Editors' Notes

Maria Damon and Michelle Greenblatt
Jim Leftwich and Michelle Greenblatt
Sheila E. Murphy and Michelle Greenblatt

A Visual Conversation on Michelle Greenblatt's ASHES AND SEEDS with Stephen Harrison, Monika Mori | MOO, Jonathan Penton and Michelle Greenblatt

Letters for Michelle: with work by Jukka-Pekka Kervinen, Jeffrey Side, Larry Goodell, mark hartenbach, Charles J. Butler, Alexandria Bryan and Brian Kovich

Visual Poetry by Reed Altemus
Poetry by Glen Armstrong
Poetry by Lana Bella
A Eulogic Poem by John M. Bennett
Elegic Poetry by John M. Bennett
Poetry by Wendy Taylor Carlisle
A Eulogy by Vincent A. Cellucci
Poetry by Vincent A. Cellucci
Poetry by Joel Chace
A Spoken Word Poem and Visual Art by K.R. Copeland
A Eulogy by Alan Fyfe
Poetry by Win Harms
Poetry by Carolyn Hembree
Poetry by Cindy Hochman
A Eulogy by Steffen Horstmann
A Eulogic Poem by Dylan Krieger
An Elegic Poem by Dylan Krieger
Visual Art by Donna Kuhn
Poetry by Louise Landes Levi
Poetry by Jim Lineberger
Poetry by Dennis Mahagin
Poetry by Peter Marra
A Eulogy by Frankie Metro
A Song by Alexis Moon and Jonathan Penton
Poetry by Jay Passer
A Eulogy by Jonathan Penton
Visual Poetry by Anne Elezabeth Pluto and Bryson Dean-Gauthier
Visual Art by Marthe Reed
A Eulogy by Gabriel Ricard
Poetry by Alison Ross
A Short Movie by Bernd Sauermann
Poetry by Christopher Shipman
A Spoken Word Poem by Larissa Shmailo
A Eulogic Poem by Jay Sizemore
Elegic Poetry by Jay Sizemore
Poetry by Felino A. Soriano
Visual Art by Jamie Stoneman
Poetry by Ray Succre
Poetry by Yuriy Tarnawsky
A Song by Marc Vincenz

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by Toni Todd

The ski report described conditions that morning as "hard packed," which to any snow rider with an atom of experience means bullet proof. My partner Pete and I pulled six frostbites off the hill before lunch, two ACL tears, a broken nose from a face plant smack onto the ice, and a shoulder dislocation Pete managed to pop back into place.

Later, I learned that my boyfriend Shane had replaced me with an Aussie shredder named Tiffany, crab apple boobs, spiked purple hair and a thick, shrimp-on-the-barbie, no worries, Outback Steakhouse accent. She was a friggin' snowboarder-chick-Dundee.

It was one in the morning when I staggered home that night, respectable, considering the nature of my day. Tiffany and Shane had been at the bar too, pawing each other in a booth, in the back by the pool tables.

My parka hit the back of the couch as the phone rang.

"I've got no place else to stay." Ben, my older brother, had just been released from rehab. He'd gotten caught pilfering pharmaceuticals from the hospital's supply, enough to inebriate a small city. Until then, Ben's shit had smelled of pumpkin-pie spice and fresh-baked bread to everyone but me.

"They don't know, do they?"

"No," he said. Our parents never knew. Ben was their fair-haired genius; medical school, National Honor Society, summers swinging his noble hammer for Habitat for Humanity. What's most impressive is that he did it all stoned.

* * *

Ben arrived early the next morning. He'd slept in his car.

"You look pretty good," I lied. He tugged his duffle from the back seat of a green Subaru, and I could see there was something less about him. Ben was deflated, a sagging Mylar balloon floating slow and aimless across an empty sky, flying too high for too long.

We sat on the edge of my frayed futon. The space heater glowed red at our stockinged feet, hands cupped around steaming mugs, heels rested on the chipped veneer coffee table. I had run low on firewood for the stove. A sliver of morning eked through a tiny gap in the corner of the trailer, and I thought maybe I should shove some newspaper into it.

