Posted in 2018-2019, Issue 02, Poetry

Someone I Didn’t Know

by Sara Malott

I’ve never hurt so badly for someone I didn’t know.
I am working to rehumanize you, to turn your name
back into a feeling, to recover it from passing dinner
conversations. When I was younger, I used to hate
when my parents talked around me. I gathered snippets
like dandelions, but it was never enough to make sense.
I’ll explain when you’re older: worthy of little eye-rolls
and balled fists. Now, I am older and I don’t want
an explanation. I want to hold your children and cry
with them, I want to plaster your face around town
Your candle didn’t just burn out it was snuffed.
In explaining your story, my mother
started by calling you an alcoholic, but I know that yours
was not a simple tale. You are not a problem I need to
solve. I still don’t know how you ended things,
but that has not stopped me from inventing
that night in my mind. I do not want to turn you into
an example. In this poem there is only you and I
don’t believe we go anywhere after earth, but I would
try if it meant getting the chance to meet you. Yes, it
would be easy to say you got dealt a shitty hand, but
this isn’t a game and I’m sorry it was treated as such.
I found out that you liked to write, but I can’t say we would
have sat in a coffee shop scribbling about life together.
I think about it sometimes. To be honest,
I don’t know what any of this means. Processing you
is like trying to churn rock hard cement and somehow
I am always the fool expecting it to soften again. All I can
see is your skeleton hanging in my father’s closet, buried
so far in the back because I think he is trying to forget and
sometimes he exceeds.
But I never will.

Posted in 2018-2019, Issue 02, Poetry

Hagerstown As A Destination

by Sara Malott

I sit at a high-top table by a big open window
Looking over the streets of my birth place
I look up and I see blue skies finally
A promise of an eventual spring.
Around me are stoic brick buildings
Older than anyone I’ve ever met. Across the street
Award Beauty School, rusted hanging white sign
Above a school that has been closed for ages
And I am reminded that there was a list at one time
Claiming our city to have the third largest collection of ugly men
In the country. Satisfied customers stroll out of the age-old
German restaurant, doors held open by rusty bolts and miracles.
A man in a blue-buffalo-checked shirt
Walks through the middle of the road and inspects each car
He passes. A stop sign is angled directly towards myself
And I am worried that I am exposing somebody’s secrets.

The ground below me is all concrete and pavement. The
County commuter bus stops for no one while a balding man pushes
A double stroller down the sidewalk with only one kid.
I will leave this library and go home soon to a neighborhood
With houses that do not have TV satellites hanging by a thread
From somebody’s window. I will go home to a neighborhood
Where people still hide their drunk crumplings behind the bedroom door.
In my neighborhood there is only mowed grass and flower beds.
You will not find cop cars or cigarette butts on the streets.

Yes, I was born here
Yes I call this place my home but I have been lying to myself
For too long. I do not know what it is like to ride a bike
On these streets after sundown. I am not around to see
Lost souls shooting up in the back alleys. I am still taken aback
When I see people without homes talking to themselves
On the streets in mid-day. This is not my home
I am but a visitor. So today, I write this poem as one
Would make a scrapbook documenting a beautiful vacation.
I am a tourist. Here are the attractions.
I will be back soon.

Posted in 2018-2019, Fiction, November 2018

A Rumble in the Cemetery

By Sara Malott

“Lilly, go play,” said Mother. “I saw some lovely little headstones on the way in. They’re just adorable. Go find me the prettiest one.”

Lilly glared at Mother, but reluctantly walked away. Her parents were combing out the details of Grandmother’s burial. Lilly wasn’t thrilled about coming along for the trip. She didn’t know Grandmother all that well and she didn’t grasp the whole “death” thing yet. Once Mother was out of sight, Lilly ran. She ran as fast as she could while doing her best to avoid flowers and tombstones. In the distance she could hear the ringing of church bells.  

She came to a tree and sat to catch her breath. Next to her there was a headstone. A blank headstone. She didn’t think anything of it until she heard knocking. It was soft at first, gradually growing louder and louder. Lilly cocked her head as she tried to locate the noise.Then she cupped her ear and put her head to the ground. It became clear that the knocking was a wood-like sound. Coffin wood perhaps. She was about to write the knocking off as one of the many earthly wonders she did not yet comprehend when she heard her name. The knocking softened but from the ground came the faintest Lilly she’d ever heard. Again Lilly ran as fast as she could back to her parents. Tears streaked the apples of her cheeks as she made her way through the field. Her parents were standing outside the church talking to the minister. She leaped and wrapped herself around her mother’s leg.

“Lilly darling, there you are. I was starting to worry about you.”

She pulled away while keeping her wide eyed stare.

“Lilly, what’s wrong, love? Frank look at her. She’s as white as a sheet.”

Lilly nodded intently while keeping hold of her mother’s pant leg. Frank bent down and put a hand on Lilly’s shoulder.

“Hey, babydoll. There’s nothing to be scared of. What was it? What did you see?”

Lilly nodded and buried her face in her mother’s pants.

