Topography Online: Winter 2015


Art by John Denmat

We are pleased to present to you the inaugural online issue of Topography, a literary journal exploring geographical and cultural identities; our sense of place in the world.

This online issue includes:

Windows,” a story by Justin Spaller

Building,” a poem by Hannah Melville-Weatherbee

The Opposite of a Mass Killing, a spoken word poem by Timo Sargent

Working Cattle, Working Men,” a poem by Emily Dial-Driver

To learn more about our contributors, click here. 





We are pleased to announce that the next submission period for our magazine starts today. Topography #2 will be published in the summer of 2016. We will be accepting submissions through April 30th. We seek exceptional poetry, fiction and essays with a strong sense of place. Our aim is to explore the link between geographical and cultural origins and personal identity. Send your work to us at we can’t wait to read it!




by Justin Spaller

When the cops got Ziggy for peeping, like the good friend that he was, Dave went and got him. Zig was sitting in a steel chair, head slung like it always was when he was down, and when he looked up at Dave, his lips stayed together—even as he forced a smile. Dave examined his friend. All the parts that made Ziggy Ziggy were in place: the braided goatee, the sunken eyes, the bony frame. He could have been mistaken for a meth addict. The girl must have lost her shit when she saw him through her window.

Dave and Jess were having some words when he got the call. It was late, Ellie was teething; everyone was tired. Jess was convinced Alana was coming down with something. Also, they were showing the house in the morning and they needed to sell it quickly. Jess had read something on the internet about how simple staging could increase the value of a place by ten grand. Dave had argued that they weren’t getting shit over 110, anyway; 115 if they were lucky. They were too close to the freeway. And what did it matter?

But hearing from Ziggy made Dave feel good about things, even if it meant picking him up from the slammer. He was slow getting off the phone, and even considered asking Zig what he thought of the new Slayer album. But the distress in Ziggy’s voice made it clear that he was being rushed. This wasn’t that kind of call.

At the station, Dave tried making friendly with the officer on duty. She was young and petite, but thick in the spots that mattered. He was surprised they’d found a uniform that fit her so well. He tried to make a crack about his best friend of nineteen years.

“Does this guy look like a peeper to you?” He grabbed Ziggy’s jaw and rattled it affectionately. Ziggy’s teeth clicked together.

She looked at Ziggy, then Dave, then handed Dave something to sign.

In the end, it was just a misdemeanor, so he was ticketed and released. But now he was in the system, and if they caught him doing it again there’d be trouble. Ziggy’s record was relatively clean, save a few instances from back in high school. But now that he was officially tagged as a peeper, any more run-ins would be “problematic.” The boys were always a little harder on a pervert, she said.

“Well, Jesus,” said Dave. “He’s not a damn serial killer.” On the way out the door, he stole one last look at the officer.

In the pickup, Dave waited for Zig to bring it up, but he didn’t.

Then he said, “How about that lady cop in there, huh?” But Zig didn’t respond. “You know,” said Dave. “You’re allowed to say thank you. That’s something people generally do in these kinds of situations.” He waited. “Zig?”

“It’s fucking embarrassing, man.”

“Well what were you doin’ anyway?”

“I don’t know.”

The streets were quiet so late at night. They passed the old church festival grounds, an empty parking lot, what used to be the Briggs and Stratton building: things from the past.

For Ziggy, it had been a long night. He was ready to go to his studio apartment on 37th, pull out the futon and crash. But when Dave suggested beers, Ziggy knew it wasn’t just a suggestion. Dave had a way about him, and Zig never could say no.

They pulled up to Dave’s little house on 63rd and parked on the side of the road. Walking up the driveway, Dave said, “We gotta keep it down. Unless you wanna deal with Jess and the kids.”

A motion light flicked on when they got to the detached garage in the back. Dave pulled open the main door, quietly, and flipped on the fluorescents. The fake lighting from inside gave the impression of a gigantic television screen in the darkness of the night.

“What the hell happened in here?” said Ziggy.

“We’re showing it tomorrow.”

