Category Archives: Print Archive

Archives of our poetry, fiction, and non-fiction in print.

Featured Poem From Our Newest Issue: “At the Degas Exhibit” by Gregory Fraser

As you all know, our double issue of Five Points Vol. 15, No. 1 & 2 is on sale now, and we’d like to give you a little preview of one of the poems you’ll find inside:

At the Degas Exhibit

by Gregory Fraser


The docent wends us to The Dance Class

and it all flits back: the studio downtown,

few bucks an hour, ragging off the finger


grease of toe-shoed cygnets, tutu-ed swans,

scudding hardwood and ignoring both

of me—spray of acne, high-top Keds.


I would clatter on the local after school

(weekends once the Christmas pageant neared),

my face at every stop floating outside


the window beside my seat—a mask

tried on by stars in movie ads, commuters

cooling heels for later cars. Then Windex,


buff, till six, waving hello, farewell,

from glass to glass, plié to pointe—my hand

emitting squeaks, eliding dainty prints and streaks.


In my knapsack: comics, Catcher, lunch

untouched. And never once did I happen on

the courage even to speak to one of those


sugar plums of Rittenhouse, Society Hill.

Degas’s girls, our guide informs, practice

attitudes, inspected by their master


(one Jules Perrot) propped on his staff.

Note the Parisian mothers daubed

on the wall in back. Yet I see only tights


that bear the stamp McDevitt Dance,

hear gripes about third position, giddy talk

of boys. And search the sides and corners


for my Old World counterpart—some

sponge-and-bucket kid from a ragged edge—

undersized, near-sighted, invisible to art.


Here’s a little more info on Gregory Fraser:

Fraser.3Fraser is the author of two poetry collections, Strange Pietà (Texas Tech, 2003) and Answering the Ruins (Northwestern, 2009). He is also the co-author, with Chad Davidson, of the workshop textbook Writing Poetry: Creative and Critical Approaches (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2008) and the composition textbook Analyze Anything: A Guide to Critical Reading and Writing (Continuum, 2012). His poetry has appeared in journals including the Paris Review, the Southern Review, the Gettysburg Review, and Ploughshares. The recipient of a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, Fraser serves as associate professor of English and creative writing at the University of West Georgia.

Purchase copies of Five Points here!


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Featured Prose: Elizabeth’s Spencer’s “On the Hill”

Elizabeth Spencer. Photo by John Rosenthal.

Elizabeth Spencer. Photo by John Rosenthal.

As you all might know, Five Points Vol. 15 No. 1&2 has just been released, and one of the stories you can expect to find inside is Elizabeth Spencer’s “On the Hill.”

Here’s a little bit of info about Ms. Spencer:

Elizabeth Spencer was born and raised in Mississippi. She has lived for long periods in Italy and Canada and now lives in North Carolina. She has published nine novels including The Voice at the Back Door, The Salt Line, and The Night Travelers, plus a memoir titled Landscapes of the Heart. The latest collection of her stories, The Southern Woman (Modern Library), includes The Light in the Piazza, which was recently made into a Broadway musical.

Enjoy the story!

“On the Hill” by Elizabeth Spencer

Regarding Barry and Jan Daugherty you first had to know that they lived out about two miles from town. Lots of people do live out in wooded areas here; the whole town is filled with trees so that the extent of it is not easily determined. Even so the Daughertys were to be thought of as distant. The little maps which accompanied their frequent invitations were faithfully followed, for they gave wonderful parties.

They had not been very long in Eltonville, only since last winter, it would seem. Exact dates of their arrival and acquisition of the property were not easily determined. The fact was nobody could pin down any exact information about the Daughertys. Jan, in fact, sometimes went by another name—Fisher. But it was easy to think she was in the modern habit of retaining her maiden name, or was it the name of a former husband? The Daughertys, if asked, gave rather round-about answers. Jan said, in regard to the name, “Oh, I keep it for Riley.” Riley was her son. Then was there a Mr. Fisher, somewhere off in her past? It was hard not to sound too inquisitive. Riley was a blonde little boy of about ten. When guests arrived, he ran about taking everybody’s coats and then vanished with them, upstairs. He reappeared at departure time, looking sleepy but holding wraps by the armload.

As for the girl, younger, probably six, she clearly was Barry’s daughter. But was she Jan’s? Were there two divorces in the background? Not unusual: who cared? It wasn’t really that anyone would care, one way or the other; it was just that nobody knew.

Going to the Daugherty house was like a progress to an estate. The road off the state highway wound through trees, but broke into the open on a final climb. The house itself sat free of all but a couple of flanking oaks. Its galleries suggested an outlook over vistas.

It was a joy to come there. How had they managed so soon to find such nice people? For a dinner invitation, you arrived just before dark and parked in an ample space. Barry himself would be just inside the door. He had a broad smile, skin that always looked lightly tanned. Sometimes a tie, sometimes not. He had picked up easily on local habits. His hair was dark brown, sprinkled with gray. He never slicked it down. And Jan? Well, she knew how to dress and how to greet. The feeling imparted was that every- thing was under control, and that the arriving guests were the choice people of the earth.


It would soon be dark. Looking out toward the terrace from where she sat at the end of her table, pouring coffee while Barry refilled wine glasses, Jan would say, “Last winter during the snow, what a lot of creatures wandered in.” “It happens in town, too,” one guest would offer. “I admired them, as much as you can admire a ’possum—is that it? Those things with the long snouts and skinny tails. I’d hate to dream of one. I wonder if they bite.”

“We’ll ask Riley to find out at school,” Barry said.

“They certainly bite,” one of the men volunteered, speaking from country knowledge. “But just if you corner them. They’re sort of timid.”

Where on earth were they from, not to know about ’possums?

“Then there was the raccoon,” Jan continued. “What a precious little guy. All black circles under his eyes.”

“You must have put food out.”

“Oh, just a few scraps.”

“They’ll love you to death. They’ll certainly bite you.”

Somebody had a story about a raccoon his aunt had let in the house, because he looked so cute. He had rifled the cupboards and climbed on the shelves. He had tried to get in the refrigerator. How to get rid of him?

