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“Braidhawk,” by Sheree Shatsky

Hair sketch

Some time during the night a tendril of hair shot free from Zoyzi’s tightly plaited hair to snatch the collar off the cat. Her therapist thought perhaps a pet might calm her agitated mane, but if anything, the small black kitten served as an amusement, a play thing for her predatory protein to tease and taunt until the game proved tiresome and ended with a snap of the feline’s neck. As she untangled the hair from the collar with the tiny silver bell, the strand resisted, winding itself tight in and around the pink leather in refusal to comply. She grabbed the scissors off the nightstand and cut it quick and clean at the scalp, sealing the long lock in a sandwich bag to suffocate it. She watched it slither from the collar and struggle against the ziplock. “You had your chance,” she said and tossed it in the trash, slamming the lid closed against the frantic bell-ringing. She decided to give the cat to her therapist.

Unruly, her mother had said of her hair, a real bird’s nest particularly so the day she came home with a dead sparrow entwined about the neck. Her father called her the devil and shaved her head while her mother whisper campaigned to anyone who would listen a story of head lice being passed around at school. She wore a beanie until the new growth started making itself known by poking up through the knit, waving about, grabbing anything within reach, mostly insects. Flies were the easiest to ensnare, which never made sense, any bug with compound eyes would seem forewarned of the slightest of movements. Her parents reshaved her head and changed up the story-their beautiful daughter had cancer. Chemo had claimed her hair, leaving her scalp as smooth as a baby’s bum. Zoyzi took to wearing the fashion most associated with the disease, bandanas and scarves, double folded to squash the motion of the baby hairs squiggling beneath the fabric. Once her hair reached the tiniest bit of length, the restrictive styles became her trademark of sorts—hair knots and cornrows, gorgeous side braids and exquisitely woven plaits—any style tightly bound to contain the energy. Yet, when released for the weekly wash and comb-out, the unrestrained hair whipped out it’s fury, leashing her to the towel rack or strangling her about the throat, releasing her at the brink of unconsciousness, well aware within the fiber of their being, the relationship was indeed symbiotic. Without her there was simply no them. To avoid the conflict, Zoyzi took to wearing dreads washed as is, easily woven in every sort of style imaginable. She was the cool girl with the every changing hair who survived cancer and through her high school years, her hair remained demurely compliant.

Against the wishes of her parents and probably because of so, she attended college out of state in a city heavy with alternative students. She looked like them and they like her and she walked among them undetected. For the first time since Zoyzi could remember, she felt, at least figuratively, she could let her hair down. She worked as a server at a coffee shop off the city park and after her shift, walked home past the fountain to toss in a penny for continued luck from the hair gods. The locals warned her the park wasn’t safe after sundown, but she continued unafraid, armed with her quiver of hair.

As she approached the spouting luminous swans, a single blonde wisp escaped her serpentine braidhawk to brush the nape of her neck. She reached to tuck it back, but it darted about, pointed and furious and liberated, stabbing her fingertip when she came too close. Her scalp tingled with the awakening of the others and she pulled her hoodie over her head to curtail the explosion should her hair work itself loose. Veering off the manicured sidewalk leading to the magnificent fountain, she stuck to the shadows leading the way home where once inside, she would grab her scissors and trash bags and shave her head close as did so many of the girls in this city. Why she had not thought of it before, she couldn’t say, but all Zoyzi knew was the time had come to cut herself free from her unraveling.

Her hoodie was alive with slivering tresses when she sighted the group by the gate leading out of the park. Zoyzi slipped back against the fence and watched two boys and a girl the age of high school students arguing with two men. The girl turned to run, but the flash caught her and dropped her to the ground. One boy ran to her while the other charged both attackers in grotesque uneven match and upon his pummeling, her hair detonated into a raving mass of madness. What the hell, she thought, her hair lengthening into sinewy rivulets, extending across the sweet Georgia grass to upsweep the thugs, twist their heads until their eyes jettisoned and impale both to the sharp finials of the wrought iron fence.

The whirling keratin hovered above the corpses and she used the lapse to whip them back in subdued dissension and slinking retreat to cling close to her scalp. Zoyzi could hear the wail of approaching sirens or perhaps the siren was she, an ephemeral vision for the young man cradling the dead girl, her stroke of his boyish hair a soothe to his grief as she ran past and out of the park, soon to be close-cropped and free.

