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END OF 83 VO LU M E 3


E DITED BY

Alina Grigorovitch John Guchemand Aditya Desai Kurt Crisman


T ABLE OF C ONTENT S Title Poem

4

Rob McLennan

Strawberry Seeds

5

Elyse Bruzdzinski

Lover’s Leap

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Lynne Viti

Wellersburg Summer

11

Lynne Viti

Funny Girl

13

Harford Hopson

Dream

16

Dan Cuddy

Step into the coffee shop

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Aditya Desai

Diana’s Court at the Y

21

Andrea J. Nolan

Urchin

22

Tara A. Elliott

How we catalogued the night

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JM Douglas

Melancholy

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James Prenatt

Origami

27

Tara A. Elliott

Fireflies on the Nectarines

28

Heath Brougher

Noctiluca

30

Andrea J. Nolan

(Untitled)

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Pearl Breslin

32 One Sentence Fairy Tales

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CL Bledsoe

Vocabulary Adjustment

36

Heath Brougher

Inner Harbor

37

Michelle Anderson

Elom (the Rodent)

39

Catherine Loveless

The Post Note

41

Pearl Breslin

Magnum Onerous: Chapter One

42

Charlie Badley

Migration

66

Tara A. Elliott

Lessons: Three Haiku

67

B. Morrison

The Significance of Birds

68

Julia Nordhoff Hinton

(Untitled)

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JM Douglas

Foolish Talk

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Mary B. Banks

Christine, in the Halifax Airport

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Rob McLennan

(covers and interior design)

Alina Grigorovitch


VOLUME 3

TITLE POEM

I would like to make a statement. Pause, between two notes. A torrent. I wrote a revision. Understate. With each new spill. The rules of the game are secret. A sentence is what annihilates me. She went in for her one-year shot, and came out fine. She made a face. Elegies are never simple. A cell that holds the body, whole. The body. Pluck the fruit of curios, astride. Water-lined. The rain down deeper than before. An excavation. Name. Rename. I chose the hardest thing.

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STRAWBERRY SEEDS

I dared her to eat the whole strawberry—green part and all—just to see if she would do it. Piper was like that, unpredictable, the “try anything once” kind of person. “What happens if I do?” she said, pressing me for some sort of reward or competition, she was a girl who liked games. “I don’t know, maybe a strawberry bush will grow inside of you.” She frowned and half-laughed at my stupid joke. “You do know strawberries don’t grow on bushes, right?” she raised her eyebrows at me, as if she were some sort of expert strawberry farmer. “Ha. Ha.” I said flatly, we both laughed at each other. The container of strawberries sat on the center console of my truck, I picked one up and popped it in my mouth, immediately pleased with our only purchase from the farmers market that morning. Piper looked out the windshield mindlessly eating strawberries, the window next to her was down and June’s summer air sent wisps of hair across her face. God she was pretty, so, so, pretty. Sometimes it caught me off guard. “Ugh gross.” Her interjection broke my attention away from her beauty and back to her mind, which was equally as pleasing to be around. “This strawberry is all rotten on one side. How did I not see that? Blech.” She tossed the partly bitten berry out the window and wiped its sour remnants from her lips—staining her sleeve with strawberry juice in the process. “Cute.” I said, almost without thinking, she smiled and rolled her eyes. “Yes, I’m so cute. Stuffing my face with strawberries while simultaneously getting them all over my shirt, you really know how to pick ‘em Max.” She ended with a

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laugh. “Well that’s for sure.” I said while starting my truck, “I mean I picked those strawberries and they were delicious, so…” She turned on the radio and I put the truck in reverse, backing out of the overlook that showcases a dairy farm near our school. “Plus…” I added, halflooking at her, “You’re honestly the only person I know who can stuff their face with strawberries and still make it look cute.” “Thank you. Now let’s get to Charlie’s. I like getting there before everyone else so we can snag some lawn chairs for the bonfire. I always feel like it’s colder when you have to stand.” She turned up the radio, assuming my agreement with her proposition—and she wasn’t wrong. We started out on the main road, a long stretch of asphalt that connected both halves of the town. Trimmed with cornfields and cows it makes for a pleasant scenic byway to get from North Maybel to South Maybel, which is where we were heading. “I love how it’s not dark yet. Makes me feel like I have all the time in the world.” Piper said as she shifted in her seat to get a better look out the window. I glanced at the clock, “Yeah it’s like 10 minutes to 8 but I don’t even have to have my headlights on.” We continued down the road, the Strokes played on the radio—her choice, but I liked it. Out of the corner of my eye I watched Piper open the container of strawberries and start to eat them again. Placing the container on her lap and examining each strawberry diligently before popping it into her mouth, “You know what I think—“ Her sentence cut short as I jerked the wheel, the sound of metal, bits of red—strawberries, they were strawberries flying through the air. I opened my eyes to shattered glass and a smushed strawberry. The goopy mess sat in front of me, so pulverized by the impact it looked like liquid. I kept looking, breathing silently letting seconds pass. It was blood. I was looking at blood, not a strawberry. Shit—“Piper? Piper? Are you okay? Can you hear me?” I knew the truck was upsidedown. My head hurt and my left arm bled freely as I looked at the glass

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in my hand. I need to find Piper. The image of her face just minutes before flashed across my mind, I needed to find her. My seatbelt was a climbing harness suspending me inches above the asphalt, I clicked the buckle and slid down with a thud—using my left hand to cushion the impact. Then I felt the pain. Each fractal forced further into my palm and forearm, it glistened with red and deep purple, silent streams molding pathways through the punctures. I cried. Where was Piper? My mind kicked itself for being so selfish, rebooting my adrenaline in the process. I crawled through the crushed window, careful to cover my hands with my sleeves which were now heavy and wet, soggy with blood…so much blood… Why was there so much blood? The sky had turned dark, the last silver of sunlight illuminating just enough for me to make out the tangled heap which laid battered in the middle of the road. No. No. This cannot be happening-not Piper, Piper, God oh Piper please. My thoughts, both lucid and conscious, bombarded my brain as I staggered towards her. I fell to my knees and put my hand on her torso—she wasn’t facing me, her body curled like a humanoid in the fetal position. She’s breathing, okay she’s breathing, f*ck— is she? Is she breathing? “Piper!” My voice cracked and berated the still quiet, raw air around us. I moved my hand to her shoulder, and took a breath. I pulled towards me, turning her from her side to her back. Oh my God. Oh. My. God. God piper, I’m- I’m-… Her face was raw, rubbed ragged by road rash. From the left temple to the corner of her mouth the flesh was open, bright red, bleeding slowly. Red clumped her eyelashes, pulling the strands together in a sticky web. Blood fell from her nose too, bubbling occasionally as her body fought for breath. I pulled her onto my lap and cried for her, exclaiming that help was on its way, even though I had no idea and that soon I’ll be able to help her and she won’t be in pain anymore. I repeated myself over and over, wasting precious time. I looked down

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at her again and noticed her hand across her chest—her knuckles were every color of the rainbow, cuts bleeding in time with one another— she was holding something. With curiosity lifting me from the current burden of reality, I opened her hand. There it sat. One, perfectly intact strawberry. It gleamed in the dim light. Shiny and kept clean within the barracks that were her hand. I realized I couldn’t tell the strawberry stains on her sleeve from the blood stains and I wondered in that moment if I was dreaming. This strawberry made a mockery of other fruit, so preserved and unaware—I wanted to count the seeds. The seeds. I wiped the blood from Piper’s cheek. “Look at what you saved, Piper—look at what you saved.”

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LOVER’S LEAP

When my time came, the midwife used the forceps To pull the kid out. Here’s a long drink of water, she said, Measuring the squirming baby with her tape. She cut the cord, wrapped the yelling little thing In a thin gray blanket, another hand-me-down. I never craved a child. I only wanted to go downtown, To the vaudeville shows for the singers, dancers, Not the rest of it, the dirty animals or magicians. The old lady insisted the kid be christened at Emmanuel, the church up on the rich side of town, where she got Those champagne notions I couldn’t begin to guess. I went along, hid my old Adventist ways, But I never drank with them, not even a small glass of beer, Nor the altar wine—it made me queasy. While my husband and his mother went on their pleasure trips to Pittsburgh and Philly, I had to stay to home, Nursemaid to two girls and the baby. My heart filled up slowly with a dull feeling. I’d Felt that before, closed in, no hope of getting out. When they came back with a two-dollar dress for me, A cheap doll for the kid, I felt so low. My sister said leave him, take the child with you,

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I’ll watch her while you go to work. This wasn’t what I’d been promised. Don’t get rid of it, he said. He lied, or was too weak to leave that mother— He was a forty-year-old Mama’s boy, tied to the apron strings. I talked to God, or tried to, I knew I’d done wrong, deserved this, sure, but now I wouldn’t breathe in this place, unloved, Like I was the charwoman. Had Satan led me to do this? I prayed My loyal angels would escort me out, Help me start over. I’m twenty-three, Grant me the rest of my three score and ten, a set of everyday dishes and a set for Christmas, too, a sober husband who’d drive me Sunday afternoons west of town along Will’s Creek away from the soot and noise of train engines, to Lover’s Leap, the prettiest place I knew— where sunshine flirted in the space between the jagged mountains.

