The literary vortex: maudlin, manipulative, open-hearted and empathetic...

Cry Baby

Vol.56 Issue 03
Cover Artist: Rebecca Ashley
Cover of TLR's "Cry Baby" issue. Cover art by Rebecca Ashley.
We teach our children one thing only, as we were taught: To wake up.
-Annie Dillard


Minna Zallman Proctor

My college boyfriend was one of the all time most dedicated, sensitive, attentive men I’ve been lucky to have had in my life. In the summer between freshman and sophomore year he wrote me a song on the guitar. It was an acoustic punk alphabet song that was entitled and started, “Another Bitch Crying” and went on from there. The next word was defying, and then ever . . . and I can’t remember how it proceeded. Maybe failing, maybe falling. It was a kind of anti-love song, the best kind, because although harsh, he knew me very very well and his composition basically nailed me.

For the bulk of my adolescence and to a lesser degree extending back before that, I never cried. It was a philosophical position: crying was for babies. Crying made you weak. My calculated clear-eyed aspiration was to be strong. And so I was doctrinaire, even a little pathological, about not ever crying. When my part in Spoon River Anthology called for what my high-school drama teacher referred to as a “catch” in my voice, “eyes watering up,” I was robotically unable to fall apart, even in the make-believe world of theater. When the drama club progressed to the state finals with our play, the teacher pulled me out at the last minute and put in my understudy, who also happened to be my best friend and who with mythical frailty recited my part to perfection, her voice breaking perfectly, “Only the shell of a woman,” (gentle sob), “after the doctor’s knife . . .” In all fairness, we were in tenth grade; what in the world did I know about hysterectomies? But theater is about faking it, and I couldn’t even bring myself to cry for fake.

The thing about being tough is that everyone assumes you’re okay, which is a flawed logic—though surely the path of least resistance. If you’re okay, nobody helps you, or even, for that matter, gets too close. There are moments when a person, especially a young woman, needs help and very much needs to have someone comfort her. When I realized that in fact I needed comfort occasionally too, I began slowly and awkwardly to hack away at my never-crying force field. There were many false starts, and generally a total lack of panache about how to cry, when, how much, and why? In many instances I felt just as maudlin as I had thought I would—my id would float out of my body to observe the scene from above and I could hear it sneering, “So manipulative.”

Early on in my friendship with my dear friend Ann, I was telling her a story about some dreadful, formative thing that happened to me in high-school and although I have no idea what I was telling her about, I do remember the moment when, while listening to me, eyes trained on my blathering mouth, she started crying for me. I’d forgotten, of course, that I had been telling a sad story. Ann cries all the time, when she’s happy, when she’s sad, when she’s caught up in the moment. She is wonderfully, dependably responsive. That first time—it was probably three in the morning, as we never slept in college—I understood that she was actually listening to me, and that she cared. Her vast capacity for empathy was awesome to me, an unknown landscape; at once glorious and loving and brave. Nothing to do with theatrics or manipulation.

As you might suspect, I was ambivalent about this theme. The title “Cry Baby” was accidentally included in our roster two years ago by an intern, and before I had the chance to erase it, there was a ticker-tape swell of enthusiasm from the rest of the editorial team, and so (uncharacteristically, some would say) I let it stand. Would this issue be maudlin, manipulative, or open-hearted and empathic? I really had no idea, and as we always do, we let the work organically fall into place. Like many TLR themes, its meaning was a discovery process. Unlike many other themes, I felt as if I had a personal stake in its outcome—something to prove and something to protect. In the end, “Cry Baby” embodies the ambivalence. And the friction that crackles between drama queen and pastor turns out to be somewhat blunt and occasionally violent. Like a love song that calls you names because you are a terrible, inexperienced, transparently manipulative cry-er, but loves you anyway.



James Hanna
Honey Bunny

Carrie Messenger
In the Amber Chamber

Nicholas Maistros
Someone Else’s Boys

Will Pewiit
With Their Kids, Their Cameras

Jodi Azzouni
Something is Wrong With Harry

Laurie Frankel
Exit 55

Ranbir Singh Sighu
Good Indian Girls

Jerry Whitus
Mae in April

David Luoma
Volume of Silence


Kathleen Ossip
Mother’s Day
It’s hard to keep identities
Tool Moan

Janice Harrington
The Scent of Oranges

Mark Wunderlich
Driftless Elegy

Eamon Grennan
Navel Gazing
Seeing for Real

Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum
I Too Grow Tired of Winter
i shiver

Elizabeth Cantwell
Good Neighbors

Daniil Kharms
Beaverson was walking down the road . . .
I detest children . . .
And now I will tell you about how I was born
Translated by Alex Cigale

Alan Feldman
How To Improvise
Sincerity and Authenticity

Heather Hartley
The Sleepless Nights of Marine Life

Ginés S. Cutillas
Return to Sender
A Domestic Story
A Small Problem
Question of Reflections