All the beer cans and cigarette butts that previously littered the concrete floor were swept up and the nudie posters had been taken down. Dave’s Camaro even had a nice shine to it. A relic passed down from Dave Sr., the thing hardly ran anymore. It was an ugly pea-green with rust spotting around the wheel wells, but it was clean. Last time Ziggy was over, Jess asked Dave how much they could get for it, but Dave said not in this lifetime. Zig knew they were hard up, but hell, so was he. So was everyone, he figured.

Ziggy hardly recognized the garage. It was somewhere he’d spent countless hours drinking and smoking, shooting the shit, sharing stories. Ziggy’s life consisted of few things, but at the top of the list were the moments when he and Dave just sat, sharing a joint while the entire Ride the Lightning album played through the garage speakers.

“I don’t know why you’re moving, anyway.”

“Jess says we need more space for the girls.”

“But you already have all the space you need. You got everything you need.”

“Well,” said Dave. “Ain’t enough for Princess.”

Dave pulled two lawn chairs down from hooks on the garage wall and set them up in the open doorway. Then he took out two beers from the small fridge under his workbench.


They didn’t turn on the stereo until the third or fourth beer. The sky was at its darkest, and though it was late July, Ziggy kept his arms close to his body to conserve heat. It didn’t take much for him to feel a chill.

Ziggy was never much of a drinker, wasn’t one for getting all fucked up. Normally, Zig drank one beer for every two of Dave’s, but seeing how he’d had a rough night and this could be the last time ever in Dave’s garage, he was keeping up.

Around beer five, Ziggy was starting to slip up with his words a bit, starting to feel stupid. He didn’t have Dave’s size or tolerance. He was ready for Dave to call it a night, for Dave to tell him, “Why don’t you just set up shop in the basement? I’ll get some eggs going in the morning.” There was a cot down there and a utility sink where Zig could hold  his head under the faucet and drink before crashing. Splash some water on his face in the morning.

But it didn’t look like Dave had any intention of stopping. He got up and grabbed two more beers, then rifled through the top couple drawers of his toolbox before pulling out a small joint. “She couldn’t get all of ‘em,” he said. “I always got a back-up-J.”

Then Dave turned the knob of the stereo up a couple notches. “This is a good one,” he said. A high-pitched distorted guitar riff shot from the garage and echoed off the back of the house.

He sat back down, and just as he was about to spark the lighter, the window from the bedroom opened and a voice came from it. “God dammit Dave!”

The two sat quietly, waiting, until finally the window slammed shut with a yell of, “Unbelievable!”

“You’re lucky you don’t have to deal with this shit,” said Dave.

Ziggy didn’t say anything. He twirled his four-inch, braided goatee and stared at the closed window.

Dave got up and turned the music down, then took the joint between his thumb and first finger and gave it to Zig. “Hold this for a minute, would ya?” he said. Then he went into the house through the side door, the rickety screen slamming behind him.

Ziggy watched the window as the light flicked on. Behind the shade, he could see the silhouette of Jess sitting up in bed, then Dave sitting down to join her. There were muffled words between them that Ziggy couldn’t quite make out. It was a bit like watching a sitcom. He desperately wanted to hear what was being said. He wanted to know what they said to each other in the privacy of a bedroom. He wondered what he might say to Jess if he were Dave. How he would comfort her.

At first their voices sounded quick and harsh. The silhouette of Jess’s arms were frantic. It made Ziggy uncomfortable, seeing them fight like that. But a few minutes later he saw the shape of Dave’s head nodding, his chin falling to the base of his neck. The voices fell to a quiet murmur then Dave’s arms appeared, and his hands cupped Jess’s face. Ziggy couldn’t take his eyes away. Then the two shadowy figures embraced, and Dave rubbed circles on Jess’s back.

Ziggy swallowed hard.

The light went out and Dave came back outside. “I told her what was what,” he said. “We just gotta keep it down a bit.” He sat back down, stole the joint away from Ziggy, and lit it. After, they smoked cigarettes, but there didn’t seem to be much to talk about.

