Category Archives: Issue 4.3 Fall 2015

Rosie Prohías Driscoll

Rosie Prohías Driscoll is the proud daughter of Cuban exiles. Raised in Miami, she earned a BA in English from Georgetown University and an MA in English and Comparative Literature from Emory University. She taught high school English in Miami and in Dedham, Massachusetts, and now directs the Teen Faith Formation program at Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Alexandria, Virginia, where she lives with her husband, two daughters, and two greyhounds. Her poems have been published in The Acentos Review, The Mas Tequila Review, and Pilgrimage Magazine, and she received an Honorable Mention in the 2013 Bethesda Poetry Contest.

 

Colando Café                      

It is 4:00pm
and Mami prepares
the afternoon ritual.

She reaches for the cuchara
that has taken up residence in
the red and yellow Bustelo can,
and scoops the warm, dark grounds.

She grasps the rubber-tipped cucharita
living with its kin in
the top drawer de la cocina

(utensils, like people, need a home
Todo tiene su lugar)

and packs the granules
tightly
into the upper chamber of la cafetera.

She turns on the flame.

Standing sentinel
she awaits the alchemy
scrutinizing
lest the liquid overflow the spout,
or explode.

Sliding hot metal to cool coil
she pours,
evenly,
into mismatched cups
and passes each one,
a poem,
to eager hands that receive the gift
with gracias
Grace.

Issue 4.3 Fall 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.

"Bus in Pieces" by Dean West
“Bus in Pieces” by Dean West

"Ballerina Legs" by Caroline Allen
“Ballerina Legs” by Caroline Allen

"Blue on Green" by Kellie Talbot
“Blue on Green” by Kellie Talbot

Poetry: (Guest Edited by W.F. Lantry )

Gail C. DiMaggio | Girls in Pictures
Rosie Prohías Driscoll | Colando Café
Jeff Hardin | A Short Distance from Mountains
Ed Shacklee | Elephant Ear Plant
Mary Ann Sullivan | St. Catherine of Siena
Tammy Ho Lai-Ming | The Space Between The Rain
Lonnie Monka | my mistake
Ashley Parker Owens | Itch
Sophia Pandeya | Mona Lisa Postcard
Jane Wayne | His Shirt

Fiction:

Neil Carpathios | The Man with No Future
Katie Cortese | Quitting Time
Sherrie Flick | Now
Philip Kobylarz | What’s On The Other Side Of Doors 

Nonfiction:

Melissa Grunow | White Spirit
Rick Kempa | Honing the Edge
Sandell Morse | The Crossing

Translations:

Kurt Drawert | Personal Pronoun | **Paul-Henri Campbell
Louise Dupré | Stone Hands of the Tomb Figures | **Karen McPherson
Gili Haimovich | Signing a Place | What Lights Up the Sky | **Dara Barnat
Moyshe Kulbak | from Songs of a Poor Man | **Allison Davis

 

Book Reviews:

Sue Eisenfeld | Shenandoah: A Story of Conservation and Betrayal | Review by Donna M. Crow
Jeff Klima | L.A. Rotten | Review by Ginger Beck
Sandra Marchetti | Confluence | Review by Danielle Susi

 

**Indicates Translators

Sue Eisenfeld

Shenandoah_SueEisenfeldShenandoah: A Story of Conservation and Betrayal
by Sue Eisenfeld
Copyright: 2015
Press: University of Nebraska Press
ISBN: 2370000169860
216 pages, paper

Reviewed by: Donna M. Crow

 

Shenandoah: A Story of Conservation and Betrayal by Sue Eisenfeld is not merely a tribute to a National Park and how it came into being. It is not a lone description of the difficult terrain or the beautiful views found deep within the 181,547 acres of the largest national park in the East. It is not the traditional travel memoir of a seeker as she embarks upon the uncharted territory of self. This small book, filled to the brim with vivid images and human insight, like the park itself, is so much more than meets the eye.

Sue Eisenfeld knows herself and she knows the trails of the Shenandoah National Park because she spent fifteen years as a bushwhacker and backpacker along with her husband Neil exploring overgrown Virginia back country. By acknowledging her elementary perceptions of the National Park system, and with a writing style of definition by negation, she grants readers permission to acknowledge their own blissful ignorance toward the hardships rendered upon thousands of residents disemboweled by a governmental practice known as eminent domain, the legal taking of personal property for public good.

In these few easy to read pages, separated by chapters that could be stand-alone essays, Sue Eisenfeld shows us a much deeper view of what the Shenandoah really is, a realized dream that painfully dismantled generations old family farms. She illuminates the narrative of days gone by with a photographer’s eye. Her anthropological dig into a lost culture creates an adventure for the reader beyond the virtual tour. Her quest is to appreciate how the park came into being from the viewpoint of both the takers and from those whom land was taken. Eisenfeld’s endeavor to realize the human spirit is triumphant.

Being a girl from center city Philadelphia where “we didn’t have to push ourselves physically beyond our comfort zone,” yet falling in love with “A science and outdoor educator and naturalist, a hiker and backpacker, a birdwatcher, and somewhat of a loner,” who “finds joy in scanning the skies for hawks and black vultures, turning over rocks looking for salamanders (21)”, Eisenfeld felt it a natural choice that she learn to push herself, one foot in front of the other on trails she would likely never have seen otherwise. What she saw was more than salamanders and snakes.Like her, once readers embark on the footfall of truth, some comforts are sacrificed. As she forewarns in her prologue, “I hiked blindly for nearly two decades…” but, “once you begin to know something… you can’t unknow it (xvi)”.

While her husband might have been looking for “some kind of hornwort slime on a log” (21), Eisenfeld trailed along unwittingly until one day she began to notice other things. “I wanted to know what happened here,” she explains, “to feel viscerally the stories that would explain the headstones and shoe leather and washbasins and China shards that we have found throughout these wild woods”(xiv, prologue). In other words, Sue Eisenfeld was looking for signs of the dead, and she takes us with her as she explores the lives lived and lost, and buried deep within the Shenandoah National Park, all but forgotten by the thousands of tourists who trek through with hardly a notice of days gone by. Eisenfeld’s journey is not so much a hunt for lost treasures as it is a search for lost souls.

With one foot booted for hiking and rooted on the briar entwined earth, while the other lifts and steps toward the ethereal, Eisenfeld becomes our tour guide to another world, a past lived, loved and lost in the conflict over what is best for the public good, a conflict between the government and the God fearing, constitutional loving people being governed. For example, many of the people removed from the park were “tenants or squatters on land they didn’t own—and those who had nowhere else to go. Of the 465 families remaining in 1934 (2,200 people), 197 of them owned their own land, and 268 of them, or 58 percent, owned no equity in their house or land and would not benefit from any payouts from the government or resettlement housing” (126).

Like so many of our gifts and freedoms in this world there is a price to be paid that should not be overlooked or taken for granted. People were devastated, and their lives destroyed. In a survey of the land proposed for the dream park, land surveys stated the area was free of commercial development with no mention of the people living in the area, although at least forty percent of the potential land grab consisted of farmland and orchards. An early estimation of perhaps 1,500 residents grew to possibly as many as 15,000 displaced by the project’s end.

While we can agree that National Parks are a treasure to behold, we need also to know about the many lives and livelihoods sacrificed. This story is of social and economic importance in understanding the making of this fine country that many of us take for granted. Through thoughtful probing into who these people were, searching high and low through the many unkempt and unremembered graveyards held within the park to pay them homage, Eisenfeld’s inquisition into what kind of people it took to extract the residents from their land and what kind of people were removed reveals a whole story, both kind and unkind about the human condition on both sides of eminent domain.

–––––––– 

Donna M. Crow lives in Irvine, Kentucky on her family farm. She writes fiction, creative non-fiction and poetry. Her non-fiction has won such awards as the Emma Bell Miles Award for Essay, the Wilma Dykeman Award and the Betty Gabehart Prize (2007). She received the 2008 Sue Ellen Hudson Award for Excellence in Writing for her fiction and her poetry has won the Gurney Norman Prize. Her work has appeared in Kudzu, Now and Then, Literary Leo, The Minnetonka Review as well as anthologized in We All Live Downstream, Outscapes: Writings on Fences and Frontiers and The Notebook among others. She received her MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Spalding University.

Katie Cortese

Katie CKatie Cortese is the author of the collection Girl Power and other Short-Short Stories (ELJ Publications, 2015). She holds an MFA from Arizona State University and a PhD from Florida State, and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Gulf Coast, Third Coast, Blackbird, Crab Orchard Review, Willow Springs, and The Baltimore Review, among other journals. She currently teaches in the creative writing program at Texas Tech University where she also serves as the fiction editor for Iron Horse Literary Review.

 

Quitting Time

Allie shouldn’t call the house and hang up when he finally answers. She shouldn’t cruise by after work to make sure he’s brought in the mail, slowing to judge by the slit in the curtains if the living room light is on. She shouldn’t worry if the house is dark. He’s probably just sleeping. Or out walking the dog, the rangy retriever who’ll need hip surgery in another year, and whose breath always smelled to her of hot dogs.

She knows she shouldn’t Google Map his address either, those familiar numbers that used to be hers. The site hasn’t been updated for their town in a year and a half and the car in the satellite picture is her gray PT Cruiser. She shouldn’t linger on the webpage in the den while down the hall and around the corner, Gregory hums over his ratatouille in the kitchen. She knows it was her decision to leave. It wasn’t quitting, they told her. She was just rebooting her life for the happier one she deserved.

Allie shouldn’t keep a pack of cigarettes in the glove compartment, or sneak puffs in the driveway, facing her new house like a prowler scoping out the easiest point of entrance. After each cigarette, she tells herself she’s quitting, right then and there. Sometimes she does, until something else reminds her. The triggers are unpredictable. It’s not always the apple-cheeked babies in the life insurance commercial. They’re simply other people’s children. And the terrible one about whooping cough with an asthmatic wheeze for a soundtrack—that one makes her nauseous, on principle—just not in a personal way.

But at least once a week, something triggers a memory, sharp as a blade, of her life in the blue ranch on the corner of Liff and Persimmon, the one where now the hedges go untrimmed. Last week she woke up to “Shake, Rattle and Roll” on her radio alarm and sat up in a panic: no cry had woken her in the night for feeding or a change, or just the touch of her hand. She’d thrown the quilt off her legs and had made it to the hall before she remembered where she was, where she’d lived for a year now, a Cape Cod on Jubilat, with Gregory, who was a good man, and patient with her grief.

Tonight it was an email, just an automated reminder from the pediatrician’s office about shots her son no longer needs. Tomorrow, I’ll quit, she thinks, stubbing out her cigarette in the driveway. Her same old promise; not quite a lie, since tomorrow never comes to collect on all she’s owed. The charred end of the Marlboro leaves a dark blemish on the smooth concrete. She spits on it and scuffs the spot with her toe, but only spreads the ash around.

Inside there is a fire in the woodstove, it’s chilly enough to need one now. Inside there is a man who never met her infant son, the child who no longer sighs sour milk into his jungle-themed sheets. Inside are shelves and shelves of books and the lingering smell of supper. Inside is peace, if she wants it, and sometimes she does, but still she feels for her keys in the pocket of her peacoat, slides behind the wheel of the Cruiser her former husband had mocked when she bought it, though if given the choice, he’d take it to the store instead of his Camry.

Automatically, she puts the car in reverse. Just a quick look, she thinks, adjusting the heater, and then tomorrow, tomorrow I’ll quit.

Jeff Klima

L A Rotten coverL.A. Rotten
by Jeff Klima
Copyright: 2015
Publisher: Alibi
ASIN: B00N6PEWIW
Pages: 232 pages
Reviewed by: Ginger Beck

 

L.A. Rotten: A Gritty New Twist on Classic Crime Fiction

If female detective Kinsey Milhone of Sue Grafton’s The Alphabet Series were to get knocked-up by Miami blood analyst and serial-killer-with-a-code-of-ethics Dexter Morgan, and that baby were raised by Raymond Chandler’s Phillip Marlow and eventually grew up to be a handsome ex-con and recovering alcoholic with a taste for the occasional heroin injection and a backroom lust for strippers and sex, you’d have the anti-hero of Jeff Klima’s L.A. Rotten: A Tom Tanner Mystery. Are readers going to find the next powerhouse in detective fiction with this new series? Well, that remains to be seen. However, L.A. Rotten is an undeniably fun and coarse modernization of classic hard-boiled crime fiction stories; readers meet a less-than-honorable, yet likeable, detective-type; incompetent and often corrupt law enforcement officers, a sexy heroine with low morals but a conscience that leads our anti-hero to some redemption, and a villain who is just crafty and psychotic enough for readers to be entertained by his constant twists of danger.

Klima uses classic traits of crime fiction and couples them with wild new scenarios, giving readers something fresh to read and connect with. Parolee Tom Tanner has found his niche in the working world, post-prison. He is a crime scene cleanup specialist, called in to sanitize the remains of blood and death after police have concluded their work. Recently, Tom has been called more and more often to different Offramp Inns for a variety of grisly scenes: slit-writs, gun deaths, overdoses, and stabbings. He soon discovers a pattern: the deaths all occur in room 236, and in each room under the mattresses, he finds a Bible with a condom inside. Here readers see the first elements of classic hard-boiled fiction that peek their way into the story: the police are incompetent and careless. No connection by police has been made that these deaths occur in various locations of the same cheap motel chain and in the same room number. Because Tanner has an obvious dislike for the police, his “not-my-problem” attitude is established early, leaving readers to wonder if we can even like our narrator:

It annoys me that whatever this whole burgeoning enigma is, the cops haven’t caught on to it. I’m not going to go out of my way to help them—already today I got a little too close with that cop damn near figuring me out. I’m already baiting the trap by working in such close proximity to the police, so I’m not going to stick my foot in by getting involved.

