Category Archives: Issue 5.1 Spring 2016

Stephanie Roberts

stephanie_roberts_poetstephanie roberts is an interdisciplinary artist whose poetry has been featured or is forthcoming in issues of Contemporary Verse 2 and A Literation Magazine. Originally from Brooklyn, she lives in a wee town just outside of Montréal.

 

 

People Believing Badly

those of us who’ve seen miracles know how to ask.
if you’ve asked, do you love me, i almost certainly
do not love you. and if,
in a flu-ish bout of poor judgement,
i’ve asked likewise then,
like death and taxes, by now you’ve retired
with fire, to your silent
battle station. be that as it is.

we agree, without asking, to say nothing about all this strident
confused unbelief, keeping our conversations
to the whether [sic] and that guy who can swallow
a rubik’s cube, through his mustard-colored disaster of teeth,
solving the puzzle of it (via revolting convolutions in gut)
before regurgitation. i bet that guy believes in i love you.
i bet that guy asks for anything he wants.

Ivonne Gordon Carrera

Translator’s Note:

A translator is like a mirror. The translator reflects the strengths and weakness of a poem, as well as the light within the poem. When I translate, I first read the poems out loud in Spanish to get the tone and the sound. I read the rough English translation Ivonne provides. Then I research the topic she is writing about and explore the English language to bring her words to life. I write the poem in English. Then I return to the Spanish and her English renditions to make sure I am saying what she meant. I have had to cut some lines because they are not what she is saying. It’s a dance between meaning, sound, and mood. Ivonne’s voice is different from my own poetic voice. I enjoy getting into her head and exploring her world. The perspective is fresh for me. She is an amazing poet. It’s a challenge and fun to bring her work to life in a new language. It’s fun to get together to hear her read the poem in Spanish and then I read the translation for the first time.

 

Ivonne GordonIvonne Gordon Carrera (poet) creates art and writes in San Bernardino, CA. She brings myth to life in contemporary context. Cindy is the author of Quiet Lantern (Turning Point), spider with wings (Jamii Publishing), Breathe in Daisy, Breathe out Stones is forthcoming (FutureCycle Press), and she co-authored Speaking Through Sediment with Michael Cooper (ELJ Publications). Her poem, “Mapping” was nominated for the Liakoura Award by Pirene’s Fountain. She is a translator. Cindy is a founding member of PoetrIE, an Inland Empire based literary community. Her poetry appeared or is forthcoming in Driftwood Press, The Honest Ulsterman (Ireland), Naugatuck River Review, The Whirlwind Review, Birds Piled Loosely, and others. www.fiberverse.com

 

Cindy RinneCindy Rinne (translator) creates art and writes in San Bernardino, CA. She co-authored with Michael Cooper Speaking Through Sediment (ELJ Publications). Cindy’s book, Quiet Lantern, is forthcoming (Turning Point) and spider with wings is forthcoming (Jamii Publishing). Her poem, “Mapping” was nominated for the Liakoura Award by Pirene’s Fountain. Cindy is a founding member of PoetrIE, an Inland Empire based literary community. Cindy is an editor for “Tin Cannon” by PoetrIE. She is a translator. Her fiber art has appeared in Ghost Town Literary Magazine. Her poetry appeared or is forthcoming in Naugatuck River Review, Zoomoozophone, Indiana Voice Journal, Young Ravens Literary Review, Eternal Haunted Summer, Cactus Heart Press, The Wayfarer, Dual Coast Magazine, Artemis Journal, Meat for Tea, The Valley Review, and others. www.fiberverse.com

 

Tiger

The tiger owned all the letters of the primordial
alphabet. The tiger placed his lips on top of mine.
An unexplainable grammar sprung up. I entered a world
of sleeping mirrors. I hesitated between dangerous curves,
I saw myself without looking, I entered the tiger through my eyes.
I felt his heart roar the bellowing of all prophets.
The rain has no body, nor face. All is peeled off
leaving silence, hidden from nothingness. The tiger did not roar,
no drums nor quaking. My cupped hands savant omens and trances
as I caressed his face. An alphabet of circular signs seared
my senses. I was born from the tiger’s eye and my own.
I swallowed the rain of primordial letters. And in the center of the arcane,
I return without pausing to germínate in the midnight hours.

 

 

Tigre

El tigre posee todas las letras del alfabeto
primordial. El tigre posó sus labios sobre los míos.
Una gramática inexplicable surgió. Entrar en un mundo
de espejos dormidos. Vacilar en curvas peligrosas,
mirarme sin mirarme, entrar por mis ojos al tigre.
Sentir su corazón rugir el bramido de los profetas.
La lluvia no tuvo cuerpo, ni cara. Todo se volvió
silencio oculto de la nada. El tigre no rugió,
tambores, ni temblores. Con mis manos llenas
de augurios y huellas acaricié su rostro. Un abecedario
de signos circulares mugieron mis sentidos. Nací
de mi ojo, del ojo del tigre. Bebo lluvia de las letras
primordiales. Y en medio de lo arcano vuelvo
a germinar sin cesar en el centro de la noche.

Two of Cups Press

Spotlight on Two of Cups Press
 
Two of Cups Press

 

From Leigh Anne Hornfeldt:

“The idea of Two of Cups Press was something I had been toying with for several months in 2012. I’m a poet too and I know trying to find a home for manuscripts can be frustrating. I really wanted to create a space that felt welcoming and inclusive. My dream was for the poet to have lots of input in the publishing process – I want my poets to be in love with their books from cover to cover! I also wanted a platform to work with other presses and artists. It felt like a press of my own was the best way to do that. The final push came in late 2012 when my best friend (and amazing poet) Teneice Durrant and I decided we wanted to publish an anthology of bourbon poetry. (A subject near and dear to both our hearts.) That was really the birth of the press. Ever since it has been an absolute joy and privilege to work with so many amazing poets and artists.”

 

“Magic on Paper”: Two of Cups Press

Reviewed by Nettie Farris

Two of Cups Press takes its name from the eponymous Tarot Card, which signals union, or reconciliation. The press was founded in 2013 when Leigh Ann Hornfeldt and Teneice Durrant partnered in publishing the anthology Small Batch: An Anthology of Bourbon Poetry. This anthology consists of 62 poems by 53 poets. Approximately half of the authors are from Kentucky and half are from outside of Kentucky. The most moving poem in the collection is “The Housesitter’s Note,” by  Juliana Gray, a poem written in the form of a note from a house sitter who (in the process) has become part of the family. Upon hearing the news that the father of the owner of the house has died, the speaker of the poem responds:

I took the car, your good Kentucky bourbon
and drove out to the lake. I wept and drank
that warm bitterness, and when I smashed
the bottle on the rocks, the bits of glass
arced across the headlights’ yellow beam
like far-off shooting stars.

The Press is currently working on its second anthology, and plans to publish an anthology about every other year. Hornfeldt sees an anthology as “a sort of museum of poetry.” She appreciates a variety of “voices and approaches” and tries “to be a good curator of poetry when editing.”

Two of Cups holds an annual chapbook contest (between mid April and mid June). Hornfeldt, the press’s editor, likes the brevity of the chapbook form. She appreciates the way she can ”sit down and devour an entire collection and feel satiated yet also wanting more.” The Press has now held two annual chapbook contests. Things Hornfeldt looks for in a manuscript include: “fresh language, solid images, emotional honesty.” She also looks for “poems that take risks, poems that rattle around in [her] head long after reading them.” According to Gary Leising, finalist in the inaugural contest, Hornfeldt is “fantastic” to work with. She worked side-by-side throughout the entire publishing process with Leising, who concludes: “The press clearly cares deeply about its poets’ work.” This care shows in the product: beautiful flat-spine editions with exquisite cover art. Not only are these chapbooks aesthetically pleasing visually, they are quality collections of verbal art. Though diverse in theme and style, each chapbook promises a magical adventure through language.

This adventure is made possible through the partnership of poet and editor. Poet Christopher McCurry pronounces Leigh Anne Hornfeldt as committed to his book as he was. Leigh Ann Hornfeldt is herself a poet. She is the author of The Intimacy Archive and East Main Aviary and has received a grant from the Kentucky Foundation for Women. A Kentucky native, she (and her press) now resides in North Carolina. She confesses that she has recently let her own poetry go by the wayside, but she has not neglected promoting the voices of other poets. Her press is a small operation. She responds to all correspondence herself, and personally attends to  every poem and manuscript submitted. In the words of Megan Hudgins, author of Crixa, she is “a true advocate of the word and the poet.” 

CrixaCrixa, by Megan Hudgins, won the inaugural chapbook contest in 2014. It is a small collection of poems that addresses big subjects. These poems are about life and death. These poems are primal. How fitting that the collection centers on the image of rabbits, which we associate with fecundity. The collection’s title is borrowed from the novel Watership Down by Richard Adams. The word crixa, a lapine word from this novel, refers to “the center of the Efrafa warren” the warren from which females are recruited in order to ensure survival at the new warren Watership Down. In effect, the title refers to a sort of spring, or well, of fertility (or at least the possibility of fertility).

“Cumbersome” is the poem in which the title of the collection appears. It begins: “I press the tiny rabbit against my ear / to listen for its bean-sized heart.” It continues: This is the heart-thump / I hear, the rhythm of fear.” Yes. The tension between life and death expresses itself as anxiety: “I peek / into my cupped hands and see only an eye, / all pupil, an obsidian bead like pure glass panic.” The poem ends:

It fits in just one hand,
but I use two. Create a crixa of fingers

and think what a poor human equivalent
this is—I could never be a burrow.

The most interesting poems of the collection are the Rabbit Fetus Reabsorption poems. There are three of them. This is an actual biological process, which occurs when conditions are not optimal for birth, as indicated in the Notes at the end the collection. “Rabbit Fetus Reabsorption (1)” ends: “a baby doesn’t break like a tear; this womb sips it slowly. / Slowly, the resemblance of a paw, the curve of a spine, the Y of a nose.” “Rabbit Fetus Reabsorption (2)” ends a bit more comfortingly:

What has happened, what is wrong? he moves
close to her and rests his head against hers,
feeling her shiver in their warm room.

The antidote to this anxiety is compassion. However, “Rabbit Fetus Reabsorption (3)” seems not comforting at all (with its film like directions of zooming in, zooming out, and cutting to) but theatrical: “Inside BUNNY’S womb, BABY opens its bulging eyes. It sits still, head cocked to the side as if listening . . . BABY curls itself into a ball, smaller and smaller. Then—POP—BABY is replaced by a sprig of glitter.”

Human loss is suggested obliquely, in titles and images, as in  “Colposcopy”: “If you stare at something long enough—a cloud of smoke, / a knot in the wood grain, a carpet stain—you will find a human face.”

My favorite poem is “Why I’d Live in a Terrarium”:

Terrarium_Hudgins

This “enormous” “speck of love” is the antidote to “our pure glass panic.”

The Girl with the Jake TattooThe Girl with the Jake Tattoo, by Gary Leising (2015), is a collection of loose narrative poems (you never know how they will end, or how they will turn in getting there). These poems, set against a backdrop of figures from history and popular culture play with the looseness of identity. These poems are about transformation. These poems are about fluidity. As we hear in “Pentimenti”: “If it wasn’t / for the frames, I wouldn’t know where art / ends and where life begins.”

Largely constructed of long lines within long blocks of text, one poem of this collection gently flows into the next because of fluidity both within and across poems. A poem about a tattoo is followed by a poem about cosmetic surgery. A poem about the death of a wife is followed by a poem about the death of a marriage. A poem about an illuminated manuscript is followed by a poem about typeface. Although about is an inadequate word, as these concrete nouns: tattoo, surgery, illuminated manuscript, are really merely points of departure.

The title poem, “The Girl with the JAKE Tattoo,” ironically, is one of the tightest poems in the collection. Though the poem identifies two possibilities about the story of this tattooed girl, it really only explores one: that the Jake of said tattoo is now gone, but the girl is now happy with some other guy, with some other name, who’ll want her to “change her body / for him the way . . . she did for Jake.”

The speaker (“just a man tired of seeing his own face in every mirror”) of the prose poem, “A Face Like Kate Winslet’s,” has his face surgically transformed into the face of—yes, you guessed it—Kate Winslet. His surgeon saves the nose for last; because, he says, Winslet has already had her nose done and might again. In an unexpected turn, the speaker, surgery complete, laments to his own (Kate’s) face in the mirror: “No one sees the real me. I hear their whispers. Finding Neverland. Revolutionary Road. They don’t know which you I’m with!”

All these metamorphoses makes one wonder why we bother to express ourselves (which are constantly in flux) in any permanent sort of way. Though it does make interesting reading.

An Animal I Can't NameWinner of the 2015 chapbook contest, An Animal I Can’t Name, by Raegen Pietrucha, is, a collection that explores naming. In contrast to feminist theorists, who have historically argued about the power of naming (and the subject who names), these poems suggest its difficulty as well as its futility.  The collection’s title comes from “The Ranch in California,” which appears toward the end of the book. The speaker of this poem lies beneath a man, while “clouds above unravel / sky like hides ripped, revealing red / tissue of an animal I can’t name.” This is a poem (this is a collection) about secrets.

The secrets in this collection are domestic. They are secrets about events that occur within the home. We learn in “Neighborhood Watch”: it’s not the neighborhood that is feared, but the household: “unless it’s what I feared, / which was inside this house.” In “5,” we hear about the unfortunate situation:

The family
is traveling
cross-country
in an RV . . .

he pulls me
over a bench seat
where the glass is shady
& no one can see
& puts his slimy
tongue in my
mouth.

Next, in “Collector,” we learn about the speaker’s “stained underwear” hidden, and then found by her mother. She claims to “[get] smarter” about hiding secrets:

I scribbled his name
on a notebook cover, then taped
magazine clippings over it,
decorated like other girls did.

She arrives at a conclusion: “The best place for anything to hide, / of course is in plain sight,” for the speaker has “put the shiny rock he gave me, / a gift for keeping his secret, / on top of the dresser by my bed, / Mom and Dad haven’t asked where / it came from.” Why not pronounce his name? Perhaps the speaker feels it useless. As proclaimed in “Sex Ed”: “naming things / commands nothing.” “Seeing Stars” cautions against the danger in speaking: “I couldn’t speak what I feared most” “believed speaking made real.”  She sees strength in the stars and resolves to be one: “stars are always quiet.” Similarly, in “Pray,” she resolves to “trust no one now or at any hour” and, in “Cheer,” she relies on ritual: “certain the right, / words paired with the right actions will someday / help me become too mighty to be vincible.” These are her tactics for survival.

