Week #27 – Lost in translation
|Parisian Nautical Object by Guy Yasko|
|Explain by Damian Pullen
“Suburbia is totally fucked up,” Maia announces, as she rips open a croissant. She slept out on the front lawn last night.
Dad looks like he wishes he’d stayed in bed. Toni sneezes and blows her nose. The cat on their bed worked. She looks awful.
“What’s ‘suburbia’?” Ellie singsongs. They must have practised this.
“And clean their cars,” says Ellie, “when they aren’t even dirty.” Dad washed her car yesterday while she sunbathed and I jacked off. That white bikini.
“Exactly. Who the fuck mows their lawn at 7.30 in the morning – on a Sunday?”
“Maia…” Dad’s warning lacks teeth, but his eyes plead. Toni’s eyebrows go up. Maia’s swearing has been tolerated since Mum left. “Do you mind?”
“It’s totally decadent.”
“What’s ‘decadent’?” As if, Ellie – it’s been Maia’s favourite word since the divorce – it replaced ‘miasma.’
“Sounds like a kind of toothpaste.” Nice try, Dad. Toni smiles, but she’s way out of her depth.
“Bimbo/ bimbo/ legs akimbo!” That’s the poem Maia wrote in soap on the bathroom mirror last night. Dad hasn’t said anything, even though it has been wiped off.
“More croissants?” Toni’s doing breakfast. There’s a puff of smoke as the oven door opens. She burns herself on the oven tray, screams, and runs over to the sink to run cold water on it, her shoulders shaking.
|EL ASESINO by Marcus Speh
04:46 hrs – Habana, Cuba. I can’t sleep. Too much to think about. Jim’s a handsome fellow and I figure he’d rather spend his day fucking our creamy whores, smoke our cigars and write slimy novels instead of teach me (I read this somewhere that all therapists are blocked novelists). But I’m Castro’s last and deadliest weapon, el asesino cubano. To bring down imperialism, I must understand American from the inside.
Jim gave me Hemingway to read, un escritor bianco, who wrote: “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn.” When I inquired why I was not taught Huckleberry Finn instead of the cheesy For Whom The Bell Tolls, Jim said that Mark Twain’s sense of irony was not contemporary enough. I sensed ambiguity, which I hate.
I look out the window of my hut at las putas, and I stroke my cock, and there’s no ambiguity there. Ambiguity is the death of the revolution. Long live El Máximo Líder, chupame ahora.
|Three Questions for Any Doctor by Robert Vaughan
i. I ask him, “Where did you go for your last vacation?” And I’m not being nosy, I swear, it’s because doctors go to these exotic places. Doctor French does. He’s been to Bermuda, and Barbados. He speaks a few hundred languages. He brings back thinly- framed pictures from the natives, like a Grandma Moses only filled with color, like one of those paint-by-number. Most exotic place I’ve been is Chicago. I got lost so many times I ended up in Wisconsin.
ii. My favorite question to ask my dentist, before shoving his gloves into my mouth, is “What are you doing for dinner?” And if he doesn’t respond, say yes, commit, then I just find another doctor, and ask him. You have to pick the perfect moment. It’s all about the timing. Sometimes it falls on deaf ears. Gets lost. Best moment is when he reaches for that drill or is about to syringe your upper gum with novacaine.
iii. This might seem strange. I also ask, “How deep is the sky?” Because if he’s unable to answer something odd, then can I trust him? I’m not there for the cookie- cutter treatment. I want to know he’ll give me the benefit of my doubt. So I ask the unanswerable to shake him out of his medical stupor. Get his nose out of those textbooks. More often than not, he just stares at me like I’m nuts.
Week #28 – The postcard
|Vienna postcard|Coffee mug coaster by Cecelia Ronald|
|You are Here by Martin Brick
Kyle Morton, D.D.S., sorts through his postcards, the ones sent as reminders of upcoming appointments. There are cartoon smiles, kittens, and beach scenes. Usually his receptionist takes care of this, but he wants to be sure that Karen Blau, wife, mother of two, part-time florist, gets the proper card. She’s always been nervous. When she first came to him it’d been seven years without dental work. Her mouth was a mess. Dr. Morton spoke just above a whisper: “we can fix this.”
When she receives the card, a New England autumn, she interprets it as their destination, and wears a tight but tasteful wool sweater. She’s fidgeting with her wedding band when he enters the room, but his voice defuses the nerves. He places his hand on her shoulder (never does for other patients). Asks about the kids.
She hates the novocaine the most. It takes an unreasonable amount of time. The needle’s in for a full minute. Why? Her eyes are closed and Dr. Morton notices the tensed muscles. He places his hand on her knee, maybe a little higher, but nothing blatant. He asks, “I love apple picking in the fall, don’t you?”
She can’t answer of course, the needle in her jaw, but she thinks of the postcard, a B&B, the smell of woodsmoke, all those clichés. The muscles on the working-side of her face produce a lopsided smile. Reaching for the drill, he pauses to examine his hands. People dread those hands, but not Karen.
|Postcards by Stephen Hastings-King
After my father died, I went to his house for the first and only time. It was a network of trails through sprung organizations. Illness had pulverized his collections. Everything was covered in dust.
When I knew him, he collected and cataloged. He kept their organizations in his memory. He knew where everything was. Later, he filled notebooks with networks of colors and numbers and lists. Then time and age turned his maps into fragments.
I thought that his books would lead me to the boxes that contained the remaining fragments of my childhood. I wanted to find them.
When I arrived, my siblings lined up along the porch and stared at me. There seemed more of them than I remembered.
I thought someone would know the system. But they were just overwhelmed.
The notebooks had disappeared.
By myself, I wandered through room after room past shelves of cardboard boxes. Each was marked with a color and number, each a wayward postcard not addressed to me. Arbitrarily, I opened a box. It was full of taxidermy animals and moths. Another contained bottles of evaporated perfume; a third dozens of identical wooden rectangles.
I gave up.
When I was leaving I asked if there would be an auction. One of my siblings said there would be. I said: If you find my childhood, call me. She said she would. She never called.
|Wish You Were Here! by Christian Bell
Flat lands, flowing wheat, blue sky. The only souvenir we got were these postcards, free rest stop goods. We went to Indianapolis. They stole our team, Dad kept saying. He would’ve cried seeing the Colts logos if he weren’t seething with anger.
Wish You Were Here!
Clear sky, foamy surf, untouched beach. An obnoxious relative, likely drunk, is bragging about how the sand burns your soles, how laidback each day is, how margaritas magically appear before you wherever you are. Meanwhile, here, it’s -34 degrees and snowing eighteen inches per hour. Mom says, nope, don’t wish we there, striking this relative’s name from the Christmas list.
Crow Native American
Faded black-and-white photo of somber Native American male. His hair braided, his eyes penetrating time. Doesn’t this guy look mean, the sender wrote in blue cursive. What do you think, dipshit? He probably blamed the photographer for the slaughter of his people, the end of their lifestyle, his relatives succumbing to drink. Man, now I’m talking like my father.
The Last Postcard
Solid black. The last postcard, kept in a secret place in the postal system, ready to be sent to the person who breaks the system. It’s your fault, the postmaster general will write, it’s you that’s ruined everything. Because of Seinfeld, the postmaster general must be Wilford Brimley. I’m comfortable with that. Postal apocalypse—it’s the right thing to do, and the tasty way to do it. Dad, though, would want Clint Eastwood.
|Postcards, the Attic Cabinet by Sam Rasnake
We are glass & tubes & gears
as if a single life – forgotten or
– New York, 1913
Ssshhh – Don’t tell anyone. I’m outside the hotel room
One crow walks the roof of a blue Mustang, speaks
– for Edmund Kohler
The dust is everything. All times between
You should see this place. Dark hallways
|Argonaut by Guy Yasko
The closing door chokes off the roar of the party. Interesting. He tries it again. Same effect. He can see his breath in the bedroom. He pulls his sleeves down and considers crawling under the pile of coats on the bed.
— Drunk, drunker than i thought. Boots where are my boots?
He sits on the bed and tries to remember. His eyes spin upward to the bookshelf. A code: The gift triste-tropiques suicide distinction homo academicus the postcard. His coat sleeve beckons from the pile and triggers memories of his boots.
Out on the street, hands thrust deep into pocket and collar turned up against the wind, he announces:
— Dilettantes. Derrida for dilettantes.
The judgment promises to echo off the brick, but dies in the cold. There is only the crunch of cinders under boots.
|Back to Wk #27 – Lost in translation
Forward to Wk #29 – The palm of your hand
Week #29 – The palm of your hand
|Magic Land by Eliq & Kids|
|Poet by Catherine Russell
Blake imagined infinity in the palm of his hand-
|It Stops by Claire King
Your temper was part of the fabric of our house, a stain between the coving and the flock. At night your foul, beer soaked threats and my pleas for mercy were ghosts floating through walls into the kids’ dreams. In the morning we’d breakfast on silence and bruises. I felt sorry for that child inside you still fighting some painful injustice – a beating handed down along with patched up clothes, a rationing of wartime love. Until years later, when the kids told me how you’d take your belt to their bare backsides behind closed doors. Bastard.