“They carry rabies,” the same informing man said.

“Don’t disillusion me,” pled Jan.

Evenings there sped by, but when the guests spoke of them later, there was not much more to remember later than talk of ’possums and raccoons.

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Featured Story: Amish in a Time of War by Lauren Groff

Lauren Groff

Amish in a Time of War

Ten miles out of Lancaster, they slow to an idle behind a buggy that sends up plumes of horse-breath like a tiny locomotive. Charlie, who has told stories all day, is at last storied-out, and in the silence, Hannah looks out at the wintry fields. She feels that old icicle in her throat. This is a homecoming, of sorts, and her heart hurts, but she wants the squeeze and the burn. She wants the deep sadness.

Even as she watches for the hex signs on the barns, though, Hannah is acutely aware of the warmth rolling off Charlie, his sweet clean smell of something both chalky and fresh, something like damp limestone. In the beginning, this scent on a sweatshirt he’d left at her apartment could make even a dim San Francisco morning into something tender. Now, though, his scent—and the way that he, alone of all people in the world, could happily creep behind a buggy in a rental Pontiac made for speed—makes her think again of the applications. Secretly, as she has thought so often of them in the past few months. Now they are in the mail, now flapping like so many kraftpaper birds toward graduate school, eventually to take her away from this jolly, sweet man beside her. She feels the flutter in the gut, an overwhelming urge to throw her arms around his dear, thick neck. At the same time, she wants to put her foot on his and mash the car into the reflective triangle on the back of the buggy in front of them.

Oh, she thinks, helpless, and gets no further. For Charlie, whose hand is resting warm on her knee, who does not—could not—know about the applications, turns to her. She can feel the heat of his eyes on her cheek.

“Hanny?” Charlie says. He watches her turn her head, his mouth suddenly dry with love. He has to make this good, and so he begins to chuckle. “Hanny, your people are bloody brilliant. The road to Intercourse leads through Blue Ball. Genius,” and he laughs, and waits for Hannah to throw back her lovely blonde head and laugh with him. Making serious old Hanny laugh is better than a rich dessert after a healthy meal, better than beer, better than even sex. Well, he amends, some sex. Tired sex, angry sex, dutiful sex they sometimes have when they both realize it has been too long since the last time. Laugh, he commands in his head, but she doesn’t. She stares at him, with a trace of a smile, and waits for him to finish.

“Oh, Charlie,” she says, and that is all. She turns back to his window. He feels a little sick, and pulls a reckless pass around a curve that sends them roaring down a long, dark Pennsylvania Dutch road. In his imagination, some angry Amish man shakes his whip at their taillights as they go.

For a few miles, Hannah tries to concentrate, but already, Charlie’s joy has leaked into the broad world, casting a thin bright wash over the gloomy fields and sky. This is not at all what Hannah needs. She needs heavy, dark, dour, now. If she wanted cheer and light, she would have spent this weekend back home in Silicon Valley, where the sun has the weight of grace and the palm trees are frivolous, where even the glass on the sidewalks makes the concrete glitter like gold. Where there is money, money everywhere, even in Hannah’s own pockets, though she is only a bartender and not using her expensive education, even though she had always planned on being a college professor, and still holds this hope within her, returns at times to hold it like a glossy, brassy ball.

No. What Hannah needs at this point in her life is gravity, seriousness. She considers, and turns on the local public radio station. But it is filled with news of Iraqi war-dead, and that is much too serious, even for her, and she flicks it off. But Charlie flicks it back on eagerly, and then she flicks it off again with a little squeal, and he on again, and she off.

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Featured Poem: Tolstoy and the Spider by Jane Hirshfield

Jane Hirshfield

Tolstoy and the Spider

Moscow is burning.

Pierre sets out to kill Napoleon

and instead rescues a child.

Thus Tolstoy came today

to lift this spider in his large hand

and carry her free.

Now a cricket approaches the spider

set down inside her new story,

one hind leg missing.

The insects touch, a decision is made,

each moves away from the other

as if two exhausted and unprovisioned armies,

as if two planets passing out of conjunction,

or two royal courts in procession,

neither noticing the other go by.

Or like my own two legs:

their narrow lifetime of coming together and parting.

A story travels in one direction only,

no matter how often

it tries to turn north, south, east, west, back.

From Five Points Vol. 13.3

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Featured Poem: On Being Asked Directions to Drumcree by Howard Wright

Howard Wright

On Being Asked Directions to Drumcree

by two hacks from a London broadsheet,

I lean into their foul Isuzu 4×4, all bull-bars

and pocket phones, burger boxes and burnt stubs,

the black golf-ball compass floating helpless

on the dingy windscreen, and tell them

like everywhere else it’s a long way from here.

I elaborated with hand signals, the driver

thumbnailing a map and making a note,

his passenger tapping the compass as if it were

the oracle, the life-saver, as if it made

a button of difference here of all places,

after my parting-shot pointed them

in the opposite direction to arrive

sometime tomorrow or the day after that.

From Five Points Vol. 13.2

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Featured Prose: The Pound Game by Mick Cochrane

Mick Cochrane

The Pound Game

Wilson does not sing simple songs. This woman is reading from something, it is a thick official document, an assessment, she calls it, but the tone is judgmental, accusatory. An indictment is what it is. Her name is Ms. Biondi. She is a therapist, a clinician, her name followed by a long series of initials, unimaginable degrees. She reads quickly, relentlessly, without affect, measuring his son’s deficiencies on various hyphenated scales, delays measured in percentages and calculated to the second decimal. The boy is four years old and slow to speak; he’s sometimes difficult to understand. But as Ms. Biondi reports the results of her testing, the problem is more complex, more vast. She recites a long litany of ordinary milestones not met—cognitive, social, syntactic—accomplishments not achieved, but just that one sticks, worms its way into his consciousness where it sticks like a fishhook in his heart. Wilson does not sing simple songs.