“Lilly, I promise that there isn’t anything scary about this place. Nothing at all. Let me show you. We can walk through and everything will be just fine.”

Reluctantly, Lilly pulled away from her mother. She took her father’s hand and together they started walking. By the time they got back to the tree, Lilly had nearly forgotten why she’d been so scared in the first place. Then, she pointed to the tombstone.

“Hmm… that’s weird. There’s no name here.”

He bent over to look at the grave. He started wiping off the stone to reveal that it in fact had a name written on it. As he was wiping away the dirt, he heard it too. There was the knocking. Then a Frank came ever so softly from the ground. He put his head to the dirt to listen more closely. Immediately his head was swallowed whole by the dirt. Then his torso, then his legs. In a matter of seconds, Lilly watched her father disappear before her eyes.

Before Lilly could even process what happened, the name on the tomb revealed itself letter by letter as the dust blew away. Beneath it was written: “Frank Mckinney. Rest in peace.”

Posted in 2017-2018, Poetry

A Conversation I Worry About Far Too Often

By Sara Malott

Of course I love you,
and of course I will miss you
to the moon and back,
but I can’t stay here.
There’s nothing left for me;
nothing at all.
I want to go away and make new memories.
Why?
Momma, this town follows me around like a disease.
I really need to get away.

I am scared of getting stuck.
Like a little oak tree in a forest of oak trees,
I don’t want my roots to get too comfortable.
I think the longer I stay,
the harder it will be to go.

No, I’m not sure where I want to go.
I want to write,
and I want to have kids to tell stories to,
but I don’t want them to be raised here.
To most of the people in this town,
I’m just someone’s niece
or someone’s granddaughter.
They see my last name and they know who I am.
It’s like a title
that wasn’t meant for me.

I see the old guys at the football games.
Graduate class of ‘73
They talk about old Coach Hammer
like they just had his class the other day.
They never leave.
Why would they?
Their whole lives are here.
This is all they have to hold onto.

I will never be just here or just high school.
That’s why I have to go.
I might come back to visit though,
because as much as I hate to admit it,
this town raised me.
These people made me who I am.

Posted in 2016-2017, Issue #03, Non-Fiction

It Started With a Book

By Sara Malott

A new assistant pastor was hired at our church. He’s a small, older man with glasses and a bald head. He has a dry sense of humor, but he’s very friendly. He’s all dad jokes and pats on the shoulder. Typically, I don’t connect well with older adults. I have a handful of experiences when I have been caught in an awkward situation with an older person and they never end well. Usually I am just stuck staring at the ground, observing my shoes, and coming up with my best excuse to leave. I have a feeling this is why most adults write teens off as antisocial when in reality it is just a struggle to find common ground.

I assumed that the new pastor and I would have next to nothing to talk about, so I’d try to avoid standing near him for long periods of time. This was a tedious task considering our little church. I’d smile, wave and give an occasional hello, but the minute I thought he was trying to speak to me I’d dart off. Maybe teenagers are antisocial.

Last sunday, he had me cornered. He told a few others in the church that he was looking for me and he had something to give me after sunday school. The moment I got down the stairs he caught me.

To my surprise, he handed me a book. He patted me on the shoulder and smiled.

“I was cleaning out my library,” he said, “and I wanted you to have this.” The book was Why I Write by George Orwell. This man that I had never spoken to before had taken the time to learn my name and the fact that I was a writer. I was flattered, but I wasn’t quite sure what to say. I took the book back to my seat and thought about his act of kindness.

A few moments later I saw him stand before the pulpit. Coincidentally, he was preaching. I rested my head on the pew in front of me and closed my eyes. I wanted to take in everything he was saying. His sermon was about who we will become. He was talking about the people who get confirmed in the church and then never come back. He spoke about people who radiate goodness everywhere they go. He told a story about his old sunday school teacher and how, at ninety-two, the only thing left that she could do was pray.

I’m glad the world still has people who pray for the rest of us. Heaven only knows how badly this world is in need of prayer. But I’m also glad for people like this pastor who still hang around. We are so selfish in thinking only about what we need to do for ourselves. I’m not sure I believe in people who only radiate goodness; we all have our baggage. But I do believe that goodness is still here.

Do something nice for someone this week, but don’t tell anyone about it. Write a note to your best friend. Give someone a hug. Make a batch of cookies for your mom. Visit a nursing home. Take your little brother to the park. Help your dad move boxes in the garage. Your act of kindness will never go to waste. We are all on the same journey. It’s easier if we can manage to make each smile along the way.

Posted in 2016-2017, Fiction, Issue #03

A Friend at the Door

By Sara Malott

To Mr. Jeff,

I wanted to tell you that I like the red shirt you were wearing today, but I wasn’t sure how. You don’t say much other that good morning or have a nice day. I was scared that maybe good morning and have a nice day are the only phrases you know. I didn’t want to confuse you. I told my mom and she just laughed a little bit. She said you could probably read a note and that you might appreciate this one. So, Mr. Jeff, I wanted to say that I really liked your red shirt.