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WELLERSBURG SUMMER

On a steep hill behind the small house, Lived the nanny goat, a thick rope around her neck tied to an iron stake in the ground. I gazed at her from a distance, walking behind my grandmother. I knew from the cartoons I watched on tv goats could butt you so hard you’d go flying. I preferred the sunflowers in the garden, the stone wall hot when I pressed my palm against it, the summer kitchen’s wood counter laden with fresh corn, string beans, tomatoes, the smell of my grandmother’s blue satin quilt. No telephone, no television, only my grandmother’s stories, stretching From Indiana to Pennsylvania, Baltimore to Dundalk, about great aunts who died before I was born, a beloved husband felled by pneumonia. I could touch a dark, faraway time, not long after princesses and their suitors, dragons, castles. That summer, I sensed without understanding that a life without intrusions, a house without visitors, without a ringing phone, were my grandmother’s choice.

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No church, no card games, no music on the radio. Her last husband quiet, in his chair by the kitchen door, reading, dipping snuff, spitting into an old tin can.

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FUNNY GIRL

You break me, You came to my life on cue. I guess I’ll write this verse thinking only of you. You always did have a faint heart for romance— so I’ll leave behind The Big Mushy, And utopian appetizers. You literally just texted me. “I’ll be sure to keep an empty stomach.” With that I promise, If digesting my diction, Dares you into disgust, I’ll hold your head back as a divine gentlemen does. You’ve been telling me you want to go vegan But, If I see chicken return from your tummy, Well,

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I won’t flock to PETA. I’d expect to see butterflies lounging in the bile, too. But those, I hope they never fleet you. Fasten those sons of bitches to the pit of your stomach, And, When the butterflies there burn out, No doubt, frame them for the hall of fame. Let’s elect to remember time with each other, forget how fast it flew. Like when we left for Alleghany going after that eighth, And Ended up empty handed. How hot we were, But not high. Or the time you said, “come over,” at 10. Ok then, and when I jumped to Miquon you told me you’d said it all in jest. The joke was on Septa because the train troll didn’t charge me. Continue

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to carelessly craft your word choice. I promise (again), if our connection turns catastrophe, I’ll still find a laugh. Funny girl.

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DREAM

In a sterling silver suit As tight as the word crackerjack As deep as the well of the wind And as mysterious She Like the groove in old records Keeps the music hopping as she walks My mind kisses every part of her Tongues gently the lobe of her ear Chews tenderly her lips Fingers electric images on her body Hugs the present of her Like yesterday and tomorrow I sip Her breath luxurious as rich Brazilian coffee Steaming I am dreaming The ceiling opening like clouds I love The shadow of her

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STEP INTO THE COFFEE SHOP

Step into a coffee shop. Sit down. Wipe the rain from your eyes. The windows are fogging up, the mess of traffic and mud is barely visible. Open your book, flip to the inside cover. It’s a literary hallmark, this one is. Feel its weight in your hands. You bought it, thick and on purpose. Something to gnaw away at in those cold lonely hours. Look around the shop. Employees outnumber patrons. Outside, Rajiv Gandhi Chowk, the midday lunch rush is shifted out to the perimeter. Stay dry, don’t worry about lunch. But it’s lunch! Better for you, less of a crowd to deal with. But why sit here, on a cold stool looking out at depression. There’s a couch in the back, next to the heating vent. Nice and warm. Take the couch. Flip to the first page. Parse a dedication to someone, who cares. Start reading. The prose is dense, detailed. A jungle thicket so ravenous you wish generations of timid and polite cuisine hadn’t blunted those caveman fangs. You chew away. One page, two. The plot is still murky though. You wonder if it’s you, or if it’s just a bad book. But a literary hallmark, it is. But oh, you forgot coffee. That’s why the server just passed you for the third time, wiping clean tables and checking over and over for that just perfect ratio of sugar to sweetener. Up to the counter. You wonder if your book will be waiting upon your return.

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You’re back, a little ticket in your hand. It’ll come soon, the girl said. She was cute and short, and again you look around at the lack of patrons she has to serve. But oh, from this corner of the room it looks like there are more than you thought. Or maybe the line trickled in. Whatever. The words float around you, not in the bibliophilic, intoxicating way, but that way you felt in eighth grade when the teacher introduced algebra. That crushing moment when letters and numbers, which had till then remained so safely in their lingual and mathematical domains, spilled over. Nothing made sense after that. How can x be 4, then 17, and then unsolvable all at once? But don’t complain. You close this book. They said it was a mindbender, a puzzler. Kept you on the edge of your seat. Here’s the coffee, finally. It was a hurdle just to explain it plain and black. Such a thing wasn’t on the menu. You first went with milk coffee, no milk. She didn’t see how that worked. Black coffee, you said. She rang up an Americano. No, no, you said. Maybe if you had some real work to do, the extra jolt would be wonderful. But there wasn’t any work. No work today. So no Americano, ma’am. Black coffee. Can you do that? She nodded, and you nodded back, praying and hoping something got across. UN Peace negotiations have gone easier. Sip it. It’s acrid, watery. But it reminds you the faculty lounge at four o’clock, and it’s all good. The story is going somewhere now. The hero is sad, forlorn, dejected. When are they ever not? Does such a book exist? Perhaps. Maybe you are too one-track in your reading, picking out only big, fat, thick novels with labyrinthine plots and haphazard romantic characters.

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Sip more coffee. Why can’t you focus? The beeping and honking is still lively outside. It doesn’t stop in Delhi. It never stops. Prattle from across the room. A group of kids have commandeered a few tables at the other end of the café. It’s not a big café, how did you not notice them? They are looking at you; you notice. But they look away. You take another sip. Gently, now, but gently. Let’s not get excited. Your eyes barely get traction again when two black shoes appear in front of you, legs covered by striped socks out of Dr. Seuss. You look up, and the fair maiden says, “Pardon me sir,” she lifts a finger like that annoyed librarian. “I just wanted to say – you’re cute.” She’s not more than fifteen. “Thanks,” you say. She walks away, and you roll your eyes and shake your head. But inside you’re flattered, though of course you both know such a romance could not be. And you think how in generations past, a union with someone so much younger would not only be commonplace, it would be a shock why at this point in your life you hadn’t taken one at all. Serendipitously, a woman appears in the novel. A great love for a forlorn hero. Don’t they all? You know right away, that after hundreds of pages of heartache and despair, ultimately she will leave him, and he will have no recourse but to cry the lament of all poets, and reveal with shame and redress in the face that the novel is the author’s own telling of his fractured, tortured, heart. This you know, and again you wish your prehistoric fangs were still sharp. You look outside, and the rain has let up. The fog has melted, the crowds flow again past the windows, and you reconsider the cold stool. The kids have left. The One who reached out to you makes no eye contact as they pass your couch, single file queue, to the outside.

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They join the other kids, some with backpacks and most not. They stand at snack stalls and outside Mickey D’s munching and chatting, and you wonder if school is let out so early in this country. They crumple wrappers and cups and toss them aside to join the freshly fermented junk of mud and grime scraping the road. The girls lock hands with the boys, and as couples they go on their way. You look at the book. Congrats, you made it to the end of the first chapter. You wonder if the bookseller will take it back.

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DIANA’S COURT AT THE Y

Women recline naked on slatted wooden benches, a painter’s palette of winter skin smooth over curves. Rolls of flesh burst from beneath bras as large women laugh and trade stories, leaning against lockers, sweat gathering in deep navel pools. Others emerge from the shower, lithe twigs, muscles twitching, breasts like well-tended oranges. None have the airbrushed bodies of magazine covers. Not yet of the court, I hurry to dress and hope that one day I too will become a locker room goddess at ease in her own universe.

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URCHIN

She was fashioned from rope & crumpled canvas, bones formed from broken brushes, beeswax over leaden piping. A man of contrast, Degas placed a wig of real hair upon her head—bow ribboned in pink silk, cotton bodice & tutu, and on her feet, slippers of actual linen. Right foot pointed outward & forward, left bearing her slight weight, hands eternally clasped behind her back, face frozen in adolescent defiance— Marie will ever stand molded in position four. Any woman can tell at this point she’s not known a man, never felt the force of him hovering as he finds his way inside— skin on slick skin.

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The driving force against her; the pushing up almost overtop of her, the sudden sheathing, the burying of his center, the power of him rising inside her, some tidal swelling between them, a rushing up onto some strange shore. No, this girl knew constraint— knew the power of denying the artist, knew that in striking her pose, in holding the ocean inside she could suspend desire— a white-capped wave ever on the verge of cresting, and more francs surfacing from a torn pocket.

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HOW WE CATALOGED THE NIGHT

moonlight on your face & streetlamp warm on mine: a difference of angle. clouds gray on the blacked out sky look like time lapse: so fast I thought a star was a satellite when only the clouds moved. on the road between duplex houses an island of grass lit by a tall lamppost. a string of streetlights one orange, one blue, one green. two windows with strange red curtains sharp and bright against the calm. a row of hedges that did not match each other. water loud rushing under the manhole. and the big tree on a sloped ivy lawn, the heavy branches stuck out with nothing above them.

