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As the years pass I find myself wondering more and more if what I remember about my childhood are the events themselves or merely a memory of those events. There is a half-awake feel about these memories, a sense of being twice-removed, as if somewhere along the way the direct chain of cause and effect had broken, replaced by a more vaporous connection. Still, I am aware of something deeper that is just beyond my grasp. Events don’t seem only distant in time, they seem more like scenes from a movie that keep flashing through my mind that I struggle to place because I’m no longer sure I’ve even seen the film. Yet I am aware of myself as a player in those scenes. The more I try to wring meaning from these memories the more I realize that the way to do it is to unveil the universals that lie beneath them. Only then will they reveal themselves as more than a collection of unrelated episodes grown hoary with time.

I was born in the Point Breeze section of Philadelphia in a two-story brick rowhouse. It was the first house my parents bought after they were married and where my father was about to begin his medical career. From Colonial times through to the early twentieth century homes in Philadelphia were commonly built of brick, and Point Breeze was a classic example of the type. Standing on the sidewalk in that first neighborhood in the first years of my life, whichever direction I looked revealed long rows of red brick homes, usually two stories high, some with three and, less frequently, four. Grass, except in tiny back yards that butted against even tinier alleyways, was almost nonexistent in those canyons of brick. On cloudy days the neighborhood seemed to huddle beneath a grayish shroud; on cold rainy days it seemed to draw inward on itself and was downright depressing. Despite the dearth of greenery those block-long brick walls formed by the rows of identical houses were boundaries of my youth. I felt a strong sense of place and time and that it was right for me to be there. By the time I was ready to begin grade school my parents had moved a few blocks west to the Stephen Girard Estate, originally the home of the wealthy Colonial-era philanthropist and banker. It was there that I spent the next 12 years of my life. More… “Everything Desirable”

John Capista is a reader who loves to write and a writer who loves to read. He reads, writes and resides in Drexel Hill, PA.

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There we sat, Mom and I, side by side on the piano bench. A mirror on the panel above the keyboard reflected our fingers, perched to perform. Deadly piano-playing duo? Not quite. You see, I had decided to teach Mom to play the piano. She was in her mid-50s; I was 13.

Perhaps a grade eight history-teaching project had infected me with the teaching bug. More likely it was connected to Dad’s second bout with cancer. At the hospital, the radiation had zapped his tumor. Now he was back home and had returned to work, but Mom and I were left with the aftermath of his life/death ordeal. We needed a diversion to keep us sane in this sudden change to supposedly safe routine. Besides, my music credentials were impeccable — five years of learning Bach, Beethoven, and Chopin on our pink Roxatone-coated piano.

“FACE,” I pointed to the white keys straddling the middle of the keyboard, “That’s middle C.” I followed the methods of my own piano teacher, Miss Garlick.

Every Saturday morning at ten a.m., I walked four and a half blocks to private lessons in Miss Garlick’s basement studio. Despite her name, she exuded sweetness and competence when her fingers flew along the piano keys of her black upright or black baby grand. Her pink puffy cheeks and short grey hair gave her the appearance of everybody’s grandmother. More… “Don’t Look Down”

Sharon A. Crawford, a former journalist, is a freelance memoir and fiction writer, writing instructor, blogger, book reviewer, editor, and actor. Sharon was Writer-in-Residence (2009 to 2014) with the Canadian Authors Association Toronto Branch, currently is a member of Crime Writers of Canada, Sisters in Crime, Toronto Heliconian Club, and runs the East End Writers’ Group. Sharon writes the Beyond mystery series. Her latest mystery novel is Beyond Faith. Visit Sharon’s website https://samcraw.com/ and her author blog https://sharonacrawfordauthor.com/.

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“Urge and urge and urge,” Whitman intoned. “Always the procreant urge of the world.” These words signal the life instinct, eros, that innate, libidinal drive for pleasure and survival.

Humans are compelled by life, attracted to it and aroused by it. The procreant urge motivates us to act, stimulates our choices and actions, shapes our personal identity. There’s no subjectivity, no consciousness, absent coital awareness. The properties of life — what it means and how it appears to be alive — are conditions for their own perpetuation: to love life is to make it.

