Terry Sanville – Johnny Five Diamonds
Kristen Leplonka – Recipe
Paul Lewellan – Lillian Alvarez Buys a Latte
Melcor Gonzalez – 3353 Apocalypse Series
Aurora Sheba – Concrete Angel
Kenneth Gurney – Wet Creek Bed
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
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.
Came Home to Winter
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
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.
“Another puta in such a fine line of whores.”
“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.”
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.
“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.”
“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,”
“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$’s a good price. I’ll do it.”
Luciana woke at first light with an upset stomach, normal after a session at Paulo’s, both from the drink with its dollop of rubbing alcohol and from recollections of what she’d done and to whom. Not that it shamed her in anyway, for she was well aware that as the village puta, or whore, she provided a community service. Who’d want to have sex with drunken fishermen after a week at sea? Certainly not their wives.
Her daughters asleep, Luciana dressed and descended the ladder. She grabbed her bucket and set off for a part of the island where she hoped to find meatier crabs. Bruno’s boat was gone, which meant the deal was in the making. Hurray. In a couple days, Sofía would be escaping the grim inheritance that would make her a village puta, too.
On the windward side, the sun scabbed the horizon like the eye of a dead fish. A couple of scarlet ibises flew overhead, but Luciana paid no attention and walked on, imagining the 1,500$ 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.
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.”
“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.
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.”
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.
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
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.
Take This Walking Stick
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.