fiction, poetry & more

First Prize
$1,000 Award


by Leslie Anne Mcilroy

It is hot. Louisiana hot. And, what body doesn’t want a vacation from dull, the detritus of ordinary—a little more sweat? We walk toward the ferry from Algiers Point, stop at the first bar—The Old Point—and order two greyhounds at 1 p.m. because we are on holiday and they have grapefruit juice.

A man down the vacant bar pays for them, tipping his backward baseball cap in a southern gesture of welcome. He is Jesus. Lean muscle and strong hands that can build or tear down anything. Eyes that know. Jesus in a ball cap.

He does not follow us out into the music coming from an empty truck, playing blues and alarmingly amenable country. I smoke outside, the Mississippi lapping in the background. My mother takes a sip, leans back with a smile I have not seen except when she fixes something. Fixes it right.

Jesus is leaving, getting into his truck, the music truck, back to his sawdust work, expecting nothing. I ask him not to go, buy him a Bud in my northern reciprocity. He sits down and our itinerary changes. He is a carpenter. He makes things, uses his hands. My mother talks to him about tools and how you can’t use another’s. He says he never borrows a saw, lends a planer. He says it just ain’t right.

I could tell you the part about the sexist owner of the bar who sat down with us to tell lewd jokes that made my mother call for the bill and me to dismiss everything but the carpenter’s face. I could tell you how I was single and brought matching underwear just in case. I could tell you that I always want things I can’t have and only some things I can.

Because it is 2018, Jesus and I exchange phone numbers. Because it is 2018, I never expect him to call. He texts me. Because it is 2018 (or any other year), I shower and dress in a mini skirt that I have been told not to wear now that I am past 50. Because it is 2018, I can tell you I don’t give a fuck.

Jesus picks me up in his truck and takes me to his friend Taco’s. Taco is tall and Mexican and equal parts gruff, rough and warm. I am more home here than I have ever been: the chicks tended by their mother in the ragged coop, Taco herding them, waving his long arms with a “Caw-Caw, Caw-Caw,” the swarm of early summer termites to the fire, the trip to the Piggly Wiggly where Jesus buys everything I want, a wad of cash in his workman hands. He pushes the cart, makes dinner on the grill. I hold a rooster, smoke reefer. I smoke inside. Jesus reaches for my hand as I trip up the concrete step. Jesus reaches for my hand.

Taco makes me jewelry out of stolen copper, talks of jail and hard times. They try to teach me to chop wood in my mini skirt and sandals, knee just scabbing up. I hold the axe in the wrong hand. I have always held the axe in the wrong hand.

Jesus puts his arm around my waist to guide my hips. My hips have not been guided in forever. I kiss him.

God, I love men that fix things and build fires. Men who tell me the wood is from Texas, hard to crack. Then, crack it. Men who chase the runaway chick, jumping over the fence to bring it back to its mother. Men who still look at me with some kind of desire, some kind of reverent want. God.

“Fling” is a word people use too often. But what if “fling” just rhymes with “ring” and is the closest thing to forever your heart will feel after years of travelling, of looking for the next coming, trying to connect the mind and body in a way that even God himself finds tedious?

What if holy is really grilled oysters, corn and a shot of Jameson? If salvation is a twenty for the beggar and the wretched humanity of a DUI? What if Jesus is what happens when you go to New Orleans for the voodoo and jazz but come back with a carpenter’s pencil behind your ear, making your hair fall just so, and a small bruise on your thigh from a night of lovemaking on a stolen bed?

If that is faith, then I am in. Say I am a believer, the sacred sacrament of hammer and hunger, say any prayer you can craft out of desire and decadence, and baby, I will kneel. Crosses are made of wood. Forever is a dovetail.


Leslie Anne Mcilroy won the 1997 Slipstream Poetry Chapbook Prize for Gravel, the 2001 Word Press Poetry Prize for her full-length collection Rare Space and the 1997 Chicago Literary Award. Her second book, Liquid Like This, was published by Word Press in 2008, and Slag by Main Street Rag Publishing Company as runner-up in their 2014 Poetry Book Prize. Leslie’s poems appear in Grist, Jubilat, The Mississippi Review, PANK, Pearl, Poetry Magazine, the New Ohio Review, The Chiron Review and more. She co-founded the journal HEArt—Human Equity through Art. Leslie works as a copywriter in Pittsburgh where she lives with her son Silas.

Photo: Matt Wrbican

December 2018