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MELANCHOLY

I’ve had this nervous tick lately: tick I’m alive tock still alive tick-tock the ambulance is on its way but I’m trying to tell you it’s not serious. I’m trying to tell you I wish it happened by chance. One wrong step into traffic I’ll be laughing as I look back at you. It’s not my fault if I make it look like an accident. Obituary reads “too soon” but won’t print “better sooner than later.” There was no note, but post-script, I know we’ve been here before. Another two weeks inpatient is awfully expensive to waste on someone who doesn’t want to make it. I know their mantras: “but just smile more and you’ll feel happy,” “just pick up a book, go for a jog, it’s brain chemistry.” I know what my sister will say, that feeling you’ve no life without her is sad and silly, that it’ll be okay. What she doesn’t get it is that you were supposed to come with me. I know you hate yourself, I do too.

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So let’s Russian roulette out of here. Tap quick tap like the flick of the glock click-click

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ORIGAMI

You have taken me from flat to fully dimensional— given me shape like a paper crane. Each pleat crimped & precise, mountain to valley, gates open, reverse to center. Long elegant neck, lithe wings extended, the dagger point of the tail, I have finally come to understand what owning ones beauty means. But if all of this were to end, if I were to fly away from you, there will always be your hands on my skin; and even unfolded, I will be not be able to uncrease. There are lines that have been formed— marks that you left behind; along my axis, delicate folds.

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FIREFLIES ON THE NECTARINES

Houses with lights in their windows run an unsteady pattern down the street. Some porch lights are flickering here and there. Warm waverings of too-tall trees lean over like a giant hug from above; chatter is heard from backyard patios as I stroll through the streets, tightrope walking, straddling the curbs, somewhere the sound of running water soothes; the night is lit; there are slices of nectarine on wooden picnic tables, again and again, here and there, a brief flicker, luciferin love, and it is June and here and there is momentary light, again and again, the lust of the smell of nectarines in the night’s air here and there, again and again, it's June in flickering light, again, here and there, we smell the nectarines in the night. It is the Night of the Nectarine.  

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All the way back down the street, strolling steadily, the floating flickering surrounding, the smell of thick summer, thick fruit, June beginning, the bulbs, the luminescence, the fireflies illuminating the path, the heavy, the even-thicker, the whole way back down the street there was no need for porch lights—we walked with nature's lamp, the night lit to a crisp clarity by the fuses of those fireflies, the bellies of those bugs; all the way back home, along the hum of cricket and the smell of sweet fruit, the June, those flickering luciferin lights leading the way.

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NOCTILUCA

Swimming in bioluminescence, outlined in white-green glow eight strangers transform into celestial bodies, reshaping the river night. They splash and shout as children do, forgetting themselves in the algae’s flickering lights while I, their guide, escape, dive unseen – to burn on the sandy bottom, to remember another bay which once glimmered this way, filled with sparkling Noctiluca erupting with light, as if Cygnus himself had swum down in search of his lover, soaking the water with stars in his hopeless pursuit. When I emerge from beneath, I see one who remains on the pier, separate, and on impulse or instinct, or because I am her guide, I fill my hands with light and toss the water sky to her. She cries out to see stars fall upwards, and reaching out catches it with cupped hands – a pool of radiance in her grasp. But I wish upon the water

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that she was another, because if she were here, in this brilliant night, it would have been her laugh I heard as she caught my offering, and she would be mine. But she is lost on the other side of the ocean, and when I return to my tent, there will be no one to help me pull off the shirt and shorts that cling to me, still sparking in the dark.

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32 ONE-SENTENCE FAIRY TALES

1. When he discovered his daughter had gotten pregnant by the west wind, he stormed outside, determined to take his vengeance on the sky. 2. He fell in love with the snake not because of its beautiful scales but because it had no arms to hold him. 3. After the children woke up with wings, they spent the morning searching the clouds for their true parents, but found only air. 4. The children told their mother it was a game, when they led her into the forest, but they never told her when it would end so she could return home. 5. For three nights he dreamed of a beautiful man, floating just outside his window, and on the fourth night, he slept in the basement. 6. Sometimes, he woke in the middle of the night to find the demon twitching in its sleep and wondered who it tortured in its dreams. 7. Before he could go on the killing spree at the high school, the boy had to make at least a C+ on his automatic weapons final. 8. The only thing he learned in school was that wishes come true for those who don’t need them. 9. She fell in love with the car because it responded when she put her 34


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foot down. 10. She rode the horse every day, but it never offered to saddle her. 11. The sea god liked to spend his evenings sitting on the beach, yelling at horseshoe crabs. 12. The god of thunder finally gave up and drove exclusively on the shoulder so other drivers could pass him more easily. 13. The sun fell in love with the moon because it saw itself reflected in her. 14. The moon returned the sun’s affection only to stay warm at night. 15. The son of god slept in on the third day. 16. When the angels came, he didn’t realize they would spend their time sitting on his couch drinking all his beer. 17. Everyone was so busy photographing celebrities on the beach they never noticed that the world had ended. 18. The poet didn’t believe in the end of the world because he could find nothing that rhymed with Ragnarok. 19. The old man sharpened his teeth on trees, too deaf to hear them scream. 20. Every morning, she cried because she’d woken up again, and every night she went to bed hopeful. 21. The man who was born with two hearts could never settle on one thing to love.

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22. She cut off her ears to never have to hear the truth again but forgot to take out her eyes. 23. He stood in the snow until his feet froze and rotted off but it never quenched his fire for her. 24. When the other guests were tired of watching the prince dance with the poor girl, they began to talk openly about political reform. 25. It’s not that the animals couldn’t talk; it’s that no one ever cared to listen. 26. After three hours of sitting at her desk on Monday, she realized she’d forgotten the face of the goat-man she’d seen in the woods that weekend. 27. No one cared that the angels were falling from the sky until they began to interrupt cell-service. 28. The dragon-slayer was arrested because dragons had recently been added to the endangered species list. 29. The little troll died alone because no one cared to guess his name. 30. There was a whole world full of magic lamps waiting to be rubbed, but the Kowalski report was due by 4. 31. The elf followed her home because it liked the way her shoes lit up, but her parents made her take it back to the woods. 32. The wizard didn’t consider himself evil; he was just a libertarian.

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VOCABULARY ADJUSTMENT

The Greek word for “Victory” is Nike but over the years the decades the centuries the millennia it has slowly become the new English word for “Slavery.”

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INNER HARBOR

i'm running in circles in hangovers in lifetimes and the grass is always dried here and the ship lies in a moat here, or I guess it's a pier? clearly my life just runs with me or far away from me and while i'm running i'm also falling deep into the quicksand of a man, not like the quicksand in old films sexually charged  where there's a fleeting look and a trap door -  here, there's nothing to save me here, at the bottom of this quagmire i'd appreciate the feeling of suffocation over a kiss from you at any time

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because i mean i'd rather not breathe, really. i'd rather not fuck, honestly. i'd rather not smile, but thank you, fuck you the epitome of chauvinist heredity is you did your father teach you to speak that way? maybe you should smile more but please don't do it for me your prescription of perception is quite cloudy is that dry ice in those caps or are you just too high to see me i'll give you a spoon just please don't try to please me oh, no, no thank you remember i hate breathing

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ELOM (THE RODENT)

When I begin to reject feeling guilty about being unhappy with you, and rebel against the self-blame of my empty existence, I hate you. I resent the way you burrowed your way into my schedule, pervading every outlet of my free time so that I couldn’t continue the interests that left you out. You ferreted me out of my niche of friends, then comforted me with invitations to dinner and held me during the lonely nights until I followed the path you chiseled for me.

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You have me secured by obligation. Now you dig at me-and attack me as viciously as you defiled any male I chanced to meet.

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MAGNUM ONEROUS: CHAPTER ONE

When a programmer decides to take his own life he writes a special program much like the first program he or she ever wrote. Just the output to screen of two words: “Goodbye world”. Computer programmers believe that, after they die, their bodies turn into data which sometime cross-links with the data of the living... unless they were bad. Bad programmers turn into Nigerian spam emails. By most religions, programmers actually go straight to heaven due to the fact that the majority of them are virgins.

Egyptian heaven was called the “Field of Reeds” or “Aaru”. Coincidentally, “aaru” is the sound a dog makes when it is being trampled by steers in a feed lot. It may seem that living the rest of eternity in a field of reeds isn't much of a heaven, but it sure beats eternity in a cactus patch, doesn't it? Unlike the Christian view of heaven, which is divided into economic and racial strata, Egyptian heaven is all rich‐guy heaven. Why? Because studying for being dead was very expensive. The poor did get to go to the same heaven, but their job description was different. Rather than a posh office job of being an eternal god, they did the same back‐breaking work they'd done in life. In early burials, slaves were entombed with the dead pharaoh to serve him in the afterlife. Later, the pharaohs were entombed with statues of slaves that would animate in the afterlife, pushing dead slaves into the ranks of the unemployed. An unemployed dead slave didn't have it so good but at least he had all the reeds he wanted...

