From the Jeopardy! category SPOILER ALERTS

Julie Marie Wade

First, the light & how to describe it—part Manila envelope, part Ticonderoga pencil. Casserole golden at times, then orange as a giant brick of cheese, then brown as tater tots crammed into cargo pant pockets. Idaho may make you squint & squirm, crave some nachos, drink raw eggs from a glass. Yes, the chickens have large talons. It’s an underdog state fit for an underdog story. Note the tetherball sun & the boondoggle clouds. Note the iconic llama cameo. (There’s a small chance our cat is called Tina because of this film.) Second, the plot & how to recount it—Uncle Rico never did throw a football over them mountains, never did strike it rich selling knock-off Tupperware or breast-enhancing supplements. But Pedro shaved his head & became class president. Kip & LaFawnduh fell in love online, then boarded a Greyhound bus together. And our eponymous protagonist, unlikely hero of the Gemstone State, won a talent show dancing to Jamiroquai’s “Canned Heat.” Preston seems a sparse, dry place, far from the grid, nary the site of a tourist’s pilgrimage. Dust coats bicycle tires & Rollerblades, hovers above the highways like an unholy halo. It would be nice if you could pull me into town. Third, the supporting cast & how we remember them—Grandma breaks her coccyx on a dune buggy ride; Starla blushes at a Bust Must testimonial; Rex dubs himself sensei of his own dojo while clad in Hammer pants fashioned from an American flag. Critics called it a “quirky charmer,” a “one-hit wonder,” a “weird-ass fairy tale.” They’re not wrong. If you got it, odds are you drew some ligers in your notebooks, too, took some Glamour shots in your basement once upon a time. Now just imagine you’re weightless, in the middle of the ocean, surrounded by tiny seahorses. If you loved it, you’re probably more Deb than Summer Wheatley to this day. More enterprising than prize-winning perhaps, but with a certain staying power, the paradox of which is the way it helps you leave. (Even then, Deb was earning money for college with her home-woven handicrafts.) What amazes me is how we all know a Summer Wheatley, don’t we? Mine was Marissa Sheldon, was Kendra Kostrich, was Julie Winder—who still lives in my town & works at the bowling alley. The other two are unfindable on Facebook. They were cheerleaders way back when, with ESPRIT sweatshirts slipping off their slender shoulders & Keds tennis shoes forever bright-white as the day they bought them. They washed their hair with exotic products like Pantene & VO5 clarifying shampoo. Somehow they always chewed gum the teachers never confiscated, ate Funyuns & SweeTarts by the carton but never gained weight. These were the girls who had it easy or made it look easy—it’s hard to know which. They never seemed to sweat or stink or spill on their clothes, let alone bleed. Whatever they said became Gospel. Whatever they did set the newest trend. But they don’t make many movies about the goodfits, do they? Summer Wheatley isn’t a film in my Netflix queue. I wonder about her, though, like I wonder about Marissa & Kendra & Julie, who shared my name but not my story. Is Summer snickering at her boss from behind her Steno-thin cubicle walls, sending NSFW memes at work, cyberbullying on the Moms of Preston message board? Or maybe she’s flirting with customers at Big J’s Burgers, some of whom remember her when, one of whom offered to pay for Botox if she’d spend one night with him. “What do you think this is—Indecent Proposal?” But then she did it because Trisha, her still-BFF, said she should. Both of them are tired of the old joke: “Is it I-da-ho or you-da-ho?” Tired of guys who stop by for some curly fries & to reminisce about the Happy Hand Jobs Club. “I swear that’s what it was called,” Don smirks, like he’s been smirking all his life. Maybe Summer married him right after high school. Maybe they have a tribe of towheaded children by now. Or maybe they’re divorced but still fight daily over the phone. Can’t stop running into each other in their one exit ramp town. If there’s a moral to this story, it’s that you can make a piñata of whomever you like. Better, perhaps—a piñata of whatever you want. Don’t ask the principal for permission. Just go outside, close your eyes & strike with all your might.

“What is Napoleon Dynamite?