Fred had foolishly imagined something else entirely, a different kind of proceeding altogether, something cooperative and supportive, sympathetic, possibly therapeutic, chairs pulled together in a semicircle, Styrofoam cups of coffee, knees almost touching. But when Fred explains that his wife will not be able to attend, that she is in the hospital, the response is so muted, he feels as if he’s breached decorum somehow, been inappropriately personal, offered too much information.

In fact, this seems like some sort of quasi-legal procedure, six or seven people with titles arranged behind a long table. Somebody from the school district, a parent representative, the coordinator of special

education, a small squadron of therapists. They have nameplates, reading glasses, thick stacks of files in duplicates, water glasses. It’s like a senate hearing.

They’d done the tests—a battery of them, they called them, administered a day-long beating—two weeks before at Children’s, spent the better part of a day moving from department to department, from office to office. It was hot and the air conditioning was on the blink. There were doors and windows propped open with books and brooms, the receptionists all sweaty and fanning themselves with manila file folders. The tests were administered in rooms the size of broom closets, all by different specialists, each of them abrupt, professionally cheerful in a too-loud, vaguely menacing way. If you got in Wilson’s face right away, demanded to shake hands and peppered him with questions, he shrank, hid, buried himself behind his father’s legs. He performed part of what seemed to be some sort of I.Q. test from beneath a chair, reaching out gamely to match shapes and colors, his little knuckles dimpled with baby fat. Fred should have put an end to it then. There were more tests, but Wilson had had enough. There was some coaxing, then bribes, finally threats. Eventually, flushed with the heat and utter frustration, Wilson kicked a chair.

“Such anger,” the psychologist said. “Where is that coming from?” she asked Fred. The implication seemed to be that it was coming from him somehow, that he must be the chair-throwing type. He’s not; he’s pacific, probably to a fault. He retrieved the chair and apologized on Wilson’s behalf, but deep down he more than understood, he cheered—under the circumstances, throwing a chair struck him as a deeply honest, utterly sane response, the definitive right answer.

He could try to explain, but where would he even begin? “I don’t know,” he told her, “I’m not sure where that’s coming from,” and she made a notation on her clipboard.

The case against Wilson is air-tight. He is speech-impaired, in need of Special Services. Various therapies are recommended, speech, occupational, several others. The word he keeps hearing is “intervention.” The importance of early intervention, various intervention strategies, multi-faceted interventions. As if his son is a third-world country they’re planning to invade, a tumor they intend to


The man from the school board, silent up until this point, finally speaks. He is silver-haired, with a neatly trimmed moustache, and the faintest accent, vaguely but not quite British. He has the smiling air of an elected official, which he apparently is. He explains Fred’s options as a parent, his rights, so slowly, with such rehearsed scriptedness, Fred realizes, this is some sort of Miranda speech, a safeguard against

lawsuits. Fred reads the man’s name—Robert Blum, Jr. and tries to memorize it, like a license plate, in hopes that he’ll someday have the opportunity not to vote for him.

Fred is profoundly distrustful of bureaucratic machinery of any sort, suspicious of the district’s supposedly benign concern—he’s been a union rep, he knows how they operate—not at all sure that he wants Wilson to be classified, to be brought, in their words, “into the system.” In a phrase like that, he can practically hear the clanking of the chains, the key in the lock.

Things conclude somewhat vaguely—papers to be read and signed, a learning plan to be drawn up. Any questions? If Martha were here, she’d have questions, Fred is sure of that, some pointed questions. That’s her job, asking tough questions, in depositions, in court, thinking on her feet. The things he thinks of afterwards, she says at the time. Fred is by nature slower, more deliberate. He likes a lesson plan. The more detailed the better, whether he looked at it or not, it made him feel secure, knowing it was there. Now he lives in the land of no lesson plans, and he’s learned simply to listen and nod and wait. There’ll be time to talk it over with Martha later.

He stands and thanks these people, people for whom he feels no gratitude, because . . . because that’s the kind of man he is—the deeper he feels himself in trouble, the more polite he becomes. He’s thanked a state trooper for a hundred-dollar ticket. Shaken hands with the doctor who found his wife’s cancer.

Back at the hospital, Martha is propped up, IV’d, slurping soup, watching Andy Griffith on the overhead TV.

“Goober thinks his dog can talk,” Martha says.

She is still pale, but no longer frighteningly so. The day before, when they’d signed her in, her blood pressure was dangerously low, barely registering. She’d put Ellis on his bus, come into the house, and blacked out. Upstairs in the bathroom, Fred heard a sickening thump and found her sitting on the pantry floor, groggy but game, like a heavyweight who didn’t want the fight stopped, protesting she was fine, just fine.

Fred picks some saltines from her tray and takes a sip of her water. He looks at the television. Sitting on a stoop with a scruffy-looking shepherd mix, Goober is grinning from ear to ear. Fred remembers this episode; he’s seen it before—it’s just Opie and a new kid in town

pulling a prank. They’ve got a walkie-talkie rigged to the mutt’s collar. Andy will teach the boys a lesson in the end, but still, it makes Fred sad to see Goober so pathetically duped.

She fills him in, the results of her blood work, which is basically good, fine, fine, nothing much beyond the normal chemo response. If her antibodies come back just a little, she’s good to go again next week. But once again, there seems to be some fluid accumulating. Not a lot, nothing to be alarmed about, that’s what they keep saying. Her scan was clean.

So why? Fred wants to know. But the doctors don’t have any definitive answers. Maybe this, maybe that. Maybe nothing. Maybe they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about, he’s tempted to say.

He wants some certainty. All the high-tech machinery, the journals piled in their offices, the white coats. They look like scientists, but they talk like somebody’s farmer uncle chewing the fat about the weather. Could be. Hopefully. Probably. Wait and see. Fred’s car mechanic can diagnose a squeak or a sputter with much more confidence.

“How’d it go?” Martha wants to know.

“Okay,” Fred tells her.

“That bad,” she says.

“Wilson is speech-impaired,” he says. The official language sounds

foreign in his mouth.

“It’s going to be all right,” she says. “We’re all going to be all right.” Fred isn’t sure what that even means, he cannot imagine what “all right” might look like, but he nods.

