Love Letter to New York | by Andrea Avery
Snapshot of Christ | by Joe Esser
The Beginnings of an Animal Rescuer | by Randy Grim
From Way Down Here to Way Up There | by Chris King
The Gift | by Christian Saller
High on Jesus | by Rob Thurman
Cemeteries | photos by Jane Linders, Katherine Bish, and Andrea Avery
Love Letter to New York | by Andrea Avery
Robert Keyes | by Aaron Belz
In Appreciation: The Pruitt-Igoe Nature Preserve | by Thomas Crone
As Grandmother Neared Death | by Lindsey Durway
Say Hello to Papa Legba | by Franklin Jennings
Jackrabbit Stew | by Patrick Landewe
From Out of Nowhere | by K. Curtis Lyle
Oh Ye Of Little Faith | by Andrea Noble
Variations on a Rag for William S. Burroughs | by Randall Roberts
Torn Map Home | by Stefene Russell
As a Means to Love Him More Dearly | by Eric Erfan Vickers
Thank Christ for Easier to Argue | by James Weber
Southern Spine | by James Weber
Andrea Avery, Jenna Bauer, Andrea Day, Thomas Crone, Caroline Huth, Jane Linders, Carmelita Nuñez, Kerry Zimmerman
From Way Down Here To Way Up There | by Chris King
Los Angeles is an underrated city for walking. It was just a few miles, from the café to Calloway’s, with plenty to see along the way, starting with the palm trees, which always alert me to vertical space, how very high it stretches, from here to whatever else is out there, if you keep on going. I wished I had a joint. That’s not a noble feeling. I wished Calloway was walking with me, her hand in mine. By the time I was wishing I was in a car, I had checked out of the experience of walking and decided to catch up on telephone messages, instead.
Sidney had returned my call, about Figment’s ghost. She had been traveling in Indian country, but was back home in Missouri, now. I called, while she was in between loads of laundry, and she gushed with stories about her travels. She had a contract job to mediate between the red nations and federal law enforcement agencies, regarding initiatives designed to put in place more consistent methods of record-keeping. Indian country, she said, is a haven for fugitives.
In helping the cops stage community meetings, Sidney felt like she took the temperature of the tribes, and they are not in good shape. She heard far worse, but one story kept returning to her thoughts. On one of the larger reservations she visited, the high school girls were all experimenting with lesbian sex. Parents kept catching their girls, together, in the act, and they were disturbed. When Sidney talked to the girls about their sexuality, a dangerously taboo subject for their parents, the girls said they were turning to other girls simply because they were bored. They had already had sex with all of the boys.
It was hard to go from a story like that to killing crickets in my basement, but Sidney had a way of understanding everything, all at once.
“So, let me get this straight,” she said. “He came back, twice, each time less mature. The first time, he established a code for communing through crickets—he said to look for him in cricket form. That didn’t work. You couldn’t connect. The second time, he came back as a younger version of himself, and he masturbated on your couch. I can see why you wouldn’t want any more of that. But I’m not sure what good killing crickets would do.”
I explained that it was easier for him to come back in a place of becoming, so taking out the crickets removed a point of entry. If he really wanted to come to me, he would have to come as himself, which seemed to get harder and harder for him to do. My strategy was to wear him out, until he gave up the ghost and stayed in the spirit world.
After a pause, Sidney said, “I would have to pray on that. Have you prayed on it?”
“Yeah,” I lied. “No,” I admitted. “Not really. I tried.”
“I respect how seriously you are taking the spirit world,” she said, “but maybe you are thinking a little too much. Grandpa would say to pray. Or, wait for a dream. You could come down here and we could pour a lodge, to ask for guidance.”
“You remember who this is, right? Figment? The guy who came to see you?”
“I’ve been seeing his little face, ever since you told me that he crossed over,” Sidney said. “I remember him.”
“How did it go, when he came to pray with you?”
“He was hurting. We prayed.” Sidney paused. She sighed. “When I heard he had crossed over, despite his age, his terribly sad and young age, I understood. That’s all I feel comfortable saying,” she said, then went back to her Wednesday evening chores.
I watched how high the palm trees stretch, from here to there. I thought of how Sidney first connected with the spirit world, when she died in childbirth, left her body, hovered in the room around her hysterical parents, and then lifted, up and away from the hospital, in this traffic jam of brilliant beams of light. Then, she jumped into one of those forces of light and instantly was transported back into her bleeding body, feverishly praying to survive and be a mother for her baby. The doctors got a vital signal back. Then, she knew those brilliant beams of light were fervent prayers. She vowed, from then on, to be one of the people praying with intensity, providing a method of transportation for spirits that still had some good work to do, down here on Earth.
Maybe Figment still had some good work to do, down here on Earth.
The palm trees were a botanical example of the grasping one does in prayer, the reaching from way down here to way up there. Like the Sun Dance tree. I was fortunate to have touched something so holy. I stretched my arms out in the glorious sunshine, in this mild and coastal atmosphere, so distant from the brutality of August in central Nebraska. On the reservation, everyone attending the ceremony is invited on Tree Day out into the woods, where the youngest among us cuts the first blow, with the axe, into the tree Grandfather has chosen for the ceremony; then, the Sun Dancers take turns chopping it down, hand by hand. On my first visit, to my first ceremony, when I was an unbeliever, numb with grief, Tree Day was my first indication that Sidney was for real. I’ll never forget the savage seriousness with which this suburban soccer mom sunk an axe into that sacred tree.