The artistry of this collection goes well beyond theme. The control of the voice of these poems about childhood recollected in adulthood is remarkable. Most remarkable is Pietrucha’s gift for repetition, which is showcased in the villanelle “Mumfish.”

Nearly Perfect PhotographyChristopher McCurry’s  Nearly Perfect Photograph: Marriage Sonnets is a collection unified in both form and theme. It consists of 18 contemporary non rhyming sonnets, a sequence of unsentimental realist lyrics.  These are no Sonnets from the Portuguese. Their tone might be described as hard-boiled. Imagine Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, married, and with children. However, the crimes he investigates occur in his own home. The settings in these poems are most often bedroom, bathroom, kitchen. Dominant images are of sex and domesticity. The speaker clearly prioritizes sex rather than domesticity.

Sonnet # 1 sets the tone for the sequence. The poem begins: “With every wet towel left to soak into / the depths of my pillow, I love you / less.” Domesticity is taking its toll: “Gone is the romance shaving with a razor / dulled from the daily grind of your legs. / Get your own.” The speaker ends the poem by reinventing household life into a vision more tolerable:

If I ask you to bring home something
tasty, just once, come through the door
breathless, naked, flushed red with haste.

Traditionally, the sonnet is a form that hinges on counting, and the title poem, Sonnet # 4, a poem about the counting of grievances, is one of the strongest in the collection. Interestingly, the grievances being counted are against the speaker.   This is a poem about math: “ I don’t care if you / subtract the loads of laundry I’ve done / from your vindictive abacus of dusty / shelves.” And the math is against the speaker until the end of the poem, when he plays a rather dirty emotional trick:

Sonnet1_McCurry

Yet the speaker of these poems remains slightly, though quietly, vulnerable. Sonnet # 2 promotes the speaker as “a floundering coward by the end.” And, At least on occasion, the speaker considers himself “a gigantic / asshole of a husband.”

The marriage these sonnets explore appears much more solid when it comes to a shared daughter. In # 11, The couple act perfectly in sync at an “excruciating” “dinner” with a seemingly opposite couple who are “disturbingly / perfect together”: “we smile and eat while / we smile.” They remain in sync when the topic of discussion shifts:

But when the conversation
turns and they say, We’re not ready for kids,
we still want to live a little
, we both reach for the knife.

These are poems best read as a collection rather than individually. Their power, as well as their beauty, is cumulative.

Two of Cups Press regularly attends the AWP (Associated Writing Program) Conference & Bookfair (“the nation’s largest marketplace for independent literary presses”). It’s established a presence on Facebook and Twitter. The aesthetics of its website persuaded Nandini Dhar, author of Lullabies Are Barbed Wire Nations (Two of Cups Press, 2014) to publish with Two of Cups, despite an offer from a more experienced press. The adjective Dhar uses to describe her experience with the press is patient. “Everything turned out for the best,” says Dhar. As the website of Two of Cups professes: “We want to partner with poets, artists, other small presses. We want to capture magic on paper.”

 –––––––– 

Reviewed by Nettie Farris who is the author of Communion (Accents Publishing, 2013) and Fat Crayons (Finishing Line Press, 2015). Her chapbook The Wendy Bird Poems is forthcoming from dancing girl press. She has received the Kudzu Poetry Prize and a Distinguished Teaching Award from the College of Arts and Sciences University of Louisville. She lives in Floyds Knobs, Indiana.

Patrick McCarthy

Patrick M.Patrick McCarthy is currently the English department Chair at Central High School in Woodstock, Virginia, where he teaches English and creative writing. He is also a co-director for Project Write Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to developing young writers. Patrick enjoys convincing students that poetry can play a significant role in their lives. He admits that there is nothing more rewarding than watching a teenager discover the power of poetry.

 

Suspicion

The kids
Are entirely
Too quiet

Something is definitely
Broken

Someone is dead

They’ve found the liquor cabinet

They are reading

Mercedes Lawry

Mercedes Lawry has published short fiction in several journals including, Gravel, Cleaver, Garbanzo, and the previously named, Newer York. She’s published poetry in journals such as Poetry, Nimrod, & Prairie Schooner and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize three times. Additionally, she’s published stories and poems for children. She lives in Seattle.

 

Sooner or Later

Mama run away again. Pap says she is high strung and she’ll be back when the strings loosen. Gram shakes her head and gives me a shave of chocolate. I don’t cry anymore cause I’m big now and I know things just is. I think about going out to pester Pap’s old yellow dog, Hy, under the cottonwood tree, but he don’t always like being woke up and he might nip me and it ain’t worth that. I might go down by the creek but I gotta be back to do chores for Gram before dinner and it’s easy to forget time down the creek. I start dreaming or pretending and when I’m late, Gram’s mouth is one straight line and she looks disappointed and I feel bad. If it wasn’t for her and Pap, I’d be in an orphanage and Mama would be locked up in a crazyhouse or even jail. The world doesn’t take kindly to the high strung, Pap says.

Sometimes Mama is sweet and calls me her best baby even tho I ain’t a baby but I like it when she’s nice and holds on to me. I wish she would be that way all the time, I wouldn’t mind the baby calling. Gram said I had a brother once but he died before I got here. I’m not allowed to talk to Mama about him but I know where he’s buried. I wish he wasn’t dead cause he could help with chores.

Mama gave me a secret. After I found the knife under the bed she said this is our secret. I couldn’t tell Gram or Pap. I found it when I was putting my treasure box under there – some stones and shiny buttons and a bird’s bone head with the beak and all – Pap called it a skull. Don’t they need the knife, I asked her, Gram and Pap? It’s not their knife, Mama said. It’s ours. I don’t know how she got a knife, maybe one of those times she run off.

The thing is, she took it with her. Maybe she needs it to get food in the woods. When she comes back, I’m gonna ask her did she kill a squirrel? Maybe it’s in case somebody tries to hurt her though I don’t want to think about that too much. She would stab them dead fast as lighting – that’s how I see it.

After he finds the paper with the scratch marks remarking how many days Mama’s been gone, Pap cautions me not to worry, she’ll be back like she always does. I consider telling him about the knife but I don’t. I wonder does the knife make a difference on when she’ll come back – sooner or later? If she don’t come back, I’ll tell about the knife.

Lynn Marie Houston

LMH_0936-7Lynn Marie Houston’s poetry has appeared in numerous journals, including Painted Bride Quarterly, Poydras Review, Melancholy Hyperbole, and others, as well as in her first collection, The Clever Dream of Man (Aldrich Press). Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Award and two Best of the Net Awards and has received distinction in contests sponsored by Prime Number Magazine, Whispering Prairie Press, The National Federation of Poetry Societies, and Broad River Review. She is currently pursuing an MFA at Southern Connecticut State University and serves as editor of Five Oaks Press.

 

Jealousy

I am thinking of the pictures
of his new wife when I strip

the old camper’s interior walls, tear out
the couch from its rounded alcove, and rip

up layer after layer of flooring: laminate, linoleum,
then plywood squares so rotten they give

way with a half-hearted blow from my hammer.
It’s then I notice the detritus clinging to the steel frame:

an uninflated red balloon, a paper hat with an elastic string,
three green plastic army men, a batman figurine,

and a sun-bleached calendar from 1969, the remains
of a child’s birthday party from over forty years ago.

I wonder what month of summer it was,
and where the family was camping,

what it was like to be loved
in the space I had destroyed.

 

 

With Love to California, Now that I No Longer Live There

A rose of Sharon grew in the yard, a cutting I’d brought
from my grandmother’s, trucked three thousand miles
to plant, hungering as I was for East Coast home.

At my new job, English department meetings—
profanities, rolled eyes, chairs raised in anger.
In six years, I never taught the same class twice.

At night, I would walk past neighbor’s houses,
the low-slump and orange tile of the Spanish style
so different from East Coast architecture.

Lit windows daisy chained the dark block, linking everyone
except me. From where I stood alone in the fog, their porch lights
formed fluorescent roses planted in welcome for someone else.

Strangers own the rose of Sharon now.
It might still flower pink, despite the California drought
and the lolling tongues of faculty, desperate like caterpillars.

Lisbeth Davidow

Lisbeth DavidowLisbeth Davidow’s work has appeared in print and online in Alligator JuniperAll That GlittersHelix Literary MagazineLunch Ticket, Mandala JournalMarco Polo Arts MagazinePilgrimagePrime Mincer,  Revolution House, Sliver of Stone, and Spittoon.  Essays of hers have been finalists in Alligator Juniper’s National Creative Non-fiction contest, The Southeast Review’s Narrative Nonfiction Contest, All Write Now’s Conference Contest, and nominated to be included in Best of Creative Nonfiction, Volume II. 

 

You Have to Get over the Color Green

“I’m not impressed,” Camilla says, bending over my azaleas. Then she stands and tells me that she wants to replace them with drought tolerant plants that have names I’ve never heard of like she’s asking me to invite perfect strangers into my house. But since she’s our newly hired garden designer, and I want to appear open, I only nod.  However, when she says we’ll have to kill the small patches of lawn in the front and side of the house, I put my hand over my heart. “Giving up grass won’t be easy,” I say.

“I understand,” she says while we walk back into my kitchen. “Lawns have been associated with well-being for centuries; but Los Angeles doesn’t have the rain to support them, especially now. We’ll put mulch down instead.  You’ll see–you’ll love mulch.”

I don’t know how I’ll feel about mulch, but I get her point: The “catastrophic” drought has reached its fourth year. Evergreens are turning red and dying by the thousands. Farmlands lie fallow. Water suppliers are imposing water restrictions. Giving up grass will be an act of responsibility and of long-delayed acclimation. I acquiesce.

*****

I’ve been living in Los Angeles for over thirty years, and I still haven’t adjusted to its lack of lilacs. Along with forsythias, they were the only flowers in my childhood backyard in Massachusetts.  My mother spent too much time in our unfinished basement, scrubbing clothes against a washboard and then hanging them up to dry to care about growing things from the hard strip of soil along the fence separating our yard from our neighbor’s.  For her, as it would have been for me, had I not coveted Mrs. Epstein’s roses across the street, it was enough that we had our own house.  Whatever grew around it– the lilacs, forsythias, maple trees and grass–did so nurtured only by our benign neglect and by the suns and rains of New England.  Perhaps that is why the lilacs, with their deep color and heavenly smell, even more than the yellow forsythias, were such a miracle every April. If my memory serves me right, and it will have to since my mother is no longer here to compare hers with mine, we had both purple and white lilacs.  But it is only the purple ones that I remember cutting and bringing into the house to place in a vase on the kitchen table so that their perfume could fill the room.

*****

“We’ll be bi-coastal,” Miles had said. We were still living in separate apartments in New York when he started taking trips to L.A. to search for financiers for an independent movie he hoped to make. “It’s sixty-five degrees here and sunny,” he said over the phone with a thrill in his voice one freezing New York February evening.  Even though my fifth floor walk-up on the corner of St. Mark’s Place and Second Avenue had no heat because, as the landlord claimed on many Fridays, the oil company “forgot” to deliver the oil, I didn’t care about nice houses or sunny weather.  I was a modern dancer, running between part-time jobs, classes and rehearsals, smitten by the art form and the no frills life style of the wiry men and women who looked good in schmatas, the only clothing they could afford.

“I found an apartment in Venice you’re going to love,” he said on his last trip. “It’s right near the boardwalk.  It’s like St. Mark’s on the beach.”  So we stuffed our belongings into a drive-away Volvo station wagon and drove from New York to Los Angeles the following summer. Nothing on the Venice Boardwalk compared to the Gem Spa, the newsstand/candy store directly below my apartment that was famous for its egg creams. Nor did the roller skaters and muscle shirted basketball players bare any resemblance to the green-haired punks that had just started to move into the East Village.  This was an alien land with eternal sunshine, tall, scrawny palm trees, endless freeways and bodies made hard not to become instruments to a higher calling like dance, but to attract a mate or a part in a movie or some status that their toned arms could grant them.

After living in Venice for six months, we moved to a one-bedroom apartment in Santa Monica. I got a job teaching dance at U.C. Riverside, 90 minutes away. A huge maple tree outside the dance studio’s windows offered consolation for the long commute, even though its leaves never turned brilliant red or yellow, only tepid rust.  On my days off, I’d walk the few blocks to the dance studio in downtown Santa Monica where I rehearsed, grateful for the sun on my chest in February, but bereft at how few other pedestrians there were, just shrubs and “bottle brush” trees with red flowers that looked like something one could use to wash a glass or a toilet bowl.

When we decided to have a baby, we moved to a cube-shaped, two-story 1300 square foot house in Marina del Rey. The day we found it, I looked out the second story window at a blooming jacaranda tree in the front yard.  Its flowers weren’t as curly as lilacs, but they were pretty enough to inspire the fantasy of sitting in a rocking chair with my new baby while I gazed out at them.

But shortly after I gave birth to my daughter, Hana, I felt lonely and isolated in the small boxy house. I had no family in L.A; and having stopped dancing, I was no longer part of the dance community. The house was only a mile from the beach, but it was also near Washington and Lincoln Boulevards with their strip malls, fast food joints, restaurants and car dealerships sprawled beneath the flat, Southern California light. What am I doing here? I’d think while I wheeled Hana around, pining for the leafy city of my childhood.

“I’ve found something,” Miles said a decade later when we decided to move to a somewhat bigger house. “I want you to see it.” The house was in a development of California Ranch style houses built in the 60’s. It had a Mexican Palm tree on the front lawn. Chunky brown and beige flagstone trim adorned the outside and surrounded the living room’s fireplace, about which, Hana, who was 11 by then, said, “That has got to go.  It looks like the Brady Bunch lives here.”  But the view of the Pacific Ocean from the back patio won me over so completely that I lay in fetal position for the rest of the weekend, praying that our offer would be accepted.

Once we bought it, I said to Miles, “Now I can live in L.A.”  We’d been here 18 years.

