by Olatunde Osinaike

Like a Million Sunsets on Bootleg

You had me at daylight savings, 

at the risk of sounding too high 

                maintenance. You had me at matinee, 

                how fleeting was a way to chronicle 

                               the drapes, rays, and our looming 

                               insurrection. If you must know, it 

               wasn’t glamorous when I was yours 

               truly for the first time that winter was 

full of antics and keepsakes – the swindle 

of child lock and of wanting to escape to 

                nowhere better. You had me at foolproof 

                though those weren’t the words we used. 

                                    Honestly, half the time words weren’t that 

                                    at all. Seemed like hints at nutrition, from 

                here, like the sparks off the tips of a bonfire, 

                the splendor of s’mores and carnival funnel 

cake. You had me at for real as in the hours 

we spent flabbergasted during scenes where 

                 our desires felt derivative. Our bewilderment 

                  so in sync we’d linger there in the pitch black, 

                                    after the credits had scrolled their way 

                                    back to the clouds our minds were last.

Olatunde Osinaike is a Nigerian-American poet and software developer originally from the West Side of Chicago. He is the author of the chapbooks Speech Therapy, winner of the 2019 TAR Chapbook Series (forthcoming) and The New Knew (Thirty West Publishing House, 2019). A Best of the Net, Bettering American Poetry, and Pushcart Prize nominee, his most recent work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Best New Poets 2018, RHINO, Winter Tangerine, Cosmonauts Avenue, and Columbia Poetry Review, among other publications. He is an incoming Masters candidate at Johns Hopkins University and also currently serves on poetry staff at The Adroit Journal.

by Jordan Deveraux

Three Rolls of Scotch Packing Tape and an Incomplete Synopsis

I could not keep my eyes open watching that movie

about the important 19th century English painter 

and his unhealthy sexual habits and love for the sea— 

though could anything be more universal? Maybe it’s just me. 

Still, I kept floating in and out of the plot like curtain 

in a breeze. Earlier that day I had written a poem about moving

away from a place I’d grown to love, and to stave off the nostalgia 

that threatened to rock the poem to sleep, I flipped through a dictionary

and my finger landed on the word shoot. It lay sandwiched 

between the entries for shook and shooting star, meaning I was somewhere 

between fear and wishing, which is acceptance, and isn’t that what they tell you to shoot for?

The dictionary has that spectacular ability of keeping words at a distance. 

Regardless, I am going to miss my second story apartment and the sun room with the window, 

above which the same bird has returned each spring to nest 

in the crook between a waterspout and the white clapboards of a building formerly known, 

according to the lettering above the door, as Gerlich Manor. This time

my finger lands on billet-doux; then crepe; antacid; eventually, landscape.

If you do this enough you may arrive at a word that fits your purpose.

The English painter famously returned to lodge at a cottage overlooking the ocean. 

It was there he set many of his landscapes at sunset. Bloodying them with reds and yellows 

imported, or pillaged, probably, from someplace that wasn’t Britain.

I just can’t imagine anything as vibrant as the colors he used to depict his shipwrecks coming from a locale 

where clouds take their summer vacation, where the word humdrum was coined.

Maybe it’s just me. It’s April 11th and yesterday it snowed. From my window 

I can see the wall that separates the Minnesota River from the street, as if the two couldn’t be 

trusted together. To compensate, the city contracted local artists to paint a mural of the river

along the wall, making it a river on a wall that imagines the river before the wall.

This time it’s sensory, then ditch, bluegrass, and sediment: matter deposited by water or wind.

The problem with these kinds of poems is that they may begin to drift, 

making them difficult to corral, like tempests—each one announcing itself

as the last. I fell asleep before the English painter learned this elementary fact:

you cannot trap the sea inside a frame anymore than you can a robin in a window, or a river in a box. 

The problem with inviting everything in, is that nothing is revealed. In order to get an accurate picture

of the host, you must triage the details. Enact the loss that is his defining feature.

