first murder Peter Doherty ever witnessed was committed by his own sweet, grey-haired grandmother back in the 1940s. He was a young child living on the outskirts of the then sleepy town of Brisbane, in Northern Australia. She took him by the hand and led him down to the ‘chook house’ at the bottom of the garden, grabbing a flapping hen along the way.
Camilla often fantasizes about plane crashes. On the long, tedious commute up the GW Parkway to her two-bedroom apartment in Rockville, she imagines herself on a doomed flight out of BWI airport.
The snow fell hard that night. It fell hard and fast and quiet as if it were trying to hide not just everything that was happening, but everything that could be about to happen. It didn’t need to bother. Except for James Hephaistion Alexander and a few others, nobody was awake to notice what was going on.
A nurse is a good person to be
with a vagabond heart,
you can love a stranger instantly
“Any real change implies the breakup of the world as one has always known it, the loss of all that gave one an identity, the end of safety.”
James Baldwin, “Faulkner and Desegregation”
A book Review in Letters: Sarah Seltzer and Sarah Braud on The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling Dear Sarah, I wish we were sending this by Owl instead of email. Oh, well, let’s be prosaic and leave wizardry behind. A nickname for this new novel, which involves a contested seat for the town of Pagford’s Parish Council after a beloved […]
From Reading to Wonder: Erika Anderson on Safe as Houses by Marie-Helene Bertino ~6th in a series When I tell people I’m a writer, they ask what I’m reading. This is smart. It’s smart because more often than not, we’re in a bar, and I’m not sure if I want to talk about my writing at […]
She’d repeated the story often, imagining it so clearly—the dark eyes of the boys, dusty hair and dirty fingernails, the heat like a fist. She felt like it had happened to her, though it hadn’t. It was just a story she told.
Finish storm cleanup. Wipe slop from porch, shovel up mush of leaves. Wash windows a third time. Sweep walk. Pick up torn shingles, torn papers, loose plastic. Hose off white table to make it white again. Stop thinking about the fact that you now live in a part of the country where there can […]
Miss Pratt and Miss Avery come all the way from Kansas City. They’re part of a volunteer program aiming to bring charm to rural Kansas. Gran calls it “Social Education,” a term she lifted from the brochure. When Gran drops me at her church, where the classes are held, she says, “I pulled a lot of strings to get you in.”
Rhoda Rapport: Natalie Serber on Ellen Gilchrist’s Rhoda, A Life in Stories When I first fell in love with Rhoda K. Manning, I was in my early twenties and making a lot of bad decisions—failing classes at my community college; drinking Moscow Mules; dating waiters, surfers, a lawyer who sat next to me on a cross-country flight—and […]
It was the kind of morning when the sun hung weary in the sky and the grown-ups, surrendering to its incessant rays, baked and blistered in lawn chairs, cooling themselves with fat pitchers of Aunt Vera’s lemonade. Even the birds were plain tuckered, sticking to the leafy parts of the trees, their morning songs dulled by the swelling heat.
Penny Blubaugh on Lisa Goldstein’s Walking the Labyrinth Lately I’ve been seeing my writing life as a labyrinth. The twists and turns it takes are even more dramatic than I expected, and believe me, I did expect drama. But more and more often, the dark parts of my particular labyrinth have been harder to illuminate, and the […]
From Reading to Human: Erika Anderson on tiny beautiful things by Cheryl Strayed On a sunburny afternoon in Prospect Park, I drank apple-ginger soda and talked about death with a man who boxed, followed the zodiac, and read palms. He sang a line from Sade’s song “Maureen” about losing her best friend, “You’ll never meet my new […]
John Proctor on selected essays from The Best American Essays 2002 . ~9th in a series SourceURL:fiaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa Most of us living in New York City on 9/11 were not in the World Trade Center, many of us nowhere even near it. I was working in market research on 25th Street and was supposed to start […]
Stories Speaking to Stories: Cynthia Newberry Martin on Natalie Serber’s Shout Her Lovely Name . Here’s a confession: For many months now, I haven’t wanted to read story collections. Each time I paused in front of my waiting-to-be-read stacks, the story collections would jump up and down, screaming it was their turn, while the novels did nothing […]
I feel a sense of gratitude for where I live. I am well connected to this feeling; it is right on the surface where I can find it and touch it easily, but it is also deeply inside of me in a place where I can feel it in my bones. But if someone had asked me a year ago—before Sharry and I began writing our blog, Kissing the Earth—why I feel this gratitude, I would have been at a loss for words.