And yet, after a while, even the ocean out back and the mountains out our kitchen window couldn’t find their way as deeply into my heart as buds of maple trees in the early spring or austere branches against a winter sky.  Such is the pull of our first landscape, like the pull of a mother’s embrace.   Wallace Stegner wrote in an essay about the beauty of the West, “You have to get over the color green. You have to quit associating beauty with gardens and lawns.”  But even he had trouble adapting to a foreign landscape. He grew up in Montana, spent his adolescence in Salt Lake City and later taught at Harvard.  He was so miserable in Cambridge that he left as soon as he could for a job at Stanford in Northern California. Maybe we can’t decide where we feel at home any more than we can decide whom to love.

*****

The gardeners have torn out the grass, the juniper hedges and the jungle of bougainvillea in back. They’ve left the Mexican Palm in front which has five trunks and a few smaller ones that are sprouting from the middle.  Miles wants to take out the smaller trunks to have a cleaner look, but I disagree. Those little trunks look like children to me. Together with the taller palms, they are a family. I put my foot down about this. Killing them seems like a crime.

*****

“How is your daughter?” José, a master carpenter, is standing at the back of the house, looking up at the roof. He worked on the interior remodel 15 years earlier.

“You remember her? She’s fine. She’s living in New York.”

Hana fled Los Angeles as soon as she graduated from high school.  She went to college in Berkeley and then moved to New York, which she now considers her home.  Although she enjoys the warm weather and the beach when she visits us, she gets restless after a couple of days.

“Yes, I remember,” José says, his eyes still on our roof. “You haven’t done a thing to this house since then.  Those eaves are rotting.”

“That’s why you’re here,” I say, and it is.  We’re finally doing something about the rotten eaves, the filthy, peeling stucco and the cracked concrete. We considered covering the stucco with clapboard, like my childhood home, or Cape Cod shingles, like our neighbors’ house next door; but in the end, we decided that there was no use pretending that we live in anything but a California Ranch and chose smooth trowel stucco the color of desert sand. Travertine pavers from Turkey will replace the concrete.  I like the idea of having stone from a civilization older than New England’s even though I don’t like thinking about the fuel it takes to bring it to Los Angeles.

*****

The smell of manure wafts inside the house. They’re preparing the soil now, digging it up, getting rid of stones, twigs and the remaining plants, making the dirt browner and moister. Plants with Latin names arrive in pots of quarts and gallons and wait on the ground like immigrants at a port of entry.  My favorite is the exotic Grevillea Superba with its long, coral, spidery flowers. It originated in Australia and usually does well in California. So I’m crushed when it doesn’t survive the transplant from the pot to soil and goes into shock, shriveling into a light brown collection of twigs and rigid leaves.  The gardeners tell me that its root ball got “molested” during the transplant.  That sounds terrible.  I order another one to be planted between the lemon and orange trees I’ve insisted on having in the hopes that eating fruit from a tree in my yard will connect me to the land in which it grows.

Roses will climb the picket fence that separates us from the “Cape Cod” next door as will a San Diego Bougainvillea and a Boston Ivy, which I chose for its name alone, the same reason I wear a Red Sox hat on my morning walk. One of the gardeners warns me that the Bougainvillea and the ivy will compete for sunlight, that the Bougainvillea will spread much faster and throw the Boston Ivy into too much shade for it to grow. I tell him to do what he can. Camilla says that the ivy will turn red in the fall. Seeing that alongside the bright pink Bougainvillea would be the closest I’ve ever come to being bi-coastal.

*****

I have one last request: Even though I know the answer, I ask Camilla if I can have a lilac tree.

“Sorry,” she says. “But it doesn’t get cold enough here.”

I recall a tree with purple flowers that I’ve spotted on my way home from Santa Monica. One day I wind my way down through the canyon past the trees with purple flowers, park on a side street, walk up to the trees and look.  Camilla’s right. Whatever they are, they aren’t lilacs.

Would I be willing to endure frigid temperatures and endless snowfall just to see lilacs bloom for a couple of weeks? I remember snowstorms being exciting when I was a kid. The snowdrifts in the backyard looked like huge, sugar mounds. My brother, who lives in Boston, where they’re enduring the snowiest winter on record, quickly dispels my fantasy. “There’s nothing exciting about this,” he says, his voice grave. “It’s only anxiety producing.  The snow in the backyard is taller than I am; and it’s so heavy, parts of our roof have caved in.”

Hana complains about the cold in New York, too. “I don’t know how many more winters I can take,” she says, her voice cracking, and not from static. “I’m not cut out for this.”

“Where would you go?”

“California, I guess.”

She would come home? I’ve been assuming that she would live her adult life in New York, as though it were a retribution for my living mine 3000 miles away from my mother. Do I dare fantasize about meeting her for dinner at a restaurant in Echo Park, or having her over for Sunday dinner,  or maybe someday, feeding her child an orange from my tree?

“It wouldn’t be for a couple of years,” she says, as though she’s reading my mind. “And you’d have to do something about the water problem.”

“I’ll do my best,” I say. And we both laugh although there’s nothing funny about it.

Until things improve, maybe she’s better staying off in New York where she doesn’t have to feel anxious or guilty every time she takes a shower or flushes the toilet.  It pains me that California may become so inhospitably dry that it could keep her from me. I picture the two of us leaning towards each other across a map of the United States, our arms extended in sorrow above the Great Plains.

*****

Once spring finally arrives, Hana’s natural enthusiasm returns to her voice. She bought a new bike, she tells me; and she loves being outside now. A friend in New Jersey emails me a picture of the buds just forming on her maple trees.  I notice a yellow shrub behind them and I write back, asking if it’s a forsythia tree.  “Yes,” she writes. “It is.” And then she sends me a picture of lilacs that her husband cut, put in a vase and set on their dining table.  “They smell delicious,” she writes, and I wish there were a way to convey smell digitally.

It’s getting warmer here, too. I’m savoring these last comfortable days before it gets too hot.  I lie on the patio this morning, directly on the stone, letting my palms graze the pitted tiles, recalling when I was four, huddled near the stone foundation of our house where the sun hit the mica and made it gleaming and warm to the touch. I’d lean unseen on it, like a Harlow monkey, gathering its warmth into my body while my mother was inside, doing the chores that prevented her from planting flowers or from seeing what her little girl might be up to.

Miles is drinking coffee in the kitchen and reading the paper, as absorbed by the news as my mother was by her chores. Unlike his mother, who used to say when she’d visit us from New York, “Why would anyone want to live here?” he’s content here. Unlike me, he always has been.  When we first moved here, I’d say to him, “I don’t know what I’d do here without you. But then again, if it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t be here.”  I yell to him now to come outside. He interrupts his reading to join me on this sunny patio in front of the bright orange African Honeysuckle, not far from where this western edge of land meets the ocean, and the ocean meets the sky. If I could, I’d take a bite out of what I see.  And then I’d turn the blue above us to grey and thicken these delicate clouds with rain.

Cesarco Eglin

Translator’s Note:

Sastrería (Tailor Shop) revolves around memory. In these three poems that I am submitting, Cesarco Eglin delves into the negotiations that pertain to being the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors–negotiations that have to do with languages, generations, as well as remembering and forgetting. Translating these poems and working closely with Cesarco Eglin, I came to understand what it means to be a Holocaust survivor, a third generation Holocaust survivor.

 

Cesarco Eglin (poet) is one of the most unique voices in contemporary Uruguayan poetry. She is the author of three collections of poetry, Llamar al agua por su nombre (Mouthfeel Press, 2010), Sastrería (Yaugurú, 2011), and Los brazos del saguaro (Yaugurú 2015), as well as of a chapbook of poems, Tailor Shop: Threads (Finishing Line Press, 2013), co-translated into English by Teresa Williams and the author. Eglin’s work has been published in the US, UK, Mexico, Spain, and Uruguay, including such journals as Puerto del Sol, The Acentos Review, Columbia Poetry Review, Timber, Tupelo Quarterly, Coal City Review, Periódico de Poesía, and Metrópolis. Her poems are also featured in the Uruguayan women’s section of Palabras Errantes, Plusamérica: Latin American Literature in Translation. Eglin’s poetry will aslo appear in América invertida: An Anthology of Younger Uruguayan Poets (University of New Mexico Press, 2016). Eglin’s work has been twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

 

Scott Spanbauer (translator) is an editor and translator and teaches Spanish at the University of Colorado at Boulder. His translations of Laura Cesarco Eglin’s poems appeared in Coconut Magazine, Boundless (the anthology of the seventh annual Rio Grande Valley International Poetry Festival), Pilgrimage, Hiedra Magazine, and LuNaMoPoLiS.

 

Connotations

When someone says campo
I don’t automatically think of a meadow
where I can rest my head, forget
about the city and have a picnic

When someone says campo
the images are held back, nothing
comes.     The wind
sweeps me head-on into silence

A pause like the one I impose on myself
so I make sure when faced with
Symbol for Spanbauer

to pronounce it with more than just my mouth

Campo is wrapped up in the black
and white of your voice testifying
to memories that haunt me in photos
videos in my viscera

If I say campo now, I might see
green pastures, gray this time around
and disturbing amidst life unraveled
the image, in the highway car window

cows grazing, green all the way to the border and more
uniforms covering bones, with no more name
than the number on the arm
like an eternal lottery of postponed prizes

Those campos now choked with grass
brush up against Uruguayan meadows
they coexist in a dictionary that insists
upon separating them with numbers

 

 

Connotaciones

Cuando se habla del campo
no tomo por sentado una pradera
donde descansar la cabeza y olvidarme
de la ciudad en un picnic

Cuando se habla del campo
se frenan las imágenes, no viene
nada.     Al silencio
me arrasa el viento de frente

Una pausa parecida a la que me obligo
para tomar impulso ante la Symbol for Spanbauer

pronunciarla con más que sólo la boca

Campo se envuelve en un blanco
y negro de tu voz testimoniando
recuerdos que me persiguen en fotos
videos en mis vísceras

Si ahora digo campo, puede ser que vengan
los pastizales verdes, esta vuelta grises
inquietantes entre la vida deshilachada
la imagen, en la ventana del auto en carretera

vacas pastando, verde hasta la frontera y más
uniformes sobre huesos, sin más nombre
que el número en el brazo
como una lotería eterna de premios pospuestos

Esos campos ahora atracados de hierba
rozan los campos de praderas uruguayas
conviven en un diccionario que insiste
en separarlos con números

Hillary Kobernick

Hillary Kobernick NPS 2015Hillary Kobernick writes poetry for both performance and page. With her spoken word, she has competed at the National Poetry Slam five times, representing Atlanta three times and Chicago twice. She also holds a Master’s of Divinity, meaning she has, in fact, mastered the divine. She currently pastors a small church outside Chicago. Her poetry has appeared in literary magazines in the U.S. and Canada, and is published or forthcoming from Bellevue Literary Review, Barely South, decomP, and Cider Press Review.

 

Springing

There will be peas. For the first time
I am declaring things that will be

coming inside with dirt under fingernails
empty seed packets impersonating wind.

There will be peas.

Here is the other truth:

If I had bigger hands, I would not love more.
I would seed squashes until they grew soft

in my palms, then tuck them like infants
into the arms of friends. And be so angry

when someone reached
over the fence for a tomato.

Roy Bentley

Roy Bentley has won a Creative Writing Fellowship in Poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as individual artist fellowships from the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs and the Ohio Arts Council. He has published four full-length books: Boy in a Boat (University of Alabama), Any One Man (Bottom Dog Press), The Trouble with a Short Horse in Montana (White Pine Press), and Starlight Taxi (Lynx House Press)—as well as a chapbook from “Magnificent Strangers” in Mudlark: An Electronic Journal of Poetry & Poetics.

 

Sugar Ray Robinson Leaning against His 1950 Pink Cadillac

The king, the master, my idol.
—Muhammad Ali

So what if he’s walking off killing Jimmy Doyle
in The Cleveland Arena after telling everyone that
he’d had this dream in which he killed Jimmy Doyle.
Never mind the routine loneliness. Years of roadwork.
This is one man the Mob couldn’t buy and wouldn’t kill.
Never mind that he was discharged from the U.S. Army
under mysterious circumstances after saying that he fell

down some stairs and woke, later, loopy with amnesia.
His cockleshell-pink Cadillac sits curbside in Harlem.
New Year’s Day, winter weather far from apocryphal,
Ray has put the top down for the Life photographer.
His delight at life is in a glint of light coming off
the car, the light of New York City, a single-kiss
collective glow of promises made and broken.

Sugar Ray is looking fine in a brown suit jacket.
The one true champ kids in Harlem know by sight.
Here comes a sweep of sun to assert the start of a war
between reliance on God and trusting in the archetypal
clenched fist. Light is coming up from the car’s fender,
falling on the face of one who has killed with a left hook
that knocked his opponent rigid, a sportswriter said later.

Heather Dewar

Heather Dewar LangnerHeather Dewar is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in the Bellevue Literary Review, New South, The Dirty Napkin, Utne, The Common Review, and the Chicago Reader among others. She lives in Minneapolis.  

 

 

ID

“It’s usually the easy answer.”

Billy looked up.

The girl sitting next to him smiled. “It was just that you seemed worried.”

He thought she might be making fun but her smile looked like she meant it. Billy opened his mouth to speak.

“No helping.” A man frowned from behind the front desk. Billy turned back to his screen. He was here to replace his license. He had been living in Chicago six months. Three weeks before, he had been walking home, late, when a man with a gun stopped him on the street and demanded his wallet and phone. Billy emptied his pockets onto the pavement. Afterwards, he vomited into the street.

The girl slid out of her desk. Billy watched her walk to the counter. He wondered how she had known he was nervous. He furrowed his brow when he was tense. Sometimes, he jiggled his leg. Now, he put his hand on his thigh to stop it.

A picture of two cars colliding appeared on the screen. To avoid an accident you should know where your vehicle will be in: a) 5 to 10 seconds; b) 10 to 15 seconds; c) 15 to 20 seconds. Billy chose answer “a.” Since the mugging he couldn’t sleep. When he closed his eyes the night replayed. The gun at his chest, the bile in his throat, the feeling that someone had kicked in his knees. They found the guy who did it. They picked him up at an ATM. The detective who had been working on the case called to tell him. One more asshole off the street, he had said, but Billy didn’t feel better.

