Friday, February 12, 2021

J.N. Fishhawk: Poet, Writer, Editor

by Editor-in-Chief Mary Bast

Our Associate Editor/Poetry Editor J.N. Fishhawk has been Poetry Editor since 2017, and will be taking over as Editor-in-Chief with the 2022 issue (I'll stay on as Associate Editor).

J.N. was a friend of our journal long before he joined our editorial staff. In fact, his prose poem "a prayer" helped inaugurate our first annual edition (Bacopa Literary Review 2010):

O bear, O rabbit, O moon, O woods with yr million million twiggy fingers clutching after disappearing fur, nestling features, lifting scales and claws and soft suction toes, scuttling buggy digits of horn and chitin, little dust-kissed hooks of moths, O things in thickets crawling, O clatter of lizards under leafmold, O slip of spider silk like cat's cradle played with death on the shivering green breeze-reaches, O underscrub where all breaths die, blaze of sun among dry wrecked shells in sand, you ancient snailshacks going slowly apart over centuries for lime, liner for the guts of the native earth, O hell all you racket of growth and vigorous destruction, come on, come on, burn and turn, let's all go down together and come up again some other time, who knows what beings we'll be? 
For longer than our twelve-year acquaintance, our upcoming Editor-in-Chief has been a moving force of the Civic Media Center and Library (CMC) in Gainesville, Fl, a nonprofit, independent, grassroots, street-level alternative library and progressive community organizing space. He's often the MC for CMC's Thursday night open mic where many of our local poets and writers have given voice to their work. He's also a freelance writer and editor, with emphasis on education, outreach and promotions, academic, and artistic projects.

From one of his latest creative works: "The Darklands may be caught in infrared glimpses framed by ancient shade trees. They glimmer just below the surface of sunset rivers older than time..." So reads in part the back cover of Dancing Ghost's 2016 Production, Postcards from the Darklands, Photos by Jorge Ibáñez, Poems by Jimmy Fishhawk.*

Jimmy's ekphrastic poems in Postcards from the Darklands are beautifully evocative of Jorge's photos, as evidenced in #20:
in wall so worn
by forgotten centuries' winds
that the puddled glass
between the windows' lead
is the ancestor of the ancestor
of the bubbled plate
that was the first pane
placed there,
where the shades still recall
the wartime blackout
even in the claybake
ovenheat of noon,
a ghost of her face
may be seen
to keep watch
on the darkest night
electric light fails
under the ice-weight
of winter
and even the stars howl
with grief
where the spines
of their own illumination
stab them
__________________________________________________________
*Jimmy Fishhawk, poet, writer, and agitator, has called the swamplands of Florida home for many years. His work has appeared in a variety of print and online journals; he's also the author of two poetry chapbooks: Virus, Pt. 1:1 Infest Yer Consciousness (Dreaming God Productions) and Gone (Ghost Dog Press).

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Fees: An Obstacle to Best, Most Diverse Writing

by Bacopa Literary Review Editor-in-Chief Mary Bast
A $3 fee might not sound like much, but the average short story might receive around 20 rejections before it's published . . . Reading fees also pose an extra obstacle in the literary community's efforts to be more diverse . . . Fees ensure that people who have disposable income will submit the most . . . ("Should Literary Journals Charge Writers Just to Read Their Work?" Joy Lanzendorfer, The Atlantic, Oct. 25, 2015)
Every year our editorial board reviews the finances of publishing a print journal, and considers the obvious arithmetic of submission fees to offset the cost of prizes, layout, printing (we editors are volunteers). There's more to consider than the obvious, though, when our goal is to publish top quality work from a diverse group of writers and poets.

Any journal of our size is in competition with thousands of other print and online literary magazines for the best work. So it's helped me to draw from my former business--built on writing and internet presence--to think of Bacopa Literary Review as a small, nonprofit business with a vision, goals, and action plans. As with any organization that wants to succeed in its field, our core values and their priorities must be clear: Economy? Service? Excellence?

Of course excellent writing is key, and going into my sixth year as Editor-in-Chief, our team has become more and more clear that "excellence" includes a diversity consistent with worldwide diversity of fine writers--diversity of age (and thus cohort groups--whose styles, issues, and concerns differ decade by decade), of gender identification (not just males and females--an increasingly useless dichotomy), of geographic location, of literary background (from well-published septuagenarians to recently hatched MFAs of all ages, to beginning writers who've never published before).

