Category Archives: Issue 5.2 Summer 2016

Les Kay

Les Kay is the author of Fronts (Sundress Publications, forthcoming 2016), and the chapbooks The Bureau (Sundress Publications, 2015) and Badass (Lucky Bastard Press, 2015), as well as a co-author of Heart Radicals (ELJ Publications, 2016) with Sandra Marchetti, Allie Marini, and Janeen Pergrin Rastall. He holds a PhD with a focus on Creative Writing from the University of Cincinnati and an MFA from the University of Miami, where he was a James Michener Fellow. His poetry has appeared widely in journals such as The Collagist, Redactions, South Dakota Review, Southern Humanities Review, Sugar House Review, Whiskey Island, and The White Review. He is also an Associate Editor for Stirring: A Literary Collection. He currently lives in Cincinnati where he teaches writing and cares for three small dogs. Follow him at: http://www.leskay.com.

 

Reprise, Nachtmusik

 -After Gustav Mahler’s 7th Symphony

 A broken man weeps on the serpentine
shore of the Seine;

Violins in vibrato counterpoint cellos.

he taps out times in search of a signature
to defy everything he’s ever learned.

A piccolo, or is it a rose, jaunts between arpeggios—

The hermetic rhythm of his daughter’s laugh
returns for a moment in slivers of song.

Pizzicato strings slap fingerboards;
a mandolin begins its thistled serenade.

She has been silent now for far too long.

Timbres entwine like crow and cardinal
in the throat of a white-winged mockingbird.

Bursts of cloud.

Key dissolves.

Lucia Cherciu

Lucia Cherciu. EdibleFlowersEdible Flowers
by Lucia Cherciu
Publisher: Main Street Rag
Pages: 64
Date: 2015
ISBN: 978-1-59948-515-7
Reviewed by: Donelle Dreese

 

Lucia Cherciu’s Edible Flowers is an inspiring bouquet of poems that are delicate and sturdy, lyric and narrative, beaming with images that illuminate beauty and conflict while reminding us that the past is still often with us.  

The book is organized into two sections with the first titled “In this World, May It Be For Your Soul.” This robust opening list of poems takes readers on a tour through the politics of communism and the History Museum in Bucharest in the poem called “Renovations” where conflicting emotions behind a turbulent communist history are palpable on the page. Cherciu, a United States citizen originally from Romania, explores this tumultuous history in ways that captivate the reader.

“Censorship,” a poem dedicated to Romanian novelist Marin Preda, is particularly powerful in its portrayal of underground efforts to acquire great literature that was “withdrawn from all bookstores” due to its critique of communism. The poet writes, “the more it was seized, the more / we passed it around.” Cherciu’s account of censorship is lovely and signals to the reader that this is a collection of poetry that needs to be read.   

The second section,”Traveling Companions” is not just a grouping of carefully nuanced poems, it is also a wonderful collection of poetic vignettes about people who will capture your imagination. Cherciu is both poet and storyteller describing people from the past who are deeply human and inspiring.  In “Theft,” Cherciu describes women from her village who used to steal and trade seeds with one another and “roam around the hills / looking for confused snowdrops and wild violets.” In a nostalgic poem, “Planting Sweet William,” Cherciu recalls a neighbor woman who grew the flower Sweet William.  As the poet searches a greenhouse for the plant, she is “hoping for the purple splendors of her garden.” It is this longing to bring pieces of the past into the present day that engages readers and the poem is as lovely as the flower itself. Perhaps most magnificent are the poems about her mother. In “Blueberries,” the poet writes in the opening lines, “Mother said not to crave / fruit out of season / not to dream of things / you can’t have.” The rest of the poem is just as satisfying to the reader as eating the blueberries themselves.

Cherciu pulls the collection together through the title poem “Edible Flowers,” which describes the experience of being a foreigner through images of food and the longing for grape leaves from home.  She writes “At home if you run out of grape leaves / for sarmale, you can use cabbage.” But in this new home, the poet must learn what greens and flowers can be picked for eating and which plants are poisonous. Readers will enjoy moving along with the poet on this journey of discovery in this new land and culture while never forgetting the old.  

The final poem of the collection is haunting. “With The Horse Through The Cobblestones” leaves us with a young boy asking the poet if she is looking for something.

Indeed, throughout this breathtaking collection of poetry, we sense that Cherciu is looking for something. We wonder if she has found it, but in the end, we are honored that she has graced us with her words and given us a glimpse into her Romanian heritage.       

–––––––– 

Donelle Dreese is a Professor of English at Northern Kentucky University. She is the author of three collections of poetry, Sophrosyne (Aldrich Press), A Wild Turn (Finishing Line) and Looking for A Sunday Afternoon (Pudding House). Donelle is also the author of a YA novella Dragonflies in the Cowburbs (Anaphora Literary) and the novel Deep River Burning (WiDo Publishing). Her poetry and fiction have appeared in a wide variety of literary magazines and journals.      

René Agostini

René Agostini (poet) is a poet and a percussionist and a professor at Université d’Avignon, France.

 

June Sylvester Saraceno (translator) is author of two full poetry collections, of Dirt and Tar (Cherry Grove Collections, 2014), and Altars of Ordinary Light as well as a chapbook of prose poems, Mean Girl Trips. Her work has appeared in many journals including American Journal of Nursing, The Pedestal, Silk Road, Smartish Pace, Southwestern American Literature, Tar River Poetry, and Worcester Review. Her work has been anthologized in several journals including A Bird as Black as the Sun, Cradle Songs, Tahoe Blues, and others. She is a professor and English Program Chair at Sierra Nevada College, Lake Tahoe, and founding editor of the Sierra Nevada Review.

 

Walking along the Rhone

“I am the god
that forges the fire
in the mind”
(Anonymous – Ireland, no date)

the city stands
by the flowing water
it is hard, solid, but
its image in the water contests its permanence
drowned as it is in the reflection of the sky
(reflections twice shifting
by the wind in the clouds
by the flow of water)

the world calculates its longstanding vertigo
and its dissolution
the only permanence is what passes:
water, wind, clouds

the city stands
by the edge of the water, under heaven
it is hard, solid, but
its reflections in the water
mixed with those of the sky
are more true than its walls, streets
squares, facades
its flickering reflections
are even stronger, more lasting
more concrete
than its tallest buildings

the city stands
but its walls, streets
squares, facades –
all are demonstrations
of nothing …

water runs and deploys its surfaces
mirrors the well of heaven
the water passes, running water
with wind and clouds
that reveal the city –
the empty space of our lives …

(from Source and Thirst)

 

 

Promenade au bord du Rhône

« je suis le dieu
qui façonne le feu
dans la tête
 »
(Anonyme –Irlande, indatable)

la ville tient debout
au bord de l’Eau passante
elle est dure, solide, mais
ses reflets dans l’Eau contestent sa permanence
noyés qu’ils sont dans les reflets du Ciel
(reflets deux fois mouvants
et par le Vent dans les Nuages
et par l’écoulement de l’Eau)

le monde depuis longtemps calcule son vertige
et sa dissolution
l’unique permanence est celle de ce qui passe
L’Eau le Vent les Nuages
installent leur passage…

la ville tient debout
au bord de l’Eau et sous le Ciel
elle est dure, solide
mais ses reflets dans l’Eau
mêlés à ceux du Ciel
sont plus vrais que ses murs, ses rues
ses places, ses façades
ses reflets tremblotants
sont plus durs, plus solides
plus concrets
que ses plus hautes constructions

la ville tient debout
mais ses murs, ses rues
ses places, ses façades
toutes ces démonstrations
ne sont rien…

l’Eau déroule et déploie sa surface
miroir du puits du Ciel
l’Eau passante, l’Eau courante
avec le Vent et les Nuages
nous révèlent la ville -et le rien de nos vies…

(extrait de Source et Soif)

Elisabeth Murawski

Elisabeth Murawski is the author of Zorba’s Daughter, which won the May Swenson Poetry Award, Moon and Mercury, and two chapbooks. She is a Hawthornden Fellow. Publications include The Yale Review, FIELD, The Southern Review, Blue Lyra Review, et al.

 

Never from Here

a yellow moon
naked belly of the night
leans over the child’s bed

Chicago night
fish smells from the river
nothing but dread to eat

thin cotton nightgown
weaving a cocoon
about her shoulders 

as she disappears
breath on a mirror
her habit

of covering her mouth
born here
prematurely tries to fly

Fuji covered with snow
a yellow moon
wrong part of the world

remembering a man
forever witness
in the corner of her eye

plumed hat velvet breeches
musketeer
observing her as event

the story in her hip
locked in
susceptible to touch

as her jumpy
hundred-meter heart
tripped by the starting gun

Stacy Lawson

Stacy LawsonStacy Lawson is a writer, director of the Queen Anne Writers’ Studio, yoga instructor and keyboard activist dedicated to encouraging truthful and brave dialogue on difficult topics–illness, death, education, politics, the environment. She writes with humor, experience, and facts to hopefully broaden thinking. Her work has appeared in Under the Sun, r.kv.r.y quarterly literary journal, Raven Chronicles, and The 34th Parallel. Stacy lives in Seattle with her husband, two sons, and her four-legged writing partner, Juneau. For more information about Stacy check out her website.

 

 It’s Just Sex

How the fuck do you talk to teenage sons about their bodies and dating and girls and sex without coming off like Dr. Ruth, or the more up-to-date, Laci Green.  Green is Youtube’s sexy squealer–she who causes ear bleeds in her badass videos talking sex, all kinds of sex, straight-up–no bullshit.  Check out her video on anal or butt sex, she uses both terms, to see what I mean.  Note-to-reader, it isn’t likely that I will be mistaken for Laci–I am probably older than her mother.

I am not a prying Jewish mother of stereotype, something out of a Woody Allen film.  I’m not “a patron saint of self-sacrifice,” as Sophie Portnoy, from Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint describes herself.  I’m not the mom trying to be hipper than I am not.  I just want to make sure that my sons keep themselves safe. I want them to know their responsibilities. I want them to know that sex is not just about getting laid.

Based on the boys’ ages and gender, now 13 and 17 but back when this started 7 and 11, I thought that this should be my husband’s domain, but Steve is far more reserved than I am. It is just sex. I repeat this over-and-over again.  We teach them how to navigate their emotions, to chose the mitzvah–the right action (when they could sit on their asses), to be caring, to do laundry, to cook, to clean.  Honestly, I knew that I’d have to lead this. Six years ago, in the fall of 2010, I signed up my 52 year-old husband and my 11 year-old son Daniel for a father-and-son sex-education class at Seattle Children’s Hospital. All our friends with kids the same age–single or married, moms or dads, gay or straight– were signing up (or being signed-up) for the class. We Seattleites–hip, open, tech savvy, often progressive, not typically religious, and groovy–happily outsource sex talks for our children.

*****

I came of age in the late seventies and early eighties, after the sexual-revolution, in an era when abortion was legal and accessible, before HIV/AIDS came with murderous intent, when a new safer birth-control pill was a Planned Parenthood away. I was born in a small window, in a family, in a city where sex was a frontier to be explored without shame and the devastating consequences that previous generations had to bear. Young women, like me, could discover our sexual selves with appetite in relative safety. Herpes was not desirable, but it was not deadly. And, being sexually active did not earn you a slut stamp.

My kids will never know the freedom that I experienced. I have reminders stashed away that I can’t bear to toss– a stack of miscellaneous pictures of me with friends skinny dipping at Tassajara, a Zen retreat center in northern California–home of the Tassajara bread book. I still have my journal from the time that I camped on a beach in the Sinai Desert the year after high school. Never mind that I was in an Orthodox Jewish seminary in Jerusalem then. A lot of my friends from school hitched rides down south to the Sinai Peninsula (then, under Israeli control, now restored to Egypt)– Nueba, Dahab, or Sharm el-Sheikh.

In my early twenties, after a brief Orthodox marriage, I continued my exploration with men I knew from school or work in the name of casual, or, maybe, a better term is friendly, sex. I studied sex with lovers who were sometimes friends and not quite boyfriends in the dark and light while stoned and while straight, indoors and outdoors. I think of it as an independent study in sex. Good sex does not come without good technique, practice, and an open heart. I was not a drinker. I’ve not had a drunken night ever and have never woke in despair wondering who was next to me or where I was.

I want much the same for my kids, but times are different.

*****

A week or so before the class at Seattle Children’s Hospital, Steve leaned against the leaded glass window in our bedroom while I stretched out on our white queen-size bed. “You two have talked about everything already,” he said, trying to get out of taking Daniel to the class. His arms were extended behind him, his palms resting on the windowsill.

Instead of answering, I looked at the dark-rimmed rectangular glasses framing his beautiful green eyes, his salt and pepper hair, the muscles on his forearms, and at the black t-shirt hugging his long torso. Nice, I thought.

“Come on,” he tried again. “Daniel’s getting sex education at school this year. That’s enough sex for now.”

I didn’t answer. I just kept looking him over, thinking that if we didn’t have two kids downstairs, who were likely to barge into the bedroom at any moment, we’d have sex.

*****

At twelve, I discovered a purple-brown stain on my jockey underwear. I was at a friend’s house; she was a year younger than I was, and had already started her period. I didn’t want her to know that this was my first period. I searched under the bathroom sink for a stash of pads but found none.

I wadded up toilet paper, placed it between my legs on my blue jockey briefs, and ran home– six-blocks uphill– afraid of gushing onto my jeans. I climbed our concrete steps two at a time and crashed into the house. “I started my period,” I yelled to my mother and darted into the bathroom. I sat on the toilet with my underwear around my thighs and stared at the dark stain that was exactly the same size as when I first discovered it.

There was no congratulation, no now you’re a woman, nothing. My forty-three year-old mother, tired after a long day at work, yelled back at me, “I’ll call dad to pick up some Kotex and a belt.”  I wonder what she was thinking. She was probably making dinner after working all day. She’d been through it three times before. If I remember correctly she used the same tone as if she were saying, “I’ve asked dad to pick-up milk on the way home.”

When my dad arrived home an hour later, I was slightly embarrassed as he handed me the white and blue A&H bag from the store where he worked as a pharmacist. No words were exchanged. I locked myself in the bathroom and pulled out the pads and the flimsy white elastic belt circa 1973. I threaded the pad wings through the gauzy belt and slipped it on. Neither of my parents mentioned my period again.

A year later, my father brought home self-adhesive pads, and I threw the stained belt away. Later, I found my sisters’ tampons and gave up on pads altogether.

There was never a talk.

*****

By the day of the sex-ed class at Seattle Children’s Hospital, Steve had stopped asking me to go, and he and Daniel were ready. They left home after an early dinner, and by the time they returned home a few hours later, I could tell that something was different.

“How was it?”  I asked

“Great!”  Daniel said.

