Category Archives: Issue 4.1 Spring 2015

Issue 4.1 Spring 2015

Click on a title to read an author’s work(s) and bio. Let us know what you think on our Facebook page and on Twitter using #BlueLyra. Also, consider leaving a comment for everyone to read.

"Station 14" Art by Jean Wolfe

“Station 14” Art by Jean Wolff

"Books and Dreams" Art by Jean Wolfe
“Books and Dreams”          Art by Jean Wolff

 

Poetry:
(Guest Edited by Judy Juanita)

Eugene H. Davis | Howl No More
Arika Elizenberry | Red Summer, 1919
Bridget Gage-Dixon | Hew Paints Crickets
Gail Goepfert | Revivify *runner up in our 2014 short-ish poetry contest*
Karen Greenbaum-Maya | My Uncle the Perfectionist
Kamden Hilliard | Hong Kong, Summer
Lowell Jaeger | A Salesman’s Song
David Kann | The Language of the Farm *runner up in our 2014 long-ish poetry contest*
Issa M. Lewis | The Catacomb Saints
Joel Lewis | Looking For Soup
Noorulain Noor | Chronology of Evil Eye
Jennifer Raha | Perennial | Resupination
Maryann Russo | Joe Redota Trail
Eva Schlesinger | With You in Hildesheim
Benjamin Schmitt | We were radicals
Bonnie Wai-Lee Kwong | Mother | A Day in British Hong Kong

Fiction:

Gordon Ball | The Breaking *runner up in our 2014 flash fiction contest
Marie Mayhugh | An Old Cowboy’s Dirge
Eliana Osborn | Turning Japanese

Nonfiction:

Caroline Allen | Little Woman
Sharon Goldberg | Let Us (Not) Pray
Grace Mattern | Granite
Lisa Romeo | Not Quite Meet-Cute

Translations:

Charles Baudelaire | The Clock | **Lola Haskins
Cyrille Fleischman | Monsieur Lekouved’s Revolt | **Lynn Palermo
Imanova Günel | Untitled | **Arturo Desimone
Marcel Lecomte | The Schoolmaster | Number | **K. A. Wisniewski

Book Reviews:

Robert Cooperman | Just Drive | review by Barry Marks
Justin Hamm | Lessons in Ruins | review by Karen J Weyant
Jamaal May | Hum | review by Susan Cohen

**Indicates Translators

"Sphene" Art by Jean Wolfe
“Sphere” Art by Jean Wolff

 

FlipBook

“Flipbook” Art by Jean Wolff

Guest Poetry Editor: Judy Juanita

Judy JuanitaIn Judy Juanita’s first novel, Virgin Soul, a coming-of-age story, the main character joins the Black Panther Party in the sixties in the Bay Area. Viking Penguin published Virgin Soul (2013). Her poetry has been published in 13th Moon, Painted Bride Quarterly, Lips, Rooms, Crab Orchard Review, Croton Review, Good News, Drum Revue 2000 and Obsidian II. Her plays have been performed at Loyola Marymount University, Ohio State University, Laney College, and in Minneapolis, Berkeley, San Francisco, Oakland and Winston-Salem theaters. She has an MFA in creative writing and BA in psychology from San Francisco State University and taught writing at Laney College for the past two decades. A native of Berkeley, Juanita was raised in an Oakland that had excellent schools, an Easter Parade down East 14th St., and a severe color line that created a fierce unity among black people.

Website:  judyjuanitasvirginsoul.com

Sharon Goldberg

Sharon Goldberg lives in the Seattle area and previously worked as an advertising copywriter in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle. Her work has appeared in The Louisville Review, Under The Sun, The Avalon Literary Review, The Chaffey Review, Temenos, The Binnacle, Little Fiction: Listerature, The Feathered Flounder, Penduline, three fiction anthologies, and elsewhere. Her short stories “Caving In” (2012) and “Ghost” (2011) were finalists in the Pacific Northwest Writers Association Literary Contest. Sharon was also the second place winner of the 2012 On The Premises Humor Contest and Fiction Attic Press’s 2013 Flash in the Attic Contest. Three of her stories were nominated for the 2014 Pushcart Prize. Sharon is working on a short story collection.

   

Let Us (Not) Pray

I don’t remember when I first prayed, but I’m certain I prayed out of fear. Probably when I was three or four and scared to go to sleep at night. Scared of the dark. Scared to close my eyes. Scared I’d be attacked by burglars. I remember my Mom singing “Lullaby and Good Night,” her voice sweet and soothing. She said there was no such thing as burglars. I was skeptical.

*

At Agudath B’nai Israel Synagogue, I learned the Shema, the most important prayer in Judaism: Hear oh Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one. I believed it. At home, I learned prayers of thanks for bread and wine and the blessing over the Sabbath candles. I stood next to Mom, my hands above the flickering flames, and recited the barucha like a good little Jewish girl.

*

I’m a hypocrite. I no longer believe God exists, but I pray to him sometimes anyway. Prayer is my insurance policy, my back-up plan, a hedge against my bet. Still, I don’t want even a hypothetical God to think I’m dishonest. Or trying to put one over on him. Or invoking him falsely. So I qualify my prayer: “Dear Lord, if you’re there, please. . . .”

*

How long have humans prayed? Tunnel back in time 5,000 years to Mesopotamia. There the Sumerians inscribed prayers on stone votive statues. Even earlier, 10,000 years ago during the Paleolithic Period, artists in Southwest Europe and the Altay Mountains of Asia drew pictures on cave walls of animals, sometimes attacked by darts or spears. Was this a form of prehistoric prayer, an appeal to unknown gods for a successful hunt?

*

At Email2God.com, anyone may submit a prayer for himself or a loved one, or pray for those who post prayers. Some of the prayers on the site:

Father, I am not one to complain, I am a very lucky person. However, I am a big blockhead sometimes . . . . Help me to figure out who I am. . .

Please dear Lord, help my husband to find the perfect job for him; sooner than later please. . . . I am so tired and scared.

God, I love a girl namely Vanika but she not loves me. She is very happy with other guy namely Vishal. God plz help so get my true love back. . .

Dear God . . . I’m really messed up w whats going on w my Dad. Please show me a miracle and allow him to remain here on earth w us longer.

*

Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard wrote that “the function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.”

*

According to the 2007 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, fifty-eight percent of Americans pray daily. Older people and poorer people pray more. Jehovah’s Witnesses pray the most. Jews and the religiously unaffiliated pray the least.

*

When his team came from behind to win against the Miami Dolphins, then-Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, an Evangelical Christian, dropped to one knee and bowed his head in prayer while his teammates celebrated wildly around him—Rodin’s “Thinker” in the middle of a football field. “Tebowing,” as this practice was named, went viral when a fan created a website and invited viewers to post photos of themselves engaged in the act. At www.tebowing.com, you’ll see underwater divers, firefighters, tail hookers; travelers in the Sahara Desert, on an Afghan mountaintop, at the Taj Mahal; students on a high school campus, people in line for tacos, even a baby and a cat. Has prayer become just another occasion for a “selfie?”

*

“When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your father, who is unseen.” (The Gospel of Matthew).

*

As a child, I thought inanimate objects had feelings. I believed lamps, tables, chairs, and dressers could feel pain. I don’t know where I got this idea. I don’t know why I didn’t question it. But since it was gospel for me, I prayed to God to say I was sorry and ask forgiveness when I accidentally bumped, scratched, knocked, or toppled “things” in our apartment.

*

If we weren’t taught to pray, would we invent prayer?

*

Do our brains have a spiritual architecture? Dr. Andrew Newberg, a neuroscientist and author of Why We Believe What We Believe, investigated this question. Using imaging techniques, he and his team scanned the brains of Franciscan nuns as they prayed, Tibetan Buddhists as they meditated, and Pentecostal Christians as they spoke in tongues. What did Newberg learn? “When we think of religious and spiritual beliefs. . . ,” he said, “we see a tremendous similarity across practices and across traditions.” The brain’s frontal lobe, the part that helps us focus, showed increased activity. The limbic system, which regulates emotion and is responsible for feelings of awe and joy, also showed increased activity. But the parietal lobe, the brain part that orients us in space, showed decreased activity, perhaps explaining the feeling of being part of something greater than oneself.

Scott Atran, author of In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion, sees it in a different way. Religion, Atran says, is just a byproduct of evolution and Darwinian adaptation. “Just like we’re not hardwired for boats, but humans in all cultures make boats pretty much the same way. Now, that’s a result both of the way the brain works and of the needs of the world. . .”

*

Between the ages of eight and thirteen, I attended Junior Congregation services at the synagogue. I learned all the tunes to all the Sabbath morning prayers, signed up weekly to lead the chanting of one of my favorites, and sometimes led the entire service. I was proud of my prayer prowess.

*

What does prayer look like? Catholics bow their heads and make the sign of the cross. Orthodox Jews sway and rock. Muslims kneel and prostrate five times a day facing Mecca. Sufis play music and whirl, whirl, whirl. Hindus chant. Quakers sit in communal silence. Worshippers clasp hands, clap hands, fold hands, lay on hands, and lift their hands toward heaven. Some people pray with their eyes open, some with their eyes closed. They use knotted ropes, beads, goblets, and prayer rugs. They wear veils, shawls, bonnets, and kipot. Sometimes prayer is accompanied by candle lighting, bell ringing, incense burning, or anointing with oil. Does ritual intensify the prayer experience?

*

My father davened twice a day, reciting the traditional Jewish morning and afternoon/evening prayers. He prayed with a well-worn siddur on his lap, even though he knew every word by heart. He prayed wearing a tallit, a prayer shawl, and on weekday mornings, wearing tefillen, a set of small, black, leather boxes containing scrolls of parchment inscribed with Torah verses. He prayed every single day, except when he was in the hospital sedated.

*

In the 1960s, when I was a student at Admiral King, a public high school, we recited The Lord’s Prayer every morning in our home room. No one complained. No one questioned. But I felt uncomfortable mouthing a prayer that was not mine. I complied anyway. I didn’t want to be disobedient or different. My dilemma was whether to include “For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever” at the end with the Protestants. Or leave it out, like the Catholics. To play it safe, I alternated.

*

In 2012, sixteen-year-old Jessica Alquist, an atheist and student at Cranston West High School in Rhode Island, won a lawsuit ordering the removal of a prayer banner hung in the school gym for decades. City officials claimed the banner was a historical artifact and served no religious purpose; the prayer merely encouraged students to grow mentally and morally, as well as physically. Jessica contended that the prayer which began “Our Heavenly Father” and ended with “Amen” was offensive to non-Christians and violated both the constitutional separation of church and state and the school district’s policy which stated that the proper settings for religious observance were the home and place of worship. Jessica was far braver than I.

*

A partial list of what I’ve prayed for: to win speech competitions, to win roles in plays, to win the hearts of boys; for a clean bill of health, for world peace, for the end of all disease; for my parents to come home because it’s 10:00 p.m. and I don’t know where they are and I’m afraid they were in an accident; for my husband to come home because it’s 10:00 p.m. and there’s no answer at his office and I’m afraid he was in an accident; that the driver I rear-ended won’t have a chronic injury; that totalitarian leaders will be deposed; that 9/11 won’t be the end of the world; that the plane I’m on will arrive safely—no pilot error, no weather fluke, no terrorist act.

*

It is May 1, 1967 and I am sixteen years old, but I feel like a big baby. I am freaking out. I have worked myself into a terror tizzy. Actually, I am edging toward a panic attack but I don’t know what a panic attack is. I am sitting on my twin bed in my mint green and apricot bedroom and I am crying and praying, crying and praying. Why? Jeane Dixon, who is a famous psychic, who is said to have the gift of prophecy, who predicted President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, supposedly predicted that half the world’s teens will die by May 9th of an unknown throat disease. And my throat hurts. Who am I to say Jeane is full of crap? Who am I to say she’s not God’s messenger? Who am I to say she’s not a true prophet? In biblical times, the people often disbelieved true prophets and look what happened—woe to them! I am afraid to close my eyes. I am afraid to fall asleep. Just like when I was a little girl. I am afraid I won’t wake up in the morning because I will die from the unknown throat disease. And I am furious at Jeane Dixon because she doesn’t say “repent” or “change” or “take precautions” and you won’t die. No. Jeane just says, “Bye-bye half the world’s teenagers!” So what do I do? I cry because I can’t help it. I pray because I don’t know what else to do.

*

For centuries, in the Old City of Jerusalem, people have stuffed prayers written on paper scraps into cracks in the two-thousand-year-old Wailing Wall, believed by devout Jews to be the Western Wall of the Second Temple. My brother Howard was in Jerusalem while my Uncle Sanford Brown lay in a Cleveland hospital hooked to a ventilator, his heart and kidneys failing. Howard posted prayers for Sanford in the Wall. Our uncle died anyway.

Now Wailing Wall prayers can be tweeted. Israeli Alon Nil founded TweetYourPrayers, an automated Twitter bot that accepts requests, in 140 characters or less, which he prints and takes to the Wall. Does God need a Twitter account?

*

Are there things that it’s not okay to pray for because they’re selfish or greedy or frivolous? Here are my rules: It’s not okay to pray for beauty, but it is okay to pray your lover will find you beautiful. It’s not okay to pray for wealth, but it is okay to pray for enough money to cover basic needs along with some discretionary income. It’s not okay to pray for a Nobel Prize, but it is okay to pray your work will have a positive impact on the world. It’s not okay to pray you’ll live forever, but it is okay to pray you’ll survive an illness or accident or disaster and live to see your children grow into happy, healthy adults.