"He just left with no explanation?" Ben asked. "Jesus, that's cold."

"Yeah well, it's not like I was going to marry him or anything."

"Did he know that?"

I shrugged.

* * *

Shane had rolled out of bed before dawn that morning and flicked on the light. He stood at my feet, naked, wiry, arms wrapped across his pale, freckled chest. The sun had traced the outline of his goggles like a stencil, brown face, white eyes. Rusty dreads tickled his shoulders. I pulled the comforter up and over my nose, my own ropey, strands splayed across the pillow.

"I'm leaving, Gillian," he said. "Sorry, dude." Shane called everyone dude. Before I could blink away the harshness of the light, he'd grabbed his clothes, dressed, flicked off the light and was gone. The door slammed and the engine of his ancient, ill-maintained piece-of-Swedish-shit Volvo revved to life. I flung back the covers and stumbled to the bedroom window to watch him work a scraper across the windshield. The car clanged and sputtered. Glass steamed where I pressed my nose against the window, frosting over as I breathed against it. I wiped out a circle with the sleeve of my peejays as Shane and his heap faded away in a cloud of exhaust and swirling snow. I crawled back under the covers, buried my face in his pillow and cried.

Places like Carbon Peak were full of Shanes. They migrate to ski resorts every winter, like Muslims to mecca. Some never leave. Shane was 32. For two years we'd been Shane and Gillian, no more, no less, no more.

* * *

"You know, Gil," said Ben, "The one thing Shady Elm Rehab gives you is time to think, unless you'd rather play board games with the other self-loathing cretins in there. I stirred the stew to mush feeling sorry for myself, then thought about you. What is it about this place that holds you? I've been wondering that for years, but just then, it hit me. Endorphins. For me it was drugs, releasing those terrible, wonderful endorphins into the pleasure center of my brain. For you, it's this mountain. You see, endorphins are polypeptide compounds that..." I reached for a three-month-old Powder Magazine near my foot and began to hum, flipping absently through the pages. "This life of yours, it's high risk, Gillian. One day, the odds will catch up with you. You'll get hurt. Ride downhill long enough and fast enough and eventually, it'll take you out."

"As I recall, you were the one who said you had no place else to stay. What if I kick your ass out?"

"Come on, Gillian. You know I love you, and based on your over-the-top reaction right now, I know you know I'm right."

"Do you see these knees? Perfect. All ligaments and tendons intact. No mountain on this earth will ever take me out. I am invincible, I am woma-a-a-an!" I stood and flexed my scrawny biceps. Ben laughed. Our mother had played that song when we were small, and we'd all danced around the house singing along, even Dad.

"You're hooked, Gillian," he said. "Your vices are no better for you than mine are for me. By the way, nice place ya got here."


* * *

In the coming days, Ben landed a part-time job at Mabuhay, a boutique specializing is woolens from Nepal. They sell llama sweaters, alpaca mittens, things no self-respecting, fashion-conscious sherpa should be without. He spent his free time puttering around the trailer. Within a week, the place was spotless. Within two, it felt homey. "Therapy," he called it. "I'm getting things in order. It's a metaphor for getting my shit together." He'd picked up a few posters at the local thrift store, tropical scenes with white sandy beaches, azure seas, palm trees. Meanwhile, I abstained from visiting my local haunts, both in support of Ben's sobriety and to avoid any accidental encounters with Shane and Tiffany.

"Flowers?" Shane had brought home a fresh bouquet a month earlier, for no reason. "It's just to show you how I feel. I love you, Gilly dude," he said, gave me one of those cozy, lingering hugs I'd grown so fond of, then broke away to put the bouquet into a glass of water. He snipped the ends of the stems at an angle, one by one, dropped an aspirin into the water, then lowered them in. "They say it keeps the blooms fresh for longer," he said. "Maybe we should try moving somewhere when the season ends. Try something new."

"Where would we go?" I asked. "What would you do somewhere else?" It might seem like a legitimate exchange, any couple's conversation about the future, but my tone was not inquiring. It was condescending. I knew it then as well as I know it now. I was the one with the college degree and the professional parents with high expectations and the squandered future that would one day be realized, the one who would leave Carbon Peak. Shane would stay behind to work odd jobs, ski, find new and shallower girls to screw.