He read the next question. When driving in a fog you should use: a) fog lights only; b) high beams; c) low beams. Out of the corner of his eye he could see the girl. She was standing behind a white line on the floor, smiling for her picture. In college he had played a game with his friend, Pete, called ID. When you saw a girl, you had to remember everything about her: the color of her hair, her eyes, her skin, how tall she was, the size of her boobs. You had to be able to pick her out of a line up. Billy got so good his nickname was Photo. After the hold-up the police had asked him for details. Anything you can tell us, they said. What did you see? Billy remembered only the gun.

The driving test came to an end. Billy stood and pushed in his chair. He walked to the counter. A man in a blue work shirt told him to stand behind the white line for his picture. “On three,” he said, when Billy was ready, and Billy stood and waited for the flash. There were things he remembered about the night of the mugging. The walk from the train had been cold. He’d wished he’d had gloves. Snow had been falling, silent and fast. He had come from a bar that was noisy and full and as he walked he’d felt glad for the silence, for the sudden feeling of space. He’d put his hands in his pockets and looked up at the sky.

“We’ll call your name when it’s ready,” the man said, and Billy walked to the end of a row of blue plastic chairs. The girl was leaning against a counter now, scrolling through her phone. That night he had felt a slow certainty, of himself, of his life. The gun had emptied his confidence onto the pavement.

The girl straightened up from the counter. She glanced in Billy’s direction.

“Okay Photo,” Pete said, each time they played. “What do you see?”

Billy thought of the fast falling snow. He thought of the cold and the silence and the open night sky.

“William Sims,” the man said, and Billy stood to retrieve his ID.

Steven Wineman

Steve WinemanSteven Wineman is the author of The Politics of Human Services and Power-Under: Trauma and Nonviolent Social Change. His work has appeared or will appear in journals including Cincinnati Review, Wayne Literary Review, Written River, 34th Parallel, Conium Review, Blue Lake Review, Newfound, and Poetica. His play Jay, or The Seduction was produced at Columbia University. He is currently at work on a novel about childhood sexual abuse, The Therapy Journal. Steve retired in 2014 after working in community mental health for 35 years.                                                       

 

Tear-Water Tea

the weeping man, like the earth, requires nothing
Les Murray, “An Absolutely Ordinary Rainbow”

I have cried every day for the last 20 months.

It started in 2014 when I woke up one morning before dawn and realized I was depressed. Somehow I understood this was a depression extending all the way back to my childhood that I had managed for much of my life to cover over with busy-ness and denial. But in that moment, at age 65, through a confluence of life circumstances, I was ready to try something I had never done: I welcomed these buried feelings into my heart.

Within minutes I decided on a daily regimen that includes meditation, a dedicated period of time to cry, and a depression journal.

Each morning after meditating I pick a passage from a book, a poem, a favorite song, or something on YouTube that in the past has moved me to tears. Charlie Chaplin’s stunned smile when he stumbles onto the blind girl who has recovered her sight at the end of City Lights; an Indigo Girls song, “Southland in the Springtime,” that makes me yearn for the rural Southeastern Michigan that I loved as a child; the heartbreaking epilogue to Barry Unsworth’s Sacred Hunger in which the beautiful little boy, Kenka, has morphed into an old drunken ex-slave telling tales in the waterfront bars of New Orleans. Each day there is a small question hanging somewhere in the air: will this really work again? And each day it does. At times in trickles; usually in a strong steady flow. I cry from my stomach, the place where I was abused when I was little. Occasionally, I sob so hard I have to gasp for air.

*****

Recently it struck me how much my crying ritual resembles a wonderful children’s story by Arnold Lobel called “Tear-Water Tea.”

It’s part of a collection of five stories in Owl at Home, a picture book for early readers published in 1975. Owl, a solitary fellow who lives in a cozy little house, usually appears in pajamas and robe. He has adventures such as taking pity on the winter by letting it inside to warm up, being scared by bumps in his bed that are actually his feet, and trying to be upstairs and downstairs at the same time. One day he decides to make tear-water tea.

Holding a kettle on his lap, Owl starts thinking of broken chairs and forgotten songs, and one large tear rolls down his face and into the kettle. He thinks of spoons that have fallen behind the stove, books with torn pages, clocks that no one has wound up, mashed potatoes left uneaten, pencil stubs too short to use.  By now he is crying hard and fills the kettle with his tears. Satisfied, he boils his tear-water. “Owl felt happy as he filled his cup. ‘It tastes a little bit salty,’ he said, ‘but tear-water tea is always very good.’”

Owl and me. It has been comforting to make this connection, as if the two of us share a delightful and mildly forbidden secret. People cry over immediate events or during periods of grief, for deaths and the endings of relationships, men on the whole much less easily than women, but I know of no social context for making a daily practice of crying, regardless of gender. But now here is Owl, my compatriot. I imagine us together, exchanging a knowing glance and nod. Or maybe, if he were still alive, I might exchange the knowing glance with Owl’s creator.

*****

At 16 I got into my first relationship, with a girl named Janet. I was in love, thrilled, overwhelmed. This taste of intimacy touched places in me which at the time I had no way of understanding.

We argued one evening as I was driving Janet home, not for the first time, but for some reason this argument particularly upset me. I was scared she was going to break up with me, but something deeper was getting triggered. Later, sitting on Janet’s living room couch, we were in the process of making up when I burst into tears.

It had probably been five or six years since the last time I’d cried. I was an adolescent male in 1965, and like all the boys I knew, I had taken for granted that when you reached a certain age, you didn’t cry anymore. The extraordinary thing was not that I cried, but that I could tell how right it was to be crying. I was reclaiming something I had lost—that was what I felt, not awkwardness, not embarrassment, not shame. Nothing in my upbringing or in the larger culture laid any groundwork for that moment. Also nothing in my conscious mind—no reading, no conversations, no analysis, no theory. I had no critique then of male conditioning or conventional gender roles. I had only this raw, irrefutable explosion of felt experience.

It was a defining moment in my life. A month later Janet did break up with me, confirming my fears, but my conviction of the rightness of crying has endured, serving me during my bad times, helping me to support my son to express his feelings as he was growing up, and creating a foundation for my own variation on tear-water tea.

*****

I first ran into Arnold Lobel’s work in a dentist’s waiting room in 1974. I was a childcare worker at a group home for troubled boys. Sitting with a kid who was anxious about seeing the dentist (who isn’t?), I scanned the children’s books on a nearby table and picked one with a delightful cover illustration of a toad and frog on a bicycle-built-for-two, dressed like humans in pants and open jackets, the frog in front with a long rounded green throat and bulging eyes, the toad scrunched behind him and wearing a sporty little cap. I started reading to the boy, hoping to help him calm down.

It was called Frog and Toad Together, and I can’t remember any other book, for children or adults, I’ve fallen in love with so immediately. At the beginning of the first story, Toad makes a list of things to do for his day. Well—40 years ago I was already a veteran list-maker. Instant identification! Later he becomes immobilized when he loses his list, and I so related. But my attraction to this book went far beyond a quirky personality trait I happened to share with one of the characters. The soul of Frog and Toad is the sweetness of the friendship between its two protagonists, their mutual acceptance and deep affection across a multitude of differences: the anxious, moody, high strung, insecure Toad; and the relaxed, centered, steady Frog. They complement one another, rely on each other, fill their days with the joys of generosity and attachment. In the last story of this collection Toad dreams that Frog has shrunk to almost nothing and then, waking to find Frog his own right size, Toad says how glad he is that Frog has come over to his house. Frog replies, “I always do.” How could they not win your heart?

They did in fact win many more hearts than mine. Frog and Toad Together was named a Newbury Honor Book, one notch down from the Newbury Medal, the most prestigious prize for children’s literature. It was the first early reader ever to have won a Newbury. Its predecessor, Frog and Toad Are Friends, won the Caldecott Honor Award for its illustrations and was a finalist for the Children’s National Book Award. Lobel would write and illustrate two more Frog and Toad books, and the series of four is widely considered the crowning achievement of his prolific career.

 Owl at Home is a good book, whimsical, amusing and beautifully illustrated, but on the whole it stands in the shadow of Frog and Toad. In four of the five stories, Owl displays the kind of magical thinking characteristic of very early childhood, leading him into ridiculous antics. It’s funny but limited, lacking richness and depth. “Tear-Water Tea” is the exception. If there is charm and humor to the lost spoons and stubby pencils that make Owl sad, there is also the integrity of emotional experience. We all feel what we feel, and sadness is always valid.

As is crying. All of us come into the world hard wired to cry out our displeasure and anguish. There is something about Owl’s early stage of development that makes his affinity with tears especially fitting—the tears of a small child. Along with sucking, breathing, gripping, to cry is an elemental human experience.

*****

Ten weeks before my depression came into focus, I had retired at the beginning of 2014. My troubles began right away. I had a rapid succession of physical ailments—a locked sacrum, pains in a half dozen parts of my body, a dizzy spell, stomachaches, a rare cold. I was sleeping poorly. I had many moments of feeling blue, mostly during evenings, with drops in energy that went beyond simple fatigue. These dips in mood seemed linked to a sense of not having done much with my time, and with a feeling of weirdness about my future, which was taking shape as a succession of blank days.

During those first ten weeks I believed I was having trouble adjusting to not working, that my signs of distress were being caused by a difficult transition to a new phase of life. Then I suddenly understood that all this open space was allowing my depression, which had been there all along, to rise to the surface.

The roots of depression trace back to events in my childhood. I have a severely disturbed older brother who targeted me with physical and psychological torture for years and years, and my parents, aware of my brother’s behavior problems, failed to protect me. But my parents did scream at my brother, and at each other, often and in front of me, a terrifying event for a little boy. My mother also screamed at other times, wails of despair, sometimes saying she wished she were dead.

My brother’s pathology, my mother’s aching unmet needs, the ugliness and relentlessness of my parents’ unrestrained mutual rage—all this was in the air I breathed as a boy. I coped by finding the eye of the chaos, by being the good boy who stayed quiet and small while my parents and brother were at each other’s emotional throats. There was no space for me to express my feelings or even to let myself be aware of them; no space for me to make messes or get angry, to speak up for myself or display more than a fraction of who I really was. I emerged into adulthood as someone who yearned for intimacy and had little capacity to manage or maintain it. Much of me was still in hiding. I was in a string of relationships in my twenties and thirties that one way or another fell apart; then two failed marriages. There was the death of my father, whom I loved, at a point of intense unresolved conflict between us. I spent years in therapy trying to resolve my issues. Yet sometimes when I meditate or write in my journal I can feel my brother’s fingers clawing into my gut, six decades after the fact.

Given my history of abuse and the many losses I’ve experienced, I know that what I am calling depression also includes aspects of grief and trauma. In the past it would have been important to me to parse these different strands. I would have identified as a trauma survivor but not as a depressed person. I would have noted the difference between a healthy grieving process and the stuckness of depression. These distinctions no longer feel significant. The strands weave together into a braid, and I take them as they come.  I choose to move toward these truths about myself, to hold them with as much love as I can muster.

So when I cry every morning, I’m not trying anymore to resolve something, or to complete a grieving process, or to overcome my past. I cry to nourish myself, just as I nourish myself by meditating, by eating breakfast, by exercising, by telling and receiving stories. Just as Owl nourished himself with a cup of salty tear-water tea.

*****

Over a span of three decades, Arnold Lobel wrote and illustrated 28 books, wrote another four books illustrated by his wife Anita, and illustrated more than 70 books by other authors. He won the Caldecott Medal, two Caldecott Honor Awards, a Newbury Honor Award, and his books appeared six times on the New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books list.   

Standing alongside these accomplishments, there is another, personal story. A child of the Great Depression, Lobel’s parents divorced when he was little, and he was raised by his grandparents, which according to George Shannon’s book Arnold Lobel, “made him feel different.” Added to that he grew up Jewish in Schenectady, New York (which lacked a large Jewish community), missed all of second grade convalescing from mastoid surgery, and experienced bullying at school. So a difficult childhood, with which he coped, says Shannon, by becoming a storyteller.

In 1955 he married a Holocaust survivor, Anita (Kempler) Lobel, who also went on to be an acclaimed illustrator and author. They settled in Brooklyn, raised two children, and worked side-by-side on their individual projects. But after decades of marriage, Arnold came out. He and Anita separated in 1984. A year later, Mathew Anden, Arnold’s “friend and companion” (the eighties euphemism for gay lover), died from stomach cancer and complications of AIDS. In the spring of 1986 Arnold himself was diagnosed with AIDS. He died of cardiac arrest in December 1987 at the age of 54.

Drawing on Lobel’s own statements about himself in interviews, Shannon describes him as someone who used his love of books and stories to pick himself up at difficult moments. After learning he had AIDS, “he initially tried to convince himself and others that perhaps it was the appropriate time to die.” But in his early fifties, at the height of his career, it was a rationalization that Arnold could not sustain. Instead he chose to “approach it as his new job, something he had to do as well as he could.”

Fair enough, and all of us should approach the end of life with such grace. But it was the same Arnold Lobel who wrote in his 1980 Fables, “It is always difficult to pose as something that one is not,” and who later said that “comedy…is created out of pain.” I don’t know the trajectory of his coming out, or for how many years he was in the process of recognizing the truth of his sexuality. But he must have experienced the pain, perhaps the anguish of having posed as something he was not, and then to emerge into his truth, only to face in rapid succession the devastation of his lover and of his own life. There must have been more to this story than a graceful acceptance of death; this was also about such an important part of himself, negated by society for most of his life, being annihilated at just the moment when he was claiming it.

 Arnold Lobel’s death took place in the depths of the AIDS epidemic, and his personal story, like those of over two hundred thousand people who died of AIDS between 1981 and 1992, needs to be understood in this larger social context. A middle-aged man comes out and within a few years dies—it was a common story, one of many variations on the theme of lives cut short, the rapid and terrible deaths that AIDS victims experienced from wasting, from cancer, from pneumonia, the cascading failures of body systems. A friend of mine at the time, a gay man who was personally and professionally immersed in the epidemic, said it was like living in a war zone.