“Actually it was pretty good,” Steve agreed. “Well, except for the penis opera. They divided us into two groups and passed out song sheets. The boys sang the high parts, and dad’s sang the low parts.” 

“You loved that,” I said ironically. Neither Steve nor I like games.

“Mom, can I show you the handouts?”  Daniel asked, eager to share them with me.

“Sure. Go upstairs and get ready for bed, and I’ll be up in a few.”

With Daniel upstairs, I gave Steve a single thumb-up. “You survived?”

“It really wasn’t a big deal,” he said. I refrained from reminding him how many times he had tried to get out of going.

I went up to tuck Daniel into bed and found him on top of the covers, going over the handouts. He was reviewing the book list. “Can we get one of these tomorrow?”  He looked serious as he pointed to a few of the titles. I loved his curiosity and lack of embarrassment. He was my kid.

I saw Our Bodies Our Selves on the list and got excited. OBOS, as we abbreviated it in college, was a sacred text in the Women’s Studies department in the early eighties. It was a book about women’s health and sexuality written by the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective first published in 1971. (The group later was renamed Our Bodies Ourselves.) The book came from a group of 12 women, ages 23-39, who met at a women’s liberation conference at Emanuel College in Boston in 1969. Two years later, their book was out. It was about women’s health, gender, sex, sexual orientation, and sexual pleasure for women. One year later in 1971 came the The Joy of Sex. The sexual revolution was underway.

*****

When Daniel was young, unlike his younger brother who never has asked any questions, he loved to hear his birth story. I told him the story over-and-over-and-over again starting early on his birthday leading up to his scheduled c-section . We took Ajax to the vet and found out he had fleas. We bathed him. Then, we drove to the hospital for the surgery. The doctor made a cut in my belly and pulled you out. Friends and family came pouring into the room, and we had a welcome party before the nurses kicked everyone out…

As Daniel got older, he became more curious. Did I really come out of your stomach? How did I get in there?  Does a man really put his penis into a woman’s vagina? Did you do that? How come I didn’t come out of your vagina like everyone else?  I laughed at the thought of everyone else coming out of my vagina but didn’t bother to correct him. I knew what he meant.

I gave straight answers that were likely way too long and detailed.

*****

When I was thirteen, at a Jewish youth-group retreat, I was smuggled into my fourteen-year-old boyfriend’s cabin on Friday night. We got inside his sleeping bag and were making out. It was the first time that I had ever touched a penis. I remember the strange warm rubbery feel. We heard heavy footsteps and then the door was thrown open.  “Who’s in here?”  A male voice yelled in our direction. I pulled down my shirt and tugged my pants up.  I hid under the flap of the sleeping bag, inhaling the warm, musky scent of our bodies. The counselor aimed a flashlight at the bunk, blinding us. “Come on out.”  We untangled and struggled to get out of the sleeping bag. I was sent back to my cabin with one of the girls’ counselors who had come in during the bust. We were scolded, but our counselors who were probably five years older than we were, would be doing similar things soon.

I still wonder what would have happened had the counselors not stormed the cabin. Would my boyfriend have stopped?  Would I have asked him to?  If we’d had sex, would he have used a condom? What if I had gotten pregnant?  What would my life be like now if I had had a child then?  What would my life be like if I had had an abortion?  These questions are what impelled me to sign Daniel up for the class at Seattle Children’s Hospital.

*****

When Daniel was thirteen, he went to a dance at school. Before the dance, a strict set of rules were sent out, and kids who were attending had to sign a contract–no drugs, no alcohol, no coming back in if you leave, no inappropriate dancing. I think Daniel wore a shirt with a tie and nice jeans. He was well put together when he left, and he was ecstatic when he came home.

When I tucked him in bed that night, he told me about dancing with a girl named Anna. He talked about how he felt himself change in the moment that he held her and moved on the dance floor. I was pleased that he was a romantic. Whatever he may have thought about girls before had shifted, tumblers to his emotions clicked into place. Was it the feel of her body against his, her hair on his arm, her hands on his back, or his hand on her waist?

*****

At sixteen, I went to Planned Parenthood on my own before I had intercourse for the first time. It would be a stretch to say that I was a virgin at that point, but I held onto that fig leaf, I had not had intercourse but had done almost everything else.

I had a primer on sex by watching my three older sisters on the couch in our den. They are seven, nine, and ten years older than I am, and it was the mid-nineteen sixties. By the time I was six, I had seen and heard a lot. I had walked in on everything at least once. I loved my sisters’ paisley dresses, white-embroidered peasant blouses, short skirts, hot pants, flowing skirts, and halter tops. I took it all in.

I watched my sister Dee with her boyfriend on a celery color brocade couch watching Speed Racer after school.  They would lean into each other, eyes closed with lips pressed together like pink slugs. I watched where they put their hands while kissing. I watched my sister’s boyfriend pull her into embraces that I’d now term foreplay.

At age 16, I messed around with a 26-year-old-man, who was a leader of the religious youth group that I was part of. My sister Esther, nine years older than I was, found out and came down on me for fooling around with an older man. “He’s taking advantage of you. He’s an adult. It’s illegal.”   Now I realize how creepy this was. I see him on Facebook every once in awhile, and I wonder how many other young women he seduced.

*****

One afternoon, three years after Daniel had the sex ed class at Seattle Children’s Hospital, I snagged him as he bounced through the kitchen like a kangaroo looking for something to eat. I sliced an apple and put it on a small plate with roasted almonds and a chunk of dark chocolate. As I prepared the snack, I made a mental list of the things I wanted to communicate.

I may have chosen that day because Daniel was now five-feet-ten inches, his voice had (seemingly) dropped an octave overnight, his feet were bigger than his father’s feet, and his legs were covered with fine-dark hair. Or maybe it was because he was always fighting me for the full-length mirror in our room. 

“Sit down, Bubu. I want to tell you a few things.”  I pointed to the stool across the counter. “There is no reason for accidental pregnancies in our house,” I began.

“What?  Daniel shot off of his stool. “What are you talking about?”

“This is the talk!”

“Oh, no way!  You’re kidding me.”  He slammed his hand down on the counter.

“I’m not kidding.”  I slammed my own hand down in response.

“Why?  This is just awful. Dad!”  He yelled in the direction of the den, then turned to me again, “You already made dad and me go to the class in fifth grade.”

“That was three years ago. Consider this a review. ”

I had his attention. I kept going. “Both participants are responsible for contraception. Unprotected intercourse–even once–can lead to pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections:  herpes, AIDS, syphilis, scabies, crabs, tricho…whatever, gonorrhea, chlamydia, genital warts, and tricho… Got it?” I had stumbled on trichomoniasis. I had volunteered at Planned Parenthood as a contraception counselor in the mid 1980’s. We had to learn how to pronounce every sexually transmitted disease known at the time, squeeze a diaphragm into a taco shape, talk about the difference between a cervical cap and a diaphragm, and slip a condom over two straight fingers. I would go over the young woman’s income, and write down her choice of birth control before she went for an exam. I had this stuff down, but Daniel didn’t know my past.

He looked at me in dismay, “Are we really having this conversation?” 

“Yes, we are,” I said, my heart beat quickening.

“I cannot believe this.”  He grabbed his head in both hands and ducked down with a huge, ear-spreading grin of embarrassment and rested his head on the counter.

I kept going. “Condoms are your friends. When you start dating someone that you really like, I want you to have one with you at all times. Know how to use it. You can ask Dad for help or just practice. And, NO, this is not permission to have sex now.” 

He looked up from his head-down position. “Are we done yet?” 

“Not quite. I’ll let you know when we are done.”

“What else?”

“No means NO!  No questions asked. No exception to this rule. Put yourself together and walk away. You’ll survive. No one dies because of a neglected erection. There’s no shame in getting dressed and leaving. There’s shame in forcing someone to do something that they don’t want to.  You may misread signals in the beginning. Assume that if you do not hear yes, the answer is NO.”

I wanted to explain to him the loaded world of sexuality for girls, which is different than it is for boys, even today. I wanted to tell him about the contradictions for girls. Girls who have sex and are found out can be targets of slut shaming, a way of making girls pay for their sexual activity. There’s no equivalent for boys. I’d wait for this part for another day. I reluctantly let him go.

“If you want to be done, I need you to give me a summary of what I just said.”

“There are no accidental pregnancies, condoms are my friend, I can talk to you or Dad, no means no, and you are not giving me permission to have sex.”

“Good enough for now. We’ll revisit this later.”

Daniel ran to the den. “Dad do you know what mom just did?” I heard him say.

“I can only guess,” Steve answered, unaware that I had chosen this moment to deliver an impromptu sex talk. Steve, of course is free to do so too, but he is still waiting to have the talk with his dad, who is still waiting to have the talk with his dad.

I’m not sure why I did it at that exact moment. I only knew I wanted to give Daniel The Talk before he was too old to listen to me.

*****

When Daniel was twelve, I was at a writing workshop with Ruth Ozeki at Hedgebrook on Whidbey Island.  There were six women, none of whom I knew before the workshop. I told them about Daniel’s upcoming Bar Mitzvah. Our event was a handmade labor of love.  We screen printed the invitations, made Turkish pastries and baked strudel.  A friend had painted a ten-foot banner to cover the cross in the church, and another friend had been Daniel’s teacher through two years of demanding study.

Joelle, one of the women on the retreat, told me of a tradition in Los Angeles.  Supposedly–a custom of girls giving blowjobs to boys as a bar mitzvah gift. Was the boy blown by one girl or many?  Was it before the service or during the party?  Was it in a bathroom stall?  Did the boys perform the same service for girls at their bat mitzvahs? I was not sure it was true, but I could not totally rule it out. In the eighties, New York and Los Angeles had turned the coming of age ritual into a full-on carnival.

*****

I had unprotected sex once, at nineteen. Two weeks later I was throwing up my Cheerios, morning after morning. I went to Planned Parenthood, before there were home pregnancy kits. I had an abortion, also at Planned Parenthood. My boyfriend took me. It was 1980; the procedure was clean, safe, and quick. I was shaken, but I got through it. I want to teach my sons to share the responsibility for birth control and any unintended pregnancies. My second abortion was the outcome of an I.U.D. failure. I haven’t told Daniel (or William) about my abortions, but I will.  I want them to know that I am not perfect. I want them to understand that Roe v. Wade, the 1973 historic Supreme Court decision guaranteeing a woman’s right to safe abortion saved me twice from having children that I would not have been able to properly care for.  I want them to understand that Roe is constantly under attack and that all children should be wanted.  There should be no such thing as a mistake child.  

*****

Daniel is now seventeen and measures in at six-two. He is driving. I took him out on his first drives before he was fifteen and had a permit. I believe in doing things before my kids start hocking me–when it is a surprise for good behavior­–not the result of nagging.  I had him drive up and down rows of empty parking lots.  He was heavy on the breaks and had a big smile that covered half his face. I launch us forward, and Steve comes in to ease us through the transition. It’s the way we do business in our house. 

I am having the talks with the kids that my parents didn’t have with me. When William was eleven, Steve took him to the ‘sex class’ as we call it, without protest. William had no interest in discussing anything with me after the class was over. Daniel asks all of the time, “Why hasn’t William gotten any of the talks yet?”  William makes it clear that he wants nothing to do with any talk with me about sex.

My nephew had a baby with his girlfriend before considering marriage. Both he and his girlfriend have divorced parents. Their daughter was a planned baby.  On the one hand I get it, there’s no reason that they should bet on marriage working. But, on the other hand, kids are hard on a relationship, so why not get married so that the door to leave is a little more difficult to open. They are now married.  My nephew would like another child soon.  His wife wisely is putting him off.

I suggest to both of our boys that they make serious commitments before children. Finish school. Find work you love. Find out who you are. Find a partner you love and want to have children with.

*****

I want to make sure our sons know that they can talk to us about anything. Now, we all joke about the talk, and sex is a family word. William is in seventh grade. If I just say the words, the talk, he is gone. “I’m fine.”  He says. “No your not, I’ll tell you when you are fine.”  I respond.

Standing in line at the grocery store, I will turn to Daniel and say in a soft voice, “Would you like a pack of condoms.”  He wryly answers, “I think a girlfriend should come first.”  I look at him and can’t help but think how cute he is. His best friend has a girlfriend, and I know it is hard on him, but I’m proud of him for waiting for the right person and not making the wrong person into the right person. He’s smart in that way. William, I have learned, has had girlfriends since fourth grade. His friends’ mothers tell me that William is a ladies man. I can see it. But he too, has not done the girl-friend thing.  He went to his first dance this year. He played it cool, and he is cool. Neither of the boys seem interested in proving anything to anyone.

I fear parties and groups of teens. I fear the social process of Thresholds that Mark Granovertter, a Stanford sociologist proposed four decades ago, which Malcom Gladwell has used to talk about school violence in a recent New Yorker article. Thresholds refer to the number of people who must do something first before a particular individual is willing to join in something that s/he would not normally engage in. A person with a threshold of zero needs no one to go first. A person with a threshold of five or six requires a fair number of people to step in before he will forego his own moral code. I believe that my kids have high thresholds, but I want to make sure that they are prepared. They have Uber and cameras on their phones for quick getaways, they are told not to hesitate to call the cops, Steve, me, or our oldest niece. They are told not to leave their friends in vulnerable situations.

Basically, I want them to know that when they have girlfriends, and they are ready to have sex, and they have received an audible Yes ­–to find an appropriate place.  I don’t want them getting laid at a party after midnight where drunk kids are pairing-off, seeking places to squat for what can only be bad sex. Yet, I don’t want to walk in on them. I don’t want to hear anything. I don’t want to find them in our bed. I don’t want to wash their sheets. I want my boys to be clear that sex is not a game, girls are not toys, and that people can be hurt or broken beyond repair. If they are old enough to have sex, they are old enough to be responsible.

The end

Zach Marson

Zach Marson holds a MA from Virginia Commonwealth University where he engaged in workshopping his prose with some of his favorite writers in Virginia.  Currently, Zach lives in Richmond where he works at his local Jewish Community Center as a counselor for children.

 

They Knew the Land Was Beautiful

Before Asher died, Zelig was I and Asher was Arthur.  Names are important when they are not, so I would soon learn after Arthur’s funeral.  Arthur was I’s grandfather.  He was a dentist, but he was also an artist, and when he died I found a drawing titled The Great Blue Heron hanging in his room of the assisted living home.  The heron was colored in sky blue, grey and white.  It stood in water looking out at the horizon.  Arthur loved to draw scenes that involved water: his boat on the ocean, the epic setting sun sinking into the Atlantic. 

“When did he draw this?” I asked his father, whose name used to be Scott.

