Body of Water | Mary Ellen Talley

Body of Water

by Mary Ellen Talley


Mine keeps flowing into blood

flesh and sinew, pat-a-cake

palm of hand, firm handshake,

platelets I cherish clotting

to repair sites of my wounds.

Pump, churn heart river flow

all that channels inside me

wrapped up in crepey skin.

I call my backbone water

because I drink from its strength.

Mary Ellen Talley’s poems have most recently been published in and Kaleidoscope as well as in recent anthologies, The Doll Collection, All We Can Hold poems of motherhood and Raising Lilly Ledbetter Women Poets Occupy the Workspace. Her poetry has received a Pushcart Nomination. She has worked for many years with words and children as a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) in Washington public schools.







Death by Hurricane | Margarita Barresi

Death by Hurricane

by Margarita Barresi


I surveyed the ocean from ten stories above through the kitchen’s plate glass window wearing white cotton panties and nothing else, my at-home uniform at age five, and willed my thoughts to project to God In Heaven. It was 1966 in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Hurricane Faith was imminent. God, I telepathed as I pictured an ancient bearded man in voluminous white robes sitting on an enormous and elaborately carved marble throne, If I’m going to die today, please don’t make it hurt too much. I was not one to beg in the face of the inevitable. People died in hurricanes. I’d heard the stories of the “Big One”, 1928’s Hurricane San Felipe, which destroyed the Yabucoa valley where my grandfather grew up and killed more than 300 poor souls across the island. I understood clearly what my fate could be and was prepared to courageously face the worst case scenario.

My grandparents, with whom I lived, were sticking masking tape in crisscross patterns on the rest of the wide glass windows that created the circumference of our apartment. They paid me no mind. The tape was supposed to prevent the glass from shattering into the apartment if some sort of debris broke through. Apparently all sorts of things flew around in hurricanes. I hoped I wouldn’t be one of them. My grandmother pulled the putty colored tape from the roll, making a long riiiiiiiiiip sound and my grandfather attached it to the glass. Riiiiiip, PatPatPat, Riiiiiip, PatPatPat, Riiiiiip, PatPatPat. The sounds of their industry pierced the otherwise eerie silence.

No screeching white and grey seagulls, no cars motoring down the street, no tree frogs chirping their evening song of coqui coqui, and no laughter wafting up from the beach. The wildlife and humans had both hunkered down. The Atlantic, normally five different shades of blue, was a monochromatic indigo shaded by an ominous grey dome of a sky. Angry, tall waves crashed on the sand and rocks below, some even reaching the base of our apartment building. It was humid, but oddly cool. I could feel the air, seasoned with sea spray, weighing down on my skin, leaving it salty and taut.

My grandfather turned on the radio, which usually played classical music, and tuned it to a news channel. Official sounding voices peppered the air with weather updates in Spanish, completely ruining my communion with God In Heaven. I figured He’d gotten my message by then anyway. He was probably attending to a lot of people at that moment, and I certainly didn’t want to become a nuisance. I decided instead to follow my preoccupied grandmother around the apartment as she distributed candles and matches throughout every room. In the meantime, my grandfather anxiously checked the flashlight batteries and filled the tub, as well as several plastic jugs, with water. Then we waited. And waited.

We continued to listen to the weather reports, my grandparents both smoking, she her Salems and he his carved ivory pipe that scented the air chocolate and cherry. But as my 7:00 bedtime approached, I became agitated. I didn’t want to sleep through My Death! It was one thing to get sent to bed before Get Smart aired, but this, My Death, was a monumental thing to miss. I begged my grandparents to let me stay up. As a compromise, and because they thought I was inconsolably frightened by the looming storm, they agreed to let me bunk in the floor of their bedroom. I willed my eyelids to remain open for what seemed hours, but I couldn’t help falling asleep, my body slowly shutting down for the night.

I woke up disoriented the next morning: I was not in my room and I was still alive. The hurricane had skirted the island, leaving behind damp streets and little damage. Maybe all the people’s prayers had worked and God In Heaven spared us. Or maybe it was the hurricane’s name, Faith.  In any case, what luck! I went to school the day after, the candles and batteries went back into storage, and the radio once again played Mozart. For no good reason the masking tape on the windows was lazily left to calcify and fuse with the glass so that our view of the outside world became permanently obstructed by Xs.