A close second to excellence in our vision is service, interacting with and congratulating writers and poets by email, in this blog, Facebook, and Twitter; making sure they see within days that their submissions are being reviewed, responding quickly when we know a submission is not quite a fit for a given year's issue, and accepting especially good pieces right away so we don't lose them to another journal. When contributors notify us that they've later published books, we feature them here. Starting with the 2019 issue, we've also invited contributors to send posts about their work in Bacopa, to promote our writers and poets as much as we can.

Economy runs third as a core value for Bacopa--important, but not as important as excellence and service. We've experimented with fees, and though the current team has never charged more than $3 per submission, it is clear that we receive the finest and most diverse writing when we don't charge a fee. We do stay within the budget of a general annual cost estimate, and we're fortunate that our sponsor, Writers Alliance of Gainesville, is willing to foot the average $3000/year (not including the many hours donated by our editorial team in what is mostly a labor of love). If we charged fees we'd have fewer submissions, and thus less work, but we'd also lose some of the best writers and have a much less diverse publication.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

I Don't Want It, But It's Not Junk!

 by Bacopa Literary Review Editor-in-Chief Mary Bast

Writers often succumb to this fatal flaw of fiction writing, explaining and telling and summarizing instead of showing action as it's happening. "How Fiction Writers Can Show Emotions in Their Characters in Effective Ways," C.L. Lakin, Live, Write, Thrive.

Our 2020 Fiction Second Prize winner, "Junk," by Siamak Vossoughi, starts out quietly:

About once a week we'd get a call from somebody asking us to haul their junk, and they'd call their junk what anybody with the sense God gave them would call it, which was junk. So I was unprepared when I got a call for some hauling out in Duven and the guy said he had a truckload of stuff but he didn't want to call it junk.
     "It's my parents' stuff," he said. "I don't want it, but it's not junk."
     "Okay, You want us to haul it away?"
     "Yes. But it's not junk . . ."

Then, readers are invited into the ensuing conversation between the speaker, Mike, and his partner in their junk hauling business, Louis, who agrees with the customer that when your parents have died, the things they've left behind are not "junk." What slowly grabs us is how this story shows the action as it's happening, in the conversation between two junk haulers as they consider, first, the customer's potential reaction to their T-shirts with the slogan "Tree Service and Hauling Junk."

     "I'm going to go load the truck," I said.
     I went out back and loaded the truck for the afternoon. We had a tree job over on Greenwood. I thought about all the time I spent designing the shirt. I hadn't half-assed it. It was a good shirt and I liked putting it on in the morning.
     I went back inside.
     "What are  you going to do about the truck?"
     "What about it?"
     "It says We Haul Junk on the side. Because, as I mentioned, that's what we do."
     Louis stared at the side of the truck.
     "He said his mother and father
both died?" . . .

Mike and Louis engage in an almost comic routine as they consider covering the word JUNK on the side of their truck with the word STUFF, Mike kicking all the way with such comments as, "Nobody's going to do this for us when our parents go." 

     . . . I wondered if there was a way I could've told Louis about the job when the guy had first called without mentioning that he didn't want us to call his parents' stuff junk. Who expects a guy to run with it like that?

 Eventually, though, Mike comes around.

     ". . . You win. We have to change the receipts."
     "What?"
     "The receipts say junk on them. If you're going to give him a receipt, you might as well cross out the word junk and write something else there too. . ."
What makes this story a prize winner? Author Vossoughi invites us to observe Mike and Louis grappling with a customer's likely grief and reaction to signs that his parents' belongings might be considered junk, engaging thoughts about their own parents' eventual deaths, without once talking about their feelings. And yet, masterfully, the author brings readers almost to tears with ordinary dialogue between two ordinary guys, in their own way showing compassion for a customer's feelings.

*   *   *

Siamak Vossoughi, a writer living in Seattle, has had stories published in various journals, and his 2015 collection, Better Than War, was shortlisted for the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing and received a 2014 Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction. His recent collection, A Sense of the Whole, received the 2019 Orison Fiction Prize, judged by Victor LaValle. From Jane Hu's New York Times review of A Sense of the Whole: "What emerges is the sense that anyone you meet has a story." Click here for Vossoughi's website and follow him on Twitter @siamakvossoughi.