By the beginning of the nineties treatments had improved, by the mid-nineties they dramatically improved. From 1993—1995 another 159,000 died, and then the death rate from HIV/AIDS began a steep decline. Too late for Lobel and so many others in the first wave of the epidemic. Magic Johnson famously announced that he was HIV positive in 1991, only a few years after Arnold’s death, and Magic is still alive today. For Lobel it was a year and a half from diagnosis to death. For many the interval was shorter.

In October 1987, less than two months before Arnold died, the AIDS Quilt was assembled in one place for the first time, on the National Mall in Washington, in conjunction with a massive march for lesbian and gay rights. I was there, and after a long day of marching, I finally made it to the Mall. It was like being in a cemetery, or at a mass funeral conducted in silence. The ground was lined with panel after panel memorializing someone who had died of AIDS. There were stitched messages, embroidered designs, photos, clothing, stuffed animals. One panel held my attention. It displayed the picture of a very young man smiling with warmth and joy, his face radiating innocence and an embrace of life—a man who was dead. I was already in tears when I got there, and as I looked at the love and grief stitched onto that piece of cloth, I stood on the grass and sobbed.

*****

“The world,” writes Jennifer Freyd, “is infinitely horrible and infinitely wonderful, and..one truth does not cancel out the other.” As I have been welcoming depressed feelings into my heart, I have also managed to reclaim my joyful self, a place in me that is amazed by the simple fact of being alive. I can’t entirely account for the emergence, or re-emergence, of this sense of wonder. I didn’t go looking for it, had never considered that making friends with depression would be a path toward something less gloomy—to the contrary, I give myself stern reminders all the time that my depressed self is here to stay. But one morning there it was, a love for life as present and deep as my depression.

Jumping into the water when I was four and finding that I could swim without having to be taught; my summers at camp as a boy; places in nature of special significance; moments of connection, for all the difficulty I have had sustaining them; the depth of my love for my son—it’s not that I had ever forgotten these things, but they have come back to me in a new way, perhaps made more vivid by all this depression work I’ve been doing. If the pain from my history still lives in me, so do my moments of joy.

Most of the time they seem to run on parallel tracks, my pain and joy. But when I cry, they twine together. The act of crying, connecting me to my anguish, makes me whole, something I feel in my body and in my spirit. Crying, for me, is a duet—a harmonizing of deep sorrow and the hard-wired pleasure of giving it full expression. It’s what I knew, sitting on Janet’s couch as a 16-year-old and bursting into tears, the rightness of it; I think we have all known this as infants, as young children.

Arnold Lobel, according to Shannon, would sometimes walk around his Brooklyn neighborhood in a gorilla suit. Lobel described this as an experience of “childlike wonderment.” But I’d like to believe there was another layer: that the gorilla capers might also have offered Lobel the occasion for a kind of harmonizing of pain and joy. These walks would have happened before he and his wife separated, during some of the long years when he appeared to the world as a heterosexual married man. What an image for him to have embodied at such a time, Arnold inside a gorilla! What was the guise, what was the truth? Was the real Arnold hiding within the funny costume? Or was the gorilla his true self, bursting out to be paraded before his neighbors? Or somehow both. The pain of the closet, the pleasure of announcing to his corner of the world, I’m not what you think I am—this playful gesture might have captured both sides of that equation. Of course I can’t know what Lobel was thinking and feeling inside the gorilla suit, what harmonies might have been contained within his childlike wonderment. But I hope, so many years after the fact, that this was so.

*****

Lobel’s last book, The Turnaround Wind, was published posthumously in 1988. It portrays people out in the countryside on a sunny summer afternoon when dark clouds, drawn as a huge swirling face, suddenly fill the sky and “a strong and rushing wind…turn[s] the whole world…upside down.” The topsy-turvy world is depicted with illustrations which viewed right side up are one character and turned upside down are another. The organ grinder turned around becomes a parrot; the stout man becomes his slender wife; the mayor becomes a baby. If the book were taken as a fable, the moral might be that there is more to a picture than first meets the eye.

Lobel talked about drawing on his own experience to create his stories. Frog and Toad, he said, represented different parts of himself. He called Owl at Home a “personal book.” So it’s not farfetched to think that The Turnaround Wind reflects aspects of Lobel’s experience following the sudden onset of a terminal illness. In the midst of an idyllic scene, a huge black cloud comes out of nowhere and wreaks havoc on a world in which, for a time, nothing is what it had seemed. In the end the storm passes “as quickly as it began,” and the huge cloud disappears. “Everyone dusted themselves off / and walked serenely in the sunshine / of a lovely afternoon.” A great turbulence followed by the serenity of a cloudless late afternoon, the restoration of order. Not unlike Owl having a good cry and then enjoying his cup of tea. I imagine Arnold, in crisis, nearing the terrible end of a wonderful life, finding solace in art one last time.

Matthew Lippman

Salami JewSalami Jew
by Matthew Lippman
Racing Form Press
Copyright: 2015
ISBN: 0989561135
Reviewed by: Neil Silberblatt

 

For those of my ethnicity and vintage, salami does not connote something that you would find in the supermarket’s refrigerated section – next to the pre-sliced, pre-packaged bologna or (heaven forbid) bacon.  It is not something to be sandwiched between loaves of white bread, and should come nowhere near mayonnaise (unless that mayonnaise happens to be in the adjacent potato salad).

Rather, it is something that – as the sign in the window of Katz’s Deli on New York’s Lower East Side exhorted – you should send to “your boy in the army”.  (Salami and army forming a rhyme which even Yeats would approve.)  Somehow, the image of a soldier in a modern day foxhole receiving a care package, consisting of a salami, has always intrigued and delighted me.

It is also something which might (and did) hang in the kitchen – near the Jewish calendar with the “major” holidays highlighted – its skin wrapper slowly hardening and shrinking (mimicking the effect it would have on the eater’s arteries), and filling that room with its not so subtle flavor.

This aptly-titled poetry collection by Matthew Lippman has all the hallmarks of that meat – flavorful, scented, evocative, delicious, to be eaten slowly (washed down with Dr. Brown’s cream soda), and aimed squarely at the arteries.

As with Levy’s “Real Jewish” rye bread, one does not need to be a member of a certain tribe to enjoy this collection.  But, it probably couldn’t hurt.  There are certain words or phrases in the poems in this collection which would doubtless not be understood by those not conversant with the Mother Tongue (just as there are scenes in Woody Allen’s early movies which would elicit blank stares in Omaha or Oklahoma).  It might not be a bad idea to have Leo Rosten’s “Joy of Yiddish” nearby or Google Translate on hold.  That is not meant to dissuade you from picking up this book.  To the contrary, it is meant to enhance your understanding of the treasures inside.

The poems bear the marks of a highly devout and deeply religious agnosticism as well as well as a healthy (albeit highly irreverent) sense of humor.  The opening lines of Herman the Pig are evidence of both:

My pig, Herman, and me walked to synagogue.
I couldn’t hide him any longer.
I put a kippa on his pink head.
I thought that would make things easier.
He said, I know they are going to hate me.
I said, No, we are a lovin’ people.  …

One does not need to know that “kippa” (pronounced kee-pah) means yarmulke – which means the thing the Pope wears on his head (when he is not being fancy shmancy) – to savor this poem, or its incongruous finale in which Herman the pig ascends “into the Hebrew alphabet of love and joy”.

The wrestling with faith – which members of our tribe have been doing since Jacob went 12 rounds with that angel – is even more evident in the poem In the Basement of the Holy House

I sat in the synagogue
and decided not to be a Jew.
Just for a second.
I wanted to see how it felt.
It felt like the yellow traffic signal
on the corner of Sixth and Center. …

or in Half Jew Half Guy

I have not been Jewish my whole life.
For the first half of my life I was just a half a guy.
I lived in a foxhole of television and pretzels. …

Ultimately though, the delicious poems in this collection are no more dependent on an understanding (or acceptance) of the tenets of Judaism than Henry Roth’s “Call It Sleep”, Alfred Kazin’s “New York Jew”, or any of Charles Reznikoff’s or Denise Levertov’s verse.  In other words – if they like good contemporary poetry or simply good writing – your friends Jack the Baptist and Rachel the agnostic (and even Jude the obscure) would love this book.

–––––––– 

Neil Silberblatt is was born and grew up in New York City, lived for a (long) time in Connecticut, and is now a “wash ashore” on Cape Cod.  He has been writing poetry since his college days.  His poems have appeared in several print and online literary journals including Verse Wisconsin; Hennen’s Observer; Naugatuck River Review; Chantarelle’s Notebook; Oddball Magazine; and The Good Men Project. His work has also been included in Confluencia in the Valley: The First Five Years of Converging with Words (Naugatuck Valley Community College, 2013), an anthology of selected poetry and prose; and in University of Connecticut’s Teacher-Writer magazine.  He has published two poetry collections: So Far, So Good (2012), and Present Tense (2013).  He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and one of his poems – Recycling Instructions – received Honorable Mention in the 2nd Annual OuterMost Poetry Contest judged by Marge Piercy. Neil is the founder of Voices of Poetry.

Kendall Pakula

Kendall PakulaKendall Pakula is currently living in Prague, Czech Republic where she teaches English to children and writes poetry. She studied English at Coastal Carolina University. She plans to pursue an MFA degree in 2016. She enjoys traveling and exploring.

 

The Good Guest

I am the guest, who returns
and returns for the tea. I am tidy,
though not by nature. I help to clean
the dishes, and I ask you polite
questions. I am the good guest,
who comes when you call—who doesn’t
frown or mourn when you lend
your home to poets who aren’t me.
Sometimes, I see your invitation
in the garden of a friend, and I wonder
where you’ve been or where I’ve gone.
I want to tell you the pretty sentence
I made about the soft sound of a girl
putting up her hair.

Guest Poetry Editor: Cynthia Schwartzberg Edlow

Cynthia Schwartzberg EdlowCynthia Schwartzberg Edlow is a poet and author of The Day Judge Spencer Learned the Power of Metaphor (Salmon Poetry) and a chapbook called Old School Superhero Loves a Good Wristwatch (Dancing Girl Press). Cynthia Schwartzberg Edlow’s poetry has appeared widely, including American Poetry Review, Cimarron Review, Gulf Coast, American Literary Review, Barrow Street, Folio, Smartish Pace, Georgetown Review, The Main Street Rag, Tahoma Literary Review, Fjords Review, Iodine Poetry Review and Fourteen Hills.  She is the recipient of the Willow Review Prize for Poetry, the Tusculum Review Poetry Prize, the Beullah Rose Poetry Prize and two Pushcart Prize nominations, one of which was a nomination by the Board of Contributing Editors for the Pushcart Prize Fellowships. Poems have been featured in the anthologies Not a Muse, Dogs Singing: A Tribute Anthology, The Emily Dickinson Awards Anthology and Drawn to Marvel: Poems from the Comic Books. New poems forthcoming in Fulcrum and Plume. Her next full-length verse collection, Horn Section All Day Every Day, is forthcoming in 2017.   

Blog: http://cschwartzbergedlow.blogspot.com/

Lynn Levin

Lynn LevinLynn Levin is the author of six books; most recently, Miss Plastique (Ragged Sky), a Next Generation Indie Book Awards finalist in poetry; as co-author Poems for the Writing: Prompts for Poets (Texture), a Next Generation Indie Book Awards finalist in education/academic books; and a translation from the Spanish, Birds on the Kiswar Tree (2Leaf) by Peruvian poet Odi Gonzales. Levin is the recipient of two grants from the Leeway Foundation and twelve Pushcart Prize nominations. Her work appears in The Bloomsbury Anthology of Contemporary Jewish American Poetry, Ploughshares, Boulevard, Michigan Quarterly Review, Rattle, The Hopkins Review, and Verse Daily. Garrison Keillor has read her work on The Writer’s Almanac. She teaches at Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania. Her website is www.lynnlevinpoet.com.

 

Spending Small Change

I praise the spenders of small change
for they give the humblest their due.
They hold themselves not above pennies
but love thrift and exactitude.
On their bureaus one finds no
Abes, Toms, Georges, or FDRs
sequestered in jars, calling out:
Are we not worthy? Do we not amount to much?
And when at the checkout those spenders
place coins in the palm of a clerk
hands might touch
the human gain purchase.

 

 

On Knowing One’s Goblet at the Banquet Table

Glum the lady to your left
whose goblet you grab
at the company banquet.
When she summons the waiter
for another water glass,
you grin like an ass
and tell her how much you
hate the pettiness of etiquette.
Now she is as chilly to you
as the shrimp cocktail.
Mister, if eat left, drink right is
such a small thing, why not
learn the small thing?
It’s not like this is about forks.
No one can solve the cipher of forks.

Issue 5.1 Spring 2016

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.

"The Man Who Fell to Earth" by Carla Ciuffo
“The Man Who Fell to Earth” by Carla Ciuffo

The Artist At Work by Carla Ciuffo
The Artist At Work by Carla Ciuffo

"Pandoras Jar" by Carla Ciuffo
“Pandoras Jar” by Carla Ciuffo

Poetry: (Guest Edited by Cynthia Schwartzberg Edlow)

Matthew James Babcock | The Fall Olympics | Sexual Limbo
Roy Bentley | Sugar Ray Robinson Leaning against His 1950 Pink Cadillac
Lynn Marie Houston | Jealousy | With Love to California, Now that I No Longer Live There
Lynn Levin | Spending Small Change | On Knowing One’s Goblet at the Banquet Table
Hillary Kobernick | Springing
Patrick McCarthy | Suspicion
Kendall Pakula | The Good Guest
Erin Redfern | Graduate School
Rakhshan Rizwan | Partition
stephanie roberts | People Believing Badly
Gerard Sarnat | 67% Hopperized Bathos

Fiction:

Michelle Elvy | Black and White and Grey
Mercedes Lawry | Sooner or Later
Heather Dewar | ID 

Nonfiction:

Susan Bloch | The Mumbai Massacre
Lisbeth Davidow | You Have to Get over the Color Green
Steven Wineman | Tear-Water Tea

Translations:

Ivonne Gordon Carrera | Tiger | **Cindy Rinne
Cesarco Eglin | Connotations | **Scott Spanbauer
Pablo Neruda | Past | **Domenic James Scopa

Book Reviews:

Paul David Adkins | Stick Up | Review by A.J. Huffman
Margaret Lazarus Dean | Leaving Orbit: Notes from the Last Days of American Spaceflight | Review by Carla Sarett
Matthew Lippman | Salami Jew | Review by Neil Silberblatt

Spotlight on a Press:

Two of Cups Press | Review by Nettie Farris

**Indicates Translators

Erin Redfern

RedfernErin Redfern served in 2015 as poetry judge for the San Francisco Unified School District’s Arts Festival and as associate editor of Poetry Center San Jose’s print publication, Caesura. She works as a writing mentor and spends far too much of her time opening and closing the patio door for her changeable cat, Juniper. www.erinredfern.net

 

Graduate School

I wish I could say I walked into that ring cocksure
and pummeled the compromised guts of the heavyweights.

