Tributaries: "free women"


By Kathleen Hellen


down the street from where
someone had painted Tear
It Down
— as if she were
confederate—from where
the martyred maid still flags the air
for France, a shining reenactment on Decatur
there’s the voodoo museum with
its copy of Rinck’s
"femme de couleur libre"
The veil, the “little roof” she wears
a shelter for the spooks
who want a tip—a cigarette, a dollar
at the altar to the carnal.
They used to think I looked like her
the hostess reminisces
and leaving off the tired histories
says at Congo Square
on Sunday afternoons
she moonlights as the rabbit or
the wolf, the rougarou
potions her desire, prowls the oyster
bayou, her wetlands forested.  The pleasures
men confuse  

with domination. Hair
the contraband, wrapped up in a little tent
where ten to six she sits, contemplating
womanhood. What woman
wouldn’t, if she could
dwell in appetites

Kathleen Hellen is the author of the collection Umberto’s Night, winner of the Jean Feldman Poetry Prize, and two chapbooks, The Girl Who Loved Mothra and Pentimento. Her collection The Only Country was the Color of my Skin is forthcoming in 2018. Hellen’s poems have appeared in American Letters and Commentary, Barrow Street, The Massachusetts Review, New Letters, North American Review, Poetry East, Prairie Schooner, Salamander, Seattle Review, the Sewanee Review, Southern Poetry Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, Witness, and elsewhere. Nominated for the Pushcart and Best of the Net, and featured on Poetry Daily, her poems have been awarded the Thomas Merton poetry prize and prizes from the H.O.W. Journal and Washington Square Review. For more on Kathleen go to

Tributaries: “Nuchal Origami”


If I could untangle umbilical
cord, measure calcification, label
isosceles, scalene, acute, copy
your construction, its strict geometry
I could find comfort at your steel altar
meditate to the wasp buzz of power;
electricity thrums from pylon
to pylon, links hospitals, homes to town.
I want to touch you. Feel the memory
of sunlight, warm as a rosary
remember the exact shade of bedtime
behind clouds, of cracked egg moon,
spent chickadee feathers in whip-poor-will
nest, grainy ultrasounds.

Keri Withington is a poet and assistant professor of English at Pellissippi State Community College. Her poems have previously appeared in numerous journals, including Blue Fifth Review, Rat’s Ass Review, and Fox Adoption Magazine. When she’s not writing or grading papers, Withington enjoys spending time in the Smoky Mountains and visiting museums with her family.

Tributaries: “Lily Watch”

By Lisa Hammond

Another year we greet summer, spider
lilies waking in the Catawba every May,
this time blooming slow, a cool April.
We follow the lily watch, high water
warnings, papers reporting clumps washed
upstream, rare but still enduring, nowhere
else in the world so many. Shooting roots
deep in rocky shoals, they cling stubborn
through flood, sweep and wave in brave
green bunches, til we can breathe again.
I have watched them with other lovers, yet
still they are ours, even the year we missed
when your mother was sick, even the year
we were too tired and stayed home instead.
Stars still shine in daylight. The lilies raise
their fringed white heads, brief blossoming,
they build and peak and fade—only here
I am not afraid to say, let me be your last.
If I could cross that first wide stretch
of swift water, the lilies might carry me
the rest of the way across, skip me over
rocks and grassy river, long petals brushing
my leg like a shy cat’s whiskers. You would
follow, through the buds, through the dying
papery blossoms, you always do, the lilies
not minding our foolishness, our blooming
as rare, flowers slight yet constant, nodding
patient at us, knowing they will outlast us.

Lisa Hammond’s poems have appeared in Tar River Poetry, Southern Poetry Review, Calyx, The South Carolina Review, English Journal, storySouth, North Carolina Literary Review, and Literary Mama, among others, and she have work forthcoming in Birmingham Poetry Review. Her chapbook Moving House (Texas Review Press, 2007) won the Robert Phillips Poetry Chapbook Prize. She is a professor of English at the University of South Carolina Lancaster.

Tributaries: "Land and Seek"

By Sarah Van Bonn

“We think we’re getting slimmer, but really we’re losing our youth.”

Dee and I are lying on the sailboat: the part they call a “trampoline” but why? It’s as easy or hard to jump on as anything else. Dee means our faces get gaunter as the baby fat disintegrates.