  Read Siamak Vossoughi's prize-winning "Junk" on pages 10-14,
as well as other engaging works of Fiction,
Creative Nonfiction,
Poetry,
Humor, and Short-Short Fiction in Bacopa Literary Review 2020


Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Whose War Is It Anyway?

by Bacopa Literary Review 2020 Fiction First Prize winner James D'Angelo

I wrote the first draft of "Proxy" after reading Joan Didion's Salvador, Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See, and War Is a Racket by Marine Corps Major General Smedley D. Butler. I was fascinated with the idea of being a civilian trapped in a military-occupied town while the machinery of war grinds away. I also wanted to explore being a witness to something terrible. What level of culpability does a witness have, specifically a war reporter? Are you loyal to your country or to the truth?

That first draft received mixed responses at my weekly writing group, but someone recommended I read Dexter Filkins' book The Forever War. That helped me dive deeper inside the head of a journalist caught up in a combat zone. The title "Proxy" is on one level a reference to the term proxy war, and you can find plenty of those throughout the last century. But the story intentionally lacks certain details of the people, the geography, and the exact time period. This fictional war is a proxy for all the wars the United States has waged, overtly or covertly, for resources.

At dawn the American guns open up and vent Hell's exhaust.
     The shells rain until dusk falls, always on faraway places.
     They do this every day.
     At night, sharpshooters with Starlight scopes command the sight lines. They can spot the cherry of a cigarette from nine hundred yards and kill the man smoking it before the nicotine reaches his lungs . . .
     The U.S. military has spent countless research dollars to make soldiers more effective. They found that the mechanical distance between killer and victim is a key factor in willingness . . .
     Firing artillery. Shooting at the tips of cigarettes. It's easy to lose track of cause and effect . . .

I was lucky enough to have "Proxy" accepted just before I started my MFA program. I told my professor in office hours, but haven't directly told anyone in my workshop. Doing so feels too boastful. In my school's newsletter I provided this summary: 

"Proxy" tells the story of a journalist exposing the cost of fighting someone else's war. The evidence he gathers reveals how easy it is to kill for profit.

I stand by my blurb, but I'd love for you to read the story and tell me your thoughts. You can find/yell at me on Twitter. I want to thank my fiction professor Thisbe Nissen for believing in this story when it was part of my MFA application, as well as Lower Bucks Creative Writers for seeing it through from the first draft. And finally, thanks to Bacopa Literary Review for this incredible opportunity. "Proxy" is my first published story, so this is all new and exciting, and I'm very grateful.

*   *   *

  Read James D'Angelo's prize-winning "Proxy" on pages 59-64,
as well as other engaging works of Fiction,
Creative Nonfiction,
Poetry,
Humor, and Short-Short Fiction in Bacopa Literary Review 2020

 

Saturday, December 26, 2020

2020 Humor First Prize: "Jesus's Bar Mitzvah Speech" by Jon Shorr

by Bacopa Literary Review 2020 Humor Editor, Stephanie Seguin

When I set out to select humor pieces for this year's issue, I had very little idea what sort of pieces would turn up. Humor means such a wide variety of things and is so different for many. I wanted something that made me laugh, certainly, but also I wanted writing that felt crafted, clever.

I chose Jon Shorr's "Jesus's Bar Mitzvah Speech" for first prize because it fit both those criteria. I laughed out loud at the images of Jesus's family and friends sitting through the lengthy ritual. 

And the people in the temple listened to Jesus, except for Mrs. Silverblatt who was upset with her son for wearing non-matching sandals. . .

As a girl raised Catholic, I have long been amused by thoughts of Jesus enduring the more mundane and tedious aspects of life on earth, particularly adolescence. Did Jesus have acne? Homework? Was he scolded for not finishing chores?

For me, humor is often found in small, well-chosen details. What made this piece a standout were details like Mrs. Silverblatt upset about her son's sandal choices and also Jesus relating to his selected Torah parsha with bits of his home life.

I can really relate to this parsha because sometimes my mom and my (air quotes) "dad" want me to do stuff, and I'm like, so if I do this stuff, will you let me go over the Jude's house and play, and they say ok, so I do it, but then they're like "it's getting dark" . . .