"I don't know," he said. "Somewhere."

"Right, dude," I said. "Like your skills as a lift op are so in demand." I felt bad the moment I said it, wished to God I hadn't, scrambled to make light of it, but the truth was that I believed it, and he knew that. I am a selfish, stuck-up brat. Shane had loved me despite that, for longer than I deserved.

* * *

The holidays came and went. We toasted them with sparkling cider, just Ben and me, and for the first time in years I wasn't hung over for work on Christmas or New Year's. Before we knew it, Presidents' Day weekend was upon us.

Ben sat on one of two metal folding chairs at the dinette, which bore a remarkable resemblance to a card table. He chewed toast and flipped through the pages of the newspaper. "It'll be nuts out there today, the place swarming with flatlanders," I said. "It never ceases to amaze me why some people choose a ski vacation. They do nothing more than twelve-ounce curls for 25 years after high school. Then Bubba decides he wants to travel to 10,000 feet above sea level and learn one of the most physically demanding sports in the world. Can't you just see him, sitting there in his barcalounger, rubbing his big ol' belly, saying, "'Hey, Claudine. I been thinkin', let's go try 'at there skiin'. Don't 'at look like a hoot?'" I drawled it all out thick. "'It sure do, Bubba. Why, I ain't never seen no snow 'afore.'" Ben spewed coffee out his nose. It was so nice to have him there.

* * *

The call came late in the afternoon, an accident on the steeps. Pete and I had been loitering at the top of Fairview lift, directing traffic, giving directions, dinner recommendations, signaling for people to slow down. We made our way up the T-bar, busted through a narrow trail in the woods and down to the crash site within ten minutes. Three pairs of crossed skis marked the spot. A small crowd had gathered around the victim, with a large man in a Kansas City Chiefs parka standing off to the side. Distraught, he twisted his boot in the snow, shook his head, and said, "Man, I'm so sorry. I couldn't stop. Jesus." I looked down. The victim's lower left leg lay at a grotesque angle from its upper.

"He's breathing," said one good samaritan, "but he won't wake up." A thick rope of blood oozed from the poor fellow's nostrils. A nasty gash slashed across the bridge of his nose. Goggles missing, his hat was mashed down over his eyes. I reached to fold it up. A single, rusty dread dropped out.

"Shane? Can you hear me? Oh shit! Hey, dude, it's me, Gillian." I removed my gloves and touched his cheek. Pete repositioned the leg as gently as possible. Shane groaned. Pete applied the splint, while I bandaged and packed his wounds and checked his vital signs over and over; respiration, pulse, respiration, pulse.

"KC there was out of control," a teenage boy pointed. "Woulda hit a tree or somebody for sure." I recognized the kid as a local from town. He wore a black helmet and a red, padded retro racing sweater. He'd placed his jacket over Shane. "That guy on the ground skied right out in front of him. Held his arms out like he was trying to hug him." I looked toward the bottom of the run, where skiers milled in happy oblivion of the danger from above. "That guy on his back there is a total hero." I stood and approached the man in the Chief's jacket.

"Can you read?"

"What?" He asked.

"There are signs everywhere up here warning that this is expert terrain and there are no easy ways down and that if you can't ski for shit, you shouldn't come up here. Are you an expert, mister?"

"No, but hell, there's always a green way down."

"Why do you think we put those signs up? It's to keep idiots like you away. Ah, but idiots can't read, can they? What were we thinking? Go home! I hate your filthy, stinkin' bubba guts!" One little push on that pitch, and that poser would tumble ass over toe-jam to the base lodge. Pete grabbed my arm.

"Let's go, Gillian." We clicked into our skis, lifted the gurney and began our thigh-burning descent. A snowmobile arrived to give Bubba a ride he didn't deserve. I was reprimanded the next day for unprofessional conduct. Bubba said he felt "threatened" by me.

That night, I abandoned my allegiance to Ben and his newfound sobriety and went to drink at The Ore Bucket with Pete and the crew.

