Circle of Fourths

Jessica Franken

C major: Unsalted. Straight as train tracks. Children’s key. Your niece (six, with a tiny teenager inside) is learning piano, white keys first. If she grows cross, whisper that C conceals B-sharp like high noon hides its stars.

F major: Lighthouse; houseplant; plantains, fried in coconut oil. A cut that heals nicely. A plantigrade stride. Hiking in the White Mountains, you’re pretty sure these wild berries aren’t poisonous, but when your friend eats them, you only pretend to.

B-flat major: Chocolate chip pancakes. A toothpick you chew. The satisfaction of working a magnetic clasp. The soft thinness of old skin. Still remembering your high school locker combination at 40. A couple in matching Halloween costumes. 

E-flat major: The smell of laundry from an apartment basement as you walk by late at night. A shiny green beetle. You knew those kids at school separately for years before finding out they were siblings and don’t know how they pulled that off. Small, tapered candles.

A-flat major: Runnels in the fallen branch’s under-bark wood: what the woodpeckers hunger for. Dragon costume in the parade. Mountain-bike trail. Steam from the grates makes you wonder what’s beneath you. Beads: of sweat, of nacre, of glass and clay.

D-flat major: Raindrops but not dewdrops. Most-dreamt key. The geodes you snuck into your sister’s room to touch. Digitigrade stride. The kind of spiderwebs that are just nets thrown across the long grass. Learning the names of all the mushrooms in the forest.

G-flat major: Tannic red wine scraping your tongue dry. Star-nosed moles. Thunderstorms and the electrified air that heralds them. Umami. All your teenage crushes were tattooed and tortured souls. The major closest to minor. Portal between flats and sharps.

B major: You stumble on a late-night bakery casting buttery light into the street and eat something decadent and melting. Cicadas. Fecundity. Layered rock. Not the first sting of hot-tub water on your skin, but the vasodilation which follows.

E major: Homecoming king, again. The spots on a fawn. Lying sweetly to your parents while pinching your sister under the table. The living taste of lake water. Grandma’s button collection. Flannel sheets.

A major: Valedictorian. Tomato plant smell. Horsehair paintbrushes. The damp oboe reed buzzing between your lips as you tune the orchestra to 440 Hz. You must be brave to play the oboe, with its goodest goods and baddest bads. Full moon. Fisherman’s wool sweater.

D major: The smell of roasting squash. The scratch of piled leaves. Oh, this shirt! You used to love this shirt, but it ended up in a box at the back of the closet you’re cleaning out. You hold it to your face, change into it on the spot.

G major: Warm weather, wheat fields, picnic in the sun. Thick, soft bread with honey. Wood shavings off the lathe. You couldn’t learn the smell of your childhood home without leaving, and then coming back.

Jessica Franken

is an essayist and poet living in Minneapolis. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in River Teeth, under the gum tree, The Cincinnati Review, Complete Sentence, and elsewhere. Learn more at

ART: Biodiversity by Kathy Bruce

Kathy Bruce is an environmental sculptor and collage artist whose work explores human forms within the context of poetry, literature and the natural environment. She received an M.F.A from Yale University School of Art and a certificate from The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Ms. Bruce is the recipient of numerous grants and awards including a Fulbright Hayes Senior Scholarship Grant for Lecturing and Research in Puno Peru 2012 and 1983, and a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Fellowship. She has exhibited her work in the US, and internationally including the UK, Senegal, Taiwan, France, Denmark, Peru and Canada.

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