Scott said that someone else came into the home one day and drew the heron.  Arthur was supposed to color it.  Scott pointed to a grey smudge on one of the heron’s legs.  “He made it that far and when he couldn’t color it he got really pissed,” he said.  “I don’t know who colored the rest.”

Arthur and his wife, Vivien, once took I and his brother down to the docks in Savannah to see all the birds resting and bathing in the water.  Out of all the birds, one was tall and skinny.  It was the most regal of all the birds and had the biggest beak. 

“That is called a heron,” Arthur said to I. 

“Heron,” I repeated.    

When Arthur became sick and his mind began to wander, he and Vivien moved to Richmond and lived with I’s family for three months.  One afternoon Arthur was taking his regular nap outside on the deck with the family dog when the dog started to bark.  Arthur woke with a start and saw the dog barking up a tree.  At the top of the tree was a great blue heron staring down at the mad dog.  Arthur looked for his camera but the summer heat tired him easily. The dog’s bark and the image of the heron became distant as he slipped back into dream. 

I stood in the room in which Arthur died staring at The Great Blue Heron remembering, remembering.  Could Arthur remember the name of the bird?  Could he remember his own name as he colored in the leg?  Arthur’s body and the invisible footprints of death were resting as I pondered.

“We have to go and make arrangements for the funeral now,” Scott said.

“Okay,” I said.

After I became Zelig and Scott became Schlomo, they would return to where Arthur passed away to collect The Great Blue Heron.  But Arthur and the invisible footprints of death were in another place. 

*****

Next to The Great Blue Heron was Arthur’s rendition of “Study of the Hands of an Apostle” or “Praying Hands” by Albrecht Durer.  Arthur spent hours penciling the hands, their shadows and their grace.  He let the picture hang in his local temple at Port Jefferson until he and Vivien moved to Savannah years and years later.  They did not hang the praying hands in the temple in Savanah.  I could tell that they did not move to Savannah for newer Jewish pastors.  Almost all of the synagogues there had once been churches.  The buildings were big and old and beautiful.  There was no place to hang the old rendition.

House guests would often ask Arthur what was the name of the painting.  I asked Arthur why he would want to share such a piece of art when the people of Savannah didn’t even know the name of it.  “You don’t have to know the name to appreciate it,” said Arthur. 

*****

Arthur’s funeral was strictly a Jewish one.  Scott had to pry Arthur’s wedding ring off of his dead flesh because the body couldn’t be buried with jewelry.  The funeral had to be within forty-eight hours after death.  There was an exception made for this rule, though.  The same hour Arthur took his last breath, a snow storm raged across the East Coast.  The storm froze the ground.  It was impossible to bury Arthur’s body. 

Arthur’s coffin had to be kosher.  It is disrespectful to see the dead in their final resting place.  There was no wake, no open casket.  In the limo at the graveyard, I’s cousin, Joshua, explained a prayer that would be recited at the funeral called the mourner’s Kaddish. 

“There are several names for God in the prayer,” he said.  “The point is to remind us that we will never know God’s real name.” 

I watched a hawk fly from the sky and land on a grave.

“Look a hawk!” I said.  Everyone looked out their windows.  

The family watched the hawk.  It pecked at the ground and then stood for moment, head against the wind and eyes to the sun and the clouds above. 

“Are you sure that’s not an eagle?” asked Vivian. 

“Whatever it is,” said Scott, “it’s pretty amazing.”

The bird flew away.  I wondered what Arthur had called God during his final hours.       

The rabbi poked his head into the limo.  “Shalom,” he said.  He sat down next to Joshua.  He passed around black ribbons to each family member.  “Who here has read about Judaism and is familiar with its customs?” asked the rabbi.

Before anyone had a chance to reply Joshua raised his hand.  “Me!” he said.

“Which book?” said the rabbi.

To Be A Jew!” said Joshua.

“By Donin,” said the rabbi.  “Very good.  Donin has a lot of great insight on Judaism.”

Joshua smiled at this praise. 

The rabbi went on.  “The prayer we are about to say basically says that while we don’t agree with God’s decision to take the life of a loved one, we respect His decision.  That we love Him.”

Don’t put words in my mouth! I thought. 

“Then after we recite the prayer, you will place the ribbons over your chest and rip the ribbons.  This is called Kriah.”

Off in the distance, I saw a vulture circling over a road.  In certain Chinese provinces like Tibet and Mongolia, Buddhists believe that a corpse is simply an empty vessel.  Since the poor soil makes it difficult to bury the dead and cremations are traditionally reserved for high dignitaries, many villagers practice sky burials.  The body is taken high above monasteries, up rocky mountain terrain where large Griffon Vulture’s wait.  The body is stripped naked and abandoned on the mountain and the vultures feed upon it, taking life from death.  Arthur found this ritual remarkable but he did not believe in it.  “It is not kosher,” he would say.

“Do their dead go to Hell?” I would ask.

“No,” said Arthur.  “God is forgiving and loves them, just like he loves you and me.”     

It was time to say the prayer the rabbi was blabbering on about.  Together Zelig and his family spoke. Boruch atoh adonoy, elohay-nu melech ho-olom, da-yan ho-emes.   “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, the True Judge.”  Then they ripped the ribbons with their praying hands.

*****

The funeral went on quietly and without event.  There was a time in which the rabbi said, “This is when we will take a moment of silence and pray to Arthur.  You can speak to him, tell him anything you wish you could have told him in life, ask for forgiveness or possibly forgive him for something.”  The rabbi and the family bowed their heads in silence. 

It wasn’t until several days later that Zelig would pray to his grandfather for forgiveness.  “Please, Grandpa,” he prayed.  “Please forgive me for not liking golf, for not being interested at all in sports.  Forgive me for never calling and never writing.  Forgive me for using you as an excuse to break up with my girlfriend when you got sick.  Forgive me for being afraid to visit you at the home when you were at your worst.  Forgive me for feeling numb when you died.  Forgive me for being a terrible Jew, for forgetting your traditions and your beliefs and your God.  Please, Grandpa, forgive me.”  During the moment of silence on the day of the funeral, however, I could not think of what to say so I repeated over and over again the words I love you, Grandpa.

*****

When Arthur moved to Richmond he couldn’t subtract numbers very well.  He had a hard time with dates, with making plans, with names.  He lost things easily and always slept.  I often slept in Arthur’s room after he and Vivien moved out.  His bed from childhood was old and hard on his back.  I often thought about how his grandfather used to sleep for hours on the comfortable mattress and dream.  I liked to think that in his dreams he wasn’t sick.  He was the smart and witty dentist I loved as a child. 

I dreamt about driving Arthur’s ’75 Corvette Stingray down a forgotten dirt road in Georgia.  Arthur was sitting shotgun and was smiling so big.  I made it to 85mph before running out of road and the car would become hot and loud.  Alligators stirred in the wet swamps and birds flew from branches on trees.  Arthur and I breathed in the summer air.  Arthur let the wind brush his comb-over off his scalp.  I was laughing in the dream and then woke up in the bed Arthur had once slept on.  Words like Corvette and alligator weren’t in Arthur’s vocabulary anymore and the time of day was always mystery.  Could Arthur still remember the time he and I took the car out one day and drove fast away from everything?

At Arthur’s funeral, the rabbi spoke for a long time, but I remembered one thing he said.  “When I asked Arthur’s son what he would say to his father if he were here right now,” said the rabbi, “he said, ‘I would honestly want to talk to him about sports.’  Now isn’t that beautiful?  A father and his son just talking about sports?”

I wanted to crawl under the covers of that bed and cry. 

*****

After the funeral, Arthur’s family lined up to touch his coffin.  Vivien went first but did not rest at the coffin long.  She kissed her hand and touched the wood and moved on.  Arthur was always with her, I thought.  She didn’t care much for saying goodbye to a coffin.

I recalled a story his grandmother always used to tell about the time she had to move to Brooklyn while Arthur was away serving in the air force.  “When we moved to Brooklyn, Grandpa was still stationed in Illinois,” his grandmother would say, “so I had to do most of the moving myself.  So there I was trying to find my way into Brooklyn with your father and Russell in the back of the car.  They’re screaming their heads off, like they always used to do, and I’m lost.  So I stop at a red light and see a man on the sidewalk, and I roll my window down.  I say to the man, Excuse me, can you tell me how to get to Brooklyn?  And the guy looks at me and then to the crazy kids in the back and then to me.  Then he starts cracking up.  He looks at me and he says, Lady, you is here!”

The rabbi approached Vivian.  “We will miss Asher,” he said.

“Who’s Asher?” I asked his father.

“Asher was grandfather’s Hebrew name,” Scott said.

“I never knew that,” I said.

“Everyone here has a Hebrew name,” Scott said.  “Even you.  Your Hebrew name is Zelig.  Remember?”

I hadn’t been called Zelig since Sunday school, back when he was ten.  Zelig had been a name forgotten by time, an identity never fully developed or realized.  Since I flunked out of Sunday school, I was I, the speaker, the character in his stories—Zach to everyone else.      

“What is your name?” I asked. 

“My name is Schlomo,” Scott said. 

“What about Uncle Russell and Joshua?”

“I don’t know,” Scott said.  “I’ll have to ask Grandma.”

“You don’t know?” I said.

“We never go to synagogue,” Scott said.  “You only use the names when you are in temple.  Grandpa knew all of our names by heart.”

The hawks and the vultures flew over their heads.   “Will we ever know the true name of God?” I said.

“No,” said Scott.

“Then when are you ever outside of temple?” Zelig said.

No one but Zelig looked back to Asher’s coffin as the family waited for the limos to pick them up and take them home.  The casket was made of wood and included an engraving of the Star of David.  Nothing else.  No name.  No dates.  It was the same as all the rest buried bellow their feet.  Kosher.  

*****

As Zelig and Schlomo drove back the Asher’s home they were interrupted by three men who were filling in a pothole in the road. 

“The storm must have really done some work to these roads,” Schlomo said. 

The hole was deep and wide.  The men filled the whole with gravel and drove a pick-up truck over the gravel to flatten it out.  When the men were done, they drove down the road in their pick-up and started filling in another hole. 

“I’m surprised they covered the hole this fast,” Schlomo said.  “It usually takes weeks.”

As they cleaned Asher’s room, Zelig tried on a sweater that belonged to Asher.  It smelled like medicine, like cheap food.  “This doesn’t smell anything like Grandpa,” Zelig said. 

“It has been in the home for a long time now,” said Schlomo.  “I wouldn’t be surprised if everything smelled that way now.”

Zelig took off the sweater and sighed.

“It is a good sweater,” Schlomo said.  “You should keep it.  After some time the smell will fade, but it will never smell like Grandpa again.”

*****

The Great Blue Heron watched Zelig and Schlomo as they packed and cleaned.  Zelig could feel its gaze on his back.  “I could have sworn Grandpa had drawn that,” Zelig said. 

“Your grandfather loved to draw nature,” Schlomo said.

“Why?” Zelig said.

Schlomo thought for a second.  “I think it was because he felt free out there.  He worked hard all his life.  First he worked at a hospital and then he started his own practice which took a lot of work.  When he painted and when he was outside he wasn’t so stiff.  He had to go out in the open to feel at peace.  At least that’s what I think.  He didn’t talk much about it.”

When the two arrived home Schlomo retired to take a nap and Zelig went out into the backyard and sat in the chair that Asher used to sleep on.  He didn’t have to talk about it, Zelig thought.  Zelig knew.  He knew Asher long before he realized.  Only Asher didn’t have a name and neither did he.  Not years ago on the open road in Savannah.  Not in that T-top ’75 Corvette.  Going 85 past the birds in the trees and the alligators in the water.  Names didn’t matter.  They didn’t know God’s name but they knew He was there just like they knew the land was beautiful.  The trees were green, the birds were blue and white, the alligators were brown and muddy, the sky was blue, and the sun was yellow.  The temple was kosher.  You is here.  You didn’t have to know it for it to be true.

 Zelig drifted to sleep under the yellow sun.  He felt warm and smelled the grass and the water from a nearby river.  He heard the wind and the singing of birds.

Rage Hezekiah

Hezekiah Reading Rage Hezekiah is the recent recipient of a MacDowell Fellowship, who earned her MFA degree from Emerson College. Her poems have appeared in Fifth Wednesday, Glassworks, Columbia Poetry Review, and Chicago Quarterly Review, as well as other journals, and are forthcoming in the minnesota review, and Painted Bride Quarterly. Her writing has been anthologized in Other Tongues: Mixed Race Women Speak Out and All We Can Hold, a collection of poems on motherhood.

 

February Cove

We are ten and bundled crown to toe
scaling frozen boulders on the beach,
our parents home and snow day drinking
no longer watching from the window.
I claw wet rocks in your wake, desperate
to keep pace, soak my wool mittens through,
neglecting numb hands. You are a boy
fresh with adventurous, outdoor ideas,
brimming with strange stories. As we climb
you tell of sharp-toothed creatures buried deep
in frozen ocean, point into the distance
where jagged rocks break the placid ice,
a hundred little births along the surface.
With our arms spread wide we run
along the snow-covered sand, almost expecting
to be caught, like how we secretly hope
we’re found during every game of hide and seek.
Bathed in a frantic energy we generate for fun,
both of us panting plumes of warm breath
into air, salted-cold. We embrace the tension
of fear and exhilaration here,
the last great year of our imagination.

Barbara Krasner

Barbara KrasnerBarbara Krasner holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and an MA in History from William Paterson University. Her literary work has appeared or is forthcoming in Michigan Quarterly Review, Nimrod, Paterson Literary Review, Jewish Women’s Literary Annual, and Minerva Rising, among other journals. She teaches creative writing in New Jersey.

 

Bei Mir Bistu Shayn

The Andrews Sisters sing on the radio
while she poses for the photograph. She
lifts three fingers to her chin, wrist bent,
the platinum onyx-diamond ring her papa
gave her dead center. But he would never say,

Bei mir bistu shayn.” Not one compliment.
“You should go out and change the world,”
he’d say. She’s happy enough with the ring.
Her hair’s done up Betty Grable-style
with a bit of lace like baby’s breath pinned
to her crown. The black and white photograph
will not capture her blood red nails, blood red lips.

She’ll send Milton the picture. He’ll slip
it into his wallet at first to keep it safe. She
could teach him manners. Even in that foreign
land of Jersey she knows he’ll be a good provider.

Bei mir bistu shayn,” he’ll say to her
and mean it, his eyes misting. He encases the photo
in a silver frame against magenta foil with
a four-bullet flank. He places it
on top of the bedroom TV console.

Years later, as she lies dying at Clara Maas, I
stroke her forearms, soothe her paper-thin
temples. I call her Shayne Leah. She grasps all of me.

She watches over me from her place fronting
my dresser mirror. Mama, bei mir bistu shayn.
You’ll always be beautiful.