At various points throughout the book, other examples of incompetent and shady cops arise, such as Tom’s parole officer attempting to recruit him into a white supremacist society and providing him with an unregistered weapon. Readers continue to see that Tom is a modernized version of the hard-boiled detective: pessimistic yet praiseworthy, sometimes sentimental, sometimes cruel, but most tellingly, he exhibits both failure and success in life as other anti-heroes in the genre have before him.

Klima has no qualms about making Tom Tanner an anti-hero: we want to like him, but doing so is damn hard. His frequent visits to strip clubs, where he indulges in the occasional back-room stripper sex, make him a less than honorable lead, yet, as a character, he is also believable. It is in this strip club where he meets our strong female lead: the fake-breasted, tattooed waitress Ivy, whom he inadvertently gets fired. Of course not too many pages later, the two have teamed up to catch the killer, as Ivy has become an unexpected moral compass who guides Tom towards doing the right thing, although they still don’t involve the police. Her presence as his golden-haired, crass and buxom love interest, gives us our female protagonist who pushes Tom to act when he is hesitant to make decisions.

The story itself is fast paced and entertaining, and Klima gives readers a bad guy we enjoy watching Tom chase, and be chased by. The often silly, always sneaky killer, remains a major character who takes a similar interest in Tom’s life and wants Tom to join in the murderous escapades. Racing against the clock, Tom must figure out how to stop the villain from harming Tom’s friends and employer, and sucking Tom into a killer’s plot of insanity. Klima gives readers just enough information about the twisted antagonist to make us wholly interested in this thoroughly creepy yet believable serial killer.

Klima shows Tom’s struggle between remaining an ex-con with low morals, and becoming a more honest and productive citizen who wants to protect his friends and lover. His inner monologue reveals his desire to get away from it all: “I will close the business and disappear, go to a new town, a smaller one, and just be nameless. I don’t even have to go back to my apartment. I think about all the cities in all the states out there, and how I’ve never lived in any of them except rotten Los Angeles.” His turmoil allows readers to connect and finally make the decision that Tom’s character does have redeeming qualities and is likable, despite his flaws.

Like any good detective story, there must be a showdown between the hero and the villain, with the beautiful dame caught somewhere in between. L.A.Rotten does not disappoint this formula. Tom must make the final decision to outsmart the killer before he and Ivy become victims themselves.

Will Jeff Klima’s new Tom Tanner Mysteries become the next great American detective series? That remains to be seen. However, anyone who enjoys the classic hard-boiled detective story formula and doesn’t mind the grittiness of a modern day interpretation filled with sex, drugs, and of course, murder, will definitely enjoy L.A.Rotten and look forward to future installments to see what Tom Tanner gets himself into next.

––––––––

Ginger Beck is a writer and English teacher at an alternative high school in Little Rock, Arkansas. She advocates for at-risk youth, sings in a local band, and is obsessed with dinosaurs and outer-space. She lives with her boyfriend Michael and their 12-year-old poodle now that her 18-year-old daughter has left for college. Her most recent work has appeared in Foliate Oak, The Molotov Cocktail, and Red Savina Review.

Sophia Pandeya

Bia 8_0003 copySophia Pandeya is an Asian-American poet. Her writing dwells in the liminal, engaging with borders that are linguistic, cultural, religious, temporal, personal, geographical, and metaphysical. Her poetry has been published in the print anthologies, Cactus Heart, Askew Poetry, Bank Heavy Press, Spilled Ink, Poetry International, The Adirondack Review, The Daily OLantern Journal, Convergence Journal AntiSerious and Full Of CrowPeripheries, her debut collection of poems, is being published by Cyberhex Press in September.  

 

Mona Lisa Postcard

Twilight’s Muse, each day you banished
afternoon as if it was a fiction born

from closed lips of velvet curtains, fanning
dusks embers until finally, they flared

flame’s bruise spreading wide upon a sky
turning her other cheek where hawks

carved carousels of arcs, pilgrims and sharks
all in one, while below, raking in the warm

first-shorn of summer lawns stung millions
of minions, humming droves of drones

that took and took their tithes and these
daily maws of man and beast you tried

to fend off or feed with manna descended
from heavens of once-hennaed hands

fine fluid that could fill any china except
your own country, dark continent endless

spoonfuls of sugar could not sweeten
the omens unread as tea leaves dried

gloss of salt on your face leaving only
faint navigations for the lost at sea

to decipher true north among the blind
nuptial stars buried in bolts of cloth

embroidered graves, yards
where you had played, girl

who would be bird, now brood, still
your antics jangled occasionally, keys

to doors of drowned cities, licit, listless
demure, taboo legs in *shalwar webs

now no longer mosquito bitten
the itch, an urge quite forgotten

your face, a jigsaw puzzle but
no matter which way you cued

the Mona Lisa postcard, her smile
was a vanished magic. Just like you

 

*shalwar: Baggy pants worn in South Asia

Ashley Parker Owens

Ashley Parker Owens lives in the hills of Kentucky, where the gnomes are. She has lived in San Francisco in an ashram, and in Chicago where she helped with the Second Underground Press Conference and was the creator and editor of Global Mail. After the successful publication of Gnome Harvest by Double Dragon Publishing, Ashley is writing the next novels in the Gnome Stories Series. She has a MFA in Creative Writing at Eastern Kentucky University and an MFA from Rutgers University in Visual Arts.

Ashley is the owner of the indie press KY Story, proud publisher of fifteen anthologies celebrating the Kentucky, Appalachian, and Southern voice. Her work has recently appeared in Hogglepot, Rose Red, Egg Poetry, Boston Poetry Magazine, Quail Bell, Imaginarium, Tinderbox Magazine, The Rain, Party, & Disaster Society, Lorelei Signal and Mystic Signals.

Reach her at parker.owens@gmail.com or kystory.net.

 

Itch

a never ending gnaw on the arch of your foot when wearing dress shoes or maybe old tennis shoes grind your foot into the ground & grit your teeth or something is in your shoe a tiny rock after taking it off & shaking it nothing ever falls out or an identical itch in the small of your back you can’t quite reach & if you scratch it with a pencil it disappears but returns unsatisfied & raw or the feeling of something crawling up your leg even though nothing’s there or a long single hair from your head ends up stuck in your underwear tugging between your legs when you walk but you can’t pull it out because you’re in public or can’t quite locate it or a lost sneeze hiccups spittle on your cheek an orgasm that won’t light or a mosquito bite in the crease under your knee or a secret whispered with humid breath like a dry wet willy & then the absence of feeling when you least expect it

Gili Haimovich

Translator’s Note:

Gili Haimovich and I are fortunate to have developed a creative collaboration in which I translate her poetry to English and she translates mine to Hebrew. The process is engaging and dynamic. Part of the pleasure of translating Gili’s poetry from Hebrew is discovering the complexity within its simplicity. One of the challenges is to capture the emotional impact and musicality of her straightforward language and often short lines (“Something has to break”). I attempt to convey the “voice” of her poems – a voice that is at once observational, confessional, conversational, and witty. These poems, from the 2014 book Tinoket (Baby Girl), explore the dual roles of wife and mother. The poems offer a satisfying confrontation with shades of life experience – from the light (the baby girl is a “small sun”), to the dark (“I show you in pantomime I’m hurting”), and all that’s in between.

 

Gili-HaimovichGili Haimovich (author) is an internationally published poet. She has five volumes of poetry in Hebrew and a collection of poems in English titled Living on a Blank Page (Blue Angel Press, 2008). Her work appears or is forthcoming in journals and anthologies such as Poetry International, International Poetry Review, LRC – Literary Review of Canada, Asymptote, Recours au Poème (with translations to French), Poetry Repair, Bakery, TOK1: Writing the New Toronto, Ezra Magazine, Deep Water, Bridges: A Jewish Feminist Journal, Women in Judaism, Lilith, and other journals. Gili works as a translator as well as an interdisciplinary arts therapist and educator.

 

BarnatDara Barnat (translator) is a poet with poetry, translations, and essays appearing in The Cortland Review, Poet Lore, Ha’aretz, Lilith, Los Angeles Review of Books, Walt Whitman Quarterly Review, and elsewhere. Her collection of poetry In the Absence is forthcoming from Turning Point in 2016. Dara holds a PhD from Tel Aviv University where she is currently teaching. darabarnat.com

 

Signing a Place

Something has to break,
we just don’t know what.
The house,
the country,
me,
you,
the child?
No, just not the child.
So then what?

All that’s left between us are gestures.
I massage you
in pantomime,
you sign it’s pleasant.
Sometimes I don’t see your signs,
you’re with your back to me.

I show you in pantomime I’m hurting.
You assign that to be phantom pain.

 

GiliHaimovich_SigningAPlace

 

 

What Lights Up the Sky

I am solar powered,
but now I have you and our baby girl.
I have to pull you all
outside, on my back,
just to be charged.
And our baby girl, she is a small sun,
I am a slightly larger sun,
and you are the moon.
These alone light up the sky.
None other than them but darkness?

I need to carve my way outside,
through the dark corners of the house,
labyrinths of laundry,
waterfalls of milk and tears,
to be charged by solar power
that will go through me
to our baby girl,
but not scorch you.
These alone light up the sky,
none other than us but darkness.

 

GiliHaimovich_What Lights Up the Sky

Rick Kempa

Kempa at ToroweapPoet and essayist Rick Kempa lives in Rock Springs, Wyoming, where he teaches at Western Wyoming College. Rick is editor of the anthology ON FOOT: Grand Canyon Backpacking Stories, published in 2014 by Vishnu Temple Press in Flagstaff, and co-editor, with Peter Anderson, of Going Down Grand: Poems from the Canyon, published in 2015 by Lithic Press in Fruita, Colorado. His latest poetry collection is Ten Thousand Voices (Oakland: Littoral Press, 2014). “On Static Peak,” a short essay about a misadventure in Grand Teton National Park, can be found in the Watershed Review. For more info, see www.rickkempa.com.

 

Honing the Edge

I have fractured the ice where trail meets creek and plunged in shin-, knee-, and even thigh-deep. I have known the squish of water in the bottom of the boot, the sodden sock, the tortured toe.

I have bashed my head, bruised my elbow, scoured the skin from every limb, punctured my palm a hundred times.

Let us speak of the perils of the hearth: the singed eyebrows and charred flesh and scorched wool and broiled leather and even the jacket (on my back) in flames.

I have muddied the water I meant to drink. I have spilled the bottle I left uncorked. I have woefully misjudged the amount I need. I’ve drunk red water, yellow water, radioactive water, water suspiciously devoid of life, water thick with too much life. I have, through my drinking, shortened my life.

I have walked away from my walking stick. I have dropped my pack to find the trail and in so doing lost my pack. And oh how I have abused the map! I have taken the small and writ it large. I have seen the universe in a square-inch grid. I have been powerfully lost.

Yet never in a lifetime of putting one foot in front of the other have I been in danger not of my own making. Never was my distress not self-induced. In this world that bears no malice—if I am alert to it, if I am my own best self—I have never been anything less than safe.

*****

When I share this anthem of self-sufficiency with my daughter Claire, who has come home from college for a visit, she says, “Well, that’s rather presumptuous of you.”

I protest. To me it seems an obvious truth that the world is friendly ground, or at least a neutral one, a place of no harm, if I am what I should be.

“What about lightning?” she counters.

“Stay off the ridge.”

“What about blizzards?”

“Sure, the world tests you. But be prepared. Seal the seams of the tent. Wait it out and walk on out.”

“Injury? You’re going to take it upon yourself that injuries don’t happen, that they have to be your fault? What about your back?” She stares down at me scornfully, triumphantly.

Ah yes. I have been lying on this living room floor for the past two days, periodically easing to my left where the pills and water bottle are perched, ever since “doing something to my back” while hiking on Comb Ridge in Southern Utah with my old high school buddy Jim. Nothing happened in the usual sense. I just took off up a steep slope at full speed, wanting to prove something to myself, I guess, or maybe to Jim, who was bragging that his usual pace is five or six miles an hour no problem, which is bullshit, even though he has the longest legs of anyone I know. It must’ve been the impact of boot on rock that did me in—we were climbing an immense, amazing sandstone slab. When I came back down the other side and sat on a boulder by a creek, there it was, uh oh, a sharp pain in the lower right, and it’s been naproxen and ibuprofen ever since, a nice little rotation to keep the machine in motion during the second half of that day’s hike, on the 500-mile drive home to Rock Springs, and in my delicate little movements around the house ever since.

“Okay, so I should have stretched,” I say to Claire. “I shouldn’t have headed up that dome like a maniac. I should have…acted my age. I will put this on myself.”

“You are not in control. Face it. How about that time you drove off the road and nearly killed us?”

“Well, I wasn’t in control then, but I should’ve been.”

“You had a fever of 104. You weren’t yourself.”

“That’s no excuse…”

She is genuinely angry. Suddenly I realize this is not just an exercise in rhetoric for her. There’s something at stake here. If she lets my thesis stand—that one must always “be oneself,” and “in control,” then she too is culpable for those worst days of her life, when her world went wrong for her, and I, her dad, am saying so.

I backpedal. “You know, I don’t mean to generalize about this. I’m just trying out a thought…”

But I am talking to her back. And of course I do mean to generalize. Otherwise, what’s the point? Hardly any of us are sufficiently in control and attentive, and who can say otherwise?

*****

Another hike, a year later, in Grand Gulch Primitive Area, solo this time. I begin my walk with a mantra: Be deliberate. The words steady me as the trail steepens, and I adjust my center of balance to the weight on my back. My mantra focuses my awareness on the prickly pear that shimmers beside me when I rest in the shade of a juniper. “Aha, you little sucker. You won’t get a piece of me!” A low branch tangles with the top of my pack and yanks me backward awkwardly. “Enough of that,” I chide myself. “Be deliberate.”