Mama’s breath hovers over me in the frosty air. “Get up, little Lynx.”
Light pushes through cracks in the boarded-up windows, reminding me how the buildings shook and the glass shattered during the Nazi air raid only days ago.
The girl with apricot-colored hair sits on a dock the color of driftwood, her back against a stone wall retaining the land against the push and pull of the sea. Buoys bob and clang.
It was almost lunchtime when Bartlette Blue sat down on her front porch to watch the gnats swarming over the lake. Taco, her dog, sat with her.
I don’t know why I continue buying my groceries at Price Chopper. Of course it makes me feel bad: those flat harsh neon lights, the long aisles of cheap overabundance, the bland preprogrammed music, the complete absence of beauty. Even the name itself—Price Chopper—hurts me with its crude brutality…
The Little Carrillo Camp Store has been out of marshmallows since your family arrived, so all week you’ve been using gummi bears in your breakfast s’mores instead. Your dad pitched the s’mores as a special treat, much better than, say, the bacon cheesy eggs he botched on day one of your trip.
It has stared at us for thirty years,
the scar they drew when your heart
objected to the material world.
Hunger Mountain interviews author Emma Komlos-Hrobsky about her short story “Vishnu Floating on the Cosmic Ocean” and asks her what her writing processes are.
“I almost always write at night, and I almost always listen to music unless I’m totally in the zone.”
For me, a prompt makes creating new work easier and a deadline makes finishing possible. So I incorporated both when I created SPARK, a quarterly project for writers, artists, and musicians, who get ten days to create something new, using another person’s work as inspiration. I administer the project, but I also participate, and I use each round as an opportunity to play with process.
What inspired “Last Dog”? Well, I went on a dead dog kick for a little while in my writing. Our family dog, a black lab named Pepper who we got when I was nine, was very old and on death’s door when I was writing “Last Dog.” She was almost blind and entirely deaf and […]
What inspired “Blacksmith” and “These Gifts”? Both “These Gifts” and “Blacksmith” I wrote several years ago while living in Spain. I wrote the first drafts of “These Gifts” in response to witnessing, and then participating in, the anti-war demonstrations in Barcelona just prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The protests were massive, potent manifestations […]
Nimble and knobby, high-stepping it is how flamingos do it, courting adagio under the kliegs, pretending dark. Their smile Flora confirmed for herself after climbing into the pen before she was pulled from it (giddy, gleeful) at the zoo, conservatory for the taxidermist. Everything is inclined that way—to mating. Flora had read this in a […]
There is a wonderful story behind the inspiration for that poem. A few summers ago, I took my family to a minor league baseball game so we could see the future stars of our favorite team. And after the umpire told the teams to “play ball,” a group of nuns came trotting out of the dugout! True story. The Mother […]
I flopped in the orthodontist chair and stared up at Dr. Randall’s nose. I hoped to be back at school in time for music class. It was our final practice for the 3rd grade concert. Dr. Randall switched on the light and blinded me.
I make easy emptiness of all the washing.
There is a washer woman in my ear. A very large sky. Remove the bees.
It is your name, solid around me, like a scar.
I would forever be grateful if you would call me Japanese scroll.
A spool of smoke unwinds across the sky. Crow clack, cicada, bodies open to the sky. In 79 AD ash and roasting heat seal an envelope around Herculaneum; they look but find no sky. But the heart remains. See it telescope the chest, long for the moon’s pull, that flight to the sky. Cyrano knew […]
Faded earth-toned photograph
at 45 RPMs preserves the speed of the roll-away
Davenport and infant me balanced on your knees…