We made our escape on grimy streets under skies filled with crows, flapping like litter in the wind.
For years you drifted angrily alone. Then the grandchildren were born.
“A new start”, you thought, packing your narcissistic bags and dumping them on her kitchen floor. You were soon boiling over again, but her husband stepped in.
“Not in our house.”
How you raged then, the world proven to be as cruel as you’d painted it. Everyone against you, you angry little man.
She says she feels it too sometimes: the chemical rush of fury in flesh, telling her to grab their arms, shake and bellow and slap. When it comes she falls prostrate, pressing her face to the floor, waiting urgently for it to pass. “Here,” she says, “it stops.”
|Crumbling Bridges by Jane Banning
“The bridge footing gave way. Just crumbled like sand,” said the man from the semitruck in front of me. His eyes were clear as quartz and he laid a warm palm on my arm as I sat in my car. Traffic was backed up for miles.
“Who the hell you talking to?” my husband asked, on the other end of the cell phone. His voice sounded murky, miles away at home.
“Just a guy,” I said. “I’ll call you back.”
The man took his hand away and eased it into his pocket, rocked back on his heels, exhaling a languid breath.
“How long will we be stuck here?” I asked him.
“CB radio says it’ll be a while. Long as it takes for this whole line to get turned around.” His forearms glinted with golden hairs, lying down flat and silky.
“It’ll be hours, won’t it?” I asked, feeling my face glow with an expected heat.
“Probably. Nothing anyone can do but wait and make the best of it.”
My phone buzzed again like an angry insect in my lap.
“Can’t you tell me what’s going on?” my husband asked. “Jeez.”
“Nope,” I said, something settling in me like warm pebbles finding their places. “All anyone can do is wait and make the best of it.”
|Disappearing Inc. by Randal Houle
You won’t like this story. It’s the most frightening story I have ever imagined.
It’s not the story about the merits of eReaders versus paper books. As long as you feel good about it and it’s convenient and the price is right and it doesn’t ultimately wind up in landfill with all that corrosive acid eating through it not to mention the unit itself, which will outlive your great grandchildren….
But this story isn’t about that, it’s about freedom.
Remember the flames of hate that consumed piles of books? They weren’t books, they were words. Tyranny’s greatest weapon is the power to destroy words, and the greatest enemy of tyranny is words – especially words organized into books – the pages like phalanx against ignorance.
Despite tyranny’s best efforts, a few tomes escape, hidden away by cooler heads under the penalty of death. I hold these noble people up to you as the true heroes of history.
I told you this would be frightening, but it gets worse.
Take your electronic device, the one manufactured by a handful of companies, which has hidden deep within the architecture the ability to delete at the push of a button. Where will you hide your words when they come for you? There will be no warning. One day, your device will log on to the air and the deed will be done. Your story gone from the tomes of history, and with it, your freedom, snatched from the palm of your hand.
|Let me whisper in your ear by Bernard Heise
When I hold in the palm of my hand the life of someone like you, about whom I’ve learned everything I need to know from the pronouncements you have splattered across television, radio, and the internet, and whom I now have before me in the puffy flesh, sweaty and pale, wheeled by frantic paramedics into the soul-scorching lights of my operating room after a hell-bent ambulance ride because the cumulative effects of a bad diet, lack of exercise, and vitriol finally sprang the corroded springs of your blackened heart, knocking you flat and breathless just as you were raising a glass of expensive chardonnay to your thin lips to toast the jackals who have made and kept you fat in exchange for promises to create laws that will assure vast profits for the few by perpetuating the misfortune of the many, and I look into your predatory eyes, still very conscious, and glimpse a flicker of fear but also the demand that I save you, I suddenly become a man of faith, knowing that the good Lord himself has delivered you to this table beneath my scalpel, and I wonder whether I should say a prayer that my fingers might slip, which they never do, or that a random infection might take hold, which rarely happens, or if I should simply show my gratitude for the opportunity I now have to serve my country and fellow citizens and apply the blade decisively, remembering that God helps those who help themselves.
|Guy Fawkes by Heather Taylor
Stubby fingers greased the shank of the sparkler as Bernice held it as tightly as a five year old could well past her bedtime and her stomach full of saveloys and half a pint of her Uncle George’s Export. Sparks ripped from the tip as she waved it in circles, tracing yellow lines of fire in the night. She passed wind as she twirled. Her sister Alice made a face and poked her tongue out, pinching her nose. The adults sat in lawn chairs watching and laughing, piles of beer cans growing under their feet, voices raised to beat the yells from their children.
A collision with her brother chipped a burning chunk from the sparkler. It fell onto the crease of Bernice’s hand between thumb and index finger where it buried itself into her flesh. Skin melted and a curl of smoke rose. Bernice stood still to enjoy the sweet smell.
Then Alice screamed and Mother yanked Bernice into the house. Savage and dry eyed, the little girl fought, twisting in Mother’s grip. Unable to escape, she lashed out at Mother’s shin and connected.
When the palm of Mother’s hand found her cheek, the amount of illicit beer Bernice had consumed outweighed the saveloys and she threw up. It was only then, at exactly midnight, that Bernice started to howl. Somewhere a long way from that suburb, hidden in the dark scrub far from the lights, a wild dog heard the little girl’s calls and joined in.
|Back to Wk #28 – The postcard
Forward to Wk #30 – Urban convert
Week # 30 – Urban convert
|The Connection by Al McDermid|
|Thrum by Len Kuntz
At first he saw clouds, pale blue blemishes, and then his sight left him completely.
He phoned his daughter. He thought he might die at any moment. He was an old man, had lived a rugged but fair life.
She drove out that night. He sat on the porch, listening to the crickets bleating. When his wife was alive, after a long day of hard work on the farm, they’d sit in the rocking swing, holding hands but staying quiet, surrounded by green silence.
His daughter said, “You’ll have to live with me now,” and the old man almost vomited because he knew she was right.
The condo overlooked Elliot Bay. “It smells like glass cleaner,” he said. “And pigeon crap!”
He wanted to go back, die on the farm. His daughter kept talking about new beginnings, second chances. He thought she might be nuts.
She preferred windows open for fresh air. The street noise below made his ears bleed.
One Saturday she took him to Pike Place Market. He smelled fish and lavender and berries. He heard the fish hawkers and squealing children, birds cooing, a guitar.
His heart thrummed. It felt like a bomb inside his chest, and he liked it. He felt different, alive.
His daughter put his hand on what she said was a statue of a giant pig. “For luck.”
He laughed at that, the irony, how he had traded a live sow for a fake, how small the world really was.
|Urban, Convert by Christian Bell
The guy living to my left screams at his girlfriend. He plays his music loud. The songs are never familiar, just bass thumping and siren-like wailing. I’ve seen his girlfriend in the hall. She’s pretty and nice but looks worn down, her verve brutalized by this guy, this harsh city. She needs sunlight, someone to say nice words to her so she can lift her head, brighten her eyes. I want to invite her into my apartment for coffee and hearty soup. But I’m afraid of this guy, his voice, his muscles, his tattoos, his t-shirts like blood-spattered inkblots. I’d invite her over, explain to him, it’s not what you think, I’m a soup-making guy. But he looks like a guy who wouldn’t believe.
An old friend knocks on my door. We shake hands. He hands me a religious pamphlet, says he’s converted. Have you considered eternity, the coming day of reckoning, he asks. That’s heavy, I say, stunned by who he has become, then ask, how are you, did you and Gina get married? He says, face stiff, I’m great, and no, Gina’s gone. The pamphlet is glossy, the cover picture a Hubble-like supernova. I’m not sure what religion he’s pushing. You want to come in, I ask, catch up on old times? I can’t, he says, I have to knock on doors, spread the word. As I’m closing the door, he says, I’m pure now, no longer drinking, and I think, another friend, long gone lost.
|There’s Always a Bigger Dog by Boudreau Freret
A young man blocked a doorway with the door partially open. When he saw I wanted by, yet refused to yield, I waited a little longer then made an obviously playful gesture: I pretended I was going to shut the door on him.
The young man’s eyes widened and his mouth followed suit.
“Dude, I’m half your age-”
His first mistake.
Panic spread across my friend Mike the Marine’s face. Let it go, his eyes shouted to me. Just walk away.
“- and I’ve been shot before.” The kid emphasized the word shot, then waited as if the matter between us was now closed, resolved in his favor.
His second mistake.
“Shot?” I asked.
“Yeah.” He lifted his shirt to reveal a scar about the size of a pencil eraser just below his sternum, dead center of the celiac plexus.
“Really.” I said softly.
“I see.” I looked up from his scar and into his eyes. “Well, I’ve been shot, too.”
