Chila Woychik: “So What Do You Think About Cows, or, A Lingering Grief”

So What Do You Think About Cows, or, A Lingering Grief

Words are like nets – we hope they’ll cover what we mean, but we know they can’t possibly hold that much joy, or grief, or wonder. Jodi Picoult, Change of Heart

We’ve carted this grief halfway around the world but now I’m calling dibs. She slipped out in the early dawn, dropped her light, love dried up. Did some things she can’t take back, but none of it matters now. In what world does it turn out this way? In what world does a mother die, stroked out in days of remembering? Months have turned to years because perception stains reality.

I’ve been trying to understand a love of elephants. Mother had them all: figurines, jade replicas, earrings, all visual indications of her dire enchantment with the earth’s largest land-dwelling pachyderm.

Who knows what these times are, these latter days of reminiscence and grasping for a few more hours to feel young and vital? Maybe that’s it. The ageless cues of the elephant, virile long after so much time would minimize other beasts. “They never forget,” she would say. And maybe this drove into her heart some replica of remembering, of not forgetting the secrets she held so boxed and heavy. If I could have a last conversation, I would ask her why.

Life glories in spanking us in the face, on one side, grief, the other, awe. Grief is waking in the middle of the night and forgetting where you put the flashlight. It’s that constant scraping against a dark window, a hard rain shouldering the earth and not letting up before the creeks rise too high.

I wonder if she did all she wanted to do. If not regrets, were her memories unbridled, a rampaging elephant in the wild? Or were they shoved into a musty corner, shackled lest they run amuck and trample her life’s spoken narrative? Not all secrets can be corralled forever, and forgiveness covers with blankets of love: these were the last lessons I learned from her.

Grief settles in low places, in hollows and dry creek beds, and everything stays the same until it doesn’t. Huddled in a field, two farmers made a pact. “We’ll call it harvest,” one says, patting her stomach. “We’ll call it profit,” the other says, stroking his wallet. We’re teaching everyone these days. One big whoopie. It all runs together, a jumble of seconds clacking toward meaning and a sudden sunset. The girls you knew in school, those boys, the teachers and lessons now gone, and there’s a reunion coming up. When did we get so sad?

Outside my doors, a field of lowing cattle. Love hurts, it’s true, but what about those cows? Sometimes we’ve earned the right to be eccentric, to embrace the unusual and harbor admiration. Living’s our excuse, the grief, the awe. And even, sometimes, the cows.


Chila Woychik is originally from the beautiful land of Bavaria. She has been published in Cimarron, Passages North, and elsewhere, and has published Singing the Land: A Rural Chronology (Shanti Arts, 2020). She won Storm Cellar’s 2019 Flash Majeure Contest and Emry’s 2016 Linda Julian Creative Nonfiction Award.  

Margaret Erhart: “Irony”


_____The day Sarah Hofstadter got up out of her seat in 7th grade study hall and wrote the word IRONY in big block letters on the blackboard was the day I stepped away from childhood. The year before, John F. Kennedy was killed and through tears that would not stop, Mrs. Taliaferro, our teacher, assigned us an in-class essay entitled “What Freedom Means To Me.” That day was a step away from childhood too. But the difference was this: Sarah Hofstadter’s blackboard graffiti was not an event that rocked the world. It caught no one’s attention but mine. It was the first time I made a conscious choice—a choice all my own—about what was important. This thing called irony added a dimension to language and to life itself. It was important. It was as if I’d poked my head underwater for the first time and exclaimed, “There’s a fish!”

_____A word can do that for us. It can grow us up fast. I remember how proud I felt when I learned to spell antidisestablishmentarianism. On the playground we’d sing out the spelling of it, a rhythmic song. We didn’t have the vaguest idea what it meant. It only went so far in growing us up. It was a baby step in the parade of things, including words, that would eventually make adults out of us. And of these, the word “irony” carried the most weight. “What happens isn’t what you think will happen,” wrote Sarah Hofstadter on that blackboard. The teacher told her to go back to her seat and a few girls snickered. It was easy to be unpopular if you were as smart as Sarah Hofstadter. I gazed at IRONY and its definition and put away my history book—I was reading about Charlemagne—and felt a thrill go through me, an aha! of understanding. Irony meant that life had levels of meaning, not just one, and if that was true then 7th grade wasn’t all there was; there was more. My sudden descent into adolescent awkwardness was just the visible picture, the surface of the sea, while below swam schools of multi-colored fish I could count on. In every situation there was depth of meaning. I understood this that afternoon and it made me more tolerant, more thoughtful, more dimensionally human.


Margaret Erhart’s work has appeared in the New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, Best American Spiritual Writing 2005, and many literary magazines. She won the Milkweed National Fiction Prize, and The Butterflies of Grand Canyon (Plume), was a finalist for an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. She lives in Flagstaff, Arizona. Margaret welcomes responses and conversations at

William C. Crawford: “Jimmy Pro Found Inspiration at a Now-Defunct El Paso Watering Hole.”


“Jimmy Pro Found Inspiration at a Now-Defunct El Paso Watering Hole.”

1430 Myrtle is gone from the city charts, but it still has a warm place in local barflies’ hearts.

Jimmy Pro landed up here a decade or so ago. Foraging the borderline, he was drawn in by the allure of Marilyn and the adjacent sub barrio, resplendent with its decaying funk. For a lensman in search of poetic inspiration, the dingy bar was the perfect place to conjure up a late afternoon, laconic stare; to unwind from shooting; and to jot down a few trigger riffs, teased out by ice cold Lone Star. Happy Hour can often be a poet’s salvation until it just isn’t.