Nine years later, Tropical Storm Eloise passed by the island. While not officially a hurricane, her extraordinarily heavy rains, 23 inches in 24 hours, caused extensive flooding and more damage than any other storm I’d lived through. Forty-four people drowned, including Luis Cartagena, a close family friend. On his drive home, while crossing a flooded bridge in the town of Caguas, he spotted a woman drowning in the river below. Those who witnessed the event say he stopped the car, jumped out, and dove into the churning water within seconds, only to be swept away along with the woman like so much debris. I don’t remember whether they found his body. He died a hero, but that was no consolation to his widow, Virginia, whose ravaged countenance is indelibly imprinted in my memory.

Shortly afterwards my grandmother hired a handyman to scrape the petrified masking tape off our apartment windows. We didn’t need a visual reminder that people die in hurricanes.

Margarita Barresi writes memoir pieces about growing up in Puerto Rico in the 60s and 70s, as well as parenting essays set in modern day. Her work has appeared in Acentos Review, Pink Ink, Boston Accent Lit and Your Teen Magazine. She is currently working on a historical fiction novel set in Puerto Rico during the first half of the 20th century and was selected for a writer’s residency at Noepe Center for Literary Arts in Martha’s Vineyard.

February: Poetry Picks & Prompts

Rebecca FeaturedAs an avid reader of literary magazines, I am embarrassed to say that I just learned about Five Dials a few weeks ago. Perhaps it’s one of those subtle, colonial snubs that folks in the U.S. don’t talk much about this phenomenal British mag, but I realized nearly as soon as I stumbled upon it that I was dealing with a very prestigious magazine, and that somehow it had escaped my attention for all these years. As a kind of apology for being such a dope, I subscribed to the magazine, as if that would serve as suitable penance for this gaping hole in my lit mag knowledge. Regardless: mea culpa.

What struck me most about Five Dials was its focus on translation – something that is  lacking in U.S. based lit mags. Both of the poems I selected for this column were translations – from Greek and German, respectively; perhaps because Five Dials is an imprint of Penguin, there’s an ease of access to original publication rights. The magazine covers everything from lists to “reportage” to poetry and fiction, and leaves a pleasant amount of space for “experiments.” It was almost as fun to explore the site as it was to read the work, which is always an added bonus.

Though there’s no shortage of interesting work in this magazine, I narrowed it down to two poems. The first, “Variations on Anne” from Greek translator and poet Eftychia Panayiotou, discusses the experience of translating Anne Carson into Greek as a series of “ifs;”

“If you must choose, you will choose to be a woman.
If he must choose, he will choose to be a man (though not a husband).
If you are a woman (then surely he’ll never see you as wife).
If he can choose, he will surely choose mistress (but where then is the wife?).
If dialogue demands roles, then you are the killer, I am the victim.
If he has given the key to the wrong woman.
If he says something witty, such as ‘Desire doubled is love and love doubled is madness.’
If she replies even more brilliantly: ‘Madness doubled is marriage.’”

I loved that this piece is a hybrid – part essay, part poem, all doubling back and turning around. It depicts in its writing the complicated nature of translation, and the simultaneous distance and connection the translator feels to the author. It’s both a process piece and a poem, simple and yet complicated. I love its twists and turns.

The second poem is by German author Marion Poschmann, a piece called “Self-Portrait as a White Lady.” It was the pacing and the lyricism of this poem that struck me. Poschmann writes:

“I shone

an igloo lit from within, in the spray zone
of star clusters, the cold extracts
of former community centres,

streets soused in alcohol, slow, gentle:
I made halls,
phantasms of origin”

This poem flows and flows and never stops until it’s last, breathless ending. The translation is intricate and beautiful, and I read the poem over and over, trying to navigate the rapid-firing of disparate images. It was a lovely, intriguing piece.



Write a poem where each line begins with the same conjunction, as in “Variations on Anne.” For inspiration, reference this list. Try to be comfortable with the incompleteness of each line.

February – Penned: Interviews with Writers

The other day, my creative writing professor told me that “we were made to tell stories.” That’s the basis of human nature, to share their experiences, to use their voices. Every story is unique — each one has its own distinct voice and purpose.

