Friday, July 31, 2020

Drinks (Myers)

I work in a liquor store and bar, the walls are lined with shelves, bottles lying down and standing up. Behind the counter, next to me, there is a bag of masks made from white cloth. “Worker’s comp masks,” one of the bartenders tells me when she sees me wearing one.

I got mine from a local coffee shop that’s giving them away for free. The baristas themselves are not wearing masks. The owner of the coffee shop says it is too hot, with the roasters, with the espresso machines.

“Health department’s gonna eat their ass,” the bartender says, when I tell her about the coffee shop. At work, the bartenders and cashiers have been forced to wear masks since about April, or maybe May. The months all blur together. I have been wearing mine since March. I didn’t have a cloth one then, just one meant for cold weather. It’s supposed to keep your face warm when the wind blows cold.

“It’s too late for the masks,” the customer says. “I wish people would understand that.” He has one under his chin, a banner of navy blue cloth; as I watch he tugs it over his chin, his lips, and then over the tip of his nose, which glistens with sweat.

He doesn’t want to wear one, but he will, because I asked him to. I am in charge of people wearing masks, because I’m the first person people see when they walk through the door. It is a giddying power. For a week now, masks have been mandated. Up until then, I had to say that no, we have no specific policy regarding masks. People could do whatever they wanted.

“I haven’t been back here since before everything started, it’s miserable now,” he says. “They took all the fun out of the world this year.” He is looking for Japanese beer and is dissatisfied with our selection. It has been hard to get foreign beers because of the pandemic. Closed borders, issues of international trade, have resulted in this man not finding the specific Japanese beer he wants. He asks if we carry a certain German mini keg instead. We do not.

We are out of the cardboard six pack holders and he doesn’t want to buy one of the fabric ones. I don’t think we should be selling the fabric ones right now. Grocery stores have stopped selling reusable bags. But many things are not up to me.

He has to sign our copy of his receipt before he leaves. He looks, suspiciously, at the pens allocated for this specific purpose. “I wipe them down regularly,” I say. It is true.

“Sign it for me,” he says. I sputter, not sure how to respond. It’s not my card. It’s not my purchase. Isn’t that forgery? I don’t feel comfortable. Should I grab a manager?

“Sign it Donald J. Trump,” he says, and he walks out the door.

Kelsey Myers is a queer writer living in Youngstown, Ohio. She obtained a Bachleor of Arts from Ashland University, where she studied Creative Writing with an emphasis on Creative Nonfiction, and as of fall 2020 will be attending Columbia University's MFA, where she will be studying Creative Nonfiction. Her work has appeared in Go! Magazine.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

O Estrangeiro (Snorteland)

I went back into the bed and kept listening to my music.
It’s been fine.
Those items may or may not arrive.
I had cellulitis.
I numbered each sentence.
I was giving some thought to the concept of a kalpa yesterday.
For NA beer, I had Brooklyn Special Effects that I bought in Raleigh, then Busch NA from the local Food Lion.
Sometimes when I’m feeling delusions of grandeur, I imagine that I am working for the military. Yesterday and Monday I felt really tired at around One PM.
I wasn’t planning on going to the store today.
I’ve been having a mini can of Coke in the afternoon.
It was reading his autobiography that first got me thinking about Sartre.
I only stayed up there for about fifteen minutes.
That was probably my favorite meal.
The next bag that I will open will be the Columbian from Cuvée.
When we got there, they weren’t making pour overs but they were selling coffee by the ounce for a dollar.
I didn’t order anything this month.
It made me want to learn more about vodou.
In addition to my pamp I drank a lot of NA beer.
I was feeling sleepy and depressed.
I used to get a Coke during my afternoon break at the office.
If Steve and Loren come over, I’ll probably drink a lot of them
Maybe if I’m going to lie down during the work week I should do so during my lunch break.