Next day, I drove to Granger, 30 miles away, to visit Shane in the hospital. He was doped and sleeping. Tiffany was there, holding his hand, singing,"It's a Small World," over and over.

"We're moving to Denver," she said as I entered, never taking her eyes off Shane. "He's already signed up for classes at Arapahoe Community College next fall." She leaned to speak straight into his ear. "You should be just fine by then, baby," She said. "My sister has a salon in Englewood and says I can work there. It's only ten bucks an hour, but it gets us out of here." She stroked her teensy white hand along his cheek. Orange nails clashed with her hair. "Plus the man who hit him? He gave us ten grand cash, straight into our account, so long as we don't sue. He said it's the least he can do."

"It is the least he can do," I said. Our account? "Did you say college?" There was that lofty tone of mine.

"Yeah. He reads books about trees and animals and the environment all the time. He wants to study forestry and get a job as a park ranger." She pronounced the words, pock rinejah.

"That sounds great," I said, feeling as though I'd just fallen through the looking glass.

* * *

Coffee gurgled. Pop Tarts popped. I felt better the next morning than I should have, despite Shane's crash, his leaving, my hangover, Ben's admonishments. Maybe it was because I knew Shane would be OK. I'd also been given the day off, to cool down over Bubba, and was suddenly giddy to cruise the corduroy on my own, edges slicing clean arcs into the freshly ripped snow, to dance through glades, crank tight turns down steep faces, knees pumping through vast fields of moguls big as Volkswagons. If I felt so good just thinking about it, I knew I'd be Rocky Mountain High by happy hour.

"Why don't you come take a few runs with me on the mountain today?" I asked Ben as he sat in his usual spot. My invitation was insincere and I'm sure he could tell. Ben was a decent skier, but cautious. We'd learned together as kids, but it hadn't come naturally to Ben, and he drifted toward other forms of recreation.

"I'm leaving Gillian."

"You just got here."

"It's been three months."

"What will you tell Mom and Dad?"

"I'll give them the basics, tell them I had some back trouble from all those hours on my feet at the hospital, got a scrip for pain killers, refilled it a few times and found myself hooked. I took a temporary leave from my residency to deal with it, I'm clean now, doing yoga and going to mass on Sundays." The basics beat the truth every time for Ben.

"Nice. Will you tell them you've been here?"

"Sure, and what a fine sister you've been to help me out. They do love you, you know. You could come with me."

"They love you more," I said, "and there's no snow in Phoenix."

"There's more to life than snow, Gillian," he said.

I poured myself another cup.

"What do you want to be when you grow up, Gillian?"

"What I do is important. Somebody's got to pull injured people off the mountain. I help people, Ben, just like any doctor. I helped Shane. I could do this forever and feel damn good about it."

"Do you do it because it's important, or because it's a way to get paid to ski every day?"

"What difference does it make?" I asked.

"When you're 40, or 50, or 60, with no husband and no family, when your knees have been ripped apart and your back is crunchy and stiff with arthritis, what then?"

"We have patrolmen that old," I said, "and they're fine. Jerry, the guy next door, I think, he's 57. He's part-time now, but still."

"Oh, yeah. So, does he own his trailer, or is he still renting?"

"What difference does it make as long as he's happy?"

"I am not judging Jerry. He's not my sister. Your life's a copout, like living at Disneyland."

"What's wrong with Disneyland?" Tiffany's song floated through my head.

"You're hooked, Gillian."

He lunged my way and pulled me in for a long squeeze, the old big brother embrace I knew so well, stronger now than when he'd arrived in December.

"Endorphins," I said.

"I'll tell the folks hi for you."

"You do that." I snatched my parka and headed through the door.

* * *

It was the last run of a spectacular day. I had forgotten about Ben and Shane. Well, not totally, but screw them is what I was thinking just then. My legs felt good, rubbery, spent and satisfied from a thousand turns. I love Disneyland. I love endorphins. I had caught up with a band of brethren patrollers, one instructor and a lifty friend of Shane's, all long-time locals I knew well.