Jon Shorr captured my imagination with Jesus taking part in this adolescent rite of growing up that so many have experienced, right down to waiting for the food spread after.

And the multitudes dispersed, some to the Ahazariah and Peninah Plotnik multipurpose room for luncheon and others to the Nazareth Tech-Mt. Tabor game.

*  *   *

Jon Shorr is a retired college professor whose creative nonfiction and journalism have been published in magazines, literary journals, and anthologies, including JMORE Living, Tricycle, Passager, Pangyrus, Stories That Need to Be Told, and The Inquisitive Eater.

*   *   *

  Read Jon Shorr's "Jesus's Bar Mitzvah Speech" on pages 19-21,
as well as other engaging works of Humor, Fiction,
Creative Nonfiction,
Poetry, and Short-Short in Bacopa Literary Review 2020


Thursday, December 17, 2020

Short-Short First Prize: "An interval of time just before the onset" by Sarina Bosco

by Short-Short Editor Kaye Linden

Why did I choose Sarina Bosco's "An interval of time just before the onset" for a first prize?

The wind, first, coming in through the open windows like a gasp sets the vision for an oncoming storm or hurricane. In a short-short story or flash, the title and the first line must grab the reader before the onset, and the author does a great job with the entrance into this world. The powerful language in this short-short paints a picture with effective word choices.

vibrant, velvet, virgin leaves unfurling to swell in the thick air.

Note the alliteration of the "v" sound followed with vowels that continue throughout the sentence. Akin to a deep hum, this onomatopoeic sentence warns of wind, rain, and the grumble of thunder far off.

Through word choice and poetic device such as simile (like tragedy or purpose or fate), alliteration (wood and water), and assonance (buttercups torn in an updraft), we feel the escalating humidity that drapes like a woolen blanket over calves . . . drawing down against the pressure change. Floridians understand this palpable weight, the intense pressure of a pending storm, the electrical activity that lifts the fine hair of the body.

Throughout this piece, there rumbles an approaching entity: so softly, at first, that it isn't even heard. However, the reader feels the pending crack with the repetition of one, two--reminiscent of heavy footsteps, the coming of what?

The answer to the question of what is coming had an overarching reach this spring and summer. We felt the unfurling of the COVID-19 virus, the fear in the air, ourselves tucked away in our tangles of forsythia as we sheltered in place. Soft at first we held our breath until the tragedy of delayed response swept us into our global fate. How appropriate that this piece suggests the coming of many dark storms into our lives.

This short-short is a cornucopia of language, ensconced within the rhythm of the patter of rain. The voice of the author vibrates throughout. We imagine ourselves heavy tongue feathered against an open mouth . . . the slightest arch in the neck . . . holding breath and waiting--one, two . . . here it comes.

I chose this piece because of its language choices, rhythm, visualization, the metaphorical description of a coming storm, the appropriateness of its subject matter on many levels, and the skill with which the author unfurled this lovely piece. 

*  *   *

  Read Sarina Bosco's "An interval of time just before the onset" on page 1,
as well as other engaging works of Creative Nonfiction, Fiction, Poetry,
Short-Short, and Humor in Bacopa Literary Review 2020

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Facing the Music

by Creative Nonfiction contributor Ed Davis

Nobody I knew could play the guitar. We longed to, aching to become the next band of working-class kids to seize the world's attention as the Beatles had. So far, lip-synching was as close as we'd gotten. I wondered: should I keep on walking or sneak around back and see who was playing those magic strings? Doing so would mean I'd have to face the music in more ways than one.

The childhood scapegoating event I describe in my memoir "The Strength of Strings" in Bacopa Literary Review 2020 has lived inside me for half a century, striving to find artistic expression, first, in an unpublished novel I wrote in the early 1980s, and now as memoir. The thing about fictionalizing autobiography, I've found, is that you transform truth (facts) through the magic of fiction into Truth (significance). And though that still seems true, I've come to believe that sometimes you just need to tell the truth as accurately as you can, relying on memory rather than imagination--a real challenge for this novelist. But I had to try.

     Steve looked up.

     "Hey," he said.

     "Hey," I returned, hunched inside my army jacket at the edge of the concrete slab. The day wasn't as dark as it had been only a couple of minutes ago.

     "You gonna stand there . . . or come over?" 

