Jody Kennedy

Dearest Virginia (Woolf)

If I could (if only time would permit and only if you agree) I (52) would walk back with you, together with you, unpack the rocks from your pockets, pick up your hat and cane and follow the road past farm fields and clover until we came to your cottage in the village of Rodmell (England) where we would take tea and both of us promise (promise) never again to say: Against you I fling myself, unvanquished and unyielding, O Death! The waves broke on the shore.1

On Tuesday, March 24, 1941, you wrote (part of your last journal entry): A curious sea side feeling in the air today. There’s something about springtime at certain latitudes (like East Sussex County, England, or the Midwest, U.S.) and those sometimes violent thunderstorms that blow up without much warning forcing crocus, hyacinth, daffodils, and tulips to wake from their winter slumber, forcing forsythia bushes and magnolia and crabapple trees to bloom. Had you flung open the cottage windows that day (or was it still too cold)? Shaken the oriental rugs, dusted the blown glass paperweights, the hand-painted lampshades and the asparagus green candlesticks? Did you consider the distance (just past the garden) to the Church of St. Peter from the steps of your kitchen door? Had you thought of the spring equinox (March 30) and Easter coming (April 14) and the communion bells (Now we move out of this cool temple, into the yellow playing fields2) and forgotten for a second the war and your sadness and remembered a time when everything was still fresh and new like it was long before that summer you had another mental breakdown and imagined birds in the garden singing in Greek (αγαπητός) and King Edward VII swearing at you from behind the bushes (never trust a king or anyone else for that matter, who doesn’t swear once in a while), before the deaths of your mother, your half-sister, your father and your brother, before the jumping out the window (not high enough) and the pills (not strong enough) and your marriage to Leonard, before the hospitalizations and the leather straps (I remember needing to be restrained) and the River Ouse.

There is the white house lying among the trees. It lies down there ever so far beneath us. We shall sink like swimmers just touching the ground with the tips of their toes. We shall sink through the green air of the leaves, […]. We sink as we run. The waves close over us, the beech leaves meet above our heads.3

On Friday, March 28, 1941, as you (59) were leaving your cottage (in the village of Rodmell) and walking the fifteen minutes or so past farm fields and clover before coming to the River Ouse (where you set down your hat and cane and collected rocks to fill your pockets) my maternal great-grandmother (60) would be dying of cancer two years later almost to the day. My maternal grandmother (31) was already twelve years out (and two more children in before the birth of my aunt and mother) from her first marriage to a blond-haired and doomed Saint Paul, Minnesota, gangster. Ernest Hemingway (42) was in Hong Kong on an extended honeymoon with his third wife, Martha Gellhorn. Future novelist Muriel Spark (23) was settled in London after having left her husband and infant son in Africa to begin pursuing her writing career. My father (13) was getting ready for school at his grandmother’s Grant Street apartment (125) in Portland, Maine. The British Royal Navy defeated Italy in the battle at Cape Matapan (did you get that news or were you already walking?) and WWII (no more fighter planes flying over the cottage) would be over four years and six months later.

I love punctually at ten to come into my room; I love the purple glow of the dark mahogany; I love the table and its sharp edge; and the smooth-running drawers. I love the telephone with its lip stretched to my whisper, and the date on the wall; and the engagement book.4

Our heads were filled with pestilence and glitter. Like when I (15) had that first psychotic episode (What a born alcoholic I am!) after my parent’s divorce, after moving out of our family home with my mother and leaving my brother alone to live with our father, after buying a guinea pig (who I named Angel) trying so desperately to recreate that sense of childhood safety and stability I’d once felt—cocooned in with my mother (opposite the starkness of my father) and our menagerie of small pets, before the bike rides out Pheasant Branch Road and into the country, before that giant devil-hand clamped down on my head (trying to squeeze out the voices), before I locked myself in my bedroom and shattered one of my maternal grandmother’s dark green plates (the ones with gold leaf trim) and screaming, cut my wrist and arms with the broken pieces and how my mother (terrified) forced open the door and scooped me up (still screaming) into the car and drove to the hospital where I (then hyperventilating) kept threatening to jump out of (but didn’t) the car.

Sussex Ouse sea trout return from the sea, entering the tidal reaches of the river in May before beginning their June migration (They have made all the days of June—this is the twenty-fifth—shiny and orderly, with gongs, with lessons, with orders to wash, to change, to work, to eat5) driven toward feeder streams further inland where the water is cooler and more oxygenated.

We were not like other girls. We (?) preferred our whiskey straight not shaken and our women and men dark-haired and serious/sensuous/frivolous (Look here Vita—throw over your man, and we’ll go to Hampton Court and dine on the river together and walk in the garden in the moonlight and come home late and have a bottle of wine and get tipsy, and I’ll tell you all the things I have in my head, millions, myriads—They won’t stir by day, only by dark on the river. Think of that. Throw over your man, I say, and come.6). Didn’t we set out (consciously and unconsciously) to devour those same women and men (literally or figuratively) like the Mares of Diomedes or those jealous, clucking Naiades and how we still insulated ourselves, built walls and towers and cathedrals spiked with glass shards and barbed wire to keep them from really loving us?