"Last one to the bottom buys," someone yelled. We were off, each searching for our own fastest route. I spotted a trail between two trees at the bottom of a v-shaped grove I had never noticed before and veered toward it. It was a narrow path to edge of a tree well, a whoop-dee-doo as the kids call them. But this gully was tight and deep. My tips augured in, and stuck. You could almost hear the cartoon, "Boing!"

* * *

I came to surrounded by a small crowd.

"You want a ride down?" It was Pete, on patrol solo that day. I stood, wobbled and tested each leg.

"I'm OK." He followed me anyway. By the time I reached the bottom, my back had seized. Pete helped me to the locker room, removed my boots and tied my sneakers. We bounced to the hospital in his squeaky truck.

Nurses noticed abrasions across the bridge of my nose—nothing like Shane's, but still hard to ignore—a small cut where the goggles had been mashed against my cheek on impact. The diagnosis? Multiple contusions. Go home, rest. Take a few days off. They sent me away, a bottle of prescription-strength ibuprofen in my pocket. Pete dropped me off. The trailer was dark. Ben was gone. I could see my breath inside.

The next morning, lifting my head from the pillow, it was as if someone was stabbing me in the neck with a steak knife, twisting it for spite. Fingers: numb. Head: throbbing. I called the clinic. The bus ride was excruciating.

* * *

Jeffrey Coen is the go-to orthopedist in Carbon Peak. Everybody sees him eventually. I had never met the man. I'd been re-x-rayed and placed in an examination room to wait. He entered, black hair disheveled, the collar on one side of his white lab coat flipped up, big, tortoise shell glasses listing across his enormous nose like a sinking ship.

"Congratulations. You broke your neck." Dr. Coen reached to shake my hand, a tiny-toothed grin in appreciation of his own flippancy. He gripped the film with delicate fingers, jammed it into the clips above the light-board and pointed.

"How can that be?" I asked. "I'm not paralyzed."

"It's your sixth cervical vertebrae. That can mean paralysis, but not always. Of course, one slip on your way here today, something to jar your constitution, and we might be fitting you for a wheelchair," He chuckled. The Orthopedic Comedy Hour with Dr. Coen.

Smiley reached for his skeleton, a malnourished fellow for whom the name Smiley was also apt.

"Here," he said, and tapped the base of the boney one's neck. "The reason you are not incapacitated is that the fractures are stable and clean."

"Fractures?" I asked.

"Here, here and here." Dr. Coen held the red, ropey tube threaded vertically through the holes in Smily's spine. "But it would seem this was spared."

Dr. Coen excused himself from the room. When he returned, he was accompanied by a young man with blonde, thinning hair, a goatee and rosy cheeks. The man wore Carhartts and a gray t-shirt. A tool belt slung across his hips like a gunslinger's holster. He held a wrench in one hand and some sort of metallic contraption in another, straps dangling from a mass of aluminum and vinyl.

"This is Jason. He's my technician." The men approached, Jason with his tools, Dr. Coen holding a pair of scissors.

I stood. The good doctor grasped the bottom of my shirt and clipped it off. He also removed my cap.

"Do you like this bra?" He pointed with scissors toward my chest.


"Because you could be wearing it for a long time." He snickered as Jason held up the contraption and smiled.

"This is your new best friend," said the doctor. "You will wear it 24 hours a day, seven days a week for the next eight weeks."

"Can I take it off to shower?"

"You will wear this in the shower."

"How will I sleep?"

"Probably not well. Never, under any circumstances, are you to take this off."

"So in eight weeks, I'll be good to go?"

"In eight weeks, this brace will be replaced with a soft collar that you'll wear for another two months. During that time, you'll be engaged in rehabilitative physical therapy. The bones won't be completely knitted until next fall. Until then, I would avoid unnecessary risks."

"Like what?"

"Well, I wouldn't dive into any shallow pools if I were you." Jason loved this one. I'd have smacked the grins off both their faces if I didn't think doing so would hurt. Me, that is, not them.

Pete stopped by with a get well jug. After a week alone with Jack D., too many soap operas and Shane's detective novels, I ventured out. Listening to my cohorts yak about the day, hearing how well the steeps were holding up, how good the snow was everywhere, I felt like one of those dogs trained to balance a piece of cheese on its nose, salivating, drool sliming my chin and dripping to the floor, waiting for the OK that never came to gobble it down.

