north of oxford

Bad Things Happened by Holly Day

Bad Things Happened by Holly Day
We could feel the spirits only when we sat
by the walls. There was something left behind by those who sat
just there, under His eyes, in the back row of hard, wooden pews
the fear of God. There was such an obvious difference between where
the good Christians and the bad Christians sat in that place.
They were as powerful as they were exotic, the ghosts
of terror, His omniscience, the flapping of stained sheets
just out of sight. Their eyes bent spades into old train cars
huddled shadows in the rusty quiet, dreams of wheels turning.
I wanted so badly to stand in the room as a light
to take a small bit of their pain into me and survive it all
next time. There are bodies in the lake out back
that need to be counted. My visions can wait
but He will never come.
Holly Day’s poetry has recently appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, Grain, and Harvard Review. Her newest poetry collections are Where We Went Wrong (Clare Songbirds Publishing), Into the Cracks (Golden Antelope Press), Cross Referencing a Book of Summer (Silver Bow Publishing), and The Tooth is the Largest Organ in the Human Body (Anaphora Literary Press).

Hollywood Rain by Scott Laudati

Hollywood Rain by Scott Laudati
You started off looking for Rome like I did.
In poems, in love letters,
written for a city planes fly to every day
but you knew
or decided
you hadn’t earned it yet.
you went to West Hollywood,
a walk each night down Sunset,
not exactly The Malecón
or The Rue des Rosiers
but the girls are skinny
and sometimes you follow the one
with the German Shepard
up Rodeo
to a house her father couldn’t afford
until they painted the walls
with Sharon and her baby.
The neighbor’s thought a murder
would sink the value but they forgot
the California sun can
baptize anything.
And when the tourists come
she puts her yoga mat in front of the bay window,
falling into downward dog
like she doesn’t know what she’s doing.
And the men snap pictures of her
stretched out on this cursed land,
almost as rare
as a Hollywood rain
but nowhere near as beautiful.
Scott Laudati’s recent work has appeared in The Cardiff Review and The Columbia Journal. He spends most of his time with a 14 year-old schnoodle named Dolly. Visit him on social media @ScottLaudati

The Cave by Rustin Larson

The Cave
The most beautiful thing I saw today
was a damaged square of sidewalk
where an old butternut tree had fallen
and cracked it like a pie crust
revealing a hollowness that plummeted
forty feet down into an abandoned coal-
mine shaft.  A room with walls of coal.
I once entered a cave, felt an ancient comfort.  Today
I woke in my room.  When I meditate I plummet
and imagine I can understand bird song, the sidewalk
robin, “For this day we thank thee, for thy pie crust
we thank thee, for our lives…” The song falls
down the long shaft of being to where I sit, fallen.
The cave was in Missouri; I felt at home inside; no coal,
just graffiti from Jesse James.  I could see the crusts
of bread strewn in the bandits’ grotto.  Today
however is blind.  I pound the sidewalk
with a stick, hear its hollowness.  Coins plummet
as I throw them into the crack.  A buzzard plummets
from an invisible mountain, roses have fallen
and light the cavern with embers, onions walk
out of the garden, sugar burns into a lump of coal,
the pie becomes a rock, the robin creates day,
our ancestors’ bodies sleep in the earth’s crust.
If I have time for stories, I trust
so many things are subtracted, plummeted
down into nothingness, just like daylight
without earth for it to shine upon, the fallen
soul’s limitless with wings soaring around a coal
of intention in uncreated space, a walk
without soil or solidity.  No, my fragmented walk
is what it is, my mind broken like the crust
of a communion wafer, the lit coal
on the tongue, the destruction, inevitable, plummeting
around and dependent upon and part of the body fallen
from its tower of ashes into unending day.
Rustin Larson’s poetry has appeared in The New Yorker, The Iowa Review, and North American Review. He won 1st Editor’s Prize from Rhino and was a prize winner in The National Poet Hunt and The Chester H. Jones Foundation contests. A graduate of the Vermont College MFA in Writing, Larson was an Iowa Poet at The Des Moines National Poetry Festival, and a featured poet at the Poetry at Round Top Festival.