Remember how our belief in malevolent forces was never questioned? A belief (100% certain) in ghosts and hauntings and how I was sure that ghosts were haunting the dried up river bed along Pheasant Branch Road (where I rode my bike that day, trying to outrun the darkness, whispering to clouds) and how I thought a ghost had entered my body without my permission and sent me spiraling, cutting wrist and arms with those broken off pieces of my grandmother’s dark green gold leaf trimmed plate? And still (and yet still), how the disbelief (100% certain) in benevolent forces like angels and celestial beings and even a loving God was never once questioned?

Never once would I let myself get to the bottom of things like the reason why (aside from a mind-numbing physical attraction) I (21) began that relationship with a (then) married (among other complications) older man and the secrets we kept and the coming out only at night or only out of town where I was free to pretend that what was going on was perfectly normal and right. There was a pregnancy and an abortion (I cannot be a mother—I cannot) and then there was another pregnancy and another abortion and how I tried so hard to destroy the truth that the heart will (eventually) not be denied. Remember that sweet tabby cat who survived my moods and rages and the beautiful gray Siamese mix (like your cat Sappho) and how she and her gurgling howl would die of natural causes seven years later in my tiny studio (the first time I’d ever lived alone) and how I would crumble at the loss of her, at the ripping away (again) of the scab (already so threadbare) that covered over that deep, existential mother/father/God wound?

You set down your soup spoon. You picked up your cloth napkin. You set down your cloth napkin. You picked up your pen (your favorite?). You set down these words: Dearest, I feel certain I am going mad again. I feel we can’t go through another of those terrible times. And I shan’t recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can’t concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don’t think two people could have been happier till this terrible disease came. I can’t fight any longer. I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will I know. You see I can’t even write this properly. I can’t read. What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that—everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can’t go on spoiling your life any longer. I don’t think two people could have been happier than we have been.7 You picked up your resolve. You set down your spectacles (or were they Leonard’s?). You picked up your knitting (all of the scarves and socks I will ever knit, have already been knit—hélas!). You set down your knitting. You picked up your cat (Sappho or Pluto?). You set down your cat. You picked up your keys. You set down your keys. You picked up your hat (which one?). You picked up your cane a.k.a. your walking stick.

Remember how Dylan Thomas said, I hold a beast, an angel and a madman in me?8 Which naturally implies that we all (Leonard included) hold a beast, an angel and a madman in us though most of us are much better at hiding it or projecting it out onto others, so much so that we generally refuse to even consider the possibility of especially the part about the beast and the madman. What I’m trying to say is that despite our husband’s (perhaps) appearances otherwise, we have no reason to feel inferior to them or to anyone else because of our past histories with mental breakdowns and/or mercurial moods. Motto novum: I’m a madman, you’re a madman (we are all madmen).

The darkness felt like a steel trap in (some of) us, like a Titanic hitting an iceberg and going under at 2:20 a.m. (April 15, 1912), like a grisly shark attack in a cold impersonal sea, like a stagnant fish bowl (the Siamese fighting fish—belly up), like a clawing out from underneath damp (self-pity infused) earth, coupled with an intense (devouring) hunger for love and fear of love and fear of the hours and the burning away and the resurrection (and the dark to light).

We were tied to the ship’s mast, we were tied with an anchor. We passed through the Straits of Gibraltar, we passed through the Siren’s Song (sit tight my love, it’s okay, clouds can’t hurt us).

Did you know that some of your photo albums were published recently online?9 There are pictures of friends playing boules in the garden and there is the old port in Carnac, France, and Leonard’s pet marmoset sitting next to a green (?) hat. There is T.S. Eliot smiling and Vivienne frowning and there are the cats, Sappho and Pluto, lounging in the sun. There are the snowy farm fields (without clover) and there is the River Ouse (?) flooded in spring. And there you are and how I search your face now for the young girl in you, before your features were set in sadness before you looked so much older than your fifty-seven or so years (1939-1940) seen especially in that photograph of you sitting in a floral armchair in your bedroom (?) (Virginia Woolf reclining in an armchair, undated. Gelatin silver print; 8×10 centimeters) where it seemed like the life had already gone out of you. You (Virginia—virgin, maiden): a shimmering moth-wing (hay-colored and tasseled), a phantom ship, a will-o’-the-wisp who once said, What a born melancholiac I am!

I would have loved to go out walking with you those sometimes eight miles in an afternoon, cutting through farm fields and clover, scuttling up hills, jumping ditches, scrambling under barbed wire fences. Barbed wire fences couldn’t stop us. The war couldn’t stop us. Our fathers and even our mothers couldn’t stop. One cannot alter a condition with the same mindset that created it in the first place (I will repeat that line sometimes attributed to Albert Einstein). I will call you Diana, the Huntress, or I will call you The Empress (III). I will try not to be afraid and I will try to forgive us. I will say again (out loud): “Do you remember when we were fish (in place of our limbs grew four fins and our lips, ears, and eyes went real small)? How this was all we ever wished—to be known as beautiful ones who swim and breathe under blue wave. Remember when we were fish and the cool soaked our skin? Then once, sliding down deck and hull—hooked on a fisherman’s line real small?”

