Titleless - Portia Elan

While visiting Seattle for the AWP Conference, Pinch journal staffers came across some particularly inspiring Sasquatch-themed writing. In the name of all you misunderstood Sasquatches out there, we thought we'd see what turned up with a prompt for new work pertaining to the phenomenon of large, hairy, bipedal humanoids. This titleless entry from Portia Elan is one of two winning pieces selected by the editors. Keep believing! 


I made it out of clay first; not clay but dirt, the wet dirt we used as face paint over our cheeks, shaped into mud pies and then threw, sun-baked, against the wooden fence while the trains came by; that’s a lie though, not what I made it out of; I made it out of heart, entire, although that too could be made out of dirt, the heart that slings itself through the forest, heart that calls like a monkey, ruffles its silver fur, does not know its own height, which is great, which is astonishing; I made it and it was an it, because I gave it nothing between its legs, until it spoke, because it was made out of heart, and told me that it was a she: You made me to suffer, she said; which I did not know until she said it, and then I did know; It would have been better if you’d made me out of dirt, she said; if I had made her out of dirt, in that first rain she could have gone back, could have re-leased; but I used my heart and so she was indelible, in her being, although constantly shifting, so that those who saw her once never saw her exactly the same way again, which made her a thing of mystery, of myth, and searchers began to spend their days, at first only their days, and then their nights, binoculars pressed to their eyes, hoping for a glimpse — a small vision — of the creature they had seen before; and though what they saw each time was different on the outside, what they felt was the same: that they needed, that they wanted, that the creature darting through the mountains around them was that last missing piece, she was the obvious answer to a question they had been told not to ask when they were small, because they asked it over and over, without relief; why; they lost sleep; they could not stop looking for her, and when she came to see me, she was very tired from running; she wanted to come back into me; she said please; and I was afraid that the searchers would start to come looking for me, but she was my heart, my heart made of dirt, made of low and ugly, made of silver fur, taking up too much space, and so I said her, Yes.




Portia Elan is a high school library assistant on the West Coast. Her chapbook To Yield Like Water & Nothing Else is forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press. Her poems can be found in Ninth Letter, Elimae, Cloud Rodeo, ILK and Toad.

Homecoming - Michael Marberry

– Tuscaloosa, Alabama

At the Archibald & Woodrow’s,
     the smoker yawns its pork parts
over a low flame – the dank air
     as heavy as a lead refrigerator.

Thin, vinegar-sauce tang calls us
     to our seats like somnambulists.
Our fever-dreams are burnt ends,
     collard greens, sliced white bread.

The city where we met is ruined.
     Funnel clouds emptied the fields
of memory. But the waitress still
     flirts for tips, dotes on an oddity:

how I lather coleslaw on my BBQ.
     Her pink-black lacquered nails tap
the table’s woodtop. She is brown.
     She is gorgeous like a Greek battle.

She does not acknowledge sorrow,
     our grief. I think that we love her.
And the ribs are still tender, the tea
     so sugar-sweet no spoon can stir it.



The epigraph of this poem establishes the location. I lived in Tuscaloosa from 2007-2010. And even though I grew up in the South and was familiar with the region’s traditions, eccentricities, oddities, etc., Tuscaloosa surprised and charmed me nonetheless. It is a place with both a very proud and very terrible history — the mecca of college football (ROLL TIDE!) and the place where Governor Wallace attempted to block Vivian Malone and James Hood from enrolling at the university. To me, Tuscaloosa seemed like a microcosm of the best and worst of the South. I made many friends there.

I was living in Columbus, Ohio on April 27, 2011 when an enormous tornado rampaged through Tuscaloosa and so many other surrounding communities. I’d visited Tuscaloosa only a few weeks earlier and, in the subsequent days, was horrified (like everyone else) to see the pictures of destruction. As it turns out, the next time that I would visit Tuscaloosa was purely accidental and, coincidentally, on April 28, 2012 — nearly a year to the day of the tornado. Seeing the aftermath firsthand, even a year later, was troubling: the rubble of homes and businesses, the splintered and missing trees, a still-littered lake. The absence of these things meant you could see much further into the distance now than you could before, nearly across the entire town, from the interstate exit. It was as if the horizon line had been stretched out before you. Other parts of Tuscaloosa looked exactly the same as when I’d left, like nothing had happened.

The first thing I did when I returned to Tuscaloosa was eat at my favorite barbecue joint, Archibald & Woodrow’s, which is little more than a bedroom-sized room covered in wood-paneling and sports memorabilia. It was the dead-time between lunch and dinner; I ordered a pulled-pork sandwich and sides for about $6.00. There were maybe two other customers, and the waitress was very kind. It seemed strange to be in a place that felt familiar and unfamiliar simultaneously. All of that makes it into the poem, I think. If the poem has a theme, maybe it’s that you can’t go home again. Or maybe you can. I’d like to think that a sub-theme is that “Tuscaloosa Runs This.” The epigraph is also a sort of dedication.



Michael Marberry is Poetry Editor of The Journal. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Indiana ReviewThird CoastGuernica,LinebreakPassages NorthHarpur Palate, and elsewhere.