Jordan Deveraux was born and raised in Utah, and is currently living in Minneapolis. He is the former managing and operations editor of Blue Earth Review, the literary journal at Minnesota State University, where he is completing his graduate degree.

by Benjamin Henry DeVries

Red Zipper Gate

At a Christmas party, a fir tree overburdened with ornaments tips slowly forward from its corner. The party guests, red-faced and mostly drunk, scream, laugh, and run for cover, while Gerhard watches, rooted to the floor. He hears, strangely separate from the hubbub, the tinkling of the baubles against the boughs, the creak of the falling trunk, and the fizzing of the fluted champagne in his hand. The tree crashes through a glass coffee table, his glass coffee table, or rather his wife’s; she picked it out. At the sound of the shattering glass the excitement of the party turns to concern. Violence drags behind it a backdraft, hushed and fragile. Gerhard searches the room for his wife. She is safe in the kitchen, holding a bucket of ice. 

Teenage Gerhard dresses in the clean, bright apartment of a thirtyish woman. This woman has just taken his virginity, and now regards him with a strained/conflicted smile. Her expression makes him blush and mishandle the belt he’s trying to fasten. Part of him wishes to parse the conflict on his lover’s face, but the part of him that wishes to flee wins out. They will never see each other again, but Gerhard will remember her face for his entire life; he’ll think of it on the day he dies, sick at sea and very confused. It will bother him to not know whether she remembers his face, too. 

Gerhard smiles at Trudy, a young student like himself, on a particular stairway of Julianlaan, the complex of buildings devoted to architecture at the University of Technology Delft. He does not yet know her name is Trudy. Icy eyes and inky hair give her a Northern look; plump cheeks and freckles don’t belong on this strong/feral face, and yet they too are putting in an appearance. Way out, at the horizon of his imagination, Gerhard thinks he can see this face doing something he’s never seen it do. He can see the face splitting open into a blinding/deafening/obliterating smile. He wants to see this smile more than anything he’s ever wanted in his young life. His strategy to produce it is smiling at her.  

A model of a bridge Gerhard built in school has been damaged in the moving truck. He should have packed it away in the car. The balsa wood has splintered, and fragments of the bridge lay scattered across the flat chromium blue he painted to represent a river. He didn’t paint the bridge, but imagined it red. As a student he realized the folly of naming a bridge that would never be built, an academic bridge, but he named it anyway, in secret, and told only Trudy this name. He brings the broken model into the house to show her. She’s cleaving the packing plastic off their couch with a razor. He doesn’t know quite what to say about the broken model, but hopes Trudy will at least notice; perhaps comment; at best understand. He places it within her view. When she doesn’t notice, he makes a remark about the movers and getting what you pay for. She says something sympathetic, but she’s still caroming around the room, arranging their possessions, looking at neither Gerhard nor his model. He decides not to tell her about the sense of loss he feels. She asks him, about a week later, whether he intends to keep the broken model. Without hesitation he says he’ll take it out to the trash. 

He’s smiling at her again, on the stairway of Julianlaan. They pass each other around the same place every Tuesday and Thursday. Some days she looks at him; those he counts as good days. 

Trudy cries hard enough to make her face into a strafed/red/uninhabitable landscape. She’s sitting on the toilet in the tile bathroom that has good, clean light, though it doesn’t have a window. Her panties lie on the floor by her feet, bunched and limp like a beached jellyfish. Gerhard towers in the small space. He’s been trying to hold her, touch her, do something to make her feel better, but she’s intent on staying seated and crying. He’s given up on kneeling. Finally she gets on her feet and struggles into her pants. She’s left her panties on the floor. She pushes past Gerhard with a sniffing grunt that seems, to him, put on, overly dramatic, teenage. A smirk he immediately regrets appears on his face. His eyes fall to the jellyfish on the floor. He feels he might deserve to be stung. He’s glad he’s wearing heavy shoes. 

