Salamander 2024 Fiction Contest

SUBMIT: May 1 through June 2, 2024 | READING FEE: $15


from Accretion: What Breaks Becomes the Binding Agent

Heather Madden
| poetry


In Navajo creation stories, the Coyote convinces the water monster
    to inhale him.

Our neighbor is surprised to learn that Eric, reared Jewish,
identifies as Buddhist, is surprised to learn that I’m not Jewish.

By July, K— has complete use of her hand. Even the surgeon didn’t expect
From deep within the monster, the Coyote disassembled the monster.

I tell the neighbor a story about great-great grandparents, my
uncertain memories. Her grandfather’s sadness when she married
a Catholic Slovak. I attempt to draw a family tree,
but many branches are broken by death and what I don’t know.

The Slovak grandfather, the Irish grandfather, and the Italian grandmother
guaranteed my childhood Catholicism. I don’t say: I’m not anything now.
My mother’s mother tells a story:

when she was a child, her grandfather turned his driveway into a skating
    rink each winter,
and so she skated along for many years after her mother died.

Sorting through papers, I rediscover a photo that my sister took
days before our father died. In it, I sit behind him on the hospital bed
as he sleeps. I’m young and look ready to fight some invisible enemy.

Though I aspire to pacifism, it’s not my first impulse.
My first impulse involves the phrase “bring it.”

I consider showing the photo to Eric, but I decide against it.
What does it reveal?
I imagine a river moving around stones, changing its course, but not its
what is essential? What must I say?

R— blames Hamas and human shields.
What productive conversation might ensue?

And what of the man with low ejection fraction?
And what of the dog, panting in the heat?

He died, and her anxiety followed her to the other side of the screen.

On a mountain, the refugees wait.

With her now-healed hand, K— points to the asparagus
plants shading the bee balm: those have been here too long,
she says, at least thirty years.

Fourteen years after my father’s death, my mother calls
to tell me his photo’s in the local paper. He’s small in the photo—
stage right and standing amid a group of detectives—
discussing an unsolved murder.

I take a pill and sink beneath anxiety.

I spread a caterpillar of depilatory cream above my lip
then imagine Frida Kahlo shaking her head.
Of course, there’s no disappointing Frida Kahlo.

The white dog paces until one of us wakes to take her into the night.
Here, we circle the house by moonlight.
The dog’s steps are quick and nervous.

Eric’s legs are dappled with ivy blisters, which seemed bad
until the steam burn on his arm, the largest blister yet.
Why’d you do that, I ask, to see if I can make him laugh.

In the distance, a coyote gathers its high-pitched song.
This is why we’re awake. When the blister breaks,
the skin slips back: a petal revealing the soft rosette of skin.

One problem with tempera is apparent when distinct individuals
become the subjects in paintings. So too with rural living:

When one imagines the idyll, one happily considers
the expanse of field foregrounding the dark clusters of trees:
the nuances of loneliness can’t be seen here.

Heather Madden serves as a contributing editor to Salamander and teaches in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts at Hampshire College. She lives in Chesterfield, NH, with her husband, their infant son, two dogs, and a tomcat named Fergus.

You Can’t Squeeze Blood Out of a Turnip