2022 Pushcart Prize Nominees!

Congratulations to our nominees for the annual Pushcart Prize! Our editors are proud to nominate the below poems, short stories, and essay for Pushcart Prize XLVIII:


Lee Ann Roripaugh, “To My Cancer, Excised by Da Vinci Robot: Kaze no Denwa”
Teo Shannon, “Trajectory”


Mary Kate McGrath, “Gorgeous Vibrations”
Ellen Rhudy, “Dawn of the New Age”
Austyn Wohlers, “The Archivist”


Julie Marie Wade, “Story Problems”

Best of luck to these talented writers. Purchase a copy of The Florida Review, or subscribe, to read their fine work!



The Voices of Women

The Unrhymables: Collaborations in Prose by Denise Duhamel and Julie Marie Wade

Noctuary Press, 2019

Paperback, 270 pp., $16.00


Cover of The Unrhymables by Julie Marie Wade and Denise Duhamel.


The Unrhymables: Collaborations in Prose brings together the voices of poets Denise Duhamel and Julie Marie Wade whose harmonizing take the reader across a spectrum of topics—marriage, divorce, body image, motherhood, queerness, and womanhood.  Duhamel and Wade’s use of the lyric essay format, propelling the reader by associative leaps and thematic recurrence rather than causal narratives, allows them to zoom in on individual words and concepts in order to peel back their associations layer by layer.  This elasticity of the conversation between the two women pulls the reader into the conversation with them in a unique way.  The authors are writing from different perspectives, Duhamel almost a generation apart in age from Wade, yet their assemblage of experience blends in such a way that it becomes a kind of Everywoman experience. The sisterhood cadence throughout is undeniable and takes us places we might not expect to go.  One can imagine sitting on a sofa, late into the night, listening to an intimate conversation with two women as they compare their lives’ experiences and explore the challenges of womanhood from a generational standpoint—this is the intrinsic quality of The Unrhymables.


The book is constructed with thirteen thematically linked essays created by micro-memoirs, some of which are sub-titled, from both Duhamel and Wade, moving the conversation back and forth in a fluid motion within each essay. The most challenging aspect for the reader, but evidence of a discernible synergy between the two authors, is the fact that their voices are indistinguishable at times—only separated by inferences to their sexual orientation, coming of age experiences, and their childhood—which are filled with societal and cultural references that invariably reveal the particular author. In the essay “Pink,” Wade learns about the Nazi downward facing “pink triangle” used to identify homosexual Jews, and Duhamel responds with her experiences in New York City during the AIDS crisis and how the Silence=Death slogan’s logo “turned that pink triangle right-side-up.”  Both authors experience the same kind of emotions, only years apart in different contexts.  This kind of navigational point occurs frequently throughout the prose and directs the conversations.  Should the reader not know some of the more intimate details of the authors’ lives, nor have read other works by Duhamel and Wade, one could conceivably read the text without knowing exactly which one is speaking.


However, the hybrid nature of this collection is what takes The Unrhymables to new heights. From writing about colors—“White,” “Pink,” “Red,” “Blue,” “Green,” and “Black”—and exploring their personal, historical, and cultural associations, to constructing a Scrabble edition including tandem essays “N1E1A 1R1  and  “E1 R1 A1 S1,”  both of which deal with homosexual acceptance in society, Duhamel and Wade take every opportunity to speak through other poets and writers or mention their work.  In fact, the book has no less than 188 references.  In an especially powerful and poignant moment, Wade recites Orlando poet Stephen Mills’s poem “The History of Blood” to weave into the narrative her fears about gay violence, “Another gay boy got bashed in Miami this week, nearly beaten / to death on his way home from a club. The man’s fist / smashed the boy’s glittered face, like my glittered face dancing / at the gay bar every weekend.”


The essay “S1A1L1T1” sings with Wade’s inattentional-blindness, referencing the poet Elizabeth Bishop without explanation to the audience. The reference is subtle to an average reader—probably missed by most—but familiar to poetry readers. Wade points out in the opening lines of the essay, “If this were chess, I’d choose the bishop and call her Elizabeth. I’d praise her for her smooth slants, her incomparable zigs and zags—never straightforward, never straight back. ‘Elizabeth is a queen’s name’ someone would say. Only poets would understand.”  She follows this with “For years I read ‘In the Waiting Room’ in waiting rooms.” Then, a paragraph later, she does it again as she talks about ordering an omelet for breakfast while in Colorado and how she is chastised by her order-taker for expecting the waitress to associate a Denver omelet with a Western omelet, “But when the fluffed eggs appeared, folded sideways and smothered with sharp cheese, it was ‘A Miracle for Breakfast’—another Bishop poem.” All of this to explain the “extra-textual juxtaposition” of bringing art and life together in a literal fashion. It’s this sideways slide found in Wade’s work that makes her such a joy to read.