*

During the last two months of my father’s life, I prayed for him. I didn’t pray Dad would live to be 120 like Moses, as he wished on his eightieth birthday. I knew it was impossible. I didn’t pray he’d be cured of Multiple Myeloma; no one who’s eighty-nine ever is. I didn’t pray he’d walk out of the hospital vibrant and vital; I don’t believe in miracles. I prayed he’d rally enough to transfer to a Long Term Acute Care Facility. I prayed he’d recover from pneumonia. I prayed he’d be weaned off the ventilator. I prayed he’d no longer need dialysis. I prayed he could be nourished without a feeding tube. I prayed he’d be able to speak and express his wishes. I prayed we were making the decisions about his care that he would make if he were in a position to make them. What answers did I get? Yes. No. No. No. No. No. I don’t know and never will.

*

Does prayer heal? Can its power be proven? For decades, scientists have searched for the answer, but their methodology has been flawed and their results mixed. In 2006, the outcome of a long-awaited study—the most rigorous to date—was published. Dr. Herbert Benson, a cardiologist and director of the Mind/Body Medical Institute near Boston, tested the effects of intercessory prayer—prayer by strangers at a distance—on patients recovering from coronary bypass surgery. The results? Prayer had no effect. And patients who were told in advance about the prayer had a higher rate of post-operative complications, perhaps because they had higher expectations. While the study was designed to avoid earlier problems, Benson couldn’t control for a significant variable: the unknown prayer each person received from friends, families, and others.

*

I asked my cardiologist, Dr. Sarah Speck, about the relationship between prayer and medicine. “There are forces of nature we don’t completely understand in healing,” she said. “A positive environment is more healing than a negative, stressful one. I think there’s a spirituality that improves the healing process.”

*

Essential prayers: Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name (Christian); And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might (Jewish); In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful. Praise be to God, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the world (Muslim); May the merit of my practice adorn Buddha’s Pure Lands (Buddhist); Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner (Orthodox Christian); On the absolute reality and its planes, On that finest spiritual light, We meditate (Hindu). Amen.

*

Does prayer move energy in the universe causing change on some cosmic or atomic level? According to the laws of physics, no. There’s no scientific proof that a spiritual chain reaction occurs that can impact outcomes. But knowing we’re not alone, that people care and root for us does. It helps us persevere, marshal resources, boosts adrenaline, and fuels our immune systems. We are chemical beings and our chemistry is influenced by hope.

*

William James, the American philosopher, said “The reason why we pray is simply that we cannot help praying.”

*

When I was married, I used to watch my husband sleep and well up with joy at my good fortune. How lucky I was to be in a loving relationship with such an amazing man. I prayed just to express gratitude and say I was content. Thank you God! My husband is so bright, so dynamic, so charismatic. Thank you God! After eighteen years I still adore his blue eyes, his golden skin, his curly hair. Thank you God! My husband is happy and so am I.

Then, one morning, my husband announced he didn’t love me anymore and our marriage was over. I was devastated. And I was pissed at God. My gratitude wasn’t worth shit. God was mocking me. I made the mistake of telling him what I valued most, so he took it away.

I am grateful for my current loving relationship. Arnie is a wonderful man: devoted, affectionate, cuddly, caring. I believe he’ll stick with me for the rest of my life. But I never tell God “thanks.”

*

When both sides in a war pray for victory, does God deem one set of prayers more ardent? One cause more worthy? If you win, does that prove God was on your side? If you lose, does that mean God has forsaken you? Or do the prayers cancel each other out?

*

People pray together in churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, chapels, meeting halls and other havens of the like-minded. Perhaps prayer en masse is more transcendent—a spiritual amphetamine.

*

Every year, about three million Muslims flock to Mecca from all over the globe for the Hajj. Despite crowd control techniques, hundreds of deaths occur annually as ramps collapse under the weight of visitors and the devout are trampled in stampedes.  

*

On Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year in Judaism, observant Jews fast all day and pray aloud together to confess a myriad of sins and ask forgiveness: For the sin that we have committed under stress or through choice; For the sin that we have committed in the evil meditations of the heart; For the sin that we have committed by word of mouth; For the sin that we have committed through abuse of power; For the sin that we have committed by exploitation of neighbors;…. For all these sins, O God of forgiveness, bear with us, pardon us, forgive us! Sins are mentioned in plural form because tradition teaches that every Jew bears a measure of responsibility for the actions of other Jews. Even during the years I did observe Yom Kippur, I never appreciated the group guilt and absolution.

*

If there is a God, is he so egotistical or despotic or needy that he must constantly be invoked, constantly thanked, constantly told how great he is?

*

Prayer helps me focus, prepare, analyze, question, find strength, calm myself, get a grip—a session with my inner psychotherapist. It’s a means to shut out the noise of the world and hear myself think. Talking to an imaginary being or universal force helps lessen the weight of the challenging, the horrible, and the unbearable. Prayer is my valium.

*

“The Serenity Prayer” is the common name for an originally untitled prayer by the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. It has been adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous and other twelve-step programs. The most popular form is:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change
Courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

If we were granted serenity, it seems to me, we wouldn’t need to pray for anything else.

*

I’ve never experienced an epiphany, a transformation, a conversion, a mystical presence, a rippling or tingling, a connection to the divine, or oneness with the universe while I prayed. Perhaps I’m unwilling to “let go,” to give myself over to some hypothetical omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent force. Perhaps I cling to the rational, like a mountain climber to a rope. The most I’ve felt is a sense of relief; maybe things will turn out okay. My loss? Could be. But here’s what I know. Despite my doubt and disbelief, despite feeling my words and thoughts are tumbling into a black hole, despite my certainty that answered and unanswered prayers are both pure coincidence; when I’m in danger or desperate or debilitated or dying or incredibly grateful, I will pray. And if anyone out there wishes to pray for me as well, I guess it can’t hurt. Just don’t do it in front of me.

Lisa Romeo

Lisa Romeo’s articles and essays have appeared in the New York Times, O-The Oprah Magazine; many journals including Under the Gum TreeSweetGravelBarnstormUnder the Sun (nominated for Best American Essays 2014)Sport Literate; and several anthologies. Her memoir manuscript was a finalist in the 2014 Subito Press contest, and the 2013 SheWrites/Seal Press contest. Lisa is creative nonfiction editor for Compose Journal, and is part of the founding faculty in the Bay Path University MFA program. Work is forthcoming in Hippocampus and Front Porch. She lives in New Jersey.


 

Not Quite Meet-Cute

People often ask how my husband and I met, confusing meeting with meaning.

I tell them the meet-cute version; it happened at a New York Giants football game, two teenagers who forgot umbrellas and shared an improvised over-sized black trash-bag poncho. It is true, this story, and you can get by with this story, entertain and please people who want to know it is still possible to be sleeping beside the love of your life some thirty-eight years after he first made you swoon.

But it’s not that simple.

I first saw and heard my future husband when I was twelve and he sixteen, filling multiple roles in a high school production of My Fair Lady: dreamy looks, a swath of dark curly hair, and that last name – Frank Romeo. When we finally met at that football game three years later, I was with my best friend Anne, and he with his best friend Jeff. About five weeks of double dates followed, but I failed to notice Frank’s distracted twitch. I had forgotten that I first encountered him as an actor. Soon, he fled the stage.

*****

I was an early bloomer. I sprouted serious breasts in the seventh grade and figured out quickly that the right bra and two open buttons at the top of my white school uniform blouse got me the attention of the right boys, the ones with slanted, mischievous smiles, unruly hair, and the ability to talk to girls without stammering, not the ones with neat Ken hair and the job of clapping Sister’s erasers at recess.

I snuck off with Danny Cooper into the woods behind his house – when I was supposed to be playing next door with Rebecca Edwards. We French kissed three times before my mother’s Cadillac horn blasted terror through our bodies. After two weeks, Danny turned in his desk chair to say, “I don’t like you no more.”

A month later, Robbie Restuccio and I snuck out the side door of the town movie theater during The Hot Rock, into the woods where Robbie had earlier that day laid out a scratchy old blanket. Robbie was Danny’s best friend and he and I lasted a lot longer, five weeks at least, before I moved on to high school boys, whom I would not see each morning at Mass, and then on to boys I’d meet on frequent family vacations. My father’s 1970s fortune from a polyester finishing factory provided a trove of airline tickets, hotel suites, and towel boys. I figured I could have all the fun I wanted, as long as (at 13) I didn’t have actual sex, and (at 16) didn’t go all the way, which I didn’t until (at 18) I officially fell into something I mistakenly called love.

My parents often invited Anne along for company, I suspect because she was a mature two years older and seemed much less interested in boys. At the Americana Hotel in Miami Beach’s Bal Harbour, she and I tilted giddily through our own personal playground of 24-hour coffee shops (where we had only to sign our names to score milkshakes and gargantuan cinnamon buns), and moonlit shuffleboard decks (where we’d play with abandon the game my mother implored us to try in daylight only to meet with rolling eyes).

Sometimes, we met boys — two at a time if I was lucky — so that while Anne talked quietly with one of them, I grabbed the hand of the other, waiting to yank me toward the beach, an empty poolside lanai, or the soft ground beneath the palm trees along the edge of the garden walkway.

Back home, I was on the lookout for bad boys to have a good time with; there seemed nothing else to do in our lethargic suburb where my mother still pointed out the Meadowbrook, site of 1950s Frank Sinatra concerts, every time we drove to the mall. I was a straight-A student, took drama classes, read three books a week, knew how to sew, and volunteered at the library. Boys, as far as I could determine, were my only secret garden.

When I was fourteen, I met a seventeen year-old named John, and we dated, completely in the open; my parents by then recognized it was better to know with whom I would otherwise be sneaking off. John was the first nice guy I dated, and that, combined with my parents’ liking him, and his not trying to feel me up until the fourth date, spelled the end of the affair.

Then friends’ older sisters and brothers got their drivers’ licenses and the suburbs seemed to crack right open. We left Cedar Grove behind, where the only action took place on the windy dark road behind the reservoir, to find fun and boys, of any color, age and type, everywhere — a party at a cousin’s house in gritty Paterson, a high school basketball game in downtown Newark, an ice-skating arena in farm-rich Sparta where we found that farm boys could be bad, too.

The summer I was fifteen, Anne and I took the bus to Manhattan on Saturdays, and walked to the passenger ship terminal to keep furtive appointments with the two Italian waiters who had served us on my family’s April cruise to Bermuda. I’d head off to some remote corner of the ship with twenty six-year old Adriano, while Anne walked around midtown with sappy Mario, eating hot dogs and pretzels and listening to his homesick yearning for Naples.

Later that fall Anne and I met Frank and Jeff. Jeff practically moved into Anne’s family room while Frank drifted off, as it turned out, with Jeff’s girlfriend of six years.

Despite my having sliced Frank’s photo from the yearbook in the school library, slipping it into my wallet and calling him my boyfriend, I convinced myself that it was better that way. Two best friends dating two best friends was just a little too weird. I put the yearbook photo away in an old briefcase of my father’s where I kept my secret stuff and told my girlfriends we had broken up. I decided I had been wrong about Frank all along, that he wasn’t so special, just another guy, maybe even a jerky one.

Then, I moved on in the relationship department: My father bought me a horse.

 *****

It is true what books and clichéd television movies have to say about a young girl and her horse. For the next couple of years – no, for a decade – I was intensely interested in an on- going relationship with only one dark, tall, and handsome creature. Horses were complicated enough to engage my curiosity, and riding was physically challenging enough to slake my restlessness. Handling horses put me in control, at least that’s how one feels atop a galloping, snorting sweating half-ton of heaving muscle.

Guys still mattered, throughout the rest of high school and all through college, but in a more peripheral way, and only if they felt like trailing along while I spent entire weekends and every school vacation at horse shows, and all summer at the stable, 24/7.

When they didn’t, the equestrian world was full of lovely, pouty boys who would one day realize that they were really and truly and only gay, but for the time being, were available for satisfying make-out sessions and awkward thrashing in empty horse trailers.

Channeling all of my free time, lots of my father’s money, and most of the passion that needed expression in my life, I learned the nuance of partnering a twelve-hundred pound animal over four-foot fences without breaking stride or landing in the dirt. It was electrifying, and at times, erotic even, holding the reins and all the cards, a horse between my legs. On a good day, we could read each other’s minds. On a bad day, I was the one, always, who could walk away – and withhold the carrot too, if I felt like it, though I rarely did. My parents joked that I lived in the barn, but to me it felt like the horses lived in me. I was beginning to think that was the way it was meant to be, that unless I found a fellow rider, I’d be alone, but that was okay: Saddles are built for one.

*****

The next time I saw Frank was the summer following my college graduation, both conscripted into the bridal party for Anne and Jeff’s wedding. It had been six years since the double dates; Frank and Jeff were friends again, and two years before, Frank had married Jeff’s old girlfriend. Our aborted dating six years before just didn’t seem important, at least that’s what I told myself. Anyway, I was just passing through, headed to California with a new, more accomplished show horse to ride with a top trainer and to start a reporting job.

The bridal party gathered in the back of the small church where I feigned intense interest in what Anne’s cousin Carol was saying, to stop myself looking in Frank’s direction. How could I still want to gaze at those deep dimples, those brushed suede eyes? Why was I straining for the lilt of his voice? He said hello; I smiled, silent. Then a curvaceous, pretty older woman in a low-cut grey gown stepped through the heavy wood door and caught the eye of all. In his earthy rich voice I heard Frank remark, “Did you see the chest on her?”

All eyes swiveled to me.

“That’s my mother,” I said, turning away.

When we awkwardly walked back down the aisle together an hour later, Frank mumbled, “I’m sorry,” and I momentarily wondered if he meant for shattering the romantic hopes of a fifteen year-old girl six years before, but he continued, “for saying that about your mother.”

“No problem,” I said. “She does have a great chest.” I thought we might laugh, but we didn’t.

