The following have been nominated for the 2016 Pushcart Prize, an annual collection of the best writing published in small presses in America.
The Manner of His Murder | BRIAN DOYLE
My friend Tommy was roasted to death on September 11. He was a terrific basketball player and a wry wit and a gentle husband and the best dad ever, according to his daughters. Yet everyone who ever knew and liked or loved him is now sentenced to thinking about the manner of his murder. But this enrages and infuriates me, that his murderer gets to insist on anything when we think of Tommy, and I will be damned if I will put up with this any longer, so this morning I will edit the murderer out of Tommy’s story, for the murderer was a foul misshapen spirit who bent his considerable brilliance not in service to creativity and community but to his monumental ego, the poor stupid slime, and Tommy was not like that at all, so we will stop thinking about the pompous ass who murdered Tommy, and instead focus on my boy Tommy, who is alive and grinning right here on the page as long as I am writing this essay, and I would keep writing it for thirty more years if I could, and give Thomas Gerard Crotty the span of his natural life. It would have been well-lived, his natural life. He was not the kind of guy who would stop too many nights at the pub, or hit on the secre-taries, or play slippery games with the pension fund. He would have gained fifteen pounds because even though he tried to stay in shape and play golf and tennis and hike in the hills, he worked in finance, in excellent suits, and those guys just do gain the fifteen no matter what, not to mention that often the very best athletes pack on the pounds when they get old, almost like their bodies are so relieved not to be lean humming extraordinary machines any more that their bodies happily say hey, sure, I’ll have the onion rings on the side and another beer, life’s short, man, and didn’t God invent onions?
Probably Tommy would have chipped in on a mountain cabin with his brothers, the rights divvied up so each family gets three weeks in summer and pretty much any other weekend you want, and there would have been a discussion about a beach house, but Tommy played college ball upstate and came to love the wild forests along the Hudson, and the velvety sprawl of the Adirondack mountains, who would have thought there was such shocking wild beauty so close to Manhattan, you know what I’m saying? And he would have gone to Father-Daughter dances with a smile on his face and tears in his eyes in the men’s room that his girls were getting so willowy and beautiful and teenagery, and soon they would be writing college admission essays, and one would be debating whether or not she should take the lacrosse scholarship to one school or the academic scholarship to another. And he would suddenly for no reason whatsoever slip into his wife’s arms when she turned toward the stove in the morning and as she laughed and protested he would glide with her in a sort of weird Tommy waltz through the kitchen and through the dining room and around the living room and even out onto the porch and the dog would get confused and excited and the girls would come running because their mom was giggling helplessly and their dad was grinning broadly and that is my friend Tommy Crotty, you stupid arrogant bastard, that is my friend Tommy, as alive and funny and as happy as any man ever was in this world, and no one can kill his joy and grace and kind-ness and sly sidelong grin, no one, not as long as there are those of us who liked and admired and loved him; and there are legions of us, more than you and your squirming ilk could ever count.
Let me put it to you this way, in this last sentence, in real clear terms, so even you will understand it, you who understood nothing of love: Tommy will always be alive, because when we think of him we smile; but you will always be dead, because no one who thinks of you ever smiles; and someday, as the tides of peace and joy slowly rise to drown thugs like you, no one will even remember your name.
Brian Doyle edits Portland Magazine at the University of Portland. He is the author of six collections of essays, two nonfiction books, two collections of “proems,” the short story collection Bin Laden’s Bald Spot, the novella Cat’s Foot, and the novels Mink River, The Plover and Martin Marten. He is also the editor of several anthologies, including Ho`olaule`a, a collection of writing about the Pacific islands. Doyle’s books have seven times been finalists for the Oregon Book Award and in 2016, two of his books are finalists. His essays have appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, Orion, The American Scholar, The Sun, The Georgia Review, and in newspapers and magazines around the world, including The New York Times, The Times of London, and The Age (in Australia). His essays have also been reprinted in the annual Best American Essays, Best American Science & Nature Writing and Best American Spiritual Writing anthologies. Among various honors for his work is a Catholic Book Award, three Pushcart Prizes, the John Burroughs Award for Nature Essays, Foreword Reviews’ Novel of the Year award in 2011 and the Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2008. He is the 2015 winner of the Willamette Writers Distinguished NW Writer award.
