Color Issue: Volume One


 Poetry:

JB Mulligan – The Beast of All
Alethea Eason – Here, Take My Eggs
Mischelle Anthony – Market St. Bridge with Attempted Suicide, Love Is An Alcove
Oliver Carmichael – The Love Song of The Monkey Bars
Lauren Suchenski – To Circumvent the Dam

Fiction:

Thomas Logan – The Villagers

Photography:

John Mullennix – Grace in a Sky of Thorns, Apparati
William C. Crawford – Forensic Foraging, Psychic
Susan Marie – Cleansing
Barbara Ruth – Fire on the Lake

Visual Art:

Ernest Williamson III – Two Beauties in the Rain, Nude in Abstract
Alexandria Heather – Father River
Carol Radsprecher
On the Roof, Self-Portrait Without Self
Paul Leibow Broken


Egotist Sublime

Jared Lynch


Jared Lynch is a writer living in Muncie Indiana who has never been satisfied with telling stories solely through a single medium. 

 


Dream

Mark Jackley

 

snow fell from the sky
which had dreamed me first and so:

dreams are true
the tribes are right
the truth falls in a million

pieces none the same
to cover all we see

Mark Jackley is ready to retire, simple as that, folks.

 


Artist Delving Into Her Craft

Ernest Williamson III

Dr. Ernest Williamson III has published poetry and visual art in over 600 national and international online and print journals. 


Mayor

  Paul Albano

 

            Outside my office door there is knocking.  Once.  Twice.  Three times.  Then, in a moment I now understand as the halcyon stillness between two halves of the same storm, the knocking vanishes, as sudden in its disappearance as it was in its arrival, and silence makes its very conspicuous return.  Until the knocking starts again, faster than I am able to count, and something, an uncharted sensation somewhere between angst and dread overwhelms me as the knocking speeds to a hammering, then a pummeling, then its grand crescendo into delirious pounding, and through the space between the bottom of the door and the rug a palpable sense of desperation and barbarous urgency drifts into my office and I must press both hands firmly against my mouth so as not to collapse into hysterical laughter.

            The doorknob, which is brass and embossed with an image of a yawning angel, slowly, ever so slowly, begins to rotate clockwise until it’s turned as far as it can, and it clicks with a thunderous echo.  There is no Polak here.  This is the only thought I possess as the door is edged continuously forward by the bare arm and open palm of my secretary.  Her dress is green and purple polka-dot.  But she is partially obstructed by a thin, balding man in a non-descript suit.  They stop whispering to each other.

            I uncover my mouth cautiously, and my fear of hysterics proves unwarranted.  I wave at my secretary.  I expect a return wave.  Instead she apologizes for the interruption, and in a pleasant tone that may or may not be forced, tells me that this gentleman, whom she pats on the shoulder, is from the United States Government.

            The man confirms this with a short movement of his head and a hand he extends in my direction.  Frederick Ist, he says.

            Seeking to project the right, circumstantial awe, I clasp his hand with both of mine and shake it rapidly, grinning as expansively as I am able to.  “Very pleased to meet you,” I say twice, at different volume levels for each word.

            He seems startled by my friendliness, and immediately retracts his hand after I let go.  Since the vigor of my greeting dislodged his glasses, he bends gingerly to collect them off the carpet adorned with Oriental designs. 

            Face to face with my secretary, I form the words ‘The Polak is not here,’ and project them soundlessly.

            Ist returns to his position standing between us.  Thank you and likewise, he tells me.

            Covertly, I steal another glance at my secretary and find her already staring at me, so eye contact occurs instantly.  Inaudibly, she mouths a reply I can’t discern.

            “The Mayor’s chief aide is out of town today,” she says through shortened breath, “and he normally doesn’t meet with visitors alone.”  Ist twists around to look at her, and she smiles gently.  He asks if, considering the importance of his position and the nature of his visit, we can make an exception today.

            My secretary continues to take quick, audible breaths.  The skin below her eyes looks more creased than usual.  I resume my expansive grin and maintain it until the corners of my mouth ache, and I feel the grin sag in acquiescence to gravity. 

            “Sure can” my secretary says.  She straightens her glasses and stares at me with open-mouthed concern.   

            I watch her close the door as she leaves, then watch to see if she will immediately open it again.  She does not. 

            Transferring my attention to Ist, I pace around him in a circle.  His shoulders are hunched forward, and he emits an appearance of advanced age and malnourishment.  “With haste, summarize the reason for your presence,” I say firmly.

            “Investigation,” he says.

            I nod and accept this.  He does the same.  Gracefully, I unfold my arm and point towards the two seat leather couch occupying the midpoint of the room.  He thanks me and sits down.

            “Say, I didn’t mean to catch you at a bad time, but if you want to get dressed first, I can wait outside,” he says, angling towards the door.

            I ruminate intently about his comment, probing each word for its unstated meaning.  Its crypticness is astonishingly well-structured, buttressed at every angle like a mountainous stone basilica.  I give up.

            “Or you could just stay in the robe, it’s fine by me,” he says.

            I perform more pathology, but again learn nothing.  Frustration amasses.  “Maybe I will,” I reply, dragging out the “will” longer than is socially acceptable, so that it becomes a word dripping with menace. 

            Ist appears upset by this, and he shifts into and out of three positions, settling on one where both feet are flat on the rug, knees touching, hands resting atop his thighs.

            I remain most upright, leaning on the back of a large, leather padded chair that faces the couch, but with its mobility of rotation, it could face anything in the room at any time.  Ist drums on the tops of his thighs.  I resist the urge to pace.  “If you came into this office with a purpose, now would be time to get to it,” I tell him. 

            Ist apologizes, and removes a stack of papers from his brown briefcase.  He proceeds to tell me about the sequence of events that led to his presence here in my office, and how they will affect me.  He speaks of a city with virtually no reported crime stats, yet claims that in the week since his arrival, my municipality is a place of cartoonish disorder, a modern day den of iniquity far beyond what he imagined was possible.  He describes mass-scale high volume organ harvesting, transient hospitals that meet in basements and abandoned buildings to perform grotesque experiments, and ruthless, guerilla-style gangs that organize themselves not on ethnic divisions, but by ideology. 

            I cut him off and say, “Spare me opinions for they will be utterly disregarded.” He tries to start again, but once more I interrupt him.  “With all due respect,” I add hastily, hoping the interval was not too long.

            Ist offers little indication of this attitude, and continues, sometimes speaking extemporaneously, sometimes, in a droning voice and poor display of memorization, reading directly from the papers, which repeatedly mention my name, and deploys several technical legal terms which his annunciation implies that I don’t understand.  I do not let these moments slide with impunity. 

            “I’m not a child, I know what that means,” I say on each such occasion.  This always prompts him to look forlorn and apologize. 

            “Absolved,” I say.

            He finishes and returns the papers to the briefcase.  I am unsure of his conclusion, but his tone was accusing throughout.  

            “So,” he says, elongating the pronunciation and betraying his wish that I am to speak next.

            Ordinarily, I would whisper my response to the Polak, and he would reword it, and convey it for me.  But the Polak is not here.

            “Your speech is in want of unambiguity,” I say cleverly.

            He concedes the point, and what follows is a protracted moment absent speech.  We do not even look at each other.  Yet, he does not leave.  The moment swells, with nothing changing, and it becomes transparent that our conversation has progressed to its inevitable end, and as is customary when such an occurrence is between two strangers—one visiting the other—I expect him to politely thank me for my time and vacate.  Yet, he does not.

            Instead, resting his briefcase against the base of the couch, he rises and begins meandering about my office.  He goes to the bookcase and evaluates it.  Unease wrings my throat and mouth and I struggle to galvanize the moisture needed to swallow.  He examines the binding and removes some of the books, flipping through them, assessing, analyzing, and judging them.  He turns around and his face is contorted into a very pronounced, but maddeningly enigmatic expression. 

            “That’s remarkable,” he says.

            I lean more of my body weight against the back of the chair, and my fingers knead into the padded leather arm rest.  “Maybe from your insignificant perspective in history,” I tell him.

            He says, perhaps so, but what he means is that all the titles are scribbled over, and inside, each word has been blotched out, which he emphasizes, is not line by line, but rather word by word.  He gazes over his shoulder at the bookcase, which stretches from floor to ceiling, and says that he cannot imagine the patience that must have taken.

            I hear myself chortle, but suppress it before it matures into a louder expression of amusement that might embarrass him.  “You’re very primitive if you find that remarkable,” I say.  “It’s rather easy.  I just use ink and a small paint brush to cover each word after I’ve read it.”

            He lets his arm fall to his side and he takes a cautious step in my direction.  “Why do you do that?”

            The answer is obvious, but I feel obligated to state it anyway.  “Only the present and future concern me,” I say.

            Ist appears perplexed, and briefly stares at nothing, before reluctantly conceding my logic.  He moves away from the bookcase with his right hand trailing behind him, running along the book bindings like a mallet over a xylophone.  He arrives at my desk and without asking, pokes and prods at the contents resting atop the polished maple surface.  He takes a pen and with the tip, pulls back a metallic ball and releases it, beginning my Newton’s Cradle. The rapid, rhythmic clicking creates a pulsating, metronomic anxiety that won’t leave.  He notices a sheet of paper still in the typewriter, and he retracts it, and I feel too weighed down to manifest into speech or action the urge to stop him.

            He reads it quickly and silently.  He asks me what it is. 

            “It’s ‘liver’ translated into every language I know.”

            He says there are only two words on the page.

            “I know a little French.”

            He gives no further reaction, aside from replacing the page, and he continues to circumnavigate my office. 

            I remain pressed against the chair, struggling to assign a reason to his continued presence.  A kind of nonphysical exhaustion washes over me, and I glance repeatedly at the door, hoping the brass will turn and the oak panels will be pushed towards me and my secretary, or better still, the Polak, or someone else will enter, and lift from me the burden of being alone with him. 

            Ist travels to the wall behind me.  He comments on the all encompassing mural that depicts a lone glass and metal tower rising to the clouds amidst an endless dirt and dead tree expanse.

            “It was painted by a prophet,” I say.  “It’s the future.”

            He says it looks bleak, and he asks what it means. 

            “I don’t know, we haven’t got there yet.”

            He continues to ask questions about me, about my family, about my city.  I answer all of them with a high pitched voice, but absent truth.  He catches me sometimes, making sarcastic comments about already knowing that I don’t have any brothers named after the Three Musketeers, I was never a Rough Rider with Teddy Roosevelt, and my city cannot trace its antecedents to a Trojan Diaspora. 

             At what I imagine would have been the halfway point of his inquiry, I pour two glasses of brandy.  He accepts with great reluctance, only after repeated assurances that it’s actually not brandy, that I made a mistake in calling it that, which I did only because of the snifter it was poured into, and that he will not be in violation of sobriety oath. He sips, his frown evidence that he knows brandy by first taste, and he urges me to continue.  But I say nothing.  I remain entirely motionless until I watch him take another sip, the unity of closed mouth broken by the lip of the snifter, his hand wrapped around the stem, pushing the wide, ringed based into a position of slight aloft. Then a laughter that had been building and building deep within my hidden recesses emerges, throbbing my vocal chords and stimulating a shrill, deafening blare that’s intervaled by my excessive breathing, and before me, Ist grows agitated, screaming for me to stop, but I do not.  I clutch the periphery of my rib cage to reign in the convulsions, and bend over to keep from falling.  He begs me to stop the hideous shrieking he doesn’t recognize as laughter.  Then, he opens his mouth, perhaps to plead with me again, perhaps to apologize for all or some of his imprudence, perhaps for a reason beyond my ability to anticipate, but I can only guess, because he never fulfills his intent.  Instead, the snifter falls, splintering along one side against the carpet, and both hands shoot to his throat. His eyes flicker and become bloodshot, and he and I stare at each other, without interference, in a moment of shocking, primitive intimacy.  I see his face cloud purple, then a deep red, and his knees buckle, and he collapses to the floor, perhaps knowing why.

            Immediately my laughter subsides, and I drop to the floor next to Ist.  I push myself partially up, so that I am kneeling on all fours, and I feel regret eat through me like acid, proliferating in all directions until my body heaves violently from the sobbing and the gagging.  Every thought belongs to him, and I am unable to erase my picture of him and the quiet nobility of his comportment, and all that I have just taken from him, and those he might have been close to.  Even though he lies a few feet from me, I can’t look at him.  I begin praying to undo what I’ve just done, and the sobbing and the vomiting intensifies.  I remain exactly as I am, and endure the smell of human decay and my own regurgitation, until the action loses all residue of the present and moves from experience to memory, becoming entirely something I did rather than something I’ve done.

            It is only then that I am able to stand and gaze upon the body of the late Mr. Ist with disinterest.  I walk out of my office to the reception area.  My secretary recognizes the stains on my kimono and after she rings the appropriate citizens, arranging for the body to be used and disposed of, she follows me back into the office and helps me bathe and dress. 

            I emerge again in a black suit and vest, and grab my hat and cane hanging near the outside door.  The sky is early summer dusk, and when a breeze materializes, cradling me in warm, ocean smelling air, I decide to send my driver away and walk home.

Paul Albano holds a PhD in English from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and has published his work in Cream City Review, Paper Darts, and Whiskey Island Magazine.


Having It Both Ways

Carol Radsprecher

Carol Radsprecher has an MFA in painting from Hunter College and has shown in many solo or group exhibitions.


Sitting Looking

Lauren Suchenski

 

Sitting looking at all the anguish of Anglican angles and arctic archetypes
of ancestral heaving and weaving.

Save the sacred from the dripping faucet of forceful forgetfulness
incompatible with life.

Mythic disjuncture, technoscapes and radioflows and image cells
and moving ethnicities of, currency and corrections; the vertebrate
of your visualization of the spinal cell of silence.

Networks of newness and nebulous news terrorizing over turbulent tubular
tentacular tunnels of truth.

Feeling the fall falling and freeing and floating and flapping and then
it comes from the inside, from the seaside from the south side,
letting it all let go, letting  crack, crack snapple pop, and purple
as it comes through your body.

Search, search, and search until it finds you
and then you’re lost again
and then you’re dead tissue
.

Lauren Suchenski was nominated for the Pushcart Prize in 2015 and has had her poetry appear in a variety of magazines including Gambling the Aisle, Red Fez, Stoneboat Literary Magazine, Vine Leaves Literary Journal and Dark Matter Journal. 


Burial of the Children of the Earth 

Ivan de Monbrison

lacs de peaux
grandis aux marges des hommes futurs
les liens de la nuit et du cœur
ont laissé pousser la parole
les racines de l'eau
dans la chair des corps
pliures
  aux coins des feuilles
     le mot laissé pour mort
pâturages livrés aux semeurs de saisons
trouble des corps cariés
charriant les demeures aux angles défaussés
   la ville envahi des ombres élastiques
se donne en silence aux morts
    les algues dans les yeux
       écartent les troupeaux de voix
              horribles plaines
charriées des oublis aux hurlements sans
                                                                     voix
le socle se déboulonne
le partage des routes comme du pain donné
         à chaque passage
                  chaque silence rompu
                        on organise la mort
les corps cadenassés les uns aux autres
les fous
dans les asiles enchaînés
parlent encore
les femmes en menstrues
donnent un lait putréfié aux nourrissons
      morts-nés
le spectacle est dans la salle
frayeur de routes nomades
  à quatre pattes nous voyageons
     en compagnie des moutons et des loups
attelés aux rauques rumeurs
des rameurs
nous exfolions nos mains gantées
de maintes blessures enfantines
  châteaux saisons
      perdu dans le désert sans autre horizon
                que la mer inhumaine déçue
                     la tour s'effondre au cœur
                             et nous sommes en prison

Ivan de Monbrison est un poète français de Paris.

 


lakes of skins
high by the margins of future men
bonds of night and heart
having let speech grow
roots of water
in the flesh of the body
creases
    on the corners of sheets

            the word left for dead
pastures given up to the sowers of seasons
trouble of decayed bodies
carrying these mansions with troubled angles
   the invaded city of elastic shadows
handed over quietly to dead men
     algae in the eyes
               dismiss the herds of voice
                         horrible plains
swept along oblivions of voiceless
                                                        howlings
the base unscrewed
the parting of roads like shared bread
          each time
              
every silence broken
                          
we organizes our death
bodies locked to each other
the insanes
in asylums chained
still talking
menstruating women
give rotten milk to their stillborn
            children
the show is in the room
by fear of nomadic roads
    four-legged we travel
            in the company of sheep and wolves
harnessed to the raucous rumors
of rowers
we exfoliate our gloved hands
covered with childish scars
  castles seasons
           lost in the desert without another horizon
                    but the inhumane sea foiled
                        the tower collapses in the heart
                                       and we are in prison

Ivan de Monbrison is a french poet from Paris.

 



Home of God 

Alexandria Heather

Alexandria Heather is mostly water. 


The Kettle

Auden Lincoln-Vogel


Auden Lincoln-Vogel is an experimental filmmaker and video artist, currently working on a film in Tallinn, Estonia.

Issue Three


Fiction:

Helia Rethmann – The Truth About the Children You Rooted For
J Saler Drees – Wings
Jeffrey Higgs – Know Guns
     

Photography:

Antonio Hidalgo – Looking Up
Lucy Alice – The Weight of My Wings
Laura Espinoza – Paris
Maeve Smith – Romance, ‘Blaise and Posie, Northbridge Park, Charleston SC’

Poetry:

Christopher Stolle – Last Rites
Erika Haines - The Gull, The Wind, and a Prayer
Rachel Nix – Spring Came, Prayer
Sergio Ortiz - Someone asked me for an Edelweiss from Rilke
Lorin Drexler – Wrestless, Drema, Rapidly
Matthew Steele – Vicious, Hyasinge, who can suck the musicland
RT Castleberry – The Bars of Bethlehem
Liam Rogers - My Apologies to John Constable, Tate Gallery, Ferlane, East Bergholt (1817) 
Grace Pasco – What “Apart” Meant
Bruce Colbert - Donuts, señor?
Hayley Hudson – Sessions
Alice Pow – and the antelope eat the grass
Imogen Myslinski – Larvae
Kathryn Malnight - Lessons I Learned from Repeating Sophomore Year


Racing Robots, Brawling Buddhas

Greg Michaelson 


 

Greg Michaelson is from Edinburgh, Scotland. 


Tony Adamo offers us, " a most hip thank you." 


