Spring 2014

Edited by Andrea Spofford | Barry Kitterman | Amy Wright



Featured Selection / Nonfiction

The Conflicted Archaeologies of Hoosier Cream Pie

Matthew Gavin Frank


When we name our state pie after the sweetest thing we can think of, grab your knees, rub at all that syrupy blood collecting at the base of your skull. Predict the inevitable exhaustion, the crash into the orange recliner in the middle of the house in the middle of the country. Remember its common name: Sugar Cream Pie. Remember: in renaming our favorite dessert after a nonsense demonym that even we incompletely understand, the origins of which even we debate on Sundays after football and church and 4x4x4x4 breakfasts (eggs, pancakes, sausage links, bacon strips), we are perpetuating the narrative that we can think beyond sugar, easy sweetness; that there is some relationship between strip and link beyond the source animal; that, in the mysteries of Hoosier, we can usurp everything that’s obvious about us.

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Our Hoosier Cream Pie is so soft we can cut it with our pinkies. So sweet, we can think only of how it moves us, speeds our hearts, allows us to run from towns called Amboy and Amo, Trafalgar and Troy. Running, we can think of all of our dead aunts and uncles, all of the filled-in quarries, their ceilings waiting to collapse, the kinds of state histories buried beneath rock dust and tablespoons of sugar we allow to burn, harden, lacquer the tops of our Hoosier Cream Pies. So sweet, the glucose will undo our knees, and we will forget why we’ve run all the way out here into the silos and soybeans and water towers that are missing their own towns’ names.

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In strip is the taking away, the removal of. In link, is either the bridge between all of the removed things, or every act of removal.

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Like Indiana, like any new name that merely adds an A to the rear of an existing name, this too is obvious. In the crashing of our bodies, we have to go home. We can buy all the required ingredients for our pie from any gas station on the way out, back.

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Here, we try to convince ourselves: the things that dust us, are different than the things that seal us in. The lid of the sarcophagus is not the same as the windmill, ever-rusted to a stop, etched into its surface.

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Our dead aunts told us: All a Hoosier is on Sundays is flour and cream and vanilla and cinnamon, and butter and pie-crust that once was homemade and now (it’s okay) can be store-bought, and brown sugar, and white sugar, and confectioner’s sugar “for sprinkling.”

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Two kinds of sugar for the crust, a third—the kind most pulverized—for the garnish.

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Here, the things we most break down, are the things most likely to be decorative.

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Hoosier Cream Pie was born in the 1850s when the Shaker populations in Indiana (most likely the West Union Shaker Village in Busro) had to improvise when they found their apple bins empty, and decided to add enough sugar to mimic the energy lent by the fruit.

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The Shakers originally called the pie, Finger Pie, and early recipes demanded that the filling be “stirred with the finger during the baking process,” as the consistency was to be so satiny, the bottom crust so delicate, that any utensil other than a human finger would destroy it.

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The highest quality of quarried limestone in the U.S., known as Indiana Limestone, waits for us in Bloomington. We eat our pie on Sundays, curse the day we will become strong enough to work in these holes. The 358 million-year-old marine fossils, having decomposed at the floor of the inland sea that blanketed Indiana during the Mississippian Period, say nothing, merely release their gas, turn to stone, seal-in yet another precious thing that we’ll one day feel compelled to unearth.

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To unearth is to take away a portion of our planet. To Indiana, is to turn a people into a land, another sort of earth that we empower ourselves, with machines and our bodies, to remove.

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Busro, Indiana was once settled, is now abandoned. According to the Historical Dictionary of the Shakers, “Archeological remains [in Busro] have been unearthed, but are unmarked, and difficult to find.” Exploratory efforts to pinpoint a singular narrative of the community’s habits have been “desperate, at best.”

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Other names for Hoosier Cream Pie: Quarry Pie (a fixture of the quarrymen’s lunch-pails), Mock Apple Pie, Gluey Pie, Mothers Pie, Wet Pie, Pioneer Pie, Desperation Pie.

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Here, we lend the holes we dig into pies and earth the power of prediction. Already we know, beneath the burnt sugar crust, is the sugar cream. That big hole in the ground is the Prophetstown Quarry. That dread we feel when digging is desperate, the high foretelling the crash. The prophets, or fossils, or Indians, or steam, escaping…

*

Here, the fossils whisper their auguries. We know they’re talking about us. What else can we do but counter the calcium carbonate in our blood with sugar, tell ourselves that we’re not like them?

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So soft, our pinkies can exhume the stuff at the center of our pie. At the center of our pie, is not the precious stuff we imagine, but more of the same sweetness, if differently textured. Once the layer of burnt sugar is broken (which a determined pinky can also do), the middle here, is the same as the edges. Sugar needs no explanation. It is our easiest of inheritances.