Gerhard stands on the back lawn of the second home he’s owned in his lifetime, which is glass and slab-like and hovering behind him now. It’s dusk, the lights are on inside, and the house glows all the more without the interrupting shapes of furniture. He’s handling and tossing a tennis ball. It makes loops in the air above his palm. He tosses it out onto the lawn, which is finely clipped for the sake of the future occupants of the home. The soft, swishy sound of the ball bouncing on grass makes Gerhard want to experience something of what the ball experienced. So, he takes off his shoes and socks, wiggles his toes, and swishes his feet through the grass. He fixes his eyes on the resting place of his tennis ball. It’s looking kind of final over there…yes, it has an air of finality, unearned, almost haughty, but undeniable. The ball deserves to stay put without further interference from Gerhard. It’s the context, he decides, that makes it look so right in its current position. The lawn would be too perfect without it. He feels compelled to leave the ball behind. He hopes some soul will notice. Even an animal.  

There’s not much sign of warming from the young woman on the stairway of Julianlaan. Gerhard smiles, but the smiles bounce off her. She is a mirror of frustration: her face absorbs the energy of his smile and, like a black hole, emits nothing in return. He knows that some define insanity as doing something over and over again and expecting a new result. His pursuit feels too joyous to be insane, but now the question hangs. He does not seem to be unnerving her, and this comes as some relief. He doubts he’d be able to stop if she did seem unnerved. She would have to demand in no uncertain terms that he STOP SMILING. The prospect of this ultimatum is too horrifying for Gerhard to envision in detail.  

Young Gerhard and young Trudy watch a fireworks display beside a river. Trudy removes her glasses to clean them, but doesn’t put them back on, because now she’s seeing the fireworks differently. The bursting coronas have blurred to abstraction. They carry a new kind of thrill, their light almost edible, a source of nourishment, energy. She tells Gerhard she wishes he could see the fireworks like this. He takes her glasses from her, puts them on, and tries.  

The couch in the marriage counselor’s office has wide, somewhat supple cushions, but also coarse upholstery that would itch against naked skin. It would fit right in at Gerhard and Trudy’s condo, their third and final place of residence together. Gerhard is drunk. He had an hour to kill after work and stopped off at a bar before the session. He was drinking too fast, wolfing down salted nuts, too, which are now catching up with belches he’s trying to hide as the counselor and his wife converse. Trudy catches on, partway through the session, to Gerhard’s drunkenness. Though mystified at first, she’s not upset. In fact, the more she thinks about it, the more she finds it endearing that Gerhard got drunk before their first session with a marriage counselor. Gerhard doesn’t usually drink alone, but the fact that he did earlier this evening, a cold one in November, shows Trudy he gives enough of a shit about their marriage to let this visit upset him. When Trudy realizes he’s drunk, she smiles at him, and he reciprocates with something dopey and sheepish. She’s tearing up with warmth. She badly wants to leave the session, find a bar, and get drunk with her husband, but they’ve already paid the counselor, so they sit things out. They both get a little lost while sitting things out. By the time they leave, the impulse to drink has left Trudy. She still wishes to let Gerhard know what his action meant to her, but she gets distracted in traffic on the car ride home (she’s driving them both; he walked to the session), and doesn’t manage to articulate things the way she wishes. She comes to doubt that what she’s saying, about how she values transparency and emotional openness, is really sinking in for Gerhard. She’s right to doubt this. He’s falling asleep.  

Gerhard has hacked off the stems of roses before. He knows he should buy a pair of shears for this purpose, but sees shears as a low priority on the list of household implements to acquire. He uses a serrated knife instead. Sometimes, in the past, he’s hanged the stems over the edge of the sink to saw them, but today he finds this too risky, so he lays the flowers down on the cutting board. This means he’ll have to clean the cutting board later. Since he’s not over the sink, it’s free for Trudy to fill a vase with water. He cannot see her expression while she does this, but he’s apprehensive, because he’s sure she’s not smiling. It occurs to him that she’s ranking this bunch of flowers against the many other bunches of flowers he’s purchased for her in the past. He has no idea where this bunch would rank. It frightens him a little to care. 