About the Author:

Sheree Shatsky writes short fiction believing much can be conveyed with a few simple words. Her most recent work appeared in Sick Lit Magazine. Read more by Ms. Shatsky at www.shereeshatsky.com

Image Credit: © pylypchuk25 – stock.adobe.com

“The Conium Review: Vol. 5” cover

The Conium Review: Vol. 5 is slated for release on December 15th. Here’s a mock-up of the new issue’s cover. Like the last couple issues, the front is rather minimal while a larger image wraps around the back. Any guesses what those scraggly lines are? Answer: broken chain-link fence. Pre-orders for The Conium Review: Vol. 5 will go on sale this weekend!

"The Conium Review: Vol. 5" cover

“The Conium Review: Vol. 5” cover

Rita Bullwinkel’s Top Ten AWP 2016 Panels

The annual Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) conference is less than a month away, and we’re getting amped up for the obligatory tote bags. Our staff and contributors will be sharing their favorite AWP happenings on our blog over the coming weeks, and we hope to see you at the conference (stop by table #1238 and say “hello” to The Conium Review staff).

First up, Rita Bullwinkel (Vol. 4 contributor) shares her top ten panels.

“The Violence of the Page”

Thursday, March 31, 2016, 1:30 pm to 2:45 pm

Room 403 B, LA Convention Center, Meeting Room Level

(Lucy Corin, Maggie Nelson , Brian Evenson, Ben Weissman, Fred D’Aguiar)

This panel explores the various tones, reasons, genealogies, and methodologies writers might choose to employ when representing violence, cruelty, and bodies on the page. The writers on this panel have explored these issues in a variety of genres (fiction, scholarship, and poetry) and in a variety of registers (comedic, elegiac, outrageous, conceptual, documentary, and more), and are uniquely capable of discussing the aesthetic, political, and metabolic effects of such writing.

“It Ain’t What They Call You, It’s What You Answer To: Peeling Off Genre Labels”

Thursday, March 31, 2016, 4:30 pm to 5:45 pm

Room 502 B, LA Convention Center, Meeting Room Level

(Daniel Orozco, Doug Dorst, Maureen McHugh, Kelly Luce, Manuel Gonzales)

How does fantasy fiction (or sci-fi, or detective or horror fiction) become literary fiction? Who decides how/when the genre label gets affixed, or peeled off? Why is the move from genre to literary always somehow a narrative of progress, implying a lesser realm left behind? Hear firsthand as writers with varying affinities to genre fiction reflect on how they negotiate with (wrestle, embrace, sidestep) genre conventions in the creation of their work.

“Translation as Animation: New Poetry from Japan”

Friday, April 1, 2016, 12:00 pm to 1:15 pm

Room 402 AB, LA Convention Center, Meeting Room Level

(Kyoko Yoshida , Forrest Gander , Sawako Nakayasu, Goro Takano, James Shea)

Beginning with a short reading, this panel of translators and writers explores the formal problems, aesthetic choices, and political implications of translating contemporary Japanese poetry. Panelists discuss the diversity of Japanese poetry and consider how the pleasures and challenges of translation animate their own writing. Poets under discussion include Takashi Hiraide, Sayumi Kamakura, Shirō Murano, Kiwao Nomura, and Gozo Yoshimasu.

“Korean Feminist Poetics and Translation”

Friday, April 1, 2016, 1:30 pm to 2:45 pm

Gold Salon 3, JW Marriott LA, 1st Floor

(Eunsong Kim, Johannes Goransson, Ji Yoon Lee, Don Mee Choi, Joyelle McSweeney)

South Korea’s contemporary history has been deeply impacted by US imperial policies. Yet its history remains relatively unknown: its war, dictatorships, and 47 Free Trade Agreements. We poets and translators discuss feminist Korean poets and propose poetry-as-activism and translation-as-resistance to colonizing power.

“What the Heck Does Innovative Fiction Actually Mean?: Authors Cut Through the Jargon”

Friday, April 1, 2016, 3:00 pm to 4:15 pm

Scott James Bookfair Stage, LA Convention Center, Exhibit Hall Level One

(James R. Gapinski, Ashley Farmer, Manuel Gonzales, Matt Bell, Carmiel Banasky) Innovative fiction is fast becoming a literary buzzword. It’s often a placeholder term for experimental or avant-garde, but what does it really mean? It’s time for a down-to-earth chat that eschews all the labels and jargon. In this panel, presented by The Conium Review, several authors cut through the marketing ploys and hype for a candid talk on the strange, weird, and new in contemporary fiction.