Susan Marie is a Broadcast Journalist, Radio Producer, UNV [United Nations Volunteer], Human Rights Advocate, Public Relations Executive, Spoken Word Poet, and Published Author.
 


Leo Kropotkin 

Richard Oyama

   

    The first time David Shimamura met Leo Kropotkin was at an open mike at Mi Casa Cultural  Center on Park Avenue in Albuquerque. The feature was a Chicana who read poems about domestic abuse. She was applauded for her efforts. But for what, David wondered—the intrinsic worth of the poems, the courage of her testimony, the shared experience with the predominantly Hispanic audience? If the latter, how was the performance any different from group therapy? Isn’t there something a little bit unseemly about “performing” raw, unmediated trauma? Were there “spoken word poets” who built a career on the psychology of victimization? Shimamura was slightly offended that his own cultural inheritance, a nuanced sense of the public and the private, was being violated. But he had long grown weary of identity politics. Skin doth not make the man—nor a president.

    All these thoughts passed through David’s head as he listened to poets from the rural north of the state, a queer Diné poet, a South Valley down-with-the-homies poet and Kropotkin. Shimamura was steeling himself for another orator who wore his person-hood on his sleeve like a stinking badge, but Kropotkin didn’t quite fit the mold. He was tallish and stooped, Blakean and Jewfroed, in pumpkin-colored cargo pants and a Sex Pistols tee-shirt. He scowled, or maybe it was astigmatism, behind his sea-of-green granny glasses. The Lennonish-Britpunk fashion bells “problematized” his look. Kropotkin was meaning to fuck with your head, not console you.

    David knew that. He’d shared stages with him at other venues and book parties but this time found himself standing next to him during the open mike. He said something about how the audience would applaud sentiments they shared or opinions they agreed with like a political rally.

    Leo’s head swiveled and his eyes glared.

    “They’re her friends,” he snapped, then turned back to the lb. of pages in his hands.

    Over coffee, Shimamura reminded him of that first encounter.

    “That was one of the voices in my head,” he said, “I’ve got a lot of them.” Kropotkin admitted to a rare form of bipolar disorder. Later he would inform Shimamura that he heard voices in ancient machinery. So he was either a visionary or a nutcase—or both. Shimamura was drawn to contraries.

    This time he listened intently to Kropotkin who held a sheath of papers in his left hand and gesticulated with his right. He read like a runaway train. The intensity was riveting. But more than that, it was like listening to jazz for the very first time when you flash that the moment is the key, the bright moment, as musician and listener partake in the shared communion of discovery and the gates open wide to the flood. Something of the same thing happened as Shimamura listened to Kropotkin read. He read at break-neck speed—David thought of Robbie Blake’s motorcycle accident—there were 16th notes, it was blinding, it was Birdalive. But it wasn’t sheer mechanical virtuosity.

    In the midst of the speed, Shimamura heard snatches of words and phrases—gone summer, the cell’s ghostly ventriloquism, mujahideen snake oil—that leapt out of the monsoon stream, that told him, The Kid is a goddamned poet. How rare is that? Kropotkin was, in other words, a camarado. Still more and better, he appeared to have come to his dystopic visions the hard way─he had earned them. He didn’t just appropriate them from Philip K. Dick novels, although he’d absolutely read them, because no one could write like Kropotkin without having read. That was a cold fact.

    As it turns out, Kropotkin told Shimamura later, he had cut his teenaged bad teeth on—you guessed it—the Beats, especially Burroughs, Brautigan, the Romantic poets, Villon, Charles Simic, Lorca, the odd grabbag of an aspirant poet. But The Kid had serious ambition. And he was smart. He knew enough to know that he had been temporally jettisoned from his Polish grandparents’ Holocaust to the Jewish suburbs of Detroit and one didn’t have much do with another. So Jewish identities were made complex for him as were generational ones for Kropotkin the seer. He had an uncle who had relocated with his family to Israel.

    There was some of that difficulty in the poetry so Shimamura didn’t get much the first time around. Who does? But he got an inkling. He knew Kropotkin was after bigger game than the consolation of identities that rang as hollow as everything else in the Age of Obama. He was ready for a new sound. Kropotkin was one of the ones who was bringing it. You may not like the message, but you don’t kill the messenger.

    Soon enough, Shimamura came to understand that it wasn’t yet a movement per se, but there were a handful of 20something anarcho-insurrectionists in Burque. They were too fucking rageful and impolite to deconstruct tropes and memes within the safe, decorous walls of academia. They wanted to go at the marble edifices of power with the metaphorical fury of a hammer and sickle—and sometimes the real thing. They were, in other words, mad as hell. If this was happening in Albuquerque, wasn’t it likely that it was happening in every single city of appreciable size in this country?

    So David cast his lot with the cabal of millennial revolutionaries since he saw nothing at all else on the eventless horizon. He was a traitor to his generation. Boomers were either hopelessly complacent or hysterical, Tibetan Buddhist or lapsed Marxist, gardeners and tour guides to Asia, permissive parents or born-again fundamentalists. But few of them, unlike Kropotkin, were interested in the worthy task of destruction. He was in, not out. Kropotkin’s response to the hallowed Sixties was that he remembered not Woodstock but the tedious anniversary of Woodstock when the endless reshowings of the movie colonized the true memories of people like David’s sister Toshiko. She re-called the three-day celebration of peace and love as “lots of mud.” So Shimamura shared Kropotkin’s disgust with the commodification of and sentimental nostalgia for what, after all, was only a golden snapshot, though the music was often glorious.

    Put another way, Kropotkin confirmed Shimamura’s essentially left-progressive, radical heart. Leo wasn’t a dogmatist—there was a libertarian streak that ran through his anarchism like a Susan Sontag grey hair extension—and he actually saved most of his firepower for liberal hypocrisies rather than the easy idiocies of the Tea Party, and he had a considerably large blind spot when it came to Gaza. Still, he could spot the hierarchies of power and figure out how they worked. That was all to the good. Still, it was an odd bond—a 60-year-old, Japanese American teacher who had reinvented himself as a novelist and a 25-year-old, Jewish American anarchist poet.

    The conspiratorial mind was blind to chronological age.

    Kropotkin sank into the sofa, laptop on lap, neck U-shaped, back C-shaped, eyes burning through green glass, his posture predicting a future old codger who inched along the sidewalk in Vientiane like a walking T-square, gazing out at all the fit young backpackers, that is, if he was so fortunate as to be able to leave the country. Shimamura bit his tongue. Hey, it’s America, everybody gets to choose his own poison. For Leo it was poor body alignment. You get what you pay for.

    “Hey,” Kropotkin said.

    “Hey,” said Shimamura. When in millennial company, he had quickly learned to adopt their slacker grunts and clicksongs like they couldn’t be bothered. But he suggested they move to a table in Lost Wages coffee shop near the University of the Faux-Intelligensia of which they were non-dues-paying members, supporters of tax-deductible charity organizations, or the National Trust of whom they should have been indigent beneficiaries. Every loser and deadbeat in here, for that matter.

    They sat next to the long table crowded with the Philip K. Dick Fan Club. They were talking about how Dick anticipated virtual reality by decades.

    Yeah, thought Shimamura, with geeks like you guys who sit around coffee shops talking about a sci-fi writer who wrote bad prose, dosed himself on acid, probably engaged in CIA mind-control experiments and went nuts. But Dick had his revenge after death with countless film adaptations. Was science fiction nothing, David thought, but a bastardized sub-genre like Leslie Fiedler said? Did it matter that some of the authors were prescient about the dystopic consequences of technology or were they in fact servants to the new order? Kropotkin was writing a poem about the founder of the Luddites.

    “So?” David asked.

    “So,” Kropotkin answered.

    “I mean, you know, like what’s happening?”

    “My book, Significations, is in galleys with Burning House Press and I’ve got two other manuscripts waiting to go out. My nerves are on fire. I’m doing the best work I’ve ever done. I drive editors to the looney bin. I’m scheduled to read in Portland which they tell me is quite clean.  After a cop stopped me in Gallup for loitering on a corner in front of a drive-through liquor store, they put me on probation. Electricity crackles through my limbs. It feels like a defibrillator. I’ve got 120 pages of a novel that I cannot finish because I can’t do narrative. Why am I unemployable?”

    “Let’s take the last one first. You have an associate’s degree in philosophy from a community college. That shows you can think, which is liability number one. Then there’s that permanent scowl across your mug that indicates a bad attitude. Take it from me─I know. Then you don’t adhere to any dress code known to humankind, which would be cool if you were applying for a job at a tattoo parlor, a titty bar, or a smoke shop, but probably a drawback if it’s a paralegal gig.

    “So congratulations on the book. Narrative is an invention of order.”

    Shimamura launched into auto-pilot professorial mode—he taught professional development and resume writing courses at Bedlam College, even if he disapproved of such conformity (everywhere such compromises were being broached—the shits are killing us, Mailer wrote in the ‘50s). Kropotkin took the paper wrapper from the straw in his raspberry iced tea and shredded it in 1/2s, then 1/4s, then 1/8s, then 1/16s, 1/32s, and onward into subatomic particles and the infinitesimal, leaving a pile of dollhouse confetti on the glass-topped table. It looked like a mound of cocaine. Shimamura was reminded of his father Toshio’s obsessive-compulsive eating disorder at the dinner table. Kropotkin listened but his stubborn intransigence would reject Shimamura’s modifications.

    He stared silently at the pile of handmade confetti.

    “Did you go to the open mike at the Drunken Flower Wednesday night?” Shimamura asked. Kropotkin required prompting like an autistic child.

    “I did,” Leo said. “Sean O’Malley hosted it like he does everything else in this town. He had a Chicano sidekick to represent.”

    “O’Malley, the notorious stage Irishman?” Shimamura said of the once-friend, now-sworn enemy whom he threatened to punch the next time he saw him. “The one who lays on the thick Belfast brogue only when he’s performing? The one who’s down with the IRA and against fascism and police brutality and writes poems for the Policeman’s Benevolent Association that’s an oxymoron in itself? The one who’s a local progressive hero who was fired for allowing high school students to write poems saying if Jesus was alive today he’d be dealing mota in the barrio? Like I haven’t said subversive shit or taught Ginsberg’s “America” in the classroom that ends with the line, ‘America go fuck yourself with your atom bomb?’ The one who couldn’t get into the MFA factory at the local University of Not-Much (UNM) since his poetry is shit? Shit.”

    “The same.”

    “How was the reading?”

    “Spoken word isn’t poetry, it may be something else like dramatic monologue but it isn’t poetry. The poets don’t read poetry, they don’t know what a poem is or how it’s shaped, it’s self-expression, soap opera, telenovela, stand-up comedy, a Complaint Bureau, acting school, but it ain’t poetry. Poetry is something else.”

    “The distillation of something through image?” Shimamura asked.

    “Something like that,” Kropotkin said. “The problem with definition is that you can always find another to contradict it. I’m against schools and poetics. But I know poetry when I hear it.”

    “And slam or spoken-word returns poetry to its oral sources,” said Shimamura, “a good thing, the bardic tradition, except the democratizing influence assumes that every-body can be a poet. Therefore everything is equal. Therefore nothing’s of value.”

    “There are good poets and clever lines or phrases,” Leo said. “I want to encourage that. But mostly my friends and I sit around and IM one another and snipe and trash all the truly horrible stuff we hear. And there’s a whole lot of it. Like listening to the first poem someone ever wrote or wondering whether a poem, which is so badly written, is about a father swinging his son on a tire slung by a rope on a tree, or whether, in fact, it’s about fellatio since the context is so vague and the verbs—clutch, grasp, squeeze—could go either way.”

    “Spoken-word seems more a symptom of a vaster problem than a new development in poetry,” David said. “It’s a sociological indicator that there’s a shitload of socio-sexual trauma and abuse out there that’s going untreated in the US of A, so instead, it’s vented by victims in a public forum before 500 people when that may not be either the safest environment or the most effective remedy for mental issues and pain and anguish on that order.”

    Now Kropotkin was awakened from his catatonic stupor. He sat bolt upright.

    “I can’t stand this impulse toward therapy, comfort and healing,” Leo shouted. “What I want to do in my poetry is unnerve, upset, disturb. When Ginsberg read “Howl” at Gallery Six in San Francisco there were people weeping in the audience. I want to have the same cathartic effect. I don’t want to hear people read about their gardens or their travels to Tibet or 12-step programs. When that Nazi white supremacist shot those black parishioners in that Bible study class in Charleston, I didn’t want to offer him my forgiveness or clemency, I don’t believe in that shit, I wanted to make sure that he went to prison where the brothers would make him their bitch and ream his anus and tear him a new asshole so he can’t sit down for a month. I wanted him to get exactly what he de-served. So I don’t want to hear about recovery or miracle. I want revenge.”

    “Rhetoric is an argument with others,” David said, quoting Yeats, “poetry is an argument with oneself. It’s something to do with an exteriorization of an inner disturbance. And it has to be a strong disturbance, a catharsis, to rise to the level of poetry.”

    “Exactly. It’s not a panacea or anodyne or a prescription either. It transports you into The Great Unknown.”

    “After I read your book, Rants, I wasn’t able to sleep. My arms and legs kept flapping like dolphin flukes, seized by electro-convulsive shocks, my scalp on fire. It wasn’t just the heartbreak of psoriasis.”

    “That was my intent,” Leo said. “It’s a Manual for Re-wiring the Human Circuit Board.”

    “So you’re reading Benson.”

    “Benson gets it.”

    “The hidden structures of power. The Deep Web. Los Paranoias.”

    “Something like that. How we’re all neurally reconfigured. He predicted the Internet.”

    “There’s a Robbie Blake-Benson connection. Benson was friends with Richie Vallejo at Harvard. Vallejo had a prickly, competitive friendship with Robbie. Who didn’t?”

    “Blake’s a primitivist. A genius but a primitivist.”

    “Yes and no. Depends on which version. Blake 2.0 or another one? The Whitman acolyte, the one who’s always dropping his g’s? I’ll give you that. That Blake was a sort of ersatz Okie. But the songs on ‘Billy the Kid’ are perfect American parables. ‘Maximally Like Rain’ keeps spilling out like a Surrealist waterfall. He and Benson are both maximalists in the end.”

    Leo has gone on to shredding David’s straw wrapper, deep inside an undiscoverable arroyo of his brain.

    He pulls himself upright, governed by a tyrannical clock that reminds him Death is not far off. Time ought not to be frittered away in idle talk.

    “Hey, I’ve gotta go,” Kropotkin said in a hurry, failing to meet David’s eye. “Later.”

    Shimamura remains at the table and wonders whether the conversation ever took place. He goes back to reading Calvino.

Richard Oyama’s work has appeared in Premonitions: The Kaya Anthology of New Asian North American Poetry, The Nuyorasian Anthology, A Gift of Tongues, Malpais Review, Mas Tequila Review and other literary journals, and his first novel, A Riot Goin’ On, is forthcoming.


Cosmic Fuck 

Maria Garfjell

 

I want to soar like a dolphin thru cosmos

Sparkling fire colts I wish to ride

Throw myself into the chasms of the abyss

The battle of the senses I am aching to fight

 

I want to love myself to extinction

In a twirling dance with the Nix

In the wuthering wild water of spring

Suckling the nectar from the purling rill

 

I want to dwell in the depth of all souls

Roost still in the fire

Catch hold of the zephyr

Your hirrient foliage I wish to wed

 

Breed shivering stars

In heat rupture my clarity

Breathing in tender cascades of iron

Thru cutis in infinitely narrow space

 

I want to bear the fruit of rock

Erect the muted speech into my home

For perpetuity devour all emptiness

Radiating a yearning as brief as a sun

 

Everlasting my weightlessness´ planet

My beloved nothingness´ All

Ravenous for satiating starvation

Subsiding quietly thru the verge of my creation

Unisonal intercommunicating sinfonia

 

Maria "BaaM" Garfjell is a Stockholm-based artist, who in addition to photography and visual arts divides her time between projects in poetry and writing, Spoken Word, voluntary cultural work and different creative workshops.



    "Po/e" - Maeve Smith Maeve Smith aspires to follow whimsy wherever it leads.

 

 

"Po/e" - Maeve Smith

Maeve Smith aspires to follow whimsy wherever it leads.


Sacrifice, Resentment, Loss and Love: Reflections on Motherhood 

Meg Petersen

 

We had to get a little drunk before she told me. She seemed the least likely person in the world to suddenly want to get pregnant. “I know, I know, it makes no sense. It’s a hormone thing. I was so sure I never wanted children.”

“Don’t do it,” I blurted out. If I had been completely sober, it probably wouldn’t have come out like that, but I would have thought it.

“That’s why I didn’t tell you, cause I knew you were going to try to talk me out of it.”

How did she know that, I wondered, when I didn’t know it myself? “But you never seemed to want them.”

“I didn’t, and I know it’s illogical, but logic has taken me this far and it’s time for hormones to take over.”

Leaving that statement aside, what surprised me even more than her announcement was my reaction. What did this say about me, about my relationship to my own children? It wasn’t the first time this had happened. Another friend in her mid-forties had come to me asking for advice about whether she should adopt. I didn’t give her any (and she did adopt the child), but I had felt the ‘no’ then as well.

Partly, in both cases, it was selfish. These are women I enjoy sharing time with, enjoy working with, and there would be less time available for that if they had kids. I was also concerned about their feeling that they needed to be mothers. I didn’t feel they were in any way incomplete being in the world as they were. I didn’t think they needed children to make them whole. In contemplating them as potential mothers, I felt a profound sense of loss. It’s as if I thought of having children as falling into a whirlwind that wouldn’t let them go for years. I mourned their impending absence from my life and sought selfishly to avert it.

Motherhood inevitably involves loss. Beyond the opportunity cost of what else you could be doing, the loss of relationships in the isolation that is motherhood, the loss of sleep and peace of mind, there are the daily losses of the children themselves who are always leaving you. This concept of motherhood as loss speaks to my own experience as a single mother of three boys close in age. The last of these graduated from high school this June. Perhaps this gives me enough distance to consider what this long 22-year journey of motherhood has meant to me in a way I couldn’t when it totally consumed me. Motherhood is supposed to be the central fulfilling aspect of a woman’s life, but when I was living through it much of my consciousness was obsessed with a crushing daily round of mind-numbing detail, along with lots of unexamined guilt, self-blame, and anxiety. On the other hand, there was and is the love. Janna Smith describes this as a “potent spell.” It was a love unlike any I had ever known, that at times fills me with sheer delight and joy at their very existence, and wonder that I have been able to witness their becoming. When women speak publically about their experience as mothers, they sometimes acknowledge the cost, but say the love “makes it all worth it.” I can’t seem to put these things on a scale and add up the balance. I can’t lay one beside the other and make sense of them.