We danced at the reception as we had to, dutifully and stiffly, me staring at the blue ruffles on Frank’s tuxedo shirt. He tried to make small talk, but the sound of his voice so close to my ear, a mixture of gravel and anchorman silk, was too much and as soon as I could, I pulled away. I did not want to discover if his dance moves were as good as I once thought from my seat in the high school auditorium. I was afraid if I answered his innocuous questions I might keep that voice in my head, that it might flare up unbidden when I was supposed to be counting down strides to a fence, or writing brief and breezy headlines, or finding a suitable young man to introduce to my parents.

I tried hard not to, but could not help watching him that evening with his wife, who had a great chest too, but in my opinion was neither beautiful, interesting, nor mysterious enough to move most men to deceive their best friend. I had to remind myself that just as Anne and I were only silly teenage girls back then, Jeff and Frank were not men either, only nineteen year-old sacks of testosterone.

I could have, I should have, forgiven Frank then and there, let it go, and maybe in a small sense, I did. But there was still a disquieting quickening in my own chest when I listened to him give the toast, and it sent me fleeing mentally in the opposite direction, unnerved.

*****

Three years later I moved back to New Jersey and within days encountered Frank at Anne’s kitchen table.

I dragged her down the hall. “What’s he doing here, why isn’t he wearing a wedding ring and what the heck happened to his skin?”

“She decided she didn’t want kids after all, and there was other stuff,” Anne said, then killed any possibility of the tiniest schadenfreude moment, adding, “Then he got a bad burn and it triggered this weird skin condition called vitiligo.”

So there was my Romeo now: Cheated on, looking like a splotched abstract painting in tones of pale pink and olive brown, his mass of Frampton curls now shorn, thinning, already receding at twenty-seven. I was no longer interested, I told myself.

Then he spoke.

My husband once sang a solo of the Hallelujah Chorus in Carnegie Hall. He has near perfect pitch. Back then, his tenor slid easily to falsetto, equal parts Hall and Oates, Lennon and McCartney. His voice hit me that day square in the chest like a velvet truck. The dark olive skin was disappearing, the once shoulder-length locks were clipped, but the timber of Frank’s voice reached me viscerally like the rippled surge of my horse’s neck muscle under my chest when he rose to hurl himself over a four-foot fence. Silk and sinew, James Taylor and Dan Fogelberg, Neil Diamond and Davy Jones, comforting yet seductive, smooth but sex-edged; clear, safe but intoxicating, teasing and daring.

I was, against my will, charmed.

While I had been chasing jobs and better horse trainers across five states, the interesting men I met all had consistently disappointed me with mediocre voices. None of them stirred in me what I felt at fifteen when Frank had once, while waiting in line at a diner after another movie double-date, sung in my ear along with the radio about silver spoons and missed opportunities. Ever since, when Cat’s in the Cradle came on the radio, I would jab the button, angry for some indefinable reason, switching stations. During those years, especially when riding wasn’t going so well and men who mattered were scarce, I sometimes pictured Frank with some imaginary small curly-haired boy, tossing baseballs and talking about how to properly condition a mitt, before I caught myself and wondered what the hell I was doing thinking so much about a jerk who once dubiously dated me just so he could distract his best friend and steal his girl?

Yet I had dragged that old briefcase of my father’s to every new apartment, stuffed with mementos from sweet and bitter boyfriend moments, including that yearbook photo of Frank, the boyfriend who wasn’t. Now, at Anne and Jeff’s kitchen table, we met again, maybe not so cute, but also not so careless, aware by then of the lies we conceal and the truths we tell in the sloppy human experiment called dating. For me, there had been the dreamy bisexual grand prix jumper rider who did not want his wealthy gay sponsor to know he dated girls. The quiet junior insurance executive whose heart I may have broken. The firefighter who wouldn’t leave his alcoholic mother alone on a Saturday night. All the time, in some part of me where I hear only clear sounds, I sensed some voice, calling me ahead—or, back.

Dates ensued. I thought we were heading somewhere until Frank drifted off, again. Months went by, a year. My mother told me what to do with a vacillating beau, what she said had worked with my father in the 1940s: Next time he bites, reel him in but this time, you toss him back. Then wait, he’ll bite again.

So, I waited.

Meanwhile, I did what I always did when people let me down — got back in the saddle in a serious way: Weeknights at the stables, every weekend a horse show hundreds of miles away – and sporadic evenings in the company of a man twenty-one years older than I, a senior executive at work, rich and as different from Frank as possible. He talked about flying to London for a play opening, weekends at his Berkshires house, hinting at what a spontaneous life we might have together. Then he forgot my twenty-fifth birthday and I picked up the phone and punched in Frank’s number.

“Listen,” I said, “I feel like dancing and you are the best dancer I know. How about it? Dancing. No strings attached.”

We fell into a routine, Frank and I — dates and talking, dancing and hiking; we skied, played racquetball, learned each other’s secrets. There were strings, of course. Could we determine how to knot them together? I was no longer a fifteen year-old who, despite her experience with boys, would not have known what to do with a man; he was no longer a selfish nineteen year-old with swarthy good looks and a case of girlfriend envy. Neither of us were even who we were a year earlier.

A few months later, I prepared Frank the first of what would become five thousand- plus dinners, and after I layered chicken marsala on his plate, I looked him in the eye:

“Keep something in mind. Three strikes and you’re out.” I was never any good at fishing.

*****

When our friends have affairs, when they divorce, we shiver, and talk about it. Frank’s tone is rougher now, a little raspy. We’re in our fiftiess, after all. Or maybe it’s just how I hear it after twenty-seven years of daily negotiation, conversation, and the occasional, awful arguments that scrape me raw. When we don’t talk for days, when our teenage sons want to know what’s wrong, I sink deep in the saddle and hold on, hands on both reins, fingers ready to ease out a little, or close imperceptibly tighter. Frank always speaks first, or he sings in my ear, always an old Beatles song, often “Michelle,” the one that declares he’ll get to you somehow. But never Yesterday.

In his voice, I still hear something charmed. Because, aren’t we?

Grace Mattern

Grace Mattern’s poetry and short fiction have been published in numerous literary journals and magazines, including Calyx, Prairie Schooner, The Sun, Poet Lore, Cider Press Review and Yankee. She has received fellowships from the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts and Vermont Studio Center and has published two books of poetry, Fever of Unknown Origin (Oyster River Press, 2002) and The Truth About Death (Turning Point Books, 2012), which received a Readers’ Choice NH Literary Award for poetry. 

 

Granite

Ahead of Eric on the trail, I stop to wait. I look back for him and notice the stone wall that travels up and down the rippled slopes of Mt. Israel. The stacked line of granite has a stately beauty, still holding its shape after more than a century, marking the boundaries of what was once open fields. I imagine the view that would have spread out below me, toward the lakes and lower hills to the south, a bit of which is visible today through the spines of trees still bare on this early March weekend in New Hampshire.

While the trail was sunlit and warm at the bottom, by the time we reached the peak it was still winter. We had to put on our snowshoes to manage the deep snow pack and brushed through stunted spruce trees encased in rime ice, bowed over the trail by the frozen weight of winter. We put on all the outerwear we’d brought, pulled up the hoods of our jackets and tightened them over our wool hats.

Hiking down has been a return to the softening of spring, buds on the trees showing their first hints of color and water running fast in small streams. I’ve shed the extra layers I needed at the top.

Eric catches up with me. “I couldn’t run down like I usually do,” he says and I realize I’ve been wondering why I had to wait for him. We’ve been hiking together through all the decades of our marriage. I know what to expect. He hikes uphill slowly, always behind me as I motor up, pushing the limits of my heartbeat and leg muscles. But coming down Eric usually stays in front. Today he is slow. “My back hurts,” he says.

Two months later Eric is dead. Mt. Israel was our last hike together.

It was a beautiful day when Eric died, his body succumbing in only weeks from when we finally understood the increasing pain in his back was metastatic cancer. Day after day had been bright and breezy, sunlight rippling over his shrinking body as the shades in the open windows of the room where he slept and woke and slept again blew with the warm wind.

Three years later I stop along the trail up Mt. Israel on another clear spring day, sunlight warm up around my shoulders, the chill off the snow at my feet losing patience before it reaches my body core. The stone wall still rises and falls over the ridged hillside, the granite weathered to a rough silver, straight and fluid. Water falling off the mountainside in the stream we cross fans up in a spray over rocks. My feet are wet. I’ve forgotten again to waterproof my boots. Today I am hiking with David, my new companion, a surprise Eric predicted.

“What’s going to happen to me when you’re gone?” I’d asked a few days after we’d learned the extent of disease in Eric’s liver and bones and how little time we had left together.

“You’ll heal for a year or two and then some man will scoop you up.”

David and I stop to grocery shop on the way home, a routine chore we’re getting used to doing together. We’re tired and muddy and want to get home to an evening to ourselves, but it makes sense to get the shopping done now. That way we can stay home all day tomorrow.

I ease into a parking space in the grocery store lot and David pulls a large granite stone from his pocket. “This is for Eric’s grave.” In the year we’ve been together, David has learned from me the Jewish custom of putting a rock on a loved one’s gravestone, a way to mark the visit with a solid reminder.

“I’ve been wanting to go there for weeks,” I say.

“We’ll go after we shop.”

I drive the winding narrow lanes between stone monuments, the trees here also bare. In weeks, the buds will start to break open, making good on the cemetery name, Blossom Hill.

There are piles of rocks on Eric’s tall, narrow headstone of rose granite, though many have fallen off over the winter. I look for rocks in the still yellow grass and make more piles. The gold-foiled pieces of Hanukkah gelt our children, mine and Eric’s, brought to the grave in December are still on the top ledge of the gravestone. The small gourds our daughter painted are a few feet away, half-hidden in matted grass. I pick them up and make a space for their round bottoms to sit among the stones. David puts his piece of granite from Mt. Israel on Eric’s headstone, rearranging rocks to make room.

Caroline Allen

Caroline Allen’s first novel, Earth, was published by Seattle’s Booktrope Publishers in February 2015. Earth is one of the four book Elemental Journey Series – Earth, Air, Fire, Water. Each follows a protagonist on a hero’s journey in a world rocked by climate change. Caroline is a novelist, visual artist and the founder of Art of Storytelling, a coaching service for writers. Prior to a life in the literary and visual arts, she worked as an international journalist in Tokyo, London and throughout Asia. Earth is available at online booksellers. For more information, visit www.carolineallen.com and www.artofstorytellingonline.com.

 

Little Woman

The greatest gift I ever received was a book I never read.

The winter I turned eleven, I sat at the desk in the dormer window, waiting. We got the desk at a yard sale, and it was supposed to be for all seven of us kids, but somehow I’d taken it over. In the basement, I found a lime green bucket of paint and painted it and colored the knobs a canary yellow. I lived at that desk, studying my school books, writing in notebooks. I spent hours at that desk, pretending I was some kind of professor or a famous writer, or some other thing that wasn’t real for someone like me in that cold, hard place.

It was an important day. I’d already been waiting for hours, for years, for centuries.

From that dormer window, I could see so far, up and down Cochise, over the roofs of brick houses, across crabby cow fields, beyond beat-up dog pens. Kids were everywhere, whooping and hollering like packs of wild beasts, boot skating on road ice, building crooked snow people, getting bruised and bloodied by the physicality of the earth. This rural part of mid-Missouri was a vast place — the people fisted it up, but the earth itself was infinite.

Winter in mid-Missouri was a thin layer of ice, a cold crunch. A quiet and vast dusting, a white out of the soul. This place was rough, wild, dirty. Mean. Bitter and filthy. I never felt separate from this land. When I was little, my flesh was sassafras bark. Every crunch of ice, every frozen creek, every burr caught in my coat was me. I was the liquefied ice at the edge of the earth. I was the scratched and crooked roots that bore deep into that hardened Midwestern flesh.

Out the window, a Coup de Ville edged up to the curb. I didn’t move. It was important not to be eager, not to be excited, not to show how deeply you desired.

I watched as Jackie got out of the passenger side. She wore a coat that was too big, and a cheap red scarf that was too small. Her mittens were flowered. She didn’t match. In this part of Missouri, it wasn’t important to match.

Mac and the kid got out. I could never remember the kid’s name. He was beige, his skin beige, his coat beige and his hair was beige too. We had a whole mess of cousins whose names I couldn’t remember. All three ambled across the snowy front yard in awkward silence. This was a slow place. People walked and talked like the crops grew, sluggish, with not much showing on the surface. But below the soil, the roots were inflamed, vibrating with a pain that would smack you hard and fast, that would stab or shoot you when you turned your back.

I heard them enter the back door, heard mumblings downstairs.

Still, I waited.

“Carrie, get on down here now,” Mom finally called from the living room.

I jumped and rushed toward the door, before I remembered and forced myself to stop. Desiring too much got you smacked down. Desire was something a woman in that barbed wire place was not allowed. I paced myself going down the threadbare stairs. We had orange shag carpet, and for years all seven of us had been sliding down the stairs on our butts. Most of the stairs now were bald, with orange shag like old man hair at the edges. There were holes in the shag in the living room too. Dad worked in floor covering, but we never got new carpet.

On the sofa, Jackie sat folded into herself, like all her body parts were put together every morning in a different way. Mac had a handle-bar mustache. He had the tip of his ‘stache greased up with Vaseline to keep it in a perfect curl against his cheeks. He was fat, and he squished his face backwards as if he found everything distasteful. I’m sure there were kids running in and out, but I don’t remember them. This was my day.

Hanging behind Mac and Jackie was a bloodied picture of Jesus. It was one of those holographic photos that changed when you moved your head. His eyes were open in one view, and closed in another. I see you. I don’t see you. I see you. I don’t see you.

In the corner stood the tree. Lights glittered in peripheral vision like something close to hope. Every year, we’d take the truck a few miles to some forested field, trudge through snow to a copse of evergreens and use a hand saw. We couldn’t afford boots for all seven kids so Mom put Wonder Bread bags over our socks, and affixed them with a rubber band around our ankles. The snow was so deep it was higher than the Wonder bags. We dragged the huge evergreen behind us in the snow, carving a brushy path, leaving frazzled angels in our wake, ankles on fire with the ice that’d seeped in.