Kevin Snorteland resides in Austin, Texas. This piece contains lines from his diary of June and July 2020 selected using a random number generator.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Returns (Quade)

On March 8. 2020, Mom and I rested on the dusty forest floor of the mountain Cerro Pelon, northeast of the small village of Macheros, Mexico. Above us, in oyamel trees growing up the steep hillside, clusters of monarch butterflies awoke in the sunlight, bursting into small clouds. There were only six of us hunkered there, including our naturalist guide, Ana, who grew up in the village and works for her brother Joel’s butterfly tourism business. This was my fourth trip up Cerro Pelon and Mom’s third. I love to travel to new places, but I also yearn to return to places I’ve been. Sometimes before I’ve even left somewhere, I’m imagining how to get back. Of all the places I’ve visited, I’ve returned to Cerro Pelon the most; I’d hoped to be back again in the summer, to begin some research on a project I’ve been dreaming up. In Macheros on the evening of March 8, I lingered with my friends Joel and Ellen on their rooftop patio, looking out over the surrounding mountains, drinking wine, thinking about how I would come back, maybe in late July, maybe early August. Then, a week later, on March 15, as you know, Ohio’s governor began shutting down the state.

In the days leading up to our flight to Mexico, Mom and I discussed whether or not we should travel, as outbreak crept closer to pandemic, but we had the tickets and the CDC wasn’t saying not to go, and so she flew to Ohio from her home in Wisconsin and we packed our hand sanitizer and alcohol wipes and got on the plane to Mexico City. We didn’t know as much then as we know now, and part of me is strangely grateful.

The monarchs on Cerro Pelon have arrived there by flying from parts of North America east of the Rockies, some from as far away as Canada. They overwinter in these Mexican trees, huddled together, occasionally flying around to nectar on flowers. They must survive predators and illegal logging and weather. And then, in mid-March, they begin to fly north, where through multiple generations, they make their way across the continent, feeding on milkweed, until the final generation of the season flies back south. Maybe you already know this.

I meant today to write about the pandemic, but I find myself writing, once again, about butterflies. If you know me well, you know I love butterflies.

To get to the wintering grounds on Cerro Pelon, we take a steep path on horseback. The location of the grounds moves around the mountain year-to-year, so the path changes as well. Cerro Pelon straddles the state of Mexico and the state of Michoacán, with these butterflies above Macheros in the state of Mexico, though other butterfly wintering grounds are in Michoacán.

Today, I sit in the garden on our few acres of land on the border of Lake and Ashtabula counties in Northeast Ohio. Though we’ve been seeing a monarch here and there since June, a week or so ago they started to arrive in numbers, drifting from one patch of milkweed to the next. By the milkweed near our back door, one of the early arrivers must’ve laid an egg, because now a caterpillar as long as my thumb is gnawing away, growing, getting ready to wander off and become a chrysalis, where it will hang for a while and emerge as a butterfly. You know this.

The monarchs aren’t shy. One just zipped right over my head, and yesterday another had to make a last- second adjustment of flight path to avoid crashing into my chest.

The migratory monarch population has suffered a steep decline, but the numbers are slowly, though unsteadily, increasing—still far from where they were decades ago. You might know this. But the way these statistics are gathered can be problematic, so it’s really hard to say if the numbers are telling an accurate story.

My house sits in a county that as of yesterday has had 851 recorded cases, 107 hospitalizations, and 26 deaths. If I walk across the road, I’m in a county with 497 recorded cases, 84 hospitalizations, and 44 deaths. I don’t really know what to make of these numbers. They would seem to indicate that if I lived across the road, I’d be more likely to die if I contracted the virus. But I’m not a statistician.

The current increase in virus cases can certainly be blamed on people’s wish to return to the place they lived in before the virus, a place with fewer sacrifices. But we all know that place doesn’t exist anymore, and maybe really shouldn’t have in the first place. We know—or should know—that an investment in sacrifice now will pay off for the future.

If I sit quietly long enough here in the garden, a rabbit will hop by, a chipmunk will settle on the rocks near me, a hummingbird will visit the nearby flowers, a clearwing moth will hover, or, as just happened, a house wren will land on my chair. If I sit quietly and watch the monarchs fly around, eventually I will see the females laying eggs. One monarch may lay between 300-500 eggs, but less than 10% of these eggs survive to become butterflies. The number may actually be lower, but no one knows for sure.