 

It’s hard to explain to anyone like my friend who has not experienced it, the immensity of motherhood as a life-altering event. I remember a student who found herself pregnant unexpectedly, saying, “I don’t know what I will be doing in ten years, but I know I will be doing it with a ten-year old.” Since doing whatever you are doing with a ten-year old changes the nature of that doing, it seems odd to me that this transformation is represented as universally positive. The social worker Jennifer Kogan notes in her blog that in our culture there is no ceremony to mark new motherhood. While women find themselves the objects of attention and care during pregnancy, as soon as they give birth, the focus shifts to the new baby, and there is no acknowledgement of “the seismic shift …when a woman experiences interrupted sleep, sore body parts and no time for self-care.” Motherhood is always described as “sacrifice.” The definition of that word which comes closest to how it is used in this context would seem to be the third listed in my dictionary: “the surrender or destruction of something prized or desirable for the sake of something considered as having a higher or more pressing claim.” What strikes me about this definition is that in the case of motherhood, the higher or more pressing claim, the child, seems to totally erase or render irrelevant the surrender or destruction. To consider just what is surrendered or destroyed when someone becomes a mother is viewed as being tantamount to attacking the child itself, yet in no other context of “sacrifice” would this seem to pertain. In the case of motherhood, even to acknowledge that something prized or desirable was lost is unthinkable. No mother I know ever admits that they wish they had not had their children. It is the deepest taboo to concede you ever had a moment of rethinking your decision to have a child.

A tendency to deny negative feelings about decisions, especially in regard to relationships, is natural. Back when I was married, when I used to get together with other married women, it amazed me how they never said anything even vaguely negative about their husbands until they were close to divorce. I wonder if we feel that it reflects on us and our choices. We know we are not supposed to marry someone who doesn’t live up to our feminist ideals, so we present our husbands in the best possible light to each other. In terms of children, the taboo is much stronger and there is no divorce option. On top of that, children are perceived to be a reflection of oneself. No one will admit that they sometimes don’t love their kids “more than anything else in the world,” and that maybe sometimes they would trade them for something else, or sell them to the gypsies. It might be acceptable for the parent of an extremely difficult special needs child to admit that in their darkest moments they wonder if it’s all worth it, but this is only acceptable if they follow it up with something redeeming about how much the child taught them or how they, in essence, don’t really mean it. It seems akin to abortion or birth control advocates parading out testimonials from people who had to take birth control or have an abortion because of some horrible medical condition. But don’t some people just use birth control because they want to have sex without pregnancy and have abortions because they don’t want to have a child? Don’t some people wish they never had children?

In the case of motherhood, there is no forgiveness for going back on one’s decision, even in these extreme cases. Dawn and Richard Kelso were universally vilified for abandoning their son Stephen off at a care facility. They left a box of supplies and notes on how to care for him. Their son would never be able to walk, talk, speak or control his bowels. The parents had provided round the clock care for more than ten years, but still they were not only blamed for their decision, but arrested and charged with child abandonment.

An anti-abortion website has this statement: “Women regret having abortions. Women don’t regret motherhood.” But this would not appear to be true. The “I hate being a mom” discussion thread is going strong on the secret confessions website. One woman writes, “I thought I was the only one. I feel so guilty; I love my daughter, but…” Another writes, “I most certainly NEVER would say this pathetic, mind-numbing phrase that we’ve all been subjected to our whole lives: ‘but they’re worth it. It all goes by so fast.’ BULL!!! They are not ‘worth it’ and each day is the longest of my life.” Another says poignantly, “I really hate it too. I feel that I have lost everything that was me.” One particularly long rant on this blog goes on for six pages listing the unreasonable demands put on mothers, such as “We are supposed to be dynamite in bed, but also get up and take care of everyone. Sleep deprivation is a badge of honor.” or “We pick up toys and clothes and things so often it seems ludicrous to even bother.” She writes, “We feel guilt, despair and frustration 99% of the time.” Even in the middle of this rant, though, she notes, “Some of the more daunting issues we deal with include—God forbid—serious damage to our kids during childbirth or from accidents, the (I can barely write this) death of our children…We are vulnerable and responsible.”

Although this rant is not followed up with the obligatory “but it was all worth it,” I am struck by how strongly this tirade acknowledges the love this woman feels for her children. She cannot bear to conceive of their deaths. She lives with guilt, despair and frustration because of the love.

I hesitate to tell my friend about that. It sounds so sappy, so Hallmark card, so trite. It sounds like the kind of thing people say to manipulate you into feeling that you won’t be a full and complete woman if you are childless. Yet I cannot deny the power of the love either. My love for my children overwhelms me even now. When my first son was born, I remember how strongly it swept over me. Maybe it was hormones—he himself would certainly say it was—but I knew instantly that I had never known what love was before. It was nothing like I had ever experienced with friends or lovers or even what I myself had felt as a child for my parents. There were no conditions to it; he did not have to prove himself worthy of it. I didn’t even seem to decide it. It just was, and it was so potent that it eclipsed everything I knew about myself. Alicia Ostriker writes of the power of a mother’s love as, “the dazzling circuit of contact without dominance.” And there is power in that love. It is indeed a potent spell.

The power of that love was sometimes all I had to get me through. I became a single parent when my oldest was four and my youngest was only a month old. I raised them alone. Sometimes my life seemed like that of the mythological Sisyphus perpetually rolling a boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down and start again. Albert Camus wrote a whole book which ended with the conclusion that Sisyphus was happy. I didn’t buy it, but perhaps if he was, it was only because he had no time to reflect on his situation.

“I don’t know how you do it,” people would say. How did I care for three young children and keep up with my full time day job as a tenure-track professor at a small state college? They were always asking me how I managed. I grew impatient with the question. The only answer that made sense to me was that getting through every day was a miracle—I tried saying that—“I’m working miracles every day,” but the answer still seemed inadequate. On some level I didn’t believe I was “making it”. What did that mean anyway? Surviving? Perhaps the truth was I wasn’t making it, and that people just didn’t know what that looked like.

I wasn’t the kind of woman who always saw herself having children, who played with baby dolls and dreamed of her wedding day. I felt like an imposter when I got married, as if I had been miscast in the role. I didn’t take it for granted that I would be a mother, so when I first became pregnant, I consciously gave myself over to it. All the same, I wasn’t the kind of mother who focused on the details, who remembered all the permission slips and picture days or who made sure everything was all-organic. I fussed about some things I now don’t see as all that important, but my life allowed little time for any serious fastidiousness.

Yet despite sometimes failing to mind all the details, I always loved them desperately. Regretting motherhood is not the same thing as regretting your children. It’s not the children themselves we regret, but there are other costs. This is the kind of story I would tell my friend about how love and loss can combine into exquisite pain:

 

Final exam week 1993 in the lounge of the English Department building, I had to confront my child’s babysitter. Another student had told me that the babysitter who was watching Marc, who was only seven months old, had put him on her dorm bed and yelled at him to shut up while she tried to study. She called him a stupid baby, and probably other things that the student wanted to spare me. The one who had come to tell me felt badly about ratting the babysitter out, but felt worse for the baby.

Marc wasn’t an easy baby, and infant care was hard to find. From the time he was born in October through the rest of the school year, I had kept him in my office, calling in babysitters when I had to go to class or meetings, paying them by the hour. The current babysitter was named Amelia. She was from Vermont, blond and young. She was an English major, studying to be a teacher, not like some of the early childhood majors I would later hire, who would coo and fuss over the baby.

Amelia was no nonsense, but she seemed to like Marc in her way. She would put hats on him sometimes and talk to him as if he were an adult, and smile at the effect. Marc was not the easiest office mate, and it was fortunate that understanding people occupied the other offices on my hall. An older woman whose office was two doors down twice volunteered to take Marc for a walk around campus in his stroller to quiet him. My students watched for the stroller parked outside to know I was in my office, so her taking him for a walk gave me a space of uninterrupted work time. She once remarked to me that Amelia wasn’t the typical babysitter type, but she could tell Amelia really loved Marc. I thought so too; maybe I still do.

I was crying when I confronted her. I was at my last raw edge, and unsure even what any of this meant. Amelia sat impassive on the couch opposite me. She did not deny anything. I hadn’t expected she would. For Amelia, things are what they are. I asked her why she did it, and she told me she was under a lot of pressure with exams and papers she had to get in at the end of the semester. This made sense. Amelia was a procrastinator, a good thinker sometimes, but not a good student.

“But why didn’t you tell me you couldn’t do it?” I asked her. I was still crying but my voice was steady. I held Marc close to my chest as if to protect him.

“I felt bad saying I couldn’t do it,” she said, her face still expressionless. “I knew you didn’t have any alternatives, so I didn’t feel as if I could say no, but I knew I couldn’t handle it.”

What she said was true, of course, and maybe it was disingenuous to tell her now that she should have said no anyway. I rocked the baby in my arms as if I were keening. I felt strangely as if I should apologize to her. The situation seemed like a cataclysmic event for which I was responsible. But would apologizing to her imply less love or care for the baby? They were both people I was supposed to in some sense protect and nurture.

“I’m only twenty years old,“ she said, her voice beginning to betray emotion for the first time. “I’m not ready to be a mother. If there’s one thing I have learned from all this, it’s that.”

In that moment, even though I was a decade older, I didn’t feel as if I were ready to be a mother either. What they don’t tell you when you are thinking about becoming a mother is that sometimes there are no alternatives, and that the conflicts between your work and your children are at times impossible to resolve in any satisfactory way. When I say work, in this context, I refer to life work, not necessarily employment.

 

For a mother who would be a writer, as my friend and I both are, or any kind of artist, there is always ambivalence. Anne Lamott in her book Operating Instructions, joked about how after her son was born, she could not believe that she had ever been the functioning person who wrote the article she needed to proof. Adrienne Rich describes how the women in her poetry group wrote a letter to the editor in defense of a woman who had committed infanticide, and then began to talk about their own frustrations. Alicia Ostriker says that they never tell you “that they whine until you want to murder them. That their beauty prevents you.” Eventually, after years of sacrifice, we are expected to let go of our children, but in order to do that well, we need a self to return to when we do. We have to sustain that self somehow.

Adrienne Rich never wrote about her children because the writing was for the part of her she tried to sustain away from motherhood. Yet motherhood has the capacity to connect us to our creative selves as well. When I became a mother, I felt connected to other women in ways I had not previously, as if I had entered a secret club, which I did not know existed. Motherhood has also brought me in touch with all of my own demons. Alicia Ostriker wrote, "The advantage of motherhood for a woman artist is that it puts her in immediate and inescapable contact with the sources of life, death, beauty, growth, corruption." Sometimes, more often than I would have believed possible, it was as if motherhood granted me wisdom. Things came out of my mouth, which were wise, because my children needed to hear them. Often I was humbled, frightened, absolutely vulnerable and just terribly, terribly alive, to the point where I could feel the blood rushing through my veins as I held them. And there were moments in which I was fully present with them in a way that feels like a gift. I remember entering their worlds of pure imagination, building Lego castles under a table covered in a blanket we called our bear cave, the sweet milky smell of them as babies, and even the hard moments of being with them when they were in pain…

 

None of this felt experience of mothering would seem to be honored in the public celebrations of motherhood. I was out with a friend of mine in Santo Domingo one Mother’s Day. The restaurant was crowded with elderly women seated at tables with grown children, often without husbands. My friend remarked that they honor mothers on this day, but disrespect them for the other 364 each year. Husbands cheat on their wives, maintain other families, yet bring their wives out to dinner on this day. In this country as well, we celebrate the sacrifice of mothers without doing anything to support them or to make it possible for them to live fuller lives. We create holidays for those who are marginalized and their observance emphasizes just how out of the mainstream those honored are. These tend to be women; consider Teacher Appreciation Day, Secretary’s Day, and other ghettos of the chronically unappreciated.

Public discussions of motherhood seem to always miss the mark. They center on the logistics of combining its responsibilities with careers, but always in ways that keep these things absolutely separate. Thus we talk about the availability of affordable childcare, or even flexible schedules, but not what mothering could contribute to the public sphere, not how we might benefit from having mothers in positions of power, not how to be with your kids and be engaged with the public wider world at the same time. I used to appreciate meetings which provided childcare, but longed for gatherings which would have allowed me to be with my children and other adults at the same time. The isolation of motherhood, the sense of being cut off from any meaningful adult contact can be deadly. Even more lethal is the sense that no one else shares your experience, that you are the only one not fulfilled absolutely by motherhood itself.

When we conceive of motherhood as a private matter, see our children as property or project, we doom ourselves to isolation. When one of my friends discovered that she could not have children, she asked to be my labor coach for the birth of my second child. She thanked me afterwards, saying that the experience made it possible for her to adopt children, because in the moment of his birth, she realized he was not my baby in the sense of belonging to me, but “that all of our children belong to each one of us.” This is not another easy assurance about villages raising children. I want to pause and look deeper. When people would ask the renowned child psychiatrist Anna Philbrook why she never had children, she would reply, “Why, I’ve had other people’s children, dear.” She is one shining example of mothering in the public sphere—which is where, perhaps, mothering needs to enter in order to minimize the loss, and to strengthen those minute gestures of love that stitch the world together through often invisible work. One last story:

 

Last May I went to Costa Rica where my oldest child was doing a semester abroad. He met me at the airport, and hustled me into a cab, which he directed in Spanish to his host family’s home. When we went walking out in San Jose that night he placed his body between mine and the street, as if to protect me. I walked with this man who moved with confidence, and who approached me with such tenderness.

Later, we were talking on a Costa Rican bus about the people in his program, and how sometimes they bring their novios down to spend a weekend at a resort. I told him this bothered me, that it seemed to pervert the purpose for which they’d come to the country. He thanked me for that thought, and said it disturbed him as well. “You can’t treat this country like a tourist destination,” he said, “when you are in somebody’s home.”

I felt chills when he said that, and I turned to look at him full in the face. “Yes,” I told him, “You are right.”

I am moved by him. It’s not only the pride of a mother. I am moved by his understanding of the basic humanity of those with whom he lives and works in this program, in this country. It moves me in a human way. We are mother and son, friends and intellectual equals, separate and yet still somehow joined spiritually, and I feel my love for him as strongly, but differently, than I did when he was first placed on my breast and I first looked into his eyes.

 

But I am not going to end this essay with any facile assurances about how it is all worth it, or about how I am going to rush back to my friend and tell her I didn’t mean it and that she should get pregnant by any means necessary. I hope she knows that I will love her (and her child if she has one), no matter what. Yet I still I return to the loss, the sacrifice and the tradeoffs. The love mothers feel for their children should not keep me, or any woman, so desperately isolated. It should enable us to gaze upon other people’s children with love, to recognize, as Sam did when he spoke to me on the bus, our precious common humanity. My friend should not have to disappear from my life, or from the public sphere, because she becomes a mother. The loss and the love, the easy stories and the painful ones, all matter. I can’t put this into a formula, try to balance one against the other and conclude that it is or isn’t worth it. It feels more as if the love and the loss do not belong in the same equation. I want to hold both things up at the same time, lay them side by side without comparing them. Perhaps I want to bring them together to transform the public image of mothering into something that will give us pause, that we will stop before and gaze upon in wonder.

 

Meg Petersen is a mother, a writer and a teacher.  


Right Here

Peycho Kanev

 

Reading Meditations by Marcus Aurelius –

We build beautiful and enormous palaces
of the mind but live in a dilapidated shack

I am the one
who wrote the Word
and now I become
written by it
in this eternal circle of
endless infinity

Li Po said, in the name of happiness, I
too must be happy with all
around me

Someday we’ll be there
I’m sure

But for now is just Mahler’s 9th
and the gradual merging
of musical notes with
the ordered chaos of
the universe

And our sloth hearts
beating in unison
taking us towards this simple
truth:

you were created
Now create something
in return

 

Peycho Kanev is the author of 4 poetry collections and two chapbooks and he likes to drink his wine slowly on this earth so apparently devoid of angels.


During Time-Out, I Transform Into The Wicked Witch of the West

Dayna Patterson

 

I grip the doorknob,
white knuckled.
She kicks the wall,
a time-out tornado.
It’s enough to unhinge
a house. Bells fall,
clang on the floor.
My face itches,
but I won’t let go.
One minute ticks by
in ant bites,
not seconds.
I step away
from hands that clench
a metal knot
to see green skin cloned,
a hideous match, right down
to the lone telescopic eye.

I let loose the wolves.
I summoned a murder of crows.
I charged the black bees
to silence my own child.

I had no choice.
She stole those slippers.
And her fatal tears
melt
me.

 

Dayna Patterson is Poetry Editor for Psaltery & Lyre.


[blue haunts black & i know you when]

Jay Sheets

 

blue haunts black & i know you when

i roam the foothills of our youth    birdlike

& eat the bread from our clay pot of thorns [unmedicined]

& you & i in divine dark hatch white in the belly

as shine breaks open: the fire-horse in the frostless field

& [orbs]    the light

& we are the things that take shape

& we let the things without shape take shape

as the birds turn into coins

& then music the darkling fugue [the salted nocturne]

& the black wind crumbles

& still we hear those halcyon crowns     somewhere

 

Jay Sheets studies creative writing at Goddard College and is a former poetry editor for the literary journal, Duende.


Hungry Ghosts of Park Avenue

Alex Clermont 

 

The view from the Park Avenue penthouse apartment was gorgeous. Carl noticed it immediately that first night at Phil’s when he stepped out of the private elevator and into the partly crowded cocktail party. The front tips of Carl’s shoes touched the base of the floor-to-ceiling window as he stood there, mesmerized by the vastness of New York City’s streets. The towering, wide-angle view of the world was almost spiritual in that it impressed upon him the gut feeling that things seen and unseen were all connected.

There was no Lexington or Thirty-fourth. Names didn’t matter as asphalt roads morphed into dissected veins, glowing red or blue-white with light from the cars that flowed through them like blood. He could even see over the Hudson River into New Jersey. Borders between places broke down and Carl saw it all as one. The streets were all one, the land was all one, the people—with their almost identical features of heads, arms and legs—were all one. Carl smiled for the first time in a long time until Reggie tapped him on the shoulder and said, “Yo. This motherfucka’s giving out coke like it’s candy. You better get some.”