Nonfiction prose is a departure from Duhamel’s award-winning poetry, but experimentation within her work is not. She is known for playing with pantoums, villanelles, and forms of her own invention such as “porn poetry.” And it’s not the first time she has paid homage to her women forebearers or engaged with feminism in her work. Readers will not find the whimsical poet of “Rated R” in the pages of this collection, but they will find Duhamel’s candid approach as she brings to life the times in our history when our mothers and grandmothers faced much tougher times in terms of equality, racism, and sexism. On occasion, the poet does emerge and takes the reader on a delicious ride, as in “Kaboom,” the sub-titled essay within “Word Problems,” where she writes about wonky words such as boondoggle and conundrum. She even thanks Edgar Allen Poe for tintinnabulation. Readers will appreciate her simple and subversive delivery as she tackles difficult subjects, bringing wisdom to the page. Her details of the sixties and seventies, where many of her experiences resonate with an older generation of readers, also offer deep insight as her gaze is juxtaposed against Wade’s younger perspective.


The final culmination of the dual voices—and the voices even beyond their own two—comes in a glossary at the end of the book akin to Susan Bee and Johanna Drucker’s Fabulas Feminae; Duhamel and Wade’s version includes more than a hundred women and girls from the authors’ personal lives as well as public figures, from past and present, literary figures, and fictional characters. It’s really an homage to the wonderful mixture of women—the scholars, the feminists, the divas, the poets, the victims, the comedians, the fashionistas, the heroines, the goddesses, the icons, the red-heads, the singers, the writers, the sirens, the childhood friends, the movie stars, the classmates, and yes, even the grandmas—who inspired or influenced Duhamel and Wade specifically, but all of us really, in some way.


The book feels like a fresh approach to collaboration. While the authors each take turns giving their thoughts on the same subjects, I didn’t find an established order as I read. In other words, I might read two essays written by Duhamel, followed by one of Wade’s. As in a conversation, one person might have more to say than the other, and this is what makes their collaboration so fluid and natural. By placing their voices side by side, they allow the reader to gain insight into what has or hasn’t changed from one generation to the next. More importantly, I believe the prose embodies the voices of all women, past and present, as influencers of Duhamel and Wade.


After reading The Unrhymables, I have to ponder the idea of the collaboration as a hybrid in addition to the body of work. It’s that sideways slide again: the idea of the offspring from two varieties, composed of different elements, produced through human manipulation for a specific genetic characteristic. The result is a consonant cluster of sorts—Dwade, I call iteach of their notes produced simultaneously to create a particularly savory tone.


Three Poems


open the call box—
the black phone handle, barraged
with red fire ants.



Hugh and I started a band called Lonely Couple
and wrote a song by the same name.
We only performed it a handful of times, in Boston,
where were undergrads. I was the lead singer,
I thought though, looking back, we harmonized:

Wilfred Bourgeois, you’re part of us
And this is a song for you

So I guess I was simply a singer without an instrument.

Our friends have left us all alone
At this lonely table for two.
Wilfred, would you marry us?
It’s the hardest thing to do…

I played the accordion and keyboard
but we didn’t own either. Hugh strummed a guitar
with a colorful strap from Guatemala. He’d make
me dinner at his Kenmore Square apartment—
usually spaghetti with ketchup
that he thought was the same thing
as tomato sauce. I didn’t have the heart to tell him
there was such a thing as jarred Ragu, and besides,
it actually tasted good. This was what marriage was
about in the abstract, learning to love another’s innocence
and quirks. He was dreamy as he played his chords,
but we knew he was headed for the Peace Corps
and I for grad school. Wilfred Bourgeois,
my uncle, had visited us and made quite an impression,
so much so that we put him in a song.
He had lost his wife when she was young
and never remarried. Maybe we saw him as a romantic—
and that Hugh and I would love each other more
if we weren’t together forever. But it occurs to me now
how smart we were not to pin each other down,
how we drifted on without too much drama.
We populated our band with classmates, theater
or music majors, who came and went.
Some would later become famous
for sex addiction or Wall Street banking.
One of these guys had a girlfriend in cosmetology school
who teased my hair with a tiny pronged comb
so I could more resemble Kate Pierson from the B52s.
I knew how to shake on stage, but grew stiff
if someone tried to take me home after the show.
I wasn’t married to Hugh and never would be,
but we had loyalty and respect. I’m remembering him
and all this, which I’m surely remembering
at least partially wrong, because I found the lyrics
of our one and only original song
in Hugh’s perfect penmanship. It was folded
in the laminated menu of an Indian restaurant
where we apparently performed once
for a samosa and dal.



