Issue 4.1: Carla Kirchner

Issue No 4.1

Tidal Volume by Carla Kirchner
“The man in the bed, the bloated body that used to be your husband, is now a whale…”

The Fledgling by Susan Pagani
“A child had died in the neighborhood. A four-year-old girl called Molly. The day it happened, there had been snow…”

Adephagia by Beth Sherman
“Did she get to eat all the sacrifices or were there limits? Yes to pigeon dressed with cucumbers and olives, no to hindquarters of roasted lamb…”

The Blue Cup by Beth Sherman
“She lay on the table and looked up. There was a naked light bulb directly overhead and it was bright so she shut her eyes again…”

Blackbird by Beth Bilderback
“I sang it when he was brand new and still completely stunned to find himself on earth. I sang it while holding his foot through the slats of the crib, a flashlight in my other hand creating planets of light on the ceiling…”

The Leo Burke Finish by Michael Chin
“I was a quiet child. I have theories. Theories about my father’s scolding leaving little room for me to speak…”

Black Market Fish by Jonathan Harper
“We are floating towards the top of the world…”

Trail Magic by JoDean Nicolette
“I met her feet first, just north of the Great Smoky Mountains. I was sitting on a spruce log next to the trail, scowling down at my filthy socks when her boots slid into my field of vision…”

Kiss by Patricia Budd
“Father asked the Navy
for a loan, a dead horse,
to buy the coffin
Grandma favored
for her youngest….”

Dream Man #5 by Krista Cox
“He does not ask you to perch on a curb
outside an abandoned gas station while he accepts…”

Onset of my Quonset by Susan Grimm
“I always think of the grassy beach
hat one of my aunts wore. Conical not pointy. Maybe…”

Or Else by Susan Grimm
“Something elegant. Sometimes eliminated in the automatons
of other centuries. The stocky robots, stiff-armed…”

Elegy for Bob Kaufman by Ashton Kamburoff
“The difference between pleasant
and peasant is a quick ride
on the L. Bone blue window
of the soul, we know that song…”

Eurydice suite by Robert Miltner
“summer morning slow time the quiet of pillowed beds under canopy & branch languid touch & solace…”

Seamus Heaney in Community College Summer School by Adam Tavel
“We drowse in the purgatorial
classroom, blinds cranked closed
while YouTube bogs, stuttering
through The Troubles, the Celtic…”

Tidal Volume


The man in the bed, the bloated body that used to be your husband, is now a whale, barely alive beneath the roping IV lines, the heart monitor wire, the catheter tubing, the hook of the ventilator. His skin is tight and shiny, and you wonder if every part of him is swollen. If you were to lift his gown, you would see the small holes in his side through which doctors fished out what was left of his appendix one week ago. Even then, he was dying, the bacteria and infection already swimming through his bloodstream. But you did not know this.

Here it rains. The drops sound like fingers drumming against the glass of the window. Somewhere there must be sun. There must be white, puffy clouds in the shapes of cats and lazy rabbits, clouds that stay where they belong. Somewhere there must be a place with a clear separation between land and sky, where the clouds do not hug the ground, where the world is not water.

All night you bob in the turquoise recliner and watch the shadows of the ICU nurses float along the walls. The ventilator pumps oxygen in a loud whisper, in and out, in and out like a steady tide. You swirl and spin on the edge of sleep. Water is beginning to puddle around his arms and ears.

The doctor arrives at 9:00 a.m. She is doing the breaststroke. “He could be here a day, a month, a year. He is not supposed to be here at all,” she says, almost shouting over the constant rush of water. The doctor tells you this: he is drowning in his own juices. His lungs are soaked sponges. Although his beard still grows, thick dark whiskers that push against the tape holding the ventilator in place, septic shock has shut down his organs. The brown coral of his brain is sedated.

Outside, on the north wing of the hospital, patients and their families sit on the roof and cling to the tall oak trees lining the ambulance entrance. All of you lift your hands toward what is left of sky and pray for less rain, less mud and water. All of you can only wait.

Time passes strangely underwater. It trickles and blurs. It expands, like the way your breasts and feet always looked enormous when viewed through the water’s lens of the swimming pool down the street. Sound also carries quickly. The room is alive with constant beeping. You mark the time with these machines. His ventilator is difficult to see through the rising flood. Nurses must wear scuba gear to record his respiratory rate, the flow, the tidal volume. Around him everything is floating, but he only moves in the regular waves on computer screens. The EEG. The EKG. He is all rhythm, crests and troughs.

You mark time with puzzles. You worked the jigsaw in the waiting room three times before the cardboard got too soggy and the photograph collapsed. It was a picture of a lake, impossibly blue and still. There were no ripples. It was not like real water at all. Now you have turned to damp crosswords that float up from the gift store on the third floor. Sea—a three-letter word for sky. Fish—a four-letter word for love. Water—a five-letter word for grief.

One morning, his urine bag is a jellyfish, his kidneys pumping out the excess fluid, he is slowly beginning to recede. A whole school of doctors and specialists come to visit. The nephrologist trawls the hallways. The internist and neurologist arrive together in a kayak.

“There is good news this morning, and there is bad,” they say. Recovery will be long, and there is no guarantee that in the end any part of him will be salvageable. His lungs are still soaking. His brain may never dry and catch fire.

You must go home, get about your life,” says the lanky cardiologist. His swim trunks are beginning to slip down his thin behind. Your own underwear is pasted uncomfortably to your thighs. When you close your eyes you sink and then, somehow, slowly resurface. Your vision is blurred.

At home, your husband’s face floats down from picture frames now wedged on top of the kitchen cabinets. In the bedroom, his shoes are brown fish. A sofa cushion drifts by, and you drag your heavy body into it and drop into a deep sleep in which you dream of this:

You and the cardiologist stand next to a pond. There is sky. The smooth, brown water stays within its firm banks. The doctor slowly impales a wriggling worm on a hook. The fat shadows of fish wait beneath the surface: spotted ones, striped ones, slow-moving suckers, and fast silver flashes. You fling your line to heaven where it twists and whips and slices the sky like a prayer. Already you are picturing your hook in the mouth of a plump, whiskered catfish. Already you are deciding whether to keep him or to let him go.


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