2021 Pushcart Prize Nominees


Cecil Morris, volume 2 number 4

Hole In The Head Review


her inside gives nothing away

at our daughter’s autopsy, the doctor opens her

like a question and the comforting burr of bees

alive among mandarin blossoms in spring sun

rises, swells—a sound sweet and angry, freighted

with her story, chapters unbound—then black wings beat

as crows assault the air, a dark and noisy lift,

a plethora, too many for her narrow chest,

for the shrinking receptacle of our one girl,

who, more or less than glass, now gives all her secrets

to antiseptic air, to purple latex gloves,

to blood tests and magnetic poles, the blur of crows

in crowded tumult rise, a different kind of hide-

and-seek, the truth comes peek-a-boo, through feathers fanned

for flight, confusion of shapes and shades, to us still

the mystery she didn’t share in the twenty years

since she left our home, the golden straw of our girl

to woman spun, enigma machine idling

in the hall of don’t ask, don’t volunteer, don’t look,

this blonde stranger casting aside our hand-me-downs

of chin and eyes and long limbs and inside what else,

beside the crows, a chattering next of songbirds

at dawn or dusk, incomprehensible but bright,

the foreign language of siskin, junco, house finch,

perpetual blush and flutter, a palpitation

of wings so nearly weightless they float above her

and tell us no more than crickets do as day fades—

that night has arrived and day departed, the end

and beginning, everything at once as always,

and we have only questions and no answers,

no finish to our daughter’s ending, no final

revelation as doctor closes our daughter.


 

Jean Kane, volume 2 number 3

Hole In The Head Review


Making a Stink


I huffed oil paint

like glue. With turpentine

and linseed fumes, it plunged


me into sense,

a folding out. The thrill

knuckled under no solid.


I can’t locate that precise

odor any longer. Paint doesn’t

smell the same. Perhaps, I’m told,


because of danger. New didactics

note the minerals that masters used to grind

in the raw were often lethal to breathe.


History’s poison infuses thick

promise, cigar smoke and bus exhaust,

mercurochrome’s scraped air.


Mothballs’ secret closets. What’s the trade?

As if a scruple could prevent

the disasters that barreled over me

instead.


 

Samantha DeFlitch, volume 2 number 2

Hole In The Head Review


In the North Country


There's me! Loud

trudging beneath


trees with their blue

language, their wind-


swept crinkling. My

spit freezes before it


hits snowpack. I am

proud to live here but


that is wrong. All I have

to offer this hard land:


a foil-capped birdfeeder

chockful of balls, soft


small suet. The mountain

rises and it is brilliant and


it is terrifying and it is not

anything at all: an uncaring


rockpile. Bold of me to give

it meaning. I'm a loud knock


at the wrong door; the world

will go on without my help.


At dusk, chickadees find log-

pile-protection, self-induce


hypothermia, and live. Yes,

this land is a blue ritual.


Then some far-off dog

cracks open the quick night


that carries her yelp away.


 

Farah Habib, volume 2 number 2

Hole In The Head Review


How to Eat a Mango


Slice with the skin on. Stand the mango up. Cut from the top of the fruit, down one side of the pit and then the other; try to cut as close to the pit as you can. Put the side with the pit on the square wooden cutting board that sits in front of you on the small kitchen counter where you are standing. Hold the other half in your hand and make a tic –tac – toe like grid; peel back the skin and knife out the meat. The fruit should fall in cube-like shapes into a bowl. Serve with fork and napkin. The internet is full of suggestions.

Is that it? Is that the way to make a mango taste syrupy sweet like it did back when your uncle served it after dinner, the deep rumble of his laughter leaving you hungry for more?


No results found, the internet responds. Did you mean mango mousse?


Come on, don’t you know what I’m talking about? Is it in the geometry of the mangoes where the sweetness resides?


Mangoes come in all shapes and sizes, the internet states—oval, round, almond-like.