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There are eighty-eight officially recognized constellations in the night sky, forty-eight of which were discovered by the ancient Greeks. If you subtract from these the number of constellations that look like what they are named, you still get a total of eighty-eight constellations left over. If you ever want to disappoint a child (and honestly, who doesn't?), just show the child a constellation. You don't see a bear and the child doesn't see a bear, but as long as everyone believes the lie, it is okay. Keep in mind, also, that if you think you see an image made up by a cluster of stars and it isn't on the list, you are wrong... [addendum] Recently, I've come up with an idea that I can modestly refer to as “brilliant”. Instead of eighty-eight constellations to remember, why not use all the stars in one great big constellation that spans the entire night sky? After six weeks of staring blankly upward, it has become apparent to me that the ONLY choice is the image of Iron Man and a goose attacking an accordion while Popeye works a primitive loom. (Hint: The North Star is the C sharp key on the accordion.) I'll name it after I learn the Latin words for “Popeye” and “accordion”.

Grant Starhammer looked up at the flaming chaos that was morning rush hour and sighed, “I wish they'd thought a little longer before introducing flying cars into the general populace”. Every morning, there were spectacular accidents, hundreds of feet over the city. Running out of fuel was also pretty fatal. Most commuter deaths were caused by the falling

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debris, however. If you took the subway to avoid all of that, eventually you got stabbed for your wallet. Of course, like most other jobs, mugging was performed by robots; these androids were remotely controlled by criminals from their prison cells... until their inevitable death from falling commuter debris. To avoid dying horribly, Grant Starhammer basically lived at his desk. Twice a year, he visited his state-supplied apartment and got there by sidewalk, dashing from cover to cover until breathlessly arriving at home. Once he took his savings and purchased a robot to go home for him; but, instead the robot robbed him and then stabbed him in the neck. “The future sucks”, Grant grumbled. He thought a pet might help his attitude, but seldom could a dog or cat survive being unfed for six months; and, if it did survive, it tended to be resentful. He tried purchasing a robot cat but it simply mugged him and ran away. Grant was ready to leave the hell-hole called “Earth” to live in a slightly better hell-hole somewhere else. As a diplomat who spoke seven dead languages, he was much in demand. He'd also tried to minor in Tact in college but the professor told him he was “way too stupid” and made him leave the classroom. Starhammer was coming home this time for one reason: To check his messages. If the position he'd applied for became his, in three months, he'd be on his way to another galaxy with a full crew under him. The crew would be humans, due to the frequent muggings by robots, with the exception of one robot who looked human but would betray the entire crew later either due to a programming glitch or a secret directive. Fortunately, the evil robots were easy to identify because they vomited white stuff when you punched them in the head...

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The Viking concept of Heaven is Valhalla, a great hall in the sky where Vikings battle to the death on a daily basis. This is also Dante's image of the fifth circle of Christian Hell. The only real difference between the two is the Viking feast afterwards...which just goes to show that the difference between heaven and hell is simply snacks. Viking heaven was populated by men who died in battle, women who died in childbirth and a select few who probably slipped on a bar of soap in the shower while preparing to go into battle or give birth. The dead are led to the afterlife by Valkyries, or if they are terribly bad at warfare, carried there in a bucket. The warriors go right back to fighting after they are dead. The women, I assume, tidy up Valhalla and complain how their children never call them...

Our sun is essentially a hydrogen bomb that explodes for billions of years. After it has exploded for billions of years, it collapses on itself and explodes in a completely different and more horrifying way. It seems like the kind of thing a smart person would want to stay away from; however, reality being an ironic bitch-goddess means that we cannot survive without it. It's a lot like an abusive marriage. The sun may get hammered and give us a poke in the eye and eventually kill us; but, we rationalize that it is a “good provider.”

Grant Starhammer had two thousand messages, half from an elderly woman who kept dialing his number thinking he was her son. In reality, there was a very good chance she might not be his mother. Regardless, because he'd turned off his guilt-filter, the calls came through. “They can

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put a man on Neptune but they can't come up with a way to make my mom shut the hell up,� Grant growled. He started deleting messages without listening to them if they didn't have the area code of the City of the Elders. The Council of the Elders had seized control of Earth a thousand years before and, outside of a thirty mph speed limit and a death penalty for standing on their lawn, society had run pretty smoothly. The Council was comprised of the wisest men and women in the world and a few posers. They seldom appeared in public after the incident where they threw out the first pitch at a space-ball game and were jeered by the crowd for not making it to the plate. Incredibly embarrassing in zero gravity. Grant lifted his head a moment and looked at himself in the space mirror, which had been made in space by astronauts with lasers and a few robots for muggings. His stubble had a touch of gray in it and his short black hair, once the color of the night sky, was now streaked with white flecks. Most of those flecks were the ashy remains of commuters that had fallen on him on his trip over. It was a rugged face. Starhammer was happy he'd purchased that mirror because describing himself without it always seemed kind of forced... Ah! He found a number that might be the one he was waiting for. But, the message was not good news... at first. “Grant Starhammer has been declined for mission 2B17859 because someone much cooler has been found; however, Mr. Starhammer is approved for secret mission 2C5543. Please call Central Space Command, ironically located here on Earth, for details.� A secret mission! Those usually involved a threat to the entire galaxy. Definitely less pressure than his current job because, if he failed, no one would be around to chastise him. He walked over to the video phone and brushed aside the dried out corpse of his most recent pet... a ferret,

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possibly. Grant dialed and waited several seconds before the image of his father appeared on the screen. “Hello, son,” he said...

Babylonians did not have a heaven. Everyone who died went to an awful underground place from which there was no escape. This gave the Babylonian people a tremendous incentive to live and many are still alive today. We call those people, “The Amish”...

A neutron star is the result of a star collapsing and then exploding. The star has to start out at least eight times heavier than our sun. If it isn't, it's probably better you ignore it because it is just looking for attention. A neutron star is made of neutrons because, why not? The material in a neutron star is very dense. A tablespoon of neutron star weighs more than 2700 times the Pyramid of Giza... or 2.7 kilogizas. Its surface temperature is a million degrees, a thousand times hotter than the Pyramid of Giza. Scientists theorize that anyone approaching a neutron star would be killed before he or his tablespoon could get to the surface of the object. There are two thousand known neutron stars in our galaxy which is two thousand times the number of Pyramids of Giza...

Weston Starhammer served directly under the Council of Elders and directly to the right of the Treaty of Trent. Grant had never used his father's influence to further his own career and only once used it to get thirty percent off the price of a large pan pizza. Weston ran the Department of the Startled; his job was to overreact to anything outside of

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the ordinary. Of course he had a full staff of very nervous scientists and statisticians to overreact for him. But, Weston was never one to let someone else do his panicking for him... “A few months ago, we noticed a grayish mass in the Horse Head nebula. Originally, our astrophysicists thought it might be the horse's ear or maybe part of his cheek. But, a few days later, we lost contact with our colony on Foster 7, the beer planet. All attempts to re-initiate contact with them have failed. We tried to re-initiate contact a second time but we found out that there wasn't a word for it so we gave up” “Re-re-initiate?” “That was our first theory. Our editors nixed it” “Pity...” There was an extended pause, then Weston continued, “Any... way... we would like to send a ship to investigate the mass and report back on whether or not it is benign...” “Why not an unmanned ship?” “Our unmanned ships are developing a habit of robbing the manned ships and then stabbing them” “So, there's no choice” “No, son”, Weston stated, “And, you are the best of the best. Or at least the best of those our testing determined were too stupid to turn the mission down” Grant asked his father, “And, if I fail?”

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“The entire universe may be destroyed. Maybe even the world” Grant thought through his options, but the only options that came to mind involved him taking off his pants for some reason. “I'll need a crew”, he offered. “You'll have your pick of our best scientists and engineers that have literally no urge to live anymore. Take a space train over here and start the interviews” Grant signed off and stared at the blank screen in front of him. A full crew and a mission to save the entire universe. And, he was the best man for the job. Grant Starhammer deleted the rest of his messages, packed a bag and fell face first into his coffee table...

Archaeologists tell us that Mayans believed in a paradise‐like afterlife for good people; however, they have yet to tell us the difference between a good Mayan and a bad Mayan...

The closest nebula to the Earth is the Helix Nebula, named after Tony Randall's character in The Odd Couple television series. The Helix Nebula is thought to be a prolate spheroid although it might be just using that as an excuse. This structure is about seven hundred light years from Earth and was created after the death of a small star. Gases moved out from the dying star mostly to avoid blame for its death. In the center of it all is a white dwarf or, as they prefer to be called, a white “little person”. The Helix Nebula is also known as “The Eye of God”, “The Eye of

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Sauron” or “Turk” for reasons its friends won't go into but have a great time laughing about. NASA will send astronauts to land on the nebula just as soon as they find some made out of hydrogen.