Without blinking, I slowly began to raise my shirt and revealed an entry scar. I raised my shirt higher and revealed another. Then another. And another, still. All stragglers that had spread from the main cluster.
When the fist-sized main scar was unveiled, the color ran from the kid’s face.
I turned to show the exit wounds, and when I turned back, the kid was gone.
|Muddy Boots by Michael J. Solender
Always the left boot first. Ever since he was a kid.
Standing or sitting it didn’t matter. He didn’t know why, he didn’t think of himself as one bound by ritual, yet routine dominated all aspects of his life.
Thick, red mud fell in truncated furrows as he alternatively strengthened and relaxed his grip over the roughened steel toe. Perfectly rounded, the clay shards looked as if they were formed by a potter. Compact and resolute, they swept up easily onto the porch where they could bake in the remains of the retreating sun, soon to rise on uncounted Chinese who gave him as much thought as he gave them.
Three hundred thousand dollars seemed like a lot of money. He didn’t like to think in those terms. Money wouldn’t make his back ache or cake in his boots.
She said she was ready. Her sister would help. Their place in the city had a big garden and he could work it all he liked.
Did corporate farmers offer Chinamen cash for their farms? He wondered.
It was up to him, she said. They’d be close to Julie and the boys. Wasn’t that worth something?
The right boot was easier because his left foot was arthritic. Now with that boot off, blood flowing into his arch, the right boot surrendered the entire day’s tension.
He bent over and swept the clay towards the door with his hands. He wouldn’t have trouble sleeping tonight.
He never did.
|All Evidence to the Contrary by Kelly Grotke
The mind creates reasons, maybe this was one. See if it sticks, see if it can survive the exacting standards of a child dredging the bottom of a pond with a branch. Interesting? Or is it pitched back where it came from and you watch it sink down again to the bottom with all the rest. Because you have to figure it out for yourself, don’t you, and she wouldn’t have listened anyways even if they’d told her back at the house that you will never, ever, not in a million billion years find a pharaoh’s mask hidden in the dark bed of a Midwestern pond. A year or so later it was Indians. They’d gone one day to a high crest above a river and she’d seen the carvings on the rock. She’d find them in the woods someday, she was certain. Because in all that living moving solitary space there must be someone like her, before her, really it was just a matter of time and so out into the world she went, after school and on weekends too when she wasn’t locked in her room reading and sometimes even with friends. Years later she’d married a man because he seemed to be from the world somehow but it turned out his wilderness was much deeper even than her own and she’d shown him all the paths and places and secrets but he told her there was no one there.
|Back to Wk #29 – The palm of your hand
Forward to Wk #31 – Missed the bus
Week # 31 – Missed the bus
|Public Transportation, Ensenada by Bernard Heise|
|Legs by Susan Tepper
Trey told me not to put on pantyhose. He said it gets in the way if he wants to get in right away. I felt dizzy after he made that speech. I was putting sugar in my tea and I never use sugar in tea. That’s how turned around he made me. The kitchen wallpaper has stripes and they were dancing. Well, wavering. Either way I left for work without my Chapstick and no pantyhose. I was cold walking to the bus. When I got to the bus shelter it was empty. I looked down the street and saw the back end of my bus, the dark smoky tail pipe emission that’s probably illegal. I sat down in the empty bus shelter. It would be twenty minutes to a half hour before the next one. My legs were freezing. I touched them and felt nothing. “This could be bad,” I said aloud to no one. “This could be the start of frostbite.” I stood up and started to move around the bus shelter, then I jumped up and down and bent in different directions. I stamped my feet on the ground. Nothing was bringing back the feeling in my legs. I could see the ER docs sawing them off then asking me if I wanted to take them home.
|Token by Dorothee Lang
A room. Shelves filled with things, trinkets, pictures, gifts, little statues. An open suitcase on the bed. I put those things inside, the pictures, the gifts, the trinkets. They are my memories, tokens of time. Then I close the suitcase, and walk down streets, past a park, until I arrive at the bridge. There’s a bench there, a waiting place for the bus that will come and carry me home.
Sitting there, I realize that I forgot the things in the drawer. So I leave the suitcase, and walk back to the room, to gather them. But I get lost on the way. Instead of the park, there is a huge hotel, alleys with stores that are filled with antiques. I follow another street, thinking it will take me to the bridge, to my suitcase, and the bus stop. But the street only leads to more shops. I walk on, disorientated, and finally enter a café. A woman offers a seat at her table, she talks of Japan, and shows me pictures of a lake, of trees covered with snow. Still she talks of summer. I can understand her, even though her language is different. Others I can’t understand, even though they talk the same language as I do.
The day moves on, but we all remain sitting there, trying to communicate, and I think, maybe we all got lost somewhere, and missed the bus that would take us home.
|Maybe by Stephen Hastings-King
Once we were in love. Then we disappeared.
Very slowly you fell through the floor of memory rooms that were brightly lit and entirely your own and dissipated into surrounding zones of detritus and decay, then in fragments drifted down through networks of seldom-visited structures comprised of corridors that connect nothing and stretch arbitrarily & spread yourself across a map of the sky that is outside of them became a constellation superimposed of diagrams of astral scatter or the relations and environments that absence creates, intimate but inaccessible.
I see you as you were. Once we were in love maybe.
|Bonne Fire by Matt Potter
The flames shot higher and hotter and flushed my face amber and orange and red. Holding my breath, I closed my eyes.
“It’s a new beginning, Madeleine,” Rob said, his breath warm on my face. “You can do it.”
Stepping forward, I opened my eyes to watch her glossy face wrinkle and crackle and curl. Magazine covers ripped from their spines, defaced articles and slashed film posters, all collected since 1983 in scrapbooks and albums and shoeboxes, when (we were both sixteen) she stole the part of Judy in BMX Bandits from me and launched her international career.
“Do it, Madeleine.”
I nodded my head. Loosening my fingers, the Nicole doll dropped from my grasp and landed just out of flames’ reach. I bent to pick it up but Rob sprang forward and kicked it into the fire.
Noxious fumes rose as flames licked around the perfect face and the plastic body and blonde hair melted. And the voodoo pins pinged as, folding and imploding, she was reduced to a petro-chemical puddle.
“Repeat after me,” he said. “Nicole Kidman did not steal my career. BMX Bandits was a shit film.”
“Nicole Kidman did not steal my career,” I chanted. “BMX Bandits was a shit film.”
Rob wiped away tears.
“Nicole Kidman did not steal my career. BMX Bandits was a shit film.”
I smiled him a recovery smile.
Back inside, Rob hummed while doing the dishes.
And sneaking on the internet, I ordered a life-size Nicole Kidman doll.
|Sometimes there was no air by Doug Bond
Downtown you felt netted like a one-eyed fish, big behind double-paned glass. Soprano sax piped from invisible outdoor speakers, stunted shrubs that weren’t shrubs at all, even though that’s what you called them. Women slender in dark skirts taunted by city wind, wrapping around, patted it all back down, and threshed a weave with closely cropped angular young men who never had hair growing where it shouldn’t.
You felt missing for cool air, crisp air. Sometimes there was no air. It was dirty air, thick air. Stainless steel and glass. The wrong change in your pocket you watched the bus roll away. Your buddy wearing Brooks said to never let them see you ride. You took a walk hopped the turnstile underground.
Peanut brittle crumbled in your pocket as you picked up the paper blue bundle at the narrow storefront uptown, took it up your three flights. The skinny old laundry man fucked it up. Lost one of your best socks. The one in your hand now worthless.
And that’s the word you used when you said it out loud to his face. Scrawny old gray stubble ripping you off for a bundle of laundry and the folds done the wrong way. When he opened up the half door counter in the back where he hid, you snapped in a circle, the reek of vodka, sweat and chlorine. You saw the dark inked letter, dashed with a four digit number embedded in his arm, looked away and never went back.
|That Girl by Nicolette Wong
I missed the bus staggering through the pages in silver ink: a jolly vehicle that rocks along the highway into the morning mist, on the lookout for gullible souls who will come on board to share a silence that will weigh heavy on the empty seats if its solitude goes on for just a little longer.
The bus is not meant to be lonely. Neither is the girl who is waiting for me at the other end of the story. She stands hopeful in a pink wool coat, against the color of mercury which has taken over the daybreak.
On a fine day she is the messenger of good tidings: fine and sunny, windy and dry. Even her voice rings with what she leaves unsaid: today is the day when you seek your pleasure out there in this world, for you are only living for the day you die.
On a stormy day there is a slight crack in her voice. In the enclosed room. Over the radio. In the air that we breathe, on disappearing streets to the limits of our memories. We lose one another in the loss of hope.