*

Bill Bryson—an Iowan, no less!—tells us: “There are many suggestions for the derivation of the word [Hoosier], but none is universally accepted.” A Hoosier is a hick and a Hoosier is white trash, and a Hoosier is cheap labor—either white or black—contracted to haul bales of cotton from docks to ships, locking them into position via jackscrews. A Hoosier is a hard-living rough-neck woodsman, and a Hoosier is any unusually large object, especially a hill, the sort of earth boil which such hard-living rough-neck woodsmen (Cumberland immigrants settling in Southern Indiana, perhaps) had to navigate in order to build their homes in the no-see-um-soaked, and beige blankness of the New World.

*

Up here, we can tell ourselves that we live at elevation. We are on top of things. But deep-down we know. It’s just sugar cream pie. Know: hills are false ceilings.

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The highest point in Indiana, at 1,257 feet above sea level, is in rural Franklin Township, is 11 miles off the I-70 (“the nearest major landmark”), is on private property, was scaled (with the landowner’s permission) in 2005 by an Eagle Scout named Kyle Cummings (of Troop 820) who built a rock cairn at the “peak,” is part of the Dearborn Upland, a geologic formation sandwiched between the crust of the Cincinnati Arch, and a ceiling of glacial debris called the Tipton Till Plain, has a topographical relief that’s so hardly noticeable that local geologists can call it only “gentle,” is no more than 30 feet higher than the surrounding farmland, is called Hoosier Hill, is itself about to be usurped in height by a manmade landfill in Randolph County, the first county in the U.S. to consolidate strings of declining rural schools, as if chaining quarry to quarry, as if binding sugar molecule to sugar molecule in a preheated 350-degree oven.

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In order to commune, we must first melt, and then burn, and then harden. We must convince ourselves that we can no longer be broken by the likes of a teaspoon, or pinky.

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Hoosier Hill is afraid that a pile of garbage will overtake its height. This fear usurps even the conflict over its name.

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The outer stuff that protects us is the same as the inner stuff that we protect, except burnt.

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Your dead uncle, quarry-scarred, ever amazed that a big hole can leave such a wake, that an excision can be positive, active, loved to tell you, “It’s all sugar, baby.”

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According to Aimone-Martin Associates, LLC, “Quarry rock blasting is perhaps one of the most challenging aspects facing the aggregates industry today… Quarry operators exercise great care, providing buffers around property, reducing impacts of blasting ground vibrations, and controlling fugitive dust.

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You eat your second slice, wonder if that’s the sugar, or your blood, or the entire state that’s vibrating.

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It’s the burnt sugar at the top of the pie that is the bridge between the softest, sweetest cream, and our mouths. Without silverware, and fingers crushed by limestone, we crack this bridge with our tongues.

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Here, language is the thing that destroys the bonds. A Hoosier, and Hoosier Cream Pie is not, will never be, one connected thing.

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Here, as everywhere, we feed on things who feed on us. In this act, History and Future are just another set of conjoined twins in the farmland on the hill.

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You wonder if the entire state, and its nickname, is a fugitive exercising great care, or indiscriminately blasting, unconcerned about things like buffers, or reduction.

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Your dead uncle called it, Three Sugar Pie, called the resulting heartbeat his Imaginary Friend. To him, Hoosier was a simple question: a sugar-slurred plea, a mispronunciation of Who’s Here?

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This state as if questioning its own existence, as if afraid of its own shadow. As needing a pie this saccharine to carry it away toward any manic, then exhausted, answer.

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And a Hoosier can be a follower of Harry Hoosier, also known as “Black Harry,” a 19th century African-American traveling minister who spoke out against slavery and for the “frontier morality of the common man,” and whose sermons may have empowered Randolph County (home of the growing landfill) to become home also of the first racially-integrated school in Indiana, and one of the first in the country too.

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If we generate morality from the middle, can it then expand outward toward the coasts, or are we doomed, like quarry and pie, to implosion?

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And we wonder, if only on Sundays, which story we want to name our pie after. Which sugar is stronger—the burnt kind, or the kind suspended in the soft cream filling?

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We wonder if the limestone has usurped the original marine fossil. If the limestone can ever divorce itself from its once-living source. If we can ever pulverize it enough to revise it from state industry, crushed skulls, decreased lung function, poor drainage, resurrect all dust as decoration.

*

Indiana poet John Finley published in 1833, “The Hoosier’s Nest,” which finally imposed the label onto Any Indiana Resident (AIR). The poem opens, introducing AIR not so flatteringly, “Untaught the language of the schools / Nor versed in scientific rules,” and moves on to the anchors of the state’s peculiar earth: “But ever as his mind delights / To follow fancy’s airy flights / Some object of terrestrial mien / Uncourteously obtrudes between.”

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These holes are made to collect water, the water as veiling the sharp rocks we’re destined to dive onto. The hives of Hoosiers, Finley says, are destined to swarm, and swarm with our dead.

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Can a hive be a hive without an inevitable swarming? Can a swarm leave anything but a hive? In these hills and holes, where are we, really? And who’s here?

