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Selections from Awards 35: Hunger and Thirst
 
from the Editor’s Note
 
What is hunger? What is thirst? In the literary world, it’s often more than a rumbling in the belly or a dryness in the throat. Hunger and thirst represent the things we most desperately want, the desires and longings of our innermost selves. Sometimes they’re what we most need, sustenance for the mind, body, and soul; yet, sometimes what we want most isn’t what’s good for us. In this issue, you’ll find poems and stories that reveal many sorts of hungers and many sorts of thirsts, whether expressed humorously or seriously, baldly or covertly, in our own time or in times past.
 
Our four Award winners delve into hunger and thirst, each in a different way. Perhaps the most overt depiction of hunger comes in Jacob M. Appel’s Second-Prize-winning story, “Paracosmos.” Here, a young girl loses a best friend, and in her deep desire for another she creates one, a girl who may or may not be, as her mother discovers, imaginary.  Kristina Gorcheva-Newberry’s First-Prize-winning story, “Boys on the Moskva River,” features a narrator consumed by the alternating need to live up to and escape his older brother’s dangerous legacy. A blacksmith in First-Prize poetry winner Sarah Crossland’s “Rakkaus” longs for a wife, going so far as to create a “tin and copper bride” in his loneliness. And Lynn Shoemaker tries to fight against the hunger for answers in the face of natural disaster in his Second-Prize-winning poem “Survivor Ocean, Suicide Sea” with the mantra of “I shall not want. I shall not want.”
 
And this is just the beginning. The theme continues in all its permutations with our honorable mentions, finalists, and semi-finalists, as well as with the writers selected through our general submission process throughout the year. Indeed, while you might say that all writing is, to some degree, about hunger and thirst, the varied approaches to the theme in this issue show a remarkable breadth of creativity, thoughtfulness, playfulness, and skill. Make up a mug of hot cocoa and put a few cookies on a plate—no reading on an empty stomach here!—and come feasting with us.
 
 
 
Sarah Crossland
 
Safranschou
 
Hundreds of years ago, a man in Germany
was burned on a pyre of his own fake saffron
according to the forgery laws of the land.
 
They caught me mixing
silk threads with beet and empty-
flavored stamens
and this is my punishment:
 
The fire blooms me.
 
Flames secret
as a crocus unleashing
its first color
in challenge to the bruise-
pushed dawn.
 
I know there must be counterfeits
for beauty—
 
Not sunrose.
Not valentine, not dame
of the heart. If I say red
you will think of existing
 
flowers but I am trying to name
the color developing
into my hands. From my wrists
roped to the prison pole,
where skin sheeting
holds on as if tethered
with only a song.
 
You cannot know how colors
chime until you listen—
 
The red inside
a mother’s skirt,
bloodberry. A throated
loon feather if birds could be made
of mostly smoke.
 
In time I will be
made of mostly smoke.
 
If this is dying—
all my calm
bones slowly being let out,
eroded to, their hollows
confessed—then let me have it,
let me call it beautiful.
 
 
 
 
Daniel Lusk
 
Geraniums
 
—for Henry 1938 - 2010
 
I wanted to tell you to photograph
the blond woman who leaned
out the upstairs window next door
to water geraniums in a window box. 
 
She wore a blue blouse
the geraniums were pink. 
Or she wore a pink blouse
the flowers were blue. Or
she wore no blouse her nipples
were pink and her eyes were blue.
Her hair gathered loosely up
by a flowered scarf.
 
You faced me and could not
have seen what I saw—
a woman smiling over some flowers,
her hair, her blouse, her bare arm
honeyed with sun;
she was bending toward you
with her watering can.
 
You were losing your eyes;
I wanted to give you the gift
of this photograph. Maybe
you could paint it yet, the way
Vuillard would have done,
on a scrap of cardboard, 
her blouse, the loosened hair
luminous in the forever afternoon. 
 