Late in the day, I take my filter and empty bottles to a waterhole on the canyon bottom. Clad only in shorts and boots, I move in a crouch through the brambles along the water’s foamy edge, angling for the best access to the deepest part of the pool. There it is, a spit of sand about three feet beyond a mudflat. Still looking down, I plant my feet, summon strength to my legs, launch myself forward—and am stopped mid-flight by the jagged edge of a time-hardened cottonwood snag driven against my chest. It is as if I have thrown myself upon a sword. The deadwood strikes my ribcage on the right side and does not give. I am flung back into the mud and sit there, stunned. Weirdly, I shout out, “Wounded!”—a baleful cry that countermands my precious mantra. The sound is quickly muffled by the cliffs.

This may qualify as an emergency. Abandoning my pump and bottles in the sand, I wobble back to camp and assess the damage. The surface wound is not so bad, an abrasion an inch or so in width. More frightening is the quick swelling and purpling of the surrounding skin. I lie on my back and concentrate on breathing. Pain flares with the smallest intake. I struggle to a sitting position and think I hear a frothing sound within. This of course does wonders for my imagination, and I fast-forward a week or so to when my bloated, buzzard-torn body will finally be found. Turning away from that drama, I breathe and listen and breathe and conclude finally that the frothing has subsided, if indeed it was ever there. After a while, I set about the time-honored task of masking symptoms, burrowing in my pack for my vial of pills. At night, seeking comfort, I apply a sticky hot patch to the wound, but that burns like hell and I tear it off. Finally I take a muscle relaxant—one of those little gold pills I hoard—not because it will help the healing, just so I can sleep.

Morning brings an evil mix of stiffness and pain, but nothing worse. That’s good news. So I will be slowed, but not stopped. I add a couple of pills to the breakfast fare. I find new ways to don and shed my pack. After each stop, I walk with my hand pressed to my swollen side, which provides a measure of comfort until the pain is subsumed by motion’s full-tilt.

The what ifs?—that swarm of biting flies—assail me as I walk. What if the snag had caught me in my left side, right above the heart? Or in the unprotected gut? Or in the eye, for that matter? I shudder, live the thought so thoroughly that I cry out. I hold to my mantra ever more zealously, as if it were some kind of shield.

A little less hubris is always in order. I begin to work out the truth of what my daughter tried to make me see: no matter how cautiously we proceed, we are not ultimately in control. Shit happens, and will continue to happen. Through due diligence, I can minimize it, but I can never eliminate the chance of it. A storm might set in, requiring from the machine of the body an extreme endurance. Or, like a rubber band gone brittle in a desk drawer, the old body might just give out, as happened to my best hiking buddy Bruce, who discovered in the last waking moment of his life that he had a bum heart.

As youths, there are no limits to the risks we take. And there are no limits, we believe, to the exertions we are capable of—or at least we have never found them. Walk twelve parched miles of the Tonto Trail in blazing heat, and then climb out of the Grand Canyon? No prob. Hike all night if daylight fails? Sure thing. At the end of the day—or the night—we are still standing.

The problem for youth is the invincibility complex—no risk is too great to warrant turning around. Yes, I will step off the cliff. The finger- and toe-holds will appear as needed, and the rock will not give way. Or: Yes, I will step into this river in flood; I am stronger than any old current. Years ago I knew a guy whose thirst for thrills was legendary. Gordon was the one who, if we took the kids to the park on Sundays, could not stand around with the rest of us, pushing the swings and shooting the breeze. No, he would shimmy up the metal framework of the swing set and walk back and forth along the top like a tightrope artist, while we rolled our eyes and while the children, peering up from within their moving boxes, shrieked. Not much extreme risk here; if he fell, Gordon would at least land on his feet like a cat. His passion for kayaking was another matter. He liked to haul his boat on his back up mountainsides in search of the steepest and wildest chute of all. He found it all right, or rather it found him and kept him. I, and others, have never forgiven him.

The problem for older voyagers, on the other hand—as I am becoming progressively more aware as I navigate the decade of my fifties—is resistance to the fact of waning vitality. Many a middle-aged man’s brave bones have been picked clean in places where, in retrospect, they ought not have been.

And so the catalog of dangers is complete: extreme weather and system failure and foolhardiness of youth and frailty of age and dumb old human error. The fact remains that in any worthwhile enterprise, there must always be risk: trails unforgiving of missteps, the chance of a snake coiled on the ledge or of a cloudburst that will wash out the return route. Risk is wholesome, and it is freeing; to be fully alive requires it.

We try too hard to keep each other safe, and in so doing scare each other away from the front lines of life. The standard response if I divulge a plan for a solo hike is, What? You’re going alone? But aren’t you afraid? It gets so that I don’t even tell most people I am going. Sometimes even the Park Service traffics in fear. My permit for a canyon hike on the Tonto Trail from the South Kaibab to the Grandview one recent spring contained the note, “EXCESSIVELY DANGEROUS HIKE! Hiker insisted on itinerary!”—the official government stamp of disapproval. When I saw this, I looked again at the map, thought back to my last hike there years before. To be sure, the region would be relatively unpeopled and perhaps a bit on the dry side, although in early March that wouldn’t be a problem the way it was in high summer. Nor would there be any danger of getting lost; like all canyon trails, the Tonto has only grown more distinct over the decades.

The danger, I could only conclude that the rangers concluded, was that I was not sharing the risk, dividing it by two the way one carves a loaf of pumpkin bread and puts half in each pack. Say there are two of us. It is true that one can keep the other in check if a burst of foolhardiness overcomes him. But this is what inner voices are for. Besides, one headstrong fool can just as easily lead another into trouble. If injury occurs, one can indeed leave the other in a shady spot with half the loaf and embark on a super-charged rescue mission. But is this any less risky? The rescuer will move too fast and too long in the high heat; fatigue will cloud perspective, and the danger will be multiplied.

If mountain man Hugh Glass could drag his grizzly-mauled carcass two hundred miles to a settlement, if Aron Ralston could grit his teeth and remove the trapped hand from his torso, I could outwait an ankle sprain and in the meantime, more than ever, get what I came for—time for perception, time for reflection, time to step out of time and simply be. And if—worst case—it were my time to embark on a journey to that other place, would it really be better to have someone hovering above me, squeezing my hand, putting his ear up to my mouth? What he would interpret to be my death throes would likely be a final agitation: Get out of my way! I can’t see the sky!

On the Nankoweap Trail in the easternmost part of the Grand Canyon, there is a fifteen-foot stretch known as “The Scary Spot.” Bloggers cite it as the most exposed bit of trail in the canyon, “trouble waiting to happen.” Some hikers have been said to turn back rather than risk it. You Tube videos depict others gingerly crossing it; heavy breathing is in the air. Even Harvey Butchart, the dean of canyoneers whose fearlessness was the stuff of lore, wrote, “a man feels like creeping on all fours” across it. In the several years that I dreamed of and then planned for a Nankoweap hike, this massive mythology weighed upon me mightily. Twice, I cancelled scheduled hikes because I “did not feel up to it,” “it” being the image seared in my mind of a slanted, six-inch-wide gash of pebbles and loose earth, with cliffs above and cliffs below.

The entire Nankoweap Trail, I finally found out, was loose, steep, narrow and cliffy—in short, something that required one’s attention. I moved slowly, taking care to firmly plant my boots and hiking stick with each step. I didn’t look up unless I stopped. And all the while, as I threaded my way across the cliff-face, in and out the big bays, I was expecting something of a different magnitude to open out underfoot, something infamously treacherous. Eventually, I dropped my pack at a promontory to check the map. To my astonishment, I found that I had traversed “The Scary Spot” without even knowing! Here is another, truer way to put it: I had indeed passed a particular place on the trail upon which a great deal of energy has been lavished, but the “The Scary Spot,” in all its shimmering intensity, resided mainly in my head. Other hikers of the Nankoweap have been startled by the same discovery, and by the conclusion that results: Fear is something one can choose to own or disown.

The matter of risk is something different. It seems to exist both as a subjective event—something one weighs, accepts a measure of, aims to manage—and as an attribute of the real world. Who will deny that certain places at certain times hold inherent risk? To do so is to disown one’s life. On the Nankoweap hike, swayed perhaps by the warning on my permit—“Hiker advised of aggressiveness of itinerary & associated risks”—I took with me for the first time a satellite Spot device. Its logistics are simple: at any given moment you point it at the sky, press a button, and your designated watchperson—for me it was my wife, at whose request I rented it—receives an email that says, “I’m okay,” and that gives your exact location on a map. If you run into trouble, you simply press the SOS button, kick back, and await the rescuers. The arrangement was a comfort for her, and for that I liked it. But on the whole I valued it a good deal less than she. When I go into the backcountry, I like the thought that no one knows where I am except me. I like knowing that I am, and must be, self-sufficient. It hones the edge. I doubt that having this device made me any less deliberate in my actions, but I do know it made me feel less free. Each time I pointed it skyward and told the world that “I’m okay,” my cocoon of presentness was disrupted, my solitude compromised.

I am fairly sure I know what my daughter, direct as ever, would say about this stance: “Get over your stupid head trip. It smacks of foolhardiness.” And I am fairly sure that, with just a little more grumbling, this is the least I can do.

At what point does caution become constriction? Where does hardiness end and foolhardiness begin? It is our duty to ourselves to discover what our limits are and work to expand them—or at least push gently against them. It is our moral duty to encourage the same in others. This is the antidote to being hemmed in by the narrow limits others will set for us by default, if we allow them to. When wide-wandering Odysseus was threading the straits between Scylla and Charybdis—the one a monster poised to ambush those who strayed too close, the other a whirlpool that might swallow the would-be wayfarer—he steered his craft closer to the former, judging that action, whatever its risk, was better than the threat of being held in one place forever. So too must we steer our crafts.

Lonnie Monka

A native of the United States, Lonnie Monka has lived in Israel for some years now. He loves contemplating life, walking around, reading and writing poetry, and experimenting in the kitchen. He is actively developing Jerusalism, a series of literary events and activities in and around Jerusalem.

 

my mistake

in New Jersey: a dead bird in my mother’s hands
it flew through a balcony door & smashed into a window
“I’ll put it back outside” she said
“maybe–it’ll wake up”
her puffy red face–still moist
she cried over that dead bird–dead bird–a bird
Alle-Faye–my sister’s name
Tziporah–my grandmother’s name
their name–meaning bird

*          *          *

in Jerusalem: pigeons enter my apartment through the balcony door
discharging watery poop & feathers before leaving
once I returned to witness one
smacking itself–beak first–into the window
again & again until submission–ruffled & unwilling to move
I clamped hands around its wings
carried it to the balcony & let go
fortified by watching its flight–just as my mother didn’t
with that bird of hers I thought was dead

Gail C. DiMaggio

Gail C. DiMaggio spent decades helping her husband, a jazz trombonist, pursue his music in a world where no artist ever gives up a day gig. Refusing to become discouraged, she writes about the life of an ordinary woman because for this she has all necessary credentials. And besides, as a friend recently told her, “What else have you got to do?” Her work has been published in a number of journals among them, Aries, Antiphon Cactus Heart, and Kestral.

 

Girls in Pictures

After John Singer Sargent’s The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit

Farthest away, hardest to see, Flora
is the one who grips me. Behind them he’s painted
a square of dark – the parlor? – and Flora’s the girl
turning into the black, leaning

against a tall vase, arms limp, eyes
turned from her sisters,
from the handsome artist,
from her vigilant mother who stands by the man,

whispering. High on the dark wall,
he has sketched a flake white rectangle. It
suggests a mirrored window. I used to try
to capture my daughter,

Lisa, in photographs. In this one,
you might see a girl, laughing
instead of the girl who’s done
with testifying to our happiness, the girl

who spun to face me, arms out,
shouting, Is this what you want? Is it?
I thought it was. What I wanted.
Flora wears a pinafore, but her mother

must be readying her for grown up things –
they’ve let down her skirts. Put up her hair.
To celebrate menarche, I had Lisa’s ears
pierced, bought gold to gleam in her dark curls. She

hated them – hated the struggle
to find the slot, force the post
through. Zinc-white gleams in Flora’s pinafore,
but her hands are a black smudge, her cheek

a dark suggestion, and her mother
goes on dreaming lanterns in a ball room,
a man in black to take the fragile hand. A painter
composes the color black from undertones –

forest green, blood red and slate. I imagine Flora in love
with the shades that coil and whisper
inside this black. In a second photograph,
sunset gilds my daughter’s face. She

is watching horses. Tall and dusty, passing,
returning. The stallion’s haunch, the mares’ curving necks
and their slender, knobbed legs. They stamp and paw –
a drumbeat to make the ground shiver.

Sherrie Flick

Sherrie FlickSherrie Flick is author of the novel Reconsidering Happiness, the flash fiction chapbook I Call This Flirting, and the forthcoming short story collection Whiskey, Etc. (Queen’s Ferry Press, 2016). She lives in Pittsburgh.

 

 

Now

The coffee shop is full, or full enough. I hide in the back, wait. My maybe-date doesn’t show. “The alarm clock didn’t go off,” he says to me when he calls. To get to the coffee shop on time, I sprinted through my morning brushing of teeth like a comedy routine, throwing on clothes, making hasty decisions, pissing off the dog and the cat and my neighbor, Jim. But still. I’m polite on the phone, as he talks about late nights and the need for a new, better alarm clock.