I sat, absent-minded, beside her, later that day, tying prayer ties, a pinch of tobacco in a scrap of red fabric, sealed with a prayer and a twist of twine, then attached to the Sun Dance tree, lying on its side, on the ground. I admitted it was hopeless for me to pray. Sidney asked for the privilege of praying for me. I said she could pray for some clarity for my mother. She buried her only daughter at the age of eighteen. When our prayers were all tied to the tree, the sacred dancers pushed and pulled the tree up into position and potted it into a hole in the Earth, prepared with spirit food, securing it so tight that men could hang from the tree during the ceremony, and writhe until buffalo bone and leather, threaded through their chest, burst through the skin and muscle to send the man and his prayer hurtling to the Earth, in pain and ecstasy.
I was at Calloway’s now. I hid, beneath her mutant lemon tree, where she had kissed me. I leaned against it, as I had been permitted to lean against the Sun Dance tree, after the ceremony was over. That was after I had seen the spirits in the night, and come to believe—in what, precisely, I could not say, even then, standing under the mutant lemon tree, where Calloway had kissed me. And I prayed, beneath that mutant lemon tree. I prayed, as the Winnebago had taught me, on the reservation. I prayed for the Earth and the ancestors and the spirits and the animals and the plants and the planets and my totem (Frog, they told me, in the lodge) and my elders and the Winnebago and Sidney and my mother and the children and the children of the future and, at the end, when I had prayed for so many things, if I felt I had earned the right to a prayer of my own, then I prayed a small prayer for myself. I wanted to ask Frog and Creator what I should do for the spirit of Figment. Did he have any more good work to do, down here on Earth; should I help him to appear? That was my prayer. But I didn’t think I had earned the right to a prayer of my own. I had not been observant, I had not prayed, I hadn’t offered even the smallest ceremony for the dead frogs I had found in my swimming pool, no different than a Christian finding Christ himself, drowned in his back yard, several mornings in a row. So, instead, I gave thanks, for the children of the future and the children of today and my mother and Sidney and the Winnebago and the elders and Frog and the planets and the plants and the lonely giants of the palm trees towering above the bungalows and this abnormal lemon tree and Calloway kissing me and Lee and Lesa and the animals and the spirits and Figment and my dead kid sister and dead Meat and Angelina’s stillborn baby and Patricia Diaz’s aborted fetus, too, and every other dead baby I ever left behind and didn’t even know about and the Earth and the ancestors, all y’all, did I leave anybody out? Thank you, very much. I love you, very much.
Suddenly, I wasn’t alone. Calloway was watching, from the doorway.
I was drenched in tears. A rope of snot spanned from my nose to the Earth. I laughed at that, and snorted it out, and rested my head against the tree.
“If you don’t mind a hurricane of mucus,” I said, “you can join
me, over here.”
I turned my back to the tree, so I could watch her. What an excellent person to teach a newborn woman how to walk. Every step shot from the hip, and with what legs. She had her fingertips tucked into her front pants pockets.
“Remind me,” I said, “never to be your boring husband. Let there always be this distance, between us, so I can watch you walk toward me.”
She leaned against me, against the tree. On a man, there is this thing, that stretches, from here, up to there. Mine stretched, up.
“I’m going to share a secret,” she said. She put her index finger against my lips, to form a cross. “She knew she blew your spiritual awakening.”
“How did you know I was praying?”
“The same way I know that you want me.” She grabbed my dick, in a way that said, yes indeed, she knew this thing, in all its particularity. “Vivid physical evidence.”
“Maybe my prayers are coming true,” I said. “Maybe I was praying you would love me, today.”
She kept her hand down there. Yes. That is exactly how it’s shaped.
“I just sent my last client home,” Calloway said. “Celeste. She might have noticed you, if she weren’t looking, in terror, at the ends of her legs. She is walking in heels, in broad daylight, for the first time in her life. Pray for her.”
She brought her hands up my body and settled them on my chest.
“I want you to be my boyfriend,” she said. She kissed me. I was eighteen between my legs, again. “My boyfriend. For now. Like you said, let’s play.”
I groaned, and gave in to her hug. A last spasm of tears spurted out of me, perhaps in lieu of jism.
“Lesa gives her blessing,” she whispered, in my ear. “She blesses everything. I told her everything.” Now, the tears were in lieu of nothing.
“If this lemon tree could talk,” she said, “in tongues,” for she was crying, too.
“I am sorry I wasn’t ready,” I said, “for Lesa. It was awful.”
“I am sorry, too, for Lesa,” she said. “And I am grateful, for me. For us.”
“I never wanted a man,” I said. “I never accepted it. Then, the man turned into a woman. In that way, the world was told that I had slept with a man. When I never, never, slept with a man. Only …”
“I know,” she said, “your limitations.”
“If she had been born a woman,” I said.
“You must never say that.”
“If she had been further along, when I met her,” I said. “But, then, there would never have been a Lee, for me. No Lee? No Jules. Not this man.”
“Then, I thank God for Lee.”
She pulled away. “Would you like to pray with me?”
I laughed, spraying tears. “I just did,” I said. I laughed some more. “I feel like a kid who’s already been to church once, today.”
I felt her strength, as she pinned me to the tree.
“Dear Lord,” she said, “walk with me, as I walk with this good man. Let me be true to You, and him, and me. Walk with him, so he is true to You, and me, and him. Dear holy Father, thank you for all your forgiveness, for all your healing, for all your love. Walk with Celeste, too, dear Lord, today. She is only trying to find You, and herself, and her love. She forgives You. Please, forgive her. In Your name, I pray, amen.”
I sighed, and spun around, and said, “Will you take me on a bike ride and buy me an ice cream cone?”
Chris King is a newspaper editor, musician and producer. “From Way Down Here To Way Up There” is excerpted from his novel in progress, The Cricket That Didn’t Sing, which is a ghost story, a transgendered romance, an American Indian spiritual narrative, and the report of the disintegration of a reality TV show about an obese black rapper.