Maybe you knew her name—
someone who comes to the shore
every year.  Maybe
a guest of the neighbors,
though she leaned from the window
and watered those flowers
as if they were her own.
 
In the old days we could have
watched for her to go out of the house
and down to the beach with her towel.
We could have followed, pretending
to wade nearby where she could see us,
could feel like sun on her skin
our unabashed admiration.
 
And later we might have found
some excuse for knocking at her door,
for presenting our hearts to be broken.
 
 
 
 
Kristina Gorcheva-Newberry
 
from Boys on the Moskva River
 
When my brother died in the winter of 1998, the snow fell all night and all day and all the following week, so they didn’t find him right away, the contour of his body barely delineated but otherwise indistinguishable from the shrouded, ice-etched forms. Out the window of my brother’s luxurious apartment, the Moskva River appeared frozen, layered in white as though bandaged with strips of gauze.  But if you stared at it long enough, if you let your eyes adjust to the ossifying whiteness all around, you could see the river tremble and shift underneath the snow, wet and sunken and hollow in the middle like a puncture wound.
 
“We need to find your father,” my mother said, filling her cup with more coffee. “He can help carry the casket.”
 
“You need to eat something, Mom,” I said, turning away from the window that still held the misty imprint of my hand.  “Really.  You don’t sleep, you don’t eat. You’ll get sick.”
 
She peered into her coffee, her forehead strained with wrinkles, eyes squinting hard as though she was trying to read her fortune in the impervious blackness of the cup.    
 
Our father left us two months before my birth. He didn’t find another woman, and he didn’t hate our mother or his two-year-old son, who was always sick and crying and not sleeping. But our father wanted to be free, free like a bird. If he had wings, he’d told my mother, he would fly away.  But he had legs, and so he walked and didn’t come back, his fate a mystery.
 
“Somewhere, in the old phonebook, there’s his parents’ number and address.  Perhaps he’s there,” my mother said.
 
“What will I say to him? Your older son is dead, and even though you haven’t seen him for twenty-six years, asshole, we need you to be a pallbearer? And what about me, Mom?  Technically, he’s my father too.”
 
She didn’t respond, her face buried in her hands. She wasn’t old, although right there and then, she could’ve been a grandmother, dressed in a stretched dark-brown sweater, with her gray hair swept behind her ears, frail, sunless skin, shoulders weighed low from the years of servitude—to her parents, to us, to my brother.   
 
“It isn’t about you, Leova,” she breathed out the words.
 
“It’s never about me. But always about him. Tell you what, Mom, he didn’t care about us. He preferred the city, the streets, to his family. He was just like our father.”
 
Again, she didn’t respond, her eyes tracing after a covey of flurries spinning webs behind the window glass. Somewhere, in the yard, there was my brother’s shoe, buried under a heap of snow.
 
 
 
 
Julie Taylor
 
Wildfire
 
He started the fire, but no flames took hold.
Heat ate all the oxygen that last night
of his month long disappearance.
 
Had I found him then,
opening the door to the cabin
would have caused an explosion,
could have killed someone.
 
Opening the door, days after he died,
soot stirred and settled again.
 
Bananas were baked on the counter,
too black for bread, everything
was melted off the walls.
 
No time visible on the clock,
La Persistencia de la Memoria destroyed.
 
He started the fire here,
with his lips on mine,
blowing air in me as if through an oboe reed.
He blew so much air into me
 
flames took hold.  He pounded my chest
like a tympani and awoke a burning field,
my Norwegian grandmothers chanting,
 
å spise, drikke på ditt ord.
Oh, he ate and drank me
like that field on fire.
 
The neighbors running with buckets,
with wet rags, anything to contain it.
 
Nothing contains me now,
untying these tight knots
on the bags from the funeral home,
stretching out my soot covered hands.
 
Oh, this burning field expands
the picture, goes past the frame,
 
is frameless.  This field of flames
burns us lying down together and rising up,
burns the house, the barn, the cattle,
 
burns these words and this song,
the rooster crowing another dawn.
 
