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MacQueen’s Quinterly: Knock-your-socks-off Art and Literature
Issue 11: January 2022
Micro-CNF: 461 words
By Elizabeth Kerlikowske

If my grandfather walked toward me with two arms,
I wouldn’t recognize him


My grandfather’s arm was buried near Fife Lake on his brother Bill’s farm. Bill was paid by the government not to grow anything, so he didn’t. I never found the arm although I looked for it each visit. My grandparents weren’t very good at burying things. I found my dog’s grave shortly after they told me she’d run away. In our family, to put your elbow on the open window of a moving car was just tempting fate. Everyone knew what happened to Leo. At the farm the only thing to read was the Classic Comic book of Moby Dick. In the panels with the heaving ocean, the sea’s ink was so black it was purple. The first few times I read it, I was fingerprinted. My great-grandparents lived across the road from the farm. They were tiny and poor. Grandma Dolly was the one who buried the arm. She was a spiritualist advisor. After the truck sheared off my grandfather’s arm but barely tore his coat sleeve, after the bootleggers saved him and dropped him anonymously at the hospital, after everyone was notified—his parents, his wife with three young children—his mother drove three hours south to fetch the arm and bury it at the farm.

Ahab stood on the storm-tossed deck, his ivory leg the brightest object on the page. It was hard to think of him as handicapped; he was so angry. When a one-armed man sits down at a piano, you don’t expect much. My grandfather played by ear, and his hand flew over the keys as if it had wings; I swear I sometimes saw them. He could not tie his shoes. My grandmother knelt before him each morning. Double-knotted, so he would never have to ask for help. Grandma Dolly took my grandfather to her seances to prevent people from sticking a pin in her arm or worse, to test if she was really in a trance. My grandmother said when they lived at the farm after the accident, objects were always moving. My grandfather had a special knob on his steering wheel, required by law. It was not required that it be ruby red inside an ivory holder. Queequeg practiced a different kind of magic from Grandma Dolly, one that required more tattoos, which bled onto the newsprint. The farm people all believed in reincarnation. My mother died when my sister was born; ergo Ahab will be reincarnated as a whale. My grandfather told his mother he was having phantom pain. She went to the arm’s grave and dug it up. Its fingers were clenched. She straightened them out, reburied the arm, and he was fine.

Elizabeth Kerlikowske’s
Issue 11, January 2022

first full-length book of poetry, Dominant Hand, is available from Mayapple Press, and she is co-author with artist Mary Hatch of Art Speaks: Paintings and Poetry (Kazoo Books, 2018). Other books by Kerlikowske include The Shape of Dad (a memoir in prose poems), Last Hula (winner of the 2013 Standing Rock Chapbook Competition), and Chain of Lakes.

She has been publishing her poetry and fiction for more than 20 years in such journals and magazines as Encore, Cincinnati Review, Passager, and Poemeleon, among others. Her work is also anthologized in Nothing to Declare: A Guide to the Flash Sequence (White Pine Press, 2016); The Female Complaint: Tales of Unruly Women (Shade Mountain Press, 2015); two of the annual KYSO Flash anthologies, Accidents of Light (2018) and Earth Hymn (2019); and in the Michigan writers anthology published by Western Michigan University (WMU).

Kerlikowske completed her doctorate in English at WMU in 2007. She also creates visual art and has recently completed the Hester Prynne Chair, first of a series of literary women chairs. Formerly an arts activist, she was president of the Poetry Society of Michigan, and she served for 30 years as president of the Kalamazoo Friends of Poetry. She’s retired from a teaching career at Kellogg Community College.

More on the Web: By, About, and Beyond

Into the Oak, prose poem by Kerlikowske in MacQ-9 (August 2021)

Featured Artists Mary Hatch and Elizabeth Kerlikowske in KYSO Flash (Issue 9, Spring 2018); includes half a dozen of Kerlikowske’s ekphrastic prose poems and micro-fictions inspired by Hatch’s paintings

Three in Prose by Kerlikowske in DIAGRAM (Issue 5.1): “Forty Winks,” “The Girls’ Room,” and “Midway”

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