I do doubt the problem is the clock, but I encourage him to, yes, buy a new one. I say it’s okay, because it seems he will not stop apologizing until I do. I hate that I’m bullied into forgiving him, and when he calls to reschedule I pretend like I’ve accidentally deleted his message. There’s a kind of joy in fooling yourself and then lying about a mundane detail.

“Oh, I didn’t get that message.”

And I take joy where I can; these tiny moments add up. As I’m walking my dog I think about all the missed opportunities, all the rushing. What if you got that back—like a time refund?

And today there’s my near-date, in fact, sitting in a different cafe on a different day talking to a different woman as I walk by. I turn, walk by again. I turn, walk to the plate glass and tap. Tap-tap. Wave. He looks up, touches the woman’s hand to stop her mid-sentence, nods to me and then heads out into the cold without a coat. I’m bundled tight and ready to wait this out. The dog sits, sensing this will be a long one, deciding to be a good boy because perhaps he remembers that this particular cafe has doggy treats inside by the register.

“Hey,” the almost-date says. “I tried to call you to hook up again.”

“Oh, hey,” I say. “I didn’t get that message. Weird.”

“Weird,” he says. We both look at the dog, who looks across the street, his main focus being sitting like a good boy. Shoulders back. Ears up. “So,” he says. “Let’s reschedule?”

I look inside the cafe at the woman with her back to me, sipping on a cup of tea, fiddling with the paper flag attached to its string. Her fingers are fine and beautiful. Her hair looks nice from the back, auburn and wavy and lush. I wonder how many people he has in his life. I know I don’t have very many to meet up with these days. I feel homesick for something. I suddenly feel so much at once.

“I just can’t bear to be stood up again,” I say. “So let’s just call it that, okay? It was a date and now it’s run its course without even starting up. Efficient.”

He looks inside the cafe, perhaps thinks the woman’s hands are beautiful too. Maybe this is the moment that he falls in love with her? In a few years they will marry, this man and the woman with the tea. They’ll walk arm in arm around the neighborhood and smile at me in the dwindling light. They’ll get a dog of their own. A beagle who eagerly sniffs my dog’s ass.

For now, my own dog has decided his good dog time is up. He whines a little and then lifts off his haunches and pulls gently on the leash. “Okay,” the man says. “I didn’t know you were so sensitive.”

“Not sensitive, really. Just pragmatic,” I say. “Plus, you don’t know me at all.”

He sighs then, looks across the street at the rows of houses lined up and quiet in the mid-afternoon city street their window boxes stuffed with dying flowers. He says, “I’ve seen you around this neighborhood for months. I always thought it was beautiful, the way you stepped carefully with your dog. I loved watching you walk and walk around the blocks around here. I loved that you smiled at me. Just wanted to let you know that.” He shifted his weight from one foot to the other, touched my arm. “I also know,” he says quietly, “that sometimes I can be an ass.”

I nod. I say, “Thank you.” The dog pulls steadily now and barks once. I smile at the man. “Thanks.”

I think about all of this later, of course. After he’s married. I think about time stretching and bending and moving in other ways instead of this one. I imagine him showing up at the coffee shop. I imagine ordering tea, playing with the tea bag while he talks to a woman for too long on a cold fall day, outside the cafe, my back turned to him and her, but feeling the heat of their conversation through the window. I imagine waiting patiently while conversations inside murmur all around me. I imagine turning to look out the window, as this beautiful woman does just now, and seeing him with her, touching her hand then hugging.

I wonder which woman I want to be.

Neil Carpathios

Neil CarpathiosNeil Carpathios the author of three full-length poetry collections and various chapbooks. Fictions have recently appeared in: The Ampersand Review, Underground Voices, Mayday Magazine, LitroNY Magazine, Miracle Monocle, and Lime Hawk Quarterly (which nominated my short story, “Poets and Scholars” for a Pushcart Prize). He also recently edited an anthology of regional literature, Every River on Earth: Writing from Appalachian Ohio (Ohio University Press, 2015). Carpathios is an associate professor of English and Coordinator of Creative Writing at Shawnee State University in Portsmouth, Ohio.

 

The Man with No Future

Nathan had just finished his pork fried rice and spring roll when the waitress brought him the bill and complimentary fortune cookie. He cracked the cookie in half but nothing was inside. He checked to see if maybe the tiny slip of paper was jammed in one of the cookie’s crevices, but there was nothing. This had never happened before in his life, let alone at Chang’s where he stopped for lunch a couple of times a week. He called the waitress over. He pointed to the broken cookie. He explained.

The waitress apologized, reached into her deep apron pocket, and handed him another one. He broke the new cookie open—and once again, there was nothing inside. He stared down at the yellow cookie pieces, then became self-conscious and wondered if anybody at a nearby table noticed. Did they see his puzzled face, or was it scared, or maybe even a little relieved, as he looked at his watch then balled up his napkin and stood up, starting to walk, peeking one more time over his shoulder at the shards like ancient relics in a museum on his plate?

As he stood at the register paying, he imagined that somebody who witnessed the scene thought it was like a one-act play called “The Man with No Future.” This made Nathan smile to himself. He handed the waitress, who now was the cashier, a ten and told her to keep the change.

There really was nothing strange about all this, Nathan thought. In fact, what was strange is that this had never happened until now. Surely mistakes were made in factories where fortune cookies were produced. He pictured an assembly-line of cookies shaped like small seashells, Chinese workers in white smocks quickly stuffing them with fortunes. The workers start to gossip, get distracted, and miss a few here and there.

The next afternoon, Nathan went to open the mail box slot with his apartment key. He hated these cramped mailboxes; the mail usually jammed and twisted the letters to fit. There was one envelope. Nathan reached in, squeezed it out. He flattened it against the wall with his palms to crush the wrinkles. It was addressed to Blake Graham, his birth name before he started going by his middle name, Nathan, and his mother’s maiden name, Hercules. It was twenty-odd years ago when his father committed suicide and he felt compelled to shed his skin, to take on a new identity—at least in terms of his name. He was a teenager and thought the pain and confusion might die away if he could imagine being a brand new person. His mother, who despised his father and was divorced from him, encouraged Blake to discard his father’s name and was pleased with Nathan as well; her husband had decided on Blake, which she never liked much.

Odd, Nathan thought. He had not received any mail with his birth name for longer than he could remember. Everyone, even bill collectors, knew him as Nathan Hercules.

Nathan didn’t wait to get back into his apartment. Standing there in the hall in front of all the other mail slots, he opened the envelope. Before he could pull out the paper, a woman in slippers he didn’t know although he’d seen her a few times walked up to get her mail. She used her key; the little metal door opened like a small safe. She coughed, nodded to Nathan, and then he waited for her to leave along together with a trail of cigarette stench.

Alone again, Nathan pulled out the paper which was neatly folded. It was clean white stock, nice quality. He unfolded and looked: the page was blank. Not a mark.

“What the hell?” Nathan thought. There was no return address on the envelope.

“Shit happens, I guess,” Nathan told himself as he walked back up to his apartment.

A few days later he was walking on the sidewalk in front of his apartment building on his way to the drugstore. He was out of band-aids and had another paper cut—occupational hazard from handling the hundreds of papers his college students turned in. With his index finger wrapped in a napkin, he took long strides, wanting to quickly walk the three blocks there. He nearly stepped on something. He looked down. In the middle of the sidewalk was a small bird’s nest. Nathan picked it up. There were no trees anywhere nearby, so how did it get there, he wondered. The nest was empty.

It wasn’t until the weekend when he was at Walmart buying new socks, he picked a bargain CD out of a bin for $2.99, “Johnny Cash Greatest Hits”— which was his father’s favorite artist, and his own, because as a kid he’d stand in the driveway watching his dad work with tools on a truck’s engine while “A Boy Named Sue” or “Ring of Fire” floated in the air from inside the garage—Nathan got inside his car in the parking lot, peeled off the tight plastic wrapping, opened the CD case eager to pop in some music, and found the case empty. He couldn’t ignore the strangeness any more.

The next morning before heading to the college he pulled a dictionary off his shelf. He looked up the word coincidence. “Exact correspondence in substance or nature” and “a concurrence of events with no apparent connection.” The word that jumped out at him was “correspondence.” Nathan looked up the word correspondence. “A close connection. A similarity. A communication or message sent or received.”

His father and mother divorced when Nathan was twelve, so amidst the normal chaos of adolescence the emotional earthquake of a family split intensified teen tectonics. His father moved away, took a job somewhere else. Nathan rarely saw him, and his mother discouraged long-distance visits. She also worked on her young son’s mind to create false memories and paint a portrait of a negligent, hard-drinking, and callous father. And when his father let the train run over him in the middle of a September night, and Nathan’s mother explained what had happened, Nathan felt more than just an earthquake. He couldn’t help imagining what it felt like to have a train crushing your body or why anybody would choose to die that way. For years after, the quaking, exploding, tremors— whatever word might come close—kept him awake nights and tortured him into self-destructive behavior such as drinking and drugs, and eventually pushed him toward the decision, nudged by his mother, to replace his name. He buried Blake Graham in a deep hole inside his chest.

For the whole week, Nathan was distracted. He had trouble getting through his classes. He couldn’t grade papers. He felt as if he were sleepwalking through the days. He hardly slept, didn’t have much appetite, and kept noticing other things: a plastic water bottle in a twenty-four pack he’d bought at the grocery without any water; a malted milk ball he bit into with just chocolate and no hardened milk center; a peanut shell he cracked open sitting on a stool at his favorite bar, Rocky’s, without a nut.

Nathan’s father was a simple man, he thought. At least those were his memories of him. He worked on cars, smoked cigars, and watched football. He had been a landscaper in summers and snow remover in winters. Manly stuff. Nathan remembered how his hands were always cracked and creased, black grime permanently lodged under his nails. His mother used to scold his dad about it.every morning during coffee and every night during supper.

“Damn, Leo, can’t you at least clean your hands! It looks like you’ve been digging crud your whole life.”

He remembers his father lifting coffee to his lips, thick fingers wrapped around a white mug. “Well, sweetest petunia, these hands are what bring home the bacon. Besides, a man should have a little grit and grime on him. Or would you rather I manicured and held my cup with a pinky sticking out like some fruitcake?”

His mother would sometimes let up, just huff, but sometimes not.

“Come on, Leo. It’s disgusting to look at when we’re trying to eat. Conjures all sorts of disgusting thoughts.”

“Like what, for instance?”

Now they’d be looking right at each other, eyes sending out beams of searing anger like death-rays in some science fiction Martian movie.

“Like you scratching up deep somewhere in private where the sun don’t shine. Or wiping without toilet paper. Or you…”

“Shut up. The boy is sitting right here between us. Do you have a brain in your head?”

The landscaping and snow removal business had been declining every year. There was just too much competition. Nathan remembered his father taking part-time jobs, once giving him a ride in a taxi when he briefly filled-in driving for a sick friend. This increased tensions between his parents, the squabbling intensified. Lack of money, dirty fingernails—it all added up.

Then one day, the talk when they sat him down.

“Son, your mother and I have decided it would be best for me to move out. We just don’t get along, I know you know. We’re nicer when we’re apart. Hell, two angry birds need their own space to fly so they can maybe turn nicer. It would be best for you, too. You must be sick of all the squawking around here.”

“Yes, Blake. Your father is right for once in his sorry life. And it has nothing to do with you. Don’t you ever think that. This is between your father and me.”

So it went. Like so many other families all over. Nathan knew that the settings might be slightly altered, the key players different, but the basic drama was universal. Most of his own friends had come from divorced families. Then his father moved out. Moved from upstate New York to southern Ohio to take a job with an old pal who owned a tire repair shop. Then his pal’s business went under and his father was hired at a local grocery store loading and unloading food delivery trucks.

For a while, Nathan received letters, cards, and packages from his dad. In fact, his father seemed more expressive than he had ever been when he lived in the same house. Maybe, Nathan thought at the time, the old truth was in play—how a person who loses something suddenly tries hard to get it back. Maybe his father felt guilty about leaving. Maybe his father was doing it all just to feel better about himself. At first, Nathan would sometimes call and thank him, once even wrote a letter back. But then Nathan started to resent how his father ran out. He should have stayed to fight it out, he thought. The correspondence slowed down, eventually stopped.

Nathan remembered the last thing his father had sent him. It was a small box with muscle car magazines, candy bars—and one strange item: a fortune cookie. In the enclosed note, his father wrote:                       

They were handing out fortune cookies at the store, promoting some new Chinese noodle lunch packs. I took one and thought of you. My future doesn’t matter much, but yours does. I hope it’s a good one!

Nathan tore open the plastic wrapper, then broke the cookie open. He pulled out the tiny slip of paper and read: Freedom is not the bird’s flight, but its decision whether or not to fly. Nathan remembered not understanding, thinking what a stupid fortune. Of course, now he only vaguely recalled it having something to do with a bird, or flying. He crumpled the paper and crammed the tasteless cookie chunks into his mouth, crunching. A week later, his mother greeted him at the kitchen table with the news.

Nathan was not superstitious, but if his dead father was trying to send him some kind of message, trying to correspond after all these years, what was he trying to tell him? Empty things, things missing, things suddenly turning blank or silent. Or was it something other than his father trying to connect with him? Was he crazy to even consider such notions?

It was a little after nine in the morning, a Saturday, and Nathan sat drinking coffee on his couch that he had strategically placed to face the small window looking out onto the street. The window was round unlike most windows, like the porthole of a ship. He wondered if the architect had been a naval man. From outside the round windows gave the building a uniquely odd appearance. He listened to the muffled sounds of passing cars and gazed up at a dirty gray sky. The view was lousy but he was grateful to at least have this small opening which he sometimes imagined was the apartment’s eye or nostril or ear from which inside the room’s skull he peeped out. He was a prisoner of the apartment’s brain, he’d think to himself, trapped behind bony walls. He’d leave the apartment and continue the little drama, pretending to escape, finally free, standing on the sidewalk looking back at the apartment building which resembled a hulking brick beast.