Translated by Heather Higle

Matthew Miniccuci
Speak and Let the Serpent Crawl Out

Dan Gutstein
Alt Tk
Not the Night Rising but the Day Falling

Tautvyda Marcinkevičiūtė
Mystery Play
Pregnant Man
Epitaph for a Dead Infant

Translated by the author and H.L. Hix

Cynthia Cruz
Death by Water
The Dead Serious Game


Brandon Davis Jennings
Ammoniacal Masculinity: A Brief Exercise in Correlation
Obnoxioneering in a Not-Yet-War; Dakedo, Sayo-fuckin-nar(o)?, Mr. Roboto
Hold Up, Bro. Does That Look Like a Grenade to you?



Rebecca Ashley

This photograph is part of a larger collection that was inspired by one of those moments of serendipity you are always looking for as a photographer. One night as I watched my son engage in a world-altering battle with his action figures, I teasingly grabbed one of his heroes and contorted him into an arabesque. In one moment my past as a dancer and choreographer confronted his present. Our response? To laugh and try another pose. Could he do a grande plié? A tendue? I found that applying structured historical dance poses to these action figures created a tension. Now the faceless figures evoked both the strength of troops in formation and the strength—and rapture—of dancers in performance. Intrigued, I built a small stage with lights for my newly conscripted corps de ballet to inhabit. The more I worked with these figures, the more interesting and seamless this dual “identity” became. The work in this exhibit brings my worlds of dance, parenting, and photography into one sphere where, like a dancer on stage, belief is often suspended and being in the moment is all.

Rebecca Ashley is a freelance photographer living in Hastings on Hudson, NY. To see more of her work visit



Jody Azzouni (“Something Is Wrong with Harry”). His stories and poetry have appeared in AQR, The Madison Review, Chicago Quarterly Review, the Sycamore Review, and Cimarron Review among others. He is also a philosopher and author of a new book, Semantic Perception: How the Illusion of a Common Language Arises and Persists.

Elizabeth Cantwell (poems) lives in Los Angeles, where she is finishing her PhD in Literature & Creative Writing at the University of Southern California. Her poetry has recently appeared in such journals as 1110, Anti-, La Petite Zine, The Los Angeles Review, and PANK. Her forthcoming book, Nights I Let The Tiger Get You, was a finalist for the 2012 Hudson Prize.

Alex Cigale (translation). His poetry has appeared in Asymptote, Colorado Review, Drunken Boat, Green Mountains Review, McSweeney’s online, and North American Review. Cigale’s translations from Russian can be found in Ancora Imparo, Big Bridge, Cimarron Review, Literary Imagination, Modern Poetry in Translation, PEN, Two Lines, and Washington Square Review.

Cynthia Cruz (poetry) is the author of two poetry collections, Ruin and The Glimmering Room. Her third collection is forthcoming in 2014. She lives in Brooklyn and teaches at Sarah Lawrence College.

Ginés S. Cutillas (stories) is from Valencia, Spain. He has published several story collections, including La biblioteca de la vida. He won the International Flash Fiction Award “El Dinosaurio” (La Habana Book Fair), 5th Annual Flash Fiction Competition (Granada Book Fair), Fundación Drac Short Story Award, and the Compressed Literature Flash Fiction Award.

Alan Feldman (poetry) is the author of The Happy Genius, which won the 1979 Elliston Book Award for the best poetry collection published by an independent press; and A Sail to Great Island, which won the 2004 Pollak Prize for poetry. He has work forthcoming in Arroyo, Catamaran, Ploughshares, Southern Review, and Yale Review.

Laurie Frankel’s work (“Exit 55”) has appeared in North American Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, and Shenandoah. She is the author of It’s Not Me, It’s You.

Eamon Grennan (poetry). His most recent poetry collections are Still Life with Waterfall, which won the Lenore Marshall Prize; The Quick of It; and Matter of Fact. He translated Oedipus at Colonus with Rachel Kitzinger. He lives in Poughkeepsie, NY, and whenever he can in Renvyle, a peninsula in the west of Ireland. Each of his poems in this issue speaks of one of these places.

Dan Gutstein (poetry) is the author of non/fiction (stories) and Bloodcoal & Honey (poems). His stories and poems have appeared widely in journals and anthologies.

James Hanna (“Honey Bunny”) is a San Francisco probation officer, a Pushcart nominee, and the fiction editor of The Sand Hill Review. His novel, The Siege, will be published this year.

Janice N. Harrington (poetry). Her collection, Even the Hollow My Body Made Is Gone, won the A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize and the Kate Tufts Discovery Award. Her latest book of poetry is The Hands of Strangers: Poems from the Nursing Home.