My parents often come visit us on Labor Day, and so for the past couple of years, I’ve raised monarch eggs timed to hopefully emerge as butterflies when Mom is here so she can release one. But this year, with school starting despite the virus, there will be no visit. I’ll be in contact with my classes, and those students will be in contact with more students. It’s almost impossible for me to picture how that will work. My parents are in good health, but in the second half of their seventies, though you wouldn’t guess it from Mom’s horse ride up the mountain in rural Mexico. I’d rather they not take the risks of travel. Instead, next week, my husband and I will make the ten-hour drive to Wisconsin, stopping as few times as possible for gas. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the virus numbers don’t explode before then, because, as you know, they could.

I can never figure out why the monarchs lay eggs on one milkweed and not another. They fly and fly around, alighting on a plant, then moving on without laying an egg. They have some future in mind for the next generation, and they know where they want it to start, even when to me one leaf looks exactly the same as any other. Sometimes, when I examine the most unlikely milkweed plant—a few young leaves popping from an otherwise mowed lawn—I find them there, those possibilities. 

Mary Quade is the author of two poetry collections and the recipient of four Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Awards for both poetry and prose. She teaches creative writing at Hiram College.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Lessons in Discord (Willoh)

I bought a set of 24 watercolors. Of the 24, my favorites are Cerulean Blue, and Prussian Blue, in no particular order. Sky. Water. You get it. I watched 2.5 YouTube tutorials on how to paint a tree. A few weeks ago, I wrote exactly one journal entry in the “Dream Big” rainbow unicorn journal my dear friend bought me for my birthday last year. Last year, when I spent my 45th birthday with my dearest and closest friends. We went to Barroco. After, we went to our patriarch’s house, the one responsible for introducing us all in the beginning, and demolished a rainbow unicorn birthday cake, but I digress. My one and only journal entry begins with, “It’s a freaking pandemic… ,” except, it doesn’t say “freaking.” The entry is dated 3/22, but speaks of 3/10, when the nightmare began. My students aren’t listening… so I can say that now. Nightmare. Of everything, it’s the lack of an end date that gets to me. We’re in darkness. I watched 1.5 YouTube tutorials on how to paint a dark forest, with a glorious infestation of fireflies. That journal entry, it recalls that first day. I had evening classes for Spring semester. Did you know they came with a gift? At the end of each class, you walk out into darkness, but as days grow longer and the semester stretches out in front of you, the sky begins to brighten, until finally, daylight. Warmth. It’s magical. Week eight, a Tuesday. Heads started to lift in the middle of my lecture. They never turn off their goddamn phones. They knew before I did, because of course they did. There had been an email, and another, and 10 minutes of speculation with a colleague in the parking lot. We talked of weeks, maybe days, but it was hours. Around 90 minutes, actually. They were all staring at me. What’s happening? I didn’t know. I wasn’t sure. Fake it, till you make it. Or don’t. “It’s the Apocalypse,” one of them said. I laughed. “No,” I promised him, “it’s not… it’s the fauxpocalypse at best, so stay calm. And don’t believe anything without doing your due diligence first.” I’d repeat that a lot in the coming months. I stopped lecturing. “How is everyone feeling?” Scared. On the verge of panic. Confused. The class ran over. No one seemed to want to leave, but eventually we all left together, exiting into a semester that had not yet made it to the light, to the warmth. We’d be deprived of that. So many more emails, trying to be helpful. Forwards of forwards and a desperate throbbing in my head. I missed one best friend’s birthday, and then another. Next year, we all said. We said that, a half a dozen times. A week and a half to move it all online. Scared, unprepared students. People are surprised to discover that many college students don’t have the internet, and some don’t have computers. But they do have phones. Tiny little portals to the world. There wasn’t a day in the next nine weeks I didn’t talk to them. I held my classes in a Discord chatroom. My students wanted some normalcy, and that normalcy was me. Classes stretched out for hours. No one ever wanted to leave the chatroom. Quarantine. There’s a bright-side. We’ll find it. We’ll make the best of it. That’s what we do. We have all this time. Nope. Stay in Place. No gym. Taped off bathrooms at the park. Taped off picnic tables. You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here, because you’ll pee yourself. So I bought the watercolors. I bought workout bands. I made plans. And my students started losing their jobs. Some had shifts doubled. Some vanished. One morning a student emailed me, “I have to give up my dreams, because I’m the only one in my family who still has a job.” A 19-year-old boy. He was awkward, and drifting, but would stop me after class to show me his drawings. He had a sketchbook full of superheroes. He wanted to draw comics. Now he was the only person supporting his family. Why is a 19-year-old supporting his family? I cried. I told him that these are the times that test us, that this was temporary. Helplessness. Then my students started asking where to find toilet paper, and everyone banded together in the search. We’re in this together, after all. A dear friend’s father got sick, then he died. No comforting hugs. No just being there. A memorial, someday. Somewhere in the timeline, entitled, maladjusted adults started screaming about their rights. They refused to wear masks. They refused to be distant. When it started an older man in the grocery store got very close to me and growled, “So, I guess we’re doing this now, “ like the universe had just asked him to take off his shoes at the front door. My students serve their food, take care of their elderly parents, and my own mother works at a grocery store. I bought a mask covered in rainbow unicorns. I bought hand sanitizer in my sleep, somewhere around 3 a.m. on a Monday morning. The most fruitful of angst-ridden lucid dreams. I realized that my selectively social, beastly writer self, desperately missed her best friends, her students, her coworkers. And I also realized there were a lot of things I didn’t miss. I realized how much we inflict on ourselves. And how unnecessary it all really is. Thus far, I have yet to paint a damn thing, but against the dark background, everything that really matters, has become a beacon in the distance. There is no heading back to “normal.” Normal wasn’t working. There is only forward.