 
 
 
Lynn Shoemaker
 
Survivor Ocean, Suicide Sea
 
a psalm
 
Pray rise, reach, now overreach.
Cresting, yours. Collapse of it, yours.
                    
Again and again, time spires
a desperate shimmer.
 
If I cannot enter, what God
shall I pray to, the God of Cesium 137,
 
the God of Plutonium 239?
Godzilla’s story is Godzilla’s joke.
 
I shall not want. I shall not want.
Why has your shimmering spared me?
 
What promise of yours could I
possibly keep in the next nanosecond
 
or two? Though I lie down in darkness.
Dark bodies keep their word.
 
 
 
 
Jacob Appel
 
from Paracosmos
 
Leslie traced their difficulties to before the parrot fever scare, to before even the chimney sweep’s scrotum, to the summer night when her husband proposed naming the baby Quarantina.  “She’ll be Tina, for short,” said Hugh, who’d recently been appointed public health officer for the county, and only then did Leslie realize he wasn’t joking.  Other names on his list included Hygienia, Inoculata, and Malaria.  “Doesn’t Malaria Malansky have a ring to it?” he asked.  “She’d be a constant reminder of the work that’s yet to be done in the Third World.”  Leslie preferred Victoria or Elizabeth.   In the end, they’d settled upon Eve—after Madame Curie’s daughter—but not before the man who was supposed to understand her completely had referred to their future child as a “missed opportunity.”  So she shouldn’t have been terribly shocked, nine years later, when Hugh’s intransigence made Evie the pariah of Mrs. Driscoll’s fourth-grade classroom.
 
Evie’s best friend that autumn was a chatty, shameless redhead named Kim Pitchford who lived two doors away, and hardly an afternoon passed without that relentless tyke jabbering up a typhoon in their living room.  But at lunch one overcast Sunday, Kim informed Evie—and Hugh—that carrying an umbrella increased the likelihood of rain.  This roused the scientific lion in Leslie’s husband.  Hugh promptly delivered an extemporaneous sermon on cause and effect, which began with the unfortunate remark, “Take the scrotum of the chimney sweep,” and led to a tale of how some long-dead English surgeon had deduced the relationship between soot and genital tumors.  Leslie returned from her tennis match to hear Evie asking, “Papa, what’s a chimney sweep?”  It wasn’t until three hours later that Rebecca Pitchford phoned to demand an explanation.
 
“You have to apologize and promise her it won’t happen again,” Leslie warned her husband.  “What were you thinking?  Were you thinking?”   
 
“I’m not going to censor myself for some airhead,” snapped Hugh.  “Men have scrotums.  Men die of cancer.  That’s reality—and nine years old is more than old enough for some basic reality.  If I’m going to call Rebecca about anything, it’s about all that standing water on their property.  To mosquitoes carrying West Nile virus, each of those birdbaths looks like a five- course meal.”
 
And so the conflict with Kim’s parents spiraled out of control.  Rebecca Pitchford wouldn’t be squaring the circle anytime soon—there was no arguing with Hugh about that—but she did have a vengeful streak, and two weeks later, Evie was the only fourth-grader in Hager Hills not invited to Kim’s tenth birthday party.  In fact, the redhead dropped Evie cold, carrying with her their daughter’s other friends, until one afternoon Leslie’s beauty came off the school bus sobbing, “Nobody loves me anymore.”   
 
I love you,” cried Leslie, hugging the child to her chest.  “Papa loves you.”  And to console the girl, she promised the only gift Evie wanted even more than the companionship of her peers:  a talking parakeet.   
 
Ever since they’d visited the aviary at the Bronx Zoo, Evie had been pleading for a conversational bird.  The girl could draw colorful mynahs and cockatiels as though conjured from her imagination, then label each species with precision.  She knew both English and Latin names from memory.  Even Leslie’s personal distaste for birds—their odor, their racket—proved no match for the tears of her rejected child.
 