Gerhard, hungover in blasting sunlight, stumbles along a street in a hot American city. It has taken him six blocks of painful wandering to find a mailbox. The blue, rooted bin stands as a beacon of relief. He sees no slot, but figures out the handle easily enough. The interior is filthier than most garbage cans. It seems a risk to leave his postcard there, and he’s nervous that he miscalculated the postage, but he places the postcard in anyway, closes the gate, and turns away. 

Gerhard must now figure out something to say to this woman. In his state of distraction, he has gone an extra flight above his Julianlaan classroom. Unintentionally he inflicts his smile on another passing woman, and she smiles right back, but he barely notices. His vision is occupied instead with many other scenes. The scenes are flashing and possible, more fragile than reality, and for this reason more commanding. And still he wonders what to say. 

In the glass house, Gerhard lounges on his and Trudy’s expansive bed. He’s fully clothed, but unshod. Trudy, out of view, is slipping into something. She’s in their open closet area, in front of a mirror, pushing at her breasts and wondering how exactly the store’s lighting was so different from that of their room. Gerhard doesn’t know she’s trying on lingerie. He thinks whatever she’s doing is taking a very long time. He starts to stir his hand on his crotch, but only because he’s bored. Because of the carpeting he can barely hear Trudy when she turns the corner in her new nightgown. The lace and mesh lash her body in a way Gerhard finds instantly appealing, and his thoughts leap to sex. He wants to rip the garment off Trudy, leave welts on her skin she’ll marvel over later. He’s hidden this fearful ripping potential for too long. But then he notices a blush has broken over Trudy’s face and neck. Her posture seems less confident than the nightgown should allow. It makes him feel warm and tender toward her, more likely to hold her than to ravage her. She wants neither of these things at this moment. She wants to put on her favorite robe.   

The stairway of Julianlaan is louder than usual, filled with the sounds of clomping boots and the clicking tips of umbrellas. Gerhard spots Trudy from the bottom of a third-floor segment of stairs. She, at the top, meets his eyes at an angle of roughly 45 degrees, more or less in line with the incline of the steps. Only a few wet and bobbing heads interfere with the course of this gaze. Gerhard is aware that he’s locked up Trudy’s eyes when he lets loose today’s smile. Trudy expects him to smile at her, but it does not lessen the impact of the smile, because it is, indeed, the first time she has opened herself up to bear the thing. She will later describe Gerhard’s smile as uncommonly joyous. In this assessment she fails to perceive the smile’s fragility, for a hopeful smile, no matter how joyous it may seem, always carries too the possibility of falling, slumping down on the face in defeat, or transforming into a masking expression that blots out all trace of the smile that preceded it. 

This is their third trip abroad together. They’re at the Tate Modern in London. After drifting apart to walk through different galleries at different paces, Gerhard backtracks to find Trudy. He says he wants to show her something. She assumes it’s a piece of art he likes and wants to share; they’ve done this before in museums and galleries, asked for one another’s opinions, discussed the work as if the work couldn’t hear them. Gerhard takes Trudy into a high-ceilinged gallery near the front of the museum. He points to a painting very high on the wall, up near the ceiling. It depicts a fair, nude woman lying in bed with a fish of about her size. The figures are rendered flatly, with heavy lines, and the bed is tilted in the composition, somewhat unnaturally, the better to put the coupling of woman and fish on display. The painting is by Man Ray. “This is the dream you told me about,” says Gerhard. “This is what you said you saw in your dream. Right?” Trudy blushes and makes no response. He’s right, but she’s flummoxed over the situation, over the fact that her dream is depicted there on the wall, which would suggest that a famous artist had the same dream as hers, sixty years ago. She doesn’t know why she’s feeling bashful and tongue-tied, and not knowing only intensifies these feelings. And yet her reaction produces a smile from Gerhard that’s soft and joyous, boyish in its curiosity over what she might feel and what she might say next. This smile brings Trudy comfort. She and Gerhard lock eyes in the gallery, and gradually the blush fades from her plump, freckled cheeks. The painting now delights her – all the more because Gerhard found it. She had walked through the gallery earlier, without noticing the painting of her dream. Together we are less oblivious: she thinks this thought so loudly it almost comes out in a whisper.   