Jamie Wendt

Jamie Wendt is a graduate of the University of Nebraska Omaha MFA program. She received a Bachelor of Arts in English from Drake University. Her poetry has been published in a variety of literary journals, including Lilith, After Hours, ROAR Magazine, Green Mountains Review, and Saranac Review. Her essay, “American Jewish Women Poets,” was published by Green Mountains Review. She contributes book reviews for Jewish Book World. Wendt teaches high school English and lives in Chicago with her husband and daughter.

 

When Amma had Four More Months

Between us on her sagging bed
is an old heavy box
I would inherit along with many names.

Amma’s lifetime of jewels
stare into the widening gap between life and death.
Silver and turquoise shine in her shaking palm.

Amid rusting silver charms and flowery pins,
a golden “J” – our shared initial – dotted with diamonds,
slung on a long chain. I pluck what I want to keep.

Her name will belong to my future daughter.
The diamonds I did not take decide to return
many years later in her questions about what remains,

and my young wistfulness, incomprehension
of death and the passing on of things
was like water evaporating from a bedside paper cup.

Amma’s brittle thumbnails open the clasp.
Her hands, deep red bruises
beneath thinning flesh move toward me,

swoop the necklace under my chin, locking it
under my ponytail. We admire my rich image
in the small mirror of the jewelry box.

Amma prophesizes about all the boys,
her pearl studs glimmering in my ears,
begging me to dance with them.

Beate Sigriddaughter

Beate SigriddaughterBeate Sigriddaughter lives and writes in Silver City, New Mexico, Land of Enchantment. Her work has received four Pushcart Prize nominations and won four poetry awards. In 2015 ELJ Publications published her latest novel, Audrey: A Book of Love. Find her site at www.sigriddaughter.com.

 

 

Bricks

Silence.

There are things we must not say.

There was a time when the law said
a woman who speaks out
against a man shall have her mouth
crushed with fire bricks.

There was a time when the law said
adulterers must be bound
and thrown in the river, even
when the woman was raped.
Her husband could pull her out
of the river, if he so desired, while
the king himself could save
a valuable man.

I am tired and heavy with things
I must not say. This silence feels
like grain of broken brick
between my teeth.

Arthur, with affectionate regret,
did not choose Guinevere
over law or flames. Would you
pull me from the river
if they tossed me there
against my will?
That is the question.

Oh, I remember, I am not supposed to
take things personally. But I am
the daughter of daughters of women
who were miraculously
neither drowned nor burned.

They have trained me with such memory
so you no longer have to crush
my mouth with bricks. All you have
to do is look at me a certain way.

This silence is not easy to undo
How I hate this silence.

Kelsey Lahr

Kelsey Lahr has worked summers as a park ranger in Yosemite National Park since 2008. She holds a BA in Communication Studies from Westmont College in Santa Barbara, CA, and is currently working toward a Master’s degree in Communication at the University of Utah, where she focuses her research on environmental and health communication. Her literary nonfiction has appeared in The Copperfield Review, Dark Matter, and Gold Man Review. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and appearance in the Best American Science and Nature Writing series.

 

Coyote Nights

Some say Coyote created the earth. Some say he brought us light. Coyote is known by a hundred different names, as the Trickster and the Creator and the Old Man and the Old Woman, Ah-h?-le and O’-ye and Chirich and Talapus and Napi, but always he is very clever, and in these parts, always kind and good.

When I first moved to the Sierra Nevada, I went a long time without seeing much wildlife, even though I hiked quietly and sat alone by the river and always kept my eyes open. I heard coyotes late at night, when their yip-yip-yipity-aa-ah-woo woke me up and raised the hair on the back of my neck, an expression I had until then thought to be figurative. For many nights that unearthly hollering panicked me, and I told myself aloud in the darkness that it was just coyotes, just earthly critters, finding one another in the night, maybe just letting it rip for pure joy as they ran the hills. I would fall back to sleep then, and after a while I never woke at all, and in the morning I would realize with regret I had missed the show again. So I knew they were out there, somewhere nearby, and I had heard there was a family with pups.

I went running one evening on a trail by the meadow. It had been a long time since I had awoken to coyote cries or heard mention of the nearby family. I was looking at the ground in front of me, a terrible running habit I have never been able to break, when I caught movement out of the corner of my eye. I looked around and saw a coyote—yellow-gray, bigger than I had imagined—running on the ridge of the hill above me, keeping pace with me stride for stride. I stopped. The coyote stopped. I looked up at her, she down at me. No one blinked. I lost track of time. The coyote sat, still staring. Finally I broke, knowing that I probably needed to get home sooner than the coyote did. I began to jog, and the coyote stood and trotted above me. She ran with me until I hit the road that would take me home. The coyote headed up the hill as I crossed the street, looking at me over her shoulder until I disappeared around a bend in the road. I did not sleep at all that night.   

If you have ever interacted with a coyote, or had one as a running partner, you probably feel that coyotes seem almost to like us, in a way most wild animals never will. This is why, I am certain, the tribes in this area have always conceived of Coyote as a great advocate for humans. After creating the earth and bringing fire to the people, say the Chukchansi, Coyote pushed for our immortality. Coyote was very upset by the death of the first human, and proposed to bring him back to life. Meadowlark argued with Coyote, saying that humans should not be brought back to life, for then the earth would get too crowded. When Coyote lost this argument he mourned for us all, for our mortality, and then put on the first funeral, instituting the practice of burial.

Last summer I thought of this story, this convivial relationship between coyotes and humans, every time I drove by the Glacier Point coyote. This coyote had been sitting at the Glacier Point Road turnoff all season, begging for food, quite successfully by the looks of him. Every few days we received calls at the ranger station, alerting us of an injured three-legged coyote near the road that needed to be either helped or put out of his misery. After the first several of these calls, law enforcement rangers would drive out to see what could be done for this poor animal, and each time the coyote ran off on four perfectly good legs. Bewildered, we wondered if we could be getting the wrong coyote. But the reports continued, same location, same three-legged coyote, and eventually we concluded that this entirely healthy coyote was faking a severe limp in order to get the pity—and food—of soft-hearted tourists. This coyote had furthermore learned to recognize law enforcement vehicles and ranger uniforms, and knew when to get moving on all of his feet in order not to get in trouble with the law.

If this sounds far-fetched, consider the following similar reports of cunning coyotes from all over the country: one researcher caught on video a coyote who rolled around in the dust each morning in order to affect a dirty, pathetic look. He then walked limping to the nearest roadside, where he got handouts all day long. When he felt full, he dropped the limp and groomed himself, walking away looking clean and healthy and round. Rangers in Yellowstone have reported that several coyotes have regularly been seen posing for photos in hopes of getting rewarded with food.

I am initially amused, and then saddened, by these stories. I am delighted by the cunning of the coyotes, and then dismayed that we humans are influencing these once-wild animals and encouraging them to drop their natural behavior. But then I think, we got domesticated dogs from somewhere, didn’t we? I imagine the ancient ancestor of the domesticated dog and cousin of the coyote, the gray wolf, begging beside an encampment of nomadic humans, perhaps faking a limp. Maybe all this canine-human friendliness is, if not inevitable, at least genetic. 

Somewhere along the line, though, that relationship was severed. Wolves were hunted ruthlessly by westward-moving Americans and the ranchers who settled down all along the way, and had been extirpated from all of the lower forty-eight states except Minnesota by 1960. Wolves and ranchers became bitter enemies, as fences went up that blocked the wolves from roaming as they always had, and as wolves attacked the cattle that provided a meager living for the ranchers. The west was not to be big enough for both wolves and men. Today wolves have been reintroduced to parts of their historic range, but this represents only a tiny fraction of their former habitat.

As the animosity between people and wolves became increasingly entrenched, it seems that  wolves’ bad reputation began to spread to its much smaller and less threatening cousin, the coyote. Coyotes could and did raid chicken coups, of course, but they are far too small to take down a cow alone, and are not usually inclined to hunt in packs in order to do so. And yet today people seem to see them as a menace to human life and property, and when I tell the story of my coyote running partner, people respond uniformly: “Weren’t you scared?” Scared? Coyotes stand about two feet tall at the shoulder and weigh usually thirty pounds. I fancy myself capable of taking a coyote. But somehow they seem to have merged with wolves in the popular imagination into a large, fierce aggressor, a reputation that wolves, and especially coyotes, do not deserve.

Unlike wolves, however, coyote populations have not been brutalized by humans. In fact, in this age of dizzying change and crumbling ecological systems, the coyote population is one of the very, very few that has expanded in the face of urban sprawl and deforestation. Coyotes are masters of adaptation, able to scratch a living from back ally dumpsters and oak woodlands and sweltering deserts and arctic tundra alike. A coyote was filmed several years back running the streets of New York City, expertly dodging taxi cabs. And as the suburbs of Los Angeles expand ever farther into coyote habitat, coyotes do not leave. They simply adapt. And this, perhaps, is one reason that coyotes are regarded with fear today: as we move into once-wild territory, coyotes are one of the few creatures that do not back away. And this close proximity leads not just to coyote begging antics, but also to coyote predation on our pets, and in a few cases, young children. In the wild, coyotes do not deserve our fear. In the suburbs, however, they might.

The only known fatal coyote attack in the United States occurred in August of 1981. Three-year-old Kelly Keen was dragged off her family’s Southern California property by a coyote and gravely wounded before her father found her and rushed her to the hospital, where she died of blood loss and a broken neck. At least thirty-five other coyote attacks, these nonfatal, have occurred in California, mostly in the greater Los Angeles area. And it is with this knowledge that I meet a wild coyote, in its own wild habitat, with friendliness and respect, and at a distance. Were I to meet a coyote in suburban human habitat though, I might well respond with fear, at a much greater distance.

And this is the difference: a coyote in the suburbs is cunning enough to adjust its predation habits, and will learn to go after garbage, small pets, and very rarely, small children. This coyote is an object of fear and disdain. But the wild coyote, this is the descendent of Coyote the creator, Coyote the friend of humans. This coyote has no use for our refuse or our children. This coyote will enthusiastically hunt mice and grasshoppers in a field, teaching its pups to do likewise, as did those I watched one summer in a field across the river from my house. This was the summer I had heard but not seen the coyote family with pups. I had kept an eye open for weeks, hoping to catch a glimpse of them in daylight instead of just hearing their ruckus at night. And then one evening, entirely unexpectedly, I spied them from my back porch, just across the river. The male and the female were out together with two pups, on a training expedition. The pups watched and imitated their parents, who stalked mice, rumps in the air, with total absorption, completely unaware of my presence on the other side of the water. It was simultaneously amusing and awe-inspiring and utterly delightful to behold.

It is this incredible versatility, adaptability, and cunning—their ability to scratch a living from the suburbs and the wild alike—that causes me to respect coyotes, and in some odd and melancholy way, to find hope in them. The earth is losing species at the rate of three an hour. When I survey the rich and varied landscape around me I wonder what kind of sparse desert my children will see. But I am convinced of this: my children and their children will know coyotes. They will hear their eerie nocturnes, find joy in seeing them hunt mice in a field. And if we humans bring about our own destruction, coyotes will inherit the earth. Or perhaps, create it anew.     

Guest Poetry Editor: Gwendolyn Joyce Mintz

Gwen MintzGwendolyn Joyce Mintz is a writer and photographer. Her work has appeared in various journals and anthologies. Her fiction chapbook Mother Love is available for viewing at http://www.unlikelystories.org/pdfs/mother_love_singlepage.pdf. A second chapbook, Where I’ll Be If I’m Not There is forthcoming from Winged City Chapbooks. Mintz sews teddy bears and gardens for fun. She blogs (infrequently) at http://wwwonewriter.blogspot.com.

 

Terry Barr

Terry Barr’s essays have appeared in such journals as South Writ Large, Poetica, Eclectica Magazine, Red Savina Review, Steel Toe Review, and Hippocampus. His essay collection, Don’t Date Baptists and Other Warnings From My Alabama Mother, is now available from Red Dirt Press. He lives in Greenville, SC, with his family.

 

When the Truth Is Found

I am only half Jewish, and I’m the only member of my family who chooses to make that claim. My younger brother, my only sibling, is not worried about such designations, and for whole years at a time, I forget that in his half-ethnicity, he is wholly like me. For decades into my adulthood, I continued to believe that amongst our family members, we were the unique ones: I, who wanted to share our secret, speak our truth, and he, who couldn’t care less. As it turned out, we weren’t the only ones caught or bound by the oddities of genetic code and culturally mixed marriages.

Or by the disturbingly secret proclamations from larger governing bodies.

I am not a religious half-Jew (my father’s side), nor was I ever a religious half-Christian (my mother’s). I wholly do not feel the need to be religious, and so I certainly don’t feel the holy need anymore, as I did twenty years ago, to convert to Judaism. I was raised a Methodist, christened and confirmed in the church, yet I neither asked nor felt the need to be conformed to Methodoxy. Though I attended weekly Wednesday confirmation classes led by poor old sweet and boring Brother Frederick, I’d rather have been reading Batman comics than the Bible back in those days, the days when I was nine years old; the days when my mother actually did buy me a Batman comic before class to whet or soothe or compensate my palate for the Jesus to come.

Biologically, though I am now a formerly nominal Christian, I am still a half-Jew (and half-Gentile). What I think that means is that I have somewhat diluted ancient Jewish blood flowing through all my veins. I also have a clear and inspirational hankering for pastrami, lox and bagels, and smoked sturgeon and eggs (especially from Barney Greengrass). I often eat too much and am just as often more bloated than not. Yet, my dietary problems have nothing to do with keeping kosher. I unapologetically consume hickory-smoked Alabama-style baby back pork ribs whenever I can. I eat shellfish too, especially shrimp and crab, which I love most especially in gumbo.

And cheeseburgers. God I love cheeseburgers.

But food aside, my Jewish half-self does observe the rituals of Chanukah, lighting candles, singing “Baruch-Atai Adonai” for eight nights. I acknowledge Rosh Hashanah with apples and honey. But on Yom Kippur, while I reflect, I never atone, at least not to the one God my father believed in.

What I do, instead, is teach Holocaust Literature to college students. And Southern Jewish Literature (as well as Creative Nonfiction, and Modern Novel, and Southern Film). I discuss with my students pogroms and Kristallnacht and the works of Viktor Frankl and Art Spiegelman. As with my meals, I do so gladly and with gusto.

I do so because when I first took this job, I couldn’t have done so. At least I couldn’t have done so as an openly half-Jewish man. For there were other kinds of laws in place, very unkosher and very strict.

College by-laws that insisted, decreed, ordered that all faculty members be affiliated with a Christian church.