Shinto practitioners believe in a heaven but no one is allowed to live there because there are already five deities living there and they aren't accepting new‐builds. Shinto concentrates on the pre‐afterlife condition that most of us refer to as “life”. Many of the Shinto religion have Buddhist funerals just to keep a few more bases covered...

“Where do I begin?” Grant asked his father. “Where do you want to begin?” Weston replied. “I suppose with the BAUSO personnel.” “Ah,” Weston remarked, “The Beautiful And Unapproachable Science Officers.” Grant looked down at his space clipboard. “They are usually the most frustrating ones to deal with. Instantly combative and proud to a fault. I've never met one that I didn't instantly dislike... and I've met over a dozen of them.” Grant's father asked, “And, how many did you eventually fall deeply and madly in love with?” “Over a dozen of them.”

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“They are an essential part of any mission.” Grant conducted the interviews in a room that was so nondescript, he had to send out for a floor so the candidates would have something to walk on when they stormed out, their cheeks flushed with hot anger or embarrassment. The first candidate was stunning blonde with more curves than a mobius strip, which is to say, three. Grant asked, “Could you elaborate on your doctoral paper on quantum positioning and relationship theory for falling nuns?” The woman stood so fast that she knocked her chair over and exclaimed, “You are INSTANTLY the most arrogant, egotistical man I've ever met.” Grant Starhammer made a mark on the clipboard in front of him and told the woman, “Sorry. I'm looking for a science officer who at least waits until we interacted before hating my guts.” The blonde looked sheepish, “I peaked too soon, didn't I?” Grant nodded, “I'm afraid so. But, thanks for coming by.” The candidate moved to the door and let herself out. After a few seconds, she poked her head back in and snarled, “I HATE you.” Starhammer gave her a pleasant smile, “You need to work on your timing, dear....”

The word “planet” comes from the Old English “planete,” late Latin “planeta”, Greek “asteres planetai” and the Babylonian “purple monkey dishwasher.” Asteres Planetai translates to “wandering star.”

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Greeks saw that some stars weren't spatially constant and, being the logical and scientific culture that they were, assumed they were gods. Not ALL the gods, mind you. Just the messenger god, goddess of beauty, the war god, the king of the gods and that god that impulsively ate most of his kids. The last three planets were discovered after the age of reason; so, astronomers named those planets after the Roman god of the sky, the Roman god of the sea and the Roman god of the dead... because science...

Hindus have not one but seven different heavens. This is probably to accommodate India's huge population. Their names are Tapah, Bhuh, Bhavah, Swah, Mahah, Janah and Satyam. Of these random syllables, only Swah takes in humans. And, if you're aiming for Swah, you've got to be extra extra good. Like those two weeks before Christmas when you really REALLY wanted a bicycle, only for your entire life. It's a pleasure to be in Swah due to the fact that every sensation while you are there is entirely pleasurable. This is understandable because, if you were pious, chaste and good your entire life, you've probably got a LOT of pleasure coming to you... Eventually, the karma you've built up runs out and you have to leave heaven to be reborn, as a human being, and usually as a COBOL programmer... The highest heaven in Hinduism is Vaikuntha and is a gated community...

Grant Starhammer interviewed two dozen BAUSOs over the next view days, each more beautiful and surlier than the last, because that is how they were arranged. Some were too cordial to be considered; and, one

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candidate, unclear on concept, hit Grant with a folding chair and took his wallet. She later turned out to be a robot. On the third day, Starhammer got the surprise of his life when an old associate sat across the interview table from him: Prudence Van Bich. (the previous surprise of Grant's life was when a friend stole the floor of his apartment while he was at work and he plummeted into the subbasement). Starhammer stammered, “It's... it's.... you...” Prudence brushed a lock of soft brown hair from the side of her right eye and said mockingly, “It... it... is...” “Still a bitch, I see,” Grant spat. “Van Bich to you, slugger.” Starhammer took a deep calming breath. “I dislike you more than any of the previous candidates. Ironically, that puts you at the top of the list of candidates.” “Hooray,” Prudence intoned, sarcastically. “But”, Grant said, triumphantly, “From your official record, I see that every flight you've ever taken has been fraught with peril.” Prudence glanced at the upside down records in front of Grant, “And, that doesn't even include the fifteen minute flight I took to get here.” “Really? What happened?” “We were boarded by aliens and our flight path was modified to head us right into the Sun.”

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“And, you saved everyone at the nick of time?” Prudence gave Starhammer a straight look, “With eleven seconds to spare.” “That is the nick of time,” he admitted. “I always do things in the nick of time. As a BAUSO, that's my jam. But, the part where I harbor barely concealed hostility is more a pleasure than a job.” Grant, resigned, checked off “Angry”, “Previous relationship” and “Solves things in the nick of time” on the evaluation sheet. There was no need to interview anyone else. Grant sighed, “When can you be ready?” Prudence scrapped a fleck of lipstick from the corner of her luscious full mouth and snarled, “When I'm goddamned good and ready...”

The nearest exoplanet to our solar system is Proxima B, a rocky planet a little larger than our Earth and also a dry food for dogs aged six to eleven. This planet orbits the nearest known star to our solar system, Proxima Centauri. Proxima B circles its star every eleven or so days; this means that, if there are dogs on the planet, they become adults in less than twenty minutes. Because their solar wind is two thousand times that of Earth's, whatever might live there is okay with not having an atmosphere and is speculated to be “pretty well-tanned...”

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The most detailed description of the Christian heaven was Dante's Paradiso, a masterwork of medieval Italian poetry and non‐addictive sleep aid. Finished in 1320, Paradiso was a sequel to Inferno and Purgatorio. Fans of Virgil were dismayed to see that the character did not reappear in this sequel. The character “God” is introduced in this work after being alluded to ad nauseum in the previous books. Dante's Heaven is comprised of nine spheres, making it two better than Hindu Heaven. All but one of these spheres corresponds to a heavenly body. For example, if you weren't exactly constant in your vows or beliefs, you had to hang out on the Moon. Worse, you had to give guided tours to Italian poets. If you were wise AND made it to Heaven, you got to hang out on the Sun. If there was ever a time to play dumb, that would be it... The ninth sphere in Dante's Heaven is Primum Mobile, kind of a clubhouse for the Angels. That sphere controls all the other celestial bodies in the universe and I, for one, think they've done a swell job, so far. Empyrean is where God lives when he isn't sending tornadoes out to destroy those worshipers that live in trailer parks or helping a high school football team in Texas win a game. Dante finally sees God... or three Gods but not really three. Anyway, it was a life‐changing experience for everyone involved...

Prudence Van Bich was added to the crew list. Grant had a few more officers to select, but none more important than the CP or “Crazy Pilot”. A surprising number of spaceship pilots were sane. A few faked insanity just so they could get secret missions to save the universe. It was Grant's job to see through that fake insanity and to expose the insidious rationality underneath. A few of the candidates didn't understand the concept of the crazy pilot.

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The idea was to get someone with a cowboy mentality who would take impossible chances against unthinkable odds, not someone who thought he was a smoke detector or who thought Abraham Lincoln was killed three hundred years ago to somehow get at him... Grant Starhammer was confident after the first four interviews. He had two “maybes” and one “Barnaby”. He was tempted to make his decision after four sessions; but, the fifth proved to be more qualified than any conceivable candidate. “I take a lot unnecessary risks,” the fifth candidate had told him. “So does everyone else on my list,” Grant replied. The candidate paused and put his feet up on the desk and looked coyly at Grant, “That may be so,” he responded, “but, I'm sure the other candidates have pilot's licenses.” Grant's eyes widened, “You don't even have a pilot's license?” The candidate shook his head. “Wow!” Starhammer said, “That's pretty crazy.” “I also suffer from narcolepsy.” “That's EXTRA crazy”, Grant exclaimed, “Why hasn't another mission chief snapped you up?” “They call me for an interview, but I fall asleep on the train and miss my stop.” Grant shook his head. “So, crazy”, he muttered, shaking his head. Grant checked off the only box on the evaluation sheet for pilots marked, “Dangerously Insane” and offered his hand to the pilot. “Joe Cobra Bartok, welcome to the team.”

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“zzzzzz,” replied Bartok...

A comet is a body, in our solar system, which usually has an eccentric orbit and out-gases as it approaches our sun. If a body with an eccentric orbit doesn't out-gas, it is a stinkin' asteroid and beneath our contempt. Most comets range in weight from ten to a hundred trillion kilograms, depending upon how much fluid they are retaining. Comets are comprised of rock, dust, ice, methane, ammonia and a hint of nutmeg. Comets don't tend to have a lot of surface ice, so skating is usually out of the question. Beneath the surface, there are various organic compounds including amino acids, indicating that comets might have given us the building blocks of life. It is a widely accepted theory but I feel it should be rejected because, if we give comets credit for all life on Earth, soon they'll be strutting around like they own the place... Previous cultures saw comets as harbingers of doom. Paleontologists think that, if they were asked, dinosaurs would readily agree. It seemed that, whenever a comet was sighted, something bad happened somewhere. Unlike those times when comets weren't sighted, which were just dandy. As late as the nineteenth century, people were panicking over Haley's comet coming so near the Earth that we would pass through its tail. Fortunately, their fears were groundless and they could continue living their happy lives dying by the millions of cholera, typhus, influenza, war and horse-tramplings.... The atmosphere around a comet is called a “coma”. I know what you THOUGHT a coma was; but, it can be two things....