The girl does not like it, but it is her job to be neutral. She boards the bus every morning to reach her stop. Today she is waiting for me, but I cannot hold her. We are not supposed to meet.
|Back to Wk #30 – Urban convert
Forward to Wk #32 – Silence
Week # 32 – Silence
|Silent Stream by W. Bjorkman|
|Unspeakable by Susan Gibb
He makes no sound, no pant nor grunt. He woke me with a lover’s touch, his fingers speaking words a woman understands. It is a dream but no, I feel the warm breath on my neck, the weight and scent of a man that settles me slow and deep into my mattress, my room, my reality. My shriek is stopped by a hand and my body screams by bucking, pushing, shoving at the mass of him. He slaps my face.
“Who are you?” I say, but he slaps me again, so hard that I’m amazed at the gentleness of his other hand between my thighs. This man is complicated, I think; more conflicted within himself than what is happening here.
I moan. He grabs my neck between his thumb and hand. All right, he is no fool. He knows and hates the faking too. He slides inside me and if for nothing else, I’m grateful that my body has responded in its instinctual way.
The silence hangs between us like a world suspended. I imagine Earth orbiting without a sound inside the dark expanse of space. His lurching moves the bed as if the universe had suddenly gone mad and blown us down a black hole, spiraling out of sight–for I can’t see anything, can’t feel myself at all.
And when he’s done, no sigh of pleasure. I close my eyes and when I open them he’s gone. The bedroom door wide open. My soul ajar.
|Tararuas by Duncan Smith
Slow humid rain falling in the gloom. She leads the way up the track, about an hour to the hut perhaps, we should make it just on sunset. It’s darker in the bush, beech trees towering above us, a light southerly pushing through the tops. The raindrops are intercepted by the canopy but regroup into something bigger and more violent on the way down. I don’t want to put on my raincoat, it will make me sweat… and smell. I recall something about women having a more acute sense of smell than men.
Long day at work, late to meet her, not what I had in mind for a first date: she probably thinks I’m an idiot. I try to think of something clever to say, but her legs ahead are distracting, all symmetry and grace. Stop looking at her and think. It is beautiful here, shadows and grey mist, elbowed branches and gnarled roots. I lick the rain and sweat off my lips.
Soon we are above the bushline and cloud. The sun has just gone, leaving half-light and a gentle wind through the tussock. She turns to look back. Her face and neck have fine angles and shadows, and I glimpse a smile at the edge of her lips. She is beautiful in her element.
|Misdemeanor Offense by John Riley
It was a surprise they put me in a dormitory, not a cell, with fourteen sets of bunk beds along two walls, windows with no bars, and that for two days no one threatened me, the kid with Penguin classics under his mattress. It was not a surprise when, on the third day, the man sat on my bunk without invitation and told me without being asked he’d beaten his friend to death with a pool cue and still didn’t know why and asked without caring which book was my favorite. I showed him my used copy of Lady With a Little Dog except in that translation it was called Lady With a Lapdog. He said no man should be a lapdog. I agreed and told him the story. “Fuckin’ cheaters,” he said which made me think of my father and I told him about our drunken trip to Mexico, my dad and I, and how at fourteen I’d driven us over the Madres and through a town called Durango. It was a surprise that after I said Durango he stared a long time at the wall of men wearing green shirts and green pants waiting to see what was supposed to happen and whispered twice “Madres at Durango” and then said I should shut-up he’d make sure I was okay but I should shut-up and the prisoners, so unlike me I was certain, schooled away, leaving behind an endlessness that didn’t last.
|Proof of Silence by Randal Houle
One of the first senses a fetus develops in the womb is hearing. There must be a moment where there is none, followed by the newborn’s cries – a primal plea to never again immerse us in soundless oblivion.
Can you hear it?
It happens every time you sneeze. A moment of solitude for the soul, or what I like to call soulitude. Monks spend a lifetime attempting to create this euphoria, this epiphany of nothingness, this nirvana.
|In the name of the Lord by Alex Lockwood
It used to be a game. Like I guess every kid in town (in the world?) church bored the pants off us. So we messed around. After prayers the pastor with those shot-to-death eyes would say ‘in the name of the lord’ and the congregation would wobble and say ‘Amen’. But in the little gap of breath down where we stood we made our own prayers.
In the name of the lord. Poo. (We were kids.) (And while we were giggling, Amen.)
In the name of the lord. Stupid. (Amen).
We got older and braver. The words were pussy unless we did something too. We knew better than our parents that words were no good on their own. They needed acts.
So it was In the name of the lord. Poke.
There were times when the pastor used to whip the congregation up. Just kept going and going after prayers with that line like it was some holy mantra. All these mothers and fathers of our friends swaying with one arm in the air, repeating amen, amen. We left it late so it sounded like our words came first.
In the name of the lord Pinch Amen. In the name of the lord Amen. Stamp In the name of the lord Amen. Punch In the name of the lord. Amen.
And at home father would whip the buckle of his belt at us. Silence, he told us, In the name of the lord. Then we started hating god.
|Cows in Silence by Catherine Davis
A cow wanders onto a roof and falls through the skylight. It is a calamity, but such an innocent mistake. Mightn’’t you wander onto a roof once upon a full winter snow in Vermont?
A cow climbs a gravel mound in Virginia, perhaps to see what it can see in its little corner of the world. Not much gain in elevation, alas, and then that sinking feeling. Up to its armpits when I spy it from the road. Good job on saving that cow, my friend tells me later, after calling its owner to inform him. You know Junior’s just going to go whack it over the head with a hammer, and there’s dinner, don’t you, he says.
Rushing dizzy into headlights out of the late rural blackness, a cow, stock still staring, in the middle of River Road. Collision averted by the skin of my teeth. Few seconds further on, reconsidering, I u-turn. This cow is booking it like nothing you’d believe when I catch up. Cow herding by Volvo, but then it turns into a field. Mississippi 911 is blasé: where is it now? I don’t know, I say, but it’s fast.
This cow is curled by the fence a few feet from the sparkling aqua pool where I swim. This cow is white, all its friends are white too. Beauty beside beauty within beauty — this is France.
All over everywhere, cows train in a single direction across vast pastures, harking to some silent, inner compass.
|Figurines by Robert Vaughan
Today my mother broke every dish in the house. The Lladro Three Wisemen were the first to go. I didn’t mind, in fact, I even helped her trash those Asian figurines that loomed on the former glass shelf unit in our living room. She’d bought them when she took a Feng Shui extension program at the local college.
The whole thing took less than an hour, and when we’d finished, mom said, “Fuck your father, let’s get in the Explorer and drive to Florida.”
My sister was starting to decoupage ash-trays out of ceramic plate fragments. “Don’t do that, Frieda,” I said. “You might cut yourself.”
Before we reached the interstate, Frieda fell asleep. In the quiet twilight, I thought about the Wisemen, broken dishes, shards of rubbish. Just before leaving the house, I’d snatched a Fu Dog head, stuffed it in my coat pocket for protection. Now I rubbed it, feeling the jagged edges at its broken neck.
I glanced sideways at mom, but she stared straight ahead, jaw clenched. I wanted to ask if we would ever come back, but I knew the answer.
|Back to Wk #31 – Missed the bus
Forward to Wk #33 – Spontaneous combustion
Week # 33 – Spontaneous combustion
|Beveridge Reef, 20º00S 167º47′W by Michelle Elvy|
|Written in Fire by Len Kuntz
We watched the monks burn, one after another.
Awash in fire, they sat so still that I thought they were fake. Flames rippled off their heads like molten hair. Each explosion caught me unaware, and I’d jerk my beer can. The grainy, black-and-white crowds on screen didn’t seem scared or surprised one bit.
“Why would anybody do something like that?”
My roommate laughed. He’d found the clips online while researching for a term paper.
“They were protesting the Vietnamese regime back in the ‘60’s.”
When I stood, the room swiveled.
“Don’t go. The best one’s coming up.”
I barely made it. I retched hard. When I was done, I started packing.
After that, my paintings were all infernos or burnt-out pits of ash.
My fiancé got nervous and ended us.
I lost friends.
My father came to see me. He said, “It’s obvious you have issues. I mean, all these strange paintings. And look at you. You’re about to explode.”
That was the point, of course.
I’d led a privileged life, with slick cars and cashmere socks.
I’d had so much, but nothing I cared about.
That night I took a gas can with me. I sat in the middle of the outdoor mall, ready to make myself explode. But first I tried to tell them.
I’d made a sign denouncing war. I gripped the wood handle and squeezed till my eyes bled.
People passed by. Some giggled, some tossed coins.
It took flames to get their attention.
|Bitch at Heart by Susan Tepper
Their kid was ugly. The mother was ugly and the father was ugly. What chance did the little kid have? People said what people always say: What a cute kid— stuff like that. The parents beamed. I could never bring myself to say it. My husband told me they would hold it against me. I’ll take my chances I said.
On Tuesday we went to dinner at their place. What a mess. Newspapers from a hundred years stacked next to the cold fireplace. Junk strewn everywhere. The wife stirred things in a pot then stuck in her bare hand to fiddle with some string holding the meat together. Not even out of the pot and already I’d lost my appetite.