She’d done a juice cleanse the week before. “No, no more carbs,” she slurred at the Italian restaurant. “You know wine has carbs,” I said. It had stormed so thoroughly the only traffic was pedestrian. We snowshoed over, hid inside, arranged in candlelight like some painting in the Louvre. The noise ratio of the city was impossibly reversed: internal clanging, outside hushed.

Now we’re here. This blue Crayola couldn’t come close to naming. I mean the blue of the sea, but the sky’s blue too. There’s a reason they share that trait. Something about reflection or refraction, what the eye can or can’t see.

We both have rashes from sun or saltwater. I scan the red bumps on our stomachs, thinking maybe face fat doesn’t melt away so much as migrate.

What else haven’t I been told?

Landsickness, for one. We “go to land,” as sailors say, and my body rejects the fixed firmament. It took just days to undo my life’s entire chain of earthbound moments. The world re-taught me: motion, always. Now its lack feels unnatural, so my body pretends, swaying to this sea rhythm I may someday feel again, but for all we know, may never.

A beachgoer says, “The human race won’t last millions of years. We’re only just a tiny blimp.”

Fruits of the sea, they’re called in other languages. Am I a fruit of the earth?

The shop-owner hears Dee question the price of canned goods and reminds me: You pay a premium because nothing is here. Everything must be brought.

But isn’t the world just a series of smaller and less small islands? I later think to ask.

We find a bar on a barge. Ha ha. The tradition is to drink “shot-skis” until blotto enough to jump off the top; it’s like a trampoline, but different. A regal prostitute perched on a barstool jiggles her bum to the music, the rest of her perfectly still.

Land. Sea. See?

The shop-owner said: It’s hard to grow up here, but why would you live anywhere else? The flamingos come and go to different parts of the island. They build nests. You see them from far away, or you don’t see them at all.

All is fruit, ripening then rotting.

I didn’t know what would happen to Dee in the end, but if you’d told me, what would I have done?

A barracuda hovered nearby, waiting because he didn’t know how not to, buoyed by the knowing unknown, a tiny blimp—imagine him from an aerial view: X marks the spot. See all the other spots? You can’t; they are infinite. You couldn’t know where he’d be, but there he was.

There he always is.

Sarah Van Bonn is a world-wandering freelance writer based mainly in NYC when she is not on the road. She has so far authored one book (published June 2015 by Skyhorse Publishing) and many smaller pieces, with work in/on WNPR, the Rumpus, South Asia Journal, Proximity Magazine, and various elsewheres.

Tributaries: "It Begins With The River"

By Courtney L. Sexton

“There goes Courtney floating down the Delaware/chewing on her underwear/can’t afford another pair/ten days later eaten by a polar bear/and that was the end of her!” I cringe even now when I sing the song in my head, the song that my brother tormented me with, the one that I heard swirling through the cattails as we darted after each other in the park overlooking the river. We lived in those years on the edge of the town in a small house that was built on a street behind the old estates that stood high on a bluff above the Delaware, ones you can see now from the highway overpass; the houses want to be beautiful and grand but the centuries since the Revolution have rotted the wood and made the roofs sag.

The park ran in front of the houses, small and not well taken care of – the gravel path was always littered with broken bottles; shards of shiny green Heinekens glinted among the pebbles. The forest-green paint on the metal rail that guarded visitors from tumbling down the steep hill and onto the sandbar (during low tides, otherwise straight into the river) was chipped and peeled in several places, exposing old iron. But the vista was magnificent. The Lenape Indians thought so. They snaked their canoes through Black’s Creek, and then early settlers came, stumbling on a small Eden, and, later, Josef Bonaparte, in whose vestigial rock garden I learned how to scale, finding cubby holes for hands and feet, testing to make sure the shale wouldn’t fall away beneath the weight of my body. Though it would have been our front yard had we had one, we were not allowed to go to the hilltop park without telling someone, even when all of the boys had gathered all of their guns and were playing war against each other and the ghosts of Hessian soldiers rumored to haunt the riverbanks. We were not allowed to go there when it was dark.