Islamic Heaven is called “Jannah”. Only Muslims can get there directly... and one sect of Jews... AND, one sect of Christians. Everyone else has to detour through Muslim Hell for a good purging. Eventually, every human gets to Muslim Heaven so we've got that going for us...

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Crew chosen, Grant Starhammer joined his father in his office. “I'm ready,” Grant said. Weston replied, “One more formality.” Grant questioned with his eyes, causing his father to answer with his collar bone. Grant gave up and just asked. “What's the formality?” “The Counsel of Elders wants to talk to you,” Grant's father replied. “Christ, no!” “They demanded to see you before you leave. I was in front of them, yesterday.” Grant asked, “What were their exact words?” Weston Starhammer sighed, “Well, first they asked me who the hell I was. One of them thought I was his nephew and told me to get a job and a haircut. Then, they explained who I was. After that, they asked who I was and why I was there. Before I could answer, they told me that I wasn't making any sense and could they talk to my supervisor...” “Did you get your supervisor?” “No, he heard about it and took his own life before they could schedule him. So, I offered you.” Grant glared at his father, “That took the exact opposite of courage, dad.”

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Weston replied, “You can't become head of the Department of the Startled without being a craven coward, son.” “When do I see them?”, Grant asked. “Tomorrow, at three p.m... just after they eat supper...”

An asteroid is a minor planet. This should not be confused with Planet Minor which is that Earth-like planet populated entirely by thirteen year old girls in halter-tops. Asteroids are like both comets and meteors. But, telling them apart is simplicity itself. Asteroids are primarily rock and minerals; whereas, comets have an atmosphere and an icy core. In fact, when a comet loses its water and gas components after many trips around the Sun, it becomes an asteroid and starts getting offers from AARP. A meteor has a diameter of less than one meter and wears its hair differently than an asteroid. There is a region in our solar system called the Asteroid Belt, because our solar system hasn't yet given up and switched to suspenders. Astronomers, when not drinking themselves into a self-pitying stupor, theorize that these asteroids could've made up another planet, if it weren't for Jupiter and those meddling kids. Another place asteroids hang out is at the Lagrange Points of the orbits of planets and moons. In fact, those particular asteroids are thought of as lagrangian objects and are avoided by decent folk. For each orbit, there are five Lagrange Points, which are the only points in which an object can have a stable position sharing an orbit with a larger body. An asteroid that lives at a Lagrange Point is called a “Trojan” and is usually made out of latex.

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The largest known asteroid is Ceres, named after the Roman god of none of your business. It has an icy core and a light atmosphere. Why isn't it a comet? Because they said so, that's why. A recent probe found a bright spot on Ceres that had idiots speculating it might have intelligent life because shiny...

Just in case you didn't think the ancient Irish had a heaven, I'm here to ruin your day. Even if you DID know they had a heaven, I won't make your day much better. Irish heaven was called “Tir na nOg”, also drunk‐speak for “That's my nose!” It had the usual heaven stuff like eternal youth, abundance and more happiness than bunch of drunk Hari Krishnas in a tofu warehouse. Not everyone got to go to Tir na nOg... just gods, heroes and people on the a‐list. The Celts also believed in reincarnation, according to contemporary Roman sources. aybe that's why most people didn't get to paradise: by the time they got there, parked and found the way in, they'd be reborn as a prize‐fighter or 1940's New York City cop. Celtic heaven was believed to be somewhere in the Atlantic. It was accessible by secret tunnels in crypts and by flying horse...

“You must be Grant Starhammer”, said the slim, well-dressed, very busy looking man who met him at the door. Grant nodded. “I am Liaison,” the man told Grant, “Please follow me.” Grant looked at him, perplexed, “You aren't moving.” The small man snapped, “I suppose you think someone needs to be

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moving for you to follow them.” Grant nodded. Liaison thought for a moment, then answered, “I suppose you're right. At the very least, YOU believe you're right, which is almost as good.” Liaison started walking down a very long white hallway with no doors. Grant followed. Over his shoulder, the thin man said, “Sorry for snapping at you. The elders have been a handful, today.” “No problem. Are they actively debating a new law?” The little man stopped and turned, looking mostly at the floor. His gaze met Grant's in a very matter-of-fact way and he said, “Pudding.” “Pudding?” Liaison threw up his hands and started walking again with Grant a few paces behind. “Pudding!” he said again, “One gets pudding, then they ALL want pudding. I've been on the phone with catering all morning.” Grant was having trouble keeping his breath and talking at the same time. Between pants he asked, “All morning? For pudding.” “Special pudding,” Liaison said over his shoulder. “It has to taste like it did when they were kids.” “That's nonsense.” Liaison stopped, turned and got back into Grant's face. “NOTHING the Elders do is 'nonsense'. They are the supreme and benevolent rulers of the entire world and parts of Saturn. Their wisdom has guided us through the ages and back. They are gods by any standard.” Grant apologized, “Sorry but it just seems arbitrary and kind of stupid.”

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Liaison said, over his shoulder, “Definitely that.” Liaison made a left down another doorless hallway. There was an end to this hallway, however. Too far to make out but it looked like a gigantic door made of polished wood. Grant raised his voice to be heard over the echoing of their footsteps. “What's your name, if you don't mind my asking?” “Liaison.” “No, I mean, what do they call you?” “Liaison.” “What is the NAME on your birth certificate?” “Liaison. I was named after my father and he was named after his father. My grandfather was named after a popular musical group.” “Denny Park and the Liaisons?” “No. Helen Liaison and the Four Mark Harmons.” “Ah,” Grant replied, “So, your father was also the liaison to the Elders?” Liaison nodded. Grant could make out the two-story door with two armed men guarding the entrance. He began to wonder if Liaison was even going to stop when they got there or try to plow right through. “Was your grandfather also a liaison to the Elders?” “My grandfather was a male prostitute who worked the docks most nights. When choosing my career, I had to decide between serving the

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Elders or being anally raped by multiple sailors on a nightly basis.” Liaison stopped and showed his credentials to one of the guards. “Doesn't sound like a very tough decision,” Grant remarked. Liaison opened the door and a thunder of bickering and complaining assaulted their ears. Liaison sighed, lightly took Grant's elbow and led him into the room. “Let's just say I have some regrets...”

Buddhists don't have a heaven because their heaven is simply non‐existence. Buddhists believe that existence is suffering, desire is suffering and sitting through any play by Eugene O'Neil you better believe is suffering. Of course, you are existing while you watch the O'Neil play, but only barely. Not many people know this, but The Ice Man Cometh was originally much longer. In fact, the original ending consists of stage directions instructing the characters to ad lib until the audience either leaves or dies in their chairs. Those who don't agree that non‐existence is heaven should ponder the question again while having holiday dinner with the in‐laws...

A rogue planet is a planet without a parent star. It either formed outside of a solar system or was part of solar system but was ejected until it “got a goddamned job”. These objects can be very dangerous to planets like Earth, which is why they aren't known as “lovable rogue planets”. The nearest rogue planet to Earth is called “CFBDSIR J214947.2-

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040308.9”, named after the Roman god of serial numbers.

Grant stood before the Counsel of the Elders, feeling like the target at the busy end of a shooting gallery. Fifty of the oldest and therefore wisest citizens sat in over-sized chairs before him. Liaison said in a low voice, “Don't worry. My job is to direct and focus the flow of their wisdom so that it may be better applied to you and your mission.” Grant turned to Liaison, “What does that even MEAN?” “Basically, it means if one of them says something embarrassingly stupid, I will help you ignore it.” “Johnny?” asked the nearest Elder. Liaison answered him soothingly, “No, Elder, I am Liaison.” “Where's Johnny?” the old man demanded. Before Liaison could respond, another called out, “Did he just say he was Johnny?” Another asked, “So, Johnny's here?” And, the voices organized themselves into a chaotic roar again. Grant turned to Liaison and asked, “Who the hell is Johnny?” Liaison shrugged.” “We've never been able to figure it out. We just keep the Elders who ask for Johnny in the same section so they have something to talk with each other about.” At this point, Grant Starhammer decided that this entire exercise was

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futile. Sensing his frustration, Liaison held up both hands and loudly called out, “Elders!”, which quieted the room somewhat. “Elders”, he continued, “Grant Starhammer is heading a mission to the Horsehead Nebula to find out the origins of the mysterious spot. I call upon the eldest Elder to bestow upon this man the wisdom he will need to overcome almost certain death light years from Earth.” The Eldest Elder stood and the crowd again hushed. He cleared his throat and looked at Grant Starhammer with all the kindness and wisdom his years provided. He turned to the crowd and said, “Fellow elders,” turned to Liaison and said, “Johnny,” then to Grant he said, “Other Johnny.” Then, in a clear voice he announced, “I hereby declare this mall OPEN!!!”

