Harp & Altar

Shane Book is a graduate of the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and was a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. His awards include a New York Times Fellowship in Poetry, an Academy of American Poets Prize, and a National Magazine Award. He teaches at Stanford and is producing and directing the documentary film Laborland.


Adam Clay is the author of The Wash (Parlor Press, 2006). He lives in Michigan.


Josh Dorman’s work has been exhibited in solo shows at galleries including 55 Mercer, The CUE Foundation, and Pierogi in New York, George Billis in Los Angeles, and Hallwalls in Buffalo. His work has also been included in group shows at the Drawing Center, the National Academy Museum, the Islip Art Museum, and Hunter College, among others, and has been exhibited internationally, in Traun, Austria, and Leipzig, Germany. He received his MFA from Queens College in 1992 and has been granted residencies at Yaddo and the Millay Colony. Images of his work are available at www.joshdorman.net.

A Canadian currently living in Brooklyn, Corey Frost's stories have appeared in Matrix, Geist, The Walrus, and other magazines. He was named the Best Spoken Word Artist in 2001 by the Montreal Mirror. He is currently writing a book about spoken word scenes around the world as part of a doctoral dissertation. A CD of his performances, Bits World: Exciting Version, is forthcoming. His books include The Worthwhile Flux (2004) and My Own Devices: Airport Version (2006), both published by Conundrum Press.


Sarah Gridley received her MFA in poetry from the University of Montana. She is the author of Weather Eye Open (University of California Press/New California Poetry Series, 2005) and is currently a Visiting Lecturer in Poetry at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.


Elise Harris is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn. Her profile of the poet Noelle Kocot appeared in the first issue of Harp & Altar.


Joanna Howard's work has appeared in Conjunctions, Chicago Review, Quarterly West, Western Humanities Review, Fourteen Hills, and elsewhere. Her chapbook In the Colorless Round, illustrated by Rikki Ducornet, was published in 2006 by Noemi Press. She received her Ph.D. in creative writing from the University of Denver in 2004 and currently lives in Providence, where she teaches at Brown University and is an editor for Encyclopedia Project.


Steve Katz was one of the founders of Fiction Collective (now FC2). He has taught creative writing at Cornell University, Brooklyn College, Queens College, the University of Iowa Writer's Workshop, the University of Notre Dame, and the University of Colorado at Boulder, from which he retired in 2003. He's also tended bar, worked construction, waited tables, and mined for mercury. His books include Creamy & Delicious, Wier & Pouce, Florry of Washington Heights, Swanny's Ways, Saw, Moving Parts, and Stolen Stories. His most recent books are the novel Antonello’s Lion (Green Integer, 2005) and the collection Kisssss?, which is forthcoming in 2007 from FC2. The stories in this issue are from an ongoing project of memoirs titled Memoirrhoids.


Joanna Klink's second book, Circadian, is forthcoming from Penguin in 2007. She teaches poetry at the University of Montana.


Michael Newton is a current MFA candidate at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan, though his artwork is kind of hard to explain. His gallery reviews also appeared in the first issue of Harp & Altar.


Peter O'Leary's book of criticism, Gnostic Contagion: Robert Duncan & the Poetry of Illness, was published in 2002 by Wesleyan. A new book of poetry, Depth Theology, appeared last year from Georgia. He lives on the West Side of Chicago, in Berwyn.


Katie Peterson was born in California. She is the Robert Aird Professor of Humanities at Deep Springs College in Deep Springs, California. Her book of poems, This One Tree, won the New Issues Poetry Prize and was published in 2006 by New Issues/Western Michigan University Press.


Johannah Rodgers is a writer who lives in Brooklyn. Her chapbook Necessary Fictions was published by Sona Books in 2003, and her short stories and essays have appeared in Fiction, CHAIN Arts, The Brooklyn Rail, Pierogi Press, and Fence. Her book sentences, a collection of stories, essays, and artwork, was published this year by Red Dust Press.


Brandon Shimoda’s writings appear in recent or forthcoming editions of MiPOesias, Free Verse, Practice, Washington Square, Xantippe, the tiny, and elsewhere. He has projects forthcoming from both Corollary Press and Flim Forum Press. He currently teaches at the University of Montana in Missoula, where he also curates the New Lakes reading and performance series.


Kate Schreyer is currently studying fiction in the MFA program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.