& what one reviewer calls
the “sly female squiggle”
in reviewing Julie’s new book
which is full of ampersands
& magic that makes me see
the ampersand’s tilted hip,
one leg folded up & sat upon.
The Latin curvy cursive,
& her French cousin, the treble clef,
were my favorite symbols
to draw as a kid. How easy it was then
to conflate words & music. The &
folded one leg atop the opposite
knee, a calf draped below,
a foot hooked, dangling a shoe.
The appeal of all that coiling
& twirling, notes & script—
one definition, I suppose, of verse.
O, ampersand, you bring
two names closer together
than even the word “and,”
which, according to the Writers Guild,
simply means that those credited
worked on the same screenplay
but quite possibly at different times,
maybe one even rewriting
the other’s work. An ampersand
between writers’ names
means that the two
were in the same room, collaborating
side by side, & though technically
I write this ode alone, it is really
with Julie Marie Wade (poet)
& Sarah Sarai (reviewer)
who make me remember
how much I loved to draw
the ampersand & treble clef
& play the keyboard
which I learned from Mr. Solek
who was a member of a polka band
called The Happy Bachelors,
& he did seem happy
as an adult who wasn’t part
of a Mr. & Mrs. or a Mr. and Mrs.
The Dating Game was big then.
“Bachelorette Number One,
if the whole world were listening,
what would you say?” The cover
of the Bachelors’ album was pink
which didn’t imply anything
to me at the time, but now I wonder
if those bachelors were gay—
Mr. & Mr. or Mr. and Mr.—
or simply young & hetero
& capitalizing on their single status
like boy bands do now.
The Bachelors recorded together
in a studio, twisting horns
& button accordions,
the “sly female squiggle”
a part of all creation. I listened
to the album on my parents’
record player & imagined
all the kinds of adultness
I could possibly one day inhabit,
all the associations of sound & symbol
& word. I thrilled at the polka music
that lived inside the polka dot,
the pulsating bouncing ball
in the “Sing Along with Mitch,”
the seed that would one day blossom
into karaoke. Yesterday
the Supreme Court
struck down DOMA
which meant a lot of celebration
& yet this morning we read
that the ruling won’t help couples
in the 35 states that have laws against
gay marriage & sometimes an “&”
feels more like a “but.” “Bachelorette
Number Two, if you could live anywhere,
where would that be?” I download
the actual ruling & am soon adrift
in legalese. Nothing & everything
has seemed to change this 27th day
of June in the year 2013.
My sister & her husband celebrate
their 32nd anniversary
in Florida, where two women
in love can’t wed. I’m in Portugal
where transportation workers,
fed up with austerity measures, strike,
but those who can afford it
flag down taxis, the drivers of which
are happy for the extra work.
One tells me about his memories
of the Carnation Revolution
&, because he was a kid
when it happened, how
he thought every conflict
from there on in would be solved
with flowers in rifle muzzles.
I feel the same nostalgia for
Roe vs. Wade &, since I was a kid
when it passed, I am dismayed
Wendy Davis had to filibuster
two nights ago in Texas.
“Bachelorette Number Three,
if you could travel back or forward
in time, what year would you visit
and why?” How easy it is for me
even now to conflate words & music,
memory & fact,
& that one simple afternoon
when I wrote my first song
in the book Mr. Solek
gave me, the pages lined
with staffs, & I made my ornate
treble clef, & writing
was writing, & marriage
was in a far off key
I could barely hear, & then I made
an ordinary sandwich
& read the liner notes
on The Happy Bachelors’ LP sleeve
& each ampersand flipped
to become shoulders & arms,
hugs between each musician’s name.

“Ode to the Ampersand” references Sarah Sarai’s review of Julie Marie Wade’s book Postage Due (White Pine Press, 2013) in Lambda Literary.