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MIGRATION

After the world is finished with autumn’s fire, I leave this city as the last of the butterscotch light filters through the color-leached foliage. Darkness exposed for the first time in half a year, the trees have already begun to bare themselves for winter—winding limbs hold final fistfuls of summer’s leaves. Along the roadside, taupe plumes of the marsh grasses nod honey-headed in the breeze; the poison sumac’s fingers splay and continue their smolder. Mile by monotonous mile, the reflective steel of this bay further divides us—November’s half-moon fades into blue.

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LESSONS: THREE HAIKU

1 Trees stark in winter rain, their underground fibers always murmuring, conveying warnings and reassurance. 2 Beech, poplar, pine: we stand together, our roots a (hidden) dense web of connection. 3 Whispers in the woods: ancient secrets of courage and resistance.

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THE SIGNIFICANCE OF BIRDS

The The The The The The

chirping of souls flutter of wings nesting of thought beating of wings feeling of flight unfettering of things.

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FOOLISH TALK

Folks on Plum Street swore that the broken-down house across the street was haunted, but I didn’t believe them. In fact, I thought that they were crazy as heck and downright foolish to believe such nonsense. Anytime I heard someone say anything about that raggedy house, I would dismiss the conversation as gibberish. At the time, I will admit, I was a conceited teenager who didn’t trust in a higher power. I was an atheist who only relied on facts, science, and numerology. Demons, God, and Jesus were not on my mind. I thought that all three were figments of poor people’s imaginations—that people who believed in them were clearly uneducated, backward thinking, and pathetically relied on religious mythology to deal with everyday life, but ever since I visited that house on that summer day, I now know that all three are very real. It was the seventies. I was a senior at an elite all-girl school that bussed in smart kids from impoverished neighborhoods in Baltimore City. Of course, I didn’t want the rich White girls who lived in Roland Park and had maids and nannies to think I was a dumb, poor kid from the Eastside, so I made sure that I made the cheerleader team and that I was a straight A student. My only concerns were making good grades, being the prettiest girl at my school and in my neighborhood, making sure my press and curl didn’t frizz when it rained or got hot, and getting accepted into my dream school, Spelman College (I always felt that I was a Southern Belle at heart). I didn’t have time to believe in the hoopla of the haunted house because I was too busy studying for my AP exams and SATs, filling out college applications and writing essays, but when I finally received my acceptance letter to Spelman

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College in March, I could finally let my hair down a little and suddenly the house across the street piqued my interest. According to neighborhood gossip, an old White couple lived in the house for fifty years and even stayed put when all the Whites folks fled to the suburbs after the ugly and bloody riots. Some say that the Gardners were witches and others say that they were missionaries. They both died mysteriously of an unknown illness, but according to Mrs. Turner, the oldest resident on Plum Street, they both died when a spell went wrong, and ever since their death weird things begin to happen on the block—pigeons covering the entire front yard, bats perched on the roof, and loud screams that lasted for hours could be heard coming from the house. My next door neighbor, Charlene, said she saw a dark shadowy figure step outside the house and disappeared, but Charlene liked to listen to Bob Marley and smoke her ganja so it was no telling if she had actually saw the mysterious figure. But according to Mrs. Susan, the second oldest resident on Plum Street, the Gardners both died a day a part because a voodoo priestess cursed them for calling her son a “cute, little monkey boy.” And now their souls can’t rest, and now they’re stuck in that big, decaying house that no realtor can sell, but I didn’t believe a word of it. Not a single word. In fact, it all sounded like something that belonged on The Twilight Zone or something that the neighborhood liar Junebug would make up. Junebug was known as the boy who could tell a tale. Once, he even tried to tell me that he was born White, but he told God he wanted to be Black, so he could be more like Jesus Christ. I asked him what he meant, and he simply said, “Think about it. Jesus had hair like wool, and he was crucified like Black men are lynched.” I simply stared at Junebug and wondered if he needed medicine or if he had tried LSD.

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“Yeah, that’s deep,” I said trying to sound like I really meant it, but all I could think about was studying for my math test and what my mother was fixing for dinner, which was my favorite dish—fried fish and macaroni and cheese. People had wild imaginations on Plum Street. They would talk about ghosts hiding in sidewalk cracks, dead souls rising from their graves, and dime-sized fetuses haunting their poor mamas anytime they walked past the local clinic. Even my own mama believed in — what I considered at the time — “foolishness.” For example, I saw her stay up all night when she saw Rosemary’s Baby. She told me that she felt a demonic spirit come out of the screen. She said it sat beside her and began to eat her popcorn. When Ma came home, she went around the entire house, chanting the prayer, “I ask in Jesus’ name that all demonic spirits leave this house immediately. I ask in Jesus’ name that this house is filled with the Holy Spirit.” She even sprinkled holy water around the house—she used three small bottles. She bought them from Ms. Clifton, the Holy Roller who prays for everyone and who will never be caught wearing pants and ends every sentence with “Praise the good Lord Jesus!” I held Ma’s hand, gave her a cup of milk, and stayed with her until she fell asleep on our worn pleather sofa. So after years of speculation and gossip about the haunted house, I felt I had a point to prove before I left to go to Spelman. I decided once and for all I would visit the supposedly haunted house and prove everyone wrong. Dead wrong. Only I was the one who was wrong. *** It was dusk, and the moon was a bloody red. The air was muggy and sticky. I felt like I was in a hot oven that was baking bread. I carried my red flashlight and a scraggly notepad to jot down any strange observances that I might see: a pen floating in the air, ghosts,

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skeletons... I even brought my Polaroid camera to snap any evidence. On a piece of paper, I scrawled down a Bible scripture and stuffed it in my lace bra: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” That was Ma’s favorite passage. When I was a little girl she told me to memorize it because “life can get hard, child, and you want the good Lord to protect you.” The street lights were dimmed, which casted a sickly neon yellow on the entire street. As I walked up the cracked sidewalk, the overgrown weeds brushed against my knees. I felt a hairy insect brush against my right knee. Then, I felt a bite. A small one. Suddenly, I wanted to be back in my bedroom and listen to my Stevie Wonder albums, Songs in the Key of Life, Looking Back, and Music of My Mind, but I heard a small voice ask, “Are you chicken?” And I never was a chicken. Even as a little girl I was known for being fearless and taking no crap from no one. I was the one who never had nightmares or needed to sleep with a nightlight or believed in the boogieman. I was fearless. A warrior. I stepped on the porch. I immediately smelt a strong odor of musk and peppermint. The “Welcome” rug was missing all the letters except the last “e.” I hesitantly opened the door, but it weighed a ton. I pushed my weight against the door and finally it opened. Dust, dirt, and sand flew into my nostrils. I sneezed seven times. Four big cobwebs hanged from the immaculate, polished chandelier. The brass shined. It was odd. Three spiders were still making their web, and the fourth one was wrapping its sticky thread around a trapped fly. My stomach knotted up. Observing the wrapped fly reminded me of the science unit about the food chain. Mrs. Taylor described how spiders trapped its prey, and now I felt like I was someone’s prey trapped in an empty, dusty house.

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I felt a hand push me on the back and led me into the dining room. To my surprise, there were golden plates, napkins, forks, and glasses set up. A woman with her hair pulled back in a silver bun appeared. She was an old, friendly-looking woman who had a gap-toothed smile. She was holding a burnt pan with her burgundy oven mitts. She began to place lasagna on the golden plates. The food smelled wonderful, but I heard a faint chirping sound, and when I looked closer, the food on the plates were moving and hopping around. They were grasshoppers covered in meat sauce. The woman turned around and asked, “Dear, don’t you want something to eat?” and then she vanished. Upstairs, I heard a door creak open and footsteps run wildly across the hardwood floor. I ran to the front door. I reached for the door knob to get the hell out, but the knob fell to the ground. As it fell to the ground, the metal shattered and turned into hundreds of slimy, fat worms. I screamed and tried to run, but as I went to move my feet, they were stuck like glue. I tried again. My feet still remained in the same spot, and now the worms crawled up my legs, into my ears. I felt their bodies crawl across my scalp, into my nostrils. Their wet bodies invaded my damp, cold skin. As I went to scream, no sound came out. The sound I heard instead was blood rushing, gushing out of my mouth and the sound of dead rats hitting the ground with heavy thuds. I coughed out pinkish blood, insect carcasses, and crushed insect wings. And then, I felt like I was spinning, spinning, spinning, and before I knew it I was in a trapped dungeon. The air was damp. The floor was a metallic color. A man in a red suit appeared, who had skin like a reptile’s and a snake’s tongue. His yellow fingernails were like talons. Instead of walking upright, he slithered on his belly. His eyes were blue. Seawater blue.