My husband made a big show out of smacking his lips and making hunger noises. It got unbearable. I pushed the meat around my plate eating a few carrots. When we got home he told me off for not eating the meat and that started a big screaming match.
The next day the husband phoned to say it was obvious I did not enjoy myself at their place. My own husband protested saying I had a wonderful time but was just a bitch at heart. And that they musn’t take me seriously
|Twinkle, twinkle, little planet by Bernard Heise
When the first incidents occurred in Cairo, Berlin, Toronto and Wichita, people mistook them for acts of terrorism. But the reality was worse. Eyewitness reports indicated that the individuals involved were not setting off suicide bombs but rather were the victims of some sort of fire that spontaneously flamed from within before making them explode. Certainly, the explosions weren’t nearly as powerful as a typical suicide bomb, but they could easily kill or maim anyone nearby, obliterate a taxicab or disable a bus. And, apart from a large sect of evangelical Christians who were convinced, despite biblical inconsistencies, that they were witnessing the rapture and eagerly anticipated their own combustion, most people found them much more frightening, for they were completely unpredictable and unexplained. As the frequency of such incidents grew, so did the probability that within any group an individual would ignite. Like the Black Death, the threat was indiscriminate, failing to honor the privileges of socio-political distinction. Explosions were taking place in homeless shelters, corporate boardrooms, at cabinet meetings, and family dinner tables. As they looked into each other’s eyes, friends, comrades, and lovers not only recognized their mutual affection but now also understood that they were the likely agents of their own mutual destruction. And so it was that people stopped working and playing. Instead, they slipped their bonds of sociability and fled the burning cities, seeking solitude in the forests and the hills, where they forgot their language and waited in silence for the fire within.
|Reiki Master by Linda Simoni-Wastila
The morning Merilee disappeared, my lover died in a fire that started and ended in her queen-sized bed. The fire department declared arson, perhaps self-immolation, although they never found traces of accelerant. But I’d discovered Twenty-One Love Poems spread open on the rug, and remembered the heat from her hands stilled inches above my mons.
|Testimony by John Riley
The next winter the house burned down. The summer before Bobby lived with us. He was short with a thick mustache and big muscles and didn’t like wearing a shirt in the heat. He showed me how to make a belt snap by looping the end to the buckle and jerking it from both sides. It’s trickier than it sounds when you’re a kid. You’d catch a finger if you weren’t careful and have to worry about crying. I walked around snapping his belt until she yelled at me to please for God’s sake stop. “I can’t take it anymore,” she said. He did card tricks too but wouldn’t show me how they worked. I could figure them out when I grew up. Now I think about it maybe his name wasn’t Bobby. The first day he wasn’t there I kept my mouth shut. The next day I asked where he’d gone. “Back to where he came from,” she said.
|Back to Wk #32 – Silence
Forward to Wk #34 – Floating away
Week # 34 – Floating away
|Father and Son by Eryck Wenziak|
|Goodbye, Little by Greg Dybec
When little Harry passed, his parents wrapped him in green cloth and carried him down to the edge of the riverbank. Harry’s father brought rope, and for hours they gathered driftwood and twigs, tying and assembling, starting over and assembling again. Finally there was a makeshift canoe, more like a raft, resembling a misshapen bed, all brown, knotted, and disjointed, but it would do.
His mother yanked the green cloth aside, exposing Harry’s forehead, cold and milky, not much different from the day he was born. She kissed it, teary-eyed and heaving, before passing him to the father.
They wrapped Harry up tightly and lowered him into the raft, placing next to him his favorite stuffed bear and a full bottle of formula. Together the mother and father cast their son off, and he floated calmly away into the black womb of the gentle water and screaming crickets.
They said things like, That’s the proper way and His great escape was soothing. They held each other. For a moment they felt full, staring off into the distant twilight.
The flashing lights behind them lit the river like a midnight carnival; reds and blues bounced off the water’s slow ripples, illuminating the shore. Harry’s raft hadn’t made it very far. It had veered left and crashed up onto the bank, spilling his bottle and bear and unraveling the green cloth around his body. The cops poured down the hill to join the festivities.
|Five Oranges by Virginia Watkins
It wasn’t until it was too late that I noticed that I was undeniably floating away. And, since I was already floating, it made sense to just sort of go with it. I don’t know. What could I do? My husband was clearly tethered – to his jobs: work, children, bank accounts. To hold me there, he would have to let go of something. My children might have come along, if I’d let them, but I didn’t know until it was too late. I reached for them, but it looked halfhearted – I could see it in their faces – my own relief, gratitude. To be taking off. To be floating away. Without them. My fingers reached across, over the edge, but the basket was so small, and it only held five oranges. How long would five oranges keep them happy? They ignored my weak attempt, tried to reach farther, past me to the basket, itself. But I pretended not to see them. Took the idea of them, heavy in my hand, and set it on the basket floor. And saw at once that an idea has no heat, no weight, no noise, no mess. And as fast as I had pulled my fingers back, I reached for them again. As quickly as I’d looked away, I searched for their faces, getting smaller by the second, by the inch. Five oranges was more than enough. Grab on! Too late. I was floating away and began dropping the oranges. Softly. One at a time.
|My Man’s Voice by Michelle McEwen
You ever hear you some singing on the radio on one of those a.m. AM stations with a lot of static? You ever hear all that static, but you hear this singing coming right through all clear? My man’s voice is like that— rough but sweet, barbwire and roses. When he picks up the phone, folks, even kin who should know better, on the other end always got something to say about his voice — especially if it’s someone with the wrong number. The other day, some wrong-number-woman called and my man picked up. He said hello and his hello was like a whole soul song floating across the line; the woman tried to keep him on. She asked what he was made of— honey? “You must be with a voice like that.” I heard her ‘cause I was right up under him. I told him to hang up, but he just smiled and kept talking like he knew her from way back. I heard her laughing at everything my man said, so I snatched the phone out his hand and hung up. My man gave me his what-you-wants-to-do-that-for face and I told him it didn’t make sense for him to be talking to that woman when she had the wrong number. I stared at him then — whisk in hand and ready to use it on him — and said, “She had the wrong number, right?” He aw-baby’d me and said, “Yeah.” And upstairs he flew to wait on his dinner.
|The Approximate Feeling of Being Ten by Martin Brick
The idea was to party with Angela, but she got angry because I spent Sunday watching football with my dad. But she burned a whole day shopping with her sister. It snowballed from there: I don’t call enough, doesn’t like my college friends… Next thing you know it’s New Year’s Eve and I’m single.
Mom and Dad invite me to the Wolski’s with them, but I’d be the only person without an AARP card.
Home alone with beers, until midnight approaches and I consider champagne. I go to the wine cellar, but get sidetracked among my old stuff in the basement. There’s my old runner-sled. Way too inviting. I suit up and hit the hill out back. The snow is compacted, so I fly. And laugh like I haven’t in years; pure elation.
At the bottom of the hill I spy the river. It’s quiet. The center is slow-moving water, the edges, thick ice. The river doesn’t know arbitrary markers like New Year’s, that say you’re supposed to be with a crowd, people to affirm your happiness, someone to kiss at midnight. The river is kid-me, throwing sticks just to watch them float, oblivious to the politics of pleasing others.
Which is probably why I walk to the edge of the ice and hammer with my sled until a chunk breaks off. Large enough to ride raft-like, slow down the silent river, me and the cold and the winter constellations and the silence and the approximate feeling of being ten.
|Monologue by Chelsea Biondolillo
Some girls remember their first time in all kinds of detail: like what song was on the radio and if the guy was wearing cologne and what underwear they had on. I hear them talking in the locker room while they put their eyeshadow back on after PE and recurl their hair.
You know, I can’t get my hair to curl right no matter how much hairspray I use? I’ve tried, and it always falls flat by second period. I don’t get foundation either. It looks too thick on me. So when they’re at the mirrors, I don’t have anything ‘constructive to contribute,’ as Mr. Taske says.
When they start blabbing about their boyfriends, I just get dressed and hustle out behind the art building for a quick smoke before English. What am I supposed to say when those Barbie girls start gushing about how they finally “went all the way” with some dumb football player?
Someday I might just blurt out, “I think mine’s name was Cary, and he pushed me down in the woods.” Wouldn’t that shut them up? I’d like to tell them that: tell them what it feels like to float away while a thing’s done to you, so you don’t have to really remember it. I’d like to watch them turn away from the mirror for a second and see something other than their own glassy eyes. But that’s what Mr. Taske would say is ‘disruptive social behavior.’ It’s not helpful, he says.
|H2O by Dorothee Lang
She clears the snow, once more. Her shoes are drained already, her arms are tired. The snow keeps falling since days. She tries to see it as just what it is: a structure of H2O. Strings of molecules, the base of life.