As writers, we excel at storytelling. It’s in our blood, intertwined into our DNA. We all do it differently; that’s why this month’s interviews focus on individual storytelling techniques.

The February theme: How to begin a story/poem.


Tyler Barton:

Find a voice and follow its energy. I find it almost impossible to start with an idea (for example: irony as a defense mechanism can have serious consequences for human connection) and then try write a story. However, if I sit down to write and listen for the voice of a caustic, sarcastic, washed-up comic, whose loneliness seeps hilariously through her speech, I’m much more likely to get a draft started, maybe even completed. Basically: don’t start with what you want to say, but who you want to watch, know, and hear speak.

Leanne Gregory:

To me, the method that works when beginning a story or poem is to become that story or poem. By that I mean, act it out. Whether out loud, or inside your head, find someplace you can be alone and let yourself meditate on what you want the story to say. What the characters look like, and act like. The sounds, smells, tastes, and feel of your world. Imagine it all. Make sure to have a recorder or notebook nearby to record what you discover as well.

Jamie Yourdon:

Every story teaches the reader how to read it. It begins: “I am happy,” or “I am sad.” I am happy and sad. I am the first, second, or third person. I’m an anecdote. I’m argot. I am not to be trusted. I am in conversation with all the stories that came before me, the ones you read in college or huddled under the covers. I am a new old story and you are your new old self—you, the reader. We are bound by this sentence, and the next, and the next. So let’s begin.

Zane Ross:

Any of my work, my stories or my poems, always start with a single idea. I could be sitting at my desk eating lunch and then a lyric will pop into my head or a vaguely defined premise like “techno wizards from Mars.” Although that example sounds completely awful that’s kind of how it is. Even the worst ideas can turn into great ones. So I will pull out my laptop and start typing up a story based on that small thing, not always intending on it being good. The first thing I write isn’t meant to be read by others, but it is meant to establish my characters and my world for me. When you first start you don’t know either of them. You haven’t been to this world or you haven’t met these characters yet. That short story, just for me, is how I understand what they are about.

Ben Tanzer:

It begins with an idea. Or maybe it starts with a theme, family, small towns, marriage. You muse on that theme. You wait for associations. Incidents from your childhood. A story a friend told you. A dream or fantasy. You make a list of these associations. You have associations with the associations. You write them down. The list gets messy. You stare at the list, certain ideas start to take form and leap from the page. You grab hold of them. You put pen to paper. You’ve begun.


I’d like to thank the writers who shared with us in this month’s Penned! I hope these responses help with putting your pen to some paper. (Don’t forget, Sea Salt submissions are open!)

See ya next month!



Tyler Barton is a cofounder of FEAR NO LIT and an intern for Sundress Publications. His stories have been published in Midwestern Gothic, Split Lip Mag, Hobart, and NANO Fiction. Find him at Follow him @goftyler.

Leanne Gregory is a student at the University of the Cumberlands. She has been writing since the sixth grade, and she was a member of her high school’s writing club for three years. She loves to write in the fictional genre of fantasy, specifically medieval settings, but has recently been trying to expand her writings into the realm of science fiction, as well.

Jamie Yourdon, a freelance editor and technical expert, received his MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Arizona. His short fiction has appeared in the Alaska Quarterly Review, Underneath the Juniper Tree, and Chicago Literati, and he has contributed essays and interviews to Booktrib. He lives in Portland, Oregon. Froelich’s Ladder (Forest Avenue, 2016) is his debut novel. He has been writing for 27 years, always and only literary fiction.

Zane Ross is a junior at University of the Cumberlands and an English major with an emphasis in Creative Writing and a minor in Journalism. He started writing when he was young, writing his own Goosebumps-like stories in 5th grade. He played a lot of Dungeons and Dragons in high school, so he contributes a lot of his practice in writing to those nerdtastic years. He is a fiction writer by trade and focuses mainly on the genres of Fantasy, Mystery and Horror. His writing is very focused on entertaining readers. He also write for the UC Patriot, his university’s school newspaper.

Ben Tanzer is the author of the  book Be Cool – a memoir (sort of), among others. He also oversees the lifestyle empire This Blog Will Change Your Life and frequently speaks on the topics of messaging, framing, social media, blogging, fiction, essay writing and independent publishing. He has been writing for 18 years, a mix of fiction and personal essay.