March 28, 1941, Swiss psychoanalyst, Carl Jung’s (66), The Red Book a.k.a. Liber Novus, still safely secreted away from public view, would be published in 2009, forty-eight years after Jung’s death (June 6, 1961—twenty-six days before Ernest Hemingway’s suicide on July 2, 1961).

Remember how even after I was married (post-sobriety, post-Catholic Church conversion) I was still prone to those mood swings and rages especially isolated in that tiny village near Nîmes, France, where my husband and I had settled? How I ended up requesting an exorcism from a local priest who seemed shocked but found an exorcism unwarranted and yet still didn’t know what (the hell) to do with me. How I’d wished so badly that the reason for my troubles could have been something as simple as demon possession instead of having to, at some future point, roll up my sleeves and begin going deeper into that Jungian process of individuation.

What if those of us who jumped off a bridge, tightened a noose, pulled a trigger, took a handful of pills, shut the garage door and started the engine would have had just one extra second between the thought (obsession) and the act? Would we walk back (full of relief and splendor)? What if our lives could be anything, anywhere, with anyone or with no one at all (we are free to change course at any moment). What if our pasts could be forgiven, every slight forgotten and all guilt banished? What if saving our lives meant leaving (definitively or indefinitely) our writing (and/or parents, alcohol, drugs, wives, husbands, lovers, jobs, etc.)? Would we choose it?

A breeze rose; a shiver ran through the leaves; and thus stirred they lost their brown density and became grey or white as the tree shifted its mass, winked and lost its domed uniformity. The hawk poised on the topmost branch flicked its eyelids and rose and sailed and soared far away.10

I imagine I’m standing on the banks of the River Ouse with you. The sun hasn’t yet set and the river is almost indistinguishable from the gently rolling hills and farm fields.11 Let this day end like any other day (without despair), any other Friday, any other March 28 (and not April 18—the day your body would be found). Summer will be here soon and the Sussex Ouse sea trout will begin migrating upstream from the North Sea and the apple trees in your garden will drop their immature fruit. Dearest Virginia, I know I have no right to claim you (and you likely would refuse) but if by chance you agree we could unpack the rocks from your pockets and pick up your hat and cane and together, follow the road past farm fields and clover until we come to your cottage in the village of Rodmell (England) where we will take tea and both of us promise (promise) to not forget to laugh (Rule 62) and to remember that all is well despite appearances otherwise. Yes, this is the eternal renewal, the incessant rise and fall and fall and rise again.¹²

1 Virginia Woolf’s epitaph (from The Waves).
2 Virginia Woolf, The Waves (Penguin Classics, February 2000), 26.
3 Woolf, The Waves,10-11.
4 Woolf, The Waves, 127-128.
5 Woolf, The Waves, 29.
6 V. Sackville-West and Louise Desalvo. The Letters of Vita Sackville-West to Virginia Woolf (William Morrow & Co; 1st edition, January 1, 1985).
7 Virginia Woolf’s suicide note (left for her husband, Leonard). Copy of original letter on Wattpad, [14 June 2013]
8 Unsourced.
9 Harvard’s Houghton Library,
10 Woolf, The Waves, 159.
11 Variation on Woolf’s opening sentences of The Waves.
12 Woolf, The Waves, 228.

Jody Kennedy is a writer and photographer living in Provence, France. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Fairy Tale Review, DIAGRAM, Tin House Online, Electric Literature, and The Georgia Review, among others.




J.L. Peters

The Seahorse Difference

“…because what they do has nothing to do with us at all.”

– Helen Macdonald, H is for Hawk

There is a whole strange world underneath us where things are done differently. That startling moment where, once the goggles are properly adjusted, you can really see what’s going on. Where all who swim become clear. The ones who exist in that constant state of float, that hug of wet air, that slow moonwalking dream.

And the zombie-faced puffers, the ghostly slick freaks, the Monet-bellied clowns; they become the real ones. Instead of walk, there is flutter. Instead of run, there is dart. Instead of jump, there is breach. Also, alongside means something else.

Imagine he is pregnant.
Imagine he is pregnant and his smooth, flat stomach is swelling.
Imagine he is pregnant and his smooth, flat stomach is swelling and imagine him waking just before dawn. He is standing in his front doorway, bathing in new sunlight, and his wife comes up behind him. She is lovely and long, like him, ethereal almost. She has curves like no other. This pair could be mistaken for twins. She moves in a slow circle around him, appreciating all his body is doing for her, for them. She wraps one leg around him, runs that leg slowly up and down his bulging body, and presses her forehead lovingly to his. After their eyes lock, after they’ve said I see you and I know you without opening their mouths, after this pre-dawn dance, she floats off to work, leaving him to putter around the house all day.