Nathan gulped the last of his coffee, grabbed his leather jacket, and headed out. He did not stop this time, but did look over his shoulder at his small window, that today resembled a pore in the bricks’ skin allowing the beast’s rust-brown body to breathe. Then he looked again, and noticed it may have been the blow-hole of the building, the kind a whale has. He thought if this were a one-act play it might be called “The Man Who Thought Way Too Much about a Window.”

He probably thought way too much about everything. That was his problem. So what that his parents divorced? So what that his father killed himself? So what that things happen without any real explanation? Maybe that was the message his father was trying to send him: to stop trying to make sense of it all, just let the mystery of living unfold. Maybe that was the real fortune in those cookies written on invisible paper in invisible ink. He just couldn’t see them. Then he caught himself thinking about the blank paper in the envelope, the nest, the TV, the radio, the other things. “There you go again, asshole,” he actually said out loud to himself as he strode looking down at sidewalk cracks. “There you go like an obsessed lunatic.”

Or maybe, he thought, he was just not smart enough to figure out little clues that most people would easily decipher. He imagined his father orchestrating the recent doings, starting with the fortune cookies, getting frustrated that his son wasn’t “getting it.” He saw his father rolling his eyes somewhere, probably thinking his son would have to be hit over the head with a hammer before he understood.

Nathan slapped himself on both cheeks with the palms of each hand. “Stop thinking, dammit.” He looked up and saw a crow on a phone line looking down at him. “My dad disguised to spy on me.” He slapped himself again.

Outside Chang’s, Nathan stopped to look into the big front window. It was still early for lunch and he watched workers setting tables, one sweeping with a broom. The special today, hand-printed with red ink on poster-size paper behind glass, read: Sweet and Sour Fortune Cookie Chicken and Orange Sesame Fortune Cookie Cupcakes. Nathan moved closer to make sure he wasn’t hallucinating. He read more: In honor of National Fortune Cookie Day. It was September 13. He had never heard of such a holiday. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” he said out loud. In smaller print at the bottom: The first fortune cookie was invented in 1920 at the Hong Kong Noodle Company in Los Angeles, California.

“Wow, my dad is using that hammer now,” Nathan thought. “OK, dad, you want me to do something, what is it? Go inside and order the special? Or is this a test? Let’s see, you want me to keep walking and forget about it? You want me to have lunch but resist the temptation of anything having to do with fortune cookies and order something else? You want me to go to Walmart and buy another Johnny Cash CD? You want me to say I’m sorry? You want me to forgive you?”

The door of Chang’s opened and a young Chinese man with blond-dyed hair and a stud earring poked his head out. “We’ll be open in a few minutes. Happy Fortune Cookie Day!”

Nathan nodded. Then he looked back to the crow, but the crow was gone.

“A group of crows is called a murder,” Nathan thought. “Maybe a single crow is a suicide.”

A young couple came up and paused looking at the poster in the window. The man in a black beret and woman with one long ponytail read, then simultaneously looked at each other and said, “National Fortune Cookie Day?” They broke up laughing, then looked over at Nathan.

“If this were a one-act play, what would you call it?” Nathan asked the couple. They looked at each other again, slightly confused. Then Nathan walked away, passing shops, crossing streets, weaving in and out of bodies on sidewalks, sometimes looking up at the phone lines wondering about that crow, not sure where he was going, but the day was crisp and the further he walked his head felt—at least for now—suddenly clear.

Melissa Grunow

M Grunow photoMelissa Grunow‘s memoir, Realizing River City, is forthcoming from Tumbleweed Books. An award-winning author, her writing has appeared in Creative Nonfiction, River Teeth, New Plains Review, Limestone, Temenos, and Yemassee, among many others. She is also a live storyteller and regularly competes in NPR’s Moth StorySLAM in Detroit. She has an MFA in creative nonfiction from National University and an MA in English from New Mexico State University. Visit her website at www.melissagrunow.com or follow her on Twitter at @melgrunow.

 

White Spirit

Woch nan dlo pa konnen doule woch nan soley.
Translation:
A rock in the water does not know the pain of the rock in the sun.

Haitian Proverb

I was in a lounge chair next to the pool while my brothers took turns jumping flips off the diving board when my grandma walked out the back door, shuffling her legs forward at the hips. She wore a black-one piece black bathing suit even though Grandma never went in the pool, and she served my dad and my then-boyfriend each a Manhattan. We asked her repeatedly to sit down, insisting that we could get our own refills. But everyone was always a guest in my grandma’s house, so she waited on us in her bathing suit as though it were perfectly normal for her to do so.

In a few minutes, I would go inside to help her prepare lunch: cold-cut sandwiches, deviled eggs, chips with French onion dip, tuna salad, and grapes. We would eat on the patio and stay out all afternoon until the mosquitos chased us inside. I hadn’t broken the news to my family yet that I had become a vegetarian, so when it came time to eat, I picked at the food, blamed my fullness on all the snacks served earlier, and waited for Grandma to bring out the watermelon.

It was July, and we were celebrating her eightieth birthday.

In the fall, as my grandpa’s physical limitations and Alzheimer’s progressed, they would decide—or perhaps Grandma would decide—that they wouldn’t drive to Florida for the winter anymore, the first Christmas in as long as I could remember that they stayed in Michigan.

Grandpa wasn’t the only one who was changing, however. Grandma’s curves straightened out as she thinned down, and we blamed the stress of being the sole caregiver for my grandfather, who was struggling more and more each day with communication and physical mobility.

What she didn’t know, what none of us knew, is that she had leukemia.

*****

The drill head squeals against the misguided screw. There is a collective groan from the men around me who crouch on the ground and hold the metal frame together.

Miguelson pokes his finger into the air and rotates it counter-clockwise.

“Take it out?” I guess as I drag my arm across my forehead to catch the sweat building on my face.

Oui,” he says. “Take it out.”

I push the reverse mechanism on the drill. The screw pops out of the hole and falls to the ground.

Miguelson offers it to me.

I reposition the screw and try again, and this time secure the two panels together.

“Good.” Miguelson smiles and nods toward the next hole further down the partition as crewmen scramble to line up the holes. I’m among a small group of Americans who are assembling frames for homes that will be relocated to various villages outside of Les Cayes, Haiti, as part of a grant for Port-au-Prince refugees who fled the country’s capital after the 2010 earthquake. I’m a white American woman volunteering on a crew of black Haitian men. Somehow I’m holding the drill and leading the project while the other members of my volunteer group have each gone to work on a separate project with a separate crew. I’m sweating through a layer of bug spray, sunscreen, and every piece of fabric I’m wearing while working in a field under Caribbean sun. The men are clad in t-shirts and jeans, and accustomed to working outdoors in the heat. They’re sweating, too, but barely.

We’re spread out on the grass next to a row of shipping containers on the grounds of Pwoje Espwa, or Project Hope, a village of sorts that grew from an orphanage of 650 abandoned children. Local children attend their elementary and secondary school, and villagers benefit from the giant outdoor kitchen that serves three thousand meals a day. There is also a medical building staffed by Doctors without Borders programs, wood and metal shops where young men learn skills to earn money for themselves and their families, a small farm, and a guest house called The Quad where volunteers pay a modest fee to eat and sleep for the duration of their stay.

The men on the crew work for Virginia-based Shelter2Home, an organization that is under contract to build more than thirty houses throughout southern Haiti for those families most in need. The crew are local men trained and paid by Shelter2Home to build these houses, whose frames lock together like giant erector sets, and are then covered with mesh and stucco. The homes are designed to be resistant to severe wind and rain, rot, and infestation, all shelter threats in Haiti.

A bell rings and children dressed in pink and white gingham shirts and green shorts or skirts gather around our work site and watch us. Children in Haiti are required to wear uniforms to school, and the Americans call this particular elementary school the Watermelon Patch because of their attire. The children call us over to them, “Please! Please! Photo! Photo!” they say, those who aren’t too shy, at least. I pose for pictures with them, and one girl gets trampled as they scramble around me like puppies, tugging on my clothes and hugging my limbs. They are desperate for affection, and I can’t keep up with their desire. When the bell rings again, I pry them from me, point to their school, and shout firmly, “Au revoir!” to direct them back inside.

*****

I spent a week with my grandparents when I first moved back to Michigan after graduate school. I didn’t have a job yet, so I drove two hours to their house, where I had my own room and I could lounge in the sun by the pool reading books, dipping my feet in the water to keep cool. I dangled my feet over the edge of the pool, and watched the blue water shimmer around my painted toes. My legs were thinner than usual—as was the rest of me—but they were stark white, always refusing to tan even a little in the summer.

I looked beyond my toes and saw the drain in the center of the deep end of the pool. When I was younger, I would try to swim all the way to the bottom, the pressure increasing on my skull the lower I sank. I would slowly exhale to get closer and closer to the bottom, and by the time I reached the grate, I would be completely out of air reserve. My cousins and I would play a game to see who could sit cross-legged on the floor of the deep end. Kristin could always do it. I was too afraid. Sitting on the edge of the pool, I wondered what it would be like to get to the bottom and to open my eyes, nose, and mouth, and take in water instead of air. I wondered what it really meant to drown.

When I stopped moving my legs, I could see my reflection in the water. The older I got, the more I looked like my grandmother when she was young.

*****

We fly from Detroit to Miami and from Miami to Port-au-Prince, where a hired driver takes us to the Tortug Airport. From there, we are given hand-written boarding passes for a flight to Les Cayes. Our plane sits no more than 18 people and flies so close to the ground that I get to watch the Haitian countryside roll out in front of me. Beyond the mountains, I see more mountains, greenery, and clear water. No evidence of the country’s poverty or corruption or great suffering. Just paradise.

A driver meets the six of us volunteer builders—Christine, Margaret, Darryl, Michael, Dominic, and me—at the airport with a car meant to seat four. The ride is scenic, yet cramped and bumpy. Men, women, and children stare as we drive by. The children wave and shout. There are tin shacks that say “bank” on them along the way, but I’m told they are really casino stands for the lottery that is impossible to win. “It’s the government’s way of ripping off the poor,” Christine says. This is her second time in Les Cayes to work with the local construction crew, and she frequently offers quips about the living conditions and corruption.

Judex is a former Espwa orphan who finds out The Quad has visitors. When I speak with him, I don’t need to slow down or choose simpler words. His English is self-taught and flawless. He speaks just as I do with a nasally Midwestern American accent and an adult’s vocabulary. “It’s how I will live,” he says.

He offers himself as a translator for twenty dollars a day. We decline, hoping to make do for a week of volunteering with one of us speaking broken high school French and the Haitians knowing enough English that we can assemble panels and install doors without compromising the building’s integrity. We communicate on grunts and motions and smiles. Everyone is unnaturally polite and patient with us. Haiti is a happy country, and if the crewmen don’t want us there, they sure don’t let on.

*****

My grandparents came to visit me my first semester in college. After dinner, they took me to the casino where they weren’t sure if I needed to be 18 or 21 years old to get in, but we walked right past the security without alerting them enough to check my ID.

Scenes from movies came to life in front of me. The bright colors; the shiny chrome; the unremitting dinging and ringing of slot machines. My grandparents were seasoned gamblers and showed me around the floor. They gave me five dollars and showed me how to play roulette and the slots. I watched as men and women of all ages and health conditions plunk down stacks of bills or piles of chips or feed coin after coin into the machines. I wanted the feeling of success, of gathering my winnings and running out the door, and into the evening light.

I lost the money within minutes and shrugged as my grandpa laughed and reminded me that gambling was just that—a gamble.

“Now, don’t tell your parents that we brought you here,” Grandma said. She set her lips in a tight line on her face as the flashing lights from a nearby game danced in her eyes. “I don’t want to get you into trouble.”

*****

On our first day of work, the six of us walk through what can only resemble a jungle from my city-minded perspective, to a two-room house that’s already been framed and covered in stucco. We’re met by Pierre Claude, a Haitian crew leader, and some of his men, to install entryway doors that are contractor-grade and shipped from the U.S. The house has two entrances and there are more than ten people trying to help install the doors. They don’t need me. I stand in the front room and watch, wondering why I’m here and how I’m going to contribute, when a woman hands me her baby through the frameless window.

Pierre Claude turns to me and smiles. “This is her house,” he says, nodding to the baby.

“Wellbene,” the mother says through gold fillings, pointing to the baby. “Wellbene.” The child is quiet in my arms, nearly expressionless unless I make cooing noises, and then she giggles and smiles, the mother smiling, too. I try to ask the men how old she is, but they don’t understand my question. That, or they don’t know how to answer. The language barrier divides us.

*****

As my grandmother’s life approached its end, I reached out to Edwin, a man who would never be my boyfriend because he was a bit of a mystic, an overgrown lost boy, a misguided hippie, and a broken-hearted. He teetered on the line between alone and lonely. He was a genius and clueless, a connector who struggled to communicate. He was emotionless and full of emotion, fascinated and disinterested.

Edwin lived in a realm of universal energy, a space of love, truth, and healing, and he tried to get me to live there, too.

“My grandma is dying,” I said. I called him from my bedroom in my apartment, face down on the mattress, unsuccessfully trying to cry. We hadn’t seen each other or spoken in months, yet he was the only person who could crack me open so that I could mourn.

“Completely surrender yourself to this moment.” Edwin’s argument was that when you surrender, you’re allowing the release of all things you want to control. “Love,” he said. “Don’t grieve. Just love.”

Edwin said he had been in a dark place. That he missed me. That he hadn’t met anyone like me since our brief affair had come to an end a few months prior. He said our connection couldn’t be matched.