      I walked over and sat down. Despite the harsh wind of almost October coming at us across the back yard, some part of what was frozen between us thawed a little while we eyeballed each other above an object whose power I felt in my chest and limbs. Maybe that no-name, sunburst electric had the power to make a nobody become visible in our junior high world. A lot remained to be seen, like: does he hate me? 

Writing memoir feels a lot more naked to me than writing fiction, so it's got to be worth it. While "Strings" required many drafts, I finally felt good about coming clean about a childhood memory bearing a lot of emotional freight--or as clean as I can at this time. It's quite possible the memory of this incident has more to teach me before I die.

As for music, though I'm not actively making it anymore, my characters are. Without Steve, without pantomiming The Beatles before we learned to play and learn, then write, our own songs, I wouldn't have felt qualified to portray the Dylanesque rock star of my latest novel The Psalms of Israel Jones. One regret about our renewed relationship at the end of my pal's life is that, although I gifted him with a copy of Psalms, he died before he could read it--or, if he did manage to read it, to tell me what he thought. But he liked "Strength of Strings" enough to let me share it with his parents in the "nana" version (sans curse words).

Many thanks to Mary Bast and Bacopa Literary Review for letting me share my memoir, and now this follow-up with you.

*   *   *

Ed Davis, a former professor of writing, literature, and humanities, served as the assistant director for the Antioch Writers' Workshop in Yellow Springs, Ohio. His stories and poems have appeared in journals such as Leaping Clear, Metafore, Hawaii Pacific Review, and Stoneboat. His latest novel, The Psalms of Israel Jones (West Virginia University Press 2014), won the 2010 Hackney Award for an unpublished novel.

 Read Ed Davis' "The Strength of Strings: A Memoir" on pp. 131-136,
as well as other engaging works of Creative Nonfiction, Fiction, Poetry,
Short- Short, and Humor in Bacopa Literary Review 2020

 

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Nature: A Powerful Conduit to Memory

by Creative Nonfiction First Prize winner Virginia Boudreau

T.S. Eliot once referred to April as "the cruelest month." As a resident of Nova Scotia, I'd concur with that observation. Springtime in this part of the world rarely plays fair. It tends to drag its feet and arrive kicking and screaming at the back door. Unfortunately, 2020 was no exception. For that reason, grass was on my mind. I was longing for the rich color and softness of it in the way I sometimes yearn for stars to brighten a too-dark sky.

                                                               Grass

. . . I marvel at the serendipity of seeing a bunny over by the stone wall, this day of all days. It's a treat, particularly at a time when the Covid-19 virus holds the world captive, and nothing seems certain anymore.
     I stand on the lawn, not quite green. It's mostly a spread of dull sienna grass, littered with twigs and pine needles, worn thin in places and stitched with smatterings of sheep sorrel and hawkweed. The rabbit sits still as can be but for his twitchy ears, shell pink and gleaming translucent in the wan lights . . .
     I try hard not to hear the sound of your breathing. It makes me think of you, stretching and grabbing for air like apple pickers teetering to reach the ripest fruit on the highest branches. How many times have I held the sweetness of a small perfect world in my hands and taken it for granted?
     As the rabbit fades into the thicket, I picture us sprawled in the long grass. Daisies were everywhere, mingling like leggy girls in fluttering white skirts, dancing like there was no tomorrow. We wove chains for our hair, plucked petals for hours, saying "He loves me, he loves me not" . . . and we wouldn't stop until we ended up with the answer we wanted . . .

My friend Pam and I shared the love of nature. Even after she was frail and struggling for breath, she'd suggest getting outside. Nature is such a powerful conduit to memory.The sight of the rabbit took me back in time to another Easter weekend on a local forest trail The patchy grass on my lawn deposited me further back to the contrast of that idyllic day on the bluff where dandelion seeds in the meadow opened a portal directly into our shared childhood. 

The inspiration for the "Grass" piece made me think about all the ways we are intertwined, how everything connects, and everything belongs. I was startled into considering not only life's astounding beauty, but also its impermanence. Like the translucence of long furred ears or filaments riding the wind, how fragile it all is, and ultimately, how hopeful. I'm going to try to hold onto that.

