Treehouse

online magazine for short, good writing

Tag: creative writing

The Cactus Moment

by Treehouse Editors

       Mary Haidri

Today Nina is a tender herbaceous annual plant    She permits cuts to callus over    woody &
green    Out of doors she is nearly translucent    Layers of tissue keeping her inside herself

anything can cut into it    anything can drop out    The fully mature seeds of Nina are black or
dark brown    There are nights when Nina is all mouth    crawl in    the open jar of her throat

working the trap    I don’t mind that you didn’t send a card    you can’t even look me straight in
the flower stalks    Nina develops best under long days in sunny conditions    She sits in a chair

by the window & drinks the light    fingers unfurling   Twenty-two weeks into propagation Nina
discovered she was rootbound & rotting    small briny daughter    overwatered into drowning

This is the cactus moment    the pulse & ache    a fist closed around nothing    Her parents drove
her to the hospital    they packed cotton between my legs to keep the roots from falling out

Standing in the red dirt of the garden    Nina droops her head    overripe & seedbound    She
has thickened fleshy parts adapted to store milk    not all mothers are soft    I am spines & thorns

for you little one    Blood turns rusty    Milk dries up    The evidence washes away in the shower
this husk is skin-thin & cursed    here    you can push your fingers right through the membrane


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.

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: 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.

Brief Encounter: Shake the Pollen Free

by Treehouse Editors

Sophia Hyland-Wolzak

Beatrice’s oldest impulse is the need to be as physically close to Donovan as he’ll allow. They met in their cul-de-sac: he, with his brother’s hand-me-downs, and she, with her brother’s hand-me-downs.

“Want to build a mud float?” Beatrice asked. Donovan looked around and shrugged.

Gathering reeds, twigs, and pinecones, they set up their scaffolding on her front lawn. Her mother chased them off and they fled to the woods. Knees stained, they peeped through the punctures of life between the leaves.

“Your mom’s intense,” Donovan said. Beatrice nodded.

They led each other into dares neither one wanted to be in. As they progressed in life, risks went from kick-pushing the swing to the water tower to toking a joint out the window of his stepdad’s car.

Donovan is sewn into the textiles of Beatrice’s character—a connection more profound than any other relationship she understands to be hers.

However, Beatrice encourages herself to forget him. The plasticine doll of Donovan sits on a small stool next to candle light, in a windowless room, at the very back of her mind.

Years past puberty, minutes before midnight on a Thursday in Autumn, Beatrice and her colleagues roll up their sleeves to soak their fingers in a bucket of fried chicken. Their day felt below sea level and fast food propped them up on a skyscraper for an hour.

A hand rests on her shoulder and Beatrice jerks away. Donovan stands over her with the imposition of his denture-perfect teeth and down jacket.

Her lips and chin are glossy with a vaseline of fryer grease.

They leave to a bar close by. She fantasises about their future, listening intermittently to their conversation. The same tree sap that smoothed them together at the cul-de-sac envelops the two. Beatrice is dewy with nostalgia, pouring herself into the feeling with her beer. She kisses him and he stops.

Both hands on her shoulders, Donovan gently presses Beatrice off of him.

“Huh,” she says.

***

When Beatrice stumbles home and shakes herself free from her clogs, she tucks herself behind her partner and kisses him on his temple.

She separates the oil of the night from this moment and it leaks into the narrow spaces between the files of trivia and family birthdays.

As Beatrice exhales, the toy Donovan takes his final breath and the candle blows out.


Sophia Hyland-Wolzak is an American expat that lives and works in Adelaide, Australia. She is currently a contributing writer and editor for a national caravanning and camping travel magazine, G’DAY Magazine.

Brief Encounter: Conceit of Reincarnation

by Treehouse Editors

A.C. Bohleber

The grasshopper needs a home but

Not an afterlife. It is content

It drowns in the rain, falls under the boot of a man

 

Under the claws of a cat, possum, bird

It becomes dirt.

It did such a good job being a grasshopper

 

Perhaps it will become a worm

Then an atom

Then free.


A.C. Bohleber is a recent college graduate located in Louisville, Kentucky. Originally from the South, she attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga where she won the Ken Smith Fiction Award. She now works a day job, so she can spend money on books, travel, and, of course, rent. In the chaos she makes time to write prose and occasionally poetry.

Found Letter

by Treehouse Editors

Charles Kell

The name looked
familiar, blotted out
by a faint smear
of rain. I stand
in the water, watch
the moving river. Breathe
the silver air. Hold
it there.


Charles Kell is a PhD student at The University of Rhode Island and editor of The Ocean State Review. His poetry and fiction have appeared in The New Orleans Review, The Saint Ann’s ReviewIthacaLit, The Pinch, and elsewhere. He teaches in Rhode Island and Connecticut.