I heard of this decree only after my first, very positive interview with faculty from the college via a phone call, one late fall morning from a woman from the college I hadn’t met. A woman who taught American Literature and who asked me in a high musical voice:

“Terry, they forgot to ask you last week if you are a member of a Christian Church…”

“Well, I was raised a Methodist…”

She cut me off then, exuberant and very much relieved:

“Oh, that’s excellent. Now, I hope we’ll meet soon.”

We did, roughly two months later when I was hired.

That future colleague, I think now, did me a favor. Not only did she alert me to the policy, she also interrupted me before I could go on to say,

“…but I haven’t attended that church in fifteen years and don’t really consider myself a Christian anymore.”

Maybe I would have earned a better job somewhere else if she had let me finish my answer. Maybe I wouldn’t have just started my 29th year at this small, rural, liberal arts college in upstate South Carolina where I have been half ecstatic and half depressed over those years.

But maybe, if she had let me finish, I wouldn’t have become a writer of my own peculiar journey.

I know for a fact, however, that without this job in this place, I would not have wondered so deeply about my status as an unrecognized half-Jew. I would not have been motivated to seek conversion at a Reform congregation in my adopted town. And, I would not have had the opportunity after that initial conversion encounter to turn away from the whole process after the outreach person kept insisting that once I converted, I would then want to bring my “wife and daughter into the temple family.”

I looked at this aging woman who could have been my half-grandmother, and said,

“But my wife doesn’t want to convert. She doesn’t want to be involved in any organized religion, though she supports my choice.”

The recruiter’s face fell, but she didn’t give up.

“Maybe after a little while, she’ll change her mind!”

When she didn’t hear from me again after several weeks, this lady called my home and left a message:

“I hope I didn’t say anything to offend you, Terry. We still want you as part of our congregation, our temple family.”

Actually, I wasn’t offended, but I was put off, permanently. Perhaps owing to my father’s always quiet contemplation of his faith, I expected Jews to act not so much like Christians in this inducement to convert. People are people, though, and some wear stars and prefer rye while others wear crosses and prefer sourdough. And while it’s all manna, still, wherever I looked, the stars were hidden in their suburban alcoves, while the crosses neoned themselves across my peripheral night sky.

Especially at my job.

*****

In my first years at the college, colleagues assured me that I could teach whatever I wanted, and they were right. No one said anything when I taught Joyce and Faulkner, Potok and Roth. Louise Erdrich or Malcolm X.

They also said I could live wherever I wanted, too, but hoped I’d choose the tiny, former mill town where the college is located. I always thought, and in fact dreamed, that I would reside in a college town: the town of Montevallo, home to the primarily liberal arts state university I attended as an undergraduate, was my model. Yet, given Clinton, South Carolina’s size, its increasing poverty and lack of job opportunities for my wife, she and I chose not to live in the depressed hamlet that had birthed the college back in 1880. I could sense my colleagues’ disappointment when I told them our decision, and I wondered if I was also sensing judgment: their judgment of my judgment that this place was insufficient, too provincial, too narrow and uncultured. I was never sure about their wonder, but the truth was that I did reject the town as a place to live, which meant on some level that I was rejecting my colleagues as friends, as people I wanted to spend down time with. As people I wanted to trust.

Because in one crucial area of my life, I didn’t trust them.

You see, by not living amongst them, when asked by these same colleagues if I had found a church to attend, I could say whatever I wanted. I could lie and name Downtown Methodist, Summit Drive Methodist, or even that quaint Anglican church in a crumbling historic district. Or I could say what I actually did say,

“No, I haven’t. I’m still getting to know the community.”

Which was funny, not only because I kept saying it for three years until my colleagues sort of took the hint, but also because my community, the neighborhood where my wife and I lived, was populated by many elderly couples who, when we met, asked secondly—after “Where do you work?”—“What church have you joined?” They assumed something Presbyterian since my college is associated with that denomination. And all I could say was, “No, I was born Methodist,” and then they’d finish my thought by naming the various Methodist churches they knew, or relate in great detail which church they belonged to, along with the reasons why they went there and not some other. Reasons that dealt most often with class and economics, such as “I couldn’t afford to go there. They’re too rich for me,” which is what our neighbor Miss Essie, who later became my daughters’ unofficial grandmother, said about a church across town. A very big church.

So I learned that membership has its privileges and its price, as well as its governing covenants. Covenants that strictly forbade religiously-addled people like me from inclusion.

Though I had flown under the by-lawed radar for several years already, could I really remain a member of a body that would prohibit me if they knew more than a half-truth?

So in year five I began telling some trusted colleagues (who were in departments other than mine) my fears and troubles and truth: that my Dad was a Jew and that I had some issues being a part of something that would exclude him; that I might want to become a fully Jewish man like him. And to my fears, I heard some of the funniest responses:

“We’ve had other colleagues who’ve tried to change that policy. One, who made a motion at every faculty meeting to abolish the policy!”

“What happened?”

“Oh, it was voted down every time! But everyone came to expect his quirky monthly motions.”

Another told me that,

“That policy itself has been changed. We used to call ourselves ‘Evangelical’!”

“What does that mean?”

“We used to exclude Catholics!”

“Oh.”

“But, we have several faculty members who are Unitarian, though they don’t tell anybody!”

“Unitarians aren’t Christian?”

“Not according to our By-laws! And, by the way, neither are Mormons!”

And then, after I grew so bold, there was the colleague in my own department who told me this:

“You see, when we hire someone who’s Christian, at least we know the kind of person he is.”

I’d add the exclamation point, but I really don’t think it’s necessary.

A few years later, after that colleague got to know me better and had a half-change of heart, he told me of a candidate for the Library Director’s job that his search committee had just turned down:

“He was Jewish, and when I told him our policy, he started crying and asking why? Why would we do that? I got one of our Jewish students [Now that was even funnier, as if we had many, instead of two] to call him back and explain.”

Explain what? That we’d take a Jewish family’s money, but refuse to pay a Jew any?

Does it matter, really, that your librarian is Jewish? Or Baptist? Or a heathen?

I don’t know what those two unsettled Jews said to each other that afternoon, but I do know that on the one occasion when an administrative position at the college opened up that vaguely suited my wife’s educational background, she applied, was interviewed, but didn’t get the job. I was told it was because no one knew whether or not she was a church member. Of course, they didn’t bother to ask.

Of course, she would have told them No anyway.

*****

Once, as we were driving to Biltmore Village on an overnight family trip, my father said to me,

“After all, we all believe in the same God.”

My mother and wife and our daughters were in the car following us, so it was not only a funny thing for my father to say, but so unlike him. So intimate.

“Yes, Dad, we do,” I said, though I knew it wasn’t true. Or rather, I believed that he and I believed in the same God, as did my Christian mother: the God who hadn’t created a hell, the God who didn’t impregnate a virgin girl with his spirit. (My mother is half-apostate). Yes, we all agreed about that God.

But I had been teaching in a place that didn’t agree, and I had grown up in a small town in Alabama that would never agree with us even though for a century, that town’s Christian citizens lived side by side with its Jewish citizens, and one of these Alabama Israelites actually won the Christmas lights competition somewhere back in the 40’s or 50’s. There was even a synagogue in our town, though I didn’t learn that fact until long after I had moved away.

I heard my father’s voice that day of our drive, and I kept hearing it at every faculty meeting, which began with a Bible lesson and a prayer to “our one savior, Jesus Christ, our Lord.”

In those moments, which came once a month on the last Thursday at 5:00 pm, it didn’t matter that I liked Jesus and thought he was a loving, wise, and charismatic man. What did matter were the years of pretending to believe what I didn’t believe.

So regarding Jesus, God, and the gulf between them and us, I rose at one faculty meeting, in my seventh year of service, and asked our President if we “couldn’t revisit the faculty membership rule?”

I had been cautioned against doing this. I had been told that it would enrage the President who himself was a minister and was also bound to the Board of Trustees, the chairman of that body being the senior minister of the largest Presbyterian congregation in the state of Georgia, and maybe the entire south, and who, not incidentally, was also an alumnus of the college.

“That policy isn’t going to change, Terry, as long as he is the Board Chair,” my department head told me.

But, as maybe you can see, I am a very stubborn half-Jewish man.

“You never know,“ I said, and strangely, instead of rage or even defensiveness, our President merely said,

“Yes, we can do that. Maybe we ought to examine the policy in one of our faculty forums.”

And then he assigned that very job to poor old Tim Gaines, chair of the forum committee.

Committees take their time and so it was a few months later that the forum date was announced, during the semester when I would be on sabbatical. I was sure that nothing intentional was meant, that the committee did what it could.

I was also sure that nothing would keep me from that forum, scheduled as it was on a late Tuesday afternoon in January.

Our second daughter was just an infant then and our older girl had just turned five. I was parent-in-charge on Tuesdays, as my psychotherapist wife saw late clients. So I took both girls with me to the college; I hired two of my best students, Karen and Meg, to babysit. Karen took Layla, the infant, in her arms, and Meg held Pari’s hand as they said goodbye to me and headed towards the Student Center for ice cream.

“Bye Daddy,” Pari said and waved. I waved back. I entered the building then, the school library, and I had never felt this alone since that time thirty years before when I had been dropped off for my first day of kindergarten.

“Like a lamb to slaughter,” I thought as I descended the stairs to the forum.

Someone, with either great foresight or the most harrowing sense of dramatic irony in the world, had arranged the tables in two facing rows. And true to the rules of armed conflict, the pro-Christian faculty members sat on one row, the renegades on the other. Of course it gratified me to see that I wasn’t alone on my row. Yet, it didn’t exactly shock me to see who my antagonists were.

What I knew, though, was that on this night and at this forum, I was the antagonist. So be it.

In an hour-long forum that now, 20 years past, seems like a tremor of a dream, I remember these moments:

My colleague Jim Peterson, an untenured instructor of Basic Grammar and Creative Writing, talking about his Jewish heritage and how much this policy hurt him. I hadn’t known Jim was half-Jewish, like me.

Our college chaplain, Greg Henley, remarking that keeping non-Christians out of the faculty ranks was the “Unchristian thing to do.”

A professor of “Bible” suggesting that maybe the college “isn’t the place” for me, and maybe I would be better off “moving on.” He said this in such a soft, compassionate voice, a voice that failed to take into account my family, the abysmal job market, and that I had been at the college much longer than he had.

A professor of Psychology who made this analogy: “You’re a member of Amnesty International, right? Well, Amnesty wouldn’t accept a known terrorist for membership, would it?”

The word “breathtaking” captured my feeling then, as it still does today. I had “broken bread” with this man. But I guess, in the relative degrees that often define our relationships, I was a terrorist, if what he meant was someone who was shocking the current of their world.

Finally, in the only thing I said that I truly remember from that night, I looked at my foes and said,

“To me, this policy is not only wrong and hurtful and unchristian. It is cruel and bigoted.”

“We’re not bigots,” a professor of Christian Education shouted.

“Well, I don’t know what else to call it. To me, you are.”

And at that point, Tim Gaines called the meeting to a close.

*****

Before I knew it, I was walking through the cold night toward the Student Center where I found Karen still cradling Layla and kissing her brow, and Meg in great conversation with Pari about her Sesame Street book, “Elmo Goes to Day Camp.”

“You know she calls Betty Lou ‘Belly Lou,’ don’t you,” Meg said.

“I do.”

“How did the forum go,” Karen asked.

And I just looked at them and shook my head.

“That bad, eh?”

“That bad.”

On the drive home where I was indeed heading to my monthly Amnesty meeting, I thought about my girls. Were they 1/4 or 1/8th Jewish? What world would they find when they became adults, and what would I have done to prepare them, to help them find their own place?

And what, if anything ethnic, would they choose to announce, or be?

Those questions plagued me in the following years as I taught Jewish literature courses, as I got mail addressed to the “Jewish Studies Department.” As some of my daughters’ schoolmates told them that they would pray for them to become “saved.”

 Yet, as I discovered to my immense joy, whatever percentages my daughters claimed or were, we would all have to reassess ourselves when, at that year’s Rosh Hashanah meal, my wife’s sister revealed their deepest family secret: that their mother was the daughter of Jewish parents, back in old Iran.

This is a secret I’m not supposed to tell, so please pretend that you don’t know it. Please make it your own readerly by-law, imposing this stricture as you will on all those near you. For you don’t want to get me kicked out of my life, do you?

Isn’t it pointless, though? One-eighth/ One-quarter. Half and half? Do we really have to count and declare what we are? Who we are?

Yet we do so because we don’t want others to do the math for us? To define us?

And in this case do we add the fractions or multiply them? Would any sum or product be enough to satisfy those who decree or measure the substance of our lives?

*****

Three years ago, the faculty elected a trinity of representatives to work with members of the Board on a by-law change to the membership rule. Elected that day were a lapsed Catholic, a Buddhist, and me. The rules had been increasingly relaxed over the years to allow members of “other faith communities” into our ranks. But after our committee met for a semester, we passed a new by-law, one that stated, simply, that to be a member of our faculty, one need only respect and be sympathetic with the college’s church-related mission.

Some found even this objectionable—either because it said anything at all about religion, or because no one else on the faculty got to weigh in on the final declaration (But what was the vote for representatives for? What did these critics think the nature of those who were elected meant?). I know, however, that the new policy allowed for more room than we’ve ever had at the college. Room to breathe. Room to be individuals.

To be ourselves.

Room to see that God, in whatever conception we might have, is larger than we are. And whether this God is the same one we all believe in, or doesn’t exist at all, or thinks that our many denominations, sects, and forms are ridiculous, or somehow really good and necessary, I believe we’re all better off sitting at our desks, leaning over long tables in libraries, or delis, or riding in the front seat of family cars, being who we are. Openly and truthfully.

Even if we’re only half sure what that “truth” truly is.

Beth Sherman

Beth Sherman has an MFA in creative writing from Queens College, where she teaches in the English department. Her poetry has been published in Hawaii Pacific Review, Hartskill Review, Lime Hawk, Synecdoche, Gyroscope and The Evansville Review, which nominated her poem, “Minor Planets” for a Pushcart Prize. Her fiction has been published in Portland Review, Black Fox Literary Magazine, KYSO, Sandy River Review and Panoplyzine  and is forthcoming in  Delmarva Review and Joyce Quarterly. She has also written five mystery novels.

 

Between

Say you’re on the Downtown IRT – one of the new trains that stretches in both directions as far as the eye can see, lurching along underground like a demented caterpillar, and it’s so crowded people are pressed up against each other and you happen to see a man reach his hand into the Michael Kors bag of a woman standing to your left. You know it’s a Michael Kors because your ex-wife is a publicist whose firm specializes in accessories and one of the perks of her job, which doesn’t pay much and entails long hours, is getting freebies from overpriced fashion companies: Burberry wallets. Calvin Klein scarves, Marc Jacobs belts. Your ex-wife would walk through the door, carrying her latest acquisition and you would look up from your laptop and grin because you were damn glad to see her. Maybe you’d run her bath water or pour her a glass of Chardonnay, the expensive kind because she liked the taste of money.