“And plan to stay the night,” he said after calling me up and inviting me over for dinner.  

I accepted his invitation. I couldn’t save my grandma, but I could try to save Edwin.

In the end, I failed them both.

*****

“Melissa, there’s one next to your head.”

I open my eyes, and my ears slowly adjust to the whirring of a large industrial fan propped up in the corner of the room. I’m lying under a screened window and a thin sheet. The fan had cooled the night just enough for me to fall into a sound sleep, despite the heavy humidity in the air.

I fold forward, crawl to the foot of the cot and stand up. It isn’t until that moment that I am actually awake enough to realize that Margaret, my roommate and fellow volunteer, is standing next to me with a flashlight in one hand and a flip-flop in another. It’s our first night in Haiti.

“There’s a what next to my head?”

Margaret hands me the flashlight. “Here,” she says. “Look. It’s on your bag.”

My duffle bag is on the floor next to the cot, and sprawled on the side is a spider.

“My god,” I say. “It’s the size of a Frisbee.”

*****

Grandma couldn’t drive anymore; not for long periods of time, anyway. So I called in sick to spend the day driving my grandpa to doctor’s appointments, run errands, and buy their groceries. I put gas in their van knowing the tank would likely be just as full on my next visit. I was working two jobs, and for that reason, didn’t have time to go up and help, aside from that one day when I hoisted my grandpa in and out of the car, my grandma nagging him the whole time to adjust his shirt, pull up his pants, stand up, sit down, step closer, and don’t go too far.

My grandpa died first. A heart attack, Dad told me. Alone in his room, he was found by an orderly at the nursing home where we moved him after my grandma became too weak to care for him. At the funeral, I sat in the fifth row and cried quietly but hard, cousins and siblings piling into the rows around me. I wouldn’t look at any of them, just at the floor and at my niece who was too young to know not to laugh, who didn’t understand loss. My grandma had told me not to cry, not be sad. She spoke through a white mask while seated in a wheelchair, barely healthy enough to not be lying in a hospital bed. Months later I would wonder why I cried so much at my grandpa’s funeral, and not a single tear at my grandma’s. No, at her funeral, I half-carried, half-dragged my thin sister to her seat, holding her tightly, knowing her grief had overcome her, wishing I had someone when I was the one who needed to be carried.

*****

Today is my ten-year wedding anniversary. Or at least it would be if I were still married. Instead, I am five years divorced and in another country while my ex-husband is in Utah doing whatever it is that ex-husbands do.

The volunteers and a few crewmen ride in the back of a pickup truck with two doors propped up between us and speed down a dirt road into a neighboring village. We are headed to a house that will belong to a young woman who lost her leg in the earthquake.

When we arrive, the woman shouts greetings to us in Kreyol—Haitian Creole—the crewmen shouting back at her. She hobbles over to us and kisses my face, leaning in on her crutches, as one of the children wraps his arms around my thigh and giggles. Some of the men unload the doors from the pickup truck. A quick measurement tells us that we need to clear the frames of screw heads and additional mesh. We use whatever tools we can find: rocks for hammers and our keys as pliers since there are not enough tools to go around. At one point, I use the bottom of my metal water bottle as a chisel and hit it with a rock. Pierre Claude laughs at me, but the technique works, so he nods and moves on to the other door frame. It’s another hot day and one of the crewmen offers to take over for me when I pause to fan my T-shirt out. I’m grateful to have a break.

Children from the village are crowding the crew, so I take them a few yards from the house and teach them hand-clapping games and Ring Around the Rosie. One of them is wearing tights for pants, another just a cloth diaper, and another a matching tank top and shorts set that should belong to a young boy, but is worn by a little girl. None of them are wearing shoes except the girl with the tights. When they get bored with clapping and skipping in a circle, they take turns clutching my hands and climbing up the front of my body then flipping backwards, landing on the ground, a game I used to play with my dad in my grandma’s pool when I was young.

*****

When Grandma was initially diagnosed with leukemia, she was given six months to live. She made it almost two years because it took that long for her body to take over her spirit.

“I’m not afraid to die,” she told me once on the telephone as I drove the hour from my day job to my evening job, negotiating traffic and accepting her acceptance. “I just don’t want my mind to go first. Don’t let that happen, Okay? I want to know who I am and where I am at all times.”

In the end, her mind stayed sharp, just like she wanted. She contracted pneumonia, fluid built around her heart, and she couldn’t get enough oxygen on her own. Her body deflated and drowned itself in a hospital bed, my dad and his brother by her side.

*****

I’m blan, or white. A foreigner. There is a Haitian proverb, Milat pov se neg, eg rich se milat, which translates to, “A poor mulatto is black, a wealthy black is mulatto.” Race and wealth are positively correlated in Haiti. A white woman, an American woman with a fleshy physique like me, is a prize in a crane machine, and the men all seem to line up with a pocket full of quarters.

Judex tells me, “I’ve always wanted to try white.” He’s nineteen. I’m approaching thirty. I turn away, embarrassed that he is so brazen.

Michele is a crewman who wants to bed me. “Maleesa,” he says to me, my name a magical word in his mouth, “I need you. I need you tonight.”

Kevins is a vakabon, a former street kid. He often works by himself as the others see him as a hoodlum or a freeloader. He doesn’t care. He hugs me tightly and flashes a peace sign when we pose for a picture together.

Fritznel tells Miguelson that he loves me, and Miguelson translates.

I shake my head.

“What?” Miguelson asks. “You don’t like black?”

I immediately think of my grandmother who would answer for me in a situation such as this. “I like black just fine,” I say. “But I’m going back to America in two days.”

Legoute introduces himself to me as Son Son, a common nickname. We talk, smile, even flirt for three days while assembling wall panels together. On the last day I give him a bracelet I had made for him with “Son Son” stitched on it. I show him the one I had made for myself with my own name on it and say, “See? So you will remember me.”

He hands me his bracelet back and tugs on the one on my wrist.

“You want to trade?”

He nods. “Your name. On my heart.” He gives me his phone number and requests that I call him. “I want to have your words,” he says.

They call me a lespri blan, or White Spirit. “They have never seen a woman work the way you do. They’re basically calling you a freak of nature. It’s a compliment,” their foreman tells me.

No matter their English skill level, they all ask me the same question, “When will you return to Haiti?” Always when, when, when, because once you have Haiti in your heart, you will find a way, and a reason, to go back.

*****

My cousin Heather picked through my grandma’s closet after she died and stacked a huge pile of clothes on the bed to take home with her, while her mother—my aunt Carol—sorted through piles of my grandma’s jewelry, all of us still dressed in our funeral clothes. I sat in my grandma’s bedroom and watched them, wondering how it was so easy for them to collect her belongings for themselves so soon.

My uncle told me to take the Asian-inspired table with the peacock and bamboo stalks painted on it that my grandma promised to me during a conversation while she was sick in the hospital.

“It’s that one you said you liked,” she had reminded me. “The one we used to have at the house in Florida.” It had been twelve years since I said I mentioned liking the table. Twelve years, and she made absolute sure that everyone knew I was to have it when she died. Heather could have the clothes, the TV in the den, and anything else she picked off that day. The table was my grandma’s legacy to me.

*****

We arrive at Dan’s Creek, a resort in Port-Salut, on our last day in Haiti after a week of installing entryway doors and assembling frames for new houses that the local crew will finish on their own. While waiting for our lunch to be served on the outdoor patio we drink Prestige and go swimming in the warm ocean, and the sun reflects light in all directions for miles. The resort is positioned at the top of a rocky hill, and the only way to get to the water is to climb down stairs and ladders or to jump from a cliff that overhangs the ocean.

Christine and Margaret run and jump into the water without hesitation, not at all intimidated by the twenty-foot drop. I am worried about rocks and heights, and scared for absolutely no reason. When I finally get the courage to jump, the water hits me hard, and I sink to the bottom, my feet brushing against the gravelly sand, the bandana once covering my hair now floating out to sea. I expel the air from my lungs, air bubbles floating up from my lips, and try to sit at the bottom. The water is too buoyant, and it doesn’t let me do more than kneel. I can feel the sun, even on the ocean floor, and the water pressure compresses into my body. I linger, I let my lungs plead for a moment, and then I kick my feet, spread the water with my arms above my head, and take in air when I surface. I make my way to the beach to climb the stairs, walk the plank, and jump again.

Jane Wayne

Jane Wayne has appeared in Poetry, The Iowa Review, Ploughshares, The American Scholar, The Journal, The Massachusetts Review, Poetry Northwest, The Michigan Quarterly Review, Cincinnati Review and elsewhere. Her books include Looking Both Ways which received the Devins Award for Poetry, A Strange Heart which received the Marianne Moore Prize and the Society of Midland Authors Award, From the Night Album (Pecan Grove) and The Other Place You Live (Mayapple Press).

 

Jane Wayne_Poem

Sandell Morse

SandellSandell Morse’s work has appeared in numerous publications including, Creative Nonfiction, Ploughshares, the New England Review, Fourth Genre and Ascent. Her essay, “Brown Leather Satchel,” won second place in the 2015 Tiferet nonfiction contest, while “Hiding” was a notable essay listed in Best American Essays 2013, and “Houses” was nominated for Best of the Net 2014 and a Pushcart Prize. Other awards come from Press 53, the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance, and the Soul-Making Keats Literary Competition, among others. She has been a Tennessee Williams Scholar at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, an Associate Artist at the Atlantic Center for the Arts and a Fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Morse holds an MA in English with a concentration in fiction writing from the University of New Hampshire and an MALS with a concentration in the humanities from Dartmouth College. Morse serves on the boards of The Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance. She is an avid skier, hiker and dog lover, and she lives and writes on the coast of Maine. Her website is: sandellmorse.com

 

The Crossing

I’d been hiking Mount Willard, a small outcropping in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Clouds hung low; rain threatened. I hiked often and always alone, but not in rain if I could help it. The few hikers I’d seen were all heading down as I headed up. Still, I lingered at the top, standing inside white mist. I loved the stillness of these peaks, the timeless quality of the air. Solid rock under my feet. A couple emerged from the trail. No longer alone, I headed down.

Near the end of the trail, I stopped at a narrow, shallow stream. A crowd had gathered. I saw immediately they were ultra-Orthodox Jews, men with peyot, side locks, wearing yarmulkes, black trousers, long sleeved white shirts and slippery leather-soled shoes, women in long skirts and long sleeved blouses, buttoned high at their necks. The children’s clothing mimicked the adults’ dress, all on a hot damp August day. Groups of Orthodox Jews were a common sight in these mountains. In Bethlehem, a nearby town, an inn on the main street uses Hebrew letters and advertises kosher food, and certain motels provide rooms for prayer. Truly, Bethlehem with its concentration of ultra-Orthodox is an anomaly in northern New Hampshire, and this has been the case for generations.

I surmised two young families in this group, along with a patriarch. Perhaps a grown brother and sister, now with children of their own, their father, and their spouses. I counted eight children. A little girl with pigtails gave me a big smile. Then, she stared. At what? My wrinkled face? My bare arms? The open neck of my shirt? I was an older woman hiking alone, and suddenly, I was aware of how she must see me, immodest and out of place. I looked away.

In the middle of the stream, his feet planted on rocks, a young father held his young son’s hand. The father had flung a towel around his shoulders, and the way he wore it, well, it looked like a tallit, prayer shawl. The boy, a child about four, tottered. Watching intently, the grandfather called encouragement. “Good. Very good.”

As the child’s foot reached for a wet log, I gasped. The grandfather looked my way. Then, I blurted. “Oh, that will be slippery.”

But the older man had already stepped forward to reach for the child’s hand. Then, turning to me, he said, “I’m sorry we are keeping you.”

His tone was warm, his face soft and kind. I wanted to declare my kinship, to say to him, “I’m Jewish like you.”

But I wasn’t Jewish like him or like the women in his group. That week, the ultra-Orthodox had been in the news, a show on “This American Life” about an Orthodox takeover of a school board in East Ramapo, New York. True, the board was elected, democratically, but those elected and running a public school district were Hassidim who sent their children to private Jewish schools, and they had bankrupted the public schools, dramatically. Another article in the New York Times cited an Orthodox population boom in all of New York, city and state, particularly among Hassidim whose stands on abortion, on the role of women, and on Middle East politics were generally conservative and offensive to my ardent liberal principals. I try to be fair-minded, but I have trouble mustering understanding for any closed community.

If I offered my hand in friendship to this kind man, he would recoil. I’d had just such an experience in Jerusalem years ago, and, now, at the stream, memory rose from a hidden fold of my brain. I was once again a Jewish woman in my mid fifties, ignorant of the Orthodox prohibition against touch, and offering my hand to a young Orthodox man. He held his arms tightly to his sides and stepped back. My fingers hung in the soft air. I lowered my hand, lowered my gaze, and I felt ashamed. I didn’t know why.

I am the kind of Jew who chooses her rituals as if selecting from a smorgasbord. I light candles on Friday night—but not always. I fast on Yom Kippur—usually. I don’t belong to a synagogue. Yet, in the past I have belonged, depending on whether or not I liked the rabbi. I may belong again. Who knows? I prepare a Passover Seder for family and friends—religiously.

The Torah does not forbid a handshake, a rabbi friend of mine said. The prohibition comes from rabbinic tradition, which is commentary. This rule of a man not touching a woman who is not his wife was meant to protect him from his Yetzer HaRa, evil inclination or base animal instinct. The interdiction is against men, but I was the one who felt shame that day in Jerusalem—as if something in my essence had been tainted. This shifting of blame from perpetrator to victim was an old story. My father used to tell me to come home before dark. I must not be late. If I found myself alone in the dark—well, whatever happened to me would be, he said, “Your own damn fault.” Those words, “whatever happened,” were code for rape. My fault. Bad. Evil.