January: Poetry Picks & Prompts

Rebecca Featured

For the new year, I’ve decided to change my focus for this column. I’ve decided to narrow my scope, and delve more deeply into one literary magazine each month; I want to explore the content that these magazines publish, but even more than that I want to talk about what they stand for, their mission, and the contributions they are making as a whole to the world of poetry publishing. Lit mags – and the often unpaid, hardworking editorial staff that keep them running – play a huge role in determining the future of contemporary poetry, and are the loud voices that help keep poetry alive and relevant in America and beyond. I want to pay homage to that effort, in this small way, and to help connect our readership with the vast network of literary magazines around the world.

This month, I’m featuring Duende, the literary magazine run by Goddard College’s BFA program. I love lit mags that are run by undergraduate students because the staff is always changing, which allows the magazine to change and make itself new with each turnover of the academic year. The magazine is named after Fredrico Garcia Lorca’s Theory and Play of the Duende – in the essay Lorca argues not for a poetry of angels or muses, but for one that comes from the soles of the feet, from the earth, from mortality and survival and the looming figure of death. The editorial staff describe their preferences in beautiful abstraction: “Duende tastes good on the tongue and caresses the ear. Duende seeks authenticity & soulfulness, earthiness & expressiveness, a chill up the spine. It encompasses darkness and intensity; elicits sorrow and joy; wrests a response from the body.” Duende promises earthy, real, expressive writing and that is precisely what the magazine provides, with both novice and experienced contributors and a submission policy that encourages those often ignored by “literary gatekeepers;” the “true beauty and diversity of the U.S. literary ecosystem … from writers and artists who are queer, of color, differently abled, immigrant, working class, youth, elder…” to put their work up for the editor’s consideration.

Without further ado, two poems from Duende, and a prompt inspired by the magazine’s namesake:

Four Poems from CA Conrad

Veteran experimental poet C.A. Conrad hit me over the head again with his sharp, evocative lines in these poems from his collection Width of a Witch. You can see what I mean most clearly in Pluto.4, which I’ve transcribed below (pardon the poor formatting here — see the poem as Conrad meant it on Duende‘s site):

we win from time to time
abandoned above adaptable positions of the losing
we risk everything in thinking we can navigate maverick of the green carry a
bottle of wine into the
pumpkin patch looking
for a new way to
angle the old songs
sell me a ticket to
your dance please
believe in the strength of
poetry a little stone in the moth
helps balance her on my breath

Two Poems from Caitlin Cundiff

Caitlin Cundiff’s first poem, “A Private Viewing,” struck me from the first stanza. She writes about her grandmother’s body beautifully, with a kind of authenticity and imagination that reads like a daydream, but the kind that bowls you over, that doesn’t pass easily from the brain. The first stanza is below; I hope it leads you, as it did me, into the rest of this beautiful poem.


The flowerbeds by the front door were Ima’s only children.
She crushed up her bones with a mortar and pestle
to put in the soil as if she expected her kneecaps
to bloom again.



Write a poem from the soles of your feet. Write from the center of the earth. In short, write a duende poem. Lorca talks about tango and bull-fighting in his essay about this form of poetics – what is your bullfight? Your tango? Write about a moment charged with energy, fear, lust, the raw feeling of being alive. Then, if you are feeling inspired, try to write the same poem again from Lorca’s other modalities – the muse and the angel.

December – Penned: Interviews with Writers

Our Encounters with Nature issue has finally been released! If you haven’t checked it out yet, you can do so here. Each of the editors has worked hard combing through submissions, perfecting the mechanics of each piece, and stringing together the parts of the whole.

Readers and submitters don’t normally get the chance to hear from the shadowy figures who construct the lit mag. So, this month, I thought it would be nice to give the readers a glimpse of the women behind the mask and to give The Drowning Gull’s own some well-deserved recognition.

The December theme: A writer who inspires you.