“It was like a trial,” Fred says. “It was like he’s guilty of something.”

“I know,” Martha says. “I know.” For now neither of them says anything more. There’ll be time to unpack it all later. He takes her hand, gives it a slow massage, rubs her wrist under her hospital bracelet. She’s out of gas, and he’s sorry that he’s tired her out. They have a sad moment of silence together, watching the Andy Griffith closing credits on the television screen.

She taps her wrist and jerks her thumb to the door. “Now get going,” she tells him. “They hate it when you’re late.”

Fred offers to stay. He can call a neighbor to watch the boys, but Martha insists he do it himself. They’d agreed to stick as much as possible to their family business as usual—“keep it normal” is how Martha puts it. Which is absurd, of course. But they do it anyway. They try their best.

In the preschool’s parking lot, Fred straps Wilson into his car seat. Asks him about his day and receives the usual answer. “Good.”

“What was snack?”

“Red juice,” Wilson says softly. “Circle crackers.”

Fred can understand him perfectly, goddamn it. If you just listen, he’s 100% intelligible. Wilson looks out the window, watching serenely, and his father tries to follow his line of sight, imagine what he’s observing— sunlight through the leaves? If you love someone, you can understand them. If you don’t, you can’t. How hard is that to grasp? You need a graduate degree to figure that out? That’s something Fred might have told Robert Blum, Jr. and his team of so-called helping professionals.

When Fred picked him up, Wilson had been playing with his new buddy, Cheyenne, digging through a sand pile for small brown stones, which Wilson has been bringing home in his pockets all week, insisting they are magic beans. They do look a little like beans, brown and smooth. Some seem to have a little cleft, like a coffee bean. He’s been finding them between the cushions of the couch, in Wilson’s bed, in the washing machine. Fred stood for a moment, out of sight, and watched Wilson and Cheyenne work in perfect wordless cooperation.

One of the few jokes Fred could remember long enough to repeat involved a little boy who never spoke, not for years, not a mumbling word. Finally, finally, after many years, at the age of nine or ten, the kid breaks his silence. “Mom,” he says one morning. “You burned the toast.” The family is astonished. Why? they wonder. No words all this time. “Up to now,” he tells them, “everything’s been fine.”

Fred starts to sing. If Ms. Biondi wants simple songs, he can do simple songs. It’s been an oversight, easily corrected. “Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream…” He sings it through twice. No response from Wilson. He tries “This Old Man.” He makes it all the way up to five, knick-knack on my hive, which doesn’t sound right. Hive? But he can’t think of anything else that rhymes with five; it must be hive. And what in god’s name is knick-knack? On a hive? It sounds obscene. He can’t believe this is a children’s classic. He sings louder now, brings even more forced joviality to his performance—he is a happy scoutmaster, he is Miss Betty, he is Raffi in concert. He plays knick-knack on his gate, on his spine. He looks and sees Wilson in the rearview mirror. The boy fixes him with a look that seems to express both bewilderment—what is with you?—and betrayal. You too?

At the kitchen table, while Wilson stands on a bench at the sink, scrubbing his soccer ball, for the second or third time today—he’s the neat and clean one, give him a bottle of Windex and a roll of paper

towels, and he’s in hog heaven—Fred sorts through the contents of Ellis’s backpack. His lunch is mostly uneaten, save for his cookies and one perfect bite from his cheese sandwich. The apple has been back and

forth more than once and is looking the worse for wear. Ellis has a good appetite; he’s just the slowest eater his father’s ever encountered, a talker, a dawdler, who may not even get around to picking up a fork for a good ten minutes. The lunch period at his school lasts something like eighteen minutes.

“How’s Mom’s blood pressure?” Ellis asks, and Wilson pauses in his ball washing operation. His hearing is perfect. This is not the sort of conversation Fred thinks he ought to be having with a nine-year-old, but Ellis is an unusual kid. He hears everything, remembers everything. He’s always been full of questions, and Fred has always tried to give him straight answers, not to blow him off.

“Good,” Fred tells him. “Excellent.”

“How’s her electric lights?”

“Perfect,” Fred says. “They’re blazing.”

Still, Ellis looks worried. The week before, he had accidentally walked through the downtown library’s security gate with a book. An alarm sounded, and while the uniformed security guard, smiling the whole time, disengaged it, Fred could see the color drain from his son’s face. He held back the tears until they made it to the car. “The same thing happened to you once, didn’t it, Dad?”

“Sure,” he said. “It happens to everybody.”

“Tell me about that time,” Ellis said, and Fred cooked up some bogus parallel narrative, a fiction involving himself, his own father, a library, and a security guard. Of course, books weren’t electronically

tagged back then, and he’s pretty sure his father never set foot in a public library, but no matter, the point, he figured, was not the details but the reassuring noise of his voice. Has Ellis always needed so much reassurance? Fred doesn’t think so.

“What time tomorrow is Mom coming home?” Ellis asks.

“The doctor says first thing in the morning,” Fred tells him. “She’ll be here to meet your bus tomorrow.”

“What if she’s not?”

“Then we’ll be disappointed,” Fred says. Politicians never answer hypotheticals, and now Fred understands why: his kids, Ellis and Wilson both, can fire off a half dozen or so in a single volley, what about this, what about that. Fred has his own hypotheticals, half-formed, dark rooms he doesn’t want to visit. “But look,” he says. “They said tomorrow.”

“If not,” Ellis wants to know, “can we sue them?” Lately he’s terribly interested in the idea of lawsuits and litigation: liability, what companies do to avoid being sued, all those little disclaimers in fine

print—what is sold separately, not included, not actual size, the fact that color may vary and contents may settle during shipping—the rationale for release forms and permission slips. He’s dying to sue somebody, anybody.

“I don’t think so,” Fred tells him.

Fred has tried to explain the notion of damages, how fault is proven and priced out, but it’s hopeless. Ellis wants to sue Crackerjack because his prize was broken, KFC because they ran out of biscuits, the Cartoon Network because of technical difficulties. Fred sympathizes with the desire, he understands the urge. He understands his son’s wish to be compensated for disappointments, daily sorrows, all the broken promises spewed out by the fast-talking, bait-and-switch world.