We are drawn to life, that inner bloom within the verdant body. We seek intimacy with the animated, energetic fertile parts, the warm, electric, pulsating body that’s flowing with blood, propelled by agency and personality. The sensual qualities of living flesh stir up an intense and unconscious desire for the continuity of our kind. More… “Sex with the Dead”

Allen Mendenhall is an associate dean at Thomas Goode Jones School of Law and executive director of the Blackstone & Burke Center for Law & Liberty. Visit his website at AllenMendenhall.com

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“You can never make that crossing that she made, for such Great Voyages in this world do not any more exist. But every day of your lives the miles that voyage between that place and this one you cross. Every day. You understand me? In you that journey is.”
Angels in America, Millennium Approaches, Act 1, Scene 1

At the end of Ithaca College’s production of Millennium Approaches in October 2017, the lights flickered and we — the audience and Prior Walter — met the Angel for the first time. As both a reader and an audience member, I have immersed myself in this play countless times over the last 25 years — at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco in 1995, in the Off Broadway revival, during many viewings of the superb HBO production. I look forward to seeing the current Tony-award-winning version of the play, its first Broadway production in the Trump era. When we finally meet the Angel at the end of Millennium, it is a spectacle. In the text and in previous productions, her entrance is preceded by a giant boom that causes part of the bedroom ceiling to crash down to the floor. When she descends and asserts, “The Great Work begins!” it is significant, stunning, and terrifying. In Ithaca College’s otherwise phenomenal production, the Angel entered . . . on roller skates. More… “The Great Work Begins Again”

Jennifer Tennant is an associate professor of Economics at Ithaca College. A health economist by training, her research focuses on disability and mental health policy. She has written a number of articles on health economics and disability policy and has recently started writing creative nonfiction. Her first piece of creative nonfiction, a personal essay, will be published in Pleiades in January 2019. An image text essay, created with the photographer Nura Qureshi, was published in July 2018 in A VELVET GIANT.

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No one would ever peg Betty Wright’s funky 1972 hit, “The Clean-Up Woman” as a heartbreaking ballad. From its first emphatic chords on an electric guitar, followed by Wright’s soulful delivery, the song is one to rock your hips — not rock your heart. Wright sings about taking her man for granted and then losing him to the woman who swoops in to clean up the pieces of the neglected fellow’s ego. Indisputably, it is a song about loss; it is also a top-40 tune with an insistent beat that makes it nearly impossible to keep from dancing.

But dancing was the last thing on my mind on a recent afternoon when I finally left my classroom to go home, the sun dazzlingly low in the winter sky. I slid a shiny disc into the CD player, and the small space of my car welled up with that bright rhythm and Wright’s snappy delivery. Suddenly, I was shaking with sobs I had been holding back for months. More… “In Chapels of Music and Steel”

Melanie McCabe’s most recent book is His Other Life: Searching For My Father, His First Wife, and Tennessee Williams, which won the University of New Orleans Publishing Lab Prize. She is also the author of two poetry collections: What The Neighbors Know and History of the Body. Her essays have appeared in The Washington Post, Shenandoah, Sweet, and other journals. Her poems have been published in The Georgia Review, The Cincinnati Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, and Southern Poetry Review, among others.

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crystal bowl filled with toffee candies
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The star shape cuts into the circular handle that tops the lid of my candy dish. The star is echoed as it expands into the many cut diamonds which multiply as they eclipse over the round shape of the lid. The pattern starts again where the lid meets the bowl, continuing on and on all the way to its base. As the diameter of the bowl’s circular shape increases, so, too, does the size of the diamonds, only to follow the reverse pattern as it decreases in size where the bowl’s shape comes together in a nice gathering of diamonds at the bottom. The pattern seems to be infinite, and yet it is not. It finishes at the base of the bowl.

It is an old bowl, a treasured possession of my Gran’s. It always sat on her coffee table, and it was always full of candy, mostly the soft caramel toffees that she loved so much. As children, we were allowed to have one, but only one, and only after we had eaten the sumptuous feast that Gran had prepared for our visit. She always made our favorites — fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and coleslaw. My mouth waters at the memory of these special recipes.

I make Gran’s chicken for supper. I coat the chicken pieces with cornflake crumbs, salt, and pepper and bake it in the oven. Then I make the coleslaw with her unique combination of cabbage and raisins. I add small, colored marshmallows. The salad dressing, another of Gran’s secret recipes, softens the marshmallows so they melt in your mouth. My kids like the spongy sweetness next to the bitter crunch of the cabbage. I don’t recall if Gran ever added marshmallows to the salad. Perhaps she did. More… “The Crystal Bowl”

Emily-Jane Hills Orford is the author of several books including her novel, Personal Notes, which is her grandmother’s story. Several of her creative nonfiction stories and books have received awards, including The Whistling Bishop, which was named a finalist in the 2009 Next Generation Indie Book Awards; F-Stop: A Life in Pictures, which was named a finalist and received the silver medal in the 2012 Next Generation Indie Book Awards; and To Be a Duke, which was named a finalist and received the silver medal in the 2015 Next Generation Indie Book Awards as well as receiving an honorable mention in the 2015 Readers’ Favorite Book Awards.