Until I started staying home, I never realized how many nicks there were in the walls. Especially in the living room where the kids play. White flaking out from under all that Sea Foam Blue. Gouges, really. My husband tells me I’m going to have to re-paint the whole thing. But who has time for that? So I take a Q-tip, blob the white spots back to blue and there you have it. My living room is back in order.

While she is gone he eats and waits. He sucks food into his mouth like a vacuum. While eating and waiting, he hangs on to the furniture as if his life depended on it, as if he might be carried away by the slightest breeze. As if he never quite learned how to stay.

Recently, at my annual appointment, I told my doctor I needed to be tested for everything. She raised an eyebrow and asked how many partners I had. Just the one, I said, looking up at the ceiling where a mobile of cardboard seahorses bobbed in a slow circle above the exam table. My doctor rested her hand on my knee for a long moment and didn’t ask me any more questions after that.

After many days of eating and dancing slow and resting, when he has more than doubled in size, things will begin to happen. His bulging body will begin throbbing subtly at first, it will feel like cramps or a dull backache, but soon enough contractions will rip through his skeleton (yes, he has one) and consume him. He will writhe in pain. He will wrap his leg around something tall and straight (think of a floor lamp or a cat scratching post) and he will cling to that as he pushes. Finally, after some time, after he thinks he can no longer handle the pain, he will open up all the way and one thousand tiny babies will explode quietly from his body like underwater fireworks.

One night after having enough, I dragged my two little boys from their beds and buckled them into their car seats. I sat in the garage gripping the steering wheel, holding on until my knuckles turned white. I didn’t have anywhere to go so I just started driving. After only thirty minutes I turned the car around and headed home. When I got there, I curled my limbs around my husband’s sleeping body to check for signs of life.

When this is done, when the pushing is all over and there is nothing left, his body will go limp and he will fall, as if in slow motion, to the floor in exhaustion. He will lie there on that floor for a short time, maybe two minutes, maybe four, until his wife comes home and sees that it’s all over. She won’t wonder about the thousand tiny babies, she already knows they will be gone. She won’t take any pictures. There will be no glass of water. She won’t even shake her head slowly back and forth. She will react exactly as if exploding this much life into the world was normal. She will lie down next to him and gently nudge him until he is sitting up. He will not want to do this, but he will.

He will sit up because now is the right time for sitting up.

It is the middle of the night and I am in my bed. One has a fever of one hundred and three. The other has the croup, his ragged breath wheezing out from between his bluish lips. It sounds like air being torn.

And I am alone.
And no one is with me.
And somewhere, I later learn, a phone has gone dead in a bar.

And because they only have up to five years, and because only one out of their one thousand tiny babies will even survive, and because they could be plucked out of their home at any moment, their small still-breathing bodies dumped onto concrete and left to suffocate, crack and dry in the sun, because their dead, shriveled flesh retails for as much as three thousand dollars per kilogram, because both of them could easily be lost in storm-roiled seas, and because many before them, most before them, have been ground up and ingested by others who wish to bear life but cannot, for all of these reasons she will not waste any time. She will wrap one leg around him and slip herself into his empty body, filling him with one thousand new eggs.

Under the cover of water, nestled between whispering blades of sea grass, together, the two seahorses let go of their anchors and drift upward nose-to-nose, spiraling slowly as they rise. And they begin again.

My foot reached for your foot in the middle of the night and you quickly kicked it away. You don’t like to be bothered while you sleep. I need to understand this.


J.L Peters essays have appeared in or are forthcoming in: Seneca Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, River Teeth, Passages North, and the anthology River Teeth at 20, University of New Mexico Press. 




Gwendolyn Paradice

Indian Princess

Because her skin is fair and slightly freckled, she’s used to people telling her she doesn’t look Native American. But at least in person she can buffer challenge with her darkly dyed hair and Native American jewelry. She can pull her tribal identification card from her wallet and hand it over for inspection. So the letter she receives, asking her to prove she’s a certain percentage Native American, seems to undo what progress she feels she’s made through her appearance. It hurts more than the typical eyebrow raise, guffaw, or laugh.

They want information from her Certificate Degree of Indian Blood—a card issued by the Federal Government’s Bureau of Indian Affairs showing what “percentage” Native American a person is. She does not have this; she’s never needed it. The Cherokee Nation issues only tribal identification cards. To them, if you have any Cherokee blood, if you have been granted citizenship status for several reasons, (the most politically complex being the tribal status of the Cherokee freemen—descendants of slaves Cherokee once owned), then you are Cherokee.

In drafting her fellowship application, she feels she’s being erased all over again, this time by the institution she hopes to make her home, a program she applied to, in part, because they have a Cherokee professor; for the first time in her academic career, she wouldn’t be the only Native American in the department.

She wants to write, you can’t imagine what it feels like to be doubly outsider, to be the only one, all the time, to answer for your entire culture because you’re the only one people can ask questions of. Instead, she writes what she thinks is a bold, but appropriate letter. She tells them that by qualifying someone based on “how Indian” they are, over time the action will erode the candidate base so that people like her—who are Native American—will not qualify for assistance at all. She also points out that the Certificate Degree of Indian Blood that determines blood quantum is calculated from the Dawes Rolls, which have not been changed since 1914. She tries to explain to them, as diplomatically as she can, that it was also common to lie when registering for the Dawes Rolls—to say you were less Native American than you were—because for those whose parents had to walk the Trail of Tears, they feared that if they were “too Indian” they would be forced onto a reservation.