Carl turned his head away from the one to look at the many people who filled the apartment. He didn’t feel completely comfortable walking around them. They looked cold and almost aristocratic in their bearing—the type of people who may murder as a by-product of a power grab. Carl and Reggie were dressed in clean but shabby clothes that had been worn and washed and worn many times before. Compared to the crisp blazers and pretty dresses around them, Carl felt out of place.

He said so earlier, but Reggie dismissed it with, “Nigga, please. We gonna have a good time.” Despite the fact that he was white, Carl went along with the label and the plan of action.

This short verbal exchange was a real world recreation of the relationship they forged while in the man-made world of prison. Inside, Reggie talked with a lisp and got the attention of men who hadn’t seen a woman in years. Carl wasn’t one of those men, but the two became friends behind bars and met up again after being released. After hanging out together in shelters and rehab clinics for six months, Reggie began a relationship with a high-class addict who later invited them to his Midtown home for drinks.

After being tapped on his shoulder that first night at that apartment, Carl asked Reggie, “Are you fucking this guy?”

“What you think?”

“I don’t want to assume.”

As they walked toward the center of what Carl would call the fourth living room, Reggie said over his shoulder, “Yeah, we fucking. It ain’t nothing. He likes taking care of me. Makes him feel good. Let’s just get what we can out of it while it lasts.”

Carl looked around at the high ceilings, Victorian-style furniture, and pretty chandeliers. He shrugged his shoulders in agreement. He didn’t like the idea of Reggie whoring himself out, but that was the nature of freedom, such as they had it. Reggie had choices and he was free to choose whoring.

Phil greeted them with a smile and open arms. His Gieves & Hawkes cashmere blazer and crewneck sweater were both midnight black and gave the impression that his upper body was a dark void with disconnected hands and a head on top. His smile was possessed with a slight mania and when he reached Reggie, he kissed him full on the lips in front of the mingling guests—many of whom raised their eyebrows or giggled to themselves. Phil’s chemically fueled tunnel vision led his focus from Reggie to Carl, who he met with a bear hug full of familiarity. His smile remained as he asked, “So you guys want some coke?”

Reggie laughed as he said, “Fuck yeah.”

The three walked a short distance to a table. On it was a small pile of cocaine that Carl guessed to be about half a pound. Next to it were some playing cards, one of which Reggie grabbed and used to separate himself a thick line as Phil asked Carl, “How do you like the place?”

“It’s extremely nice. I was just admiring the view. You must stand there for hours whenever you have a day off or something.”

“I don’t have...” The sound of Reggie’s snorting filled Carl’s ears. “... days off. Don’t look out the window much either, I’m afraid. I guess I’m just too used to it.”

Reggie lifted his head from above the table and interrupted, “The man is rich, Carl. I told you that.”

“That doesn’t mean he can’t take a day off once in a while,” Carl responded, a little annoyed at the tone of Reggie’s interjection.

“No, Reggie’s right. I don’t have a job to take days off from, and that’s because I’m rich. You can call me a trust fund baby if you’d like.”

Between lines Phil gave Carl a quick biography that included being lucky enough to be born to a mother who was born to a grandfather who helped found the public relations industry in America. His claim to fame was cleaning up the reputation of a national mining company after its owner hired local police to shoot into a crowd of striking workers and their families. He published industry articles and books that called the general population stupid sheep. He made millions.

Phil was raised without a care and that was part of the story he told Carl. Reggie laughed loudly, and often, at whatever part of the life story was said with wit. Phil was charming and handsome, with loose curls of salt and pepper hair. Carl wondered why he was seeing Reggie who, in his straight eyes, was also handsome but had the same air of working-class poverty that Carl had.

Again, not wanting to assume, he left the mystery where it was and bent over to do a line. The immediate rush made him jolt his head back and rub his nose. Phil and Reggie had disappeared into the small crowd of guests who fluttered about the spacious main room with its high ceilings and transformative views.

Beginning to feel the drip at the back of his throat, Carl looked around with excited eyes. He noticed some of the strange looks he was receiving, but began to look right back as he stared at breasts and asses. It was a temporary spike in libido that was an exception rather than the rule in his life since prison.

He had been a mechanic who thought that stealing high-end cars on Long Island made more sense than fixing low-end ones in Queens. For five years he was right, and he had sent many a luxury vehicle to overseas clients in shipment containers. A Porsche 911 Carrera became his downfall, and he spent five years with people like Reggie, whose own crime was being unlucky enough to be born to poor parents and taking drugs to forget that fact.

Phil’s quality cocaine raised Carl’s dopamine levels along with his erection. I’m not that ugly either, he thought as he kept staring at body parts. His eyes eventually landed on a woman who struck the perfect balance of attainable but attractive. Feeling fantastically confident he walked up to her and said, “This is my first time in Phil’s apartment, but I’m hoping he’ll give it to me if I’m nice enough to him.”

She smiled politely and said, “If only it were that easy.”

“I’m persistent. And my name’s Carl.” Carl reached his hand out to the woman.

She grabbed it and said, “Nancy.”

“Hi, Nancy. So, how do you know Phil?”

“I only know him by association. My friend is his wealth manager.”

“You mean, like an accountant.”

Nancy looked downward with a patronizing smile that Carl noticed but didn’t care about. “Something like that,” she said. “I saw you and your friend earlier. You guys sure do make an entrance.”

“Him more than me. I’m the quiet one.”

“So how do you know Phil?”

“Same as you. Through my friend.”

“And how does your friend know him?”

“He and Phil regularly have sex. At least that’s how I understand it.” Carl grabbed a champagne flute off a passing waiter’s tray. Nancy pursed her lips slightly in embarrassment.

She said, “Well, that’s pretty blunt.”

“I wouldn’t think Phil would fault me for it. Someone who has two handfuls of cocaine on his living room table in the middle of a party isn’t one for social graces. Or at least not ones we’re used to.”

Nancy laughed as Carl bent his head back a little and nonchalantly drank half the glass. The bubbles burned his throat, but they tasted good so he didn’t mind. He heard Nancy say, “You’re absolutely right, Carl.” His dick moved at the sound of his name. “Phil is a little eccentric.”

“That’s one way to describe it. I think it’s admirable though.”

“Why so?”

“Well, in his case at least, it’s made him pretty down to earth. That is to say, he’s not pretentious. To have as much money as he obviously does and not look down on my friend is kind of rare. I would imagine it’s rare anyway.” He looked Nancy in the eyes as he talked.

She said, “Maybe you’re right.”

“Hopefully. Who likes to be wrong? Hey, did you try the…” Carl pointed his thumb at the flat tabletop.

“No. I haven’t.”

“Do you not…” Carl trailed off again, implying words that may have assumed too much if said out loud.

“Yeah, a few times. I like it, but you can get lost in that stuff if you’re not careful.”

“I think any vice, in moderation, is perfectly fine. C’mon. Let’s do a line off Phil’s genuine marble table. We may never get the opportunity again.” Nancy giggled as she followed him to the end of the room, grabbing her own champagne flute from another passing server.

They each did two lines, but with a lot of talk between each snort. Nancy’s expressions loosened as Carl spoke about observations that made her giggle. It was the coke talking. In general Carl didn’t bother with the opposite sex other than what was required of him in places like clinics and benefits centers. He remembered liking sex before prison, but his desire to pursue most things, whether a career or pussy, had deflated against the stronger desire to do nothing.

In Riker's island jail, and then later in prison, Carl was a nobody. He liked it that way. He never got involved in any disputes over sleeping arrangements or commissary items or lunch privileges. He used his mouth for breathing, not talking. What he couldn’t avoid, however, was the madness around him. He had seen an inmate overdose on drugs sold to him by prison doctors. He had seen somebody’s cheek gashed open with the thin edge of a lunch tray. Carl had seen the blood-soaked pants of a prisoner who claimed that guards had gang raped him just minutes before. That prisoner was Reggie and, while Carl tried to keep a low profile, the two shared a starved need for human kindness that made them friends and fellow addicts for want of an escape plan from life’s horrors.

Carl was sure Nancy had a much tamer version of the same story. If not, then why the two lines? Why the increasingly sexual flirting?

Carl knew from experience that despite their negative effects, quitting drugs was only something done in the context of alternatives. You needed something better. To feel the love and happiness lacking in his real life Carl sniffed cocaine, he shot up heroine, he smoked meth—though only occasionally.

He didn’t want to get in Nancy’s head too much so he said, “Phil neglected to offer me a tour of the place. I volunteer you for it.”

“Is that so? I’ve never been volunteered for anything before.”

“It’ll be fun. I promise.”

Carl rarely smiled. Mainly because his teeth weren’t in great shape, but with Nancy he also avoided it to add an air of aloofness that he could tell she wanted. He only smirked and did so as he waved her away from the crowd and toward one of the hallways. He had no knowledge of the apartment’s layout but figured that if they wandered around enough an area without people would show itself.

As they slowly drifted from one area of the apartment to the next, Carl made conversation and asked Nancy what she did for a living. She said she worked for a major electronics company as the head of its in-house graphic design team. She helped design product packaging, among other things. Carl was sincerely interested as he looked for the next available turn. He asked if she enjoyed it. She said she enjoyed it immensely. She admitted, though, that her personal life suffered for it. Her office was her primary home, turning her real home into nothing but an expensive box with a bed on the Upper East Side.

Carl said, “We all chase something. The best you can do is at least be aware of what it is you’re going to catch.” Carl thought that sounded profound. The two stepped into a large broom closet where they began making out.

Though his teeth were not in great shape, Carl’s breath smelled like mint. He religiously showered and always wore cologne. They were all attempts at covering up the fact that he moved from place to place and occasionally lived in a men’s shelter or a cheap Bronx motel. Carl and Reggie traveled around New York City like a scripted buddy drama as they stole, injected, laughed, and continued to draw breath despite themselves.

While fucking Nancy on the closet floor, he began to disassociate. Stepping outside of the moment, Carl saw himself and asked what, exactly, was making sex with Nancy feel so good. For one he enjoyed the feeling of her warmth against his body—the heat was recognition that another human was touching him. Also Nancy’s tightness as she held him inside felt glorious. Maybe most importantly, however, there were the moans of pleasure that let him know he was good. Carl liked being reassured that he was good at something.

The whole experience was wonderful, and like the cocaine high, he wished it would last forever. That was always impossible and he felt the end coming as Nancy wrapped her arms around his neck and lifted herself off the ground from her former missionary position. She began to silently tear over what Carl recognized as some hidden trauma. He sat up, grabbed her tight, and slowly grinded her hips against his as he said, “I've got you. You’re safe.” She grabbed him even tighter and he could feel her come. After a few quivers, she relaxed and kissed him slowly on the lips.

“Damn, you’re good,” she said in one breath. He soaked in the compliment. He felt it on his skin like a cooling balm and smiled slightly as Nancy stood up. She picked up one of her fallen diamond earrings from the floor and sniffed up a few last tears as Carl removed the condom she had given him to wear.

“C’mon.” she said. “Let’s head out. The tour isn’t over.”

They walked through the remaining rooms and halls of the penthouse. They had sex again in one of the studies then walked back to the crowded main rooms where they continued talking. They had more champagne.

After some time had passed, they were greeted by Phil who also had his fingers wrapped around the stem of a champagne flute. He had as much energy as before but looked slightly disheveled. The black void of his blazer and sweater was disturbed by the white of an undershirt poking out from beneath his collar.

As if they had just met, Phil gave Carl a huge hug and kissed Nancy on the left cheek. Carl asked, “Where’s Reggie?”

“Oh he’s passed out in the bedroom. How are you two? Enjoying everything? You know, I was going to get a DJ, but I thought that would really kill the vibe in here. I want people to hear people, not some pre-recorded, electronic blips and bumps. Do you think I made a bad decision?”

Nancy said, “I think everyone’s having a great time.”

“That’s what I want to hear!” His eyes darted around for a moment and he said, “Nancy, I think I see your friend James. Let me see if I can grab his ear for a second.” Looking back at them he said, “But before I do, let’s have a toast.” Phil raised his half-full glass to meet with Carl’s and Nancy’s. “May we get all we want and more!”

As soon as the glasses clinked Phil moved on. Carl thought it was a fine toast and drank slowly as he and Nancy walked to the window to cast their eyes on the city.

That first night at Phil’s home was almost perfect. The nights continued, however, and eventually turned to weeks. Weeks turned to months, and one morning Carl woke up on a couch in his underwear with dried blood from his nose covering his mouth and jaw in a scabby crust. Time had flown by, but as he slowly sat up all Carl could think of was that first night.

Whatever he and Nancy shared was short lived. They exchanged phone numbers but neither called the other. Reggie and Phil started seriously getting into heroin. Carl began increasing his dosage as well but not to the level of those two, who needed to shoot up in the morning just to get out of bed.

Still groggy from the night before, Carl got up and walked around in what could have looked like purposeless steps as the vague feeling of hunger slowly drove him to the kitchen. He could hear echoes of rough sex from the master bedroom. It was Phil, Reggie, and maybe another guest. There were moans of pain and Carl involuntarily remembered a scene from two weeks ago where he walked into the room and saw Reggie penetrating Phil from behind while a skinny, milk-skinned woman grabbed his curly hair and thrust her baby-sized right fist into his throat.

Carl wasn’t sure what he was looking for. He aimlessly dug through the refrigerator until his palm hit a carton of lemonade. Grabbing it, he walked back to the same couch he had just slid off. He put his mouth on the carton opening, but stopped short of drinking when he suddenly noticed the rough feeling of his skin. He turned left to see his reflection in the hallway mirror, which showed him the crimson mask that covered his lower face. He was disgusted but not shocked at the sight of what was around his mouth. He sighed and as his shoulders dropped so did his head.

What had been driving Carl was instinct. He felt, from the fog of his subconscious, problems that he was constantly trying to fix but just couldn’t because he didn’t have the right tools. If Reggie took time out from shooting up and asked him what would make him happy, Carl probably wouldn’t have an answer. Not a real answer anyway. Not one that would satiate his needs and leave him feeling content for more than a few hours. Indeed looking at his wilted figure and scabbed face Carl realized that the happiness he had gained at Phil’s had worn thin long ago. Carl had no other solutions forthcoming to soothe the unnamed pains that drove his actions.

When he was stealing cars he loved the thrill of doing something illegal. He craved the attention that flashing money got him. Most important, though, was the knowledge that his life was wholly his and that the decisions he made were not directed from on high. After that power was taken from him, drugs provided an easy escape from the cage he was in. The end result wasn’t hard to predict and Carl could see it quite clearly in his own reflection.

He felt hurt and walked a little slower to the massive window he had noticed that first night. The beauty he had seen then was gone. Past the thick glass, there was just concrete, dirt, and dirty people who moved like they were possessed by unseen forces that dragged their legs left and right.

 

Alex Clermont is a writer born and raised in New York City where he received his BA in English creative writing from Hunter College.

Issue Two


 

Fiction:

Terry SanvilleJohnny Five Diamonds
Kristen LeplonkaRecipe
Paul LewellanLillian Alvarez Buys a Latte 

Photography:

Melcor Gonzalez – 3353 Apocalypse Series
Aurora Sheba – Concrete Angel
Kenneth Gurney – Wet Creek Bed    

Poetry:                                                                                                                                                                                  

Christina Murphy – The World is a Bounded Space
Robert Crisp – Our Last Visit, Interspecies Communication Breakdown
James Valvis – Our Town, Why Kids Hate the Thought of Parents Having Sex
Flower Conroy – Dirt Under My Nails, Showering Outdoors with You, Insomniac Coast, Phobic, Heart in Space
Thomas Zimmerman – St. Lilith, Henceforth
John Grey – To Do List For Today
 

 

 

 

 


The Scars of Our Lives

Natalie Rodriguez


 

Natalie Rodriguez - Writer, Director

Starring - Josephine Leah and Jeff Vernon

Natalie, a writer and filmmaker, can be found via @natchrisrod on Instagram for information regarding past and upcoming projects.

 


 


Susan Marie - Spoken Word

Susan Marie is a Broadcast Journalist, Radio Producer, UNV [United Nations Volunteer], Human Rights Advocate, Public Relations Executive, Spoken Word Poet, and Published Author –  www.suemarie.info.


 

"Iceland" - Pat Bourke  “I don't want to hear, I want to see the silence.”

"Iceland" - Pat Bourke 

“I don't want to hear, I want to see the silence.”


 

Came Home to Winter 

Judith Skillman

 

The crisp trees leafless, a lost stitch dropped
here and there between bushes to lie
on ocher ground. 

The scenery familiar as a place I lived among
the young, breathing their breath, feeling
their shoulders and breasts against my own. 

When I returned to be a makeris the words were few,
the no-thing a thing of summer or brush strokes,
either way, useless.   

Behind me a furred bush
lifted titanium to light and sky.
Will there be a dream, I asked.  

Hypnos will supply a chicken so small your child can undo
its claws from the perch and break its neck—a wire treasure
meant to die at her hands, came the reply.  

 Will there be a symbol, I asked.
Only the vegetables. I’d seen them already
at the home. They sat in motorized wheelchair

The carrot asking for help, not knowing its name. 
The cuke pressed faintly into seeds, stripped
of skin and color.  

Judith is an oil painter and poet. 

 


 


A Good Price 

Anonymous

 

Introduction

 

            The author, who chooses to remain anonymous, is an American university professor, who also holds an adjunct position in Brazil. He has conducted research in the Amazon for over twenty years, and has traveled the entire basin by vehicle and by boat. On a recent project investigating the role of loggers in the illegal exploitation of tropical hardwoods, he and two Brazilian colleagues traversed the entire western leg of the Transamazon Highway by four wheel drive vehicle, the first time such a journey has been completed. Their eight day expedition took them from the town of Santarem on the banks of the Amazon to the highway’s terminus in Labrea, situated on the Purus River in the State of Amazonas, Brazil. The author has received funds from the National Science Foundation, the National Geographic Society, US AID, and NASA.   