I know there will be some serious eye rolls when I say this, but the writer who inspires me more than anyone is Stephen King. I first discovered King when I was 11 and borrowed Misery from the school library. The thing that I love most about Stephen King, is his fearlessness and commitment. He’s written what he knows, which is unquestionably horror, but he has never limited himself to that. Hearts in Atlantis was an artistic masterpiece, his short stories are as satisfying as his novels, and his fantasy was a hit or a major miss depending on who you talk to. No matter what, he will always write the story he believes in and he will sit down every day to do it. Fearless. Committed. Everything a writer should aim to be.


Anyone who follows me on social media would know that my favourite writer would have to be Brenda Shaughnessy, a poet living in Verona, New Jersey. She’s the author of ‘Interior with Sudden Joy,’ ‘Human Dark With Sugar,’ ‘Our Andromeda’, and my favourite of favourites, ‘So Much Synth’. I first came across Brenda when I searched online for poetry books that could begin my collection of poetry. (I was predominantly a fiction reader, back then, but wrote quite a bit of poetry; I wanted to learn what all the popular contemporary poets were up to so I could master it.) “Our Andromeda” popped up on Google, and it piqued my interest, so I got it. That made me fall in love with Brenda’s poetry– and consequently, purchase her earlier collections and watch out for forthcoming ones. I loved– LOVE– the sounds her words create when strung together into eloquent sentences. Some of the sentences in particular became like mantras I memorised for personal use (self-empowerment, etc). Brenda’s poems are empowering, inspiring, enlightening, heartbreaking… All those emotion-related adjectives that, when used by an author’s readers to describe their work, mean the poems did exactly what they were meant to do.


It’s hard to pick one writer that inspires me, but I am struck over and over again by Italo Calvino’s work each time I read him. He has no formula for his novels — each is unique, a world unto its own, and each book reads completely differently. I love that he gives himself so much room to experiment with form and structure, and I hope to emulate that kind of whimsical dedication to experimentation in my own work. I love how he questions and redefines what a novel can be, and I love the magic that is present in each of his stories. He really gives himself room to play.


Mark Z. Danielewski is my idol. One day, I plan to write a novel as trippy and awesome as his House of Leaves. His words mimic his story; physically and emotionally, he captures the essence of the novel in the mere placement of letters. I love how he does not adhere to structural standards (his words spiral and even transcend the page boundary) and, not only does he write outside of the box, he decimates that box completely. There are so many layers and secret messages in his novel. One can dig and dig and dig, always finding a new chunk of gold on which to latch. That’s the beauty of it: his tale is never-ending. In a sense, its layers make it immortal. Danielewski follows his heart, no mater the backlash or the consequence — that’s what I love about him. I want to be his level of fearless.

Issue # 2: Encounters with Nature!

cover 4.jpg

Editor’s Note | Tiegan Dakin




Waste Not | Terry Barr

Black and White | John C. Mannone

Dragon Tales, Household Hobbies: How the Family Search for Shark Teeth Made Us Find Each Other Instead  | Casey Cromwell

Cycle of Life | Alice Lowe

Of Moss and Men | Paul Hetzler

True Tales From the Wild Heart Critterarium | Albert Lannon

Street Fruit | Danusha Goska



Evening Waterfall Reflections | Joseph Norton

4 pieces | Gwen Wilkinson

2 pieces | Terry Bailey

Words On Sand | Ray Zimmerman

3 pieces | Thomas Terceira

Words On Sand | Ray Zimmerman


Words on Sand by Ray Zimmerman.jpg
Words on Sand



Ray Zimmerman is the author of First Days (Finishing Line Press) and Executive Editor of Southern Light: Twelve Contemporary Southern Poets, Ford, Falcon, and McNeil. He serves as producer of the Little Owl Music and Arts Festival, now in its fifth year at Audubon Acres. Ray’s photographs have appeared in the Tennessee Conservationist and the Photographic Society of America Journal.

Waste Not | Terry Barr

Waste Not

by Terry Barr

“Take him down by the vacant lot on the corner,” Dad said, “That way no one will mind what he does.”

The thought of cleaning up after Sandy never entered our heads, and so I’d lead him by the leash to this open area and watch as the poor guy nervously did his business. He’d leave an impressive mound and sometimes Jim Terry, the bird dog who lived across the street, would join us. If my brother were with us and saw either dog hunched over and defecating, he’d point and laugh at them. The dog in question would then shake all the more, as if he knew to be embarrassed. Upon completion the dogs would proceed to scratch up some earth, believing as dogs do that just a few scratches of soil will cover their solid remains. I would then lead Sandy back home, back to his dog house where he’d spend every night – rain, sleet or snow – huddled in his blankets.