“Rats,” Ellis says.

“How about we sue somebody else?” Fred asks.

“Like who?”

“Like the lunch ladies.” Martha would give him hell for planting such an idea, but Fred sees Ellis’s eyes light up, the joyous sense of possibility—justice, revenge, a big windfall at a crabby adult’s expense.

“For what?” Ellis wants to know. “What could we sue them for?”

“Meanness,” Fred says. “Ugliness. Are they ugly, too?”

“Oh yeah,” Ellis says sadly, knowingly. “But you can’t really sue for ugliness and meanness. Can you?”

After dinner, once the boys are pajamaed and their teeth brushed, he agrees to play the pound game, a quick round. They are dogs, strays, housed in a kennel beneath the dining room table. He arrives at the shelter in search of a pet and brings them both home. It is a kind of fairy tale they enact, again and again, some canine Cinderella story, the adoption motif complicated with almost infinite variation.

Each boy fixes his dog-identity—breed, color, size—only after a great deal of deliberation, a certain amount of negotiation, lots of last-minute changes. Ellis is a Husky named Howler. He is part wolf. Wilson is a black Lab pup named Blackie, no, a Dalmatian named Spot, actually, a chocolate Lab named Labby—Ellis rolls his eyes and starts to complain, “You can’t just . . .” but Fred shushes him—then Brownie, then, at last, Chip.

While they conceal themselves under the dining room table, he shows up at the shelter and gives a little speech, announcing his desire for a couple of good dogs, wondering aloud what he’ll find. If he goes too far off script, if he doesn’t say it right, the boys make him start again—it’s some sort of incantation. He coaxes them out, and they bark and yip and growl, and as necessary, give him instructions and feed him new narrative details in a kind of stage-whisper. “At first,” Ellis says, “you think I’m a wolf.”

He looks into their mouths to examine their teeth, inspects their paws, checks their noses and pronounces them wet and cold. They perform a few quick tricks. Wilson/Chip shakes his hand, a hearty, smiling squeeze, human-style, worthy of a photo-op. Ellis/Howler rolls over, turns a quick somersault, and plays dead, hands-paws crossed across his chest.

Fred wonders aloud how much for both dogs. “Sixty dollars,” Ellis says. “Sixty hundred dollars,” Wilson says. In the end, he pays six hundred, and lays out six imaginary bills on the table.

“Okay,” he says. “Time for bed.”

Who knows what this is all about, their inexhaustible enthusiasm for this game. He believes boys, his boys anyway, are pack animals. He’d said so once to a woman at a playground, and she’d edged away from him, appalled apparently by the idea, by anyone who could entertain it. Maybe she was the mother of girls, a couple of those fine-motor geniuses who drew flowers for hours on end. He knew the type. He used to see them and marvel when he’d pick up his own boys at pre-school: they’d be coloring or primly braiding hair, wearing headbands and ribbons and adorable dresses, while the boys would be charging around in the back with capes and makeshift swords, playing Robin Hood.

But it’s true. Ellis and Wilson have always rolled around on the floor together, roughhouse-pouncing themselves breathless. Wrestling is probably Wilson’s favorite form of human interaction. Fred used to worry about injuries, try to step in and break it up, send them off to neutral corners. But now he’s seen it on the Nature Channel—it’s cub behavior.

“Heel,” he says, and they follow him up the stairs on all fours. “Kennel up.” It occurs to him that they obey him much better as dogs than they do as children. Maybe he should lose the parenting books—

there’s a bunch of them on his nightstand, under the cancer books, all unread—and focus on dog training. Another appalling insight into child-raising that he knows he’d better keep to himself.

Twenty minutes later, Fred—sitting on the living room couch, the paper on his lap, a muted ballgame on the tube, wondering whether or not it’s too late to give Martha a call—hears the boys upstairs, some furtive footsteps back and forth between their rooms. It sounds like mischief. He climbs the stairs as far as the landing; he can see the two of them in the bathroom, their backs to him, conspiratorially busy, definitely up to something. Ellis is standing on the closed toilet seat, holding Wilson’s plush Wild Thing in one hand, reaching up to the shelf for something. Fred is just about to holler at them when he figures out what Ellis is doing: he’s dousing his brother’s stuffed toy with Martha’s Estee perfume, the scent she’s worn for years, performing a little spraybottle baptism. “There,” Fred hears Ellis say to Wilson. “Smell that.” Wilson buries his face in the toy, Ellis grins triumphantly, and Fred backs quietly down the stairs.

When Fred awakes in the middle of the night, there is someone looming over him, a face leaning into his. It is Wilson, naked, standing at the side of his bed, clutching his Wild Thing. “What’s the matter?”

“Somebody peed in my bed,” Wilson says softly, eyes downcast.

“Don’t worry about it,” Fred tells him. He lifts the comforter and Wilson scrambles aboard.

Fred sleeps fitfully and wakes again at dawn—there’s just a little light coming in the window. Ellis is in the bed now, too, lying across the bottom. It’s like they’re on a raft, the three of them, some cramped, makeshift, lashed-together affair, like Huck and Jim’s, headed downstream together. Ellis is sound asleep but his jaw is working slowly back and forth, making a terrible grinding. The sound is so insistent and destructive, it scares Fred. Where is that coming from? the social worker would want to know. He’s had nightmares about skeletons, he’s confessed to Fred: like the shipload of ghost pirates he saw in a trailer for a Disney movie, eyeless sockets, grinning, dancing.

Fred doesn’t want to wake Ellis but he massages his jaws a little, rubbing slow circles in his clenched jaw muscles, talking to him a little. “It’s okay, pal,” he says. “Everything is going to be all right. There’s nothing to worry about.”

In the bathroom Martha’s perfume bottle is still on the edge of the sink. Fred sprays some into his palm and inhales. He looks at himself in the mirror: he’s as unkempt and disheveled as any Wild Thing.

