Poet of the Month, January 2018
Mag Gabbert is completing her fourth year as a PhD student in creative writing at Texas Tech University, where she has taught courses in creative writing, rhetoric, and literature since 2014. Mag holds an MFA from The University of California at Riverside and a BA in English, with minors in music and creative writing, from Trinity University, where she graduated magna cum laude with honors in English. Her essays and poems have been published or are forthcoming in journals including 32 Poems, The Rumpus, phoebe, The Nervous Breakdown, LIT Magazine, Sugar House Review, Carve Magazine, Cleaver Magazine, and Birmingham Poetry Review, among other places. Mag’s first full poetry manuscript, titled Blow, has been listed as a semi-finalist for Persea Press’ Lexi Rudnitsky Prize, the 2017 Grayson Books Poetry Prize, Sundress Press’ 2017 Open Reading Contest, and for Agape Editions’ 2017 NOLO Award. It was also ranked third among manuscripts considered by Carnegie Mellon Press in 2016. Mag currently serves as an associate editor for Iron Horse Literary Review, and was previously the associate poetry editor for The Coachella Review.
For more information, please visit maggabbert.com.
I was struck by your hands—
the right one, in particular—
so massive against your neat thigh,
and your posture,
half tense and half slack.
Tracing your gaze, I think
you must be looking for someone,
of the impossibly long sinews
of your enemies, plucked
and strung across the open
mouths of your lyres.
I am consumed
by violent stillness—
that you do not reach for me,
that you are not
that kind of man, but could have been
a wide, cool platform
to lie down on,
an empty plate for me to lick,
tracing the veined marble
with my tongue.
Prose Author of the Month, January 2018
I started writing to escape, whether the escape was from tediously boring days or from my chaotic childhood. I always found it difficult to express myself, but writing helped me articulate how I felt. It helped me establish some kind of foundation about who I was, who I was to become, and it gave me a sense of genuine purpose. Writing easily became a passion, and it has now become more than my own escape. I want others to feel how I first felt, that they can find their own haven within these stories, even if they are as dark as The Maiden. Writing, essentially, made me an empathetic person. It drove my need to connect to strangers, often on the other side of the world. Having a sense of yearning to make these connections, traveling to meet these people face to face and understanding their life story, is because of writing. I write now with the purpose of making people feel, to use words to paint a story and try to make it beautiful, whether it’s romantic or tragic, or dark or lighthearted.
The Maiden is certainly a dark piece, but I hope you enjoy it either way. Cheers, friends.
Dark clouds hid the sun. Thunder boomed, and rain poured relentlessly against little Amelia’s tiny window. She sat in the isolation of the small, empty attic, unafraid of the elements, but fearful of something else, something within her, a darkness that cried for help. She cried quietly into her knees, careful not to make a sound. Laughter from her mother’s party echoed through the floors, and she did long to be around them, around the company of others who seemed so cheery, but that was against the rules. She was forced to remain by herself, confined to the attic with only her thoughts to keep her company. Day after day, her life started and ended the same, and earlier that day was no different, except for her mother’s eerie sense of cheerfulness.
She helped clean and arrange the house to her mother’s liking for the party, performing labor her small physique struggled with in order to meet her mother’s demands. Everything had to be perfect. “Shiny, clean, and perfect!” Her mother would remind her. Amelia’s hands felt so raw from days such as these, cleaning everything over and over and over and over… Until perfection was finally met, she was not allowed to eat or rest, and for many days, such as this, she wouldn’t be able to stop for hours.
About now, Amelia would have taken the opportunity to rest and eat the meal her mother made her, but it was left untouched in its spot by the door. She felt worse than ever because she had done something wrong. Her mother doesn’t like it when things go wrong, and today Amelia created too big a mess for either of them to handle by breaking one of her most precious and expensive vases.
Amelia tried to apologize—she didn’t mean it—but her mother wouldn’t listen. She remembered being pummeled into a corner, and then pain. She cowered, closed her eyes, wished for it all to end, and cried, but her tears only made it worse.
“I’ll give you a reason to cry!”
In her hand, she clutched an older picture of her and her father, stained from tears and wrinkled all around. Amelia unfolded her hand and looked at his smiling face. She wished he was there to hold and comfort her, to make all of it go away. She would runaway to him in a heartbeat, but she couldn’t. Stuck and alone, she had no one to seek out comfort.
Thunder cracked again, and lightning lit up the sky briefly. Amelia’s gaze shifted to her window; that darkness within her grew more apparent, and she felt terrified. Yet, as if in a trance, she stood to her feet and walked toward the window. The laughter and chatter from downstairs immediately silenced as she opened the window. The bitter wind hit her with a bit of force, splashing water on her old clothes. Grabbing hold of the sill, she peered out and carefully looked down below at the muddy ground, mesmerized by the raindrops. But as she looked back up at the sky, the sensation slowly turned to gloom. No ray of sunshine, no matter how hard she wished or how long she stared, would make the rain end.
She turned her back to the outside and looked at the picture of her and her father once more. She saw her own smile, and she wanted that feeling again, to be happy with her father, but she couldn’t be. Not alone in the attic.