You can’t identify the precise moment when things changed. There was Before, when she still loved you. And After, when she left – on a Tuesday evening in April when you’d come in from playing softball in Morningside Park, with mud on your cheek from sliding into second base too hard. You noticed the mud when you went to hug her goodbye and some of it got on her forehead. Before and After. But the part that really mattered happened in between.

If you could go back you would search for it in the hollow place in bed where she slept next to you, her stomach curled against your back like a question mark. You would look in the spaces between her smiles. You’d examine the silences that you once took for quiet compatibility but now flash like traffic lights you sped right through. You would have had a beautiful life together. The life you envisioned on your wedding day, standing under a chuppah in the Ballroom at the Plaza Hotel surrounded by 250 people, the men in black tie, the women in tight black dresses, listening to the rabbi saying the two of you were bashert, meant to be, and trying not to worry about how much the evening was going to cost.

Now you question everything. What you see with your own eyes, what you fail to see.

The man on the train reaches into the bag and you’re thinking you could call him out and be a hero and maybe the woman would be so grateful she’d offer to buy you coffee and the two of you would hit it off and start dating and fall in love, the whole process starting again but cleaner this time, more satisfying.   

The man’s hand disappears and appears again. You never see the wallet.

At the next stop, the woman gets off the train and so do you, keeping her in sight amid the horde of commuters, like a birddog beginning the hunt.

Fabienne Josaphat

Fabienne J. Dancing in Barron's ShadowDancing in the Baron’s Shadow
by Fabienne Josaphat
The Unnamed Press
Pages: 256
Date: February 23, 2016
Reviewed by: Kelsey May

 

Dancing in the Baron’s Shadow:
An Action-Packed, Emotional Debut from Fabienne Josaphat

Walking the line between historical fiction and adventure novel, Dancing in the Baron’s Shadow explores the mid-regime world of 1965 Haiti. The story follows two brothers: Raymond, a taxi driver and father of two, and Nicolas, a professor at a prestigious law school and a father of a newborn daughter. The entire nation lives in a violent, fear-stricken state under the rule of “Papa Doc” and his Tonton Macoutes, gun-slinging brawlers who punish anyone who speaks or acts out against the regime.

The story begins on an average evening. Raymond is waiting for his passenger to finish visiting a brothel when a handful of Macoutes roll up in a Jeep. They’re after a popular radio show host, Milot Sauveur, who spoke out against the government’s public killing of a hospital patient. In a split second decision, Raymond agrees to help Milot and his family flee. A high-speed chase ensues, and Raymond loses his fare for the day but gains a friend.

When he returns home, his wife, Yvonne, is outraged at his lack of sense. With two young daughters, he cannot afford to risk his life for strangers, she argues. Besides, they’ve fallen on tough times, thanks to the Macoutes’ strict enforcement of an early curfew, which cuts Raymond’s prime taxi hours short. Yvonne demands that he ask his brother, Nicolas, for a loan, and Raymond must swallow his pride to do so.

Meanwhile, Nicolas is facing his own battles. He has secretly compiled an entire manuscript of carefully researched evidence linking Papa Doc and an infamous prison guard to the death of a respected journalist. He is seeking to publish the manuscript abroad, but he stirs up some trouble when he lectures a little too aggressively against the government in his classroom.

Several chapters later, Nicolas is sentenced, without trial or bail, to prison to await execution, and Raymond must choose between following Yvonne and his daughters out of the country or saving the brother who always looked down on him. Josaphat weaves a lyrical tale of betrayal, secrecy, and, how loyalty strives against all odds to protect and heal the broken bonds of brotherhood. The gruesome portrayal of prison life and life under a tyrannical ruler grips readers, yet the tale is balanced with tender moments, such as Raymond’s precious scene with his niece, Amélie:

Amélie rested her face against Raymond’s chest and he sighed. He missed Adeline and Enos. He held her closer as if to compensate for their absence. Amélie was round and chubby, her skin almost as delicate as a spider web. She was different from his own children, who were frail like small twigs and black like the night; his children, who smelled like the lemongrass leaves they stirred at night in their tea when there was nothing to eat for dinner. He felt overcome with a wave of grief.

Dancing in the Baron’s Shadow places itself elegantly on the shelf with other Caribbean and Latin American historical fiction novels set in countries ruled by dictators, such as In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez and Junot Diaz’s masterful The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Looking for a fast-paced, emotionally turbulent novel? Josaphat’s first novel is a short, thoroughly satisfying story on how family can outwit the enemy in even the most desperate circumstances.

–––––––– 

Kelsey May is a member of the Diatribe collective and a regular contributor to SkipFiction. She is passionate about social justice and activism and is beginning a series of essays about community policing. Her work has recently appeared in Broken Plate, Pine Hills Review, and NonBinary Review. She has also received numerous grants and awards, including a nomination for a 2016 Pushcart Prize. She is excited to get outdoors this summer by hiking, kayaking, canoeing, swimming, and maybe, if she really gets her act together, camping.

Issue 5.2 Summer 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.

"Try All Balloons" by Sue Clancy
“Try All Balloons” by Sue Clancy

"Suddenly my Hair was Performance" by Sydney Tayler Colbert.
“Suddenly my Hair was Performance” by Sydney Tayler Colbert.

“Love Offers the World” by Sue Clancy

Poetry:
(Guest Edited by Gwendolyn Joyce Mintz)

M. L. Brown | When Girls Swim
Alexis Groulx | An afternoon with Cal
Rage Hezekiah | February Cove
Gopika Jadeja | Newsprint in the dark
Les Kay | Reprise, Nachtmusik
Barbara Krasner | Bei Mir Bistu Shayn

Laurie Macfee | Bone Music
Elisabeth Murawski | Never from Here
Leonard Neufeldt | Letters from the Ghetto
Valery V. Petrovskiy | On a town street
James Prenatt | Can I, may I?
Wesley Riggs | Even If

Beate Sigriddaughter | Bricks
Joseph Somoza | Natural Poetry
Jamie Wendt | When Amma had Four More Months

Fiction:

Beth Sherman | Between
Meg Tuite | Hollow Gestures 

Nonfiction:

Terry Barr | When the Truth Is Found
Stacy Lawson | It’s Just Sex
Kelsey Lahr | Coyote Nights
Zach Marson | They Knew the Land Was Beautiful 

Translations:

René Agostini | Walking along the Rhone | **June Sylvester Saraceno
Anna Akhmatova | After 23 Years | **Don Mager
Shatha Abu Hnaish | Alienation | **Francesca Bell & Noor Nader Al Abed
Jóanes Nielsen | Burnt Out Light | **Matthew Landrum
Rasool Yoonan | Fire and Human | Try | **Siavash Saadlou

Book Reviews:

Fabienne Josaphat | Dancing in the Baron’s Shadow | Review by Kelsey May
Lucia Cherciu | Edible Flowers | Review by Donelle Dreese

Spotlight on a Press:

Glass Lyre Press | Review by Nettie Farris


**Indicates Translators 

Valery V. Petrovskiy

Valery V. Petrovskiy is a Chuvash University, Cheboksary graduate in English. He graduated from VKSch Higher School, Moscow, in Journalism. A short story writer (Pushcart Prize nominee, a finalist to Open Russia’s Literary Championship, 2012), he is the author of two flash collections: Into the Blue on New Year’s Eve (Hammer and Anvil Books, 2013) and Tomcat Tale (Editura StudIS, 2013). He published poems in The Missing Slate, Ivory Tower, BRICK rhetoric, CLRI. Valery lives in Russia in a remote village by the Volga River.

 

On a town street

On a town street right after the highway turn,
Some cars were parked with the backs to a road.
They rested their horns against family gates,
As cows would stand there, shifting from one foot to the other.
The cars differed much, whilst there were no folks around.
Most likely people went in to visit own Mom.

There they washed their hands, had a hot Russian soup of boiled nettle,
And later at supper, ate some baked kasha, while Mom was talking to a cat.
In the morning, her grown up children got into the car
With their own kids, who had strange names and weird nicks.
In the end, when all the cars were gone, the cat remained with Mom alone.
They will come back on a holiday: Nika, Vassilissa, Akulina, and Zakhar.

– Yes, Mom, I do remember: life is not all milk and honey.
Please, Mom, eat less salt as Doc prescribed.
Sure, we dropped in at the burial ground,
Dad’s tombstone is in the right place, not gone.
No, I have no more summer cottage; it’s not one’s money worth.
– Well, the neighbors do quite well…

– Mom, you don’t say so, you don’t.
Life is all the same around:
One stays at home, expecting a rain in summer,
And in winter, one sits waiting they scrape the road.

Wesley Riggs

Wesley Riggs workshops his fiction and poetry at Lighthouse Writers’ Workshop in Denver. He built a summer cabin in Alaska, where he has been lodging since last winter. He is working on  poems, a novel, and a children’s book series for his three nephews.   

 

Even If          

even if I return from
a jungle
reciting ten foreign names
for the lashes across my tongue
or stroll up
a beach
as a barefooted breeze
combs my hangover

peace you won’t have
me

even
if you find me tomorrow
and say it was all a
farce or a feeling and
here I am now have me

Alexis Groulx

Alexis GroulxAlexis Groulxs work has been previously published in Ayris, After the Pause, Gravel, and Vineyards press. She lives in New Hampshire.

 

 

 

An afternoon with Cal

for D

*
This cemetery all
stone steps — overgrown
grass. You cautiously step
toward a headstone.
Face it.             206 bones.
A siren whirs on a back road.

*
Your finger over the R
the L, his name, indentations
his headstone filling –
sponges of moss, cob-webs.
You, hesitant – longing.

*
Trace my fingers over
the year he died. Wait
for you to ask if we were
trespassing. Take a picture
with your phone, I would shake
my head. The bones don’t know
who is taking care of them.

Glass Lyre Press

Spotlight on Glass Lyre Press

Glass Lyre Press

Tag line: “Exceptional Works to Replenish the Spirit”

Reviewed by Nettie Farris

This is the second in a series from our new Review Editor. Each Spotlight will focus on a different press. Check out the first one!

Interested in distinguishing a publishable manuscript from one that is not? Kelly Cressio-Moeller, Associate Editor for Glass Lyre Press, looks for “poems with emotional anchors, a pulse, a deepening, but also reticence, some mystery—poems that reach further than the page.” She wants poems that make her “see or feel something new in language” she wishes she “had written.” There’s more: “However, a handful of excellent poems does not a manuscript make. Every poem must be strong. Every. Poem.” She wants every nonessential poem gone. Remaining poems must be in the proper sequence: “The ordering is very important, too; there should be cohesion. How does it open? Does it drag in sections? Does a sequence of poems take me out of the reading experience?”

You can see why the most striking aspect of the publications of Glass Lyre Press is coherency. Glass Lyre publishes both chapbooks and full length collections, though full-length collections dominate the catalog. Yes, even these full-length collections form a coherent whole. Submission instructions indicate: “Individual poems must stand on their own merit but complement each other, and work together to present a cohesive and well-ordered manuscript.” A random sampling of the catalog reflects this sense of harmony.

Glass Lyre Press was founded by Ami Kaye in 2013, and originated from an act of compassion. Kaye had established the international journal Perene’s Fountain in January 2008. Readers of this journal have compared the quality of its contents to the quality of a typical anthology. In addition to its other fine writers, Perene’s Fountain has published work by Jane Yolen, Jane Hirshfield, and J.P. Dancing Bear. In 2011, Perene’s Fountain published an anthology, Sunrise from Blue Thunder. The proceeds from this anthology benefitted those affected by the Japan earthquake and tsunami. According to the story, Kaye and her staff, were so smitten with the publication of this anthology, that they began a press, and the press was Glass Lyre.

Ami Kaye, of Indian heritage, was born in Paris and traveled widely with her parents, who exposed her to the arts. While still in elementary school, she began stapling together stacks of paper filled with poetry and prose, adding a painted cover, and calling it a book. Glass Lyre Press is a continuation of this childhood activity, but at an entirely new level.  The work of the press is distributed throughout a multi-generational team. It consists of: Mark McKay, Lark Vernon Timmons, Kelly Cressio-Moeller, Elizabeth Nichols, Steven Amussen, Katherine Herschler, Royce Hamel, and Paul S. Kim. Though this staff reflects a global presence, the press largely resides in Chicago, Illinois.

The quality of Glass Lyre’s work speaks for itself. Patricia Caspers, author of In the Belly of the Albatross heard about the press through word of mouth. A fellow poet had read a work in its catalog and suggested “GLP might be a good home for [Casper’s] manuscript.” Caspers refers to the team as “delightful” and praises its members’ patience: “They were all very gracious about letting me take the time to get every word right.” Robert S. King, author of Developing a Photograph of God, expresses a similar sentiment: “Not only is the entire staff a pleasure to work with, but Glass Lyre Press editors want to make sure you’ve done your best and will work with you until you have achieved that goal.” The press is also willing to take a risk on work it finds exceptional, as emphasized by Raymond Gibson, author of Speak, Shade: “Mark McKay and Ami Kaye took a chance on me when no one else would. It’s been both an honor and a privilege to be published by Glass Lyre Press, and to be in such good company.”

The press’s motto is “exceptional works to replenish the spirit.” Kaye emphasizes that “now more than ever we need the arts to help us restore balance and nourish our spirits” and indicates a goal of the press to serve in this restoration. “It is our hope that our books will rejuvenate and restore the spirit, and provide inspiration like meditations people will return to and feel replenished.” In addition, Kaye suggests the practicality of short forms in this endeavor: “Sometimes it is difficult to find time to read a novel, but most people can manage to read a couple of poems or a short fiction piece, and feel replenished or experience a mood lift much in the same way one does in hearing a piece of music.” The following four collections, at least, truly do replenish the spirit.

Speak ShadeThe chapbook Speak, Shade (2013) by Raymond Gibson is a meditation on the senses and the inadequacy of those senses. Though most of the collection reflects on the five senses of sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell, “Cardinal Senses” alludes to our other, uncounted, senses:

This number will not do

What of the senses of movement and time
and lacklove that pain
we fill with which does not answer
to either of five wounds

It is a difficult collection to decipher, much like a koan, but more lyrical than narrative. As we learn from “Blind Timescapes,” the divine / masks the unknown.” Masks occur as a repetitive image. The opening poem, “The Cataracts” ends: “what are the eyes if not complicit / not a glass shield but the holes of a mask.” The visual image of a mask appears on the title page, and the image of the mask is also invoked in “If”: “The way statues are called lifelike and the living statuesque the way life mask and death mask are synonyms.”