I don’t know the origin of the song, or how polar bears would have gotten to the Delaware, unless it was long ago when the continents were joined and the world was much colder and they decided to amble across the Canadian provinces and down the Hudson and over into Jersey. I also don’t know why the song irked me so. It does provide a stunning visual, and I suppose it may have been that I could see myself all too clearly, bobbing inside a black inner-tube, clad in nothing but a tie-dyed t-shirt, and with a deranged look in my eye, hopelessly gnawing at the waistband of my Disney princess underwear. I think, though, that really the insult must have been the indignity of it all, of not being able afford another pair.

Courtney Sexton is a New Jersey native who grew up between the Delaware River and the sandy Pine Barrens. She wouldn’t know how to live where she couldn’t hear the water. She received her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College, has been awarded a residency at the Vermont Studio Center, and is the co-founder of Washington, D.C.’s The Inner Loop Literary Reading Series.

Tributaries: "Glass with Soma and Salt"

By Amy Small-McKinney

This time there is a window, there is also a sea.
Not what you expect, not my usual ocean of evergreen.
Here I lean against regret.
Behind me, everything I want.
Uncertain blue or insistent green, it is life.
Did you know duck-billed grazers survived the Arctic,
their long May shadows by the Colville River, until they could not?
Here the window is far above, fifteen floors at least.
I stand beside water where salt and wound won’t disagree.
Water lifts me, a leaf.

Amy Small-McKinney won The Kithara Book Prize 2016 for her second full-length collection of poems, Walking Toward Cranes, to be published January 2017 by Glass Lyre Press. She is also the author of, Life is Perfect (BookArts Press, 2014). Small-McKinney was twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She was the 2011 Montgomery County Poet Laureate, judged by poet, Chris Bursk. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals, for example, The American Poetry Review, The Cortland Review, Tiferet Journal, upstreet, arc—24, The Pedestal Magazine, Blue Fifth Review and the anthology, Veils, Halos, and Shackles: International Poetry on the Abuse and Oppression of Women, Edited by Charles Fishman and Smita Sahay. Small-McKinney has a Masters in Clinical Neuropsychology from Drexel University, but has returned to school for an MFA in Poetry and Translation at Drew University’s low residency program. She facilitates poetry workshops in Philadelphia.

Tributaries: "Devil's Crown Rock, Galapagos, Ecuador"

By K.E. Ogden

My body merges with black blades of slicing currents. In the dark water below me hundreds of sharks move in an IV tube from this world to the next. I ask my guide, Pablo, how the orange-sunned rock jutting from the ocean has gotten so beautiful. It is splashed in crisp white across each sunburnt rockface.

“Bird shit,” he says. “Decades of bird shit.”

I cling to the slick core of the Devil’s Crown. Watery suds rush at my face. Father used to hold my body upside-down at the edge of the shoreline at Makapu’u beach. Birds circled the sky and my hands covered my eyes. Father and I body-surfed in that warm, blue water, our right arms pointing toward the shore like warriors.

Flippers propel me from darkness into the headwater. I thought about the last moment. Skinnier than ever, tubes spiraling from his belly, stomach, and arms. He patted the open space next to him and I nestled into his bones. Blood, heart, and breath beat time into nothing.

Pablo swims into the channel and I follow. The water pushes our bodies against the rockwall like dirty rags. Bright circle of sun at the channel’s opening blinds us, but I keep my thighs pulsing and hold one arm at my side and bent at the elbow, the other thrusted forward in a fist towards the sun.

K.E. Ogden grew up in Hawai’i, San Francisco, and Baywood, Louisiana. Ogden’s poems, essays, and stories have appeared in many journals and online venues including Windhover, The Kenyon Review Online, anderbo, brevity, Louisiana Literature, and Phoebe. She was a featured poet for “Poets for Living Waters: A Response to the Gulf Oil Spill.” A community college teacher in Pasadena, Ogden also volunteers with East West Players, the premier Asian-American theater company in Los Angeles, CA, and teaches young writers every summer at the Kenyon Review Writers Workshops.

Tributaries: "The Wisdom of Neighbors"

By Susan Wider

Dark-eyed junco:          Relax into the slide.

A light dusting of snow covers the gently-sloping green roof of the bird feeder. You fly there—regular schedule, normal speed. You take it at a slide when you try to land; those wings back you up.

Bobcat:                        It’s okay to trust.

We watch you walk on the wooden deck rail; nap on the low, decorative stucco wall outside the bedroom; mark your territory in a flowerbed; investigate the space under the deck. You spend hours here with your mate. This place is safe.