Jimmy spent most of a decade sifting along The Line, honing his images, both electronic and literary. His voluminous photos further sharpen the clarity of his incisive poetry. “The Border Elegies” hang heavy with Jimmy’s prickly historical view of our enigmatic southern boundary. For sharp, visiting insight, de Tocqueville doesn’t have jack shit on Jimmy!

El Paso, for Pro, was the citadel for his wandering self assignment. Its gritty West Texas ambiance and resplendent culture titillated his most deeply held, creative instincts. Comfort, contentment, and creativity anchored him here like a rock for nearly ten years.

But the place that he warmly refers to as “The City Of The Future” is changing. He recognizes this gentrification, having sniffed its putrid spillage elsewhere in places like Gotham City’s Chinatown. Now, even this traditional barrio is tainted by ever seeping progress. This insidious creep is what finally took out a mini neighborhood icon like Goldie’s.

The place earned a sketchy score of 83 on its last Health Department sanitation inspection in May, 2013. Marilyn was still smiling, welcoming customers in for spicy tacos and tawdry conversation. But Goldie’s shelf life was nearly spent. Cheap beer down here is plentiful, and real estate near downtown was beginning to have some serious, long term prospects.

Jimmy finished The Border Elegies, but just in time for his joint to suffer the wrecking ball. When I finally showed up, he took me to another downtown dive bar, The Tap. Here, may be found, possibly, the best jukebox in Texas. I was also really inspired by the endless flow of cold Tecate. So I churned out a hot story about a mythical gunfight and our eventual escape down an endless alleyway that formed a seedy, urban slot canyon. Some editors liked it, and I even provided a dramatic supporting photo for publication.

I never got to quaff a brew with Jimmy at Goldie’s, though. But if I had, a yarn featuring Pancho Villa buying a round for the boisterous house might have spewed forth. Pancho would have probably met up with Marty Robbins, you know, “out in the West Texas town of El Paso”! They could have had a bar shoot out with the relentless Federales who had been hot on Pancho’s trail since early in the 20th century. Then, I would have provided a cool image to support my storyline. Likely the same hip photo seen here.

I am just proud to have ever off centered Goldie’s in my viewfinder. For his part, Jimmy Pro is content to have found poetic synergy in a small barrio icon, now lost to time. Gone from the charts . . . but never, ever from our hearts.


William C. Crawford is a writer & photographer based in Winston-Salem, NC. He was a combat photojournalist in Vietnam. He later enjoyed a long career in social work, and also taught at UNC Chapel Hill. He photographs the trite, trivial, and the mundane. Crawford developed the forensic foraging technique of photography with his colleague, Sydney lensman, Jim Provencher.

Maryam Barrie: “Settled by German Presbyterian Farmers”

Settled by German Presbyterian Farmers

Settled by German Presbitarian farmers, it was a town of Feldkamps and Finkbeiners, and my last name was Hanifi. Divorce was taboo, a scandal, it was 1966, and only my parents were divorced, though my mom would not admit it, as my father had not yet given her permission. The neighbors knew though, and Christina across the street would taunt me with it. I’d march Christina over to our screen door, and ask my mom to settle the question once and for all. She’d say, “The answer is the same thing I told you before.” Into that gray air I’d turn to Christina and try on a face of triumph.

It wasn’t just that. I was a brown little girl, and loved my brown Chatty Cathy doll dearly. There was one family in town darker. I’d explain the absence of my father by saying that he worked for the CIA behind the Iron Curtain. In Chicago.

My sense of otherness was palpable and had a tart tang. I cherished it, though I knew it set me on the outside. I was there anyway. My best friend, Galen, wore green satin pants to school, with three inch high platform shoes. In the library boys would drop off notes at our table that read “Die faggot!”

Moving back there after the degree, and marriage, and daughters, one woman I had been in Girl Scouts with earnestly told me, after I had said how glad I was that my husband and mother would be the only ones watching my girls while I taught, “You know, you can put them in daycare.” At the one high school reunion I attended, my very drunk friend hoisted her up onto his shoulder, like Rhett Butler. He was wearing heels, and standing at the top of a steep stone set of stairs, weaving as he yelled, “Am I man enough for you now, Sue?” I wrassled her bottom off of his shoulder, setting her down safely. She was drunk too, and told me tearfully that she just wanted to live in a white picket fence world.

Her daughter and mine were in the same third grade classroom. That was the year girls told mine that she didn’t wear headbands correctly, once they’d demanded her help with math. Sue’s daughter, Megan, told mine that it didn’t matter if your feet were comfortable, it just mattered if your shoes looked new.

My husband and I wrote letters to the small newspaper. He wrote for gun control, and I wrote about treating gay students respectfully. When my friend died of AIDS, I had a fire in me to leave that town. So we did. I hear from my brown faced students here at the college that it is still not a good place to drive in whilst brown, or to be a brown face in their yearbooks. Let them have their sameness, and the way they are poised now to rule the world.


Maryam Barrie, married with two grown daughters, lives in an Oak and Hickory woods between Dexter and Chelsea, Michigan. She has taught at Washtenaw Community College since 1985. She is a read-a-holic, and loves gardening, trees, colors, the earth, Hildegard of Bingen, and poetry. Her favorite writer today is Lucia Berlin.