Hello Mr. Jeff,

Today we had career day at school. My father was busy and my mom doesn’t work, so I didn’t bring anyone to school with me. Lots of dads have cool jobs. Bryce’s dad kills bugs. Alex’s dad flies planes. Everyone was kinda disappointed when I told them my dad just worked at a bank. So then I told them about you, Jeff the doorman. Lacey said your job was stupid and you probably didn’t make that much money. I think she’s stupid. Ms. K said that being a doorman is an honorable job. I think I could be a good doorman when I grow up. Maybe you could give me lessons sometime.

For Mr. Jeff

This morning when I was leaving for school, you dropped your wallet when I said hi. It looked like you were looking at something. I’m sorry if I scared you. I’m not scared of people but I am scared of poison ivy and big storms. When you bent over to pick up your wallet I saw a little bit of your underpants. They were green with cards on them. I know, because me and my dad used to play cards a lot. Now he has to do his job all the time, so we don’t really play cards anymore. But my dad has a picture of me in his wallet. He tells me that he shows all his friends at his job what I look like. They tell him that I am getting very big. They tell him that I look just like him. Do you have any pictures in your wallet? You should show me them sometime if you do. Then maybe I can tell you if the pictures look like you.

@ Mr. Jeff

Today my mom taught me what an “at” symbol is. She says people use it when they are writing an email to somebody. I don’t have an email so I thought I might use it when I’m writing to you. I know it doesn’t really make sense, because at Mr. Jeff doesn’t make sense, but I wanted to use it anyway. You should really think about writing me back, because it takes a little while for me to write these.

Mr. Jeff,

We have Christmas break this week. I told my mom that we should invite you to our apartment, but she said that probably wasn’t a good idea. She said you probably wouldn’t come and then she said you probably had to spend time at your own apartment. Do you have an apartment? Do you live in a house? Do you live in a box under a bridge like the trolls my dad tells me about? You look like you might be a good troll.

Dear Mr. Jeff,

I’m sorry I called you a troll. My mom said that might hurt your feelings. We saw a really fat lady at the movie theater. She was sitting right next to us and I said, “Mom that lady is huge!” And she yelled at me for being rude. Then I said, “Mom, that lady is the opposite of skinny!” And she just rolled her eyes. So I’m sorry for calling you a troll.

P.S. Today we learned about writing letters and we learned about using P.S. We also learned about starting a letter with Dear.

Dear Mr. Jeff,

I’m having birthday party this weekend. I want you to come. We live in 6F and it’s at two o’clock on Saturday. I think you should come. You are my friend. If you don’t come, I guess it’s ok because adults have a lot of stuff to do.

Another P.S. I realize you might not know my name. It’s Simon. I’m in the fourth grade. I have Mrs. Hersch. If you’d like to know more, come to my birthday party. Thank you.

Thanks Mr. Jeff,

I’m really happy you came to my party. I had a lot of fun. Wanna go to the park next Saturday? I really like the swings. We could have a picnic. My mom always says she makes a mean PB&J. You can bring your dogs along. I could tell you liked to talk about them a lot. I wish I had a dog. Maybe you could bring yours to work with you sometime. I have so much more I want to tell you about. Let me know if you’d want to go to the park. Have a nice day!

– Simon

Posted in 2016-2017, Issue #02, Poetry

Cheese Stick Love

By Sara Malott

It was just your everyday
flimsy cardboard
takeout box.
The words “thank you”
and “come again”
were printed on top.

I want to be the reason you smile
every time you see pink roses
that look just like the pink roses
on the dress
I wore to your grandmother’s birthday party.

Every inch of the box
covered in yesterday’s grease.
The smell of the garlicky contents inside
overpowered our refrigerator
and soon I could almost hear my name
being whispered by the brown greasy box.

I don’t want to be
the reason you wake up every morning.
But I want to be the reason you take a shower
because you want to smell nice
for me.

So I took the box,
opened the box,
sat down with the box,
and marvelled at the cheese sticks
I found inside.

And then, my brother came home.

I don’t want to be a nice little house on the hill
that you look up at every now and then
and think:
“That’s a cute house!”
as you drive home to your superior house
because it has more to offer.

There were tears, shouts, and slamming doors,
hard feelings and despair.
He wouldn’t talk to me the rest of the day.
He was looking forward to them for so long.

I want someone to be angry about my absence.
I want to be loved
like JFK
and Elvis.
Like new pencils
and old books.

I felt like a deflated balloon.
I took away my brother’s happiness.

I want to be what what your car smells like.

I want our love to be friendship.
I want our love to be fireworks and lightening bugs.
I want our love to be winter and summer
all at once.

If anyone takes you away
like I took those cheese sticks,
I’ll die.
But it’s nice to know
that I have something to die over.

I want our love to light
the entire town on fire.
Well, maybe not.
Because then we have a big flame
that burns out too fast.
And I want us to last.

I want a cheese stick love
important enough,
but not so important
that it’s scary and stressful
like college
or big tests
or gym class.

And
I want it to be with you.

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