So what is it? she wants to write. First, we were too Native American, and now I’m not Native American enough. When, and where, can I live and just be?


She writes this essay in third person because she hopes if she erases the author, what she says might be heard better by those who don’t understand—that the third person might make the essay palatable. She thinks nonfiction should make the writer identifiable and original, but because she does not look Native American, because she’s passed for so much of her life, she’s heard what people may not otherwise say around her: minorities are so angry.

She writes this essay in third person because saying she instead of I embodies some of the double-ness she feels. But there is also no double-ness, because to be both is to be neither.

She writes this essay in third person because in the act of writing, she remembers a troubling past when she was not both, but only one. She writes this essay in third person because it is a way of not just collapsing a gap between the content and the reader, who may not respond well to her minority anger, but also because she wishes to create a larger gap between her two selves.

She tells her friend, who is another minority writer, about her troublesome recovery of memory. She tells her friend about how she was once a Nez Perce Indian Princess. She tells her friend that she used to be without knowledge of individual tribes and culture. She tells her friend money is politics, and when you ask people for money, you don’t point out why you may not feel entitled to it.


As a child in Texas, she wanted to be an Indian; she did not know she shouldn’t this term, and no one told her not to.

The first Indian she met was Charlie Eagle Plume, who owned a “trading post” outside Estes Park, Colorado where her family vacationed every year. The store was filled with glass cases displaying silver, red, and blue jewelry. There were drawings and paintings—some framed and some not—of Indians—some stoic and others wild—in headdresses on horses. Braided baskets held arrowheads and she once convinced her mother to buy her a colorful beaded necklace with a small child wrapped in a felt cradleboard hanging like a charm. But her most prized possession was the eagle feather given to her by Charlie Eagle Plume himself.

She would tuck this eagle feather into the waistband of her pants when she and her brother played Cowboys and Indians with the other neighborhood kids, cap guns from the grocery store popping until they ran out of ammo. She was enamored with the story of Cynthia Ann Parker, a woman of European descendent kidnapped by Comanche, who refused to be “re-civilized” and ran back to her Indian family time and time again. She ogled the Kachina dolls in the jewelry store near her home: their dances caught mid-pose, elaborate headdresses and masks. She had a dreamcatcher in her bedroom window, three dark beads in the spider-web of its string.

She mixed up all the Indian cultures. She thought everyone scalped their enemies on the plains, that everyone wore headdresses and rode horses and worshipped the earth and lived in teepees, and that the Indian man made of wood and holding a cigar box outside the river-rafting office was an authentic representation. She did not know she was Indian already, Cherokee by blood, her family one of the founding families of the Cherokee Nation.


Her dad enrolled her and her brother in a YMCA youth program that promoted bonding between fathers and their children: the Indian Princes and Indian Princesses. Step one was choosing an Indian name. Her brother chose Bear Claw but would go down in the book as Bear Clam, the tiny leather disk he was supposed to print his name on reflecting a child’s misunderstanding of letters: W and M looking the same, just facing different directions. She swore at her first meeting, the naming ceremony, she wouldn’t make this mistake.

And when she got to that first meeting, all the girls and men gathered in the backyard around a pond. The girl whose family hosted this first meeting had a sprawling two-story house, a pond and a pool, and the girl didn’t hesitate to make it known that her father was the chief—the man in charge. At the meeting, this girl’s father beat a drum to quiet the rowdy princesses-to-be. The girls sat cross-legged in a circle and drew straws to determine the order they would pick their Indian names. Our main character got first choice, and chose Tiger Lily, the name everyone was gunning for, the Indian in Disney’s Peter Pan. Tiger Lily doesn’t remember what her father chose because the girl who owned the house was angry that she didn’t get to choose the name she wanted and rallied the other girls around her. For the rest of the night no one would talk to Tiger Lily.

She still doesn’t know what there is about children and meanness and why at times they are so eager to embrace it. Mayhap children are inclined to experiment with it: a lack of knowing social nuance, the desire to have what you want without understanding economics or even fairness, an immature narcissism. She thinks about this when she remembers how she cried that night after the first meeting. Her dad tried to make her feel better by explaining that some Indians were war-like people; the girls were really just being more Indian by being mean. And at six, she took what her dad said to heart; now, she feels (hopes?) it must have been a joke she didn’t catch.


As an adult she bristles at the memories of her youth: not just the meanness of children but the meanness of the Indian Princesses. Inadvertent or not, it set the girls up to think all Indians were the same; it erased and conflated entire cultures.

When she visits the program’s website now she reads that the program has been re-named Adventure Princesses. She scrolls the website’s page: “The YMCA’s commitment to being a caring, honest, respectful, and responsible organization, and an evolving cultural sensitivity of Native American history prompted YMCAs across the country to re-evaluate their parent/child programs.”