I landed more like a stray feather, a little soft-focus, a little
surprised by gravity. Have you ever seen an animal so young

it doesn’t know whether to charge or run, so stands splay-legged,
eye-whites flashing? While holding a hissing brand, ask a foal

if it would rather be marked with Semiotica or Renaissance Studies,
and you’ll see what I mean. In the intro seminar

the French turtleneck expounded until comp lit students
took off their shoes and knocked worn heels on the table top

in a fervid cerebral display. The incomprehensible syllabus blurred.
I’d stowed away on a transport hauling language like freight and hurtling

at high speed toward the wrong planet. And the library towers
were shaped like Catherine wheels, radial stacks expanding,

diminishing like panic attacks. I snuffed the dead air, listened for tenured steps
in stairwells, watched other people’s notebooks tell their faces what to say. 

(At least I knew enough not to be a red cape wagging in front of a bull.
Remember the terminal master’s student who wanted to add Leviathan

to the syllabus? At Nevin’s that night there was talk of stringing him up
in the alley behind the free trade coffee shop.) So I learned “Americanist,”

but specialized in Fight-or-Flight-or-Freeze. Even now say “informal meet-and-greet”
to see the backs of my hooves flashing over a distant fence. All the same,

I don’t startle so easily these days. I’ve learned how to value herds, corrals,
open land. I’m not so quick to stand a tight girth or a weight I wasn’t meant to bear.

I know what it’s like to wake in a cramped chute, throat clutching the sweat-sharp dark,
hide twitching at each floorboard’s dull thud, and I know I wasn’t alone

in there. (Remember Elizabeth, who bit her nails to the quick?)
It’s not stupid to run toward air, toward the gate swinging open.

I stand on the other side, now–a crisp fall apple, sugar lumps in my pockets–
and sometimes I spot them–the ones with blinders, burred manes, split hooves.

They’ll be branded, too, but to those who come trembling close I offer a far fence,
a lesson in jumping, and, from my full pockets, these small boons.

Paul David Adkins

Stick UpStick Up
by Paul David Adkins

Blood Pudding Press
Pages: 30
Date: May 2014
Reviewed by: A.J. Huffman

 

Stick Up, a chapbook by Paul David Adkins, manages to capture a lifetime of desperation in a mere twenty-one pages of intense urban poetry. 

Adkins is a master of multiple perspectives in this tragic tale of an everyday convenience store robbery.  His use of an MTV-video-blip jump in points of view allows the reader to capture the scene as it plays out from three distinct speakers:  the robber, the hostages, and the police officers. 

This series is about loss, losing, and having nothing to lose.  The robber, a female whose long, hard life is exquisitely summed up by the current contents of her car—“a half-empty bottle/of Jack in the truck/and her wallet she stuffed/in the glove box/her creased AARP card/her license,/expired last month,/and a tucked photo/of the lover who left her,”—is someone we all know, is someone we could become.  She is closing in at the end of her life, and has come to a point where a fake gun and a chance to steal some potentially life-changing lottery tickets has become more attractive than continuing on her current path. 

A second point of view emerges from the purported heroes of this tale.  The police officers vacillate between the desire for action and the desire for safety as they “prayed/for a quiet night.  They prayed/for a night of gunfire.”  They struggle with the same indecision that an average person deals with every day:  Is a long, but mundane life preferable to a short one lived to the extreme?   

Adkins has his hostages contemplating dairy products along with their lives, as if they are mirror images.  In “He Considered the Dairy Products,” one of these hostages’ biggest concerns is “Will I die beside/the frozen yogurt light?” Not ‘Will I die?’ but ‘Will I die here?’ as if logistics were a factor in the fight or flight decision in these potentially last moments of breath.  In “He Recalled as He Ran Back in the Store,” another hostage actually refuses an offered opportunity to escape because the robber fascinates him.  He sees her as the walking dead, a figure from a horror story that he was told as a child:  “She emerged from the tree line,/tall beneath the floodlit/Coors display,/her shadow sharp/and stark as the chalked/outline of a corpse.”

‘Round and ‘round we go between these speakers as this literary Russian roulette of a merry-go-round ride spins us out of control and into this depraved and very human moment where there is no clear-cut victim or hero.  Every one of Adkins’ characters has flaws that create an unbreakable bond of empathy luring readers to the edge of their seats, until “They Called for an Ambulance Though All Agreed.” In these last moments Adkins writes, “there was no rush, no siren needed/for the robber, peppered,/dead amid the shards.”

Death, one of the universal inevitabilities, continues to linger on the horizon of this series just as surely as it landed on the floor of this convenience store, the blunt and bleeding culmination of humanity’s emotionally devastating choices.

–––––––– 

A.J. Huffman has published eleven solo chapbooks and one joint chapbook through various small presses. Her new poetry collections, Another Blood Jet (Eldritch Press) and A Few Bullets Short of Home (mgv2>publishing) are now available from their respective publishers. She has two additional poetry collections forthcoming: Degeneration from Pink Girl Ink, and A Bizarre Burning of Bees from Transcendent Zero Press. She is a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee, and has published over 2200 poems in various national and international journals, including Labletter, The James Dickey Review, Bone Orchard, EgoPHobia, and Kritya. She is also the founding editor of Kind of a Hurricane Press. www.kindofahurricanepress.com

Susan Bloch

Susan BlochSusan Bloch is a writer and management consultant. Susan has recently published in The Huffington Post, Seattle Business Magazine, Secret Histories, Tikkun, and www.234journal.com. She has also co-authored four books on leadership including The Global You and How to Manage in a Flat World and Complete Leadership.

A London based business consultant to many Fortune 500 companies, Susan spent three and a half years living and working in India, after her husband passed away. She was an insider and witness to the Mumbai Massacre. “The Mumbai Massacre” is an excerpt from her memoir-in-progress, tentatively titled, Monsoon Meshugas: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Daring. Susan now lives in Seattle. http://www.globallearnings.com

 

The Mumbai Massacre

Day 1: My Mumbai Apartment

November 26, 2008, began as a typical evening in Mumbai. Mothers kissed their children goodnight, set their alarm clocks and bid their servants a pleasant evening. Apartments turned dark. At Habad House, a Jewish learning center and home to the Holtzberg family, two-year-old Moshe dozed off sucking on his pacifier. A nightlight glowed in the electric socket near his crib so that he would not be scared of the dark.

That night no one had a clue that the benign hubbub of India’s cosmopolitan city was about to be shattered. Not the security men chatting at hotel entrances; not the families licking lollypops on the promenade; not the young lovers perched on large boulders and gazing at the rising moon. No one noticed the dinghy bearing ten terrorists from Pakistan, members of the Islamic terror group Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, sneaking through the maze of fishermen’s boats.

Armed with hand grenades, AK-47s, Colts, machine guns and satellite phones, the gunmen clambered onto the shore. They fanned out through the downtown tourist and commercial districts, and went on a rampage, targeting popular tourist hotels and restaurants.

A call from a colleague alerted me that there had been “sounds of shooting” downtown. From my Mumbai apartment, I could see an orange cloud rise above the smog. Explosions ripped through the city and a charred smell filled the air. Recently widowed I’d moved from London to live and work in India, hopeful that a change of scenery might help me deal with my grief. I’d defied all logic, resigned from a leadership position in a global consultancy and rented out the family home in Islington, London. Vibrant colors, spicy food, scenes of extreme opulence and heartbreaking poverty became my new way of life. I learned to smell the fragrance of ripe mangoes, taste green cardamom in curry gravies and enjoy sensual midriffs shyly peering out from under silk saris. There had been so much solitude after asbestos poisoning robbed my husband, John, of his life. And me of my cherished partner. Now, the energy all around was bringing me back to life. Importantly, I didn’t feel lonely anymore.

As the Chief Learning Officer of an international Indian conglomerate, I worked alongside teams all over the country. We reviewed operations and strategic plans in the retail business, financial services, iron ore mines, and the fertilizer factories. I was recovering some balance and living a normal, productive life when the terrorists attacked.

I stared at the newscast as I fumbled with the cap on a bottle of water and gulped it all down in one go. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. These terrorists had struck right at the heart of the modern acropolis. Without realizing it, I crushed the water bottle in my hand.

One of the terrorist spokesmen called into the NDTV newsroom.

“We want you must release all the Pakistani mujahedeen, our Islamic brothers that your government is holding in jail in India,” he shouted over the background din. Screams and cries echoed through the microphone. “Until we have them we looking for Britishers, the Jewish, Israeelees and Americans. This is no joking.”

Before his location could be traced, he cut off the call from his satellite phone. Hotel guests sent texts and tweets to the outside world describing how they were hiding in closets and behind shower curtains; how they’d been smacked across their cheeks, kicked, and pushed onto the floor face down. How they’d been stripped of Rolex watches, wedding rings, credit cards and cash. The Indian police and army struggled to coordinate a response. In the midst of the pandemonium, newscasters bellowed above the explosions.

“You can see the Taj Mahal Hotel, it is burning,” shrieked a distraught reporter, crawling along on her belly like a soldier under fire. Her face was barely visible through the smoke. “My god,” she sputtered, “there are so many people in that inferno. In there dying. Someone just jumped out a window.”

It seemed surreal. Earlier that evening I’d dined at the Taj Mahal Hotel with Vijay, my company’s Director of Operations. The legendary hotel was a regular haunt of mine, with lush Persian carpets and Ionic columns gracing the lobby. Over a feast of potato samosas, lentil soup, curried vegetables, garlic naan, chili crab, saffron rice, and fresh coconut, we talked shop. After dinner, we drank spicy chai and made plans for the leadership team’s workshop. Only a few hours later it was hard to believe that those plans were futile. The hotel was now a war zone and the city in lockdown.

I knew what it was like to be under attack. Trapped, ambushed, unprepared, and terrified. I couldn’t help but remember my time in Israel at the outbreak of the 1973 Yom Kippur war when Egyptian tanks crossed the Suez Canal determined to destroy the Jewish state. Those wailing ambulance sirens that I could hear in Mumbai — rushing the wounded and dying to emergency hospital rooms — sounded all too familiar.

As a young wife and mother in Tel Aviv, I’d been through numerous unnerving terrorist incursions. When invaders from Lebanon had hijacked a bus towards the city and then escaped into nearby orange groves, I’d sat alone in the dark living room of our small house, a revolver in my lap, cringing at the slightest noise. My son and daughter, both under the age of nine were asleep in their bedroom.

Now, in my Mumbai living room watching the horror on television, I wasn’t quite sure why this attack felt different. Maybe it was because I felt so isolated and alone in a foreign country. My chest felt heavy. My head began to throb. This time round would I be able to cope?

I closed my eyes and wished my family weren’t so far away, on the other side of the world. I feared that I might not see my kids and grandchildren again. Distraught, I went out onto my verandah. I leaned over the rusty railings tormented by the nearby flames. Was I far enough away from the disaster zone? The only white person in my huge apartment complex, they’d find me easily by threatening the receptionist at the gate. I was an obvious target. What would I do or where would I go if I needed help? Would I have the guts to jump out a window like those other victims? Probably not. I wiped my clammy palms on my T-shirt.

 

Day 2: The Israeli Consul’s Apartment

Early that morning I learned that the terrorists had invaded Habad House, home to Rabbi Gabi, his wife Rivka, and baby Moshe. Overwrought by the news, I rushed to join a small group of Israelis in the Israeli Consul’s apartment. We were desperate to know if the Holtzbergs were okay. We had no clue as to whether they were still alive. Were they raping Rivka and torturing Gabi? How could their two-year-old possibly survive?

I’d become friendly with the Habad House’s young rabbinical couple who’d welcomed anyone who wanted to practice Judaism, take the mikvah  — a ritual bath — eat kosher food, or simply meet other Jews and Israelis. My local Israeli and Jewish friends had insisted that the Holtzbergs welcomed ordinary as well as ultra-religious folk. An atheist Jewish woman, I had long given up on religion and did not wish to feel any pressure to attend synagogue services. I did, however, follow tradition and enjoyed celebrating Jewish holidays with the local community.

Although my grandfather had been a rabbi in Volksrust  — a small town in South Africa — my parents had focused on the importance of strong family values rather than the orthodox traditions of what we were allowed to eat or wear. We had never kept a kosher home. Religious Jewish behavior and thinking hadn’t played any part of my life since high school. It had been decades since I had attended synagogue, and then only for my son’s bar mitzvah. I hadn’t seen the point in praying in ancient Hebrew — a language that I didn’t understand. I’d even developed a prejudice against ultra and orthodox Jewish elements — annoyed by their views and behavior towards women as second-class citizens.

So it had been quite a step for me to become friends with Gabi and Rivka and visit them at the center. Once a guest in their home, though, I understood that they were far more tolerant of others’ beliefs and opinions than I was. I felt disappointed with myself for holding such an anti-religious worldview. The couple was charming, hospitable, and friendly, even to infidels like me. I felt guilty that it had taken a while for me to accept them for who they were, as good people, rather than stereotype them as religious fundamentalists. 

Recently, my Israeli friends and I had partied in the Habad Center’s courtyard, feasting on typical Israeli dishes — hummus, tahini, falafel, pita, and barbecued chicken — a meze seasoned with fennel, oregano, garlic, and cilantro. We’d linked arms in the courtyard and sung Israeli songs. Baby Moshe had clapped his hands and toddled around in circles. His giggles had risen above the singing. It had felt good to bond so closely with the Jewish and Israeli community — the Jewish jokes, the Hebrew slang, the love of Jerusalem’s old city, and the piquant cuisine. Moshe finally flopped asleep on his young mother’s lap.  

