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Muse 23

These are just a few excerpts from the many inspiring selections in Muse 23. To order a copy and read the entire issue, please visit our Support the Muse/Order Copies page.


Ken Haas, The Herebefore

Someone needed to break the news.
Her father had passed overnight.
I drove early
as I had every day for months,
as I would for two weeks more,
to wait on a snaking line,
masked in the fog,
for visiting hours.
She was sitting in the easy chair
next to her bed,
morphine drip hissing.
I rolled the food cart away,
pulled a folding chair up close,
smoothed her hand,
called her younger sister
two time zones east, as arranged,
passed her my phone,
which she pressed to an ear,
listening to a soft voice.
Cancer had entered her brain.
She could understand but not speak.
Her eyes filled and drained
like they had no other purpose.
These things
that pretend they just happen
but we know otherwise.
There is no good in them. None.
No learning. No lining. No blessing.
I squeezed next to my love
in the padded chair.
Her arms poured around me.
I have never been held like that.
Not even the day I was born.
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Oghenetega Jewo, Blood Warrior

before the beginning, before genotype, when there were just veins
             and ventricles, filled with coursing blood, scarlet pools of liquid life.
                       before nature scythed cells in half, and left the residues from intrauterine
cocoons, to unfurl in cascades of illnesses, 'til blood became anti-existence,
                       I would sit under bloodred sunsets, with ogbanje, and wonder why the
sun was also bleeding. she would throw pebbles at the far-fetched sky—
            and ask if the primordial thing eating up the sun into shrouded concavity,
                      also wields the same sickle that halved her erythrocytes in a bloodbath?
                      the day she was born, her dying mother stretched forth bloodied hands
and tied two waist beads to her miniature body, one to pacify the spirits
         contending for her in the lands where the dead live again,
            and one to attach her sickled feet firmly into the soil in the land of the living.
sometimes she says she hears them beckoning her in her dreams.
        the sickle-shaped cells in her vessels respond in frenzied spurts of disease—
              their fenestrations morph into insatiable vortices, subsuming her health
in hungry gulps of infirmity, till she wonders if she truly is like other humans.
the last time she visited for the holidays, I asked for a moonlight story.
                 she instead told me about her only memory of going to church—
         saying she knelt with palms clasped in fervent supplication, asking for the strength
to see through the eyes of tomorrow, and glimpse sneak-peeks of the possibilities
                that elude the present. an era when saber-toothed stigmatization does not
bite hungrily into the delicate vessels we christened: sickle-cell warriors.
ogbanje: an Igbo word meaning “children who come and go,” reflecting the belief of the Igbo tribe of Nigeria in reincarnation. Mothers who gave birth to children that died from sickle cell anemia would call those subsequently born to them ogbanje.
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Stacie Eirich, Geography Lesson

Icy rain taps against the windows, the lilting echo 
of voices speaking Spanish 
floating by from the kitchens. 
The sky is a darkening blue-gray
the air in the house drafty with cold. 
My fingers flex as they type, warming to the keyboard 
against the chill. My daughter sits across from me 
working on her geography. She shows me pictures from NASA 
of purple-blue stars in Orion, asks me if I’ve heard 
of a body of water called sound. 
I tell her I have, and we muse about 
how a river or a lake is like music, and has a voice. 
She settles into her lessons with determined force
her scarf wrapped around her head, tye dye colors brightening 
an otherwise gray day. 
We drift
into a comfortable, mutual silence 
that softens and expands, the minutes falling 
to hours as the ice continues 
its tap dance across the window panes. 
The afternoon waxes 
into evening, she has finished her lesson 
and my fingers have found that one sentence 
that might have been good enough 
to keep. 
We pack our things and walk slowly together, discovering 
how time and space, the weather and the way 
the smallness of our days 
and the largeness of our dreams 
bring us together. 
She laces her fingers in mine and we continue, one step 
at a time, into the next hour, the hard rain
tap-dancing on, icicles shimmering
creating beauty from grayness, her beside me 
warmth from the bitter cold.         


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Lorraine Comanor, An Unspoken Accord (excerpt)

           “It’s not supposed to be like this, is it?” She unbuttoned her overblouse and pulled down the elastic waist band of what I assumed were her old maternity pants. “Because I’m not.”
             “No,” I said, taking in my best friend’s five-month pregnant-looking belly, which explained her recent Mr. Bo Jangles getups.   Her youngest was almost five and I knew she didn’t want more.
            “John and I have been keeping our distance, but I showed him last night. He’s sending me to H.P. Not good, is it?”
             “No,” I said, wondering how, being in an observing profession, I hadn’t noticed something amiss. Perhaps I’d just been looking at her face which, I was relieved to see, was almost back to normal.
             A few weeks before, we’d  harvested her walnut trees and then taken the kids – her four and my two – to the flea market to shop for school supplies, she providing lessons on what you could safely buy and what you best left alone. A few days later, when I’d stopped by her house at the end of my surgical schedule, she’d been slow to answer the bell and then had not opened the door all the way. Her left cheek bone was yellow-green, what I could see of the right was swollen, tending towards purple, her lower lip split....