“Knots” by Raleigh Nordhagen

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Congratulations to Raleigh Nordhagen, whose nonfiction piece “Knots” was named an honorable mention in the Oval: Vol. XII! Raleigh is a senior in the Creative Writing program. They recently came out as trans non-binary over the summer of 2018 shortly after their 24th birthday. They are currently the Outreach Director with both the Lambda Alliance and Circus Club on campus. Raleigh has been writing poetry and nonfiction since high school and draws their main influence from Nate Cole, Henry David Thoreau, Saul Williams, and Margaret Atwood.

“Knots” is a short series of memories that dive into the experiences that molded and defined Raleigh’s sexual orientation in their mind. While writing this piece, they had implicit and subconscious behaviors in the spotlight. Their hope while creating and revising this piece was to create something that will resonate with many individuals who may read it as a series of shared or common experiences.

Their first lines:

“Memorial Park is almost always covered with snow this time of year. Just in time for Winter Jamboree. The February air is frigid and dry. All the moisture taken by trees on the continental divide twenty or so miles west of the field (which we have thoroughly covered with size five to fourteen boot prints). My lips sting when I lick their chapped skin. And yet I keep licking them.”

Read the full piece here.


“Courting Myself in the 22nd Century” by Gill Ritchie

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Congratulations to Gill Ritchie, who earned an honorable mention in the 12th volume of the Oval for her poem, “Courting Myself in the 22nd Century.” Gill is graduating this spring with a Community Health major and Global Public Health minor. She also organized the 2019 Mental Health Awareness Week at UM. She loves most things and is ambivalent about others. She has no idea what she’s doing after college but has a good feeling about it. Her hobbies include being with friends, eating, asking questions, meditating.

Her first lines:

Shame and I sit, in silence.
sometimes it feels as if there is no escape from the                                                                                                                white room that accompanies my body
through thoughts of itself and it’s urges.


Read the full poem here.

“That Night in Portland” by Nicholas Soderburg

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Congratulations to Nicholas Soderburg, whose nonfiction piece “That Night in Portland,” earned an honorable mention in the 12th issue of the Oval! Nicholas is currently pursuing a Bachelors Degree in English, Creative Writing at the University of Montana. He grew up in southern California. His work has been published in The Oval, Orange Coast Review, Monster Children, F’d Up Zine, and in Til the Cows Come Home: Montanans in the 21st Century.


That Night in Portland


That night in Portland when we found that kitten, when that guy with the jigsaw-scarred face left the party to get his “piece,” that night, before all that, when we were in the backseat of that white Volvo, when the mushrooms kicked in and our dreams started melting into the waking, when you started laughing at nothing anyone else understood. At first you snickered, then you giggled. And, it grew from there, your laughter rich, oxygenated and thick, drawn from deep inside your guts, bellowing out of you in a roar. The world was vibrating with light, corner-store-neons, headlights shining on wet streets, spot lit signs for cheap motels offering weekly rates and kitchenettes, billboards advertising brightly lit rot, and then we were on the 5-Freeway and it was filled with green signs and grey pavement and way too many people moving way too fast and your laughter became as contagious as it was confusing and then we were all nervously laughing, singing along to the absurdity of everything moving so fast past us as we tried to catalogue and understand the blur and then we were at the gas station and you hadn’t stopped laughing but had now incorporated tears into the mocking and everything seemed to be darkening, taking on a too-sharp edge, the night becoming a blade threatening to cut us all down.

Outside of the gas station the crack dealers wore slick leather jackets and looked like crows waiting to pull the carrion to pieces and I couldn’t stop looking, wondering, “What the fuck’s so funny?” Which made me laugh harder.

You kept choking out your tearful giggles and then we were at that party and the man with the scar said, “You wanna throw down?” But, right before that we were walking and it was raining and we found that white kitten wet and purring and she seemed just as lost as us.

“Baby Birds” by Michael Merlo

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Congratulations to Michael Merlo, who was named an honorable mention in The Oval: Vol. XII for his nonfiction piece, “Baby Birds.” Michael is a senior at the University of Montana studying Creative Writing, Literature, and Journalism. He has travelled a ways to get here, from the Chicago suburbs to Wyoming and California, finally reaching Missoula. He started writing by accident before it turned into his passion.


Baby Birds


Life started for me in two homes as the bastard of seven. My mom lived in a duplex with three bedrooms. Our neighbor was an old man who smoked a lot of cigarettes and patted my head all the time. On my birthday he would slide a ten-dollar bill in my pocket. It was one of those humid summer days, I walked by his car and I saw a small cracked egg on the hood with a little baby bird’s head sticking out of the yoke. It looked so peaceful like its head was resting on a pillow. I looked at it for at least half an hour. It was cute for a baby bird. Most of those things are ugly to me now. All grey and half bald everywhere. I suppose baby birds look just like old people. I stared at it. I took it all in. It was the first sad thing that I saw as beautiful. The breeze took away part of its seriousness. I miss those Midwest winds. The old lady across the street taught me how to play piano, well, at least tried to. I quit. I wasn’t much of an artist. I wanted to play sports, bump my head, and beat up bad guys. I would go over to her house and sit on her plastic covered couch while she poured me a juice and she would play for me. Her hair looked beautiful, it was a dark grey, not the kind that makes you sad when you see it, but the kind that showed a certain charm or knowledge. Then she would try to get me to play. I never had an ear for it. I wanted to be good really bad, but I was just bad. She told me I could call her whenever Mom and my stepdad fought. One day, I did. My stepdad took the phone out of my hand and slammed it back on the wall. That was the same day the police picked me up and brought me to the farm with my dad and my stepmom. I rode in the backseat with my blue blanket. The fathers fell out of it, sometimes, I pulled them out. They made me think of that fried bird on the hood of our neighbor’s car. I wondered what it would feel like being in that egg. Probably a little safer, because it would be mine and because I would be hiding inside of what was mine.

“Final Flight” by Sierra Gideon

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Congratulations to Sierra Gideon, who earned an honorable mention in The Oval: Vol. XII for her poem, “Final Flight.” Sierra is a senior at the University of Montana, where she studies English Literature. She grew up in the Bitterroot Valley in awe of the natural world and its complexities. In her writing, she often turns to nature to find solace, practice patience, listen to her body, and remember her origins. As a writer, she strives to contextualize the subjective self as a part of a universal whole. She plans to continue her education and learn as much as she can about the world around her.


Final Flight


Today I found you in the garden, little one,
Your neck caught in mesh and blueberries in your tail.
My fingers reached to pluck
Fruit but they found feather, inverted plumage, limp grey neck,                                                                                            Eyes so peaceful you might have been sleeping.
I screamed and you slept no longer,
For I pronounced you dead among
Tomato-gem witnesses and vines of winking sugar snap peas.
I took you away, away
From rows of soil mounded in anticipation of fall,
Away from your tempters.
I took you down, down
Through thickets and thorns,
Down the green-blanketed path to the river.
Your lantern form, mesh-entangled and
Swinging (no longer singing)
Lit our way.
I took you down to the river, little one,
And laid your finch-form to rest.
There on the rocks in grid cocoon,
I wreathed you in handfuls of honey common tansy.
What, now, will become of you?
Will the rise of the coke-bottle river claim you, or
Will hound-teeth pronounce you dead, too?
Only cottonwood-eyes will see.
Be still, be still, isolated you
Who will sleep once more.
Goodnight, little one, goodnight.