Kangaroo rat:             Retracing your steps can be smart.

A red racer snake has chased you all over the property, and it just entered and promptly exited a tunnel that you recently vacated. You dive back into that tunnel again. Snake is long gone, hunting for you elsewhere.

Hawkmoth:                     What you really need may not always be right in front of you.

That honeysuckle blossom you are feeding on is fragrant with sweet nectar, and you fight the breeze to hover in place there. But when the breeze stiffens and overwhelms you, you let it blow you into a neighboring bush with even more juicy blossoms.

Cooper’s hawk:             Size does not matter.

You have seen a robin, a bluebird, and a pine siskin all bathing at the same time in that white birdbath. You try to fit in there for your bath, too. But only after they fly off, which isn’t a problem once they see you coming.

Pack rat:                       Never give up.

We own your land, so we dismantle your nest, first from under the old dog run, then from inside the stack of hollow concrete blocks by the garage, and even from the engine block of our ancient navy blue Jeep. You relocate under the deck. Smart. It’s too messy and difficult to get you out of there now.

Camel cricket:                Explore new environments.

I slap a clear plastic cocktail-party cup upside-down onto the tile floor to trap you inside. I ease a postcard underneath you to keep you in there while I pick you up. You scramble all over the image of the Eiffel Tower but all is well. You are only being moved from the dangerous bathroom to the leafy, plant-filled corner of the dining room. (Patience though, you might be sketched before release.)

Coyote:                             Choose your friends carefully.

You inadvertently make noise when you trot across that loose gravel in the driveway, but don’t worry. That woman in the open garage appreciates you and is grateful you are here. I will not hurt you.

Susan Wider lives outside Santa Fe, New Mexico with an assortment of hawks, woodpeckers, coyotes, rabbits, snakes, bobcats, and a husband. These critters all find their way into her writing. Her articles, reviews, essays, and stories have appeared in Orion, Bird Watcher’s Digest, Tennis View Magazine, Lighthouse Digest, Kiki Magazine, and THE Magazine among others. In addition to her on-going magazine writing, she is also working on several art-based and nature-based book projects. She is represented by Stimola Literary Studio.

Tributaries: “After Courtrooms”

By Lauren Claus

Midnight over mountains, our horse runs
in directions I never chose; I hated to face the sun
so I never let her reach the forest.
You can’t see her black skin at night, but note
the way each hoofbeat breaks the ground,
leaving crevices. Mud shifts down, clumps together.
Divorce papers all signed, I let her go last night;
that’s why she’s running — she knows there’s been a change.
The woods resonate because of crickets.
Maybe she hits them as she starts to pass through;
maybe that’s why they turn towards silence.
Or, maybe we forget to notice them now,
as we note the branches that lash her sides,
the blood that swells before escaping.
No one knows if she paused before the end;
I pray she did not die still running,
cantering through places she could not see,
trying to fulfill a dream she had once forgotten.

Lauren Claus recently graduated from Harvard University, where she concentrated in English and received a Le Baron Russell Briggs Traveling Prize for continued literary studies. Her  poems have appeared in Soul-Lit and Tuesday Magazine.

Tributaries: “A Woman Escapes Herself in the Redwood Forest”


When her boot slips from rock into mud, the silence is broken. The distant careening of creek over stone, bellow of a bird somewhere close to the constant buzz of tiny insects near the ear, but not. The rhythm of calypso orchids knocking their heads together in time with the synth of sunlight slicing through the space between everything. The motion of doors neither opened or closed. Silken drip of water from fern to moss in flux with the vibrating heartbeat thrumming inside her head with whisper of limb leafing limb leafing limb on canopy wind above.
Pressing an abandoned snail shell to shell
of her ear, she muffles the kaleidoscope of sound. To
the banana slugs, her own pitch she hums.

Kat Lewis, a Northwestern Pennsylvania native, is a MFA candidate in Poetry at the University of Idaho where she is the Managing Editor for Fugue literary journal. She travels relentlessly, writes passionately, and photographs constantly. More of her poetry can be found in Flyway: Journal of Writing and Environment and The Merrimack Review.