The vacant lot was way at the end of our street, and at ten years old I was a little terrified at the overgrown bushes and what could be lurking behind them. So I’d walk only a little ways and let Sandy do his pooping in the McEniry’s yard, or the Bruce’s. It was dark, I figured no one would see and in the morning, who was to say which dog did it? I confess to feeling a little guilty at my laziness, my fears. I knew that I’d made work for these elderly neighbours, that they would have to clean the mess up themselves or have their “yard men” do it. Whatever guilt I felt, however, did not stop me from encouraging my dog to fill their yards with his waste.

Sandy died when I was a junior in college from a fast aggressive cancer. My parents had him put to sleep before they even told me he was sick. I knew he had been losing weight, but being away, I didn’t see him often or much at all. My parents kept up with his daily routine. They knew what he was consuming and producing and dealt with it as they saw fit. I remember my Dad saying too often to my dog, “You stink,” but no one guessed the cause of this stench, the one that smelled like poop even when there was none.

I didn’t wonder then, but very much do so now, about what we fed our dog (the same meal of Purina Prime every day) and if whatever went into that food caused his cancer. I wonder, too, about his poop. Did it affect anyone else? What could or should we have done differently? I so loved my dog, yet I let him eat unhealthy food. I let him be blamed for soiling other people’s space.

What sort of owner was I?


Thirty years passed and I never owned another dog. Once, when my daughters were seventeen and thirteen, they found a stray dog in our yard. He looked liked some sort of Labradoodle, a dog someone wanted. So we kept him overnight in our basement, and the next morning I walked him through our neighbourhood, hoping he would lead me to his home. I had no sense of the right direction, and the dog seemed convinced that the streets to our south pointed homeward. It was an early Sunday morning and I hoped that people going to church might pass and recognize their pooch. Looking back, it seems silly and futile that I would go walking aimlessly, trusting on the dog and fate to relieve me of a burden I wasn’t ready for.

Of course the girls asked if we could keep him, and I might have considered it if we didn’t already have three cats. And if, when I saw this confused but happy dog poop that morning, I didn’t see him shake and strain to produce an enormous mound full of white squiggly living things: tapeworms, I assumed.

We kept the dog another night, and then rigged a stake and a rope in our front yard the next day and tied him there with a bowl of water nearby. We went to school and work, and later that afternoon my wife called to say that the dog had been found by his owners who lived just up the street from us in the opposite direction from where he and I had wandered the day before. He’s rescued, I thought, relieved. Yet I kept thinking about that shaking poop and those worms: a clear sign that the dog wasn’t being well taken care of. As well as I would have taken care of him if he were he mine. I didn’t clean his poop up that day even though I knew bagging had become the popular, eco-friendly and neighborly act. I didn’t want to get any nearer to those worms than I already had, so I left the poop to sit, the worms to crawl, and I wondered about all those others crawling inside that friendly dog, the one I never saw again.


For the past two years my wife has clamoured for a dog. She’s never owned one before and, in karmic preparation, she puts pictures of “her dog” around the house.

“I’m gonna find him,” she kind of threatened.

This past May, my wife got serious. We fenced in our yard and finished remodelling our house. “The time is right,” she said, and so she began haunting our no-kill Humane Society. I’ll confess that every time she came home empty-handed, I breathed more deeply.

Then one late Friday afternoon, I got the call:

“We found him [she and my younger daughter Layla, that is]. Do you want to come see?”

“No, if he’s the one, that’s fine with me.”

It was Layla who saw him first, a white Lab-looking six-month old puppy, exactly what my wife was looking for. My wife named him Max and recently I discovered that his true breed is American Dingo, or at least I’m as sure as one can be that he’s got dingo in him.

When we walk our Maxie, I don’t laugh and point at him when he poops; but I do I pick up his poop in our plastic bags, double-lined for maximum protection. Like all the neighbours I see doing likewise, I hold onto the bag until I reach a garbage can at our local park and toss it away, and when we go to the dog park at Conastee I do the same. My wife stands at the spot where our boy has relieved himself amidst the clatter and clamor of breeds and half-breeds, and Heinz 57’s, and we clean his poop in the baggies supplied by the park and throw them right away in the cans nearby. The cans that someone else eventually disposes of.