Another Thursday in the stairway of Julianlaan. On the lower floors some oak buds rode in on the soles of heavy boots. A dropped pencil made it safely to the corner of the fifth floor landing. Student traffic slogs on. Ascendants pass descendants. Both crowds travel at the same speed, though neither could say how they arrived at the proper speed to safely ascend/descend a stairway, nor why this speed should be appropriate for both the ascending and descending parties. Why mirror? Why reciprocate? Questions of speed/pace/reciprocity occupy Gerhard from floors one through three of his ascent. By floor four he’s wondering why the crowd can’t move a little faster. The problem, he decides, is the staircase. Widening could improve the flow. A little extra grit on the steps could increase the confidence of unsteady walkers, allowing them to move more quickly than they might otherwise. A crowd can only move as quickly as its slowest member. An ideal staircase would also feature a woman with a frank/feral allure who would smile at him. This would not affect the speed of the crowd, of course. Someone’s had enough. He’s a ginger-headed gawk of a man, leather satchel wagging on his hip like a tongue. He passes the descending crowd at twice their speed, zipping down the narrow margin between ascendants and descendants, a jostle away from falling and taking others down with him. And though Gerhard was just moments ago considering the interminable slowness of the crowd, the passing of the redhead offends him. Gerhard doesn’t see any reason this man needs/deserves to pass. It is unlikely the man is late for a lecture, as the campus administrators, in their wisdom, have provided ample buffers between periods. Here is a man with no patience, thinks Gerhard. The makings of a scowl are assembling on Gerhard’s face, long before he has time to realize he might soon be scowling. He feels his shoulder harden in preparation; if the redhead were to bump into him, he would not budge nor apologize. But a bump and a lack of apology do not occur. The redhead cuts back into the crowd, and so he no longer distracts Gerhard. Gerhard is now free to return his eyes to the other descendants, some of whom are visibly irked by the redhead, others of whom are distracted with their own thoughts, and one of whom is seeking Gerhard’s smile with hers. 

Author's Note: The preceding story was originally written as part of a longer work, entitled Interview with a Plague. It’s about a young lady who starts a plague. If interested in reading Interview with a Plague, please contact Benjamin Henry DeVries at the email address below.

Benjamin Henry DeVries is currently working on a sheep farm in Australia. His writing has appeared in Eclectica, The Baffler, Word Riot, and elsewhere online. His latest project is a microwave cooking show. He would love to hear from you: 

by Melissa Wiley

The Wolves of Yellowstone

When I visited my parents in Indiana over Labor Day weekend not long after my maternal grandmother died at the age of 87, my mom and I spent an evening watching a documentary on Yellowstone, a place neither one of us had ever seen in person. With fireflies lighting the night sky’s darkness outside our living room, we watched the spread of wolves into vast stretches of Montana and Wyoming. At some point during those hours we spent on the couch together, my mom said their howling sounded as if it were its own form of music. I knew she was lonely for her mother then, and the wolves’ cries must have seemed to express sympathy and solace. When she called me in Chicago on a Saturday morning less than a week afterward, she mentioned the wolves again, with something in her voice sounding close to rapture. She sighed and said the color of their eyes still haunted her after she woke from dreaming about them. “Amber, almost golden,” she nearly whispered. 

When Yellowstone National Park was created in the late 1800s, settlers freely gunned down a population of wolves that at the time appeared endless. Unhindered by regulation, the hunting continued until the wolves had vanished by 1926 from Yellowstone completely. While the gentler animals that flourished in their absence at first seemed to render the land a more benign place, eventually the spread of herbivores consumed so many grasses that the rivers began to widen, morphing into stagnant lakes and sprawling beyond any beavers’ ability to repair them. It was not until the 1960s that biologists began to seriously consider the prospect of reintroducing wolves into the park system. Although groups as fond of sylvan landscapes as the Sierra Club and National Audubon Society initially opposed the measure, over time more and more biologists started speculating that the wolves could help reverse the decades of damage. More than 30 years would pass before this idea became a reality. 