Tributaries: “What Remains”

By Nicole Robinson

Near the edge of Lake Erie a common tern skims the shoreline
for small fish. Behind me the marsh is golden brown
with only buds of green. Migrating warblers flutter their wings
with urgency. I sing a church song my foster father taught me:
“Mountains bow down and seas will roar at the sound
of your name.” If the waves are mountains they burst
when they bow to shore. The water is dark blue,
blue like the hallway outside the sanctuary
of the church where my foster father pulled me to his chest
and I played a game of reaching around the width of his body,
tried to stretch my right hand to reach the left.
The hair of his goatee scuffed the side of my neck and he whispered
something. But I only remember the speakers crackling
the sermon and how he grew hard between us.
Today I want to find a sand creature, to learn how to burrow
but I keep noticing the distance between me and the place
where water meets sky, the flocks of birds that decide
this is the day to leave the marsh and fly. I list what I see and know:
Lake Erie, song sparrow, pine siskin, that church song he taught me,
the way a whisper fades across decades. I cling to a stone
before skipping it, watch it bounce across water and sink.

Nicole Robinson is the author of a chapbook of poems, The Slop of Giving in, The Melt of Letting Go (2008, p2b press). Her recent poems have appeared in Artful Dodge, Great River Review, The Louisville Review, Pittsburgh Poetry Review, Tahoma Literary Review, and elsewhere. She was awarded an Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award for her poetry in 2016. Robinson is the former assistant director of the Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University where she also taught. Currently, she is a writer in residence at Akron Children’s Hospital in Ohio.

Tributaries, The New Nature: “Breadcrumbs”

By Chelsea Catherine

I wake up to a vision of her sitting on the floor of my bedroom, her back pressed to the door. Her hair curls around her ears, the color of sunlight. She sits with her knees bent in an oversized grey sweater that pools around her naked thighs. Her hands are covered. I can’t see the engagement ring her fiancé gave her.

“Come here,” I tell her.

A cool breeze flutters in from the open window, fluttering the curtain. I turn towards it. The last dredges of winter still linger on the glass, tiny trails of frost. When I look back at the door, she’s gone.


        At work, she’s the same as in my vision, always there and then gone—flitting out to meetings, legislative sessions, and lunches with senators and lobbyists. She calls me “Rockstar” when I show her my completed tasks. She bellows when I tell her jokes, and wears heels that stab the tiled floor as she walks. Mornings, she slices apples and smears them with organic peanut butter, the smell of it wafting from her office so often I start associating it with her.

The office space seems larger when she’s gone. Quiet and dank and dark. One Friday, I cry after she leaves and can’t figure out why. In afternoons when she’s away, I place snack sized Snickers on her computer for her to eat when she returns. Like little breadcrumbs luring her back to me.


        “We’re closing on the house August first,” she tells my coworker the day after my vision. They sit in her office, reviewing bills. It’s seventy degrees outside, much too hot for a spring day in Vermont. I pull at the collar of my blouse, sweat etching my neck.

“How far a drive?”

“Just fifteen minutes.”

Heat blazes. I shift, turning my music up louder so I can’t hear them talking. The noise quiets them, and I can feel when her gaze turns to me. She can always hear my music, who I’m speaking to, everything I’m doing. We sit ten feet apart five days a week, and there’s still so much distance between us.


        After she leaves for the day, I wander into her office. Her heeled boots are at the door, wedged up against the black filing cabinet. I grab hold of the end of one and try it on, but halfway through my foot gets stuck. Too small.

Sunlight slips through the window, warming my back even though the grass outside is still yellow and the river clots with ice.

I place the boot back on the floor. It feels like I keep picking up pieces of her and trying them on, but none stick. She already has her life—her fiancé, her new house, her fancy job. There’s no space left for me.

I linger a moment longer before making my way out.

Chelsea Catherine is a queer writer living in Vermont. She is a PEN Short Story Prize Nominee, winner of the Raymond Carver Fiction contest in 2016, a Sterling Watson fellow, and an Ann McKee grant recipient. Her short story collection ISABEL was a finalist for the 2018 Katherine Ann Porter prize. Her novella, “Blindsided” won the Clay Reynolds novella competition and will be published in the fall of 2018.

Tributaries: “What a Butterfly Means”

By Joanna Brichetto

At book group someone asked why write about nature, and someone answered we write to make meaning.

But what if meaning is already there?