“I hope you’re not going to be upset,” she implored Hugh in bed that night.  “It was killing me, seeing her like that. . . . So I agreed we’d get her a parakeet.” 
 
“Not in ten million years,” said Hugh.  “Are you insane?”
 
“I know it’s going to be a hassle—”
 
“A hassle?  It’s a hazard.  Jesus, Leslie.  We’re in the middle of a silent psittacosis epidemic.”  Hugh’s eyes locked on hers.  “Parrot fever.  Ornithosis.  Two years ago, a pet shop owner died right down the turnpike in New Brunswick.   Do you really want to expose Evie to pneumonia—to the risk of meningitis?”  
 
“But plenty of people own parakeets,” pleaded Leslie.     
 
“Plenty of people also smoke cigarettes and eat raw shellfish and ride motorcycles without helmets.  Evie isn’t plenty of people.”  Hugh caressed her bare shoulder.  “Look, I’m sorry.  If I’d known Rebecca would be such a bitch, I’d have swallowed my pride.”
 
“You still could . . . ”
 
“I already phoned her from the office.  She wasn’t interested.” 
 
So the next evening, they sat down together with Evie in her intensely pink bedroom and explained why she couldn’t have a parakeet.  To Leslie’s surprise, their daughter merely shrugged off the disappointment.  “Lauren brought her macaw for our sleepover,” said Evie.  “And her macaw knows five thousand words.”
 
Leslie exchanged a nervous glance with her husband.  “Lauren?” she asked.
 
“My new best friend,” said Evie.  Then she turned to a patch of vacant air between the halogen floor lamp and the colossal stuffed leopard that her uncle had won for her at a carnival, and she ordered Lauren, “Tell your macaw to say something.”
 
 
 
 
Rosalind Pace
 
Wanting to Read Sanskrit
 
or some other language we might
invent to speak of what we long for, 
we’d need a quiet study, facing
south, and time enough to hear
the planet turn away from itself
and grasshoppers bend their legs
to kneel on thin leaves of jasmine.
 
An ancient Irish alphabet evoked the trees—
each letter named a tree so what was said
was rooted in what mattered.
 
Sinhalese letters: the tiny bones of the hand.
Alpha, beta—first the ox, then the house,
slaves guiding oxen back and forth in the fields.
 
What language would grow from the way
you and I bend over the sink, smooth the sheets,
place a marker in the book, keep words
to ourselves? We’ve always wanted
to pay attention to the curl of an eyelash,
to the trailing wake of a Q. Question.
Quagmire.
 
But Sanskrit, that perfect language,
eludes us. The language that means “together.”
The refined, ideal language, once sacred,
whose syntax is never ambiguous,
whose words hang like flowering vines
from granite ledges, each tendril enclosing
its secret light.
 
 
 
 
Adam Houle
 
Blueberries on Sugar Loaf
 
In a false spring, at the backend
of Sugar Loaf where a north wind
has one hard frost left to threaten,
the early harvest sputters tartly.
 
But I pick along the bushes, pucker
when each blue globe bursts
its skin, and the collected skins
darken my lips and tongue
 
like some grafted thing,
nearly, newly me, and I believe
it’s likely I stain God’s tongue,
that all I am is crushed
 
into a sour, inky pulp.
This is called the good wait. 
Then a promised cold snap.
A sudden hand that plucks.
 
 
 
 
Sandra Hunter
 
from Angel in Glasgow
 
An early lesson: the cold is a friend, stops the mind from reaching forward or back. Everything slows down into now. The cold is safe. Minoo lets go into not-feeling, stands outside Tesco’s in the late gray afternoon. The air is fragile, comes curling in the mist along the narrow streets of Glasgow.
 
The Brechin Bar has evening warmth and anonymity, but it isn’t open yet. She is trying to get the nerve up to go into Tesco where the automatic doors emit blasts of tepid air each time they roll apart.
 