Jennifer A. Willoh is a writer and playwright. A native of Lorain, Ohio, she is a graduate of the NEOMFA playwriting program through Cleveland State University. Apart from working on various creative projects, she adjuncts at Lorain County Community College.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Dodging Air (Honig)

My daughter at 4 months
Takes the wrong breath at the wrong time
One inch to the left,
One moment later and it does not go wrong
She cannot close her hands
The wrong moment and the wrong air
She cannot lift her legs
Almost in that breath almost do I see her destroyed

One breath in the wrong place at the wrong time
I breathe the same air and have no problems
I wait for test after test
She cannot lift her head
I wait to watch my daughter die.
More tests and almost we move to the ICU
Almost we intubate
She cannot move the muscles in her face
But always she can watch with her eyes:

She cannot drink anymore, her muscles flatten
Her eyes go dull
And finally, an answer
An orphan medication for a unicorn condition
Almost, almost, almost

And much later, she is older
She is (probably) fine
As she places her mask on her face
Places her helmet on her head
Rides her scooter down the drive
Dodging air
She cannot go through that again

While our bodies might be healthy
our souls are just starting to recover.

Kate Honig is a Literacy Specialist who provides reading & instructional support to her colleagues. She has spent the past 13 years working with students who have special needs. She is a full-time reader and sometimes writer. She lives in Rockland County, New York, with her husband and two children.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Bittersweet Summer (Nickoloff)

The summer solstice always feels bittersweet to me. It’s the official mark of summer in Cleveland -- the tiny slice of the year where “Cleveland weather” isn’t some kind of joke. But, being the longest day of the year, it’s a reminder that the days will only get shorter from here. A looming thought that in a few months, the sun will rise while I’m at work and set before I leave. In a few months, I won’t be able to open my apartment windows to the chilly air outside.

If anything could make that bittersweet taste more bitter than sweet, it’s the pandemic.