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“Jesus!” I shouted, and the man hissed, “Jesus doesn’t know you; therefore, he can’t help you, foolish girl.” He looked me up and down. “You think you’re so smart, don’t you? Well, you’re as dumb as a rock.” And before I knew it, I was locked up in a cage with other folks who had decided to visit the haunted house: an adventurous poet, a curious English teacher, a young boy who had entered the house on a dare, a homeless man looking for shelter, even a frisky teenage couple who wanted some “alone” time. I stayed in the cage for months and even years until I became a folklore legend. I became the girl who disappeared mysteriously, but after years of entrapment, Jesus appeared to me in a vision. He said, “For years, you have forsaken me, but now you call on me in your moments of darkness. Your heart has changed, and now you shall be set free.” The man in the red suit unlocked the cage, and he said with an attitude, “I guess Jesus knows you now. I must let you go.” The others reached out to me with their arms outstretched. They had angry looks on their faces. I heard one of them call me an “ungrateful bitch.” I walked out the house in a daze. The neighborhood had changed. People looked different. There were no more afros or bellbottoms. I walked to my house and there was a big “For Sale” sign in huge block letters in the unkempt yard. On the door, I saw a faded “Have you seen this person?” flyer—and it was me. It was my senior portrait with my straight hair, pearly whites gleaming, and eyes sparkling with promise.

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CHRISTINE, IN THE HALIFAX AIRPORT

Fog delays, at least eight hours. They remain. The larger weather patters, patterns. Toddler walks, squaks, befriends beyond their gate. I wait for updates, texts. Lower ebbs of Gatineau, Ottawa, Toronto underwater. Rigaud. Families lost, and relocated. Of biblical proportions. A pleth. The Chaudiere, rages. It holds down the house. A syntax, excludes. May have washed away. How high’s the water, mama? Their plane out hasn’t even arrived.

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THE

A U THORS

Charlie Badley has a degree in chemical engineering, yet he enjoys word play. He reads widely and writes in his spare time.

Catherine Loveless attended the University of Virginia where she studied Creative writing as well as research psychology. She is a native of NY and has resided in the DC area since college.

Harford Hopson is just a 22-year-old writer and recent Temple Grad from Baltimore, who is overly fascinated with the Ravens, pocket dictionaries, and G2 pens.

Andrea J. Nolan has published two narrative guidebooks, Sea Kayaking Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay and Sea Kayaking Virginia, and has had essays and stories listed as “Notable” for both The Best American Essays series and the Pushcart Prize. She has had stories published in journals such as Flyway, Alligator Juniper, Hawai’i Pacific Review, Gris-Gris, and Dogwood, and poetry in Three Ties Review. Previously working as an environmental educator, and then as the owner of a sea kayaking company, she is now a lecturer of English at Old Dominion University, in Norfolk, Virginia.

Pearl Breslin is a Philadelphia native, who enjoys drawing using ink and pen about her college angst and heartbreaks since she still considers herself emo. When she isn’t inking some comic inspired by indie rock, Jasper Johns, or the Smiths, she enjoys her time with her husband, two girls, and two cats. Her mantra in life is asking what Ian MacKaye would do and eating as much tacos on Tuesdays.

JM Douglas is an artist and writer currently located in Baltimore. Their first novel, The Bound, is available on Amazon. A visual portfolio may be found at https://jmdouglas.carbonmade.com/


Elyse Bruzdzinski is 18 years old and a senior at Oldfields School in Sparks Glencoe, Maryland. She’s loved writing and photography since she was in middle school and has been working as an editor for her school's literary magazine for almost 4 years.

Mary B. Banks is a writer who hails from Charm City. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins University and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and Publishing Arts from the University of Baltimore. She is the author of Street Magic: Stories and Tales.

Aditya Desai is a writer and teacher based in Baltimore. You can find his writing at adityadesaiwriter.com.

James Prenatt lives in Towson (unfortunately not Baltimore anymore) with his beloved wife and son, who tells lovely stories about crabs and bunnies. He holds a bachelor's in English (shocker) from Towson University and contributes to blogs such as Everything for Dads and Parent.co. He likes punk rock, good movies, and bad coffee.

Tara A. Elliott lives on the Eastern Shore of Maryland where she is currently serving as the Light of Literacy Educator for Wicomico County. She is the former editor of Triplopia, the current director of Eastern Shore Voices, and has poems in The HyperTexts and forthcoming in the Loch Raven Review.

Dan Cuddy is currently an editor of the Loch Raven Review. He has been published in many small magazines, e.g, Antioch Review, Free State Review, Iguana Review, The Potomac, Connections, L’Allure des Mots, Fire Pit. In 2003 his book Handprint On The Window was published by Three Conditions Press.


Lynne Viti teaches in the Writing Program at Wellesley College. Her chapbook, Baltimore Girls, was published in 2017 by Finishing Line. Her writing has appeared in over sixty online and print venues, most recently, Nasty anthology (Babe Press), Stillwater Review, Bear Review, In-Flight Magazine, Tin Lunchbox, Lost Sparrow, South Florida Poetry Journal, Little Patuxent Review, Amuse-Bouche, Paterson Review, and The Baltimore Sun. and blogs at stillinschool.wordpress.com.

rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa, where he is home full-time with the two wee girls he shares with Christine McNair. The author of more than thirty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, he won the John Newlove Poetry Award in 2010, the Council for the Arts in Ottawa Mid-Career Award in 2014, and was longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize in 2012. In March, 2016, he was inducted into the VERSe Ottawa Hall of Honour. His most recent titles include The Uncertainty Principle: stories, (Chaudiere Books, 2014) and the poetry collection A perimeter (New Star Books, 2016). An editor and publisher, he runs above/ground press, Chaudiere Books (with Christine McNair), The Garneau Review (ottawater.com/garneaureview), seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics (ottawater.com/seventeenseconds), Touch the Donkey (touchthedonkey.blogspot.com) and the Ottawa poetry pdf annual ottawater (ottawater.com). He is “Interviews Editor” at Queen Mob’s Teahouse, a regular contributor to the Ploughshares blog, and an editor/managing editor of many gendered mothers. He spent the 2007-8 academic year in Edmonton as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, and regularly posts reviews, essays, interviews and other notices at robmclennan.blogspot.com.

CL Bledsoe is the assistant editor for The Dead Mule and author of fifteen books, most recently the poetry collection Trashcans in Love and the flash fiction collection Ray's Sea World. He lives in northern Virginia with his daughter.

Michelle Anderson is a 27 year old woman living in Baltimore city. Originally from the Gulf coast of Florida, Michelle loves observing life in Baltimore, and it has become her home over the past 6 years. This is her first submission to a Baltimore publication.


Julia Nordhoff Hinton is a poet, a thinker, a mother, a teacher, and a healer. Her daily life consists of balancing doing with being, teaching with learning, and stillness with movement. Her first poem was written in haiku form about the moon in third grade, and the written word has moved her ever since. You can often find her sitting on the edge of her canyon being inspired by the San Diego sunshine and the after-the-rain blessing of wildflowers.

Heath Brougher is the poetry editor of Five 2 One Magazine and co-poetry editor of Into the Void Magazine. He has published three chapbooks, A Curmudgeon Is Born (Yellow Chair Press 2016), Digging for Fire, and Your Noisy Eyes (both with Stay Weird and Keep Writing Press 2016). He is a Best of the Net Nominee and his work has been translated into Albanian. He was the judge of Into the Void Magazine’s 2016 Poetry Competition and edited the anthology Luminous Echoes, the sales of which will be donated to help with the prevention of suicide. His work has appeared in Crack the Spine, Chiron Review, SLAB, Main Street Rag, Diverse Voices Quarterly, Mobius, Of/with, Gold Dust, Third Wednesday, Cruel Garters, Gloom Cupboard, *82 Review, BlazeVOX, and elsewhere.

Barbara Morrison, who writes under the name B. Morrison, is the author of a memoir, Innocent: Confessions of a Welfare Mother, and two poetry collections, Terrarium and Here at Least. Barbara's award-winning work has been published in anthologies and magazines. She provides editing services and conducts writing workshops. For more information, visit her website and blog at http://www.bmorrison.com.


A B OU T

THE

E DITORS

Alina Grigorovitch is the author of The Invisible Forest and several other novels. She continues to write, runs the Writing Hour, and is passionate about music, sailing, and exploration. Find her writing, art, and other projects at newtothepublic.com.

John Guchemand lives with his family in Baltimore, writes as often as he can manage it, and regularly meets with his compatriot writers at the Writing Hour. He is writing a novel and even the occasional poem when the mood strikes.

Aditya Desai is a writer and teacher based in Baltimore. You can find his writing at adityadesaiwriter.com.

Since graduating from Old Dominion University with a BA in English back when Bill Clinton was the harasser in chief, Kurt Crisman has written short fiction and been published in local Baltimore publications. You can keep up with his writing at unpublishedguy.com.


This is the end of End of 83 volume 3. Thank you for reading. End of 83 is the literary magazine edited and produced by members of the Writing Hour.

To read online, order paperback copies, or read/order previous issues, visit endof83.com

For more information on the Writing Hour, visit baltimorewritinghour.com

Or visit the group’s meetup page, meetup.com/Writing-Hour


End of 83: Volume 3  
End of 83: Volume 3  

The third issue of End of 83, literary journal of the Writing Hour.

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