In addition to masks, the collection plays on the concepts of dreaming, absence, silence, ghosts, memory, and echoes. It attempts to speak without speaking. “Echo of Light” ends: “yes here is light / though the star’s years dead.”

“Hand in Emptiness” pronounces: “to know loss / is to first know possession.” “Distance” begins: “How describe sight to the blind.” Then later continues:

how explain
to a four-fingered man
absence
without a knuckle or stump

to tell is to amputate the very digit

It’s as if knowledge of a lack makes the lack. And we prey on this lack, with our knowledge of it. “Blind River” ends:

Still they bore sons and whispered that their small age would not see the chaos yet

Cowards sending children ahead of them in the dark

The concept of blindness occurs throughout this collection. “Peregrination” directs our attention:

look a deaf-mute leading the blind by hand

both are neither ghosts nor memories but
ourselves at a dream’s mercy

here in the gateless fence of horn and ivory[.]

And eyelessness. “Sculpture Garden” begins: “The eyeless bust of a god without a mouth” and ends: “none can enter nor see at all.”

Still, within this paradox, within this irony, there is a protest. The list poem “Against Futility” offers solutions, though they seem rather ineffectual; for example, “the ink is clear and dries blank . . . the book not yet felled planted.” And “The Night Shore” concludes:

GLP These thoughts dream

These are difficult poems indeed, but the journey is worth it.

AquamarineAquamarine (2014), by the Japanese poet Yoko Danno, is a full-length collection of poems infused with water imagery. Water, in these poems, comes in many forms: pond, river, sea, waterfall, and seems to have magical powers. As we learn from the conclusion of “tell it to the stone”:

GLP Careful not to speak

Water is also often associated with spiritual beings. In “fire meets water,” the speaker of the poem

GLP Plunge right

In “catfish in the woods,” “the giant / fish-god tosses and turns / in the deep ocean bed.” In “water city,” we meet not gods, but angels: “what’s happening below / the glittering surface / of the canal water? dust / falling from smiling angels.”

These are poems of fluid transformations. Within the middle section of “moon appearing,” one dream slides into another:

wade through waves of light
to the place of your birth,
where white flower petals fall
without a breeze, sweeping

into a next dream—a pair
of white tigers appear
in a dewy gardenia bush
flirting with each other[.]

In addition, the closing of this poem reverses the opening. The poem begins: “a dream is just behind the door—, and ends: “it was over / before i knew when / a door was just behind the dream.” A similar reversal takes place in “fire meets water”:

GLP The sky is below

Several poems in the collection play with transformations of time. “narrow pathway” closes: “i am / prepared / for the birth / of my own mother.” “at sea” closes similarly:

GLP Blindly heading home

Finally, the opening of “eater is eaten” cautions: “if grains / of sand / get / into your / shoes / don’t / look back / your unborn / will get / injured.”

One of the most interesting poems in the collection is “all around, slow death.” The tone of the poem contrasts that of its title:

GLP Bubbles rise

The poem experiments with the same sort of effervescence in the context of fireworks, blood vessels, a balloon. This repetition suggests that living and dying are, in fact, the same thing. The opening complicates the poem:

GLP A flash

Perhaps the poem is demonstrating that life without death is not really life. Nevertheless, this is certainly an example of a title that adds something to the poem.

These are poems of continuous motion, poems which, though fluid, and in constant transformation, rely on crisp, clear images that appeal to the senses. “at random” opens:

GLP Volumes of vibrant

It’s as though they are enacting the advice of the tea master in “Morning Walk (a poem that associates a morning walk with the Japanese Tea Ceremony): “Perform the ceremony as if you were in a dream, but mind you, let your brains respond vividly to the sound and smell and light in the room, as in meditation.”

Listening to Tao Yuan MingAs its title suggests, Listening to Tao Yuan Ming (2015), by Dennis Maloney, is a collection of poems about conversation. Conversations across time. Conversations within time. The collection consists of three parts. Part 1, “Twenty Poems After Drinking Wine,” gives us twenty poems translated from the ancient poet Tao Yuan Ming, but stripped to their essence, as the Forward informs us. Part 2 consists of thirteen poems in the form of letters to Tao Yuan Ming. Part 3, “Listening to Tao Yuan Ming,” consists of twenty-three more contemporary poems influenced by Tao Yuan Ming. So the collection, largely, is a conversation through, with, and about this ancient Chinese poet. In addition, many of the individual poems in this collection reference companions, and sharing conversation with these companions, sometimes in the form of poems. The notebook, the writing desk, is ever present.

Understandably, for a book grounded in the Taoist tradition, many of these poems are grounded in travel metaphors. Images of roads, paths, and trails abound. Poem #17 in Section One advises: “Traveling on and on, one loses the path— / but trusting the Way, one might get through.” Poem # 19 cautions: “The world’s paths are vast and many, / so decisions are difficult at every crossroad. Poem #20 warns: “Sages flourished long before our time / and few today remember the Way.” “Be Drunk” is more positive: “An invisible wind carries / us through this world / but who says you can’t choose the road”; though still advises prudence: “Don’t be like the traveler / who walks all day / but doesn’t feel / the earth beneath him.”

One follows the Way with others. From “Not Hermits But Householders” we learn about “the heart’s happiness, / at having another / to share this trail.” From “If Tao Yuan Ming Came to Visit,” we learn that the speaker of the poem and the Norwegian poet Olav Hauge “shared a poem or two.” Similar, we learn from “Old Friends from Far Away”:

When I meet an old friend
we catch up on news
and memories
of days gone by,
share strong tea
and new poems.

The most important others sharing our path are teachers. Tao Yuan Ming himself is a teacher shadowing this collection, but the first time we hear explicitly of teachers is in Poem # 11:

One teacher was praised for his compassion,
another as a sage.
One fasted so often he died young,
the other carried hunger all his life.
They left their names in our memory
but at the cost of what suffering?

“One Day We Will Vanish” links the speaker of the poem with teachers; the speaker becomes a teacher: “Roaming through / old books, I join / timeless teachers.” The entire poem “Gratitude to Our Teachers” is dedicated to teachers:

They were the majestic
oaks and maples
in our forest,
teaching us to
write and sing
our own songs
by hearing theirs.

“The Voice of the Bell” makes teachers of our environment, our surroundings:

Scent of damp pine needles,
incense and oranges,
the dance of rain on the roof,
children rolling in the grass,
a sip of tea, a frog
croaking in a nearby pond
as dusk approaches.

These are our teachers,
and we are the petals
unfolding on the flower
that is our world.

Ultimately, this is a collection about aging, and the wisdom that comes from experience. “All Those Nights We Harmonized” contrasts innocence with experience:

Su Tung-po said your
poems were withered
on the outside
but rich within.

That coming of age
reading your poems
was like gnawing
on withered wood.

Reading them after
experience in the world,
it seems that the previous
decisions of our lives
were made in ignorance.

The collection is pulled together by this concern with aging, experience, conversation with teachers across time, and concern with the future. “Crossing the Yangtze” depicts a journey through time rather than space: “We cross the Yangtze / on the new concrete bridge / into tomorrow.”

In the Belly of the AlbatrossIn the Belly of the Albatross (2015), by Patricia Caspers, is a full-length collection of poems undivided by sections. It tells the story of a journey, not through the familiar belly of a whale, as in the Book of Jonah, but, as the title suggests, through the belly of an albatross. The title poem, “In the Belly of the Albatross,” begins with an epigraph by poet/environmental activist Victoria Sloan Jordan on the demise of the albatross. These birds, when they die, litter the Hawaiian Islands with tons of plastic they have consumed and held contained in their bodies: “A Hawaiian elder counseled us not to view the albatross or the islands as victims of plastic pollution. They have called this problem to them, she said, to deliver us a message. We are hit with this message every day. When can we say we’re receiving it?” The poem equates our own demise to that of the albatross: “Each day we fill our bellies with lack . . . until we are anchored with nothings.” Consequently, we are damaging ourselves, our environment: “Our bodies swell with sorrow, / and the albatross heavies herself / on the bright remnants of our grief.”

Much of the collection concerns itself with grief (the entire poem of “The Five Stages of Grief,” for example). though it is primarily the grief of females, females throughout history. As we learn from “ Hatsuhana Beneath the Waterfall,” based on a Japanese legend, Hatsuhana, the speaker of the poem “was a wagyu bride, sold / like prized beef.” There is a contrast between inner reality and outer appearance:

Under the harsh wrath of water,
there was silence, and I prayed
for one hundred days.

Such a good wife, the villagers said.

Izanami-no-kami, I begged, you too
know a wife’s grief. Please, wash this poison
from my breast.

Females in this collection find themselves imprisoned within tight situations. Nana, in “Nana Ivy’s Royal Typewriter,” types: “DON’T FENCE ME IN.”          “Baby Catcher” is in the voice of the (eventually) freed slave, Bridget Mason, who informs us of the advice of her mother: “When you’re tall as the corn, she said, / he’s gonna come for you. Don’t fight him.” “The Squeeze Inn” tells the story of a woman who has a one-night stand with her ex-husband. At the time, she is sort of in between two men, both losers. The evening begins:

You didn’t have to get all
gussied up for me,
he said,
and I smacked him between
those blue eyes with a rubber glove.

And ends:

I watched him sleep and realized,
all our knotted, married nights
this is where he lay, another woman
awake in his warmth, wondering
at the gold band on his wedding finger.

I’d never left a room so silently.

Some of these females have dreams of freedom. The speaker of “What Mama Said,” announces: “I told Mama I got dream wings. / She said you must be a ostrich, Girl. / You ain’t flying’ nowhere.” “Irene’s Goodbye,” from the point of view of a woman in a nursing home, displays a more positive perspective. She introduces her nurse: “she thinks / I’m some pansyfaced girl with pigtails / gotta learn to mind her manners—.” However, the speaker has plans of her own: “I wanna cozy down in the deep pocket / of some small town lounge . . . palm myself a glass full of fire / while the pool balls smackthud . . . Hell if I ain’t gonna roll me there.” The voice of “Unreported,” a poem in three parts, is the most aggressive voice in the collection. In section two (“The Woman I Intend to Be”) we hear:

Who am I kidding?

I am no goddess. There is no spring
to beckon me from the underworld.
That boy has long since forgotten
my name.

And in section three (“The Mother I am: An Open Letter to Demeter”) we learn: “The time for prayer has passed. / Gather the wronged . . .

we will not stop gathering the arsenal of our rage,
will not stop until we storm the fortress,
tear it down stone by stick, blaze the pyre,
and watch as every last fucker burns.

The voice of these poems is essentially female, concerned with motherhood, daughters, the place of women within the society of men. Images of water (contrasted with drought) abound (bath water, baptismal water), as do references to the moon.  “Ekphrasis: 36 Ghosts, No. 5” introduces both these images: “It was my old friend, Moon / and my wise rival, Water.” In addition, the collection references messages, “seers and shamans,” prayers and invocations. The collection opens with “Oracle,” about an oracle, who, ironically, doesn’t seem much of an oracle: “What if an oracle lived at the end of your street / in a wonky red house with yellow trim.” (Nevertheless, we must attend to these symptoms of the planet. The symptoms of women, of immigrants, of wildlife. The underclass.) The collection ends with “Piece by Piece”: “Tear apart the cosmos. Let there be a new kind of light.” In the Belly of the Albatross is a beautiful work of ecofeminism.

Glass Lyre Press publishes approximately eight works a year. Typically, the press attends the AWP (Associated Writing Program) Conference & Bookfair (“the nation’s largest marketplace for independent literary presses”) and is known for its use of social media (largely Facebook and Twitter). The press is currently soliciting work for its latest anthology, Collateral Damage, which will benefit victimized children. Glass Lyre publishes both benefit anthologies and anthologies of works published in Pirene’s Fountain. The Aeolian Harp Series includes anthologies of folios of up to six pages per poet. The press awards two prizes annually: The Kithara Book Prize and the Lyrebird Award. Submissions are open January through February and September through October.

Anna Akhmatova

Anna Akhmatova (poet) was a leading Acmeist whose poems were sensationally popular during the early twentieth century. After the Bolshevik revolution, her personal life and public career went from crisis to crisis. She was effectively barred from publishing. She continued to write “for the bottom of her chest” as she said. Her third husband and adult son were imprisoned and sent to Siberia during the Stalinist purges of the 1930s. Her great poem “Requiem” reflects this experience. It circulated among friends and later in samizdat, but was not published in the Soviet Union until the “thaw” of the 1950s. This was followed by a second long political poem “The Way of All the World.” In 1942 she began her long masterpiece Poem Without a Hero, which occupied her for much of the rest of her life. After Stalin’s death, she was gradually rehabilitated and her work was again widely published in the Soviet Union. In 1998, Ellis Lak Publishers began a comprehensive collected edition of her works including, drafts, sketches and variant. The eighth and final volume came out in 2005. It supersedes all previous editions both in the West and in Russia.

 

Don Mager (translator) has published chapbooks and volumes of poetry including: To Track the Wounded One, Glosses, That Which is Owed to Death, Borderings, Good Turns and The Elegance of the Ungraspable, Birth Daybook Drive Time and Russian Riffs. He is retired with degrees from Drake University (BA), Syracuse University (MA) and Wayne State University (PhD). He was the Mott University Professor of English at Johnson C. Smith University from 1998-2004 where he served as Dean of the College of Arts and Letters (2005-2011). As well as a number of scholarly articles, he has published over 200 poems and translations from German, Czech, and Russian. He lives in Charlotte, North Carolina.

 

After 23 Years Poem Trans by Don Mager

 

 

After 23 Years Anna Akhmatova

 

Ater 23 Years Footnote

Joseph Somoza

Joseph Somoza retired from college teaching at New Mexico State University a while ago to have more time for living and writing. His most recent book of poems is As Far As I Know (Cinco Puntos Press, 2015). He lives in Las Cruces with wife Jill, a painter.

 

Natural Poetry

The poems come and go but sometimes
they stay.  Sometimes a poem is like a thrasher
who lives in your back yard and regularly
pecks in the sand for grubs, even approaching
your lawn chair up to a couple of yards she’s so
obsessed with her search—

or a poem is the old outdoor cat you admire for her
fierce wildness that enables her to catch and eat
a dove raw leaving just a few bloody bones and
white feathers.  She can rub up
to your leg and talk to you without ever
forgetting to sharpen her claws on the old stump.

All around you, doves call back and forth from the
locust trees, hummingbirds and butterflies
emerge near the yucca, not thinking twice
about you sitting in their midst preoccupied
with your insoluble riddles,
involved in their own perambulations
for nectar and love,
like a poem.