* * *

"Sorry I haven't called." Ben's voice sounded strong. It had been two weeks. "I wanted to tell you that the meeting with the folks went fine."

"That's great, Benny," I said.

"What's wrong with you?"

"Just tired. Crummy snow. No money."

"I could send you some," he said.

"Snow or money? You keep it. I'm fine."

* * *

I'd taken to riding the bus around town every day, just for something to do. Eight weeks had passed, and the contraption would be removed the next day. That afternoon was gray and drippy warm. Tiny rivers streaked the bare blacktop as a few, stubborn white patches clung to rooftops and lurked in the shadows of buildings. The bus was empty but for a few late-day shoppers, non-skiing wives and girlfriends—weren't there ever any non-skiing boyfriends?—and a few locals I didn't recognize. I rode with no destination and was midway through a second loop, going nowhere. The diesel shuttered to a stop. A young man pulled himself up by the chrome bars along the sides of the steps. Tall and bald, he lowered himself onto one of the sideways seats at the front of the bus, those reserved for the handicapped and elderly, straight across from me. Narrow rods shot up through the neck of his shirt and connected to a metal ring that encircled his head. Long screws, like spokes, bore straight from the steel halo into his skull. Skin had puckered and healed around them. He grinned.

"Pretty freaky, huh, he said. "I'm just glad I can walk. You made out OK too, I see."

We rode together to the next stop, where I got up to leave. "Hang in there, kid," he said. I waved goodbye, stumbled down the steps and walked, posture-perfect, the rest of the way home.

The answering machine was blinking red in the dim light of the trailer. I draped my coat over a chair, grabbed a beer from the fridge, and pushed the button.

"Gillian, this is your mother. There's been an accident. Your brother..." I put down the bottle on the coffee table, where Ben should have been sitting, reading the paper, drinking a cup of tea. "Intensive care" she said, "... transfusion... ventilator... toxicology report... Please call, Gillian. Please, come home."

* * *

Pete arrived within an hour and within another, agreed to buy my trailer for cash. He would sell my stuff for as much as he could get and send me a check. The next morning, Jason lifted off the brace like an astronaut's helmet, to the nodding approval of Dr. Coen. The human head is heavier than you'd imagine. Neck muscles atrophy when not in use. Holding up my melon was like trying to balance a bowling ball on a string.

I settled into the driver's seat of my long dormant Beetle, eyes blurred, head cushioned by a pillow, foam collar snug and warm around my throat. Turning the key, the bug purred to life. Chairlifts on the mountain would soon hang empty, but winter would find a way to return to this place, flake by beautiful, addictive flake. A glance in the rearview mirror, and there, leaning against the railing on the porch were my skis and poles. I stared, hard, their image searing into my retinas like a cattle brand.

Pangs jabbed my neck as I wrestled the sticks into the bug, resting them between the bucket seats. I slid in beside them, lifting a hand to feel the dings in the gloss of the graphics, the steel edges nicked and ragged from rocks hidden beneath thin layers of snow on steep faces. Door slammed shut, I restarted the engine, gripped the wheel and rolled to the stop sign. Unable to turn my head, eyes strained right, then left, then right again, vision blurred by a welling of tears I could not control. Head pressed hard against the pillow, the new, spongy collar itchy and hot, I hit the gas and pulled out onto the highway, going downhill—fast.

Toni divides her time between Colorado and Hawaii. She's worked as both a radio and print journalist, and continues to write freelance essays for local newspapers and magazines. Additional work experience includes ski instructor, boot-fitter, wine-tasting pourer, bank teller, census enumerator and berry picker.

Toni earned her MFA from the University of Alaska at Anchorage in 2012. Her short fiction has been published in several literary journals. She currently teaches Strategic Communications at Western State Colorado University. She's a DJ at KBUT Community Radio in Crested Butte, Colo., host of “The Aloha Connection,” a Hawaiian Music show that airs and streams on Saturday afternoons.

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