I stood in front of the adults. I was still healthy at eleven. The troubles hadn’t started yet. At eleven, I was still a force to be reckoned with. I was a runner, a vigor of muscle and will.

Nobody said much. In this part of Missouri, it wasn’t done. The silence went back generations. Nobody told stories. The hush wove its way into sinew and bone. When I left that bloody stump place, when I became an adult, I had to teach myself how to speak in social situations. As a kid, I only learned how to keep the words locked up tight in my shoulders, pushed down in my gut.

Jackie looked at me hard and forceful, her eyes blue and cracked, like she was trying to see into my soul. I tried not to look back at her. I was worried about what I might find there. When you saw too much, it could be a terrifying burden. In my hometown, seeing too much was a weight that could bend you in half.

I looked at my mother. All my life in that gritty place, I never found a woman I wanted to be. Married at eighteen, hauling packs of kids around like sacks of potatoes, following the men, always following the men. The only person who was even close to my way of thinking was my older sister. She was an artist. She could make magic out of trash. When she walked into a room you could cut her energy with a knife. She was also a drunk, even back then, even as a girl. My life involved hauling her off the bathroom floor, blood running from her ear where she hit the toilet on the way down. My life involved punching and kicking men as they tried to pull her into their trucks, where she was willing to go, always willing to go. She was my only reflection, my warped and cracked mirror.   

Jackie had a gift next to her on the sofa. She handed it to me. Every Christmas, she and Mac drove around Missouri seeing kinfolk. I was their god-daughter. The gift was wrapped in cheap red Christmas paper, the kind you buy in bulk from Walmart with tiny Santas on it. It felt damp in my hands, like someone had dropped it in the snow.

Something hard and raw like sauerkraut wafted in from the kitchen. Food was no small thing in our house. The creatures in the forest were our food. The roots from the sassafras were our food. The gooseberries in the thicket by the garden were our food. Pheasant, duck, squirrel, cabbage, russet potatoes, corn.

With Jesus’ eyes closed, I tore the paper in front of the four adults. Last year it was a Lite Brite box. Another year, it was a big box of colored pencils – art supplies in mid-Missouri! You cain’t live on no art supplies. You cain’t eat no art supplies.

The damp wrapping paper didn’t tear with a whistle but disintegrated with a mush. I let the paper drop in a torn heap on the torn shag. I went ice cold when I saw what it was. If you didn’t know me, you would’ve thought I was unhappy. But I wasn’t. I went cold when something was too big to react to, when any reaction couldn’t possibly cover the situation. In that family, I went cold a lot.

It was a book. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. I had never owned a book before. Ever. The only books in the house were a King James Bible and the farmer’s almanac. When I was nine, I locked myself in the upstairs bathroom every night and read the Bible page for page, just for something to read. One of my older brothers caught me coming out with the good book under my arm. He lifted his fist. “You think you’re real smart, don’t you.” He punched a bruise into my upper arm. “You think you’re something special.”

Mostly, though, I was ignored. It was good to fall between the cracks. It was better when no one took notice of you. These people could hurt you with their attention. These people were known to destroy your life with their repeated attention.

I stood there and stared at Little Women as if it were far away, as if I were sitting in the dormer window looking out, and the book was far far below. I think I left my body. I moved. Jesus’ eyes opened. I fell back into my body. I stared at Aunt Jackie — those laser eyes. When I met her gaze, we flew into each other’s souls. I swear we both left our bodies and flew off the planet. We became two stars dancing in the black universe, just the two of us in some far off place where anything, just anything, was possible.

I’m sure I said thank you. I don’t remember. I found myself slipping upward on the carpet, up and up. I could feel Aunt Jackie’s eyes on my back, begging. For what? Pleading. To whom? She wanted something from me, but I didn’t know what. Some spark of hope or possibility in our threadbare world; was that it? I had to keep moving, to get away from the eyes, up and up the stairs, until I was safely behind my bedroom door, until I was back in the dormer window. Until I was alone again, and hidden.

The book was a blue, glossy, hardback. I put the binding up to my nose and breathed it into my flesh. It smelled like glue. I worried the texture of a single page between my fingertips. I turned it over in my hands and put my palm flat on the glossy cover. I rubbed my hand over and over that book – for minutes, for years, for centuries, reading it through my palm.

I better not think I was too smart with all that book larnin. Real larnin’ happened when you used your hands for labor. You cain’t eat no books. You cain’t live on no books. Real larnin meant knowing how to shoot a beast through the eyes, tear off their fur, and yank out their guts.

Sometimes my older sister would bring home tattered searing saga bodice rippers. I’d tear at the paperbacks as if with my teeth, voracious like an animal. I’d salivate as I bore through the story, devouring three hundred pages in one sitting. I was starving for story.

I never read Little Women. To this day, I have not read the book. I couldn’t. How could I? Every time I opened the cover, I could barely breathe. If I tried to read all of its pages, I would surely suffocate. The book was like a mirror, and if I opened it, I’d see my own face. I wasn’t ready to see my own face. My first book. My only book. A book. For me.

I slept with Little Women. I ate with Little Women. I took Little Women to school, to track practice. I threw it in the back seat of my Ford Pinto when I turned sixteen. I ended up taking Little Women to college. I broke the binding sleeping with it so much. Finally, the pages started falling out like the hair of an old woman, and I had to let her go.

When I turned forty, decades after I left Missouri never to return, when I was estranged from all things Missouri, after a career all over the world as a journalist and then as a fiction writer, I wrote Aunt Jackie a letter. She was still a nurse in Missouri. I told her that I was a writer now, and a visual artist. I sent her paintings. Not stories. I didn’t want to open the door to the stories. There were reasons for the silence. I’d spent a decade opening my own door to my own stories, and all hell had broken loose. I didn’t want to evoke the caged beast that rattled behind that mid-Missouri reticence. I was learning that some people needed the silence. To survive.

I realized I still hadn’t read Little Women. I found a copy in a two dollar bin at Barnes and Noble. I sat on the bed, opened the cover and started sobbing. I couldn’t see a word. I couldn’t stop sobbing.

For weeks, every time I opened the book I’d break down in tears. It was hopeless. The book stayed on my bed. I didn’t move it. As I slept, it lay there at the foot of the bed. How long would the binding last this time, as I tossed and turned and had my Little Woman dreams?

I decided enough was enough. I had to get the DVD and just watch the damned thing. This was ridiculous. I was forty years old!

And so, I watched Little Women, one night by myself on a tiny TV. I sat there in shock. Jo’s story was my story. Both the story of me as an 11-year-old, and the story of how my life would evolve, as a tomboy, somebody hot-tempered who would travel, someone who was a writer.

I wailed watching that movie, bent over at the waist. My whole world cracked open, as if I were a beast of the forest, and I were being butchered, fur torn off, guts rifled and studied like some beastly oracle. Raw. Exposed.

Jackie had seen me in that unseen world.

Those eyes. I thought back to those eyes. Jesus eyes. Jackie’s. My own seeing. As a child, before I traveled the world, when the travel happened in my soul, I would look out that dormer window, and fly on blistery winds above our property. I’d soar over the scrappy vegetable garden and cow fields, beyond the twisted barbed wire, over the iced-over dog house where Buck was chained all day, his life never more than a circle of dirt. I would ascend over Missouri, above fields parceled out like a rag quilt. I’d soar beyond the state, along black bulbous skies, over rocky and wild mountains, across oceans, to foreign lands. Even when I was a kid I could see so far.

What could Jackie see? My mother? These hidden women.

This battered. This divine. This feminine.

What were their veiled dreams? How far can each of us see, deep into the soul of the world? In that house where women fell between the cracks.

I see you. I don’t see you.

I see you.

I see you.

I see you.

Eugene H. Davis

Eugene Davis Eugene H. Davis worked as a writer and editor in Los Angeles and Europe. His fiction has appeared in The Pacific Review and a teleplay was produced in Germany. His film reviews have appeared in Magill’s Cinema Annual. He is the editor of a book on pre-Columbian art for Rizzoli and recently completed a novel entitled A Father’s Tale. He is a member of the Florida Writers’ Association and teaches English and creative writing in Florida.

 

Howl No More

I.

Seventy-five odd years ago, Germany,
Once the most cultured nation in the world,
Unleashed its vision of benighted darkness,
An auto-da-fé smoldering
Deep within mankind’s secret heart,
Fanned by the Svengali of Primeval
Whose name, like Haman’s,
Forks the tongue and falls, accursed,
Down, down, down,
Through the runnels of time,
Unto Eternity.

But my issue is not with this Beast,
Who like a leavening in the collective
Bread of mankind,
Rises up through the centuries,
To accuse and incite against my people,
Whipping the blighted masses
Into acts of gimlet-eyed cruelty and bloodletting.

Nor is it with the bystanders,
Bullied into collaborating,
Gleeful practitioners of the age-old curse of Shadenfreude,
Planted, in the limbic brain like a black jewel,
Jubilant especially,
At the sight of Jewish blood.
Flesh and bone of martyred, sainted heroes –
Mothers, fathers, babes, teachers, rabbis, sisters,
Brothers all – for what? For what I demand!

Where were you then, Oh Holy One, oh righteous One,
Oh, Thou, all loving, exacting judge and redeemer,
Yea, ye of 613 commandments,
And a thousand and one rituals, and more!
You, who silently condoned the slaughter of believers,
Who went like the martyrs of old,
To their deaths with your name
On their parched lips.

Now, amid summer’s lushness,
I wander the Places of torture and murder
Of Jews, Poles, Sinta and all deemed “Unlebenswurdig.”
I stumble, blinded, stunned, blasted, howling,
See the shoes, the shoes, the shoes of the dead,
Spared from the fires of the Inferno by being soul-less.
And I cannot comprehend, God help me, the darkness
That festers in the wilderness of the human soul.

 

II.

From Germany to Czech lands,
From the Palatine to Galicia,
From Riga to Latvia,
All across the Christian lands
Where Jew and Gentile once lived in tense truce,
I visit with my 30 righteous colleagues
The places of sad remembrance, amid the artifacts
Of Germany’s precise machinery of death.

The Polish Pale is awash in butterflies and the wonders of creation,
Flora and fauna,
Where once Jewish life flourished
In a renaissance of culture and religion,
And of mystical longing for salvation
Signaled by the coming of Elijah.
Who has not read the enchanting tales
Of the Bal Shem Tov recounted by
An expatriate Polish Jew
By the name of I.B. Singer?
Who has not marveled at the miracles
Of shtetl Rebs, faced with
The treachery of nobles,
Who outsmarted their enemies,
Or rose on angel wings of prayer to escape
Certain and ignoble death?

Such was the imaginative tapestry of Chasidic romanticism,
But no Shield against the Steely geomancy
Of the new and faithless Crusaders,
Who set themselves up as cynical murderous gods.

 

III.

Softly, softly, I tread the shadow
Of the valley of death,
Renewed in spirit in the knowledge
That my brethren did not go
To their deaths like sheep,
But fought the oppressor in countless
Myriad ways of spirit and mind and fist and guts
And gun and knife and stick and club
And prayer and art and cry defiant,
As their loved ones rose to heaven
In columns of blackened smoke,
Only to descend, angel dust,
Upon the blessed and accursed alike.

And everywhere, as we light our candles and recite
The Kaddish and sing the Shema,
An affirmation of our heroes, not victims,
I have my answer –
I have my answer, dear God.

Flesh and blood could never be sacrificed in vain,
But stands, in the hearts and minds of survivors –
And in all those touched by their stories
Such as those we were fortunate to hear –
As a symbol of the indomitable human spirit,
And a frontlet of our collective responsibility
To one another and all those forsaken,
Regardless of race, color, or creed.

We will never forget, never forgive,
And we will never let it happen again.
We are charged, now that we have seen,
Have born witness,
And we have our marching orders.

And, I, lost Jew, have found my way.
My howl has been heard,
And slowly, painfully, I begin to understand.

  ––––––––

Note:

Baal Shem Tov, considered the founding father of Hasidism, was famed Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer. “Master of the Good Name”, who lived in Poland in the late 1700s.

Frontlet is a phylactery, or leather box containing verses from the Torah, worn on the forehead as a symbol of the faithful Jew’s binding to God.

Kaddish is an ancient Jewish prayer sequence regularly recited in the synagogue service for the dead.

Schadenfreude is a German word denoting joy in another’s suffering.

Shema is an affirmation of Judaism and a declaration of faith, perhaps the most important of prayers.

Sinti or “Sinta” is the politically correct term for the Romani people of Central Europe (220,000 murdered by Nazis).

Unlebenswurdig: (German) “unworthy of life”; applied by the Nazis  to the handicapped and terminally and mentally ill, who were quietly eliminated in hospitals, as a precursor to removing Jews from German society.

Bonnie Wai-Lee Kwong

Bonnie Wai-Lee Kwong is a multi-media poet and a software developer in the San Francisco Bay Area. She has lived in nine states and two continents. Writing is a way for her to traverse seen and unseen geographies. Her work has been nominated for a 2014 Pushcart Prize, and published in various journals and anthologies, including California Quarterly, The Columbia Review, Crab Orchard Review, Drunken Boat, The Pedestal, Nimrod, Spillways, and others. Her book-length poetry manuscript, Ravel, has been listed as a finalist for the White Pine Press Poetry Prize and the New Rivers Press Many Voices Project Prize.

 

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Bonnie Wai-Lee Kwong_Poem2

Kamden Hilliard

Kamden Hilliard tries to study writing and psychology in New York. He succeeds. Sometimes. He is: a poor sleeper, recipient of fellowships from Callaloo and The Davidson Institute, contributor for Elite Daily and an avid hiker. He tries to keep busy. In the past he’s been a poetry editor and editor-in-chief at The Adroit Journal, and other lovely places. His poems have appeared (or will appear) in Requited Journal, *82 Review, Bodega, Specter, and other journals. If Kamden wasn’t writing, he’d be very sad—or a scientist.