We crowded into the Consul’s living room. Eyes fixed on the television, we waited for more news about the Holtzbergs. Intermittent blasts resounded across the city as the terrorists continued their carnage in South Mumbai. Hundreds of hostages were still stuck in the smoking hotels — including a number of delegates from the European Parliament. The terrorists had done their research to make maximum impact.

A member of the Israeli team ran into the Consul’s living room flushed with the latest news.

“Apparently. the terrorists knew that there is this high-profile international meeting here in Mumbai. These guys planned their timing,” he announced.

He stared at a computer printout in his hand. His voice cracked.

“I have a report,” he stammered, “in addition to the Holtzbergs , many well-known politicians are in danger. Sajjad Karim, the British Conservative Member of the European Parliament (MEP), was in the Taj lobby when the attackers began their shooting. Also the Spanish MEP, Ignasi Guardans, has barricaded himself in a hotel room, and the President of Madrid, Esperanza Aguirre, was shot while he was checking in at the Oberoi. They are saying that the Indian MP, N.N. Krishnadas, and  the UK’s Lord Gulam Noon, were having dinner at a restaurant in the Taj hotel. No one seems to know if they’re okay.”  

We sat stiffly on leather couches in the Consul’s living room, rattled, apprehensive, uneasy, and addicted to the news. One of the burly Israeli security officers, Amit, (not his real name) let out a deep sigh. Even in the air-conditioned room, dark stains appeared under the armpits of his blue denim shirt.

The television cameras spared no grisly details. First they focused on people charging out of the main train terminus. Then we saw porters, accustomed to hoisting heavy loads on their heads, slumped on the ground. Satchels, fingers, flip-flops, feet, magazines, mobiles, glasses, newspapers, ears, laptops, legs and Cadbury’s chocolate bars were scattered across the platforms.

The TV cameras also transported us to Leopold’s restaurant, where I’d often dined on juicy tandoori chicken and vegetable biryani. Diners had been shot as they mopped naan bread into masala gravies; beer fountained into the air as bottles splintered; curry sauces smothered with blood spilled onto the floor. I felt nauseated.

“You can’t believe how well equipped these bastards are,” the newscaster announced. He’d removed his tie and opened the top button of his crumpled shirt. He wiped his brow. “They have so much hand grenades and automatic weapons. They are attacking the luxury hotels — the Taj Mahal and Oberoi, and also Leopold’s. They’re looking especially for foreigners and tourists.” He took a sip of water. “We’re not knowing what’s happening at the Jewish house. Now the police are there, but they are also not knowing what to do. This is so much terrible.”

Outside our window, smoke hovered in the blue sky. I picked at the cuticle of my thumb until it bled and then wrapped it in a tissue. Was it really possible that no one had any idea about what was happening? When it would it all end? Even the army spokesman admitted that he didn’t know how many terrorists had landed via the Indian Ocean, or if all the terrorists’ dinghies had been found.

Amit’s cell phone rang. He dropped it and swore as he picked it up. “I’ve been told that 200 hostages from Australia, Canada, the USA, Israel, France, and Germany, escaped through hotel windows, using ladders, very late last night,” Amit announced. 

We stared at him hoping for news of the Holtzbergs. The furrows in his brow deepened. We were all thinking the same thing. Maybe Gabi and Rivka and baby Moshe had escaped too.

“No, nothing about Habad House,” Amit murmured as if reading our thoughts. He lowered his eyes to the floor and leaned against the doorframe. “The Indian police won’t let us near the place. I feel so helpless, so powerless.” He was twice the size of the rest of us.

The television went blank as he spoke. A siren wailed. The television burst back into life. A pale baby with a blank look on his face filled the screen.

“My god, that’s Moshe, the Holtzberg’s son, and his Indian nanny, Sandra.” The Consul flew out of her chair knocking over a cup of coffee. No one moved. On the street near the “Jewish House,” a bewildered Sandra stared at the cameras. Perspiration dripped down her face onto her beige shirt. Her hands shook and her lips quivered as she clung to the boy. 

“I’m not knowing how I got him out of there,” Sandra panted. “There is so much shouting and shooting.”

Somehow, she had managed to pick him up off his mother’s chest, run down the stairs, hide in a stairwell, dash out of the front door, out the gate, and into an alley.

In the Consul’s living room there was huge relief. For a moment the atmosphere was defiant. Even some “high fives.” Maybe there was also hope for his parents. But my eyes filled with tears. I stared at the TV screen and wondered if I could ever find the courage to be so fearless.

“How on earth did Sandra manage to do that?” murmured the Israeli Consul.

 

Day 3: Israeli Consul’s Apartment

Habad House remained under siege. We couldn’t think of or talk about anything else. In the Consul’s living room the flat-screen television babbled on continuously amidst the endless comings and goings — Indian officials, security guards, and the Israeli Ambassador from Delhi. We were all riveted on the same scenes again and again. Especially those of the terrorist, Ajmal Kasab, caught on CCTV with his AK-47 at the Chhatraptati Shivaji train station. 

Then images focused on Habad House. A helicopter flew above the building. Three Indian soldiers clung onto the rope that swung back and forth under the chopper and rappelled onto the flat roof.  Was there any hope at all of finding the Holtzbergs alive?

As we’d suspected, the soldiers found it was far too late to rescue Gabi and Rivka. The young couple had been dead for hours, maybe even days. The Hevra Kadisha — a Jewish burial team — had already flown in from Israel to prepare the bullet-ridden bodies for burial. According to Jewish custom, every shred of flesh and bone would have to be carefully collected and buried together, ensuring the ritual cleansing of the body and respect for the dead. 

Later that day I met a young local rabbi, Yitzhak, (not his real name) who’d assisted in the gruesome task. He was suffering from panic attacks after seeing Gabi and Rivka’s mutilated bodies in the Habad building.

The Consul knew that I’d trained as a psychologist and later a trauma therapist during the Yom Kippur War. She asked me if I would counsel him. Fluent in Hebrew, I was seen as the perfect candidate. I wasn’t sure I had the qualifications for the task, but here was at least one way I could help.

When I met Rabbi Yitzhak in the Israeli Consul’s apartment he was lying on his back on a bed in one of the kids’ bedrooms. He couldn’t stop trembling. Ultra- orthodox Jewish protocol forbids any physical contact between men and women so I sat down cross-legged on the floor next to him.

 Rabbi Yitzhak rolled over on his left side to face me. His face was pale, and he did not make eye contact. Instead, unexpectedly, he thrust out his arm from under the traditional tasseled prayer shawl and grabbed my hand. His fingernails were gnawed to the quick.

“Please don’t leave me,” Yitzhak pleaded in Hebrew.     

His clammy palm felt glued onto the back of my hand. Unaccustomed to any physical intimacy in a professional setting, I struggled to throw my awkwardness aside. I stared at the black yarmulke clipped to his hair and wondered how it must have been for him to have me — a woman  — as a therapist. Perhaps he was too exhausted to care?  

“Please, please stay with me,” he begged again. “Don’t leave me on my own.  Every time I close my eyes all I can see are dry brown pools of blood on the floor and bits of skins splattered on the walls.”  

Yitzhak gripped my hand as he pulled me towards him. Trickles of perspiration ran down my back. My whole world seemed upside down. Normally, it would be the rabbi’s job to counsel the members of his congregation and not the other way round. After all, how could I, a non-believer, be of any real support to a man of God?

I hoped he couldn’t sense my unease. All the professional trauma counseling skills I’d learned decades earlier seemed to evaporate. I felt he wanted more than I was capable of giving.  But I knew that if I listened to what he’d seen, that would be a step in the right direction.  

He described one gruesome detail after the other: chunks of hair chopped from Gabi’s beard lying on the stairs, a discarded Pepsi can dribbling on a

Siddur —  a Jewish prayer book,  bullet shells, smashed glasses, flies settling on a sneaker soaked in urine, ants crawling on half-eaten sandwiches on the kitchen floor, and wrappers from chocolate wafers covered with blood. I swallowed to stop myself from retching. 

After all this, how could he possibly believe in the existence of a God who’d allowed this to happen? I struggled to comprehend how I might, through my atheist lens, counsel the traumatized young religious leader. Perhaps it was the sense of crisis in a world gone mad, but I realized I had to push my own beliefs aside, and see his shattered world. Immersed in his trauma, I struggled to keep my professional distance.

As he spoke, I put my free hand on top of Yitzhak’s. I wanted him to know I was there with him as he tried to come to terms with the savage murders. He didn’t blink or pull away from this improper conduct between men and women. I realized that solacing his pain was more important than all the religious laws we make.

“I can still smell the stench of their putrid flesh,” Yitzhak continued shakily. “You are the only person I can tell how scared I feel. No one else will understand that my lungs are still burning from that taste of hell.” He raised himself on one elbow and continued. “We also found the mangled bodies of four other Israeli visitors on the stairs. Blood everywhere.”

Whatever remaining religious boundaries there might have been between us finally dissolved as he talked. Yitzhak’s rigid body began to relax. He rolled onto his back, still holding my hand. When he recounted how the terrorists had defecated on the putrefying bodies, I cried and trembled along with him. Nothing had prepared me for this. Not my experiences in the emergency room in Tel Aviv during the Yom Kippur War, not my work with families who had lost loved ones. Not even my own grief as a recent widow. All I could do was be there for Yitzhak, and this seemed to calm him, but my hand wouldn’t stop shaking. Finally, when Yitzhak started to doze off, I uncrossed my legs. He flinched. Half asleep he rolled over to check I was still there with him.

Yitzhak helped me realize that compassion knows no boundaries. His religious convictions no longer mattered to me. I was living with him all the way through his nightmare. I simply gave some comfort to a man whose friends had been dismembered, battered, and butchered. Yitzhak’s sweat mingled with mine, and his stale breath clung to my hair.

When regular and gentle snores filled the room, I stood up and walked down the stairs into the living room. Amit had an arm over another security officer’s shoulders. They looked scruffy and unshaven. I bummed a cigarette off the policeman guarding the front door and went out onto the balcony. I hadn’t smoked for decades and it tasted foul, but I inhaled a couple of deep breaths before I went back in — a futile attempt to calm down, and convince myself that we were safe.

Every so often someone pulled me into a corner to talk to me, but I had no advice to give. All I could do was listen and recognize how violated and fragile we were feeling. I wiped away tears, made endless cups of tea and coffee, smeared canned tuna on white bread, topped it with mayonnaise, and then sliced piles of sandwiches in half.

The Consul’s 3-year-old daughter sensed that she was in the middle of a crisis. To calm her, and probably myself, I helped her take a bath. The fragrant scent of soap replaced sweat and the suffocating air. It was a relief to be distracted. I wrapped her in a soft towel and also felt comforted. Wasn’t it always children who kept the world going round? Or so I thought until I was also asked to meet and counsel the little boy, Moshe, and his nanny, Sandra, who were staying at the apartment of the Consul’s Secretary. 

 

Day 4: Home of the Israeli Consul’s Secretary

Moshe stood in the corner of a stuffy study. Fists clenched, hair matted, diaper heavy, T-shirt stained with blood. Walnut eyes dull, lifeless. He couldn’t and wouldn’t move. There was no laughter, no crying, no talking. Sandra, his rescuer, sat on her haunches beside him gazing at the baby boy. The baby who’d heard screams, wails, yells, cries; the baby who’d smelled blood, gunpowder; who’d seen terrorists fire guns and hurl hand grenades; who’d seen his parents collapse and go still. Baby Moshe who’d known horror, pain, anguish, shock, and trauma, and he was only two years old.

I crouched on the floor next to Sandra and rubbed her back.

“I don’t know, myself, how I did it,” Sandra said grabbing my forearm. “I just did it without thinking. Thanks to God, I got the boy. I only remember running and running and running.  But just look at him. He is so scared from what he saw. Many bad thoughts also wandering constantly through my mind.” Sandra continued squatting. “This poor boy and his loving Mama.” She kept trying to rock Moshe in her lap.

Sandra was grateful that someone had taken the time to listen to her. She seemed to have been forgotten in the chaos. But Moshe didn’t forget her. He finally fell asleep in her arms. I wanted to wrap my arms around them both.

Moshe’s grandparents, Gabi’s mother and father, had arrived from Israel to collect their children for burial in the Holy Land. They were also Moshe’s official guardians but he refused to go near them. They sat on the leather sofa staring into space. They distanced themselves from me when I suggested they try to play with him. I ached to fill their hearts with some warmth.  Perhaps it was because I wasn’t one of their ultra-orthodox clan. They probably sensed that I couldn’t identify with their claim that “it was all God’s will.” I wanted them to be there, with and for their grandson. I wanted them to sit on the floor with Moshe, talk to him, read him a story and coax him to eat and drink. A sandwich, a cookie, yogurt, some ice cream.

Perhaps I’d been too harsh on them. They had ended up unexpectedly with a grandson they hardly knew and had to come to terms with the brutal murder of their son and daughter-in-law. Perhaps they had no energy to try to play with Moshe, feed him, change him, or even to comfort him. I was relieved when Moshe’s grandparents finally agreed to take Sandra with them to Israel for an extended period. She was all Moshe had left.

The air-conditioner droned on. Eyelids drooped. Chatter ceased. I felt drained from hours of non-stop listening and counseling. I’m not sure where I found the emotional strength to deal with all the surrounding pain and tragedy. It was as if I’d detected a renewed sense of purpose and identity. A quest to find out why. Why me? Why us?

Even though I’d been nowhere near the attack at the time, I too felt extremely vulnerable, even shopping for food. And not surprising — the facts were grim. More than 168 innocent people had been killed, and hundreds more injured and unaccounted for. Among the dead were 138 Indians, including 17 policemen and National Security Guard, (NSG) army commandos, and 28 foreigners — Americans, Germans, Canadians, French, Italians, Dutch, Japanese, a Jordanian, Malaysian, Mauritian, Mexican, Singaporean and a Thai. An additional 27 other foreigners of different nationalities — Australia, USA, UK, Germany, Canada, Spain, Norway, Finland, Oman, China, Japan, the Philippines, and Jordan were injured during the horror of those November days.

“Mumbaikers” became one big family. Everyone seemed to know someone who knew someone who’d been affected. We learned that nine of the terrorists associated with the Pakistani terror group had been killed by the Indian forces. Security cameras had captured a photograph of the lone survivor, Kasab, walking through Mumbai’s main railway station with his AK-47 assault rifle and a rucksack crammed with ammunition. Thankfully, he’d been captured. He became an enduring image of the attack.