*    *    *

Virginia Boudreau is a retired teacher living on the coast of Nova Scotia, Canada. A poem about her friend Pam, "Resurrection," appeared in Qwerty Magazine in 2018. Her other poetry and prose have appeared in a wide variety of international publications, including Claw and Blossom, Grain, Palette Poetry, Sunlight Press, The New York Times, and Westerly (Australia). New work will be appearing in Cricket Magazine.

Read Virginia Boudreaj's prize-winning "Grass" on pp. 16-17,
as well as other thoughtful works of Creative Nonfiction, Fiction, Poetry,
Short-Short, and Humor in Bacopa Literary Review 2020


Wednesday, November 25, 2020

What Makes a Love Poem?

by 2020 Poetry contributor C.L. Nehmer

A poet friend of mine once told me that most of the poems I write are love poems. I don't know if that's true, but her comment did cast many of my poems in a new light. 

"Fireworks" in Bacopa Literary Review 2020 is one such poem.

As it turns out, there are many kinds of love poems, just as there are many kinds of love. Romantic, of course. But more importantly, the built kind of love that happens after many summers, many storms. There's the kind that happens among families--those to whom you're linked--for better or for worse. There is the service that is the love of the aged, and the childlike love that is trust.

It was a beach that brought me to this place. A beach, and a blanket, and Bad Mother Syndrome. That horrible knowledge of not being able to provide the needed thing. From the sand, the world is only beach and sky, so we watched it happen--the one fast moving, slate-gray cloud gliding across an otherwise clear firmament--a minute-long summer storm.

Long enough for the kids to look at me
with that helpless look they used to give me
when I would hold them down for vaccination--that look of
why don't you make it stop, a look as if
I could save them, if I wanted to, and why didn't I--
and what can a mother do.

Our eyes locked through the rain, flight impossible, the safety of the car so many blocks away. I recalled another beach in a less complicated time.

the most wonderful wet
of a July dusk, a slower rain that ran in rivulets
down my teenage face, the fuse of his tongue
setting spark to every synapse in my girl body--
rain and mouth and my unsheltered heart
wanting the moments to go on forever
before Mom would pull up and honk the horn
and we would run towards the beacon of those taillights
into the refuge of her waiting car.

My mother sheltered me in a way I wasn't able to shelter my own kids. And a mother herself is shelter. On our damp blanket we ate sandwiches, dipped our toes in the tide, huddled beneath the fireworks, raw mother love sparking through the synapses of generations.

*   *   *

C.L. Nehmer is the author of The Alchemy of Planes: Amelia Earhart's Life in Verse. Her work has appeared in many journals and anthologies. She was the recipient of the Kay Saunders Memorial Emerging Poet Prize and was a 2019 Best of the Net nominee. She and her husband live with their teenagers and hounds in a Milwaukee suburb. Visit her web site here.

Read C.L. Nehmer's poem "Fireworks"
and other Poetry, Fiction, Creative Nonfiction,
Short-Short, and Humor in
Bacopa Literary Review 2020

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Finding Meaning in a Time of Mourning

by 2020 Poetry First Prize Winner Caitlin Cacciatore

The writing of "Sacrament" was an exercise in mourning, and a labor of love besides. I felt moved to write an elegy for my late grandfather, who had passed of COVID-related breathing difficulties in the middle of March. There was so much I needed to say. I wanted to wrangle everything I felt onto the page--not only the grief and the aching loss and the niggling sense of regret at not calling one last time, but also the pride I felt at having known such a towering figure of a man, and the small comfort that he'd had nearly a century's worth of time on this planet to love and to live and to fight the good fight. 

I can't say I realized when I was writing that I was no longer speaking to my grandfather alone. I was also addressing a world that was entering a period of mourning that lingers to this day. It didn't occur to me until well after I'd finished my first draft of the poem that I had written something powerful enough to speak to others who had similarly lost loved ones. 

Mourning has a tendency to render us powerless and angry. I couldn't allow it to render me speechless as well. I needed to do what all writers do in times of crisis--I needed to offer the world some great and lasting truth, something that would pay tribute to someone I'd loved dearly and lost unexpectedly, something that would have made my grandfather proud and in doing so, honor his memory in the only way I knew how.

At the time "Sacrament" was written, I was just beginning to feel a strong sense of moral obligation as a poet and writer. It's ultimately up to us to chronicle what I like to call the human cost of history. The mind doesn't deal well with large numbers. One day, the pandemic will end and historians will write down horrific numbers and compare the death toll of COVID-19 with that of other pandemics throughout history. 