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In 7th grade Social Studies, Mr. Morton told you that in the early 1800s, two rival Frenchmen settled in Indiana and frequented a tavern in the foothills. After sufficient drink, they began to fight over a land claim, and one bit the other’s ear off, spat it to the dirt floor. Later, a third Frenchman walked in, spotted the organ on the ground and, with a curiosity as obvious as sugar, inquired, accented, “Who’sh ear?” We are both that question, Mr. Morton said, and the answer to that question, and you could feel the classroom swell with pride—Ronny Ballenger and Kelly Konopka all but beating their Indiana chests—but you kept thinking about the self as a dismembered ear, about the future of the state, and its capacity to self-identify, as mutilated, imbalanced, imperfectly heard.

*

Who’s here, Cream Pie? And the answer is sugar, sugar, sugar, as if some neurotic attempt to convince ourselves of some historical sweetness, in spite of the salt corroding the limestone we had to dig so deep to mine.

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This beautiful pie we’ve named after our confusing selves lifts us as if into the air, where we have no place to go, but back down.

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Hoosier Cream Pie as gravity. The speed of our flying blood overtaken by a landfill.

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Who’s ear, Cream Pie? And the answer is the Husser’s (an ex-European pirate of the Napoleonic Wars exiled to Indiana), and the answer is the Huissier’s (an ex-French bailiff exiled to Indiana), and the answer is the Hausierer’s (an ex-German traveling salesman exiled to Indiana), or the answer is that of the brachiopod or the cephalopod or any of the other marine animals that have given their ears and eyes and multiply-chambered hearts to our limestone—another kind of exile that we dig up, the dust of the Mississippian swimming in the soft cream of our lungs, and we forget about the ways in which these animals once listened, their versions of ears intact, and we forget, in the magnitude of the explosions, the widening of our quarries, that all exiles are fugitive, and that we’ve named ourselves after nothing solid; after things garbled in the mouth and misheard by the maimed; after something as impermanent as a geologic period, as state boundary, as sound; and we forget that we’ve named the most beautiful of these fossils—the ones shaped like stars and flowers, the ones whose buds we’ve compared to hickory nuts and our own eyes—blastoids.

*

We are crust and the three types of sugar it takes to make it. We are crust and decoration. We are ceiling and the air beneath it. We are coffin and its etching. We are the holes we dig, seal up. Are white trash, are cotton balers, are unusually large hills. We are the running away, and the return—the horse who screams all the way back to the stable where Finley, having stripped the saddle off / He fed him in a sugar- trough and in eating, and in sweetness, and in one trough or another, we are home, and we are home.

*

The weather buries our quarries and the limestone down there is becoming something else. We wonder if this is also something we can feed on.

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Before he stopped breathing, your uncle spoke of a fight that broke out among the quarrymen, which ended when one stabbed another with a sugar knife made from the upper crust of the Hoosier Cream Pie. You wonder if the pie or the quarry is responsible for such aggression, if the softest edible stuff on earth always lurks beneath a blade, if acts such as this belong to dessert, or to job opportunity, or to the still-buried whole-story of The bone and sinew of this State.

*

And Finley says, “Blest Indiana! in thy soil / Are found the sure rewards of toil / Where honest poverty and worth / May make a Paradise on earth,” and your uncle, from the Great Beyond, offers his famed Fuck You, and you marvel at how easily, with a mouthful of Hoosier Cream, the jagged sugar cutting valleys into the softness only your mouth can solve, Blest becomes Blast.

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The calcium carbonate in our limestone communes with that in the eggshells, the snails, the pearls, the earrings we wedge into our good lobes, the antacid we swallow after too much Hoosier Cream Pie.

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Uncle once believed that there was a duck-billed dinosaur down there, entombed in some lower limestone, its eggs responsible for the quality of the rock we are so eager to lend the name of our state to.

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Because the eggs are down there, our Pie is egg-less.

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And Finley says, “And dazzle our astonished eyes…”

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So obvious: we fill our pies with the softest, thickest stuff. In it, is every quarry concealed by water, the fossils we rename after the sounds of the blasts that unearth them. In each—either so buried, or so compressed—there is no air. We’ve stirred it out, as if with our fingers, wait for it to return to us, as if evaporated groundwater, as rain. The names of our Pie permit us to take all of this sweetness in. When we’re told of our history, we cough the flower dust from our lungs, we beat with the sugar of some ancestral stirring finger, we burn our bridges, we listen, this time, with both ears.




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Table of Contents

POETRY

Elizabeth Jackson

Gary L. McDowell

B.J. Best

Suzanne Marie Hopcroft

Christopher Ankney

Carol Hamilton

Maggie Kennedy

Ann Pelletier

Saudamini Siegris


FICTION

Wendell Mayo

Lindsey Drager

Charles Haverty

Squire Babcock


NONFICTION

Man Martin

Geeta Kothari

Judith Hertog

Gretchen VanWormer

Tara Mae Mulroy

Alison Townsend

Kat Meads

Matthew Gavin Frank


TRANSLATIONS

Patrick Donnelly

Stephen D. Miller


INTERVIEWS

Kat Meads


BOOK REVIEWS

​Robert Campbell

Tyler N. Moore

Shannon K. Winston


ART

Philippe Pirrip