 

            The author’s research initially addressed the environmental issue of tropical deforestation, which he investigated in colonization frontiers, primarily in the States of Para and Rondonia. He led field crews of Brazilians on long field immersions, conducting surveys of poor farmers who had penetrated the forest, many of them fleeing land scarcity and oppression in other parts of Brazil, particularly the drought-prone northeastern part of the country. This research provided opportunities for a number of Brazilians to acquire technical skills, and several of them completed doctoral studies under the author’s direction in the US. 

 

            More recently, the author has turned his attention to the downside of Amazonian development. Pursuant to this, he has studied the impact of agrarian reform on the rural poor, and also how large-scale infrastructure investment will affect indigenous peoples. This work has brought him into contact with social movement organizations like the MST (Movement of the Landless Rural Workers), and has afforded him opportunities to visit several of Amazonia’s tribal peoples including the Kayapo, the Araras, and the Tenharim. The story, “A Good Price,” reflects the author’s travels through the mangrove estuaries at the outflow of the Amazon River into the Atlantic Ocean. The people of this region live in abject poverty, and are particularly vulnerable to the exploitation of human traffickers, who search the Amazon Delta for youthful victims.

 


A Good Price

 

            The boat was closer now, coming for the cove through the gray morning light. Blue hull and rusty anchor. The weather-beaten trawler of her uncle, Bruno. Luciana grabbed the bucket and headed for the ten shacks that some called a village. They stood on flimsy stilts, ready to collapse beneath tents of thatch. She remembered arriving on the island with Diego some three years before. Now with Diego gone, eight months and counting, she’d never get off. 

            Luciana climbed the ladder and squeezed inside her dwelling, putting the bucket down with a glance at the comatose girl in the hammock. She looked green and damp, like something that had drifted to shore. Luciana pulled her bandana off then knelt to soak it in the bucket.

            “Put the rag in her mouth, it’s the right thing to do.”

            Luciana wiped sweat from her daughter’s clammy forehead.

            “Do you want Isabella to turn out like you?” The voice laughed.

            “No.” 

            “Another puta in such a fine line of whores.”

            “No.”

            “It’s the right thing to do,” the voice said, as the rag came to rest on Isabella’s lips. The right thing to do. You won’t feel a thing, my darling. 

            The right thing to do. Luciana staggered to her feet feeling drunk, and spotted the wooden crate in the corner. She stumbled for it, then rummaged through the knick-knacks until she found the photograph of her wedding day fifteen years before. There they stood, Diego and Luciana, smiling at the camera. The full-bodied girl of the photograph was like a stranger, aged beyond her years with wrinkles and boney thinness.       

            “Momma,” came Sofia’s voice from just outside. 

            Luciana put the photo back and stooped beneath a lip of thatch, out to the narrow veranda. Even in rags, her twelve year old daughter was beautiful. A mulatta that the island men had already noticed, bastards that they were. 

            “What?” Luciana asked.   

            “Aren’t they pretty?” Her daughter pointed.

            Luciana followed Sofia’s finger to the scarlet ibises in flight against the silver morning.  The government people said that the birds were a national treasure, but to Luciana they looked like balls of bloody feathers.  

            “Yes, very pretty,” Luciana said, watching Bruno trudge across the sand to Paulo’s shack, which served as the village room. The big man wore gym shorts and a straw hat to shade his perennially sunburnt neck. Luciana changed subjects to the more important topic, food. “How’d you do?”

            “I did good, but look.” Sofía knelt beside her bucket.

            Luciana climbed down, and together they watched a big blue crab crush a small one in its pinchers.

            “Why would it do that?” Sofia asked. 

            Luciana didn’t like it either, but Sofía had to start learning the ways of the world. She’d already started her period. “Everything eats everything out here.”

            “Even its own baby? That isn’t fair.”

             “Nothing’s fair. Now go get your little sister some water.”

             As Sofía walked off, Luciana climbed the ladder, irritated that Bruno hadn’t come to see her first. They had business to discuss and Cristiano owed her. Cristiano, or “The Christian” as they called Bruno throughout the delta. Some Christian. It was Bruno who’d convinced them to try their luck on the island, when the plantation pushed them off their land. “You’ll love it,” Bruno had said.

             “A tropical paradise.”  

"Away from the Too Rough Fingers of the World" - Sunny Selby Sunny Selby is the daughter of an obstinate Fin who lived most of her life with one lung, and the daughter of a poetic photographer; she’s been chasing short stories in visual art & poetry to tell the tales.  

"Away from the Too Rough Fingers of the World" - Sunny Selby

Sunny Selby is the daughter of an obstinate Fin who lived most of her life with one lung, and the daughter of a poetic photographer; she’s been chasing short stories in visual art & poetry to tell the tales.  


            The sun was high and the wind was blowing hard off the ocean. Bruno hadn’t shown, but Luciana and Sofía couldn’t wait any longer or they’d miss walking the net-line, which had to be avoided at all costs. On the way out, Luciana grabbed a fish stringer and Sofia, a jug of water.

            Passing through the coconut palm trees, then the weather-beaten mangroves on the windward side, they came to the beach – glowing like a high wattage bulb in the brilliant light.

           “What are they like?” Sofía asked, as they followed the sloping shore to the hard packed sand flats.   

            “Who?”

            “The family I’ll be working for. In the city.”

            “Oh them.” Luciana looked off to the Atlantic, barely visible a mile away. Green-brown pools scalloped the plateau of sand like jeweled insets. “Like anybody, I guess.”

            “Are they nice?”

            “How should I know? I never met them.” Luciana and Sofia had yet to discuss the prospect of Sofía leaving for the city. When Bruno first mentioned the idea, it seemed like the right thing to do. Luciana didn’t have a dime and the government people said they weren’t in the business of giving handouts. Plus, Bruno’s wife passed the message that she and Bruno wouldn’t be able to accommodate them in their home on the mainland. Not enough space, or so she said, not that Luciana thought the white side of the family would really help them.

            “What if I don’t like it, Momma?”

            The water in the pools had crested, meaning less time remained than Luciana had thought on setting out. Getting caught offshore was life or death, the first thing the islanders taught you, the first thing she and Diego had taught their children. And now, Diego had up and drowned.  Not tending the net-line but on a fishing boat, which was real ironic because Diego was afraid of the ocean. The tides were high that year and the weekend Diego shipped out, they washed across the island – killing the mangroves on the windward side. Diego was swept overboard as the trawler staggered through waves bigger than anyone had ever seen. 

            “What if I don’t like it?”  Sofía repeated.

             “Do you think I like checking the net-line?” Luciana gestured for Sofía to pick up the pace. “Do you think I like crawling in the mud for crabs?”

            On approaching the big dead mangrove tree that marked Diego’s line, Sofía said, “I like being here with you and Isabella.”

            At first, Luciana was touched. But then the reality of the place knocked her breath away.  “Forget that right now, or you’ll be stuck here like everyone else.”

            “You’re not stuck, Momma.”

             Luciana stopped in her tracks. “You don’t know anything, child.”

            “I’m sorry.”

            “We’re worse off than dogs. At least they get scraps.” Luciana gazed at the sun, trembling. Then, with a snort, she started walking again.   

            Mother and daughter got to the tree without another word. The net started a hundred yards from the high water mark, its mangrove posts like tick-marks reeling to a white infinity. Sofía didn’t wait and hopped across the first of the pools on the way out. Luciana followed, and in a moment they began their routine. While Sofía ran ahead in search of fish, Luciana inspected the net and cleared debris. Nearing the end of the line an hour later, they’d collected two catfish and a yellow drum, only the latter of which had market value, although it was too small. The bigger worry was the widening tear. In less than a week, two hundred yards had ripped, and catches had fallen to nothing.

            Luciana knelt to run her fingers across the monofilament fibers, feeling the scaly prick of where they’d worn thin. Monofilament was expensive, which was why Bruno had sold them the rig to begin with. Luciana had warned Diego, but he’d been the trusting sort.   

            “Is something wrong, Momma?”

            Luciana dug deep for the happy face her children expected at all times.  “I feel sorry for these poor fish we’re catching.”

            “I don’t wanna go,” Sofía blurted, unable to put the topic to rest. 

            “They’re a nice couple. Just one child, a baby,” Luciana said. “You’ll be able to go to school.”

            “It’s not right, sending me off like that!”

            Luciana felt her bile rising. Sofía had to go, or Isabella had to sleep forever. “Do you expect me to momma you the rest of your life?” Luciana turned away to check the last hundred yards of line.    

            “What’s this?” Sofia’s question broke Luciana’s concentration near the last post.

            Luciana took what her daughter had pulled from the sand. “It’s a bird bone. Scarlet ibis.”

            “Oh no,” Sofía said, stricken. “That’s the prettiest bird in the world!”

            Luciana glanced for shore, for the mangrove forest that had once stood tall, its foliage fluttering in the wind like aspen. Now, what remained of the trees littered the beach in woody heaps bleached white by the sun. This was where the scarlet ibises had roosted, until the storm that took Diego drowned the roots of the mangroves, killing them. Luciana braced for what she knew was coming, her memories of Diego. They’d discovered a hideaway in the trees, a patch of sand hidden by thickets, opening to the sky through drapes of morning glory. There, in Diego’s arms, Luciana felt like she was witnessing the miracle of creation, as the scarlet ibises exploded from their roost in swirls of orange wind. But the tides had killed all that. Diego, the mangroves, the ibises.  

            “Are the scarlet ibises all dead, Momma?”

            “I don’t know and I don’t care! Now shush, child. I’ve about had it with you today!”

 

 

             Luciana waited until her daughters were asleep, then turned the kerosene lantern low to dress in her only skirt, a micro-mini that crawled halfway down her thighs. At the foot of the ladder, she guzzled the concoction Paulo always prepared in advance, a disgusting brew of aguardiente and rubbing alcohol that helped her face her night job. On a shrubby path illuminated by pale moonlight, she headed for the windward side to a remnant of the mangrove forest with trees big enough to string her ratty hammock. She placed her kerosene lantern beside it, then headed back across the island to Paulo’s, assuming she’d find Bruno there.

            On reaching the cove, Luciana heard a trace of accordion music drifting from the bar, which seemed to float in its own globe of light in a universe of darkness. She scurried across the sand and scaled the ladder to the open face of the bar room. Bruno and Paulo sat huddled in a corner, each with a beer, while four young men played pool on a battered table. The soulful lilting of the accordion now blasted as cumbia from a scratchy CD player.  

            “Evening, Sen͂ora Luciana,” Paulo nodded, glad to see her. 

            “Luciana.” Bruno pushed his chair back.    

            From the veranda, Luciana watched the eye-play around the pool table, heard the young men snickering. Who in hell did they think they were? Casanovas?

            “I’m cutting you boys off,” she said, swiveling her hips as she sauntered in. She slapped one of them on the butt, which brought raucous laughter. “I’ve got a hot date anyway.”

            Bruno frowned and stood, slipped his straw hat on. He pushed money at Paulo, then turned for Luciana. Laughter followed them as they descended the ladder, as did a remark or two about the true beliefs of Cristiano.

            Earlier that day, Luciana had been irritated with Bruno’s not showing. But as they walked across the flats, she was panicked with the thought that the deal had fallen through. Approaching the trail to the windward side, she forced a conversation. “Did you catch many fish today?”

            “Hardly enough to cover my fuel.”

            But that’s not why you came.  

            “About Sofia--” Bruno began as if reading her mind, and just as barks exploded about their ankles. 

            “Damn those things.” Bruno hefted a piece of mangrove and heaved it at the growling shadows. “We should get the government people out here to exterminate every last one of them.”

            Luciana wanted to change the subject, but Bruno wasn’t done. “I’d kill each and every one of those mangy mutts if I could get my hands on them.”

            “I’m sure they’d return the favor.” 

            “The government’s gonna have a real problem when we all die of rabies.”

            The feral state of the island dogs was of no interest to Luciana, so she held her tongue, and they continued in silence.

            “I don’t think it’s a good idea,” Bruno said, returning to the more important matter.

            “No?” Luciana’s anger spiked. Bruno had invited them to the island when they’d been down on their luck. So he could sell Diego a net-line that was ripping to shreds. Every last penny of their savings. “And this from the son-of-a-bitch who robbed us of everything?”

            “Now watch what you say --”

            “Diego was an idiot. I told him not to buy your piece-of-shit net-line.”

            Bruno stopped, his face branded by deep shadows. “Watch your tongue, woman.”

            “Why do they call you Cristiano anyway? I’ve never seen a hint of Christian charity.”

            Bruno sucked in air, exhaled. “I know you’re upset, Luciana.”

            “Upset? With what? God’s plan?”

            “It’s not always obvious….”

            Luciana snorted, but Bruno explained anyway, “You think God loves you one day, and the next, a truck runs over you.”

            “Cut the crap. You and your buddies just want Sofía for yourselves.”

            Lucian could feel Bruno’s body stiffen in the darkness. She continued, “So you don’t think it’s a good idea.  But is it a good price?”

            Bruno sighed, then started walking.  “OK.  1,500$ US.”

            1,500$ US. The number sparkled in Luciana’s mind. “If I go through with this, when?”

            “I can get the money tomorrow. So the day after.”

            Luciana started to count it, but she’d never reach the end. 

            “Luciana, I’m not making a cent on this.”

            On the windward side at last, Luciana led Bruno to the hammock. She reached for his hand and turned, pulling him towards her as she backed into its stringy folds. Bruno dropped his shorts and came for her, ready, unfurling the full length of his body over hers, pushing the hammock to the ground. It was then the dogs attacked, one of them going for his leg.

            Bruno howled as he sprang to his feet, but tripped on standing, and the dogs ran off in a tumble of barks. 

            Out of the hammock, Luciana grabbed her lantern for a look at Bruno’s leg. There were bite marks of a sort, but the dog knew better than to draw blood. 

            “It’s only a nip,” she told him, making herself ready again. “It didn’t even break the skin.”

            Cristiano remained frozen, as a breeze moved through the leaves with an ocean chill.

            “What’s wrong big boy? Can’t get it up?”

            “It’s gotta be a sign.”

            Luciana chuckled. “A sign?” 

            “That this isn’t right, us out here like this.”

            The moral high ground was galling, not to mention that Bruno was one of her more enthusiastic customers. In fact, without his cash infusions, Luciana and the girls would’ve starved. She snorted. “So when you trade, it’s economy? But when I trade, it’s morality?” 

            “That’s not it, Luciana. I’m your uncle. Or uncle-in-law at least.”

            “You can’t get it up because of the dogs.”

             Bruno wasn’t humored. “What would Diego say?”

            The mention of Diego was like an electrical shock, and Luciana contemplating gouging his eyes out. “He left me here with nothing. I doubt he’d say much.”      

            For a long, dark moment neither spoke. A gust of wind tousled the mangroves, making shadows jump across the sand. At last, Bruno said, “Just keep the money. It’s not your fault.”

            “My big payday!”  

            “Just keep the money.”

            Money. Luciana’s thoughts turned back to the 1,500$ US. It was more than money, it was a second chance. Fuck Bruno. Fuck the island. Luciana hopped from the hammock, and gathered her things to leave.

            As they started back for Paulo’s bar, Bruno said, “It’s not gonna be as easy as you think.”

            “I did just fine without Diego.”

            Indeed, the village had marveled at her resilience, at how she’d immediately started walking the net-line. Although not all approved of her business at Paulo’s, they respected her for doing what had to be done for her daughters.

            “Man are a dime a dozen. But a daughter?”

            Luciana was well aware that life would change with Sofía gone. But there was no use wondering what if, and certainly not for tears about what you were going to lose because you had no choice. “What can I buy with 1,500$ US.”

            “Just about anything,”

            “A boat?”

            “Sure. I’ll sell you mine,” Bruno chuckled, back in good spirits. “You’ll need one, for when the island goes under.”

            “Then 1,500$’s a good price. I’ll do it.”

"Let the Rain Beat Upon Your Head With Silver Liquid Drops" - Sunny Selby 

"Let the Rain Beat Upon Your Head With Silver Liquid Drops" - Sunny Selby 


            Luciana woke at first light with an upset stomach, normal after a session at Paulo’s, both from the drink with its dollop of rubbing alcohol and from recollections of what she’d done and to whom. Not that it shamed her in anyway, for she was well aware that as the village puta, or whore, she provided a community service. Who’d want to have sex with drunken fishermen after a week at sea? Certainly not their wives.

            Her daughters asleep, Luciana dressed and descended the ladder. She grabbed her bucket and set off for a part of the island where she hoped to find meatier crabs. Bruno’s boat was gone, which meant the deal was in the making. Hurray. In a couple days, Sofía would be escaping the grim inheritance that would make her a village puta, too.

            On the windward side, the sun scabbed the horizon like the eye of a dead fish. A couple of scarlet ibises flew overhead, but Luciana paid no attention and walked on, imagining the 1,500$ US in her pocket. Past the dead mangroves, she found the cross-over path, then the stinking creek that drained the lee shore through a maze of stunted vegetation. She came out on the bay side beside the fish-trap, a mangrove fence running over shallow gray water to a carousel of stakes. It belonged to O Pau Branco, “The White Stick” as he was known to the islanders, an albino who lived alone at the far end of the island. 

            As Luciana paused to consider where to start her hunt, the middle of the trap exploded with a ball of foam. There, the cadaverous form of O Pau Branco was bent like a praying mantis, pushing its prey beneath the water.

            A child!

            Luciana surged across the flats and was there, sinking into mud beside the trap, where a shiny gray body lay motionless in the shallows, its tail fin limp. 

            O Pau Branco hadn’t drowned a child, but a baby dolphin. 

            “You can’t kill dolphins,” Luciana shouted. She didn’t know much about the law, but this much she knew.

            O Pau Branco looked up, surprised. He wore a pair of shorts, and clumps of mud speckled his white skin like cancerous tattoos. “It was already dead, Sen͂ora Luciana.”

            “Like hell it was dead.”

            “You must be mistaken.” O Pau Branco stood, and lifted the animal gently.

            “I’ll report this.”

            “I’m sorry you feel that way.”

             The albino exited the trap for shore. But Luciana rushed ahead of him and fell to her knees in the muddy sand. She started to dig. “We gotta bury him!”

            O Pau Branco sloshed from the water, stopped. “We can share the meat, Sen͂ora Luciana.”   

            “Bury him!”

            “We’d just be feeding the dogs.”

            Luciana continued digging.

            “I hear you’ve been having difficulties, Sen͂ora Luciana.” O Pau Branco stroked the dolphin like he might a child. “It must be hard, your daughter leaving. I’m so sorry.”