At the stream, the grandfather let go of the child’s hand. He and I were of a certain age, both grandparents, both concerned about that child. Was it the grandmother in me who wanted kinship with this group? The Jew in me? The grandfather nodded as if to thank me, a second time. He really was a nice man. This time, I was the one holding my arms closely at my sides. I didn’t want to. I wanted to extend my hand in amity, but sometimes, life does not give us a choice.

The children bounded off, the adults following. I lifted my eyes from their backs and watched the stream, clear shallow water skimming the rocks where the child had stepped. I looked at the sky, still promising rain. In two deft steps, I hopped across.

Sandra Marchetti

Confluence coverConfluence
by Sandra Marchetti
Copyright: 2015
Press: Sundress Publications
ISBN 978-1939675163
82 pages, paper
Reviewed by: Danielle Susi

 

In Sandra Marchetti’s debut full-length collection, Confluence, the running of cool water is ever-present for the reader in the reappearance of the color blue: “Soft bulbs of morpho blue” in the collection’s opening poem “Never-Ending Birds,” and again in “The Return,” where Marchetti writes “Beyond the body itself / is the thin blue line / the sky folding back on its spine” (1-3).

Confluence: defined as the junction of two rivers, especially two rivers of equivalent width. The intention being two rapidly moving components joining as one. The flow and fluidity just as critical as the marrying of the two elements. So many streams and rivers are at hand in this collection, but so too is ice, or what can be assumed to be the frozen halt of quickly-moving waters, and perhaps the interruption of confluence. In “The Language of Ice,” she writes:

Jagged as glass, ice flashes
match memories of church windows, a glacial past.
Lines of a pencil afloat mark a bobbing post,
bags beneath drift, seek their currents like fish. (3-6)

While the collection often acts as an accumulation of the same pastoral scene reimagined, Confluence is punctuated by poems that are generous to their reader in the subtle emotional intensity. Poems like “Music” and “Lattice,” are refreshing, as we are suddenly able to imagine the speaker as capable of intimately interacting with others. One could consider the first section of the collection as a type of foreplay, a gradual building as “Music,” placed about halfway through the collection, holds the passion and sexual energy the book has been asking for. “Lattice,” too, allows the reader to see some of the fear in the speaker as she dreams of her dissolving wedding ring:

  Sandra Marchetti_stanza

Confluence is the joining of streams, but of also two bodies—not only the bodies of two lovers, but the bodies of potential mother and seemingly lost or longed-for child. In “Migration Theory” Marchetti begins, “The womb a tent, / lit from within, flutters / golden on the wind” (1-3). The emptiness of that tent further accentuated by later lines, “I’m told the child / is ghost…” (9-10). It is in these poems of loss or desperation that the reader can finally move deeper into the landscapes that Marchetti has been painting.

–––––––– 

Danielle Susi is the author of the chapbook The Month in Which We Are Born (dancing girl press, 2015). She is a columnist for Entropy, the co-editor of HOUND, and the Programming and Media Coordinator for the Poetry Center of Chicago. Her writing has appeared in Knee-Jerk Magazine, Hobart, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. She received her MFA in writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Newcity has named her among the Top 5 Emerging Chicago Poets. Find her online at daniellesusi.com

Kurt Drawert

Kurt Drawert (author) was born in 1956 outside East Berlin (Hennigsdorf). He studied at the Joachim R. Becher Institute for Literature in Leipzig. He is a member of the Free Academy of the Arts in Leipzig and P.E.N. Germany. He has received many of the most important literary awards, such as Ingeborg-Bachmann-Preis (1993), the Leonce-und-Lena-Preis (1989), and has been invited to residencies, for example, in New York City, Istanbul, Bordeaux, Cracow, and Rome (Villa Massimo). His work is characterized by a keen analysis of the process of reunifying East and West Germany and is highly political and controversial in nature. His collected poems are titled »Idylle, rückwärts« (Munich, 2011). Foto Credits: Ute Döring

 

Paul-Henri Campbell (translator) was born 1982 in Boston, Massachusetts. He is a bilingual poet of German and English. He studied Catholic Theology and Classical Greek at the National University of Ireland and the Goethe-University in Frankfurt am Main. He is the author of four volumes of poetry, including ›Space Race‹ (Munich 2015) and ›Am Ende der Zeilen‹ (Leipzig 2014).

 

Personal Pronoun

The usage of the third person,
of the personal pronoun,
is on the rise. The occasions are increasing,
the results are good. Nobody
creeping after your private diaries
into your inner monologues, nobody eying you,
no further indications of contrived sections
in a history that you
believe to be yours.
Why not be flat out alone
in the more intimate interiors, with the laundry
that can finally be strewn about unwashed,
to be alone with the fish and the depths—
the reasons for a self-inflicted
condition.

 

The German original was recently published in: Kurt Drawert »Idylle Rückwärts«, C.H. Beck Munich 2011.

Ed Shacklee

Ed Shacklee is a public defender who represents young people in the District of Columbia. He is working on a bestiary.

 

Elephant Ear Plant

Landed here, maladroitly tended,
whatever is needed will come to you
in measured draughts, infusions of screened light.

Limits disguised by lush retorts,
like impromptus on a child’s piano
variations on a furtive pattern

unfurl expressions of submerged intent.
Drawn to brilliance by intuitive feel,
sustained by a pittance from heaven,

in the comic plot’s implausible design
progressions of decay will fuel ascendance
with transient routine blessings

as veined, archaic leaves array
in tiers of palms outstretched for holding
passing doles of unseen bounty.

Breezes only whisper nonsense,
while the nearby productive fields ignore
this fruitless abandonment to fantasy,

your fashionable display of solitude;
but if you’re ridiculous, you’re not alone
in an off-handed tutelage by the sun.

Mary Ann Sullivan

Mary Ann SullivanMary Ann Sullivan is the author of an e-collection of poems, Mending My Black Sweater (Eratio, 2008); a novel, Child of War (Holiday House, 1984), which was named a Notable book in Social Studies by the National Council of Social Studies and Children’s Book Council, a collection of poems, Hermit Day, and numerous digital poems such as “St. Damien of Molokai” and “Shaking the Spiders Out.”

Her work has appeared at BBC Arts Online, BlazeVox, French Literary Review, Jacket, Mezzo Cammin, National Catholic Register, Poetry LibrarySynchronized Chaos and beyond. She has lectured at the New England Conservatory and American Association of University Professors Conference, and is founding editor of Tower Journal, an international online literary journal.

 

St. Catherine of Siena

She couldn’t write; she’d never learned
so dressed in veil and robe
surrounded by five scribes to whom
by breath she pushed out words

To one she’d start reciting
and while his pen would write
by turns she’d go right round the lot
to next and next and next

Five writings at a time then
to kings and queens and popes
high upon a hill that way
St. Catherine wrote.

Louise Dupré

louise-dupreLouise Dupré (author) is a major figure on the contemporary literary scene in Quebec. She has an international reputation as a poet, novelist, essayist, feminist theorist, and literary critic. Among her countless awards and distinctions are the Prix Ringuet de l’Académie des lettres du Québec, the Grand Prix Quebecor du Festival international de Poésie de Trois-Rivières (2011), and the Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry (2011). The Governor General’s Literary Awards are Canada’s oldest and most prestigious awards for English- and French-language Canadian literature. Having been twice before a finalist for the Governor General’s Award, Dupré was the recipient of the award in fall 2011 for her most recent volume of poetry Plus haut que les flammes (Éditions du Noroît, 2011).

Dupré’s many publications include ten volumes of poetry, two novels (La memoria and La Voie lactée), two plays (Si Cendrillon pouvait mourir and Tout comme elle), a collection of short stories (L’été funambule), a memoir (L’Album multicolore), a volume of critical essays, as well as numerous critical articles, edited anthologies, livres d’artistes, and literary translations. Her work has been translated into several languages. In 2005 Guernica Editions published an anthology of her poetry, The Blueness of Light, translated by Antonio D’Alfonso, and in 2014 they published Beyond the Flames, D’Alfonso’s translation of Plus haut que les flammes. In winter 2009, the literary journal Voix et images published a special issue devoted to Dupré’s work. Her play Tout comme elle (2006), staged by award-winning director Brigitte Haentjens, was performed in Montreal, Quebec City, and Ottawa, and in its English translation by poet Erin Mouré, at the 2011 Luminato Festival in Toronto.

 

McPherson photoKaren McPherson (translator) is a poet, literary translator, and editor in the Airlie Press collective. She us also a Professor of French at the University of Oregon. She has published poems and translations in many journals and anthologies. Her chapbook, Sketching Elise, came out in 2012 and her translation of Louise Warren’s Delft Blue and Objects of the World was published by Guernica Editions in 2013. Her first full-length volume of poems, Skein of Light, was published in fall 2014 by Airlie Press.

 

Stone Hands of the Tomb Figures

I

See how each evening your city rolls up its sidewalks, giving them a rest from all the wayward steps, while you’re filling your mind with ghosts, with wounded images, and words snatched hastily in passing. For you love the ghosts who come haunt you at the stroke of midnight, you watch for them at the window and when they appear behind the muslin curtains you sometimes take them for angels, you sometimes want to say your prayers as if to beg forgiveness for misdeeds that you don’t even remember having committed.

II

For the earth is stronger than you are, it seeks you out, it breathes you into its greedy mouth, and you fight every day against death, every day so your words may grow like a sturdy plant that nothing will be able to crush, not the scorching sun, not the desert caravans, not the desolation you push away beneath fine sentiments. Your desolation is stronger than you are, in the evening it coils around your sack of skin and it seems to you that it will never tire, even were you to find the ancient star that marched ahead of the three kings.

III

You no longer remember just when you finally laid down your weapons in a cranny in the rocks and ran away. And the river suddenly looked old and wrinkled to you, like the skin of a woman whom no spark wakens any longer in the night nor any caress in the small of her back. You saw yourself then in your mother’s calm eyes, and you found the courage of a time no longer accustomed to waiting, a time veiled as if by a curtain of sand lifting in the desert.

IV

You could never picture it, the other side of the earth, the thirsty, dried out, petrified earth, when you knew it only through tales of travel, when you hadn’t yet bitten into the sand, red and hot under your teeth. You were for so long locked away in caves where you found no welcome. And here you are now pondering the infinite space that lacks nothing because there is nothing, at least nothing but the extreme silence of your face, forgotten there, right in the middle of things, soothed, as if you should never again have to unlock your lips to ask for alms.

V

Where has your faith wandered? You can no longer find unshadowed skies, a safe haven in the bulging ground, beyond the shattered, suffocating heat, beyond the heart and its reasons. Skies stretching out above our heads like a country fair. We wait, three short knocks, but in vain. The party is elsewhere, in the bowls embellished with leaves and birds, on the transparent lace of a petticoat, within the walls of a room that we still must leave each morning. So then you imagine all-powerful eyes that would protect you despite their perfect immortality.

VI

You no longer know how to ask. How to ask someone to open her arms to you in the evenings when the clouds are so low they chase away the night, how to ask for that perfect word that holds the memory of the ancient prophecies in the ruined temples. For all around nothing resists, around you people are ripping out lives and you keep throwing ropes and knives into the trash, you keep seeking out faces capable of holding onto the light. Human lips on which you might still leave a kiss.

VII

In the angle that the light takes at noon, you glimpse souls abandoning themselves to the churning waves, and that calm hanging over the city, and the emanations escaping from the earth and mixing with the fragrance of fuel oil and flowers. And your depleted, dying name. Standing on the bank next to your shadow, you talk to it as if it were you, as if aging changed the echo of your words, you talk to it right up to the beyond, with a voice shorn but still clear despite the menacing heavens.

VIII

Poem, yes, you try to understand how certain words take shape in your mouth. You think about sorrows that remain strange to you, surging from a spirit you no longer recognize as yours, but that keeps reminding you of the countryside swamped under the melancholy of cities, that unclamorous simplicity of children smiling even in their coffins, a life stubbornly fixed in the restful tranquility of a land rich with flowers that are hardier than summer.

Poem, poem when nothing comes to you but regrets.

IX

You begin to get used to the idea of the seasons’ return, these winds that place pebbles on your eyelids. You begin to know how to settle into your own fright, to stand up straight when your body gives way on nights of extreme night. You do not rebel, you see the sand running through its glass shell as if it could spread the holiness of the desert across your days. You are once again able to face the monotony of sleep.

X

You have come to confuse your dead with the earth under the tombstones, the red earth digging out lamp-lit chambers. You forget the rotting of decomposing corpses, you want not to believe in the underground streams that are carrying residues of hair and nail and blood out into the arms of the sea. And you are no longer troubling the countryside where the river, already far behind its cry, keeps running confidently into waters that are far less certain.

XI

Your city, from afar, looks as large to you as the islands lost at the end of summer seas, those islands where ships are forever landing in search of towns slumbering under heavy clouds of smoke, your city looks rich enough to incite cravings, and you could almost believe you are returning to the gleamings of a night without sorrow, before the day that diminishes faces, while the traveler no longer empties his pockets to offer the old folks something with which to tend their wounds.

And so you seek the key to your house.

XII

From the steep slope of your rock, in your drowned dreams you call to the boats. And so, when day comes, it is easier to make out by waterlight the hardened stone hands of the tomb figures. You take up your satchel and you light out again, for you have nothing more to say to the untouchable silence that is mirrored in your silence. Once again death has become for you just a tilted crucifix at the crossroads, you pass by without flinching, you do not share the earth’s concern for the corpses it is hiding, you are treading a soil whose truth you do not want to know.