Let’s say I see a butterfly in the rain, and it’s a Gulf fritillary that has only been a butterfly for a moment. It hangs from its empty casing to let gravity stretch what had been sausage-packed. I see bronze and white and a smidge of gold, but no orange. Orange stays secret till wings fly.

Let’s say the butterfly is trellised from rain above, beside and below by tutored stems of its own host plant: Tennessee’s native passionvine, Passiflora incarnata. Weeks ago, when the just-now-butterfly hatched as a 2mm caterpillar (and devoured its own eggshell), it pigged out on this plant. It survived every predator while it ate leaf after larger leaf; as it sloughed itself from four too-tight skins (and ate those, too); as its turds grew from invisible to the size of kosher salt; as it chose a likely spot to spin just enough silk to anchor its butt to the top of the trellis, and to dangle as a letter “J” to whiten and twinkle and boil and heave and then unzip one last caterpillar outfit up, up, and off till it fell—a bristly mask—to the dirt below.

As chrysalis, it fooled chipmunk, wasp, skink, bird.

Let’s say this all happened because if it hadn’t, the butterfly wouldn’t be here.

I’m here.

I’m here in the Nature Center’s organic garden with my husband and our boy, who are hollering at me to “Come try a pepper” and who answer my what kind with “The sign says ‘Ornamental.’”

Let’s say I leave the butterfly some privacy while it figures out its new body parts and new purpose, that I wish it well, and that I pull the wet, wooden gate to find out if Ornamental peppers are more than just, you know, ornamental.

Joanna Brichetto is a naturalist and educator in Nashville, where she writes the urban nature blog Look Around: Nearby Nature. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in storySouth, The Ilanot Review, Killing the Buddha, Dead Housekeeping, November Bees, Vine Leaves Literary Journal and The Fourth River.

Tributaries: "Landmarks"

By Deborah Fass

Not the lawn taken by oxalis, not the yellow flowers we recklessly
call buttercup, not the Caution: Repaving sign tacked to a sawhorse,
not the sawhorse, not the pavement, not the 1950 single-family ranch,
not the vacant lot, not the nest in the naked maple, not the squirrel,
not the five caws of the crow, not the telephone wire, not the metal
on metal wheels on train tracks, not the grinding tree chipper,
not the hundred-year-old pine dead of drought, not the drought.

Deborah Fass’s work appears in literary journals including New Directions, Kudzu House Quarterly, and The Clearing (U.K.). Her work has been shortlisted in contests including the New Rivers Press Many Voices Project, the Frost Place Chapbook Competition, and The Center for Book Arts Poetry Chapbook Program. She lives and teaches English in the San Francisco Bay Area

Tributaries: "Badgers Run"

By Andrea M. Jones

The three dark shapes ripple—not the fur so much as the bodies, undulating across the landscape like figments of a wave. I feel like I’m seeing the wind itself: a phenomenon usually visible only by its effects is glancing back at me across its shoulder. Having lived here fifteen years, I’ve only seen one badger, once. I often find their holes in the pasture, though—fresh-dug evidence of industry powered by stocky limbs and a predatory appetite. They hunt gophers, excavating narrow pipes of burrows to pits full of shadow.

The badgers manage to be simultaneously plump and flattened, their broad forms parting amber-colored bunchgrasses taller than them. The trio shimmers up the slope, headed for the fence line. My brain anticipates a break in their rhythmic gait. Fences, by design, interrupt movement. Even birds flutter and land, borrowing the taut strands as aeries from which to drop onto unsuspecting insects. Deer and elk stop and mill uneasily before jumping or bowing to nose under and, either way, I wince. The leaps don’t always clear the top strand, and passing under, which begins in forced genuflect, proceeds with a cruel raking by barbed wire and ends in an ignominious squat.

The badgers ripple smoothly under the wire and for a second my mind sputters, its expectations defied. I’m surprised at my own surprise, that the low-slung animals, still moving uphill and no longer looking back, are indifferent to a demarcation so obvious to me.