            Luciana looked up, and coughed before saying, “You bastard! At least I don’t run around scaring children, Señor Monstro!”

            O Pau Branco started to say something, but bit his lip instead. Then, he nodded and walked off slowly, cradling the dolphin in his arms.

            “Oh Sofia-- ” Luciana cried, as the dolphin’s grave filled with water, as the wind blew away the keening of her sobs.

 

 

 

 

            They stood on the windswept sand, side by side, watching the boat approach.  Luciana had dressed like any other day, in dirty shorts and tee shirt, but Sofía wore her Sunday best, a pink dress cut from cheap fabric, its pieces sutured. After tossing anchor, Bruno jumped into the shallows and pulled in the stern with a line cleted aft. He sloshed ashore, grabbed Sofia’s battered suitcase, and loaded it. As he waded back through the shallow water, Sofia covered her eyes and moaned, “Oh Momma…..”

            Luciana had known it wouldn’t be easy.

            “Momma, Momma……”

            She’d wished the day would come and go so she could just forget.

            “Don’t make me go,” Sofia begged but without conviction.

            “There there…” Luciana hugged her daughter as the wind threw stinging wisps of sand. 

            Now Bruno approached. With great delicacy, he lifted the girl in his thick arms and sloshed to the boat, putting her on the stern and retrieving a packet. On returning to Luciana, he extracted an envelope and handed it to her. 

            Luciana counted the crisp bills. It was all there. “The malaria medication?”

            Bruno pulled plastic bubble sheets from the packet, with pills to be thumbed out.  Luciana handled them uncertainly. “No charge?”

            “It didn’t seem right.”

            “OK, so what’s the catch?” Bruno always took his cut, and then some. Or so they said. 

            “I just wanna help,” Bruno said, his eyes on the sand. Then, “I’d best get out before the tide.”

"Life is a Broken-Winged Bird That Cannot Fly" - Sunny Selby

"Life is a Broken-Winged Bird That Cannot Fly" - Sunny Selby


            He nodded at Luciana and turned away, sloshing for his boat again. In a moment, he had the anchor free and the diesel engine mumbling. Back on the helm, he turned for the channel and headed out, Sofía at the stern, the hem of her dress rippling in the breeze. Luciana held her hand high to wave good-bye, but the boat seemed stuck in a picture that wouldn’t fade. Finally, it began to shrink, then was only a speck, and was gone, vanished into the thick gray haze. 

            Luciana wiped her tears and was about to go give Isabella a dose of medication when dozens of mullet skipped from the water like popcorn. Big fins sliced the surface in zig-zags, corralling the fish into easy pickings. Dolphins. One shot from beneath, its whole body lifting through rainbows of spray, until it splashed back into the feeding frenzy and disappeared with a thrash. Luciana whispered for Bruno to come back, but the boat was gone, forever.


 

ELECTION YEAR

James Croal Jackson

do you believe in demons
it is an election year
which means half the populace is terrified
more than they usually are
half of us believe you can cast hell on a ballot
without holding your breath
cloaked and mortared
to cast bombs into the future
always parachutes
forthcoming days that glide like saliva
we argue until our tongues hurt
and our minds are worn from fire
that we build organically by rubbing sticks together
and the whole nation burns
cold and lifeless
what America needs
is for fewer people
to preach what America needs
and to follow the strays
who wander the streets
to see where they go

 

James Croal Jackson mostly writes poetry but has recently been expanding the portfolio of his rapper alter ego, Layzerus.


 


"Love Sign" - Jennifer Lothrigel Jennifer Lothrigel is a photographer and poet residing in the San Francisco Bay area. She creates intuitively, drawing from the mystery of her body and soul, then weaves her findings together.

"Love Sign" - Jennifer Lothrigel

Jennifer Lothrigel is a photographer and poet residing in the San Francisco Bay area. She creates intuitively, drawing from the mystery of her body and soul, then weaves her findings together.


 

Take This Walking Stick

M.J. luppa

 

 

 

Drawing a pictograph with the top of my walking stick on the unruffled stretch of sand, I

feel grand in the sweep and sudden turn of sign to symbol. In one take, the scene has a 

loveliness that seems timeless. It could be tomorrow. I lean on the stick as the sun rises

over my shoulder, giving me a youthful shadow, with a crow's unrest. The lake moves be-

neath its peerless sheen. No loose thread on my own worn coat lifts in the air. Still, I stand in

this perpetual motion—another morning beyond twenty centuries, waiting for bonfires

to burn the wilderness. 

 

 

M.J. Iuppa lives on Red Rooster Farm near the shores of Lake Ontario. 


 

Issue One


Tobin Johnston - Poetry

Tobin Johnston is a Writer and poet but more than that he is a husband to an artist and a father to three of the most amazing children he could hope to have.

McKenzie Stubbert – Music & Production

McKenzie Stubbert is a composer for Film, Dance, Virtual Reality and other art projects based in Los Angeles. 


 

 


Around My Block

Jedah Mayberry


When Love Goes Blind

Her name is Millicent. She grasps the tips of my fingers lightly with hers. She tells me the man by her side is her husband, Gabriel. The two have chosen a bench positioned beneath a pair of stunning red maples to get their daily dose of sun.

           "How long have you and your husband been together?" I ask. Her cream-coffee complexion looks as though it has robbed her hair of all its coloring. Coarse white strands run away from her forehead along either temple, from the center of the sharp widow's peak anchoring her hairline.

           "What is your mother's name?" She asks–a question in answer to my question. "Viola," I reply. "And how old is your mother?" I tell her my mother is forty-three. "Gabriel and I were an item long before your mother's name was a song inside your granddaddy's head."

            Gabriel wears heavy, dark sunglasses. He rests both hands on the end of a wooden walking stick, a cane with part of the curved handle cut off to more easily fit his grip. His chin is flecked with whiskers. Dark moles dot the landscape of brown skin across his cheekbones.

           "How have you managed to stay together all this time?" I adjust the aim of my question. Millicent eyes her husband, the smile on her face not meant for his benefit.

           "The last time he saw me, I was beautiful," she explains. "And he earned a decent wage at a time that I needed him to make a life for me. Together is what we have. Little else matters outside that." Gabriel cranes his neck an added inch, listens for the pigeons scratching for space along the walkway beside his feet. He reaches inside his coat pocket then spreads a few crumbles of bread in the direction that has drawn his ear. A gaggle of overfed hens waddle over and begin pecking away at Gabriel's generous offering. He adjusts his posture, settles his shoulders back into the curve of the bench. The sun glints off the lens of his glasses. No light in, none out.

           "Gabriel was a prize fighter in his day," she explains. He hunches a shoulder, prepares to throw a jab in the direction of an invisible foe positioned along the walkway, muscle memory transforming his whole disposition. He settles back into the bench as Millicent gives him another smile that I alone can see.

           "The doctors warned him, one more fight, maybe two. He fought another dozen times or more, his aim a bit less sure with each bout, his defense that much easier to penetrate." She brushes his knee with an open palm. He presses his hands deeper into the handle of his walking stick.

           "We had a good couple of years after that, living the high-life then everything went dark for him. I've been his eyes ever since. And he has been my heart." He gives a smile back to her when she casts one on him this time.


           I write L-O-V-E at the bottom of the notes I've been taking–underline each letter separately. "Do take care," I offer as I bid them good day.

           "We will do just that," she replies. "And, when you speak with Viola again, let her know that she has raised a lovely young man." She lets one of her smiles go in my direction. I return the gesture.

           I high-step across a stray gathering of pigeons, measure my gait as they speed up the pace with their waddling in an effort to escape my path.

The Rhythm

His head nods almost imperceptibly, side-to-side, back and forth, the sound inside his headphones sparking an involuntary response. I put a hand to my head, pluck an imaginary ear bud from my ear.

           "Can I holler at you a second?" A disinterested hand motions a response–whatever. He slips his headphones around his neck, a hypnotic rhythm filling the space between us with a faint thumping.

            "Can I ask what you do?" I say, feigning politeness to show I'm here acting in a semi-official capacity.

           "I make beats," he answers, gives the cord to his headphones a twirl.

           "Oh, yeah. What do they call you?" I ask, enthusiasm running beyond the bounds of my semi-official role.

           "Trill."

           "Is that the name your parents gave you?"

           "My parents named me Hassan."

           "Done anything I might know?"

           He wrinkles the corner of his mouth. I am failing to engage my subject.

           "I mean, I'm a huge hip-hop fan. There's a good chance I've heard some of your work."

           He slips his headphones from around his neck, dangles the cord in my direction. I listen a minute, my head nodding in time to the beat.

          "Wait. Is that..."

           "EPMD."

           "They're back together?"

           "Got a new album dropping at the end of the month. They're expecting to release this as the first single."

           "It's dope."

           He takes the headphones from my hand, nods. "Appreciate it. Don't mean to be rude, but I gotta bounce. Stay up, kid." He brushes a light dust from the stoop off the back of his Levi's then proceeds down the block, his head again moving in time to the rhythm.

           I look him up on Instagram later that evening–Hassan Mohsen (iGotThatTrill). I'm treated to photo after photo of every major artist from the past decade, many seated alongside Trill on the very stoop where I met him, hip-hop royalty gracing my block.

           It's another week or two before I happen upon him again, seated on the stoop, headphones in place over his ears, his head nodding to a familiar rhythm.

           "What's up?" I say hoping for a second chance to engage him.

           He drops the headphones around his neck sparing me the finger-as-an-ear-bud pantomime.

           "What's good, kid?"

           "Nothing," I reply. "Chillin'," I say, working to match his cool. I fidget with my notebook, force myself to maintain eye contact. "I copped that EPMD joint."

           "Yeah. Whaddya think?"

           "It's live! Don't know why they stayed gone so long."

           "What can I tell you? Music industry people are shady. Can drive a wedge between the closest of friends."

           "Aren't you part of the music industry?"

           "I just make beats." He raises a hand to his chest, proclaiming his innocence.

            I sense him about to put me off again. "This your building?" He looks over his shoulder, eyeing the stoop.

          "My grandpop's." He tilts his head in my direction, waits for me to press. He's done the journalist stroll before. But I've got nothing. Thankfully, he proceeds unsolicited.

           "I take him every Tuesday for his dialysis. He's usually spent afterwards. Some weeks are rougher on him than others." He nods toward the curbside. A man in an ivory tunic and matching knit kufi sits in the passenger side of a Mercedes truck dozing, recovering from yet another ordeal hooked to a machine.

           "Anything I can help you with?"

           "Nah, fam. We're good. I'll let pops snooze a while longer. I'll get him a little something to gnaw on later. Then I'll help him to his apartment. We'll do the whole thing over again next week, Insha' Allah–God Willing."

           I nod, my little book of questions no match for the multitude of issues in his world. He raises a hand, leans into me. I clasp his hand in mine, fingers around thumb, push my shoulder into his as he presses his free hand against my back. "Peace be unto you, my friend."

           "Peace be unto you," I parrot back at him hoping he will forgive my ignorance. I walk away sensing a kinship between us, marvel at the apparent connection I've made to hip-hop royalty, royalty that too has his parcel of burdens to carry.

Winning

"If you don't mind," I begin, politeness again my calling card. "May I ask your name?"

           "Victor," he offers, breaking his stride just long enough to entertain my question. "It means winner."

           "Are you winning?" I ask.

           "I here," he replies. "That's winning, wouldn't you say?" His eyes glisten as though they have swallowed a fair portion of the sea. His dialect suggests a lifetime spent in close proximity to the ocean, singsong memories of an island existence resting on the tip of his tongue.

           "You're not from here," I say.

           He shuffles to the left then steps back to the right. "I was from there. Now, I from here. A hundred steps ago, I was from the kitchen inside my apartment where no one was there to pester me with a hundred needless questions. Another hundred steps and I'll be resident in the bodega up the block purchasing my lot'ry ticket from the man who promises each week to share the proceeds with me if I win." He turns to address me face-on. "WHEN I win, then maybe I'll let you tell my story."

           "If we're talking, we're walking." He taps my shoulder then takes off in a stride that more closely resembles a light run. I step briskly to keep pace by his side.

           "What I mean to ask is where you were from before you came here?"

           "I'm not the kind of man to let the island I'm from rob the joy of where I stand today." He shakes a finger at me. "The island is a trap, I tell you. Me, I need open spaces." He spreads his arms wide making believe he can touch the brick face of the building on either side of the street with a stretch of his fingertips.

           "But, isn't Manhattan an island?" I ask, concerned about the logic behind his claims.

           "Now, you catchin' my drift. Everyplace is an island. This city, this country, this whole planet is surrounded by something bigger than itself. Me, I ain't gonna be here long. You best to write that you met me here on 'dis precise date," he says glancing down at my notepad. "'Cause the next time you come looking for me, I g'wan be someplace else."

           My tongue refuses to obey the instruction Professor Daly had given–engage but take care not to become personally involved with your subject. "So what has you trapped on this particular island?"

           "My daughter is trapped on 'dis same pile of rock. Until I find her again, me cyan't leave." He pushes me away with his stare, brushes the sound of my voice from his ear.

           "How could you lose track of your daughter?" I ask, the air inside my throat stifling the words.

           "When you're young, you do young things. And trust me when I say, young people are mostly foolish. I let foolish pride take my daughter from me. I could not be this girl's father. I was just a boy. I returned to Grenada, let the man to whom her mother's hand was promised take responsibility for my burden, to assume my joy. I been longing for her every day since," he says, his spirit sagging beneath the weight of his words.

           "Her mother wrote me one time, left a return address to this very block. She told me my daughter was growing straight as a canary reed." He reaches inside his wallet, produces a small photograph folded in fours. The photo is nearly as old as I am. Tiny creases run across its face top-to-bottom, left-to-right like thin string pulled taut across delivery package papering.

           "This is my Regina," he boasts thumbing a finger across a jagged smile, two front teeth missing, her face framed beneath a pair of braided pigtails.

           "I gon' find her," he insists. "Then I g'wan leave this place, fast, fast.

           "I gone," he says as he flings the bodega door open in front of my chest, his eyes drunk with the full expanse of the ocean.

           "WHEN I find her, I'll be delighted to let you tell my story."

           "Deal," I tell him as the bodega door clamors shut between us. "Keep winning."

Rising Stars

My head is full with thoughts of kids as I round the next corner. Will I ever father a child? If so, will I manage to behave less foolishly?

           I stop in front of the playground. I hook my fingers inside the chain link fence near a group of middle-schoolers, getting in some play time before the serious ballers take to the court. I listen in an earnest attempt to comprehend their babbling. They appear to be reenacting a recent playoff series. A player on one side of the ball claims to be Joe Johnson (Brooklyn Nets). Someone on the opposing side has labeled himself Carmelo Anthony (NY Knicks), New York finally capable of mustering a proper, cross-town rivalry.

           "Which of you is the better shooter?" I ask.

           Everyone points toward Carmelo Anthony: "Him, him, him," they say in turn. Carmelo Anthony smiles sheepishly at me, shrugs his shoulders.

           "You want to be a professional ball player when you grow up?"

           "I want to be a theoretical physicist, like Sheldon Cooper from the Big Bang Theory," he explains, seeming to doubt my willingness to comprehend his ambition. "Except my girl is gonna be a lot flier than Amy Farrah Fowler."

           "Ain't nothing wrong with Amy Farrah Fowler," Joe Johnson grumbles. "They just dress her funny for the show."

           "You should be Leonard," a smallish kid with a mouth full of braces chimes in. "That way, you'd get to be with Penny and she's plenty fly."

           "Leonard's not nearly as smart as Sheldon or Amy Farrah Fowler," the lone female baller interjects. We'll call her Swin Cash (NY Liberty). "Plus my brother says we should find heroes to emulate who look like us. I want to be Mae Jemison, the first black female astronaut. If you like science so much, you should become an astrophysicist like Neil deGrasse Tyson," she tells Carmelo Anthony.

           "Oh, yeah," he shoots back. "If your brother's so smart, why is he always on the block late into night?"

           "He's just hanging with his friends. They're not doing anything bad." Her face suggests that she only half-believes the lie.

           "My brother and his friends used to hang too," Carmelo replies. "These days, he's locked up more than he's home."

           "I know. I be tryna tell my brother to chill. But he's never gonna listen to his little sister." Her shoulders droop.

           "He's the one who wanted to be an astronaut in the first place. He hung a poster of Ronald McNair on the ceiling above his bed. Said Ron McNair died in a space shuttle explosion. My brother called it a noble pursuit, your soul scattered among the stars in the name of science. He told me I could be an astronaut too, turned me on to Mae Jemison. Now my brother just hangs."

           I attempt to redirect their energy. "What's the fascination with outer space?"

           "It's as far as you can go in the universe, as big as you can be," Swin Cash explains. "Looking down, you see everyplace you've ever been, anyplace you'll ever want to be," she adds, repeating things she's undoubtedly picked up from her brother only you can tell she's beginning to believe the dream for herself even if he might not get there.

           "It gives you a perspective on the whole island," I tell her, Victor's words ringing in my ear.

           "Looks more like a giant marble to me. But, yeah, it adds perspective."

           I nod in agreement. "A giant marble. I like that," I offer, recording the remark.

           "What's with the notepad?" Joe Johnson asks.

           "It's for a school project," I start to explain when Carmelo Anthony interrupts.

           "Man, school let out three weeks ago. You musta got left back," he jabs sending his compatriots into a fit of laughter.

           "It's for college. I'm studying to be a journalist." Carmelo Anthony wrinkles his chin suggesting that he now distrusts my ambition.

           He eventually shrugs off his disbelief, nods. "Whatever. That's cool."

           I was overcome by a sudden compulsion to become an astrophysicist, to rise with the young'uns among the stars. "Y'all be cool," I tell them as another bouncing ball approaches, the serious ballers descending on the court. "Stick to your dreams," I say as I let go of the chain link fence.

           "You too," Swin Cash calls after me. At least she has faith in my ambition.

Black and Blue

It has been a long yet productive day. All I want is a slice and a fountain soda on ice–because soda tastes better that way, carbonated bubbles filling the cup to the brim of its plastic lid. Then my day will be complete.