I have two questions: the first, as far as I know, is unanswerable. Why does Max immediately poop every time we enter the dog park? Or, as I’ve discovered lately, whenever we take him on a play date to his friend Fin’s house? I know that marking territory with urine is very much a doggie thing, but with poop?

My second question is: Where does the dog park poop go? The city dump? And then what happens? It biodegrades with the rest of the poop accumulated there, all buried in safe, sacred ground?

Another question I ask my wife is what she does when she scoops up Max’s poop from our backyard:

“I throw it over the fence into the wilder part of the yard. Or, I put it in the holes he’s started to dig and cover it. They say that keeps him from digging any deeper.”

Perhaps so, and that seems very responsible of her. In our own yard, I’ve mainly left the poop alone. I figure that when it finally returns to the soil, it will be good for the land, adding richness and cyclical nourishment to our ecosystem. Maybe, however, I haven’t been thinking so clearly. Maybe I haven’t exactly kept up with the latest trends in poop control:

Recently, a number of environmental activist groups have been trying to raise the guilt level of dog lovers because of the faecal matter that their pets produce. We are not only talking about the smelly stuff which gets on your shoe when some inconsiderate dog owner fails to pick up after his pup, or the possible contamination which such waste matter might produce when it gets into water supplies, but rather the larger issue of whether dogs contribute to global warming by producing greenhouse gases. So says Dr. Stanley Coren, a professor of Psychology at the University of British Columbia:

An average dog will produce approximately 0.75 pounds of faecal matter each day, which, summing across all of the dogs in the city would be approximately 187,500 pounds of dog poop passed in every 24 hour period. Summing the output across an entire year, we reach the astonishing total of 68,437,500 pounds of dog waste per year for this one metropolis.

The city he’s referring to is Chicago. I live in Greenville, SC, a city a tenth the size of Chicago, so maybe our town produces only six million pounds of poop a year. Still, what do we do with all this mess?

Now you might already know this, but when Max’s poop, Jim Terry’s poop, and my old dog Sandy’s poop breaks down, it produces methane gas, a gas much more toxic for our environment than carbon dioxide. In Chicago, this means that the amount of poop-infused methane gas each year totals 102,000,000 cubic feet. I’ve always been sketchy about what a cubic foot looks like, but I’m pretty clear that 102 million of anything is powerfully impressive.

Apparently, Mathew Mazzota is also impressed. A conceptual artist and grad student at MIT, Mazzota wondered whether a by-product so bountiful might not have a productive use. He proposes that this dog-sponsored methane could be used as a power source. He received a grant from MIT to run such a test, called his project “Park Spark,” and installed it at a park in Cambridge, MA. The exhibit is actually two tanks; when your dog poops, you take the already-provided biodegradable bags at the exhibit, place the poop inside, and then insert that by-product into one of the tanks. Wheels turn, microbes begin digesting the poop, and before you know it, methane gas results, which is then burned off somehow.

Since I barely passed high school chemistry, I can’t explain it any better. But if you’re unclear about your own scooping bags, you can try and for a nominal price of $10-12 per month, you can get two lavender-scented rolls of vegetable based bags. Will your dog love you for this? Actually, Max doesn’t care for lavender himself; when my wife applies her nightly oils and creams, he flees. Then she has to use some other calming oils on him to get his mind off the lavender. What all this might be doing to his bowels, I’m not sure.

As glad as I am about Mazzota’s experiment, I think back with wonder and longing for those days when Jim Terry roamed the streets of our neighbourhood. When I directed Sandy to Mr. Bruce’s yard and stood there long enough for my dog to get both the message and the urge. In that era, some fifty years ago, dogs came and went, some good and some bad, their poop landing wherever it would. Sure we stepped in it. Sure it stunk, and sure we ingested its fumes.

To be honest, my wife and I complain when neighbours let their dogs do their business in our yard. That is, we complain to ourselves. We haven’t yet placed signs at the curb begging dog owners to “scoop the poop,” and I hope such a sign is not in our planned future. Maybe it’s just my relationship with dogs, but their shakily produced poop has never offended me. Most dogs try to cover their waste by scratching the ground around it. Then they wander off happy, believing they’ve done their best.