Supermarket by Lou Gallo

Supermarket by Lou Gallo
When she went out to scout
for ever-dwindling supplies
I sat on the porch rocker
and watched a tiny wren
hop about the front yard
pecking for seeds.
lou gallo
Three volumes of Louis Gallo’s poetry, Archaeology, Scherzo Furiant and Clearing the Attic, are now available.  Three forthcoming volumes, Crash, Why is there Something Rather than Nothing? and Leeway & Advent, will be published in the near future.  His work will appear in Best Short Fiction 2020 forthcoming. A novella, “The Art Deco Lung,” will be published in Storylandia. He teaches at Radford University in Radford, Virginia.

The Tiger in the Grass by Harriet Doerr


By Ray Greenblatt


          Harriet Doerr (1910-2002) grew up and married in California. For nearly twenty years she and her husband ran a mining company in Mexico. In 1984 at the age of 74 she published her first book Stones for Ibarra, which won the National Book Award. Her third and final book, a collection of short stories, The Tiger in the Grass was published in 1995. This review will be a discussion of how effectively she developed setting and character and the essence of her philosophy after such a long and fruitful life. And she used poetic prose to accomplish that.


In the story LIKE HEAVEN the major character Elizabeth has returned to a town she had summered in for years. She wondered if her memories matched the reality of the place. “Beyond Elizabeth, the pink stucco post office was closing for the night. A border of nasturtiums erupted against its side in hot reds and lemon yellows, the intense shades that figure more often in memory than in fact. Elizabeth turned to face the ocean.” Doerr’s use of color is always vivid and varied, often using flowers to represent a particular hue.

“Life on the hill had not been flawless. Elizabeth vaguely recalled the occasional tears of children and slammings of adult doors. But the immense peace of the place drowned out these events, leaving only a shimmering calm behind. Under its protection, summer days could scarcely be told apart and ran together. So that, even while being lived, they had seemed eternal.”


Mexico plays an important role in Doerr’s life and writing. In the story THE SEASONS now in Mexico, color again plays a major role. “Yellow is the color of fall. The cottonwoods burn with it, and only flowers that are yellow go on blooming. At the edges of fields, against unmortared stone boundaries, in roadside ditches, grow all the wild daisies in the world.”

Sudden though infrequent storms punctuate the landscape. “When there is a storm, the thunder rolls up the mountain and down the cobbled street. It stifles the backfire of the passing truck and silences the church bell ringing for vespers. It mutters imprecations in the distance.”

“The lightning forks into an ash tree, into the windmill tower, and finally into the transformer, causing a power failure that may last all night. In the flash there is a second’s eternity of total exposure, the plow left in the furrow, the dented pot on the fire, the woman’s face in the cracked mirror.”

One Character

Some women in these stories are angry and depressed because they have not found who they really are, or in trying to live through their husbands the wives always come up short. Doerr can be very insightful focusing on one individual. In CARNATIONS Ann “lives with herself. They no longer speak. She can’t remember being shut away. Life, like a subway train, simply began to recede, taking the people she knew out of earshot. Either they have stopped listening or she has forgotten the words. In the case of Elliot, her husband, she is out of sight and sound. His eyes focus behind her and his voice is directed to one side. His arms do not reach through the unseen walls.”

On a car trip through Italy with her husband she sees a flower seller who becomes a symbol of what she desires. “Ann supposes that their fragrance hangs about him like incense. He is hatless and wears sandals. They are about to pass him. She hasn’t had time to say ‘Stop.’

Then, in an impact as clear and sudden as the clash of cymbals, Ann’s eyes meet the eyes of the vendor. Their smiles meet and fuse. The second is held in timeless suspension, like a raindrop on a spiderweb.

His arms, lifting the carnations like lanterns, are open in an encompassing embrace. They hold the terraced vineyards and the twisted pines, they hold the marble figures in the tapestried palace walls, the tile on hillside houses and the stone on Roman roads.” This man is so much a Christ figure; and the brilliant flowers again are so important.


Doerr is also effective at handling multiple characters.  The story THE EXTINGUISHING OF GREAT-AUNT ALICE offers us several. “Weeping. It seemed chronic rather than acute, a way of life rather than a trauma.” Alice is old and sad but still retains a vigorous imagination. She shares “the same crystal vision” with her great-niece, eleven-year-old Elizabeth.

“Elizabeth brought strange maps she had drawn of India, France, and Peru, striped with rivers, crocheted with mountains, shaded with forests, dotted with wheat, rice, and corn, red-circled with capitals, and all bounded by shores of a thousand parentheses.”