She thinks it would have been nice if things had changed before, or even when, she was little.

She also wishes her mom, from whom she gets her Cherokee heritage, had said something to her dad about how insensitive the program was. She wishes when she heard arguing in their bedroom at night that they were fighting about this: cultural appropriation (or mis-approproation). She wishes either of them had been willing to—instead of saying it’s a good way to bond—say that there are other ways to bond. Apparently, her life is made of wishes.


Every year there was a large campout where tribes from all over the surrounding areas gathered to have a powwow. Girls slept in one cabin, fathers another. They went to events like wild animal lectures, where Tiger Lily let a tarantula walk on her arm (she doesn’t remember this; now she is terrified of spiders). She also ran through meadows and over large, low rocks. She ate in a mess hall with all the other tribes and she wondered why everyone was getting along. Shouldn’t all the tribes be fighting?

She did Indian things like shoot bows and arrows, sew her own tan-colored open-front vest (they came in a bag, already with punched holes and virtually assembled), complete tasks for brightly dyed feathers, and attempt to prove her Indian prowess by getting patches for hiking, helping to prepare snacks, and memorizing the organization’s goals. She did cheap bead work activities and proudly wore her thunderbird necklace, even though she had no clue if the thunderbird was associated with the Nez Perce, her assigned tribe. She didn’t even know her tribe never lived in Texas.

One night everyone was gathered around the campfire and roasting marshmallows, waiting for the shaman to make his rounds. When he appeared, he was in full costume: suede-fringed pants, suede-fringed jerkin, a staff lined with feathers, a feathered headdress, and a book. When he opened it, the pages ignited into fire—he said it contained information about where gold was hidden, but that wasn’t for the girls to know. They’d have to find it themselves.

The fathers turned the girls loose with flashlights, little squaws in the dark, searching under leaves, in dirt, at the base of trees. When the chief’s daughter—the one who alienated the girl that first day—found gold, Tiger Lily wanted it. She remembered how the other girl had wronged her, and she hated her for it. The chief’s daughter showed Tiger Lily the gold, shining in a beam of light. In her hand it was heavy. It was unfair that the girl with the large house and all the things also now had gold. She didn’t deserve it.

Each of the other princesses hoped to find gold for herself, but none could be uncovered. Tiger Lily acted like everything was okay. She acted like she wasn’t angry. She said, let’s play Indians, even though she already was one.

She said, let’s catch a rabbit, and her and the other girls fashioned a useless snare out of branches. They waited for their rabbit and as they did Tiger Lily told stories she made up about Indians fighting: war stories full of horses and gun fights and tomahawks. When the rabbit never showed she blamed it on the rich girl—the girl with the gold—and said it was because she’d already killed it.

Sometimes it is easy for children to believe their own fantasies, and because of this, the other girls blamed the chief’s daughter too. Or perhaps it was because they were also jealous—either way, in the dark, the girls formed a circle around the chief’s daughter, their flashlights bright and pale on her face. They accused her of killing the rabbit without them, and then Tiger Lily accused her of not being Indian. They all yelled at the chief’s daughter, and then they chased her. She fled back to the safety of the fathers, crying, and when Tiger Lily arrived at the campfire she knew she’d be in trouble. And she was.

All the girls were appropriately chastised, but the lectures were not so much about being cruel, or where cruelness stems from, as they were about the foolishness of the particular brand of cruelness the girls exhibited. Even then their fathers got it wrong, misunderstood the lesson the girls should have learned. The fathers did not sit the girls down and talk about envy or bullying. They sat the girls down and explained that it wasn’t real gold anyway; it was fool’s gold: either a mineral that looked like gold or worse, some spray painted rock.

Tiger Lily didn’t know what was worse: that she had been tricked about the gold—the value worth nothing at all—or that she didn’t feel any shame in what she’d done, even after she knew someone had been hurt.

So she apologized—she was forced to—but she didn’t really mean it. Later, when the other girl’s father—the chief—lit a cigar, she told him smoking was bad. He told her that she was a child and to mind her own business. She hated him too then, and the next year she decided not to be an Indian Princess anymore.


But even after she quit the Indian Princesses, Tiger Lily wore her tribal headband—a thick band of leather across her forehead. She stuck Charlie Eagle Plume’s feather in it. She was still a princess, just not a Nez Perce princess. She played Indian for a few more months—had her one girl tribe, watched Peter Pan again and again, wore her beaded moccasins around the house, silently stalking invisible prey with her rubber tomahawk.

For a time this made her meaner—alone, fending for herself, having no one who was also Indian. She picked on the family Mastiff—pulled his tail and tried to ride him around the house like a horse. She threw her tomahawk at birds in the backyard. When her dad brought home doves from his hunting trip, she plucked out their feathers and kept them in a small, wooden box, pretending she had shot them herself.

Her mom would not let her keep the feathers, afraid they harbored microbes and mites. When she fought with her mom about it, stomping her feet and screaming about how she needed feathers for her headdress, her mother said, this is not how a princess would behave.