Amelia sat on the sill and held the picture close to her chest, against her heart. She took in a nervous breath, closed her eyes, squeezed the picture, and fell out the window.
Amelia inhaled suddenly and her eyes flashed open to a hazy blue sky; the haze seemed to cover everything as she continued to look around her. She rolled onto her side and lifted herself up to sit on her knees, and she smiled. She was surrounded by the most beautiful and colorful flowers. She pressed her hands against the cool dirt and leaned closer to the blossoms around her to smell their alluring aroma. The warmth of the sun and the beauty of nature offered comfort and bliss.
She stood to her feet and twirled amongst the flowers. She smiled from the freedom of her soreness and filled the void with laughter throughout.
Beside her, on either side, was an open meadow that seemed to stretch on forever, but she gasped as she finally turned around to look behind her. There stood her house, as if nothing had changed. She walked closer toward it with a spur of hope but, the closer she walked, the darker the sky became. Thick clouds rolled over the house, and thunder boomed, like on that rainy day. Amelia jogged to the door for shelter, and suddenly the air grew stiffer. The cold paralyzed her, gripping her with a fear she knew all too well. Laughter from inside the home echoed, and her eyes began to tear. Panicking, trying to catch her breath, she stumbled backward and fell against the ground. Shaking, she pushed herself to move back further into the field, and as she did the laughter quietly began to fade. The clouds rolled back behind the house as quickly as they came, and she was once more greeted by the sun. Its warmth was no longer welcoming, but puzzling. The house still stood, but as a memory.
Amelia held her hand against her chest to calm her racing heart, and she sighed.
She stood tall amongst the flowers and eyed them with curiosity. They were lovely, and they blossomed with brilliant color, but they no longer filled her with bliss. She slowly turned around, but was abruptly standing in the middle of a path in a forest. Her eyes widened, and she quickly turned around only to find an abyss staring back at her. The meadow was gone in an instant, and the sun hidden to her from the canopy.
Amelia gulped quietly and faced the path with an air of caution, stepping as if she were walking on egg shells. Although she could see light at the end of the path, it offered little comfort to what she would be facing along the frightening journey.
Closer and closer, the distance between her and the darkness greatly lessened. Stepping through the light, she was welcomed to another meadow, but one much more closed in. Surrounding it was a denser forest, although there was no canopy. The sun’s rays were distorted among a similar haze from before, and water from a pond glistened. Upon reaching the bank, she knelt down and peered into the depths, but no fish swam, nor plants swayed. No life could be found.
Her eyes focused to the reflection staring back at her. Her hair was notably unkempt, and she finally saw the new mud stains on her tattered dress. She dipped her hand into the cool water and used it as a cloth to wipe away the dirt on her face, but not all of it would easily smear away. She continued to wet her hands and clean her face, but many of the darker marks would remain. Amelia felt her eyes tear up the more she tried to clean away the marks over and over, but still they stayed.
For a few moments, she sat in weeping silence. She kept a hand on her face, feeling the tender spots that covered her jaw and cheeks. She stared at her rippling reflection with uneasy eyes.
“You’re safe now, my child,” a soothing female voice spoke from above. Her head jerked up to see the woman standing before her. Amelia was startled.
“Don’t be afraid,” she spoke in a more hushed tone, lowering herself into the pond. She removed the hood of her cloak, and she was met with a hypnotic gaze. Long golden hair draped down her shoulders. Her figure had the same aura as the haze distorting Amelia’s vision, and her smile showed a kindness that the young girl had not seen in many years.
“Who are you?” Amelia’s mousy voice was a little shaky as she slid back a bit further. “Where am I?”
“I am what you asked for, Amelia. This is all that you wanted,” the maiden spoke sweetly while stepping to the side to reveal what was forming behind her. A white apparition appeared from the haze, shaping to the mold of a person. Amelia stared with wide eyes from anticipation as the white glow began to fade and the face was clear. She beamed with a smile, “Papa!”
“You can be with him again,” the maiden stretched her hand out. “Just take my hand.”
Amelia looked to her father for reassurance, and he gave her a calm nod. She stood to her feet and carefully stepped into the pond. Keeping her eyes mostly on her father, she walked toward the maiden until she was in reach of her hand.
“Are you ready?”
She gulped and lifted her hand up to the maiden’s, wrapping her small fingers around her palm. Amelia felt the rhythm of her heart beat slower and slower. Her eyes closed, and she was met with the vision of her father reaching out to her. She reached back to him and, upon their hands touching, she finally drew her last breath. Her body fell limp against the maiden’s.
The maiden lowered her head and took the child into her arms to lay her back on the bank. Her flowing long hair began to fall in strands to the ground, until her head was entirely bald. Her flesh slithered down her face revealing the clean white bone that lay beneath. She lifted the hood of her cloak back over her face as her eyes melted down onto the ground. Her teeth cracked and fell out of her jaw, following the flesh. Nails slid from her fingers. The pale puddle slipped into the pond until all of the flesh had been removed.
The figure lifted Amelia’s body from the ground and strode away from the pond. The water spiraled at its beckon, withering to nothing. The dense trees grew taller and darker, reaching to the light to block it permanently. The figure walked towards the path Amelia had bravely taken, and the two disappeared along its shadowy tunnel.