We meet a kaleidoscope of people, old and young and in between. Alice’s middle-aged son Theo has not found himself and is trying to fit in socially. “He had made a thorough search of the anniversary classes and encountered only eight alumni of his year, all so altered by time and varying levels of despair that none recognized the others.”

Among these uncertain souls stands a solid citizen. “The driver of the station wagon wore thick brown-rimmed glasses and a lime-green pantsuit. She had planted both feet on the ground when she was one and a half, and an aura of common sense hung about her like the aroma of wholesome food. Today she had realized at once that she must pilot the rudderless into safe waters, and set off with purpose and without surprise.” A few strokes by a skilled writer fully rounds a character.


Some Mexican characters are distant as in the story WAY STATIONS.  “There was something in the old woman’s blackbird eyes, something about her slippered feet set parallel on the floor, that discouraged intimacy.”

Others are more outgoing as in SUN, PURE AIR, AND A VIEW. “’Consider this, senora,’ Carlos said, and from the edge of the terrace where they stood, he embraced the landscape, drawing to him the municipality of Santa Felicia, the presidencia, the cathedral, and the zoo, as well as all the plowed and wooded world beyond.”

And in what I think is the most shocking story in the collection, ironically SAINT’S DAY, we see tragic individuals. “Remembering the annoyances that have plagued his life, along with the great injustices, he allows rage to possess him, lets it burn hot and blind and pure, until at last he strikes the back of the bench and bloodies his good hand.”

His wife has been traumatized to near immobility. When her son Paco asks her for help, “she neither looked at him nor moved from where she sat on

the edge of the bed, her elbows on her knees, her thin fingers pressed to her eyes, rocking back and forth, as if the rocking itself might serve for something. As if it, more than tears, might speak for her.”

Paco is still a fanciful little boy. Strangely he reminds me of the little boy from John Updike’s short story You’ll Never Know, Dear, How Much I Love You. Both boys love the thrill of the carnival. However, Updike’s character has the entire world ahead of him to look forward to. Paco is from a distressed environment without much hope for the future. His immediate goal is to ride on the carousel. “Now, for five minutes, Paco is a child without past. This interval contains his whole life. So his day ends almost as he had planned, riding a horse to music under stars.” Meanwhile, his sister is being raped by the father.


So many of these stories, and so many of these events that I believe actually happened to Harriet Doerr are involved with memories. Her five senses enable her to call up actions that occurred seventy-five years before. She remembers the walls of their house from A SLEEVE OF RAIN. “You knew them best by touching them, by moving along the half-finished wall, your hand sliding from one rough surface to the next. Dry, hard, complex, indifferent, they were the fiber of your world.”

She claims that she does not clearly know why these memories are dear to her, but I can guess that they recall when her family was close and solid.” Years later and possessing at last the long view, I cannot say whether I touched the wood to claim the house, to establish a connection, or simply for the sake of the shingles themselves, to feel their texture, to smell forest.”

It is an extreme advantage for a writer to have such vivid recall, especially of such positive moments in one’s life.  From LOW TIDE AT FOUR: “Back on the beach, our heads under the umbrella, we lie at compass points like a four-pointed star. The sun hangs hot and high. Small gusts of wind lift the children’s corn-straw hair. We taste salt. Face down, arms wide, we cling to the revolving earth.”

The child sometimes feels the center of the universe, but an author can achieve great power of creativity with this feeling. “I call up my interior reserves and gather strength from my blood and bones. Exerting the full force of my will, I command the earth to leave off circling long enough to hold up the sun, hold back the wave. Long enough for me to paint and frame low tide.”


Harriet Doerr facetiously states that in a writing class she took “all we wanted was the perfect word in the perfect sentence that, when multiplied, would fill the pages of the perfect book.” It is what all writers hope. A symbol for her was THE TIGER IN THE GRASS.  A writer must persist through all uncertainties, all fears to achieve the best writing that she can. “I think of what it is like to write stories. It is a completion. It is discovering something you didn’t know you’d lost. It is finding an answer to a question you never asked.” Through her writing Harriet Doerr found her true self. Considering her style I am surprised that she never wrote poetry.

You can find the book here:

Ray Greenblatt is an editor on the Schuylkill Valley Journal. His book reviews have been published by a variety of periodicals: BookMark Quarterly, Joseph Conrad Today, English Journal, the Dylan Thomas Society, and the John Updike Society. His new book of poetry, Nocturne & Aubades, is newly available from Parnilis Press, 2018.