 

KamdenHilliard_Poem

Jennifer Raha

Jennifer Raha earned her MFA from UNC Greensboro in 2013 and her BA in English from the University of Virginia. Her poems have recently appeared in Triquarterly, The Santa Clara Review, and The Cresset. Jennifer is a high school English teacher and lives in Suffolk, Virginia.

 

Perennial

You did not come in like summer,
car seats hot to the touch, all that sweat.

Nor winter: cold, sullen,
and anxious—as anyone—to run off.

Fall would not do either,
with its loud cackle of fire and leaves.

You were and remain spring,
that fresh light crossing over

the hills in the horizon.
What if this is all anyone means

when discussing rebirth?
—the recollecting of who we are

as children, that light in the eye
so strong that when I catch a glimpse

of myself in the mirror
I find my girlhood

grin, fearless and willing, high ponytail
lopped to the side from laughter.

 

 

Resupination

In the kitchen, an orchid grows
toward the window & often
I catch myself pressing a palm
against the radiator, resting
my own cheek against the glass.

Labyrinth creation—
you make so much and so little
sense—the orchid awarding
her most ornate petal with a swelling
into bloom. Nothing is separate.
For everything, explanation.
Even the bud knows to twist out
of its weight, to thrust its bottom
below and so, continually
faces upwards, professing
the petal’s song labellum labellum labellum.

Maryann Russo

Maryann Russo has poems appearing in numerous publications and last year she published Wild and Still. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee. She is a psychotherapist who lives and works in Redondo Beach, California.

 

Joe Redota Trail

A pair of wings
flutters flashes
of gold and orange

Brown leaves
cling to their trees
even as green
overtakes them

A rusted chain
hangs from an old
wooden post

White wild daisies
pop from the
edges of concrete

One blue jay
takes its chances
and hops across the road

My heart wants
to close
It opens
to whatever season
comes

Issa M. Lewis

Issa Lewis Issa M. Lewis is a graduate of New England College’s Poetry MFA program. She was the 2013 recipient of the Lucille Clifton Poetry Prize. Her poems have previously appeared or are forthcoming in Tule Review, Jabberwock, Prairie Wolf Review, Linden Avenue Literary Journal, and Pearl. She lives in West Michigan.

 

 

The Catacomb Saints

Never mind who you were—
you may have worn rags soiled with sweat
and blood. Maybe they barely covered
your body and you tugged the unfinished hems
up or down to salvage your dignity
as you were dragged through the tunnel.
The archway ahead of you roared light
so you closed your eyes and whispered
Jesus.

When you awoke, you were bones
and gold. Heaven was darker than you thought
it would be, full of echoes of dripping water.
Strings of light crept in from cracks above
like golden ribbons keeping your skeleton intact.
Every piece of you glittered and clinked,
rings on every finger. You held chalices and swords,
an underground king ruling over rats.

Who you are now is faded and brittle
as old paper. The sapphires in your eyes dulled
a hundred years ago, when people stopped looking
beyond the bones, when they could no longer imagine
your face not encrusted with gold.

Gail Goepfert

Gail Goepfert’s poetry has appeared in anthologies, print and online journals including Avocet, After Hours, Caesura, Florida English, Uproot Magazine, Homeopathy Today, Jet Fuel Review, Examined Life Journal, and Ardor among others. She was a semi-finalist for the Mississippi Valley Poetry Contest and the Journal of Modern Poetry. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2014. She’s an associate editor for RHINO Poetry.

 

Revivify

~after Louise Glück’s “October”                                                                                           

1.

Is it near-winter again, is it cold again,
didn’t the snow just pool
among the winter pansies, the bed-ivy,

didn’t the pavement
dampen with melt, melt slosh
on suede boots,

didn’t ice daggers just
slither down the shingles

piercing the ear, the sallow earth
in their plummet.
I remember how russet

turned to olive to meadow green,
moss threading the bricks
like damask.

Didn’t I just hear the jay?

No matter the apricot
on the rose, the banjo tuned
when the cicadas come.

I am silenced. Empty.

By the gravity of winters
past, the cruelty of hollows
in the days that shamble by
savagely the same.

Foolish. I look for reclamation
in rusty soup kettles,
joints that creak.

The breadknife’s in the marrow.

There’s no retreat,
from the caustic lime
tapped into that fissure.

 

2.

Only red berries
fleck the crabapple bough—leafskins
like snake jackets upon the ground.

Tell me I’m wrong.
Tell me the drained rain barrel
bubbles over
come spring.

I swallow hard in the dark.

Tell me numbed and frozen flesh
revivifies with touch.

My feet root in the dank.

I listen for what I know.
Listen for a ping, a quiver
beneath my ribs.


3.

It is true that some things
are beyond my ken.
I swing vine-like
between wise and withered.

It’s true. In spring, fiddleheads
push through the earth.

Curlicues of green
uncoil in the sun.

But it is gray that taps me dry.

Wanting, I wrench
brilliance from sunlight.

 

4.

Get up, said the world.
I try to make a sonnet
out of charcoal.

Eva Schlesinger

SchlesingerEva Schlesinger is the author of the chapbooks, Remembering the Walker and Wheelchair: poems of grief and healing (Finishing Line Press, 2008), View From My Banilla Vanilla Villa (dancing girl press, 2010), and Ode 2 Codes & Codfish (dancing girl press, 2013). She has received the Literal Latte Food Verse Award as well as been a finalist for Writer’s Digest’s Red Heart: Black Heart Contest and the 2014 Mary Ballard Chapbook Prize. Her poetry credits also include California Quarterly, the Little Red Tree 2012 International Poetry Prize Anthology, and Changing Harm to Harmony: Bullies and Bystanders, ed. Joseph Zaccardi (Marin Poetry Center Press, 2014). She has also completed a young adult novel, Everyone Knows About Aleph. When she isn’t writing, Eva reads voraciously, improvises on xylopipes and Native American flute, and draws wildly colorful, whimsical animals. Find her blog at http://notesfromthecupcakerescueleague.wordpress.com

 

With You in Hildesheim

Flying with you to Germany
Eating thinly sliced pumpernickel and cheese and muesli
You helped yourself to jam and coffee
I drank berry and fennel tea
You showed me around Hildesheim
Where you lived before the Nazis took over
We visited the park where you liked walking with your parents
I liked walking with you
You took me out to eat
Smiling your twinkly smile
You dug into your whipped cream with gusto
And wore your napkin folded like a crown
You showed me the train station and ordered my ticket,
Speaking patiently in German to the impatient lady behind the glass window
You told me about visiting your aunt and uncle via horse and buggy
We walked everywhere together.
You showed me the statue of Roland
You liked to play near when you were little
And the 1000-year-old rosebush
When I returned from the Steiff Museum,
You stayed up till midnight to greet me
You wanted to hear all about the animals
You laughed with warmth when I told how
I went to Gingen instead of Giengen

I am grateful for that week alone with you
Me being me and you being you

David Kann

David Kann came back to poetry, having made his escape from a long walkabout in the desert of academic administration. He returned to school and earned an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. He presently teaches poetry and American literature and works hard at keeping his head down and avoiding any and all administrative duties.

 

The Language of the Farm

1. The Language of the Farm in Autumn

The farm in autumn speaks
the plain sense of things
without frill or filigree, speaks
true and solid as well-sunk fenceposts
enclosing fields spiked with stubble, speaks
in the wind carrying rags of leaves
and the flinty smell that comes just before snow, speaks
in a tongue so cold we’re driven
from mirrors, from still water, even from shadows,
terrified of its indifference,
each word icy-bright and sharp as a knife
that peels flesh from bone,
and opens nerves to the dull November sun
or the frost-misted moon’s tarnished silver
pouring thick over the bare land. 

 

2. Death of Innocents

We were fourteen and fifteen-year old kids,
bussed from the July city’s swelter
sent to work on an upstate farm,
strangers to each other
who hardly knew the gulfs we tried to bridge
with mumbled crumbs of sentences,
judging each other’s clothes, shoes, hair.
Eyes aimed away, we barely talked,
trapped in our angular stiff bodies.

The next morning we were bunched,
mute, behind a swaybacked barn,
told there were chickens to be butchered.
Even that early in the morning
the hot sun raised the rich reek
of piled manure and rotting hay.
I could hardly take a breath.

To one side, a trench under two poles
linked by a pine plank so old
it seemed to grow splinters,
four broad, dented metal funnels nailed to it,
a deep-bellied, sooty pot simmering beside it,
scummy water over a low fire.
By the pot, a door on sawhorses,
marbled with stony black stains
and the stacked low wooden cages
filled with birds crammed
into a shit-stained solid mass.
Amber eyes looked through the dowel-bars.
Quiet clucking and low crooning rose.

A farmhand yanked a bird by the neck
through a door at the top of a cage.
It squawked, flapped and shed feathers until
he shoved it head-first
into one of the funnels,
drew its head through.
With a casual left-right slash
he cut the throat.
The loose head dangling
and a soft patter into the dry trench.
My breath stopped.
The trees’ rustle stopped.
I believe the clouds stopped.

Some of were given small, wood-handled knives
with burred crosshatching on the edges
and sent to the trench.
Others with long knives
were sent to the table and waited quietly.
I snatched a chicken by its scaly legs.
It jerked my arm left and right,
Scrawing, wings flapping,
head curved upward, until
I jammed it into a funnel.
I reached for its wedge head,
like pinching my heart.
It fought in my fingers.
tried to pull back.
Then I drew it through.
The blinking eyes nailed me.
I drew back,
left the chicken hanging there,
scaly talons upward, grasping at the air,
under the warming summer sun and leaf dapple.
The head jerked left and right,
the beak opening and closing,
chewing at the air for voice.
I filled my lungs.
Taking the knife in one hand, the terrifying head in the other,
I slashed.
Too deep.
The head dropped into my palm.
Blood poured through my fingers,
over my wrist, dripped from my elbow.
I flung the head in the trench.
The hen’s eyes were still rolling,
the beak still searching for the air to cry out.
Spinning, wringing and shaking my hands,
I sent bird blood flying everywhere
stained my face and my new white tee-shirt.
Everything stopped.
Everyone stared at me.

What else could I do
in front of their gaze
but take another bird?
Three boys joined in.
Together, it seemed easy.
We grabbed and slashed, grabbed and slashed.
We laughed, passing the slack dangling drained birds,
their combs gone pale pink, to the black scalding pot,
then to the plucking table
and then to the next table
where they were butchered.
We sorted ropes of intestine, green gall bladders,
red gizzards; garnet, lobed livers, pale pink meat.
The air was filled with slither and slop.
The barn cats under the table,
yowled, and clawed over spilled innards.

I found a dull, split-shanked, rusted hand-axe,
took a chicken,
stretched it out on a stump,
struck at its neck, two, three times
and the head flew to the side.
The bird body sprang up, running, tumbling in blind somersaults
blood spurting from its crushed neck that spasmed
in and out of its feathered stump.
We all were red-splattered.
First silent, we stared.
Then we laughed.
Then we roared, then howled, then danced
around the white rag of the dead bird and the blood-muddy killing trench.
We smeared each other’s faces with chicken blood,
heaved guts at each other until we were speckled
with flecks of liver,
draped with thin blue strings of intestine,
painted with shit.

That night, I kissed a girl,
slipped my blooded hand in her shirt,
felt her small nipple rise against my hot palm,
let her sleek hot tongue in my mouth,
staggered by her silky sex cupped in my hand.
I rose
with the moon into the night.
I rose,
loving death and my flesh,
into the brawling dark with all its spinning stars,
dancing with crickets’ and nighthawks’ bright calls.

 

3. Incidental Divinity

It’s late for mowing,
but we’ve forgotten
an outlying field carved from the woods,
left fallow for hay we’ll need this winter.
I’m sent out this morning,
thirteen years old and proud
to be trusted, alone
on a beat-up red and rust Farmall Cub.
At the end of the field
I lower the cutter bar,
engage the power take-off.
I leave a track behind me
like a ship tacking into a stiff wind.
Dust, hay fragments and the chatter
of the scissoring blades rise around me.

The cutter’s rhythm stutters;
the belt slips and squeals;
the engine staggers under a sudden load,
almost stalls,
coughs,
coughs,
picks up again.
There’s a splatter of blood on my hand.
Cold in my gut, I slam the ignition off,
stumble from the still-coasting tractor.

There’s a big woodchuck on his side.
His head is almost gone.
He paws at the air.
From his ruined mouth.
a ruby pool spreads over the stubble.
I look around for a sharp tool,
a spade, anything to chop with;
I think of stomping his head.
But he stops in mid-stride,
seems to shrink.
The surrounding woods recede and grey.
I can’t breathe.
Then I remember how.
The trees regain their green.
I knuckle my eyes,
climb back in the saddle and finish the job.
For days after
I can find the body by its rank stink.
I stand in the mowed and raked field,
staring at the rice-grain maggots
pouring from the mouth like speech
and in the ragged eye-holes left by crows.
With each visit, the chuck seems to fold into itself,
sinking into other dimensions;
hunks of matted fur,
rags of blackened skin,
yellow teeth, ivory bones
in the middle of stubble so sharp
I can feel its pinch through my boot soles.

By late winter there’s only crusted fur,
disarticulated bones, scattered teeth
and brittle pelt frost-welded to the dirt,
hard as iron when I poke it with my toe.
One March night I drop to my hands and knees,
nose close to the softened ground:
an animal, maybe a coyote
sniffing the strewn ruins.
There’s only the flinty smell of air just before snow.