There are electric lights everywhere. Wasteful light pouring like gold over the ice and the brown snow, running like jewels down sides of the tiled houses, the buildings, the bus stops.
 
A man gives her a couple of pound coins. Another man gets out of a car and also hands her a pound coin.
 
Things to know about men:
Men who give things will take things.
Sometimes men will kill you if they can’t think of anything else to do.
Sometimes men will kill you if you say the wrong thing.
Her mother: Not the children.
 
The coins are heavy. They, too, catch the electric light. She can go into Tesco’s and buy food. She stands, waiting for the next moment to somehow propel her into buying things, holding things in a plastic bag.
 
Here is a cold place with ice, many thousands of miles from here that used to be home. When she arrived, the church put her with a family: scared-looking old people, who offered her pale biscuits, honey and thick cream. She left after two days. She hid from the church pastor and his wife. She is ungrateful. She imagines them all saying it in their round thick accents. Ungrateful gurrl.  She keeps to the corners, the edges where the snow melts into melting leaves, and the ice forms over, buries the tracks. She is only one of the many who were brought from Northern Sudan. She sees them, the pastor and his wife, walking with the young girls.  Several of the young Sudanese girls are expecting babies and a number have become pregnant since they arrived. The pastor and his wife are always busy. They don’t have time to look for the ones who slip away into Glasgow’s narrow streets. But she can take care of herself.
 
New skills:
Scavenging from the bus stop: A padded jacket with a hood under a concrete bench. She picked it up, slipped herself into its arms and walked away.
Stealing from the greengrocer: Two apples and an orange. The smell stayed for three days.
A place to sleep: A shed with a caved-in roof at the back of the parking lot near the train station. Moved rotting coils of rope and a broken swivel chair aside, used a sleeping bag she found thrown over the parking lot fence. It didn’t smell and there wasn’t anything nasty inside. The joyful surprise of waking warm: I have been asleep.
 
 
 
 
Katherine Bode-Lang
 
In Drought, in Rain
 
Out buying your birthday gift I run into a friend, new
in love.  He hasn’t slept in days; the thought of the woman
wound so tightly around his chest he can barely breathe. 
 
I am just buying you a book.  I tell you this over dinner. 
We eat, remember storms in the desert, when every surface
glowed with the electricity of the sky—dusty wind across the bed,
 
the morning wet and polished.  Now the cat sleeps on our quiet bed,
her paws across the pillows.  Our breathing is steady, patient.  But here:
my arms reach over you like a tree bough, the light on the mountains. 
 
No, I come to you in the morning as if you were a wheat field,
an orchard, and I am a bird who has been hungry all night.
 
 
 
 
Janet McNally
 
Gretel, After
 
I think I remember my mother. White hands
on needlepoint, the moon shining
on clean bed sheets. Crushed raspberries
in a bone china cup. I was so young, so
quiet. I didn’t know the aviary secrets
 
of the forest, the way birds will eat
the trails you leave. What I knew of leaves
was only what my father shoveled over the
dirt of a dozen graves, and still I never
wondered what it meant to die. That’s why
 
I wanted to slip my hand into the witch’s
hand, let her mother me with caramel.
She smelled of burnt sugar and chocolate cake,
unlike my own mother, who wore the kind of flowers
no one can eat: daffodil, delphinium, the white
hush of oleander.
 
Sometimes I dream she spoke to me
through her fever, placing damp jasmine
in ropy vines around my neck. Press the poison
to your lips, she said, and the petals will wax. They’ll violet
your skin like a bruise.
 
The truth is, when she died she said nothing,
just breathed in and out until the metronome
stopped. We turned away, crumbling
bread in our hands, and walked toward the farthest
edge of our yard.
 
So you could say I wanted this, that hunger
cinched my ribcage until I went to find a new
mother, safe in her house built of sweet violence
and simple syrup. It’s true that I’d sacrifice anyone
for the crack of sugar between my teeth. 
Whatever happens, I’ll pretend
her last word was no.
 
 
 
 
 
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