The Lake - Michael Martin Shea

It was the summer the lake froze two feet thick & the streets were covered in frost. We were on the shore in our bathing suits, ready for vacation, but it never came. What we couldn’t understand made us angry—some of us threw rocks & tables at the ice, hoping to crack it, while others spent whole mornings just screaming at the sun. We began to attract national attention for our predicament.Why not just go somewhere else? they said. We didn’t have an answer, but still we walked down to the lake each morning, hoping to hear a splash. Nothing. Frozen shut. Then one day, a baby appeared in the ice, followed by another. No one could think of any missing children, but soon the lake was littered with infants. We sent teams with pick-axes onto the lake to save them, but the ice wouldn’t budge. The babies waved at us from under the frozen sheet. Some of them were crying. Many looked hungry. We didn’t know what to do. We pleaded with the lake to give us the children, but it wouldn’t listen to reason. We formed a mob. We blamed the women. We rounded them up & hung their bodies from the pines but we still didn’t have what we wanted. In the morning, many of the other men, realizing what they’d done, took off their clothes & lay face-down in the snow. Those of us who were left began to adopt the ice-babies, leaving flowers on the lake & giving them names we whispered to each other in the parking lots. They were all we had. We took them mashed pears, mashed peas, cows’ milk. We poured it on the lake, where it froze, forming opaque puddles that looked like mirrors. But of course we couldn’t see ourselves.



One of the strangest features of our society is the level of engagement we have with objects we’ve never actually experienced. Take war, for example—an object or idea that’s so pervasive in our culture, from blockbuster movies to the constant stream of news media even down to the war metaphors we use to describe football games. But so few of us have actually experienced war. The effects of war, sure, but not the actual object. What I think this creates is a disembodiment of the object: you forget certain features of it because you don’t have any direct access to it—and when you do come into contact with it, the difference between your conception of it and its actual reality can be really jarring.

In a small way, this happened to me back in January while visiting some friends in Wisconsin. I realized one day while I was there that I was looking at a frozen lake for the first time. Ever. Of course, I’d seen frozen lakes in movies and I knew all the cultural ideas about frozen lakes—mostly that they break apart the second you stepped onto the very center of the ice. But it didn’t exist to me as a real landscape—as a place where people could build igloos and go camping, for example. So I decided to explore this idea of a place that’s both intimately familiar and totally foreign. What would happen if the familiar object changed in some slight way? Bad things, apparently.



Michael Martin Shea is an MFA candidate and Grisham Fellow at the University of Mississippi. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming inIndiana Review, Ninth Letter, Salt Hill, New Orleans Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and the Best New Poets 2012 anthology. He lives in Oxford, Mississippi, where he edits Yalobusha Review.

Searching for Us - Philip Levine

The Pinch Journal is proud to present the following poem by Pulitzer Prize winning author Philip Levine (1928 -2015) as a tribute to his work and his memory.

Originally published in the Spring 1987 issue of The Memphis State ReviewSearching for Us by Philip Levine is a poignant glance at the universal images that make up a family's memories.


Two ten-inch phonograph records, Bluebirds

going white, that won't give up their music.

My uncle's perfect clothbound book

that opened the secret of electric growth.

My mother's gap-toothed tortoise combs.

Her opera glasses. Her black and white

artistic snapshots taken on the August '36

return trip on the Normandy. She titled

this one "Sunset at Sea" and claimed

it was only a shadow of what took place

in color. My father's Victoria Cross

that he brought back from an automobile parts

convention. His white gold pocket watch,

a Howard, that runs and stops and runs

to keep his time. His naturalization papers

claiming he was born in 1898

in Poland, without a mention of his years

at war. My brother's grade school drawings

of Spitfires and ME 109's,

his "Withdrawl from Dunkirk," the beach

crisscrossed with small black lines 

that could be abandoned arms or the arms

of boys hugging the earth. A white flower.

Two dusty maple leaves. A blank postcard

without a stamp. My stillborn sister's

wish to mother a child, to breathe

the stained air that blows in at dusk

from the parking lots, to walk with us

on Sunday afternoons. Your finger prints

on the final application for release.

A bitten fountain pen, a dry stamp pad.

Two clear drops of fluid that catch

and hold the artificial light, that glow

with their own light when that's gone,

as eyes in stories are said to do.

Now in the dark they could be you,

they could be me, they could be anyone. 




Elegy to Be Exhaled at Dusk - Chen Chen

I am an elegy to be exhaled at dusk. I am an elegy to be written on a late

October leaf. An elegy to be blown


from its tree by a late October wind. To be stomped on & through

by passersby old & young


& dead & unborn. To be crinkled & crushed into tiny brown-

orange pieces. & then


collected, painstakingly, no, painfully, piece by piece, & assembled like

a puzzle or collage or


Egyptian god, but always incomplete, always a few bits & limbs

missing. An elegy to be


misplaced, stuffed away in the attic’s memory, & only brought out again

once every occupant of the house has


ceased. Yes, I am an elegy properly architectured by ruin. An elegy that has

experienced crows & lake effect


snow, an elegy that has seen Ukrainian snow falling on the forehead

of Paul Celan, Paul Celan’s mother,


the German tongue, the tangled tongues of all your literary

& literal ancestors—but more


than that, an elegy that has felt light, the early morning light falling

on your lovely someone’s


loveable bare feet as he walks across the wood floor to sit by the window,

by the plants, with a cup of jasmine


& a book he will barely open but love to hold the weight of

in his lap. I am,


my friend, an elegy that has taken into account, into heart & October wind,

the weight of someone’s soft


hair-covered head in someone else’s warm, welcoming lap.





About the Author:

Chen Chen's work appears/is forthcoming in Poetry, The Massachusetts Review, Tupelo Quarterly, Crab Orchard Review, [PANK], Fogged Clarity, Nepantla: A Journal Dedicated to Queer Poets of Color, among other places. He has received fellowships from Kundiman, Tent: Creative Writing, and the Saltonstall Foundation. He is a University Fellow in Syracuse University's MFA program and serves as Poetry Editor for Salt Hill.