A raccoon fought to get into the neighbor’s trashcan, and after ten minutes of clawing and sniffing, it gave up and waddled on.

“What a life, man,” said Dave.

“What?” said Ziggy. He had been thinking of the siding of her house, when the flashes of red and blue hit it. He could even see the colors reflecting from her pale skin through the window. When he squinted, he could almost see the colors coming together, leaving a shade of purple on her perfectness. She had been brushing her long dark hair, in easy, delicate strokes. When she set the brush down on her desk, it was done with such care and sweet intention, he’d wished his hand had been there to receive it. He would have thumbed its grooved handle and felt its weight on the bones of his hands. He didn’t even mind when the cop grabbed his shoulders and shined a light in his face.

He heard the cop say, “Found him just standing there.”

But what killed Ziggy was when she said, “I’ve never seen him before in my life.”

“Fuckin’ rodents,” said Dave. “I think I got a bb-gun around here somewhere.”

But Ziggy said, “Do you remember Lisa McCoy?”

Dave gave Ziggy an incredulous look and slapped Zig’s knee with the back of his hand. “Do I remember Lisa McCoy?” He cracked a quick laugh.

“Do you remember how she used to let guys finger her in the cafeteria?”

“Do I remember?” Dave grabbed Ziggy’s knee with his big palm and tried to look him in the eye, but Ziggy was staring at the dividing line between the driveway and the garage. “Zig, that was me. I remember her letting me finger her in the cafeteria. You were sittin’ practically right next to us.”

“Right,” said Ziggy. “I forgot.”

“You forgot? Where’s your head at man? No more back-up-Js for Zig.”

Ziggy got up and stumbled to the cooler to grab two more beers. His movements were slow, and when he got to the cooler, he started gesturing to himself. Instead of opening the cooler, he moved his hands in speech. He was having an imaginary conversation. Even though Dave always told him to quit it ‘cause it make him look like a damned lunatic, whenever he got stoned, there was no helping it.

When Ziggy sat back down, Dave stared at him with a comically large smile.

“What made you think about Lisa?” said Dave.

“No reason.”


“Seriously, it’s nothing.”

“Fine.” But when the album was over and there was nothing to fill the space, Dave said, “You always did have a thing for her, didn’t you? You were always a bit jealous.”

“No I wasn’t.”

“Yeah, yeah you were.”

“I wasn’t fuckin’ jealous, man.”

“Alright, alright,” said Dave. “Take it easy.”

Ziggy drank from the beer can. His hand felt cold, pressed against the chilled aluminum. He was drunk now, and the sky was just beginning to brighten with the oncoming day.

Dave said, “Where were ya tonight, Zig?”


A month back, he’d seen her outside a bar down by Miller Park when he was walking home. He stopped dead in the middle of the sidewalk; he couldn’t believe it was her. He’d been lost in his thoughts, perfectly content walking the familiar streets. But now, seeing her dig through her purse and pull out a stick of gum—her hair neat but somehow tousled at the same time—stirred up a forgotten longing to be close to someone. Years had gone by since he’d even seen her, but there was Lisa McCoy. She was dressed for a night out, but not in a trashy kind of way. She was perfect. Ziggy considered approaching her, but just the idea of talking to her made him lock up. She started walking down National Avenue, and while Ziggy kept his distance, he began to follow her. He tried to keep calm the scuffle of his worn skate shoes, meanwhile feeling every click of her heels as though it came from his chest. He wondered why she didn’t take a cab, or catch a ride from someone. It wasn’t safe to walk these streets alone. He felt a great sense of purpose just then. She was walking home alone, and he was her protector.

Her house was only a couple blocks from the bar. It was a small apartment in a brick duplex on 49th street. Ziggy watched her fumble with her keys from the corner, and when she looked in his direction, he quickly walked off, terrified to look back.


Dave handed Ziggy another cigarette, and Ziggy took it between his lips. After struggling with the lighter, he finally got it lit, and looked over at Dave, who was looking intently at him.

“You were at Lisa’s,” he said.