XIII

One could dive from an attic window into your house, your house is no longer the one you knew as a child, but it has not disavowed a grandmother’s rosaries or the voices that made the guests dance at holiday dinners. And it is toward this house that you always return when, tired of pondering the wisdom of the waves, you seek in yourself an impossible hospitality. For no other place seems to you open enough to give you welcome.

 

 

Louise Dupré, “Les Mains des gisants” [Tout près. Éd. Du Noroît, 1998)

 I

Vois, le soir elle roule ses trottoirs, ta ville, pour les reposer de tous les pas perdus, tandis que toi, tu remplis ton âme de fantômes, d’images blessées, de mots arrachés à la vitesse des passages. Car tu aimes les fantômes qui viennent te hanter aux douze coups de minuit, tu les guettes à la fenêtre, et quand ils apparaissent derrière le rideau de mousseline, il arrive que tu les confondes avec les anges, il arrive que tu veuilles dire tes prières, comme si tu implorais le pardon de fautes que, pourtant, tu ne te souviens pas avoir commises.

II

Car la terre est plus forte que toi, elle te cherche, elle t’aspire dans sa gueule avide, et tu te bats chaque jour contre la mort, chaque jour pour que ta parole pousse comme une plante grasse que rien ne pourra écraser, ni le soleil brûlant, ni les caravanes, ni la désolation que tu repousses sous de belles piétés. Ta désolation est plus forte que toi, elle s’enroule le soir autour de ton sac de peau, et il te semble que jamais elle ne s’épuisera, même si tu trouvais la vieille étoile qui a cheminé devant les trois couronnes.

III

Tu ne te souviens plus à quel moment tu en es venue à déposer tes armes dans un trou de rocher, puis à t’enfuir en courant. Et le fleuve tout à coup t’est apparu vieilli, ridé, peau de femme que ni lueur ne réveille plus la nuit ni caresse au creux des reins. Tu t’es vue alors dans les yeux calmes de ta mère, et tu as trouvé le courage d’un temps déshabitué de l’attente, un temps comme voilé par une levée de sable dans le désert.

IV

L’autre côté de la terre, la terre assoiffée, desséchée, pétrifiée, tu ne pouvais l’imaginer quand tu le connaissais par les seuls récits de voyages, quand tu n’en avais pas encore mordu le sable, roux et chaud sous la dent. Tu as été si longtemps enfermée dans des grottes où tu ne trouvais aucun accueil. Et te voilà maintenant à contempler l’espace infini auquel il ne manque rien parce qu’il n’y a rien, sinon l’extrême silence de ton visage, oublié là, au beau milieu des choses, apaisé, comme si tu ne devais plus jamais avoir à desserrer les lèvres pour demander l’aûmone.

V

Ta foi, où s’est-elle égarée? Tu ne sais plus trouver de ciels sans ombre, à l’abri du sol, dans son renflement, derrières les touffeurs étoilées, derrière le coeur et ses raisons. Des ciels qui s’étirent au-dessus de nos têtes comme un spectacle champêtre. On attend, trois coups brefs, mais en vain. La fête est ailleurs, dans des coupes brodées de feuilles et d’oiseaux, sur la dentelle transparente d’un jupon, entre les murs d’une chambre qu’il faut pourtant quitter tous les matins. Tu imagines alors des yeux tout-puissants qui te protégeraient à travers leur parfaite immortalité.

VI

Tu ne sais plus réclamer. Ni qu’on t’ouvre les bras les soirs où les nuages sont si bas qu’ils chassent la nuit, ni la justesse d’une parole qui se souviendrait des anciennes prophéties dans les temples en ruines. Car autour rien ne résiste, autour de toi on s’arrache la vie, et tu n’en finis pas de jeter aux ordures les cordes et les couteaux, tu n’en finis pas de chercher des visages capables de retenir la lumière. Des lèvres humaines sur lesquelles tu pourrais encore déposer un baiser.

VII

Dans l’angle que prend à midi la lumière, tu entrevois des âmes qui se laissent entraîner par le bouillon des flots, et cette sérénité suspendue au-dessus de la ville, et les effluves s’échappant de la terre pour se mêler aux parfums de mazout et de fleurs. Et ton nom achevé. Debout sur la berge à côté de ton ombre, tu lui parles comme si c’était toi, comme si le vieillissement changeait l’écho de tes paroles, tu lui parles tout près de l’au-delà, avec une voix dépouillée, mais claire encore malgré la menace des cieux.

VIII

Poème, oui, tu essaies de comprendre comment se forment certains mots dans ta bouche. Tu penses à des tristesses qui te restent étrangères, propulsées depuis ton âme quand elle n’est plus la tienne, qu’elle se rappelle les campagnes englouties sous la mélancolie des villes, cette simplicité sans vacarme où les enfants sourient jusque dans leur cercueil, une vie qui s’entête même dans le repos d’une terre nourrie de fleurs plus vivaces que l’été.

Poème, poème quand il ne te vient que des regrets.

IX

Tu commences à te faire au retour des saisons, à ces vents qui déposent des cailloux sur tes paupières. Tu commences à savoir t’installer dans ta propre frayeur, à te tenir debout quand ton corps se dérobe, les nuits d’extrême nuit. Tu ne te révoltes pas, tu vois couler le sable dans sa coquille de verre comme s’il pouvait répandre la sainteté du désert sur tes jours. Tu redeviens alors capable d’affronter la monotonie du sommeil.

X

Tes morts, tu en es venue à les confondre avec la terre sous les pierres tombales, la terre rouge qui creuse des salons pour y allumer des lampes. Tu oublies la pourriture des cadavres quand ils se décomposent, tu veux nier les ruisseaux cachés qui charrient les restes d’ongle et de sang jusqu’aux bras des mers. Et tu n’inquiètes plus le paysage où le fleuve, déjà loin derrière son cri, n’en finit pas de courir avec assurance dans des eaux pourtant peu certaines.

XI

Ta ville, de loin, te semble grande comme les îles perdues au fond des mers d’été, ces îles où depuis toujours les navires accostent à la recherche de cités recouvertes de fumées dormantes, ta ville te semble assez riche pour attiser l’envie, et pour peu tu croirais retourner aux miroitements d’une nuit sans chagrin, avant le jour qui amoindrit les visages, alors que le voyageur ne se dépouille plus pour offrir aux vieillards de quoi panser leurs plaies.

Tu cherches alors la clef de ta maison.

XII

De l’escarpement de ton rocher, tu appelles les barques dans tes rêves noyés. C’est ainsi, le jour venu, on distingue mieux au clair de l’eau les mains durcies des gisants. Tu reprends ton petit bagage et tu te remets en route, car tu n’as plus rien à répondre au silence intouchable qui se mire dans ton silence. La mort n’est redevenue pour toi qu’une croix penchée au carrefour des chemins, tu passes à côté d’elle sans broncher, tu n’as pas le souci de la terre qui dissimule les cadavres, tu foules un sol dont tu ne veux pas connaître la vérité.

XIII

Ta maison, on pourrait s’y jeter d’une lucarne, ta maison n’est plus celle que tu as connue enfant, mais elle n’a pas renié les chapelets d’une grand’mère ni les voix qui faisaient danser la table aux repas de fêtes. Et c’est vers elle que tu reviens toujours quand, lasse de contempler la sagesse des flots, tu cherches en toi une impossible hospitalité. Car aucun autre lieu ne te semble assez offert pour t’accueillir.

Guest Poetry Editor: W.F. Lantry

Bill Lantry W.F. Lantry’s poetry collections are The Structure of Desire (Little Red Tree 2012), winner of a 2013 Nautilus Award in Poetry, The Language of Birds (Finishing Line 2011), and a forthcoming collection The Book of Maps. A native of San Diego, he received his Maîtrise from L’Université de Nice, M.A., and PhD in Creative Writing from University of Houston. Honors include the National Hackney Literary Award in Poetry, CutBank Patricia Goedicke Prize, Crucible Editors’ Poetry Prize, Lindberg Foundation International Poetry for Peace Prize (Israel), and the Potomac Review and Old Red Kimono LaNelle Daniel Prizes. His work has appeared widely, in journals such as Asian Cha, Gulf Coast and Valparaiso Poetry Review. He currently works in Washington, DC and is an associate fiction editor at JMWW.

Website: http://wflantry.com/

Moyshe Kulbak

Translator’s Note:

These are literary translations of poems 1 and 3 from Moyshe Kulbak’s sequence “Songs of a Poor Man.” The poems are rich in rhyme and the anti-hero spirit that runs through much of Kulbak’s work. Poems 2, 4, and 5 of the series are translated by Leonard Wolf in The Penguin Anthology of Yiddish Poetry. I worked with versions of the poem published in Vilna in 1929 and Buenos Aires in 1976. The spelling below reflects the 1976 version’s standardized Yiddish.

 

Moyshe Kubak photoMoyshe Kulbak (author) was born in 1896 in Smorgon. He moved among Minsk, Vilnius, and Berlin before settling in Minsk in 1928. He taught, translated, and composed Yiddish poetry, plays, and prose, including the long poem Vilne (1926) and the satirical Soviet novel The Zelmenyaners (vols. 1931, 1935). In 1937, he was arrested with other artists in a Stalinist purge of Jewish intellectual society. He was executed on October 29th at the age of 41.

 

Allison Davis (translator) is the author of the chapbook Poppy Seeds (KSU Press, 2013). These translations were possible thanks to Raya Kulbak, the Severinghaus Beck Fund for Study at Vilnius Yiddish Institute, the Yiddish and English departments at Ohio State University, the Yiddish Book Center, and the Wallace Stegner Program at Stanford University.

 

from Songs of a Poor Man

1.

At night without noise I shined
the heart to a diamond-coldness
in case a man needs to hide
in his well-known, well-worn darkness.

My bright lack will radiate
through the final, flung-open gate,
and I’ll smile with happy despair—
what I’ve had to bear and bear …

3.

I scraped myself of selfhood
by the light of falling tears.
Oh, how good it is to have nothing
and wander here under the stars.

Who doesn’t trample his life
will never drive out strife.
I’m a bright paper here in the shade
on which God will write.

At thresholds I started digging
and struck joy in strange mud.
Oh, how good it is to have nothing
and to want none.

 

MoysheKulbak_poem

Tammy Ho Lai-Ming

Tammy Ho Lai-MingTammy Ho Lai-Ming is the founding co-editor of Cha: An Asian Literary Journal and an assistant professor of literature at Hong Kong Baptist University. Her poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize three times and for the Forward Prize and her translations can be found in World Literature Today, China Literature Today, Drunken Boat, Pathlight, and elsewhere. She co-edited Desde Hong Kong: Poets in Conversation with Octavio Paz (Chameleon) in 2014, while her first poetry collection, Hula Hooping (Chameleon), was published in April this year. Her collection of short stories, Her Name Upon the Strand (Delere), is forthcoming in 2016. More at www.sighming.com.

 

The Space Between the Rain

You’re none of those whose eyesight 
is impeccable. And so you can’t see through
the space between the rain.

When the rain is complicated
by an unexpected storm, you try
to smoothe the stuttering curtains.

No more dainty toes poking past the fabrics
like when we played hide and seek. That time,
you found me almost immediately.

How you didn’t and still don’t understand
the importance of suspense
and the tact of letting me win.

Jeff Hardin

Jeff Hardin is the author of Fall Sanctuary, recipient of the Nicholas Roerich Prize, and Notes for a Praise Book, selected by Toi Derricotte for the Jacar Press Book Award. His third collection, Restoring the Narrative, received the Donald Justice Poetry Prize and is forthcoming in 2015. His fourth collection, Small Revolution, will appear in 2016. His poems appear in The New Republic, The Hudson Review, The Southern Review, Southwest Review, North American Review, The Gettysburg Review, Poetry Northwest, Hotel Amerika, Southern Poetry Review, Meridian, and elsewhere. He teaches at Columbia State Community College in Columbia, Tennessee. His website is www.jeffhardin.weebly.com.

 

JeffHardin_Poem

Philip Kobylarz

Philip Kobylarz has been published in Connecticut Review, Basalt, Santa Fe Literary Review, New American Writing, Poetry Salzburg Review and has appeared in Best American Poetry. His book, Rues, was recently published by Blue Light Press of San Francisco. His collection of fiction, Now Leaving Nowheresville has been recently published and his book-length essay “Nearest Istanbul” is forthcoming.

 

What’s On The Other Side Of Doors

You always hurt the one you love, so they say. Maybe they meant the one you love is always hurt. For some, it’s like trying to write a letter in the rain. The kind of rain it rains when the sun is shining, tucking in and out of grey weather clouds. The kind of rain that feels cold at first, then becomes warm as it soaks into the skin, like a bitter liquor falling down the throat. Maybe it’s more like gardening with someone like a sister: bending down, getting dirty, digging holes, with nothing to say to each other about that vague conception called a family, plans for the future, sibling small talk and advice, and simply working some good fingernail clogging, back breaking work that’s more about the spaces created between stalks and holes in the ground than the growth of something flowery and green. Or it’s like waiting for the mailman on a day when there’s nothing to do—knowing his name (only the first) and about the time he comes, knowing he’ll be wearing the same clothes that he is by law required to wear, knowing he’ll look just like he did yesterday only a little less or a little more tired, knowing that someone maybe he doesn’t even know or care to delivers his mail and wondering if he makes the same types of gestures, on Saturdays, to him, a forced hello how are you, a smile that says you have something that’s important for me to want, then to watch him go to the next house, and the next, in an unending series of lawns, shrubbery, sidewalks that finally results in his own, to a kiss from a hardworking lover and a few gurgled cheers from a baby almost old enough to talk, and a pile of bills, flyers, car payment booklets, summons to court, alimony checks, subscriptions to paper-covered magazines all sent to the wrong address.