The Strong Force | C. WADE BENTLEY
My father had begun to suspect that things were no longer
what they seemed to be. This was not your garden-variety,
tinfoil-hat, alien-probe paranoia. Nor had his mind taken on
the protective coating of dementia, none of the Swiss-cheesing
of the brain that might have deflated him into dispassion.
If anything, his senses were now increasingly aware
of the ground becoming less firm beneath his feet, as if
one could no longer count on the quarks to link their tiny
hands and bind up all the empty spaces with chromodynamics
and baling wire. It was Death he saw coming, of course, close
enough now to hear the folds of the black cloak whispering
past him at night, smell the carrion on His breath.
This was not the abstraction against which he had stockpiled
faith for eighty years, testifying when he was younger that death
held no fear for him. Just yesterday, when we saw a junco
pulling at the decay of a fallen spruce, early light turning the orange
of the tree and the white-tipped tail feathers of the bird to fire,
he asked me how he could be expected to let any of it go,
to just move on, and I knew he meant that, whatever might be
ahead, it seemed incredible now, impossible to believe
it could ever atone for all he would soon leave behind.
C. Wade Bentley lives, teaches, and writes in Salt Lake City. For a good time, he enjoys wandering the Wasatch Mountains and playing with his grandchildren. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Green Mountains Review, Cimarron Review, Best New Poets, New Ohio Review, Western Humanities Review, Subtropics, Rattle, Chicago Quarterly Review, Raleigh Review, Reunion: The Dallas Review, Ilanot Review and New Orleans Review, among others. A full-length collection of his poems, What Is Mine, was published by Aldrich Press in early 2015.
Where I Am From | JENNIFER FOREMAN
I am from the place you saw me last.
From our little apartment with you dying on our little red couch.
I am from dragging you to the floor trying to save your life.
I am from being on my hands and knees counting out loud
trying to pump life back into you.
I am from the moment I could not save you.
I am from pieces of myself that remain
scattered around that same apartment
underneath that same couch,
in our bed.
I am from public tears on city buses.
From miles I have walked
listening to jazz, finding brief moments of consolation
in the smallest amount of moisture
gathered on morning leaves.
I am from being ripped apart and
sewing myself back together.
I am a bizarre patchwork replica of my former self.
I am from living in a world without you.
It is unbearable.
I am from the place you left me.
Jennifer Foreman is a Portland poet who works for Multnomah County in Aging and Aging Disability Services. She has studied at The Attic Institute in Portland and is currently working on a full collection of poems that deal with the grief process.
The Europa | ROISIN KELLY
There was a bomb scare in Topshop
when you were my age.
You refused to leave the changing room
till you’d tried on one last skirt
so your mother abandoned you and fled.
I’ve been in a scare only once:
you held my hand so tight
as we hurried towards the escalator
and didn’t let go till we were out
on the cold, crowded street.
Over hot chocolate in Bewley’s
as we waited to see if the shopping mall
really would explode
you told me all the old stories
about growing up here—
the school bus set alight,
joining in fights below the peace wall.
You laugh to remember it now,
the past having lost its power
to faze you. Only last week
you returned to the Europa,
its neon name spelled across your face
as it was thirty years ago
on the night you met my father there
at a teenage disco.
And I know, if back then
you’d heard a sound like thunder
getting louder and louder
and red orange yellow flames sped
towards you through the corridors
you’d have simply hopped into his arms
and let him carry you outside
as the whole place became a fireball
behind you. Like a scene
from a movie, and the two of you
its stars: the muscled hero,
the beautiful girl he sets down lightly
on uncracked pavement.
The Europa is a Belfast hotel that was bombed 28 times during the Troubles.