It comes on spring.
Sent to harrow the new grass
and plow the field for seed corn,
I fire up the Cub.
At one spot there is a greener hummock,
ecstatic with the flicker
of Indian paintbrush,
cornflower, and buttercup.
The morning light picks out mayflies,
a boiling swarm of gnats,
and a hunting swallow’s eccentric circle.

 

4. Fallow Field

Cela est bien dit . . . mais il faut cultiver notre
jardin.

Voltaire

As this October day limps westward,
I find myself
on my way to someplace else
on a back-highway smelling of hot tar,
arced by maple, oak and weeping birch
that autumn’s dry fingers have barely touched.
A sudden turn-off takes me
down a high-crowned dirt road
winding through the woods
with no more direction than a stream
bent by granite’s refusal and dirt’s embrace.
In these woods snarled in wild grapes
and up to its knees in deadfall
someone’s carved out a field
given to bright gold rye,
defying burdock, sumac, and spurge
to stay true to its borders and corners.
I stop and step into cool shadows
among bone-bleached stumps
giving themselves to worms and foxfire.
It think that I could make a warm bed
in the furrows of this field,
lie down among stalk and beard,
brothering the crop, tilting and falling with their ranks,
then turned under in a breaking wave of stubble and soil
sheering left and right under a gang plough’s
bent shoesole blades worn shiny with work,
waiting under loam and snow,
dreaming dirt’s annular dream
of bud, blossom and brightening blow.

Noorulain Noor

Noorulain Noor is a Clinical Research Manager in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is also the Associate Editor of Papercuts, a publication of Desi Writers’ Lounge (DWL). DWL is a non-profit trust and online writing community for emerging South Asian writers run entirely on a voluntary basis. Noorulain is a member of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in ARDOR literary magazine, aaduna, Santa Clara Review, Poydras Review, Apeiron Review, Blue Bonnet Review, and other journals along with being nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Raised in Lahore, Pakistan, Noorulain now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and daughter. She blogs about life’s little matters, and her poetry attempts to explore the broad themes of identity, multiculturalism, and the immigrant experience.

Chronology of Evil Eye

When I was seven days old,
my hair was shaven. Mother held the woolly strands,
her palms cupped in prayer under the kitchen faucet,
and let them be carried to the city’s innards.
A butcher was summoned to our house
and he slaughtered a goat for my long life.
The meat she distributed among neighbors,
and the hide she gave to the gypsies
who lived in bamboo huts at the end of the street –
they sold it for a few rupees, a meal or two.

For two more girl-babies who emerged
from the same womb, this ritual was replicated.
“No brother?” strange women said to the three of us.
“Such darling angels, such burden. Those eyes! That hair!”
Mother circled two eggs around our eyes
and broke them on a stone in the garden,
the yolks – twin suns over rock – congealed in the heat.
She touched seven red chilies to our heads
and charred them in the flame of an oil lamp,
plumes of roasted-pepper smoke gave our noses an itch.

Every fortnight, Mother
told us to put fistfuls of lentils in steel bowls,
pour milk into pails,
rice, flour, and sugar into buckets.
This bounty our hands prepared
she delivered to the neighborhood gypsies
and three beggar families that slept
under the awning of a condemned building.
In return, they gave her wild mint leaves,
hand-woven hemp baskets, and blessings.

When my brother was seven days old,
his hair was shaven. Mother saved the shorn wisps
and his shriveled umbilical cord stump
in the folds of a cotton handkerchief.
The butcher slaughtered two goats for his long life.
When he was forty-one days old,
she drove to the Ravi, shook the cloth’s contents
into the river, and looked up at the sky,
“A brother to three girls, choice-prey of evil eye,
save my son, save him, save him, save him.”

Karen Greenbaum-Maya

Karen Greenbaum-Maya, retired clinical psychologist, German major, two-time Pushcart nominee and occasional photographer, no longer lives for Art, but still thinks about it a lot. Poems have appeared recently in Women’s Studies Quarterly, B O D Y, Flutter Poetry Review, and Mobius: A Journal of Social Change. She was featured poet in the August 2013 issue of Unshod Quills. Kattywompus Press publishes her two chapbooks, Burrowing Song, a collection of prose poems, and Eggs Satori. For links to work on-line, go to: www.cloudslikemountains.blogspot.com/.

 

My Uncle the Perfectionist

Salt falls, veiling his plate. He’s talking about some new movie, but when he shakes that maraca, no one is listening, no one can look away from the shimmer of grains. You want to just chatter over his sound track, you want to ask him Don’t you taste it yet? How would you call it, taste-deaf? tongue-blind? He’s got the Cro-Magnon avalanche, that infamous cliff of a forehead, but he acts like there’s no frontal lobe to fill it. No self-checking, no mending, no amending. He’ll try anything a time or six, burnt child eying the fire. Everyone else sees the whipped cream pie flying, yet another slapstick gag become shtick. His new girlfriend is getting her 7-day chip at AA for the eighth time. He dug a hole to set a trap, and then he fell right in. He never notices the foreshock that has everyone else ducking for cover. He should know by now, but to him everything always tastes the same. Soon he’ll drip tears, contrite all over again, the same damned crime, the same tell-tale flavor. What has been will be.

Lowell Jaeger

Lowell Jaeger is editor of Many Voices Press, Lowell Jaeger compiled New Poets of the American West, an anthology of poets from 11 Western states. He is author of five collections of poems, including and WE (Main Street Rag Press 2010) and How Quickly What’s Passing Goes Past (Grayson Books 2013). Most recently Jaeger was awarded the Montana Governor’s Humanities Award for his work in promoting thoughtful civic discourse.

 

A Salesman’s Song

Traveling back from Hot Springs last
night, late enough not to worry
over the day’s calls left undone,
a side road I’d often passed
called in the voice of a million yellow flowers.
For once I didn’t think twice how the sun
was low, another day shot tracking hours
across a map. Give in. What’s the hurry,
said the gravel spitting under my wheels,
and I let that lane lead me where it would.
Laughing, lost, an outlaw on the roam,
pleased at the breeze on my face and how it feels
to park along the cutbank where I stood
in the flow of pretending I might never go home.

Bridget Gage-Dixon

Bridget Gage-Dixon spends her days cajoling other people’s teenagers to read great books and utilize proper grammar, and her nights cajoling her own teens to pick up after themselves. She lives in a small house in the woods where she can often be found at her computer agonizing over word choice. Her work has appeared in several journals, including Poet Lore, The New York Quarterly, and The Cortland Review.

 

Hew Paints Crickets

The birds don’t care,
the sheep’s wavering tongues
keep a silent rhythm in the fields.
The cows, intoxicated by their first taste
of spring, look on indifferently.

In the house Emma unstrings
a yard sale guitar, runs arthritic
fingers over warped frets.
The cat, sunning itself on kitchen tile,
ignores the cruel joke of mice traps
tucked below the cabinets.

A pile of unread books
cower on a corner shelf.
Emma imagines herself
in the spotlight while Hew
paints the opaline sky.

Benjamin Schmitt

Benjamin Schmitt’s poetry has been published in Solo Novo, Otis Nebula, Splash of Red, The Write Place at the Write Time, The Pacific Review, The Chaffey Review, and elsewhere. His first book was published in 2013 by Kelsay Books. It is entitled The global conspiracy to get you in Bed. He currently lives in Seattle with his wife where he teaches workshops to both children and adults.

 

We were radicals

In days before we fell
burying thoughts of ourselves,
we were radicals
late nights filled
with the coffee and nicotine making rude gestures
as we quoted Bakunin
and the Dead Kennedys.
Planning the overthrow of capitalism
in between games on the Nintendo 64,
we drank wine out of boxes and squatted
in abandoned houses. Some of us were loud
and arrested for our ideas, I wrote a letter
to the governor of Idaho
claiming I had evidence he was a dolphin
having sex with monkeys. It was hard not to laugh
when the secret service interrogated me,
asking if I wrote the letter with the signature
“Jimmy, who likes to take it up the ass.”
There were nights when the cops chased us,
we ran through ditches, zeal glinting off streams.
The enormities seem so malleable,
but it is the manageable which resign us.
There are so many bars
I have been tossed out of,
stumbling home with my unspent money
leaning on a hot dog for support.

Arika Elizenberry

Arika Elizenberry is a Las Vegas, Nevada native and has been writing poetry and fiction for over ten years. Some of her favorite writers include James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Maya Angelou, and Langston Hughes. Her work has appeared in publications such as The Silver Compass, Neon Dreams, and Open Road Review. She currently holds an A.A. in Creative Writing and is working on her B.A. in English.

 

Red Summer, 1919

Oh, Amerikkka, Amerikkka—
land of freedom, democracy.
Is that what they call it?
Humph…..

My Uncle John Hartsfield
was strung from a sweet gum
tree in Ellisville. Screaming
for his life– rioters cut off his
fingers, hoisted him up, and
released two thousand bullets
into his lifeless body.
Photos of him were sold for
fifteen cents. 

Remember my Uncle Willie Brown?
Rioters in Omaha strung him
from a lamppost, shot him dead,
and—set his corpse aflame.
A cluster of ivory faces grinned

with satisfaction. 

Remember my Uncle Joe Ruffin’s boys—
Henry and John Holiday? Rioters in
Carswell Grove bound their necks,
shot them, and fed them to the flames
of a church.
Celebratory laughs followed.

Amerikkka, your spurned green-eyed monsters
killed my uncles in Knoxville—
killed my aunts in Chicago—
killed my cousins in Charleston.
Solving the black problem with knives,
guns, bats, and bricks—protecting their
freedom.

Meanwhile, the blood of my
kin lay slain from coast to
coast in the name of equality,
your democracy,
Amerikkka.

Robert Cooperman

Robert Coopermn. Just DriveJust Drive
by Robert Cooperman

Copyright: 2014
Press: Brick Road Poetry Press
ISBN: 13:978-0-98988724-0-9
Pages: 100
Reviewed by: Barry Marks

 

Being There

So what happens when a nice Jewish boy takes a job driving a taxicab in New York City? (After his mother’s heart attack, that is). Jews do have a tendency to show up in unexpected vocations, including Hall of Fame pitchers and generals in the U. S. military, but driving a hack in Manhattan? Seriously?

As Robert Cooperman tells it in his compelling new collection, Just Drive, being a Jewish cab driver means bringing an outsider’s critical eye to the taxi stand and shining a keen intelligence on a world where it is not always welcome. His driver is as much observer as participant. Cooperman offers his reader tales that are at once intimate and jaded, cynical, and empathetic. His persona is perched in the front seat with a hawk’s eye view of drunken conventioneers looking to cheat on their wives, faded actresses, hitmen and “ladies of the backseat.”

Cooperman tells us about Sid the vicious and verbose driver and Nicci, the female driver who takes none of his bullying. We sigh for the poor schmuck whose wife left him (he just wanted to be driven around, anywhere) and seethe at the racist, anti-Semitic fare who goes postal when thrown out of the cab. The characters parade through the taxi and each one tells a life’s story or presents an epiphany in the space of a single ride.

The driver debunks myths (“In fiction, cabbies are loquacious/as barbers, wise as bartenders…”), endures the cruelty of a tough job (“…he’d beat me silly/and knew with even more certainty, none/of the other hacks would lift a finger”) and keeps his quiet dignity.

His world is intermittently boring and downright dangerous, as when he narrowly averts sliding into an icy lake, crawling along and still facing:

…the long,
treacherous drive through the enemy
territory of falling snow

Good deeds don’t go unpunished, as when he rescues an old Chasid from muggers, only to be berated for not laying tefilin and being a better Jew. At least, he notes, his cab wasn’t stolen. There is something familiar, traditional, almost orthodox in his attitude toward his and others’ suffering. It is a Jewish world-view imposed on a dirty, down-stroking world. It is what a man needs to accept that a widow will leave an urn containing her husband’s ashes in the seat and just walk away.

Yet, somehow, Cooperman’s cabbie is never cold, never dismissive or condescending. He remains, through it all, caring and involved, even when he is incredulous at the Mr. Peepers character who can’t resist graphically describing a sexual encounter with two (yes, two) porn stars. He remains “leopard-alert” but still slips into fantasies of beautiful fares who, against all odds and logic, will find him cute.

The poetry itself is accessible but never boring. Cooperman writes with the assured hand of a poet who has published fourteen prior books. His free verse is neither cerebral nor sentimental. The important thing here is not flashy technique or a surprising image that stops you mid-poem. He knows that his strength is in the narrative and his effort is to take you where he has been. His cab-driving observer imbues every mundane detail with intelligence, but resists the opportunity to digress into judgment or philosophy. His imagery is neither overblown nor unnecessarily dark:

At a certain time of night
almost every corner of Midtown
is adorned by a shivering woman

in hot pants, earrings that dangle
like wind chimes, and heels Babel-high.

At the end of the day, Just Drive is not for the purist or technician. It isn’t for those who want high-sounding sentiment or to be shocked by violence and verbal degradation. This book is for those who want a poem to take them somewhere they haven’t been and introduce them to people they haven’t met…and a few who are all too familiar. We are not talking philosophy here. In fact, as Cooperman notes at the end of the last poem:

You wanted advice?
Listen to your mother.
We drove, we just drove.

 ––––––––

Barry Marks is a Birmingham attorney, and the author of two books of poetry. Possible Crocodiles, his first book, was named 2010 Book of the Year by the Alabama State Poetry Society. Sounding, his second book, is an emotional but unsentimental examination of grief, loss and recovery. Sounding was a finalist for the Grand Prize in the 2013 Eric Hoffer Award for Independent Publishers. He is former a member of the Big Table Poets and has participated in that group’s anthologies. Barry’s chapbook, There is Nothing Oppressive as a Good Man, won the 2003 John and Miriam Morris Chapbook Competition. He is the author of three other chapbooks and his poetry has appeared in over 100 journals and anthologies. Barry was Alabama’s Poet of the Year for 1999. He is a frequent reader, lecturer and workshop leader. Barry’s new book, Dividing By Zero is scheduled for publication late in 2014.