Ziggy sat there quietly, dragging on the cigarette. He recited the address to her house in his head, something he’d done a lot lately: 1128 S. 49th St. Then he said, “You know what the worst thing is?”

“What’s that?”

“She didn’t even remember me.”

Dave shook his head, “No man, of course she remembers you. She probably just didn’t recognize you. She must have been terrified.”

“No, I’m telling you,” said Ziggy. “She didn’t remember me. She said I never seen him before in my life.”

Dave got up and walked a circle around the garage. “No man. She has to remember you. The three of us were practically inseparable. Remember all the shit we used to get into?”

“I’m tellin’ you man.” Ziggy’s voice was meek.

“That’s bullshit,” said Dave. “She has to remember you. We were like a fuckin’ trio. Remember when we used to crash Hickland’s parties. I’d roll up in the Camaro, and everyone would be all like ‘What’s under the hood?’ and shit? She’s gotta remember.”

“Well, she don’t.”

Dave sat back down and the two of them were silent for some time. Ziggy wished he hadn’t brought her up. He felt embarrassed, exposed, and now somehow painfully aware of the fact that he’d never been with a woman.

“Shit,” said Dave. “Gettin’ late. We gotta get you home.”

“Cool if I crash in the basement?”

“I don’t think so, pal. We’re showing it tomorrow. Jess wouldn’t be too happy with me.”

“Right,” said Zig.

Ziggy started walking to the pickup parked on the street, but Dave called him back. “Zig,” Dave said. “Let’s take this guy out for a spin.” He pounded softly on the rear fender of the Camaro with a closed fist.

When they were in the car, Dave put a key into the ignition and turned it, causing the starter to whine like an old, hungry dog. Only it didn’t fire up. The smell from the car’s interior, oily and metallic, flooded Ziggy with memories from when they were younger. He’d be in the backseat, with Lisa sitting shotgun on a warm summer day. Even with no one else back there, he sat in the middle so he could be in on the conversation.

Dave whispered to the car, “C’mon now. C’mon.” He turned the key again, and after several more times the old engine finally turned over and roared to life.

As they moved slowly from the garage and down the driveway, Ziggy looked closely at the bedroom window. Just as they passed it, he thought he saw the light flick on, but he couldn’t be sure. When they pulled into the street, Dave looked at the house and said, “Won’t even get 105 for the damned thing.”


In the early dawn, Ziggy figured the few cars they passed were actually headed somewhere important. All he wanted to do was go home. He wanted to be in bed and figure things out in the morning.

Ziggy watched as Dave drove the car down the street. He looked happy, and at stop signs, he would hold the clutch and give it a little gas, something he used to do all the time back in the day.

“Still got a little life, hey Zig?”

At a stoplight on National Avenue, instead of revving the engine, Dave said, “You know, Lisa was something else.”

Ziggy sat watching the red of the light.

“I’m not really sure what happened between us.”

“I wonder if she’d remember me,” said Dave. “I mean, she’s gotta, right?”

The light stayed red, and another car pulled up behind the Camaro. Then another one behind that.


“Yeah, man. I’m sure,” he said.

“So where’s she living these days?”

“What?” said Ziggy.

“You heard me.”

Ziggy considered that the light might be stuck.

“I don’t know, man.”

“Ha!” said Dave. “What do you mean, you don’t know? Of course you know.”

“I just wanna go home.” He was relieved when the light finally turned green and Dave was silent. Dave drove a couple blocks, whistling a song Ziggy wasn’t familiar with. But then he pulled over to the side of the road and put the car in neutral.

He looked at Ziggy and said, “Zig. You know you’re the best friend I ever had. You know that, right?”

Ziggy stared at him blankly.

Then, because Dave had that way about him, he said, “Why don’t we stop by and sort this whole thing out. I’ll explain everything, Zig. She has to remember you. It’ll all be sorted out.”

And because Ziggy never could say no, he said, “She lives down on 49th street. In a little duplex off National.”

Everything was in motion now. The Camaro was moving again, faster than before, just making all the yellow lights. Ziggy could feel the blood churning from within his bony body.