It was September, and the leaves in Chicago were already turning when my mom called me that first Saturday after we watched the wolves’ documentary. In southern Indiana, nights still were balmy. Crepuscular insects still mated on tree branches while my parents rocked on their front porch swing in the early evenings. As my mom likely sat in short sleeves at our kitchen table with the window open, I was wearing jeans and a sweater. I was drinking my second cup of coffee while a long pause between us kept elongating. “They were blue,” I finally said as a way of breaking the silence between us that was growing heavy. “Wolves have blue eyes,” I remember insisting, because I thought I could picture them clearly. In response, my mom only sighed, saying I must be right about this. She must have been imagining the wrong color, she admitted.

Soon our conversation ended, I poured the last of my coffee into the sink and dropped an aspirin into a glass vase filled with lilies that had begun to wilt almost as soon as I bought them. The aspirin would preserve them for a little longer, however, so that for a time at least they would look a little less like they were dying. I did this only because I had seen my mom do the same hundreds of times with flowers she plucked from our garden. Only a moment passed before the aspirin became a vapor, a cloud suffusing a vase my mom had given me a couple months ago when I moved into this apartment after finishing college. Releasing its powder, the white tablet now disintegrating among the lilies’ stems resembled a small geyser, which in Yellowstone kill someone every season, a phenomenon that still strikes me as evidence that the earth itself is carnivorous, allowing equal room for predators and prey to roam its expanses. As I watched the pill dissolving, I asked myself whether part of me needed to know more about the wolves than my mom did because these animals and I shared more in common. Though I rarely act on these impulses, I have always felt capable of inflicting pain in a way my mom could never manage. From other predators, I have kept my distance for this reason.

Growing up, I understood my grandmother was ill in the way that children know things without knowing them for certain. Every week, I watched my mom make repeated visits to a home with a brown carpet permanently grayed by cigarette ashes. Because my grandmother’s vacuum always seemed to be broken, my mom often brought ours from home to clean what I knew my grandmother only proceeded to dirty as soon as we left again. For as long as our three lifetimes overlapped, my mom tried to make me love her mother in much the same way she did, with a clinging desperation that I now realize reflected her never receiving all the care she needed. Perhaps unaware of her own motivations, she tried to make me spend more time with my grandmother than I ever wanted, tried to coax affection from the sheer abundance of time spent in her presence. She tried without succeeding.

I always found the woman’s body and house too soiled, the woman herself too lacking in energy, to feel anything approaching the love that normally comes for this close a relative. My grandmother’s fingernails were yellowed with tobacco stains, and she rarely washed her clothing. I complained to my mom about her bad breath, the odor coming from her armpits, the wetness of her kisses. I balked and pleaded that I had nothing to say to her when my mom forced me to call her on weekends. I had been shown photographs of her when she was younger, photographs meant to serve as proof of her beauty, but still thought my mom the lovelier woman. The fact remained, however, that my grandmother’s eyes were still blue as cornflowers, while my mom’s irises had no consistent color, fluctuating instead between emerald and a pale cerulean. My own are a yellowish brown or amber—hawk’s eyes, my husband sometimes calls them, though he more often likens them to a lion’s. Unlike either one of these women who came before me, my vision is also myopic. Without artificial lenses, everything blurs into the same looming apparition.