Marcel Lecomte

Translator’s Note on Marcel Lecomte’s Work:

Marcel Lecomte (1900-1966) is one of the forgotten fathers of Belgian surrealism. While he would go on to publish several collections of poetry in his lifetime (and two more post-humously), Lecomte is best known as a journalist and critic, writing a large number of essays, art reviews, and political columns and pamphlets throughout his life. Born in Brussels, he was raised during the turbulence of the Great War and, as a student, witnessed the birth of the dada movement launched by Tristan Tzara. By the 1920s, surrealism, and its rejection of traditional modes of thought and forms of art, was reaching its apex. A young Lecomte followed suit publishing a poetry collection entitled Demonstrations in 1922. Two years later, he would attempt to lead a sect of the movement, founding a group named Correspondence with Paul Nougé and Camille Goemans; the group would publish pamphlets critiquing art, literature, and politics. Although he was expelled from the group in 1925, that same year Lecomte would see the publication of his second book of poems, Applications, a work that showcased two drawings from his friend, artist René Magritte. For the remaining forty years of his life, Lecomte would remain productive, dipping into a variety of projects and genres, but largely focusing on essays, which appeared in journals such as Le Rouge et the Noir, Synthèses, Le Journal des Poètes, and Le Journal des Ingénieurs, and writing for his weekly column in La Laterne.

The selection of poems here shows Lecomte’s connection to the surrealists, but they also demonstrate where he diverges from the group and reveal his interests in the metaphysics of the every day and his acute awareness of his physical surroundings. Moreover, they accentuate the poet’s sense of humor, both light and dark, and his play with language and the perception of both reality and the language of it. The flexibility (and sometimes brokenness) of language—and the perceptibility of a particular moment in life itself—is further stressed in Lecomte’s use of line breaks, sometimes odd syntax, and often random punctuation (when it appears at all). The slippery effect of awkwardness and intimacy present here is what makes Lecomte’s poems not only memorable but also resonant, familiar, to his readers.    

 

Marcel Lecomte (author) was a Belgian writer (1900-1966) who was a member of the Belgian surrealist movement. Although he published several collections of poetry including Démonstrations (1922) and Applications (1925), a work that showcased two drawings from his friend, artist René Magritte, Lecomte is best known as a journalist and critic. He wrote widely on art and literature and maintained weekly political columns in Le Rouge et Noir and La Laterne.

 

K. A. Wisniewski (translator) is editor of The Comedy of Dave Chappelle: Critical Essays. His poetry and translations have appeared in dozens of magazines, most recently in The Chariton Review, Bluestem, The Chiron Review, MAYDAY Magazine, CAIRN, and the Sierra Nevada Review. His critical work has appeared in Genre, Alphaville: Journal of Film and Screen Media, The Maryland Historical Magazine, and the anthology Kidding Around: The Child in Film and Media (2014). He is a PhD Candidate at the University of Maryland Baltimore County and is currently translating Swiss writer Julian Burri’s novella Poupée into English.

 

The Schoolmaster

     He alone is able to tell us about the objects of the Universe,
in such a way to surprise us, to surprise them.
He knows the inner space that stirs them.
(Yes, immersed, engaged in the back-story of the world,
these objects become the secret distance from his gaze to
the horizon.)

 

Number

Usher, to the first row quickly so that I may sit
to watch the clowns boldly play with death
in paleness and in silk
jockeys, bullfighters.

 

 

Le maître d’école

     Il est seul à pouvoir nous parler des objets de l’Univers,

de manière à nous surprendre, à les surprendre.

     Il connaît l’espace interne qui les anime.

     (Oui, plongés, engagés dans l’arrière-histoire du monde,

ces objets deviennent la distance secrète de son regard à

l’horizon.)

 

Numéro

Ouvreuse, au premier rang vite que je m’assoie
Pour regarder les clowns jouer avec la mort
Surpassant en audace en pâleur et en soie
Les jockeys, les toreadors.

Imanova Günel

Imanova Günel, (author) writes under the pen name of Günel Mövlud. As a translator of Russian to Azeri, she she has translated Victor Pelevin’s Amon Ra and extant Russian translations of Marquez and Stendhal. Born in 1981in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan on the Armenian border, at the age of 12 she had to leave Karabakh with her parents because of the conflict. She studied theater arts at Baku University and has worked as an journalist for local newspapers on Azerbaijani societal issues. Her first book of poems Darkness and Us was printed in 2004. Most recently the books 5 xl and Response to the Late Afternoon appeared.

Günel’s joining a movement to end anti-Armenian propaganda in Azerbaijan elicited the attention of authorities and religious activists. She is currently based between Georgia and Germany, where she lives with her husband and child and is a journalist for the Baku chapter Radio Liberty and MeydanTV.

 

Arturo Desimone (translator) is currently based between Buenos Aires and the Netherlands. His poems and short fiction pieces have previously appeared in The Missing Slate, The New Orleans Review, Hamilton Stone Review, Counterpunch Poet’s Basement, Hinchas de Poesía and Acentos Review. The Spanish translation of his book of poems About a Lover From Tunisia is forthcoming from Audisea, an Argentinean publishing house for poetry and translations.

With special thanks to Nijat Qarayev for his support in the translation process and for explaining the historical and cultural references in Movlud’s poetry.

 

Untitled

In this country I consider myself begrimed with so much guilt
that I must reject a small child’s embrace

If I could only show you one single reason to love me
perhaps you would tear your fingers
from the dark buttons of this computer
and embrace me

I ask only that you crush me in your embrace
as a forest serpent presses its prey,

but now I stand before you, waiting, and neither of us lift a finger

If we are to adapt, and develop a strange happiness here,
amidst the new skyscrapers–
we must then learn to exist without needing to hear the grasshoppers’ noise
from my rooftop, from a place close-by

If I cannot lose this night-spell and be contented
No one can love here

 

 

Imanova Gunel Poem

Cyrille Fleischman

Translator’s Note on Cyrille Fleischman’s Work:

I fell in love with Fleischman’s work the first time I read it, probably twenty years ago, while perusing short story collections for possible use in my undergraduate French courses. I loved his light touch, unpretentious style, and the humorous compassion with which he treats his characters, who exhibit human foibles which we have all experienced. For me, they also brought to life the Jewish Marais, a neighborhood in which I had lived while doing research in Paris. Individually, Fleischman’s stories seem at first anecdotal; then suddenly, with a twist of a phrase, they rise to embrace the universal. When read collectively, themes of being and identity and their fragility emerge. One of the reasons that “M. Lekouved’s Revolt” appeals is that it is such a joyful affirmation of being. A great challenge in translating Fleischman’s work into English is maintaining the delicate humor, tenderness, and subtle depth; in other words not letting his stories become merely comic in translation.

 

Cyrille Fleischman (author) was born on February 3, 1941, in the 4th arrondissement of Paris, home to a large community of Ashkenazi Jews. Fleischman studied law, but while practicing, began writing short stories portraying Yiddish characters of the Marais in the 1950s. He published his first collection of short stories in 1987, but is best known for the three volumes centered on the neighborhood of the Saint-Paul metro station. The focus of his thirteen short story collections, like their author, would always remain in the Marais. Fleischman has been compared to Isaac Bashevis Singer, even Marc Chagall for his portrayal of Yiddish culture in the Marais. In 1995, he was awarded a Prix d’Académie by the French Academy, and in 2002, the Max Cukierman award for the promotion of Yiddish language and culture. He died in 2010 after a long illness.

 

Lynn Palermo (translator) is an associate professor of French at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania. She has published the translation of another story by Cyrille Fleischman in World Literature Today (Sept/Oct 2010), as well as academic translations. She recently translated four academic essays for a special issue of Dada & Surrealism focusing on the Romanian surrealist movement (to appear in 2015). She is collaborating on a translation of one of Fleischman’s short story collections, while working solo on a novel by a contemporary French author and short stories by other writers of the Francophone world. Her research focuses on the literature, art, decorative arts, world’s fairs and cultural politics of period between the World Wars.

 

Monsieur Lekouved’s Revolt

Alexander Lekouved gave a big, friendly wave, as the waitress deposited two slices of meat on his plate, next to the mashed potatoes.

–Who are you saying hello to? asked the waitress, looking around, Nobody’s here yet at this hour.

–I’m greeting this veal roast!  I think it’s the same one as yesterday.  And the day before.  Maybe even last month.  I feel like we’re old friends by now.

The waitress shrugged and went back to the kitchen.

Alexander Lekouved had been taking all his meals at this restaurant since becoming a widower.  He always arrived around eleven-thirty, a habit that predated his retirement, when he used to eat lunch at home before traveling out to a suburb to tutor students in philosophy—students who had failed the high school graduation exam. And despite maintaining a friendly rapport with this waitress for weeks, he had just become her enemy. He acknowledged this without regret.

The waitress brought him the next course—fruit compote—which she practically threw onto the table, and before he could order coffee, she had already scribbled his bill on the paper tablecloth.  He had barely paid before she cleared the table, tossing the paper tablecloth into a big wastebasket over near the counter.  When he left, she did not say au revoir.

The weather was lovely.  Monsieur Lekouved slipped a hand into his vest pocket to check his watch.  Still not yet noon and the whole day stretched before him with nothing to do.  He breathed deeply in the breeze and decided to cross the street to a café with sidewalk terrace.

He would take his coffee there.

He chose a table, sat down, and stretched out his legs.  A waiter hurried over to him.  Since he was only ordering coffee, could monsieur please take a seat inside the restaurant?  At this hour, the terrace was reserved for customers ordering a meal.  

The waiter looked like one of Monsieur Lekouved’s former students, the type who repeated the last year of high school several times without ever graduating.  Lekouved tilted his head back to take a better look at him.

–Are you telling me that I have to sit inside when I prefer to have my coffee out here, on the terrace?

–Oui, said the waiter, growing annoyed and snapping the white cloth on his shoulder toward the front door, Inside!

Lekouved raised his hand for quiet.

–Tell the owner that I’d like to speak to him.

–Perhaps we should put our policy in writing, and have it stamped and notarized for you, snorted the waiter.  I’m telling you, the tables on the terrace are reserved for people having a meal.

–That’s the problem. I’ve already eaten.  Across the street.  So, just bring me a cup of coffee.

–I said, no!  Now move!  The waiter was downright aggressive.

Alexander Lekouved did, indeed, move.  He rose to his feet and grabbed the waiter’s right ear.  Slowly, calmly, he twisted it until the waiter tore himself from his grip.  Then Monsieur Lekouved sat back down.

–Bring me a coffee, please!

People passing on the sidewalk had stopped to stare.  The waiter rubbed his ear, stammering, “I don’t believe it, I don’t believe it…”

Lekouved insisted gently, “A coffee, if you please.”  Then roared, “Bring me a coffee, or else I’ll take care of your other ear, too, the one that’s so big you could blow your nose on it!”

The waiter was thunderstruck. He retreated into the café to tell everyone sitting at the counter.  Five minutes later, the owner himself strode toward Lekouved, a cup of coffee in hand, which he set on the table in front of him.

–You had no right to…

–Yes, I certainly did have the right to! interrupted Lekouved.  Don’t you know the stipulations of the paragraph of the statute of the municipal law governing the sale of coffee on café terraces?

The owner argued no further.  This pain-in-the-neck might have connections down at city hall.  He just shrugged.

The people who had been watching the scene, wandered off.  Lekouved drank his coffee, glanced at the cash register receipt left by the owner, and left a few coins on the table.

He felt good.  He even had a revelation: it felt good to rebel!

He stood up, did a few calisthenics to get his blood circulating and, since this was a day of revolt, decided to go visit his brother-in-law who owned a clothing shop not far away.  Three years earlier, his wife’s brother had borrowed two candlesticks that he had never returned.  Alexander hadn’t needed them since his wife died.  He no longer hosted family reunions at the holidays, but still, that was no reason…

He walked slowly, deep in thought, but before he knew it, he was standing in front of his brother-in-law’s shop.  Which made him think maybe he should spruce up his wardrobe.  Upon entering the shop, the first words that flew out of his mouth were, “I stopped by to say hello and buy a few shirts.  At the same time, you can give me back those candlesticks you never returned.”

The brother-in-law, who had smiled upon seeing him, stiffened.

–What candlesticks?

–The two candlesticks that you borrowed from your sister, three years ago when she was still alive.

His brother-in-law laid his hand on Alexander’s shoulder.

–You mean the candlesticks that your wife had inherited from my mother?

–Of course!  I’m not talking about chandeliers from the Opera House!

The brother-in-law frowned.  “Forget it.  They’re a memory of my sister.”  He changed the subject.  “What kind of shirts are you looking for?  Solids?  Stripes?”

–I’m not sure if I understood you correctly, interrupted Lekouved.  Are you saying that you are not going to return my candlesticks?

Without even waiting for an answer, Lekouved went behind the counter, glanced up and down the rows of shirts organized by size, and calmly removed ten white shirts, size 39, and ten fancy vests.  Whatever he could reach.  Alexander Lekouved put the ten shirts and ten vests into two large plastic bags from a stack on the counter and walked out of the shop.  His brother-in-law, at first spellbound, chased after him out to the sidewalk.

–Where are you going with those?  You’ve got a fortune in clothes there, not even counting the shirts!

Alexander Lekouved stopped, his two plastic bags dangling.  “When you return my candlesticks, then maybe I’ll return the vests.  But I’m keeping the shirts!”

Lekouved left his dumbstruck brother-in-law standing on the sidewalk.  Happiness welled up inside him. As he walked away, several people nodded to him.  Acquaintances, probably, he wasn’t sure. He had done so much for this neighborhood!  Rendered service to so many people!  Before becoming a teacher in the suburbs, he’d worked in one or two private schools not far from here, he’d acted as secretary to a politician in the arrondissement, he’d been copy editor at a Yiddish publishing house.  He’d…he’d… above all, he’d been polite and affable.  Yet, in none of those capacities had he felt as much satisfaction as he did today.