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The skeleton of a young girl: This is the first thing to seize my eye as I enter the cemetery of the Capuchin monastery in Rome. Mounted at the vault’s center and framed by four elliptical rings of vertebrae, she holds in her right hand a scythe made of tibias and pelvic fragments; in her left hand, she holds a balance, also made of human bones. The shadowed hollows of her eye sockets, rather than conveying blindness, ceaselessly drink the late-morning sunlight that pours through the windows.

It is some time before I notice the other two child skeletons on the back wall, perched, legs dangling, on a mantle of scapulae. They are bookended by two hourglasses: counterpoised coccyx, their holes giving from a distance the impression of mottled sand. Each hourglass has a pair of scapula wings, as does the disembodied skull floating between the children.

I see these things and I do not see them. To focus on any one object takes considerable effort. My eyes are always being drawn to some new detail — a femur that seems a darker umber than the hundreds of others stacked along the walls, the wooden crosses that mark graves in the crypt’s dirt floor, the distinctive “cappuccino” brown of a monk’s habit, that same monk’s mummified flesh, his collapsed nostrils, his curled parchment lips — and to the overpowering sum of all details, this precise chaos that tempts me to close my eyes, rinse them in darkness. More… “Graffiti These Bones”

Justin Lee teaches in the Composition Department at UC Irvine, where he earned an MFA in Creative Writing in 2014. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared (or are forthcoming) in Vice, First Things, the Los Angeles Review of Books, ABC’s Religion and Ethics, Amazon’s Day One, FLAUNT Magazine, Juked, Gargoyle Magazine, Arc Digital, and elsewhere. In 2016, he received an Emerging Writers Grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation. Their generosity enabled him to complete his first novel, Lightless Lands, which is currently seeking a home.

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I stand too close to the edges of curbs. Sometimes, I stand so absent-mindedly and perilously close that a slight nudge, misplaced step, or strong gust of wind could lean me into traffic. The “whoosh” and hot air of a passing vehicle startles me out of my carelessness. Yes yes

Yes

Yes

That’s also when my Uncle Clarence’s voice pulls me back.

Yes

Yes

Clarence Thompson was the oldest of my mother’s siblings. I grew up in the same house in which they were raised, on San Antonio’s East Side. During my first 12 years, he was still living there and was the most constant male presence in my life.

More… “Voices”

Cary Clack is a native of San Antonio. He wrote CNN commentaries for Coretta Scott King prior to becoming a columnist for the San Antonio Express-News. He subsequently turned to politics, working as the communications director for Joaquin Castro’s Congressional campaign and Mayor Ivy Taylor. Trinity University Press published a collection of his columns, Clowns and Rats Scare Me, and is currently working on another book Dreaming US: Where did We from There? He was inducted into the Texas institute of Letters in April 2017.

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I am obsessed with books about people who, for unclear reasons, ruin their own lives. In Freudian terms, it’s Thanatos, the death drive. The classic example is that fear you feel on a rooftop or near the edge of a cliff, a fear not so much that you’ll fall but that you’ll throw yourself over, into the void. My own version of this fear: When I pull out my phone to take a photo of the vista from a bridge or a precipice, I’m afraid I’ll drop the phone and automatically go after it.

But this isn’t the death drive, not directly; it’s irrational fear of some latent suicidal tendency that may not exist. The characters I’m thinking of don’t throw themselves off literal cliffs. It’s slower, and stranger, like sleepwalking into the sea.

More… “The Self-Destruct Button”

Elisa Gabbert is the author of L’Heure Bleue, or the Judy Poems (Black Ocean), The Self Unstable (Black Ocean) and The French Exit (Birds LLC). Follow her on Twitter at @egabbert.

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Jimmy Yee cannot kill himself.

It’s certainly not for a lack of effort. Hanging doesn’t work. Slitting his wrists is useless. Shooting himself in the head, overdosing on pills . . . nothing he tries gives him the exit into oblivion he so clearly craves. Each time he succumbs, he witnesses a glowing ring of light, then awakens once again in his motel room. At least it seems like his motel room. What is going on? Maybe if he throws himself in front of a truck . . .

That’s the opening sequence to Demon, Jason Shiga’s bloody brilliant (or brilliantly bloody) action comic, a no-holds-barred assault on good taste and timidity that proves to be as hilarious and captivating as it is incredibly violent and profane. Originally serialized both online and via print pamphlets by the author, Demon is now being “officially” published as a four-volume series of books by First Second. The first volume was released late last year, the second just last month — volumes three and four will be coming out by the end of 2017. More… Demon am I”

By day, Chris Mautner is the mild-mannered social media producer for PennLive.com. By night, he writes about really nerdy things for The Comics Journal . . . and this site. He is one-quarter of the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell.

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