It wasn’t until I was in college, not long before my grandmother’s death, that I knew she had been an alcoholic. Not until I was a grown woman, only a couple years away from losing my own mother to the cancer we both failed to see coming, did she confess that this person whom I had never loved descended into addiction after her divorce in her later twenties. A devout Catholic, my grandmother could never remarry according to church doctrine, according to the morals of everyone in her town and family. For the sake of her religion and in the eyes of all she had ever known of society, she had to stay single and sexless. Moving back in with her parents after she no longer had a husband, she began to live much like a child again, becoming more helpless as she failed to keep a job and earn a steady paycheck, as she woke near noon most mornings and let her aging mother do all the cooking, as she left her daughter largely neglected. After both of her parents passed away, both at advanced ages, she remained in the same house where she had lived now for decades while rarely taking time to clean any of its surfaces. 

It was a predator kept in a cage, then, I had witnessed. Even after my grandmother stopped drinking, she never stopped showing her teeth to a daughter who was painfully gentle in comparison. For as long as I knew her, she regularly insisted she was dying from a series of imagined diseases, something done only to claim yet more of my mom’s attention. Even as a little girl, I always felt only a woman as naïve and trusting as my mom could ever imagine any amount of weakness in someone this hungry for signs of submission. Almost as testament to her toughness, my grandmother’s life lasted nearly thirty years longer than her daughter‘s. She possessed so much more strength than her offspring despite a lifetime of chain smoking and decades of alcoholism, despite a diet consisting largely of fast food and donuts for breakfast. Within only a year of us watching the wolves’ documentary, stabbing pains began shooting down my mom’s spinal column, early symptoms of the cancer’s metastasis throughout her frailer system.

Once the wolves were formally reintroduced into Yellowstone in the late 1990s, they began to contain an herbivorous elk and deer population that had long become noxious, species only appearing harmless as in truth they devastated the growth of willows and cottonwood trees until the range lost its thickets. Soon the wolves forced elk, deer, and caribou from valleys and gorges, allowing the trees to grow taller in the process. Forests began recovering some of their deepest shadow spaces as the riverbanks suffered less erosion. The wolves gradually restrained the sprawl of rivers through what their carnage set in motion, curbing rising flood waters while encouraging once sallow valleys to bloom with wildflowers. 

Blue is not the color of wolves’ irises as it happens, only of the rivers they straighten. During their first few months of life, the eyes of young wolves mirror the water and sky at their purest, azure and sparkling. Yet as a cub matures, as its teeth begin to sharpen into daggers, its eyes also darken. They change from the color of my grandmother’s to something closer to my own irises’ amber, meaning the blueness was likely all my invention. I know this now that I have no way of apologizing to my mom, who remembered them clearly. Though she was no predator, she had a tenderness that allowed her to empathize with those who were in a way I hadn’t, in a way I am still reluctant. She had seen the wolves’ yellow eyes without changing them to something more appealing. She had seen and heard the yellow music. She found it consoling. They howled, she knew without bothering to explain the reason, because they survived by consuming the life of something else only barely dead, still nearly living, because nothing in this world worth eating is truly lifeless. The hunger of one animal often ends another one’s life on this planet, and so after staining their own coats scarlet with the blood of another body, the wolves sang a requiem.

All these years after both these women have long left me, I still cannot help wondering whether I gave wolves the eyes of my grandmother rather than my own because I was unwilling to confront my own ferocity, because I wanted to reflect my mom’s own gentleness more than may ever be possible for me. My mom must have realized my mistake but let me believe what I imagined, let me enjoy the same power that she granted to all predator species. To my grandmother, a woman for whom I still can summon little fondness, she must have similarly offered herself as prey when no others emerged in her environment. My mom must have known her own mother needed to go hunting on occasion, and in allowing herself to be hunted, she helped to bring the world into balance. Soon after my mom’s passing, wolves were removed from the government’s list of endangered species. Vulnerable to guns once again, their carcasses began to flood the Western river basins. Their numbers have dwindled ever since as Yellowstone’s rivers continue to widen. 

Melissa Wiley is the author of Antlers in Space and Other Common Phenomena (Split Lip Press). Her work has also appeared in places like The Rumpus, Entropy, DIAGRAM, Phoebe, Waxwing, The Offing, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Juked, Noble / Gas Qtrly, Drunken Boat, and PANK. She lives in Chicago.