Last year on the summer solstice, I worked my way through a crowd of colorfully dressed partiers at the Cleveland Museum of Art for the annual Solstice Party. I stood in line in a crowded restroom, danced next to strangers, shared a drink with friends -- an unbelievable scene, looking back from this forever-hand-sanitized vantage point. I mean, seriously -- just think of the germs!

This year, I celebrated the summer solstice with a long evening walk around my neighborhood. I watched the sun set, then watched the bright blue sky shift to navy, waiting for all traces of light to fade. Street lights popped on, clouded by gnats and mosquitoes. When I passed a fellow nighttime walker, I trekked into the grass, giving plenty of room so our breaths wouldn’t mix.

Right now, most aspects of last year’s life feel impossible, like some kind of fever dream I imagined.

Maybe, someday, 2020 will feel like some kind of fever dream, too.

But it hasn’t all been missed opportunities this summer. Some sweet moments are starting to pop up with more frequency, along with the bitter ones.

A few weeks after the summer solstice passed, I put on a face mask and went to my grandmother’s house to make her dinner on the Fourth of July. When the sun set and fireworks started booming in her neighborhood, we hustled to her back porch and saw a sky filled with bursts of light.

We sat outside for a good half hour, watching neighbors on all sides put on their own private fireworks shows in the streets. Some of these fireworks were big -- I mean, bigger than what you can probably legally purchase in the state of Ohio.

More than the size (or legality) of the fireworks, I was struck by how many of them there were. I had never seen so many fireworks in the sky at one time; no matter where you turned, you saw twirling sparks and flowering blooms of light.

And smaller displays -- kids across the street running around their driveways with sparklers, throwing snappers on the sidewalk. Music booming from some family gathering a couple of blocks away. The smell of campfire and barbecue smoke.

Private celebrations, everywhere.

This was an odd Fourth of July, one that stood apart from parties or family cookouts or even the year we went to Washington DC to check out patriotic festivities at the Mall.

Still, out of all the American flag-fueled memories, this quiet night with my grandma -- seeing her smile lit up by the red and blue fireworks crackling in the sky over her backyard -- now stands out as a highlight, a burst of color in a year that’s otherwise washed into gray.

Anne Nickoloff is a life and culture reporter at, where she covers local music, dining and arts scenes in Northeast Ohio -- where she was born and raised. She also hosts an indie radio show called "Sunny Day" on Friday mornings on WRUW-FM 91.1 Cleveland.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Covid Summer Notes--Monday: July 20, 2020 (Kennelly)

The virus tests my belief that
I am never bored.

Travel cancelled, home since March, still
I am never bored.

Inside, I watch through windows as
summer’s second robin batch
gobbles bright Viburnum berries.

Outside, I prune black raspberry vines
sprouted uninvited
in the daylily bed. July’s crop is in. I discover
wasps between fruit and prickly thorns.
Their many-chambered nest lies
next to my scissors.

I decide to leave that chore
till first freeze.

Inside again, I write, I nap (why not?),
I wash the summer berries
who await their fate:
Raspberry and peach clafoutis, my Covid cooking discovery,
necessity born.
Who knew this French-inspired
dish might be supper if served sans sugar?
Chickpea flour, eggs, milk, all check diet boxes.
Dessert for supper? Mais oui.

After clafoutis, the bright-lit screen awaits.

In olden days (my childhood) my personal plastic portable
radio linked to fiction.
I listened as I watched sparrows
avoid shoebox traps I’d set outside my window.
I’d draw and dream.

But now, tonight, no live theater, concerts, recitals.
I miss them; I miss reviewing, writing about them.
But I am not bored.

I notice as I finish this note
that it’s actually 20, 2020. How cool is that?

I am easily amused.
I am never bored.
So far.

Laura Kennelly’s first collection of poetry was The Passage of Mrs. Jung (Norton Coker Press, 1990). Her work has also appeared in A Certain Attitude: Poems by Seven Texas Women (Pecan Grove Press, 1995), and Letters to the World (Red Hen Press, 2010). An Ohio resident since 1996, she’s also written for Cool Cleveland, Northern Ohio Live, and Scene.