 

Day 5: Mumbai Synagogue

A memorial service for Gabi and Rivka was held at the Magen David Synagogue in Mumbai. It was then I learned that Rivka was pregnant. I squeezed into a row packed with dignitaries and ordinary local people — Muslims and Christians as well as Jews. Rabbis, imams, priests, businessmen, schoolchildren, cleaners, shop owners, teachers, ambassadors, waiters, soldiers, nurses, doctors, photographers, and journalists. Towards the end of the service Moshe started calling for his mother. He wriggled and screamed, “Ima, Ima, Ima,” — the Hebrew for Mother — in the arms of the late couple’s cook. His cries lacerated my heart. Sandra wasn’t there to soothe him. She was completing the formalities for her Israeli tourist visa application. Moshe could not be consoled. His anguish rose to the top of the high domed ceiling, clinging to the blue and red stained glass windows. I couldn’t stop sobbing. Even the men had tears in their eyes. It was impossible to conceive that our God was listening.

The following day I met the family for the last time as they were leaving for the airport. Sandra’s dedication was remarkable. She left her adult sons behind to go and live in a strange land with a strange language, strange food, strange dress and a strange culture. Her only luggage was a small plastic bag containing a change of clothes.    

Rivka and Gabi were buried on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, along with their six-month unborn child. Yitzhak stayed on in Mumbai, and we had several therapy sessions. I was the only outlet he had for his anguish. Newlywed, he was also deeply concerned for his wife who was four months pregnant. He couldn’t stop looking over his shoulder, waiting for another attack.

Life seemed to return to normal, but my colleagues and friends stared at strangers suspiciously. Hotels put up barricades, searched vehicles and guests bags. There were security checks at airports, cinemas, concerts, supermarkets, and restaurants. It took two weeks to get a new cell phone, and foreigners could not get a sim card for their cell phones without a police check. At work, all we could talk about was India’s 9/11. Even though the attack was over, we sat for hours every day glued to the television, watching the same scenes over and over and over again. There was little financial or emotional government support for locals who had lost breadwinners or limbs. The psychological scars were raw.

*****

As the weeks went by I was haunted by Moshe’s empty eyes. When I closed my eyes at night I tried to see my own grandchildren’s radiant chocolate and saucer blue eyes. It was a struggle to find them. I hadn’t realized what a strain the past few weeks had been. I lay awake staring at the ceiling fan turning around and around and around, hoping it would hypnotize me to sleep. I tossed and turned, drenched with perspiration. A vibrant culture of energy, color, beauty, and warmth had been transformed into a land of sorrow and bewilderment. All that seemed to matter was hugging my own family.

Now I know that Moshe’s vacant eyes, wails of despair, and rigid body had shaken my belief that India might become my home for at least a few more years. Shortly after the attack I began planning to move once again, and this time, to become an integral part of my own family’s daily lives. In the midst of the horror, my company’s share price, profit margins, and the overall strategic direction seemed less relevant. Yet a silent bond of a shared traumatic experience bound my colleagues and me together. I couldn’t leave them in the lurch. But I knew I also needed to prepare myself for yet another move to another completely different city, Seattle, where my daughter and her family were living.  

Sandra remained on in Israel where she was named an honorary citizen in recognition of her extraordinary courage. She works at an institution for physically and emotionally challenged children and visits Moshe on weekends. I often think of her and wonder what she’ll do when Moshe is older. Sandra has continued to remain an inspiration and a role model for me. I hardly knew her, but I believed she was selfless. She gave up so much to stand for what she believed: loyalty and love.

Five days before the fourth anniversary of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, the lone captured terrorist, Kasab, was hanged for his role in the carnage. The long drawn-out trial was finally over. I hoped this might bring some sort of closure for families and friends of the victims. When I close my eyes, I can still visualize the blue wall in baby Moshe’s bedroom. His parents had marked several little pencil lines watching him grow. Thankfully, as a young boy, he is now living with Rivka’s parents, the Rosenbergs, in the north of Israel.  

The Habad community from around the world took it upon themselves to finance the rebuilding of the destroyed center in Mumbai. Six years after the attack Habad House enjoyed a grand opening supporting the unshakeable belief that it would serve as a beacon of light to overcome evil.

Terrorism — whether in Israel, London, New York, or Mumbai yet again had affected the way I saw the world. It shook some of my beliefs and assumptions. The massacre in Mumbai and my conversation with Yitzhak had yet again destroyed the idea that there might be a safe home — anywhere. I’d finally come to grips with the concept of universal trauma. That what happened in Mumbai could happen anywhere to anyone. And that there was a life afterward — even if it was veering off at a completely different angle.

It was to be another year before I would be able to leave Mumbai, but Mumbai has never really left me.

Margaret Lazarus Dean

Leaving OrbitLeaving Orbit: Notes from the Last Days of American Spaceflight
by Margaret Lazarus Dean

Press: Graywolf Press
Pages: 240
Date: 2015
ISBN: 978-1555977092
Reviewed by: Carla Sarett

 

The Party’s Over

The closest, most thrilling, approach to the dwarf planet, Pluto, is set for July 15, 2015.  Its reconnaissance, along with the exploration of the deep, mysterious, Kuiper Belt, is part of NASA’s mission, New Horizons.  According to NASA’s website, the mission will “tell the story of the origins and outskirts of our solar system.”  Meanwhile, low-orbit trips have been outsourced to private companies (Elon Musk’s SpaceX, among them) to provide cargo to the International Space Station.  A far cry from Star Trek, but many of us are optimistic about the future of space exploration. 

But Margaret Lazarus Dean, in Leaving Orbit:  Notes from the Last Days of American Spaceflight (the winner of the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize), feels cheated.  Dean, an associate professor at The University of Tennessee, misses the old shuttle program.  Yes, that one: the clunky shuttle that was touted as a cheap, practical space truck, but over the course of its forty-year tenure, turned out to be neither.  But according to Dean, Americans loved watching those take-offs—Dean, more than most, I would think —and the program’s end signals defeat, rather than a strategic shift in technology and resources. 

And so, Dean takes us through her experience of the final space shuttles—her joy as she watches the launches, her impressions of the facilities and her fellow space fans, and her befuddlement that others, even astronauts, are not all that moved by the program’s demise. As she tell us, her crush on the shuttle began in childhood at the Air and Space Museum—and like a jilted lover, she feels heartbroken when her favorite program ends (Dean says that she has “never been a believer in privatized spaceflight,” and she is miffed that others do not share her “NASA-only” snobbery, as she terms it). Along the way, she offers entertaining tidbits about the program’s history and complex politics, and sprinkles the text with quotes from other space journalists.

Dean’s good-natured guide in her NASA journey is an “integrity clerk” named Omar – in her own words, “one of the thousands of people who work at the Cape doing various things that need to get done in order to get spaceships off the ground.”  Dean dutifully recites Omar’s Facebook posts and texts, verbatim, even his polite reply to one of her queries: “I don’t know.”  Leaving Orbit is low-key and pleasant.  But I found myself reaching for my copy of Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff.  That feels like the real party, the one with the cool, brave astronauts.

Perhaps, though, that is Margaret Lazarus Dean’s point.  Great powers need, even depend on, great symbols–like a single man’s footsteps imprinted on the pristine surface of the moon. The early space missions were a noisy boast of American’s grandness; and today’s America has a more constrained vision of itself.  New Horizons may well shed light on how the universe started, but it won’t lift men up to the stars. And some of us, perhaps more than we care to admit, need men to look up to.

––––––––

Carla Sarett’s work has appeared in magazines such as Crack the Spine, Loch Raven Review, Blue Lyra Review and several short story anthologies. Carla has a Ph.D. from The University of Pennsylvania, and blogs at http://carlasarett.blogspot.com

Rakhshan Rizwan

Rakhshan Rizwan was born in Lahore, Pakistan and moved to Germany where she studied Literature and New Media. She is currently a PhD candidate at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Papercuts, Cerebration, Muse India, The Missing Slate, Postcolonial Text, Yellow Chair Review and The Ofi Press. She is the winner of the Judith Khan Memorial Poetry Prize.

 

Partition

Her mother’s letters arrive on yellowing papyrus from Lucknow and mimic the way she speaks: using the formal address app instead of tum, She lifts her affections, admonishments from the page and holds them close, smelling the black India ink and the jasmine scent of her mother’s hand, she sees the breaks in her train of thought, marked by blots of stray ink when she held the pen stationary in her hand. She washes down her mother’s words of sandalwood and melancholy, with warm tea. Her unborn child kicks the quaint figures of speech and sucks the cloying Urdu with its small, webbed hands. Honeyed phrases of an exiled language like savoury sweetmeats that a traveller brings back with them, wrapped in an oily newspaper, a little cold but still fragrant with a hint of saffron, a caress of cardamom, from across the border, from busy markets in Delhi, in Amritsar, in Ludhiana. Names, so familiar, of cities now invisible. 

Gerard Sarnat

Gerard Sarnat established and staffed clinics for the disenfranchised and has taught at Stanford Medical School. His work has been published in many magazines. Sarnat is author of three critically acclaimed collections: Homeless Chronicles: from Abraham to Burning Man (2010), Disputes (2012), and 17s (2014).  In 2015, he was featured in Songs of Eretz Poetry Review, Avocet, A Journal of Nature Poems, LEVELER and tNY. For more information, visit GerardSarnat.com.

 

67% Hopperized Bathos

“…so when we look at the painting…we say it’s a Hopper.
We don’t say it’s a gas station …”
— from Mark Strand’s notebook, found after he died in 2014.

Freshboy eye candy larva, after Latin class in the Harvard Yard, this puerile grub
put out 2/3’s the hard yards required to acquire Life Magazine’s worn mustachioed
thrift-shop-Brooks Brothers-tweed-jacket-torn-leather-elbow-patches + pipe persona.

Self-consciously square, I bathed alone in the shadows of Waldorf Cafeteria
cigar circles whose prodigies fueled my undergraduate doom, Disregard the fools
you come from, kiddo;
that’s what this pale rube from the other side of the Rockies

did while the damaged men’s room mirror futilely attempted to dispense PEZ.
Five decades later, Nordstrom said, Color the hairs left. Whiten dentures. Switch
out glasses for contacts
— which prepared for an inevitably less than gala college reunion.

Matthew James Babcock

Matthew BabcockMatthew James Babcock’s debut poetry collection, Points of Reference, is forthcoming from Folded Word (March 2016).  His debut fiction collection, Future Perfect, is due out from Queen’s Ferry Press (October 2016).  He has been thrice nominated for a Pushcart Prize, twice listed as “notable” in Best American Essays, and once awarded the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Award.

 

The Fall Olympics

MatthewBabcock_FallOlympics

 

 

Sexual Limbo

MatthewBabcock_SexualLimbo

Pablo Neruda

Pablo Neruda (poet) was a Nobel Prize winning Chilean poet who led a politically and poetically charged life. He served as a diplomat and as a honorary consultant for many countries. After he joined the Communist Party, he began writing poems contrary to the contemporaneous political climate and had to go into hiding. He died in 1973, just twelve days after the fall of Chile’s democratic regime.

 

Domenic James Scopa (translator) is a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee and 2014 recipient of the Robert K. Johnson Poetry Prize and Garvin Tate Merit Scholarship. His work was selected in a contest hosted by Missouri State University Press to be included in their anthology Proud to Be: Writing by American Warriors, volume 3. He is a student of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA Program, where he studies poetry and translation. He is also a staff writer for the literary journal Verse-Virtual, a book reviewer for Misfit Magazine, and a professor of literature at Changing Lives Through Literature. His poetry and translations have been featured in Reunion: the Dallas Review, The Bayou Review, The Más Tequila Review, Boston Thought, Poetry Pacific, Stone Highway Review, Diverse Voices Quarterly, Malpais Review, and Empty Sink Publishing.

 

Past

We must tear down the past
and as one builds
floor by floor, window by window,
and the building rises,
so do we go throwing down
first broken tiles,
then pompous doors,
until from the past
dust rises
as if to ram
against the floor,
smoke rises
as if to catch fire,
and each new day
shines
like an empty
plate:
there is nothing, there was nothing:
it should be filled
with new nutritious space,
then downward
plunges yesterday
as in a well
falls yesterday’s water,
into the cistern
without a voice or fire.
It’s difficult
to teach bones
how to fade away,
to teach eyes
how to close
but
we do it
without knowing
everything was all alive,
alive, alive, alive
like a scarlet fish
but time
passed by in rags and darkness
and the heartbeat of the fish
was drowned:
water, water, water
the past continues falling
although it’s gripping
onto thorns
and roots;
it has been, it has been, and now
memories mean nothing:
and now the heavy eyelid
covers the light of the eye
and that which lived
no longer lives:
what we were we are not.
And words, although the letters have
the same transparencies and sounds,
now change, and the mouth changes:
the same mouth is another mouth now:
they changed, lips, skin, circulation,
another being has occupied my skeleton:
what was once in us is no longer:
it has gone, but if they call, we answer
“I’m here” knowing we are not,
that what once was, was and is lost,
was lost in the past and does not return.

Michelle Elvy

Michelle Elvy is an editor and writer based in New Zealand. She edits at Flash Frontier and Blue Five Notebook, and is on the editorial teams of Flash Fiction International and the Best Small Fictions series. Her poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction have been published in numerous print and online journals. See http://michelleelvy.com/

 

Black and White and Grey

In the gloaming she sees his tall shape across the street, hunched shoulders under a black coat slumped to worry. She steps off the curb and hurries to him. She wants to ask him how was your meeting, did you get the red wine for dinner, do you remember that the Lamberts are coming but it’s cold and the wind hurts her teeth so she lifts her head slightly to the left instead and as she slips her palm into his she feels him grip her small hand and squeeze tight.

In the gloaming he sees her silhouette crossing the street, small neat steps with white socks peeking from under tailored trousers. He wants to tell her they read my father’s will today, my brother says my sister won’t come, I forgot to get the red wine for dinner but he feels a chill on his spine and in the moment that she tilts her head toward him he knows he doesn’t love her but he squeezes her hand anyway and notices that her grey felt cap looks just right.