With his two plastic sacks full of clothes, Alexander Lekouved strolled along, humming under his breath.  He wasn’t far from home, now.  He raised his eyes to the blue sky.  For a moment, he was tempted to give thanks.  But at his age, one no longer bothered to thank the heavens for so little.  He continued down the sidewalk in the sun, a little spring in his step.  At seventy-two years of age, Alexander Lekouved, retired school teacher, honorable but not honored, belated but enthusiastic rebel, felt that at last he was going to start having fun.

Charles Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire’s (author) poetry has been translated into virtually all the world’s major languages, a celebrity the more impressive, since it’s based on only two books– Les Fleurs du Mal (1857/ 1861) and Paris Spleen, Petites Poemes en Prose (1869). Baudelaire was born in Paris in 1821. He attended boarding school in Lyon followed by the Lycée Louis-le-Grand in Paris. In 1869, he received his baccalauréat from the Lycée Louis-le-Grand in Paris, and for the next few years, lived the bohemian life. After returning from a voyage to the East, in 1841, he acquired a reputation as a dandy and drug addict, and fell into financial difficulties. The first edition of Les Fleurs du Mal brought prosecution for obscenity but its notoriety was not enough to save him, either financially or in terms of his reputation as a poet. He died in 1867, after a two year battle with paralysis.

 

Lola Haskins (translator) has published twelve collections of poetry. Her awards include the Iowa Poetry Prize, two Florida Book Awards, two NEA fellowships, and several awards for narrative poetry. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, The London Review of Books, The Christian Science Monitor, The New York Quarterly, Georgia Review, Prairie Schooner, Another Chicago Magazine, and elsewhere. For more information, please visit her at lolahaskins.com.

 

The Clock

The Chinese tell time by the eyes of cats.

One day a missionary walking into a Nanjing bank realized
he had forgotten his watch, and asked a street urchin what
time it was.

The child of the Celestial Empire demurred at first, then
changing his mind, he replied: “I’ll tell you.” A few moments
later he reappeared, with a very large cat in his arms, and
looking, as they said, at the whites of its eyes, he ventured
without hesitation that it was not quite noon. Which was true.

For myself, if I lean toward my beautiful Feline, so aptly
named, who is the honor of her sex, the pride of my heart,
and my mind’s perfume, whether it be night, or day in its
most full light or its deepest shadow, in the depths of her
adorable eyes I always see the time distinctly, always the
same, an hour as wide and solemn and grand as space,
without the divisions of minutes or seconds, an immovable
hour unmarked on any clock, yet light as a sigh, quick as a
glance.

And if something inopportune should interrupt while my eyes
are resting on this delicious face, if some dishonest and

intolerant genie, some contrary demon should appear and
ask: “Why are you looking at that woman so carefully?
What are you looking for in her eyes? Do you see the time,
you prodigal, lazy mortal?” I would answer without
hesitation: “Yes, I see the time, and it is Eternity.”

And is it not the case, Madame, that here we have a truly
worthwhile madrigal, as emphatic as yourself? The truth is
that I had so much fun stitching up this pretentious

gallantry, that I won’t ask a single thing of you in exchange.

Eliana Osborn

Eliana Osborn is a mother of two, wife of one, who works part-time as an English professor at Arizona Western College. She is an essayist and fiction writer whose work has been featured in Blood and Thunder, Dash, Segullah, and many other journals. She has commercial work in venues including the New York Times, Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor and many others. She’s at work on her first novel about the Chinese-Mexican population on the US-Mexico border.

 

Turning Japanese

When his mother became a Jehovah’s Witness she gave up her Buddhism, then everything about being Japanese. There were no more chopsticks in the house; macaroni in a blue box instead of soft formed squares of udon. Pictures of a blonde Jesus instead of an ancestral shrine. They wore shoes inside, sat on straight backed chairs at the dinner table.

He was forbidden from saying gaijin, even if it was true. By the time he left for college his middle name, Mori, was just an oddity from the past. His mother had dropped it and went by Kathy Morris.

His father was dead, his mother a math professor. He was stranded with straight black hair, student loans, and a neighbor who wanted him to join the Asian American Student Association. He made up excuses but she kept dropping by.

“This is how you network Nolan. You meet some people, spend time with them, then when you’re looking for a job after grad school you have connections. You can’t trust outsiders with your future—in AASA the alumni look out for us.”

The next week she brought some Japanese girls with her. One was short and round with bangs cut too short, leaving an inch of forehead above her glasses. Another was shorter still and wearing a Mickey Mouse sweatshirt.

Nolan raised his eyebrows, wondering how this group of three awkward Asians could possibly be the best and brightest, the thing that kept America running ahead of the rest of the world.

Mickey Mouse giggled when he said ohaiyo but wouldn’t explain why. Bad Bangs stuck out her hand formally and gave a surprisingly strong shake.

“Melissa Kazuko, glad to meet you.” She nodded and stood back at attention waiting for the interview to begin.

“So why don’t you want to join the association? I don’t get it.” Melissa stared right at him. He tried to keep her gaze but finally looked away and made busy work adjusting the band of his watch.

“No-lan,” his neighbor began in that disturbing southern drawl, “we need you. The dances are so bad right now, you don’t even know. Everyone told me college would be different, that boys wouldn’t be scared of smart girls. But there’s five times the number of girls as boys among us Asians. I had to dance with some Hmong guy for every slow song at homecoming. All he could talk about was his parents on some boat. Hello? This is supposed to be romantic?”

He considered what it would be like to date an Asian girl for once. Or even better, to be in a club with desperate women.

“I’ll do it.”

There was a stunned silence then Mickey Mouse giggled and covered her mouth. The neighbor smiled broadly while Melissa simply nodded her head, turned, and walked away.

Nolan felt a twinge in his groin and wondered if maybe he liked girls with bangs. He’d have to pay closer attention now that he had options.

Marie Mayhugh

MMayhughMarie Mayhugh is a writer and poet. She received a BA in creative writing from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. She is an intern a BkMk Press in Kansas City. She is also a writing tutor at Longview Community College in Kansas City where she engages students with her love for the written word.

 

 

An Old Cowboy’s Dirge

Weston and his grandpa with dirty suede skin sat at the DMV. Weston’s eyes darted between his phone and the Now Serving digital system. The clerk behind the counter consistently announced the numbers over the speakerphone.

The old man leaned close to his grandson, who thumbed his phone.
You don’t need no license, the old man said. I got you a quarter horse.
I don’t have a quarter, Weston replied.
His sire’s New Ash.
I told you, I don’t have cash.
Name’s Blue Okie.
Okay.

The old man removed his hat and poked his grandson with its rim.
Say, you know I can pull my own teeth out, the old man said.
Please don’t, Weston said. He tucked his phone inside his right denim pocket.
Got your attention, the old man said. He snickered and patted Weston on the shoulder.
Weston slid his chair over.
It takes guts for a man to lose his teeth, the old man said, but more courage to wear falsies.

Weston hunched and rested his elbows on his knees. The old man put a cigarette between his lips and patted his fringe-leather jacket for his lighter. The clerk behind the counter called on him to notice the No Smoking sign. He sighed, crumpled the cigarette, and put its remnants in his pocket.

I thought you’d want to be a rugged man like me, the old man said. He lolled in his chair and spread his arms, an eagle’s wingspan, resting each arm on top of seat backs on either side. His shaved head flinched as it rolled back against the icy window.

Outside, a Dodge pickup, with the word Ranger branded on its side, parked. Two officers hurdled out of the truck and strolled into the DMV.

They ain’t Rangers, the old man boasted.
Weston shook his head. You don’t know what you’re talking about, he said.

Sure I do. That’s a truck, the old man said. Those men hold their steering wheel at the ten and two O’clock. Real rangers ride saddleback and steer their horse with reins. They keep fists parallel and thumbs near for best rein control, similar to the way you hold your phone some of the time.

Weston glimpsed at the old man.

If you knew anything about your great-great-granddaddy, the old man said, you’d know he was a real cowboy. Cowboys keep both reins in their lead hand that rests on their lap, but their other hand remains free.

Weston reclined back, pulled his denim jacket’s collar up, and slid his hands inside his pockets. But the old man was just getting warmed up.

You can’t lasso your target or fire your Colt from a car, the old man said, both hands have to be on the wheel. He moaned as if he begun a wail. It takes a man to ride a saddle. Cowboys knew their range and how to ramble the land. Show me any place on a map, and I’ll tell you how many strokes it’ll take to get there. Cowboys don’t need no GP, or whatever you call it, to find your way. We went solo.

That’s GPS, Weston said.

No GPS for me, the old man said, but maybe a girl pretty on her saddle.

Weston sighed. He flicked his floppy hair over his eyes. The clerk behind the counter called number twenty-six.

Maybe, if you walked like me, the old man said, you’d have hard soles. He pointed at his own right thumb. You see there, that’s a nice clean thumb from hitching rides cross-country. He rested his left foot on his right knee and began to tug at his boot. I’ll show you my feet, they’re blistered from travel.

Please don’t, Weston said. He drew his right hand out of his pocket with his phone, and began to single handedly tap it.

The old man fingered at his grandson’s phone. You see there, the old man said, you’re holding your phone in your lead hand, but your other hand remains in your left pocket. It ain’t free.

Weston didn’t respond, but checked the digital number on the board. Only a few people in the waiting area read or remained quiet.

Who you calling? The old man said.
I’m texting, Weston said.
Okay, who?
Rose.
Is she pretty like one?

Weston shrugged.

Hey, did you ever hear from your brother?
Yeah.
Well, how’s he getting along in Florida?
Fine.
Weston sighed.
I hear he’s got himself a Lassie from Tallahassee. The old man chuckled.

Weston shrugged.

The old man leaned back in his chair. He put on his hat, lowered its rim, and said, You want to be alone, but you’re just like your own. He slipped his hands inside his pockets.

Gordon Ball

Gordon Ball’s story is from a volume of short fiction, On Tokyo’s Edge: Gaijin Tales from Postwar Japan. He lives and teaches in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

 

The Breaking

It was Tokyo l950, before the end of the American Occupation. In the parents’ bedroom closet stood a Russian submachine gun, in the father’s dresser lay an unfirable German Luger, trigger melded into housing. Five hundred miles away raged the Korean War, the source, through multiple hands, of the Soviet weapon.

The boy had seen Russians once or twice from afar in the hotel across the street from his father’s office building. They were always men, and though in coats and ties and overcoats–even “western” hotel lobbies were cold–they seemed rougher, gruffer than other grownups: Americans of commerce and finance; French and Germans and British of many years’ experience in Eastern trade; wiseacre tieless young journalists just arrived from the States or Singapore or London; self-effacing Japanese in brisk, herring bone double breasted business suits who worked with–for–his father. “They are Russians,” someone would say. Their faces, with their heavy eyebrows, looked vaguely asiatic, like his father’s.

Sometimes after school the boy would play by himself at home, ten miles from Tokyo’s hotel and business center, in the shadowy side yard bordering their white stucco French colonial house. There, crepe myrtle trees and aucuba bushes abounded, making for his small frame a forest to stalk in. With his toy rifle he’d hunt enemy soldiers–the enemies being American–through the bushes and trees, and around the small tool shed adjoining them at one end. The Russians were not involved, but it excited him to imagine himself a Chinese Communist, calves wrapped in layer upon layer of cloth leggings as he’d seen in photographs.

At the same time, he’d draw pictures of American war heroes, celebrating their exploits and the numbers of Chinese and North Koreans they’d killed in a single encounter. He’d get this information daily on Armed Forces Radio. “Why don’t you draw something constructive?” his older brother, serious with horn-rimmed glasses, asked as he looked at the boy’s drawings.

The boy didn’t know the meaning of “constructive” nor of the shadows of branches he’d see on his pale wall at night, but the patterns frightened him. He was even more frightened one evening when he heard loud voices from his mother and father’s room, where Luger and machine-gun were stored. He didn’t know if the machine-gun had bullets but it was so heavy he couldn’t imagine anyone using such a thing–yet he knew they did every day in Korea.

“I’d rather be strangled than kept here,” he heard his mother wail at his father one evening. “I want to go back to Marietta!” Their door was open, but he was afraid to draw close. It was dark and the only light was broken by bony configurations of branches on the wall.

The next day two friends of his parents, Major Grimes and Mrs. Grimes, came to visit. She was carrot-haired and he had big ears that stuck out from the sides of his head, reminding the boy of Sad Sack in the stateside funnies they’d be able to get every once in a while.

Major Grimes and his wife lived in the U.S. Army compound at Pershing Heights. They brought him a gift for his birthday, a khaki U.S. Army overseas cap and various gold and blue and white insignia. “Where are you from, young man?” the Major asked.

“The world,” the boy responded.

“What do you like to eat?”

“Food,” he answered.

He behaved like that for several minutes before leaving the room, then after the guests were gone he overheard mother and father talking there, in the space between the white mantle and the large brown metallic gas stove from whose dusty white porcelain teeth blue flames flared. It was near the very spot where he’d lain on the carpet some evenings, staring at the pictures in a strange, large, heavy and musty book by a man named Hogarth. He’d taken it from the glass bookcase, and as he looked he’d wondered if those people with their intestines falling out were real. “I think he needs a spanking,” he heard his mother say.

The next day was Saturday and there was no school. The squat little tool shed that bordered the shadowy place with the acuba bushes and crepe myrtles had a sliding door with windows of translucent glass about a foot square. Inside were various old tools and contraptions he’d rummaged through before; this morning he slid open the door and took one of them, a small short-handled dusty axe with a dented blade. Then he slid the door closed and broke every window on it, and every window to its left and to its right. “I know this is wrong,” he said to himself, with every stroke.