“The rain that falls, the water we drink, it’s the same water that was home to the first fish, that quenched the thirst of the first mammals,” a scientist explained on TV.
She imagines them, all those drops of water that keep moving through time, in different states of being, once being a river, once a cup of coffee, once being used for the laundry, and then falling again, as rain, as snow. The circular thought brings on images of the streets of laundry she has ironed in her life, of the armies of dishes she has washed, of all those days she has woken up to, to fall asleep again at their end.
She keeps clearing the snow, and can’t help it: her thoughts are with Sisyphus now, and she tries to see him, again, as a happy person.
|Back to Wk #33 – Spontaneous combustion
Forward to Wk #35 – Loose connections
Week # 35 – Loose connections
|Tassel by Coleen Shin|
|Fog by Susan Tepper
My head’s been wired for sound. I told the docs not to do this. I said I don’t want to hear ANYTHING. They said you have to. You cannot go around with your head in a fog. I like the fog I said. I like the color and texture. I like that you can’t see two feet ahead in really good fog. I like how it conjures up the living and the dead. I like to walk the mountain road in fog. It’s a low mountain, but all the same.
|THE POWER by Marcus Speh
Walking down a dead end alley, a woman talks unkindly to her man. He looks hurt. The man thinks: Women! They think they have power over us because they have our children. – The kid between them keeps its eyes closed. It is, in this very moment, deciding if it should be a boy or a girl. Instinctively, the man shows his muscles. His wife’s eyes widen and she stops talking. The thought of sex grows between them like a desert flower out of dead soil when it rains. The kid suddenly screams: she is going to be a girl! The parents rejoice: a girl! The woman thinks: Men! They think they have power over us with their magical dicks. All three look at each other now. And listen.
|Matcht by Stephen Hastings-King
I want someone who is attractive and funny, who is kind and who gets me.
I want to curl up by a fire with a glass of wine/cup of coffee/dram of scotch and be mesmerized/lose myself.
I want someone to go to parties with, someone who speaks the same private language; a look from across the room and we would flee the scene and go make out in the car.
I want to share this beginning of a new beginning/chapter/adventure.
I want to trust you. Please do not hurt me.
I am well adjusted. I do not have baggage.
I want to be swept off my feet.
I know. I know. I read too many romance novels when I was young and while I no longer believe traces of that reader linger still and here, in this vast electronic space landscaped with billboards that lonely people make about themselves from kits, I feel free to tell you about the ways in which she lingers, you who are packets of 1s and 0s that shower through my image and bounce away.
Like the Lady Miss Kier, I believe in the power of love. I believe.
I have a lust for life.
I want a photograph.
|Anemone by Guy Yasko
She’s ripped the elastic from all her waistbands. The loose threads wave like anemones. I am paralysed. My eyes are too heavy to roll, my arms too heavy to move. I cannot lift my head.
Miriam wants to argue. Worlds within worlds she says. Maybe. Like the paisley in paisley on her pyjama bottoms. She holds her pyjamas with one hand as she changes the dog’s water. The water sloshes. Her pyjamas fall. I see the muscles moving under her skin. I shut my eyes.
|Resolution by John Riley
Too often, Calvin’s willful head finds its way into his hands. He certainly does not want to feel his fingertips brush against his thinning patch of uncombed hair, but is seduced by the way the bulge of his forehead, the bony ridge that slightly protrudes from beneath the hairline, settles neatly into the cup of his palms. It is a comfortable fit, without need of a finger adjustment, although, if his shirt sleeves are the tiniest bit too short, his eyebrows, which are aggressively bushy, tickle his wrists. This slightly diminishes the consolation. A more critical problem the resting of his forehead in his palms gives rise to is that the ears are neglected. It is quite noticeable to Calvin, who lives alone in a house his aunt willed him, that within seconds of his forehead touching his palms his ears turn from pink to a flustered red with what he assumes is lonely frustration. The problem has not yet risen to a fever pitch, but one can never be too careful where the head is concerned. It is an apparently intractable problem, and any chance of resolving it escapes him. His only choice is to struggle to keep his head out of his hands, and he plans to grow more committed to the effort moving forward.
|Hector’s Car by Melissa McEwen
Covington Street is a narrow street; it has no yellow line on its pavement and Hector (who lives at the end of Covington) speeds down it as though he is fleeing the cops. His station wagon makes so much noise and is so wide it takes up half the road. Although it rattles like he’s got lots of loose parts in the trunk, Hector drives it like a race-car. It sounds as if it will fall apart as soon as it rounds the corner. And even though he fusses with his car all day on Sundays, it never sounds any better. Covington Streeters shake their heads and say, “Now, why doesn’t that boy just get his car fixed?” Others say, “Or sell it.” But they don’t mean it. Hector’s station wagon is part of the community like a long-time resident. In summer, he blasts his music loud and no one complains or calls the cops; they open their windows and dance. And in the early early-morning, when he goes to do whatever it is he does, Hector’s noisy car is to the folks on Covington Street what roosters are to the folks in the country. And they yawn and stretch without even looking at the clock
|Back to Wk #34 – Floating away
Forward to Wk #36 – Animal behavior
Week # 36 – Animal behavior
|Luck by Catherine Davis|
|Josh’s Deer by Stephen Harutunian
I teach ninth grade English in Vermont, just south of the Champlain islands. At the faculty holiday party, a colleague told me that her eight year old asked Santa for a cell phone. That reminds me, I said.
It was Fall. Before class, Josh asked me if I wanted to see a picture of his deer. (Josh is short and fat with scraggly yellow hair. His face is red. He can’t read. He wears his clothes too big and a camouflage duct tape hat. He reads magazines about dirt-bikes.)
You have a deer? I said
The one I shot, he said, taking his phone from his pocket.
I said they didn’t used to allow phones in school. And phones didn’t used to take pictures, either.
You don’t want to see it?
You’ve already shown me, I said. He knew it was a lie. And though I wanted to, I couldn’t let him down. Alright, I said. Okay.
He gave me the phone. The deer’s head like a slab of meat on the grill grates in the cab of his father’s pick up. Red Chevrolet. Calvin pissing on a peace sign.
Looking at the picture, I felt Josh’s pride.
I’m gettin’ the head for my birthday in August, he said. I’m gonna hang it on the wall in my room when we move to Fletcher.
So why take a picture? I asked, handing him the phone.
I dunno, he said. Why not?
|Lionel Richie Runs Things by Len Kuntz
In the same way gang leaders run cartels from prison, my wife’s cat ordered our lives from the dust mote space beneath our bed.
We called him Lionel Richie. When I’d say, “Here, Lionel Richie, here,” it hissed. Lionel Richie hated the name Lionel Richie. He also loathed me.
Once, I just asked my wife outright. “If it came down to me or LR, who would you pick?” She feigned an immediate case of stomach cramps, gritting her teeth as if passing a kidney stone, and so I thought, there’s my answer.
I tried to convince myself that killing an animal was different than actual murder. Cats didn’t have souls or driver’s licenses. They didn’t pay alimony.
Still, Lionel Richie was a crafty critter.
He foiled every plot I had—sniffing out poison in the whipped cream, the bowl of milk; not following me out to the deck to look at pigeons twenty stories below; not coming into the bathroom where I’d filled the tub and was waiting with rope and anvil.
I got the dart gun from a taxidermist who said the sedative was “hardcore.”
When I raised the rifle, Lionel Richie yawned. I told him I wasn’t kidding. I said, “I’m going to burn you in a smelter.”
As I squinted down the sight, the beast flew at me, gun blasting off.
Now I’m without one eye.
While I’ve been recuperating, though, Lionel Richie keeps me company. I hear him hum beneath our bed.
|Bride and Groom by Tina Barry
At the flea market where we buy candles shaped like fairies and soap that wafts patchouli sits a man in a wheelchair. He wears an old black tux, shiny at the elbows, and his gray hair has been styled and sprayed into a fragile tornado. On his lap sits a Chihuahua wearing a bridal outfit—veil and all. No one seems to notice the couple, except us. We can’t stop staring at them staring into each other’s eyes, so much in love.
|Strings dangling from the sky by Doug Bond
It had been this way for me for some time, their following always hooked about the edges of my shadow. It is Jacobs himself who later at the gallows shows me the white tusk of the boar.
In darkness flight was breathless, strong fisted. The moon had lifted high above the canyon, chaparral cloaked and rock strewn. I followed down a switchback and took into a run, coyote yips clipping up from the river bed flats. Four or five or maybe a dozen, impossible to gauge, with the sound of my boot strikes filling the silence between their hungry calls.
The razor branches began to take their toll and in time I joined their chorus tangling and crying like a giddy voiced schoolboy hauled to the floor and striped raw about the shoulders.
My legs wouldn’t stop, my hands reached out as if invisibly tethered to strings dangling from the star pocked sky. The trail ran out into nothing more than a tumble of sage and the foul, brackish silt of a sulphur spring, ruinous to my plans for further travel.
