Treehouse

online magazine for short, good writing

Celestial Divorce

by Treehouse Editors

Mary Haidri

give me a bed to die in    your honor    hear my appeal
my hands will become pale starfish    fingers signing slowly

against sheets    I know I know I    stutter    the human tongue flickers
we are guttering candles    your honor   I request protection of the court

his rage will drown me in a rock quarry    the loss of a god wounds
only soft places    like the skin of a wrist   the gap of a pulled tooth

the place between my mother’s arms    where she rocked me    singing
injure us and bind up our wounds   Holy One    thou art the blue bee

thou art the sting and the honeyed mouth too    your honor
he took every child we made    I was brought to the mountains

where everything drowns   they were all born face down in lake water
pond weeds wrapped around their throats    o holy court

what is a mouth for?    they say my ancestress was too lovely
to escape north to Pakistan    not without brutal attention

with each extracted tooth    the family shaped her face into a safety
for them all    mouth is a hole is a wound is a mouth   o holy court

little by little I will scrape myself away   until god no longer sees me
I curse these whispers    this is what a mouth is for


Mary Haidri is a writer living in Portland, Oregon. She is the author of the play Every Path (La Jolla Playhouse & Moxie Theatre). Her work has appeared in Winter Tangerine, Portland Review, Nightingale, Bird’s Thumb, and Fairy Tale Review. She was the recipient of the 2017 Fairy Tale Review Poetry Award and is now a poetry reader for the journal. Visit her at nettleworks.com.

Brief Encounter: I’ll Tremble If You Like

by Treehouse Editors

Timothy Stewart Johnson

Mitchell stands before the fireplace spinning the cylinder in his father’s revolver. Mark and I sit before him on the sofa trying to telepathically communicate a plan to save ourselves, but fear blocks our brainwaves and we sit quietly, waiting to die.

“I’ve decided not to become a composer. I’ve decided to be a murderer, and I have someone picked out.” He keeps us pinned with the gun.

“Tim, you’re not trembling. I bet you’d tremble if I shot Mark.” I will tremble if you like, I say, lying. He cocks the hammer and points the gun at Mark’s face. We see the little gray bullets in their cylinders.

Click.

He blows imaginary smoke off the barrel. “The old empty chamber routine,” he says, smiling broadly. Still I don’t tremble.

We hear the crunch of tires in the driveway. Mitchell puts the gun in his pocket and he and Mark walk out the front door. They smile and say, “Hi, Mom and Dad.” Everyone calls my folks Mom and Dad, and they have no idea they are being patronized. I help unload the station wagon. Later, Mark comes back alone. “He was just fucking with us,” he says.

As the bus passes the school the next morning, I see Mitchell standing by a side door, hand inside his coat, waiting anxiously to kill Terry Payne, for she has decided not to be his girlfriend. I run from the bus to the parking lot to tell someone, but no one cares. Joints are being passed around, and I end up getting stoned.

An hour later, I come out of gym class and see a parade of police cars rolling down the street in slow motion. From the back of the last one, Mitchell flashes me the peace sign.

I am called to the office and asked what I knew and when I knew it. No one ever asks me why I didn’t tell anyone. I think they know. It’s because they are grownups and they are not to be trusted. We handle our business, they handle theirs.

The hives and the diarrhea keep me out of school for two weeks. Mark discovers heroin, and Mitchell is placed in an institution to be cured. Still I do not tremble, for it is not my way.


Timothy Stewart Johnson survived the 1960s with little more than some minor cuts and bruises and now works as a writer and designer in corporate marketing.

Brief Encounter: The Treachery of Text Messages

by Treehouse Editors

Brian Erickson

there is (or was)
a fine line between being
“available” and “too available”

made finer by the filter
of text
labored over, smirked at, refined
and made finer;

outcomes thought out,
predictions resigned,
no response needed;

but if one comes, in time?

unheeded you write back
to where
you
began


Bored and raised in New Jersey, Brian Erickson began making films in high school and continued his studies at NYU, where he focused on writing and directing, thus sparing the world from his “acting.” Recently, ideas that aren’t quite stories or screenplays have sprung to mind, so he has begun writing them, rekindling his fondness for poetry. You can view some of his work on Vimeo (https://vimeo.com/brianerickson).