From The Sogni Banali Series by Marina Kazakova

rain sky
From The Sogni Banali Series
Under the drizzling sky
my heart survived
another grey day
of driving between the lines,
without you,
between the bikes,
in solitude,
between the eyes,
in search for true
crossing the boulevards
 wet and empty,
surrounded by gorgeous
of medieval times:
stuck on an intersection
in admiration
for the arms and shoulders
of a Roman arche –
solid and carved
as my stubborn heart
longing for a sunny afternoon
with the beautiful you.
Your silence is shaking
my heart,
jiggling the floors,
the roof,
the moon above,
knocking the walls,
slapping the doors,
telling my fingers
to write one more
for you and of yours.
In silence i am waiting
for words
to express
how strong
your silence
scratches the interior
of my wobbling heart.
Marina Kazakova (b. Gorky, Russia, 1983) is a Russian-born Belgium-based poet. Her literature works deal to a large degree with confrontation with the past and explore the challenges posed both by memory and grief. Published internationally in magazines and journals (Three Rooms Press “Maintenant”, “Great Weather for Media…”, “Crannog”, “Duck Lake Books”, “Writing in a Woman’s Voice”), Marina is a frequent performer, she has been shortlisted at various international poetry festivals and art events. Marina holds Master’s degrees in Public Relations and Transmedia. Currently, she is the Communications Officer at Victim Support Europe (Brussels) and working on her practice-based PhD in Arts at Luca School of Arts (KULeuven).

Two Poems by Evan Anders

divinity of spring
            sculpting the silence
            we know rain is upon us
            we know there is rage behind the sun
            we know the gutted butterfly will rise
            from her tomb to question the dawn.
            this will not enthrall
            the thorns but nothing will.
            if we are free
            complaining is the only form
            i’m capable of displaying.
            with each death we become
            further detached from the breast
            increasingly animalistic
            continually somber
            periodically sober.
            when nothing remains
            but horizon
            spring will have sprung
            oblivious to suffering
            oblivious as always
            in his fit of rage
            god will go
                                    we are rumors
time whittles
the wick
my forefinger drips blood
a couplet of wine
amongst the stratosphere
we are rumors
brush strokes
a signal of forces
left to our devices.
sorrow begs sorrow,
you know
we were created
in a glimpse
to be extinguished.
Evan Anders brews coffee for mass consumption in Philadelphia. His poems have appeared in Philadelphia Stories, California Quarterly, North Dakota Quarterly, and Poetry Quarterly.

Two Poems by Anthony Aguero

Ezequiel and I would roar down the desert
streets singing the most hopeful
Taylor Swift lyrics because isn’t hope white-
noise. I believed us. I still believe it.
Every morning the coffee with its magic,
and I still believe it holds special properties:
how the creamer changes the color.
How I think of you at the drop of a pin-
the two of us in your truck with KCRW,
or how we bled out hoping someone would
see us. There’s magic in the people I’ve met.
You plucked a key from my throat once
and found a room to dance around inside of.
I was eighteen with a knife in my hand and
a blindfold on: I lick the salt off my wrist.
You promised we’d escape.
I look for you in the crowded room,
the sound of keys rattling inside of me.
The sound still crackling in a distance.
My Family Tells Me Who They Want Me to Be
My dad slams the door on a woman’s fingers
who is not my mother but could have been.
He becomes a piece of rotten flesh
who could have been a good man. He is not
a good man, all the time. The good man with
silt in-between his teeth and a stolen gold-
coin he says I can only touch. I touch the coin
like I probably grasped for his face as an infant.
How knowing the truth can be taking
the first few steps into a river that only
knows how to devour. The plate was cleaned
clear as demanded by a father with a blade-
shaped gaze and tracks that could have lead
to a disappearance. I loved this man. I have
held this man, I think. To be hurt when already
hurting, one would think negates the other.
To negate one another. To be hurt. He is not
a good man, all the time. I loved this man.
I have held this man. This man who is nothing like
my mother who could have easily been that woman.
To be hurt like the two of us have been hurt.
To still be speaking with glass falling from
my mouth. How the art of settling becomes a
glass door. A good man looking back at me through it.
Anthony Aguero is a queer writer in Los Angeles, CA. His work has appeared in the Bangalore Review and The Temz Review.