Now that she is older she is still angry. She is angry with herself for having taken so long to research her Cherokee heritage.

One day she calls her brother and asks if he’ll learn Cherokee with her. She tells him she’s writing an essay about the Indian Princesses, and the conversation leads to Charlie Eagle Plume. Her brother laughs and says, “Those eagle feathers he gave us were turkey feathers, remember?”

But she doesn’t remember. Of course, they weren’t real eagle feathers (now she knows about protective status and poaching), but what they really were didn’t matter as much as what she thought they were.

She thinks back to Charlie Eagle Plume and that feather she used to have. She remembers how he would show her clay pots and geode rocks. She remembers how he would tell her stories. She does not remember what these stories were, but she remembers the feeling of knowing they were hers too. She realizes she does not know what tribe Charlie Eagle Plume came from, and since this is the era of the internet, she searches for him.

She finds out that he died many years ago, and she uncovers a transcript of a speech commemorating him, from September 1992. In it, Hank Pederson says, “All the kids under eight got a feather, because everyone under eight was an Indian. Now if you happened to be an Indian child and came to see him, you were a double Indian. And if you were a boy or a girl over eight, you always get an arrowhead…. Charles, in traveling all over the United States from 1933 until 1981, had certain phrases that he constantly would weave into all of his talks. He didn’t talk about Indians. He talked about love. He didn’t talk about white people, red people, brown people. He talked about civilization of which we all are a part.”

She wishes she could remember these stories about love, about how colors don’t matter. Perhaps, if the stories had stuck, she wouldn’t have been so cruel to that girl with the gold. Perhaps if she had more lessons about love, she would have been nicer too.

This is pleasant to think about, but as an adult she also knows that colors do matter. They matter a lot to the people who are persecuted because of who they are, the color of their skin, and that to talk about one people united across color by love is to erase, or ignore, the trauma and hardships of marginalized groups.

And then she finds another article. In “Charlie Eagle Plume: Man of Mystery” she learns the following: “Charlie Eagle Plume liked to tell stories to tourists. In one of his tales, he claimed to have arrived in Estes Park by horseback, from a Blackfoot Indian reservation in Montana…. According to well-documented genealogical research, Eagle Plume wasn’t from Montana at all. Instead, he was born in Leadville with the name Charles F. Burkhardt. His father, Fred Burkhardt, was German and worked as a butcher. Eagle Plume acknowledged he was half-German but claimed Native American heritage through his mother, Ella May McGahren. Census records, however, reveal that Ella May’s father was Irish and her mother was born and raised in Illinois by parents from Ohio.”

She doesn’t know how to feel about this. She knows that blood ties are tenuous—records don’t necessarily reflect history’s truth—but she can’t help but feel she’s been duped, that Charlie Eagle Plume wasn’t Native American at all, and that he, like her as a child, masqueraded as an Indian.

The article says that he “established the Charles Eagle Plume Memorial Scholarship Fund to pay for the college education of Native American students. He also developed a nonprofit foundation for his art collection, stipulating that if it ever was sold, the proceeds would go toward the students’ educations.”


When she receives news that she has indeed been granted the minority fellowship, she doesn’t really feel anything at first—not even relief what with it, she will be financially independent for the first time in her life.

The next day, she feels angry. She put a great deal of thought and care into that letter she wrote to support her application, and though she didn’t know it at the time, she was hoping something would come of it: an admission that their evaluative criteria needed to be amended, a recognition that the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ CDIB card is terribly and unequivocally political for the wrong reasons, anything to signal to her that the content of the letter would change thinking, and therefore, might change action.

She knows social change is always a long time coming; still, she thinks this is a terrible way to come full circle.

She understands now that there were no Indian Princesses—that the word princess is European in origin and incapable of adequately representing a tribal structure. In her Cherokee dictionary she finds no word equivalent for princess. She finds four versions of the word chief, but even then she cannot differentiate between them. She is trying to learn the language, but she is used to alphabets, not syllabaries, and she cannot find anyone to help her navigate the nuance of language.


She speaks with her friend again, the one who is also a minority writer. They sit on her back porch in the Texas heat with iced coffee, listening to the cicadas drone, sweat trickling down their calves.

She asks her friend what the memory of blood means. How it implicates. She asks, can I write about this? She asks, should I write about this?

She is unsure of her exposure, making herself visible during the process of becoming, of unbecoming. She is worried about the many gazes through which she will be viewed, half-formed, on a cliff of understanding herself but not necessarily understanding her culture.

Am I ashamed? She asks, more to herself than her friend.

Ashamed of what?

She doesn’t want to say it, but she does because she knows she can’t have this conversation with her other friends, or if she does, it will be one in which she informs and does not explore, and so she says, ashamed of everything. Of not being Native enough. Of having a family who kind of ignores that we’re Native at all. Of this system, this country.

Oh, her friend says, you’re at that stage.

She does not know what her friend means.

Shame, the woman elaborates, for not being white. For being other. You’ve spent a whole life passing. Now you know.

She thinks. Rests her cigarette in the ashtray. She asks, what comes after shame?