The Unsung 5: Rolling Stones Haiku

by Treehouse Editors

from Doug Hoekstra, author of Silently

1. Haiku for Brian Jones

blonde hair. devil’s grin
vox dobro fades on display
founder of the Stones

2. Haiku for Ian Stewart

upright confidant.
battered keys. behind the van
driving Mick and Keith

3. Haiku for Andrew Loog Oldham

king’s road, paisley dreams
christening the songwriters
mettle into gold

4. Haiku for Bill Wyman

hired for your amp
in the back, the bottom line
bagging the most chicks

5. Haiku for Mick Taylor

long forgotten sway
smiling. misplaced expertise
burnt out on main street

5 Things on Self-Forgiveness

by Treehouse Editors

from Katie Miller, author of I Could Never Do a Cartwheel

Now, I’m not saying that you need to admit yourself to a treatment center in order to learn how to forgive yourself. But it certainly accelerates the process.

1. There is something I should get out of the way before I proceed. In learning self-forgiveness, there is no place to hide from cliché. Two years ago, I applied for graduate school on the premise that I wanted to build narratives that could be described as nuanced and genre-bending and unclassifiable; in treatment, I was given a binder full of worksheets offering to walk me step-by-step through the process of learning how to accept myself. This was difficult for me to accept.

Leslie Jamison, from her book The Recovering: “In recovery, I found a community that resisted what I’d always been told about stories—that they had to be unique—suggesting instead that a story was most useful when it wasn’t unique at all, when it understood itself as something that had been lived before and would be lived again. Our stories were valuable because of this redundancy, not despite it. Originality wasn’t the ideal, and beauty wasn’t the point.”

2. There will never be time; there is always time. I used to hoard excuses by the fistful: I have a job I have a cat I need to clean my bathroom sink I need to respond to an email or two or five this is not the time. I knew that forgiving myself would be, out of all of the internal processes that I could possibly attempt to undertake, a lengthy one. Easier to put it off. I will forgive myself when: ___________.

On the morning of my sister’s college graduation last month, I awoke early. In treatment twenty-six hundred miles and two time zones away, I imagined holding my past in my hands, rolling it between my fingers, pulling it apart like dough and holding it to the light that filtered through the branches of the palo verde trees dotting the endless desert around me. I imagined her walking across the stage, now; I imagined myself asking for help at fifteen instead of twenty-four; I imagined stretching time backwards and forwards at once; I imagined letting go. There was no time to forgive myself until it became the only thing I had time for.

3. Self-forgiveness can’t really coexist with shame. I carry(ied) a lot of shame.

Is it enough, here, to simply say: I have an eating disorder, and with every single day I am learning how to discard the myriad ways in which I detached myself from my body in order to distance myself from the pieces of my life that I couldn’t face? Is it enough to simply say: you may construct any narrative that you see fit, but ultimately it was the only way that I knew how to survive when life itself felt unendurable? Is it enough to simply say: I have outgrown it?

4. I’ve been told that to outgrow doesn’t mean to sever. I’m still trying to figure out the difference.

5. I used to worry that I wouldn’t recognize myself post-forgiveness. That I’d woven my refusal to forgive myself—for my illness, for where I am because of it, for where I’m not because of it—so thoroughly into my self-conception that if I let it go, there would be no narrative thread left to grasp.

But I’m learning that there is no post-forgiveness. There is no arbitrary point at which I can complete enough worksheets or sit through enough group therapy sessions and, suddenly, the pieces of my past will rearrange themselves like misshapen shards turned into stained glass, all cohesion where there was once only brokenness and empty spaces. It is, instead, a daily decision: to move forward even when I don’t know where the story will go; to move forward even when sometimes, it feels like there is no story at all.

Jamison again: “I wanted to know if stories about getting better could ever be as compelling as stories about falling apart. I needed to believe they could.”