On the floor he finds Wilson’s wet pajama bottoms and one of his

magic beans. Fred picks it up and rolls it in his palm. It feels as if there’s no magic in it, no magic anywhere. There’s no such thing as a talking dog. Don’t be stupid, he tells himself. It’s not even a bean at all. It’s a stone.

He knows better. But he does it anyway. Nothing seems strange anymore. Closes his eyes and makes a wish. Like a child, like a damn fool.

From Five Points Volume 13.3

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Featured Poem: A Thousand Names and More by Katie Fesuk

Katie Fesuk

A Thousand Names and More


“. . . and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field. . . ”

—Genesis 2:19


Even last week’s orange moon, a sphere that set so big

and close to the ground that it looked

like trees had birthed round fire into the sky, had no name.

What will we call this season in me?

I save words on yellow notes inside desk drawers,

whisper them in prayers on the drive home,

lay them on the table like blueprints before your father each night.

In another world, I could give you a thousand names and more:

birch, elm, chinaberry, bark. I’d name you indigo.

I’d name you linen and silk and November.

You would be book, sonnet, syllable, revelation.

You would be psalm. You, heartbeat, sacrament, silver, iris.

You, mango and stone fruit and soil and amber.

I’d call you the smell of burning leaves,

cicadas that sent me to sleep when you were barely the size of a peppercorn.

You could be named the ocean’s warmth against my ankles

the day I suspected you within my body,

or the word—if there is one—for my face after that

as I watched other people’s children swim around me,

considered what color your hair would be, how bright your eyes,

whether your voice would even out to song someday.

I’d name you pear and darling and babushka. You would be called moonlight.

I’d name you the way it feels when you move now within my belly,

balanced at the highest lip of a rollercoaster before it barrels to the ground.

I would call you that dip, that fall. That fear.

You roll in me like a great fish, a speckled whale, but also the ocean.

You, the dancer’s feet, but also flamenco, also notes rising.

I’d name you the last drop of wine in a glass by the fireplace,

the grape it came from, and better,

its vineyard swallowing up hillsides in promise.

You should be called the quiet force

that stills me when I watch your father move across a room,

my silent wish for a way to explain devotion,

as if words or names are ever enough.

Your name should be the same as white columns

on his childhood home, and I’d name you the lake from mine.

Bone of my bone, my child, my son,

I can only give you the word that others will say,

the one somebody will love when you become a man.

You are the poem my body writes on the earth.

From Five Points Volume 13.3

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Featured Poem: Domestic by Gerald Stern

Gerald Stern


It was as if his gills were going in and out

and there was a croaking noise he made that scared her

almost to death he imitated while lying

under her heavy salty blanket she pulled

up to his neck and tucked in at his sides

for she was going to read a little afterwards

and put her glasses on that perched on the edge

of her English nose and held her head in her hand

while he took in, for a second only, the streaks

of lightning mixed with the moonlight as if one brightness

was not enough, two gods he thought, and how the

river would smell tomorrow as he swam over

the greasy rocks and she would take him again

in her brackish arms that more than reading and more than

music it was she overcame her sorrow

and that is why her elbows were sore and the rotten

underwater steps gave way and love

rushed into her mouth and mercy broke over her head.

From Five Points Volume 13.3

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Featured Prose: The Mill for Grinding Old People Young by Glenn Patterson

Glenn Patterson

The Mill For Grinding Old People Young

Friday, 24th December 1897

The telephone rang this morning.

Despite having rehearsed with me how to behave in such an eventuality,Mrs Mawhinney ran through the house, banging doors and calling my name, as though pursued by the hounds of hell. In truth I

was alarmed enough by it myself that I dropped my spectacles on to the carpet as I started from my chair. In another instant I had trodden on them.

Mrs Mawhinney all but collapsed through the library door, collected herself, backed out, and was making to knock as the ringing at last stopped.

I told her, please, to come in, take a seat, calm down. The suddenness of the thing. . . she was saying between breaths . . . it had “put the heart sideways” in her.

I showed her my glasses. The bridge was bent and when I tried to straighten it I heard the faintest of creaks. Mrs Mawhiney would have had me let her go at once to Lizar’s but with Christmas Day upon us there seemed little chance that her haste would be rewarded. Besides, I remembered some years ago having consigned a pair to the back of a bureau drawer.

We waited together another half an hour, going through the drill several more times, before resuming our occupations.

I was right about the bureau, but not about the drawer: the spectacles were in the fourth one I opened. The lenses were a little dulled, my eyes more than a little weaker than when last I put them on,

but so long as I held my book raised to catch the light coming in at the window I could see well enough to read. (I have left them aside as I write this: the hand, I trust, after all these years, does not require such

close scrutiny.) I held the book for two pages then lowered it and allowed my eyelids to close.

Towards luncheon the telephone rang again. I had managed half of the stairs, without the aid of my stick, before Mrs Mawhinney appeared from the kitchens. She looked up at me. I nodded. She dropped a curtsey (unrehearsed) as she spoke my name into the mouthpiece then dropped another as she turned to me and said, “Mr Erskine, sir.”

I negotiated the remainder of the stairs and took the earpiece.

“Well, well, well,” said Erskine, with the pride of an inventor, or at least of a privileged custodian. “What do you make of this?”

“Remarkable,” I said, and meant it. His voice might have been coming from the next room and not the far side of the river.

Mrs Mawhinney was still in attendance. I signalled to her that I was quite all right.

Erskine, meanwhile, was inviting me to dinner at the Reform Club this evening, “Unless you have already made another arrangement.” It was kind of him to allow me the possibility of refusal, even though he knows as well as any man living that I would not otherwise have crossed the doorstep from now until New Year, nor been troubled by anyone approaching it, save possibly Erskine himself.

He was getting up a little party for his nephew who is recently returned from a visit to London in the course of which he made photographs of the places alluded to in Mr Wells’s “scientific romance” The Time Machine, which caused such a sensation when it was first published—what, a year, two years ago, now? These photographs the nephew had had turned into slides, which he intended to project by means of a magic lantern. It was all very short notice, Erkine realized (again the opportunity to refuse if I wished), but he had only heard late last evening that the room had become free at the club. He could send a carriage if I wished it . . .