We can’t see the other things we’re breathing either, nor can I stop the poop from coming, so I choose not to see it as that big of a problem. There is too much anger in our society anyway. How can we love our environment, the earth, when we get so offended and irate at the way others legally express their love?

It makes me wonder, though, about the hearts of those owners. Are they like I was as a kid: happy to be relieved of my dog’s waste at any cost? Are they simply irresponsible people like I sometimes still am? Or is it worse: one of those problems that cause me to lie awake at night? If someone is so thoughtless of this aspect of his or her dog’s life, what else do they refuse to clean up? What else do they neglect?

What else do they inflict?

Terry Barr‘s essay collection, Don’t Date Baptists and Other Warnings From My Alabama Mother, is published by Red Dirt Press. His work has also appeared in Blue Bonnet Review, Quail Bell Magazine, The Bitter Southerner, South Writ Large, and 3288 review. He lives in Greenville, SC, with his family– and the dog, Max, mentioned in the essay. He has a cat, too, but cat poop isn’t such a problem.

Black and White | John C. Mannone

Black and White

by John C. Mannone

            Journal entry, May 30, 1979

            Wind River Wilderness, Wyoming

 The landscape is vivid Kodachrome and it is warm this Memorial Day weekend. I start to hike up the backcountry to camp in the mountains: nylon straps tension against my shoulders, hips torque to legs and my hiking staff stabs the ground for balance. I bulldog up the mountain to the flower-whitened knoll. Its soft grass sways in Wind River wind, which whispers words to me. I feel the solace of this place, the pine-scented truth, ethereal yet tangible, if only for a moment. I am with friends, but I am alone.

Where are you?

It snowed five inches overnight! I trudge downhill a few hundred feet down to the black river, my thoughts still heavy. Water plunges into cascades smoothing granite that was once hard grey, but now is slick—its atoms dissolving. Pine trees sentinel the glacier-scoured valley that was hollowed-out millions of years ago. How did the valley learn to grab the night cold and wrap itself in the morning with white? Yesterday’s dirt is tucked under the snow quilt. My dome tent, like an igloo, stands stark against the black and white water; ice blades jab the riverbank.

How many times has this drama played-out? How many times have I heard the wind rush the words into my ears? Into my heart? Everything here is true.


Even the sparrow has found a home

and the swallow, a nest for herself…

Don’t be afraid; you are worth more

than many sparrows.1


The black-capped chickadees, dressed white, scamper the rimed glaze and peck the ice, picking conifer seeds there, dropped as manna. They leave imprints, a wedged mosaic of frozen dance steps. I want to listen to their music, hear their secrets about love.

I lie down next to them. Stay still. Perhaps they’ll think I’m some kind of bird-god in blue—goose down shell, pileated toboggan; my sweater-arms fold as if red wings. But I am the one who is praying for answers to the cold-chiselled questions glyphed here on a blackboard of snow.

Across the river, an elk bugles for his mate, his cries echo off the rocks, wind-worn; the cliff-face stares at the brutal loneliness—its silence is hushed by a solitary sagebrush.


1A conflation of Psalm 84:3 and Luke 12:7

John C. Mannone has over 550 works published in venues such as Gyroscope Review, New England Journal of MedicineInscape Literary Journal, Windhover, 2016 Texas Poetry CalendarBaltimore ReviewPedestalPirene’s FountainEvent Horizon Magazine, Raven Chronicles and Drunk Monkeys. He’s been awarded a 2016 Weymouth Center for the Arts & Humanities writing residency and has two literary poetry collections, including one on disability, Disabled Monsters (The Linnet’s Wings Press, Dec 2015) featured at the 28th Southern Festival of Books. He won the 2015 Joy Margrave award for creative nonfiction in the Tennessee Mountain Writers contest. His meditative essay, “breeding lilacs of the dead land” appears in There’s This Place I Know… (ed. H. L. Hix and Heather Lang, Serving House Books 2015). He edits poetry for Silver Blade and Abyss & Apex and he’s a college professor of physics in east Tennessee. Visit his blog here.