Looking closely at the images online, you see only perfect piles of the tropical delight, no sturdy palm cupping the soft drupe, no thick grip that always knew what to do, how to be.


The secret, you finally realize, is in the hands. Yes, it’s somewhere deep in the lines of the hands of the man who cuts, slices and serves the yellow-orange sweetness to all the children and adults sitting around the long rectangular table listening, talking, learning the ways of the world in a room with stories that make their way to us, as the juice from the pulpy, soft, fibrous meat slides down our chins and fills our mouths with the sometimes citrusy, sometimes tangy taste so comforting and soothing in the way stories are when told to us by those who were there, who walked the gullies, who sat on the charpoys, who chewed on the paans, who smoked the hookahs, who remembered the mothers, who buried the fathers, who wiped the tears, but always, always knew what to do as they slept on the clean white sheets spread out in the big open spaces of the verandas where our ancestors breathed in the house full of mangoes.


 

Larkin Warren, volume 2 number 1

Hole In The Head Review


Walking with My Mother in the Dark


On most weekends, Sundays by five or six, the lake was empty,

boats mostly gone, save ours. A gift, to stay on the water

after others go—floating at anchor

or drifting in the yellow canoe, eating blueberries from a bucket.

Falling light calls us closer in—the white dock glowing,

the loon’s heartbreak call-and-response,

the ping of summer bugs against the screens.

Into the house for gin and tonic, out again to sit in the glimmer,

the halyards clanking after the sun goes down.

In daylight, she is sure and steady, straight-backed

as we go up and down the old road.

Her road, after all. His too, once—in winter, the big boots, a shovel,

the snowplow on his truck, his sense, defense, pretense

of guarding her, of guarding everything they had.

At night she holds my arm, leans a little as gravel shifts

beneath our feet. The dogs run ahead or beside,

into and out of the trees, crossing through the flashlight beam

Now she sits in a bright pink room peering through a city window,

certain that the Lady in the harbor is waving back at her.

"Best you hook that screen door," she murmurs.

She'd asked them for a yellow room,

but only pink was left. "Pink!" she says, and waves it away.

—Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, August 2005

 

Tim Benjamin, volume 2 number 1

Hole In The Head Review


Lifeline


My wife’s great aunt went into

an asylum at seventeen, pencil-thin, pious,

unconvinced the small knot of flesh

they’d cut from her stomach wall

wasn’t in fact immaculate.

She left two years later, fifteen pounds

heavier and an atheist, telling her parents

she’d drowned God in the

activities room toilet.

From there, her life was made of toast and

quince jam, coffee, afternoon card games, a sullen

cigarette on the back porch at sunset

with a brother who taught her how to

swear in French, insomnia.

The doctor who’d performed the operation

came every other week, injected her with a

neuroleptic, and stayed for dinner.

“I’ve never seen anything like it, before or

since,” he’d always say, as if

for the first time and as if to himself,

and raise a glass of Malbec in honor

of nature’s unpredictable plot, while

under the stone fountain in

the back yard, just out of earshot,

his name-making patient sewed together

featureless dolls out of strips of old pants,

dish cloths, thread and dried beans.

“One in every half a million live births,” he’d say. “They

want me to give a speech in Boston next month!”

The family was wealthy; otherwise, as my

mother-in-law reasons, who knows?

She could have been a martyr, a

dead, canceled saint, something besides

the zombified curiosity once or twice referenced

in out-of-date medical books.

There’s always a plan, she claims;

but to have a part of yourself lopped off—even

if it would eventually kill you—

there’s your crisis of faith.

And the night they found her under the

stone fountain, twenty-two,

alone in the house for the first time in

at least a year, the doctor was stumped, but

impressed: it wasn’t pills or the old pistol her

brother used to shoot pigeons in the summer,

but an incision, just to the left of the costal arch;

the scar doubling as guide for the

boning knife, her hand, to the wrist, missing,

stuffed inside the wound and wrapped

around her large intestine.