Roisin Kelly was born in Northern Ireland but has mostly lived south of the border in the Republic. After completing her MA in Writing at the National University of Ireland, Galway, she moved to Cork City where she continues to live and write. Her work has been published in journals such as The Stinging Fly, Southword and The Interpreter’s House. In 2014 she won second and third place in the Red Line Poetry Competition and the Dromineer Poetry Competition respectively, and was shortlisted for the Aesthetica Creative Writing Award. Her work is forthcoming in the Raving Beauties Anthology (Bloodaxe 2015) and in a future issue of Poetry.
small pale telegrams from the world* | ANDREW MICHAEL ROBERTS
* from the poem “Lamento” by Tomas Tranströmer
the sky is
as if i carry
it wants back.
a bad heart.
i am befriended
by a tree.
shifts of wind.
i’m no one.
is a paralyzing
Andrew Michael Roberts is the author of the poetry collections good beast (a finalist for the 2016 Oregon book award in poetry) from Burnside Review Books and something has to happen next, which was awarded the Iowa Poetry Prize from University of Iowa Press. He lives with his wife, Sarah, in Portland, Oregon, where he works as a cardiac nurse and frequents the library by bicycle. He has also penned two chapbooks, Dear Wild Abandon and Give Up. He is the recipient of a national chapbook fellowship from the Poetry Society of America and a distinguished teaching award from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Read To You | ROBERT VIVIAN
May I read to you tonight, may I pour out my voice to you, lowering the sluice gates, opening the windows of my mouth and birds bursting forth in so many words and may I read to you, may I recite from the book of trembling vertebrae, may I offer you the least trickling grain of my voice, may I give you the dear moisture of my held breath in slow exhalation, the faint and groaning cry and may I read to you and in the act be unrestrained, unhinged even, south of any control and a little wobbly at the knees, a little staggering, may I say tender and astonishing things, heart most pumping blood and chlorophyll, the words a kind of chemical urgency, transfusion, transference, a holy cocktail and may I read, read, read to you, Oh, beloved and cherished listener, the one who takes the words into the delicate petals of your ears and the petals of your body, my body, our oneness in reading, our oneness in listening and may I read not knowing what I’m saying in a delirious moan and not knowing where the words are coming from or even what they mean, strange country of wild utterance where the natives dance like candle flames and weave baskets out of strips of bark and coconut husks and may I read from the precarious edge of a great reverence and holy dread, the dread of my own voice, the dread speaking me now and writing me in the dark of myself where the words foment and turn over in whispering quakelings of sound, wild animals and birds and visions of paradise and may I read to you from the white hot molten center of a word in the glowing kingdom of a sentence, the flammable ink, the glycerin of verb and if when I read may I also say thank you, thank you, thank somewhere below the register of my voice whose head waters originate at the base of my spine where the heavy lifting happens, Archimedes with any old place to stand and rusty lever leaning against the wall and may I read to you, dear lover, dear friend, precious one who would hear me and want to listen when I don’t even know what I am saying, am reading and the tears in our eyes a holy fountain, beautiful pools, the words I read not my words but somehow mine to read and call out to you at the bottom of yourself and a bird watching over us during the reading, ready to fly up at once in a flash of glorious wings when the last word is spoken and falls away into the vast and all-releasing silence.
Robert Vivian is the author of The Tall Grass Trilogy: The Mover Of Bones, Lamb Bright Saviors and Another Burning Kingdom, in addition to the novel Water And Abandon. His newest collection of dervish essays is Mystery My Country from Anchor Plume Press (April 2016). He’s also written two books of meditative essays, Cold Snap As Yearning and The Least Cricket Of Evening. Several of his plays have been produced in New York City and his monologues have been published in the Best Monologues series. His essays, poems and stories have been published in Harper’s, Georgia Review, Creative Nonfiction, Alaska Quarterly, Ecotone and dozens of other journals. He teaches at Alma College in Michigan and serves on the faculty of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program. In 2015, Robert was the first recipient of the Timberline Prize.