“Kelly Link, Emily St. John Mandel, and Ruth Ozeki: A Reading and Conversation, Sponsored by Penguin Random House Speakers Bureau”

Friday, April 1, 2016, 4:30 pm to 5:45 pm

Concourse Hall, LA Convention Center, Exhibit Hall Level One

(Emily St. John Mandel, Ruth Ozeki, Kelly Link)

This event brings together three brilliant contemporary female writers—Kelly Link, Emily St. John Mandel, and Ruth Ozeki—to read and discuss their craft and experiences as genre-bending authors. Kelly Link is the recipient of an NEA grant and is the author of Get in Trouble. Emily St. John Mandel is the author of Station Eleven, a finalist for the 2014 National Book Award. Ruth Ozeki is the author of A Tale for the Time Being, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.

“In the Realms of the Real and the Unreal”

Saturday, April 2, 12:00 pm to 1:15 pm

AWP Bookfair Stage, LA Convention Center, Exhibit Hall Level One

(Katharine Beutner, Sofia Samatar, Carmen Machado, Alice Sola Kim, Kelly Link)

This panel explores genres of fiction that juxtapose the real and the unreal in experimental ways: historical fiction, literary fantasy/science fiction, weird fiction, and satire. Where do we draw the line between a secondary world and a distorted reflection of our own world’s beauty, violence, and diversity? Can we discern a poetics of the unreal in contemporary fiction? How have the continual debates over generic boundaries—and/or their irrelevance—affected the ways contemporary writers work?

“In Whose Image: Trans and Genderqueer Writers on Magic, Spirituality, and (the Bodies of) G-d”

Saturday, April 2, 2016, 12:00 pm to 1:15 pm

Room 402 AB, LA Convention Center, Meeting Room Level

(CA Conrad, Joy Ladin, Ryka Aoki, Ian Ellasante, TC Tolbert)

Spirituality, like writing, hinges on transformation. Similarly, trans and genderqueer writers have unique experiences with transformation on and off the page. This dynamic panel explored the intersections between ritual, myth, magic, magical realism, and even end-rhyme as they shape our various embodiments and faiths. We don’t want to save you, but we hope you are ready to be changed.

“New Directions in Contemporary War Fiction”

Saturday, April 2, 2016, 1:30 pm to 2:45 pm

Room 510, LA Convention Center, Meeting Room Level

(Peter Molin, Matt Gallagher, Andria Williams, Jesse Goolsby, Elliot Ackerman)

This panel features short readings and commentary by four first-time novelists in the burgeoning field of contemporary war literature. The authors’ novels, each published in either 2015 or 2016, highlight new possibilities for representing combat, war, and military culture in fiction. Building on recent critically acclaimed fiction depicting conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, the panel authors refine our understanding of the human dimensions of war overseas and on the home front.

“Fables, Fibs, and Flat-Out Lies: The Material of Making, Sponsored by Copper Canyon Press”

Saturday, April 2, 2016, 4:30 pm to 5:45 pm

Concourse Hall, LA Convention Center, Exhibit Hall Level One

(Michael Wiegers, Richard Siken, Laura Kasischke, Roger Reeves)

Whatever the chosen form, making is a dominant force in any artist’s life. For writers, the creative material—language—is simultaneously precise and slippery, irreducible and expansive; metaphor is a lie that tells the truth, and image a construct made from the sound and meaning of language. This reading features three writers who practice various literary and artistic forms—fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and painting—and will be followed by a conversation moderated by their editor.

Rita Bullwinkel is a Conium Review Vol. 4 contributor. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee where she is a fiction MFA candidate at Vanderbilt University and the Fiction Editor of the Nashville Review. Her writing has appeared in several publications including VICENOONSpork anHayden’s Ferry Review. She is a graduate of Brown University, a Vanderbilt Commons Writer in Residence, a Sewanee Writers’ Conference Tennessee Williams Scholarship Award winner, and a Helene Wurlitzer Foundation grantee. Her story “In the South the Sand Winds are Our Greatest Enemy” was selected by Joyland Magazine as one of their top five favorite stories published in 2015. The Nashville Review will be exhibiting at AWP at booth #1500.