Andrea M. Jones lives with her husband on a high ridge in central Colorado, where she hikes, rides horses, and gardens during the short growing season. She is the author of the essay collection Between Urban and Wild: Reflections from Colorado. In addition to writing literary nonfiction, Andrea works as a freelance indexer and blogs at

Tributaries: “Welcome to the Heat”

By Adriana  Páramo

I landed in Kuwait in the summer of 1996. As soon as I stepped out of the plane, a violent searing puff of sand hit my face, fogged up my glasses, and punched me nice and square in my throat. A heavy sandstorm had swept across the country, clouding the sky for days. When the sun came out, Kuwait simmered in a miasma at 120F. This new kind of heat felt red, angry and sharp, like a discordant violin. Like a searing blow to the head breaking the skin all the way to the other side of the skull.

The customs officer looked displeased with my presence, as if something about the combination of: Colombian passport/woman traveling alone/dark skin/unruly curly hair, offended him. What was I doing in Kuwait without a male chaperone? I told him about my job offer as a teacher while he examined my passport suspiciously. He muttered something under his mustache. I wondered if he’d like to share with me useful tidbits of information about his country. You know, mundane tips on how to survive my first Arabian Desert summer, such as:

Do not leave anything locked in your car, the summer heat reduces plastic bottles, toys, and anything malleable into an amorphous mass of twisted polymers. Do not attempt fastening your seat belt as soon as you get in the car. The buckle will sear your fingers before you click the strap. Wear gloves. You’ll feel as ridiculous as you look, but while in Kuwait, do as Kuwaitis do.

Sprinkle your stifling summer with flakes of levity. Don’t take the heat too seriously. It is temporary. Play with it. Cook eggs on the hood of your car. Watch the whites bubble up as they curl like the pages of an old book.

Stare at the fully-clothed Muslim women bobbing in the waters of the Gulf and wonder how they manage to keep their wet scarves on.

Get a box of dust facemasks. You will need to cover your mouth and nose from June to July when the bawarih season brings heavy sandstorms all the way from Saudi Arabia.Tiny dust particles will cover everything, everything. Don’t bother cleaning your house. It’s impractical.

In August, brace yourself for the 90% humidity. Get used to fogged up windows, sunglasses, mirrors, headlights, camera lenses, and windshields. Don’t expect balmy evenings. Muggy days are typically followed by muggy nights.

Don’t think the melanin concentration in your brown skin will protect you from the UV rays. The Arabian sun is an equalizer. Your skin will sizzle, blister, curl, blacken and peel off, just like a white woman’s skin would.

The customer officer stamped my passport. Reluctantly. As though if he could have it his way, he would send my Latino ass back to the USA. I’m here to teach your brothers and sisters, I wanted to say in my defense, but he refused to look at me. Instead, he pushed my passport under the window, turned his back at me, and waited until I disappeared into the crowd.

Adriana Páramo is a cultural anthropologist, writer and women’s rights advocate. She is the author of “Looking for Esperanza,” and “My Mother’s Funeral.” Her essays have appeared in multiple literary magazines and been noted in The Best American Essays of 2012, 2013 and 2014. In 2014, she was named as one of the top ten Latino authors in the USA.  She is an adjunct professor in the low-residency MFA program at Fairfield University and an active member of the travel writing workshop of VONA—Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation—a community of writers of color. She keeps a travel blog at:  

Tributaries: “The Dream”

By J. Matas

The dream saw you before you woke.
The creek.
The clear creek leaving the lake.
Where it was possible to see a temperature.
Where your dream had run in desperation.
Your sleep was maudlin.
You casted one incipient belief after another, sploshing through Canada.
Smart, you think, as you notice a life underground.
You thought you might be crazy to love in such complexity.
In your dream you drew your body over, dam after dam.
Scrape the crust off an idyll until it’s bloody.
Incise with Swiss steel.
Don’t cauterize.
Watch for colour.
Your dream finds a job.
You work nights (mornings too).
The creek is cold, but your legs never get so.
Break off.
Spend as much as you can on words.
Throw dirt over.
Wild has never felt like anything but home.
I am a tree shaker (said the wind).
The dream spoke in a baritone that shook the raft.
If only you could stop moving.
You made a journey through the most breathable smell.
It took more than your life.
What you call seasons were knit into lower hair.
Time you learned what bird makes that sound.
You called for a sunset, just before dark, and it came.
That night, stars so bright they awaken a new dream, standing up beside the bed.

J. Matas is a musician and a poet. He has released 3 albums and toured in 10 countries with his band Crooked Brothers. He lives in western Manitoba and works masonry for a living.