Dave turned on to 49th Street and looked at Zig, waiting. There was her house, but it looked different in this light. It looked fake.

Ziggy pointed to the brick duplex and said, timidly, “1128.”

Dave said, “Think she’ll remember me?” He got out of the car and slammed the door. Ziggy watched carefully as Dave looked up and down the street to see if anyone else was around. He felt a tinge of excitement as Dave walked slowly up the path to the front porch. Dave waved back at Zig, smiling wide. Then he turned toward the door and began lobbing fist after fist, pounding on her front door, calling out her name. His voice was calm but persistent.

Ziggy watched his friend intently. Dave was going to sort the whole thing out. He was going to tell Lisa it was just a misunderstanding. He’d remind her of what a good guy Ziggy was. They could all laugh about it, even. Dave would explain everything. He was that kind of friend.




by Hannah Melville-Weatherbee

We were looking at it wrong,
trying to build a house from the ground up.
We must have forgotten the first home we built
when we were small and still knew how to make things.
There weren’t blueprints
or pipes
or concrete
or glass.
We filled negative space with lilacs
and as they grew
our house became sturdy
And then we could paint on the walls,
Cover it with our names,
Line up plastic juice bottles on the low branches
to watch the sun cross through.

Working Cattle/Working Men

Working Cattle/Working Men

by Emily Dial-Driver

Heat-shimmered air
Sits heavily
Under a whitehot sky
Men in boots raise their sweatdark hats
To wipe their eyes
And say, “Sure is a scorcher.”
Nodding one to the other in wisdom
of those umbilicalled to the land
Bawling, roiling cattle burst over the rise
To crowd into pens
To be pushed into chutes
Wild-eyed, heavy-horned range cattle
Glazed-eyed, white-eyed, heavy-boned range cattle
Bred over the brown grass
Born in thickets of mesquite thorn
Sold in dust-moted auction barns
With floors of thick spittle
Dying in slaughterhouses
With slick floors
Culls and sale-prides chuted into mawed trucks
Calves roped and dogged
Castrated, earmarked, vaccinated and loosed
Bull, shaking his massive head,
Impatiently impotently waiting
to grind the danger and make
the dust stick
Cows bawling frantically
Lost and alone in the herd
Untrucked cattle
Kinking their tails
In a sudden burst of flight
Before they are out of sight
lowering their heads
to tear the shortgrass even shorter
Men knocking their hats against their legs
Men loading geldings and mares into trailers
and pickup beds–go on up there now
Men using hands to slurp water from galvanized 25-gallon jugs
And rinse
a sunburnt and wind-reddened clean oval of face
and clean handprint of neck
in the overall grit
“Good herd.  Right nice.”
“Right nice job.”


Launch Party!

Do you like hearing poems and stories while sipping beer and eating free food? Do you want to get your hands on our inaugural issue?

We will be launching our magazine at Pub Night, hosted by the UMASS-Boston Creative Writing MFA program!!!!

The party will be at Doyle’s Cafe in Dorchester, 5:00-8:00 PM on Tuesday, December 8th.

Bring an appetite, some friends, and five bucks to buy your copy of the FIRST ISSUE EVER of Topography Magazine.

We can’t wait to see you!

Call for Submissions!

We want to read your writing! We are seeking previously unpublished poetry, short fiction, and personal essays that demonstrate, explore, or identify with strong cultural and/or geographic identities. We are also interested in works in translation.

Please submit by November 16th to:

We currently do not offer compensation for published work.


Topography explores the way in which our sense of place, where we are and where we come from, informs the writers we become. Our geographical and cultural identities, like topography itself, are multi-dimensional. The magazine publishes exceptional work that centers around developing a sense of place in North America. This may be done in a number of ways, including explorations of language and dialect, or thematic elements such as isolation and heritage. Ultimately, Topography is interested in work that demonstrates, explores, or identifies with strong cultural and/or geographic identities

Topography is edited by Zeely Denmat, Melanie Doyle, and Julia Rubin.