First light before dawn I am waked by the bristling of a low shaggy figure picking among the dead wood of the dry creek. Instinctively, I take to the lobbing of sharp edged rocks but in my present state of lassitude am too slow to recognize their target, and watch in helpless despair as the creature bucks straight in upon me.
|Lunkers by Michael J. Solender
I never ate a lunker though I caught a bunch of them. Jimmy says they’re dumb fish and I laugh ‘cause I can’t imagine such a thing as a smart fish. Jimmy laughs too, but probably not for the same reason.
He always laughs when I laugh. I think he thinks it makes us better friends. Mom says to have him up for supper sometime, I don’t even need to ask her, just bring him. I don’t ever bring him to supper though.
We’re friends and all but we’re just me and him friends, we’re not the kind of friends that you bring to supper.
His pa cleans his lunkers. Then they get the triple dip. That’s what Jimmy calls it. First flour, then beaten eggs, then cornmeal. Jimmy says they go into bacon fat after that and he eats ‘em with collards or turnip greens.
He says his pa don’t talk too much since his ma died and I can’t help but think what it’s gonna be like for Jimmy when I go off to town school next year. He’s two years behind me and he’ll still be at Silver School.
While we’re walking home from the lake, Jimmy stops and asks me if I wanna have supper at his house tonight. He says his pa asked him to ask me.
I look at Jimmy for a long time and don’t say anything. He looks like he’s gonna cry and then I start laughing.
He starts laughing too.
|Rats by Beate Sigriddaughter
Already uneasy about so much, especially her weightlessness, she happens to read about an experiment where rats were raised with regular electric shocks. They lived.
She remembers a boyfriend who gave her honeysuckle blossoms, but always only ones that had fallen off voluntarily, not ones deliberately plucked. He spoke once of the horror of trying to explain in the clinic that the doctor had ordered only one side for shock treatment, not both. The medical staff only sneered an impatient “yeah, yeah” into his petrified face.
Back to the rats. When they were grown, their cage doors were opened to cages in which there was the same amount of food, but no electric shocks. The rats were allowed to move from one cage to the other freely. They explored the new situation. Then, one by one, they returned to the devastating comfort of the familiar shocks.
She wants to cry. She talks to her husband instead, tells him about the rats. “It’s so sad,” she pleads.
“Yeah, yeah,” he says, looking up from his computer screen. “The way they use those rats in labs.”
“That’s not it,” she whispers. “What’s sad is that they returned to the pain.”
“Oh,” he says. “I thought you were sad because you cared about the animals.”
Her energy freezes, expands into silence, a thing she knows well. She aches for the wrong reasons.
|Lying Down With Dogs by John Riley
The baby screen wedged across the bedroom door is there to keep the dog out. At some point the decision was made to bar him from the room, although little of value has been left in the room he can damage. He is not a destructive dog and knows to not dirty the floor or to jump on the bed. I know why he whimpers from our side of the gate. The bedroom’s large windows face west and this time of the year buttery afternoon light spreads across the floor and drifts up the walls, which slowly change from freshly painted white to soft yellow. If he was allowed to stretch out in the light, on the deep-blue and brown and rust-red rug that came from another country, I would join him in the room and stretch out beside him. As he slept I would sleep too, and while the other people left the house to spend their day outside, we would rest together until dark, when he will be hungry and I can watch him eat.
|Back to Wk #35 – Loose connections
Forward to Wk #37 – Border town
Week # 37 – Border town
|Center St. by Guy Yasko|
|Bearing Witness by Linda Simoni-Wastila
In the meeting house this morning, silence. No machines thrumming, no rumble of moving earth. Six others sit in equal quiet. A blue jay caws from someplace distant. I look down to my clasped hands. The query runs through me: Where there are hatred, division, and strife, how are we instruments of reconciliation and love?
Pews creak. Blue pulses below my wrist, skin thin as hope. The jay cackles again, the same or another I cannot tell, but Franklin rises and slides the door bolt. No one speaks; it is understood the remaining Friends fled South through the excavated tunnels. Decades ago, the Sin Papeles built the tunnels and immigrated North. When they crossed the border, broken and naked, we sheltered and fed them in our safe houses until they ran down our schools, shot the police, and bankrupted our hospital. Their children hold the town captive.
Still, we hold Sin Papeles to the light.
To the light we hold our Friends traveling South. I hold my daughter, her husband and infant to the light. My cousin Lorraine, the kindergarteners I taught. I hold them all to the light.
A shadow in the window. A flutter of blue feathers. Footsteps rustle brittle leaves. Far off, the staccato of gunfire. I smell the smoke before I see it curl past the window. Muriel reaches for me and we grip hands.
We are instruments of peace, we whisper. We are instruments of love.
I hold us to the light.
|In Between by Stephen Hastings-King
Behind me are two doors. Each opens onto a room which is more event than space. Entering puts a sequence into motion that is every time the same.
In the first snow falls through the ceiling and weighs down with moisture the flock of paper birds pasted to strings so they hang in the air. One by one they drop away. Each leaves paper carnage behind. As the birds fall the room expands: mountain reliefs, islands and lakes; the holes in Appenzeller and Emmentaler cheeses; the craters of the moon and distributions of stars.
The second room is a diagrammed hierarchy of names that includes the word “room.” The visibility of the diagram varies with observer investment; if you think only about the word room and not about any particular room you may be able to see the branches that in the distance form fractal trees that include actual trees and cauliflower, floodplains and cardiovascular systems.
In between I listen against a door and never hear a sound.
I spend a lot of time in between looking through a window. Once I ventured outside to explore the white plane that extends in the same way indefinitely everywhere and found that nothing except position differentiates one place from another there and that the light moves very slowly right to left so everything seems to run backward. I was lost for I do not know how long. I have not gone out there since.
Someday I will leave this place.
|Adult Dark by Martin Brick
“Kids,” my aunt shouted from the back of the house. “Time to come in.”
“Aw nuts. Already?” I complained but started back.
My cousin Lefty didn’t move. “Come on, we’d better…” I began, but paused, looking to him for guidance.
He was right-handed, so his nickname was just the beginning of things that didn’t quite make sense. Another was that he was younger than me, but clearly in change. But since I moved from the city to rural Indiana he helped acclimate me to wide-open playgrounds of cornfields and woods.
“First,” he instructed, “don’t say ‘aw nuts.’ Who are you, Charlie Brown? Say ‘shit.’ Say ‘damn.’”
“Second. When were we told to go in?”
“When it’s dark.”
“Right. And is it dark?”
“I don’t think it’s dark.” I believed this. It didn’t seem dark. That was the other thing that was hard to get used to. We were right on the border of the time zone, so it got dark late. Mom would say, “It’s bedtime,” when just five miles to the west it was an hour until bedtime. Didn’t make sense.
“This is adult dark. When you’re inside drinking coffee, talking about sick people from church, sure it looks dark.”
“It’s not dark if you’re in it,” I told him.
“Exactly. You’re learning.”
“Boys. Come in.” This time it was my mother. “It’s dark.”
We both giggled. We’re far enough into the corn that she couldn’t see us.
“You going in?” Lefty asked.
“Shit no,” I told him.
|On the Brittle Edge of Understanding by Kelly Grotke
They left that morning before the dew had vanished in the blue summer heat. She’d tied her friend to a fencepost behind the house where the two brothers lived, talking all the while and telling him to be good and promising treats and walks and all manner of good things if he would just please wait there for her return, because cultural knowledge is passed on in elusive little ways after all, and a child’s mind is like a border town in which improbable scenes can and most certainly will take place.
She’d skipped yesterday but here they were picking sides again for another day’s war, two tiny generals and we have become their armies, but it was summer and she wasn’t bored yet and besides they’d all been told to be nice to them for living alone with their mother and coming here after some great tragedy that no one would ever explain. So into the woods now, half north, half south and they’d meet in the middle for the ambushes and taking prisoners and sort out who won after the major battles had ended or when they just got tired because no mortal can play even a great game forever.
Hiding low in the underbrush, she saw one of the brothers untie the dog and yank him toward the woods, a prisoner. But then the dog broke free and only hours later when he still hadn’t come home did she begin to cry and regret her initial enthusiasm.
|Border Crossing by Catherine Davis
Last we spoke, we dashed our cells onto highways, into the paths of semis. This wasn’t going to be like that. Fanning the pages of the album backwards, thumbing our noses at what hadn’t played out, so long ago.
Here is Del Rio. There is Ciudad. In de Chirico stillness at the edge of town, edge of the country – alone I wait, I worry, I want. From this poor motel room it’s high-pricked sensation: a deep lazy backbeat underneath the jangling thrill, the winding, rise-and-fall chirring of the cicadas, and the maraca sizzle of a thousand rattlers’s warnings. An awning flaps, if only in my mind.
The heat warps my view, revealing the true meltedness of it all. As it was then, so it is now: without warning, he appears on the rise at the end of the road.