Michael Zeiss’s story “Notes Toward a Supreme Action Movie” appeared in the first issue of Harp & Altar.

Joanna Howard

In the haunted cottage by the sea, I settled into the seaman’s berth. The captain was long since dead from his own hand. I came from the west in widow's garb with a trousseau in cedar. Drawn to the sea, again. The sea that captivates men with motherly arms and swimming dark womb is no place for a lady.

In the beginning, I only heard laughing. His portrait in brooding oils hung in every room.  The balcony's French doors swung open of their own accord. I had been very lonely for a very long time. Below the bedroom’s balcony, dark waters spilled into a narrow cove. The deck chairs, clothed in damp canvas, faced seaward on their precarious stage. Through nights I kept watch. Shadows and flashes in the movement of the night waters. Nightmares disband in sweet lingering insomnia. I was very good at looking straight ahead.

In time we lulled each other. He crept out of his painting and moved among his own things. The rooms doubled their size. The house shifted carefully, and the air inside grew thick and pendulous, and the furniture swelled near to bursting. Nothing was mine, but was done up according to demand in scrimshaw and leather, blue velveteen, and papered walls. I preferred the traditional black, though all of my underclothes were convent made in silk and lace. I undressed behind a painted screen, and felt a slight breath—certainly feigned—on my shoulder. We had not yet been introduced.

I was getting lovelier in the days that followed. Men in two-seater cars drove up the hill and down again. I took no suitors. Another courtship had begun. In our bedroom, his figure slipped out from the shadows and hardened its form, square and unshaven. He appeared as though he might speak. Here began the affectation of the living: breath, glance, speech from the mouth. Sounds came rough and unsorted. I fell deeply asleep, and in my dreams the sea air and its vapors, gaining force, stirred the bed clothes, and I awoke bathed.

The memory becomes very sweet, and the hands of the clock spin forward. Most days, he came and disturbed the contents of the room. His voice drew together in scraps and curses, and with it a certain perspective. I attempted to record his advances. He held together in a dashing form, and his sweater buttoned at the shoulder. Now, gaining voice, he had quite a lot to add. I accustomed myself to an unvarnished point of view. Language that meant all too clearly what it said. Periodically, his name burst with violence into the air, which I repeated to myself in a whisper, removed away to the darkness of the closet. Even there I was well accompanied. I was plunged into community. In the late afternoon, the fog came down from the cliffs, and settled in so close around the house it blocked even the view of the balcony’s rail from the lounge where I sat, most often, near to fainting. It brought him in close as well, out of the haze, and fluid and silent, he knelt at my elbow. There was no time to be lost in admiring him.

Though his temper was cooling, I felt, if not quite wanted, that I was waiting in line. Outside, the short lawn collected a periphery of spectators. Three bombshell silhouettes in ragged black crepe, slipped up among the beach grass, watchful, and distrusting. The captain refused to comment. In modern times, I might have had competition, but ours was an arranged affair.

Some years passed, and the road lay still, and broken with weeds. An auburn hound, with feral eyes, followed me through the house, and slept at my feet. I draped my shoulders in tartan. I spoke often and in all directions to a captive audience. In wakeful hours, with the light high over the water, I waited for the night that disrobes. A certain fear crossed my mind. How long before the past, in finally forgiving, would open up and give him passage? It was enough for me to live at the water's edge, on the spirits' line, and wait to be overtaken.

I woke and slept. In sleep’s reverie, taking his arm, I found it opaque and firm. We walked up the steep incline from the beach to the cottage. We began together in step, my wild dog held close. Moving along the path, the captain was at our height, and then moving apart from us, far ahead, and above. The air wavered, and I dropped into fever.

That day, the sky and the sea met at a narrow seam. Like the hinge in a dream which, closing, changes the register. The room kept silent. Beyond the French doors, the horizon held steady. All I could see was what I could see. 

I cast about inside the house, held as I was to the hope of his return. In this way, I haunted. I catalogued my memories, and counted among them several of his that had passed between us. I might have thought it unlike a thing to posses in itself a soul and a memory. Years passed, but I kept current in the blush of love.

I married the place. This was the more lasting of the two liaisons. Loving so solitary a horizon, when one has been abandoned, proves some compensation for absence. If a lesson follows, then don’t look for truth in dark waters. The thin scrim of my captain’s cottage kept all picture windows facing seaward, and so in passing from glass to glass, I followed that unchanging vista, a reminder of the one who never abandons.