Anger, sometimes. Or resignation.

Anger comes after. Anger comes before. Anger comes all times, she thinks, and the threat of it always being present, no matter what she does, or doesn’t do, disturbs her.

Later, she thinks about this word—anger. She dwells in it. She looks up this word in her Cherokee lexicon. She tries to sound the word out, uses the phonetics provided: u-ta-la-wo-s-gv. She tries to write the Unicode—ᎤᏔᎳᏬᏍᎬ—and her script is marred with hesitation marks.  

She thinks about how anger can be tied to cruelty, and how they perpetuate each other.

She looks up cruel in her lexicon as well: ᎤᏲᎢᏯᏓᏛᏁᎯ. u-yo-i-ya-da-dv-ne-hi. She tries to match the rhythm of pronunciation, to find its scansion. It takes patience. It takes listening. It is not something she can rush, and it is not something a reader can either.

Listen: u-yo-i-ya-da-dv-ne-hi. Say it. Trip over the word.

u-yo-i-ya-da-dv-ne-hi. Stumble.

u-yo-i-ya-da-dv-ne-hi. Find a new understanding for sound:


  ˘        ˘ ˘     / ˘  / ˘
oooh    yo eh  yev duh  ney he

Fall into it.


Gwendolyn Paradice’s nonfiction has earned nominations for both the Pushcart and Best American Essay. Her nonfiction, fiction, and poetry have appeared in Assay, Crab Orchard Review, Fourth River, Booth, and others. She retains a MA in Nonfiction from the University of North Texas, a MFA from Bennington College, and is currently pursuing a PhD at the University of Missouri. She specializes in genre-bending and speculative writing.




Ashely Adams

Our Dark EcologieS

One of the theories explored by astrobiologists is the idea that life on another world will utilize different biochemistries, foregoing Earth-like structures for something else. These forms of life could easily elude human detection, as all our methods assume aliens will operate in some replica of us. Taken to its natural conclusion, there could be a whole shadow ecosystem even here on Earth, living, breeding, dying with no notice from us.


First, we must consider carbon. All life on Earth is built on carbon and its lightweight structure. Its small size carries an enormous weigh, its six protons crown it “the King of the Elements”. But, there could be other elements that could fit that role. What might life look with one popular alternative?


There are other ways to end carbon’s chauvinism than just silicon.







































































Life is resilient, giving and taking everything so it can fit into the smallest gaps of possibility. Yet even the most exotic microbe depends on water to survive. Life needs a liquid, but flowing water is a rarity in the cold burn of space. Perhaps, organisms may find a mimic, so close you could almost imagine its rivers and seas.

Ammonia is a proposed as an alternative to water in biological processes, one that has appeared in the scientific literature since the 1950s; Like water it is made of common elements, hydrogen and nitrogen; Ammonia donates and accepts hydrogen ions in the way water does, dissolving sugars, amino acids, and proteins to be carried throughout a cell; It may not be in a way we’re used to, but Ammonia can split and carry a chemical thought. Ammonia, like many of the alternative biochemistries, is only applicable in extreme environments, boiling at room temperature; But there are many places where the air sits heavy and cold upon its surface; But Ammonia is greedy, it prefers to take ions, not to give like water. Our world is the acrid ice, a world that would set itself on fire before it made a clean break;

Dust-Based Life

But have we considered a life form so strange we can’t grasp its form? A life that looks like an object discarded?

In this life we             float, – unmoored, a particle waiting for the spark to align ourselves.  Really, that doesn’t seem much different from the world now.

Reverse Chirality

Maybe life won’t be any of these things. Perhaps, we will find a life so like us, we will not recognize it for the alien it is.

This is the easiest way life could differ from us chemically. Amino acids and sugars exhibit chirality, a geometric property in which an asymmetrical molecule can have a mirror image. All life has amino acids, the bases of proteins, present in the left form with sugars in the right. There’s no reason as far as we know for this, no inherent advantage. It’s just the way life happened to form on Earth.

Things could look almost the same. There’s no reason you couldn’t snack on a plum, that its skin would be any less pleasantly snappy and tart in this world. There’s no reason you couldn’t drive your truck to school one morning, contemplate skipping and instead swim in your leaf-strewn apartment pool, admire the palm trees shape, the way afternoon rain falls off their heavy fronds.

But maybe in this life, it’s your left hand you use to take the plum out from the grocery bag you’d left it in overnight. Maybe your truck doesn’t cough and wheeze its way the few miles from your apartment. Maybe the fronds have fallen away from the walls after the last storm, or they didn’t fall at all, still reaching their green hands out to shade your lounge chair from the sun.

Maybe, in this reverse world, you’ll see your mirror self, so like yourself. But for all the similarities, life on Earth can never utilize reverse-chiral molecules. So look, but never ever touch that shadow self—the closest, but most unnerving alien.

Ashely Adams is a swamp-adjacent writer whose work has appeared in Paper Darts, Fourth River, Permafrost, Apex Magazine, and other places. She is the nonfiction editor of the literary journal Lammergeier.