           I enter the pizza joint. Two uniformed patrol officers are in line ahead of me. My mind is thinking two slices, but I raise one finger to the man behind the counter who proceeds to load a slice of pepperoni into the oven with a long wooden paddle. His movement behind the counter is a well-rehearsed ballet: a finger flick and the oven door swings open, a shoulder shrug with the paddle and my slice moves securely to a place of middle heat. Another finger flick and the oven door swings closed. He retakes his position along the back wall, arms folded across his chest as he waits to repeat the ballet in reverse order.

           Officer No. 1 positions himself at the far end of the counter. No. 2 takes up post by the doorway. No One and No Two is how my cousin would refer to them, always seen in twos around our block, sent to protect one another ahead of any one of us. My cousin can be a bit militant. Still, I take heed. I adjust the straps of my backpack on my shoulders. I want to reach in and retrieve my notepad, alert them to my semi-official capacity. But I know the protocol–no sudden movements, keep your hands where I can see them.

           I resist the urge to engage them, to make them part of my study. I instead work to disappear in my own little world, but my eyes betray me. I need to know who I'm dealing with: old or young; Black, White or Hispanic. Older cops bust balls; younger cops split heads. Regardless of age, a cop's skin color is a coin toss. In the end, they all bleed blue.

           Incessant chatter from their police radios has the room on high alert. No One reaches for the mouthpiece affixed to the epaulet on his left shoulder. "Officer blah, blah, blah. Please repeat." I listen as the dispatcher squawks a response: 'high top sneakers, backpack, hooded sweatshirt, fitted hat,' easily describing half of the young male population on the planet.

           I slip my backpack free of my shoulders. Rest my ball cap on the counter, my forehead beading with sweat. I long for the outside air, to be on the street again.

           "You want to tell us where you're coming from?" No One asks wagging two fingers in my direction. No Two looks me up and down, shifts his weight between his feet. I'm tempted to shuffle step to the left then shuffle back to the right. Tell them I was from there now I'm from here, that I'm winning. I think better of it.

           "From around the block," I say, keeping a keen watch on No Two–hands where I can see them, no sudden movements. I glance over at the pizza shop owner. I can't read the look in his eyes, the curl of his lip–disgust, I reckon. At me, at them, at the need for this standoff to unfold in his shop? I suspect good and bad guys eat pizza by the slice just the same. He can't vouch for me either way.

           "Could it be you were up on the boulevard, boosting cars," No One insists. No Two takes a step in my direction, closes off my pathway to the exit.

           "Who me?" I ask. "Nah, I'm no car thief. You got the wrong guy."

           "I'll tell you who I got and don't got," No One barks into the space remaining between him and me. "What's inside the bag?"

           "School stuff," I explain as the shop door swings open again. Enters Hassan–Trill, headphones secure around his ears. His face brightens when he catches sight of me, the tension in the room lost to the music inside his headphones. I motion with a subtle nod of my head, try to push him back outside the shop, away from my predicament.

           I check for an alternate exit. The shop keeper has disappeared to the backroom, I hope calling for assistance. No One eases forward making the cramped pizza parlor seem that much smaller. He instructs Hassan to stay put, to show his hands.

           I press my back into the counter. Lift my arms over my head.

           Hassan brushes past No Two, a puzzled look trained on me. "What's going on, kid?" he asks, fumbling with his headphones. He pushes forward reaching inside his front pocket.

           Chaos ensues. No One discharges a single round hitting Hassan in the shoulder. Hassan stumbles for the doorway. No Two proceeds to unload round after round as Hassan lunges in the officer's direction.

           Hassan falls to the ground, cellphone in hand, the spiral cord of his headphones splattered with blood. The gunfire ceases leaving me frozen in place, cowering beneath the counter. Sirens wail in the distance.

           His name was Hassan Mohsen (iGotThatTrill). He made beats. Peace be unto you, my friend.

Jedah Mayberry is a storyteller, a consummate people watcher, and the fearless father to two teenage girls.

 
 

"Secrets" - Sunny Selby

"Secrets" - Sunny Selby

 

Secrets

Sunny Selby

Secrets,
I eat them for breakfast.
Mix them casually in my eggs.
Dissolve them in my coffee,
Bifurcated,
Separated by choice and layered by necessity.
But I see we are all layered.
Here's my secret:
The room.
Dark.
They sit together.
Fixed forever under the running water.
Secrets like lies dodged and burned.
Branded.
On my black finger tips.
In memory and on paper
That I eat like a sweet date.
Rolling on my scorched tongue
From coffee -- too hot.

Sunny Selby – Sunny Selby is the daughter of an obstinate Fin who lived most of her life with one lung, and the daughter of a poetic photographer; she’s been chasing short stories in visual art & poetry to tell the tales.  


 

"California" - Simi Snider 

Simi Snider is a photographer/writer who strives to capture the emotions in her environment that strike her.


 

Émile Nelligan est mort

Oliver Carmichael

 

 

          After finding you in his company, I held Émile Nelligan in my hands. Although slim and delicate as a fish bone, he was heavy with a language I didn’t understand. I took him to the bridge. I leant over its side. January’s remains were starved and seagull-grey. The river was a spill of ink. When the leftovers of the day finally coloured the sky, I drowned him.

 

          It began the day the clouds gathered and dropped hints of snow. December held its breath. My brain was restless. I’d retreated to Leaky’s, the only second-hand bookshop I know that serves drinks and home-made soup. I often go there to write. I like the cold and the hush and the smile of the old owner. Life has stretched her thin, skin tight over the gnarls and knots of her joints. I sat at one of the scrubbed wooden tables on the indoor balcony, pleasuring my tongue with real coffee.

 

          That afternoon I gave up on my poem and wandered among the stacks, tightly packed with neglected books and the smell of vanilla-yellow paper. I drew my fingers along the shelves, until I came to a hardback that had edged forward, out of line with the other books. I eased it out. It was a volume of Auden’s poetry. And there was another book wedged within it. Its cover was a deep red, its spine crippled. There was no title. I opened it; a ghost of dust escaped.

 

Émile Nelligan Et Son Oeuvre. Montreal 1903.

 

          The opposite page bore a portrait of a young man. Below it someone had pencilled:

1879-1941, French-Canadian. Influences: Baudelaire, Verlaine, Poe. Wrote 170 poems aged 15-19, before going mad.

 

          I leafed through the book; the poems were all in French. I turned back. The poet had a mane of dark hair swept away from his forehead. His features were broad and dramatic. But what made him so striking was his vulnerability, the way he wore sadness with elegance. He reminded me of a muzzled bear, slave to a performance of simple tricks. And beyond all this there was something else. It was there in the dark well of his pupil.

 

          As I re-read the penciled notes, my thoughts turned to you and your thesis. Your struggle with ‘Identity and Intertextuality in Québécois Literature’ had drained you of colour. I paid fifty pence for the anthology in the hope it might help.

         

          ‘It’s in French,’ I said when I handed you the book.

          You opened the slim anthology; interest stilled your water-green eyes. ‘Émile Nelligan ...’

          ‘Have you heard of him?’

          ‘No.’ You flicked to the middle of the book. ‘ “Fantôme, il disparut dans la nuit, emporté par le souffle mortel des brises hivernales.” ’

 

          I waited for you to translate. Instead, you turned back to the portrait. I could see he had your attention.

 

          At first, your interest was innocent: you were a scholar with a new-found subject. I listened to you talk about Nelligan’s life and theorize about his work. Ideas hit you like bouts of fever. You quoted lines of his verse, slipping in and out of French with ease, as if it were a lover. I grew irritated and curious. I searched the internet until I found copies of Nelligan’s poems. I pinned them to the walls of the study, read and re-read them. The poet’s voice rose with a powerful clarity. From bizarre and beautiful images Émile Nelligan emerged like a phantom, a winter creature, lingering at the periphery of his poetry.

 

          December collapsed into January. Another magazine rejected my poems. I read the editor’s letter, and then spent the day in Leaky’s, drowning my sense of failure in coffee.

 

          ‘How are you finding that French poet?’ asked the old owner when she served me my third cup.

          ‘Canadian.’

          ‘Ah.’ She nodded. ‘You know in French a goldfish is red:

le poisson rouge.’

          I gave her a weak smile.

          I tried to write, but Nelligan paced the edge of my thoughts.

 

          When I returned to the flat, I was surprised and pleased to see your shoes at the kitchen door. I heard your voice. Had you brought someone back? I wanted you all to myself. The bedroom door was ajar. You stood at the foot of the bed, facing the mirror. You were half-naked and reading Nelligan aloud. I pushed open the door, took a step into the room. You continued to read, until you glanced up – caught my reflection at the mirror’s edge. The room was filled with an afternoon light that brought life to the changing colours in your hair. Did you feel the tips of your ears redden?

 

          ‘Don’t stop.’

          You smiled. ‘It’s ok. I got carried away.’ You dropped the book on the bed.

          I had the rejection letter clutched in my hand. ‘Is that Nelligan?’

          ‘He’s a real find. His poems are so naked and honest, yet they have this - this deadly impact ... I - I keep forgetting he’s dead. When I read him, it’s like he’s there – laid on the page ... I don’t know ... he’s just ...’

          ‘Distracting, damaging ... ’

 

          You nodded. ‘He retreated into verse. There was always a struggle between his inner self and outer reality; it created great poetry, but tore apart the poet.’ You paused, surprised by what you’d said. ‘I need to write that down.’ You scrabbled around for a pen. Nelligan had captivated you again.

 

          I went to the bed and flicked through the anthology. Your annotations were closed around his verse. Would my work ever prove worthy of such scholarly devotion?

 

          ‘Strange that you can enjoy so much intimacy with someone who’s dead.’

          ‘You sound jealous.’

          ‘No.’ You looked up. I shook my head. ‘I’m not jealous.’

          Silence opened up between us. I laid the anthology back on the bed.

          ‘What’s that?’ You indicated my letter.

          ‘Oh, nothing. Just some notes. I was going to get a cup of tea. Do you want one?’

          You shook your head, frowned down at your writing. ‘I’m meant to be going out. You can come if you want.’

          ‘No.’ I held up the letter. ‘Got these notes to work on.’

 

          Only when the kettle had boiled and I’d stirred a second sugar into my tea did I allow myself to breathe. Then, I retreated to the study and lay on the floor in the last patch of sunlight.

 

          I woke to the silence of Sunday. A shower warmed me and my head drew comfort from a pot of coffee. I tuned the radio and sat at the desk. By the time the caffeine reached my fingers, I’d covered my notebook in random words copied from Nelligan’s verse. I could not escape his sad, prophetic cry. Yet the poet himself refused to surface. He was distorted behind some final layer of meaning that I could not grasp and withdraw.

 

          ‘... it’s like he’s there – laid on the page ...’

 

          I bit my lip. And then I tore at my notebook, swept the words to the floor. I tugged on my coat. The bedroom smelt of drunken sleep. I paused beside the bed and examined the constellation of freckles that marks your left cheek. How familiar and yet strange it seemed.

 

          ‘ “In the dark well you see there lies the source of all this drama.” ’

          Yes, I was jealous. Émile Nelligan had slipped between us, disturbed the surface of our lives. He waited on your desk.

 

          I walked slowly. My feet knew where to take me: the park on the west side of the city. Crows squabbled, swings faded into drab. I headed for the bridge that arches over the large lily pond. I weighed the book in my hands and thought of the fish wintering in the water’s depths.

 

          ‘In French a goldfish is red: le poisson rouge ...’

 

          I frowned, flicked through the anthology. The language looked so familiar, yet was a puzzle; it exasperated and enticed. It had created an intimacy between you and the poet. You could see what lay in the well of his pupil. I could not: in the act of translation it had fallen into obscurity.

 

          I pressed a stone between the pages of the anthology, before looking once more at Nelligan’s portrait.

 

          ‘ “I, too, have dreamed of making poetry that lives.” ’

          By then the leftovers of the day were finally colouring the sky.

          Émile Nelligan is dead.

 

Author’s Note: Inspired by the life and work of Émile Nelligan. Quotes taken from The Complete Poems of Emile Nelligan edited and translated by Fred Cogswell.

Oliver Forbes Carmichael - Obsessed with word, birds, wings and soul things: “Autism is my super power.”


 

Bodega

B. Dani West

Jim Beam and Scoresby Scotch

Underneath the Christmas lights in November.

It was on that night we’d bought

Spoiled alligator sausage from a street vendor.

 

Birthday boy was trashed shotgun,

Dreams bubbling up his throat

As I drove us forwards,

And your fingers traced a cross

In sarcastic lines from shoulder to shoulder.

 

I never did sleep that night;

Too transfixed from highway gliding.

That radio blasting tossed

The lifeless lover in my heart past the county line.

 

Oh we were so young back then-

If I could return for a day or an hour

I’d steal the dosages of Rohypnol.

Time slips us until we wake under flowers.


I Wanted You In August

B. Dani West

How the sun set on the long ride home.

You sipped coffee out of Styrofoam

(A disposable puddle of cream)

And held my hand below the dash.

 

That night of whiskey, a silver dollar on the dresser,

Spent in your grave of used dressings;

Salvaged candlewax spelt out your vows

In a stammered slobber–sweet.

 

Daybreak was never merciful,

As hopes sailed ground-bound from mountain tops—

I thought I saw a shooting star then.

I was steady as a wasted horse,

Sleepwalking.

B. Dani West is an LA native, psychology student with a minor in creative writing, and writer of all things fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and insults on dirty car windows.


 

of debris

Andrew Feaster


unkempt

the dust on the fan says it all

my rushed pulse

the breath i try to steal

flesh and flesh and flesh and flesh

 

old songs

new melodies

and on and on

 

fucking comets

and their godawful orbits

 

just where the hell have i been

 

leaves and fog and dreams and sobs

tied airtight

and the keys are around here somewhere

 just as they were a thousand years ago

 

the low tide is the worst

because you can run too far

getting caught in the miracle of debris

and finding your way back

can eat you alive

 

we are not supposed to miss someone else's moments

we scarcely even live our own

but when you've been unkempt

 

and the dust builds up

 

you start to hate long orbits

missing keys

and low tides

and you demand to know

 

honestly

just where the hell have i been

Andrew Feaster – ”Man of the People - MSW - Bakersfield, CA."


 

#94

Joshua Dale

Staring at the window

after a stormy day

and seeing the accumulated

rain drops trickle down.

Each drop: a tear, a memory

of celestial beings, poisoned

by noxious fumes.

Some run fast;

the wax of life.

Some remain still

and accumulate rainbows.


Some days, I just want to shout at the rain,

to tell them–those heavenly deities–

everything will be alright;

purged and washed away.

Joshua Dale – Studying within the bowels of William Penn: “I dare to cease the perpetual gears within me.” 


 

The Lesser & The Greater

Tobin Johnston

 

           He sits on the edge of the bed. His toes visibly moving beneath the thin black dress socks. His polished shoes sit by the chair, his jacket – draped over an arm. He reviews a handful of papers in his right hand. His other, tied up from a stroke 20 years earlier, hangs slack at his side like a branch weighted down by snow.

           You know, no one cares if you remember them. She chides him from an adjoining bathroom. She feels young before the mirror, nearly 40 years his junior.

           Oh, I am not reading any of the old speeches.

           Well Dr. King, aren't you full of surprises.

           She walks over to him and playfully swats at the papers in his hand. He tucks them away, somehow embarrassed and proud at the same time.

           Will you get ready? He scolds. I don't want to keep anyone waiting.

           Don’t worry, I’m sure no one is going to be there.

           She walks back to the bathroom but over her shoulder she sees he is worried. He is back to his new speech. His mouth moves without speaking. His thumb rests at his temple. For a moment she imagines him a younger man. Hair black as opposed to storm cloud grey. A man of those important days; the righteous orator, the self-assured leader of the people. She didn’t look at the old photos much or the videos on YouTube any longer. They had been her mother’s milk but now she failed to recognize him in them. They only told her that he was old; that one day the pictures would be all she had.


            Still, she could see that age had been a petty thief. He was thicker-set but still light on his toes. His voice did not as often ascend into the reverberating tones of deep power, but there were moments when she felt that it could. The touchstone salvaged from the lighting rod, always threatening to reawaken the urgency that justice required but still only threatening. Now, years later, without the crowds and the cause, he was what he had always been and meant to be - the quintessential old preacher - excited, but cautious and less certain; all fire, but little brimstone. She stops applying mascara, checks the clock on her cellphone and looks over at her father. She listens to him rehearse in the room. Sensing her attention, he stops.

 "Hotel 1" - Sunny Selby

           Can I help you?

           I don’t know, are you going to let me hear it?

           It’s not finished.

           Come on. Just the first line.

           It’s not done.

           Please.  

           I need you to get ready. It’s. . .  He looks for a clock in the room. What happened to having clocks in hotel rooms?

           It’s 8:45. She recites from her smartphone.  

           You need to finish up. I would like to get there early. I'm serious. He uses his no-funny-business tone but she smiles.

           Oh, I can tell you’re serious. Well, what was he like? Do you miss him? She gestures to his speech.  

           Ralph? Ralph Abernathy was as true a friend as a man could hope for in the times we found ourselves in. I would do it all again if Ralph was still here to do it with me. There’s not a day goes by. . . He interrupts himself to add these lines to his speech.    

           And? She asks, but he is back to reading, lost in the rhythm of his own words. When she sees no answer is coming she lets out a groan. Suddenly she's sick of the yellowish bathroom light. She walks to the window. It is one of those large windows that open toward the parking lot. The curtains are closed but framed in a diffuse light at the edges like a glowing cartouche. She feels his worry follow her across the room. He's not ignoring her now. He's not thinking of being late now. He's focused on the window.

           She pretends he is not there. She turns her back on the room’s shadows. She wants to see light and feel the early hours pure offering emblazon her eye lids. She doesn’t bother with the cord but walks to the center and parts the fabric like Moses, the Red Sea. No sooner is the room filled with the cool grey of an Alabama morning than he speaks up.

           Now Delia, you know how much I don’t care for that draft.

            There is no draft. The window’s shut.

           I can feel a draft.

           She refuses to respond.

           Delia Please.

           A nervousness pinches his voice. His worry is audible and she lets the curtains fall closed. She walks past him and returns to the bathroom, to the mirror, to the dingy yellow light and buzzing bathroom fan.

           He is frozen on the bed. Several tears wet his cheeks. Tremors run through his right hand. She feels badly. She walks over to him and puts her arms around him. Her hand pats his back. He holds onto her until the quakes still. She returns to the bathroom.