Brief Encounter: Silently

by Treehouse Editors

Doug Hoekstra

Last time a homeless man asked me for money, it was by the St Francis Hotel in San Francisco, where Fatty Arbuckle’s career ended. Buster Keaton stayed true to his friend, and I thought of Buster as I folded a Franklin and dropped it into the man’s upturned pork pie hat. The bill landed softly over scattered change, covering it like a newspaper blanket. The man quietly nodded his thanks.

“That was a bit much,” my cousin said, as we continued walking. “What if he spends it on drugs? Or worse?” he added, snapping his words like chewing gum.

My cousin had never given me a gift that he didn’t follow up on, asking if I’d played it, read it, or wore it, dependent.

“What if he does?” I said. “It was a gift, he can do whatever he likes. Maybe it’s what he needs right now.”

I wondered what “worse” could be, as we turned the corner and passed the storefront where Tippi Hedren met Rod Taylor at the pet store in The Birds. Something apocalyptic? Seemed like the man was already in a state of worse.

“That’s funny coming from you,” he added, eager to emphasize the fact that I was a teetotaler, since he was not. My cousin was a bricklayer, I taught schoolchildren; he hunted venison, I was a vegetarian; he wore MAGA hats while I raged against the machine. For him, it was always competition.

As we passed the Bay Area Mindfulness Center, the sun shimmered over the China Basin, just past where we were about to take in a Giants game, the last remaining link to our childhood. I thought of Buster again and the baseball scene in The Camerman. No words, just action. Pure genius. The silent movies were the best.


Doug Hoekstra is a Chicago-bred, Nashville-based writer. His first book, Bothering the Coffee Drinkers, appeared on the Canopic Publishing (TN) imprint in April 2006 and earned an Independent Publisher Award (IPPY) for Best Short Fiction (Bronze Medal). Several of the selections in the book appeared in other publications, and one story, “The Blarney Stone,” was nominated for a 2006 Pushcart Prize. Other stories and poems of his have appeared in numerous online and print literary journals and a second book of prose, The Tenth Inning, was released independently in 2015.

Brief Encounter: I Could Never Do a Cartwheel

by Treehouse Editors

Katie Miller

I imagine it feels like this: a single step off a ledge, a free fall so fast you forget to hold your breath.

*

I’m not saying that doing a cartwheel is the same thing as making a bad decision, but I am saying that I’ve never been able to do either, and I just think that maybe the two deficiencies are not unrelated.

As a kid, I’d watch my friends’ bodies slice through the air, all ease and stretched-out limbs. You just sort of—well, you just sort of kick your feet over your head, they’d tell me, brushing the dirt off their palms as they landed back on their feet as though seconds before they hadn’t been upside down, head inches from the ground. You just kick, let your body follow. Let go.

My body swollen with a pent-up energy that I’m only now beginning to recognize as a lifetime’s worth of accumulated indecision, I’d start the lunge. I’d fold myself sideways, tentatively palm the warm grass, repeat to myself: just kick just kick don’t think everyone can do a cartwheel you can do a cartwheel just let go. Before I could even plant my second hand on the ground, though, the inevitable self-conscious hesitation—potent, physical, this hesitation would seep through my body, settle into my stomach and weigh down my arms and legs like lead until I crumpled to the lawn, motionless.

*

Maybe it’s no surprise, then, that I’ve never made a real bad decision—one of those willed, eyes-squeezed-shut-to-the-inevitable-fallout risks that you might talk about only years later, in a dimly-lit dive bar, maybe, head bowed over a beer as you tell a stranger about this one time, when. Because if I could never trust myself enough to let go for a cartwheel—the simple one-two kick, a rotation guaranteed to deliver me back to solid ground—there is certainly no chance that I could risk a fall with no bottom, a somersault through the air sure to deliver me, battered, to some different reality. A reality in which I’m left aching, sore for the assurance of solid ground.

*

But still, I close my eyes sometimes and imagine I can hear wind whistling through my ears. I imagine that for just a moment, I don’t think about the bruises that will line my shins when I hit the ground: I’m here, suspended, weightless.


Katie Miller lives and works in Tucson, Arizona.