Mrs Mawhinney was none too pleased when I told her I had accepted. (Mrs Mawhinney, as I have noted, I am sure, many times previously in these pages, is not endowed with a face for dissembling.)

She had a pair of sole fresh delivered.

I told her they would keep to breakfast.

She had a haddock for breakfast.

“It is Christmas, we will have both,” I said.

I will be sorry in the morning that I did. They do not stint on their courses, or their portions, at the Reform Club. The smelts, with which we began, alone would have made a decent dinner for Mrs Mawhinney and me.

An audience of nine gathered in the Antrim Room afterwards, not counting Erskine and his nephew. I knew them all. In the case of most of them I had known their fathers, in the case of some their grandfathers.

A large board with a tablecloth tacked to it had been mounted on two chairs against the back wall. There was some business with the electric lights, which even two years after they were installed are the cause of some confusion and, on occasion, misgiving among staff and members alike; that switching the lights off, for instance, might cause electrocution. Off, though, eventually, they went. (Switch throwers happily unharmed.) The nephew himself oversaw the drawing of the curtains—they had to be “just so”—before declaring that we were ready to proceed with the slides.

We saw the park in Battersea, we saw Lavender Hill; we saw, as an aside, the new Battersea Bridge, the last of Sir Joseph Bazalgette’s grand designs. (I knew Bazalgette, too; visited him once in Morden.) We saw the wrought iron entrances to several of the underground railway stations and listened to Erskine’s nephew’s ingenious equation of these with the burrows wherein the Moorlocks dwelt; we saw the South Kensington Museum, the Alexandra Palace at Muswell Hill—Wells’s “Palace of Green Porcelain.”

The final photograph accompanied the passage in which the Time Traveller and his companion Weena proceed over a hillcrest towards Wimbledon as the “hush of evening” creeps over the world. There was an answering silence in the Antrim Room as Erskine’s nephew read of that great pause that comes upon things before dusk, when even the breeze stops in the trees. So vivid were the trees in the photograph— they had been tinted by hand—that I fancied our breath would have set their leaves moving, had any of us been breathing out at that moment. Erskine’s nephew continued to read (his voice had a grating quality, but the words themselves got the better of it, impressing themselves on my memory):

“To me there is always an air of expectation about that evening stillness. The sky was clear, remote, and empty, save for a few horizontal bars”—these too with a tint applied to them—“far down in the sunset. Well, that night the expectation took the colour of my fears.”

For nine people we gave a rousing round of applause. “For eight people they did,” I should say, at least to begin with. For some moments after the lights had been switched on in the room I remained staring at the blank tablecloth, remembering how the story ran on, the loss of Weena, the Time Traveller’s desolation on his return, alone, to his workshop in Richmond.

When all the congratulations had been extended, all the questions asked about the equipment the nephew had used and the chemical processes he had employed—an inquisitiveness in matters of equipment and processes of one form or another being what had brought most of those present into membership of the Reform Club: them and their fathers and grandfathers—the discussion moved on to our own city eight hundred thousand years hence. (Thompson: “Perhaps we will at last have our new City Hall.”) Erskine, whose own career, and fortune, has been founded on the knack of never missing anything, tried to draw me into the conversation. Given the changes I had witnessed in my own lifetime, did I not think it was foolish in the extreme to speculate on even eighty years hence? I replied that I sometimes felt as though it would be presumptuous of me to speculate on even eight weeks hence. “Nonsense, you will outlive us all,” said Erskine. In which case, I said, it would be our mutual misfortune. Rev. Dr Cathcart said, as he was after all bound to say, that we none of us knew the day or the hour—“no, not the angels of heaven,” as the Apostle would have it—and reminded us that there was still a large body of opinion that would robustly contend with Mr Darwin that the world had seen, or would ever in the future see, the multiple thousands of years that had so fired the imagination of this Wells.

The nephew interjected. We were, with the greatest respect, rather straying from the point. He was of the firm opinion that the city was on the brink of a new Golden Age. He spoke of the Cymric and the new Oceanic, construction of which, we would be aware, had already begun on the Queen’s Island, not a mile from where we were talking, and which would, when completed, exceed in length Brunel’s Great Eastern (exceed it too, it was to be hoped, in good fortune). The one-thousand-foot liner was no longer a possibility, it was an inevitability for the Belfast shipyards, and let the competition try and catch them.

Never mind one thousand feet, Thompson said, if the rumour was to be believed the one-million-pound liner was already with us. Someone else said that if ships continued to grow at the rate they had

grown in the last fifty years then by the next century’s end we would be crossing the Atlantic on vessels a mile long . . .

My dinner was sitting heavily in my stomach—I really do, as a rule, eat so little these days—and now that the conversation had become general I thought that Erskine would not take it amiss if I asked to have the carriage brought round for me. It was not quite half past nine o’clock. Erskine himself saw me down the stairs (watched me, I should say, all three flights, his eyes never once leaving my shoes) and out on to the kerb. It was all I could do, after he had handed me up into the carriage, to stop him tucking the blanket around my legs. He thanked me for coming; told me he hoped I had not been too irked by his nephew’s manner. It was a common failing in the young, imagining they were the first ever to think or feel these things. I thought to tell him it was considered a failing when I was young not to have built a church or written a history by the time you were twenty; thought better of it.

He put his hand on the door as the driver gathered the reins for departure.

“You know you would be more than welcome, tomorrow…”

I stopped him. He makes the same offer every year, and every year, I am sure, I make the same reply:

“It is terribly kind of you, Erskine, but Mrs Mawhinney has all the preparations made.”

Mrs Mawhinney in fact is under strict instructions—this year, every year—to take herself off to her cousin’s as soon as we have finished breakfast. (Haddock and sole!)

Erskine lifted his hand from the door, in a gesture of surrender, or farewell, and the driver snapped the reins.

“You can always telephone,” he called after me.