I watch the sexy strut of dissolution coming onward. My sultry almost-cowboy hitches and rolls his lizard rhythm down the road, pacing this eternal inevitable path. The jingle-jangle of desire pulses against the lassitude of the dust. His shadow is long.
“I’m here,” he says.
“You are,” I say.
“You’re here,” he says.
“I am,” I say.
From the doorway, he watches with orange-flecked eyes.
“Slouch toward me, rough beast. Ignite my womb.”
“Now, the full catastrophe. Come on, before we cross.”
The dust on his face is fine. Of salt, of chalk, with a mineral bite. Lips like they ever were, like no others.
We’re going down, down.
|Back to Wk #36 – Animal behavior
Forward to Wk #38 – Long distance
Week # 38 – Long distance
|Ode to Hundertwasser by Jana Heise|
|Florida Ain’t Nothing by Melissa McEwen
When Uncle Pete drove up from Florida for Aunt Barb’s wedding in April, he stayed with Ma and me in our small gray house. His long car and Florida tag seemed so big in our small-town driveway. In this town, out-of-staters are like celebrities and the neighborhood kids stared at the tag, asked if they could get in, as if getting in the car would make them Floridians.
“You from Miami? Orlando?” they asked from the backseat, leaning out the window.
Uncle Pete, leaning against the car, said, “Naw, Pensacola,” and the kids frowned.
They all wanted to know if it was hotter there than up here and Uncle Pete said, “Much!” then he told them what he used to tell me, “Gets so hot I can fry fish on the sidewalk,” and they believed him – even Tony and he never believes anything anybody tells him.
It was the same way when I was younger and Miss Dixon’s son came to visit her from California. I was one of the kids asking if he was from L.A. or Hollywood. He was a movie star to us. He told us about beaches and good weather. That night, my dreams were Californiaful and in the morning I asked Ma if we could move, but she said “California ain’t nothing but gangs and earthquakes.”
And, that April, as I watched Ma (arms folded) watching Uncle Pete, I knew what she was thinking: “Florida ain’t nothing but hurricanes and rat sized roaches.”
|Long Distance by Darryl Price
Here’s the thing. I never thought you’d
Sorry that we are no bigger than
Die in our veins, but also clouds
|THE BROTHERS VERNE by Catherine Davis
Underneath, distance is the thing, not time. Time, only insofar as how long it sustains. On one breath.
Kid can swim. Two minutes seventeen, second turn. Length of limbs: mechanical advantage. Slenderness of frame: reduced drag. Accidents of birth, not strength of mind. “Citius, altius, fortius!”
The bottom is tinted with fine shades of ultramarine. Surely the way we were meant to move in the world. If not gills? Adaptation. A single breath – extend until it capitulates and – I’m in. Blast the barrier.
Two and forty-eight. Carbon dioxide dribbling up to the surface. Soon will be nothing left, then fire, cells screaming, and he’ll give it up.
Burbles, gurgles, whooshing of displaced water. Sunlight refracting in shards. The solar rays easily crossed this aqueous mass and dispersed its dark colors,
Hypoxia. It happens.
His shadow cuts the light as he stands by, clocking me. He will be so proud: a younger brother worth having! One league only is fifty-five laps plus one length of this pool. Imagine. It can be done, in time.
Teach the brat a lesson. He challenges my three minutes, seven?
Every cell of my skin feeling the flow – a billion individual sensations. This is… alive.
Can’t be doing three, twenty-two and still… no, not moving. It’s inaccurate data. Reset, I’m done.
I call your name, but you don’t hear. I’ll sleep now, while I wait.
So? Hypoxia, he gets a snootful, he’ll snap out of it.
Brother, how will we reach the bottom of the sea?
|Driving the Cloverleaf by Doug Bond
Spinning through the ice patch he straightens out, turns left twice, and takes Bessemer northwest three miles to the broad swale where the engineers had cut the state highways’ intersection into four perfect bulbed ellipses.
She knows he’s leaving in the morning, but asks anyway.
“Flight leaves 8 am. If there’s no weather delay I’ll get home before
“That’s a long trip.” She hesitates and then says, “So you didn’t even
“Nope, didn’t know him at all.”
“Your brother’s friend, right?”
“Yeah….Well, I guess they weren’t just friends.”
“Oh.” She tries to sound surprised, “I really didn’t know.”
“Yeah, well neither did my parents. It’s pretty fucked up back there right now!”
Quiet settles in, only the sound of the turn signal and wiper blades, as they weave circles in and around the highway exchange.
“So why’d you come with me anyway you worried I’m all freaked out or something?”
“Didn’t want you to miss a turn.”
The snow starts coming down heavier but it is late and traffic is light. He heads up the northbound ramp yet another time, picks up speed a bit as they loop up again to the highway merge. Everything is banked just right with the entrances and exits sweeping wide and away from where they’ve just been. He’s beginning to feel a little dizzy, almost nervous looking out the window, how in the dark and blowing snow it’s almost impossible to see one side from the other.
|Back to Wk #37 – Bordertown
Forward to Wk #39 – Password
Week # 39 – Password
|Hands by Michael J. Solender|
|Love by Matt Potter
“I’ve met someone,” Trent beams down the phone.
Thank God, I think. The drought has broken.
“You must meet him.”
Standing on the corner, I wonder if Trent’s new boyfriend will look like any of the exes: tall and muscled, like Rodrigo, Manny and Bruce? Petite and muscled, like Kim, Jackie and Ba? Or hairy and muscled, like Spike, Max and Bruce (doing double duty ten years and a new body later)?
“Hi, stranger.” Trent’s arms enclose me. A bursting warmth shines through his eyes.
“This guy’s worked wonders,” I say.
“I’m like a new man,” Trent trills. Then holds up his hand, as if pledging allegiance. “Wait: I am a new man!”
“Come in,” he says, leading me through a side door. And into a church. Which I’d noticed while waiting but thought was just a meeting point.
Trent stops before a statue of a buff Jesus. “Meet the new man in my life.”
Trent’s had many phases: Madonna, Bette, leather, water sports, rollerblading, haiku, chicken queen, rice queen, muscle queen, daddy. But religion? This is new.
But there’s no denying Trent looks a different – certainly happier – person.
“How serious is this?” I say.
He lays his hands on my arm. “Come with me to my prayer meeting tonight.”
I look for a chink, to find the Trent I’ve always known.
“I can’t,” I say. “I have a date with the devil.”
“Oh,” he says. But I see the familiar spark in his eyes. “Tell him I said hello.”
|Tall Love by Michelle McEwen
No more giving away what I got and gettin’ nothing back. I give my heart, my time, and what’s between my legs and all I get is a bunch of men’s backs on their way out the door. My old honey thought I was sleeping when he snuck out. I was awake, though— watched him tiptoeing out. Funny sight— grown men tiptoeing. I cried a spell about it, but no more of that nonsense crying for me. I’m at that age where my folks starting to drop like flies and I need my tears for them. Too old to be weepin’ over menfolk, too old for this one-sided love I keep gettin’. Aunt Tookie says I love too hard— says no man’s love ever gonna match how I love. That’s ‘cause I got this way of lovin’ that if I took my love, put it up against a wall, and marked off the height with a pencil, every day it’d be taller— a growing child. What I got is tall love. My men got short love; no matter what you do, it don’t grow. Unless I find a man with tall love, my legs staying closed. Gonna need a password to get ‘em open again. Won’t be no simple password like I love you. It’s gon’ be something tough like “Baby, I been all over Chicago. Had me some moneyed women, yellow women, plump women, but they got nothin’ on the one I got layin’ up next to me.”
|Sofia, Sofia by Melissa McEwen
Junior is always leaving Sofia for months at a time, but he never leaves for good. He still has a key and Sofia never changes the locks because she knows he’ll be back, she just doesn’t know when. So every night before she goes to bed, she leaves the porch light on for him and a plate of food on the table and he’ll show up out of the blue like he never left, returning in the middle of the night, through the back door, and his heavy gait and the creaking floorboards will wake her. She’ll lie there and listen as he heats up his food in the microwave. He’ll eat like he hasn’t had a meal in weeks. She’ll comb her hair with her fingers and wait for him to come to bed. She’ll fall back asleep by the time he comes, but when he comes, he’ll whisper Sofia, Sofia in her ear and mechanically she’ll turn over on her back and open her legs.
|LOTUS by Linda Simoni-Wastila
Drape me with silk
|Lotus by Roberta Lawson
In our palms, small talismans. In our palms, small found objects: a photo, a gemstone, a discarded note. Hand to hand we pass back and forth these tokens as substitutes for love. Here we do not mention the cold – our words are only for our own ears and we ration them carefully.
Once a mute man placed a lotus flower in my hair, walked away. Once somebody’s mother took the earrings she was wearing, threaded them through my lobes. We share no common language of words. We make do. We better than make do.
|Back to Wk #38 – Long distance|