           He’s nervous still; preoccupied with the window now. He shifts on the bed; turning his back from the light and keeping the window in his field of vision. He returns to his speech but with a broken attention. After a moment more, he throws his speech down in frustration.  

          Yes? She asks.

           After a small pause he asks, Do you think your mother will be there? I should very much like to see her.

           Knowing this question was coming did not help her find it any less annoying.

           Oh, I think you need to just focus on your speech.

           Did you know we almost didn’t have you? She curses softly at her reflection. She hates it when he speaks about her. It's stupid. It like listening to someone talk about the town you grew up in. Worse, it's someone singing your favorite song but singing all the words wrong. She isn’t someone who grew up with two parents. She is, however, someone who doesn't want to hear some old dude talk about how he ‘knew’ mother back in the day, no matter who he thinks he is.  

           I don’t think I am ready for this right now. I find this conversation offensive.

           Offensive?

           Yes, offensive. I don’t feel nothing but offense. You talk about my mother; I want you to stop.

           I did know her.

           We’ve talked about this before. You knew her to a point.

           He is undeterred.

            Sometimes, I worry you are right, that there is only enough room in our imagination for a single version of someone, a single face. I remember your mother so clearly the day we met but I can’t imagine her now. She had this laugh. . .  

           The day we met —  she repeats these words in her mind like she had never considered the words before. She hears their novelty. Isn’t that what you call those little plastic flowers that spray water in your face - a novelty?

            He is still talking —  but he who presumes to know the mind of God. . .

           Oh? She mumbles in an absent tone.

           Is a fool. He finishes.

           What?

           Who presumes to know the mind of God is a fool!

           Uhuh.

           You interrupt my thinking child and then don't listen?

           I was listening. You were saying you’re a fool.

           He purses his lips in a frustration that turns into a chuckle that bounces his shoulder and shakes his head.

           D, I’m trying to tell you—

           Martin, you’re just in your way.

           What, pray, is my way?  What I’m just trying to say is—  

           How much you love me. You always get in this way before you speak, Martin.

           What of it? For good or ill, I think of myself as your father. I think about not meeting you and I don’t know the man I'm thinking of. And you can stop calling me Martin. We’ve talked about that before too.  

           She gestures to her face with the magic wand of her lipstick. Here is your daughter with which you are well pleased. She didn’t mean to sound mocking but she did.

           That’s not funny and you know why. This was his real no-funny-business voice. The Lord should not be mocked. He adds sternly.

           Let me help you with your jacket.

           Fine. He stands up.

           Do you need help with the shoes, old man?

           No. I’ll find a way. The Lord will help me. He tells his shoes.

           This is a nice hotel. He does not respond. She looks over and his shoes are on, he is pacing, paper extended in his hand. His right arm pumps in and out on the beat of his words.  

           Okay. She finishes her look. Her compact snapping shut cuts the silence of the room.

           Let’s roll.

           She moves to the door but before he will let them leave he has to check the window. He walks toward them but not as she had a moment ago. He keeps to the side behind the door and then slowly he peeks out just between the curtain and the wall. A thin line of light halves his darkened face. Sweat beads underneath his eyes. His breathing is heavy again. He stays very still before moving to the door. Here, he turns the knob slowly opening it a little at first and then gradually all the way.

          This was the painful part of seeing him, witnessing these anxious ticks and routines. Waiting for a table at a restaurant that faced the entrance. Checking new rooms for invisible taps and the underside of car of errant wires. It was sad, to see fear crippled him so, make him like a child, was heartbreaking. The war was over but the soldier was still fighting it.

           Finally satisfied, he straightens, takes on his full height, smooth down the buttons on his suit jacket, and walks out the door. They walk to the car. He returns to the rhythm of his oration and she finds in her phone a welcome distraction from feelings she can never quite identify.

"Hotel 2" - Sunny Selby

           The rally is being held at the First Baptist Church of Montgomery, Alabama; Ralph's old church. She drives. He sits silently, looking out the window.

           See there, there used to be a church just two blocks that way, First of Christ, I think. My father would speak there from time to time. It’s gone. He fell silent again. This was his way too, she thought, taking his bearings from buildings long torn down.

           Must have been nice to visit all those different cities.

           Back then? Well. . . We weren't really on vacation. He turned toward her suddenly. Delia, what are you not telling me about your mother?

           Dad. . . Let it go. It was a long time ago.

           You know, if it’s another man, I could find a way to be happy about that. She deserved better than I could give. She should be happy.

           Let’s play a game. She changes the subject. The game is called The Greater and The Lesser.

           D, I want to know about your mother—

           This game is great. You'll love it. Ask me how to play it. Ask me!

           Okay, how do I play it?

           If you want to know my secret, the secret of lesser, you have to tell me a secret of the greater.

           A secret of the greater. I see. It is not a hard thing to figure.

           Okay, then go! Go!

           Go?

           Tell me something I don’t know. Something not already written in a book somewhere. Something you’ve never told anyone. She asks combatively.

           Alright, alright, you have to give me some time to come up with something.

           And no lying. I would know and you’re a preacher.

           No lying.

           Well there was this one time at a little diner in Washington DC, the waitress comes over with my order, she’s white, and tells me that my breakfast was on the house. And I thought, well isn’t that nice, and I look over at the kitchen and nod politely. I get a bunch of nice grins from the men standing by the grill. Of course, they’re white as well. Anyhow, I don’t know what they put in that but I had the runs all the way to the next day.

           That’s it?

           Well I’m talking the serious shits, like brown water from a hose.  

           Okay, that’s nasty.

           Oh, I forgot, that was the day I gave the ‘I have a dream speech.’

           No, you’re making that up.

           God’s truth.

           That’s amazing and totally gross.

           It’s your game.

           Yes, it is my game but that is still gross.

           Okay, I said one, will you tell me now?

           Are you kidding me, I don’t know what that was but it was definitely not the greater.

           Okay, then tell me something then, something about you I don’t know. Something of the lesser.

           She thinks a moment.

           Okay, the first time I fooled around, you know with a boy, I was in a church balcony.

           Which church?

           You don’t know it. She said coyly.

           Sure I do.

           She flashes an embarrassed smile.

           Do I get to know the boy’s name at least?

           Cliff Clifford

           Little CC. I can’t believe he would do that.

           Don’t be stupid, you don’t know him.

           Oh yeah, me and CC go way back.

           She gave him a measured look and he started to laugh.

           You are such a liar. She hits him from across the car. He only laughs harder.

           Seriously though, Cliff Clifford?

           That was his name, I didn’t pick it.

           Her father turns away from her and looks down the road. They are leaving the downtown and moving into a rural neighborhood whose houses stand adrift in a great sea of green grass unbroken by fences or property lines. Her father is distant again, lost somewhere in the motion of the road.

           The road ahead has a slight curve so its end is unseen. They pull up to a stop sign. He starts speaking again.

           They came. . . I mean, I bet you didn’t know that they came to me.

           Who?

           He does not respond to her questions, not for five or six more minutes and when he finally does his voice is changed. Gone are the smooth rhythms of his enunciation, the soft tones of his words. These have been replaced by quiver in his lips and slow stutter of his words. Listening, she is so surprised by how unfamiliar he sounds that she is forced to look at him to assure herself it is he who is speaking. She sees it in his face too. Some horrible magic has stolen him from the car.

           They came and paid me a visit, the FBI did. They, of course, um, they followed everybody back then. But one day, they called and asked for a sit down and so we sat down. We met at a little church in Little Rock, in the Sunday school room, I remember all the toy trucks lined up against the wall. It was there they made me an offer. She looked at him again. He looked like another man, not her father. Some hidden fire burned him, distorted his face in pain.

           They, he cleared his throat, they had some embarrassing information on me with a woman, not your mother, and well, they offered me a deal. They told me that, that if I didn’t agree they could ruin me. They could either expose me for my failings and the fraud I was, a, um, sexual reprobate. They would ruin my reputation, my outreach - he paused - my marriage, your mother and there were others. They knew about her, they knew everything. They said they would set back our cause twenty years.

           He stops. His gaze running away from her again. He taps the passenger window with his knuckle. He remains fixed there as he starts again, giving his words out to the receding world.

           Or, in exchange for not doing these things, they offered me the gift of a dignified conclusion. That was how they put it. A strange thing to offer a man— a dignified conclusion. What they meant to say was they were offering to martyr me. Even joked about giving me a national holiday.

           She didn’t immediately understand him but found the answer in his eyes.

           You’re not serious? He nodded. Did mom know?

           Goodness no. Only a few others: Jesse, Ralph.

           Oh my God!

           His face winced at the profanity. I should have taught you better.

           How like a hypocrite he could be, she thought. One second extolling virtue, a moment earlier confessing sin.  

           Oh my G!, she corrected, What did you do?

           Well, I agreed to go through with it.  

           What?

           Delia, you don’t understand the times. I would give anything for my people. Everything then was changing. Everything was possible, both bad and good. It was a war. Kent State, Birmingham, all Mississippi. The bombings and lynchings. Malcolm and Evers were gone. Ralph’s house had been bombed. There was no certainty for anyone. I mean if not the FBI than some sicko. That’s what happened to Evers and more you don’t even read about.

           All this and there was something else too. I— I could feel death. I could feel it was coming. I was so close to it. It was with me everyday; palpable. It seemed everywhere. It sat in my throat like a rotten apple. Day in and day out, part of me I think wanted it, I wanted something to happen. I wanted to know what was around the corner for once. I was so tired and sick. That’s it, I felt sick and I wanted a cure.

           I don’t understand. That’s suicide. You know that? The Bible—

           You don’t need to lecture me! Suddenly, his clear voice fills the car with a preacher's righteous anger. I know what the Lord says about that!

           She is both frightened by his wrathful tone but also relieved to recognize him again.

           Their car pulls to a stop in front of a large church. She shuts off the engine. She waits for him to say something more, but he doesn’t. She contemplates telling him about her mother but two men approach that car and they get out. 

"Hotel 3" - Sunny Selby 

           Dr. King, we want to thank you so much for coming. Two young preachers greet them, both younger than she is. They speak to her almost as an afterthought and then they are ushered into a back entrance of a large building.

           The room is a long activity room which connects to a large kitchen. There are metal folding chairs and the musky smell of decades of brewed coffee and store bought cookies. The carpet is the short, flat, commercial variety, worn thin in spots. No matter how ornate the Sanctuary, this ancillary building was really the heart of a church. Stage to wedding receptions and funeral wakes. It was here, away from the formalism of the Sunday service, where life resumed, where good news and bitter gossip was traded in the same sentence.

           She takes a place along the wall as a crowd envelops her father. She watches him smile and shakes hands and talk and joke. The fire that burned him is embers now, not gone but concealed to all but those who knew where to look.

           Standing along the wall opposite, she can see clearly the crowd surrounding him. She becomes aware that this must have been how her mother experienced him. From across a room. Perhaps, Coretta was at his side. How many years did she stand, not by him, but across from him? Watching him in his handsome suit, bouncing on his tip-toes as he spoke. Watching as the room was built around him. Watching as the men show such deference to him, and the women, the other women! She let herself feel her mother’s jealousy. Watching as the old church ladies and young girls, excited even to lay hands on him. It was positively pornographic. There was no other way to look at it. The way the women responded. She could see the build of excitement, the climax and the release of their 'conjugation'. Some, he claimed to remember, some he only pretended to, but each one left satisfied. She feels a share of pity for her mother and even for Mrs. King.

           An older woman, all neck skin and furrowed brow, wearing a Sunday hat so wide it would make a sombrero look twice, gives her father sour looks.

           Shameful. The old woman mumbles under her breath. All those women sweatin’ over that old pervert.

           For a moment she’s angry. But remembered her mother was beyond this woman’s judgment. And what would her mother have done? She would have laughed such a pure, sincere laugh that shame would have fallen back on that old woman head.  

           Do you mean my father? She says. Dr. King.

           The woman slinks off embarrassed.  

           She turns back to that old pervert. He is speaking now, sailing his words into the empty air as if everyone in the room was listening and they are.

           Ralph was there. Not just beside me, my good friend and great confidant, but he was there for us. He stood up for us. He was there in Birmingham for us. He was there in Tennessee for us. He was there in front of dogs and taking blows for us. The generations that came after to whom that era’s sacrifice is only a page in a book, can say truthfully that they were in Birmingham because Ralph was there. They were in Atlanta because Ralph was there. They were in Huntsville and Memphis and Charleston because Ralph was there.

           The crowd agrees with Amens and Yes, Lords.

           His voice grows in power with each response.

           Even whites can say Ralph was there, advocating on behalf of their muted conscience, offering to educate their ignorance. Let us not forget that Ralph was there so even they can marvel at how little they recognized the love he was offering them and the country he loved.

           She listens to the talk, thinking of her own stories and of her mother. How much more would she know had shame not chosen silence for her? Or was it courage opposed to shame? Did she see beyond herself to something greater.

           From her place in the room, she notices that just as many speak who did not witness those eventful days spoke as those who had.  The younger members recounted stories they had been told and had become their stories by the retelling. Many tales of heartbreak and loss had washed a little cleaner by the passage of time and brought just as many smiles as tears. And at the center of it all, her father stood. Listening, nodding his head, his left hand tucked into his pocket to disguise his malady. It was her father who brought this spirit to bear. These stories, they were always there, simmering beneath the skin but it was her father who brought a little extra heat that brought the past to boil. He, who suffered most visibly, most shamefully, who represented both their moments of bravery and cowardice. There were fleeting moments of dignity and defiance, but many more were the times when eyes were lowered and humiliations were suffered in a silent shame. It was these two opposites he embodied and they offered him their stories not as an act of gratitude prostates but as an act of forgiveness restores friendship. It was to him that they looked to create harmony out of the discordant hymns of their own past so that as they added their suffering to his, joined themselves to him, they brought into reconciliation both who they were then and who they had become and are now. This understanding came to her in her words, in words her father had spoken and tears her mother had shed.

 

           A man interrupts with a word that the rally is soon to start and the crowd shuffles from the room. Her and her father are ushered into a tall, narrow storage room adjacent the large sanctuary. She hears the excited talk out in the main sanctuary. Here the air is stale and smells of old winter light and moth balls. A single window hung high on the wall catches dust in it gold-colored net. The three other walls are covered floor to ceiling with shimmery choir robes and tapestries and flags and silky white banners with gold tassel reading - The Lamb of God, and another one - The Lion of Judah.

           Outside, in the large hall, people continue to talk and laugh and call for each other. A man enters. The door opens to the sanctuary and a rush of excitement hits the air. She feels her father jump a little.

           We are nearly ready, ten minutes. He tells them.

           Her father removes his notes from an inside pocket and reviews them silently. Finally, she hears him speak. His voice has returned to the soft tone of kinship.

           You know, it was Ralph who talked me out of the deal. He had agreed at first, I think because he was tired of looking at me. Her father smiled lovingly. I know it hurt him, what he saw happening to me. To say politely, or spiritually I guess, I was more than a little touched back then. I had nightmares, I would get the shakes, sometimes for hours at a time. . . He stopped a moment and cleared his throat. I think he was just tired as I was, tired of seeing me break down, tired of keeping me together, put the old dog out of his misery. But he came to me after a day and told me I was wrong. He said, America can only remember its martyrs one at a time, and does so, so that it can forget all those others who died the same way. It builds memorials skyward so it’s easier to overlook the skulls at its feet. It honors the name of a fallen hero so it doesn’t have to acknowledge the name of an atrocity. He said, America doesn’t want a saint, it wants a souvenir. Let Malcolm do it. Let it go. He basically thought that we should say no because it was their idea. Truth was, he was right, they didn’t want Malcolm as the martyr. He was too dangerous, too uncompromising: Malcolm scared them. Easier would a non-violent symbol be celebrate and lionized. Something to sooth us, smooth the rough edges of our anger. I inevitably agreed with him, I don’t know why I did but I did, and so, instead of going to the hotel, we just slipped out of town.

           He rubs his bottom lip with his thumb and then continues. I regretted that for many years, even more Ralph was killed. I felt buried beneath a mountain of remorse and regret. I thought I would die that way. I was so ashamed. I tried to talk to your mother about it, to prepare her, but after the story came out, I could not find a way to mend what was broken. And a year after, they got to Ralph in Baltimore. Pin a national holiday on him before his body was in the ground. I knew I had caused that too. I had brought down everything, everything we were trying to build up. Forgiveness was like a word in a language I had never known and could never know. I should have done it. So many nights did I cry out to God. Why did he not give me the courage?

           But then you were born. Your mother had kept you a secret. She was afraid. But there is something miraculous about the birth of a child no matter the circumstance. I was changed slowly. The work of God takes longer than we would like. What a blessing you are, and what a beautiful woman you have become. I am so grateful you could be here today.

           The redefinition of this fatherly platitudes stirs in her. Sadness and joy move simultaneously like ripples in the same water. She regrets this stupid game. She regrets it but is glad too.

           I can tell you now, the secret of the greater.

           He turns but already his eyes tell of a mistrustful

           I didn’t really fool around with no boy in no church.

           A little smile took the corners of his lips. Daddy, the truth is, there is not a secret you have worth more than my greater.

           He nodded solemnly, accepting her words with a warm smile.

           A man appears at the door.

           It’s time, Dr. King. They stand together but he catches her by the elbow. She instinctually hugs him. She feels his finger gently touch the nape of her neck.

           You know I always look for her?

           I know daddy.

           They move toward the door. At the last moment, he holds back a little. His face pensive, worried again but somehow innocent opposed to haunted.

           What is it? She asks.

           He looks past her out into the sanctuary.

           She follows his glance out through the door. The pews filled with people and movement, expectant faces. She imagines a woman standing in the back. The figure lingers in her mind and this time she makes no effort to chase it away. The figure stands, her back straight not so she could see but so she could be seen— by him.

           She decides she will walk along the back of the room tonight, where her mother would have stood. For this one night, she would stop her struggle and accept her father as he was by seeing who he is, and at the same time, accept also her mother for who she was and who she now could never be. She looks back at her father standing at her side. He is speaking.

           It was a long time ago. I mean, in many ways, the world is a different place.

           What is it?

           It’s just that, so much time has passed. I have one more secret of the lesser. . .

           Yes, daddy?

           I sometimes get afraid they will forget him. Who Ralph was, what he did. That one day no one will remember what it was he sacrificed.

Tobin Johnston is a Writer and poet but more than that he is a husband to an artist and a father to three of the most amazing children he could hope to have.