The streets, despite the hour, were as thronged as a summer Saturday afternoon. Before the builder’s hoardings where a year ago the White Linen Hall stood and eight, or eight hundred thousand, years from now will stand the City Hall, fir trees and mistletoe were still being sold, and as the carriage turned down towards the Academical Institution I witnessed a group of boys trying to hoop-la the statue of Rev Henry Cooke with a holly wreath. A stream of pedestrians was coming towards them, loosed on the night by the Grand Opera House, where the pantomime had just ended: Dick Whittington, if memory

served. On an impulse I leaned forward in my seat and asked the driver (worthy citizen) to turn about and take me back the way we had come. He thought by this I meant that I had forgotten something at the club,

but as we came again into Castle Place I told him to carry on, down Royal Avenue, on, at length, to York Street, thence, turning right at Great George’s Street, right again, into the narrower confines of Sailortown.

The driver slowed the horse to a walk. Some of the rooftops here reached to not much higher than the crown of his hat. He glanced at me over his shoulder. I urged him on—please—a little farther and then a little farther again until we had come out at last at a patch of waste ground below Garmoyle street, looking across the Victoria Channel to the Queen’s Island and the Harland and Wolff yard. “Here,” I said.

The driver helped me alight. “You don’t mind if I stay by the carriage?” he asked. The sound of our wheels had drawn several patrons out of the public house on the corner of the street. They gathered

beneath the solitary street lamp, watching with the driver as I made my hesitant way to the water’s edge. Weeds had pushed up between the cobbles, mingling with the coal dross and the rusting iron and the

remains of a thousand crates that had somehow fallen, just here, from ships coming in to dock.

“Sir?” said the driver, a caution dressed up as a question.

(He may have had in mind the story in the papers of late of the woman who ran the length of the Newtownards Road to throw herself off the Queen’s Bridge, her body, despite much searching of the Channel, yet to be found.)

“I can manage, thank you,” I said, gratitude wrapped around rebuke. I steadied myself with both hands on the head of my stick. The fog that has been wreaking such havoc this past week along the Irish facing coast of Scotland had been halted somewhere out in the North Channel by winds blowing across Belfast from the southwest. My view, notwithstanding the paucity of street lighting and the dulling of my

lenses, was tolerably clear.

A voice called out from beneath the lamp, “You down to see the big boat, Mister?”

I waved a hand—“yes”—and peered out as though searching among the masts and the gantries for the Oceanic’s slipway, but hoping instead for a glimpse of something that predated the first ship to bear the Oceanic name, the whole White Star line, Harland’s yard, the Queen’s Island itself.

Behind me the driver cleared his throat; asked if he might smoke a cigarette, “for warmth, like.” I realised that in the time I had been standing there a fine rain had begun to fall.

I told him I had no objection whatever, then, seeing the flare of the match, catching the scent of tobacco on the air, asked if I might have one, too. For companionship, like. He offered the package and I

hesitated seeing there were only two cigarettes left, but he shook his head to say I was not to let it concern me. I pinched the end of the cigarette between my forefinger and thumb while he struck the match so that when I inhaled the shaft was drawn back to rest against the tip of my nose. It had indeed been a very long time since I had done this. The smoke was as sharp as grief, as searing as desire. My thoughts turned liquid and I felt for a moment that I had actually begun to fall. I leaned more heavily on my stick; inhaled again, deeper; inhaled again, deeper still.

When there was nothing left to inhale I let the ember fall to fade between my feet.

“The world is too good,” I murmured and touched my fingers to my lips. The driver was watching still. I plucked at a phantom shred of tobacco. He turned away.

“Thank you for the cigarette,” I said as he helped me back up into my seat.

Our audience beneath the street lamp had dwindled to two women, one of whom asked me was I some sort of Yankee.

“He’s as Belfast as you or me,” the driver surprised me by saying before I had a chance to speak. I pulled the blanket around my chest. The hooves rang, the wheels rattled, and soon we had joined again the general stir.

The boys were gone from in front of the Academical Institution, but, however they had managed it, they had succeeded before they left in crowning Cooke with their holly wreath.

Mrs Mawhinney must have been waiting in the hallway, so quickly did she appear. She came right out to the carriage step. “Look at you, you are chilled to the bone,” she said and asked the driver, as his master’s representative there in her world, what Mr Erskine could have been thinking, calling on that telephone contraption, keeping me out till all hours in the depths of winter. (That was the order of her complaint, telephone before weather.) The driver, to his great credit, held his peace. I gave him ten shillings of a tip, which he was kind enough to say would keep him in “smokes” for some considerable time.

“Smokes!” said Mrs Mawhinney and took hold of my arm, as much to save me from corrupting influence as assist me to the door.

Inside, she warmed a pair of bottles while I undressed for bed then left me here, propped against the bolster with my writing board and my journal. She paused in the doorway to wish me a Happy Christmas.

“A Happy Christmas to you, too, Mrs Mawhinney,” I said.

I listened to her footsteps receding down the landing, as I have listened to them time without number in the years that we have spent alone here together, and for a moment—just for a moment—I

imagined getting out of bed (imagined myself a man for whom the act of getting out of bed was as fleet as the thought), going to the door and calling after her. . . . But what, and to what end?

On down the landing, she plodded, and into her apartment, so that now there is only the hiss of the lamp for company, the scratch of my nib, and, somewhere across this great, perplexing city, bells chiming the midnight hour.

From Five Points Volume 13.2

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Featured Poem: What was Left by Chelsea Rathburn

Chelsea Rathburn

What Was Left

The headboard to the guest room bed,

its mattress gone, the buckled frame

still joined to one unyielding bolt.

Three pairs of wrinkled dress pants

wadded at the bottom of the hamper,

six black T-shirts, an IBM

circa nineteen-eighty-six.

A snorkel, mask, and fins, white socks,

loose change, a broken film projector,

the television. Restaurant matchbooks,

tax records and old license plates,

boxes and bags of photographs—

Venice,Vienna, Cadaques—

the way that they once lived, the notes

and valentines sporting forever

and always, a jar of sauerkraut.


From Five Points Volume 13.3


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