Meg Tuite

Meg Tuite is author of two short story collections, Bound By Blue (2013) Sententia Books and Domestic Apparition (2011) San Francisco Bay Press, and five chapbooks. She won the Twin Antlers Collaborative Poetry award from Artistically Declined Press for her poetry collection, Bare Bulbs Swinging (2014) written with Heather Fowler and Michelle Reale. She teaches at Santa Fe Community College, and is a columnist at Connotation Press and JMWW. Her blog resides at: http://megtuite.com

 

Hollow Gestures

Beth takes the bus to a workshop on setting boundaries. Shoes are lined up outside an entrance with a wooden sign that says, Tae Kwon Do. She slips off her gray slippers, walks inside. A group of ten women sit on pillows in a huge, open warehouse. She slides down on a pillow, looks around. Some of these women are antiques: dusty, hidden treasures, but for the smell of mothballs. They are lost in their bones, hands that detour, divert around a mosquito bite they can’t quite locate. They must have a hard time with maps like her. One girl is the border patrol. Her head bobbles a full-on affirmative every time the therapist speaks. She writes in a notebook as though the circumference of her being will slip away if she doesn’t frame it in print. One girl verges on a barbed fence of tears that rim her weary, pink eyes. The therapist begins another landmark statement on how to climb over the so-called ‘dead limbs’ that have stifled them in their past and mark their new terrain, piss on it. One girl’s perimeter closes into a knife of a smile as pee that was in her bladder changes its mind and sucks back into her kidneys.

The therapist says they are going to perform some exercises. The first exercise is to stake the fence. When he gets too close they should say ‘stop’, but not just some half-assed stop, more like screeching up to a yellow light just as it turns red instead of a stop sign. He says, hold up your hand, belt it out. He lays his hairy fingers, spread eagle, on his belly and blasts it out in operatic baritone. STOP! Bark it out like a dog protecting his territory, he says. The women stare at him. He paces back and forth, his storm cloud getting larger as his gestures bank the walls of any frontier, conducting an explosive outpost that frightens Beth as she battles the inner prison that withers her. Don’t be shy, he says. This is a safe place to explore those core emotions of rage, grief and fear. He lifts his tufted knuckles, curls them at the group, lifts his chin and howls. The women snicker and wheeze on either side of Beth. A strange sound like a person dying gurgles from her throat. Okay, the therapist says. Who’s going to go first? Border patrol is still writing notes. The rest of them look around the radius of the group without making eye contact. They remain still, sacks of rice. The massive room smells of unwashed bodies and terror. The therapist lifts his impressive eyebrows, beastly strands long enough to cover the empty patch where a hairline should have been, and studies each one of them. Come on, ladies. This is going to change your lives, he says as he claps. The eyebrows waver. 

I remember I was scared shitless, walking on the ice across Lake Michigan in the middle of February with my friend, Joyce, and my little sister, Eliza. We followed Joyce’s rocky lead as she screeched at us, ‘It’s going to change your life.’ Something her dad always said. He was a fat, old lawyer with a swollen face and body, mean as hell. “You,” he’d say, pointing at me. “What are you going to do? Make pancakes for the rest of your life or become something?” I didn’t know what he meant. My mom made my pancakes. I was only twelve at the time. What was I going to do? Probably die before I got to high school hanging out with his daughter. Joyce had dared me to jump across three-story roofs, pretend I was blind, run into people on the street, shoplift and once I even stole a hubcap off of a cop car just to hear her frantic high-pitched giggle. God, I loved her.

Beth’s hand raises itself slowly like some fucking flag on the Fourth of July.

Great, come on up, says the therapist. Her head shakes as she takes her place beside the excited man and looks out at an expanse of glassy eyes that flicker in and out of vision. He smells better than he looks; some kind of incense permeates him. She wonders if he’s a Buddhist. Remember, this is about boundaries. Is there anyone in your life that you haven’t been able to say no to? Was he kidding her with this? She nods, hears that demented cackle of Joyce’s again. Okay, she says. Let’s do this.

The therapist walks away from Beth across the wood floor. He is talking as he recedes. Try to visualize that person in your mind. Forget about everything else. She hears scratch marks of Border Patrol’s pen. The rest of them barely breathe. When he is around 50 feet away from Beth he stops, turns toward her. Her heart palpates around the periphery of the building as she huddles inside the fog of her body. She can’t feel her feet under her when this man starts to run.

Joyce pushes me, giggling, and I push Eliza. “Come on,” Joyce says, “let’s get to Michigan.” It’s all thunder. Blinding acres of white sky and storm sheen glazed ice as far as I can see and I’ve got the whole day to get to Michigan. I’m an explorer. Few have barely touched the frozen shoreline and never come close to passing the buoy. The three of us are well beyond that. Eliza is all breath, complacency and silence in her shiny parka and matted hood. Joyce and I don’t wear hats. We stuff them in our pockets as soon as we are past parental range. Joyce’s ears are purple rafts on either side of her white pigtails. I can’t feel my ears, and snot has frozen little spitballs in my nose. The wind is one long, empty moan. Everything is glass, muffled grunts, moldering dead fish and wind that feels like it could gut me. I see some jaggedy, thin spots of ice that look like you could fall right through. Joyce talks but her words are weathered blind. We are in Antarctica, the lone survivors of a ship caged in and swallowed by two icebergs. We are down to two Snickers bars, a pack of Doublemint gum, and four Kents I swiped from Mom’s purse. We will have to eat snow when we are thirsty. The globe is all-invading and disfigured. I wonder if we should turn back. It’s a long way back to land. Eliza hasn’t said a word. She looks numb. There are no curves except Joyce’s mouth, still a dripping stalactite of gutted insults. Patsy wets her bed; Ellen has like fifty teeth in her mouth, have you noticed? Jesus. And Cynthia? You think her or her brothers know anything about soap? Joyce keeps tabs on her traitors. They rarely thwart her, but the worst actually have the nerve to ignore her. She is her own continent.

I hear the crack. Eliza drops like the branch of a tree. She is under ice. I scream, grab at her sleeve with the red mitten dangling from its clip. Her face is murky and gray under frozen water. I see bubbles. I bite my tongue until it bleeds, catch a hold of her parka and pull. A sagging handful of blue cloth breathes the air, steam rises off of it as the face beneath fogs into quivering ripples. The reek of black, stagnant water and the poison stillness gasps as the water starts to win. The blue coat is heavier, darker, slithers between my throbbing, pathetic grip. Eliza echoes from the shores of Chicago all the way to Michigan over and over. Eliza, I scream, but there is no world out there that answers back. Is she okay? Joyce asks. I look up into a splotchy red, under-animated face.

The man breathes hard in front of me. Why didn’t you say stop? he asks. The man sighs as if I’m an imbecile. Didn’t you hear my instructions? Why didn’t I say stop? Why did I ever go? I slap him hard across the face. Red garnishes the surface across his cheek.

The stifled room begins to erupt. Ladies unchain from whatever hems them in. They jump up, growl and yell. Beth sees their mouths open, one cavernous hollow that will never be filled. They’re all hopped up on adrenaline surging new life into them. Beth is feeling it, too. She can hear curses pelting her as she staggers out the door.

Eliza was only seven when she drowned. The splintered parts of Beth scream for vodka. She still hears rumbling, animated voices coming from inside the seminar. She sits down on the bench, studies the crowd of shoes, picks out purple sandals with some jewels on top and a two-inch heel that actually fit. To hell with the ratty, gray slippers. She buckles up these beauties and admires them. Maybe a pedicure would help. She gets up and wobbles off to the Owl Liquor store trying to remember how to walk in heels over concrete, click, click, wobble, wobble.

Beth buys ten tiny airplane size bottles and loads her purse with them. No matter who’s behind the counter, Beth is told that the larger bottles are much cheaper. She’s not an idiot. Hide the evidence. She knows she will drown, as well. 

Shatha Abu Hnaish

Translator’s Note:

Noor and I were interested in translating this particular book of poems for a few reasons. The first, of course, is that we genuinely admire the poems and feel they have important things to say about love, and relationships, and the hard work of being human. We were also interested in what these poems from this young poet could contribute to the portrait being offered to the world of Arabs in general, and of Arab women in particular. We were looking for poems that went beyond the political to the personal, poems that allow a reader to see a whole, complex person rather than a sort of paper doll.  

 

Shatha Abu Hnaish (poet) was born in 1987 in Nablus, Palestine and earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Al-Najah National Universtiy. She has written poetry since childhood, and her work has been widely published in journals throughout the Arab World.

 

Francesca Bell (co-translator) poems appear in many journals, including B O D Y, New Ohio Review, North American Review, Poetry Northwest, Prairie Schooner, Spillway, Tar River Poetry and Zone 3. Her work has been nominated eight times for the Pushcart Prize, and she won the 2014 Neil Postman Award for Metaphor from Rattle. Her translations appear in Berkeley Poetry Review, Circumference | Poetry in Translation, The Global Journal of Literary Studies, and Laghoo. She is the Marin Poetry Center’s Events Coordinator and the Poetry Editor of River Styx.

 

Noor Nader Al Abed (co-translator) is Jordanian. He teaches English to 11th and 12th grade boys at a secondary school outside Amman. He earned his bachelor’s degree in English Language and Literature from Zarqa Private University and his master’s degree in English Literature from Arab Open University. His translations appear in Berkeley Poetry Review, Circumference | Poetry in Translation, The Global Journal of Literary Studies, and Laghoo.

 

Alienation

This lonely wooden bench
is a branch
severed
from a tree

 

 

Shatha Abu Hnaish Poem

 

Rasool Yoonan

Rasool Yoonan (poet) was born in 1969 in Urmia, Iran. His first poetry collection, Good Day My Dear, was published in 1998. Other collections include Concert in HellI Was a Bad BoyCarrying the Piano Down the Stairs of an Icy Hotel, and Be CarefulAnts Are Coming. With his poetry drenched in minimalism, suspense and wit, Yoonan is currently the most widely read living poet inside Iran. Good Day My Dear, was published in 1998. Other collections include Concert in HellI Was a Bad BoyCarrying the Piano Down the Stairs of an Icy Hotel, and Be CarefulAnts Are Coming. With his poetry drenched in minimalism, suspense and wit, Yoonan is currently the most widely read living poet inside Iran.

 

Born and raised in Iran, Siavash Saadlou (translator) is a writer, literary translator, editor, and interpreter. He is the authorized translator of the minimalist Iranian poet Rasool Yoonan, and his translations have been published or are forthcoming in Washington Square Review, Indian Review, Visions International, and Asymptote. Saadlou is currently an MFA Creative Writing candidate and a teaching fellow at Saint Mary’s College of California.

 

Fire and human
is an incongruous collocation.

I, for one,
from this flaming fire,
amidst dreams and affections,
won’t make it back in one piece.
My return
is going to be melancholic.

I wish I were like naan.
How gloriously it returns
from the journey of fire.

 

Footnote: Bakeries in Iran have a big, round oven in which there is a flaming fire. After the dough is flattened and prepared, it is put inside the oven for one or two minutes, and the result that comes out is a freshly-baked naan.

 

Try

to come to terms with everything.
Don’t run away.
The earth
is stupidly round.

Jóanes Nielsen

Jóanes Nielsen (poet) is a former dockworker turned political activist and writer. He is one of the leading figures in contemporary Faroese* literature. Nielsen has published seventeen books including the novel Brahmadellarnir that was nominated for the 2013 Nordic Counsel’s Literary Prize and is forthcoming in English from Open Letter.

 

Matthew Landrum (translator) is the translation editor of Structo Magazine. His translations have recently appeared in The Michigan Quarterly Review, RHINO, and The Notre Dame Review. Landrum lives in Detroit.

 

Burnt Out Light

Moths flit around burnt out lightbulbs.
In the same way
We, ourselves, are searching.

 

 

SLØKT PERA

Flugan leitar eftir sløktu peruni
Nakað soleiðis
Leita vit sjálvi

 

*Faroese is a North Germanic language spoken as a native language by about 66,000 people, 45,000 of whom reside on the Faroe Islands and 21,000 in other areas, mainly Denmark. The language is descended from Old West Norse spoken in the Middle Ages.

Leonard Neufeldt

Leonard Neufeldt, son a refugee parents, is the author of seven books of poetry.  His latest collection, Painting Over Sketches of Anatolia, appeared last year.  He hails from British Columbia and now resides in Gig Harbor, WA.

 

Letters from the Ghetto

Words, only a few,
penciled in the cramped left margin
of the page, and of the next letter,
the characters minuscule,
half-formed, almost horizontal
and gathered like hurried ellipses,
the indecipherable interrupting
an off-white quiet
with a disordered feeling of time,
here and there the start of a flourish
to distract you from finding out
how much graphite has vanished,
how many the spaces where the pencil
tip left a scar

Even if you could make out the names
as you hold the page to the light,
what difference would that make?
but you’ve let them change
everything else on the page
with a pain much older
than you, a pain that breathes prayers
like unaccountable gaps waiting
for something to follow, no matter
the lost words

M. L. Brown

M. L. BrownM. L. Brown is the author of Drought, winner of the Claudia Emerson Poetry Chapbook Award, forthcoming from jmww in 2016. Her poems have appeared in various journals and anthologies including Blackbird, PMS PoemMemoirStory, Gertrude, Calyx, and Not Somewhere Else, But Here: a Contemporary Anthology of Women and Place. Formerly a grassroots organizer, M. L. Brown devotes her time, when not working to her poetry and raising funds for a nonprofit health care clinic.

 

M. L. Brown (When Girls Swim)

Laurie Macfee

Laurie Macfee currently lives and writes in Vermont, and works at the Vermont Studio Center. She received her MFA Creative Writing in poetry from Sierra Nevada College in 2015. She is a guest poetry co-editor at Green Mountains Review and a past poetry editor of the Sierra Nevada Review. Her publications include Forklift, Ohio; Big Bell; Brushfire; and the anthology Change in the American West.

 

Bone Music

If you’re the man I think you are
we’ll press our ashes in vinyl.
Make bone music, sound labyrinths
etched like ribs around transparent lungs,
manicured by scissors used for cutting
cuticles to the quick. Central burn
a slow cigarette after the scratched rhythm
of blues in a hidden kitchen bubbling
with vodka, stew, your skeleton a bootleg:
metatarsals, scapula and clavicle,
sacrum nestled to a beat boy thrum.
I’ll stand on your feet as we dance
in the library. No police to forbid
an Underwood, Royals free to miter and clack
under phalanges blown pinwheel
and sideways. One couch. Two lamps,
pound cats, a mutt with brown eyes,
the golden dog walked daily. Journey’s End.
If you’re the man, I’ll trace uncensored circles
on your back, dissident x-rays.
You’ll take illegal notes, vowels howling,
our tongues a record, another tattoo.
My coat. Your mandible. Song.