In a hundred years, I'll be gone and so will most of everyone I knew or loved, but my words might live on, and maybe someone will read them and understand that COVID-19 was not just a number in a textbook or a date on a ledger. It had a real, visceral, human cost that cannot be measured or quantified. That is the power of words--they live on.

*   *   *

Caitlin Cacciatore is a queer writer and poet who lives on the outskirts of New York City. She believes poetry has the power to create change and brighten lives, and wishes for her work to be an agent of forward motion. Caitlin prefers writing in the hours just after dawn.

Read Caitlin Cacciatore's Poetry First Prize Winning "Sacrament" (page 5)
and other fine works of Poetry, Fiction, Creative Nonfiction, Short-Short, and Humor
in Bacopa Literary Review 2020 (print and digital)

Saturday, November 14, 2020

To Catch One's Breath While Sobbing

 by 2020 Creative Nonfiction contributor Ann Kathryn Kelly

When I wrote "Singultus," my essay in this year's Bacopa Literary Review, I was enrolled in a six-week writing workshop where we were encouraged to include basic research in one of our essays to round out a personal story we wanted to tell. I was about 60,000 words into my memoir-in-progress at the time, and had already written the pub scene.

     I hiccupped and slid into the booth beside Shelly. 
     "I'm late. Sorry."
     I wiggled out of my down coat. It was March, slushy, with a bite in the air. Colleagues Tina and Shelly joined me every Thursday for happy hour.
     "We got chicken nachos, they should be out any minute," Shelly said.
     I hiccupped again and she rubbed my back. "You alright?"
     I'd drawn in a big breath. Holding it, I turned to her and nodded. I pointed to Shelly's pint glass when our server approached. Exhaled. "The same, please." 
     Our server dropped a coaster. "Comin' right up."
     I hiccupped again.
    "You sure beer's the answer?" Tina asked, eyebrow raised . . .

I decided  to build a standalone essay around my hiccupping scene, and ran with the workshop prompt, spending a Saturday morning Googling hiccups. The causes, the home remedies to stop them. I went down a rabbit hole with etymology and discovered the wonderful list of words that various countries use for hiccups. I found it interesting that so many of them are similar--with the exception of the Italian word, singhiozza, which rolls off the tongue with pleasing flair. When I came across the Latin definition of hiccup--to catch one's breath while sobbing--I knew I had my essay ending.

     There were times when deep breaths were hard to pull in, times when sobbing would have been an understandable reaction. I fought it, stoically weighing options. I agonized over what I may be left like, with surgery. I brooded on the deficits that could come, without it. An endless tug of war.
     Mostly, I prayed.
     I put the half dollar back in the drawer, opened a Google window, stared at my computer. Minutes passed. The cursor blinked. My hiccups punctuated the quiet.    
     I typed, 'Brain surgeons in Boston.'

I went into my manuscript and cherry-picked a few scenes from the pub, then wove in alternating sections from my research. Interestingly, I was prescribed Chlorpromazine, an anti-psychotic drug that also treats intractable hiccupping, during my month-long stay in a brain injury rehab facility that followed my twelve-hour open-head surgery and my five-day stay in ICU. 

At the time of this post, November 14, 2020, I am eleven years, one month, and eight days past my surgery. On October 6, 2009, I left my house in southern New Hampshire at 3:00 in the morning. One of my brothers drove me an hour south into Boston to Brigham and Women's Hospital. A team of doctors, led by the Chief of Neurosurgery, spent a day with me in the OR while my brother and mother waited for more than fourteen hours to see me again in ICU. 

I celebrate every October 6 by traveling to a far-flung corner of our globe--with the exception of this unique, socially distant year that I'm spending at home, polishing my manuscript that I hope to start pitching to agents starting with the December #PitMad event on Twitter!

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Ann Kathryn Kelly lives in New Hampshire's Seacoast region. She's a contributing editor with Barren Magazine, works in the technology sector, and leads writing workshops for a nonprofit serving people with brain injury. Her essays have appeared in a number of literary journals.

Read Ann Kathryn Kelly's "Singultus," pages 145-150,
and other provocative Fiction, Creative Nonfiction,
Poetry, Short-Short, and Humor
in Bacopa Literary Review 2020