Heather Hartley (poetry) is Paris editor at Tin House and the author of Knock Knock. Her poems, essays, and interviews have appeared in or on PBS NewsHour, The Guardian, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. She writes a monthly column, “Aperitif,” for the Tin House website.

Heather Higle (translation) has been working as a freelance translator in Madrid, Spain, for nearly a decade and has translated numerous short stories for acclaimed contemporary Spanish authors, such as Ignacio Ferrando and Mercedes Cebrián.

H.L. Hix (translation). His recent books include a “selected poems,” First Fire, Then Birds: Obsessionals 1985-2010, and a translation, made with the author, of Eugenijus Ališanka’s from unwritten histories. An excerpt from his long poem, American Anger (forthcoming) appeared in TLR The Long Issue.

Brandon Davis Jennings (essays) is an Iraq War veteran from West Virginia and currently lives in Indiana with his wife and two dogs. His work has appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Crazyhorse, TriQuarterly, Black Warrior Review, The Berkeley Fiction Review, among others. He was the winner of Iron Horse Literary Review’s Single Author Chapbook competition 2012, and the 2013 Thomas J. Hrushka Memorial nonfiction contest.

Daniil Kharms (1905–1942), along with Alexander Vvedensky, co-founded the OBERIU, or so-called Russian Absurdist group of poets during the 1920s and 30s. Kharms was not allowed to publish his work and survived for a time by writing poems for children. Having feigned insanity to avoid arrest and deportation to the Gulag, he starved to death in a psychiatric hospital in 1942, during the Nazi siege of Leningrad.

David Luoma (“Volume of Silence”) teaches at Johnson County Community College. He has published stories in Third Coast, Prism Review, SLAB, and Gloom Cupboard. He lives in Kansas, where he is working on a second masters in nursing education.

Nicholas Maistros (“Someone Else’s Boys”) has published stories and essays in Bellingham Review and Nimrod, and his book reviews can be found in Colorado Review. He lives in New York City.

Tautvyda Marcinkevičiūtė (poetry) lives and writes in Kaunas, Lithuania. In addition to her numerous poetry collections, most recently K. E. Lionė, she has translated many English-language works, including the sonnets of Shakespeare and the poetry of Sylvia Plath, into Lithuanian.  Other poems, in English translations by Julie Kane and Rima Krasauskytė, can be found in The Drunken Boat.

Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum (poetry). His first book of poems, Ghost Gear will be out in 2014. Andrew’s work recently appeared or is forthcoming in Blackbird, Ascent, Iron Horse, The Spoon River Poetry Review, Poet Lore, The Missouri Review, Eclipse, Copper Nickel, New Letters, Hayden’s Ferry Review, among others. He edited the anthology, Apocalypse Now: Poems and Prose from the End of Days.

Carrie Messenger (“In the Amber Chamber”) lives in West Virginia. Her work has appeared most recently in Crab Orchard Review, Ecotone, and Fiction International.  Her translations from Romanian have appeared in Circumference, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, and Words Without Borders.

Matthew Minicucci (poetry) is the author of the chapbook Reliquary (2013). His work has appeared in or is forthcoming from The Gettysburg Review, The Southern Review, The Journal, Hayden’s Ferry Review, West Branch, and Crazyhorse, among others.

Kathleen Ossip (poetry) is the author of The Cold War, which was named one of Publishers Weekly’s best books of 2011; The Search Engine, selected by Derek Walcott for the American Poetry Review/Honickman First Book Prize; and Cinephrastics, a chapbook of movie poems. Her new book, The Do-Over, is forthcoming.

Will Pewitt (“With Their Kids, Their Cameras”) is from Austin, Texas and is teaching as a visiting professor at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville. His works have appeared in over a dozen journals and he’s currently ironing out a short story collection.

Ranbir Singh Sidhu (“Good Indian Girls”) is the author of Good Indian Girls, a collection of stories. He has won a Pushcart Prize and a New York State Foundation for the Arts Fellowship. His fiction appears in The Georgia Review, Fence, Zyzzyva, The Missouri Review, Other Voices, Alaska Quarterly Review, The Barcelona Review, and other journals. A new story, “The Tears of Paavo Laht,” appears in The Happy Hypocrite, guest edited by Lynne Tillman.

Jerry Whitus (“Mae in April”). His stories have appeared in MANOA, Nimrod, Potomac Review and Potomac Review online, and the Harvard Review Online. He’s written about film and TV for education, industry and entertainment. He has been an administrator, teacher, and teacher-trainer in universities in the USA, Japan, Singapore, Vietnam (on a USAID grant), and Colombia.

Mark Wunderlich (poetry) is the author of three collections of poetry, the most recent of which is The Earth Avails, forthcoming in 2014. He teaches literature and writing at Bennington College in Vermont, and lives in New York’s Hudson Valley.